Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yard Sale Report for July 29th, 2011

Things were pretty slow in yard sale land today, as I expected they might be, since it's a long weekend. I had only four sales on my list to check out today, one of which turned out not to be running when I went by. I did find another unadvertised one along the way to investigate, though!

Despite it being a slow morning for sales, I did come home with a few things:

A decent quality backpack for $1.00 (I pick these up when I see them for cheap enough as my older son has an uncanny ability to destroy them), two heavy-duty 9" Wilton cake pans for 50 cents, and an oil cruet for 25 cents. There's a similar set of cake pans on Amazon for just under $15, and I've often seen this type of oil cruet selling for $8-$10 (although I've never been able to figure out why they're so expensive!) so I was quite pleased with these finds.

Grand total for the day: $1.75 for 4 items, or 44 cents an item

Did you find any great bargains this weekend?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Frugal Fixer-Upper: Front Entranceway Makeover

Eight years ago, we were ambitious (or insane) enough to buy a 2 1/2 story, double brick house built in 1925. While structurally sound, the house was your basic cosmetic nightmare. The previous owners had lived here for 48 years and were in their eighties when they sold the place to us. We already lived in the area (just down the street, actually!) and knew that we wanted to stay in the area permanently as it's a fantastic neighbourhood (the first planned community in Canada, with just about everything you need within walking distance). This house had significantly more space than our previous 1 1/2 story home, with two features we'd always wanted: a large front porch and a usable attic space (which we claimed for our bedroom).

The price was definitely right, but in some ways I'm not sure we quite knew what we were getting ourselves into. We never would have bought a fixer-upper if we weren't prepared to do much of the needed work ourselves. Thankfully we'd gotten a good bit of experience fixing things up in our previous home; however this house definitely needed a LOT more help!

While we didn't waste any time starting to make improvements once we took possession of the house, we have lived with an unsightly front entrance since we moved in and are finally getting around to sprucing up this part of the house.

Here's what it looked like when we arrived:

Mustard yellow carpeting on the stairs and in the front hallway, with hideous peeling linoleum in the area immediately inside the front door. When we ripped off the carpet, this is what the stairs looked like underneath:


My husband refinished the steps not long after we moved in, as well as ripping out a closet the previous owners had built in the entranceway that covered over one of the front door sidelights and took up way too much space while only holding about 3 or 4 coats. Thankfully the hardwood on the rest of the floors was in good condition after we scraped the disintegrated under padding off of it.

Before we could make any more significant improvements to this area, we wanted to install a banister on the stairs (the previous owners had ripped it out when they built the closet). This would allow us to remove the wall-mounted handrail, repair the plaster walls, and paint the whole area a much more attractive colour than its current purple-grey (ugh!) Unfortunately, the banister was by far the most expensive part of this project, and other things have taken priority for our financial resources up until now.

So, we had lived with it looking like this for the past several years:

Which, while still a dramatic improvement from when we arrived, was not quite the vision we had (this area looks a whole lot better than the area over by where the closet was, but that will be a whole other post!)

Yesterday, we finally got ourselves a banister. We had been looking around at the Habitat for Humanity Restore and other similar places in town to see if we could find suitable used materials for this project, but ended up needing to purchase everything new (except the small pieces of wood used to make the post caps). We also decided to hire some help to make sure the banister was built properly. This is only the second time we've hired someone to do work on this house (the previous time was to redo the roof). We hired our neighbour who's a professional carpenter to help my husband build the banister and make sure everything got done right the first time around! He gave us a bit of a discount on his usual rate and was willing to have Joe work alongside him, reducing the total number of hours needed to complete the project. They started work at 8:30 in the morning, and by 3:30 we had this:

It still needs to be primed and painted, but it's there! It's incredible what a difference it makes to the feel of the whole entranceway Once the painting is done, we'll take down the handrail you can see running down the other side of the stairs and start working on repairing the walls in preparation for painting them.

The cost for this project was $245.67 for materials plus $175 for labour (which I believe was worth every penny - the whole thing went together smoothly and precisely because of our neighbour's expertise, and it's rock-solid). If Joe didn't have the woodworking skills to work alongside our neighbour, the labour costs would have been significantly higher.

We already have the primer and paint left over from other projects, so there shouldn't be any further costs to finish it off. That brings the grand total to $420.67. It's a fairly large chunk of money, but this banister will last as long as the house does, so we feel it was a worthwhile investment.

Next up for this area: wall repair and painting.

Anyone else out there renovating an old house on a small budget? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, July 25, 2011

July Food Stamp Challenge: (Overdue) Update #2

I truly, honestly intended to post more regularly about the Food Stamp Challenge. However, as so often happens, life got in the way of my plans. Between taking a (cyber-free) week off to go camping with my family, dealing with the chaos pre-and post-vacation (including large mountains of laundry - line-dried of course ::grin::), running the produce cooperative, working with my publisher on finishing up the editing and layout for my book, tending to my garden, and keeping everyone fed, I haven't had much time for blogging lately.

In fact, blogging isn't the only thing that fell by the wayside in the last couple of weeks. I confess that my food budget really got away from me this month. I usually keep much closer tabs on how much we've spent as we go along, but this month I didn't get around to tallying things up since my last report nearly 3 weeks ago. Yikes! Thankfully the online budgeting system I use keeps good track of our expenses, so all I needed to do was log in, check to make sure the entries were categorized correctly, then hold my breath while I checked out the total for "groceries".

As it turns out, as of today we've spent $393.83 on food so far this month. That only leaves us $10.17 for the remaining six days of the month. Since we've already done our major food shopping for this week, that actually seems quite doable. We'll probably need to pick up a 4L bag of milk ($4.19) but that should be about it.

I'm pleasantly surprised that we've been able to come in under the $404 goal for the month. As I mentioned in my previous Food Stamp Challenge post, July tends to be one of the most expensive months of the year for us, grocery-wise, and although our average food bill is around $350 per month, July's is usually over $400 because we are stockpiling seasonal produce for freezing and canning. We bought quite a lot of food this month that will be consumed sometime in the future (like the $36 worth of strawberries at the PYO farm, most of which was either frozen or made into jam, the $30 pail of Ontario sweet cherries that I portioned and froze, and the big $12 hunk of sale-priced pork tenderloin that I bought and froze for a party we're hosting in August). We also spent MUCH more than we typically do on junk food (in an average month we spend almost nothing) since we were away on our major family vacation for the year and a camping trip wouldn't be a camping trip without s'mores and potato chips. In addition, we spent more on bread, eggs, and dairy products than we usually do, since we purchased some of those items midway through our trip at a small grocery store up north near our campground, where the prices were significantly higher than the best price we can get in the city.

All things considered, I think we ended up doing much better than I expected! I will post a final update at the end of the month so you can find out whether we stayed below our goal or not :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yard Sale Report for July 23rd, 2011

Whew - here at long last is my Saturday yard sale report. Between a morning out treasure hunting, running today's produce cooperative exchange, getting some laundry on the line and squeezing in a trip to the pool to cool down and a last minute dash to the library before it closed, today didn't leave any time for blogging until right now!

It was *almost* too hot to go out riding around on my bike checking out yard sales today...but not quite! Surprisingly, given the heat and the fact that it's prime vacation season, there were a good 8 or 10 sales running in my area.

Here's what I found:

3 kids' books for $2.00 total, a funky stainless steel stacking canister set which I bought at the same sale as the Stargate DVD for $3.00 total (I'm thinking the canister will be awesome for camping, we'll probably cover over the coffee/tea/cocoa labels with homemade ones for whatever we decide to stock it with; we've been planning to start watching the Stargate series on DVD but I  wanted to see the movie first - our library didn't have it so I figured I might as well grab it when I saw it this morning). I really liked the pattern on this glass vase so I couldn't resist it for $1.00 (most of the time I use Mason jars for vases, lol). The church I bought the vase at was giving away those cool cloth drawstring bags for free and I'm sure they'll come in handy for a variety of uses.


My big find of the morning was this twin comforter with matching pillowcase that I picked up for $8.00. It's in really good condition and I was pretty sure my 13 yr old would like it. New bedding for him has been on my "to buy" list for a while so I was pretty excited to stumble on this ensemble. The timing of this find was perfect as a local department store is having a clearance sale on bedding this week and I was thinking of checking it out as I've hunted around for ages without finding anything suitable. He was quite impressed with my find, by the way, so score one for mom's thrifting skills (I figure it never hurts to impress your teenagers with your frugal abilities!)

Grand total for the day: $14.00 for 9 items or 1.56 an item

Did you find any great bargains this weekend?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yard Sale Report for July 9th, 2011

It was yard sale central in my part of the city this week! I hit about a dozen sales before calling it a day. Although I had great fun browsing, I didn't find a whole lot of interest to me. I did end up coming home with a few items:

I found a single enamel camping plate that exactly matches our set of camping bowls. It was marked $2.00 but I offered $1.00 and got it for that amount. My next find of the morning was a pair of sport sandals for my hubby in brand new condition. I paid $2.00 for them and they fit him perfectly (he's very pleased as his current pair is starting to wear out). At the same sale, I found the set of cat dishes , which I'm sure my cat won't particularly care about, but I'll be happy to replace her current plastic dishes with these ceramic ones. I paid $1.00 for the set. My final purchase of the morning was a couple of CDs (Fleetwood Mac and The Spoons) for $2.00.

Grand total for the day: 6.00 for 6 items, or $1.00 per item.

Did you find anything great this weekend?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July Food Stamp Challenge: Update #1

Katie over at The Non-Consumer Advocate is running a Food Stamp Challenge this month, wherein her readers attempt to feed their families on the amount they would obtain if they were on food stamps. I think it's important to discuss hunger and food security issues; it's really a silent epidemic in our society and I'm pretty sure the average middle- or upper- class family really has no idea how widespread hunger problems are. In the spring, there was a front page, above-the-fold article in my local newspaper dedicated to the hunger problem in my city. Hunger was declared to be the #1 social problem here, and food banks ran out of food earlier in the year than they ever have in the past. Here in Canada, we don't have any type of program like the food stamp program in the U.S., so for people who have little or no money for food, food banks are the only formal social support that's available to them.

So, when Katie issued her challenge, I felt moved to participate. For our family of four, the amount of money we'd be allocated for food stamps would be about $404 (as I understand it, there are factors which could make families eligible for more or less than this, but I'll go with this figure.) Since I'm about to get a book published on how to feed your family for less than $400 per month, you'd think this would hardly be a challenge for our family! However, there are a couple of factors that will make it a bit trickier than you might expect for a family that's used to eating on the cheap:

1. Although we spent an average of just under $350 per month on food in the six month period from June 1st to November 30th in 2010, July is our highest spending month foodwise for the entire year, as we are purchasing lots of in-season fruit to can and freeze for the rest of the year. Last July we spent just under $430, or $70 over our monthly average. In the winter months, our food costs tend to be much lower, as we're eating all the food we stockpiled during the growing season.

2. We're going on our major summer camping trip this month, and I tend to buy a few more convenience foods than I normally would to make camping meal prep a bit simpler. I also buy bread and hamburger/hotdog buns, which I normally make myself for a fraction of the cost of store bought.  The store bought ones will keep for significantly longer than my homemade goodies while we're out in the woods.

Thankfully, I do have a resource that will hopefully help to mitigate some of these costs - the produce cooperative I started earlier this year. This twice-a-month free exchange of local produce between backyard gardeners in my neighbourhood should provide some extra no-cost produce for my family to enjoy and help reduce the amount we're spending on fruits and vegetables at the store.

So far this month, we've spent the following on food and food-related items:
$36.00 on 18 quarts of strawberries at the Pick-Your-Own farm
$4.40 on zip-top freezer bags (since we reuse these things until they fall apart, I usually buy them only once a year or less - just figures I'd need to buy them this month!!)
$1.79 half a dozen whole wheat panini rolls off the reduced rack (because I hadn't gotten around to making bread dough)
$4.19 for 4 litres of milk
$0.98 on two cans of frozen lemonade concentrate (on sale, one is for our on-the-way-to-camping picnic)
$2.98 on 2 500 mL tubs of sour cream (on sale)
$3.97 for 10 lbs of potatoes
$10.00 for a 500 g pkg of Parmesan cheese
$1.26 for two packages of Chapman's frozen treats (ice cream bars and Drumstick-style cones) - they were on sale for half price and I had a $5.00 off manufacturer's coupon
$5.88 for 4 cans of frozen orange juice concentrate
$3.98 for 2 pkg of 6 bagels (whole wheat cinnamon raisin) on sale
$12.26 for just under 7 lbs of boneless pork loin on sale (this went in the freezer and will probably not be eaten this month - I think I'm going to save it for the party we're hosting in August)
$3.77 for 3 lb of blueberries 

Total to date: $91.46

We've also been eating a lot of free-from-the-garden greens, as well as enjoying some other greens and herbs courtesy of the West Hamilton Produce Cooperative.

All in all, I guess we're off to a pretty good start for the Food Stamp Challenge!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Weekly Menu Retrospective #42

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

Breakfasts: rhubarb streusel muffins, granola, chocolate zucchini muffins, banana blueberry muffins (subbed blueberries for chocolate chips in this recipe), French toast

Lunches: pizza, perogies, leftovers, sandwiches


Monday: Choice of leftover spaghetti or hotdogs, sliced raw veggies, raspberry smoothies

Tuesday: Barbecued pork chops, lemon and dill potato salad, tossed salad (greens from garden)

Wednesday: Spicy Black Bean Bake

Thursday: Thai-Style Peanutty Pasta

Friday: Hamburgers, oven fries, ice cream

Saturday: Leftover Black Bean Bake

Sunday: Barbecued pork chops, pasta salad, tossed salad (greens from garden), blueberry-raspberry crostata

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Yard Sale Report for July 2nd, 2011: Holiday Weekend Edition

Yesterday was Canada Day, making this the first long weekend of the summer. Some years there seem to be a lot of yard sales on long weekends, and some years there is very little going on. This year turned out to be the latter - only two yard sales in my area to check out. I was pretty tired from picking 18 quarts of strawberries and making 3 batches of jam yesterday, so I almost didn't mind that there was not an extensive list of sales to visit this morning!

I came home with two purchases, one from each sale:

A basket for 50 cents, and a wooden bowl for $5.00. Normally I would have haggled over the bowl price, but it was a fundraiser sale and I don't dicker at those. It appears to be a fairly good quality bowl, too, so I don't think it was such a bad deal :)

Grand total for the day: $5.50 for 2 items, or $2.75 per item.

Are long weekends quiet or busy for yard sales in your area?
Related Posts with Thumbnails