Showing posts with label Budgeting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Budgeting. Show all posts

Sunday, 8 July 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?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

How Simplicity Prepares You For The Harder Times

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Late yesterday evening I wrote on my personal blog about the difference in the experience of frugality when it is forced vs. it being a choice. The days grocery shopping "adventure" was still fresh in my mind. And in truth, my mind was on the black formal dress shirt school is insisting each child owns by Monday (for a concert), my daughters need for sandals, my son outgrowing his trousers (again!), four prescriptions that need renewing this month, three bills which recently arrived and a petrol tank in the bottom 1/4.

I've lived a frugal and simple life for many years. You will find us hiking instead of shopping, watering our community garden plot instead of going to an adventure playground or theme park, and spending our evenings reading, playing games, riding bikes or volunteering instead of frequenting paid activities. But this is the first time under our new circumstances of it not being an adventure, or a reason to save for something (emergency fund, car repair fund, holiday fund, long term savings plan). This is no longer about choice, but circumstance. The two very different c's.

The difference for me is two fold. Firstly, the "what if' thought is never far from my mind (what if there is another bill, or an emergency which costs $$ arises) and secondly, the constant need to prioritize, or choose what to cut in order to make it all work. And that isn't a nice feeling at all.

And yet, honestly, I see beauty in how we live. Yes, I've certainly learned that when things are already tough, more seems to go wrong - like a double blow that seems, at times, ridiculously unfair. But I've also learned about joy, faith, perseverance and commitment to a choice, and owning that choice even when it no longer feels like you've chosen such a path. If we had an extra $1000 a month, the reality is, our activities would not change, you would still find us hiking, bike riding, visiting parks, cooking from scratch, playing games, making art and crafts and loving life. None of that would be any different. What would change is the bank balance, our ability to easily deal with the emergencies that arise and perhaps a little bit more peace. But the reality is, we are not poor, we have a very nice roof over our heads, our fridge and cupboards are full, everyone has all the clothes they need, we have more books than we could possibly read (though we are trying!), we have our garden plot, a car that gets us from A to B, each child has a hobby, or two, that they enjoy each week. And our life really isn't any different, except that I need to be far more creative at times. And you know, the artist in me knows, creativity is never a bad thing!

I'd love to hear from you. Do you have any tips for me, or other readers, about embracing forced frugality or living well on less?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Meal Assembly

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Back in early January, a friend called with an invitation to a fun little "party." The set-up was kind of like Tupperware or Mary Kaye cosmetics - a girls get-together to learn about a product, no requirement to buy, some wine and snacks and socializing - the women readers here know what I'm talking about. This "party' was an intro session at a local dinner meals assembly place. We'd have the place to ourselves for that evening, she was bringing a couple bottles of wine, she'd get to prepare a free meal as hostess, we could make ourselves one meal at the "party" price, with the option to prepare additional meals from a reduced menu at regular price.

Even though the place is only two blocks from my home, I'd never been inside. There are about 16 dinner-meal menu items, different each month. A customer schedules an hour-long session once a month, pre-ordering a minimum of 12 meals (in the 3 or 6 serving size) she wants to prepare during that time. Moving from station to station, where everything is set-up for that particular meal, she follows the prep recipe - measuring the ingredients for the sauce into one freezer baggie, putting together the side dish items in another baggie, packaging the meat portion, various baggies, and the cooking instructions all together in a gallon bag, puts that in her section of the guest refrigerator, and on to the next station. When finished, she places her order for next month, and has a least 12 "meals-in-a-bag" to take home and put in her freezer - to thaw and cook as needed.

It made for a fun evening, but the concept wasn't really something compatible with my lifestyle (nor that of most of the readers here, I'd guess. But bear with me, I do have a point to make here eventually). I only have the freezer compartment of my refrigerator, and it's pretty-much full - half with bags of fruits and veggies from my garden and orchard, the other half with white freezer-paper packages of meat I buy in the cost-saving club packs and re-package at home into meal-size servings for the two of us. Our chickens provide our eggs. I grow and dry many of my herbs. I patronize a grocery store that has bulk bins for grains and legumes, and there's another one a block from my home I can walk to when I'm out of milk. I already know how to cook, and usually without a recipe.

So I made my $5 3-serving meal, and bought a couple more pre-made ones from the freezer with my half-off party coupon. One of the employees working that evening was an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in years. So as we were playing catch-up, she told me she'd just gotten a full-time job offer, had given her notice, and that they needed someone to fill her part-time on-call position. I ended up with the job, working a couple of sessions a week - set-up before, clean-up after, cleaning and refilling stations between customers, and just general friendly customer service stuff. It's pleasant enough work, short and flexible hours, and nice to earn a bit of extra spending money.

Now this isn't an advertisement. I purposely am not using the name of the franchise. And even though I now could buy meals with an employee discount, I haven't done so (really - no room in the freezer). The cost of the meals is reasonable - a bit more than my usual home-cooking from scratch, less than a comparable meal in a restaurant. But I find the concept interesting, and I've been talking with the customers quite a bit - asking how long they've been coming there, what they like about it, why they keep coming back. I've been thinking about what they've said, thinking a bit more about the concept in general, and am feeling a bit of a paradigm shift beginning.

