March Focus of the Month: Get my Sh*t organized

Happy March! What do you mean it’s March 10?

Although we’re already 1.5 weeks into the month, I want to outline my March Focus of the Month: Getting my Sh*t Organized.

The brutal winter weather has turned our house into a hoarder’s nightmare, forcing me to continuously stuff junk in every corner and drawer in this house.

Evidence:

My Kitchen Monica Drawer.

My Kitchen Monica Drawer.

DSC_0995

Our Basement of Doom

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The home office closet.

Then, there’s my email inbox. It looks like a list created by a maniacal four-year-old looking to create havoc in the internet world.

Then, there’s my house cleaning schedule, which is essentially non-existent. We had company come up to visit this weekend, and all I can say is I’m grateful for my son’s extremely rare three-hour-long nap, which allowed me to get the house in presentable fashion. I’ve gotten into a bad habit of skipping household chores and doing the basics. I then turn into a crazy crazier person and spend hours trying to bring the place back into order.

In other words, March is going to be a household/email/life organization month. I’m going to find ways to better organize the house and my home office, and I’ll present some tips and finds along the way.

Last week I went to the library and signed out this book:

DSC_0997

It’s a good book in that it provides you with quick tips on organization in every area of your life, but it’s a little much. If you took every piece of advice offered in the book, you’d be overwhelmed with life. And then you’d probably have to eat a row of Oreo cookies to feel better.

Here are five tips I took from the book that I will try to implement this month:

1. Make your bed every morning: this quick, one-minute effort will eliminate a piece of clutter from your life. It will also divert the dog from sleeping directly on my pillow during work hours.

2. Use the “clock” technique: Stand at the entrance of the room and designate a spot as twelve o’clock. Then start working your way around the face of the clock. This is a good tip to help me stay focused. Otherwise, my house-cleaning technique looks like I’m working in a time machine.

3. Put housework on your schedule. Spell out what tasks need to be done weekly,and write down those chores or times when completing them in convenient for you. There are a lot of people who do one household chore a day. For instance: Mondays are for vacuuming, Tuesdays are bathrooms, Wednesdays are dusting, etc. I’m going to try to put together a daily schedule and see if it helps.

4. Dust light fixtures. Holy, Steve Eurkel, this is long overdue. Just ask the ladybugs stuck to the lights.

5. Use discipline. Deal with e-mail messages once. I always have my email inbox open, which is a constant distraction from getting project work done.

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What’s a tip that you feel helps you out when running a household or home office?

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Financial Fix

Picture this: it’s New Year’s Day morning and you swear you’re going to hit the gym five days a week. The motivation runs you hard for the month. You’re feeling good, your jeans fit again and you can’t stop talking about your workouts.

Suddenly, it’s February 28 and you find yourself lying on the couch, watching The Voice and slamming homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Okay, maybe that last part is just what I’m currently doing every night these days.

That same gym motivation can be compared to my financial focus. I did so, very well with my January finances. But, with any habit-forming challenge, the interest wanes and the accountability drops.

THE FEBRUARY DOWNFALL:

I stopped writing my down my daily expenses.

I talked less about my finances.

THE FEBRUARY WIN:

I’m reading a lot of financial literature these days, and it’s given me some great perspective on budgeting, saving for retirement and paying off debt.

I looked into a pension plan. The numbers scare me, but it’s the best way to save for retirement.

I only allowed myself $200 in spending money last month, and I ended up having to hit up my March drawer money by Feb. 25. I was mad at myself, but then I realized I only went $40 over budget.

We came UNDER our grocery budget for the month! ($580)

Trimming the Fat: February Dog Fitness

Is it just me, or did February fly by? Sure, the weather was as welcomed as a hole in my $5 Target cardigan, but it seems like the month whizzed by.

This month, we accomplished a lot in our household. Toby got his wrist cast off, Alex started walking and Tux got his butt kicked.

Tuxedo the dog

Interval Training.

We were told Tux needs to drop some el-bees, and so we went on a mission to trim the fat.

He got two walks a day: 25 minutes in the morning and at least a half hour at night.

He had a one-month follow-up appointment last Thursday and I’m so, so, so proud to say Tux has dropped three lb. He now weighs 84 lb. The vet was impressed with our efforts, and Tux is actually getting a waistline and his face has slimmed down. He is better behaved at home, he’s been wonderful around Alex and overall, he’s just a happier dog.

