Category Archives: TIPS TO SAVE YOU MONEY

tips on saving money

Tips for Being Fabulously Frugal!

piggy bank

Money just doesn’t stretch far anymore.  It seems like I can’t leave the house without spending at least $50 – and that’s when I’m just going out for fruits and vegetables.  My average Costco bill runs around $200 – $400 a WEEK and a light sushi lunch with my husband and 2 small children is NEVER under $60.  Even something like going to a movie or taking the kids bowling somehow runs us around $100 after a few snacks!  It’s frustrating because I don’t want to stay home all the time but I need to find a way to have a little fun while avoiding sinking into debt.

That’s why I try to ‘pinch pennies’ wherever I can.  It’s not about being ‘cheap’.  It’s about being mindful of my spending in order to save money whenever possible.  Being mindful of where my money is going, and making small changes in my habits in order to save it, has been a huge step in having more money so I can treat myself (and/or my family) to something special once in a while.

It might seem like tiny changes in your habits won’t make a difference but it DOES.  Even small savings add up to big savings over time.  EVERY.  PENNY.  COUNTS.

Below are a few suggestions on ways to be frugal that are really working for me!

  • Split your coins up into separate jars for nickels, dimes, quarters, etc. and put all your spare change in them.  Every six months or so roll all your spare change and take it to the bank.  You’ll be shocked at how much you have!   TIP:  Involve your kids so they can see first-hand how even small amounts of money can really add up over time!  (My kids both have piggy banks and whenever they get/find money, they put it in there to save for something special.  It really helps teach them about the value of a dollar).

money in jars

  • Whenever you can, buy items in bulk instead of pre-packaged.  Some items I buy in bulk that saves me TONNES of money are rice, quinoa, pastas, dried fruits, nuts, seeds (such as pumpkin or sunflower), granola, chocolate chips and pretty much everything for baking – and most importantly, SPICES!!!!  Buying spices from bulk bins will save you HUGE amounts of money.  (I buy clear jars and containers from the dollar store to store everything in!).

bulk bins

food in bulk

  • Buy yearly memberships (to the gym, for instance).  The more you pay up front the more you save.  (If I bought a monthly gym membership it would cost me $55.80 per month.  If I buy a yearly membership, the cost is $515.84.  I save $153.76 buy paying for a year up front).
  • When looking for something you need (such as gardening equipment, kids bikes or sports equipment, items for your pets, etc.), try looking for good quality USED items instead of buying new and you can potentially save a LOT of money.  For certain things Craigslist and other second-hand stores (Once Upon A Child is Coquitlam is one of my favourites) can offer amazing deals.  (For example, when I needed a new dresser for the kids room, I found a beautiful and well-built one for $40 at the Salvation Army!  With a little love and some paint, it looked brand new and I saved hundreds of dollars).
  • Shop around for the best deals.  Buy things like pop, chocolate bars, candy, holiday supplies, kitchen gadgets and gardening equipment at the dollar store.  You’ll save a LOT of money.   (The cost of a chocolate bar at Dollarama is around .75 cents.  You’ll pay $1.50 for the exact same thing at 7/11).
  • Wait until after holidays to stock up on things like wrapping paper, Christmas lights, Halloween decorations, cards, etc.  You’ll save 40% – 70% and have everything ready to go for the following year!
  • Keep your freezer bags to reuse them (if you’ve frozen something on a tray ahead of time and marked the bag, just keep using the same bag over and over again.  I’ve been using the same freezer bags for 3 years now!
  • wait for things to come on sale and grab non-perishable items whenever you see a good deal.  (I found a case of 12 cans of mushrooms soup the other day for $4.99!  That’s $0.41 per can.  The average cost is $1.29 – $1.69 per can)!
  • Buy meat and fish in large quantities, then divide into individual meal portions and freeze.  Buy anything you can in large quantities to save money (toilet paper, canned goods, rice, etc) as long as it won’t go off/bad before you use it.
  • Zest your citrus fruit before you use the juice – even if you don’t need the zest in the recipe.  You can use this zest in everything from dips to salads to a topping for fish!   If fresh herbs are starting to rot, puree them in the food processor with olive oil and freeze them into ice-cube trays.  Then pop them out as needed to use in soups, stews, sauces, etc.  Do the same thing with older fruit.  Then pop into smoothies right from the freezer!
  • When buying roast chicken from the Super Market, always save the bones.  Also, save your onion, carrot, celery scraps and parsley stems in a zip lock bag in the freezer and just add to it each time.  When you have enough scraps, you can make a homemade chicken stock to use in everything from soups, to cooking quinoa/rice/beans, to reducing and deglazing a pan for a nice sauce.
  • Always use a spatula to scrape out the last bits of sauce, or whatever your using, from jars/containers.  Those little bits add up to a lot and will save you money over time.  (See my blog post about using a spatula to save money).
  • save water by not running it while brushing your teeth and ensure you don’t have any leaky taps/faucets.  Also, get a ‘rain catcher’ of some kind and use the water to water plants (I use my extra garbage can and keep it in the backyard to catch rain which I use to water my gardens).
  • Shop for items in places that offer rewards/points.  For example, where I live in British Columbia, Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart for hygiene and beauty products.  Super Store has a points reward system for President’s Choice products.  Costco has a membership fee but you get a rebate check in the mail that ends up being more than the cost of a member ship.
  • when your shampoo, body wash, face soap, hand cream or anything in squeeze bottles seems empty, just add a few teaspoons of water and shake.  You should get 2 – 6 more portions out of it!  If it’s in a plastic container with a pump, cut the bottom off with scissors.  You’ll get another few WEEKS worth of product that you would have otherwise thrown away!
saving money on hand cream

hand cream at bottom of container that seemed empty!

