Monthly Archives: March 2015

How it Works: Thrift Stores

This is my closet.

20150301_222253

 

Let’s ignore the fact that this closet is ridiculously small (my toddler can’t even fit in here), and the fact that it really should be next in a possession purge (or at least an organization fest), and instead discuss its contents.

Over half of the clothing you see hanging up was purchased at a thrift store.

I’m actually pretty proud of this fact.  Despite coming into the thrift shop craze a bit late in the game (right around the time that the catchy, not-for-childrens’-ears ditty, “Thrift Shop”, by Macklemore came on the scene), I have gotten so many amazing things at rock-bottom prices.  Besides being a financially-savvy choice though, buying secondhand clothes also keeps waste down, which definitely falls in line with being a good steward!

I have a few rules regarding thrift-shopping, and they are by no means “official”; they are just what I’m comfortable with.

The first rule is, if I can catch something from an article of clothing, I don’t buy it.  I suppose one can catch anything anywhere, but I aim to lower my chances, so I don’t buy secondhand shoes or unmentionables (most thrift stores don’t accept underwear anyway, though, so it’s a moot point).

Secondly, know exactly what I want.  If I go in just aiming to browse, invariably I will spend far more than I wanted, and will come out with something destined to go to the thrift shop again.  Since thrift stores tend to be luck-of-the-draw though, when it comes to content…

…know when to walk away.  And then come back another time when inventory has been rotated.  The flip-side of this is that you shouldn’t expect to come back later in the day to pick up a hot-ticket item you wanted to think about before purchasing; chances are, someone else will have already picked it up.  Although taking time to think about a major purchase is admirable, it does not typically pay when it comes to thrift-shopping.

Finally, just because your wardrobe is secondhand doesn’t mean you have to deal with poor-quality clothing.  Be sure to look the item over, inside and out.  Check for holes, loose or missing buttons, a stuck zipper, or broken parts.  Try on clothing if you can.  Many stores have a strict return policy, so once a tag is removed and the article washed (absolutely wash clothes before wearing, or clean furniture before using!), you cannot return it.

Thrift stores are a treasure trove, and a great way to boost your wardrobe for less, but I’m still learning how to go about thrift shopping effectively.  Got any tips for me?

How it Works: Living without Air Conditioning

ice coldOf all the “green” things I have done that I have shared with others, the one that has turned the most heads is my disavowal of air conditioning.

People really love their climate control.

Before I explain my story, I want to share that I do still sometimes use A/C. Like this past July when I was watching my niece and nephew and I was attempting to get them to nap longer than 30 minutes. Or anytime it’s warm and I’m driving faster than 45 mph (I read somewhere that that’s the cutoff for when having the windows rolled down is no longer efficient).

Back to my story.

In the summer of 2012, I decided I wanted to see how long I could go without air conditioning. At the time, I was living in North Carolina which can get hot, but more importantly for comfort, is almost always humid. But I had large windows and useful fans and I was able to get through all but one week of the summer without turning on the A/C (turns out, when the indoor temperature reaches 100 degrees, I’m useless for rational thought).

I’ve saved hundreds of dollars. You can too.

Tips for going without air conditioning

1. Get family buy in. I didn’t have to since I live alone, but this is absolutely necessary. One person whining will only make it worse for everyone. Perhaps you can turn it into a game, or use the money you’re saving and invest in a summer pool pass and a large box of popsicles.

Now’s a good time to also mention that I don’t recommend giving up A/C if you have medically-sensitive members in your family and you’re in a hot climate. Still, we can all benefit from turning up the thermostat a few degrees.

2. Start now. There’s a reason why I’m posting this in March, not July. The most important thing about giving up A/C is learning to go with the seasons instead of fighting them. You’ll have to be more seasonal-minded in your dress and your diet, but that’s a good thing.

3. Invest in fans. I’m a huge fan (pun intended) of fans. I would recommend window fans for each bedroom (I have this one, which has the added benefit of a thermostat to auto-shut-off when the room gets cool enough), a box fan for the main common room and a stand fan for each person big enough to move it around on their own.

4. Figure out the air flow that makes the most sense. I highly recommend using the box fan in a common room window to draw cool air into your home and opening a window in the opposite end of the common area as the “out” for the warmer air (kitchens are great for this, as they are naturally warmer with the fridge and the oven). Shut off unused rooms.

While Colorado evenings are cool enough to make it unnecessary, in North Carolina I would turn on my window fan 2 hours before bedtime to cool down my bedroom to make it easier to sleep.

