Saturday, June 24, 2017

Getting rid of stuff? Try a Curbside Giveaway

Minimalize.  Declutter.  Organize.  Offload.  Tidying.  The blogosphere is abuzz with tips and tricks on how to get rid of "stuff" in one of the latest lifestyle trends.  Who doesn't want to be tidy?  I am all for getting rid of unnecessary stuff that brings no joy to your life (to borrow a little phrase from Marie Kondo (no, I actually have not read her book).  When I think of being tidy it makes me feel good.  Everything clean.  Everything tidy.  Everything in its place.  On the other hand, when I hear "minimalist" I start to feel like this is the virtue-signaling of domestic dudes and divas.  There is nothing wrong with having stuff.  There is nothing wrong with having very little stuff.  The trick is to find the equilibrium point for you and your family and then to not feel guilty about it.  If you have kids, you know how hard it is to not accumulate stuff.  If I go down to my storage room I have about 12 bins (4 years and multiple sizes) worth of little boys clothes, toys, and necessities.  Why?  Because they are being handed down from one son to the next.  When I know that we are done having kids - GOODBYE BINS - oh that will be such a great day for decluttering, and such a sad day for this mom, knowing that there will be no more little ones in our house to wear the one piece snowsuit, or Blue Shark tilly hat I love so much.

Wait, where was I?  Oh YES......getting rid of stuff.

If you have much to rid of, you could always do the obvious:
a) Kijiji
b) Yard Sale
c) Donate to a charity shop
d) Freecycle if you live in the UK

but have you ever considered a curbside giveaway?

This week, I traveled to York Region to pick up some materials for our renovation and I saw some very cool signs posted around advertising a Curbside Giveaway Day.  What a great idea!  I love this.  Residents are asked to put out whatever they are getting rid of (not garbage!) with a sign marked "FREE" by 7am on Curbside Giveaway.  That's it.  Presto.  You can browse the neighbourhood and take what you need, then at 5pm residents are asked to remove any leftover items from the curbside.  The town provides a list of way to dispose of any remaining unwanted items.  I love this because it is so simple, so straightforward, so FREE.  This is a community building activity.  If you have a bunch of things you are looking to get rid of, why not consider organizing a Curbside Giveaway day in your own neighbourhood or community?
Giveaway Posters from York Region

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Delicious Ideas for Celebrating Canada 150

Reading cookbooks or cooking magazines is one of my favourite, and most relaxing, pastimes.  Do I get to do it very often these days?  No.  Nonetheless, I found a few minutes recently to take a look at two publications made in honour of Canada's upcoming 150th birthday.  If you are looking for some inspiration in your summer kitchen, I highly recommend these two reads:

Recommendation #1: Ricardo

Regular readers know that I think Ricardo is one of Canada's culinary treasures.  My mom buys me a gift subscription to his magazine every Christmas.  The current issue has beautiful feature articles on the Canadian food industry and recipes to match.  I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable on Canadian food, but I learned a lot reading this that Maille gets its Mustard seeds from Canadian farms, or that Canadian lentils are shipped worldwide.....

The issue features amazing (although not necessarily frugal) entertaining ideas like how to put together a beautiful seafood platter, planning ideas for a summer pool party, and an amazingly versatile strawberry cake recipe.  If you are a Canadian food lover, I would say this issue is a must-read.  You can visit Ricardo's website by clicking here.

Recommendation #2: Foodland Inspired
If you are looking for a more frugal (Read: #moneysavingtips) option, you can pick up a FREE copy of the summer issue of Foodland Inspired at your local Foodland.  But you don't even have to go to the store, you can access a Free online version of the magazine by clicking here.

Like the current issue of Ricardo, this issue of Inspired focuses on Canada's upcoming birthday celebration and has loads of great recipes for your summer parties.  Recipes include: No Bake Cheesecakes (pictured on the cover), Nanaimo Coffee Crisp Cake (um, yes please!!), Spice Rubs, Apple Coleslaw, and more.  It also features entertaining ideas, including a Ice Cream Bar spread that I found particularly well done.  What makes this issue really great is the wide variety of recipes.  Check it out - it's free!!!!!

This is an idea I wish I had thought of!  Read the magazine to learn more.

If you have never tried Nanaimo Bars (a Canadian specialty), you will want to try this recipe -but you might have to ask a Canadian friend to send you some Coffee Crisps in the mail!

So what are you waiting for?
Check out these two great reads, and get started on your summer party planning!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Money Saving Tips: Start your Christmas shopping now!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the gift cupboard at our house.  Every year, I try to finish my Christmas shopping by Labour Day Weekend.  Is this because I am super organized and have too much time on my hands?!  I try to finish my Christmas shopping by Labour Day every year because I find this is the most cost effective way to give gifts to those who are important to me.

I love gifting.  I have written about this before - I genuinely enjoy curating a gift for somebody.  We give gifts to quite a few people, totally by choice, and it is a pleasure.  So why do I shop so early and how does this help reduce costs?  Read on!

Lowering the holiday spending...

1.  When you are in a rush, you typically spend more than you meant to.
This is the same thing as going to the grocery store in a panic or on an empty stomach.  If you are rushing around the week before Christmas, fighting the crowds with your To Do list a mile long, it is highly likely that you are going to overspend and buy more than what you need.  When you start early there is zero rush, and you can enjoy the process.

2.  Starting early allows you to plan ahead for any homemade gifts you want to prepare.
I am a big fan of DIY gifts - and these are often things that need to be planned in advance. (For some previous DIY gift ideas I have featured on the blog click here and here.)  There may be specific items you need to create your masterpieces, and starting early allows you to watch the sales and get the best price.  You may want to freeze fresh strawberries now to make beautiful preserves for Christmas.  You may have a furniture project (please note if you are giving a large piece of restored furniture I strongly recommend giving the recipient a head's up....), you may be wanting to dry herbs from your harden.  Whatever the case may be - planning ahead allows you to not be rushed.  Make a list of items you will need for your DIY projects and start gathering them when you can get them for the best prices.

3.  End of season inventory clearance means excellent prices on winter or previous years' goods (especially March-June).
This is one of my favourite things about shopping early.  Many seasonal items are on steep, very steep reductions at this time of year (March-June) as stores try to clear out their inventory from last year and make way for the new items.  Recently, I was able to purchase toys reduced by 75%.  I have been able to purchase winter pyjamas up to 80% off.  Check online and in stores, but there are always excellent deals to be had on previous season merchandise.

4.  You can keep an eye out for deals on specific items and watch the sales.
Once you have an idea of what items you may need to purchase, you will be able to carefully monitor fliers, e-mail flyers, and websites for deals on these specific items.  You will not be in a rush to purchase them, and it is highly likely if you start this early in the year you will find what you are looking for on sale before the holidays start.

