Financial Confessional: “We Used to Blow Our Money on Motorcycles & Airplanes”

plane in the field with mountains in background

[Welcome to another Financial Confessional! This time Amnesty stops by from to share how drastically different her old life of buying toys compares to her recently found freedom. While I doubt all of us have bought planes or home music studios, I’m pretty sure we can all relate at some level ;) A good thing to think about as we head into the weekend!]

To the outside world it appeared we had everything.  My ex-husband and I were were bringing home a combined $200k (mostly that he made) and boy did we have our toys…

  • his and hers motorcycles (plus a third for off-roading)
  • airplanes (yes, real ones and yes, plural!)
  • a room full of musical equipment (so that I could have my “garage” band)
  • and more cars than drivers – including buying and selling a car almost every single year

We were having a lot of fun, but spending almost everything we made. We had no extra savings or an “oh $hit” fund, and it was starting to take a toll on our relationship.

It hadn’t always been that way though.

I was raised to be very financially responsible and started maxing out my IRA and employer matched 401(k) since my first corporate paycheck out of engineering school. I always had a couple of thousand dollars in my checking account. My now ex-husband on the other hand, who was 31 when we met (I was 25), had never participated in a retirement fund. He told me once that he didn’t want to save too much of his money, “because he wanted to enjoy it.” It took awhile, but I finally got him signed up for his employer 401(k).

Even though we continued to put money away for retirement, we barely saved anything else. Work was inconsistent for me in the area where we lived, so I no longer had the option of a 401(k). I even switched from contributing to a Roth IRA to a traditional IRA just so that I could get some of the tax money back to have on hand. One year I didn’t even have any funds to put into an IRA at all.

At first I tried to be the reasonable one and suggest that we don’t buy every last toy. But, well, you know how that goes over in a marriage when you’re not financially compatible. And since I wasn’t the main bread winner and couldn’t control how anyone wants to spend their money, I decided to get in on the action and surrender and just have fun.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? :)

Here’s where all our money went…

Let’s start with the airplanes.

small plane mountains

Our first plane was actually pretty reasonable. It was a Cessna 150 that was selling for only $10,000. We went half in with another couple that ran an airplane maintenance shop which was an added benefit. It was the perfect little trainer for me to take lessons and solo around in. However, it seemed to always have maintenance needs so we never really took it too far and especially overnight. And being a 2-seater, we couldn’t take up other people with us either.

I know… first world problems.

So we got out of our half of the C150 and then bought a Stinson with another partner. It was a 4-seater, we affectionately called “the station wagon”. This was more in the $30,000 range, but still not too bad as we had a partner.

As an aside, I want to mention that many people are surprised to find out that a small, older airplane can be bought for the price of a car. But I remind them that it is the maintenance and upkeep that will always be the worst part from both a time and financial perspective. Hanger/tie-down fees, insurance and maintenance can easily add up to $500 or more per month, for just a small airplane. And that doesn’t even include gas!

As the saying goes… “If it flies, floats or f*cks, it’s cheaper to rent!” Although, you can ignore the last ‘F’ with the right partner and financial compatibility :)

After awhile, we just really didn’t want partners anymore, so we sold this airplane and then went back to a two seater and got a Cessna 140, by ourselves. This plane was in great condition, and with no partners, we were actually able to use it to fly on multi-day trips.

This cost us in the upper $30,000 range, so we did what any good little consumer would do – we took the money from our HELOC! We had bought our house during the boom years where housing prices doubled in a very short amount of time so we had some good equity. And, really, what good is the money just sitting there if we can’t access it?

(As all you readers know, that is not the way to use HELOC money.)

Onto the motorcycles

bright red motorcycle

While my husband had always rode motorcycles, I got tired of being on the back of one. So, I bought my neighbor’s Enduro bike for cheap, at less than $2,000. It was a blast to ride, but it really didn’t go much over 45 mph, so I couldn’t use it to commute to work because I took roads that were 55 mph posted.

So, we kept that for off-roading, and then I bought a used Kawasaki Ninja 250 for a little less than $3,000. Still fairly affordable, and I LOVED that bike. I’m 5’2”, so it felt very comfortable. Even my bigger guy friends loved taking it out because it was so much fun to ride.

But then, my ego got to me and I wanted to move up into the big boy bikes. My husband had just made a recent upgrade, so I felt it was only fair for me to upgrade too. I started looking around and fell in love with a Honda 599 that was a flat black finish. While it was technically a sport bike, it sat more upright and was a ‘naked’ bike, so the Harley crowd didn’t turn their nose up at me… too much.

Out the door, it was $8,000. We were making good money though, so why not treat myself? I had been able to sell the 250 for almost the same price I bought it at, so that was something! And of course, since I went from a red bike to a black bike, I had to get all new gear to match. That was easily an extra $1,000 spent without batting an eye.

But as cute as I must have looked on that bike, with my matching gear and all, the thing was a monster for me. I knew it didn’t quite fit before I bought it, but I was told that I could have the seat cushion shaved down and re-upholstered and have the bike lowered – just to get to the point where I could barely put both toes on the ground at the same time. Sure, just about another extra grand… why not, sold!

Even after the modifications my body size to bike size still made me feel like I didn’t have quite enough control. I missed my little 250 terribly, and I didn’t ride the new 599 nearly as much as my old 250. When I finally did sell the 599, only several months later, I was able to get about $5,000 or so for it, and I was stuck with the $1k in gear since there aren’t many 5’2” female riders where I lived.

