Serendipitous Frugality

Our house had no window coverings when we bought it. I was OK with that. We’re out in the country with no close neighbors.

Also, our previous house was dark and I enjoyed the light coming in the windows here, and I didn’t want to block that. It always felt like living in a cave in that other house, but this one is light and bright.

I have managed to put minimal window treatments up in all the rooms except the kitchen. I didn’t know what I wanted there and I truly didn’t want to block the light.

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It’s interesting how things are presented to you when you look. At an estate sale, I found these lace curtain panels. They were $.25 each. I bought all 8 of them. With a little cutting and hemming, they will work well on my kitchen windows.

I call this serendipitous frugality. We were looking for other items at that estate sale, but these curtains were there waiting for me. The lesson of this little story is that opportunities present themselves when you are looking and, sometimes, it will only cost $2.00.

When You Don’t Have a Maple Tree Handy…

Homemade maple-flavored syrup. Who knew? I ran across this idea in my frugal travels around the internet. It just wasn’t one of the things in my experience database. I don’t remember what we used as a child because I think that pancakes were a rare thing in our house. I do know that, when I grew up, I liked jam on pancakes better than syrup.

My local store carried maple extract in the baking aisle, so I gave it a try. It’s nowhere near the real thing. It tastes fine, easily as good as any of the maple-flavored syrups from the store. (Maybe I’m not the best judge of that, though) It is, however, quick and easy to do and there’s a bit of cost savings, too.

I used brown sugar but if you want a lighter color, use regular white sugar. Most of the recipes I found online used white sugar. One used a combination of white sugar and brown sugar and one used corn syrup as the sweetener. I think any way you do it, it will be good stuff to pour on the pancakes.

pancakes

Quick Maple-Flavored Syrup

2 cups water
4 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons maple extract

In a non-reactive pan, bring water to a rapid boil.
Mix in brown sugar all at once. Stir until it is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat and stir in maple extract.
Pour into a sterilized jar and allow to stand, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Orange Cleaners Revisited

A little over three weeks ago, I started making orange cleaners. I did two types and you can find the recipes here. They are done, and now it’s time to test them. OK, I admit to procrastinating on this. These things were actually done after two weeks. I guess I’m just not in a hurry to clean.

orangecleaner

I used the vinegar-based cleaner first. I diluted it 1:1 with water and put it into a spray bottle. Next I tried it out on a few surfaces, which included the inside of the microwave, the glass door on the toaster over, a section of granite counter-top, and the glass-top range. It worked well but it wasn’t miraculous. I didn’t expect it to be really, but it did do what cleaners are supposed to do: it cleaned. The spatters inside the microwave wiped off easily, the counter-top shines, and even the glass looks good without streaks. The things I cleaned with it are clean! Isn’t that the goal?

It does smell better than plain vinegar, so that’s a bonus in itself. I know what’s in it. That’s a huge benefit. It works pretty well. That’s the goal.

Overall, this orange cleaner can find a place in my cleaning routine.

Cook Like No One is Watching

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Cooking at home is critical to a frugal lifestyle. There are few instances where purchasing something pre-made will be less expensive than making it at home. Perhaps more important than cost, is that there aren’t mystery ingredients in homemade food. You hold more control over what you and your family eats.

So, if you feel that you could use a boost in your kitchen skills, check out these sites. There are many tutorials to help learn a new skill or improve your techniques. I have found that I prefer my own cooking now, over a restaurant meal, since I started improving my cooking skills. I hope all of you can find the same.

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UK Cooking Expert Delia Smith

Arizona Central Offers Basic Lessons

Chef 2 Chef: Learn from Pros

Some Free Classes from Craftsy

Little Steps, Big Changes

Starting something new is overwhelming. Have you ever tried to read something that is a new subject and it seemed like it was written in Klingon? Only through systematic chipping, taking small bites, can you finally unravel the mystery.

Developing a new lifestyle is the same process. Take small steps and soon you’re changes are habit and not torture.

It’s fun to read how people live frugally. Some of their ideas are workable and will fit into my life easily. Some are a bit out there, to be kind. I draw the line at eliminating toilet paper from our home. The work involved in washing and drying doesn’t outweigh the convenience of TP. There’s also the yuck factor. Just not gonna do it.

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I’ve been in a financially tough time when paper towels were a luxury and not a part of my kitchen supplies. I could go back to that again, but I haven’t. I guess times just aren’t tough enough right now.

There are things that I do now which make me wonder why I didn’t do them all along. I spent some time yesterday making jam. My husband spent part of his day making jerky. (He makes it because he eats it. I don’t) Am I saving a bunch making my own jam? Not really, because I buy the fruit. If I could go out a pick fruit to use, then the savings would be obvious. The jerky, on the other hand, is a fraction of the price of anything we can buy.

Jars of Jam
The benefit of making things at home is that I know what’s in it. I don’t use anything I can’t pronounce. To me, that’s a big benefit. The other, especially with jam, is the reduction in waste. I reuse the jars. An empty jar from the store isn’t reusable, usually.

These are just two small steps in my overall frugal-living plan. I’ve already posted some of the recipes I use to make staples and cleaning supplies.

DIY Laundry Detergent
The Dreaded Dusting Chore
The Baking Mix Scoop
No, Really? No Poo
DIY Liquid Hand Soap
DIY Yogurt
DIY Disinfecting Wipes
5 Favorite From Scratch Recipes
Orange is the New Clean

There are dozens more that I haven’t yet tried. I’ve also abandoned some things that I tried and found they didn’t work well for me. One was my own dishwasher soap. I’ve tried a couple of formulas and I felt they didn’t do the job that a commercial product does, so I no longer make my own soap. Frugal living is not only a step-by-step process, it’s a trial and error one, too.

It’s all about the little efforts and you don’t have to learn Klingon.

Baby Boomers in Business

We have been self employed more than once in life. I’ve made all or part of my income from self employment for many years. We sold our business about 10 years ago and I haven’t done any freelance work or started another business in all these years. Now with retirement, I’ve been looking at that possibility again.

There are many lessons your business will teach you. One of the most important is: what kind of business you would want if you had it to do all over again. I did learn that lesson. I know what I want and what I don’t.

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A business can consume your life. A business is your life. I can’t say that I don’t want that again because it’s unrealistic. Any business must be the center of your life. Ignore the claims that you can work only four hours a week and make a living. Eventually maybe, but not in the beginning. It simply won’t happen that way.

With that said, there is some truth to the adage that “if you do something you love, you won’t work another day in your life.” I don’t know who said that, but I believe it. It’s also the first truth of being in business. If you hate it, you won’t work it like you should.

I encourage anyone to seek out a way to earn beyond a job. It’s liberating, but there are some pitfalls.

It’s important to ask yourself some questions before taking the plunge into your own business. Search your mind and your soul for answers. Being in business isn’t for everyone and it’s better to find out where you fit sooner rather than later.

The SBA has a list of 20 questions to ask yourself.

What about money? Do you have enough to start a business? Will you need to borrow? If you do, beef up that business plan. It will help you in many ways and not just getting money. Better yet, find the money without borrowing. Sell something. Earn it somehow, etc. You won’t have the added burden of a bank loan.

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Business plan resources:

The Small Business Administration
BPlans: The Ultimate Guide to Business Planning

Talk with like-minded folks on forums.

Often, someone has been through and solved the very problem that is vexing you. There are many forums out there so don’t limit yourself to just these.

The Small Business Forum

Another Small Business Forum

You may have heard that many new businesses fail. Some throw out a 90% failure rate for businesses. The real number is much less than that, but you should be determined that you aren’t going to be a statistic.

The Small Business Administration’s Starting a Business information.

There’s a special section for people over 50 who want to be Encore Entrepreneurs

Frugality Requires Things

I might be retired, but that doesn’t mean that I want to spend any more time than I have to in the kitchen. Saving money isn’t rewarding if I don’t have time to enjoy it. I’ve got things to do. That’s why I use machines.

 Four of my most-used machines

Bread Machine

Does anything smell better than baking bread? OK. There might be something, but I think it’s still near the top as far as good smells. Using a bread machine simplifies making fresh bread. I’ve tried making bread the traditional way. It never turned out well and I gave up on fresh bread for many years. The bread machine solves my heavy, dense bread problem. It also solves my pizza dough and Hawaiian rolls problem.

Dehydrator

My husband likes jerky but it’s expensive to buy. Buy a dehydrator and the problem is solved. It’s incredibly easy to make jerky and at a significantly lower cost than commercially prepared jerky. I’ve dried fruit and fresh herbs with it too, but the main use in our house is jerky.

Slicer

We wait until beef is on sale before making jerky. Only one store in our area has a meat department that will slice roasts for you. That’s what we did when we wanted to make jerky. Unfortunately, this store has stopped slicing roasts that are on sale. We bought our own slicer. Now, we can buy beef anywhere it is on sale and not just at the store that would slice it for us.

Food Processor

Does it slice, dice, and julienne fry? Maybe not, but it will do a lot of great things. I use it to make mayonnaise, finely chop vegetables and nuts, and puree sauces. Again, all of these things can be accomplished by using hand tools, but I like the time-saving advantages of machines.

Kitchen tools

I can make great specialty breads for a fraction of the price. I can make a pizza with my homemade dough that rivals any restaurant pie. I can feed my husband’s jerky habit for much less. Add the time-saving benefit to the monetary savings and it’s a double whammy. It does cost money to buy machines and perhaps that isn’t always in the budget. I think we’ve saved the cost of all the machines by making jerky but something more difficult to quantify is also at work here. Life is short and time is precious.

What’s in Your Pantry?

 

A well-stocked pantry saves money and time. Meals can be created quickly with what’s on hand and ingredients can be mixed and matched. Out of vinegar? Try pickle brine or lemon juice instead. No canned broth? Use a can of tomatoes with the liquid. The options are endless.

This is a list of items I usually have on the shelf or in the refrigerator.

Produce

Onions-yellow, red, white, shallots, or leeks
Celery
Garlic
Carrots
Peppers-sweet and hot
Tomatoes
Lettuce-leaf, iceberg, romaine, etc
Parsley

Dairy

Cheese-Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, or Swiss
Milk-fresh and dried
Butter
Sour cream
Eggs

Condiments

Mayonnaise
Ketchup
Mustard-Dijon, yellow, honey
Salsa
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce-Tabasco, sriracha or other

Sweet Additions

Dried fruit-raisins, cranberries, apricots
Honey
Jam
Sugar-white and brown
Syrup-maple or other flavor

Starches

Dried or canned beans-navy, black, pinto
Rice-white, brown, wild
Pasta-spaghetti, macaroni or other small pasta
Tortillas-flour or corn
Rolled oats

Acids

Vinegar-cider, balsamic, rice, red wine
Lemon or lime juice or fresh lemons and limes
Pickles-dill, bread and butter
Olives-black and green

Baking

Flour-all purpose, wheat, unbleached
Baking powder
Corn starch
Unsweetened cocoa
Vanilla extract

Oils

Olive
Sesame
Vegetable-corn, canola, peanut

Miscellaneous

Canned tomatoes
Tomato sauce
Tomato paste
Canned broth
Frozen vegetables
Nuts
Bread crumbs
Bacon
Peanut butter
Spices
Salt and pepper

 

Food: The Budget Buster

Jars of Jam

 

There’s no shortage of tips and advice about saving money on food.

We all know that eating out is one of the biggest budget busters around, but we still do it. I was reading one website that offered the advice: cook at home one to two times per week to save money. (Sorry, I didn’t bookmark this one.) Really? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? How much would someone save if eating out was limited to one to two times per week?

I know how busy life can get and why it’s so tempting to pick up something to go. It’s also common knowledge that cooking at home is truly the least expensive way to eat. It’s much better to save eating out for a treat instead of a regular occurrence.

Of course, there is information about what families spend on food. The US Department of Agriculture publishes a schedule of average food expenditures in America. It’s updated regularly to accommodate changes in the economy.

There are four food plans:

  • Thrifty
  • Low-cost
  • Moderate-cost
  • Liberal

I was curious about where we were in spending, so I saved grocery receipts for a few weeks, added up all expenditures for food, and then calculated a per week average. Our average spending fell in the Low-cost plan, which is approximately $109 per week. Sometimes I spent more and sometimes less, but the average came pretty close to that figure.

This was done before my husband retired from his job. While he was working, we bought some convenience foods that he took for his lunch everyday. Yes, convenience foods are expensive compared to making it at home, but eating out for lunch is much more expensive than a few packaged foods every week. Now, that we are no longer buying that type of product, our spending is probably trending downward toward the Thrifty plan. Of course, I only counted what we spent at the grocery store. We don’t eat out often enough to make much of a difference in our budget.

Knowing what you spend is important and enlightening. Haven’t we all worked with someone who bought something from the vending machine everyday or had lunch delivered to work most days? If you add up just the snacks from the machine, it could total quite a bit. A study for the vending industry found that the average cash vending machine sale is $1.16. If the purchase is cashless, then that average rises to $1.71. It is just too easy to spend small amounts of money and then forget about it. After all, it was just a dollar or two. Someone who puts five days a week in at work will spend $5.80 cash or $8.55 without cash per week . That’s $290 per year and $427.50 per year respectively. If two people from the same household hit the machines every day, we’re starting to talk about some real money.

If you have not analyzed you spending yet, give it a try. It might show that there is at least one area where you can save without it hurting. A bit of planning may save money in another area and you won’t notice that you aren’t spending as much because you’ve planned a substitute. It’s much like dieting—eat this but not that. Spend this but not that to save on food.

A Resource Free for the Asking

Vintage Photo of The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was established in 1800 and is the oldest cultural institution in the United States. It is also the largest library in the world, containing more than 160 million items. This massive collection requires 838 miles of shelf space. Things aren’t static at the Library. Approximately 12,000 items are added daily.

Our local library can’t boast such a huge collection. It’s really very small, but they do provide computers and WiFi for no charge to any library patron.

I have a computer and an internet connection at home. I use them both daily. However, I live beyond any cable company reach so my choices for internet connection are limited and expensive. It’s one of the sacrifices that we make to live in our beautiful forest.

Texas Forest

When I want to do some research, which might require a couple of hours online to do, I head out to my local library. I can chew through my limited monthly allotment of data quickly when I spend that kind of time online. And, forget about watching videos. I’d be over the limit before I could get started.

It’s one of the resources available that requires no additional fees and it’s an important part of stretching our retirement resources. We’re not alone. In a report published in January of this year, done by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there were 271,146 public access computers in libraries across the US, and those computers were engaged for 340.5 million sessions.

The survey also found that 62% of the responding libraries provided the only free computers and internet access in the community. While I’m thankful for the internet service we have, it is expensive and likely beyond the budget of many in our area. I’ll admit that I envy those who have unlimited, fast internet access and I hope that I will have that in the near future.

For now, it’s a blend of our service at home and that of the library. It works and it saves money. In other words, it’s a frugal choice.