Saturday, 22 October 2016

Weekly Column: Prepare for Christmas Early

There is always a delay of a week or two between my column going to print and me actually posting it here. So there are actually only 9 weeks until Christmas Eve...yikes!!

Prepare for Christmas early

There are less than 3 months until Christmas (don’t shoot the messenger!). If you’re paid weekly, that means you have 11 pay days to set aside money for the biggest holiday of the year. If it’s been a hard year, are you stressed about how you will manage? Do you plan to put it all on your credit card and worry about it in the new year?

Over the last several weeks we’ve been looking at how debilitating credit card debt can be. What you charge now might not be paid off by next Christmas, when it’s time to do it all over again. Isn’t it time to stop the madness?

Consider going gift-free

You are not Ebeneezer Scrooge if you simply can’t do it this year. Let loved ones off the hook if they have been out of work. Tell them you are all grown up and you will take your gift in the form of babysitting, snow shoveling, or a simple meal together with some games and Christmas movies. It’s understandable if you refuse to cancel Christmas on your kids. But maybe it’s time to sit them down and talk about expectations and the reality that you are facing. A simple philosophy is “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read”.

Set new traditions, and be considerate

Every tradition had its start somewhere. Rather than family shopping days, try a family baking day instead. With regards to social media, we’re all familiar with the Facebook pictures of trees almost eclipsed by the stacks of surrounding gifts. What are we trying to show each other? How are kids and families supposed to feel when faced with such extravagance? Take the picture for posterity, by all means, but consider leaving it off social media. Or how about you post pictures of your joy-filled, affordable, bought-and-paid-for Christmas, and invite friends and family to do the same? Christmas is for kids. Let everyone feel theirs was the best one yet and leave the competition out of it. Also, remember you have the ability to take a social media break over the holidays and truly pay attention to your loved ones.

Draw names, set a price limit, donate instead

If you can’t talk the grown-ups out of exchanging gifts, perhaps you can convince them to pick names from a hat, or ask around about other gift exchange ideas. Set an agreed upon price limit and then actually stick to it. Don’t let emotion rule you when you are shopping! Yes, you love your family. The amount you spend has nothing to do with that. So stick to the budget. Maybe you should fund-raise or donate gifts as a family rather than exchanging them. You will soon be hearing ads for local gift drives, and don’t forget the food bank.

Buy your Christmas turkey on sale, now

After Thanksgiving you can quite often find young turkeys for around $10. Unless you expect to get a free turkey with your groceries nearer to Christmas, purchase one on sale now if you can—even if it means storing it in a friend’s deep freeze. This will help your grocery budget come December.


If you normally go all-out entertaining during the holiday season, this might be the year you ask guests to bring a potluck item and their own alcohol. Or plan for a card game and drinks after supper rather than feeding everyone. When you are feeding a group, switch to the most in-season (aka affordable) produce you can find. Serve the meat personally to ensure that everyone gets a piece and you don’t run out.

Focus on people and experiences

Often the most special Christmas memories are those of the smallest gifts, the kind gestures, and the time spent together. Go for walks or drive around to see the Christmas lights. Take part in community meals and events. Get in the spirit; it really doesn’t have much to do with the gifts, after all. Welcome into your home a person or family who might be alone this season. Making their day is sure to make yours, as well.

Shop on Boxing Day, instead

While lacking in suspense, doesn’t it make sense to do some of your shopping on blowout sales on Boxing Day? If you can handle the crowds and know that what you want will be on sale, it is an easy way to save some money. Surprise your teen with cash and a day out together, if they wouldn’t be disappointed. Probably, most teenagers would be delighted.

Christmas is a time for giving, yes. But remember to give your time and attention and take the focus off the commercial craziness. Don’t overspend and you might find more joy and less stress this holiday season.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Menu-Plan Series: Quick Emergency Meals

Okay, so you wrote the plan and a few days into the week something derailed and you don't have your meat thawed, you didn't pre-make your soup or salad, and you are itching to dial in a pizza. Who can blame you? If they delivered pizza to the boonies you can bet I would give in to temptation a lot more.

