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.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Saving for Retirement


Retirement funds are usually left alone for  a long time, or that's the goal.   In fact, the ones registered with the government provide a substantial penalty if you withdraw your funds.   You may receive a tax savings when you deposit your money in a registered account but the government is prepared to delay receiving the taxation revenue until the day you withdraw them, maybe in your retirement years . . .  or maybe not.   The theory usually touted is that your income will be less at retirement and therefore your tax bracket will be lower.   The result?   You'll pay less income tax on the funds.

That's generally the way saving for retirement is sold.  Does it always work that way?   Some of  the funds you withdraw are immediately withheld from Canadian registered retirement funds;  how much depends on the amount withdrawn.  From $5001 to $15,000, twenty percent is withheld.   Anything over $15,000 withdrawn means that thirty percent funds will be withheld.   So, in other words, if you need $20,000 be prepared to withdraw considerably more.   The bank will likely also charge a few hundred to let you have the money.   You may think you should receive interest on the money being held by the government.  ( Why are they doing that anyway?   Are they afraid you won't be able to pay the taxes owing when April 30th comes around?)   Even though a year may elapse from the time you take out your own money from your retirement account until the day of reckoning when your taxes are due, you will not receive any interest on those funds.     (Americans have their own, different, penalties)

Even the venerable Mr. Money Moustache suggests that retiring couples whose children are grown can be  very  comfortable with $40,000 a year.   This amount isn't ideal because it is about $10,000 more than your pension so will require savings/investments that toss off that amount each year.   It will also place you in an income bracket that will limit the benefits that might otherwise accrue to you:   cheaper bus and ferry rates, medical premiums, user fees, etc.  But owning your home and vehicle (or doing without the vehicle) will reduce the annual income required by that amount easily.

I was gratified to read this article in The Financial Post echoing my advice about not saving too much.   Remember to have some fun and enjoy life.  "A large estate may come with a list of missed opportunities."

Sunday, 10 December 2017



Leftovers need an image makeover.  Re-branding complete with new letterheads, business cards and logo.  According to The Washington Post Americans have stopped eating leftovers.   Read more here

Maybe part of a new image would be to follow the advice in The Guardian here.   Or have a look at the suggestions at the Down to Earth blogspot and the suggestions to use food that remains uneaten after a meal to make a new meal.  Or take the advice of Frugalwoods,  'if I buy it, I have to eat it.'

Do you throw out food?   I don't go as far as putting onion skins and potatoes peels in a giant stock pot (not that it's a bad idea) but I'm opposed on principle to throwing out food.   Maybe it is a bit of the 'eat up, people are starving in China' mantra that many mothers historically dished out with the food but it does seem disrespectful to habitually waste food.   If not to the world community, then to your wallet.

There's no need for a complicated system or  container labelling.   Don't let things accumulate to that point.   Use leftover food within a day or two.   Eat it for lunch, use it in soup or stew, or if all else fails, put it in the freezer.   But then you'd have to label it so try to avoid that option.  

It's also a good idea to let your food supplies get low before you replenish your refrigerator.   I'm not talking about pantry staples;   those should be plentiful and regularly stocked up.   Those are items that require cooking and baking to turn them into edible items for the most part.  I'm thinking of goodies and the grab and go items,  especially preferred by teenagers who are quick to complain that there's nothing to eat.  They may not have an apple or carrot sticks as a first choice but if shown that a few minutes spent peeling and slicing and adding a squirt of dressing (or Nutella) on the side,  something they'll enjoy will be the result.  It might start a trend.   

It's worth a try!


Friday, 1 December 2017

Basic Ingredients

Once you start cooking at home a lot, even simple meals, you may discover that the same basic ingredients are used again and again.   Stock up on them when they are on sale and you (or the cook in the family) will be able to produce never-ending meals for the family's enjoyment.   The basic ingredients will vary from family to family but ideal ones are shelf stable.   Items that don't require refrigeration or freezing will survive a power outage.    But a freezer does come in handy to stock up your supply of perishables and if  the freezer is  left closed, it  should survive the majority of power outages which last less than a couple of days.

So what kind of things comprise your basic ingredients.   Here's my list:

Baking/Cooking supplies:

-baking powder
-spices, salt and pepper
-dried bouillon cubes
-raisins, dried cranberries, coconut
-oat flakes
-wheat germ

Meal ingredients:

-all kinds of pasta
-all kinds of beans and legumes
-canned fish and meat

Some of these items last longer than others.   Raisins and dried cranberries will dry out even further as the weeks pass.  They can be plumped up by soaking them in a liquid but try to rotate them so they are used within 3 months.   Some people make up a system with dates written on the jars/containers.    If I was going to have a large supply I would probably stock the jars so that I use from the front and move the supply forward.

Buying in bulk will usually save you money, sometimes a considerable amount.   But always check the prices.   I have a half dozen of the largest glass jars for items like flour, sugar, rice, pasta and rolled oats.    Keep an eye on your supply and watch supermarket prices to stock up when the price is the lowest or close to it.    But don't find yourself in the position of having to throw things out that have gone bad.   If you are in your kitchen/pantry preparing meals regularly you can easily keep track of what you have.   If something is lingering on, make a point to use it up.

If you still have doubts about the value of cooking and eating at home, continue as you are but keep track of your restaurant, take-out and prepared and prepackaged food expenditures.   You will be sufficiently shocked at the total to reconsider.

Next week's post will be delayed a few days.