Friday, 27 November 2015

Christmas Giving

Christmas is the time of year when our shopping and spending extend a little more to include those less fortunate. Though many of us try to give year-round, whether it be through volunteering our time or donating used clothes and toys to a shelter or sending money to international charitable organizations, it’s often this time of year when we feel the need to give a little more. There’s something even more heart-wrenching about a hungry or homeless child at this time of feasting and family and gift-giving.
In our family, we try to teach our kids about giving back all year round. We try to impress upon them just how privileged they are to have all that they do – a family who loves them, a lovely home and neighbourhood to live in, a good school with caring teachers, lots of toys and clothes and good food to eat, extras like sports and field trips and vacations. We teach them that not all children have these things – not only the extras, but even the very basics.
We donate monthly to a children’s charity. Twice a year we cull the kids’ clothes and toys for good quality items they’ve outgrown or are willing to part with and donate them to a local women’s shelter. I volunteer my time toward a couple of non-profit community organizations, since at this point in our lives we are a little richer in time than ready cash.
At Christmas, we put together baskets to be donated to families in need – kitchen and household goods, clothes, toiletries, some food items. My sons’ soccer teams do an enormous toy drive which the boys are very involved in – we feel it’s important that the players understand just how privileged they are to get to play sports at all, and particularly for an elite team with private coaches and turf time and all the other perks that go along with it. The boys use their own money that they earn through allowances to buy gifts to go under the school tree, which are then donated to underprivileged kids.
We do our best with what we have to give what we can to those less fortunate, and we try to teach our kids how important it is to do the same.
How do you give back, at Christmas or year-round?

Originally published as "Christmas Giving" on my weekly column at

Monday, 23 November 2015

Christmas Shopping, Christmas Saving

Christmas is fast approaching and with Black Friday around the corner it’s time to start thinking about shopping for holiday gifts. No matter how minimal or extravagant your family’s Christmas is, if you have children they’re likely starting to plan out Christmas wish lists. Though it can be a very expensive time of year, it is possible for parents to finish holiday shopping without blowing the holiday budget.
We start our wish lists with a trip to the toy store in November. I take photos of every item the kids show an interest in, then we write out lists based on those photos when we get home. The kids pare down the lists, then add to them again over the next few weeks as holiday shopping catalogues arrive in the mail and they get new ideas. The lists are finalized by the first week of December, when they deliver their letters to Santa to his elves at our local Santa Claus parade.
I use those lists both for our Christmas shopping and for gift ideas for grandparents, aunts and uncles. Once I’ve created a more or less balanced list for each kid out of their wish lists, I start stalking store websites, flyers, online ads and catalogues for weekly deals and discounts and coupons and sales on any of those items. There are a lot of sales leading up to Christmas – Black Friday deep discounts, flash sales on big-ticket hot new items, “spend get off” store offers, item-specific discounts. By price matching and coupon clipping and paying close attention to sales and discounted pricing, I have always been able to get every item on my list for at least twenty percent off. Overall, I have never paid more than sixty-five percent of my planned Christmas shopping budget based on original wish list pricing – not a bad savings at a very expensive time of year!
Christmas can be very expensive. Our family tends to go a little unnecessarily over the top with celebrations and presents, but even if your gift-giving is a little less extravagant it’s still a time of year that can stretch the budget to its limit. By planning in advance, creating and sticking to a list, and paying close attention to any and all sales and discounts, it’s possible to ease that Christmas budget stress a bit and leave a little left over.

Originally published as "Christmas Shopping, Christmas Saving" on my weekly column at

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Friday, 20 November 2015

Christmas Votive Holder Craft

An inexpensive glass bowl from the dollar store, glitter pens and glitter glue and glitter powder and sequins and sparkles and a kid's artistic flair - a lovely little votive candle holder for the holidays! Make sure that no glitter or glue or decorations get on the inside of the glass since it will be used to hold a flame - and of course remember adults only around candles.

Christmas votive holder craft, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, glitter

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Monday, 16 November 2015

Snowflake & Pinecone Christmas Ornament Crafts

We've already begun our Christmas crafting!
These homemade Christmas tree ornaments were super easy to make and are all about the glitter and bling.

Pipe Cleaner Snowflakes

Twist white pipe cleaners from the dollar store into snowflake shapes. 
Decorate with glitter glue, sequins and sparkly gems.
Use a tree hook or fishing line to hang from the Christmas tree.

Pinecone Ornaments

Collect fallen pinecones from the under the neighbourhood trees.
Coat in glue and sprinkle with glitter powder. Allow to dry.
Decorate with glitter glue, sequins and sparkly gems.
Tie fishing line around the top to hang from the Christmas tree.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Crafts for Christmas

I know it's only November. I know. But Halloween is over, which means Christmas is the next big thing to look forward to. The kids have already started making their wish lists. I've started digging out the Christmas decorations and begun mentally blinging out our living room. We even watched our first Christmas movie of the season this weekend. So you'll just have to bear with me. I don't care that it's only November - it's time to start thinking about Christmas. Christmas decorating, Christmas baking, Christmas gifting and entertaining and celebrating. And, of course, Christmas crafting!

Here are some of my favourite finds so far for Christmas crafting this year.
Sport Sock Snowman Craft
Christmas Tealight Holder Craft
Photo & Instructions:
Button Christmas Tree Craft
Paintbrush Santa Craft
Orange Slice Ornament Craft

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Friday, 6 November 2015

Halloween 2015

Halloween pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns

This year was probably our family's simplest Halloween yet.

The kids picked out, prepped and designed their own jack-o-lanterns. (The adults carved, of course!)
We set the pumpkins on the front porch, draped the entire front garden, stairs and porch in stretchy synthetic spiderweb and turned on the smoke machine. Voila - a spooky Halloween welcome for trick-or-treaters.

I made my traditional Halloween dinner "jack-o-lantern" stuffed peppers - orange peppers hollowed out and carved like a pumpkin stuffed with cottage cheese, diced tomatoes and onions with basil, and sprinkled with cheese and baked. Delish - and a family favourite for Halloween.

Halloween stuffed peppers, jack-o-lantern, Halloween dinner, Halloween treats
And this year's costumes were all homemade or reused - no crazy crafting and planning for Mommy this year!

My oldest wanted to be Creeper again (which was awesome, since I spent about a zillion hours planning and creating that costume for him last year!) It needed some freshening up and a few small repairs after last year's trick-or-treating rainstorm, but it was a fairly quick fix - and once again was the most impressive costume in the neighbourhood. Literally every family we passed commented on how amazing it was.
(Full Creeper costume instructions here.)

Halloween costumes, ninja costume, Ninja Turtle costume, Creeper costume, kids costumes, trick-or-treatingMy younger son wanted to be a ninja, so we started with our dress-up chest, which is filled to overflowing with costumes and masks, weapons and accessories. Sure enough, we found a ninja mask, swords and ninja stars. He paired the mask with black track pants and a black hoodie and we covered the ensemble with a black kimono-style bathrobe. I sewed loops to the back of the robe to hold the swords and looped a belt high around his waist to hold the weapons. Easy - and free - ninja costume!

And Baby boy just dug through the dress-up chest and the closet of hanging costumes to pick his Ninja Turtle costume - with over a decade's worth of his brother's costumes to pick from, he was is heaven. And I was pretty excited the costume could get a second use!

It rained again, of course. After a warm week and a dry, sunny day the drizzling started just as we stepped outside to go trick-or-treating. Of course. But the kids had fun despite the rain. Happy Halloween!

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Monday, 2 November 2015

It's Expensive Being Poor

Debt sucks. And in an ideal world, debt is avoidable. But ours is not always an ideal world, and sometimes debt happens. Life happens, accidents happen, emergencies happen, unexpected expenses happen. And sometimes that means debt happens.

I know, I know. If you live within your means and you don't spend more than you make, you won't go into debt. If you plan ahead and set enough aside you'll have enough saved up to cover any emergencies. If you're responsible and smart and have a good plan and stick to it, you'll never find yourself falling behind financially.

But you know what? Accidents and emergencies and unexpected events are just that - unexpected. And sometimes those unexpected life events are just catastrophic enough to completely obliterate the best-laid plans.

A serious illness that keeps you from working will eat through an emergency fund in a few short months. A layoff during a recession could mean long-term unemployment or replacing a comfortable salaried position with a minimum-wage job. Divorce, a death in the family, any unexpected major life change can drastically affect your financial position.

In my case, I went from a double-income couple with two cars, a home, and a lifetime of earning potential ahead of us to a divorced single mom of two infants returning to the workforce at the bottom of the totem pole in the blink of an eye. Though I was a homeowner at twenty-one, before I was thirty I was struggling just to pay rent. As a single parent it was next to impossible to cover rent, daycare, bills and groceries for my little family.

Do you have any idea how much full-time daycare for a one- and a two-year-old costs? Coupled with rent and household bills - not manageable on a single income. I ate through my share of what was left after the divorce in the first few months on my own and started to use credit to bridge the gap every month. That gap got bigger every month, and so did my debt.

And that's how it happens. When you are poor and you have debt, the cycle of becoming ever poorer and more indebted becomes almost impossible to break.

It's expensive being poor.

If your income is barely covering your expenses, home ownership is not an option. Saving up a downpayment is an impossibility - and even if it weren't, you wouldn't be eligible for a mortgage anyway. So you're stuck paying rent - paying off someone else's mortgage, paying to increase someone else's equity in the home you're living in and caring for, paying out an enormous percentage of your income every month toward someone else's asset while your own net worth remains exactly the same. If you're already poor enough that your credit is already a problem, you may even have a hard time finding a rental. Or, living paycheque-to-paycheque, may find saving up first and last month's rent a hardship. You might have to seek out non-traditional - and more expensive - rental living options.

If you have bad credit or are over-credited, you won't be eligible to lease or finance a new car. You can either scrimp and save until you have enough to buy an old used car - which you will subsequently spend a small fortune on in frequent small repairs just to keep it on the road - or take public transit, sucking up the subsequent cost of extra hours of daycare expenses while you sit on the bus every day.

If you are barely making ends meet you can't save by buying in bulk - you don't have the extra five dollars to spend on the club-sized toilet paper pack at the grocery store, nevermind the fees for an annual membership at a big box wholesale club store. You can't buy seasonal items at half-off just after the holidays - you only just have enough to cover what you need to until the next payday. You can't take advantage of sales - you look for discounts on the things you need when you need them, but buying them whenever they happen to be on sale is simply not an option - the money isn't there.

Everything ends up costing more when you're poor, when you have bad credit or no credit, when you have to pay cash and pay up front and pay-as-you-go and when that debt you maybe couldn't help but accrue just balloons bigger and bigger every month while your payments disappear into the black hole of interest.

I was lucky. I landed an amazing job with flexible hours that helped me just manage to just get by without declaring bankruptcy until my kids started school full-time. I worked hard and did without and sacrificed like crazy to get out from under my debilitating debt and move forward. But it was hard - and it could just as easily have turned out very differently if opportunity and timing hadn't worked out so well.

Being poor is expensive. And the poorer you are, often the poorer you become. It's a vicious cycle of increased debt and expensive credit-free options and no matter how hard you work and how much you make, never quite having enough to dig yourself out of that hole and make ends meet.

(Originally published as It's Expensive Being Poor on my weekly column at

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