Broiling my troubles away

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Cost: electricity
Success: 4.5/5

Does the broil function really get the love it deserves?

I still haven’t replaced my microwave, and I think I can hold off for a while. In the meantime I’m figuring out creative ways to warm stuff up.

One thing that’s been right under my nose the whole time is the broil function on my oven. I never really gave it a second thought until I realized it makes a pretty good replacement for a toaster oven. I’ve toasted some very tasty scones and crumpets with butter so far. So much tastier than the soggy versions that would have come out of the microwave.

The surprising liberation of being broke

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For almost a month I’ve been on a spending freeze, meaning I’ve stopped buying (almost) anything unnecessary. I had two big bills within 2 weeks of each other and now I’m trying to minimize the amount I carry over on my credit card. I’ve never had so little money in the bank.

I’ve discovered a surprising perk to being broke – I no longer feel guilty about not spending my money! I can walk into a store without feeling the pressure to buy something. I don’t care about coming off as cheap. I don’t feel pressured to spend a lot on presents. Yesterday I got a call from a charity, and I could honestly say I couldn’t afford to donate. It felt great. 😉

But I’m still not a hipster.

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I’ve evaluated my monthly budget several times to make sure there are no ongoing costs I could cut down on. My cell phone and internet are pretty low. Some costs won’t budge, like property tax, strata fees, water and sewage and car insurance. Some things I shouldn’t cut down on, like savings and charity. This means I have to save on groceries, eating out and coffee, which currently have a combined budget of $213/month.

(There is also some room to save on gas and transit)

Since the start of my spending freeze I’ve found a couple more things that are cheap to make at home.

Bubble Tea
I can see the tubs of powder that get scooped into my bubble tea, so why do I pay upwards of $4?? After some research I bought some powder from a grocery store in downtown Richmond that sells a lot of Asian stuff. $2.29 for a 120 gram bag!

The powder tastes almost exactly like coconut bubble tea from the Night Market. I’m still figuring out how much to use (it takes a lot!) and how to mix it. The powder clumps and floats, but with enough mixing the results are decent. Decent enough for the amount of money I save!

( I don’t make it with pearls, but those can be made at home too.)


Blueberry syrup

My friend visited last week. We bought a big box of blueberries straight from a farm ($4! I love Richmond!) There were a bunch left over, so I made jam. I didn’t use pectin, so my creation was more of a syrup. It was really easy. The gist of it was to boil 2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a small amount of water. Squishing the blueberries was the hardest part, so next time I’d loosely chop them in the blender before simmering them. It was enough for one and a half little jam jars.

Jen and the Spending Freeze

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I go through periods of stinginess and overspending. Because of some bad planning this year, I’m in an extreme stinginess period at the moment. I spent the money that should have been set aside for property tax and car insurance, and now I’ve frozen my spending (as much as possible) until I pay off my bills.

I’ve been at it for two weeks, and it’s gone surprisingly well so far. It’s amazing what people can do when they have to. I was able to shift my mindset so I get more satisfaction out of being thrifty and resourceful than I would out of spending money.

Some things I’m doing:

Cleaning out the cupboards
I have plenty of canned goods, chickpeas, coconut milk, unopened sauces, pasta, grains and sauce packages. I also have a lot of coffee, spices, dried herbs, and packaged snacks. Before I went on my spending freeze, it was too tempting to eat new food rather than stuff that had been in the cupboard for ages. I don’t like having too much stuff, but I really like buying new stuff. It’s frustrating. I’m getting plenty of satisfaction out of whittling down my supplies.

Cleaning out the fridge
Since I’m cooking more, I use more vegetables before they go bad.

Grocery shopping at the farm market
It’s a perfect time of year, and it’s much cheaper and healthier than a regular grocery store since there are very few non-vegetable distractions. (And jars of pickles don’t have the same pull as a bag of buttery and crumbly and blueberry-filled  scones.)

Going to regular grocery stores with a very short shopping list
I still need to go to the grocery store for milk and a few other things, but I decide what I’m getting before I go in so I don’t veer off into the convenience food aisles.

Not having a microwave
My microwave started to spark because of rust inside the door, so I stopped using it right away. (It’s 15 years old and is in otherwise perfect working condition – yay Panasonic!) Until I can afford a new microwave I’ve been going without, and that makes it harder to cook impulse foods which are usually more expensive and less healthy anyway.

Getting good use out of the kitchen
I made blueberry syrup yesterday, and it was ridiculously cheap and easy. Then I made crepe batter. The whole gourmet experience cost maybe $4.

Walking a lot
I’ve gone on a few long walks to save the cost of a bus ticket or gas. This isn’t the most efficient way to save money (walking 12km to save $2.20?) but it feels good and is good for me, so the rewards are a bit indirect.

Making my own coffee
I still go on coffee walks with coworkers, but I drink instant stuff at my desk. It’s not necessarily good, but it tastes like saving $2.

Digging out the gift cards
Kind of like my wealth of canned and dry goods, I have a few gift cards to my name. I’ve also used those carefully. A weekly Starbucks drink tastes a lot better than a daily one. Strange how buying less, rather than spending more,  leads to more value.

I’ve had to buy a few things (bus tickets, rice noodles for mason jar lunches), but I’ve curbed my impulse spending for the moment and it feels good.

Homemade instant lunches 2.0

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cost: varies
Success: 5/5

A couple years ago I started making my own instant lunches with mixed success. I gave up after a while.

My issues:

  • Flavour really didn’t have oomph
  • Noodles were starchy and gross
  • Freeze-dried vegetables are lame
  • No proteins – not filling

The good thing about the Internet is that there is always someone who’s found a solution to any problem I may have. A few months ago a friend shared a link to Make Your Own Just-Add-Hot-Water Instant Noodles which was inspired by a method found in this cookbook. At first I didn’t like the idea of my vegetables touching my noodles in the fridge because I have a thing with flavour seepage, but I got over myself.

I’ve used the Serious Eats method for two weeks now, and I’ve had success every time.

First, it’s important to use a good base, and Better than Boullion Bullion Bouillon really gives a robust flavour that I haven’t come across in any other flavour bases [I’ve given up on spelling the b-word].

Real vegetables also make a huge difference, and frozen vegetables are super cheap. Much less than freeze-dried ones.

The noodle choice is also a big deal. I’ve tried vermicelli and pre-cooked noodles. Pre-cooked chow mein noodles work well, but they expire quickly.  Vermicelli is great, but not as hearty.

And the meat! I’ve tried beef jerky and cooked shrimp so far. Both have been delicious. This is the most expensive part, so in the future I may try chickpeas as a protein.

Some carry-overs from my previous method:

  • Bean flakes are great for flavour and protein
  • I prefer coconut milk powder to coconut milk because it’s dry
  • My mom’s dried herbs make things extra-tasty and extra fresh
  • Cheeses – especially Parmesan – keep well and add a lot of flavour

No photo today, but there are some very pretty if you follow the link above.

Hey look, I’m still around!

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I’m still around, still being pretty thrifty.

Today is exactly 3 years since I started my mortgage. Buying my townhouse is still one of my proudest accomplishments.

After the first few months of my mortgage, I got a better idea of what I could handle financially and I was no longer freaking out. In May of 2012 when I was about to turn 30, I decided to upgrade my camera and get my first professional-quality lens. It was a big “screw this!” to turning 30, but also a protest against letting money control me to the extent it had. Since then I’ve gotten even more into photography. It’s definitely not a hobby ‘on the cheap’, but maybe one day I’ll earn money with it.

I also adopted a cat! I started fostering cats two years ago. At the time I was still getting over the death of my cat, Schnurri. It was a perfect solution for me – cat love without cat commitment or expenses. I’ll write more about that another day.

Here is Teddy, hepped up on catnip.

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Lately my car is the reason I can’t have nice things. I had a big scare just before Christmas when my battery light went on once again. The battery had already been replaced and the alternator had been repaired, so the meant it was an issue (i$$ue?) with the car’s computer. I snapped right back into Cheapass mode and started looking at things in the same way I had just after I bought my townhouse – carefully evaluating every purchase and expense. I forgot how oddly empowering it was.

Thankfully my mechanic found a much less expensive fix that bypasses the computer, so I’m not in the same state of financial crisis. Still, being thriftier again is probably a good idea.

Adventure on the cheap – Vancouver and the Lower Mainland by public transit part I

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I’ve been lazy. I haven’t updated in ages. I’m back with pretty pictures, so I hope you’ll forgive me. 😉

With the longer days and springier weather lately, I’ve spent more time exploring. I wanted to write a post about six of the most awesome places I’ve visited by bus in the last three and a half years. I’ll bring it to you in two parts.

1) Horseshoe Bay

Horseshoe Bay is in the far northwest corner of Metro Vancouver, but it only takes one bus to get there from downtown. There is a ferry terminal and a little town with ice cream, restaurants and tourist shops, as well as docks that are accessible to the public. It’s a serene place, and it has great views of the islands and mountains of Howe Sound.

The ferries take foot passengers, you can go as far as Nanaimo on Vancouver Island without needing a car.

2) Grouse Mountain

This one takes a lot of hiking, or something like $40 (or whatever they are charging these days) for a gondola ticket, but oh is it worth it.  I’m still pretty  blown away that I live in a place where you can take public transit to the base of a mountain, spend the day hiking, then catch the bus back home.

The bus goes to the base of Grouse Mountain, where there’s a Starbucks and the start of the gondola. There is also the option to hike the Grouse Grind. Since I’m so cheap, I choose the Grouse Grind because two and a half hours of physical torture is still more appealing to me than buying a ticket for the gondola. The sign at the base says that the average hiker will take an hour and a half, but I’m way above average apparently.

I’ve done the Grouse Grind three times, and I always spend the first half cursing myself. There is a point where it gets easier, or at least when my body has gotten into the rhythm and I feel so pleased with myself that I decide I don’t need to do any more exercise for the next month. After lots of climbing and stomping and heaving (over 3000 stairs),  the trail ends at the foot of the restaurant and gift shop complex. This is when I get to turn around, look at Vancouver and the Island, and realize it was definitely worth it.

They’ve found a way to capitalize the heck out of that mountain, because along with the multiple gift shops and multiple restaurants, there is also a grizzly bear enclosure, wolf enclosure, lumberjack shows, windmill tour, helicopter tours and probably some other stuff that I’m missing. The bears, wolves and lumberjacks are free.

Hiking back down is actually not permitted. I’m not sure if that’s a way to capitalize off  of the moochy hikers who took a free peek at the grizzlies, or if ‘s is a safety issue (the Grouse Grind can get pretty competitive). The ticket down was $10 last time I was there, but after the hike up I’m always more than eager to take the easy way down.

3. Burnaby Mountain

‘Another mountain,’ you say? That’s right, and this one is much less of a pain in the ass.

The eastern part of Burnaby Mountain is taken up by SFU, and the much smaller western part is a restaurant and park. Getting to the western part takes about 15 minutes from the nearest bus stop, but there is a fair amount of incline. You will probably be sweaty by the time you get to the top, so if you’re going to the restaurant it may be better to drive.

For a place that is so beautiful and relatively accessible, Burnaby Mountain is not too busy. The park on top has totem poles, flower beds and views facing west (towards Vancouver), north (towards Burrard Inlet, North Vancouver and Belcarra) and south (towards Burnaby and the ocean).

In case you’re a map nerd like me: