Monday, March 31, 2014

Pay Down Your Debt (Almost) Painlessly

Many of my family members are accomplished authors. A few have books published. Another one used to work for a regionally known magazine. Two are currently working on new books! (A note to both Gloria and Nancy, I can't wait for your new books!) Nancy has also been writing online articles. So it is with great pride that I offer a link to her recent article, Pay Down Your Debt (Almost) Painlessly.

I would like to add my comment that once you change your lifestyle, these behaviors will become 'normal' to you. When that happens, you will no longer consider them 'painful'! Take it from me! Being frugal was not a 'normal' condition for me or my husband when we first were married. Not that we were ever irresponsible with money, but I bought convenience. Both of us were in the Army and I didn't have the time to do the things I do now to live a frugal lifestyle. I have since learned that back then,  I could have been doing small behavior changes to save money. Even a few changes would have made a difference. A busy lifestyle isn't an excuse to waste money!

Anyone can be more frugal with small behavior changes. When they become routine, add new ones! Soon, you will find that your behavior changes are permanent and you have extra money to pay down your debt, save for an emergency fund, or even take a vacation!

Congratulations Nancy on your published article!

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Sad Garden Update

Yesterday, I was standing in my kitchen making a 'Cooking With Food Storage' post (I will post that next week), and I suddenly noticed that I can't see the peas in the garden. I thought that was odd, so I go outside to see what is wrong. Well, all I can say is they are gone! Almost everything in the garden is gone! The only things still living in the garden are the baby onions and the garlic. 

Something ate the pea plants, broccoli, and the tiny shoots of carrots and spinach. It happened Wednesday night. I know this because I went out to look at the garden Wednesday morning. We had some cold temperatures Tuesday night and I wanted to be sure the blueberry buds were OK. I looked at everything, and all was well.

Here is a before picture of the peas. I took this picture (but didn't use it) at the last Garden Update on March 21st.

Here is a picture as of yesterday.

You can see, I have one pea plant left. (It is in the lower right corner of the picture.) The creature must have stuffed himself on all the rest! I put a few more peas in the ground to replace the ones that are gone, but I believe it is a lost cause. I do not have enough cool days left to harvest any peas or carrots I plant going forward. The only plant I can expect to get something from now is spinach. Spinach can be ready to harvest in about 50 days. I am going to put more in today. 

You may also notice blotches of dark red stuff in the 'after' picture. I sprinkled the one pea plant and the 6 broccoli plants I have left with chili pepper powder to keep the 'thing' away from the garden.  I also sprinkled in the areas where I replanted the peas. 

I find this completely frustrating because I don't have any peas or carrots left in the house. This means I must go to the store to purchase them for the rest of the year! Even if I get a good fall crop, it will be late November or December before I harvest. I don't think many people understand how much I loathe the thought of going to the store to purchase something I should be able to provide for myself! On the other hand, I am thankful that I can go to the store. My great, great grandparents would have been forced to do without.

I am sure you are wondering what the 'thing' is that ate my garden. I don't know what is it. I have had bunnies eat some things in my garden before, but never the pea plants themselves. They always passed the peas in favor of the carrots. So, I am not sure it is a rabbit or rabbits.

What I do know is that I have a new hole under my fence that is big enough for a rabbit (or two!) to get into my back yard. That will be fixed next week when I go to plant the asparagus. (My goal was to plant the asparagus this week but the cold weather made me change my mind!)

I will definitely string some chicken wire around that raised bed. I am going to plant it with green beans come summer and I can't afford for anything else to eat them!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Making Laundry Soap

It occurred to me the other day that I have talked about making soap before, and given laundry soap recipes, but I never showed you how I make it!

I (slightly) changed my recipe about a month ago and thought this would be a great opportunity to show you what I do differently now. You can see my old laundry soap recipe in this post here. You can see how I make my own bar soap in this series of posts here.

What I decided to do is to increase the concentration levels of the soap. Kind of like what you see happening to the laundry detergent you can purchase in the stores. The bottles are getting smaller and the liquid is more concentrated. Of course, the idea is that you use less. If you find that you don't use less, then go back to the first link posted above and use that recipe. (It will be cheaper for you.) For people who like the highly concentrated liquid formula, today's recipe is for you.

Super Concentrated Laundry Soap
2 bars of soap
3 cups of Washing Soda
3 cups of Borax

Regardless of which recipe you want to use, this post is about how I make up the liquid soap. Here are the ingredients you need.

Just for the record, the bottle is empty. This is the bottle I am using to store the laundry soap. This bottle is about 4 years old and I continually reuse it. I really like the thick plastic bottles used to hold commercial laundry detergent. Ask your friends to save their empty bottles for you and soon you will have plenty! 

I start by heating some water in my soap making pot. The amount of water isn't important, add enough to dissolve the soap and powdered ingredients. The reason you heat the water is, hot water will help dissolve the bar soap quickly. I use an old vegetable peeler (now saved just for soap making) to cut thin slices.

Here is what they look like when I finished cutting them and drop them into the hot water. 

It isn't necessary to heat the water or cut the bar up if you don't want to. Instead, you can pour some water into a pot, drop the bar in it and let it soak overnight. The next morning, the soap should be soft enough to work with. (You may need to add some boiling water to get it to completely dissolve.)

Next, pour in the washing soda and borax. I usually add about 1 cup at a time and then stir until it is dissolved.  

When you have added all the ingredients, pour the concentrate into your detergent bottle.

Then, add additional water to fill the bottle.

Shake a bit and store.

If the liquid is still hot, I will go back and shake the bottle a few times until everything cools off. Shaking as it cools can help ensure the ingredients don't separate.

And there you have it! Your own homemade liquid laundry soap!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Keys to Easy Gardening

I meet people all the time who tell me they can't grow anything. Give them a plant and they will kill it in weeks. That may be true for houseplants, but it doesn't have to be true for outdoor gardening! 

Fruits and vegetables have been growing for thousands of years without human intervention. If you think about it logically, they should be able to grow in your backyard without lots of human intervention too! However, your backyard probably doesn't have the same microclimate the plant had thousands of years ago before people discovered it. So, to get the plant to grow without a lot of help from you, you need to mimic the same microclimate of its natural state. 

To do that, you need three things:
  • Sun
  • Water
  • Soil
Let's take them one at a time.

Sun is required to grow anything (including you - think vitamin D)! Find a spot in your yard that gets enough sun for the type of plant you want to grow. This varies by plant. You do have some wiggle room here. If you live in a very hot area like me, you can offer the plant a bit more shade than you would be able to if you live by the Canadian border. Tomatoes and green beans are two examples. Do you have a lot of trees in your yard? Many varieties of berry bushes grow naturally at the edge of a forest. You can plant blueberries, blackberries and others in front of the trees and have success. Make sure the berries get at least 6 hours of sun. Many herbs do very well in partial shade as well.

Watering young plants is critical. When they are older, less is needed. If mother nature doesn't provide any water to your backyard, you are going to have to help. But it doesn't have to be a chore you hate, nor one you need to do often. If you mix some polymer water retention crystals into the soil, you will need to water much less! Do you have a sprinkler system? Set it and forget it! If for some reason you can't seem to remember to water your garden, set an appointment reminder in your email program or add a note to your wall calendar to water once or twice a week.

In my opinion, soil is the number one reason a garden fails. The soil you place the plant in will make or break your garden. It is the most important of the three I have mentioned. You can't have healthy plants without good garden soil! A healthy plant is better able to fight off attacks from bad bugs that want to eat it! Good garden soil will also help to repel bag bugs. It does this by creating a hostile environment for them to overwinter. Good soil has lots of microorganisms and bacteria that help plants grow and help kill bad bugs!

