Wednesday, January 30, 2013

ACCOUNTability

It turns out the only thing harder than not having money is having it.

We've watched friends overcompensate when their budget goes from meager to manageable. That lovely line between "need" and "want" becomes very wavy and unclear. And before they know it, they're in over their head, definitely writing cheques their bank can't cash. Evey city we've been in, there has been at least one couple in the same situation.

Lovely people, but we don't want to be them.

Now that Scott is in secure employment, and I'm off the introductory probation at my job, we're feeling much more financially stable. But money mismanagement is kind of like quick sand -- you think it's just a shirt. And then it's a couple of containers for organizing the bathroom cupboard. And then it's just a pizza for supper. And before you know it, your money is slipping out of your hand as soon as it comes in.

And yes, that may be a snippit from my brain's impulse purchase sector. No, no I didn't buy any of it.

But the impulse was there, and it was strong. So we developed a budget. A thorough budget. Exact timelines for building a down payment. Estimated moving expenses. Accounting for annual incremental raises for me, as outlined by our collective agreement. Filling in rough numbers for vacations, renovation, kids, retirement savings.

And it was great! The main problem? The budget wasn't with us at the store. We keep a rough mental tally, but sometimes a one doesn't get carried, or we remember where we're at with groceries from two weeks ago, but not last week. I knew we had to get a little tighter grasp if we're going to get that down payment as soon as possible.

I was going to go pen to paper, but couldn't find a template, nor design my own, that worked well enough. And the "budget binder" would always be at home, to catalogue our purchases AFTER they were made. Good for building guilt, not great for building habits.

Of course, there's an app for that. I took a good portion of Sunday reading reviews, testing out free trials, and generally research what could link up a Mac, an iPhone and an Android, so we would have NO excuse for not always being on top of that budget.

No, we know exactly where we're at every day as we contemplate that cup of coffee. We can decide if we want to do that home organization project this week, or hold off until next week when our budget cycle starts over with the start of the new month. And we can keep tabs on each other by knowing the minute someone makes a purchase.

Ok, maybe that's not a perk we may like, but the ability to manage accounts comes from... accountability!!

ETA: Lots of people emailing saying I forgot to include the name of the app we're using. I purposely left the app name out, as it's a rather expensive app which we wouldn't have even thought about purchasing without the iTunes gift card we found in our couch cushion (budgeting tip: always check the couch cushions), and while I do love the product, I didn't want to provide free advertising. What can I say? I'm a capitalist! That being said, anyone wanting to know what app it is, I will gladly tell you! Just shoot me an email at carascloset1@gmail.com! 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dustin'

I know Swiffer dusters does not replace a cleaner and a rag for an actual scrubbing of surfaces, but when your mother-in-law calls to say they're in Portage, and will be at your house in an hour, they do the job (Ok, I've never received that call. Only when they were in Virden, and we lived in Regina, and that was about 3 hours away).

But what bugs me is the fact that I love a NEW Swiffer cleaner but after running it over a single shelf, it feels like I was just smearing dust over dust. And then I throw it out at the end of the dusting session.

Finally, I got mad at wasting money on Swiffer dusters, and decided to make my own.

I used this tutorial. 

Here are my versions of the instructions
  1. Ask your sister for spare flannel. When you get home, realize you already had flannel, and are glad she never gave you any. 
  2. Three days later, find said flannel, and reminisce over the fact that you made a wonderful Burrito Baby Blanket for your niece, and you haven't seen it, in a while, even though your niece's little baby brother would probably love it


  3. Decided to make them RIGHT NOW, but first pin it, so you can say you finally did something on your pinterest board.



  4. Measure out 4 7X7" and 4 4X7" squares. Remember, you want the flannel to get all ragged, so feel free to tear rather than cut. 
  5. Stack in piles of 2 large and 2 small squares - centred.


