Category Archives: Simple Living

Extreme Frugality to Live within Your Means?

Don’t you wish you could just get control of your finances? Meet the Carters – this family of six took on extremely frugality to do just that.

The great recession has caused many of us to face the cold hard facts about our finances. Last year, Mr. Carter really took a close look at this Social Security statement and realized what he’s made.

“We were spending for years way more than we made. We were averaging $41,000 a year [chuckles] for 10 years but we were spending like we were making $120,000.

It was at that time Mr. and Mrs. Carter decided it was time for the family – two parents, four children – to live within their means and they did it cold turkey. When all the bills were paid, they learned they only had about $550 to live. It was then the family was quick to learn some frugal habits.

Frugality to the max

Here are some of the frugal practices the family now puts in place:

  • No more buying convenient individual size snack packs, this family makes their own applesauce or buys a big jar to lower the price.
  • No more supermarket bread by the loaf, they buy a big sack of bread flour to make their own loaf each week.
  • Need eggs? They raise their own chickens where the kids help to care for them and collect the eggs.
  • Now mom hangs up the laundry instead of using the dryer.
  • In the near future, Mr. Carter wants to start farming winter vegetables on their 40 acre lot.

Become financially responsible

Many of us were forced to become responsible for our finances when our economy failed and were forced to learn some of the frugal habits our elders practiced during the depression. Even though it hit us hard, I believe this wake up call was necessary. It is my hope – especially as a personal finance blogger who is going through my own financial perils – that people will seek guidance and practice good habits of saving money, making financial goals, and living within their means.

I know it is all too easy to succumb to upsizing a fast food meal to adding that extra sale the cashier persuaded you to buy, but ask yourself before you accept, “is this item really necessary? Do I really need it?” Ninety-nine percent of the time you won’t need it.

And if you have kids who whine and add the extra dose of persuasion for you to put that item on the checkout counter that will keep them happy for the next twenty minutes – catch your whit and tell them, “no” – or explain that if they have the money then they can purchase it if they really want it.

Again, ninety-nine percent of the time they will not want it. Their money is too precious to spend on such an item. And the next 20 minutes might lead them to become cranky that you didn’t buy it, but they will survive and so will you.

Take a step up

Perhaps we all need to take a look at our finances and put some frugal practices into play; to stop wasting what we work so hard for. Learn from our grandparents and their grandparents for key ideas to living frugal (it wasn’t a choice for most of them to live this way, it was second nature). Take the Carters learned habits above and a few more like:

  • Packing a lunch for work
  • Reusing items in the house another purpose.
  • Learning to make meals from scratch, grow some of your produce, and never waste food.

Then put that extra money saved into our savings and retirement accounts. I think many people would be surprised how fast the money will grow when making a conscious effort.

We might whine and complain like our children not getting their way, but we will learn after repetitive motion to adapt to our practices that are going to secure our future and teach our children to be financially responsible. So, don’t wait another day. Stop cold turkey and take control of your finances like the Carters did.

(photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

How to Get a Free Home Energy Efficiency Audit to Cut Costs & Conserve Energy

I recently started looking into ways where I could find out if I was leaving any money on the table regarding my monthly heating and cooling bills. I don’t think that I pay a whole lot for electricity in the summer, but my gas bills in the winter can really be through the roof sometimes. From my novice experience, I think I have a fairly energy efficient home, but I am just not sure. What I wanted was to have some professional come to my house to give it the “once over” and make appropriate recommendations.

Where to Look?

I had envisioned getting a list of HVAC experts and getting a list of estimates and then making my choice. It was then that I found a “gem.” A diamond in the rough so to speak.

What I found out was that in most states…

Your energy provider will come out and do an energy audit of your home for free.

Yes, free. At first I didn’t believe it. My thought always was that these companies would want you to use as much energy as possible to drive up their profits. It seems the opposite is true. What I learned was that as we the consumer use more and more energy, it requires energy providers to have to go out and build more power plants. This is the last thing that they want to do.

