Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two great deals!

Since getting back from our vacation in Australia (the reason for no posts in over a month), I've realized how much baby D grew when we were away! She's about three inches taller and we'll find out next week at her 15-month appointment how much she's gained, although she's definitely twenty pounds now, poor tiny thing. The downside of all this is that she's outgrown many of my favourite outfits of hers. Anyway, as I was sorting through the piles upon piles of flyers we received in our absence, I noticed that there were jammies on sale at Walmart for 4.50$ each. That's just a smidge more than you'd pay at a consignment shop! I'm not sure they'll be of any great quality, but they have the great advantage of a zipper, which is always appreciated when you're trying to dress a wriggling toddler fresh from the bath. We are becoming expert baby-wranglers. I bought three pairs of the jammies: pink pigs, blue cows, and yellow ducks. I'm so glad girls can get away with wearing any colour, but I have to prepare for the possibility that, if/when we have another kid, it may come with a Y chromosome.

The other deal was one I came across just yesterday at Rexall: I had taken baby D and her friend baby E (my young babysitting charge) for a walk, since it was supposed to be the least chilly day of the week (at a balmy -12), and we like destinations for our walks. I had to get a couple of things from the drugstore, so we took the scenic route. As we were leaving, I saw a few bins with discounted merch and was stunned to see Baby Mum-mums on sale for 97 cents! These are the very same rice rusks that we stopped buying because, at 2.99$ per box, they were getting too expensive. They were apparently discounted because they expire in March. Pfft. They don't know how quickly babies D and E devour the things. Selfishly, I grabbed all the ones they had (five boxes in total). But check your local Rexall/Pharma Plus for similar bargains.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How not to save in 2010 or ever

When you're trying really hard to save, sometimes you can make bad decisions that can end up costing you in the long run. I'm sure this will happen to us many more times, unfortunately, but you can learn from our mistakes! Here are some ways we did NOT save money in 2010:

1. Switching to a cheap internet provider. Rogers and Bell are the two big providers where we live, and in 2009, we were ready for a clean break with them. We'd long ago abandoned Bell, and wanted to try this new company that was advertising phone and internet for 30$ a month. Fine print: that's only for the first six months, then it jumps up, but it was still going to be less than we spent with Rogers. It was going fine until we discovered that our phone wasn't always working (remember this?). I don't mind paying for service, as long as I'm getting that service. When our one-year contract was up, we switched back to Rogers and haven't had a problem since. One other regret: when I called to complain and find out when our contract was up, I should have asked for a reduced rate for our final months with Distributel.

2. Border shopping the way I do: on two occasions this year, I went border shopping in the States with some girlfriends. While I use everything I bought and even got a few shower/birthday/Christmas presents early and cheap, I also spent more than I would have liked. It's tricky when you're only there for a brief period of time and you're not sure what you need. However, one of the girls on the trip (I'll call her Mrs. Mac) plans well in advance what she needs, whether it's fabric, food, or fashion, and knows her prices enough to determine what's a good deal. For her, border shopping ends up saving money. I will take lessons.

If I think of any others, I'm happy to pass them along. It's always nice to learn from other people's mistakes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The year of no new yarn: a post with many pictures

In 2010, I decided not to buy any new yarn, but to work with what I already had. This was a real challenge for me, in my fourth year as a knitter. I guess that would make me a senior. However, I had amassed enough yarn to make for some neat, fun and interesting projects, many of which ended up being gifts.

1. Diamond Lace Shrug: yarn purchased in 2008 in Australia, took from December 25th 2009-February 13th 2010 to complete. I love it and wear it often, but only in the winter because it's so cozy!

2. February Baby Sweater: yarn sent from New Zealand (c/o in-laws), took less than two weeks to complete, earned me a gold medal in the Knitting Olympics (I started it during the opening ceremonies and finished it before the closing ceremonies). And Baby D looked great in it while it fit. Now it looks like a bolero with 3/4 sleeves.

3. Denim Blanket: yarn gifted to me in 2009 by my best friend's grandma, took a few weeks to complete, finished product given to gorgeous miracle baby Micah on July 1st.

4. Pretty Thing: yarn gifted to me in 2008 by knitter friend, took a few weeks in the spring to knit, finished product given to family friend suffering from cancer. No photo available.

5. Bergère de France top: yarn purchased in 2008 from a garage sale, took from April 16-July 10th to complete, Mom loves it! (I don't have a picture of her in it, though.)

6. Star-Crossed Beret: yarn purchased at the tail end of 2009, took a couple of weeks to knit, finished product given to baby sis' best friend, who is lovely and generous.

