Monday, November 28, 2011

12 Days of Christmas: Gift #2 - Jewelry

Today's gift is for the jewelry lover in the family.  This necklace and bracelet combo is for a special night out.  It is made with Swarovski crystals and .925 sterling closures.  It has a simple but classic design.  While it is handmade, it isn't cheap.  The crystals alone were over $100.00, not to mention the sterling silver closures.

If this is too dressy or out of your price range, here is an example of a necklace, bracelet, and earring set I made for my girls last year.  The total package was under $20.00 and they have had several family members try and buy it off of them!

If you have someone with long hair that likes to wear it up, this is a great idea!  I call them 'hair sticks' - original I know. ;-)  This item is what got me into jewelry making.  I saw a pair of these in a shop and they wanted $40.00!  I wanted them so bad but I couldn't afford them.  Each time I went back to this store I would look to see if they were still there, and each time the quantity had dwindled.  Racey surprised me one night with a special gift... sure enough my hair sticks!  I was so happy to get them that I started making my own!  Now I have several pair and wear them at some point nearly every day.

Last, but not least, you can make little trinkets.  I tend to use my leftover jewelry from a project, but you can use anything that suits your fancy.

I attached a little something to my sewing scissors to help remind people that these are not to be used for anything other than fabric.  Plus, when I hear them jingle and I'm not doing the jingling, I start hollering!  The key chain was a product of me using things up, but each time someone sees it they ask where I bought it.

So, as you can tell, there are many ideas for homemade gift giving that don't require you to pass on a fruit cake, or have your gift be considered cheap.  It's all about the thought and time you spent in preparing and making the gift that gives it real meaning.

I hope I have given you a few ideas, and I would love to hear some of the things you are making this season.

Friday, November 25, 2011

12 Days of Christmas - Foot Scrub & Body Butter

In the spirit of Black Friday, I thought I would get a jump on the shopping for this holiday season.  Unlike most Black Friday shoppers I slept in this morning.  Once awake I took my sweet time eating a little leftover Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.  What?  Everyone doesn't do this?!?  Then I sat at the computer and looked at all the Google news stories about crazy Black Friday shoppers and all their antics.  What some people will do for a discount!  I'm all about saving money but this is just nonsense.  To me this is a prime example of how we have transformed into a consumer society where we are literally possessed with stuff.

Now don't get me wrong here.  I love things... I love getting gifts... I love giving gifts...I have a wish list as long as my arm as well.  I'm just at a point in my life that each item causes me to think about several things, such as the following:
  • Where was this made?
  • Who made it? (Maybe a child or severely underpaid parent?)    
  • How much fuel did it take to get this item to me here in the States?
  • Could it be made here in the U.S. and, if so, why wasn't it?
  • Is it made of something that could possibly add to my personal toxic load?  If you are unfamiliar with this topic you can read about it here, here, and here
  • Will this item be around and still in good working order in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years?
  • Is this a temporary gadget, and will I be wanting the new and improved one in six months?
  • How long will I or my husband have to work to buy this item?
As I said I love things, I just hate what it take for me to have them.  So back to my Black Friday plan!  I will still celebrate the holiday as I talked about in a previous post, my main focus will just be on spending time with the people I care about, enjoying a good homemade meal and giving small handmade gift as a token of love.

Here is my first handmade gift of the season!

 This is for the woman who loves to pamper her feet.  The jar on the left is a powdered foot scrub, and the blue dish is a deep conditioning body butter.  The foot scrub can be made with items in your pantry.  The body butter supplies can be found at any health food store.

Hear are the steps to make this wonderful, handmade, personalized gift for someone on your gift list!

Here are the ingredients for the foot scrub:
  • 1/2 cup of  cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup of seasalt
  • 10 drops of essential oil (I used lemon because that's what I had on hand.  It gave the mixture a clean citrus smell)

First you will want to put the oats in a food processor or blender and blend into a fine powder.

Next mix the powdered oats, cornmeal, and salt.  Once all dry ingredients are mixed add essential oil for scent.  This step is optional.

I used a wide mouth decorative jelly jar that I had left over from the canning season.  If you have a canning funnel it comes in handy for more than canning.

Here are the ingredients for the body butter:
  • 1 tbsp. of Coconut Oil
  • 2 tbsp. of Shea Butter
  • 2 tsp. of Safflower Oil
  • 2 tsp. of Grapeseed Oil

Coconut oil is a solid below 76 degrees and becomes a liquid at 77 degrees.  I measured both solids and heated in microwave for 20 seconds till soft but not melted.

Once softened, place in mixer and SLOWLY add oils.  This step can take a few minutes.  You will want to increase the mixer speed as the oil is incorporated.

Your final product should look like whipped butter.

I had a old Avon jar that I found at an estate sale several years ago so I used it to hold the butter.

Remember that this is a deep conditioning body butter, so a little goes a long way.  Because of the coconut oil it will have an oily feel to it, however, if you use a small amount it will be absorbed into the skin within a few minutes.

As you can see, this gift is one that is not expensive but is a little more time consuming than just picking up a gift card.  The purpose of this post is to show you that you can give gifts and enjoy the holiday season without becoming a crazy Black Friday causality.  The focus is not money as much as the mentality of the modern gift giver. Tomorrow I will post another homemade gift, so if this one isn't up your alley, check back then and see what you think!

*Note: The foot scrub is a powder so you will want to put a little in your hand then add a small amount of water to form a paste.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Homemade Cleaning Products

We have had several busy days here at our little homestead.  The holiday season is right around the corner and both of my girls are expecting little ones.  McKenna, pictured below, is due in the next month or so.

This was taken this past Saturday, hard to believe she is 33 weeks in this picture!

We have been busy washing new little human clothes, putting baby beds together and cleaning the last of the clutter out of 'Coopers' soon to be room.  This past weekend I was talking with a friend of McKenna's, about using coupons and living a frugal, self sufficient life.  She and her new husband have just purchased their first home and are discovering how expensive running a home can be.  I gave her a few tips on how she could cut her budget by  meal planning, couponing, and doing things such as  by making her own cleaning products.  That evening I had her make her very first batch of homemade laundry soap.  She and her husband were so surprised to see how easy and inexpensive it was!

Here are a few recipes for cleaning products that can be made with basic ingredients most of us have on hand.

Laundry Detergent

Ingredients & Supplies:

  • 2 cups of Borax
  • 2 cups Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • 1 bar of laundry soap 

Grate laundry soap, mix Borax and Washing Soda all together.  Use 2 tbsp. per load.  Please note that this recipe will not foam or suds up.

Fabric Softener
Soften your clothes without harsh chemicals with this simple alternative. The vinegar will also help to reduce laundry detergent residue on your clothes, a bonus for members of your household with sensitive skin. 
Ingredients & Supplies:
  • 1 cup white vinegar
Instructions: Pour vinegar into the laundry rinse cycle (or the fabric softener compartment, if your washing machine has one).

All Purpose Cleaner 

Use this to clean, disinfect, and deodorize a variety of surfaces. Use it to wipe down kitchen and bathroom countertops, stovetops, appliances, and more.
Ingredients & Supplies:
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • spray bottle

Creamy Scrub "a.k.a. soft scrub"

Instructions: Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray onto surfaces and wipe with a cloth or sponge. Caution: Improperly diluted vinegar can harm certain surfaces. Always test first in a small area if you're unsure.
Use in place of commercial creamy scrubs to clean stained and dirtied surfaces.
Ingredients & Supplies:
  • 1½ cup baking soda
  • ½ cup water
  • bowl or jar
Instructions: Mix baking soda and water in the jar (or bowl) to create a paste. Spread paste over surface, and wipe with sponge.

For stubborn stains, let paste stand for 15 minutes before sponging off.

Soften your clothes without harsh chemicals with this simple alternative. The vinegar will also help to reduce laundry detergent residue on your clothes, a bonus for members of your household with sensitive skin.

Furniture Polish Recipe

Ingredients & Supplies:
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • spray bottle
Instructions: Shake well and apply a small amount to a flannel cleaning rag or cleaning cloth. Spread evenly over furniture surface. Turn cloth to a dry side and polish dry.

Strong Glass Cleaner Recipe

Ingredients & Supplies:
  • 1 cup rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon clear, non-sudsing ammonia
  • Spray bottle
  • Recycled newspaper to wipe the glass (works better than any paper towel)

Homemade Glass Cleaner
Ingredients & Supplies:
  • 1 cup rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  • Recycled newspaper to wipe the glass (works better than any paper towel)

Granted, it's an admittedly small step in the right direction, but with the state of world affairs over the last several years, anything and everything helps!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Can You Cook Without Eggs, Milk, or Butter?

Tonight I saw a post of Facebook by one of my friends/family who, by the way, has four children that said   "I have no milk and no cheese!  How do you cook dinner without milk and cheese?"  This gave me such a laugh because I can vividly remember being a young wife and mother and finding myself in the same situation!  Unfortunately for my family, that was before my preparedness skills had been developed.

Having a well stocked pantry can save you in more ways than one.  If you are like us and you are totally busy all day, everyday, then running out to the store for one or two missing ingredients is just a pain.  Many of you have young children and know quite well how inconvenient it is to load the kids up and drive to the store for one or two things, so much so that you would almost rather do without!  What if you could find a happy medium like something that would save you when you realize that you are missing one essential ingredient, like milk, eggs, or butter?

I have the answer for you!  It's dehydrated or powdered substitutes.  I know many of you are turning up your nose at the word 'powdered', but please remember we are using it to cook with, not eat as is.  In stocking my pantry for the unexpected, whether it be the loss of a job, an extra high utility bill, or an unforeseen major car repair, etc., these items are worth their weight in gold when I call them into use.

In my personal research and preparation I came across a company, Shelf Reliance, that sells all the essentials in a long term, shelf stable form which will hold for up to 25 years in most cases!  These items can be costly if you try and use them as everyday essentials, but if they are part of your stockpile or 'back-up' pantry then they are well worth it.  Tonight one of my grown kids turned their nose up at the idea of using powdered milk for their cereal until I told on myself and let them know that I've refilled the milk jug more than once with powdered milk and they didn't even notice!  This is really not my normal MO, but sometimes you just do what you gotta do.  My challenge for you is to look at the staples you use.  If you can find them in a shelf stable version then buy just one of each to begin your stockpile pantry in order to save yourself not only an inconvenient trip to the store, but buy just a little insurance as well.

Sidenote:  We've mentioned this site on one previous occasion on this blog.  In case you missed it, let us know in advance if you intend to actually purchase something from them.  We have a way to get you a discount on the items beyond the normal prices listed on the site.  And, for full disclosure, we have no affiliation or involvement with this site or anything like that, we just happen to think they have wonderful products that are tough to find elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Thrifty Kitchen

I have found that a thrifty kitchen is a busy kitchen!  Not because cooking is so time consuming, but because you begin to realize that half of what you're throwing away could be used in another dish or for another purpose. When you decide to quit buying prepackaged foods and begin cooking from scratch, your time will shift from grocery shopping to meal planning and preparing.

Here are a few tips I have found to be useful in my kitchen.

  • Have a gallon size freezer bag handy, and as you prepare your meal toss any vegetables left over into the bag and freeze them.  Continue to add veggies to the bag until it's full and use all the "left over" veggies to make a soup.
  • Plan your meals around 'intentional leftovers'.  On Sunday I cooked a ham for dinner, but I planned on using the leftover meat for sandwiches during the week.  By Thursday the meat had been eaten and the only thing left was a nice meaty bone.  On Friday I cooked a big pot of 15 bean soup and used the leftover ham bone for flavoring, and the remaining meat fell off the bone into the soup.  Those are what I call intentional leftovers.
  • Designate one night a week as leftover night.  This usually works well for me on Wednesday or Thursday.  By that time I've cooked several meals and have a little of each in the fridge.  I pull everything out and divide it up according to who likes what the most and will cook just enough of something new to ensure that everyone is full.  
  • Before you toss something in the trash, ask yourself if it could be used for something else.  If you have no idea, ask the Google (sorry, that's a Bush-ism, lol)!  For example, I realized my lemon and orange peals were great for freshening up my garbage disposable.
  • Make your own mixes.  Here are recipes for several I use. (Bisquick, 'Lipton' style onion soup mix, pancake mix, 'Bakers Joy' pan release )
  • When using the oven, try to bake several things at once and freeze the extra.  I cooked two meatloaves the other evening and froze one for dinner another night.  Not only does this save me time, it saves money by not using the gas another night.
  • When making homemade cookie dough, make a double portion and freeze half of the batch another time.
This isn't an exhaustive list as you can see, it's just a few things that have keep our kitchen going when times were lean.  I would love hearing your personal tips and tricks.  If you're lucky enough to have older ladies in your life, ask them for any tips they might be able to share concerning a thrifty kitchen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Function vs. Beauty - It Can Be Done!

Function and beauty at the same time!

I'm the type of person who loves a clean, organized house.  I love to wander through the storage section of any store, and looking through a catalog that has endless organizers and containers gives me the *warm fuzzies*.

This can become a pain for the folks around here because everything has to have a home, and if it's not in it's home I get all grumbly.  Let me defend myself for a minute here.  This obsession has come in handy more times than I can count.  At one point in my life I condensed a 3,000 sq. ft. house and five people into a single wide mobile home with room to spare!

I believe organization is key to living a life wherein you take advantage of all your assets and use every item that comes into your home (which follows the main tennent of this blog). No matter the size of your home, if you can't find your stuff and have to buy it again or you are tripping all over your possessions, then that's wasteful.  Have you ever forgotten you had something because it was misplaced or lost?  Have you ever donated or tossed something into the trash because you couldn't find the piece that would make it work?  I have, and that drives me insane!  Just when I get rid of whatever it is, the missing piece turns up... Grrr!

Our house is no different than yours!  It gets trashed and we trip all over ourselves too.  Who wouldn't have a messy home occasionally when there are five adults living in 1050 sq. ft..  This set of photos were taken after my two adult kids (18 & 20) and their significant others spent the night here and then left for work the next morning. They know the rules, so that day I threw away a pair of jeans, a tank top and a pair of shoes.  I know that sounds harsh, but if they can't be bothered to clean up after themselves and they disregard their items enough to leave them on the floor, then the trash is the best place for them.

Our kitchen table can easily become a catch-all, so we try to have folks walk straight to their room before they drop their stuff.  However, that doesn't always work as you can see by this picture. We try though!  Honestly, as I sit here and look at this picture, half the stuff on the table is mine! Shh, don't let my kids hear me say that. ;-)

So let's get organized!

Where do I start you may ask?  My suggestion is to start in the busiest room of the house.  I know for some that might be a scary place to begin, but you will see the biggest difference right from the start which will motivate you to continue.  In our home the kitchen and dining areas see the most traffic so we started there.  Your kitchen should fit your families lifestyle and the way you live.  Most kitchens are designed by people who rarely use the space for anything other than making a cup of coffee or reheating take-out.  I remember that in my first custom built house I let the cabinet maker design the layout of the cabinets.  I was a young wife and mother, and I was naive enough to think that a 'professional' would know better than me.  To my surprise, when the cabinets and counter top were installed (no going back now), I realized that I had NO PANTRY!  What good is a kitchen when you have no place to hold the ingredients you are supposed to cook with?  I asked the company about this, and their answer was that most people just use a few cabinets to hold their canned and boxed goods, and that a separate cabinet to house food was for older style kitchens.  "Oh, you mean back in the day when families use to cook and eat at home?", I thought to myself.  IMHO, that's not a working kitchen, that's a glorified dorm kitchen with the requisite microwave!

So here is where we started.  We reorganized both the kitchen and the dining room to maximize our working space.

I took all the big kitchen items that take up a lot of counter top space and put them on a handy shelf in the garage.  This way I don't have to toss the item but its not eating valuable counter top space.

We had an old kitchen table that was taking up space in the attic, so we brought it to the garage which is right off of the kitchen so it's convenient for use.  We placed the most frequently used items on it and plugged them into a power strip so they're ready to go.  In the summer this is another way we control the heat that a working kitchen generates.

