Thursday, March 12, 2009

change of post - it is all about the economy peeps

I was to make my long over due post about frugal meals, which will be coming shortly.

The past month has been spent with my dealing with the kiddos colds and flu. Oh the joys. While rocking the sicklets to sleep I was watching a lot of news and terrifying myself. World wide businesses are closing up, moving or downsizing. House prices have tanked and the price of everything crawls upwards. People have watched their investments shrink to nothing and finding themselves once again worrying about their futures. It is tough all around and nobody is really immune.

Okay enough doomsdaying...on to plan 'B'.

First off I take comfort in knowing I have a lot of great company and that I am not the only one freaking out a bit. Some of us just do it in our heads and others are talking about it to anyone who will listen. True Harper greeted us with smiles and said it is will be okay, we are going to spring back quickly yadda yadda yadda. With all due respect - NOT. I am not sure where he is going to pull 200 000 plus jobs out of his backside by the summer. If he does could somebody kindly post it on YouTube? This is a time to get your ducks in a line and fatten them up so you can eat them if need be.

I have done a great deal of thinking about this and have come up with my own little list of what I think could be helping people long term and these are realistic suggestions in my humble opinion. Some may apply and others may not.....

1. If you have a mortgage negotiate with your bank to be able to put an extra amount on your payment when you can, without penalty. Even an extra $20 or $50 a payment is going to make a big dent long time. A calculator I used on MSN Money worked out that an extra $100 a month on a $200 000 mortgage will save you almost $750 in interest. Don't want to commit to a bi-weekly or monthly payment - throw it in a high yield savings account for an emergency payment fund for your mortgage and use it for a yearly chunk payment - that $1200 annually could end up saying you over $6000 by the time you pay your mortgage off.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - $6000 a year with a $1200 investment

2. Can you go without cable? Rogers with basic cable, digital box and the movie channel is close to $120 a month. You can watch a lot of shows online for free. has Weeds, Trailer Park Boys and a tons of others for free. So does A Channel and several other sites. PBS is great for docs and basically every other Canadian channel allows you to watch shows the next day. If you are a techie I am told if you have a new HD TV there is some cable you can attach from the computer to the TV so you watch them. Don't forget libraries have really impressive DVD collections now. Plus there are many peer to peer sites that you can download from. Some say it is legal, others claim it is not. You make the call. All I have to say is I have never heard of the SWAT team kicking in the door for downloading the first season of Zoey 101 for the kids.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - $1440 a year

3. Cell phones - do you use all your time? I bet you don't if you are a regular user. That is a quick call from the kids or hubby reminding you he will be late. I was paying $40 a month for a phone. I switched to a pay as you go that allows minutes to roll over up to three months. Three months later I haven't spent my initial $10. Next month I will only pay for the $5 card and go from there. The phone plane I bought allows for texts that only count as 1 minute, so I text people and they can text me back. This is costing me about $3 a month..that is a savings of $37 a month my comrades.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - $444 yearly

4. Transportation eats into every one's budget. Think about getting a bus pass and then get the government write off for it. Offer to car pool with people from work, you can alternate weeks as to share wear and tear on the car. Post notes in the cafe at work to offer to drive people along your route for gas money. Drive your kid to high school - most would rather the ride and charge them bus fare - you are headed the same way. It may all sound a little cheap but you are offering a service and a time saver. You aren't out to fleece them, just to cover your own gas money for a trip you are making anyway. You can basically make these trips for free. Saving you half a tank of gas - which would roughly be about $20 a week for these trips.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - $1040 yearly

5. Groceries. Well, many of us frugalites are on top of these but there are still more savings to be had. Approach a fruit/veg wholesaler. Do you know many of them will sell direct to the customer as long as the order is above a certain amount. In my area it is $200. Get a couple families together and spend about 50% less. Being that stats say the average family spends $50 a week on fruit and veg that adds up. And I think a lot of us cut back on fruit and veg because of the prices. Or you can buy an order for yourself and can, freeze and dehydrate the lot.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - $1300 yearly

