DIY or Buy: The Hallowe’en Dilemma

This year marks the first time I’ve ever thought about Hallowe’en in relation to personal finance. My daughter informed us way back in July that she wanted to be a fairy mermaid this year. Our conversation went something like this:

What’s a fairy mermaid?

You know, a mermaid who lives in the big lake but can fly.

Oh, so a mermaid with wings?

Yeah, that’s it.

The first three Hallowe’ens of her life required very little effort on our part, but this year she is old enough to tell us about her preferences. Endlessly. So, the question becomes, should we make it or should we save ourselves the trouble and just buy it?

A quick scroll through the many local buy and sell groups tells us that the personal finance answer to this question is to buy a gently used, but not particularly unique, costume for $10-$25. No fairy mermaids have been spotted.

As an older kid and teenager, I was never that crazy about Hallowe’en myself, but when I was really young, my parents put a great deal of effort and energy into my costumes. Back then, everything was handmade. Or at least it was in my family, since the pennies didn’t come by us easily. When I was four, I was this cool sort of wizard / princess character (decades ahead of Harry Potter – had only Mom written a bestselling book to go along with the costume!) with makeup straight out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Wizard Princess Halloween Costume
My Mom sewed this spectacular wizard/princess outfit, complete with mismatched ribbon trim and veiled cone hat. My Dad and Mom even handmade my candy basket – a papier mâché jack o’lantern – the precursor to the pillowcase.

Looking back at that picture, it was a no brainer. We are definitely going to make her costume. We visited a few fabric stores before we found what could work. Quite shockingly, the total for the fabric, needles, bobbin, batten and felt came to $66. Almost six times the cost of picking one up from a buy and sell group.

halloween-mermaid-costume-supplies
Fabric, thread, bobbins, needles, filling and felt for the fairy mermaid costume came to a whopping total of $66.

DIY is not cheap. The art of handmade is long forgotten in our throw-away world where cheap consumer goods clog up the landfills and our Facebook feeds. Fabric stores’ days are numbered, and as most (apart from, say, Fabricland) are mom and pop shops, the prices they need to charge to stay in business are high.

I want for my daughter some of the same experiences I had. I want for her to see creativity, craft, and handiness as an everyday part of life. I want the holidays to be about joy and family, and for her to look back at pictures 35 from years from today and say, wow, that was an awesome Hallowe’en. The higher cost is definitely worth it to us. Plus, she should get much use out of it when it goes into her tickle trunk for dress-up afterwards.  When she grows out of it, who knows, maybe we’ll get 10 bucks for it on Facebook!

We’ve got a little less than three weeks to get this fairy mermaid costume done. Come back on Hallowe’en to see how we’ve done!

Do you have any Hallowe’en-related costume memories from days of old? What were / are your traditions?

The 1980s Birthday Party

I have one favourite birthday party memory. It involves a lot of sugar, and even more violence.

Kids' birthday party piñata.
Me, in my handmade tutu taking a crack at the donkey piñata. Unlike the made-in-China piñata you buy at Wal-Mart today, this was handmade in Mexico and brought to Canada by a friend of my Mom’s. This was a really big deal in 1981.

Well, I don’t actually remember it so much as I can imagine from the pictures how glorious it must have felt. The hot June sun beating down on cool bottles of Extra Old Stock, parents chillin’ to the sounds of Stevie Nicks. The frenzied war cries of four-year-olds with chafed little hands from beat, beat, beating that poor donkey piñata into oblivion. Candy. Candy. Candy.

Birthday piñata.
The 1980s birthday party, before Pinterest was a thing.

Some running through the sprinkler. Some handmade tutus. A piñata. A homemade cake. A white plastic loot-bag filled with lik-m-maid and popeye cigarettes.  There may have been some presents too, but since I don’t remember them, it doesn’t seem like they were the highlight of the day. Then everyone went home and we called it good until the next year.

Fast-forward exactly 35 years and things are different. My daughter has been two years old for less than three weeks and in her short life, we have been to several birthday parties which were spectacular. Literally. Spectacular, as in, an event such as a pageant or musical, produced on a large scale with striking events. One invite even required us to pay a very steep admission fee into a local children’s play centre. (Am I alone in  thinking that this kind of thing is uncouth? Isn’t a gift enough?) 

Mr. BHM and I have been struggling to settle on what is right for us in terms of celebrating milestones. Obviously our experiences differ quite a bit in that he never had birthday parties growing up (because, quite literally, he doesn’t know his actual birthday).

We’ve decided that a cake at home with us, her Grandma and her favourite Auntie, while skyping in Nanny from out-of-town, will be more than enough until she goes to school and will need want to invite friends. This will keep our costs down and, more importantly, allow us to focus on strengthening relationships in her early years with the people who matter most.

Now, about that cake. I did let Pinterest creep in a little bit. Although small and understated, I do want her birthdays to be special. I found this butterfly cake on Pinterest…

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…and then found myself up until 1:00am trying to recreate it from scratch. I think it turned out pretty well, and instead of spending $75 or more on a professionally decorated cake, it probably cost around $7. The cupcakes were a little treat that got sent with her to daycare the next day.

Butterfly cake for little girl's birthday

From this reaction, I’d say that as far as birthday parties go, we did just fine.

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What has your experience been with children’s birthday parties?

Me, Myself and I

If you’ve read Friendship + Cancer = Early Retirement, then you already know the why of this blog. So it’s probably time for some proper introductions, no?

This should be the easy part, but as a Canadian blogger new to the personal finance scene, I haven’t quite decided how “public” I want to be. How much of my identity do I really want to reveal? A look at some of my favourite bloggers show that I’m not alone in this: some are completely anonymous, some use a pseudonym and show photos of half their heads, while others reveal all! As the blog evolves and we (the hubby, Below His Means, aka Mr. BHM) decide how much personal financial detail (i.e. the actual numbers) we want to reveal, I’m sure we’ll find the right balance.

For now, what I can say is that I’m closer to 40 than I care to admit, mostly because this means I’m painfully late to the quest for early retirement / financial independence. I’m passionate about people, the planet, and changing the world. I have more education than I’ll ever need, and experiences more rich than there are words to describe, having traveled through 57 countries, worked on three continents, and lived in two war zones for over a decade.  I’m married to Below His Means, an environmental engineer and budding master chef with mad commitment to preserving our planet, unimaginable resilience, and a creative frugality (learned from childhood in a war-torn country) that  helps us live a life rich beyond measure.

Added recently to this mix is a tiny human with big brown eyes and killer Bollywood dance moves. Said tiny human is the joy of our lives and what gives us the motivation to keep striving towards financial independence. Owning my own time, so I can spend more with her, is all the motivation I’ll ever need to live below my means.

What’s your motivation? I’d love to hear more from you below.

Friendship + Cancer = Early Retirement

Grief. Its manifestations in our tormented souls are varied. Some of us drink. Some of us eat. Some of us cry. And some of us save.

When I lost one of my oldest and dearest friends to cancer in January 2015, when she was just 36, something inside of me shifted.

I had returned to my homeland (Canada) in 2009 after living the life of my dreams for more than a decade: studying, working and traveling around the world, empowering people with the tools of education to rebuild their lives after conflict and war. I had literally become a whole new person while overseas, taking the best bits of every culture in which I was immersed so as to think, feel, believe and love in never-before imagined ways. I found joy in the simple things in life; the smile on children’s faces, the feeling of fresh water on my lips, the taste of sun-soaked fruit. I came back home with two suitcases of possessions and aspirations of the good life.

Fast forward to 2015 and I didn’t recognize myself. I was trapped. Trapped in a lifestyle I thought I wanted, but that was slowly eating me alive. A mortgage on a beautiful home filled with things I didn’t need and don’t even know how they got there. Astronomical monthly utility payments in a province where the service fees are so high there is no incentive to reduce usage. Exhausted to the core from long working hours. Debt from from a failed business venture. An unemployed husband. Depleted savings due to an extended maternity leave.

My friend’s death was the ultimate proof that to live is to be subjected to the unexpected. Young, healthy, vibrant, kind, generous and humble people die at 36. This was a wake-up call. I had to get back to who I wanted to be, because life is seriously too short to be worried about money. I’m going to make the most out of my life, in honour of my gorgeous friend whose life was cruelly taken from her, and from us.

Inspired by the aspirations of the early retirement and financial independence movement, spearheaded by the wonderful Mr. Money Mustache and others, my husband and I have taken our destiny in our own hands and vow to chart a new financial future for ourselves: early retirement and financial independence.

This blog is an experiment in living below my means to have a life beyond measure. I hope you will join me along the way, as my family celebrates our triumphs, picks ourselves back up after failures, and remembers the global good life: simple pleasures, huge joy and lots and lots of love.