Author Archive

August 18

Save Money By Preparing Your Own Back To School Meals

Posted by on August 18, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Save Money By Preparing Your Own Back To School Meals

Back to school… for some, these words are a Godsend, and for others they represent their last baby going to school (I’m the latter, sniff sniff). Back to school will be an incredibly busy time with new jobs, kids in school, fall activities starting for everyone, and the general business of life starting after the summer. It’s easy to eat out for meals when you’re on the run, but just think about the excess money and decreased health benefits in take-out dinners. Michael Pollan is a food authority in U.S.A, and he is a proponent of eating whole foods, and most importantly cooking those foods at home. He says the best thing that North Americans can do to improve their health (and reduce the cost of our health care) is to make our meals at home, even if they are not the healthiest meals possible.  Easier said than done, right?  Especially with the time constraints we all face, like a busy career and children.  How can we save money by preparing our family’s meals?

Crock pot cooking

It seems like crock pot cooking has become a recent internet sensation.  I see crockpot recipes, links and pictures everywhere on facebook and pinterest. I am a huge crockpot fan as it is a super easy, quick way to get tasty, melt-in-your mouth meals together.  Check out Who Needs A Cape for a simply amazing 40 meals in four hours crock pot recipe list.  Wow, I am amazed that people actually do this, hats off to them.  I can never seem to get my stuff together to cook in large batches or chunks of time.  How about some recipes you can throw together on a week day or weekend?  There isn’t a recipe much easier than this one for Pineapple Salsa Chicken.  This looks so easy and delicious.  Make a side of rice to go alongside, and you have a pretty nutritious and easy meal.  We love Indian meals at our house, and this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala is an easy, delicious weeknight dinner for kids and parents alike. These Crockpot Chicken Fajitas are super easy to make, and really, how can you screw up making chicken fajitas in the crockpot?  As you can tell, I really like making chicken, as it’s so versatile and I love having leftovers.  As much as I love chicken, I also adore a beef roast in the winter like this one.  My mom wasn’t an adept chef, but I have vivid, happy memories from my childhood when she made any crockpot beef dish.

Batch cooking

I used to be a batch cooker, but abandoned it once I had two kids. I just couldn’t give up a few hours every Sunday to hang in the kitchen, unless of course I had copious amounts of wine to drink while cooking. If you have the time, the patience and the love of food, maybe batch cooking is for you. Chatelaine has some awesome tips for batch cooking. In particular, I really think that preparation is the most important step, so you aren’t caught missing an ingredient or two at the last minute. Here are some simple Batch Cooking Recipes to try. I have seen this idea a few times in the past, and I love the idea of preparing your weeks’ worth of Lunch Salads in advance using mason jars. Although I don’t tend to batch prepare my lunches, I do prepare some staples like hard-boiled eggs, chopped raw veggies and individually packaged hummus so I’m not stuck at the last minute for lunch ideas.  Preparing your own lunch and snacks is probably the best way to save money on food.  I am amazed at the amount of people I work with who purchase their lunch on a near daily basis.  When you combine that purchase with the daily coffee they are buying from Tim’s, those costs really add up.  It literally takes me 20 minutes to pack my lunch. I have to pack my kids’ lunch anyway, why not add mine to the list?

Make homemade school snacks

Sure, those $2.50 packages of goldfish crackers are tempting to buy, but I can’t even imagine the food colourings and preservatives in those crackers. I would much rather spend an hour or so on the weekend preparing homemade school snacks for my children. Many schools are now nut-free, so that is another reason people are tempted to buy pre-packaged snacks. But don’t fear!  As long as you aren’t using nut products in your homemade snacks, they are safe to bring to school. What are some of my favourites?  These granola bars from Weelicious are an absolute favourite with everyone in my house, including my picky husband. They aren’t that difficult to make, although it can be a chore cutting these off my baking sheet.  The results, however, are totally worth it.  I individually wrap these in little plastic bags and put them into a school snack drawer which my kids dig into to help make their school lunches. Although I have never tried it, this fruit leather is a healthy alternative to fruit rollups. If my kids were into candied fruit I would totally make this.

Preparing and planning your food prep in advance is beneficial not only for your pocketbook, but also for your mental health. Why bother with the stress of not knowing what to make every night for dinner when it’s easy to make a menu at the beginning of the week for your meals? Take it a step further and plan your meals around what’s on sale at the grocery stores, and you will save lots of money!

Bargainmoosers, do you prepare your meals in advance?

(banner image credit: Melissa)

Moose Rating (1 votes)
August 11

Save Money By Filling Your Plate With Zucchini

Posted by on August 11, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Save Money By Filling Your Plate With Zucchini

It is zucchini season in Ontario and I am loving the super cheap and plentiful zucchini that is currently available. At one grocery store this week zucchini is on for $0.79 per pound, which is a super steal.  Last summer I had a good friend who had a green thumb, and she gave me pounds and pounds of zucchini from her garden, and that’s when I discovered the pure awesomeness of zucchini.  I used it last summer in a few dishes but really didn’t experiment very much.  This year, I’m eating even healthier than last year, and I can’t wait to include zucchini in the vast majority of my meals.  Zucchini is a great vegetable to hide in food to get your kids (or spouse) to eat more veggies.  There are lots of ways to include zucchini in your everyday eating, and by doing so you can lower your grocery bill by filling up on the good stuff.  Zucchini is incredibly versatile, and can be used in main dishes, side dishes and desserts. The sky is the limit!

Zucchini basics

According to LiveStrong, zucchini is low in calories and high in water, and has a moderate amount of vitamins and minerals within it.  It also has a moderate amount of fibre and protein in it, and has a low amount of carbohydrates, which makes it an ideal food for anyone who is living a low carb lifestyle, such as Atkins, or for someone who doesn’t eat grains or refined carbs such as the Paleo Diet.  It is a perfect base for many, many meals and side dishes.

Storing it for future use

A fantastic way to store zucchini for consumption during the winter is by freezing it.  According to Thekitchn, if you blanche the zucchini then freeze it, the zucchini will be in excellent shape for use in a future meal.  How about Preserving the zucchini for future use?  Zucchini pickles sound so delicious, and zucchini relish would taste so great on grilled hot dogs.  Honestly, I don’t spend a ton of time in the kitchen, so you won’t see me canning anything, ever, but I would totally blanche and freeze it for future uses.

Savoury dishes

Probably my favourite use for the popular zucchini is to put them into savoury dishes.  I love experimenting with using it as a neutral base and adding in other flavours on top of it.  One of my favourite ways to dress it as a simple lunch idea is to shred a whole zucchini, place about a tablespoon of pesto in it, microwave for three minutes, and top with leftover chicken and goat cheese.  My entire lunch costs less than $1.00, and it tastes incredibly delicious.  An added bonus: the entire lunch takes about five minutes to prepare!  Another savoury idea is to make Zucchini fritters, which taste incredible with a side of dilled sour cream.  My second favourite way to eat zucchini is Zucchini Fries, which gives me the sensation of eating fries, but in reality, I’m eating super healthy vegetables, especially if I dip them in tomato sauce.  I served these last weekend to my 82 and 83 year old grandparents, and they found them incredibly fun and delicious.

Main dishes

The Veggie Spiralizer has become increasingly popular over the past few months.  Although I haven’t shelled out the money to purchase one, my friends who have are incredibly happy with them, and use them to spiralize veggies like zucchinis to make homemade, low-carb noodles.  What a fantastic, cost-effective noodle alternative.  I usually eat Miracle Noodles for my healthier alternative to pasta, so I’m excited about this veggie-based option.  One of the few dishes I can actually make without screwing it up is zucchini boats.  They are so easy to make and are so delicious- even my kids eat them!  How about trying some Zucchini tacos?  The combination of roasted zucchini and corn relish sounds super yummy to me!  Although I like to have a good amount of protein with every meal, we do like to have a meatless meal every so often, and this would totally foot the bill.