5.  Allows your to accumulate points and rebates for use on last minute purchases.
As I pick up various items throughout the year, I try to maximize and points earned through redemption programs and cashback through E-bates.  A great option is to save up these redemption points and use them if you need to purchase any last minute items before the holidays.  Personally, I like to redeem my points for household and grocery items during the holidays.  It allows for some wiggle room at a time of year when money might be tight, or when unexpected expenses are popping up.

6.  Back to School Sales on Craft Items
One thing that I love to do for the many kids on our list is
give gifts that they can create stuff with.  The absolute best time of year to get deals on school and craft supplies is during the Back to School shopping season.  There are amazing deals to be had at this time of year, especially if you live in the States where Back to School seems to be taken to a whole new level.  If you are an early shopper, taking advantage of these deals could result in significant savings for your Christmas gift list.  Think markers, pencil crayons, crayons, glue, scissors, paint, etc.

But how do I stay organized?

Well, this is great you might say, but how am I supposed to stay organized if I am shopping 6 months in advance?  Being organized is key, otherwise you will forget what you purchased and probably buy things you do not need after forgetting you have little Joey's Christmas gift safely tucked away in the back corner of your closet.  Here is how I stay organized:

1.  Gift Journal
I have a gift journal at home where I record every gift I have for each person.  It allows me to remember what I gave someone from year to year, and also to know what I have on hand to give them for future holidays.  It is just in a simple notebook.  Keep it simple.  In addition to this I have......(see below)

2.  Handbag List!  (or on your phone!)
Once I have started gathering gifts, I keep a running list in my purse at all times of things I still need to pick up and who they are for.  I might see a great deal on something one day - I check my list - if it is on the list...perfect!...I will pick it up.  If it is not on the does not get purchased.  This eliminates needless and wasteful spending.

The best reason to shop ahead:

Lowering your stress level!

Yes, shopping ahead and being organized will help you lower your expenses, but what could be better than lowering your stress level at the holidays?  While other people are running around like crazy, ringing up the credit card bills and making silly purchases that are not can enjoy time at home sipping hot cocoa and watching White Christmas while wrapping your thoughtfully selected and carefully purchased Christmas gifts.  That is something to look forward to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Warm Weather Recipes

It is a beautiful sunny weekend.  Are you looking for something delicious to make?

Here are a few of my favourite sunny day recipes:

Rhubarb Lemonade

Marinated Goat's Cheese, serve with a baguette - fabulous!

Greek Salad

Friday Night Dinner Project: BBQ Dinner (especially the Coleslaw, which I love!!

Simple Summer Pasta - this is a great recipe if you are already harvesting cherry tomatoes from your garden

Turkey Salad (also read about why I love frozen turkeys for stretching our humble dollars!)

Rhubarb Pudding Cakes - yes, you can finish up all that yummy rhubarb from your garden!

And there you have it.  A few recipes to inspire your weekend menu...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: End of May Recap

Well, this month has definitely been our busiest month of the year (so far).

It was so busy, that I already posted a mid-way update a few weeks ago.  May 2017 will also go down in history as the month I discovered Rhubarb Lemonade - an amazing way to use up your abundant rhubarb, whether fresh or frozen.

I have to start off this monthly recap with a little note about what will likely be our biggest money save ever.  Ever!  Without going into too many details (all will be revealed in time haha), we are likely going to be selling our house in 2018.  To prepare for that, we thought that we needed to do a major renovation on our main floor and kitchen (we live in a bungalow).  This renovation was not for us, although I'm sure we would have enjoyed it, but strictly for resale purposes.  After getting the quotes and the renderings for the project we met with our realtor.  He came to our house and we went over the plans and cost with him.  His response was: "Why do you want to do this???  Your house is already worth X."  Long story short: we thought the renovations would be necessary to get our desired value for the house in 2018.  Our realtor said our house was already worth X and the renovations (although we would get our money back from them) would not be worth the cost and stress.  He suggested a few changes which we are now in the process of making, but they are a fraction of the cost of a full blown renovation on our main floor and kitchen.  So....hurray!!!  This is why it is always critical to research every angle of a project before beginning.  This saved us so much money and stress.  Now we are focusing on getting these smaller projects done - I will try to update along the way if possible.

Now that we have that out of the way...


In May, we spent $356.20 on groceries.  I am really happy with this.  
Especially because I did some stocking up at the end of the month.

What was all this spent on?
Produce = $84.25
Dairy = $58.57
Meat = $58.74
Pantry = $44.08
Frozen Food = $31.93
Bread = $24.20
Prepared Foods = $13.89
Dips and Spreads = $9.57  (this is hummous - which I have tried to make but have yet to find a recipe that I enjoy as much as Sabra Original Hummous and Fontaine Beet Hummous)

You may notice we spent ZERO on beverages this month.  Hurray!  (I count milk as Dairy just in case you are wondering).

How did we save money in the second half of May??

1.  Price Matching and Reduced for Quick Sale - The BIG Power of Small Savings

No Frills Bill
Twice this month I had great finds in the Reduced for Quick Sale shopping department.  The first was at another store, where I was able to pick up some bread (the kind we normally buy), crackers, and cheese at great reductions.  Score!!  The second time was just last week.  I went to No Frills to pick up a few things.  The No Frills where I shop will Price Match with Metro and Walmart.  I always bring both flyers with me when I go to the store.  Delissio Pizzas (which I don't typically buy - but which are very nice to have in the freezer for those emergency days) were on sale for $2.99 at Metro.  This is $3.00 off per pizza.  Also Breyer's Natural Ice cream was on sale $3.99 which is about $3.00 off as well.  I picked up 4 Delissio pizzas and 2 tubs of ice creams.  Price Match Savings = (4x3) + (2x3) = $18.00.  While I was in the store, ground beef was on sale for $2.77/lb which is about as cheap as it gets here.  However, I didn't want to pick any up until the following week....that is until I saw several packs of Lean Ground Beef an extra 30% off the sale price (Reduced for Quick Sale).  I picked up 3 packs, for a total additional savings of $12.69.  I picked up some Banana Chocolate Mini Muffins (I broke the golden rule of frugal groceries and went shopping when I needed a snack) reduced for quick sale (saved $1.50).  Finally, there was an unadvertised in store special - frozen turkeys were on sale for $0.77/lb.  This was a GREAT deal and I picked up two small turkeys for $8.00 each.  I also used a $10.00 coupon (I ordered it through Pampers Rewards) for a box of diapers. Excluding the turkeys, from Price Matching, coupons,  and Reduced for Quick Sale on this one shopping trip I was able to reduce my bill by *drumroll* = $42.19 before tax.  So let's round up to $45.00.
Let's just imagine that you were able to save $45.00 off your bill once a month.  That would be $540.00 a year.  That is a pretty significant savings.  Now, let's just take this one step further for some math fun........if you live in Canada and you have kids....imagine you took that $540.00 a year and deposited into an RESP account for your child.  This $540.00 would automatically become $648.00 (deposits into RESPs are topped up 20% by the government, maximum individual contribution of $2500/annually, for the first 14 years of a child's life).  If you were able to save $45.00 a month off your grocery bill and put it into the RESP for the first 14 years of their life, starting tomorrow, you would have $9,072.00 when they turn 14 and that is not accounting for any investment growth of interest.  That is nothing to laugh at.
OK, let's move on.