The inability to order in food has really helped me be more organized and has also prompted me to have a go-to list of meals that can be made in a rush. Anyone that has tried to cook a meal with two hungry toddlers wailing in the background can understand the urgency to get food on the table quick. Here are some of my favorite fast-food-from-home options:

1. Pancakes and bacon, or any variation of breakfast for supper.

Pancakes from scratch takes literally 5 minutes to make. I suppose that can be improved upon by keeping a pancake batter mix on hand, but if I need it in faster than 5 minutes I'm in trouble.


1 cup all purpose flour
1tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

mix dry ingredients in large measuring cup. Beat one egg separately, then add along with 1 cup milk.

Whisk together your batter until all flour is moistened and the largest lumps are incorporated. It does not need to be smooth. Allow your griddle or pan to heat on medium-high to the point that water "dances" when a few drops are tossed on the surface. At this point I turn it down to medium to avoid smoking us out of the house.

Use a scant bit of oil or cooking spray for your first pan of pancakes. After the first round, your pan should be hot enough and the cakes should flip nicely. This recipe makes about 6 medium sized pancakes for my kids, usually leaving one or two to freeze for a quick breakfast. Most often, I double the batch so I have more to freeze. To use later I just thaw each pancake individually in the microwave and then toast so it's nice and fresh seeming. You can add banana or blueberries, saskatoons, etc to your batter as desired.

Other breakfast for supper ideas are: toast and eggs, hashbrowns, sausage and eggs, and as Pru suggested in a previous post, omelettes are great for cleaning out the fridge too. Obviously you want to round out a hasty meal like this with some fruit or a vegetable. You might not want to be throwing down bacon for supper all the time but it does get you out of a pinch when needed. The key is to have some of these things stashed in the freezer when needed!

2. Sausage and Perogies

Both of these cook fast and it always seems like a lot more planning went into the meal than actually did. Serve with peas or a can of corn, a bagged salad, a bit of greek yogurt and green onion. So yummy and ready in less that 30 minutes!

3. Tacos

The beauty of ground meat is that you can thaw it as it cooks. Ideally, you would always have things thawed and yada-yada, but that quite often doesn't happen and tacos have bailed me out of a pinch many times. I get the kids busy tidying the porches or getting into their pjs and while the meat cooks I chop the salad and vegetables, grate cheese etc.

4. Chicken breast and....anything

Chicken cooks quite fast. So don't microwave it for too long or you will have a raw, rubber, overcooked mess. But a minute or so on each side and then chopped up and thrown into a pan will get you started on a fast meal. If you are going with pasta or rice, be sure to start your water boiling while the meat is in the microwave. Microwave some veggies or throw them in as the meat is almost cooked. Add sauce and heat through or serve as is, making sure of course that everything is thoroughly cooked.

5. Stir-fry

Prepare basically as above. You can purchase a stir-fry sauce to add as everything is cooked or make your own with some soya sauce, hoisin or other flavorful sauce, a bit of water or chicken stock, corn starch to thicken. Do some googling to find a recipe you like that can be made with on-hand ingredients in a pinch.

6. Bags of cooked shrimp, canned meat, sandwiches, soup or beans and toast

Shrimp thaws and cooks super fast if you like it. I can quickly throw it in a stir-fry or some pasta and we love it. Sandwhiches: self-explanatory! Soup or beans is not my favorite for supper but it sure beats going to bed hungry! I don't fall back on this option because my kids won't eat it, but if it works for you--great!.