These are just a few ways I practice being frugal.  As I mentioned above, it might not seem like you’re saving much money at the time, but over a year the savings add up to THOUSANDS of dollars.  

Being conscious of your spending will also encourage you to really think about how much you need something before purchasing it and hopefully will make it easier to avoid impulse buying.  It’s also setting a good example for your kids to follow.  Lastly, it’s often much more environmentally friendly to be frugal.  Recycling, reusing and wasting less is always a good idea (:

 

 

 

 

Moroccan Chicken with Carrots and Olives

Moroccan chicken with carrots and olives

Moroccan chicken with carrots and olives

One of my favourite things to do is sit with a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and read different recipes in cookbooks and/or magazines.  Whenever I need a little inspiration I pick up a magazine or one of my cookbooks and just rifle though.  The other day I was reading the complimentary TASTE magazine I picked up from the liquor store and a recipe for Moroccan lamb caught my eye – particularly the spice mix.  The best part was I actually had ALL the spices listed.

I had some chicken thighs in the freezer and didn’t want to splurge on lamb so I used the rub on chicken instead.  I tweaked the measurements of the spices slightly.  I only used half the amount of cayenne pepper their recipe called for because my kids are still too young to endure too much heat.  The spice mix still had a fair amount of heat to it with the measurements I used, but if you like things really spicy, just double the amount of cayenne pepper.  I also added garlic because I love garlic with everything.

I LOVE this spice mix.  It’s delicious.  I’m already excited to try it in quinoa and rice dishes and even on roasted vegetables.  It’s warm and complex tasting and the smell in the kitchen when I was cooking the chicken was AH-MAZING! Perfect for the cooler fall temperatures.

NOTE: If you have a spice grinder you can use the whole seeds and grind everything up together.  I don’t have one (it’s on my xmas wish list) so I just used the powdered versions I had in the house.  I made this mix in a large batch so I have it on had to use whenever I want!  

**If you need to go out and buy some/all of these spices BUY THEM FROM THE BULK BINS.  IT WILL CUT YOUR COSTS BY AT LEAST HALF!  Super Store or Bulk Barn are great places to get spices in bulk.  (I go to the dollar store to buy all my storage containers/spice jars.  They’re around $1 each)**

INGREDIENTS – Moroccan Spice Mix

  • 4 Tbsp cumin (powder or seeds)
  • 3 Tbsp black peppercorns (or ground)
  • 2 Tbsp allspice (ground or whole)
  • 2 Tbsp coriander (powder or seeds)
  • 1 Tbsp cloves (ground or whole)
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon (or 2 sticks)
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper (2 Tbsp if you like a spicier mix)
  • 2 Tbsp ground ginger powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder (optional)

METHOD

  • Grind/mix together and store in an air-tight container in a cool place.

NOTE:  If you’re using whole seeds you can lightly toast them all in a pan for a few minutes before grinding to intensify the flavours.  Just ensure you’re stirring often and watch them constantly to ensure you don’t burn them

 

INGREDIENTS – for dinner (serves 4)

  • 8 – 10 chicken boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use chicken breasts too.  Just adjust the cooking time accordingly)
  • 2 – 3 cup carrots, sliced on a thin bias (ensure they’re not thick or they won’t cook through on time)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp Moroccan spice mix (enough to generously coat the chicken on both sides)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (for the carrots)
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato (optional)
  • 1/4 green olives – sliced in half (or whatever olives you want to use!)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley – to finish

METHOD

  • Coat chicken in Moroccan spice and marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
  • Right before cooking, slice carrots and olives, chop tomatoes and toss all with chicken.  Season chicken, tomato and carrots with  salt.  Sprinkle brown sugar onto carrots.
  • Spread all into a baking dish and bake, uncovered, in a preheated 425 degree oven for 20 minutes.

The below picture has sausage.  I had 2 sausages in the fridge and decided to throw them in the dish because I had room!  You certainly do not need sausage in this recipe!

chicken and carrots going into oven

chicken and carrots going into oven

  • Remove chicken from baking dish.  Put in bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
  • Turn oven up to 500 degrees and cook carrots for 8 minutes more or until they reach your desired consistency.
roasted carrots, olives and tomato

roasted carrots, olives and tomato

  • Plate chicken with carrots/olives and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Serving Suggestion:  I served the chicken and carrots with a quick and easy creamy green onion polenta.  It was DELICIOUS.  You can make the polenta while the chicken is baking.

