As of today, I’ve been on maternity leave since October 2018. Our son was born in November 2018 and my husband wrapped up his paternity leave in January 2019. We’re now in April, which means I have been flying solo as a full-time homemaker for five months.
Not only do I spend my days raising our son, I also spend them doing chores. Anyone who knows me and/or who has lived with me will know that there are some chores that I really can’t stand doing. Ever since moving out of my parents’ house at 18 I’ve been something of an undomestic goddess: I am very good at making messes in the name of DIY projects and culinary adventures, but not so good at cleaning up right away.
But now that we have a human baby and two furbabies, those days of letting any of my chores pile up are long behind me. In the name of sanitary and sane living for our entire family, my mornings and evenings are ruled by a chore rotation that allows me to keep things orderly in the small spaces of time I have that aren’t devoted to the baby.
And on top of keeping a baby alive while keeping our home clean, I’ve also been put in charge of our finances. Up until now my husband has been our CFO, but we both decided that it was finally time for me to take the reins and learn how to properly manage a true grown-up budget. It’s not like I’ve never managed money – I managed my own when I was single and scraped by – but now as a married adult with a child managing money is an entirely different challenge. In addition to keeping our living expenses reasonable, we are working on paying off the last of our debt as well as finally starting to set aside proper savings.
As both the new family CFO and head of household maintenance, I’m constantly trying to keep our finances well in the black without us losing a comfortable and decent standard of living. In the last few months I’ve learned a lot and I know as we progress through my maternity leave and eventually back into me being a working mother I’ll keep learning.
But right now I feel like I’m ready to start sharing what I’ve learned so far with you! In light of this, I’ll be breaking down my experiences into separate blog posts in two new Demipinte Series called Snazzy Shoestrings, which is all about how we’re living happily while cutting costs and reducing our expenses, and Spending Smart for the Home On… for my personal insights on very specific items that we own versus more popular versions of the same thing.
Today I’ll be doing the two of them together, but going forward I might split them into separate posts especially if they don’t relate to one another. However, this week the Snazzy Shoestrings subject works really well with the one for Spending Smart, so it just seemed right to launch them together in one post.
Now, before we begin I will say that some of these are things we’ve been doing ever since we first started dating and others are things we started when we became parents, but they’ve all saved us a fairly decent amount of money to date. Also, I’m not sponsored by any brands or companies and I’m not earning any money off this blog at this point in time.
Alright. Here we go!
Reducing Household Waste: The Food Budget
We’re not a zero-waste family and at this point in time, becoming one is not a goal we have in mind. But what we are striving for is a reduction in our physical household waste so that we reduce financial waste, especially in our food budget. We found a lot of waste in our groceries (overbuying food or forgetting about what we bought were our biggest pitfalls) and in eating out (we ordered take-out more in our son’s first year of life than we did in all of 2018 prior to his birth). We approached this challenge from a couple of different angles.
We keep a master list of core items and food staples for the rest of our regular meals at home and we only buy what we need of perishables. We revise this master list every few months and we shop for these at various markets and grocery stores so that we can take advantage of what fresh local produce is in season as well as any weekly sales or flyer deals, and depending on where we shop any given week we also have opportunities to use store rewards programs such as PC Optimum to trade in points we’ve collected on previous purchases for a monetary amount off a larger grocery bill.
We do have a Costco membership as well, since shopping at Costco can give you a really good bang for your buck if you do it right. Some of the few prepackaged foods we eat as well as many of our bulk food items and non-edible household essentials are priced better at Costco than other stores we have access to where we live, so we get them there while store-hopping around each week for everything else.
One thing we decided to invest in was a GoodFood subscription. Having the GoodFood subscription gives us new recipes to try without us overbuying items we normally don’t buy, and gives us a break from our usual menu without the price tag of eating out or having food delivered. Our plan is the basic box of three meals (two servings per meal) each week, which costs us $65 CAD. It’s still not as cheap as cooking entirely from scratch for those three meals, but it’s not as expensive as eating out whenever we’re tired of our staple, more basic home-cooked meals. What we really like about the GoodFood box is that we get exactly what we need for each meal, we’re sticking to our policy of eating produce that’s in season, we’re supporting local farmers, and all of the packaging can be recycled or reused.
By the way, we still do leave room in our budget for restaurant food, but by setting a hard limit on what we can spend on restaurant food every month we’ve managed to drastically reduce our expenditure on restaurants. What’s nice about our restaurant budget is that whatever we don’t spend on restaurants in one month gets carried over into the next month, so once in a while we can afford to go out somewhere really nice for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. In fact, the prospect of being able to have a special date somewhere really nice is such a motivator that sometimes we actually don’t eat out at all one month so that for the next month we have double our restaurant budget. And we’re not above using Groupon vouchers from time to time, either.
