Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Paying Attention Can Really Pay Off!

Sometimes it seems like saving money involves a lot of work: canning, hanging laundry, cooking from scratch, mending clothes, etc. So it's nice to know that sometimes you can save a significant chunk of change just by paying attention!

We saved $100 last week thanks to my husband's vigilance at the auto service department of our van's dealership. Our van, which we purchased used 2 years ago, was still under the original factory warranty for 100,000 km or five years, whichever came first. We had not quite hit the 100,000 mark, but the van had officially turned five at the end of August. When we bought the van, we opted to purchase an extended warranty for an additional three years (for most types of products, extended warranties are NOT worth it, but given the ridiculously high costs of getting modern vehicles repaired, we feel in this case it will be worthwhile). So, since the original warranty has expired, we are now covered under the extended warranty, which has a $100 deductible.

Hubby took the van in last week to have some warranty-covered parts replaced, and because we were now under the extended warranty, they were going to charge us the $100 deductible. However, we had originally brought the van in to have this work done back in August, and they had been unable to complete the work because they had ordered the wrong replacement parts. The van was still covered under the original factory warranty at that point, and when Joe pointed this out to the staff at the auto service department, stating that the work would have been done at that time if it wasn't for the dealership's error in ordering the wrong parts, they agreed that it should be covered under the original warranty and we were NOT charged the $100 deductible.

That sure was an easy way to save $100 just by paying attention to the details!

(As an aside, one of the things that needed replacing was the passenger seat, because of a faulty airbag sensor. If we had to pay to have it replaced, it would have been $1800! Because cars are so sophisticated now, seemingly "small" problems can often be very expensive for parts and/or labour - one reason we opted for the extended warranty).

Have you ever saved an impressive amount of money in a similar fashion? If so, please tell us all about it in the comments!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Weekly Menu Retrospective #46

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

Breakfasts: granola, bagels, baked oatmeal, pancakes, rhubarb streusel muffins

Lunches: sandwiches, leftovers, pizza, peanut butter toast


Monday: cabbage and beef soup, cornbread

Tuesday: Lime & Garlic Chicken, oven fries, bacon, broccoli and cheddar salad

Wednesday: Creamy Lemon Garlic Pasta with Bacon & Peas (a slight variation on this recipe)

Thursday: Barbecued pork chops, coconut rice, carrots

Friday: Potato, Sausage and Egg Hash

Saturday: Black Bean Chili

Sunday: Hamburgers, potato salad, creamy cucumber salad, cherry clafouti

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fall & Winter Clothes Shopping Extravaganza

I mentioned a few posts back that we'd done our major fall and winter clothes shopping expedition and I promised I would fill you in with the details soon, so here, at last, is the lowdown on our clothing purchases.

The bulk of our purchases were made at a 50% off day at Value Village:

 4 long sleeve shirts and a turtleneck (3 for my younger son, one shirt and the turtleneck for my older son)

 slightly dressy top for me

 Black turtleneck sweater for me

 5 pairs of pants for my older son
On the same trip, we also got a pair of sneakers for each boy (not pictured as they happened to be off wearing them during my photo taking session). Miraculously, we found a pair of brand-new looking Airwalk sneakers that perfectly fit my younger son (he had been determined that he absolutely wanted this brand of sneakers, which are very popular with the boys in his social circle). For my older son, we found a pair of New Balance sneakers in excellent condition.

My younger son desperately needed pants, and unfortunately we weren't able to find anything that fit him at our Value Village trip. We ended up going to Walmart and buying what I think might be his first ever pairs of brand new pants :) Since he is now fitting into mens' sized pants, the prices at Value Village are not always that great of a deal compared to the sale prices at Walmart. The pants we were looking at at VV were priced about $10-12 each, and some of them weren't even in that great of condition. We ended up getting Nathan 2 pairs of brand new jeans on sale for $15 each. They were the exact style he wanted and fit him well, so I feel it was definitely worth the extra couple of bucks per pair.

We ended up going back to Value Village a few days after the 50% off sale to see if we could find any more pants (the racks tend to be better stocked when it's not a sale day!)

We did find Nathan one more pair of pants; they will need hemming length-wise but otherwise fit him well.

We were also on the lookout for winter jackets as both my boys have outgrown the ones they've been wearing for the past 2-3 years. We checked out the jacket selection on 50% off day and I thought it was curious that there weren't any winter jackets on the racks. When we went back a few days later, there was a rack full of winter jackets, so apparently they don't put out winter outerwear for the sale. I thought that was a little sneaky of them, but we did find a good jacket for Nathan during our second visit:

I am really pleased with this find as it appears to be a good quality jacket and it has a METAL ZIPPER!! I can't tell you how thrilled I am about THAT, as I've had way too many plastic zippers break on my boys' winter coats over the years when the coat otherwise had lots of life left in it.

We spent a total of $85.59 between the two Value Village trips, and another $33.90 on two pairs of jeans plus a belt for Nathan. We spent another $49.72 stocking up on sale-priced socks and undies for everyone, plus a clearance pair of sandals for my older son Noah as the flip flops he'd started the summer with suffered a fatal breakdown.

That brings the grand total for our fall and winter clothes shopping spree to $169.21. I think the only items we are still in need of are a winter coat for Noah and winter gloves for both boys.

So far this year, we've spent $525.13 on clothing. 
Other than the aforementioned coat and gloves, I don't foresee that we'll need to buy much more prior to the end of the year. Still, we are going to be significantly over our typical clothing budget of $300 per year. Now that the boys are getting bigger, it's getting more difficult to always find suitable second-hand options for them. They are also both at rapid-growth stages, so they had outgrown most of the clothes they wore last year.

