Posts Tagged ‘budget’

I saw this idea somewhere between Back Home and Natural Home (& Garden), and I can’t figure who to credit this idea to, however, as we start to employ less toys, but more that are visible, it became obvious that we needed a row of hooks for silks and other play fabric and scarves.

Since we’re on a new “living within our means” commitment, I needed something functional, fast and free (my favorite f-words!).

So, the twig row of hooks was born.  It was fun to make and involve my nearly-3-year-old in, scavenging twigs and branches from around the house, using the loppers to get the right cuts, sanding the rough edges and banging the nails into a discarded piece of lumber hanging out in the garage, just waiting for a purpose in life.  Fun activity, no need to “fetch” supplies and just what I needed–quickly!


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Food for the Soul

I’ve been preoccupied with food as of late.  More specifically, food quality.

All of the horror stories about melamine-enhanced, petroleum-based and exploding food combined with my increasing discomfort with manipulating food into foodstuffs, makes me glad we switched, albeit gradually, to mostly organic and local foods in the past several years. It has been one-by-one: first fruits and veggies (like the dirty dozen), then, as our research unearthed more tangible health problems caused by horrendous industrial farming practices, CAFOs, additives, synthetic dyes, and other such manipulations, we switched to organic dairy and local and organic meat.

There are hundreds of reasons to switch to local and organic food.

The hard part: affording it.

I’ve said it before, and it hasn’t changed: we are a one (woman’s) income family of 4. Our grocery bill has expanded with everyone elses, and our income hasn’t caught up. There are a few ways we cope:

Buying in bulk doesn’t necessarily mean buying large quantities. So, I bring my jars to the local food coop and only get what I need, which is much cheaper and dramatically reduces the packaging required.

We cook more. Cooking at home brings meaning to mealtimes, consciousness and thoughtfulness to our food and provides a much healthier diet to our mouths. It’s also tremendously cheaper to cook than eating out.

We pack lunches for work and travel. We avoid the toxic fare at convenience stores and money-sucking habits of eating lunch out during the day. We’ve even committed to brewing our fair-trade, organic coffee at home for a fraction of the cost of conventional coffee out.

We grow food.  After the upheaval of last year’s attempt to sell our home, we’ve dug in full-force and committed to being here, now.  That means more investment in growing food.  We only use organic seeds and starts and compost.  We are looking forward to the season’s harvest of raspberries, strawberries, black raspberries, sugar snap and shelling peas, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, broccoli, dill, chives, chamomile, kale, spinach and more.  Now, that’s food security on a budget.

Menu plan.  I plan the week’s menu before the grocery trip so that I am only buying what I need and a couple of additional things.  The combination of menu planning and a reuseable grocery list (cardstock in a plastic sleeve and a dry-erase marker) makes meal planning and grocery list making easy, helping me avoid repeats, too much food rotting in the fridge–in other words, waste, waste, waste.

Stick to the perishables.  The farther down the shelf-stable isles you get, the less healthy the food is, anyway. 

Reduce meat consumption.  Being vegetarian is a worthy goal, but our family can’t do it for many reasons.  And  eating healthy meat is a priority.  So, we reduced our meat intake and increased our veggie and fruit intake.  Better health + lower bills=happy wallet.

Get over it.  We’ve finally come around to the belief that you pay one way or the other.  We choose to invest in quality, healthy food to avoid the illness and poor long-term health issues that can arise from an unhealthy diet.  Similar cash outlay, but we don’t have to go through feeling poorly and can support fair wages, local farmers and environmentally responsible food production in the meantime.

What do you do to increase the quality of your food without breaking your budget?

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Sorry about my little impromptu break!  Things around here have been a bit more hectic around here with the advent of summer, the end of school and nicer weather!  But, I’ve been busy!  I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, but more about that later; there have been many changes around here that I think are worth mentioning.

