May 31: Best from the blogosphere

May 31, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

This morning when I took the dog for a walk I saw tulips, begonias, apple blossoms, pansies and rhododendrons and that was just in my own yard. My husband has a green thumb and knows how happy I am surrounded by flowers.

He also grows vegetables, so he and his good friend Russ pour over seed catalogues looking for heritage tomatoes and other delectable treats beginning in September. By March they can’t resist at least a couple of visits to the garden centre.

The official start of the gardening season in Canada is the May long weekend, so many of you have already planted hardy seedlings that you may have started inside under lights. But regardless of whether you have yet to put a spade in the ground, it’s always great to get advice from the experts.

And some avid gardeners like to write as much as they love to grow things. Believe it or not, there was even a Garden Bloggers Conference at the Beverley Hilton in Los Angeles earlier this month. Here is the GBC list of lists (albeit U.S.) of top garden blogs.

Here are some other great gardening blogs we found:

Gardens by Laura of Calgary Gardening Services supports sustainable gardening practices.  In a nutshell, she says her company follows practices that will allow future generations to meet their needs by attempting to protect, restore, and enhance landscapes to provide ecosystems that benefit humans and other organisms.

You Grow Girl was launched by Gayla Trail in February 2000 and has grown into a thriving project that speaks to a contemporary, laid-back approach to organic gardening that places equal importance on environmentalism, style, affordability, art, and humour.

In mid-May, Melissa J. Will, the self-styled Empress of Dirt  wrote about how to start a new garden pond for anyone installing a small (under 1000 gallons – about the size of 10-person hot tub or less) prefab garden pond or other little container pond on a patio or balcony.

For those of you in apartments or condos, balcony gardener focuses on smaller-scale gardening. She says, “My downtown city balcony garden is all about containers. It’s a different garden every year. It’s small. I spend a lot less time pulling weeds and watering. It’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s easy to try new things.”

Nikki Jabbour is part of the blogging team at Savvy Gardening. She has some interesting vertical vegetable gardening ideas to boost growing space, reduce insect and disease problems, and beautify decks and patios. In her veggie plot, she uses structures like trellises, stakes, and obelisks. These support vining tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, gourds, peas, and pole beans. But, she also has a vertical vegetable garden on her back deck and patio.

Finally, take a look at Little Green Fingers: A first-hand account of gardening with kids. Several charming recent posts discuss cake decorating with edible flowers, growing pea shoots with children and how to make ice mobiles.

Halloween on the cheap

October 17, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


As soon as the back to school displays come down, stores shift their marketing efforts to selling Halloween costumes, decorations and treats.

A survey conducted by Harris/Decima for the Retail Council of Canada reports that in 2012 Canadian households with children plan to spend an average of $75 on Halloween purchases. Fully half who planned to spend on Halloween said that 75 per cent to 100 per cent of their budget would go on candy.

But we all have neighbours or friends who up the ante by turning their front yards into elaborate haunted houses complete with sound effects. And for some reason, your lace shawl and a home-made crown can’t compete with an expensive princess costume from the Disney store.

So how can you do Halloween on the cheap and still keep your family happy? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Manage expectations: By October 31st it is often rainy and cold in most parts of Canada. Therefore elaborate costumes that will be covered by a coat won’t even be seen. Tell your child if a store-bought costume is unaffordable and present other more practical options. Make-up and a hat can go a long way.
  2. Organize a costume swap: Use social media and invite your friends with children to a costume swap. Not only will you get rid of all the stuff that no longer fits, you may end up with some real gems for almost nothing.
  3. Be crafty: If you are a busy, working parent and don’t do crafts, skip this one. Otherwise, check Pinterest for creative costume and decorating ideas that use low cost and recycled materials you already have around the house.
  4. Visit a thrift store: Take the kids on a trip to the local thrift or second hand store. Great finds like used prom gowns, dramatic capes and dashing fedoras can be key elements of creative costumes.
  5. Buy on sale: The day after Halloween, most costumes go on sale. While it is difficult to know whether this year’s Batman will want to be next year’s Darth Vader, it may be worth stockpiling a few costumes in bigger sizes will give you a head start on next Halloween.
  6. Healthy treats: The most economical option is to buy in bulk and package treats in ziplock bags.  However, parents are more worried about safety than ever. So unless you give out factory wrapped individual items, they will likely end up in the trash. But you can read ingredients and offer more nutritious choices like pretzels, popcorn, raisins, fruit leather or sugarless gum.
  7. Have a party: If there are few children in your neighbourhood, it may make more sense to invite a small group of your children’s friends over for a Halloween party. Dim the lights bob for apples and tell ghost stores or rent a spooky (age-appropriate movie). Hot dogs or pizza, cut-up veggies and dip and home-made cupcakes are inexpensive, easy to serve and clean up.
  8. Buy less: There are few young children in our neighbourhood anymore, but every year I dutifully buy several boxes of chips or chocolate bars to hand out. We never give it all out, and my husband and I end up eating the leftovers. I tried buying stuff we don’t like but then we just end up pitching the rest, which is a waste of good money.

