Sunday, 11 February 2018

Dreams are Possible - #1

STOP BUDGETING, START DREAMING can sound like a fanciful title for a blog or a way of life.    Budgeting is the holy grail of money management.   You need to list it, count it, add it, re-arrange it and above all make it balance.   At least that's the usual advice.   It can be a grim business, deciding what the deprive yourself of, what to cut back on.

It is possible  to start from the other end, the goal, the dream. Retire by 40 has a recent post:   10 things I'll buy when I'm rich.

When you desire something, many other expenditures become less necessary.   You are prepared to sacrifice, except you don't think of it as sacrifice as much as channelling your wishes.   For every purchase over a few dollars you may find yourself thinking,  'Do I want this or my (our) dream?'

We have long had a wish to own a home in a warm location.   Winters in Canada, even on the West Coast can be cold, rainy, snowy and above all, long.      During your working life, the daily commute can be an endurance drive through bitter weather.   Traffic in the big city only increases year by year while the roads and highways stay the same size.   Bottlenecks by way of bridges and tunnels abound.     But you're stuck.   You may get away for a week or two from the cold and damp but sometimes it seems that it only makes it that much more difficult to live with when you return home.   Some people don't mind.   The skiers and snowboarders, the snowmobilers and snowshoers.   They love it.  We don't.

We've watched a lot of International House Hunter shows., priming the pump, so to speak.   Most people know they are staged.   The couple has already bought and two more homes are added to round out the choices.   Some phoney drama evolves as inevitably each partner wants something different.    Compromise prevails and everyone is happy by the last frame.   Granite countertops prevail, an ocean view is desired, open plan seems to rule the day, and homes and condos are meticulously staged.  All in about twenty-two minutes.

These shows don't give much detail as to the reality of making the dream happen.  I've sometimes thought it would be useful if the show was extended to an hour and more practical information given.

We have taken the plunge and over the next few posts I will give some of the details of how we made this particular dream come true for us.   Check in again next week.

Sunday, 4 February 2018


How do you feel about restaurant dining?   Do you go often?   I was surprised to read that almost half of a family's food dollar is spent in restaurants or with take-out food.  Here's an article in The Independent  which may discourage you from over-indulging in that way.

We rarely go out to restaurants anymore.   Without much planning, the practice just slowly withered away.  After reading a blog post on the subject of the increase in minimum wage which affects restaurant workers as well as many retail workers here, I gave the matter some thought.    Why do we only eat out in restaurants once a month or so and then only for breakfast with a family member (brother-in-law) who likes this way of getting together?   We've been saving quite a lot without feeling deprived.

One reason is that restaurants are expensive, much more expensive than buying the raw ingredients and cooking yourself.   I enjoy my own cooking and have a fair number of recipes that suit us so we are content to eat at home.   Is eating in restaurants more of a dating thing?     If a family of four, two adults and two school age children, went to what is called a family restaurant I suspect the bill, including tips and tax, would close on $100.   If there is an inexpensive children's menu, it may be less.   For a couple  going out to a nice  restaurant, the entrees are likely in the $30 - $40 range.   Add a glass of wine, coffee and dessert and $120. would be closer to the total.  Pre-dinner drinks and/or appetizers could increase the amount.  Here's a menu from the restaurant, The Keg with prices for a steak dinner from $35 to $48.  You have to specify location to be given the prices.   The Keg Restaurant has similar practices to other restaurants in their class.

For a special occasion the expenditure might well be justified in your mind.     If the food is excellent, the ambience soothing, the service impeccable and the company enjoyable, many of us would regard the splurge as one of life's pleasures.

Have you ever had a poor meal in a restaurant, or even a lacklustre one?   Have you eaten to the cacophony of a loud table of sports fans or rowdy children who throw their food at each other?  Have you had to get out of your seat to ask for the condiments that should have been on the table?   If so, your bill was the same but your enjoyment less.     I've been told by a restaurant worker than some mid-priced restaurants, especially chains, get their products frozen from head office to be reheated in some way.    Maybe that is why some favour food trucks where you can see your dish prepared.

Do you find restaurant food doesn't agree with your digestive system?  Do you have allergies and you're concerned that the server is a little too nonchalant about them.   Do you find restaurant meals to be heavy on the salt, which you never use at home or overly sauced?    Do you have certain dietary restrictions or preferences that leave you with only one or two options on the menu.    A vegan in the family rarely goes to restaurants because many vegetable soups are made with beef broth, for example.  This article details how a third of vegans end up re-considering their travel plans due to a lack of vegan options.   But there are vegan only cruises, as detailed. here.  When you go to a buffet, do you overeat to get your money's worth or does all that food put you off?    Are you full the next day after a restaurant dinner?  

Judging by the statistics it would seem that many people do like to eat in restaurants.   It is one of the discretionary areas of spending that could easily be eliminated.   After all, you don't have to stop eating.      Like many aspects of our financial lives, it can be a matter of habit.   A couple of generations ago, restaurants were for anniversaries and special 'round' birthdays only.  

