Category Archives: Better Choices

5 Tips For Spending Less

  Ok, I admit it. I recently fell off the wagon, the thrifty wagon that is. I can’t really explain it. I just started spending money with reckless abandon, well reckless abandon for me. I ordered things on Amazon, bought shoes, and clothes that I actually needed, and a few big ticket items, like a new roller carry on bag. Most of the clothes were admittedly second hand, and those bought new we’re 75% off, so maybe I didn’t do so bad. But my recent spending spree reminded me that I need to remember not to spend money unless I really have to. So here’s some tips for Not Spending Money that can help us all spend less: 

 Brown Bag It

Eating out for lunch even only a couple times a week can run you between $8-15 dollars a day. Not to mention snacks and coffee. Your total spending for food on the go can quickly exceed $20 a day if you’re not careful. Even if you only do it a couple of times a week, that’s up to $2080 a year. Better option? Brown bag it. Spending a little bit of extra time in the kitchen to prepare food you enjoy will not just save you money, it could make you healthier. Don’t forget the snacks when packing your food for the day. My favorite is baby cut carrots and homemade humus!

Be Prepared

Sometimes we end up spending money on things we already have at home but not with us when we are out for the day. It doesn’t hurt to carry a few essentials to avoid purchasing duplicates in a pinch. I typically carry a small first aid kit that includes nail clippers, a small pair of scissors, needle and thread, cutlery rolled in a clean cloth napkin, pens, a notebook, multi tool and the end part of a roll of duck tape. Don’t forget a couple of heavy duty zip lock bags. Also keep an eye on the weather and carry a compact poncho or umbrella to prevent sudden unplanned purchases. Reusable water bottle? That’ll save both you and the planet.

Cash & Carry

This may seem counterintuitive, but I tend to carry cash for my spending money, and never more than $15 at a time. That is my spending money, and once it’s gone it’s gone. Now, of course I have my ATM card for emergencies, but I generally only use it for planned spending like groceries or gas, not incidentals. One of the benefits of using cash is you get a very real sense of how much money you have and the fact that you’re handing it over for something else.

Ask “Do I Really Need This?”

This is a hard one: need verses want. It’s a difficult  balance to maintain. I’m not in anyway promoting a life of depriviety, but it doesn’t hurt to know what you really need and what you really want. I often ask myself “do I have something at home that will fill this need?” More often than not I do. By taking the time to ask myself this question, I keep myself from spending needlessly, and decrease stress by spending less and having less stuff at home to deal with. 

Plan For Big Spending

Now, who doesn’t plan for big spending? There aren’t many of us who just go ot and impulse buy a refrigerator, although I admit I did impulse buy a piano once. But that’s not the kind of spending I’m talking about. For me, big spending is anything over $40. Planning for Big Spending can help in a number of ways. For example, you can plan on how much you want to spend on a item and maybe do a little inteweb research to figure out who has the best price. It’s also a good idea to do product research to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money. By putting genuine critical thought into large purchases, perhaps you will be less careless and frivolous with your spending. I know I am.

Nobody is perfect. We all have unplanned expenses, maybe indulge in an impulse buy or two and may even purchase things we don’t want or require to fulfill an emotional need. It happens. But, by employing some best practices perhaps we can all fall off the thrift wagon a little less often. 

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Filed under Better Choices, Frugal Life, Simple Life

Suburban Homesteading

So maybe I’ve watched way too much Discovery Channel, or perhaps read Charlott’s web too many times as a kid. The idea of living on a farm has always appealed to me. The idea of living in a self sustaining off the grid homestead appeals even more. But, the reality of being able to achieve these things at this point in my life, while giving up a lot of the financial security I currently have in my home, is not realistic at all. So for the moment at least, I’m embarking on a hybrid: Suburban Homesteading.

