reverse budgeting and a new finance app

A change is as good as a rest, as they say.

We’re trying two new tactics with our budgeting and debt reduction:

  • New tracking app: the previous app I was using, Budget, didn’t have an easy solution for sharing the data. Not great for a couple with shared finances. Chris did some recon work and we’ve moved over to Smart Budget. So far we really like it. It doesn’t do any fancy interfacing with online bank accounts but we don’t need that. We just want to track and review our spending by date and category. And we want to work off of one account. Bonus: you can change the currency.
  • Reverse Budgeting: we’re moving to a reverse budgeting system to pay down the rest of our debt. Most people use this system for savings, and we’ll be doing that too once we’re out of debt. With this system we set aside a set amount of our monthly income for debt repayment. We then work with our remaining funds for the rest of our spending and expenses. This means that if we have higher expenses in one area we cut back in another.

Along with a set amount for debt repayment each month, we are also saving for travel and continuing with Henry’s education fund.

When will we be out of non-consumer debt? We actually have the funds in our account right now but we’re still not sure about buying a car. Our debt is also at 0% interest until February of 2012 so we have time to wait on it. We’ll probably pull the trigger and send the money home in November or December.

June has been a great month for tracking and I’ll have a breakdown in early July on our savings and expenses.

Anyone else use reverse budgeting? Interested to hear from savers that have had success with this method. I think it will challenge us to work on our frugality while still giving us room for unexpected expenses and maybe even a date night.

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Still car-free, but for how long?

Citroen AMI-8 Break

Before leaving Canada we budgeted 3000 pounds to buy a used car in the UK. We had been told it was a necessity for life in the Isle of Man and my husband is provided a car allowance as part of his salary.

Well, that money is still in the bank and we’re still without a car.

Not that we haven’t been tempted.

We walk a lot and there are many used car lots or for sale signs on cars parked on the street. Used vehicles are priced a lot lower here than they are at home. We’re told the prices are low because of the recession and that there is a glut of used vehicles. We’ve looked at cars from 1350 pounds all the way up to 6000 pounds.

We’ve looked and yet, we’re still without a car.

The other week I took a trip down south to Port Erin for a beach day with Henry. I was aiming to take the train but missed it and took the bus instead. The bus was relatively quick, easy to use and very modern. Lots of room for our stroller and the driver was very helpful when I asked for directions. Round trip it cost me 5.80. Even a dozen bus trips a month and a few taxis will be considerably cheaper than owning a car. I’d also be psyched to put that 3000 pounds we’re holding onto for a car, onto our remaining debt.

Before leaving Canada I was interviewed by Carrie Kirby of the Chicago Tribune for a piece on families that go without a car. I was proud and excited to share our story with Carrie and, hopefully, encourage other readers to rethink their automobile dependency. I was also really sad to be moving to the UK and have a car again.

Now we’re not so sure we need a car. We’re testing the waters with public transport, taxis for Chris to work on super rainy days (we’re told umbrellas are useless in the rain here – it goes sideways) and, as usual, walking a lot. Some days I walk more than 10km between getting a few groceries and going to the park. Pleasant footpaths here and it’s a great way to stay in shape.

So we’re still car-free for now. I’ll again be tracking our expenses and letting you know what it’s costing us.

Photo Credit

Like what you read here at The Minimalist Mom? Sign up by RSS or Email to get posts delivered to you. You can also find The Minimalist Mom on Facebook (I’ve deleted my personal account but have a page for this blog). Comments are always read, appreciated and responded to – even if we don’t agree on the subject at hand.

living without a freezer and washing dishes by hand


the Manx have it right

Old school housekeeping is the new black. At least, that’s how I’m tackling it here on the Isle of Man.

When we were shown our new home there were a few unexpected, but charming to me, differences between it and our old home in Canada.

The first difference was that there was no freezer. This is, apparently, quite common here. Chris saw that I wasn’t phased by this, that our inability to have ice cream at the ready 24/7, or batch cook chili, wasn’t make or break and he was surprised. I figure, if millions of other people can live without a freezer it probably isn’t that difficult. Also, no freezer and a relatively small fridge meant I would need to be on my A-game for meal planning. Who doesn’t like some external constraints to help you with your goals?

The second difference was no dishwasher. Not having a dishwasher was a harder pill to swallow than the freezer. I paused on that one. I haven’t been without a dishwasher since… maybe ten years ago when I was an athlete.

Weighed against the pros of the flat, great location, price and nicely furnished, I was fine with taking on some heavy labor. At least on a semi-permanent basis. We only have a three month lease so who knows how long we will live here.

So we moved in and after our first meal here as a family it was revealed: there is indeed a dishwasher. Modern kitchens here conceal the refrigerators and dishwashers with cabinet paneling. The dishwasher lock is sticky and when Chris and I tried to open it, it didn’t move. We both figured it was a false cabinet for plumbing for the sink. We were wrong.

We have a dishwasher.

But I’m not using it.

I’ve decided to wash dishes by hand. The apartment came with dishware but not a large amount. To fill the dishwasher we would have to put all the dishes and bowls in it. If the dishwasher is as temperamental/useless as the washer dryer, it will probably be more work than it’s worth.

Shhh don’t tell Chris, but I’m enjoying washing dishes after each meal. There is a nice ritual to it. In fact, I always choose dish duty over bath duty and early bedtime routine. I get a lot of Henry time and it’s nice to shut the kitchen door and let Chris take over with our tired toddler.

And because we don’t have a lot of dishware, and the sink is fairly small, there isn’t room for me to leave more than a meals worth of dishes. Washing dishes is now part of a meal cycle: prep, eat, wash.

I’m not promising the dishwasher will never be used but, for now, I’m enjoying that it makes meal time clean up simple.

We’re not the only family to give up the dishwasher. Check out these other minimalist families that found an easier path washing dishes by hand:

Like what you read here at The Minimalist Mom? Sign up by RSS or Email to get posts delivered to you. You can also find The Minimalist Mom on Facebook (I’ve deleted my personal account but have a page for this blog). Comments are always read, appreciated and responded to – even if we don’t agree on the subject at hand.

British laundry: my fight with the washer dryer

Just a note: I’m moving to twice weekly posts – Mondays and Thursdays – for a while. I have a project I’m working on and we’re in a rough patch with Henry for sleep. Will be on this schedule until one or both of these items are sorted.

People keep asking us if how we’re adjusting and there is a lot of talk about how difficult this move must be for us. We particularly get the difficult sentiment from locals we meet.

I don’t want to downplay it, and I’m sure there are still challenges ahead for us in adjusting to life in the UK, but it’s really been quite smooth. We’re settled in our home, know where the parks and grocery stores are, and are already making new friends.

The two biggest adjustments to life in the UK for us have been accents and appliances.

I’m using my smile and nod technique with the accents.

The appliances haven’t been so easy.

First, there is the smoking oven. Every time I turn the oven on in our new flat smoke billows out of it. Closer inspection shows thick grease all over the back side and top element. It appears someone cleaned it and skipped these areas.

The stove needs some elbow grease and should be fine. Our laundry issues, however, are here to stay.

Line drying is big over here. While seen as a fun exercise for quaint hippies in North America, hanging your washing outside to dry is how it’s done here. I’ve heard people turn their noses up at having an electric clothes dryer. After seeing utility costs here, I have to agree.

To keep to code with sanitary laws here, all flats have to have laundry washing capabilities. Small space and frugal landlords mean that most of them have what’s called a washer dryer: an all in one machine that will wash and dry your clothes. Sounds brilliant, right?


Every local or person that has lived here for a significant amount of time refers to these machines as rubbish. They will wash up to 6kg and supposedly dry up to 4kg in around 3 hours. Strange math for a machine manufacturer but as I understood it, I just needed to put small loads in.

Except, even with small loads our stuff came out wet. What was I doing wrong?

I asked for help in the comments here and got some answers. We also enlisted a local friend for help – she’d used one of these machines before. She gave me a run through and I tried again. Still wet. This friend also knew the old tenant of our place and found out the washer dryer had never worked for him either.

An email to our landlord was returned with: read the manual.

This whole minimalist wardrobe thing was starting to bite me in the ass. I was doing a lot of spot cleaning and down to my last pair of underwear.

Solution? We’ve gone native.

I’m now hanging all our stuff to dry.

Yes, it’s work.

Yes, our towels are crunchy.

Yes, I would take a North American dryer in a heartbeat.

