Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Needs Vs Wants- Cleaning Help

A few years back, I was speaking to a professional counselor and asked whether he thought I was unready for marriage because I was messy and had a hard time maintaining order in my home. My roommate and I had had a recurring spat about my readiness for marriage (or lack thereof), specifically because I was living in a pig sty, so I asked this professional to settle our dispute once and for all.
His answer? "You're perfectly ready for marriage. You just need to marry a man with enough money so you can hire a cleaning lady."
Well, as luck would have it, I ended up with my husband. While he is many amazing things, an earner of six figures he is not. Hiring a cleaning lady is truly out of our budget, so although I have a hard time keeping up with housework, I have not ever hired cleaning help. Not only that, I even work for others as their cleaning lady.
And yet, I know people that are up to their neck and drowning in debts, not sure how to pay for their basics, and they still are shelling on money, week after week, on cleaning help. Cutting out this expense is unfathomable to them though; they'd sooner starve than clean on their own.

Although I am not a neat person by nature, I am proof in the pudding that no, you don't die (or come anywhere near there) by having the sole responsibility of cleaning be upon you. So no, cleaning help is not a need; it is a want, a luxury.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not going to say that one should never have cleaning help. There definitely are circumstances in which I truly understand why people have cleaning help. But I do think that people play that "Oh, I'd never manage without cleaning help" card all too often.

What about my house? Is my home a bio-hazard zone, seeing as, by nature, I am a pretty messy person?
To be honest, my place is not as clean as a museum. Or anywhere near that. Dishes can be left in the sink up to a few days at a time sometimes, and I often have a few loads of dirty wash waiting to be cleaned, and an equal amount of laundered clothes waiting to be sorted and put away.
However, while my home is not in a constant state of cleanliness and tidiness, it isn't either a constant wreck. Once a day, I strive to make my house a little neater before my husband comes home. I usually manage to make the main living area tidy, so that at least he isn't bombarded by mess the second he opens the front door. Once a week, my house truly gets clean. Or at least, the visible areas do. (Just don’t look in the closets or under the beds.)
No, my home is not perfect, and I still have light years to go before I become as clean as my mother- in-law, but hopefully my kids will remember that the house wasn't permitted to become insanely dirty, that it was always truly clean once a week. They'll have the knowledge of what a clean home can do for one's emotions, and maybe, just maybe, they will pick up my husband's aptitude for tidiness.
In our current situation, my husband does need to pitch in and help clean if he wants to house to reach his standard of cleanliness. When he does not have the time, the house might just be messier than he would prefer, but that won't kill us. I also have to expend a bit more energy doing things that I do not care for, but it is manageable, with a bit of effort to maintain a relatively tidy house, even without a cleaning lady. (I plan on giving some tips on how to manage this, hopefully some time later this week or next.)

When someone is on bed rest, or otherwise physically incapacitated, it would certainly be understandable to hire cleaning help. Likewise, if a person is working many hours outside of the house and has precious little time at home, it is perfectly reasonable to want to spend that minimal time with spouse and kids building memories as opposed to spending what little time they have focused on cleaning instead of being there with family.

When a perfectly healthy, capable stay at home mom, with no extraneous circumstances opts to hire cleaning help, that is a luxury.

Must life be devoid of all luxuries? Should no stay at home moms hire cleaning help?
No, to both of those questions.

However, when something needs to be cut out, remember that cleaning help is a luxury, not a need, and it usually is physically possible to manage without this type of help. Deciding to keep this luxury is obviously your decision, but just try to remember that it is a luxury, and remember to count your blessings.

Do you have cleaning help? Luxury or need? You tell me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Little More About Me

So... you come on to my site, because you've got a message that there is a new post here. But you're not seeing anything.
No wait- don't run away just yet! I've still got new stuff for you to read, its just not in blog post form.

See that new addition on my sidebar? I added a little "Meet the Family" thingie over there. Pictures courtesy of (If anyone has any websites for me to make 3D or otherwise avatars of my baby and toddler, I'd love to give you a taste of what my two boys look like.)
Now you have a rough idea of what myself and my husband look like, in addition to knowing a bit more about the Penniless family. (Sorry. After some cyberstalker issues other bloggers had, I'm not in such a rush to put up a real picture. But these are close though.)

Want to learn more about me?
I just was interviewed by the commenter Hannah. The interview is posted over on her site, Head over there to learn a bit more about my cooking style and how its changed throughout the years.

Has anyone else made a Meez? Got a link?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Expensive Unhealthy Cleaning Equipment

I first had an inkling that powerful cleaning agents were bad for you when my husband used St Moritz oven cleaner to clean our stove when I was pregnant with Lee. Bad move. Maybe it was just my uber-sensitive pregnant nose, but I was unable to breathe near my husband for the next few weeks. He smelled like chemicals. I forbade him from using that stuff again if he wanted me to be able to tolerate his presence. Pregnant or not.
Chemical cleaners have warnings on them "Do not breath near this product. Make sure to use in a well ventilated area." Why? Because they're filled with nasty stuff that you don't want inside your lungs.
When you use harsh chemicals to clean, no matter how well you think you've washed it, you can't prevent some chemicals from remaining on the clean surface.
However bad it is to breath in those chemicals, it is, undoubtedly exponentially more unhealthy to ingest those chemicals that get absorbed into your food when your food touches those "clean, sterile" chemical covered surfaces.

With that said, why do people prefer to use harsh chemicals to clean things, especially chemicals as harsh as that grease cutting oven cleaner?
Because, after all, how else can you really get rid of grease and other filth from things caked well onto surfaces?
Easily enough.

Mean, Green, Clean- and Frugal Too!

