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Friday, April 30, 2010

Paper airplane fun



We've discussed origami before as a frugal fun concept. Expanding on this idea is an afternoon of paper airplane fun.
Most know how to make the basic paper airplane (you know, the kind that you throw at substitute teachers when their back is turned), but if not, check out instructions here.
Have your children make various designs of paper airplanes. Host competitions to see which child's plane flies further. Another contest for speed.
Experiment with different designs to try to make the planes do flips, spin around, etc.
Try shooting at targets. Moving targets even.
The sky is the limit. Have fun exploring the world of flight.
Need some ideas? Here is a list of different types of paper airplanes. Feel free to invent your own as well!
To turn this into an educational lesson, perhaps discuss with your children why things fly, about air pressure, wings, etc.

(Today is phase one of moving day. We bring most of our boxes and such to the new apartment. Sunday is phase two- the heavy furniture. Tuesday is the last phase of the move, taking over whatever remains. I apologize for the short post; I'm sure you understand.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Simple Split Pea Soup

... otherwise known as Empty Pantry Special.
Moving in a couple of days, our pantry is pretty much empty and we're purposely not restocking until we reach the new place. This recipe has the benefit of calling for the barest minimum of ingredients yet has a robust and hearty flavor, and has the added benefit of being a one pot, very low cost meal.



Simple Split Pea Soup

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Needs vs Wants- Tumble Dryers

Time for the weekly Needs vs Wants post here on Penniless Parenting. Challenging the assumptions of what is truly a need vs what is a want, striving to cut the splurges, and begin to appreciate all the little luxuries that we are privileged enough to have. 
Today's contestant- the Tumble Dryer.
This nifty little piece of  technology so often is mentally paired with washing machines. If you've got one, you've certainly got to have the other. In most modern societies, if you've got the facilities to be washing clothes, obviously you'd use the machine to dry off your clothes.

By now you must know the refrain. If they've survived thousands of years without it, it can't possibly be a need. Therefore, tumble dryers certainly are not needs.
Yet, even after my resolve to hang dry my clothes, I've been lazy about getting my laundry washed and run short on cloth diapers or otherwise... and have used my dryer, even though I know that its costing me more than a dollar per load to dry. Its a vice that I really want to eliminate.
While I have been hang drying my clothes much more lately, I've been using my dryer as my fall back option too frequently (and so has some *ahem* other family member who shall remain unnamed).

My new apartment has a built in recess for a washing machine, but has no place for a tumble dryer. While some unnamed family member is moaning and groaning about this, I'm secretly (or not so secretly) thrilled about this change.
No room for a dryer? Great! That means no relying on the dryer to dry my clothes for me, when the sun is willing to do the work gratis. Kicking my laziness habit out the door. (Of course, this unnamed family member is insisting on bringing the dryer along, but it'll be in a room where it will be unusable, and covered with a cloth, I'll make it both storage space and an end table, and then once he sees we manage fine without it, a selling we will go.)
Of course, having fewer clothes after my purge will help me stay on top of laundry; things won't be able to pile up as much, there won't be as much wet laundry at one time, I won't have a lack of space on my rack, and I will no longer turn to my dryer. (Or at least that's the plan.)

And if you do decide to use the dryer, even though its a luxury-

Shortening Dryer Time

  • Don't over pack the dryer.
  • Toss a few very absorbent dry towels in the dryer with the wet stuff.
  • Toss in a few balls along with your wash. These will bounce around and make a noise, but it helps. They sell dryer balls for this purpose, but simple tennis balls work fine as well.
  • Leave clothes in the washing machine for a few hours with the door open to allow them to partially air dry beforehand.

Do you use a dryer or do you line dry clothing?


This post is part of Frugal Friday.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guests on a Budget

"I don't have enough money for guests" is a refrain I've heard many times. Too often people feel that either they must spend hundreds on entertaining company, or they must forgo opening their homes to visitors entirely.
I claim to be extremely frugal but have no qualms having guests. How?

Entertaining Guests without Breaking the Bank
Warmth. Atmosphere matters more than food. If you're trying to impress, remember that guests enjoy themselves much more in a welcoming happy home with simple food than fancy food in a cold stark house.
Presentation trumps the money spent. Caviar smeared unappetizingly on a plate is far less impressive  than an artfully presented rainbow salad tied with a green onion (would you like a recipe?) or a colorful garnished soup.
Impressive low cost dishes. You can make fancy dishes that look expensive with a little more effort. Beggar's purses in homemade pastry dough or crepes and filled with a yummy veggie mix, or vegetarian spring rolls in homemade egg roll wrappers and homemade dipping sauce, or lemon meringue pie are all impressive.
Homemade bread. Always fancies up a meal and impresses. Sesame, nigella, caraway, and poppy seeds or even raw oats and sunflower seeds sprinkled on to an egged loaf can spiff up even the plainest loaf without costing too much.
Roshco Silicone Twelve-Cup Muffin Pan with Sled, RedMini everything. Make each guest their own roll instead of a large loaf, make mini fruit cups instead of a fruit salad. Mini pies (chicken, shepherd's pie, or kibbeh) or quiches can be quite fancy looking and don't cost much. I use my silicon muffin pans usually to make mini pies. 
Multi-course meals. When I make a fancy meal, I usually first serve a bunch  of salads and dips with my homemade bread. Next course is soup, usually with homemade croûtons. By the time the main course comes around, people usually are quite full and eat only small portions of  the most expensive part of the meal- the meat.
Vegetarian? Non meat alternatives can also be fancy and usually cost less than having a meat course.
Stretch the meat. By chopping up chunks of chicken or meat and mixing it with cheaper legumes, starches, or veggies, you can have a larger meat dish, but spend less money than if you were serving smaller portions of pure meat. Succotash, stir fry, chili, chicken pot pie, lentil beef shepherd's pie are all tasty examples of stretching meat dishes.
Filling, cheap sides. Rice, potatoes, and in season vegetables are a good accompaniment to the third course.
Serve the guests yourself. When you bring each guest their own portion of food, they won't be eating you out of house and home. I tend to serve the meat dishes myself from the kitchen, and put the cheaper fillers on the table.
Serve what can be eaten. Expect all food on the table to be finished. If you need leftovers, set them aside before the meal, don't wait till the end. If you're serving wine at the table, but don't want the whole bottle finished, remove it from the table after everyone has had one serving.
Potluck. When all else fails, consider asking your guests to each bring one dish. This helps offset the cost for the hosts and makes the guests feel like they repaid the favor of being hosted.