So I had one scheduled, they came out and did it yesterday, and I‘d like to outline for you how it works and what they found.

One Phone Call

All it really involved was making a simple phone call to my electricity supplier and scheduling an appointment. These audits normally take about an hour, but depending on how thorough you want them to be, they can take less time or more. Mine lasted right about an hour.

A Consultation

It started off with a consultation. The rep came in and asked me a series of questions, mostly about where I thought I was losing money and anything in particular that he wanted me to focus on. He brought with him a print out of my energy usage for the last several months and a basic comparison for other houses of my size. As it turns out, I was pretty much on spot. My electricity use in the summer was quite good; my energy usage in the winter time was high.

A Walk Through

He then performed a walkthrough of my house. He checked the general condition and workability of my AC unit, my hot water heater, the condition of my windows, and so on. He made several notes along the way about smaller things he noticed in the house, and then went upstairs to check out my insulation. All the while making verbal recommendations and giving me the costs of different repairs and improvements that I could potentially make.

The Report

He then put together a pretty comprehensive report, along with booklets and brochures on various pieces of equipment. To make one thing clear, he was not there to sell me anything. He made his recommendations without promoting any particular product or company.

The Results

I was very impressed with the results. I have outlined here what he came up with for my particular energy audit.

  • Buy Energy Star appliances only.
  • Switch to energy efficient bulbs.
  • Check all exterior doors for proper weather stripping and replace where needed.
  • Check all window frames and other potential “crevices” for proper caulking. Caulk as needed.
  • Keep AC unit as free and clear from any obstructions as possible. Also, keep it clean.
  • Change the air filter in your AC unit regularly—every three months is recommended.
  • Lower hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower.
  • Keep thermostat at 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter, or as close as you can.
  • Seriously consider adding more insulation in my attic.
  • Consider installing a programmable thermostat.
  • Seal minor leaks in duct work stemming from AC.

Just Do It!

I would highly recommend you check and see if your energy company offers this service, and if they do it for free I would jump all over it. They may find much more glaring opportunities in your home, or they may find minor repairs that potentially could be fixed for pennies on the dollar. That’s what he found with my home. Of all the actual repairs or replacing of things in my home, he said that I could do most of them for a total cost of less than $100, and I would make this up in savings in the first year. To me, that’s a no-brainer. Adding insulation in my attic is a little more expensive and time consuming, but he also said that I would make up that cost in about a year as well, especially in the winter time, and after that I would see increased savings on my winter heating bills.

All in all, I couldn’t have been more impressed. I got a wealth of common sense and low cost recommendations to save on the energy costs in my home given by an expert for free.

What else could one ask for?

Have you had an energy audit of your home? What did they find? Feel free to share.

(photo credit: rockinfree)

The Best Recycling Websites

The tiki torch gas cans, the old paint canisters, that unused TV, and the ancient computer… they are all sitting in my garage needing to be disposed. So why are they still sitting there?

Like many other people, I am not quite sure how to dispose them. But I finally got tired of them taking up space in my garage. So, I took it upon myself to find the proper ways to dispose of these items and lending a hand to keeping them out of the landfills.

Like that old TV, I found a place that takes them, fixes them up, and resells ‘em. The old computer… the drop location was at my local thrift store. So, I was able to bring those bags of clothing, too.

Learn how you can reduce, reuse, and recycle with these best recycling websites:

Earth’s 911
Earth911.com is your one-stop shop for all you need to know about reducing your impact, reusing what you’ve got and recycling your trash. With their recycling database, they can help you find over 100,000 recycling locations across the country. With information provided by local governments, industry insiders, organizations and everyday consumers, you can recycle hundreds of products from packing peanuts to computers. Earth 911 knows where you need to go to get things done.

EPA Wastes
Each year, Americans generate millions of tons of waste in our homes and communities. EPA is challenging all citizens to conserve our natural resources by committing to reduce, reuse, and recycle at home, in your community, and at the office. Learn what you can do to make a difference.

1-800-Recycling

1-800-Recycling.com is a dynamic recycling and green living-focused website that makes recycling, conserving, reusing and living wisely easy. The site features comprehensive recycling location database that gives the user the ability to easily assemble a recycling to-do list. The database is location based, and aims to make your recycling needs as easy as possible, whether you’re clearing out the house during spring cleaning or simply looking to recycle a few shopping bags.

Money Funk’s Pick: The 1-800-Recycling website makes it very easy to find out how to recycle items; it really is a dynamic recycling website!

One Man’s trash is another Man’s Treasure:

Try reusing and exchanging

FreeCycle
The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,793 groups with 7,208,000 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of the people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.

Thred UP
You don’t wear 25% of the clothes in your closet. Join thredUP and start exchanging them for some that you will! And now there is ThredUP for kids clothes – the way America’s busies families conveniently exchange kids clothing online.

Recycle Unwanted Electronics

For Money

Gazelle
Gazelle wants to change the world – one cell phone, one laptop, one iPod at a time. It is their purpose – and their promise – to provide a practical, rewarding way for people to finally rid themselves of all those old cell phones, digital cameras, and gaming systems that they no longer use, but can’t seem to find a way to let go of.

For items that they can’t offer any money for or don’t currently accept online, check out their Recycle Network Directory. It’s a a network of local recyclers to help you recycle those items.

Costco.com Trade-In Program
*Costco Member Exclusive
Trade-in your electronics and receive Costco Cash Cards! Costco has teamed up with Gazelle, the industry leader in electronics trade-in, to offer this program. Costco’s Trade-In Program now puts more money in your wallet. Trade-in electronic gadgets in more than 15 categories (such as laptops, cell phones, LCD monitors, digital cameras, MP3 players, gaming systems & more) for Costco Cash good for anything in Costco warehouses or at Costco.com.

Non-Monetary

You could also recycle electronics at Best Buy, Office Depot, and Staples.

Do you know of a great way to recycle or reuse an item? Or know of another great recycling website to add to this list? Please share in the comment section below.

Example: Beer/Soda tabs make great picture hangers for frames (yes, if you look at the many frames hanging on my walls, you will see I use tabs specifically for this use. Please, don’t drop the frame when you come over to check it out. ;))

5 Winter Hearty Soups

Southern California is finally feeling it’s chill (65 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit). We even recieved a jolt for an earthquake and a bout of rain and lightening to give a snowing in the local mountains all in one day. I think it’s time to list some frugal winter hearty soups to warm the soul and body (and make the tast buds jump for joy). Here are 5 heart warming soups for the soul:

three sisters soupThree Sister’s Soup
Serves 4

“Three sisters” refers to the wonderful combination of beans, corn and squash — foods traditionally grown and consumed together by many American Indian tribes.

3/4 to 1 cup dried pinto (or other) beans, soaked overnight in 4 cups water
1 acorn squash
1 to 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 onion, diced
Pinch sea salt
1 large carrot, diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 rib celery, diced
3 to 4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup corn off the cob (or frozen)
1 teaspoon dried or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Drain and rinse soaked beans. Put them in a pot and cover with water by an inch. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Add more water if necessary. While beans are cooking, cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Bake squash halves, cut side up, in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until tender.

Heat butter or oil in a large saucepan. Continue reading

Homemade Simmering Potpourri

cinnamon potpourriAs I was thinking about the holidays and what I love so much about them, I remembered the holiday smells that use to waft through my friend’s house. Only the fragrant smells were not from good ole’ home cooking, but from a few common ingredients found in the pantry and around the garden.

A little Knott’s boysenberry syrup, a couple of cinnamon sticks, little white flowers from an orange tree, a few cloves, and a bit of water stirred in a pot turned my friend’s house into a holiday abode.

