Rome: Planning, Packing…And How Much Did It Cost?

Today I’m taking a step back to chat about the process of planning our trip to Italy. How did I organize daily itineraries, what did I pack, what arrangements did I make to ease the pressures of our absence on my parents and the kids, and how much did all of it cost?

planning for Our trip

Our planning system has evolved over the years but, at this point, we’ve settled on a fairly clear division of labour.

Booking hotels and flights are almost exclusively John’s responsibility. We discuss dates and times – for this trip to Rome he showed me a short list of options to consider – but, ultimately, I leave the final decisions to him. He always knocks this out of the park.

Regarding day-to-day itineraries, I handle most of the planning. I have to admit I don’t particularly enjoy this job. I find it overwhelming – there is a lot of information to filter through! – especially when visiting a destination for the first time. That said, as a bit of a control freak, I don’t think I’d enjoy a vacation someone else had planned out for me. And I am definitely better able to enjoy a vacation when I feel there is a clear plan. Yes, I stress and fret – but I might not want it any other way?

I like to believe I’m still quasi-spontaneous and open to new adventures (like taking in a second Broadway show this summer or deciding to visit the Van Gogh exhibit in Rome) but I appreciate having an itinerary to provide a general structure for our days.

Major landmarks in a city are usually low-hanging fruit. We knew we’d want to see the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon. It’s filtering through the “hidden gems” of a city that takes more concentrated research.

These are literally the search strings I used when planning our Rome itineraries: Hidden gems to visit in Rome and Unique places to see in Rome. It takes a lot of time to read through all the descriptions and decide whether a particular hidden gem is worth the effort or expense. As a general rule of thumb, the more times the same “hidden gem” shows up, the greater the likelihood we’ll enjoy it! This is how I learned about the Knights of Malta Keyhole, the fascinating role of Tiber Island in World War II, and the crazy architecture of Quartiere Coppedè. Oh, and the fact there is a 2,000-year-old PYRAMID in Rome!

  • I start by setting up a spreadsheet of potential places to visit and will often list important details off to the side (for example: St. Peter’s Basilica closes at 6:30 pm; knees and shoulders have to be covered; it’s possible to climb to the top of the dome) or include relevant links.
I printed out a paper copy of this map and found it very helpful for orienting. I knew we had five days in Rome, so I wanted to draw five distinct “circles” – based on relative proximity – to guide our daily itineraries. In this case, I grouped items for each day in a different colour (red, green, purple, yellow, blue).
  • After several weeks of picking away at this rough spreadsheet, I drop pins for our top must-see locations into a Google Map. Generally (in a city at least), clear geographic patterning will show up.
  • Based on what I’ve set up on the map, I’ll write out an outline for daily itineraries. This is flexible; we mix and match and change things up but it’s nice to have a fall-back plan.
  • As noted above, I also print out a physical copy of my map; after a few days, I get the basic geography down pat, but I referred to this map A LOT when we first arrived in Rome.

packing and prepping for childcare

In the end, I think I packed really well. I debated taking my laptop and am so glad I did; I worked a lot in the airports, ended up sending daily e-mails to the kids (easier on a laptop than typing things out on a phone), fit in some stints of work at the hotel, and used it to work the ENTIRE flight back from Rome.

  • I took two T-shirts which I never wore (too cold), and one pair of pants and a dress which never saw the light of day (again, too cold). But, aside from those few items, I used everything in my luggage! To figure out how to mix and match outfits, I spent 30 minutes trying on different items and taking pictures of various combinations. This was extreme overkill because, in the end, it was cold enough that I just wore a jacket every single day so cute outfits felt moot. But I think I’ll use this same process for future trips! I packed everything into a single, small carry-on. In addition to the outfits above I also packed: finger gloves, two headbands, one pair of sneakers (I wore the other), my striped raincoat, a bit of makeup, a few toiletries, my hair straightener (only used once, so a bit of a waste), a brush, my One Line A Day Journal, some pens/pads of paper, charging chords, and a small purse (which I used on several days to carry our wallets/phones).
Herschel Supply Co. Little America Black 25L Backpack
Like this…
  • My only real packing “fail” was my choice of bookbag. I used the same one (a very trendy Herschel backpack we rescued from “donate pile” in our neighbourhood) on our trip to South Carolina last year and hated it. The main compartment is closed with a drawstring, and then a flap lays overtop with magnetic fasteners. It’s great for taking my laptop to a coffee shop. It is HORRIBLE for quickly accessing things in an airport. Lesson learned.

Prepping for the home front…was a lot. But a few things worked really well:

  • Group e-mails. I sent group e-mails out for all relevant arrangements. For example, I copied the school admin, principal, both kids’ homeroom teachers, AND my parents in a single e-mail. One set of friends took the kids for two nights while we were away and I sent an e-mail to them + my parents including all the relevant timings and phone numbers so there was a paper trail for easy reference.
  • Gifts. In previous years I used to prep small gifts for each night we were away. I had decided the kids no longer needed this sort of thing but when I saw John’s travel schedule leading up to our trip I thought daily gifts might soften the blow. And it did! There was a gift for each night we were away. Nothing extravagant: a pair of thrifted (but adorable!) pajamas for each child, glow sticks one night, a little set of Pokemon cards for Levi + some blank cards for Abby for her letter-writing exploits. One day they each received a Kinder Surprise, another day Abby got a little Harry Potter building set/activity book ($4 from the DollarStore) and Levi got a set of mini hockey nets/sticks (also from the DollarStore) which he has LOVED and played with nonstop. I had thought about leaving clues and having them hunt for the gifts each night, but then there was the health and emotional trainwreck that preceded our departure…so, I ended up leaving the gifts in a closet for my Mom to distribute each evening. Not surprisingly, the kids really enjoyed this!
  • Calendars. Instead of trying to use my existing calendar, I printed off a one-week template and filled in ALL the relevant dates, times, and reminders. For example: Abby needs to go to drama on X night from 4-6 pm; remind her to bring her script!
  • Labeled cupboards. My parents are quasi-familiar with our house, but I also know how challenging it can be to find items in an unfamiliar kitchen. I took little Post-Its and stuck them ALL OVER the cupboards. Hot mats/plastic wrap. Cookie sheets and cooling racks. Lunchbox storage containers. Rice, pasta + flour. Snacks for school lunchboxes. I wish I had thought to take a picture of the final result; it was a bit bizarre (our kitchen loosely resembled a police breakout room – you know with little notes and red strings and criminal mug shots everywhere – minus the mug shots and red strings), but it was surprisingly effective.
  • A master “Cheat Sheet” document. I wrote up a one-page document with all the relevant phone numbers and other contact details for anyone I thought my parents might need/want to contact: a plumber, our handyman, some neighbours, local friends, the school. I also included a list of all the food items I had prepped and where they were located + some general meal ideas. I knew my Mom was more than capable of keeping everyone fed but, again, it can be overwhelming to manage so many things in someone else’s space. I printed this out and put it on the fridge for easy reference.
  • Use sleeping bags to keep clean sheets…clean! This was a last-minute brain spark. I hopped in a sleeping bag and used a different pillow so the sheets stayed pristine for company.
  • Leave cash. Instead of trying to stay on top of whether there might be something the kids needed money for (e.g. a school outing, lift passes at the ski hill), I left an envelope of cash behind so my parents could distribute/spend it as needed.

what did OUR TRIP cost?

Traveling – especially internationally – can be extremely cost-prohibitive. I wasn’t on an airplane until I turned 19. I have NEVER been on an airplane with any of my immediate family members (parents/siblings). And I didn’t travel outside of North America until Levi was a toddler. I realize we are so fortunate to be able to afford a trip of this nature. It was a wonderful adventure and I’m so grateful to have been able to share this time with John in such a vibrant culture!

While this wasn’t our most frugal trip to date, we had some major savings that left us feeling more flexible in what we said Yes to.

We booked our flights on points. Aeroplan, the reward provider we use, had a great priority rewards deal at the end of 2022, so not only was the cash outlay very low (under $200 each), I think it only took 30,000 points (per person) to score this deal.

I feel like this is the first trip we’ve taken where one of my main goals has not been to pinch pennies at every turn. While we weren’t careless with our expenditures, on previous trips I would never have had gelato every single day. We have a lot of great hacks for saving money on vacation (I’ve talked about some in my Travel on a Budget posts), but didn’t adhere quite as closely to them this time. I had a few moments where I panicked a bit about not choosing the cheapest option, but mostly I was content to let it go and realize that It costs what it costs. Part of the pleasure of this vacation was allowing for more convenience splurges. For example:

  • We wanted to maximize our time in Florence so we paid double the price for the high-speed train.
  • We wanted to plan things around the weather; for that reason, we didn’t book public transport or our Colosseum tickets in advance. Booking early guarantees a much lower price. But we also could have been stuck touring the Colosseum in a downpour…which would not have been fun.
  • We wanted to have pasta and gelato every single day.

Here is what it cost in Canadian dollars. The exchange rate is…not great; €100 is about $145 CAD (the Euro and USD are basically par) for a 5-night stay in Rome – plus two travel days – for two people.

  • Flights: $199.44 each | $398.88 total
  • Accommodations: $130.83 per night | $654.15 total
  • Food + Drinks: $587.85
  • Souvenirs + Gifts: $79.52
  • Ground Transportation: $197.48 each | $394.96 total (high-speed trains to/from airport, one metro ride, and the high-speed train to/from Florence)
  • Entry fees: $316.33
  • Misc + Cash: ~$115 (this included cash expenditures in various categories above and a stop at the pharmacy for a few first aid supplies)

Grand Total: $2,546.68 CAD (~$1,850 USD)

A few other thoughts:

  • The food category works out to $41.99 per day per person (a typical per diem when traveling to Europe for work is about $100/day). And we didn’t skimp. We ate gelato every day. In Paris we had only a single multi-course sit-down meal; in Rome, we had an involved sit-down meal at least once per day. We rarely eat out at home, so spending in this category felt the most luxurious. But the food was excellent and it really is such a rare/special treat for us to travel like this. No regrets.
  • One of the primary ways we usually save on meals is by packing lunches and storing food in a fridge. Our hotel room in Rome didn’t have a mini-fridge and while I don’t think we would have used it a lot, it definitely impacted our ability to maximize the use of local supermarkets.
  • The biggest chunk of our entry fee category was the nearly $200 we spent to have a guided tour (including arena access) at the Colosseum. There were literally hundreds of options at wildly different price points. I found a link on a travel blog somewhere and we went with that choice. I could have nickeled and dimed it more…but, again, no regrets.
  • Lack of research can be costly. While it wasn’t much (€10), if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t go see Borromini’s Perspective (or I would have known there was an associated art gallery)!
  • We did save lots of money along the way. Aside from the biggest cost savings – inexpensive flights and an economical hotel – John’s reward status provides us entry to airport lounges, so food en route to/from Rome was free. We went to the Vatican on the day with free entry.

Your turn. What are your best planning hacks? Do you like to set daily itineraries, or do you prefer to go with the flow and figure it out once you arrive? Any great money-saving travel tips?

The Best $1.99 I Spent in January

We were out grocery shopping a few weeks ago when one child presented with a sudden – and overwhelming – need for water.

I am not in the habit of bringing drinks along for errands anymore; the kids are old enough to manage these things independently and can typically hold out until we get home.

But this time I knew we were at least an hour from wrapping up errands and I also learned said child had not had any water since the previous day (this child usually drinks a LOT of water and I do not monitor their consumption because it is so regular, but they had been at a birthday party the previous afternoon and had skipped supper because they were full…and then had a big breakfast and somehow managed to not get a drink then, either?).

I thought there might be a fountain in a nearby shopping complex, but the logistics of coordinating this pit stop were complicated. But, this was the only logical solution, right?

Water is free! Water is not something we buy! We have a water cooler full of refreshing aqua at home!

As we were standing in line to check out – with a thirsty child and a pile of groceries – I attempted to coordinate with John how to split up and go on a hunt for a water fountain.

And then, shocking even myself, I added: Or I suppose I could just buy a jug of water.

I grabbed a $1.99 4L bottle out of the nearby fridge – it was the exact same price as a 950 mL bottle, so I didn’t throw frugality to the wind entirely – and within seconds our very thirsty child was chugging water. (This is the best water I have EVER tasted was their official response).

Because of my hardwired desire to pinch pennies – and because water is something that I equate with being free – it was not my default reaction to shell out $1.99 to buy a bottle of the stuff. But I did…and it ended up being the most satisfying $2 I spent in January.

Your turn. What’s the best small purchase you’ve made lately – let’s say something under $5. Do you have a hard time spending money on “convenience” items?

Header photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Throw Money at a Problem or Get Rid of a Problem?

Years ago I watched Oprah interview author JK Rowling. During their discussion, Rowling describes a point in writing the final book of the Harry Potter series when her working environment became untenable. Her kids were home, dogs were barking, and workers were ringing her doorbell.

She decided to “throw money at this problem” and rented a suite at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh until she finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

While most of us are unlikely to have the resources (financial and otherwise) at Rowling’s disposal, the last few years I’ve thought of this story many times.

