Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Always Check Your Grocery Receipts!

I know, I know - I've been gone for a while. Life has been very busy around here, as some big changes are afoot. My hubby and I have decided that I really need to go back to work, at least for a while, in order to make our financial life a little more stable (he gets paid by commission only, which means not always being sure when or how much money will be coming in). So I've been putting a lot of energy into job hunting, and the rest into spending time with the kids and getting the household in order so things will run as smoothly as possible when I do return to work.

Now, to the topic at hand: checking receipts. Today I was out doing our major weekly grocery shopping, and just as I was about to leave the store, I quickly scanned the receipt. I noticed that I had been charged twice for a large bag of chocolate chips ($4.99). I went back in the store right away, explained the error, and they credited my account without making a big deal out of it. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I've caught items that have been accidently scanned twice - this is the second or third occurrence in the last six months or so. I try to keep an eye on the register as the items are being scanned when possible, but I usually shop alone and am busy either unloading my cart or packing my groceries. I have had to tell the checkout person that items have scanned twice a few times when I've been able to watch the scanning in progress. This makes me wonder how much extra money stores are making off of items that have been scanned more than once (I know I have in fact read some stats on this but I'm too tired to google it right now. I do remember it was a staggering amount). This is really unacceptable to me, as most people don't bother to check their receipt and won't notice the extra charge. The customer is walking away paying for something they didn't actually purchase, and the store is pocketing the money.

So, please, please, please take a minute to look over your receipts before you leave the store - otherwise it might cost you a few bucks!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Learning New Skills

To those who might be wondering where I've disappeared to - yes, I am still out here, just not blogging much lately! Between shoveling snow, taking the boys ski pants and boots on and off and on and off and (you get the picture!) and having a wee bit of a nasty virus last week, I just haven't had a burning desire to hop on the computer and create a post.

What I've been trying to get in the mood for, is to get started on my goal of making friends with my sewing machine. So far, not much luck! I am at a bit of a disadvantage as I don't have a spot where I can set up the machine and leave it out (although that's really no excuse). I have a number of projects I would like to work on, so it's not like I have no motivation. And yet, here it is the end of February already and I haven't gotten it together!

I think one reason why a lot of people find living more frugally such a challenge is that it often calls upon us to learn new skills, and while that can be fun, it can also be intimidating or overwhelming. For some reason, I was a lot less resistant to trying some new things in the garden last spring than I have been so far to working on improving my sewing skills. I wonder why that is?? It's really not that big a deal to try something new - the worst thing that can happen is that it might not work out, and you'll have learned a bit about what *not* to do. I need to keep this in mind as I convince myself to finally get down to business and pull out the darn sewing machine already!

I hope to report on some progress in this department by next week. I'd love to hear any tips or suggestions anyone has for sewing newbies like me!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Frugal Food Friday #7: Easy Homemade Donuts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the recipe for Potato Refrigerator Dough, which I think should be in every frugalista's repertoire. I have figured out an easy way to make baked donuts with them (the dough should have already gone through its first rise in the fridge):

1 loaf worth of Refrigerator Bread Dough (1/3 of recipe)
melted butter (about 1/3-1/2 cup)
cinnamon sugar (about 1/2 cup - add cinnamon to sugar until it's spicy enough for you)

Roll out dough to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into circles using a glass with a large diameter. Cut out a small circle in the centre of each donut. Place on a cookie sheet and let rise for 1 hr or until doubled in size. Bake at 375 F for 8-10 minutes (don't overbake or they will be too dry!) Dip in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar. Presto - donuts!

Friday, February 9, 2007

RECIPE: Chickpeas with Potatoes and Peas

I love ethnic foods of many types. Indian cuisine is perfect for the frugal-minded, as many of their dishes are heavy on the legumes and rice. This is really quick to make and if you have any around, some crispy pappadums or warm Nan bread make a tasty addition to the meal.

1 tbsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 medium potatoes, cut in 1” pieces (use sweet potatoes for added nutrition!)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
½ cup crushed tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ginger
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cups frozen peas

In large frying pan, sauté garlic and onion in oil until tender. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, crushed tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, ginger, chickpeas and peas. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender (add more water to mixture as needed to prevent drying out while potatoes are cooking).

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Money-Saving Recreation Resources

It's been another busy week around here - who'd have thought February (usually the official month of "not much to do") could be so hectic! We had a surprise visit from my dad Monday night, a surprise visit from my brother-in-law and niece Tuesday, a day-long visit with my friend Jenn and her adorable 3-month-old daughter Paige (to whom I am an honorary Auntie) and a 3-hr playdate with one of the boys friends this afternoon! Whew. No wonder I'm a bit groggy!