  6. Sew down the middle. 
  7. Place the two "backs" (being the large squares) together, so the smaller ones are on the outside. Fold the smaller rectangles to the side (top and bottom set). Centre your swiffer handle on the fold, and trace the part of the handle you insert. Repeat on other side
  8. Sewing through all 7X7 pieces, follow the line you had traced, omitting the areas where the handle bumps "out"


  9. Trim the pieces so each piece is an inch or so smaller than the other. Repeat on opposite sides.


  10. Snip the pieces into strips. Keep in mind, you want this to fray up, so don't get too perfect.

  11. Floof up. Ignore comments from your husband about your dusters looking like tacos. Dust to your hearts content, and wash and dry as needed. The more ragged they get, the better!

Friday, January 25, 2013

In my blood

For my wedding, I wanted to reunite the family band.

No, not the mishmash of instruments we'd pull together with my uncles and cousins at Christmas (while my grandmother, mother and aunt drank wine and wished they had ear plugs), but rather the days of my dad's guitar, my sister on piano, me on bass and my mother singing. We rocked 59th St. Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy). Or at least, in my distant memories we did.

I had it all planned out -- including my brother-in-law and my groom, we'd have just enough people to cover the major instruments for The Beatles' "When I'm 64."

Turns out Scott hates that song.

Oh, and it turns out my family hated the idea. Apparently, it's cheesy.

As you could likely tell, music was a major part of my childhood. Throw on some Beach Boys, and set me loose, and I'd surf up and down the hallway.  A little slower and more classical, and I'd pirouette in the front window. Whether it was picking up random instruments and teaching myself to play them (bass, guitar, clarinet), taking lessons privately and at school (piano and alto saxophone) or singing on stage (in choir and school musicals), there was little time to do anything else, but if there was, you could almost guarantee I'd have some music playing in the background.

And then we moved to Regina.

Away from my dad's new stereo system.

Away from the ever present musical instruments.

And music became secondary. An afterthought. That thing on the radio where you sing along, pretending you know the words, but never really finding out who sang it, and what they were actually singing.

Moving to Winnipeg was moving "back home," though not in the sense that I had really spent all that much time in the city. It was more metaphorical... I was returning to my roots. And with that return, I could feel music bubbling up inside me.

On a whim, I pinned a guitar on my Christmas list this year. A "five-minutes-of-research-but-Dad-will-research-this-if-he's-really-going-to-buy-me-one" guitar. And of course, he bought the exact one I pinned. Not because my "five-minutes-of-research" was necessarily that effectively researched, but because it was the one I "wanted".  Fortunately, further research SINCE receiving it has proven that it was a very good five-minutes-of-research.



So now I'm doing my best Bryan Adam's impression, and playing till my fingers bleed. And in the less-than-a-month I've had a musical instrument back under my fingers, music is coming up everywhere.

I'll turn on my iPod instead of turning on the TV.

I'll use Shazam to find out what song is floating through the air at the coffee shop, so I can expand my musical library.

I'll even have giant music nerd moments in which I go running into the office and make Scott listen to "Some Nights" by FUN! followed by "Cecilia" by Simon & Garfunkel just so he can hear the rhymthic and melodic similarities (while Cecilia's percussion was formed by slapping thigh, piano benches, and really-slackened-guitar strings, Fun!'s rhythmic beat is centred on a slightly less unique snare drum, though it does harken musical stylings of military marches alluded to: "this is it, boys, this is war" although this line also from "99 Red Balloons," at least in the English version, which I am admittedly not familiar with preferring to make up words to the German version. The chord progression in both songs is identical).

So now that I've got the music back, I'm a little less bitter about not having my way at my wedding... mostly because I assume if music is in my blood, it'll be in my kids blood too, and I'll make it a caveat on any money I give them towards their wedding.

And for those who are still stuck on: "'Some Nights' and 'Cecilia'? Seriously? I gotta hear that!" here is a mashup by DJ McFly:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good Enough

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that maybe you already know...