5. Save the shower for when you’re just about to leave the house. I don’t mind sweating at home, but I’ll save others from dealing with it.

Have you given up air conditioning? If so, what tips do you have? Or if you haven’t, what are your biggest hesitations?

Photo by Javier Pais

Joint Book Review: Year of Plenty by Craig L. Goodwin

downloadIf you only read one “yearlong experiment” book, make sure it is Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living by Craig L. Goodwin.  Over the course of a year, the entire Goodwin family takes it upon themselves to only utilize what is local, used, homegrown, or homemade.  This short, insightful book is worth a read!

Amanda’s Take

It seems like “Do X Over the Span of a Year” books have become their own trendy genre, so I was hesitant to pick up Year of Plenty; in fact, Goodwin even mentions his own reluctance to write yet another “year-long experiment” book.   That said, I am such a fan of this book, I actually own a copy –high praise indeed from a minimalist!

Like Ronnica will mention, I especially appreciated the Christian take on green issues.   Also appreciated was the discussion on consumerism that was interspersed throughout the book.

Even better, though, was the fact that the entire family was involved in this experiment of “365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living.”  As Goodwin notes, a lesson the entire family learned over the course of the year was that “hands-on experience in the real world leads to changed behavior.” -p. 144

To that end, I found myself laughing and imagining what it would be like if our own family owned chickens, or were challenged to buy only local items, or traveled abroad to see global economics in action.  Goodwin’s writing is both humorous and truly insightful, and the content is near and dear to my heart, all of which make this a new favorite in my library.

Ronnica’s Take

When I picked this book up at Amanda’s recommendation I didn’t expect to love it like it I did. I’ve read lots of books where I agree with one part or another, but in Year of Plenty, I found a kindred spirit in my motivation towards green living.

I love that Goodwin calls on the important role of the church in green issues. I have long felt the same way, but it seems to be a minority opinion in the church.

For Goodwin, people and relationships are the primary motivations for the decisions he and his family make. I love that. I’m naturally task-oriented, but I believe that God should come first and other people second in any  action (or inaction).

I think we can all benefit from being in closer contact to the sources of our food. As Goodwin says, “I wonder what it would be like if all of us imagined ourselves as farmers, caretakers and stewards of the land and animals that provide us with food.” – p. 152

As you can tell, both Amanda and I highly recommend picking this book up!

27 Things that Didn’t Need to Travel 1,800 Miles with Me

box full of furntitureLast May, I moved from North Carolina to Colorado. When I moved I pared down my belongings until they fit into an 8′ x 5′ x 7′ box and my Toyota Camry.

When I did so, I got rid of over half of my books and countless boxes of other things. Still, I anticipated there were several things that I brought with me that were unnecessary.

When I first planned to write this post, I had hoped to have a list of 100 things. I did a better job of purging my belongings upon moving, because I just couldn’t find 100 things that I had brought with me from North Carolina that I felt I needed to get rid of. Even digging through my closet I didn’t find anything.

Still, there were 27 things that I hauled 1,800 miles that I didn’t need to. Since I’m inspired by reading other people’s steps towards minimalism, I wanted to share these with you all.

1. router
2. cables
3-5. DVDs
6-7. puzzles
8-9. books
10-20. pieces of jewelry
21. old, duplicate nail polish
22-24. scarf, hat and gloves set
25. scarf
26. hat
27. rug

Though I only found 27 things that I didn’t need to bring with me (including those winter outwear items…turns out, I just didn’t need the duplicates), cleaning out was a good practice for me. Though I didn’t record them, I probably found another 27 things that I’ve acquired since being in Colorado that I didn’t need.

That brings me to the lesson that I learned: the biggest step to prevent clutter is to not bring the items into the house in the first place. This is a similar lesson I learned in my Buy Little Month: I want to be very careful about what I’m spending money on and carrying into my apartment.

That’s where I’m going to focus my minimalism.

How it Works: Grocery Shopping, Part 2

On Monday, I talked about the first half of my preparation for a grocery shopping excursion.

Like other outings and activities, since kids have come on the scene, grocery shopping has gotten a bit more complex, but a little organization goes a long way toward saving us money, and ensuring a smooth, productive trip to the store!

Today, I discuss what actually happens during the trip, and include a few of my own tips and tricks.  I hope you find them helpful!

Before I even get in the car, I make sure I have the following:  my “master list”, all my coupons and deal papers (or apps readily available on my phone, depending on how technologically adept I feel), cloth bags (our store credits you a nickel per bag, which adds up), phone, car keys, and wallet with method of payment (the last two have been forgotten before…many times, actually).

unnamed (16)
Many stores will give you a few cents per reusable bag.

