Monday, August 31, 2009

Meals for the Week

A little planning goes a long way. Cooking your own meals is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not only do you save a tonne of money, you also have complete control over the quality of your ingredients, the amount of fat, sodium and seasonings you put in your food.

I've been cooking for myself since I started college, and I think I've gotten a little better every year. I usually cook in the beginning of the week, and eat left overs for the rest of the week.

Lately, I just discovered a very simple method to proportion my food, and store it easier. Tupperware!!!

Instead of storing my food in a large tupperware containers, I store them in individual tupper ware containers after the food has cooled down. This way, I just grab one as I run out the door leaving for work for lunch. And for dinner, I just empty one onto my plate and microwave away.

This week's lunches and dinner is rice with sauteed eggplant in my special sauce, and tomatoes stir fried with oyster mushrooms and green onions in a satay sauce.

Grocery Bill Total: $5.73

Oyster mushrooms: $2.59
Tomatoes: $0.91
Green Onions: $0.50
Eggplants: $1.73

Total of 6 servings with an average serving cost of $0.96

And you get a healthy meal made of fresh ingredients!!!

How do you save money in the kitchen???

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Early Retirement???

For my parents, not me. I just started working a year ago :)

So many times, as a young working adult trying to balance my life and bank account, I wonder how my parents raised us. With only one working parent from when I was in kindergarten until I was in grade 7, I am still befuddled as to how my parents managed to take care of us with one income source. (My dad was the breadwinner, though my mom did babysit for cash, which mainly went to savings for emergencies. We also saved money on day care and other services that way, too.)

My sisters and I grew up blessed with the greatest parents in the world. Who had so little, and yet were able to give us so much.

One of the greatest lessons that my parents taught us was appreciation for money, and how to be frugal. Though money cannot buy many things, money can give us a choice.

My parents did not have much of a choice when they were raising us. Yet, they still chose to be good parents.

Even though we could have used the money, my dad tried not to work overtime too much. Instead, he would spend the extra time, bringing my sisters and I to the library. Fixing things around the house. In the summers, he would take our whole family to various trips. CNE and Ontario Place (with the school coupon), Wasaga Beach, camping, and watching fireworks on Victoria Day and Canada Day.

My mom chose to be a stay at home mom. My mom also babysat other children for some extra cash. My mom went beyond the call of duty for a babysitter. She taught the kids Chinese lessons when it was time for my sisters and I to do our Chinese homework. She shared her homecooked meals and snacks. She treated everyone fairly. In the summer time, my mom would take us all to the neighborhood park (with a splashpool, a petting zoo, and a very decent jungle gym) for a day of playing and picnicing. I don't know how or where my mom got the energy to bring 8 kids to the park on a regular basis.

My sisters and I are really lucky to have grown up with so many fond memories of our childhood.

My dad has always were in factories. From what I can recall, he worked at a factory making airplane wings on the assembly lines. Then he worked at wallpaper factory until it closed. After that, my dad was older (almost 50), and he got a job at an automotive plant where he was been working since.

There is a lot of seniority at his company, and my dad has only been there for 10 years. Because of his lack of seniority, my dad has now been put on the night shift. It has been really hard on his body, and I am worried.

My parents are frugal, but they have been able to put away some money throughout the years. My dad and I took a look at his finances, and were crunching the numbers to see if they could retire early. We took a look at my parent's current monthly spending, and budgeted for how much we could reduce their spending by. I am now looking into getting a software with long term planning so we can have a better picture of how my parents' finances will look in the next few years.

One option that my dad and I were looking into was downgrading our house. They currently live in the same house we grew up in, and it's too big for two people. There is also maintenance that my dad finds overwhelming at times, such as lawn mowing, yard work, and snow shoveling.

We worked out my parent's current monthly budget to be $1500 and can probably we can get it down to $1200 if they move to a smaller place with less overhead costs (utilities, property taxes, housing maintenance, etc.) They should have enough with their pensions, RRSP contributions, old age securities (after they turn 65), and of course, my sisters and myself are working full time.

In a society where we are constantly told to use our hard earned money to buy things to make our lives happier / better / more glamourous. Rarely are we told to use our money to invest in ourselves and buy freedom. Freedom from having to work at a job that we don't like. Freedom to persue our hobbies. Freedom to spend time with our families and friends. Freedom from having to live month to month paying off debts.

I'm looking into purchasing Microsoft Money. I don't think Quicken Cash Manager has a long term planning function (it didn't specify).

Do you have any suggestions for a long term budgetting money managing software??? What are your thoughts on budgetting and money management???

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Taste of Europe: Oslo, Paris, Vers Veille sur Mer

My apologies for neglecting my blog. Work has been just really busy lately, and I'm trying to make the most of summer before it passes by. (Summer in Canada is only about 2 weeks!)

I met up with LeBlanc in Oslo July 25th, which started our 2 week vacation together. We spent about 3 days in Oslo, then we flew to Paris and spent 4 days there, then we took a train to the small, small town of Ver Veille sur Mer, where we had rented an apartment by the beach for 7 days, then I returned to Toronto, and him to Oslo.

Europe was beautiful. And I loved the way we sauntered through our vacation. We spent a lot of time just walking around the cities and towns we visisted. That's my favourite way to enjoy any new place I visit. We would walk, and then find a place to sit and read. Continue walking, stop for a snack. People watch. Continue walking. This is me in Oslo.

Some highlights of our trip:

LeBlanc and I walked to the famous Vigeland Park where the artist, Gustav Vigeland made almost 180 statues. The statues are all completely naked, except for the one of himself. In the statues along the walkway to the rose gardens, the statues depicted movement whereas the statues at the end of the park were more serene, and depicted more emotion. On our way back to our hotel, we stop for dinner at a really good Indian restaurant and had Duck Korma and Pilack Paneer for dinner. Delicous!!! (This was to be a foreshadow of the rest of the food on our trip!)

On our last night in Oslo, we walked to the fortress surrounding a castle at the high point of the harbour. It was beautiful. I love looking at old buildings, and imagining how life might have existed behind these walls centuries ago. After our explorations, we went out for dinner at a beautiful seafood restaurant on the harbour. The food was delicous, and have now set a new bar for seafood standard. We both order fish, and it was so fresh, and tender.

Having been blessed with the oppurtunity to have done some traveling during my undergraduate year, every time I go on a new trip, I want to enjoy it in a different way. Instead of trying to see all the high points of a new city or country, I prefer to be a tourist who is part of the culture. I try to imagine how I can enjoy the city the way a local would. So even though, I would like to see a few important sights, I want to linger and enjoy each one, instead of rushing to the next.

These are a couple of my favourite shots of Oslo.

I loved the architecture and detail with the play of lights.

A shot from city hall across the harbor.

LeBlanc and I sauntered and lingered through our 4 short days in Paris. We walked everywhere! We sat along the river and read, or had little picnics with baguettes (French bread stick) with cheese and ham. Sometimes, we would wave to the tourists looking out at us from their boats!

Our hotel was in central Paris, across from the Louvre. We would walk to the Louvre, and the park around there. They have such beautiful statues everywhere. We walked to the Arc De Triomphe, and to the Eiffel Tower. We didn't go up the Eiffel Tower, but we did go up to the Arc, and the view was amazing! Paris is not a skyscraper type of city, and since the Arc is at a high point, you can look out and see all of Paris. Paris is a radial city, and you can see all the roads leading below where we were standing.

Like many people, I thought of Paris as the most romantic city in the world. Walking along the cobble stone paths hand in hand with LeBlanc, between our picnics and people watching, I couldn't agree more. Maybe it had to do with the colonial buildings, or maybe it was the river which ran through the city. Maybe it was the elegant bridges. Or maybe it was the beautiful churchs which seemed to hold some sort of key to Paris's history. Or maybe it was the simple elegance of their fashion. Or maybe it was the couples making out on the park benches. Even the stench of urine while walking under the bridges, though revulting, reminded me that Paris was not perfect. Which made it even more romantic.

LeBlanc and I took the subway for the first time when heading to Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Church) which was perched on a hill to the north west of central Paris. We were planning to watch the sunset along the Paris horizon. We enjoyed an evening of admiring another view of Paris, while sipping beer and huddled together on our little blanket. Lots of people were out, and the hills were packed with couples, friends, families, all out to enjoy summer in the city. Afterwards, we make our way to the Eiffel Tower to watch the lights. The tower was even more beautiful at night, and we set down our blanket, and I fall asleep, tired, as LeBlanc enthusiastically snaps photo's for the next hour.

Our last part of the journey is spent in the little town of Vers Veille sur Mer. The town is just up the shore from Omaha Beach, which played a very important role in World War II when the Allies were to regain power in Europe from the Germans. An ambitous feat by the Allies to capture Normandy via the English Channel. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost on the beaches of Omaha, Utah and Juno.

We visited some Memorials along the beach, and a museum in the neighboring town of Caen. LeBlanc had also started watching the mini-seris Band of Brothers, and we re-watched some episodes together. It is very difficult to imagine this peaceful little town was once surrounded with war.

LeBlanc and I spent many lazy days sleeping in. When one of us would finally wake up, we'd go down to the kitchen and make coffee and breakfast. Then, we'd head down the beach for some sun bathing or more reading. Or walk along the shoreline, until we hit the next town. Sometimes, we'd stop for a snack. One time we stopped and tried the "Fruites de Mer" (fruits of the sea), and it was more than either of us could stomache. It is a platter of raw and cooked shellfish, and although I like the prawn and crayfish, I was not a big fan of the small brown shrimps, or the snails.

After a day of exploring, we would visit our local grocery store, and buy enough ingredients for a feast. We loved to cook, and cooking we did!!! French cooking to be exact. We made French Onion Soup, Garlic Cream Soup, Salad Nicoise, Porkchops, Roasted Beef, Curry Spinach, and even baked a cake from scratch. After we were stuffed from dinner, we would take a walk before heading to bed. Sometimes we'd walk to the beach, sometimes we walked along the road.

Now, it's back to reality, and I miss our carefree days. Work has been so hectic for the past two weeks, that I really miss our vacation, and seeing LeBlanc. It's his last week abroad, as his project is wrapping up, and I'm really looking forward to when he comes back next week! I've missed him.