7. Shop Your Freezer

You should know by that morning if you are flaking out on your menu-plan. Don't be discouraged! I do it all the time! There is not usually a week goes by where I don't divert from the plan in one way or another. Sometimes we eat more than I expected and we are a meal short. Sometimes I just plain drop the ball. No worries. I make double and keep frozen meals just for these occasions. I am also not the least bit ashamed to admit that I keep a bag of fries and chicken nuggets on hand for nights that have just seriously fallen apart. It happens. I can fix myself something out of whatever this around and the kids are over the moon with this once in awhile treat. Add some veggies and a smoothy and I'm sure they will live til morning. The key, here, is to decide in the morning that you need to use your backup inventory and take it out to thaw. If you take out a frozen meatloaf and attempt to bake it for supper you will be eating it for breakfast. But if you have things ready for the oven when you get home you have a much better chance of averting a hunger-induced meltdown.

 8. If all else fails, go as healthy and as cheap as you can!

No one wants to eat quick, emergency food all the time but I do believe we all run into those instances where we are tempted to go easy (and expensive) when we are in a rush. I am not recommending this food as ultra-healthy but only making suggestions to get you through busy times in as healthy and affordable a way possible.

If you absolutely must pick up a meal on your way home from work, ripping into the grocery store for a ready made chicken and salad will cost a fraction of what a pizza or chinese, etc will cost. Be wary though! I brought home a lovely cobb salad (that cost $9!) from the grocery store and the eggs on it were mouldy. Super not impressed. Because we are out in the country I didn't return the salad, and only got an answering machine when I called the store about it. So try to get as fresh as you can, and good luck!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Menu-Plan Series: Writing the Plan

I have a reader request to do a few menu-plan ideas for busy weeknight schedules. The reality for many people is they are arriving home from work at meal time with kids in evening activities and no time to cook. So while in an ideal world there would be an adult home to prepare at least a few of these meal ideas fresh, I am planning a week's menu under the assumption that there is only one day to prepare most of what will be consumed.

Step One: Consult Your Grocery Flyer
Why not save as much as you can? I quickly browsed through my Superstore flyer online as though I would be shopping today for the week's groceries. (We are in a total ice storm at the moment so mama ain't going anywhere. But we can pretend!) The goal is to plan this week's meals around what is on special. I found:

  • pork loins $1.87/lb (limit 4). This is a good price so I would buy 4.
  • imperfect apples $5 for 8 lb bag. Compare at $5 for a 3 lb bag regular apples. Bring on the worm holes, people!
  • beef roast $4/lb. This might seem costly. But compare to salmon at $12/lb or tilapia at $8/lb, or steak at $10/lb.
  • bagels 2 bags of 6 for $3.
  • PC frozen vegetables $2.50/bag.
Other things I would normally buy or have on hand is basmati rice, generic pasta, potatoes, fridge stocked with celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli along with fruit. If any of these are on special I buy extra. Likewise, if anything is suddenly too expensive we get more of something else and do without what has spiked in price. I can't stress it enough how you save by knowing the usual price of things!

As meat eaters I would also purchase lean ground beef and chicken legs or boneless thighs. These are generally the least costly cut of chicken but I do splurge on a box of frozen chicken breasts from time to time as well as bulk packaged wings. You will note that I buy most things in large quantities. I have a freezer and keep it stocked with frozen things I buy on special. We save a lot by purchasing ahead.

I am a fan of chickpeas instead of meat. I also use quinoa quite a bit but I'm thinking at the moment it is more expensive than steak. Feel free to substitute into the plan whatever you have on hand or is on special in your neighborhood. I apologize for the meat laden plan. If you can help me out with some vegetarian ideas please do! I will note in red what I will be doing each morning or evening to prepare food for the following day. Because I am a morning person I prefer to get up before the kids and do some prep work for the day. That way I know it is done in case I am too tired that night. For you night owls, it might be just as good to plan to do some precooking in the evenings while you do your nightly routines.

lasagna and chili, pre-made and ready for the freezer. Because they start out with the same basic
ingredients, these meals are ideal for preparation in a "batch" 
Step Two: Write the Plan

I will provide you with my schedule for the week and the pretend meals that I have come up with. You will need to tweak this according to your own needs but it is mainly to illustrate how to keep on top of meal prep during a hectic schedule.

