Thursday, March 26, 2009

Preserving my sanity

I've been canning since university when I lived in a house with a pear tree.  That pear tree was the best thing about that house and although I don't miss the house at all, I really wish I could still get at those pears.  I bought a canning pot and the various accouterments and some large jars and put up half a dozen jars of pears.  Then, feeling on a roll, I made a batch of caramel apple jam that I gave as gifts that Christmas, but managed to keep enough jars for myself to know how good it was.

I didn't preserve anything again until 2 autumns ago, when Kathryn and I went to an apple you-pick and came home with 3 large bags of apples.  We made some more of my yummy apple jam and some applesauce, which we called Triple Threat Temptation Applesauce because it contained three kinds of apples.  By the time I got laid off, I was down to 1 partially full jar of apple jam and was thinking of making some more.  

It was with this in my mind that I happened to be chatting with the butcher and mentioned that I know how to make preserves.  He got very excited and asked that I make some for his store.  He said that he had dreams of a whole shelf of preserves and ordered a dozen 250 ml jars and a dozen 125 ml jars.  

That weekend, I went out to our usual organic grocery store and bought some organic apples.  I decided to experiment with the homemade apple pectin I'd made from the apple skins and cores from the previous batch of jam and applesauce, but it didn't gel properly so I need to experiment with that some more.  It still tasted good, but it wasn't "jammy" enough for me to feel good about selling.  I'm going to play with with using it in other ways, like muffins or tarts, that I can maybe sell at the butcher shop, as well.

Since then I've made a few batches of jam until I got what I feel is a good recipe for a double batch using powdered pectin (they say you shouldn't double jam recipes because it could cause the pectin to fail, but I figured that apples have enough natural pectin to over ride this, which it did).  I delivered almost the complete order - 1 dozen 250 ml jars and half a dozen 125 ml jars - to my butcher.  When I walked in with my cotton bag clanking with jars, the butcher was talking to a man at the counter.  When he saw me, he greeted me loudly as he tends to, calling out, "Hey, Broccoli!" (I'm not inserting this in place of my real name; that's actually what he calls me whenever he sees me).  He then made a big deal out of showing my jars to the man at the counter.  

As we got talking, the man explained that he was a caterer.  I immediately put on my sales hat, telling him that the jam works really well in tarts.  By the time the caterer left, he asked to buy a small jar from the butcher as a sample, talking about how he's always looking for new and interesting ingredients to keep ahead of the competition.   I hope he finds my jam outstanding enough to become my second client.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to make the most of your frugal energy

As discussed in my entry on Tuesday, more and more people are trying to live frugally, either as a lifestyle choice or out of necessity. I've been doing some searching online and found lots of blogs, community groups, freebie sites, coupon sites, you name it, all on the subject of reducing those few extra cents from your purchases. But one of the things that isn't talked about much is what should be done with all those nickles and dimes that have be shaved off your grocery bill.

I think a lot of people use the money they save to just buy more stuff; the "I just saved a bunch of money with Geiko so I'm going to reward myself with a new Xbox game" cycle. The problem is, this kind of thinking is at cross purposes with the point of frugal living. If you are putting all this effort into saving money - clipping coupons, repairing and re-using things, researching deals - "saving" is exactly what you should be doing with your money. I find the best way to do this is to actually keep this money in a different place from your usual money reserves. That way, you can make absolutely sure you don't spend it "by accident". Some of the ways to accomplish this are simple, but to truly master your savings takes a little organizing and math.

First, start off by deciding where you are going to keep your savings. A high-interest savings account? A peanut butter jar on your bedside table? A cookie tin under your mattress? I personally like a combination of these. I save up small change in a jar in my bedroom and then transfer this to my savings account when there is enough to warrant the transfer. Who wants a 3-page bank statement itemizing every $.50 deposit into your savings account? Add the possibility that your bank may charge fees for the transfer, and you may end up wiping out all your savings, or even being charged more than you saved. An alternate to the jar would be to carry around a small notebook and keep track of every time you save money.

Next, figure out exactly how much money you save with each money-saving activity that you do. The simple example is when you buy discount or with coupons. If you saved $10 on that pair of pants, put $10 in your jar or record it in your log. Just make sure that your savings is worth it; purchasing a name-brand product on sale or with a coupon could still cost more than buying a comparable generic or store-brand product at full price (it's an industry secret that many name-brand products are produced and packaged at the exact same plants as generic products). Just watch for the temptation to buy something that you wouldn't normally buy or don't need, just because it's a good price. Buying it may save you 20% of the sale price, but not buying it will save you 100%.

To calculate other forms of savings you may have to get creative and flex those grade school math muscles. If, for example, you save money by baking your own bread you would have to figure out exactly how much it costs to make each loaf of bread: adding up the cost of the ingredients (in the measurements used) and the cost of gas or electricity to use the oven. Since many bread recipes make 2 or more loaves, you would need to divide this total by the number of loaves to get the per loaf price. Compare this to the cost of the bread you normally buy to calculate your savings and put this savings in your jar or log book.

This may seem like a lot of effort, but most of the work is just in getting the system in place. Once you've calculated the cost of baking vs. buying bread, you don't have to do that again (unless there's a price increase on one of the ingredients or you switch to a differently priced brand). Also, once you've figured out the cost of 1 cup of flour, you can use this information to calculate the cost of everything else you use flour for, so the longer you keep it up, the less work it will be as you go along.

And don't forget to regularly put that money into a savings account (inspect your bank account's terms and fees to determine the most economical way to do this). As all those nickles and dimes add up, they will also grow and multiply. And that's the true meaning of being frugal, Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All the rage

I found this article on (in that window front and centre on the webpage) called The Era of the Frugalista. It's about how "cheap is in" and "budget is the new black". It seems like a promising sentiment, but I disagree. I think that treating frugality as a "fad" is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Fads are, by definition, short term and impermanent. Living within one's means is not something that should be relegated to times of extreme recession; that kind of thinking is what got us into this mess in the first place. The Feast or Famine spending cycle that is the financial plan of most North American families has a lot to do with the preconceptions that are generally placed on frugality.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that frugality isn't really "in", it's just become popular by necessity. As the author of the article readily admits, most of the people who are now living thriftily will immediately convert to their old overspending ways (and regain their contempt for "poor living") once the dust of this recession clears. Imagine a world where people didn't spend or borrow more money than they could afford, where people lived within their means and had the forethought to save money to help through times of emergency. In such a world, how would a recession even be possible?

In other news, I'm finding ways to bring extra income into the household. I was chatting with the owner of the butcher shop in my neighbourhood and mentioned that I do preserving. After a successful taste test of my homemade Caramel Apple Jam he ordered 12 250ml jars and 12 125ml jars. I spent Sunday and last night making 2 batches and experimenting with the recipe a bit. Tonight I need to do the math to figure out how much it costs to make each jar and then come up with a wholesale price accordingly. U-pick season starts in a few months and that's where I'll really be able to make profit. I'm looking forward to experimenting with preserve recipes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We are living history

When I was in 9th grade I wrote a history paper on the Great Depression; I got a really good mark on it, too, 98%. I remember that I became fascinated by the subject; all those people having to buckle down and make do, using their will to survive and creativity to rise above this situation that was completely out of their control. I remember stories of ripping back blankets to knit underwear and growing vegetables in tin cans. Of course, I never thought I’d end up living through it myself.

We all know by now that this period in time will likely be described in future generations’ history books as The Great Depression II. American consumer debt is now at 100% of the GDP, which has only happened once before in history. Can anyone in the class tell me when that was? Beuller? Beuller? That’s right, in September 1929, Great Depression I.

Since I was so fascinated in GDI back in jr. high, history, in its infinite sense of humour, has decided to give me a taste. This is a very round-about way of telling you that I’ve been laid off. The company that purchased the independent school that I’ve been working at for the last 3 and a half years has decided the merge my position with another woman’s position and they have someone that they want to take on this new role, and it’s not either of us. Since my colleague is going on mat leave soon, they are legally required to provide her with job security for when she comes back, so she doesn’t have to worry. When she gets back they’ll have something new for her to do. In my case, however, they have no such legal requirement. They want me to stay on long enough to train the new person, and then I’m gone.

