Monday, November 21, 2011

I declare a spending strike

A beautiful film about Santa's humble beginnings; one of the most wonderful Christmas movies I've ever seen.

I love Christmas.  
I mean I am a total Christmas dork.  
I also love shopping.  
So what I am about to declare may seem strange.

I would like to declare a spending strike.  It could possibly be the worst and most difficult month to declare such a thing, but it is necessary on many levels.  I think the challenge will awaken our creativity in gift giving and celebrations while padding our bank account.

That being said, most of our Christmas shopping in done so it may not be as difficult as it first sounds.  We need to fill 4 stockings and purchase the annual gift for the grandparents.  We also need to host 2 or 3 family gatherings.  I think we can do it though.

This is the season of celebration and warmth and family.  Not about overcrowded malls and spending past our comfort levels.  This year we will put more emphasis on the Winter Solstice than we ever have, but we will also keep Santa Claus because we want our children to know that magic.


We will pay our monthly bills of course.  Mortgage, car payments, student loans, phone, Internet, hydro, propane, house/car/life insurance, RESPs, etc

We will allow ourselves $150.00 per week for groceries

We must allow $250.00 in gas money for the month

We must have some allowance to buy supplies for my upcoming craft shows, but I will keep it to a minimum and hope I won't need more than $50.00 to $70.00 for the month.

We will think creatively on how to fill stockings, but if a handmade something requires a supply or two to come to life then we will purchase it.

Now I will share with you what we currently do to live the frugal dream.  Sometimes I wish other bloggers would share there secrets to frugal success so I have compiled a fairly detailed list of what we do to make one income work for us as well as our long term goals.  If you care to share your own details or advice do so by leaving a comment or link.  I hope I don't bore you to tears, but I write it for you as much as I write it for myself.


Chickens:  We are hoping our ladies will start laying in the next month or so so that we can have a steady flow of happy eggs to eat.  A long term plan is to take advantage of our location on a main road and sell eggs and veggies roadside {hello learning experience for homeschooled kids!}.  Our chicken coop is built to last with room to grow our flock.  I am trying to work myself up to processing the chickens for eating as well.

Gardens:  We managed to get a small garden in this year despite the bugs and lack of prepared land.  I made 3 jars of pesto {enough to last about 3 weeks}.  We didn't get anything else into our freezer or pantry.  It was a wonderful thing to get 16 quarts of strawberries and three burlap sacks of the most beautiful corn I have ever seen into the freezer from Ellenberger Organic Farm.  I also made copious amounts of apple butter with the apples from our trees though I was a little disheartened to open 5 jars in a row which had gone bad.  I thought I did it right, but apparently I have much to learn.

Our goal is to grow enough food to freeze and preserve which will take us through the fall, winter and early spring.  The growing season is quite short here so this will take a few years to perfect.  As I mentioned before, we would like to sell our produce, eggs, and some of my homemade goods at the "farm gate" during the busy tourist season.  We have grand plans of terracing the hill behind the chicken coop and turning our large yard into a mess of food.  Next year we hope to invest in a steam juicer to make sugar free apple juice from the abundant apples on our property.

Meat:  We get all of our grass fed beef and pork from Ellenberger Organic Farm and will be buying a full cow if we can get our hands on a full sized freezer.  A large purchase, but so good for us and our bank account in the long run.  We don't eat organic everything, but we try to focus on the animal products as a priority.  We buy organic milk and get raw organic milk and cheese when we can {which in Canada is the equivalent of saying we buy drugs.  It's idiotic really that people are able to make the choices about alcohol and tobacco, but not raw milk, but that is another post for another day}

Groceries:  We travel a minimum of an hour to get decently priced groceries.  We have tried to organize a buying club through the ONFC, but to get a monthly order has proved too much at this time.  We try to follow a wheat free/minimal wheat diet so it is much more cost effective to make our own crackers, pizza crusts, cookies, etc.   Wheat free is effective in keeping processed and pre-made garbage out of our grocery baskets.  I could use some hints and tips on making more vegetarian meals as well as freezer friendly meals to make ahead for when those days when the last thing I want to do is cook days.  Lucky for us, our eating out options are pretty slim in Gooderham; especially in the cold months.  Mainly we buy perishables and baking supplies on a weekly basis, but we somehow seem to spend a small fortune on food each and every month.  We're working on it though.

