Friday, 31 October 2008

Budgeting - don't be a carbon copy

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

Graphic from the Carl Larsen gallery

Whether you like it or not, to live a simply or green life, you must reduce your spending. It's part of the territory. You will get away with not growing your own food, you don't have to keep chickens, goats, make soap, bake bread, sew or knit, you can live in the city or the country, you can work or not, you can be young or older, but the one thing everyone has to do is to reduce their spending. Every time you buy something, you also own the carbon released into the atmosphere in the making of your product, you own the petrochemicals used in it's manufacture and in the transport that gets it from where it was made, or grown, to your home. Living simply will reduce the amount of of money you need to live because you'll be satisfied with less and you'll be making a lot of what you use. Maybe you'll also do some of those things I listed above, like bread baking, growing food and sewing. You'll also make do with less, recycle and mend, and in the process of that you'll give old items new lives and reduce the amount of things you buy.

A simple life costs less than the life lived by most western people now.

So if you believe me when I tell you that you must reduce your spending, also believe me when I tell you the best way to reduce your spending is to have a budget. This is not a scary thing, it's liberating. A good budget will be one of the best tools you'll have to help you live the life you want for yourself and your family. I've said before that a simple life is not about deprivation and being miserable, so with that in mind, when you first start living this way, make your budget a document that will give you the life you want but allow yourself small things that you need to be happy. My only luxury is $10 a week that I can use to buy what I want. Many of you would wonder why I bother with such a small amount, but that is what this lifestyle is about, it's being satisfied with the small things and being happy with the life I live. If you do it well, your life will make you happy and if you do budget for small luxuries like an occasional cup of coffee, I bet you eventually give it up because you'll find other things you want to spend that money on - things that will be more important to you. But if you can't imagine a life now without being able to buy a cup of coffee, a magazine, a bottle of water or whatever, budget for it.

The only things you'll buy from now on will be what you've budgeted for.

This is how we wrote our budget. We got all the bills we paid in the previous year and added them up to make a yearly figure. That was four electricity bills, three gas bills, in the first year we guessed how much petrol we used. We added up our grocery bills, what we spent on medical, optical, dental, the garden, postage, house rates (or rents), water, insurance, phone, Internet, gifts, clothes, shoes etc - everything we spent money on was calculated out at a yearly sum. So we had a yearly figure for each thing - our electricity, our water, groceries, petrol etc. Then, because we shop monthly, we divided our yearly amounts by 12 to give us 12 monthly amounts. That is what we budget for - 12 amounts for our 12 months. If you shop weekly, fortnightly or bi-monthly, divide your amounts up by 52 (for weekly), 26 (fortnightly) or 6 (bi-monthly). Whatever the amount is that is what you have to spend for the period you have chosen.

We keep the money for our fixed bills - the things we don't have to pay in cash, like the electricity bill, phone, internet etc - in the bank. Those amounts are paid by direct debit directly from the bank when the bill comes in. For everything else, our grocery shopping, petrol, garden supplies, dog food etc, we withdraw that amount - for us it's $690 a month - in cash. That cash is then divided up and placed into a ziplock bag that is named for its purpose. For instance, I have one bag for grocery money, one bag for bulk food money, one bag for medical, dental and chemist. The good things about these bags is that you deal with real money, you see what you've spent and what you have left.

Hopefully, you've started tracking your spending because that will play a big part in your budget. When you've tracked your spending for a few weeks, you'll see the pattern of your spending. You'll find places where your money is leaking and you'll be able to stop those leaks. If, when you do your budget, you find you do not have the amount of money you need, go to your tracking, find those leaks or items that are not needed, stop the spending on those things and so you have it to cover what is in your budget. And remember, now you only spend what you budget for. If you've budgeted for your cups of coffee and you can afford them, that's fine, if you cant afford them, you will have to do without. My feeling is that if you've read this far you will be keen to get your money in order. My guess is that paying off debt and living a good life will replace your coffees - or whatever your luxury is - and you won't even notice the absence.

