Back to School on a Budget

Big groans! I’m sure we’re all seeing the back-to-school posts in our newsfeed, and if you’re like me, you’re dreading the end of summer (although this cold/rainy summer can go away now, thank you very much). Or maybe you’re more like that parent in the Staples commercial, with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blaring in the background? I’m sure my husband feels that way, after being at home with both kids all summer.

But whichever way you see it, Back to School is coming, and will be here faster than you can say “School Lunches!” Given that my blogging theme this week is budgets, I decided to share a few ideas for back to school on a budget.

I remember LOVING back to school as a child – a brand new outfit for the first day, that barely broken-in backpack, and the shiny pencils and notebooks. But buying new supplies each year is both pricey and wasteful. Join me in saving money and helping our environment!

Buy Used

So simple, yet we always think of “new” when we shop back to school. But if we truly want to reduce our consumption and waste, we have to make use of what’s already in circulation. Hit up your consignment stores (Boomerang and Value Village are great), and see what’s already out there. Online classifieds are another great way to find shoes, Fall jackets and even snowsuits (oh yes…the snow will come eventually!)

Organize and Purge

When we already own a lot of stuff, it’s really easy to miss supplies that we never knew we had. How many times have you picked up something in your house and and said “oh man, I didn’t know we had this brand new pack of markers!” Then you dump them into the giant bin of dried-out markers, broken crayons and pencils.

Get your parents to come by or hire a babysitter for one whole day (this is a difficult task to do with kids around, as they’re constantly crying “no0000, you can’t throw that out!!”) Dump out all the supplies you own, and sort. Discard any dried out markers or pens, and take stock of what you already have. You might be surprised to find you don’t need to buy anything new!

Hit up the Family

I’m lucky in that both my girls celebrate birthdays in the Fall. So I’ve already sent an email around to the family, with a list of things that we really need for back to school.  I’ve also asked them to contribute money to an “activities fund” so that we can sign the girls up for swimming lessons, ballet and gymnastics, without breaking the bank.

Sales, Coupons and Price Matching

If you do end up needing new stuff, make sure to take advantage of sales. Watch the flyers, and pay attention to special offers from online stores (I love Well.ca, and they sometimes offer $5-$10 off if you’re spending over a certain amount).

Hide Your Stuff

Young kids are notorious for opening everything in sight. Keep a small bin tucked away in the closet, so that when those pencils and markers really do run out, you can re-stock with what you already have.

Have you done back to school on a budget? What are your tips?

Living On One Income: Family Budgeting

The other day I shared our family’s pet project – living on cash. Today I’ll share some of the tips we use to stick to our budget.

Our family lives on one income at the moment – mine. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and is looking at different career options. He needed a change from his past career, and I was lucky enough to land a steady job with benefits. Although it’s sometimes been stressful, we are actually happy that he’s been able to stay at home with our two girls. It’s close to $2000 that we’re saving in childcare expenses!

It’s a bit of a struggle to survive on one income (and I should mention we do bring in some extra cash through my work as a doula and childbirth educator), but we’re determined to make it work! (haha, get it? work?)

We’ve allocated $400/week to all of our variable expenses – this includes food, transportation (gas and bus), entertainment, clothes/gifts, and “other” (our allowances for coffees or other little luxuries) It doesn’t seem like a lot, I know. “What happens if the dog gets sick, or the car breaks down,” you ask? Well, our entire budget takes emergencies into account, and we’ve been squirling away some cash for a rainy-day fund. Fingers crossed, knock-on-wood, and throw salt over your left shoulder that our rainy day holds off for a while!!

Food

  • Read your weekly flyers – make a list of what you need for each store, based on sales. If No Frills is selling butter for $3 a piece, purchase 10 and throw them in your freezer!
  • Price-match – I confess I haven’t done this yet. I don’t really have the time (I’ve heard if you have the Iphone app it’s really easy)
  • Coupon
  • Cut back on meat. Yup, I said it. We’re a meat loving family, but a bag of dried beans is $1, tofu costs $2 and eggs cost $3 – saves a lot of dough. A meal of spaghetti, tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese is very much appreciated at our house.
  • Give up on your ideals for a while: I’m a bit of a foodie. I used to purchase raw milk, meat from a local/organic farm, and most of my fruits and veggies were local or organic. I’ve had to let go of this for a while, and now I just try to get what looks fresh and is on sale. Our bodies will just have to handle the pesticides for a while!
  • Shop the discount rack. Farm Boy is awesome for  very cheap fruits/veggies that are overly ripe. The discount berries make great pies or smoothies, and sometimes you can find some decent veggies for a stir fry or soup.
  • Make your meals last. A whole chicken can be bbq’d one night, then served with pasta and veggies the next night, and then turned into a yummy chicken noodle soup using the bones and leftover meat. Waste nothing!!
  • Avoid the processed food aisles. This is the priciest stuff you will buy – all those boxes of cereal, crackers, and cookies add up. Lately we’ve been making our own bread (we have a bread machine, so that helps), our own tortilla wraps, and sometimes even our own crackers! And don’t bother with pre-packaged school snacks – kids will survive without them
  • Grow a vegetable garden. We’re currently overflowing with cucumbers, beans and peas. Soon the counters will be littered with tomaotes. It definitely saves some money, although it’s hard work! If you can’t have a big garden, then just mooch off your friends who need to get rid of their cucumbers ;)

Entertainment

I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you can’t really eat out while you’re on a tight budget (and paying off debt).  Resist the temptation to order-in pizza, and make your own. If you happen to get some birthday money, then definitely treat yourself to a meal out – just don’t let it happen every week!

A little note about alcohol: we love our beer and wine. At this point in our busy lives, we’re not really willing to give that up. In fact, I think the less money we have, the more we need our alcohol! But there are ways of making it more affordable. Consider making your own beer or wine, or buy in bulk when there are sales (and maybe if you live in the Capital you may occasionally cross that provincial border to the Land of Cheap-er Beer). You could also just drink less?

Clothes/Gifts

  • Handmade presents: your family and friends will love a jar of strawberry jam, pickles, or a fresh pie. If you’re crafty (I am not), you could sew or knit a gift.
  • We shop at Value Village now for anything/everything we need. If they don’t have what I want, I scour Freecycle or the classifieds.
  • Consider bartering, the lost art!

Or here’s a thought…don’t buy new clothes? I am the Queen of No Shopping – I hate it! If you love clothes, shoes, jewelry and purses, you may struggle with this one. Find a good therapist, and try to work through it ;)

Transportation

I can’t really help much with this one. Gas costs a lot, and so does a bus pass! If you can bike or walk to work, definitely give that a shot. If you can afford a new fuel-efficient car, then you are probably not reading this blog post!

Extras

This is the one I struggle with most. I love my yoga classes, spa days, my massages and organic skin-care products. I think all of this stuff contributes to my overall sense of well-being, and even my husband remarks that I’m happiest when I’m doing a lot of self-care. Find a way to do this stuff, but maybe just less frequently (yoga at home, or a spa day at home can also be fun!)

A note about coffee: I refuse to negotiate this one. I will continue to buy my 1 cup of coffee every day I’m at work. The coffee machine in our office kitchen is awful, and you can’t ask me to forfeit the daily pleasure I get from sipping a freshly brewed cup of joe. So there. (Side note: I will say that Lattes and other specialty coffees are very expensive – if you’re a fan of these drinks, maybe allow yourself a once-per-week treat. We can’t deprive ourselves of everything, after all, or we’ll never stick to our budget!)

I would LOVE to hear your tips and tricks!! Share in the comments!

Top 10 Innovative Ways to Stay Cool During Pregnancy

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I guess pregnant women don’t have to worry much about heat this summer – it’s been pretty cool and wet! Even so, keep these awesome tips on hand for those days that try to break 30 degree C :)

10) Eat lots of ice cream and/or popsicles. Even if you gain 50lbs during pregnancy, it’s OK.

9) Have a cold shower, and then run naked to your bed. Let evaporation do its job.

8) Run through the splash pad with your toddler (bonus points if you try to splash the other parents)

7) Put your head under the water sprays in the produce aisle of the grocery store (bonus points if you then toss your wet hair in a very sexy way, attracting the eyes of the produce boys)

6) Buy a Japanese Ice Bra!

5) Drink hot tea (the British in India swore by this)

4) Bathe your feet in ice water (bonus points if you do this at the office)

3) Crunch loudly on ice cubes (again, the cubicle is a great place for this – especially to annoy your insufferable cube-mate)

2) Always expose your stretch-marked belly at the beach by wearing a bikini (bonus points if your bum is eating your bikini bottom)

1) Go skinny dipping (bonus points if you do this in a public pool)