Homemade Simmering Potpourri is a great, frugal way to make the house smell delicious. For some more ideas, try these great recipes.

Directions: To make homemade simmering potpourri fill a small saucepan with the ingredients and simmer over low on the stove or use an electric potpourri simmering pot. Make sure to keep an eye on the water levels and refill as necessary.

Christmas Simmering potpourri

Simple and great smelling. I like to mix the dry ingredients up in little Ziploc’s to have them ready to add to water during the holiday season.

3 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 lemon slices, fresh or 2 tablespoons dried lemon peel
2 tablespoons orange peel or dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 quart water

Mix all ingredients in medium saucepan. Simmer on low heat. Add more water as needed.

Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon sticks
Vanilla extract
Almond extract
Nutmeg (optional)
Add a little apple cider to your simmering water, and you get a whole new flavor.

Fruity-Fresh Simmering Potpourri

1 lemon
1 orange
3-3 inch cinnamon sticks
6 bay leaves
½ cup whole cloves
Cut lemon and orange into slices or place in pot or slow cooker or saucepan. Cover with water and then top with a few bay leaves, whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. Cook on low heat. You can refrigerate and reuse any leftovers.

Fall Simmering Potpourri

Three cinnamon sticks
Three or four whole cloves
Two pinches of ground cinnamon
One pinch of nutmeg
Two or three apple slices, including the peel (optional, but really nice!)

Mix all ingredients in medium saucepan. Simmer on low heat. Add more water as needed.

Frugal Living

Piggy Bank
What is frugal living?

A number of definitions come up when you Google the term:

Avoiding waste; The practice of acquiring good and services in a restrained manner; resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services; prudence in avoiding waste; thrift; A spraring use; sparingness.

As I am sure there are a number of reasons you are living or want to live a frugal life. Mine, is to get rid of this debt! What’s your reason?

Want to live a frugal life. Here are 10 ways to get started:

  1. Use the Library
    Take a trip to the local library; you’ll find many of them are stocked with the latest books and DVDs. Still want to rent? Try Redbox – rentals are $1 a night.
  2. Clip Coupons
    Take the time to clip coupons and you could save up to 25% on your weekly grocery bill. Want to save more? Buy generic items and plan your menu around the sale ads.
  3. Eat Out Less Often
    Eating out is nice, but can be a big budget breaker. Cut back on the amount of times you go to eat out. When you do go out to eat, find ways to cut down on costs with these tips. Want to save more? Pack a lunch for work and carry snacks.
  4. Group Errands
    Reduce your gas bill by grouping your errands and driving only when you need to. For even more savings, try walking or biking when you don’t have to go far.
  5. Make your Own Cleaners
    Homemade Cleaners are nontoxic and work just as well as store bought cleaners at a fraction of the price. Stock up on these seven items and your house will be sparkling clean in no time.
  6. Seek Free Entertainment
    Many communities have a ton of free entertainment in the area. The chamber of commerce, your city’s community calendar, or your city’s weekly magazine is a great way to locate free outings; like to see bands play, free movie showings, lectures, bontanical garden tours, etc…
  7. Wash in Cold
    Cut your utility bill substantially by washing your laundy in cold water. Your clothes will come out clean and your water heater won’t have to work as hard.

  8. Flip a Switch
    Reduce your utility bills even further by turning off lights and other electronics when not in use. Go even further, unplug cords when not in use.

  9. Buy Secondhand Goods
    Befriend your local thrift store or garage sales; many times you can score named brand clothes or great furniture. The Salvation Army has a boutique section with some great wears.
  10. Maintain stuff or Learn to do it yourself
    Take care of what you have and it will last longer. Take time to read the maintenance manual and creat a maintenance checklist to keep on top of it; like your car’s oil change. Learn to fix things or do things yourself; like replace the fan belt, fix the washer, hem a pant line, or sew a button.

When you start living frugal, you discover creativity and planning are key elements in your life. You’ll also discover many other great ways to cut back costs. Do you have a frugal idea you’d like to share?

Homemade Cleaning Recipes

Homemade Cleaning Recipes

People looking for new ideas to stretch the home budget, consider making home cleaning products. Homemade cleaning products that are non toxic, cost less than purchased products and are safe and effective.

Proof? It takes only 6 ingredients, 1 non-scratch scrubbing pad and about $35 for starter ingredients to equal one sparkling house!

Stock:

  • Baking Soda ($3.79)
  • Borax ($5.90)
  • White Vinegar ($8.69)
  • Lemon juice (backyard) :)
  • Liquid Soap – like Dr. Bronner’s($9.50)
  • Vegetable or Olive oil ($5.69)
  • Non-scratch scrubber pads ($3.09)

 

The following provides some useful recipes to replace common household cleaners with non-toxic alternatives.

 

All Purpose Cleaners

Mix any of the recipes below and dispense from spray bottle:

All Purpose Cleaner: 1 tsp. borax, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 2 Tbls. vinegar or lemon juice, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp liquid soap, 2 cups very hot tap water.

Baking Soda: Dissolve 4 Tbls. baking soda in 1 qt. warm water.*works great for getting stains out of the coffee pot

 

Scouring Cleansers
for sinks, counters, and surfaces

Baking soda or Borax: on their own can be stored in a jar with holes punched in the lid. Sprinkle on countertops or in sinks and use as you would with a regular cleanser.

Salt: is an abrasive that can be used to clean countertops or sinks. *add bit of lemon as a discinfectant

 

Bacteria, Mold, and Germs:

Vinegar: To disinfect and clean your wood cutting boards or butcher block countertop, wipe them with full-strength white vinegar after each use.

Borax and Vinegar: Mix equal amounts of white vinegar and borax will banish mold and mildew from hard surfaces.

Borax Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet bowl and let it sit for a few hours before scrubbing to eliminate stains and odor.

 

Window Cleaner

White vinegar: Wash windows with a mixture of equal parts of white vinegar and warm water. Dry with a soft cloth.

 

Appliances:

Oven Cleaner: Sprinkle water generously over bottom of oven. Cover grime with baking soda. Let sit overnight. Wipe up grease next morning with scouring pad. Rinse well.

Salt: Pour on fresh grease spills. Scrub off after a few hours.

 

Furniture Polish:

Wood Polish: 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, 1/4 cup white vinegar or lemon juice. Mix the ingredients in a glass jar. Dab a soft rag into the solution and wipe onto wood surfaces.

 

Floor Cleaners:

Vinegar and Water: Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to 1/2 gallon of water and mop. No need to rinse. Wipe dry.

Wood Floor Soap: 1/8 cup vegetable oil based soap (like Dr. Bonner’s), 1/4 to 1/2 cup vinegar or lemon juice, 1/2 cup fragrant herb tea (peppermint is good for its antibacterial qualities), 2 gallons warm water. Combine ingredients in a pail and mix until sudsy. Wash floors as usual.

 

Remove Carpet Odors

Baking Soda: Liberally sprinkle baking soda on the carpet. Let set overnight, or as long as possible (the longer it sets the better it works). Sweep up the larger amounts of baking soda, and vacuum up the rest.

 

Drain Cleaner:

Baking Soda and Vinegar: Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda in and around the drain opening. Follow with a cup of white vinegar. Repeat if needed, and finally flush with very hot water.

 

Laundry Products:

Baking soda: 1/4 to 1/2 cup baking soda to wash load boosts the cleaning power, makes clothes feel soft and smell fresh. *Works great for towels!

 

I know there are so many other fabulous homemade cleaning recipes to compliment this list. What is your favorite homemade cleaning product recipe? And if you don’t use them now, what keeps you from using homemade cleaning products that can save you oodles of money?

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