I have a tendency to stubbornly keep plugging away even when my environment is less than ideal. Some of this is the siren song of perfectionism – I want to control things myself (and thus have only myself to blame if I’m unhappy with the outcome). But, if I’m being truthful, more often it comes down to a desire to pinch pennies.

There are many times it would have been easier to buy pre-grated carrots for the soup or a rotisserie chicken for supper, but if they weren’t on sale I’d slog through the grating (how I loathe grating) and roasting myself.

As we’ve reached a stage in our lives with more financial flexibility, I’ve tried to take this advice to heart. Unable to keep up with the house? For a few years, we hired someone to help with cleaning several times month. No margin when John was traveling? I hired a Grade 8 student to babysit the kids after school some days.

We’ve hired people to do minor paint touchups and re-caulk our bathtub. Some of that is because we are decidedly unhandy, but it’s also a case of opting to “throw money at this problem.”


A few weeks ago I was about to throw money at a problem and thought: An even better solution would be to just eliminate the problem.

I’m not saying Rowling should have lived with dirty windows until after her book was completed (it was window cleaners ringing her doorbell). But, then again, maybe that would have been an equally agreeable solution?

Sometimes there is a time and place to “throw money” at a problem; other times we might be better served to eliminate the problem altogether.


Header photo by shri on Unsplash

(*Astute readers may notice the header picture is of the Order of the Phoenix book; I couldn’t find a picture of Deathly Hallows.)

Sourcing Books + Getting Kids to Read

Given my penchant for reading, I suspect I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I buy very few books.

Two shelves on Abby’s bedroom built-ins are filled with books, and we have a small bookshelf in the family room with under 100 books (a combination of adult + picture). Of the books we own, almost all have been handed down, gifted, purchased for a university course, or thrifted.

Some of it is economics – I’m a naturally frugal person and books aren’t an area where I generally want to spend money. (I’ve told this story before, but I think of it often: one of my best friends in college did a major budgeting session with her husband right after their wedding which resulted in strict spending guidelines but, she told me, “We both agreed there would be no limit on buying books!”)

I also don’t like clutter, and books can quickly become a major source of clutter.

So where do I get my books?

My number one source is the library (~95% of all the books I read). I visit our library – nestled inside a repurposed railway station – on a weekly basis. I also spend time every few weeks ordering books through their online portal (while I love wandering and browsing the shelves, since COVID, I order 80%+ of my books) and always have a stack on my bedside table.

I also regularly visit one of the many take-a-book/leave-a-book libraries that have cropped up around our little town, but this is pretty hit-and-miss and tends to house mostly thrillers and other fiction.

I occasionally source books second-hand at used book stores or thrift shops – or borrow them from friends – but the library is my happy place.

I have started to buy a few more books in recent years, but only after I’ve already read them (I am a big re-reader); I have most of Gretchen Rubin’s books, I asked for (and received) a boxset of the Harry Potter series a few Christmases ago, and started working on a James Herriot collection this year. In a shock decision, I ordered Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet within a day of finishing because I wanted it on my shelf (second-hand via Amazon).

How do you get your kids to read?

Growing up my Dad was always reading (my Mom enjoyed reading, but said she didn’t have the time for it, which I 100% understand now, but her statement flummoxed me at the time).

I tend to be a fast reader/like to skim and tend toward nonfiction which I think lends itself better to being picked up/put down frequently. So I read a lot of books (100+/year)

Our library picture-book stash

The kids see me reading regularly and, since the time they were infants, I’ve also been reading to them.

Picture books are still in steady rotation at our house, though I can feel this phase slowly slipping past me. I adore picture books and find there are often profound messages waiting for both parent and child.

During their early years, I would read to them multiple times a day. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve had to be more deliberate about carving out time for this. For a while I was splitting up bedtime by reading chapter books with Abby (in her room) and picture books with Levi (in his room). Now that both kids can comprehend the same reading level and go to bed at the same time, I tend to read almost exclusively at the table. I often finish eating first and will grab a book and start reading, especially at breakfast; on Saturday and Sunday nights they eat before John and I, so I read to them for the duration of their supper meal.

Once a week or so, we’ll cuddle on the couch at bedtime and read a chapter of whatever book we’re working on (currently: The Mysterious Benedict Society) or a handful of picture books.

I do miss reading to them each night. It was a nice wind-down ritual but I haven’t found a great way of reinstituting this routine now that the kids are more independent and bedtime is more streamlined; they dress themselves, brush their own teeth and, in a bittersweet development, sometimes want to just read on their own. Yet another example this This too shall pass.

P.S. Parenting Hack: Read Books With Accompanying Movies – I blogged about how we’ve been reading chapter books with accompanying movies; there were also some great suggestions in the comment section we haven’t gotten to yet! The kids watched a Pippi Longstocking movie this weekend, and we finally got around to watching Anne of Green Gables + another version of Heidi over March Break.

P.P.S Confessions of A Picture Book Addict (There Are Worse Things…) – I love picture books and will try to find a way to keep reading them forever, if only to myself.

Your turn. Are you a borrower or a buyer? If you have young kiddos at home, how do you incorporate reading into your family routine?

Header photo by Mariia Zakatiura on Unsplash

A ‘Not-Quite-A Budget’ Post. Or, How We Track Expenditures

This is either a post you’re going to linger over with a tall cup of hot coffee until it turns cold…or you’re going to fall asleep by the end of the second paragraph, amazed anyone is actually interested in reading this sort of thing.

So, if this isn’t your type of post, no hard feelings.

I’ve had a few questions about how our family keeps track of expenditures and if I recommend a particular accounting software, so I thought I’d tackle the subject today with a big ol’ roundup.

How do you budget?

Technically, I don’t think I’d call what we do budgeting. At this point, we don’t set aside specific amounts for different categories. We do, sometimes, make decisions with a cap in mind (this is a completely hypothetical example, but I could imagine us saying something like: “We’ll only buy a bathroom vanity that is under $350“). For the most part, I think our strategy would be better described as mindful tracking.

And, more generally, we just aim to be as frugal as possible. Boring perhaps, but true. The pandemic has impacted travel and adventuring but we typically aim to spend money on experiences and memories over “stuff”.

do you use accounting software to manage your finances?


Years and years ago I had to use Quickbooks as part of a job; it was fine, but certainly not my idea of fun. (Remember: my idea of fun is reorganizing sock drawers, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that an evening spent on Quickbooks wouldn’t strike a similar chord. Alas, it doesn’t.)

