Thrift

Thrifty Thursday: Holiday Gifts Throughout the Year

Over the last few years, Rick and I have gotten pretty good at managing our monthly budget.  The one place where we have a huge bump, however, is always at the end of the year.  The holidays.

Ugh.  Holiday shopping is a large hole in our budget.  Every year we say we’re going to save, going to put a little money away every month so we have a cushion for December to buy gifts (or supplies to make gifts) for our family and friends.  But we don’t.  And then we end up relying on Rick’s bonus money or selling items on Etsy (I did pretty good last year), or whatever to eek out just enough for Christmas.  And we always end up scrimping on the gifts we give each other.

This year, I’m trying something different.  Buying and making gifts as I go.  I know it’s not a new concept, but I have never been able to make it work.  I always forget what I bought or where I put it, or I give the person the gift I bought early because I just can’t wait.

This year, I have a plan.  It’s a list.  That I keep with me. 

Gift Log

First, I made a list with three columns:  Who, What, and Where.  Make this list somewhere when you won’t lose it.  Mine is in my planner on a Contacts page in the back.  Put it in your phone, whatever… just somewhere where you can find it and access it quickly.  Not on your home computer.  I’ve tried that, and I forgot to keep it up to date.

The Who column is for all of all the people you’d like to give gifts to.  Count them up.  For me, it is 19 people if I count individuals, or 14 if we do some couple/family gifts.  Looking at how many months before the holidays, and since I started this in January, I decided that if I buy or make two gifts per month, I’d have all of my gifts made or purchased no later than September.  And I can totally afford two gifts per month.  If I were starting now, I would still be able to make it by December, possibly November.

WHERE

Ok, so two gifts a month.  Now here’s where the list is super important.  I need to remember WHAT I bought (and for whom), and WHERE I put it, so that in December, I can find the gift and give it to the person I bought it for.  That’s why you must have the list with you.

And then write down what the gift is and where you put it.

For example, I found this funny little mini-pinball game for my grandpa (I can share this gift because my grandpa doesn’t read my blog).  So next to my Grandpa’s name, I wrote Pinball Game in the What column, and then Pink Shoe Box in the Closet in the Where column.  At the old house we kept that box under the bed.  Since I moved the box, I made sure to update my list.  So I can find it later.

Box in closet

Simple, right?  I’ve stuck with it, and I really think it’s going to work this year.  And, it will leave me and Rick some extra money come the end of the year for each other, the kids, and the people we draw names for at Thanksgiving.

Do you budget or plan for the holidays?  What do you do that works?

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Categories: Thrift | 6 Comments

Thrifty Thursday: DIY Swiffer Cloths

We have hard flooring throughout our house here.  Tile in the kitchen and bath and wood floors everywhere else.  There is a great tool for keeping those floors clean, most of you know it; the Swiffer.  But those Swiffer cloths get expensive.

My solution: mirco-fiber towels.  I have a couple of micro-fiber towels that will fit perfectly onto the head of my Swiffer.

And when I need to spot clean something with a mop?  I just get the cloth wet, wring it out and poof! – a Swiffer wet mop.

Micro Fiber Cloth

Go forth and attack your dust bunnies!

Categories: DIY, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Thrifty Thursday: Patching Kids Jeans

I used to buy all of Henry’s jeans used and then I passed them on to E.  But there comes an age when you can no longer find any used jeans in your son’s size.  It starts around 4T and there is a virtual jean desert until… well, H wears a 6 slim and I still can’t find them.  Because boys this age are HARD on jeans.

I have not been able to pass jeans down either.  By the time one boy is done with them, there is only enough jean left for shorts, if I’m lucky.  Besides that, E is determined to keep growing and seems to be catching up to his older brother.  They are only one size apart now.  Some things fit both of them.

All of this is to tell you that patching jeans has become an important skill in this house.

Here is a quick tutorial of how I keep my boys’ knees covered through the winter.  This method give the jeans that popular “destroyed” look, except they are hole-free and will hold up for a few more months.

Here we have a pair on holey jeans…

Holey Jeans

I have yet to buy a patch, instead I have cut “patches” from the lower legs and backs of jeans that were too holey to be repaired.  I use pinking shears to cut a piece of denim large enough to cover the hole.  If you don’t have any jeans to cut from, you can buy jean patches at a fabric store.

Pin your patch to the inside of the jeans, with the pins on the outside so you can pull them out as you sew.

Pin patch to inside

My sewing machine has this crazy stitch.  All machines are different, but select the craziest stitch you have.

Select crazy stitch

Next I remove the accessories box that allows my machine to have a free arm…

Free the arm

And then I slide the leg of the jeans over the arm.  This is so that I can stitch the patch on without sewing through the whole leg, closing it on accident.

Slide leg over

Now start sewing.  You are going to stitch all over the hole and the patch.  Back-stitch is your friend, because with the jeans over the arm like this you can’t turn them at all.

Crazy stitch all over the hole

I found it helpful to stick my left hand in the top of the jeans and use my right hand to operate the back-stitch lever.  Now sew, sew, sew.  Cover the entire hole and all around it.

Back stich a lot

Almost done.  Sew like crazy.

view from inside

After the patch is covered with crazy stitches, slide the jeans off the machine arm, turn inside out and trim any excess patch away.

All done!  A little extra life with a rough and tough patch for your kids’ jeans!

All done

Depending on the thread you use, you can really make the patch stand out with contrasting thread, or disappear if you can get a good color match.  I have about four different blues.  I try to get close, but thankfully, my boys are at an age where they really don’t care either way.

Do you patch kids’ clothes?  What tips do you have?

Categories: DIY, Thrift | 6 Comments

What to Expect from the Lazy Homesteader in 2013

I’ve thought pretty hard about the “resolutions” I want to share on the blog for this year.  I’ve had a hard time thinking of specific goals, and I’m not really into the “lose twenty pounds” type of resolutions.  I’ve decided that instead of goals I wanted to focus on some themes that are both personal to me and yet very applicable to the homesteading way of life.

This year, you can expect to see posts (hopefully weekly, realistically a couple of times a month) having to do with one or two of the following themes.

Rick hikng with C on his backCommunity – In 2012, I established a monthly potluck to help build community.  I made some new friends and built connections.  In 2013 I want to do this more.  I want more connection, more real relationships.  I have realized that no one can live this life alone.  We need each other and I want more of it.  I have a challenge in mind for this theme this year.  I’m excited about it, though it’s going to be a tough one.

Preparedness – Colorado had the worst wild-fire of all time in 2012.  There were hurricanes on the East coast.  For much of the country, there were record heat waves and drought.  Across the country there were poor harvest and food prices are on the rise.  I’m not a panicky or prepper or anything like that, but I have started thinking about the benefits of being prepared in a real emergency.

Thrift – Expect to see more DIY posts this year.  From homemade to making-do to doing without, I plan to share more thrifty ideas this year.

Food Connections – This is the thing that sent me down the homesteading path all those years ago; being connected to our food.  I have plans to share about sustainable food sources, processing your own meat (including wild game and hunting), and of course the garden.  This year I am going to explore as many aspects of food connection as I can.  I hope to close some of the gaps we’ve had in our own food sources as well.

Grace – This year I plan to go easier on myself.  You guys know I love a crazy goal.  But I also need a little more balance, and my kids certainly need a sane mommy.  So I plan to cut myself a little slack this year.  I’ve realized that this journey to being green and crunchy and self-sufficient is just that, a journey.  I don’t have to do it all at once.  It’s ok to take small steps and find what is feasible for our family.  I’m not throwing the baby out with the grey water or anything, but I am going to focus more on things like simplicity, peace, and well, the categories mentioned above.  :)

I’m really looking forward to 2013 and what it will bring.  And I’m excited to share our homestead with you as always.

Categories: Community, DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

No Spend October: Wrap Up

So… weeks three and four.  Let’s just say that No Spend month has been a very revealing project for me.

The month did not really go as I planned, but we still spent a lot less than we would have otherwise.

We spent $257.85 on groceries these last two weeks.  Add to that a tank of gas ($46.02), the pumpkin patch outing ($60) and favor’s for H’s birthday party ($14.44) and we spent $378.31 in two weeks.

Total spending this month so far: $624.62

My original budget was $335.  So we blew it by $289.62. 

I’m really bummed that I couldn’t manage to stick to our original budget.  I don’t know whether I just set the bar too high for us, or I just… lacked the self-control.

Besides going over out budget though, I have one major disappointment: I didn’t save anything.

WHY?

Because last month, our spending was so out of control, that all this no spending has done was allow us to catch up.  While we did blow the budget out of the water, we still spent about $700 less than we do in a typical month.  Because of No Spend Month, we’ve gotten well caught up and in a great place to rebuild that savings account and for the holidays.

Overall, the project was a success.  Next time I think I’ll set more realistic goals.  In the mean time, we’ve hit the reset button on spending, so that next time we attempt a no spend month, we can really sock that money away.

Did you attempt no spend month?  Have you saved anything?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

No Spend October: Week Two

WHEW!   I think I need someone to talk me off the edge!  This No Spend thing is hard.

While Erica is up there in Washington not spending, I’m here in Denver struggling.  For some reason, I’ve found this challenge to be much more… um, challenging than I expected it to be.  The only reason I can think of is that my habits have gotten quite relaxed and pinching pennies has become painful for me again.

The Good: Rick stuck to his budget for the hair cut, and we got into the football game for only $10 instead of the twelve I budgeted for.  We had to use cash for the game of course, so we pulled a twenty.  Rick used $7 of that for bread at the bakery.

I used card stock, scrapbook supplies and envelopes that I already had around here to assemble invitations for H’s birthday party.  I only made four of them; one for each of his grandparents and great-grandparents, and one for me to keep.  The rest of the guest list got email invitations.  Total cost was zero (well, three stamps, but I already had those).

The Bad: Originally, I had hoped for wiggle room in the grocery store budget.  Unfortunately, we ran out of toilet paper.  And, C got a diaper rash which pushed me to use disposables for a few days.  We also use disposable diapers at night, so we needed more of those too.  Yeah… that’s twenty bucks down the crapper.  Seriously?  Two-thirds of my grocery budget for poop?

Last week, I mentioned that I forgot to budget for buying chicken feed.  Because our co-op is so far away, we buy eight weeks of feed at one time.  That was $60 that we did not include in our original budget.

The Ugly: My grocery receipt contained toilet paper, diapers, milk, butter, 1 can of coconut milk, cornmeal, and cheese.  Rick got home, burst out laughing and asked where the fruit was.  I didn’t feel bad, he stole three dollars cash from the money we pulled out for the football game and spent it this week.  He won’t tell me on what, so I’m pretty sure it was candy or, more likely, a pastry.  I’m insanely jealous over that three dollars.  I’m coveting the pastry.

Oh, and then he tells me that he’s in charge of breakfast for his Friday morning meeting, and his company is buying breakfast burritos from my favorite place.  I think I hate him.

What did we spend this week?

$  50.42 on Groceries (and a damn pastry)
$  36.00 on Gas
$  60.00 on Chicken feed
$  30.00 on Rick’s hair cut
$  10.00 on Entertainment (the football game)
$186.42 total this week

Plus last week: $59.89

Total spent so far: $246.31

That leaves $88.69 for the month.  Ouch.

I am worried.  I don’t think we can make it.  I’m really debating about transferring the chicken food money from our savings account and not counting it in the month’s budget, but I don’t know if that’s cheating or not.

As it stands, we have just over half the month to get by on a quarter of the month’s budget.  If I add that sixty back in, we’re looking at 44% of the budget left for the next two and a half weeks.  My goal was to save $1000 this month, so that’s really just robbing Peter to pay Paul, right?

I’m totally open to suggestions on salvaging this project.  Thoughts?  Ideas?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Spend October: Week One

Ok, so I had planned on doing this wrap-up on Monday, but since NWEdible is doing wrap-ups on Fridays, I thought I better bust it out.

Budgets are hard. 

I’m usually a pretty good budgeter, but in this short first week, I realized I missed a few items in the budget for the month.

Considerations I skipped:

  • Our chicken feed co-op went out of business in September and we didn’t get any food at the end of the month as planned.  We found a new co-op, but they are in North Boulder, so we had planned to make a large feed purchase this weekend.  I completely forgot to include money for this in our budget.
  • Halloween.  The boys already have costumes, but C didn’t.  Luckily, I came up with something for her (and Rick and I) that won’t cost me much, if anything.
  • Halloween (again).  My sister is coming to town and we have a tradition of visiting haunted houses.  They are totally expensive and frivolous.  I found a Group*n for our favorite one though, and it will be the one and only this year.  $15 not budgeted.  I know.  Bad, bad, bad.
  • H’s birthday.  His birthday is November 1, so I was thinking November.  Not thinking about invitations, etc, that will have to go out this month.  We’ll see what I come up with on this one.
  • Hunting.  We planned the hunting for the year in November, but Rick got offered an opportunity to go with a co-worker at the end of the month.  The license money is already taken care of (he had it set aside months ago), but we didn’t factor gas money for an extra trip.  Another item we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Enough blathering on about things I forgot to account for.

I did have some success this week.  I went to a kids’ resale shop to look for shoes for H.  I also took some clothes to sell with me.  After what they bought, I was able to get H some shoes and the store paid me $4.76.  WOOHOO!  E also badly needed new pajamas.  All the ones he had were waaaay too short.  Like belly-sticking-out-of-his-shirt too short.  So I used that savings to buy him new pjs.  They were $16.26.  I deducted the $4.76 from that, so we did really well in the clothing budget category.

What did I spend this week?

Grocery store:  $33.36
Clothing:           $11.53
Entertainment: $15.00
Total:               $59.89

That means that there is $275.11 left in my budget for the month.

I know.  The haunted house.  It’ll be a toughie to make up.  And I’m feeling guilty for buying it.

What about you?

How are you doing with your budget?  What successes or challenges did you meet in your first week?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

No Spend October

Have you all seen the No Spend Month that NWEdible is heading up for October?

The premise of the challenge is to set a budget for one month, not including your regular bills (mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.), that allows you to save a bundle of money by… not spending it.  The budget should include money for food, gas and whatever household expenses you normally have.  But this budget is radical. You are cutting your expenses way, way down.  Down to nil, or as close to it as you can manage.

Like, instead of spending $750 on food for the month, you are only going to spend $120.  Instead of racking up the miles in your SUV, you rack up the miles on your bike, because that gas costs money.  Instead of getting coffee at the drive through, you brew it at home.

Then, at the end of the month, you have a pile of money that you saved.  Maybe enough to jump-start that emergency fund or make an extra house payment, or pay off a credit card.

To join the challenge, you have to do three things: one, set the budget; two, track your expenses; and three, set a goal for what you save.  It’s been a while since I’ve joined in on a challenge.  This one seems a bit overdue for us.  Doing a no-spend month is a great way to hit the reset button on out of control spending.

I read about the challenge over the weekend and decided to go for it.  But I didn’t actually get off to a great start.

Yesterday morning, it started raining at 6:00 am and Rick wanted a ride to work instead of getting soaked on his bike.  So I took him.  The boys, used to going to the bakery on mornings we drive Rick, begged for pastries.  I, weak from lack of coffee, gave in and spent $10 on the way home for buttery, flaky goodness.  Later, as I was cleaning up the crumbs, I remembered it was October 1st!  ARGH!   It’s NO SPEND MONTH!  $10 in the hole already.

It’s ok.  The whole month isn’t shot because of one slip-up on the first day.  I know we can make the ten bucks up later.  We actually used to run a really tight ship around here.  But as we’ve paid off various debts (two credit cards, a car loan and a student loan done!  Woo!), we’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about our spending.

Our budget for October is $335.  We are a family of five, and to be honest, I think we could go lower.  However, we have a few commitments for the month already involving friends and family from out-of-town, that I just don’t feel good about backing out of.  Even so, this will allow us to save $1000 this month.

I plan to put that $1k in a separate savings account towards an emergency fund.

Because I’m always curious how others come up with their budget numbers, I’m going to share mine more specifically with you.

For food, I know we can mainly eat out of the pantry and freezer, except for dairy and flour.  So I budgeted $30 per week for food.  This actually allows for some wiggle room, but I figure that’s a good thing.  I’m hoping I can get some Halloween candy to give away out of this too.

For gas, I cut what we normally spend in half.  This pretty much has no wiggle room, and I think it will be the toughest category for us.  Especially if we get some bad weather.   $60 is about a tank and a half for the month, plus the 3/4 of a tank right the 4Runner is at right now.

Our dining out budget would have been a zero for the month, but since I already blew that yesterday, I accounted for the ten dollars already spent.  Otherwise, we’ll be cooking at home and Rick will brown bag it.

I budgeted $30 for Rick’s hair cut.  He’s been putting it off for a couple of months and is getting pretty shaggy.  When I proposed doing the No Spend month, his only request was an allowance for a hair cut.

E and H both just hit a growth spurt.  H needs new shoes.  I’m budgeting $20.

Now comes the previous commitment part.  We had already committed to a high school football game (cheap), a double date (yay – it’s been so long), and a pumpkin patch (it is October after all).   I figured $12 for the game if we fill the kids up before we go and bring snacks from home.  I’m budgeting $50 each for the date and the pumpkin patch.  That’s cutting it a bit close, but I really want to try to stick to it.

If you add all that up, it’s $362.  I also have $90 in swim-lessons coming up for the kids this month, which Erica says is exempt from the budget.  Together, that’s $973 less than our average monthly expenses.  I wanted to make it an even $1000 in savings, so I’m going to see if I can make up that $27 somewhere.

I plan to keep track of how we’re doing and report here on it once a week.

What about you?  Are you down with No Spend this month?

Please comment and tell me if you are going to join in on the challenge, what you are budgeting (you don’t have to get all specific if you don’t want), and what you want to do with your pile of saved dough.

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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