I spent the past little while working extra hours as a cleaning lady to bring in some extra cash. To constantly be using harsh chemicals would mean breathing in poisonous fumes, so I was determined to discover if I could do a decent job of cleaning without jeopardizing my health in the process.
I've discovered that you can do a very thorough job of cleaning, using no specialty cleaning chemicals, and just a few useful cleaning "tools", necessitating in just the slightest little bit of "elbow grease".

Allway Tools GTS Glass And Tile Scraper

Baking soda and vinegar are the only consumables I use to clean.

The "tools" I use are:
A glass and tile scraper
Metal scrubbers
Regular scouring pads
An old toothbrush
Microfiber cloths
Little brooms and dustpans
A spray bottle
A scrub brush
Some old clothes turned into rags
...and some various odds and ends

To clean a filthy stove top, all that is necessary is to make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the dirtiest parts of the surface.  Use a metal scrubber (shown above) and or scouring pad to scrub off the stains. The baking soda cuts the grease and makes it come off quickly and easily. The grease should come off with minimal effort.
Then, use the scraper to scrape off the more stubborn spots.
Sweep it all off using a mini broom and dustpan.

If there are still more spots that didn't come off from the first two attempts, try pouring boiling water onto the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and then repeat the first two steps. Boiling water loosens oil, and that, combined with the heavy duty scrapers and baking soda managed to remove even the nastiest looking oven stains. No harsh cleaning chemicals needed. No need to waste money on toxic chemicals when the cheap, green cleaner will do a fine job of cleaning.
(Because this method involves such little water, I am even able to use it on my temperamental stove that requires "special cleaning fluids" because water will kill the spark generator.)

Diluted vinegar in a spray bottle works very well to clean most surfaces. With this mix, I clean floors, cabinets, windows, mirrors, etc. Windex is wholly unnecessary and is overrated. Diluted vinegar works the same way. Vinegar is a disinfectant as well, for those nervous about that aspect.
Vinegar is what I use when I want a sprayed solution. I use baking soda when there is grease involved or when scrubbing is necessary, as baking soda works well as an abrasive agent.

As a last tip: Newspapers scrunched up is the best way to clean windows and glass without leaving streaks. Spray with the vinegar water solution and dry off with your scrunched up newspaper. Works like a charm.

Why spend lots of money for toxic cleaners when you can do the job easily enough and avoid ingesting all those chemicals? Better yet, why pay lots of money for "natural cleaners" when you, most likely, have your own natural cleaners sitting in your own pantry?

Do you use chemical cleaners in your home? Store bought natural cleaners? Or just plain old baking soda and vinegar?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Frugal Fish Tanks- Part 2

Fish tanks are not a frugal choice, as I've written before. However, some people will be insistent on getting fish tanks anyhow, insist that that is their one luxury that they "cannot possibly do without". You know, everyone does have their "luxuries". Mine, perhaps, is internet. Even if I wouldn't be blogging and wouldn't be using the internet to save myself money, its a luxury that I wouldn't want to do without. But I digress.
Everyone has their luxury that they "need", in order to live a happy life and not feel deprived. If you or your loved one decides that that is their one luxury, make sure you don't overspend on that fish tank.

Do not pay full price for a fish tank or any of its equipment. Fish tanks are expensive; why make them more expensive than necessary? Fish stores know that they can charge an arm and a leg for products that you can easily get elsewhere; they assume that you will assume that they are selling "specialty equipment" and can only purchase it there, when the fact of the matter is that they are often selling dollar store equipment, sold as "specialty items", but more on that later.

Before going fish shopping, go do a search on Craigslist (or Freecycle, or any local online list); see if anyone has any fish tank or fish equipment for sale. Many times people start off with fish, realize its a big headache, and sell all their equipment at a loss. Their loss, your gain. You can easily buy a tank, filter, air pump, thermometer, etc... this way.
If you do not see a fish tank for sale that way, you can also have a glass-cutter build you your own fish tank. Individual pieces of glass held together by silicon make fine fish tanks. So, you won't have a beautiful matching stand for your tank. Put a second hand (or dumpster find) end table or a desk and put your fish tank on that. Voila! A fish tank at a fraction of the cost of what it would be to buy in the specialty store.
If you can't find equipment for the tank second hand, at least you will have saved yourself the cost of equipment.
Ontel GOP2-MC18/6 Gopher 2 Pick Up and Reaching Tool

As for the "other stuff" (we'll get to the actual fish in another post), the store my husband worked at sold a "grabber" so you can fuss around with the tank without wetting your hands. This "grabber" was being sold for 15 dollars. My husband found the same exact thing at the dollar store... for 99 cents.

Lifeguard Aquarium Plants for Fish Tanks 12pk

The store also was selling plastic plants to decorate fish tanks. At the store, these plants cost 15 dollars. Again, the dollar store sold the exact same thing for a dollar. Why people are willing to pay outrageous prices for things easily bought for a dollar is beyond me. Ok, its because they don't realize that the fish store isn't actually selling "specialty items". Its the same darn thing!
Oh- and a word about fish tank plants. Get the plastic stuff. The real plants are cheaper (than the going price in fish shops, not cheaper than fish stores), but most fish will end up eating your real plants, and your half eaten greenery will look worse than artificial seaweed.

Tune in next time- how to not waste your money on actual fish. Getting your money's worth with fish.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Simple Solutions Saturday- The Cleaners

Saturday is my slow down day, my day to take it easy and relax. My day to take a break from my usual housework and responsibilities, and instead focus on reconnecting with my family and with those things that truly matter to me. The weekends are a really special time for me.

I blog seven days a week. I have readers from across the globe, people that would like to know what is going on with my life and get ideas to improve their frugality, regardless of what is going on in my day to day life. I've taken it upon myself to blog seven days a week, and when I can't be at the computer one day, I set the timer on blogspot so that my posts will appear, even if I cannot be currently at my computer. I also have noticed that I do have the fewest readers on Saturdays.

I've decided make my weekly Saturday post be reflective of my relaxed mindset on the day. Simple Solutions Saturday will be my latest series. I've had many ideas to share with you that, in a sense, do not seem "worthy" of a whole post. However, they are ideas that I wanted to share, as they make my life easier and save me money. My answer is to make these posts be my "Simple Solutions Saturday" posts. Simple ideas that, once incorporated, can only benefit your life.

My first Simple Solutions Saturday- The Cleaners

Did you know that, in the whole time I've been married (and most of the time before I was married as well), I never once brought my clothes to "the Cleaners"?
I know some people that every single week, cart off all their button down shirts (and some "white collar" and "blue collar" people wear them every day, or nearly) to the cleaners, for a washing and ironing? At a cheap place, that costs only one dollar per shirt. That one dollar really adds up, because if you have 7 days of the week and 4 boys wearing button down shirts, this can easily be 28 dollars a week that is being spent on washing and ironing alone, that can easily be put to much better uses.
Even more expensive than the regular wash for these button down shirts is the cost of dry cleaning.
The only thing I have ever paid to be dry cleaned was my wedding dress. (Ok, and also a borrowed gown that I wore to my sister in law's wedding, borrowed from a "rental place"- the cost of the "rental" was paying for it to be dry cleaned.)
Don't get me wrong, I do own clothes with the label "dry clean only".  I just don't bother to dry clean them; I wash them myself at home.
I haven't yet met an item that truly needs dry cleaning.

Dry Cleaning at Home

If your clothes warn you that they are "dry clean only", this usually means that the clothing company is trying to save their hide, and warn you that there is the tiniest, slightest, chance that your clothing will be "irreparably damaged" if touched by water.
However, I'll wager that you would be better off pocketing the money for the dry cleaners and instead washing the clothing at home. The hardier stuff can be washed easily in the washing machine, on a cold setting. If you're really worried about the clothes getting ruined, you can wash it by hand, in the bathtub or in a big basin with a bit of laundry soap (the powdered stuff works just fine).

You may be concerned and say "But what if the clothing gets ruined? I don't want to risk even the slightest possibility..."
Did you know that dry cleaning uses such harsh chemicals that you may end up paying through your nose... for the dry cleaners to ruin your clothing with their chemicals? I've seen holes that have been caused via dry cleaning. Rather save your money and risk your hand washing ruin the clothing, than pay a lot of money and risk the dry cleaners ruining it.

As for those button down shirts? Wash them yourself, shake them out, and hang them to dry. If needed, iron them out yourself. Why pay a dollar per shirt, when ironing a shirt takes less than 2 minutes? Even better, they do sell wrinkle free shirts that cost a bit more, but will save you money when you don't need to pay for frequent ironing.

Do you ever bring clothing to "The Cleaners"? Do you feel that it is worth the cost?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Frugal Fun Friday- Getting Kids to Enjoy Housework

All-of-a-kind Family

Last week I promised you a post on getting children to enjoy housework. So here it is.

I am an avid reader, and while I hate history and have ever since I was  a child, I've always enjoyed reading a good bit of historical fiction. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor is one such book. Its a charming book about a family of five girls from an immigrant family, growing up on New York's Lower East Side in the early 1900s.
Their Mama was one ingenious lady, filled with all sorts of great ideas.
All the children in Mama's family had chores to do, but Mama wanted to make sure they'd do it enthusiastically.
To make dusting the living room fun, Mama hid buttons, and sometimes pennies among the furniture. Only by doing a good job of cleaning would they be able to find all the buttons.

Making cleaning into a treasure hunt is just one way of making housework fun for kids.

My husband and I live by the mantra that you can't force anyone, including your child, to do something they do not care to do. By having cleaning and other household chores be games (like in All of a Kind Family), you make your kids want to do them.
-Have competitions between your kids- see who can put their sorted clothes away faster, and the winner gets to have a special something, like reading a story together with mom, or a slightly later bed time.
`Have a scoreboard where you write down the "highest score"- time how long a certain chore takes a certain child and see if the other kids can beat that "high score" for his or her name to be written in the place of honor.
-Have hidden things in the house that can randomly be discovered via cleaning and let your children know that  they can expect treasures.
-Have your children wash the floor in bathing suits, with lots of water and big poofy sponges.
The ideas are endless.

By using a bit of creativity and making your kids enjoy helping around the house, you'll not only save yourself the aggravation of needing to constantly nag your children to do their chores, you'll also have a source of good cheap fun for your kids.

One very important thing to remember is this. At least when kids are younger, they want to be just like Mommy and Daddy. If Daddy always does the dishes, little Jake will also want to wash them as well. If Mom is baking bread, little Sammy will want to become a baker just like her.
The downside to this equation is that if Mommy hates washing the dishes and shows that by her body  language, if not words themselves, the little tykes will also pick up this dislike and "hate washing dishes" to be just like Mom.
Kids, especially when young, are a big case of "Monkey See, Monkey Do". Too many a time I've seen a child scarfing down a certain dish. In walks big sis, takes a sniff, turns up her nose and says "Eww. I don't like lentils." And then you get every kid, from oldest to youngest, saying "Eww. I don't like lentils," even though until a few seconds prior they were inhaling the food.

Specifically because kids pick up on attitudes and mimic them, if you want your kids to enjoy housework, its important that you show them that you, the Mom, enjoys housework. Even if you never say "Ugh. Those darn dishes," but just show your distaste for them via your attitude, your kids will pick it up and also dislike the work. Your offspring are great sponges and absorb your attitude, not just what you say.
The best way to show your children that you enjoy your housework is to truly try and enjoy the housework. Hopefully I'll write up a post on day about learning to appreciate those chores, and turning the tedium into serenity. (Once I've mastered it myself, that is. But I'm getting there.)

How do you get your children to enjoy housework? Make it fun and show that you, too, enjoy housework.