Desserts

I think that putting zucchini in dessert is probably the most typical way that people will use their zucchini.  I have made a lot of recipes from Chocolate Covered Katie including these zucchini brownies.  I’m not sure what Chocolate Covered Katie does to perfect her recipes, but they really do turn out every time.  Her recipes are all healthier than conventional recipes which I appreciate as well.  I’m not a big sweets fan, but when I do eat a sugary dessert, Zucchini Bread is one of my favourites.  I absolutely love it, and it is so easy to make.  If you have never made a zucchini or banana bread you should really give it a try – they are fun to make and very difficult to mess up. Throw in a few chocolate chips and you have a perfect dessert.

In case you can’t tell, I really love zucchini.  I also love to eat, and I really appreciate that I can eat pounds and pounds of zucchini and it won’t affect my waistline.  If only chocolate were like that!  I’m really hoping that I have a few friends who are successful gardeners and will offer me some free zucchini this year.

Bargainmoosers, do you eat zucchini?  What are your favourite ways to eat it?

(banner image credit: Steven Depolo)

Moose Rating (1 votes)
August 5

How To Save Money With Online Dating

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

How To Save Money With Online Dating

I have a number of friends who are on the search for love.  Their personal histories differ: one is a recent divorcee with 3 kids, another a 30-ish co-worker who really wants fall in love and have children, another a man who is slightly socially awkward and has trouble meeting new people.  I have witnessed their challenges and the difficulties which arise from dating; where do they meet people, how do they do so in a cost-effective way, and how do they navigate through the often expensive dating landscape?  Most of my friends have at least considered online dating websites, and most are registered with at least one such site.   But which sites offer the best bang for your buck? And how do they mind their dollars when they are dating?

Free sites vs. paid sites- which one to choose?

According to this article from Freakonomics, you can actually save money by online dating, as the average dating to marriage time frame for those who meet online is much less than those to meet off-line.  So whether you invest in paying for a fee-based dating site or you meet our match on a free site, the numbers suggest that overall you will save money through meeting people online.

This excellent article gives a run-down on the Pros and cons of free dating sites.   Of course the #1 benefit to a free site is that you don’t have to pay money for them.  Paid sites, like Match.com and eHarmony cost anywhere from around $15 per month to $50 per month, so depending on what those sites offer and what their success rates are, maybe free sites are the way to go for you.  Free sites have less features than paid sites, and some people who are use free sites are less serious about finding a relationship since they haven’t paid for the site.   OkCupid calls itself the best online dating site in the world, and has a convenient app to check out potential mates on your Andriod or ios phone.  I have a number of friends who have used it with mixed reviews.

The Canadian Dating Guide has an excellent overview of the different dating sites based on specific criteria like top sites that have resulted in a long lasting relationship and best sites for overall success for women and men.  It appears that eHarmony ranks high in almost every category, so if you’re looking for a successful relationship, this might be your best bet.

Think outside the box with other dating options

Remember to think outside the box when considering how to meet people; there is another free site, although not designed to be a dating site, is a fantastic mode to meet and connect with people.  LinkedIn is like Facebook for the business world, and it is an excellent mode to connect with people and to learn more about their professional history.  On the flip side, if you are ready to meet your match and you are prepared to spend some money to do it, perhaps you should consider hiring a matchmaker?  There are a few options for matchmaking, but they are mainly found in larger city centres.  They definitely offer a more 1:1 approach, and might be worth the money, if you are concerned with efficiency and getting dates quickly.

Free trials and coupons

Most of the dating sites have a free weekend every few months so that you can try out the site.  This is an excellent opportunity to try before you buy.  Deal sites like Groupon and WagJag also have special deals from time to time as well.  Be sure to check out Bargainmoose’s  coupon page for special deals on dating sites like eHarmony.

Saving money on your dates

Getting a date is half the battle, as remaining cost-effective while you are dating is very difficult to do. People want to impress potential partners, and everyone loves going out for a romantic dinner with a potential love match.  There are lots of great, cost-effective ways to save money on dates; my favourite date with my hubby is being alone with him and enjoying a delicious, home-made dinner at home with a bottle of wine.  There are lots of coupons and opportunities to save money on the cost of going to movie as well- I love to redeem Air Miles for free movie tickets, and I always take advantage of coupons on products like Nestea and taco kits to save money on movie admissions and snacks.  I would be rather impressed if a date used a coupon to save money on a date.   Check out these articles from  DivineCaroline and Motivated to Marry for more tips on money saving ideas for your dates.  My one girlfriend usually meets first dates for a simple coffee, what is cheaper than that?

My brother and sister-in-law met online through a dating website, and my best friend and her husband met through a dating website as well, so I know that online dating can work.  In the virtual age we are in, what better way to meet potential mates?  Gone are the days when people married their high school sweethearts, and it’s tricky to date people from work; what is the average Joe to do?  If I were a single lady, I would definitely sign up for a paid-subscription dating website, as I wouldn’t want to waste my time on free apps which potentially attract those who are just looking to get lucky.

Bargainmoosers, how do you navigate the complex world of online dating?  What are your tips and tricks to save money?

Photo credit: Don Hankins

Moose Rating (1 votes)
July 28

Back To School Shopping: What To Buy & When

Posted by on July 28, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Back To School Shopping: What To Buy & When

I used to love back to school shopping.  My mom always took me shopping and we would purchase a new special outfit that I got to pick out on my own, which I was always so proud of.  I’ve got to be honest- some years were more successful than others in terms of style, but at least she let me express my creative spirit through my clothing.  Both my girls are in school in the fall; my oldest in grade two and my youngest starting junior kindergarten.  The time is flying by, and I have mixed emotions about them both being in school.  It seems like every year my oldest daughter requires more and more school items, and every fall we are hit with a bill totalling a few hundred dollars which we never plan for.  Clothing, crayons and lunch bags… there are lots of items to buy and prepare, and there are only five weeks left until school starts. I want to plan my purchases now, so that I can budget for them appropriately.

Tech gear

According to this article from CNET, July and before-school is the best time of year to purchase computers, so if you’re in the market for a new laptop for school, right now is a perfect time to make a purchase.  I found a great deal at Apple.ca; if you buy an iPad, Mac or iPhone, you get a gift card for $55 or $110 depending on your purchase. Check out this link for more information. Additionally, they have excellent financing options available. Another good option for tech gear, like computers or phones, is to purchase them through a seller on Kijiji or Craigslist.  Why pay for an item at an off-the-shelf price when you can save hundreds of dollars by purchasing it used? Also, keep in mind that if the primary use for your computer is school work, you might not need the latest and greatest computer with all the bells and whistles. By purchasing last year’s model you will save hundreds of dollars, so be open to older models. Also consider floor models- sales reps will be more likely to negotiate with you on these older computers as well, so don’t be afraid to haggle.

School supplies

Every year I think that all I need to buy is a pack of crayons and a box of tissues, and I’ll be set for school supplies for my daughter; I am always proven wrong when I get the page-long list of items required by my daughter’s teacher.  Crayons, tissues, markers, hard-cover pencil cases, etc, are all items which are required on a yearly basis.  Check out this wiki on How to Save on School Supplies for some great ideas to save you money.  I like tip #5, which is to check the weekly store advertised specials.  I know roughly what the items are that both girls need, so I will start, beginning now, picking up items when they go on sale.  I’d much rather make some smaller purchases leading up to the start of school then have to buy everything at once.  It will be much easier on my wallet this way.  I might also be able to re-use some of my daughter’s supplies from last year, specifically, her pencil case and her lunch bag.  I’m sure we could re-use her backpack too, as it’s in decent shape, but I like the tradition of shopping for a new backpack with her. It makes her excited about the beginning of the school year, and she takes pride in her stylish pack.

End of summer clothing sales

Let’s be honest, what time of year don’t kids wear plain t-shirts, golf shirts or sports clothing?  I think it makes sense to stock up on clothing at the end of summer, as basics like t-shirts, shorts and light sweaters can be worn at any time throughout the year.  I know where I live, summer clothing is already starting to go on sale.  I will be purchasing clothing for my kids in a size larger than they are now, so we have “new” clothes they will fit into midway through the winter and at the beginning of the school year.  I want to continue my mom’s tradition of purchasing my girls one special first day of school outfit that they get to choose, and I will be sure to purchase these on a day when the store I am purchasing from has a special, or I have a store coupon or an AirMiles extra miles coupon.   I could always be on the lookout for a sweet online deal, but I love the tradition of going back-to-school shopping with my kids, having them try on their new duds, bringing them home in their shopping bags etc.  I get excited just thinking about it!

Don’t forget that there are lots of needy children who don’t have the luxury of being able to afford new school supplies, so be sure to pick up a few extra packs of crayons or markers and donate them to your local food bank or charitable organization.

Online shopping is a fantastic way to pick up some super deals, so be sure to check out Bargainmoose regularly to take advantage of some amazing sales.  There are often entire tax-free weekends at stores like Loblaws and Superstore, consider stocking up on supplies then.  Also remember to price match all of the great deals at places like Walmart, No Frills and Target- they have excellent price match policies and they want your business.  If you regularly shop at one of those stores, why not bring along your flyers and price match school supplies?

Bargainmoosers, how have you saved money on school supplies?

(banner image credit: Heather Elias)

Moose Rating (1 votes)
July 21

Weddings: Do It Yourself Or Outsource?

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

Weddings: Do It Yourself Or Outsource?

I have a friend at work who is getting married in a few weeks.  She is super excited about starting a new phase in her life, and she is ecstatic about getting married and possibly starting a family.  She has been living with her partner for a few years, and they have been together for a long time.  She is planning on having an intimate backyard celebration at her father’s house. I was flabbergasted at the cost of her nuptials (read, the cost is very cheap!), and super impressed with how they are keeping their eye on the prize, that is, they are saving their money to buy their first home.  Weddings can be extremely expensive, and lots of people these days buck that trend by having a destination wedding, a backyard celebration or a small get-together at a restaurant. Which wedding particulars can you save on, and which things should you pay money for?

Food

Food preparation and food safety is one aspect of a wedding that I would not tackle myself.  I know that I would be extremely nervous about food safety and to ensure that none of my guests came down with food poisoning! Check out the principles of food safety from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for helpful tips on keeping food preparation safe. My friend was going to have a catered breakfast but decided it was too expensive and opted to have sandwiches catered for lunch. She and her family will make a number of side salads to go along with the sandwiches, which will save her a bundle of money. By choosing to have her wedding and reception during the mid-morning timeframe she will save a lot of cash, as she is not serving any alcohol, and she doesn’t have to worry about serving a multi-course dinner.

Flowers

I think that making your own flower bouquets is a really easy way to save a lot of money on your wedding, but the only downfall is that you really need to prepare them the day of the wedding.  I know for myself, I was way too stressed out and busy the day of my wedding to be worried and preoccupied with putting together flower arrangements. But, I think it would be totally do-able if your ceremony was later in the day, or if you had a great friend/family member who was willing to help you out. Check out this article on how to Make your own bouquets from The Knot, and this video from Sassafras Flowers on how to assemble your own bouquets. They make it look so easy! When I got married I chose a small florist who was recommended by another bride I was friends with. Because she was an independent florist her prices were much less expensive than the larger florists I received quotes from. Also, I chose primarily in-season and local flowers to reduce the cost. Another option to reduce your flower cost is to use artificial flowers instead of real ones. I’m not a huge fan of fake flowers, but maybe I just have never found good-quality artificial flowers.

Cake

Would you ever make your own wedding cake?  Given that I’m not naturally gifted in the kitchen, I’d typically say no, but I found some amazingly easy do-it-yourself options that anyone can create.  You can save yourself a ton of money by making your own cake.  I was married 13 years ago, and even back then my cake cost around $350.  It was a simple, three tier cake which fed 100 people, so it wasn’t as large or complex as many different options available, so I can’t imagine the cost of those larger cakes. Check out this Pinterest page with lots of simple cake ideas.  I especially like this Donut cake idea- what could be simpler or more delicious? And how much fun is a donut cake that your guests can enjoy, it is so whimsical!

Venue

I love that my friend is having her wedding at her dad’s house.  The cost for the venue is pretty cheap- it’s free!  Her dad’s house is beautiful and has a gorgeous backyard, and it’s the perfect venue to accommodate her small number of wedding guests.  We went to another wedding a few years ago which was held at a city-run arboretum which was absolutely beautiful, required very little decoration, and was inexpensive.  In total their wedding cost under $5,000 which included the ceremony, appetizers and cocktails.  Think about city-run venues, neighbours and friends’ houses, and restaurants as excellent options for a wedding venue.

Dress

Since my friend’s wedding is pretty low-key and informal, her dress is following suit.  It is an off-the-rack dress which isn’t actually a wedding dress. However, it is white, it’s beautiful, and it is much less expensive than many of the dresses found in wedding gown specialty stores.  She is pairing her dress with flip-flops for her backyard wedding, and she will be very comfortable.

There are so many ways to lessen the cost of your wedding.  You can make your own flower bouquets, make some of your own food (or better yet have other people volunteer to make the food), and think outside of the box for different, less-expensive options for the various components of your wedding.  I was just looking at my wedding pictures today, and honestly, my best memories of my wedding were being surrounded by my friends and family celebrating the best day of my life.

Bargainmoosers, how did you save money on your wedding?

(banner image credit: TheDuffers)

Moose Rating (1 votes)
July 14

Get the Most Beef Bang For Your Buck

Posted by on July 14, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Get the Most Beef Bang For Your Buck

I have a large amount of ground beef, which we purchased on sale a few weeks ago, which is sitting in the freezer.  For tonight’s dinner I am going to use the ground beef, but I want to make a dish which my family will love, yet is delicious and cost-effective (plus I’m lazy and don’t really want to go to the grocery store today if I don’t have to).  My lovely hubby does most of the cooking in our household as he “prefers his own cooking” (his words), so when it’s my turn to cook I get it over with as quickly as possible.  What are options for dinner using ground beef as my main ingredient, and how can I make the meal as cost-effective yet healthy as possible?

Shepherd’s pie

I am a die-hard shepherd’s pie fan.  My mom was never an avid chef when I was growing up, but shepherd’s pie was one dish she got right 100% of the time that she made it.  Her dish has the classic full-fat mashed potatoes on top with a mixture of ground beef and frozen veggies on the base.  I’m pretty sure her recipe is full of sodium and fat, but it tasted oh-so-good.  So, you get the picture that I love shepherd’s pie.  My current healthy lifestyle really isn’t conducive to my mom’s recipes and I try to keep our meals dairy-free, with lots of whole, fresh ingredients included.  This recipe from Skinny Taste is a strong contender, as it’s easy to make it dairy-free (subtract the sour cream in the potatoes), and is low calorie with a relatively high amount of protein per serving.  I also found this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats, and she uses cauliflower in her mashed potatoes, which really increases the nutrition value in the dish.  I have made cauliflower pizza crusts before, but I have never made it as a mashed potato-like substitute.  For tonight I would be making the Skinny Taste recipe so let’s evaluate how much this recipe will cost me:

  • 2x cartons of broth $1=$2 (I bought these on sale a while ago)
  • 2 pounds of lean ground beef =$4
  • 1.5 pounds of potatoes= $1
  • Onion, celery, spices = $1
  • Frozen veggies = $1

Total cost for shepherd’s pie is around $9

Picadillo

I have never made picadillo before, but on my goodness, it looks amazing.  It seems like it’s a popular dish, as there are lots of recipes for it on the web.  This recipe from My Recipes looks lighter than some, and seems incredibly easy to make.  It is packed with healthy, colourful veggies, and has olives in it, which my smallest daughter will love.  It is supposed to be served on rice, and I would make that for my family, but I would also make Cauliflower rice for myself to go with this dish.  The macro nutrients are slightly better in this dish with less carbs and more protein, however, those do not include rice if you choose to serve it alongside the picadillo.  How much will this dish cost me?