Body Care:  

Hair Dye: I have decided to give up dyeing my hair.  It was silly really; I would dye my hair and dark rich brown and would be frustrated, not with the root re-growth, but with the fading and dryness of the treated hair.  So I broke up with the toxic hair dye and am dealing with the awkward growth period.  I think in the long run I will be liberated as I like my natural colour and it is very free.

Haircuts: I cut everyones hair but my own.  The gentlemen are easy as pie, but I think us girls will be paying for ours to avoid hair catastrophes.

Shampoo and Conditioner:  I have tried to go shampoo free with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, but it just didn't go well for me.  I have super thick curly hair and after a few days it felt like a matted tangled mess.  I have tried many natural shampoos, but haven't found a single one that makes my hair feel and look nice.  I find Poppy's hair reacts the same as mine.  So we use commercial brands of baby shampoo and regular shampoo despite knowing their toxic ingredients.

Cloth pads:  I was leery about this one, but I decided to take the plunge into cloth pads.  I purchased from a Canadian company on Etsy called Naturally Hip.  They are well made and surprisingly simple.  It would appear our society is rather squeamish with this topic, but I am not so these work well for me and I get to skip the tree killing and bleached cotton.  I have tried the Diva Cup, but wasn't crazy about it.

Deodorant:  I will never use commercial deodorant again.  I have never used anything that has worked so well as the stuff I have been making and I have used everything from secret to Toms to the salt crystal.  I will soon be offering it in my shop for those interested in ordering!

Cloth Diapers:  I will be honest; I hate cloth diapers.  I have a stash that I keep returning to when the guilt is too much, but we struggle with it.  Mike likes them even less.  It's the poop that gets me.  Any tips would be appreciated.  I keep them handy and when I figure a poop is less likely to happen I put one on and pat myself on the back for each disposable I keep out of the landfill.  Baby steps.

Laundry:  I recently started making my own laundry soap and will never go back!  With four simple and inexpensive ingredients {I will share the recipe soon} I have finally been able to get rid of stubborn smells in my towels, dishcloths, and cloth diapers that commercial and natural detergents alike have left behind.  They come out smelling like cold water which is refreshing, but sometimes I will add a few drops of essential oils.  In place of fabric softener we use regular vinegar.  

One of the first things we did upon moving in was to install a new clothesline.  Hanging clothes in the warm season is no issue, but the temptation of the dryer lurks as the days grow shorter and colder.  Our dryer is broken and we are going to leave it that way because we know if it is there we will use it more than necessary.  Instead I purchased another heavy wood drying rack from our local Home Hardware Store so I can hang two loads or laundry at a time. 


Cable:  We don't have it.  We have some ghetto rabbit ears which {sometimes} gives us the local station which is horrible.  Bell calls us in hopes of selling us sattelite, but there is nothing on their script for people who just don't want it so we usually spend five minutes of our time explaining we don't want it while they respond with "I understand your hesitation...".  We watch CHEX and downloaded movies on an old 19 inch television which has been dropped in almost every move.  When it goes we may treat ourselves to a 32 in flat screen if we can find a steal of a deal.

Car:  We have one 2010 Nissan Versa.  I think our next car will have to be a larger minivan sort of deal because once we get the kids and ourselves in we are hard-pressed to fit in the weekly groceries.  The monthly payment is lower than the regular repairs we were putting into our 2002 Hyundai Accent.  I often find myself daydreaming about a second car, but I don't think we could afford the upkeep and insurance let alone another car payment so we do our best not to go crazy at home all week.

Trips and Entertainment: Nonexistent.  We don't travel, not even to see Mike's family in Newfoundland.  We generally go to free festivals and celebrations locally.  Not ideal, but reality.