Then, about a decade ago, when working in a local business incubator, we were introduced to a free program called Wave which is what we/our accountant still use to manage corporate finances. (Note: there are some paid features that could apply to certain users but, for personal finances, the functionality of the free version should more than suffice and I find it easier to use than Quickbooks.)

Despite being very familiar with Wave, it felt like more detail than I needed for tracking personal finances.

*Note: I know lots of people swear by You Need a Budget (YNAB). I’ve never tried it – and don’t plan to – but it might be something to check out if you’re on the hunt for a budgeting software?

…so what do you do?

Great question, hypothetical reader – I’m so glad you asked.

I use a spreadsheet.

Shortly after month-end, I export all the transactions from our credit cards and chequing account as a .csv file. I then manually copy and paste the different expenditures into the relevant categories in a spreadsheet.

It’s very simple…

There are totals for each category at the bottom. There is a different tab for each month, along with a summary tab that collates data from all the months. This final tab is where I do basic calculations, including monthly averages for each category.

how do you break down “lumped” receipts?

I don’t, sigh. By this, I’m referring to a trip to the grocery store where I might buy croutons AND green onion AND bananas AND Gorilla Glue AND toilet paper (because that is life as an adult.)

There are two categories where this is most applicable: “Groceries” and “Misc”.

For example, I do a lot of shopping at a local pharmacy. They have most kitchen staples, usually at the lowest prices (and they have a fantastic rewards program to boot). So I go there to get butter, frozen fruit, milk, tea, eggs – anything aside from fresh produce, I can likely source from this store. BUT…I also end up buying sunscreen and sanitary/cleaning products and stuffed animals for birthday parties.

I do not separate this out. Ever.

So our spreadsheet definitely an art (albeit messy), not a science. And if we did have specific numeric values associated for a budget within each category, I’d really need to up my game in being more careful with allocation.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU don’t you track?

We don’t track cash. If someone gave me $100 for looking cheerful as I walked down the street (wouldn’t that be nice), it would go straight in my wallet, never to show up in the spreadsheet.

If we bought a pair of used skis off Kijiji (like Craigslist) for $100, that would not show up in the spreadsheet.

Investments also don’t show up on the main pages, either. On that final summary spreadsheet, I have a running tally of what’s in various investment accounts – including retirement savings, the remaining balance on our mortgage, and the college/university savings program for the kids. So while we have a snapshot of this information, it doesn’t factor into the tracked expenditures. So, for example, if we had $200 getting deposited into a savings account each month, this wouldn’t show up in the monthly spreadsheets…but would be accounted for in the overall equity tracking on the final spreadsheet.

what categories do you track?

The screenshot above, from 2022, is slightly different from previous years. I’ve teased out a few new categories (for example, I added in “Gifts” since this was falling under the “Misc” heading which was feeling too broad). And I’m going to add in a Renovation tab as well – the reasoning behind that will be better explained below.

But from 2018-2021 here are the categories we used:

  1. Household – includes: house insurance, mortgage payments, property taxes, renovations, hot water tank/propane tank rental, heating oil, electric/sewer bills. If we buy a plunger or a house plant, it goes here. Mattress, new sheets, lightbulbs, someone to mow the lawn or paint the living room? All under household.
  2. Charitable – includes: any donations that are tax deductible/we have a receipt for (see note on cash above; if I give $5 to someone bagging groceries to fund a band trip, this won’t show up in the spreadsheet).
  3. Auto – includes: fuel, insurance, repairs.
  4. Kids – includes: camp/school fees, kids clothing if it was very specifically just for them (if I spend $50 on second hand clothing but 1/2 of it’s mine, this will go under “Clothes;” if I spend $100 to buy the kids new sneakers for school, this will go under “Kids.” Again – these sheets are an art, not a science and I’m fine with that. Until 2020 we had preschool fees, so there was a big drop in 2020 when COVID + starting primary meant Levi was no longer in preschool. While I’m now hiring a babysitter every week or so, I pay her in cash so…you guessed it…that doesn’t show up in the spreadsheet.
  5. Groceries – includes: food from a grocery store (NO restaurants) + can also include miscellaneous household products that can be purchased at a grocery store (toilet paper, cleaning products will almost all show up here).
  6. Recurring – I’ve changed this for 2022, but it used to include: life insurance, telephone/internet (the latter is now covered by work, so not included in 2020 or 2021) and some monthly household expenses – like our hot-water tank rental (how boring is that? I love my hot showers but somehow I never envisioned adult life to be so practically uninspiring that a monthly line item is renting a hot-water tank) – which I’ve now moved over to “Household”.
  7. Travel – includes: any airfare, meals/entertainment etc. while travelling.
  8. Clothes – includes: clothes. This is a small category for us, and about 90% of all items are sourced second-hand.
  9. Meals/Entertainment – includes: trips to the movies/zoo etc., any restaurant or take-out meal, Spotify/Netflix/Disney+ subscriptions
  10. Health – includes: any medications, chiropractor/massage/dental work. Chances are, though, if I buy something like Advil at the pharmacy along with a grocery order, that will get lumped under “Groceries”.
  11. Misc – includes: gifts, trips to the DollarStore (could be craft supplies, prizes, decorations etc). Orders from online (Amazon, Aliexpress). Sometimes I’ll put a bigger order into the appropriate category (e.g. a pair of shoes off Amazon might go under clothes; hypothetical as I’m quite certain we’ve never ordered a pair of shoes off Amazon!). For 2022 I’ve teased out Gifts and VV (Value Village, one of our favourite places to thrift, but for very miscellaneous things, so I gave it a category of its own).

This is a lot of words. Do you have pictures?

Thank you, once again, hypothetical questioner extraordinaire. I do, in fact, have some pictures.

But first, a huge caveat. These numbers are quite distorted because I really should have had subcategories under the House designation. Things like mortgage payments and renovations (investments) versus utilities and property taxes (sunk costs) should ideally be kept separate. So the house category is a HUGE chunk of the expenditure pie, but this includes a lot of different inputs surrounding homeownership that don’t necessarily all belong together.

Wow. Household was big (55.8%) – this was the year we had to excavate all around the perimeter of our property to improve drainage. Ugh. Yet another very un-fun reality of being an adult. Health was very, very low (0.5%).

Kids would be almost exclusively preschool fees (7.7%); Meals and Entertainment is consistently between (2-3%). Household dropped to 41.3% (no major renovations or repairs in 2019, thank goodness).

It took me a while to sort out the Charitable tab for 2020. Why so high? Then I realized, charitable giving is always related to income, where other expenses aren’t (for example, if we make extra money, we don’t pay more for our telephone bill). So this reflects a bump in income, while expenses stayed the same. “Kids” expenses halved (down to 3.3%) because we only had preschool for a few months and, beyond that, there was NOTHING OUR CHILDREN COULD DO because we had just started living in a pandemic world.

2021 was all about the house and a lot of this was renovations. When we bought out 1970’s house we knew there was work to be done. A rotting exterior structure had to be removed (2021), windows needed to be replaced (2021), we wanted to add insulation since our walls are very thin and it gets very cold in the winter (2021), adding insulation meant we really should re-do the exterior (2021). You get the idea. So it was a very big year for the house. Again, though, it would be helpful if I had broken this down into fixed costs (utilities, home insurance etc.) vs investments (mortgage + renovations).

Common themes?

“Household” represents the majority of our expenditures. This makes sense; paying down our mortgage + a lot of home repairs. From extensive excavating work to fix drainage issues, to replacing windows and doors – there have been major expenses associated with owning a home.

We spend very little on: “Health,” “Meals and Entertainment,” and “Clothes” (for the latter our max spend rate was in 2020 when this was 1.0% of our expenditures for the year; the minimum was 0.6%).

Now that we have no regular childcare, the “Kids” category is also very low. This will likely pick up as both kids will do some sports this summer and, as pandemic restrictions ease, there will be more opportunities for camps and the like.

let’s talk groceries

Yes, please. Let’s talk groceries.

We love to eat. Like really, really love to eat. I’ve written about this before but we tend to eat simple meals. We don’t buy organic but do eat a lot of whole foods…which aren’t cheap. We have found a lot of great ways to save money at the grocery store (shopping sales and reduced produce being the biggest money-savers for us).

But groceries are more variable than expected.

Our monthly cost of groceries only went up by $3 from 2018 to 2019. Then it took a HUGE leap in 2020, going up by $229 extra PER MONTH! I puzzled and puzzled over this (until my puzzler was sore; thanks, Dr. Seuss) and then realized: John stopped traveling! He was away 50% of the time before COVID, and Levi’s preschool also shut down so we were suddenly doing a lot more eating at home. And while we didn’t eat out much before COVID, this completely dried up for months (and that food would have been shunted over to Meals and Entertainment).

This all makes complete sense now, but at first glance I was incredulous! Why the sudden spike? COVID, of course…

Last year, in 2021, we actually spent almost $50 less per month on groceries from 2020. That one I’ve not quite figured out? Maybe we spent less on household miscellany, as I don’t think we’re eating less!?

I am confident, though, that our grocery expenditures will go up significantly as food prices are starting to jump at alarming rates. I rang up a jug of milk last week and actually went back to the fridge compartment to check that the price was correct. It went up by $1.20 IN ONE WEEK. Milk. A subsidized, staple food (that I don’t drink, but my kids sure do)!

And there you have it. An overview of how we/I track expenditures. Nothing too exciting but, as Gretchen Rubin says, you monitor what you measure. And as we want to be wise stewards with our money, it feels prudent to monitor spending habits.

What about you? Do you love budgeting? Do you track things monthly and use software? Anyone else go old-school with Excel spreadsheets?

Header photo by Katie Harp on Unsplash

5 Ways We Reduce Food Waste (And Occasionally Convince Our Kids To Eat Mushrooms)

I really dislike throwing out food; something deep inside me feels immense guilt and frustration. Not only is it wasteful environmentally and financially, but I also feel like I’m slowly understanding the true value/cost of food – the time and money and human effort and fossil fuels that go into putting that product into my fridge is mind-blowing (for more on this, check out A.J. Jacobs book Thanks A Thousand, where he thanks 1,000 people responsible for his morning cup of coffee).

In our household, we do everything we can to reduce food waste.

At the same time, we try to provide healthy, palate-broadening meals for our kids. Do they love white carbs? Absolutely. But they also like olives and aged cheeses and spinach salad and sushi and scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and veggies.

For the most part, they eat exactly what we eat. Kids eating habits can be a touchy subject and modern parents think about this a lot more than my parent’s generation. We try to balance realistic expectations and healthy eating patterns (nothing too restrictive, not calling things “good” or “bad” – they eat chocolate cake and cereal and boxed Mac N’ Cheese), with wanting to expose our children to lots and lots of whole foods.

Now back to those waste solutions…


These are meals that will be flexible enough to include just about anything. I know produce choices vary widely, so I’ll make a few specific suggestions from things we eat:

Leftover spinach and zucchini can go in…everything. Also, if your spinach needs to be consumed and you won’t use it in time, I just pop mine in the freezer for soups or smoothies. (Side note: this week my blog friend Suzanne categorized zucchini as the khaki trouser of the produce section and it’s so true – it goes with everything; tangent alert: if you’re really ready to howl, read her take on waiting for the doctor and wrangling into hospital gowns – we’ve all been there, and she just articulates the experience perfectly and hilariously).

  • I have a Chicken Pot Pie soup recipe that can play host to just about any vegetable. It calls for potato, carrot, celery, corn, peas, and grean beans but I have added spinach, zucchini, sweet potato, and turnip. Aside from the veggies, it’s just chicken stock (or I often cheat and just use water and some extra salt), shredded chicken, cream or coconut milk, thyme, salt and pepper; this is one of the easiest recipes I make – the corn and green beans are canned, the peas are frozen – and is one of the kids favourite meals; one time I counted and we had 13 veggies in the soup!
  • Chili is another great meal for using up extra veggies. To reduce time and mess (and to make vegetable textures less of an issue – neither of the kids enjoys mushrooms and one is quite resistent to bell peppers), I will blitz things up in the food processor. In a chili I made recently I chopped up: spinach, mushrooms (that I had bought reduced by 50%, see below), zucchinni, carrots, bell peppers and onion. We all devoured it.

Interestingly, I do find the kid’s preferences vary by meal. As mentioned, one child loathes raw bell peppers and will even pick them out of a stir-fry (or eat them with gritted teeth and lots of glaring); yet this same child has no problem with finely diced, cooked red peppers in one of my favourite meals ever – Chicken Mango Curry (I got my recipe from a book and can’t find it online, but this one is close). So if you have an anti-veggie child, it might be worth trying various meals with the disliked veggie?

  • I don’t eat much bread, but the kids typically have toast a few times a week for breakfast. We occassionally have an extra bagel, waffle, or a few slices of bread left over. Instead of throwing them out, I cube them up and pop them into the deep freeze. Once the bag is full, I pull it out and the cubes get turned into Baked French Toast (since I cube it before it’s frozen, I can actually prep it while frozen and then just leave it to soak/defrost in the fridge for a few hours or overnight before baking). I use a modified version of the Pioneer Woman’s recipe and the kids LOVE it. I also buy a lot of our bread reduced by 50%; it’s usually still days away from it’s best-before date, but I’ll freeze the bread and just defrost it straight from the freezer in the toaster.

2. Shop more often + buy less

About 3 days after grocery shopping. The one constant is a lot of eggs. We eat a shocking number of eggs each week.
Immediately after grocery shopping; it doesn’t show the fresh bananas on the counter or the head of broccoli in the crisper…but still, it’s pretty bare.

I think some of this is the minimalist in me talking, but I enjoy seeing an almost-empty fridge because I start to feel panicky when I catch glimpses of a lot of food that needs to be used up. For context – our 1970’s kitchen cabinets were designed to hold an apartment-sized fridge. If you think that’s crazy, friends of ours designed their renovated kitchen to only contain a bar fridge and toaster oven + portable induction burners. No full-sized (or apartment-sized) fridge; no oven/stovetop. Now that’s crazy. Unless you only have a bar fridge and toaster oven in which case it’s not crazy but very, very normal.

I do set up vague meal plans for the week, jotting down 4-5 ideas based on what’s on sale or what we have in the fridge, but don’t plan a concrete menu. I typically go to the grocery store at least twice a week. When we run out of fresh fruit or need more baby spinach, I know it’s time to go back.

This isn’t necessarily feasible for many people; I live 5 minutes from a small grocery store and it’s easy to pop in and out whenever necessary. But, if it is an option for where you live/your lifestyle, I think it is probably the primary way we avoid food waste.

3. Make Hodge-Podge Meals

We do this a lot and literally call them Hodge Podge meals.

The kids will often ask: “Can we have hodgepodge for lunch?” For this we use a random assortment of leftovers – that little dish of soup that’s not enough for a meal but, when augmented with cheese cubes, raw veggies, and some apple slices, is more than enough to go around.

Some things like cheese and olives are stable for a longer time in the fridge, so I use more or less of these depending on what I’m trying to use up. If I have hardboiled eggs, shaved turkey, and fresh raspberries that all need to be consumed, I might not even offer crackers or other non-perishables on the side.

4. identify your key offenders (and justify your purchases)

The worst for us is definitely avocados.

We love avocados but they never seem to be ready when I need them and then I end up forgetting about them until they’ve gone soft and brown. I get so frustrated anytime I have to throw out an avocado.

Grapes can also fall under this category, cucumbers have an annoying tendency of sneaking up from behind and going slimy, and I find it hard to get through an entire bunch of cilantro in time (but, see below, I have a plan for that too and it involves the freezer).

I now make sure I have a specific plan for avocados before I buy them. Being on sale isn’t good enough. Better to buy them full price and USE them, rather than buying a bag on sale and throwing most of them away. Avocados also can’t be frozen and don’t go into soups, so they’re harder to use up – for me – because they have a more narrow range of use than something like spinach (and I never seem to think of making guacamole).

This reminds me a bit of my habit of looking over my cart before I check out. For food products that I know won’t keep long (i.e. perishable fruits/veggies + meat), I try to make sure I have a clear plan for the item. It can be tempting to get things on a good sale or because it looks interesting or temptingly delicious, but I have left produce with the cashier when I realize there is a good chance some of it will be destined for the compost bin if I follow through with the purchase.

A prime example of this temptation – a basket of (seemingly) ripe peaches at the store in the summer. But, unless I can say: I have no other fruit at home and we will eat these in the next two days, I try to leave them on the shelf. Peaches do put out an alluring siren song for me, yet are so darn unpredictable; there is little more frustrating than salivating over the idea of a delicious peach and then biting into a sour/firm/unappetizing one!

5. find meals that freeze well

  • Chili, baked oatmeal, waffles; most soups I make can be frozen if there are leftovers.
  • If I have some veggies that need to be used but I don’t have a dish that requires them, I will dice them up and freeze them. While they’re not great in things like stirfrys where you want veggies with a bit of “bite”, they work fine for soups. I will do this with bell peppers (sometimes even dicing up things like cilantro and fresh ginger and freezing that along with the peppers so I have the main base of ingredients for that beloved Chicken Mango Curry dish). I’ve done this with raw carrots, onion and celery (before eventually turning it in to homemade Chicken Noodle Soup).
  • Sometimes I freeze veggies in their raw state, and other times I will pan fry until soft. Both strategies work. I have a Baked Rice dish we all love and I make up the cream sauce + fry the veggies so all I have to do is defrost the mix, mix in rice + water and bake.

bonus suggestion – reduce waste at the STORE LEVEL

I’ve alluded to this already, but our grocery store has several dedicated “clearance” sections. Sometimes this includes produce that is past prime – overripe bananas (which I prefer for my beloved muffins) or tomatoes with bruises that will work fine for homemade salsa. I seek out these ingredients, not only for the cost savings but also because I know there is tremendous food waste at the grocery-chain level.

It can take a bit of extra creativity – and I look carefully at expiration dates/for signs of mold – but, generally, the reduced items are still highly edible. Sometimes things will go on clearance after a special event. Candy cane ice cream, for example, is now at rock-bottom prices at our grocery store. This is a bad example because I try to avoid dairy and no one else in my house really likes candy-cane ice cream (what is wrong with them?) but…if they did…now would be a great time to buy it if you’re willing to eat peppermint-flavoured treats after the calendar turns over into a new year.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions for reducing food waste? Any candy-cane ice cream fans out there?

Header photo by Alexandr Dzyuba on Unsplash

Some Thrifting Hacks at Christmas

I enjoy saving money. Any time of year is great, but it feels especially satisfying at Christmas.

These are a few of those “satisfying” hacks that I’ve used at various times through the years; nothing here is likely to shave 100s of dollars off your credit card bill, but little things do add up (and I also love to reduce overall waste/consumption, and several of these suggestions pull double duty).

buy less

This may seem very Scroogey – and I know gift-giving can be a very important part of certain relationships – but I think the best way to save money over Christmas is to buy less. (I’ve mentioned this piece of advice before with regard to clutter – the best way to avoid clutter, is to buy less stuff!).

We’ve really narrowed down our gift exchanges over the year. I feel quite festive and giving, but we’ve mutually agreed to stop exchanging with almost all sets of friends, and only exchange with family who is visiting at Christmas (along with my in-laws who live out of province). We give teacher gifts and gift cards to our mail-carrier and the school crossing guard, but that’s about it (though this year included a very fun SecretSanta exchange)

Not buying (or shipping) gifts to distant friends/family saves a lot of money! I do send out oodles and oodles of photocards, though…

buy early/On sale

This one can be tricky – if you buy things all year long and don’t have a cut-off point, it could be easy to keep buying items right up to Christmas and spend even more money!

But…if you’re referring to a running list of gift ideas, this can be a great way to save money.

Since I know each Christmas Eve we’re going to exchange ornaments, I usually stock up in early January when things are reduced in the post-Christmas sales. This is also when I buy Christmas cards, wrapping paper and Scotch tape (which is always on clearance, but I use tape throughout the year for other purposes, too).

Also, some seasonal items are hard to get at Christmas (for example, if you want to gift a new bike or fishing rod, December 24th in Canada is not the time to find these items in store!)


My husband and I both come from very frugal households and, when possible, we prefer sourcing items second-hand. It feels like a game, and it’s a great way to get high-quality items for significantly less money. Our kids also love frugal finds, so our son will think nothing of finding an action figure from a thrift shop under the tree. Abby is getting a second-hand smartwatch for Christmas (off Kijiji, a Craiglist equivalent), there are a number of second-hand books making an appearance, and a nice sweater for another family member.

Regifting is a touchy subject and I understand people have very strong feelings about the practice. Mostly, I don’t regift but have no problem doing it when the situation is right. I tend to donate items that don’t fit a need, but occasionally I receive something that just feels spot-on for someone else [sorry Joy – that tea towel I gave you this year was a re-gift; somehow I know you, of all people will be okay with that, hence why we’re kindred spirits]. And I’ve given items to friends specifically for them to regift to their children (games, toys, clothes, even a few small kitchen appliances).

recycle christmas cards as luxury tags

I took this picture weeks ago without trying to highlight the recycled Christmas card tags, but they’re visible on lots of packages!

Maybe everyone does this? Maybe nobody does? It’s all I’ve ever known! Every year after Christmas my Mom would go through her giant stack of Christmas cards and cut off the fronts of most of them to be stored away until the following year when she would use them for large gift tags. It was so much fun to flip through her selection to find the perfect coordinating match between card and wrapping paper.

Large gift tags can be expensive and this is a great way to upcycle cards that would otherwise head straight to the garbage. I would say at least 1/2 our gifts have recycled card tags. (I tape them down, so if there was a message inside the card, it’s not visible). Most of the time I can’t be bothered…but if there is an especially nice card I will sometimes store the used tag for ANOTHER Christmas (I will, inevitably, always give a gift to Abby signed with love from Mommy and Daddy).

give experiences

While I’m a big fan of giving (and receiving) gift cards, free experiences can be a great gift option to save money and promote memories. I’m making a coupon book for the kids this year which is set to include:

  • A free pass from emptying the dishwasher (Abby)
  • A weeknight sibling sleepover (Levi)
  • Choosing the snack for the movie (Levi)
  • Adding one item to the grocery list (Abby) – she’ll probably opt for some expensive smoked gouda #cheesefiend
  • A day without any chores, even cleaning up your room (Levi)
  • Invite a friend over for supper (Levi)
  • Request chocolate cake with chocolate icing for a special Friday night dessert (Abby)

Even the ones that will cost money will be relatively inexpensive:

  • A trip to the local pottery painting store together (Abby)
  • Take a friend to a coffee shop and I’ll pay (Abby)
  • A breakfast date at Tim Hortons with Daddy (Levi)

Give the SAME gift (BUT DIFFERENT)

I’ve already talked about this – at length – but in addition to making gift buying easier, I find deciding once really helps keep costs lower as well. I can look for the particular item on sale and, also, if it’s tried-and-true, I don’t feel like I have to compensate or hedge my bets by buying multiple items.

consider pooling resources as a group

For several years I managed the staff Christmas gift at my children’s preschool. They were fortunate enough to attend a truly phenomenal preschool and parents always wanted to express their deep gratitude for a staff that went above and beyond. Over time it had been decided that what everyone really wanted was money (with 30 families or so with children in the preschool times 6-7 staff members, it would be…a lot for each staff member to receive individual gifts). I arranged the cash donations, divided them appropriately (based on hours worked which I accessed in consultation with the owner) and then distributed it within handwritten cards at the annual Christmas party. There was no influx of gifts to the teachers. No scrambling to figure out how much to spend for each staff member. Parents were happy. Teachers were happy. Win, win.

My siblings are rarely home at Christmas and so they don’t typically give gifts to my parents…but when we were all still gifting within the family, we would often pool resources to get one larger gift (e.g. one year we bought our parents a new TV – which was a HUGE step up from their 13″ model. Yes, I grew up on a 13″ TV!!).

Nothing revolutionary here, and I’m sure there are lots of great ideas I’ve never considered or have neglected to mention. So…

What about you? I’m all ears for any and all suggestions of little (or big) ways you reduce/reuse/recycle at Christmas – or the whole year through, for that matter.

Header photo by Visual Stories | Micheile on Unsplash

Some Thoughts On Saving Money (Can I Touch This in December?)

It might seem a bit strange to talk about saving money in the middle of the biggest shopping extravaganza of the year. But, to me at least, it’s a fun topic. I think finding ways to be fiscally conservative – while appreciating certain luxuries money can buy – is about as fun as cleaning out a linen closet. And friends…there is not much that ranks higher on my fun list than a good linen closet decluttering. Sad, but true.

I’ve talked before about our background – how we came out of university and bootstrapped two startups which, technically, left us spending years below the Canadian poverty line. You may have heard the entrepreneurial advice to pay yourself first – I’m here to tell you it rarely works that way (unless “paying yourself” equals $400 a month, minus deductions). We hacked our way through buying almost everything secondhand, living with limited square footage, and eating a lot of beef.

We had unarguable advantages. We were educated. We came from stable homes. We were white. See, unfortunately, being “frugal” is not a choice for many people. Low wages, restrictive work schedules, and lack of access to affordable housing, food, childcare, and education are the reality for far too many people. So when I talk about being frugal and our experiences, it comes from a place of enormous privilege. We live in a country with safety nets (e.g. extensive maternity leave and monthly federal payments to all families with children) and had personal social supports that so many are sadly lacking.

While our current financial situation allows us to be a bit more generous with how and when we spend money, our default is still to look for ways to maximize each dollar – believing we’re called to be wise stewards of it (including the fact that the more we save, the more we can give!). With those caveats in place, let’s discuss a few ways we’ve managed to stretch money over the years.

I’ve re-used teabags (not anymore, I’ll admit), I wash out Ziploc baggies, and we pack lunchboxes at home. But sometimes the payout just isn’t quite worth the effort.