I started writing this blog in January.  It was then that we started ramping up on getting our house in the city ready for selling and waiting to close on 7 acres of woods, just 10 miles out of town.  We made lists of projects for the house and did research about green and sustainable building.  We looked up techniques to collect maple sap for syrup, what would be the best wood stove for our uses, and how to manage a small bit of land responsibly, while keeping ourselves stocked with wood for the stove.  Oh!  The lists were plentiful! (Perhaps, if there were such a thing, making lists would be the best career for me…)

We closed on the land in February (after waiting a painstaking 4 months) and put the house up for sale at the end of March.  We were inundated with prospective buyers for the house, and we continued to do more research, knowing we would be in temporary housing in the city for at least 6-12 months while we developed the site and built our eco-dream.

Well, we didn’t get any offers for the house, we didn’t aggressively market it after the initial market-watchers passed us by, we stopped cleaning the house every night in case another would show up, BP’s oil started spewing all over (this is important later), estimates to prep the land started climbing with the mercury, the sun came out, neighborhood kids started coming out of their homes after a hard winter, and our kids (and their other mommy) got out the scooters, bikes, balls, water toys…and started falling in love with our current home all over again.  I started to make different lists and examine the old lists.  My whole family seemed to be happy, connected and peaceful right where we were, despite all the reasons we wanted to move out to the country.  But, after examining the list (and taking into consideration all the law-breakers who have chickens in the wide open in the city), it turns out that

most of what I want to accomplish in life are
skills and a way of life
that can be achieved right here in the heart of the city.

We aren’t going anywhere.  I conceded that we would give it another shot for a year at least.  I looked around this 140-year-old house.  There are a lot of things I can’t change about it, but it suits us, it’s in a great location and, as it turns out, the kids couldn’t be happier anywhere else. 

The problem?  We’ve outgrown our britches here in this money-sucking house.  We’ve lived larger than we could, and part of selling and moving was to achieve financial sustainability as well as ecological sustainability.  Just as we started to look realistically at staying and the possibility of still having to leave to save our financial selves, a few things started to come into the mix.  I was offered a part-time job that would feed my soul, require no scheduling changes for the household, and provide a little bit of reliable breathing room in the checkbook.  Our local doulas  available started dwindling and I was asked to step up and start taking births to help meet the need for doulas in our area–so I did.  My partner came home one day after listening to the radio about the BP oil spill and suggested we get rid of our perfectly comfortable and convenient minivan and get a hybrid (which would cost a lot less)–so we did. 

Now I’m making new lists. 

And reorienting my attitude about life in this city to achieve the eco-dream. 

And, I’m getting a little closer everyday.

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Water is the most precious resource we have on this lonely planet, and we’re squandering it away.

Nothing exists without water, either directly or indirectly.

A while back, I put together a post about saving paper here, and now thought I’d post something about saving water, as it has been on my mind a lot lately.  We are a culture that, some say, is incredibly arrogant and wasteful.  When it comes to water, I emphatically agree.  One of my favorite new paradigm shifts came recently from the Organic Sister blog, where she shares a favorite idea:

There are two kinds of people in the world. 

People who shit in clean drinking water


those who don’t. 

It reads funny, but, if you truly think about it, it’s profound.  It’s safe to say that the majority of the Western world falls in the latter category, but it is also safe to ask: “When’s the last time you thought about where your water comes from?”  “Does it make sense to shit in the same kind of water that we drink?”  Or, should we get over our phobias about human waste and get real while we still have a planet?  I dream of the simplicity of 5-gallon-bucket composting sawdust toilets, but back here in semi-urban reality, we have two decently-water-efficient toilets (1.6 gpf).  So, what more can we do while we are here in this house and not dreaming up big plans for all the water-saving features we could do if we were, say, building a new home?  Water-saving ideas are relevant for everyone–particularly the 99% of households who are living in older homes, or have no intention of moving, for whatever reason. 

On that note, here are a few things we do in our home:

Since I cannot shower in 5 minutes, I take a shower every other day.  Shortening your shower time and using a low-flow shower head also helps.

