Monday, August 31, 2009

Out, Spot! Out!

This past weekend, we spent many, many hours driving to and from a trip to Disneyland. And, as you can probably imagine, what with all the drinks and snacks being passed around, my son's clothes didn't fare all that well, particularly when he got red marker all over his khaki shorts (luckily, they were the washable kind of markers). And we can't forget the chocolate Mickey Mouse ice cream bar that got everywhere while we were in the park. So, with all the stains facing me, not to mention the mountain of laundry from the trip, I thought it would be apropos to introduce my super-cheap stain-fighting arsenal.

I understand it would be easier to buy a stain spray like Spray 'N Wash or some OxiClean. That stuff seems to work like magic. But, buying them tacks on an extra five to ten bucks onto your grocery bill; my arsenal includes stuff you probably already have. Plus, I'm all for having less chemicals around the house (my philosophy on that in another post...). All these methods take is an extra moment to decide what to use and a tiny bit more elbow grease.

To remove just about any stain, you just need some dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, and vinegar; Vaseline isn't necessarily a stain remover, but it is good for keeping areas isolated so the solvents stay in place. These simple stain-fighters work nearly all the time. I first learned about these methods from a chart in a Martha Stewart magazine a few years ago. I can speak from experience when I say that this little chart has saved numerous articles of clothing. Ballpoint pen ink, sweet potato baby food, an errant drop of mustard, melted Popsicle, splatters from making jam - I've gotten all of them out with these four stain-fighters. Everyone should have a copy of the chart - I have mine straight from the magazine, laminated, and on the shelf with my laundry supplies.

The only stain-fighter not listed on the Martha Stewart chart: sunlight. You'll be amazed at how white your whites can get and how stubborn stains will fade in the sun. More on the clothesline experiment later. Until then, give these a whirl - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Single-Serving Spaghetti

My two-year-old son loves spaghetti, but waiting patiently for the water to boil and for the spaghetti to cook is just too much to ask (for some reason, he was cool with it today - though he needed the occasional reassurance from me that the spaghetti was, in fact, cooking). I have a problem gauging exactly how much dry spaghetti translates to how many servings, so I usually go overboard and make too much (like with lunch in this instance). Here's a simple way to save the leftovers (which is good since whenever I put spaghetti in a container, it usually emerges from the fridge later with a fuzzy layer of mold - so easy to forget), while also creating a super-fast way to feed a hungry, demanding toddler.

Once the spaghetti has cooled, you get a standard-size muffin pan and coat it with some cooking spray. (Side note: don't you love my Mickey Mouse colander? Oh the stuff you'll buy at Disneyland...)

Fill each cup with some noodles - no exact amount. Just eyeball it. Stick the pan in the freezer for like a half-hour to hour; not too long, though, or it's a little harder to get the spaghetti out.

VoilĂ ! You've got single-serving spaghetti nests (I think they look like little nests...). Once they're semi-frozen (as in, they'll hold the cup-shape), pop them out of the pan (you may need to use a knife if they're too frozen). Stick them in a freezer bag (or container, whatever you got) and they'll keep for a couple months. Whenever you want to make single serving of spaghetti for a hungry little kid, use as many of the spaghetti nests as you want, put them in a bowl, mix in a teaspoon of water or so, and stick it in the microwave for about a minute. Works like a charm. Gotta love instant gratification...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: The Complete Tightwad Gazette

So many mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I think it's great. Then again, I think parts of it are totally ridiculous. But, this book was one of the things that got the ball rolling for me. Not the first thing, but one of them.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a 900-page compendium of ideas, recipes, tips, methods, and advice; it's a compilation of the newsletters the author published in the first half of the 1990s (making it a little outdated, as there are references to typewriters and hardly anything about computers). I first came across the Tightwad Gazette a few years ago when I read about it in the magazine Real Simple. I was working at a bookstore at the time so I skipped the library and ordered it, even though I'd never heard anything else about nor had ever thumbed through it. I had a really good discount, plus the extra money, so I figured, what the heck.

I got it a few days later and read it over the course of a week or two. I did say that it is a 900-page book, but it reads quickly - it's not straight chapter-by-chapter text. It's full of recipes, articles, pictures, reader correspondences/suggestions, and lists. I've gone through it a couple more times since then; the second time I highlighted the headings of the articles I found useful so I could just flip to them. To be completely honest, there's more that I didn't highlight than I did.

Don't get me wrong: there are some good ideas in here. The Tightwad Gazette introduced me to Square Foot Gardening before it got popular. I hadn't considered doing a price book for grocery shopping before I read this book. It motivated me to try making homemade pizza (I will be sharing my pizza recipe soon - you'll love it, I promise). I still have to try the "refrigerator dough" recipe she suggested in the book - it sounds like a great idea (I'll share that experiment on here someday...). I also was introduced to the idea of having an "hourly rate" to judge if going to frugal measures is really worth the time. There are some good ideas in here and lots of reinforcement that living frugally is possible, especially when you're creative. Chances are, I'll mention this book more than a few times on this blog.

Then again, there are definite flaws with this book. There is this attitude to it that if you don't do certain things, you're instantly a "spendthrift", that you should be ashamed to use disposable diapers or to not wash and reuse plastic zipper bags. That attitude gets a little old. The book also gets waaaay too extreme in some cases. Whenever I go through this book and read her suggestions, I try to imagine what her house looks like and where she stores all the garbage she collects. Seriously - there are suggestions for using saved bread tabs, Styrofoam meat trays (Ick.), juice can lids, old socks (as dish rags, no less), milk jugs, the mesh bags that onions come in, plastic rings from soda six-packs (no joke - she writes about making a hammock out of them. Really.), to name just a few. For babies, she suggests skipping buying a bassinet and using a dresser drawer on floor with bedding in it. And there's the suggestion of using shortening instead of diaper cream or ointment. Hmmmmm....

So, you may be wondering why I'd even suggest this book. Honestly, I think everyone interested in living more frugally should check it out (literally - check it out at the library. Even my town's limited library has three copies available) for a few reasons. One is that it is a good example of how you can assess what you have, what your limitations are, and then come up with solutions. You have to give credit where credit is due - author Amy Dacyczyn does not lack creativity. She can make anything out of anything. After reading about her ideas, you can't help wonder how you can be creative in your own way. Secondly, it gives you ideas to adapt to your life, while also illustrating where you'll draw the line. By this, I mean you can use her lifestyle as a gauge: is this measure too extreme? Would I consider trying this with my family? Does this action warrant the result? In this book, you can see the cause and effect of the way she lives. Finally, it's good for a laugh. There were a few times I'd read it and laugh out loud at some of the ideas - "Do people really go to all that trouble to reuse a junk-mail envelope?" And, according to this book, I guess some people actually do.

What books have you read about saving money? Were they helpful?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Foundation of Frugality: Goals

Don't expect this to be some kind of motivational speaker-esque post about how to make goals. We've all heard it before. And it's all true - goals keep us focused and motivated. They have to be concrete or they are just wishes, really. Plus, there's the one tidbit of advice we've heard a million times over: write down your goals or they won't happen. Keep them specific, too.

So how does this apply to frugality? It goes way beyond just wanting to save money. There have to be specific, clearly defined goals behind your desire. This is where it's completely personal. One person may want to live more frugally to save up for a down payment for a house or to get out of debt; another may simply want to cut a few expenses just so they can afford a day at the spa once in a while or a trip to Disneyland with their family. The motivations behind living frugally can be long or short term, in my opinion. What may be a lifestyle for one, may just be a means to an end for another.

This leads to the beautiful relationship between goals and frugality. If there is a concrete goal present, you won't feel deprived. There have been many times where I will be standing over a steaming pot of homemade chicken stock, stitching up a hole in a skirt, or sitting at the kitchen table clipping coupons when I could have looked at it as drudgery. I could have been annoyed at the fact that it would be so much easier to just buy some store-bought box of stock, or a new skirt, or to skip the coupons altogether (what's a few bucks anyway?). Instead, though, I look at these things, as well as all the other things I do, as an opportunity. By just cooking something from scratch that may take longer or making a piece of clothing go just a little further, I'm moving toward something better.

My two top goals include getting out of debt (this is the year - we're almost there...) and building up an emergency fund (six months worth of expenses). Number three on the list, though not as practical as the first two but important in its own right, is a travel fund for our family. I have this dream to travel everywhere with my family - to take my kids all over the country and even all over the world (this article got me really daydreaming). To have these three things, I will be more than happy to scrub the shower with baking soda instead of some special spray, to not get any more TV channels, and to skip the convenience of frozen/pre-made foods, to name just a few.

Then there's the short-term goals. I like saving on some grocery purchases so I can spend more on others, allowing me to buy healthier, sometimes organic, foods. Or so I can buy more eco-friendly soaps and detergents. Or simply so I can save up a little money here and there to get a set of Le Creuset pots someday. I know my husband gladly patch up a pair of pants, change the oil in the car, or cut his own hair so he can buy a new video game or movie instead. It's all about trade-offs and knowing exactly what you want. This is the secret to enjoying a frugal mindset - it opens the door to more than you expect and to the things in life you really want.

So, what are your goals?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Under Construction

This blog is currently under construction. But don't worry: it's going to be (and look) AWESOME! (I've even commissioned an artist. Granted, I am married to him, but still...). My new blog is going to be all about how to make frugality a reality in your life - without feeling deprived. And it's not just another one of those bargain shopping blogs (those are great and all, don't get me wrong), but more of an uplifting recipe, home management, parenting, finance -everything!- source.

I did a Google image search for "parsimonious" and some of the first images that resulted were various depictions of Ebenezer Scrooge. I realize that technically the word "parsimony" means extreme frugality, to the point of stinginess. I'm no Scrooge and I won't be nearly so extreme. I believe there are different ways and levels when it comes to being frugal. It's all about priorities and goals. More on that later. So, why choose the word 'parsimonious', especially with its miserly connotation? I guess I'm just a sucker for alliteration.

Check back soon - and spread the word!
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