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Monday, January 31, 2011

The best things in life are (relatively) free

This is a post about water. When we were little (and 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 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 I must really be moving up in the world". 

We'll get to assumptions 1 and 2 in a 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's the link:

If you don't want to be up all 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.

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 :)
The Tightwads

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Girls only ! Seriously!

No, seriously 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, 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) 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,
Economia Nia
a.k.a. Mrs. Tightwad :)

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 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

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 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,'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 !

The Tightwads