Can you suggest other ways to do Halloween on the cheap? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

24-Oct Charity How to raise money for almost anything on Indiegogo
31-Oct Winter travel Planning your winter getaway
07-Nov Augmenting your income Seasonal jobs

How to plant an inexpensive, maintenance free garden

May 2, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin

Once the snow finally melts and the first tender shoots of green grass poke through the mud, I can’t wait to see beds of beautiful flowers on my street. But a garden can be expensive to plant and maintain unless you know what you are doing.

To give you some tips about putting in an inexpensive, low maintenance garden, we talked to Jill Umpherville, the greenhouse manager and third-generation owner at Dutch Growers Garden Centre in Saskatoon. Here is what she told us.

  1. Do your research: Go to Pinterest and get inspired. Search gardening catalogues and the Internet. Figure out the direction your house faces so you know if it is sunny or shady and you can get plants that fit the area. Come to the garden centre with ideas so the staff knows how best to help you.
  2. When to plant: Don’t plant flowers in Saskatchewan until temperatures at night do not drop below five degrees for about a week. Before that, you may want to put flats of flowers out during the day and bring them in at night to harden them.
  3. Early flowers: Pansies are a cold tolerant plant that you can put in early. But they won’t survive nights where the temperature is below -10, so cover them or put them on a cart and bring them into your garage at night.
  4. First steps: If you want a neat looking flower bed, put in edging. Also add mulch. This will save you time, as beds with mulch don’t have to be weeded.
  5. Prepare the soil: If you live in an area with heavy clay make sure you have a nice base of topsoil. A triple mix of peat moss, top soil and a little bit of manure will provide the soil with nutrients.
  6. Get advice: Depending on your space, you probably need fewer shrubs and bedding plants than you think because they spread.
  7. Hanging baskets: If you have the space to start plants from seed it may be more economical to plant your own hanging baskets. However, with the short growing season in Saskatchewan, buying them already planted will give you instant colour that will last longer.
  8. Perennials: There are dozens of varieties of perennials that do not have to be replaced yearly. For example, Dutch Growers has over 40 varieties of hostas with colours ranging from a bright vibrant green to chartreuse. This plant typically flourishes in the shade. Day lilies are hardy flowering plants that bloom year after year.
  9. Annuals: Inexpensive tried and true annuals are colourful petunias, marigolds, lobelia and impatiens (shade).
  10. Getting value: Look for plants you can lift out of the pot with roots wrapped around the pot. This means the plants are well-rooted. Also look for a deep green colour in the leaves (unless it is a chartreuse plant). This shows the plant is not nutrient deficient. A flowering plant should have additional buds so you know it will bloom right away and all season long.

Are you on a tight budget? Whether you want to spend $25 for a pot of flowers for your condo or thousands to landscape a large property, Umpherville says everybody can have a garden. “Let people at the garden centre know what your budget is. They will help you work within it,” she says.

Sign up today, refer a friend or transfer funds from an RRSP to the SPP before May 21, 2013, and you could win a $500 Dutch growers gift card. You can find the full contest rules here.

Have you started planning your garden yet? Send an email to and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget
16-May Spring cleaning Cleaning your closets? What to do with stuff
23-May Budget How to set up a budget and why

How to plan a wedding on a budget

April 18, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


According to, the average expected cost of a wedding in Canada excluding the honeymoon is $22,429 and if you include the honeymoon, the bill increases to $27,899.

Here is the average budget breakdown based on anticipated costs:

Venue $9,255 Limo $753
Honeymoon $5,470 Cake $584
Rings/bands $2,470 Jewellery $483
Photographer $2,206 Hairstylist $467
Bridal Gown $1,847 Guest favours $452
Decor/Florist $1,343 Bridesmaid’s dresses $428
DJ/Musicians $1,247 Stationery $384

Because weddings frequently end up going over budget, the average actual cost of a wedding is $31,110 in Canada.

Even if you have been dreaming of a fancy, traditional wedding since you could walk, that’s an awful lot of money to spend for one day when you are still paying off student loans or saving for a down payment on your first house.

Not everyone can be as frugal as Kerry K. Taylor (aka Squawkfox) who had only four guests and spent $591.12 in total on her wedding to Carl. But Part 1 and Part 2 of her wedding blogs are very entertaining and contain lots of terrific frugal helpful hints.

Here are a few of my suggestions based in part on a great list of Cheap Wedding Tips and Ideas I found online and coloured by my experience helping my daughter plan her wedding several years ago.

Invitations: Engraved invitations with return cards, envelopes and stamps can be very expensive. You can get beautiful paper and envelopes from a stationery store and print your own invitations using a laser printer for a fraction of the cost. You can also create an electronic invitation and have guests RSVP to an email address or a website. 

Venue & food: Look for a free or low cost venue like a community centre or an outdoor setting like a park or beach for a summer wedding. Sometimes it’s cheaper to get married on a week night or have a morning wedding followed by lunch instead of an evening ceremony.

If you can select your own caterer and friends and family are willing to contribute part of the meal, you will save a bundle. Also, try to find a venue that will allow you to get a liquor licence and buy your own beverages instead of paying per drink or per bottle.

But keep in mind that you may have to rent tables, chairs, dishes and even a tent for an unconventional venue. In addition to servers, you will need people to do setup, strike down and cleanup after the party. You may be more than willing to pay for a “wedding package” offered by a hotel or banquet hall that ensures you don’t have to worry about these logistics on your special day.

Rings/bands: Get simple gold or white gold bands. Think of options like coloured or semi-precious stones rather than diamonds. See if there are any family antiques or heirlooms you can incorporate into the design.

Bridal gown: Before you say “yes to the dress” and spend thousands of dollars at a traditional bridal salon, consider other options. Your mother or older sister’s dress may have great sentimental value and it may be possible to alter the dress to fit. It’s worth checking out stores that sell prom dresses or other evening gowns, particularly if you are getting married in a more casual setting like a beach. If you take a sample size, you may find your dream dress at a seasonal sale at a high-end dress store.

And don’t forget pre-owned wedding dresses available online or from The Brides Project, a charity that raises money for cancer.

Bridesmaid dresses: You have to watch the movie 27 dresses  to fully appreciate how hideous bridesmaid dresses can be and remember how much you hated shelling out for the dress you wore to your second cousin’s wedding. Allowing attendants to choose the same colour attire in styles that suit them makes everyone more comfortable. My daughter’s attendants all wore short black dresses they chose themselves with red shoes.

Flowers and decor: Buy seasonal flowers in bulk at a local market.  Display them attractively with tea lights in glass vases you can purchase from the dollar store. For a Christmas wedding poinsettias and dried branches sprayed white can make very effective centerpieces. I am not “crafty” but for those of you who are, there are lots of ideas on Pinterest.

Wedding cake: We decided to substitute a tiered plate of exotic cupcakes for a more traditional wedding cake. They tasted better and, there were only a few left over by the end of the night. 

Photographer: See if you can find a photographer who will take pictures of the wedding and in return for an hourly rate, give you a CD with all of the pictures. You can select the pictures you want to print and even create your own photo books online or using the services of a local camera store. To augment the professional photos, put disposable cameras on every table and ask your guest take pictures throughout the event.

Weddings are emotional occasions that bring out the best and the worst in people. One of the biggest challenges can be paring down the guest list to stay on budget without alienating someone.

You want your wedding to be perfect, but remember it’s just the first day of the rest of your life. You will be off to a much better start if in the early years of your marriage if you don’t have the additional burden of paying off debts for a wedding you couldn’t really afford.

Have you planned a wedding? Send us an email to and tell us about how you saved money. Your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And don’t forget that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a flexible way to save affordable amounts for retirement.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

25-Apr Taxes Why declating all of your income can save you money
2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget