Friday, August 6, 2010

Frugal Friday-No Cell Phone

This is definitely not going to be a popular frugal tip, but Frugal Friday at Life as Mom is about sharing how you and your family save money, so here goes...

You see, first of all, I am not a phone person. I usually prefer talking in person. However, in the past few years I had developed a very strong aversion to the phone that I could not explain.

I was an ESL teacher, one who was very passionate about her job and didn't know how to draw boundaries, especially in the beginning. I would always plan to not give my number to the families I worked with, but inevitably, things would come up and I'd "have" to. I had SO many phone calls to make, being the only Spanish speaking person at the school, that I had to make many of them from home on my cell phone. Even when I taught adult ESL, I found it VERY difficult to not give my number when a student asked. I really enjoyed my students and their families. I just was not realistic about how many people I could reasonably stay in touch with.

Are you beginning to see where the phone phobia began? I am a weird mix of introvert and extrovert. In a group you'll find me talking animatedly, and I make friends with new people easily. The problem is that I thrive on having alone time. I recoup by quiet time in which I do not have to talk to anyone but God and my husband at best.

Over time I began to loathe my cellphone. It was always ringing and I was always feeling bad for not answering or stressing about how many people I needed to call back. I finally made a decision to NOT answer it or call people back when with other friends and family or after 8:30 o 9:00 p.m. But I still felt bad.

As my husband and I were evaluating where our money was going, we continued to be annoyed at the huge cell phone bill. There was no way around it.

Finally I had an epiphany one day as we were driving back home from a long trip and instead of relaxing and enjoying the time with my husband, I was looking at my cell phone feeling bad about how many people I had to call back and wondering when I was going to do it. Suddenly it came to me how our culture along with the great convenience of cell phones, has developed an unhealthy expectation for others to be available at all times. People start complaining "You never answer your phone," as if one should be right there ready to talk to anyone at anytime, no matter what else they have going on. It struck me that I should NOT feel bad about it at all!

Well, now I'm a stay at home mom and my husband works 5 minutes walking distance from home. I'm not constantly on the road like before, so we did a drastic thing. We decided to pitch the cell phones and get a land-line!

You may think we're crazy, and yes we realize we're going back a century here, but CAN I TELL YOU the PEACE it's brought to our lives? I can BE where I am and suddenly, guess what? I don't mind it when the phone rings now. Amazing. We did get a cheap-o Track Phone for emergencies. If one of us is away from home we take it with us, but we will not give the number out!

Sometimes things we think we can't live without are things that we could actually live even better without! :)

(Note: if I were still working outside the home we would have not made this change!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Interview With an Expert: Abundance on a Dime, Part II

Today we'll be getting more tips the seasoned nutritionist, wife, and mother of two boys;Karen of Abundance on a Dime! This is is part two of my interview with Karen. You can visit this post to read her WONDERFUL tips and advice about saving money on food! We'll let Karen introduce herself again for those who are new here!

Tell us a little about yourself and your blog:

I’m the mom of two tween boys who eat like it’s going out of style! My husband and I home school the kids, and at this point I’m the stay-at-home parent (over the years my husband and I have taken turns being the income provider and the stay-at-home parent).

I started my blog, Abundance on a Dime, because after living on one income for so many years, and often a much-lower-than-average income, I realized I had a lot of knowledge to share with other families that needed to find ways to make their financial resources stretch as far as possible. I believe that a family can have an extremely high quality of life, even on a very modest income, if they know how to make the most of the money they do have. Even though our income is modest, our life is incredibly rich and blessed in so many ways. We usually manage to go well beyond meeting our bare-bones needs and find creative ways to achieve many of our “wants” while spending little or no money. We’re currently living in a nearly 100 year old fixer-upper that we dream of running a bed and breakfast out of once our kids are grown. Thankfully my husband is VERY handy (and yes, he’s handsome, too!!)

1. What is your strategy for bargain shopping for clothes?

My strategy for saving money on clothes starts even before I begin to think about shopping! First, I think it’s important to have a really good plan for your wardrobe. Know your lifestyle and your clothing “personality” and what items you really need to have in your closet in order to have a functional wardrobe. For example, I know I have a very sporty/casual style, and that when I need something a little more dressy, I lean towards a soft/romantic look. I don’t need “formal” work clothes at this point in my life. So when I’m looking for clothes for myself, I look for the items that fit my specific personality and lifestyle needs.

I also think it’s important to build a mix-and-match wardrobe, as you end up needing far fewer clothes this way. I buy clothing in a few basic solid colours that look good on me and all work together. Skirts and dresses tend to be where I might go for a pattern or print to jazz things up a bit. You can also add interest with accessories.

So, before I even consider buying any clothes, I have a really good idea EXACTLY what pieces of clothing each member of my family needs to fill in any “gaps” in their wardrobe.

Once I know what we need, I start out with potential free sources of clothing. I sometimes request the specific items I’m looking for on Freecycle (I donate lots of items here so people are usually happy to offer me what they have available). I’ve gotten like-new winter boots for my son and gorgeous, high-quality dress shirts for my husband through Freecycle! I’ve also ALWAYS said yes whenever a friend or family member offers me hand-me-down clothing for my kids or myself. I find if you start saying no, people will stop offering. And I definitely don’t want to discourage offers of freebies! Surplus clothing is pretty easy to pass on to someone else if it ends up not suiting you. All four members of my family have been the recipients of some very nice hand-me-down clothing.

Another free source of clothing is to reuse what you already have. When my husband wears the cuffs of his pants out, I cut them off and turn them into shorts. The same thing goes for the pants that my boys rip the knees out of. When my younger son needed a few new pairs of shorts, I ended up finding enough pairs of pants with wrecked legs in our surplus clothing to make him several new pairs without spending a cent!

Once you’re ready to buy an article of clothing, yard sales and church rummage sales are excellent sources. I try to buy as many of our clothes as I can through these sales, which generally run from late spring to early fall in our area. The prices are MUCH lower than at thrift stores (at rummage sales clothes are often $1 an item or $5 for a grocery bag full). You do have to dig through a big pile of clothes (many of them decidedly out of style), but if you know what you’re looking for it doesn’t take that much time. There IS good stuff to be found in that pile, trust me! Those that are willing to dig will be rewarded.

I’ll fill in any remaining gaps in our wardrobe by making a trip to the thrift store about 2 or 3 times per year (usually our biggest trip will be in the fall, once we’ve exhausted all other potential sources for low-cost clothing and know what we still need to find to meet our clothing needs until the next spring). And in case you’re wondering, we do buy our undergarments new :) I wait for a good sale and stock up.

For kids’ stuff, I’m always thinking a couple years ahead, too. If I see items that they’ll grow into within that time frame at super-low yard sale and rummage sale prices, I’ll scoop them up and store them for future use. If you have several children, it’s a good idea to keep an inventory of what you’ve got stashed away, so you don’t end up with two dozen size 10 shirts and no pants!

2. What tips would you give a new bargain shopper?

Look for well made, classic clothing that never goes out of style. These items will last you several years or more if properly cared for. Avoid trendy clothing, as you’ll generally only get one season out of it. Also, thoroughly inspect items to make sure there are no rips, stains, worn areas, missing buttons, etc (some minor stains can be easily removed by thorough laundering; you’ll develop a sense of what’ll come out easily over time). On kids’ pants, look closely at the knees and butt, as these tend to wear out first.

DO NOT buy anything just because it’s a great deal. If it’s too big or too small, or you don’t totally love it, just leave it. You won’t wear it, and that’s money wasted, even if it is only a buck.

Think quality rather than quantity. A few great pieces of clothing can make a very versatile, flattering wardrobe. Most people only wear 20% of their clothing 80% of the time. Focus on the 20% of wardrobe staples that you really need and will get good use out of.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Our family of four spends about $200-$250 annually on clothing. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good! This past weekend I attended two social events (both casual summer backyard barbecue types of things), and at both events I got told by at least one person how great I looked. On the first occasion (first image below) I was wearing a thrift-store skirt ($4.99), a yard-sale tank top ($1) and a pair of earrings I bought at a church rummage sale for 25 cents. At the second event (second photo below), I was wearing a thrift-store black camisole top (I think I paid $3.99 for it a couple years back), a skirt I knitted myself 3-4 years ago, and a pair of yard-sale earrings I got for $1.