  • Sunday: PREP DAY
On Sundays or Mondays I usually do all my baking for the week and freeze it. You might rather put that time towards preparing meals. It may not be on Sunday, but you get the drift! 

If I was expecting a rushed Monday and Tuesday evening, I would divide my beef roast in 1/3 for stirfry (which I would slice and dice and put in a marinade in a bowl for Monday's quick supper. It is also an option to cook Monday's rice and eat some of it on Sunday with beans or curry. Leave the remaining 2/3 roast thawed to go in slow cooker or oven on Tuesday.

On a prep day I would divide my ground beef into portions for whatever I have planned that week: in this case I plan to make meatballs so would do that and possibly bake them before allowing to cool and freeze. Because my meatball and meatloaf recipe are the same, I could easily double the batch and freeze a meatloaf for another quick meal next week. If you start accumulating a lot of premade meals, make sure you mark them with the date and use the oldest first. It might also help to keep a little inventory list where you can see it for planning your menus. 

I would also scramble fry and season my meat for the coming Sunday's taco night--freeze this and remember to take it out of the freezer Saturday night. 

Freeze things like pork loin that you won't be using til later. Remember to leave yourself a note what day you need to thaw these for use (this week it will be Friday).

  • Monday: NO SCHOOL, NO SKATING (depending on roads I'm not sure what day I will actually get to town for groceries)
BKFST: bagels, apple slices, yogurt
SNACK: fruit smoothy using frozen fruit, banana and skim milk
LUNCH: grilled cheese sandwiches, veggies and dip, salad for myself
SUPPER: Stir-fry beef and vegetables with rice. Fruit for dessert

Evening prep: douse your roast with whatever your prefered spices are, some Worcestershire sauce and brown each side in a frying pan. Transfer meat to slow cooker or roasting pan. Add a smidge of butter and a chopped onion to your drippings in the frying pan and brown. Add a cup of beef bouillon or onion soup mix and get all the goodies out of the pan. Add this to your roast and refrigerate until the next day when you either roast in oven or turn on your slow cooker before leaving for work. Also, chop up 2 days worth of salad fixins while your roast is browning.
  • Tuesday: SCC Meeting at noon at school (It is looking like I'll go for groceries after the meeting)
BKFST: pancakes (make a double batch and freeze) fruit
SNACK: fruit smoothy as above
LUNCH: salads (make 2 days worth) and leftover stir-fry for O and myself (he is such a good eater!) Bagel and fruit in J's lunchbox
SUPPER: beef roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, salad and vegetables

  • Wednesday: Playschool 9-11, Skating 4:30-5:30
This is the equivalent of hell day for me. Veteran moms will scoff at my weak knees. But I digress.

BKFST: toast and fruit, yogurt
SCHOOL LUNCHES: O only gets time for a wee snack of fruit and a treat then we come home for our dinner. I'm expecting we would have salad and a bun with a piece of meat each. J doesn't do meat, if he can help it. I will send him a cheese or jam bun.
SUPPER: leftovers that can be microwaved when we get home.

This is basically a night off from prep so be sure to do your dishes and leave your kitchen how you want to find it in the morning. That is the reward of menu-planning. While doing your dishes (or eating), simmer pot barley in 1-2 cups of water. Once your barley is tender add leftover gravy, meat and veg from your meal. Frozen veg like corn, carrots and peas also help "beef up" a soup. Add beef stock or seasoning to taste. Your soup should be finished by the time you are done in the kitchen for the day. Allow to cool and transfer to containers to take to work or leave it in the pot for tomorrow's lunch/supper. 

Remove meatballs from freezer for tomorrow.
  • Thursday: O and I usually go to the farm for part of the day
BKFST: pancakes and apple slices
LUNCH: Leftovers made into soup, buns, salad
SUPPER: Pre-frozen meatballs with pasta and sauce (freeze leftovers in casserole for next Wednesday)

  • Friday: hosting a playdate, will make pizza for kids, cauliflower pizza crust for myself
BKFST: Variation of things mentioned above
LUNCH: pizza
SUPPER: meatballs with rice (make enough for tomorrow too!), steamed or roasted vegetables

Take pork loin out of freezer to thaw.
  • Saturday: NO SCHOOL
Unless you have a big pork loin, it is going to over cook all to heck in a slowcooker if left all day. I would cut into medallions and fry. This would take you literally only a few minutes, particularly if you have the rice and veg already cooked from the night before. 

BKFST: cereal or pancakes, if I'm running low make double batch and freeze
LUNCH: Grilled cheese sandwiches with assorted fruit, veggies and dip
SUPPER: pork loin with stir-fried rice and veggies leftover from Friday

Take taco meat out for tomorrow.
  • Sunday: NO SCHOOL, PREP DAY 
BKFST: variation of above
LUNCH: clean out fridge, make soup etc
SUPPER: Taco night or some variation

Because this is prep day I would prepare my taco fixins (veg and salad) and make double for taco salads the next night.

If I feel there are too many beans for what I am making I freeze
what's left to be quickly added to a different meal.

Step Three: Prep Day

Depending on your schedule you may be getting your groceries on the same day you will prepare some meals. I am aware of how lucky I am not to have the double whammy of work outside the home to complicate my routine inside the home. Everyone's situation is different and take from this whatever will work for you and your family.

Whatever I am planning to make, I do ALL the chopping needed for ALL the dishes at once and divide into bowls or piles to save redoing the same job multiple times. If you are using baked chicken in several recipes, bake all of it at once. Divide after. This will get easier with practice. 

Do your dishes as you go. You will not have a major prep day more than once if you feel it leaves you with a mountain of unwashed dishes. The day before your prep day, do yourself a favour and run the dish washer and tidy up your kitchen before bed. You will not dread cooking as much if you can start out with a clean work area. Likewise, try to leave it that way for yourself afterwards, too. Enlist the help of all family members. I can't stress it enough that reducing the kitchen budget cannot fall on one person alone. The family needs to pitch in to make it work--get help unloading the groceries, clearing the mess, doing the dishes, send hubby to do the shopping, whatever is possible. If you are at this alone, make it more enjoyable for yourself with some favorite music, a favorite drink or the reward of a hot bath after. Try to make it enjoyable!

I feel fairly certain I've forgotten a bunch of ideas I had for this post, but I do plan to do a few more with simple, on-the-go recipes so I will elaborate then if need be. Let me know if any of these ideas help you with a busy week. Also, let me know your favorite meals and tricks to get meals on the table when you have a lot going on!

If serving chili a few days in a row I switch it up by serving it over fries with cheese, with rice,
alone with buttered buns, and transformed with some cabbage, carrot and beef stock to make
 a hearty soup. 

Friday, 14 October 2016

Weekly Menu-Plan Series

Now that I have kids in after-school activities, I am seeing a need to be more organized and prepare food ahead of time lest we fall into the costly and unhealthy habit of eating out. We live in a rural area so the options are slim. If I don't have supper planned and ready ahead it just means no one gets fed until late, which is hectic enough, but it also pushes back bedtime which will effect the next morning and behaviour for days to come. For myself, it also means I won't get the kitchen cleaned up that night and I will wake up to a mess which effects my mood and gets my day off on the wrong foot. So I know that I must be disciplined in order to keep things running smoothly.

I know that I am very fortunate to have the option to stay home while my kids are small. I choose to do this. If I had to, I would work out of the home and pay someone to look after my kids. But we aren't to that point yet and, for now, I feel that I can "save" our money just as efficiently as I could go out and earn more while incurring childcare costs to do so. That said, to each their own! We are in the midst of an economic crisis in this area. People are getting by however they have to, and more power to them :)

I have always been a fan of cooking in batches. In a couple hours I can prepare several different meals using similar ingredients, freeze most of it, and be prepared for busy evenings as they come. You can read more here and here and here.

