7.25.2011

What I Don’t Use & Other Thrifty Tips

Arthur Sarnoff
A reader asked me the intriguing question, “What do you not use to save money?” 

·       I no longer use dryer sheets, but when I did, I cut them in half.  And then I used the USED dryer sheet on my swiffer to pick up dust bunnies under the bed before I used the Swiffer pads.  Now I use 1/3 cup of vinegar in the wash to control static cling and make clothes softer, instead of dryer sheets.  It works, too!

·       I no longer use Swiffer pads, either.  Now I use $1 micro-fiber cloth from the dollar store.  I bought 4 for dry mopping my wooden floors, 1 for mirrors, 1 for furniture, and 1 for wet mopping.  There are quite a variety and they work great. 

·       I never do drive thru!  I made it a rule that we cannot eat in the car.  I take water and snacks on every errand, fieldtrip, daytrip, and vacation.  I use a steel or glass thermos, blue ice, ice chest, and vintage picnic basket.  I keep an old quilt in my car for impromptu picnics.

.     I no longer use tin foil, esp. in my oven.  I use wax paper to wrap items that might touch food, and parchment paper in the oven.  I no longer wrap potatoes - I just cook them in their skins.

.    I no longer use zip lock type bags.  I buy the cheaper bags that use a twisty tie.  For me, the savings is worth it.

.    I no longer buy bakery cakes.  I think my "homemade" Duncan Hines cakes are much better, not to mention how much money it keeps in my pocket.  After my son's party he cleaned the cake plate exclaiming, "These are the best crumbs I ever ate!"  I am also going to try the truly homemade chocolate cupcakes and homemade piped vanilla buttercream frosting from www.ourredhouse.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html.

.    I no longer buy water bottles.  I refill both Thermos and stainless steel containers daily, and we bought a countertop filtration unit for the kitchen (that even filters out fluoride), as well as a filter for the shower.  Our savings from no more water delivery and no more water bottles quickly paid for filtration.  This was the best move we ever made!  Now even our cooking water and ice cubes are filtered, and we also aren't getting poisoned from warm plastic bottles.

.    We plan to get a Soda Stream instead of buying soda.  My husband really likes soda water, and we think this will be a cheaper alternative, not to mention better for us and for the environment.  Then, for parties and other occasions, we can make our own root beer, etc. as well. No more phosphorus, high fructose corn syrup, or paying CRV.

·       I bought 10 washcloths for $10 and use them to wipe up bathroom spills, instead of using the hand towels or toilet paper.

·       I use cheap baby wipes to clean the bathroom counters instead of skin-harming wipes.

·       I buy the 30-pack of toilet paper.  We use 24 rolls a month.  This means I can go 5 weeks if necessary before heading back to Target.  It also means I always have an excess of t.p. which means less stress.  My disaster stock includes plenty of food and toilet paper!  Just imagine the computers going down for days and you are unable to buy toilet paper…what would you do?!  Go stock up now!

·       I stock up on Kleenex at low prices.  When it is 10 for $10, I buy 30, even if it means cutting down in a different category. 

·       I store my fruit properly (see grocery shopping tips).

·       I dump from my little trash cans into a bigger one, instead of tossing the liner into the trash.  Trash bags are literally tossing money in the trash, right?  However, they are necessary.  I make them last a little longer by not tossing until used several weeks. 

·       I don’t have cable, etc.  We have the cheapest Netflix plan and we stream movies through Roku.

·       I run my washer, dryer and dishwasher before noon if possible.  I don’t use heat on the dishwasher.  But I DO wash sheets, towels, pajamas and whites in HOT water to kill dust mites and cut down on asthma and allergies.

·       I set my kitchen timer for 40 minutes to get clothes from the dryer – I don’t let it cycle on and on.

·       I cut a bath mat in half for the shower to last twice as long.  CVS has a great price.

·       I cut my vitamins in half and only take them every other day, because I feel like I get enough nutrition from my food.

·       I love paper towels, but since it is tossing money away, I make sure each sheet is only 1 cent.  I use hand towels and rags, but paper towels are so handy for germy and messy jobs.  I use the Ralphs store brand “Home Sense” because they work well.  I only use the Select-A-Sheet ones – most jobs only require a small sheet.  And sometimes I tear that in half, too.

What can you cut in half to make it last longer?  What disposable item can you stop buying?

Janine  www.keeping-house.blogspot.com

7.18.2011

Happy Organizing

Arthur Sarnoff 1955
Rule #4: Nothing on the Floor No More! ...Once you have a firm grip on the fact that a floor is not a big shelf at your feet, you can begin to clear the space…  from page 23 of The Beverly Hills Organizer’s Home Organizing Bible by Linda Koopersmith 

Murphy’s Law means my neighbors only come to visit when my house is a mess.  No one drops by when it is sparkling.  Therefore, we now e-mail each other when our house looks especially good.  We pop over and ooh and ahh and laugh and compare notes.  We all have had hoarding tendencies and paper problems, and we all love FlyLady. 

