Category Archives: Frugal

Ideas for frugal living

My Great-Grandmother’s Commonplace Book

elizasmithwedding

“Our Wedding Day, August 1 1912, Humbold Sask” Henry and Eliza eloped in an ox-drawn carriage in Saskatchewan. She was age 15

I never knew my great grandmother. But looking through her commonplace book, I know I would have admired her. And she probably would have been puzzled by, but tolerant of my my wide-eyed enthusiasm for doing things the hard way. I can almost hear her saying ,”For pity’s sake, just use your microwave”!

What is a commonplace book anyway?

It was your great grandma’s Pinterest; a scrap book of notes, ideas and clippings related to the interests and every day life of it’s keeper.  I was lucky enough to stumble on two of my Great Grandma Eliza’s in my mom’s basement, and Mom was nice enough to let me have them.  They are full of frugal recipes, garden tips, measurements (did you know 15 lbs are in a peck?), home remedies, and housekeeping tips.  You know, mom stuff.  My kind of stuff.

11259348_611568168946949_7970244153906018005_oGrandma Eliza was born in 1897, and she married in 1912.  Her commonplace books appear to have been started in the the early 1900’s.  The earliest date noted in either book is 1915, but entries don’t appear to be chronological.  I suspect she “filled up” the pages, and then came back later to add more in leftover spaces.  It even looks as though her daughter, my Grandma Dolly (given name Hazel, my youngest is her namesake) added a note or two.  One is mostly handwritten in a record book, and the other is mostly cut and pasted into what appears to have been a school notebook.  You can see bits of History and Math peeking out from between the pasted-in articles.  I love that.

10915064_611568145613618_4685964967271451839_o

Her recipes and tips reflect the thrift of the day, and the articles she clipped feature women making do and rising above.  One clipped article features a Mrs. HG who found herself widowed and without an income on “the shady side of fifty years”.  But she did have the family home free and clear.  She sold a piece of jewelry and purchased three tables and twelve chairs, which she used to convert her front parlor into a dining room.  She offered a luncheon of baked beans, green salad, bread, and her neighbor’s fruit preserves for fifty cents, and having such a low overhead was able to support herself nicely thereafter.  Such an inspiration!  I love that even so many years ago, my great-grandmother was interested in many of the same things I am today; frugality, good food, and creating a warm home.

11072055_611568242280275_1806267066963852980_o

Calves Brains With Potato Balls and Tomatoes. YUMMY!

Aside from giving a glimpse at the sort of things Grandma Eliza was interested in, her commonplace books offer useful information.  Okay, I admit I’m not likely to need directions for maintaining a kerosene cookstove, and honestly, I’m not keen on tasting calves brains with potato balls.  But you can bet I’ve tried her method for cleaning and seasoning cast iron with great success!  And my girls, who have been learning about proper tea etiquette, will be very interested in the article she clipped on Table Service In The Home.11217604_611568282280271_1343129495048705349_o

I’m inspired to start keeping a commonplace book of my own.  Yes, I know my great grandchildren will probably be able to look back on my facebook, pinterest and even this blog if they are interested, but how much more valuable to have a book to hold in their hands, leaf through, and use as a resource for “old timey” wisdom?

Oh and as a side note, as I was putting my girls to bed this evening, the two year old asked “Mom, where’s my notebook?”  Yes, she actually speaks that well, and her notebook was jumbled in her covers.  All three of my daughters adore notebooks and journals. My husband is a serial note-booker, so I always figured they got it from him, but now I realize that they may have come by some of those tendencies on my side as well!

How about you?  Do you keep a “commonplace book”?

Special thanks to my mother and cousins for filling me in in dates and details of Grandma Eliza’s life, and for the wedding photo.  I would love to hear from any of you who have more stories to share!  

New To Doing Things The “Old Fashioned” Way?

One of my favorite people recently started taking an interest in a more self-reliant lifestyle and has gotten her toes wet in the world of canning and seed saving, which I can only imagine will be addictive and lead her into even deeper waters.  What’s next? I’d imagine there will be at least a small garden in the works next spring, and perhaps eventually some bartering for fresh eggs or meat.

I’m so excited for her!  Naturally I want to share everything I’ve read, re-read, watched and learned so I sent a few favorite links via facebook.  Then I thought of another and another I ought to send.  Then I realized I’d better not send them at all, or she’d have nothing but links in her news feed, and she’d get annoyed and “hide” me!

That’s why I started blogging in the first place, after all.  I caught myself writing novels for status updates on facebook and realized it wasn’t the best way to share my ideas.

So, Kristin, rather than flood your news feed with a million links, I gathered them here and organized them by topic for you.  I hope it helps!

First up are a couple of magazines I read, which are LOADED with useful information and good ideas.  They both have archives and search boxes where you can access past articles to read online :

Backwoods Home Magazine.  This is the one that got us started down the crunchy/farmish path.  This magazine has it all.  From great recipes, to gardening, to earning a living without punching a time-clock, pretty much anything you want to know can be found in the archives.

Mother Earth News  A bit more commercialized and Hippie-Dippie (how they accomplish that paradox, I’m unsure), but also chock-full of useful ideas for gardening, alternative fuels, and farm life.

Gardening:

Starting a Self Sufficiency Garden, Even In A Small Apartment  Great ideas for small spaces and container gardens and what grows well in them.

Grow Open Pollinated Seeds for Self-Reliant Gardening  How to save seeds and ditch the seed packets.

The $1 Garden  I’d say one dollar is pushing it, but this article has some good advice for gardening without spending a lot.  FYI now is a good time to get seeds for cheap if your stores still have them.  Many will still be viable next year if you put the pouches in the freezer until spring.  I almost always have some seeds left over and use them the next year.

Plant Once, Harvest For Years  This one is all about planting things that produce year after year with minimal tending.  I really need to get around to developing an asparagus patch.

Amending Garden Soil in Early Spring  This is something I’ll be putting more time into this fall and spring.   Good thing we have plenty of chicken and rabbit poop!

Back To Eden  A film about how deep mulch gardening helps save on water.  Especially useful if you don’t happen to have irrigation.

Saving Seeds  The ins and outs of which seeds are worth saving.

Canning/Preservation:

National Center For Home Food Preservation  This PDF will be a good starting point for any beginning canner.  I’d recommend either printing it, or getting a copy of a good up-to-date home canning guide such as the Ball Blue Book.

Canning 101  A great read by one of my heros, Jackie Clay-Atkinson.  Actually we have several of her books and I read anything of hers that I can get my hands on.  This woman can do anything.

Make Your Own Dried Fruit And Vegetables  Not only practical but, much healthier than store bought snack foods.

The Survival Mom Radio Network  Here you’ll find information on such topics as gardening, food preservation, frugal living, health and wellness, and disaster preparedness.  Best of all you can listen while you work, so you’re not stuck in front of the computer!

And for tons of great ideas on everything from trimming the grocery budget to gardening to cleaning tips, mostly from other moms, be sure to check out the blog hops I’ve linked at the end of this post.

One small word of advice:  Don’t get so caught up reading about all the cool things you can do that you never actually have time to do them.  Actually, it’s probably good that gardening season is nearly over for most of us.  You can spend the winter making a list of things to try when spring rolls around!

Good luck, and have fun!

 

This post may be shared at The Homestead Barn Hop, The Homemaking Link-up, What You Wish Wednesday, The Home Acre Hop, and Simple Life Sunday.  Links go live throughout the week.

Baby On A Budget: Diapers

If you’ve been following Baby On A Budget, you know that we were surprised this spring to find out that we have baby #3 on the way, and that since I quit my “serious” job last fall, we need to keep the baby related expenses to a minimum this time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the first two parts of the series I shared a little on how we’ve taken care of our baby gear and clothing needs very economically.

Now we move onto what is, for many families, a large and ongoing cost associated with having a baby.  Diapering.  Ah, the joys of motherhood!

There are three main choices when it comes to diapering your baby, disposable, cloth or hybrid.

You can all-out disposable diaper, and I’ll never judge you for it.  It is by far the most popular way to diaper for most parents today.  We mostly used “‘sposies” with our first two kids, even though in my heart of hearts I wanted to be a cloth diaper mama.  More about that later.  If you do choose to disposable diaper your baby, plan on spending around $40/month for a budget diaper.  We loved Kirkland Signature from Costco, and Up and Up from target.  There was a time when I loved Luvs, but the quality declined to the point I couldn’t justify the savings any more.  I did some internet research today and was surprised to see that diaper prices haven’t really increased since we had our last baby nearly six years ago.  At least something is holding steady!  If you choose to go the ‘sposie route, you’ll probably also buy wipes, at around $20 for a two or three month supply, and you may or may not need to upgrade your garbage service.  We typically use the smallest can available from Waste Management, but had to upgrade while we were disposable diapering our girls.  The cost of upgrading will vary by your location.   Assuming you choose to disposable diaper, using an economy brand, you’ll spend around $1620 to diaper each child for three years, not counting the cost of added garbage service.

Another option is to cloth diaper, and it’s what I plan to do with this newest baby.  The cost of getting started in cloth diapering is, for many, a little off-putting.  If you go with brand new, name brand, all-in-one or pocket diapers you’ll spend between $15-$25,  PER DIAPER (EEEK!) and you’ll need about 24-36 diapers depending on how often you want to do diaper laundry.  A brand new basic diaper and cover system will cost more like $140, and should be almost all you need from 8-30lbs.  I’d add a set of newborn sized covers and prefolds, for around $42 because in my experience the “infant” sized diapers and covers are way too big for a newborn, and the longer you use the adorable, trim, tiny and (no denying) convenient newborn sposies, the harder it will be to make the transition to cloth.

Last of all there is the hybrid route, or as some call it the “gateway diaper”.  The hybrid has a washable, reusable diaper cover, much like you would use with cloth diapers, and a “flushable”, biodegradable insert.  The start up cost for these diapers is similar to that of cloth diapering, new or used, respectively. Unfortunately you also have the ongoing cost, which is similar to disposables, and they may or may not actually be flushable depending on your system.  These downfalls are why many call these “gateway” diapers.  People get tired of buying the inserts and start using cloth inserts, or they get tired of unclogging their toilets, and start tossing them into the trash, and then figure since they’re tossing them anyway, they might as well save themselves the laundry and go full ‘sposie.

