Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cover Your Bum- Saving $1,900 with Cloth Diapers!

There are SO many options for cloth diapers now, but this blog will focus on the money-saving aspect of them. If you already cloth diaper, we're going to share a few tips that might help you save even more.  Even if you get the more expensive type of cloth diapers, you will STILL save money long-term using cloth than you would using disposables!  Plus, you'll be saving the planet by reducing your waste.  Cloth-diapered babies generally potty train earlier too, which is pretty awesome.  If you have multiple kids (or are planning to), then you will save even more!

Initial Cost- The Cheapest Route
The initial cost of cloth diapers depends largely upon the route you take with what type of diaper you'd like. To save the most money possible, you will need to make your own prefold cloth diapers from flannel and cotton inserts (see your local fabric store for more details, and sales, for that one).  You'll need a set of little plastic pants and safety pins too.  This is the most labor intensive route, as you'll have to fold, pin, and pants your baby every time you change her, but it will only cost about $50 for your baby's entire diapering career. That's right, ONLY  FIFTY BUCKS!  This is how my mom cloth diapered my sister and me, and my mother in law diapered four of her 6 kids with this same method. With a little sewing, diaper origami, and washing, this is by far your cheapest diaper choice and will save you an average of about $1,900!

Spendy Start-Ups
Buying a set of fitted diapers, plus their spendy designer covers is the most expensive way to go.  It gets even worse if  you buy a set of non gender-neutral ones or trendy designs that will be out of style and useless for any subsequent children.  While there are a TON of super cute cloth diaper covers, the less expensive ones tend to leak and the more expensive ones... are more expensive!  This method of cloth diapering may cost around $700. You're still going to come out ahead of the average expensive disposables which cost around $1,000 for the first year, $2,000ish for the pre-potty trained years total. There are even designer cloth diapers that cost over $100 for ONE DIAPER!  Obviously if you go that route, you're not going to come out ahead if you buy the average number of cloth diapers (around 24 diapers total) unless you use them for multiple kids.

A Happy Medium
We bought our set of Bum Genius pocket diapers for $150 on Craigslist. We got 20 diapers, 30 large inserts, and 24 small inserts.  This was a steal of a deal as Bum Genius usually go for around $18 each new, making that lot about $360. I also got about 14 newborn diapers from the Just Between Friends sale in Portland, Oregon for about $20. We decided to try to only use disposables on trips or when other people babysit our little one, Grace, but we've ended up only using them at night and with people who don't babysit her often. Because we got a number of packs of disposables for baby shower gifts, we haven't had to buy any diapers yet, and won't need to until she's around 5-6 months.  For the first few days of Grace's life, when we got to enjoy the sticky, tar-like meconium poo, we stuck with disposables so we wouldn't have to try and get that ickyness off the cloth diapers.

Start the Search!
To get some nice cloth diapers for a better price, check around on Craigslist, second hand children's stores, or at baby sales, like the Just Between Friends sales. The sooner you start, the pickier you can be about getting a great deal.  If they are velcro (hook & loop) closure, you will want to make sure that the velcro isn't worn out, or that you know someone with some crafty skills to replace the velcro. Check that they are in pretty good shape, because you'll be using them a lot!  Check out for more detailed information about the types of diapers that are available.

Savings in the Wash
Wet Vs. Dry Pails
If you place your cloth diapers into a wet pail (I love Bambino Mio's locking diaper pail) with some water and a sprinkling of Borax after you rinse them off in the toilet, you should be able to skip the recommended first rinsing stage that you normally have to do when laundering cloth diapers.  You will want to get a locking pail so your little one doesn't drown in the diaper water!  This presoaking will save a few dollars a month in electric and water bills.  I usually rinse the diaper & insert in the toilet (just swish it around in the bowl until most of the debris comes off), and then toss them in the wet bucket.  To save even more money, you don't have to flush the debris immediately, but just wait until the next time that someone needs to use the restroom, and then flush it down with everything else!  I have an extra bucket to fill up with the cold water that first comes out when you turn on the shower, which I use to fill my wet pail, so then I'm not wasting any water while waiting for the shower to warm up either!

Mix It Up for More Savings!
If you mix your regular laundry in with your cloth diaper laundry (or even your little one's dirty duds), you'll save even more money!  In general, our culture uses WAY too much detergent, and I've never had a problem with our clothes coming out clean, even with this small amount of detergent (the extra rinses probably help).  I wash really dirty things, like logging/hiking/gardening gear or the dog's bedding & towels separately, but everything else gets mixed in together and comes out nice and clean. By washing everything together, you save precious time, money, water, and electricity!  Remember that you'll want to do a full wash, something like this:

Pre-Wash (Doing this will allow you to skip the first rinse and spin cycle below)
*Remove diaper & rinse in toilet.
*Separate insert, unsnap snaps, and stick Velcro to washing tabs.
*Place in Borax water bucket to soak & wash within three days.

*Drain most of diaper-soak water into toilet.
*Place all diapers into washer & turn dial to Rinse & Spin.  Select Cold/Cold water temp.  Press Start. (You can skip this step if you use a wet pail to soak the diapers in before washing them)
*Add 1 heaping teaspoon of sensitive skin/free detergent.
*Turn dial to Super Wash.  Select Hot/Cold water temp.
*Push the Max Extract and Extra Rinse buttons and press Start.

Ideally: hang dry everything on the drying rack outside in full sunlight with the inside of the diaper facing the sun.
Or: Turn dial to Delicate & choose Low temp.  Hang anything that is still damp on the railing upstairs.

An energy and water efficient front loading machine will be most cost-effective in the long run, but it will probably be wise to wait until your old washer dies until buying a new one.  Drying your diapers on a rack will further increase your savings.  Even if you just dry the inserts or the diaper shells on a line or rack, that will still reduce the amount of time your other clothes will need in the dryer.

Your Thoughts?
How do you save money when diapering your little one?  Do you have any tricks for getting things ultra-clean on a dime?  What else do you do to save money with your baby?  Leave a comment below, and share this with a friend to help them save some serious cash!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Save $950 a Year By Being Your Own Manicurist!

So, a number of my friends pay about $80 every month to get their nails done.  Don't get me wrong, I love a fun day at the spa as much as the next girl, but when you get manicures every few weeks, it isn't as special as when you only get one once a year.  Here is how you can save about $950 every year by doing your nails yourself!
Painting on the Moolah
Assuming you get a manicure and pedicure twice a month, the average amount you'll spend is $960 every year ($15 manicure & $25 pedicure). This isn't including the cost for any special gel polish, acrylic nails, designs, tips, transportation costs, etc. If you're not very good at painting your own nails yet, all it takes is practice.  Within a few months, you'll be doing it perfectly, and your checkbook will be perfectly happy.

Look for sales on nail polish and use coupons to get great deals on a few of your favorite colors. I like light pink and silver the best because they don't show when they chip, which means I don't have to paint my nails as frequently as I would with other colors. On average, for me, I only paint my fingernails about once every other week and only paint my toes about once a month when I use these lighter colors. With darker, more noticeable colors, I have to repaint about once a week on my fingernails and in two weeks with my toenails.  Even if you repaint every week, you're still going to be saving a bundle!
I usually purchase one new nail polish every year, and I try to take good care of the polishes I already have. Make sure to put the lid on really tight so your polish doesn't dry out, shake all of your polishes about once a month, and choose relatively good polish.  Cheap kids polish and DollarTree polishes will not last well.  I've had a bottle of Smackers by Bonne Bell since high school that is still going strong (that's eleven years old!).  DollarTree has the least expensive nail polish remover that I've found, so between that dollar, a buck for cotton balls from DollarTree, and about $8 in polish each year, you're looking at about $10/year for having fabulous nails all year long! If you want a little fancier nails, you can either do your own nail art, like those shown below from Pinterest, or just get a few little nail stickers to easily liven things up from a plain polish.  Searching for sales & coupons, choosing lighter colors, and gradually adding to your polish supply will help you save a significant amount of money. Even if you cut back from going to the salon twice a month to just once, you'll still be saving an average of $480 a year!

How Do You Make Your Nails Shine?
How do you save on nail care?  What are your favorite do-it-yourself nail art projects?  Which brand have you found to be the best?  Leave a comment below with your thoughts and experiences to help other look fabulous while saving money!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fuel Efficiency & Savings

Even if you don't opt to get a cool veggie car (a diesel car that runs on waste vegetable oil), there are still a lot of great ways to save on fuel costs.  Check out these ideas and leave your own tips in the comments below.

Drive Carefully
Instead of speeding up to that red light only to have to slam on your brakes and waste precious (and expensive) fuel to get going again, be cognizant about your driving and stop pressing the gas as soon as you see a stop coming up. The less you have to use your brakes, and thus your fuel, the more money you'll save. This careful driving is called hypermiling and can save you a bundle.  Switching into neutral to coast down a hill, shifting (if you have a manual transmission) as soon as the RPM's are high enough, and slowly accelerating will all help make a significant difference in your fuel consumption over time.

Gas Buddy App
Before you ever top off your tank, check which fuel station has the lowest prices.  There are a number of websites that will give you near instantaneous information on fuel prices or apps, like GasBuddy that will tell you the same.  I like GasBuddy because you can enter in the zip code of where you are going and will need to fill up, or you can have it find the stations nearest you based on your phone's location.  This is a great feature for when you're running on empty and need fuel quickly, but it's best to plan ahead to save the most money.  When I get down to about a quarter or 1/8 of a tank, I search GasBuddy for the least expensive fuel. Then I plan my trips for that week, like I go grocery shopping at the WinCo near the fuel station.  By making only one trip to that end of town to get both my groceries and my fuel, I save a little more money.  Depending upon the fuel efficiency of your vehicle, this could just mean a dollar or two of savings every fill up, but that's still a dollar that you can now save away or spend on something else.  Especially if you have to fill up multiple times a month, this will quickly add up.


Inflate Your Tires
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can stop by your friendly, local Les Schwab Tire Center and they will check over your car and inflate your tires for free.  (They are not the least expensive place to get tires, but, in my opinion, they are the best, both because of their amazing customer service and because they give so much back to the community.  This is why we choose to use some of the money we have saved in other areas to buy tires from Les Schwab.  Plus, they have free popcorn!)  By having your tires fully inflated, you reduce the rolling resistance because there is less surface area of your tire touching the ground, wasting precious, expensive fuel on friction instead of transporting you to your next money-saving location!

Buy a Fuel Efficient Car
Did you think that the Toyota Prius was the most fuel efficient car money can buy? Think again.  We had 40+ mpg cars back in the 70's.  Yet, Big Oil wanted a profit, so in the 80's and 90's we conveniently forgot about the fuel crisis of '73 that was the catalyst for the import of the fuel-sipping Asian imports.  But you already knew that, you smart car shopper.  You also knew that we imported German diesels, right?


Yes, the diesel engine is approximately 30% more fuel efficient than it's average gasoline-sucking internal combustion engine counterpart.  So why don't we buy diesels? Unfortunately, in those 80's and 90's of the American car boom, we were counting our chicks before our eggs hatched.  That is to say, we forgot about the possibility of a future fuel fiasco (2008).  Anybody remember fuel prices at $5/gallon?  We do.  That's when we switched to vegetable oil.  But you don't have to go all crazy hippy like us, just take a look at the Volkswagen TDI's.  TDI = Turbo Direct Injection.  VW makes the Jetta, Golf, Passat, Toureg, and other TDI variants.  Bottom line, if it says TDI, chances are you're looking at between 45-50mpg on the highway if you buy one with a manual transmission.  5mpg less with the automatic.  Not bad. This can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your car, especially if you drive frequently or make long trips.

How do you save on auto expenses?  What type of car do you drive?  Have you opted for public transport?  Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to check back frequently for more money-saving tips!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Easy, Inexpensive, & Delicious Artisan Bread!

Want to enjoy scrumptious loaves of artisan bread for about $0.50 each instead of buying them for $5.00 each at Great Harvest?  Read on to find out how to save money while devouring loaf after loaf of this tasty homemade bread!
This has got to be the easiest bread I've ever made in my life.  It's just four ingredients and about 10 minutes of actual work.  The original recipe is from, but I'm going to break it down into a clear recipe and share a few of the mix-in's that I've tried thus far.  For a regular loaf, it should cost about 50 cents, but it may cost a bit extra depending upon what mix-ins you use.  In any case, it will save you a fair amount of money over the artisan bread at the store, which usually runs about $5 around here.  Soon you'll make bread this pretty too!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
Optional Mix-In's (see below)

1.  Mix flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.  Add the water and mix again. It will probably look like a gloppy mess, and this is okay.
2.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let it sit in the bowl for 12-18 hours WITHOUT refrigerating it.
3.  Take a large pot with a lid and place it in the oven.
4.  Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Let the pot heat for about 30 minutes.  While your container is heating, knead the dough a few times on a well-floured surface.  Then let it sit for the rest of the time.
5.  Carefully remove your hot dish and plop your well-floured dough into the middle of it.  Put the lid on, and bake it for 30 minutes.
6.  Remove from the oven, take a peek inside to admire your handiwork, and then let it continue to bake with the lid on for another 15 minutes (or until you can't stand the delicious smell of home-made bread you've just created, and you burn your fingers getting it out of the pot while it's still very hot, only to smother it in butter and devour it!).  Enjoy!

Above is a little loaf of Parmesan & rosemary bread.  Our house smelled much akin to Heaven! My cast iron pot after baking- very little mess to clean up! Actually, when you cook with cast iron, you mostly just wipe it cleanish and call the rest "seasoning!"

As for the container, I use my cast iron pot & lid, but the the insert to a crock pot, an enamel-covered cast iron pot, Pyrex dish with lid, or anything else that can stand 450F will work too.  I haven't tried it uncovered yet, so let me know if you use a dish without a lid and it still works.  I'm going to try it in my cast iron on top of the woodstove to see if it works.  If it doesn't work on the stovetop, I'll try it inside the woodstove!  Maybe I'll leave the extracting of red-hot cast iron to my pyro-hubby!

Now for the mix-ins.  Add whatever sounds good to you during step 1.  I added 1 cup of Parmesan and about 2 Tablespoons of finely grated rosemary from our garden, and it turned out DELICIOUS!  Throw in a few Tablespoons of brown sugar and sprinkle it on the top in step 5 for a sugary treat, or add in a few tablespoons of your favorite nuts- sunflower seeds and flax taste wonderful.  I'm going to try some cranberries and lemon zest along with some Stevia in my next batch.  The knife in the very top picture is actually my favorite knife of all time- the cheese knife from Cutco!  My husband sells them, so let me know if you're in need of a good knife that is guaranteed for life (free sharpening for life too!).  Please leave a comment below to let us all know what mix-ins you've tried!  Happy Baking & Eating! :)

*Update- Try these mix ins for a unique loaf:
*1 tablespoon of flax, 2 tablespoons crushed walnuts, and 1 tablespoon of almonds makes a great, nutty bread.
*Add 2 tablespoons of garlic and a few dashes of garlic salt for a delicious loaf of garlic bread too!
*2 tablespoons of crushed walnuts and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar mixed in along with a dusting of brown sugar on the top will make for a scrumptious dessert bread.
*Mix in a cup (not packed down) of cranberries and a heaping tablespoon of orange zest for a sweet and tart loaf.
*With a 1/2 cup of cranberries and a 1/2 cup of apples mixed in, you'll have a scrumptious loaf of cranberry apple bread! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Build a Classroom Library on a Dime!

Do you need more books for your classroom library?  Have you already spent gobs of money on your classroom, and you don't have hundreds more to spend at Scholastic?  Here are some great ways to expand your classroom library without breaking the bank.  Even if you're not a classroom teacher, many of these strategies will work for building your home library as well.  If you don't have a teacher account on this site yet, MAKE ONE NOW!  I've won ten different grants and thousands of dollars worth of materials for my school spending just a few hours pleading my case to the public (If you want to donate towards my two current ones, they can be found here- and here- ).  There are lots of people out there who want to support you and your students, and this is a great way to increase the scope of your classroom library.  For example, one of the grants that I wrote on Donors Choose was for a set of a few DOZEN books for boys!  While I certainly expect my female students to happily devour titles like The Hardy Boys & Encyclopedia Brown (and they do), I was able to add a set of sports chapter books, the recommended "Best for Boys" set, and a general 4-5 grade set of books to my classroom at no cost to me.  Another grant I wrote earned our classroom a whole set of lower-level reading books to support my below-grade-level readers.  I've also written two different grants for books that my grade alike team shares as we work through the related science units.  Donors Choose is a great way to let the public bless your classroom with the exact books you and your students want, and it takes about an hour of work total (choosing the materials you want, writing the description, and writing thank you notes after you get all the resources!).  This site is also great for a plethora of other products, but this post is about books, so we'll stick to mentioning only the literary goodness for now.  Here's a few of the Hardy Boys set I got from Donors Choose:

It's a good thing we teachers have the summers "off" so that we can get all the work we want to accomplish during the school year done!  Summer is the season of garage sales, and these are fantastic sources for great books.  Especially if you are a new teacher and you don't have much of anything in your classroom library, rummage sales are a great place to pick up a good quantity of books for very inexpensively or free. In my first few years of teaching, I would ask garage sale hosts if I could have the left-over books for my classroom.  Most of the time they were planning on giving the books that didn't sell to charity anyways, and many of them let me just take the boxes of books right then and there!  Garage sales, church sales, and rummage sales are great to pick through, and you can often get books for free from them if you offer to pick them up when the sale is over.

Do you have any friends with kids?  As their children grow out of books, scoop those texts right up!  Ask your friends to put aside any books that they're done with so they can be enjoyed by other kids.  If you have kids of your own, you might go through your own family library and see which books haven't been read in a while.  Get them into the hands of your students!  Examine the following picture to see how even Frederick Jr. the Plant loves books, and your students will appreciate a huge variety too!

A number of my favorite childhood books are included in my classroom library.  The ones that are important to me or have sentimental value sit on a special shelf behind my desk and are only available for "teacher permission reading" so I know who has them and know they won't be ruined.  A few of my childhood books weren't all that interesting to my sister and me, so they are interspersed amongst the other texts on the general classroom library shelves.  If you can't bare the thought of losing the book, don't bring it into your classroom, but if you have a few boxes of old books sitting in your attic (or your parent's basement), dust them off and get them into your classroom!

Check with your school library and with local public libraries (or private school libraries) towards the end of the year.  This is usually when they discard books that aren't checked out as frequently or have minor wear or tear on them.  I've gotten some great books from our church's private school and our own school library that have nothing more than a scribble on one page!  Library discards are another great way to expand your book collection.

Once you've gone through the above, you should have a pretty stellar start to a solid classroom library.  Now you can augment it with actual new, nice books from scholastic book orders.  Yes, passing out the little book flyers is kind of a pain, collecting the money and organizing the orders does take a few minutes out of your schedule each month, but it pays off.  Literally.  I've gotten hundreds of dollars worth of free books and products thanks to Scholastic.  Between promotions they run for a free book every monthly order of $20+, using the $10 to Spend Right Now coupons, and buying things with bonus points, Scholastic is a very teacher-friendly way to expand your library with great selections.  Probably about 100 of my classroom library books are from Scholastic, and nearly all of my literature circle book sets (I get 6 of each title, and I'll have to do a whole new blog post on literature circles) are from Scholastic.  The nicest pencil sharpener I've ever had in my life came from Scholastic bonus points, and the little wipeable clear folders I put my math workshop worksheets in for two of my centers are thanks to bonus points too.  Scholastic also has one of the best customer service policies I've ever come across- they will always make things right, and they are very professional and polite on the phone.  Plus, if you ever had the joy of looking through a Scholastic Book Club Magazine when you were little, you know how fun it is to pour over the new books, examine the brilliant covers, and dream about which books you would buy if you had a million dollars.  I still do! Here are some of the book sets that I've gotten through Scholastic:

Whether your hunting down new books at garage sales, earning grants to get new texts into your students' hands, raiding your own home library (and those of your friends and families), searching library discards, or getting pretty new books from Scholastic, remember to choose wisely.  An inappropriate book that is free is still not something that you want for your classroom!  While we'll never have enough time to read every awesome book that is out there, we can give a quick glance to the blurb on the back of each book we're unfamiliar with to make sure that it will be a good fit for our students (yes, I'm encouraging you to judge a book by its cover).  Once you have a good class library of 1,000 books or so, you can start the difficult task of culling your book population and giving the books away to students, or another new teacher who is just starting to build their own library!

 Where have you found your classroom library books?  How do you know what kind of books your children need?  What are your favorite series, authors, and books for your grade? What questions do you still have about classroom libraries? Leave a comment or question below, and, of course, share with friends, follow my blog, and find me on Pinterest!  Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Homemade Delicious: Eating on a Dime!

Pack a Lunch!
This is one of the easiest ways to save money on food and eat healthier at the same time.  By packing yourself and each family member a lunch, you can easily save hundreds of dollars every year.  Packing it the night before will help make it easier for your family to make this small change that will make a big difference.  If you haven't already invested in a good set of tupperware, then do so now.  Look for a set that all has the same size of lid for your packing convenience, and check the clearance sections of your local stores until you find a nice set.  Or, opt for buying a set that has little compartments for each type of food (  We try to make double the helping of whatever we are having for dinner, or pack a variety of the following things to conveniently make a lunch for the next day:
Fruit- apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc travel well and make a quick, healthy snack for midmorning or mid-afternoon so you don't get tempted to reach for a less-healthy and more expensive snack!
Veggies- baby carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, etc will pack in the nutrients and stave off the junk food cravings while you're at work or school.
Sandwiches- PBJ is a classic that doesn't require refrigeration, but variations, like honey, almond butter, etc can keep things interesting.  A veggie-packed meat sandwich can do wonders as well.
Salads- mix in a variety of things, like cheese, croutons, almond slivers, pepperoni, tuna, smoked salmon, etc to spice things up.
Yogurts- opt for the lowfat variety and find them on clearance
Crackers- the more whole wheat and lowfat, the better
Mixed Nuts- these are great for filling you up with protein and good types of fats instead of junk food
Dried fruit- we buy little bags of dried fruit from our bulk section at Winco or pack a little tupperware full of organic raisins from Costco.  The one thing to watch with dried fruit is the high calorie count (since all the water has been sucked out of them).
Granola bars- carefully read the nutrition facts and ingredients as many granola bars have LOTS of sugar, transfat, and chemicals in them.
Hard-boiled eggs
Cottage cheese
Buying a lunch at my work costs about $3/day, whereas most of the lunches I bring from home only cost around $1 (and they're MUCH healthier and encourage me to eat better portions as well).  This means I save about $500 every year just by bringing my own lunch from home!  Depending upon how inexpensively you can get the fixings for your lunch and how much you would spend eating out for lunch, you'll save more or less (if I went to a restaurant that cost even $10 for my lunch, I'd be saving about $2,250 every year). Compound this for each person in your family, and you're looking at a second vacation every year, paying off debt, the downpayment for a more fuel-effecient car, etc, as well as a smaller waistline, fewer visits to the doctor, and overall better health!  Check out more fun ideas here-

Dinner on a Dime
Eating out gets very expensive very quickly.  The very best thing to do, for your health and pocketbook, is to make as many dinners at home as you can, from scratch. That being said, there are a hundred thousand websites out there (or just a quick search of Pinterest like that will help you easily make healthy dinners at home. Even better, you can make a double batch and enjoy the left overs the next day, or freeze some to enjoy on a hectic night when you don't feel like baking.  This is another easy way that you can save thousands of dollars a year.

Eating Out, the Smart Way
If you are eating out, then do it sparingly and wisely. Use coupons whenever possible to get one of your entrees free or a certain amount off your total check.  Look for deals, like kids eat free or the special of the day.  If you have a certain restaurant you love, try to get gift cards to it at discounted prices, or ask for them for Christmas, your birthday, or other special events.  Check Groupon or to see if there are good deals for local restaurants. Look for places that have scrumptious, free, or unlimited starters, like breadsticks at Olive Garden, cheesy biscuits at Red Lobster, or chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, and feel free to ruin your appetite on them!  This way, by the time your main course arrives, you'll be able to enjoy a small portion of it and still have plenty to take home for left overs (or tomorrow's lunch).  Always take home your left overs.  If it's a special occasion and you're going out to eat, make it count!

Shop Clearance, Use Coupons, & Stock Up
Every time I visit any grocery store, I always check the clearance section.  I stock up on things when they go on sale, and have even gotten things for free by using coupons on clearance items.  Check couponing blogs for your area to see special deals for coupons- this is how I've saved hundreds of dollars and even gotten PAID to take products from the store!  Stocking up on items you need when they are on sale will help you save more money and make sure that you never run out of the things you need.  It's also great to have extras of things just in case of emergency.  Making your meals based off what you already have and what will go bad first if you don't eat it up is another money-saving tip that will also help reduce your family's waste. is a website you can put in what you have in your fridge/what's about to go bad and it will give you recipes to make based off of the ingredients you already have!  By buying food on clearance, making sure the food you have doesn't go to waste, using coupons, and stocking up on essentials, you will save your family even more money!

Grow Your Own!
 If you have any land, or even a little planter to grow a few herbs in, do it!  We get over a hundred dollars worth of produce from our little garden beds every year, and there is nothing better than eating fresh, organic, homegrown fruits and veggies!  If you can get the starts from a friend (like our rosemary which  came from a shoot off of my mom's rosemary bush or our raspberry bushes that we were able to glean from the shoots of our aunt's raspberry patch) or can find cheap seeds, it will be even more cost effective.

What are your favorite ways to save money on food?  What questions do you still have about eating well on a dime?  Share your ideas, comments, or questions below, and make sure to check back for even more ways to save your family money!

Are You Not Entertained? Television & Movies for Less!

We Americans love our televisions.  The average U.S. household now has more televisions than people, and we spend about 8 hours a day with it blaring.  There's a lot of controversy over how much screen time (if any) is healthy for us, but we'll save that debate for a different day.  This posting is all about how to save you money while keeping you well entertained.

Ditching Cable (or at least getting a better deal on it)
If you're looking to ditch your expensive cable habit (one friend spends $200 every month, which quickly adds up to $2,400 every year!), there are a plethora of great alternatives.  Check out the many money-saving options below to see how you could cancel cable and still get all the entertainment goodness your heart could desire. If, unlike the last few hundred generations, you cannot survive without cable television, then there is still hope.  Usually when you sign up for cable/satellite, they will give you a promotional price for a few months or a year, and then hike up the price again.  If you call and tell the company that you're going to cancel their service, they will often continue the discounted price.  Pitting different companies against each other is another great way to save money; we use this method to get the best deal on internet and save about $100 every year because of it.  The worst they can say do is refuse, which may just be the prompting you need to ditch the expensive cable habit and try some of the following alternatives.
If you haven't watched a Ted Talk on this non-profit website, you're missing out!  Thousands of videos await you; they include nearly every subject you can imagine. From humorous presentations, to educational videos, this site will keep you entertained for YEARS, and even better yet is that every talk I've listed to thus far would be appropriate for middle school age children and up (and most are little kid friendly too).  This is a totally free website that could be part of the puzzle in saving you money while still keeping you entertained, and perhaps even make you smarter simultaneously!
There are a few sites where you can watch television shows for free online, and is one of them.  While you could shell out more money and watch nearly any show you'd like by subscribing to this site, you can also view thousands of television programs for absolutely free!  For the most part, Hulu offers the latest 5 episodes of nearly every popular show for free.  This is how my husband and I watch a few hours of TV a week.  If you have internet, this is a great way to make that internet dollar stretch farther.

You've probably heard of Netflix if you aren't already subscribed to it, but this is another source you could go to that is significantly cheaper than general cable TV.  There are different subscriptions to chose from (we do the least expensive one that gives us unlimited online access to thousands of videos because our TV is hooked up to the internet).  Again, this service is WAY less expensive than cable or satellite, but it still provides hours of entertainment.

You could rent a movie/game every single day from Redbox and it would still be less expensive than the average cable bill.  If you sign up for their emails, you can also get a totally free rental each month.  They will send you a code to use to get the free movie or game rental, and as long as you return it the next day, you won't be charged a thing!  This is yet another great way to still see the current movies/play the newest games without having to break the bank in the process.

A Night at the Movies
Going to the movies costs about $20 PER PERSON for the average US citizen now, which is crazy. A few simple steps can save a significant amount of money though.  First, eat before you go to avoid paying an arm and a leg for a candy bar, or $8 for 20 cents worth of popcorn.  If you find it to be ethical (which I do), you can also bring in some snacks of your own at a far lower cost.  Try to find a theater that has slightly older movies for less (like Northern Lights Theater Pub in Salem, Oregon which is only $3 for any movie and plays them about a month after the other theaters do).  Buying tickets before hand, buyin bulk tickets (Costco sells them), or signing up for the theater's rewards program can all help you save money as well.

Ye Ol' Entertainment
Instead of sitting in front of the tube for hours, you could read a book aloud with your loved ones, get outside and get some exercise, join in a rousing chorus of song, tick off a few things from the old To Do list, complete a craft project, catch up on yard work, etc.  If these forms of entertainment were good enough for people to enjoy for the last few thousand years, they are probably good enough for us.  Screen time may be one arena where you want to be below the national average, because it might help you be above the average for productivity, financial security, intelligence, etc. :)

How do you save on entertainment costs?  What strategies do you have for making your entertainment dollar stretch further? Leave a comment below and share this with a friend who might like a little extra money each month.  Happy saving!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wood Heat Can't Be Beat: How We Save $2,800 a Year!

Our house is just over 100 years old, and we love it, but it leaks like a sieve.  We were spending about $300 every month with our gas heater just to keep it at a chilly 62 degrees, and we knew something had to be done.  We could have spent thousands of dollars on ripping open all the walls to insert insulation, redoing the windows, and trying to insulate every other crack from wafting away our warm air (every time we do a project that opens up a wall/duct/etc, we insulate it while we're at it), but we decided against it.  By the time all the leak-proof remodeling was done, we would have spent as much on it as a down payment on a second house.  It was time for a much simpler, more cost-effective solution- a wood stove!

One of the purposes of this blog is to help you save money, and installing our woodstove has saved us thousands of dollars in a few year's time.  By about mid-way through our second winter with the woodestove, it had paid for itself.  Now it's saving us money.  The age of your house, efficiency of your current heating system, level of convenience wanted, and time will all factor in to how quickly your stove will pay for itself, but in our situation, a woodstove was a perfect fit.  There are a number of factors that will affect your choice in woodstoves and fuel sources.
Types of Stoves
There is a huge variety of stoves out there, and you should carefully research what type will fit your needs the best.  Look at the square footage it heats, the type of fuel it uses, and where you can place it in your home.  The two main types of stoves are pellet stoves and wood-burning stoves.  We opted for the wood burning variety for a number of reasons; the main attractants were the variety of fuels that we could burn in it, the ease of using it, and the effectiveness of the stove to heat without any other power source.  While pellet stoves still produce a wonderful, radiant heat, you will be paying for those little pellets indefinitely, along with the electricity to run it. Look at all the different varieties and think of where you'll put it to maximize the heat (ours is in the center of the first floor, near the stairs, so we get heat throughout our whole house).  Also look at the different designs (we wanted a small side door to insert the longer logs through and a big glass front door for viewing the fire and as a second option for putting in fuel).  Another factor for us was the length; our stove can take a log up to 20 inches long, but many smaller stoves only have room for shorter sticks.  The stove we chose essentially took the longest logs but was still the perfect size to heat our home, which is about 2,000 square feet, so then we wouldn't have to feed it as frequently and could be more effective with the storage & transport of the firewood as well.

Try to get into a local woodstove store for the best advice (and to support your local economy). We went to Home Firestove in Salem, Oregon to buy our cast iron Jotul Oslo stove after much research on my husband's part to determine that it would be the best fit for our needs.  They were very knowledgeable, professional, and helpful, and we love to support local businesses.  Home Firestove also has a wide variety of accessories, like gloves, firewood carriers, broom/poker/dustpan sets etc, but we found most of those at garage sales or in clearance sections (the neat stove fans they have I haven't ever seen cheaper anywhere else, so maybe one day we can invest in one!).  After researching what we wanted and price ranges, talking to the experts there was helpful, and they gave us a very reasonable price.

We live in Oregon, the land of abundant trees.  Very happily for us, our family owns property where we can cut enough wood to last us through the year.  Even in years when we haven't had the time to fall, cut, transport, split, and stack the wood ourselves and had to instead pay someone to deliver wood, we still came out far ahead of what we would be paying for drafty gas heat.  If you have a source of wood, either on your own property, a friend's, random Craigslist people wanting a fallen tree off their property, etc, your stove will pay for itself much more quickly than if you have to continue paying for fuel.
If you are out of work or have fair amount of free time on your hands, you can get really creative with your sources of fuel and get them for free.  For example, one of our neighbors was getting a new cedar shake roof installed, and we were able to have their work crew dump all the old shingles in our driveway for FREE!  This means about three years of free kindling to easily start a roaring fire.  I also save paper bags from the grocery store and fill them half full with little twigs and branches from the yard to use as a perfect fire starter (I already have to pick up the little branches to mow anyways, and this way nothing is wasted).  Many stoves can use paper products that would otherwise been thrown out (or hopefully recycled) so you can use all that junk mail (excluding magazines and the envelopes with the little plastic windows, etc) to your advantage!  Again, while pellet stoves still produce a wonderful, radiant heat, you will be paying for those little pellets indefinitely, along with the electricity to run it, and pellets are all that they'll burn (instead of paper/cardboard/small sticks/cedar shakes/etc.)  There are a lot of creative ways to get fuel very inexpensively, and even buying it and having it delivered to your home might save you thousands a year!

Here are some approximate costs for our heating:
Yearly amount spent on gas heat (drafty heat at about 62 degrees)= $3,600
Yearly amount spent on 4 cords of firewood (radiant heat at about 80 degrees)= $800 (when delivered) $100 (when we do it ourselves)
Yearly stove maintenance= $100 (to have the chimney professionally cleaned) $0 (when we clean it ourselves)
Wood stove cost= $2,000
Installation cost= $2,000
Time it took to pay off the stove & installation= less than two years
Money saved each year by using the woodstove to heat our home= $2,800

Saving Even More
Not only can you save money heating your home with a beautiful new stove, but you can save in some other ways as well.  Set up your clothes drying rack near the stove and cut dryer costs even in the winter.  Try cooking some deliciousness up on your stove top instead of turning on the oven or range (we've made stews, eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc).  Instead of having to waste electricity or natural gas on heating water for your hot cocoa, tea, or coffee, let your woodstove do the work!  We always have a kettle on the stove full of filtered water so it's available whenever we need it.  You can also cut down on your garbage output by burning paper products- just be careful that your stove can burn it (avoid burning glossy magazines or ads as this will create creosote in any stove, and remember to clean your stove and chimney on a regular basis to prevent flu fires and costly repairs.  Collect the ash from your stove and mix it in with the dirt in your garden bed for a beautiful, rich soil, ready for a money-saving garden!

Downfalls of Wood Heat
The only pitfalls of wood heat is the slight inconvenience it causes.  You'll need a dry place to store the wood (a tarp works fine) and a way to get the wood into the house.  It will take a little time each day (we spend about 15 minutes a day starting/tending the fire to keep the house around 80 degrees the whole winter long!).  My least favorite part of having a stove is when we are gone for a long time, as the house is cold when you get home and you have to start a fire and wait a bit for it to warm up.  For those few times, however, I just leave my jacket on or use my little space heater to tide me over.  With a yearly savings in the thousands, it's worth it!

Emergency Preparedness
One of the things that I love about having a stove is that we can heat off the grid, cook without electricity, and boil/purify water independently.  Although the main natural disasters that get us here in the Willamette Valley tend to be floods, we have had ice storms that take out the power for days at a time.  I really like the idea of not only feeding and keeping our own family warm, but being able to invite neighbors in who might need a warm place to stay.  I'm secretly excited for the next power outage so we can invite neighbors to enjoy the lovely radiant heat of our little woodstove!  Of course, you'll want to save a few week's worth of food, water, emergency supplies, etc to be better prepared for natural disasters.  Be the one on your block who can lend a helping hand in case of an emergency, and not the ones struggling to find handouts!
Why You Should Consider Wood Heat
More likely than not, you could be saving hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year if you switched to heating your home only with wood.  I'm sure you can think of many places that money could be sent instead of to the electricity or gas company!  You can cut down on paper and wood waste and build relationships with local community members as you creatively source your fuel.  Our house went from a drafty 62 degrees to an average of 80 degrees throughout the entire winter (which I LOVE!), and the radiant heat is just so much nicer than even the best vent heating system.  You can get a little exercise if you gather your own fuel (wood heat warms you up twice!) or support your local economy even more by having someone deliver wood to you.  Having a constant supply of hot water is yet another benefit.  You'll be able to heat food, purify water, and you'll be ready for emergencies.

Do you have a stove at home?  Did you grow up with a wood stove?  What are your creative sources for fuel?  Leave a comment with any questions you have about wood heat or comments on your experiences with this money-saving method below.  Thanks for reposting, sharing, and commenting; keep checking back for more pennywise pursuits!