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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wrapping Paper

Although I am frugal to the core, it’s the environment that prevents me from buying wrapping paper for presents.  I just had a celebration with my family and while my dad was putting away used wrapping paper for the garbage, I was grabbing the largest pieces to reuse at a later date.
The truth is, wrapping paper has too much ink to be recycled – if you check your city’s guidelines for paper recycling, chances are there is a notice to NOT put wrapping paper in your recycling bin.  So it is produced by factories, producing pollution in its production, then shipped to the stores (again, producing pollution in its transportation), and then it ends up in the garbage because it cannot be recycled.  OK, you can say that many products create as much pollution in their making and transportation.  However…
We buy wrapping so that it can be ripped and thrown out.  There is no other reason to buy wrapping paper.  As well, most of us (c’mon, be honest), wrap presents HOURS before they are opened, not days or weeks!  So all this pollution for a few hours of looking at boxes that look pretty.  Really? is this reasonable?
I have, for the past few years, refused to buy wrapping paper.  It’s a matter of principle and what I am doing instead is not pollution-free, but it’s a step in the right direction.
So what do I do instead? A variety of things.  Read on.
- I use colorful paper we already have at home: catalogues are great – glossy, colorful, and they end up in the recycling bin at the end anyway.  I try to match the catalogue with the recipient (my youngest daughter gets pages of the American Girl Doll catalogue).  Is it environmentally perfect? No.  I should not be getting these catalogues in the first place but look up what I want on the internet instead.  But assuming that we do receive the catalogues, it’s good.
- I use newspaper pages.  They ARE boring, but I tie a colorful piece of yarn (from my knitting projects) so it’s not so bad.  The newspaper hides the content of the gift, which is the most important role of wrapping paper.
- I use packing paper.  This is the paper that comes in boxes when we mail-order something (like from Amazon).  The paper is plain, of boring color (beige, white, grey, brown) but it’s not printed.  I flatten the paper with my hands, cut to size and wrap the present.  Then I use markers to write celebration messages, the recipient’s name, etc. all over the paper.
- I reuse gift bags and wrapping paper.  I keep gift bags and large pieces of wrapping paper that I receive and re-use them.  I am careful when opening presents to preserve the wrapping paper and I am also careful with the tissue paper used in gift bags so I can re-use it.
- Finally, I’m very creative; I use colorful boxes such as paper tissue boxes (so I only have to cover the opening); I use used mylar balloons that I cut to use a wrapping paper.  I use remnants of fabric that I have around the house (ok, this only work if you sew).  Brown paper lunch bags are great – they are very cheap, they are not only recyclable but also compostable.  Snail mail envelopes – large ones, used, can be decorated.  Plastic shopping bags, from stores: if it’s a ‘status store’, like Aeropostale, I love using these bags for nieces and nephews; as well, Target store bags are white and red, very Christmas-y.  I also use old posters and old calendars with pretty photos.
So, next time you need to wrap a gift, think twice: about the environment, and about your wallet!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Be Inspired

Making saving money a game is what works for me – I use it as a challenge!  How can I make dinner without buying anything for the next three days, using only what I already have.  Can I repair my clothes this weekend so I don’t need another pair of jeans?  Can I have fun Friday night without opening my wallet? These are all challenges for me.

I do, however, have many friends for whom being frugal is not a primary concern.  For one thing, we do not discuss much our finances with one another; as well, it is very possible that they their budget is very different than mine.  I also have friends with whom I have very honest and forthcoming about my frugality and we share tips often.  However, when I need a little inspiration, I often look online for articles, blogs, and videos of VERY frugal people.  I also read books about budgeting and how to make ends meet.

One series that I have enjoyed on YouTube is Extreme Cheapskates (we do not have TLC at home); some of the extent to which some of the cheapskates go to in order to save a few pennies is WAY more than I would do.  However, it’s fun to debate internally whether or not I would use their tricks.  Another show, shown only on the Internet, is Cheapsters, where frugal contestants compete in challenges to be the winner of the cheapsters and a prize of $10 000.  The first season has challenges such as making a very cheap but tasty meal; decorating an office with items from the dollar store; dressing for a formal event at a second-hand store, and the likes.  However, the second season is not as good; the challenges are a bit silly, such as finding quarters in a room with many sofas and racing to get coupons.

