December 31, 2009

Homemade "detergents" and cleaners: Cheaper and Equal in Quality???

I have been using homemade laundry detergent (actually it is a soap product) this month.  I first used the powdered version of Fels Naptha soap, borax and washing soda. The cost per load was .075 cents.  I was able to purchase these supplies at a local grocery store.  I felt it was a little pricey but I never did double check the price on Borax or Washing Soda at another store.  So the price could be reduced further.  Also I used Fels Naptha as I felt it was a good choice as it is a laundry bar soap but I have read on other blogs that many have had really good results using Ivory bar soap.  I must say that I like the powdered version.

I decided to try the liquid version of the laundry detergent this week.  Same ingredients in different amounts with added water.  The result is that I made 2 gallons of goop that I have been using this week to wash clothes.  These 2 gallons made 64 - 1/2 cup loads of soap.  The cost per load was .01 cents.

The jury is still out on whether I like this version or not.  I do not have small children living in the household so our clothes do not good real dirty, especially in the winter time.  When I do have a greasy stain I have been using Dawn Dish Detergent - the original blue version - with great results.  Now, I need to find a homemade version of pre-treatment.  I think the best would be to take the clothing item and run cold water on the stain and immediately wash it. 

I'm trying to decide which is best.  The liquid version does not dissolve well in cold water.  I compensate for this by dumping a 1/2 cup of the goop into a clean jar and filling it half full with hot water.  Then I put on the lid and shake it to dissolve and dump it in the washing machine. 

The powdered version takes more Fels Naptha which leads me to believe that it may clean better, but I'm not sure.  Some people add too much soap to the washer and this makes the clothes dingy.

Recently a 32 load size of All detergent was on sale for $2.99.  I had a $2.00 off coupon so for .99 cents or .03 cents per load I was able to purchase a good detergent.  However this was a rare occasion to have a coupon for $2.00 off one bottle so I do not expect to have this kind of savings every day.  I may use this detergent in a recipe for a homemade pre-treatment, but I'm not sure.

Now what to do.  I am going to wait and see. I need to price the borax and washing soda at another grocery store as I believe I can get them at a significantly reduced price.  Also I would like to try using Ivory bar soap to see if there is a difference between this and Fels Naptha.  This would lower the price of the powdered version which I prefer. My goal is not to go over 3 cents a load. 

Both of the homemade versions do not leave a fragrance on your clothes which is nice but I am used to having some sort of fragrance.  I compensated for this by using a liquid fabric softener.  I was able to purchase Downey on sale with a coupon a few months back for about $2.00 for a 52 load bottle.  I only use half the amount recommended.  Also I was able to purchase Snuggle Fabric softener sheets - 80 sheet box for only 89 cents as I had a $3.00 off coupon.  I always cut these in half. 

There is something about a good fabric softener that adds a beautiful fragrance and softness to towels.  However I don't expect to continue to be able to get deals like these on a consistant basis.  So I am going to try the following recipe and use it intermittedly to see how I like it.  The recipe is as follows: 2 cups water, 1 cup vinegar and 2/3 cup hair conditioner and you use 1/4 cup per load.  I can always get Suave Hair Conditioner pretty cheap and they have wonderful fragrances.  We will see. 

I am on my last few loads of Cascade dishwasher detergent.  I am not brand loyal and I buy what is on sale and use a coupon.  I am going to try a homemade version.  I have been given the following recipe:
1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup table salt and 4 envelopes of unsweetened lemon kool-aid.  I will use vinegar as the rinse aid.  I think this will work for me as I do rinse off my dishes a little before I load in the dish washer. However I have seen several blogs where people have commented that the glasses come out cloudy and dingy.  Again, I am going to give it a whirl as if it doesn't work I will just go out and purchase a name brand or store brand on sale and use half with the homemade version.

I think the reason that I am attracted to the above recipes is the ease of not having to leave home to go to the store and being more self sufficient.  Also, I feel that most of the ingredients are better for the environment than the commercial cleaners.

Our household is in a major savings mode right now and any dime, nickel or penny I save is one my husband doesn't have to earn.  I am really committed to finding a way to double the amount we put into savings each month. 

Has anyone else had any success with home made versions of the above?  I would be interested in knowing what your experience has been.

December 29, 2009

My Mentors: Dacyczyn; Kellam & Cooper; Myers

I have seen on other blogs references to Amy Dacyczyn as I share the feeling that she was the one that got this frugal movement started. 

In January 1993 with my newborn son in tow I flew to Los Angeles to visit my in-laws.  I was going through post partum depression and the loss of a job.  I was exhausted.  My mother-in-law graciously paid for my plane ticket to the warm weather of Southern California.  One day we were at a mall and we walked into a bookstore.  There on display was "The Tightwad Gazette." This was the first book.  I had heard about Amy as she was making the interview circuit and I had seen her interview on the Phil Donahue show.  I was intrigued.  I bought the book and read it while I was in California and when I got home I started to put many of her suggestions into practice.  I also subscribed to her newsletter.  Over the years I purchased "The Tightwad Gazettes II and III."

When I found a new job, and with working full time, I decided that I didn't necessarily have the time for frugalness as I was now earning a paycheck.  I was stupid.  Many of the suggestions in Amy's book do not take a lot of time.  Instead I was feeling entitled to spending the money that I had earned.

Flash forward 11 years.  One night I was on the internet doing some searches on frugal recipes.  Our oldest son was in college and we needed to tighten our belts.  Somehow I came across Tawra Kellam's website Living on a Dime.  I bought her cookbook then titled "Not Just Beans" and later on purchased her revised cookbook now titled "Dining on a Dime."  Tawra's mother, Jill Cooper, also posts many articles on her site and they both share their experiences of paying off debt and living on a small sum of money.  For me, Tawra and Jill picked up where Amy left off and their site is one of my favorites.  Since I have been home full time, I turn to "Dining on a Dime" for many recipes.  This book not only includes food recipes but also recipes for cleaners and beauty products. 

Over time I have purchased many e-books from Living on a Dime and have never been disappointed.  Dining on a Dime is on my bookshelf next to The Tightwad Gazettes I, II and III. 

I would say that after the above two people I have become a big fan of Hillbilly Housewife.  Susanne Myers does a wonderful job with this site and the information that she provides.  I particularly like her emergency menus that she has listed.  This has inspired me to come up with my own versions of these menus tailored to my family's tastes.  I have become a member of the Hillbilly Housewife Club and I enjoy getting to know other women and learning from them. 

Susanne complements Tawra and Jill.  I find that when I log on to their sites I feel as if I am going into the homes of friends that are willing to take me by the arm and mentor me in ways to save money and manage a home.

What are your favorite sites?

Wheat Bread Recipe

I decided that I needed to add some recipes to my blog and I had one request for my wheat bread recipe. 

Honey Wheat Bread

Mix the following ingredients in a large bowl: 

3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons milled flax seed (can omit)
8 teaspoons vital wheat gluten (can omit)
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon honey (or brown sugar)
1 teaspoon salt

Then add:

1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup sorghum (or molasses) OR 1/2 cup sorghum (or molasses) OR 1/2 cup honey.  Finally add 1/4 cup melted butter. 

Beat this well in a mixer or by hand.  I use my Kitchenaid mixer to accomplish this.  Then slowly add about 5 cups of white flour, a cup at a time.  Then the fun begins.  Knead it until smooth and elastic.  I knead the dough for about 5 to 7 minutes adding a little bit of flour as needed.  I always set my kitchen timer when I am doing this.  Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a cloth.  Put in a warm place and let it rise until doubled.  After it has doubled, punch the dough down and form it into two loaves.  Place these loaves into two greased loaf pans and let the loaves rise until doubled.  When this is done, bake your loaves at 375 degrees for anywhere between 30 and 40 minutes til golden.  Each oven is different so you will have to check on the bread.  Remove the baked loaves from the oven and loosen the loaves, remove from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.  I always take a stick of butter that I keep in the fridge and run one end of it over the hot top crusts of the loaf.  This creates a soft crust.  I keep this stick of butter in the fridge for this purpose.

Additional Comments:  I am not concerned about the use of butter in this recipe.  You can substitute canola oil if you would like.  I like adding flax seed to this recipe as it adds even more fiber.  I add the vital wheat gluten as it helps the bread to rise and creates a moist texture.  I have found that for the flax seed, the vital wheat gluten and the whole wheat I prefer the Hodgson Mill brand to all others.  I can find these products in my grocery store.  I know a lot of women grind their own wheat for bread.  At this point I cannot afford a wheat mill and have no plans to purchase one.

December 28, 2009

Planning for Christmas 2010 today

Going from spendthrift to being frugal is a lifestyle change that doesn't happen overnight.  At least it didn't for me.  I have been taking baby steps in the past few months in making the changes necessary to live on one income.  One change was Christmas.  We set a budget and didn't go over it.  I started to purchase gifts in September when I would be at Wal-mart and noticed some great gifts going on sale.  One such gift was a royal blue fleece blanket for $4.00.  I bought it for my teenage son.  I have the same blanket in red and he was always taking my red blanket and wrapping up in it on a cold night.  Then I saw a dvd of my husband's favorite movie for $5.00.  My Christmas stash had begun.

The Christmas lists that our children and daughter in law gave us included such items as dvd's, books, t-shirts and winter hats.   There were two items on the list that were pricey.  My DH is a runner and he has run 12 marathons.  He ran the Boston Marathon twice.  He wanted a GPS watch.  After shopping around I was able to buy him one at a great discount.  My DH didn't ask for anything for his birthday from me this year nor for Father's day.  He couldn't think of anything and to buy something for the sake of giving him a gift didn't make sense to him.  So I justified the GPS watch purchase and he was thrilled with it.  He doesn't wear it just for running, but wears it as his everyday watch.

Our teenage son wanted an IPOD touch.  I really had to think about this one.  His birthday is January 4th and he will be 17.  I decided to go ahead and get him the IPOD touch and then I cut back on my "Christmas list."  As far as I was concerned for me my Christmas present was being able to be a SAHW/SAHM.  I enjoyed this Christmas more than I had any Christmas in years.  I love the weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas with the decorating, planning and baking.  To me that is my gift, the time I was able to spend at home getting ready.

When making a big ticket item purchase I always think about how much that item will be used.  The GPS watch is being worn by my husband everyday and used everyday.  So in the end we will get our money's worth out of it.  As for the IPOD touch, my DS will be using it a lot also and will take it to college.  Actually the IPOD was the last gift that he opened and he was fine with everything he had received even without the IPOD.  He told us that if he had not received the IPOD touch as a Christmas gift he was planning to save up his money to buy one.  (He has a part time job after school.)

I don't want to be misleading in that for our family we did spend quite a bit of money on two gifts.  The money was saved and nothing was put on credit to be paid on over the next year. 

The rest of the gifts were small ticket items such as books and dvd's (some were purchased used).  I watched daily for amazon's daily deals and most of the books and dvd's we bought we got great deals on or we bought used and like new.  Some of the dvd's were t.v. seasons and were purchased at $15.00 per season on a daily deal vs. the normal price of $35.00.  I love getting a good deal. 

In the end we were able to buy gifts for family members and stayed within our budget.  BUT --- I still felt a little guilty about the fact that we could have done better and spend less which leads me to this post.

To really cut back on next year's Christmas budget I must start today. I'm not necessarily talking about buying gifts now for next year or starting to make gifts to give away.  Instead with each birthday and holiday we celebrate beginning in 2010 we need to start cutting back so that by the time Christmas 2010 rolls around we will already have been practiced in asking for less and giving less.  Our expectations will have changed. 

Unfortunately the first celebration in 2010 is our son's 17th birthday on January 4th.  Sorry DS, no eating out.  I have already put a budget for birthdays and we will be sticking to it.  I have 9 times out of 10 baked the birthday cakes but this year I think I will try my hand at decorating these cakes instead of just frosting them and throwing on some sprinkles.

I cut back on all the dishes served at our Christmas meal and will continue to keep things simple at Easter.  It really cut back on the stress and allowed me to enjoy the holiday.  As for cards, I think we will start to make our own - something I did a long time ago but gave up for the sake of time.  With the average store bought card at $3.00 each, I think I should be able to come up with a cheaper and just as funny alternative. 

So a more frugal (and enjoyable) Christmas 2010 will begin with the changes I make in each birthday and holiday celebration that happens before Christmas.  My goal for 2010 is to spend more time in planning special occasions and make them more the celebrations that they should be.  I want to focus on what we are celebrating (for example a birthday) and not on the money being spent.  I want the memories to last beyond any gift.  I may even start a new tradition and take one silly Hallmark day a month (such as peanut day) and celebrate it, frugally of course.

December 26, 2009

Ramping up the Savings

Christmas 2009 is behind us and the weeks of planning and spending for gifts is finally over.  We kept to our budget for gift giving.  I cut back on holiday baking this year as I have found that in years past the variety of food tends to lead to more and more being thrown out.  You can only eat so many cookies and candy and eventually they go stale and get thrown out.  I kept my Christmas meal simple this year not only for the sake of frugality but also for the sake of sanity.  Our menu was a Spiral baked ham (bought at a rock bottom sales price the week before Thanksgiving), cheesy potatoes in the crockpot, cooked broccoli, apple salad (apples, raisins, mandarin oranges in a Miracle Whip dressing thinned with milk and with some added sugar), dinner rolls with butter and homemade blueberry jam and peach jam.  For dessert - Christmas cookies of course.  It was an easy meal to prepare and there were leftovers that will easily be used up.  Everyone loved the meal. 

Now it is time to think about the future.  The day after Christmas I always start to think about the New Year and what I want to accomplish.  For me it is time to ramp up the savings and really get serious about being frugal.  I have made changes over the past few months in order to save money, but I want to be able to save more money and build our savings.  So over the next few days I am going to look for even the smallest ways to save a dime that I can incorporate into my life.  Some money saving tips I cannot do such as changing the oil in my car but I can start to make all of my cleaning supplies, turn the thermostat down more, switch out old light bulbs to energy saving ones and so on.  I will menu plan and use up what I have in my pantry. 

In thinking of ways to save money I have been thinking back to my grandma.  She died in 1985 at the age of 85.  When she was in good health she lived in a house in the hills of Western Pennsylvania.  She kept warm in the winter with an old coal stove.  In the winter when the sun was out, she made sure to open all the drapes in her house to get that free solar heat into her old farm house.  Then as the daylight fell she closed those drapes in order to keep the drafts out.  She prepared enough food for a meal with minimal leftovers and when she did have leftovers they were used up and never thrown out.  One of my favorite meals was when she would fry potatoes and would add pieces of bread to fry with the potatoes.  Later on I would find out that she added bread because she didn't have enough potatoes.  When clothes were too ragged to repair, the clothes became rags for rag rugs and the buttons and zippers were salvaged for later use.  I will do the same but I will also purchase fewer clothes and when I purchase them I will go to Goodwill first. 

Grandma mended clothes, she hung clothes up to dry even in the winter and she made good use of her time.  When grandma would sit down in the evening to visit with the family she always had a basket of mending to work on.  She was never idle and as I recall she was happy.  She was very poor as a child homeless on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 1900's.  She married and raised a family during the Great Depression.  Grandma like many women of her day knew that money was to be valued and saved.  She made good use of resources.  Also Grandma never really "needed" anything.  Spending money was just something that wasn't done unless it was an absolute need.  When did this lifestyle go out of style?

Perhaps we all need to go back to the way our grandma's lived in order to ramp up our savings.  I plan to make 2010 a year of incorporating some of my grandma's lifestyle into my daily life.  Ramping up our savings is very important right now as we need to put more money away for emergencies such as car repairs, a new roof, new furnace and dare I say, just to feel secure in knowing that we have money in the bank.  In Grandma's day this would be called "saving for a rainy day."

December 21, 2009

Bread Baking

I am learning new skills in my role as full time homemaker.  I never want to get into a rut, but instead I want to keep my life interesting and learn new things.  One of these new skills is bread baking.  I have made bread in the past as an addition to a special dinner, but I have never made it consistantly on a weekly basis.  After reading the labels at the grocery stores for expensive "whole wheat, high fiber bread", I decided that I could do better and it would be healthier and far cheaper.  The fiber in the "whole wheat, high fiber bread" was a whopping 2 grams.  Big whoop!  2 grams is terrible and you would expect a bread labeled as high fiber would actually be higher in fiber.  So I set about making my own whole wheat bread.  I own a bread machine but I have never really liked it for what I would call day to day bread making.  In my bread machine the bread never raises very well and I don't like the hole it leaves in the bottom from the dough kneader. 

I chose a whole wheat bread recipe that called for honey.  I used half honey and half sorghum.  I also added flax seed to the recipe.  Here is the result:

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

These are beautiful loaves of bread.  I double wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and then in two plastic grocery bags and froze them for when we were ready to use them.  For our family I will need about 2 loaves a week.  This bread makes wonderful toast and is great for sandwiches. 

The next bread I baked was cuban bread.  This recipe was in the Tightwad Gazette and while it calls for a lot of yeast, it produces two loaves in a small amount of time.  Again, it is great for sandwiches, if there are any leftover after our supper meal. 

Cuban Bread

When the blizzard hit our area 2 weeks ago, we were running low on dog biscuits.  Our dog gets these treats throughout the day.  I did not want to go to the grocery store as I have been doing my best to not run to the store when we need 1 thing and instead to either make do or make what I need from scratch.  I found a recipe for dog biscuits that calls for whole wheat flour, powdered milk, beef bouillon, beef fat (or vegetable oil) and a few other ingredients I have in my pantry.  I decided against making them in the shape of a dog biscuit and instead used my pizza cutter to cut the dough into rectangles.  These rectangular dog biscuits fit snuggly into my dog's toy "Kong" and she loves trying to get to those dog biscuits.  I made them for pennies and they are better for our dog than store bought.  I will continue to make these and will search for a peanut butter version for variety.

Dog Biscuits

About every other year I have been baking cardamom bread to give away as gifts.  This is a bread that my mom would bake at Christmas time.  I am Swedish and in our household it was a traditional Christmas bread.  If you have never tasted cardamom or wonder what it is like, it is readily available in the spice section of the grocery store.  I believe it is in the ginger family, but I think its taste and aroma is hard to describe except to say that it's flavor is delicious especially in this sweet bread.  The taste and aroma of this bread takes me back to my childhood and our Christmases in Western New York.  On Saturday I baked 8 braided loaves of this bread for gift giving.

The hamburger buns were a last minute addition to my baking day as I decided to have Sloppy Joes for Sunday lunch.  We were going to have a busy afternoon so I put the ingredients for Sloppy Joes into my crock pot before going to church and when we came home it was ready.  Sloppy Joes served over homemade hamburger buns is a treat. 

All in all I am enjoying baking bread.  I love kneading the dough and I feel as if I am getting my upper arms in shape as I work the dough.  Beyond enjoying the process of mixing, kneading, shaping and baking my own loaves I love that I know what is going into each loaf of bread and that the bread is healthier and far cheaper than anything you can get at the store.  There is nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven or the delight of your family as you serve them fresh, homemade bread. 

Cardamom Bread and Hamburger Buns

December 14, 2009

Christmas Decorating

When we moved to our home 12 years ago that first Christmas I went a little wild with the decorations.  In fact I put so many strings of lights on the Christmas tree that I blew out the fuse box and we lost power to the front of our house.  We had to call an electrician to repair the fuse box.

I love to decorate for Christmas.  Back then I put up 9 Christmas trees around our house.  They ranged from 4 feet to 9 feet.  I had theme trees:  A snowflake tree with blue lights and crocheted stars; a pink tree with victorian style ornaments; a bear tree; a bird and wildlife tree; a white tree with red, white and blue ornaments and so on.  I made several of the ornaments; some my mom made; and the rest I purchased at discount stores.  I had candles in each window of the home and it took 15 minutes each night to walk around the house and unplug everything.  Needless to say everyone rushed to be the first in bed so that this task was left to me. 

Then my hours increased at work and for the last couple of years I could barely get up our main tree and that was it.  I felt so stressed at Christmas time as I wanted to decorate more but I did not have the time.  I finally told myself that one tree was enough (and it was) and that was about the only decoration that went up. 

Now that I am home I knew that when Christmas time came I would decorate more than I had in the past few years.  However, I knew that I could not go overboard.  I got a late start.  Last week we managed to get the main tree up and it stood without ornaments on it until the blizzard hit.  There is nothing like a foot of snow to put you into the Christmas decorating mood.  I am posting some of the pictures of what I have done.  I found a balance and I have it all down just right.

I looked over the ornaments for our main tree that we had collected since we were married 29 years ago and frankly about half of them needed to be thrown out or stored away until I could face throwing them out.  I doubt you could call many of them keepsakes.  I went to Wal-mart and I was disappointed with the selection and the price.  I like traditional colors for Christmas and most of the ornaments were lime green, turquoise and gold. I went to the Dollar tree and when I walked into the store there were two carts with a 50% off sign.  I looked into the carts and they were filled with glass blown old fashioned type ornaments.  These looked like ornaments from the 1940's and were just what I was looking for.  I filled my cart and in the end I had close to 60 ornments and all for 50 cents each.  That fit my budget.

These ornaments look wonderful on my tree and I am delighted.  I added glass blown ornaments I already had and included some plain red, green and gold ornaments to fill in.  I think that this is the most beautiful decorated tree we have had.