6. Gift giving gets really crazy. Holidays, birthday parties, baby showers - the list goes on and on. I am not telling you to stiff your kiddos but I am suggesting that everyone gets with the program. If my six year old daughter can, who has a wish list as long as me, any child can. I have made it quite clear one gift for each holiday and everything else they have to save for. They often get great gifts throughout the year, they just aren't brand new. Last week they got 5 almost brand new board games from Goodwill for the sum of $10. There is over $125 worth of games and puzzles there. Most people spend about $300 average per child on Christmas, I spent $50 for both and nobody is requiring therapy. Birthday parties I limit to true and actual friends and buy things all year deeply discounted - example Bratz doll with a computer games $5 - and have 'stock' on hand. They make the cards and we reuse wrapping paper or make our own.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - depends on family but at least $600 a year

7. Clothing can take a real bite out of a budget. Especially if hard to fit or you need business attire. Suits aren't cheap from what I hear. There are consignment stores popping up all over. A friend in Toronto bought a classic Armani suit for $50 and paid another $75 to have it altered. Grand total of $125 for a $800 plus suit. Goodwill and Value Village always have classic little black dresses and amazing vintage pieces cheap. My Goodwill has about six racks of men's dress shirts in near new condition for $5 each. Brooks Bros., Gap, old Navy, Lacosse - all the major labels. People gain/lose weight, get things that don't fit etc - most of it is like new. And if you live in a university town like I do most of these kids rather dump it then move it back home, usually many hours drive away. Always look for things second hand BEFORE you buy new. Also work on a basic wardrobe when cruising these stores. I have my funeral outfit, couple job interview outfits, a couple things to wear to a wedding etc. Beyond that jeans and sweats are just fine and all those I buy second hand.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - at least $500 a year for the hardcore fashion diva

8. Planning ahead can save you a bundle. DD birthday is once a year, though she insists it should be twice a year. I found a dollar store going out of business, everything was 75% off. I bought everything for her birthday, except for a few odds and ends, for about $5. I also stocked up on school supplies and was able to put together a couple emergency kits for the kids who couldn't afford these things. I managed to get 24 Crayola pencil crayons for .25. would have been silly to buy one pack, I bought 20. Good for school, gifts, loot bags and donation. Did the same with scissors, paper, erasers, note books, journals etc. I am set for about four years. True I spent almost $45 on this stuff, but the pencil crayons alone would have cost me $80. Always think ahead when you see good deals or post holiday sales.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - average $500 to $1000 a year depending on family size

9. Thinking outside the box can save you a lot of money. For my candy needs I hit a candy manufacturer in town. I get wholesale sized boxes for $2, this is usually penny candy and such. I like sending grab bags for each and every holiday for the class. I can do it for about $3 per holiday per class. And they are big bags too - needless to say I am a popular momma with the elementary school crew. Many places like Kellogg's, Cadbury's etc have staff store. Sometimes they are open to the public once a month, sometimes never. But even the ones that aren't you can sometimes sweet talk them into a once a year visit. If not ask if you can make a group purchase. Cash and Carry places will sometimes let you have a visitor's shop as well. I went to one place that let me shop once. I planned it, went with cash and saved up before hand. spent $200 but will not need to buy saran wrap, tin foil or other such things for about 5 years. Too excessive for you? Split with a friend or several families.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - about $400 a year

10. In these lean or soon to be lean times it really pays to stock up where you can, even if that means sometimes paying a bill late. Hear me out on this one. I am not saying pay a bill months late, I am talking a couple days to a couple weeks, before you pay any interest. Example - No Frills had their dollar days sale a couple weeks ago. They had toothbrushes, brand name, on sales for $1. I didn't have any money for a week, but had my gas bill money which was just due. To me it makes sense to take that money and buy something at a lost leader sale and pay the bill a few days later. I went and bought 20 toothbrushes. Same toothbrushes this week would have cost me $64. I saved $44 plus tax. We change our brushes every three months so for us it made sense. I buy major bulk of all nonperishable items when on sale, to the max my budget allows. Yes I look odd buying 30 bottles of dish soap but hey, when I am getting it for $1 and it is usually $3 or $4 that is a huge savings. And of course you usually run out when it is not on sale lol. It also keeps those budget eaters at bay when you are having a short week.