 

 

Hearty Organic Garden Minestrone Soup

hearty organic garden minestrone soup

hearty organic garden minestrone soup

There are so many great canned/pre-made soups available nowadays.  But there is something really enjoyable and rewarding about making your own.  I occasionally make my own soup for a number of reasons:

  • When I’ve eaten poorly for a few days and want to get back on track, having a large batch of homemade soup, packed with vegetables, is the perfect thing to eat in between meals to keep me full!
  • I save a lot of money making my own soup and can control what goes into it (including the amount of sodium).
  • When I have a bunch of different vegetables that need using up there’s no better way to get rid of them then by making a delicious soup!  If I don’t want to eat all the soup within a few days, I just freeze it for another time.
  • Soups are fun to make.  I get to play with ingredients.  I enjoy trying a new herb or spice and seeing how it changes the flavour profile.

There are several reasons I decided to make this particular soup.  It’s one of my favourite and healthiest soups and I’m trying to eat very clean and organically this month as a bit of a ‘cleanse’ from too much of everything all summer!  I want to eat as many vegetables as possible (the summer has taken a bit of a toll on me!).  I currently have a lot of vegetables and herbs growing in my gardens but the season is very near it’s end.  The last of the tomatoes,  peppers, zucchini, kale and basil need using up.  I also made a wonderful chicken broth a few days ago, (homemade broth/stock really is what elevates this soup from good to great) and wanted to find a way to use it.  Lastly, the weather has been cooler and I’m feeling for something warm, hearty and comforting.  This soup will take care of all these things!

tomatoes from my garden that I need to use up

tomatoes from my garden that I need to use up

INGREDIENTS (makes 8 cups)

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion – diced
  • 3/4 cup carrot (or 1 medium carrot) – diced
  • 1/2 cup celery (or 2 stalks) – diced
  • 2 tsp garlic – minced
  • 2 cups tomatoes – chopped (if you don’t have fresh tomatoes just use 1 can of crushed tomatoes!)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 cups kale (swiss chard, cabbage or spinach would work too)
  • 1/3 cup yellow bell peppers (red or orange would work too)
  • 1/2 cup zucchini (green or yellow)
  • 1/2 cup parsley – chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas (white kidney beans or lentils would work too)
  • 1.5 litres chicken stock (6 cups.  Preferably homemade)
  • OPTION:  1 parmesan rind (I freeze my rinds to use for soups.  They add great flavour)
  • 1.5 tsp salt (possibly more.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Grated parmesan, fresh basil leaves and/or pesto for garnish

METHOD

  • Heat oil in large pot and add the onion, celery, carrot, tomato paste, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley.  Sauté on medium heat for 3 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and fragrant.
mirepoix for soup

mirepoix for soup

adding tomato paste, garlic and parsley to soup

adding tomato paste, garlic and parsley to soup

  • Add the zucchini, kale, peppers and tomatoes and stir.
adding kale, peppers, tomato and zucchini to soup

adding kale, peppers, tomato and zucchini to soup

  • Add the chickpeas and stock (and parmesan rind if you have one).
adding chickpeas to soup

adding chickpeas to soup

adding parmesan rind to soup

adding parmesan rind to soup

  • Bring to a simmer, turn heat down to low and gently continue to simmer for around 15 – 20 minutes to combine flavours.  You don’t need to ‘cook this soup to death’ because all the ingredients are great on their own.  You don’t want mushy vegetables.  (I can’t stress enough how much better this soup is if you use homemade stock!).
  • Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
soup in pot

soup in pot

  • Serve immediately topped with parmesan cheese, fresh basil or your favourite pesto.  Some crusty bread and a glass of wine also certainly wouldn’t hurt!
hearty organic garden minetrone soup

hearty organic garden minetrone soup

 

 

Healthy Chinese Style Chow Mein (loaded with vegetables!)

chow mein

chow mein

I really like Chinese food but I almost never eat it.  The kind you order from a restaurant is loaded with fat, MSG and sodium.  It also costs a lot to order Chinese food and you always get so much that you end up eating about four times the amount you should – or at least I do!

I’ve been trying for some time now to come up with a chow mein recipe that would satisfy my craving for Chinese Food but still allow me to eat it without having to work out for 3 hours after just to burn it off (which I would never do anyway).

After a lot of experimentation (sorry kids!) I have come up with a recipe that I’m very happy with.  It has all the flavours I’m looking for.  A little acidity from the rice vinegar, a little sweetness from the hoisin sauce, a fresh tangy taste from the ginger and orange zest and a wonderful richness from the oyster sauce.

I’m not going to lie to you.  The recipe below isn’t the same as you would get from a Chinese restaurant.  (That’s because it’s WAY healthier and loaded with vegetables).  But it’s damn good and won’t leave you with an empty wallet and a sore stomach!

This is definitely a recipe that will be in regular rotation around here from now on.  It feels like ‘fast food’ without the guilt (:

NOTE:  All ingredients mentioned below can be found in the Asian Food aisle of your local grocery store

mis en place chow mein

mis en place chow mein

mis en place chow mein

mis en place chow mein

INGREDIENTS (serves 2 LARGE portions or 3 to 4 smaller ones)

  • chow mein noodles (I used 2 ‘bricks’.  It worked out to 2 cups COOKED noodles)

Sauce:  (If stored in the fridge, this sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead.  Up to one month if you omit the chicken broth or use a powdered chicken broth base!)

  • 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (use 2 tsp if you really like the flavour of sesame oil!)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce (reduced sodium soy sauce is fine)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth/stock (just use water if you don’t have any stock)

Vegetables:  (if you don’t like some of these vegetables, or want to switch it up, cabbage, snap peas, and bean sprouts are other great options!)

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 heaping tsp fresh ginger – minced
  • 2 tsp garlic – minced
  • 1 cup button or shiitake mushrooms – sliced or quartered
  • 2 cup broccoli – small florets
  • 1/2 cup carrot – julienned (thin slice like match sticks)
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper – julienned (thin slice like match sticks)
  • 1/3 cup green onion – chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste (the sauce is very salty so you might not want to use any at all)
  • FLAVOUR OPTION:  1/4 tsp orange zest or 1/4 tsp lime zest
  • SPICY OPTION:  1/4 tsp Asian chili sauce or other hot sauce
  • MEAT OR SEAFOOD OPTION:  1 cup shredded/diced chicken or shrimp/prawns
  • GARNISH OPTION:  1/3 cup cilantro
  • GARNISH OPTION:  1/3 cup peanuts

METHOD

  • Using a food processor/blender, or just a whisk, blend together all the ingredients listed above under sauce.
  • Put on a pot of salted water and bring to boil.
  • heat oil on high heat using a large pan with sides – or a wok.
  • Add carrots and mushrooms and a dash of salt to pan/wok and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until there’s a bit of colour on the veg.  The carrots should still have some crunch to them.
  • Add noodles to water and cook according to package directions.  (NOTE:  always test the noodles to ensure they’re done.  My package said to cook noodles for 1 minute but it actually took 6!!).
  • While noodles are cooking, add garlic, ginger broccoli and peppers to pan.  Saute for one minute until garlic and ginger become fragrant.  DO NOT BURN.  TOSS CONTINUOUSLY.
  • Add sauce and noodles to pan (also and cooked chicken or shrimp now, if using).  Mix all together, reduce heat to medium and cook for a few minutes more until sauce is reduced and slightly thickened and broccoli is cooked to desired consistency.  NOTE:  Ensure you don’t cook too long or broccoli will be mushy and overcooked and the dish won’t be saucy enough.
chow mein in pan

chow mein in pan

  • Toss chow mein with orange zest and green onions.
  • Divide into dishes and serve immediately (top with cilantro and/or peanuts if desired).

chow mein plated

vegetable chow mein plated

 

 

Comforting, Aromatic Chicken Broth

chicken stock with herbs and spices added

chicken stock with herbs and spices added

The weather is getting cooler, there’s rain in the forecast for the next week and I’m feeling a ‘tickle’ in my throat.  Yesterday I was feeling a little under the weather as well so I picked up a pre-cooked roast chicken for dinner.  I do this once or twice a month on days when I don’t feel like cooking (or don’t have time). They’re under $9, they’re a quick nutritious alternative to fast food, they’re delicious and I can serve it with just about anything for a meal that’s ready in under 5 minutes.  There’s also a million ways to use any leftover roast chicken.

I never throw the bones away.  Instead, I freeze them to use for a delicious chicken stock.  (I also keep a zip-lock bag in the freezer for my onion, celery and carrot trimmings (mirepoix) and parsley stems.  I use these scraps for my stock as well).  Since I’m using things I would normally have thrown away, this stock literally costs me under $1.00 to make!

I love making chicken broth/stock.  The smell that fills the house when it’s simmering all afternoon on the stove is so comforting and wonderful.  It smells like a nice hug feels; warm and inviting.

Depending on whether I’m just making stock for the sake of making stock (I freeze stock in ice cube trays so I can pop a few out for sauces, rice, quinoa and many other things), or whether I have a purpose in mind (a soup base or a risotto, for example) I add different spices and/or herbs.

I like to add a little tomato paste and some cumin to my broth.  It adds a subtle depth and flavour that I love for a soup base.  A ‘trick’ I learned from making chicken stock/broth at a high-end restaurant for years, is to roast the bones and vegetables in the oven to ‘caramelize/brown’ them before adding them to the pot.  This really intensifies the flavour.

In the recipe below, I will list certain ingredients as optional.  I highly recommend trying them but if you just want a classic stock, omit them.  You can always ‘play’ with your own seasoning/herbs!

The measurements are also a guideline ONLY.  Honestly, use what you have and the quantities you want.  It won’t make a noticeable difference to the flavour of the end product.  I don’t measure my food scraps or parsley stems before adding them!  In fact, I don’t really measure anything.  However, I did this time, in order to give the reader a ‘jumping off’ point.

Whenever I make this stock/broth, I drink a cup or two by itself while it’s still warm because it’s that good.  It can stand alone.  This would be the PERFECT thing to have on hand when you (or anyone in your family) is feeling under the weather.

INGREDIENTS (makes 6 – 8 cups/1.5 – 2L stock)

  • 1 chicken bones (from 1 to 2 whole chickens)
  • 1 cup onion (or one onion – peels and ends are fine to use)
  • 1 cup carrot (around 2 carrots – peels and ends are fine to use)
  • 1 cup celery (2 stalks – don’t use the leaves.  They’re bitter)
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic (around 1 Tbsp)
  • OPTION:  2 Tbsp tomato paste (or even tomato ends/overly ripe tomatoes)  TIP:  I scoop out tomato paste by the Tablespoon full onto a parchment lined sheet tray and freeze.  Then put in a zip-lock bag in the freezer to use whenever I want!)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns (or pepper if you don’t have whole peppercorns)
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbsp dried rosemary (or a few sprigs of fresh if you have it!)
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme (or a few sprigs of fresh if you have it!)
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 bunch parsley stems
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • OPTIONS:  1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp fennel, 1 tsp Zaatar (a Lebanese blend of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, salt, spices)  – I added ALL these to my stock/broth this time!
this is what the zaatar looks like

this is what the zaatar looks like

mise en place herbs and spices for stock

mise en place herbs and spices for stock

METHOD

  • Set your oven to broil and spread your vegetables and chicken bones out as much as possible on a sheet tray.
mirepoix and bones ready for oven

mirepoix and bones ready for oven

  • Place tray under broiler for 8 – 10 minutes or until everything is starting to turn brown.  Turn bones over and brown the other side.  Around 5 minutes more.
roasted bones and veg out of oven

roasted bones and veg out of oven

  • In a large pot, heat oil on medium heat.  Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes stirring often to ensure you don’t burn it.
  • Add the chicken bones, vegetables and salt to the pot and stir so garlic and tomato paste is incorporated.  (Make sure you use a spatula to scrape ALL the bits off the sheet tray and into the pot.  These scraps have a lot of flavour).
  • Add 3 litres of cold water to pot (use 4 litres if you’re using 2 chickens!).
  • Add all your spices and herbs to the pot.  Bring to boil and turn down to a simmer (around 3 on the oven dial).
chicken stock with herbs and spices added

chicken broth with herbs and spices added

  • Simmer stock for around 4.5 – 5 hours (until it’s reduced by about 1/2).  Do NOT stir the broth at all.  The impurities will come to the top and stirring will make the stock cloudy.
simmering chicken stock

simmering chicken broth

  • Remove from heat.  Strain using a fine mesh strainer (or, in this case, I didn’t mind some of the small bits of herb, etc getting through because I was using the broth for soup, so I just used a pasta strainer).
  • Let cool.  Using a soup ladle, skim off any fat/grease from the top (the grease will all rise to the top) and discard.
strained stock in container

strained broth in container

 

 

 

 

 

How to save money even if you have very little of it! (and/or get out of debt!)

every penny counts

every penny counts

We live in a society of instant gratification.  If we want something but can’t afford it, we just put in on a credit card so we can have what we want, when we want it – which is always NOW.  No one wants to think about the ramifications and consequences of being frivolous.  This is one of the reasons why as many as three quarters of Canadians are in debt and owe an average amount of nearly $16,000.    This does not include mortgage debt. (America is not faring any better!)

My mom was a single mother with 4 children.  She couldn’t afford to be frivolous.  My father didn’t pay child support.  We spent a lot of my childhood on welfare.  We used food stamps.  When we were old enough that my mom could work, she worked 2 jobs just to make ends meet.  Looking back, I still wouldn’t consider us poor (we never missed a meal) but we certainly didn’t have any extra money.  We barely got by.

Although I didn’t fully understand the struggles my mom was going through, once I started school, I did realize that we had a lot less money than many of the other families.  My mom tried SO hard to keep us fed and clothed.  We knew it was extremely hard and stressful for her.  She did a great job (I know I’ve said it a zillion times, but THANKS MOM!).

I  didn’t get money for college.  I had to put myself through college – twice.  Every penny I’ve ever had has come from saving it myself.  So you could say that I grew up knowing the value of a dollar.  Knowing firsthand what it’s like to not have money really made me want to spend my money wisely and save for a ‘rainy day’ so that I would hopefully never have to struggle to put food on the table the way my mom did.  I know there are millions of people out there struggling with the same thing every day.  Even now, my husband and I are scarily close to living pay check to pay check (especially since I don’t currently receive a pay check!).  That’s why saving anything we can is crucial.  EVERY.  DOLLAR.  COUNTS.

Although I’ve always been relatively good with my money, it wasn’t until working in restaurants that I really saw ‘the big picture‘.  The key to being good with money is too look at everything on a large scale.  While spending $10 here or $20 there doesn’t seem like a big deal at all, you need to take into account how often you’re doing this.  For example, spending $5 a day on Starbuck’s coffee seems like nothing.  But if you’re doing this 5 days a week, after a year you would have spent around $1,300 ON COFFEE!  If you switched to making coffee at home most of the time and only went out for coffee ‘for a treat’, you could potentially save over $1000 a year; and that’s just on COFFEE.  Everything you spend money on adds up over time.  Being aware of how much you’re spending, how often and on what, allows you to access your spending habits and cut back where necessary in order to ensure you don’t end up in debt (or if you’re already in debt, you can start saving money so you can crawl out of it!).

With money it’s easy come, easy go.  Money is made to to be spent and I’m not saying that you should save all your money at the sacrifice of having new things or going out for dinner or whatever you do to treat yourself.  I’m just saying that you could potentially save thousands of dollars a year just by budgeting and being more conscious of your spending habits.  That’s money that could be saved for retirement, a new home, your kids’ education or even that dream vacation on your bucket list.   Or gawd forbid you, or someone you love, gets sick or loses their job.  Wouldn’t it be a HUGE relief to know you have some extra money tucked away?!

You don’t need to be saving large amounts of money a month to see results.  Even the little things we do to save pay off BIG over time.  I have absolutely NO intention of cutting out buying wine, even though I’d save a hell of a lot of money if I did.  That would mean a lifestyle change that I’m not willing to make.  However, once I added up how much I was spending a month (YIKES), I challenged myself to find less expensive (but equally good) bottles to cut my spending by half.  My husband and I were spending around $60+ a week (don’t judge) on wine (for 3 bottles).  We realized we could spend around $40/week for 3 bottles if we were consciously  buying bottles under $15.  This alone saves us over $1000 a year.

Below are some tips that have really helped me to always have money, even though I’ve never made that much of it!  

  • Set money aside for retirement and savings.  Even if it’s just $10 a month, get into the habit of paying yourself FIRST.  This is an absolute must for future financial security.  If you don’t already have one, get an RRSP NOW (registered retirement savings plan).  Instead of being responsible for putting money towards your retirement and savings when you have ‘extra’, set it up so a fixed amount comes out of your bank account every month.  I set mine up so it comes out the same day my check goes in.  That way I never even notice the $50 – $100 going out of my bank account.  If you wait to have extra money to set aside, you’ll never do it.
  • Have a budget and stick to it.  Figure out what your monthly fixed expenses are (fixed expenses are things you pay each month and are roughly the same amount every month like rent/mortgage, bills, paying yourself (retirement fund, mutual funds etc), car payments, insurance, gym membership, etc….  Once you figure out what the total fixed expenses are, subtract it from your average monthly income.  That is the amount of money you have left over for variable expenses.  Variable expenses are things that change monthly and can be controlled like groceries, eating out, alcohol, clothes, entertainment, etc.  Now you need to figure out how much you can spend per month on each of these things and still be left with some extra cash to save for a ‘rainy day’.  Being aware of where you’re spending your money really helps because it holds you accountable and allows you to cut back where you need to.  If you KNOW you’ve reached your budget limit on clothes for the month, you’re a lot less likely to buy another pair of jeans.

NOTE:  I like to turn my budgeting into a game of sorts.  If I have $100 a month that I’m ‘allowed’ to spend on clothes then I’ll try to not buy clothes for 3 months.  Since I haven’t spent any of my allotted money, at the end of 3 months I now have $300 to spend on ANYTHING I like.  It feels like such a reward for being good with my money.  (I usually only spend about half of what I’ve ‘saved’ and put the rest towards savings).  I apply this mentality towards groceries, dining out and many other things.  It’s like your very own budgeting reward system!

  • Avoid impulse shopping.  Unless you are specifically looking for something, avoid going to the mall or grocery store, or where ever, just to browse.  You WILL overspend.  Out shopping and see something you just ‘have to have’?  Ask the store to hold it for you and wait a day.  You’d be surprised how much things become ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  I do this ALL the time.  Literally every time I’m at Winner’s I see a purse or a pair of shoes that I would DIE for.  I go home and think on it.  If I’m too lazy to go back and buy it, I didn’t want it that badly in the first place!  Haha.
  • Do NOT buy things on credit.  Interest is a bitch.  It will sink you into a hole that feels impossible to climb out of.  Unless it’s something that you can’t live without (literally) and there is NO WAY to come up with the money up front, do NOT use your credit card, (or line of credit) for purchases unless you have the money in your account and are simply using the card to receive points and are going to pay it off before the interest starts getting tacked on.  This includes Christmas presents, vacations, dining out, home renovations, etc! The most important thing people need to do is learn to LIVE WITHIN THEIR MEANS.  If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.  PERIOD.   Instead, figure out where to cut back so you can SAVE MONEY for these things in the future.  I start setting aside an extra $25/week in October so I have $250 for Christmas by mid-December.  Knowing my budget helps me to not overspend on frivolous crap my kids will only use for about 2 minutes. Nothing feels better than starting out the New year debt (and clutter) free!

 

 

 

 

Tips to help ensure you, and your kids, are eating enough healthy meals!

veggie & fruit plate with dill yogurt dip and homemade caesar dressing

veggie & fruit plate with dill yogurt dip and homemade caesar dressing

It’s that time of year again! (Already?!?!) The kids are heading back to school and the various sports and activities are starting up.  This means everyone is about to be shorter on time and energy 🙁

It’s not always easy finding the time to eat right, never mind finding the time to cook a balanced meal 7 nights a week (or at least 5 – the other 1 or 2 nights, for my family anyway, are for splurging on ‘treat’ food!).  Not to mention the nutritious breakfasts and school lunches we have to make all week.  I don’t know about you but during the school year, despite setting the alarm and getting up on time, I/we seem to be running late a lot and I’m caught trying to figure out what the heck I can throw together for breakfast and/or pack my kids for lunch that will be filling, healthy, tasty AND take under 5 minutes to make.  Haha  (I really wish peanut butter wasn’t a no-no at school!).

The key to making healthy food choices (and life easier for yourself) is to do a little planning ahead.  Just a bit of extra work on the weekend will ensure things run much smoother for the following week!

Below are some tips that have really helped me (I hope they can help you too!):

STOCK UP ON HEALTHY FOOD – for breakfast and packed lunches

  • I stock up on a few pre-packaged, healthy snacks that I know my kids like.  These come in handy when I’m running late and need to grab something quick for them.  I don’t use these all the time.  I Keep them for when I’m ‘in a pinch’.  Examples are granola bars, dehydrated fruit (which I buy from the bulk aisle to save a lot of money), whole grain crackers, pre-packaged cheese (like Babybel).  Obviously, choose things your kid enjoys.
  • I stock up on yogurt, cottage cheese, fruits and lots of veggies (I ALWAYS have apples and bananas on hand, at the very least).  I also always have peanut butter, jam, frozen fruit for smoothies, hard boiled eggs, instant oatmeal and healthy NON SUGARY cereal (such as whole grain cheerios), so the kids can get a quick, but healthy, breakfast.

MAKE FOOD IN LARGE BATCHES AND FREEZE – for dinners 

  • There are certain foods I always make in large batches so I can pull them out at any time for a quick, nutritious meal, snack or dessert.  Having a few frozen ‘go to’ items that are still healthy ensures you can make healthy choices and don’t end up eating fast food, without having to sacrifice time (pizza, chicken fingers, fries, etc. also don’t count in our house.  Those are considered ‘treat foods’).  Some examples of things I make in bulk are meatballs, lasagna, pizza doughcasserole, tomato sauce, hamburger patties (or turkey burger, quinoa burger, etc), and pesto.  I also always make healthy muffins in large batches and freeze so I can grab a one for breakfast, lunch or just a snack whenever I want!

PREPARE FOOD FOR THE WEEK ON SUNDAY

  • I cut up some veggies that will last several days such as peppers, carrots and celery.
  • I ensure I have everything ready for several kinds of sandwiches.  I pull out English muffins, wraps, bread and even a few buns from the freezer to ensure there is variety for breakfasts and lunches for the week (I keep ALL my bread products that I’m not using within 3 days in the freezer to keep everything fresh!).  I make tuna salad or salmon salad and egg salad (I love egg salad because I can use it for breakfast OR lunch) and I ensure I have some deli meat such as lean turkey, chicken and/or ham in the fridge at all times.  As long as I do this prep on Sunday, I know it will only take me seconds to make great sandwiches all week!
  • Prepare a few starches ahead of time.  Too often I’ve been short on time and turned to Kraft Dinner or instant rice as a side dish.  While there is nothing wrong with this once in a while, I try to avoid ‘instant, pre-packaged’ foods whenever I can.  Now I make a large batch of brown rice, quinoa and sometimes even pasta (like rotini or bowtie) all at once.  I keep it simple because I can add vegetables or sauce to any of these starches when I’m reheating them.  If I haven’t used some of them within a few days, I add whatever I have leftover into a salad or soup.  There are endless options for using these things up so I never worry about them going bad before I get a chance to eat them!  I also defrost the meat and/or fish I’ll be using for the next few days on Sunday so I don’t have to remember to defrost/buy it later.

WRITE A WEEKLY MEAL PLAN!

  •  Some days just feel so busy that the last thing you want to worry about is what to make for lunch and/or dinner.  Take the guess work out by making a weekly meal plan!  If you do this, you’ll know exactly what to shop for for the week and you can defrost/buy whatever meat and fish you’ll be using for the next 5 days so don’t have to worry about doing it each day.  You’ll also know what starches and how many you’ll need and can pre-make them accordingly.   It saves a LOT of time and mental energy.

I hope some of these tips help you!

 

Healthy and Simple Spinach and Basil Pesto

 

salad final

 

I am always trying to find ways to get added nutrition into food and ways to ‘sneak’ lots of veggies into EVERYTHING without my young children whining about it.  Tonight’s dinner was a perfect example.  My kids aren’t huge fans of the colour green when it comes to what they’re eating.  Haha.  But I was blown away when they tried this and both said they loved it.  My 6 year old ate seconds.  Mission accomplished.

