Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tips for figuring out what you really want to do

Goal setting.  I hate those words, mostly because I didn't do any of it for most of my adult life.  I just struggled along, doing the same things day after day, hoping that something wonderful would magically appear and change everything for the better.  On my 40th birthday, I remember thinking that I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up...and I was already 'up'.  I had a lot of angst when I hit my 50th birthday and was still thinking the same thing!  As soon as I accepted that I really was happier with a different way of living, life was better!

If you want some changes in your life, you have to be willing to make some changes.  Now, I love those words.

First things first.  Make a list of 20 things you like to do.  Sounds easy, but by the time you get to #15, you might be struggling to figure out the last five.  Some things might cost a lot, but there should be some that are either free or cheap.  You might not presently be able to do everything on your list, but you should be able to do some of them right away. 

After taking some time to ponder the things you like to do, take another look at your list.  Do you see any kind of pattern there?  What makes you happy?  I realized that I was happy when I was doing anything creative or gardening.  I just loved getting my hands dirty with some project.  I loved making something wonderful from trash or junk that other people would throw away.  (I had a blast one day making little denim looking pots with dryer lint clay.)  But I digress.  Again, what makes you happy?  You would probably be happy in a related field of work.  The trick is having the job that makes you happy and living within that income, but you can do it.  Like I said in the previous post, don't compare yourself to others.  Focus on your own goals, your own situation and look for ways for improvement.

Now make a list of what you need to get some more things on your 'happy' list. This is the goal setting part.  By the way, winning the Lottery is not a goal.  Pick a couple smaller goals to start with. Which thing do you have to have first, the one thing that will help you get the next one?  Sort out the list and write it down. 

Repeat after me:
If you want some changes in your life, you have to be willing to make some changes.

Break those smaller goals down into even smaller, more manageable steps. Then after each one, write down all the different ways you could obtain each one.  Write down all the silly, impractical ways, too - beg, borrow, barter, rent, steal.  That might help you come up with new ways of acquiring what you need.
Use your local library or computer to research step one, then step two, etc.  Use words like 'open source' or 'free' in your keyword search phrase.  Be specific about what you need or want.  If you're still researching the same steps after a month or two, then you're just procrastinating.  You can be the most well read person about what you'd like to do, but it doesn't amount to anything if you just read about it.

Now act on it.  Then do the next step.

Spending hours on Facebook playing FarmTown every day might be loads of fun and leave you full of satisfaction, but five years from now, you'll still be sitting in the same chair, working the same crappy job and wondering why life isn't any better.  I loved my son's comment when I asked him how he got so much 'free' money for top notch education and travel.  He said, "Some people get on the computer and play games.  I get on the computer and look for deals."  Point taken.  One of his goals was to visit every continent on the planet Earth.  He's currently teaching overseas, travels extensively...always with an eye on the next goal. 

I chose a different path.  I finally have my little 4 acres in the country, a boatload of critters to care for, as much garden space as I would ever want or need and places to do my sloppy creative projects while living in a construction zone.  I try to be as self sustainable as possible so the money I make from my business website will be all I need for a job - working just a few hours a month. For this I gave up a crappy sales rep job complete with high heels and two hours of doing my fingernails every weekend. 

And my chosen lifestyle?  I've never worked harder in my life...or been happier.  But I do miss Farmtown.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More ways to save money

And hopefully the list will keep going on and on, right?

Instead of buying those cedar blocks to hang in your closets, pick up a cedar fence board at the lumberyard.  First, sand the rough parts off the board. Then count all your closets, cut the board to that many pieces and drill a hole in the top of each one.  Sand off any rough edges.  Hang a chunk of the board on each closet rod with heavy wire (fashioned like the top of a clothes hanger), loose wire tie (zip tie), heavy string or cord, etc.  Every few years, hit it with some coarse grit sandpaper to bring the scent back again.

