Sunday, 24 December 2017

THROW-AWAY CULTURE

  

  


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

    




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:

-flour
-sugar
-baking powder
-yeast
-spices, salt and pepper
-cornstarch
-dried bouillon cubes
-raisins, dried cranberries, coconut
-cornmeal
-oat flakes
-bran
-wheat germ



Meal ingredients:










-all kinds of pasta
-rice
-all kinds of beans and legumes
-barley
-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.


Sunday, 26 November 2017

How many clothes do you need (or want)?





You probably know that people have never owned as many clothes as they do now.   Excepting Marie Antoinette, of course, reputed to have never worn the same dress twice even though dozens of French nuns had laboured for months over the beading and embroidery on each dress.    Although with fast fashion we may be approaching a level of disposability.    Before the invention of the sewing machine in the 1830's, clothing was made locally, either by the individual homemaker or a local seamstress.   These items were made to last a long time and made over and mended.   A woman's dress might after many years resurface as a little boy's shirt, after the worn parts were cut away.   Even a hundred years later, in the 1930's many clothing items were still made at home.   Sizing hadn't been standardized (doesn't seem like it is yet) so made to measure worked better.  Clothing was better quality and made to last.

Do you like the present situation?  Even if a nice wardrobe or lots of clothes is on your list of dreams, perhaps reconsider your approach to clothing.   Even cheap clothing still costs something and while individual items may not cost much, taken in total, a bulging closet cost plenty to acquire.  Yet many still feel they have nothing to wear.   Do you find yourself reaching for the same items over and over. You know, the ones that fit well, make you look slimmer, don't have traces of spots on the front that won't wash out.   The ones you've received compliments on.   

Elizabeth L. Cline, the author of Overdressed; The Shocking High Cost of Cheap Fashion, has recommendations on her site for choosing a few good quality items that you will want to wear a multitude of times.    We've become so used to variety that it may be difficult to think small.   You could also do a trial run with Project 333 and wear just 33 carefully chosen items for 3 months.

More suggestions to follow.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

SAYING NO

  



That little word can be hard to get out.   We like to think of ourselves as agreeable people, easy to get along with.   Saying 'yes' seems to be part of that.   'Yes' is a perfectly good word and you should make it part of your vocabulary.   When new ideas and opportunities present themselves, don't say no automatically.   Maybe you'll like river rafting, camping or sushi.

But conversely don't be afraid to say no.   Say it politely but say it definitely.   I had a recent occasion in my local bulk barn store where I had the opportunity to exercise my right to say no.   I should keep a list of unit prices for the items I purchase regularly.   It's on my to-do list (sort of).  When I buy chocolate chips in a package I could easily make a note of what they cost per 100 grams. The reason to do this?   So that I can tell if buying the item in bulk is a better deal.   Unfortunately, it's not automatic.

On one recent shopping experience my chosen items were going through the checker.   I use small jam size mason jars, getting them weighed first so that their weight is taken off my cost of the item.   Sliced almonds went through and a price of almost $10 was rung in.   I was mildly shocked and without hesitation said 'Stop!'  I think I scared the new trainee as his fingers jumped off the cash register.   I continued in a calmer zone and told him politely that I wasn't expecting the almonds to cost that amount and I didn't want them.   Now, being new, he didn't know what to do.   I guess I should have been embarrassed as they had to come out of my mason jar that I had ladled them into.   They didn't really have the tools for the job.

I had a polite conversation with the more experienced clerk who didn't seem/didn't act fazed by my request.   I told her I wasn't expecting the almonds to cost almost $10 for a small jar.    I made some comment about the cost of a bag of sliced almonds at the supermarket and how it wasn't that expensive but I tried to let her/the store off the hook by saying that I should have checked the weight myself.

Somehow I suspect a younger me would have felt too embarrassed to speak up.   Have you ever felt that way?   I guess it's a little like having to put back items when your bill is more than the cash you have with you.   There was a day when supermarkets didn't take plastic cards.   For me, I can afford the $10 but it goes against my principles.   That would be my principle of not feeling ripped off.  

I remember more than once in leaner days ordering something less expensive when out for a meal with friends/colleagues.   Some thoughtless/calculating person who just happened to have ordered the equivalent of steak and lobster comes up with the idea of splitting the tab, 'to save the hassle for the server.'   It still annoys me that I went along with it, not wanting to feel embarrassed.   It coloured my relationship with the glutton though.   It would have been better if I had just said, "No, I prefer to pay my own bill separately."

Sunday, 12 November 2017

DON'T SAVE (too much) FOR RETIREMENT

This post is geared for Canadians as the American system for retirees differs, mainly because of the cost of healthcare.



Guiness Book of World Records - Oldest Paraglider

This scary article in Wisebread is typical of the advice out there which strives to encourage more and yet more saving for retirement.   People just aren't doing it enough the writer says.  Dire predictions ensue.  What if you live to be one hundred?  This article in The Globe and Mail discusses managing 'longevity risk.'   I guess for financial managers it's bad to live too long.  


Take a moment to consider your situation carefully.   Should you save, save and more save for your golden years?   Deprive yourself throughout your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties until at last you reach the magic age and you can start to really spend and enjoy yourself.   That's the theory, anyway.  Check out this article in Bloomberg.

I like to take a contrarian view, sometimes, or at least consider an opposing point of view.   Who exactly is singing this siren song or more likely threatening misery and deprivation if you do not sock away your version of a fortune.   Usually, it seems to me, the call comes from financial institutions who want you to invest or save with them.   The government wants you to save for your old age, lest you end up costing them money.   The more you save, the less they will need to make up the shortfall.

Unless you want to leave a legacy for your children or perhaps something for them to bicker about when you are gone, consider dying broke.   It is difficult to arrange to have your funds expire just as you do but I am going to propose that after age eighty you will not be spending large amounts of money for your amusement.   I base this upon admittedly unscientific observations of relatives and acquaintances. The spending and shopping urge is greatly diminished.  You're not buying furniture and knick knacks;  you're trying to give them away.  Following fashion trends seems of little interest;   comfort rules supreme.   Travelling is problematic.   Travel health insurance costs more than the vacation.    Dietary restrictions and mobility issues affect many after the three score and ten.   If you can't get out easily, you can't spend.  Try to arrange it so you own your own modest accommodation outright as well as your vehicle at retirement, if you don't plan to rely on public transport. 

According to the Wisebread article:  As of July 2017, the average Social Security retirement benefit was just $1,325 USD  per month.    In Canada, if you have made the maximum contribution during your working life the amount will be close to $1700 CAD.    Taking into account the exchange rate the amount is similar.  A couple should be able to be comfortable on Old Age Security and Canada Pension for each of them if those expenses (housing and transportation) are taken care of.   Defer your property taxes.


Some  activities can best occur when you are young or at least youngish.   Backpacking to foreign lands where you don't speak the language and don't know your way around is an adventure to the young;  a terror to the old.   I speak in generalities but that's the way it seems to me.  Learning to ski, scuba dive, rock climb, fly a plane, not to mention  two week hikes along the Appalachian Trail are the purview of the under 50's for the most part.   Don't deny yourself the opportunity to do those things if you have the agility and stamina, not to mention nerve, to partake.   You won't want to do it when you're eighty.  I know there are exceptions but there's a reason those people are featured on the evening news.

Eighty calls for more sedate pleasures, closer to home and generally less expensive. You may be the exception but know yourself. You don't want to end up with a bundle of money as well as a bundle of regrets for what you might of done but now can't.   


   

  


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Why Keep Shopping?

 




This article in the Huffington Post makes it all so so trivial.  Why do we keep shopping?   Why do we buy things we don't really need?  Are we really that shallow?  

Buying to impress people  -   If spending some money (which just about anyone can do) impresses certain people, it doesn't really say much.   It doesn't reflect in any way on me.


Buying out of habit  -    It's possible to get other habits.   After all, it's only because we've done them over and over that they become habits.   And repetition can get boring, can't it?

Advertising made you do it   -   Doesn't it make you feel a little foolish to be so gullible?  Technology (think Netflix, fast forward,  ad blocking) makes it possible to avoid a lot of advertising.   Avert your eyes

Buying it retail is the least creative option  -    You're better than that, aren't you?   I get a kick out of re-purposing something or adding new life to something that was going to be discarded.

Shopping cheers you up  -   We all like 'nice' things, however we define that.   Give yourself a small budget and enjoy the hunt through alternative venues (eBay, thrift stores, bartering) and find something that gives you some long term pleasure every time you look at it.  






Maybe the best alternative?   Find something else to do!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

You're Beautiful Already


Elegant walk-in closet




This fascinating article in the blog Prisoner of Class investigates what women spend on clothing and accessories in their lifetime.   Before you read it, make a guess yourself.     Perhaps you keep detailed records or if you are an airmiles points collector who only purchases using credit cards while dreaming of future vacations, you might be able to check back.   It is an interesting exercise.     It would seem likely that younger women spend more.   Appearance seems to count for a lot at that stage of life and many/most young women aspire to look their best, however they define that.   Or rather, the fashion magazines and friends have definitions that vary from year to year.  Clothing can assist with that sought after image.

For those following a traditional life plan, a home and children can take financial priority eventually.   There are additional tugs on the family finances.  Perhaps as the years pass, we finally appreciate inner beauty and diversity and love ourselves for who we are, not what we wear.   We still like to look nice but we recognize fashion trends as big business.   We value quality over quantity.

You can read the article now!   I was surprised by the figures and simultaneously sad that most shopping seemed to be disguised as attempts to cheer oneself up.   Maybe that's why some places call it retail therapy.    Between $1800 and $4800 a year is the typical clothing budget although some might be hesitant to call it a budget.    Younger women spend about twice as much as older women in their lifetime.  It seems once the clothes shopping habit is acquired, it sticks.   Maybe it's because so many homes are now built with walk in closets and a more modest wardrobe seems sparse.   Look at the closets in older homes if you want to compare.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Save Money on Cruise Vacations

  


In this post I will give specifics as to how you might save money on a cruise vacation.

We're back from an eleven day cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii.  Cost breakdown:

Fare:  $549 (CAD) or $439 USD each
Port fees and taxes of about $300 CAD or 240 USD 
Gratuities of about $125 CAD OR $100 USD.  


A total of about  $969 CAD OR $779 USD .   For an 11 day cruise that's about $88 a day CAD or $70 USD. This included our accommodation, all we could possibly eat and more of great tasting food, entertainment and activities and travel to three ports plus the final destination of Honolulu.  The cruise line was Holland America, one of the more sedate lines. We paid about $221 ($280 CAD) each to fly back home.  A grand total of $1000 USD each.

How did we make this happen?   We did not choose the least expensive cruise line but we did choose the least expensive stateroom, an inside. We waited until about 6 weeks before departure to book, when the fare had dropped considerably.  In the last couple of weeks after booking, we received two upgrade offers to a stateroom with a large window (not a balcony).   First for $129 each and then a few days later for $79 each.   Cruise fares are like that, up and down.  After the refundable deposit date has passed (usually about 6 weeks before sailing) prices go down.   But when it's sold out, you're out of luck so it can be all about timing.  Don't forget travel insurance.  We have ours through our credit card.

We stayed with our inside cabin which was small but functional.  Some people don't like the total darkness at night so consider that.   Or bring a night light to plug in.   We don't spend a lot of time in the room as there are many pleasant lounges and seating areas around the ship.    There are lots of ways to spend extra money.  The cruise fare covers the cost of having you on board;  cruise companies make their profit on your additional spending.   Consider carefully whether it will increase your enjoyment.  Although we occasionally enjoy wine or other alcoholic drink, we didn't buy any on the cruise.   There is no difficulty in saying 'no thank you' at any venue.   Plenty of people do imbibe and bartenders are kept busy.  We didn't buy any new clothes for our vacation;  our wardrobes were up to the task.  Then,  there are options for over-priced spa treatments like $120 pedicures or expensive candid photos by the ship's photographers or designer jewellery or clothing.   I'm not on vacation for that.  

