Friday, January 13, 2012

Long Vacation

To my friend/readers life has dropped a whole lot on my plate right now...or maybe I have dropped a whole lot on myself--I hope to back in action around April and surprise you with my new frugal innovations.  I'll keep you posted as to when I will return and I apologize for not writing during the holidays.  I actually have a course on having a less-stressful season and I hope to share it with you in July (Christmas in July perhaps) ...until then...

Stay warm and I'll see you in the spring!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Shoes: A Possible Pendulum in Homes and Economics

It is funny where lessons in economic can be found.  My daughter has discovered and I have rediscovered Beverly Cleary books--most especially those involving Ramona and Beezus.   For my daughter she understands the angst of Ramona's everyday mishaps and for me I am transported back home to Portland, Oregon where I spent my childhood.  As a girl I glided over the struggles of the Quimby's and their continuous plight to make ends-meet.  Sometimes their was a similar plight in my own childhood home and so as a girl I just thought that is how things are.  As an adult I recognize international  economic systems, national economics, education, taxes, a person's background and insights, as well as a plethora of little events and details determine whether a family will be able to make ends-meet.  This is not the only economic lesson I have rediscovered with Ramona and her big sister Beezus.  It is the recollection of shoes and my own childhood that truly made me think.  In several books Ramona discusses shoes and her distaste for hand-me-downs, her acquisition of  new ones, and her desire for the loveliest ones.  She acquires shoes only when necessary--when they are outgrown.  She visits a shoe store where a knowledgeable shoe salesman aides her and her mother in their selection.  Her mother buys only when necessary and makes due with what they have, when they can.  My own daughter has six pair of shoes.  Only two of them are absolutely necessary--her everyday shoes and snow boots (for we now live in Iowa).  I did not visit a shoe salesman to purchase these items--I bought them off the rack.  The other four pairs were acquired in the same manner.  The quality of her shoes are poorly-made, imports from China (most likely produced by a youth not much older than my own child)--I purchased them knowing they would not last very long (the built in obsolescence is how our ever growing consumption is created).  When I was a child I had a pair of leather sandals in the summer and a pair of leather oxfords or Mary Janes during colder months---these were purchased at a shoe store with a salesman.  I remember the salesman measuring my foot in the metal Brannock Device (I felt special having so much attention paid to me).  Then things changed--my mom began shopping at big retailers where shoes could be purchased off the rack for much less than the previous shoes I wore.  Rainy days were no longer spent inside cozy shoe stores smelling the clean pungence of leather and polish--no longer was their a happy salesman faking astonishment at how much my feet had grown--how sad.

While the Quimby's struggled often with their finances it was not a result of squandering their money--though they did spend money on special treats they "made do or did without" often.  However, the economics of the day required good decent shoes from a shoe store--one pair to get you through.  It is not the economics of our day to day lives currently--we move beyond what is necessary and our children have six pairs of shoes in their closets (or more).  At what cost is this excess to our planet, to others working to produce these articles, to our homes with limited space, to ourselves spending the time and resources to constantly buy up more?  By the time I was a teenager I boasted over 25 pairs of cheaply made shoes (not much to boast about)--now they all lay in a landfill.  As an adult I want to return to the economic of the Quimby's--to buy one good pair of shoes for my daughter (when they are needed) and make due when we can.  This simplification of priorities and choosing need over wants (with an occasional treat here and there) is what made the Quimby's a happy  family--I hope it makes yours one too.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Homemade Dish Detergent (For Your Dishwasher)

I stopped using  traditional dish detergents purchased at the grocery stores awhile ago and opted for natural brands that were free from phosphates.  The website explains why you want to avoid phosphates--essentially if you love the fish in the water and don't want to steal their oxygen avoid phosphates.  Unfortunately, the natural brands are super expensive and were damaging my wallet (even though they were not damaging the habitats of my fish friends).  My wonderful aunt gave me a recipe that is safe for fish and gentler on my wallet.  This formula is free of all of those heavy duty chemicals (the ones that cause respiratory and skin name just a couple of its ailments) and even more it takes just seconds to make.  I will warn you that it may not be as tough on caked on food as other formulas and so I have a handy dandy scraper by my sink to ensure the dishes are fairly clear of dried food, etc. before loading.  Are you ready...

