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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:

http://www.financialliteracymonth.ca/

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

Pre-loved

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 shop...you 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 hair...well...it'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 right....shopping 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. (oh...by the way...at 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.

xoxo
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 trips...here are a few of my favorite sites.

http://www.ivorytrunk.com/

http://www.ruelala.com/

https://www.hautelook.com/login

http://www.beyondtherack.com/auth/register

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 too....in 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.


Enjoy!
xoxo
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 you....you'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, cake...you 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:

http://smittenkitchen.com/

http://www.canadianliving.com/food/

http://www.epicurious.com/

http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipes/index.html

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
xoxo
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 ;) )

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When life gives you rotting bananas....

There are few things we hate more than waste.  Waste results in unnecessary garbage, pollutes our environment and tends to cost money.  In our home, we have learned to deal with waste in one of the following ways: we recycle, we re-use, we re-invent, we compost and we discard.  By paying close attention to how we manage our waste, and by carefully making purchases which will ultimately produce the least amount of waste, we have reduced the amount of stuff that we simply throw out by a whole lot.

One of the things that we hate to simply get rid of is food.  Whereas many people hate leftovers...we LOVE them...in fact, we thrive on them.  It is rare that you will find us composting or throwing away food - because unless it is spoiled (and it should not get to the point where it is spoiled) there is always something to do with it.  So, cheese rinds are kept in the refrigerator or freezer until they can be used to flavor soup, leftover spaghetti sauce goes through a metamorphosis, becoming a delish chili and seen-better-days-veggies are tossed together into stir-frys.

And bananas....well, bananas present their own unique challenges.  Have you ever noticed that bananas can go from "just perfectly ripe" to "yikes...what the heck am I going to do with all these rotting bananas" in about 4 hours ??!!  What a crazy fruit ! So, in an attempt to keep you all from tossing these nutrient rich treats into the compost heap or (yikes) the garbage bin...here are a few suggestions for your rotting bananas.

1.  An over-ripe banana  may be yucky to eat, but works really well in a smoothie.  Try mixing a banana with some milk or soy milk, frozen yogurt and some frozen berries.  Or, try making our 7 year old's favorite drink: banana milk.  Put some milk in a glass, blend in a banana...ta dah...banana milk !

2. Over-ripe bananas make delicious dessert.  How about some Banana's FlambĂ© (also called Bananas Foster (we think))? Melt lots of butter and combine it with brown sugar in a sauce pan.  When hot and bubbly, add some sliced up bananas and heat them through.  Add a splash of cognac and, if you are feeling particularly ambitious, set a match to it....flambĂ© ! (no worries if you are too afraid of singeing your eyebrows..the flame adds only dramatic effect and no flavor).  Pour over ice-cream or pound cake or both.  YUM !

3. Bake a banana bread.  Here is the most fantastic banana bread recipe ever, adapted from the Jewish General Hospital's cookbook called Panache.  Not only is it delicious, it makes plenty.  There is enough batter to fill a loaf pan and a bundt pan (or three loaf pans).  Freeze what you won't consume immediately or share with your friends. And, speaking of freezing...if you find yourself with lots of very ripe bananas but no time to use them before they are no longer usable...pop them into the freezer.  Just thaw them on the counter when you are ready to bake with them...we are convinced this makes them even sweeter.  Keep in mind that freezing them may make the skin and flesh turn a bizarre dark brown / black color...this is normal :)

BEST BANANA BREAD EVER RECIPE (our version)

It takes about 20 minutes to whip this together, and another hour to bake.

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat or whole grain flour
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
2 1/3 cups sugar (we use a mix of brown and white sugar)
1 cup vegetable oil
8 very ripe bananas (we know, we know...that's a lot of bananas !)
1/4 cup sour cream or applesauce or plain yogourt
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups walnuts or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Whisk together to blend well the flours, cinnamon, and salt.
In another bowl beat the eggs, sugar, and oil.
To the egg mixture, slowly mix in the flour mixture.  Once combined, mix in the bananas.  Then, add and mix in the remaining ingredients.

Pour into 3 loaf pans or 1 loaf pan and a bundt pan (greased and lined with parchment pan).  Bake in the middle of oven for about an hour (or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean).

Could this be any easier ???!!!! 

xoxo
The Tightwads

Monday, March 14, 2011

Disney on a dime

We Tightwads feel really lucky to have just spent a week during March break in Orlando visiting Universal Studios and the Disney World Theme Parks with our girls.  Actually, truth is, this was our third visit in about 2 and 1/2 years.  Very "un-Tightwad like" you may be thinking, but the there is a way to make a Disney vacation affordable.  Each time we have gone, we have done things a little differently.  So, here are our simple tips on how to save some bucks while not missing out on the fun.

Tip 1: If you are going to stay at a Disney resort, think about one of their budget hotels.  Disney classifies their resorts as either Budget, Moderate, or Luxury.  The difference is the quality of the rooms, the hotel amenities and the proximity to the parks.  Truth be told, we have only ever stayed at the Budget hotels, (we are Tightwads after all :) )for a few reasons.  One reason is obviously the price, and the fact that we don't really care too much about the hotel, as our main reason for going to Disney World is to ride the roller coasters and to see the Princesses.  Spending time at the hotel is not high on our list of priorities, especially since you are free to dine at and visit the Luxury hotels if you wish too.

We have stayed at both All Star Movies and All Star Sports Resorts.  The latter, which was where we stayed this last trip, was by far a better experience. Our room was newly renovated, the pool was fantastic, and transportation to the parks was super easy using the shuttle buses, which run regularly and are free for resort guests.  In some cases, the shuttle buses travel to all 3 All Star Resorts (Movies, Sports and Music) before heading to the parks, and then on the return as well.  Due to it's location, All Star Sports is the first pick up spot of the 3 and the first drop off spot.  Incredibly important since first on pretty much guarantees you a seat on the bus (much appreciated by tired little legs), and first off means you are back in your room sooner rather than later (again, much appreciated by tired little and not so little legs). 

Although when we stayed at All Star Movies our room had not been updated in a long while (think aqua laminate furniture - yikes!), in both of our stays in Budget Resorts the staff was Disney friendly, and the rooms were spotless.

Tip 2:  If you are staying on site, choose a meal plan.  The first time we went to Disney, we actually drove (how can two girls travel 24 hours to and fro without arguing for a moment, when they can't even make it home from school without wanting to pull each others hair out is a mystery to us...but we digress).  That time, we rented a condo/hotel with a full kitchen.  We had breakfast in our hotel, packed a lunch and had dinner back at the condo.  Definitely a money saver - but having to cook during a vacation sometimes sucks.  Our second trip, we just paid as we went....and did we ever pay!  Eating at the theme parks is costly!  So, this time we got a meal plan, made our reservations before we traveled, and enjoyed being able to eat our meals, and snacks, without having to pay for anything but tips.  Nice. 

Tip 3:  Don't get suckered into buying stupid souvenirs.  Yeah...that Goofy hat with the floppy ears is really cute when you're riding Splash Mountain...but what are you going to do with that thing when you get home???  Same goes for Mickey ears,  Fantasia hats and Fairy wings.  Unless you are convinced that you will cry with regret for years because you passed on this purchase ...pass.

Tip 4:   Take pictures of your pictures.  We think that some of the funniest pictures ever are the ones that are taken of you when you're on these crazy rides. Your mouth is wide open because you're screaming with fear or excitement (or both), you have this psychotic look in your eyes, and the Goofy ears on the stupid hat you're wearing are flopping in the wind.  Hilarious ! and if you want to take the memory home, it will cost you about 20$.  Now, although we didn't do this ourselves, we did see other riders taking out their cameras and snapping photos of their photos as they were being displayed on screens in an attempt to lure you into purchasing them.  When EN commented to another lady that this was a smart idea, she said that the pictures come out a bit blurry....but we bet they're still funny.

 Tip 5:  Speaking of pictures...Disney has a great service called PhotoPass.  There are photographers scattered all over the parks, ready to snap your picture, which is then loaded onto a PhotoPass card.  When you get home (or even in certain locations in the parks), you can view your photos, email them to friends for a limited time, and purchase them.  They are really nice, but again, pretty expensive.  We learned that if you give your own camera to the photographer, he or she will take the same shot with it..and then you have essentially the same pose...for nothing.  Pretty smart huh?

Tip 6:  We're actually not sure how we feel about this...but it IS a money saver...and we did see lots of people doing it.  Picture the scene. You are having a buffet breakfast.  The food is aplenty, and, generally quite yummy.  You load your plate with things that are fried, sauced and generally unhealthy.  To compensate, you grab a few apples or bananas.  Lo and behold, after scarfing down your meal, you find that you have no more room for the fruit you lovingly chose.  What to do???? Putting it back would be unhygienic, throwing it away is wasteful. Oh, how about just tucking that banana into your backpack, for a snack when you feel peckish...you know, instead of buying a banana later on.  We did this once with a couple of apples.  EN felt guilty, FF didn't think about it too much (he wasn't carrying the backpack!), but when the girls were hungry a few hours later..tah dah...Disney magic...the apples made an appearance. 

Tip 7: If you decide to go to Universal Studios (do go !  the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is phenomenal), stay at a Universal "affiliated" hotel.  These are MUCH cheaper than the 3 Universal hotels and most offer transportation to the Universal Parks, and extra hours, so that you can enter the park an hour early - a must, especially if you go in a busy season.  We stayed at the Fairmount Inn...it was great. The price was reasonable, the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful, the room was basic but spotless, the pool was great, and a yummy continental breakfast was included.

Tip 8: If you book your Disney vacation on-line through the Disney website, check it periodically, up until your departure date.  If there is a sale that comes out after you have booked, Disney will honor it.  Thanks to this good advice, we saved 350$ this year.  With the money we saved we could have bought about 15 sets of Mickey ears !!! (but we didn't).

Tip 9: Set a spending budget and stick to it.  This is really easy if you have a meal plan, because your food costs are already accounted for.  There are so many nice things to buy both at Universal Studios and the Disney Theme parks.  Decide how much you want to spend on souvenirs and gifts, and stick to it.  If you're traveling with children, it's doesn't hurt to remind them that they can't have EVERYTHING they see.

