Author Archive

April 21

How To Save Money On Feminine Care Products

Posted by on April 21, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Save Money On Feminine Care Products

What got me interested in this topic is an article my husband recently mentioned to me about a brilliant man in India, named Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a revolutionary machine for poor communities to manufacture their own sanitary napkins.  In some parts of the world girls stop going to school once they start their menstrual cycle, and according to the article referenced above, “Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality”.  That is very sad and eye-opening.  We are fortunate in the west to have a plethora of options available for purchasing feminine hygiene products.  Many of us assume that the money we spend each month on feminine hygiene products is a necessary evil, something which is difficult to save money on.  Fear not, bargainmoosers, I have some tips on how to save money on our necessary supplies.  The tips don’t involve using old scraps of material, these ideas are easy to implement, and some are even better for the environment.

The Diva Cup

I used a DivaCup for about a year when I was in university.  It is surprisingly easy to use and is extremely cost effective.  It costs $39.99 on Well.ca.  Additionally, Well.ca sells DivaWash, which I recommend to purchase along with the DivaCup to ensure cleanliness of the cup.  They have very particular restrictions around how to properly clean and care for the cup, so in order to get the most bang for your buck, take proper care of the cup.  In terms of cost savings, I find it easy to spend approximately $10 per month on feminine hygiene products.  $10 x 12 months equals a total cost of approximately $120 per year.  They recommend you replace the DivaCup once per year, and at a cost of $39.99, you will save approximately $80.00 per year by using the DivaCup.  Check out their website for their Q+A section, it is really informative.  I have a $10 gift certificate for Well.ca which I got through a WagJag I purchased a few years ago, and I think I will use it towards a DivaCup purchase.   There is a certain “ick” factor to using a DivaCup, but once you are familiar with how to use it, that quickly dissipates.

Luna Pads

Personally, I am not a huge pad wearer.   I have always been an athletic person, and have found that tampons are an easier option for my lifestyle.   With that being said, I know there are some women who swear by using pads for their cycle.  What are Luna Pads, you might ask?  They are a reuseable, washable pad system whereby you purchase pads and inserts which you wash and re-use.  To be honest, the idea of washing out my pad seems pretty icky to me.  It’s likely not something that I will invest in at any point in the future, although I could make use of the pantyliner kit.  Check out Luna Pad’s Q+A section to find out all about their products.  In terms of cost of Luna Pads vs. disposable pads, if we use a similar estimate to our tampon calculation where we assume we spend about $10 per month on pads, our total cost per year for pads is about $120.  The deluxe LunaPads starter kit costs about $130 and they say it will last for approximately 5 years.  This means that your annual cost using LunaPads is under $30 per year, or less than $2.50 per month.

 Use coupons and combine them with sales

Another relatively easy way to save money on feminine hygiene products is to look for sales and combine the sales with the utilization of coupons.  P+G  has coupons quarterly which are published as an insert, and there are almost always coupons for always and tampax products.  Usually it’s a coupon for $0.50 off per package.  I always wait until packages are on sale for $2.99 per box, and when I combine the sale with the coupon, I can purchase a box of tampax for about $2.50 per box.  Check out our coupon forum for more great coupons and deals.   Even if you don’t use a coupon, however, shopping for sales is the best way to get a great price on feminine hygiene products.

Shorten your period

Another, off the beaten path way to reduce the costs of your period is to attempt to shorten your period.  I have never tried to do so, but I am definitely interested in trying some of the natural methods outlined in this wiki on how to shorten your period.  I still have some red raspberry leaf tea from pregnancy that I will try during my next period.

Environmentally friendly options

Last but not least, many of the options we listed above are fantastic options to be more environmentally friendly.  According to sustainable personal finance, an estimated 12 billion feminine hygiene products are put in North American dumps each year.  We will soon be running out of space to store our disposable products.  It’s time to make a change.

As women we are blessed with our monthly visit from aunt flow.  I say this sarcastically, as getting our periods suck.  Try to save as much money as possible each month by using some of these methods.  Bargainmoosers, do you have any tips to save money on feminine hygiene products?

Photo credit: Bekah Spangler

Moose Rating (1 votes)
April 16

How To Plan a Frugal Easter Dinner

Posted by on April 16, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Plan a Frugal Easter Dinner

This weekend I am having nearly 20 people over for Easter dinner.  My house is about 1900 square feet- not small, but not exactly large either.  We definitely don’t have enough seating for 20 people to eat, and I’m scared of the cost of feeding that many people.  What to do?  I want to plan in advance to make the get-together as successful as possible, and I want it to be as frugal as possible (plus I need to space plan to ensure that we have space for everyone to eat).   In addition, we have the following dietary restrictions in our family:  veganism, dairy allergy, celiac disease, egg allergy and shellfish allergy. Lots of things to think about, and lots of stuff to plan.  Plus, we’re having representation from my husband’s family and my family, so I want to ensure that people feel welcome and engaged.  Here is what I am planning to do for our Easter dinner.

Issue- planning a frugal and healthy meal:

We have waited until this week to buy the meat for Easter, as typically meats like turkey and ham go on sale the week before Easter.  Since we waited until the last second to purchase our meat, we have been flexible with planning our menu.  We have decided that we are actually going to cook a delicious roast beef and also have a spiral ham, which is my favourite.  It’s not exactly traditional, but both meats were on special at our local grocery store, and we like changing things up.  The ham is on sale for $1.99 per pound, which is an amazing price.  We will purchase a 10 pound ham.  The roast beef is on sale for $4.99 per pound, which is nearly $9.00 off the normal price.  We will purchase a 5 pound roast beef.  According to thekitchn.com, for a meal like ours where there will be substantial sides, we should budget for about ½ pound of meat per person.  With 20 people in attendance, that would mean we will need approximately 10 pounds of meat.  We always like to have extras, so 15 pounds of meat is great for us.  Purchasing meat on sale will cost us approximately $45 instead of over $100.

If you want an ultra-frugal menu for Easter check out the menu on notconsumed.  Between pairing coupons with sale items and using what she has on hand, she has planned an Easter dinner for 5 for $11.42.

Issue- numerous dietary restrictions:

The good news about my family’s dietary restrictions is that there is one common denominator, if I make vegan dishes, that will keep everyone happy.  I found vegkitchen and all my worries are solved.  These recipes look awesome.  I will definitely make some of these side dishes including the deviled tomatoes recipe and citrus roasted tofu as a veggie main.

Issue- drinks, to have booze or not:

Alcohol is expensive.  Typically when we host an event we like to have a themed cocktail and wine and beer to go with our meal.  We find that people generally are more relaxed (especially my family) once they have had a drink or two.  We will probably have a few bottles of wine at the table, and I saw a television advertisement the other day for a delicious-looking Grand Marnier based drink called the Grand O.  This might be the signature cocktail we make for our clan.  In addition, we will have sparking water available for people to enjoy.

Issue- decorating the house on a budget:

I am not a decorator.  I don’t get off on having themed paraphernalia up all over my house.  My mother, on the other hand, loves it and has a stock pile of themed decorative accents for all occasions.  I have none of these, but this year I’d really like my house to look festive but I don’t want to spend a fortune on it.   I am also not crafty, so I need decorations which are really, really easy to do.  I like the idea of decorating my mantle like this example on about.com.  I also like the idea of making a homemade egg shaped garland like this one from ediva.  This would be a fun craft to do with my girls one night.  I know it isn’t environmentally friendly, but we will be using disposable plates and cutlery on Saturday.  I found this cute idea to wrap/store individual disposable cutlery on spoonful.com, it’s another cute and easy craft that my girls can help me with.  Now I’m excited about the decorating!

Issue- keeping it interesting:

We have a variety of ages in our family, people range in age from 9 months to 83, so I want to find some activities that will keep everyone engaged.  Check out this wiki on Easter themed activities.  I am definitely going to do #1 and likely #6 as well, as they are both really easy and fun to do.   Everyone loves guessing the number of items in a jar, and it’s a great way to get people talking to one another.  And the easter bunny game is just plain silly and fun.  It will be a hit with people of all ages in our family.

We’re very fortunate with our family in that everyone contributes to most large family gatherings.  Even though there is a lot to do, my family will help quite a bit.  I don’t want to let my stress cloud the reason we get together, to celebrate Easter.  I’m sure our family dinner will be outstanding, but I can’t wait until it is over!

Bargainmoosers, what are your frugal Easter party tips?

Photo credit: Richard Hemmer

Moose Rating (2 votes)
April 9

How To Spring Clean Inexpensively

Posted by on April 9, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Spring Clean Inexpensively

Now that we’re back from our trip (sniff sniff), I am thinking we need to do a good clean of our house.  I might sound like a slob when I say this, but we have never actually done a full spring clean of our house, and we have been here nearly 5 years.  Don’t get me wrong, we clean regularly, but we haven’t spent a lot of time doing any deep cleaning.  The type of cleaning that makes you feel like the world is a better place.  A cathartic type of cleaning.  I’m ready for this, and I want to do it.  But I don’t know where to start, and I don’t want to spend a ton of money on it.  What to do?

Spring cleaning checklist

Uh, maybe this is why I haven’t spring cleaned before.  Looking at this list from Imperfect Homemaking, I am overwhelmed.  Who does this much cleaning on a regular basis?  Although I doubt I will tackle even half of the list, I think I can get through part of it.  I like her tips on how to clean mini blinds.  Some of mine have never really been cleaned. If you’re looking for more great tips on all types of cleaning, check out this article from Canadian Living.

Also be sure to consider which cleaning products you use, as there are lots of natural options available.  Check out Eva’s article on how to be a frugal organic cleaner.  I have recently discovered the wonders of cleaning with baking soda, as my loving husband recently purchased a 6 pack from Costco by accident (I had requested he purchase baking powder instead).  If you prefer to purchase cleaning products, be sure to check out Greenworks cleaners.  They often go on sale, and if you combine a sale with coupons, you can often buy Greenworks cleaners for $1 per bottle.  A few years ago Greenworks had an amazing coupon available, buy 3, save $4.  When they went on sale one week at Shoppers Drug Mart for $1.99 per bottle, I picked up about 30 bottles at around $0.75 per bottle.  They have lasted over the past few years.

Spring home maintenance

Honestly, this is another area my family has not been proficient in.  I know the basics of what to do each spring like changing the filter on our furnace, getting our air conditioner inspected, etc.  But there are other home maintenance tasks which I’m just not sure are required – things like gutter cleaning and vent cleaning.  Are they worth the expense?  Bob Vila says it’s important to clean your gutters twice per year.  He suggests that if you want to do it yourself you’ll need a tall ladder, gloves, a face mask, and I would personally need a safety person under the ladder and lots of prayers.  As important as regular home maintenance is the treatment of issues before they escalate to larger problems.  This HGTV article outlines some important tips for preventative spring maintenance.  There are tips I hadn’t even thought of, like examining any wood trim to check for damage and to repair these before the spring rains come.  Doing a thorough once around your house to check for issues is a great (free!) idea, and is something I will definitely be doing this spring.

Spring clean your garden

I have coworkers and friends who spend money every single month on their garden and outdoor needs.  One friend hires gardeners each spring to ready her backyard gardens.  She hires a team of 3 people there for an entire day to ready her gardens.  She estimates that this costs her around $300.  She brings them back from time to time through the summer to weed her garden.  Being the frugal Bargainmooser that I am, I cringe at the prospect of paying money for gardening.  I know the more effort I put into gardening at the beginning of the season means the easier my gardening and weeding will be through the summer.  This summer I plan to make some changes to my gardens, as they are full English gardens which I do not love, but they came with our house.   This excellent article on gardening.com outlines some great spring gardening tips.  I will definitely employ the tips on dividing and transplanting, as my garden is overgrown with hostas.  Anyone want some free hostas?  Mulch is something we wrestle with each year, and we have never bitten the bullet to buy it.  We have a large number of square feet of gardens, and to cover it all in an appropriate amount of mulch would cost us about $500.  I am second guessing our decision this year, as each weekend last summer was full of weeding and getting my hands dirty.  So not fun for me.

Spring cleaning and maintenance is an essential part of home ownership.  I am planning on staying at this house until we retire, so we need to take very good care of it so that it lasts.  I am not a handy-woman, and my husband isn’t handy either, so we need to ensure that we set aside a budget each year for any repairs and preventative measures we need to take for our home maintenance.  Bargainmoosers, what are your top frugal spring cleaning tips?

Photo credit: Chiot’s Run

Moose Rating (1 votes)
March 31

Make vs. Buy: The Healthy Food Showdown

Posted by on March 31, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Make vs. Buy: The Healthy Food Showdown

I have a number of passions in my life, and eating healthy is one of them (in addition, I love working out and I am passionate about my career).  Of course family is my number one priority, but I think it’s important to have interests and activities outside of your work and family life.  Living a healthy lifestyle is one of those interests for me.  Fortunately, I work for a company that embodies wellness: we have an active health and wellness committee, and I am surrounded by folks who share my passion for clean living.  I am constantly on the lookout for new trends and tricks to stay healthy.  There are a myriad of products available that promise health, wellness and nutrition on a dime.  When does it make sense to make vs. buy healthy foods?

Green juice

Green juice is the health trend of the decade (in my humble opinion!).  My life has changed now that I have started drinking green juice on a daily basis.  Clare recently wrote an excellent article about ways to save money on juicing.  As Clare mentions in her article, assuming you can buy a quality juicer for about $100, what are the total costs in purchasing green juice vs. making it?  I truly believe that the North American expert in green juicing is someone named Kris Carr.  She has an inspirational story as she was diagnosed with terminal cancer ten years ago, and immediately transitioned to a plant-based diet, with a strong focus on juicing. But how much does juicing cost? Let’s look at Kris’ recipe for glowing skin juice.  In calculating the ingredients for this recipe the total cost of the juice would be about $3.00 for the produce, and assuming you can get about 100 uses out of a juicer, add $1 onto that cost, for a grand total of $4 for this juice.

When I travel I always buy a jugo juice at the airport.  I never get the actual juice in my drink, I ask for a water base with kale, greens, some fresh fruits and usually a scoop of protein powder.  I usually spend about $7 for a jugo juice.  The Pulp and Press juice company sells juices for between $7- $8 per bottle.

Result?  Making your own juice will save you between $3-$4 per drink.  Given that I can make nearly twice the juice that I can buy, I will continue to make my own.

Granola bars

While I don’t believe that granola bars are “healthy” they are a quick and easy snack for kids’ lunches.  I love this recipe from Weelicious.  We make these bars almost every week, as they are SUPER easy to make.  I am not a cook, and I’m a sometimes baker, so when I say these are easy to make, I mean it.  When I calculate the cost of making a batch of these bars, it costs about $4.  Since this recipe makes 30 bars, that makes each bar cost about $0.13.  My husband just bought a large sized box of President’s Choice brand of granola bars for a cost of about $6.  There are 24 granola bars in the box.  The total cost for each bar is about $0.25.

Result?  Making your own granola bars will save you around $0.12 per bar.  The extra ingredients in boxed bars like corn syrup and extra sugars, however, make me confident that homemade is the best option for our family.

Hummus

We eat a lot of hummus on a weekly basis.  It’s such an easy snack, and goes with so many accoutrements like fresh veggies, whole grain crackers and sliced meat.  My kids absolutely love hummus, and so do we.  We purchase our hummus at Costco, and we buy a two pack for about $6.   At grocery stores hummus generally costs between $3-4.

To make your own hummus you need a number of ingredients: chick peas (I use canned), tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.  This recipe from Inspired Taste is excellent, as it gives tips on how to make your hummus smooth, like it should be.  The total cost for homemade hummus is about $1.50

Result?  Even though it costs nearly double the price to purchase hummus, I am seriously addicted to the Costco brand.  It is one of my favourite foods.  I don’t like having to lug my food processor upstairs to make hummus either, and I find it difficult to get it extremely creamy like the store bought brand.  I would personally continue to buy hummus.