...keeping my living space clean is a battle I rarely win.

But this time, we're doing it. And we're doing it relatively well.

My mother will tell you all reasons I am not naturally a clean person, ranging from lazy (I love sitting down to a movie or tv show and just zone out), distract-able (I am the queen of half finished projects) to rebellious (what my mother considers "messy" in her house often verges on what I consider "clean" in mine).

I bring it down to two reasons
1. I get caught up in the details. I mean, how can you expect me to put my laundry away when I know my drawers aren't perfectly organized, and I can't just reorganize my drawers, because I plan on reorganizing my bedside table, which will allow me to put somethings from my drawers into my bedside table, but I can't reorganize my bedside table until I reorganize the office, because I know there are a number of office supplies in my bedside table that should really go in the office, and the day I was going to do that, Scott was working in the office... you get the picture.

2. Scott is an instigator. He doesn't intentionally sabotage me, but the minute his one pair of jeans hits the floor in the bedroom, it's like he's giving me permission to put 100 things on the bedroom floor. Not the most sound logic, but sometimes my brain works in weird and wild ways.

I've discovered the solution that is letting my house sit rather tidy for more than 3 days. We're verging on 13 here.  And believe me, that is a BIG DEAL. The solution is to let myself settle for "good enough".

It sounds counter-productive, but it does work. I may not have my dresser perfectly organized (and I am a perfectionist when it comes to organization), but as long as I can still put clothes in it, it's good enough.

And for those clothes that end up on the floor, whether they be Scott's or mine, it's usually a case where they're destined to be worn again, but they're good enough to go back in the drawer, rather than in some no-man's-land between the dresser and the laundry.

Of course, since "good enough" is only "good enough," I do also have an ongoing list of areas that will need finer attention (such as the cookbook cupboard that spews out index cards of recipes every time you open the door too quickly). While it may seem like it's just procrastinating those kinds of projects, it's amazing how many more of them I actually get done -- start to finish! When the house takes less than an hour to clean on a Saturday (including vacuuming and dusting... something that always got missed when we exhausted ourselves tidying), the weekend feels like it stretches out forever, and suddenly we're inspired to tackle some of the other projects on our list. 

But overall, this policy of "good enough" has given me the best motivation of all... the permission to celebrate the small victories, rather than holding out for the big ones, and that in itself is all the motivation I need to move from "good enough" to "great"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Welcome to Winter

We're going to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming (which you probably wouldn't be able to tell if I hadn't mentioned it) to teach all of you winter babies how to deal with the recent cold snap infiltrating parts of the globe.

As I comment to a co-worker every morning as I take 10 minutes to take off my outerwear, "it's only cold if you don't dress for it!"

So what does "dressing for it" entail? It depends on the temperature. When this post goes live, it is forecasted to be -27 (-17F)... but -39 (-38F) with the wind. And since I wait for the bus in the middle of bald-headed prairie and work in a wind tunnel, I take that -39 very seriously.

Base layer:
Tights (natural fiber) and long sleeved shirt

Clothing layer:
Thick densely woven pants (aka: trouser jeans)
Long sleeved sweater

Extra layer:
Wool socks
Super thick hoodie
Knit mittens

Outer layer:
Big furry boots
Utilitarian parka
Super long scarf (to wrap around and around and around and around)
toque
Thick windproof mitts
Glasses (blocks the wind from your eyes, which causes tears)



It's not the most attractive look, but neither is your nose once it's been thoroughly frost bitten.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The simple truth

Despite getting rid of 55 articles of clothing last year, my wardrobe did not get any smaller. I dare say it may have even grown, which is weird since I doubt I did as much shopping as I had in previous years.

Nonetheless, with closet limitations in mind, I went shopping. There was a plaid wool skirt I longed for online for months and finally, I was going to buy it. I had birthday money to spend and everything. I could have squealed when I saw it hanging alone, in my size. I picked it up...

