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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reduce Your Food Waste and Save Money

Every day I am trying to learn new ways of cutting back on my grocery bill. I have been trying to cut back to using less and less of the packaged and processed stuff. The first reason for cutting these items out is the most obvious - money! They are expensive!!

You may think that buying convenience foods saves you time and money, but they do not. You get very little in a pre-packaged meal in comparison to buying all of the items in their natural state and putting them together. You can likely make several meals at the price of one convenience meal. Having all of the items on hand like potatoes, noodles, flour, fresh vegetables, lean meats, spices, etc, give you more choices as well. You aren't stuck making that one freezer meal you purchased. You can mix it up and try something new the next night.

The second reason for using less pre-packaged items is to lessen the amount of garbage my family produces. I will confess that I am great at recycling at work and other places, but I am terrible about it at home. There is no recycling pick up where I live and my husband keeps throwing away the stuff I collect to be recycled. He has a very difficult time with any kind of clutter. I don't want to make him sound heartless, but some people just don't really get it and I am married to one of them. I am working on that!!

Since I started doing this, I have noticed a sizeable decrease in my trash load each week. I have been making an effort to recycle. I have been storing tin cans, egg cartons and glass jars in my art room for later use. As for plastics - I am just trying not to buy much plastic. I am washing out the baggies that I have bought, but I am using those very little.

Are your recycling bins and trash cans overflowing? Have you looked around your own kitchen to see what you could reduce? It is amazing what we can get rid of.

I am currently reading the book More-with-Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. This book was written in the 70's, but the information is still applicable. She talks about lessening our impact on the earth and how our meat consumption and love of convenience foods is having an impact on the food supplies of other countries. It's also affecting our own food reserves. We just don't hear about it. She suggests that we find ways to consume less.

There are all kinds of simple recipes that help you cook convenience style meals from scratch. I wasn't sure what types of foods to expect, but there were recipes for Hamburger Helper style meals. My husband loves those, but I hate the packaging and all the sodium. I also buy soups like cream of mushroom, chicken and celery to put in dishes. This book offers the recipe for these. I had no idea! I won't be using as many soup cans now either. This book and the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn both talk about using dry milk instead of regular milk in your recipes as well. This saves money and reduces your usage of milk jugs. Try using dry milk in your coffee instead of creamer or regular milk.

There are tons of ways to lessen our consumption and to save money in the process. Use money as your motivation if nothing else.

If you have gotten away from making many of your own foods because you think they are less healthy, think again. Do you really think those frozen diet meals are good for you? Have you noticed the preservatives and sodium levels? When you make things from scratch, you know exactly what goes into them. Add more vegetables. Jessica Seinfeld has a cookbook called, Deceptively Delicious. It shows you how to hide more veggies in your home cooked meals. I have even snuck veggies in on my picky husband. It's a great concept.

We should stop focusing so much on how good we are at recycling and start focusing on how we can stop producing and using things that need to be recycled. Some of the stuff we think gets recycled, really doesn't. Do your research and save some money along the way.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cut Cable and Save Time and Money!

We cut out cable. I was waiting for the day when it would bother me, but that day has not come yet. We still have a television set and we have an antenna. We cut it out for two reason - to save money and to stop watching so much tv. I didn't want my kid growing up staring at the boob tube. I was also concerned about her developing weight issues. My family has dealt always struggled with weight and I don't want her to be one of them.

I have found it is entirely too easy to plop your kid in front of the tv when you are trying to getting something done. Bad idea. I hang my head in shame for having done that numerous times while trying to get through graduate school.

What's the Problem?
I realize that the tv is not the devil. There are many educational programs on television, which is great. The problem is that how many kids are watching those programs. Now that there is no cable, my kid has no choice but to watch PBS and Create TV. Yes, she still watches some tv, but this has been DRASTICALLY reduced. So has my tv time. I used to like to watch my recorded Oprah's and many of the HGTV shows that I loved. I would watch them while doing my houswork and cooking dinner. Sometimes, I would get sucked into a show and find myself sitting on the edge of the recliner. Next thing I know, up to two hours has gotten away. What could I have accomplished during that time?

What could we possibly be doing instead?
She is playing with friends. She is going to her room to color or practice her reading and writing. She is reading to me for practice. She is outside jumping rope and riding her bike. She is doing crafts. I started taking a pottery class that I have alwasy wanted to take. Last night, I baked cookies for a Red Cross bake sale. I am reading books about how to save money. I am cooking dinner every night. I clean my house. My husband has never been one to watch too much tv so that is why he is not listed. He works on finishing our basement, rebuilding his brother's bike, cleaning (yes, he cleans!), and he is even reading some.

On the weekends, we get up and make breakfast together. Go to the room we have made into an art room and paint or do other fun crafts. Since we are also trying to cut our grocery bill, we are taking a day to prepare foods ahead of time and plan out the following two week grocery list. We are going to yard sales, thrift stores, and the flea market (she is quite the bargainer by the way). We will be going camping, hiking, to play at the park, to visit family. Many weekends are spent playing with my triplet nieces. We read! We sit outside and talk as a family. We live next door to my parents so we will have dinner together or hang out with them. At bed time, she used to love to watch Nickelodeon. Now, we talk or read. I could go on!!!

Money Wasted
If you are watching tv, what are you neglecting? It is a real money waster. First, cable can be expensive. We were paying around $70 per month for DirectTV. Second, it keeps you from spending precious quality time with your family. Third, you could be saving money in many other ways. You could be budgeting, planning and preparing your meals or other ways to cut costs. Some of my new free time has been spent trying to cut clutter. I have a real closet and cabinet clutter problem, but I will save that for another post.

The point is that we have cut cable and we are surviving and even thriving. Why not try it and see what you can accomplish. You might be amazed!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Learn To Say NO!

It seems that everywhere I look I see more and more frazzled parents and overworked kids. Everyone is overscheduled and stressed out running from one game or lesson to another. Our days are jam packed! We are creating utter chaos of ourselves. I know, I have been guilty of doing this.

Is it you or are your children the ones who are choosing to do so many after school and summer activities? Is this really the best thing for you, them or both? Are our kids truly better off by being pulled in a million different directions?

We often blame video games, television and the internet for our children's inability to concentrate for any length of time. To combat these media forces, we enroll them in a million different programs. Do we ever stop to think about how that must effect their concentration? When they have soccer, piano, dance lessons, theater productions, swimming, 4-H, football, basketball, etc, etc, are we really giving them time to concentrate? I know my brain would be overwhelmed if I had so many different lessons or practices to remember to go to and then there is the practice they have to do at home.

Why not put a limit on how much you and your kids do? I have always had a hard time saying no to different organizations and groups that want me to do volunteer work. Then I found myself stressed out and stretched too thin. I also found that every time I volunteered, I saw the same faces over and over again. It's always the same people doing all of the work.

I also realized that I wasn't giving my family the time and energy they deserved. Since I learned to use those beautiful letters N and O in combination, my stress has drastically been reduced.

I am not saying that I don't help out when I am needed. I do. I also found that I am way more effective in smaller doses. I am spending more time with my family and more time doing things that I truly enjoy.

Learn to say NO. Purse your lips and let the one syllable word escape as often as needed. Good luck!

Community Supported Agriculture - CSA

Maybe I am a little slow, but I did not realize there were Community Supported Agriculture programs at my local area farms. I am always interested in trying to find ways to buy locally grown food and keep money in the pockets of local businesses and farmers.

The CSA program as I am learning is a membership to your local farm where you pay a weekly fee of $10-25. In return, you are given 1/2 or full bushels of different types of produce that are in season. This may entitle you to eggs, fresh meat, plants or seeds. My understanding is that many of them have you pick up your goods at a central location. For Wilmington, Ohio and several surrounding cities, Bergerfurd Farms will have pick up available at the Farmer's Market every Wednesday. See for more information.

I think this sounds like a great deal! I easily spend $10-20 per week for items shipped across the country. Plus, I buy the same things over and over because I know what to do with them. Receiving a variety of produce will encourage me to be more creative with my cooking. I will also feel a lot better getting fresh produce and keeping my money in the local economy.

I am excited about this program and you should be too! Sign me up!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Repurposing and Recycling Furniture

Why do I love secondhand and used goods? The first reason is because I am able to buy clothing and furnishings for my home without breaking the bank. Second, it keeps things from the landfill which is better for the environment. Third, because finding a new use for an old item is very creative and fun.

Re-using items is a family thing. My grandfather was a child in the depression and all his life he has continued to resuse and recycle EVERYTHING. I used to make fun of him as a child when he would use an old gutter turned upside down as a light fixture in his rental homes. He would use flourescent bulbs because they used less energy. He used scrap metal and wood for building projects. Nothing went to waste. My grandfather was not poor. He retired from a very good job and saved and invested very well, but you would never know it by the way he has always lived. Living this way has not been difficult for him. He and his family lived well. He built a vacation cabin out of many recycled materials. Nothing went to waste and he was better off for it.

My father also has a knack for finding a beat up piece of furniture on the side of the road and see it's potential and restore it. He can also look at scrap and see a second life. I married a man with a similar quality.
My aunt gave my father and husband shutters from her old barn. Both turned them into headboards. See photos. My dad's is the white more traditional version. My husband's is the black more modern version with lights behind it. Same material, totally different concepts.

Change your perception. I have known so many people that would think picking something up on the side of the road or buying things at a thrift store would be gross. They probably think that new is the only way to go. This makes me sad. I find the quality of most new items to be sub-standard unless you pay a fortune for them. Many of my new furnishings purchased from chain stores are falling apart after a few short years. We sold off most of our newer furniture to my brother-in-law because I hated it (his gain).

Try to change your thinking about used. Think of it as better quality. Going green is also very popular right now so if anyone asks you why you are picking that old desk up off the side of the road in the pooring rain (like I have), tell them it's because you are going green.

What can you do? Always keep an eye out for items that can be re-purposed. There are many areas (ie, fancier neighborhoods) that throw perfectly good items out with the trash. You might not know what to do with the item right away, but take it home and give it time. You can even give it to your handy spouse or parent and let them have some fun like I often do. In the end, you may have a beautiful conversation piece for your home and you will save some space in the landfill.