Classy Frugality

Making the most of life while living on a budget

Category: Budgeting (page 1 of 2)

My Five Favourite Meat Substitutes

We all know meat is expensive.

Yet somehow, most of us just keep buying it and complaining about it. I know I do sometimes.

Today’s blog is about hope. About doing something about the thing we complain about. Here is the solution: do something different. Don’t just keep buying something you hate paying for. Make a change!

Fred and I have been on a tight grocery budget for years as we have been paying down our enormous pile of debt. We only spend $60 a week on food. That means we need to be creative with our protein, especially here in the Great White North where things are more expensive!

We try to do at least one meatless meal per week to cut down on grocery costs. We don’t really like tofu, so we’ve learned to use some things that are a bit tastier for us but still pack a protein kick. Here are some of our favourite meat substitutes so we still have enough protein in our diet to get out of bed in the morning.

Cheese

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 08 40 PM[We aren’t fancy cheese people. Judge our No Name marble cheese all you want, but we like it.]

It seems simple, but cheese is a great protein source, and so good! You can use it to make your own healthier version of Kraft Dinner (Mac and Cheese) or put a pile of it on a baked potato. We also like to put cheese in potato soup, cream cheese in certain chili recipes, and sometimes just eat cheese and crackers. It’s fantastic.

Lentils

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 07 52 PMLentils seem kind of weird, like something hippies would eat. They probably do…they know how to get protein on a budget! Lentils are a great source of protein (25g per 1/2 cup – that is three times more than a cup of whole milk!), and they don’t have much flavour, which means they pick up on the flavour of things around them. The easiest way to get lentils in your diet is in soup or stew – make a big pot of lentil veggie soup and cook up some biscuits to go alongside – cheap and hearty!

Chickpeas

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 10 55 PMI devoted an entire blog to chickpeas where I teach you how I buy chickpeas in a giant bag (for $5), cook them in batches in my crockpot, and use them all the time. Each cup of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) packs 12g of protein. Our favourite ways to use chickpeas are instead of chicken in stir-fry, and to replace some meat in our crockpot chili recipes. You can barely taste them, and they keep you full for hours!

Beans  

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 09 15 PMSimilar to chickpeas, I also buy bags of uncooked beans, cook them in the crockpot, and keep them in freezer for when I need them (this picture is a jar of frozen black beans). Beans have endless possibilities – you can use them on salads, in quesadillas, in chili recipes, or to make a tasty dip for chips or tortillas. If you want to get really creative and unconventional, I’ve heard good reviews of using black beans to make gluten-free brownies or to make your own burger patties. Choose your level of comfort with this magical fruit.

Eggplant

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 10 20 PMThis isn’t my go-to meat substitute, but one I have used before. I bought the eggplant in this picture for $1 and used it in a batch of spaghetti sauce instead of beef. Eggplant has the feeling of being more substantial, and like lentils and chickpeas, soaks up the flavour of whatever is around it. Easiest way to incorporate eggplant in your meal plan is Italian food – spaghetti, lasagna, and other pasta dishes.

These are a just a few of my simple suggestions for meat substitutes. I’d love to hear from you – you’re welcome to leave a comment below to share your own meatless ideas!

How to Travel on a Budget (Part 1)

Photo 2015-07-20, 5 27 12 PMThis month, my husband and I went on a 23 day road trip. And we only spent $1,535 for our entire journey.

We had been wanting to join my family for a vacation in Yellowstone, and we decided that driving would be the most cost-effective way to go. Then Fred decided that since we were already driving across the country, we might as well stop and see more family and some friends on the way. This week-long trip morphed into over three weeks over three provinces and eleven states.

I could chronicle our whole trip in this blog, but I won’t. Most of our close friends have already heard our whole saga. What I want to do instead is share some of our money-saving tips with you.

Here is what I learned from our trip:

1. If you can get somewhere by driving (and you have the time), then drive. It’s not always feasible, and for us we are in a sweet spot in life where we have no kids and Fred has the summers off. I know that sometimes time is a factor, and kids make it hard to travel in the car.

For us on this trip, it was an easy decision to choose to drive. In addition to it being less expensive than flying, we had family and friends along the way, which helped a lot with my second tip.

Photo 2015-07-15, 1 12 24 PM2. Stay with friends and family if possible. This saved us so much money on our trip! We only paid for one hotel our whole 3.5 week trip. It’s a great way to spend time with those you don’t see often, and so helpful for the budget.

However, don’t just be a free-loader. Help with the dishes. Buy some groceries to share. Bring a little gift and card to say thank you. Just because they are friends or people who have to like you because they are related to you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat them like gold!

