low stress, low budget, low impact living for a family of 5 in L.A.
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Well, it turns out there is just no cheap way (that I have found) to have a broken arm. I can’t cut fruits and vegetables, I can’t open jars or cans, I can’t lift a pot of pasta in order to drain it… Well, maybe if I had fractured something other than my scaphoid, and I had use of my thumb to grip things, I would be able to do more of those things, but I can’t. The right hand is useless, so I am essentially one-armed. Sure, Shane and the kids can help — and they do — but they are not always here. So, I have to make some adjustments. I try not to use too many prepared foods (can’t open them, anyway), but I do buy pre-cut veggies and some prepared foods. I am not baking bread or muffins, or making my own laundry detergent, or canning. So, yeah, that costs money.
Then, there is the fact that the follow-up is actually NOT included. I was misinformed. Add to that the fact that I found out yesterday that I might have the cast for another 6 weeks — orthopedist will be checking at 2 week intervals, but, it turns out, an injury of this nature generally requires 10-12 weeks in a cast — and, as you can imagine, the bills start to pile up. There will be more office visits, and possibly more x-rays and another cast. Then, there will probably be physical therapy and more follow-up appointments.
So, that’s where I am. I am bored, frustrated and in pain, and feeling a little overwhelmed. Still trying to find ways to save money, but it is exhausting. We will definitely be working to pay off these bills before we decide to do much more to fix up the house. We are very lucky in that the only “fixing” our house really needs at the moment is cosmetic, so that can wait.
Thanx for reading. I will try to keep updating here, and we be sure to share any money-saving tips I discover along the way. In the meantime, the Tip of the Day today will be: Mind your step! Don’t fall and break anything! That’ll save you tons of dough :)
It happens, even to the lowest of the lowlifes. Sometimes, life throws you that curveball, and you say, “Screw saving money, screw being eco-friendly. We’re ordering in and eating off paper plates.” Moving five people into a new house ~ buying a house, making the downpayment, paying closing costs, renting a moving truck, hiring a couple of guys to help lift the heavy stuff… ~ takes a lot out of a family. And let’s be honest; Moving? Hard. Moving with kids? Harder. Moving with kids during the holidays, when your husband is suddenly called out of town on a family emergency? Turns out, that’s when I cry, “Uncle!”
Actually, I cry, “Maid service!”
The girls and I managed to get the rest of the odds and ends — damn, did we have some odds and ends! And, boy, oh boy, were some of them odd! We even managed to rent a carpet cleaner and clean all of the carpets (thanx to Justice, for keeping me company in the creepy, mostly empty house late at night). We remembered to take down all of shelves (even the ones we had installed in closets) and curtain rods…and then, we looked outside. We still had to move all of the potted plants (we have LARGE potted plants), clean out window boxes and other containers in which nothing was currently growing, clean up all of the lawn ornaments and toys, take down the clothesline… That’s when we collapsed. That’s when I gave in. I had put in a call to Betty Blue in search of a maid who might help us with the move-out cleaning, and I hadn’t heard back. I figured the kids and I would get everything and get it over to the new house, and then Justice and I would go back and clean as much as we could. I even considered just leaving the mess and telling the management company to charge us a cleaning fee, but that offended my sensibilities. I say Justice and I would go back because Kaia has a school project to finish and Hallie has a badly sprained ankle (she helped on the last few days of move-out by sitting ont he floor with a stack of newspapers and boxes, wrapping and packaging fragile items we delivered to her station). Justice is a trooper. She never complained about being asked to shoulder a heavier load than her sisters.
Imagine my delight when, at 8:00 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd (the last day we could be in the old house), I received a call back from Betty Blue to schedule service. Lucy and Adela (sp?) arrived at 1:00 p.m., just as we were finishing getting the last of the items out of the house and moving on to the outdoor work. I dropped Hallie at home, gave her some arnica and propped her up on pillows. Justice and Kaia stayed behind to hose off all of the outdoor toys, planters, etc., and I went back to work on taking down clotheslines, dart board, etc., and loading up the last few items from the garage. Kaia went home on the next trip, and Justice ont he one after. Adela and Lucy worked until 7:00 that evening, and, when they were done, the house looked like no one had ever lived there. Totally worth $140, considering that a $2400 deposit (and my peace of mind) hangs in the balance. They were incredibly nice, too. Adela hugged me on the way out and told me that I have a beautiful family and wished us happiness in our new home.
For more info about Betty Blue, check out this: http://www.angieslist.com/companylist/us/ca/encino/betty-blue-reviews-6230455.htm
We are officially moved out of the little house on Morse Avenue, and into our beautiful new home on Willard Street. Shane is home (having agreed to take a later flight for $200 — which, coincidentally, offset the cost of the maid service), safe and sound, and all is right in our little world.
The papers are all signed and notarized, closing costs are paid, so now we are just waiting for those keys.
In the meantime, we are packing. When we first decided to get on a roll and start packing, Shane ran out and bought a few boxes, just to get us started. They cost him $25, and we blasted through them in a day, leaving most of our household startlingly unpacked. We need a LOT more boxes. Having just paid closing costs on the house, and approaching Christmas, however, we cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars on empty boxes (seems sort of ridiculous to me, anyway).
Enter the magical internet. A quick visit to craigslist.org reveals scores of listings for free moving boxes. Just go to your local area and search “boxes” in the “free” section. I made a drive to Agoura Hills, which cost me a few bucks in gas and yielded a big carload of boxes. I recommend giving the boxes a good look over to make sure they are clean and in good shape, and that they don’t smell funny. No sense moving anything you don’t mean to into your new digs.
While we’re on the subject of craigslist: check it out. It’s a great resource if you are looking for low-priced goods and services. I have never gotten into freecycle, but I have a number of friends who rave about it, so you might want to check out that one, too.
We often prefer to buy used goods. As long as things are still in good, usable condition, we would rather not see them tossed in a landfill. In addition, we really see no need to add to the waste produced in the manufacture and shipping of new goods when we can get what we need for less money, anyway. Honestly, we often find stuff that is more our offbeat, quirky style in secondhand stores, at yard sales and on craigslist, anyway. Some tips I would offer: when browsing online, only look at items that include pictures, and do not commit to buy before you have seen the item in real life. Don’t be afraid to offer less than the asking price. The worst they can say is, “no.” I prefer to browse only items that are for sale by owner. Dealers tend to charge more, because their goal is to make a profit, whereas owners are sometimes just eager to get stuff out of their houses. In fact, check in the free section before you move on to “for sale.” You never know what you might find.
Not that we are getting a bunch of new stuff for the new house. I will admit, we got a little starry-eyed and started shopping around, but the closing costs brought us down to earth pretty quickly. Instead of buying new stuff, I am doing things like re-covering old cushions. We might spring for a new cover for our futon, which is going to make the big move from the patio to indoors. This leaves us in the market for some patio furniture. So, I am keeping a close eye on craigslist and local yard sales for some awesome deals. Wish me luck!
Oh…but…I digress. We were talking about free boxes, weren’t we?
Next, I posted a plea on Facebook and, sure enough, a friend who recently moved responded. Stopped by her house and picked up another big carload of boxes - and got to chat a little and see her new house, which is just lovely. It was not only a profitable trip for me int he box department, but proved to be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of moving, too.
It’s been just a couple of days, and we have already used up all of those free boxes. So, after I have my coffee and get the kids off to their Sunday School class this morning, I will be checking on craigslist again. I know there are more clean, free boxes out there, just waiting for us.
Sorry for the lack of updates lately. We are just waiting to close on our new house. I hear it is always a hassle for everyone, so I guess things are going as they usually do. It feels like all kinds of crazy drama. Between racing all over town trying to get papers signed and ”t”s crossed and “i”s dotted, and my health being what it is, our budget has fallen somewhat by the wayside.
Of course, since we are buying a house (MAJOR EXPENSE), we really need to try to get back on track. I am working on it. Because my health has been unpredictable, at best, we have been relying a bit more on prepared foods than we usually do, but I am happy to report that, just recently, I made a giant vat of spaghetti sauce. Had dinner that night, lunch for a couple of days, and put up 7 jars for future use. I also remembered to can my homemade cranberry conserve on Thanksgiving, so we have a few 1/2 pint jars of that, too. I am getting back to making bread instead of buying it, I made a batch of homemade “Kind” bars (fruits, nuts, honey & chocolate) and will make some granola bars today.
Also, with the impending move, we are so tempted to run out and buy a bunch of new stuff. I cannot tell you how exciting the prospect of finally owning our our home is. Nevertheless, we are buying a house, which means we had to cough up a downpayment, and we will have to pay closing costs ~ not to mention the cost of actually moving (we are staying in the same area, so it won’t be too costly, I hope), as well as making sure we have a little reserve for whatever happens to come up once we’re living there.
That’s going to be a big change for us. From now on, when something breaks down around the house, we don’t get to just call management and let them handle it. We will have to manage our own repairs, one way or another.
So, instead of running out and buying all new stuff, we are sprucing up stuff we already have. Today, for instance, I made new, washable covers for our old floor cushions. I found the fabric on clearance, and unfortunately I got it so long ago that I forgot how much it cost, but it was much cheaper than buying new cushions. Besides, the cushions are fine. They just didn’t look fabulous. It would have been a shame to add them to a landfill somewhere when they still had so much life in them.
