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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keeping Warm II

I already posted an article (November 26 2013) about keeping warm during winter.  This is part II, more extreme measures.  Not extreme as in ridiculous, but maybe more extreme because they require more work.  Here is list no. 2 for keeping warm.
1. Use your sleeping bag; remember that great sleeping bag that keeps you warm in winter camping or at least in the fall? Drape it across your bed at night to ensure you will be warm.  If everyone in your house does this, you can turn down the thermostat by at least 5 degrees at night.
2. Get a programmable thermostat: your landlord will be happy to provide this.  They are not very expensive and they permit you to have the temperature lower at night and when nobody is in the house during the day.  You can program weekdays vs. weekends, but also each day of the week individually.
3. Use the library to study; if you are not in your house, you do not need to keep it as warm as if you are in it.  During the day, if most of your house mates have classes, it’s silly to increase heating in your house for just one person studying – go to the library and use the heat that your college provides, free of charge, to you.
4. Check your electrical outlets.  I did this in a house I rented while in graduate school, and in front of most of them, you could feel a draft.  My landlady paid of pre-cut foam sheets to put behind the plastic outlet covers and I put them in.  If you keep your heat inside the house, you will stay warmer.
5. Check your windows – old windows leak air like sieves.  To keep them transparent (to use the light during the day) but make them more air-tight, you can buy special kits that have a plastic sheet and sealing tape; you take the plastic over the window and its frame, and use a hair-dryer to shrink slightly the plastic sheet so that it’s very flat.  The image distortion is minimal and you will save much more heat.
6. Wear a sweater.  I knew a guy who wore the same clothes in summer and winter: pants and a t-shirt.  He had to heat the house at 24 degrees in winter, and cool it in the summer because he refused to adapt his clothing to the season.  I get cold in winter at the same time every day: between 4 and 5:30 pm, I am cold, regardless of what our thermometer reads.  I put on a sweater for 1.5 hrs each day and take it off after.  I also have a fleece sweater in my office because it’s in the basement and is always colder than the rest of the house.  Also, wear slippers or shoes indoors; a cold floor will make you feel very cold.
As we hope the cold advisory is over for a few weeks, prepare for worse weather – it’ll save you money!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Frugal Valentine’s Day gifts

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner – well, for us, super-organized folks anyway!  But generally, Valentine Day is coming up and many people are fretting about giving a gift that A. doesn’t break the bank and B. means the right thing.
Let’s start with B. Buying a gift for a girlfriend or boyfriend is tricky, especially on Valentine’s Day.  If you don’t buy anything or buy something silly, the other will be insulted; if you buy something too serious, the other will either be scared or think you are ready to propose and will be hurt later (unless you want to propose).  I have compiled a list of affordable gifts in two categories: serious, for the couple that has been together for a long time and are planning to be together for many more months (or years) and less serious, for the couple that is starting a relationship or has a casual one.  None of these gifts are expensive, which takes care of A, above, adequately.  Some will need some preparation though, which is why I am posting now and not a week before February 14th.
romantic – make sure you mean it!
more fun – less meaningful
- a piece of costume jewelry purchased secretly at an event you both went to
- a collage of souvenirs from the past xx months together (ticket stubs; café logos; photos)
- a dollar-store mini photo album full of photos of the two of you
- a CD (or memory key) of your favorite songs
- ONE flower (a favorite one? one similar to another from a special event?)
- a quilted cushion of his/her one ruined but favorite T-shirt
- your honey’s favorite dish by his/her mom, cooked by you (you need to obtain the recipe from potential mother-in-law first)
- a duplicate of an old ‘stuffy’ (a.k.a. teddy bear) modelled from an old photograph
- a poem about the other person or the two of you written by you (or a song if you are the musical type)
- an local artist’s portrait of the two of you done from a photo (if you have artistic talent, you could do this)
- a home baked cake (from a mix if you want) shaped like a heart
- a favorite chocolate bar x 5 – wrapped nicely
- a silly picture your honey, framed (cheap frames can be purchased at the dollar store), with your comment on the back.
- your favorite comic book so you can read it together
- your honey’s favorite dessert, homemade
-  a coin of the year he or she was born (check your own coins or a flea market – yes, an indoor one!)
-  tickets for a festival your honey really wants to go to but to which you are lukewarm (attending an event for another one is a great proof of love)
- a scarf, knitted by you, to match his/her winter coat and the university’s colors
- a funny or silly card and a plastic flower – the tackier the better
- a mason jar full of candies – pink Smarties, chocolate covered raisins, anything that is pink, red, or chocolate
Of course, not everyone is part of a couple; and there is nothing wrong with that.  It’s sometimes hard to feel this way when there is a whole bunch of commercial marketing about a holiday that celebrates couples. In my mind, this holiday should be about love and friendship too.  I like to send my mom (who lives alone) a great big card telling her I love her.  My single friends too, get a phone call or a card, and when I was single, we’d get a group of friends together and either go out and party, or watch funny movies together; this way we did not feel out of the hype of anticipation.  This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, which means restaurants will be full so I would opt out for something at home, like a heart-shape cake and fun with all my single friends, or just some close, single, girlfriends.
And whether you are in love or not this Valentine’s Day, enjoy the day, the discounted chocolate on the 15th, and dress in red or pink!  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Using gift cards

You are soon heading back to school for another semester – yeah!  One semester closer to finishing, you have enjoyed a well-deserved break, have enjoyed your parents’ cooking (maybe!) and have managed, perhaps, to catch up on sleep.  Ready for another semester, with more wisdom and experience that may help make this semester an even better success than the last.

For many of us, the Winter Holidays mean having received some gift cards.  Most likely, these are gift cards to store you like or shop at.  The temptation is most likely to ‘treat’ yourself to a bit (or a lot) of indulgence, since these were meant as gifts, they can be spent on luxury, right? well, yes, if you can afford it.

For many students, frugality is the only way to survive; money is tight and in order to survive until the end of exams in April is to spend wisely.  Therefore, the gift cards can come in handy and should be treated as cash. As well, most do not carry an expiry date so there is no rush to spend them.

First, do NOT lose them; if this was cash, you would probably put it carefully into your wallet.  Do the same with the gift cards; know where they are, make sure to carry term with you, and write on the back how much money there is left on each. 

Second, plan how to spend them.  They are restrictive because you obviously cannot buy groceries with your Chapter’s card.  However, you can buy some textbooks and study aids with your Chapter’s card and you should check ASAP which of your required texts can be ordered online with your bookstore gift card.

Third, think about ‘need’ more than ‘want’; if you can predict you will need a dress (ok, more a serious ‘want’ than a real need) for the formal in March, save the clothing store gift card for February when you’ll start shopping for your dress instead of blowing it on a cute sweater.  Think of footwear as well: sandals or winter boots are a must in Canada, and if yours are falling apart, they become ‘needs’ very fast.

Four: if you have a gift card to a department store, think housing: will you need new sheets for your bed next school year? Towels, a coffee maker, a toaster or a toilet brush? Most can be found in large department stores and will be more appreciated than a recent DVD or video game.

Finally, think of your midterm or final exam period.  Won’t that gift card to Tim’s or Starbucks be a lifesaver when you are studying hard and need a boost? In January, you can spend the time to make good coffee in residence or at home.  In April, maybe not so much, and you may appreciate a treat more than right now.

And yes, I just made holiday gifts a part of a well-balanced budget!

Happy New Year!