Allow me to digress just a bit now: thirty-some years ago, I was living in a rather remote mountain town. The only food store was a big chain franchise, with the standard pre-packaged and over-processed stuff, ingredient lists I couldn't even pronounce. A bunch of us locals got together and started a bulk food-buying co-operative. At first, it was just pitching in for a monthly buying trip to an alternative foods warehouse supplier, splitting up the order in someone's home. We outgrew that and found a small storefront to rent, with members volunteering time in the "store." We outgrew that, ending up with a real store with somewhat regular hours, a small paid staff, tiers of membership options, and a surcharge for use by the general public. Everything was still pretty much bought in bulk, and everyone knew to bring their own bags, jars, and bottles to reuse when shopping. It really was a rather "green sustainable-living" set-up, and gave the whole town access to minimally-processed, pesticide-free food options, whole grains, vegetarian, and alternative food-stuffs not easily obtained back then.

And now, back to the present, where alternatives now abound - Farmers Markets, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, health food stores, internet shopping, etc. And when, as an article written in 2008 (here) says, more than a quarter of food available for consumption ends up being thrown out - spoilage, expiration dates, too much prepared, inadequate storage, and on and on. And I'm  starting to look at this meal-assembly process in a new light.

Maybe it's the food co-op for a new generation. Menu items are bought in bulk, so less individual packaging (although lots of plastic freezer bags - wonder what they'd say if someone wanted to bring in their own reusable freezer containers each month?). Timely use of ingredients - who out there has partially-used spice containers more than a year old? ten years old? Saves money, packaging, food waste - say you only need a teaspoon of turmeric, or a quarter-cup of coconut milk. Saves time too - all the chopping, slicing, and dicing is already done.

It is home-cooking. It is real food. Customers can tweak the ingredients when they're putting each meal together, according to their own family's preferences (say, if you want to leave out the bell peppers or garlic). Healthier alternatives, such as whole-grain pastas, are available to try, without committing to whole bags of something your family won't eat. Some working mothers like that it's all in one bag, with instructions easy enough for dad or the kids to cook. Some empty-nesters have told me that between these meals and a monthly trip to a big warehouse store, they haven't shopped at a supermarket in years - and their food bills are lower.

So it's an interesting experience, and has given me some new concepts to ponder. Besides, I'd say anything that gets families to sit down to dinner together has got to be a good thing.

Saturday, 19 November 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!

Tuesday, 6 September 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  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.

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!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Weddings and Frugality

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Recently I was invited to a friend's wedding. When I make that statement it sounds simple enough, only as details of the wedding & pre-wedding showers emerged, it became incredibly complicated.

The Wedding

Takes place on a weekday = a day off of work (unpaid)
Reception takes place 2.5 hours north of the Church in a very rural area = renting a car and possibly an overnight stay (it is assumed guests will book rooms as the hotel is so rural and there are events the next day).
A new outfit because I have nothing to wear having just moved overseas

Shower One
In a rural location, absolutely no public transport there. On a Sunday which means renting a car for the day
Required to give $50, which they will use to buy things
Everyone attending will also need to pay towards the costs of the shower

Shower Two
On a weekday afternoon which means taking a day off work unpaid
All guest (even if you already attended the other shower) are required to give $50 towards the honeymoon
There will be a charge for activities but it is not known how much yet

Anyone trying, through necessity, choice or circumstance, to live a frugal life will know where I'm going with this... Firstly and perhaps most importantly I want to clarify that it isn't my friend's fault that I would need to rent a car or buy a new outfit, those are because of my circumstances and my circumstances alone. But it is increasingly difficult to attend showers and weddings because of the financial implications and expectations of brides & grooms. At the very least, attending each shower will be almost $100 per event, and I was specifically asked to attend both. On top of that it was made clear that the shower gifts do not replace the wedding gift. This week, before I purchased what I planned to give to the couple, I asked if there was a registry for the wedding, I was told everyone invited was asked to give money because they already own 10 homes, already live together and don't need anything, so they want to use the money to splurge. What's more the wedding coincides with my friend's 30th Birthday, so there will be a separate party so that the Birthday isn't over looked. I didn't ask if I'd be asked to contribute financially to that too, because my then I was already doing the math in my head ;)

Doing my sums and taking all the costs out which are because of my individual circumstances (renting a car, time off work unpaid, a new outfit etc), attending the wedding and two showers & paying the minimum suggested for gifts, the total comes to $455, the suggested contribution towards gifts alone is $175.

When I first found out all the facts, I was a tad disgruntled about it all, many people commented on my blog & emailed in outrage that a bridge & groom could expect their guests to contribute so much. There were an array of similar stories and others shared they to have had to send regrets to events because expectations were too high in their particular season of life.