As an aside, I try very hard not to shop with anyone.  This is not because the kids are poorly behaved in public–quite the contrary, actually–but rather because they take up valuable real estate in the cart!  Since I go shopping for two weeks worth of items at a time, every single inch of the cart is taken up.  Rather than make Bean walk or wear an increasingly-heavy Peanut in a baby carrier, they stay at home with Riley for some quality Daddy bonding time.  Bonus:  I get some time just for me!

Once I’m at the store, I just follow the list!  This is where the preparation before  the trip comes in really handy.  I am usually able to get in and out in under an hour.  If it isn’t on the list and I feel we “need” it, I make a note to add it to the next grocery cycle.  Impulse purchases are the perfect way to completely blow your budget out of the water…I speak from experience!   I use my phone to keep a rough estimate of the total cost, so I’m not surprised at the check-out counter.

A note about coupons:  do the math.  A perfect example of this came up at the last grocery shopping excursion just a couple of days ago.  This last shopping trip found me in front of the children’s pain relief section.  I had a coupon for a name-brand pain reliever, but even with the coupon, the generic brand was still two dollars cheaper.  I wound up not using the coupon, and going with generic.  The contents were identical, even down to weight, but the price difference was significant.  This type of scenario is the one time I don’t follow the list to the letter.

When you think you have found everything on your list, pull aside and double-check everything.  I just went grocery shopping a couple of days ago, and had I not pulled over, I wouldn’t have realized I overlooked getting avocados!  Just as in math class, double-checking your work can save you time and effort down the line, and get you the “right answer.”

Check out!  As much as possible, try to monitor the screen as you are being checked out.  This can be problematic if you are the only one unloading your cart, but this is where keeping a rough idea of the total throughout your shopping comes in handy.  Worst case scenario:  if, while reviewing your receipt later (to see how much you saved!), you spot an error, many stores will reimburse you the difference.

Check out is also the time to use your reusable bags, as many stores credit you a few cents for them.  Plus, it is a good, environmentally-sound practice!  Any store loyalty cards also go a long way to save you money.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share with you how my grocery trip went a couple of days ago.  I blew the budget by about fifty dollars (we needed a new shower curtain and mat, and both cost a bit more than anticipated), BUT I saved well over one hundred dollars through the coupons, apps, price-matching, purchasing generics, and the store card.  I was pretty pleased overall.

I don’t know many grocery trips that go according to plan, but a little preparation can go a long way.  It takes a lot of practice to get proficient in this method of grocery shopping–organizing ahead of the trip certainly requires effort and time, but in the long haul, you will save money.

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to save money at the grocery store–do you have any tips for me?

Book Review: Whole by T. Colin Campbell

whole bookI recently listened to the audiobook of Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell. I picked it up on a whim, as it was a title currently available from my library on my trip back from Kansas at Christmastime. I listened to the first hour or two at that time, but didn’t finish it for another 6 months. Nevertheless, I’ll try to be fair in my review.

What intrigued me about this book and made me pick it up in the first place is Campbell’s complete dedication to a whole food, plant based (WFPB) diet.

I anticipated that this book would be primarily defending the WFPB diet and explaining why it’s better than the nutrition that most of us receive from our doctors, nutritionists and the FDA.

Instead, Whole is primarily an attack on more traditional dietary advise and and explanation of why they’ve gone wrong. While Campbell doesn’t generally attribute bad motives to those making influential decisions in dietary policy and science, he does make a good argument as to how they have been swayed by the money of big industries such as pharma and dairy.

The bulk of the book describes the weaknesses of the reductionist approach to science and nutrition: focusing on specific nutrients, instead of foods and diets as a whole. This is where the book shines: Campbell makes a very good argument to this point…but then he dilutes it by continuing his rant against the industry who has largely excluded him. I don’t know the history there, but he comes off like a scorned lover and it very much distracts from the points he is making.

I finished the book thinking, “Wait, did Campbell make his case for a WFPB diet?” No, he didn’t really, but I don’t think that was his aim. After reading further, I think he thought he had already made that case in The China Study which I have not read.

I do agree with Campbell’s assertion that many diseases and disorders could be mitigated or eliminated if we ate more whole foods and plants. That said, I’m not convinced that we should eat plants exclusively. My diet is increasingly less processed and more whole foods, but I’m not sure I’ll ever give up animal proteins altogether.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, that I do think that we all need to take another look at the nutritional lessons we have learned and are passing on to the next generation.

How it Works: Grocery Shopping, Part 1

When I was writing this post, I was expecting it to only take one post.

Silly Amanda.

Apparently my grocery shopping is a bit more complicated than that, because it’s taking today and next Tuesday to fully convey how I do grocery shopping.

(I suppose that makes sense, given the strong emphasis we place on healthy living, good foods, and sticking to a budget…but it was still a bit of a shock for me!)

Pre-stay-at-home-mama days, I scoffed at coupon cutters and deal devotees.  I never made lists.  I was very good at winging it, and spending money like water at the grocery store.  I averaged several trips a week to get “necessities” (because ice cream totally counts as a necessity…right?).

Now that I’m in a different season of life, I look back on how much money I could have saved and cringe.  I feel that one of my jobs as a SAHM is to make Riley’s paycheck go as far as possible, and that requires preparation.  In fact, as I type this sentence, I am printing coupons for my upcoming shopping trip, scheduled for this Friday.  Proof:

unnamed (13)

I am by no means an extreme couponer, but I do spend about an hour before each shopping trip (trips happen every other week, on average) printing and organizing coupons, ensuring all smartphone deal apps are in working order, and price matching, if applicable.

Typical grocery shopping preparation looks like this:

1.  Keep a list on the refrigerator; add items as necessary.  Say it with me:  if it isn’t on the list, it isn’t in your cart.  A list saves money on groceries!  N.B.: When I say “groceries”, I am also including things like castile soap and vitamins.  We have a subscription to diapers, which saves money and ensures regular delivery, and the dog food is purchased with cash from our “Pet Care” envelope, so these do not get added to The List.

2.  About five days leading up to The Trip, I start the coupon/app hunt.  Since we don’t get a newspaper, my in-laws graciously save their coupons for us.  I also print coupons online.  My favorite deal app of the moment is the Cartwheel app, though there are certainly countless others.  It’s at this point where I also purge any expired coupons, or coupons we can’t use.  Remember that it isn’t a deal if the coupon encourages you to buy something that isn’t on your list or that you won’t need.  We only save about a sixth of our grocery budget courtesy of coupons and sales, but for only an hour of my time, that’s a lot of money kept in our pockets.

3.  Organize the refrigerator list into a master list.  Since I usually have strict time constraints, my time IS money, so I organize the original list into a “master list”–that is, I list the items in the order they are in the store.  For me, that means I put frozen items and produce on my list last, since I hit that area of the store right before check-out.  I also notate which items have coupons or sales, so I ensure those are credited to me at check-out.

See how important organization is to this whole endeavor?  This pales in comparison to The Trip itself however–be sure to come back Friday for how all this prep comes together!

 

Purposefulness in Apartment Living

sunny apartmentI live in a 580-square-feet, one-bedroom apartment. Some might consider that small, but I find that it’s really sufficient space for one person (I think it would actually be enough space for two, if that man ever comes along). I almost wish it was smaller because I would feel more freedom to get rid of things.

I don’t think I’ll live in an apartment forever as I do want to have a second bedroom for guests and a larger space for gardening. But for now, I’m quite happy to be where I am.

Advantages of Living in an Apartment

1. Hands-free maintenance. This is probably my favorite thing about living in an apartment. If something breaks, all I have to do is place a service request.

I’m not very handy, but I will definitely be learning some of my own maintenance when it’s time to buy my own place.

2. Living in close quarters. I know, that sounds crazy that I think that this is a perk, but it is. I love watching people come and go from my building and the parking lot.

Lots of people share horror stories of noisy neighbors (and I have had those), but I prefer older apartment complexes because they walls are more sturdy and transmit less noise.

3. Better use of resources. Because of those close quarters, I save money on heat. Between being sandwiched between other apartments and a very sunny apartment, I only run my heat for a few hours on the coldest of days.

apartment kitchenI also like that my apartment has a community laundry room on each floor, instead of machines in unit. I only run 2-3 loads of wash every other week, so I definitely don’t need my own set.

4. Perks. I like having a pool within a 3-minute walk of my apartment. While some houses have neighborhood pools, they don’t tend to be so close. My apartment also has a gym, if I ever wanted to take advantage of that.

5. Small spaces help you limit your belongings. The larger our space, the more we will feel compelled to fill it (and the less compelled to purge).

While I do hope to be a homeowner some day, I’m not waiting until that time to feel like I’ve “made it.” I don’t think that we should look down on apartment dwelling as second-class living.

Dogs on a Dime

I’d like to formally introduce you to Hank (rear) and Wally (forefront), our two big dogs that think it is their job to not only hog every available furniture surface, but also like to eat us out of house and home.