Smoothies

Although I don’t ever purchase pre-made smoothies, when I do look at the various options available now, I am impressed that there are more healthy options.  I drink a green smoothie every day.  I am a huge spinach fan, and sticking a few handfuls into a smoothie is an awesome way to hide the veggie taste for both myself and my kids.  My homemade smoothie generally consists of water, a scoop of protein powder (about $0.50), a small banana ($0.50), a tablespoon of natural peanut butter ($0.10), and 2 handfuls of spinach ($0.50).  Add these together for a total cost of about $1.60 per smoothie.  I use my handy dandy Magic Bullet that I got as a Christmas present to blend my daily smoothie.

If you head over to your neighbourhood Rawlicious store, you will be spending between $7-$9 per smoothie.

Result?  I would never, ever buy a smoothie from a store at $7 per drink when I can make it at home for under $2.  I can make almost four times the smoothies at home for the cost of one at the store! And making them at home is very, very easy.

It really frustrates me when people say that it takes a lot of time and effort (and money) to eat healthily.  It has been really interesting to investigate these costs and to think about the benefits of ingesting healthy, whole foods.  Making your own healthy foods generally makes sense most of the time, considering the time it takes to make them.

Bargainmoosers, what healthy foods do you make vs. buy?

Photo Credit: Weelicious

Moose Rating (3 votes)
March 24

Getting The Best Deal On A Cruise: Tips & Tricks

Posted by on March 24, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Getting The Best Deal On A Cruise: Tips & Tricks

My husband and I are leaving in a week for our first family-free trip ever!  We have always traveled with family on all of our holidays, and we are excited about the prospect of going on a child and parent-free trip.  Cruising is absolutely my favourite way to travel.  I’m a Pisces, and I love being on the water and having the flexibility of lots of activities on the boat, and different islands to visit.  Being the frugal girl that I am, I always make sure to get the very best price possible for my trips.  Here are some strategies I use:

Book way in advance or book last minute

For the cruise we are going on in a week, I booked our tickets 16 months in advance.  The reason I did so is because we wanted a certain category of room, and a very particular room specifically.  As well, the cruise line which is our favourite (Celebrity), had a stupendous deal on: book a cruise and get a free classic drink package.  Given that we paid for our drinks package on our last cruise, and given how much we used it, I knew this was a deal too good to pass up.  By booking in advance and taking advantage of the drinks package we saved ourselves about $400 per person on the cruise fare, and about $380 per person on the drinks package.  Grand savings per person?  $780!

Conversely, there are tons of great deals if you have the flexibility to book 90 days or less before your cruise.  Check out Vacations To Go for the best last-minute deals.  Looking at the prices on these cruises is upsetting since we paid more than these prices for our cruise.   But by booking last minute you are taking a risk on finding a good price on a flight.  If you have flexibility with your travel dates, however, booking last minute could be the way to go.

Use a travel agent

A frugal trick for getting a great deal on your cruise, is to go to a cruise-quoting website such as Cruise Compete to receive competitive quotes on your next cruise.  You may then book your cruise with the online travel agency that gives you the best deal.  For this cruise we booked with an American-based travel agency called American Discount Cruises, and we have been very happy with their service.  I don’t know why, but it seems like American travel agents give much better incentives to book with them.  For example, if I had booked directly with a Canadian travel agent, I would have received a $150 onboard credit.  With our American TA, we received $175 onboard credit, specialty dining for 1 night, and chocolate covered strawberries, for a total incentive of almost $300.  When you book with a Canadian TA you are covered under their TICO insurance, but due to the increased incentives with our American TA, that is one risk we were willing to take.

Frequent cruiser rewards

Most cruise lines have some type of frequent cruiser reward program.  This will be our second cruise with Celebrity, and we will receive a few small discount coupons to use in the casino and on internet.  The real rewards are reaped when you have a number of cruises under your belt, check out Celebrity’s Captain’s Club program.

Research to find the right ship and the right cruise line for you

One of my favourite cruise-related websites is Cruise Critic, it has cruise reviews, general information about cruising and discussion boards.  I am relatively obsessed with this website prior to any cruise, I love their discussion boards as you can really pick up some good tips on saving money on your cruise.   Cruising is a popular way to travel, and cruise lines are always building new boats.  There are lots of cruise lines with different focuses.  For example, many of Royal Caribbean’s boats have some pretty amazing activities like rock climbing and an ice skating rink.  The cruise line we like is Celebrity, and their tag line is “modern luxury,” which means that there are less activities and lots of upscale restaurants.  Some of these activities and restaurants have costs associated with them, however, so do your research.

Beware of the big bill you can rack up while on the cruise

Like I said earlier, research the type of ship you will be travelling on to determine what your onboard costs will be. Without careful planning you can end up with a huge bill at the end of your cruise.  Remember that unless you get a deal like the one I mentioned, alcoholic drinks are not included in your cruise.  Many people go for broke with drinks, and don’t pay attention to their costs onboard.  Also, you can purchase excursions through the cruise line for the different stops on your ship.  These can be expensive, and you might not get the best bang for your buck.  Be aware of your spending and plan in advance for your out of pocket costs.

Trip cancellation insurance

Generally speaking, if you are taking a trip purchasing trip cancellation insurance is a good idea.  On our last trip, my dad wasn’t able to attend at the last minute due to a health concern.  My parents’ trip cancellation insurance was invaluable.  Check out what coverage you have through your credit card, and check to see what insurance you can purchase through your home and auto insurance company.

Airfare

Remember that if you don’t live close to the departure city, you might have to fly to your cruise.  Booking your airfare in advance can get you the best price for your airfare.  Remember to factor in the airfare price when you are considering your cruise costs.

It’s easy for costs to rack up for any vacation, but with a cruise even more so.  Costs can really increase very quickly if you don’t plan for them.  I try to plan all of my costs for my trip but I know that I will be caught up in something I want to purchase or to treat myself with.  Did I mention the shopping you can do while on the ship?  I can’t wait for our trip, but I really have to restrain myself when I’m travelling.

Bargainmoosers, do you like to cruise?  How do you save money while cruising?

Moose Rating (2 votes)
March 17

How To Save Money On Your Birthday

Posted by on March 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Save Money On Your Birthday

Last week it was National Heather Day, no it’s not an actual public holiday, but March 10 does mark my birthday!  I absolutely love my birthday, and I try my best to make the celebrations last an entire week each year.  I enjoy most aspects of my birthday: the parties, the people, the cake, the presents, the attention, the list goes on.  I don’t even mind getting older either.  I truly feel it is a privilege to live a long and healthy life.  Being the incredibly frugal person that I am, however, I do not enjoy spending mass amounts of money on my birthday festivities.  My husband and I are foodies, and my husband is an excellent chef.  We generally don’t eat out very often, and when we do we save our meals for special occasions or vacations when we have the time and money to dine at nice restaurants.  So unless we can afford to spend $150 on a meal (plus the cost of a babysitter), we do some of the things listed below for a birthday.  Here are some ways to cut down on birthday costs.

Homemade vs. bought     

Unless you prefer something special like an ice cream or frozen yogurt cake, try making a homemade birthday cake.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborately decorated, it all goes into your cake hole!  As long as the taste is good, who cares what it looks like?  That being said, if you enjoy taking the time to decorate cakes, there are many options available to learn that skill.  Try your city’s local classes, there are usually some inexpensive classes throughout the year.  With the average birthday cake costing about $50 for a cake from the bakery, making your own could be worth it.  Personally, I absolutely love a good boxed devil’s food cake with peanut butter chips and dark chocolate icing… soooo yummy!  And at a cost of less than $5 to make, that is my cake of choice.

“Free” day

Google “birthday freebies” and you will have a long list of freebies you can take advantage of on your birthday.  Note that you need to sign up to be on each company’s mailing list to be eligible for the birthday freebie, it’s easy to do, and you will be the first to hear about other great offers. My favourite birthday freebie is from Sephora.  They email you a coupon for a freebie on your birthday.  Simply bring it into your nearest Sephora and you will receive a birthday treat.  Usually you receive a mini mascara and lip gloss. I’m not a huge shopper, so I love the opportunity to browse through the store with my hubby.  I usually give myself a budget for the day, and I try to get as much free stuff as possible for my birthday.  Another good birthday freebie is the free coffee at Starbucks when you register your Starbucks card online.