When we closed the law firm in August my boss told me to take the office Christmas tree.  It is a tall, narrow tree which fits perfectly in our entryway.  I have placed all the family ornaments on that tree including those special two ornaments:  our children's first Christmas ornaments.  (You will notice in these pictures that the walls have been stripped of wallpaper, that I need to repair the plaster and paint.  A project for the first of the year.)

I have gone to using bendable garland over entryways to put my snowmen and Santa Claus ornaments and such.  This gives us more room.  I also pulled out my Fontanini Nativity set my mother in law gave me years ago and decorated our buffet with Christmas trees.  The buffet was at our office and my boss gave it to me.  He also gave me the two book shelves that are on either side of our main Christmas tree.

As to this little tree on a sofa table it is a little something special as it sits next to pictures of my family including my deceased father.

All in all I took the best of my Christmas decorations, added $30 from my purchases at the Dollar Tree and am very happy with how it has all turned out.  I have only one thing to add and that is the Christmas stockings which I made.  Which leads to future Christmases and ornaments.  I used to years ago cross stitch a lot.  I have a lot of packages of cross stitch kits of Heirloom Santas and angels and more.  I probably have close to 40 kits that I purchased over 15 years ago.  I did stitch a few but gave up as I was working so many hours.  Over the next few years I plan to stitch those ornaments and hang them on a tree or garland. 

I have to say that as I sit here typing this on an overcast wintry day with all the Christmas decorations and lights up, I feel like the queen of my home indeed.  Oh and it helps to have "White Christmas" on t.v. too.

December 11, 2009

Blizzard and Snow Days

I should have posted something days ago but here in Iowa we have been in the midst of a blizzard and today is our 4th snow day from school.  Last weekend the weather forecasts were reporting that we would be getting a tremendous storm with possibilities of it being a blizzard.  It was snowing on Tuesday and it continued to get worse until finally the winds came and we had a full scale blizzard on Wednesday.

Tuesday morning I went to the grocery store early to pick up some milk, which was all that we needed. At that point we were having what I refer to as a regular storm.  We live only 6 blocks from the grocery store so if need be, we could walk.  By Tuesday evening and into Wednesday, businesses closed including banks.  Plows could not keep up with the snow so they were ordered off the road and our small city (approx. 10,000 in population) declared a snow emergency.  This means that all vehicles could not be parked on the streets so the snow plows could do their jobs.  When this occurs two things happen:  everyone stays home and hunkers down for the storm, and neighbors help their neighbors or even strangers. 

By Wednesday night the temperatures plummeted and wind chills were 25 degrees below zero.  The snow was tapering off but the wind was making the snow drift several feet and the temperatures were dangerously low, so again we hunkered down.  In the end it was the worse storm we had in 38 years. 

We had a lot of "neighboring" in our area.  A neighbor one block away came down our street with his snow blower and helped my husband get our side walk and driveway cleared out.  I had just baked some banana bread and I took a warm loaf out to him to thank him.  He continued down our street doing sidewalks and driveways before going back home.  I believe in paying a kindness forward.  We have some college students living next door to us.  They are nice young men.  The university (William Penn University) had been closed due to the storm and yesterday classes were delayed in the morning.  I baked cookies in the afternoon and my son delivered warm cookies to them.  They were thankful.  On Wednesday I saw two young men shoveling their walk and driveway for them.  They were friends of these college guys and wanted to help them out.

Mail carriers and newspaper carriers couldn't get out until yesterday.  When they deliver to the elderly they take the time to make sure they are okay.  It is what you do in a small town.

For us, the stockpiled pantry was in the words of Martha Stewart "a good thing".  I had plenty of food with the exception of milk.  I did have evaporated milk on hand that I could have reconstituted if the need arose.  I will buy some powdered milk the next time I go to the store for such an emergency and to also use in homemade bread and cracker dough.

We did run out of dog biscuits, which is a necessity in our household.  I made some dog biscuits Tuesday afternoon and now I think I will continue to bake them on my own as the dog loved them, they are healthier for her and cheaper on our budget.  Basically the recipe is a wheat cracker with beef bouillon and extra vegetable oil.  I am now saving my leftover beef fat to use in place of the oil the next time.

So here we are survivors of the biggest storm in 38 years feeling blessed that our power didn't go out, that we have heat in this somewhat drafty old house, that even with snow days our son was called into work and able to earn some money, that we had plenty of food on hand, had plenty of blankets, clothing, oil lanterns and candles in case of a power outage.

I will be going to the grocery store today.  There are two things on sale that have been on my list to stock up on:  ground pork ($1.39 lb.) and chicken hindquarters (39 cents a lb.).  I use ground pork to replace hamburger in many recipes, for pork burgers and also in my own homemade ham loaf mixture.  It is an Iowa thing.  The best part of grocery shopping in this weather is that when you need to go to a few stores, you don't have to make a stop at home to drop off the frozen or refrigerated items.

December 07, 2009

Our Old House

We live in a house that was built in the 1880's.  It has the original woodwork and windows.  I grew up in an old Victorian house and it was huge.  When my parents bought that house in the 1950's they set about renovating and "modernizing" it.  This meant ripping out old marble fire places, pocket doors, marble vanity sinks and more.  Then they installed knotty pine wood paneling in the living room and more.  It was what you did back then.

Our house is a Victorian cottage style home.  It is much smaller than the house I grew up in; but it has most of its character and charm left intact.  The rest of its character and charm is waiting for me to find it. 

We have a lot of work to do on this house.  Most of it is cosmetic.  When I was working full time it was impossible to get any renovation work done.  My Saturdays were spent grocery shopping, cleaning and doing laundry.  This was with my husband helping me.  Sunday mornings were reserved for church and by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I was tired.  I was able to have a few days off here and there to do some work on the house but for the most part much of the work awaits me.  The living room has had its wallpaper stripped for several years.  Okay, that is kind of embarrassing.  But the 100 year old dried wallpaper paste on the plaster walls is golden and it is the color I am going to paint the room anyway. 

I have a friend who color schemes Victorian houses for a living.  He color schemed our house in historic colors and as it happens when we were scraping the paint off the exterior of the house the colors we were going to paint the house were on the house originally.  It took a long time to paint the trim and at one point I was using a 1/4 inch artist paint brush to paint the colors on the porch spindles.  That was back in 2002.  We will need to repaint the house next year and at least when we go to do it, I will be home and can spend my days on this task.  Actually I believe that deep down we would like to be able to afford siding but I doubt that is going to happen for a very, very long time if ever.

Last year we had enough money saved to do a 1 room hired renovation.  I picked the downstairs bathroom.  It had been renovated in 1982 and it looked like the year 1982.  Aesthetics aside, the bathroom tub was cracked on one side, the walls were in terrible shape, the sink and toilet were starting to give us problems.  I could have picked the kitchen but it had been renovated by the previous owners in the early 1990's and the cherry kitchen cabinets are beautiful.  It does need a new sink, counter top and floor but I knew that we couldn't afford to do both the kitchen and the bathroom.  The bathroom won out as it was in my opinion the neediest room.  In keeping with the house we had cherry cabinets installed along with old lavatory style flooring in the bathroom. 

All of this to say this:  when we purchased this home back in 1997 many people could not believe we were buying an old house located just 4 blocks from our downtown square.  People were buying lots and building new homes in a couple of new subdivisions.  Our jobs dictated to those people that we were professionals that should be living in new homes to show that we were prospering.  Those homes cost twice as much as our home.  We made the decision to buy below our means as we knew we could afford this house and still be able to send our kids to college and to go on vacations.  Also, deep down I knew that I didn't want to work forever and eventually I knew we would be able to afford this house on one income. Oh yes, and the taxes are lower along with the insurance.  With the housing crisis of the past two years, I am feeling pretty smart that we did not give in to the pressure of buying new.

Friends and acquaintances were also surprised that the moment we moved in we didn't gut it and borrow the money to completely restore it all at once.  (Remember we live in a small town and people talk.)  The previous owners had installed new furnaces (one for upstairs and one for the downstairs), electrical and plumbing had been updated and although they had painted and papered, it was their style and not ours.  We are doing everything as we get the money.  Now that I am home we have very little money to spend on renovations; but I have the time to do the work.  It is a balancing act. 

I love my old house.  I love its sometimes drafty windows, the old floor in one area of the house that slopes some, I love the old radiators that you can lean up against in the winter time to warm your back side.  I love the curved window in our living room that faces the front of the house and the picket fence that goes around our backyard.  I love that while I was working I could walk the 3 block "commute" to my office.  I love that our youngest son could walk to school when he was in grade school, walk to my office to see me after school or walk to the library which is a mere 4 blocks from our house.  I love that my husband works 4 blocks from home.  I love being able to walk the short distance to our town square where we have a lot of community activities.  Most of all I love the fact that we can afford this house on one income in this economy.

December 05, 2009

Frugality has its Limits

A few days ago my son and I were driving home from shopping and I told him that I buy used books and that if he wanted to get me a book for Christmas, to buy used.  We started to discuss what we would not buy used.  On the top of his list was toothbrushes and underwear.  We were laughing all the way home.

This week I have been thinking back to that silly conversation.  In what areas of my life do I refuse to be frugal.

Case in point:  coffee.  I love coffee.  Our drip coffeemaker broke 10 days ago so I pulled out an 8 cup perculator that I had purchased about 2 years ago at a big sale.  I had it on hand for when the dinosaur coffee maker would finally break.  After 10 days I decided to pull the plug on the perculator and put it away.  I will use it for hot cider instead.  The coffee just didn't taste very good.  As much as I tried to like it, I couldn't.   Also unlike our old coffee maker, it did not have an automatic shut off.  This is important to me for obvious reasons. So this afternoon I went to the great Big Box store - Walmart and roamed the aisles for a coffeemaker.  I had three guidelines:  a name brand trusted drip coffee maker, reasonable price, and it had to look good on my kitchen counter.  I must explain the latter.  I have been collecting items so that next year when I will have the time I will be painting my kitchen and transforming it into a 1940's kitchen design.  So, I wanted something retro looking.  Christmas time is a good time to buy a coffee maker and I found 1 that matched my three guidlines.   The cost was $49.00.  My previous coffeemaker had lasted us over 10 years and it was the same brand so I felt that $49.00 was a good deal for great coffee for several years.

This morning I was moving the small kitchen table away from the wall and I thought that the toaster that was on the table was unplugged, but it wasn't.  It went crashing to the floor and I got to see what a toaster looks like on the inside.  Ugh.  Now I not only had on my list to buy a new coffee maker but a toaster too.  So while I was looking for a coffee maker I also looked for a toaster with the same three guidelines.  I found one and again, it was at a great price of $24.00.  

I could have bought a coffee maker for $17.00 and a toaster for $14.00 and they probably would have worked fine.  The only problem is that I have had to live with buying the cheapest item before when money was limited and I have to say that after awhile I just wanted to have something that matched my kitchen decor (or future decor) and would be reliable.

I set up the coffee maker and it does have some bells and whistles.  I brewed the best cup of coffee I have had in a very long time so I am happy.  As to coffee, I buy Maxwell House or Folgers when they are on sale.  A treat for me is whole bean coffee to grind and I do get some every now and then.  But for the most part Maxwell House and Folgers works for me.

Other areas of my life I refuse to be frugal in these days.

Food:    It has taken me awhile to understand that buying fresh produce and such is a good deal for my family.  I will cut other areas of my food budget in order to give my family healthy choices in food.  I have begun to bake my own whole wheat bread which is not only good for us but is something I enjoy.  As I use up crackers and pasta from my pantry, I will replenish with homemade.

Charities:  My husband and I are committed to giving to charities.  We sponsor three Compassion International children and I will cut something else from the budget before I would stop helping these children.  We give to our church and also to our alma mater.  We have made decisions such as keeping our cars longer in order to help others.  We feel that we are blessed with a home, health and a job and so many others are doing without.  When we started making this a priority about 12 years ago I didn't think we would be able to afford it.  Now it is second nature.  The other night at church we served a meal to members of the community.  I don't think I will be able to help again as my heart was breaking at the number of people who were hungry and poor.  I served coffee from table to table to these people and I, like the other volunteers, treated them as if they were very wealthy.  The money I give to my church helps support such a ministry.  Looking back, I really should help again and not be afraid to see the reality of poverty and homeless people in my community.

Haircuts:  I started to cut my DH and DS's hair. We bought some hair clippers and I have found that I do just as good a job or better than what was being done in the salon.  I started this in October and the clippers have already paid for themselves.  As to my hair, I have extended my hair cuts from 4 weeks to 6 weeks.  My hair is layered shorter in the back and then tapered down the sides and longer in the front.  This style works well for extending time between haircuts.  I used to get my eyebrows waxed and have started to do it myself.  I do not highlight my own hair.  I am able to extend the time between highlights during the winter since my hair was always naturally darker in the winter anyway.  I am not a chemist and I refuse to take the chance on color and damaging my hair.  I leave that to the professionals.  The cost is about $40.00 for each foil highlight session.  Normally it would be every 3 months; but I am getting by with every 4 months now.  I have switched my shampoo from Matrix to Suave Professionals and I have noticed no difference. We have saved about $70.00 a month by finding alternatives with haircare.

Nails:  I have acrylics and although this is far from a necessity my DH agreed that we could afford to have nails in the budget.  I have a friend that owns a nail salon and she attends our church and the SS class that we teach.  It costs me $21.00 per visit which is every other week.  If money got to be tight, I would have a very difficult time keeping nails in our budget.  For me it is 1 hour of pampering myself every two weeks with friendly ladies. It is cheaper than therapy.

Pets:  We have a black lab and a cat.  Both are in their geriatric years.  We buy Iams for the dog and the cat is on vet food.  The reason our pets are healthy is the fact that we feed them premium food and we budget money for the vet and for heart worm and flea control.  In the past I have made my own dog biscuits and I am going to start doing this again on my baking day.  We can afford our two pets.  We do not have more pets than we can afford.  I love animals but I can't save every stray animal in the world.

Jeans:  I could buy jeans at Wal-mart and I have in the past.  With the styles these days, I can't.  I refuse to wear jeans with a waist so low that - well - you get what I am saying.  We have a local clothing store in our town that sells jeans that fit me perfectly, are flared and have a waist that is not low and not high.   I look and feel really good in those jeans. The cost is only $30.00 which is very, very  reasonable They regularly have 20% off sales and I buy two pairs of jeans every year.  Wal-mart sells jeans for around $14.00.  I have tried them on.  They are okay but do not flatter me in the least.  I will buy other clothes used and if I came upon some used jeans at Goodwill that fit me, I would buy them.  I just haven't come across any there yet as obviously those women are hanging on to those jeans because they fit them!

Shoes:  Since my DH and I work out, we do not skimp on quality running or walking shoes.  We buy good shoes.  If you buy a knockoff or really cheap shoe, you will pay for it with knee trouble, hipt trouble, shin splints and so on.  We get good deals and major discounts on line for our New Balance and Asics shoes.  I know that I need a new walking shoe about every 6 months, so we budget accordingly.

Health care:  We visit our dentist every 6 months and go to the eye doctor once a year.  My DS has a physical every year at his doctor's office for school sports.  We do not take him to the $10.00 sports physical clinic as he is not really getting a physical.  His doctor examines him thoroughly.  I see my gynecologist once a year for an exam and pap smear.  I also have a mammogram each year.  My DH needs to go to the doctor.  His last physical was 3 years ago.  I have been on his case about this.  We have health insurance that covers a portion of our medical expenses.  We budget for health care.  Many people these days are not as fortunate as we are.

I believe that the other areas of my life that I am frugal in helps to offset the areas that I refuse to be frugal in.  In the end, I still save money and we are able to live on my husband's income alone without feeling deprived.

Next post:  areas I have cut back on in order to save money.

December 04, 2009

Grocery Challenge Update

Well I thought I should update the blog re the challenge I gave myself on money spent on groceries.  Last week I stuck with the $20 to $25 I allotted by spending about $25.00.  It was easy to do.  This week was far different.  At the beginning of the week we needed some fresh produce for salads.  I do not buy the bagged salad mixes unless they are super cheap and I will be able to use it that day.  Even then I think about it.  The produce does not taste fresh and a part of me feels that the salad mix has some chemical on it as it just doesn't taste as good.  I try to buy the fresh unpackaged romaine, endive, kale and so on.  For salads I prefer the roma tomatoes if I can get them at a good price.  This is obviously more expensive but when stored properly can last for several days.  About 2 months ago one grocery store had the Hefty extend bags on sale for 50 cents and I had coupons so I bought a few boxes for next to nothing.  I store my produce in these bags and yes the bags do extend the life of the produce.  Well the produce for salads for the week cost close to $17.00.  That was on Monday.  Yikes.  I will pay this price as it is an investment in eating healthy.

I had said that unless there was another great stock up sale, I would try to keep my grocery budget down and had announced that to my husband.  After spending $17.00 for produce I knew that the $20 to $25 budget per week probably wasn't going to fly.  I had to re-evaluate it.  I decided that a budget of $40 to $50 per week would be better for this time of year when produce is more expensive.  Even then I thought I was setting the budget a little high as I felt I could do better.  In the past our produce for the week consisted of 1 head of iceberg lettuce and some apples.  I know, this is pathetic.  I made a conscious effort a couple of months ago to change this and have a nice leafy green salad at most dinner times or a fresh fruit salad.  I started reading more and more on nutrition and I knew my family was lacking in getting healthy servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.

Yesterday was grocery day and I had my list in hand.  The list showed that I would be well within budget until I got to the two main grocery stores I shop and they had in-store unadvertised specials on some items I had been waiting on.  Okay.  How many people stand in an aisle at the grocery store for about 5 minutes and try to decide if they should stock up on something.  I stood there and I felt like I was making a major change in my 401K investment plan.  I took out my cell phone, used the calculator application and saw the price and knew that from my records I had not seen prices that low in about 8 months and I was running very low.  The item:  Drum roll please ..... canned petite diced tomatoes.  Yup.  There they were.  The one thing that I had been waiting for.  A friend came along and we were chatting and then he looked at the canned tomatoes and said "What a deal.  I better go and get a cart."  So I ended up stocking up on cans of those tomatoes @ 66 cents a can.  I hit some other great in-store specials and decided that they were very worth purchasing this week - pomegranate juice - all juice and no HF corn syrup.  Whole wheat crackers - read the label on that one and decided that it was a good choice for our family and teamed it up with some coupons.  Also, Progresso low sodium and high fiber soups that were only 88 cents each after a coupon.  My new choice for lunch.  As I was adding these items to my cart, I was starting to feel a little uneasy as I knew I was about to blow the budget.

I talked with 1 store employee as I noticed a lot of in store specials that had not been advertised and since I keep track of prices, I knew these were great deals.  He explained to me that with yesterday being the 3rd and this being the first week of the month they run a lot of in store specials since it is the time most social security checks are received.  I had never thought of this.  He also told me that in the past few months they have really ramped up the unadvertised specials at that time of the month due to the recession.  Now this employee is someone I talk to quite often when I shop and he lives 1 block from me.  He told me that I should remember this as that is when their store (and their competitior I found out) will mark down a lot of items and have in store specials in order to take advantage of the money that could be spent at their stores at that time of the month.  Some of these specials I walked right past such as bread.  I am starting to bake my own.

I went home and looked over what I had spent over the past few months and sure enough, prior to the Thanksgiving holiday most of my great deals were found around the first of the month.  This is why I take my coupon binder to the store with me so when there is an in store special I can match it up with a coupon.

So I at least felt better about the deals I found and the extra money that was spent yesterday.  All in all I spent $100.00 this week (this includes the $17.00 I spent earlier this week).  So -- instead of looking at a weekly budget of $40 to $50 per week I am now looking at my budget as a monthly budget of $160 to $200 per month.  I have spent $100 and now have a balance of $80 to $100 for the month.  One other piece of advice I was given by this employee.  He said that they mark down a lot of produce on Friday and Saturday.

As to fresh salads and fruits, I want to have as many leafy green salads as we can afford but there are also some wonderful winter salads that are economical and I will serve to my family.  Carrot and raisin salad is one option.  So is coleslaw and a fruit salad with canned fruit and some cut up apples in it.

I felt defeated yesterday when I came home and added up what I spent.  When I told my husband the tally amount his response was "I thought you weren't going to spend as much on groceries per week."  I felt defeated for a moment as I know we have had a lot of expenses lately - new lenses for my glasses, some doctor visits and such.  I am moving on with what I have learned from yesterday's shopping experience.  I have everything I need in my pantry.  The last item I needed to stock up on, has been purchased.  I will now be going to purchase my produce on Friday or Saturday when I can get some better deals.

At first I wasn't going to post this entry, but I felt it was important.  I have been trying to save money, trying to make better food choices for my family and trying to be accountable to myself.  It's been really hard as I feel the burden of keeping to a budget in order to have more money in savings.  I had high hopes for this week and felt like I was going to post one of those entries that said "hey I only spent $18.78 this week on groceries and I am doing great."  Maybe that will be next week.

I have learned a lot about myself over the past few months.  I have learned that even though I make goals and try hard, sometimes I have to re-evaluate what those goals are and move on.  One thing I do know, I love being a homemaker.  I feel a sense of responsibility to my family that I never quite felt when I was working full time.  I had two lives - work and home.  Work was constantly spilling over into home life.  Now I have one life - home.