POSSIBLE SAVINGS - depends but I save about $1200 yearly

So with those savings do you realize that is well over $10 000 a year you could save. Okay, true many would not want to take those drastic measures. But IF you have to, due to loss of employment or other such situation, you know you can trim a lot of fat from the budget, that at the moment seems like meat. Think of it as your survival plan.

Other cost cutting ideas -

- call your credit card company and demand they lower your interest rate, if they don't want to shop around and look for a 0% balance transfer or even better if you have a good relationship with your bank, get a line of credit and pay them all off, carrying the debt for about 3% interest rates and lower monthly payments

- call your telephone company and tell them that you are going to switch if you don't get a better deal or perks. A friend did this, they refused to budge, so they called Bell. One year free features and a smoking hot new HP flat screen monitor. Rogers responds well to threats of jumping ship too. And if they don't in about 3 months they will call you offering you an amazing winning back program.

- ask for a discount EVERYWHERE. I get discounts at walmart, shoppers, pretty well 9 out of 10 times. I look for slightly soiled clothing - like where makeup has rubbed off when somebody was trying it one -, crushed or faded boxes, hair care products that have been squeezed etc. I also have gotten wise to my local grocery stores mark down scheme on meat. I go early, grab what I want that I know is going to be marked down and ask them to do it on the spot. Yeah, kind a pushy but I was able to fill a 21 c.f. freezer with meat for about $100 which is getting me through these couple uber lean months.

- ask to trade. I was walking down a street by me and started talking to this really sweet old lady. I made comment on her fruit trees. She told me most of it rots because she can't pick it. So I offered to pick it for her in trade for half of what I pick. She was thrilled, I am thrilled. Free apples, plums and cherries. Plus it is a nice visit and she loves the kids tagging along. They like the pop and cookies she gives them. We all win. I also asked a potato farmer if he would give me a good deal if i dug them up myself. He told me I could come after the plow went through and take what I could find. Well I had enough potatoes for 6 months, and never a better potato did I have.

- ask to borrow. But you have to be willing to lend as well. This is especially great for tools and camping gear.

- just do without. Sounds harsh but in these times wants sometimes have to give to needs. I want new throw pillows, I don't need new throw pillows. I could really use some new towels but what we have is working, they are just a bit sorry looking.

- shop around for insurance rates. I tore back this old shed in the back yard and I noticed it was on my household insurance for $25 000 replacement cost. WTF????? Called and told him it was gone, my insurance dropped by $20 a month. Not driving to work, reduce that car insurance. Installed an alarm system or security feature? That saves you on your household insurance.

Next time I promise it will all be about cheap and healthy meals. With web sites and all the goodies you need to feed your family on nest to nothing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why cleaning actually saves you money -

