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 naturemoms.com 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 inflammation...to 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 golds...it 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) own...so 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 well...life'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 beans...buy 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 occur....you 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 recipe...no 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.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tightwad Gazette - Amy Dacyzcyn

If you are new to frugality you may not know about The Tightwad Gazette.  Get a copy (if you don't have one already).

This week I'm busy preserving the bounty of the season and so I thought I would introduce you to my hero.

Enjoy this clip...and put some August's harvest in the freezer (at least)...you'll find joy in the wonderful taste of the previous season this winter (and the savings).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Dirtiest Word...Clutter: The School Days Edition

School has started and while kids may be sullen..."woo hoo" was my response.  Summertime boredom got the best of this household towards the end.  Two days into the school year and already the school clutter has began... backpacks, lunch pails, shoes and little bits of paper can take over your house if you are not careful.

Last year we struggled to come up with a system to reign it all in but I think this year we have it under control. Perhaps these ideas will stir your creative juices and you too can escape the clutter that comes with gooey art projects and athletic equipment.

1. Get the kids in on the action

There is no playtime in our house until...the lunch box is emptied next to the sink and put away, the shoes are put in a basket next to the door, and any papers mom or dad need to sign are put in a designated spot on the kitchen counter (next to the phone in our house).  *At this time we don't need a basket to keep these papers sorted but I have one ready for when we do.

2.  Worksheets

At first my daughter was heartbroken when she would see worksheets in the recycle bin.  However, we had a discussion about how we can't bring in "new to us" things unless we get rid of our old things (we have this discussion frequently at our house...to keep the clutter at bay).  I do not keep printed worksheet but I do hang onto stories for awhile (more about that later).  I now take worksheets if they are clean on the backside I use them for scratch paper or even as printer paper.  No sense wasting anymore precious trees and it saves me money too.  Since worksheets tend to be a standard 8 1/2" x 11" they can be stacked and stapled at the top to make a great scratch pad or pad for your child's future artistic endeavors.

3.  Art projects, stories, pictures

I'm a bit sentimental about my children's art projects and I want to keep them all (but I can't or we wouldn't have anywhere to sit).  I pick the best of the best during the school year and store them in a large box (copy paper boxes work great).   After school is out for the year and my child has moved onto new things I go through the box and really become selective on what I keep.  I then punch holes in those pictures, stories, etc. or put them in page protectors and keep them in a three-ring binder.  My kiddo likes to look at her old work and see how far she has progressed.  Also, with this method it is easy for me to get even more selective later on when the binder is getting full and pull somethings out.

4. Reminder notices and calendars

Put any important dates from school on the calendar immediately.  Also make a place to tack up any fliers or calendars that you may need to keep.  I literally hot-glued clothes pins to an old cork board so I have lots of "clips" to put all the school notices and to keep them away from other papers that my husband or I may need to have up and out.  My daughter of course painted the board and clips and so it is very colorful to say the least.

Best wishes during this school year.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer Time Back to School Shopping Blues?

Summer Time Back to School Shopping Blues?

So... as I registered my daughter for school today and dropped a couple hundred bucks– I was so relieved to know that my wallet was safe from any future school “necessities” for awhile.
School Registration–  completed late (oops)
School Supplies– completed  mostly last year and a little bit this year
School Clothes– completed throughout the year
In order to make our family’s school dollars go further I shop throughout the year.  After school starts– go figure– supplies go on sale (usually these sales include paper products and pencils).  Of course you can’t beat crayons and markers when stores advertise them as loss-leaders and so it is best to buy these when they are advertised low.  I simply get a copy of my daughter’s school supply list for the next year. (I was a teacher and know that it is rare for a teacher to drastically change a supply list in a following year.)  I am then able to scout sales and maybe buy some nicer products, I wouldn’t have previously purchased retail, at this time.  For school supplies, my daughter didn’t get everything new this year.  Her backpack is a good quality JanSport bag (clearance item) and should las several year ( we have purchased cheaper bags in the past and they break mid-year) so this saved us dough by reusing.  Also, her pencil box and scissors will be reused.  As a teacher I watched so many students throw out supplies that were barely used or not even open– there responses were often “I’m going to get new ones anyway.”  These items were new except they were purchased last August and not the upcoming one (of course I dug them out of the trash and found good homes for them)– where came the mentality that school supplies can’t be reused?  In our house reuse is just using also your noodle. 
Additionally, school clothes go on sale after school starts.  Does your child really need sweaters and jeans when it is still warm at the beginning of school?  If you wait it out and shop when retailers start to cut prices the savings can be substantial.  Personally, I get most of my children’s clothing marked down at thrift stores, consignments stores, garage sales, and outlet stores (off-season).  I average between $2 to $3 per clothing item and my children do not look like the children’s version of “What Not to Wear.”  I am very selective and thoroughly check out items for good seams, stains and holes prior to purchase.  Underwear and socks (purchased new) are our costliest items for children clothing.  Also, to avoid having to buy a large amount of clothing mid-year, I purchase staple items: jeans, long-sleeve tees, and shoes, one or two sizes ahead.  So for example my daughter wears a child’s 6 currently but I’ve got jeans in both  size 7 and  size 8.  Since I purchase so far in advanced I can be choosy about quality and price.  If at all possible really begin your school clothing shopping for next year in early March– that is when all fall/winter merchandise hits bargain basement prices.
So while you can’t turn back the clock and prepare for this year, last year... you can try to avoid doing the bulk of your clothing shopping until mid-September or early October.  And of course you can check out discount school supplies a few weeks after classes begin.  

Monday, August 8, 2011


While my blog is about home and frugality– I wanted to share this video today.

The act of fracking is not frugal.  The costs related to environment and life are too substantial to allow this to continue.   Webster's defines frugal as : characterized by or reflecting economy (see economy: thrifty and efficient use of material resources ) in the use of resources.  It is  not in any way an efficient use of water, the most precious resource on earth, to say well oops we contaminated it and continue with these risks.  I've attached the government link to senators and representatives– a short e-mail questioning why fracking is being tolerated is an easy action you can take.  I will be e-mailing today.  If you e-mail as well and get a response I'd love to hear what your senator or representative has to say.  I'll get back to money saving and simplifying tips next time.  Thanks for reading.

E-mail Your Senate

Write Your House

Monday, August 1, 2011

Use This, Not That: A Guide to Trimming Your Financial Waste-line

Men’s Health magazine produces Eat This, Not That, in a notion of flattery (kind of) I bid you Use This, Not That: A Guide to Trimming Your Financial Waste-line.
Use This, Not That: A Short Guide to Trimming Your Financial Waste-line
Rinse Aids
Don’t use expensive rinse aids in your dishwasher– 
use non-diluted vinegar instead.
Simply fill up your rinse aid dispenser as you would with a rinse aid and substitute it with a generic run-of-the-mill, inexpensive white vinegar
Fabric Softeners
Don’t use fabric softener–
use nothing on days when their is average or above average humidity in the air you don’t need it (for days when you will deal with static add white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your wash)
Plastic/Saran Wrap
Don’t use plastic wrap to store your leftovers–
use plates instead.
If you have leftovers in a bowl simply find a plate (dinner plates for big bowls; saucers for small bowls) and place it on top your bowl bottom down and store as usual.  If you have leftovers on a place take a plate of a smaller size and place it face down over the leftovers and store as usual.  For odd size bowls and plates for short term storage use a clean cloth napkin or relocate to another dish.
Cotton Balls
Don’t use cotton balls–
use small cut up piece of cloth diaper material (or other thick cotton).
Cut up thick fabrics like a clot diaper into approximately 2”x2” pieces (if you fear fraying you may stitch up the ends but I haven’t had a problem with this yet)– use as you would a regular cotton ball and throw them in the hamper for a wash.  *My cotton pieces have been air-dried and this may have prevented the fraying.
Baby Wipes
Don’t use baby wipes–
use wash cloths.
I have a set of wash cloths specifically designated as baby wipes.  They work much better than wipes (I don’t need three wash cloths to get the job done like I have needed with wipes).  I have a lidded bucket (salvaged from the trash-an old kitty litter bucket) that I throw dirty rags in.  I wash these with my cloth diapers and I add vinegar to the washing to disinfect.  Air dry in the sun for a better smelling rag.
Paper Towels
Don’t use paper towels–
use cloth napkins and rags instead.
See my previous post?????
Wrapping Paper and Gift Bags
Don’t buy wrapping paper and gift bags–
use newspaper, leftover artwork, etc.; reuse shopping bags; new or second-hand pillow-cases.
Most gift wrap is not recyclable and so it just adds to our waste– plus it is very expensive.  Use comics fro the newspaper or having your child enhance regular newspaper print with watercolor paints is a great way to wrap gifts.  If you have too many pieces of artwork coming home from school use those projects to wrap gifts as well.  Larger pieces of wrapping paper can be made from taping or glueing various pieces together.  If you receive a nice paper bag when making a purchase save it– you can cover up the stores logo with decoupage or pasting a child’s artwork over these marks (these really can make nice original bags).  Finally, if you have an odd sized gift put it in a pillow case and tie a bow around it.  You can pick up gently used pillow cases at thrift stores and garage sales for usually under the price of a gift bag.  Or if you have not yet discovered the joys of second-hand merchandise pillow cases do go on clearance as well.  The recipient can either use the case for a pillow or to wrap another gift.
Notepads or sticky notes (3M Post-it Notes)
Don’t buy notepads for jotting down messages and note–
re-use junk mail, kid’s schoolwork, and any other pieces of discarded paper.
I think a lot of times we forget that paper is two-sided.  I seemed to have forgotten this for years and then it dawned on me if I collected our paper out of the recycling bin, flipped it over, and stapled the top I would have a notepad...so it began.  Our family knows to put scrap paper on my stack for future notepad-ing, for reuse in our printer or memo sheets.  Large pieces of paper not nice enough to be safely copies again are stapled together– smaller pieces (half sheets or pieces that may have a scribble here or there are chopped up and put in our junk drawer to be used instead of Post-It Notes (if I need it to stick somewhere I can use a small piece of tape or a magnet).  
Storage Bags
Don’t buy (very often) storage bags such as Ziploc–
re-use cereal bags and other bags that food comes stored in.
Cereal bags and other bags from processed food come in are usually made of a very thick plastic.  If you nicely trim the tops of these bags when opening and then hand wash them they can make wonderful storage for items destined for the freezer.  Spray with vinegar and water mixture to disinfect.  Turn bags inside out for drying. Use a twist tie to seal them up or fold the top over and close with a clothes pin to store items.  For those storage bags you do buy they too can be washed and reused. *Do not reuse bags containing meat products or cheese.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

