Canadian Frugality

Hi there! Thanks for all the questions. The following might help to answer a few about frugality - and Canada. Fifteen years as a stay-at-home mom, when money was so tight it squeaked, qualifies for personal experience, I hope. I did hold down an exciting, full-time job for twenty years, once the children were all over seven years of age. I am once again enjoying a stay-at-home lifestyle, working toward hubby's retirement from a job he's held for over 45 years. We have always taken the old New England adage to heart - "Eat it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without". This saying is pinned on my bulletin board where we can read it every day.

Your questions: We do have summer up here. But in our neighbourhood we have to heat our homes from about October 1 - April 15. The thermostat is set at 65 degrees F during the day and 50 degrees F at night. We heat with oil (natural gas being the alternative) and have an oil-fired hot water heater (very efficient and cheap to operate compared with electricity). Thermostats can be programmed to automatically raise and lower the temperature during a twenty-four hour period. When we are away, the thermostat sits at 55 degrees F (our cat, "Adumb", doesn't appreciate this at all!). The furnace blower is on 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It draws warm basement air during the winter months and cool basement air in the summer. Warm basement air in the winter? The furnace is in the basement. Basement heating ducts are open. As the air is warm "down in the dungeon", it may as well be circulated through the house. Why heat the basement? Have you ever stepped out of bed onto a COLD FLOOR? It is necessary in our part of Canada to keep a warm basement. Pipes can freeze in an unheated basement - especially in an OLD house. Yep, we do have lots of insulation. But that isn't always the answer for frozen pipes - especially when temperatures are well below zero outside.

Although it gets hot during the summer, we do not own an air conditioner. We open our windows wide mid-April to let the breezes blow through - and only close them again around the beginning of October.

We own a clothes dryer but haven't used it in years. During the winter, the laundry is dried on wooden racks in an upper hall, near a hot air duct, with a portable fan blowing gently to circulate the moist air. During the warmer summer months, the clothes are hung on an outside line.

To save electricity, when a roast is cooking, I make a day of it and do all my other baking. We buy flour, sugar, yeast, oatmeal, raisins, peanut butter etc in bulk. One hundred pounds of flour is stored in a lidded garbage can (bought especially for the purpose). A few bay leaves are sprinkled through it to keep the "bugzies" out. Other grains are stored the same way. Early in our marriage we invested in a LARGE freezer and hubby built a cold room/pantry in a corner of the basement. By the way, I never purchase cold cuts. A good large roast of meat (also turkey and chicken) will yield enough for a few hot meals, and lots of sandwich making too.

An old Celtic saying translates loosely into - "if there is love in the heart and food on the table, one does not notice a sparse house". We only buy what we truly need and can pay cash for. We have one credit card - for emergencies only. We share magazines and videos with friends, neighbours and relatives. We surround ourselves with books on all subjects, usually bought for pennies at charity fundraisers. We get good CD's and videos this way too. Libraries are usually free for residents' use and offer a wide variety of services. Our physical entertainment consists of enjoying many and varied free entertainments (street festivals, band concerts, formal gardens, hiking trails).

We shop for groceries twice a month. This practice almost eliminates impulse buying. You'd be surprised at how much you save by dropping the habit of weekly shopping. We never "run into a store" for milk and bread. It is all in the freezer, fridge or pantry - a three-week supply of milk, cheese, juice, bread. We shop at the farm gate, at produce and farm markets. We also have a large garden which supplies all our summer and most of our winter needs for veggies. Take a lesson from "grannie": eat only what is cheap and in season. In other words, we do not eat fresh peaches, lettuce, peppers, strawberries, peppers etc. during the winter months. Our table reflects the seasons of the year - and the availability of locally grown produce. Apples, which are grown and put down for winter storage in our area, are enjoyed year round. We love lettuce salads in the summer. Cabbage, carrot, and bean salads are served during the winter months. Fresh tomatoes are a staple on the table only during their local growing season.

Every three months we visit a "big box" store and purchase quarter year's supply of household basics - toilet paper, soaps & etc. We do find that the big box stores have the best prices on bulk supplies. Again, this eliminates the need for the "pick-up" trip to the store for necessities.

Malls are not an outing destination. We visit only if we need a specific product that is not available elsewhere. For a lot of people, malls are too much of a temptation. Once inside, one is encouraged to "shop - shop - shop" through a variety of proven marketing techniques. Don't fall for the hype. Do not shop malls if you are the least inclined to impulse SHOP. Take a walk on a nature trail - it is a free and healthy alternative to spending time and money in a mall. If you need an "Injection of Mall", take only enough money for a telephone call and a cup of coffee. Leave your wallet and cards at home. Out of sight, but probably not out of mind. Remember - cash only!

We save oodles by not buying expensive sundries. We use one basic shampoo and rinse with vinegar. We use one basic hand soap. We do not use fabric softener in our laundry. I use 1/2 the detergent called for per load of laundry. I do not use cosmetics. We do use a cheap and effective hand cream during the winter. Hubby visits a barber but I do not spend money on a hairdresser - long hair, you see. Sit right down and figure out the amount of money you spend yearly on cosmetics. Why not cut back and let your natural beauty shine through? Put that money into a bank account for a special purchase - or for your old age.

Hubby and I hate shopping for clothing. We make a list of what we need to replace, watch for bargains and shop carefully - paying cash for everything. We do not buy into making a fashion statement. We buy good basic, timeless articles in neutral colours.

We have never owned a new car. Our current "lizzie" is nine years old and has nearly 200,000 miles on it. It will do nicely, thank you. As hubby is an auto mechanic, we do have an advantage in the automotive department. By taking good care of our cars, we manage to drive them for years.

Many Canadian "snowbirds" love coupon shopping and make a hobby of it when they "fly" south for the winter because "Canucks" do not have the pleasure of great coupon shopping at home. In our part of the country, we rarely see any to clip. The ones that do appear are usually for highly processed food products which frugal shoppers do not buy - or cat food. I do write positive letters to companies whose products I like and use. I ask that they place my name on their in-house mailing list (if they keep one) to receive coupons or information on new product lines.

You would be surprised at what comes in the mail! By the same token, I do not hesitate to complain about an inferior product. Again, you'd be surprised at what you might receive. "Adumb" is up to his eyeballs in cat "treats" and each year receives a birthday card! I have just filed coupons worth $18 for a national brand of health-related product that we use.

And the final question - can I make a living as a writer in Canada? NO. How then do I personally make a wee bit of money when those cheques for writing are few and far between? How about "time" as an extra in movie and TV productions? We live within easy driving distance of "East Hollywood North". I work through a decent talent agency who only asks for 10% of earnings - no expensive photo sessions, no up front money - just 10% of earnings. The experience does bring in a few extra dollars and gets me away from the keyboard. I have also had reasonable success with reprinting rare local history books whose copyrights have lapsed and are available to me. As these are all presold, the money is "up-front" to pay for printing, mailing and effort to bring the publication to market. How about doing family histories? Families provides the basic information - genealogical and verbal history. You write it up nicely for them. One needs to be a bit of a history buff to do a reasonable job of "polishing" the prose, but hey, it's great fun and pays well too. How to get your name "out there". Approach your library, museum, or Board of Trade with an information brochure. Hand them out around the community - churches, social groups, retirement homes ... Where there is a will, there is a way. Thanks again for your questions.