Every evening a program is placed on your bed (along with the wrapped piece of chocolate) which details a multitude of possible activities for the following day.   We attended lectures by university professors and astronomers, learned to make a Hawaiian lei, took hula lessons, ukulele lessons, swam in the pool, listened to a classical music duet,  watched big screen movies, played trivia games, attended a fashion show, read books on the loungers and walked around the deck a couple of kilometres a day.   The latter was in an attempt to compensate for the 24 hour a day cuisine availability.





The food was terrific.  We met and chatted with pleasant people in the dining room.  The service was very good.   Everything was clean and well maintained.

A cruise vacation is a certain type of vacation.    We only had a couple of ports (Seattle and San Francisco) before five sea days to Hilo, Hawaii.   Some people feel stuck on the boat.  Choose your cruise line carefully.   Some appeal to young families and so have lots of children running around, some better behaved than others.     Take a one week cruise, perhaps to a destination, like Alaska, very popular and with very low prices (and sometimes poor weather) in May or September.   See if this mode of travel is for you.   If not, well there are many other options.   Camping, anyone? 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Vacation Planning

  
Cruise ship in Vancouver

I love to travel but, having just come back from two weeks away, I also acknowledge that I love to come home.   My pets play a large role in that as well as my at home daughter but I like my home and my small town as well.  I know where everything is and how to get around.   I'm going to make some observations about my vacation while it's still fresh in my mind.   In the Stop Budgeting, Start Dreaming mindset, travelling is one of my dreams.

Although one of my dreams,  I still love to get a deal.      I am content to spend money on a dream but I  find it difficult to be extravagant, unless it is something really special.    Plus, it's a challenge, the thrill of the chase that's part of the whole process.   Spending a lot doesn't particularly improve the enjoyment, I have often found.   Sleeping in a tent on an African safari wasn't terrifically comfortable but the elephants and giraffes were equally enchanting.

An important part of travel planning is to know yourself.   How would you like to spend your vacation?  Using a metacognition strategy,  think about your thinking. Were you annoyed to be waiting in line?   Do you hate to get dressed up on vacation?  Do you dislike crowds or thrive on the hustle and bustle?  What did you like and not like about previous vacations.

Try to obtain different opinions about destinations and vacation options.   Some people who work hard physically  on a daily basis feel they want to sit on a beach and do nothing.   If you are used to being active, following that course may only feel good for a day or two.  On the other hand, sightseeing is hard work.  If you go to Paris planning to see The Louvre in the morning and Versailles in the afternoon you will simultaneously exhaust and disappoint yourself.   You can't do justice--or enjoy--either under that plan.


  
Roller skating on a  Royal Caribbean cruise ship

We wanted to take a cruise to Hawaii.   Cruising can be a real bargain . . . or not.   You can spend ridiculous amounts of money reserving a Neptune Suite complete with a grand piano and your own butler.   We didn't do that.     If you are looking at cruises, research what the different lines offer.   Will the male person in a couple be happy to wear a suit or tuxedo to dinner and the female person, a gown?  (that would be Cunard)  Or will you both be unhappy with that requirement.   It's a problem if you're on different style wavelengths.   How about a cruise with a go cart track, a bowling alley, a skating rink and/or a climbing wall.    If you don't fancy that, remember your cruise fare will build in those costs even if you don't use them.   Think about the costs to get to your departure port.   Best if you can drive to it or at least only fly one way.    Lots of information on Cruise Critic.

Next week I'll give some specifics as to enjoying a cruise vacation for the best price.


Sunday, 8 October 2017

SUBSTITUTE

   



There is an alternative, or substitute, for almost anything you might need.    Do you remember the tables in cook books or perhaps from your home economics class that showed how you could substitute something else for an ingredient you were missing.    Cocoa, which is less expensive,  can be substituted for chocolate baking squares, usually with the addition of some butter.  During World War II, government pamphlets and homey advice from the popular Betty Crocker publications encouraged homemakers in their quest to make wartime rations stretch to feed a family.


Sometimes you will need to substitute because you don't have an item or it is too costly.   Regular vanilla is an example of an expensive ingredient as is saffron.   Other times, it might be for health reasons that you substitute  applesauce for half the butter in a recipe.  Just google substitutions for . . . and prepare to be enlightened.   Just do a little research and be leery if the substitute involves a complicated chemical formula.    Some substitutions for sugar have had bad publicity.