Sunday, 28 January 2018

New and Old


I enjoy reading blogs like this one, Generations Before Us with information and anecdotal stories about how people lived in the 1940's.   The author of this blog has recently started trying to recreate the life she remembered from those days, concluding that people were happier when times were simpler.   Things were different in the town and on the farm in southern Alabama then and very different from today.    People had similar needs:   love and companionship, friends and relations, meaningful activity.   But there were also the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, cleanliness and communication.  These items were found, provided and arranged in different ways.  Were people were happier when times were simpler?  

This older couple has found items, sometimes discarded, some at thrift stores, that were in everyday use seventy-five years ago.   Their survival means they must have been well made.      Summers in the southern United States were hot but ordinary families didn't have air conditioning.   People slept on screened in porches, had a rest between lines of wet washing hung out to dry or just lay down at this time.  I suspect you become acclimatized to it which doesn't happen when you move between your cool home, your air-conditioned car, ten minutes walking in blazing heat before entering an air-conditioned office of shopping mall.

Then there's  Sashiko, a style of Japanese mending.   The magazine Threads details how a jacket can be made using this method.   The difference is that you make a new jacket and then apply fake mending patches in that style to get the look.  Here are some step by step instructions for actual mending in Make Do and Mend blog.    Lots of possibilities there.    I was fascinated to find out, in researching this topic, that Japanese and Korean families wanted their clothes to last not for the season, or several years but for generations.    Boro or Sashiko mending was not a fashion statement, it was to repair rips and tears and reinforce worn areas.

DIYJOY has some interesting ideas for making over or refinishing thrift store furniture.   It can be chic to save money but who cares about meeting marketing/advertising expectations nowadays anyway?

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Emergency Response

It was probably the wrong response.  But we would probably do it again.   Nothing like not learning from your mistakes.

We were in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, the dry side.   The couple in the vacation rental adjoining were on the shared patio  and we were all preparing to go  our separate ways and out for the day.   Then the woman, Chris, reads a text from her phone.   

Did we follow the advice?   Did we panic?   No, we were convinced it was a hoax, fake news or something of the sort.   We continued with our plans.   First, we needed gas for our rental car to drive to the south of the Island and take in the turtles.   Talk about priorities in a crisis.   Oh, look, they are lined up down the road at the gas station.  Must be people filling up after the work week.    Scratch that plan.   We'll go directly to breakfast at Denny's.   We hadn't come across a news station on the rental car and we didn't search for one now.   You know, for updated news.   Did I scan the skyline?   Don't remember doing that.   I remember thinking that North Korea wouldn't launch a missile because they had just made arrangements to enter the upcoming Olympics.

At Denny's there was a hand lettered sign on the door:   CLOSED.    I peeked in trying to figure out the problem.   Surely they were open on a Saturday morning.   The manager came out and told us he had been advised to send the staff home.   Then he said the warning had been a mistake.     But he looked worried.  We went back to our vacation rental and ate breakfast there.

Then we saw  the next notice.   The rest of the day was strange;  I don't remember what we did.  Somehow going to the beach didn't seem the right thing to do.     It is interesting and embarrassing the thoughts that came into one's mind.   Why would a missile be directed to the less populated and less touristed Big Island of Hawaii.   Surely, a missile would be directed at Oahu where Honolulu is located.    Then the typical selfish thought:  Hope our plane is still leaving on Tuesday evening.    

We do have some emergency preparations at home.   A supply of water, candles, even a solar lantern.    A pine cone cooker which is the butt of family jokes.   There's enough food in the pantry to last a couple of weeks.   None of that was with us on vacation.    

I've read since that lessons were learned by those in power as well.    It seems the warning sirens on Oahu weren't heard by many people due to volume and location.   For some reason sending the alert was a click on a drop down menu.  It took over thirty-five minutes to send out the cancellation.   Some people took it very seriously and it was traumatic for them.

But it seems for some of us, denial is an all too common reaction.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Don't Obsess about Reputation


I'm not referring to your own reputation. That's priceless, of course.  What I am thinking about is the reputation of some items that you would spend money on.   Take zucchini.  (Some may add a . . . 'please' to that phrase.   Probably someone with a large garden run amuck). In my experience cucumber is two to three times the price of zucchini.  Here on the west coast of Canada one cucumber can cost five dollars.    Is it more expensive to grow?   I don't know that but it has made me wonder if zucchini could be substituted in many of the salad and sandwich recipes. Have a look here.   It turns out there are differences but how much do they matter?   Perhaps it is just tradition.


I like to refer back mentally to Amy Dacyczyn of Tightwad Gazette fame.   Is the first choice two to three times better?   Try the substitute for a month and see if you become accustomed to the change.  Just remind yourself of the really big changes some people have made:   immigrating to a new country or even a new house.   There's a lot of adjustment there.

