"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Friday, August 31, 2007

Reheating Coffee?! And Raise

I'm starting to develop a two cup a day habit that involves drinking one cup at home and then buying a second one around 10. A colleague suggested that I try something she does--reheating coffee I made at home. I'm going to try this as of Wednesday (long weekend, woohoo!).

One thing I've discovered this week is that if I have a second cup of coffee around 10, I can 'last' till lunch (noonish) without having a morning snack AND I eat a smaller lunch! Is coffee an appetite suppressant?!

I drink my coffee with a splash of soy milk and about two tsp of sugar, so I'm looking at about 25-35 calories per cup of coffee, about a the same thing as a piece of fruit that leaves me hungry. Since I get in all my fruits and veggies for the day with my meals, I don't think that substituting coffee for fruit in my morning break is a huge deal.

Related to last night's post, I had an Outlook reminder this morning to enquire about my next raise which is due in three weeks rather than in December! HR is processing the paperwork to avoid what happened last year (having to cut me a 'catch up' cheque in December). I immediately called CIBC to up my bi-weekly contributions to my emergency fund by my estimated raise amount. Unfortunately, next year will be my last raise until the next union negotiations. So, in a way it's a good thing that it's next year I plan to start looking for a new job in the environmental sector since I don't want to be stuck at the same salary for five to ten years. Also, I have a vague career goal of earning 50K per year before overtime by the time I'm thirty. That said, I still can't get over the fact that my take home pay now is more than my net pay was this time three and a half years ago. It's no wonder I had no life back then.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Paying Yourself First

For the past three years, I've had a teeny weeny sum of money deducted from each paycheque for the purchase of government bonds. While making my up list of assets for the financial adviser, I decided to go see if the bonds were worth listing as assets. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I've managed to sock away more than 750$ in three years without feeling the pinch. That might not sounds like a lot, but 250$ a year was a lot considering my cash flow issues over the past few years.

We're a couple of months away to being able to update our bond deduction amounts and I'm going to up mine to 25$. I won't miss it since I'll be getting a raise a month later.

I must confess that I'm not sure how bonds work, so that'll be another question for the financial adviser. I know I can redeem now and that there's a 'maturity date', and I'm supposing that I'm best to keep the money there until the 'maturity date'...


In preparation for my meeting with the financial adviser in a week and a half, I'm trying to come up with a new spending plan now that I'm essentially out of debt (yes, yes, I know, I don't own my car yet, bug me less). I'm trying a different approach this time by breaking down my spending in an annual fashion and then bi-weekly fashion.

I started off by making note of my annual take home pay. This is my guaranteed income and does not include overtime, tax refunds, contracts, etc. I then made a list of my fixed expenses and what they cost me annually. I then divided these amounts by 26, the number of pays I get per year.

I've found it hard to 'budget' for many years now because some expenses occur monthly and others bi-weekly, and the general rule has been that one pay per month tends to be a bit short. Now, I'm trying to get a better idea of what each pay dollar should go to so that I don't have to take into account whether it's the first or last pay of the month. Sounds basic, but I'm slow at this.

For the past several years, I've been contributed an amount to a mutual fund and treating that money as my recurring expenses, rather than emergency, account. Today, I opened a high interest savings account to serve as my recurring expenses account. I'll put some money in there at every pay to cover gifts, car expenses, license and registration fees, short trips, etc. I'll talk to my adviser about what I should be using as a trip fund, such as another mutual fund or high interest savings account and how much I should I should be contributing to whatever savings vehicle I'll be using for my house fund.

Now that I know what's left after each pay, I can allot money for flexible spending, including groceries, clothes, coffee and sundries, books, dvds, etc.

This global picture really helps to set goals. I feel really guilty when I buy a coffee or the odd magazine. Now, if I know that by year's end, I'll have put certain amounts aside for medium and long-term goals, I can indulge guilt-free in day to day luxuries.

I think that sticking to a strict grocery and restaurant budget is going to be my hardest since I've never had any sort of discipline that way. Rather than set myself up for failure, I'd like to set up a solid pantry before committing myself to a set amount per pay to top up said grocery.

