Have you ever had Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper soup? It's really really good. And for around $2.50 a box for about 4 servings, not a bad lunch option. But oops. No Trader Joe's in Vancouver.
See these peppers? $1.00 a bag at Young Brother's Produce Market. There are bags of "must use now or they will rot" produce in boxes on the floor that I try to find and buy a couple of each week. This week was a bag of red peppers and a bag of tomatoes.
Then googled a recipe and found this one to see if I could come close. By increasing the amounts and using a can of coconut milk when I blended it, I think my very full crockpot of soup probably has 10 or so servings for probably close to $3. (Maybe a tinge more with the coconut milk) We toasted some of our free Cob's bread with cheese on top and there you have a delicious Sunday night meal.
It's taken these past 2 years of discovery to figure out how to live in Vancouver on a budget. According to Wikipedia, Vancouver is #3 on the world's most liveable city list. Or, according to this opinion, #29, but here, #1 in the World. Awesome to think I live in the most liveable place in the world. Most liveable, that is, if my household income was average $80,544 or lived in an "average"house that costs close to $900,000. Therein lies the rub between the average Vancouverite and me (and I'd propose most students living on a very tight budget!)
Awesome place to live in terms of beauty, things available, convenience, health care... yes... Awesome. In terms of keeping a tight budget, well, that's where the learning curve that I'm working on comes in. As part of my job of a community assistant here in Acadia Park, I've been toying with ideas that build community AND combine efforts to save money and resources. And since I live on campus with students who are all studying something brilliant in how to make this world a better place, I'm sure that my own ideas can only touch the tip of the iceberg, but here's what I've learned and am learning.
- Give away what you don't need and graciously accept what others give you. My daughter was fully clothed from the moment she arrived until now from gifts from grandmothers and hand-me-downs from friends. Another friend gave me 0-2 years clothes for Asher and I think perhaps his only new clothes have come from grandparents and baby gifts! I've never purchased an outfit for him! In turn, because of limited storage, I generally give away or give out on loan their clothes so someone else can use them.
- Share meals as often as you can. It's more fun and you eat a lot better with others! The more food you give away, the more you get in return. It just seems to be the way it is!
- Plan before you shop. If I have a week's worth of meals planned with ingredients I need, I'm much more likely to to buy only those things, and not others that I don't need.
- Shop at produce stands and glean what you can from the dollar bags. I moved here with a 7 month old and made all her baby food from ripe produce stand foods. She ate way more vegetables as a baby than now! Same with my secondborn. Now we can buys bags of fresh fruit and veggies and glean what we can from the dollar bags for soups and stews. Our top stores for buying groceries are No Frills, Young Brothers, and T&T for our Asian cravings.
- Become a vegetarian. I was not born one, but I married one and thankfully have cut down on my groceries SIGNIFICANTLY using beans, tofu, eggs, cheese, fish, tempeh, quinoa and other things lower on the food chain as my main protein sources. Overall, better for the environment and better for your budget. Here are some of our favorite soup recipes you can count on for cheap eats in large quantities.
- Participate in research studies. I've participated in 3 scientific research studies so far. 1 for myself and the effects of exercise on post partum bodies which got me a free boot camp class and 2 for my son which has produced various grocery cards. Every little bit helps!
- If you must buy something big, shop on craigslist or check out local bulletin boards for sales. UBC is such a transient community that people are always moving and selling things. I'm currently sitting on a 1 year old Ikea couch we got for 1/4 of its price from student leaving the country and needing to unload it. Every other major item we have is secondhand (all 4 of our strollers, 2 bikes, table, bed, kitchen stuff--everything!)
- Make friends and share resources. This is probably the most important thing I've learned. We eat dinner with 4 families that are part of a small group from our church weekly. Someone cooks dinner (a pot of soup) each week. That's a whole meal that is covered for us and it's much better to be in community for meals and life together.
- Brew coffee at home. How much money can you save if you don't go to a coffee shop every time you have a craving? I keep this in mind every time I pass the gazillion tempting coffee shops in my neighborhood. This goes for making your meals at home. I just gasped as we tallied up how much it has cost us to go out for that quick and convenient sushi meal 'every once in a while'. If you need something quick, have a backup supply in the freezer of meals you've made in advance.
- Bike when you can-- gas is ridiculously expensive. Or take the bus. Or even better, walk. It's Vancouver-- you might even see snow capped mountains!
- So, what do I do for fun with kids and family? Go to the library. Go to the Old Barn with friends on a rainy day (resist the coffee purchase if you can!) Go to the Acadia Park Commonsblock activities which happen several times a week. Find friends and walk or run with a good jogging stroller in the park. Walk to the beach and back up the hill for a great butt workout. Go to each other's houses and avoid the huge mess staying home in your's will make:) Other suggestions a little further from home-- go to the airport and watch planes take off (really, a friend's son loves this!), go to Ikea and let the kids play in the kids area there. Here's a resource created by parents at UBC with lots of other links and ideas- a must see for families at UBC.
- Get a garden plot. Hours of endless dirt eating fun (for toddlers) and you might even harvest something. Today I made kale chips from a neighbour's garden that has given me permission to eat to my fill. Gotta love gardening in Vancouver.
- Groupon. Need I say more? That's how we go out to eat or do anything in this city!
- Barter and Trade. I got almost all my Christmas gifts by bartering at a craft fair I was selling at. Swap babysitting nights with other friends. Join the babysitting co-op on campus.
- Cut down on disposable paper products. Depending on how much of this you are willing to do... use cloth diapers and wipes instead of disposable when practical, use cloth napkins, get rid of paper towels and use rags, and for the very brave, you can use cloth alternatives for toilet paper and feminine products. Get old fashioned and use a handkerchief instead of tissues.
Ok, so that is some of what I've learned of how to live on a budget in Vancouver with a family. But I'm still a novice and would love your tips and tricks! Hey, this could become a book! Please share your tips and tricks for living on a budget in Vancouver.