Furniture:  Every item in our house is second {or third or fourth I am sure} hand.  We sleep on a horrible mattress that has the same strength and form as a wet soda cracker.   I often prefer the heart and soul of old furniture, but it would be nice to buy a new mattress or high efficiency washer, but we deal and plan and save and cross those bridges as they come.

If you've made it this far I thank you.  I know some of my dear friends are rolling their eyes or shuddering at our efforts, but we have come to accept we're the crazy hippy couple who, without meaning to, make people uncomfortable.  I won't lie, sometimes the cabin fever gets to me and I think about getting a job with better pay so I can go on a trip or buy some nice clothes or new furniture.  

If I am honest with myself I feel inadequate when I know we are being looked at with pity as if to say "Poor Erin and Mike, they couldn't afford a normal house and had to buy that odd little cabin in the woods."  or "Those poor children are being deprived of toys and Treehouse TV, how will they ever learn?".  Who knows, maybe people don't think those things about us.  Perhaps I am being silly.

All that to say, we are forcing ourselves to think outside the box this season and hope to make meaningful rituals and avoid the holiday hangover everyone loves to hate.  I hope to learn lots about ourselves, others, and how we have come to connect with others.  

Join us if you'd like.

go gently + be wonderful



  1. Great post! I am very interested in both the deodorant and the laundry soap that gets rid of smells (I went green more than a year ago with laundry and cannot seem to get rid of the humidity smell).

  2. I don't think you are crazy one bit. We live in such a wasteful society where we all have way too much and don't appreciate the things we have.
    Since moving North we have realized that we like the more simple life of not having everything we want all the time There are less options up here, so we just tend to buy less.
    That being said, I still like to treat myself to certain things and in some respects I won't give up certain things like feminine products ect.
    To help us stay on budget, the biggest thing for us is meal planning and sticking to a food budget. This can be hard but I try to be creative with what we have.
    Also, we are about to give up our cable (again). Last year we didn't have it for 7 months and we barely missed it. We then got it back but barely watch it and it's 70$ down the drain!
    I try to do many homemade gifts at xmas and we have fazed out gifts to our grown up siblings... we just buy for nieces and nephews now... and that I find it still expensive.
    I'd love to hear more ideas from others too.

  3. oh yes, one more thing... and for entertainment because we live in such a cold climate and need to "get out" but can't spend hours outside, I try to sign up for free things like storytime at the library, Mother Goose or I try to arrange playdates and playgroups.

  4. I feel this acutely as well. People don't seem to believe me when I say "please don't get me anything" and reply with "but what are you going to unwrap?" When I think of all the resources that go into all the new products people buy for Christmas, and the pretty packaging they're wrapped in it makes me nauseous.

    It all drives me batty, especially because we just finished doing a major purge and I am loathe to bring more things into the house. And as for your "crazy hippy lifestyle"? Sign me up! Your kids are going to be the most well-rounded, grounded people who have open eyes and rich experiences beyond those that are "blessed" with video games but lack for their parent's attention. You and your family are rich. It's the others who are poor. Your blog inspires me to no end, and I will happily join you in the non-commercial Christmas. (And I'm also interested in those recipes!)

  5. We are about to embark on our own homesteading adventure and I absolutely love what you're doing. It all feels just right to me. Keep it up...and let me know when/how/if you work up the nerve to slaughter the chickens yourself. I am pretty set on raising meat chickens, but must admit I am tempted to send them off to the local processor, who is small scale and supposedly very quick...probably quicker than I would be! eek.

  6. Have you tried "Say Yes to Carrots" shampoo and conditioner? I have thick hair and it is the only natural shampoo I like.

  7. We are so very with you on this... Kevin watched 'How to boil a frog' documentary about consumerism and how the world is going to be like within 50 years... and he's so depressed about it. We now made the committment to decrease our carbon footprint and do everything in our power to not succumb to consumerism.

    We've told family and friends that we do not wish to recieve any gifts (actually a battle with the MIL about this, believe it or not). We're staying home for Christmas instead of making the 1500km drive back to BC.

    It would be so awesome to see what you put in the laundry detergent. I want to get rid of the chemical crap we use for a more natural detergent.

    Thank you for sharing this, Erin...