Don’t get my wrong, though; I’m not bitter or upset in any way. In fact, I’m excited, and not due to some juvenile romanticization of global recessions. I’m excited because I was looking for a new job anyway, and now I get to do my job search full time, and get paid doing it, for a short time, at least. The severance I’m receiving is actually more than they are legally required to give me, so I have a bit of a cushion before I go on EI. The real source of my excitement, though, is that I’m determined to make the most out of this opportunity. I took this job straight out of university, with my student loan repayment date nipping at my heals. It was the first job that I was offered; in fact, it has been my first and only full-time job. I learned a lot and got some great experience, but I always knew that this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In fact, I’m constantly surprised that I stayed as long as I did; I initially took this as a stop-gap job and figured I’d find something else and be gone in 8 months, tops. Now I have the opportunity to figure out what I really want to do and go for it.

The thing is, I don’t really know what it is I want to do. The idea of doing the same thing for the rest of my life feels suffocating, but at the same time I feel that at my age I should have some kind of career path. But every day I think up a new job I’d like to have: film crew, publishing, freelance writing, yarn manufacture, full-time etsy story owner, craft instructor (I’ve often thought of opening a craft college), dog trainer, professional organizer, environmental advisor. And of course, there’s always the persistent thought that I’m just not meant for the working world, that any career I try will ultimately leave me feeling trapped and frustrated, that I’m meant for more free spirited things, like doing an assortment of volunteer jobs and running my home business and (eventually) being a SAHM. But if this latter option is my destiny, we’re still a ways from being able to afford to be a one income household.

Which brings me back to my main point. Now that I’m unemployed, I have access to the various job search services that didn’t want to talk to me while I had a full-time job (fair enough). Even the ones that were interested in helping me in my pursuit of a career change had most of their services available during business hours. One in particular that I’m interested in is a 2-week government funded workshop that helps people assess their skills and interests and narrow their focus as to what they should be doing as their next career. A friend of mine did it a few years ago and said it was really helpful, and seemed designed for people who had been laid off and wanted to find work in a different field from the one they were leaving.

So as you can tell, this blog will have a brand new focus, and I hope I will be blogging much more often (sorry about that, by the way). I’ll be writing about my efforts to “find my path”, as well as our new frugal lifestyle. I’d love to hear about how this recession is effecting you, as well, so feel free to leave a comment and join the discussion.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Completely un-wedding related

Here is a great article I've found on uses for used coffee grounds. Mr. Broccoli loves coffee, so I hope to get quite a bit of use out of these.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One wedding down, 1 to go!

We had the Church wedding on the weekend. Everything went off perfectly and the weather couldn't have been nicer! I'm still mired in wedding stuff, but I wanted to make a quick update and link to some pictures that our wonderful photographer put up on his blog.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

There's the icing on the cake and then...

...there's the cake topper! As I mentioned in my last post, I have commissioned an artist on etsy to custom-make our cake topper. We've been going back and forth for a while, bouncing ideas off each other and deciding among design sketches and we've finally come up with an excellent design. Each time she sent me various design sketches to choose from and each time it was unanimous among my parents, Mr. Broccoli, and me. I'll spare you a play by play of every design variation, but this is the one we chose, in full colour.

Isn't it great!? The idea we started out with was the two of us on a loveseat with books on our laps. Then, I thought it would be sweet to get Spirit in there somewhere, so she sent us a a few designs with her in various places around the topper and we just loved her spread across our laps. I had mentioned in a few emails that I knit, so she suggested that she put a knitting basket in there, too, which I love! She's managed to get the green and orange of our wedding colours in there and I love the colour contrast of the gold on brown of the base. I'm so happy with this cake topper, I'm very glad I chose her out of all the etsy artists that do custom cake toppers. Check out her store: Sophia's Workshop.

In other news, I've finished knitting all the corsages and boutonnieres and am working on the bouquet flowers. Pictures to come.