Rereading this post, I seem like the worst finance manager imaginable. To the extent that I've never seized any (rare) opportunities to sock away money for a rainy day, yes. But I've always had my priorities straight--my rent has always been on time and I've paid off every cent I owed when it was due, keeping a perfect credit record. My only blemish is with Hydro and Bell, but my regular late payments were more about making a statement than being short on cash. So, while I'm not thrilled with my past financial performance, I can still hold up my head. For one thing, even though no less than three financial advisers told me to file for bankruptcy for the sake of my sanity, I chose to just about starve to avoid that option.

At any rate, I'm free now and starting fresh and I guess there's no sense beating the proverbial horse over past mistakes and idiocy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pantry Discoveries

I go home for lunch, so I normally have leftovers or quick-to-make options at home, but that wasn't the case today since I'm in 'empty-the-pantry-and-make-do-with-what-you-have' mode. The pantry had nothing that would take less than twenty-minutes to make, so I rummaged in the freezer. Hidden in plain sight, right in front of the containers of homemade spaghetti sauce and storebought pie crust, was an unlabelled bag. Curious, but nervous, I opened it and found pierogies! I heated them up in the microwave and was happy to discover that they still tasted fresh. I still have enough for at least two more meals. I had no fruit left for dessert, not even canned pineapple, so I took stuff out of the freezer to see if I had any frozen fruit hidden under something. Behind the bags of frozen veggies, I found one of sliced strawberries, with just a pitiful handful rattling around the bottom. I nuked them for forty seconds with a bit of brown sugar. They, too, tasted fresh. Woohoo!

Tonight's dinner is either rice pie* or trout with pierogies. Probably the former since I've been eating way too much trout and that pie crust is getting old.

*Rice Pie

Cook about a cup of rice in about two cups of vegetable broth and about two tablespoons of powdered milk.

When the rice is no longer crunchy, but not yet ready, throw in a handful of mixed frozen veggies (whatever floats your boat).

When the rice is ready, mix in some strongly flavoured cheese (whatever floats your boat).

Spread into a pie crust. Top with more cheese, if you want.

Bake at about 375F for about 35 minutes, until the crust is brown around the edges. I like to broil it for a minute at the end to get a cheesy crust over the rice.

Cheap, filling, good cold and/or reheated, and makes four generous portions.


I was looking forward to celebrating yesterday's Esbat with some spellwork, but my mother popped in to spend the night. Not being out of the broomcloset with her yet, I decided that doing so by performing a ritual in front of her would not be a good idea.

I must that I have done little in the way of formal ritual these past few months. I had my wand dedicating ceremony (FINALLY found a wand!), but that was the most notable. That said, I acknowledge the Esbats, do some prayer, light candles, etc., but I think I'm due for something bigger. What I find difficult is the lack of privacy. At my old house, my neighbours were far enough away that I could chant as loudly as I wanted, and even bring my celebrations outdoors. Here, I must be very quiet since the wall separating our houses is very thin. I also can't do my spellwork with windows open or without closing curtains, unless I want to give the neighbours a show.

Lammas wasn't a big deal this year, which saddens me since its the very first Sabbat I celebrated after choosing Wicca. I'm going to do more for Mabon. Of course, I'm already planning for Samhain, my favourite holiday. There's a womyn's festival going on just north of Toronto for Samhain and I'm thinking of attending, if there is any space left.

Even though I'm not currently satisfied with the amount of ritual I perform, I am satisfied with my relationship with the gods and how I live my faith. Prayer, study, and readings are now part of my daily routine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

That Darn Pantry

I've been trying for quite some time, since I've been able to afford groceries on a more than haphazard basis, to figure out how to build my pantry. The method I've been focusing on is meal planning: figuring out what I'd want to eat that week, then going out to buy it. That has not been working for me.

Reading some blogs last night, the answer came to me. It's so obvious I can't believe I'm only figuring this out now.


Step 1: Make a list of everything that is a staple in my house. Staple is here defined as something that I buy regularly, including beer. :-)

Step 2: Take this list to all the major grocery stores (IGA, Loblaws, Metro, Maxis, Super C) and make an note of which one has the best price for each item. Go home empty handed.

Step 3: Check out the grocery fliers each week. When a staple item goes on sale for less than the cheapest price, go stock up.

We'll see if that works. I'm debating whether to add Walmart, Zellers, and Giant Tiger to my list of grocery stores. Too much choice, augh!!!

Right now, I'm trying to empty my pantry, fridge, and freezer since some stuff has been there for a while. I didn't realise that there is a term for this, "Pantry Challenge."

Reading American blogs, I'm amazed by the couponing opportunities availble there. Unfortunately, most of those opportunities, like 'doubling' aren't available in Quebec (don't know about the rest of Canada).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Surprising Myself

Exhausted, I decided a half hour ago to go to bed (yes, at 8:30). First, I stopped off in the kitchen to prepare coffee for the morning. The kitchen looked really bad--dishwasher needed to be emptied and reloaded, counters and all appliances to be wiped, floor to be swept, spots on the floor to be cleaned, and over flowing recycling to be sorted and brought to the outside bins.

Note the past tense.

NOW I'm ready for bed.

(Thank goodness for dishwashers!!!)


This summer I've been reading major titles about the Craft and its history. I'm currently at Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon and came across a thought that is so obvious it made me smack my head. As someone who believes in reincarnation, positive environmental action doesn't just ensure a planet for future generations, but also for myself. I definitely need to get more involved again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


I ordered through staples.ca a printer a few weeks back, for home delivery the next day. Someone came, but obviously didn't knock very loudly and I missed the delivery (never mind that I spend my days in the front room next to the front door...). Same thing happened the following day. When I called them, Staples said that my order was canceled and I would have to reorder. It took them some time, and a follow-up email, but they refunded me my full 235$ (including tax). By the time that happened, home delivery was no longer an option since I was heading back to work.

Today, I felt strong enough to go pick up the printer in store, with the caveat that I would ask a clerk to carry it to the car for me. I went back to the Staples website to get their item number for the printer model I'd picked out and was dismayed to see that they had increased the price by 40$!

None too happy, I decided to see if other stores carried this same model for less, or else I would go back to Staples and ask (beg) them to honour their previous price.

Well, I found the printer at Best Buy... for 150$ (including tax)! The caveat was that this had to be an online purchase. I was bummed, until I discovered that Best Buy allows online purchase with store pick up! The printer was available at the store nearest me, so I ordered and waited for notification that the store was ready for me to pick up. This was supposed to come in a delay of three hours and it took less than one hour.

85 bucks saved by a confluence of events, how amazing is that?!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Updating the Wardrobe

Now that I've had my breast reduction, I'm finding that while some of my old clothes still fits (much better, though!), I do need a lot of new tops... and lingerie.

I was used to paying 100$-150$ for a bra. Now, all I need are camisoles with built-in shelf bras. I've snatched up everyone I've seen that's 10$ or less! I now have more 'bras' in my dresser drawer than I've owned in my entire life. *makes a mental note to curb her enthusiasm a tad*

As for outerwear, I made the decision quite some time ago that I buy new clothes now, as a general rule (but I still check out thrift stores on occasion). I wear the most popular size for women's clothing, so it's hard to find anything good at thrift shops. I also find that often their prices aren't that good and that I can get something new for just a dollar or two more. One of the reasons I pinch pennies is to be able to spend money on what I want to spend money on. So, fewer movies, but more clothes. How my priorities have changed over the years!

Colleagues gave me a gift certificate for my favourite store, Reitmans. That 35$ got me five tops, and then I added another 35$ for another five pieces, which averages out to 7$ per item (some were considerably less, some more).

This is a great time of year to shop because you get all of the summer stock on sale AND last winter's leftovers. While I was scooping up camis and tees, I also snagged a couple of cord skirts for 2.50$ each and cable-knit sweaters for 4$ each. Once I had done the rounds of all my favourite stores and spent less than 125$ updating my wardrobe (including underwear), I was still missing a few pieces.

On a hunch, I decided to check eBay for items from stores for which I know my size and what styles suit me, like Reitmans, Smart Set, and Old Navy. Lo and behold, I found several suitable auctions and scored at least 300$ worth of clothes for just under 20$ with shipping! One of the lots was five long-sleeved Reitmans tee-shirts for 7$, including shipping. New, I could get them for 5$ each on sale. I live in these tee-shirts in winter, layering them over a camisole and under a cardigan, so I'm glad I didn't have to pay full sale price to replace my long-sleeved tee-shirt wardrobe.

Now that I know there's a market for Reitmans items on eBay, I'm glad I didn't donate all my too big clothes to St Vincent's. I've got several pieces that look plenty good enough to sell.

Ordering Groceries Online

Since I'm still not allowed to lift more than 5lbs at any one time, I've been ordering my groceries online at iga.ca to be delivered at home. I'm really enjoying this process, which I've done three times. I haven't evaluated if I've saved any money at all, but I'm sure I have because I've avoided making impulse purchases. Even though delivery is 10$ (3$ to assemble the order, 5$ to deliver, and 2$ tip), I'm not wasting gas and I stick to my list. The site is set up to recognize if an item is currently on sale or if there is a coupon for it, so I still get the discounts I would have gotten anyway. It also gives me my Airmiles points and I pay with my credit card to get my Petro-Points.

The only thing I don't order through the site is produce, since that store generally doesn't have very good produce. Instead, I go to the local farmers' markets every few days in late afternoon to buy produce sellers would rather mark down radically than schlep home again.

Whomever puts the orders together does a very good job. There have been a few mistakes (eg. wrong flavour sent), but nothing major and I could still use the 'mistakes.' Delivery is always right on time. I also like that they actually read the comments I make. For example, I needed to top up my tomato soup so I searched for the store brand. It wasn't listed on the site, so I reluctantly ordered Campbell's (twice the cost!) and in the comment line put 'Compliments brand, please!' I received the store brand. Then there was the time I asked for one four-pack of veggie burgers... and they sent FOUR four-packs! Big expense, but I would have bought them eventually over time, and the patties freeze well.

That said, I can't wait to be able to go out to the stores again to unit-price shop for my staples, like the aforementioned tomato soup, since they're running low and I don't want to assume that the case that's not listed on the site but I know exists is cheaper than the individual cans.

But, for the moment, this is working out nicely.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Taking Advantage of the Credit Card Company

I love my credit card. The fact that I pay it off every month and haven't paid interest (at 18.5%, no less!) helps, but the rewards are even better! My card is linked to Petro-Points, which I used to rack up and then redeem for a 100$ gas gift card. Now that my gas expenses are about 20$ a month, free gas isn't the treat it used to be. Along comes a new reward... 25$ amazon.ca gift certificates!

I buy most of my entertainment goods like DVDs and books on amazon.ca. I add things to my shopping cart over a period of time. When I reach the minimum for free shipping, I complete the transaction. This is what makes the gift cards great for me. Since they're not combinable and they don't meet the minimum for free shipping, it's impossible to get something absolutely free (The Catch). But I would have bought the items in my cart anyway, so the card means that I receive my items sooner and cheaper!

How long does it take me to rack up enough points to get one of these cards? This summer, I got two in two months, thanks to my trip. But in an average spending period, I'm looking at 2-3 months. So, a minimum of 100$ in free cards in a year!!! I repeat, I get at least 100$ worth of stuff I would have bought anyway just for using my card!

I'm part of that rare breed of people for whom a low interest card makes no sense... and I'm proud of it!

Revenge of the Small Appliances

My nine and a half year old toaster, seven year old coffee maker, and forty-five year old hand mixer all bit the dust this summer.

The toaster was easy to replace. I bought the cheapest on sale brand name model with wide slots that I could find.

The handmixer will wait since I only use it about three times a year.

Now, the coffeemaker, that warrants a story! And it's quite probably my most frugal shopping experience ever!

I thought that getting a new coffeemaker would be easy. My requirements were that it be a four cup model, be programmable (so my coffee could be ready when I wake up in the morning!), be fitted (or fittable) with a permanent filter, and be a good brand like Proctor Silex or Black & Decker.

I figured that since money was not really a factor, this would be an easy task.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!

The following takes place over the course of almost three weeks:

After touring Walmart, Zellers, Canadian Tire, Sears, a small appliance superstore, and the internet I came to the conclusion that the only four cup programmable coffeemaker is made by Sunbeam... not the most reliable company on the market, and it was more expensive than a plain model of a better brand. Okay, scratch programmable, reexamine the four cup models. Well, there wasn't much choice and I think GE was the most reputable brand I saw.

So, I conceded defeat and decided to evaluate the twelve cup models (too big!) before giving in to the Sunbeam model. Round and round the stores and internet I went again only to land at the Walmart where I started and where I found a twelve cup B&D programmable model on sale for half price at 19.99$. The Sunbeam was on sale for 26.99$ by this time and the GE four cup was 17.99$ (regular price). Add to that 8$ for a permanent filter.

Let's just say I can recognize the best value between three options.

So, I now have a twelve cup big ass coffeemaker on my counter. *sighs* But I can have real percolated coffee again! AND I'll be able to set the breadmaker to have my bread ready for wake up time so I can have both fresh bread AND coffee ready for breakkie. Woohoo!

Admitting that I can't give up coffee has definitely been frugal. I can't even begin to count how much money I've saved on my daily coffee runs since buying my own beans and grinding them at home.

Okay, now what

Doing some Googling and not-so-random surfing, I've come to the realisation that there is a ton of information out there for how to get out of debt, but very little for what to do after!

I'm 'interviewing' a financial advisor at the beginning of September and I hope he can steer me in the right direction. Goals include: investing a nice chunk and adding to it in view of buying another house; setting up emergency and travel funds; and coming up with a usable spending plan. I also want to discuss retirement with him; as a civil servant I have a great pension plan and I could retire at 55... but I want to retire much earlier than that! :-) Looking at this laundry list, it seems impossible--a house, a travel fund, early retirement??? But I suspect it might be possible if I remain debt free (okay, except for the car, but there's less than two years left on that) and I pay off my mortgage really quickly when I get one.

Freedom is so close I can taste it. Now, if I could just get my browser to block out eBay.... :-)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summer's End...

It's been a most peculiar summer.

I had my breast reduction surgery immediately upon returning from my delightful, if not particularly frugal, vacation. I'd recommend the surgery to anyone whose quality of life is diminished by their breasts. Recovery is slow and humbling, however, as I can barely exercise and I need help to do such basic things has grocery shopping and house cleaning.

My two months off from work were busy indeed, even despite the fact that I was recovering from surgery. I wrote chapter upon chapter of my novel, started work on my Book of Shadows, reread all the Harry Potter novels, took small day trips to neighbouring villages, made use of free admission times at local museums, and more.

Of course, I continued my Wiccan education, reading some 'classics.' Last night, I finished Starhawk's The Spiral Dance. Tonight, I start Margo Adler's Drawing Down the Moon. One thing I have taken away from my readings is that I feel empty and purposeless because I am not serving the gods and I am working in complete solitude. I've come up with a couple of ideas on how to rectify that once I'm completely healed.

One of my favourite things I did was adopt a new cat!!! I went to the Humane Society with my list of criteria and was surprised to find a cat who matched those criteria exactly! He's a sweet seven year old brown tabby who fits into my household much better than my last cat did. His sister is slowly getting used to the idea of not having me to herself again. :-) The Humane Society loves me. Apparently, very few people walk in and say: "Hi, I'm looking for a cat. It has to be at least five years old, but seven to nine would be ideal, and I'd be willing to consider up to twelve."

The return to work has been brutal and I intend to make some major changes to my schedule come September. I don't want to quit this job, however. I think my supervisor will agree with the idea I came up with for keeping this job and still having time to do meaningful work. Some of this will depend on my meeting with a financial advisor in early September. I've been coasting along financially since late spring and I see the freedom trickling away. It's time to rein it in and come up with a plan I can live with and goals I can look forward to.