We will be doing some painting. Our new house is tan, inside and out, and we really aren’t tan kind of people. We prefer colour ~ lots and lots of colour. Frankly, we have all lived with Apartment White for far too long. We cannot wait to get some colour onto our new walls. Instead of hiring someone to come paint, we will be doing it ourselves. We might not do it all at once. I mean, of course we would love to get everything painted before we move in, but that is going to depend on when we close (oh, the drama!) and how much money we have to spare after paying closing costs. I would like to get the bedrooms, front room and party room done, at least. I can manage to paint the bathrooms, laundry room and maybe even the kitchen after we are moved in.
You know, it occurs to me that, when we wrote our “bios” for the Low Life, I think most of us put saving money to buy as house as one of our goals.
We did it. We tightened our belts, reevaluated our priorities, (mostly) stuck to our budget, and we did it. We’re buying our house, and we should be moved in time for Christmas. I cannot wait to hang our stockings by the chimney with care, and to wake up Christmas morning in our very own house.
Stay tuned, and we’ll be sure to pass along any money-saving tips we discover along the way. It’s going to be quite an adventure, and one for which we have waited many, many years.
We haven’t been updating here, and some of you might have wondered why. The truth is, Shane and I have been busy, and a bit preoccupied, trying to pull off the surprise of a lifetime for our daughters. On Sunday, November 11, 2012, we let the cat out of the bag. If you haven’t seen it yet, please follow the link to a fun video of the big reveal.
Today, I had to take Hallie to Payless for new ballet slippers. I say I had to take her to Payless because, the other day, I tried taking her to a dance store and walked out with a $36 leotard. I decided the shoes needed to be cheaper than that. So, Payless it is! Well, adult size ballet slippers at Payless now run $19.99. That doesn’t seem so cheap, but dancers gotta dance, so we bought them. She also needed another pair of tights, which they were selling for $3.99 (better than the price at the dance store, but probably not as great quality, which is okay, since they are not performance tights), so we grabbed them, too. The gentleman who was helping asked if I had my coupon with me. I told him I did not, and he said, “There’s a coupon. If you buy any three items, you get $10 off.” ”Shoot. Well, that’s okay,” I replied. ”We really only need these two.” That’s when he told me to find another item, and he’d give me the discount, anyway. Now, Hallie had been clamoring for a lipgloss she loved, and I had said no, but, after doing the math, we determined that, if we added the lipgloss and subtracted the $10, we would end up paying less than the price of the shoes. So, instead of $23.98 + tax for a pair of ballet slippers and a pair of tights, we paid $19.54 (including tax) for ballet slippers, a pair of tights and a tube of lipgloss. Double sided, so it’s actually two tubes of lipgloss. I walked out with a very happy girl, and a few bucks more in my wallet than I expected. In other news, I fell in love with these shoes: http://www.payless.com/store/product/detail.jsp?catId=cat10088&subCatId=cat10270&skuId=125460050&productId=72266&lotId=125460&category=&catdisplayName=Womens , but I can’t justify buying them. Do you think there’s a buy one item and get $45 off coupon in my near future? Please?
In case you were wondering, we totally blew the whole grocery budget thing over Summer Vacation. Oops. Now that school is once again in session, we will try to get on track.
In grocery-related news: I made out like a bandit at Target today. Last time I shopped there, I received a coupon for $1.50 off 4 Morningstar Farms products. We try not to use too much of that stuff, but we do use it occasionally. They happened to be on sale for $3/package. With my Target Red Card discount of 5%, that would have brought the price to $11.40 for 4 packages, which is not bad; however, I also had my coupon. That took the total cost to $9.90, which means I paid about $2.48/package. I can’t argue with that.
Click above to see the sweater I ordered today from GAP for all of $5.39. I’m not usually one to go around with logos emblazoned across my chest, but I think it’s awfully cute. The retail price is $59.95, which I think is a bit outlandish for a sweater. However, I can thank GAP card for this great deal. I hardly ever use my GAP card. However, over the Summer, they had a deal in which triple points were awarded for purchases. So, for that time, I decided to use my card and pay it off immediately, just during that promo. As I recall, I used it for gas, and to buy Justice a new swimsuit, and I think I used it while we were on vacation. In the end, I earned $40 in rewards. Then, there was a 25% off online purchase deal. I was able to combine all of them and buy a warm, cozy sweater (I needed a couple, and this plus the $1 one from Rewind will about do it for me) for next to nothing. Awesome :) — Sam.
Just realized that, in the past week or so, I have bought quite a few new clothing items. I don’t usually buy a lot of clothes for myself. so this is shocking. When I realized how much I had bought, I got a little bit panicky, until I figured out that I have spent a whopping $36.
This is why I LOVE shopping second hand stores and yard sales. Most of my purchases were made at Rewind, but I did buy two brand new dresses on sale at a little store in the Fashion Square Mall, upstairs, near Macy’s. (Wish I could remember the name of the store. I’ll check next time I am there.) Each was marked $9, and they were both on the buy one/get one rack. I paid $4.50/dress. Not bad.
Now, take a minute and think about what you think you could expect to get for $36.
I would think maybe a pair of pants and a top, on sale. If I got a really good sale, maybe a couple of tops and a skirt or two. hmmm…four items for $36? That would be an average of nine bucks a pop. It would have to be a darned good sale for grown up clothes.
I don’t think I’ve done badly for thirty-six bucks. I do, however, think I am done shopping for a while — and I probably need to go through my closet and weed out some things I am wearing to make room for the new stuff. I definitely need to do that. Best of all, I feel like I have a whole new wardrobe, and I didn’t break the bank.
I LOVE fresh & easy! Just printed my “$8 off a $40 purchase” coupon and transferred my reward points over to my card so they can be applied to that same purchase (another $6), so I am about to go to the grocery store and get $40 worth of groceries for $26. I think I’m a little giddy.
I also think it is important to learn to “work” whatever reward systems your favourite stores have. I touched on this before, but I think it’s worth revisiting. Sign up for your store’s rewards program. Most grocery and drug stores have free programs. I don’t usually pay to join reward programs, but that’s up to you. If you think you will use a program enough to justify a fee ~ in other words, will it pay for itself and then some ~ it might be worth it to you. For instance, the Kids Bowl Free program about which Hallie recently posted offers an option to buy a family pass that allows up to 4 adults to bowl 2 games every time the kids bowl. I think the pass cost me $25. So far, my friend Priya and I have used it twice, and I have used it one additional time when the girls and I went bowling on our own. Shane plans to take a long lunch or two in order to bowl with us this week. I think that purchase has paid for itself.
I like programs that give me coupons for specific products I already use (I currently have one for 75¢ off Morningstar Farms products at Target); but what I really love are the programs that give me cash back or credit to apply to future purchases. Fresh & easy (our grocery store) gives me points for my purchases, which I can convert into credit to be applied to future purchases. How cool is that? All I have to do is buy groceries to earn money toward more groceries. As if that were not enough, they regularly send me coupons for a dollar amount off a purchase (like the one I mentioned above). So far, they win the “Best Rewards Program Ever” award, as far as I’m concerned.
Our Costco American Express Card has been a case of an annual fee that more than pays for itself (when I do it correctly). Because I earn cash back for purchases made with my Costco AmEx, I end up essentially getting a free Costco membership plus some cash to spend. The great is that, when I use my reward check to make a purchase at Costco, they give my change in cash, which I can spend anywhere I want. I’m not locked in to spending all of my cash back at Costco, which is awesome, because there are really only a few things I buy there. There are many other credit cards that offer valuable rewards. If you decide to use credit cards, check them out and see which one(s) you think make the most sense for your family.
Here’s the caveat: If you want to come out ahead, you can’t let a balance sit on your reward-earning credit card running up interest. If that happens, you could end up not so far ahead as you thought you might be. Worse yet, you might end up in the hole, which is not our goal here. I find I have to be extremely careful about this. It is easy to think, “Oh, I don’t have the money for that, but I really need (want) it. I could use my card, earn the reward points and then just pay it off next week, when the check comes in!” The next thing I am going to say is very important: The check does not always come in. Even when you’ve been assured that it’s “in the mail.” Trust me on this.
So, here’s what you have to do. It’s very simple, but you absolutely must do it this way: pay off your balance in full every time you use your card. Do this as soon as possible, and without fail. I wish I could say I have always succeeded in this department, but I can admit I have not. Right now, there’s a balance on my AmEx, and I need to pay it off TODAY (yesterday or last week would have been better). It happens. You go on vacation, find yourself stranded somewhere unable to get home to eat all of that food you already paid for that is just sitting at your house, plan a trip far in advance not knowing that you’ll be out of work for two weeks before you leave…yeah. Forrest Gump was right: It happens.
I’m passing on this tip mostly because I hope it is something my kids “get” and carry with them into their adult lives. (Kids, you’re reading this, right?):
As much as possible, we try to spend cash. Or, using our debit card, spend real, physical money that we actually have in our possession, anyway. My, how the times have changed. Basically, you don’t want to spend money you don’t have. That seems like a no-brainer, but our economy is so dependent upon a credit system of buying, that I think we just do it without thinking. There are some things that are really only feasible for most of us to buy that way: homes, cars, college educations… But, for the things that don’t fall into that category — things like shoes, toys, dinner out — we try to only spend money we have. I wish we had done that right from the start. We definitely got ourselves into trouble when we were younger and poorer and the credit card companies seemed like our salvation. We are still digging ourselves out of that pit. Part of the way we are accomplishing that is by trying to do things right in the here and now. However, I have found that a) it’s a good idea to use credit cards to establish and maintain a favourable credit history and b) some credit cards offer great rewards, if you manage them well.
That means, for instance, that every time I shop at Target I use my “Red Card” to pay, so I can get the 5% discount on my purchases. Then, I immediately walk to the customer service desk, receipt in hand, and pay off the exact amount I have spent. It’s not always that easy. I had been using my Costco Amex to pay for gas, dining out and Costco purchases. In this case, I have to remember to immediately go home and pay off my balance online. Alas, I do not always remember. *sigh* So, after I pay it off this time, I am going to take a break from using it for a while, and then try again. I think the most important for me to remember is to use a card only if I have the money in the bank to cover the purchase. If I don’t, then I have no business making a purchase at all.
Well, I guess that’s it for now. Off to enjoy my rewards at the grocery store. Then, I might take the kids bowling for next to nothing (we still have to pay for shoe rental, which, at $3/pop really isn’t much for two games).
It’s been very hot in the Los Angeles area, but air conditioning is expensive and lots of fun summer outings cost too much. Luckily, we found a cheap way to escape the heat. We love to bowl, but hardly ever have the time or money to. But this link will take you to a website with coupons for kids to bowl free! They get two free games and the parents can even buy a pass for two games every time their kids play. It’s not entirely free, (the cost of shoe rental) but it’s still a good way to save money. (And remember, if you want it to be entirely free, buy your own bowling shoes at a thrift store, eat before you go, and try to avoid the arcade ;-)
I never planned to have an iPhone. In fact, the idea seemed completely outlandish to me ~ why would I need an iPhone??
Well, then someone gave Shane a new iPhone, so he had this old one just lying around. For a long time, we let it just lie around. I just didn’t need one. Then, something happened to my phone. Honestly, I can’t even remember what it was. What I do remember is that I was without a phone, and so we decided maybe I could activate the iPhone and just use it as a regular phone. Just not get the data plan. The only problem with that plan turned out to be that you’re not allowed to do that, I guess. So, we debated buying me a new little cell phone, or activating the iPhone. In the end, I decided to give the iPhone a shot.
I have had such a great time with my iPhone. I post pictures and status updates to Facebook, search directions using the map feature, look up restaurant menus on the road before we stop… It’s a pretty fun, addictive little device.
But then, here we are trying to save money, and every time I see our cell phone bill, I think, “Holy cow! That’s a lot of scratch!” I mean, with 4 out of 5 of us having cell phones, and two of those being iPhones, we end up averaging about $200/month in cell phone bills. That is just not reasonable, in my opinion, so I went in to AT & T Wireless a few days ago to find out what I could do to save a little money.
I had been thinking for some time that I might like to switch back to a regular cell phone, anyway. Don’t get me wrong ~ I have enjoyed my iPhone. It’s just that I don’t need it. In fact, the more I thought about going back to a regular phone, the more the idea appealed to me. Yes, it’s true ~ I won’t be posting as many up-to-the-minute reports on Facebook. I’m sure we will all survive. In fact, in a way, I think it will be better. I feel like I was living more mindfully ~ that I was more fully invested in living each moment ~ when I was not all Facebook-drunk.
I used to like being out with the family, maybe taking a few pictures, and then coming home at the end of the day (or the week, or whatever) and sitting down to organize my thoughts and write a blog entry about it. Maybe that isn’t for everyone, but it’s more my style. I like having time to mull over things, lay it all down and black & white and mull it over some more before I share it.
I think it’s important to acknowledge here, too, that I have an addictive personality. It’s okay, I can admit that. It is exceedingly easy for me to become addicted to things, and Facebook is one of those things ~ I’d check it on the way to work, in between classes, on my way to pick up kids, while I was out with kids, at dinner, while I was walking, reading, watching a movie….uncool. That was not the way I wanted to live. I wanted to be more present, more relaxed and more…well, just more ME. I am not a technology buff. It’s just not my thing. It never has been, but I got sucked in. And I didn’t really like it.
So, after much consideration, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be better to save that money and spend it on things that ARE my thing?” I decided it would.
Off I went to AT & T Wireless. A very helpful young man named George looked over our account with me, and he advised that we consider removing the insurance from any phones that were more than a year old. That was about $10/month/phone, and we had two that qualified. I told him about the idea I had about dropping my data plan. Turns out, I could save $30/month/phone by doing this. Only Shane and I have data plans, and I think Shane probably really does need his, since he uses his phone A LOT for work, especially when he travels. Therefore, at this time, I would really only entertain the idea of nixing my data plan. Nevertheless, dropping insurance and losing my data plan would save us $50/month, and that is nothing to sneeze at.
I mulled it over for a few days, talked to Shane, and decided to go back and do it. Today, I stopped by the store again. This time, I worked with a young woman named Diana. She was extremely helpful, and directed me to some really cute little phones that would suit my needs. I ended up choosing a Pantech Pursuit II. It is pink, and stupidly cute. Which is weird. I am so not a pink and cutesy gal, but I have had several pink and cutesy cell phones over the years. PInk and cutesy just works for cell phones.
Diana switched everything over for me, so I now have my new phone, with no data plan. The interesting thing is that, if I just cannot hang without my data plan (I think I will make it), I can opt to add a data plan for $10/month for unlimited access. I could also add GPS for an additional $10/month. So, worst case scenario, I totally can’t hang and add data and GPS, and I am STILL saving $10/month over my old data plan. Since we axed the insurance, even if I do add data and GPS, we will be saving $30/month, and that’s better than nothing.
It’s also interesting to note that I can still use my iPhone like an iPod (all of my music is on it), and I can use it to access the internet wherever there is WiFi. In the end, I really don’t feel like I am losing much at all. Of course, this is day one. It might be a tougher adjustment than I think, but, for now, I am happy with my cute little pink phone. I’ll keep you posted on how I feel as time goes by.
I have no idea where we are on groceries. I am keeping an envelope on the bookshelf (my purse is just too disorganized, and I have to remember to record each transaction before I stuff it in an envelope and forget about it) for grocery receipts, and I will report back at the end of the month. April was an absolute free-for-all, and May started out that way, but now I am back to thinking about trying to be frugal. ish. Sometimes. We’ll see how it goes.
I have found that, since we started living The Low Life, the kids don’t ask for a lot of commercial snacks and treats they used to like. Instead, they ask for homemade granola bars, smoothies, our special-recipe wheat bread (and other homemade breads). It’s cool. I feel like they are eating more real, whole foods, so they are appreciating them more. Thanx to Pinterest, I found a great recipe for homemade “refried” beans that are made in the crockpot. Simplest recipe in the world, and we all like them so much better than the canned ones. I have been making a recipe every week or two and will never buy a can of refried beans again in my life. That saves us TONS of scratch, since refried beans are on Kaia’s list of approved foods.
The girls and I have also been doing a lot of sewing. When Kaia learned that she would need a sundress for her performance in the International Dance Festival at her school, she asked if we could make one. I agreed, and, next thing I knew, we were at the fabric store choosing fabrics for her and her sisters. She made the dress herself, and added a cute, coordinating purse with a big red flower button. In fact, it turned out so cute, that I soon found myself at Walmart, picking out fabric for my own sundress.
I have to be careful with the sewing. I mean, it’s great, and actually can save us money, if we are making things we need. However, if we just make a bunch of stuff we wouldn’t have bought in the first place, then maybe we are spending unnecessarily. On the other hand, it is a great thing for us to do together, and contributes tremendously to our joy, self-confidence and sense of well-being. That, of course, is invaluable. I consider it a necessary expense for that reason. Also, if you intend to do any amount of sewing, and you ever shop at Jo-Ann, make sure you sign up for their coupons and, if you have an iPhone, get their app (for more coupons). Shop sales, check out the bargain tables and remnant bins. Sometimes, there are great deals to be found. I haven’t bought a single scrap of fabric or a supply full price since the sewing bug bit me.
The garden has pretty much flopped due to my inability to tend it (stupid knee/ankle injuries!). Shane and the kids tried, but they aren’t home as much as I, so they just can’t keep up. We were too ambitious, under the circumstances. We’ve decided not to give up, but to scale back. We are going to do some container gardening, and focus on the things we use most ~ tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, zucchini, lettuce and radishes, I think. We have grown all of those successfully in the past, and the containers will help us keep our massive weeds at bay. I hope. Our herbs and flowers are looking magnificent, so that keeps us happy.
Shane lost two of his jobs, very unexpectedly, at about the same time. The work just dried up and went away. It happens a lot in this town, in his industry. He has work lined up for June, so we’ll be okay, but should probably tighten our belts just a bit. My current session of after school drama classes saw a significant drop in enrollment from last session. I have talked to others in the after school enrichment field, and they had the same experience. The general consensus seems to be that this is just not a great timme of year for our business. Kids are busy, parents are budgeting and planning for the summer… Nevertheless, every little bit counts, right?
Always eager to pitch in any way she can, Justice will be attending her first high school dance, a masquerade ball, at the end of this week. She will wear a beautiful evening gown she found at a thrift store and a mask she is making. And I’ll bet she’ll be the prettiest girl at the ball, too.
Well, I guess that’s all for now. I’d better go figure out what I can scare up for dinner (it’s early, but promises to be a very busy afternoon, so I have to plan now).
Yeah. So…I totally blew it in April. Remember how I was going to keep track of what I spent on groceries and compare it to how we did when we were on our strict budget? I just didn’t do that. I have loads of excuses ~ the new session of my after school program started, so I was busy promoting that and preparing lesson plans. Shane worked in Vegas for a week (the same week my classes started, so it was kind of a hectic one). I fractured my ankle. It was Shane’s birthday. ~ but, in the end, they are all just excuses.
Now, here we are in May, already. This morning, I will label an envelope and put it into my purse. I’ll put all of my grocery receipts into it immediately. We’ll see if I can keep it all together in May.
Oh, on the frugal side, I have been buying lots of fabric on sale (and using coupons ~ did you know there’s a JoAnn Fabrics app that gives you coupons? Super easy to use) and have made myself a couple of nice new dresses and tops. Granted, sewing is not always cheaper than buying, but it is cheaper than buying custom-made items, and I like my own designs better than most others.
After putting ourselves on a very strict grocery budget plan for three months, we have decided that, for the month of April, we will buy whatever groceries we want/need, keep the receipts in an envelope and tally it at the end of the month to see how we’ve done. We thought it would be a good way to check how adhering to the plan for a few months has affected our shopping habits. It is our hope that we will be more mindful shoppers, spending our money carefully and wisely, remembering to comparison shop and take advantage of sales, coupons and special offers. Wish us luck!
We will also try to remember to share any other money-saving tips that come up. So, if we have any great resources or ideas, we’ll post them here. And, of course, at the end of the month we will see how our spending stacks up against that arbitrary budget we set at the beginning of this experiment. Our goal, ultimately, is to arrive at a reasonable budget for our family.
Budget? We don't need no stinking budget! -- by Sam
Did you wonder where I had gone? Yeah, it’s been a while. You’re probably wondering how the month has gone, what with the new budget plan and all. Well, I’ll tell you, I thought I had failed. Yes, about the middle of last week, as I was dipping into this week’s grocery budget and thinking to myself, “Okay…that leaves $40 for incidentals NEXT week, which will be okay, because we shouldn’t need a lot…but…dang! This wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t dipped into this week’s budget last week!…” I was not convinced I was going to make it.
Then, this week rolled around. I somehow hit the grocery sale jackpot and came home with all of these scads and scads of wonderful foods (brussels sprouts, broccoli, milk, cereal, yogurt, potatoes, corn, peas, spinach, vegetarian chicken patties…). I mean, this was good stuff ~ and more than enough to get by on for the rest of the week. Justice made vegetable tempura one night, I made curried vegetable soup the next. We had homemade wheat bread and homemade Hawaiian rolls. I made broccoli, tofu and noodles for dinner, we put great things like veggie chicken patties and mashed potatoes in the kids’ lunchboxes. We were living the high life, and feeling pretty danged good about it.
That is, until today.
Last night two important events occurred.
1. I opened the sliding door of my car to let a child out, and it didn’t click into the “open” position. The door swung heavily and swiftly into my ankle. I can barely walk, but haven’t had time to get it checked out yet. I am still hoping for a miraculous recovery, to be perfectly honest, but my entire foot is numb a full day later, so I am thinking it might be time to check in with the local clinic.
2. At about 3:00 a.m. (which was really this morning, for those of you paying close attention, but it feels like last night, because I was asleep at the time…I mean, until I wasn’t), I awoke with a start. Wasn’t sure why, but I felt the need to check the kitchen. Oh, yeah! I had brewed a small pot of decaf late in the evening, and was afraid I had forgotten to turn it off before bed. I went to check. The coffeepot was, indeed, still on, so I turned it off. Then, I turned around to head back to bed, and realized that there was standing water in both sides of the kitchen sink. I told Shane, who had worked until stupid o’clock in the morning, and he replied, “grumble mumble grumble-mumble,” which, naturally, I interpreted as, “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll take care of it in the morning.” I tossed and turned for a couple of hours until it was time to get kids up for school.
Shane was surprised to hear about the sink (seems we don’t all remember everything that is said to us while we are sleeping. Go figure), which had started to leak onto the floor (don’t judge me - - it was 3 a.m.). He decided to try turning on the disposal to see if the sink would drain. It did. Out the bottom. All over the kitchen. We threw every single towel we could find on the floor, put a bucket under the sink, made breakfasts and lunches and got kids off to school. On time, no less.
Shane did the lion’s share of cleanup, and then I carried out all of the stuff that had been under the sink, pulled up the rugs (yes, we had two small rugs in our kitchen, to cover broken tiles we are still waiting to have fixed) and mopped. After that, I ran a job to the printer, grabbed a cup of coffee, called property management and waited to hear about when the plumber would be here. I figured I couldn’t go see the doctor about my ankle, because I would need to be home for the plumber.
At about 12:30, I got a call from the person who schedules his appointments. She was very apologetic (and called me “honey”), but told me that the plumber would not be over until tomorrow afternoon.
Now, some time after running the job to the printer, I had realized that I had better stop running anywhere. My ankle HURTS. I think I was so caught up in trying to get things done that I didn’t bother to pay attention to it, but it is kind of wobbly, and it really, really hurts. So, as I stood there on my sore ankle, looking forlornly at the dirty dishes (from breakfast and lunch prep) piled on the stove, I made an executive decision. If we can’t wash dishes until tomorrow afternoon, we won’t use dishes until tomorrow afternoon. So…THERE!
I was going to order in tonight, but decided, instead, to get a bunch of sandwich stuff. Good for dinner, and we’ll have leftovers for kids’ lunches the next day. The kids were with me, and we might have gotten a little carried away. We might have also bought some yogurt and fruit…and maybe some hummus…and a little bit of olive tapenade…and paper plates, too. Compostable, and made from plant fibers, but paper plates, nonetheless. What can I say? It was one of those days. Of course, we know we are very fortunate to be able to say, “Budget, schmudget!” and throw caution to the wind sometimes. Today, we needed to go over budget and just have a nice, happy, stress-free dinner, with no clean up time. Some of us cleaned up enough already.
I had a MacBook Pro with a broken LCD screen…as I told you all about in a previous post. I went to a local Mac authorized repair center and was given a quote of $550 for the repair. This is pretty darn high…my laptop is old, bought in 2008 so 5 years old, and I wasn’t quite ready to sink that much money into an older machine. I mean, all I needed was the LCD replaced, why is that so much money?
So I did some research at the urging of a coworker and found the specific LCD for my computer, available for $199…$208 with shipping. That is a bit less than $550. But the catch is that I’d have to replace it myself. Further research led me to a couple sites with instructions on how to replace the panel. I settled on one at ifixit.com… I read the full step by step and was a bit daunted…I’d have to take out 38 screws, and use a razor to separate my panel from the case. But hey…I replaced a hard drive in a Powerbook, and an iBook. I’ve built a computer or two…so this should be fine. I ordered the panel
It arrived a few days later. Found it on the porch after a trip to Phoenix. It was packed well…wrapped a few times over in bubble wrap. Since my workload was light at work this week, I decided to take it there and do the replacement. I brought along two toolkits I had…one with small regular and phillips head screw drivers, and the other with all the other small screwdrivers I need for electronics…including the T6 Torx screwdriver I’d need for 8 screws. I brought it into work, cleared off a large area of my desk (the desk is one LONG desk that serves two edit workstations, and the area we use to print DVD labels). It was a bit dark, so I had to bring over a lamp, and aim mine at the general area. I set out to taking my computer apart.
I removed the battery, 5 screws from inside that compartment, then four near the lid hinge, then four on each side of the computer. That enabled me to remove the keyboard and surrounding surface. I had to disconnect the keyboard from the logic board. My computer was now in two pieces.
Now, to keep track of what screws went where, I took a large 11x8 piece of paper (too large for the job, really) and wrote down what step I was on, drew a box, and put the screws from that step into that box. This was a trick I learned from the first time I disassembled a laptop. There are a LOT of screws to keep track of, and knowing what goes where is VERY important.
I then removed more screws, disconnected wires from 5 locations, and was able to pop off the whole laptop screen from the computer. (if you want the full blow by blow process, go to the iFixit Link…I don’t feel the need to repeat the entire process). Now my computer was in three pieces.
Now I needed to separate the LCD from the frame. First, four screws on either side, then two on the front… then to tackle taking off the protective cover. This was going to be tricky as I didn’t have the “splurgier,” a plastic piece that helps pry apart the parts you need pried apart, without damaging the parts you are prying. I had to resort to using my smaller flat head screw drivers, but they did the trick. Not TOO much damage. I slowly worked around the case and popped it off.
When I did, I heard the clatter of small metal pieces. I looked inside the cover to see two small mounts just floating free. It took me a while to figure out what they were, where they went. I figured out that they needed to loosely sit tucked into the corners of the panel backing. They were where the screws on the front went into, and those small parts went under the lip of the back to hold the screen in place. Getting this back on will be tricky.
Now came the delicate part. Not that the other parts weren’t delicate. But now came the part where I had to separate the LCD from the metal frame that it was glued to. First I removed the orange static-free tape, and then I had to peel back some black electrical type tape, and then more tape. Carefully remove the iSight camera wire…disconnect that from the camera, disconnect another wire…OK, done. the glue. I tried the razor…wasn’t getting anywhere. It wouldn’t really fit between. So I grabbed an exacto and tried that…it got in there, but I couldn’t maneuver it well. So I ended up using delicate brute force. That seems like an oxymoron…”delicate brute force.” But it was just that…I gently, but FIRMLY, pushed on the back of the panel to push it free of the glue. That was working, and I was able to get the exacto in there to cut a little of the glue. But really, the pushing alone worked best.
I heard cracking, and popping…yes, I was damaging the LCD as I removed it. But it already was damaged, so I wasn’t concerned about damaging it further. But the frame was beginning to bend, and I wanted to avoid breaking that. So I tried to be even more delicate in my brutishness. I did eventually get it out, but one side was bent, and cracked a little…not a lot, but a small amount. Price of doing things yourself, without ALL the proper tools.
OK, time to put in the new panel. I didn’t need to glue this one in place…the instructions just said to put it in place and add the screws. I’m sure some residual glue was there, but not sure if it was important. Don’t’ really need it, the screws held it in place fine. So I slipped it into the frame, added the 8 screws that held it on the sides, attached the Eyesight camera, retaped the wires, and then…oh, yeah…gotta get this LCD backing back on it. With those two floating pieces OK, I tucked them into their corners, snapped the LCD into place and tried to get the front screws in and…they weren’t connecting. Those floaters moved. DAMN! Now what? My co-worker came over with a large push pin and an idea…use that to reach through the screw hole and try to get them back into place. After a few attempts, I was able to do so, and screwed the panel into place
I reversed the order of the steps, reconnecting wires, putting the screws back in, keyboard connected, back into place…screw screw screw.
Add back the battery, flip it over, open it up and… Press the power button.
Computer chimes…LCD panel lights up…and I see the Apple logo…full screen. SUCCESS!!
Yaay…computer working. Now I have bubble wrap for stress release. Pop pop pop POP POP POP…until my coworkers politely asks me to please stop, he’s trying to work over there.
Fine. And I have this old, and now really cracked, LCD panel. Do I just throw it away? NO! It contains toxic stuff. I need to take it to a facility that takes this sort of trash, and that is in Glendale. So, it comes home with me until I dispose of it properly.
Now that I know how to take apart my computer…I’m thinking of replacing the hard drive with a bigger one. I don’t have many steps…just the part where I take of the keyboard…that gives me access to that…
So, the repair would have cost $550+tax if I took it in to the Apple repair center. Doing it myself cost $208.54. A savings of $341.46…plus tax.
OH…and another thing. When I was writing this I closed my laptop lid a little harder than I should. The monitor then would not come on. So I had to repeat the whole process (well, other than separating the LCD from the frame) and tighten the connection. It works again.
This month, we decided to try a new approach: $100 for larger monthly purchases (I call it the Costco money, but, in truth, some went to Costco, some to Shoop’s Delicatessen and some to Leonor’s) and $50/week for incidental purchases. I thought it would be so easy! I mean, that’s a hundred dollars more per month than I spent in the first two months, right?
Well…sorta right. Turns out, it depends how you use it.
It’s easy to get carried away when you have a large sum to work with. I have noticed I didn’t play it quite as close to my chest this week as I normally would have. So, at the end of week one, I have spent ninety-six of my one hundred dollars, and $49 of the weekly $50. I have a few things to work with, so I can probably get through the weekend without spending much money on groceries, but I am (stupidly) out of things like milk and dry breadcrumbs. I want to make quiche for dinner, but I have no milk. I have leftover sliders from dinner a couple of nights ago, but I ran out of the rolls the kids like to have with them, so I either need to get more rolls, or freeze the leftovers for next week. I want to get the kind of cheese Kaia likes in her mac & cheese, but I will have to wait until next week, I guess. I really thought we’d be doing better this month, with the new plan. I guess I could probably pick up a little milk at the 99-cents store, but I know, in the long run, it would be cheaper to buy a larger container of milk elsewhere, so it seems like a poor use of money.
Well, I think I will go make some bread. Maybe I’ll make a few small rolls for the sliders.
Oh, and I am going to have to get Shane and the kids to make a few more posts. I’m getting lonely in here.
Wow! Is it week 8 already? Well, the month of February got away from me. Two weekends out of town, and lots of kids’ activities (Science Fair, Ballet Evaluations…I’m not really sure what else. Maybe that isn’t as much as I think it is.)
So, February has turned out to be easy-peasy. In fact, thanx to all of our “rewards” coupons and points, I would say we have been living the High Life this month. Turns out, I had racked up enough points to convert to a $21 credit at fresh & easy, so I was able to pick up a few more groceries over the weekend (for all of ninety-two cents).
I think Shane and I need to get on the same page with groceries. I left him a little cash while I was gone, but I am not 100% certain he didn’t overspend…or use the money for something other than groceries. If you are confused about where I got grocery money after I had already said I was over for the month, I understand your confusion. When I used my Costco rewards coupon last week, I got about $40 cash in change. I decided that Kaia’s $18 Easter dress (so, so pretty ~ and, being #3, the kid hardly ever gets brand new clothes), purchased with the coupon, offset our previous overages, since it wasn’t really groceries, and that coupon was pretty much free grocery money. So…well, technically, we have acquired more than $200 worth of groceries this month, but we didn’t spend over $200 on it, if that makes sense (because a great deal of it was purchased with rewards points and coupons).
So, my advice: Find out how to work those rewards points. We love fresh & easy: good prices, products we like and excellent rewards. I have a friend who loves Ralph’s. They don’t carry a lot of the things we prefer, so we hardly ever go there. For her family, however, it works. So, figure out where you shop, then figure out how their system works. Do you get more points for purchasing certain products at cretin times? If so, go ahead and try different brands, so you can collect points. Can you use your store discounts and register-generated coupons in conjunction with manufacturer’s coupons? Even better! I find we also don’t use a lot of manufacturer’s coupons, because we simply don’t use many of the products for which they are offered. Once in a blue moon, I will find coupons for things like pasta or Morningstar Farms or Boca products, but not as often as I would like. Trying to work the printable online coupon angle, but haven’t found a site that works well for me yet. I know a number of people who regularly stage a coup at the grocery store. I had a friend who used to walk out with groceries and change because, by the time she was done, the store owed her money (not sure they do that, anymore, but it was entertaining to watch).
I am a little bit disappointed that I didn’t work the fresh & easy reward to its greatest advantage. Discovered too late that I had a “$3 off a $30 purchase coupon.” Had I known that, I could have picked up some beer and mayonnaise (forgot I needed them). That would have brought my total to just about $30, then I could have used my coupon, bringing the total down to $27, applied my rewards points and ended up paying about six bucks for the whole shebang. Ah, well, live and learn.
We did get a little “vacation-y” this month. Spent a little money on things like ordering in dinner (twice) and travel (but tried to keep it reasonable). It’s okay. We’ve been doing a good job of playing it close to our chests for almost two months, and an occasional splurge is okay.
So, one more week to get through on this plan. I think I have about six bucks in my wallet, but I am not worried. We have TONS of food. I just bought a dozen and a half eggs and a half gallon each of 2% milk and coconut milk beverage. I have flour, sugar, coffee, potatoes, fruit, pasta, rice, beans, veggies, tofu…we’ll be fine. In fact, we’ll probably be fine for more than just a week.
Next month, we start our new plan of setting aside $100 for staples and $50/week for incidentals. Interested to see how much more freedom this plan allows us to use some of our favourite grocery items that have been off the list for some time. Here’s hoping!
Just got my Costco Wholesale Cash reward Coupon from American Express: $125.62!
Nevermind what I said about being overbudget for the month ~ this will totally save us!
Here’s how it works:
STEP 1: Get the Costco Amex Card. Yeah, you have to get the Costco membership, too, but it is totally worth it, IMO, because the cash reward you will earn covers the annual membership fee and then some.
STEP 2: Find out how your cash reward plan works, so you can plan your card use. Mine earns me 3% cash back for gasoline purchases, 2% at restaurants, 2% for travel and 1% everywhere else.
STEP 3: Make a spending plan. I always use my Costco AmEx for gas, at restaurants and for travel, because those purchases earn me the highest possible reward. I also tend to use it when I make a purchase at Costco, just because it is convenient to do so. Your agreement might be different than mine, so figure out how you can earn the most cash back. I never use my credit cards to make impulse purchases ~ just what I would be spending regularly, anyway.
STEP 4: Always pay your card in full (I do this online) before it is due, so you don’t accumulate interest on your debt. If you do this religiously, using your credit card will cost you no more than using cash would.
STEP 5: Sit back and wait for your Cash Reward check to arrive.
Hurrah! This will get us easily through the end of the month, and I can probably even spring for that cute little Easter dress Kaia was eyeing last time she went to Costco with me. What a great surprise. Oh, happy day!
I completely lost Week 6. No, I don’t mean I wrote about it and lost the document. I actually lost the week. Have no idea where it went. I do know, however, that it took our money with it.
The new monthly grocery budget plan is not a bad plan, from a money management standpoint. I was able to stock up on staples like flour, for instance, that will get us through more than a month, so that is good. Nevertheless, I think we need to increase our budget. After working with the $50/week grocery budget for almost two months, we have come to a few important realizations:
1. When the cupboards are already stocked with staples like flour, dried beans, pasta, rice, sugar and spices, it is easy to “fill in the blanks” with about $50/week. Eventually, those supplies will be exhausted, and will need to be replenished. This will NOT fit into the $50/week budget very well.
2. We could feed our family on $50/week, if we had to, but we would not be able to feed them the brands of eggs and milk (both with Omega-3 fatty acids, of which our children do not get much in their diet), organic fruits and veggies ~ or even just as many fresh fruits and veggies as we would like.
3. There are a few convenience foods and specialty items that would fit into a modest (but slightly increased) budget and make our lives a bit easier, more pleasant, and probably even healthier (i.e., Hallie likes Greek style yogurt, but I haven’t been able to buy it often, because it is not cheap). There are products we rely upon due to dietary restrictions and/or preferences to keep our family healthy (ground flax seeds to add to baked goods, nutritional yeast, Kaia’s favorite “green juice,”…). I would like to be able to get those things on the table again, for the sake of my family’s health.
4, We can save a LOT of money by comparison shopping, keeping an eye out for sales, coupons and other special deals (like that $5 gift card w/ purchase from Target). It is always a good idea to check the 99-cents and dollar stores first, to see if they have what we’re looking for at a lower price, but it is important to keep in mind that they do not always have the best price on everything. For instance, a multipack of pasta might cost less on sale elsewhere, or a larger container of mayonnaise might save us money in the long run.
At the moment, I think I am already about $3 over budget for the month, and I have this week and next to go, so I suspect I will go quite a lot more over budget. On the up side, I can make a lot of biscuits and pancakes with my 25lbs of flour, and I have veggie burgers and mixed vegetables in the freezer. From a strictly practical standpoint, I could feed my family what we have on hand and probably not spend another cent this month, but I am not sure how healthy the offerings would be. However, I suspect we will pick up some fruits and veggies, and maybe a few eggs.
So, with all of this in mind, I am proposing a new plan:
I would like to suggest we consider a $100 monthly budget for our staple items (multipacks of pasta, large bottles of olive oil, rice, beans, canned tomatoes, flour, dried fruits and nuts, etc.) + $50/week for fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, milk and other things that will need to be replenished weekly. This would up our monthly budget for groceries to $300, which is a huge leap, I know, but I feel this would still be a very frugal budget for a family of 5, and would allow us to feed ourselves and our children the healthy foods we prefer. It is amazing to me how easy and inexpensive it would be to feed the children junk all the time. We could totally live on things like ramen noodles if we had to, but, luckily, we don’t. And yes, I will still try to save as much as possible. I think, if everyone agrees to the new revised budget plan, I will get through the next couple of weeks as best I can, given the restrictions I already set for this month, and start the new plan the week after next.
Hoping, by the end of next month, to have the grocery budget under control enough that we can focus our attention elsewhere and start finding other ways to cut costs. Already, I called and switched our internet service provider (having it bundled with our home telephone service, saving us about $30/month). I also put our YMCA membership on hold until April, thinking that I was going to have knee surgery and would not be able to use the gym until after that time (that’s a savings of about $50/month). Since then, I saved the family $9,000 by consulting with the orthopedic surgeon and discovering that I do not, in fact, require surgery after all. Yeah, I did a little dance.
Not a lot more to report on my end this week. I have had acute laryngitis for 5 days, had to teach four classes with absolutely no voice. That’s about as exciting as it has been. Spent $59 on an appointment with my doctor, and another thirty or so on meds.
So, I thought I would devote this post to sharing some of our money-saving household hints. Years ago, Shane and I decided that a) we didn’t like the idea of exposing our children to a lot of nasty chemicals b) we didn’t think the world needed more nasty chemicals floating around in it, and c) the nasty chemicals marketed as commercial cleaners are really, really expensive.
For a while, we bought the safer natural cleaners that are commercially available, but the price tags were hefty. Wanting to keep our lives simple, avoid buying and throwing out a bunch of plastic containers and (always, always, always) save a buck or two, I went in search of natural, homemade alternatives.
For most of my household cleaning needs, I rely upon the following items:
Dr. Bronner’s Soaps (liquid and bars)
Tea Tree Oil
If you do an internet search, you will find all sorts of ideas for making your own homemade cleaners. Here, I can share with you some things that have worked for us. I’m not going to lie, we still buy some cleaning products. When we do, we try to buy the safer, more natural ones. I have never found a good recipe for homemade dishwashing liquid (for handwashing or automatic dishwasher), so we buy that.
Here are some ways you can use the above ingredients to clean your home safely and cheaply.
Vinegar has natural disinfecting properties, so I add it to most of my cleaning solutions for household use.
To make a “soft scrub” cleanser alternative, make a paste of baking soda, a few drops of liquid soap and a little hot water. Scrub, let sit for a few moments and then rinse. If desired, before rinsing, pour a little vinegar over the scrub solution and give it another quick scrub.
To clean the toilet bowl, sprinkle baking soda into the bowl and around the rim of your toilet. Add vinegar to the bowl, and use a spray bottle to apply it to the rim as well. Let sit 10 minutes, scrub well and flush.
To clear a sluggish drain, pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of vinegar (it will foam up). Let sit for 20 minutes or so, then flush with very hot water.
To make a very effective all-purpose cleaner: In a large spray bottle, mix vinegar, hot water, and a few drops of Dr, Bronner’s liquid soap. Go easy on the soap (it is very concentrated), or you will have to rinse. If desired, add essential oils to boost the fragrance (Dr. Bronner’s soaps are available in many varieties ~ choose your favorite). Also, try not to worry about the smell of the vinegar. It dissipates after a time, and, IMO, it’s not as bad as those chemical cleaners, so I can totally deal with it.
I have found that lemon juice can be added to the dishwasher (I put a little in that extra soap cup intended for larger loads) to boost cleaning/rinsing. I find I use less detergent, and as an added bonus, it leaves the dishwasher itself sparkling clean.
Lemon juice can also be added to laundry to boost whitening/brightening.
By far, the most effective natural mold killer I have found is tea tree oil. It smells, in my opinion, positively horrific. I don’t know what to tell you about that. Mold is dangerous. So are most commercially available mold killers. Throw open the windows and deal. Try this: In a spray bottle, combine 2 cups of water and about 2 teaspoons tea tree oil. Hold your nose. Spray on moldy areas. Do not rinse. leave the windows open. Keep holding your nose. The smell will dissipate eventually, and you won’t have mold.
Vinegar can also be applied directly to mold and will likely kill most of it. It smells like vinegar. And it might not be as effective as the tea tree oil solution. Take your pick.
To clean kitchen & bathroom floors, make a solution of hot water, just a tiny bit of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, and (you guessed it) vinegar. Mop away!
To clean windows, make a solution of vinegar, water and a few drops of liquid dish soap. You can also try washing your windows with straight vinegar and crumpled newspaper. Be forewarned, if you have been using commercial cleaners, there may be residue left behind that will not be removed by vinegar alone, so, at least the first couple of times, you might want to add the soap.
Lastly, I make my own laundry detergent. This saves us so much money. I find that our detergent is gentle and mild (we have allergies, asthma and the usual allergy/asthma-related sensitive skin) and does an excellent job of cleaning our grubby duds. I have refined the recipe over the years. I have provide the original recipe, as well as all of our adaptations. Read on to find out what works for us. Then, do your own experiments and find out what works for you:
Years ago, I found this recipe:
Liquid Laundry Detergent
3 Pints Water
1/3 Bar Fels Naptha* Soap, Grated
1/2 Cup Washing Soda
1/2 Cup Borax
2 Gallon Bucket
1 Quart Hot Water
Mix soap in a saucepan with 3 pints of water, and heat on low until dissolved. Stir in Washing Soda and Borax. Stir until thickened, and remove from heat. Add 1 Quart Hot Water to 2 Gallon Bucket. Add soap mixture, and mix well. Fill bucket with hot water, and mix well. Set aside for 24 hours, or until mixture thickens. Use 1/2 cup of mixture per load. Shake gently before using.
Now, here is what my experience has taught me:
*You can use any soap you choose. I find that half a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap works well, and is very gentle on our skin (I like the Baby-Mild variety best). I also like Kirk’s Castille Soap a lot. If you have sensitive skin, it is a great idea to use a bar soap that you already know your skin tolerates well ~ so, use whatever you use when you bathe. Fels Naptha cleans very well, but I am not a huge fan of it. I find it is a bit on the harsh side, and has a heavy fragrance, which is not great for our family. Fels Naptha also comes in huge bars. If you use a regular-sized bar of soap, use about half of the bar.
Over the years, I have made adjustments to the above recipe, as follow:
- I find that I add a little extra washing soda and borax. We’re dirty. We need a little extra clean.
- I add maybe 20 (or more) drops of essential oils for fragrance, if I feel like it. I like to mix orange and clove, or lavender and rose. The scent doesn’t really stay with the clothes long, but it makes the laundry room smell nice.
- Instead of a bucket, I divide the detergent between two old Seventh Generation laundry detergent bottles that I have saved for years, just for this purpose. The still have traces of label and glue on them, and are marked with permanent marker: “Laundry Detergent,” just in case we forget. ooh…fancy.
- We have an H/E washer, and use only about 1/4 cup per load (this stuff lasts us FOREVER).
There is so much more information to be had out there. Really, what I have posted here is a mere drop in the bucket.
http://www.soapsgonebuy.com/ - This is where I get my washing soda. I have stopped using Fels Naptha soap in favor of Dr. Bronner’s or Kirk’s, but, if you want it, you can get it here, too.
You know, years ago, I had a friend and neighbor who used only a tiny bit of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap as her laundry detergent. That’s it. Nothing else. She swore by this method, and it certainly is simple and natural. When I tried it, I found our clothes seemed a little dingy. It didn’t clean to my satisfaction, but we all have our own comfort levels. I certainly never thought my friend and her family didn’t look clean, so it was obviously working for them.
I have another friend who never buys kleenex. She keeps handkerchiefs in boxes around her home for her family. This might work for your family, too. My family is riddled with allergies, and I just couldn’t keep up with that much laundry. I feel bad using all of that kleenex, but I hope that we live gently in so many other areas that we can sort of make up for it.
Eh, week 4 was weird. We stayed within our grocery budget, but then Hallie and I went off for the weekend with her Girl Scout troop, and Shane stayed home with the other girls. I don’t think I left much for them (meant to plan ahead and leave a couple of meals in the fridge, but time got away from me ~ still learning to balance work and…you know…life), so I heard he ordered pizza one night. Oh! I did leave chili for him and Justice one night. Actually, I made a huge pot for a Super Bowl Party on Sunday after we returned. I mean, I made it Friday, before we left, but I made it FOR Sunday. Anyway, Hal and I were up in Lake Arrowhead, and I allowed a little entertainment budget for our weekend, so I think Shane and the girls did the same. You know, I splurged for a treat on the way up the mountain, and he ordered pizza. That’s all good. Gotta have a little fun :)
So, I didn’t keep a lot of notes last week.
This week has been interesting so far. The family talked and decided it would be best to switch to a monthly grocery budget, which we started this week (it is the first full week in the month). We are going with $200/month for the time being, to see if shopping monthly instead of weekly will help us stretch our dollars. If we need to adjust (especially for longer months) we will. This is a trial run.
Monthly shopping is so much different from weekly shopping, but more focussed than the way I used to shop (just buying whatever we decided we needed, without giving it much thought besides, “What am I in the mood to eat right now?”). I can see how it would be very easy to get carried away and buy up huge quantities of everything. The first day, I went to Costco and the 99¢ store and spent almost $100! Wow! That’s half of our monthly budget. Yikes! But I got a lot of stuff that will last: 25lbs of flour (how am I going to store all of that flour?!), an 8-pack of canned garbanzos, 16 Boca Burgers (which I debated, because I make my own burgers and we don’t use them often, but they keep in the freezer for ages and cost, like, 62¢/ burger, so I decided they are a good thing to have around ~ something easy for Shane or the kids to cook) , two separately packaged logs of fresh mozzarella…
I did actually pause to think about whether things were really a better deal purchased in bulk before I tossed them in the cart. There I was at Costco, calculator in hand, obsessively calculating the cost of each individual unit in every multipack. I splurged on chocolate milk boxes and juice boxes for the kids’ lunches. I want to get in to the habit of packing our own in reusable containers. It would be cheaper, and better for the environment. Unfortunately, we have a history of trying that and then having things (like, say, a gallon of milk) go bad before we use it all. In that case, it actually wastes money. We’ll have to work on that. In the meantime, I feel good about sending my kid to school with organic milk and, if I buy in bulk, I think I can afford to do it. I am getting even better at bargain hunting, and honing my shop-fu skills. For instance, I almost bought a 2-lb package of assorted sliced cheeses, before I found the 2-lb block of cheddar. Advantage? I know they all like cheddar (wasn’t so sure about the colby jack). Oh, and it was a couple of dollars less expensive.
After that, I had approximately $100 for incidentals during the rest of the month. I had this noble idea that I would ration myself $25/week for things like fresh fruit and veggies, milk and eggs. You know, the stuff we will run out of each week. That was a fabulous plan, huh?
Then, today, I went out and blew a bunch more money. Hah. Well, you know what they say about the “best laid plans of mice and men.” *sigh*
Oh! But then, I staged kind of a coup at Target. I needed kleenex (we have allergies…lots and lots of allergies. We are keeping the kleenex people in business) and there was this deal today: Buy two multipacks of a certain brand of facial tissue (it was on sale, too), and get a $5 Target gift card. I looked at all that tissue. For a moment, I thought, “Geez. How long would it take us to use all that?” Then, I came to my senses, thought, “Who am I kidding?” and picked it up. So, I am now the proud possessor of a shiny, new $5 Target gift card! Ooooooh! Could I use it to buy some of the coveted Morningstar Farms chicken nuggets or veggie sausage or something? Would that be cheating? I mean, it’s free money, right, so I should be able to use it, I think. I’ll ask Shane and the kids what they think about this. I could use it for household expenses, too.
So, it is likely to be an interesting month. Hope I don’t totally fail. Wish me luck. Could take me a while to hit my stride here.
Today was especially hectic. All kids were home sick, and Justice had to go see the doctor about a sprained ankle that will not heal. Diagnosis? Chronically sprained ankle. You don’t say. Got everyone settled at home, then made a quick run to the 99¢ store. I spent $23.10. Picked up a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, so I am feeling good about my purchases so far this week. This week, I want to see how many dinners I can make with ingredients from the 99¢ store. I have decided, for the purpose of this experiment, the use of herbs and spices already in my cupboards, and anything growing in my own garden, is permissible.
Today’s dinner was a rousing success. I had to make something before leaving for work, so, using a bit of the olive oil Shane and picked up at the 99¢ store last week, lots of fresh (and a few frozen) veggies, a can of diced tomatoes and a few sprinkles of various herbs and spices, I threw together a HUGE pot of very tasty vegetable soup (perfect for the sick people) for under $5. I added up the cost of all ingredients and it came to $3.24. Most were purchased at the 99¢, and, in most cases, I didn’t use the entire amount I purchased, so I did some math. Here’s the cost breakdown:
1 TBS olive oil — 10¢
1/2 large onion— 25¢
3 stalks celery — 25¢
1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables — 50¢
4 cloves garlic — 10¢
1 can diced tomatoes — 79¢
6 cans water — nc (no charge)
2 potatoes (pkg. of 8) — 25¢
1/2 head cabbage — 50¢
1/2 bag baby carrots — 50¢
herbs (sage, oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary), salt & pepper
1 spoonful bouillon (not sure of cost ~ was already in my cupboard)
Because I didn’t know what value to put on the herbs, spices and spoonful of bouillon I used, I didn’t include that in the total. I am guessing about a dollar (??). The bouillon is optional, so I figure its cost isn’t all that important. Frankly, I could have done without it. I think a couple of people had a dinner roll with theirs, but, even with that, it was a pretty cheap meal. The really nice thing is we have leftovers, so Shane can take some for lunch tomorrow. Not bad. Now, I might go make myself an iced coffee.
Week three sucks. We have totally blown the budget ~ roughly $11 over, and will probably go beyond that in the next couple of days.
More than half of the family is sick this week, so nothing I had planned to cook is working out for them, and school lunches have been a real challenge, too. People have sore throats, so, instead of a couple of the dinners I had planned, they can pretty much only eat stuff like soup, smoothies, pudding… Unfortunately, I didn’t have the stuff to make those things, so I had to go shopping. Then, Kaia had her braces adjusted on Wednesday and hasn’t been able to chew since. She went on a field trip on Friday, and I had planned to send her some veggie turkey, a corn muffin, maybe raisins or a banana…but the child could not chew. *sigh* So, I had to go out and buy yogurt and fig bars (they’re pretty soft).
Last night, in desperation to avoid spending even more money, I went ahead and made the tofu, steamed veggies and fried rice I had planned, but I also made a pot of miso broth, so people who couldn’t chew and swallow could chop up everything and make it into soup. That seemed to work pretty well. No idea what I will do tonight. Honestly, I feel like people need a big pot of soup, so I might just bite the bullet and go buy soup ingredients.
I am so grateful that we can make that choice. Part of this experiment was to give us pause to think about how lucky we are and how difficult it would be to live on such a limited budget. Certainly, I am feeling that now. If we HAD to live on $50 worth of groceries per week, we could, and we would. I have found that I feel bad ~ like I am cheating ~ when I go over-budget. On the other hand, I do appreciate that I am able to make that choice. We’ll see how this day pans out. I would really like to find some creative way to get through without going further over budget, but I am not sure I can swing it.
And I want an iced coffee. And I forgot to make ice last night. Damnit.
Lots of challenges this week. I started teaching two afterschool drama programs, so I am now working Mondays, 2-5:30pm and Wednesdays 2-3:30. I am also volunteering in two 5th grade classrooms on Thursdays, and might be picking up some more work during the school days as the year progresses. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but there is prep work for all of the classes, and a little bit of paperwork, too, so it has been a bit of an adjustment. The biggest challenge will be finding a way to get dinner made on Monday, when I work until 5:30 and two of the girls have dance classes at 6:30. I like them to eat before dance. Unfortunately, quick and easy options aren’t always the least expensive. This week, I made red beans and rice, finishing the beans in the crockpot and storing the cooked rice in the fridge until we needed it. It has been very helpful that a friend of mine has been able to help get kids from school and to dance. I don’t know how I would swing it without her help, given our schedule. Hallie has both drumming and dance on Tuesdays, so that’s a rough one, too.
To further complicate matters this week, Shane, Justice and Hallie have all been sick, and Kaia had some major orthodontic work done ~ all of which limited what people could eat. I have designated one night a week (it is usually either Monday or Tuesday) as sandwich night, which makes things easier (and fairly inexpensive), so there was one crockpot meal, one sandwich meal and then, last night, I was going to use some of the ravioli I had in the freezer, but no one was up to it. Instead, I threw together a vegetarian chicken noodle style soup and biscuits. Lunches have been hard to pack, too. I have kids who don’t want to chew things, but not many things that don’t need to be chewed to offer. Today, I think we sent two off with buttered noodles and yogurt and one with a peanut butter sandwich.
So, it is day 4, and I am not only out of money, but I have gone $1.49 over budget. I am almost out of milk again, but, other than that, I have plenty to get by on…assuming people can eat what I have, The plan for tonight was stir fried veggies, tofu, fried rice and/or noodles. I have some miso in the fridge, so maybe I can make a broth with that and anyone who doesn’t feel up to a big meal can chop up the tofu and veggies and throw them into the broth with some noodles. That sounds workable.
Aside from groceries, I will admit I cheated and had a Starbucks green tea latte this week. Kaia had a 1 hour and 40 minute wait at her orthodontist yesterday. Then, the appointment lasted another 40 minutes. She had left her lunch at school because we were sure that, with a 10:15 appointment, she would be back in time for lunch. As it turned out, she didn’t make it back to school until 1:15…and she was starving. And irritated. She asked if she could please get a doughnut and chocolate milk at Starbucks. I know, I know…WAAAAAAAYYYYY too much sugar! But she was a real trooper at the orthodontist, and her mouth hadn’t started to ache yet, so I thought we should fill her up before it did. I said yes, And, of course, once we were there… I’ll admit, my latte was really, really good. And, of course, I am craving another today. One in a week is plenty. I seem to be averaging one Starbucks stop/week, and I guess that’s okay. Better than the 3-5 I had been averaging (yeah, I know ~ I’m a junkie!).
I talked to Shane, and we agreed we will stick it out with the $50/week grocery budget through the month of January. In February, I think we will try doing a monthly budget. It might be the same amount, but I think having the money to spend monthly will work out better. For instance, I can buy a gallon of milk for $2.99 and it will last a while instead of buying a quart of milk for 99¢ and running out halfway through the week. Just like, last week, I spent a lot of soy turkey, which will last at least through the end of this week. See, when I am working with a weekly budget, a purchase like that might mean I can’t buy, say, eggs, milk or flour in a given week, even if I have run out, whereas, a monthly budget works better with the way we actually use food. A big bag of potatoes and a bigger carton of eggs will get us through a couple of weeks and, in the long run, cost us less.
Three days to get through now. hmmm…We can do it, I think. One more batch of school lunches to fix, and few more dinners and leftovers at home for weekend lunches. Should be okay.
I need some new slacks for work. Think I will make a run to the bank to deposit funds, pay a few bills and then, maybe, hit the thrift stores. Wish me luck! I could use a few good bargains.
Forgot to mention in my last entry: decided to dye my hair. Last time I had it done at a salon, it cost me $60+tip, so I had put it off as long as I could, but it had faded to a very unflattering shade of orange, and the colored streaks in the front (which had been a lovely bright red) were brassy yellow. Not a good look, and I will be teaching an after school drama program at two schools starting next week, so I needed something a little more professional and polished.
I colour my own hair often, but the streaks complicate things a bit. That’s why I went to the salon last time. It’s just easier to let someone else separate it and colour most of the hair, leaving out the few bleached strands. Then, I put colour in the bleached strands at home. This time, I figured it might be worth the little bit of extra time and trouble to do it at home. I bought a medium ash brown dye for the majority of my hair and a kit with three small packets of colour for the streaks. I settled on the colour that was called something like “Ruby” ~ a deep sort of purplish-pink. It was kind of a pain to separate the strands and wrap them so they wouldn’t be dyed brown, and then to dye them with the other colour, but it wasn’t that bad. Of course, it’s always messy. The whole thing cost me about twenty bucks (instead of $72), so I think it was worth it. I think it looks great. Still a little edgy, but also slick and professional.
The school dinner-night-out fundraiser worked out well for us. Kids enjoyed the treat of eating carry-out for the first time in a few weeks, and, because we are vegetarian, we pretty much put a meal together with side dishes, so it was cheap. We got chow mien, fried rice, two vegetable side dishes (one included tofu), crispy noodles and white rice. Our total was $17.66 for dinner for 5, AND we had some left over today for lunches. Usually, when we got out (or order in) we end up spending at least $50 (often more), so this was not bad at all. We have learned that, at restaurants, it’s best to just drink water. The other drinks really drive up the cost of a meal for five. Five soft drinks? That’s another ten bucks. If Shane and I have a beer or a cocktail, the price can go up another ten or fifteen. Our rule has always been not to keep sodas in the house, and the kids can have them as a special treat when we eat out, but, from a budgetary standpoint, that logic is flawed. From a health standpoint, it still makes sense. I have found that I can get large-sized Hansen’s sodas for 59¢ at the 99¢ store, and the kids can share. So, for now, we will get those for occasional treats at home (like the day we had root beer floats) and skip sodas at the restaurants…most of the time.
I got my grocery money for next week today, but will try not to spend any until I have to. Also, made homemade all-purpose cleaner, using water, vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s rose-scented soap. Works very well, and costs far less (and is better for us and the environment) than commercial cleaners.
Kids finally finished the pumpkin muffins I made during week one. Well, they finished the ones I had left out for them to finish. I still have a dozen in the freezer, but I think they are probably ready for a change. Before school starts for the week, I will whip up a batch of some other kind of muffins. I am thinking peanut butter with chocolate chip.
This week, I did not plan our meals as well as I did the week before. I stayed within the budget, but could have made better choices when I was shopping. Got some things I didn’t need, and ran out of some things we needed. Going to work on that. My goal this week is more fresh fruits and veggies.
Day 4, and I am already completely out of cash. That means no more grocery shopping for the week. I am also completely out of milk ~ both dairy and almond. Not good. Justice likes to have cereal and almond milk for breakfast, and we have no milk. So, now, I have a choice to make: bite the bullet and buy milk, going over budget for the week, or bite the bullet and live without milk for the rest of the week. I am inclined to do the latter, just because part of the point of this experiment is for us to see how it would be if we had to live on such a limited budget. I mean, the main point is to re-examine our spending habits and get them under control so we can save money; but another important component is to give us a glimpse into a different way of living and maybe help us learn to appreciate what we do have a little more. So. Decision time.
I think I can get through the next couple of days with things like pancakes (I have a little mix left), eggs, toast, etc., so I think we can make it. This morning, however, I discovered that the soy creamer I had put in my iced coffee was bad, so I had to throw out the creamer and the coffee. Sad. Inconvenient, too. I woke up with a headache, and needed the caffeine, because I have to work at 9:30, headache or not. I’ll admit it, I cheated a little. I had said I would not set foot in a Starbucks all month, so, after I dropped off kids, I went through the drive-through for an iced green tea latte. Technically, I didn’t set foot in Starbucks. I know, I know. Excuses, excuses! I used a gift card someone had given me, so it didn’t come out of the budget, but, in retrospect, I could have made coffee or tea at home, and just had it without cream. It was a comfort thing. I was weak. Trying to break that habit, and I can’t do that if I keep having it. Ultimately, once in a while as a treat will be fine, but I was going to Starbucks an average of three times per week, and that is way too much for our budget. For me, cold turkey is the best way to go, but I am doing a lot better than I was, and I suppose any progress is good.
Tomorrow, there is a dinner night out fundraiser for Kaia’s school. We will participate, but we won’t go all crazy. It’s at a Chinese restaurant, so we will probably just get a couple of dishes to share, carry out, and supplement with what we have at home. This comes out of the education or entertainment budget (feels like entertainment, but it is a school fundraiser, so…hmmm…). I guess, in the long run, that helps me in the grocery department, since I don’t have to make dinner that night.
On Saturday, we will be going to see the girls’ friend Makenzie in a production of Bye Bye, Birdie. Prices are reasonable, so it is a great way for us to have a fun night out with the family without breaking the bank. Instead of buying flowers, I am going to suggest to the girls that we cut a few of our birds of paradise, which are in full bloom and absolutely gorgeous at the moment. We can tie them with a pretty ribbon and make it very special.
Two important things I learned this week:
1) We can get our family of five fed on $50/week, but we might not always be able to afford the organic milk, flour, veggies and fruits I would prefer.
2) A monthly budget might be more reasonable than a weekly budget.
Next week, I am not doing a big shopping trip on Monday as soon as kids head to school. Instead, I will see how far into the week I can get with what we have on hand. I will buy only what we need, as we go along, and not arbitrarily make a menu at the beginning of the week. When we do need something, I will head to the store first to see what is on sale ~ for instance, what fruits and veggies are cheapest that week ~ and then make a plan.
We will stick with the weekly budget through January, but might switch to a monthly budget for February and see if that works better.
One of my favorite things this week were caramel, chocolate swirl, and cookie dough granola bars. My favorite was caramel. I like the cookie dough flavor alot, too. Heres a picture of it.
The only thing I wasn’t TOO crazy about was the message from Nick Jonas! ;)
The caramel is kinda dark brown and has caramel chips. Chocolate swirl is the same color only it has chips of white and milk chocolate fused together. cookie dough is,again, the same color only it just tastes like cookie dough.
My mom said the usual granola bars are $2-3, but at the 99 cents (only!) store(s), they have them for only about $1! I hope we will buy them again.