But, really, it’s not that bad. I just have to be on my game with getting a load in most mornings and hanging it as soon as it’s done. So far it takes up to 36 hours to get everything dry.

What will we do in winter when the temperature drops and clothes take a really long time to dry? I’m not sure.

At least I can feel good about our new laundry system. Katy over at the NonConsumer Advocate wrote about the benefits to line drying. Better for your clothes, the environment and your utility bills. There are also some useful tips in the comments section if you have issues hanging outdoors (dust, pollen).

Okay, reveal yourselves: who line dries clothing? Anyone strictly line dry indoors, in a small home, and have tips for me?

Like what you read here at The Minimalist Mom? Sign up by RSS or Email to get posts delivered to you. You can also find The Minimalist Mom on Facebook (I’ve deleted my personal account but have a page for this blog). Comments are always read, appreciated and responded to – even if we don’t agree on the subject at hand.


Ways to Give

This is a guest post from Vicki Bright, a wonderful woman that I was connected with through this blog. Vicki is trying every day to live a more simple and deliberate life with less. She is a mother of 3 children- 4 months, 16 and 18 and a step son 10 – and in a very happy partnership. Vicki has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as a frontline worker and volunteer for over 14 years.

Vicki and I had several discussions about giving as it relates to leading a simpler life. I asked her if she would be willing to contribute a post and she has obliged. Many thanks, Vicki.

Photo Credit: Vicki captured this beautiful public art piece herself. Artist: unkown.

Ways to Give
Many of us who embark on living a simpler life are reducing costs to pay off debt. The goal to be free of this debt burden often leads to the decision to live with less stuff. There may also be a desire to live more compassionately and deliberately in our approach to the world around us while trying to meet rigorous material and constraining financial goals. For those of us working to reduce existing debt, charitable financial giving can present an ethical dilemma. With not enough to meet all of your own goals and means how can one give to others who may require an extra helping hand?
Financial giving comes in several forms. Individuals such as pan handlers might ask outright for change. We all have our ways of dealing with these situations. Some of us may throw whatever we have in the battered cup while others may think that such a person should get a job and make their own way. Compassionate and empathic individuals might feel compelled to give, yet when there is little extra in ones own pocket it can be hard to justify giving what you do have to someone else.
There is a never ending stream of events and charities needing fundraising and donations. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is one example of this. As a global citizen you may feel it is your duty to give money to such a cause. When confronted with suffering how can one not feel compelled to give? Yet questions about such charities might arise especially around where the money goes and to whom. Is your $20 going to provide food and resources or pay for “administration costs” elsewhere?
How you resolve to give money to charity, if at all, is up to you. While throwing money at a charity might be “easy” in terms of effort financially prudent individuals might feel this is not possible. There are many other ways one can give to those who may need a “hand up.”
Sometimes the biggest dilemma is who to give to or how to do so. Perhaps you have identified the items you have to give or the time you want to spend, but where do you go to offer these gifts? For good reason some agencies have a rigorous screening processes for volunteer positions or donated items. Some agencies only accept certain items. For example, agencies working with mothers and children frequently receive used car seats and cribs. These items are not able to be used dues to safety concerns. Where do you go with old equipment, half used tubes of toothpaste or last years ‘O’ magazines? Does anybody want them? There is usually somebody who will need what you have to offer, but identifying who can be a little more difficult.

Giving Away Stuff Online
Giving away belongings is very freeing. There are many ways to give away belongings for free (or very cheaply). Obvious ones might be yard sales and on Craigslist. Many fantastic items can be found for free on Craigslist. Some people on Craigslist have a bit of a “shark mentality” and lack good intentions when listing items. Freecycle, an online service which allows subscribers to offer and ask for free items may be preferable for some. Freecycle often seeks volunteer moderators and giving time to volunteer is often a gratifying way to give back.