  • 2 pounds of ground beef= $4
  • Onion, garlic, carrot= $1
  • Tomatoes= $1
  • Tomato sauce= $1
  • Peppers= $1
  • Raisins= $1
  • Other miscellaneous ingredients= $2

Total cost= $11

Meatballs

Meatballs are extremely versatile, and I can make them into a few different meals: spaghetti and meatballs, meatball subs, rice and meatballs, etc.  I usually don’t follow a recipe when I make meatballs, but for the purposes of this article let’s say I do!  This meatball with spicy tomato sauce recipe comes from My Recipes, and they recommend serving it with pitas on the side to soak up the delicious-looking sauce.  My mouth is watering just looking at the recipe.  I think meatballs are one of my favourite things to make.  To keep things consistent I will assume that my meatball recipe will have all ground beef and no ground lamb.  Let’s see what the cost of the meatballs will be:

  • 1 pound ground beef= $2
  • Onion, garlic, herbs= $1
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs= $0.50
  • 1 can tomatoes= $1
  • 1 egg= $0.50
  • 3 pitas= $1.50

Total cost= $6.50

Beef Tacos

Tacos are a weekly dinner for us at the Robinson household.  They are a hit with both kids and adults alike.  Who doesn’t like tacos?  While we usually cook with ground chicken or turkey when we make tacos, we do mix it up from time to time by using beef instead.  The great thing about making tacos is that it is so easy to make, and people like stuffing their own shells or tortillas.  It’s an easy meal to sneak in some vegetables to with kids as well; through guacamole, salsa and fixings.   Honestly, if we’re cooking tacos we usually use a kit, but for the purposes of this article, let’s cost out a delicious yet healthy taco recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart.

  • ¾ pound ground beef= $1.75
  • Onion, garlic and spices= $1
  • Peppers= $1
  • 12 soft tortilla shells = $3
  • Fixings= $3

Total cost = $9.75

It looks like making meatballs with my ground beef is the cheapest bang for my buck.  I made some cauliflower “rice” tonight with my dinner, and that was a hit with the entire family.  I will definitely try to make the meatball recipe very soon.  I’m also really interested in trying the picadillo recipe, even though it is slightly more expensive to make, I really want to try it out.

Bargainmoosers, how do you cook your ground beef? What cost-effective recipes do you use?

Photo credit: B3d_

Moose Rating (2 votes)
July 12

Five DIY Gourmet Burgers

Posted by on July 12, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Five DIY Gourmet Burgers

My family loves eating burgers.  It is probably our favourite summer time treat, and we love exploring new gourmet burger restaurants like Five Guys Burgers and Fries and The Works.  Although the burgers there are to die for, they are extremely expensive.  I don’t like spending $15 on a hamburger that I can make at home for a fraction of the cost.  What are some great home-made options for my gourmet burger love?

Five DIY Gourmet Burgers

We love to host family parties, and I love this idea of a burger bar.  Why order out when you can pre-make all of your burgers and toppings and ask your family to join in on the fun.  Heart Tree Home walks you through the steps to take to plan an amazing burger bar party.  I think it’s a fantastic idea for a for a fun and easy family dinner.

 Five DIY Gourmet Burgers

We love to make our own homemade burgers when we have a barbeque.  This is another fantastic way to save money, as the burgers you purchase at the grocery store are pretty expensive.  They usually come with eight burgers in a package, and they can cost up to $10 per box.  Make your own by purchasing any type of ground meat (we like to use a combination of turkey and beef), and mix in various add-ins.  Check out these super easy burgers from Fabulessly Frugal which only have four ingredients.

Five DIY Gourmet Burgers

For a healthier option how about this fantastic-looking Lentil burger?  Lentils are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals and are a vegan option for those of you who prefer to eat veggies and fruits instead of meat.
Five DIY Gourmet Burgers
Chicken burgers are usually a healthier option than any other meat.  Chicken is so easy to spice up with different sauces, flavourings and toppings.  Try this Buffalo Chicken Burger from Will Cook For Smiles.  It’s dressed with spring onions, fresh tomatoes and a delicious homemade ranch dressing.

Five DIY Gourmet Burgers

For something a bit more decadent, how about trying to make a blue cheese stuffed burger?  This recipe is so easy and consists of just a few ingredients: ground beef, worcestershire sauce, s+p and blue cheese.  Easy peasy and so delicious looking!  Check out the recipe at Fine Cooking.  (Photo credit: Robyn Lee)

Bargainmoosers, I’d love to hear about your favourite burger in the comments,  please share!

(Banner photo credit: Shutter Ferret)

Moose Rating (3 votes)
July 8

What Are The Best Shopping Deals Over The Summer?

Posted by on July 8, 2014 at 8:00 PM

What Are The Best Shopping Deals Over The Summer?

Being the frugal Bargainmooser that I am, I like to plan out my shopping expenditures throughout the course of the year.  To be honest, planning out my purchases is a fairly new concept for me, as I have never had the storage and organization  required to purchase things in advance. But this year is different, I have turned a new leaf, and I am now the queen of organization!  It’s tough being married to a semi-hoarder, but I’m doing my best to clear things out of the house each season, and to add anything new we need when we purchase it on sale at the end of the season.  This year at the end of the winter we purchased various items in advance for next year, like winter snowsuits in a larger size for my girls, and hats and mitts for the entire family.  We managed to score these items at a price of nearly 70% less than what the original retail price would have been.  Score!  What should we purchase this summer in advance of next year, and what are some frugal items to purchase through the summer?

In-season produce

I absolutely love eating fruit and veg that are in season.  They taste so much fresher and more delicious than produce that has been delivered from other parts of the world.  Plus, I love that I am lessening my carbon footprint by buying local, fresh produce.  Here is a list of Ontario seasonal produce, which I find particularly helpful, as I can look at it month by month and plan some of the meals my family can enjoy.  Here in Ontario we are at the tail end of the strawberry season.  It seems like it doesn’t last long, but when it does, it is outstanding.  One of the things I like to do with seasonal strawberries is to make Freezer Jam with it.  This year we picked our own berries at a price of $2.00 per pound, and we usually pick at least 10 pounds of berries.  With this I made jam, and from the 10 pounds of berries I made at least 40 jars of jam.  This will last me for nearly the entire year, with enough to gift to friends and family.  The pick your own experience is super fun for the entire family, and I like that I’m teaching my children about where their food comes from.  Towards the end of summer I always make a few peach pies and peach crumbles and freeze them for the winter, using the delicious local peaches.   A friend at work grows her own zucchini, and she always brings me in her produce.  Who can beat free?  Not this Bargainmooser.   With her luscious zukes I always make Crispy Baked Zucchini Fries, and I usually make some zucchini muffins or breads and put them in the deep freeze.

Go on a trip

The summer is absolutely the cheapest time to go to a warm destination, with the exception of Disney.  If you don’t like crowds, whatever you do, don’t go to Disney over the summer.   If I’m going on vacation to an all-inclusive resort I’m only going to do a 5 star resort, and there are tons of fantastic deals leaving from Toronto this month.  If I am ready to fly out of Toronto on July 11, I can get a deal at a 5 star resort in Punta Cana for only $400 plus tax. Our very own Krista White wrote about how to Get the Best Deals in July, and she mentioned going on a trip, along with some other awesome tips on what to buy in July.  I am seriously thinking about going on a last-minute trip with my hubby next summer, as typically the summer season is not busy at my work and I am always in need of some rest and rejuvenation by the summer time.

Camping gear, patio furniture and seasonal items

We are planning on putting in a pool next spring, so I will be starting to purchase pool toys, noodles and other necessities at the end of this summer season.  The prices are at least half of their cost at the beginning of the season.  We will also be planning on camping a few times next summer, so I will be waiting until the huge end of season sales this year to purchase a good quality tent and other camping necessities such as new sleeping bags for the family.  We will likely need new patio furniture next year, but given that I don’t exactly know what our new backyard space will look like next summer, I really shouldn’t make those purchases this year.  Jessica wrote an article a while ago about the summer sale cycles, and wrote about camping gear, be sure to check it out.

