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Monday, November 14, 2011

Financial Literacy Month....seriously???

Wow, imagine our surprise and delight when we discovered (quite by chance) that November is Financial Literacy Month!  Seriously?  What this told us is that there are others out there that need financial advice, information and guidance too.  We always knew this of course, but how comforting to know that the need is so great that there is an entire month devoted to this theme.  Ignorance really does love company.  So, instead of devoting this blog post to all the things you SHOULD NOT try to save money on (inspired by our recent purchase of a couple of costly concert tickets), we are simply providing you with this awesome link:

Check it out!  We certainly will :)

Happy reading!
The Tightwads

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hooray for harvest!

We love autumn!  Frugal Freddie loves Fall because autumn equals football (and that sort of rhymes too) and Economia Nia loves autumn because of all the orange, the crisp air, and the opportunity to wear cozy sweaters, and the football.  Autumn means Halloween and Thanksgiving and FF's birthday and not needing to have perfectly waxed legs all of the time because you won't be frolicking around in a bikini every weekend (FF would like it noted that he is not the one frolicking in a bikini).  Autumn is the only season with two names.  It's a time of apple picking and getting lost in corn mazes. But the one thing almost better than Fall?  Getting ready for fall!  That's right, around here closing up the summer season is a busy, fun and money saving event we call harvest :)

For the past 2 summers, along with our flowers, we have planted a vegetable and fruit garden in our backyard.  With the help of our compost heap we have grown four varieties of tomatoes (so good they make you want to cry), cucumbers (you can't even begin to imagine how many cucumbers), two varieties of peppers, zucchini, corn (which was a success only for the squirrels that ate it all), sunflowers that produced an amazing amount of seeds (again, the squirrels were very happy and plump), carrots, broccoli and watermelon (seriously!).  In addition we have a blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry bushes.  And our plum tree.  A tree that was planted by EN's father when we first moved into the house and were at work.  We came home that day to find a small little plum tree, planted smack in the most inappropriate place of our yard.  "Oh well", we said..."he meant well, and it is so small".  That was 9 years ago and since then this little plum tree has pretty much taken over our backyard.  It's location makes it impossible to have a clothesline and makes backyard badminton treacherous, but, it does provide shade and about 300 pounds of fruit a year.   Fresh fruit frenzy!  We are quite convinced that this plum tree is smarter than some people. Every year we stand beneath it and declare that this is the year we cut it down, sure that it has outlived it's fruit bearing potential.  And every spring, little white flowers bloom on the tree, holding the promise of yet more plums.

So, what is a family of 4 to do with all this bounty?  This year, the cucumbers were so out of control that we were practically begging people to take them off our hands.  If we had once said hello, you were sure to get a cucumber.  Close family and friends got bagfuls.  One particular friend, with 4 cucumber loving daughters, got about 15 at a time.  By our estimation we saved her about 2000$ this past summer (okay, we may be exaggerating a tiny bit).  She was so impressed by our garden, and the money saving that comes along with it, that she has committed to starting her own little vegetable patch next year.

So, what did we do with the rest of our fresh produce.  Well, a lot of it was eaten right away or given away to be eaten right after it was picked.  Our surplus of tomatoes were either pureed and frozen (to be used in future sauces) or frozen whole (to make delicious Yemista - a greek, stuffed vegetable meal).  Peppers were also frozen to be added to future meals.  And the plums?  Well, a whole weekend was spent with these plums.  The result?  Plum jam (tart, a little sweet, and super sweet) that we are able to share with friends and family.  How delicious to know that you can have a taste of summer even in the blistery days of winter.

So, whether you have a huge backyard (lucky you!) or simply a balcony, you too can have your own urban garden.  All you need is some basic advice (available pretty much everywhere, but your best bet is to ask someone who has been gardening for awhile), and to devote some time to tending to the fruits and veggies of your labour.  Believe us, there is nothing better than picking a tomato that you have grown, off a vine and slicing into it. 

Happy Fall!
Economia Nia and Frugal Freddie

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


About a month ago we happened upon a sale of sample clothing - great pieces at even greater prices.  Most of the clothing had labels removed and some pieces were slightly damaged (mostly broken zippers which could be repaired at a small cost).  At this particular sale EN picked up some fantastic dresses for a laughable amount.  These included a black Grecian style Calvin Klein dress for 20$ (that's right!), a blue sequined cocktail dress so beautifully outrageous that the 15$ (I know!)  it cost really was a steal, and a hot pink halter style dress with a broken zipper for 10$ (cost to repair zipper - between 20$ - 30$...still a bargain).

When gleefully sharing this shopping coup with a friend, her initial and immediate response was "Ewww...but were these dresses used??".  What a strange question, we thought.  In fact, these items were not "used" (they were samples)...but at 20$ for a designer dress...who the hell cares?  It seems that she did.  So, a subsequent survey of friends, family and virtual strangers revealed that she was not alone.  There seems to be a subset of the population that thinks that used or second-hand clothing is just plain yucky.

Now, having grown up with an older sister, receiving hand-me-downs is nothing new to EN.  And, when this lovely older sister had children, she saved much of their goodies and then handed those down to our daughters. Fantastic!  To this day, between hand-me-downs and what they receive as gifts (and the added bonus of  school uniforms), we have really not had to buy our girls much in the way of clothes and even shoes.

Our informal survey (have you mailed yours back yet? :) ) revealed however that most people do not object to hand-me-downs from people that they know - but used clothing from strangers is another story.  Some of the reasons people cite for never accepting or shopping for used clothing are the following:

1.  Gross!  How could you possibly want to wear stuff that someone else has worn?  

To this we simply ask: Have you ever eaten in a restaurant?  Stayed in a hotel?  The idea that wearing clothes that someone else has worn is gross stems from the fact that one believes that these articles of clothing are dirty, germy, contaminated (we guess).  But think about it.  If you bring home something from a second-hand wash it. So really, what's the problem?  Do you think that when you check into a hotel, whether it's a 2 star or a 5 star, that you're getting brand spanking new sheets and towels each time?  Sorry to burst your hygiene bubble, but that towel you're using to dry your's been used before.  And what about when you go to a restaurant? Do you think that you're eating off of never-been-used-before dishes and that the cutlery you're using is right out of the box?  Nope...used before. Now sure, the laundry machines in hotels and the dish-washing machines in restaurants are probably much more powerful than those that you have at home.  Well, we hope so because in those establishments they have to wash away the yuckiness of lots and lots of folks.  If you still feel that your own laundering will not get rid of the coodies, take your purchase to the dry cleaners.  Germ problem solved!

2.  Buying or accepting second-hand stuff means you can't afford better stuff.

Well, maybe that's actually true, but it may not be, and anyhow, that's not the point.  The assumption that you're making is that hand-me-downs are, by definition, of poor quality.  That is most definitely not true.  Anyone who has ever shopped in a good vintage shop, gone to a fantastic estate sale or befriended a really rich somebody who only buys high end stuff and has a high turnover rate (we all need friends like this) knows that you can find some phenomenal pieces this way.  And, you also know that you can wear what you've bought without worrying that your co-workers will walk into work wearing the same thing, and horrors, looking better in it than you do!

As for not being able to afford "better" aka "new" stuff, the sad fact is that some vintage items are actually a small fortune, and you can get new clothes (of pretty poor quality) for next to nothing.  It's all about how you choose to use the few pennies you allow yourself to spend.  Besides, if you're shopping for clothes that are beautiful and are also saving some money...all the better!

3. Used clothing is old and therefore not fashionable.

Well, we guess that this depends on what you consider fashionable.  If your definition of fashion is what everyone is wearing because that is what is in all the magazines (oh, by the way...shoulder pads are back!),  then you're for second had stuff may not meet this cookie-cutter definition.  But there is nothing to say that you cannot pair some current must-haves with some older finds.  That way, you create a look that is uniquely your own.  So long as you are wearing something you love and that you are comfortable and confident in (and that fits you properly) - you'll look fabulous. ( the this point Frugal Freddie would just like to say that he really has no idea or interest in fashion and has completely zoned out of this entry.  Good thing he just lets EN pick out his clothes)

4. If you can afford to buy new stuff, then you should leave the used clothing for people who really can't afford anything else.

An interesting argument for sure.  But, consider this, if you're going to shop from a second hand store that caters to lower income people, even if you yourself are not one,  you are contributing to this organization in another way.  The Salvation Army for instance uses the money that it makes on sales to put back into the community and to be able to run their stores.

If you still feel like you are shopping immorally, why not donate some of the things that you no longer wear for them to sell?

5. But it's used....

I love language and am a firm believer that semantics is everything!  No wonder people only want to buy and wear new stuff when the alternative is called "used".  "Used" gives the impression that something is past it's usefulness.  We think of "used and abused"...well, I wouldn't want a dress that fit that description either.  So, instead of "used" how about referring to these items as "vintage" (how chic) or "pre-loved" (how heart-felt) or "recycled" (how green).  I for one don't have anything used in my closet, but I've got plenty of  incredible, vintage fashion pieces that I saved from the garbage dump, and that I am absolutely loving.

The Tightwads (well... mostly,  until FF decided to cut the grass after point 3)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The "new" window shopping

Ladies, this one's for you (and for any metrosexual, in-touch-with-my-female-side guy who loves to shop).  Take a moment and think about what shopping means to you.  And I (that would be EN) don't mean shopping for dental floss or apples...but real shopping.  You know, the kind of shopping that you do ... just because. I get tingly just thinking about it.

But, given that our family has embraced a life of frugality, shopping "just because" is not something that can be done too often. (note that I did not say "never").  So, given that this new way of life has put a damper on my shopping sprees, I thought that it would be wise to consider exactly why shopping gives me such a thrill - in order to see if I could get this thrill some other way (get your minds out the gutter people...this is about shopping). 

So, I sat in a meditative pose (thank you yoga), closed my eyes, and imagined myself in my favorite shop.  I saw myself sweeping through the aisles, running my hands across racks and racks of garments, feeling the silks, wools and cottons ... and occasional polyester blends.  My eyes took in the almost incomprehensible array of colours and my nose inhaled the smell of newness which surrounded me (and the garlic breath of the person next to me).  I saw myself lifting the perfect black dress off the rack and holding it up against my body - perfect.  I found a white button-down blouse that was calling my name...even though I hate to wear blouses.  Skinny jeans which were the perfect shade of jean and a scarf that matched absolutely nothing in my wardrobe, also found their way into my capable arms.  And then, I saw myself gliding to the shoe section.  I caught my breath as I took in the rows and rows of pedal works of art.  High heels, wedges and sandals - oh my!  One pair more glorious than the next, and as I tried each one on I felt as though I had been tranformed into post-glass slipper Cinderella.  I allowed myself to take in this scene for a little while longer and then roused myself from this shopping trance.  Opening my eyes, stretching my legs and looking around I felt exhilirated !  Fulfilled, refreshed, happy.  But why?  you may ask.  How could simply imagining yourself shopping be that positive an experience?

I was brought back to memories of a time when I was a poor full-time student (as opposed to now, when I am a somewhat better off full-time student).  Back then, shopping "just because" was simply not an option.  Not one to ever want to rack up credit card debts, I rarely shopped for pleasure.  What I did do though was spend hours and hours (hey, it was better than studying) going through catalogues that would come in the mail (Victoria's Secret, J. Crew, Eaton's (sigh...remember Eaton's?) and pretend shop.  Come on....I can't be the only loser  young penniless lady to have done this.  I would carefully give the catalogue a first pass, then go through it a second time and circle all the items I would order if money was not an option.  Then, I would quickly calculate what the total would be (honing up my math skills), experience a few heart palpitations, and proceed to eliminate items from my "cart".  Then, with only a few choice items left, I would  convince myself that a) the item would never look as good on me as it did on the model (did you know that Victoria's Secret models are visitors from another planet!), b) that it would stretch or c) that it would require.... horrors...IRONING!  I got pretty creative coming up with reasons why I didn't want said item, and before I knew it, my pretend cart was empty and my pretend shopping excursion actually left me feeling pretty satisfied.

This really isn't that strange, is it?  I mean, we've all gone window shopping.  The malls are full of people trolling the stores, looking around, maybe trying things on, but not actually buying anything.  There is obviously some appeal and psychological benefit to doing this or it wouldn't be so common.  Maybe it's the joy of seeing pretty things, being presented with endless possibilities, being witness to the creative talents of designers and shoe makers. My pretend catalogue shopping achieved pretty much the same thing - except better, because I didn't even have to get dressed to reap the benefits.

These days of greener living, I no longer get catalogues in the mail.  No worries though.  Now I conduct my pretend shopping online.  I have recently discovered a number of "exclusive" discount shopping sites.  (The fact that they're exclusive gives them an added appeal, but in reality the only thing you have to do to be included is sign up with your email address.)  Now, I can browse the sites, add things to my virtual shopping cart and then empty it before checking out.  The nice thing is that in most of these sites...if you don't purchase your item within 15 minutes of adding it to your cart, it gets removed for you!  And, added bonus, new arrivals are entered into the virtual store every day.  What fun!

In case you want to engage in some pretend shopping of your own, or if you're tired of dealing with crowds during your traditional window shopping are a few of my favorite sites.

Happy pretend shopping :)
Economia Nia

Monday, April 25, 2011

Come brunch with us

We love this time of year.  Spring is here and we just spent the past few days celebrating Easter with our friends and family.  Is there anything better than spending a long weekend eating, drinking and being merry?  Regardless of whether you just celebrated Passover, Easter,  your favorite hockey team's win during the playoffs or a sunny afternoon, there is just something about this time of year that is happy.

So, with all of this happy visiting and being visited, we started to think about entertaining, and how much we love it.  For us,  preparing a meal for people we care about is a real pleasure.  It also tends to come with a pretty hefty price tag.  A dinner party for 8 - 10 adults (typical for these Tightwads) has been known to cost...well...a lot.  Now, although we certainly don't have large parties every week, it is not uncommon for us to entertain a large crown every couple of months.  So, how can a couple of social butterflies (note: Frugal Freddie objects to being referred to as a butterfly of any sort) continue to do what they love without spending so much money.  Well, here are a few things we've thought about:

1. Potluck.  We know that many people love potlucks, and we do other people's homes.  But part of the reason we love having people over is that we like to plan everything out...from the china and napkins, to the seating, to the menu.  Potlucks just relinquish too much control.

2. Entertain less often.  Well, yes...that could work...but the whole point of this experiment of frugal living is to continue to live well....and for us, living well includes entertaining our family and friends.  So, this is really not an option.

3. Entertain smaller.  Certainly, feeding 2 extra mouths is cheaper than feeding 8 extra mouths and we often have smaller company over.  This is great fun, but entertaining a large crowd is a different experience - and one we enjoy too much to give up.

4. Entertain cheaply.  This is definitely do-able.  Economia Nia is convinced (pretty convinced, at least)  that we could serve a group of 10 adults a three course dinner, including hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine each, for less than 75$ (eeeekk).  It's going to require some careful planning and imagination... but definitely do-able. Hmmm....come to think of it...this just might become a Tightwad experiment.

5. Set the alarm and wake up early.  Last summer Economia Nia picked up a beautiful, antique, hand-painted breakfast set (at a great price!).  Of course, the next logical thing to do was to have a brunch party to use the newly acquired china.  So we invited five early risers one Sunday morning and served breakfast.  Baked french toast, a crust-less quiche, hash browns, breakfast potatoes, bacon, sausage, a couple of fruit platters, a selection of cheeses, freshly baked muffins, toast, homemade jam, juice and of course, lots and lots of coffee.

The weather was particularly beautiful that day so we sat on the patio and lounged over breakfast for hours.  It was such a lovely, relaxed morning that at some point during the meal we each proclaimed that "we should do this every weekend!".  Well, of course, we have not done this every weekend, but we have hosted several breakfast / brunch parties since (we have the dishes after all).  It is great to be able to prepare a delicious, wholesome breakfast for people who would, like us, normally only have a bowl of cereal in the morning.

There are so many reasons why you too should consider entertaining in the am:  Oh look, we've listed them for you :)

a) Breakfast food is incredibly inexpensive.  No other meal will give you as much bang for your buck.  You could easily provide a feast for ten people for about 20$ (even with organic eggs and fancy coffee).  That's 2$ a person !

b) Breakfast food can be incredibly easy.  Depending on what you choose to make, you could prepare most items the day before.  Baked french toast for example is assembled the night before, kept in the refrigerator over night and simply popped into the oven the next morning. 

c) Breakfast allows you to spend time with busy family and friends.  Between children's activities, work, studying, and other people's dinner parties, it can sometimes be hard to find the time to see the people you want to see...but our experience is that most people start to get busy in the afternoon.

d) Breakfast is a great meal for kids.  If you are entertaining families with children (or if you have kids of your own), breakfast can be your best friend.  Most kids like breakfast fare and breakfast is early enough to ensure that there is enough time between the meal and their first meltdown of the day.

In case we've convinced you to give a breakfast party a try, here's a super easy recipe to get you started.

Spinach and cheese crust-less quiche (serves 8)

8 large organic eggs
1 cup grated cheese (any kind - maybe something on sale?)
1 1/2 cups chopped spinach
3/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees C

Beat eggs with a fork in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the eggs and when well mixed pour into an 8 inch pie plate.
Bake for about 30 - 40 minutes.  The quiche will be set in the center and will have puffed up.
Let cool, cut into wedges and serve.

The Tightwads

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Not To Buy

Have you ever watched the show called What Not To Wear?  It's all about kind, sweet people without a fashion clue.  Their well-meaning friends decide that it would be a good idea to secretly nominate them for a makeover.  Hidden cameras follow them around for a while, capturing unflattering footage of these poor souls going about their daily business.  Then, in front of family and friends (and millions of viewers) they meet the hosts, view the film, get really embarassed, cry and agree to get rid of all of their clothes in order to be given a 5,000$ shopping spree and find the happiness they hadn't realized they were lacking.  At the end of the show they usually cry some more, tend to look a lot better and make comments like "I can't believe I used to wear that flourescent yellow jumper" or "I'm so happy that I now know that high ponytails with ribbons are not really appropriate for a 45 year old lawyer".  How could you not love this stuff?

So, we've decided to pay hommage to this show by playing a little What Not To Buy !   No, we will not be secretly filming anyone and we most certainly will not be handing out 5,000$ prizes.  This is just a simple straightforward post about saving money by not buying flourescent yellow jumpers (and other random and silly things).

1.  Do Not Buy Bottled Water.  (see our previous post on bottled water titled "The best things in life are (relatively) free". ) We know that this is a LONG post.  We got really carried away on that one, so if you don't want to read the whole thing...just skip to the part where we say "don't buy bottled water"

2. Do Not Buy Baby Food.  Now of course we are not implying that baby should not be fed, just that you should really consider making your own baby food.  Some of our most precious memories are of cooking, mashing and freezing our babies' meals.  Knowing exactly what you're putting into your baby's mouth is priceless, and frankly, a lot cheaper than buying jars of baby food.  You can find dozens of recipe ideas in cookbooks or on the internet, but really, once you know what is age appropriate food for your munchkin, it's pretty simple.  Boil, mash or blend, serve and freeze the excess in ice cube trays for another day.  Of course, you may have to buy baby cereal - we never figured out how to make that.

3. Do Not Buy Lazy Vegetables.  It's actually not the veggies that are lazy, but the person buying them.  A few months ago, at a very dear friend's house, EN noticed a little container of celery in the friend's fridge.  Of course, the next thing EN noticed was the price tag - $3.50.....WHAT !!??  $3.50 for a few measly sticks of celery??? Yes, they were rinsed and cut up and possibly had the stringy stuff removed (or not), but you can usually get a whole stalk of celery for less than $1.50.  Now, to her defense, this friend realized she had made a spending faux-pas, but as she was going out of town a few days later she figured that she wouldn't be able to get through a whole stalk of celery and it would end up rotting.  Hmmmm....okay - but personally, we just wouldn't have bought celery.

4. Do Not Buy Baby Carrots.  We know, we know, many of you have forgotten that carrots actually come in sizes other than "baby".  And guess what, sometimes they even come with the green frilly stuff still attached to the tops.  We don't understand the fascination with baby carrots.  They cost a lot (compared to regular carrots), they don't usually taste as good, and they're often wet and, if they stay in the bag too long, can get slimy...gross. Good news : it actually takes less than 1 minute (trust us - we timed it) to peel and chop up a real life carrot. 

5. Do Not Buy Clothes That Don't Fit Because They Will When You Lose "X"  (enter appropriate number) Pounds.  If you feel that you need to lose some weight, then by all means, go ahead.  But believe me (that would be EN), if you think that having a skirt a few sizes too small in your closet is going to help motivate're wrong !  It will only depress you.  Focus on losing whatever weight you feel you need to lose, and when you achieve your goal, celebrate by buying some new (smaller) clothes.

6. Do Not Buy Junk Food.  This includes soda, potato chips (sigh), chocolate, cookies, get the picture.  None of these things are good for you and although it is perfectly fine to splurge once in a while, these items should certainly not make it onto your weekly grocery list.  If you do find them there, cross them off and replace them with some grown-up carrots.

7. Do Not Buy Food In Boxes.  Most frozen convenience foods can be made fresh at home with a little effort, time, and willingness.  They will definately taste better and will be healthier.  We know, we know, you all don't have time to cook, or you don't know how to cook, or you just don't like cooking.  Sorry, but none of those excuses fly.  You may think that you don't have the time, but many meals can be made in less than 30 minutes.  Don't like to cook...probably because you don't know how.  So, if you don't know how, learn.  There are some fantastic websites with recipes for free (so you don't actually have to buy cookbooks and cooking magazines).  Some of our favorites are:

Well, we could likely go on and on...but that's probably enough nagging for one post.  We're going to find our kids and nag them now :)

Have a great day
The Tightwads

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's purple and firm and shiny all over ?

Remember our New Year's Resolution? You know, the one where we said we wouldn't buy something simply because it was on sale.  Well, that particular resolution was made in an attempt to curb our (okay...EN's) impulsive spending, since it is so easy to justify a third pair of red patent heels with "but they were half off!"  What we're learning however is that sometimes it is just the thrill of the sale that is tempting, and not necessarily the item on sale.

Case in point.  This week at the grocery store EN was shopping.   Keeping away from the center aisles, which is where all the costly pre-packed and processed food is found, she scoured the perimeter of the store in search of the fruits, veggies, dairy products and meats on her list. (Hmmm....all this talking in the 3rd person is weird...I think I'll just take over this entry  - EN :) ).

So, there I was, doing a mighty good job of shopping for the items we had identified for the meals we had planned out for the week.  And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shelf full of pre-packaged eggplants...on sale.  Eggplants were not on our list.  They weren't on our list because, except for me, no one in our house likes eggplant, and even I'm not crazy about them.  But, the eggplant was ON SALE.  I walked over for a closer inspection and found that the packages included about 5 eggplants each (big eggplants!) and the whole lot of them were $1.39.  Seriously !!! Who could pass that up (well, maybe lots of people...but not me).

So, into the cart the eggplants went and I actually started to feel quite excited about the possibilities.  My mind raced as I imagined all of the delicious and delectable treats I could whip up which would make eggplant fans of my whole family.  Fried eggplant slices, eggplant parmesan, stuffed eggplant, eggplant dip...the options were endless.  And with so many eggplants, I could try them all !!!!  I may have actually been humming in the check-out line. 

Excited, I got home and immediately announced that the eggplant was on sale!  My proclamation was met with a 9 years old's "Gross", a 7 year old's "What's eggplant?" and a 40 year old's "Why did you buy eggplant?" Only the dog was excited (but then again, she's always excited). Undettered, I was intent upon using up every last bit of ... the many eggplants I had purchased...ON SALE !

Well, good intentions do not a meal make.  It has been 4 days since the great eggplant purchase.  Despite the fact that there have been 4 suppers made during that time (not to mention lunches), the eggplants remain un-used in the refrigerator.  Not being a regular eggplant purchaser, I don't even know how long these poor vegetables can keep before they are no longer edible.  But they are on my mind (obviously).  Tomorrow is a day at home with the girls - I foresee some creative culinary adventures starring the aubergine in our very near future.  Anyone wanna come over for supper?

xoxo The Tightwads (well, Economia Nia actually ;) )