2.  Cheap Travel
We had to take another trip this month.  I know, I know, this girls claims she is frugal but she has taken TWO trips in one month.  It just worked out that way.  We had to go see my grandparents, and then we had to attend a baby shower for someone who is like family to us.  All out of town.  For our second trip we brought snacks with us.  I used a portion of the reduced meat to make meatball sliders and brought a whole bunch with us, among other things.  Breakfast was free at the hotel.  I always fill up my son's cup with milk at the end of breakfast and put it in the room fridge after breakfast.  We used gift cards that we received as a Christmas gift to pay for the hotel.  We brought all of our own food except for the pizza we ordered on Sunday night (hotel tradition).  We had lots of fun time in the pool as a family.  Son #1 and my husband had a fun day together when I attended the shower.  At the shower they gave out strawberry plants as a favour.  They were in beautiful pots with a sign on them that said "Watch Me Grow."  This was such a great idea for a baby shower favour!  We are going to plant ours in our garden.

3.  Christmas Shopping
A Graduation Gift
My mom texted me one day to tell me there was a 60% off sale at MasterMind Toys.  I had to pick up a new bath toy for my son (his were disgusting and full of black mold, I am a terrible mom....I know....) and while I was there I picked up one or two small things to put away for Christmas.  That night I went home and was thinking.  I realized the sales on quality children's toys were excellent and I would not find these kind of deals again before Christmas.  I decided to go back the next day.  Well, that turned out to be a great decision because the next day prices were reduced by 75%!!  I was able to finish almost all the Christmas shopping for the 13 kids (including our own) we buy for at Christmas.  I am thrilled with what I was able to get and the prices were unbeatable.  (Watch for an upcoming post about why I try to finish all my Christmas shopping by September).
Super fun Christmas Gift
I was also able to order a few things online from Chapters (using Ebates) for Graduation gifts and Christmas.  Hurray!

4.  Coupon Book
Recently, I wrote about needing ALL new shoes because of postpartum feet changes.  The shoes at the mall were so much money I almost choked (I only bought one pair at the mall because I needed them for my orthotics fitting).  I finally made it to the outlet mall and I was able to find a great pair of Asics for $75.00, which in Canada is a great price for quality trainers.  In addition, the mall was giving out free coupon booklets to members of my profession.  I found a coupon in the book for an additional $5.00 off.  Every dollar counts!!!

I gave almost all of my shoes to the Salvation Army.  I also put a box of boots (brown leather, black leather, winter, etc.) together for my friend's daughter.  She is going to keep what she wants and donates the rest.  I hope that my shoes go to good homes - they were all quality shoes and in excellent condition.

I hope you all have a wonderful month!!  Enjoy the beautiful weather.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Recipe Share: Rhubarb Lemonade

Did you know Rhubarb Lemonade is a thing?  Neither did I, until Margaret (who runs the blog Approaching Food) mentioned it in a comment thread over at The Prudent Homemaker.

How did I not know about this???  After reading about it, I found a fabulous recipe for it from Ricardo Cuisine (one of Canada's culinary treasures) and decided to give it a try.  It did not disappoint!!!

I am so excited to make this recipe for parties, my kids, their friends, family dinners.  It is so refreshing and a great way to use up fresh or frozen rhubarb.  I used some frozen rhubarb I still had in my freezer from last year's crop.

Water and sugar boiling

Eventually, you end up with this.....

My 600g of frozen rhubarb

Boiling rhubarb, with sugar and water mixture


Lemons.  They just make everything smell fresh and clean, and like summer.
Ready to be chilled.
Here is my strained rhubarb-water-sugar mix in the pitcher with the lemon juice.  The recipe recommends you chill for 4 hours - but I found it was not cold enough after this.  It was good and cold after about six hours (will vary based on your fridge temperature), but I found the flavours actually tasted even better the following day.
Rhubarb Lemonade
A tall glass of Rhubarb Lemonade with frozen blueberries thrown in.

How beautiful would this be in a tall, clear, glass pitcher?  Or in a punch bowl?  

Get Ricardo's Rhubarb Lemonade Recipe Here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Great Grocery Project: Mid May Update

When did May become the craziest month of the year??

I feel, and I have been reading this on many other blogs too, that this month has been insane.  And it's not over yet!!  Busy, busy, busy.

So far this month I have spent $200.00 on groceries.  I am saving the full breakdown at the end of the month - but this feels pretty good because there are only two weeks left before the end of the month.
I had to post though, because there is just too much stuff going on!  Lots of money saving adventures...

How have we saved money so far this month??
Blackberry Ginger Ale - Yes!!!
Earlier this month, Canada Dry launched a new product - Blackberry Ginger Ale.  I wanted to try it, but we do not drink a lot of pop.  I found the "baby cans" in a six pack at Giant Tiger for $2.25.  I bought it.  I tried it.  I loved it.  And the aesthetically pleasing.....
Baby Dove Tip to Toe Wash
I belong to the Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum Rewards program, which I have written about extensively and which saves us about $800-$1000 a year.  Sometimes I get free samples or coupons for free things in the mail.  A few weeks ago, the above sample arrived.  A perfect little travel size of Baby Dove Tip to Toe Wash.  This came just before we were about to leave on vacation so I was able to bring it for my boys' baths.  I also received a different sample of lotion (for mom) which I brought along too.  Win!!
Mother's Day Gifting
Mother's Day came and went and we gave our gifts to the women in our life.  This is an example of one of the gifts I put together.  This gift included a canvas tote "Life is what you make it" from Chapters Indigo - it was purchased at almost 65% off its regular price and using Ebates.  Inside the bag were two full size Martha Stewart Bath Towels, purchased at more than 50% off from The Bay, again using Ebates.  The Crabtree & Evelyn lotion and body wash (I wrote about them last month) were purchased at 50% off because they were in a Christmas tin.  I simply removed them from the tin which I will use for other gifts at Christmas.  Finally, the Stuart McLean Vinyl Café was purchased at Costco - it wasn't on sale but it was a good price and I knew my mom would love it.  She did.
Clothing Haul
I shop for clothes and gifts (in an actual store, not online) only about 2 or 3 times a year.  The cheapest way to buy clothes is to buy them second hand.  I am not going to get into why I do not buy second hand clothes - but I just want to say that it is not because I have anything against them, or look down on them - we buy many items (just not clothes) second hand and I am very happy to accept hand me downs.  I think I have a really good system for buying new clothes at amazing prices that I pass down between my kids, and also to nieces, nephews, friends, etc.  OK - now that we have that out of the way...
Before Easter I had purchased some needed items from Gap Kids and Gap Factory Outlet for which I earned some Gap Cash.  However, even though there were additional items I needed I did not want to spend the GapCash unless really necessary or I could come up with other income.  I tried to sell some items on Kijiji to get the cash.  No luck.  Then, my mother-in-law generously gave each of my son's $50.00 at Easter.  Perfect!!  Since the clothing was for them anyway, I knew it would cover the cash I had to output in order to maximize the Gap Cash.  On the first day it was valid, I went to the Gap and gathered up every clearance item I could find that fit with my shopping list.  After all was said and done - I purchased:
1 beautiful winter parka for my son (this alone was regularly $119.99, on end of season clearance for $19.99)
3 pairs of pants
1 zip-up sweater
3 pairs of shorts (not everything is shown in the picture above)
1 polo shirt
1 pair of Disney pyjamas
For all of this, I spent $5.00 of my own money.  Not bad.

I also used my Cash for the Gap Factory Outlet.  There was able to get 5 pairs of pants, 1 bathing suit (top and bottom for my son), 3 t-shirts, 1 long sleeve button up shirt, and a zip up sweater.  All children's items.

After adding up both trips and calculating everything - the average cost per item of clothing was $6.50.  If you take away the money my mother-in-law gave me that number drops even more.

Our trip...
We also took a four day trip over Mother's Day weekend to visit my grandparents in Windsor, Ontario.  We had not been there since last July, and it was their first time meeting our youngest son.  We used points from our BMO World Elite MasterCard to book our hotel (2 rooms x 3 nights at the Hampton Inn & Suites), making it FREE.  Zero out of pocket for the hotel.  We brought all kinds of snacks and food and bottled water to eat on our 5 hour to get there and at the hotel as needed.  Our first night at the hotel was our treat night - we ordered dinner in and spent $50.00.  The rest of the weekend we ate all our breakfasts at the hotel breakfast, and our lunches and dinner at my grandparents.  I did go to the grocery store and buy food to make dinner one night at my grandparents - but I am not counting this as a trip expense - it was just something I wanted to do for them.  We also visited nearby Amherstberg (a beautiful little town on the waterfront) where you can visit Fort Malden National Historic Site for FREE if you have the 150 Canada Parks Pass.  There is also a beautiful park beside the National Historic Site (which itself is very beautiful and well maintained) where there is a large play area and splash pad for children.  We drove along the waterway and treated ourselves to 2 frozen lemonades and 1 snack size smoothie from McDonald's for our son (Total cost: $5.00).  If you have a parks pass, you could also visit nearby Point Pelee but we did not have time to do this.  Hopefully we can visit this on another trip.  We spent a great deal of time enjoying our hotels salt water pool.  We brought many of our sons toys and his kickster bike so that he could play outside at my grandparents.  We did stop at McDonald's for lunch on the way home - specifically so my son could run around the play area as the weather would not allow outdoor play at a rest stop.  All in all - our 3 night, 4 day trip cost us $75.00 (not including gas).  Not bad!!!!!

The rest of this month is going to fly by...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: April Recap

This month saw many, many expenses.  Such is life.  They were almost entirely unrelated to the grocery bill, but I will write about some of our savings at the end of this post as usual.

I tried to sell some things on Kijiji this month.  I find I just never have luck getting rid of stuff unless it is a big ticket item (like an appliance).  My hopes for a sale have not materialized, but I want to get these things out of my house so there is a box sitting by my front door waiting to be delivered to the charity shop.

One thing that has been on my mind this month, and frustrating me, is the high cost of basic food items in Canada.  We have bounced around all over the world for the past decade for my husband's job, and I haven't been to anywhere in the industrialized world where basic food items cost as much as they do in Canada.  American readers must read how much we spend on groceries and think that we are not being so frugal, but....we are.  The truth is that groceries cost significantly more in Canada than in the United States.  Why is this?  There are a few reasons.

1.  Climate.  Unlike in the U.S., there is nowhere in Canada (except in greenhouses) where produce can be grown year round.  We simply do not have the climate for it.  Although Canada produces beautiful, wonderful food - it only does so certain months of the year and there are many food products that simply do not grow here at all (see: oranges).  Much of our produce is imported for 8 months of the year.

2.  The exchange rate.  When our dollar is low (or lower like it is right now, as opposed to a few years ago when it was more or less at par with the US Dollar) - things here cost more to import.  This is simple economics that can have a huge impact on our grocery bills.

3.  Canadian Agricultural Rules - This has been in the news quite a bit lately.  Several industries in Canada are protected by quota and marketing boards - these industries include dairy and poultry.  This results in higher prices for consumers.  Much higher than what our counterparts pay in the States.  A recent National Post article discussing these quotas said that basic food items in Canada cost 2 -3 times more than in other industrialized countries.  Ouch.  This is a major factor in our household grocery bills.  (Note: this is not to slam Canadian farmers - Canadian food production is tightly regulated and the quality of our home produced food is excellent - but we are paying a premium for it).

4.  Populations of scale.  There are only 35 million people in Canada.  This is a fraction of the US's population in a country roughly the same size geographically.  Canadian consumers just don't have the economic clout Americans do.  More people = more products = more competition.  Adding to that, there are many remote areas in Northern Canada where the price food is much higher than in places like Southern Ontario, owing to transportation costs.

These are a few of the main reasons why groceries here cost more.  Now....where was I?

Oh yes....

How much did we spend on groceries this month?
This month we spend $436.04 on groceries.

What did we spend it on?
Beverage = 0
Bread = $29.50
Dairy = $129.05 (see note above about the price of dairy here)
Frozen Food = $7.41
Meat = $26.80
Pantry = $94.67  This was so high this month because there was a large recall across Canada on flour and a few other grain related items.  I had to throw out what I had in my house - in addition because so many items were recalled, the supply of potentially uncontaminated flour was minimal and I paid about two times as much as I normally do for this product.
Prepared Food = $4.16
Produce = $104.87  Again, you can see my note above.  As I mentioned last month, we have been eating a lot of grapes which drives up the grocery bill pretty quickly.
Dip or sauce = $3.49

What did we do to save money this month?

1.  I redeemed a coupon that came in the mail for a FREE tube of Colgate toothpaste (a new product they are launching for sensitive teeth) from Shopper's Drug Mart.  No purchase necessary.  This toothpaste retails for $7.99.  We use toothpaste for sensitive teeth anyway (Pronamel) so this was a real win!

