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  (
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'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 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).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Diets Don't Work and Budgets Don't Either!

What works instead?

Life Style Changes

A person who has lost weight has most likely made significant changes in habits in order to reach a goal--while they may now have a better diet, it is the change in lifestyle that has created success.  Additionally, a person who is financially fit, has "good" habits with money and consumption, has made this a lifestyle.  This financially fit person may in effect use a budget as a part of a "good" habit but a budget is a tool and not a source of deprivation as it is for many it fails for.

For persons who are climbing the mountain of prosperity out of the pit of debt doom and gloom a budget may not be your best choice.  This is why--diets and budgets to those persons trying to get "fit"' feel as though they are punishment (and let's face it they kind of are).  Who is going to continuously for a lifetime submit herself or himself to punishment?  Diets are punishment for too many late night snacks and budgets are punishment for too many hours and dollars logged on the credit cards.  Eventually feeling so deprived breaks us--instead of creating new habits we cave to our previous ones ("Then look for me by fridge light, Watch for me by fridge light, I'll come to Phish Food by fridge light, though diets should bar the way").  The diet has failed and the budget has failed--we feel like failures so we eat or spend (some of us eat and spend) in order to feel better about our failures---and the cycle becomes vicious.  

So what can you do if budgets don't work...

First you have to know where your hang ups are.  Do you spend when your sad?  Is your overspending a result of convenience food?  In order to understand you spending style you need to evaluate your finances and that can be scary.  However, until you really understand where your money is escaping to you cannot break its escape.  The plan is easy--write down everything you earn and spend in a month.  Find an old notepad, journal, anything you have lying around (and no don't go and buy something for this--it is not necessary) and when you spend $1.79 for a cup of coffee at the convenience store--write it down,  the 25 cents you found in the parking lot--write it down, the mortgage/rent payment you made today--write it down...get the picture. So a typical days entry may look like this:

July 12, 2011

-$25 Recreation Program for Sally
-$39.78 Groceries ($25.26 Grocery/$14.52 Convenience Food) 
-$45.89 Gas
-$2.28 Latte
+$20 Reimbursement Work
-$89.53 New Shoes for Reunion

During this month don't judge your spending--you won't get an accurate reading of where you spend if you restrict yourself to look good on paper.  Also if you have a spouse or significant person who you share finances with, get them on board (if you can).  Personally, my husband refused to ever take this step but he did start putting his receipts in a specific spot so I could enter them in.  What happens at the end of the month?  You open a bottle of wine (or in my house a box of wine) and you face the you track your spending it out on paper...  

The following website allows you to download a free budget worksheet that has an exhaustive list of places you may have spent

You will need to add up all of the items from you notebook for each entry you have and either jot them down on paper or if you are tech savvy put them in an Excel spreadsheet.  So add up all your grocery expenses, restaurant expenses (I divide restaurant and fast food into two categories personally), your utilities, clothing, house payment(s), etc.


Grocery: $118.27+$39.64+12.45+$208.05=$378.41
Utilities:  $99.62+$18.07+$75.20+$110.24=$303.13
Household Expenses (cleaning supplies, home repairs, home improve, etc.) $12.10+45.63=$57.73
And the list goes on and on and on....

I personally do this process on paper so I can make notes if I need to.  After the truth is apparent for you and your family...yes it was you and your family that spent $175 on fast food this month... \you then can start making a plan.  I go through with a highlighter and look at any section that I see as a trouble/overspending spot and highlight it.  This lets me know that I need to pull back in this area.  If I see an area that needs more spending (charity, saving, etc.) then I highlight this in a different color.  What occurs then is a mental plan in my noggin to make a change--a slight easy lifestyle change that eventually will add to making me stronger and more financially fit.  Spend less on Y so I can spend more on X (X can of course be a savings plan).   If there is another person involved in your finances talk to him/her about what you have discovered and work together coming up with a plan on how these changes can be made.  If you are spending too much on fast food (and it is around lunchtime that the spending occurs)--start brown bagging it.  Have a Carrie Bradshaw fetish for footwear...can you consign a couple old pairs and look to E-bay or consignment stores for your next pair using those funds earned?  You found your elephant in the room now you have to poke it back into its cage and then you can start feeling less frayed and worried about finances.  No its not a budget it is a lifestyle change.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Up and Running Out of Papertowels

For the past decade I've found myself drawn to frugality and simplicity literature like a moth to flame...except these rubies never burned me...only enlightened.  Some books and articles were poorly written and only had a nugget or two of good or useful information.  However, many of them are so useful and timeless that they are more loved by myself than any Velveteen Rabbit could ever be.  This past winter I joined a simplicity group for a 6-week discussion and found that these pieces of information gleaned over these years are very valuable to others trying to economize and scale down.  They have even useful to my mother who calls me "cheap."  Knowing these useful tid-bits and keeping them all to myself is not charitable and simply not right in a day where we have an increasing number of families struggling to make ends meet.  So here I begin sending out the rubies I have collected all these years...

What was my first course of action in my struggle to get out of credit card, student loan, and car debt??

Cloth Napkins and...

In my previous life I had purchased four lovely plaid napkins when on a spending spree (hoping to become Martha Stewart in home decor).  I didn't use those napkins for years and through observation of another family I reflected that If I used cloth napkins I could stop buying paper napkins and paper towels.  Since that time I have acquired many more cloth napkins at garage sales and thrift store (all these napkins were new at both locations).  Cloth napkins can be purchased or made for cents if you take the time and look for them.  Cloth napkins have become such a staple for our family that I even pack cloth napkins for road trips and trips around town (they work much better than their paper counterparts). 

Paper Towels

Who says you have to clean windows and mirrors with paper towels?  I clean these items with old rags and cloth diapers.  When I got off the paper towel habit I used old newspapers like my grandmother did. Now I like using cloth rags or old cloth diapers better.  

Using cloth napkins and paper towels is not going to eliminate all of your debt (unless it is a very miniscule debt) but it is an easy change that just may trigger  new thoughts about what you consume and how you can save.  This one change led me to a whole new thought process and I've saved a few trees along the way. 


"However, here are some scary figures. 2.5 million paper towels are thrown out a year--a number that is quite remarkable, considering that paper towels are a disposable product. Also, 51,000 trees must be replaced just to make up for how many paper towels are used in a day. "

Read more:

If your household consumes two rolls of paper towels weekly at an average of $1.00 a roll in a year's time you would save over $100...that could be used to pay down debt or placed in savings.