That was an expensive lesson. Did I mention that I never actually test rode the bike before I bought it either? I didn’t want to until it got lowered – another dumb lesson learned.

The music room

I love all kinds of music and have played multiple instruments throughout my life. So while we were buying airplanes and motorcycles, why not go for music equipment too? That was just a drop in the bucket as far as costs go.

So I went all in and bought drums (both an electric set and an acoustic set), then a weighted full size keyboard, guitar, amplifiers, bass, you see where this is going…

I wanted my music room so that I could play with my “band,”and the costs certainly added up. Probably to the tune (pun intended) of more than a couple thousand dollars. We never did make it as a real band, but a friend did let me play with his onstage occasionally. and at least my neighbors loved listening to us… Until one of them had a baby, haha.

Other splurges

In addition to all the toys we bought, we also went on a few spending sprees… Top of the line appliances, even though most of the current ones worked just fine, $2,000 for a dining room table, even though we hardly even entertained that much, it was crazy. Though I’ll take the sole blame for these decisions.

We also each had a car, but we still bought extra ones that cost a few grand, just for fun, even though they spent a lot of time in the mechanic’s shop. And, I insisted on expensive vacations. Let’s not forget the thousands of dollars I spent on flight training for both powered airplanes and gliders over the years too!

At one point, I even got an extra apartment to rent so that I didn’t have to commute to a new job I took. I hated long commutes, so I got a tiny studio so that I can live closer while my ex was traveling a lot for work. Only it never really felt like home, so I rarely spent any time there and would just drive back to my real home every day instead.

More money wasted thinking it would bring me happiness.

My husband still wanted and dreamed of more

All the purchases above were things we actually bought. But my husband still wanted more and more, while I was starting to want less and less as time went on.

He wanted a boat.

When I asked why he wanted one so much, he said because all his friends had one. In fact, that is the BEST reason to NOT get a boat! Why? Because people with boats love to have guests go out with them!! We always brought food and drinks for everyone, paid for gas, etc….

But, my husband still felt like a free-loader and insisted that we should have our own. We both loved to sail and we rented boats often, but that was still not enough. He wanted to ‘own’ one. Boats are a blast, but the thought of cleaning, maintaining, trailering, etc was just too much. Remember the rule of the three ‘F’s?

Luckily we never did get the boat.

I left the relationship and started fresh

When I finally ended the relationship, at 32, I needed to purge. I wanted to start fresh, so I packed up my paid off car with only what would fit in it and left everything to him.

Yes, everything.

We had an easy split of finances. We both kept our own retirement funds, I took my car and he took all the loan payments including the HELOC and all the toys. All I asked for was half the equity in the house, which he paid me over time.

I walked away from this situation fairly unscathed financially, but it was the luck of the real estate market that saved me in the end; not my own choices.

I was still far behind the curve ball when it came to saving and investing too. Even when I was on my own and making a great salary, I still had the habit of buying more than I really needed, and saving less than I was capable of accomplishing.

Sometimes habits take a while to break.

But I did gain some pretty valuable lessons, and over the next few years, in my 30’s, I started to become much more financially savvy. Through simple living, a high savings rate and real estate investing, I was able to achieve “financial flexibility” in just a few short years.

Now I live in a 320SF condotel with my current husband and I don’t even own a car. We have several rental properties with 4 owned outright, including the unit we live in. Life is good. I still continue to have first world problems, but like most people, we just need to change our mindset and realize how very fortunate many of us really are.

I’ve since learned that non-essential stuff actually makes me less happy. I don’t want to own things anymore that weigh me down and keep me trapped and location dependent, and I really don’t want to be stuck in the corporate world seeking a steady paycheck. I no longer want emotional attachment to “stuff.”

As the commercial says “if you’re going to own something, own the experience.” No maintenance costs on that!

Do I regret any of this?

in glider plane

Not. One. Bit.

Would I have been financially independent by now had I just saved more money and focused on a steady income? Absolutely. But while I’d never recommend that people spend with reckless abandon, I believe in living a life with no regrets. And I can’t deny that I had a blast!

I learned to be assertive, take risks, face my fears and get out of my comfort zone. These are things that money can’t buy.

One thing I will never forget is that my second glider solo flight was on September 10th, 2001. I was on a high that day, and then at a very low the next morning. It is an important lesson to remember how quickly things can change in life.

Now at 43, these are the things that I really don’t have a desire to spend a lot of time and money on. So I’m glad I got it out of my system when I did.

I also met some really amazing people, and surprisingly, I got a lot of “free” experiences out of this lifestyle too. When you hang around a small airport, you get to know people. So I got to get free rides in all sorts of cool airplanes including private jets, open cock-pit bi-planes, experimental aircraft, trikes, and on…

I got some free flight instruction, and I got to experience maneuvering (and crashing!) a hang glider that was winch-towed. I even posed as a ‘runway model’ – quite literally – for an informational poster!

runway modeling literally

[I had my bathing suit on underneath!]

All said, however, I’ve also learned that a life with minimal stuff and low spending can also be very adventurous. While I still enjoy adventures, I find that getting outside of my intellectual and emotional comfort zones can be just as fulfilling and exhilarating as physical ones.

