Welcome to the Hicks on Biz Guide to Living Frugally.

Canadians are now carrying record levels of household debt, owing $1.64 for every $1 in income.

I’m sure Edmontonians are more sensible than most of our fellow citizens.

But if you can’t even pay a fifth of your credit card debt this month (at 20% annual interest in the unpaid balance), get your act together, impose a little financial discipline and STOP SPENDING! You may have champagne tastes. But, buddy, you only have a beer budget.

Apart from moving into cheaper apartment, turning in the BMW for a used Cavalier and cancelling that Club Med holiday, here are a few small cutback tips that add up to thousands of dollars not spent annually.

Coffee: Drip versus cartridge versus Starbucks

These new coffee cartridge machines are all the rage.

Excuse me. Coffee cartridges cost 50 cents each. Home-drip coffee, even premium brands, rings in at under two cents a cup.

A 737 gram tin of Safeway Edwards coffee (darned fine coffee) costs around $10. A drip machine uses a gram of  coffee (a full tablespoon) per cup. That's 1.3 cents a cup, for coffee that tastes as good as a 50 cent cartridge. (Re-usable cartridges are available if you search, but have received mixed reviews.)

Yes, you have to wash the pot and the coffee basket. Poor you.

Stick with the drip, and we don’t mean your husband. At just one cup of coffee a day, you‘ll save 175 bucks a year.

As for Starbucks, the $5 latte has to be viewed as a table rental fee. Nobody is forcing you to buy one.

Take public transit

If you work downtown, leave the car at home and use the bus/LRT system.

A monthly pass is $85. Assuming an average 22 days a month working, that's about $4 a day.

If you drive, the cheapest downtown early-bird (pre 9 a.m.) all day parking is $9. But most parking lots charge at least $12.

Gas will cost you $4 to $6 for a round trip, plus depreciation, and accelerated maintenance. Let's say drivi

The LRT is reliable, efficient, faster during rush hours and impervious to bad weather. P.S. you can read The Sun on your Smartphone en route.

You might have to walk a block and be outside for 10 minutes waiting. 

In return you'll save ($16 a day, five days a week, excluding four weeks of holidays and statutory holidays) $3,840 a year.

If you don’t drive to work, can you and your partner get by with one car? That’s at least $6,000 a year in savings.

Learn to cook

Pack a lunch. Cost of decent lunch out of the refrigerator, $3 tops. Yes, it takes 15 minutes of prep time and you have to carry it with you. Poor you.

Cost of lunch at a mall, $8. Savings per year ($5 a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year) $1,200.

Eat at inexpensive restaurants. And only once a month. You’re broke, remember? Home cooking is a quarter the price.

Only drink booze at home. Beer at home, $1.50 to $2. Beer at happy hour $4.50. Beer after 6 p.m. in most bars and pubs, $6 to $8.

Cost of being convicted on a drunk-driving charge, when Alison Redford describes “drunk” as having had one pint. Ay yi yi …


A brisk walk clocks out at four kilometres an hour. If the weather is good, walk instead of using the car. Park (for free) a half-hour walk away from work – as a bonus, you get in an hour of light exercise. Parking savings @ $10 a day, five days a week, say 20 weeks a year) $1,000.

Walking falls under exercise – a very cheap form of recreation. The savings from staying healthy as you age is in the hundreds of thousands. If you have your health, you don’t need care.

Make the government pay you

If you can scrape up $2,500 a year, per child, to put into a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), the good ol’ government tops it up by 20% or $500. That’s a heck of an immediate return on an investment.

When our daughters were young, we socked money into their RESP. Now, as they slowly finish at post-secondary schools, the RESP should come close to covering all their tuition fees. It wasn’t easy at the time, but it has sure paid off these past few years.

It ain’t easy, but what is?

It wasn’t easy, passing up the toys to sock money away in the RESP and the RRSP and still pay down the mortgage. (Thank the good Lord for steady employment, that my dear wife is not a shopper and has never divorced me. Divorce is Canada’s single greatest cause of middle-class penury.)

But nothing in life comes easy.

Discipline is about short-term pain for long-term gain. Discipline is the one quality that seems in short supply in contemporary Canada.

But if you’re going to climb out of a financial hole, pay off your debts and permanently switch from a spending mode to a saving mode, you’ll have to enlist in this financial boot camp. Permanently.

But it’ll do you a world of good.


How to save money. (All numbers are estimates)

Using drip rather than capsule coffee at home, per cup: $175 per year.

Using Edmonton Transit to get to and from work: Savings, $3,840 per year.

One car for a couple instead of two: $6,000 (minimum) saving a year.

Foregoing a winter holiday: $2,000 to $3,000 per person.

Packing a lunch to work: Savings, $1,200 a year.

Regular exercise as a hobby: Life-long savings, incalculable but immense