3. Pack a cooler and buy groceries for the car. Eating out every meal on a road trip gets expensive quickly – even if you’re only eating fast food. We tried to eat at least one meal of homemade sandwiches/salads during our long driving days. Not only did this save us money, but it helped us eat a lot more healthy!

Photo 2015-07-09, 4 04 47 PM4. Do something fun. For us, visiting our family and friends was the main reason we went on the trip. However, we also made time to do fun things for just the two of us – our top outings were going to the beach and going to Disneyland for a day. It helped us to feel like it was a real vacation where we could relax and enjoy – without breaking the bank.

5. Make a budget. For us, we made a budget for our whole trip so that we planned ahead and stuck to the amount we wanted to spend. We used a combination of cash and debit cards, and this helped us to stay on track. If we had been charging things as we went, it would have been so easy to overspend. Having a debit card helped us to track our purchases each day, and know how much we had left.

Here are some things that we put into our budget:

  • Travel insurance (we were in the states, so this was a must for us, even though we didn’t end up using it)
  • Money for fun with friends (we planned for this, and were able to have a great night on the town with a close friend)
  • Gas (obviously)
  • Food (mostly for groceries, with some eating out)
  • Buffer (we carried some “emergency cash” just in case)

Overall, here’s how our budget played out (in CAD):

Travel insurance: $132

Our time in Canada (6 days): $400

Our time in the U.S. (17 days): $1003

Total : $1535*

*We also had a small fix that we needed to do on our car (replace our right axle as well as do an oil change), which we hadn’t budgeted for, so that came out of our budget once we got home as an emergency. This was a $373 surprise, but was quickly resolved by our savings.*

Stay posted for part 2 of this post – how to travel on a budget when you need to take a plane to get there.

Do you have any advice for traveling on a budget? Leave me a comment below to share your tips. I’d love to read them!

How We Went to Disneyland on a Budget

Photo 2015-07-23, 11 19 10 AMTwo weeks ago, we were in the magic kingdom.

In my last post, I mentioned that we went on a road trip (which I will share more about in my next post), and on this trip we had the privilege of going to Disneyland for a day. I wanted to share with you some of the ways we saved money and how we were able to go while in this season of paying off our significant amount of debt.

We were traveling to the Southern California area to visit family anyways, so that automatically made our decision easier. We didn’t have to buy plane tickets, which is a huge factor for most people in going to the park.

We were going to be less than 30 minutes away from Disneyland, and Fred and I had been wanting to go for years since we were both children last time we went to Disneyland. We decided it was worth it since it was a dream of ours, we had family nearby that we could stay with and we were already going to be so close. It seemed like a no-brainer, even though we are on a budget and still have around $27,000 in debt to pay off.

Sometimes, even when you are on a budget, you sacrifice for the things that will make a dream of yours come true. (Click here to tweet that.)

In order to go, we knew we had to budget and plan for the day. We learned a few things and gleaned a lot of wisdom from people, and I wanted to share some of our money saving tips with you! Here they are:

Photo 2015-07-10, 11 35 45 PM1. If possible, stay with family or friends who live nearby. My grandparents are literally a 20 minute drive away from Disneyland, so we were able to stay with them for free and drive in and out easily, without having to book a hotel. I realize this is not an option for everyone, but for us, it helped save a bundle.

2. Snag a discount ticket if you can. Now, tickets will rarely be more than 1-10% off, but if you have some kind of discount, only if it’s a few dollars, take it.  MouseSavers is a great website that outlines tons of discounts. We were blessed to receive a large portion of our tickets as a gift from someone, who generously paid for the bulk of our tickets after we had some unexpected car repairs on our trip. Another option would be to save up Christmas/Birthday money for a ticket.

Photo 2015-07-10, 7 55 55 AM3. Stay as long as you can. The park opens at 8:00am and closes at 12:00am. Since tickets are $99 USD each, we wanted to make the most of our day there. We arrived before rope drop (opening of the park) and stayed until the park had officially closed to ensure that we made every minute of our 16 hours there count!

4. Don’t buy meals in the park. Now, this may seem obvious, but it is a huge money saver. We had breakfast before we went, and brought sandwiches for lunch and dinner. You are allowed to take food in, so we packed our backpack full of sandwiches, crackers, fruit, and granola bars so that we didn’t have to buy any food there.

If we had bought meals, we would have easily spent $8/meal per person (at least $32 total). Every dollar counts when you’re on a budget! The one exception we made was splitting an ice cream in the heat of the day ($6.15 USD). A small treat that was worth every penny.

5. Parking can be free. We didn’t do this, but I have heard that you can park at Downtown Disney for free for 3 hours. If you want to pop in and out to move your car to save the $17 USD parking fee, you can. For us, it was more worth it to spend as much time as we could in the park, but this is an option.

Photo 2015-07-22, 8 15 17 AM6. Think about souvenirs ahead of time. There is literally so much stuff that you could buy at Disneyland. Some of the rides even exit through a gift shop. For me, I wanted one small souvenir to remember our day, so I used a Starbucks gift card to buy a Disneyland mug. This  was exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t actually spend any of my own money. It was the perfect token to take home!

We don’t have children, but if you did go with children, I would suggest that you allow them to either have a price limit (ex. $15) or allow them to buy only one reasonably priced item so they walk away with something small to remember the day, but not something from every store.

A friend of mine said that as a child, her parents gave her “Disney Dollars” that she could spend on snacks or souvenirs in the park, and once they were gone, that was it. This option gives children a limit while still allowing them to walk away with something special. You could also give yourself Disney Dollars if this would help you really stick to your budget!

Overall, it was a magical day, and was definitely worth it for us to put this in our budget. Below is a breakdown of what we spent in the magic kingdom (a bit more than it would be for our American friends, since we live in Canada and the exchange rate is 1.30 right now).

Photo 2015-07-09, 4 04 47 PMTotal spent in CAD: 

$259.78 (tickets)

$22.10 (parking)

$8.00 (ice cream)

$1.34 (postcard)

Total before gift: 291.22 CAD

– $200 (gift towards tickets)

Total we spent: $91.22 CAD

Totally worth it to make our dream come true!

Do you have any tips on saving money in Disneyland or any other theme parks? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!

Cook Like A Mom

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get overwhelmed trying to make dinner look like a Pinterest post.

I really like Pinterest – don’t get me wrong. I love getting new ideas and seeing all of the clever DIY ideas, but I know that with our grocery budget, we value cost and health over beauty.

Growing up, my mom always made simple dinners that were delicious, healthy and cost-effective. I thought that once I started making my own meals, I could follow this example and it would be the best way to go.

That’s when I realized that not everyone cooks like my mom.Photo 2014-06-25, 6 15 35 PM

Simple casseroles, crockpot meals, and family-style dishes are all well and good, but they are certainly not very “trendy” right now. Right now it’s trendy to have tasty and creative meals that are a step below gourmet, whether or not you’re on a budget.

When I cook meals, I think about how much it costs and how many leftovers it will make. I usually never make a meal that only has 2 servings. We don’t have the time to make small meals that don’t also function as lunch for the next day.

Now that my husband and I are both working full-time (a first for us in our marriage), we need to make simple, nutritious dinners that taste good and allow us to have left-overs that are necessary to keep ourselves on budget.

My “secret” is to to make large portions and then put them into individual portions so they are all ready to go for the next day. I don’t know if you can relate, but I am often in a rush in the mornings and need to be able to throw together a lunch quickly. Having your leftovers in ready-to-go portions saves time and effort in the morning.

So that’s my secret to share with you today.

Photo 2014-06-25, 6 16 02 PMHere it is in just three easy steps:

1. Don’t try to make your meals look perfect.

2. Make large, simple meals with several portions.

3. Put in individual containers for an easy left-over.

Bing, bang, boom. A simple way to make your life (and your budget) easier!

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How To Shop For Produce on a Budget

Note: This is part of the “How To – On a Budget” series. Click here to read more ideas for doing life on a budget (building a wardrobe,  having a baby, and giving gifts).

We’ve all heard it: “Get your 5-a-day!”Photo 2014-07-08, 6 18 49 PM

But let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to invest in produce when it seems so expensive.

Today I’m going to share with you some of my tips and tricks for shopping for produce on a budget so you can have a happy and healthy life and diet.

1. Shop local.

I usually shop at a local produce stand as opposed to picking up my fruits and veggies at whatever store I’m already in. The prices are better, and there are usually options to buy from local farms, which is cheaper than importing from other countries.

2. Shop discount. Photo 2014-07-08, 6 19 15 PM

I love the discount section! I have found some truly amazing things in this section. It’s usually on a shelf away from normal sight, so hunt for it or ask an employee. This is where the produce that is going bad gets put. Sometimes you find moldy and mushy things, but other times, you find things that still have a bit of time left in them.

This picture is an example of a really good day on the discount shelf. I got a bag of perfectly good tomatoes, delicious plums, just ripe mangoes, organic bananas, and local strawberries. Each item was $1.00 – total score!

If you do find some items that are only going to be good for a day or so, buy a bunch of veggies to make a stir-fry or make a batch of jam with ripe fruit.

3. Shop in bulk (for certain things). Photo 2014-06-25, 4 48 47 PM

I buy certain things in bulk that I know I will use and that won’t go bad. Some good examples are apples, potatoes, carrots, and onions. These items last a long time, and I use them on a regular basis. Make sure to store them in a cool, dry place or in the fridge to make sure they keep.

Buying things in bulk will save money. Take potatoes for example. Instead of paying $1.40/pound, I buy a 10 lb. bag for $3.50-$5.00. This lasts me a long time, and I pay 1/3 of the price with the bulk option.

4. Shop smart (don’t overbuy). 

Sometimes I get so excited about the discount section, or I want to try new things, and I buy too much. This wastes money if you let it sit in the fridge and it goes bad. I generally shop twice a month for produce, spending about $20-$25 each time. That means $40-$50 gets my family our 5-a-day for a month – what a deal!

Now it’s your turn! What tips and tricks do you have for shopping for fruits and veggies?

How To Build A Wardrobe On A Budget

1796903_626695766306_7837435356870734377_oThis is a guest post written by my friend, Tessa Hughes. I asked her to write some tips for all of us who aspire to build a great wardrobe on a tight budget. She and her husband became debt-free last year, and she managed to keep up her fashion while paying off $19,000 in debt (and raising 2 kids)!

Tessa runs a styling company out of Vancouver where she helps people build great wardrobes on any budget. Check out her business and photo blog at  www.tessahughes.com

(This is post #3 in my “How To – On a Budget” series. Check out How to Have a Baby on a Budget and How to Give Gifts on a Budget for more inspiration!) 

8eedd7e2b8dd1d9c50581cb22260d391Building a wardrobe on a budget is not as hard as you might think– and it doesn’t have to involve wearing boring or ugly clothes, either. I’ve put together some basic do’s and don’t’s in order to keep it really simple.

I often find myself repeating the same basic “rules” to my clients when doing a wardrobe makeover, so they know how to shop when I’m not there to help them. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but more just helpful guidelines to keep you on the “straight and narrow” of good fashion on a budget:

DO…

1. Shop “fast fashion” for basics

Stores like H&M, Joe Fresh, Forever 21 and Zara often have fabulous basics in neutral colours for very affordable prices. Avoid super trendy items, and look for basic tees, tanks and jeans. You’ll find them at decent prices and you’ll avoid falling into any major fashion pitfalls.

2. Thrift leather

I’m a huge advocate of real leather (SORRY PETA!) but if you buy it thrifted, it’s more ethical, environmentally friendly, it will last longer, AND it’s light on your wallet! To me, that’s a win-win-win-WIN. Keep your eyes out for clean and simple leather pieces that are in good shape. Think wallets, handbags. If you’re willing to buy used shoes (some people aren’t), look for basic black, and check where they’re made. Any shoes made in Spain or Italy will be higher quality.

3. The designer sale rack 246d7cdc073124a44fe7e29a9b0f4de8

This one you really need to be careful with. Stick to really simple designs that are clean and timeless. The sale rack tends to be full of overly trendy items that can be a big mistake.

Again, basic colours are better (black, white, khaki, grey), and since sales are usually at the end of the season, it’s good to try and think ahead and buy items that will hopefully still be in style next year. Keep in mind if a certain item has been “hot” for a few seasons, it’s probably on it’s way out.

Hint for parents:

If you’re a little bit savvy, you can shop the sale rack at more expensive kid’s clothing stores like Gap and J.Crew one year in advance. For example, if you have a one year old, and it’s August so summer clothes are on sale, buy 2/3T from the sale rack for next summer.

Kids clothes are less trend-based and it’s great if you can get your hands on some higher quality goods because kids tend to really rip into their clothes (literally). This is a little bit risky because you never know if your kid is going to have a crazy growth spurt but this works well for kids ages 3-5, as kids’ growth slows down a little bit as they get older.

DON’T…

1. Buy something that doesn’t fit you perfectly because it’s on sale (or at the thrift store) thinking you’ll grow into it, lose weight, or get it altered.

That’s just a waste of money and it will probably end up collecting dust.

2. Get sucked into crazy trend items that are really cheap.

(Hellooooo Forever 21!). This is probably the most tempting thing, because when you’re in those types of stores, these are the pieces that seem so appealing: “Ohhh I’ll look so cool in that!” but you’ll probably get sick of it after a week. Stick to pieces that have longevity. Your wallet (and personal sense of style) will thank you for it.

3. Make a habit of buying ONLY fast-fashion.

This is the danger when you’re trying to live on a budget, but as a long-term plan it really doesn’t work. Always remember to try and save up for those bigger wardrobe basic items (like a great, black leather purse).

If you buy everything super cheap all the time, it doesn’t last and you end up spending three times as much over a few years because none of it lasted. Remember that quality, even if it costs more up front, will pay for itself in the end, by lasting much, much longer.

Last Tips & Resources

For those pieces you’d like to save up for, I’m including some resources of where to find what I call “affordable luxury.” These are stores that aren’t as expensive as high-end designer, but carry higher quality pieces that are worth saving up for:

For some specific ideas, here are some of my favourite wardrobe basics that I’ve collected on a Pinterest board.

Also feel free to check out my personal style blog, tessahughes.com, for more inspiration!

 

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How To Have a Baby on a Budget

This is a guest post written by my good friend Kristen Foley. She blogs about her life as a nurse and mother on her blog, Scrubs and Pastries. I’m excited for her to share her tips for how to have a baby on a budget, a phase in life I have yet to experience. 

Kristen and her adorable daughter Abreanna (Aby)

Kristen and her adorable daughter Abreanna (Aby)

My husband and I had a baby girl in January of this year. One day last summer when it was hot out and pregnant ol’ me needed a Slurpee, I glanced over at the magazine rack while paying for my treat. I saw a headline that made me stop in my tracks. “Million-dollar Babies.” – Mclean’s. I quickly opened the cover to find that the average cost of raising a child in Canada is $670,000! So, if I’m correct with my math and we have two children, that puts us at over a million dollars to raise them? That can’t be right! Can it?

The article is a good read actually and lays out costs you might have forgotten about along with predicted costs (so we don’t really know how accurate the predicted costs are). I can’t really speak to raising a “family” yet as we only have one child (and we aren’t paying for daycare/a nanny yet) and she is just five months old. I can, however, tell you ways that we have learned to cut costs and spend wisely with a baby.

1. Start lumping small amounts into a savings account when you find out you are expecting

We started saving small amounts every month for purchases that we knew we needed to make in the following months before the baby came. Having saved up a little at a time to buy bigger items (like a crib) helped us avoid putting a huge dent into our budget when the time came to buy something. This also helped us see how much was in the “baby fund” and to budget for items accordingly.

2. Buy some things second hand

It is amazing what you can find second hand. We have used sites like Craigslist and Bidwars as well as thrift stores and consignment stores (Once Upon a Child) to find bigger ticket items that are crazy expensive to buy brand new! We found a pack n’ play (playpen) second hand on a site called Bidwars for $25 dollars (that is usually $150 brand new!). We also bought our crib on Craigslist for $250. That sounds like a lot, but the crib converts into a toddler bed with a railing and a twin bed frame for down the road when she is older. It was also $600 originally.

3. Invest into big items

As stated above, our crib was a bit pricey, but it was a good investment because it will last our girl until she is well into her teens!

Are you planning to breastfeed? Maybe invest in a breast pump (that you can use for all of your children!) or a double stroller if you know you want to try soon for a second baby and will need to wheel around two young children.

4. Cloth diapering

Some people may be grossed out by the idea but it’s honestly not any grosser than using disposable diapers to me. They cost a bit of money up front (about $200-$300 – we were fortunate that ours were gifted) but can save approximately $300-$400 per year or about $1,200-1,500 per child until they are potty trained. Everyone has their own estimates about this, but let’s face it, cloth diapers (along with being green) DO save money!

5. Breastfeed

I could go into the many benefits of breastfeeding but I won’t.

Breastfeeding saves a ton of money (and is so good for your little one too!). Breastfeeding can save between $1,000-$3,000 per year (approximately) depending on the type of formula you use. There are costs to breastfeeding (buying a pump, nursing bras, nipple creams and reusable nursing pads), but those costs are one time and breastfeeding would still save you money in the long run over formula feeding.

Side note: I do, however, understand that it’s not always a reality for every woman to breastfeed and circumstances can make breastfeeding nearly impossible. What you might not know is that your local public health unit (in the Lower mainland at least) offers free one on one breastfeeding support with a nurse specialized in breastfeeding (often a lactation consultant) and there are support groups (La Leche League) in many areas all over the country to help moms who are struggling and/or need help/have questions.

Another side note: If you do buy formula, download the app “Checkout 51” and you could save money! This app gives you money back when you upload receipts with the items they have listed. I saw a Similac cash back offer for $5.00 this week if you purchased Similac formula (they have other great grocery items on there too).

6. Don’t go out and buy tons of toys and gadgets for baby right away

We learned this the hard way. We spent $50 on a swing (used and regularly $100) that our daughter ended up using twice because she didn’t like it. Instead, try out toys in the nursery at church or at a friend’s house to see if your baby likes it before you spend an arm and a leg on it!

One of her favourite toys at the moment is a $3.50 shape sorter we got from our local thrift store (which I kind of want to keep a secret because of how great of a store it is!). 

We get creative with play time. The other day I got out some plastic bowls and spoons for her to play with and she had a great time! We also read (appropriate) adult novels out loud, look at photo books together and play outside!

Play time doesn’t have to be expensive!

7. Avoid name brands whenever possible

Just the other day I asked my husband to pick up some breast milk freezer bags from the grocery store. The pack of name brand bags (50 count) usually costs me about $14.99 but he found the store brand breast milk bags at $6.99 for 50! Some cost comparison can go a long way!

8. Acquire some baby clothing in neutral colours/styles

Clothing shopping for girls is very fun but it can also break the bank. Everything is so cute! I have tons of items in pink/purple with lace and frills. I’m all set if I have another girl, but if I have a boy, I don’t have much to offer him!

have since learned that neutral colours and styles are helpful to reuse. I have some orange, green and yellow onesies that I plan on saving for future children.

To sum things up, having kids does cost money (and I’ve only just begun parenthood!) but there are ways to cut costs and save money along the journey.

Planning for expenses has been a big part of what has helped us stay on budget with a baby. We continue to put $50 aside each month for upcoming costs for our girl. A high chair is next!

What are your ideas for saving money while raising kids? I’d love to hear more from you!

You can also check out one of Kristen’s latest blog posts, 100 Fun Things to Do With Your Kids, for some other ideas on how to save with your children. 

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How to Give Gifts on a Budget

I love giving gifts. 

There are a lot of things that are hard to do on a budget, and buying gifts is is one of them. I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned with you today so that giving wedding, birthday, and shower gifts doesn’t break the bank for you.

I’m hoping to start a series that will will give tips on how to do the inevitable things on life on a budget. There are some things that human beings have to do: grocery shop, buy gifts, have kids, cook, and clean. These things can be hard to do on a budget. I’m asking some friends to help give tips on how to succeed in these areas and still meet your financial goals. Stay tuned!

Today’s post will give you some ideas on how to save a bit when you give gifts. If you’re around my age (mid-twenties), you likely have a lot of friends getting married and having kids, and that can cause a bit of financial stress if you get extravagant gifts for each of them. Today I want to offer some alternatives to traditional gifts.

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A set of crocheted potholders

1. Crochet or knit goods

If you know me, you know that I love to crochet gifts for people. I show up to almost every wedding with a set of crocheted potholders and every baby shower with a crochet blanket.

In our parents and grandparents’ generations, crochet gifts were common, but in our generation, these are becoming less common. If you can learn a basic stitch or two, you can easily make potholders, scarves or blankets which make lovely and thoughtful gifts.

Two of the best ways to buy yarn are to buy in bulk and use coupons. 

One of my crochet baby blanket creations

One of my crocheted baby blanket creations

As you can see by my pictures, I use a little bit of patterned yarn, and a lot of plain colours. That’s because you can usually get twice as much plain yarn for the same price as a patterned skein (ball) of yarn.

As for coupons, I usually buy my yarn at Michael’s, which has a great selection. You can usually get a 40% coupon online, which allows you to get one item at 40% off. Sometimes they have better coupons – last week I got 15% off my total order with a coupon I found online. Also, because I’m a teacher, I always get 15% off at Michael’s in Canada (American teacher friends, it’s something to ask about), which helps bring the total price down.

I usually spend about $8 to make a set of 4 pot holders, and $12 for a baby blanket. It takes a bit of time, but I’m always pleased with the result, and I’ve gotten great responses with these handmade gifts.

If you don’t know how to knit or crochet, you can look up basic stitches online, or ask your mom or grandma!

Not as perfect as Starbucks' cake pops, but still delicious

Not as perfect as Starbucks’ cake pops, but still delicious

2. Baking

This seems simple, but time and time again, I find that certain friends just don’t bake, and are thrilled to receive baked goods for Christmas or birthday gifts. 

Some of my favourite things to make are granola (click here for my mom’s famous recipe), bread from scratch, and cut-out cookies (sugar or chai spice) in Christmas shapes.

If you’re brave you can try something like cake pops – they are fancy and really hard to make, so they make a great gift.

Pinterest has tons of ideas and recipes for creative baked goods. You can also make nice mixes for people for cookies, hot chocolate, or breads/muffins out of the dry ingredients, put them in a mason jar, and print out a little recipe and attach it to the jar. So cute, frugal, and fun to receive!

