Thursday, July 31, 2014

Frugal Failures ... July

T came and told me that the library books needed to be renewed, but I was busy and it slipped my mind. We paid $1.60 in overdue fines :(

Papa bought a book Friday night. Cleaning out my paperwork basket Monday I found a 20% off coupon that we could have used, which would have saved about $3.

I realized that I could have saved 20% on my grain mill by ordering from Bed Bath and Beyond once I had an online coupon. This a major mistake, and one I can't remedy because shipping it back would cost as much as I could have saved (it is huge and heavy). This was a $29 mistake!

I set a budget of $50 per teen for them to buy new shoes (both had fraying and holes developing int heir shoes, along with most of the tread worn off). J found a pair for $50 that he liked and that fit, but T had more difficult as every shoe that he liked (he is particular about brand and color, and the brand he likes does last for him) within budget was out of his size. I finally let him buy a pair that was $65. I will watch the ad for the next month in case they go on sale and I can get a refund, but for now this is a $15 fail.

(He's a great kid, is my biggest help around the house, doesn't ask for much, and happily wears thrift store clothing. I saw no reason to make him miserable with shoes that had neon orange or neon green on them.)

I forgot to hang a load of laundry Sunday afternoon, and it was a very humid evening, so I put it in the clothes dryer, which costs about 35¢. That might not seem like much, but it reminds me that using the dryer for every load would cost about $14 per month.

That's almost $50 in failures! I'm glad that this was a practice month, because I need to better in August!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We Lived It

The homeschool year is over and I didn't blog about it at all - we lived it instead! I have to say that this was one of the best homeschool years that we have ever had.

First off, Teaching Textbooks Algebra I was a huge hit! I know that I laid the foundation for making math lovers with all of the creative, holistic math we did, but I certainly felt unnecessary this year as the boys took their math learning into their own hands. Oh, I helped with a problem here and there, but mostly they just got it.

Language Arts got easier; the boys read a variety of assigned and self-chosen literature, and we discussed everything that we had all read. The second semester took a turn toward science fiction as the boys read all of the Robert A. Heinlein juveniles, which was really fun.  Grammar, spelling, and vocabulary all got easier too; I think the boys are at an age where it all just clicks. I pulled off the archaic vocabulary study after they announced that it will no longer be part of the SAT. The boys knew most of it anyway, they're smart like that.

We made extensive use of video and discussion while studying history/social studies, and made our first real foray into World War I and World War II. J-Baby got very interested in our spring election and has given me some great ideas to incorporate into our learning coming into the November election.

We used the new COSMOS TV series as a springboard for our second semester of science. So much fun!

Music lessons continued and I was really blown away by the progress both boys made. I love that J-Baby really explores music with the piano, and how much time they both spend at their instruments other than required practice time.

Mountain biking has been the best PE ever! They work on so much related to fitness, nutrition, health, stress management, and more, plus they learn new skills continually and have a weekly class that focuses on core strength. In addition to all that they've been learning bike maintenance and repair, which would fall under vocational/applied arts, I suppose.

Rosetta Stone Spanish was the other surprise hit of the year; they are really enjoying learning a new language. J-Baby in particular has begun asking a lot of questions relating to grammar and vocabulary, outside of his regular lessons.

When Saving Money Isn't Saving At All

One thing I have noticed time and time again while reading The Complete Tightwad Gazette is that Amy Dacyczyn fed her family a lot of refined grains and sugar. I'm not criticizing her; she was writing 20 years ago and she did say that her doctor considered her and Jim healthy.

No, I mention it because the prices that she quotes in her newsletters and books seem very low to me, not only because she bargain shops for them, but because whole foods can cost more. Whole grain flours cost more than refined white flour, brown rice costs more than white rice, honey and unrefined sugars cost more than white and regular brown sugars, extra virgin olive oil (or other healthy oils) costs more than regular refined vegetable oil, whole grain pasta costs more than white flour pasta,   organic whole wheat loaves of bread made without preservatives cost more than bakery thrift store bread, etc.

One thing my friends and I discuss in depth is the idea of spending what we need to spend to feed our families whole foods (organic or not) and copious amounts of produce. Choosing to never buy processed foods adds to the grocery bill. But we do it for what I feel is a very good reason - our health.

I believe in food and its ability to hurt or heal us. I don't think that blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are enough to define good health; half of all heart attack patients do not have high cholesterol.

I'm not going to decree one whole foods based diet to be better than another (although I have strong reservations about dairy and the protein casein specifically). I'm not saying that everyone should eat a plant-based diet. But I don't think it is going too far to say that everyone should stop eating processed foods and fake foods. No one should eat artificial colors and flavors; why do we even have them? When did someone decide that this was good for humans? I don't think they did; I think it is good for corporation bank accounts and nothing more. No one should eat artificial preservations, or growth hormones, or fake fats. No one should eat hydrogenated oils, white flour, or white sugar.

I think people need to understand that we can't take everything good out of our food by refining it, and then think we get it all back by taking synthetic vitamins; I don't even like natural vitamins as I think vitamins and minerals do their best for the human body when they are eaten the context of the whole food they are part of.

I think that people need to learn the dangers of sugar and how high sugar consumption negatively affects health in so many ways.

I think people should research GMOs and make decisions for themselves about their safety or lack thereof. I err on the side of caution. I do think we deserve to know if there are GMOs in our food.

I think people should know that vegetables should be our main food source and that we should eat plenty of vegetables, greens, and fruit daily.

