Frugal Friday with Erika Shea

Erika Shea and her daughter Frances

By Erika Shea

Last week when Leah proposed to make Frugal Friday a regular feature – and with a guest contributor at that – I had to hold myself back from dropping everything I was working on (making myself ridiculously late for a meeting on the other side of town) to e-mail with the subject line Oh me! Me, me, me!

As I got in the car and headed east I thought maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t send that e-mail – maybe I should think a little more about where I’m going to find the time to contribute to Dream Big Cape Breton on a regular basis. But I didn’t think about that at all. I thought about how to save money with credit cards and financial institutions, how to save a little money at the grocer, how to save on clothing and gas and shipping charges and cable. And I thought about why for me, now more than ever, saving money is a priority.

I recently went back to work after almost two years at home with my daughter Frances. I feel as though every minute away from her and every penny of income I earn during that time needs to go further, needs to count. Having Frances also means another little mouth to feed and little person clothe and a little mind to think of educating not only now, but also twenty years from now, when your run-of-the-mill undergraduate degree will probably cost $156,753.

Last, though definitely not least, we want her to have a healthy relationship with money. To think about the cost of money (what we do and sometimes what we give up in order to earn it), to think about spending money ethically, and to never ever assume that there are more toys or clothes (or dollars) if we use these ones irresponsibly. We hope that by spending our money carefully and intentionally she’ll learn to reflect on where our money goes, where it should go, and realize that if we thoughtfully spend what we earn, we won’t have to spend too many of our days thinking about money at all.

I am happy to have this beautiful space to share with you some of the things we’ve picked up along the way. And I hope you’ll share what you’ve picked up too! We truly do have so much to share with and learn from each other. And while some of our thriftiness-tips are universal, some may be specific to the community that you live in, so please share, share, share! I am hoping to post on a different theme each week, like banking or groceries. That way we can all add our own tips on that topic in the comments section making it easier for new and return readers alike to browse our shared smarts by theme.

If you have a few seconds today, what is it that you find gets more and more expensive with each passing day? Gas? Rent? Insurance? For me it’s food. I never cease to be amazed at what it costs to feed our small family of just three (and two cats, but they don’t get to eat at the table). At the same time, as a wise friend of mine says, “I feel like the wealthiest person in the world when I can afford to eat well.”


Erika lives in the historic Northend of Sydney with her handsome partner Rob and beautiful, but increasingly mischievous toddler, Frances. When she dreams about having free time, it is filled with sailing, knitting and gardening. Since it is a dream and in no way tied to her actual track record, the garden is thriving.

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11 Responses to Frugal Friday with Erika Shea

  1. Wilson says:

    Frugal Friday, what a great thought. No one better to contribute than Erika, and what an awesome sailor-lady she is!!!
    For (most of) us here in Canada we take for granted the task of running to the grocery store to “choose” what we’ll have for supper.
    After recently returning from some Bahamian and Caribbean southern islands, food is not as plentiful or cheap. Nor is gasoline. A large bag of Lay’s potato chips =$8.99, a loaf of bread = $6.00, etc. But they all smile!
    My point… we have it made here, especially here in Cape Breton. Sure there’s plenty of less fortunate people than we are, and as bad as we think our Government might be, we’re not living in a Dictatorship or Communist life style. God love our freedom!
    So we should all smile too! Just like Erika and Leah.

    • leahcnoble says:

      Thanks Wilson for your thoughts! It’s true that it is good to acknowledge what we DO have, here in Canada. But, as you allude to when you write “most of us in Canada” there are many who have to go without, and they’re often invisible to the rest of us. It’s the pinch of poverty that sends so many Cape Bretoners out west, and we’re hoping this column helps us all to save our hard-earned pennies.

  2. nona macdonald-dyke says:

    A friend once told me the hardest thing to teach a child is ‘credit’ because they see us whip out a card instead of money and believe that that card is the key to money and everything in the world he/she could ever want. I wished he’d told me how to teach children about credit while my children were growing up. He said to teach it with a little black book. Start giving your child an allowance, and he/she records it in the little black book. That allowance is their money to do with (within reason) as he/she wishes. But, there’ll come a day when there’s a dream of a new toy etc. that the allowance doesn’t cover at once, instead offer to loan the money to the child, interest free, and the child agrees to pay back so much from her allowance for the new item, and she record’s it each time in the little black book until the debt is repaid. What this does is teach them about credit, record keeping, honesty and also they ask themselves if the new item they want to buy on credit is worth having. Hope this helps someone.

  3. Mary-Beth says:

    Along the idea of grocery costs- when my sister and I were growing up money was tight, but we never realized it because, among other things, there was always plenty of food. As I began buying my own groceries on limited income I asked my mom how she did it. A few of her tips were as follows:
    – Buy the 3 cheapest fruits and vegetables and learn different ways to prepare them. As the seasons change so will the produce so you won’t get bored of them. (bonus: it will likely result in more local produce).
    – Use the tricks (and recipes) from the depression- the economy has changed (and changed again) but the logic remains. Ex. pour boiling water over rhubarb and you can get away with using half the sugar!
    -Speak with the produce manager about what’s in the back. Often there are apples that aren’t good enough to sell… but perfect for making applesauce!
    -Don’t be shy to cruise the 50% rack. If you’re using the product in a reasonable time frame paying full price is just silly.
    -Know the prices of staple products- than you can spot a deal.
    -If you freeze the odds and ends of veggies you can use them to make a veggie soup stock when you’ve gathered enough.

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  5. Alicia Lake says:

    The frugality issue surrounding food is one that I have been looking at over the years because I choose to eat mostly local food but cannot spend a fortune feeding my family. We have come to realize the importance of food value and also the necessity of putting thought into meal planning. One example of this is that we only buy free range chicken from a local farm, but we generally buy their whole chickens at 3.99 lb. and with proper planning we get 3 dinners and several lunches for 4 ppl out of one chicken. We also have developed relationships with local farmers who will sometimes sell slightly less then perfect produce for a reduced cost especially if we are buying a big order like 100 pounds of potatoes to last the winter. Another important thing we do is to think about what we spend and make choices based on our values. We prioritize good quality food and supporting local producers we do not value supporting Multi-national fast-food joints, therefore our kids probably only get burgers once a year or so – which no doubt reduces our budget.
    Frugality is a complex issue I realize. We all look to find ways to afford to feed ourselves and buy the things that we need, but so often when we see a cheap price it means that something has been compromised to make that item cheap. It could be the environment, it could be health or safety, it could be wages of foreign workers or it could be our neighbors livelihood that was compromised, but cheap prices generally require compromise.
    We need to be mindful to ensure that we save money while living lightly. Thank you for creating this space for discussions Leah and Erica!

    • leahcnoble says:

      Thanks for the comment, Alicia! You raise a very good point when it comes to considering costs. Namely, that we need to ask, why is a cost so cheap? How did it get to be so cheap? What was compromised?

  6. jay mac says:

    One frugal tip for groceries is to sign up for coupons, especially from online sites such as; sign up for all of them and then trade with friends. For the cost of a stamp you can also have “coupon trains” (with friends or through sites) where you send your unused coupons on and people select the ones they want and send ones they can’t use on to you.

    I agree with the person who said to get the 3 fruits. We do buy single apples and fill a bag, but we look for the ones that are lowest price that week. We always get bananas because they are so cheap… and usually another fruit that is on sale. Don’t pass up frozen veg and frozen fruit (use in oatmeal or smoothies) as you can often get better prices than for fresh stuff.

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