Keeping house is not about perfection or having model homes.  It’s about living and doing our best, without stressing over the small things.  But when those small things cause major problems, it is time to dig in and find new ways to solve the nagging little problems that cause continual frustration.  We need to constantly implement them, because we so easily slip back into old ways.

Organizing from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System For Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your LifeThat’s where Julia Morgenstern helped me.  I listened to her audio tape on Organizing from the Inside Out and did the steps.  I highly recommend her book or tape (she even has a DVD now, but I haven't watched it).  On graph paper, I quickly outlined my rooms.  I wrote down what the room holds, the activities it supports, the supplies it has, and storage available.  Then I was able to assess what worked, and what didn’t. 

She asks a series of questions that I answered in writing, and then, with my goals in mind, I was able to 1) determine how to change what didn’t work, 2) if things were stored in the proper room, 3) what needed to be decluttered, and 4) how to organize what was left.

My goals were:  A clutter-free home (although clutter goes and comes in again); a relaxing, comfortable place we want to spend time in, a place to read, write, do genealogy, scrapbooking and homeschooling. 

What I expected to achieve when I decluttered and got organized:  Enjoyment of my environment, gaining both energy and calm from our space.

Issues at the heart of my organizing challenge:
 1.     Entry: dumping ground; magazines and mail don’t have homes (Solved – two pretty bins on kitchen desk)
2.     Front room: bookcase cluttered.  Need open spaces.  Husband needs his own space for his items.  (Solved – only books in the bookcase – looks cleaner.  Lined books to the edge, like I noticed they did in a visually appealing library I visited.  Rearranged the furniture to show more blank wall space; removed coffee table; bought DH his own beautiful wooden floor holders for magazines and papers. Created a shelf in the bookcase just for his books.)
3.     Dining: Need places for bills, genealogies, pictures, recipes, baby info, menus, home fliers, warranties and repair paperwork. (Solved – a pretty bin on kitchen desk for bills, moved everything else into the front room walk-in closet in its own see-through plastic bins.  Put recipes into a photo album. Put menus and warranties into their own binders.)
4.     Linen closet: Too many things, and it’s unpainted and ugly.  (Decluttered, but still need to paint)
5.     Junk room:  Too many papers and unused stuff (Ugh.  Still there.)
6.     Bedroom: Papers and blankets need homes.  Need shelf sorters and risers.  Need more drawers.  (Solved – papers put in room they need to be used in, bought the sorters & risers at Big Lots, used plastic zip bags for blanket storage; used suitcases for off-season clothes; put more clothes on shelves instead of buying drawers.)
7.     Bathroom: Floor needs cleaning, door painted, more storage. (Solved – Hooks over shower doors for towels, gathered items into small plastic shoeboxes for in-cabinet storage, removed rarely used items to linen closet.)

Needed:  A drop-off table when coming home, instead of using the couch or the kitchen table.

·       I also went through and put one or two trash cans in each room of the house.  I put them and other items where I use them. 
·       I designated a huge basket at the bottom of my entry way closet as “the give-away closet.”  The second we have an item to give away, in it goes.  I drop items off once a month.

The House That Cleans Itself: Creative Solutions for a Clean and Orderly House in Less Time Than You Can ImagineI was excited to get the book The House That Cleans Itself because she was going to give me more ideas than what I thought of doing on my own.  This should have been a great book.  Her premise is to rearrange your house to suit your needs.  Right before I read this book I did this for my house and it works.  Well, the book was fun and motivating, but it ultimately failed me because she only gave one example – her entryway (big deal!).  If she had detailed each room I could have borrowed some great ideas, I’m sure.  What insights did she have?  What changes did she make?  A fun read, but disappointing.  If you’ve never thought about rearranging your house to suit you, you may get something out of it though.  I probably would have liked the book more if it had come out the year before I thought of doing her suggestions on my own! 

The Beverly Hills Organizer's Home Organizing Bible: A Pro's Answers to Your Organizing PrayersNow, next to Julia Morgenstern, the lady that helped me most through her books is The Beverly Hills Organizer, Linda Koopersmith. Her book Home Organizing Bible is so good I paid full-price for it at the bookstore.   It has plenty of pictures and ideas.  I love to read organizing books, and I’ve yet to find one better.  The thing I liked BEST about her book is she showed me HOW TO USE all the organizers on the market!  I realized that for about $300 I could totally organize every room in my house!  Now, I didn’t have $300, so I went to Big Lots instead and bought what I could there.  Her rule:  Measure First, Shop Second.  I put on paper what I wanted to do. 

I bought risers for my canned food, a shelf for my freezer, shelves for under the sink and in bedroom closets, shelf dividers so my husband’s jeans didn’t fall into his folded shorts, 4-shelf shoe racks, put shelves up in my front-room closet, bought plastic drawers for the closet, wicker baskets for homeschooling books that sit out, shelves for videos, small wire holders for Ziploc bags and wax paper that could be attached to my pantry door, a caddy for our remotes in the front room, a bakeware rack to keep my casserole dishes on their sides and easy to grab instead of stacking, a rack for my pot lids, and more.  I also made drawer dividers using cardboard lids covered with contact paper.