So, although a Disney vacation can be costly, it doesn't have to break the bank.  Shop around, cut corners that don't really matter to you, and enjoy a beautiful and magical vacation...it really is one of the happiest places on earth.

Happy travels
xoxo
The Tightwads

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Big screen, small price

We love the movies.  Our first date was a movie (The Untouchables) and there was a time (pre-marriage and definitely pre-children) when we would go to the movie theater almost every day.  There were times when we couldn't go to the movies...because we had seen everything that was playing.  From small budget B movies, to foreign films, to animated kid flicks, we would watch it all.  Ahh... those were the days.  Those of you who have lived in Montreal may remember - those were the days of the Palace, the Leows, the Imperial, and the Egyptian.  Charming theaters, each with it's own personality, and all easily accessible in the heart of downtown.  We certainly saw our share of duds (a horror movie called Popcorn comes to mind) but only walked out of one movie (one of the Batman movies if you can believe it...the one with George Clooney and Uma Thurman - sucked !). 

As we grew up and our time became filled with things like full time jobs and diaper changes, the number of movies we went to necessarily diminished.  When on maternity leave however, Economia Nia would pack up baby and baby essentials every Tuesday at 10am to go to "Movies for Mommies".  A unique movie-going experience for sure.  Mommies (and some Daddies) and their babies watching films with the volume turned down (to protect infant ears), lights dimmed, but not off (to prevent Mommies from tripping as they walked up and down the steps to quiet screaming babies), and a diaper changing station off to the side.  For a stir-crazy new mom, it was a gift from heaven.  It's really too bad that as we searched for the link to Movies for Mommies, we realize that the big gun theater that offered this service in Montreal when EN was on her maternity leaves, is no longer doing so.  Luckily some smaller theaters offer the event though.

MoviesforMommies

These days movies are still a big part of our lives, but with the current cost of going to the theater and our commitment to tight living, it is a "special event" instead of an automatic "something to do".  A family of four will easily spend in the vicinity of 35$ for admission tickets alone (and usually more).  Of course, no movie going experience would be complete without "the snacks".  Remember when the "snacks" were basically your choice of popcorn, chocolate and licorice?  You would take your seat (which was utilitarian and not meant to be plush and reclining) and the only thing you would smell would be the butter on the popcorn and maybe the guy behind you who needed a shower.  Now,  you take your seat and are assaulted with the smells of french fries, pizza and hamburgers.  When in the world did movie-going turn into a complete dining opportunity?  You can get anything at the movies now.  Forget nachos, you can practically order a roast chicken to munch on. Of course, no matter what your fancy, all this snacking is gonna cost you - figure a minimum of 20$ for a family of four (and that minimum is only achieved by having your children feeling deprived).  What is a tightwad family to do?

Aha !  We actually know what to do.  Yes, we can rent movies through our cable subscriber or a DVD rental place, but nothing beats going to the movies.  Solution:  The Dollar Cinema.  Now, we realize that this is only a solution if you live in Montreal (although there may be similar places in other cities - there must be! ... and if they're aren't, then this is an excellent business opportunity!). 

The Dollar Cinema used to be a regular kind of cinema, but instead of closing when the big franchises monopolized the industry, it was reinvented into what it is today.  And what it is, is a place where a family of four can watch a recently shown (but now out of the mainstream cinemas) movie, for less than 15$ ...and that includes admission tickets and snacks. Today Economia Nia took the girls to see Gulliver's Travels for a grand total of 12$ and change.

Admission to the Dollar Cinema is 2$ for everyone, any day of the week, and any time of day. All snacks and drinks are 1$ (plus tax).  Yes, the popcorn bags are not huge (hmmmm, saving money and calories...this keeps getting better), and the candy selection may be more limited than what you have gotten used to (you know, the way things used to be), but who cares. The seats are comfortable and were recently changed so they have that convenient cup holder thing, which is great for keeping your 1$ drink.  And, the staff is really friendly. At the movie today, EN accidentally knocked her popcorn on the counter after paying for it.  The employee (who may have actually been the owner) smiled and immediately passed over another full bag of popcorn.  We have a feeling that the 16 year old kid at the Mega-Plex wouldn't have done that. 

It is true, that if you're used to the modern day cinemas with their glitz and bright lights, you may be initially turned off by Dollar Cinema's more austere decor (and the fact that it is located in a mall that has really seen better days). But instead of focusing on what it is not, focus on what it is - a charming, low key, super affordable movie going experience.

http://www.dollarcinema.ca/

Happy viewing:)

xoxo
The Tightwads

Monday, February 14, 2011

Our love ain't cheap.

Valentine's Day! Sigh.  A day of marketing genius.  It's difficult to remember (or to even care) about the origin of this holiday amid all the roses, heart shaped chocolates and red wrapping, but St. Valentine's Day did start out as a religious holiday.  It appears that Valentine was a common name for Christian martyrs and  two in particular are honored on the 14th of February:  Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni.  St. Valentine's Day was established as a special day by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD (way before Hallmark), yet the day first became associated with romance when Chaucer wrote the poem Parlement of Foules in 1382.  Translated into modern English he wrote :

For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate

Awwww.....Chaucer wrote this poem to honour the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, who eventually married when they were each 15 years old !