So, how do you get good soil? Well, you can buy bags of some of the ingredients at the home improvement store. But it isn't necessary. The best way to get good garden soil is to use what you already have and make it for FREE! I am talking about composting. If done correctly, composting isn't smelly nor does it require a lot of effort. In fact, once you set up your compost pile, you don't need to give it any additional effort if you don't want to! I am sure all of you have read that you need to turn the compost pile on a regular basis. That is just not true! I rarely turn my compost piles. The pile will rot on its own without turning it. (It does take longer, but so what?)

Composting is easy and free. Use what you have and don't worry about what you don't have. If you have trees, you have the makings of compost. Leaves are usually the number one ingredient. They don't have to be from just deciduous trees either! (Deciduous trees are ones that drop their leaves each fall.) My evergreen Leyland Cypress trees drop lots of leaves that go into my compost pile. So does my Magnolia tree. If you have chickens or bunnies, (or know of other people who have chickens or bunnies as pets), you have an great addition to your compost pile as you clean up after them. Poo from vegetarian animals are a great addition to a compost pile. Do you have a coffee shop near your house? The next time you go there, ask them for their discarded coffee grounds. That is an excellent addition to your compost pile! Do you purchase fruits and vegetables? The discards from cooking fruit and vegetables is another excellent addition to the compost pile. I peeled some carrots for Molly's dinner the other day and placed the discards in my compost pile.

In fact, many of the items you routinely place in your garbage could find a home in the compost pile. Newspapers, all yard waste such as grass clipping and plant prunings, unused cat litter, egg shells, dryer lint, discarded leather products (cut out any metal pieces), peanut hulls, and cardboard boxes (you should cut them up first). Use what you have!!

Setting up a compost pile doesn't have to be difficult either. However, if you live in a neighborhood, they may be banned. Check before you build one. If they are not allowed, you can still have a compost pile, but it will have to be enclosed. Here is a picture of one of my enclosed compost bins. 

Otherwise, pick a dry, shady spot and start adding stuff in a pile. If you would like it to look neat, you can string up chicken wire, cinder blocks or wooden pallets. But really, they aren't necessary. When you fill up your pile, leave it to rot and start another one! Turning the pile will help it rot faster but can be hard to do (more so if it is a big pile). Leaving it to rot on its own is easier but may take a year or two to completely finish. (That is what I do most of the time.)

Here are some websites that give more information on making a compost pile:
Composting at Home
What can I put in my compost pile?
Composting 101

Having a garden doesn't need to be a second job! You can grow some of your own food with just a minimum amount of effort!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hooray for the First Day of Spring!

I wasn't sure it would ever come with the snow days we had this winter! I am really glad it is here. It makes me think about my love for gardening. (It is very rewarding to grow and can or dry your own food!) So, I thought I would show you what my garden is doing this spring. 

I have been blessed with peas and broccoli, so far. No carrots or spinach yet. The spinach seeds were old so they may not come up. This really isn't a problem since spinach is such a quick grower. If I don't see something soon, I will replant with new seeds. The carrots are being as finicky as ever! I bought some new non-nantes type seeds this year but haven't planted them yet. I am going to do that next week.

My summer seeds are looking good!

Not all have made an appearance. I took this picture yesterday but since then, both the pepper and lavender have popped their heads up. (The pepper seeds were ones I saved from my plants last year. Not sure what exactly what will happen with them since the plants last year were hybrids I will definitely let you know how they turn out. If they have a lot of disease problems or other issues, I will purchase new seeds and start over.) I don't have an appearance yet from the parsley, pennyroyal, tarragon or oregano. I purchased those seeds since all my herbs died during the harsh winter this year.

My garlic is looking much better with the warm air and sunshine. I was not sure they were going to make it through the snowstorms! Here is a picture. 

The space in the back was replanted with new onions. I planted vidalia onions last fall but replaced them with a day neutral variety called Candy a few days ago. It performs very well here. It is a hybrid, so saving seed may not be successful. However, the last time I grew Candy, I got one all the way to the flowering stage. It died before it set seeds (Probably from the heat.)  I will try again this year! I also managed to plant a few rows of some red onion sets I grew from seed last year.

Next up is planting the asparagus! I am going to put them in my old strawberry bed . The strawberries have been there for 4 years and need to come out. I will make a new home for new strawberries sometime later in April. Not sure yet where I am going to put them! Of course, I will show you when it is done!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Do You Have An Emergency Fund?

Last week, we had another water emergency. (That makes two in the past 6 months.) While I didn't lose access to water from my tap this time, I did lose access to hot water. Our hot water heater broke! It wasn't a small issue that only required a repair, it broke completely! It was leaking everywhere and had to be replaced.

So, we cut the water off and called a plumber. The first one told us he could not fix it. He said we needed a new 'direct vent gas heater' and that they are very hard to come by. Manufacturers just don't make many of them. He suggested that we go with a tankless water heater or a power assisted gas hot water heater. After some discussion on the matter, I realized both required electricity to operate. Well, as you can guess, I was not going to have that! 

First off, I don't have any power source in the room the hot water heater lives in. It was going to require an electrician to string wire and create an outlet. Both the tankless and the power assisted gas hot water heater have different electrical needs, so the plumbers advice was to pick the one we wanted and then call the electrician. After the electrician finished, call the plumber back and he would install what we decided on. While the plumber was talking, my husband looked at me and knew what I was thinking! He knew there was no way I was going to have anything that required electricity!

We both thanked the plumber for coming and paid his trip fee. After he left, my husband got on the Internet to learn about direct vent gas heaters and see if he could find one. The home improvement stores list them on their website, but after a few phone calls, no one in our area had one. My husband was told, "They don't make many of those kind."

It was my turn to try. I opened up the phone book and started calling plumbers to see if anyone had access to one. I found a plumber who's supplier had two! We booked him to come the next day.

Since direct vent gas hot water heaters are in limited supply, as you can guess, they cost more than a regular gas hot water heater. About three times as much! This wasn't something that could be paid for out of the monthly budget. The emergency fund comes to the rescue! It was meant for times like this!

Emergencies happen all the time! You need an emergency fund for unexpected expenses! If your budget doesn't have any room to create an emergency fund, how will you pay for something like a new hot water heater? A new furnace or air conditioner? A broken window? New tires?

Anyone on any kind of budget can build an emergency fund. If you don't have extra dollars to save, start by saving small change. Then bring your lunch to work one day each week and put the money you would have spent into your emergency fund. If you currently bring your lunch to work, look for other ways you can save a dollar or two each week. Once that is accomplished, look for more ways to save. I know you can find ways to cut back somewhere! Even if it is only a dollar or two, it will add up over time!

Then when something like a broken hot water heater affects your life, you won't be worried at all!  Here is a picture of my current emergency fund. 

This thing was so expensive, it completely wiped out our emergency fund! Now it is time to start saving for a new one! 

That way, when the next emergency comes, I will be ready!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day!

Do you come from Irish ancestry? Well, today it doesn't matter because everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day!

I have been teaching a family history class at Church these past few Sunday's and so ancestry is on my mind a lot lately! With that in mind, I must tell you about some of the new features you can find on the LDS FamilySearch website. As always, FamilySearch is a free website for anyone to use!
  • Billions of new records have been added from every country in the world!
  • New help tutorials have been added for all skill levels. You can find relevant topics whether you are a beginner or an expert!
  • Are you still stumped on what to do? Call a Family History Consultant and ask for help! The call is toll free! AND you can call from almost anywhere in the world! (There is a Call Us link on the Home Help Page that lists all the numbers available from around the world.) Here is a screenshot of some of the numbers on that page. I would give you a direct link but the list of phone numbers is a pop up.
  • Different ways to display your family tree. FamilySearch now offers 3 different ways you can display your family tree.
  • If you have your family tree recorded in (or another commercial service), you can import your information to FamilySearch! (Save the monthly fees you spend at those other services! How frugal is that!)
I have found over 550 people using the tools at FamilySearch. Remember, this has all been done while sitting on the couch in my family room!  No need to go to the library or anywhere else for that matter! My husband's tree goes back to the 1100's! I haven't broken past 1700 on my side yet, but I am working on it! It is a bit of a challenge to search for records in another language from your computer at home, but it isn't impossible! There are lots of tutorials on the help page geared towards searching in specific countries!

As always, you do not need to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use the FamilySearch website. You don't even need to create a login account if you don't want to! You can still use the Search screen to find your ancestors and then record the information you find on paper or any other software program.

I highly encourage everyone to cruise the pages at FamilySearch and try your hand at finding your own ancestors!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Time to Start the Summer Seeds!

Wow! Do I love spring! The sense of renewal, the anticipation of summer vegetables and fruits, the glorious hot days! More than ever this year, I am ready for it!

So what do you do with all that pent up anticipation? Start the summer seeds! It isn't too early for us here in the south. During a more 'normal' year, I would have tiny seeds up already. This year, not so much. I am just now starting them. 

Starting seeds is easy! And very inexpensive when compared to purchasing small plants at a store. The largest costs are the seeds. However, I also purchase good quality potting soil to start my seeds in. It isn't necessary to purchase potting soil if you make compost each year. Compost is an excellent starting medium. My homemade compost is at a premium, I can't make enough for all the things I want to do with it! So, I save it to improve my garden soil. 

Next step to consider is the pots you will use to start the seeds. I don't purchase any pots. It is a complete waste of money! I make my own from newspaper. You can see how to do that here.

Once you decide what you want to grow, the rest is easy. Plant the seeds according to the package directions. This year, I am starting seeds for: tobacco, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, chili peppers, many different kinds of herbs, vanilla marigolds, and regular marigolds. Starting seeds early gives the plants a head start when they are ready to go into the garden. If you live in an area that has a very short summer, starting seeds indoors becomes critical to your ability to produce anything. Some plants require a very long growing season!

I haven't finished planting mine. I do a few each evening before I go to zumba. I expect to finish in a few days.

Once they are all planted, it is important to keep them warm and moist. Not too wet, just moist. Some seeds (such as woad and soapwart) won't germinate if they are too wet. I usually place them in a separate tray and don't water it as often. A warm environment is important. Some people use a heating pad underneath their seed trays. That can be very helpful if you can't keep the environment warm. I have never had to use one. My guess is, if I lived further north, I would need one! Here, it doesn't seem to be necessary.

Water the seeds gently. Then to keep the humidity up, I cover with plastic wrap. Check the seeds daily. In my area, I must check constantly for mold growth. It is important to do that every day, but more so if the sun isn't shinning. Mold growth on the soil can rot the seeds. The seeds seem to pop up quicker for me if I put them in a west facing window. Here is a picture of one of my trays from last year.

They should start to appear in about  seven to ten days!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Have You Payed for Meat Lately?

This post is only applicable for those who live in the 48 continental United States.
Have you noticed how much the price of meat is skyrocketing? I honestly don't know how people can afford to buy it at the grocery store! We have been told in the news lately that the supply of beef cattle is quite low here in US. This started last summer because of the cost of feed. I am sure the record drought out west isn't helping either. This situation isn't going to get better anytime soon.

Times like this really test our ability to be frugal. We need to stretch our food dollars further than we ever have before. This is where having food storage is a big help! When you have food storage, you don't need to purchase replacement items until they go on sale. Personally, I think of food storage as an investment. It really helps you plan ahead to save both time and money!

While most people think of dry, shelf stable goods when they think of food storage, I consider the food in my freezer part of my food storage program as well. The difference is, food in the freezer requires a plan in place to deal with it should you ever lose power for a significant amount of time. I accept that and have a plan to can most of my meat if I loose power. (Of course if you lose power in the winter, this is not a problem.)

This type of thinking allows me to take advantage of huge savings by purchasing my meat in bulk. When I started doing this a few years ago, I thought purchasing in bulk was a lot of meat to buy at one time. I don't any more! Buying in bulk allows me to skip the meat section at the grocery store entirely! No longer do I pay retail prices!  

So what exactly do I do? I purchase my meat from Zaycon Foods.

The idea behind Zaycon Foods is that you order meat over the Internet and the company delivers FRESH (never frozen) meat to a local pickup point in your area. You meet the truck in the parking lot and pick up your order. It is fast and easy - you don't even have to get out of the car. The nice people at Zaycon Foods will load it for you!

The order process is very easy. You start by signing up to receive emails from the company. When they have a delivery scheduled for your area, you will get an email. Usually you have some time to decide if you want to place an order. The company tends to give about a months noticed before the truck will arrive in your area.  If you're not interested, you are under no obligation to purchase anything! By signing up, you simply gain access to emails notifying you when they will be in your area and what will be available.

At first, you may find the minimum amount you much purchase way too much for your family. That is ok! You can always split an order with some friends or family members. That is what I did when I first started ordering. Now, I usually take 1 or 2 cases of meat just for us! 

It is helpful to have a stand alone freezer. You can find small stand alone freezers in the club warehouses for reasonable prices. Believe me, you can pay for that freezer in a very short time when you purchase meat in bulk!

At the beginning of February, I purchased 40 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.89 a pound. Today, I signed up to purchase 40 lbs. of extra lean (93/7) fresh ground beef for $3.99 a pound. While I don't think of that price as a 'sale' price, ground beef in my area is running at about $4.50 a lb. AND that is for 80/20 beef! I purchased 93/7 beef!

I usually divide the meat into dinner size portions. Then, I wrap it in freezer paper and seal it in a foodsaver bag. It keeps the meat from getting that 'freezer burned' flavor and will last in the freezer for well over one year. Just the other day, we ate some ground beef that I purchased from Zaycon Foods in December of 2012. It was great! I don't have too much left so the order of 40 more pounds will come just in time to restock my freezer! I pick it up at the beginning of April.

Depending on where you live, you can purchase more than just chicken and ground beef. Zaycon Foods also offers the following:
  • Fresh Premium Hickory Smoked Bacon
  • Pork Sausage Links
  • Fresh Strawberries
  • Natural Non-Homogenized Whole Milk
  • Rotisserie Seasoned Turkey Breast Roast
  • Orchard Peaches
  • Raw Wildflower Honey
  • Smoked Pulled Pork
  • Premium Choice Angus Sirloin Steaks
If I lived closer to the North West, I would purchase peaches and milk too. Unfortunately, they are not offered where I live (at least not right now). Next time it is offered near me, I am getting some honey and sirloin steaks! 

Everything I have purchased from Zaycon Foods is high quality! It tastes great and is hormone free. The ground beef is grass-fed beef too! Try buying grass-fed beef at a specialty supermarket and I guarantee you won't get it for $3.99 a lb!

I have been so pleased with my experiences with this company that I just had to share! It is a great way to buy superior cuts of meat at a low cost!

Now that's frugal!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring is Here!

It FINALLY warmed up! We are having 'normal' weather now and I hope it continues! Trees and bushes in my neighborhood are starting to bloom and so are some of my flowers.

I also have some daffodils that will bloom in mid-spring, they are up and setting flower buds.

The last set of daffodils are brand new, just planted in December. They are late-spring blooming and they are just starting to come up.

I just love spring! It is a time of renewal and all plants seem to burst into life! I look forward to it every year!!

Now is also a perfect time to plant the spring cool season crops. Around here, they normally go in after Valentine's Day. I planted most of mine on the 17th.  I have peas, carrots, broccoli and spinach in. The peas are just about to pop up, everything else has still yet to show (we did have some cold nights last week so I am sure that didn't help.)

The only other cool season crop I will plant is onions. I have sets from last year and new seeds for this year. I hope to put them both in this week. I will post another picture when everything comes up!

For now, all I have to say is three cheers for spring!