We try to be thrifty with all our purchases so we have money left over at the end of the month. Usually it's around $100. That money is then put into our emergency fund. If we have enough money in the EF, that leftover money goes straight into our savings. But if you're paying off debt, I would encourage you to build up an emergency fund, then put every spare cent towards paying off your debt. Put your left over money as an extra payment on the debt with the highest interest rate.

So that's it. That is my guide to budgeting or creating your own spending plan. I'm not going to say it's easy, I know it won't be, but if you can do this, it will be the thing that makes the biggest difference to the way you live. And as I said before, don't be fooled into thinking you can keep spending and also live simply - it's impossible. You do one or the other. I hope you can reduce your spending, I hope you see the worth of it, because if you do, you will be able to live well on less, you'll pay your debt off much faster and you live a life that is unique and not a carbon copy of all the others in your street.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Growing year to year

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

As we work to grow our gardens, bringing fresh, healthy and organic food to our tables it's easy to get caught up in the process of picking our plants, choosing varieties, finding recipes that we'll use to preserve our harvests and just generally revelling in the excitement of either a new growing year or in the harvests that we're so enjoying as they come in. I've done it, I still do do it to some degree, but I've also learned that there are other things that I need to find some time and discipline to do. One such thing that we've been really making a concerted effort towards this year is our record keeping. It's not one of the glamorous parts of homesteading but it is, I am finding, an immensely valuable one.
List of this years preserved harvest items.

We kept our records this year, in a couple of very cheap spiral notebooks that got incredibly beaten up throughout the year. They were effective and easy to add things to though, and now that the majority of the growing season has passed us here in the northern hemisphere it is time to reconcile all the notes and charts into one location. For us that means digging into a stash of three ring binders that we salvaged from my office that were bound for the land fill, no need to waste after all. The types of things that we have added or will be adding are lists of things like what we grew this year, what we'd like to try next year, what and how much we put up for the winter and anything else we want to keep track of.
Detailed Journal of 2008 harvest totals.

This year for instance, we made it a personal goal to keep records of the weight of every item that we harvested. It allowed us to not only get a very realistic idea of how much total food we were able to produce on our own land, (over 500 lbs so far.) but it also will allow us to go back over the records in the off season and see what really did grow and produce well in our garden. Maybe we need to start earlier or try a different location, or maybe we just don't think a particular crop is worth the effort. Good records will help us to remember until next year and aid us in making adjustments to next years garden plan.
Charts showing what was grown where to help with garden rotations next year.

And that's another thing we have in our records, charts of what we grew and where we grew them. This is probably one of the things that I would say is a mandatory thing in any garden record book. I don't know about you all, but I can't remember from spring to summer what I planted where, and have made the mistake of growing the same things in the same places many times. Good crop rotation is one of the best organic gardening practices you can implement. It helps to keep pests from building up in one area, and minimizes the chances of species specific soil-born diseases from taking over. They don't need to be too detailed either, the ones in the picture above took me ten minutes to throw down on paper. I did have some notes in the beat up spiral notebooks, but most of the info I still remember. That won't be the case in February or March I assure you.
Keeping good records isn't one of those romantic, back to the land, idealistic things that we generally have come to mind, but in my opinion is one of the basic skills that we can build from the start to help ensure our other efforts are "fruitful". I encourage you to at least get a basic notebook, and start building that habit of jotting things down as they happen. Keep track of what you harvest, what kind of bugs you're seeing, weather patterns or anything else you think you may want to remember. You'll thank yourself later!
Grow on!

Bringing the countryside to the city!

Notes From The Frugal Trenches

For those that don't know I live in London, England. London is a fabulous city with amazing galleries, museums and buildings to explore. There are tourist attractions aplenty and some pretty nice parks. Those same nice parks get pretty crowded at the weekends, filled with tourists from afar and in truth they rarely satisfied my need for open space. Over the last six months I've come to feel suffocated by the people and noise so I decided I needed to find a way to get more of the countryside into my city life and I came up with & tried some of the following strategies

1.Try at least once a week to get to one of the city's great parks before the tourists arrived. This often meant getting up early, which took some adjusting, but oh so worth it in the end!

2. Find out about city farms local to me. Many of them are small and rely on fundraising and volunteers to function, this means they are usually eager to find helpers! What a great way to feel like you're living the rural life - certainly being surrounded by pigs & chickens made me forget I was in the city!

3. Become a dog walker at an animal shelter - what a brilliant way to give back, help animals in need, get some exercise and see grass instead of concrete!

4. Participate in an outdoor exercise group - I found this so much more rewarding then simply walking on a treadmill!

5. Buy or rent a bicycle - concrete often looks more appealing when cycling instead of sitting on a bus or tube/subway!

6. Take up a new hobby - often cities have canoe clubs, running groups and other great activities.

7. Try to escape the city at least once a month! I joined an association here in the UK where you can stay at no frills hostels (including family friendly ones) for about £15/$30 a night (some even less!). This means I can take advantage of cheap train deals and escape for a night or two regularly!

8. Plan that yearly holiday - I'm really becoming a person who craves simplicity. On the whole I'd now rather rent a little cottage by the sea or in the countryside. As long as I have countryside to roam and hills to climb I'm pretty happy!

9. Plant a garden - if you don't have a garden get some indoor plants or window plants. Even with no outside space you can grow herbs!

10. Join your works social committee or away day team - often this means you get a say in where work events are held and you can suggest and encourage outdoor pursuits!

None of these allowed me to accomplish my dream of having a little cottage in the English countryside with my rescue cats and rabbits, but it did let me feel a bit of peace and simplicity in a very hectic and busy world!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Learning how to sew

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I loved Sadge's post below. Since my journey into a simpler life, one of the things that has come as a surprise to me was how much I loved learning how to sew.

Prior to my 'transition', I did not consider myself creative in any way at all. I failed home economics during highschool (I got a 'D' for cooking and an 'F' for sewing). As an adult, I was the type that threw away clothes if a button fell off.

Later on in life, I started to think about learning how to sew (properly) but as a mother to two little ones and with no babysitting available to me, opportunities for me to go to a proper class were very limited.

This all changed when I took up the challenge to not buy anything brand new in 2006. At first, everything was fine, until - you guessed it - a button fell of my jacket. So after borrowing a needle and got given some thread from my neighbour (yep, didn't have those at all in my house), I sewed my first button back on. It was then that I realised that I needed to teach myself how to sew if I was to stick to my challenge.

So first stop was to the op shop, where I found some white acrylic wool and a large needle with a big hole on it... later on I was to learn that it was an upholstery needle.

Next step was that I needed to now have materials to sew it with. I didn't want to spend a huge amount of money of learn how to sew (and I couldn't buy brand new fabrics anyway without breaking my challenge). So fate came along and taught me a new word: "Reconstructed Clothing". Reconstructed clothing is clothing that was made using old clothes. Basically, you pull apart clothes and make new ones.

So armed with an old jumper (that I pre-shrunk in the wash) and with the help of the Internet (Google and Youtube are fantastic resources to learn how to sew), I made this outfit for my son:

Yes, the sewing's crooked and it took me about 2 solid days to do it, but I was so proud of this. Plus, I had the added bonus of my son looking cute (well, I think so anyway) in it and I could tell myself that this distracted people from the crooked sewing.

Since then, I have graduated from hand-sewing to finally using a machine (again bought second-hand). Slowly, I acquired the necessary sewing materials - pins, scissors, pin cushion, more thread. Everything I acquired was second-hand. My generous friends also gave me a whole heap of clothes to experiment on (not to mention my own clothes!).

Reconstructed clothing not only allowed me to learn how to sew very cheaply, but by pulling apart already made clothes, I learnt a great deal in how they were put together in the first place. And because I was using clothes that would've been thrown away anyway, it freed me to be more daring and experiment a lot more than I would have.

Yes, I have since made a few disasters but as the disasters didn't really cost me anything but my time, I was able to just concentrate on the learning opportunities those disasters gave me without thinking of the amount of money I might have "wasted" otherwise.

So there you go, that's how I learned how to sew. If you would like to learn, I would highly recommend learning by reconstructing clothing and/or using materials from op shops.

Anyway, here are a list of websites that have helped me in my journey: (lots of tutorials here for reconstructed clothing)
Sew, Mama, Sew Blog Tutorials
And also Youtube and just searched for specific items (eg. "sew a zipper" or "sew a button hole" etc)

For those who may be interested in sewing an outfit similar to the one I made for my son, this is the tutorial I used for the pants: The rest of the outfit, I just hand-sewed as I went along using my son's actual clothes as templates and somehow fluked it.

All the best!

ETA: THANK YOU Sadge for reminding me of this great site: I got heaps of inspiration from this site when I was learning how to sew (still do too). You can join them and pledge not to buy brand-new clothes for 2 to 6 months. Then everyone inspires each other to sew or to reconstruct clothing. I had a lot of fun joining in here and I would highly recommend it for newbies to sewing. :)

Oh Darn! Mending Socks (or Gloves)

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm

I've been quite busy, getting the harvest put up and the garden put to bed, so I hope you won't mind if I just adapt another old post from my blog. Since the socks I put on this morning were the same ones in this post, I thought I'd use it:

I went to put on my socks, and noticed a small hole in the toe of one. The saying, "a stitch in time saves nine" is so very true when it comes to mending socks. A small hole is easy to fix, but once it gets bigger than a thumbnail, almost impossible. To mend a sock, you wouldn't want to just sew it, because that would leave a ridge that could later cause a blister or sore spot. Mending a sock uses a method called darning, weaving a patch over the hole. So I went to get my darning kit.

I inherited my mother-in-law's darning kit. She kept it in a marbled bakelite box. The box has a broken hinge, but it's the perfect size and I really love it. Looking at some of the things in there, I might be the third or even fourth generation to use it. There are big cardboard spools of cotton darning thread in normal sock colors, and smaller ones with some very bright and odd colors. Some of the threads are on wooden spools, and others are wrapped around rolled paper, labeled 10 yards for 5¢. There's writing inside the rolls, but I haven't wanted to take the thread off to see what it says. An assortment of wool yarns and nylon thread are wrapped around cards, 30 yards for 10¢. The darning egg is a wooden oval mounted on a spindle, the varnish worn away on the end and the tip scarred with gouges and scrapes. I've added a plastic cigar case, perfect for mending holes in the fingers of gloves, and a better pair of scissors (and now that I'm looking at the photo, the handle end of my egg would work for mending gloves too).

But you certainly don't need all this to mend socks - just some embroidery floss or yarn, a needle, and an "egg". For a darning egg, you want something rounded you can stretch the material over, with a smooth surface the tip of the needle will glide over. A light bulb or plastic Easter egg are good options. To start, put your "egg" inside at the location of the hole. Thread your needle with yarn, darning thread, or embroidery floss that matches the type of material (and color, if you want - my sister likes to use a contrasting color so she can admire her work, but when I use a different color, I see it and think "not sock", and think I've got another hole). If at all possible, use wool yarn for wool socks, cotton floss for cotton socks, polyester . . . you get the idea. Double the yarn for heavier material - you want to match the weight of the material too.

Stretch the material slightly over your egg. Start below the hole where the material is in good shape. You don't want to knot the thread - that would create a lump - so anchor your thread by making a running stitch (dipping the needle in and out of the material) to 1/2 inch away from the hole, and then making another running stitch back towards the hole. Don't pull the thread tight enough to pucker the material. You want it to just lie smoothly in the slightly stretched material.

Make a boundary around, outside the hole, with running stitches. That helps anchor the darning and reinforces the edges. Then, working back and forth over the hole from top to bottom, lay down parallel lines of thread. When the hole is covered over, start parallel lines side to side, perpendicular to the first set, dipping the needle up and down to create a woven pattern that fills in the hole. Finish with a running stitch away from the hole, and one more back, trim the ends, and you're done!