Now I strive to seek a life of freedom, and not just financial freedom. I want freedom from location dependence; freedom from defining myself by “what I do”; freedom to give back generously; freedom to think slow; freedom to experience vulnerability; freedom to love unconditionally; and most importantly of all, freedom to know I have enough.

Thanks for letting me share!

Amnesty blogs at, where she describes herself as “FIRE’d up, wild and free”. She has developed a workshop program called The Real World M.B.A.: Creating a Life of Meaning, Balance and Abundance which focuses on a multitude of topics like sustainable real estate investing, decluttering, location independence, and the art of setting D.U.M.B. goals. Say Hi!

Like these confessionals? Check out the previous ones we’ve shared:

Minimalist-ish Family Series: Adrian Crook

Happy to share an interview with Adrian of, a single dad of five living in 1000 sq ft condo, with you today. Great thoughts here on how living with less impacts kids and family life. Also: those sweet IKEA hacked bunks we have were originally his!
1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
I am Adrian Crook, single dad of five kids (ages 10,9,8,7, and 5). We live in a 1,000 square foot condo in Yaletown, a neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver, BC. We don’t own a car, so one of the things we love doing is walking, riding bikes and taking transit. Our favourite pastime is exploring the city we live in, which we do daily. I work for myself, so I have the time flexibility to spend a lot of time with the kids, which all of us love.
Kids birthday party
2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?

Minimalism, for me, is less about the dogmatic Dwell magazine interpretation – i.e. fashion – than it is about the sustainability and mental clarity. So to that end, I didn’t hear about minimalism as much as I just did it, then discovered other people referred to me as a minimalist. Life with five kids means that if I was focused on making my house fashionable, I’d be worried about my kids breaking things. Which to me is the opposite of the goals of minimalism, which are to free you up from worry and maintenance so you can focus on life, family, and relationships. I don’t want to be admonishing the kids for getting my fancy modular sofa dirty, for instance, so instead I have a Craigslist couch.

3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?

Probably constantly re-organizing. When you have more space and more stuff, you can just bury it in the garage or the attic or big closets and forever put off having to organize it. But we have so little storage space that even our in-suite storage unit – or only storage in the world – has been converted to an art room. As a result, we have to think really critically about everything we bring into our house, which I love. Too often we’re tempted to buy useless quick-fix items in our consumption-oriented society, and being a minimalist simply forcing me to think twice before mindlessly buying something.

4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?

How much time do you spend maintaining your car, your yard, your house, myriad possessions that break or need replacement and so forth? It’s almost incalculable. I don’t have most of those things, and as a result the time I spend maintaining, cleaning, worrying, fixing, replacing and so forth is drastically less than the average person. The result is a far higher quality of life and a level of simplicity that rivals that of a kid-less 20-something, versus a single dad of five. Life doesn’t have to get more complex the older you get, we just choose to burden ourselves with extraneous things, believing we “need” them.


5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?

Kids are highly adaptable and will treat as “normal” whatever it is they’re raised in. My goal in raising them this way is to normalize small living, condo family life, car-free active transportation and a low-consumption lifestyle. Our way of life is objectively better for the environment and for their health than living in a house in a car-centric suburb. That’s a great quality of life. But the other factor, “standard of living” has been declining since it peaked with our parents generation. My generation is the first to have a lower standard of living (measured in what we earn and can afford) than our parents. And if you understand anything about late stage capitalism, our kids standard of living will be worse than ours. They won’t be able to afford detached houses or fancy cars. My goal with our current lifestyle is essentially to show my kids how to have a high quality of life in a world where they’ll have a lower standard of living than I do. It’s possible, we’re doing it now.
Instagram: @adriancrook
Twitter: @5kids1condo

Storing (Less) Kid’s Clothing


It’s been a while since I talked about kid’s clothing and how we try and keep things minimalist-ish with three young kids. So I thought I would give an update on what we’re doing now, how things are changing as our kids get older (and bigger) and share some of my favourite strategies that work for our family for keeping clothing under control.

Above is what we have stored for our three kids. The top box is shoes and rain boots. The bottom box is summer clothing and hand-me-downs. My kids are now 7, 4 and 2 and our family is complete as they say/ we’re done with babies!! There is a three size gap between the seven year-old and four year-old and a one or no size gap between the four year-old and two year-old. We have cool to cold winters with a lot of rain and the occasional snow day and our summers can go as high as 30C.

Strategies for Small Kid Wardrobes

We’ve made it the last year and a half with two IKEA Antonius units storing all the kids clothes and diapers. It’s getting tight. The culprit: our oldest is wearing a school uniform this year (and they have TWO different uniforms) plus his clothing is getting bigger, just likehim. Luckily the school uniform will be gone at the end of June and we’ll get back 25% of the space once our youngest potty trains in a year and we’re out of diapers. In general I think we do a good job of keeping the kid’s wardrobes modest while still keeping them appropriately clothed. Things we do that help us have less clothing:

  • we don’t buy/accept a lot of clothing – simple but it helps immensely
  • we regularly cull the kids wardrobes for things that aren’t being worn or no longer fit
  • we think holes in the knees of jeans are cool. Someone asked me if we put holes in the knees of the youngest jeans ourselves, like as an ode to distressed jean fashion. I laughed. Nope. He’s just the third kid to wear those size 2T jeans.
  • if the outfit was clean at the end of the day (exception: underwear) it gets worn the next day
  • we try to invest in durable brands for our oldest son that will last through another kid or two. Especially in outerwear and rain boots.
  • we try and wear out items. I won’t send my kids out in torn (besides knees on jeans) clothing or items with big stains on them, but fading or some fraying from lots of use, that makes me happy. So we don’t replace things simply because they look old.

I’m not very particular about what my kids wear and so far they aren’t very particular about what they wear either. I know we are really lucky on this front. There aren’t fights about what to wear in the morning and, THANKFULLY, no one is asking me to go the mall and buy them the latest on trend piece from H&M. We do laundry frequently so at most my kids need a week’s worth of clothes. We try to wash clothing after it’s been worn two or even three times if possible and this increases the longevity of the clothing.

We don’t store a lot of hand-me downs

One thing I am seeing as my kids get bigger: the clothes are wearing out faster. We don’t have as many hand-me-downs to store as you might expect. Sometimes the middle child will be the last to wear something that was originally the oldest. Usually it’s because both of them wore that size for 2+ years so, combined with wearing things more frequently than a lot of North Americans do, the t-shirt is ready to be cut into rags or the jeans are ready to be made into jean shorts or sent to textile recycling.

I *never* buy ahead in sizes during sale season

My oldest did not grow in a steady pattern at all so I decided early on not to buy ahead at end of season sales. It’s just not worth it to me to spend money and take up our limited storage with things that may, or may not, fit one of my kids next year. A lot of our winter and fall clothing comes from Grandmas at birthdays and Christmas and if they have bought in a generous size I’ll store those items for next year. But that’s it. If buying ahead works for you, awesome. But my kids are all over the growth chart and we have very little storage so we get things in season as we need them most of the time.

I let my kids grow into and out of things

I let the t-shirts get a bit short in the body before going to the next size and that oversize sweatshirt gets to be a fitted style before it’s passed down. My oldest just passed down a zip up sweatshirt he has been wearing for over three years. We have adjustable waistbands on EVERYTHING. We roll up cuffs and sleeves for a few months while a child grows into things.

We keep shoes to a minimum

Our oldest is the shoe-a-holic out of the kids. He has four pairs: rain boots, athletic shoes, formal school shoes, pair of Converse. The other two kids have rain boots and a pair of running shoes. They each have a pair of slip-on style summer sandals that we keep out in the winter to wear to the condo pool downstairs.

Of course, I know we could be more minimalist. We spent a month overseas and the kids took about 2/3rds of their wardrobe and with frequent laundry going we did just fine. I’m all about finding the sweet spot between making life comfortable and having less stuff. Right now this is what works for us.

For parents of many, how do you manage storing hand-me-downs? I would love to hear from those of you with big families, those of you that are the buy ahead type and anyone with an more elaborate or more stream lined system than mine.

Getting Minimalist-ish in 2017


We’re currently exploring and getting to know a small island about 100 miles from Africa and a two hour ferry ride from Sicily. As I’ve written before, we’re having kind of a weird stretch right now as a family and I’m learning lots about managing life in less than ideal circumstances. With less time to myself and more demands I’m finding keeping things simple to be the only way forward right now!

Happy New Year! I know many of you are setting decluttering goals for the year and I wanted to share some of my favourite resources. As I have said before, there is no one right way to go about reducing your stuff or paring back your commitments. The right way is one that works for you and that you can stick with. It could be using a method from a book, making a bet with a friend, joining in on an Instagram hashtag like the #minsgame, joining an online community, publicly declaring a goal to friends and family or simply throwing a box in the corner of each room of your home and putting things in it as you see that you no longer use them (my favourite method and so easy to start right now). Here are some other ideas to get you started:

Books on Decluttering

The Clutter Cleanse Series

Minimalist Writers I Recommend

Almost too many to include but the following writers have inspired me, shocked me and made me laugh over the years. Of note: I’m not a sell everything and live with no couch kind of minimalist (though I love reading about that kind of radical minimalism) so all of these writers lend themselves to the more moderate style of practical minimalism that we aim for as a family.

  • Brook McAlary on Slow Your Home: her podcast is both fun, irreverent, soulful and informative and her blog is a treasure trove of posts for slowing down and letting go. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming book.
  • Joshua Becker on Becoming Minimalist: powerful posts about our consumption habits, why we all need to live with less and how to do it. Join his newsletter for collections of news on consumption and simplifying.
  • Evelyn on Smallish: I started following Evelyn when she had a few less children and they all lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment. They now live in a 1000 sq ft home as a family of six and I continue to admire her authenticity in sharing life as a homeschooling mom of four in a small home. If you have a gaggle of kids and are feeling defeated by stuff go check out Evelyn’s website!
  • Courtney Carver’s Project 333: for those of you struggling with wardrobes, fast fashion and the fear of having nothing to wear. Courtney’s many devotees share their minimalist wardrobes under the hashtag #project333.

Don’t be discouraged if you find things get worse before they get better. My family has been at this for six years now and we still have to sort kid’s clothes, donate toys, sell something we bought only year ago because we no longer need/use/wear it semi-regularly. Paring down or minimalism or simplifying or whatever you want to call it is not a a destination but a journey. Good luck!

A Minimalist Stroller: The Mountain Buggy Nano


For the parents of the young ones and the parents-to-be out there: a never before found on this blog stroller review. I don’t think I have ever reviewed anything besides books here. But today I am sharing a great find for parents that actually fits in with a minimalist parenting lifestyle. A revolutionary stroller designed for travel, urban life and compact living.

As I have said before, no one stroller does it all.

My kids are getting older and with some other life changes I knew it was time to downsize our stroller. Our double had served us well with two kids under two but the double days were, thankfully, behind us. We needed something that folded up easily and compactly for storage at daycare and for some upcoming long haul travel. And, dare to dream, if I could haul it on my cargo bike for big outings that would be a huge bonus. After seven years of stroller life I also really wanted to get back some hall entryway space. Those of you with small homes can probably relate. That spot near the front door where a stroller has sat since my oldest was born was tantalizingly within reach of us reclaiming.

I researched a lot of small strollers this fall. We’d had a second hand Maclaren for a few years in the Isle of Man and it worked well for travel and our horse tram and train trips around the island. But it wasn’t comfortable to push for long distances and at 6’5″ my husband struggled with the low handle height. We needed something that was easy to walk with daily and for a lot of miles. After much searching and querying of parents at the indoor play gym, I found what I was looking for.

The Mountain Buggy Nano is my minimalist stroller.


The Mountain Buggy Nano fits most of my urban minimalist needs. One handed push, folds easily and compactly and a comfortable seat (my youngest naps in the stroller most afternoons). With an infant car seat for use it can be used from birth and has a carry capacity of 44 lbs. You can even add a Freerider scooter to the rear axle to move your older child along. The wheels are surprisingly smooth for being smaller and not air filled and it, incredibly for its size, has a suspension system. The basket is a decent size for everyday use and it has an excellent canopy with pop out sun shade.

I consider myself a bit of a stroller guru. We’ve had many strollers over the years as we moved countries added children. So far we have at one time owned, bought in new or used condition, an UppaBaby Vista, fixed wheel jogging stroller, BOB Revolution, Phil and Teds Navigator double and a McLaren umbrella stroller. And compared to all of those strollers, the Mountain Buggy Nano is probably my favorite for its versatility, size and price point.

More about the Mountain Buggy Nano:

  • I’ve been asking other parents about their Mountain Buggy Nanos for a few months now. I wanted to know how the stroller held-up over time. One parent I met locally has had her Mountain Buggy Nano for 18 months, has put a lot of miles on her stroller (stay at home parent with no car) and said it is still in great shape. Her one comment was that she might have to replace the wheels in the next six months.
  • you need to pop the stroller over curbs and it has taken me a while to get used to this. Why? Because the stroller otherwise rolls smoothly like a full size premium stroller. Popping front wheels up for a curb was second nature with our rickety umbrella stroller but has not come naturally with this stroller.
  • obviously this stroller won’t work as a two seated double or for running or for large grocery trips. I’ve rolled the stroller on gravel and uneven and broken pavement and it has been okay but if I lived somewhere with rough terrain or out in the country I wouldn’t choose this stroller as an everyday stroller.
  • it’s really really easy to fold and it’s very compact. One reason we wanted this stroller was that our youngest was starting daycare and there is limited stroller storage. The Mountain Buggy Nano is perfect for stowing in small spaces.
  • one of the features I’m very excited about is that it can be stored in overhead bins on a plane. We have some upcoming travel where I am going to test this out. As I will be on my own with three young kids for half of the air travel I am thrilled at this option to make life a little bit easier. (I’ll be sharing more on air travel with the Mountain Buggy Nano on Instagram).
  • in comparison to a premium stroller the Mountain Buggy Nano is a bargain at $349 CDN. But if you compared it to a lightweight umbrella stroller it’s considerably more money. In my opinion the MB Nano is much more than a lightweight umbrella stroller but it can easily fit that need – easy fold, easily portable. It’s more comparable to something like the UPPA Baby G-Luxe but it’s lighter weight and has a more compact fold. And, the big one, it has one handed push which no umbrella style stroller has. So if you just need something small to stash in your car for the occasional trip this would be a hefty investment. But if you want a stroller that’s travel friendly but feels like a premium stroller, this is an amazing option.


Tip: the weather shield above the head rest can doubles as extra storage for lightweight items like jackets, blankets and teddies.

This is my last stroller and, hurrah!, it’s great for 95% of what we need it for. Sure, I can’t do a huge grocery shop with it but we are mostly using grocery delivery these days, the new fruit and veg place on the corner and the occasional Chefs Plate (highly recommend you Canadians give this a try – link gets you three free plates). And I have a funny system for Costco runs where I use a folding handcart (it totally works). So yeah, this is it. Seven years down the road of stroller usage and I feel like I’ve found my spirit stroller. It’s compact, versatile and travels well. Oh, and my seven year old also finds it easy to push. Win, win, win.

Disclaimer: I received a Mountain Buggy Nano stroller for review. All opinions are honest and my own.

You Can Buy Happiness This Christmas


Somewhere around December 29th last year you said, I’m not doing this again. Do you remember?

It was after exchanging a lot of gift cards with relatives, a lot of last minute fluffy throw blankets with the gift receipt stapled to the tag because you knew they would be returned for store credit. Or maybe you said it in the week leading up to Christmas when you scoured the mall for a $40 gift for someone that has all that they need and very little that they want. Perhaps it was the first week of January when the spending hangover really kicked in as you looked at bank accounts and credit card statements or you stuffed your own collection of unneeded and unwanted gifts into a box destined for re-gifting or eventually donation.

“The Christmas we now celebrate grew up at a time when Americans were mostly poor … mostly working with their hands and backs.. if we now feel burdened and unsatisfied by the piles of gifts and overconsuming, it is not because Christmas has changed all that much, it’s because we have.”

– Bill McKibben Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas

Fifteen years ago my family decided we were done with traditional gift giving at Christmas. As my five siblings and I entered adulthood we spent a few years buying each other gifts for Christmas. It became stressful and not very enjoyable. So we decided to do something different. We’d been fortunate to receive help years earlier as a single parent low-income family so it felt natural to now return that help. We sponsored a family in need through a local organization and put the money we would have spent on each other towards that. New winter jackets and warm clothes for kids, some toys and  several things for the mom and lots and lots of groceries to fill the fridge and pantry. The first year we did this kind of giving we all remarked how much more enjoyable the holidays were. No frantic mall shopping the week before Christmas. No stress over if someone liked their gift. And, of course, giving to people in our community that needed help felt great.

Yes you can buy happiness: use your money to help those in need.

Almost every year since we have found an organization that connects us to a family in our community and we find out what they need, what they want and shop for them. A few years because of logistics and distance (many of us live or have lived in far flung places) some of us just donated money to a good cause but we have made it a tradition that we give to those in need at this time of year instead of traditional gift giving.

If you felt overwhelmed last year, if you felt that the focus on gifts and buying and shopping took away from your enjoyment of the holiday season, if the ritual of exchanging gifts has become a burden rather than a joy, I urge you to start a new tradition. You likely already have a group in mind, a circle of family or friends that would appreciate a break from gift giving and a chance to instead pool your resources to help those in your community. And if you have some folks that love to shop well, they will love shopping even more when they know it’s for someone that really needs new shoes, or a family that will sleep better at night knowing the cupboards are full. And if you have people that don’t enjoy shopping – I’m one of those – let me tell you, shopping for a family that truly needs things is quite enjoyable.

Some ideas for how to broach this change in gift giving:

  • be open to no the first time you bring it up. Sometimes you need to plant the seed a year ahead of time.
  • be ready to assume the organizer role. Someone will need to quarterback the project with who will buy what, who will deliver gifts to the organization, etc.
  • start small. Perhaps for year one you move to a Secret Santa style gift exchange with one person you buy a gift for and one person you make a donation in their name.
  • if your gift exchange is your chance to meet up make sure the meet up part still happens.

If you have the means to buy frivolous gifts or gifts for people that already have everything they need and most of the stuff they want, maybe it’s time to do something different. Maybe it’s time to celebrate your friendship, your good fortunes of health and happiness, by giving together.

Anyone have a unique way that you have changed your gift giving traditions to be less focused on stuff? I would love to volunteer together as a family someday once we’re out of the baby/young toddler stage.

The Month I Paid $30/mile to Drive


It’s feeling like 2011 here all over again. We just returned our cable box – a ‘yeah! North American sports coverage’ purchase for my husband when we moved back to Canada. And, yikes, we just sold the minivan we bought at the same time. No, we’re not in a big old mountain of debt like we were back then. This isn’t a simplify our life and save money plan like it was back then. It’s mostly rooted in common sense.

Cable: my husband is away most of the next year. We won’t get much use from our cable box. Confession: I have on occasion watched some HGTV when up with a sick kid. But that’s certainly not worth $80/month. So we’re back to just the Apple TV which is plenty of at home entertainment.

The car: we paid around $30/mile in the last month to drive. Insurance is $150/month, our parking stall is technically worth $100/month and we had a $453 maintenance bill. I’m not even going to calculate the money we have tied up in our car and what it could be earning us either as an investment or as saved interest if we put it on our mortgage. Our one trip in the last four weeks by car was out to an Air Park for a birthday party. Fun time but $703 for the 40 minute roundtrip drive seems rather steep.

We primarily bought and used the car for the school run last year. And then we got our Yuba Mundo cargo bike in the late spring and the car only did the school run on rainy days. My oldest son moved schools this fall and is now able to walk. So the car wasn’t getting much use. I’m solo parenting most of the time these days and prefer taking the kids places on the bus or skytrain, by bike or just on foot with the older two on scooters and my youngest in a stroller. We don’t need a car for 95% of our life. So it just made sense to sell our car.

Using common sense still feels a bit scary. There is a bias here in North America that families need cars. Even if your day to day needs are met by other transportation modes. What if there’s an emergency? That’s what many people ask. Well, if it’s a true emergency I’m calling an ambulance. Otherwise I call a taxi. A $3o taxi ride or an $80 day rate for a car or $2.75 for the bus – all options that are cheaper than owning a car that you’re not using regularly.

We have LOTS of car share options in Vancouver. There are four car sharing options in my neighborhood: ZipCar, Modo Car Coop, Car2Go and Evo Car Share. Yes, it’s a pain to drag two car seats and a booster to a car and install them before driving. But when you only drive once or twice a month as a family, it’s not so bad. Plus I’ve got my cargo bike, bus, skytrain, scooters and Mobi bike share. So many options for getting around with or without the kids along.

And the money side is compelling. We’ll rent our parking space out for $100 and that plus not paying $150/month in insurance should be a fine transportation budget. So no gas costs, no maintenance or repair and the proceeds from selling the car (substantial – it was a 2012 Honda Odyssey) are now working for us instead of sitting in the car and depreciating.