I could save lots of money on groceries; eating plant-based I'm sure I could come in far below the USDA thrifty guidelines. We could eat white pasta, white rice, and white bread bought at bargain prices. I could chase down those deals for free chips, free sodas, and free candy. But the money we save now would catch up with us at some point.

I want to be vibrantly healthy for as long as I can. I want my cells to switch off cancer and I want my arteries to be supple and my blood to flow freely. I want my brain to be free of plaques. I want as little inflammation in my body as is possible.

The way I see it, we can pay now for the foods that are absolutely healthiest, or we can pay later with poor health and high doctor bills.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Eating Our Biggest Meal Midday Helps Us Save Money

Earlier this month I wrote about why I love eating our main meal midday. I realized, however, that I didn't explain how it is saving us money. After all, aren't we eating the same kinds of main meals that we used to eat in the evenings? Yes, we are.

We rarely used to eat lunch out, and that is holding true now. Actually, I would say that we have now moved to not eating lunch out at all unless it is on a weekend and is part of a planned date or a social gathering (which we really try to avoid). This probably cuts 1-2 lunches out per month at an average of $40 per meal.

However, we did eat dinner out too often when it was our main meal. It wasn't uncommon for me to be really tired and to decide that I wanted to eat out rather than making dinner. We also ate most of our date night dinners out. I would say that we ate dinner out 8 times per month, and more often during pool season, easily 12 times per month. It was mostly cheap Mexican takeout at about $25 per meal, but that is still a lot of money. Date night dinners were often more than that even though it was just the two of us. I would say that we were easily spending $400 per month on dinners eaten out (in summer). Yikes!

Now that I cook our main meal at lunch there is far less likelihood that I will decided not to cook. There is also less pressure at dinner time and far lower expectations; it just needs to be healthy food that gets us fed. Leftovers are fine, sandwiches are fine, a muffin and fruit is fine. We don't all have to eat the same thing.

I've been working really hard to redefine what date night means; it doesn't have to mean going to a restaurant or bringing food in. I know that Papa enjoys eating out, but I asked him to be on board with me for this and he is trying. A meal out for date night was a special thing when the boys were younger and we might get six date nights per year; now that they are teens and have an activity they attend almost every Friday evening we have a default date night and we do not need to eat dinner out 50 times per year! Plus we have already had our big meal of the day and want to eat lighter at dinner anyway.

(I'll write about our frugal date nights in another post.)

I'm working on our other weakness, which is a beverage and baked goods breakfast at the local market while on our Saturday morning walk. It was a non-issue until they started offering vegan baked goods in their pastry case. As a defensive move, I've been baking cinnamon rolls, scones, and muffins, and plan to attempt bagels and English muffins in the coming months. Everything I bake is so much better than what they have to offer! And honestly, I need to set the example. I can only change myself, which means I can choose not to get a beverage and baked good when Papa wants one. Maybe that kills the spirit of camaraderie, but again, I can only control my own actions and my own spending.

So the big take away from this post is that a) it is best for me to cook when I have more energy and am far less likely to decide that a meal out sounds good, b) taking off the pressure/expectations at dinner time also makes us far less likely to decide that a meal out is a good idea, and c) making meals and baked goods that are better than anything we can get a restaurant makes us less likely to want to eat out. Because really, a meal out is rarely a good idea!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Appliances Can Save You Money ... The Vitamix (or Other High Powered Blender)

I love small kitchen appliances. Not that they are necessarily small, they just aren't refrigerators, dishwashers, and ranges. I think some of them can be real money savers over time, and others are passing fancies or create a false need.

I do have a lot of small appliances, so I thought I'd write several posts about what I have, how they save money, how they don't, and other options.

First up is my Vitamix:

I am on my second Vitamix. I should still be on my first, but when it broke Papa didn't want to go without his smoothies for even one day, so we drove to Williams Sonoma and paid full retail on a new Vitamix 750. When I figured out the issue with the first one (we were out of the 8 year warranty and the bearing assembly on the wet container needed replacing or we could buy a whole new container) I wanted to return the 750, but Papa liked the preset programs and the fact that the machine blended smoothies far better than our 5200(due to the wider container). I sold the old Vitamix on Craigslist to help cover the cost of the new one.

My Vitamix (old or new) is probably my top stuck-on-a-deserted-island-that-has-electricity appliance. Anything a food processor, mixer, or bread maker can do I can do by hand (that doesn't mean I don't have them), but I am pretty sure that the smoothie was invented after the invention of blenders.

So, what do we do with our Vitamix? Well, near daily smoothies are one thing we do. I also make nut milks, cashew cream, plant based sauces, frothy hot cocoa, nut butters, hummus, and so much more. I have used it to grind grains, I grind our flaxseed in it, and I even process my own powdered sugar. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't use the Vitamix at least once, and it is usually used more often than that.

But does it save money? That will depend on how you eat and what you spend money on. I think people on special diets by choice or circumstance will save the most with a high powered blender. For example, the savings on nut milk really add up. A person with a corn allergy can process powdered sugar from pure sugar with no additives. Vegan foods can be very expensive, so if a person wants alternatives to dairy milk, sour cream, parmesan, ice cream, etc. it is far cheaper to make them at home, and a high powered blender is a huge help.

Whole nuts (or nut pieces) are generally less expensive that all natural nut butters, so a family that uses a lot of nut butters might have some savings that way. (I no longer make nut butter very often as I don't eat it and my teens prefer a natural store brand that doesn't require refrigeration.)

