Showing posts with label frugal living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label frugal living. Show all posts

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Small Batch Canning: Saving Time, Money, and Sanity!


Wouldn't it be wonderful if you had time during the garden harvest to can all day, every day? When you see super awesome deals on produce at the store, you could purchase them and can them right away when you get home?

You don't have that kind of time? Me neither.

A lot of people ask how I get so much canning done when I am busy with a full-time job and kids. I have a good sized garden and we like to eat fresh produce from it. However, I plant tomatoes and cucumbers with the sole purpose of canning them. I like to take the extra garden bounty and preserve it so we aren't wasting food. However, I don't have time for marathon canning sessions. Even on the weekends, I have plenty of other things on my to-do list besides canning.

I practice the time-saving practice of small batch canning. If I can preserve something every day or night, I can get a lot of canning done. I can keep up with my garden better by small batch canning.  I am not waiting for a lot of tomatoes to be done at once. I can wait for 6-9 pounds of tomatoes to be ripe and can them according to my recipes.

When the beginning and end of the gardening season occurs, I can also use small batch canning to keep up with the garden. Did I mention I am not a fan of food waste? I don't like watching the garden to wait for enough to can when I can do a few jars here and there. I do put away some produce in the freezer to wait for enough produce to can, but I try to avoid doing that because of the quality of the product after it has been frozen.

With small batch canning, I can use a lot of shortcuts or I can spend more time on a recipe. Since I am not one for complicated canning recipes (and have a strong love for Mrs. Wage's packets), I choose to do simple canning recipes that do not take a long time to cook on the stove. I don't mind long canning times, but long cooking times and long canning times can take more time than I have on a weeknight. I also like that I can experiment with different or unusual canning recipes if I have the ingredients on hand. You might like to make the standard strawberry jam, but with small batch canning, you can make strawberry vanilla or strawberry blueberry jam. You are only making a few jars which means you have less waste if you don't like the new recipes.

How does small batch canning save money? Wasting food is wasting money which is heartbreaking to a frugal person. By small batch canning almost every day, you save money and help to prevent food waste. You might think you are spending more money on electricity and/or gas by canning every night. However, you are using the same amount of power as you would be canning all day for several days.

You can also control the amount of money you spend to can your produce. You will have a better idea of how many jars you need and if you need to buy more. You will be able to buy your extra ingredients as you need them or you can stock up at a good price knowing how you need.

Do you need any special equipment for small batch canning? As I talked about in this canning post, you will still need the basic canning equipment as well as canning jars, lids, and rings. However, instead of the big water canner, you can use a smaller stockpot. You can also use an electric pressure cooker instead of the large pressure canner depending on how many jars you are canning. My electric pressure cooker can do four pint-size jars comfortably. I use a washcloth or folded small kitchen towel on the bottom of the pot so the jars do not rattle or bang too much. I like to can broth this way. 

You can also find some great books on small batch canning. These books specialize in smaller canning recipes and allow for safe experimenting in canning. The following books are excellent resources:

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Canning: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round
Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round
The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes

I hope you give some consideration to making canning simpler and less intimidating. So many people think they do not have time to can, but that is simply not true. Just like any other skill, you just need to break it down into smaller sections and do it simply. Small batch canning will definitely help you with that! 

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Start Saving Money By Having A Poverty Mindset! Learn 25 Ways to Extreme Living and Saving!


We all want to save money, but sometimes we just don't know how to save more money than we already are. We don't want to take the next step in frugal living because we know that we will be looked upon as crazy. However, sometimes you need to save an extreme amount of money in a very short period of time. You might be suddenly faced with only having half of your normal income. You might find yourself with a lot of medical bills or a large repair bill.

You might also desire a different kind of life. You may want to prepare, to homestead, or just live a simpler and less stressful life. Most people don't think they can afford to do those things because they are so tied down with debt or other obligations. However, most people can if they would re-examine their spending.

In other words, you will need to practice a level of frugality that most of us don't want to think about. I call this poverty living. We are all living (or should be living) at a level of frugality that seems a little tight, but sometimes we need to get a lot tighter.

What does poverty living entail? Basically, living as broke as you can while still covering the necessities. Some of you, like me, already have done this before and never really had a name for it. While some of you already may live like this and do not have any other way to save more money, some of you may feel the need to do this just to get your budget and finances back under control. You may also feel the need to do this because you are facing an uncertain financial future. And, like I mentioned before, you may have some large bills you need to pay.

How does poverty living and saving work? How can you start living this way?

1. Take a long, hard look at your finances. You need to take a notebook and write down every single bill, expense, and spending you do now. You also need to look at any future expenses you know you will need to pay for. This is the time to get really tough with yourself and/or each other as a couple. What items in your budget can be eliminated, paused, or reduced? Do you have expensive habits? Are you extravagant gift givers? Are you kids in too many activities or have expensive hobbies? This is the time to examine everything including your lives. If you need or want to live as frugally as possible, sacrifices need to be made short term and possibly long term.

2. Get your grocery spending under control. Some of you will say that you don't spend a lot of money on groceries or at least as much as your friend spends on her groceries. You need to change your thinking. You are practicing a whole new level of saving so you need to focus on you. You need to carefully look over your receipts. You need to start making a list and sticking to the list and the budget. You need to plan meals around basic foods, what you are growing, and what is on sale. Going without a list and with no plan will make for a miserable time for you and your budget. You need to make the time to do this. You can also start a price book so you can get an idea of when an item is the cheapest, where the best price is, and how often it is on sale.

3. Meal plan and plan your meals around cheap, basic foods. If you are trying to save money, having fancy meals of salmon, steak, and lobster is not going to be possible. You need to keep your meals as frugal as possible. You may not be able to have meat as much as you like either. Casseroles, one pot meals, and soups will feed a lot of people cheaply. Make sure you also plan for breakfasts and lunches. If you think you will get sick of the same foods all the time, you may just need to suck it up. You are trying to save money. You can find a lot of ways to jazz up your meals with getting bored, but you will need to be creative about it.