I wish my friends well, marriage is a gift and I hope they have truly found their life mate. For a while I felt incredible guilt about not being able to be there on their special day, but the more I put into practice the skills and thought process' this simple, green & frugal life has taught me, the more honest I was able to be with myself. Right now it simply isn't possible. And there's no guilt with that!

I'd love to hear from you. Do you think it is OK to charge attendance for showers? Is it OK to request monetary gifts in specific amounts? Have you ever had to say no to a wedding or shower because of the financial implications?

Sunday, 8 May 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, 17 April 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?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Realistic Budgets

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Every now and then I think I can trim more off my budget and I try to convince myself that I don't really need to have as many items budgeted for in my monthly plan. Little conversations will run through my head, the more determined side convincing myself I don't really need to keep adding to my health fund because I so rarely get sick. That same voice would seem so sensible when it suggests I don't need a clothing jar because I don't need new clothes. And yet again the voice rears it's ugly head when it tells me mad money is just a frivolous spend. Only what the weaker voice didn't state loudly enough is that mad money is great fall back money, new clothes may be needed if your winter boots break in half and medication may need to be bought if you suffer from eczema.

Living the frugal life can be a worthy pursuit, but if you aren't careful it can make life more complicated instead of helping you simplify. Sometimes in my effort to have as simple a budget as possible I have actually made my life more difficult. Overspending because you haven't spent enough, pulling money from the wrong place, dipping into other funds and feeling overwhelmed are in direct contrast to the simplicity the frugal life can bring. And when you aren't realistic about your needs & aren't actively and practically planning for the worst - you can be in a situation which is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I use a jar system to allocate my money and the truth is, whether I like it or not, whether I add in $1 or $50 a week I need to budget each week & month for all of my costs. Even if I wish I could eliminate more in every season of my life I need money jars which represent the truth. And right now my *truth* is I need jars for:

Grocery Shopping
Pet Costs

And while health and clothing usually don't entail monthly spends, knowing there's some money rattling around in a jar to help deal with inconveniences like itchy skin & boots which split in half {and are much needed items since we have yet another 2 months of snow storms ahead of us} helps me live a simple, green & frugal life!

How do you keep your budget organized and on track? How do you make cut backs that are realistic? What are your budget necessities?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

One Hundred Ways To Save Money in 2011 Part II

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Part one of this series can be found here! Hopefully people found some helpful suggestions in the previous post, today I'll be looking at another 50 suggestions!

51. Keep 15% to 20% of your weekly grocery budget for stocking up on items when they are on sale.
52. See what you can produce/make {hats, scarves, gloves, soap, jams etc} and organize a swap with someone else whose items you need, such as someone who keeps chickens/hens and has eggs to give away.
53. Search for local farms and see what they sell in bulk, friends of mine buy gallons of wheat & honey for 20% of the cost the shops by purchasing it in very large quantities.
54. Can produce in the summer.
55. Buy bulk produce from farms in the summer and make pies, tomato sauce, crumbles, apple sauce, pear sauce. One year I made 18 apple pies,18 apple crisps and 12 peach pies and froze them!
56. Get your pets from rescue centres, my local centre charges $50 and that includes all the vaccines needed as well as neutering/spaying and micro chipping!
57. Keep a large stock of pet food, if you happened on lean times it is one less worry!
58. Consider getting pet insurance!
59. Learn to knit
60. Learn to sew
61. Learn to make your own shampoo & conditioner
62. Learn to make your own soap
63. Keep a list in your purse of household needs and always pop into second hand shops and/or garage sales to see if any of your items are available at a reasonable cost, but be strict with yourself no purchasing of anything that isn't on the list!
64. Ask your friends if they'd be willing to sell you the clothing their child has outgrown.
65. Organize a clothing swap with friends
66. Attend mom to mom sales and twin sales
67. Start a baby-sitting coop
68. Search for any shops the specialize in second hand furniture - I bought a wonderful couch and a fabulous retro chair for less than $100 {and they both look new!} at a wonderful charity shop that specializes in furnishings!
69. If you are buying new, always arrange to purchase items during the sales.
70. Do your research on prices pre sale {so you know if you are getting a good deal!}
71. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts on large purchases.
72. Consider buying the store model - I did this today as I needed a table, the table was $199 on sale but the sales person gave it to me for $50! $50 for a beautiful new table that was the store model {and it was right at the back of the store with very little traffic so is in great condition!}
73. If you don't have a good rapport with a sales person, go find another one or go back another day!
74. Ask the shops if they have any sales coming up!
75. Buy yourself gift cards, I purchase a couple of cards and put a balance of about $20 on them, this means on the rare occasion I choose to purchase a coffee {usually because I'm meeting a group of friends at a coffee shop} it doesn't cost me anything.
76. Ask for gift cards for Christmas gifts.
77. Get your DVD's from the library
78. Join a wool co-op if you knit
79. Keep lights turned off
80. In the evenings light candles
81. Keep your TV & computer off when not in use {and ensure the power is fully off and they aren't on standby}
82. Turn the tap off as you brush your teeth
83. Take quick showers
84. If you go to the gym or swimming shower there
85. Learn to love simple meals, like a baked potato with salad.
86. If you eat meat, make it an accompaniment to a meal not the main part of the meal!
87. Use nuts, seeds and beans to get protein
88. Shop around for medication, prices vary greatly
89. Ditch the make-up {or at least use bare bones!}
90. Ditch the perfume {or keep it only for special occasions}
91. Hang clothes up after you've worn them, this helps keep them looking nice & reduces the amount of washing you have to do
92. Find a cobbler and see if your shoes can be repaired rather than thrown out
93. Buy plants instead of flowers, they last for years!
94. Keep a tally book in your purse/handbag with average costs of items, this helps you know when something is worth stocking up on
95. Only allow yourself to go to the shops once a week at most
96. Suggest pot luck meals when getting together with friends and family
97. Volunteer - a great social activity at no cost!
98. Do your taxes - you never know when you'll get a refund!
99. Pay yourself each pay day - put a set amount of money into a long term account that you don't touch!
100. Get rid of your sense of entitlement - just because you work hard it doesn't mean you have a "right" to buy what you want. I ran a series about how damaging a sense of entitlement can be, part one is here, part two here and part three here.

In thinking about it, I think the greatest way to save money is to: enjoy life, find joy, search for beauty, commit to reducing your carbon impact, live purposefully and be thankful! The simple, green & frugal life is a beautiful life!

What are your tips for saving money?

Sunday, 26 December 2010

One Hundred Ways To Save Money in 2011 Part I

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Happy Holidays to you & yours! As the Holiday Season closes and the New Year approaches, I've been thinking a lot about the frugal life in 2011. Saving money can feel like a long hard road and while it certainly takes determination, sacrifice and motivation to get out of debt and save, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways we can live more frugally! Here are my own 100 suggestions for ways to cut back spending in 2011.

1. Join the library, go visit, order some books and pledge not to buy a book this year!
2. Cut your magazine subscriptions or ask for them for gifts or even share one between friends.
3. Stop buying cleaning products and instead purchase baking soda and vinegar. Great cleaning solutions and ideas can be found here
4. Stop buying paper towels and instead designate certain tea towels for cleaning the floors, counters etc.
5. Use reusable toilet paper.
6. Buy or make reusable feminine products.
7. Use reusable nappies.
8. Use reusable baby wipes
9. Hang your laundry out to dry.
10. Do not wash things just because you have warn them once except for undergarments!
11. Turn your heat down a few degrees and wear socks and a sweater instead!
12. Turn your air con down a few degrees and wear thin clothes that don't reflect the sun
13. Always either make cards or stock up on packs of cards. You can make or find packages of eight cards for the same cost of 1 card in some shops!
14. Keep a gift drawer in your house and stock it with reasonable items
15. Make homemade gifts
16. Keep cookies, squares and soups in the freezer to give as gifts!
17. Swap names for the holidays instead of buying for everyone.
18. Give charity gifts - a donation to charity and gift in one!
19. Ditch the gym membership.
20. Take up walking, hiking or running.
21. Find free hobbies like joining a choir or book group
22. Nominate two days a week as vegetarian days then build to three
23. Nominate two days a week as no spending days, aim to get used to it (maybe for a month or so) and then increase it to three days a week.
24. Nominate one evening a week as soup night. Soup + veggies + a roll (or crackers) is a very frugal family meal
25. Box up leftovers before sitting down to dinner so that you don't pick at them or have second helpings.
26. Pack a lunch for work each day
27. Always keep water and snacks on hand.
28. Pay cash for your groceries and only take that amount with you to the store.
29. Always shop with a list and a menu planner.
30. Plan your meals, even if you simply plan which meals you'll have over the course of the week.
31. Nominate one day a month as freezer cooking & baking day.
32. Join a food co-op.
33. Grow your own fruits and veg, if you don't have a garden look at a community plot or growing herbs indoors.
34. Make a list of local activities that are free.
35. Nominate one weekend a month as a no-spending weekend.
36. Set yourself no driving days.
37. Combine shopping trips to limit the petrol you use
38. Walk to shops, friends, school, work as much as possible
39. Ride your bike
40. Shop at second hand stores
41. Join freecycle
42. Have a rule that if something comes into your home, something must leave it.
43. Get a slow cooker and nominate one day a week as slow cooker day
44. Repair items that are torn or broken
45. If you are going to purchase something make yourself wait 48 hours
46. Ask yourself if something is a need or a want and calculate how many hours work you would have to do to pay for it.
47. As much as possible drink water
48. Give up soda.
49. Give up candy
50. Set yourself a mad money limit each month which you can spend on what you want, $20 can let you splurge on some new music or some treats or a trip to the movies. But when it is gone, it is gone! :)

Part II will follow on my next posting day!

What are your money saving tips for 2011?

Saturday, 30 October 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?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Simple Green & Frugal Dating/Date Night

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Who says a good date isn't apple picking?

