Friday, 17 February 2017

Weekly Column: Growing Healthy Families

Growing healthy families

Most parents will admit that it can be a struggle to have their kids in extra-curricular activities. Even when money isn’t an issue, fitting everything in is a challenge. Between practices, games or recitals, travel time and any volunteer commitments that come with the chosen sport or activity, there is little time left in a week to complete homework and have some relaxing downtime with family. Many of us are left wondering, how do they do it all?

There was a time in the local area where many families didn’t have to consider the cost of sports and activities for their kids—it was a given that they would sign up for any and all programs that the kids were interested in. But that wasn’t the case for everyone. Even in the best of times there were local families that had difficulty paying for high rent, the increasing cost of food, not to mention extra-curricular. Nowadays, more and more families fall into this category. The question is, then, how do you find the right balance of afterschool activities if you are finding it hard to pay for everything?

What do the professionals say? tells us that kids aged 1-4 should have 180 minutes of physical activity spread out through every day. Kids of all ages need a variety of activities that include inside and outside time, exploring, discovering and interacting with people of all ages.

Likewise, kids aged 5-17 need an accumulated 60 minutes/day of moderate-vigorous exercise as well as several hours every day of light activity that is both structured (guided) and unstructured. For school-aged kids one might expect that those objectives are being met in gym class and on the playground, but that doesn’t give parents the go ahead to park their kids in front of the TV or computer after school. Experts recommend that kids get no more than 2 hours of screen time/day, along with regular, uninterrupted hours of sleep. Ages 5-13 should be sleeping 9-11 hours every night and 14-17-year-olds should get 8-10 hours and everyone should stick to consistent bedtime/waketimes.

No pressure, parents, if you feel like there’s no way to manage it all. Focus on the fact that none of these essential activities need be organized or expensive. Playing dress up, building forts and trips to the park are as desirable as an organized sport. Family walks, playing catch, shinny or soccer together keeps you in touch with your kids at any age.

Follow their lead

This is not to dispute the fact that organized sports are good for kids. They inspire teamwork, build friendships and confidence and can be favorite childhood experiences. In fact, having kids on a team helps your whole family feel part of a larger community. Sit down with your kids and discuss what they are most interested in. If your child wishes to give a sport a try but you worry you can’t afford to make it happen, look up In 2015, Kidsport gave over $65,000 to help 327 kids in the Lloydminster area afford to play sports.

For Saskatchewan kids that might have a more creative side, parents don’t despair. They still need the outdoor and active time, but there are many ways to engage the little artist without stressing the family budget. Take part in library activities, check out camps at the Barr Colony Heritage Cultural Centre, and google crafts and science experiments. Engage them with some sensory development doing finger paints, dancing to music and writing and illustrating their own stories. If they are interested in a more structured, organized class, check out to see if you are eligible for funding to help pay the fees.

It's up to you

Staying engaged with our kids, knowing what they are interested in and doing activities with them, will build their confidence and keep them communicating with you as they get older. Whether an activity costs money or not doesn’t determine the quality of the experience for your child. Do you talk it over with them? Do you show up to watch? Do you help them practice? In other words, do you take an active interest in what your kid is up to?

Midwest Family Connections has an array of activities for little people. The Lloydminster Library has stories and crafts, and visiting the library and reading together is one of the best things you can do with your kids at any age. The Lloydminster Community Youth Centre welcomes kids between ages 12 and 18, offering recreational activities, community supports and a safe place to make new friends. Your income may have taken a beating over the last few years, but that’s no reason why your kids can’t maintain healthy activities and be part of a larger community of like-minded people.   

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Weekly Column: Cooking Collectives Save Money

Cooking collectives save money

Not everyone leaves home knowing how to cook, nor how to shop for easy, healthy ingredients. On top of that, many families are smaller these days. Buying in bulk might not be feasible for an underemployed person supporting a spouse with, say, two small children. In many cases, there is considerable savings when buying in larger quantities. But what if you can’t afford that? On the flip side, if you normally cook for a number of people, there may be ways for you to save on groceries, time and effort. As we all know, it’s difficult to make changes and learn new skills, especially when you are under pressure. So how can people join together to address a basic need in the community—building the skills and buying power to enjoy healthy, affordable meals?

Collective or Community Kitchens

A Collective or Community Kitchen is a small group of people that gets together monthly to plan, shop for and cook meals. The members and leader meet based on their schedules and the availability of a space to cook in, and childcare if needed. Participants do contribute to the cost of the food and bring their own containers to take food home in.

A Collective Kitchen is an opportunity for people to learn more about safe food handling, eating a balanced diet, budgeting, and working together. In addition, it gets people out of their homes to plan, shop and cook together, building community while also giving people the chance to try new recipes and gain confidence in the kitchen.

Cooking at home

There is no way around it, if you can eat you need to learn to cook. It is a basic life skill, possibly one of the most important ones. Use a collective kitchen to inspire you to cook more at home. Yes, dishes and clean up can be a pain. It can be hard to find time to keep the fridge and pantry stocked. There is a drive thru on every corner these days and our bodies have become trained to crave those fast calories. But even without considering the budget, it is healthier and therefore very important to prepare food at home.  Once you factor in the cost of take out and ready to serve food, it should be clear that getting into a routine of cooking at home will help your waistline and your wallet as well. Participating in a Collective Kitchen is a step towards a healthier, more budget-friendly lifestyle.

A family affair

Would you like to encourage your kids to learn about nutrition, budgeting and cooking, but don’t know where to start? Kids in the Kitchen may be just what you are looking for. Allowing kids to take part in their own kid-centred group allows them to learn by doing and gives them a sense of accomplishment with every meal. You may find they are more willing to eat food that they have handled and helped to prepare. As an added benefit, your child may become more interested in helping in the kitchen and more appreciative of home cooked meals.

Increase your buying power

Food banks in Alberta and Saskatchewan report that usage is up significantly over the past couple years. People are struggling to make ends meet and that includes keeping good food on the table. Luckily, there is a local program that might help, called the Fresh Food Box. At $10 for a small box and $15 for a large, this is an affordable way for families to purchase quality fresh produce. You also receive a recipe in every order. Order your Fresh Food Box on the first and third Thursday of every month (at #201-5001-50 Ave). Pick up is on the second and forth Thursday of the month at the Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre (4602-49th Ave).

There are so many benefits

Most cultures celebrate by cooking and eating together. As social media takes the place of face to face interaction, some of those family and community connections are being lost. Along with them are lost the joy of sharing, the pride of displaying what you have created, and the pleasure of companionship. Collectively purchasing ingredients and preparing food is a great way to reconnect with your community and meet new people. It is also a great way to introduce your family to new recipes and working together in the kitchen.

Collective Kitchens are suited to many different groups, whether it be kids, new or expecting moms, seniors, those with special needs or even those with special dietary concerns. Cooking and eating together with people from your community fosters friendship and co-operation.

For more information on Collective Kitchens, Kids in the Kitchen or the Fresh Food Box in Lloydminster, contact Midwest Food Resources at 306 825 2606 or

Sunday, 29 January 2017

On Getting Older, Frugally


There's just a whole lot of gray in my hair these days.

On top of that, the lines under my eyes don't smooth out, no matter what concoction of filler or revitalizer or primer I use. The line that I noticed crossing my forehead in my twenties has deepened and invited a couple of friends to hang out there full time.

Not to mention whiskers.

I don't want to rain on the parades of any pert twenty-somethings that might be reading this, but getting older can be ghastly. I once bragged that, for a gardener, I had no problem with cracked feet like many gardeners that I know. Within a couple months my big toe developed a painful fissure and now I struggle to keep it from getting sore whenever I work outdoors (which is basically all summer). Of course I don't have scientific proof that cracked heels or toes has anything to do with my age, but it's another glaring example of how I feel like everything is changing as I barrel towards approach forty :)

Does this mustache make my nose look big?

When I was pregnant with J I didn't colour my hair, paint my nails, or do anything that involved chemicals. Same with my second pregnancy, with O. After we had J there was really no money. When my last drop of hairspray was gone I didn't buy more. I used up all the last partial bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash etc that we had in the back of closets and in the bottom of suitcases. None of my clothes fit. I continued to gain weight after having the baby and, like most new moms, my world was upside down as far as sleep and routine were concerned.