Use vinegar in the Jet Dry do-hicky of your auto dishwasher instead of Jet Dry.  There's a rinse or two after it's dispensed, so you won't smell any vinegar at all.  The dishes come out sparkly-clean and it keeps any soap crud out of the dishwasher plumbing parts.  Don't buy that auto dishwasher cleaner as the vinegar will take care of any funky odors that suddenly appeared and hard water deposits.

Now that you're using vinegar in the dishwasher, set the timer so you know when to beat a path to the kitchen and open the dishwasher door.  My newer dishwasher's heated dry cycle wouldn't come on unless there was something in the Jet Dry do-hicky.  Twice I tried to listen for when it sounded like it was finished washing, and twice I missed it.  I timed it this morning and it took a whopping 1 hour and 15 minutes!!  Back to hand washing, I think.  I think you have to use the dishwasher once in a while to keep the seals wet and working right.  Otherwise, you end up with an expensive dish drainer.

Love those flavored coffee creamers?  You can make your own powdered flavored creamers at your convenience with just a few basic items -
1 cup instant dry milk powder
1/2 cup powdered coffee creamer
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 to 1/3 cup (about half the package) of instant pudding mix, your choice of flavor.  I like French Vanilla the best.
Blend it all together and put it in a resealable container.  I put the dry milk and sugar in my Magic Bullet (blender thing) to make it really fine, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Use 1 to 2 TBSP per cup of coffee, or to taste.  Agh, and here I told myself that this wasn't going to be a blog of recipes!

Got a neighbor that recycles, too?  You might be able to strike a deal with them to share the cost of the trash service, then take turns going to the recycle center.

If you know you're going to have to repaint a room sometime in the future, start looking at the markdown paint area at your local home improvement store.  I got most of the paint for an entire house for $5 a gallon, but lately I don't see it that cheap anymore (usually $10 a gallon).  There's probably 40 different shades of white, but if you mix three different shades in a big 5 gallon bucket, you still have white.  Mixing colors comes pretty easily to me, so I have a hard time trying to explain it to someone who struggles with that.  The best thing to do would be to stick to basic colors that you like.  Then if you don't think you'll have enough paint, add a can of white to it for a lighter shade.  Of course, if you're mixing paint like this, you have to make sure that you have enough to do your entire project.

Need a 5 gallon bucket?  Ask at the deli in your grocery store.  Most of the time they are getting something in 5 gallon food grade buckets that have lids.  Perfect for storing food and for mixing up paint!  You just can't use it for food after you mix your paint in there, ya know?

Get to thinking about creative leftovers.  Repeat after me, "there is no such thing as food going into the trash".  Any leftover corn, green beans or peas can go into a container in the freezer.  Pour the juice in there as well.  Then when you make a pot of soup, use those veggies.  I love leftover spaghetti sauce in beef or hamburger soups.  I'm not too sure that leftover cooked broccoli would make the cut in this area, so eat it up.  Or make chicken Alfredo the next night and put the chopped up broccoli in it right before you eat.  You get the drift.

Defrost or thaw frozen food in the refrigerator instead of on the counter.  Takes longer, but it's probably safer (not that I ever poisoned anyone, but ya never know) and it might help keep your frig a bit colder so it doesn't kick on as often.

Don't compare yourself to others.  There will always be people that have more money, a bigger house, the latest fashions, the newest computer, etc.  Focus on your own goals, your own situation and look for ways for improvement.

Grow some of your own food.  You don't have to live in the country to do some gardening.  Did I mention this before?  Anyway, container gardening can be cheap if you scrounge for containers like 5 gallon buckets from the deli or bakery, etc.

Buy smaller trees or bushes instead of the bigger ones and be willing to wait a year or so longer for them to get full size.  Cheaper yet would be if you could get a start from another gardener or grow something from seed.  I have three peach trees in my yard now that were grown from seed.  Will they have wonderful peaches?  I don't know.  I think the peaches that they came from were grown on a tree started from seed, so I'll probably have the same results.  But I was after shade more than I wanted peaches.  They're a bonus.

Buy seeds over plants for your garden.  I'm always surprised to hear that people will pay $2 for a couple little cucumber plants.  I could get a packet of cucumber seeds for $0.15 for a lot of years.  Now that I'm buying strictly Non GMO seed, that packet ran me close to $2.  The difference is that this year I'm planting a realistic number of seeds instead of the plethora that I planted a couple years ago.  Looked like a jungle of cucumber vines...sigh.  Picking 70 cucumbers in one day was, well...tiring.  The hens even got tired of them.  So this year, it's four hills and the rest of the cucumber seeds are stored in a zipper bag in the freezer for next year.  This year I'm going to try to save seed that can grow chow next year, too.  And they'll be free.

If you left your clothes in the dryer and now they're all wrinkled, you don't have to crank on the dryer again or buy that wrinkle release stuff.  Hang up the shirts and give them a spritz of water from a spray bottle and let them air dry.  Jeans will usually smooth out on their own after you put them on. When I was traveling, I'd hang my dress in the bathroom while I showered, then move it outside of the bathroom while I did makeup, hair, etc.  Usually it was dry and wrinkle free by the time I put it on.

When you buy socks, get the same brand, color and style.  Then there's no sorting socks on laundry day.  If one ends up in the rag bag, you still have a mate for it unless you go through all of them in between wash days.  I just stack them up instead of pairing them.

Whenever possible, use what Nature gives you.  We had to cut down several elm trees that were severely storm damaged.  With some work, we got some lousy firewood that will do fine in our wood burning stove when it's not freezing cold, but we still need some heat.  The smaller branches were hauled to the back to be used as kindling when it's time to burn.  Instead of buying shredded bark, we used the bark from the trees.  They're big pieces now, but they will break down in time.  Some of the sawdust was raked into deep depressions made by falling logs.  It too, will break down and support plant growth.  At our place, it's whatever wild grass seed blows into it.

Right now, vow to never throw leftover food away!  Well, unless it's really crappy or burned.  If you aren't going to eat it in a couple of days, make little entrees or tv dinners, label and pop into the freezer.  That half a cup of green beans can go in the freezer.  Add more veggies to it when ever there's leftovers you won't eat.  Later, make a pot of soup.  Even the soup can be frozen if you have a couple servings left over.  I don't know how many times you can keep cooking and freezing this stuff before you have some major quality control issues, so plan on eating it, k?

Clean the dust bunnies from anything that has a fan.  That includes your blow dryer, refrigerator, freezer, furnace, computer equipment, etc.

Learn new skills.  About any skill.  It's either DIY or PAY.  If you're reading this, you have a computer.  Get to typing in the search bar.  There are some things that shouldn't be messed with other than by someone who really knows what they're doing, but there are many things that YOU can do if you take the time to search online for instructions, tips, trouble shooting, hints.  We have friends that paid someone $80 to come out and change the battery backup in their CO2 monitor.  He wasn't happy about it, either.  Had he taken the time to get on the computer, he probably would have read what the beeping was all about.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

50 ways to save money

Here's some tips on saving your hard earned cash.  Most have been all over the web for a long time, but maybe you'll find a new one here.  This list is in no particular order:

1.  Don't go shopping because you're bored or feeling sorry for yourself.  You may have lost your job and haven't figured out what to do with all this time in between updating your resume.  Stay home and do something productive there, even if you have to force yourself.  It's okay to cry while you're cleaning out a closet.
2.  Don't run out and buy those CFL bulbs you have been thinking about to save on your electric bill.  Turn your lights off, then replace with CFL's as they burn out.
3.  Eat at home.
4.  Learn to cook so you can do #3 more economically.  There's lots of good recipes online that can be made on the cheap.
5.  Don't buy any more paper products.  You really don't need paper plates, napkins, paper towels, etc.  If you're really broke, you can use rags instead of toilet paper.  Yes, you can.
6.  Unplug everything when you aren't using it.
7.  Use your cooking appliances in the following order to save electricity:  slow cooker first, microwave, any small appliance before cranking on the oven or using the range top.
8.  If you're going to use the oven, bake several things at once, or one after the other.  Saves power by not preheating the oven again.
9.  Make enough for at least two meals when you cook.  Freeze some or have it again in a couple days.
10.  Plan your meals from what you already have in the kitchen.  No running to the store to pick up a couple things.  Got nothing but ramen noodles and eggs?  Ramen fritattas cheap to make and taste better than they sound. 
11.  Jot down some menu ideas and then make your grocery list from that.  Make sure you have some simple to throw together meals for when you don't feel like cooking or are short on time.  Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup are pretty fast.  So are pancakes and eggs.  Stick to the list, but check the sales on meat, staple foods and the mark down baskets.  Then plan other meals using those things.
12.  Make your own convenience foods.  Think about what you buy and then do a search for 'make your own ___'.
13.  Make your own cleaners for around the house.  All you need to make a plethora of products are simple and cheap items like baking soda, white vinegar, borax, etc.
14.  Don't buy any more plastic film stuff and limit aluminum foil.  Try to bake things that normally would be covered with foil in a roasting pan that has a lid.  Better yet would be to try to make it on the stove top or in a slow cooker.  Use resealable containers for leftovers or put a plate over the bowl before you put it in the refrigerator.  Wash out bread wrappers and use them for dividing up bulk meats.  Throw plastic bags away if they have had raw meat in them.  If you bake bread, a loaf doesn't fit into a gallon size bag.  But it sure fits in a recycled bread wrapper.  I usually double bag it before I put it in the freezer.
15.  Google everything to see how to make it yourself or cheaper.  We eat better meals for a lot less money now. 
16.  If you have zipper plastic bags, wash 'em and reuse 'em.  You can use your auto dishwasher for drying the bags.  Just stand them up over the prongs and leave the door cracked.
17.  Cancel the HBO on your television package.  If you can't abide going without the tube, see what they have on cheaper packages.  Check out Hulu online, or other free viewing shows/ movies on the computer.
18.  No, you don't need to have all the bells and whistles and internet on your cell phone plan.  While a lot of us are locked into contracts, some are not.  Check out the cheap pay as you go cell phones that allow you to keep your phone number.
19.  When you have to purchase something like a garden hose, think long term.  This might be the time to spend more for a garden hose that will last forever instead of buying a cheap one from the dollar store every year.
20.  Make your own non toxic bug sprays, compost and nitrogen fertilizers (green grass clippings are great, and even your diluted urine (10 parts water to 1 part pee) is great for plants...once you get past the ewwww factor.  Google it and see why a lot of gardeners call it liquid gold.
21.  Unwrap those bars of bath soap right this minute.  The drier they are, the longer they'll last.
22.  Make your own laundry soap (tons of recipes online) and use vinegar instead of fabric softener.  You may be surprised at how well it works.
23.  Line dry your clothes if you can.  Hate stiff clothes?  Throw them in the dryer with a couple of dry towels, set the dryer on LOW heat then set your timer for 10 minutes.  Get the clothes, hang 'em up on the line or hangers to finish drying and they won't be stiff.
24.  If you can't line dry, then just throw the dry towels in with the wet clothes and dry on LOW heat.  Clean the lint trap every single load, and shake out the wet clothes as you put them in the dryer.  Those things alone can reduce the drying time by as much as 10 minutes.
25.  If you have an electric dryer, vent it into the house during the winter.
