Money & Career

Thrifty living: How to save money every day

©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac

Money & Career

Thrifty living: How to save money every day

With global economies under pressure and people worried about their futures, it's no wonder that many of us are looking for ways to save money and lead simpler lives.

I credit my partner, Grant, for instilling all of my thrifty skills in me. The first time he ever took me out, I surmised that he was no high roller: We had dinner on a coupon deal. At that time, I was mired in debt from credit card–fuelled shopping sprees.

But now it's cash only and I'm happily on my eighth season of wearing the same well-made winter coat. In 2004, we moved to Wakaw, a small town in Saskatchewan, where I embraced the simpler life with the zeal of the newly converted.

Thrifty living: How to save money every day
"The secret to simple living is to understand that more is not always better," says Bruce O'Hara, author of Enough Already! Breaking Free in the Second Half of Life (New Star, 2004). "But indulge in the occasional luxury so you won't feel deprived," he adds.

Ask yourself what's most important, says O'Hara. When his brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, O'Hara's "someday list" became a "today list." He found himself taking more risks, such as teaching English overseas, and he embraced the second half of his life. He's now an ESL teacher living in Ecuador with his wife and two sons.

Try these ideas for living with less. You will be surprised by how much money you can save and how much peace of mind you will gain from having money in the bank by doing simple things like keeping a fully stocked freezer.

Tip: Grant and I celebrate Meatless Mondays every week. I make budget-conscious vegetarian meals such as baked lentil casserole (my favourite) and curried chickpeas with naan bread (Grant's favourite). For kids, try recipes that are twists on meals they already love, such as vegan sloppy joes (substitute ground tofu for meat and they will never know the difference).

4 ways to save money when you're shopping

Coupon clipper Taya Knight, who lives in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, put herself on a no-spend challenge three years ago and the habits stuck. "I spend more time with my friends and family now. My husband, Jesse, and I don't fight about money. I love the impact simple living has had on our bank account," says Knight, who's on maternity leave but still pursuing her passion project at simplyfrugal.ca. Here are her top tips:

1. Combine coupons with in-store sales and pile on the savings. But resist the urge to buy things just because they're on sale.

2.
Buy your clothing at the end of the season and gravitate toward the sale rack.

3. Don't bother with cable. "Some days, I just forget to turn the TV on," laughs Knight, who only gets two channels. She likes to spend her leisure time hanging out with friends and family, curling up with a good book, hiking, playing board games and sewing.

4. Take advantage of deals such as free birthday dinners at restaurants and buy-one-get-one-free sales in stores.
4 things to do before you buy
1. Research your purchases.

2. Save up for major expenditures.

3.
Nurture your savings account. Find creative solutions for problems instead 
of throwing money at them. Repair items instead of automatically replacing them. (When is the last time you mended a pair of socks or a sweater instead of buying 
a new one?)

4. Ask yourself: Can I borrow the item, rent it, get it used or do without it? Craigslist, Kijiji, thrift shops and yard sales are great sources for used goods.

3 Test Kitchen secrets to saving money on food
1. Prepare your meals. "Even food editors have trouble organizing their meals!" says Annabelle Waugh, Canadian Living's food director. The best strategy? Prepare. When you bring your groceries home, divide your meat into recipe-size portions or, better still, freeze it in a marinade. Wash your lettuce when you get home so it's ready to throw into a salad. Making dinner is quick when you just cook your prepared meat, toss a salad and serve it with fresh crusty bread.

2. Ready-made meals are a great help. Annabelle's favourite tip: "Commit to making one big-batch meal a week (such as lasagna, stew or minestrone). Double or triple the recipe so you can freeze meals. Then you have a ready-made meal when you get home late on a weeknight and don't have time to cook."

3. Canning can save you a lot of money. And we don't just mean jams. Check out The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (Transcontinental, $34.95), which has loads of great recipes to help you make the most of the harvest. Jellies, marmalades and conserves are just the start: You can also make pickles, relishes and chutneys, as well as modern takes on salsas, sauces, syrups and flavoured vinegars.

How to use technology to save money
1. Blogs: Take a few minutes every week to check out blogs such as thesimplemom.com, where author-blogger Deborah Taylor-Hough offers a fresh take on home management (including loads of organizing, decluttering and money-saving tips).

2. Websites:
One of my favourites, rootsimple.com, offers DIY tips for urban homesteaders, such as this piece of advice: Replace your cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda and castile soap. With these three things, you can clean anything, and you'll save a lot of money over the years.

3. Online videos: YouTube has instructional videos on everything from crocheting a simple wool hat to fixing your bathroom sink.
Thrifty living: Try new things and learn new skills

1. Learn how to sew. Austen Gilliland, Canadian Living's senior editor (and queen of crafts), suggests that every budding seamstress get a copy of The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (Reader's Digest, 1981). Other valuable resources include sewmamasew.com, a website for avid sewers, and oliverands.com and sister site sewlisette.com, which offer fresh family fashions.

2. Cook with a friend.
Invite a friend who knows her way around the kitchen over to cook up a storm and freeze the dishes for later. It's fun, plus perogies, cannelloni and pot pies all come together quickly when two people work together. And it's nice 
to have dinner ready on a busy night – so you don't have to pick up prepared dishes.

3. Plant seeds in your garden.
There's nothing more enjoyable than biting into a fresh salad made with ingredients straight from your garden. It just tastes better. For a month-to-month guide on what to plant, when to plant it and how to prepare it, check out From Seed to Table: A Practical Guide to Eating and Growing Green (Insomniac Press, 2009) by Janette Haase. Bonus: Spending time in the garden getting your hands dirty and admiring the colourful plants is also great for your mental health.

4. Do your own car maintenance.
Seriously! Take a night class on how to maintain your own car, then order discounted auto parts online. You will be amazed at the money you'll save just by doing simple things like changing your own oil.

Thrifty living: It's not always about money
Build community: Practising frugality can cement friendships and build community. Grant traded a used 1970s CCM bike for a broken canoe (worth $1,500 new) with our DIYer friend Steve. Now both men have some cool man-cave projects on which to exercise their talents, with little up-front investment.

Teamwork: We inherited a fire pit from our friend Maryann when we helped landscape her garden. We also planted some squash for her that Grant had started in our mini-greenhouse using seeds from an organic squash from the grocery store.

Enjoy what you love:
On TV-free Tuesdays, Grant and I play cribbage by the fire. But we still enjoy our favourite shows: We don't mind paying for quality productions on HBO, for example.

This story was originally titled "The Thrifty Life" in the November 2012 issue.

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