For example, here in Canada, we pay a bottle deposit on most beverages. Juice boxes, soda, bottled water – they all come with an additional $0.05-0.15 charge per item. We don’t tend to buy many of these foods but had an upswing over the summer – largely fueled by my sudden affection for sparkling water. This bottle “deposit” is partially refundable, so I decided I would wash, dry and separate all the refundable items from the other recyclables and get back some of our money. For over a month I dutifully put in the time and energy (not a lot, but it wasn’t insignificant), drove with my husband to the depot ten minutes away, and prepared for our cash windfall. I estimated a $12 return for the bag.

We got $4.10. Whomp, whomp.

We likely spent that much in gas to get to the depot, not to mention the time spent washing, drying and separating all the items (and the space it took to store them in our furnace room). 

So while I embrace a minimal lifestyle and enjoy the challenge of finding small ways to save bits of money here and there – sometimes my energy would be better spent finding larger sources of kickback.

In other words, going from a 2-car to 1-car arrangement will make a much bigger difference to a fiscal bottom line than skipping a weekly latte.


We have never owned a new car since getting married and, recently, when COVID meant we no longer needed a second vehicle for frequent airport trips, we became a single-car family. A few times a month this feels inconvenient but, for the most part, it has been a small blip on our radar.

Working from home has advantages.

When we were in a position to buy our first home, the mortgage limit far exceeded what we would have ever considered maximizing. We bought the only house we felt we could afford (not what the bank said we “could” afford, mind you) in the town we loved. It has needed some repairs – some cosmetic and others proactively functional like replacing drainage tile and original 1970’s windows – but it cost about 1/2 of what other homes in the area were selling for at the time.

Finding a way to take a trip on points is going to save you a lot more money than skipping a trip up the Eiffel Tower.

When reasonable, make use of warranty guarantees

While this “hack” isn’t in the same category as downsizing cars or homes, I would say 8-10 times a year I make use of some warranty claim which has literally saved us 1000s of dollars over the years, for relatively minimal effort.

Some things I have claimed under warranty:

  • Our bed. I had NO idea beds had warranties until I went to replace our sagging mattress (at the same store where we bought our original boxspring + mattress). When they started asking questions I said, “I’ll look at anything but beds made by X brand.” When they asked why, I explained our issue and they said it might still be under warranty. It was and, after a bit of runaround, we got a brand new bed! (~$600)
  • John’s favourite laptop bag; the zipper started to fail and a new one arrived this week! We may take the broken one to a local seamstress to see if she can repair it. (~$75)
  • Blundstones. A pair wore very quickly in the toe box for some inexplicable reason. Replaced quickly and efficiently. (~$150)
  • BOGS. These always seem to wear out prematurely in the heels and I’ve had 2-3 pairs replaced. (~$100/pair)
  • Kombi gloves. Ditto above; multiple issues with seams coming apart prematurely, which the company remedied with credit and/or replacement pairs. (~$25/pair)
  • My NorthFace jacket. I got this jacket on a great post-Christmas sale, but within a year or so I had an issue with the zipper. After sending it away for repair twice, the local store where I bought it told me to pick out a replacement jacket, no strings or brands attached. I paid ~$100 for my NorthFace jacket and walked out with a $350 Helly Hansen jacket which I’ve worn 150+ days a year for years now.
  • Darn Tough socks. This brand has a lifetime guarantee and we have maximized! (~$30/pair)
  • T-Fal. Our beloved Jamie Oliver T-Fal pan bit the dust much faster than expected even though we had cared for it like a newborn. A few e-mails back and forth and we had a replacement which we’ve now used for several years without incident. I would buy another pan in a heartbeat because of the quality + customer service when there was an issue. (~$100)

Save where it’s easy to spend where it’s valuable

I think the biggest question of 2021, for me, has been: What really matters? Now that I’ve more clearly identified my values, where should I direct my energy and what goals should I make that align with these priorities?

The same applies to money. I often think back to the general gist of what Ramit Sethi asks: “What does rich look like to you?” Is it ordering appetizers before a restaurant meal (Sethi’s answer)? Is it buying a new book every month? Is it having a certain figure in your savings account? Is it being able to contribute a certain amount to charity each year?

I remember running into a co-worker in a grocery store many years ago, in the midst of our counting-every-penny days. We were shopping sales and buying the lowest-priced version we could find of most products. This co-worker looked flabbergasted when we explained our behaviour. He made some comment about buying what he wanted when he needed it. I couldn’t even fathom that idea! If we wanted to make chicken fajita’s and chicken wasn’t on sale, we simply wouldn’t be having chicken fajitas!

But this was easy for us.

I had a friend who, after she was newly married, told me she and her new husband were working hard to establish a firm budget in just about every category of life. But, she added: “We’re not capping books; we can buy as many books as we want each month.” I can count on one hand the number of books I buy over the course of several years, let alone each month! But for this friend, not going over her monthly grocery allowance was easy while putting limits on buying books was non-negotiable.

Our wedding cost a small fraction of what I expect most weddings do; in lieu of a present one friend did flowers, another played the piano (she also made our wedding cake), while another took our photos. It was truly a wedding on a budget!

But when we went to pick our wedding bands, I hit a roadblock. I wanted to get a band that matched the diamond chip pattern on my engagement ring. There were two bands that would potentially fit the bill. One band had smaller chips, set in a narrower pattern. It was about $200. The other band had chips that matched my engagement ring exactly, but it was $300. $100 seemed like a lot of money to spend on something as frivolous as diamond chips and I deliberated for an inordinate amount of time.

I tried to rationalize how the smaller chips didn’t look that bad. After several visits to the jewelry store I (thankfully) decided that since this was something I hoped to wear every day for many many decades, the extra $100 was warranted.

I’ve thought back to this specific example many times when I’m trying to debate long-term quality/pleasure vs. my frugal nature when making a decision. Save where it’s easy to spend where it’s valuable, realizing that “value” is incredibly specific to each individual. I have a number of friends who don’t wear engagement rings at all and have thin, gold wedding bands – I suspect their trips to the jewelry store involved very little deliberation.

The best way to not spend money…is to NOT spend MONEY

And sometimes expenditures don’t need a frugal hack – they just need to be hacked.

We have mutually agreed, to the relief of all parties involved, to stop exchanging Christmas gifts with a number of friend groups over the last few years. Less stress and a lot less money. Instead of trying to find a great gift at a reasonable price, now we spend holiday get-togethers enjoying food and each other’s company, not worrying if our gifts align on price point.

Instead of getting a less expensive coffee at a mediocre cafe, just don’t get the coffee.

Or, if you’ve successfully replaced a mattress under warranty, go whole hog and buy the most expensive latte money can buy. I’m kidding. Maybe… Save up. Spend out.

Header photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash