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Showing posts with label money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label money. Show all posts

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Frugal Limits

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches























Every now and then I hear about a large family with the same food budget as our more avearage size family, or a family in size similar to ours, with a much more modest food budget and I question why I'm not able to be as frugal. I wonder where I am going wrong and I usually sit down committed to read their blog, or the article and learn something. The goal? To reduce our expenditures. I begin reading feeling like I'm doing something wrong, I finish, feeling like I'm doing something very right. You see, we all have to do what is right for our family and I believe, what is kinder and gentler for the earth and those who are more vulnerable. But reading the nitty gritty about what people are willing to compromise on, I actually leave feeling like it is a compomise too far. I'm personally not willing to:

- Shop once a month: access to fresh fruit and veg is too important
- Purchase ready meals or packaged foods with coupons
- Skimp on fruits and vegetables - one blog which which received much attention for being frugal and healthy posted a menu plan which included only 2 fruit and 1 veg a day (most studies recommend a minimum of 5-6 a day)
- Purchase factory produced animal products
- Build a diet around cheap fillers without much nutritional value. For example, a pasta dish served with bread was recommended as a cheap meal. Whereas e may have pasta, but it would be served with a fresh spinach salad and a veg.
- Shop at unethical major corporations

The more I think about it, the more I realize that while I certainly do budget and work hard to stick to it with food, I do see placing priority on green living, simple healthy meals and supporting others (for example by purchasing fairtrade items) as more imporant to me than slashing my budget another $50 or $100 a month. And for somewhere between $300 and $350 a month we purchase:

- Free range eggs from local farms
- All organic animal products
- Fairtrade: sugar, bananas, tea, coffee, mangos, flour and cocoa
- Green cleaning and laundry supplies
- Pet food & litter
- About 50% of our fruits and veg organic
- Enough fruits and veg for 3 fruits and 3 veg (plus a salad) a day
- A locally sourced produce box
- Seeds for our community garden plot

Yes, I could probably shave at least $50 a month off the budget if I changed to what some frugal bloggers recommend. And that $50 would come in handy. But more than that, I want my children, who have experienced malnourishment prior to joining our family through adoption, to continue to make educational and emotional gains that good food has allowed them. I want my hard earned money to tred softly on this earth and help people. I want to invest in our health now, to safeguard us for the future. And if that takes another $50 - $100 a month, I'm really OK with it.

What about you? What is your line when it comes to compromise? Is it only about money, or like me, something more?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tax Avoidance

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I am going to pay virtually no carbon tax, none directly and so little indirectly that the compensation in the carbon legislation that has just passed through the Australian parliament is going to be quite a windfall for me.

I am not naive enough to believe that the big polluters who will, from next year, have to contribute towards the cost of dealing with the mess they create, will not pass on the price. They'll probably even use it to gouge us, riding the misinformation campaign and counting on the public blaming the government. But they won't get much out of me. I can even see a whole heap of side benefit windfalls.

Our house is built, but even if it wasn't, it's not that big and mostly made from local wood, much of it recycled, and recycled fittings. The only things in it that would have an embedded carbon price are cement, nails, and roofing iron - and the steel industry is one that is going to be compensated so heavily it will not be paying any tax. It's true the carbon price will push up the square metre price for building, but there's no tax on labour or skill. So it makes sense to spend the money on a good architect or designer to get more space, rather than build a bigger house. Which should mean less sprawl, more smart design, and more green in the suburbs.

We live with stand alone solar power. Our solar panels have well and truly paid for themselves in cradle to grave accounting. Our very first pair, now nearly 30 years old, are still in the array. So our household appliances are already chosen for energy efficiency, and whenever there's a free energy choice that's the one we've got. So there's no clothes drier, rather a clothes line outside that makes the clothes smell lovely and sun-fresh, and an undercover one on the verandah on the western side of the house for rainy weather. (Outdoor clothes lines are common in Australia - lucky us - but the carbon tax does mean that any council would have buckley's of trying to outlaw them).

There's no air conditioner, rather some good roof insulation and a lovely big deciduous pecan tree shading the north east side of the house and the breezy east side verandah. There's no space heater, rather a slow combustion stove that keeps the house warm and doubles for cooking and to boost the solar hot water system in winter.

What electrical appliances we have are chosen for energy efficiency and long-life quality. Our fridge was bought second hand twenty years ago, and is due for replacing. The carbon tax will make the (expensive) high quality, very energy efficient one I want to buy more economical to afford. It will have a bit of embedded carbon price, but that will be more than made up for by the fact that producers of high quality, energy efficient goods will get a bigger market share as people factor in the cost of running them.

The TV and the washing machine are also second hand and chosen for energy efficiency. When it comes time to eventually replace them, the same story as the fridge will operate. I get so frustrated with fake goods made to look like the real thing, but actually made to break within hours of unpacking. Any carbon tax in those prices is the least of the worries. More of an issue is whether they actually work, or whether they are on a very short path between the factory and the dump. More incentive for manufactured goods to be made to last a lifetime or two is something I really look forward to, and if they're made to last, they're worth repairing - there's no tax on skill or labour.

I don't buy new clothes, virtually ever. Op shops are fantastic. Even underwear these days I am tending to make. I can make lovely lingerie out of beautiful fabrics for much less than Chinese made knickers with elastic that falls down after half a dozen washes.

Petrol (and diesel for farm equipment) isn't included (though I think it should be), and living rurally we use a bit of it. But we car pool a lot, and the move towards carbon pricing world wide is already bringing the very fuel efficient cars into the mainstream. It's the same story as the fridge. The E-Day electric car (Australian designed, Chinese made - hopefully well) will come on the market next year for $10,000 brand new.

And of course, my own focus is on food that is fresh, very local, in season and unprocessed. There's no carbon tax in anything that comes out of the garden, or that is cooked on my slow combustion stove or wood-burning hibachi. There's a little in the gas for the gas stove we use in summer, but the pressure cooker cuts cooking times right back. There will be a little bit of carbon price embedded in the refrigeration of the kangaroo meat I buy, and the same for dairy products. There will be a little embedded in the electricity for milling the flour and oats I buy to make sourdough, and in things like olive oil. But very little. The main embedded carbon price is in food processing - things like cake mixes and meal bases and breakfast flakes - and the carbon price is again the least of the worries with them. (I pay practically no GST either on food - fresh food is exempt and I buy so little processed food, I almost feel like I should pay supplementary tax).

And I guess it stands to reason. The point of the carbon tax is not to raise money but to change the market, so that those who want to buy stuff with lots of embedded carbon have to pay the real price for it, rather than have the rest of us subsidise them. Fresh, local, unprocessed, handmade, quality made, recycled, cared for, efficient, elegant, crafted, designed, beautiful doesn't have a whole lot of embedded carbon in the first place. That's what I'm going to spend my windfall on!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Swept away

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo
sweeping

Is the vacuum cleaner an essential appliance? I've always thought so. But in the last few months, pushed by mechanical failure, we've discovered that, in fact, it may not be.

Our vacuum cleaner was a 4 year old small-size cylinder model of a well known Italian brand, mid-price range. It came with a 2 year warranty, and it worked very well. For two years, that is.

A few days or so after the warranty had expired, the hose split open. I sealed the crack with duct tape, and it continued working for another few months.

Then, one of the plastic wheels broke off. So I decided to do without wheels. At this point, my three year old vacuum cleaner looked like it'd been through the wars (which, in all honesty, is what vacuuming my house sometimes feels like), but it was still chugging along.

Then, just a couple of months ago, it stopped dead while I was using it, and no amount of coaxing, unplugging and re-plugging it back in, no gentle (or firm) tapping, did the trick. It was a goner.

Now, the repair shop is about a 3 hour round trip from my house, in a town where I rarely go unless strictly necessary. Partly because I don't have that time, and partly because gasoline has shot up to €1.60 a liter. But also because, in Italy you pay just to have an estimate for repairs, which these days cost far more than to buy a new item!

So I decided to do without a vacuum cleaner, at least temporarily, and to see whether a vacuum cleaner is in fact an indispensable appliance. In fact, where we live, this was a real test, with the mud and dirt of the surrounding forests and fields, the sand from the nearby beach, the ash and bits of firewood in a house that's primarily heated by wood, the dust and sundry bits and pieces from our ancient house. Not to mention our the three children (need I say more?)? So it's not like a vacuum cleaner wouldn't be handy.

My conclusions? A broom & dust pan don't quite measure up to a vacuum cleaner in three main ways:

1) Efficiency: much dirt and dust are left behind after sweeping, and there are many areas in a house that a broom can't reach properly.

2) Time: since sweeping isn't as efficient as vacuuming, I have to sweep the floors all the time.

3) Cost: though sweeping the floors is free (unless I pay myself an hourly wage!), since sweeping is less efficient I have to wash the floors much more frequently, which means paying for hot water and detergent -- hence, I'm not saving much money, and may actually be spending more.

In my opinion the vacuum cleaner is an essential appliance to get a necessary (and tedious) household task done efficiently and in a short time. Yet still I hesitate to have my 4-year old vacuum cleaner fixed, because I dread the inevitable diagnosis, and refuse to accept that things these days are made to cost less instead of lasting longer.

Does this mean that I'm coming to a new definition of "essential"?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Capturing the Good Life in Statistics

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started a blog called "Measures of Australia's Progress". It's a public consultation about what we could use, instead of or along with GDP, as a measure of "progress'. It asks "Is life in Australia getting better? How will we know if it is?"

I find this immensely encouraging, and I wonder why I hadn't heard of it before? I knew about Bhutan's "gross national happiness" indicator, which has been around in alternate circles for yonks. But it's a clumsy, soft measure and I could never see mainstream politics taking it really seriously.

Of course one of the seductions of GDP is that it is used internationally, but the MAP site has a page with links to all the similar projects around the world, including UK and USA, and it says "There has been an explosion of interest in indicator projects over the last several years, both in Australia and around the world".

That official statistical bureaus are looking for other ways of meauring wealth beyond how much stuff we buy and sell is, to me, really exciting. It's really hard to argue that simple, green, frugal equals good when the measuring stick used to measure progress is how much wasteful overconsumption we've indulged in over the last year. It's like our whole society is in a giant hot dog eating competition and it's called progress.

But wealth is a slippery beast and it's not so simple to nail it down in a way that can be measured and compared, in a way that newspapers can grab onto and politicians can use. Marge Piercy has a poem called "The Perpetual Migration" that has a lovely part in it about wealth:
"Peace, plenty, the gentle wallow
of intimacy, a bit of Saturday night
and not too much Monday morning,
a chance to choose, a chance to grow,
the power to say no and yes, pretties
and dignity, an occasional jolt of truth."

It's very beautiful and true, but I can just see the poor ABS statisticians trying to measure it. I'm all in favour of the ABS consultation, but when it comes to having my say, it's tricky. How do you measure progress?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics project tries to solve it by a kind of complex of measures grouped under society, economy, and environment, with a whole heap of sub measures such as health, education, crime, social cohesion, productivity, biodiversity, atmosphere and so on, each with their own tick or wavy line or cross. They're all measurable, but they don't grab you. It's like comparing a big box of apples with oranges. My eyes glaze over.

I've been trying to summon up the courage to have a say. The concept at the centre of it, I think, is that once everybody in a society has enough, has their basic needs met, producing and consuming more stuff takes us backwards, not forwards. It destroys common wealth like air and soil and water and wildlife and being able to lie on the beach on a sunny morning without a hole in the ozone layer overhead. It steals resources from future generations that they will need for "enough". The only areas in which you can keep producing more and keep becoming wealthier is in art and knowledge and culture and science. And that's the thing.

I think a society is progressing, is becoming wealthier when more of its citizens have the basics, when less is borrowed from future generations, and when more is given to future generations in the form of knowledge and culture. That would give us three basic measures.

The basic needs themselves are not simple. A nation is wealthier when more of it's citizens have enough, are above the poverty line, but we Australians are all wealthy by the standards of Somalians. A nation is wealthier when more of its citizens are healthy. A nation is wealthier when more of its citizens have access to education, at every life stage from early childhood to third age. A nation is wealthier when people do not need to hoard to feel safe but can rely on their community to rally to their aid, when it has a good and functional fire, police, ambulance, and emergency services, and community connections. It's not simple, but we should be able to have a crack at coming up with a measure for whether we are going forwards or backwards at providing everyone with the basics.

Borrowing from future generations is a simpler measure. Are we using more or less non-renewable resources than last year. Less? Yay, that's progress.

And thirdly, how much have we invested in art and knowledge and culture and science. There will, of course, be huge debates about whether it is better to spend money on opera or street art, a cure for malaria or for coral bleaching, an internet protocol or a novel, surfing or soccer. But an overall dollar value will do for a measure of progress.

By these kind of measures, simple, green, frugal equals wealthy, and that feels like the truth to me. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Organising Information

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

The most common item on my To Do list is "tidy office".  My office is an alcove off the dining room which houses my husband's desk, the kids' laptops, my business stock, my desktop computer and all of our household paperwork and personal finance 'stuff'.  It's only 3m x 3m and has no door - so it needs to be well-organised all the time!


There seems to be so much information coming into our lives - local newspapers, magazines handed on by friends - as well as my couple of favourite mags bought new, books to be read, homeschooling resources, lists, my precious diary, paperwork for my volunteer roles and my business...  And then there are bits and pieces like recipes, notes from workshops and meetings, samples and catalogues from suppliers, birthday cards to send, bills to pay.  Argh!  It's very easy to be overwhelmed...


So, every now and then I clear off the 2m x 2m dining table, which is just beside the office, and I start to make piles of things which need to go in different places to where they have accumulated.  Of course, I could deal with paperwork and other items the day they arrive, but with six children, homeschooling, the farm, the business and LIFE - I am just not that organised.  But I am a little organised, and I will share below some ideas I've found invaluable for keeping track of the paper trail...

Household Notebook
I got the idea for a Household Notebook from organizedhome.com.  I bought the biggest ring binder I could find - it's the white type with the clear insert cover.  On the spine I used the printable 'household notebook' label from Organized Home, and on the front I inserted a beautiful photo of my garden.  Inside I used a whole box of clear sheet protector sleeves and some plastic dividers I found in our house.  I made labels for the divider tabs - farm, house, me, education, food, family, community, work.  I left a couple of dividers at the back of the folder in case I decide to take on any more roles! All of those pieces of paper I've saved and wanted to keep were sorted and filed into this folder, which sits upon my desk to be grabbed whenever required.  Items in it include maps of the orchard, drawings by children, scraps of poetry, booklets, brochures, handouts, master menu lists the very many other lists...

Garden Journal
I have never kept a Garden Journal, but I wish I did!  I do have maps of trees and perennial plants around the house paddock, but nothing for the vegie gardens.  I searched online for images of Garden Journals, to see what sort of thing I'd like to create, and the options are endless!  From online journals to scrapbooks, meticulous record books and everything in between!  If I had a garden journal, I'd keep a record of which seeds I sow when, and the results.  I'd write notes about frosts and rainfall if I had a system in place.  I'd boast about harvests and preserves in my garden journal.  Do you keep a garden journal?  I'd love to hear about it!
 

Finance Folder
Our finance folder is a bit like the household notebook, but it's all about money.  It has a beautiful title page with an image of blooming flowers and quotes about wealth.  Then there are a couple of pages of important numbers and details, a printed calendar for the current year for easy reference and a page with the months of the year with regular bills written in their month - insurance renewals, rates, vehicle registrations.  There are sleeves for bills to be paid, my balance sheet summary (I work well with pen and paper, rather than spreadsheets or online budgeting programs), a sleeve for that month's receipts or accounts paid for my business, wish lists for birthdays, bank books for the younger kids' accounts and other taxation, budget and finance bits and pieces.  This is a system I have used for over 10 years and I really like it.  As soon as a bill comes in, or a receipt hits my desk, it is filed in the finance folder.

Recipes
I like to cut recipes from magazines, receive hand-written recipes from friends, print recipes from forums and websites...  So I bought 4 ring-binder folders last year and labelled them - sweets & baking, meals, preserves and Thermomix.  In each folder I have more clear plastic sleeves and in the Thermomix folder I organise recipes approximately by recipe type - meals, sweets, preserves, dairy, etc.  The folders look great on a shelf in my kitchen and anyone in the family can find our favourites.  They are also a great inspiration at menu-planning time, because every single recipe is hand-picked by us, so there's no sifting through things we don't like in recipe books!  I used to keep a lot of recipes bookmarked on the computer, but with our power outages and internet interuptions, especially in our summer wet season, I have gone back to paper versions.  After creating these folders, I had a big clean-out of unused recipe books, copying the one or two recipes I used from many, and passing them on to others to enjoy and use!


Filing Cabinet
We bought a 2nd hand filing cabinet for next-to-nothing about 18 years ago.  At first it had just a few suspension files hanging in it, and some junk in the bottom drawer.  As our family grew larger and our lives grew busier, the filing cabinet accumulated more folders.  Each year, when I do our tax, I clear out unwanted pieces of paper from the filing cabinet and shred them for use in the chook nests, or to start the fire.  There's something very satisfying about incinerating old bills!  I don't file items as soon as they come in.  Maybe because of the awkward corner the cabinet is in, or maybe because I'm just a procrastinator!  I have a green file folder on top of the filing cabinet which fills with papers to-be-filed.  Every couple of months or so, I file away these papers when having an office clean up.  It's a method which suits me, and the two-step process in fact reduces some of the items filed, as I might put something in the green folder just-in-case, but by the time filing day comes, I realise I didn't need to keep it.


Next post: organising daily information - diaries, calendars, menus and more!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

A spending diary

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming



Recently I have gone back to recording all of our expenditure in a diary. At the end of every day I list all amounts spent, along with how (card or cash) and what they were spent on. I also have a tick column for whether or not the expenditure was budgeted for this month. All receipts are kept and gone over too; and mental slaps on the wrist given where I know we could have been better.

As the weeks of records build up, I can see a pattern emerge of when I am most likely to spend money and what on. I have the information I need to tweak our budget - I can see the areas where I am being overly optimistic and also the areas where I could trim a bit more fat. Flicking back over last year's entries, I can see that almost every time we went into town to run errands, we ended up eating out; and quite often not particularly frugally or greenly. That expenditure is now for the most part gone - because seeing it written down and tallied up the last time made me change my mindset. The diary also tells me that four years after first promising to change my habits, I still spend a ridiculous amount of money getting to and from work and buying food when I am there. Not so good.