I don't know about you, but I'm totally inspired by this. I feel so motivated to get out to those yard sales and thrift stores. I always have been interested in doing that more, but just not motivated enough to take the time. Until now. My wardrobe needs a makeover and I am DETERMINED to do it "on a dime!"
I love the advice of having a plan. I'm going to start really thinking ahead the kinds of things that REALLY work for me and that will truly stretch my wardrobe.
Thank you SO much for sharing Karen!!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cloth Diapering Events on the Way!

I'm pretty excited about what's coming down the pike here at The Cheap and Choosy! I'll be starting a series of three informative and fun cloth diapering events starting in September. Confusion abounds about all the different types of diapers out there. So far on my blog, I've focused on using prefolds and covers. I'm about to expand my horizons...

"If the Diaper Fits..." (September 15-30) will feature an informational post or two plus reviews and giveaways of some great fitted diapers out there!"The Wool Gathering" (October 11-25) will feature some information about the amazing natural phenomenon that is wool, along with some reviews and giveaways of wool products!"Fluff Your Pockets!" (November 1-30) will feature information about pocket diapers and a lot of reviews and giveaways of pocket diapers.You can see a quick list of a few of the wonderful sponsors so far of these events under my "GIVEAWAYS" tab. There will be more thorough information on sponsors coming very soon! Stay tuned!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Three Winners!

The winner of the Flirty Apron in Pink/Chocolate from CSN stores is...

comment # 177, jsc123

The two winners of a set of SKOY Cloth are...

comment #57, domesticdivaktl


comment #69, deanna

Winners have been confirmed! Congratulations everyone!

Crock Pot Granola, Free Cookbook, and Menu Plan Monday

We stopped buying boxed cereal a few months ago, to save money and improve the quality of our breakfasts. We usually have overnight steel cut oatmeal in the crockpot, or homemade granola. Granola is really easy to make, and you can throw in whatever you have. Most recipes call for different nuts, maybe dried coconut flakes, or wheat germ or dried fruit. All these ingredients are optional. That makes it simple and economical. As long as you have oil, honey, and oats, you're good to go. I try to keep some other things in stock, but it's nice to know they're not necessary for tasty cereal!

I've been trying out different granola recipes and methods for months. I've burnt a lot of rolled oats over that time too! I've found it difficult to get perfect granola, though fortunately somewhat burned, it still tastes yummy. A few weeks ago I had an email in my inbox with a free cookbook called Molly Fresh. It has lots of great fresh recipes for summer, including homemade pesto, which my husband made again this weekend!

The thing that caught my attention was a recipe for making granola in the crock pot. I'd never thought of this, so I decided to try it. I've been doing it about twice a week since! Yes, again I've burnt plenty of it, but I finally learned that as long as I set a timer to stir every 15 minutes or so, it turns out great! I like it because I can make granola in the summer without heating up the house with the oven. I hate reaching into the oven to stir or pulling dishes in and out to stir, which you have to do more often in the oven.

Here's the recipe and a sample of the free cookbook
(click to enlarge) that you can download here.
Some tips:
-I add 1/4 cup of brown sugar. (Hee hee ;)
-It says here to cook it for 5 hours. Every crock pot is different. The first time just stay near it and stop cooking and stirring once it gets to the desired consistency.
-I found it helpful to leave the lid on the crock pot cracked a little.
-Stir often the first time. My crock pot on low is pretty hot. I left it too long the first time (and a couple other times that I forgot about it!)
-Once I accidentally put double the oil and honey. It made a great chewy snack, kind of like granola bars!

Now for this weeks menu plan. I'm veering a little from More with Less. Don't worry. I'm not finished being obsessed with that amazing cookbook. I just wanted to use up some stuff we have this week and try to go all homemade on an old favorite recipe. I just might share it next week if it works out!

Monday: Homemade Pizza
Tuesday: Baked Chicken (not sure of the specifics yet)
Wednesday: Chicken Crescent rolls (with leftover chicken)
Thursday: Homemade Spaghetti
Friday: Chicken Curry (with leftover chicken)
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Vietnam Fried Rice