Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doing my part

So in light of the ongoing crummy economic conditions, I find myself thinking and rethinking how we can do better. How can we recycle, reuse, refurbish, redo and reconsider what it is that we need and use every day? I think about how I lived as a child, on the farm in Iowa. What did we have, what did we do without and what kind of efforts did we make to live that way. My parents still live much the same way we did while I was growing up. They still live without cable TV, without a telephone answering machine, without cell phones, even without a cordless phone! It's like a trip back in time every time we visit! The great upside to this is that it causes SH and I to talk about how we can scale back and reduce our budget and outgoings. We've implemented quite a few things and I still would like to do more. Some of the things we've done are:

1. Coupons--I use coupons mainly at Walgreens and CVS. I combine them with specials, BOGO's (buy 1 get 1 free) offers and ExtraCare bucks (ECBs). Many basic household items such as soaps, lotions, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.... are purchased for little to nothing. Sometimes, when I'm really good I even make money on my purchases! I'm not always that good but many times, I pay 25% of regular cost of these items, or even less. I love it!!!

2. Bulk shopping--I shop mainly at Aldi, Sam's Club and farmer's markets. I can't imagine why anyone would shop otherwise. If you don't have an Aldi in your area, I'm very sad for you.....It is one terrific little off-brand, generic heaven of a store. I buy all staples there...things like milk, eggs, baking supplies, canned goods, and a few indulgences like chips, nuts and ice cream. I'm not at all a brand snob. I've learned to do without many of the old items we considered "necessities". We buy off brand Cheetos--the kids don't know the difference. We buy generic salsa when I don't make my own. Cream soups and any canned veges are all generic. Their milk is a mere $2.79 (most in this area go for $3.50 and up) and eggs are still $1.29. I buy meat and some bulk at Sams but we are careful not to buy more than we need. I stopped buying the massive toilet paper there because I can get smaller packages for nearly nothing with coupons. I like their meat and SH is in love with their pizzas--when we don't make our own. I go to local farmer's markets almost every week, sometimes more. This time of year the strawberries are fantastic, most everything is grown locally or not too far from here. I try to stay away from buying items that are shipped from other countries. I'm not fanatical about it but do buy locally whenever possible. The local honey at the market is really wonderful!

3. Cleaning supplies--I don't buy paper towels any more at all. We've amassed quite a collection of rags and such so I just use rags for any spills, cleaning and wiping down counters. It's about 1 more load of laundry a week or so--not a big deal at all. I've found that I prefer to use vinegar, baking soda and a good dose of elbow grease for most cleaning. I do like the smell of PineSol so I do buy that in the cheapest manner possible. Pine Sol just makes me feel like the house is cleaner---I'm working on finding essential oils to add to my cleaning supplies to make them smell, well cleaner!

4. Laundry detergent--I make my own! I swear, it is quite the source of humor among a few friends but I cannot tolerate how expensive detergent has become! I found a great recipe on the web and have been making our own for about 9 months now. There are a few whites that have gotten dingy so I soak them in some Bright White or bleach every few loads. That helps. I haven't noticed a huge difference in quality. Things don't get that perfume smell to them so again, I'm working on adding some essential oils to help them smell more fresh. Good thing no one has any allergies and I can experiment easily.

5. Utilities--Our electric company is a complete monopoly and is terribly expensive. I think our bill is high--about $340 per month--but have found that it is cheaper than many other houses our size. We live in Florida so to do without a/c in the summer is just unacceptable. But we do turn off the a/c in about late November/early December and manage to keep it off through April sometimes. We usually manage without heat although this year has been exceptionally cool at times. We even had 3 complete hard freezes this winter and needed our heat a few days. We are conscious to keep the a/c set high (about 78 degrees most days) and open windows to allow air flow, utilize all ceiling fans while in the room and dress lightly. The boys rarely wear more than undies and short pants in the summer months!

These are some things we've done so far and are pretty consistent about. I still have so much I want to do....

--decrease the amount of the dryer that is used for clothes drying. We cannot have a clothesline outside due to restrictions but I believe I'm going to have SH hang a retractable line on our back porch. That and some drying racks will work well.

--turn off electrical items that aren't in use. The spare room alarm clock (especially when there are no guests), use natural lighting the most and stop turning on lights (we do this a lot already--the neighbors never think we are home because the house is always dark!), watch less TV. We currently use two refrigerators and a freezer....I think we will eliminate the refrigerator in the garage. It's convenient but not really necessary. We can get all extra freezer items in the other freezer and don't really need the refrigerator portion most of the time. If we find it's not much of a sacrifice, we'll sell the extra refrigerator and use that to pay down debt.

--gardening. I used to garden all the time but admittedly, am not too familiar with the Florida growing season. It's odd for this Iowa girl! But I'm studying and hope to grow more lettuce, spinach and tomatoes this year. We did great with tomatoes and peppers last year so we can do better this year.

--bulk cooking. I'm striving for consistency with this one. Bulk cooking---making multiple meals at once and freezing some---is SO economical! I save lots and lots of time, money and hassle this way! It's also called once-a-month-cooking. We don't mind casseroles, which is a huge staple of this type of cooking for us.

--canning, freezing and making jelly/jam. I used to do this each and every year---for years. Then I moved off the farm, into the city and didn't have a garden. I have a little room for a garden and what I don't grow, we can purchase pretty economically here in Florida and I'm able to can these items. This year I'm striving for jam, salsa, blueberries and tomatoe sauce.

I'm thinking I'll stop there. I tend to get carried away with a to-do list so I better just reel it in a bit. I'll post more later on specifically how we have reduced our monthly budget and ways that we are finding to save even more money.

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