  8. kudos to you Erin.. you guys are living out a beautiful legacy of finding such wonder in the 'simple life' for your to witness. More grace.strength.passion to you in your journey!... (now how about a crafting SWAP, are those still allowed?! tee hee).xo
    needle and nest

  9. Thank you for posting such an honest look at your lifestyle, and your feelings about your lifestyle. :) It is helpful to be reminded that we aren't the only family living a "crazy hippy" lifestyle - or sleeping on a wet cracker mattress, for that matter! ;) (I would practically give my right arm for a new, comfy mattress!!) Wishing you much success with your Spending Strike!

  10. i tried the no-poo shampoo thing too - didn't work for my thick hair either. i don't think that you are so radical - you are a mom that wants to stay home with your kids. it is a sacrifice these days. i so get that.

    please share your laundry soap recipe.

  11. Great post Erin! We are right behind you with having just found a farm to move into in February which needs a lot of help, and the land needs a lot cleared. We'll be riding the frugal train right along next to you guys and I've come to realize people look at us weird when we tell them about our chickens, cloth diapers, laundry soap, and making things from scratch. We get a lot of 'why?!' and I'm not sure, except that it just feels 'right'. I only wish we could buy raw milk around here, but I can't find any and think the whole situation is insane, so we're looking into buy a Dexter come for the farm instead. If only we didn't find the homeschooling too intimidating with all the requirements in Ontario, we'd be there too!

  12. A few of my tips- I cut my husband's hair, but like you, I would like to avoid disasters on my head! I found a local beauty college that cuts it quite cheaply, and I can usually get coupons for the beauty college as well. The only problem is that it takes FOREVER - not so good with kids! However, I've also had pretty good luck getting cuts from beauty stylists who either work from home, or do some work from home on the side. When you're not paying the salon fees, it's a lot cheaper. Oh, and I'm like you... my hair is not thick and curly, but nothing but the commercial shampoos work for me! Everything else makes my hair fall out.

    Also as far as groceries go (esp driving a long way to get cheap groceries), for the last two years or so I have been carpooling with a friend. We go 2x a month to the cheap grocery store (which is about 45 minutes away) and trade off driving. Saves a lot in gas, and it's fun too!

    Oh, and I recently discovered homemade laundry soap and LOVE it!!! I do not recommend homemade dishwasher soap though. I would love to see your deodorant recipe...

  13. Having the same shampoo trouble. Been through everything and keep trying.
    I made my own cloth pads and was really really happy with how easy it all is and now one less thing to run out off.
    For the diapers, have you tried the little disposable liners? Kushies makes nice ones and cottonbabies sell some nice ones too. They are like thick toilet paper, catch practically everything and can be flushed. Then you just have wet, not really dirty, diapers to wash.

  14. I'm with you on the Spending Strike Erin! It's really hard with five kids and 7 grandkids but I'm knitting my fingers to the bone.
    Try the Facebook page, WHEAT FREE MOMS. One of my daughters is celiac and LOVES it!

  15. You re so very much not alone in these thoughts, goals, and desires. My family will be working under very similar spending restrictions (by need, not so much choice) and it's making my Christmas-season-loving self go mad for trying to find the balance... We are a deeply urban household, unable to stead in the ways that you are, but we are still trying to make choices that fit our goals and fill our hopes.
    I think you're right, too, about bloggers not being open enough on the successes and failures of frugality. I think I'll be trying to write a post similar to yours, so thanks for the inspiration!

  16. Bravo! A fantastic post with excellent ideas and some very inspiring thinking. Thanks for this.

    Some random things I've heard that you ask about:
    - there are paper liners for inside cloth diapers that you can just haul out and throw in the (toilet and) garbage. I hear those are the bomb. But I understand your pain, before those liners, I was always dreading what I was going to be cleaning.
    -I did ONFC for a while - loved the convenience but did not find it cheaper in the end, sometimes more expensive. Had to look for sales.
    -I put a square clothes rack on wheels next to my dryer and it has made all the difference for hanging clothes (especially jeans, sheets, bigger things - baby socks and underwear still hit the dryer as I have no patience). Anyway, just having it there handy means I can't use the weather as an excuse to use the dryer. I'm surprised how much I just turn and put the whole load on there in minutes. Adds humidity to the house in winter too!

    I can't wait to read about the homemade laundry soap and deodorant. Really interested in that.

    As for raising food - I have found with the increasing costs of organic feed some meats are definitely more cost effective than others to raise. Eggs come out about even with store purchasing and we let our hens roam and eat whatever they can find and have grain for back up (except in winter, of course). I have numbers for pork, chicken, beef and eggs all organic raised. Send me a message if you're interested.

    We grow and sell veg at markets and to restaurants etc. We keep our prices fair to high and try to do as much of the labour ourselves (planting, packing and delivering and selling) but need help on harvest days...and clean up because I'm usually burned out by the fall. All this to say, it is an enormous amount of work to put everything away for the winter until spring but we do it. And we manage to get a bit of a wage from our work but nowhere near minimum wage (but who's counting!). It is relentless and could pretty much consume our entire lives if we let it. But we don't. The bounty is gold - the amount of work is terrifying. Make sure you have support and boundaries is all I've learned!

    We also milk a cow - do the cheese and yogurt thing. Very costly on time but as a product (especially if you buy organic dairy like we do and have to drive an hour to get it) is SO WORTH IT in my books. The best value for what we get for our time of all the meat/veg/egg/dairy options.

    I say all of this not to discourage but because you have linked growing food to spending, I think the discussion is relevant about which things are more lucrative than others. In the end you will also value the things you like best and try to grow more of that. I'm a tomato freak and get some 200L in cans and in the freezer each year. We eat it. I love sauces with tomaties. I'm also a fan of beef. So i make sure we prioritize this which is much easier when we have to breed our dairy girl anyway to keep the milk coming. On grass, I find it the most cost effective by FAR.

    Have you read Shannon Hayes? I find she does a brilliant job of reminding us that our TIME is worth something even if you can't exactly get a dollar value on it. The cost of getting stuff in the pantry or freezer can sometimes equal the cost of the cheap crap you find in the store (relish, for example) but the taste cannot be compared. I still tried to put a dollar value on what it took to grow our food (a useful exercise) - but in the end, I think you gotta do it cause you love it.

    I am so very inspired by your other measures - cars, tv, gifts etc. GREAT GREAT GREAT.

    Wish the world had more like you.

  17. no worries about what others little sister is raising her 2 girls with cloth diapers, no TV, 100% vegan plant based diet (and they eat like a couple of truckers!!) with 1 car, gardening, and battling her MIL for a crap free christmas, jury is still out on how that one will go down ;)

    We've moved to an area with loads of shopping, and to be truthful, I'm not lovin it. Too much of everything, and I can't make a simple decision on what to get anyone. I'm starting to get that panicking feeling about now.

    Just keep on going in the direction you want to go, and you'll get there. Maybe afterward you could forward the map though?

  18. My sister reads your blog and wanted me to come by and leave a comment to let you know that you are not alone. We're pretty hippy over here too except that we are very urban (close to the centre of Calgary). This past summer we dug up a lot of our back and front yard and are transforming it into gardens so we can grow a lot of our own food. We are also vegans in cowtown (many strange looks) and do the whole cloth diaper thing. I found it much easier with the first one but have been having problems with my diapers as of late. Today I was at a friends and my youngest pooped 3x while we were there and I was SO GLAD I was lazy and grabbed a bunch of disposables to bring with me. Also serves me right for feeding her lemon split pea soup for two days in a row (she usually only poops at home - I guess she forgot that rule today).

    Right now we are struggling with getting a certain sector of our family to not go crazy with the Christmas presents for the girls. I've been learning a lot about the Waldorf philosophy this year and are moving in that direction (although we were close to already being there - I'm very anti-TV for children). I love Christmas too but this time of year causes me so much stress because I know I have to deal with the mountains of presents we don't want or need and that is like a ball of anxiety in my stomach.

    I think all we can do is try and live our beliefs and if we are present and caring with our children then all the crazy looks won't do us too much harm.