Do you ever have guests? What is your method to ensure that you aren't breaking the bank, but still are able to entertain guests?


This is part of Works for Me Wednesday

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bargaining- the Do's and Don'ts.

We'll be moving to a new home on Sunday, hopefully. There isn't really much extra cash with which to be paying movers. I managed to get a very low price for this service by giving the company an offer that gave us  both the better end of the deal. Bargaining helped me end up with this very reasonable fee.


Dos and Don'ts of Bargaining

Do see if you can get a lower price than the stated one.
Do not be rude while doing so.
Do remember that the seller also needs to make a living,  just as much as you would like to be saving.
Do not pressure the seller to give in to your offered price.
Do state firmly that you're only willing to pay x amount. If he wants the sale, he'll give it to you for that price; if he'd rather wait for a better offer, leave him be.
Do not diss the merchandise. Alluding that it is of inferior quality does not endear you to the seller and make him more likely to give you a good deal.
Do come informed about the going rate for the desired product, so you know whether something is overpriced or a good deal.
Do not grossly exaggerate- "Why, I've seen this same exact piece being sold for one third of the price that you're asking."
Do feel free to tell small white lies- that instead of the $100 asking price, you've seen it for $75, when you've really only seen it for $80.
Do not try to haggle in high end department stores like Lord and Taylors.
Do try to bargain down small business owners (like Mom and Pops), insurance fees, and rates for various services. (Car repair, doulas, and cell phones rates come to mind.)
Do not buy things that you cannot afford if the seller is not willing to lower the price.
Do suggest that you pay less but get only a partial package. If the regular price includes delivery and assembly, perhaps you can deliver and assemble it yourself and pay less total.
Do not get uppity when the merchant states that he is only willing to  sell the complete package.

Do enjoy the bargaining process- view it as a fun challenge.
Do not be a sore sport; expect to win some and lose some, and be graceful about it.

Do you ever bargain with merchants? Any dos and don'ts to add to my list?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cheapskate on Others' Dime



I've been pondering an issue for quite a while and have been hoping that you readers might be able to add some insight to my dilema.
If you're pinching pennies really tightly to the extent where others look at you and shake their heads in disbelief, should you also keep those same extreme frugal habits when on someone else's dime? I am not talking about taking care with other people's money- of course that is a given, you shouldn't spend wrecklessly with money, even when it isn't coming from your bank account.
However, I'm talking about something a bit more extreme. Frugal lengths to which others would find revolting, strange, or beffudling. Examples that come to mind are:
If you are very stingy with toilet paper, should you also use very little when at other people's homes?
If you never buy expensive dairy products or expensive meat products, but these stuff are givens at other people's homes, is it wrong to allow yourself to "indulge" in this expensive product? (And by indulge, I mean eating more than you would if you were in your own home, but not eating excessive amounts or anything.)
If you never go out to restaurants because they are very overpriced, and when you do go out, you make sure to buy the absolute cheapest thing on the menu, when wealthy relatives are treating you out (relatives to whom even an excessive restaurant bill would be negligible), should you also get the absolute cheapest menu item, or a more regularly priced meal?

I'd definitely appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter, as I've been unable to come up with a good answer myself.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bathing Babies Without A Baby Bath

Walking into will have you thinking that without the latest and the greatest in accessories, your babe will be lacking so much. You'd think that each child must come into the world with a fully stocked nursery including a bassinet, full size crib, portacrib, changing table, armoire, carriage, umbrella stroller, travel system, baby jogger, baby carrier, bibs, baby spoons, a full set of bottles, sterilizers, bottle warmers, formula dispensers, pacifiers, pacifier clips, pacifier cases, diaper bags, expensive diapers, bouncy seats, baby gyms, teething toys, rattles, car seats, spit up cloths, receiving blankets, fuzzy blankets, matching bed sets including bumpers, sheets, rugs, and blankets, a full set of all the latest and greatest baby clothes, baby bath tubs, bath toys, bath stands, ring seats, baby bath towels etc... to name but a small selection of all these baby "needs".

I've enumerated before, but I've barely spent a thing on my children, and I don't think they're lacking because of it. My boys have everything they need, plus quite a few stuff that they want. Too much, in fact, that we're getting rid of many of our baby things in addition to all the clothes we're purging. Too many things that just take up room but don't even  get used.

We're giving away our baby bath tub. This accessory sits in our laundry room, taking up room yet never used, because I really have no need for it.

Bathing Babies Without a Baby Bath

Use the sink. Newborns can be washed in the sink, either by filling up a plugged sink, or by holding the baby under the running water. The latter uses less water and is the more frugal choice, and can also be done when the baby is too big to fit comfortably inside the sink.


Use a wash basin. While this uses the same basic concept as a baby bath, a wash basin has more uses than just bathing a baby, and hence is more space economical. (I try to have multi-purpose things so I'm not taking up space with a barely used accessory.) It can be used as a bucket for floor mopping, to hand wash laundry, to transfer clean laundry to the line, for bringing in dry laundry and storing it until it is sorted. And of course, to wash babies. 
From when kids are able to sit somewhat, they can be bathed in a wash basin. The fit is snug enough that you don't need a baby bath seat. And guess what? Ever since our fiasco with our lack of hot water, Lee has insisted on only bathing in the wash tub. He finds it more fun. This method probably saves even more water than the submarine shower.