You can also check out some sample menu-plans that I've used here, here and here.

Full Disclosure: I come from a family farm. I get my beef free from my parents--we are extremely lucky and grateful for this. While my meal plans might be heavy on the meat, particularly that of the red variety, my overall goal is to help people see how one meal can be planned with tomorrow's needs in mind. How can you plan your meal prep a day in advance to save time, lower stress, and prevent wasting food (and money!)?

There are an overwhelming number of menu-plan ideas on Pinterest. If you are interested in becoming more efficient in the kitchen it is a good starting point. Personally, I don't spend a lot of time looking at what other people do because I can use that time in the kitchen preparing food. I started cooking for a family of 7 when I was ten years old. Not everyone feels as proficient or creative, and that is positively okay! Take what helps and leave the rest.

In the weeks to come I plan to blog about the process of getting meals ready and using a menu-plan to simplify my week. If you have used a menu-plan please share your thoughts in the comments. I am always open to new ideas to save time and money!

Soup--the ultimate time and money saving meal!

Weekly Column: Be Thankful This Thanksgiving

This column went to press the week before Canadian Thanksgiving. To all those Canadians reading, hope you had a good 'un!

Be thankful this Thanksgiving

For many in the Midwest, it has been a year they would rather forget. While it’s tempting, and possibly justified, to be bitter about your current situation, it might help to take stock of what you have to be grateful for. Happy people will tell you that they are actively grateful and that the spirit of thankfulness is what inspires their joy. Wouldn’t you like to be one of them?

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are” -Marianne Williamson

The changes that families have faced over the last two years have been difficult and stressful. But Thanksgiving is an opportunity to recognize what you have to be thankful for. Even in hardship there is the prospect of growth, learning and transformation. Start anew with confidence that you have the inner strength to flourish in the face of adversity.

Share the positives, first

Have you ever had a quick visit with someone only to realize as it ends that you had nothing good to say? Although there may not be a lot of good news, focus on saying positive things and spreading a feeling of optimism. You may be faking it at first, but if you continue to alter your words and behaviour your emotions will eventually follow. Let the people you speak to leave your company feeling uplifted.

Surround yourself with optimism

If certain Facebook groups or websites get your blood boiling, ask yourself: what is your participation there actually accomplishing? Are you contributing to an online argument that, rather than educating, only serves to make others more entrenched in their own opinions? Do yourself a favour and disengage. Only you can control the quality of your online and personal interactions. If what you read online leaves you bitter for the day, stop reading it. Read hopeful, entertaining, educational material instead. Shut off apps that make you frustrated and angry. Don’t read the comments from online trolls. Go for a walk, clean your house, play with your kids. Do things that bring you joy and you will be joyful. While you may face stress and anxiety on a daily basis, it’s important for your mental health that you balance them with positive activities.

Be thankful for the hard stuff, too

This isn’t meant to diminish what families and business people have faced in the last two years. The thought of losing a business or a home is devastating and there’s been far too much of it. But what have your challenges taught you? In what ways are you stronger and wiser than you were before? Is your family closer, have you realized who your true friends are? What have you done to help and support someone, and in what ways have you yourself been helped and supported? Are there areas in your community where you feel you could step up and make a difference for the better?

Elevate yourself

Whether or not you have been affected by the economic downturn, it is good advice to find what makes you happy and do more of it. Ideally, this will be something that doesn’t cost you much money. What gives you strength? What makes you feel healthy and hopeful? For some it is church. Many find stress relief in exercise. Meditation helps with mental clarity and calm. Volunteering and philanthropy enriches everyone’s lives. If you have been struggling with feelings of helplessness, anger or fear, what can you do to turn your emotions around?

Focus on people rather than things

Relationships can be hard. Add in the stress of job loss, foreclosure, moving or a myriad of tough decisions and you may find that your possessions are the least of your worries. Do not escape into a bottle, a barroom, recreational drugs or other pastimes that will only drag you further down. Do the hard work necessary to keep your relationships strong and healthy. Rid yourself of the desire for more “stuff”. If you can no longer afford to keep up with the neighbours, stop trying. Opt out of the race to the bottom and stop purchasing what you don’t need and can’t pay for. Realize how simplifying your life and your budget, although a side effect of an unexpected down turn, might make you a stronger and more fulfilled person.

Sometimes you need a helping hand

Community supports like the Salvation Army food bank and The Olive Tree exist for times like these. If you can donate or volunteer this season, you might find the rewards outweigh the sacrifices. If you find yourself in need, reach out to these organizations and realize you are not alone. For added support, contact the Rural Distress Centre Hotline at 1.800.232.7288 or the Mental Health Helpline (toll free in AB) at 1.877.303.2642.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Weekly Column: Don't Swipe The Small Stuff

Don’t Swipe the Small Stuff

In a recent New York Times article,, researchers found that some infrequent and subtle reminders about the follies of credit card debt helped reduce the amount that people spent each month. Assuming that this would work for you, are you willing to make some changes in order to reduce your monthly spending?

Do the math

Check your monthly credit card statement to be sure that all charges are accurate. While doing so, add up all of the purchases you made for under $20 and consider if any of them were actually necessary. Could you have avoided those costs altogether? Might you have packed a lunch, brought a drink from home or resisted the temptation to splurge?

Carry cash

Experts agree that people are more reluctant to part with their cash money than they are to swipe a card. If you are having trouble paying your cards off in full or if you are surprised how much you spend in a month, try withdrawing your petty cash ahead of time. Use only cash for incidental purchases under $20 and, when your petty cash is gone, stop spending. If you find that you blow through a month’s cash too quickly, only withdraw what you need for a week and do your best to be more disciplined.

You may find that you adjust to this system quite easily, but you will not notice results unless you get family members on board. Discuss the plan and allow each individual to have a bit to spend. Let them see how quickly their money disappears and make it a family goal to reduce the monthly expenditures. You may find that you make fewer stops and have more time once the whole family decides against small, unplanned purchases.

Remember your goals

Set a reminder on your phone, computer, or write it on the calendar, to check your credit card balances mid-month. This will refresh your memory as to how much money you already owe, and might help curb the impulse to go spend more. If you haven’t already, calculate how much you will save by paying off your credit cards faster at Jot down some goals that you would like to work towards and use your credit cards less as a way of meeting those targets.

Shop once a week

If you find that frequent trips to the grocery store often cost you more than you plan, set one designated grocery day and stick to it. Don’t stray from your list and shop only for the basics. Resist the urge to make quick stops for things you feel you can’t do without— but if you must, pay with cash for any purchases under $20. Bring drinks and snacks from home and do better at stocking up weekly--your budget will thank you. Need it be said that the drive thru is costing you more than it’s worth? Get in the habit of going straight home and eating what you have there. 

Make your groceries stretch—if you’re comfortable getting groceries 4 times a month, make it a goal to reduce that to 3 and track how much you save. Do an inventory of what you have on hand and get creative to use up food that might otherwise go to waste. Not every meal needs to be a gourmet feast. Ensure your family gets a nutritious, balanced meal while avoiding the temptation to buy take out. Again, if you find yourself grabbing a few extras, pay cash and don’t cheat on your petty cash limit for the month.

The real cost of credit

You may feel that it’s easy to put purchases on your credit card and forget about it, but consider the cost of paying 20% interest your gas station treats, phone apps, and window shopping splurges. Convince yourself that if you don’t have the cash in your pocket to buy it, you don’t need it. Save your credit card limit for a real family emergency and try to put those $20 bills back in your pocket to pay down debt, build your savings or invest in your child’s education. It might not feel like a big savings right now but combined, and over time, your self-control will lead you out of debt faster and into financial stability.