  
So what does Suburban Homesteading look like? Well, it started with pulling up patches of brick in the backyard patio. The largest of these patches now houses the chickens, only two, who provide us with eggs and companionship. Thus far there are four smaller patches, three of which are planted with herbs, arugula, rainbow chard, peas and spinach. It’s a waiting game as to weather my seeds will be successful or not. Another patch currently sits bare but covered, to avoid raccoons or cats from digging. I still have plans for cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and maybe strawberries, and sincere hopes for maybe beets and sweet potatoes, although those may have to wait till next year. 

 The whole idea here is to see how much food I can get out of my backyard. I consider the above to be Phase 1. Depending on success, continued interest and stamina, I hope to move onto Phase 2, which would include solar panels, rain barrels, and possibly quail for meat. 

What I’m doing here is far from radical. I still grocery shop, but hopefully for less in the future. Our home will still be on the grid, city water, and even have Internet. I also have no current plans of trapping and eating the squirrels and possums that sometimes hang out with us. I’m just interested in becoming a little more self sufficient. I like the idea of producing my own food. If we’re successful this year, maybe we can even jar our own Marinara sauce.  

 The whole thing is part of a larger DIY lifestyle. I’m increasingly dissatisfied with the offerings at most grocery stores. Packaged prepared foods generally have too much salt, too much sugar, and make me sick. It doesn’t stop me from indulging from time to time. I still need the occasional Cheetos or Oreo fix, but these things are far from staples in my regular diet. I’m much more interested in making things from scratch. I typically spend at least part of my days off cooking so I have easy to grab foods available in my fridge. We make our own hummus, soups, and beautiful salads that are better than any grab and go option at supermarkets.

For me suburban homesteading is doing as much as I can at home and using the resources I have to provide at least a portion of what we consume. It won’t stop me from going to Trader Joes or my local farmers market on a regular basis, but maybe I’ll be getting a little less when I do.

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Filed under Better Choices, DIY, Food, Frugal Life, Projects, Simple Life, Uncategorized

Chickens: Cheaper or Better?

Well I’ve finally made the leap. I am now a chicken person. After years of pining and a few months of planning, I’ve finally managed to secure my very own back yard chickens. The eggs are amazing.  

 I put off this step for quite some time, because I read somewhere that keeping chickens is not necessarily cheaper. And, being a generation apart from my family keeping chickens, I was kind of clueless to the requirements. Then, an opportunity fell in my lap. A friend needed a house sitter for a month, and part of the gig would be taking care of her chickens. It sounded perfect. It was a trial run.

I quickly found out that keeping a couple of chickens in the backyard is pretty no-brainer and the eggs are delicious. I almost immediately started hashing out a plan. As luck would have it, the friend I house sat for is a carpenter. So we agreed to a skill trade: chicken coop for a website build out. I think we both felt like we got the better end of the deal. We agreed to wait for the winter rains to slow, and then we would build. 

In the days that preceded our first significant dry spell of our El Niño winter, I started to scavenge around my family home for wood. As it turned out, we had plenty of wood to recycle and three-cycle for the project. The only thing we would have to buy was a few hinges and chicken wire.

The chicken wire unfortunately turned out to be a significant expense. And, even though I do have a full role left over that can be returned to the store, the final expense was close to $200. Add to that the cost of chicken scratch (feed) and bedding which are both ongoing expenses, and my backyard project will need to produce about 40 dozen eggs before I break even. With two laying hens that produce about an 200 or so eggs a year each, that’s a full year of egg production to earn their keep. 

I started thinking about that article I read so long ago, but then I got the chickens. They’re wonderful. They have personalities, and bring an elation I never expected. It only took a day before we got our first egg. I couldn’t have been prouder if I had layed it myself.  I poached it and put it over toast. It was perfect. The flavor was strong, the consistency rich and the color brilliant. 

I decided that some things are ok, if they aren’t 100% frugal. It’s about quality of life, and these strange little dinosaur birds are bringing me great joy and giving me wonderful eggs. Assuming they last more than a year, which they should, project backyard chickens will eventually pay for itself financially. It was a good investment. I couldn’t be happier.

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Filed under Better Choices, DIY, Food, Frugal Life, Projects