There are health savings involved as well; these are hard to quantify. For example, I want to make my own nut and seed milks not only because it is cheaper to make my own, or because I eliminate the package (environmental reasons), but because I don't want to consume carrageenan because it causes inflammation in the body and may cause cancer. Carrageenan is in many purchased nut and seed milks. I'd also prefer not to have synthetic vitamins added. Also, a freshly made nut or seed milk has more nutrition than one that has been processed and sitting on a shelf (cold or not). I made nut and seed milks as we need them, not far in advance.

Smoothies are another place where the savings might be more health-based than actually frugal. Afterall, we could eat oatmeal or cornmeal mush for every breakfast. I've calculated the cost of a smoothies made at home to be $2.50 for 32 oz. (those boys drink huge smoothies). I can't say that we are saving over the cost of someplace like Jamba Juice, because we wouldn't go there for smoothies. But each morning my guys take in lots of fruit (fresh and fresh-frozen), spinach, hemp seed, flax seed, and dates; they are loading up on fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in their natural state, omega 3 oils, and more. They are very healthy boys and never need to go to the doctor for illness (just injuries).

If you are a coffee drinker and/or love hot frothy drinks the Vitamix is great at those! We'll make hot cocoa with almond milk or sometimes vanilla steamers sweetened with maple syrup. Papa can blend brewed coffee or chai with a milk alternative for a foamy latte.

I'll be honest; if you've seen commercials or demonstrations of the high powered blenders there are some things they advertise that it really isn't great at.  Hot pureed soups? Not really great. Chopping vegetables? Has to be done in water and isn't that great. Ice cream/frozen desserts? Not nearly as good as a high quality food processor.

The reality though, is that a person who can eat whatever kind of food they want and who places no restrictions on what they choose to eat (plant based, organic, whole foods, etc.) probably won't save money with a high powered blender. The cheapest store brand of peanut butter on sale is probably less expensive than buying nuts and making your own. Oatmeal is cheaper than fruit for smoothies. Powdered dry dairy milk costs less than making nut and seed milks. Again, the savings will be for a person who has follows a special diet for health reasons or choice, and those who choose not to eat processed foods and questionable ingredients. I can't imagine that Amy Dacyczyn would have saved money with a Vitamix (unless she trash picked one).

I calculated that I spent $35 per year for my first Vitamix. Do I think it helped me save $35 per year at a minimum? Certainly.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

More Fun with the Grain Grinder and Bread Maker

Last Wednesday morning was super awesome for my family; I made blueberry muffins (okay, that was only awesome for Papa) and cinnamon rolls. There were the first plant-based cinnamon rolls I have made, and they turned out fantastic. I used the basic Bread Beckers dough (made with white whole wheat flour), filled the rolls with their ooey gooey filling (sucanat + Earth Balance + cinnamon), and iced them with a frosting made with leftover Daiya cream cheese + Earth Balance + powdered (in my Vitamix) white sugar (the last of the sucanat went into the filling) + vanilla extract.

Papa and T were both very surprised that these were made with 100% whole grain flour, but white whole wheat is very mild and freshly milled flour is even sweeter because there is zero rancidity. I used a fine setting on the mill as well, but didn't sift out any bran or germ (why would I do that?).

For the muffins, I have been using ground flax and water in place of eggs, and it works really well. I still have some Ener-G egg replacer but I will save that for lighter baked goods since the flax is healthier and cheaper. I ground einkorn flour for the muffins since I don't have any soft wheat berries and einkorn is low in gluten anyway.

I also started a loaf of sandwich bread in the Zo.  The order of things was:

1) Grind flour for cinnamon roll dough
2) Start cinnamon roll dough in Zo
3) Mix flax egg replacer (it needs a few minutes to gel up and and get egg-like)
4 Grind flour for muffins
5) Mix muffin batter, fill tin, and bake
6) Make ooey gooey filling
7) Shape cinnamon rolls
8) Set cinnamon rolls to rise
9) Remove muffins from oven and set to cool
10) Grind flour for sandwich bread
11) Put all ingredients for sandwich bread in bread pan, start Zo
12) Bake cinnamon rolls
13) Make icing for cinnamon rolls
14) Remove cinnamon rolls from oven and ice

It took about 90 minutes start to finish, not including the rest of the time it took to bake the sandwich bread in the Zo. I was doing dishes all throughout, whenever I had a few minutes free.

I don't really want to bake using the oven everyday, so batch baking works well for me. I think that I should double batch the muffins; hungry teens can go through a single batch in one day if allowed to. If I had used my mixer instead of the Zo for a double batch of the bread dough I could have made a pan of cinnamon rolls and a batch of hamburger or hot dog rolls (although we eat plant based so those would be for veggie burgers or veggie dogs/sausages). Since the Assistent can manage a triple batch of basic dough I could also have made dinner rolls, a loaf of cinnamon bread for french toast, or even doughnuts. (Oh my, I don't think I will even tell them that I can make raised doughnuts with this dough - I'll just surprise them sometime when I don't mind standing over a pan of hot oil to fry them.)

The batch of cinnamon rolls cost breakdown is approximately as follows:

Dough: $2.30
Filling: $2.25 (sucanat and Earth Balance aren't cheap)
Icing: $3.45 (I wouldn't make it this way again though, unless I was having company. I'd use a simpler, less expensive icing/glaze, probably just powdered sucanat and almond milk which would cost about $1)

$8.00 for 12 big cinnamon rolls is a great price, however, especially since they were made with 100% whole wheat flour and sucanat. The icing was reminiscent of a Cinnabon icing, super thick and rich. 75¢ for a cinnamon roll really is a bargain, and they'll cost even less with a simpler icing (and less of it).