3. Quality Time

I know that this seems like a childish gift, but my parents are always thrilled to receive this as a gift. They live far from me, so I send them a little coupon for their birthday or Fathers/Mothers Day, and then take them out for lunch, coffee or a movie when I go home for Christmas.

It’s also a great gift for friends that you don’t get to spend a lot of time with or for your spouse/significant other. Quality time with someone is more valuable than another item that they don’t really want or need. You can also package it in a creative way.

Examples of quality time packages:

  • Movie night: Find or buy a plastic popcorn container from a dollar store, and fill it with some treats and a gift card to a movie or some movie options that you already own.
  • Picnic: Find or buy a basket, put in some sandwiches, homemade dessert, a candle, a mixed CD or playlist on your phone/iPod, and a blanket.
  • Coffee date: Find or buy a cute mug, and put in a gift card for a coffee shop and an appointment card that you can fill out together with a time for your date.

4. Candles

If you know me, you’ll know how much I love candles and how much I love to make them and give them as gifts. Once you find a good candle supply store, you can make candles for less than it would cost to buy them. (I use Voyageur – a great place in Surrey for all you lower mainland folks).

You’ll need to invest in some supplies (wax, colours, scents, wicks, and a pot to melt the wax in), but once you have them, you can make tons of candles at a great price.

I like to put candles in mason jars that people give me or pasta sauce containers (some brands use Atlas mason jars – a great brand). You can also find them at thrift stores or buy them in bulk at grocery stores.

Candles are lovely and thoughtful gifts – and so fun to make!

Some fun candles I made for Christmas - candy cane inspired

Some fun candles I made for Christmas – candy cane inspired

Conclusion 

These are just a few ideas that I use to make gifts for people, and it allows me to give a creative and thoughtful gift while keeping our gift budget low.

Giving gifts should be about showing someone you know that you care about them and want to celebrate and bless them. You can do that on any budget with just a hint of creativity and a willingness to think outside the box.

 

Get Involved 

I’d love to hear some of your ideas for making creative gifts! Leave a comment below to share with me. You can also tweet me! (@classyfrugality

Also, feel free to subscribe to my e-newsletter to get notified every time there is a new post you don’t miss out. 

DIY Freezer Jam

This past week I bought 10 pounds of strawberries. My purpose? DIY jam! image

Some people get scared of making their own jam because they imagine standing over a huge pot, pulling jars out and waiting for the *pop* that tells you that your jars are officially sealed.

Today I want to share with you one of life’s greatest secrets: freezer jam.

My mother-in-law introduced me to freezer jam a few years ago (thanks, Lea!) and it has honestly been one of my favourite ways to save money. Now, don’t get me wrong, we don’t go through a ton of jam in our house, but it’s one less thing that I need to over-pay for. (I’ll give you the numbers breakdown later on in the blog)

So, I took my 10 pounds of strawberries and made a ton of jam, which is now in my freezer, and will sustain us until next strawberry season. It’s so easy, and honestly tastes so much better than store-bought jam. I’ll share my tips and tricks with you so you can make your own jam!

First of all, you pick up your supplies. You’ll need: 

  • Fruit (you can use any kind, and any combos, but my husband is a plain strawberry jam kind of guy)
  • Pectin (I like Certo brand, but you can use any kind of freezer jam pectin)
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • Jars (you can use plastic or glass jars, or even tupperware if you’re out of jars)

Photo 2014-06-25, 10 30 48 PMSecondly, you’ll want to use the instructions inside the pectin package. Each kind has slightly different instructions, so make sure to read them. I’ll tell you how I used the Certo liquid pectin that I picked up.

Third, you’ll need to crush your fruit. I used my Starfrit food processor to crush up my strawberries after I cut the tops off.  So fast and easy!

Trick #1: I use a Starfrit Manual Food Processor, a gift from my mother-in-law. It honestly makes crushing the fruit so easy! If you don’t have one of these, you can use a regular food processor or a pastry blender or potato masher (it just takes longer).

Photo 2014-06-25, 10 37 29 PMPhoto 2014-06-25, 10 38 15 PM

Trick #2: Chop all your fruit at once. It makes it easier, and your hands will get all sticky anyways, so it’s worth it to just do it all at once, crush it all at once, and just do each step at a time instead of chop, crush, chop, crush. I use a tall measuring cup or bowl to separate my chopped fruit.

Trick #3: Use a glass or metal bowl for fruit – a white bowl will be stained by fruit juice. 