I'm not complaining. Those baby years taught me a lot. For one thing, I was absolutely certain that we would be okay money-wise. I often said that at that stage I wasn't able to earn but I could do my best to save and that I did. We paid off Husband's debts, his dirt bike, his truck. This was while we had bought our very affordable house in a small time and did some updates on it. All the while, I didn't have hairspray and finally I ran out of foundation for my tired looking skin.

And I resented it.

At some point I began to feel that our success at paying off debts was coming out of my own hide, if you will. I actually signed up to sell Avon so that I could get the discount on the products that I wanted. I am still using them (got most of them for free and they've lasted all these years with my infrequent use), although I didn't cut it as a salesperson ;)

Slowly, over a few years, I began to buy a few pieces of clothing and now have a winter and summer wardrobe that, while not flashy or expensive or overly "hip", I am comfortable wearing. My friend dyes my hair in exchange for baking or meals (my mom is also a hairdresser but she's so busy all the time I try not to bother her with one more job). My point, though, is I have found that I am happier when I feel like I've pampered myself a bit or at least paid some attention to how I look. And, as a very frugal person, I think it is important to draw the line when frugality starts to make you unhappy/unappreciated.

As I see myself starting to look older, I have to acknowledge that this is the start of the next phase of my life. Yes, I'm frugal. I buy literally nothing that isn't essential or food. I especially don't buy much for myself, and that is a choice that I no longer resent. Because I have an almond scrub that I use on my face from time to time, and a tube of blue mask that makes my pores look so much better. I moisturize. I exfoliate. I use a toner and a primer and I finally threw away the eye shadow I bought in university (gross, I know).

I guess my point is, you can take care of yourself in a frugal way. I'm sure I will never get a day at the spa and I don't need that to be happy. I'm quite sure spending that much would make me ill. But I CAN do a few little things as part of my routine that make me feel better about myself. The main one is exercise and fresh air. A big one is adult conversation. And I'm finally admitting that trying to look nice makes me feel happier and there has to be a place for that in my frugal routine.

I read blogs where the women wear all thrift-store clothing and have forsaken make-up. Good on 'em. If they still feel beautiful (and believe me, they are!), then by all means I think that is wonderful. I think you need to find your comfort zone. If you are resisting cutting back on spending in one area, question why that is. In my case, I might spend $100-200 on clothes for myself in a year. Other years I might spend $0, yes, $0. This year I bought an $89 winter coat because the one I was wearing is misshapen from 2 pregnancies and I've been wearing it for over 8 years. It's very good quality and very warm (alpaca) so it's still in the closet, but...I felt dowdy. So I bought a new coat. I also got the winter boots I wanted because they were $100 less on a boxing day sale and my old ones were so worn down on the soles I kept wiping out on ice. For some people, having the money to buy new winter gear is something they dream of. I never lose sight of that. I have waited for 8 years to buy a new coat because I really didn't "need" one. This year I bought one because continuing to wear the old one had started to bring me down.

I don't want to resent the sacrifices I make for our financial goals. I also don't want to look tired and wore out.

I shop thrift stores, folks. There's not always something that fits or looks good. You put this body in a summer dress that is 10 years out of style and it is embarrassing. I don't spend much on clothing for myself but, when I do, I make sure it is something I will wear and feel good in. Yes that might be a hand-me-down from a friend or a thrift store find (love it when that happens!). But if I need a piece of clothing I will also watch for sales and shop around until I find what I need. No apologies. That is why I save. I buy absolutely nothing we don't need and I count our pennies. I do this mostly so that we have emergency funds for when Husband is not working (it's somewhat seasonal so there are down times to be expected every year). If times are tight, I am obviously not going to go buy myself something to wear. During those times I can do a home facial, using the drugstore products that I've had for years, and still feel good.