Do you make chores into games? What do you do to make your children want to do housework?
Do you personally like or dislike housework? Do you think your children pick up on that?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Homemade Cheapskate Toothpaste

You all know I'm a big cheapskate, right? Well, if you don't, you haven't been reading closely enough.

We're out of toothpaste.
I'm not buying more.
I'm making my own toothpaste.
Its cheaper. And its healthier.

Two simple ingredients: Baking soda. Peppermint extract.

Baking soda is pretty cheap. Ok, not dirt cheap, but I see you can buy it on for as little as 2 dollars a pound.
Baking soda is a pretty good cleaner. Its useful for so many things. Brushing your teeth with baking soda is a known trick, or at least it is on the internet. Aside for being a cleaner, baking soda works as a whitener and a deodorizer. (You can read more about baking soda toothpaste here.) It also doesn't have fluoride, which may be an issue to you, but I view it as a perk. (I prefer to not ingest extra flouride, because of the danger of fluoridation). But the biggest benefit of all of baking soda is  its cheapness.

You use baking soda to brush your teeth either by mixing it with a bit of water to form a paste, or by sprinkling it dry on your toothbrush.

The one downside of baking soda as toothpaste is that it doesn't leave you with that fresh, minty taste that we all associate with a cleaned mouth. That's where the peppermint extract comes in.
This extract is wholly unnecessary. However, as peppermint extract is so strong that you only need one tiny little drop of extract per large amount of baking soda, it still ends up being a worthwhile, cheapskate addition to homemade toothpaste. Just add that tiny drop of extract when making your baking soda water paste, and brush away.

By the way, you can probably get cheapo toothbrushes to go with your cheapo toothpaste at your local dollar store. I got 2 toothbrushes for a dollar. I am definitely not convinced that more expensive toothbrushes with flex handles and who knows what else actually clean your mouth better.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Needs Vs Wants- Words Become Reality

Ever since starting this series on Needs vs Wants, I've become more and more aware of how my words affect my thought process.
"Mike, can you be home from work early today? I wanted to get together with friends today and I need to leave by 6:00 pm, " I ask my husband.
"Lee, I need that paper; can you bring it for me?"
"Neighbor dearest, do you have some soy sauce? I need it for the stir fry that I'm making for dinner."
"Man oh man, I just need a vacation!"

We use the word "need" so frequently throughout our lives, but most of the time these things are not needs, just wants.
Yea, I would like to leave by 6:00 pm with my friends, and it would be more convenient, but that is a want, not a need.
That paper, most likely, would make my life easier, but isn't a need. (Of course, in certain scenarios, that might be a very important paper that I truly do need.)
Soy sauce? Definitely a want, not a need. Even if the recipe calls for it, there are always substitutions. It may taste a little differently than intended, but no specific food items are needs.
Vacation? A luxury; not a need under any circumstance. (Ok, perhaps some, but we're talking the average person here.)

Words really become reality. When we use the word "need" instead of want, we are sending ourselves the message that whatever it is that we desire is truly necessary to live our lives. I think that this is a symptom of the "me generation", the era in which we live in which people feel that they are entitled to everything their heart desires, and not only are they entitled, but they'd "die without it".
By watching what we say, and only using the word "need" when we really, truly need something, we'll be adjusting our priorities, appreciating what we have, and end up saving money when we realize that those things previously thought of as needs are really luxuries, and can be cut out.

Do you find yourself using the word "need" a lot? Do you find yourself generally misusing the word, as I have been?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My First Giveaway- The Winner!

Remember I said I have been busy lately? I've been so busy lately that I completely forgot to give y'all a reminder before the deadline of my giveaway was up. Oops.

Well anyhow, the winner is a lady from, a really great website with an awesome thrifty forum. Her comment was comment number 20. Angie would like the book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone or Preserving the Summer's Bounty.
She also didn't leave me a way to contact her.

Angie- if you're reading this, email me at or comment below with your email address so I can contact you. If not, I'll need to find us another winner.

Have you ever won a giveaway? What have you won?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Making Extra Income

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had a lot going on in my life, and decided to share the details with you.

Spring is in the air, and with it, the thought of spring cleaning. In addition to cleaning my own home, I've been getting calls left and right from women in the community who want temporary cleaning help, or at least until their spring cleaning is complete. So, in addition to trying to get my usual housework done, taking care of my kiddos, and doing my own spring cleaning, I've been working out of the house on average of a few hours a day, scrubbing finger printed walls with a Magic Eraser, cleaning mildew and mold from people's window frames with a popsickle stick and vacuuming those dust filled couches. So yes, I've had a drop less time for writing deep philosophical multi-part musings on the state of the world's materialism and how to combat that. But anyhow...

I'll admit it straight out: I am not satisfied with our current income to expenses ratio. Yes, even though I currently am cutting back  more than anyone else I know (at least in real life), my husband and I have come to the conclusion that we either need to be cutting back our expenditures or increase our income. Since there is only so much that I can cut back on my expenditures (and after all, I'm living an extremely frugal lifestyle already), our best bet really is to try and increase our income (because you can only stretch a certain amount of money so thinly).
I've written before why increasing our income isn't so easy, and why my getting a job out of the home isn't necessarily the solution to our financial issue. However, times are hard right now and I won't say no to some extra income, even if it takes me out of my home for a little bit.

There are quite a few "seasonal" jobs that a stay at home mom can accept without needing to rely on full time child care.
In the fall, you can rake leaves.
In the winter, you can shovel snow.
In the spring, you can do people's spring cleaning.
In the spring and summer, you can mow people's lawns.

Yes, most of these are jobs reserved for "teenagers" or "college students", but seriously, no reason why a grown, married mom can't do these as well! These jobs usually pay pretty decently per hour and have flexible timing as well. Because of these two factors, you can leave your kids for a short while, either with a husband (you can do these jobs during the hours that your husband is home) or with a neighbor (and don't feel bad about "using" your neighbor- you can barter services in exchange for watching the kids). Even if you do need to pay for a babysitter, at least both where I currently live and where I grew up, these odd jobs paid enough per hour to make it financially feasible to work, pay a babysitter, and to still come out with enough extra money to make the effort worthwhile.