Our cloth diaper stash is a combination of (barely used) leftover prefolds and Bummis Super Whisper Wraps from our last baby, some prefolds from a local second hand store, a ton of receiving blankets we had around and from thrift stores, and a couple of good ebay/facebook purchases of 4 newborn sized covers and 4 one-size pocket diapers.  I also recently cut up a bunch of stained and worn out cotton tee shirts into newborn sized flats, and upcycled wool diaper covers out of a sweater I had gotten at a yard sale and ended up never wearing .  I’ll let you know how well those work.  🙂

Not counting what I spent on the diapers left over from our previous baby, (It was 6 years ago, I can’t remember what they cost!) I spent $54 on the above stash which, very likely, would have covered our needs.  Then I saw another great deal that I couldn’t pass up on a Facebook group!  For another $50, I scored 10 brand new, still-in-the-package, Fuzzi Bunz perfect sized pocket diapers!  Those of you who follow cloth diapering know that was a steal.

What about the cost of all that extra washing?  Good Question.  I make my own laundry detergent and have stocked up on extra supplies to continue doing that for around $20. That’s more than double what I spend on a typical 6 month supply of my homemade laundry detergent.  Depending on where you live, the cost of extra water, and electricity to run the washer and dryer may make cloth diapering cost prohibitive.  We are thankful to have a well, and some of the nation’s least expensive electricity, so for us it makes sense.  You’ll have to do the math to see if it works for you.

Grand Total for diapering (unless I find another impossible-to-pass-up steal): $124  (plus the cost of doing an extra 2-3 wash loads per week…I’ll let you know after we see a power bill with the diaper loads included.)

Now that we have our poop catching situation in hand we’ll move onto poop making.

That’s right, come back next time and we’ll dig into how to feed your little guy without incurring an entire new grocery budget.  (Most of you probably already know the short answer, right?!)

***

This post will be shared at The Homestead Barn Hop, The Homemaking Link-up, What You Wish Wednesday, and Simple Life Sunday.  Links go live throughout the week.

External links in this post are NOT affiliate links, just wanted to give examples of available choices.  

 

 

Baby On A Budget: Clothing

Welcome Back for the second installment of my Baby On a Budget Series: Clothing! If you missed the first installment of this series you can find it below.

Baby On A Budget: Gear

When we left off I had most of the gear I need for the new baby. I had spent $46 dollars, and budgeted $200 for a car seat. Since I have a few months to keep looking before the baby arrives, I’m holding out hope that I can find the perfect used car seat, but keeping that $200 budgeted in case I have to purchase one new.  ***Update*** I’ve discovered that a less expensive, but also highly rated car seat actually measures better for my car and costs $100 less brand new!  HOORAY!  Still keeping my eyes open for a good used one, but for now I can budget that extra hund-o somewhere else.

For now I’ve moved onto clothing our sweet little sugar bean.

Everyone knows how hard it is to resist the adorable little pink and blue outfits at the clothing stores. They are so precious. Go ahead and let yourself buy one or two. Get a “going home from the hospital” or “first Christmas” outfit. After that, reign yourself in and think long and hard about what your baby actually needs on a daily basis.

Let me tell you up front, in case you didn’t already know, babies grow FAST! That means good quality and gently worn baby clothes can be had for next to nothing if you’ll only take the time to look.

A winter baby with a stay at home mom (who actually intends to do a lot of staying home) will be perfectly happy in onesies and sleep-and-play outfits.  Let the Grandmas and Aunties have their fun by buying a few cutesy things to dress baby in for outings.

I’ve been thrift-shopping for several warm rompers, some onesies and a few pairs of cozy pajamas in a couple sizes.  It’s so easy to go overboard and buy, buy, buy all those adorable little outfits.  Rest assured though, when you have a baby (especially a girl) bags and boxes of adorable and barely used clothes appear on your doorstep, as if by magic, at regular intervals.   Keep what you can use, and bless another family with the rest.

If some weird twist of fate leaves you bereft in the Magic Clothes Fairy department, don’t despair.  You can still find plenty of great deals.  If there is a lack of good thrift and consignment stores in your area, take a quick look at Craigslist.

A craigslist/baby and kids search of the term “LOT” today yielded me a full page of baby clothing lots ranging in price from $10-$100.  Of course one would have to narrow the list to the appropriate gender, season and size for the baby in question, but the savings are definitely out there to be had, particularly if you start looking long before you’re in need, and take your time.  It’s totally okay to be extra choosy when buying used.

Another great option is yard sales.  Baby clothes are often priced at fifty cents or a quarter at yard sales.   I’ve mentioned before that I don’t frequent yard sales very much, because I don’t live near where they tend to take place.  When there is one in my neck of the woods, I always try to stop by, especially if they’ve advertised baby and kid items.

Here’s the thrift store newborn layette so far:

WP_20140828_009I’ve spent $26.42 on clothes, about half came from my all day thrifting trip a couple weeks back, and the rest came from local thrift stores.  This includes some wipes, and receiving blankets that I plan to turn into newborn sized flats and more wipes. The prefolds and diaper covers you see were part of the original $46 from part one.  I’m keeping my eyes open for  a few more sleep and play outfits since we’re going to be cloth diapering, and I expect to have a few leaks, complete with resulting extra outfit changes, until I figure out which diaper/fold/cover combo works for our (typically skinny) newborns.

Now, because we’ve been thrifty, patient and willing to accept the generosity of our friends and family we are nearly ready to bring our baby home.  Next on the list of things we need to think about for our baby is diapering.  Stop by next week to see how we plan to keep our baby clean and dry without breaking the bank.

Total so far: $72.42.

 

***

Sharing at The Homestead Barn Hop, Simple Life Sunday, What You Wish Wednesday, and The Homemaking Link-up.  Links go live throughout the week.

 

An All Day Thrifting Trip

Saturday I went on an all day thrifting trip to Seattle with a few friends.

Turns out I’m not really up for all day shopping right now.  I was achy and TIRED by the end of the day.

I was looking for good condition clothes for my older kids, but since I had specific items in mind I didn’t find as many as I would have if I was just buying all the cute things I could get my hands on.  I was looking for jeans for my older girl who has room to grow in a 7 slim, and leggings for my younger girl who “Hates Pants!” and is generally uncomfortable in anything with a waistband which needs snapping, buttoning or zipping.  I only found one pair of jeans I was willing to pay for, and I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $2.99 for used leggings when new ones are $4.99, and often on sale at that.  Next time I’ll try to plan a thrifting day when the stores are running half off on kids clothes.

I did find some great bargains though.

First we hit the Goodwill Outlet.  Have you heard of this?  They sell everything by the pound, and everything is just heaped into huge rolling bins that you have to dig and sort through.  Definitely not the type of shopping you want to do if you need order or personal space, but with perseverance (and maybe a mask and gloves. I always get sneezy shopping there) you can find some real bargains.  I spent $4.77 on the items in the picture below.  I also spend around $11.00 on shoes including a pair of Bogs for my older girl, some chicken coop boots for myself, and snow boots for the baby to grow into.

WP_20140818_003

Next we hit a regular Goodwill.  Goodwill offers half off a color tag each day.  The color of the day was pink, so I looked for items with pink tags only.  My total for this stop was $7.64 which included a blanket with the original tags still on, and a $3.99 AG hair styling chair which isn’t pictured.  I spent more on the chair than on the baby clothes and blanket combined, but boy were my girls happy when they saw it in the trunk of my car!

WP_20140818_002

(The pink bunting pictured above was actually from Value Village, but got lumped in with the others.  oops!)

Finally we stopped at two different Value Village stores, where I didn’t find much for clothes, but did find something I was not expecting to find or planning to buy.

BOOKS!

WP_20140818_004

Oh, how I love books!  At the first Value Village I found all but one book in the Narnia series, and a great book with 5 minute science experiments kids can do at home and in the yard.

At the second one, I found (drum roll, please) the missing Narnia book, the entire Anne Of Green Gables series, most of the Little House books, Huckleberry Finn, Little Women in print, with the audio book included, three Ramona books, and a Junie B. Jones that we haven’t read yet.  I spent more on books at the last store than I did at all the other stores combined, but I almost never feel bad about spending money on books, and I especially don’t mind when they are a dollar each, and buy four-get one free.

Do you thrift shop?  What are your favorite tricks and tips?

This post may be shared at The Homestead Barn Hop, The Homemaking Link-up, What You Wish Wednesday, and Simple Life Sunday.  Links go live throughout the week.

Settling Into a Homemaking Routine

With the “Lazy Days of Summer” winding down, and school starting soon, I’ve been making an effort to switch myself from “Summer Break” mode to “Full Time Homemaker” mode.

Although I’ve technically been keeping house since I first moved in with my husband, I’ve never really been a homemaker. I’m the kind of person who has a hard time juggling responsibilities. I’ve always managed, but there is always one thing that will take priority and get my “Best Effort” while everything else gets whatever is left over. When I had an outside job that always got my best effort, and my family and home got nursed along, one laundry load and meal at a time. I was acutely aware that my family was getting the leftovers and I had a lot of guilt over it.

Now that I’m a full time homemaker, I’m making an effort to settle into a routine to help me keep things running smoothly as well as allow plenty of time for loving on my family.

I have time to cook now, so my loved ones shouldn’t have to eat take-out three times a week. We enjoy take-out once in a while, mind you, but I’m making a real effort not to rely on it. I also don’t want to start relying on expensive (and sorry, but kind of gross) school breakfasts and lunches, when I can provide as good or better nutrition for less by taking a few minutes a day to make breakfast and help the kids pack lunches.

Since I’m no longer making a serious financial contribution, I also feel it’s my job to make sure it’s easier for my husband to go out and earn our living. We all fall down sometimes, but my goals are that he is greeted by a reasonably neat, welcoming home after work, that he has a good meal to eat at night, and that he has plenty of clean clothes in the morning. He should not have to worry about the bills AND whether or not he has clean socks.  (I can hear my feminist friends shouting “But you worried about clean socks AND earning a living when you worked!”, which is true.  But if he’d been home while I was working I would have appreciated a home cooked meal and full dresser drawers, so that’s what I’m trying to do for him.  I guess clean socks are my Love Language 😉  )

While my routine is still very much a work-in-progress, here are some resources I’ve been using to help me get things ironed out.

Meal Plans:

I’ve been trying to make a meal plan based loosely on the themed one at Blissful and Domestic.  I use a wipe-off weekly meal planner which I’ve customized with a good old Sharpie.  This week it looks like this:

WP_20140814_003

 

I already had my week half planned when I found the theme idea, which is why some of the meals don’t match the theme.  I like the idea of a go-to menu, but thought my family would scoff at the same seven dinners week after week.  I like that this one offers a framework with some flexibility.  I tweaked it to work better for our eating habits, and probably will many more times.  Since I don’t plan lunches, I’ll probably end up using that column for a working grocery list throughout the week.

Chore Charts:
I’ve been using this one from A Bowl Full of Lemons for myself, and even though I don’t always get to everything on the list, it has helped me get a handle on the daily mess.

I also took a few minutes to think about the things I nag the kids about each day and made a chore chart for them. It’s not as pretty and Pinterest-y as some I’ve seen, but it works for us. I divided the chores into three time slots. These are not limited to personal care chores. I think it’s important for kid’s confidence and sense of responsibility to take care of things that benefit the household, not just themselves.

WP_20140814_005

Their chores are as follows.

Morning:
Feed and water cat, dog, chickens, and rabbits. Chickens and rabbits generally only need topped off and refreshed every few days, but the kids need to check each day.

Afternoon:
Gather Eggs
Tidy Up The Living Room (so Daddy doesn’t have to come home to our mess)
Water Flower Pots (Free Pass on rainy days!)

Evening
Pick up toys from downstairs.
Get dirty clothes into the wash.  (A Bowl Full of Lemons recommends running a complete load first thing, but I prefer to start the day with an open and empty washer and just toss things in as the day rolls along.  I do my regular washes on cold, so I don’t worry about separating stuff.  It all just goes right in and gets washed and dried after the evening chores and kitchen clean up.)
Pick up paper clutter.  (Are my kids the only ones who leave trails of confetti behind them? No matter how beautiful or precious a piece of their artwork was when they made it at 3:00, if it’s on the floor at bedtime, I’m putting it in the trash.  Having Paper Clutter Patrol on the chore chart greatly reduces the frequency that I find masterpieces on the floor at bedtime.)

I’m also toying with the idea of having them take turns being Mom’s Helper after Baby Hazel is here, and doing little things for me throughout the day. I’m not looking for a slave here, just someone to run and fetch a fresh diaper, or grab me a glass of water when I realize I’m dying of thirst just after I get the baby settled and latched to nurse.

So far the kids are responding really well to the chore chart and taking great pride in putting a check mark next to each completed chore.  I LOVE that I don’t have to remind them ten thousand times what they need to do each day.  I simply announce “Morning Chores!” for instance, in as cheerful a voice as I can muster, (it’s morning after all) and they hop to it. It’s changing our lives!

I haven’t quite figured out where and how lawn and garden chores fit in, and I’ll admit that the lawn and garden have suffered for it.  I’ve just been watering, doing only the most demanding weeding, and harvesting when we go out to play.  I haven’t mowed in ages. The grass doesn’t need it so much, but the weeds on the perimeter of the property are getting out of hand.  Lovely isn’t it, how all the hose-dragging I do to water the lawn barely keeps the grass alive, yet the weeds are thriving?  The neighbors probably hate us.

I also have a few bigger projects/goals that I’ll need to find time for soon:

Create a kids closet and organization scheme in the laundry room, so that toys can move into the girls’ bedroom closet.

Clean and rearrange the girls’ room to make room for Baby Hazel.

Set up the crib/baby corner in the girls’ room.

Pre-wash/re-fluff my cloth diaper stash.

As much as I wish I wasn’t sending the girls out to public school this year, I do realize that when they are at school is likely when I’ll be able to devote a big chunk of time to getting all these things done.

Do you have a routine that works for you?  Do you include a time slot in your daily or weekly schedule for big projects or just take time for those as you find it?

If you’ve blogged about your routine feel free to share a link in the comments!

This post may be shared at: The Homestead Barn Hop, The Homemaking Link Up, What You Wish Wednesday, and Simple Life Sunday. Links go live throughout the week.

Baby On A Budget: Gear

Welcome to the first post in my new series, Baby On A Budget. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As many of you know, last fall I left my “serious” job for one that paid a lot less, but allowed me a TON more time with my kiddos. It was great.

Then this spring we discovered that we have another sweet blessing on the way. With the smaller paycheck, it just wouldn’t have made sense to pay for daycare after the baby comes, so I’ve now left that job to be a full-time stay at home mommy, which is WONDERFUL, but not terribly lucrative. While I never was a big spender in the baby department, it’s especially important this round that we keep the baby related expenses to a minimum.

The first thing that many of us start doing when there is a baby on the way is to plan our “Dream Nursery”. I must admit that those designer nurseries in the catalogs are absolutely adorable. But let’s get one thing straight right now. Those perfectly coordinated, brand new, designer and name brand nursery sets are for Mom. The baby doesn’t give a hoot where he sleeps so long as he is loved, fed and cozy. I’d add that he should absolutely be safe as well, but at his age, he doesn’t care much about that. Good thing he has a mommy who can take care of that detail for him.

While there is nothing wrong with spending a lot on your baby if you can and want to, I’d like to demonstrate that it is entirely unnecessary to spend a fortune, and in fact very easy to find everything your bundle of joy needs at a fraction of the cost of just that brand new coordinated designer nursery.

Now then, let’s try to sort out the difference between needs and wants.  First, I think it’s important to recognize that household rhythms, parenting styles, and even babies are different for every family.  So you very well may need something that I would find myself rarely using.  Keeping that in mind, I’m going to run down a list of commonly purchased baby gear and whether it’s worth buying based on the way my family works.  

  • Crib: Most Americans would agree that a crib falls into the Need category.  What many don’t realize is that you may not need it right away. I kept my most recent baby in her bassinet next to my bed, and only used the crib for occasional napping until she was around 5 months old.  Our oldest, on the other hand, slept in her crib (with forays into my bed for night nursing) from day one.
  • Bassinet:  While I did use one for 5 months, I’d put this in the want category, as long as you have a crib or another safe place for your baby to sleep.  It is a very convenient item to have though.
  • Changing table: Nice to have one with a strap once baby learns that she can escape mid-diaper change. Unless you plan to keep it in the living room, you probably won’t use it much.  Not a need.
  • Play pen: Not a need, but can be useful for travel, or if your baby’s room isn’t on the main floor and you want to keep an eye on him while he naps.
  • Stroller: Only a need if you anticipate that you’ll be doing a lot of walking longer distances than you can comfortably carry your baby and the stuff you bring with you when you go.
  • Car Seat: Unless you absolutely never ride in a car this is a need.
  • Baby Swing: Not a need.  But can be a very worth your money if you have a baby who likes to swing.  It can save your sanity and buy you precious moments to get things done.
  • Bouncy Chair:  Not a need.  But again, can buy you moments if your baby likes it.
  • Baby Bath: Not a need.  Your baby will be perfectly happy to be washed in the sink, or in the regular tub with you.
  • Diaper Bag: If you ever leave the house you will need something to carry a few things for the baby.  It doesn’t have to be an actual diaper bag, however.  A backpack, an old overnight bag, or even a grocery bag will work in a pinch.  My mother-in-law actually preferred to toss a couple diapers, wipes and onesies into a grocery bag rather than carry the giant, stuffed to the gills, HEAVY diaper bag I had for my older girls.
  • Diaper genie: Not a need.  Seriously, just take out the trash when it gets stinky.
  • Wipes warmer:  I’ve heard babies like warm wipes, but I’ve successfully raised two through the diaper stage without ever owning one.  Not a need.
  • Baby Monitor:  How big is your house?  I can hear practically everything in our smallish 1915 farm house.  I did however use one with a receiver that I could clip on my belt to go out and do yard work while the baby napped.  It was nice to have, but not a need.
  • High Chair:  My oldest never had one until she was almost a year old.  If it is a Need in your eyes, it can be put off for at least 5 or 6 moths after the baby is born.

This list could go on and on.  Bottom line is that you don’t have to buy or use every gadget that has been invented and marketed to you.  Think about your lifestyle, choose the items you think will be useful to you, and leave the rest on the shelf.

Once you’ve decided what you do want to have, don’t run out to the big box store, or for goodness sake, a baby boutique and get everything brand new.  While it may seem unfair to your precious bundle to make him sleep on a used mattress, or ride in a used stroller, think about what you plan to do with that item after your baby outgrows it.  You’ll probably use it for your next baby.  So used is good enough for your second baby, but not the first? Babies just don’t put much wear and tear on these things.  They can easily last for several babies worth of use.  I’ve actually gotten some nice used items, ran them through both of my kids, and sold them for the same price I paid.  I felt like I won the lottery!

So where do you find it if you aren’t getting it at the baby gear store?

  • Friends and Family:  When you announce that you are expecting, you’ll likely get many offers of hand-me-downs from friends.  If the items are in good, safe working order, and gender neutral, take them!  If you end up with something that works better for you later, you can always ask your friend if she would like her item back, or if she would rather you pass it on.  This is, by far, how I’ve gotten most of my baby gear for all of my babies.  If you don’t have a large family, or are new in town and haven’t made a lot of friends yet, you may have to rely more on the other methods, but can still get most of what you need very inexpensively.
  • Yard Sales:  If you live in a populated area or near a nice neighborhood, yard sales can be a gold mine.  Since I live about a 30 minute drive from our nearest large town, I only go to yard sales if they advertise an item I’ve been looking for, and happen to fall on one of my “town days”.
  • Thrift and consignment stores:  While you’ll have to do some digging, thrift stores can hide many good treasures and usually at great prices.  Consignment stores will have the treasures pre-sorted and on display, but you can expect to pay a little more.
  • Internet Sales sites:  I used to use craigslist.com quite a bit, but lately have found that buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook usually have more of what I’m looking for and usually closer to home.  Take a look at what’s available in your area.  Often when a family is “done” having babies they will sell everything either in a lot or by the piece.  (I put “done” in quotes, because I sold and gave away all my baby gear about a year ago and here I am looking for all that gear again 😉 )  Just to give you an idea of what is available in our area, today I looked at Craigslist and saw a crib with a mattress for $75, a swing for $20, a carseat for $50, and a changing table for $45.  Those were just a few items from the first half of the page.  Often if an item isn’t selling fast enough, the seller will take offers.

I started gathering items for our new baby about two months ago, and so far I’ve spent $46.  All I still need to get in the “Gear” department is a car seat, and maybe I’ll eventually pick up a high chair or booster seat.  I intend to be extra picky about the car seat I buy, for obvious safety reasons, and also because it needs to fit between the two older kids in the back seat of the car I already own.  I’m prepared to spend a little more or possibly buy a new one, which I’ll keep in good shape and resell when I’m “done” with it.  If I have to get the one I’ve had my eye on new, I’ll spend about $200.

Assuming I buy a new car seat, that’ll total about $250 so far.

Let’s have a look at some popular nurseries online.

You can get this one which includes a crib (no mattress), changing table, and a dresser for around $300.

This one, on the other hand will run you closer to $1400. Even if you get the “budget” option you’ve already paid more for just a crib, dresser, and changing table (still no mattress or bedding, or the cute little teddy bear that you know you’ll want to prop up on the dresser top), than I’ve paid for a crib, a crib mattress, a bassinet, a baby bouncer, two strollers, a play pen, a Bumbo seat, a Boppy pillow, a dozen newborn prefolds, 4 newborn diaper covers, and a car seat (assuming I have to buy it new) .  There’s a good chance I’m forgetting something I have already gotten and stashed away for later too.

The baby will also need some clothes before she arrives in December, so I’ll be doing some shopping in the next few months.  I’ll share what I find and how much I spend in Baby On A Budget: Clothes, coming up soon.

Again, if you have a lot of extra money and want to spend a lot on your baby, that is okay. I’d just hate to have new moms and dads out there wringing their hands wondering how to afford everything the baby will “need”. Rest assured, your new baby doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune if you are thoughtful, creative, and patient.

***

Sharing at The Homestead Barn Hop,  Raising Homemakers, What You Wish Wednesday and Simple Life Sunday.

You Don’t Have To Be An Expert

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking back over our journey there is one factor that has held us back most.

I don’t know. . .

I don’t know how.

I don’t know if it will work.

I don’t know if we’ll like it.

Well, I’m here to tell you.

If you don’t know how, do a quick internet search, ask a neighbor or go to the library.  Once you’ve done that, if you’re still unsure, just go ahead and poke your toe into the water.  I won’t say dive in with your eyes closed.  Proceeding slowly, however, there is much about farming, (and just about everything else) that can be learned along the way.  So your chickens get a little too much scratch at first.  You’ll soon notice egg production “lay off” and make an adjustment.  So your garden doesn’t produce well, make a note and try something different next year.  You’ll learn.

If you don’t know if it will work, again, internet, library, neighbor.  And again, poke that toe into the water.  Move slowly, try not to spend too much, and make adjustments as you go.

If you don’t know if you’ll like it, there’s one sure way to find out.  Remember the first time Mom put broccoli on your plate?  Well, maybe not.

But she probably said, “How can you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?”

Find a neighbor with goats and ask if you can taste the milk.  Chicken-sit for a weekend. Grow a few tomatoes in a pots.  Again, moving slowly and trying not to spend too much, you’ll get a good idea if this is the path for you.

Bottom line is that you need not be an expert to get a start.  Even the “experts” had to start somewhere.  If you find you don’t like keeping chickens, gardening, baking your own bread, or milking a goat, put an ad on craigslist and another upstart can benefit from your experience, while you make back some of your investment.  And remember, the modern world will probably be waiting for you with open arms.

There is very little in life that can’t be undone.  So dispense with the “I don’t knows” and go get your boots on!

 

 

 

Update On Straight Talk Wireless

Since my article on Straight Talk is consistently in my “top posts” list, I thought it was time for an update.

At the time of my previous post we were happy with the cell coverage, and with the price, but we were having issues with making payments, and with reaching customer service. At the time Straight Talk also wasn’t offering any really great phones.

Well I don’t know if a lot of folks made complaints and were heard, or if Straight Talk is just catching up with the times, but they’ve made improvements and I’m extremely happy with them now.

First, I finally signed up for auto refill, which I was hesitant to do before. I was concerned that I would forget a payment was coming out of my account and get overdrawn. I decided I just needed to get on top of it and remember it the way I do for Netflix, ABC mouse, and Hulu. Not that big a deal. I get a text message each month letting me know my service is about to refill, so if I need or want to I can go online and cancel the payment. I didn’t even have a problem updating my payment method when I recently switched banks.  My service has been seamless.

Second, they’ve gotten some really good phones on board and they allow you to bring your own phone by purchasing a SIM card from them. I finally went back to using a smart phone, the Huwei W2, a Windows 8 phone. It runs Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and all the games my kids want to play. We may use these features less than the average family, but we’ve never had a problem with the service getting bogged down and buffering a lot, except when we’re in poor cell coverage. At home, where there is no cell service, I am able to connect to wifi, which is nice when the rest of the family is hogging the media devices and I need to check my email.

It seems like the $45 Unlimited plan really is unlimited, which is getting to be a thing of the past with the other carriers.  Like I said, we may not use it as much as most folks do, but we haven’t gotten any nasty-grams about using too much data, and we’ve never been cut off.

As I said before, either enough folks complained and were heard, or Straight Talk finally caught up with the times.  They are providing comparable service to the “big guys” for no contract and at a reasonable monthly price.

I am currently a satisfied customer!

Decisive Action…put off by only one short year.

Update:  Would you believe I wrote this post last spring and there are still one or two items on the list that we haven’t accomplished?  Which is why I never published it.  Well…it’s the time of year when I ramp up thinking of all things money and job-quit-y, so I’m back at trying to cut expenses.

*****  Warning!! This post contains a discussion of personal financial matters citing actual dollar amounts.  I know this is considered tacky by most well brought up folks, but I believe it could possibly help someone recognize some non-essential spending and maybe, possibly positively influence someone else’s bottom line.  If you find this blatant money talk offensive please stop by again some other time.  Have a nice day.  *****

I’m totally aware that my post about going back to work was a tad whiny and that I’ve been whining about leaving my kids in order to work for nearly six seven years now, but I never really sat down and strategized a way out of it that didn’t involve a fantasy where I was fired or downsized,(I’ve never been a quitter) and stopped by the mini-mart to get a lottery ticket, and won.  So I’ve been thinking through some of our non-essential expenditures and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Cable-Internet-Phone Bundle

I won’t go as far as to say we could do without TV, even though I know we technically could.  Instead I’ll say we don’t need as many channels as we have now.  The cable company tricked us into buying expanded cable by spreading the four channels we like to watch out over three separate packages.  I’m ashamed to say it’s taken me three years to finally realize that nearly everything I want to watch is available on the internet that’s included in the bundle.  So, I’ll be calling the cable company to let them know we only need the basic channels.  As for internet and phone, we already have the bare minimum.  Getting rid of expanded should save us about $50/month.

Netflix

Again, it’s taken me three years and for that I am ashamed.  I just really stink at sending videos back, so we we’ve been paying for DVD’s and streaming movies, but really only using streaming.  So in under two minutes I logged into my account and changed my package to streaming only.  This was a quick way to save $10.

Insurance

I drive a paid off 2001 Subaru.  We’ve been paying for full coverage because we had to while we had a car loan.  Full coverage on an 11 year old vehicle just doesn’t make sense, so I called the insurance agent and switching to less coverage saves us $25 a month.

PMI

Because we didn’t have the full 20% to put down on our conventional mortgage we pay private mortgage insurance.  When we reach the balance which would reflect having put the full twenty percent down we can request that the mortgage company drop the PMI which will save us $69 per month.  We are eagerly awaiting that day, which should happen in January.

These are all set expenditures that we’ve been making each month, and cutting them saves us one hundred and fifty four of our hardest earned, green American dollars.  Nobody  is going to let me quit my job for figuring out how to save 154 dollars a month, but I’m not done yet.  I know there are a lot of little purchases and expenses adding up to a big ol’ bucket of cash being tossed out the window around here.

Fast Food and Quick Stop lunches

Probably our biggest non-essential expenditure and here’s the smacker: we don’t even really like the stuff (except for you, Rusty Burgers and Mom!) and we feel junky after we eat it.  But it’s so convenient and we’re so strapped for time.  We fall into the trap of thinking if we grab something quick for dinner on the way home we will have so much extra time to spend with the kids or getting other things done.  BUT, if you’ve ever eaten a fast food meal you may know that the only thing you can do after is un-button your jeans and groan.  Some weeks we’re better and follow a healthy, cooked-at-home meal plan, other weeks go to heck in a hand basket, but I bet if we averaged it out we’d find a couple hundred going out the window so we can feel full of regret, sluggish and a little fatter.  This is going to be very difficult since I’m rarely organized, which is what one needs to be to consistently make quick meals at home.  Since it’s hard to say exactly how much we’ve been spending I don’t know how much we’ll save.  Shameful, I know.  I’ve started by sitting down with the hubster and making a list of easy make at home and make ahead meals, and the things we need to keep on hand to make them.  After a month of trying to stick with it, we’ll see what’s left over in the bank account the day before pay day.  I have a feeling this one topic will make a great future post.

Electricity

At 2.3 cents per kilowat hour we have some of the nations least expensive electricity, but that’s no reason to use more than we need.  Last winter I became the furnace Nazi, and I’m holding strong there, so the number one way to reduce electricity bills has already been tapped into here.  But guess what comes next? Laundry.  I’ve already switched to cold water washes which saves on powering the water heater.  Also, I’ve been hanging my clothes out more and more with the good weather, but this could still use some tightening.  As could making sure lights are off in unused rooms, (like the basement, ahem, Nate), and unplugging chargers and appliances when they’re not in use.   I also need to plan ahead and do my baking all at once so we only go through the pre-heating process once.  This will also help reduce those fast food visits.

Gasoline

In previous years, though my husband and I work for the same company, we were unable to ride to work together because of differing schedules.  This year our hours have been more in line and we’re able to ride together about 80% of the time.  This has saved us about $200 per month in fuel costs.  It also saves wear and tear on my husband’s newer truck.

Life Insurance

Those of us without families should never go a day without life insurance, but the fact is we’ve been overpaying.  First, someone decided to say he was a smoker, though he only smokes one or two drags of a cigarette per year, usually when a smoking friend is about to do something stupid and says “here, hold this for a minute”.  Then someone else fell for the sales pitch and purchased a whole-life policy.  Which is generally considered a poor investment.  Next we failed to realize that we were still paying for two term policies.  It’s ugly.  $400 per month ugly.  We plan to ditch the whole life and shop around for a better term policy.

There is one more expense I feel I need to mention, though it can’t yet be eliminated.  Daycare.  We have some seriously budget daycare from a couple of great gals,who share our values and love our kids.  We love these ladies, and know the kids have a great time with them.  Still, I am so jealous of them for getting to spend most of my babies’ waking hours with them, while I only get to rush them through dinner, homework, chores and bedtime.  If I were to quit my job, poof! We’d save 800 dollars a month and our family would gain the strong foundation of a mama at home.

Again, I know these things seem like drops in a bucket, but that bucket just might be my ticket to raising my own children instead of paying someone else to do so.

Have any of you made the transition from work-outside mama to stay at home mama?  What did you do to fill the financial gap? Did you have to convince your husband that the value of Mama at home outweighs the financial sacrifice?

May be linked up with The Homestead Barn Hop, the Homemaking Link Up, No Ordinary Blog Hop, and the Homeacre Hop.