10 Ways to Save Money This Week!

We are a society of instant gratifiers--the faster the better...that could possibly be why we are a society in deep debt (enjoy it now, pay for it and the interest later).  Well for those of you who like your food fast, your coffee instant, and results immediately--here are several approaches to saving money that you can feel the benefits of (nearly) now--or at least at the end of the month when that end actually meets the other.


1. Walk, bike, ride the bus, or ride-share to work  (erideshare.com).
2. Take a lunch to work and/or take a lunch while running errands.  (My favorite is a thermos of cold water and some jam sandwiches--this stops my kids in their tracks when away from home--they say they are hungry and they've just spotted golden arches.)
3.  Cook your meals at home--its healthier, cheaper and in some cases more rewarding.
4.  Follow the rule at my house, "Less than a mile walk or bike in style."
5.  Avoid phantom electrical charges--even when electrical gadgets are not in use they still consume energy.  Unplug those babies or put them on a power strip and shut it off at the source.
6. Disguise and use up your leftovers--here's the skinny on leftovers  (I'll get into it more later I'm sure)--add a broth to leftovers and it's soup--add a starch; potatoes, pasta, rice--bon appetit...it's a casserole.  You can also use those leftovers as lunch (see #2).
7.  Get a library card--free books, movies, magazines, books on tape (my library even offers free language classes online).  Who needs to pay for media entertainment (when you have a resource like the library for FREE)?
8.  Hang your clothes out on a line and air dry.  But doesn't that take special equipment?  My clothes currently hang on a rope tied to our deck and our swing-set.  Is it tacky? Absolutely!  However, I take my tacky savings all the way to the bank when I save an estimated $50 a year on my seasonal outdoor drying.  (I have in the past dried electrically during the winter--I'm going to attempt indoor drying this upcoming season--I'll let you know how it goes.)
9.  Put your debit card out to pasture--calculate exactly how much money you will need to get through the week for gas, groceries, etc. and take only that amount out--it is those small unexpected (and often unnecessary charges) that push us away from financial goals.
10.  Go on a money fast-- Jeff Yeager, The Ultimate Cheapskate, first introduced the world to the money fast--not spending for a day, a week, or A MONTH!  Go ahead and try it--if you could avoid spending any money one day each week--what could that add up to for you?

This list is not exhaustive--I barely scraped the surface--but none of these items cost you in initial investments and you can start now.  Have a happy and frugal day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer of Free!

My weekend post was interrupted by several electrical outs--sorry for the delay.

