October 22, 2013

Frugal Tip - Heels of Bread

In my family, no one seems to want to eat the heels of bread.  Yes, I am included, unless the heels are still fresh.  What do I do with the heels?  I don’t throw them out!!  I keep a bread bag in the freezer and put the heels of bread in a bread bag until it is full.  I use them up by making French toast, use as bread crumbs in a meat loaf recipe, make homemade croutons, brush with butter and sprinkle with a little bit of garlic for garlic toast, or make grilled cheese sandwiches by buttering the outside and putting the heel towards the cheese slice.  I would make bread pudding, but I am the only one that would eat it.  As a last resort if you run out of bread, you at least have a bag of heels in the freezer to use.  

October 20, 2013

Higher Prices, Lower Wages

There was an article in the Des Moines Register today that confirmed what everyone already knows, prices have gone up.  The premise of the article was that many people have not recovered from the Great Recession because prices have gone up and wages have gone down.  Okay, I already knew that, but the article gave statistical information which I found quite interesting.

In Iowa the median household income in 2007 was $52,371 and in 2012 was $50,957.  In the U.S. as a whole the median household income in 2007 was $56,189 and in 2012 was $51,371.  Americans are paying about 12.5% more for household goods.  In 2007 a pound of ground beef cost $2.40 and in August of this year a pound cost $3.46.  A loaf of whole wheat bread in 2007 cost $1.71 while in August of this year a loaf cost $2.04.  A pound of coffee was $3.50 in 2007 and in August of this year a pound was $5.21.  Gasoline has consistently fluctuated over the past few years and has increased to the point that it was not uncommon in Iowa to pay an average of $3.37 by the end of August this year.  Fortunately as of today, the price of a gallon of gas in our area is $2.97. 

Many Americans continue to feel the pinch as they are still cutting back, have tried to adjust to lower wages, higher costs, have lost their homes, jobs, are having problems paying their mortgage and have increased credit card debt in order to pay basic bills. 

The recent fiasco in Congress created more financial problems for many people which has led me to believe this:  we are on our own people.  I have stated this recently on this blog.  While thankfully there are programs that can be helpful for families, many people don’t want to have to need these programs.   It is comforting that they are there to help but when the government shut down occurred some of these resource programs were suspended such as the W.I.C. program (Women, Infants and Children).

I believe it is becoming the responsibility of each of us to take care of each other.  If you have a little extra and you have a neighbor in need, it is up to us to take care of our neighbors.  Sometimes we may not have a lot, but a loaf of bread or a half a gallon of milk can go a long way for someone who does not have much.

Recently I had an individual comment and ask what I am doing to combat higher prices.  I cut out some frills in our budget such as getting my nails done and working out at Curves to help our budget, but there is more that I can do.  I have become a little lax, but with retirement only 13 years away and the desire to continue to be a stay at home wife and grandmother, there is more I need to do. 

You know what it is like, you sacrifice for such a long time, you need a vacation from the sacrificing.  You get tired of counting pennies and you just want to go out to a restaurant and spend some money on a great meal.  I have been there.  Funny thing is this:  I can buy a 16 oz. steak on sale for $6.99 (recently $4.99), cut it in two, grill it, add a potato, small salad and a homemade dessert for a lot less than I will spend for the two of us at a great restaurant and it tastes better.  The same is true if I marinate some inexpensive chicken breasts and grill them with some vegetables.  The point is that sometimes you need to take a break from the scrimping but you don’t need to throw the budget out the window.  Sometimes it is creating a special meal and serve it by candle light OR as we did when our kids were little, having pizza on a blanket on the living room floor in the winter  - our version of a winter picnic.

When it comes to scrimping and getting the most out of your hard earned money, there is one thing that will save you a lot:  being aware of what you are doing daily.  I know it sounds weird, but think about it.  Are you aware when you run the water for a shower or bath how much water you are using?  When you squirt dish soap into the dish pan to wash dishes, are you using too much soap, the same being true for dishwasher detergent? When you cook a casserole could you get by with using less meat and more vegetables or pasta and rice?   Instead of purchasing ice cream bars and cones as a treat, buy a half gallon of ice cream on sale and put it in your own cones.  Sprinkle a few inexpensive sprinkles on top and you have a cheap treat for your kids.  Treats are great to keep us going during hard times.

One thing I know is a fact, you can still get great results in cleaning products by using less.  You can save even more money by making your own products or by using plain water to clean extremely dirty windows and then spritzing on the cleaner to finish them off.   The same is for dirty services of any kind.  Get the dirt or grime off as much as possible with warm or hot water and then spritz on the cleaner at the end to finish the cleaning process.

Be aware of what you are doing throughout the day and you will find ways to save money.  

As far as combating food prices, my main tool is my freezer and a storage space for pantry items.  Buying meat and frozen vegetables when they are on sale is a great tool.  If you only have the freezer above your fridge to use, then use it for expensive food items that go on sale such as meat. 

I am a believer in Ivory bar soap.  I can get it on sale with coupons all the time for about 15 cents a bar.  I am steering myself away from the shower gels which are costly.  I don’t need the fragrance as I spritz on a very light amount of perfume after I dress.  No need for the scents of a shampoo with a shower gel and then a lotion along with perfume.  Don’t buy into all of the hype and instead find a bar soap that is cheaper that you like. 

When I am at the store if I need a product and don’t have a coupon, I always give the store brand a try.  This is true for many items.  I am not brand loyal and I am always looking for a cheaper alternative.  For basic items such as canned tomatoes, pork n beans, and such I can virtually not see or taste a difference especially when these items are going into soup, chili and casseroles.  I have always added my own ingredients to pork n beans (ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and vinegar).  Why would I care if they are name brand, store brand or generic?  The same is true of laundry detergent.  If I get a name brand on sale at a really great deal, I buy it (during the summer I can get a great deal on Tide).  I reserve a bottle of  Tide, Wisk, Oxydol or other name brand for those wicked stains that won’t come out.  Then I mix the rest half and half with a store brand that I get on sale.  Once a year a store here in town has their store brand detergent on sale for $1.00 or less for a 29 load size.  I have also done the same with mixing sale bought name brand powdered detergent with the Fels Naptha powdered laundry soap recipe.

I use ivory bar soap (rub it into the stain and let it sit) or a small amount of liquid Dawn dish detergent for pretreating stains.   And since we are on the discussion of laundry, does each family need a ton of clothes in their closets? 

If you have children in the home and you are working, you will have a much more difficult time in saving money because you are busy and you may not have the time to do some money saving tasks.  I am going to address this in another post this week as I have been there and I am also there a little bit now with watching my grandson 4 days a week.  What questions do you have about saving money in general or in a specific area?  What help or ideas do you have or need?  Where are you at in your household budget?  Are you discouraged and struggling?  We may be facing a different America than was there 20 or 40 years ago, but if you are willing to put forth effort and keep a smile on your face, you can make it.  It is sometimes about attitude and the willingness to not give up. 

Leave a comment and I will address them.  

October 14, 2013

Giving up Acrylic Nails

I started getting acrylic nails back in November 2000 and continued for 13 years.  Acrylic nails are so easy to maintain and I never had to paint my nails as the color would stay for 2 weeks until I got the nails filled again.  

For those who have never had this process done, a nail tip is applied to your nail and then a gel like substance is placed over the tip to “fill it in.”  Then every two weeks as your nail grows out, you have to get the nail filled as the bottom of the acrylic nail has moved up because your natural nail has grown.

In order to get the acrylic tips and gel to adhere to the natural nail, the manicurist has to “sand down” the top of your nail.  The natural nail becomes thin.  I tried gel nails once and the process still involved sanding down the top of my nails.

When I decided that I couldn’t afford to have acrylic nails anymore, I knew that it would take a good 6 months or more to get my natural nails to return to their normal, healthy state.  It’s kind of like growing your hair out, at some point you want to give in and get your hair cut, but you get through the worse part of the growth process and then you are happy that you were patient.

The first month was brutal.  My nails broke off to the nubs and they flaked as they grew out.  My skin near the tip of the nail became very, very sore.  I applied a nail strengthener for the first month to help them along, however I stopped after a month because the strengthener was drying out the nail and causing more breakage.  So I have simply let my nails go totally natural – no strengthener and no polish.  I am trimming them very, very short as one of my nails continues to split and all of them are just becoming normal in thickness and health.  By the time December rolls around I am hoping that I can then allow the nails to grow out to the tips of my fingers.  They will be shorter than I ever had with acrylic nails, but they will be the perfect length for a grandma changing a lot of diapers.  Also I will then start to apply polish.

In order to protect my nails I wear gloves while cleaning or doing dishes and I also apply lotion to my hands frequently throughout the day to keep my hands and nails moisturized.

Vanity is what led to my decision to get acrylic nails.  I liked the look of pretty polished nails that I didn’t have to do myself.  When I worked in an office I was accustomed to handling a lot of papers and meeting with clients.  My hands and nails needed to look professional. 

I hung on to this luxury after I stayed home full time as I enjoyed this treat.  My nails are getting healthy and when the time comes to polish them I can do it myself and change colors often.  Before when an acrylic nail broke off, it was quite noticeable even if I polished the natural nail with the same color of polish.  Lastly I am saving $22.00 every two weeks by not having acrylic nails which brings it to a whopping savings of $572 a year.  YIKES!!!

I fell in love with pretty polished long nails, but I am finding out that I am going to love shorter nails that I take care of myself.  Everything I need to give myself a pretty home manicure can be found at the dollar stores. 

I am also giving myself pedicures.  I have only had a professional pedicure about 3 times in my life and professional pedicures are wonderful.  I am learning to give myself a home pedicure and it doesn’t involve a lot of products.  I bought a plastic dish pan to soak my feet, a pumice stone, a nail file, nail clipper and foot lotion.  All of these products can be purchased for a dollar or less at the Dollar Tree. 

Saturday nights are my nights for manicures and pedicures.  It just makes sense after a long week that I should treat myself to pretty nails and feet.   Yes I walk around the house holding my hands up waiting for my finger nails to dry and then I walk around with those separators between my toes waiting for my toe nails to dry.  The only thing missing is a terry cloth bathrobe and curlers in my hair to complete the look. 

October 11, 2013

I'm Happily Back!! (And reinforcing being financially prepared)

Well, I still don't understand everything on my new computer because I haven't had time to play around with it.  I am more of a"learn as I go" kind of person. 

I am glad to be back to blogging.  At one point I considered ending this blog as I was feeling that over the past 4 years I had probably covered everything that needed to be said about living frugally.  But -- I missed blogging and the reality is that a lot has happened over 4 years and there is still a lot to be said.  It was good to take a break, even if it was largely due to needing a new laptop.

When I started this journey 4 years ago, our economy was reeling from the Great Recession.  Then things started getting a little better in some areas, and not so great in other areas.  Now with the government shut down it has shown me once again that you have to rely on yourself (and God too) when it comes to being prepared for hard times.  What if there weren't unemployment checks, W.I.C., Food Assistance, Rent Assistance, etc.  What if life was like back before the Depression in the 1930's when there weren't very many relief programs.  Families counted on each other and worked together to help each other out, but many times that wasn't even enough.

I think a lot of people in the past year or so started to forget what it was like in 2007, 2008 and 2009 when the economy really tanked and unemployment was a lot higher.  People cut back and I'm sure that many thought that they would never go back to being spendthrifts and in debt and no savings.  Time does lessen the difficulty of some of those times.   Isn't that true?  If it wasn't, there would be a lot of moms giving birth to only one child.

The Great Recession changed how many people felt about their finances.  For some people it was a temporary annoyance and for others it was a life changing experience.  No longer would they live with no savings and a tremendous amount of consumer debt.

I have been listening to the news programs regarding the government shut down and I am not going to discuss politics - let's leave it out of the discussion for this blog.  Instead it just backs up what I already know which is that you should rely on yourself when it comes to your finances.  Plan on getting no help at all when things get rough, and save, save, save during the good times so that you can weather those hard times.  

This is easier said than done.  I am guilty of becoming soft and spending when I shouldn't be spending.  Then I get back on track and ask myself what got me off track in the first place?  Many times it is impulsive small purchases that can add up over time.  

Now I make a list in an app on my phone.  Whether it is food, thread, shoes or whatever, it goes on a list.  Many times I look at the list, perhaps it is rather long, and I decide that I really don't need a lot of that stuff after all.  And, if I really need it, it is still on that ongoing list waiting for a sale.

Being prepared financially also means that you may need to learn some new skills or resurrect some old skills that you haven't used in a while.  I am sewing a lot more these days than I have in 20 years.  It took me awhile to get the knack of it again.  For Christmas each of my immediate family members will be receiving a homemade gift that I have sewn.  I have purchased fabric on sale since the beginning of the year with Christmas gifts in mind.  

Learning to mend is a skill that we need to resurrect also.  Throwing clothing out because it has a broken zipper, missing button, small tear or pulled seams is money going down the drain.  Learning to make repairs saves money.  Baking bread and cooking from scratch or just learning to cook simple meals to keep you from going out to eat all the time is a great skill.

Bottom line, when it comes to being prepared for hard times you need to rely on yourself over the long haul to make sure you are prepared.  It just makes sense that hard times will happen and you need to be prepared. I should add that leaning on God in making financial decisions is an excellent idea also.  

Over the past year we have seen a lot of disasters occur in the U.S.  From Hurricane Sandy, to wildfires, to floods and mudslides and droughts, we have had many different disasters.  People have been displaced from their homes and have lost their homes altogether.  Preparing for hard times also means being prepared for disasters.  This is one area that I am not prepared and over the next few weeks I will be doing some research on how to have my own emergency management protocol for my home and family.  

You can't put your head in the sand and think that hard times happen to other people and will never happen to you.  Many people over the course of the years have lost their jobs, when they thought they had job security.  When a disaster happens and people are being interviewed by the news media, they are in shock at the loss of their home.  None of them think it will happen to them.  When the power goes out for several days, many people are not prepared and wish they would have been.  And then lastly, many people don't want to be prepared for the death of a spouse as if talking about it, will bring on death sooner. 

Yes, we will be discussing these things over the next couple of weeks along with the topics of grandmothering, cosmetics, healthy nails on a budget and menopause.