... and disappointment set in.

It was thin. It was unlined. It didn't quite have the warm orange tones in it that I swear were there on the website. But I wasn't going to let my preconceived notions of how it looked on the hangar affect my judgement. I tried it on.

It was dowdy. Definitely a couple inches too long. Oh, and still thin and still unlined.

I took a picture and sent it to my sister and mother. They didn't seem blown away.



I fussed around with where the waist was sitting to see if hemming the skirt up a few inches made a difference. Around 3 inches higher, it finally started to work.

And then I realized: "Started to work" didn't mean that it did work. It was merely an improvement on something I wasn't crazy about afterall.

But I had wanted it for so long. I hmm'd and hawed as I walked out of the change room. I asked Scott's opinion. He said it was fine. I likely snarked at him. He likely handed me a cup of decaf white chocolate mocha from Starbucks to at least up my blood sugar levels. And then he said something that made sense:

"If you don't love it, don't buy it"

Years of thrifting has turned me into a "make it work" kind of girl, and while that's great when money is tight and you just "need" that one item, and the price seems good, but when you finally have an opportunity to invest money into your wardrobe, why make sacrifices?

We walked straight out of the store and into the next where I found pieces that I loved. Sure, I had to spend a little more and go a little further outside my pre-planned comfort zone, but in the end, it was worth it!

My new goal for keeping my closet under control? If I don't love it, don't buy it!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Catching Up

Do remember at the beginning of 2012, I created a rule that I was going to give away one article of clothing per week? And then how that disappeared when life got busy, or good, or bad or something?

I was boxing up things this past weekend to take to the local thrift store, when I decided it was a pretty good haul. I counted 42 items. I knew I had dropped off one giant load in 2012, all ready, so I went through the backlog of Curating my Closet posts, and found that there were at least another 13 items that were in that pile. Likely more!

And while I was tempted to jump up and run to our spare closet to see what is hanging in the "maybe" pile that could be given away, I did some mental math...

... that was 55 articles of clothing, when my goal was 52. You guys, I did it! I completed my 2012 New Years resolution!

But before I go patting myself on the back, I know I still have to go through my closet and weed more out, as I haven't really taken a critical eye on it for months. In fact, I have the distinct feeling that I have more clothes now than I did this time last year. More on that later!

But for now, here is everything I'm giving away this trip. If you see anything you like, let me know and I'll give better pictures/more details. I don't so much care where it all goes, as long as it goes!



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

For Megan

Does anyone else have a birthday immediately following a major holiday, or adjacent to the start of the term? Has anyone else found themselves feeling less than stellar when yet another friend comments: "Can't we celebrate your birthday some other time? I'm too busy/tired?" It makes you start questioning how much your friends value your friendship, which takes your brain to some terrible places.

If not, I know Megan of Megan Mae Daily is with me. With our birthdays 11 days apart, we rued our collective birthdays on Twitter one night. While I decided to go very local for my celebration (limiting it to Scott and immediate family. For the record, it was a pretty great weekend), Megan went global and will be hosting an e-party for hers, on the 17th.

I'm struggling with camera issues, so bare with me. Both pictures were taken with the same settings, and yet, well, you'll see. And yes, two pictures. I have two outfits for Megan!

The first exhibits Megan's craftiness with a feminine take on a traditionally masculine clothing item: obi belts constructed from ties. I loved her blue and green one, so when she mentioned to me she wasn't getting as much use out of it as she had hoped, I gratefully snatched it up! And she included 2 of her button flowers in the parcel too, so yay!




The second outfit is a Christmas present from my grandparents. Armed with a generous gift in the form of wallet-fire (being that stuff that is capable of burning holes, lest it be immediately used to procure goods of a retail nature), I hit up... the mall. Yes, that place I haven't been to in forever and a half (by the way, Canadians: What happened to Smart Set in my absence? It's a ghost town!). I immediately fell in love with a plaid dress with some interesting archectural pieces. This dress is what I assume Megan would wear if she found herself working a 9-5 corporate job. Me? Well, I love 9 to 5 corporate, so of course I'd wear it to a party!!