In 1969 Pope Paul VI, perhaps disheartened by the way the holiday had morphed into what we see today, deleted it from the Roman calendar of saints holidays, although still allowing for its religious observance. (We know what you're thinking...what religious observance???)

Anyhow, as we all know, today Valentine's Day is a day in which people express their love for each other by offering flowers, sweets, cards, and hopefully something sparkling.  This gift exchange used to be reserved for lovers, but the great marketing geniuses of the world realized that not everyone has a lover.  No worries, because they also realized that most everyone has a parent, a sister, a child, a cousin, a friend, a classmate, a teacher, a boss, a mailman, a dry cleaner.  And if you don't...don't worry...you still have yourself ! That's right ladies and gents, there are now Valentine's Day cards and gifts designed for everyone on your Facebook friend list. 

It's no wonder then that a lot of cash gets spent on this day, with some reports stating that on average, a person will spend about 170$ on gifts.  Men typically spend more than women, probably because they have more to make up for, but the difference really ain't that big.  So, before you go and open your wallets, we thought it would be a good idea to question some of the more common Valentine's Day offerings.

1. Roses, generally long stemmed and red, and a small fortune.  Interesting symbol to represent and celebrate what one hopes to be a long and healthy relationship don't you think? Dying flowers (that's right...their fate was sealed the moment they were cut) which will wither and dry out and that have the potential to draw blood with one of their thorns. Nice.  How about a potted plant instead?  Cheaper, and it will last longer...like your love...awwww....

2. Valentine Chocolate.  Sweet, smooth, rich, fattening, and, unfortunately, easily obtained at a drugstore (yuck).  This latter fact makes cheap chocolate the perfect "Oh no I forgot today is Valentine's day, and I have exactly 5 minutes to go shopping" gift - so obvious.  To complicate matters even more, chocolate of any quality should not be given to those who are diabetic, trying to lose weight, simply watching their weight, breastfeeding, lactose-intolerent, bulemic, or to chocolate dis-likers. Should also not be given to anyone who has children (they will eat all the chocolate). 

3. Valentine's Day Cards.  They are written by people who get paid a lot of money ("a lot" being a relative term, seeing as how we are writing this blog for nothing), who are able to eloquently, beautifully, and sappily express exactly what you yourself are feeling.  Unless you are a modern day Chaucer, chances are you won't feel that you can add anymore to what is already in the card you so thoughfully chose.  So, to the heartfelt printed prose, you add simply ...your name (and if you are feeling inspired, maybe an "I love you").  The recipient of this card will likely wonder why they aren't in a relationship with the actual person who wrote the card, but they'll say that they love it, and stick it in the recycling bin within a week.  Instead, try making your own card  (you know, like you did when you were a kid).  Make up a poem (words that rhyme with love : glove, shove, dove, above), and it will be remembered forever - even if it really sucks.

There are so many lovely, inexpensive ways to celebrate Valentine's Day. Making a romantic supper, going for a walk holding hands, renting the movie you saw on your first date, decorating the house with red balloons...the list is long. So, use your imagination, save a few bucks, and remember to spread the feeling to the rest of the year.

Happy Valentine's Day
xoxo
The Tightwads

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beans, beans, they're good for your....

...wallet !  What did you think we were going to say?

Ahh....beans.  We love them!  Well, actually Economia Nia loves them, Frugal Freddie simply likes them.  But, whether you love them, like them, or don't really eat them, one thing is sure...they are cheap !  Not sort of cheap, but really cheap !  So cheap in fact, that it doesn't even matter if they are on sale - how can anyone not love that!

So, how many of you out there eat beans on a regular basis (and by regular we mean at least every other day)?  Come on, you in the back...don't be shy.  Well, we know why you may be reluctant to fess up.  For some reason (okay, for a very good reason), eating beans is often equated with...farting ! (note to readers: Economia Nia really wanted to put in a polite euphemism, but Frugal Freddie beat me to the keyboard).  Well, polite or not, it's true that bean eating can lead to gas leaking, in some more than others.  But, you want to know a secret?  Despite what that little children's song says, the more you eat...the LESS you fart !  That's right, your meat-eating, processed-food-loving body actually gets used to digesting wholesome, healthy beans !  It's miraculous !

Now there are products out there that claim to help you digest beans and eliminate their noxious side effects.  We've actually never tried them, but some bean-eating friends say that they do work.  Check out the website for Beano...it's a riot (particularly the link to the "University of gas").

http://www.beanogas.com/

Gas aside, you really can't beat the benefits of eating beans.  They are cheap (so cheap), healthy (so healthy!), delicious (really delicious....like really, really delicious), and they look pretty in glass jars (so pretty).

There are basically two ways to purchase beans at the market: in cans and in bags.  For a long time we were can buyers, mainly because of the convenience.  Recently however we have turned to the dried variety.  They are tastier and a much better value for your buck (which is not really that important since the cans are pretty cheap too), but they are also healthier, since canned beans tend to be loaded in sodium and sometimes other preservatives.  Plus, we are trying to move away from cans for a couple of other reasons. The first is environmental (it takes a lot more energy to produce and recycle a can than it does to produce and recycle a small plastic or paper bag). Second, we're just not sure what they line those cans with.  Maybe nothing worrisome, but we seem to remember reading "something" about "something bad" being used to line cans.  So, better safe than sorry.

Using dried beans is really not all that inconvenient.  It takes time to soak them and then cook the beans, but it's not like you have to do anything during the soaking and cooking time.  Soaking can be done overnight  and cooking can be a breeze with the right recipe and the right method (think slow cooker or pressure cooker).

If you would like to become proficient in bean soaking methodology, then there are a plethora of resources available on-line and in most vegetarian cookbooks which describe in detail how long to soak every kind of bean imaginable.  We're going to go ahead and assume that you're too busy for that (heck, you're already wasting enough of your time reading this blog), so here are a few simple rules.

1. Most beans can be soaked overnight (about 8 hours).
2. Some beans (namely lentils...which actually may not be officially classified as beans...but who cares), require little to no soaking (we tend to soak them for about 30 minutes, but it's probably not necessary).
3. If you want to increase your chances of not passing gas all night after eating your beans, do not cook them in the same water in which they soaked.
4. Beans should not be soaked or cooked in salted water.  This will toughen the bean...add salt after they are cooked.
5. Cook the beans until they are tender...the bigger the bean, the longer the cooking time. 

Below you'll find a link which actually lists the recommended soaking and cooking times for some popular beans.

http://www.weblife.org/beanchart.html
 So, beans !  They're healthy, cheap, delicious and kinder to your body and to the environment than eating meat is.  But there's more!  Dried beans can be used as weights for blind baking pie crusts. They can be used to fill home-made maracas,  for arts and crafts and to replace game tokens that invariably get lost.  You can also sprout beans by placing them in a humid environment. Try doing any of that with a steak.

:) Love,
The Tightwads

Monday, January 31, 2011

The best things in life are (relatively) free

This is a post about water. When we were little (and really...it wasn't that long ago) and thirsty, life was simple.  We would run into the kitchen and turn on the tap.  If we were outside or at the park, (as kids most often were), we would find the nearest water fountain and slurp away, all the while being careful not to let our lips get too close to the actual spout - but not really caring if they did.  And then, suddenly, without anyone really noticing, a third option emerged, a social phenomenon - the bottle of water. 


In our last post Economia Nia spoke about how she gets annoyed having to spend money on un-fun but necessary items like toilet paper and tampons.  Well, this post is about how annoyed we get at other people... for spending money on things that are, in our humble opinions, a waste of money.  Bottled water SO tops that list.  Come on people - buying bottled water is tantamount to buying a bag of air..and air of questionable quality..but we'll get to that!

We know, we know....there are those of you out there who are convinced that bottled water is just...better!  It tastes better and it's better for you. And of course you believe that!  The bottled water market is incredibly competitive and companies need to create great marketing strategies. Although bottled water was originally meant to be used for drinking, it has also been marketed as ideal for infant formula preparation, for use in reconstituting other foods, for cleaning contact lenses, for skin care, and for filling humidifiers.  Smart people those marketing guys and gals! 

So let's talk about taste.  Now, let us start by saying that we happen to love (really love) someone who is convinced, not only that bottled water tastes better, but that a certain bottled water tastes better than others.  Could this be true?  Sure, we guess it can. Those of you who know us may think that we are the last people who should be commenting on the taste of water.  We are coffee drinkers by day, milk drinkers by evening and alcohol drinkers by late evening.  But still, water has flowed over our taste buds, and we just don't find the taste of tap water all that bad. 
Truth be told, the only bottled water that we have ever tasted - which actually tastes very different (and yes, we'll admit, better) from tap is FIJI (and the bottle is darn cute!).  But is it worth close to 3$ for a small bottle (regardless of how cute)?  We don't think so.  The cost is however understandable when you visit the website for FIJI Water, which describes in detail the very complicated and sophisticated water bottling process.  The FIJI Water people are also proud to declare that their water is "Far from pollution. Far from acid rain. Far from industrial waste."  Well, guess what folks?  Unless you live near the lovely island nation of Fiji in the Pacific..it is also FAR FROM YOU!  So, although your water is far from pollution, you're helping to pollute a whole lot more water, (and air, and land) by transporting these pretty bottles all over the world.

Still, taste aside, what we're really confused about is why people would spend money on something that they could get for next to nothing!  We figure that there could be a couple of explanations for this:

1. Folks really believe that bottled water is better for you than tap.
2. Folks really believe that bottled water is just a lot more convenient.
3. Bottled water is considered a status symbol...for example: "I can afford to spend money on something I don't have to spend money on...so I must really be moving up in the world". 

We'll get to assumptions 1 and 2 in a minute....as for #3...really, that's a sad excuse for a status symbol!  Save your money and buy designer shoes.

Now, let's talk about quality... and safety. 

We're sure that you know that not all bottled waters are created equal.  Luckily, the FDA and Health Canada require that each brand of bottled water be labeled according to type. But do you know what these types mean? 

Let's start with purified water.  Sorry to tell you, but purified water is essentially tap water.  Yup, purified water is surface or underground water that has been treated in order to be suitable for human consumption.  It differs from tap water only through the way it is distributed (bottles versus pipes) and in cost.  So, if you have ever purchased some AquafinaTM or DasaniTM, keep the bottle.  That way you can refill it from the tap and have, pretty much,  more of the same.

Spring water (like EvianTM) is underground water protected against pollution hazards. To qualify as spring water, it must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. If the collection process uses some type of an external force, the water must be from the same stratum as the spring and must retain the quality and all of the same physical properties of water that flows naturally from a spring to the surface. Sound complicated.

As for mineral water...well, it contains not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids and is defined by its constant level and relative proportions of mineral and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source. No minerals can be added to the water.

And now, for safety.  In a 2003 study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, looking at risk factors for Campylobacter infection (the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide), it was found that there were 5 risk factors which, taken together, could account for most sporadic cases of the runs.  They included .....drumroll please...drinking bottled water !  In 1974 there was a very significant cholera outbreak in Portugal transmitted through bottled mineral water. Published reports have shown bottled water to be the source of the causative agent not only in cholera but also typhoid outbreaks, as well as traveller's diarrhea. 


In Canada, prepackaged or bottled water is legally defined as a "food." So, when offered for sale to the consumer, it must comply with all of the provisions of the Canadian Food and Drugs Act and pertinent Regulations (Health and Welfare Canada 1982), just as all foods must.  That's good, right?  Well, although it's good that there are regulations and provisions, it doesn't mean that they're doing all they are meant to do.

In 1992 there was a review put out by the Canadian Food Directorate, Health Protection Branch, which looked at the microbiological quality of bottled water sold in Canada.  What he found was scary.  If you want to read the whole article...here's the link:

http://article.pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/ppv/RPViewDoc?issn=0008-4166&volume=39&issue=2&startPage=158

If you don't want to be up all night...here are a few key points:

During production and distribution, the cleanliness of the source water (which could be the cleanest you can imagine) can change dramatically at each step of the manufacturing process and during storage in bottles on the retailer's shelves. These changes can occur due to contamination.  Also, the sleeping little microorganisms living in that clean, clean water can suddenly wake up when the environment of the water they were snoozing in changes (with a change in temperature, oxygen exposure, and other stuff)

Contamination can occur at the bottling plant. Sources of contamination, other than the water, include equipment used to pump or transport the water from its source to the bottling location, equipment used in the
processing or bottling process (such as deionizing columns and filters, whatever they are), as well as bottles, caps, and other environmental sources.

Now, you may be thinking..."Yeah, but these things are regulated...and if we're going to worry about water..then I guess we should worry about all food".  Well, maybe we should, but that's not for this post.  Actually, we should be especially concerned about bottled water for 3 reasons:

(i) Up to 50 mL of water, when taken between meals, can pass immediately through the stomach into the intestine.  This quick run of water means that gastric juices in the stomach don't have time to kill off any dangerous little bugs before they reach your intestines and cause a whole slew of problems.
(ii) You don't need to ingest a lot of pathogens in order to get ill, particularly between meals.
(iii) Consumption of bottled water by vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or chronically ill, will probably increase as these populations increase.  Contaminated water supplies might actually be a more significant source of infection than foods, especially for infants.

Truth is, we don't know how large the problem is, because contaminated water supplies often cause intestinal problems that go unreported, since the problems may be short lived (in healthy people) and are probably not associated with the water. Also, the great review we mention was published in 1992, that a long time ago.  The author concluded his paper by stating that more work and follow-up needed to be done...for some reason, we couldn't find an updated report ! This makes us say "yikes".

And now, moving on to assumption #2...that bottled water is convenient.  Really?  Since when is it convenient to run to the store when you're thirsty?  Since when is it convenient to carry your pile of empty water bottles to recycling (please, please, tell us that you are at least recycling these things!). Nope, we don't buy it (literally).  It is really much more convenient to rely on the tap.  And, if you think you'll be in a place where there is no sink in sight, invest in a portable, re-usable water bottle.  We've included two links to sites that you can visit (and purchase from) on-line, although you can certainly find these and other brands in stores.  We recently changed our water bottles and bought some Kleen Kanteens through eCause.  They also have a website.

http://www.ecause.ca/

http://www.kleankanteen.com/

http://www.myreusablebottle.com/


And, as a final thought, the motto for EvianTM is "Live young".  We find that really cute, because if we lived young (or like we did when we were young), we would still have our mouths hovering over the spout of the water fountain with water dripping down our chins, and some extra change in our pockets.


Whew...all this typing has made us thirsty :)
xoxo
The Tightwads

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Girls only ! Seriously!

No, seriously boys...you probably don't want to read this post.  In fact, Frugal Freddie has left the room. But before he made for the exit he made me promise to be quite clear that he had NOTHING to do with this entry...and in fact, he is very uncomfortable with the whole idea.  Truth be told...his reaction makes me giggle.