When you live frugally, especially if you are just starting out, it can get to feel like a lot of sacrifice. But a beauty regime is not much different than anything else--the more work you can do yourself, the more you can save. Buy a home waxing kit and skip the salon. Try colouring your own hair or ask your stylist if she works from home. Do your own nails. Go on Pinterest and look up a homemade facial. There are ways to pamper yourself and feel good without spending much. If you let your frugal endeavors steal your sparkle, though, there is a good chance you won't stick with it. Maybe it is better to allow yourself a few treats here and there and stick with the overall goal.

What is your opinion? Do you think it's okay to splurge a little, when the money is available of course, to feel better? And, if so, what is it that makes you feel better? Notebooks? Nice pens? A book to read? A new hairstyle? Coffee out? I'm interested!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Weekly Column: Some (late) financial resolutions

This post was written before Christmas but was not published until the new year. It's actually interesting to read and think about new year's resolutions a few weeks after the fact--does anyone remember what they were?

Some financial new year’s resolutions

New year’s resolutions are notoriously short lived. When thinking of one’s finances, it’s foolhardy to count on a midnight wish to bring about any real change in your situation. That said, if you have run into trouble or just want to take a more serious approach to handling your money, there’s no time like the present and the start of a new year is as good a time as any to begin. Rather than just hoping things will improve, there are some strategies that will help you turn your resolutions into real action.


Perhaps you’ve heard that goal-setting is more effective when you follow the acronym SMART. If you would like to pay off a credit card, say, just the vague notion that you would like to do so doesn’t mean that you will. You stand a better chance of achieving your goal if it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.

In our example, paying off a credit card won’t happen unless you make a plan to do so. Be specific. How are you going to come up with extra money every month to pay down the debt? Make your goal measurable: how much, realistically, can you put towards that debt every month? This goal must be attainable in that if you put every extra cent against your credit card you may end up having to use it again to cover expenses. Remind yourself why this goal is relevant to you. It may seem painful to cut back spending or take on extra work to pay off the card, but doing so is saving you the interest and allowing you to put that money towards other bills, savings or recreation. To actually succeed, you must give yourself a deadline—the time-based portion of this goal is to decide when you want the card paid off in full and then follow through.

Baby steps

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Have a realistic look at your situation and note areas where you think you can make some positive changes. Perhaps you would like to spend less on groceries. Maybe this is the year you quit smoking or use your treadmill daily. Whether your focus in the new year is on your finances, your career, your health or your relationships, you must keep your goal in the forefront of your mind to succeed. Tweaking your routine ever so slightly can contribute to your accomplishment. Park further away from the door in large parking lots and take more steps in a day. Boycott the drive thru and bring your own travel mug of coffee from home. Calculate how much you save and put that amount towards a debt. 

Educate yourself

How much time does the average person spend making funny faces on snapchat or surfing the Internet in a day? There’s a multitude of more useful things to do with your time. Rather than reading the latest celebrity gossip or checking Facebook, how about resolving to learn more about personal finance this year? If you feel you don’t have the time, try leaving your cell phone on a high shelf and retrain your attention span not to reach for it every ten minutes. You might be surprised how quickly you can read a book or magazine when you stop distracting yourself.

Track every penny

If there is one new year’s resolution that will absolutely help you get control of your money, pledge to record every cent you spend. The old expression “take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves” is as relevant today as it ever was. There is no way to put a dent in your debt load if you have no idea where your money is going every month. While your cell phone is on that high shelf, go through your bank and credit card statements and get a good look at your spending. You may be surprised how much money is trickling between your fingers.

Get help

Some problems are bigger than a new year’s resolution can handle. The stress of job loss, debt, making the mortgage and, frankly, paying for Christmas can be too much for even the strongest to bear. If you or someone you know is beginning to feel isolated and like there’s no hope, get help. This is a terrible time for some, but with support you can weather any storm. Contact the Alberta Mental Health Helpline (toll free in AB) 1-877-303-2642 if you feel you can no longer cope. Contact Credit Counselling Canada and arm yourself with trustworthy, professional financial advice. Knowing what needs to be done can’t be as bad as worrying about the unknown. Let 2017 be the year you take control of your future, whether you make resolutions or not.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Weekly Column: Have an emergency plan

Have an emergency plan

Anyone that depends on the oil patch or agriculture for their livelihood knows that during certain times of year payday just doesn’t come. An overly wet, drawn out spring break up or a disastrous harvest can leave many area residents scrambling to make their payments.

When you are self-employed, an emergency plan is a must because you aren’t eligible for unemployment. But even if you are an employee with a seemingly secure job, saving an emergency fund is an essential part of anyone’s budget. Having a line of credit with the bank does not count as an emergency fund. If you dip into your line of credit you must have the funds to pay it off before interest sets in or you’ve only managed to create a real emergency by using it. The interest may be lower than a credit card, but incurring more debt because you didn’t save is no plan at all.

What is a real emergency?

Needing winter tires in October does not constitute an emergency, and shouldn’t drain the reserves of money you have set aside for the unforeseen. The same goes for that warm vacation or the larger screen TV. Experts recommend keeping 3-6 months worth of your necessary expenses saved for calamities like illness, job loss or any event that prevents you from having an income for an extended amount of time. Seeing what has happened with the price of oil, many people can say from experience that having a year’s worth of expenses saved is a better idea.

Regular car maintenance like tires is a predictable expense. If you have a vehicle you must anticipate that it will cost you money and save accordingly. Saving for emergencies has to happen in addition to saving for regular expenses that happen in life. Yes, shingling your house will be a major expense but if you are on year 30 of a 25-year shingle it is time to start thinking about how you will pay to redo your roof.

Don’t be emergency prone

In other words, be proactive. Have a look around your house, yard and family to identify what is coming down the pipe. Is your eldest planning on college? Youngest needing braces? Maple tree touching a power line? No one is saying it’s easy to save for all of these possibilities plus the depressing prospect of losing your job, but it does take the lustre off another trip to the mall, doesn’t it? Before you spend unnecessarily on “wants”, have a realistic look at your “needs”. While expenses like mortgage, power and water are obvious in the budget, make sure that you are also saving for the less common (but no less expensive) eventualities that should not be paid for out of emergency funds.

This column is such a drag

It can be hard to squirrel away money and not touch it. Over time, people relax and begin to look at their emergency funds as spendable cash. But doesn’t it make more sense to hide that money on yourself and begin a different savings account—one that can be touched—for all the things you would like to purchase?

It’s not that you will never get to eat out again in your life. With careful saving, watching for sales and a lot of patience, hopefully you can find a balance between delaying gratification and getting your financial ducks in a row. Yes, planning for a stable future will likely mean some sacrifices now. It is a lot easier to eliminate some discretionary spending before an emergency strikes than to try to save money in a scenario of restricted income. Put off painting your house. Make do with the mismatched appliances and last year’s winter coat. Get some emergency funds in place before you spend on things that can wait.

If you’ve honestly looked at all the money you spend in a month and can find nowhere else to make cuts, pat yourself on the back and keep searching for ways to make a little extra. Divert any extra money to one of two places—paying down your debt with the highest interest rate and saving for the unforeseen.

If you regularly spend your entire paycheck without contributing to emergency savings (and don’t have any money set aside for a real crisis) please sit down with pen and paper and determine how much money you would need to pull yourself through an unexpected job loss, illness or accident.

Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean you wish for it to happen. If you are very, very lucky you may never use that emergency fund. But having it and not needing it is sure preferable to needing it and not having a penny set aside to back you up in hard times.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sweet Sunday

We took the new camera out for a spin yesterday. By the time we had fed and bedded down the animals with extra straw (cold snap coming on) and hauled some wood, our faces were too cold so we only made it to the end of our lane before turning back. You can see how gray and dismal it can be in winter, but I do love the frost. It doesn't show up as beautifully white in these pictures although I'm sure there's some way of tinkering with them that would fix that.

My 6 year old will soon be 7 and he's been invited to a couple birthday parties of late. He was picked up by his little friend's dad and went with them to a movie a few days ago. Today he was off with a different family for laser tag and a romp at an indoor playground.

It is so very, very nice to see the little guy making friends and excited to go have an adventure without mom and little brother along. O howled to hear that he wouldn't be going, and I confess that a part of me howled to see him being driven out of the yard today. It suddenly feels too fast, this growing up thing. A couple years ago he had some health problems and wouldn't leave my side. We were lost without each other then and now what am I to do?