Summer is winding down...but possibly not winding down fast enough for some parents out there...

From my own child's mouth as well as my own memories--this is the portion of the summer when ultimate boredom prevails and nothing but 'ultra-expensive summer adventures' will cure this ailment.  While there may be a time and place for these 'ultra-expensive summer adventures,'  those parents trying to keep their wallets intact for the last leg of this marathon will have to look to other sources of fun....  I've got just what the doctor ordered and I hope these ideas will inspire you to create some free fun!

Preschoolers to Early Elementary
**For all water activities please be safe and supervise your children.

Paint the Driveway...Sidewalk...Deck...
1. Bucket(s) of water
2. Old paint rollers-rolling pads and/or paint brushes

Let your kids "paint" the driveway (or other flat surfaces) with water by the time they are finished they will need to "paint" it all over again.

"Water Table"  (A new water table will set you back $50 to $70...this activity is just as fun for your little gals and guys and is virtually free.)
1. Any large and fairly deep (5" for depth or so) kid friendly vessel to hold water (dish washing tub, pot or pan, plastic bowl, Tupperware, etc)
2. Water
3. Bubbles or dish liquid soap for bubbles
4. A table small enough a child could stand at it and play inside the water vessel (we take our kid's art/play table outside for this--it was a garage sale find at $3) or a kids plastic wading pool flipped over to create a flat surface
5. Water friendly toys or plastic dishes

This activity is best done outside.  Fill up your vessel with water and bubbles place on a table or your flipped over wading pool (at the edge so the kids can reach) and throw in a few toys or plastic dishes.  Let the kids enjoy.

Nature Walk

1. Able feet 
2. A magnifying glass (optional)
3. Journal (optional)

The world at large is vast and amazing (sometimes we forget this as adults).  Take a stroll with your kids and let them explore the world at large (get down on their level for the best viewing experiences).  There is some pretty amazing stuff to explore..there are even ecosystems in 'waste'...but you may not want to get that natural on your first go.  Have your elementary age child write and draw about what he/she saw--preschoolers can of course journal too through their own drawings and some help from an adult.  

Additional activities:
sidewalk chalk; picnic (let your child plan the picnic meal and help prepare the food);  lemonade stand (we do this and let our child donate the money to a charity);  catching and releasing fireflies; walk to the park or go for a bike ride; pick vegetables in your garden or at a u-pick farm/orchard; pick a bouquet of wild flowers;  read books outside under a tree; make a 'campfire' (a citronella candle will do) and sing camp songs (campfire songs); pool time (a wading pool for a small child can be made out of under bed storage bins or other shallow vessel--please be sure to never leave your child unattended when playing in or near water); go for a 'gem hunt' (rock hunt)--older kids may want to learn about what type of minerals they have found

Early Adolescents

My Pet Rock
1. Rock
2. Paint
3. Paper and pens (optional)
Who needs Fido when you can have a pet rock...let your child go back in time with the rage of yesteryear by creating and owning his/her first pet rock.  The original Pet Rock had an owner's manual.  After the painting  is done have your child create an owner's manual.  Don't forget to have them create some pets for their friends and family too.  

Water Park or Water Olympics
1. Imagination
2. Hose and/or sprinkler
3. Cups and other containers
4. Water guns, wading pool, buckets, sponges, balloons, tarp etc. (anything on hand--the list can be varied and endless)

Have your child design a water park out of items from home.  If he/she has younger siblings or neighbors make that the goal--to entertain the younger crew with a day at the 'water park'--a day in the 'water park' doesn't have to be expensive if you go this route.  If the child is older and wants to play with his/her friends have the group come up with 'Water Olympic' events.  A tarp and hose can be made into a slip and slide.  Sponges dipped in buckets make a great game of toss or "dodge sponge."  The ideas are endless and your child will have a great time and a great opportunity to use her/his imagination.

Flashlight Tag
1.  Flashlight

The objective of this game is for the person who is "It" to tag the other players with her/his flashlight.  The rules of course can vary for this game--you're tagged you're out or you're not out if someone untags you, etc.  This can be done in your own backyard or if it is safe throughout the neighborhood.

