Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Month 14: Debt Repayment Update

Not quite below the $50K mark to close off 2013 but this month we did make some good progress and are down $675 which leaves:


$50,288

We're a long way from where we started at the beginning of 2013 ($59,860) and I'm happy to report we've paid off just under $10,000 of principal this year on our debt. 

Reviewing our year we made additional principal payments on our debt as follows:


I'm moderately optomistic we can maintain the same level of debt repayment next year, even with me being off for part of the year. 

The Best Christmas Yet



This post has been a long time coming. We've safely returned to -10 degree weather in the great white north from our incredibly fun trip to Disney World - details to come! - and the Christmas Tree came down today.

I'm so happy that for the last 3 years I've kept a handy excel spreadsheet for tracking Christmas gifts and spending. For the past 3 years, we've dramatically reduced our Christmas spending from $1500 in 2011 to $1100 in 2012, and finally to $550 this year. What's amazing is that despite spending much less on the holiday each year, I think our happiness has actually grown incrementally as we've gotten more creative and thoughtful with our purchases and moved the emphasis away from gifts and focused more on experiences.

Some of our saving moves this year were:

- Buying a $25 Christmas Tree from the grocery store rather than cutting our own as we did in 2011 or purchasing from a fundraiser for more than double the price last year. Since we were going away between Christmas and New Years, the tree was less of a deal for us this year since we didn't have as much time to enjoy it.
- Opting for the free Santa photo at our local mall rather than making the trek to the mall a couple of cities over where the Santa looks authentic and the photos cost $25. This turned out to be a wise choice since N wanted nothing to do with Santa this year!
- DH and I decided not to exchange gifts this year and neither of us were disappointed! We still received a couple of small gifts from family so we weren't entirely gift deprived.
- Taking advantage of Kijiji (like new $80 hockey skates for $20) and Black Friday Sales (LeapPad $80 and new release Lego Marvel Superheroes PS3 Video Game $39)
- Using the Presidents Choice Gift Cards DH gets from work for Christmas to buy gifts
- Not doing Christmas cards

Christmas morning, the boys faces were lit up as they opened their stockings and few little gifts from Santa. Our gift to them was the Disney trip. The rest of the gift giving took place when we visited family and friends. We've completely found that the fewer the number of gifts, the more appreciative they are of each gift they open. As a side note, we enjoyed travelling over the holidays so much that we decided that we'd like to build travel into our Christmas traditions every year.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Easy and Budget Friendly Kids Christmas Cards



B's kindergarten teacher sent a notice home with all of the names of the children in his class as some parents had been requesting them for Christmas cards. While they said parents should in no way feel obligated to do this, that it does help the kids to develop their reading and writing skills. 

Thankfully I save the covers of old Christmas cards for occasions such as these so this "craft" cost a grand total of $1.15 for a box of mini candy canes. 

I cut the cards into 4 or 6 depending on the size and B wrote on the white parts and affixed a candy cane to each with scotch tape. We wrote the first few together and then B worked on the rest on his own with some checking in every so often. 

Perfect way to use up old Christmas cards! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Baby Budget!!!!

For the past few months I've been a bit nervous about how we were going to manage with my drop in income come April when Baby #3 arrives. 

In Canada we are lucky to be able to collect maternity/parental employment insurance benefits for up to a year which helps. I did some number crunching and made some telephone calls this month. It looks like in April 2014, I can expect to bring home $1,950/month as I will be eligible for the maximum benefit amount based on my income in the past 52 weeks. This amount is the amount AFTER minimal taxes are taken off. I will be selecting the less tax option (with spouse). Note: there is some variation by province - I am in Ontario.  I will also receive the Universal Child Care Benefit of $100/month per child under 6 years of age which means I will stop receiving for B in April but will start receiving for the new baby. In total, I will be bringing in $2,150/month. 

I don't plan on taking a full year off this time around. I will for sure take the Summer off but hope to go back to work sometime in the Fall. Since I am working on contract currently, I'm not guaranteed a job to go back to so it is nice to know that I have the safety net of a guaranteed income for  up to one year, should it take me some time to find another job. 

Surprisingly, we didn't have to make too many cuts to our budget which was sitting somewhere around $6,900/month though we've been bringing in about $7,200 or better so we did have a fair bit of slack in there. By the end of March, we will also have our Visas completely paid off, freeing up just over $5,000 as an "emergency fund" should we need to use it at any point while I'm off. 

