Friday, January 30, 2009

Frugal Living - Spicing Things Up a bit

Ever since I started looking for creative ways to cut costs, even my dear hubby has gotten into the act!

I have a lot of pumpkin in the freezer and in jars on my shelf here at the house so I needed some pumpkin pie spice from the store for several of my recipes. Dan pulled it from the grocery bag and remarked how expensive that little jar was.

Then he got this goofy grin on his face and said, "Look! Now you won't have to buy any more of this - you can just read the label and make your own!"

His idea does have merit, since several places in our local area sell bulk spices. Buying them in bulk is generally cheaper - but only if you can use what you buy in a reasonable amount of time. Spices have a good shelf life, but they won't retain their peak flavor forever. Nothing is a bargain if you end up wasting half of it!

So how about making your own spice blends and gifting what you can't use yourself?

Over the Christmas holiday, I found these two great articles with interesting spice blend recipes:
Enhance the flavor of your food
Healthy Homemade Gifts

I've tried the Ranch dressing mix from the homemade gift site and found it to be a great alternative to the packets of Ranch seasoning mix at a fraction of the cost.

Ranch Dressing Mix:
4 tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dry dill weed
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper (or to taste)

There's no salt in the recipe so you can add it to your taste and cut the calories by using light sour cream or low fat yogurt.

Since my DH suggested making my own pumpkin pie spice, I googled it and found this great recipe at All Recipes .

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground allspice

Simply mix well and store in an air tight container.

I'm definitely going to be looking up more spice blend recipes as I continue on this frugal lifestyle adventure!

Do you have any favorite spice /herb blend recipes? I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Frugal Living - Downsizing

Well, we finally took the plunge - after having cable for many years, we decided to try satellite for our television service.

When we first moved here, we invested in the television/Internet package with the cable company. But wow! When the introductory offer expired on the Internet hookup after the first 6 months, our Internet payment rate skyrocketed. Six months later, the cable TV rates went up as well.

In order to save some money each month, we switched to DSL with our phone company when they offered a really great deal on a fixed rate for Internet service for the life of our account. It has worked just fine, despite the turtle-slow claims the cable competitors make about DSL.

Finally today, we parted ways with the cable company all together, switching to the satellite service. Everyone we talked to in our neck of the woods seemed satisfied with their service which costs less than half the price we were paying for cable.

Many of the people I have talked to over the last several weeks have said the same thing - they are considering downsizing the services they already have in order to live more frugally as things tighten up economically. Many are limiting the use of their cell phones and going to "pay-as-you-go" plans. Another friend is giving up her land line and using her cell phone exclusively rather than having two payment packages.

Others are switching from higher priced Internet and TV services to lower priced ones or downgrading their service to a less expensive package. Many of the folks I know are even shutting off their TV all together and using the mail order video plans or upgrading their computers so they can watch movies or television shows online.

Many of my friends who watch a lot of movies have found it is more cost effective to go with a video mail order service like NetFlix rather than pay the extra cost for pay-per-view movies or the higher rate movie channels. Some have decided to shut off their TV service all together and just use these video rental services.

No matter what options you choose, downsizing is a good way to cut back. Not only will you be able to save money, you may just find yourself exercising more, learning new skills like cooking from scratch, finishing projects that have waited for a rainy day or just spending more quality family time.

Frugal living will be what we make it - a hardship because of all the things we feel we must "give up" or an adventure where we enjoy each day in Christ as He helps us find creative ways to cope. The choice is ours.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frugal Living - I've got the gardening blues!

It's that time of year again - when the seed catalogs arrive in the mailbox, stirring memories of the aroma of freshly turned earth, seedlings erupting through the soil and mouthwatering fresh veggies.

Last year, for the first time in many years, I had a small garden. It whet my appetite for an even larger garden this year; partly because it's a frugal thing to do, but mostly because I just enjoyed planting it, caring for it and especially eating it. But planting a larger garden presents a problem - with the arthritis in my knees, I can't kneel down to plant the rows, especially the tiny seeds like carrots, lettuce and spinach.

Last year my back ached from bending down to try to get the seeds into neat, narrow rows. I ended up with 1 spinach plant in the 7 foot long row and about 5 mystery plants in the area between rows. I lost about 3/4 of my romaine crop to the birds because I didn't put them in right. My 2 small rows of carrots grew so close together, even after they were thinned out, I still harvested many tiny deformed tubers.