I am very blessed to have friends from a variety of different backgrounds, who live in a variety of different ways. Recently the topic of money & dating/date night (for partners/married couples) came up over dinner and it was interesting to see what the priorities and ideas were about what constituted quality time together and how much people felt that would cost! On the one hand, I have friends who are just preparing to marry and have (in all these months) spent a grand total of $6 on dating - going out for 2 frozen yogurts. The rest of their dates have involved home cooked meals with family and friends or walks in the park. They have decided to forgo eating out, flowers, gifts, movie or theatre tickets or anything which costs money. On the other hand other friends shared that for them date night costs at least $100 + by the time they've paid for dinner, two movie tickets, a large popcorn and 2 drinks. Other friends shared their dates cost upward of $500 a month because they like to do something to really relax like go to the theatre or get a massage. The consensus was that dating and romance is expensive!

Like most things in life I'm both somewhere in the middle and I do like dating to reflect my simple, green & frugal values! I don't think you have to be as extreme as never spending money (unless you want to!), but I also think most people don't realize that you don't need to spend money to have a good date or a good night out.

Here are some ideas:

Long country or seaside walks - it's quite easy to find out about good walks in your area on your local government website or via a guide book at the library. Pack a picnic and you have almost a whole days entertainment!

Coffee and dessert - this is generally cheaper than having a meal out and you can still choose a coffee house or restaurant with a nice atmosphere!

Last minute tickets - Many theatres and concert halls sell off their available tickets for the matinee or evening performance that day for a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket bought in advance! I know in London, England I can usually get theatre tickets for 25% of the cost by buying the morning of the performance! Obviously seating can be more restricted!

Make date night a "different" night - My local cinema offers dinner & a movie for $15 on a Wednesday and my local movie theatre has a movie for $5 (instead of $12) on a Tuesday. It may not be Friday or Saturday night, but for the budget conscious it works!

Volunteering together - Whether you work on a conservation project like planting trees or counting wild animals, there are plenty of things you can do together that are unique, simple, green & frugal!

Making something for each other or doing something for each other - It can be as simple as making a meal, giving each other neck massages or knitting slippers or socks for each other!

Using airmiles and reward points for more expensive options - This is a great way to afford a more elaborate meal out, cinema tickets, rental cars, hotels, spa days or travel. Saving them up for Anniversaries and Birthdays can be an extra special way to treat the other person!

Make use of things that are free - Many museums and art galleries offer free admissions or at least free admission one evening a week. Add to that festivals, city fairs, book readings, concerts in the park and farm open days and pretty soon you have many new options that are budget friendly!

Do something unique - a local community centre and vintage theatre offer an evening once each week with a variety of local musicians who want to perform, there is no cost for admittance, they simply ask you buy one drink. The atmosphere is stunning (the building is over 100 years old) and the lighting and acoustics are beautiful. For the cost of $8 for two drinks, it is a wonderfully romantic night out! Other unique ideas include visiting animal sanctuaries (my local one is free, another one a bit further out is $4) or going apple, blueberry or strawberry picking! There are so many ways to enjoy some quiet and fun time together when you think outside the box!

I think the key is variety, maybe once a month you do something with a higher budget like dinner out and the other times you stick to low cost romance like walks, coffee out or volunteering. I've learned that being frugal doesn't mean no romance and it is pretty easy to transport your simple, green and frugal lifestyle to all areas of your life!

I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any simple, green and frugal ideas? Do you budget each month for dating and romance?

Thursday, 19 August 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?

Saturday, 10 July 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, 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!!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Making Your Own Deodorant

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

One of the most popular posts on my blog is a post about making my deodorant. Hundreds of people visit it each day - still, a year after I wrote it! And I must say making my own deodorant is one of THE easiest changes I've ever made on the path of sustainability.

Why Make Your Own Deodorant?

  1. Aluminum is a neurotoxin, and is found in most antiperspirants. It has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, respiratory illnesses, reduced renal function, and DNA damage. Find out more here, here and here.
  2. The parabens in many antiperspirants may be linked to breast cancer, and there are possible complications associated with SLS in deodorants.
  3. It's really, really cheap.
  4. It's really, really easy.
The Story

Since I learned about aluminum in normal antiperspirant about 20 years ago, I have been searching for the best non-toxic deodorant. For whatever reason, most “natural” deodorants just don’t work for me at all.

But several years ago I found Alvera Aloe & Almond Deodorant. It works and smells lovely. It’s not tested on animals and it has ingredients I can pronounce. The problem: not very many stores carry it. So over the years I’ve gone from natural store to natural store looking for it, I’ve stocked up from time to time, I’ve had stores order it, and I’ve ordered it online, but all that is time consuming, frustrating, and resource-depleting. I did this for years!

That is, until the week my husband was in the hospital a little over a year ago. I brought him a bag from home that included a brush, shaving supplies, … and our only stick of deodorant. So, after stepping out of a nice clean shower at home, I desperately searched for an alternative. I reasoned to myself that if baking soda works on my hair, why not try it on my underarms? Afterall, it’s an ingredient in many deodorants…. So I used it like baby powder, just a splash.

And it was the best deodorant I’ve ever used. No kidding.