Here's a big one:  where you live.   Living in some major cities like London, New York, Hong Kong or Vancouver will be a huge expense. Everyone knows of them and they have a mostly great reputation.  People often refer to the cultural opportunities these cities provide;   the theatre, opera, museums and galleries.   Big name music productions and artists hit the big cities;  at big ticket prices.   Fashion designers like Ferragamo and Aritzia are to be found there.  Many things are more expensive in the city because retailers know or think that's where the big money is.    The question to ask yourself is whether you enjoy the cultural experiences available.  Do you have money left to go to the opera, the symphony and musical theatre productions?   If housing is one third or even one tenth less elsewhere, perhaps you could make visits every couple of months to indulge  and still come out ahead.    Or does Vancouver's jazzy reputation trump Courtney or Hope?

A whole separate post could (and maybe should) be written about beauty products.   Does the $40 lipstick make a difference over the $8 one?   Do people swoon at the sight of your luscious and expensive lips?  Does that enhance your reputation as a fashion maven and all round good looker?  Unlike some products, like lawnmowers, that consumer protection agencies actually require to do the job they advertise, beauty products are allowed considerable leeway for puffery, exaggerated claims for promotional purposes.   That's okay apparently because no reasonable person would believe  some of the claims.  Although lots of people must, or the company would go under.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Do you need a car?

bus queue

Some people would consider this question ridiculous.   Of course you do.   How else can you get around, take your children to lessons and sports activities and haul your groceries?   There was a time when fewer people owned private vehicles.  In some countries car ownership was not seen as so essential.   My parents never owned a car until they immigrated to Canada in their mid-thirties.   Europe was set up for getting around by bus, by train, by bicycle or on foot.

A few decades ago families in North America were likely to own a car, but only one. The adult at home managed without a car while the employed member of the family may have driven to work.   Businesses catered to this situation.   I can remember home delivery of milk, dry cleaning and other items.   It was simple to walk a few blocks or even a mile pulling a shopping trolley which would contain the purchases from the green grocer, baker or butcher on the local shopping street.   Buses were easily accessed for bi-weekly or once a month trips to the larger urban centre.  Or the entire family would head off in the family car a few times a year.   In the summer, special buses or local trains would run mothers and their children to the beach or the lake.

When it became the trend for women to enter the workforce more intensely in the 1970's two cars came to be seen as more convenient.   But car owners are a handy source of tax revenue, governments have found.   Tolls, expensive tolls, are put on bridges and highways.   You could easily pay $1500 a year to cross a bridge to work.  Gas prices are a convenient hiding place for added taxes.   Somehow they are put in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol and considered fair game for a non-essential luxury.  Plus they pollute.  At least that was one justification I read.

Cars are more complicated internally and maintenance costs have also increased.   I noticed the shop rate at my local car dealer's service centre had climbed to $120 an hour.   You're lucky to get away for less than $300  for a minor matter and repairs in the thousands are not uncommon.  Two cars in the family can be the equivalent of another mortgage payment.   Too bad it's not tax deductible even though you use your vehicle to get to work.   

Some cities spend a lot of money putting in bike lanes.   (I'm looking at you Vancouver).   Great if you use them but this article puts the number of bike commuters at ten percent.  I'm not sure how that is measured but not too many bikes are seen in the all too present rain or occasional snow.    Even if you bike to work when the weather is at all tolerable you need to have a substitute for the rest of the time.  

Taking the bus seems a cheaper option and it is in the long run but on a one time basis, once you own a car, it is cheaper if you are moving more than one person.

Doing without a car entirely is not practical for most people but more than a few families with two employed find ways to avoid buying that second car.     Transit, walking, carpooling  could be explored.   Live close to where the most stable employment is so one of you can walk.

Sunday, 24 December 2017




Do you regularly throw away clothes?   Not clothes that are truly worn out with holes in the knees but clothes you have only worn a few times and are just tired of.  Or someone has informed you that the look is now out of fashion.  This article in the Guardian describes how four out of ten people admit to throwing out clothes rather than repairing or recycling them.   Some of them have only been worn once so perhaps it is done to avoid washing them.  Australians, in seems, buy 27 kg of clothes each year and throw out 23 kg of them.   Australia is likely not alone in this behaviour.

The study advises that there is a sharp contrast between baby boomers, now in their 50's and 60's and the pre-35 year old millennials.   Younger people discard items because they are perceived to be out of fashion or they're just plain tired of wearing them.   Some do attempt to sell their cast-offs  on-line but today's fast fashion is cheap and just doesn't hold it's value.  Older people tend to look for value and hang onto their items longer.  Does the desire to be in style wane with age?

Do you have clothing that you've had for five years or more?   What about 10 years?   There's a market for vintage clothing if your mother or grandmother has a trunk or closet somewhere with items from past decades.   Just watch for the sizes;  women were very slim in those days, perhaps from deprivation during the war.

Perhaps one solution would be to. keep track of your clothing spending.   Those small amounts, over and over, could have added up to some good quality items.   A classic winter coat should be able to last for ten years.  Can you bear to be seen in the same coat each winter for that length of time?   Perhaps others will merely notice how well dressed you always are.    The need for constant newness is induced by advertising.   Try to limit your victimhood.

Happy Holidays!   On Christmas break 
until the New Year.