Sorry, it's near impossible to get the white balance to work and not somehow wash out the awesome colours in the dress.  See the product shot below.
Click me! I get bigger!

So Megan, I hope your e-party is a success. I remember thinking at 23 "This is the age my life is going to start." While I likely would have doubted any of that was true as my 24th birthday rolled around, in hindsight, the year was rather great. I firmly decided against following my carefully sketched out life plan in favour of marching out into unknown territory. I thought I fell in love, got my heart squished to smithereens, and swore I'd never date again, only to find myself in a fierce debate over James Bond filmography at a English student association meeting with a boy (because he was just barely 21 then) I would some day marry. If I were to give you one piece of advice on turning 23, it would be to let life take you where it wants to, even if its never where you thought you'd be.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Place to Put It

Despite all of our talk recently of ever so desperately wanting to get into a house, we do love our apartment. I may be biased, but we are pretty sure it's one of the best in Winnipeg -- for less than $1000 a month for a two bedroom. Oh, and it has a dishwasher, a fireplace, and a balcony big enough to store four tires, a large wooden bench, all of our outdoor furniture, and still enough space that you feel guilty not shoveling it.

One of the greatest features is the storage closet. While I will admit that I have seen an apartment in this city with a storage closet (in-suite) so big it could be a bedroom, ours is still pretty sizeable.

That being said, we have a lot of crap. And when you have a lot of crap, you need a spot for all that crap. And to make sure that you remember to put that crap back where it belongs, you need to make it easy to see.

Our solution was to go vertical. Not only do we have two sets of shelves along one side, we've used the other two walls as hanging space. This set up helps keep crap off the floor, so you can actually get in and see where everything is!



We may have pretty much kissed our damage deposit goodbye with the fact we have so many nails in these walls, but I think it's well worth it. All of our cleaning supplies are in baskets that I used to have in our bathroom, organized by frequency of use (when Scott remembers which basket he took something from -- this is one of those battles I'm choosing not to fight. If it's in a basket, I'm happy). Each one is hung from 2 picture hangars -- the strongest I could find. And of course, our cleaning bucket hangs off the wall too.

Up until last week, we lost a great amount of floor space to a TV box that was filled with all of our boxes. This apartment is not our "forever home" and since good boxes are exceedingly hard to come by, especially now that Scott isn't working retail, we saved our best boxes. Thankfully, my parents agreed (or rather were coerced on the one weekend when you can't say no to me: my birthday) to store it in their attic. While we haven't made the most use out of the little section of wall we reclaimed, I love walking in to see our vintage (again, thanks Mom & Dad) tennis rackets. Functional and aesthetically pleasing? That is why I love organization!

And yes, Dad, I am aware the rackets aren't level. I swear I used a level. The same one I used everywhere else in our house where pictures aren't level. Next year for Christmas, can you get me a level?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Losing Laundry

We share a washer and dryer with only three other apartments, so it's generally not to hard to get laundry done when we want.

Generally, we never "want" to do laundry.

As a result, Scott usually throws in a load one evening of what he needs to survive the week, and after a couple weeks of that, we monopolize the laundry room for a whole weekend, trying to catch up.

I used to love our laundry hampers because they could accommodate huge amounts of laundry, so even when we had 8 loads of laundry, they might be bursting at the seams but they could still handle it.

But you know what I couldn't handle? Folding all 8 loads of laundry and putting them away. Scott would have folded, put away, worn, and laundered his clothes in the time it took me to get around to at least folding mine. And then they'd sit on the living room floor for another couple weeks until he'd load them in a laundry basket and bring them to the bedroom. Soon, the laundry basket just became a good make shift dresser.

Suddenly, sorting wasn't just a case of "darks and lights," but "darks, lights and clean clothes," and that gets a little annoying. You can't even yell at Scott for throwing your dirty clothes into that laundry hamper, because that's where dirty clothes are supposed to go.

I spent a week analyzing different laundry hamper solutions, and then another week finding the perfect set. $20 later, I am beyond thrilled (and I really wish I was kidding about that!). We purchased three SMALL laundry hampers: one for darks, one for lights, and one for linens. And the best part? They hold exactly one load. We just have to dump each basket in to the machine, no worrying about dividing and sorting.

Now all I have to remember to do is fold it and put it away.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What to eat

Growing up, we always knew exactly what to expect for supper. Monday was fish; Tuesday was ground beef; Wednesday was chicken; Thursday was pork chops; Friday was pizza; Saturday was chicken; Sunday was steak (in summer) or roast beef (in winter).

Some of these became so engrained in our heads that my sister still maintains a "Pizza Friday" tradition. I went completely crazy, and decided to have "Pizza Saturday". I know, alert the police, this girl has gone wild.

I try not to keep a very regimented food menu, so as to not get stuck in too many ruts, but as time goes on, we definitely are getting more and more into a system, and I find it really helps when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping.

Each week, we try to aim for the following
  1. Pizza (usually Saturday)
  2. Spaghetti (usually Sunday... served with a glass of wine and eaten in front of the TV watching the Simpsons, Bob's Burger, Family Guy, American Dad and the Good Wife -- a last chance to relax before the weekend is over... and always a great item to have as left-overs for our lunch on Monday!)
  3. One meatless meal
  4. One new recipe
  5. One slow cooker meal

This plan leaves us, on average, only 2 meals where we really have to think about what we want (on average because there have been times when we've had a new recipe which is both meatless and uses the slow cooker).  For these two meals, I have 3 strategies I can use to think of them

  1. Fall back on old favourites, like tacos
  2. Plan something I've been craving for a while (like peanut chicken. I would kill for some peanut chicken. Yes, even as I'm writing this, at 9:13 on a Saturday morning. I love anything that contains peanut butter more than life)
  3. Create ideas based on what we seem to have a lot of kicking around our pantry. (Currently, we have 4 open containers of pasta, plus the big packages of chicken were on sale last week, so I foresee some chicken mozzarella in our future). 
I go through phases with Pinterest, where one week will be all about clothing, the next, all about slowcookers, the next all about decorating imaginary houses, etc. As a result, I tend to keep a good stockpile of recipes on my "Things to Eat" board which prevents the panic of "I don't know, what do you want to eat?" "I don't know, what do you want to eat" that tends to go on when meal planning.



I also prep as much as I can stand after we come back from grocery shopping.
  1. Separate meat into how much you intend to use per day prior to freezing, so you aren't defrosting more than you need and risking spoilage 
  2.  Chop up vegetables and package fruit so you have grab-and-go containers to throw into your bag to snack on during the day (to avoid the whole: "I'll just buy a cookie for $1.50 even though I'm not really that hungry" budgetary disaster). 
  3. Make a giant salad to be stored in the fridge (to prevent the whole: "I'm too lazy to make anything else, so no vegetables for us!" attitude). 
We don't formally plan our lunches and breakfasts. I eat my granola bars for breakfast; Scott has coffee and cereal. For lunches, we try to always make enough for supper that we can have leftovers for lunch, which is why ensuring we have enough salad in in the fridge always helps!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cart of Savings

I had written this post a couple months ago, but hadn't really moved on it for some unknown reason. But as soon as Heather, the H in H&K Style Journey posted her dry erase meal planning frames as "Pinned It & Did It, " I remembered this post and figured it might as well go live!

Despite the fact Scott is now working, I'm not easing up on our budget, not even on groceries. It just makes financial sense to prioritize expenditures. In other words, we'll never NOT be on a budget so why get used to this doubling of a cash flow? Besides, I want a house... NOW.

What's our budget?
Groceries are our biggest expense after housing. I have a strict $60 a week budget to keep us in line. It used to be $75 and Scott may push me back up there with promises of cheese now that he's moved from contract to permanent.

What are groceries?

The goal of groceries is to keep you full and healthy. If I'm going to let us break budget, it's only because I can justify it by saying it was mostly vegetables, because I believe no one should be withheld vegetables. Not included in this budget are items like shampoo, toilet paper or chips even if we pick them up when grocery shopping. The first two are "household" while the last is "entertainment". These have separate budget totals in my... mind. Ya, our finances are about 90% in my head. It's a good thing I live up there! However, my new years resolution to "Stay on Top of Things" may mean putting it down on paper so Scott can access it a little easier!

What's my plan?



Every Tuesday, we create a menu for the week while we eat supper. We may not follow this menu exactly all week, but having a rough idea of what to eat not only helps develop a list (and preventing us from throwing in items that we may not need that week) but it also makes coming home from work a little less onerous, as there are no seemingly big decisions to make on an empty stomach. Sometimes I'll flip through the flier while I wait for Scott to come home, and take into account specials in our meal plan, but more often than not, we stick with what we're craving.

Once the menu is made, I check the pantry to see what items we need for these meals. Next I add in any breakfast or lunch items (we usually make enough supper so we can have left overs for lunch) and any items we might need for events happening that week. This coming week we have very little up... phew! I also check the message board by our fridge where we are supposed to (but often forget to) write down what items we need. If the list looks long, I mentally tally up the items and stick any "discretionary purchases" in parenthesis.

I always organize this list by major department. Not only does this strategy make it easier to shop, as we will forget fewer items (unless Scott is flirting with me, which he did the other week, and I forgot both lettuce and chicken) but it also keeps us out of tempting aisles like the snack food aisle.

How do I shop?
I shop once a week, always on Tuesdays, as that coincides with Safeway's Customer Appreciation Day at the beginning of every month. I almost always go to Safeway, partially because that's where my mom always went when I was growing up, and partially because it has good prices and selection for the items I'm buying. I used to make a list and then compare deals in different flyers, but Safeway was more consistently lower priced, if it wasn't always. I will also admit that the fact that there are two Safeways closer than any other grocery store also plays into it. I will go to Bulk Barn about once a month to top up spices and quinoa, both of which are ridiculously over priced at Safeway, even if they are better quality.

I always start in Produce and end in Meat. Not only is this pattern due to the organization of the store, it's also good for my spending mentality. I start with vegetables and fruits, so I make sure I stock up on them before I've used up my budget. Once those are out of the way, I start to worry about hitting that $60 too early, so knowing meat is the most expensive part of my budget helps keep everything else more in line.

I try not to look at sales once I'm in the store -- which seems counter intuitive to a very budget conscious shopper, but if I don't need it at full price, I don't need it at a dollar off. The exception are expensive items like cereal and coffee. I don't consume either, but Scott has a bowl and a cup every day, so it feels like they're never NOT on the grocery list.

Whether I do it in my head (more likely if I'm shopping by myself and can mentally chant along), or on my phone, I keep track of the cost of what's in my cart. Even if I'm picking up 5 items at $3 or less, I still do this as it keeps you focused on what you're needing and not what looks good out of the corner of your eye.



 What happens afterwards?
After the groceries have been unpacked, and for the most part eaten, I like to keep track of what hangs around in our pantry, what goes bad in our fridge, and what is covered in frost at the back of our freezer. These items go on a mental "do not buy" list, unless I can find a way to justify them. I keep an eye out for new recipes I want to try to keep our menu from going bland -- but limit it to one a week, so we don't get tired of being adventurous, and let any additionally purchased items go to waste.

At the end of each month, I total up what we've spent, remembering to account for household, entertainment and grocery. While there are no obvious reward or punishment for staying under or going over budget, it helps keep in the mindset. If we've blown our budget on October, I know we have to work hard to keep it under in November. The same applies between each week. Since cheese is our greatest weakness, I do use it as a bargaining chip -- if we blow the budget, we don't get to buy cheese the next week.

Also, I try really hard to only shop ONCE a week. Running into a store for "just one item" always means coming out with four. And shopping "every two weeks - with a quick top up halfway through" also does the same for me. 

I also look at the cost benefit of making instead of buying premade for many items. While it doesn't always make sense (ie: bread), making pizza dough instead of buying frozen pizzas, or granola bars instead of those Quaker "let's pretend their healthy" bars are not only cheaper, but healthier AND sometimes kind of fun to make together.

Sixty bucks a week does not go far all that easily, especially not in the Canadian Prairies -- the land of short growing seasons. But with planning and little work, it keeps our bellies full!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on meal planning!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Five Ingredient Granola

I've been making this recipe for over 6 months now, so I thought I'd better take some pictures so I can remember how to make the awesome goodness.  I'd been searching for some granola bar recipes when Scott and I found we were spending more and more of our limited grocery budget on granola bars... Oatmeal to go for me and Quaker Chewy for him. It's really a waste of money now that I know how easy it is to make them myself! So many recipes out there have limitations on their sites: don't blog; don't pin. It actually turns me off the recipe if you're not willing to share wide scale. Perhaps its because not everyone "links because they love," but I certainly do!


 My recipe is based off of Jessica's recipe on How Sweet It Is. I haven't poked around too much on her site, but from what I've seen, she's funny and, best of all, honest. I mean, who doesn't love to see posts like "Recipe Disasters of 2012"? Her five ingredient granola recipe can be found here, or through my pin:


I always start like Jessica, amassing the usual ingredients. And then I scrounge through my cupboard to find what I can add. You do have to be careful about adding too many ingredients, as your dry to wet mixture ratio will be off. That said, this is an art, not a science, so have fun... and use my secret ingredient to help balanace it out!


My recipe (keep in mind I only use measuring cups for the oatmeal, honey and peanut butter):

Less than 4 cups oatmeal (I never fill my cup measure up to the top)
2 tbsp chia seeds (like Jessica says, great for texture)
2 tbsp flax seed
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
4 tbsp coconut
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
.... and the special ingredient that my husband must never know about: 1/4 cup apple sauce

If you're using a solid honey/peanut butter, it's best to melt them first in the microwave so they mix in better. We use natural peanut butter that is fairly liquidity, and happened to have liquid honey, so I got to skip this step, making it extra easy.

If you are concerned about exact measurements, remember to grease your 1/2 cup measure before pouring honey in. It will slide out perfectly!


Basically, just mix it all together. I usually mix the dry stuff before I add the wet stuff, but as I said, I "usually" do that. There is really no wrong way to make this! Once it's well mixed, place into a greased pan (9X13 makes thin bars, anything smaller will work as well, it will just be a thicker bar). Remember to press down into the pan to make everything crunch together. You can even use the old butter-on-wax-paper-and-rolling-pin method I love for rice krispie cake.


You can bake these (which would be great if you take Jessica's advice and use any kind of chip in them... I think my husband may force me to make them with butterscotch chips one of these days), but I find they stick together best when they are simply refridgerated for at least 45 minutes. We keep our pan in the fridge both to save counter space, and to keep us from constantly snacking on it!

It comes out to 281 calories per serving (assuming 12 servings); 4.5 grams of fibre and 8.2 grams of protein. I'm no nutritionist, but I think if you add a glass of milk and piece of fruit, you've got yourself a pretty good breakfast!

ETA: This batch came out super crumbly... I think I added too many extras.  It's great for crumbling over yogurt, but if you want more of a bar, try only 3 cups of oats.