I’ll admit it’s daunting to go car-free this time around. We have three kids and two of them are still in car seats. Our middle child has a very slim build and I don’t think he will be ready for a booster for quite some time. So I’m coming up with some less painful plans for dragging car seats a few blocks (I like this and this plus the first would be great for Costco runs on foot). The nice thing is that I know others with 3 or more children are also car-free and loving it.




Minimalist-ish Family Series: Colleen Vales

So many challenges and so many big life changes for this family living in the expensive Bay area. A move to a tiny home and a new baby and long distance parenting and creating a multi-generational family unit by moving into your parent’s backyard. Really interesting and inspiring read here that I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
1.) Tell us about your family, who you are, where you live and things that you love:
I’m Colleen, a working mother of a 10-year-old daughter, with a baby due in November. We live in San Jose, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, where I work in communications for a local government agency. My partner lives two hours away with his 14-year-old son, so for a few years, we’re going to be long-distance parenting our baby. 
My daughter and I have a black lab and a cat of unknown origin, and we’re in the middle of downsizing from a 975-square-foot condo to a 270-square-foot tiny home. We want to live more simply and intentionally and not live to pay rent. We’re going to park the tiny home in my parents’ back yard, and I think that’ll be mutually beneficial. They help care for my daughter while I’m at work, and I help them around their house. The tiny home is due shortly after the baby, which has posed a challenge in terms of downsizing, but we’re trying to use baby registries to help guide the gifts that are already arriving for the baby.
Things we love to do, especially now that we’re not spending so much time shopping for needless items, include spending time with family and friends, writing, reading, knitting, riding our bikes around town, hiking in the hills close to our home, and gardening.
2.) When did you first hear about minimalism and what was your initial reaction?
I first heard about minimalism probably about four years ago when I learned of Bea Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. At that point, I had been trying to reduce my use of plastic and to make more things from scratch and found her blog to be very helpful. Around the same time, I stumbled across Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog. Both encouraged buying less and focusing on experiences, and that resonated with me because I was smack in the middle of struggling to try to find time for my daughter, doing the things I love and working a full-time job. As I read their blogs, I was turned onto more: The Minimalists , Slow Your Home, LifeEdited and others. 
They all talked about not being tied down by your things, which also resonated with me because we have moved a couple of times over the last few years, and each time, my older brother has helped me and commented “Dude. You have too much stuff.” I knew he was right, and I remembered back to my college days when I could fit everything I needed to live in the back of my pickup truck. I also remembered a 7-month trip to Europe I had taken before my daughter was born, where I and my partner started out with a backpack and a suitcase each and whittled our belongings down to a backpack each and one shared small suitcase. I love the idea of being able to pick up and go and not be tied down by stuff. All those thoughts and new information from the blogs came together to help me see that it was time to get rid of some things. 
A year or two later, I discovered tiny houses, which appealed to my desire to live without the shackles of stuff as well as the ability to pick up and go. It didn’t take much — just one video — to convince my daughter that they were really cool and something we should pursue. And now here we are, waiting for our tiny home to get built so we can have a place we can truly call our own, a place where we can live simply, with a smaller environmental footprint, and have the option to just go if we desire. I’m pretty sure it will have some big challenges and take some getting used to, but we are really excited about it.
3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
One of the biggest challenges I’m having right now is trying to figure out what else to get rid of. Although we’ve been in 200-square-foot tiny homes before, it’s hard to know what amount of stuff will fit in our particular space. I have used the KonMari method twice with great success in getting rid of a lot of things — it has been especially helpful with sentimental items — but I know I have more to go. Furniture will be easy to send off, but beyond that, I don’t know what else should go.
My particular nemesis is the kitchen. While I have pared down considerably, I love to cook and bake, and I use all the tools I have kept. I think I will need to see our new space before I will truly know what to jettison next, and it’s that waiting that I find challenging. I want to get rid of things now.
Another challenge has been not bringing more into our home. While I have cut down on shopping, I still have not totally eliminated desire, and I’m not immune to temptation. So I try to remember that we won’t have room in the tiny house to put the things we buy now, and it’s been helpful in keeping me from buying something that I may have to get rid of in a few months. But with fundraisers at my daughter’s and my partner’s son’s school, plus a baby on the way, keeping down the amount of stuff we bring in has been a little difficult. The baby is due just before our tiny house is due, and we have found ourselves the recipients of more things that we may have trouble finding a place for in the new house. I’m trying to keep it to just what we’ll need, but with baby items, it can be so hard — they’re so cute! I’m a sucker for cute stuff.
4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
There are a few things that I find rewarding about living with less stuff. The first and most important is the time I have that I don’t spend shopping, cleaning, organizing or caring for so many things. That has freed up more time for me to concentrate on writing and spending time with my daughter, and in turn, that — being able to do the things I love — has cut down on my stress.
I also find my home to be much more serene. Without knickknacks and papers and other stuff cluttering up each surface, my home feels more welcoming, easier to breathe in and more conducive to creativity. I’m not distracted by piles of papers or books or things I have to put away. I’ve slowed down, and my home reflects that, but because there isn’t that distraction or waste of time on shopping, I feel like I get so much more done.
Our home is also a lot greener and healthier. When we don’t bring so much stuff in, we generate less trash and our new buying habits require fewer resources for the production, transport and disposal of things. We’ve gotten the amount of trash we generate (from two people, a dog, a cat and guests) down to one 8-gallon trash can that we take out every two to three weeks, and I’m aiming to make that can smaller. By bringing less packaged stuff into our house, I’m also cooking from scratch more, which results in us eating a greater variety of healthier, tastier food.
Lastly, we’ve saved money. By really considering purchases before making them and not shopping as much, I’ve been able to eliminate all my debt, and have tried to train myself to save up for an item that I give myself permission to buy. It’s not easy, and I feel like I’m still learning, but it’s nice each month when my credit card statements arrive via e-mail, and my balance is zero. This frugality is allowing me to take six months of mostly unpaid leave after the baby is born. I’ll get 2/3 of my pay for the first 4 to 6 weeks, but after that, I’ll have to live on savings, so cutting out shopping has been instrumental in my calculations on how to make this work. So has moving into a tiny house, which will cut down on my monthly housing payment by about $1,200 each month, which still isnt even half my rent. (Silicon Valley is extremely expensive).