26.  Store your baking stone in your oven during the colder months.  It will hold the heat when you bake - more even baking and release heat longer after the oven is off and you have the door cracked.
27.  During the warmer months, use your slow cooker outside so you don't heat up the kitchen.
28.  If you can be there and WATCH, use your slow cooker on low, wrap a towel around it and it will cook like it's on high heat but use less power.  I can do this with one cooker, but dang near melted the cord on the other one...eeeeek!
29.  Make a 'hay box'.  It's basically a well insulated box that you put a boiling hot pot in to finish cooking with no added power.  Don't have to use actual hay, either.
30.  Make a solar oven using a cardboard box or pizza box and aluminum foil.
31.  Got a wide mouth thermos?  You can cook foods for one in a good thermos.
32.  Freeze water in a couple of milk jugs outside during the winter and put in the frig to keep it from kicking on as much.
33.  Heat water in milk jugs during the summer by putting them in the sun and use for washing dishes by hand.
34.  Wash dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher.  Check the post on here somewhere for how to do that using less water.
35.  Wash your clothes in cold water, on the shortest wash cycle if your machine has a 'soak' cycle.  Your clothes will come out cleaner, and you'll save about $1 a load on electricity.  If you're used to washing in hot water and switch to doing this, you'll save about $2 a load.
36.  Turn up the temperature on the airconditioner and crank on some fans to move the air.  You'll feel cooler.  Shut the curtains.
37.  Turn down the temperature on the heater and use a heating pad to keep you warmer if the sweatshirt just doesn't cut it.
38.  Consider a vegetarian lifestyle.  It's generally healthier and can be cheaper, but if you gotta have some meat (like me), plan on at least one (or more) meatless meals a week.
39.  Use more oatmeal in your cooking.  You can make meatballs and meatloaf stretch a lot further by adding oatmeal and plenty of onions, seasoning, etc.  You can make great homemade granola, protein bars, granola bars, cookies, cakes, breads, different flavors of oatmeal, etc.  My mother loves butterscotch oatmeal.  I had never considered it until she told me about it.
40.  Embrace the 'half theory'.  It's nothing more than seeing if you can get by using half of whatever you usually use - half the shampoo, half the toothpaste, etc.
41.  Consider bartering, borrowing, renting or stealing before buying.  Well, not actually stealing, but you know what I mean.  I loaned a very fancy dress to a friend for a wedding so she didn't have to buy one.  If you need a pickup or trailer, what about renting instead of buying?  Can you rent from a friend or neighbor?  Or barter skills?  I put together a basic website for someone and he mowed my small acreage a couple of times when our mower had shot craps.  We didn't barter or anything, it was just mowed when we got home one day.
42.  Clean out your closets, garage, storage unit and have a garage sale.
43.  Clean out that storage unit and quit paying rent on it.  If you have had it for more than a couple months or so, you must not really need anything that's in it.  Sell the stuff or donate it.
44.  Learn to cut hair.  This may involve a learning curve...but it will grow back, honest.  Choose a simplier style.
45.  Cancel magazine subscriptions.  With all the information online, I can't understand why anyone would pay for a magazine any more.
46.  Do all your errands in one trip to save gasoline, instead of making daily runs here and there.
47.  Accept that you may have to have some 'not so healthy' meals when you're really broke and you're just trying to fill bellies.  You probably won't die if you have to eat hot dogs, oatmeal or beans unless you have some major allergies.
48.  Re-evaluate your entertainment.  We used to go out to eat with friends once a month, now we do a pot luck dinner instead, or buy take-n-bake pizza and split the cost.
49.  Re-evaluate the common greeting card, etc.  I hate spending $5 for something that's going to get thrown away in a week. When a friend had surgery last year, instead of balloons or a get well card, we gave him a watermelon after he got home.  Honest.  He loved the old seeded watermelons that NO store had around here.  My husband was on his way home from another state and saw a roadside market that had the watermelons, so he snagged a couple.  Perfect.
50.  Learn to drink water again.  You can spend a ton of money in a year buying soda pops, flavored drinks, expensive coffees, etc.  That doesn't mean that you go buy bottles of water.  A lot of thrift stores will have a used Brita pitcher.  Even buying a new one will save you money in the long run.

Remember that even if your spouse, kids or significant other doesn't want to make some of these changes, you'll still save money overall if YOU make the changes.