My Favourite Reusable Grocery Bag Solution

Hi friends! This is a super-quick post I’ve been meaning to share since the spring.

I just wanted to tell you about a cool product I’ve been loving. No one asked me to write it or gave me anything for it. I just bought something I loved and wanted to tell you about it.

In my quest to live simpler and produce less waste, I’ve switched to reusable products as much as possible. One of the first and easiest transitions I made was to get reusable grocery bags instead of using single-use plastic bags.

Reusable grocery bags and tote bags have become very popular, at least where I’m from. Most stores sell them for a dollar or two, and some even give them away for free occasionally. Everyone has a stack of these totes by now. I collected a good stash a couple of years ago. It takes a bit of effort to remember to take them into the store with you every time you shop, but after a few months I was pretty good at remembering.

But the problem with these cheap totes is that they are extremely bulky. And ugly. They take up a bunch of space in your trunk or your mudroom or wherever you keep them. And you have to keep them handy so you can easily grab them before you walk into a store. So they’re always laying all over the place. They’re usually a bunch of different sizes and styles so they’re hard to consolidate into a tidy stack. Am I right? Do you struggle with this, too?

My stash looked like the pile on the left:

grocery bags, before and after(OK, you can already guess from the photos where this is going.)

That big ugly pile had to be moved from the trunk of the van to the kitchen to the front room, and back to van. It was always in transition. Always in the way.

I kinda hated it.

But I owned one really cool little bag. I’d received it as a Christmas gift a few years back. It was attractively designed, durable, and best of all, it folded neatly into a cute little package that fit in my purse. I always had it with me, because after I emptied it I could just fold it up and tuck it back into my purse.

All of a sudden it hit me that I could replace all my mismatched tote bags with a small collection of these little foldable bags.

They’re quite a bit more expensive, of course. I bought mine at a local gift shop for $7 each. But they’ve been so worth the investment.

Look at the difference:

grocery bags, old vs newWould you rather have that pile of assorted tote bags scattered all over the trunk of your car, or that little handful of cute bags in your purse? The latter makes my minimalist heart happy.

You only need a few because they hold so much. They’re so strong and roomy. I can fit my entire week’s grocery haul in four bags. See?


As soon as I’ve emptied the bags and put away my groceries at home, I take a minute to fold them all back up and stick them in my purse. It literally takes about 60 seconds and they’re ready to go, no matter how spontaneous the shopping trip. I almost never get plastic grocery bags anymore.

The bags I have are made by Envirosax. You can get a set of 5 from Amazon for about $30-35. Take a gander at all the adorable patterns you can get. Sweet, right? I especially love this set. I’ve had my first bag for at least five years and it gets used at least once a week — usually stuffed with heavy groceries — and it’s still in perfect condition.

I highly recommend them!

(PS: The links are affilate links, so if you click through and make a purchase I get a small commission. Thanks for your support!)




What I’m Into: September 2016


I didn’t write a What I’m Into Post for the last two months because I wasn’t into much.

I’ve been so busy with appointments with Felix, grappling with more and more diagnoses, struggling against depression, and, to make matters worse, our libraries have been closed due to a labour disruption. For over three months. Yeah. It sucks. That has meant very little reading and very few movies for us.

We went to the thrift store a couple of times and took home armfuls of mediocre children’s books. We’ve also had to rent movies from the local movie rental store (Yes! We still have on of those in our town!).

Homeschooling is going just fine.  Lydia is enjoying tap dance lessons. I started seeing a therapist. Which is good, but it’s yet another thing to schedule in.

So today’s post is brief. But I figured I’d share the couple of things I enjoyed this month.


books sep 2016

How Children Learn by John Holt. For those who aren’t familiar, this book is one of the original classics in unschooling. In it, the author recounts his many years of personal observations of children, both in their homes and in classrooms. The intro was a little hard to get through, but after that it was a fun and inspiring read. I love John Holt. He strikes me as one of the nicest people who ever lived. He has profound respect for children and it shows in the way he interacts with them. I loved the experience of sitting at his feet and soaking up his wisdom.

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr. After hearing Rob Bell’s breathtakingly awesome interview with Rohr on his podcast, I decided that what my life needed more of was a 75-year-old Franciscan priest. I’ll read a few pages before bed each night to help ground me. I can’t wait to be old and wise like Richard Rohr.


Man Up – I was eager to give this movie a try when I saw it featured two of my favourite actors, Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Their characters meet when Pegg mistakes Bell for his blind date and she decides to go with it. This movie is WEIRD and HILARIOUS and I LOVED it. Pegg is adorable and Bell is just brilliant. Their performances knocked my socks off. Ben and I both laughed so hard when we weren’t groaning in pain from the awkwardness. I’m still thinking about it weeks later.

Anne of Green Gables – I’ve been interested in watching this movie since I read the book last year in the hospital and was surprised by how much I loved it. Can you believe I’d never read or seen the book or movie?! Megan Followes is perfectly charming. But I have to admit I found the movie a teeny bit boring. (Please don’t hate me! It seems like everybody on the internet loves it!!). It didn’t help that both kids whined and complained through the whole thing. (We watched it in three parts.) I’m kinda looking forward to the newer movie versions coming out to see how they compare.

That’s about it for now! Hope you are enjoying fall.


How Selling Our Second Vehicle Changed Our Lives

How selling our second vehicle changed our livesI know this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m being completely serious: selling our second vehicle, and becoming a one-car family, has changed our lives in ways we never expected. (Mostly in terms of financial freedom we never believed possible on our tiny income.)

Here’s the story.

Our Financial History

Like many young people of our generation, Ben and I have always struggled with money. Not because we’re bad with money, but because we just can’t make any.

school-dayMy first day of school as a married woman.