When we had to replace our tub, we replaced a gigantic claw foot tub with a 4′ tub instead of the standard 5′.  When the children get baths, this saves quite a bit of water.

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” is a great saying for a reason.  Don’t flush unless you have to!  But, be careful if you have really old pipes–there’s only so much toilet paper (if you use it) that they can take per flush.

Turn off the tap while humming toothbrushing tunes.

Water used to cook food (i.e. pasta, grains, corn, etc…) should be used to water plants.  Pouring water down the sink only wastes water!!   Water that is enriched by cooking food is good for your plants and causes you to use less to water those plants…(not to mention lower your water bill).

In the same vein, water leftover in drinking glasses are used to water plants.  I swear this is the only way plants get watered around here!

Made our own rain-catchment barrels.  Those things can cost well over $100 for half-barrels!  I built mine (with help) out of $12 55-gallon food-grade barrels purchased from an outdoor store.  Your local junkyard, grain store or grocery might have them too.  I went to the local hardware shop and purchased a couple of pieces to install a spigot at the bottom (though you can siphon the water out manually) for less than $15.  I now have a fully-functioning rain-catchment barrel (55 gallons!) for less than $30, installed.  Here’s an even simpler way to do it.  While you’re at it, get a couple of concrete blocks to elevate your rain barrel, please don’t spend $30 or more just for the “stand” they sell at those Big Box Home Improvement stores.  Take that, Home Depot.  Don’t forget: use rainwater only for plants–it’s not potable!

Use an energy-efficient dishwasher.  There’s a controversy about whether dishwashers actually save or waste water, and it mostly depends on your dish-washing style.  I waste a ton of water by running the tap while washing, because I can’t stand the idea of using a tub of dirty water to wash dishes.  For me, the dishwasher saves water and my relationship (I h-a-t-e washing dishes).  Win-Win.

Only wash laundry when there’s a full load.  Enough said.  Be sure to replace any old or broken washing machines with Energy Star appliances.


If you want to take dramatic steps, try:

Using a solar shower outside.  A finite amount of water significantly restricts your ability to use a ton of water.

Replacing your flush-toilet with a composting toilet.  Composting toilets, whether incinerating or sawdust, use no water.

Take a sauna instead of a shower.  It’s not unheard of for people to use a sauna in the same way most would use a shower.  And, apparently, just as effective.

Install a greywater system (used tap or well water from dishes, etc…) for garden irrigation, flushing toilets and anywhere else it doesn’t matter if the water is really clean.  (Note: Make sure dishwashing soap is biodegradable and non-toxic or plants will be contaminated quickly.)

Do you have any crazy or wacky ideas about reducing or eliminating clean water usage?

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So, in my efforts to be green on a shoestring, it turns out that there are so many things that can be done around the house to help out the earth, our bodies, AND our wallets.  It doesn’t all have to be fancy, expensive accessories!  Although there is always room for improvement (and I expect to hear from you about other improvements), here are a few tips I can offer to get started on Green-ing the paper trail on your home.  

First Action: Always reduce the amount you use.  This includes less toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, facial tissues, computer paper (remember to use BOTH sides always!), junk mail, etc… 

A few words about junk mail: I spent many minutes on the phone calling catalog companies and asking them to stop sending me catalogs.  This has helped my want for things I don’t need and since I’m computer savvy, I can browse the entire “store” online when I do need something.   I also called people I do business with (credit card companies) to stop sending me solicitations and statements.  There are also do-not-mail lists that actually work (Warning: some require your Social Security Number, but they’re generally legit–be savvy.). 

I am proud to be a two-rolls-of-paper-towels-per-year kind of lady.  How?  Read on, my friends.

Second Action: Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper only (or as close as you can get).  This can actually drive up the cost of one’s household expenses, but if rule #1 above is applied, it can even out or be cheaper.  Half the consumption for less than twice the price makes it cheaper.  Also, when combined with coupons, wholesale clubs and price comparisons, it can be as cheap or cheaper than the non-recycled/less-recycled, virgin wood paper–even if you haven’t reduced your consumption.  In our house, paper towels, toilet paper and computer paper falls into this category. 