Books that I like to read come mostly from the library.  For example, I just finished reading The Cold Hard Truth about Men, Women & Money by Kevin O’Leary; yes, Kevin, the ‘mean’ guy on Dragon’s Den (CBC television).  Mr. O’Leary has a fantastic chapter about the investment of your post-secondary education and whether the investment is worth it or not.  Although I do not agree with all his advice (he barely considers living at home but discourages you from seeking a degree which will not land you a job), he also has good advice, such as working part-time even if it means not graduating as fast, if that means not graduating in debt.  A very good read.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Healthy and Hearty Breakfasts the Frugal Way

It’s very tempting to eat out for breakfast when you are in a rush because of an early class (or a late night studying) and you are famished.  However, breakfast food is cheap and it breaks my heart to spend $7+ for breakfast when you should be able to make it at home – fast – for a few pennies (or nickels now that we are doing away with pennies).  Here are a few ideas.
Oatmeal: I’m all for instant oatmeal because it’s fast; however, it’s high in sugar and not so healthy.  If you use only half a package of instant oatmeal (the flavoured type), add the same amount of plain quick cook oatmeal, milk (not water) and you microwave it, it’s much healthier.
Eggs: eggs a fantastic source of cheap protein.  However, cooking them in the morning is tough since it makes a mess in the pan and it takes time.  Another option is to cook ahead of time your eggs when you do have time.  My favorite recipe is ‘egg in a hole’; you make a hole in a slice of bread (eat the small piece of bread); prepare a pan like you would for cooking eggs (melt butter, etc.); place the piece of bread in the pan and add the eggs (with intact yolk, or scrambled) by pouring it over the hole (yes, part of the egg will leak under the bread, but a large amount will cook in the hole, in the bread and around the bread).  You can batch cook these, especially if you scramble the eggs.  The advantage of this dish is that your bread is cooked with the egg – easily reheated in the microwave on a rush morning.
Pancakes: I love pancakes, and I’m often too lazy to make them from scratch.  I buy the complete mix (to which you only add water – no eggs, no milk) which is cheaper by portion since you only add water.  To make my pancakes healthier, I add a bit of plain oatmeal (regular or instant – whatever I have) and some wheat bran (which I use in other recipes so it’s on hand as well).  If I want more crepes than pancakes, I add more water to make the batter thinner.  Easily cooked in batches, I save the leftovers in a container in the fridge and microwave in the morning.  Real maple syrup is expensive on a student budget; if you can’t handle the fake stuff, go with jam, PB or chocolate sauce instead.  If you are having crepes, savory topping are great too: grated cheese, ham, etc.
If you have more time and love to cook: of course, if you have time to spare once a while, you can prepare breakfast burritos, egg XXmuffins, etc. to freeze and reheat later.  Frittatas and quiches are also great breakfast food.  If you enjoy baking, even if it’s only the cake mixes, you can whip a batch of oatmeal or bran muffins (from a mix) and either offer some to your friends or freeze in groups of what you would eat in a day (for me it’s two: one for breakfast, one as a snack).
Leftovers: we often think of breakfast foods as toasts or other starches, eggs, and perhaps cheese and ham.  However, any food you enjoy in the morning is breakfast!  Cold pizza, left-over pasta, anything goes!
Continental breakfast: if you are typically in a real rush and can’t be bothered to cook ahead of time, there is always continental breakfast: stock the fridge with small yogurts and partition dry cereal in small bags.  In the morning, grab a banana, a yogurt and cereal – a complete breakfast!!
Bon appetit!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Things to do Between Semesters that Will Save You Money in the Long Run