The following day, I didn’t need to re-apply. Amazing!!

But then… on day 3, I realized my left underarm was itching a bit. So I did some online research, and found that straight baking soda might be too strong. Apparently, you need just a tiny bit. In my various hours of research, I came upon a solution: mixing baking soda with cornstarch. The cornstarch actually works as a light antiperspirant, and the baking soda deodorizes.

I’ve been using it for over a year now, and I love it. Absolutely love it.


  1. In a reusable and resealable container, mix 1 part baking soda with 6 parts cornstarch.
  2. Close the container and shake vigorously for about a minute, to thoroughly mix the two powders.
  3. Then dab a small amount to the skin of your armpits with a soft cotton cloth, cotton ball, or cosmetic applicator. Apply as if you were lightly applying baby powder or cosmetic powder.
How hard is that?


  • If this recipe is too harsh on your skin (it would only be that way for people with extra sensitive skin), you can mix 1 part baking soda with 6 parts coconut oil. I use this variation, and it works equally well, though sometimes I need to reapply in the middle of a particularly sweaty day. I just keep a small container at work, just like I used to have a stick of deodorant.
  • If you decide that straight baking soda isn’t right for you, you might try “The Rock” or use one of the recipes here, here or here for homemade deodorant.

Final Notes
  • The application should last at least a day – for me it lasts at least 2 days!
  • This method hasn’t left any stains or residues on my white or black clothing. It seems to do better than normal deodorant in that regard! (Still, of course use caution with expensive and/or hard-to-clean items, as you would with any deodorant.)
  • A nice way to store your deodorant powder is in an antique cosmetic jar (above), which you can pick up at a garage sale or thrift store.
  • Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) is aluminum free.
  • Curious how conventional antiperspirants work? Find out here.

Do You Make Your Own Deodorant?

If you do, how do you make it? And if you don't, would you consider trying it?

Friday, 19 March 2010

Frugal Homeschool

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Home educating on a budget may seem like a challenge at first, especially if you are attempting to gather as many resources as your average classroom. There is no need to rush out and buy a lot of equipment that you may not need. First, sit down and write a “wish list”, then highlight the items you feel are most necessary to begin.

There are many alternatives to expensive educational resources. Below are some ideas to help you save money in setting up your home learning space.

- Buy furniture which has multiple uses. Consider a large, second-hand dining table over individual desks, for example. Use open shelving rather than cupboards for storing supplies and books. This allows the children to see what is available for their use and is less expensive. I have used two bolt-together galvanised steel five-shelf units to hold the many games, puzzles, construction kits and so on that I have gathered over the years. The children can see everything on the shelves and they remain tidy and uncluttered compared to a cupboard. They cost $15 each from the hardware store. I also have a 2.5m high, 1.2m wide shelving unit in white melamine, that’s tougher than your average chipboard one as it was once display shelving in a shop. This one holds many files, folders, books and boxes and cost me $30 from a second-hand furniture store.

- Consider a $2 inflatable globe from a discount store before investing in an expensive atlas or globe. My children have learned more world geography from their “beach ball globe” than from any other maps or books we own. Atlases often come on sale at the start of the school year or in book club catalogues. Hold out until you get a quality, inexpensive one. Or suggest one as a gift idea from a grandparent or other family member.

- Look at alternatives before investing in sets of encyclopedias. In today’s technological age there is up-to-date information on many topics available on the Internet, which many families have access to at home or at their local library. Sites like wikipedia and those designs specifically for educators like askjeeves will most likely provide answers to most questions that young ones come up with. Encyclopedias on CD rom are also a cheaper version that the book sets. Libraries usually have at least one set of quality encyclopedias. Second-hand sets are readily available and even a ten-year old set won’t be too out of date if you can buy it at a reasonable price. Childcraft sets rarely date in their content and we have found many versions of these second-hand – at garage sales, library sales and op. shops.

- Art and craft supplies are especially important for littlies. I buy a lot of mine from an educational supplier in bulk. I buy 2 litre bottles of poster paint cheaper than I can buy 500ml at the local discount store. I also buy glue in bulk and refill glue applicators and pots with brushes or glue spatulas. I use powder paint and powder glue for big art projects as it works out to be much cheaper. We use recycled paper and quality pencils and crayons for day-to-day art play. I have found that it is more worthwhile buying one set of Stockmar crayons or Lyra pencils every few years (or more) than buying the cheaper pencils on sale at the supermarket. I buy coloured paper and other mediums for them to use for special projects and gifts. Our clay comes in 10kg packages from art suppliers or “recycled” clay from the local potters club, and we make our own playdough with simple kitchen ingredients. I’ve also bought playdough in bulk because it is only slightly more expensive than making it myself, and has a longer shelf life in our hot summers.

- Buy exercise books, writing pencils, computer paper, folders and more at the back-to-school sales and keep a supply handy for when the children need these. Cover books yourself rather than buying those with covers depicting favourite characters, they are too expensive.

- Buy the minimum number of books you can for your child’s learning. Wait until they have used the curriculum for awhile before deciding to invest in a whole series. Borrow reading books from the library rather than buying them all new. And take literature lists to second-hand book stores as often these titles are readily available in used condition having been prescribed school readers. While you are at the second hand book stores, check out the reference section and for any quality books that are not too out-dated.

- Make your own games. Learning games are fun and they work! There are many websites to get you started with making games. Learning games can be in the form of board games, card games or physical games. They can include music, sports equipment, flash cards or dice. You are limited only by your imagination. And the kids have plenty of that, so get them involved!

- Plan some low-cost excursions or consider annual passes to local museums or wildlife parks if you think you will get value for your dollar. Often you need only go twice to recoup your membership costs, and there are a lot of extra benefits. These annual tickets are a great gift idea for someone wanting to give to your whole family.

The golden rule in the beginning is WAIT. As time progresses you will know what your family’s needs are and you may hear from other homeschoolers where the bargains are. You don’t need to build a school in your home to start on your home based learning journey. If you are feeling inadequate, write a list of all the resources available in your community - include the library, council, tourist centre, parks, galleries, museums, natural resources (beach, forest, river etc), people, schools and so on. You will be surprised at the range of activities just waiting to be enjoyed as part of your home education journey.

Here are some online resources which might save you some money…

School Express US site - lots of free printables and more

Classics for Kids Free lesson plans for four classical composers, timelines, biographies and more - get your music from the local library or $2 shop CDs and enjoy!

SparkleBox - 1000s of printables!

Donna Young Want to be organised? Like free printables? You’ll love Donna Young.

An Old Fashioned Education
Christian and Classical Education Resources - so many subjects and all free resources!

Skwirk Free, interactive and Australian! Three points!

The Learning Page This has been around for years, and we’ve used the free printables many times. Lovely stuff!

The Magic of a Million Activity Book Download for free!

Worksheet Factory These are fantastic for creating your own worksheets to concentrate on a specific area of maths which may need revision, without having to handwrite the problems for your child! There are several programs available for free trial.

Pocket Basics The Pocket Basics books have been highly recommended. This page offers a variety of valuable downloads for…. Free!

Puzzlemaker Great fun for those who enjoy word puzzles. Create an activity book which suits their skill level perfectly.

Educational Press This is fantastic - so many options and levels and you can create your own board games etc. at home.

Enchanted Learning Over 20000 pages of printables.

The Well-Bred Sentence Studying grammar? Everything you need to know about sentence construction and punctuation.

Craft Creations Free Projects for card making enthusiasts.

International Children’s Digital Library Children’s literature to encourage a global community.

Please leave a comment with some of your frugal education ideas and links!

Thursday, 18 February 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?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Last-Minute Gift Ideas For the Holidays: No- and Low-Cost Gifts

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

I posted this a couple of days ago on my own blog, but thought that you all might find this list useful, too. Please share any ideas you have in the comments!

It's nearing Christmas, and I haven't bought a single gift for the holidays. Am I worried? Maybe a little bit, but I'm not stressed about it. I have thought about it a lot, and I already know what I'll be getting most of my friends and family. For most, I don't even need to leave my home!

The other day I asked readers and friends what ideas they had for no-cost gifts. Here's my favorite answer, from Stacey:

So, as a kid, I collected Breyer model horses. I was obsessed with them and all things horsey. Recently, I found them stored in my garage and have decided that they now need to belong to my equally horse-obsessed nieces. There are so many things right with this... I get a whole new opportunity to share my toys [I may not have excelled at this as a ... See Morekid], my nieces get something that they'll love to play with, the garage will be less cluttered and, the best thing is that I get to share something with them that I once loved.

That brings me to....

Gift Idea #1: Gifts From Your Home, Garage, or Storage

Most of us have things around the house, and particularly stored in a box or a corner somewhere that mean something special to us - or more often than not, meant something special to us - and we can't bare to part with it. Books, records, dresses, coats, vases, pictures, dolls, figurines, games, tools, fishing gear, ... the list continues, doesn't it? So why not keep it close to you, and give it to someone who will really appreciate it? An antique means nothing in your basement. The memories will never leave your mind, and new memories will be formed if you give it to someone who will love it.

If the object means something special to you, you might want to attach your story to the gift. Tell the special someone about the gift, or write it down in a note: where it came from and what it meant to you. Think of this as part of the gift you're giving. Because after all, it is probably the most important part!

Here's another great story from Julie:

One of my most treasured gifts was from my grandmother- a collection of old photos from my childhood, my mother's childhood and even earlier ones of my grandmother as a young woman. She was able to scale back her photo closet plus give us grandkids something to treasure. She really enjoyed the process of going through and picking out ones for each of us.

Gift Idea #2: Special Keepsakes From the Heart

My grandmother always used to say that instead of waiting until she's passed away and people attach sadness to a special gift given in a will, she'd rather give it away now and watch people really enjoy it. So true - it makes such a difference to hear the stories and to share the experiences!