I do admit that it is tough to be conscientious enough to plan purchases months and years in advance, and I am certainly not an expert on it, but I do think it’s best for your budget to know about sales cycles and plan in advance.  Here are articles from Figuring Money Out and Life Hacker about specifics to buy during the months of June, July and August.  For me, I will be purchasing pool supplies, barbeque accessories and summer clothing at the end of the summer season.

Bargainmoosers, do you purchase things seasonally?  What are your favourite summer-time purchases?

Moose Rating (3 votes)
July 5

How To Save Money On Sunscreen

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

How To Save Money On Sunscreen

We go through a lot of sunscreen every summer in the Robinson household.  I have two little girls, myself and my hubby who all slather ourselves in the stuff before we venture outside.  I have extremely fair skin as I have Scottish ancestry on both sides of my family, so I need to be super protected when I’m in the sun.  I don’t want my kids to be burned the way I was when I was a kid, so we are very careful with applying ample sunscreen on them too.  My aunt has a pool which we visit regularly, and we are especially careful when we are preparing to go to the pool, as it’s so easy to get burned while you’re in the water.  Here is an excellent article from The Skin Cancer Foundation about the importance of sunscreen. Given that we go through about a bottle a week, I have been wondering how to save money on sunscreen. Usually I go into the drug store when we’re out and I pick one that is on sale, and I usually get an SPF 30.  Is SPF 30 enough?  How do I get the best bang for my buck with the sunscreen I purchase?

How much protection do I actually need?

For a nearly albino person like me, I am always attracted to the idea of a higher SPF protection rating: 100 SPF, yes please! The more protection I have the better, right? Maybe not. According to this article on FitSugar, an SPF blocks 99% of UVB rays while a sunblock which has SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. Depending on the price of the sunscreen you are considering, it might not be worth paying an additional amount of money for an extra 2% of skin protection. This article also talks about the importance of choosing a broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays.  I was looking online at different sunscreen brands that have an SPF 100, and for the most part, they are much more expensive than sunscreens that are SPF 30.  It’s a personal choice as to which protection you want, but I will personally stick with either SPF 30 or 50.

Different ingredients do different things

Given that I’d like to keep my kids as natural as possible, I’d like to purchase sunscreen that is effective, affordable and better for their skin.  According to this article from Prevention magazine, I should look for natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead of chemical-based sunscreen ingredients. I also try to stay away from parabens in my skincare products, and they recommend staying away from synthetic perfumes.  The article outlines some recommended healthy sunscreen options, which I really appreciate.  I use Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen guide as a comparison for the products, and I think my best bets are Aveeno Baby Natural Protection SPF 50, and Banana Boat Kids Natural Reflect Sunscreen SPF 50.  They both have an excellent safety rating with the EWG, and they are available in my local drug or grocery store.  I found the Banana Boat sunscreen at Amazon for around $9 per 120 ml bottle.  The Aveeno product is also on Amazon, but is much pricier at nearly $18 for a very small container.

Preventative measures

The best preventative measure we can take is to reduce the time you spend in the sun between the hours of 10am-4pm, when the sun is the strongest.   You may or may not believe it, but certain foods can help prevent sun damage, like garlic, pomegranates and green tea.  I never thought I’d ever go onto Lauren Conrad’s website, but I stumbled upon it when researching this article.  She outlines to top Top 10 foods that fight sun damage.  Most of these foods are regulars in our household, but perhaps I should whip up some fresh lemon, pomegranate and aloe vera juice this weekend.

Purchase it on sale

Once you have determined what type of sunscreen you would like to purchase, keep an eye on the flyers that come out and wait until the sunscreen goes on sale.  According to this MSN article on sunscreen, Consumer Reports say that the best value in sunscreen is Target’s Up +Up Sport SPF 50 sunscreen which costs $1.16 an ounce, and the runner up is Walmart’s Equate Ultra Sport Sunscreen SPF 50 at $0.47 an ounce.  Note that this article is American, although the information is still very relevant to us Canucks.  I looked online, and it appears that in Canada Target’s Up and Up Sport sunscreen costs $0.79 an ounce, and WalMart’s Equate Sport Sunscreen is simiar in price, at about $0.81 an ounce.  In Canada, Target’s product is a better bang for your buck.  I would also check to see whether the sunscreen you want to buy is available at Shoppers Drug Mart.  Check out our very own Eva’s article on SDM’s Rewards program.  If you time your purchases right and combine a sale with a bonus Optimum points event, you can earn enough points for free sunscreen!

I’m really glad I wrote this article, as I had been purchasing sunscreen blindly up until now.  I never would have taken the time to research different sunscreen options, or to evaluate what was best for myself and my family.  Now that I’m getting a little wiser (ahem, older!), I am taking more time to discover the best, most cost-effective options for my family.  I will definitely start purchasing Banana Boat Natural Reflect Sunscreen from my neighbourhood Walmart since is it has such a high consumer rating, it has a good rating from EWG, and it’s cheap!  I’m going to keep an eye on the Walmart flyer each week, and when it goes on sale I will stock up for the rest of the summer.

Bargainmoosers, what tips do you have to save on sunscreen?

(banner image credit: Robert S. Donovan)

Moose Rating (4 votes)
June 24

Buying Art On A Budget: How To Do It

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

Buying Art On A Budget: How To Do It

My husband and I love original artwork.  My sister and brother-in-law are avid art collectors, and we really started to appreciate original artwork through them.  They have moved back and forth between Canada and England a few times, and in the process they have asked us to store some of their art between moves, which meant that we had some beautiful original pieces in our house, which we didn’t have to buy.   Unfortunately we had to give it back, but it was an eye opener for us in terms of what kind of art we like, and how much we value it.  Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t educated in the complexities of art, we simply like what we like.  We have been able to build a small original art collection ever since we came to the realization that it makes us happy.  How have we been able to do it on a budget?

Local art shows/artist studio tours

Every year our city holds something called an artist studio tour.  It occurs each spring, we take the kids, and it is an amazing opportunity to actually meet the artists you are considering purchasing a piece of artwork from.  Because the tour is in their actual homes you can see their studio, how they create their works, and where they live.   There are studio tours across the country, in Quebec, London and PEI.  During the tours the artists will usually have a variety of different sized pieces, and they usually have small prints to purchase, which are generally quite affordable.  The art we bought this year was a beautiful piece we saw on the wall which was already framed, which for us is a huge bonus since framing of art can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find a reputable supplier.  Generally if we have framing that needs to be done we will take items to Costco.

New/young artists

Artists who are still in school or have just graduated are usually struggling to start their careers.  It is very difficult to make a living as a working artist especially when you are just starting out.  Because of this, the prices of pieces from new and younger artists are cheaper than purchasing a piece from an established artist.  Usually the art community in your city will be tight knight, so ask around and get recommendations from family and friends.  Check out university or college art shows as well, you never know what great deals you can find.

Consider different genres of art

Art comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures.  This year when we went on our local artist studio tour there was an artist who specialises in woodcut pieces of art, and she had some small prints available to purchase.   Another artist on the tour this year did woodwork, and had the most beautiful wood bowls which he hand crafted. One of his unique bowls cost around $100, where most of the paintings we were looking at started at around $300.  Usually there are lots of options for different budgets, but sometimes you have to be open minded to different options.

Check out local auctions

We bought items from our first auction 2 years ago, and we have been hooked ever since.  We love the online auction called MaxSold.  MaxSold customers are generally older people who need to clear out their contents as they are downsizing or moving into a nursing home.  You can get some absolute steals if you have the time to bid on the auction, and if you have the flexibility to be able to pick up the items on your own.  During our first auction experience we scored a huge deal: two original paintings of Paris which came framed cost us only $65!  We weren’t sure if the frames would match our décor or not, but they match perfectly, and we love them.  We also love the story that goes along with the pictures. I’m always so proud of my frugal finds.

Etsy/online suppliers

Etsy has a ton of different art options you can purchase online.  It has suppliers in decorative glass, watercolours, photography; the sky is the limit.  If you don’t need to see the piece of art you are considering purchasing in person, Etsy could be a great option for you.  Ebay has lots of art you can purchase directly from the artist.  Be sure to check out each seller’s approval rating and check to ensure items can be shipped to Canada.

When we first decided to collect art we started off small, purchasing a print from a local artist. We decided that every year we would budget a certain amount towards purchasing a new original piece, and that we would support local artists as much as possible.  It has become a super fun annual family event that our girls participate in, and it is something that we look forward to.  We don’t usually have a particular genre or colour scheme we’re going for- we become inspired and make a purchase based on how we feel that day.  This is unusual for us, as we generally like to plan our purchases, and do extensive research on what we buy.  My husband and I both have a creative side, and this is one outlet for that creativity.

Bargainmoosers, do you buy original art?  What tips can you share?

Photo credit: Dustin Gaffke

Moose Rating (1 votes)
June 18

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

Posted by on June 18, 2014 at 8:00 PM

In my writing for Bargainmoose, I need to pull stock images often to illustrate my articles.  Nearly every week I wonder where I can buy images, as I don’t yet have a solid list of sites from which I can buy stock photography that is royalty-free.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you loyal Bargainmoosers would love to see my personal photos, but I’m really not a great photographer. I completely rely on stock images to fancy-up my writings.  I also use them often at my full-time work in HR, as I frequently create powerpoints and other documents which require stock images.  Since I’m a stock photo super-user, I thought I’d take some time to evaluate which sources offer the best bang for my buck, and to identify the pros and cons of various providers.

iStock

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

Arguably one of the largest and most popular providers of stock images is istock.  Istock has a plethora of different files to purchase: pictures, audio files, illustrations and video clips.  The world is your oyster at istock!  You have a few different options to purchase items: through a subscription, or you can purchase credits.  You can save over 25% by purchasing credits through the site and here is the list of credit prices.  Conversely, you can purchase an iStock subscription, which ranges in price from $199 per month to $499 per month.  You have access to different images based on the subscription you purchase.  For comparison’s sake, I was looking at some pictures of London, England, and to download this picture in a medium format it would cost me 15 credits, or about $23.  If I bought a subscription that cost would be included.  If you are needed a large number of photos or illustrations, the best bang for your buck is to purchase a subscription.  Check out our coupon page for iStock promo codes.  Additionally, they have a sweet referral program where you can earn free, royalty-free credits.

Getty Images

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

Getty Images is a sister company to iStock.  They have a large amount of different types of images, from royalty free to rights-managed options.  They are also affiliated with Thinkstock and Photos.com.  They pride themselves on offering “…the industry’s best and broadest collections of imagery and footage – including award-winning news, sport and entertainment content, plus rare and contemporary archival imagery.”   From a non-expert’s eye view, it looks like Gettyimages focuses around mainly professional images and videos.  Check out our coupon page for some awesome Getty Images promo codes.

Corbis Images

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

Corbis Images has millions of royalty-free pictures to choose from.  They pride themselves on offering streamlined licensing, which makes it an excellent site to buy stock photography.  They have a unique offering: they offer entire CDs of unlimited use images.  Themes include animals, business, food nature, and the list goes on.  For example, the Eat for Life- Juice images is a steal for $695.  Conversely, you can purchase individual pictures as you need them.  Their prices are clearly displayed when you click on an image, and there is a handy dandy calculator to figure out the various pricing options based on the size of the image.  They also have subscription options available, however the exact prices are not published.  If you register with Corbis Images they will send you special promotions and deals.  Our coupon page has some awesome Corbis Images coupon codes to use, check it out!

Veer

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

Veer is a sister company of Corbis Images, and prides itself on having unique photography selected by creatives for creatives.  They specialise in creative images and fonts, and from what I can see their content is pretty cool.  Their website is designed well, with a good user experience.  They have a separate page for offers and one for ideas, which is basically a blog for Veer’s users.  It also clearly outlines how to pay for royalty-free images and fonts, with options ranging from pay-as-you-go to various subscription plans.  The more that you buy, the more you save, so if you are planning on requiring a large number of images, plan ahead and purchase either a subscription or a large credit pack.   A one month subscription which allows you to download 20 images a day is $229.  Be sure to check out Bargainmoose’s ongoing Veer deals.

ShutterStock

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

ShutterStock prides itself on having all royalty-free content, including photos, vectors, illustrations, icons, footage, and music.  They have photos in virtually every type of category you are looking for, and they are easy to search for, with a search bar front and centre on the home page.  Their plans and pricing are easy to understand as well, with two options including purchasing a subscription, or  buying images on demand, such as 2 images for $29, or 5 for $49.  A one month subscription costs $249 and you have access to 25 images per day.  Of course we have various coupon codes available for ShutterStock, so be sure to check us out before you purchase from the website.

Dreamstime

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

Dreamstime has over 24,000,000 images available to purchase at prices as low as $0.23 per image.  Pricing for their stock photography is not readily apparent, although they do specify that there are various corporate stock photography packages to choose from, however you need to log into the site in order to access that information.  One cool aspect of the site is that they have a free section, with various images to choose from.

GraphicStock

What Are The Best Sites To Buy Stock Photos From?

GraphicStock is definitely the cheapest option of any other stock photography option listed in this article.  This could be because they only offer a limited amount of photography, and specialize primarily on graphics and illustrations.  Their pricing is incredibly straightforward: $49 per month or $588 per year for completely unlimited downloads.  You have the ability to cancel at any time, and anyone can receive a free 7 day trial.  You wouldn’t think those prices could be beat, could you?  Well, they can, with our awesome GraphicStock coupon codes.

There are many, many options for purchasing stock photos online.  What you get and what you pay really varies based on your needs.  If you’re primarily looking for graphics and images, GraphicStock is your best bet.  If you want super creative photos with an easy user experience, try Veer.  I know through writing this article my knowledge of where to buy royalty-free stock photography has increased 100%, and this will certainly help me in my stock image purchases in the future.

Moose Rating (3 votes)
June 11

How To Get The Best Rate on Your Mortgage

Posted by on June 11, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Get The Best Rate on Your Mortgage

If you’re in the market to buy a house or to renew your mortgage, you’re in luck as the mortgage rates in Canada right now are crazy low. The Robinson family’s mortgage is up for renewal in October, and we are starting to shop for new mortgage options now.  Most lenders will guarantee their rates for 120 days, so for us, the time is right to get our mortgage shopping on.  As the ultra-frugal Bargainmooser that I am, I am committed to getting the absolutely best deal possible on my next mortgage.  There are many things to consider: benefits beyond the mortgage rate itself, the actual cost of the mortgage you choose, the benefits you want/need from your mortgage, whether to use a mortgage broker or not, and how to negotiate the best deal possible.

Use a broker

The last two times we negotiated our mortgage we used a mortgage broker.  What is a broker, you ask?   Check out this article from The Globe and Mail about why you should use a mortgage broker.  In short, they will negotiate a good rate for you, and they get a commission based on the mortgage they sell to you.  In essence, they do the shopping around for you to get you the very best rate.  If you don’t have time, or you aren’t comfortable negotiating, contacting a mortgage broker could save you a bundle.   We have a workplace affiliation with a mortgage broker called True North Mortgage, where they guarantee the best mortgage rates to our employees.  I am in the very least getting a quote from them which I can use to negotiate with other lenders.  True North has quoted a 5 year fixed rate at 2.89% from ScotiaBank, which seems amazing.

Benefits beyond the mortgage rate itself

Don’t just look at a low mortgage rate, be sure to check out the other costs and benefits of a mortgage.  According to this Moneysense article, nearly 40% of people refinance their mortgage at some point during the mortgage’s duration.  Given that reality, check the details of the costs of potential changes like a refinance before you sign on the dotted line.  There are lots of options in mortgages to consider like prepayments, lump sum payment options and increasing your monthly mortgage amount all being options.  We don’t have any company-sponsored RRSP plans, so our main goal for the past few years has been to aggressively pay down our mortgage, and we have utilized all of the options I just mentioned.  They are all necessary in our next mortgage.