Working to reduce not only what we spend on food but also on actual food waste means overall we’re saving a fair amount every month in this budget category. Food you throw out, no matter how cheap it was, is still wasted money.
Are you also trying reduce your spending on your food budget without resorting to the eating habits of a broke college student? How are you getting the most bang for your buck out of your groceries? Let us know in the comments below!
And now for…
Spending Smart for the Home On…
We stopped buying carbonated beverages a long time ago, including carbonated water , but we actually drink sparkling water pretty much every day. And we drink a lot of it.
Instead of buying Perrier or San Pellegrino, we use a carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinder to get our fix of fizz. We actually opted for a rented CO2 tank over a SodaStream machine, which is widely recommended when you’re trying to consume less sugary soda but also keeping up at home with your cravings for bubbles in order to reduce the cost of doing so. For example, The Financial Diet channel on YouTube cites the SodaStream in a few of their videos as an appliance worth investing in to save you money in the long run.
Before we go any further and start talking about how much things cost, I’m going to point out now that nothing below factors in sales tax, which where we live (Quebec) works out to about 15%. However, because here in Canada the listed price doesn’t include the tax when you’re shopping, I’m going to follow that model and give all the figures as pre-tax amounts.
Here’s a basic rundown of SodaStream prices, using figures in Canadian dollars from their Canadian website as well as prices from Canadian Tire:
- Starter pack: Anywhere from $89.99 for the cheapest model at Canadian Tire to $199.00 for the most expensive one on the SodaStream site; starter pack includes machine and one cylinder of CO2
- Accessories: As shown on the SodaStream site, accessories range from bottle caps at $3.79 for 2 to bottles from $9.99 for one 1L bottle to $19.99 for a 3-pack of 1L bottles; and fancier 1L glass carafes for $15.99
- Flavour packs: Individual packs at $5.49 for Drops, $6.99 for Classic, $7.99 for Waters, and $9.99 for Organics, or a variety pack of 3 Fruit Drops flavours for $11.99
- Spare/extra CO2 cylinder measuring 14.5oz (just under 1lb) of CO2 to create 60L of fizzy water: $35.99 at Canadian Tire or $39.99 from SodaStream’s website, then extra for the gas refill
Using our own realistic purchasing habits and reasonings as a guide for a SodaStream purchase, let’s say my husband and I made an initial purchase of the following SodaStream products:
- cheapest starter pack: $89.99
(comes with a tank and a machine as do all the starter kits but it’s $30 cheaper than the next model up)
- one glass carafe: $15.99
(this is me being extra — it’s for when we’re having a nice meal with people and the table setting needs to look pretty and Instagram-worthy)
- one two-pack of extra caps: $3.79
(since caps tend to get misplaced around here)
- one spare cylinder: $35.99
(so we don’t have to rush immediately to the store for a refill every time a cylinder runs low, we can pop the next one in and wait to/forget to replace the first one for a week)
- one flavour pack: $6.99
(we actually don’t flavour our fizzy water, but I’ll be honest and say that if we were to buy a SodaStream we’d want to try at least one Classic flavour)
Even going for the cheapest starter pack possible, our hypothetical SodaStream system would cost us $152.75 for the initial purchase, pre-tax.
With a rented CO2 cylinder we’re still able to carbonate our own water at home. Our CO2 cylinder rental from a company here in Montreal called Air Liquide and it’s huge: it’s 50lbs of CO2. We store it in the kitchen next to our water cooler.
If you’re wondering why we would bother with a gigantic, unwieldy thing full of carbon dioxide that takes up floor space instead of purchasing a machine that can sit elegantly on our counter and doesn’t look so scary, we’ll have to do some math. Actually, a fair bit of it. Here we go:
- cylinder rental (50lbs cylinder for 1 year): $75.00
- gas lock line & carbonator cap: $30.99
- regulator: $56.99
- 3 reusable glass jugs that originally held 64L of beer each: Free
(an old roommate of mine bought them for the beer, I kept them to reuse as serving jugs)
- 1 each of empty 500mL, 1L, and 2L plastic soda bottles: Free
(we get these as we need them from our friends and family whenever they have empty ones — they have to be bottles that contained soda or other carbonated beverages in order to properly introduce the CO2 to the H2O)
Pre-tax total initial investment: $162.98. That’s $10.23 more up front than the SodaStream system, but hang on a sec. We’ve got some more math in terms of the cost for consuming fizzy water using both methods, but for the sake of simplicity I will not factor in SodaStream flavourings (and realistically for my husband and myself we’d either not finish the flavouring within a year because it’d get lost at the back of the fridge, or we’d just not bother buying more once it’s gone.) From here on out we’re talking just bubbly H2O.
