Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Once again, I haven't forgotten the blog. However, the company I work for has been going through interesting times recently, and I quietly worked on my resume and looked for a new job. I found one pretty quickly, and I start Monday. Once things settle back down, I'll write more regularly.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The artwork is by Goya. Entitled 'Time'
Click on it for the larger version, but the smaller one isn't as freaky.

Trying to lend class to my otherwise classless post. :)

I have been thinking about savings of other sorts. This past summer, I did a cleansing... both of clutter and emotional baggage. Took 4 truckloads of stuff to Goodwill or gave to friends.

I feel so much better. As an added bonus, it's much faster to clean my house now. It's not possible to clean clutter, but when there ISN'T any clutter, it's much simpler to make things look neat. Keeping the dog hair swept up is another story, of course.

Okay. Here's a specific example. We have a king sized waterbed, which means the bed needs to be spread up every morning so we don't lose the heat in the mattress. This used to mean a king sized comforter. The comforter did not fit in my washer. It did not fit in my dryer. Having it dry cleaned was not only time consuming, but 15 dollars! Taking it to the laundromat meant finding three hours out of my busy day to do so. I tried the duvet (comforter cover) but it didn't get clean in my washer either. I finally went to Goodwill and bought two matching twin sized comforters. Each one fits in the washer and dryer. No one sees our bedroom anyway. But it really doesn't look too bad. I have a beautiful quilt I can spread over the top if someone is going to look at it, but that's pretty rare.

Another example... LAUNDRY. I won't sort socks. I will wash them. I will dry them. After that, they all go into the same basket. If you want socks, go look in the basket. If you put your shirt in the laundry inside out, I will wash it that way. I will either hang it that way or fold it that way, too. If you want to wear it, YOU fix it.

Cleaning the bathroom... well, I don't have time to really get in and scrub as often as I should. So when my towel is getting ready for the hamper, I dampen it and wipe down the counter and faucets and the floor. It's going to be bleached anyway.

Any tips for keeping up with dirty dishes?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Outfitting children
You can put together a nice kid's wardrobe for very little money, especially if you're willing to think creatively. At the last baby shower I went to, I watched the prospective parents open gift after gift with clothing the baby would probably wear once (at least a dozen 3 mo size dresses, and the baby was 9 pounds...). I know it's tempting to give cute clothes like that, but it seems such a waste that no one thought to spread the sizes around and give size 6 or 12 month clothes.

Of course, it will vary by your climate, but if you have good access to a washer, a summer baby (up to 6 months) really can get by quite happily with:
8 - 10 t-shirts or onsies
3 - 5 light footed one piece sleepers
diapering (I'll let our diapering expert speak to cloth, but I'm guessing about 3 dozen diapers and about 6 diaper covers)
3 - 5 pairs of socks or booties (these could be omitted in really warm climates)
1 - 2 sunhats
1 - 2 nicer outfits - optional (dresses, pant suits, etc.)
If you live where the summer can turn cool, get fewer t-shirts/onsies, possibly more socks, use the light sleepers on cooler days, and get 2 - 4 of the heavier blanket sleepers.

For a winter baby under 6 months in a cold climate:
3 - 6 t-shirts or onesies (these can be worn under other clothing for warmth)
3 - 5 light footed sleepers
4 - 6 heavy blanket sleepers
1 - 4 warm pants suits (I suggest either a stretchy knit or a sweat suit type)
1 - 2 snowsuits
1 - 2 sweaters or jackets
5 - 10 pairs of warm socks or booties
1 - 3 warm knit hats
1 - 2 nicer outfits - optional
Further south, you can skip the snowsuit, and get fewer socks, but you may still want the blanket sleepers. In really warm climates, 1 or 2 blanket sleepers for the few cold nights should be enough, but more of the footed sleepers

All of these items (except possibly diapering) can be commonly found almost new at yard sales and thrift stores. Just be sure to wash them a couple of times appropriately before using. I could probably outfit a summer newborn or size 6 month baby for less than $20 (barring diapering) from most of the thrift shops near me, and with clothing that was hardly worn. For a winter baby, it might run $25 - $30 (other than possibly a snowsuit) if I was unlucky that day. Oh, this list is based on the idea that you'll be able to do laundry at least every 3 or 4 days (there should be enough to go longer, but babies sometimes go through clothes incredibly fast). If you may be going a week between washing, you may want to double the t-shirts, sleepers, pant suits and socks/booties.

For a 6 - 12 month baby, you'll want clothes they can crawl in. For summer, about the same clothes as for the under 6 month baby, except probably 4 - 6 pairs of light pants to protect their knees when crawling and 3 - 10 bibs. For winter, again about the same, except skip the lightweight footed sleepers, and get 4 - 6 pants suits with long sleeves (short sleeves in warmer climates) and the bibs. My opinion is that a baby that isn't walking still doesn't need shoes, but that's between you and your doctor. If you live where the summer can turn cool, get fewer t-shirts/onsies, possibly more socks and pants, and add 2 - 4 of the heavier blanket sleepers and maybe a jacket. I really recommend thinking against putting a crawling baby in a dress unless you really enjoy frustrating the poor thing and want her physical development slowed. For a photo or something like that, fine. But I challenge YOU to get in the floor and try to crawl in a dress.

From one on up, most kids can get by with:
6 - 10 t-shirts or onsies (long-sleeved in winter)
4 - 8 pants or shorts
3 - 6 sleepers
diapering or 6 - 12 training pants or underwear
4 - 8 pairs of socks or booties (these could be omitted in really warm climates)
1 - 2 pairs of shoes

1 - 2 hats
1 - 3 nicer outfits - optional (dresses, pant suits, etc.)

2 - 4 sweaters or sweat suits in winter
Winter gear appropriate to the climate

Most of us like to get our kids SOMETHING nice, but keep in mind how fast young kids grow out of things. And ask yourself are you dressing them up for THEM or for yourself. Remember most of those outfits never get worn more than a couple of times, you can buy those nice items almost new. Also, if you're frugal in buying their everyday clothes, you'll have extra to buy something extra nice when you do want it. If your child is in a school situation, you may start getting pressure to buy clothes that are more "fashionable". How you handle that is up to you. As my kids were never in school, we never had any real pressure about clothes.

If anyone spots where I've left out something vital, let me know...

Just a quick note, I haven't deserted the blog, I've just been tied up with some other things lately. I hope to have a couple of new posts up this week...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Saying goodbye to fast food. Well, mostly anyway.

We watched the Supersize Me documentary this week. Wow. Heartily reccomend it. With our food restrictions we fall into the fast food trap too easily, it's very hard to feed our family safely at a reasonably priced regular restaurant. If we add up all the $ we could save by not buying fast food, we could easily go out to one of those nicer restaurants that are celiac friendly once a month.

This week we focus on kicking the habit. Today's paycheck we let the kids spend the $ that would have gone to McDs. After the movie they were more on board with the decision, but this solidified the deal for them. They chose to go to Target and each of them picked out a new toy. We came home with a new Bionicle for big ds, some toy food for big dd's toy kitchen, and lil ds picked out a large train that has mega blocks (large legos) in it. They all made good choices. Those are toys that will get many hours of play in this house.

Then we came home and made our own darn burgers. They were *very* tasty. No one had to order their burger without a bun, because the bread was gluten free. No one had to order plain, the condiments are safe for everyone. No one had to go without cheese, there was goat cheese available for the casein free kid. Why don't we do homemade burgers more often?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Think Free

The next time you decide you want something, instead of popping out to a store to buy it, take the time to think over alternatives first. Is there some way you can get the item free or almost free?

If there's a book you want to read, try the library. If your local branch doesn't have it, ask about interlibrary loan. Sometimes that's free, sometimes there's a small fee. If you live near a public university, often their libraries are open to the public. You may or may not be able to check books out (some will let local residents check out a small number), but at most of them you can take the book off the shelf and read it there. That may be less useful for fiction unless you read quickly, but it could be quite handy for evaluating non-fiction before buying (I once weeded out about 95% of the books on a list that I'd considered buying that way).

Check on-line. There are a number of books available on-line (make sure it's legally available before downloading it or reading it on-line. Consider borrowing the book. I hesitate to suggest this one, because I have a real pet peeve about people borrowing books that they don't return. Use good manners, and return the book promptly if you do. If you know someone who buys lots of books, reads them once and gets rid of them, they might be a good source.

For other items, can you make it? Do you have something already that you can use? And before spending money, ask yourself do you REALLY want or need this item?

If you can't find up with free, look at second hand stores, thrift shops and garage sales. Then look for a bargain source. Only pay full price if there's really no other way. Even if you want high quality items, you can usually find them on sale or second hand with a little work.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

More recycling.

I started with a $3 100% lambswool sweater from the thrift store. After giving it a good felting I cut it apart at the seams. I used the front and back panels to make soakers custom fit to baby (yes the carpet needs vacuumed, and it's a lousy pic, but you can see how it fits her). After giving them a bath with wool wash that has lanolin in it, they'll make awesome covers for her cloth diapers. Then I used the sleeves to make her a pair of pants. There is quite a bit of growth room left in them so they should still be fitting by fall.

So that's 3 diaper covers total, for $3. Well, $3.33 if you count the yard of elastic I would have had to buy for the pants, but I grabbed a small piece from stash. Even if I purchased recycled from sweaters covers straight from a wahm, I would spend around $35 for all three of those. Hand knit would more than triple that amount. I couldn't knit one myself for that amount.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lentils! Lentils lentils lentils.

With a 1lb bag of dry lentils, a cup or so of rolled oats, some seasonings, 3 xl eggs, and maybe half a package of garbanzo bean flour, I made 19 good sized lentil burgers last night.

How I did it: First I cooked and drained a 1lb package of dry lentils, they only need to boil for 30 minutes. Then I ran most of them through the blender (not all of them, to give it a lumpier appearance), in three loads, each load with an egg. If you don't want to use a blender just mush them well with a wide spoon, they do not have to be blended, I only do that as a time saving measure. After mushing the rest up and stirring them all together, I sprinkled about 1-1.5 cup of oats in. For seasonings I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and oregano. Stirred that in, then added about 1/2 cup flour and mixed it in, I did this twice. Then I just kept adding flour in bits and stirring it in until it has a nice thick doughy texture. Squish some into a ball, flatten it, and fry like normal. Works best if it fries with a lid on the pan I think.

I made some biscuits from scratch for buns. Very cheap, kid and hub pleasing, meal. There were enough left over for hub to take to work for lunch today, and there's still more than enough in the fridge for the kids and I to have for lunch. Your cost can most likely go even lower with using a lightweight wheat flour, plain unbleached would be groovy. I haven't cooked with wheat in years so I don't know how whole wheat flour would affect the taste.

Lentils are very low cost, and they're so easy! If you work your seasonings right you can sub lentils for meat in many, many recipes. I've even done this basic recipe, using taco strength seasonings, deep fried it in smaller "meatballs". My kids *devoured* them.

UPDATE: The day after we had lentil burgers, I crumbled 4 patties into a creamy white gravy and served it over toast. Also known as SOS. There are still enough lentil burgers left in the fridge to use as our meat for tonight's dinner too. I'll update again when I figure out what I'm going to do with them.

SECOND UPDATE: The next morning I crumbled one into my omelet with some goat cheese and zucchini chunks. Yum! That night we had a "Mom and Dad are pooped everyone fend for yourself" kind of dinner, and they didn't get used up. There's still 4 in the fridge though.

In answer to the question in the first reply: I don't suggest freezing them unless you plan on putting them in something like omelets or SOS. They're very crumbly when they thaw. For just tossing them in the fridge and then reheating them however, they've passed my hub and kid test with flying colors. You don't have to cook the whole package at once though. It's cooked just like rice, twice as much water as there is lentils, boil for half an hour.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Thrifty Crafts from Junk

I was reminded of this part of our thrifty lifestyle when my daughters got really excited about an exhibit at a local museum featuring art from "found" materials - old plastic cups, bottles, cans, etc. (Being my daughters, they proceeded to plan their trip for a Tuesday, when admission was two dollars, and they had one dollar off coupons). They really enjoyed it, especially my younger daughter who loves to be creative. I should note, though, that they didn't think it was quite as impressive as a local house we saw last Christmas that was on a street that does a HUGE display of decorations. This house had the back and side yards open to gawkers, and every decoration was made from "found" materials. I'm always amazed at the things people throw away. So, I thought I'd include some ideas for taking items headed for the garbage can and putting them to new uses.

Old clothes
T-shirts - Nola posted about diapers, including a link to using old t-shirts to make fitted diapers. Old t-shirts also make great dust and cleaning rags, or if enough of the fabric's in good condition, they can be remade into children's clothes.

Pants - if the knees are ripped out, but the pants are still sound above the knees, everyone's familiar with cut-off shorts. But if the pants below the knee are still sound and the fabric isn't a stretchy one, use them to make book bags - just cut off the damaged area, sew shut at that upper end, let the hem become the top of the bag, and add a handle or two. If you don't want to make one, most fabric stores sell some kind of strapping cheaply. I find it for about $1.50 a yard, and I get handles for at least three bags from a yard. Or, if you want a larger shopping bag, take both pant legs, cut out one matching seam for each, sew them together, and continue as above. This works best with heavier pants, especially denim. If the damaged area is too high to make shorts from them, but the body of the pants are sound, you can turn cut off the legs entirely, sew the cut edges and any front pockets shut, and add straps for a novel purse or shopping or diaper bag, especially if the pants have hip pockets.

I've also remade the legs from adult pants into simple toddler pants. And of course pants from appropriate fabrics can be cut into patches for quilts.
Stretchy pants can be cut in a spiral up the leg to create a single long strip from each leg, and then used to crochet or as weft for weaving.

Old sweaters - in theory, these can be unraveled for the yarn. I haven't figured out the trick myself, and as I live in an area of the country where good wool sweaters aren't common, I don't have much incentive. But it could be a great way to get wool yarns if you're broke. They can sometimes be cut down into children's clothes. I've also taken good sleeves and turned them into bottle covers.

Almost everyone knows many non-stretchy old clothes can be cut into patches for quilting, but I was surprised a few years ago to find out very few quilters actually do this. The theory appears to be that if they're going to put that much work into something, they want the materials to last and look good. And I can understand that. However, my quilts aren't terribly complex, and are intended for heavy use more than display, so good patches from old clothes suit me perfectly. One thing I love to make for kids is a quilt top made with simple, large patches so it goes together quickly, then I use a sheet for the backing, and either tie it or quilt it on the machine. The child doesn't need a top sheet, and making the bed (unless it's winter in a cold area) is a matter of spreading out the quilt on the bed. And a quilt this simple and easy means you won't be tempted to shriek when you find the quilt on the muddy ground as the floor to a "blanket" tent, etc. You can also make pillows and hangings from quilt patches. I have a tree of life hanging I made that I use over a sunny window in my bedroom.

Small pieces of fabric, either from old clothes or remnants, can by turned into headbands or pony tail holders. For a pony tail holder, all you need is a piece of fabric about 10 inches long and about 2 inches wide, and a piece of elastic about 1/2 an inch longer than you want the pony tail holder to be. Sew into a tube, turn inside out, thread the elastic through (I like 3/8 inch wide elastic), sew the ends of the elastic together, then overlap the fabric, fold the visible edge under, and sew. Using the sewing machine, I can finish one of these in under 5 minutes. The principle for a head band is the same. Measure your head as you want the band to go around it, take a piece of fabric about twice that long and 3 or 4 inches wide. Then follow the same procedure as for the pony tail holder, except you'll probably want wider elastic for this, and measure the elastic by pulling it around your head to just the tightness you want, and add 1/2 an inch or so for sewing the ends together.

Before you throw out a piece of clothing or give it away, take a second look at it. Pants that are too short can have a decorative band added to the bottom to add length, or be cut a little shorter for capris. Skirts can be lengthened or shortened sometimes too. Adult clothes can sometimes be recut for kids. If there's a small stain, can you cover it with a bit of embroidery or applique? Or redye the item? Can the item be mended? If the repair will be obvious, can it be hidden with trim or embroidery or applique? If the item is just "dated", can you alter it?

Items can be remade into doll clothes and blankets. Old towels can be cut into dish towels and wash cloths. Stained towels and washcloths can be recut into washable baby wipes, just throw them into the diaper pail with the diapers. If you live in a hot region, cut an old towel into strips about 4 inches wide, wet the strips and put in the freezer (either in a recycled plastic bag or on a cookie sheet). When you have to go outside to work on something, pull one out and drape it around your neck (this assumes you don't have any medical condition that might react badly to sudden cold...) If you live without AC, and it gets hot, you can take a piece of gauze, hang it over an open window that's getting a breeze, and use a spray bottle to wet it down. Cheap swamp cooler. Whatever fabric you use, be sure it "breathes". An old sheet MIGHT work, if it's 100% cotton and worn thin. I read about this in a description of how Indians traditionally keep cool. You could also hang the wet fabric in an open doorway with a fan on the other side (keeping the fan a safe distance, etc.)

Quilts and comforters that are stained or otherwise not "presentable" but in good shape can be used as batting for new quilts. This assumes you're making a utilitarian piece, and not one of the lovely show pieces. An old quilt can also be into several baby quilts, however be conscious of fire safety when you're remaking adult items for an infant. Don't forget comfort blankets and play quilts for toddlers and young children. I've even seen a quilt remade into a child's jacket, but that's trickier sewing than I can do. However, that may be a good use for an old blanket.

Well, I've already covered a lot of ground, and I never got past reusing clothes and household linens. Hopefully, one of my co-writers will pick up and expand with other ideas now...

Friday, July 21, 2006

If you have a freezer, I highly recommend buying a Food Saver. (That exact brand... I tried the Rival knockoff and it was terrible.)
When things are on sale, I stock up and freeze a bunch. We like chicken breasts.

(Hub likes all kinds of breasts, but I digress)

When breasts are on sale, I buy as much as I can, and then spend an afternoon de-boning and bagging them. I ate some this week that were frozen almost a year ago, and they were still as fresh as the day I put them in the freezer. Take all the bones and throw them in a soup pot with onion, garlic and whatever else you like in chicken soup/broth and boil them. I take the broth and freeze it in big flat square containers overnight, then put it in food saver bags the next day and freeze them. They last a long time that way.
This summer, I froze a bunch of strawberries for shortcake this winter. There's something really nice about strawberry shortcake when the weather outside is frightful.

The food saver has also helped me with fresh food. Sometimes we buy lettuce, and it doesn't get used fast enough to keep it from getting all brown and mooshy. Then we want some on a sandwich and the lettuce is dead and decomposing in the drawer in the bottom of the refrigerator. I have a Food Saver canister, and we take the core out of the lettuce and put the rest of it in the canister. (We wash it as we use it). I have kept a head of lettuce for more than a month in the refrigerator.

Another really good use for it is as a marinator. Put the meat and whatever marinade you're using in the canister, seal it and leave it for half an hour or so. No more bowls of juice slopping all over the bottom of the fridge... and no more waiting all night long for it.

This whole thing sounds like a Food Saver ad, but it has really helped me save money. I never have to throw out freezer burned food anymore.

Hubby adds that he's packaged many things for backpacking trips. He uses it to package boil in a bag dinners. All he does is boil water and pour it right into the bag. Wrap it in a sweatshirt, and 15 minutes later he has a hot meal on the trail.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

OK, so you're working 60 hours a week, plus commute time. A lot of the things I've suggested are hard to put in place for someone who's already strained for time. Does this mean you can't cut expenses? No, the trick is to carefully choose your timesavers.

If even the 5 minutes to fix a lunch seems overwhelming, what other options do you have besides eating out? First, is there someone else who can fix your lunch? How about paying a pre-teen/young teen to make your lunches for you? I pay one of my daughters $.50 to fix a sandwich or salad for my lunch. That may sound a bit cheap, but it takes her less than 5 minutes. $.50 for 5 minutes work is $6 an hour, better than minimum wage. And the $2.50 per week I pay her still keeps my lunch costs much lower than eating out, especially since my cheapest lunch choice near my job starts at $5. If that's not an option, what inexpensive pre-made lunches can you take? How about putting a can of soup in a lidded microwave container and keeping it in the fridge at work until lunch? How about a finger food lunch? Take a block of cheese, a box of crackers, and a bag of baby carrots to work on Monday, leave the cheese and carrots in the fridge through the week, and grab an apple or other piece of fruit to go with your lunches. Don't forget leftovers. There are some inexpensive frozen meals that you can take, but I hesitate to suggest them, most of them are bland and generally not very nutritious.

Instead of grabbing take out on the way home, consider a few healthy convenience foods that eliminate time. There are prepackaged salad mixes (even prewashed sometimes) that eliminate that time. Some grocery store salad bars are quite reasonable. Spaghetti sauce in a jar is easy (though it lacks in flavor to my mind). A loaf of French bread can be sliced in half length-wise, cooked meat or sandwich meat and cheese can be layered on each half and then broiled in the oven. When you do cook, make a double or triple batch and freeze it. Make 4 or 5 meatloafs at once, and freeze those for a ready to heat meal. On the weekends, at least in cooler weather, make a large batch of something easy, like roasting a turkey or a couple of chickens or pork loins or frying up hamburgers for several meals, then freeze meal sized portions. If you really don't have time to fix something some nights, instead of restaurant take-out, pick up a rotisserie chicken from a grocer's. Several places near me sell them for as little as $4. But remember to take into account how much time it takes you to get the take-out. There are meals that can be fixed in 10 minutes, and a crowded store may take longer than that.

Don't just budget your money, budget your time as well. During the week, run errands on the way to and from work, or during lunch if possible. Keep a list of the things you can't do, and take care of them Saturday morning. Plan what order you'll do them in for the most efficient use of driving time. This saves both time and gas. Find what the most efficient approach to laundry is for you. Some people like to throw a load in every night there's enough as they come in from work. Others like to do it all at once on the weekend. Plan to do other things around the laundry, so when you're DONE, you have time to enjoy your family.

Pick the time-savers that give you the most bang for your buck. If you don't have kids, consider whether there's a nice neighbor kid who can help you out with housework for a few bucks. Keep in mind that it's probably cheaper to get a kid to help with light cleaning and the kids than it is to pay someone to mow the yard.