Let me start by saying that there are certain things that I just really hate spending money on, but I do because...well, there is no choice.  When I really think about it, I do not appreciate having to spend money on toilet paper, garbage bags or paper towels.  I hate it in fact.  These items are typically no fun, expensive and so darn practical.  I also really resent having to spend at least 12$ a month on other un-fun, expensive and practical items....every month !!! (do you see where this is going ladies?).  No matter how pretty the packaging or how cute the name or how "designed to fit" they are, tampons and pads are costly, and menopause is the only end in sight (with pregnancy being a temporary reprieve).  Or is it????


In a health clinic many years ago one of the patients I was seeing spoke to me about her "keeper".  She described it as a cup that is used to literally collect menstrual blood. (For any males that didn't heed my advice...don't say I didn't warn you).  I listened politely, thought she was crazy, imagined her sitting around a fondue pot singing Kumba-Ya, and never gave it another thought....that is, until about 3 months ago.

At that time a dear friend (who has begged to remain nameless) and I were discussing menstrual issues, like unreliable tampons and bulky pads.  Well, I was discussing...she just sat there smiling sweetly and then said "You should try the Diva Cup".

"The Diva Cup?" I replied quizzically.

"Yes" she responded.  "It is fantastic".

"Why, tell me more," I begged.

It seems that my anonymous friend has been using the same sort of contraption that my hippie-like patient was talking about so many years ago.  A keeper by any other name...is, well, cooler!  "Diva Cup" sounds so much more inviting than "keeper", so after asking her about it I thought...I should try this!

Let me tell you lady friends (and any males who just can't stay away)...it is revolutionary! No matter what they are called, menstrual cups have been around for a really long time...but they seem to be the menstruating world's best kept secret.  A secret no doubt protected by male tampon making tycoons!  So, in the likely event that you have not heard of, tried, or thought about using the Diva Cup, I'm here to tell all!

First, the cost (of course).  A Diva Cup, which you can find in most pharmacies, (often hidden behind the bulky boxes of pads), costs about 37$ (at least that's how much I paid for it). It comes in two sizes, and the size you choose depends on your age and whether or not you have had a child.  It is recommended that you buy a new one every year.  Quick calculation: if you spend 10$ a month on period supplies (and really, we all know we spend more than that) then you are spending 120$ annually.  The Diva Cup has already saved you over 80$ a year!  Add to that the bonus of knowing that you aren't polluting our already polluted earth with disposable products. (Hmmmm, come to think of it, have you ever noticed how smart financial choices are also smart for the environment?  A future post topic I think.)

When I have mentioned the Diva Cup to a few people the responses have ranged from "cool" to "ugh...gross" to "um..yeah...but I could never do that".  The that being referred to is the actual insertion and emptying of the cup.  You really do need to be quite comfortable with your body in order to do this right.  But I say, if you're not already...what a great reason to become comfortable!  Let's face it women, we let our doctors and lovers poke around down there...why not ourselves??? 

Even if you are incredibly at ease with your body, using the Diva Cup can take some practice but don't worry, when you buy the cup it comes with detailed instructions in the packaging.  My first month was good...but not great.  Second time around, with a little tweaking...much easier, much better! I'm sure that month three will super!

You may be surprised to know that inserted properly, the cup is really comfortable - so comfortable you don't even remember that it is there.  And, unlike tampons which should be changed a few times a day, the Diva Cup can be emptied as infrequently as twice in a 24 hour period (tee hee). And... no more fretting because you've used the last tampon in your purse.  And... no more realizing that "super protection" ain't always that super !

So, that's it lady friends....I hope that I've given you something to ponder. I've included a link to the official Diva Cup website, where you can get more information... in case my testimonial isn't enough! 

Happy bleeding,
xoxo
Economia Nia
a.k.a. Mrs. Tightwad :)



http://www.divacup.com/

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Enough about us!

We know. We know. Right about now you're thinking...what do you mean "enough about us"....we can never have too much of the Tightwads (hee hee).  Well, don't worry, we'll be rambling on about ourselves soon enough.  This post however is dedicated to our dear friend, who we'll call "Glam Gal" (because she really is very glamourous).  The other day, Glam Gal told us that her 2011 resolution is going to involve huge savings ! (even though this is NOT her motivation).  Glam Gal has decided that this is the year she stops smoking !!!!!!!!  Whoopie!!!!

Glam Gal cites the obvious health benefits as her impetus to quit.  As health care workers we couldn't agree more that this is THE biggest reason to quit this stinking (literally) habit for good.  But, as Tightwads, we can't help but appreciate the huge financial benefit of butting out.  These days in Quebec a pack of 25 cigarettes costs about 9$.  According to results from the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS), in 2009 Canadian daily smokers aged 15 and older consumed an average of 13.3 cigarettes a day. So, we can estimate that an "average smoker" will spend $4.50 a day for smokes.  A little math and that brings us to a grand total of $1,642.50 a year! Of course, this amount is for the "average" daily smoker and doesn't consider all the cigarettes that your occasional smoker friends (ahem), ex-smoker friends and cheap smoker friends, bum off of you.  Also, this amount does not factor in the days when you will smoke more than the average; days when you're stressed, happy, up really late, trying to lose that last 5 pounds (damn you cigarettes for your ability to cut a person's appetite) or just because you feel you deserve it.  That means that over the course of 20 years...a smoker will spend about 32, 850$ on a habit that makes your teeth yellow, your hair smell, your breath stink and your lungs black...seems like a silly investment. 