I LOVE the following pesto recipe for 4 reasons: 

  1.  It has way more nutrition with all the spinach added
  2.  It has way less fat and calories than your average store-bought pesto because I don’t use pine nuts and use less oil and cheese
  3. It’s much cheaper to make than an ‘all basil’ pesto
  4. It still tastes absolutely AMAZING despite all of the above.  Honestly, you can’t even really taste the spinach (I don’t mind, but the kids likely would…)

pesto

SPINACH BASIL PESTO (makes 3/4 a cup)

  • 3 cups packed raw spinach leaves
  • 1.5 cup basil leaves – packed in
  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese (use 3 Tbsp if you really like it cheesy)
  • 1.5 tsp lemon juice + 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp garlic – minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (use less if you want even less calories & fat)
  • 14 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

METHOD:  Blend all together in a food processor.  Adjust seasoning and add a little more lemon juice if desired.  Mix into a pasta of choice or serve right over your favourite fish!  This is also delicious mixed into eggs!

SERVED IN:

VEGETABLE PASTA SALAD WITH FETA AND KALAMATA OLIVES (serves 4)

I serve this dish cold.  If you prefer, you could roast/BBQ veggies and serve it all warm!  Add any vegetables you want into this dish.  You can’t go wrong if you like them!

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups pasta – cooked & cooled (whatever you like!  rotini, bowtie, penne…)
  • 1 vine tomato – chopped
  • 1/4 cup red onion – diced
  • 1/4 cup zucchini – diced
  • 1/2 english cucumber – large dice
  • 1/2 cup mixed bell pepper – large dice
  • 1/3 cup feta – crumbled
  • 8 kalamata olives – quartered or sliced  (just omit the olives if you don’t like them!)
  • 1/2 cup spinach basil pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste

veggies prep

veggies and pasta

METHOD:  1.  Cook pasta in boiling, salted water as per package directions.  2.  Rinse under cold water (unless serving hot).  3.  Dice/Chop all vegetables.  4.  Mix pasta and veggies in bowl with pesto.  5.  Adjust seasoning as desired.  6.  Transfer to serving bowl and top with feta and garnish with basil leaf.

NOTE:  I’m serving this salad with a roast chicken but pork or fish (or even by itself) would be great options too!

 

How using a spatula will save you lots of money!

 

spatulas

During my culinary career, I have learned a LOT about ways to save money (ie. lowering food cost). I’ll never forget doing prep work on one of my first days at an upscale restaurant shortly after graduating from culinary school.  I was working frantically trying to get through my huge prep list before dinner service started when I was abruptly interrupted by my chef.  He was yelling at me to ‘get my ass’ to the dish pit.  (Chefs are not known for mincing words, and this one was no exception.  He scared the hell out of me).  He proceeded to take all the empty inserts out of the dish area and throw them back onto my work station.  “What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked angrily.  “I have no idea” I responded.  “Look at the amount of waste here!” he said.  “It might not seem like much to you, but if you wasted this much food every day, after a year, it would add up to hundreds of dollars in lost revenue”.  He then grabbed a spatula and demonstrated just how much food I had unknowingly wasted.  It was truly a lesson I would never forget.  From each of the seemingly empty containers, he somehow managed to scrape out anywhere from a half cup to a full cup of sauce/dip/soup, etc.!

I realized that if I wasted just one cup of soup per day (say 180 cups for the year) and each portion of soup we sold was a 2 cup portion, for $6.99 per serving, that would be a loss of $1,258.20 at the end of the year!

After that I started looking at food waste in a much different way.  I also started looking at how I spent money in a much different way.  That Starbuck’s latte I was paying $4.50 per day for never seemed like much at the time but if I bought 5 a week, that was $22.50 per week.  Still not THAT big a deal.  But when I thought of what it would cost me a year (which was $1,170) it started to seem crazy to spend that much on coffee.  That’s when I started making coffee at home.  And eating out less in general.

I also never threw out another container, at home or at work, without getting the VERY last bit out with a spatula.  To this day it still amazes me how much you can scrape out of an ’empty’ container!  The other day my son was about to throw out a jar of peanut butter because he thought it was completely empty.  I ‘spatted’ it and got enough for not one, but TWO peanut butter sandwiches.

Use a spatula.  You’ll save a lot of money in the long run.

spating food

 

Cooking in bulk for the whole week!

Cooking in bulk is a great way to save time.  Whenever I cook a starch or grain (such as pasta, rice or quinoa) I ALWAYS cook at least double the amount I need (at least) so that I only have to cook it half as often.  I love doing this because cooking a simple pasta/rice/grain is basically a blank slate.  You can add loads of extra flavour to these things after their cooked so you can eat the same thing two or three completely different ways in the same week!

For example, I’ll cook quinoa.  I’ll immediately take 1/2 of it and put it in the fridge.  With the 1/2 that’s still in the pot, I might add some fresh herbs and feta and serve it with a vegetable and protein….

Now I have  the other half of the quinoa to add to a meatball mix, to add to soups, salads, even eggs!  I like adding a bit into wraps as well.  Same goes with pastas and rices!

Trust me.  Cooking like this (especially if you have kids) saves loads of time and energy and it’s fun coming up with new and fun ways to use up the leftovers!