Our vet said to try for another three- to four-lb. loss this month. After trekking him through the cold weather, it’s tempting to hibernate for  a few more weeks until we hit spring. But we have to stick with our plan.

Turning our dog into artwork: an hommage to Tux

This month we’re focusing on trimming Tux’s waistline. To honour the pooch of the house, I recently took a pinterest idea and actually turned it into reality this month.

I silhouetted him.

Dog art

I did a mini-photo shoot with Tux  in the living room (fancy! Or, ghetto?) and selected the photo that best suited his profile.

So. Awkward.

So. Awkward.

From my insane nesting/nursery design days, I had a leftover canvas I purchased from the local book shop. I printed his photo, cut it out and traced the image onto the canvas. I wanted a bold colour, so I used a blue acrylic paint I had leftover from the previously mentioned insane decorating days.

As you’ll see, it’s hung up in our laundry room beneath a card I once bought for Toby from a local shop.

dog cardWe now always call Tux a, ‘great dog’.

And, yes, this is our new laundry room, thanks for asking! Well it’s obviously still the same laundry room, but it’s no longer sporting bird borders, gold door knobs and wooden pegs.

This was the before:

laundry room before

laundry room before 2

And here it is now.

Laundry room

As my decorating friend said, “It looks like it lost 50 lbs!”

As you can see, I’m too lazy to clean up my laundry room today to provide an updated image with the dog pictures. But you can imagine it, right? Ok, fine. Here it is. And, really, this is what our laundry room looks like 94% of the time.

laundry room after

I think I’m going to line up the photos together.

So, there, Tux. You can no longer say we don’t care about you. You’re in our stinkin’ laundry room.

 

 

“No. Go.”

These two are inseparable.

There's likely applesauce on his face.

There’s likely applesauce on his face.

Our dog, Tux, has always been protective of Alex and will run into his room when he cries out. But his love grew even more for the new addition when Alex started to eat from his high chair.

Alex loves to play a game in which he chucks food on the floor and happily watches Tux chase after it. Alex screams with glee while Tux anxiously eats up the people food.

Although there’s a mealtime rule that Tux has to lie out of the kitchen and can’t approach Alex’s high chair until he’s been taken out of it, I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve scolded Tux for going for the food. “No. Go lie down” is a statement familiar to Tux. And it’s apparently familiar to Alex as well.

This weekend, while sitting like a king in his chair, Alex chucked a piece of toast onto the floor, looked at the dog, and then repeatedly stated in a deep voice, “No. Go.”

What a tease.

Tux update: He’s lost two lbs!

Is a Farm Food Basket Worth the Price?

Last week, I got an exciting Facebook message.

A family was heading away for a week on holidays, and they offered us their weekly farm food basket. Score. Super score.

I graciously accepted their generous offer and on Wednesday afternoon, I met the farmer at a prescribed location in town and she handed me the basket. Wowza.

Veggie Basket

There is a lot of food in the basket. And by basket I mean laundry basket. Here’s what we got:

  • two loaves of homemade, artisan bread
  • package of ground beef
  • package of bacon
  • package of sausages
  • one dozen eggs
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • turnips (peeled and already cut)
  • beets
  • turtle beans
  • quinoa
  • four large potatoes
  • onions

We received the adult share basket, which is $100 per week.

The company who provides the basket is Heritage Harvest Farm. They are officially recognized as the first and only year round full diet CSA in Ontario. Their meat and eggs are organic and it’s obvious they put a lot of sweat into their baskets (not literally, of course). I’m in love with their website and could spend hours reading their blog, recipes and information related to their business, which is located in Jasper.

Toby and I discussed the value to signing up for the basket. Our current monthly grocery budget is $600/month, which includes diapers and soon-to-be-eliminated formula. We almost always go over budget, but because of my January Focus, we’ve worked really hard to stick to our budget. Last month we did just that!

If we took part in the basket, it would eat up $400 of our budget. Can we buy the remaining necessities on $50/week? Or, would we have to increase our monthly budget?

Last summer we took part in a veggie basket program. For $11 a week, it was worth the price and we enjoyed discovering what we’d find in our basket each week. That said, we wasted a lot of vegetables throughout those months and I felt restricted to what was supplied.

We have to outweigh the pros and cons.

PROS:

  • We’d be supporting a local farm
  • The meat and eggs are organic
  • We would consistently have healthy food in our home

(Potential) CONS:

  • The price may exceed our budget
  • The farm (understandably) requires a one-year commitment. If times get tough or we end up with triplets for our next pregnancy (I’d call them Tina, Amy and Kristen), then how would we make it financially work?
  • Would we waste a lot of the food?
  • Could we purchase the same amount of food for less money?

After having the basket for one day, there’s one thing I do know for sure: That artisan bread is like crack.

Artisan Bread

I’ve already slammed through the two loaves. The eggs are delicious, the meat looks really good and the veggies are gorgeous.

Essentially, I think it comes down to this:

Do you want to support a local initiative while giving your family good, healthy food, but comes with a potentially increased budget? And, can you afford that increased budget?

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What are your thoughts on this? Would you do the farm basket? Would it exceed your budget, or would you make sacrifices elsewhere in your grocery budget?

February’s Focus: Our Dog is Fat.

Meet Tux. Our dog.

He was the bait used for my husband’s wedding proposal and he’s been in our lives for nearly five years. He was our first baby and when he wasn’t cuddled between us in bed (so sad – for all parties), he would be on walking or swimming excursions. Why? Because we didn’t have a child, so he got our full attention.

Let’s photo montage his life:

2010: Spoiled.

2010: Spoiled.

2011: Super Spoiled.

2011: Super Spoiled.

2012: five days prior to baby's arrival. A little uncertain, but still spoiled.

2012: five days prior to baby’s arrival. A little uncertain, but still spoiled.

2014: Sad.

2014: Sad.

Many new parents will tell you: when the baby arrives, the dog doesn’t thrive.

Although we’ve continued to give Tux two walks a day, the time and distance that once went into those walks got cut short thanks to exhausted owners with poor excuses.

Since the fall, Tux – who has Grade 3 hip dysplasia – developed a weird skin rash. He was also gaining weight and was often anxious.

My wake-up call about Tux’s health came when we spent… wait for it…. ready? oh, Jebus….$600 on vet bills two weeks ago to find out what was wrong with him.

We got a thyroid test done and new x-rays on his hips. To be fair, it had been four years since his last x-ray, so this was a “let’s see how much out of the socket his hip bone currently is” check up (grammar slammars,  go crazy).

$600 later and the vet’s verdict? He’s fat.

His tests came back just fine and his hips are about the same. But, as the vet told me, Tux is overweight and needs to lose 12 lbs.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied to the vet while handing Tux mittfuls of bacon.

I looked at his file and he’s gained 15 lbs over a year and a half.

I’m actually astounded by this number, especially because he gets absolutely no treats at home and we do get him out every day (see? more excuses!).

The vet said before we consider any option for his hips, we need to get him down 12 lbs. This is good for his health and helps alleviate his hip pain.

And so….February’s Focus of The Month: Doggy Boot Camp.

For the next month, I’m going to work at getting Tux’s weight down. This includes at least an hour of walks each day and picking up any of the food our baby chucks on the floor rather than allowing Tux to get at it (okay, so I guess that counts as treats).

Like anyone who’s online and on a fitness kick, I’ve posted some “Before” pics:

The required: "stand in front of a wall" photo

The required: “stand in front of a wall” photo

Tuxedo

I’m a numbers loser, so I actually measured the dog.

I know, it’s just a sad house over here.

Hips: 28.5 inches

Largest part of his tummy: 33.5 inches

Weight: 85 lbs.

We’re actually already a week in and, guess what? No guess. Guess again. Guess again. Just guess. One more guess.

Tux is happier, has more energy and his anxiety has reduced.

Shocker.

I wanted to blog about this for a few reasons. I’m going to discover different ways to get our dog in shape, and it’s a preview for any couples considering getting a dog when they know they’ll be having kids in the near future. Here’s your potential future reality. I’ve faced a lot of post-baby dog guilt and Tux has been pushed to the side. It’s life, and I get that. But he didn’t ask for it.

We’re $600 poorer, but at least we got the wake-up call that our dog needs to lose the weight. I’ll check in on how we’re doing at sticking to our dog’s health plan.

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How do you keep your dog in shape?

Do you want to share $600 with me?

 

 

 

How I did with my finances this month

This past month, I focused on two things: limiting my spending and limiting my spending.

It was tough. It was crazy. It was really good.

As I previously outlined, I set aside $300 spending money for myself.