They say it takes about 66 days to form new habits. If you start today—carrying cash and reducing the number of small, trivial purchases you are putting on your credit card—by the start of December you will have reduced your credit card bill by using the card less, and hopefully reformed any tendencies to let money trickle through your hands. Be vigilant and disciplined to create new habits and see the progress you can make with your budget and spending.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Weekly Column: Start Anywhere, Pay Down Debt

Start anywhere: pay down debt

A recent survey of over 5000 people by the Canadian Payroll Association found that 40% of respondents spend their entire paycheque, if not more, every week. Among other things, these dismal statistics point out that half of those polled save only 5% or less of their earnings (experts recommend saving 10% or more) and, sadly, 39% of people surveyed are “overwhelmed” by their debt. Read more about this survey at:

Survey respondents list their most common debts as a mortgage (26%), credit card debt (18%), car loans (17%) and a line of credit (16%). Many people have all of these debts and possibly more, and it can begin to feel desperate. Are you one of these people?

Roll down debt: a review

Last week’s column introduced the idea of paying off your highest interest rate first, then using that payment amount (you’re used to spending it anyway) to increase the payments on your next highest interest rate, and so on, until you are debt free or in a position to start making those snowball payments to your own savings and retirement plan instead of creditors. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Many people reading, however, are crushed under their debt and feel there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. They feel they don’t control where their money goes and that debt grows even though income has shrunk, is sporadic, or has disappeared. It is grim and there are no easy answers for many families, but a proactive approach might get you out of debt faster than you think.

Remember last week’s example from A payment of $20 above the minimum on a $24,000 credit card debt paid the card off almost 10 years earlier and saved over $1700 in interest. Rather than feeling controlled by your debt, let’s think of ways you can apply just $20 more to your payments and regain control of your finances.

Start anywhere: finding $20

If I told you that you can shave at least $20 from your monthly budget with minimal effort and little sacrifice, would you spend a few minutes to do so?

Dig out all your statements—bank, credit card, line of credit, phone bills, utility, etc. Are you paying extra for a paper copy of these statements? How much are you paying in bank fees? Can you bundle insurance? Can you switch to paying bills online to avoid buying costly cheques? Go to your branch and explain that you need lower fees and ask for options, there is bound to be a cheaper alternative for you. Call your cell phone provider and explain that you are having a hard time making your commitments—what are your options with a smaller package? Cancel some bells and whistles and keep track of your savings. Put that money towards your debt instead.

Are you sometimes penalized for paying late? Would making payments automatic save you on interest and late charges? Set up autopay on some accounts if you are sure that you can cover those bills consistently. Being better organized can save you big if you put that money towards the debts you already have instead of allowing more to pop up.

Are you paying for duplicate services? If you pay for satellite or cable, even at the lowest price available, and have Internet, Netflix, Crave TV, Shomi, or the like, consider what to cancel and what to keep. If you have a land line you barely use, can you reduce to a cell phone only? Discuss what’s right for your family and take the time to eliminate and reduce these bills.

Start anywhere: evaluate your “must haves”

Everyone has a few favorites they are reluctant to cut from the budget. If you like socializing on weekends, can you stay in with a few friends rather than paying for cabs and bar tabs? Can you prepare some simple meals ahead to resist eating out? Can you institute family no-spend days where everyone packs a lunch, avoids stores, and gathers for free activities? While you have your statements out reducing fees, examine them for how much is spent on entertainment. Although you may feel like you have cut back, you may be surprised what is spent on treats and spur-of-the-moment choices. Look through your fridge at what consistently gets thrown out, and stop buying it.

Once you have trimmed your spending, pay that amount on your highest interest rate consistently. Do not allow your monthly payment to slide lower because the credit card company says it can. If you are accustomed to paying $200/mo on your Visa ($220 now that you’ve read this, right?), do your best to keep paying that amount or more until the debt is eliminated. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Start today.