You will need equal parts of borax and washing soda.  Both of these items are found on the same aisle as your laundry detergent at most grocers.  I put both items in a leftover lidded plastic container (mine is  an old plastic container with a twist on lid).  I screw on the lid and I shake.  Done!  I also found a small scooper from a different product that I use to dump the detergent into the dishwasher.  I do not fill my dishwasher up to the brim with soap--I fill it halfway in both the prewash and main wash compartments.  Here is the recipe I use when I make it--

Dishwasher Detergent

2 Cups Borax
2 Cup Washing Soda

Combine; Shake; Store; Use as Needed

Happy washing and feel good that you are saving money and some creatures!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Loss leaders and Foil...Savings for YOU!


I apologize for my delay in posting-- caught a "flu-like" bug several weeks ago and am now just getting over my cough.  Really that is not a good excuse for being away so long but life flies and when you break a habit it is hard to come back.  But I digress...

I want to share a few very short items with you--tidbits you should be able to use today... 

With the fast slide from Halloween to Christmas (I believe there used to be another holiday tucked in there somewhere), it is time to stock up on baking products.  This is a very special time of the year to save on those staples of sugar, flour, and even butter.  Stores often have in-store coupons for these items or they advertise them as a loss-leader (an item the store takes a loss on to get you in the doors).  If you are a smart baker of cookies, you'll shop just those loss-leaders and walk away with a bag of groceries for a few dollars.  But you say, "I won't bake enough and my flour will go bad and get buggy." You can solve this.  Freeze your flour for 24 hours, pull it out of the freezer and keep it in the paper packaging and bag it again in plastic. It will keep fine for the long haul with this method.  Bag up your sugar in plastic (do not freeze) or put it in an airtight container and it will last as well.  If your brown sugar is hard, place a slice of bread in the container or bag and it will soften up.  Finally, don't forget to freeze your butter.  I only buy butter on sale and my freezer is always stocked--with the rising price of butter these are sales to pay attention to.

If you happen to find a "quick sale" or another type of savings on eggs this time of year and you know you can use them in your baking eventually--crack them open and put one egg in each section of an ice cube tray.  Freeze these up and then pop them out of a tray into a freezer bag or container, use later when baking up seasonal dishes.

Finally, the static cling is upon our laundry--I have already mentioned using vinegar in your final rinse as a remedy for this.  If you don't love vinegar--I have a new trick--foil!  A foil ball thrown in the dryer will remove the static cling from your clothes and lasts for ages. If you really want to be green wash up some foil you already used and recycle it this way.  

Enjoy the beauty of the season--soon the horizon will no longer be a flame of ambers and goes too quick... 

October - by Robert Frost.

  O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Clutter Bug Boogie

So I have been absent from the blogging world for several weeks.  I apologize...I have been taken over by a fall cleaning frenzy--some have their day in the spring, for me it is in the fall.  As windows get shut-up with the cooler weather, I feel like that is the time to start the thorough cleaning--the removing of spring/summer dust and grime.  In the spring you are opening up the windows and in flies the outdoors-- dust and all.  To each his (or her) spring or fall it really is up to you.

I was motivated even more this year to declutter as I clean.  Generous family members allowed us to inherit their stuff (some of this was appreciated...some of it not so much).  While these gifts are well-intentioned, my own mantra is "clutter is no gift."

But something else had happened to my house over the years--I was so good at finding bargains or free items they started to take up my living spaces. My frugality, while a friend on most days, was not a friend when it encumbered my day-to-day living spaces (or better yet, my day-to-day living experiences).  And so I have began the slow process of clearing out the clutter.  Somedays have been major overhauls of a room-- but on most days, I set a timer and see if I can clear out and replace within the 15-minutes I have set aside. The frustrating part of this is I'm losing money in my clearing out.  Even if these things were purchased for a quarter at a garage sale that is still a quarter I wasted.  Thankfully, there are items that were free and so no loss (except for the time wasted finding a home for this stuff and later removing it).

Still, my plight to clear out represents a common problem when a person gets the "frugal" bug.  "Sale, reduced for  quick sale, half-off, going-out-of business" are all statements that can suck in the most frugal-minded folks and bring us to buy things we don't need or really want.

There are several tactics to avoiding overbuying even when it is a "good deal."

Wait 24 hours--chances are it will still be there tomorrow and once the fever has wore off you may decide you don't need it.  If you fear it will be gone you can buy it (make sure it can be returned) and keep it in your car for the next 24 hours--then decide should it come in the house or go back.

Ask yourself, "Will this improve my life substantially, is it necessary, will it be more work to take care of this item in the long run?"  Usually your answers will be--No! No! and Yes!

Have a running "needs" list of things you do need--so if you do catch a "good deal," a garage sale, etc. you can use the list.  Just as your grocery shopping list saves you from making rash purchases so does this "needs" list. I make a "needs" list every year during garage sale season (usually it involves figuring out what clothes my children have grown out of) and this helps me avoid buying what I don't need.

If you do purchase something, know that you will have to remove something else out of your house to make room for it.  I purchased a pair of PJ's and out went an old rag-tag pair (and so my drawers still close easily).

Hopefully if you stop and reflect before you buy--you won't have to do the clutter bug boogie very often.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Counting Your Beans...


I enjoyed a nice weekend at my sister's home and discovered a cabinet full of canned beans (for her future pot of chili).  She explained to me that she always uses canned– she doesn't know how to "do" dry beans.  A can of beans can range from cents to over a dollar a can.  A bag of beans will cost you over a dollar usually but you get a lot more in return– additionally, you lose a lot of the sodium and many of the "added" ingredient.  Even more the cans beans purchased in tin cans may contain more BPA (Bisphenol A) than the plastics we've been pulling out of our toddlers mouths. BPA has been linked to breast cancer and early puberty in women.

Prior to my frugal self-education...I didn't even know that beans came from anywhere else but cans.  I didn't know how to "do" dry beans either.  So for all of you scared of dry beans take a chance...and avoid some yucky side effects when enjoying your chili.

How to Cook Beans

Put two cups of beans in a coliander and rinse clean--look for any twigs, rocks, or rotten beans and pull out and toss em' (you could compost the twigs and the rotten beans but not the rocks...)

Put the beans in a glass bowl and cover with water--place a lid or a towel over the beans (to keep bugs and dust out).  Let the beans sit overnight or 6-8 hours.

(If you don't have time or forgot to let them soak overnight--fill you tea kettle up with water and bring it to a sing--pour the hot water over the beans in a glass bowl and let it sit for an hour...should be ready to cook after that hour.)

After soaking beans pour water off (0r reserve this water if recipe specifically calls for it– otherwise assume you are going to cover them again with fresh water)

Beans can be cooked in several ways; slow cooker, stove, or pressure cooker.  I typically use the first method so food can cook while I'm doing other things.  I just inherited a pressure cooker and so I'll let you know how it goes.  I'm sure some people have cooked beans in the oven as well....I just haven't experienced that...maybe someday I'll find an obscure recipe that calls for it...maybe over the campfire in a cowboy hat as's an adventure who knows?  Okay back to the beans...

Follow your recipe–this will involve covering beans with some type of liquid...for chili I just cover with water and add my spices, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and some corn at the end.  If I start a pot of beans on the crock pot in the morning I cook on low all day– if you have a half day (6 hours) cook beans on high.  

On the stove your beans can be done in a little over an hour or two on simmer (I usually try to get them done a little faster and boil them and then simmer).  

Here is the trickiest part about beans....OLD BEANS WILL NEVER GET SOFT!!!!!  If your bean are over a year old they are useless to you as food.  They make great art for the kids however or a delightful bean bin for little ones to enjoy some tactile learning....and again back to the cooking part

For years I thought I would never be able to cook beans they always stayed hard for me...because they were always ancient...I get an idea in my head to cook with some and forget about them, until over a year later when I would get the same notion...but then I would feel like a failure with my pot of hard beans...beans will soften if they are fresh– so give yourself a break if you've ever had that disaster didn't know and now you do.

Were really about done-- on your first go with slow cooker beans you will want to stay close to home (maybe try it on a weekend).  The liquid cooks down and so you will want to practice a little so you know how much liquid to keep in there so they don't dry out or burn.  I end up drowning my beans so I rarely ever have had to worry about this (but I like my drowned...they are tasty that way).  Refried beans are really the one time you do need to pay a little closer attention and since I know that you've now got a black-belt in bean basics I'm going to give you my rock star awesome refried beans need to yo quiero T. Bell  anymore....

Slow Cooker Refried Beans

1 onion peeled and chopped
3 cups dry pinto beans (0r black beans), rinsed
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional if you like it warmer– I sometimes add a dried chile pepper and take it out prior to mashing–it makes it just about right for my kids who don't like things too hot)
2 tablespoons minced garlic or 1 tablespoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons salt (more if you like)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin 
9 cups of water

1. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker and stir.  Cook on high for 8 hours (add more water as needed).  If your water is evaporating too quickly turn your slow cooker down.
2. When beans are cooked strain them but make sure to RESERVE THE LIQUID.  Mash the beans with a potato masher or large fork (add the reserve water as needed to get them to the consistency you desire)....

Happy eating!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Ant vs. The Grasshopper: A Bedtime Story for the Frugal

 The Ant vs. The Grasshopper

It is now past 10 p.m. I am pooped...and again today I realized I am the ant.  Sometimes I wish I could be the grasshopper and sing all summer...but I am an ant and I just don't sing quite the same song as the grasshopper.  But I sing in my own special way.

I have spent much of the week freezing and canning items from my garden and others.  While I was making jam– I calculated that each jar cost me $.75 to process (that made me sing my own special song, while I compared it to what the grocer's charges for the same item).  So my hard work will add up eventually and I'll be glad this winter to see the savings and enjoy the harvest.  However, when you've been at it for five days in a row it gets a little wearing and sometimes I'd like to unzip this ant suit and try on a grasshopper one just for a bit....

And then I remember I did try on the grasshopper suit for a little while and it was too tight and I couldn't breathe and it was really scary in there, and even though on the outside it looked like I was having a jolly good time and my songs were really exciting– the jolliness was short-lived, especially at the end of the month when the bills came due and I didn't have enough songs left to pay the piper.  Thankfully, I got out of that grasshopper suit and I felt much better in my own skin (my own frugal skin).  

You see once upon a time... while I was an ant, my husband lost his job the same day I found out I was pregnant with baby number two (seriously...same day)...and for an instant I panicked...and then I started to breathe again.  I remembered that "hey, I am an ant and ants store away and work really hard so when winter comes they can relax and make it through."  Winter lasted for about five-months and here is the kicker...we saved money during that time...we had learned so many ways to scrimp and save over the years (practicing our ant ways) that we pulled out our frugal black-belts and saved money on one teaching salary and a little bit from Uncle Sam.  The winter is over for now...sort of...I don't teach anymore and so we are back to one more substantial salary.  So I continue my ant ways and store away because I don't know when winter will come again and I want to be prepared...and that way I can live happily ever after, even through those rough cold winters.

The End.

Be an ant my friend.