Without further ado, the budget line items that were affected have been highlighted in red: 

Expenses
Monthly
Notes



Housing


Mortgage Interest
900
Approximate 
Property Tax
420

House Ins
85

Enbridge
135

OPUC
80

Water
65


1685




Transportation


Car Loans
740

Car Insurance
290

Gas
270
$60/week for DH, $15/week for me

1300




Investments


Mortgage Equity
500
 Approximate
RESP
70

TFSA
25


595




Debt
620
These are more or less our required payments or payments that would be a hassle to reduce. 



Vacation
570




Life Insurance
120




Childcare
400
This was only actually reduced by $100. Won't be making use of this as much but will be using as a placeholder/banking hours to lessen the increase at first when I go back to work. 



Entertainment
300
2 iPhone Plans, VIP Cable w PVR, internet - unlimited bandwidth, homephone w 500 NorthAmerican LD minutes



Groceries
400




Spending/Other
160





$6150

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Another big boy bedroom!

My littlest - soon to be big brother - is officially out of the nursery, out of diapers (except for a pull up at night), and after much ado is sporting a big boy haircut!

The new big boy room was originally our nursery when we moved in and Nicholas was just 2 months old. We quickly learned it wasn't an ideal nursery since it is above the garage and in the summer is quite warm and the winter quite cold. We also had to avoid going in and out of the garage while the baby was sleeping. Our first winter, we moved the nursery to the cozy room which sits directly above the furnace and moved our office furniture and spare bed into the room over the garage. In the summer and winter we'd just close the door to that room. It also became a dumping ground for random things that didn't have a home in other areas of the house or that we planned on taking down to the basement when we got around to it (which was never since we just closed the door and didn't see it!). The kids also liked to venture in and get into stuff they shouldn't like office supplies. Here is what it looked like at the beginning of November.



Note: the bunk bed was a relatively new addition from when we redid B's bedroom. Previously we had the double mattress and box spring on the ground in here as our guest bed.

In order to make the transition from office to big boy bedroom, there were a few things that needed to be done and first thing was first, we needed to address the temperature issue. DH caulked the inside of the windows throughout the entire house. He also insulated the garage door with foam insulation panels which were very cheap. We did notice a marginal improvement in the temperature in there after making these improvements but decided to also buy a ceramic heater with a thermostat and automatic setting for back up just in case. We'll also use this at our trailer at the beginning and end of the season so it will serve a dual purpose! Of course we've also doubled up comforters on all the beds in our house for the winter so we don't have to keep the heat so high.


We got it at Home Depot and thought it to be a good deal with all the features and the 3-year warranty.

For safety reasons we took the stairs off the ladder of the bunk bed since N is still little. We also got rid of the bookshelf out of the room (worry wart over here) and swapped it with the lightweight utility shelf we had in our laundry room. We used the shelf in the closet along with some cheap bins I bought so N had easy access to his clothes for dressing himself. We thought about a fancy closet system but since we're on a budget it didn't seem worth it and I was actually really happy with how the utility shelf worked out in there. His sweaters, jeans, and good clothing is hung up in the other side of the closet. He rarely wears these unless we're going somewhere special. Now he has easy access to his socks, underwear, pyjamas, long sleeved t's and track pants.


As for the decor... we painted this room originally when we moved in for the nursery and were still happy with the colour so that saved us time, money, and work. Similar to B's room, when we were cleaning out my mom's basement, we came across a print my dad, a motorcycle enthusiast, had bought from an artist in Quebec on his travels. This art seemed incredibly suiting for N who loves vehicles of all kinds. We had it framed for the nursery originally so the colours work well in the room.


We had the navy comforters and white sheets (a set for each bunk though we don't have the top ones on currently) from B's old bedroom anyway but I came across these absolutely adorable plane sheets in Marshall's back in the summer and since N is obsessed with planes and the colour scheme worked well with the room, I bought them. There was only one set but that's fine since the other sheet set is just plain white with a small navy trim at the tops.



There were a couple of pictures and sentimental items I wanted to display but keep out of reach of little hands. This shelf from Home Depot was perfect. The footprint frame was a baby gift, the name puzzle I bought from a Farmers Market in Edmonton, and the photo of our Yorkie was something I've had since we got him but has just been sitting in a box and since N is the dog's biggest fan it seemed like a perfect fit. There are a couple more things I need to fix/find that I'd like to also display - a wooden car and a metal fire truck piggy bank. In time!


Finally, the little reading nook. The chair was mine from my university days! The cozy animal print fleece blanket used as a throw was a baby gift originally for B but well loved by N. The lamp was a hand me down from a family friend that we used in our first house. The black wicker basket which holds all of his books came with a wedding gift and the Animals of the World poster was a gift from my brother to N. You'll notice B has a similar Solar System one in his bedroom.



The Cost

Lasko Heater = $64.99
White Shelf = $8.49
White Brackets (2 @1.38) = $2.76
Clear plastic storage bins (3 @ $0.87 each) = $2.61
Airplane Sheet Set = $19.99

Total: $98.84

Not a bad transformation for $100 bucks!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December Goals!


I can't believe it is the final month of 2013! We have so much to look forward to this month and so much to look forward to next year. To end off the year I have set some loose goals for December but first a recap of how I did on my November Goals:

+ Move N into his big boy room (currently our office) by the end of the month and find somewhere for our office to go. This month I took on the gargantuan task of sorting, purging, and finding a home for everything in our spare bedroom/office a.k.a the dumping ground. I got rid of a TON of paperwork including most of my school stuff. What didn't get purged found a home in other places throughout the house. Some of it moved nicely into our walk-in closet which had a ton of unused space. Due to surgery, DH so was unable to lift but our desk and computer will be moving downstairs to our underused living room space this weekend hopefully.  I also mentioned the temperature issues in this room. DH insulated the garage door and finished caulking the rest of the upstairs windows this month and it made a wee bit of a difference. This weekend will be our final push to get everything ready in there. I should have a post on the room transformation sometime next week.  

+ Finish most of my Christmas shopping and get the boys Santa photos done. I jumped from 25% to 65% done! I have a few small things to grab when I do groceries, etc. tomorrow but for the most part, the last 25% of the gifts are in the form of gift cards which we'll buy when DH gets his annual Christmas "bonus" of PC gift cards from work. Santa photos were a partial fail. N refused to get his hair cut and then refused to see Santa when it came time. We do have a nice pic of B and Santa and are hoping we can get a photo of the both of them with Santa at DH's work x-mas party this weekend. Our decorations are up aside from the tree which we'll pick up and decorate this weekend. Expect a Christmas post sometime this month too - looks like we'll come in at around $500 total for our Christmas spending this year which is less than 1/2 of what we spent last year!

+ Continue with organizing, cleaning, and purging at home. Office was sorted! As were the kitchen cupboards, and the laundry room. B scrubbed the baseboards on the main floor for me with a cloth and soapy water and I even managed to scrub down our walls and cupboards in the kitchen. 

+ Continue to firm up our Disney travel plans! We paid off the rest of our Disney Resort/Park Fees which felt awesome and DH ordered his passport. I have our travel route and stops meticulously planned as well as our days and the attractions we hope to see and places we'll eat but we still need to make reservations and look into Fast Passes. I've also been busy scouring Trip Advisor reviews for reasonably priced places to stay along the way since we are driving down but between mold/mildew and pests (roaches!) this task has taken much longer than anticipated. 


My goals for December are:

+ Finalize Disney travel plans by mid-month. I really don't want to be stressing about this closer to the time we leave. On my list for the next 2 weeks is: purchasing travel insurance, booking hotel night stays for our drive, and making dinner reservations. My sister will be housesitting and watching our dog while we're away so I'll also have to make sure we have some food, etc. here. 

+ Finish Christmas shopping and enjoy Christmas! DH usually grabs the gift cards so I think finishing the shopping will be minimally stressful. I've tried to reduce the number of commitments we have for December so we aren't overwhelmed. This year we decided only to go to DH's work children's x-mas party since last year it was hectic going to both of ours. DH's is also much better - more of a family event with better entertainment, a meal, good gifts and the best part is that it is free! I'm also hoping to send the boys over to my mom's or my sister's place one evening so we can enjoy a quiet night of gift wrapping together. 

+ Carefully monitoring spending. Between Christmas, our vacation, and some unpaid time off for DH, we need to be careful to keep our spending in check and our expenses as low as possible this month. Nothing ruins a good time more than worrying about money. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

Budget: Our Monthly Grocery Bill

Awhile back I posted on our monthly budget. Each month we allocate $400 to groceries (including cleaning supplies, diapers, etc.). I knew we did supplement this budget with surplus from other categories on occasion but didn't monitor it too closely since we don't normally fall short in other areas. 

For years I have been shopping at the same few stores where I've found prices to be the lowest for the items I need. No Frills for most of our food, the Real Canadian Superstore for the items I can't find at No Frills - goat mozzarella, some natural cleaning supplies, diapers/wipes (I find to be cheapest here!), and Halenda's for nearly all of our meat (have you seen Food Inc.?). 

Martina's comment on our budget allocation for groceries made me take a closer look at our grocery expenditures in November.  At the same time, organizing my grocery expenditures also forced me to evaluate our food choices. I like to loosely follow the Canada Food Guide. After the first 2 weeks I noticed that we were consuming more than twice the recommended amount of grains, half the recommended milk and alternatives, 2/3 the amount of fruit and vegetables and just over the recommended amount of meat and alternatives. I tried to correct that for the last half of the month. Without further ado, below is an itemized list of everything I bought under the "grocery budget" last month:

No Frills


Astro Balkan Vanilla Yogurt (650g) x3
6.81
Sale
Astro Natural Fruit Yogurt (100g x12)
3.98
Sale
Small Eggs x2
3.98
Dozen Large Eggs x3
6
Sale
Neilson 2% Milk 4L x2
7.94
NN Marble Cheese 500g x2
11.14
Sale
NN Medium Cheddar Cheese 500g
5.57
Sale
International Delight FV Creamer x2
3.94
Sale
International Delight FV Coffee Creamer
2.77
International Delight FV Creamer
2
Sale
PC Blue Menu Lactose Free Margerine
2.69
Imperial Margerine
2.47
Natura Organic Rice Milk Carton (1L) x4
9.16
NN Peanut Butter
3.97
Dried Split Peas
1.79
NN Kidney Beans
0.87
NN Black Beans
0.87
NN Slow Cooked Baked Beans
0.98
NN Flaked Tuna in Water x2
2.34
Pork loin (5 lbs)
8.69
Sale
Schneiders Hot Dogs
2
Sale
Avocados (5 pck)
1.88
Sale
Avocadox2
1.94
Celeryx2
2.94
Field Cucumber
0.77
Sale
Field Cucumber
0.88
FM Carrots (3lb) Bag
1.67
FM Carrots (3lb) bag
1.47
Sale
Potatoes (10lb) Bag
3.97
Whole mushrooms x2
3.34
Green Onion
0.44
Sale
Spanish Onion
0.78
Sweet Onions x2
1.41
Rutabaga
2
Sweet Potato x5
2.79
Broccoli x2
1.94
Iceberg Lettuce
1.97
Romaine Hearts 2 packs x2
3.94
Sale
Spinach 8oz bag
1.47
Baby Spinach Bag
1.47
Grape Tomatos
1
Sale
NN Fzn Green Peas 750g
1.99
PC Reduced Sodium Tomato Juice
1.97
NN Crushed Tomatoes
0.99
NN Pizza Sauce
0.59
Clementines (5lb) Box
3.88
Sale
Bananas ($0.57/lb)
6.67
McIntosh Apples (6lb) Bag
2.97
Sale
Algoma Empire Apples (1Kg)
1
Sale
Bartlett Pears (5)
1.72
Plums x2
0.54
Navel Orange x1
0.39
Del Monte Pears in Water
1
Sale
Del Monte Peaches in Water
1
Sale
NN Unsweetened Applesauce
1.67
PC 4 Berry Blend Fzn Fruit
3.99
Sale
Minute Maid Calcium Added Fzn OJ x 2
3.5
Minute Maid Fzn OJ with Calcium x2
1.94
Sale
Allens Apple Juice (1L)
0.97
NN 100% Apple Juice 1L Carton x 12
10.68
Vienna White Breadx2
3.34
Sale
Country Harvest Flax/Quinoa Bread
2.5
Sale
Country Harvest Flax/Quinoa Bread x2
4
Sale
Wonder Bread
1.88
Sale
Wonder Bread
2
Sale
D'Italiano Bread x3
7.76
Sale
VP Hamburger Buns (8pck)
1
Sale
VP Hamburger Buns (12 pck)
2.89
VP Hamburger Buns (8 pck)
2.19
Whole Wheat Bagels (4 pck)
0.88
Sale
Old Mill WW Bagels (6pck)
1
Sale
Family Size Multigrain Cheerios
3.97
Sale
NN Old Fashioned Pancake Mix
2.29
NN Seasoned Croutons
1.29
NN Soda Crackers
1
Sale
NN Soda Crackers
1.99
Bella Travole Spaghettini 450g x2
1.76
Sale
NN Fusilli (900g)
1.67
PC Tortilla Chips (Small Rounds)
1.99
Sale
NN Mac N Cheese x2
1
Heinz Scooby-Doo Pasta
0.88
Sale
Campbells Tomato Soup
0.67
Sale
Campbells No Salt Broth (Beef, Ckn, Veg) x3
5.01
Sale
Swiss Chalet Sauce
1.29
PC Ketchup
3.29
Heinz Ketchup
2.47

NN Canola Oil
2.97
Renees Light Caesar Dressing
4.47
PC Syrup (15% real maple)
3.99
NN Italian Spice Blend
1.53
NN Parsley
1.5
Folgers Classic Roast Coffee (2lb)
6.88
Sale
Coca-Cola (2L Bottle)
0.96
Sale
Duncan Hines Choc Fudge Cake Mix
0.97
Sale
Vlassic Pickles
1.88
Sale
Fzn McCain Crinkle Cut Fries
2.27
No artificial colouring
Fzn NN Chicken Strips (white meat) 900g
5
These tasted like garbage!
NN Fzn Blueberry Waffles
1.77
NN Fzn Waffles
0.97
Sale
NN Fzn Deluxe Mini Pizzas
3.99
Sale
NN Fzn Pie Shells
2.77
Cascade Dishwasher Detergent (5.14 kg)
9.59
NN Jumber Paper Towel 6 pck
2.97
Sale
NN Plastic Wrap
0.88
Sale
NN 24 Rolls Toilet Paper
3.83
Sale
NN Dog Food
2.97
NN Reusable Cloths 10 pck
1.99
Halendas
Ground Turkey 2.5lb
12.85
Bacon 1lb
5.2
Bacon Bits 1/3 lb
1.46
Bone-In Skin on double Chicken Breast (1.5lb)
4.61
Ground Beef x 2lb
6.98
Sausages x2
2
Sale
Chicken Legs (2 legs)
2.6
Stewing Beef (1.5lb)
5.99
Sale
NY Striploin (1 piece - just under 1lb)
5.79
Sale
Superstore
Astro Balkan Style Vanilla Yogurt
2.48
Sale
PC Goat Mozzarella x2
11.58
Oreo Cookies (500g)
2.98
Sale (splurge!)
Multigrain Cheerios Family Size
4.97
Sale
Lucky Charms Family Size
4.97
Sale (total splurge!)
NN Canned Baked Beans
0.99
NN Mac n' Cheese
0.59
Tuna Helper
1.66
Sale
Blackberries 1/2 Pint
1.47
Sale
Clementines 5lb
3.98
Sale
White Potatoes 10lb
1.88
Sale
Bananas
1.3
PC Baby Wipes 80ct.
2.49
PC Box Diapers (Size 6) 96ct.
19.99
Sale (at least once/mth)
Nature Clean Unscented Laundry Detergent
8.99
Walmart
Huggies Swim Diapers
12.57
Sale
$430.02


So slightly more than $400. All the items highlighted in green are non-food items (Totalling $66). So in terms of actual food expenses we came in about $30 under the $400 mark. 

Some things we do:
- Meal plan - look for different meals using many of the same ingredients, plan around sales 
- Price match only for stuff I buy regularly
- Very limited brand loyalty
- Smaller portions/less meat - in line with food guide servings (1 lb = 6.4 servings)
- Very aware of food guide servings in general, especially for kids
- Very little waste - started serving boys smaller portions and allowing seconds to avoid waste
- Getting creative/ using up what we have  - fridge and cupboards are getting bare around grocery day
- Ensuring that leftovers are always eaten - this can sometimes mean odd combinations of food
- Batch cooking and eating the same meal twice - I usually aim for one or two meals we can duplicate in a 2 week period. Any more than that and I feel like there isn't enough variety. 

I guess one of the biggest things I do is that I don't always take advantage of sales. Our grocery budget is pretty fixed at $400/month. If I blow the budget to take advantage of sales by then inevitably it cuts into other areas and could put us over in another category. 

I'd love to know some of your tricks and tips for keeping your grocery bill in check. I really like this MMM post on the topic.