Monday, January 17, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

I follow another great Blog, Frugal Granola, which I highly recommend.  Michelle writes about "Living a Simple & Sustainable Life of Passion for God, Family, Organic Food, & Bargain Shopping."  So much how I wish to live my life as well!  She does a "Menu Plan Monday" each week where she plans out breakfast, lunch & dinner for the week, including activities she needs to do to prepare foods for those meals.  This kind of planning definitely lends to a more simpler life in my household.  While I only plan out dinner, it makes the week go so much smoother.  I'm happier because I am not frazzled, my kids are happy to have good food, my husband gets to come home to a fresh cooked meal, and we can enjoy a family dinner together.  Let's face it, there are those days when I don't plan, and when the 5 o'clock hour rolls around, I am frazzled, tired, and stare at the fridge & cupboard with no idea what to make, and totally unmotivated to cut up produce or cook at all.  However, if I put a little effort into planning dinner for the week, I find dinner prep to be a much easier experience.  When planning, I take into consideration activities for the week.  If I have a particularly busy day, or if we have an evening activity planned, I make sure to do a super easy dinner, perhaps even a slow cooker meal.  Also, if there's any prep involved, I try to cut things up or defrost if necessary the day before.  This doesn't always happen, but when it does, I am so glad I prepared!  This preparation also helps me utilize what I already have & have less food spoil or go to waste.  I'm not caught in the "I don't have anything to make so I'm going to go shopping again mode."  I also have heard of people planning on a longer term scale, such as the whole month.  This allows for use of value sized foods that can be split up & frozen for the month, saving money.  Do what works for you.  I personally like planning on a weekly basis.  I also plan on shopping at a local farm more often, so the fresh produce I get each week will have a lot to do with my planning as well.  Cheers to healthy eating & some added simplicity to the crazy evening hours!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Today's Frugal Activity: Dryer Balls

On my quest to live frugally this year, I am hoping to discover little changes in my lifestyle that could add up to big savings in the long run.  I have a huge pile of laundry I am trying to conquer today.  With a family of 4, a dog, and a baby who has just entered the frequent spit up stage, we have a lot of laundry!  I look for good deals on my favorite detergent & use coupons for it when I have them.   I also use dryer sheets, but this is an area I can save money on.  I have one box of dryer sheets left.  Today I am going to cut those sheets in half to get double the use out of them.  I am also going to purchase dryer balls, which means no more need to purchase dryer sheets!  I don't use fabric softener, but apparently dryer balls eliminate the use of that as well.  From what I've researched online, if you gave a family of 2, you could probably get by with 2 balls.  Larger families, or if you want fluffier laundry, add more.  I am going to start with 4 balls.  I'm going to try these Nelie's Dryer Balls.  They got good reviews, and come with a 2 year buy-back guarantee.  I'm also buying these from Amazon, as we get Amazon Gift Cards periodically & I am earning Swagbucks to get Amazon Gift Cards as well.  (I'll most likely do another blog on Swagbucks - I'm still pretty new to the system & learning about it more!)  Living in sunny California, I could save even more money if I dry my clothes on a clothesline & save the energy of the dryer.  But, sometimes when trying to live a simple, green & frugal life all together, I need to make the decision to go for convenience every so often to save my lifestyle from getting too crazy busy.  I do have a small clothesline installed on my porch as well as some hanging lines in my laundry room to hang dry stuff that cannot go in the dryer.  Maybe one day when the kids are a little older I'll have some more time on my hands to utilize a clothesline, but for now I choose the dryer!  On a trip to Greece we stayed in an apartment in Athens and got to experience using a clothesline on the rooftop as the did not have a dryer.  I actually liked the experience!  The clothes came out a little crunchy, but I'm sure there is a way to prevent that if I ever go that route.  At least we have front loading HE, Energy Star machines to save some energy.  I also try to run loads that are completely full, which is no problem for us!  I keep a bag for dirty dust rags & once they accumulate to fill the bag, I then do one big load of dust rags only. Now how much money will these balls really save?  I found one article that put dryer balls to the test - they found the following: "What about the cost savings to you? We put a calculator to it. Let's say you dry six loads of laundry a week. The cost to do that is roughly $100 per year. But, when you use the dryer balls and cut your time by 15%, you save $15. On top of that, you will not have to buy dryer sheets, at approximately $20 a year. A $35 savings over the next three years will give you a total savings of $105."

I do more than 6 loads of laundry a week, which means we get to save even more!  Subtract the cost of the dryer balls themselves, and we still save.  Every little bit helps.
Happy Laundering! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fighting the Clutter Battle: Weekly

I look forward to Friday every week.  But probably not for the reason you're thinking.  Friday is trash day!  It's the day that so much stuff is purged from our home.  It's kind of amazing how much trash we generate each week.  Luckily we have more recycling than trash, but it's still a lot.  I want to work on reducing it this year.  We have a composter in our yard, we're just not using it.  Considering the fact that I hate worms, I don't know if I'll personally take on that task or not. I know by living more frugally & focusing on only buying things we really need, the trash should be reduced as well. I am always eager to get rid of excess packaging.  It's amazing how much extra cardboard or paper products are involved in household goods.  I just can't stand it though - it takes up so much extra space!  As soon as I get stuff home from the store, I usually shed the packaging, unless it's an item I am seriously considering returning if it doesn't work out.  Some goods like freezer goods from Costco we have to shed packaging right away, otherwise it wouldn't fit in our freezer! But I also find that shedding packaging of other stuff helps to take up less room, and I can more easily organize.  For example, I like to have 2 tubes of toothpaste in reserve for my husband & I.  I bought some toothpaste (with coupons) the other day & immediately opened the boxes up, put them in the recycling bin & put the toothpaste tubes in our bathroom drawer.  They take up so much less space that way.  On Thursdays I love scanning the house in search for what else I can get rid of. I have to be careful not to fall into the "but I might use this one day" trap.  Ah how I hate clutter, but I also hate things going to waste.  Sometimes though I just decide to ditch the thing, even if it means money went down the drain.  It is very rare that I have thought "darn, I wish I hadn't thrown that thing away."  In fact, I cannot even think of an example of that.  This week I really want to challenge myself to seek out things we are really not using & ditching them or find someone who can use the item.  As I sit here now, I know of one item I need to just toss - an anti-fungal toenail treatment.  This is a little embarrassing to admit, but this example demonstrates a point.  A few months ago I started having pain on my big toes.  I thought I may have some type of fungal thing considering my toenails were yellowish - turns out it was just from constant nail polish wear & I had ingrown nails, which required an entirely different treatment regimen.  (On a completely unrelated topic, I am now "detoxing" my toenails - not polishing them & just working on them myself to get them back to their beautiful more natural state & saving money on pedicures!) I had spent $14.99 on this fungal treatment that I didn't even need.  I had never needed this stuff previously in my life either.  It's just not a health issue I deal with or could foresee myself dealing with in the future.  But there it is, sitting on my medicine cabinet shelf.  I look at it every time I open my medicine cabinet - which is at least twice a day when I do my night & morning routines.  It's not an item I can pass on to someone else who would use it.  I mean, what am I going to do, advertise on Facebook to my family & friends saying - hi does anyone need any foot treatment I used once?  Yuck!  So right now I am just going to toss the darn thing.  There, I got up & threw it in the wastebasket. Does wasting $14.99 hurt?  Yes indeed.  But in order to have an uncluttered life, we sometimes have to just cut our losses & let go.  I can think of some cleaning products we have as well I just need to get rid of, which no longer fit my desire to use more natural cleaning products.  There they are taking up space in my cabinet because "I might use them one day" and "I'm wasting money if I throw them away."  They haven't been used, nor do they align with the healthier way I want to keep my home clean for my family.  So out they go!  I challenge you to do a similar scan & shed each week in your home the day before trash day.  It's a great way to fight the clutter battle on a weekly basis, and feel the freedom of having less.

I need to get one of these compost waste collectors!  That way we have an easy way to collect kitchen waste & carry it to the yard.  Getting over my fear of worms has to start somewhere :).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confessions of a Holiday Card Shredder

Yesterday was Epiphany, "a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi."  I also recently learned that many people keep their holiday decorations up until January 6th in celebration of Epiphany.  I took my indoor decorations down last weekend, but the wreath & lights remain, most likely to be taken down tomorrow.  I like the idea of Epiphany & working more meaning into the holidays rather than focusing on the commercialism of it all, and I think we'll start this tradition in our family.  Besides the wreath & lights, I also have a huge pile of holiday cards on my kitchen counter.  Every year I add a page to our family Christmas photo card scrapbook with our own photo.  It's fun to see how we have changed each year & will be so special to look back on as the kids grow up.  I have to confess though, with a bit of guilt, that I shred everyone else's cards.  I just don't have room or time to keep them all.  So I'm sorry if you're reading this and sent us a card, and now have visions of your beautiful family's face going into the shredder.  :( I do take the time to sit down and look at everyone's picture and messages one last time.  As I do this I say a prayer for each family for them to have health, peace & prosperity in the New Year.  For those who have a bit more time on their hands, I've also heard of people creating photo albums or scrapbooks to keep all of these photos in every year, which would be another lovely option.  
I try to go green whenever possible.  I just googled if photo paper could be recycled, and am quite disappointed that it cannot be.  The majority of the cards we got are on photo paper.  I saw a suggestion from a post online that you could cut the decorations off the cards & use them for kids crafts & scrapbooking.  I love scrapbooking, but have not had the time lately, and my kids are a little too young for this type of craft, so unfortunately this year the shreds go in the trash, with the exception of a few paper cards which I'll recycle.  This also makes me re-think our card option for 2011.  I had planned on going through Costco again, which had a deal where you get 50 photo cards plus a bonus 4 photo calendar cards for $14.99.  The lady at the photo center also informed me that if you plan ahead & do your pictures in November, they usually have a $5 off coupon, which means you'd get this deal for $10.99!  Wow that would fit our budget & be awesome for my resolution of living frugally in 2011!  But, it's not the most environmentally friendly option.  Photo cards done through Send Out Cards, Tiny Prints, Shutterfly, or other retailers that indicate cardstock or paper would be great viable options if you've got some extra cash & want the environmentally friendly option.  I'll re-evaluate which path we'll take come Fall :).  So, this afternoon I am praying for many families whom have blessed our lives & getting rid of some clutter in the process.  

Please share your ideas & what you do with holiday cards!  (And please reassure me I am not the only one who ends up throwing them away!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Simplifying New Year's Resolutions: Resolution #3: "Live Frugally"

My 3rd & final Resolution for 2011 is to "Live Frugally."  I already try to keep our family spending to a minimum, but I think I could really step it up a notch.  We are a single income family, as I am staying home to raise our 2 kiddos.  It does require some extra work to make 1 income work, but for us it's worth forgoing the extras we used to enjoy before kids & when I was in the workforce.  Bye-bye wine club!  Seriously though, I really feel like it wasn't too hard of a transition.  Saving money has actually become quite a fun hobby for me. We've already implemented a lot, which I'll share in another blog post.  What I would like to see in 2011 is to unearth things I haven't done yet to stretch our dollar even further.  I'm a huge fan of Dave Ramsey - as he would say "Live like no one else so you can live like no one else."  I know I can be smarter about coupons without the effort taking over my life.  I want to ask myself even more - "Is this a need or a want?" Do I really need that Starbucks coffee today, or could I make do with brewing some coffee at home & for a treat adding a smidge of whipped cream?  I'm not talking about totally denying ourselves some little luxuries, but we're big Starbuck's fans & I want it to be more of a treat than a usual thing.  Our bank account would thank us for that!  I also know we could look into ways to cut down our electric, water & other utilities.  I am already a during-the-day-at-home-cloth-diaperer, but I know I would save even more if I can do cloth diapering at night & when out & about too.  Overnight diapers are expensive!  I just bought a box for our son today & could have saved $20! If you are interested in implementing a frugal lifestyle, it may take on an entirely different definition for you & your family.  Everyone is in a different situation.  I am excited to share my journey with you & to have a dialogue about how to save even more.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Simplifying New Year's Resolutions: Resolution #2: Be a Health Nut

My 2nd Resolution is to "Be a Health Nut."  For me & my family that simply means buying more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, (organic when possible), and staying away from processed foods, especially sweets.  (Although we will still indulge in the occasional piece of dark chocolate or a frozen yogurt.)  When at the grocery store, I am going to concentrate on shopping the perimeter of the store where all the "real" food is.  I will keep the processed stuff to a minimum & not be drawn into the "deals" offered by store specials & coupons on food.  (I'll concentrate my couponing on non-food items.) I also am going to try & get the bulk of our shopping done at Trader Joe's & Farmer's Markets.  We used to eat like this a lot when we were first married.  2 kids later we have too often fallen into the convenience food trap & our waistlines are showing it!  I am still nursing our daughter (an awesome calorie burner!), so I am not going to worry about counting calories.  I still have 20lbs to lose out of the 40 I gained from the pregnancy.  I'm not even going to concentrate on the numbers on the scale.  Between eating healthier & being active with my kids every day, the weight should naturally come off.  If it doesn't in the next year, then I'll look to take further measures in 2012 like stepping up the workout routine.  Throughout the year I will post easy healthy recipes I come across that we try out & like.  I also want to do more research into what foods are good to ward off sickness & good for the heart.  I think the hardest part of this resolution for me is to snack on things like fruit, veggies & healthy nuts instead of processed stuff.  My kitchen is currently only filled with healthy stuff - so I'm not giving myself the option!  I am also going to pack my husband's lunches as much as possible & keep eating out to a minimum - eating out will become a treat for us instead of a regular occurrence.  This will also help with my next Resolution of Living Frugally. Happy Tuesday & cheers to eating healthy in 2011!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Simplifying New Year's Resolutions: Resolution #1 "Love God, Love People"

I mentioned in my post yesterday that for the next 3 days I would be further defining each of my resolutions for 2011.  My first of 3 resolutions is "Love God, Love People."  I believe that no matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs, it is important to have some kind of spiritually related resolution.  My faith keeps me grounded & inspired.  I am actually borrowing the "Love God, Love People" from my churches new mission statement.  I find this mission to be simple yet so profound to how I want to live my life & interact with those around me.  So, how will I do this?  For the first part, Love God, I can define this by how I interact with God.  For me this means spending time in prayer & meditation and reading my Bible.  Loving People, means living out the mission that I believe God has called me to.  Love my husband, kids, family, friends, neighbors and everyone whom I interact with.  As I continue simplifying my life, I will have more quality time to express this love.  This quality time spent loving others can be by making memories, lending a helping hand, offering a listening ear & shoulder to lean on, and having what I like to call those warm fuzzy interactions where you know you are loving someone unconditionally.  If on December 31, 2011 I can look back & see that I had a year of great interactions with God & spent time outwardly focused on loving those around me, I will know that I have fulfilled this resolution.