Monday, September 23, 2013

No Buying Month - Almost the End

And lo, we see the end of No Buying Month appear on the horizon.  Three weeks down, and one more to go.  I feel like I'm on a long-distance run at this point; I've hit my stride and walk away from the temptation to buy things as naturally as I put one foot in front of the other.  It makes me reflect on why it's necessary to institute a No Buying challenge in the first place, and what that says about the hyper-consumerism that we see in our society.

Take, for example, the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.  I enjoy this flavoured coffee beverage, though sometimes it's too sweet.  But when I'm in the mood for both a sugar and caffeine kick, this is a delicious treat.  Apparently, this fall marks the 10th anniversary of the pumpkin spice latte's introduction to our palettes, and this occasion is being marked with an aggressive marketing campaign and entire new lines of mugs.  Even though a person doesn't need more than two travel mugs (one extra, in case you forget the first one at the office, in the car, or at your mum's house, in my experience), Starbucks makes a killing by redesigning travel mugs every season, and this season's is a wood-grain printed piece of paper with pumpkin spice latte-related words all over it.  We don't need it at all, but there it is for us to consume.  And this is all the time, not just with Starbucks, but with everyone, everywhere.

I was reading an article about Vivienne Westwood, one of my favourite designers, who is anti-capitalist even while running an ostensibly capitalist design house.  This is what she had to say on the topic of consuming: "Buy less, choose carefully, and make it last."  Amen, VW.

Since this is month one, I haven't seen any huge savings pile up in my chequing account.  What I have seen, though, is that my credit card has nothing on it but the pre-authorized debits - those are Netflix ($8) and an organic fruit and vegetable delivery service ($47 every two weeks, with farm fresh eggs) - and I paid a clump of money onto my student debt.  I would normally try to do these, but with limited success on a monthly basis.  The big difference I've noticed this time is that even with clearing my visa and paying some debt down, I have no feelings of stress as we reach the end of the month.  I'm not so irresponsible with my money that I screw myself by the 30th, but there are often months where I'm down to the wire and have to make a few bucks stretch through to pay day.  This month that is not the case.

Even though I keep expecting it to happen, I still haven't started to make a mental list of things to buy in October.  This is wonderful.  Instead I'm starting to plan in advance for expenses that I know are coming up, and I'm quite content to avoid buying lots of random stuff once No Buying month is over.  Only one more week, and I'm totally confident that I can make it through.  Not even a pumpkin spice latte can make me break my not buying.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

DIY: Cocktail Onions for the perfect Gibson

As I mentioned in the last post, on the weekend I harvested our onion crop.  Along with some good-sized onions perfect for cooking with, we got a bunch of teeny tiny little guys, and I had no idea what we would do with them.  Then, an idea struck me:  I was pickling some green beans for Caesars, so why not pickle the onions too and make my own cocktail onions?  After all, who doesn't love a Gibson?

Actually, probably there are many people who don't like a Gibson, but I'm not one of them.  A Gibson is basically a classic dry gin martini.  Just gin and dry vermouth.  The distinguishing trait of a Gibson is the onion (nowadays, at least).

Peeling the skins off

If you also like Gibsons, then you should try making cocktail onions in your own kitchen.  They are shockingly easy to do.  Here it is, laid out:

Boil your tiny onions for about 5 minutes.

Drain them and toss them into ice water, to stop the cooking (shock 'em!).

Depending on the size of the batch you make, use varying amounts of the following:  water, salt, bay leaf, juniper berries, whole clove, peppercorns, cardamom, and maple syrup.  I had a small jar, so I used 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove, 6 peppercorns, 1 cardamom pod, and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.  I had no juniper berries around.  Lemon peel optional as well.

Bring this mixture just to a boil and take it off the heat.
Pearly whites

Peel the outer skins off your tiny onions so that you're left with a shiny pearly mini-onion.

Put the onions in a jar and pour the mix over them.  You can leave it at that and put them in the fridge, or you can put the lid on the jar and process it like you would for jam (i.e. in a boiling water bath or in the oven).

Then you're done!  Yay!  In about 2 weeks you'll have cocktail onions for your martinis.  I've got a week and a half to wait, and I'm really excited to try them when they're ready. I'll be sure to report back.

Cocktail onions!

Update, November 14:  the cocktail onions are delicious!  they're onion-y with the slightest hint of sweetness from the maple syrup.  We made Gibsons last night, and these little onions added a lovely hint of flavour to the gin.  Marvellous!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Finding Time in No Buying Month

the fruits of our labour! leeks and onions - ready for the soup pot
Onions and Leeks from our garden
Ten days down and going strong in No Buying Month.  While there are still a full three weeks to go in September, I’m feeling good and doing really well at Not Buying.  I haven’t caved in to any coffees at work, and the weekend was delightfully free of consumption. 

Amanda and I were talking on Saturday night about how we feel like the first week of Not Buying had gone, and both of us agreed that we feel inspired.  There’s something incredibly liberating about No Buying Month; that early feeling of freedom from impulse to buy that I described last week hasn’t faded.  In fact, it has kind of settled in and feels like a normal, valuable, easy way to be.  Amanda has actually decided that she will Not Buy every-other month.  I am thinking about instituting that myself.

Despite having no plans last weekend, the days were very full.  Drew and I are both on 9-5 schedules, now that he’s in physiotherapy school, so we spent most of Sunday cooking.  I harvested the onions and leeks we’d been growing on our roof, and pickled some green beans with jalapenos from our pepper plants.  I love spicy beans in Caesars.  I also made some cocktail onions (for Gibsons! Yum!) with the tiny onions that accompanied the big ones from our garden.  Last night I made creamy leek and mushroom soup with our harvest, and it’s delicious.  I find cooking to be relaxing and incredibly rewarding, and now that I have few plans during the week in an attempt to Not Buy, I’m finally going to have time to bake bread and make strawberry jam. 

As an added bonus to this experiment, even though Amanda and I said ‘entertainment spending’ was OK, I’m doing my best to keep my weeknights open to Not Buy and to get myself in the habit of not booking up crazy weeks all the time.  It’s easy for me to let my schedule get out of control by agreeing to meet up with people I like, to do things I like to do.  It’s not bad, but it’s tiring, and I don’t end up having any nights at home with nothing to do, when I could just read a novel, paint, or cook.  Any home-night is necessarily full of chores that I haven’t done at other times.  

Not Buying is helping me pull balance into my schedule, and I love that.  It's a return to my first months in Toronto, when I rarely had any plans at night.  But, instead of wishing that I had things to do, now I'm looking forward to the quiet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

No Buying Month

On a sunny day in August in the Distillery district of Toronto, my friend, Amanda, and I decided that we were going to do a little experiment.  We were discussing two books, one that she had read, and one which I had read and posted about last year, both of which are related to finances and spending habits.  We thought to ourselves, how can we do better with our money?  Do we consume too much, too often?  What would we be willing to forego?  This month, we’re going to find out the answer to these questions. 

You see, this month, Amanda and I aren’t going to buy anything that doesn’t need to be bought.  Food is something that needs to be bought, so we’ll buy that.  Coffee at cafés is an important part of Amanda’s professional life, since she has a morning meeting with her assistant every day in a neutral (non-office) environment, so that will be bought too.  I don’t have to buy coffee at cafés, so I won’t.  Certain kinds of entertainment can be purchased – I have a bachelorette party to attend, and had tickets to a Christian Louboutin exhibit and a First Thursdays night at the AGO to see Ai Weiwei, so beverages at these events will be purchased. 

However, what will not be bought includes the following: clothing, shoes, accessories of all kinds, books, movies, stationary (I love stationary), bottles of wine (whaaaaa??? Oh wait, I have a huge stockpile, whew!), home décor stuff, kitchenware, etc.  You get the idea. 

On Amanda’s recommendation, I downloaded an application for my phone called Mint Financial.  It’s an app that tracks your bank accounts and credit cards, and keeps a running total for you.  It also automatically categorizes purchases based on industry, so you can see exactly what you’ve spent and where.  My tallies for August were astounding; I had no large purchases, and yet I’d managed to spend a pile of money by nickel-and-diming my chequing account to death.  I know that small purchases add up, but to see them all tallied with the sum at the bottom was really impressive.

It’s currently day 3 of this experiment.  I spent day 1 in lower Manhattan, walking around with Drew and essentially browsing through shops, but with ‘no buying month’ in my head I really had no motivation to buy things.  I was thinking about the long list of expenditures on Mint, and thinking about how little I really need. 

Granted, it’s early days yet, and there are 27 more days in this month, but I feel really good about ‘no buying month.’  Similar to the example of the smoker on an aeroplane, the knowledge that I’ve given a commitment (to Amanda, at least) that I won’t buy anything (outside of food and certain entertainment-related things) seems to make the temptation to buy things evaporate.  Often at the beginning of the month I’ll line up expected expenses – I want a pair of jeans, I need new cushions for the patio – and do a sort of mini-budget that I rarely hold myself to.  This month, I know I can’t buy these things, so I’m not even thinking about what I might want to buy.  I wonder if this will get pushed into October, and I’ll go on some kind of tear buying all the things I thought about?  I hypothesize that I won’t; I think many desires of this kind fade away with time, because they’re not earnest desires or needs as much as passing fancies. 

In the interim, I feel like I have all kinds of money and nothing to do with it, and that’s a really good feeling.  This feeling is so rewarding in itself that it might just be enough motivation to keep this ‘no buying’ business going.