Additional activities:  be Picasso (use any medium to create art--today the neighborhood girls were painting old boards and they were really quite pretty and would look nice in a garden); bird hunt--pick a particular local species and see how many times you can spot this type of bird or find a more difficult little bird-y to "hunt"--the first one to find it wins; listen to a book on tape/CD together (this really enjoyable for a family to do on trips in the car and can offer a lot of great discussion); watch the meteor shower around August 13th (or star gaze any other clear night--look up seasonal constellations for your area to find); play board games; build a solar oven and cook in it (Solar Oven Directions); pitch a tent in your own backyard; pick up cans and turn them into scrap or if your area has a deposit turn them in (buy an ice cream with your earnings);  make homemade ice cream in a bag (I used to do this in college--fun stuff) (Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag Recipe)

When all else fails you can do as I do...I offer my daughter the toilets to clean for entertainment...somehow the boredom always disappears!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheap Eats to Beat the Summer Heat

So here is the plan...crack a few eggs on your sidewalk and voila you've got dinner!

In short, it is inefficient to heat an oven while cooling with your air conditioner.

To run an electric oven at 350 degree for one hour on average cost approximately 16 cents (according to the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings).  This is not a large chunk of change (however, when cooking I try to make my oven work more efficiently but that is another blog)--the inefficiency of course comes from your air conditioner working overtime to cool the heat created by the oven.  There are multiple variables to determine the cost of air conditioning but my issue with air conditioners is their high levels of carbon emissions...they do not tread lightly on the earth with their carbon footprint. We use our system only when necessary and hope to install an attic fan in the upcoming year (in a previous home an attic fan took care of all of our cooling needs--in another home we were saved from heat by our beloved trees).  Needless to say my oven has not been on this week (my stove top has) and I've still managed dinner without resorting to fast-food or microwave dinners.

Minimal Heat Dinner Eats Menu-

Day 1 - Egg Salad Sandwiches (I joke about the egg, but it has been our incredible edible friend.)

*8 eggs hard boiled, cooled, peeled, and then diced
1 C of mayo
1 tsp mustard
salt to taste
(get creative with herbs and spices garlic, dill, etc.)
Combined ingredients and serve on your thrift store bread or "homemade" bread-maker bread (made in a garage or basement to avoid heating the house)

*Energy saving hard boiled eggs--bring eggs to boil; shut off stove and let eggs sit lidded in boil water for 20 minutes.  Take eggs out and allow to cool.  Save the water from your boiled eggs and let it cool to room temperature--water your plants--they love the calcium the egg shells have provided.

Day 2 - Spaghetti and No Cook Tomato Sauce (Enjoy the local seasonal harvest with this dish.)

2 to 3 C chopped ripe tomatoes
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut up in cubes or shredded (your choice)
1/3 C of basil leaves (this can be substituted for 1/2 tsp of dry basil but not nearly as good)
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Cook spaghetti as directed.  Meanwhile mix ingredients. Drain past well and add to sauce--toss and mix.

Day 3 - Szechuan Tofu & Green Bean Stir-Fry 

Now many of you are totally turned off by tofu but it takes very little to heat it (most especially compared to its mooing protein counterparts and it takes of 1/3 of the energy to produce compared to Bessie).  My husband, a raised on the farm meat and potatoes man, actually likes this one and both my 5-year-old and one-year-old ate the tofu (they skipped most of the green beans but you can't win em' all).  I used rice vinegar for this one and changed the sugar to honey and added another tsp to sweeten up the vinegar.  I put the tofu and beans on a bed of brown rice.

Eating Well Szechuan Tofu and Green Beans

Day 4 - Cereal Night

This is a common Thursday night tradition in my home--as a full-time working mom I was too pooped by Thursday to make dinner.  I actually learned this trick from a remarkable lady named Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she was the sister of John F. Kennedy and the mother of Maria Shriver.  During an interview with her daughter, they talked about cereal night and how their family's children loved it--the money saved from not having a traditional meal was donated to charity.  I previously used the money to purchase loss-leaders and donate to my local food pantry (just an idea for any of you reading).  My family loves cereal night (or in the winter it often is oatmeal night).  I love it too!  Of course I'm thrifty with my cereal purchases and snag most of my boxes on sale, from a wholesale company, or I make my own granola.   Other options on this night can be yogurt (on sale) and seasonal fruit or perhaps clearing out the leftovers and having a "buffet."

Day 5 - Taco Salad or Chef Salad

My little garden is currently producing a lovely bit of lettuce that will soon be my meal.  Let me warn you  though, if you grow your own lettuce (which by the way can be done in an apartment window) or buy from your local farmer's market... you'll never go back to that bitter store stuff again!  

