Monday, September 27, 2010

100 (Painless) Ways to Live Frugally

1. Read 'The Parsimonious Princess.' Ha ha. Love the shameless self-plug.

2. Pack lunches for school and workFamily Fun magazine always has lots of great suggestions for kids' lunchboxes (which could work for adults, too) -- here are a few of their ideas. I also loved the ideas for Bento boxes that I saw in an old issue of Parents magazine - here's the link to that, too. Leftovers are also awesome for lunches - my husband takes leftovers for lunch and the guys in his office will often ask what he's eating. I always feel proud when he tells me about the oohs and ahhs over his lunches.

3. Wash your car at home, if the weather permits. My son thinks washing the car with the garden hose and a soapy rag is as fun as driving through the automated car wash. Plus, if you do it on your lawn, you water your grass at the same time.

4. Before you buy some Draino or call a plumber, try a plunger on any clogged drain. If you missed the post, I go into more detail here.

5. Cook from scratch. I know, I know - for some, that's easier said than done. It takes extra time and work in many cases, but the results are totally worth it. Not only is from-scratch food heathier and delicious, but you can also save a lot of money! Check out cookbooks and learn, one recipe at a time. Any amount of from-scratch cooking in your repertoire will make a difference in your budget.

6.  Use vinegar in your rinse cycle when doing the laundry. This eliminates the need for fabric softener or dryer sheets. It totally works!

7.  Make your own cooking stock. Way cheaper than buying it in cans and boxes. How-to here.

8. Become a jam snob - make your own jam. Freezer jam is easy and works for anyone. You can also can it like I do in the fall. Totally worth the effort, trust me.

9. Learn to say 'NO'. Don't be afraid to say it to store clerks (trust me, having been one, they don't take it personally. And when I was one, we were trained how to pitch the store credit cards. Not good.). Say no to what the culture and trends say you must have. Say no to your kids sometimes; it's not good to give them everything they want anyway. And, most importantly, learn to tell yourself no sometimes.. It's a powerful thing to have control over your wants.

10. Try a clothesline during the warmer months of the year. It cuts down your energy bill and it makes your clothes smell heavenly.

11. Set your thermostat just two degrees lower in the winter and two degrees higher in the summer than you usually do. You won't really notice a difference and you'll save money as you do.

12. Stop drafts in your home by the windows and doors to save money on heating. This can be done through caulking, weatherstripping, or making/using draft stoppers (check here and here for some ideas how make one yourself; one requires sewing, the other doesn't).

13. Make bread. I confess that I don't make our family's bread all the time; occasionally, I just don't have the time or energy. But that said, even if you make a loaf or two every other week, you can still save yourself some money. Plus, is there anything nicer than having a house that smells like homemade bread?

14. Use a ceiling fan to cut down your energy bill. Not only is it great to use in the summer to cool off (we have them in our bedrooms - keeps things nice and comfortable), but you can also use in the winter time to keep the heat from rising to the ceiling.  Check this link to read more and for instructions on what direction your fan should move, according to the season.

15. Clean your tub with baking soda.  Skip the cleansers and forget the bubbles that scrub for you. This old stand-by works like a champ! Sure, it requires a little extra elbow grease, but it works great and costs hardly anything.

16. Try cleaning your face naturally with the oil-cleansing method (OCM). You use olive oil and castor oil to clean your face. It sounds weird, I know, but it's awesome. Check out this post on Simple Mom for all the science and details of the method.

17.  So maybe it's not super-easy, but growing a garden is a great way to save money. You can do a lot or little; a huge plot out in the backyard or a container on the patio. Whatever works for your circumstances, tastes, and budgets. Plus, growing your own food is so rewarding - I always feel this surge of pride knowing I grew something myself.

18.  Use cloth diapers. They've changed a lot over the years; they even look different from when my mom used them on us kids back in the 80s. Cloth diapers have become a lot more user-friendly. Though there's the initial investment, using cloth diapers, even just part of the time, can save you hundreds of dollars. I haven't tried this one yet, but plan on giving them a test run when I have another baby. I have a post on this very topic from a guest blogger coming up soon!

19.  While we're on the topic of babies, why not mention homemade baby food?  I have to admit, I didn't make my son's baby food. I bought into the idea that I had to buy the cute little jars of mashed food. To think of all the money I could have saved by just using my food processor! Anyway, there are tons of sites and recipes for homemade baby food. A few good places on the Internet I've come across are Smitten Kitchen Baby (I love just regular Smitten Kitchen and I was excited to see this new feature. She even makes baby food look good!)  and this post on Simple Mom.

20.  Homemade popsicles are a cinch to make. If you use what you've already got on hand (the last of the chocolate milk, anyone?), it costs almost nothing to make them, too. You can find my thoughts on popsicle molds and ingredients here.

21. Be sure to stay on top of regular check-ups and exams. I thought of this one while in the waiting room at the dentist. Regular check-ups are not always so painless, I'm sorry to admit, but necessary.  Like Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

22. Eat seasonally.  Certain fruits and vegetables are at their peak at different times of year, which makes them not only taste their best but also cost less. For example, citrus fruits like oranges are in season in the wintertime, which is why you see such great prices for them in December and January and not-so-great prices for them in July.  If you adjust your produce shopping according the season, you can save a lot of money. I found this website in my search for a good, comprehensive list of what's in season and when.

23. Netflix! I love it! We've never had cable, but if we did, I would totally drop it because of Netflix. Plus, it's cheaper than renting at a video store (are those still around, anyway?). For a small monthly fee (anywhere from $8-12, depending on how many movies you want a month or if you want blu-ray), you can watch just about anything you want. Gotta love cheap entertainment.

24. Wash and reuse plastic and glass containers, even if it's just once. You can find my thoughts on reusing here and some ideas here.

25. Drink water. Growing up, my mom bought juices and sodas rarely. If we were thirsty, Mom always told us to just drink some water. Kids drink too much sugary stuff anyway and drinking more water instead of lots of juice is not only healthier, but cheaper. When I do give juice to my son (or to myself, for that matter), I always water it down.  The same advice applies for adults. If you can wean yourself a little off your favorite soda and drink more water instead, you'll reap not only economic rewards, but health ones as well. This is also a great tip for eating out -- just order the ice water with your meal.

26. I love my homemade bath salts. Cheap and easy to make, yet so nice.  Not only are they stress-buster for yourself, but they also make a great, inexpensive gift.

27.  Grow an herb garden, inside and/or outdoors.  Just one plant usually costs as much as a bottle or bag of them at the store. Plus, when you grow them yourself, they keep giving and giving.

28. Avoid the inner aisles of the grocery store. Granted, there are some things you have to buy in those sections (like in the baking aisle), but there's a lot of processed junk you can skip. This goes back to making things from scratch. Start small and slowly eliminate the super-processed food on your shopping list. One good guide I learned from Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, is to try to only buy foods with no more than five ingredients listed. In other words, skip the bread that has 20+ ingredients in it.  Not only is it a healthier choice to skip processed foods, but it saves money.  Some of my homemade vs. pre-made recipes can be found here.

29. Try eBay. One man's trash is another man's treasure. I've made well over $100 just selling things around my house that I didn't want anymore. It only costs a few cents to post things on there and it's really quite simple. On the buyer's side, eBay is great for finding deals on certain things. This past Christmas, I got some Thomas the Tank Engine trains (which, to those who are familiar with Thomas, can be ridiculously priced at the store) for a steal! Careful, though, eBay can get kind of addicting!

30. It shouldn't come as much of surprise that I'm mentioning canning. Home preservation, whether you can, freeze, or dry your food is a great way to save money. Plus, it's so much tastier than the storebought stuff.

31. Clean your toilet with vinegar. It's a natural disinfectant. Just pour in a 1/2 cup of vinegar, let it sit for 20 minutes or so, scrub with the toilet brush, and flush. Inexpensive and eco-friendly.

32. Switch from paper to cloth. I haven't bought paper towels in months. We use rags for our cleaning and cloth napkins for meals. I don't even buy Kleenex - I made handkerchiefs out of some old blankets. Granted, there is a place for paper products - I don't think we'll ever be up for what is called the 'family cloth'.  Different strokes for different folks, of course - if it works for them, great. I just won't be following suit. For a great overview about having a paper-free home, check out this post from Simple Organic.

33. Try a menstrual cup. I wrote about it here, despite my trepidations about coming across as a weirdo. I'm sure there are people who read this and think I'm as nuts as the people who use the 'family cloth', but I'm tellin' ya, it's not any weirder than the other methods. It's just a paradigm shift. Really.

34. Give homemade pizza a go. Try my recipe. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that you can actually make your own pizza. And it takes less than an hour to make from start to finish, including the baking time. My brother-in-law had it once and asked if he could pay me to make it for him instead of ordering out. I can take no credit for the recipe though -- I got the dough recipe from a neighbor and the sauce from a cookbook.

35.  Buy chickens whole.  They typically cost less per pound this way than in pre-cut pieces, especially the breasts. You can cook them whole (I love roasting whole chickens and freezing the shredded meat for future recipes), or you can separate the pieces for various recipes that just call for chicken breast/thighs/wings. Cutting up an entire chicken into separate pieces can seem somewhat intimidating, but it's not. Check out my step-by-step method for cutting a whole chicken here.  Also, don't forget to save the bones, giblets, and neck for your homemade stock!

36. Coupons can save you money, but only if you use them on things you normally buy. I'm not much of a coupon user because it doesn't really work with my lifestyle, but I still use them for certain things. You can find my thoughts on couponing here.

37. The envelope system is a great way to curb spending and stay on a budget. I actually just posted about it a couple weeks ago. I love using cash.

38. Love those leftovers.

39. is an awesome way to save money on books. It's a free online book exchange where you post books you have that you don't want anymore. Someone else requests them and you send them at your own expense (if you send them media mail, it doesn't cost more than a couple bucks). For each book you send, you get one credit. With those credits, you can order any book in the system that someone else has posted and then they send it to you at their expense. I absolutely love it.  Not only do I get rid of the books I'm done reading and ones that have been collecting dust, but I get all sorts of gently used ones (the books swapped have to meet a certain quality standard). Lately, I've been ordering a bunch of children's books. My little boy loves getting 'new' books in the mail!

40. However, as great as PaperBackSwap is, there's an even cheaper alternative: use a library card. Anyone can get one and they don't cost a thing. Now that's cheap entertainment!

41. Reuse spent flower blooms. You can harvest the seeds from lots of your favorite annual flowers once they've finished blooming and save them for the following spring. Nothing like getting free flowers for your yard! For more information on how and what flowers to use, check here.

42. Save money on directory assistance by calling 1-800-FREE-411. I just learned that one.

43. Buy clothes for next year at end-of-season sales. Sure, you probably don't want to wear a new winter jacket in March or April (although, in my state's climate, you never know), but you can score a great deal on one if you buy it then.  Stores are anxious to get to rid of their stock at the end of the season in preparation for the new stuff coming in. This is especially a good idea when buying for kids - just get it in a size bigger.

44. Make your own mixes. One of my favorites: homemade pancake mixes (recipe for regular ones here; whole-wheat ones here). Once you make the mix, you have the convenience of all storebought ones. Just add some water, maybe an egg in some cases, some milk and butter in others, and you've got from-scratch pancakes. Yum! There are all sorts of homemade mixes for a variety of things to be found on the Internet. Just do a Google search. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

45. Plant berries if you have the space. I absolutely love having our berry bushes. In late June-early July, we get bowlful after bowlful of raspberries from our yard. And even when berries are in season at the store, they're pricey. Berry plants range in price, but you definitely get your money's worth.They don't take a lot of work and the fresh berries are worth any effort on your part. Plus, they spread like crazy. What started in my yard as two raspberry plants has spread into many, many canes stretching along my fence.

46.  Bite the bullet and make a monthly budget.  We do ours on a month-by-month basis and write it up the week before the new month starts. Basically, we follow Dave Ramsey's advice to budget every single dollar of every paycheck on paper. It sounds like a pain, but we have found so much peace and freedom in having a budget. Last year, we had some major car repairs and instead of panicking about how to pay for them, we only had to look at our budget for the rest of the month and the next and see where we could find the money.  That's part of the reason why I'm in Disneyland this week - having a budget opens doors and helps you set goals.  For advice and information on budgeting from Dave Ramsey himself, go here.

47.  Swap services and goods with family, friends, and neighbors. Baby-sitting. Dinners. Garden produce. Sewing lessons. Anything! Everyone has something that they're good at and most people like to share that knowledge. I'd be willing to help anyone with their garden or teach them how to can if they would help me with my wedding album. It's been 7 1/2 years since my wedding and I still need help figuring out how to make it look good. I just can't bring myself to actually do it. Anyone up for a swap?

48.  Mix your own cleaners. I used to buy natural, all-purpose cleaner and I thought I was getting a good deal because it was concentrated. It was a good deal, in some respects, but then I learned I can make my own for much cheaper using common household products.  I make my everyday, all-purpose cleaner by putting a few teaspoons of dish soap and a few tablespoons of vinegar in a spray bottle and then fill it up with warm water. Works great. You can find the recipe I use, along with others at this link.

49.  Try the 'Pantry Principle'.  Just read this post on the blog, Saving Naturally. She sums it up really well.

50. Give homemade gifts.  Get creative. Even if you're not crafty, there's lots you can still do. The previously mentioned bath salts. This super-easy warmer pack.  Or just baking something (I can attest to this as being an awesome gift -- my friend, who happens to be from France, made me a traditional cake called galette du roi for my birthday this year. It was so cool!).  One of the best things about giving homemade gifts (besides being inexpensive) is that you give the best gift of all: your time. Talk about priceless!

51. After-holiday sales are sweet! Every year on November 1st (except last year since it was a Sunday. Too bad.), I get up semi-early and head to Target. All of their Halloween merchandise is 50% off.  Granted, it's a bit of a madhouse, but I still get some good deals. I usually stock up on cool napkins and favors for next year's annual Halloween party. And, of course, being the huge lover of Halloween decor that I am, I buy a few decorations for cheap.  It's always fun to pack it away that day, forget what I bought, and be surprised the next year when I unpack all our Halloween stuff.

52. Keep your freezer full. It takes more energy to keep an empty freezer cold. If you need to fill space in your freezer, fill some empty milk jugs with water and keep them in there.

53. Plant trees strategically. If you plant them right, you can shade your house and cut down on your cooling bill significantly.

54. Keep your freezer and pantry organized. It's a sure-fire way to avoid buying duplicates. Trust me on this one. Taking an inventory of your freezer's contents is worth the time. when you know exactly what you have, making dinner is a lot easier.

55. "Staycations" can be a lot of fun. Approach your hometown or a nearby city as if you were a tourist. Our family did that earlier this year when we got our carpets cleaned (they take forever to dry!). We went downtown, stayed in a hotel, and had blast exploring the city. You still get a break from the ordinary but without a ton of added expense.

56.  Go meat-free at least once or twice a week. It's not hard at all and you can save a good amount of money by going vegetarian a couple times during the week. There's lots of meat-free options out there; here are some of the things my husband and I ate when we were vegetarians (and there's not even any tofu mentioned!).

57. Lose the luxury toilet paper. Do you really need quilted, triple-ply TP? 

58. Give yourself an 'allowance'.  Dave Ramsey calls it 'blow money.' Basically, it's an amount of money, in cash, that you (and your spouse, if applicable) give yourself to spend on whatever you want. Having that money set aside is big deal because it helps you stay on top of your financial goals without feeling deprived. Very, very important.

59. Instead of using expensive razor cartridges and shaving gel, why not have the man in your life try traditional wet shaving?  My husband tried it several months ago and hasn't looked back since. He used to hate shaving, but now he looks forward to it as something relaxing. There is some start-up expense, but it definitely saves money in the long run.  To read about my husband's experience and how to get started, read here then here.

60. Mend and patch your clothes. Mending used to be part of doing the laundry.  Now, as a wise, 90-year-old woman at my church said, " "People these days don't wear out clothes. They wash them out!" There's lots of ways to spruce up clothes, extend their lives, and make them look good. 

61. A few years ago, I attended a presentation about keeping things sane and organized during the holiday season. Not an easy thing to do. But one thing that stood out to me was the concept of cutting back just 10% when it comes to Christmas.  She didn't only mean on gifts, but also on decorations, baking, and attending events. Just 10%, she said, would make the difference.  Not only does this idea help me stress less during the holiday season, but it's a great way to cut back on all the spending.

62. Stop buying cans of condensed soup and try a homemade alternative. There are a bunch of recipes and ways to make your own condensed soup simply on Pinterest -- here are a few I found.

63. Soup is one of the easiest and most inexpensive dinners there is.  You can make it as simple or extravagant as you want. And it's so filling and comforting. I always get excited when fall rolls around again because a whole new part of my cooking repertoire opens up again.

64. Use drapes and blinds to heat and cool your house. Closing your drapes and blinds at night can help keep the cold weather out. Keeping them open during the day lets you heat your house for free. You can keep your home cooler in the summer just by keeping the drapes and blinds shut at peak hours.

65. Keep it simple when it comes to entertaining kids. Like many children, when my son turned one he got a ton of presents, but he was most interested in the ribbons and wrapping paper.  It's amazing what fun a kid can have with a giant box, some bubbles, some colorful wooden blocks, or some sidewalk chalk. It's also good for their imaginations when the toys do less.

66. Pamper yourself at home. There's lots of ways to do facials, pedicures, and other relaxing, spa-like treatments in the comfort of your own bathroom. Don't get me wrong -- I've been to a day spa and it's pure heaven. Nothing you do at home quite recreates that feeling. But, if you don't have the money to fork over at a day spa, this is a good runner-up. There are tons of ideas on the Internet; here are a few of mine.

67. Always shop around before you make a big purchase (as in, appliances, furniture, electronics, etc). Save up for it and use cash. Not only will you get the best deal, but you'll avoid interest payments as well. It seems like common sense, but in this society, that sense isn't always so common.

68. Compost. Use your yard clippings, extra grass, dead leaves, and kitchen scraps to make mulch. Seriously, it's like black gold. There's tons of information on this topic. Martha Stewart has a great article in her October 2010 issue; you can also read this link from her here. Call me crazy, but I think my compost pile is totally fascinating.

69. Although there are lots of awesome medicines and methods in mainstream medicine, there are also lots of great time-tested natural remedies. Granted, you have to do some research before trying them out because some are outdated and unsafe. But there are some that really do the trick. To see some that I use, click here.