Gift certificates/reward miles/free coupons

In addition to being foodies, my hubby and I also love movies.  Before my birthday I always research the movies I want to see, and the hubs and I decide on what we want to see most.  I cash in 200 Air Miles and get a Cineplex movie experience, which includes 2 general admissions, a popcorn and 2 drinks.  The cost of this outing?  Absolutely free!  Additionally, I dig up any freebie or “try me” coupons that were either direct mailed to us, or that we received from a promotion of some sort.  For example, 2 years ago a new wings restaurant opened in our neighbourhood, and we were mailed a coupon for 5 free wings.  We’re not normally wing fans, but for my birthday we decided to have some fun and give them a try.  We bought a few drinks and some other snacks, and it was a fun experience, all for less than $20.

House party

Every year I toy with the idea of organizing a girls night or dinner out for my birthday, but in the end, it’s just too time-consuming and expensive, and we usually end up having a small birthday gathering at our house for family.  This is what I prefer, and I get to see my favourite people.  We have bought decorations and a special “birthday girl” pin, so now that these are purchased the price of subsequent parties will be much less.

Last year I Iearned a valuable lesson the hard way, that spending money doesn’t always pay off on your birthday.  My husband booked a babysitter for our kids ($50), and we went to a neighbourhood chain restaurant ($75), which I have been to many, many times with my girlfriends for drinks and appetizers.  Our evening cost about $125, the food was terrible, and I was very upset that we had wasted money on food and an atmosphere that was not enjoyable, nor was it celebratory for my birthday.  This year we did everything I mentioned in the article above, although we did spend about $30 at our local Five Guys Burger and Fries, which is our absolutely favourite treat place to eat (we eat there about twice a year, mainly due to the high calorie counts in their foods).   We had so much fun, and we really, really enjoyed our food, and the experience.  We got home and my parents (who were looking after my kids for free!) had baked me a cake, and everyone sang me happy birthday together.  It was the best!   Remember that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a nice birthday, or to enjoy yourself.   Surround yourself with people you love, and bask in the simple joys of life.  Remember that every day above ground is a good day.

Bargainmoosers, how do you celebrate your birthday frugally?

Photo credit: Omer Wazir

Moose Rating (1 votes)
March 10

What To Do With Your Tax Refund

Posted by on March 10, 2014 at 8:00 PM

What To Do With Your Tax Refund

I just completed my tax return last night, and was pleasantly surprised with the amount we are getting back.  We had a lot of tax breaks this year:  tuition, children’s fitness credit, children’s arts credit and charitable donations.  This means we are going to be receiving a fairly large return, score!  I love it when we unexpectedly receive an amount of money (who doesn’t?).  Although I would love to spend every penny on fun stuff like clothes and a new computer, I know that might not be the most responsible use of the money.   I know many people who spend almost everything they receive from the tax return, they purchase trinkets, go on trips, etc.  We generally buy things when we need them, and plan all of our trips years in advance.   So what are the best options on how to use our tax return?

Home payment

I just got my annual mortgage statement from my bank, and I know that I can make an annual payment on my mortgage principle.  Although my tax refund won’t greatly reduce my mortgage, I input the amount into this mortgage calculator, it will reduce my amortization by 5 months!  Also, the prepayment will save me about $3000 in interest.  Wow, I had no idea that prepayment was worthwhile and would save as much money as it does.  My current work doesn’t provide an RRSP matching plan, so we have been focused on aggressively paying down our mortgage, and we plan to contribute to our RRSP once our mortgage is paid off.  This would get us there faster!

Reduce debt

Although we don’t have a lot of debt, this would be a prime opportunity to pay down some debt in a lump sum.  Check out Gail Vaz Oxlade’s guide on debt repayment.  High interest debt (usually credit cards) should be the first to be repaid, with others paid off in descending order, based on interest percentage.  Be aware that if you want to pay off something like a car loan, which has a fixed payment over a certain number of months, there may be little benefit to paying it off early.  Analyze your debts, and evaluate how much you owe and to whom, then make a plan (and stick to it).

RRSP payment

I have heard that people use their tax refund to make a lump sum RRSP payment.  This makes sense, especially if a percentage of your tax refund is due to RRSP contributions.  Many money experts advise that this is a great way to build your retirement nest egg, and to not even see your tax refund as money for you to spend, but rather it’s just another contribution to your RRSP.  Honestly, even when we were contributing regularly to our RRSP, we never used our tax refund as an additional RRSP contribution.  We seemed to always have something that needed to be bought or paid off at that time.

Emergency fund

Money experts say that you should have an emergency fund, although they differ on the amount it should be.  Some experts say you should save up to 3 months worth of living expenses, while others, like the wealthy barber, advise we should save two or three thousand dollars in an emergency fund.   My personal belief is that all consumer debts should be paid off before an emergency fund should be started, although this only makes sense if you have access to a line of credit.

Save for the future

We will need a new vehicle in the next 2 years, and in the past we have been fortunate to be able to pay for our cars in cash.  I would like to continue that trend in the future, however, will need to save at least $9,000 for our next car purchase.  That is a daunting amount.  But our tax refund would give us a good head start on that amount.  Another option could be to put that amount into my daughters’ RESP.  If we did that, however, we might not receive the maximum amount available through the government’s RESP contribution program.  According to the CRA website, the Canada Education Savings Grant pays a basic 20% of all contributions for the year, to a maximum of $500 per beneficiary.

Conclusion

We are very fortunate in that we are in fairly decent financial shape.  We are aggressively paying down our mortgage, we have no consumer debt, and we have money in both an RRSP and RESP.   The one area in which our financial house could be improved, is to start an emergency fund.  I like the idea of having a sum of money socked away in case something happens to either one of us, heaven forbid.  I am the main breadwinner in our household, and if I wasn’t able to work, money would be very tight, putting my entire family in jeopardy.   Putting the money into our tax free savings account is definitely the best option for our family.  Before I do that, though, I’m going to buy some new shoes!!   Bargainmoosers, how will you spend your tax refund?

Photo credit: Sharon Drummond

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March 2

How To Pick The Right Dog Food For Your Budget

Posted by on March 2, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Pick The Right Dog Food For Your Budget

I recently wrote an article about saving money on your new animal, and one of the items I wrote about was to consider the type of food you are feeding your dog.  We received lots of commentary about that article.  Bargainmoosers are passionate about their animals, awesome!   We all love our dogs, and we want to provide them with the best possible life.  Food is a huge contributor to that.  It just makes sense that the better you feed your dog, the healthier they *should* be.  Of course there are factors that we can’t control, like some breed-specific physical issues like hip dysplasia in some giant breeds of dogs.   But food is one area we have complete control over.

We have been very fortunate with our dog. He is nearly 10, and he is still very active and healthy.   I have always regularly run with him.   He trained for my half marathon with me last year, and he actually ran 21 kilometres!  Rocky is an amazing dog, and we want him to live a long, long time.  What things should we consider when picking the dog food for our precious pup?

Ratings

I found an amazing website called Dog food advisor, which has comprehensive ratings of each type of dog food available in Canada.  Foods are listed by type:  hypoallergenic, raw, high carb, low carb, etc.  Talk to your veterinarian to figure out which food is best for your dog, given his/her breed, health, and activity level.  Then you need to consider the cost of each type of food.

Research

I learned through researching this article, that Canada does not regulate pet food that is manufactured in Canada and sold domestically.  What this means to us, the consumer, is we need to do our own research.  Bargainmooser CeeCee told us that there is an organization called Association of American Feed Control Officials, or aafco, which is a voluntary organization designed to regulate the sale of animal food in the U.S.  The good news for us is that there are some foods in Canada which carry the AAFCO label.  Keep your eyes open for this in the pet store, or when you’re conducting online research on the food you are feeding your pup.

What fits with your lifestyle?

Although I’d love to consider feeding my dog a raw diet, I think it would be difficult to fit that into our lifestyle.   I know that lots of people do it successfully; I feel that for my family it isn’t a realistic option given that it requires time in the procurement,  the preparation and storage of the food.  Check out this article from Dog Food Advisor about the benefits and risks of the raw food diet.  I have a co-worker who feeds her dogs the raw food diet, and unfortunately, one of her dogs (a beautiful great dane) passed away because he choked on a bone fragment that got lodged in his trachea.  My friend was beyond sad about the loss of her dog, but she still believes in the benefits of a raw food diet.  She now feeds her 2 dogs a raw food diet, and says that she spends about $200 per month for her food.  Additionally, she has to drive to a nearby city to pick up the food, which is an hour drive, both ways.   If you live in a larger city centre, there is greater certainty that there will be a local raw food supplier.  The costs of raw food will depend on the size of your dog and the growth stage in which s/he is at. For example, my friend feeds both her dogs about a pound and a half of raw food a day: a mix of chicken carcass and veggies and fruits.  Her great dane will continually eat that volume of food, but her puppy’s food amount will decrease as she gets older.  My friend’s costs will then therefore decrease.  There are different forms in which to purchase the raw food.  Some suppliers put the food into “pucks” which are frozen, and you de-thaw and feed your dog the appropriate number of pucks per day.   Maybe it’s easier than I initially thought!

Cost

As much as we would each love to feed our dog the best food possible, we also have to be cognizant of our budgets.  Check out as many ratings as possible about the food you are considering, and choose the highest quality food that your budget will allow.  Don’t skimp on food, the better-quality food your dog gets now, the more likely s/he will grow to be healthy and fit in their older age, hopefully reducing your veterinary bills.

Dog food is one of the most expensive parts of owning a dog.  It is an essential part of your dog’s life, and we all want to provide the best of the best for our fur babies.  Do your research, examine your budget, and ensure you choose the best possible food that you can afford.  Don’t forget to ask your friends for referrals of dog food providers, and remember that many pet stores will offer coupons and frequent customer discounts if you ask.

Photo credit: David Yu

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February 24

How To Save Money On A New Animal

Posted by on February 24, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Save Money On A New Animal

We’re thinking of getting a new dog in the spring.  Our current dog is nearly 10, and we know he won’t be around forever, unfortunately.  I have always wanted a second dog, but we could never decide on breed, whether our second dog should be hypoallergenic, etc.  I was also nervous about the prospect of introducing a new dog to our existing dog, I wasn’t sure how they would get along.  Our first dog is a mix breed who we rescued when he was 8 weeks old, and he is a very dominant animal.  Fortunately, we had the privilege of babysitting a friend’s dog over Christmas, and it went great.  I warned my friend about my dog’s dominance and that I wasn’t sure how they would get along.  But I was pleasantly surprised at how well the dogs got along.  My husband took them into the woods together, and they romped and played together like nobody’s business.  I would like my firstborn doggy to have that companionship all the time.  After reading this article on if we can afford a pet, I decided we could, with a few cost-saving tactics in mind. With that being said, we’re looking at our best options for adopting a second dog, and we’re trying to do so in the most cost-effective way.

Breeder vs. adoption

We have toyed with the idea of looking for a specific blend of characteristics in our next dog, such as family-friendly and hypoallergenic.  We adopted our first dog from a rescue organization that rescues dogs from local native reserves.  A bred dog can be extremely costly, especially if you are looking at one specific breed that might not have a breeder close to your home base.  As an example, we were thinking about our second dog being a schnauzer, but the closest breeder to us is a nearly 2 hour drive away.  We would be spending money on gas to get to and from the breeder, and if there were any future issues with the dog, it would be costly and a hassle to rectify them due to the distance.  A dog from that breeder would cost us approximately $1000.  Conversely, there are some amazing rescue groups in our hometown, such as the one we adopted our first dog from.   Adoption fees vary from $200-$500, depending on the organization we go with.  Most of my friends’ dogs have been adopted too, so we have had lots of good referrals from people.  Another option is to buy an older dog from a breeder.  These dogs generally have been taken care of from the breeder, but they have had their litters, and are ready to move on to a forever home.  We have found those dogs to cost about half the cost of a puppy, and they are already trained.  There is also the ethical issue of paying for a bred dog, when there are literally thousands of local animals who need (and deserve) to be adopted.   Check out petfinder.com for lots of adoptable animals to choose from!

What to feed your dog

To be honest, before we had kids, we spent a lot of money on dog food.  We used to spend upwards of $80-$100 per month on either raw or organic food for our pup.  Once our kids came along, though, our finances became strained, and we had to make decision on what to spend our money on.  We just didn’t have $100 per month to spend on dog food any longer.  We have moved to either President’s choice nutrition first dog food or Costco’s Kirkland brand of dog food.  Although they aren’t as nutritionally sound as raw food, they both score a 4 star rating according to Dogfoodadvisor.com.  Since the switch, we spend about $30/month on dog food for our pup.  He is a large, active dog, so he eats around 4 cups of food per day.  Your dog food costs will range based on the size, breed, and activity level of your dog.

Invest in training

The very best item we invested in for our dog was puppy training.  Our trainer is amazing, her company is called Awesome Dogs.   Although we spent money on this service, it has truly been a long-term investment for us.  By properly training your dog you will be saving money on potential longer term issues and problems such as your dog acting out and destroying items in your house.  Also, people will be much more likely to volunteer to look after your dog when you go away if your dog is well-trained.  You are also lessening the chance of your dog causing potential legal issues for you, such as dog bites, if s/he is trained.

Borrow if you can

Remember that you don’t have to purchase all your pet items first-hand, in fact, you don’t even have to pay for them, if you can help it!  Ask around, it’s likely that a friend has a crate you could borrow, and maybe even an old dog bed they no longer use.  We lent our friend our dog’s old crate, and it has worked out well for everyone.  If you can’t get pet items free, look on kijiji.  We recently bought a very large fish tank, which came fully equipped with a stand, filter, light, and everything we could possibly need for our new fish menagerie.

Find a good veterinarian

Finding a good veterinarian is so essential for saving money on your new pet.  If you find a good vet who will partner with you in caring for your beloved pet, it’s likely you will save money on your vet bills.  For example, by establishing a good relationship with our vet, he was able to give us a few options recently for caring for our dog’s cyst on his neck.  We didn’t have thousands to pay for an expensive surgery, so he recommended a topical treatment that worked like a charm, and cost a fraction of what surgery would have cost.  Check out this article on reducing your vet bills for more ways to reduce your vet costs.

Pets are expensive, but they are so worth it.  Your canine or feline friend will be with you (hopefully) for a long period of time, make wise choices to reduce your costs, but make sure you spend money where you need to.  See your vet on a yearly basis, and if you feel comfortable with it, purchase pet insurance for peace of mind.

How do you save costs on your pet costs, Bargainmoosers?

Photo credit: Eva Webster

Moose Rating (2 votes)
February 17

Planning Your Trip In Advance Vs. Last Minute Planning

Posted by on February 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Planning Your Trip In Advance Vs. Last Minute Planning

The weather here sucks.  I can’t wait to get away, and I wish I had booked my winter trip earlier in the year.  Are you considering going on a last minute trip to escape this dreary weather?  Sometimes booking a trip last minute can save you big bucks.  Sometimes, however booking in advance can save you cash.   I started planning my cruise in March over a year and a half ago because of the amazing deals that were on.  Next winter we are planning on taking my daughters to Disney in the winter.  Will I wait until the last minute to book the trip?  Absolutely not, I have already started to plan for that trip, as we have particular needs and wants for our stay.   But what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.  Below are some tips and strategies to help you plan in advance.

Does planning in advance really save you money?

I must confess that by nature, I am a planner.  I know where I like to go, and what I like to do.  I am not someone who seeks the thrill of adventure or takes pleasure in visiting many foreign destinations.  I like trips to Florida with my family, the Caribbean or a cruise (boring, I know).   I am also a planner, and I like to have lots of time to anticipate my upcoming trip.  I love travelling and getting away, and the farther in advance the trip is booked, the more time I have to get excited for the trip, plan different excursions, etc.  But for you, here are a few factors to consider when considering whether to book your trip in advance:

  • Do you have a particular destination and/or itinerary in mind for your trip?
  • Are you travel dates totally inflexible?

My parents were teachers, and we typically took our annual vacation at March break.  Therefore, they had little flexibility if we were going to travel during the winter months.

For our upcoming cruise in March, there was an amazing deal from Celebrity Cruises that we just couldn’t pass up, which gave us a free drink package for our trip.  Additionally, I did some research and discovered that by booking the cruise with an American travel agent, we would likely receive some additional bonuses, such as free gratuities and an onboard credit.  I went to a website called Cruise Compete, which provides numerous competitive quotes on the cruise you are considering.   By booking our cruise this way, I saved well over $1000, considering the bonus of the drink package, the onboard credit and pre-paid gratuities we received.  Once I booked the cruise, I booked our flights.  Because we booked the cruise well in advance, I knew I could probably get a good deal on flights.  In order to do so, I applied for a Westjet Mastercard to take advantage of the $250 credit and $99 companion flight for cardholders.  The application process was involved, I had to go to the bank, apply for the card, then wait to be approved.  Once I was approved I couldn’t get the bonuses until I made my first purchase on the card.  From the time I applied for the card until I could use the benefits, it was around two months.  Obviously, you need to plan in advance if you are taking advantage of a credit card travel deal.  It was worth it in the end, instead of the retail cost of our two flights from Toronto to Miami of around $1300, I paid $561.

Planning an awesome, last minute vacation

On the flip side, if you are flexible with the dates of your travel, you aren’t particular about where you stay, and you’re up for an adventure, a last-minute trip could be for you!  Check out this life hacker article about how to plan a cheap, last-minute trip.  There are lots of great last-minute travel sites out there.  I booked a trip a few years ago through Redtag Deals, and they were awesome to deal with.  My hubby and I have always toyed with the idea of taking a last minute vacation, but it has never worked out date-wise.  Remember that travelling in the off season can get you even better deals.  For example, if you are interested in travelling to Cuba, travelling there in the fall or spring will get you stupendous deals.  Personally, if I am going to an all-inclusive resort, I like to stay at a 4-5 star resort that has lots of amenities.  I know I am more likely to get a good deal on a resort like this if I travel In the off-season.

Professional organization/workplace deals

I am a member of a professional association that has a special “deals” affiliation that grants me free access to a last minute travel subscription.  If I were ever to go on a last minute trip, I would definitely look into this, as some trips are as low as $500 for an all-inclusive week in the Caribbean!  That deal is hard to beat.   They also have deals on cheap airfare.  Check out this article from the independent traveler for more great deals on cheap airfare.

Whether you’re like me and get a thrill through the waiting time between booking your trip and taking your trip, or you prefer the thrill of waiting until the last minute to book your trip, be sure to shop around to get the best rates.  Most people book their travel through the internet these days, but online or in-person travel agents can be worth their weight in gold.

Bargainmoosers, what are your top travel planning tips?

Photo credit: epSos.de

Moose Rating (4 votes)
February 6

How To Choose The Best Reward Credit Card

Posted by on February 6, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Choose The Best Reward Credit Card

I have been using my credit card for many, many years; I love the convenience of it.  I have the paypass technology, and it is so handy to just tap and pay for my small purchases.  I recently got a new credit card specifically so I could take advantage of the great perks from this card, which got me thinking, what are the best options for reward credit cards?  There are so many promos and advertisements these days that it’s hard to determine what the best options are.  I saw a television program a few weeks ago about the frugal travel guy  who uses credit cards to obtain free (or extremely cheap) travel.  This led me to apply for the RBC Westjet credit card, so I could take advantage of the $99 companion travel deal, and the Westjet dollar welcome bonus.  My honey and I are taking a cruise in March, and I wanted to get the best deal possible on our flight.  Although reward systems with credit cards are subjective, and specific to the person using them, below are some ideas on how to get the best deal on your credit card.

Ask yourself:  What am I using this card for?

When you are looking for a credit card the first thing to consider is what you are going to use this card for.  Do you need it for work-related travel expenses?  Are you attracted to the rewards of the card like trip cancellation insurance?  Do you need a low interest card because you can’t pay off your balance each month?  All of these questions are important to ask yourself before you apply for a credit card.  If you use credit cards appropriately, you can get awesome rewards and incentives from using them.  If you choose the wrong card, however, you could be paying hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars in interest charges.  Check out this article from Moneysense magazine about the best Canadian credit cards, and this article from The Star.  These articles outline your best credit card options by category: low interest rate cards, travel reward cards, business cards, etc.  Unfortunately, the rewards card I have had for the past 10 years (BMO AirMiles World Mastercard) didn’t even make the list for top 10 cards.  I really like using the Air Miles rewards for things like groceries, movie gift certificates, and travel, but unfortunately I am not getting the best bang for my buck using this card.  I am saving Air Miles for an upcoming trip to Disney, but once that trip is over, I will be using my new card as my primary credit card.

What benefits do you need/want from the card?

Although I applied for my new WestJet Mastercard primarily for the first year rewards, I am thrilled to see that it is ranked as the best travel rewards card in Canada.  I am also excited about the fact that trip cancellation insurance comes as a benefit of the card.  I was going to purchase a separate policy through my car insurance provider anyway, so the fact that it comes included in this card’s benefits is a bonus.  When I compare what I was going to pay for trip cancellation insurance, the $100 annual fee for the Westjet Mastercard is worth it!  Although these benefits were a surprise to me, take a few minutes to think about what benefits you could possibly need, including trip cancellation insurance, roadside assistance, flight delay insurance and car rental collision insurance.  Then compare your insurance needs to the benefits each card affords.  You might be surprised to learn that the benefits you desire are included in the credit card offering!

Call your credit card company to negotiate

Don’t be afraid to contact the bank to negotiate the annual fees on your credit card.  As I mentioned previously, I have had my BMO AirMiles World Mastercard for almost 10 years, and I finally clued in about 5 years ago to the fact that I could negotiate the annual fee.  I simply called their helpline and asked to speak with a manager.  I then politely inquired about reducing the annual fee.  He agreed, and my annual fee is now half of what it was.  There is always room for negotiation with fees, although it helps if you are a long-standing customer with your bank.

Before you get a credit card, consider this

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is teaming up with small businesses to encourage people to abstain from using credit cards on Fridays.  In this Globe and Mail article, the costs of credit card usage is discussed.  In  this article the hidden side of rewards cards are revealed.  The bottom line for credit cards is buyer-beware – do your research and understand what you are signing up for.  Potentially, you could negatively impact your credit score by applying to too many credit cards, so ensure that you do your homework upfront.

Credit cards are a handy payment tool, and I love the rewards I get from mine.  Although they can be a tool, they can also cause financial hardship if you don’t have the means and discipline to pay them off every month.  Do your research on credit card options, and don’t be afraid to negotiate the monthly fees.

Bargainmoosers, what is your favourite rewards card?  Please share in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Simon Cunningham

Moose Rating (2 votes)
January 15

How to Find Cheap Personal Training

Posted by on January 15, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How to Find Cheap Personal Training

It’s that time of year!  There have been lots of workout-related New Year’s resolutions which have been committed to, but it’s tricky to find cheap personal training.  Personally, I like to hire a personal trainer to kickstart a new workout regimen or weight loss initiative.  I like to try new forms of exercise, and hiring a professional is often-times the way to go.  Typically, I will purchase five to ten training sessions with a PT, and I will meet with him/her 1-2 times per week until my sessions are used up.  By then I have gotten into the workout rhythm, and will continue on my own until something like Christmas happens, at which time I fall off the wagon!  Like I have written about before, in losing weight on the cheap, I have personally shed 50 pounds in two years, and exercise is a critical element to keeping the weight off.  Below are some helpful suggestions on finding cheap personal training.

Ask for help

If you have people around you who are into working out, they will likely refer you to good personal trainers.  As an example, when I started my job, I was just starting to consider getting into shape, and a co-worker (who conveniently used to be a personal trainer), referred me to one of her personal trainer friends who was starting her own practice.  She was looking for new clients, and was offering a sweet deal for referrals.  Her gym was out of her garage, but it was fully equipped with everything we needed for an effective workout.

Search for trainers who are just starting out

Every personal trainer has to start somewhere, and not all of them are affiliated with a gym.  Check kijiji for PT’s who are looking to build their client base.  They will often offer great deals for new customers.  Some will even train you at home.  Buyer beware, however, please be careful when inviting people you don’t know to your home. 

Start a free workout group

The aforementioned co-worker, who used to be a personal trainer, started a lunch-time boot camp program, which was free to myself and my coworkers.  We ran to the local park, and she set us up with different circuits to do.  Her passion is to help people be healthy, so it was fun for her to organize the workouts, and to coach people along the way.  Ask around, there will likely be a co-worker or friend of yours who is a personal trainer, running group facilitator or another form of fitness enthusiast.  Work out on your lunch hour, or after work.  Working out with a group will hold you accountable, and will make it more fun.

Buy in bulk

Generally speaking with personal training, the more you purchase, the cheaper it is.  As an example, at many gyms if you purchase 5 sessions, they will cost you around $65 per session, for a total of $325.  If you purchase 20 sessions, the price could be as low as $50 per session, for a total cost of $1000.  By buying in bulk, you save nearly one third of the cost.  Ask if you can split your sessions with someone else, and if you don’t want to continue with your sessions, be sure to negotiate the ability to sell your sessions to someone else.

Ask for deals with your gym membership

The perfect time to negotiate the cost of personal training sessions is when you are purchasing your gym membership.  Negotiating a deal upfront is the very best way you will get the best rates.  When you are already a member at a gym, they are much less likely to offer specials or promotions. 

Online resources

These days there are a TON of excellent online resources.  Although you won’t get the personal service and hands-on expertise of in-person personal training sessions, sometimes partnering with someone who is online is a good way to go.  Their rates are extremely inexpensive, and they will set you up with workout routines specially designed for you. Bodybuilding.com is amazing and Free Trainers is really cool.

Silent auctions and deals through group buy sites

I started my fitness journey with a women’s only boot camp which I bought through Groupon.  I paid $50 for a 3 week membership, and it gave me an inexpensive trial to see whether it was something I could stick with.  Although it was a group class, each class was small, so it felt like a personal training experience.  I recently bought a 2 session pass with a newly qualified personal trainer through a neighbourhood silent auction.  Honestly, I bought it to help the auction, not thinking that I would stick with the trainer, but it turns out that I absolutely love her.  I have since signed up for more sessions with her, and her session rate is very reasonably priced.  Plus, I like partnering with someone who donates their resources to the betterment of the community.

Workout with friends

You can usually get a good deal on personal training if you can gather a few friends together for a group session.  As an example, my newest PT charges me $25 for a half hour session.  If I got one or two friends to join me, the session rate increases to $30 per half hour session, but the cost individually drops to either $15 per session (based on two people participating) or $10 per session (based on three people participating).

Finding a good personal trainer can be tricky.  Be sure to reach out to people around you who have been successful in their fitness journey, and take time to find the right fit for you.  Do you have more suggestions on how to find cheap personal training?  Please share them below.

Photo Credit: Living Fitness UK

Moose Rating (2 votes)
January 5

Recovering From The Holidays: How To Recoup Your Losses

Posted by on January 5, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Recovering From The Holidays: How To Recoup Your Losses

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over, and if you’re like me, you are left with massive bills from the holidays.  Year after year I overspend on family dinners, presents for the kids and holiday parties.  I mean, I HAD to buy a new dress for my work Christmas party, and a signature cocktail for our Christmas Eve dinner party was an absolute must (yeah, right).   These are just a few of the financial impacts that I have to recover from, and this doesn’t factor in the physical destruction that has happened to my body.  I was perhaps in the best shape of my life at the beginning of December (ok, maybe not the best shape of my life, but definitely the best shape since the birth of my children).   Now I am 10 pounds heavier, thanks to the copious drinks, snacks and sugar I over-imbibed in through the holidays.   Emotional, physical and financial recovery from the holidays will take some time to recoup and here are some tips to get there.

Budget for next year

Once we are caught up with our bills, I am going to use Gail Vaz Oxlade’s magic jar budgeting system to start saving for next year’s Christmas expenditures.  I plan to set aside $100/pay to put aside for presents and Christmas expenses so I’m not once again hit with a huge mastercard bill at the end of Christmas.  Check out this article on saving money at Christmas for tips on how to save for next year’s Christmas festivities.

Make it right with your spouse or loved one

I know I take my husband for granted through the holidays.  Family events can be stressful, and I can be an absolute bear due to the pressure and stress.  That, combined with the fact that my husband is an introvert, we are usually exhausted by the time the holidays are over.  We were lucky a few nights ago, we were planning on going to see Catching Fire, but it was sold out.  Let me explain why we were lucky given that the movie we wanted to see was sold out:  it gave us a chance to hang out and talk.  We had a few hours of uninterrupted kid-less time, where we debriefed on what had happened during the holidays.  We also planned ahead for the next few days.  It was a much needed break.  We are also very fortunate, we are going on a child-free cruise at the end of March.  I can’t wait to spend a week with just my hunky hubby and myself.  When my marriage is strong, the rest of my relationships are stronger too.  It’s worth the investment of both time and money to spend quality time with my husband.

Come up with a payment plan

Given that I have a large mastercard bill, I now need to come up with a payment plan so that the excessive interest charges don’t stick with me forever.  The first thing I did was pay off as much as I could, and the second thing I did was to transfer the debt to my line of credit.  Although I’m still paying interest on my line of credit (1% above prime), at least it isn’t the 19% interest rate of my credit card.  If you don’t have a line of credit, contact your bank to see what options you have, and contact your credit card company to ask about options for your credit card interest rate.   These days there are a lot of different credit cards to choose from, and there are a few which have a low interest rate.  If you make frequent purchases and aren’t able to fully pay off your credit card each month, perhaps a low interest rate card is the best choice for you.  Check out MoneySense’s article on the best credit cards in Canada for 2013.

Use Air Miles and rewards

Since cash is sparse during January and February, I use airmiles.ca to cash in rewards.  Through Air Miles I can get grocery (Metro) gift certificates and can pay for my gas through them as well.  My birthday is coming up, and one thing I like to ask for is for my family to give me Air Miles gift certificates for groceries and gas.  The other thing we like to do for birthdays is make them “free” days.  What I mean is that because there are so many freebies you can get for your birthday, I have a personal goal of not spending any money on my birthday, and to take advantage of all the great deals.  Typically, I will get a movie gift certificate for my birthday from my parents, and I always get free cosmetics at Sephora.  I usually hit up Marble Slab for a free ice cream, and sometimes Boston Pizza for a free dessert.  Think I’m crazy?  Maybe, but it’s actually a really fun way to spend the day!

Get in shape

Like I said earlier, my workout schedule was greatly reduced during the holidays, and I ate a lot more sweets, fatty foods and junk food.  I’m guessing that I have gained almost 10 pounds (yikes).  I have worked hard over the past 2 years to lose almost 50 pounds, so it’s time to get back in shape.  Check out this article about how to lose weight on the cheap.  I am going back to eating clean and checking out such websites as bodybuilding.com for new workout routines and supplements.

Sell stuff online

There is lots of information online about how to sell stuff online.  We have sold a number of items over the past few months, in an effort to reduce clutter and make a bit of extra money.  We find using kijiji is an easy and effective way to sell our stuff.   Perhaps you got some presents that aren’t a fit, and you’d like to make money on them – list them on kijiji!

The holidays are a joyous family event filled with love, celebration and food.  While I don’t wish to negate the importance of the holidays, I need to do better at budgeting for them.   Hopefully the tips above will help me prepare for next year, and to recover from this year.  Please share your holiday recovery tips in the comments section below.

(banner image credit: sdminor81)

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December 29

How To Cheaply Kick-Start Your Career

Posted by on December 29, 2013 at 8:00 PM

How To Cheaply Kick Start Your Career

It’s almost the new year, and there are a number of you who will be evaluating your career, and thinking about next steps in your job.  I’m a huge proponent of not just working in a job, but following your passion.  Our life isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things and we spend almost 60% of every day at work.  Why waste time doing something you don’t love?  Follow my steps below to kick-start your career.

Resume writing services online

There are lots of free resume writing resources online.  Checkout resumizer for some solid resume templates to follow.  There are also lots of resume writing services available across Canada, but generally they will cost you.  However, depending on where you are in your career, and your level of comfort with resume writing, this could be something to consider.  As an HR Manager, the most important elements of an effective resume include: ensuring that the spelling is correct, including your accomplishments at each job, and stating what your career objective is.  Before you can start looking for something new, be sure you have a good understanding of the direction you want to head in.

Assessments online

I am a huge proponent of conducting assessments.  They are an amazing way to figure out what you want to do in life. I completed a career assessment in high school which identified HR as a perfect career for me.  I followed through with this path, and have had a successful career thus far.   Good tools include Myers Briggs, and there are some free tools available at CareerPath.  It’s worth your time to take a few minutes to figure where your fit is.

Networking

Networking is a cheap or free activity that can reap excellent rewards.  Not sure where to start?  If you are a member of a professional association (HRPA, CA, IABA, etc.), there are always lots of activities for you to be involved in.  Check out your local chamber of commerce for area networking events which are usually either free or very cheap.  Also check out LinkedIn for networking events, both in-person and online through the groups you can join.  Online networking is beneficial, but face to face is always best.

Courses through your work or EAP program

Lots of companies offer free courses, either through their training and development program, or through your EAP program.  At every company I have worked for, there is a corporate training and development program whereby I can attend courses that will benefit both the company and myself in my job.  At my current company, we will pay for courses for future areas of interest.  As an example, if I currently work in sales and I have a potential interest in working in marketing, I could take a marketing course.  My husband works for the Beer Store, and we just received a flyer from his union about completely free courses he can take on subjects ranging from Microsoft Word, to health and safety.  Usually, if you are attending a course your company is paying for, it needs to be directly tied to your current or future job.  Talk to your local HR rep, or contact your EAP program for more information.

Volunteering

Volunteering in your community is an excellent way to learn and practice new skills, be it management skills, technical skills, or soft skills.  Joining a board, or volunteering with your kids school, or the PTA are all excellent ways to get connected in your community, contribute to society, and learn new skills.  As an example, I have been on the board of my daughter’s preschool for the past three years.  I have had such roles as VP-Fundraising, President and Secretary.  Although these board positions have required a certain amount of time and effort, the lessons I have learned have been invaluable.  The management skills I learned in my role as President were great lessons for me for my current management role at my full-time job.  Companies are more likely to offer promotions or new positions to people who have acquired skills on their own.  Volunteering also demonstrates that you are willing to contribute to your career with your time.  Most people don’t take the time to volunteer, and this can really set yourself apart from the crowd.

Another aspect of volunteering is volunteering at work.  You can volunteer to take on extra tasks at your current job, and/or you can volunteer to participate in your company’s corporate committees.  Most companies these days have a joint health and safety committee in the very least.  There are lots of companies that also have a social committee.  By volunteering your time, you are demonstrating that you are committed to the company, and to your career growth.

Ultimately, owning your career begins and continues with you.  No one else can help you determine what you should be doing until you decide to help yourself.  If you are unsure of what step to take, reach out to your local HR rep, or contact your friend network for ideas of who to talk to.   Evaluating your career doesn’t have to be costly, ask your company what resources are available, and join LinkedIn!

(banner image credit: Elliott P.)

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December 13

Entertaining Kids: How To Do It Cheap & Fun

Posted by on December 13, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Entertaining Kids: How To Do It Cheap & Fun

With Christmas break coming up, a lot of us are freaking out about the time the kids will take off school.  How will we keep them busy?  Will they be bored?  If you have read some of my earlier articles, you may know that I’m a fairly “granola” type of parent, who is also very thrifty.  My husband is a stay at home dad, so we don’t have a ton of expendable cash to spend outside the necessities and this includes entertaining our children.  We have raised our children to be fairly self-sufficient, so they are great at playing with each other, and on their own.  But we obviously like for them to experience fun stuff as much as possible.  My hubby is an introvert, so we spend a fair bit of time at home, and we all love family time together.  That said, there are lots of things outside of our cozy house that our children enjoy.

Play dates

When I was little the term play date wasn’t used.  We would play outside with our friends after school, on weekends, and whenever we could.  Now-a-days neighbourhood play doesn’t happen as much as it once did (at least it doesn’t in our neighbourhood).  My kids have play dates with their friends every so often, and it’s a huge treat for them.  Either my kids will go to a friend’s house or vice versa.  When my daughters are with their friends they play with their toys, with crafts, make-believe, etc.  It’s a great (free) way to keep my kids occupied and happy. This weekend my daughter had her friend over and they occupied themselves by making books and playing library all afternoon, then we decorated a gingerbread house.

Coupons and redeeming points

My daughter’s 6th birthday was the other week, and we held it at a popular indoor playground.  In their grab bags, every guest received a $1.50 off coupon towards their next visit.  Given that the cost of entry is about $7 per child, $1.50 off really reduces the cost of our next visit to the playground.  If I bring both my kids (and I’m able to use two coupons), the total cost would be $11.00 for an afternoon of fun.  Adults are free, so this is a pretty cheap outing.  Where playgrounds and entertainment venues make a lot of money is on their food and drinks, so we’ll be sure to eat before we go and bring drinks for the kids.  I absolutely refuse to spend good money on food or drinks that are laden with sugar and fat, and have little to zero nutritional value.  We take our food and drinks everywhere we go.

Another cheap or free option for entertaining kids is to redeem Air Miles or other points.  I have written before about how I enjoy redeeming Air Miles for tickets to places like the Zoo.  We are also planning a trip next year to Disney, and I am planning on saving all my Air Miles to redeem for some Disney theme park passes.  We are planning on going to see the movie Frozen over the Christmas holidays, and I redeemed some Air Miles for some movie passes.  This will be a free afternoon for our family, I can’t wait!

Crafts

We always ask for craft kits or any type of craft for our kids’ birthdays or Christmas.  They are free, since they are gifts, and provide hours of creative playtime.  My eldest daughter enjoys making hairbands and necklaces, and my youngest enjoys puzzles.  They are fun for parents too, as I’m not someone who particularly enjoys getting on my hands and knees to play with my kids.  When we craft together we are both participating in a fun, creative activity.

Check out free events in your community

These are especially plentiful during the summer. As long as there is a face-painter and drinks and snacks, my kids enjoy themselves.  Last summer I happened to walk to a new neighbourhood bank, and they were having a grand opening celebration with the aforementioned face-painter, snacks, drinks, and there was even a band.  We spent a very enjoyable half hour at the bank, and the kids loved their painted faces.  Every year we have a community celebration which has plenty of free events such as parades, a bouncy castle and an afternoon of skating.  Ask around, or join a local parent blog to get the scoop.

Check out your local arenas and pools, as many times they have free skate or swim days as well.

Library

For some reason we have only been recent converts to our local library.  But now that we use it, we couldn’t do without it.  It is simply amazing- they have weekly crafts for kids, reading time, and of course free books.  Something else we have started to take advantage of in our local library is the free videos.  They have all the Disney videos, and if there is a popular video, we place it on hold, and they email us when it is available.  It sure beats spending $5 per video rental.  The downside to the library is if you aren’t on top of return dates, you can run up some hefty late charges.  Our library charges $1-$2 per day in late fees on videos.

Say NO to events

If all your friends are constantly spending loads of money on activities and events, don’t be afraid to say no to some or all of them.  Like I have said previously, our favourite thing to do is a family is hang out, talk and enjoy each other’s company, so I have no regret or feelings of guilt when I say no to an activity that my friends or family is partaking in.  As an example, there was a recent touring production of the show Max and Ruby, and a bunch of my friends were planning on taking their children. I waited until close to the date, as I thought I’d be able to get a good deal on ticket prices.  I had no success with reduced ticket prices, so we didn’t go.

In today’s society it seems like parents want their kids to be occupied 24/7, either watching TV, doing an activity or attending an event.  Your kids want to spend quality time with you, and they need to develop themselves through creative play.  We don’t need to spend a ton of cash on this, we can make snowmen, decorate a gingerbread house, bake WITH your children.  That’s what they want (and need).  Please share your great ideas about how you entertain your kids below!

(banner image credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region)

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