We moved our pantry outside to the garage, and since we buy most things in bulk, this makes it easier to store larger items. (this is a bad pic, we were reorganizing at the time and half the food was on the floor)

  This was our original kitchen pantry which we turned  into an "above ground root cellar" to hold all our fruit and veg as well as the recycle bin.

We have a small spiral staircase that has a little nook of space underneath.  Underneath it we have a recycled plant rack Racey found on the curb of a house where the residents were moving and couldn't be bothered to take it with them.  McClane and his granddad cut wooden shelves to serve as a solid base so I could use the space more efficiently.  This now holds many of my 'go to' items that I use several times a day.

We had a coat closet next to our dinning area.  It had mirrored sliding doors and was just wasted space in my opinion.  So we took the doors off, hung a long curtain in its place, and now it stores our large containers of bread flour, all-purpose flour, self rising flour, and sugar.  I use the old coat rack as a pot rack, and I found lid holders at Goodwill and mounted them on the wall.

Our home is very small and if we can find all this storage and organizational space, I know you will have success as well.  It's all about deciding what things you want to accomplish in each room and start to think out of the box.  The fact that just over 1000 square feet functionally fits the needs of a family of five is proof that you can do whatever you really need to do, and it can look plenty nice at the same time!  Just check the pic at the top for proof!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Frugal Kung-Fu Part 4

Take your Sword of Frugality and slice up your food bill so you can eat healthy... affordably!

Join a Food Co-op!
    Joining a food or farmer co-op of some kind can be a huge benefit and have a solid impact on both the health and budget of your home and family.  If you aren’t a part of one, start searching the internet or asking around for what’s local to you.
Melissa surfed around a little one afternoon and came across a farmer co-op in our area called Farmer's Market Baskets.  Joining this co-op and getting involved with the community there has literally changed our lives.  We began by volunteering twice a week and our involvement has grown exponentially in a very short time.  I am now their delivery driver and take anywhere from 100-150 baskets of produce to various drop off locations around the area.  Melissa and McClane help me run the route and they also cashier twice a week.  We also recently facilitated the opening of a new location across town to continue to expand and spread the blessings.
Another great reason to join a local farmer’s co-op is that while it’s not a guarantee, it’s much more likely that you’ll be eating produce grown at least somewhat locally.  While I’m not going to digress into a discussion about peak oil, believe me when I tell you that the days of the 3,000 mile Caesar salad are quickly coming to an end.
 This house is now overflowing with more fresh fruit and vegetables than we can handle.  Each week we end up with enough fruit and veg for three families and it literally costs us nothing except a few hours of our time.  We fight a constant battle to deal with everything we get before it goes bad.  We dehydrate, can and freeze like crazy people and then see that we give the rest away to family, friends, and neighbors who need it.  A couple weeks ago we ended up with nine huge cantaloupes.  Now, we like cantaloupe, but could you eat nine of them before they go bad?  We actually did, but you get the point.
Obviously not everyone reading this lives in the Kennesaw, GA area, but if you happen to be local, leave a comment with your email address and I’ll get in touch with you about hooking you up with Farmer’s Market Baskets.  You basically get 2-3 times the amount of produce you could get for the same price in the grocery store, or the same amount for half to one-third of the price, however you want to look at it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Frugal Kung-Fu Part 3

 If you're reading this series then congratulations!  You've probably already done at least one or two things to improve your Frugal-Fu skills.  Think you're ready to move up the ranks of the frugally minded and really be able to say you're becoming a master of Frugal-Fu?  Meditate on today's lesson about home energy use for a while and you'll certainly be on your way.

The Household Energy Audit

If you haven’t done so, perform a household energy audit and look at simple ways you can change what you’re doing to save you money.  Even if you’re not overly concerned about the environment, you’ll be impacting that too.  There are certainly more things you can do than what’s listed here, these are just the things we’ve actually done to our home.

  • Check your water heater temperature.  Many people have theirs set overly high.  Your temperature in general need not be above 165°F.  You can honestly probably be just fine with a temperature of 145°F.  You’ll use either less gas or less electricity.  Also, purchase and install a water heater insulating blanket if your water heater is in a non-environmentally controlled space in your home.  

  • Clean your air ducts.  Your home will both heat and cool more efficiently using less energy, and you’ll be healthier for it by reducing the amount of dust and particles in the air in your home.  

  • Get low flow shower heads if you don’t have them.  Generally a low flow shower head is considered to be anything that runs at 2.5GPM (gallons per minute) or less.  I think this is bogus.  There are great shower heads that run at 1.5GPM or less and have ‘miser’ settings you can use as well.  We have 1.5GPM heads in both of our bathrooms.  Then what I do when I take a shower is get my temperature comfortable, then I push the handle back in so it’s only producing enough flow to keep the shower from kicking back to the bathtub faucet.  Many times I’ll set it to the miser setting on top of that, especially if I’m just standing there shaving.  I’ve measured my usage by getting a gallon pitcher and measuring how long it takes to fill up.  With my method and settings I take a comfortable shower using a truly conservative 0.75GPM.  If you do the math, in a 15-20 minute shower you’ll go from using something like 60 gallons of water on an average 3GPM shower head to just over 10 gallons on a low flow head with the method I described.  Multiply the saved 50 gallons of water times the number of showers you take in a month.  At this rate, and considering one shower each day, you’ll save 1500 gallons a month.  And that’s just one person!  Consider a small family of three saving nearly 5000 gallons of water a month.  That’s certainly enough to lower your water bill.  

  • Take a look at your dishwasher.  This can be an iffy option for most people.  If you’re really pressed for time on a regular basis you probably won’t have time to do all your dishes by hand.  Many dishwashers do recycle their water, but when our older dishwasher went on the fritz we didn’t bother replacing or repairing it.  We now use it to store mason jars and do our dishes by hand and though we haven’t really measured it like we have baths and showers, we feel like we’re saving water and money to use a small amount of water in the sink and a bottle of dish liquid instead of buying dishwasher detergent.  This may or may not work for you but at least consider it.

  • Take a look at your washing machine.  If it’s old and your budget permits, you can get really miserly washing machines that sip the water instead of chug it.  Our older washing machine uses almost 100 gallons of water to do one load.  We don’t have the money to replace it, but we do what we can to limit how much laundry we produce such as using towels to dry off after a shower at least twice.

This is ours in the backyard
  • Consider your clothes dryer.  At 220 volts, they really suck up the electricity.  So what did we do?  We bought a nice collapsible clothesline and now we hang all our laundry out to dry.  After a month of two of our dryer simply sitting there unused we just gave it away and now we don’t even own a clothes dryer.  You may not be able to go that far, but consider putting up a clothesline of some kind and at least using it when you have time and the weather is nice.  We also got a stand alone laundry rack that stays in the garage to hang the laundry on to dry in the winter when it’s 30° outside and the water in the clothes will freeze instead of drying.  

  • Cooking outside as much as possible is something we do during the summer when it’s really hot out.  We have a charcoal grill as well as a propane stove we use as much as we can because around here it gets so hot in the summer the air conditioner can barely keep up.  Fire up the oven and burners and such in the kitchen and it gets just miserable.  I’ve heard many people complain about this happening in their own homes, and cooking outside is the solution.  Outdoor propane stoves with at least two burners can be had for under $50.   

  • Killing the summer sun and block cold air by applying heat reflective films to your major sun windows.  There are great films out there that don’t tint or darken your light if you prefer to keep your light as well as tinted types that will give you as much or as little shade as you want.  As usual, we didn’t have money for these nice films so you know what I did?  I got flat black paint and literally painted our sliding glass doors until they were covered solid and didn’t let in a single bit of light.  Now that it’s getting to be winter I just took a razor and it all came off perfectly clean in about 15 minutes.  This may not be something you’d do, but around here                                                we get things done however we can, even if it’s a                                                little… odd

  • Get some compact fluorescent or LED bulbs and install them in your most used sockets.  When they first came out, the math didn’t work when comparing cost savings to the cost to purchase the bulb, but that’s changed.  If you look there are coupons out for these types of bulbs now.  Wait for a sale, use a coupon, whatever.  Installing these throughout your home will create a situation where it costs just pennies a month to light your home.  

  • Check the insulation in your attic and crawlspaces throughout your home.  If any of it is missing or seems old and broken down, replace it.  The cost savings here should be obvious.

  • If you don’t have what’s called a ‘pro-vent’ in your attic you should certainly install one.  Lowering the extreme levels of heat in your attic will make your air conditioner run less.  We didn’t have one so we installed one at a total cost of about $200.  This was a tad pricey, but we had the labor done for us so that figure includes the cost of installation.  Regardless, the cost savings over just two summers will certainly pay for the cost of purchase and installation.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, these are just a few of the things we’ve done ourselves that have noticeably impact our recurring bills.  These tips should also be enough to get you started.  Once you’ve performed the Quality of Life Assessment recommended in the previous Frugal-Fu post and you’ve gone down the list of things suggested in the Home Energy Audit you’ll hopefully be looking at things a little differently and will have no problem finding plenty of additional steps you can take in your own home beyond the things listed here.  So pull out the ninja suit and start killing those utility bills with your mad Frugal-Fu skills!

Frugal Kung Fu Part 2

How's your Frugal-Fu these days?  Ours is strong.  Here's the second installment of our new Frugal Kung Fu series designed to fatten your wallet without thinning your lifestyle...

Frugal Kung Fu Tip #2:  Quality of Life Assessment
        Sit back for a while and think about what you spend your money on.  Then think about the cost of whatever you’re doing or buying, whatever it may be, and think of it in terms of your wages.  Think about the cost of a nice dinner for either you and your spouse or maybe your entire family.  What’s the bill at the end of the night?  $30?  $50?  $90 even?  Think about how many hours of work it takes you to make that much money and, before you spend, ask yourself if it’s really worth it.  Train yourself to think in this manner every time you reach for a store shelf and start to pick something up.  Ask yourself if the amount of time you would have to work to pay for the cost of that item is really worth it.  Maybe you’re on the road a lot and you find yourself in convenience stores for things like drinks and snacks.  Look at what you spend in an entire month on just picking up a soda here and there or whatever it may be.  Then ask yourself if it’s worth it.  If you really take a magnifying glass to your everyday lifestyle, you’ll probably find that you can’t really justify some or possibly many of your habits. 
        I’m not suggesting that you go around thirsty all day because you shouldn’t spend money on a soda.  What I am suggesting is that you find an alternative way to continue doing what you’re doing.  If you’re always popping into a convenience store for a drink, instead, bring a cooler with some ice and a six pack of Coke in it.  Make your coffee at home instead of stopping at the local Starbucks.  Bring snacks and food with you before you leave for the day, which in many cases can be something you couponed for next to nothing if you use Frugal-Fu tip #1.  If you go through a fast food drive-thru with any regularity, stop!   It’s expensive, unhealthy, garbage pseudo-food!  If haven’t seen “Super Size Me” you should.
        Overall, just take a serious look at your quality of life.  We’ve found that we actually have a higher quality of life by not being slaves to 40 hours and our ‘stuff’.  Get off the hamster wheel.  Step back from the newest iPhone and forget the newest Android.  Quit being a blind consumer and try and focus on what really matters like the quality and amount of time you get to spend with those you love.
        If you haven’t seen it, I highly encourage you to take a quick look at “The Story of Stuff.”  It’s less than 20 minutes and you’ll get a better idea of what I’m getting at here.  It's really worth the watch.  Unless you have something overly pressing to do in the next 20 minutes click the "full screen" link below and learn yerself sumthin'.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Frugal Kung Fu Part 1

Many of us live paycheck to paycheck, but even if we get a raise or a promotion, it's all too often that as we make more money, our living styles and expenses seem to increase at the same rate.  Let's call it life inflation.  Unfortunately, sometimes things go the other way, and these days that's the case for most average people.  That the middle class is shrinking is really just another way of saying that most people are either making less money or haven't increased their earnings fast enough to keep up with the inflation of goods, services, food and energy, and are thus experiencing a decline in their standard of living.
            If you find yourself in either of these situations, either you're earning more but seem to still be barely getting by, or the cost of living is out-pacing your income, you've come to the right place.  Today we're going to share with you quite a bit of information that will provide you so many ways to cut costs you're bound to take up at least a few of them.  Let me say first that there is a plethora of "10 ways to save money" type of articles out there.  We've read more of them than we can count, and what we've found in nearly every case is that either the tips aren't relevant (diversify your portfolio and check the yield on your bonds, lol!) or it's something we're already doing.  What we've also found is that the things we do every day to save money that have a real, noticeable impact are entirely missing from these articles.  If you want to start reducing the cost of your daily subsistence in substantial ways, prepare to be amazed (ok fine, mildly impressed) at the things you could be doing that you're probably not.
            In this new series, we’ll show you frugal ways to save money without significantly changing your lifestyle.  These aren’t just fanciful ideas, these are things we actually do here in our home every day that keep the wheel spinning for us.  

Frugal Kung-Fu Tip #1:  Couponing

Maybe you’ve seen these ‘extreme couponing’ shows that have come out lately.  We’ve actually never seen any of them (you’ll learn why later).  Maybe you clip the occasional coupon now and again.  However, if you’re not an extreme couponer, you should be.  We regularly go to the grocery store, fill out basket with $150 worth of food, and walk out having paid less than $30.  Sometimes we pop in for a little haul and walk out with $50 or $60 worth of items and pay only $9 for everything.  It’s nice to get 25% off here and there, but when you start being able to get things you need in large quantities and approach an average discount of 80% or more, that’s when it gets good and you’re really start getting ahead.  

An actual receipt from a recent trip to Publix

 Most people imagine that to do this you have to spend hours and hours cutting coupons and figuring out deals and such.  This is absolutely not true.  Melissa spends no more than one hour a week dealing with her coupons, many times it’s more like 30 minutes.

Well here’s how it’s done:  start by visiting websites specializing in extreme couponing.  They have an entire team of people who stay abreast of every sale and every deal going on at every major grocery store.  They also figure out and organize how to put the deals together so they build on each other.  They'll show you exactly what items are on sale and exactly how much each item is going to cost you.  They'll also tell you exactly where to find the coupons necessary to put a given deal together.  If you tried to do all that yourself it certainly would take hours and hours.  These sites do nearly all the work for you.  All you have to do is review their listings, decide which items you want to purchase, and gather the coupons you need for those items.  All the coupons come either from the Sunday paper or are printed from the internet.  Gathering them will be the only time you’ll spend, which is why it will take an hour or less once you know what you’re doing.

Now, let me say, there is a slight learning curve in as much as different stores have different coupon policies.  All you do about that is go to each store's website and you’ll be able to review their corporate coupon policy.  Sometimes it's worth it to have the policy printed out and with you when you hit places like Walgreens and CVS.  You’ll understand the reason for this pretty quickly.  You see, when you walk up to the counter at some of these drug stores and they ring everything up and the total comes to say, $50 or so, then you run all your coupons and it ends up being discounted to $4 the cashier is going to be confused and figure something must not be right.  More than once they’ve called the manager over to review the transaction and believe it or not, the cashiers and managers will sometimes actually resent you for getting so much for so little.  They may even act like they earn on commission or something and try to tell you you’re not allowed to do what you’re doing.  That’s when you show them their corporate coupon policy and make them understand that yes, you are allowed to do exactly what you’re doing.  On the few occasions this has happened to us this has cleared everything up and to this day we’ve never been refused or denied our purchase. 

          By extreme couponing, not only will you save huge amounts of money, you'll end up with large numbers of things you have to have.  We have a large container with probably 50 name brand razors that in most cases were free or close to it.  We have 20-30 each of toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, etc., and all of it was either free or cost something like 50 cents each.  This is stuff everyone uses that’s not going to ‘go bad’ because it sits there for a couple months before you get around to using it because you have so much of it.  Stockpiling is a Good Thing!  If you’re not extreme couponing, you’re missing out.  Period.

Sidenote:  If you want all your questions answered and receive a more thorough step-by-step walkthrough of exactly how things are done, we have a class scheduled for this Saturday, November 12, but only one person has registered to attend.  If you're interested and want to learn from a pro, either leave a comment or send Melissa an email.  If we can gauge people's interest we may schedule another class in the future.

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