Some might consider this type of work to be "beneath them", as this work is only for "lower class" and immigrants and imbeciles. You know what? I may be considered "blue collar" type (or even dingy grey collar), but I am not ashamed to be doing what it takes to support my family. I'm willing to do jobs that take more elbow grease than brain power to be able to supplement my family's income. (Not to mention, if I really felt the need to use my brain, physically laborious jobs give you free time to ponder many of life's important questions, like what to make for supper tonight. Just kidding. But seriously, when cleaning, I find my mind wanders to all sorts of interesting places, giving me time for some serious introspection.)

The other job that I've found is very doable as a stay at home mom, without even needing to go out of the home and change my usual routine is being a drop off babysitter. Give me a ring, tell me you need to run to the doctor, can I please watch your babe for an hour or two. I'll likely say yes. When I'm home anyhow, its not much work to keep an eye on one more kid; I end up making money for minimal extra effort. Drop off babysitting usually pays more; you also have the leeway of saying "Sorry, won't work out today" and be free as a bird.

You might say "Come on, Penny... These are little odds and ends. It can't possibly be worthwhile to make an extra 10 dollars here or there." But its not an extra 10 dollars. This week alone, from my spring cleaning jobs, I've made enough money to cover my average bi-weekly grocery shop. Over the course of a month, that is enough money earned to pay for 2 months worth of groceries. Definitely not pennies; this money adds up and I end up with minimal time expenditure and a decent income supplement.

How to go about making some extra cash this way? Word of mouth is what worked for me. Just spread the word to any and all. Let them know you're available and they'll hopefully come to you. If that doesn't work, knock door to door in the raking, mowing, shoveling seasons. Advertise on online bulletin boards for your community. Etc.

Don't be ashamed! Nothing should be beneath you. Supporting your family is an honorable endeavor. Good luck!

Have you ever taken on odd jobs to supplement your income? Did you find them worthwhile?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Frugal Fish Tanks- Part 1

A little (ok, not so little) while ago I was asked by a responder to share how to have a fish tank on a very tight budget.

My first tip regarding frugal fish tanks is- don't have a fish tank! Fish are a very expensive hobby. In addition to the cost of buying the tank, filters, air pumps, heaters, and other equipment, you also have the cost of buying the fish (this could be quite costly), and the electricity to run the whole thing. Not to forget, there is also the cost of water and food. Getting and running a fish tank is not a frugal decision, which is why we are passing our fish tank along to a friend, as soon as we can figure out transportation there.

If, however, you've set your mind to having fish (or a well meaning "friend" promised your child that "Mommy will get you a fish, right?" and you hadn't the heart to say no), I'll give you some tips on how you can make this costly endeavor be as cheap as possible.
(These tips come from my husband. Mike used to work in a pet fish store and was shocked at what he considered to be highway robbery and lots of cash down the train, especially by people who've been overtaken by the fish craze and become addicted to buying more and more equipment and  fish. He figured out how to have fish while spending the least amount of money possible, and now it's my turn to share his tips with you.)

Get a Siamese Fighting Fish. These fish, also known as Bettas, are a truly beautiful species. Or at least the males are. (They're the fish version of peacocks, with beautiful males and blah females.) Siamese fighting fish take virtually no care. Most fish require heaters, filters, air pumps, spacious tanks, and lots of food to stay strong. Siamese fighting fish require none of this. They need minimal oxygen and can survive in conditions that would kill many other types of fish.

Siamese fighting fish can be kept in small area with no equipment. A little glass vase (with or without the plants shown, as  shown above), or even a glass bottle- or a glass cut even- can make a perfect home for your little critter.
To start off with Siamese fighting fish, you can buy the fish cheaply, a glass container from a dollar store (or use what you have lying around your home), and perhaps decorate it with some colored marbles or Mancala pieces, both of which can be found in a dollar store. You'll need a bit of  food (these fish don't need to eat frequently), and you're all set.
Just remember- these fish are called fighting fish for a reason. If you put two together in one container, they'll duel each other to the death. So one only!

Goldfish are usually given as prizes in carnivals, and while they can last a short length of time in a fish bowl, in order for them to really live long, they need filters. However, goldfish are the next hardiest fish after Betta fish, so if you don't want the fighting fish for whatever reason (like, if you want more than 2), get a goldfish, but put it in a fish tank and not a glass bowl. Goldfish don't need any special equipment aside for a filter, a tank, and food.

How to get your equipment cheaply? That's for next time.

Do you have any fish? Do you find you end up spending too much money on your fish? What type of fish do you have?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vegetable Net Sponges

A lot of stuff is going on in my life now, so I'll hope my readers forgive me if I make some posts that are short and sweet, as opposed to long, rambling, soliloquies.

Not so long ago, I posted instructions to make your own homemade plarn dish scrubbies. My sister called me up after seeing that post and told me "Penny, why are you making so much work for yourself? You want to upcycle something that would  otherwise be tossed instead of paying for sponges, fine! But why waste time crocheting something like that when you probably have something sitting around your house that works just fine as a sponge replacement?"
My sister pointed out that the nettings that certain produce comes in makes pretty decent scrubbers when scrunched up. No sewing or crocheting involved. You just need some netting and scissors to cut it to size.

In my refrigerator house right now, I've got netting from avocados, potatoes, and oranges. I was saving them for projects to do with the children I watch, but hey, they also make great sponges.
Thanks for the tip, sister!

(For those with keen eyes, yes, she also commented on my last post with this same suggestion.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Frugal Fun Friday- the Laundry Game

Here from Friday follow? Go check out my free giveaway over at this post. 