Fourth, you’ll need to combine the fruit, pectin, sugar and juice in a particular order with a specific amount of stirring and waiting involved. Again, check your own instructions. (I definitely ruined a batch of jam once by thinking I knew the right order to add things. Whoops! I ended up using it as strawberry sauce for ice cream, so it wasn’t a total loss.)Photo 2014-06-26, 4 55 49 PM

Now, you just have to wait for your jam to set, and you’re done! Once it’s set you stick it in the freezer until you’re ready for it.So convenient!

Trick #4: Wash your dishes and clean your counters right away. Strawberry juice stains in minutes, so do yourself a favour and tidy as your jam is setting!

Okay, now the moment you’ve been waiting for: the price and time breakdown.

Time: 

Total time from first chop to dishes being done: Approximately 1 hour

Price for ingredients:

Sugar: $2

Pectin: $3 (for 2 pouches)

Strawberries: $6.67 (I bought a flat for $20 and used approximately 1/3 of it for this batch of jam)

Lemon juice: $0.25 (rough estimate)

Jars: $0 (I had a bunch in my cupboard, and because they don’t need to be sterilized for freezer jam, you can reuse with no worries!)

Total cost: $11.92

Total containers of jam made: 5 

Cost per container: $2.38 

Now, when I was in the store I looked at jam prices. Even if you go off-brand, you’re looking at $5 for a comparable container of jam.

Result? Better-tasting jam for 1/2 the price? Yes, please! 

I can’t recommend making your own jam highly enough! Give it a try – you just might like it.

Feel free to connect with Classy Frugality in one of the following ways: 

*Disclaimer: This post contains an Amazon Affiliate link. That means that if you use this link to buy the product I recommend, I’ll get a little something to support the blog and our journey to becoming debt-free. No pressure to use it, I just wanted to warn you! Also, I was not compensated in any way to discuss this product – I just really like it.* 

Moving Day & Our New Home

Last weekend we said goodbye to our home of 4 (5 for me) years, packed up our stuff, and brought it to our new home. (Click here to read about our decision to move

Seems simple, right? Well…

We had our share of adventures on that day, and I want to share a few of them with you, along with a few thoughts about our new pad.

First of all, renting a moving truck was not as easy as it seemed. We reserved a moving truck through a company (who shall not be named to honour them), but when we arrived our truck was not there. Long story short, we had to drive to 2 other cities (ending up in Burnaby/Vancouver), and got a truck that was twice the size that we wanted. We did however get $50 off, which was nice.

Photo 2014-05-03, 3 07 33 PMWe had some amazing friends help us move all of our stuff from one home to another. We bought Timbits and pizza out of our “moving expenses” envelope (which came from some of our moving sales – I’ll share more about that in my next blog!) and it was worth every penny. Wish we could have had a lovely steak dinner for all of them. Fred had arranged that I facilitated the cleaning process at our old home, so I literally didn’t have to lift a single box all day. It was fantastic. If any of you are reading this (you know who you are) THANK YOU so much!

The unpacking process is slow but steady. As I sit here typing this blog, I’m surrounded by boxes in our living room – the last of the ones that need to find a place in our new home. I had hoped we would be all unpacked sooner, but it’s been nice to organize and decide where to put everything. We hope to be done by the end of the weekend. Photo 2014-05-04, 10 45 36 AM

Here are some pros and cons about our new home:

Pros: 

  • Way more cabinet space – everything fit in my kitchen and I don’t have to have a makeshift “pantry” that I hide behind the TV anymore (yay)
  • Better storage space & bigger closets (our old home had teeny tiny closets and no coat or linen closet, and here we have a great little storage room, a coat closet, linen closet, and a big enough closet to share in our room)
  • Super affordable rent ($410 less than what we were paying in Langley)  Photo 2014-05-04, 10 45 45 AM
  • A clearly defined kitchen/dining room (which made room for Fred’s grandmother’s china cabinet that just wouldn’t fit in our old home)

Cons: 

  • Not having a backyard (or a compost)
  • Having to pay for laundry (you don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone!)
  • Having a utilities bill (we still don’t know how much we’ll be paying)
  • A smaller oven, fridge and freezer (I had to get rid of my “normal sized” cookie sheets, but my casserole dish still fits, so I’m happy)

Overall, we feel happy and at home here. It’s been nice to downsize and decide what’s really important to us. Once we have everything all sorted, I’d love to share some pictures with you!Photo 2014-05-05, 8 24 50 PM

For now, you can see our boxes piled in the kitchen and all our our furniture in a big pile in the living room to give you a taste of how crazy it was in here!

Don’t forget that there are some ways you can get involved with Classy Frugality!

Thanks to you all for reading and supporting me on my frugal journey!

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