What about substitutions in other areas of your life?   Can you substitute a night at home with Netflix and whatever snack pleases you (and is likely more healthy than movie popcorn) for a visit to your local multi-plex at the $16 a person ticket price?  I find it a great advantage to be able to pause the movie for various purposes.  I still remember missing a vital part of a three hour movie during a trip to the washroom, inconveniently located.   There was no pause or rewind button there.

Make it a creative challenge.   If you have a goal or dream  that is truly worthy of your carefully nurtured funds your so-called deprivation will be easier.  I have paid for too many entertainments in the past that were ultimately forgettable.   Sporting events and concerts can be a disappointment if the team loses or the band seems apathetic.   Taking the family to a major league hockey game or musical concert including tickets, parking, gas to the event, and snacks  between periods or at half time will cost you in the several hundred dollars.  I remember buying tickets for one of the boy bands of the past (Back Street Boys?) as a treat for a pre-teen daughter who was crazy  about the and desperate to go to the concert.   By the time the date of the concert rolled around, some six months later, she was so over them it was laughable except for the money I'd paid.   And I sure didn't enjoy watching them gyrate.  

You could buy a CD or DVD of a music group's performance and listen to it many times over.  Or you might find that rather than being a spectator, being a sport or musician yourself is ultimately ore rewarding.  I get a lot of pleasure out of playing the piano and since my parents were kind enough to pay for the lessons I took in childhood, ongoing expenses are limited to occasional music purchases and tuning the instrument from time to time.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Heirloom/Vintage/Dated/Old Junk







Those words could be used to describe the same item, whether it is clothes or furniture.   What do you see when you look at the items pictured here?     If you see this table in an antique shop window does it seem more valuable than if it is stored in your grandparent's basement?     Young people, starting out their independent life, used to be happy to accept offerings from relatives.   The price was right.  Perhaps there were memories attached to the piece.  I still own a table similar to the one above.  So useful;   the extension leaves fold under.   Many family meals have taken place around this table.

It can be easy to be caught up by advertising or visits to furniture showrooms or even more affluent friends' homes.    Flat packed furniture from big box stores can seem to be part of the transition to independence and adulthood.     Fast furniture, like fast fashion, doesn't seem to last very long.   I'll confess to buying my share over the years but when I look around my home now, I don't see many things that have survived.   The sheen seems to disappear rapidly.

Sometimes I have watched house hunter type of shows from foreign locations.   I cringe a little when what appears to me to be a perfectly acceptable kitchen is disdainfully dismissed with the comment, "That will have to be gutted."   The realtor/host/spouse nods in agreement.   Easily arranged, it seems.

I have had the thought that as we get older/because we are getting older we start to value older things.   We don't want to be placed in the old junk category!   I would prefer to think that we get wiser and appreciate quality materials and workmanship.    Younger people are not immune to this point of view, however.







No post next week as I'll be on vacation. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Cost of Housing

Small house in Bhutan


We've just started a new internet promotion, courtesy of our still living-at-home university  student daughter who qualifies for a special rate.   It's a win, win situation. Part of the deal includes HGTV, otherwise known as Home and Garden TV.   On this channel there are many, many House Hunter programs filmed all over the world, ranging from tiny off grid  houses on a remote island to luxury mansions in exotic locations.  

It's all a bit staged and I have read that the couple or family on the program has already purchased a home  and two more are added to the mix to make a show featuring three different properties.   I am certain realtors cooperate as the publicity would no doubt help sell the other properties.    You get to see what's available and a quick look at the different areas.   The results can be interesting.  Some couples seem to have granite countertops as their main priority.

 Recently, a family was looking for a home in Lusaka, Zambia.   I happen to have been there so that made it especially interesting.    I stayed  with the relative of a relative in a gated home complete with a rifle toting local employee patrolling the grounds even though it was in the embassy part of town.   When I thought of going for a walk, I was advised 'better not.'    Accompanying our hostess on a routine shopping trip meant tipping a parking lot attendant to ensure her vehicle wouldn't be stolen.   I've seen this in Mexico as well.   Safety is important to most.

The couple looked at a basic, somewhat grungy home in Lusaka which was priced at $1200 USD.   Going way out of Lusaka to a neighbouring town a home with unreliable electricity and water (but a back-up well) was more appealing to them at $500 a month rent.    Yet on the tropical island of Roatan, a destination for cruise ships and expats in the Caribbean, off the coat of Honduras, a much better home was available for $700 and included waterfront. 


This Roatan vacation rental is $1000 a month

I've seen families in Bhutan who could rent a basic (almost primitive) house for $50 a month and American style  homes in Papua, New Guinea for $5000 USD monthly.    Western Europe is uniformly expensive but it is possible to rent an apartment in Tirana, Albania for $500 a month.

You might have a mental image of some of these places.   I certainly did as far as Papua, New  Guinea  and Manaus, Brazil were concerned.  Let's just say my image did not at all fit the reality.    Prepare to have your assumptions challenged.   Spend a few months on the ground to find out if you can put up with or preferably enjoy the differences, both the culture and accommodation.    Or maybe you just shrug your shoulders and exclaim, 'It'll be an adventure!'.

It's sure to make you think about what you're paying at home.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Replace the Shopping Urge with the Creating Urge




Many of us have had the shopping urge well ingrained in us.    Trained by media forces and habit from almost infancy, shopping becomes the thing to do, whether on vacation or on Saturdays or as a thing to do with friends or family.   You set off on your day trip, cruise excursion or outing with friends not needing to buy anything in particular.   Will you find something you like and want to buy?   Almost without doubt something will catch your fancy.   It wasn't something on your list of need to buy.  You do keep such a list, right?   Oh, how easy it is to talk yourself, or let yourself be talked, into taking out your wallet.   There's a little euphoric hit as you hand your credit card over to the cashier and watch the item being wrapped in tissue paper and put in a fancy bag.  How long does the thrill last?   Have a look at these shopping triggers at the Money Crashers blog.

Is it possible to substitute something else for the shoppers' high?   What about a creators' high?   Can you train yourself to get a kick out of being creative and producing something either beautiful or useful or maybe both.    A family member collects shells on the beach and with some acrylic paint and shellac spray finish produces beautiful artistic pieces.   Pinterest and Youtube is rife with ideas.   There's a special satisfaction in artistic creativity.   Don't fall into the trap of investing a lot of money, though.    There are always ways and means to keep the cost minimal.   Someone else has likely given up the pursuit you want to try.

What about achieving proficiency on a musical instrument?   Once you own the instrument, there are plenty of online guides to improve your skill if you don't want to/can't afford to invest in lessons.   There are many pianos available just for the cost of removing them from someone's home.   If you want something smaller, harmonicas can be had for less than $20.

Try to conjure up a new recipe.   There are sites that let you enter a couple of ingredients you have on hand and will then come up with various recipes for you to consider.  For example, try here.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Budgeting/Dreaming/Spending


 




What kind of spending seems worthwhile to you?   This was the question posited in this article by Adam Jusko in the blog Proud Money.    He decided to contact a range of people to find out what was worthwhile  to them after deciding that live performances by favourite artists made the cut for him.

Health is an important expenditure, especially for those who don't have the government safety net to make them feel secure, at least about emergencies and critical care.   Some find contributing to charity especially meaningful.   Travel gets several mentions as a purchase not regretted as does spending to improve oneself, either for employment or personal growth.





Similar to the exercise I describe in my book, this is useful to determine whether you are getting value for the money you trade your life energy for a la Your Money or Your Life.    No one seemed to mention a roof over their head or a car to get around in.   I suspect that those questioned considered those items a given and were considering their disposable income.   Unfortunately, for many, after they pay the bills for items they have previously committed to there isn't that much left for the meaningful stuff.  


Something to think about.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Small and Local Stores

                                                             



I like the idea of patronizing small and local stores.  It feels like the right thing to do.   After all, if no one shopped locally, my hometown would just be a collection of houses.   Local businesses support some local activities and events and make me feel like I am part of a community.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult if it means buying a lesser product for a higher price that you have to pick up yourself.  

I moved to my new hometown a year ago with the intention of shopping locally.   However, at less than five thousand inhabitants, some items are not in sufficient demand to be stocked locally.   There are not enough people buying yarn, for example, to warrant a yarn store.   There is a local hardware store but it is small and seems to have fallen into the general store trap of attempting to stock a wide variety of products like pet food and children's toys which lessen the amount of space for true hardware items.   Then there's the most consistent problem:   everything costs more, sometimes considerably more.

My hometown isn't set off in the middle of nowhere, thereby limiting choices unless one wants to travel a hundred kilometres.   No, there is a bigger town 20 km. to the south, complete with some big box stores and a little over thirty-three kilometres (about twenty miles) north there is a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants.   But I like my little town with its scenic vistas and peace and quiet.  

I'm looking for a more unusual purchase at this time, a children's ukulele.   Not a toy; I want to encourage a hopefully budding musician.  But I had a $50 budget in mind.    I go first to one of the major suppliers of instruments in my province and easily find a suitable one in a choice of colours, made with a rosewood fingerboard and basswood sides and back.  There is a store in the city 33 km away which will be a 45 minutes drive each way.  Annoyingly, in order to see the full price, I had to open an account with my e-mail and address.   I don't like this all too common practice; it feels like I am being tricked and setting myself up for an endless stream of promotional material.   Particularly in this case when the added shipping costs of $16 put the item well over my budget.    I closed the screen and didn't make the purchase.  Sure enough when I check my e-mail the first of no doubt many contacts  was awaiting me.

I check with Amazon and hone in on one product, available in various colours, that is under my $50 budget, at $37, and with free shipping.    Plenty of five star reviews.   Perhaps too many to be believable.   No details of where the product is shipped from or who the manufacturer is.   Oops, one reviewer provides the information that they are shipping from China. Another  writes that the ukulele is all plastic even though the product description states it is made of Basswood.   I check the few three star and lower  reviews and they seem more valid and provide more information.   The only manual is in Chinese -- that wouldn't be helpful.

Decision time.   I've been burned a few times with deliveries from China not arriving within the specified time frame or taking several months.    Even more importantly, I've read and seen videos about labour practices and product safety practises in China.   Basically, I avoid buying from that part of the world, if at all possible and definitely not food items.



  




I liked the Youtube video from the local company.   I also have somewhere not too far away to go if there's a problem.  Their product is a little more expensive but definitely better quality.  I'm going with the one at the top of the page but will wait a couple of weeks until I am making a trip to the 'big city' and save the shipping costs.

Shopping can be so complicated but price is definitely not everything!  And I do feel good about shopping (kind of) locally.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

USELESS ITEMS

Do you ladies have one of these:



I do and it fits in my category of 'useless items'.    But, but, every woman needs an evening purse for those special occasions--the theatre, the opera the . . . the . . .

Somehow my evening purse has had very few outings.   For one thing it doesn't hold much, including my wallet.   That means I have to remove my drivers license and credit card from my wallet and place them loose in the evening purse prior to my outing.   Keys, a handkerchief and lipstick round out the contents.

Very few events call for gala wear.   No one seems to dress up to that level at the professional theatre productions I enjoy attending.   Wearing a basic dress and scarf or sedate jewellery already places one  among the better dressed.   Formal evenings on cruise lines might be an occasion for a purse such as this, but since your cabin is close at hand, you're not driving anywhere and everything is charged to your account, a purse seems superfluous.  I never had room for it in my carry-on suitcase.

I could relate to this post by Frugalwoods and laughed at her description of the artfully arranged collection of cushions that she and her husband endured on their bed prior to their recent move.  I, too, have thought that our master bedroom lacked a certain flair when compared to magazine and catalog offerings, because a half dozen or more coordinating pillows did not grace the top.   I've stayed in places with this chic arrangement and encountered the same problems with figuring out what to do with the cushions when the time came to actually use the bed.   The floor or any nearby chairs became handy receptacles.     I think I ultimately decided that similar to Diderot's robe I would be forced to chic up the rest of our home from its comfortable and minimalist appearance.