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Archive for February, 2010

I  know very few people who don’t enjoy the flavor of vanilla in their morning coffee.  My husband for one is an addict.  In our old lives as corporate managers and spendthrifts, it wasn’t at all uncommon for him to get 3-4 venti (= extra large) vanilla lattes a day.  Although I didn’t imbibe as heavily, I still was no saint and would pull through the coffee drive-thru at least once a day.  That means we were easily spending $20+/day on coffees…are you kidding me?  That’s $100/week (we only went during weekdays) or $5,200/year – um, that’s a nice trip to Europe.  Where the heck were our priorities?  Did we really think friggin’ coffee was that high up on the priority list?  Well, easy come, easy go was our money mantra back then.

THANKFULLY we’ve made a 180 turn in our spending habits!  We will sometimes treat ourselves to a latte when we’re out running errands, but I’m talking a latte each maybe once or twice a month.  That’s about$7-$15/month vs. $400.  Ridiculous, right?

Anywho, it goes without saying that we drink our coffee at home now, but David still enjoys vanilla syrup in his coffee now and then, so we’d buy a bottle of it at the store.  However, part of my DIY movement is looking at prepackaged items we buy at the store and figuring out how to make on our own to lesson the impact on our wallet as well as on the environment.

Today, I tried it out and sure enough it tastes great, is organic (unlike its grocery counterpart) and is less than 1/2 the cost!

Here’s how it goes:

1 c. sugar

1 c. water

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine water and sugar in saucepan, bring to a rapid boil and keep it at a boil for a minute.  Turn off heat, let cool and add flavored extract.  Done!  Use in place of sugar for your coffee/tea/mixed drink (obviously you can use without vanilla or use another flavoring).

I used organic raw sugar and organic vanilla extract which I calculated to cost $1.70 for the entire recipe which yields 16 oz. (or a little over 10 cents an ounce).  The syrup I usually buys cost $5.99 for 24 oz. - the cheapest I could find (or a little over 24 cents an ounce).  To make an apples to apples comparison, it would cost approximately $3.84 for 16 oz. of the grocery one – and have I mentioned that this is not an organic option and costs twice as much?!  Yes, you are often paying for the container, the labeling, the marketing, etc. for the company.  However, I just took the old syrup bottle, washed it out and filled up with my homemade concoction. 

One less bottle in the landfill, a couple more dollars in my pocket.  Not a bad deal!

Vanilla latte’s anyone?

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It snowed all weekend here, but only amounted to a couple inches as it was incredibly light, airy snow but it still looks beautiful outside.  We even spent some time sledding down our driveway and road with our neighbor (we’re all in our mid-30′s – who says you’re too old to sled? :)) and spent two hours outside in the 15 degree cold!  We were too bundled up and heated up by the running up of the hills to notice.  And when we inevitably crashed at then end of our runs, we would each chime in with a good, hearty belly laugh.  Talk about fun on the cheap.  Good thing we’re not weenies about the cold.  If it made any difference, we would collectively pray to the snow gods we love the snow so much.

This morning I noticed our bird feeder was empty – them suckers filled up prior to the storm – and so I added some more and watched them commence once again in their pigging out.

The snow has once again picked up and luckily my hubby is off for the next 2 days, so we’ll be hanging out at home and just enjoying the weather (and Olympics!). 

Dear Spring, you’re nice and all, but please don’t come anytime soon!

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Crafting and business update

For the past couple of months, I’ve  been adjusting to my new life/schedule, visiting with family for a total of 4 weeks, crafting, cooking etc.  But as most of you know, I not only left the rat race to become a modern housewife but to also pursue my passions in the arts and to try my hand at selling my nature photography and eco-friendly handmade goods.  

This has been challenging because I have major ADD when it comes to crafting – I want to try it all and have a thousand different projects going on at the same time.  Very focused I am not.  However, I learned a lesson when I ordered $100 worth of photos to make Valentine’s photo cards only to realize that I started way to late and missed my window to actually sell them in time.  Rookie entrepreneur lesson #1.  I know there will plenty more.  At least they’re not perishable and I can hopefully sell them next year. 

I should have known better – I worked in retail management for the last 7+ years and know that seasonal items need to get out there 4-6 weeks prior to said holiday/season.  So with that in mind and a lesson behind me, I’ve been creating like crazy the past week for Easter/Spring/Earth Day items.  Here’s a look at some of the eco-friendly items I’ve been working on (don’t mind all the pastel – trying to focus on the upcoming season but will keep adding standard colors in): 

Gift Bows, Gift Tags, Envelopes and Envelope Seals (all made with recycled/reused/repurposed materials): 

 

Seasonal Photo cards (my photos which are then mounted on cardstock that is 100% post-consumer recycled fiber content and is FSC certified not to contain virgin pulp): 

 

Candles – made with 50% reused materials, the other 50% a combination of soy wax and beeswax: 

 

Vintage Button Hair Pins (most buttons which are from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s from my mother and grandmother’s collection): 

 

I’m also hoping to get a few coffee cozies, eye masks, neck wraps and other goodies done too, but I seem to be running out of time! 

Many of you have asked about where I craft and if I have designated space for a studio.  I recently was able to convert our downstairs office into a workshop using items I already had on hand so it didn’t cost anything, just some creative staging.  Admittedly I tend to use this area as more of a storage area since it tends to be dark and cold down there (compared to our bright and sunny/warm main level), but I’m thrilled to have a spot for the ridiculous amounts of supplies and items saved from the trash or recycling bin that I have been amassing over the past couple of months. 

We pushed our two desks together to create one long work area

 

This used to be an armoire from our bedroom that we moved downstairs and now houses all my fabrics and sewing-related items

 

This used to be our bookcase but we've since donated most of our books and converted this into an area for all my papercrafts

 

This picture is of one of the 3 bamboo former makeup-displays that a friend gave to me. She saw the potential in those cases and knew that someone could make use of them. I happily took them off her hands and they've certainly come in handy for all the random items I have on hand (thank Lora!).

 

So, as you can see, it’s been busy in this household.  I have paper scraps and thread everywhere…my husband sometimes pulls it out of my curly hair.  Yep, it’s that busy.  The cool thing is that I am, admittedly, a TV hog and can catch up on our favorite shows (and especially the Olympics now) while keeping my fingers busy crafting.  This new way of living certainly doesn’t suck! 

So that’s the update; thanks for following me along on this journey – it’s so very exciting to see years of planning in my mind actually coming to fruition.  As always, let me know if you have any questions!

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One of the health food stores I once worked at offered fresh-ground nut butters and they were a customer favorite.  Nearly every day a customer would ask what was in the nut butters. 

“Just peanuts or almonds.” 

“No sugar…or oil…or salt?” they asked in a quizzical manner. 

“Nope, just nuts.” 

The grinder literally ground the nuts at a high speed that not only created friction but heat as well.  The result?  Pure, all-natural peanut or almond butter.  Most people like it as is, although I tend to add raw honey to my PB and pure maple syrup to my AB.  Spread on toast in the mornings or on bananas as a mid-day snack?  Yum.

So, with this in mind and with raw almonds being on sale at the same company I once worked for, I decided to try grinding them at home.  I put them in my food processor for about 10 minutes and that is it folks.  Homemade nut butter, made fresh and sans preservatives.  Also cheaper and more environmentally friendly (I stored mine in cute mini mason jelly jars I found at the thrift store but you could easily store in any container you already have on hand).  Easy peasy.

P.s. dogs also love this as a snack or even mixed in with kibble, though I’m inclined to be a bit selfish with this batch! ;)

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Okay, so a couple months ago I read that you should save your veggie scraps (peels, seeds, etc.) that aren’t damaged or moldy, keep adding them to a bag or jar in your freezer and when you have a gallon-size amount of scraps, you’re ready to make veggie broth.  Brilliant!  I was always looking for ways to utilize those since I am not yet composting (coming soon though!).

Since I cook a lot and we are big fans of veggies, this was going to be easy.  I saved the skins of onions and chopped ends, tops of eggplants, stems of broccoli and so on and yesterday, threw them in a big pot of water, added about a tbsp. of salt and boiled for about an hour. 

Voila, that simple!  And it really smells and tastes like the canned variety, but fresher.  Not only do I use broth in recipes, but I often use broth to lessen the amount of oil needed when sauteeing and I use broth almost every day in my dog’s food to give their meal a sort of “gravy” that not only adds flavor but nutrients to boot. 

Simple and free (and doesn’t require you to use whole veggies, just the scraps!)

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So, it’s been 3 months since I left the rat race…and those around me know, I couldn’t be happier.

It hasn’t been so difficult frankly but a large part of that is attributed to the fact that we started downshifting about 2 years ago…learning to drastically reduce our spending, paying down our debt and building up our nest egg at the same time.

Here’s a glimpse on what we’ve had to sacrifice as well as what we’ve gained in all areas of our life.

Food:

You know it’s only the two of us but we used to spend upwards of $1000/month on food!  Lots of eating out, lots of coffee stops, lots of convenience items.  It was shameful!  Now we stick to a budget for $125/week for groceries (or $250/2 weeks).  This really forces me to shop according to sales, buy in bulk, sometimes shop different stores.  Now mind you, one of my favorite bloggers, The Frugal Girl, feeds her family of 6 on $80-$100/week, so certainly mine is not a super frugal budget.  However, we really try to focus on natural/organic foods most of the time and are willing to pay more for it (this is a priority for us).