It makes me think, however, that bakery cinnamon rolls must be a big rip off, as my friends tell me that white flour and white sugar are cheap, and bakeries get wholesale prices.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why I Don't Use Shampoo ... And Rarely Use Soap

Yep, you read that right. I, like many others, no longer wash my hair with shampoo and no longer use conditioner to keep it hydrated and static free. Unlike most people, I also almost never use soap or cleansers on my body, and never use it on my face!

I tried to go No Poo many times in the past seven years, and I failed every time. It didn't matter how much time I gave the experiment (the equalization hypothesis), if I had stripped my hair first (the detoxification hypothesis), or if I had been using silicone free natural soap-based shampoos (again, detoxification). Each time I ended up with a head full of greasy hair and the lack of will to continue.

But let's back up. Why did I want to give up shampoo and conditioner?

1) I suffered from itchy scalp and scalp rashes, but didn't have dandruff or signs of a dry scalp.
2) I wanted to reduce the chemicals that I put on my body.
3) I wanted to stop using product on my hair to style it.
4) I wanted my hair to be lower maintenance.
5) I wanted my hair care routine to be more environmentally friendly.
6) I wanted to save money.

In the past I have tried baking soda washes with apple cider vinegar rinses (multiple times), baking soda with herb rinses, and baking soda with lemon juice rinses. I tried tiny amounts of baking soda mixed with water, as well as baking soda mixed at a paste consistency.  I've tried clay washing with Terressentials products, washing with honey, washing with salt, washing with clay I mixed myself, washing with egg yolks, washing with a soap nuts solution, and even making a soap-based natural "shampoo".

Some things worked okay; the egg yolks weren't too bad but I no longer consume or use eggs, and it was pretty expensive since organic fed pastured raised eggs from a friend were $6 a dozen. Washing with clay made me even itchier, so I had to ditch that.  Soap nut solution spoiled almost overnight and didn't do a good enough job to make it worth my while to make a new batch every time I needed to clean my hair. Baking soda at a paste consistency broke my hair off :(

I have fine, thin, straight hair. When clean it is very shiny; it floats in water and doesn't absorb water or oil easily. When I was a teenager it had to be washed daily or I would look like I had laid my head in an oil slick; once I got older I got to a place where I could wash it every other day as long as I wore a ponytail on the second day.

A couple of months ago I decided to give No Poo another go, this time going to the extreme and attempting water only washing. The time I spent washing my hair without anything but water taught me a few things. I learned to not care so much about whether to nor my hair looked oily, because I had committed to this and what other people thought about my hair really didn't matter. I learned how nice it is to not need shampoo, conditioner, or product while traveling. I realized that I do not have an overly oily scalp - my hair simply doesn't absorb the normal amounts of oil that my scalp produces. I learned that boar bristle type brushes and 100 strokes make my hair look even greasier. And finally, I learned that water only washing doesn't work for me because my hair is never going to absorb the oil. That beautiful, shiny, virgin cuticle is not absorbent.

During the first month I did a honey wash one day, and the reduction in oil down my hair shaft was minimal and not worth wasting the honey on. I tried a clay wash after three weeks and was far too itchy, so I went back to water only.

After a month I decided to try baking soda with an ACV rinse again (I was going to have a date weekend and wanted my hair to look pretty.) It was okay, but still kind of oily, and very oily the next day. I thought that was it, but somewhere in all the blogs I read I saw that someone mentioned not using the ACV on the roots, only the ends. That went against what all the other blogs were saying, that I needed the acid all over my head to balance out the base of the baking soda, but I decided to try it anyway.

Voila! For the first time in six weeks I had shiny, clean hair, so clean that it was a little flyaway and staticky. But it was shiny, shiny like I had used Breck or Pantene or whatever shampoo is supposed to make your hair the shiniest.

So this is what is working now: I wash with about 2 T. baking soda dissolved in 2 C. of water.  I pour half of it over my head, scrub all over (just like with water only) then pour the rest over and scrub again.  I rinse it really well, then apply a very dilute ACV solution to my ends only, then rinse again.

My goal is to see if I can use less of the baking soda mixture, so I will work on that over the next month, taking it down to the minimal level. I already learned that using more will make my scalp really itchy.

With this system I have crazy clean shiny hair the first day, almost too clean to do anything with. I can clip my bangs off my face with barrettes, but it won't hold a ponytail. The second day I still have clean hair, but it is more manageable. The third day my hair is clean enough that it looks fine in a ponytail. Now that I don't care so much about what other people think I could continue to ponytail it for a few days, of I could wash it if I want shiny hair again :)

Okay, if you made it this far you're probably here to find out why I rarely use soap. In my pursuit of No Poo stories I read about a few people who don't use soap, and I thought, why not give it a try? I already use the oil cleansing method for my face, so I wasn't afraid I'd get weird breakouts or anything. Actually, I already only used soap on my feet and armpits, and a Weleda cleansing cream everywhere else, so I gave those up. Now when I bathe or shower, I use the washcloth that I wiped the oil of my face with to gently exfoliate my body, I use it to scrub my feet vigorously, and then I rinse. Amazingly, I have less body odor than ever before. For the first time ever I can use a crystal deodorant and not stink. And my sensitive, rash prone skin is the clearest it has been in years. The little red bumps are gone, and my skin is so silky soft, without the need for lotions or oils.

(TMI alert: yes, I wash my lady parts with water only. I've done so for a couple of years now, after developing a mild, but painful condition called lichen sclerosis, which seems to be attributed to both my fluctuating and ever lower hormone levels along with my over active immune system. After trying several treatments I remembered my grandmother saying that women should never use soap down there and she was right.)

So now I use soap on my feet only if they are visibly caked with dirt (like after being at a race all day) and on my arms if I have used sunscreen and want to get the zinc oxide off my body.

Do I stink? I am obsessive about it and as far as I can tell, I stink less. Husband says I don't stink, and he is willing to stick his nose against my scalp, pits, and feet.  Best friend has also smelled my hair and feet and says I don't stink. But the best evidence was last weekend, when my SIL gave my a big, long hug and said to me, You smell so good! I explained what I have been doing and she was flabbergasted, trying to find out if I had used scented lotion or anything like that.  Nope.  Scented laundry detergent? Nope, I use Seventh Generation Free and Clear (although I want to make my own). So she said, Well you must just naturally smell sweet!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Frugal Victories

I suppose I should do frugal victory posts once a week; Fridays seem like a good day for it.

The boys bowled twice this week using Kids Bowl Free.

I picked up two more held books from the library.

I found two vintage pink floral pillowcases at the thrift store for a total of $1.62.

I didn't buy anything else at the thrift store!

I made muffins with some bananas that were too overripe to freeze for smoothies.

I remembered to freeze and package this week's bananas.

We were more careful with our avocados and put them in the refrigerator as soon as they were ripe, thus not losing any this week.

I salvaged 60% of the loaf of bread that didn't rise and bake correctly in the bread maker Wednesday (user error).  Boys #1 picked through the other 40% and ate about half of it as a snack.

I think I've perfected my no poo routine (more on that next week).

I watched a free video class online which helped me learn to make the Bread Beckers cinnamon roll recipe.

I line dried all of our laundry, even the towels and bedding (including comforters)
(Oops, I wrote this Thursday and forgot that I would be washing the socks and underwear load Friday. I wash this load every 7 - 10 days and do use the automatic dryer for it. I do not relish the thought of hanging 10 days of socks and underwear for 4 people, and "crunchy" socks get complaints around here.)

Except for our lunch date Sunday I cooked all of our meals at home.

I made sure to use the leftover sauce and Field Roast sausages from last week so they wouldn't spoil.

I reminded Husband that we needed gas when we got to Costco and we saved 9¢ per gallon.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Coping Frugally With the Weather

It's hot! It's hard to believe that we were drinking hot cocoa a week ago; the mercury hit 100° yesterday and is forecast for 105° today. I'm awake in the cool of the morning, however, with the windows open trying to cool the house. It was too warm last night to open the windows before bed.

Our house is built with plaster and lathe construction, an older method that has its benefits and drawbacks. The walls hold heat and cold really well; this is an advantage when the weather is moderate, but not so much when it is very hot (or very cold, but that is rare). On summer nights our house starts releasing heat back into our home. Even if we can open the windows to cool things down it will heat up again as soon as the windows are closed.

I think this summer has felt more like the summers of my youth than any I have experienced in the past decade. It isn't the weather is different - I am different. I am choosing to cool the house with the A/C far less than we used to. We awaken early (something I am so glad to have transitioned to) and do most of our activities before it gets terribly hot. Yesterday I was baking from 6:30 - 8:30AM, and the guys rode their bikes during that time. (Today it is going to be so hot that I won't even bake.) We set the thermostat high (growing up we didn't have A/C), around 83°. We run ceiling fans when we are in the rooms that have them (turning them off when we leave the room - they don't cool the air, only the person). I have one stand fan that I move from the living room to the kitchen as needed.

There is a big difference between cooling the house to 83° than the 78 - 80° I have done in the past. At 78° I don't feel warm in the house at all, just comfortable. At 80° I am comfortable most of the time. At 83° I am warm and don't have a lot of energy. But it isn't 83° right now, not with the windows open and a temperature of 68° outside (lower than forecast!!!).

I am encouraging the boys to dress appropriately for the weather; I wear a loose cotton skirt and camisole everyday, and suggest that they wear shorts and flip flops. But really, they never complain about the temperature of the house (unless they are too cold). They complain about how hot it is outside if they are riding in it, but other than that the weather is simply something that is, and complaining doesn't change it.

We drink lots of water, iced, and sometimes bubbly (using a SodaStream maker). If we are really hot we'll process ice and water into slushy ice in my blender. The boys love that. Last night we were all refreshed by enjoying a cold watermelon that I cut into cubes. I need to get popsicles made, but we have made food processor sorbet in the past week. Today I think I will make a lemon sorbet in the ice cream maker.

It's funny to think that we should be able to have our houses the same temperature indoors year round, and to dress the same year round, and to eat the same foods year round and simply not be affected by the weather at all unless we leave our homes. We used to do almost that, although I never cooled my house down to ice box temperatures or heated it to the point that I could wear t-shirts in winter. But I don't like pretending that the weather doesn't exist; I enjoy the seasons and the changes that come with them, both inside and outside. Variety is the spice of life.

It all seems like common sense, and yet I know it isn't. Many people are raised with the comforts of A/C and don't know how to get by without it; indeed, they may not know that they can, and they accept high energy bills as a necessity rather than a luxury. I think it's sad, but it isn't my business to tell a person what temperature they should be comfortable at or how they should spend their money. Unless someone specifically asks me for advice on saving money I will keep my mouth firmly shut.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Frugal Beginnings

I grew up in a frugal household out of absolute necessity; we bounced between being working poor and lower middle class depending on how the company my father worked for was doing. In good years there would be a gas card and over time pay, in bad years we were taught to ignore the ringing phone or to tell the bill collectors that our parents weren't home.

Later I took up frugality as an adult and realized how much more frugal my family could have been. It made me kind of sad; my parents worried about money all the time. My mom taught me to balance a checkbook by adding rather than subtracting because she was always in her overdraft. The house payment was overnighted to the mortgage company in order to arrive the day before they would be 30 days late and reported to a credit agency.

We wore second (or third) hand clothing, my parents drove used cars, we didn't have cable TV, we often qualified for free or reduced lunch, we didn't usually take vacations, my mom clipped coupons, and more.

Still, we ate brand name breakfast cereal for breakfast every morning, and my mom ate Pop Tarts, and our dinners were Kraft Deluxe, Hamburger Helper, Swanson TV dinners, and other brand name processed food. Soup came from cans, stew was made with frozen vegetables and a packaged "starter", and burritos were a special meal made with Rosarita refried beans and hot sauce. sandwiches were made with Weber white bread and Oscar Meyer bologna, and our packed school lunches always had a Hostess treat and bag of Frito-Lay chips.

At home there were always snacks. Popsicles, Fudgesicles, Mother's cookies, Koolaid, Swiss Miss puddings, etc.

I realize now that my family could have cut the grocery budget in half with homemade foods, which is sad because my mom thought she was doing really well on groceries, the best she possibly could. She didn't buy store brands because my dad thought they tasted bad. She used coupons and looked for sales; what more could she do? She didn't grow up learning to cook food from scratch, plus she had health issues and thought that cooking from scratch would be too time consuming and exhausting. It's true; by age 10 I was already making many of our most basic dinners, such as heating hot dogs, canned beans and canned corn, or making Hamburger Helper.

But I know now that beans and rice don't take a lot of labor, just time, which my mom had. I know that Hamburger Helper really isn't less expensive than regular pasta and even jarred sauce. I know that oatmeal is far cheaper than boxed cereal.

(I also know that meat doesn't need to be a part of every dinner, but I don't think my family would ever have gone there.)

Still, I appreciate having been taken to thrift stores and yard sales as a child. I may have chafed at wearing used clothing as a young teen, but young teens chafe at most everything. I'm glad that our family baked birthday cakes (even if they were from boxed mixes and iced with canned frosting) rather than buying bakery cakes. I'm glad that we couldn't afford to eat many meals in restaurants. I appreciate having learned to clean house and do laundry (since we didn't pay people to do these things for).

What I wish is that we had eaten more produce and less processed food, but the times were what they were.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bread and Spending to Save

My new Nutrimill grain mill arrived yesterday! For 14 years I have used a Vitamix to grind flour, but it can't handle large quantities. Plus our newer Vitamix didn't come with a grain container, and when I priced getting one it was $144 and still couldn't grind beans, whereas a new Nutrimill was $220 and would handle everything I wanted it to plus be able to do more than 3 cups of flour at a time.

Now, no one needs a grain mill to get by in life; one can always purchase flour. However, a lot of nutrition is lost between milling and use of the flour. Whole grain flours go rancid easily. Once I was sure that we are no longer dealing with gluten sensitivity (if we ever were - it may have been a FODMAPS issue) I knew that I wanted to grind grain and cook our bread and other baked goods fresh daily.

The other appliance that arrived yesterday was a Zojirushi bread maker. I had given mine away when I thought we'd never be able to eat gluten again (bad mistake). I can bake bread in the oven, so again, a bread maker isn't a necessity. I had a few reasons for wanting it, however. 1) I can bake bread in it without using the big oven to heat the house. 2) I can teach the boys to use it so they can take on the responsibility for making bread. And 3) I can use it to make dough while I am doing other things in the kitchen.

I did the initial grinding to clean the mill, then ground fresh wheat flour and started a loaf of bread in the bread maker. I used the Bread Beckers basic dough recipe (not the separate on for the Zo machine, though) and programmed the machine using their recommendations. That loaf of bread was well-received; I used 2/3 hard red wheat to 1/3 hard white wheat, and also used canola for the oil.

Today I ground flour for banana muffins, made those, and also ground flour for another loaf of bread. I used the recipe designed for the Zo (the oil and honey measurements are different), and used olive oil instead of mechanically pressed canola oil. The loaf of bread was good, but not as good as yesterday's loaf. I think we prefer less oil and more sweetener.

Does it save money to own a grain mill and bread maker? It depends on your outlook. If you believe that fresh is best, then the grain mill contributes to health and will pay for itself in less illness, both short term and long term. Less illness means fewer missed work days, both for Husband, which is paid, and me, who is not. Husband gets sick pay, but I don't, so if I'm not up to cooking we pay for convenience foods or take out. If I am ill the laundry might end up being dried in the automatic dryer, or we might miss a sale on produce. The role of a homemaker is important and it's best if I am healthy!

The other thing is that organic wheat berries can be purchased for less than organic whole wheat flour, and I can buy the berries in bulk as they won't go rancid the way flour does. I can buy and store 50# of wheat berries at 83¢ per pound, whereas I wouldn't buy more than 5 - 10# of ground flour at a time because of rancidity issues, so that puts it at $1.20 per pound. 37¢ per pound makes a difference when you are using about 50# per month; that $18.50, and again, the nutrition is better with the freshly ground flour. Just the savings in wheat berries vs. purchased flour should pay for the grain mill within a year. It is likely we will use more than 50# of wheat berries per month since in addition to bread and muffins I will also be making pizza, tortillas, biscuits, waffles, pancakes, etc.

That example only shows wheat; however we are also grinding einkorn (because we have it so we will use it in place of soft white wheat until it is gone) and our own cornmeal (from organic popcorn), plus we will be grinding grains (rice, wheat, einkorn, corn) for hot cereals when the weather is cooler

Will the bread maker save us money? I can't say for certain. It does make it easy for us to make bread everyday and avoid the temptation of the breads we used to buy that are $4 - $6 per loaf. There are other small savings; not heating up the house with the big oven in summer means lower cooling costs, and overall the bread maker uses less electricity than the big oven. In winter we might not use it as often.

But baking bread in general saves money, too. Oh, a loaf of homemade organic whole wheat bread isn't going to cost less than a loaf of bread from a bakery outlet store, but we don't eat that kind of bread so we can't make those comparisons. My homemade bread is cheaper is the kind of bread we would buy (farmers market or health food store). That means we can base more meals on bread, and can use the leftovers for inexpensive breakfasts (toast, french toast) and desserts (bread puddings), plus make croutons and bread crumbs.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Frugal Date Weekend

Husband and I were alone this weekend; we put the boys on a train to visit their grandparents (weekend day passes are $10). Unfortunately, we were both feeling under the weather. We did do our morning walk, and stopped at the local market for beverages and baked goods. Breakfast is definitely the cheapest meal to eat out, and we keep it under $10.

For our main meal we cooked bolani from the freezer; this isn't the cheapest meal we can make, but it was under $7 for the two of us and required minimal prep and clean up. At dinner I wasn't that hungry and decided to have a bowl of cereal; Husband had a frozen noodle meal that we had picked up months ago for my oldest teen when he needed a few quick meals for after his late Tuesday rides. It wasn't very good and we wouldn't buy it again (we bought two bags and my teen gave up on them after the first one), but at least we didn't toss it.

Sunday morning Husband rode his bike to the local market for baked goods again; this has inspired me to do more baking/freezing so we can heat things instead of buying them. My home baked items are made with freshly ground whole grains and sucanat instead of white sugar so not only are the cheaper, they are healthier too. Never mind the fact that they taste so much better! I think a lot of places don't care about the quality of their vegan baked goods since people are just happy to have a vegan option.

(I need to work more on making the baked goods that husband likes, such as blueberry muffins and scones with nuts and berries in them. None of the rest of us really like things like that, so I tend not to make them, but then Husband wants to treat himself. Now that I have the freezer space I can bake specifically for him.)

We needed to drive to get the boys and to visit our nephew who was visiting from out of the country, so we decided to make the most of the day. Husband suggested that we go to IKEA, which is near to where we were going but not near to us. We needed shelves for the boys' Trofast units; now that they have outgrown most of the toys that are in bins we want to convert the Trofast units to bookshelves. Husband looked at the shelves that we have and decided that the IKEA price was very good compared to us needing to buy lumber, varnish, sandpaper, and hardware, plus our weekends are so busy this summer that we really didn't have the time to take on a project. I also bought another Raskog cart as mine had been moved to the little bathroom and my craft supplies are strewn all over the dining room table. This is a sturdy cart that will last a lifetime and I didn't feel badly buying another one at all (plus I had been unable to find one used).  Keeping my paper crafting supplies mobile means I can make cards wherever the family is hanging out.

We had our big date of the weekend at a lovely vegan restaurant; we had brunch and it was delicious. Then it was off to spend the rest of the day with family.  My SMIL cooked a vegan meal for us; I really appreciate when she cooks rather than suggesting a restaurant.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Meal Times and Frugality

My family's situation is unique: we homeschool and Papa works close enough to home (a very short bike ride) to join us at home everyday for lunch.

For years we ate our main meal at dinner, as do most Americans. But this year I was determined to switch the main meal to lunch time and to make it work (we had failed at it a couple of years ago). This time around the guys were on board, and the switch was very easy.

Dinner is no longer my responsibility. Oh, I still know what everyone can/should eat, keeping a tab on leftovers and bread supplies, but I don't usually cook anything. The boys make sandwiches, reheat leftovers, or have refried beans in tortillas, and Papa makes big salads for everyone (he used to make salads at lunch time and this switch has helped him get back to work on time after lunch). I might cut a watermelon or pop some popcorn.

I love serving the main meal at noon; I cook in the mornings while doing other chores and helping the boys with their lesson work. After lunch (during the school year) we do more lesson work, but after that my afternoons are free!

I can tackle larger projects without the worry of needing to stop to prepare dinner; this longer block of time has translated into various frugal activities such as knitting, sewing, organizing my time, making cards, planning grocery runs, and more.

It has also inspired more creativity in the kitchen; I used to not attempt time consuming baking such as pie because I was too busy making dinner and too tired after. But today I am baking a cherry pie as my afternoon project. It smells delicious.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Frugal Victories

Today I decided to get my household binder back in order, so I pulled it off the bookshelf. Looking through it I found several expired coupons, along with ...

A Coinstar voucher worth $34.08 - from 2011!

I figured I must have already claimed it, but no, I hadn't. Woohoo!  $34.08 has been applied as a credit to my Amazon account. I'm really glad that I could still read the claim code as most of the voucher is rather faded.

I'm feeling inspired to take my coin bank over to the supermarket and see how much I've saved since the last time I turned them in. But I will wait until next week when I need to go, rather than using the gas to go today when I was there yesterday. This week's ad wasn't very exciting so I won't need to go back for any more loss leader produce. Not driving the car to do an unnecessary errand is a passive way to save money.

In other frugal victory news, there are four books that my family are interested in reading that I have been able to place on hold at the library. We'd gotten lazy over the past year, ordering books in e-format rather than going through the process of placing holds, waiting, and reading paper books. Husband in particular prefers e-books, and two of the held books are for him, so I consider it a major victory! I picked up the first available book yesterday evening, combined with a trip to the natural foods store just down the street from that library as well as the supermarket for the Wednesday both weekly ads are valid produce specials.

There was a free Redbox DVD code available today, so I reserved a movie for my boys and I rode my bike to pick it up.

I tried Amy Dacyczyn's food processor pizza dough from The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Somehow I have owned this book since it first came out and never made pizza dough this way. My family was happy to have pizza for our main meal. It isn't my favorite crust ever, but I did put pizza on the table 70 minutes after I made up my mind to make it.  It should take less time to make next time around. Even buying vegan cheese and vegan pepperoni, as well as prepared pizza sauce since I don't grow tomatoes, I did the calculations and determined that it cost $4.50 per 14" pizza. In the early 90s Amy's husband Jim could make a 14" cheese pizza for $1, so I consider $4.50 in 2014 for the same sized pizza topped with purchased sauce, vegan cheese and pepperoni, plus zucchini, tomatoes, and black olives to be a pretty frugal victory.

$9 for a main meal (let's call it $10 - two of the guys had giant apples after they ate their pizza) isn't exactly our cheapest meal, but the guys had been expressing a fancy for the local vegan pizza joint, which would have been at least $40 for an equivalent amount of pizza.

Little victories:

I hung a load of clothing to dry, as usual.

I made vegan hot cocoa for the boys and I using ingredients on hand (it was an unseasonably cold morning).

A cooler than average day meant we opened the windows in the morning and cooled the house from 80° to 75°, which meant we didn't need to run the A/C all day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Frugal Victories

Today we met friends at the local bowling alley for Kids Bowl Free. Each child 15 and under can bowl two free games per day in the summer (you must be registered). Bowling shoes are required, but Teen #1 still fits his from last year, and Teen #2 is wearing Husband's bowling shoes. Needless to say, we don't buy any food in the bowling alley's restaurant. I enjoyed visiting with friends and enjoyed the bowling alley's air conditioning.

Knowing that we wouldn't be home until lunch time, I set beans and rice to cook (pressure cooker and rice maker), so all I had to do was quickly sauté some greens when I got home and our main meal was ready to go. Because we eat our main meal at lunch time I find that planning ahead is really important when I will be away from home in the morning.

We opened the windows early in the morning and left them open until it started to warm up outside. Once it got to 82° in the house I decided it was still fairly comfortable without the A/C so I bumped the thermostat up to 83°.

I hung three loads of laundry (clothing, bike clothing, and towels).

Husband and I combined errands, going to the library, natural foods store, and supermarket.

I made a batch of homemade dog food.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Here's my confession: I have yet to master the vegan cake. Papa and I rarely eat sweets, and now that the boys are competing I've stopped baking random treats for them as well. I think I have attempted a cake once in the past 18 months and that was a vanilla "wacky" cake and I didn't really care for it. We've purchased one fancy vegan bakery cake, but didn't like it either (yucky soy whipped icing) and didn't repeat that expensive mistake. For this year's birthdays we've celebrated with 1) peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, 2) a bag of Skittles, 3) Joe-Joe's cookies, and 4) apple pie.

However, I needed a cake this evening. I was moping all day because today is my mom's birthday, but she has been gone for nearly 7 years now. I gave myself permission to wallow in self-pity. I almost decided that I deserved not to cook our main meal, but frugality won out over the expense of a restaurant meal. Then toward last afternoon I realized that I can do this for the next however many decades, or I can find a different way to spend this day. Why not bake a cake instead, and celebrate her birthday and her life rather than grieve her absence in mine? Being irritable and unhappy for a whole day just takes away one day of my life, a day I will never get back.

Growing up our favorite family birthday cake was yellow cake (Betty Crocker) with chocolate frosting (again, Betty Crocker). I decided to recreate this cake to honor my mom's birthday.

I thought I was out of regular sugar, but found some lurking way back in my pantry (because I almost never bake anymore, and use sucanat when I do need a little sugar). I had a vanilla cake mix from Trader Joe's that I had intended to veganize for Papa's birthday before he chose to have pie instead. That plus a stick of Earth Balance margarine, a cup of Silk almond milk, and some Ener-G egg replacer was mixed into a cake. I powdered the the remaining sugar in my Vitamix, then made a frosting of margarine, almond milk, vanilla extract, salt, cocoa powder, and my homemade powdered sugar.

I love traditions. I wish I had started this one 7 years ago instead of today, but it is what it is.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Frugal Victories

Today I spent five minutes searching online for a fan. Mine isn't broken; I was just feeling the siren song of more is better. Eventually I decided that I can keep moving the fan from room to room as needed; I don't love doing it, but it beats spending money on another fan and then needing to store that fan when the weather changes. Deciding not to spend money is the easiest way to save it.

I wanted to make lemon sorbet, but I don't have regular sugar in the house, just sucanat, which is too strongly flavored for sorbets. I suppose this is a good thing; it means I haven't cooked sweets in a very long time. I considered going to the store for sugar, then changed that to buying pre-made sorbet, and then I stopped myself and decided that it can wait until I go to the store for loss leaders. I'll buy sugar though, not sorbet. Homemade is cheaper and better. Again, sometimes the easiest way to save money is inaction.

I washed and hung three loads of laundry today.

I turned the thermostat up to 85° even though it was warm and humid. It was a Save Power Day, so hopefully I reduced my usage enough to earn a small credit on my next electric bill.