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

When we were approved for our first mortgage we were poor, uneducated, and not empowered with our ability to negotiate the best deal on a mortgage.  We had no idea that a mortgage is a huge money maker for a bank, and that they will compete for our business.  We went with a broker who was recommended to us, and he did the dirty work for us.  We ended up with a competitive rate with a good company, but I always wondered what I could have negotiated on my own.  Now we have the bargaining power, the bank roll and the education to canvass for a great deal on our own.  It helps that we have a lot of equity in our house, we are a great customer to our bank, and we are interested in moving all our investments and banking to whichever bank wins our mortgage.  Don’t be fooled: banks make BIG bucks on our mortgages- they SHOULD do what they can to win our business.  I am planning on taking the rate from ScotiaBank to our new lender of choice (likely Libro) and will negotiate to receive that rate plus all the other benefits we will receive through moving our mortgage to them, including free monthly banking and participating in their profit sharing plan.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a nice Canadian girl, but I’m not afraid to ask them to match a competitor’s quote.  Even if the difference in mortgage rate is 0.01 of a percentage, that still adds up to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of savings.  It really can’t hurt to ask.

How much will your mortgage cost you?

Make sure you evaluate all the costs including cancellation fees of your mortgage.  It can be extremely costly to cancel or make changes to your existing mortgage, and given that many people will modify their mortgage in some fashion before its renewal, examine those costs beforehand.  We are considering putting in a pool next summer, and now is the perfect time for us to pull money from the equity in our home, especially given the extremely low interest rates Canada is currently experiencing.  We are getting competitive quotes for the pool in advance of next summer’s install, and also in advance of our mortgage renewal so that we are fully prepared to make an educated decision about how much the pool will cost us.

Ultimately when you buy a house it’s your responsibility to ensure you have done your due diligence on the mortgage you choose.  This Globe and Mail article is really excellent and details 63 questions to ask about your next mortgage.  For example, I didn’t realize that when I leave my current mortgage lender (MCAP), I will have to pay a discharge fee of around $350, which seems crazy to me.  Having that knowledge is helpful, as it is a cost I will ask my new lender to absorb.  If you are renewing your mortgage, use the 120 days before your mortgage expires to secure the very best rates possible for the renewal.  Shop around, don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for referrals from friends and family, and don’t be afraid to negotiate.

Bargainmoosers, what tips do you have to save money on mortgages?

Photo credit: Don The Idea Guy Snyder

Moose Rating (1 votes)
June 2

Saving Money at Disney World

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

Saving Money at Disney World

The Robinson family is planning our first ever trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.   We are taking our kids at some point over the next 10 months.  We know for sure we’re going to fly there vs. drive and we want to take in a few days at the Disney parks.   Beyond that we’re not sure about any other details:  what to see, how to organize our days to get the best bang for our buck at Disney, when to go, etc.  There is a lot to think about, and considering the amount of money we will be spending, we want to ensure that it is an excellent trip.   We have had a lot of luck travelling lately, and I think it’s because of the time we have put in, up front, with planning every detail of our trips.  For some reason all of my friends who have been to Disney have VERY strong opinions on everything: where to eat, where to stay, what to do, when to go.   Honestly, I am very overwhelmed with the enormity of information available, and the varied opinions that people have.   Clare Yeh, another writer extraordinaire at Bargainmoose, wrote an article recently about  4 ways to save money at Disneyland, and her tips are excellent.  Given that our trip will be to Disney World, there are some differences to consider.

Stay on a Disney resort or off-site

The first thing we need to decide is whether we are going to say on a Disney World resort or rent accommodations elsewhere.   90% of my friends who have done Disney stay at a Disney resort, so that is clearly a popular route to take.  We are taking Clare’s advice and are going during the low season: likely November.  For us, the potential savings we can realize by travelling in the off-season far outweigh the allure of travelling to a hot location when it’s icey cold in Canada.  We have never stayed in a hotel overnight with our kids, so this is something that is nerve-racking for us, hence the reason we haven’t travelled with them thus far.  Staying at a rental house (ideally with a pool!) is an attractive option since we can all have our own space, privacy, and we’ll be able to cook our own meals if we wish.  Given that my husband is the best cook ever (and he loves it), we definitely plan to cook a lot of our own meals.  We are food snobs, and we don’t enjoy most food at restaurants.   Conversely, I have heard absolutely wonderful things about the Disney resort experience, from the customer service to the pools.

Price comparison between Disney resorts or staying off-site

Given that we are going on the low season, how do the prices match up?  For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the week of November 16.  According to About.com, Disney is offering a free dining plan for that week.  On DisneyWorld.com, the cost for a 6 night, 7 day package which includes park passes for 7 days, a Disney dining plan, hotel room and transportation to the parks, the total cost for the 4 of us is $2841.82.

According to TripAdvisor, there are thousands of house rental options for that week.  You can do a search based on your exact preferences.  For us, we want a house that has a private pool, grill, enough bedrooms for us all, and close to Disney World.  We narrowed down our options to 4 houses, and they are all around $1000 per week.  In addition, we will have to rent a car for the week, which would cost us around $300.  We are getting our Disney park tickets for $265 for all four of us, (see below for more information on how we scored such an amazing deal on our tickets).  Food costs for the week for the four of us for food we will probably be around $500 in groceries and meals out.  In total, our costs to stay off-site will be around $2065.  Note that if we had to buy our tickets we would need to add on an additional $1300 or so, for a total of around $3365.  Also note that our price to stay off-site is for 7 nights and 8 days versus the 6 night 7 day Disney package.  We will have to pay for our flights regardless of whether we stay at a Disney resort or at a rented house, so I didn’t include that cost in my calculation.  The daily rate for our family to stay at a Disney moderate-priced resort is approximately $473.64.  The daily rate for our family to stay off-site is approximately $295.  If you factor in the Disney ticket costs, the price is actually about the same.  I’m really surprised by this.  Note that there are varied types of Disney hotels, value, moderate and deluxe, and their prices reflect their different offerings.

Save money on Disney tickets

I discovered about a year ago that you can redeem Air Miles for Disney park tickets.  I have been saving my miles ever since, and I now have enough for 2 children’s 5 day passes, and 1 adult 5 day pass which will cost me about 7200 Air Miles.   My kids’ preschool has an annual Fun Fair and silent auction and the past 2 years they have had 4 single admission park tickets which were donated by Disney.  Tickets regularly cost around $100 per ticket, so our goal this year was to bid up to $400, since the money was going to the school anyway.  We were very fortunate and bought the tickets for $265, which is a total steal.  Generally you cannot get deals on park tickets other than through a website called UndercoverTourist, which offers a small discount on Disney prices.  If you plan your trip in advance, it’s worth purchasing your tickets through them.  They also have some really informative links on their site about the park, busy times et cetera.

In addition to the above measures, we are going to ensure that we plan all our Disney days in advance so we can optimize our time at the parks. This Babycenter article is a great place to start the planning process, with some good half day agendas.  I have to admit that I was more than a little apprehensive about this trip before I started doing research, but now that we have a good plan shaping up, I’m actually starting to get excited about it.  The thought of my girls meeting Cinderella in person is pretty exciting.

Bargainmoosers, what are your best tips to save money at Disney World?

Photo credit: Emilio Dellepiane

Moose Rating (3 votes)
May 26

How To Get The Best Bang For Your Buck With Your Next BBQ

Posted by on May 26, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How To Get The Best Bang For Your Buck With Your Next BBQ

The Robinson family needs a new barbeque.  The last one we bought nearly 6 years ago has bit the dust, and it really hasn’t stood the test of time.   Being the extremely frugal Bargainmooser that I am, I need to figure out how to stretch my dollars on the cost of a grill so I can afford some delicious Costco steaks!  Also, as much as I love my hubby, his research skills kind of suck; he’s driven by the manly allure of fire and doesn’t care as much about minute details like cost or warranties.  Truthfully, barbequing is my husband’s domain, so I know next to nothing about a) barbeques in general b) where to purchase one.  Should I purchase the BBQ on sale this week at Canadian Tire or a specialty BBQ store?  Do I get a propane or gas grill?  I literally have no idea.   Let’s figure out what I should consider when purchasing our BBQ so that I can get the best bang for my buck.

Charcoal vs. gas

According to this article from About.com, there are benefits and drawbacks to both charcoal and gas BBQs.  There are many charcoal BBQ aficionados who profess their undying love for charcoal grills because of the authentic smokey flavour it imparts, and because of the allure of cooking on an open fire.  On the other hand, gas grills are extremely easy to use, and  take about half the time to heat up.  Check out this awesome, extremely in depth article comparing them both from Amazingribs.  This article compares the taste and texture of different meats in different grills, and the bottom line is if you are just using it for hot dogs and burgers, either grill is fine.  If you’re looking for excellent taste with meat that you are grilling long and slow (think poultry, roasts etc), charcoal is the way to go for the best flavour.

Cost

In terms of cost, depending on the model you purchase, charcoal grills are generally less expensive than gas grills.  The fuel costs, however, vary widely.   The cost of gas per use can be as little as a few pennies to under a dollar.  The cost of charcoal, however, is much more expensive and can cost up to $5 per use, depending on the length of the cook.  Plus there are various types and flavours of charcoal to consider.  Check out this article from Canadian Barbecue for an overview of different types of charcoal.  In the end most experts say that the costs even out since the cost of charcoal is so much more expensive than gas.  This handy dandy barbeque selector tool from the Home Depot is an easy way to figure out which grill model is a good fit for your budget and for your cooking needs.  According to Consumer Reports you can expect to spend between $300- $500 for a good quality gas barbeque.  From my research on charcoal models, you can expect to spend anywhere from $100-$500 for a good quality grill.

Where was it manufactured?

We always evaluate where the products we buy were manufactured.  From the cars we buy to the barbeques we purchase, where products are manufactured is one factor to consider.  A few grills which are manufactured in North America include Vermont Castings and Napoleon.  Although I’m not completely against purchasing a grill which was manufactured in China, I’d rather support a company that employs North American workers.

Warranty/guarantee?

Many of the grills I have looked at include a warranty of some sort.  Some claim they have a limited warranty, some say they have a “President’s Lifetime Limited” warranty, while others have a 90 day warranty.  Check out the details of what is included in the warranty before you buy, and make sure to keep your receipt, as that will be required to make a claim.  Also check to see whether you need to register your grill in order to make a warranty claim.  I will definitely be looking out for a company that stands behind their product.

Once you have purchased a BBQ it’s important to take care of it

Be sure to purchase additional supplies for your grill like a grill cover and tools to clean it.  There is no sense spending hundreds of dollars for a grill that bites the dust in a few years because you didn’t take care of it.

So which barbeque did the Robinson family choose?  We are going with the Weber Gold Charcoal Kettle, as it has received consistently excellent reviews since its creation in the 1950’s, it is cost-effective, it stands the test of time, it is a charcoal model, and it is built in the U.S.  We looked at a competitor model at Costco which was less expensive, but it was manufactured in China, so we opted to spend a bit more for a brand that was built in the U.S.  The particular model we purchased is only available online, so it will be shipped to our house at which point we will need to assemble it (yikes!).  My loving husband is stoked about the prospect of cooking on an open flame, and I am looking forward to eating some delicious dogs and burgers very soon!

Bargainmoosers, did you buy a barbeque his year?   How did you save money on its cost?

Photo credit: Jun Seita

Moose Rating (1 votes)
May 19

Saving Money Through Your Costco Membership: What Are The Best Deals?

Posted by on May 19, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Saving Money Through Your Costco Membership: What Are The Best Deals?

We have been Costco members on and off for the past 10 years or so.  The reason our relationship with Costco has been on and off as we have always been frustrated by the high amount we routinely spend there.  It’s taken a few years and a lot of discipline to learn how to shop at Costco and ensure we are getting the best deals and spending the least amount of money possible.  One thing to note is that generally I can get better prices on most grocery items at a regular grocery store when I combine coupons, price matching and sales, but as our family life has gotten busier, and our lives have become more complex, I don’t have as much patience or time to dedicate to looking for these deals.  What are my must-buys at Costco?

Contact lens solution

For those of us who have the misfortune of having poor eyesight, contact lenses are a necessary evil.  The contact lens solution that my optometrist recommended is Clear Care, and I find it cleans my lenses like no other solution.  It also seems to elongate the length I can wear my lenses.  On Amazon a 2 pack of the solution is over $20, and at Costco the 2 pack costs about $19, and the solution containers are larger than what I buy at Shoppers.

Monthly Savings:  $5

Greek Yogurt

I love the Kirkland brand of 0% greek yogurt, as it has nearly identical macronutrients to my other favourite Liberte.  When Liberte is not on sale, a 500g container costs around $5.  When is goes on sale and I have a coupon, I can get it for around $3.50 per container, but that magical combination does not happen very often.  I eat a 500g container of greek yogurt every 2 days or so.  The Coscto brand comes in a package of three 500g containers and costs about $8.50, which makes the per unit cost around $2.83.

Monthly Savings:  $8.68

Meat

Although we don’t purchase a great variety of meat these days since we primarily eat poultry and fish, when we were eating red meat we always purchased it from Costco.  I don’t enjoy eating steak unless it is top quality, as I like mine cooked rare.  A rare, cheap-quality steak is almost the worst thing you can eat!  It’s difficult to compare prices on meat, since they fluctuate so widely.  For me, since we don’t eat red meat all that often, purchasing the great quality meat at Costco is worth it.  According to Consumer Reports,  Kirkland Signature Regular Sliced Bacon scored top marks in terms of quality and price.  Our family eats about a package of bacon per week, and regular bacon (without a sale) is now around $5 per 500g package.  The price for the Costco bacon is around $3.80 per 500g.

Monthly Savings: $5.00

Nut butter

I eat a ton of nut butter.  I don’t like avocado, so nuts and nut butter are my primary source of healthy fats.  My family (mostly me) eats nearly an entire jar of Kraft natural peanut butter per week (I know, it’s a lot!).  I eat it every day.  I have said it before, if you don’t shop sales or Price Match, Costco is a great place to get good prices on items like nut butter.  Marantha almond butter comes in a large jar which costs around $8, while the same brand of almond butter at the grocery store costs about $6 for a jar which is half the size.  If I ate almond butter I know I’d realize huge savings each month through purchasing it at Costco.

Monthly Savings: $8

Flowers

The price for flowers at Costco really can’t be beat.  Last weekend I purchased two gorgeous, large bouquets of flowers at Costco for both my mother and my mother-in-law for $18 per bouquet.  A similar-sized bouquet at the grocery store costs at least $25, and even more through a florist.  The only downside to getting flowers at Costco is that they don’t wrap them for you.  Personally, I don’t care what the wrapping is like; I would rather save the money.  Additionally, I purchase about a bouquet of flowers per month for my house.   Through buying them at Costco, I’m saving a bundle!

Monthly Savings: $7

Free Shipping

If you are an online shopper, Costco always offers free shipping on everything, which can save you quite a bit of money over the competitors, especially on large items.

Remember that the best way to save money at any store is to make a list and stick with it.  Last weekend, as an example, was the first nice weekend of the spring and I went bananas buying summer clothing for both my girls.  Instead of spending the $200 I had budgeted for my trip, I ended up spending nearly $400.  Yikes!  Make a list and stick to it, but leave some flexibility in your budget for those items that are must-have great deals that you see while you are there (like the super-cute Puma tennis dresses I bought for my girls, that were only $12.99 each). Also keep in mind that Costco has an extremely reasonable return policy- if you aren’t satisfied with your purchase they will refund your purchase, with no questions asked.  Given that an annual membership to Costco is $55, for me, I save almost $30 each month through shopping at Costco.  The annual membership is definitely worth it for me, as long as I can control my spending while I’m there.

Bargainmoosers, what are the best deals you regularly purchase at Costco?

Photo credit: Alexander Sollie

Moose Rating (2 votes)