Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spend Report #7: When I think I'm not spending any money, I'm still spending money

Huh. My perception was that I had bought absolutely nothing last week. In reality, I spent just over $600. Huh.
I've always had the magical ability of making money flow through my fingers like water. (My husband does not think this is a magical ability. He has other words for it, but he doesn't use them out loud.)
If my husband starts the week out with $100 in his wallet, he'll finish the week with maybe $87.75 and know exactly where and how he spent the $12.25. If I start the week out with $100 in my wallet, on the second day, I'll ask my husband if he has any money I can have.

Then we'll have a exchange something like this:
He'll say, "What happened to the $100 you had?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what did you buy?"
"I don't know. Give me some money."
"What do you need it for?"
"I don't know. Give me some money."
Then he won't give me money, I'll go to the bank machine instead and the cycle begins again.

Despite having managed to blow over $600, I'm feeling guilty about not having made much effort to get out to small local businesses yet. I feel like shopping is my job and I'm not doing it very well. (Imagine the look on my husband's face as he reads that. I am and it's making me giggle.) But I have been stuck at home most of the week doing my other job, the one that actually pays me money, so exploring small local stores had to wait.

We did go to Taverna Greka on Columbia St. last week for dinner. I'd been there before, but not for seven or eight years. And, other than the Keg, I don't think we had ever gone out for a family dinner on Columbia St. Taverna Greka has a great view of the river and the food was good, especially the dolmades and a wonderfully creamy, custard-y dessert. (I have to stop writing this blog at night, I'm getting really hungry.) We will definitely go back.

From Oct. 15 to 21, we spent just over $600 in New West.

We bought:
  • Girl Guide cookies
  • Food at the Royal City Curling Club
  • Lightbulbs and toiletries at London Drugs
  • Cleaning products at a Norwex home party
  • Groceries at Price-Smart and M&M
  • Haircut at Gem Barbers on Sixth St. (That was my husband.) 
  • Dinner at Taverna Greka, part of Zest of New West
  • Coffee/food at Starbucks
  • Scholastic book order (Someone should do a year of buying stuff only from school and kids' group fundraisers.)
  • LEGO and Halloween candy at Wal-Mart (My son saved up his allowance money for a few months to buy LEGO.)
  • Piano lessons

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spend Report #6: Almost no shopping at all

My husband, who initially was going to stick to his daily routine, has decided to participate by taking his lunch to work at least sometimes instead of always buying it downtown. He says it's partly about the shopping experiment, partly about the money.

Keeping track of our expenditures for this blog has made one thing painfully clear: we spend too much money. We already knew that, but it was easy to push to the back of our minds when we just knew it in the abstract. Writing down every expense and seeing it all on paper, week after week, makes it harder to ignore.

He is even doing his own weekly spend reports for me to incorporate into mine. His first includes every detail, including $1 in lottery winnings and the 25 cents he spent on candy at work. He says he likes writing everything down because it keeps him from spending money.

He also included the days he didn't spend anything. I could read too much into that and take it as a jibe at my own spending habits, but I'm not going to. Besides, this past week, for the first time in a long time, there were several days where I didn't buy anything either. Of course, the long weekend helped. But I've also been feeling a little disoriented. I'm not shopping outside of New West, but I don't have new routines and habits to replace my old ones yet.

From Oct. 8 to 14, I spent about $164.

I spent $53 in New Westminster on:
  • Breakfast at the Hide Out Cafe on Carnarvon St. My first time visit. Lots of lawyers and students, so fashions were a mix of rumpled suits and the boho (or is that hobo?) chic I remember so well from my own student days.
  • Stuff at Wal-mart. (Dishwasher detergent, milk, salt and vinegar chips)
  • Coffee at Starbucks
I also spent about $100 for gas ($75) and food on a trip to Kamloops for Thanksgiving.

I also spent about $11 for groceries at the Price-Smart in Hamilton.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What I would be doing if I wasn't in New West

"I have to start making a list of stuff I haven't done or gone to because of shopping only in New West," I say to my husband, while we're packing to go to Kamloops for Thanksgiving.*

"I'm not going to Gogol Bordello, I'm not going to Ghostland Observatory, we haven't given money to KEXP . . ."