2.  As a result of two pregnancies where I experienced massive swelling my feet have changed size and they are not going back.  I have also had some other foot related issues that the pregnancies brought about (although according to my doctor are not the root cause - just bringing out underlying issues that already existed) - long story short - I had to get orthotics.  Thankfully my benefits plan covers one pair of orthotics.  Because it only covers one pair, I wanted to get a new pair of shoes for when I return to work since my job involves me being on my feet all day.  Friends, have you shopped for shoes in a retail store lately?  I have not gone shopping for new running shoes in a none-outlet or clearance centre for over a decade.  I did not have time to go to a clearance centre before the appointment, so I went to the mall.  My eyes almost popped out of my head when I realized that most high end running shoes are now retailing for $180.00+++ a pair (also note - this is in Canada - running shoes are one of the items that tend to be significantly cheaper in the States).  After getting over some serious sticker shock, I found a lonely clearance rack of shoes.  There, sitting almost hidden on the bottom of the rack was a beautiful pair of Asics Metarun black and onyx shoes in my size.  I was looking for a black pair that at least look a little bit fancy since we do not typically wear this type of shoe for work.  This shoe's regular retail price is $330.00 a pair.  They were on "clearance" for $119.99.  I realize this is still quite a bit - but alas, works shoes.  The sales guy was telling me how great they are for running - and I had to tell him I had no plans to ever sweat in a pair of shoes that cost this much.  I am hoping to find a less expensive pair of Saucony shoes for actually exercising in when I make a trip to the outlet mall in May or June.

3.  This month, I rearranged all our storage bins of kids clothes.  After my first son, clothes were just getting piled away as he grew out of them and were not necessarily sorted by size.  This has been somewhat problematic with Baby #2 because I have trouble locating certain items.  We seemed to be experiencing a major shortage of sleepers, and I thought I was going to have to go buy more, however after completely unpacking and resorting three years worth of little boy clothes I discovered we have lots of sleepers and no shopping trip was needed.  WIN!!!!  All of the clothes are now sorted by size and will be put away by size regardless of when Baby #2 grows out of them.  All of the bins are carefully labeled to keep everything organized.   If we have a Baby #3 we will be ready!!

4.  I booked a vacation using gift cards.  Not sure if I should really be claiming this as a "save" since it is not of my own doing - but we received some Best Western gift cards as a Christmas gift - and there is a Best Western sort of in the middle of nowhere about 2 hours from us that has a small (but perfect for preschool kids) indoor pool.  The rates at this hotel are extremely reasonable - so I booked 2 nights at this hotel over the American long weekend at the end of May - and we still have some gift card money leftover.  Because we have an infant and a 3 year old, we either need to get a suite or two rooms - the sleep times are just not coordinate yet and try telling a 3 year old to be quiet.  Even when he is quiet he wakes up his brother.  I discovered it was cheaper to book 2 King bed rooms than it was to book a 2 room suite.  My husband gets US holidays and I am maternity leave, which allows us to travel at some of the less-peak times.  Our son will be soooo excited for this.  I will write more about our trip when we take it.  This year we are only doing free travel (so either paid for by gift cards or with points that we have, or staying with family) and I am planning to write a series about it as we go along.

5.  I redeemed $200.00 worth of Optimum points at Shopper's Drug Mart on a bonus points redemption day.  Normally you redeem 95,000 points for $170 worth of product, but on this day I was able to get an extra $30.00 worth of FREE stuff.  What did I pick up with my $200.00 point redemption?
-4 packages of 6 Bounty paper towels
-2 packages of Huggies Little Swimmers
-2 greeting cards
-OFF! Family bug spray
-1 box of Milupa infant cereal
-1 container of Neostrata Oil Free Moisture Infusion
-1 package of BBQ spice rubs (a gift box to go in a birthday gift for my brother-in-law)
-1 tube of Neutrogena face scrub
-1 bottle of Tide Free & Clear (24 loads)
-1 400ml bottle of La Roche Posay Lipikar Baume AP+
-2 bottles of Cranberry Raspberry Juice
-2 bottles of Tropicana Lemondae (a treat!)
-1 lb of butter
-2 dozen eggs
-1 box of Pirate Oatmeal Peanut Butter cookies (also a treat!)

The best part about this redemption is that even though I redeemed the points in April, it was on April 29th so all of these things will be put to good use in the month ahead - May.

Well that is the report for this month, we will be away for 2 weekends in May for family events so the spending this month will be a bit different.  Looking forward to what May has in store for all of us.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Message for New Moms: You've Got This

You have brought home your tiny baby.  You may have had a smooth delivery, or you may have had a tense, anxiety filled experience - but either way - you survived and now days, weeks, maybe months later you are at home with this sweet little bundle.  It is the middle of the night - or wait - is it early in the morning?  You're not really sure anymore because all the hours and days seem to be melting together.  You are scrolling through social media and seeing dozens of pictures of people you know, and some you don't, looking perfect.  Smiling.  Happy.  Beautiful.  Holding their well-dressed babies full of joy.  Suddenly, you feel more than tired - you feel.....inadequate.  Your house isn't clean enough.  Your baby isn't sleeping "enough".  You are not cooking enough.  You love your baby but you are not happy enough.  You have't lost enough weight.  You don't know what you are doing - well-intentioned but unsolicited parenting advice is making you feel like you are not good enough.  Listen to me sisters: You've got this.

When the baby won't stop crying and all you can do is tell him you love him give him a snuggle - you've got this.

When you shed a tear because you are overwhelmed by the awesome task you have been given - you've got this.

When you decide to order a pizza because you just didn't get a chance to cook the dinner you wanted tonight - you've got this.

When the laundry is piling up because your baby needed you more than housework - you've got this.

When you feel like you will have a handful of squishy skin around your waistline forever (you won't) - you've got this.

Parenting is so hard.  It is the hardest thing you will ever do.  People will tell you "this goes by so fast", "this too shall pass", "this is a phase" - and it will not make you feel any better (even if they are telling you the truth - and they are).  Remind yourself: Today is one day.  I will love myself and my baby today.  I will not be ashamed to ask for help if I need it.  Tomorrow will be a new day.  

You've got this.

There is no perfect mom.  We are all making mistakes and learning as we go.  No author of any book or theory has ever raised (or met for that matter) your child.  You will find your way and it will not be anyone else's way, and that is OK.  

A Message for New Moms:  Your baby loves you.  Your baby needs you now and forever.  You are strong.  You are a warrior.  

You've got this.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Recipe: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls

I tried to think of something more glamourous to call these - but all the names just started Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls it is.

Kraft Canada recently released a new product - Natural Peanut Butter with Sea Salt.  I picked some up on sale at No Frills for $2.88 a few weeks ago and it is, as one would expect, delicious.  There is a pretty well-known no bake peanut butter ball recipe on the back of most Kraft Peanut butter jars - and I have adapted it slightly to come up with this recipe.

The peanut butter balls I made and ate as a kid were essentially peanut butter, butter, and icing sugar.  They were very delicious, super rich and.....contained lots of sugar.  This recipe is healthier, but still packs a punch.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls
1 cup of Kraft Natural Peanut Butter with Sea Salt
1/4 cup of honey
1 cup of oatmeal (I used Quaker quick oats)
1 cup of chopped pecans
2/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips OR chopped bittersweet chocolate
Coconut - optional

Combine the peanut butter and honey in a bowl.  Add remaining ingredients, except coconut, and stir.  Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (I like to leave it overnight).  Form mixture into balls (a tbsp scoop makes this super easy).  If desired, roll balls in coconut.  Enjoy!

Refrigerate when not eating.  This mixture will stay good in the fridge for up to one week.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: March Recap

This month seemed to drag on forever.  I have lots to say so lets get to it.

This month we spent $390.00 on groceries.  This is less than the average household monthly expenditure on food (it is $719.00), but still more than I wanted to spend.  Further in this post I will be discussing how we got here.  First, let's break it down....

What did we spend our money on?

Ranked from highest to lowest....

Produce = $122.96  We spent a lot of money on produce this month.  One of the main things driving up our produce spending is my son.  Yes, I will blame this on him - but it is alright.  First, he rarely eats vegetables - but he loves green smoothies - in particular this Going Green Smoothie recipe from Vitamix.  If making this smoothie gets my son eating, er drinking, spinach then so be it.  (I also really like this smoothie recipe).  The main ingredients in this smoothie are grapes (not cheap!!!  I have been trying to get them on sale every week but I think I am spending about $7-10.00 a week on grapes), pineapple (also not cheap - but is often on sale thankfully), bananas (cheap!!) and spinach (cheap!!).  The other "produce development" if you will is that my son is currently enjoying eating pears and apples - with the peel on!  He is not quite 3 1/2 years old so this is huge for me that he can just walk into the kitchen and grab a piece of fruit and chomp away.  I do not want to discourage this habit (it probably won't last) so I have been keeping a steady supply of pears and apples in our kitchen.  So there, I am blaming everything on my son.  But it's not a bad thing.  I will spend some extra money on produce if it means that my son is actually willing to eat healthy foods with no prompting whatsoever.

Dairy = $105.45  A few programming notes here.  My dairy includes eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, etc.  I bought lots of cheese this month because of pizza making with our recently acquired Vitamix.  I also spent $8.00 on a specialty cheese (Smoked yes!!!).  We love cheese in our house.  We moved to Toronto from Europe (although we are Canadian) and we were very spoiled by the low price of specialty cheeses in Europe.  This was a treat for me an I thoroughly enjoyed every single bite of it.
This month I was also reminded of the importance of regularly checking and comparing prices.  Typically butter in Canada retails for about $5.99 a pound (I realize that must seem exorbitant to American readers, but this is the case).  If you watch, you can usually find it on sale ever six to eight weeks for $2.99 or $3.49 a pound, however Costco used to sell it for $2.95 a pound.  I always stocked up with butter at Costco.  Recently I noticed that the Costco where I shop increased their price of butter to $3.95 a pound and so now I will be waiting for butter to (hopefully) go on sale before Easter for $2.88 or $2.99 a pound.  I will be stocking up on butter in April.  I also decided this month that I will likely stop purchasing Liberté yogurt at Costco (but other brands of yogurt are still a very good deal there).  At Costco, you can purchase Liberté Yogurt in packs of 14 for a decent price, but the flavours are predetermined and it is a low fat yogurt.  Because my son loves yogurt (but mainly just vanilla and not low fat), and because my husband and I are particular about the flavours we like, I am now going to purchase my Liberté yogurt at regular retails where I can typically get it in pack of 4 for between $3-4.00.  This allows me to get only the flavours that we all like and will eliminate any unnecessary wasted yogurt.  It will not cost us any more, and in some cases will cost less.

Pantry = $43.48

Meat = $28.78  This amount should have been less because someone (no husbands mentioned here) forgot to take out a turkey to thaw, so at the last minute I bought chicken.  The chicken was reduced for quick sale, but it didn't really feel like a deal.  Nonetheless, it tasted fabulous.

Frozen = $21.23

Bread = $18.97  I did make bread once this month, but we also ate a lot of toast.  That's alright though.  One thing I tried this month was a visit to the Stonemill Bakery factory outlet.  It is in Markham which is not too far from where we live.  Let me just save you the trip and tell you that this is not worth the trip (unless you live very close to the factory and do not have a Costco membership).  At the factory you can get 4 loaves of bread for $10.00 which is about the same price that you can get it for at Costco (3 loves for $6.99 or $7.99 depending on the type) and they only take cash.  Oh well, it was worth checking out if only to know that it is not worth the return trip.

Beverage = $14.74  This is much better than the ridiculous amount I spent on beverages last month.  It is slightly over the $10.00 limit I was thinking of, but I am comfortable with this spend.

Prepared Food = $11.28

Baby Products = $8.37

Where did we spend our money?

Costco = $83.12

Metro = $57.20

Michael Angelo's = $12.29

No Frills = $183.88  I made a conscious effort to shop more at No Frills this month because they have really good prices and I find if I go there first thing in the morning (especially on a Saturday) the produce selection is quite good.  Because of this, I also decided to get a new PC Points card and to try and use it more often.  I had one when the loyalty program first started, but never really started using it.  I am going to try and use it regularly now and I will keep you posted on how I find this loyalty program.

Village Grocer = $11.49

Walmart = $27.00

What did we do to save money this month?

I used some of the coupons that I got last month from Shoppers Drug Mart ($30.00 worth) to purchase various needed items.

I ordered Easter gifts for my son and nephews through Ebates.  We keep it very simple - I ordered them through Chapters Indigo.  Each boy gets a sports ball (yes, you can get these things from Indigo) and a book relating to the ball.  For example, my son is getting a neon mini football and a Charlie Brown book about football.  I picked up some very small chocolate items from Walmart to hide for him for his hunt.

My son had a growth spurt and needed new clothes.  I literally had not been shopping (in person) since August, so one day I drove to the outlet mall in Cookstown where I visited The Gap and Crabtree and Evelyn.  I was able to get some excellent end of season clearouts on pants for my son and some sweatshirts for next season also at an excellent price.  I also got $50.00 in Gap dollars, but I will only use them if it serves a purpose when they are valid - otherwise I will give them to a friend.  In addition, I was able to pick up the final items for Mother's Day gifts.  I purchased two beautiful gift sets from Crabtree and Evelyn at 50% off.  They were 50% off because they were in Christmas tins, but the packages themselves were not festive.  This is perfect.  I will remove them from the tins to make the spa gifts I have in mind for my mother and mother-in-law and keep the tins to either use at Christmas time or as storage for my kids craft/art supplies.

One thing I have been trying to do is really, really make sure I want to buy something before I spend money on it.  I normally do this anyway but this month even more so.  I keep asking myself - do I need this?  Do I need this right now?  Is there something else I can get that is the same quality but costs less?

Frugal Fail:
This month I ate at fast food restaurants on several occasions.  We never (like ever!) eat out.  I would not mind if these meals had been planned, but most of them weren't and so I am disappointed about these expenses.  I really let myself down here.  This will not happen again.

Looking forward...
I have good feelings about April and I am very happy to close the door on March.  We have lots of meat for this month (the frozen turkey that did not get thawed last month, some chicken I cooked today, and some pork I picked up yesterday on sale for $1.77 a pound).  We still have lots of pantry supplies and lots of fruit in our freezer which I am going to start pounding through at a faster rate as summer approaches.

A couple of experiences this month were very humbling for me.  My friend's daughter is doing some missionary work in Guatemala and she posted a picture of a family that she brought a bed to.  Their house was literally built into rocks with sheet metal for the roof.  They have five children and a daughter who was terribly ill and also blind and unable to swallow.  My heart broke when I saw this picture.  We are so truly blessed (not the trendy hashtag blessed), we take so much for granted.

Another friend of mine is a missionary in Kentucky.  He posted on Facebook about a visit to an orphanage where he met a young man whose brain never developed properly because for the firth three years of his life he was only fed water and KoolAid.  I read about this with a very heavy heart.  There are so many children who do not get the love and care they need.  These stories always drive home to me the importance of taking care of my own family and those around me, and how fortunate I am that I have the means to do so.  We are truly, truly blessed.

On another note, spring has arrived and I am looking forward to celebrating Easter with family this month as well.....

Spring, glorious spring!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gift Giving on a Budget (aka Why I Love Dollarama)

I love giving gifts to people.  It is so great to see someone's reaction when they open a gift and know that they are going to enjoy it or have a practical use for it.  I also love putting gifts together.  I don't really know why - I just do.  I love gifting.  This can be a dangerous thing because sometimes we can buy gifts that are junk (maybe not to us) which people will never use.  When I am shopping for a gift I try to ask myself what the person could use, what they might need, and what might they enjoy?  Sometimes the gift is a thing, other times it is an experience.  I also love edible gifts.  These questions are always followed by, what can I afford to give?  The budget always dictates the gift.  Buying gifts for someone that you cannot afford is unwise.  I have seen people do this (especially for their own children), and trust me, it never ends well.  Sometimes people may think they want to give their kids a "special" birthday or holiday, but then they confuse special with expensive.  Special and expensive are so not synonymous.  When I think back to some of my favourite gifts that I received as a child, none of them were expensive.  None.  There is nothing wrong with an expensive gift - if you can afford it.  Debt free gift giving is really paramount to financial stability.  Anyway, I am getting sidetracked... 
One of my favourite places to shop for gifts is a Canadian dollar store called Dollarama.  True, dollar stores are easy places to collect junk - but they are also places where a careful shopper can curate a beautiful gift.  I am going to share below some of purchases from a recent trip to Dollarama and how they can be used to make beautiful gifts.  Did I mention I love Dollarama?  I totally do and they definitely have not paid me to say this.
One Egg Is A Fortune Cookbook and Coffee Table Book - $4.00
I picked up this stunning cookbook and coffee table book, One Egg Is A Fortune, for $4.00.  It was still wrapped in the publisher's plastic.  It is a fantastic book (I found it at online retail outlets for between $30.00 and $45.00).  This was actually a purchase for myself, and I bought one for a friend.  However, it would be an amazing gift on its own or paired with some cookware.
Williams & Sonoma Kids Parties book, $3.00
This Williams & Sonoma Kids Parties book was $3.00.  For the person who loves to host parties, this would be fantastic when paired with some party supplies (perhaps craft supplies to go with an activity in the book, mason jars, a cake pan, cookie sheets, etc.).  There are some really cute and affordable ideas in this book for various themed kids parties.
Star Wars Hot Wheels, $3.00 each.
I picked up these Star Wars Hot Wheels to go with one of my nephews' birthday presents.  They were matched with a pair of Star Wars Crocs (bought on clearance through Crocs using Ebates) and a Star Wars t-shirt ordered from The Bay (also using Ebates).

Children's books, assorted prices from $1.25-$3.00
Dollarama often has a great selection of kids books.  On this trip I picked up some hardcover books, including some Backyardigans storybooks, a bilingual (French and English) Paw Patrol book, and a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse storybook.  These books will all be used to go with gifts for my own children as well as nieces and nephews.

These are just a few examples of things that can be purchased at Dollarama and used in gifts for people of all ages,  Needless to say, trips to the dollar store help me to stay on budget and give great affordable gifts to the people I care about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wedding Spending - Your Dream Wedding for Less

It is another -23 degree morning here and the snow is blowing around, but that is not stopping me from thinking about the upcoming wedding season.  I have read a few posts on different blogs about weddings on the near horizon - and so I decided to share a few tips from my own wedding experience as a bride, and many experiences as a bridesmaid.  It is so easy for weddings to become ridiculously expensive (and ridiculous of course is all relative), but there are things you can do to save money.

Where to spend and where to save?
This is a question only you and your partner can answer.  The most important thing when planning a wedding (aside from the obvious making sure you have chosen the right partner and that you are in a solid relationship) is establishing priorities.  What do you think of when you think of your dream wedding?  What is most important to you?  Do you dream of a live band playing jazz standard into the night, an outdoor wedding at a heritage location, or perhaps you have always wanted a country themed wedding?  Only you and your partner can answer these questions.  Once you have made a list of what is important to the two of you, it should be much easier to decide where to spend and where you can save some money.

The Ring
A lot of couples are starting to forgo the diamond engagement ring and opting for less expensive items such as other gemstones are synthetic diamonds.  My husband got my engagement ring via a diamond wholesaler we had a personal connection to, which saved a significant amount of money.  I love my ring, but going back in time yes, I probably would now opt for an even less expensive option and put any money saved towards a down payment for a house.  My rule of thumb is to never take on debt for an engagement or a wedding.  So many problems in a marriage arise due to financial issues, you do not want to start off by taking on unnecessary debt.  Work with whatever budget you have.

The Invitations
My artistic ability is minimal, and I really wanted embossed (raised print) wedding invitations so I used a professional printer.  It cost roughly $500.00 for approximately 200 invitations.  They were beautiful and classic and I loved them - but if you are handy (of you know someone who is) you can easily make your own invitations for a fraction of that price.  One of my friends spent about $75.00 making their wedding invitations and there was nothing cheap looking about them.  Let's be honest - 95% of your invitations will end up in the recycle bin after the fact anyway.
Other Stationary - I bought all of my "Thank You" cards for the wedding and preceding bridal showers at Dollorama (Canadian dollar store) and Target.  I made my own wedding programs using regular white paper that I folded into a booklet.  I covered the booklet with a folded and cut piece of cardstock (to make a full booklet), stamped the front of the booklet and used ivory ribbon to tie everything together.

The Date
Our wedding was on a Friday evening.  We hadn't planned on this - but the venue we wanted was booked the Saturday of our wedding weekend so we opted for a Friday wedding.  We knew that we wanted an evening wedding anyway (our ceremony was at 7 and our reception started at 9pm), so we didn't have to worry about the majority of guests having to take a day off work to attend.  Sidebar: I loved an evening wedding.  It made the day so relaxed and not rushed.  It was fantastic and our guests didn't have to mill about for hours between the ceremony and reception.
Another great way to get reduced rates is to have your wedding at a non-seasonal time (ie. not in the summer or early fall).

This is where a lot of people can blow the budget.  I wanted a dress that was different and that I loved, and I just never found one that I fell in love with.  So I had a custom dress made.  This was a major expense - however major is again relative.  I know people who have paid $5000.00 for their wedding dress - I did not pay near this much.  My dress was not a traditional bridal gown.  I saw a dark brown evening gown made by Michel Desjardins that I loved and in the end I had a custom version of it made in cream.  I loved it.  It was a little pricey, but I never really regretted spending a bit more money on this.  I think if I had wanted to spend less money I would have opted for a complete different style of gown.  I have seen some beautiful cocktail length dresses worn by brides recently and that is another great way to save money.

But how can you save on a wedding dress?  Here are two great options:
Opportunity Bridal is a Canadian company - it is essentially a traveling bridal boutique that sells demos and ends of high end wedding gowns at steeply discounted prices.  This is a phenomenal way to save hundreds (thousands even) of dollars on a bridal gown.  I know many people who have bought their gowns through this company and it has been a huge money saver for them.  If you live close to the border, with the low Canadian dollar it is probably worth the trip to check out one of their shows.  Due to the nature of the business, their dress selection is always changing.

Another great option is House of Brides online bridal boutique.  The big disadvantage here is that you do not get to try on your dress - which is why for the bridal gown I prefer other options.  However, I did use House of Brides to order all my bridesmaid dresses and it worked wonderfully.

As far as the men are concerned - lots of money can be saved by having them all wear a black suit and just purchasing coordinating shirts and ties instead of renting tuxes.  This is assuming they all own a suit.

The Food
Because I had a very clear vision of what I wanted for our wedding, the food was easy to sort out.  We had an evening reception (it started at 9pm) and there was total free movement (there were tables for people to sit at - but no assigned seating and so it was more of a large cocktail party vibe).  I knew that I did not want a long sit down multiple course meal, nor would time permit that.  Instead we had a massive assortment of finger food and appetizers.  Just to clear up any misconceptions: we had an abundance of food and we got a lot of very positive feedback about it.  We had stations - so there was a large cheese and crudité bar, there was a prime rib carving station where people could have custom baguette sandwiches made, there was lots of seafood, there were servers constantly offering up food to our guests  - things like goat cheese tartlettes, chicken skewers, shrimp, etc. etc.  Food was everywhere and it was good.  Neither of us really wanted a cake, so we had a large dessert bar which included a chocolate fountain.  This was a big hit.  Our dinner was not "cheap" in price, but it was a fraction of what a four or five course sit down meal would cost.  Most people I talk to say that a sit down dinner at a typical wedding venue in our area will run you around $100/head.  Ten years after our wedding, people still mention to us how much they enjoyed the food.
Other ways to save money include shopping around many different types of venues (our reception was at a private members club, but there are lots of community halls and churches that put on great feasts for weddings at very reasonable prices).  I have been to weddings where the bride and groom literally cooked all the food themselves.  This was so much work, but the result was excellent.  One wedding I attended had a make your own beef on a bun bar, an assortment of salads, and then for the midnight buffet they ordered about 50 pizzas from a local pizzeria.  Their cake was made by a friend, large slabs of cake we sliced right before the reception.  Essentially, they also did all the food themselves.  All this food came at a very low cost - and you know what?  It was amazing.  I had so much fun at this reception.  There are so many different things you can do to save money on food while still treating your guests to a beautiful party - because you do want your guests to enjoy a beautiful night out.

The Entertainment

I wanted a live band at my wedding.  I just did.  This was a major expense for us (it was about $2800.00).  We hired a well-known artist and a 4 piece jazz ensemble.  They were great.  People oooed and awes when I announced that they would be providing music for our guests after the toasts were complete.  Yes, it was a big expense.  This was something that was important to me.  Given the technology available today, I have attended weddings where people made their own playlist in advance and hooked up iPods to speakers and sound systems they had access to.  Do what works for you.

The Favours
Favours are an area where you can save a lot of money.  DIY is the way to go.  I highly recommend something edible or plantable, or burnable (a candle) because I think everything else will eventually end up in the garbage (sorry).  Unless maybe you make your own pottery......
What did we do?  There is a great supply company called ULine.
ULine sells retail and food packaging products in bulk.  Through ULine, we ordered food safe (FDA compliant) candy boxes and liners, as well as drawstring bags to put them in.  Ordering them through Uline was again, a fraction of the cost of ordering through a major wedding supplier.  I strongly recommend checking out the different products they offer for favour ideas.
After we had all our boxes, I gathered some friends and family and we did some serious baking.  Our favourite treats.  We then filled 185 boxes with delicious desserts for our guests to take home.

The Flowers
As soon as you say "wedding flowers" dollar signs start dancing around.  We ordered our flowers from a local grocery store (Zehrs) that had a florist on staff.  The trick is to make sure you have a good florist.  Our photographer, who obviously has been to thousands of weddings, commented on how beautiful the bouquets were.  When I told him where they came from and the cost he couldn't believe it.  You can also get great flowers at very reasonable prices from Costco.

Ten years after the big day, all you will have left are your memories and pictures.  This is not an area I would skimp on.  Make sure you have someone who knows what they are doing.

Out of Town Guests
Let's be honest.  People spend a lot of money on your wedding.  People travel.  People take time off work.  They buy something to wear.  They hire a babysitter.  They buy you a lovely gift.  They sacrifice for you.  And they don't have to.  So it is important to show your appreciation to your guests.  We had a number of guests traveling from out of town for our wedding.  Initially I wanted to send a gift basket to each of their hotel rooms (they were mainly all staying at the same hotel where we had a group discount for our guests).  When I looked into the cost of this, I realized it would cost about $100 per basket.  Way out of my budget.  So I decided to make my own.  This was super easy, and was very appreciated.  I bought a number of large gift bags and baskets at the dollar store, then I went to Costco and picked up items such as: San Pellegrino sparkling water, still water, soft drinks, snack bars, individually bagged chips, gum, mints, colouring books and crayons for guests with children, etc.  I made up a selection for every out of town guest and left them at the front desk of the hotel to be given to them when they checked in.  This might have cost me about $15-20 per room.  I can't remember was ten years ago.  These little gestures go a long way to making your guests know that their presence is important to you.

And so there you have it.  There are many things you can do to make your wedding more affordable.  Establish a budget.  Set your priorities.  Enjoy your beautiful day.