On a message board I frequent, a woman asked whether she should pay off her 10,000 dollars in credit card debt or send her children to summer camp, because otherwise she would be depriving them of an enjoyable time. Of course, an outcry ensued, as most women thought it unfathomable to spend money on frivolities when there are debts to pay off.

Some parents get into the mistaken thought process that fun must equal money, and in order to insure that their child doesn't grow up in a deprived environment, they view spending money on fun times to be a "necessity". These women rationalize, saying that "they must keep their kids entertained, and they must run a household. The only way to do this while keeping their sanity is to pay someone to entertain their children ."
To be honest, I truly feel sorry when an average parent (meaning, without something additional on her plate, like a special needs child, or some disabilities, or whatnot) feels that running a household and having happy, entertained children, are mutually exclusive.
With little effort, you can easily have happy, well adjusted kids, maintain a smoothly running household, and not spend a fortune on entertainment.

Once a week, I'll be making a Frugal Fun Friday. Good ideas for cheap quality fun.

The Laundry Game

One day, I was busy nursing Spike while Lee was entertaining himself in his bedroom. When the minutes passed and I heard nothing from the other room, I decided that I needed to check out what was going on. Leaving a 2.5 year old by himself to play and then not hearing anything is usually a sign that the child is getting up to some mischief, as I'm sure most experienced moms know.
Slowly but surely, I snuck up to the door of Lee's bedroom and peeked inside. Not only was Lee not making trouble; he was, in fact, helping me. Lee was taking the clothespins off the laundry rack and dropping them into their storage container. After he finished doing that, he removed the dry laundry from the line and dropped it into the laundry basket.
For a long while, I stood there watching Lee work. He finally looked up and realized I was watching him and asked to be allowed to complete the project. Of course I obliged.
When the work was done, Lee looked at me entreatingly and said "Mommy, can I please play the laundry game?"
I wasn't sure I heard him correctly the first time, but then he repeated his request, dragging the laundry basket to the living room in the meantime.
"You want to sort out the laundry, Lee?"
"Ya, mommy. I want to play the laundry game!"

You know, Lee taught me something that day. I mean, I knew it in theory, but my son reinforced what I already knew.
Housework can be fun. Children like to help. By including children in your housework, you end up giving them an enjoyable time and save yourself work. No need to spend exorbitant money on entertainment so you can get housework done; kids (at least when young) usually enjoy housework and it entertains them plenty.

How do you get your children, even older ones, to enjoy housework? That's for next week.
For now, I'll tell you how we play the sorting part of our laundry game.

I take our clean laundry and dump it on the couch.
Then, I take out a bunch of large, reusable shopping bags and open them up. I show Lee that "This bag is for Mommy's stuff, this bag is for Spike's stuff, this one is Lee's clothes, this one is Daddy's clothes, this one is for diapers, this is for towels, etc."
Lee takes it up from there. Occasionally, he has to verify with me that those pants are really his, and that that undershirt is really Spike's, but for the most part, he can do the whole thing by himself. How? Practice makes perfect. (I then have to go put it all in the drawers, but that is so much simpler once its pre-sorted.)
Some parents are so hesitant to do any housework with kids, as they say that its easier to just do it themselves. Perhaps this is true at the very beginning, but a little effort (and doing the work with your child, even if it takes longer) pays off; and in no time, you'll have a little helper so eager to lighten your load.

I have a confession. I hate sorting laundry. Lee doesn't know that. He thinks its the best game in the world. And why not? They sell sorting games for kids; why buy them when you can just sort laundry instead?
I try to keep my attitude positive regarding housework, kids pick up on negative vibes... but more on that next week.

Do your kids help you with your chores? Which ones? Do they make your life easier or harder by "helping" out?

MckLinky Blog Hop

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wipes are a Waste

Seventh Generation Baby Wipes Refills, Chlorine Free and Unscented, 70-Count Packs (Pack of 12) (840 Wipes) [Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging]
Some families should buy stock in baby wipes. The amount of money it costs to buy the amount of wipes they use in a year would be more than enough for me to cover the down payment of a new home. Well, not quite, but you get the picture.
Spilled something? Grab a wipe and clean it up. Furniture dusty? Use a baby wipe to dust it off. Sticky face and hands? Clean off with a baby wipe. Color on the floor or cabinet with a crayon? Baby wipe. A job in the bathroom? Baby wipes.
And then of course, the obvious. Dirty diapers. Clean off the little tushie with baby wipes.

What a waste.

Baby wipes are pretty much just glorified wet thin cloths, with the added "bonus" of being filled with chemicals, fragrances, and who knows what else.
You can easily find replacements for wipes that are both more environmentally friendly and loads cheaper.

Instead of using wipes to clean up messes, like sticky faces or finger printed cabinets, you can use damp unpaper towels. Unpaper towels just means using thin cloths instead of using paper towels. When wet, these cloths are just as effective as wipes. When finished with them, just dump them in the wash.
If people find that they need baby wipes in the bathroom to be really clean... well, there's no reason why they shouldn't just use family cloth (washable toilet paper), either pre-wetted or with a sprayer. Now before you say that that is gross, wipes should not get flushed down the toilet. So if you're going to have fecal matter sitting around, you may as well wash it as opposed to chucking it down the toilet. At least according to my thought process.
A dry cloth works fine as a duster- no need for baby wipes.

And as for baby's little tushies?
That was my last holdout in leaving wipes behind. Disposable wipes are convenient, and I managed to get them pretty cheaply. However, my stockpile is dwindling and I don't feel like going out to buy more when it is perfectly doable to manage without.
I am now a wipes free household.
What do I do to clean my little babies' tushies?

WHITNEY 8 Oz Spray BottleWhen Lee was little, I read up about using cloth wipes. There were two techniques- presoaked wipes or dry wipes with a spray bottle. For the presoaked, you want to make a cleaning mixture and put it in a covered container, and then put cloth wipes into the liquid, taking them out as necessary.
I chose to take that cleaning mixture, put it into a spray bottle, and use that to clean tushies.

To make your cleaning mixture, take 1 cup baby soap, 1 cup baby oil, 2 cups water and a dash of olive oil. You can also add a bit of an essential oil if you so desire. Pour this mixture into a cheap, dollar store style spray bottle and shake well.
Flannel Baby Wipes - 15 pack unbleached (ivory)When changing diapers, spray your baby's tushie a few times, then wipe it all up with a cloth wipe. You can either buy cloth wipes or make them by cutting an old flannel sheet into 8 inch squares. I found that with one cloth wipe and a few sprays, I could accomplish as much cleaning as I would have with 4 disposable wipes. I did this all the time with Lee when he was a baby, and could not understand why anyone who cloth diapered would waste money on disposable wipes. I was very satisfied with my cloth wipes; once cloth diapering, it is no more work to just wash a few more cloth wipes (and anyhow, I found that I was tucking my disposable wipes into the diaper and washing them).

Best of all, really, is to cut out the wipes completely, as I'm doing now.
Instead of using wipes, I wash off my baby's tushie in the bathroom sink.
To do this without getting your clothes and your baby's clothes all wet, take off your baby's diaper and clothing over the diaper. You want your baby's diaper area uncovered, but you don't need to get him undressed completely, and you don't even need to take socks off.

Hold your baby's feet up almost to his chin. Face him to the sink and run his front under the water, using one hand to wash him off while holding him with the other. You can use soap on your baby's front while doing this; I don't always bother.
Once you've washed off your baby's front, keep his legs up, turn him around, and then rinse off his rear. Once the bum is clean, you want to straighten out your baby's legs to make sure that there is no poo left in the crevices. Re-clean any parts that need a going-over.
Once clean, dry off your baby's tushie with a towel designated for this purpose.

Cleaning the tushie in the sink is really the best way to deal with diaper rashes. When a baby's bum is irritated, its best not to let it get irritated further with chemicals from wipes. Cleaning under running water really is the best way to get your baby's bottom completely clean, something important when trying to heal a diaper rash.

Do you use wipes in your home? Cloth or disposable? If you're a disposable wipes user, any chance of you switching to cloth wipes any time in the near future?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Needs Vs Wants- Hot Running Water

Last week, I had a post all written up in my head and planned for this week's Needs vs Wants Wednesday. And then my gas boiler conked out. 
My apartment is supposed to have both a solar and an electric hot water heater, but those have not worked ever since we've moved in, and our landlord has not agreed to pay to get it fixed, as we also have a gas run boiler to provide us with hot water.
Only, that was working iffy at best for the past little while. The water pressure had to be low and the water had to be running for a while before we'd actually get hot water, and even once in the shower, you might get startled by a sudden burst of cold water instead of hot.
And then on Friday, the boiler sputtered and died.
We now have no source of running hot water in our apartment.
We called up our landlord and received the very empathetic answer of "I didn't break the hot water heater. I'm not living there. You must have broken it. I'm not paying to fix it."

As we don't have the money to shell out to pay to fix the hot water boiler, we kind of resigned ourself to the fate having no running hot water.

Which brings me to the topic of today. 
Needs Vs Wants. What is truly a need, and what is a want? If its a want, is it even something I can bear to do without?

To be honest, not having hot water straight from the tap is not a need. Its a want. A luxury to which most of us in the "civilized world" have become accustomed. But for thousands of years, people survived just fine without running hot water. In underdeveloped parts of the world, even today people are living life well enough without boiling water from the faucet.
On Friday, when my landlord refused to pay to get the hot water fixed, I was nearly in tears. I need hot water! Ok, maybe its not a need, but its a luxury that I am not willing to do without! Its a necessary luxury, I insisted. I was, rightfully, very petulant about my landlords refusal to provide us with this basic commodity. 

Working boiler or not, my family needed to get clean. I resigned myself to the fate of needing to do things the old fashioned way. I filled two 16 quart stock pots with water and set them to boil on the stove.

Round Wash Basins - Gold - 50 Per Case - Model DYND80311Lee had his bath first. I took a round, plastic basin (like a wide and shallow bucket) and filled it with a few inches of cold water. I then added enough boiling water from the pot to make the water a comfortable temperature for bathing.
Bath Buddies Natural Bath SpongeI put the basin in the bathtub, put Lee inside, and the fun began. Seriously. I don't think I've ever seen a 2 year old enjoy a bath as much in my life.  

I used a sponge to wet Lee's whole body and hair, shampooed/soaped him up, and then poured cups of water (taken from the basin) to wash him off. It worked like a charm. Lee splashed and splashed in wash basin and we had to bribe him to get him out so that Spike could also have a bath.

We repeated the same procedure for 6 month old Spike. What can I tell you? This was one of the first times in his life that Spike truly enjoyed his bath. For some reason (maybe it was the more confined space), the boy who usually would cry bloody murder at bath time had a lot of fun and splashed around in the tub.
While washing my boys, I couldn't help but imagine that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family from Little House on the Prairie would probably have bathed in a similar fashion- in a big basin, with water heated up on the stove (only they had a wood stove and I have the privilege of having  a gas stove).

As we do not have any adult sized basins a la the Ingalls, my husband and I needed to bathe ourselves a drop differently. We filled up a plastic basin about half way with cool water and filled it the rest of the way with the boiling water. We put that in the bathtub and gave ourselves sponge baths.

How do you give an adult a sponge bath?
I wrote already about taking a frugal shower. The basic concept applies here as well. 
Get yourself wet, soap up, then rinse off.
While with taking a frugal shower, this only involves turning on and off the water, with an adult sponge bath, this gets a drop more complicated.
Stand in the shower stall/bathtub next to your basin filled with warm water. Dip a bath sponge into the water and set your body. To wet your hair, you'll need some sort of smaller container with a handle, like a pitcher or a handle mug. Fill this with water from the basin and pour it over your hair.
Shampoo your hair and soap up.
To rinse off, using a sponge was too time consuming for me. I just poured water all over my body and hair to rinse off the soap and shampoo and was finished.

This method of sponge bathing uses very little water. I would bet that, all in all, I used a quarter of my already minimal amount of water that I use for my frugal shower.

To be honest, sponge bathing like this wasn't nearly so bad as I imagined. I still would like my hot water fixed, as I vastly prefer a normal shower to sponge bathing, but if I can't get my landlord to agree to pay for this repair, I think our family will manage just fine with our current method until we find a new apartment and move away from this grossly inconsiderate landlord. In fact, I'd prefer to sponge bath than shower myself, my kids and my husband at a neighbor's home (yes, they offered).

Though I would not wish my current lack of hot water on anyone, and I would not be so bold as to say that everyone should sponge bath instead of showering, I think people should appreciate hot water for the luxury that it is, because my experience taught me that it is perfectly manageable to stay clean, even with no running hot water.

Have you ever been forced to manage without running hot water? What did you do? If you were in my situation, what do you think you would do (that doesn't involve the landlord--- for reasons I don't care to share, landlord involvement is out of the picture)?

Any thoughts or posts written up on Needs Vs Wants? Feel free to add your link to the MckLinky list below or share in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Operation Bread Experimentation: Artisan Pita

I was reading Cat J B's blog the other day, and she was raving about this little something called artisan bread. Did you know that you can make ultra delicious, ultra simple bread with minimal ingredients and minimal time? shows you how you can make so many different types of yummy bread- with just four, cheap ingredients- flour, salt, yeast, and water.

I'll show you how I made delicious pocket pitas for our family's dinner.

First, you take 3 cups of warm water and put them in a large bowl. To make warm water, I use one cup of boiling water and two cups of cold tap water. This ensures that the water is warm enough for the yeast to grow, but cool enough that the yeast doesn't die.
Add 1.5 tablespoons of yeast and 1.5 tablespoons of salt. Mix well.
Add 6.5 cups of white flour to the mix. (Yes, I said white flour. There's a way to make this with whole wheat flour, but I haven't tried that yet as I'm running low on whole wheat flour.)
Mix very well so you have no clumps of flour. The dough will remain sticky. Resist the temptation to add more flour. You want it sticky.
Let the dough rise on the counter for 2 hours. I usually stick the whole bowl in a plastic shopping bag to trap in the warmth (after having a bad experience of getting dough stuck on to a towel when I tried letting it rise using that method).

Once the dough as risen, sprinkle the dough with some flour so you don't get the dough stuck to your hand while you pull out a chunk. Grab a fistful of dough, cut off the dangling pieces with kitchen shears (any clean scissors will do, really), dust the dough lightly with flour, and shape it into a ball by stretching the smooth parts around and under the bottom. (See this video for a better explanation- the technique of forming the ball is at approximately 3:25)

Now heat your oven to 500 degrees. The original recipe calls for using a pizza stone, but I used an unlined metal cookie sheet instead. Let the cookie sheet heat up in the oven while it is preheating.

Flour your dough ball lightly and roll it out to a half inch thickness. Once your oven heats up, you can make this pita immediately and store the rest of the dough in the fridge for up to a week. However, as you're heating the oven up really hot, it is most cost efficient (and heat efficient, if you're living in a warm place like I do) to make a whole bunch of pitas and cook them one after the other and then store them in the freezer until you use them.

So, either put the rest of the dough  away, or make balls and roll out the rest of the dough, whichever you prefer. (The pita doesn't need to rise a second time.)

Very carefully, remove the cookie tray from the oven and drop one or two pita rounds onto the cookie tray. You want these pitas to be flat on the tray so you have a decent looking pita with working pockets.
Slide the tray back into the oven and close the door.

It'll take a few minutes for these pitas to be ready. They'll start puffing up almost immediately, and as soon as they start changing color, you can take them out. (I like mine totally off white with just a few darker spots on the bottom.)
Very carefully, remove the tray and slide the pitas onto a kitchen towel, and add more pita dough to the tray and repeat the process.
As soon as the tray is back in the oven, wrap the pita with the towel. This helps the pita retain moisture and not get stale.

(The uppermost pita got folded while I was cooking it- I didn't put it down completely flat. The pitas usually are flatter and without the crease, like the ones underneath.)

When cool, you can freeze the pitas as is, or you can cut them along the side and pull them apart to form pockets to stuff. Alternatively, you can dip them in homemade yogurt cheese and sprinkle with hyssop.

Method nameArtisan Pita
Why do it? It came highly recommended. Its easy.
Method: See above

Immediate Result: Absolutely superb! Reminded me of going to the open air market and buying pita breads from the vendors, so delicious that they are gobbled up plain.
Result a Few Hours Later: Just as good. I don't know why I ever bought store bought pita when homemade is so easy and tastier than the bought stuff.
Work Required: 5 minutes of mixing, 5 minutes of watching the oven closely so it won't burn. A drop timely because I could only fit 2 pitas in the oven at one time, so I needed to do a few batches.
Extra Cost, Specialty Ingredients: Cheap, cheap, cheap ingredients. The cost to heat the oven to 500 degrees probably makes up for the cheapness of the ingredients though. I suggest making them all at once so this costs less.
Worth repeating? Definitely!
Worth the time? Absolutely!

This is part of my "Operation Bread Experiment" series. Other posts in this series:
Seitan Based Bread
Make it Fluffy
Crock Pot Bread

P.S. Don't forget to sign up for my giveaway! Who doesn't want a free book to help become more frugal?