We eat out only twice a month and usually do so for lunch as its typically cheaper.  Eating out is sooooo expensive.  Sure it tastes good and is convenient, but you pay for it.  We budget $100/month for eating out and this includes stops once in a while at coffee shops.

Total savings per month: $400

Entertainment:

We don’t spend any money on entertainment.  I know this is a steep one for people, but it helps that we are homebodies, love to watch TV, go on-line, read, listen to music, spend time out in nature, etc.

For TV, we need to go with satellite since we live deep in the mountains, don’t have cable as an option and can’t get TV reception over the air.  However, we used to have the premium $100+/month plan which we scaled down to the basic $40/month package.  There’s no MTV, E, VH1 and those type of celebrity channels, but I’m thinking we’re better off without them!

For internet, we used to have satellite (for the same reasons above) but researched and found a different option (point to point) which is good if you’re perched on a mountain and point to another point that has a tower, as in our case, and we were able to drop our internet from $80 to $40 a month.

We used to spend approximately $100 a month combined on book purchases and magazine subscriptions.  We since stopped buying books and magazine subscriptions and using the library exclusively (yes you can still get mags at the library!).

We canceled our $10/month Netflix plan and instead we scroll the menu guide on the weekends and see what movies are playing and set our DVR to record for later viewing.  Once in a while, if we’re really anxious to see a movie, we’ll go to RedBox and pay $1, so long as we return the next day but this is maybe once a month and nearly negligible.  We don’t go out to movies, we don’t go to concerts, we don’t go to events and we’re okay with that.

For music, we listen to Pandora (free again!) and one of our TV channels plays music concerts on the weekends.

I know entertainment is what some people crave and that’s okay too, but it’s about priorities…if you want to spend lots in entertainment, then something has to give.

Total Savings per month: $250 (approx.)

Personal Care:

Making yourself “pretty” – well, this one is easy but does take some discipline.  See, I rarely get my hair cut.  All the years of having a pixie style haircut and needing to cut it every 3 weeks taught me to learn how to cut my own (thankfully I have thick hair that is forgiving of mistakes).  Now that I’ve been growing it out for the past year, I’m just letting my curls out and letting it be.  I also cut David’s hair – he keeps it short and I can easily use the hair clippers on it once or twice a month.  Because we cut our own hair, we save about $100/month.

I don’t get manicures, that can easily be done myself and with pedicures, I usually treat myself to one a year, doing it myself the other times.  This can easily save me about $50/month.  I love massages, but we keep it to special occasions, otherwise, we use a homemedics massager that we bought years ago for about $50 and it really does work great.  David and I will rotate massages – he’ll give me a massage one night, I’ll return the favor another night.  This saves us about $600/year or averages about $50/month in savings.

As far as makeup goes, I still put some on everyday, but gosh, I swear I will not buy another piece of makeup until I’ve used what I have on hand.  At this rate, I won’t be buying another eye shadow for 10 years!  And same goes for body care…do we really need 15 different kinds of lotions/body washes/and specific-to-one-body part type of formula?  I don’t buy anymore soap until I’m out, same goes for all the rest of the body care goodies.  I have enough supplies from endless purchases in my former life.  And sure, this gets tricky when I smell something wonderful at the store and want to bring it home with me, but I really step back and think to myself  “do I really need this?”  I have to be very disciplined at discerning between want and need.  This saves me about $50/month.

Total savings per month: $250

Transportation:

Since David’s accident was ironically timed with my departure from work, we decided to stick with one car.  And it’s a ’99 Volvo.  Certainly not a sexy car, certainly not new with all the bells and whistles, but it’s in decent shape and gets us from point A to point B.  Sure we’d love to have an updated vehicle, but it sure is nice not having a car payment.  Potential savings of $400/month (car payment), or $800 for 2 car payments and $75/month in car insurance .  Certainly not a viable option in most households (that is, keeping one car) but holding on to your vehicle for the long term is.  We also utilize our grocery stores gas discount (the 10 cents off deals) whenever we can.

Total savings per month: $475

Utilities:

Not surprisingly, our electric bill has gone up a bit since I’ve been home.  This is probably due to the fact that I always have TV or radio on while I’m crafting or putzing around the house and I’m cooking a ton now.  However, we keep our thermostat set to 66 during the day and 60 at night.  Yes, this means often wearing more clothes, but that doesn’t cost any.  Usually I’m moving around so I don’t need a sweater, only if I’m sitting for a while.  Also I time the sun and take advantage of passive solar heating – raising all the shades on our Southwest facing windows during the day and closing them as the sun sets to keep in the heat.  I like it cold when I sleep so I usually am fine with the 60 degrees, but on nights where I get a little chilled, I’ll put on thick socks, a thicker shirt or I’ll throw our rice-based neck pillow in the microwave for a couple minutes and that also keeps me warm.  I try these things before turning the heat up and almost never have to.

Our first year in our house, we flew through propane and had to fill it up twice that year.  We’ve since sealed up our house/window cracks and only need 1 tankful a year of propane.  This saves us $1000/year.

We don’t have a landline (savings of $40/month) and reduced our phone bill quite a bit last year by doing a family plan, reducing down to the minimum plan and getting rid of our wireless cards.  We still keep our texting plan as our nieces and friends use this as a primary means of communication, so it’s a splurge we’re willing to make.  Savings of $100/month.  We also quit our trash removal service and will keep our kitchen trash bags until they fill a large black trash bags which only cost $3 at the dump (we average twice a month) so $6 vs. the quarterly cost of $60+.  Savings of $15/month.

Total saving per month: $235

Discretionary:

Well this is a rather large category, but one that can get you into a lot of trouble.  We don’t shop all that much.  We know just walking into a Target can mean walking out $100 out with all these things we “think” we need, so we try to stay out of those places.  Most of my clothes are 5-10 years old.  I’ve always stayed with primary colors/fabrics with no patterns and it’s simplistic but classic and allows me to keep for years.  Right now, I’m wearing goucho/capri type pants (5 years old) a tank top (1 year old) and a cardigan I wore in college (about 14 years old!).  I only wear about 6 pairs of shoes, (sure I’d love more, but do i need them??  No) and I’ve even found many simple shirts at thrift stores.  Even random things like office supplies, houseware, etc. – I always ask myself – can I made do without?  Is there something else in my house that I could use to do the same function?  We used to spend about $300 or more/month in clothes/miscellaneous item that we didn’t need that we refrain from now.

Total savings per month: $300

Socialization:

We keep to ourselves, this is no secret but we do keep in touch with family/friends via online communities, talking and emailing.  We don’t live close to family so this is our primary means of connecting.  I do have a group of girlfriends locally however that I LOVE to visit with, so we usually get together twice a month, almost always getting together at one’s home and doing potluck – a much cheaper option.  Once in a while we’ll get together for drinks/meals at a bistro, but this is infrequent and helps us all to stay on budget.

We’ve made good friends with some of our neighbors and share desserts, meals and divide costs.  For example, one of our neighbors plows our road (we don’t get municipal services on our mountain-side switch-back roads) and we give him gas gift cards as a thank you, certainly much cheaper than hiring a professional to plow the road.  These same neighbors also exchange dog care with us when either of us go on vacation.  We used to spend about $800/week to board our 3 dogs in a nice facility (this is a non-negotiable area for us as we LOVE our pups and refuse to stick them in cages for a week).  Since we take several trips a year averaging about 4 weeks total, this is about $3,200/year.

Total savings per month: $350

Overall savings per year: nearly $27,000! (most people are happy to bring that home after taxes, commuting costs, convenience expenses, costs associated with working, etc.)

It should go without saying that our mortgage is a fixed amount, however, we’re paying more than needed each month so that our place will be paid off in 10 years, a personal goal of ours (it’s amazing how many years you can shave off when you pay a bit more toward your principal each month).  We also have made a committment to max out our retirement accounts (401Ks and IRAs) and set money aside into our saving account every month.

So, although we lost a chunk of incoming dollars, we also stopped a lot of money going out and as the saying goes, a penny saved is a penny earned!  We like to travel (and need to in order to see family), but especially enjoy going to new places that I can photograph, so we’re hoping that my new business will generate just enough money for our yearly travel needs and wishes.

By and far, the greatest thing gained is TIME.  Time at home, time with my husband, time with my dogs, time to do the things I love to do.  Though I keep very busy with all the things that save us money (researching sales, making food from scratch), I LOVE being my own boss and being able to wake up when I want, being able to take the time to sit in nature and enjoy the small but significant things Mother Nature shares every moment and being able to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.  As far as life currency goes, this is WAY more valuable to us than having the latest and greatest and flying through convenience gizmos.

Then again, it’s all about priorities and so my priorities are not the same as others and vice versa.  I’ve really learned that while you can’t have it all, we show our priorities each day by the way we spend our money and make choices.  And what you sacrifice in one area, you gain in another.  It’s all up to you on what that means.

Me?  I’d be willing to trade in even more if I had to in order to preserve my time, and I’m okay with that.  It’s amazing to see how much money goes out the door when you really sit down, save your receipts for a month, utilize a budgeting plan and see how much discretionary money you might be wasting.  Ignorance is not bliss if you want to save money or work less.  But only you can make those decisions and determine your priorities.

Amazing how your purchasing decisions can free you or trap you…

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