At this last one, my husband give me a guilty smile, looks away and starts staring assiduously at our bookcase.

"What are you staring at?"

"I'm seeing if there's any books I want to take with me," he says.

Yeah, right. I start haranguing him, in between laughing, and use what is becoming my favourite threat: "It's going in the blog."

"YOU didn't give any money to KEXP," he says defensively, "I did."

True enough, but we had discussed making a donation during their annual fall membership drive this year and I thought we had agreed not too, because of the blog and because of the money. I knew it was bugging him though.

My husband listens to KEXP every day online. Notions of "community" and "local" are much more elastic with the Internet and I know KEXP is important to him. At any rate, it was only $20, much less than we have given in previous years.

Here's the list of what this blog is keeping me, if not my husband, from doing this year. At some point I'll figure out how to put the list into a sidebar and make it a standing feature that I update throughout the year.

Please understand, this is not a list of complaint. It's a list of potential. Money I didn't spend outside New West that I now, potentially, could spend inside New West. The odd thing is, I've bought almost nothing this past week. But more on that in my next weekly spend report.

Things I haven't done or bought and places I haven't gone that I usually probably would:

No Smaller donation to KEXP
No snacks or coffee on the way up to Kamloops
No Cowboy Coffee in Kamloops
No Senor Froggy in Kamloops
No Gogol Bordello
No Ghostland Observatory (They gave the best live show I've ever seen ** and they're coming back to Seattle in November. This one is a little complain-y. Just a little.)
No dollar-almost-at-par shopping trip to Bellingham/Seattle
No Priceline hotel for trip to Ghostland Observatory and/or shopping trip
No crazy expensive Halloween costume for my son from when it turns out he is just as happy with the $24 one from Wal-mart.

* No, I didn't buy anything in Kamloops, other than gas. And food on the way home. We weren't going to, but traffic was really bad. I'm committed to this blog, but I draw the line at letting my son go hungry. Okay, to be honest, I draw the line at listening to my son say, "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm soo-ooo-ooo hungry," over and over and over again in the close confines of our Hyundai.

** See video at top of the post, which may look like nonsense to some, but trust me, the show was epic. It included getting tickets for the Saturday show, figuring out three days before the show that it would really be better to have Friday tickets, posting a ticket trade on Craigslist, arranging to meet with Dave from Texas in Seattle to trade tickets before the show, while making sure Dave wasn't a scammer or crazy, jumping up and down for two hours at the show even when standing still because the sprung-wood floor was bouncing so hard, staying up until 3 a.m. after the show and getting up at 9 a.m. Saturday morning to drive back to New Westminster and familial obligations. Epic.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spend Report #5: Turkey Trouble

This year I am helping with crafts at Beavers, which my son attends. I agreed to do the shopping as long as I don't have to do any outside New West. I'm assured the craft items will all be dollar store stuff. Monday's craft was turkeys made out of napkins (see cute picture above). I did find everything I needed in New West, but only after visiting five dollar stores and Wal-Mart. (Why does New West have so many dollar stores? I went to five, but I know of at least two others.)

It made me wonder if I could have bought everything at one store if I had left New West. So I visit craft superstore Michaels. The answer is no. I still would have had to go elsewhere for the napkins. The supplies I would have bought at Michaels would have cost about $15 (no napkins) compared to about $13 (including napkins) for the dollar store/Wal-Mart supplies. I know there are other places outside New West to buy these supplies, but it is most likely that I would have chosen Michaels. There may be no one-stop napkin turkey shopping in New West, but there is cheap napkin turkey shopping.
It's the end of my first week shopping only in New Westminster. As I review my receipts, I realize I have spent money mainly at fast food joints, dollar stores and big chains this week. But I did discover that New West has a swimwear store. I also tried to redeem myself at the end of the week with a visit to the Royal City Farmers Market. 
Spend Report #5
I spent about $575 in New Westminster on:

  • A bathing suit at Just Swimwear on Sixth St. Bonus: the suit is made in Canada.
  • Coffee at Starbucks
  • McDonald's (twice! Eek!)
  • A t-shirt at Warehouse One in Royal City Centre. I also tried on jeans and I'm surprised and happy to find they have jeans that fit me. I'll be back.
  • Beer at the B.C. Liquor Store
  • Groceries at Safeway
  • Toiletries at London Drugs
  • Gas
  • Greek food at Opa
  • Food at A&W
  • Halloween costume and miscellaneous items at Wal-Mart
  • Butter tarts, quinoa salad, cheese and a crepe at the Royal City Farmers Market. Oct. 7 was the last summer market, but the winter market is on the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Holy Trinity Cathedral hall at 514 Carnarvon St. in New Westminster.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I'm cheating on New West already

Sorry, New West, I hate to tell you this. I'm not even a week into my year of shopping only in New Westminster and I'm already cheating on you. With a video store in Winnipeg.
"Winn-i-peg!?!" I can hear you saying like those people in the Pace Picante salsa commercials say "New York City?!?"
I suppose that would make New Westminster San Antonio and Winnipeg New York City, which is kind of a strange comparison to mull over in one's mind. But anyway . . . onward to my tale of cheating and betrayal:

I have coffee a few times a week with a group of friends who were not impressed to hear I was keeping my subscription to a mail-order DVD service. My friends, or should I say "friends," called me a cheater and said I should be suffering more for my year of shopping locally.

The service is called Cinemail and it's based in Winnipeg. I order DVDs online and they are delivered by mail. I watch them, put them in an envelope and mail them back.  From what I can tell, Cinemail is a made-in-Canada success story, now undoubtedly under pressure from the expansion of Netflix into Canada. Rogers and Blockbuster, my two choices for DVD rental in New Westminster, are also undoubtedly under pressure from Netflix, but I care more about Cinemail than I do about Rogers and Blockbuster. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt either one of them offers 26 films by acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Netflix doesn't either. Cinemail does.

I knew doing this shopping locally thing was going to involve many contradictions. I have dropped using Spud, a grocery delivery service, because it's based in Vancouver. That is despite Spud's commitment to local produce. On my last order, on Sept. 30, my groceries travelled an average of just 73 kilometres to reach SPUD's warehouse. That's compared to the average 2,500 kilometres SPUD says products are transported to a typical grocery store in Canada. The bagels in my order, from fabulous Siegel's Bagels, travelled just seven kilometres to SPUD's warehouse. So, does that mean by shopping "locally" all my produce is going to come from thousands of miles away? (So far, so good: Kin's seems to label the source of most of their produce and much of it is from B.C. I'm going to the New West farmer's market today, where I'm sure I'll find lots of close-to-home options too.)

Being a consumer in the 21st century is all about contradictions. I saw a card kit at a store not long ago that gave you all the pieces to make "handmade" cards; everything was pre-cut, all you had to do was glue. This blog is about me confronting those contradictions and making conscious decisions about them, not necessarily about suffering.

So, call me a cheater, call me a hypocrite; I'm keeping Cinemail. Unless . . . unless you're willing to suffer with me too. Here's the deal coffee ladies: I'll drop Cinemail if you all agree to shop in the cities you live in for one whole year too. Who's in?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Clearing out the (e-mail) clutter

Since I'll only be shopping in New Westminster for the next year, it seems like a good time to unsubscribe to a bunch of e-newsletters that are no longer relevant to me. I was surprised to find I was subscribed to over 25 retail and travel e-newsletters. It felt good to clear the clutter out of my inbox. I have wasted a lot of time on some of these Web sites; it feels good to know I won't be doing that this year. (I have nothing against these stores and their products and services. It's just that for me the Internet is a black hole and I'm always getting sucked into it.)

I have never bought anything from:
Country Village
Stonz Wear
Away Network
Maine Cottage


I rarely bought anything from:
Restoration Hardware
Garnet Hill
Thrifty Car Rental
ClearPoint direct
eBay I used to have an eBay jewellery habit, but I haven't bought anything from them for at least two years. 
Red Envelope
Harbour Dance Centre
Showbox Seattle
Living Social
Fruits and Passion

Canon eStore

I sometimes bought from:
Allegiant Air
Toys R Us
Choices Markets I love Choices and since it's right on the border with New West I thought about making an exception for it. But I had to draw the line somewhere, so Choices is out.
The Shoe Company

Victoria's Secret I like their bras, though they're so pushed up and padded, I told my husband wearing them feels like false advertising. Which led him to make a concerned face and ask, "Um, who are you advertising to?"
Cineplex Entertainment

Unsubscribed from these because they cover mostly non-New West stores and events:

(List updated Oct. 6, 2010)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My 100 Mile Super High Size Not Made in China Year of Living Biblically with no Garbage

Lifestyle experiments seem awfully popular these days. Why? I'm not sure, but I think that people are starting to notice that while the modern world offers many conveniences, there are one or two drawbacks, such as disconnection from one's community and the degradation of the earth's environment.

Here's a few, "I'm going to do this or not do that for a month/year" experiments:

Super Size Me: If not the originator of this sort of lifestyle experiment, definitely one of the first. Morgan Spurlock sees what happens to his body when he eats nothing but McDonald's for a month. It's not pretty.

Super High Me: The pot-smoking comic I mentioned before. Worth a watch if only to see just how funny and sad comics are, all at the same time.

The Year of Living Biblically: comic take on trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible for one year. Author A.J. Jacobs says he is Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian. His wife isn't too happy about some of the rules. She sits on every chair in the house during a certain time of the month because she knows, according to the Bible, he won't be able to sit anywhere.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck: two Toronto enviro-dudes see what happens to their bodies when they expose themselves to the potentially toxic chemicals found in everyday products.

No Impact Man: Should really be called No Impact Family. For one year, a New York family try to have no net impact on the environment.

The 100 Mile Diet: Lower Mainland residents Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon eat only the food produced within a 100-mile radius of themselves for a year. They didn't realize how hard it would be until they figured out almost no one grows wheat in the Lower Mainland. A worldwide sensation. Sparked a local food movement that continues to this day.

 Green Garbage Project: American couple tries to go a year without throwing anything away.

A Year without "Made in China": American family tries to go a year without buying anything made in China

Makeshift: A Vancouver designer makes everything she needs to wear for one year. Doesn't sound tricky if you know how to sew, but she means everything: shoes, bras, underwear.

Here's a link to a list of 12 more (some repeats from my list): there's a year without plastic, a guy who keeps all his garbage for a year and takes photos of it, a woman who tries to go for a year without buying anything new.

The two that have inspired me most in taking on my modest experiment are The 100 Mile Diet and the Year of Living Biblically. (Took on the local aspect from one, the comic aspect from the other; you figure out which is which.) I can't say I have tons of lofty goals, but I do know that much of what I do every day is through habit. If nothing else, this year will give me lots of opportunity to examine my habits.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Westminster Swimsuit Store Saves Me Time

Day 1 and I haven't made a break for the Burnaby border yet. Just today, I saved myself about two or three hours in shopping time by sticking to New Westminster.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a swimming class at the Canada Games Pool. I knew this would require an athletic bathing suit and I figured the chances of finding a good one in New Westminster were zero. Even when I have all options open to me, finding a suit is a challenge. In addition to needing a, let's just say, large size, I also have a long torso.

Summer was over, so Wal-Mart wouldn't be carrying any suits and I couldn't think of anywhere else in town where I could get one. Just for the heck of it, I decided to Google "New Westminster bathing suits." To my surprise, New Westminster not only has a bathing suit store, it has one that carries specialty (meaning big and long torso) sizes: Just Swimwear on Sixth Street.

Here's what I would have done if I wasn't limited to shopping to New Westminster: I would have gone online and tried to find a suit. Would have looked at Land's End, Eddie Bauer, Sears. Would have got distracted by shiny merchandise and spent an hour or so surfing store sites.

Would have been nervous about buying swimwear online, so I would have gone to Swimco in Metrotown to see if they had anything. Would have been depressed about how many suits in that store are meant for skinny people. Would have been depressed about how many skinny people there are at Metrotown in general.

Would have started looking around Metrotown. Would have shifted my hunt from bathing suit to jeans. Would have had a delusional moment and tried on "super skinny" jeans in Old Navy.* Would have been surprised by how comfy they were. Would have considered how much it looked like I was wearing jodhpurs. Would have realized that pants that aren't jodhpurs shouldn't look like jodhpurs. Would have experienced moment of clarity as I realized there is no pair of jeans in the universe that is going to give me back the butt I had when I was 19. Would have got hungry from all the shopping and gone and bought a burrito, something else that is not going to give me back the butt I had when I was 19.

After two or three hours at the mall, I may or may not have gone home with a bathing suit.

Instead, I stopped by Just Swimwear today, picked out two or three likely options, tried them on and bought a suit, all in about 20 minutes. I had lots of time when I got home before I needed to go pick up my son from school.

I used this time to watch a documentary: Super High Me, the story of what happened when comedian Doug Benson decided to smoke pot every day for a month. It's such a powerful documentary I had to make some nachos while I watched it. Perhaps not the best use of my time, but better than being stuck in a mall for two hours.

The documentary got me thinking, that instead of shopping, maybe there's something else local I could do for a year. Kidding!  It really did get me thinking how many people are doing these lifestyle experiments. I'll list some of them in an upcoming post, tentatively titled My 100-Mile Super High Size Not Made in China Year of Living Biblically.

* I actually was this delusional recently, though not while being distracted from bathing suit shopping.

Spend Reports #3 and #4

I got behind with my spend reports, so I decided to do them all just before I start shopping only in New Westminster. Maybe I got behind because I was traumatized by having to admit how much I spent in a week in Spend Report #2. (I can't even bring myself to type the amount, you'll have to read that post if you want to know.)

Someone, anyone, please tell me you’ve done the same. I did feel a little better when I went to Wal-Mart during its once-a-year anniversary sale. The bargain shoppers were out in full force and some of them were making big impulse purchases. I saw a woman leave the store with a loaded cart and a 40” TV. She said she went in the store to buy a single toy, but couldn’t resist the $398 TV. Then I pondered that while she has a big-screen TV to show for her spending spree, all I have is a duvet and public humiliation.

Spend Report #3

From Sept. 16 to 22, I spent approximately $480.

I spent about $380 in New Westminster on:
A coat, groceries and miscellaneous items* at Wal-Mart
More items at Wal-Mart including Oreos, soap, Froot Loops and a Christmas present for my nephew 
Groceries at Safeway
Lunch at Opa
Food and rides at the Queensborough Fall Fair

I spent about $100 on:
Groceries (Richmond)
Lunch (Vancouver)
Deodorant (Kiehl’s, Vancouver)
Eye cream (The Bay, Vancouver)
Metered parking – $11!!! (Vancouver)

* Includes Hot Tub Time Machine DVD. It’s a hot tub and a time machine.

Spend Report #4

From Sept. 23 to 30, I spent approximately $460. This is the week I abandon all pretense of trying to shop normally and do a farewell tour of stores around the Lower Mainland that I won’t be spending money in for the next year.

I spent about $120 in New West on:
Spent. Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior (Just $9.99 at Black Bond Books; would have been $22 at Chapters or $21 at
Produce, almost all from B.C. (at Kin’s Farm Market)
Coffee and more coffee (at Starbucks)
A DQ Blizzard (Since when do Blizzards cost almost $5!?!)
Shoes for my son (Shoe Warehouse)

I spent about $340 on:
Groceries (Price-Smart in Hamilton, the Richmond neighbourhood that borders Queensborough)
More groceries (delivered by SPUD, which is based in Vancouver)
Gas (Shell in Hamilton)
Shampoo and conditioner (Metrotown, Burnaby)
Parking and ice cream at the Coliseum (Arcade Fire concert, Vancouver)
T-shirt and groceries (Superstore, Coquitlam) **
Various items at IKEA
Sweater, shirt and belt (Marks, Burnaby)
T-shirt (Warehouse One, Burnaby)

** It won’t be hard to stop shopping at Superstore. I only go a few times a year. My husband objects to its mix of merchandise.
“Is the raw meat supposed to go on top of my clothes or do I put the meat in the cart first?” is the kind of thing he says when I tell him I've been there.
Updated Oct. 8, 2010