70. A price book is a great way to cut down on your grocery budget. Simply write down in a notebook the things you regularly buy, visit a couple stores in your neighborhood, and write down the prices. Not only will you learn which store has the best deals for certain items, but you can also use your price book with the weekly store ads. You can check the various sales at different grocery stores and compare them to the prices in your book. After a while, I pretty much memorized how much I usually spend on certain things and I can tell if something is on sale without looking at my old price book.

71. Speaking of prices at grocery stores, one way to find out if you're getting the best deal is to check the unit price. Most stores list it next to the price. It shows how much an item costs per ounce or unit. So, if you're looking at different sizes of milk, for instance, you might find that the gallon is cheaper per ounce than the half-gallon carton is, even though the overall price is lower.  For a better explanation, check here.

72. Though this isn't saving money, per se, figuring out how much to withhold for taxes is a good way to make the most of what you earn. If you get a really large tax return, you may be having too much withheld. Sure, it's fun to get a big check from Uncle Sam in the spring, but really, when you have too much withheld, you're just giving him an interest-free loan. Not cool.

73. Skip bottled water. Use a filtered water pitcher or mounted faucet filter. They improve the taste of tap water dramatically. Buy a reusable water bottle and you're set!

74. When on vacation, try to make dinner the only meal you eat out for. Many hotels offer continental breakfasts. Pack foods that you can prepare for lunch. Bring your own snacks. It's a great way to save money, but if you want to eat out (I know I like to when I'm on vacation), only eating out for dinner is a good way to save on your food budget.

75. During the summer months, use your slow cooker or outdoor grill. This can save energy because you're not using a hot oven or stove and heating up the house.

76. Buy hair clippers. They're not expensive and if you know how to use them, they can save you money. My husband cuts his own hair and our son's.  Ask someone you know for lessons or pay attention when you go to the barber/salon. That's how my husband said he learned.

77. Close vents in unused rooms. Doesn't make much sense to heat or cool rooms people don't use frequently, right?

78. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. As much as I love the nostalgic look of the incandescent bulbs and as annoying as I think enforcing laws that you have to buy CFLs are, you can't deny that they do save energy and last longer than the old-school bulbs. 

79. Change air filters in your furnace regularly. This allows for better air flow and efficiency.

80. If available, use public transportation or carpool.  My husband carpools to work with three other guys he works with and it saves us a lot of money in gas.

81. Try to buy your clothes at outlets, close-out stores (like T.J. Maxx and Ross Dress-for-Less), and even thrift stores. If you take the time to search, you can find some great deals. Personally, the last two options haven't worked well for me because I haven't developed the patience to sift through everything, but I know a lot of people who find really great stuff at really great prices.

82. Skip the name brands and try the store-brand products. Sure, there are still a few things I buy name brand, but there's a lot more that I buy generic.

83. Churn your own butter. Just kidding. I was just checking to see if you're still reading this.

84. Go to a matinee showing at the theater.

85. Learn to sew. It's not as scary as you'd think. And that doesn't mean you have to become a pro and make your daughter's wedding dress someday (though, I know people who have). Just a basic knowledge of sewing is beneficial and opens you up to a lot of fun and frugal projects.

86. Make your own playdough, silly putty, and sidewalk paint. It costs next to nothing.

87. Homemade nut butters are cheaper than the storebought kind and easy to make. I haven't tried that yet, but I'm definitely thinking of making my own almond butter. That stuff is expensive at the store!

88. Don't waste money on pre-washed bags of salad. It's much cheaper to buy your greens as is, wash them, and spin-dry in a salad spinner. Store the greens wrapped in a clean cloth and store in the salad spinner for up to five days. Then, when you're in the mood for salad, it's ready to go!

89. Stock up on and freeze items like milk, butter, and meat when they go on sale. This not only saves you money, but also a trip to the grocery store.  This is when a second freezer definitely comes in handy.

90.  Use the bulk section of the grocery store. You can stock up on grains, dried beans, spices, flours, and nuts for cheap. It's amazing how much packaging adds onto the price of food.

91. Befriend beans. They're not only a great, meat-less source of protein, but they're also really cheap. They can make a simple meal very filling!
92.  Change your own oil.  My dad taught my husband how to do it years ago and that alone has saved us a bunch of money. Buying the oil and oil filter and doing it yourself costs at least half of what it does at a shop. If you don't know how to, I'm willing to bet you have someone in your family or neighborhood who does. Remember that whole swapping services thing?

93. While I'm mentioning cars, I should also say that regular car maintenance and tune-up can be a huge money saver. Just keeping your tires inflated properly can improve your gas mileage and save you money.

94.  Use household products to remove stains. There's no need to buy a stain remover spray. Most stains can be removed with either vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or just a mixture of dishwashing soap and water. I've laminated this chart and I keep in my laundry room so I know how to tackle any stain that comes my way.

95. Break a bad habit. Be it smoking, eating out too often, or drinking too much soda, breaking a habit can save you a lot of money. Now if only I could save money by not biting my fingernails...

96. Avoid unnecessary fees. Try not to use ATMs that charge you; stick to the ones associated with your bank or credit union. Make a budget and stick to it so you can avoid late fees on your bills. Stay on top of your expenditures so you don't incur overdraft fees. Also, don't go to a bank that charges you for a bunch of little things: ATM withdrawals, charges for too many checks written, or fees for funds transfers. Stick to banks that offer truly free checking and savings accounts.

97. If you have adequate savings, raise the deductible on your home and auto insurance. For example, I read on one site that if you raise your out-of-pocket amount from $250 to $1000, you can save 15% or more off your premium.  Be sure to have enough in your savings should you have to pay the higher out-of-pocket amount. You don't want to go into debt to save money. That doesn't make any sense.

98. Raise chickens and/or bees. I'm just kidding on this one - kind of. I would love to have my own chickens and have fresh eggs.  My parents are seriously considering having a beehive and I keep encouraging it just for the honey. But, really, these aren't painless ways. I'm just running out of ideas.

99.  Have clear goals. It makes all your efforts worthwhile and it helps you stay disciplined and motivated. Really, goals are the foundation of all this frugality stuff.

100. Give. No matter how tight your budget is, there's always someone who is faring worse than you are. Plus, it's amazing how it always seems to come back to you.

Update: You can find TWO MORE LISTS of 100 ways to live frugally here and here!

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yet Another Canning Post: Pears

This canning season has been all about firsts so far. I did peaches for the first time last week and yesterday I did pears for the first time. It's been tiring and time consuming, but it's totally worth it.  What made canning even better yesterday is that I got my husband to help out while the boy napped. Is it possible that peeling and coring pears is romantic? Because I was definitely feeling the love for my awesome husband - he made the process go by a lot faster. 

Canning pears is quite similar to canning peaches, but there a few differences, hence this post. Plus, I discovered a new, must-have tool for canning fruit. Excited, aren't you?

I got an awesome deal on pears - I split a 36-lb. box of them with a friend, so I got 18 lbs. of pears for $12. I believe they are Barlett pears, US Grade extra fancy, straight from Oregon. So delicous and super-ripe. I can to get to work right away. My kitchen smelled heavenly just from the box sitting on my countertop! When picking pears to can, you want ones that are ripe but not soft.

For each quart, plan on using 2-3 pounds per quart.  I ended up with nine quarts and one pint.

 Anyway, here's how to can pears...

1. Wash, peel, and core pears.
Pears are a little more time consuming that peaches in that you have to peel and core them. And ripe pears are really slippery when you're peeling them. Once you've peeled the pears, cut the pear in half and remove the core. Here's where the new must-have gadget comes in: On Sunday, I told my friend at church that I was going to be canning pears soon and she told me, "You have to borrow my pear corer. Come to my house and get it."  The next day, she demonstrated how to use it and I could already see how it would be a big time-saver.  Instead of cutting around the core, you simply slide the loop down the middle and the core peels right out.  It's amazing! I'm definitely buying a pear corer for myself for next year!

2. Treat to prevent darkening.
Like with the peaches, you can buy ascorbic acid or vitamin c powder. I just soaked my cut pears in some water and squeezed a lemon into the water. Worked just fine.

3. Make a light syrup and keep it hot.
I used the same syrup I used for my peaches, the light syrup directions in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving: 2 1/4 cups of sugar to 5 1/4 cup of water, making 6 1/2 cups of syrup.

4. Use the hot pack method and cook the pears.
This is the main difference between canning the peaches and pears.  With the raw pack, you just put the cut-up fruit in the jars and pour the hot syrup over them. For the hot pack method, you have to cook the pears. To do this, cook the pears one layer at a time (meaning, they don't overlap in the pot) until hot throughout. This doesn't take long at all, just a few minutes. Be careful not to overcook your pears or they'll get mushy. When the syrup is boiling, gently put the pears into the syrup and let them cook until the syrup starts boiling again. Using the hot pack method for pears, from what I've read, is great for the flavor of the pears.

5. Pack the pears into hot jars.
Pack the hot pear halves into hot jars. The book says to leave a 1/2 inch of headspace.

6. Remove air bubbles.
To do this, use a plastic spatula or butter knife and insert it along the inside of the jar, between the fruit and the jar. Do this all around the inside, moving the spatula or knife up and down. I skipped this step and my jars boiled over and I had to re-do them. Total pain and a waste of lids.

7.  Adjust lids & bands and process in canner.
Process pints for 20 minutes, quarts for 25. Also, don't forget to adjust for your altitude, if necessary.

With the help of my obliging husband, the peeling, coring, cooking, and packing took about an hour and half. The processing took over an hour to finish all the jars. So, really, canning isn't an all-day process. That is, unless you're feeling ambitious and you want it to be. Believe me, I've had those days (pluot jam, anyone?) and as exhausting as they are, you feel so proud of yourself after.

Today I'm canning apple pie filling and applesauce. I see salsa in my near future, as well.  What are you canning this season?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Preserving the Herb Garden Goodness

I think everyone should grow an herb garden. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. A spot in the garden. A pot on the patio or even on the kitchen windowsill. Everyone should do it because herbs are so easy to grow. Plus, a single plant costs about as much as a bottle of the dried stuff costs and the fresh herbs taste way better anyway. 

But how can you make the most of the herbs in your garden as fall approaches? It's so easy to preserve homegrown herbs. Not only do you get great quality, but preserving your herbs for the fall and winter is a great money-saver.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who stands next to the spice shelves at the store aghast at the ridiculous price for dried seasonings.  Growing the herbs and preserving them yourself is definitely a much more frugal route.

There are two ways to preserve herbs: drying and freezing. Neither method takes any sort of equipment or hard work.  But it is important to know which herbs dry best and which ones you should freeze.  So, onto the methods!


Really you can dry almost any herb, but there are some that do much better than others.  The best herbs for drying are low-moisture ones like sage (pictured above), bay, dill, marjoram (that was the bottle that elicited the aghast expression at the grocery store), summer savory, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

The way I dry my herbs is by air-drying. Not only is this a cheap and super-easy way to do it, but it actually doesn't deplete the oils of the herbs like other methods do.  All you have to do is bundle the herbs together, anywhere from 3-5 branches together. You can use string or a rubber band, but I actually use fishing line. We don't do much fishing around here, but we always have fishing line around the house. It works for so many things!

Once I've bundled them, I hang them upside down to dry. I have a dark, dry closet I don't visit much, so I hang them upside down from the shelf, by the fishing line.  They stay undisturbed there and dry beautifully.  If you don't have a spot like that, you can place the bundles upside down in a brown paper bag. With the stems poking out the top, tie the bag closed.  Poke some holes in the bag so the air can circulate.  They take about 2-4 weeks to dry. Just check them occasionally and see how they're doing. Some herbs dry faster than others. I've used the air-drying method for sage, rosemary, and thyme and it does the trick!

Once your herbs are dried, store them in an airtight container. You could use a zipper bag or a canning jar. I save the bottles from my store-bought herbs and spices through the year, wash them, and reuse them for my homegrown ones.  Be sure to label your herbs, along with the date.  It's best to use them within the year.  Also, don't crush them until you're ready to use them -- they'll retain the flavor longer (I just learned that helpful tidbit today!). 


Holy cow. I love basil. Fresh basil on homemade margherita pizza? Amazing. And pesto? Love it.  But fresh basil is expensive and the dried kind just doesn't do it for me. For these reasons, I always grow basil. A single plant is the same price, if not cheaper, than the fresh stuff at the store. Plus, it keeps growing and growing and growing. But by the end of the summer, I have more basil than I know what to do with. This is where freezing comes into play.

Herbs like basil are moisture-dense, making them harder to dry because they mold quickly. If you do want to dry moisture-dense herbs, you need a dehydrator. But the recommended way to preserve moisture-dense herbs is by freezing them. Other moisture-dense herbs include chives, mint, and tarragon. There are a variety of ways to freeze these kinds of herbs. Here are the ways I do it:

You can freeze chopped up leaves of basil and put them in ice cube trays with water. When you're ready to use them, you put the ice cubes in a strainer and let the ice melt, or, as one site I checked suggested, just throw the cubes into whatever you're cooking (like a sauce or soup) and let them melt in there. However, this method is really only for cooking, not for using basil fresh.  I've heard of people using this method for mint; they use the mint ice cubes for drinks in the summer.

Since I like to use basil in a variety of ways, I tried the other method at the same site:  in a food processor (I'm sure you could use a blender if you don't have a food processor), pulse together a half-cup of the leaves with about a 1/4 cup of olive oil. Once you've created a paste, put it in ice cube trays and freeze. Once they're frozen, pop them out of the trays and put the cubes in zipper bags. This method creates a sort of basil-combination that's good for cooking and mixing into things like salad dressing and pesto.

For my chives, I do something different.

Today, I went to my garden to get chives for the ranch dressing I was making (recipe compliments of the Pioneer Woman. Every recipe of hers is incredible!).  Since I was out there, I cut a ton of them so I could freeze them.  Chives are such a great thing to grow because they're so versatile. I use them in all sorts of recipes, replacing the green onions with chives. They're so easy to grow and they come back every spring in my garden.  Anyway, freezing chives couldn't be simpler: just cut them up (I used scissors; I couldn't find my kitchen shears for some reason) into small pieces, spread them in a single layer on a plate or pan, and freeze. Once they're frozen, store in zipper bags or any other airtight container. Best of all, there's no need to thaw them. Simply toss them in whatever you're making.  If only preserving fruit was this easy...

*Note:  I came across a great site (one that I referenced for a few of these methods) for any questions about herbs and spices. It's called "A Pinch Of..." Definitely a great resource for any home gardener!*

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Peachy keen, jellybean."

I spent half of my Saturday canning peaches. As much as I love canning the harvest, it's still a pretty hot and tiring process.  I mean, peeling twenty pounds of peaches by oneself is no small feat.  Anyway, I thought I would share the two different methods I used to preserve these delicious, super-ripe peaches. I'll just say now, one of those methods doesn't involve a single Mason jar or even the stove. So, really, anyone can preserve peaches for the winter months ahead!

Method #1 -  Canning

Before Saturday, I'd never canned peaches before.  For the last couple of years, I've meant to, but just never got around to it.  So, determined to actually follow through this season, I went to the farmers' market on Friday, bought a case of local peaches at a really good price (Note: wait until the farmers' market is almost over. I went during the last half-hour and I got my case of fruit $2 cheaper. I think the farmers would rather sell it for a little less than haul it back home.),  picked up some extra quart-sized jars at Walmart, and set my alarm to start early the next morning.

The recipe I followed came from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (Seriously, a must-have guide for anyone interested in food preservation at home.).  I used the raw pack method and it was really quite easy, even for a first-timer like myself.  To can peaches, you'll need 2-3 pounds of peaches per quart, as well as some sugar and water (quantities of sugar and water will vary depending on how much syrup you're going to make and if you're making light or medium syrup).  Here's the the method:
  1. First, wash and peel the peaches.  To peel the peaches, dip in boiling water for about a minute; after a minute, immediately drain and place peaches in cold water.  This makes the peel slip off easily (though, some of my peaches still looked kind of rough because the peels were stubborn). 
  2. Cut the peaches in half, then in quarters (you can do peach halves, but I prefer smaller slices) and even in eighths (depending on the size of the peach).
  3. Treat the peaches to prevent darkening. The book says to use a commercial absorbic acid on the peaches to prevent them from darkening. I just used some lemon juice and it worked fine.
  4. Make a light or medium syrup.  I used a light syrup:  2 1/4 cups of sugar and 5 1/4 cups water. Heat over the stove and keep it hot.
  5. Pack the peaches into hot jars, leaving a half-inch of headspace.
  6. Ladle hot syrup over peaches, leaving a half-inch of headspace.
  7. Remove air bubbles by running a spatula or butterknife all around the inside of the jar, between the fruit and the glass, moving up and down.
  8. Adjust lids and bands.
  9. Process; pints for 25 minutes, quarts for 30 minutes. Adjust times according to your altitude

Not too shabby for my first time. Granted, they wouldn't win a ribbon at the fair (my hometown fair still awards ribbons for the most beautiful bottled food. Awesome.), but that doesn't affect the taste anyway. I can't wait to open a jar of these in January and enjoy a taste of summer on a snowy day!

Method #2 - Freezing

I've put a variety of fruits and vegetables in my freezer, but, for some reason, never thought to do it with peaches. Go figure. Anyway, in this month's issue of Everyday Food magazine, there's a section about freezing various types of produce, along with recipes using those same frozen fruits and veggies.  So as I was processing some of my jars of canned peaches and since I needed a break from peeling peaches, I decided to do a batch of frozen peaches, too. 

To do this, simply wash the peaches and cut in half, then in quarters, and in eighths (again, depending on the size of the peach and according to your preferences).  You don't have to worry about even peeling the peaches. Next, spread out the slices on a rimmed baking sheet, making sure none of the peaches touch.  Stick the sheet in the freezer. 

An hour or so later, once I had my counter cleaned and a lot less sticky, I pulled the peaches out of the freezer. I packed them in a zipper freezer bag, labeled it, and stuck it back into freezer. So easy! These slices are great for smoothies and dessert recipes. I plan on making this recipe for peach shortbread from Smitten Kitchen a couple times with these peaches. And like with the canned peaches, I plan on using them in January or February when my spirits could use even just a fleeting taste of summer.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lovely Links: "Putting Up" Edition

Is it weird that one of the reasons (and I have a lot of reasons) I love fall so much is that it is canning season? I get a little giddy when I see the stores put out pallets of jars. There's something about putting up fresh fruit and vegetables from my garden and the farmer's market that I find so satisfying. I'm picking up a case of peaches later today at the farmer's market. I just placed an order for a box of pears. I'm going to hit up the apple orchard by my in-laws' house.  My tomatoes and tomatillos are begging to be made into salsa.  Ahhhh...I love fall.

Anyway, I'm gearing up to start all my canning and with that will come a barrage of posts about canning, drying, freezing, the works. So I thought I'd share a few other posts I've come across on other blogs about this very subject to get you excited, too.

9 Good Reasons to Can Your Own Food - Simple Bites
I think the title to this post says it all. She brings up a lot of good points. A lot of her reasons are the same as mine, which I wrote about almost exactly a year ago. One point I didn't bring up that she does is the issue of BPA-lined cans. Yet another reason why I love home canning.

In the Pits: Canning Stone Fruit - Simple Bites
Yet another post from Simple Bites -- love it! I'm canning peaches for the first time ever this year and I thought this was an awesome introduction.  Mmmmm....I can taste them already!

Dried Fruit Rolls - Instructables
Speaking of trying new things, this year I think I'm going to actually tackle making fruit leather with the oven. My mom and I always say we will, but we don't. I did some research and somehow came across the recipe at this site and it doesn't look hard at all. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Preserving Summer's Bounty: Considering the Savings - Keeper of the Home
I love when people do the math with frugal stuff. My brain starts to revolt whenever I try to mess with numbers.

Preserving Summer's Bounty: Recipes and Tutorials to Keep You Busy Until Thanksgiving - Keeper of the Home
I know, I know - I'm not really giving you much variety when it comes to blogs, but Keeper of the Home is awesome, too. And let me tell you, this link is the king of links. So much information about preserving -- canning, freezing, dehydrating, even something I've never heard of called lacto-fermenting. Check it out. It will truly keep you busy for months if you let it!
I'm already wondering if I've bitten off more than I can chew. In any case, it'll be a learning experience. Tiring, yet educational. And I'll be so happy with myself when I'm enjoying summer produce in January.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"And the Envelope, Please..."

I spent a good part of my Labor Day weekend at my hometown's annual celebration, shopping through the craft and food booths. I also spent part of my weekend with some of my gal pals at outdoor piano concert.  {For the record, my weekend wasn't all fun. I spent all of Labor Day cleaning and organizing my house.} At both events, I had more than a few people comment on my wallet as I paid with cash.  In fact, more often than not, whenever I pay with cash, someone usually comments on my wallet. I wish I could take credit for the idea and system, but I cannot.

All the credit goes to Dave Ramsey. Granted, the general idea of the envelope system isn't his idea, but he really brought it to my attention. Plus, I got my wallet system from his online store. More on that later.

{Sidenote: have you read The Total Money Makeover yet?  If I could assign reading, I would make this book required reading. Go to a library or a bookstore and get it. If you live by me, you can borrow my copy. Just read it!}

One goal that I'm constantly working on is using cash for the majority of my spending. I use my checkbook for bills. I use my debit card for buying gas and for online purchases/bill paying. Everything else I try to buy with cash.  My success with this goal wavers, I'll admit. It's so much easier to use the debit card instead of budgeting out certain amounts of cash and counting it all out at every store.

So why do it?  I think the main reason is that it makes you think before you spend. Using plastic, especially if it's a credit card, is so effortless. Plus, it feels a little abstract. You know you're spending money when you use a card, but it's more removed than counting out the actual money and handing it to the clerk.  As Dave Ramsey says, using cash is a little more painful. It's more concrete. You actually see your money leave your hands. And when it's gone, it's gone. I think this goes a long way in keeping your spending in check. I know that when I have a certain allotment of cash, I'm more careful how I spend it.

The envelope system is really quite simple. Budget every paycheck, spending, as Dave Ramsey says, every dollar on paper before you actually spend it. Next, you allot a certain amount of cash to various expenditures like food, clothing, entertainment, etc.  Designate a specific envelope to each thing (as in, an envelope for food, an envelope for clothes, etc.) and keep the cash in there. This is all you can spend and once the cash is gone, it's gone. Don't cheat! (Full disclosure:  I sometimes struggle with this - there have been occasions where I'll spend too much on groceries and make up the difference with my debit card. Totally defeats the purpose of the envelope system.). For more details on the system, straight from Dave Ramsey, check this post on his site.

My envelope system is made up of five envelopes: food, clothing, gifts, allowances (my husband and I give ourselves monthly "allowances" that we can blow on anything we want), and entertainment/misc (for things like dates, Family Home Evening, movie nights, outings with the boy, etc.).  At first, I tried using regular old envelopes, but they were kind of cumbersome and always falling out of my pocketbook or getting lost in the depths of my bag. Then I came across the system on Dave Ramsey's online store (I know, I know - how many times can I mention him in this post? What can I say? He's my money guru.).  He sells a pocketbook insert of spiral-bound envelopes on his site for only five bucks. It's awesome. It keeps all my cash organized so well, which really helps me with my paying-with-cash goals. I've had mine for probably close to a year - it's looking kind of hammered, but it totally does the job. And like I said, I always get comments from clerks at stores or people with me who see me use it, usually something like "That's such a good idea!" or "Where did you get that?" or "I should do that!"

I love using this system. Yes, it can be a little cumbersome sometimes to have to check how much money you have left in each envelope or making clerks a little annoyed that you take longer to count out the money than if you just swiped a card. It's actually kind of funny to see how some salespeople at stores react to cash, as if it's some kind of foreign currency. Having worked retail years ago, I can attest to the fact that paying with cash is no longer the norm; it's the exception. But I like being the exception. It keeps me on budget and saves me money. And a little extra work at the cash register and some self-control is worth the peace I get from living within my means.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Made Laundry Detergent!

I was curious. I figured it was worth a shot. It made me feel all pioneery.

I'd see a blog occasionally that would mention homemade laundry detergent, but I never gave it much thought. It seemed like one of those things that's supposed to be frugal, but really ends up taking more time than it's worth. Time is money, after all, and if the time it takes isn't worth the savings, I don't do it. 

So I brushed off the various posts sent to my email inbox about homemade detergent until one day, a little over a month ago, I actually read one of them. It didn't seem so bad.  Then I remembered that I'd read a post a while back on SouleMama's blog about homemade detergent.  Her recipe for laundry detergent sounded even easier! So I picked up some supplies and went to work. 

But before I go into the ingredients and method, I'd like to answer a couple questions in advance. They're questions I asked myself, so I figure someone else out there must be wondering, too.

Q:  Why bother? Laundry detergent isn't that expensive. There are budget brands, not to mention plenty of coupons for the more expensive brands.
A:  This is true, to an extent. There are lots of cheap detergents. That said, you get what you pay for. Lots of cheap chemicals, many of them known carcinogens that can be absorbed through the skin. Even if that doesn't worry you too much (in other words, if you're like my husband and think I may worry tad more than I need to about things like carcinogens in chemicals), keep in mind that conventional liquid laundry detergent can be a bit of a rip-off. Most conventional liquid laundry detergents contain up to 70% water. Granted, there are brands that advertise a more concentrated formula (which is what I used to buy), but I'm willing to bet there's still a percentage of that detergent that's just water. On top of that, lots of detergents aren't biodegradable; homemade detergent is more eco-friendly in that way, too.

Q: It might be more natural, but does it work?
A:  From everything I've read, homemade laundry detergent works. Lots of people swear by it.  On SouleMama, she says she even uses it for her cloth diapers.  The ingredients are all-natural and simple, but they really do the job. One caveat that I've noticed in my research: the stain-fighting power isn't like conventional detergents. By that, I mean that you need to take care of stains right away; homemade detergent doesn't get set-in stains out like conventional ones do.  This doesn't concern me too much.  I have an awesome stain-fighting chart I refer to (this past post has a link to the pdf file of the chart). The sun also works wonders for getting stains out of clothes.

Q: Is it expensive?
A:  I did some pricing for the supplies and they don't cost more than a big bottle of detergent. I think I spent probably around $12 on the ingredients I didn't already have. I already had the baking soda, but I had to buy a box of borax, washing soda, and an extra bar of soap. Now this wouldn't be cost-effective if I was only making one batch of laundry powder for about $10. However, when I made my batch of laundry detergent, I only used a portion of the sodas and borax.  The only real expense was the soap. I love Dr. Bronner's castile soap. It's an all-natural soap derived from various vegetable oils and scented with essential oils; it's awesome but it costs a little more than conventional soap (I can rationalize buying it since I save money on other things; it's one of my trade-off items). 

The recipe I use makes about 5 cups (just a little more than the quart-sized Mason jar I store it in) and you only need to use 1/8 of a cup with each load, so that covers about 40 loads of laundry. Now, being a former English major who credits passing college algebra to nothing less than divine intervention, I tried to do the math to figure out the cost per load versus the conventional detergent, but it started to give me a headache.  All I know is that my boxes of washing soda, baking soda, and borax are going to go a long way.  The key is the soap. Whatever you choose to use will affect your end cost. There are other sites (like this one and this one) that go into the cost breakdown, if you're interested in the math aspect.

Q: Is it time consuming?
A: Not at all. I chose this recipe from all the others because it seemed simple and fast. The liquid recipes I saw online take a little longer because you have to boil the water and all. For me, the most time consuming part of the process is grating the soap. Even then, that took only five minutes or so.  From start to finish, making a five-cup batch of laundry detergent took no more than ten minutes.

On to the recipe...

Homemade Laundry Powder (from the blog SouleMama)
--Yield: approximately five cups--
2 cups grated soap
1 cup borax (in the laundry section of most grocery stores)
1 cup baking soda
1 cup washing soda (Note: I had to look around for this. I found mine at Ace Hardware, in the cleaning section.)

Mix ingredients and store in an airtight jar/container. I use 1/8 cup, but this can be adjusted according to your needs.

That's it. Simple and pure.  At first, I was a little wary of using the homemade powder, but it works great. We went on an overnight camp-out with my family this past weekend and all of our clothes smelled of campfire.  I sent them through the wash with this powder and they only smell like lavender and sunshine (that's from the clothesline).  Making your own laundry detergent isn't only a money saving effort, but also a small way to take a little extra care of the people you love. Definitely one of the reasons I love the homemade over the pre-made.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Random Reuse: At the Art Desk

My little guy loves the art desk his favorite baby-sitter handed down to him (in practically perfect condition, I might add. She wouldn't let me pay her for it, either. I still offer her money for it from time to time.).  He just sits at it for long stretches of time, painting, drawing, gluing, cutting, and coloring.  It's awesome. Anyway, in my efforts to keep the area somewhat neat and organized, I have a couple random reuses for anyone with little artists in their life.

Reuse #1: The Plastic Palette
What budding artist doesn't love painting? My artist's medium of choice:  finger paints.  I used to use paper plates as his paint palettes, but then I realized a washed plastic lid works just as well. I find that 16 oz. containers (like for sour cream or cottage cheese) work particularly well.  When your child is finished, you can either just throw the lid away or wash and reuse.  Sometimes, I don't even wash it; I just add more paint on top of the dried paint from before.  Much better than wasting a paper plate.

Reuse #2: The Watercolor Cup

Yogurt cups are one of the best containers to reuse - I use them for all sorts of things.  Yogurt cups have become a staple at the art desk because they're perfect for watercolors. If the cup gets too stained from all the paint, I just throw it out. Most of the time, though, I wash and reuse them. {Sidenote: have you tried Chobani Greek yogurt? My favorite flavor is pineapple. Delish.}

Reuse #3: The Egg Carton Organizer

My son loves to play with glue. Whether it's gluing googly eyes on painted rocks or making a collage out of fluffy pompoms and beads, he can be entertained for quite a while with a bottle of glue. However, all these beads, sequins, googly eyes, pompoms, feathers, pipe cleaners, and bits of fabric can add up a big mess. So, to keep all of his little do-dads in one place, I reuse an egg carton. It works perfectly as an organizer -- not only does it prevent my house being covered in these miscellaneous items, but it's also convenient for him to have it at the ready.  Definitely a win-win situation. Now it looks like I just need to stock up on some new supplies for his egg cartons...
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