Third Action: STOP USING PAPER!  Okay, this can be difficult when you need to print out your plane tickets and such (see Second Action), but there are ways to totally eliminate other paper streams:

USE TOWELS.  FOR EVERYTHING.  I actually forgot to mention paper napkins in my riff above.  We’ve used cloth napkins for so long, I forgot that they even made paper ones.  Cloth napkins (C’mon folks, 50c at the thrift shop will pay back in a month), rags and dish towels can solve any clean-up you have in the kitchen.  (True Confession: I do use paper towels for one thing only–cracking and peeling a boiled egg.  I guess we all have our vice, but being able to crack and peel an egg, rinse it off and then pat it dry with the same paper towel is very satisfying and easy clean-up.  Then I can stuff the whole thing (sans egg, of course) into the compost bucket, something which always is in need of brown matter).  Do not fool yourself into thinking that the extra laundry (soap and water) will negate the green-ness of using towels and cloth napkins.  Nice try.

Our family’s stash of not-so-fancy facial tissues.

The other thing I forgot to mention at the beginning (and had to go back and insert it) was facial tissues.  I only remember these when I visit other people’s homes.  While we use these for everyday use as well, when you have a dastardly cold, cloth tissues will save your face (and your wallet).  They are so much more soft!  And easy!  All you need to do is take a pair of pinking shears to flannel from anywhere (your fabric cabinet, your old pj bottoms, your partner’s favourite shirt…) and cut approx. 6″ x 6″ squares.  Done!  find an unused basket or other storage receptacle and make it kid-accessible.  When we’re sick, we keep a special bin on the washer for “snot rags” and throw them into a hot, hot wash to make sure they don’t actually pass germs around.  Otherwise, they get tossed in with all the other laundry.  Ditto on passing the buck with the “extra” laundry.

An additional, and perhaps more radical solution: The Family Cloth.  Many of you know about the FC, perhaps some of you use it.  It takes a strong will and certain brashness to do the FC.  Lost?  A brief explanation: replace your disposable and flush-able toilet paper with reusable cloth.  (And, though the term insinuates it, there isn’t just one, you can have many family cloths.)  Just like the facial tissue I just mentioned.  They can be made in the same way (perhaps a wee bit bigger), or you can purchase inexpensive ones like these from my favorite retailer.  If you cloth diaper, it’s a logical next step, especially if you use cloth wipes.  Just throw a wet bag next to the toilet and throw the contents into a diaper wash (or the cycle you used for diapers if they are no longer a part of your life–lucky you!).  If you’re worried about odor, put a wet bag in a step-lid trash can with a charcoal filter (available in most places that sell trash cans) and take it out when the bag is full or you’re ready to do laundry.  That’s it!  Imagine if you had a stash of these in your car and had them available for unanticipated field potty breaks!  No more foliage identification crash courses! 
This is actually something that my family hasn’t signed onto yet, but a few times when the toilet paper has run out and I’ve refused to buy the cheap virgin bleached stuff, we’ve re-appropriated my youngest’s wipes for our toilet use and it was just fine and there were actually no complaints….hmmm, makes me wonder why I haven’t switched before now!  Perhaps that’s our next step.  A little closer every day. 

What’s your next step?

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Getting Rich Quick!

I’m feeling so much better about my parenting these days.  I’m not sure if it’s because my eldest is growing out of some craziness and settling into herself or that the wee’est is starting to talk and communicate better, or if I’m putting into practice all of the helpful ideas I’ve been reading about and getting from friends.  But, whatever it is, a big Thank You to the Universe.

I was sure I wanted to be a stay-at-home mama.  During my maternity “leave” for Em, I tried everything to figure out a way I wouldn’t have to go back to work.  I was desperate.  We lucked out, both having places of employment that allowed us to bring our daughter to work.  My eldest didn’t see the inside of a childcare center until the age of 2, and then it was only 2 days a week for some additional exposure to other children, since we had few friends who were parents.  By US standards, we were very lucky and privileged. 

By the time the 2nd came along, I was able to quit to be at home.  YAY!  But, once the reality set in, maybe not so much “yay.”  The transition was hard from one to two children, and it turns out that being home with my eldest day in and day out was another major transition.  Add to that my transition to being around adults many days of the week to nearly none, I was struggling.  My solution was to push away.  To wish for longer naps, for somewhere for Em to go for part of the day.  I started calling preschools to see if there were any open spots mid-year.  We settled on re-enrolling her back into the Waldorf-inspired preschool she had attended for 18 months before her sister was born, which added an additional layer of financial strain.  Still for 2 days a week, it took some pressure off and helped me gain a bit of composure and footing–after 9 months of struggling.  We enrolled Em in the local preschool for this school year due to constrained finances, but they only had a full-time program, 8-2 Monday through Thursday and Friday mornings.  I didn’t want her to be away so much, especially as an aspiring homeschooler, but she needed social and physical resources I could not provide with such a small baby and such a cold winter.  We’re generally satisfied with her experience and she sure loves it, but I still struggle with a way for us to have a wonderful time when we are all home together.  That, in part, is what inspired this blog, and what inspires most of my reading and internet time.

Then, along came Rahima Baldwin. (I know, for some of you, this is OLD news, but I’m a newbie!)  I love her.  At the suggestion of a fellow blogger, I tramped down to the library and got her book “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.”  Here it is!  Helpful, practical, solutions for being creative myself, entertaining young children with art, crafts, music and natural play.  Not solutions of TV, movies, video games or obnoxious electronic or plastic toys. 

Em telling an elaborate story about her family-room picnic.

Resources.  Real resources.  For me as a parent on how to better engage with both of my children.  Insights into how they relate to me, the world around them, with and through their playthings and how to gently guide them into thinking for themselves, building the capacity to think more complexly and completely when they’re older and, finally, a hug. 

A virtual hug from a total stranger who’s been tooting this horn for more than 20 years.  To say that bigger, faster, more is not better.  The Waldorf world can be expensive.  Beeswax for modeling, wooden toys, playsilks, watercolors and all the off-shoots of art and music classes!  And, we foot that bill as much as we can, but to know that scraps of fabric, scraps of wood, songs sung on our own–these are valuable parts of childhood.  As well as wee versions of grown-up work, these are what makes a child’s world rich, and therefore our family life rich.

A little family time before bedtime rituals.

We are rich in the fact that we have one parent available all of the time, and another most of the time, that we as parents actively try to find ways to make our children’s lives better, as our parents did for us, and theirs before them.  But, we are choosing to go backwards.  We are turning away from the loud, bright, overstimulation of computers, and baby-education.  We are turning toward the past.  To simplify, reposition our values to focus on time, quality food, creating and working with our own hands, and playing with things that are readily available in the natural world.  We are truly rich.

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To help us reduce the expense of feeding our family healthily, cleaning our home with non-toxic materials and living as holistically as we can, I am constantly in search of ways to get what I need on the cheap.  I haven’t yet made the leap into making my own cleaning supplies, though to do so would be the cheapest.  A home with a stash of white vinegar, lemons, salt and baking soda can easily be as clean as a home with chlorine bleach–and much, much healthier.  However, we do purchase “green” cleaning supplies, mostly through a wholesale buying club.  But, sometimes I can even beat that with a little creativity.  For example, I recently needed 7th Generation cleaning spray.  I like their company’s mission and products.  My local co-op sells it for $5.50, my wholesale club sells it for $3.50, but my local Target sells it for $2.99 and the 7th Generation website allows consumers to print coupons for $1 or $2, so I scored a bottle of general cleaning spray and another of glass cleaner for $1.99 each.  Almost half of the wholesale price.  And, while I’d rather shop at my local co-op for everything that I can (and avoid WalMart no matter what the savings), I draw the line at saving 64% elsewhere.  What are your creative money-saving techniques/tips/cheats?

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