The winter holidays, or Christmas break for many, is a welcome rest for most students.  Some of you will head home for a week or two, some will enjoy some leisure time, and some will work for pay.  I have a post about working from 2013 you can view here: .  For most students, there is at least some leisure time involved.  This leisure time can be used for rest and fun, but some can be used to learn skills that will save you money as well.  Here are some skills that you can learn during the upcoming break (or any break – summer is a great time to learn these too!):
1. Learning to cook.  Cooking is a skill that, if you enjoy it, can become a hobby AND save you money since you will be able to eat healthy (get sick less often); eat cheaper than with frozen food; and avoid restaurants if the food you cook is good. If you live in residence now and will be moving to shared accommodation for the next school year, this is an essential skill!
2. Learning to use tax software.  Learning to do your own income tax will save you money for years to come – I’ve had accountants do my income tax and make mistakes that either I or Revenue Canada spotted.  Starting to do your own income tax now is a good idea because you most likely do not have a lot to report: income is minimal, and you main deduction is your tuition fees and book credit.  Tax software that your parents use typically give a family enough licence to include your income tax report at no extra cost.
3. Scrounging what you need from your parents’ house: ok, not a skill in itself, this is a good time, if you are going home, to look through your parents’ closet, garage, and linen closet to find things that you need or want and that they do not use much.  This can include a table top fan for when it’s too hot, extra blankets for the cold season, towels and other bathroom items, etc.  Make a list of what you could use before you head home, just in case your parents have extra of these.  Once you are home, take note of items in your parents’ home that could make your life easier and then ask!
4. Buying in bulk: again, although this is not a skill, this is something worth doing while you are at home with a larger group of people than just yourself: maybe a 6 pack of toothpaste is not what you’d like to buy for yourself, but if your dad buys it, you can pay for your share (1 or 2 tubes) at a discounted price; hey, maybe he’ll just GIVE you the toothpaste!
5. Learning your favorite recipes from your parents’ repertoire – yes, this is very much like skill no. 1 (learning to cook) but it’s actually a tad different: if you learn the few recipes that remind you of home, you may be less homesick and enjoy that great taste too.
6. Selling your textbooks (and/or other study equipment such as a lab coat): if there is a course you just finished and is not a prerequisite for another one, or a book you will not refer to later on, sell it now.  Next year, there may be a new edition required for the course you took so selling a textbook fast is very important.  Put up ads in social media, where you are now AND where you go to school, and prepare a few posters to post once you are back at school so that the posters are up as soon as you get back to campus.
7. Start studying the courses for the next semester.  Ok, this will not directly make you money, but if you can be ahead of the lectures, you will be less stressed during the semester, can avoid hiring a tutor, and overall do better next semester.
8. Repair your clothes; a holiday break is a good time to make your clothes looking good again.  Repair what has been slightly torn, add buttons, fix hems or shorten what is too long, add patches to torn knees and elbows (elbow patches are in right now) and use a small razor to get rid of piling on sweaters.
9. Scout for a new part-time job for the next term: look online to see what is available; advertise on social media so that a friend of a friend may hear that you are looking for work.  Prepare a few resumes, one for each type of job you are considering applying for: food services; retail (non-food); tutoring; etc.  Prepare a few posters for tutoring around campus and close to high schools close to campus – list hourly cost, location (library, etc.), subjects and specific classes – don’t forget credentials such as an A or B+ in a course, or upper year status if relevant.  You can play an instrument? Prepare a flyer for private lessons – even only two lessons a week can easily give you $40-$50 per week (and that’s your groceries!).  Unless you live in Vancouver or Victoria, shoveling snow for neighbours can be a good way to earn some cash: prepare a flyer and make copies so that you are ready to drop them off in mailboxes as soon as you can in January.
10. Scout for a summer job, especially if you are planning on being at home for the summer.  Look around; find how to apply for jobs NOW, so you waste no time in March applying for jobs starting early May.  Think about the type of industry you’d like to work in, but also the type of job that will help you find permanent employment after you graduate.  Decide if you’d like to work at the university and if it’d be a good idea to start in January (part-time) to secure a summer job.  Check deadlines for bursary-based positions and check for jobs at your parents’ firms (they often favour children of employees).  Also, check for specific chain companies (retail; food industry) since they often have a centralized application process.
11. Learn a new skill that can lead to new employment.  For example, take a bartending course.  You don’t need to drink or enjoy drinking to take the course.  But students who have this course are not common, so working around campus at a student bar will be much easier with the course.  Another course may be First Aid and CPR (needed for many jobs where you are responsible for people, including babysitting and working in a day camp); lifeguard (if you already have some high levels of swimming certificates); gymnastics coaching  or other coaching.  Of course these courses may not all be available over the holidays, but you can line one up for when school starts again, when it’s not as busy as during mid-term exams or final exams, or even for right after final exams or during reading week (February break).  And finally, a skill does not have to be learnt with a course; you can learn to repair bicycles in your garage – this may lead to a job at a bicycle shop in the near future. 
12. Get a haircut!  If you have a friend at home, or a parent or relative who would like to cut your hair for free, this is a great time to do so – lots of free time and it’s free.  At the same time, ask for tips about how to give yourself a trim (especially for bangs), and get a haircut that does not need a lot of maintenance. 
13. Get your driver’s license.  This may be a good time to make an appointment and finally get your driving test done.  While having a driver’s licence is not money-saving per say, it is something to get off your list of ‘to-dos’ AND you may need a car at your first full-time job.  It’s kind of hard to test-drive used cars if you can’t drive.
14. Start a new and CHEAP hobby.  This is a great time to learn a cheap hobby and luckily for you, basic crafts are back in style.  Now, do not start investing lots of money and time in expensive scrapbooking!  However, knitting (especially with small needles and fine yarn) takes a long time and is not expensive (see if you can get free needles from a relative); same for crochet and embroidery.  Finding a cheap hobby will fill up your leisure time without spending lots of money at the mall or at bars.  Other good options are writing a blog (blog pages can easily be found for free); learning to cook (don’t try filet mignon; pasta is great!); upcycling clothing and furniture (the basic materials are free), running, cross-country skiing, bicycling (on your high school bicycle!), or drawing.
So whether you will be making money during the winter break, you also have options that can save you or make you money during the following semester as well.  For the meantime though, study well and show your knowledge during your final exams.