I'm curious to know how much other frugal-minded families spent per year on clothing, especially if you have teenage boys. How much does your family spent on clothing annually?

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Successful Soapnuts Experiment

I first heard about soapnuts earlier this year and was fascinated - washing your laundry with the fruit of a tree sounded very natural and all, but I was concerned it wouldn't be an effective enough cleaning option for dealing with my stinky loads of boy-laundry washed in cold, hard water.

One of my friends knew I was interested in trying them out and gave me a small bag of soapnuts as part of my birthday present at the end of May. I started using them in June after my batch of homemade laundry detergent was used up, and after a good solid three months of use, I can officially say that I have been very pleased with the results!

My clothes are at least as clean as they were with the homemade detergent - probably cleaner. And the added bonus is that the soapnuts seem to have a fabric softening effect - I definitely notice a difference in the feel of our cotton T-shirts.

For those unfamiliar with soapnuts, they are kind of like a hard, sticky berry. They usually come with a little cotton bag, and you put 4-6 of them in the bag and throw it in the bottom of the washing machine when you start your load of laundry. The soapnuts contain saponins which are a natural surfactant that will clean your clothes. The same batch of soapnuts can be used for 3-4 loads, then most of the saponins are used up and you need to start with a new bunch (I suspect I've done up to 6 loads of laundry using the same batch, as I've been known to lose count of how many loads I've done with the current batch!)

After a bit of experimentation, this is my new laundry washing "formula":

-if using a fresh batch of soapnuts, soak them in boiling water for a few minutes before starting laundry (I do this because I wash in cold water, and I've heard this helps "activate" them so they will be effective in the cold water)

-for each load, use 4 soapnuts plus about 5 drops of lemon essential oil added to the little cotton bag with the soapnuts, plus about 1/4 cup of borax

That's it! I am really pleased with this method of doing laundry. The soapnuts are not only a 100% natural product, they are also a Fair Trade product, and when you're done with them they can be tossed right into your compost bin. They are also quite reasonably priced when purchased in bulk: the best price I have found so far from a Canadian source is at Grassroots - $25.99 for 1 kg, which will do over 200 loads of laundry and last me over a year. In the U.S., Mountain Rose Herbs seems to have very good prices (although I'm not sure what the current price is as they're out of stock right now and the price isn't listed).

(No, those are NOT affiliate links - I just really like soapnuts and these are two of the best places I know of to get them!)

Have you used soapnuts? If so, have you been pleased with the results? If not, have I convinced you to give them a try?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Yard Sale Report for September 10th, 2011

I know it's been a while since I've done my typical Saturday yard sale report. I've been out making the rounds, I just haven't found anything lately and given how busy I've been, I haven't bothered to post my reports of empty-handedness.

Today was a particularly fine day for yard sale shopping. It's warm and sunny (after a week of rain) and there were quite a number of sales to investigate since there's a street festival going on in a nearby area of the city and lots of people decided to piggyback off of it and run yard sales this morning.

I was out hunting down bargains for most of the morning and came home with the following:

Two small zippered toiletry bags for my boys to use for camping trips and sleepovers, which I purchased along with a Klutz book on paper quilling ( brand new, never used with the original $24.99 price tag still on it) for $1.00 total! The book will be going into my gift cupboard for one of the girls on my gift-giving list.

I got the two packages of small Christmas gift bags for 25 cents each (I use a ton of these for food gifts), and 4 sets of 12 seasonal note cards (one for each season) along with an Anna Nalick CD (in the next photo) for $7.00. I've been intending to start writing more letters again (they are so much more fun than email!) so having the note cards handy should help me to actually make that happen.

 I finished off the morning with a couple of other finds: the basket was 25 cents and will go into my general basket stash (it may end up getting used for a gift basket). The (hardcover) book was $2.00 and is for my older son (it's the sequel to a book I just handed him to read last week!) The glass pitcher was in a free pile just down the road from a yard sale and I couldn't resist it :)

Grand total for the week:  $10.75 for 13 items, or 83 cents an item.

Did you find any great bargains this weekend?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Sea of Salsa

Salsa is one of our favourite things to can - cracking a jar open in the dead of winter allows you to inhale the smell of midsummer (and of course, taste it, too!) Canning salsa usually involves one really long, hot and sweaty afternoon in the kitchen. This year, it was still a long afternoon - just not so hot and sweaty. After a few days of swelteringly hot and humid weather, the temperature did a sudden nosedive and the high yesterday was about 18 degrees Celsius - which gave us the perfect opportunity to get our salsa made without feeling like we were going to pass out from the heat.

We ended up with just under 12 litres of salsa from our afternoon of effort (which involved peeling and chopping 20 lbs of tomatoes, along with a plethora of red peppers, jalapenos, and onions). The recipe we use is the Picante Salsa recipe from Jean Pare's Company's Coming: Preserves book (you can find the uncredited recipe online here. We make 2 double batches to get 12 litres, which usually doesn't quite last us all year, but it's about as much salsa as I can handle canning in one day!

We are way off our usual canning schedule this year; we didn't get to any pickles in August, and I don't know whether I'll still be able to track down any pickling cucumbers at this point in the season. I'm hoping to get around to making some grape jam in the next day or two since my neighbour very kindly brought me over a whole grocery bag full of Concord grapes that grew over on his rental property. I've never made grape jam before, so we'll have to see how it turns out.

 Have you been canning (a lot or a little) this year? What are your favourite things to can?
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