1510709_10102660876723679_2651591391438785146_n

Sometimes it is easy to think that the term “frugal pet owner” is a misnomer.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

First, a little bit of background.  One of the main things Riley and I had in common from the start is our love of animals, specifically dogs (Riley and Peanut are allergic to cats, so dogs–and fish, at times–have been our pets of choice).  When we first met, Riley had Boomer, a shy rescued terrier mix, and I had Katie, a smart miniature schnauzer with a Napoleon complex.

Until we had children, these dogs were the focus of my maternal instincts; even now, after both Boomer and Katie have died, I consider them to be our “first children”.

But I have learned that one thing dogs and children have in common is that they can be expensive.  It is my hunch that the same holds true for other types of pets as well.

So when we suddenly found ourselves in need of new furry companions (in April 2014 for Hank, and November 2014 for Wally), we didn’t waste any time putting pencil to paper to figure out how to work new family members into the budget.

We knew that, as much as I loved the schnauzer breed, a purebred dog was not in the financial cards this go-around, so adopting would be the way we would go.  The great thing about adopting a rescue dog–besides the altruistic aspect–is the fact that it is also a good financial choice.  Reputable shelters, such as the one where we got Hank and Wally, ensure that the dogs are fully vetted; in their case, they were neutered (typically not an inexpensive procedure for two big boys, if you go through a private vet) and had their basic shots, as well as their first month of heartworm and flea/tick prevention.  As a bonus:  the shelter we went through is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, meaning that the adoption fee was also tax-deductible.

Adopting the critters was the easy part.  A pet is a life-long commitment, so the first stop we made after adopting was to our own vet, as sort of a meet-and-greet.  It was there that we picked up a few more months of heartworm and flea/tick prevention, finished up vaccines, and discussed dietary needs.

One of the many mottoes I ascribe to is “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This explains why, when I saw the bills for the dogs’ first visits, I did not pass out.  (And full disclosure:  the bills were doozies–the total was over $225 per dog).

Put this in perspective though:  it is cheaper to prevent a flea/tick infestation than to pay for an exterminator and house cleaner.  It is cheaper to pay for a few heartworm preventative pills than to treat a heartworm problem–or worse, having to euthanize a dog because the problem is beyond fixing.  I’d rather pay for premium, high-quality dog food than deal with health issues that could have been prevented or controlled with a good diet.  Wally, our “teacup mastiff”, had a double ear infection, which required intensive treatment, but it was cheaper to treat than to deal with a full-blown medical emergency (to say nothing of discomfort) later on!

Our dogs are members of the family, but they are dogs.  Before kiddos, our dogs would have had a feather bed on each level of the house, and a different collar for each day of the week.  Our dogs get great preventative health care, including top-of-the-line dog food, which we consider to be investments, but they do not get many “extras.”  

They play outside, with each other, with the kids, and love going on walks, so they are not lacking for stimulation.  They sleep a great deal and absolutely love their cuddle time.  But at this season in our life, with two little kids, the extra cost that comes with spoiling a pet cannot be justified.  I like to think they still have it pretty great, even if they don’t have all the bells and whistles that some neighbor doggies might have.

I know some of you are pet parents.  What are some of the ways you save money on your pets?

Budgeting Time

I spend a lot of time thinking and talking through my budget, time that I believe is worth it. But what about budgeting time?

As limited as money is, time is even more limited. It makes sense that we should plan how we should use it.

You know, instead of spending an hour or two on Facebook each day.

This is not something I excel at. Perhaps because I don’t have as many pressures on my time as others do (no spouse or kids), I struggle with “wasting” time on truly unimportant things.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to do a “time diary” for the week, recording how I spent all 168 hours in the week, down to the quarter-hour.

time_diary_2015

As illustrated above, I was able to successfully keep the time diary for 36 hours. Then my work week began, and I promptly forgot.

I attempted to start the next week again and had no problem for the first 8 hours. Then I forgot again.

Though I wanted to make a whole post here about my time diary and all the things I learned, I decided not to attempt it again this go-around. As in anything, simply by keeping track I was more pleased with how I spent my time. It’s had me rethinking habits: like my habit of watching TV while I do busy work and blog.

And really, that’s the point of doing a time diary. I didn’t need a detailed picture of every minute of my day: I already knew what I needed to work on.

Speaking of time, I have decided (and Amanda is graciously going along with me!) to slow our blog posting pace from four posts a week to three. We both love sharing our journey with you all, but this will give me more margin to enjoy that journey as well as blog. Keep an eye our for our regular posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays!