Friday, January 5, 2018

About That Frugal Laundry Detergent

Making your own laundry detergent has probably brought about more questions than any other frugal ploy since this site began.

Is it hard to do? Does it work? What is washing soda? Where can I find the ingredients? How much can I save?

I'll attempt to answer those questions and give you a better idea of how to go about it and what to expect. You can post your further discoveries or questions to the Frugal Living Forum and expect a good answer.

Washing soda

Washing soda should be in the laundry section of your grocery store. It comes in a yellow box, made by Arm & Hammer, but it's NOT baking soda. If you're interested, washing soda is Sodium Carbonate (Na2CO3), baking soda is Sodium Bicarbonate (NaHCO3), and borax is Sodium Tetraborate Decahydrate (Na2B4O7*10H2O), all different chemical compounds.

If you can't find it locally, call this number: 1-800-524-1328. It's the Arm & Hammer number and they should be able to tell you where the closest place is that you can find it. There are places on the internet where you can order it, but shipping costs will eat up a portion of your savings, so that would be a last resort.


Some recipes call for borax, which comes in green box. The most popular brand is called 20 Mule Team Borax. This has been around as a cleaning aid for many years and is also known as an inorganic pesticide and herbicide. Borax is a naturally occuring substance used for cleaning and whitens and lightens clothing.

The "20 Mule Team" comes from the fact that borax was mined in Death Valley in the 1800's and hauled out of the desert by 18 mules and 2 horses at a time.  Two wagons loaded with borax and a wagon carrying 500 gallons of water traveled over 165 miles of desert in 10 days. That's probably more than you wanted to know, but it was quite an enterprise at the time.

Bar soap

You can use any bar soap you like to make it, but what is probably the original recipe used Fels Naptha, a old stand by - the yellow soap your grandmother grated into her wringer washing machine. They still make it and it's still good:
Fels Naptha The one and only, yes!

How to do it

Some people shave the bar of soap into a pan of hot water and stir until it's dissolved, but there is a lazy way to do it. Break or cut up the bar soap and put it in a pan of warm water one night. Let it set over night, then stir until it's dissolved. Heat it if it's stubborn, but it won't take nearly as much time or stirring this way.

For those of you who are outside the US, put about 10 - 12 litres of hot water in a bucket and, after adding the dissolved soap bar, add 250 ml washing soda, and half that of borax (if you use it).
After the soap is dissolved, put about three gallons of hot water into a large container. Add the soap, stir in well, then add a cup of washing soda, stirring until dissolved. If you want to use borax, now is the time to add a half cup or so.

Set the whole thing aside until it cools, when you'll discover a gelatinous mass, vaguely of the same color as the bar soap you used. Depending on the strength of your soap and how much water you used, you'll need 1/2 to 2 cups of this laundry soap for each laundry load.

How much it will cost

It's easy to figure how much you'll save this way. Add up the cost of the bar of soap, divide the cost of washing soda by six (that's about how many cups are in a regular size box), add that, then figure the cost of borax the same way. (There are about eight cups in a regular size box of borax.) Now divide that figure by 48 which is how many cups are in three gallons.


One bar of Fels Naptha soap -      .79
1/6 of $1.99 box of washing soda - .33
1/16 of $2.49 box of borax -        .16
TOTAL                             1.28

(Note: Prices were from a few years ago and have probably changed, but so have "regular" laundry detergent prices. You can get a good idea of prices by looking for the product on the internet.)

Divided by 48 = .0266 or less than 3 pennies a cup.
Does it save you money? How many cups are in the box of detergent that you normally use? Yes, you'll have to measure them yourself. Just pour it, cup by cup, into a measuring cup and then into a large container, counting the cups. When you know how many, divide what you paid for it by that much. Ouch, huh?

The only thing left to figure is that if you use half the recommended amount, halve the cost per cup and that's how much a load of laundry costs you with your present detergent.

I will bet that it costs more than 3 cents.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How not to waste food

Waste not, want not. That's an old saying and it's just as true today as it was years ago, especially when it comes to food. It may very well save you as much or more money to not waste the food you buy, than it does to coupon and buy on sale and mark downs. No matter how careful you are with saving money when buying food, if you waste it after it's bought, it's money down the drain.

Eat all your lefovers. Never let leftovers get pushed to the back of the refrigerator. Pull them forward and eat them at the next meal. If you can't, or don't want to, eat them at the meal after that. If that doesn't work, freeze, dehydrate or can the food. Most foods freeze well, but low fat dairy and a few others don't, like mayonnaize. While cheese crumbles after being frozen and thawed, it's perfectly good for cooking. Eggs can be scrambled then frozen, gravies and sauces may separate but can be whipped back easily.

Use all of a food. When you buy green onions, do you use all of the tops? How about radishes? If you don't eat them, you're wasting food. Green onion tops can be chopped and frozen or dehydrated and used in soups and sauces. Radish greens are greens, healthy and tasty, although the texture puts some people off. Mince to add to salads or freeze of dehydrate them to add to soup or stew. If you save them over time, you can have dish of cooked greens. It takes a lot, like spinach.

Again, use it all. If you peel apples for any reason, wash the apple first, then save the peels and cores until you have a good batch and make apple jelly with it. Apples have enough pectin to jell without adding anything but a minimum of sugar. Potato peelings can be tossed with oil, salted and baked until crispy for a treat.

Clean out your refrigerator and freezer on a regular basis and make it a point to use up odd bits or things you're not quite sure what to do with. The internet is a huge resource for things like that and a search engine is your friend. Someone, somewhere, knows what to do with a half cup of leftover stuffing, two black olives and a tablespoon of cranberry sauce.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Quick and Frugal Stocking Stuffers

It's that time of year, when frugalistas everywhere start sorting through their odds and ends, looking for inspiration for stocking stuffers and other small gifts. That includes me, so one thing I sort through is my more or less random bookmarks.

Here are a few of my favorite ideas for quick hand made gifts that don't cost much if anything.

Chinese Wave Pouch is a purse pouch with style. It's handy to carry those multiple little things that are forever getting lost in your puse. It would be cool to give with lip balm or a keychain already in it

Teacup Bookmark  If you know a reader, old or young, male or female, how about a teacup bookmark? It's quick and cute and if you're like me, it will give you ideas for a lot more bookmarks.

Coiled Magazine Page Dish with Lid is one of those things that looks much, much harder than it really is. It takes a little time, but that part is fun and you can create a one of a kind container fora  gift or as a gift!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Being Poor in America

Okay, I can't stand it any more. I came across this: How the Poor Get By in America. While I know that being poor in America can be hard - much harder than we often think it is, I have a few thoughts about it.

First, try to be poor anywhere else. Then you'll know what the word means.

Second, think about what is really poor and what is not.

 One story here says they went to the shopping mall and she picked out 5 outfits that she liked, then they went to the fabric store and her mom bought remnants and material to make those outfits for her. That's poor? That's smart. What is the matter with it?

Another example: They went to Burger King for a burger special. She ate one and a half of the small hamburgers while her mom ate the other half and drank free refills of soda. What's wrong with this picture? I don't know what the price was, but I can guarantee you she could have spent the same amount (carefully!) at the store and had a full meal for both.

"You can get new car parts from the junk yard for virtually nothing, with added discounts if you remove them from the junkers yourself." Does nobody know this but the critically poor?? I thought it was a well known fact that you can find parts for cars from junk yards (never new, though) for much less than full price for new.

I wear those $15 shoes from Walmart and some of them have lasted just as long as some pricier ones. I have never paid $60 for a pair of shoes, although I realize that some people have to, due to job requirements or other problems.

If people would just pay attention. Cheap food doesn't have to be bad food. There is free food for the taking. Clothing banks, charities and more provide clothing and shoes. Transportation can often be your own two feet. There is help for heating in most places. Medicaid pays for health care. And on and on.

That's not to mention your own imagination and creativity.

What is wrong with America? Poor, indeed.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Little Cold House

There was once an old man who lived in a little old house, all alone. During the summer, he tended to his garden and took care of the harvest, putting it up for the winter.

In the fall, he walked here and there, looking for wood to keep the little house warm all winter. Sometimes he came across a tree that had fallen and he went home to get his saw and cut it up. Some of the neighbors left odd pieces of scrap lumber and other wood for him.

The little stove was enough to warm the house, but the windows were loose in their frames, so when the wind blew, they rattled and banged and the wind blew right in and the little house got very cold.

He didn't know what to do, but he thought he could use some of the small wood pieces to stop the windows from rattling. He hammered in a few around the edges of the frames and that stopped the rattling, but the wind still blew through the frames because they didn't fit the little house very well.

One cold, windy day, a little girl came walking along; dawdling, really, because she was a good little girl on her way to see her aunt and she wasn't in any hurry. Her aunt was very old and the little girl thought her house smelled funny.

As she passed by the man's old house, she saw him working on the windows and stopped to watch.

The old man looked up and said hello and she answered hello.

Then she asked why he was driving wood between the window frame and the house. He told her that he was trying to stop the wind from blowing through.

The little girl went along with new purpose and soon came to her aunt's house. She asked her aunt how to keep the wind from blowing through windows. Her aunt told her to get some old cloth and cut it into strips and poke it between the frames and the house with a butter knife.

So she did.

No, that's not the way to end a story. What she did was go home and tell her mother about the old man and his troubles and what her aunt had said. Her mother went to the rag box and soon, loaded with strips of rags, they went to see the old man. Between the three of them, they figured the best way to stuff the rags into the loose frames.

The old man was so happy that he cooked a big pot of soup and sent it home with them.

And... they lived happily ever after. Now, THAT'S the way to end a story.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Beautiful and Frugal Holiday Decorating

Since the weather is changing, I have been thinking more about crafting for the upcoming holidays. It's always nice to have something new to decorate with and the most frugal way is to make decorations myself.

With that in mind, I went looking for inspiration, but I couldn't find much that didn't start with products I don't have and won't buy just for a few decorations. So... after spending a lot of time looking, I came up with a few ideas of my own.

The first is a table top Christmas tree. There are a lot of different trees you can make out of various materials. One of the most popular seems to be a styrofoam cone which you can decorate to look like a Christmas tree. You would need to buy special glue and, if you wanted to paint it, you'd have to buy special paint.

I have a better idea. How about a cone made from heavy paper? You can paint paper with the same paint you painted your walls. Decorate it with glued on buttons or jewelry or whatever you can find.

Wreath forms can be made from cardboard. Use a dinner plate as a template, draw around it, then draw a line inside that about 3 inches and cut it out. Fold a length of an old towel a few times and glue it on top of the circle for stuffing, then cover it with material and decorate.

See... I could make a blog post about these things individually, but this isn't a craft blog. It's a frugal blog, so when I think "craft" I think of the  most frugal way to do them.

Paper, cardboard, old towels, saved buttons, broken jewelry and more can be put to good use to decorate beautifully without spending a penny other than some glue. Of course, you can add other things, but start frugally. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Playing Games With Money

Do you play games with your money? I do. Some money is worth more than the other in my mind, anyway. For instance, my credit card gives a 1% cash back. I hoard those pennies and dollars. I save them to buy special things or to spend for the holidays. It's untouchable money, not in my bank account, so it's easier to save.

Playing games with money can go far beyond that, though. Online savings accounts are very easy to set up and maintain. Some banks pay pretty good interest, too, so if you want to save for something specific, open an account online. You can set up automatic payments from your main bank and take a peek at it any time to see how it's doing.

Another thing you can do is set aside every penny you make doing something in particular (online rewards, babysitting, recycling aluminum cans) and when you get to a certain amount, take it and pay on the credit card bill or another bill. You could, of course, use it to do something or buy something you want, but that's up to you. I like the feeling of doing something "real" with earnings that would otherwise dribble away.

If you don't think you have money to play with? Start where you are. Put aside every penny and nickel in your pocket or purse right now, then go around looking for more. Limit it to pennies and nickels just to see what happens.  Not much? Just wait. If you keep it up, it will be!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Make Your Electric Bill a Bargain: Save Pennies

Are you worried about your electric bill this winter? According to the US Energy Information Administration, US households pay an average of $110.20 each month for electricity.
That's an average, so if you use electricity or fan forced heat to stay warm in the winter, the chances are that your bill will go quite a bit higher.

Since the average residential rate is 12.50 cents per kilowatt hour, it doesn't take much to rack up the bill. One kilowatt is 1,000 watts. A hundred watt light bulb burning for 10 hours will burn one kilowatt (100 X 10 = 1,000) so that single light bulb will cost you twelve and a half cents. That doesn't sound so bad, does it?

But let's say you replaced that hundred watt bulb with a 75 watt bulb. You would pay 9.375 cents instead of 12.50.

I hear you. You're saying, "Pat, you're really pinching pennies! That's not going to make much difference in my monthly bill!"

Well, yes, it will. Here's why. First, multiply that times 30 days for an average month: a little over $2.81. Okay, still nothing to lose sleep over, right?

We're talking about one measly light bulb. One. How many do you have in your home? Oh, I know you don't have all of them on for ten hours every day, but you do have some of them on some of the time, and it's quite possibly more than ten hours' worth each day.

Let's add in the refrigerator. How about the freezer? TVs? Computers? How about the electric cookstove or the electric heater? Or the fan on the gas heater? The microwave? And those are just the most common appliances and electronics the average household uses.

IF - and that's a big "IF," and of course it's nowhere near true, each appliance only burned the same as that one hundred watt bulb, then these basic appliances would cost you (theoretically) $33.72. That's figuring two computers, two TVs, one of all the rest and ten hours worth of lighting per day. Of course, most households use quite a bit more than that. Add in hair dryers, sewing machines, radios, etc., and start figuring the wattage for each one and you'll see what I mean.

Why all the figures? I am trying to show you how little things add up. If 25 watts can make a difference in your total monthly bill, how much can ten times that make? Did you know that it's your choice how much to spend on electricity? Sure, it is. Do away with that high wattage bulbs. Unplug the TVs and the computers when you're not using them. Minimize use of the cookstove (no, that's not an excuse to go out to eat!). Layer clothing and turn the heat down another degree. It all adds up... or rather subtracts down.

It's real money and it's your money, so why not keep it instead of blowing it by overusing electricity?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Create a Prescription Bottle Sewing Kit

Next time you finish or refill a prescription, keep the bottle and make your own travel sewing kit. The lid will stay secure and the bottle is big enough to hold all you will need.

Cut a small square of cloth and weave a couple of needles into it. Fold it over with the needle points inside and fasten with a couple of safety pins.

White and black thread will handle just about any emergency repair, but finding spools small enough to fit into a prescription bottle is quite a feat. Instead, wind them on straws. Just cut a couple of one inch pieces from a plastic straw, then cut a small slit on both ends of each one. Start winding thread on each one by pulling the beginning end through one slit. When you have enough, pull the end of the thread through the other slit to keep it secure.

If you don't have tiny scissors, a pair of nail clippers will snip thread or clean up a frayed area.

Slip it into your purse or pocket and don't worry!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Can You Have Fun Without Spending Money?

Let's face it. Times are tough for some of us. We have learned to cut corners and budget and coupon and barter and... but money is still tight and it's just not much fun.

Here are some ways to cut loose, have a good time and forget about money for awhile.

First, if you have electricity in your home, running water, a TV and a computer connected to the internet, you're in good shape. Don't forget that. There are a lot worse situations.

Now... want to have some fun?

Call up a few friends or family members or text them and ask them to come over for potluck. What are you good at and what can you provide? Can you bake bread? Have fun making a few special kinds and tell them that will be your special contribution. Or if you have a knack for salads, do that. One of my aunts used to make a killer vanilla wafer and pudding dish that everyone loved. Whatever your specialty, do it.

Don't be shy about guiding others in what to bring.

The really fun part is to plan on some games or other entertainment. If someone is a musician, ask them to play for a dance or two or for a singalong. If someone is good at it, have them recite a few favorite poems. The photographer of the family might be interested in doing a slide show or other presentation. Get it?

Before television and movies and a glut of books, people would entertain themselves with proper debates or spelling bees. Why not? It can be a lot of fun. Choose carefully, though, you don't want one or two to make the others feel badly.

Another thing you could do is take the whole kit and caboodle to the park. Don't just eat. Get on the swings, try the tennis court, play ball, play hide and go seek. Even the older folks will enjoy what isn't too strenuous for them.
In the summer time there always seem to be free events of one kind or another. Use the internet to find out what is free to attend or take part in, then do it!

Don't sit out the summer because you don't have a lot of money to spend.