Monday, August 28, 2017

How have we saved money this month?

I usually lump these in with The Great Grocery Project, but since my next post in that series will be a year-long recap, and the past few weeks have been crazy busy, I am giving the money savers their own post.

1. Not renting a car!! This will be our biggest save, although it is also paired with a big spend. My car is 6 years old and starting to get many small rust spots on the bottom due to stone chips and our climate/road conditions. We want to drive this vehicle for (we hope) another 5-6 years. Rust spreads like wildfire, so in order to maintain the body we sent it in for some body work.   Not cheap but necessary. This left us without a vehicle, which we need for various reasons. It was going to cost between $500-800 to rent a car that would fit our car seats for a week and we just cannot spend that right now. After talking it over, my husband arranged to work from home for 3 days this week and I will drive him the other two days. His work is 70km away and involves driving across the city, so it is a huge inconvenience to do this with a baby and preschool runs for the preschooler, but I think it is definitely worth the savings.

2. Hotel Points - last weekend we traveled North to Ontario's Cottage Country for a family event. We could have done the trip in one day, but it would have meant a late, miserable drive home. We were able to redeem Mastercard points and stay at a hotel. This made the trip much more relaxing and "saved" us $400.00 (although we would not have spent that without the points).

3. Benefits Investigation - I recently changed to a new benefits plan through work. When I phoned to clarify some of the plan details I found out my old history had been wiped, and I was essentially starting as if I had no claims. Obviously this wasn't being advertised in order to avoid a flood of claims before the official start date. I immediately booked Optometrist appointments for myself and my husband and we were both able to get new glasses without paying anything out of pocket (aside from our benefit payments of course). Fantastic !!

4. Daytimer Refills - Daytimer has been my go to organizer for 20 years. I cannot give up the paper calendar!! I must write things to stay organized. Last week I reviewed all the available refill packages and changed my usual order in order to save $20.00. This change will have zero impact on my organization.

5. Stretching the Grocery Dollar - While trying to use up some items on hand and avoid a trip to the grocery store, I made a Crock-Pot full of The Pioneer Woman's Refried Beans. I substitute 4 cups of the water with chicken broth. I used this to make bean soup, refried beans as a side, refried beans and cheese dip, and beans with corn muffins.

6. Duck Dynasty Cookbook - Have I mentioned that I love Dollorama ?   Have I mentioned that cookbooks are my vice? While picking up some hangers at Dollorama, I checked the book section (obligatory because they get ends from publishers and I have had many great finds here). There, waiting for me, was a copy of a Duck Dynasty cookbook for $3.00. I suspected it would be full of simple, uncomplicated, delicious, Southern recipes. It has not disappointed. I made cornmeal muffins and served them with bean soup, refried beans, with eggs, with homemade jam, and on their own as a snack. I love recipes and I need a hard copy because I like to make notes in my cookbooks.

I will stop here for now...but speaking of Crock Pots....if you are interested in the history of the Crock Pot, I highly recommend this article from Tablet Magazine. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Martha Stewart Gets It Done

I always love these types of articles about how busy, successful businesswomen (and men) plan their day.  This one is no exception.  Although I was thinking while reading it, yes, that is the secret - I could get so much more accomplished in a day if I had three personal assistants and a driver.  Ha!  I do enjoy Martha Stewart though.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Great Grocery Project - Mid August Recap

We are just a few weeks away now from the end of the Great Grocery Project's inaugural year.  The next post in this series will be a major, and I mean MAJOR, recap of a full year of grocery spending in our house.  Yikes.

So far in August, I have spent $464.56 on groceries.  Just over $150.00 of this was entirely spent on produce (in particular blueberries) that were frozen for the year ahead.  The Dairy category this month was also a big spend because I was completely out of butter - I picked up 6 lbs of butter at Costco for $3.65 a pound, which is about as cheap as you are going to find it in these parts, aside from the increasingly rare $2.99/lb sale.

Other things I picked up this month included Lean Ground Beef on sale at No Frills for $2.77/lb.  I bought two large packages.  One package was used to make a meatloaf and 10 frozen hamburger patties - currently thawing for tonight's dinner.  Another package is in the freezer.

When I did my massive produce run to a local farm I picked up a dozen corn on the cob (which is actually cheaper at most grocery stores).  I made Southern Style Creamy Corn, which I love and I find this stretches the corn more than just eating on the cob (which is also amazing).  Creamy Corn is served as a side with fish, poultry, beef, pork - pretty much any protein including baked beans.  I also serve it with Baked Beans and cornbread.  My favourite is setting aside 3 cups of the Creamy Corn to make Corn Chowder which is very economical, delicious, and provides yet more meals derived from a dozen cobs of corn.

I was also (finally) able to pick up a 10kg bag of flour at Costco.  They had been out of stock for quite some time as a result of the E coli recall that stretched across Canada.  We tend not to think of flour as a raw agricultural product, but it is.  This story received widespread coverage across Canada, in particular because a toddler became extremely ill after consuming raw flour.  Now, all flour packages have a HUGE warning label on them warning you not to eat it raw.  This is a bummer because what fun is making cookies and cakes if you cannot eat the dough???  Alas, I finally have a good supply of flour.

How have we saved money this month?

1.  Vacation  - We have just been on a family holiday.   Virtually no spend holidays this year mean keeping it simple.  Nobody has complained about this.  We went to stay with family for 6 days and we just relaxed (as much as you can with kids), visited with a few friends, and did lots of swimming.  One day we picked up some treats for everyone at a grocery store (we got pizza, watermelon, raspberries, a cheese ball with crackers, some freshly baked goods, etc.) and we spent $40.00 on that.  I went out for breakfast with friends one day and spend $7.00 including tax and tip.  We allowed our son to pick out one book for himself to read (he can't read yet - but loves to look through books) on the way home, this cost $8.00.  So - all in our 6 day vacation (not including gas) cost us $56.00.  In case you are wondering - I did volunteer to bring groceries and cook - but our host - my mother-in-law did not want us to do that.

2.  Free Fruit Tray  - I went to visit some friends from university for lunch, and there was a fruit tray leftover.  My friend and her husband were leaving that night to go on vacation, so she sent me home with the fruit tray.  Great snacks for everyone!

3.  Garden Harvest - It was looking doubtful, but I have finally been able to get a harvest from my garden.  We have been enjoying zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini bread, green beans, yellow beans, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and soon we will have beets as well.  Hurray!!!  I found a new recipe for chocolate zucchini bread in the current issue of Ricardo that uses much less sugar than my current recipe, so I am looking forward to trying it.

4.  Cereal Clearance - We (generally) do not eat cold cereal because it is not filling and very expensive.  I do keep a box of Cheerios on hand for snacks when we go to the park, but this tends to last a loooong time.  I was in Walmart one day and they had Maple Cheerios and Canada Day Fruit Loops (all special editions because of Canada's 150th birthday) on clearance for $1.00 a box.  This is very, very cheap.  Even on sale, these boxes would be typically $3.00 a box in Canada.  I bought 3 boxes and we have been enjoying them as special treats and snacks.  And this also reminded me how not filling cold cereal is.

5.  Ebates and Sephora - I ordered foundation from Sephora via Ebates in order to earn cashback.  I also ordered my 3 free samples - perfume samples and blush.  I love high end perfumes - I have never bought a bottle in my life - the free samples keep me going!!

6.  Parks, parks, parks!!  We continue to hit up parks all around us.  I have been trying to get my boys outside for 3-4 hours every day and it has been awesome.  And FREE!!!!!!  It is a bit of a hassle packing a picnic and loading/unloading the car most days, but it is so worth it.  Outdoor play is like therapy.  As long as it's not too hot!

7.  Anniversary - We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.  There is something I really want to get for my husband, but it is not in the budget right now.  Instead I got a special treat from Amadeus Patisserie in Thornhill (the absolute best).  It was a fraction of the price - and incredibly delicious.  This is the one place where I would choose purchasing over making from scratch.  Hello - St HonorĂ©, Cheesecake, Pistachio Delight.  Yes!!  Wait.....these were for my husband.....not me.......

That is all I have time to write for now.  I will be posting another update on our renovation shortly as soon as I can.

Flour Warning

The best desserts.  Ever.

Produce Haul

Tray freezing for bagging

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ravings and Ramblings on a House Overhaul: Part 1

Readers know, because I have been mentioning it on and off for literally the past year, that we have done a massive renovation on our house.  There was no step by step follow along or regular updating on the endeavor, but now that it is (almost) completely finished I am going to share a bit about it.  This will not be your typical DIY post - but if anything I can rant about  share helps someone else with their project, that would be fantastic...

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...

A few years ago I wrote a small primer about our little house, which you can read here (Nutshell Recap: After searching high and low in the GTA we bought a house in 2012 which we managed to find for well under $500K, which if you live in this area you know is very hard to do).  When we bought our house we were debating between it and one other option, which cost significantly more but was a larger house.  In the end, we went with the lower priced house knowing that if we wanted to make improvements (or if we had to) we would be in a better financial position to do so.  We have never regretted this decision.  Not even for one second.

While living at this house we have done a few improvements (like renovating our main bathroom which was so poorly designed and small that we could barely walk through it without touching both sides of the wall in some spots).  We also did a major exterior renovation (also known as landscaping!) which was the best money I think we spent on our house.  It increased ourliving space, did wonders for the curb appeal of the house, and increased the amount of time we spent outside playing with our kids exponentially.  The other work we did to our house was superficial, largely painting rooms and furnishing them.  We redid the closet in our master bedroom.  We turned one of the rooms into a guest bedroom and upcycled furniture where we could.  All of these projects were done a few years ago, and not part of our current renovation.  Fast forward to 2016...

One day in August 2016 I walked down to our basement and discovered the floor was damp, but thankfully not flooded.  Noooooo!!  I knew, immediately, that if this was water coming in from the outside as opposed to a plumbing problem coming from upstairs we would be looking at a minimum $25,000.00 in repairs - and that would just be for interior weeping tile.  I will spare you all the minute details - but yes - in the end we had water coming in from outside (this is a common problem in older houses in Ontario) and so we had to gut our entire basement, have an interior weeping tile installed and then restart from almost scratch.

This involved:
-all new flooring, insulation, drywall
- new cabinets and sink for the basement wet bar (also so it can easily be converted to a basement apartment for resale)
-we completely rebuilt a basement bathroom.

We also had to replace our roof, the pump in our septic tank (not the source of the basement leak, but it died and needed to be replaced), and one of our sump pumps.  And this is just for the basement.

This unwanted project fell into our lap when I was about 30 weeks pregnant with Baby #2.  By the time I was 31 weeks pregnant I became very, very ill and was pretty much bedridden for the rest of my pregnancy.  The baby arrived early, but not preterm, when our house was in complete shambles and our basement was gutted.  While we were doing our renovation, we rented a storage cube which became infested with mice and the company refused to allow us to claim any damages.  This was so infuriating and I don't want to write much more about it because I still get angry when I think about it.  This meant we were out about $3000.00.  Let me just say this: Never use Cube-It.

I wish that I could say this entire situation was handled with grace and ease...but no.  It was very stressful and some days I was miserable (just ask my husband).  Nonetheless, I was reminded of a few important lessons:

1.  Sometimes it doesn't matter how smart you are with money, life happens.
We have been very careful not to take on any non-mortgage debt since we got married.  We did take on a car payment after my husband was in a car accident (his car was a write-off but he was unhurt) and we had to suddenly replace a vehicle, but otherwise we have no "consumer" debt.  Knowing that I was going to be on maternity leave, I saved up a significant sum to cover some major expenses we knew were coming up and some slush money.  All of this went up in smoke when we had to do all this unplanned work to our house.  We had to take on some debt.  Now, it is "house debt" but it is still debt and you know what - this is alright.  It is not ideal, it is not what we would have wanted - but this is life.  Sometimes these things just happen and are beyond our control.  I cannot allow myself to be constantly stressed because we had to stop water from creeping into our basement.  We will get it paid off and life will move forward.

2.  Careful research is the key to saving money on a home renovation.  Do not rush.
What I found over and over again during this massive project, is that I was able to save significant amounts of money by carefully researching all of my options.  Time and time again taking some extra time to investigate something, read up on something, or get an additional quote paid off.  And that does not mean we always went with the cheapest option - we always went with what we thought was the best long term option.

Now - where was I?
Oh yes, in our basement...

Floorplan: We made no changes to the footprint of the basement.  This is the easiest way to save money.  As soon as you start moving plumbing around.....big money!

Flooring: We went with carpet and professional grade plank vinyl.  I would have done the whole basement in the vinyl but it was more cost effective to do the split.  If you have not investigated vinyl flooring in years - I highly recommend it.  It is highly water resistant, cost effective, resilient, and the look of it has come along well.  I know many food based businesses who are using the professional luxury vinyl now as their main flooring.

Do what you can, not what you can't!
We did all of the demo and removal of junk ourselves.  For everything else we hired a contractor.  Normally we would do all the painting ourselves (this is our first time hiring a painter), but because of my health issues during pregnancy it was not a possibility this time.  Hiring a well-researched professional, especially for electrical and plumbing work is key.  If you do not know how to do it - don't!!

These pictures are in the house's current state.  In Part Two I will discuss the bathroom renovation (it needs its own post).  In Part 3 I will talk about the upstairs/main floor of the house.  In the final part I will show the final product in all of its glory.
Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

Luna Frost Countertop with Top mount sink
Countertop: Here is reason # 1 while I will probably never be featured on a DIY or reno blog.  HGTV will never call me.  I like laminate countertops.  Don't get me wrong - I love the look of stone countertops (and we do have stone elsewhere in our house) - but I just do not understand spending thousands of dollars on a countertop.  It is just a countertop.  I am an avid cook and I have never said to myself, " know what would make this food taste so much better?  If it was cooked on an expensive slab of Carrara marble."  Never!  I have never, in the middle of a major canning session, said "Oh this Blueberry Maple Pecan Chutney would be so much easier to make if I had a gigantic quartz island."  Friends, it just hasn't happened.  And so, for our basement countertops I bought Luna Frost (1849) Laminate countertop made by Wilson Art.  It cost $640 installed.
This guy likes the countertop

Solid Wood Open Shelving, just waiting to be staged...

Basement Wet Bar
Cabinetry:  Due to the space we were filling, we knew we would be best suited to get custom cabinetry.  We did get solid wood cabinets and shelves - but we may not have done this if we did not have a personal connection which enabled us to get them at wholesale prices.  To save money we got open shelving for the uppers and no upper cabinets.

This is what we have so far.  More to come soon...