And there`s more! The financial cost of smoking is usually only equated with the cost of the cigarettes.  Well folks, we beg to differ.  The cost of smoking is much more than that pack of smokes alone.  Who goes to the corner store to buy cigarettes and doesn't also pick up a pack of gum or a bag of potato chips or a can of soda?  Which smoker hasn`t at least once bought a fancy Zippo lighter?  Which smoker hasn`t taken advantage of the relatively recent tooth whitening revolution to help them keep their smile bright?  Which smoker hasn`t invested in warmer- (and hence more expensive)-than-would-have-been-normally-purchased winter wear now that smokers are relegated to the great outdoors when dining out or when at work? 

So, yes, smoking cigarettes can contribute to heart and lung disease, can reek havoc on your appearance and can make a serious dent in your disposable income.  Still, we know that the habit is incredibly hard to kick (which is why people who are trying to quit spend so much money on patches, gums and drugs to help them..now THAT is a wise investment!). So, to our Glam Gal and to anyone else who is trying to stop smoking, we tip our hats!  The road ahead will be tough... but we know you can do it.  And when you do, we`ll go out to celebrate....on you of course ;)

With much love,
The Tightwads
xoxo

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year - New Resolutions

It's that time in the new year again friends - a time for making New Year's Resolutions! Now some of us (like Frugal Freddie) NEVER make New Year's resolutions, while others (like Economia Nia) make, or rather, recycle, the same ones, year after year.  And again this January, Mrs. Tightwad has dug up the same piece of tattered paper that she's been using for the past number of years, scratched off 2010 and replaced it with 2011. The list is typical: eat better, exercise more, learn to play the cello, publish her novel, overcome her debilitating fear of heights.
Well this year we, the Tightwads, decided to join forces and come up with our 2011 financial resolutions - meant to help us spend more wisely and save more effectively.  Drumroll please...here we go:

1.  We resolve to no longer spend money while at work.  Work is a place where you earn money (and if you're lucky, feel as though you are making a positive contribution to society).  Unfortunately for us, we work in a place with 2 fancy coffee shops, a gift store, and two restaurants / cafeterias.  Our workplace is also situated in one of the most culturally diverse areas of the city which means a bevy of yummy, ethnic restaurants...fantastic.  Well folks, let us let you in on a little secret.  Buying coffee and lunch every day, no matter how delicious and convenient, starts to add up (and let's not even talk about the hidden cost in terms of extra calories...check out how many of those little energy units are in your favorite vanilla flavored latte...we dare you!).  So, to keep our wallets and waist lines in check, we resolve to bring coffee from home and pack our lunch.  

2. We resolve to no longer spend money because we are unorganized, ill-prepared and lazy (ouch, it hurts to admit that).  All too often we find ourselves either eating out, ordering out, or stopping by the grocery store for "a couple of things" because we have not planned what we are going to have for supper.  This isn't so smart when you have children to feed. So, we have committed to creating weekly meal plans and shopping for food based upon these.  We are even color coding food groups...very organized, and pretty :)

3. We resolve to teach our children about money.  Economia Nia's parents tried really hard to instill a sense of responsibility towards finances.  Frugal Freddie had his first job when he was ten and quickly learned the value of a dollar.  Today, you read reports about the enormous debt that young people (younger than us young people) rack up and how living on credit is practically the norm.  Aside from the educational funds that we have set up for the girls, our daughters don't have bank accounts...they keep the money that they either earn, pilfer or receive as gifts, in various piggy banks and wallets around the house.  So, as we become more financially responsible and savvy, we will work towards making them that way too.  Exactly how we're going to do this...not sure...we're open to suggestions.

4. We resolve not to shop 'cuz we're having a bad day.  (Frugal Freddie is giving Economia Nia a cold, hard stare). ..Okay, okay..it's only one of us who does this...but really, is there anything to be gained by pointing fingers. 

5. We resolve to shop around for better insurance and mortgage rates.  We're pretty convinced that we are the only people in the world (!!!) who don't do this, and really, how sad.  We have no excuse.  Every year, we say we will shop around for better rates..and we never do.  But this year...we will !!! Seriously!

6. We resolve to set up a vacation fund.  We love vacations (who doesn't), but how much easier will it be to plan a holiday knowing that we have set aside money for this very purpose, the way smart people do.  Travel with an easy conscious - nice.


7. We resolve not to buy things we don't need, or even want, simply because they are on sale.  Just because an inflatable seven foot snowman is on sale, does not mean it should find a home on your lawn at Christmas time.

8. We resolve to review our budget on a weekly basis .  We're going to sit down with a reasonably priced bottle of wine and go over our nickels and dimes and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done (hopefully).  We have already budgeted our monthly expenses, so now it's just a matter of sticking to it.  This includes shopping smarter for food, toiletries, and other basic necessities of life, as well as money allocated for entertainment.

So, that's our plan.  Ambitious? Maybe. But we think that with some effort, quite achievable.  We'll let you know...and let us know if you think we've missed anything.

From us, to you, Happy New Year...and may 2011 be grand !

xoxo
The Tightwads