The prospect of having to write down every last expenditure and then deduct it from the remaining budget each day has already made me unload one online shopping basket and put down several impulse purchases in the local shop. In short, it has made me very conscious of how I use my money and just what I am consuming. Every expenditure represents the consumption of energy and resources and usually the creation of waste in one way or another; and being confronted with a long list of 'stuff' that we didn't need is as galling as seeing a large sum of money that didn't need to be spent. Money also represents the investment of time and energy that we made to earn it - something else that I don't want to fritter away. 

A spending diary, even if you only manage to keep it for a week, is enlightening and you will probably be surprised at just where the money goes. Spending money is not a bad thing in itself - but it is better to spend it consciously, in line with your priorities, than without thought.

Have you ever tracked your daily expenditure? What did you learn? Did you change your habits as a result?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Creative Ways To Save Money On Food

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















We've all heard some of the best ways to save money on food include: shopping with a list, planning your meals, taking a lunch to work, bringing cash to the supermarket and rarely eating out. All of those have lowered my own grocery budget significantly. But recently I wanted to cut my grocery budget by another 35% in order to live on an "Extreme Frugality" budget in this season of my life. I wasn't sure how I would do it, but I've found a few creative ways which have made a huge difference & are saving me time and money.

1. I remembered how important it is to shop at home first. I have a small kitchen and for a few weeks I skipped this step and it showed in my grocery spending. Shopping at home first works because I don't purchase items I already have, I'm more aware of what I'm low on {and therefore able to look for good deals to stock up}, I'm able to cut down on food waste & I can visibly see how much I already have to use up and plan my meals around!

2. I've completely cleaned out my fridge, organizing it so that everything is clearly visible and organized. No more thinking I don't have enough to stretch, because I can actually see that I have a lot I can use up. I've found this also helps me see what I can substitute. I may not have leeks for a soup, but I have celery. A clean fridge really has helped much more than I thought it would.

3. I've learned that I need to focus on what is right in this season of my life. I blogged recently that I felt this overwhelming guilt {for about 10 minutes} that I don't make my own ketchup. But in my household, ketchup is probably used less than 5x a year, so it makes no sense to make it. Remembering to think about the time/money balance has really helped me focus on what I can do which will have the biggest impact on my food budget.

4. I've enjoy slow cooker Wednesdays & soup night! Generally these are both very frugal veggie recipes making use of lentils, chickpeas & veg that needs using up. What's more they pretty much provide my lunches for the week and add to my freezer stock pile!

5. I've joined a lunch co-op group in my building at work. We basically all bring a salad ingredient and make a massive healthy salad one day per week. Generally I contribute about $1 worth of food {radishes, cucumbers, onions etc} and have a really lovely salad to enjoy & good company to boot! If your work/building doesn't have a lunch club, think about starting one.

6. When friends suggest eating out, I suggest a pot luck. It's a great way to socialize & spend time with friends, without having to come up with the money to eat out.

7. I'm in the process of joining a food co-op, I donate 2 hours of labor a month and I get a significant reduction on locally sourced foods.

8. Where possible I try to buy eggs from people who have chickens. Where I currently live this is nigh on impossible as people aren't allowed to raise chickens, but where I used to live I was able to source local eggs and support local hobby farms while saving money. It was a win-win-win situation.

What creative ways do you use to save money? Do you have any tips to share?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's Nice to Share

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden


Collaborative Consumption Groundswell Video from rachel botsman on Vimeo.


Interested in joining this movement? It's not just goods which can be exchanged, services are equally swap-able. Here is just a sample of the initiatives thriving worldwide right now -

A to Z Barter
AirBnb
Alternative Currencies
Babysitting Clubs
Bartercard
Barter Bank
Book Crossing
BookMooch
Community Exchange System
Couchsurfing
Food Swap
Freecycle
Friends with Things
Garden Share
Home Exchange
Landshare
Lending Club
LETS Australia
OzRecycle
Small Mart
Swap.com
thredUP
Shared Earth
Urban Garden Share
WhatsOnMyBookshelf
Zilok
Zipcar

And don't forget local city libraries and toy libraries, seed bank groups, community gardens and textbook exchanges. Do you know of a fantastic collaborative consumption opportunity? Please share a link in the Comments section!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Simply Happy

by Chiot's Run

"Our life experience is based more on our individual level of awareness than on any particular external experience. Our enjoyment of life is profoundly enhanced by the knowledge that we don't need much in order to be happy. By consciously adopting a simple lifestyle, we give ourselves the opportunity the be satisfied and happy, whether or not we strike it rich or not."

Mother Earth News in article about Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin


Unhurried Sense of Time

As I was reading this article, I started thinking about all the things that Mr Chiots and I have given up over the past couple years while working to simplify our lives. The more we give up, the less we find that we need and the happier we find ourselves. One of the best examples of this simplifying was in giving up cable TV. I think when we were paying for cable, we thought we had to watch a lot of TV to get our money's worth. We found ourselves spending way too much time in front of our television wasting valuable time watching things we didn't really want to watch. When we finally pulled the plug, we found ourselves free from that need. We started spending more time reading, working outside, pursuing our hobbies, and getting projects done that we'd been putting off for a long time for lack of "time".

It's not that we don't watch TV at all any more, we still watch some, but we no longer pay a fortune for it and we no longer watch things just to watch them. Since we work in the visual arts (video production) by trade, we watch films and some shows for inspiration. We have one of the cheapest Netflix subscriptions (which is fantastic when you live in the country) so we watch movies or TV shows on DVD or instant streaming from their website.

I'm happy that we took this one simple step at it seemed to be a turning point for us. After we quit cable, we started finding more places to cut back and more ways to simplify our lives. As a result we're much more content, we have much more time and we've saved tons of money, which we used to pay off our mortgage many years ahead of schedule. It's amazing how all the little things in life add up to a great deal.

In what ways have you simplified your life in the past couple years? Any great suggestions for the rest of us that are searching for the simple life?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fifty Ways To Save Money For The Holidays

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















With the holidays looming, many people fear that the extras aren't possible within their income level or budget so the additional "needs" get dumped on the credit card! There are so many teeny tiny greener changes we can make over the next 8 weeks which will save you hundreds of dollars and maybe pay for the turkey, trimmings and presents :)

1. Stop buying books and magazines and start using the library instead!
2. Don't buy cleaning products and instead invest in vinegar and baking soda [see the Down To Earth blog for tips]
3. Only wash clothes that are dirty, don't wash simply because you've used them
4. Hang your clothes to dry
5. Shower instead of bath and put a timer on
6. Swap childcare with friends
7. Eat vegetarian meals 3 nights a week - eating less meat is certainly greener!
8. Set yourself no spending days begin with 2 a week for the first month then add in another!
9. Use low energy light bulbs
10. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
11. Turn off all lights in empty rooms
12. Put a sweater and socks on so you can keep the heat lower.
13. Turn down the water temperature.
14. Pack snacks
15. Practice freezer cooking once a month so you have frugal meals handy!
16. Don't use things that are disposable like water bottles
17. Stop buying paper towels
18. Plan a weekly menu
19. Have breakfast for dinner once a week
20. Only shop once a week maximum
21. Try to buy direct from local farms and co-ops
22. Limit or ditch the cell phone
23. Schedule a long walk each weekend (great frugal family activity)
24. Pick your own - in some areas apples are still available!
25. Use what is available free - does your gym have showers and shampoo you can use instead of showering at home?
26. Wash your clothes at lower temperatures
27. Establish a change jar
28. Set yourself no driving days - if you need your car for work, nominate one day at the weekend where you aren't allowed to use it.
29. Set yourself the goal that if you could walk somewhere within 30 minutes you shouldn't take your car.
30. Write down everything you eat.
31. Write down everything you buy
32. Cancel the newspaper subscription
33. Don't eat out. Maybe challenge yourself and see if you can not eat out at all between now and the holidays!
34. Nominate one night a week to be soup night
35. Commit to cutting your grocery bill by at least 10% [I cut mine by 75%]
36. Stop buying soda, juice and alcohol
37. Ditch the cigarettes
38. Have a movie night at home.
39. Rent movies from the library - in most countries that means they are free.
40. See if you can get what you need for free by making use of local adds and enquiring if friends or family are looking to get rid of what you need.
41. Join a book group - usually a free way to have a night out.
42. Turn off all electrical equipment
43. Get back to nature [photographing squirrels is free, green & fun!]
44. Make your own shampoo
45. If you want to purchase something, make yourself wait 48 hours and examine whether you need it or want it.
46. See if what you need you can purchase second hand
47. Wait to do dishes until there is a full load [by hand or machine!]
48. Watch your portion sizes
49. Be your own beauty therapist
50. Ask for the necessities for holiday gifts

Taking a minute to reflect on this list, it is obvious that many of these money saving measures are actually green choices too! I've always found being greener doesn't need to be expensive despite what media reports often say! There are hundreds of every day little steps you can take to green your life, reduce your carbon footprint, enjoy a simpler life and live within a budget!

Have you got any green tips which help save money? Do you find being green expensive or frugal?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Generosity vs Frugality?

by Eilleen, Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

I hope your weekend is going well.

A few days ago, I posted in my personal blog about my children's generosity in donating some of their pocket money to help out Olivia, a little girl with cancer.

I have thought about about this incident a little further and thought I'd share. Just a bit of a background. I give my children pocket money as a way to teach them how to manage money - to learn how to set financial goals, delay instant gratification and impulse buys.

So, when my children first took out some of their pocket money to give to Olivia, I have to admit I felt a bit conflicted. While I was overwhelmingly proud of their generosity a small part of me wondered whether I should be encouraging them to continue to save towards their goals first before "giving their money away". I wondered, how can they learn frugality when they make "impulsive" decisions like this?

On reflection, I'm glad I didn't listen to that little voice. For one thing, I realised that as with most things, there will ALWAYS be financial goals to set and reach. However, being rigid on achieving those goals to the exclusion of generosity to others, is....well...rather sad.

Generosity can go hand-in-hand with frugality. One of the things I've learned from the many people here and those who have commented on my blog - that frugality is NOT about being a scrooge - frugality is about making considered choices. Frugality is about ensuring that one has the means to live in accordance with one's values.

So the way I see it, the path to frugality involves a good understanding of yourself and a commitment to your values.

And generosity is about unconditional release of yourself and the sharing of your values with others.

Generosity is an outcome of true frugality.

And in thinking of it that way, I realise that in showing their generosity, my children are already well on the path of learning frugality.


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If you would like to know more about Olivia's story, visit this page: http://olivialambert.com.au/
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

No Compromise

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















Lately the budget has been a bare-minimum-essentials-only kind of budget, which has made me think about what one can go without and what items are not up for negotiation. I am sure the list looks different for each of us as our families are in different seasons and our bodies need different things! Currently I'm going without tv (4 months + now), a car, pets, cell-phone or visits to friends further than my two legs will carry me :) However there are some things I haven't gone without (yet!) and I thought I'd share here!



My No Compromise (Yet!) List:

  • Organic milk (admittedly I drink very little milk, so really this is a once a month purchase at most!)
  • 3 fruits a day and 3 veg a day (although I actually find this cheaper than junk food! My grocery bill this week was $22)
  • A swimming pass - nothing fancy just a local rec centre!
  • A phone card ($5/month) to phone close family members half the world away!
  • A bare bones vitamin regime - Currently taking folic acid with Vit D & Calcium and a Vitamin E; when the budget allows I'll go back up to my 5 vitamins a day!

Looking at my list almost everything relates to health, this could be because I have a long term health condition, so staying in good health includes quite a bit of work on my part! I also can think of a lot of things I now am willing to go without which before were more important, cable TV is one example, magazines are another!

So I'd love it if we yet again played a little game! What do you not compromise on in your budget and why? Has this changed as you've grown on your simple, green & frugal journey?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Frugal canning - time & money

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's that time of year when the garden abundance is staring you in the face and the thought of filling your shelves with home canned food is now a reality.

But, if you're just starting out, canning is an expensive proposition. Canners, jars, lids, raw ingredients, and misc tools start to add up, not to mention your time and labor. Many times the items that make the most impact on our budgets are the little things, not the big dollar items that with a good deal represent a large one-time savings. Say that steal on the practically new pressure canner at an estate sale is hard to argue with, but where the money really adds up is the continual purchase of lids, etc., over the years. One new option now is to buy re-usuable lids, they are expensive but should be a one-time purchase. Another way to save money is to can some items in larger quantities.

For instance in my kitchen for our family of three, I can most of my tomato sauce in quarts and some pints, depending on what my sauce yield is. Let's say, my batch may yield 5 1/2 quarts of sauce, so in that instance I would can either 5 quarts and one pint, or maybe depending on my pint tally I might can 3 quarts and 5 pints. And even though we have pizza once a week and I only use one cup or 1/2 pint of tomato sauce for my marinara sauce, I never can my sauce in 1/2 pint jars, because I have to purchase many more lids and jars to do that. Besides saving money on jar and lid purchases, by being frugal this way, that many more lids won't be manufactured, and have to be recycled. To get around the large quantity problem of having an opened quart of tomato purée, I repackage the remainder in half pint jars, one will go in the fridge for the next week's pizza and the other two will go in the freezer for either pizza or when I need a cup of tomato sauce for another recipe. By then I have a little space in the freezer, so I can tuck a jar in here or there, and I am mindful that I have those jars in freezer needing to be used.

I also try to use regular mouth lids and jars where they are appropriate. Too many years of being judged at the county fair by strict judges who suffered through the Depression, in many cases the money just wasn't available, they had no choice. Wide mouth jars and lids were deemed fitting for hard to pack items such as peaches and pears or foods that contained fats that would be hard to clean. I priced lids yesterday while I was at the store, and the price difference between wide mouth and regular ranged from $.65 to $.99 per dozen lids. It doesn't sound like much, but these days aren't really so different for many, fifty cents here and there does add up. So those lessons have stuck with me, I appreciate all my jars sizes and their many uses, and I cringe when I see all wide-mouth jars. Sorry, old ingrained habits and ideals are hard to break.

The other intangible in canning and home food production is time. We are aware of it, but when we aren't receiving a paycheck for our work, but a jewel-toned jar instead - we tend to gloss over how much time it really takes to preserve food at home. When preserving season hits in earnest we are all stretched for time, whether you work at home or away - any time savings is a gift. If I can fill 7 jars instead of 28, in the case of quarts vs. 1/2 pints, I have just put some money in my time piggy bank, not to mention I just saved a dollar in lid purchases.

Ahh, a little of summer preserved for the dark days. What do you do to save time preserving the season's bounty?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Does Your Handbag Show a Simple, Green & Frugal Life?

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















I recently read an article that stated research from www.itsmyid.co.uk found the average British woman's handbag is filled with £342 worth of essentials, which works out to $522 US, $590 Australian dollars or $543 Canadian. The article stated that some experts felt that was a conservative estimate...this of course inspired me to count up just what my average handbag contained...

The breakdown of costs were:
Handbag (what Americans call purse)
ARTICLE: £51 MINE: £10 (on sale - 6 years old!)
Purse (what Americans call wallet)
ARTICLE: £29 MINE: £10 (on sale - 4 years old!)
Cash
ARTICLE: £28 MINE: £0.05
Mobile Phone
ARTICLE: £105 MINE: £0.00
Make up, Perfume
ARTICLE
: £18 MINE: £13 (if I remember it!)
MP3 PLAYER/IPOD
ARTICLE
: £47 MINE: £30
Sunglasses
ARTICLE
: £25 MINE: £5.99
Leather Organizer
ARTICLE: £40 MINE: £1 (the dollar store!)

Totals:
ARTICLE £342
MINE: £70.04
- but the truth is, 90% of the time I don't take my ipod or make up with me (I really only take them on long journeys), which would bring my total down to £27.04. Although, the resale value of a purse & handbag which are four years old is certainly less than £20 so it is probably only worth a fraction of £27.04!

Extra things I generally do carry in my handbag are: a cheap notebook I've made to make lists of things to do, a change purse to give coins to anyone in need (the homeless or someone selling Big Issue), a couple of healthy snacks and water which helps me not spend money and the truth is I rarely go anywhere without a book from the library!



















The last time I carried my ipod was en route home after volunteering overseas, I very much enjoyed listening to my favourite radio program, because it is a rare treat it is very much appreciated.

I like that my handbag and list of essentials is short. I'm very happy to go for a walk without noise, to work, volunteer or exercise without the distraction of a phone. I enjoy my lists made on scrap pieces of paper which gives them another use before being recylced. My handbag's contents have not always been so simple in fact I'll admit I used to carry a lot of stuff all the time, now I'm glad it's a sign of a pretty care free, frugal, green & simple existence.

What do you carry around with you? I'd love to hear the contents of your handbag or pockets! Is it a reflection of the change in your life?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How Do You Save Money?






















Currently on my personal blog, I'm running a series about 100 ways to save money! Thinking about it, a lot of the actions I take to live a more frugal lifestyle also help my home run more simply and more environmentally friendly. I certainly use less water, electricity and gas (petrol) than most and try to reuse or refuse as a part of my life choices.

My top 10 tips for beginners trying to save money are:

1. Write everything down that you spend and review it at the end of the day and week. Are you making the best use of your spending?

2. Commit to no-spending days - something I now live by! Begin with 1 a week, followed by 2, 3, 4...it is amazing how much you can save!

3. Take cash grocery shopping with you and only spend that cash!

4. Cut 10% off your grocery bill (if you usually spend $100 a week, commit to only taking $90 a week with you) - use what is in your cupboards, planning your meals, making meals from scratch. My tips alone made me slash 75% off my budget!

5. Reduce your laundry costs by wearing most things several times before washing them and hanging clothes outside to dry.

6. Use money jars to budget your spending for the week!

7. Define everything as a need or a want and if you find something you want like makeup or a new book, force yourself to wait 48 hours before you purchase it!

8. Commit to saving, even if initially you can only put $30 a month into an account, once you see that money building it makes you think about ways in which you can save more

9. Use the library and community recycle/swap programs

10. Always be prepared - I spend money when I don't have lunch with me at work or need a quick snack or tissue or lip gloss. I now make sure I always take lunch, a snack, lip gloss, tissues, wet wipes, gum and anything else I/we may need with me.

11. Commit to making meals from scratch, starting with one night per week. I personally have soup night one night per week, I make a large batch of soup and it is our meal one night a week (with a simple salad) and one lunch per week, the leftovers are frozen and we then have a pick of great soups for Saturday lunch - with a buffet style salad. This alone cuts about $7 a week off of the grocery bill. Today's soup is broccoli!

12. Have a leftover night, pull all leftovers out the fridge and make that your main meal!

13. Shop local

14. Before you buy something new, check out your local thrift shops and freecycle.

15. Watch how much water you use, I shower after I swim (at my local pool) but at home I am still very mindful of how much water is used. I make sure taps are off, showers are short, laundry is washed at 30 degrees and the kettle is only boiled with how much water is needed.

I'd love to hear some of your tips for beginners looking to save money! I'm always amazed at just how many ways there are to save!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Positively Committed

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















For just shy of the last three weeks, I've been volunteering with children in orphanages some of whom are special needs and others are in hospice care. It was, hands down, the most amazing experience of my life. There was intense sadness and grief and yet incredible joy and peace. I learned so much about simple happiness and joy from those special special souls. And I came away with an incredible determination about how important the simple life is.

While I was away a friend emailed me the saying "living simply, so others can simply live" that phrase had made her commit to sponsoring another child bringing the grand total to 3 and making the commitment to build a school in Africa next year instead of taking a holiday. Like me, these decisions will mean what most would think of as major sacrifices. Personally, apart from buying 1 new pair of leggings pre-trip, I couldn't tell you the last time I bought clothing, or books or mindlessly spent. I don't have a lot of money but I love what my money is spent on since I left the rat race behind and began to embrace the true joy found in simple living.

This trip provided much needed affirmation about just how much I love that I no longer need expensive girly weekends away taking money from my budget, when I can use the money in other ways or simply work less. I no longer need to meet friends on a Saturday and shop for things I don't need, when I can hike, volunteer at my local animal shelter, bake or sit around with a wonderful group of women discussing books and knitting.

On my trip, I had four outfits, limited choice of food, a tiny tiny room to call my own. I was with the children 10 hours + a day and yet everything about it was simple, through the whole trip there was no need to go anywhere or stress and nothing to distract me from my calling. It was simple, it was joyous.

Since I arrived home, I've been thinking about just how amazing a reminder of why we are on this path is, just how necessary and important. I had mine over the last three weeks, I'd love to hear yours?

What reminds you that making these simple, small changes is important? What helps you keep focused on the goal of living how you want to live and what your success is vs. what society thinks success is about?

Friday, May 14, 2010

LETS


Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I've mentioned LETS before, when describing some of the ways our family are attempting to connect with our community. Today I thought I'd share some more information, as I'm so excited about the growth and activity within our local system, which I've been co-ordinator of for two years this year.


A Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) is a non-profit community organisation. It lets ordinary people share skills, talents and resources using alternative currency.

Our LETS group

LETS in Australia

LETS Australia on Facebook

LETS Worldwide

Community Exchange

For our family, LETS is part of our everyday economy, as well as a means to enjoy little extras that we normally can't afford. Some of the things we've received recently include: two new ukeleles for my children, soap, furniture, horse riding, yoga classes, fishing gear, crockery, delivery of a washing machine, books, fresh produce, take-away food, phone credit, a crocheted rug, cleaning products, cheese, CDs, Italian lessons for my teenagers and stock for Spiral Garden (my business). And some of the things we've offered include: macadamias, plants, vegetables, eggs, Spiral Garden products, books and magazines, tutoring, garden labour, outgrown toys, cow manure and preserves.

LETS increases our family income by the equivalent of over $2000 per year, and that amount grows as our local system does. Could you use some extra income, without the commitment of more working hours? Perhaps LETS can work for you, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Green Life With A Reading Addiction














By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

When I first became more environmentally conscious and decided to make major changes in my spending, both by spending less and by committing to spending on quality local, fairtrade etc, it occurred to me the one worry I had was my addiction to books - the last time I looked there were no fairtrade books available yet! For a few weeks I worried and fretted and then little by little I began to see there were many ways my new commitments could be adhered to, even with a pretty significant reading addiction.

The first thing I did was stop purchasing my daily papers. To ease into the transition, I allowed myself to purchase a weekend paper but the rest of the week I read the papers online! I have to say, the transition was incredibly easy - I so enjoyed my weekend treat and found incredible resources online through blogs, websites and forums that in many ways opened up my world all the more!

Next I dusted off the old library card, which was used about once a month previously and I committed to going to the library each week to look for new books I'd like to read. My local library, sadly, doesn't have a very large selection however I have found some gems there, read some books I would not normally have read and learned to wait patiently for others :)

I then did an inventory of all the books I had, and shame on me found quiet a few I'd never read. I kept the books that were favourites, those which would be needed for smallholding and donated the rest to charities. Boy did that feel good :)

Finally, I found out about local book resources, like a free book cycle program in my city, book swaps online, second hand book sellers and charity shops.

Now, if I come across a book I'd really like to read instead of jumping to buy it I

  • really examine if this is the right time to read the book - a bit of a need vs want check, although yes ultimately reading is a want (only just!)
  • check my local library
  • have a look at local charity shops
  • ask friends and people in my reading groups
  • check online groups or stores for second hand sales that are within my reading budget
  • put the books on my "wish list" for Birthdays and Christmas
  • accept it may take a month or even a year to find a book, but accept it and enjoy the wait :)

And what am I currently reading? Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and I'm re-reading Fall On Your Knees by Anne Marie McDonald.

How do you cope with the desire to learn and read with the frugal, simple and green life? What are you currently reading?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Simple & Frugal Ways To Give

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

The current situation in Haiti is grave, it is hard to actually imagine what it must be like to see people being operated on by the side of the road, families starving to death, thousands of people dying in front of you and millions or orphans with nowhere to go. Before I downshifted and simplified I often felt overwhelmed by need and struggled to understand how I could help. As life has become simpler and I have more control of my finances it seems a lot easier to find different ways to help, different ways to encourage others and different ways to use the talent and time I have. I have so much less financially than I did last year or the year before and yet I'm able to do more. A few friends has said to me that they can't even watch the news because they know there is nothing they can do, their comments have made me think about putting a post together with a list of things you can do - for big budgets and small budgets, for those with time and those without. I would love if any readers contributed ideas as I hope this post inspires people to realize their talents big and small and find ways they can help!

Giving Money

  • Allot a certain amount each month into the budget for giving! I find this helps me budget for helping others in the same way I budget for my rent, bills, car etc!
  • Find a charity whose philosophy you agree with - I sponsor children through World Vision and their updates and letters just bring me such joy!
  • Keep a jar in your home for coins which you can allot for spontaneous giving! This means when there is a disaster or when someone in your circle of family/friends is trying to fundraise you have money handy to give!
  • When there is a disaster or need, look at areas of the budget you can cut out! For example, I have a budget for a weekly hot chocolate or coffee with friends, that £3 a week is a very easy luxury to go without over the next few months so that I can give more to projects in Haiti!
  • Look for tiny yet still important ways to give - spare change after the weekly shop to charity boxes or people collecting!
  • Remember charities in your will
  • Remember giving in your yearly plans/goals
  • Remember that we all have different gifts, you may not be able to go to Haiti to help, but your small donation might help someone else be able to go to Haiti to provide care for those in need!

Giving Time

  • There are thousands of charities which are collecting for Haiti and other countries in need - could you donate a few hours to collect money or fundraise?
  • Several charities are packaging items to send to disaster areas, could you give an evening or 1/2 a day at the weekend to help box up items?
  • Could you organize a fundraiser? Even having a meal at your home and asking friends or family to attend and make a donation which you will give to a charity like Red Cross or World Vision or Doctors Without Borders?
  • Could you make something to sell with the profits going to a charity?
  • Could you attend a fundraiser put on by a Church or charity or group? I am all set to attend one this weekend and am really looking forward to it :)
  • Could you send an email to friends and family with links to organizations collecting or fundraisers?

Giving Things

  • Do you have anything you could sell where you could give the profits to charity?
  • Do you have any clothing, jewelry, shoes, books, knick knacks that you could give to a charity shop?

Spiritual/Faith

  • Could you say a prayer, light a candle, hold people in your thoughts?
  • Could you talk to others about the need, which might encourage them to act?

None of these ideas are time consuming or earth shattering, I hope they are simple and easy and encourage others to think about the ways they can give. In this season of my life, which includes both unemployment and opening my home to friends who are homeless due to burst pipes, it can be very very hard to believe that you are in a position to help and yet the more I commit to simple, frugal and green living, the more I see the opportunities to help are all around!

I do so hope some of you might be able to share any giving ideas you have!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fun, Free, Frugal and Social
















By Notes From The Frugal Trenches


I'm currently in a season of unemployment which means apart from job hunting I have a lot more time on my hands. The only problem with having more time, is that human desire to fill it, which I'm certainly trying to remain on top of. Practically, this is a very good season in my life to spend time with friends who live farther afield and friends it can be difficult to catch up with normally, as it is the holidays it is also a time when family and friends really do want to meet up. For the vast majority of my family and friends catching up means dinner and a movie or dinner and drinks, which is costly and not within my meager budget. Slowly but surely I've found there are many ways to enjoy frugal fun and while it may take some encouragement with friends who are not accustomed to more frugal endeavors, it is amazing the fun you can have on very little money. Here are some activities that have worked for me over the last month and provide a fun way to spend time with family and friends over the holiday season!


1. Games Night - host a games night at your home! A friend of mine is very good at this and everyone brings a game plus nibbles or a bottle of wine. We end up having a fabulous evening for little or no money!


2. Get hiking and walking - even though it is certainly colder right now (unless you are reading this in Australia), I've found with a hat and mitts you can convince most people to take a nice walk. If I invite friends who prefer expensive coffee shop catch ups, I might suggest we pick up a hot chocolate or coffee on route or I offer to make us one from home to bring. I recently convinced two friends to go for a long walk in a beautiful park, both admitted they hadn't enjoyed a walk in 5+ years and while they admitted they were unsure at first we've already made a date for another walk!


3. Movie Night - invite friends around and ask them to bring their DVD collection or you can rent a movie from the library or even during the Holidays choose a movie that's on the TV. This can be such a fun, frugal activity and a great way to spend time with a group of friends.


4. Accept dinner invitations or invite others for dinner - hosting people in your home doesn't need to be expensive, you can accept the offer of each guest bringing one dish and I've found with a little forward thinking I can feed a group of six quite easily while staying in my weekly food budget!


5. Join a book club, knitting group, running club etc - I am a member of a knitting club and a book club, both of which I adore. A friend of mine recently bought a house and was struggling to maintain social relationships and keep her exercise costs low while paying her mortgage, I suggested she join a local running club which was free, she has now not only found a free social form of exercise twice a week, but she's also made loads of local friends!


6. Find out about local events - over the Holiday season there are many workshops, fairs, movie events and activities around my local area that are very reasonable. Have a look for signs and advertisements at your local library, Church or recreation centre.


7. Be honest with people about your budget - I've had many offers from friends to come and stay for the weekend which is lovely, but it could create a lot of stress if friends make plans for you that are costly. I've found being honest and upfront about your budget can help you choose activities that won't get you in debt!





















8. Get in the garden, learn a new skill, write a letter, listen to the radio, watch the snow/rain, host a baking day or cooking day - there are so many wholesome, relaxed, simple and frugal things we can do each and every day!


9. Volunteer - you can volunteer on your own or invite friends to volunteer with you! It is such a wonderful way to give back, learn a new skill, help others and spend your time! It can be as simple as making meals for people you know or giving a day to help at a food bank!


10. Use gift cards, vouchers etc - sometimes we have to spend money, I always try to have a few gift cards on hand with enough money for a couple of meals and drinks out. I used these when all my other simple plans fail :)


I think it is also important to remember you can't do everything and it is OK to say no. As I fine tune simple living I find there is a peaceful acceptance and joy which comes from choosing how to spend my time and having the confidence not to accept every offer. There is a freedom found by saying no that money simply can't buy.



Do you have any ideas for frugal ways to spend time with friends and family during this holiday season?

Finally, if I don't get the chance to do so before the Holidays, I wanted to wish every single reader a wonderful Holiday Season! Thank you for enriching my life this year.