Because she explained HOW to use these items, and had a picture of them, with a picture glossary also at the end of the book, I was readily able to implement.  I compared prices online but didn’t buy.  I went to Big Lots, Home Goods, and The Container Store with my price list.  My budget was $100.  I bought all of the above.  I didn’t get everything she suggested in her book that sounded great due to my limited budget, but the changes I implemented made a HUGE difference! I highly recommend her book.

Happy Organizing!

Janine  www.keeping-house.blogpot.com

7.11.2011

Finding My Way Home

Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time. ~ Margaret Bonnano

Photo by bridgetroll
Finding Your Way Home by Lucynda Koesters is the most complete book I own on figuring out how you can stay home with your child, and I bought every book I could find on the subject.  Many are good, but this is the best.

Part I includes 10 compelling reasons, in full chapter detail, on why someone would want to stay home. She discusses the needs of infants, toddlers, grade schoolers & teens. She discusses mental and physcial health, your marriage, family life, and having no regrets.

Part II discusses your options, your finances (which is excellent), contingency plans, your new life, the Porch Swing Test, and even creating an action plan (very useful).

Part III discusses how to be successful at home. Daily schedules, managing your children and your house, staying motivated, creating a safe haven, weekly routines, and being at home.   There is also an addendum for single parents and how they can come home too!

I came across an e-mail I had written to the author in early 2005 after reading an article she had written in Stretcher.com.  I was only 8 weeks pregnant and making more than double what my husband made, because he wasn’t working full-time. 

I wrote that we were spending $900 in groceries and another $300 eating out.  Today my budget is $600 for groceries and $20 for pizza.  I use the envelope method, so there is no fudging.  But when we spend less than the budget, we can either buy something fun or go somewhere fun.  When I have to, I can get the grocery budget down to $300 for the month.

Susan Branch Spiral Notepad
S. Branch notebk
I mentioned the waste of food and not shopping frugally.  She was very encouraging about how to get started, and suggested the price book.  I simply typed up my grocery receipts with the amount paid, sorted it alphabetically, taped it inside a small hard-backed notebook in my purse, and began comparing prices to it.  Over time I was able to determine the cheapest price paid at what store.  For example, I had the big box of Fishy crackers listed as $X.xx from Ralphs, and then when I went to Target and saw the same box for $Y.yy I was easily able to compare which was the better deal.  I noted the stores side-by-side in my notebook.  Once this was established I then was able to make a master shopping list for each of my favorite stores on what items to buy.

Yes, it took a little bit of time to type the list (15 min?), cut and glue it into my notebook (2 min), and when at the stores compare and write down the different price.  Was my time worth it?  Of course it was!  This is completely do-able.  I also have my lightweight coupon carrier with me at all times.  Since I’m only using coupons for things I really need, I don’t have a huge coupon binder. I put the coupons I think I'm going to use in my money envelope (so I don't forget to use them) but keep the rest in my purse in case I come across a great deal that will be even better with a coupon I hadn't yet planned to use.

I do my main monthly grocery shopping (see my top grocery tips) at three stores which carry the majority of our staples, rarely going off list.  I’m fortunate that I live in an area where all grocery stores are within a few blocks of each other.  I circle the best deals from the flyers and pop in for just those items.  I do not overdo it, going to six stores in one day or one week.  No, I have my top 3 stores that I visit once a month, and then the next three weeks, based on the sales fliers, I choose which store to visit for their deals. 

This system has developed over time, and I do this shopping while I’m in the area running another errand. 

Finding Your Way Home: How To Become A Successful Stay-At-Home ParentMrs. Koesters’ e-mail back to me was very encouraging:  “I think you and your husband can make this work simply because you both have the same goal which is to have a stay-at-home mom for the baby.  Keep this very important goal in mind as you work through the process of transitioning to one income.  A key to your success is compromise.  You both must be willing to compromise and negotiate in order to reach your goal.  He is willing to be frugal and use coupons; you are willing to plan the meals he likes and do the shopping.” 

I also followed her advice to set a weekly (monthly) budget for food and I estimate each item’s cost so I know an approximate total before checking out.  I watch prices closely as I go through the store and consider substitutes or not getting something that week. 

photo credit
Our old habit was to buy whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, whether it was on sale or not.  Our new habit is the envelope method:  $200 for TJ’s, $200 for Ralphs, $100 for Target, $100 for my husband to spend at whatever store he chooses.  (He loves to shop for loss leaders and new items.)  Whatever money is left over from the once a month trips gets to be used for the next three weeks at other grocery stores.  Then, what is left at the end of the month is used for something fun (such as a small pool) or to go somewhere fun (like a kid’s museum).   

Being motivated, continually revising your budget until you can live on one salary, and strategic grocery shopping can go a long way to helping you find YOUR way home.  
Janine  www.keeping-house.blogspot.com