O needed a special day with Gramma, seeing he couldn't go to the party. Of course, it had to be without mom along too. So I happily spent the day writing, writing and writing. An entire day flew by and I didn't do housework beyond outside chores and hauling wood. I am finding more time to write, finding more time and fewer distractions. It's what I want and need. Today was bittersweet, but mostly sweet, as I had a few hours to myself and my kids had their own adventures without me.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Weekly Column: Have a Reason Why

I am indebted to bloggy friend Frugal Desperado for the original post that sparked the idea for this column. Moreover, I'm always indebted to my favorite bloggers that take time to write about their frugal adventures and also to all those that comment here. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Have a reason why

In your circle of family and friends, you can probably think of a few individuals that always seem prepared for an emergency. They don’t live a flashy life but, instead, quietly put aside money for retirement, family vacations, education and unforeseen events. Although these conversations rarely happen, if you were to ask those folks why they feel it is important to save their money you might get a variety of answers.

Many people would simply reply that it is how they were raised—living within their means and saving for a rainy day is second nature to them. Others feel that they must be self-reliant because there is no one to bail them out if they get into trouble.  Most realize that government pensions won’t be enough to live on and so are planning for their own comfortable retirement without being a burden to their children. Many want to leave their kids a legacy that will help them have a stable future. A good portion of this financially prepared crowd would say “all of the above”.

At the same time, you may know some people that do not yet have their financial wish list in place, but they are working on it. This group has come to realize that incomes can fluctuate and it’s important to control spending in order to accommodate those fluctuations.

If questioned as to why they set aside money for tomorrow rather than just living “in the moment” and spending everything they make, this group may have many of the same answers as the group discussed above. But you might also hear reasons like they need to pay off student or consumer debt in order to buy a home, they want to travel and live worry free. Perhaps they want an income property or to put their money to work for them through investments. Like their more financially stable counterparts, this group of people has a goal in mind and actively pursues it through controlling spending, paying off debt and, when possible, saving their money.

If you look hard enough, among us there is also a group of people that feels it is impossible to control their financial situation. There may be a variety of reasons for this sad outlook. Perhaps an individual is in a relationship where one spouse controls and mismanages the money. Many people were ill-prepared for the downturn in the economy and feel powerless to correct their state of affairs. Divorce, death, lawsuits, foreclosures or countless other calamities can understandably sour your viewpoint.
Even though the future may look bleak, it is still useful for people who feel buried by their finances to have reasons why they want to get things under control. Is it so your kids can have a better life? Or so that you will not have to feel worried and stressed as more bills pile up? So that you aren’t always on the brink of disaster? So that a small crisis like a flat tire doesn’t create a domino effect of overextending credit, interest charges and inability to pay for daily essentials?

For this latter group, the question is not only why—why try to get back on your feet, get in control, overcome these financial hurdles—but also how. How can you eventually count yourself among those who are consistently paying down debt and making progress towards goals like home ownership, a good credit rating, some money in the bank? Where on earth will you start?

For those who are completely overwhelmed by their financial problems, there are organizations that can help. Go to the Credit Counselling Canada website to find a credit counselor near you. Yes, it will be stressful to lay out your paperwork and truly confront your situation, but not doing so causes even more stress and ensures the trouble will follow you long into the future.

There are other community resources at your disposal. AlbertaWorks and CanSask have offices in Lloydminster to help residents with job searches, training and assistance. 3A Academy helps people improve workplace and job seeking skills. The Lloydminster Learning Council provides a number of affordable programs for the public. And don’t forget the local library as one of any community’s most important sources of information.

For those who want to reach financial stability, having a goal is the first step. Keep your goal in mind as you make a plan to achieve it. Reach out to reputable, non-profit community organizations for help. Be honest about your situation and get the referrals and resources you need. Once you have been pointed in the right direction, use your “reason why” to stay motivated. Accumulating debt can happen fast, paying it off is going to take time, hard work and commitment. Think of a good reason to get started.