5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
A continued challenge to this lifestyle will be when my partner and I can finally merge our households. He is definitely not a minimalist. While I’ve taken him into consideration in the design of our tiny house, he is also not a person who would ever consider such a living situation for himself and his son. Bringing together two opposite lifestyles could prove to be challenging, but I believe we’ll work to meet somewhere in the middle. We won’t continue living tiny, but we also won’t live huge. There’s a compromise in there, and I believe it involves a cute little house with a big ol’ yard.
While it’s probably a couple of years away still, my partner and I talk about it now. Once the tiny house is done, and my daughter and the baby and I are settled and have gotten used to it, I think we’ll show that simple, minimal living is a pretty good way to go.
Even if living tiny isn’t for everyone, I think everyone can benefit from slowing down and making space in their schedules and their homes for the things they love. Living with less is helping us to do just that, and while we may encounter obstacles here and there along the way, they’re not insurmountable because we’re spending our time and money building relationships instead of building a stash of things. 

 You can read more about


Twitter: @colleenvalles

How To Get The Perfect Shave

oldspiceI’ve shaved for 35 odd years and think that I have finally come up with the recipe for the perfect shave. You may beg to differ, and if you do please let me know in the comments below:


  1. A razor: obviously you can agree to disagree with me on this one but the absolute best razor I have ever used, and I have used everything from straight razors, 1 blade, 2 blade, 3 blade, 4 blade 5 blade, and all kinds of electric (Braun, Remington, Norelco, etc) is the Gillette Mach 3 Razor. Reasoning: One blade is not enough, 5 is overkill and electrics never cut close enough. Never. This is based on 35 years of real life experiments. Trust me. Plus you don’t need the vibrating heads or the extra lights and do dads. And – its cheap. One of these bad boys will run you about $7, and the blades do go on sale. I’ve seen some people re-edge their blades but I figure that this is my face, i don’t want it all cut up.
  2. A good shave cream – The absolute best shave cream I have ever used is Cremo Cream The Astonishingly Superior Shave Cream this stuff is the best – and I have used a lot of shaving cream – yes including soap in a cup, dish, bowl with a brush, foam, gel, you name it. The Cremo is the thickest and really sticks to your beard, unlike all of the others. 
  3. A good DAILY face wash – Cremo has a good one here too, but my favorite is the Neutrogena Men Razor Defense Face Scrub, 4.2 Ounce. Has to be a daily face wash otherwise you’ll get too dry. Look for the white tube.
  4. A cup or mug. Can use any old cup or mug. I have my dads original Old Spice shaving mug that he used all of his life.
  5. A hand held mirror. Or if you are one of those lucky people who have a mirror in their shower that doesn’t fog – you must be a liar since they all do. Anyways, this has tipped you on to the directions…


  1. Run the hot water in the shower
  2. Fill up the cup with hot water
  3. Rinse your face
  4. Use the face scrub on your face. Rinse.
  5. Slather the Cremo on your beard. Not too much.
  6. Shave.
  7. Pause between each stroke or two to swish the Cremo and whiskers off in the cup so that they don’t get all over the tub
  8. When your done, swish the blade off again. Dump the cup near the drain.
  9. Rinse off your face. Check for missing bits. Hit those and you are done.

Let me know what you think. Like I said – this recipe is based on 35 years of experience. I’m made it my mission to get the perfect shave, and I think I’ve finally found it – and the stuff you need to get it done.

BTW, before you say: Chris, you are full of it. A straight razor is the best. I agree, to a point. If you have the time and inclination to learn how to do it properly, and the time to shave with it – contrary to what you see on YouTube it takes time to use a straight razor. One of the cool things about the Mach 3 is that the multiple blades really do save time.

Anyways, let me know what you think in the comments below…

How To Get Things Done

If you are like us – and that is like most people, you have a tough time getting things done. I’ve looked far and wide for a decent to-do list app which really works well, and actually does help you DO things, as opposed to just track things.

We’ve found that app. Check out Any.Do

Any.DO is one of our favorite to-do apps. Its powerful, flexible, and it looks great, too. However, tracking your to-dos isnt the only thing Any.Do is good at. Here are some features that you may not use or know about, and how they can help you get and stay organized.

via The Coolest “Extra” Features in Any.DO.