I do not jest here people. Keeping your house clean can save you more money than you may realize! How so you may glad you asked!
The number one reason for having to replace anything is wear and tear. This can take place from using the item repeatedly. Things do give out it is true but you can seriously extend the life of an item by maintaining it. A few minutes here and there can add years of use meaning huge savings long term. It may also keep your family safer as well.
The top 15 things to clean and maintain are (in my opinion - which being my blog means the gospel!):
15 - the furnace/air conditioning unit. These are probably the most pricey things to replace in a home. Inside you should have your furnace/air co serviced at least every other year and get your ducts cleaned too! Quite often you can get packaged deals to do it all at once but make sure you call the BBB to check up on the company. Also make sure you replace those filters. A blocked filter will keep your furnace running longer to get the house heated up. Vacuum or sweep the room your furnace is in regularly to cut down on the amount of dust and hair being sucked in there too. In the winter make sure you place a large board on top of the air conditioning unit, weighted down with a brick to protect it. I always thought you should wrap it up but my service guy said that can build up condensation and lead to rusting. In the spring hose down the side to dislodge all the debris but NEVER spray down from the top as this can break your compressor. And the compressor is 90% of the cost. If your air conditioner or furnace stops working/breaks down don't rush to replace it. I was told by FIVE different people our air conditioner was shot and we needed a new one. Well, actually it needed a new switch and a doohickey - service, parts and labour cost me $400...much better than $5000 replacement. So make sure you ask around and find an honest repair person.
14 - beds. A good bed is expensive, really expensive. And considering how much time you (should) spend sleeping it is important you have a decent bed. It is important to vacuum the bed regularly and rotate it if you can't flip it. A lot of the pillow tops can't be flipped. This will ensure that you don't end up with a divot in your bed from your weight being in one spot all the time. Vacuuming it will get rid of some of the dust mites and keep it fresh. I would also recommend a mattress cover. Even though I am well past bed wetting I have a water proof cover on my mattress. I drink tea in bed, water and have been found with the odd bowl of ice cream. This means if I make a mess, rather when I do make a mess, it doesn't damage the mattress underneath. And the mattress still breaths along the sides. And did you know if you get the tiniest stain on your mattress it voids your warranty? Well worth the investment as some beds have 10 year or 25 year warranties.
13 - washer and dryers. How often do you clean your lint catcher? Not the tray but actually take it all apart and clean it? Not only is this a fire hazard but really adds years to your machine. Do you wipe out the inside? All that fabric softener builds up over the years which can lead to spotting on your clothes. Do you ever wash out your washing machine? Sounds funny to recommend that but soap, liquid fabric softener all sorts of other goodies build up in there. That soap tray getting all gummed up means it might not be fitting in tight resulting it small amounts of water leaking in an around - yikes rust - rust is bad! Some hot water with a little white vinegar is great for wiping both down inside and out. Make sure you unplug the machines and if you can move them and clean behind once a year...a pile of dust, hair and other yuckies away you. Also make sure that your dryer vent leading to the outside is venting clearly. No bushes, yard waste etc. And finally make sure the taps aren't leaking when the machine isn't in use. We had a flood for this reason...a 25 cent washer could have saved me tons of money and hours of headache!
12 - dishwasher. Lime build up, little bits of food etc all shorten the life of the dishwasher. Make sure you give it a good clean out, making sure not to forget the seals where gunk can build up. Also check your hose to make sure it hasn't dried out or looks like it might crack. Though I am not a big pusher of chemicals, a monthly cycle with one of the cleaners will keep the arm nozzles clean and water flowing freely.
11 - fridge and stove. Sorry but a clean oven, as much as we hate to do it, means your oven heats better. Clean elements hold temperature better. Also making sure you clean up spill right away means no harsh scrubbing which can result in chipping enamel or scratches. Inside of the fridge needs to be cleaned often to keep smells from worming their way into plastic. Also don't forget to vacuum the back of the fridge. If you have exposed coils this means it will help your fridge running smoother and not over heating. Even if you have enclosed coils vacuum it off and along the bottom, air circulates and dust does build up. If you have to defrost your fridge I am very sorry for you lol. Just don't chip at it with a knife. You will scratch it sooner or larger. Or worse take a chunk out. Hair dryers take forever...use a bowl of warm water and close the door. Even better try and have a week where you eat everything up and turn it off for a couple hours. Clean it all top to bottom and air it out.
10 - clothes. True you don't have to wash something as soon as you wear it but keep in mind dirt gets in the fibers and acts like a tiny little knife sawing away that nice sweater Auntie Agnes gave you. Make up, pollution, smoking, perfume, pet hair etc all put wear and tear on your clothes. If you want to make your clothes last listen to your Mom and hang them up. This allows the clothes to air out and dry out as well. We all sweat....A quick tumble in air fluff, no heat needed, can get rid of a lot of stuff as well.
9 - shoes. Clean them, polish them and seal them. Your shoes get a ton of wear and tear, even if it's dry out. Grit and all sorts of other things that make me gag are out there and we are walking through it! If walking through snow you are coming into contact with a lot of salt and sand. A damp cloth dipped in some diluted white vinegar is great for removing salt. Use Vaseline if they have a shiny leather finish. I won't go into the scientific amount of water we sweat into our shoes daily because it ranks high on the nasty scale....let us just agree with the recommendation that you should not try and wear the same pair of shoes twice in a row. Letting them air out and giving them a chance to dry will keep them smelling fresh and last longer. If you have stinky foot syndrome...fill the shoes full of crumpled newspaper and tie up in a bag. Let sit for three or more days. It will suck the stink right out! Newspaper is amazing...come on we use to give birth on the stuff!
8 - windows. These are important to keep clean because it tells our neighbours we are better than them. Seriously, besides the fact it saves us money by allowing all that warm sun into the house in the winter maintaining them will extend their life. Watch for mould around the seals, especially in older windows. When the warm air in the house hits the cold glass in the winter you may notice moisture build up (and in reverse in the summer). Mould loves this stuff and grows, and eats away at the seal making your windows drafty. A simple solution of hot water and a tiny bit of bleach on a cloth wiped along these spots will hold this off. Just be sure not to clean your windows at the same time. Mixing chemicals is bad....the only mixing we do here is cocktails! Don't forget to dust those sky lights and watch for mold there as well.
7 - computers. In the back of your computer tower is a little fan that spins away keeping the mice that power it cool. If these air intakes and air outputs get block with dust or smoking it causes the CPU to overheat. This is bad. It can cause all sorts of issues from discs not reading to your hard drive going all wonky. Easy solution is to vacuum it on a regular basis. If you have a 10 year old in the house those cheeky computer whiz es can also open it out and blow it out with a can of compressed air for you as well. Also make sure you dust your monitor front and back and vacuum that keyboard as well. If your mouse isn't rolling properly, just unscrew the bottom and clean it out and wipe the ball off with a cloth. You will be surprised what can build up in there.
6 - electronics in general. Do you vacuum the back of your TV? Do you put a disc cleaner in your DVD player once in awhile? You should. Since everything has become so high tech, and they want it to fall apart in 6 months so you have to buy another one...keeping dust, pet hair and other things in the air out is very important on extending the life. Next time you pop a CD into the stereo take a look...a lot of dust build up in there. But a warning, NEVER EVER TOUCH THE EYE OF THE LASER. This will ruin your appliance. If you have kids that like playing video games there are some excellent cleaning products out there to keep the discs clean. It extends the life of both the system and the game. We personally use the Wizard cleaning products but ask at your favorite gaming shop. I am sure they will love to sell you some!
5 - furniture, cloth/leather. Leather furniture always made me think of pimp daddies or single guys with no taste. Well I am so wrong as it has come a long way! I was talked into buying a leather couch because it is the best thing for the kids to pummel. All I have to do is wipe it down with a warm damp cloth and open the windows to let the sun dry it up. It cleans it and as it dries tightens the leather up at the same time. Shame it doesn't work on various body parts. This couch is now 3 years old and looks brand new. A fabric couch would now have had 3 sets of slip covers on it! If you have a fabric couch make sure to get it professional cleaned and scotch guarded if you haven't done so yet. If it is scotch guarded a quick blot with soda water should get up any spills. Also make sure to vacuum it very well regularly including down the seat etc. Also rotate and flip cushions so that they wear evenly. And if you can work it into your decorating, arm covers are great to prolong the life.
4 - furniture, wood. It is very important, especially with antiques, that you oil them at least twice a year. This prevents wood from splitting, cracking and splintering. Use a good furniture oil, use a clean soft cloth and go WITH the grain. Due to temperature changes wood with expand and contract. Being well oiled will ensure that it can do this without damage. I have my great great grand mother's writing desk and it looks better than my one marriage furniture from IKEA! It isn't fun but does make it look nice and easier to dust in between. By the way, products like Pledge are horrid for furniture. It causes a build up that dulls over time and the only way to bring the sheen back is to use more Pledge...sounds like they have figured something out! Want a cheap oil to use? Mineral oil is great for unfinished wood and is safe for kids/pets. Get it at the drug store cheap. I use lemon oil for the rest of the furniture. Costs about $4 and I have been using the same bottle for 6 makes your house smell great!
3 - cars. I don't own one but my dad use to lecture me forever on car maintenance. Keeping the inside clean, free from food, dirt etc no only makes it smell better but also keeps the value up. And did you know food let in cars attracts cockroaches. I kid you not. About 80% of public buses have roaches (according to the guys at Greyhound that I know). They seek out food. And then you throw a bag in there and then you bring the bag into the get the picture! Keeping the windows clean on the inside helps you see better plus who wants their hands sticking to the steering wheel! Taking your car through the car wash gets rid of salt, dirt and grime. Doing so will slow the rusting of the under body. My dad use to take the car every couple years and get the engine washed as well. Also flushing fluids and oils changes keep the car clean inside. Considering that he drove a car 15 years old that until we got rid of it passed the E-test...maybe these are good ideas.
2 - rugs/floors. Laminate flooring is popular and looks nice if maintained. No scratch laminate flooring CAN be scratched if not cleaned regularly due to dirt slowly and gently rubbing the protective finish off. We found this out the hard way by the front door. It is important not to use anything but what is recommended by the manufacturer to clean them. Also very important is to wipe up anything that is spilled immediately. It was recommended to us that you place a folded towel where the spill was and put a couple heavy books on top of the towel. This will draw out any of the moisture that may have gotten into where the boards join. I would recommend this as well for wet spots on carpets. That under pad sucks up wet mighty fast. If you clean your own carpets with a steam cleaner keep in mind they want you to use far more soap than you have too. Why? a - it is expensive and they want your money and b - it leaves a slight sticky film which dirt sticks to so you clean it even more than usual please refer to point a! When I had carpets I would clean once with shampoo and the next couple times with just hot water. My neighbour at the time had the same machine and my carpets looked cleaner and were fluffier.
1 - teeth. Okay go ahead and giggle. But in the house they can be the most expensive thing to repair if you don't have a health plan through work. And besides think of wages lost to go and get a filling! Brush twice a day and floss. Money saved over you life time? Thousands. Going to the great beyond with all your own teeth? Priceless. Can't brush your teeth? Eat a piece of hard cheese, this actually cleans the plaque away until you can get to your brush. Carrots and celery also work great. The latter two are also good for your gums. Save your self the pain and look after those pearly whites!
Other things to maintain:
- the roof, clean those gutters. Be careful though - did you know walking on your roof can void your warranty?
- door knobs and locks. They do loosen over time and a quick twist with a screw driver keeps them turning smoothly.
- light bulbs. The new curly ones need the odd dusting to prolong their life and keep them burning bright.
- sinks. Soap, toothpaste and other sticky things can build up over time. Baking soda and some vinegar down the drain will foam up and cut the sludge. Let sit and then follow with a kettle full of boiling water. They will smell better too.
- basement drains. I pour cheap mouthwash down these once a year to kill all the bacteria build up and keep them fresh.
- tub/shower drains. Make sure you pull all that hair out. And then treat like you would a sink.
- pillows. Not for down filled (these need to be dry cleaned) but poly filled ones should get washed in hot and dried on the hottest setting possible. This kills mites and bacteria, also fluffs them up nicely. I then put protective pillow covers on them. This really cuts down on allergies, shortens colds etc. And I hate to tell you EVERYONE drools in their sleep!
Coming up next : Feeding the starving hoards for very little!