With a SodaStream, one cylinder is 14.5oz — which is a little under one pound, but for the sake of easier math let’s call it 1lb. The 1lb SodaStream cylinder produces 60L of fizzy water, so if we drink 1L of carbonated water per day, it should take us 60 days, or roughly two months, before we need a new cylinder. At Canadian Tire, we can exchange an old cylinder a new one is $19.99 ($16 off the original price of $35.99 for a brand-new one). Even with two canisters we’d only be replacing one at a time, so instead of replacing one canister six times we’d be replacing two canisters three times each. In a year the refills for just the CO2 every two months or so would cost us $119.94, bringing the first year of owning a SodaStream to $272.69 before taxes.
Now, for the CO2 cylinder system. Going by the same math as SodaStream (1lb of C02 producing 60L of carbonated water), the 50lb tank gives 3000L of carbonated water. We’d have to drink 3000L of carbonated water in a year to empty the tank so as to require a refill in the first year, which is ridiculous — but even though we don’t require a refill, it still costs us $75 a year as a rental. Still, though, $75 a year is still $44.94 cheaper per annum than SodaStream refills.
To deplete the 50lbs tank entirely, we’d need to drink 1L of fizzy water every day for 8 years. Without inflation (again, for the sake of simpler math) the rental cost per year would be $600. Under the same parameters our SodaStream refills, on the other hand, would total up to $959.42. So, over 8 years in our home, a rented CO2 cylinder would be $359.42 less than a purchased SodaStream.
Here’s an extra little kicker: the cost of $119.94 per annum for SodaStream refills assumes a steady, unchanging consumption of 1L of carbonated water every day for a year. A household than consumes more than 1L of carbonated water per day will require more frequent cylinder replacements, driving the cost higher to own and use a SodaStream every year. However, because a CO2 cylinder rental is a flat rate per year regardless of how much CO2 has been used in that year, consuming more carbonated water each day with a CO2 cylinder doesn’t end up costing more per year. It might need to be refilled in 5 or 6 years instead of 8, but it still only costs $75 a year regardless of how much you consume that year.
And let’s say you’re a normal person who can drink flat water every day and only occasionally consumes carbonated water, but is thinking of investing in a SodaStream to enjoy homemade fizzy water a couple of times a week. Here in Canada, 12L of Perrier at Costco (24 bottles of 500mL each) is $24.99. Now let’s say your version of occasionally consuming carbonated water is 1L per week. At that rate it’ll take you 12 weeks to get through that one case of Perrier. Expand this to 1L per week for 52 weeks to go for an entire year this way, which means you’re consuming 4.5 cases of Perrier in a year. Round that up to 5 cases for the sake of simple math, and that’s $124.95 for a year’s worth of bubbling water for you.
If you were to buy the SodaStream system as represented in my household’s simulation above at a cost of $152.75 to fulfill fizzy water consumption of 1L a week, you do not break dead even with your initial investment within one year and you would not even start on your extra cylinder. A more realistic investment for somebody only consuming 1L of carbonated water a week would be just the starter kit, but if you go for the extra cylinder on the mere possibility that you might consume more carbonated water if you can make it yourself, that would cost you $125.98.
While it’s a difference of only $1.03 it still means your Perrier habit costs less than the most basic SodaStream setup with an extra canister that you may or may not use. If you cut out the extra cylinder for the dead-basic initial investment of $89.99, then you save $34.96 a year on carbonated water on 1L a week, and that is the only scenario in which a SodaStream works out to be cheaper than just buying Perrier at a consumption rate of 1L per week.
Still here? Okay. Let’s say you’re one of those people who’s looking at a basic SodaStream to replace consuming Perrier Slim cans once or twice a week. Here in Canada a 10-pack of 250mL Perrier Slims is $4.95. If you consume one can each week, it’ll take you 10 weeks and you’ll need 6 packs for an entire year, spending a whopping $29.70. Consuming two cans a week will have you spending $59.40, which is $30.59 cheaper than the cheapest SodaStream without any extras.
BONUS ROUND: Remember how I said above that none of my figures here account for Quebec’s 15% tax rate? If you still feel like getting whacked across the face with figures, multiply all the totals I provided by 1.15 and you’ll get an even better idea of the cost of consuming bubbly water at home is around here!