4. Sell what you don't need. If you have four vehicles, only two are in working condition, and you only have two drivers, sell the two non-running vehicles. You can sell vehicles as is as long as you are honest about what is wrong with them. The same with the stuff you have in the garage, house, shed, and anywhere you are stashing things. Now is the time to make a little extra money! If you don't need it, get rid of it. Some things will only have a purpose once or twice a year and that is okay. However, your kids' outgrown toys, clothes, and equipment are not doing you any good sitting in a closet. Neither is the sporting equipment that you used ten years ago but think you will use again someday.

5. What are the necessities for you and your family? What do you really need? We all think we need things, but most of the time we can live without them. Sacrifices will need to be made in order for this to work. A good deal of the things we think of as necessary we find out is not necessary after living without them for a few months. You just need to really examine everything you purchase or use and ask yourself if you can live without them.

6. Unless you are getting it for free, no eating out, no going out on dates/nights out, no alcohol, and no other bad habits. They aren't necessary no matter how much you think they are so now is a good time to get rid of the bad and expensive habits and any other costly fun things. You may suffer some withdrawals, but the suffering will be worth the money saved and possibly improved health. You can also add soda pop, candy, and other "treats" that we think we need for ourselves. We don't need them and we would be better off without them.

7. Write down every penny spent, earned, and examine every purchase. This is a learning process. You will make mistakes, but in order to know where your money is going, you need to be on top of the spending. Ideally, you do not want to spend any money, but life is never ideal. However, by writing down every purchase and expense, you can easily see where your money is going and where it shouldn't be going. From there, you can make the necessary corrections to save even more money. And sometimes, just the thought of having to write down the expense will stop you from purchasing the item. No one wants to write down that they spent $1.29 on a candy bar.

8. Figure out what the true cost of things is. You may think your child needs to be in activities like basketball, dance, and other sports. You may think it is only costing you $40 for the registration fee. However, you are also spending money on additional vehicle gas, vehicle wear and tear, your time, possibly fast food to feed the family, special clothing and shoes, and more. That $40 is more like $400 before the season is over. While I believe kids should be involved in a few things, sometimes parents get kids involved in things they don't want to do. The same can be said about our hobbies and past times.

You need to examine the reasons to be involved in things and decide if the cost is worth it. Most of the time, it is not. This can apply to any area of your life. Maybe you have a home business, but that business is costing you as much money as you earn. You might have a hobby that is costly. You might like to do crafts, but the supplies are costly. You need to look at everything involved with those things and ask yourself what the real cost is for the hobby or past times.

9. No more food waste. When you are living below the poverty level, you do not have the luxury of wasting food ever. If you are raising food, you better find a way to preserve it somehow if you cannot eat it all. If you have leftovers, you should be eating them until they are gone. If you cannot eat all the leftovers, you need to freeze them or offer them to friends. If you do not like leftovers, you either need to get over yourself or make just enough food for the meal. You do not have the money to be throwing away food. If you have little bits of food or vegetables in your fridge you don't know what to do with, make a refrigerator clean out casserole or soup.

10. Clean and take care of your things. Neglect and disrepair will only cost you more money. You need to make sure your things are clean and in good repair. Most of the time keeping your items clean will cost you almost nothing. If something breaks, have it fixed or fix it yourself. Most of the time, the repair will be cheaper than buying the item again.

11. Save money any way you can. You need to always look for the savings in almost all of your decisions. This doesn't mean you should buy cheap goods that will break quickly instead of quality. This means you should always examine everything to see if you can save money. Saving items like rubber bands, twist ties, bread sacks, scrap paper, and more will save you money and extend the life of your purchase. Turn on a lamp instead of the overhead light because the lamp will take less electricity. Use grocery sacks for trash bags instead of using the real thing. Put on a sweatshirt and drop the thermostat by two degrees in the winter. Ask yourself constantly how you can save money and do it.

12. See how far you can stretch a tank of gas. Buying gas for your vehicles can be a budget killer. If you are driving to work every day, ask yourself if you can carpool with someone. Maybe you can walk or ride a bike to work. If you do have to drive, drive the speed limit. You need to also combine your errands. Try to limit your trips you are making. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to make the trip if not for work or family. Reduce your grocery trips to once a week or twice a month. If you need to go to the library, where else do you need to go?

13. Have a no spend week, month, or even longer. If you really want to curtail your spending, this is a great way to do. You need to set your limits and allowable purchases (gas, groceries, prescriptions) before you start. You also need to write down anticipated expenses and what you will do if unanticipated expenses do come up. However, this works best if everyone is on board with it. If you live with others, you need to talk to them. You can still practice a no spend month yourself, but it just might be more difficult.

14. Never turn down free items if you need or want them. Some people will turn down free items offered to them just because of their pride or they think someone else will need it more. If you can use it or need it, by all means, accept the free items. Accepting and using free items is the number two way to save money (number one is not spending money).

15. Learn to trade and barter. Trading goods and services is a win-win for everyone involved. If you have eggs and your neighbor has apples, trading those things with each other helps everyone involved. Bartering is a similar concept. You can offer to clean for someone in exchange for a haircut or another service. Whether trading or bartering, you are saving yourself a great deal of money.

16. If you have some expensive habits or friends, this is a good time to put them on hold. We can have the best intentions when we are trying to save money, but our habits and our friends can ruin those intentions in seconds. Habits like a drink after work, daily coffee runs, ribeyes on Friday nights, and expensive night outs can be the ruin of a good budget. You might think that these things will ruin the budget at the time, but over time these things can really add up and take away from the money you are desperately trying to save. Friends can be just as bad. Some friends may not feel like they can have a good time without an expensive meal out, lots of drinks, and/or a day of shopping. You can deal with them by leveling with them about the fact that you are saving money and cannot do those things anymore. You can maybe find other things to do with them that are free or inexpensive, but you may just have to stay away from them for a while.

17. If you have a credit card problem, you need to deal with them. I know a lot of people who are completely responsible with credit cards and pay them off every month. They are very conscious about what they spend and use them responsibly. I am not talking to those people. If you have problems with credit cards, you need to get rid of them as quickly as possible. You may need to cut them up or put them in a safe deposit box away from you. If the interest is very high, look at switching or transferring to a low/no interest card in order to save money on interest. Then you need to pay them as quickly as possible. You need to learn to live on cash or within a budget if credit cards are a problem.

18. Buy used before you buy new. Almost everything you consume can be purchased used except for food, personal items, and maybe undergarments. Most of the time, you can find what you need to purchase used on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, garage sales, resale shops, thrift stores, and sidewalk curbs. If you can anticipate needing the item and you find it before you need it, purchase it. This would be in cases like winter coats, clothes for growing children, school items, and more. You will save so much money this way and you will also stop the cycle of consumerism.

19. Shop from home first. Most people will go out and buy something new instead of using what they have at home. Back to school shopping is a prime example of this. Your kids probably came home with items they used last school year that is in perfectly good condition. However, we have been trained to think they need everything new when school starts again. We need to ditch that thinking. Look over their last year's items and reuse what you can. The same goes for gifts. Most of the time we have a brand new item at home that will work for a wedding or baby shower gift. Yes, this is regifting and make sure you do it right. Remove the card and make sure you don't give it back to the person who gave it to you. You may also be able to make a present with items you have on hand already.

20. Reuse, reuse, reuse. Most items are not disposable, but we treat them as such. It is easier to throw something away and purchase new again. However, a person living at poverty levels do not have that luxury. Wash, fix, repair, mend, and reuse items again. If something like a towel (for example) is no longer sufficient for the shower or bath, it can be used as a cleaning rag. Plastic bags can be washed out and reused again and again unless you use them for raw meat. Ask yourself if you can reuse this item or find another use for it before throwing it away.

21. Buy non-disposable items. On the flipside of reuse, reuse, reuse is making sure to purchase non-disposable items. This may seem like you are spending more money, but you are spending money on an item you hopefully never have to purchase again. Using handkerchiefs or a washcloth instead of facial tissues will save a lot of money. Using rags or cleaning cloths instead of paper towels will save a lot of money. Using plastic or glasses food containers instead of plastic food bags will save money. Look for the items you can use again and again instead of disposable items.

22. Realize saving money is in the little things as well as the big things. Many people have this idea that you cannot save money unless you are saving money on big purchases. This is simply not true. With a poverty mindset, you need to look for the savings in everything and often times the real savings in the little things. By not buying the coffee every day, you are saving $1-4 a day which adds up to $7-28 a week. In addition to those savings, you aren't tempted to buy the donut or bagel which is $2-4 a day or $14-28 a week. Already you have saved $21-56 in a week which is $84-$224 a month which is very nice payment on a bill. This is the mindset you need to create - little savings add up to big savings over time.

23. You may not be able to buy organic, non-GMO food or special ingredients. Back to the good old grocery budget. Most impoverished people can not afford this kind of food unless they are growing it themselves. While I mentioned before that you need to convert to cheap, basic foods, that doesn't mean you need to eat junk or eat unhealthily. You need to keep food to rice, beans, vegetables, fruits, and eat well but cheap. You just may not be able to afford organic food, hemp seeds, or anything that is marked up due to being the new health food cure-all.

24. Use everything until it is gone and do not purchase new unless you need it. When you are poor, you do not have the luxury of throwing away a half-used bottle of shampoo. You suck it up and use it up. You add a little water to the bottle to get the last bit out after tipping the bottle upside down for several days. The same should go for almost everything else that you use. You do everything you can to use up the last little bit of everything. Then you need to ask yourself if you need to buy another one or do you have something else on hand that will work. Most people do have something that will work instead of buying new. However, if you need it, by all means, buy another one and try to make it last longer (unless it has a short shelf life!).

25. Work as much as you can (within reason). If you are truly needing to get out of debt, pay off big bills, or just trying to save a large amount of money, you need to work as much as you can. Most people are not willing to do this. However, if you are offered more hours at work, take them. If you have the opportunity to work a part-time job in addition to your full-time job, do it. The only caveat to this would be if you have to pay more to work more. Having kids in daycare longer is usually not beneficial for the budget or family life. Sometimes you can work from home or telecommute which will help you save money as well as make more money. I would just steer clear of multi-level marketing jobs that ask you to spend money in hopes of making more money. Yes, they do work for some people, but often they don't work for others.

Some of you are thinking you already do most of these things, but can you take it further? I know I can and should. If you are stuck for ideas, the internet is a wonderful place full of good ideas. If you think you can't live without a smartphone, satellite television, and more, research other cultures and extreme savers. They will teach you quickly that you can and you would be spending your time much more productively without them.

Do you think you can live like this? Do you think you could make the sacrifices for the bigger goal?

Thanks for reading,
Erica

Related Posts:
What Place Does Extreme Frugality Have In Your Life? How Can You Live In Extreme Frugality?
The Budget Is Getting Tighter! 15 Ways We Are Making Lincoln Scream And You Can Too! 


Monday, August 27, 2018

You Have Lessons To Learn From Those That Survived The Great Depression


The Great Depression was an era in American History that people who lived through it would remember indefinitely. They remember how hard the times were, the poverty most people suffered, and just life in general at the time. For most people who remember living through this time, the lessons stuck with them for the rest of their life.

For those who experienced the worst of The Great Depression, they never forgot. They do not or did not like talking about life during that time, but the lessons they learned were life-changing. Most people now would not necessarily notice the impact made until they looked closer at these people.

They do not throw out anything. The only things in their garbage (scrap) pails were items that could not possibly use anymore, be fed to animals, or composted. They were on board with recycling before recycling was the cool thing to do. Their homes will appear very neat and tidy, but their closets are packed full of items they could not part with including old clothes, newspapers, fabric, boxes, baskets, jars, string and twine, rubber bands, twist ties, plastic bags, and more. During the Great Depression, you would never know if and when you might need something to repair or fix another item.

They were basically hoarders because they had to be, but you would have never known it by looking at their homes. Now that the minimalist movement is in full swing, some people look down their noses at these older people who lived through the Depression. However, we must realize that they did not have the possessions then we have now. They just didn't have the pure junk and cheaply made goods we have now. They were minimalists in their own way because they did not have the money or the means to have more possessions. They just refused to throw out anything that could be used again.

Notice how most older people do not buy new clothes unless they have to? Their shoes are usually repaired, worn until they fall apart, and/or are still kept in case they need a pair for the garden or other chores. They probably have a good pair that is kept for special occasions or church, but when that pair is no longer good, they get used for every day. The same goes for coats and more. You will also notice they do not buy trendy clothing items either - most of their items are of good quality that will last years. In this age of disposable clothing, this seems odd, but they probably would see us as wasteful.

People during this time lost their fortunes. People also lost their savings as banks closed. While most people who lived during this time continued to save money after the Depression and World War II, many were leery of banks. They would keep cash at home, have accounts at multiple banks, and not have all their eggs in one basket. Most of them would also go on to save a large amount of money because they lived so simply and frugally.

They also went on to birth the Baby Boomer generation. They wanted to give their children a better life than what they had. They saved money for their kids to go to college because they wanted their kids to have an education and succeed. They would go on to help their children buy their first farm and possibly their first home. They would invest in their businesses to help them get a start because very few of those that lived during the Depression had that luxury.

Many people during the Depression lost their homes and their businesses. They would have to move for jobs and just to find work. People would have to move in with other family members or rent a couple rooms for a roof over their heads. Kids were expected to help out any way they could with the understanding any money they earned would probably go to the family. If they were given payment at all, that money was not spent frivolously. Not to say that the kids were not given a special treat once in a while, but they did not expect this all the time like kids do now. 

While there has always been poverty in this country, during the Great Depression, poverty was acute and affected nearly everyone in some way. When we think of poor now, we think of either the homeless or just living paycheck to paycheck. However, poverty is the circumstances of being extremely poor. Most people did not have enough money for rent/mortgage payment, food, clothing, and other necessities. Children were sent to live with other relatives or were taken to orphanages because their parents could afford to take care of them. Many adolescents were sent to live at other households as hired girls or men and worked for a roof over their heads and food to eat.

People leaned on bartering and trading during this time also. People would help each other bring in the crops, bale hay, tend the sick and the infirmed, do heavy housework, and more. You might have given the neighbor some produce from your garden in exchange for eggs. Like my grandmother, you might have worked as a hired girl so you could stay in town and go to high school. Many people traded and bartered services and goods just to stay alive and stretch their money even more. To do this, you can still see this generation doing this. They also instilled these lessons into their children.

People who lived during this time did what they had to do to survive. We all hear stories about the Great Depression that we think we could never do now. However, when you are faced with a choice to survive or not, you would think differently. This time in history is also very romanticized by those who think it will happen again. They want to live like that. Most of them could not do it.

How could you survive another Great Depression? Most of us preppers would like to think we could survive anything, but in reality, the Great Depression lasted until World War II started. For most people, nothing changed when we went to war because of the rationing system and the unavailability of goods. Jobs were on the rise due to wartime production, but the money still barely covered the necessities. There is not really any way to be reasonably prepared for ten years or longer unless you practice self-sufficiency now.

What saved many people during the Great Depression was the ability to grow their own food, raise animals for eggs and meat, have large gardens, and preserve as much as they could to get through the winter. They knew how to sew their own clothes, mend almost anything, and think creatively to solve problems or fix anything. Nothing was wasted which is a huge problem nowadays. They made only one trip to town a week for anything that needed to be purchased if they could afford to go. They would have also taken in any extra produce or eggs to the local grocer which he would have paid them for if the quality was right.

In short, the skills this generation knew is what saved them. They still have these learned lessons in their memories. You see that most of them still practice what they can, but this generation is dying out quickly. When they are gone, the lessons will be forgotten. If experts are right, we could be headed towards another financial and economic upheaval. We have more people living in this country than ever.

While there is a trend towards self-sufficiency right now, most people would be suffering until they could get back on their feet again. I have faith in people helping other people, but the resources might not be there to help everyone. FDR was accused of socialism and more when he rolled out the New Deal to create programs which created jobs to help people get back on their feet again. Now, if that happened, it would be wrapped up in Congress for months. With all the regulations we have now, it may never happen.

If you have a chance, please sit down with the generation who lived during this time. Ask them how they or their parents survived the time. You will hear different accounts because their experiences were different. Some people went through this time just fine because they were already used to living the self-sufficient life. Some people had to learn it. Some people lived in abject poverty and were basically homeless. If you can't directly talk to someone who lived during the Depression, read some first-hand accounts. What they had to do to live may surprise you.

Thanks for reading,
Erica

Related posts:
Ten Lessons Learned About Food From The Depression and Wartime
"We Just Did"


Sunday, August 12, 2018

This Kind of Life Is Not Cute or Kitschy...It's A Lot of Work


This weekend has been busy. I am getting ready to post several pictures on Instagram about what I got done this week and I am still struck by how much work gets done around here every weekend. What strikes me, even more, is how much work there is to do everyday and weekend.

I choose this life. I wasn't delusional about what it would entail. Being a prepper is work. Being a homesteader is work. Being self-reliant is work. Being frugal is more work. All four of those together means the work never lets up. I know people who can't handle it and I don't blame them. There are days I can barely handle it.

Some of you probably think that all I do is run a blog and hang out here at home. That couldn't be further from the truth. I work as an office manager Monday through Friday, 7:30 am - 4:30 pm. I run an eBay store that I have been adding more and more inventory too. I have two very active teenagers at home and two young adults who live with their husband or boyfriend. I have two grandchildren. And I blog and write for other sites.

I am not asking or seeking sympathy. Like I said before, I choose this life.

What gets me though is the people who think this kind of life is cute or kitschy. What we do to thrive or survive is trendy. Like raising chickens is adorable. Like raising a garden is so good for my health and the environment. Like everything I do to save money in a day is so consumer conscious.

Spare me the trendy terms and the idealistic attitude. That is not why I do it.

I raise my own food because, quite frankly, I save myself a lot of money and I know where some of my food comes from. I enjoy raising my own food, but some days it is a lot of work. The weeding never ends. Sometimes I have more food to preserve than I have time to do. There are times I take a vacation day or two from work just to can tomatoes. I get frustrated because my chickens and the other wildlife ate my berries before I got to pick them. I wish the chickens would figure out that I really don't want them on the front porch.

I raise my own laying chickens because the eggs are really that much better than store-bought eggs. They help fertilize the yard which means I (meaning mostly the teenagers) get to mow more often. They like to eat bugs which is why they get to free range. Besides that, free-ranging chickens eat less feed which means I save money and get better tasting eggs.  However, reference the front porch comment and berry comment again.

I prepare because I truly believe everyone should. I think you should be prepared because that is the responsible thing to do. I prepare because I don't want to be in a situation of begging for handouts if I can help it. I want to have plenty of food and water on hand so my kids do not go thirsty or hungry. I want to be able to survive a power outage and more. I want to be prepared for natural disasters and economic downturns. However, preparedness can be work. I garden and raise my own food in order to be better prepared and less reliant on the system. I can and preserve to have more food on hand. I buy the supplies and learn the skills so I know how to take care of my family and myself.

I can and preserve my own food because, again, I like knowing where my food comes and I take a great satisfaction in knowing I produce it. I like being less reliant on a food system that takes pleasure in hiding chemicals and harmful additives to food. I make a lot of my own food and make a lot of food from scratch because I know what is in the food. I have a daughter who is lactose-intolerant and there is a lot of dairy hidden in food using names that I cannot pronounce and are not even natural. By preserving our own food, we can all be healthier and more conscious of what is in our food.

I like saving money and making money. I will not even be ashamed of either of those things. I am a borderline workaholic which makes this life even remotely possible. I juggle a lot of balls every day. I think a lot of people who are in my shoes would say that. There is a lot of people who do this without an outside income to rely on. There is a lot of people who barely scrape by every day and would think I am wasteful when I have a lot of weeks where I barely scrape by. There is a lot of people who live this life and do not think this life is cute or kitschy either.

I hear a lot of people who "crave" the simple life. I might have that phrase in my byline, but I would not be sure that I could accurately say that I live it either. Simple is not running from one place to another and trying to get more accomplished in a day than there are hours in a day. Simple is not trying to balance kids with work, with home life, with keeping a house, with keeping animals, and with trying to raise my own food. Some of that is simple, but not all combined together. While most people live in the rat race, chasing the "American Dream", and being in debt to their ears, this life I live is not always simple. It just looks better than those people.

Again, I choose this life and everything in it. If you wish you could do all the things I do, then do more than wish for it. That is what I did. Wishing does not make things happen. Wishing does not do anything, but make you keep wishing. If you want to be a homesteader or a prepper, then do what you can to make that happen. Just be aware that this life is a lot of work, but the results are rewarding.

I won't delude you either. I would not be where I am at without some help. I have a guy in my life who does what he can every day to get stuff done. My kids do chores, clean the chicken coop, and mow. I live on an acreage rent-free, but I pay all the bills except property taxes and pay for almost all of the upkeep. I have a lot of people who support me and live this life as well so they can commiserate with me. I do get out of the house and have fun periodically because I need to relax.

Another thing about this life - it comes with great disappointment sometimes. Your garden doesn't turn out well or your cucumber plants become victims of the wildlife. Your entire flock of laying hens is killed by a mink. Your only vehicle has to go into the shop for very expensive repairs. Your kids or you become ill resulting in unexpected medical bills. You lose your job and have to rely on your food storage to get you through.

This life is a learning experience. You will witness some great miracles and some devastating losses. You will feel as though you are walking alone in it or, worse yet, feeling like you let your loved ones down. You will feel a great joy every time you bring home a flock of baby chickens or watch a calf or a piglet being born. You will go to bed bone tired but satisfied that you put in a full day's worth of work. You will be awake at night wondering how you are going to fix a car or a tractor or how you are going to pay that bill. You will watch your kids grow up learning these skills and you will know that they will be able to survive on their own.

Does this life get any easier? Yes and no. Yes, because you learn what to do, you learn skills, and you start to have systems in place. No, because you will always have more work than time, you will be short of money when you need it most, and you will be thrown curveballs when you never expected them.

Like I said before, I choose this life. I want this life. I want more for myself and my family. I can't see the appeal of a consumer-driven life with keeping up appearances and being in debt. I truly think everyone should live the life I am living. Honest labor never hurt anyone and you become more appreciative of what you have.

However, it is not cute or kitschy. It is not trendy. It is and always will be a lot of work.

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

20 Must-Have Items For Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs


Learning how to maintain and perform simple repairs is a critical skill to learn. Most people at this time do not know how to do this. Unless you take a shop class in a high school geared towards vehicle care and repair, it is not a skill that is taught. Fathers used to teach it to their sons and daughters in order for them to know what to do, but that is becoming a lost skill too.

Now, you need to teach yourselves. Lucky for us, there is a plethora of videos and websites that show us how to do this. If you are fortunate enough to find someone who knows how to maintain and repair a vehicle, please ask them to teach you. While I used to be able to do a lot of my own repairs and maintenance, I find that my skills are getting rusty. I need to learn how to do this again too.

Some of you have new or newer vehicles that you may not be able to work on due to the computer or how much has changed in cars and trucks. I would look for a Haynes Repair Manual specific to your vehicle. I would recommend you pick one up no matter what year your vehicle is. However, newer vehicles can be difficult to repair, but you should still learn to maintain them to the best of your abilities.

This list of must-have items can look different for everyone. It can be difficult to have and keep all these things, but I have learned from others that they are very important to have on hand. Once you acquire these things, please learn how to use them. They can save you a lot of money in labor costs from the mechanic. You may also need to repair your car on the road and will need to know how to use these things.

20 Must-Have Items For Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs

1. Oil Filter Wrench

2. Oil and Filters

3. Antifreeze

4. Air Filter

5. Power Steering Fluid and Transmission Fluid

6. Wipers

7. Wiper Fluid

8. Tools like a screwdriver set and a metric and standard socket set

9. Fuses

10. Battery tester and charger

11. Tire Pressure Gauge

12. Tire Repair Kit

13. Brake Fluid

14. Oil Drain Pan to catch oil and other fluids

15. Code Reader (make sure it works for your year of vehicle)

16. Full-Size Spare Tire

17. Tire Iron and Jack (usually comes with most vehicles)

18. Air Compressor and Chuck

19. Replacement Bulbs for Headlights, Taillights, and Blinkers

20. Battery Jumper Cables

Another thing I would recommend getting is a Vehicle Emergency Kit. If you are broken down on the side of the road, these kits can be invaluable. There are two different kinds of kits - one is for roadside emergencies and the other is for when you are stuck in your vehicle. Both are good things to have in your vehicle.

What else would you add to the list? What items do you find crucial to have for your vehicles?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Think Long Term With Perennials When Planting Your Garden and Yard


Gardening can be a lot of fun especially when you start reaping the benefits from all that work. Some of the hardest work, but greatest reward when planting your garden is planting perennials. Perennials come in several forms, but what you are looking for are plants, bushes, and trees that will produce food every year.

From a prepping standpoint, you want a constant food source. Most perennials are not easy to kill or hard to establish. However, if you are thinking long-term, you want to start these perennials now to get them established. There are perennials can take 1-3 years to produce food. Trees can take even longer to produce food. You want to get them in the ground this summer and fall.

From a homesteading standpoint, growing your food is always a delight. There is always a satisfaction in providing your food and reducing your independence on the grocery store. Planting perennials are always rewarding in that you reap what you sow every year.

From a frugal living standpoint, growing your food means less money you spend on groceries. Win-win! Shopping from your garden is always better than shopping at the store.

Now, I have nothing against annuals. You will see a lot of annuals in my garden. However, I want to know I have a constant source of food every year. It will not be enough to sustain us but will be enough to add to a meal. I can also expand my perennials and plant more using cutting from the original plants. A lot of perennials will do their own spreading of roots and start new plants on their own.

What perennials should you be planting?

1. Raspberries. They are some of the easiest perennials to grow. Their root system will cause them to start new plants and can double or triple within a year of planting. They are easy to maintain and easy to transplant. You should have fruit in 1-2 years.

2. Rhubarb. Again, very easy to grow in most areas. They do like a lot of sunshine so find a good sunny spot for them. Every couple of years, I like to feed my plants with composted manure in the fall to keep producing well. They will spread a little so give them some space. You can start harvesting them in the second year, but it is best to wait until the third year to harvest.

3. Blackberries. Pretty easy to grow. Keep them trimmed back to three feet so they become bushy and will produce better fruit. You should have fruit in 1-2 years.

4. Blueberries. These can be difficult to establish. You will want to make sure you have acidic soil or that you mend your soil to be acidic when you plant them. If you know you want to plant them next Spring, I would work on that blueberry bed now so the soil is good for them. They will need some pruning as they get bigger. They will fruit in 2-3 years.

5. Elderberries, strawberries, and other berry plants. There are many different kinds of berry plants and I encourage you to look into them. They are all delicious! Most of them will take 1-3 years to get establish and start producing fruit.

6. Asparagus. These plants will need a little work to start growing, but they are worth it! They come as crowns that you will need to plant 8-12 inches deep. I would also add a good layer of compost in the hole before you plant them. You will be able to harvest asparagus in the third year. Asparagus can last as long as 20-30 years in one spot.

7. Herbs like lovage, sorrel, mint, thyme, sage, and more. Most perennial herbs will come back every year if they are cut back in the fall. Herbs are so multi-dimensional that you do not want to be without them. Some herbs can be difficult to start from seed so investing a plant or getting a transplant may be worth your while. Check your gardening zone to see what herbs will grow best in your area.

8. Garlic and walking onions. Both plants produce bulbs that you can plant again in the fall for a crop next summer. Both are easy to grow and need very little tending besides a good layer of mulch in the fall to protect them from winter.

9. Fruit trees. These will take a few years to grow and produce. Realistically you will not see any production from fruit trees for at least three years, but more than likely it will be 5-7 years before any fruit falls. Like any other planted tree, you will need to water the trees well for the first year to get them established. You may also need to protect them in the winter from the elements, deer, and rabbits.

10. Nut trees. These are similar to fruit trees. They will take a few years to grow and produce. You will need to water them well in the first year to establish them. And you will need to protect them.

11. Greens like kale, radicchio, watercress, and stinging nettles. Many people think that greens are just an annual, but there are varieties that are actually perennials. I know from experience that kale will come back a second year if you forget to pull the plants in the fall. I was still harvesting kale in December that year!

12. Dandelions. Okay, I realize 99% of you will never have to plant dandelions because they grow rampant around you. However, they are overlooked for their benefits. The greens are good in a salad. The flowers make jelly, wine, teas, and salves.

This is a general list, but there are many other perennials you can plant. Some people are able to plant artichokes which can be a perennial, but artichokes in northern Iowa do not always work out. Look up your gardening zone and figure out what would be best for you to grow! Growing perennials helps you to be more self-sufficient, save money, and gives you a continual food source. What is not to love about perennials?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sewing & Mending Kit Essentials For Preppers (And Everyone Else!)


One of those basic skills everyone should know how to do is to sew and mend their own clothes. It is still a skill I am learning, but one that I feel strongly about improving when I can. We have saved a lot of shirts by sewing the seams back up so my kids could wear them again. I have sown more buttons on than I care to think about. 

However, those small little kits sold in the stores are good in a pinch, they will not cut for most sewing and mending. You need better kits than that! 


Since I still have the basic sewing kit that my mother put together when I got married, I thought I would ask her what should be in a sewing and mending kit! She has been sewing her own clothes, sewing items for other people, altering clothes, and mending clothes most of her life. She has altered prom dresses, made doll and Barbie clothes, and still does some of my hemmings! She has got experience! 


I asked her what she would have in a sewing kit and a mending kit and what she couldn't live without. To her, these kits would probably be one and the same. You will notice some crossover between the two kits. I asked her what she would have if she had to be off-grid also. As you can see, she would use a lot of hand sewing and mending. There is nothing on this list that couldn't be done by hand. 


A basic sewing kit (with her recommendations) should include:
  • Needles – asst. lengths and needle eyes
  • Thread – asst. colors [or can do just the basic color hues]
  • Straight Pins – I like the big-headed long or quilters pins, but sometimes the smaller shorter ones are necessary
  • A pin box(es) or pincushion or magnetic tray [easy to make – glue magnets to the bottom of a pretty saucer]
  • Safety pins – asst. sizes
  • Tape Measure – I prefer cloth, but plastic works – do not use metal
  • Small ruler – 6 inches’ long
  • Scissors – Pinking Shears; Material cutting – long blade; material cutting -standard; snips
  • Rotary Blade cutter and mats of various sizes
  • Seam Ripper – with a sturdy handle
  • Thimbles – to fit at least two fingers
  • Beeswax – to coat difficult thread
  • Material marking pencils or pens that wash out

A basic mending kit (with her recommendations) should include:
  • Needles – asst. lengths and needle eyes
  • Upholstery Needles – can get them by the packs that have long and curved needles
  • Thread – asst. colors [or can do just the basic color hues]
  • Heavy Duty Thread – Black and/or Brown
  • Straight Pins – I like the big-headed long or quilters pins, but sometimes the smaller shorter ones are necessary
  • A pin box(es) or pincushion or magnetic tray [easy to make – glue magnets to the bottom of a pretty saucer]
  • Safety pins – asst. sizes
  • Small ruler – 6 inches’ long
  • Scissors – Material cutting - standard; snips
  • Seam Ripper – sturdy handle
  • Thimbles – to fit at least two fingers
  • Beeswax – to coat thread
  • Material marking pencils or pens that wash out
  • Patches – asst. sizes and material [can also use iron patches or tape
  • Buttons – asst. sizes and colors
  • Snaps – asst. sizes
  • Hook & Eyes – asst. sizes
  • Zippers – Jean size, Jacket size, skirt size
  • Repair parts for zippers

While sewing by hand is a great skill, most people would still like to have a sewing machine. Learning to use a sewing machine is a great skill to learn. I asked her about sewing machines in an off-grid or no power situation. If you are interested in an off-grid sewing machine, you need to find a treadle-powered sewing machine (using foot-powered pedal). Lehman's carries one that is a treadle powered modern sewing machine. (not an affiliate link) Most modern electric sewing machines cannot be converted to treadle power. Older sewing machines may be able to be converted to treadle power, but you will need to check on that. 


If you have these sewing and mending kits already, I would check them over for anything you might have missed or have used up. If you do not have anything for these kits, I would start at the top of these lists, find a good container to hold the items, and start buying! 


Thanks for reading,

Erica (with a lot of help from my mom!)




Sunday, April 15, 2018

What Place Does Extreme Frugality Have In Your Life? How Can You Live In Extreme Frugality?


One of the ideas that have been on my mind has been extreme frugality. I am currently in saving money mode (which is normal) while trying to amp up my frugality game. I am back to using paper coupons, digital coupons, Ibotta, SavingStar, and much more. I'm paying a lot more attention to sale flyers and really deciding if I need any of that which, by the way, is in direct conflict with the stockpiler in me!

However, along with being frugal, I want to have a bigger impact on my savings and my spending game. To save more money and spend less money, you have to make more meaningful decisions about where your money goes and how your money is being spent. In short, you have to become more extreme in your frugal living game.

Frugal living has several aspects. One of the biggest aspects of frugal living and practicing extreme frugality is daily living. You have to examine every decision you make every day. Because being frugal is not just saving money on just big purchases, but being consciously aware of the money being spent on small daily purchases and how you are using the items you already have or purchased.

For whatever reason you decide to practice extreme frugality, you need to know and understand your reasons. Those reasons will be your motivation. The reasons can be many, but not limited to:


  • To rein in your spending
  • To pay down debt
  • To purchase a car or home
  • To save money for college
  • To save money for retirement
  • To save money for emergencies
  • To make a conscious effort to not spend money
  • To make frugality a part of your life

Whatever reason(s) you decide to practice extreme frugality, you need to know why you are doing it. Write down those reasons and place them everywhere you need to see them (office, computer, wallet, kitchen, etc.).

Now, that you know your reason for being extreme in your frugality, you need to find ways to tighten your spending. Some ideas to tighten up your frugal game could be:


  • Asking yourself to wait 3-7 days before purchasing anything besides necessities
  • Asking yourself if you have something already on hand before purchasing anything
  • Making a conscious decision to purchase used if at all possible
  • Eliminating food waste and examining if food scraps have another use
  • Using reusable items before purchasing single-use items like water bottles and drinks
  • Only purchasing clothes when something needs to be replaced and can't be repaired
  • Using washcloths and rags for paper towels, napkins, facial tissues, and more
  • Eliminating electrical use when possible and using solar or hand power instead
  • Walking or biking instead of driving the car
  • Making your own cleaners and beauty products
  • No more eating out and tightening the grocery budget
  • And so much more...

Every decision you make in a day should be examined for frugal reasons. There are always ways to save more money.

There may not be things you are willing to do to save more money. That is okay, but ask yourself why you are not willing to go that far to save money or not spend money. If saving/not spending money will hurt yourself or harm your family, then you shouldn't be doing it. There is a fine line in extreme frugality and withholding a critical necessity or service to not spend money is crossing the line.

Extreme frugality may bring on extreme cheapness. In some cases, being cheap is not a bad thing. People may view you are cheap just because you are not willing to buy something, go to a "party" for the sole purchase of buying something or will not go out bar hopping. That is not being cheap, that is being frugal. Being cheap is only spending what you have to without thought to others or yourself and potentially causing harm. Being cheap is also spending the least amount of money possible even though what you are purchasing is pure crap and you will be buying a new one when that item breaks easily. Being cheap is also taking advantage of a situation to get something free or get the upper hand over someone just so you don't have to spend anything. I could go on about being cheap and sometimes it is a good thing, but not usually.

You want to be fair in your extreme frugality. You are doing this for yourself and your family. Being cheap is not always being fair to yourself or others. However, in your frugality, look for the free things you can get. Being extremely frugal does not mean your life is over with or that you can not have any fun. Take advantage of these free things:


  • Look for free things you can do or take home. 
  • Take advantage of your library for books and movies. 
  • Look for events around the area that do not cost you anything but maybe gas money. 
  • Look for things that people are giving away for free. 
  • Be a curb shopper, dumpster diver, free garage sale box looker. 
  • Be creative with what you have and what you find.
  • Have staycations often and keep them as frugal as possible.
  • Learn new skills with items you already have.
  • Don't say no when someone wants to treat you or your family.

You can still live a full life even though you have your nose to the extremely frugal grindstone. You can still have fun. You can still be involved in things you love, but just be conscious of what it is asking of you financially. Some groups and things are fun, but if you are constantly bleeding money to be in while trying to actively save money, something is wrong. You may have to let those things go for a time while you are being extremely frugal.

While being extremely frugal is a very good thing, you still have some things to keep in mind. Being an extreme frugalister can make your mind think some funny things. Like you shouldn't throw anything away or give anything away. Like you should be a hoarder. That couldn't be farther from the truth! Yes, by all means, keep what you can use or think of a use for. However, if you have things you cannot use at all, you should give them away, sell them, donate them, or responsibly recycle them. Please don't be an episode of one of those shows! If you have stuff not serving you, do something with it. Your home shouldn't be a fire hazard because of the stuff you own.

Lastly, you have to be intentional in your extreme frugal game. You have to be content with what you already have. If you are used to shopping a lot, you need to figure out why and stop. You have to be happy with what you have and not use shopping as stress relief. You have to be content with what you have and not be envious of what the neighbors have. You do not need to have the latest, greatest things. That is not being contented. You need to be content with the ten-year-old car and a house without a pool.  You need to be happy with wearing out your clothes without buying this season's newest fashions. You need to be okay with bringing your own lunch and not going out to lunch every day or every week. You have to be content with what you have and your decisions to save money so you can achieve your goals. Otherwise, being extremely frugal will not be an easy process for you.

Extreme frugality is not for everyone, but everyone can do it. You can try it for a short amount of time or the rest of your life. You never know when you will need to be extremely frugal so being extremely frugal now will only serve you later. I would encourage you to give it a try and make it work for you!

Thanks for reading,
Erica

Other articles on frugality:
Are You Frugal? 
50 Ways You Are Not Being Frugal
Is It A Need Or A Want? What Should You Spend Your Money On?


Monday, April 9, 2018

Improving Soil with Chicken Litter


(In March, I wrote an article for the Rootsy Network where I am a guest contributor. I love what they are doing over there! If you are into homesteading, self-reliance, and do-it-yourself, you must check them out!)


Most homesteaders struggle to find ways to dispose of all the waste that livestock can produce. One of the easiest ways to dispose of the waste is to add it to the garden. Gardening is fun, but gardening is a lot less fun when you are fighting your soil to grow a decent crop. Most gardens need soil amendments. Used bedding from your chickens and other livestock is a great way to amend your soil.
Where I live, we have heavy black clay soil. It doesn’t till well, hold a lot of moisture in the spring and early summer dries out during the summer into a hard brick and can be impossible to weed unless it is wet. On top of that, this soil doesn’t seem to grow good produce because root crops are fighting for space in the soil and plants struggle to establish good roots. The garden needs a good dose of fertilizer every year. I also find this kind of soil needs some acidity to balance the alkaline although the alkaline doesn’t seem to affect the growth of most plants.
Thanks for reading,
Erica


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The 12 Hand Tools You Need To Have In Your Tool Box


Everyone should have a good selection of tools on hand to be able to fix almost anything. Whether you are a prepper or a homesteader, you will rely on these tools to build and fix most things. If you are into frugal living, you want these tools to help you extend the life of your items and be able to fix them.

This is a basic list that we came up with. These are the tools we cannot live without because we use them so much. You will see them in our house and shop toolboxes. Yes, that's right. We have two separate tool boxes and we keep multiples of these tools. That is how important they are to us!

With this list of tools, you should be able to fix almost anything:

1. Hammer for pounding nails, removing nails, to pry things apart, and to "gently" coax something in or out of place.

2. Set of screwdrivers - Phillips and standard to loosen or unloosen screws.

3. Socket Set - standard and metric sockets for working on household projects and vehicle maintenance.

4. Wrenches - standard and metric. Also, a set of crescent (adjustable) wrenches for working on household projects and vehicle maintenance.

5. Pliers - regular, needle nose, and side cutters for holding things in place while you work on them, for twisting things into or out of place, and to cut wires or zip ties.

6. Visegrips (locking) pliers for clamping things in place or to get a better grip to loosen up items that seem to be stuck.

7. Hand Saw for cutting boards. A Hack Saw is also very handy to have to cut styrofoam, to shorten screws. and to cut some plastics like hose or PVC.

8. Utility Knife for making straight cuts, to cut something off, to scrape away caulk or glue, and can be used in place of scissors.

9. Tape Measure to measure items and rooms as well as where to cut a board.

10. Carpenter L Square for measuring accurate corners for cutting and to make certain your corners/walls are square.

11. Level to make sure you are attaching something to the wall right and level. You also use this for making walls, stairs, and much more to make sure everything is straight.

12.Carpenters Pencil and/or a Permanent Marker for making the mark to know where to attach something or screw something in as well as knowing where to cut.

You need to get yourself a good toolbox to store these in. The number of tools may be too much to store in a portable toolbox, but these standalone toolboxes are great for storage and organization.

We know some of you will argue that if the grid goes down, you will need more including a hand drill. We get it. However, this is a basic 'everyone should have these tools' kind of list. You should have these tools on hand whether you live in a van, apartment, or house, single or married, college student or older, and urban or rural dweller. 

Fixing your own things will save you so much money. Nowadays, if you don't know how to fix something, there is probably a video online that will teach you! The Family Handyman website is also a great source of do it yourself and fix it yourself information!

Thanks for reading,
Erica and Rob


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