7. Chicken Hat: yarn gifted to me in 2008 by Mom, took a couple of weeks to knit, was a birthday present and now adorns our sweet little chicken's head during these cold winter months. It has buttons for eyes, and embellishments of a comb and beak.

8. Sniffy's Shrug: yarn gifted to me by same knitter friend this very year, took a few weeks to make it into a shrug voted on by you as an option for baby D's wedding wear.

9. Tree of Life blanket: sole yarn purchased in 2010, took four months to knit, well worth it for the special recipients, my brother and his beautiful bride.

10. Tree skirt: yarn purchased in 2006, started last year, didn't quite fit around the tree, knitted on it just before Christmas season began. It lives with my parents. I'd like to add something to it each year.

11. Endpaper mitts: yarn partially gifted from an acquaintance, partially bought in... 2007? Hard to say. Either way, it had been there for awhile. They turned into a project for a crafty gift exhange I had with a few friends at Christmas. I include them because most of the knitting on them was done in 2010, although I finished them in 2011. They were my first successful stranded colourwork pieces, and my friend who received them LOVES them! I'll show you another day what I got in that gift exchange.

One year, one challenge, eleven finished projects from a list of twenty-plus.

How we saved in 2010, part 4

These last three are in no way cohesive, so I'm not even going to try.

3. Complaining effectively. I heard somewhere (okay, on an episode of The Office) that it costs a company ten times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Anyone who's ever dealt with a cell phone/internet/cable service provider knows they have retention departments committed to doing whatever they can to keep your business. So when I'm not happy with a product or service, I contact the company in question. I prefer to send a letter, since that speaks volumes in our digital age (someone found paper, a pen, an envelope, an address, a stamp AND put it in the mailbox?), but more and more often, I have to resort to email, as there is no address or phone number. Sometimes all they have is a phone number, and even though I hate being on the phone, I'll hang in there to get my point across. The main thing to keep in mind when complaining effectively is to rehearse what you want to say ahead of time, remind them how long you've been a customer, have a solution in mind, and stay cool. Here are just two examples of what I've received as a result:
-Food Basics: I bought some produce that went bad within a day of purchase; the store manager returned my call within three days of my complaint, and notified his cashiers to give me store credit for the amount I spent, on my next visit.
-Air Canada: before a recent trip, I had to go to the Air Canada counter at the airport to have paper tickets re-printed; the agent serving me took forever, and more importantly, asked me if all I did was stay home and stare at my baby (who was with me, and getting properly impatient). I was offended and let them know it. Within a week, I was contacted by Air Canada and got what I asked for: access to their Maple Leaf lounges on both of our layovers. As you now have to pay for food on shorter flights, it was a tremendous relief to have free food at our disposal.

2. Using available time or skills to bring in more money. This would be my French tutoring and child care twice a week. It's not a ton of cash, but it pays for groceries, allowing my savings to accumulate. I've heard of people doing extra shifts, basic bookkeeping, data entry, even delivering papers to increase their budgets.

1. Watching patterns, waiting for sales. We did this with things as small as cheese (never pay more than 5$ for 500g), and as big as the DSLR camera that was Hubby's combined birthday/Christmas present, purchased in August because that was when it was cheapest. These things go in cycles, so if you have a major or recurring purchase to make, check the flyers (they're all online anyway) and make a note of how often they go on sale. Side note: the first and last pages of most flyers are the loss leaders; these are what get you in the door, and the intent is to have you buy more than you otherwise would. There is no need to buy anything other than the crazy low sales. So scoop up four bricks of cheese, pay the man, and be on your way!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How we saved in 2010, part 3

Today's recap of savings is brought to you by the letter B, for banking. And brief, because we've got a busy day ahead of us. Yes, we have been watching a lot of Sesame Street.

5. Having a charge card rather than a credit card. This one was Hubby's idea. I myself did not know the difference between the two until this year. A credit card is what most people have, and you can get into real trouble if you rack up purchases and don't pay them off. The usual interest rate is around 20%, and that's the percentage of your balance that will be added every month. This would be how banks make money off you, especially if you only make the minimum payment each month. By doing that, it takes years to pay off. However, having a credit card is a good tool for building your credit rating, so the key is never to carry a balance. Most credit cards have a grace period for purchases, so you won't pay interest if you pay off your account in full each month. If you're prone to accumulating debt (or assuming that the amount of credit you have is your money, as opposed to the bank's money), lower your credit limit to something affordable.

A charge card, on the other hand, doesn't allow you to carry a balance. You have to pay off your purchases in full every month, or your card gets cancelled. Hubby now has an Amex card, and the only hitch is that it's not accepted everywhere. However, if he gets stuck, we have my Master Card, on which I don't carry a balance (except when my bank changed their website around, and I wasn't getting notifications on when my payment was due, and couldn't log in to see my balance.)

4. Opening a TFSA. I opened a tax-free savings account with my bank, back in March when I had employment insurance coming in every two weeks, just sitting in my chequing account not earning interest. There are all kinds of regulations around how much you can deposit and withdraw, so I decided to put all the money I wanted to save in there, and keep enough in chequing for groceries and such. Initially I had 4000$ in there, and I transferred in another 2000$ a couple of months later. In under a year, I've earned 64.79$ in interest, and as the name of the account suggests, it's tax-free. The interest in compounded every month, like it would be on a credit card, only this time it's in my favour. So every month, I earn a little more interest.

I'd like to keep that money in there unless an emergency comes up. Speaking of which, did you know that most Canadians don't have an emergency fund of at least 500$? No wonder we get into debt so easily! We didn't have one either until this year, and ours isn't even as much as it should be. The ideal emergency fund is six months' worth of your household's after-tax salary. That would take quite awhile for most people to build, and we're no exception. Between saving for baby D's post-secondary education and our retirement, we don't have a lot of money to put away.

That's it for today! The final three ways we saved are coming soon, in addition to a couple of things that didn't work out so well. Never let it be said that I claimed to be right ALL of the time!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How we saved in 2010, part 2

The arrival of 2011 means at least one thing: the year of no new yarn has drawn to a close! The fact that I have not purchased any yarn yet has nothing to do with the fact that yarn stores are closed. This brings me to my next source of saving in 2010.

7. Going on a ban. The yarn ban is by no means the first one I’ve been on. When I was in university, I worked in the lingerie department at Sears, and I bought so many unmentionables that I went on an underwear ban for six months (as in no purchasing, not no wearing). I’ve also gone on clothing bans for months at a time, and the occasional restaurant ban, whereby we don’t eat out at all for a month, except with family (when Dad generously pays). So while this isn’t the first ban I’ve done, it’s certainly the longest. It’s not a bad idea to do once in awhile, when you know you’ve had enough of something. I’ve also heard people call them “fasts”, like you’re fasting from watching movies, or whatever else. It helps you practice self-control, and plan for what you really want.

When I got the idea of a yarn ban into my head, we were driving back from a holiday in Southern Ontario, and I was thinking of something my favourite knit blogger has said on a few occasions: that she has more yarn than she could knit in a lifetime. And not only is she a super fast knitter, she’s also a generous one, giving away stash to knitting friends and family. Having established that I’m not particularly fast, and that much of my stash is dedicated to particular projects, I began to draw up a list of what I wanted to knit with the yarn I had. The list ran to twenty-plus items, and realistically, that could carry me through several years without yarn buying. Since I do want to have some flexibility to try out other projects, and ones for baby girls especially, I decided to start with one year of no new yarn. I worked through the list pretty much in the order I wrote it, prioritizing projects that had languished for two years or so. A fair bit of it got finished, and I hope to post all the finished products soon. I also kept track of projects I really wanted to knit, and which would require the purchase of yarn. This coming year will be a mishmash of finishing other things on that list (seeing as I only got through the first 6 or 7 items), and starting new ones with new yarn.

Important note: knitting, like most artsy hobbies, is NOT a money-saver. It’s actually often cheaper to buy a sweater than it is to knit one, for instance. And it’s always cheaper to buy socks, especially once you factor in the time it takes. I don’t knit to save money. I knit because I enjoy clothing my loved ones with things I’ve made specifically for them.

6. Deciding how much you’re prepared to spend. Since we’re on the topic of planning, I thought this one was appropriate. I already talked about Hubby’s birthday present planning, so here’s a more recent example. On vacation awhile ago, I needed a new one-piece bathing suit, and I was prepared to pay up to 50$ including tax. I looked around various department stores where they had beautiful long leg maillot styles, but they were all between 130$ and 160$. Maybe when I’m independently wealthy, but not on a single salary! Hubby was a little frustrated that I wouldn’t even try them on, and told me it was unlikely I would find what I was looking for, let alone for the price I wanted to pay.

Then I went to Target (please, please come to Canada!), and behold, all ladies’ swimwear was 40% off. I tried on several suits, and the very last one I tried on, of course, was the one I loved the most, and it looked decent on me. I didn’t glance at the price until I was heading to pay, and when I saw it was 45$ before the sale, I picked up a matching pair of board shorts. Altogether, it was 50$.