So thats our Simple Solution this Saturday- ditch the baby bath. Just bathe in the sink or a wash basin.

If you liked this post, you may also like the other posts in our Babies with Little Expense series:


Friday, April 23, 2010

Card Houses- Frugal Fun Friday

Growing up, my siblings and I spent many fun filled hours building card houses. This activity and other activities with card are good frugal fun, as decks of cards can be bought as cheaply as one dollar and reused countless times.


There are many different techniques in building card houses. You can either spread out wide, or build up. We always had more success building ones that spread out, so I will focus on that type. Above is a wider card house, built two stories high.

To start off, lean two cards against each other in a T shape.


At this point, it will be quite unstable. Add two more cards until you end up with this shape.


You can now either continue building out to the sides or build up. My preference is the former, and only then do I like to add on another level. 
To build out, you lean additional cards against these four original cards. You can continue with this until you grow bored, want to build upward, or until it gets knocked down.


To add on another level, lay some cards flat on the top of what you've built and repeat these few steps on that  layer of cards.

Alternatively, you can use different methods for card house building, such as this method my dad prefers.


This technique is great for building taller, thinner card houses.

Homeschooling moms (and other parents who like to learn with their children as well), you can use this activity as a way to teach about the origin of the phrase "as fragile as a house of cards", and perhaps branch out into discussing other phrases and their origins. 
Additionally, you can experiment with your children and see which method of building card houses is strongest and discuss why. You can challenge your children to build as tall a house as wide or as sturdy a house as possible. You can test sturdiness via having them blow on to the card house, placing something on top of the structure, or shooting rubber bands at the house and seeing which type of house survives the onslaught best. Discussing the physics behind card houses is a great way to make learning fun.

Have you ever built card houses?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Easy Breakfast Shakes

Looking for a quick and tasty breakfast? When I would have class in the morning, and as usual, I was running late, I'd throw together a quick breakfast shake to give me an energy boost that would last the morning. Even today as a stay at home mom, this recipe is my "go-to" for those lazy mornings when I don't feel like standing in front of the stove to cook up a meal.


Fruity Breakfast Shakes

Ingredients
2 bananas (soft, mushy, and overripe is best)
2 cup milk
1 cup fruit (optional)
1 egg (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup flaxseed (optional)

Instructions

  1. Peel bananas and cut into chunks. Freeze. (You could flash freeze them on a cookie tray then place them in a container when partially frozen, but I usually skip that step.)
  2. If you have other fruit, cut into chunks and freeze. Fruit that work with this recipe are berries, grapes, melon, dates, etc. You can also make this shake with fresh fruit, but I vastly prefer frozen.
  3. Blend up the frozen bananas and fruit with a cup or two of milk. (I usually use an immersion blender, but a regular blender works fine as well.)
  4. Add the rest of the optional ingredients and blend.
  5. Enjoy!

Variations- Use homemade yogurt or kefir instead of milk. If you use this, you can also add citrus fruit like orange juice.
To up the protein and fat content, you can also add sesame, either whole or paste.

Part of Pennywise Platter Thursday

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Want Vs Needs- So Many Clothes!



Moment of truth- five years ago, when I was single and living in an apartment without a washing machine, I took my clothes to the laundromat one time during that six month period. No, this did not mean that I was a disgusting pig who wore grimy smelly clothing for months on end (although not having children to dirty my clothes definitely helped). I was able to wash laundry one time in six months because I had enough clothes to last me three months (with only the rarest hand wash)!

Not too long ago, my ancestors had to pack up whatever prize possessions they could fit into a little satchel, pick up, and start their life in a new country. When push came to shove, there were very few things they actually brought with them; everything else got left behind.
Yet, you ask the average Westerner today to pick up and move, they'll likely be taking along a U-Haul or two, minimum, because they just have so much stuff!

I've been packing up our family's belongings for our move and doing some pretty serious downsizing. My new home is lots smaller than my current one (we're moving from a 955 square foot apartment to a 500 square foot place) and most of our current belongings will not fit. I've been needing to ask myself and my husband "Do we really need all this stuff?" The obvious answer is no.
I've had to make tough choices and cast aside most of the clothing that we own because the sheer volume that  we own simply will not fit in a 500 square foot place. (I've got a few nifty ideas for storing them though that I'll share in a future post, though.) Hoarding seems to be a typical issue among families with no money- since you don't know if you'll be able to afford to replace things, you keep more than average. I'm hoping that, should things need replacing, I'll be able to do so easily via hand me downs and second hand stores, as is how I built up my original stock of clothing.

Together, my husband and I have gone through my clothes, his clothes, my children's current clothes and the clothes that don't fit the kids at the moment and came up with some rules.

Purging Clothes- Rules

  1.  If you haven't worn it since you've got it, chuck it.
  2.  If you haven't worn it since you've moved to your current home 4 years ago, chuck it.
  3. If you haven't worn it in the past year, chuck it, unless you have a good enough reason why you haven't (like maternity clothes if you weren't pregnant, but are still hoping for more kids).
  4. If its ripped or stained, chuck it (unless you want to make it into rags if your supply is too small).
  5. If its horribly out of style, chuck it (even if it might come back into fashion 15 years down the line).
  6. If the color doesn't look good on you, chuck it (so you don't put it on by mistake).
  7. If the cut isn't flattering on you, chuck it. (Don't assume you'll fit into it again. You'll just make yourself feel bad seeing something that you've outgrown.)
  8. If your spouse doesn't like it, consider chucking it. (Of course, keep those few comfortable sweats that he doesn't like, but on a whole, it isn't a bad idea for marriage to keep both of your preferences in mind when dressing in the morning. This goes both for men and women.)
Some of the clothes no longer welcome in my home

Once you've eliminated about half your stash by getting rid of the above, only keep as much clothes as you need. Ask yourself some questions:
  • Laundry- How frequently do you have loads of wash to do? Can you do them more frequently (and still have full loads)?
  • Clothes Drying- How do you dry your clothes? Do you line dry? How long does it take your clothes to line dry in the winter? How about in the summer?
  • How many days needed? How many days of clothes do you need to always have clean, dry clothes? If you do loads every 3 days and they take 3 days to dry, you'd need six days worth of clothes to always have clean and dry. If you do wash every other day and clothes take a day to dry, you'll need clothes for three days.
  • How Outfits Daily? One shirt, one pair of pants, and one set of pajamas? 
  • Wearing Clothes Twice- For kids who don't have accidents at night, pajamas can be reused a few times. Sweatshirts can be reworn as well. Pants and skirts usually can be worn a few days before needing a wash.
  • Mitigating Factors- Do you need backups in case of blow out diapers, stomach issues, accidents? Add some extra in there so you won't be stuck.
After all this, I narrowed this down to 7 of each main type of clothing in each size for my children. I could probably do with fewer, but I don't want to get stuck if I fall a bit behind on laundry. 
7 short sleeve shirts, 7 light long sleeve shirts, 7 wintry long sleeve shirts. 7 pairs long pants, 7 pairs shorts. 2 sweatshirts, 4 long sleeve undershirts, 2 short sleeve under shirts. 2 pairs dress pants, 2 dress shirts.
For myself and my husband, and newborn clothes which get soiled quicker... well, we're still getting there. I have 10 (!!!) more bags of clothing to sort through.

I have to admit, its very freeing to get rid of all this clothes. I've still got loads more decluttering to do, but I already am feeling the weight of all this clutter lift from my shoulders.

Decluttering's Done- What Next?

  • Pass it on to someone who can use it. Let someone else benefit from your cast off clothes.
  • Re-purpose the clothes. I've made softies from old clothes, as well as satchels, bean bags, and art projects.
  • Donate to a second hand store.
  • Host a sale- maybe you'll make a few extra bucks that way.
  • Post an ad on freecycle.
What are your decluttering tips when it comes to clothes? What do you keep and what do you toss?
Part of Thrifty Home's Penny Pinching Party.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Barbecue for Less



Spring is here, and Summer is once again knocking on our door. No better time for a Barbecue!
People go way overboard with spending when shopping for a BBQ. While BBQs can be far from frugal because they are heavily meat based, by following a few tips, you can make sure that your barbecue is not burning up too much of your money.

Cheap Barbecues

Make your own grill. If you don't already own a BBQ grill, resist the urge to either buy an expensive BBQ grill or disposable grill. Use an old cookie tray for the bottom. Put this on a heat resistant surface- it will get hot!. Use an old refrigerator or oven grate (non plastic coated) for the grill. Raise the grate off the tray with large rocks or bricks. Between the two, place your charcoal, or better yet-
Burn wood. Instead of buying charcoal, if you have untreated wood (like wood pallets- most stores are glad to have you take them off their hands) lying around, use that. Alternatively, if you have access to a forest, go foraging for dry wood from the forest floor. You'll want different width pieces of wood, both thin kindling to start off, and the long lasting thicker pieces.
Make your own starter "block". Fold up a piece of paper (use scrap) into eighths. Wrap twine (non synthetic) around that, tie it, and leave a piece of string a few inches long for lighting. Dip all this in melted wax (collect wax drippings from old candles from this, or alternatively, just melt a few candles). To use, tuck this among your wood/charcoal and light the string. It works as well as any starter block.
Use cheap meat. People will appreciate the barbecue even without the expensive cuts of meat. Chicken wings, hot dogs, and homemade burgers usually are the cheapest tasty BBQ foods. Make your burgers by stretching your ground meat (ground chicken or turkey is usually cheaper than beef) with TVP (soy flakes), bread crumbs and eggs. You can also use seitan to make shish kebabs, or even grill slices of seitan or homemade veggie cutlets.
Make your own buns. Just shape any regular bread loaf into thinner longer buns for hot dogs, and circular flat buns for burgers. Alternatively, use pitas instead of buns (either bought or homemade).
Don't go overboard on protein. Even though you're having a BBQ doesn't mean that you should be eating so much meat. Stick to one or two servings per person, no matter how tempting it is to fress on the BBQed delight.
Load up on homemade sides. To prevent people stuffing themselves with the more expensive meats, serve plenty of cheaper side dishes. Potato salad, macaroni salad, pickles, sauerkraut, coleslaw, and vegetable slices are great BBQ companions and can all be cheaply homemade. Boil potatoes, foil wrap them, and throw them into the burning charcoal or wood.
No disposables. If you're traveling to your BBQ, you may be thinking of using disposable plates. Consider investing in reusable plastic dishes- these are relatively cheap, non breakable and light, last a long time, and you're being environmentally friendly.
Homemade drinks. Water is cheapest, but if you want variety, bring homemade iced tea, lemonade, and homemade hard lemonade. Much cheaper and just as tasty as bought drinks.

Now that you know how to BBQ for less, pack up your cooler, load up your trunk, and head off to your favorite park for a delightful afternoon.

Do you have barbecues frequently? On average, how much do they cost you? What do you do to cut costs for your BBQ?


This is part of Thrifty Tip Tuesday and Tightwad Tuesday

Monday, April 19, 2010

No Shame in My Financial Status



There. I think the title says it all.
It is pretty apparent that I do not hide my financial circumstances; I make it clear to any readers of this blog the extremes to which I am willing to go to save money, because circumstances require it.
You might assume that I am upfront about my monetary situation on my blog because my blog is anonymous, but that is not so. Many of my readers do know me in person; I spread the word about my blog to friends, family, and to new and old acquaintances. Meet me in person, and within a few minutes, I'll be telling you "Hi, I'm Penny. I'm the writer over at PennilessParenting.com." Clearly, I have no qualms with anyone and everyone knowing that I, Penny, do not have a cent to my name.

Most other people I meet who have a hard time making ends meet try to keep mum about this fact. Why do I not care that people know that I am "living below the poverty line", yet others would be mortified should anyone find out?

The answer lies in the title of this post. I have no shame in my bank status. In fact, I am proud of my accomplishments of overcoming adversity and testing myself, untangling myself and family from this sticky web of materialism which pervades modern society.

Shame? That is for when you've done wrong. Continual faulty judgement resulting in poor choices require owning up to the consequences. Shame is a by product of that guilt. Only when wrong doings were done does guilt come to fruition.
Or at least that's how it should be, according to my line of thinking.

If I were in a difficult monetary situation because neither my husband nor I worked, as we found work to be beneath our dignity, that surely is shameful.
If I spent recklessly and did not live within my means; I'd be embarrassed when I couldn't make it on a sizable salary.
If I or my husband gambled away hard earned money, I'd definitely keep mum when the bank was empty.

However, the reason we're struggling financially is because of more innocuous reasons. In our current location, a large chunk of the population lives beneath the poverty line. Circumstances and minutiae that I do not care to discuss on my blog make surviving, even on two incomes pretty difficult. Housing prices are outrageous; you can work 50-60 hour weeks (as my husband often does) and still just barely scrape by. (Moving away would only become financially possible once our financial situation improved tremendously, at which point, such a move would be counterintuitive.)
We have little money because thus was ordained Above.
We are in tune with our fiscal flow and spend accordingly.
We reduce, reuse, recycle. We also use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.
We both work hard; no job is beneath our dignity. Providing for your family is honorable, no matter the job description.
We prioritize and spend first on needs, and only after that, spend a little bit on wants.

You know, I see no reason to be ashamed. Why should I be?
If you're also in a tough financial situation, do you keep mum, or let people know?

(To be perfectly upfront, what prompted this post was that a few weeks ago, we were really struggling because of some  unavoidable, really large expenses that cropped up. A person in my community runs a charity and helped us out, and I was giving myself a pep talk, that I have no reason to be ashamed.
Usually, I am fine mentioning that I have no money, but needing to receive charity from an organization was a bit hard emotionally, I will admit. It is something I need to work on, because the One who decided to make me have a rough time financially also decided that I'd be on the receiving end this year. By swallowing my pride, I was able to get the help I needed to provide for my family, and also let the giver have the merit of  that good deed.
That's it! No more religion/faith talk. I try to keep religion off this blog, but its hard to do so in posts like this.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Refrigerator Solar Cooker


Would you believe that this meal of perch, green beans, and rice was cooked entirely using the sun- a free and abundant resource?
Capturing and focusing the rays of the sun and then converting the solar energy to utilize it in cooking- a dream for an extreme frugalista like myself. Why pay the electric or gas company to cook my food when the sun will gladly do it gratis?

I made a solar cooker a week ago Thursday, and since then have tested it cooking an egg, then used it to cook red lentil soup, the fish meal above, and then finally a cake on Friday. I'm very excited about this solar cooker, even though I won't have room in my new home to take it along. Not to worry, in just a few short weeks, I'll come up with new plans to build a small, collapsible solar cooker that I'll be able to use even in my future yard-less apartment. (The basics are already formulated; I just need to figure out the exact logistics and make it.)

Solar Cooker Types

There are a few basic types of solar cookers out there, each utilizing different methods of using the sun to cook instead of gas or electricity.
Box Cookers- These use insulated boxes with clear coverings (usually glass) to allow sunlight in, but retaining the heat. The inside is usually painted black, as black absorbs heat. Often metal reflectors are used to reflect even more sunlight into the box.
Parabolic Cookers- These use rounded reflectors to concentrate the solar energy into one small point, and are powerful enough to even BBQ food. 
Panel Cookers- These are hybrids of box and parabolic cookers and need a heat trap to keep the heat from escaping.

I was intrigued by a simple way to make a solar cooker out of an old car windshield- but this required a cooking bag, something that is neither cheap nor readily available where I live. Perhaps I'll figure out something similar to this, but with an alternative to the cooking bag, when I move.

My Refrigerator Solar Cooker

I decided instead to use an broken fridge lying around to make a box type cooker, loosely based on a design I'd seen. Refrigerators are already insulated, saving me the work of insulating my cooker.

I lay my refrigerator on its side in my yard. Though painting the inside black would attract more heat, the cost of paint (expensive locally) helped me choose to use heavy aluminum foil reflectors to line the inside instead. (I was prepared to buy this but found rolls of foil being tossed instead- I cleaned it before use, of course.)
Ideally I should have used glass to cover my cooker, but used what I had instead- a reusable clear tablecloth too short to be used for its intended purpose.

Reflectors outside a box cooker help focus even more heat on to the cooker, so I took apart the attached door, and lined what was left with the remaining aluminum foil, to be propped up and used as a reflector.
A few discarded boards and an old black cookie sheet later, I had an oven shelf and my solar cooker was finished.

Thus far, my solar cooker cost me nothing.
I needed to buy one last piece of equipment, and that was a black pot with a glass cover. I bought a relatively cheap one with a gift card I received as a present. If I would have owned a black pot with a cover, my cooker would have cost me nothing. Because I didn't, I needed to buy one, but fortunately, I didn't need to lay out any money for this either.

Testing My Solar Cooker

On a cloudy day, I boiled an egg in a few hours.
Next test was making red lentil soup with potatoes and carrots. I started this too late in the afternoon on a cloudy day, but still managed to make delicious soup by sundown.

My mom visited and pointed out that my cooker was not acting so efficiently (who knew that I'd need to reapply the PV=nRT formula learned in physics class, as well as other physics rules to my cooking?) and advised that I add a few more reflectors and angle them outward instead of downward. (Ideally I should be using a much smaller cooker, as bigger cookers take more energy to heat (duh!))
Once I added the other reflectors, I was able to cook much quicker and made both the above rice and fish meal, and even cake in just 2 hours!

 

I love my solar cooker.
I love being able to cook without having to pay a cent.
I love not needing to heat my home to cook my food.
I love not paying for something that can be done for free (my motto).

Yes, I won't be able to take this with me when I move to an apartment with no yard, but don't worry- I'm building a new one. A collapsible one that can be used by people living in apartments with no yard. Yes, it'll be smaller, but it'll work even better then!
Don't worry, I'll be sure to share exact plans and pictures.

In the meantime, I'm using my solar cooker every day (and having guilt trips when I actually use the stove to cook!), enjoying our wonderful, sun baked food.


I use the sun to benefit me by:
Line Drying Clothes
Using the Sun For Light
Using the Sun to Cook!

How do you use the sun to benefit you?


This is part of Creative Jewish Mom's Craft Schooling Sunday and the Festival of Frugality over at BeatingBroke.com and Couponomic Stimulus Package.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Homemade Hair Detangler and Defrizzer

I have straight, so fine that it was a challenge to make accessories stay put in my hair when I was younger. Understandably, I needed to learn new hair care techniques when Lee entered the world with curly hair, just like his dad, Mike.
Lee has long hair (shoulder length when wet), wild and crazy, flying every which way. A typical toddler, he manages to tangle his hair and glue it together with foodstuffs and craft supplies, making for a very miserable Lee when time comes to brush his hair.
My husband, with similar hair, figured out a simple solution to ease haircare and tame those curls that works for both Mike and Lee. Now their curls fall in beautiful ringlets, and Lee no longer runs from the hair brush.

Homemade Hair Detangler and Defrizzer


Supplies:
Spray bottle
1/3 cup conditioner
2 cups water

Directions:
Mix conditioner and water in the spray bottle. We used an old bottle from bought hair detangler, but any spray bottle will do. Cheap dollar store conditioner will work fine for this.
To use, spray as needed into dry hair. Brush, starting from the bottom, using this technique.

Locally, hair detangler costs 4 dollars for 1 measly bottle. With our homemade mix, we can make nearly 20 bottles for that same cost.

Simple Solutions Saturday- Because those pennies quickly add up!

This is part of Works For Me Wednesday.

Frugal Fun Friday- Learning about Electricity


When I was in second grade, my mother signed my sister and me up for an after school science club. One of the things we learned did in this club was learn all about different electronics, circuits, and built circuits with different types of switches, etc.
I've seen kids with bought electronic "sets", which is, in my opinion, a waste of money.
All that is needed to teach kids about electricity are a few pieces of conductable wire, preferably covered with insulating materials, some cardboard, metal paper clips, small light bulbs, and AA batteries.

Batteries, Bulbs, and Wires (Young Discoverers: Science Facts and Experiments)There are many books out there that teach basic electricity to kids; consider checking one of the following titles out of your local library:
Safe, Simple Electrical Experiments
Batteries, Bulbs, and Wires
Electric Mischief: Battery-Powered Gadgets Kids Can Build
Electricity and Magnetism
Electricity Experiments for Children
The Everything Kids' Science Experiments Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You! (Everything Kids Series)The Everything Kids Science Experiment Book
365 Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials
Battery Science: Make Widgets that Work and Gadgets that Go 
Klutz Battery Science


Learning about electronics is a fun past time for kids of all ages. The materials are either cheap or free (as most can be found dumpster diving). These materials are basically non consumables, so even after they have been used for this activity, you can reuse them, either for more activities, or for repairs around your home.
The best thing about this activity is that it is enjoyable for kids, and they're learning at the same time. Hitting two birds with one stone is really the best way. It helps bring science to life and helps them realize that acquiring knowledge is fun (at least when being taught correctly).

Another electricity related experiment is to give your child a "workshop". My brother had a little corner in the basement where he would take broken pieces of electronics and unscrew them to find their inner workings. Armed with wire cutters and screw drivers, he'd spend hours in his lair, collecting capacitors, LEDs, and lots of other little things to which I've forgotten the name. For children who prefer to take things apart as opposed to building things, taking apart broken electronics is a fun, frugal pastime.
If you read books about how things work, your child may even be able to fix the part that broke, preparing himself for a future career as a mechanic.

Just a note: This activity should be reserved for older children, as the wire cutters and all the little parts could be dangerous.

P.S. I know I was using the pronoun "he" in this whole post. Maybe just a tad non feminist. This activity is also suitable for girls, if they are so inclined (as I am- note I said I did these things in an after school science club) but I am assuming that boys would tend to be more interested in this, which is why I used the pronoun "he". (As a mom of boys, I also tend to think in terms of "he".)

Have you ever done electricity experiments with your children? What have you made?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homemade Pasta Sauce

Someone once asked me if I would still make everything from scratch if I had money to buy ready made. Although I probably might buy a little more ready made (if I could find chemical free), there are some things that are just so easy to make that I don't understand why anyone buys it ready made, even if they do have money.
Pasta sauce (aka marinara sauce or pizza sauce or tomato sauce) is one of them. I can whip up a nice sized batch (that's even tastier than the store bought variety) in under 5 minutes. Here's how.


Homemade Pasta Sauce:

Ingredients:
2.5 cups tomato paste (this should be approximately a 12 oz can of tomato paste, I think. My cans are different sizes here as they're in grams, so just measure with cups)
4 cups water
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon salt (I like things saltier, you may prefer a little less salt)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 teaspoons sugar (Optional. My tomato paste comes with added fructose, so I don't add sugar.)

Instructions
1. Chop the onion and sauté in a medium pot. Mince the garlic and add it to the onion when translucent.
2. Add the tomato paste and water. Mix until it is uniform, with no lumps of tomato paste.
3. Add salt, oregano, marjoram, and pepper (and sugar)
4. Heat until the sauce starts bubbling.
5. Devour.

Yield: Approximately 36 fluid oz of sauce. With this recipe, I filled the above 24 oz jar as  well as the additional 12 oz jar.
Total preparation time: 5 minutes to sauté the onions. If you keep sautéd onions in the freezer, you can whip up a batch in under a minute.
Variations: Add 1 teaspoon basil. You may leave out the marjoram if you use the basil. The more the merrier. Really any Italian spices would work fine in this recipe. I always throw in a bit of this and a bit of that, depending on my mood. You can sauté peppers with the onions, or add diced tomatoes or sliced zucchini before adding the paste.
Uses: Pasta, pizza, calzones, fish, chicken, lasagna, etc. Limitless.

Cost saved: According to netgrocer.com, tomato paste would cost 2 dollars. The same amount of marinara sauce would cost 6 dollars. Why pay triple the price for 5 minutes worth of work?

Do you ever buy marinara sauce? If so, why do you find it a worthwhile buy? What do you put in your sauce?


This is part of Grocery Cart Challenge's recipe swap

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Needs vs Wants- A Room of Their Own


We live in a very privileged world  today. Ask the average western psychologist and he'll try to convince you that without the latest gadgets and gizmos, you will irreparably damage your child's sense of security. Moreover, you'll be charged with bruising your child's fragile sense of self should you dare not give him a domain (namely a bedroom) of his own.

Now, I won't be dismissing claims of child rearing experts; 'twould be a bit presumptuous of me, being as I have only been in the mother role for 3 years and have but 2 small children...
Yet, I am hesitant to believe such a claim, as people have traditionally lived in much smaller homes than the current Westerner and didn't have major psychological issues because of that.

Families have lived for eons in little one room huts, with a complete lack of privacy. Even beds were often shared between kids. The newfangled notion that each child must have their own bedroom in order to be emotionally healthy is very recent; anything humanity has subsided so long without can hardly be considered a need.

I know a family that fits 7 children (and she is expecting her 8th) into a three bedroom apartment, with room for plenty more. Her kids are all well adjusted, well behaved, emotionally healthy children. That seems like proof to me that you can have many children in a small place without compromising their well-being. In fact, in my community, I know of a few families that bought one bedroom apartments when first married and have remained in the same apartment even once their families grew.
Its doable.
Separate rooms for each child is a want.
Even having two bedrooms, one for the parents, one for the kids is a want. I've heard of families with 12 children living in a one bedroom apartment.

I guess this is my roundabout way of letting you know that I'm moving. From my two bedroom apartment with a yard to a one and a half bedroom with no yard. We've been having issues with our landlord (who gave us problems fixing our hot water, so we learned the hard way that hot water isn't a need) and the rent (even though we're living in a cheap area) is eating up too large a chunk of our budget. We found a place that will save us a few hundred dollars a month, and you betcha, I'll stretch those few hundred as far as I can!
In our current 2 bedroom apartment, we don't really use the second bedroom aside for as a storage room; Lee gets lonely at night and prefers to sleep on the couch in the living room or in the master bedroom.
Said I, its silly to pay a few hundred extra every month for a room that isn't even in use; we're moving to a home without that second bedroom. (That "half a room" is a tiny little room, we'll probably use it as an office as well as storage.)

With this move of ours, Lee won't have a room to call his  own anymore. I don't see that as a loss, as he never even uses the room. Are we going to scar him for life? Will he be ridiculed for sleeping in the living room or in the big family bed?
Well, I guess that's part of the benefit of living where I do; no one has money, and what I'm doing is not so rare. But even living in a place where this isn't widely done, I still would have no qualms moving to a place without a set bedroom for Lee. Because he doesn't even want a room; doing what makes your child feel more secure is more important, in my opinion, than following conventional wisdom.
Because I keep Lee at home (and plan on doing so in the future because I'm a future homeschooler), I'm not so concerned that he'll be mocked by classmates over his bedroom situation (or lack thereof).

Yes, it may not be so easy to entertain because Lee sleeps in the living room. However, entertaining guests at night is not of utmost importance to me. I care most about having a financially secure family and if down sizing and getting rid of an unused bedroom is the way to do that, then I'm happy to have that option.
That second bedroom is not a need.

Do you think a kid needs his own room, or at least a bed to call his own to be emotionally secure?
Have you ever down sized when other people thought you were nuts? Do you think we've made decision we'll regret?

I may end up having posts that are a tad shorter while I pack up my apartment. I'll try to keep up the same quality and length of posts, but I may get busier as moving day arrives. :-D

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cutting Communication Costs


Last week I changed my cell phone plan to a prepaid plan, knowing that I'd save lots of money if I would just cut back on calls when out and about. Already on the way home from the cell phone store, I realized just how much of a challenge this would be for me. I was itching to call my sister about something I saw in the store, wanted to share a cute anecdote with my husband. In fact, I actually called a few people from my cell phone before I realized that I need to save the phone- just for emergencies!
I realized that I needed some tips and advice, so wrote down this list for myself about ways to cut back on communication costs. I hope this list helps you as well.

Cutting Communication Costs While Out:

Just don't call!

If you feel the need to speak to someone while traveling:
  • Can it wait till later? Can you wait until you've arrived home to call? Calls made from cell phones are the most expensive form of communication. 
  • Have them call you back. Does the person you're trying to reach have free outgoing calls? If you live in a place with free incoming calls, you can ask someone to call you back if you know they have unlimited minutes.

Cut Your Home Telephone Bill

Ok, you've arrived home and have your home telephone at your disposal. That doesn't mean you should free for all and "pig out" on telephone calls.
Use the computer instead of the phone:
  • Instant messenger. No need to pay a cent to communicate. Its as easy as a telephone, communicating in real time. You both need to be signed in to use these. I like AIM, Google Talk, and Yahoo Messenger best.
  • Email. Not as instantaneous, but it allows you to communicate even when the other isn't logged on to the computer.
  • Skype. This allows you to communicate in real time with voice and video. Before my dad moved locally, Lee knew Gramps via his weekly video chats. Skype also offers good rates for calls to phones worldwide. You'll need to invest in a webcam and headset and both must be logged on to the computer for this to work.
Non computer correspondence:
  • Free Mobile to Mobile. Some companies allow people with the same provider to call each other for free. If you have the same providers, call each other from your cell phones instead of house phones.
  • Nights and Weekends. If either you or the person you're trying to reach have free nights and weekends, try to schedule your calls for those times.
  • Good Ol' Fashioned Talking. Is it urgent? Must this communication be done by phone? Can you wait to share this information until the next time you see each other? My husband chides me "Must you tell me these anecdotes while I'm at work? Save them for when I get home so we have what to talk about."
  • Snail Mail. For people who you won't be seeing soon, consider writing them a letter if the message isn't urgent. Hand written letters are a step less personal than phone conversations, but are more meaningful than emails when it comes to building relationships.

Cut Your Communication, Period

I'm not suggesting becoming a hermit or taking a vow of silence. Just a few points to think about.
"Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." This is a quote that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it, and I've been trying to abide by that maxim. Not every thought that pops into someone's head must be voiced.
Pretend conversations are pointless. I've overheard numerous conversations that consisted entirely of variations of these lines, with a few odd words thrown in here or there.
"So... whats new?" "Nothing. What's new by you?" "Not much. What's happening by you?"
Or even better "What did you make for lunch? What are you making for supper? What did you make last night for dinner?"
These faux conversations delude people into thinking they're bonding, when, in reality, they're just wasting air time and dollars.
Cut the Gossip. People spend too much time talking about people, whether just plain ol' gossiping, or trash talking them. Not every negative thought that pops into your head about someone must be passed on; you don't need to tell Stacy that you heard from Tracy that Meg was seen in the back of the movie theater with Greg, while her husband Fred was home watching the kids. When you gossip about someone, people know you to be untrustworthy, for the next second you might turn around and be trash talking them. Aside for breaking relationships instead of building them, gossiping about others, especially on the phone, just wastes money for no reason.

In the past week, I've had to work really hard to cut back on my phone usage. I've found in liberating though, to just spend time with my kids, enjoying the moment, instead of feeling the need to call up random people and update them on my life.

What do you do to cut communication costs?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Musing- Waste Bothers Me



As someone who tries hard to save in any way I can, even resorting to extreme frugality, watching others being wasteful makes me cringe.
I see people taking too much cereal and pouring the unfinished food down the drain.
I watch people pouring large pots of chicken soup down the drain, scooping out the chunks of chicken, and chucking them into the dumpster.
I know that the butcher near me throws lots of usable meat scraps in the garbage.

Instead of seeing food, I am seeing money fill up that trash can. Part of me wants to shout "Hey wait! Don't throw out that stuff! I can use that!"
The other part of me recoils and says "Dude. Do you want them to think you're starving, like children in African  slums? Keep quiet."

And then I usually say nothing, silently seething at all that good food being wasted.
I just silently list off all that I could be making with that food. How many meals just ended in the dumpster.

That chicken soup could have been eaten as is; it was perfectly good soup. Her kids were just bored with it, after having had it for many means. I could have used it instead of water in my rice; I could have used it in any recipe that calls for stock.
That chicken from the soup could have been repurposed for many uses, from stir fry to chicken pot pie to chicken moussaka to chicken salad. I can go on and on with this one for ages.
My dad would have used that soggy cereal and milk to make pancakes. But an even frugaller thing to do  would have been to pour your child a smaller serving when you have repeat experience that your child's eyes are bigger than his stomach.
Those scraps that the butcher throws out? The bones and skins can be boiled to make chicken scrap soup. The fat and skin can be rendered; you'll end up with chicken fat to use in dishes and give it plenty of flavor minus the chemicals, as well as cracklings, the chicken version of pork rind chips.

In most situations I just keep quiet, watching the waste.

But in others, I do speak up, saving that food from the trash.
I'm still not fully comfortable with how far I'll go to get free food. I'll ask the butcher for the skin, fat and bones "for my cats", because I'm nervous about what he'll think of me if I tell him I want him to take that stuff out of the garbage for my family's consumption (its a garbage reserved for animal scraps only. I wash it very very well when I get home even so).
I got rotten vegetables from my local mom and pop's grocery. While I was picking up all these nasty vegetables, I made sure to talk out loud to myself about how this was "going to go for my compost pile"- which was the truth, by the way. I don't eat moldy vegetables. I just would rather build my compost pile with free icky vegetables than buy bags of ready compost.

But with that soup, soggy cereal, and soup chicken? I felt too embarrassed to say anything, because I was  dealing with people who are part of my every day life, and I didn't want them to think I as actually starving. I am far from the point of digging in the dumpster for food scraps, yet perfectly good food being wasted ruffles my feathers. (Dumpster diving for non food items is definitely within my personal realm of possibility.)

What do you say or do when you see food being wasted? Would you ask to have it rather than let perfectly good food be thrown out? Do you clamp your hand over your mouth for the sake of keeping your reputation? Or does it not bug you to watch others waste food?

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