Taco Salad
Layer tortilla chips (bulk purchased);  add lettuce bed;  add*chili or black beans, shredded cheese, seasonal salsa, and sour cream if desired.  

*chili or black beans-in order to cook your own beans and avoid buying canned use your crock pot.  Soak a pound of beans overnight as directed, rinse, and put in the crock pot and cover with water (add a chili pepper--or a Tbs of chili powder--and one garlic clove for seasoning--salt to taste).  Cook on low for 6-8 hours add water if needed.  Make sure your beans are fresh or they will never get soft.  This of course can be done overnight and refrigerated in the morning--I like my beans cool for a summer salad.

Chef salad
Create lettuce bed, add shredded cheese, peas (more protein), tomato and other seasonal veggies or fruit (berries are nice) and top with dressing or vinegar.  Enjoy a side of "homemade" bread-maker bread and butter or flavored olive oil.

Honey Mustard Dressing made @ home
2 Tbs Mayonnaise
1-2 tsp honey
1 tsp prepared mustard
1- 11/2 Tbs milk or soy milk
put in an air-tight container and shake

Other options:
Cheese or veggie sandwiches
Pancakes or waffles for dinner
Omelets (that egg is handy)
Cucumber or melon soups
Use your imagination...a hunk of cheese, a bit of bread and some veggies can be a great meal on a hot night.

Don't forget to add the solar/sun herbal teas to wet your whistle after these summer meals.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hanging Up the Secret Costs of Perfection

Oprah's "Ultimate Favorite Things," Martha's and her gourmet foods coordinated to match dishes and tea towels,  a Pottery Barn seasonal catalog--even among the pages of 'Real Simple' there it is...unattainable perfection.

The Home Manager* of today is fed a plethora of media inspired idealistic homes and lifestyles that the June Cleavers of yesteryear would never have been able to keep up.  There is this ideology (rather idealistic) that normal home maintenance ranges somewhere from Laura Ashley with sweeping country views to Windsor Castle-esque with a footman, butler, maid, and full serviced kitchen--the only glitch to this "normal" is it is to be done within middle-income budget constraints and by one person with moderate assistance from their family.

I fed into these lovely notions for a time (and I won't lie...they still get me every now and again).


When I married my husband I discovered the most awful thing one could imagine lurking there in the recesses of his closet...the man had a rainbow of hangers.  How would I ever be able to create a perfectly organized and beautiful home without matching hangers?  My own hangers were all white at the time (and mostly still are) and I had high hopes of magically finding deeply discounted wooden hangers to complete a perfectly-proper closet.  I donated all of my husband's unmatched hangers and kept only his navy colored ones (he had enough of these to go around thankfully).  For my first child's closet, I continued with my hanger fetish and my daughter's hangers matched her nursery decor.

This is what I've learned since then--the only person to look into my closets is usually me and my family.  If anyone else is looking they are either family, a good friend, or nosey (if it is the latter, I'm secure enough in my closet space not to worry anymore).  I was buying into the media hype of this perfect home makes a perfect me ideology--it is really good hype for Type A divas--we relish in the secret thoughts of one day finding perfection (Martha is a drug for Type A's).  Unfortunately for me I'm far from perfect and so is my home...but somehow I believed that doing these minuscule things that eat up my dollars and my precious time will make my life better.  I've slowly weaned myself off of this type of media that promotes perfection.  I don't watch HGTV or read home magazines...I do check out books from the library on decor if I need inspiration.

As for the hangers...my kids hangers now consist of odds and ends (adult hangers, clothing brand hangers, and hangers from the nursery);  my husband has a rainbow of green and navy hangers: my hangers range from white to cream with an occasional navy or wire hanger thrown in.  Has it changed my life that I didn't achieve perfect wooden hanger Nirvana--not likely.  What it has done is saved me a dollar or two buying new hangers and saved resources because we use what we have--when my son was born we didn't buy a single hanger.   I still want my home to be neat and tidy (but I have children so we do what we can) but I care most that my home is functional and comfortable for those living here or visiting.  So when you see Martha with a myriad of beautiful bowls or pots lined up just so behind her, remember it is not "real"--you are looking at an illusion created by a large staff of persons who spend hours analyzing how to get the most "wow effect" possible.  Concentrate on the "wowing" of you and your loved ones--take a nature walk, listen to a lovely piece of music, color with your kids and save a few dollars and a whole lot of sanity in the meanwhile.

Home Economies Definition*

Home Manager(s)-any persons involved in the day-to-day management within a home (this can involve more than one person in a household).