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Monday, January 9, 2012

simplifying and having fun on a dime

pics from our weekend skating excursion at the free rink downtown

Back in the Fall, Winslow and I decided to start using a weekly budget so that we could get a hold of our finances. What we forgot to take into account was that the holidays were right around the corner and we realistically couldn't stick to what we had set out for ourselves. So we agreed that come New Year we would get back on track and get ourselves set up with a plan of action.
The first step for us was to go to the bank and see how we could pay down our debts quickly and efficiently. So we got that sorted out and are on an easy to handle payment plan that makes it simple for us to keep on top of our debts. We are on our way to paying it all off and it feels good!
The next step for us was to look at our monthly income and make a budget based on our fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are things that can't be changed like your mortgage payments and electricity. Variable expenses are things that are budgeted for such as clothing, groceries, transportation and gifts. I must warn you, I am the last person in the world who can explain finances and things of the sort, but if you are looking for a really good resource, I strongly suggest checking out Gail Vaz-Oxlade's website. We used her Build a Budget Worksheet as a jump off place and found it to be very handy.
And that brings us to where we are now...working with a budget and finding ways to stay on track. Since we have taken a close and serious look at our spending, Winslow and I have been trying to become more creative and more responsible about how we spend our money.
With our budget we came up with an amount of money that we can spend each week on entertainment/eating out/gifts/extra things and it has actually been fun seeing how we can stretch that money and to see what we can do for free or for less. I thought I'd share a few of our ideas that we are doing in our household to make a difference.

The things we do to help us stretch our money further:
  • Make a weekly meal plan and stick to it. This is so useful for so many reasons. It helps me know what we are having a head of time, which means no last minute shopping and no panicking when 5pm rolls around because I have no idea what we are going to have for dinner.
  • We go grocery shopping once a week only. Because I make a meal plan every week, I try to think of meals that will work with our allocated money. I buy all the groceries we will need for that week with our money and then stay away from the grocery store for the rest of the week. This works really well and the only exception we have for this rule is when we run out of milk. Noah drinks a ton of it, so sometimes we have to pick up a 2nd jug of milk through the week.
  • Make as much of our own food as possible. Eating at home and eating homemade food (not processed or packaged) makes a huge difference on our bill. I make a lot of our food homemade because it's cheaper and healthier. Last year Winslow bought me a breadmaker, so I often try to make a loaf or two of bread a week. I make our mac n' cheese homemade, bake our treats, and make our soups homemade (as with the rrst of our meals).
  • Going out for coffee is a treat. It is not a daily event. Going out for coffee is expensive but I also think that it is a well deserved treat and a nice outing to do now and then. I love to have a coffee with a friend or as an after tobogganing treat with Noah, but to me, going out for coffee is a treat and not a need. Did you know that in 2006 Americans spent 12billion dollars on going out for coffee? That's insane! Think of all the money that can be saved just by reducing this simple habit.
  • Think of ways to have fun for free or for less. Tobogganing, skating, making art, play dates, going to the library, finding free activities in the community, having friends over for coffee, going for walks, watching a movie at home, having date nights at home. These are all ways to have fun for free or for less money. Entertainment doesn't have to involve spending a ton of money.
  • Colour my hair at home. Okay okay...this may seem silly but when I take into account that every time I go to the hairdresser's to get my hair done it costs me upwards of 200$, it really starts to make sense that I spend 8$ on hair colour and do it myself at home. ps. I know colouring my hair isn't good for the environment or me for that matter...but I'm just not ready to move over to grey just yet.
  • Cloth diapers. We are moving over to "the other side" and are going to start cloth diapering. We actually already have them from when Noah was a baby and it makes sense when you think about how much diapers cost. It costs us 20$ every few weeks to get diapers for Katia and don't even ask how much Noah's are. The other day we spent 70$ on diapers for both of the kids. Right there and then Winslow announced that he was starting to toilet train Noah and we decided that we would start using cloth diapers for Katia. Plus it's obviously better for the environment and we love the environment.
  • We only have one car. One car payment. One car insurance. It makes a big difference.
  • We have no cell phones. Simple as that. We don't need them.
  • We have the most basic cable service and that is only so that we can keep our unlimited long distance phone service (which we need because we live so far from family).
And that is that. These are just a few of the things that we are doing to make our dollars stretch a bit further. I should add, that by tightening our spending and keeping track of where our money is going we are actually saving up to do some traveling in the next year or so. So by being a bit more conscious of our spending we can be excited about a future trip that we hope to take.
Hope this post might be of help or interest to you!


  1. Great post! Jeff and I have been using a budget for quite a while, and it's amazing the difference it makes. We haven't yet switched to the 'cash only' spending that Gail suggests, but our budget at least helps keep us on track. I am always amazed at what people spend their money on, when I watch 'Til Debt Do Us Part'. I would love to be able to stick to a meal plan. We do groceries every two weeks, but maybe we should switch to weekly groceries, in order to better plan for meals....

  2. Hi Coralee, Doesn't it make a big difference?
    We do our groceries once a week because I find produce goes bad so quickly and I really like fresh produce. I also like switching it up (the menu) and so I like going shopping every week to get a variety of different produce.

  3. Good for you, Johanna! You're awesome.

  4. you know how this makes my heart sing!! I am such a huge advocate of the budget and tracking your spending as well as making things work within your means and not relying on credit cards. My meal plan has been a saving grace and I like to do groceries every 2 weeks. If I drop in for milk, I walk out with junk food, a new outfit for one of the kids, and other impulse buys. Now I have to figure out a meal plan for the communities, they tell me it can't be done for 6 week blocks but I'm going to do it.

  5. Meal planning is an incredible way to stretch a budget. I'm also amazed at how much you can save by buying dried beans and legumes. One thing I've found is that bulk isn't always cheaper, so it's good to compare price-per-weight on everything.

    I also find that if you grocery shop once per week as a rule, you are more likely to open your fridge and think "how can I be creative with what I have?" rather than running to the store to get coconut milk or whatever.

    It's really important to me that Corey and I eat as organically as possible, so I'm willing to pay more for that, but even within those parameters, it's possible to make wiser choices and save money.

  6. Great tips, mama! I've been reworking my budget this week -- tough stuff, but scaling back where I can!

  7. i love your ideas...we are in the process of creating a do-able budget...ugh.


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