Here’s a pretty pie chart to showcase how I spent my money in January:

James on Jessie Spending Pie Chart

My misc. items include paying for tickets to a show we’re going to this month. It also includes a night’s worth of babysitter fees as well as spending $4.81 on electrical outlet covers.

I figured my food spending habits would be higher, so I was impressed with the numbers. I only spent $60 on food this month.

Gifts were higher this month as it included four birthdays, which included materials for a party.

So where’d I end up with the $300? I still have $11 in my wallet. Although I’m pretty sure a fly just escaped it.

Here’s a recap of how the month went down:

THE GOOD

1. I educated myself. I learned a lot this month about finances as I added a number of financial blogs to my blog reader (I use the Feedly app). I also read through Personal Finance for Dummies.  I learned about emotional spending as well as researched ways to decrease our grocery bills. This is also the first month in a while in which we’ve actually stayed within our grocery budget. New favourite blogs: Money Saving MomClub Thrifty and The Simple Dollar.

2. I set myself up not to fail. This month, I adopted the budgeting approach from You Need a Budget. I got myself to use spending money from money earned two months ago so that I can better plan my spending. It allowed me to know how much money I have for the month, rather than living paycheque to paycheque and waiting for money to come in.

3. I talked about finances. I used to avoid any financial talks with my husband. Instead, I’d quietly try to work out my inability to follow a budget and hope it’d work out. This month? Toby heard about nothing but finances. Nearly every night I spoke about my successes, my struggles and my pride in taking control of my money. It was nice to bounce ideas off him and check in with good reports.

4. I had MONEY left in my account! So here’s the big one: I only used my debit card for grocery store purchases and cash for everything else. As a result, my online banking records look like a clean, crisp linen rather than a dirty, mashed up tablecloth thrown into a closet. This approach left me with several hundred dollars in my account. Imagine that. I didn’t overspend and, as a result, had money leftover. Shocker.

5. I know I can do it. I didn’t struggle with limiting my spending money this month. Rather, I struggled with the idea that I knew I had to limit my spending. I often worried about reverting back to my ‘old ways’ (as if it was so long ago), and the effort would be entirely erased. But, with $11 still in my wallet, I learned I can actually go through with it.

THE BAD

1. One word: withdrawal. At about one week into this program, I went through some fugly spending withdrawal. I continued to think about the things I wanted to buy. By the time the end of the month arrived, I reviewed the things I thought I would have purchased with my spending money and came away with NONE of those items. But, I gotta say, I enjoyed my time away from stores and constantly dealing with buyer’s remorse.

2. Taking it out on others. In constantly talking with my husband about my finances, I often chatted with him about our family finances and whether we are on track. It was good in that it forced us to better communicate about money. The bad part was when I started to project that financial stress on him. After grilling him one afternoon about our grocery money, I suddenly came to a realization: this was about me and my spending. His spending habits are much healthier. I swallowed my pride and apologized for projecting that stress onto him. I then ate four chocolate chip cookies.

3. Guilt. Knowing that I have the ability to track my spending, I’ve dealt with a lot of guilt this past month. Guilt about messing up my spending in the past and guilt about not being further ahead in my future financial goals.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Stop Making Excuses about your spending. There’s a real big difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’. As soon as I eliminated the excuses, I felt in control.

2. Check Your Online Banking. Checking in often to track spending and looking ahead at future purchases makes everyone feel better.

3. Write it down. I loved sitting down each night before bed and scribbling down that day’s purchases onto a notepad. Better yet, I loved it when I got to write, “No Spend Day”.

4. Make it a habit. Apparently it takes three months to build a habit. So I’ve still got more practice time to hammer out before I can write my financial book.

5. Don’t write a financial book.

NEXT STEPS:

1. Cancel Bell Television Subscription for good. Monthly savings: $75

2. Research other banking opportunities. It looks like PC Financial provides the best option with a no-fee chequing and savings accounts. Monthly savings: Approximately $30/month

3. Continue to track my spending. This month, I’m down to only $200 spending money, based on my extra income earned. I’m already down $5.35 after getting an Egg McMuffin and coffee following a late night out Saturday night. Don’t judge me.

4. Eat Fewer Egg McMuffins.

All in all, it was a really good month. I obsessively thought about money, but I loved having a different approach to how and why I thought about it. I still have a long way to go but I really do feel like I’m heading on a path that will instill good habits and a healthy bank account.

Lastly, thanks for all your support and insight over this past month! It’s really hard to talk about money, but it’s nice to know that everyone has dealt with their struggles and the shared stories taught me a lot about how to find ways to have a better relationship with my dollah bills.  I’ll continue to check in about my financial focus.

So what do I have lined up for February’s Focus? It was initially to organize my house and myself, but I’ve already changed those plans. This month’s focus includes 12 pounds, bad hips and snowballs. Man, that’s random. I’ll blog about it this week and share this month’s focus with you!

 

True story…

True story: I can’t find my passport.

True story: when searching through old purse #3 for said passport, I found $15 in change.

True story: I squealed with glee.

True story: I miss Target. Like, a lot.

True story: I think about my money all the time. Like, a lot. But in a good, healthy way. Not in a I-just-ate-a-bigmac-and-now-have-sad-feelings kind of way.

True story: how can I purchase new running shoes for $7? My feet hurt. Like, a lot.
image

True story: I now have $120 left for the month.

True. Story.  Boo-ya.

True Story: I never found that passport. A new one costs $120.

Five ways to save money at home

In my quest to crunch my spending habits this month, I’ve been trying to find ways to save a penny nickel in all facets. Honestly, in about six days’ time, you’ll likely be finding me scouring the yellow bins looking for beer bottles to recycle/drink from. If you see me doing this in town, it wouldn’t hurt to stop and throw a quarter my way a la John Candy.

Source: https://i0.wp.com/www.screeninsults.com/images/uncle-buck-mole.JPG

“Here’s a quarter…”

ANNNNYWAY, I’ve had to think about some ways to save in the spending department, so I took to the internet and conversations with friends to discover how to save some coin and turn those ideas into lifelong habits:

1. Make my own eye make-up remover. A Facebook friend posted the article, 31 Household Products you’ll never to have to buy again. Because I need to purchase eye make-up remover this month, I snagged the homemade eye make-up remover idea and made it myself. It’s one tsp. coconut oil mixed with 1/2 tsp no tears baby wash and water. Verdict? Not bad. I already had both items in stock, making it a cheap purchase for me. It’s not as good as the store bought stuff, but it does the job. Cost: $0.

2. Only buy meat if it’s less than $3/lb. When I last met with my book club, we talked about my quest for financial success. One book clubber says her family’s rule is to only purchase meat when it’s priced less than $3/lb. I’d always look for meat deals in the flyer, but this tip gave me context about what actually makes a good deal. It’s near impossible to get chicken at this price, but it’s a good guideline for other meats. Another tip is to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our meal plans.

3. Watch free-programming television. We still has the old-fashioned television tower hovering alongside the house. We recently hooked it up and we get about 8 free English channels, most of which are in high definition. They’re all Canadian stations, including CBC, CTV and OMNI. It gives me a television fix AND we’ll be saving $60/month in our Bell television bills. If you don’t have the tower then you can purchase rabbit ears at stores such as The Source. This is free for all Canadians, but the channel availability depends on your location.

4. Remove myself from e-temptations. I used to be on this Lulu Lovers Facebook page in which people sell their used Lululemon clothing items. As soon as someone posts a good find (i.e. size six scuba hoodie for $60), the group members would jump on the sale like the hyenas on Scar in the Lion King. I would constantly be checking this group to see if there are any good finds, even though I’d never make a purchase. But the constant access to potentially finding a ‘good deal’, I feel, led to my desire to want to spend money in other ways. I recently took a deep breath and deleted myself from the Lulu group. I also unsubscribed to email notifications for shops so I’m not tempted to make instantaneous purchases. By eliminating the e-temptations, I’m not allowing the internet to make me want to spend. Next step: eliminate my Pinterest account. Feck.

5. Re-use existing hardware in your home. Our home was built in 1979 and we inherited the same ugly, gold doorknobs. During our recent laundry room mini-makeover, I was dying to switch up the hardware. Instead, I purchased Rustoleum oil-rubbed spray paint in bronze. I took off the knobs, sprayed ’em up and gave the ugly pieces a quick makeover by spending just $10.

Ugh.

 

Rustoleum Oil Rubbed Bronze

You can also take this same approach with bathroom hardware (which I also did) and kitchen cabinets handles and knobs. Find ways to renew your home’s ugly features by finding inexpensive ways to refresh the style. Obviously the best answer is to not spend any money at all, but it gives me house pride while not breaking the bank.

 

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Question: What are some ways you save money for your home?