We got married when I was still in university. For the first four years of our marriage, I was in school full-time. Ben went from working shift-work at a factory to working for my carpenter dad to starting his own carpentry business. We eventually had kids and I put my degrees to work by becoming a stay-at-home mom. (That’s what liberal arts degrees are for, right?)

So our household income has always been low. But we have always been frugal. We were raised by frugal Mennonites. We shop at thrift stores, buy used vehicles, cook from scratch, and DIY all our home renovations. Our idea of a fun, indulgent night out involves going to a local bookstore to flip through (but never buy) some books and share a venti frappuccino.

Despite our frugal lifestyle, though, we could never get ahead. We never got into debt, apart from our mortgage, but we could never make a savings, either. Our bank account always hovered around the zero mark.

We had no safety net in case of financial emergency, and absolutely nothing set aside for retirement. I felt constantly anxious and we fought about money often.

Month after month, year after year, we would look through our budget and wonder, where on earth can we cut back? We were already spending the minimum possible amount on everything. We almost never ate out; we didn’t go to the movies; we didn’t have satellite for our TV or data for our used smartphones. We biked instead of driving whenever we could. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts. All of our technology was outdated. We didn’t go on trips or buy new clothes. What else could we possibly do?

(I am leaving out the year we lived in the hospital with our son and were financially supported solely by our wonderful government and absolutely incredible community.)

The Vehicles

We owned two used vehicles, both for which we’d paid less than $10,000 (in cash). Ben needed a truck and trailer for his carpentry business, for picking up materials and for bringing cabinets to his installation sites. We needed a family vehicle for everything else. So we owned a 2003 Ford F150 and a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

But it felt like we were constantly pouring money into these vehicles. Repairs, gas, insurance, license plate stickers, maintenance . . . it never stopped. These inexpensive, used vehicles were sucking our bank account dry. They were like black holes for money.

But we thought that was just how it had to be. We needed the two vehicles.

Or did we?

Last summer we came across the blog Mr. Money Mustache. He promotes a frugal lifestyle similar to the one we were living, and writes about it in an engaging way. He calls it “baddasity,” and we thought it sounded exciting and life-enriching. But he had one interesting, new idea: ditch the second vehicle.  Even more interesting: ditch the work truck, even if you run a business like Ben’s.

After reading this fantastic article, Ben approached me with this shocking idea: what if he sold his truck and started using the family van as his work vehicle? The van would in fact work double-duty.

He only rarely needed to pull a trailer — less than once a week. The van could handle that. Most of the time, he could probably load his materials into the back of the van. The rest of the time, he was working from home.

And since I stayed home with the kids, I only rarely needed the van, too. There were usually two vehicles sitting in the driveway, sucking up money just by existing. Even with one vehicle between us, our transportation needs would rarely conflict. And when they did, one of us could bike.

Losing the Work Truck

see ya, work truck!

Within a matter of weeks Ben had sold his truck. And suddenly we had an extra $5200 in our bank account. For the first time, our bank account was well in the black, with no reason to go down any time soon.

And the money kept piling up. We got a $1200 refund on car insurance for the year. We saved about $1000 on fuel and $500 on maintenance by not using a truck. Ben had planned to replace the tires that year, which would have cost another $1500.

That first year, we earned/saved $9000 by not owning and operating a work truck.

It was mildly inconvenient for Ben to do all his work with the family minivan, but definitely not $9000 worth of inconvenience.

What To Do With All This Money?

It was thrilling, for once, to have extra money. What should we do with it??

The first thing we did was create an emergency fund. We’re not big fans of Dave Ramsey in general, but we felt this was a first good step. It lifted a huge burden from my mind to know that money was there in case of emergency.

And beyond that, we knew we ought to invest some of our money. But how?

Investment planning is not our forte. There are likely better ways to invest extra money than the route we chose. But one thing felt like a safe bet: to use it towards our mortgage.

The amount of money you can save in interest by putting cash towards your mortgage is mind-blowing.

We figured out that by putting down an extra $8000 on our mortgage, we would be saving almost double that in the long run on interest (i.e. close to $16,000.)  (The savings on extra mortgage payments for you will, of course, vary depending on your interest rate, amortization and size of mortgage. But for some, it could mean doubling your money, as it did for us.)

Another bonus? The sooner our mortgage is paid off, the sooner all of our income becomes pure spending money, with which we can do whatever we want — from investing and saving to just plain old spending on things we want (including donating to good causes). We estimate that our first extra payment alone shaved off almost two years from that goal. We are eager to enjoy that freedom as soon as possible!

And there’s more!vacation

In addition to putting down all that money towards our mortgage, in the second year we were also able to do the following:

  • buy some good used bikes and a bike trailer for getting around town
  • visit the dentist without guilt or worry (first time in six years!)
  • experience general freedom to purchase things we needed, and get the best quality
  • start saving up for our next mortgage payment!

We plan to continue putting extra money down on our mortgage every year — ideally at least $5000 — until it’s paid off in full. In doing this we hope to shave off more interest and more years to reach financial independence.

All that freedom from getting rid of the work truck that we thought we “needed.”

In Sum:

So, basically, a $5000 clunker we were maintaining to mostly sit in our driveway had the potential to suck up $20,000 of our hard earned money and life energy over the years. Once we got rid of it, all that money slowly trickled back into our lives to go towards smarter things.

We feel more relaxed about our financial situation and we have more freedom to choose where our money goes.

We’re not promising we’ll never buy a second vehicle, but the benefits of going without for a few years have already been enormous.

If you have more than one vehicle, maybe you’d benefit from giving one up, too? Just something to consider!