My failures haven't dampened my enthusiasm for trying again this year, but I did learn from my mistakes. So this year I decided to make my life a little easier. I remembered hearing about seed tapes - strips of biodegradable paper with seeds attached at the proper intervals. You just dig your furrow, unroll your seed tape and cover. Voila! Painless, neat rows of veggies.

The problem is the price of such modern gardening marvels. Two 7 foot rows of seed tape cost an average of $4.95 as opposed to a seed packet which would make several times that many plants. And not all seeds are available as seed tapes.

But thankfully, the Information Super Highway (a.k.a. the Internet) had an alternative answer - make my own seed tapes! With my seed packets, a roll of toilet paper and a little flour and water "glue" I can use these long snowy pre-Spring days to create my own seed tapes and be ready for the April gardening start date. For a FRACTION of the price.

Here's how to make your own tapes: Mix a thick flour water paste - you'll probably have to measure out 1/4 cup of flour and add water slowly until it gets to be a pasty consistency - not too thick, but not runny. (One gardener I saw recommended using Elmer's glue instead of the flour paste, but I think I prefer the flour).

Tear off a three foot length of toilet tissue and cut it into one inch wide strips. Lay the strips on a flat surface next to a yardstick. Follow the directions on the seed packet for spacing and place a small dot of the flour/water glue at the proper intervals. Dip a toothpick into the "glue" and pick up a seed, placing it on the glue dot on the toilet tissue. Allow the strip to dry thoroughly before rolling the tape. Store in an envelope until ready to plant.

After the danger of frost is past, just dig the furrow, unroll the strip and cover with the proper amount of soil. The flour paste and paper will degrade, leaving the seeds to germinate in beautiful properly spaced, even rows.

Not only is this a money saving solution, it will save my knees and back a lot of agony. Let's see - I think I'll make some tapes of beans, carrots, peas, lettuce.....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's healthier to take the stairs!

Thanks for joining us for In Other Words Tuesdays! Denise over at Shorty Bear's Place has chosen this quote for "In Other Words" today:

Making lifestyle changes is like taking the step of faith onto Martin Luther King Jr's stairway in the quote above. Whether it's learning to let go of control and trust the Lord more fully; to reign in excessive spending and live more frugally; or to lose weight, exercise and make healthy food choices, that first step is probably the most difficult one you'll ever take!

It is a commitment that you must make by faith because you can't see the whole stairway. And the neatest thing about it is that once you make the commitment in one area of your life, all other areas will eventually be affected.

Seventeen years ago, I took the first step of faith on my stairway to overcome the depression that plagued me most of my adult life. Though I was a Christian from the time I was 8 years old, I had grown up with damaged coping skills from childhood abuse. I tentatively reached out and took His hand to take the first step on the stairway - emotional healing.

Over the years, I have been amazed at the changes He has made in my emotional and spiritual life. Joy and confidence became part of my inner life and I began enjoying the journey with fewer dark cloudy days. But my life journey was still an upward climb.

Over the last few years, though I was coping much better, there seemed to be one life struggle after another without a break. I found myself dealing with aging parents who were also becoming incapacitated. My husband and I experienced some difficult church situations that wounded us deeply. We made a major move and became "empty nesters" for the first time. It wasn't long, however, before we found ourselves faced with the need to open our home to help our grown children and grandchildren. On top of all that I developed some back problems and severe arthritis in my knees which caused me to retire early when we really needed the income. Then we moved again, leaving behind our 5 sweet-faced grandchildren and faced more loss as my parents both died.

My journey ground to a halt as I stood there on the stairway, hanging onto the golden handrail and breathing hard. Though God allowed me to catch my breath, He wasn't going to let me stand there for long.

This time, He began working on my physical issues - namely weight. He knew I was finally ready to let go of the protective wall of excess weight I had always carried as I took His hand and took another tentative step up the staircase.

My spirit has grown lighter because with each upward step, I'm not only shedding pounds, I'm leaving behind the remnants of that stony protective wall I once built around my heart - a wall which I thought kept me safe, but really only kept me isolated from His Love.

As the staircase vanishes from sight, hidden by the stories above, I know this: Each step builds on the one before it, making it possible for me to take the next one. He is there to support me when the climb gets tough. I can let go of control and trust Him more each day because the staircase has spiralled far above the place of fear and despair where I started. Though I can't see it yet, I know I'll reach the top landing someday and step off the stairs into His home at the journey's end.