Okay, on to some frugal ideas. On Tuesday, all four of us ventured off to the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology. The great thing about this (aside from how cool the museum was) is that our local library system has recently made available family day passes for the local civic museums. You reserve one and check it out just as you would any other library material, and you get into the museum for free!! This is really fantastic for us, since as homeschoolers we're always on the lookout for something new and interesting to do, and admission fees can really start to add up after a while. I also feel better knowing that if the boys get bored after half an hour I can leave without feeling guilty about wasting money. All frugalistas should know their library system pretty intimately of course, but it never hurts to ask the staff if they have recently added any new programs or resources. These passes will probably save us about $75-100 per year.

Another thing I learned about this past week is that our city offers substantial discounts (less than 1/2 price!) on Rec Centre Family Passes (normally $114 a year) if your family receives any Child Tax Benefits ("baby bonus"). Apparently this is not something they advertise (not sure why, if it is their policy!), but it is something I am definitely going to look into before I purchase this year's pass!

Even though I've lived in the same city for almost 15 years, I am still finding new programs and resources that will help save us money while having fun!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Use It or Lose It

One of the big things I'm trying to work on this year is to make sure that we are making the best use possible of everything we own. That means taking good care of items (regular maintenance, repairing when needed) and also using them to their full advantage. If something is not being used, it's time to figure out if it can be transformed into something else more useful, pass it along to someone else who *can* use it, recycle it, or (worst case scenario) throw it out!

Last week as I was cleaning the boys' room, I found an afghan gathering dust in an end-table cubby hole. This used to be used daily, but had developed some large holes a couple of years ago that I hadn't taken the time to repair, and it's been laying around accumulating dust ever since. I tossed it in the wash a few days ago, and this afternoon, I hunted down some matching yarn in my stash and spent about half an hour repairing the holes. It is now restored to its former glory, and hubby and I curled up on the couch underneath it this evening. Once I'm finished, I always wonder why on Earth it takes me so long to get around to these sorts of jobs!

I also have a couple of bags of old sheets, blankets and towels that have been sitting around for a few months. I'm finally going to donate them to a local animal shelter. I have enough rags to last me for years, so I'm happy that these items which are of no use to me can help out critters in need.

Finding a new way to use things we already have is always fun, and this afternoon I created a cozy little reading corner for the boys by gathering up items from a few different locations around the house: On a lower bunkbed (which is not used for sleeping on), I took a bunch of pillows and piled them all in a corner to make a snug little "nest". I then gathered a bunch of the boys' favourite books and placed them in baskets on the bed. I tucked a couple of warm blankets on the other end of the bed, and Voila! a special place to spend some quiet time in comfort.

A side bonus of all this effort is that I have succeeded in removing several items from my attic bedroom, which is next on the list for some TLC!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Abundance and Frugal Living

Back in my very first post on this blog, one of the things I mentioned as a daily frugal activity was to express thanks for everything that I have in my life right now. I wanted to explore this in a bit more depth, because I think a lot of people have the perception that frugal people are, well, miserly and miserable!! In my case, this is nowhere close to the truth. I feel a bit sad when I surf around the blogosphere and see many people expressing how frustrating and difficult it is to be frugal - it doesn't have to be that way!!

I'm not trying to say that being frugal isn't without its challenges. Yes, it *can* be difficult to go "against the grain" in our consumer culture. This is why I think an "abundance attitude" is an essential part of a successful, satisfying, and joyful frugal life. Whether you are frugal by choice or by circumstance, it's not going to help you reach your goals if you are constantly looking around at all the things you can't afford and feeling frustrated because other people around you have those things. Imagine how much better you will feel if instead of focusing on what you *don't* have (or "can't afford"), you look around you and notice all the fantastic things you do have in your life. These things definitely don't have to be in the material realm, either! How often do we really contemplate at a deep level how lucky we are if we are fortunate enough to have a loving spouse and healthy kids, a warm, dry place to sleep, and food in our bellies? It can be easy to take for granted all these blessings that we have in our life every day. It's also perfectly okay to be thankful for the material things that *are* important to you - I would definitely miss my computer, my bike, my favourite CDs and books, and all my knitting related paraphernalia if they suddenly disappeared. Everyone's list of things they are thankful for is going to be different and specific to that person, but you get the idea. The next time you find yourself focusing on the "lack" of something in your life, try making a list of the gifts in your life. You might even want to make it a habit to write down a few every day. Some days it will be incredibly easy, and some days it may be pretty darn challenging, but I've always found it to be a worthwhile exercise. A nice frugal side effect is that the more you are aware of the abundance around you, two things happen: 1) You start realizing that there are a lot of things you don't really need or want to buy after all - you save money, plus the time you would have spent shopping, maintaining, reorganizing, decluttering, and disposing of all those unwanted items, 2) As if by magic, the things that are true, deep desires seem to start materializing effortlessly in your life - giving you even more to be thankful for, and creating a wonderful, positive cycle of abundance. What more could a frugalista wish for??

Friday, January 19, 2007

RECIPE: Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

This soup is perfect, if, like me, you have a lot of cauliflower in your freezer because you were getting1-2 heads every week from your CSA back in September and October. And if you also happen to have a lot of turkey or chicken broth left over from the Christmas turkey (or last week's roasted chicken). If you *don't* happen to have half a freezer of frozen cauliflower, you could easily substitute potates or chopped broccoli and it will still be delicious.

[Note: I am not particularly fond of cauliflower, and I still love this soup!]

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces
3 cups chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 tbsp Braggs or Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

In large saucepan, simmer cauliflower in broth until softened. While cauliflower is cooking, saute onions and garlic in butter until soft. Add flour and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add flour mixture to cauliflower and broth, and stir until mixture begins to thicken. Add milk, Braggs, mustard, pepper and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened. Reduce heat and add cheese; stir until cheese is completely melted. Serves 4-6.

Serve with toast or cornbread and a side salad.

Friday, January 12, 2007

RECIPE: Sausage and Lentil Stew

On Monday evening we had a particularly delightful frugal feast which I thought would be perfect to share with you: Sausage and Lentil Stew, cornbread, tossed salad, and chocolate mousse.

Sausage and Lentil Stew
This is a great way to stretch 2 sausages to feed four people (there's still plenty of protein in the dish due to the lentils).

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
1 cup red lentils
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 Oktoberfest style sausages, cooked and chopped (I use a Bavarian-style turkey sausage)
1 tbsp Braggs or Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large saucepan, saute onions and garlic in oil until tender. Add celery and carrots and cook until they start to soften. Add lentils and broth. Cook for 10 minutes (until lentils are nearly soft) then add tomatoes, sausage, Braggs and parsley. Simmer over medium heat until carrots are tender, adding water if needed to keep stew from drying out. Serves 4.

Chocolate mousse is not exactly your typical choice for a frugal dessert, but I had bought a 500 mL (16 oz) carton of whipping cream on sale just before Christmas and had only used up half of it. I used a very simple (but delicious) recipe from's Southern Food guide: Chocolate Mousse in a Minute . My kids thought it was quite possibly the best thing they'd ever tasted!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Fabulous Freecycle "Finds"

I love our local Freecycle group! I have met some people online who have had not-so-great freecycling experiences, but our group here in Hamilton works very well. We have given away many items that we no longer needed (in particular, lots of clothes and toys my kids had outgrown). Last year, we were fortunate enough to receive a washing machine through freecycle when ours bit the dust.

This year, we've already gotten some great stuff even though 2007 has only been around for just over a week! My hubby got 3 new dress shirts in fantastic condition (he'd been mentioning he needed new shirts just a few days before these ones were posted to our group!) Yesterday, I received a new faucet aerator and low flow showerhead (both of which were on my Home Depot shopping list as part of my goal to reduce water usage this year) and some Depeche Mode CD's (recent urge to listen to some of the music I was really "into" back in my high school days..) Even better, the woman who offered me the aerator, showerhead, and CDs posted a request for some fitness items I was just getting ready to post to freecycle, so I passed them on to her.

Quite the haul for the first week of the new year! I'm particularly pleased about the aerator and showerhead - I got them for free, and they're going to save me money in the future by reducing my water usage. Can't get much more frugal than that!

Friday, January 5, 2007

RECIPE: Speedy Skillet Supper

This dish is one of my standbys for nights when I don't have the time or inclination to cook (like tonight, for instance!)

Speedy Skillet Supper (a.k.a. frugalista's hamburger helper)

1 tbsp olive or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 lb ground meat (I use turkey but pretty much anything would work-black beans is a good vegetarian option)
1 cup small pasta (macaroni or ditalini)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups frozen vegetables
generous 1 cup grated cheese (I use cheddar)

In large frying pan, saute onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add ground meat and cook until no trace of pink remains. Add pasta, water, milk, salsa and frozen vegetables. Simmer over medium heat until pasta is tender (you may need to add a bit more water if the mixture dries out too much before the pasta's cooked). Add cheese and stir until well mixed in and cheese is completely melted.

You can do lots of variations on this basic theme; for example, using diced tomatoes in place of salsa and mozzarella cheese, with some basil and oregano tossed in, would give it a very Italian flavour. You can also use a can of drained vegetables instead of the frozen ones. You can also use water in place of the milk if needed, however the milk adds both flavour and nutrition.
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