    Oh - and another blog you might want to check out is - she just posted a recipe for liquid laundry soap.

  19. Oh - some other things I wanted to mention. All our furniture is 2nd (3rd, 4th) hand too but after seeing people buy new stuff and then give it up to buy new stuff a year or two later I kind of prefer it that way (although I'm also angling for a new mattress one of these days). And the no-poo doesn't work on my curly hair either - especially since I colour it. Curly hair needs conditioner to tame it and then I find it gets built up and needs something to take out the build up. None of the natural shampoos have worked for me either. I'm not quite ready to give up the hair colour yet (although I keep telling myself that one of these days I will) because there is so much grey and just because people accuse me of being a hippy :) doesn't mean I have to fit all the stereotypes.

  20. I hear ya on the hair thing, I use Botanical Therapeutic for my thick, curly hair and it works well. No chemicals in it. Catch is that it's super expensive ($20/bottle ... maybe a few dollars more depending on where you go).

    Because of that, I scanned through the messages above looking for someone else's recommendation, and I found one. Someone mentioned, Say Yes to Carrots shampoo, but it's far from 'natural': Fragrance is an umbrella term used to mask over 4,000 different chemicals. There's also phthalates mixed in there which is a known hormone disruptor. And Sodium Benzoate is a known carcinogen (meaning, it causes cancer).

    I know, I know, it sucks to have to even think about these things ... there should be a group of people out there who represent us and keep things out that are toxic, but instead, we have a government who is paid (much more than our taxes) by these corporations to keep quiet and let their citizens get sick. Oy.

  21. Oh, and check out: Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook by Cathe Olsen for great cooking ideas. She has a variety of gluten-free recipes in there. This is one of my favourite cookbooks, and it comes highly recommended.

  22. Oh I have so much to write about this, I just wanna call you on the phone and go down the list! I should hope none of your 'dear' friends are rolling their eyes at you and judging you- that's not so dear! I agree with the people who've said that there needs to be more people like you in the world! I admire you so much for the journey you're embarking on and support you wholeheartedly! Your kids are lucky to not have to be overstimulated and spoiled by the lifeless mass produced toxis plastic toys, video games and gadgets that are making kids blank eyed and broken-spirited nowadays. They'll appreciate what they have and know the true value of love, family, food, and fresh air. They are truly blessed.
    WAY TO GO with no longer dye-ing- I too gave that up about 3 years ago. And for coarse curly hair, Aubrey's GPB shampoo and conditioners are the best thing in the world and so is Alaffia's shea butter shampoos and conditioners. They are expensive but have clean ingredients. (for real) Let me know if you'd like to try some. I'll send it to you.
    I also recommend putting oils in your hair- I use almond oil. Well, I used to before I shaved my head. :)

  23. Just came across this, figured I would add my bit about the cloth diapers and poop. Have you heard of flushable liners or a diaper sprayer? The diaper sprayer is ideal, but comes at a price ($50). Basically, a handheld bidet that attaches to your toilet and you simply spray the poop in the toilet. The flushable liners may not work so well on your septic system, but you could use them and just throw them in the garbage as opposed to flushing. They are about $6 for 100.

  24. Looks like you guys are taking great steps!

    I haven't had the chance to read all the comments, but had to second the diaper sprayer. My hubby would never have made it (I might not have either) on CDs without it! We also use it to rinse out the potty, it's so awesome!

  25. Drying my clothes indoors has saved my winter skin. I keep a wooden rack in front of the wall vent in our bedroom all winter long -I actually wish the clothes stayed wet longer to keep the humidity up! Instead I find myself washing and rewashing our longjohns...
    Thanks for your honesty Erin. I really enjoy checking in on your blog from time to time.

  26. Wonderful post. I already knew we were in the same frame of mind for most things, and this post is making my heart sing <3 Love you!

  27. As for the diapers--I wash regular baby wipes with mine and then reuse them as liners. If the baby poops, I throw it out with the liner--no scraping, no washing, no problem. If no poop, I just rewash and reuse the liner until it falls apart.


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