The Year of Frugal Living - Part One: Housing

On January 6th of this year, I was scheduled to return to work from my year of maternity leave (yes, we get a whole year in Canada - one more reason I love this country). Instead of going back, I told the wonderful organization with whom I had worked for five years, that, this time around, I was cutting the chain to my desk chair. I was going to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent... Eeeep!

This is not all that unusual. Stay at home parents do still exist...even if I have a hard time finding them at the park at 8 am. Our situation is a bit tricky, however, because Luke is still a full-time, stay-at-school student. The guy loves learning. So, unlike four years ago when we were full fledged DINK's (dual income, no kids), we are now NIKE's (No income, kids everywhere). 

Luke graduates next May and better become gainfully employed in his dream job, in the field of wind energy, in the few months following. In the meantime, ie. for 18 months, we are living with neither of us working. 

How are we going to do it?
Excellent question.  I'm hoping I'll discover a lot of change in the couch.

Just kidding.

We actually budgeted our plan out fairly thoroughly during the past few years. That is to say, when both of us were working during the summer months and the like, we'd continue to live just on my income and to save Luke's. We also put aside a bit of my wage too, giving us a nice little nest egg for the 18+ months of no working. It's nowhere near what we would have made before, however. In fact, it's under 50%.

So we're having to get creative.

The absolute biggest expense for the average adult is housing. We were renters up until three years ago. A lot of people think renting is a waste of money, because you aren't building equity in a property. If, however, you have a house with a huge mortgage and little money down, you're actually just paying a heck of a lot of interest and not a lot of principle. Not to mention the additional costs of taxes, utilities and home maintenance (which can be huge). It pays to lay it all out on paper before you leap. All that being said, we had saved up enough to buy a house with 25% down payment (thus saving the hefty cost of CMHC loan insurance) and we were in the market for an income property.

I have to admit, I wasn't big on the idea of buying a duplex...
"Ugh. Now someone's going to know that I can't garden and my kids run around pant-less in the backyard all day."

Luke, on the other hand, was totally mad about the idea of the "du-per".

So our first home purchase is a duplex. What this means for us is that we have no back door on our house. Instead there is a fully contained, private-entry apartment at the back. We can't hear anything front to back and the only time I really notice they are there, is when I want to have a hot shower and the water isn't all that hot because they've beat me to it (a bigger hot water heater may be in our future and let's be serious, I rarely shower). All this to say, it's had a very minimal impact on our lifestyle.

The best thing about the apartment is that is brings in 600 dollars a month. 600 bucks that requires us to do very little to earn. The apartment covers the bulk of our mortgage payment leaving us with utilities, taxes and maintenance. All in all, we're paying almost exactly what we were to rent, except we can enjoy the space and lifestyle a home can offer while paying down a significant chunk of our principle each year (thank you low interest rates!).

The location of our house is also a big money-saver. We bought in an area which is only a few kilometers from downtown. It has had a bad reputation in the past, but is really burgeoning into an activist-filled walkable neighbourhood. We love it. Best of all, it offers us a farmer's market, library branch, coffee shops, theatre, community center, my lovely in-laws and a sketchy karaoke bar all within a ten- minute walking radius. It's also on a major bus route and allows Luke the ability to always bike or take public transit to school. Less driving = money in the bank and time to do what we care about.

Utilities are another area where we've been trying to focus our savings. Our house is pretty small. Our portion is only 800 square feet. My bedroom is pretty much all bed. It's cool though. It's cozy, it's open and bright and best of all it's pretty cheap to run!

We have a gas furnace and A/C, which are quite economical, but even so we try and keep the house at a reasonable temperature. In the winter we wear slippers, in the summer we don't expect to sleep under a duvet. We try to turn off lights when we leave the room (I hear my father's pleading voice in my head if I don't), we run the dishwasher with the entire day's dishes after 7 pm, we make our kids share the bath, we rarely change the fish bowl, if it's yellow we let it ...You get the drift.

We thought we were saving pretty much all we could in the utility department and then we had an epiphany. We could hang our laundry to dry in our basement.

I know, I know, this isn't like the discovery of stem cells. People have been hanging laundry to dry for eons. But the stuff from the dryer is just so snuggly and smooth and lintless. And honestly, our basement is TEENY TINY, like, smaller than that font was.

"Too bad," we told our past selves, "give it up!"

Instead, we purchased a solid 30 dollar drying rack from Home Hardware, Luke strung up a rope from one end of the basement to the other, and we started drying. Our shirts are so stiff they stand on their own and our towels can double as drywall sanders, but we're so pleased with ourselves, we don't care.

Our quest for more housing related cash continues. Someday, we dream of buying a triplex, or maybe even a six-plex... a girl's gotta dream after all.

Our house - 2010

Now that I'm done my blathering, any tips from you?


  1. We're all about saving on utilities too. For years I've been hanging our laundry on the shower rod. With only 2 people it means I can put up about 2 loads and skip the dryer. Trying to get my partner to remember to turn off the lights is another story but I think I'm wearing him down. We use extra blankets in the winter and I close all our blinds in the summer during the day and open the windows after dark. We manage to keep our 800 sqft to around 45 bucks a month and get around 130 in credits at the end of the year. I'm sure there are other things I could be doing: do you have any links you like to use?

    1. You guys are energy-saving superstars!!! Our favourite site for all things money-saving is: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/
      It's also hilarious.

  2. Have you tried putting vinegar in the wash to help with the stiff clothes? It helps a lot but still doesn't give you that fluffy dryer softness.
    We've saved a lot by making our own laundry detergent! It really takes no time, is easy, makes your house smell nice, and lasts a long time! This is the recipe I use. http://whynotsew.blogspot.ca/2010/08/how-to-make-homemade-laundry-detergent.html
    I add some essential oils and had to play around with how much water to add but it always turns out!
    Being married to a Dutch man really helps but other than that we save money by;
    -grow whatever we can ourselves and stock up on things when they are in season (we still have rhubarb and berries in the freezer haha)
    -have a giant cooking day every other week to freeze meals for our lazy nights so we won't be tempted to eat out
    -stopped renting hot water heater
    -make our own cleaners
    -bought our big appliances out of the clearance section :)

  3. By the sounds of things you must be in OEV - my very favourite part of London. Sketchy yes, but it's pretty much the new Wortley.

  4. I second kriston's giant cooking day idea. Also keep major baking (Turkey, Ham, etc.) to off-peak times like weekends, ovens use a lot of power. I'm not sure who your electricity provider is in London but you should be able to get an hourly report of your electricity so it's easy to correlate with what's happening and adjust things that cause spikes.

    Since we're nickel and diming: credit cards often offer rewards like 1% cash back, and come free with many bank accounts. Assuming your responsible enough to to always pay the full balance back every month (or all the time) using one for all your purchases will get you a nice cheque at the end of the year.

    In the hot summer, moving air is a lot more bearable than still air. With some ceiling fans you should be able to keep your A/C off a lot more often. (I'm still one of those people who doesn't believe in paying for A/C, so we use a lot of fans, and ice - also trips to the library.)

    Finally I might be stating the obvious, but for thrifty living, thrift shops are invaluable - especially for furniture, and toys.