Maybe it's a piece of jewelry, a photograph, a work of art, an heirloom passed through generations... Share it with someone you love this year. Make sure you tell the stories behind the gift, and make the giving of the gift truly special. Spend the time and effort to let the person know how special this keepsake is to you, and how much you want that person to have it and treasure it. And let it bring you closer together.

Gift Idea #3: Thoughtful Non-Material Gifts

Here's a great list from Rachel:

1. Baby sitting someone's kids for the evening so they can have alone time.

2. Washing someone's car or cleaning their house - or doing any other housework errand that they can't find the time/energy to do (like helping them tackle that overflowing mess of a closet, for example).

3. Chopping someone's firewood.

4. Putting up someone's Christmas lights for them.

5. The gift of your time. Actively prioritizing relationships we take for granted: ACTUALLY taking the time to spend a few hours visiting with friends that you don't often see.

And from Risa:

6. Listening. With offer of fresh hot chocolate.

I'd add to this list:

7. Help painting the porch
8. Gardening: pruning, planting, composting, and more
9. Setting up dad’s computer
10. A candlelight dinner for two at home

Gift Idea #4: A Coupon Book of Non-Material Gifts

Here's another one from Julie:

One time my sister and I made a coupon booklet for my parents, with things like: a homecooked meal, mowing the lawn, a neck and back massage, being chauffeur for the day, etc.

You can certainly add kisses and hugs, as well as all the things listed in #5.

Gift Idea #5: Re-Gift

I know, it's not super kosher to re-gift, but what else are you going to do with it? And why not give it to someone who will appreciate it?

From Tree:

For my Father-in-Law: I regift (I know some people think its taky). Each year one of the Servicers I use through the year, sends me a lovely gourmet basket - It perfect for DH’s dad and we don’t eat that sort of stuff.

Gift Idea #6: Make Something

You don't have much time, but sometimes things don't take much time to make. On Tuesday, my Mom and I are getting together to make homemade biscotti for all of our cousins. I see it as a gift my mother and I are giving one another (spending quality time together), and a tasty gift for our family members. Another idea? How about a collage of meaningful photos, or a calendar made from your great trip photos or photos of your garden?

From Rob:
most things I give are homemade, and this year giving one of my turkey fryer burners to a friend who brews his own beer. LOL I don’t need two fryers anyway. And I am “remaking” clocks- one or two of them are old clocks I had sitting around, and 1 was bought at the “AS-IS” department at IKEA
From Erin:

I’ve been canning my garden bounty the last few weeks and have lots of salsa and mustard to give as gifts. I also plan to do a lot of knitted gifts again this year, but am keeping it simple with toys/ornaments for the nieces and nephews.
That brings me to...

Idea #7: Gifts From The Garden

You can't grow anything now, sure - but you can give dried herbs or fruit, canned goods, saved seeds, and propagated plants. Yes! I have a cardamon plant indoors that just keeps making new shoots. It's too big for its pot now, so I'm going to divide a few of the shoots and re-pot them as gifts! Or maybe you're like me, and you have four pothos plants around your home from different cuttings at different times. Why not give one away to someone who doesn't have much greenery in their home? Plus, imagine the joy of receiving a jar of homemade jam... Yum!

Idea #8: Peruse Antique Stores, Thrift Stores, and Used Book Stores

You may have cleaned out your storage units, your closets, and your garage and have little to offer from your home. Well, go into town and have some fun going through the local antique store. A beautiful first-edition copy of your mom’s favorite book, an awesome game you used to play as kids (maybe you can turn it into a new holiday tradition), a vintage handbag, an irresistible shawl, a tricycle, almost anything you can think of giving comes in used versions!

Idea #9: Charity Gift Cards

This is a great gift for people who don't need or want more things, but to whom you really want to give a gift and show your appreciation and love. If you know their favorite charity, you can make a donation in their name. Otherwise, one of my favorites is Heifer International, where you can make a donation of goats for a family to keep for milk, or ducks for eggs, or many other things. And one of our favorite clients is TisBest, which allows you to give a gift card (you can give it in email form), and the recipient can choose which charity to give it to.

Idea #10: A Coupon Book for Local Goods and Services

Here in Seattle, we have the Chinook Book. I love it. It costs $20, you can buy it from any number of local stores or charities, and it has loads of coupons for green, sustainable, and local goods and services. I save hundreds of dollars using these coupons over the year, and it helps me support local businesses. How about giving one to someone who are looking for an extra push to "go local" or "go green", or someone who could use some extra coupons in their life (and who couldn't these days?).

There are several other types of coupon books out there. Check around or Google "coupon book" and the name of your city or state. And the Chinook Book is also available in Portland, Denver, Silicon Valley, East Bay, and Twin Cities.

Did You Already Buy All Your Gifts?

You may have done all your shopping this year. But did you see something on this list that is better than what you've bought? Or cheaper? So give the no- or low-cost, meaningful gift instead and take the other one back. I bet you won't regret it at all!

Did This List Make You Think of Some Great Gift Ideas?

Yes? Great!! Go do it, and please take a moment to share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below, so we can all have more ideas!

And have wonderful, safe, and happy holidays everyone!