Putting Items in the Alley.
Recently a friend expressed a desire to get rid of a rusting barbeque she has. She is thinking of putting it in the alley on the premise that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” This may be true, for some resourceful people believe metals are worth money, but it may just sit there rusting indefinitely.
There are limits to what should be put in alleys and beside dumpsters however. Items such as decent shoes or kitchen wares in good condition may get scooped quickly, but putting things like dead Christmas trees and abandoned mattresses in the alley is pure laziness and littering. Options for disposal of big items can be hard to find or afford sometimes, but not being bothered to dispose of items properly is unacceptable. It is your responsibility to check in a day or so to see if the items are gone and if after a few days they are not it is best to try and find another home for these items. Weather is also a consideration as rain or heat may ruin perfectly decent items and render them useless.
Putting cans and bottles in the alley is a great way to give to the resourceful folk who look for such items. Some people are able to balance huge bags of cans on bicycles with ease. In Vancouver, an underground economy exists where items found in alleys and besides dumpsters are either sold, turned in for refunds or bartered for other items. Such systems keep many items out of the landfills which is a bonus for the environment. Systems such as “binning” or “dumpster diving” help keep alleys and dumpsters clear and accessible. Ironically some segments of society may see “binning” as offensive. Many take it very seriously and consider this hard work as their vocation.
There is a growing movement towards “freeganism” and not solely within communities where people are down on their luck. Being a freegan means all items, including food, are gathered through dumpster diving, bartering and so on. Many freegans are not living on the margins of society but are people who are conscientious citizens making a social and political decision to not further burden already taxed resources and to use what already exists.

Thrift Stores
When  embarking on decluttering my home my partner and I took huge car loads of boxes to the local thrift store. Thrift stores often sell items and donate the proceeds to others. There are several excellent thrift stores whose mandate it is to support community ventures. Giving items to thrift stores is an excellent way of recycling. Donating items is just as good as giving money because the thrift store will make a profit on your items and return it to the causes they support. There is nothing more freeing than dropping off a big box of stuff to a thrift store who survives on such giving. If you want to ensure the money made from your donated items is passed on in a charitable way make sure you ask the staff. Some “thrift stores” are actually private businesses and keep all profits.

The Giving of Time and Expertise
As mentioned, giving time is a great way to be charitable without breaking the bank. There are so many ways in which a person can give, even if it’s something as little as an hour or two a week to help others in the community. The giving of time is a valuable commodity and many organizations and events cannot survive without volunteer help. If being locked in to formal time giving is too much there are countless less structured ways time can be shared. One’s time is a perfect gift to give and receive, especially when minimal living is the goal. Who needs more stuff? The gift of a few hours of baby sitting or shopping for a senior is a priceless gift. Recently friends with a 14 year old and a 4 year old revealed that the older child had given his parents 100 hours of babysitting for Christmas. They calculated that to be over $400 worth of babysitting.  A very thoughtful and well used gift to say the least!
Having worked with many not for profit groups, the most appreciated volunteers are the ones who come in to offer services such as haircuts or massage. This provides the volunteer with valuable community connections while those receiving the time and services are grateful for this positive contribution.
If you are unable to volunteer your time regularly consider giving a few hours every once in a while. During the Christmas season many people take time to help out at shelters and community kitchens. There are many other times in the year when those who are poor or elderly or simply distanced from their family appreciate the support of charitably volunteered assistance. In the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver there is a surge of people who give time or gifts during the Christmas season. Many of the people in that community appreciate this extra love at what can be a difficult time of year; however such assistance would be useful at other times of the year as well. During the cold, rainy winter months when the twinkle of Christmas lights has faded there is no better time to give for no other reason than being compassionate and caring. Volunteer at any of the community agencies who seek such help or round up toiletries and socks and deliver them to those who need them. It is easy to give in festive times, but there are 365 days in the year and there will be more impact when the agencies and resources are less saturated with good intentions.

Thinking Outside the Box
The above suggestions may be fairly common ways in which many of us may give back. Only you know what you can give, how much time you can offer and the resources and skills you may have. Giving is also contingent on your personal and moral beliefs. Perhaps you want to donate to a women’s shelter specifically or maybe giving to youth is important to you? Giving back should not be a burden, but something you really want to do. Giving does not need to be formal and can be unscheduled. Give blood, give a smile to a stranger, stand up on the bus for another passenger, give coins in your pocket to a busker or help someone with their groceries if they look like they need it are only a few examples. Giving should be from the heart and not from a place of ego. The important thing is that giving comes in many shapes and forms and does not need to break you financially or thwart your debt reduction attempts. Give if and when it feels right!

How do you give? Do you have trouble knowing where, what or how to give back to your community? Let me know, I would love to hear suggestions and ideas about more  ways to give.

Vicki can be contacted at:


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