Ever wonder why God doesn't have an elevator to heaven? Because it's spiritually healthier to take His stairs - one step at a time!

If you'd like to participate today, Just blog about the quote on your site, then hop over to Shorty Bear's Place and leave your URL in the Mr. Linky box. Hope your day is Blessed!!!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Frugal Living - Trimming the Fat...

You're definitely living a more frugal lifestyle when you start trimming the fat out of your budget and other areas of your life. But I recently ran across a really neat way to visualize the fat you're trimming!

Many of you know I've been dieting since June last year and have lost 47 pounds. Yay! So I've "trimmed" quite a bit of fat from my dinner plate which in turn has saved on the grocery budget. I've had lots of help and support from a website called Spark People.

For starters, Spark People is a free site which is a frugal choice in itself since many other dieting sites which offer the same level of support and help come with a membership fee attached.

Once I log in, I have access to food and exercise trackers which help me keep on track. The Spark Teams and message boards are another great feature of the site where I can share the ups and downs of the weight loss journey with others. I found and am enjoying the fellowship of pastors' wives, writers and rubber stampers as well as a few other interesting groups.

Recently I read one of the daily Spark e-mails which contained an article about a "Canned Fat Drive." For every pound of "fat" the team members drop from their waistlines, they set aside some kind of food staple.

One of the gals places hers in a canvas bag in a high traffic area of her home. Each time she passes the bag of food, she lifts it a few times before continuing with what she was doing. The bag of food serves as a powerful visual reminder of the "fat" she is trimming from her body. It also is a motivator to keep going toward her goal.

Once she has collected several pounds of food, she donates it to a local food pantry. Again, it has become an interactive weight loss too so she can mentally imagine herself shedding those pounds - never to see them again. The added benefit is that her shed pounds will help others in need.

Giving is an important part of life, both for the receiver and the one who gives. When I choose to give, the satisfaction and joy I receive far outweigh the cost. By incorporating the suggestions I've learned from the canned fat drive, I have found myself being doubly blessed as I learn to live more frugally, eat healthier and see the visual results of my choices while being a blessing to others.

Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Frugal Living - Learning the art of giving

Like most people, I have a "wish list" of things I'd like to have someday. But it's just that - a wish list. Most of the things on that list aren't really necessities. As I look around, I have what I need to live comfortably, especially when compared to others.

A friend recently forwarded an e-mail that contained the testimony of a 70 year old widow living in an African nation. This woman not only lost her husband, but her home when he died. Once she lived in comfort, but with his death, everything changed.

Since she didn't receive any inheritance, she survived by selling what she could - all the remaining household furniture and even the precious gifts her husband had once given her. Medical and dental care are non-existent for this woman so she pulls her own teeth and stitches up her own wounds with a needle and thread. She supports herself by painting and selling her work, gardening and limiting herself to one meal per day.

Yet somehow, in the midst of her own need, she has found a precious secret - that of giving to others, even when she doesn't really have it to give. She banded together with another family of seven, even more destitute because they have no income at all. A small family of four with two infants and a young man with limited resources also comprise her "family." Together they look out for each other, doing what they can to survive.

In the midst of her loneliness, she finds her joy by helping others - at 70, she hopes to share her nursing skills in areas of the country where cholera runs rampant, but government officials think she is too old to help and refuse to allow her to go.

"I am still here and refuse to let go. There are too many people left in this country who need compassion, care and hope to go on. Although there are organisations and charitable groups who try to help, there aren't enough of them. But the solution lies with all of us here - black , white and coloured, to start caring for each other. It takes more than courage, it takes fury and grief to explode into action," she writes.

"To all those who live elsewhere and who have never experienced this deprivation, let me tell you, it is a testing experience. Above all, learn from it, because - but for the Grace of God there goes You."

Father, help me learn to live frugally so I may give to others - not only sharing Your words which are rich beyond measure, but also to give tangibly, doing what I can to ease their hurts and desperate needs. Amen!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Conquer Impulse Shopping - Use it to buy it

Like most avid crafters, I have a "stash."

It used to be a stash of fabric - after all, you NEVER know when you'll need a certain type of fabric to make something for your home, for a gift, for the grand kiddos or for yourself. I loved to shop at discount fabric stores and no matter where we lived - I knew where all the best fabric buys were.

Several years ago, I fell in love with paper crafting. Paper takes up lots less room than bolts of fabric and you don't have to thread needles to make things out of paper LOL! So I began collecting anything to do with paper crafting from tools to various types of paper and embellishments.

Whenever I got a 40% off coupon to a craft store, I HAD to use it. After all, you never know when something will come in handy to make a card or for a craft for children's church. And so my stash grew.

When we moved 18 months ago, my craft supplies filled a room in the new house. After settling in, my husband built a wonderful wall unit to fit around my craft table to store all of my stash. Of course, with all that extra new space, there was even more room for more paper crafting goodies.

I did make some cards, probably about 250 of them last year, mostly for wedding and shower gifts. But I must confess, I continued to accumulate more than I used. My stash strained at the boundaries of the craft room, threatening to drive me out of my creative space.

So what is a girl to do?????

I found s great web site dedicated to rubber stamping. Each week they featured new card crafting challenges which tickled my creative fancy. But still I had trouble getting motivated to create, though my stash kept growing.

Shortly before the new year one of the message boards featured a challenge called "Stamp to Spend." Each of the participants vowed to allot themselves money to spend on their rubber stamps and paper supplies based on the amount of cards, scrapbook layouts or altered items they made. The idea was to cut down on impulse buying by earning an allowance to spend on their craft.

This challenge has some real advantages:
1. It gets me motivated to use what I have on hand.
I have stamps that have never been inked and a stack of paper and cardstock almost 2 feet high! I purchased tools to create many of the trendy looks, but my good intentions just never happened. Now, if I want to buy new tools and paper, I need get creative first.

2. It makes me prioritize my "wish list." Since I must earn the right to spend money, I think twice before just buying something because I "might be able to use it." Now I have a purpose/goal to save up for so I can buy specific items in a specific order.

3. It cuts down on impulse buying. It's like going to the grocery store with a list -It saves money because I only buy what's on my list. Thank goodness for craft store coupons which help me go through the items on my wish list more quickly.

4. The challenge holds me accountable too since everyone keeps a spreadsheet to record how she's doing and reports back. So far in the month of January alone, I've made 108 cards - a third of my yearly total for last year! Though I have bought some necessary supplies, I remain in the black so far.

5. It is challenging me to use the cards I make so they aren't just sitting around in the craft room. So far, I've started making my Christmas cards for next year (that's another challenge, LOL!) as well as making sets of gift cards to give as wedding and baby shower gifts. I've often wanted to send handmade birthday, encouragement, get well and sympathy cards, but just never got around to it. Now...

This is a great strategy to help conquer impulse buying. Instead of buying because "it's on sale" or I "might be able to use it" someday, I now buy it because I've already used my supplies and I need to replace them. It's also helping me to defeat the dark clouds of depression which engulfed me last year after the deaths of my parents.

So what tips do you have for conquering impulse buying? I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good to the last drop!

Many years ago as a young pastor's wife, my motto was, "Necessity is the mother of invention." When I looked at home decor items, I tried to figure out what I had on hand to create a similar look. Sometimes it worked and sometimes....well, let's just chalk it up to "lessons learned."

In one of the rural settings where we lived, I had a wonderful next door neighbor who always had an open back door. We visited frequently, just talking about anything and everything. To show my appreciation for her, I made a kitchen wall hanging with the old saying on the card above:

Use it up.
Wear it out,
Make it do...
Or Do without.

I painted a silhouette of an Amish buggy on red fabric and carefully printed the verse above it, framing it in an embroidery hoop and finishing the edge with lace. (I think those types of fabric hoop pictures were a crafting "trend" at the time!) She hung it proudly on her kitchen wall until their home was damaged by fire.

Over the past few months with the financial woes facing many, I was reminded of this old saying again and began a list of other "frugal" things I have done in the past to save money and stretch our family resources. I asked other friends for their suggestions as well and have been amazed at the response. I already have a list of 4 pages of easy suggestions to save money and stretch the family budget.

Starting with this post, I'd like to pass along those suggestions to my readers with the hope you will find them easy, fun and useful.

Blessings to you from a Frugal Pastor's Wife!

Tip #1 "Use It Up"

I'm not sure where I first heard this, but I have been doing it for several years. When I reach the bottom of a bottle of shampoo or conditioner, I turn the bottle upside down and rest it in a funnel overnight to drain the last drops into another bottle. I collect the drips and dribbles until I have a full bottle. I usually collect enough over the course of a year to make a half to a full bottle of shampoo or conditioner. Talk about it being "good to the last drop!"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cold feet and warm hearts

The thermometer read -4 degrees Fahrenheit, though it felt like -21 when I took the dog out this morning.

"I'm only going to be on the porch for a few minutes. I don't need my boots," I reasoned.

So I zipped up my jacket and pulled my knitted cap over my ears. Oreo bounded off the porch happily into the snow eager to finish his business and get back inside.

As I turned toward the door again, I accidentally kicked my foot out of my blue fuzzy slipper, stepping into a small patch of snow on the deck floor. What a rude awakening! It took me 10 minutes inside the house to get my foot warm again.

As I rubbed my foot with a warm towel, the Lord reminded me He is always with me. Though my feet felt the chill of the outdoors through my slippers, they were still protected from the full force of the wintry cold. When I kicked off that covering, my foot became totally vulnerable to the cold.

Even though He cradles me in His loving embrace, I am not immune to the troubles of life in this world. I may still feel the pain of loss and heartache of the world's problems. It's when I slip out of His grasp and try to handle things on my own that I feel the full force of the icy chill of sin.

Father help me to stay snuggled in You so I can bear the harsh realities of the world that surround us daily. Amen!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Trust is the only option


Today I'm privileged to be hosting In Other Words. I ran across this quote in a Bible Study I'm participating in with several writing friends and knew this was the one I needed to share today.

"Real life in the real world is a tough, nitty-gritty journey that every pilgrim on planet earth must make. Moving to Disney World is not an option. There will be tribulation; Jesus said so. But be of good cheer. He's still in the business of guiding and strengthening and healing and overcoming."

~ When the Glass Slipper Doesn't Fit by Claire Cloninger and Karla Worley~

"Disney World" was always my residence of choice when I was a child.

When I was 4 years old, I used to embarrass my parents whenever we went to visit relatives on Sunday afternoon because the moment they announced it was time to go home, I would throw myself on the floor and have a hideous temper tantrum. I don't remember doing that, but heard my parents tell the stories many times.

Each year when Labor Day Camp came to an end, I grieved inside - wishing it could last forever. When I travelled to Tennessee at age 14 to be a junior camp counselor for a week, I phoned home and begged to stay another week, even though I had no idea how I'd get home.

Homesickness just wasn't in my vocabulary. In the real world, I did anything I could to minimize time spent at home. When I had to be at home, I remember spending hours sitting in a swivel rocker next to our dining room window, daydreaming about running away from home. I had it all planned out - how I'd sneak back at night to get food out of the refrigerator and hide in the nearby wooded area in the daytime.

As an adult who has worked hard through the process of healing for my damaged emotions, I understand why I felt that way now. Home wasn't a safe place. And because I couldn't cope with the things that happened there, I escaped any way I could - either by becoming active in all sorts of School and church activities or by retreating into a world of daydreams.

God knew I couldn't live in my own private "Disney World" forever so when the time was right, He began teaching me how to cope with the real world. I discovered just how tough and nitty-gritty the journey really is and how much I need to trust Him for guiding, strengthening, healing and overcoming.

Trust is the core issue behind the ability to cope with the real world. But how can trust be built or rebuilt once it is damaged?

Learning or relearning trust requires us to become spiritual infants. When a baby cries, it learns to trust its parents as its needs are consistently met. I had to journal about each need the Lord met for me in answer to my prayers. Being able to see His blessings in black and white went a long way toward fortifying my trust that He had met my needs in the past and would continue to meet them in the future.

I also had to learn to empty my heart of all the emotional turmoil inside by praying and crying out to the Lord until all the tears were spent; much like a parent quiets a weeping child. Once all the confusing and hurtful emotions were emptied out, I could hear His voice and receive the comfort He had to give. It was a process that occurred over and over again until trust began to take root.

It isn't an easy fix, but He is patient and gentle as He works to rebuild broken trust. The Disney World way of coping with life won't work for long, but a life of trust will always get you through!

If you'd like to participate today, simply blog about the quote on your site and then leave your URL in the Mr. Linky box below. Please fell free to visit the other great blogs to read their take on today's quote!