Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Worry... Be Happy

It's a lot more frugal than paying doctors and buying prescriptions.

It's not very frugal to put ourselves in the position to have to go to doctors and fill prescriptions, and yet that seems to be the modern way of life - frugal or not. Fortunately, we often do it to ourselves. I say "fortunately" because we then have the choice to not do it to ourselves. Avoiding medical expenses is frugal.

The most prescribed drugs in America today are of the mood altering type - to deal with depression. With all of the successes in this nation - material wealth, education within the grasp of nearly everyone, advanced medical knowledge and care, and the freedom to be and do what we like, Americans are in trouble. Fast paced lives, money worries (including keeping up with "the Joneses"), finding more and more demands to use our time and opportunities... all these things put emotional as well as physical and mental stress upon us.

Supermoms, superdads and superkids abound in our ideals. Being busy is the equivalent of being happy, or good, or whatever it is we strive to be. Over scheduling seems to take the place of the more frugal and sensible action of having a full pantry at the end of the harvest. Never slowing down means never having to stop and take responsibility for our own homes, our own kids, our own selves - we're "too busy."

Why do we keep wanting more and more - more stuff, more busyness, more and bigger this and that? It's a compulsion; it's a devil that rides our shoulders and whips us ever onward in a perverted version of the Puritan work ethic. Work harder, work longer, work smarter, but work!

Until it begins to crumble around us and depression sets in.

Women, especially, are prone to depression and simple "blues," but they're not alone by a long shot. Men have their share of the struggle.

While some depression is "clinical" - that is, physically induced and needs to be controlled by medication, the every day variety of blues that many of us face can be controlled frugally by us, without the cost of a doctor's visit or prescription medicine.

What we eat has a huge part in how we feel. It's proven that some foods make us feel better and that's good to know, but good all around nutrition will do better in the long run. Quick fixes are possible though: Butter beans, chocolate and high carbohydrate foods make you feel better quickly. The explanation is too long for this article, but if you're interested, look here: Why some foods make you feel good...

Besides eating well, there are things - very frugal things - that will help you stay on an even keel.

Exercise is free. Walk, run, skip. Work in the garden, wash the windows, play ball with the kids. Physical exercise tires us in a good way, which relaxes us.

Choose your friends wisely. Choose to be around people who make you laugh. Choose to be around people who are interesting and uplifting.

Take time - real time - to rest. Sleep is a great healer, not only of physical stresses, but of mental ones. There's nothing wrong with sleeping. You don't have to get up early every day of your life and you can allow yourself the luxury of a nap. We've so programmed ourselves against even looking "lazy" (more of that misused Puritan ideal) that we are afraid to be caught dozing. Human beings need sleep.

If you pray, pray. Or meditate, or just take time for your own thoughts. A good fifteen minutes of focused time alone can be a life saver in a stress producing environment.

If overwork is stressing you, limit yourself to half hour bursts of activity. Use at least part of the first half hour to organize and list the chores that face you. Work as hard as you can for your half hour of time, but as soon as time is up, (use a timer!) stop and do something different for five minutes. Then go back and notice how much you accomplished in that half hour. The chances are that you'll impress yourself and be ready for the next round of activity.

Busyness is activity with little or no substantial result. Check yourself: Are you being busy to avoid something else? Being busy for the sake of being busy is unproductive, except in terms of running away from reality. Frugal bottom line: Examine your life and get rid of activity that's not in line with your life. (Needs, integrity and personal morality.)

Don't forget about recreation. Watching TV is NOT recreation. Doing something you really enjoy is. Crafting, reading, canoing or hang gliding - whatever rows your boat, find time for it. Even if it costs you a little money, it's more frugal than a visit to the doctor and a lifetime of prescription drugs.

Those are just a few things; I won't make a longer list because we know better. Getting back to the basics of life really is possible in this day and age and if it seems like you can't do it, maybe it's time to take a long look at your lifestyle and make some changes. Your quality of life depends on it, and it's not too late. As the saying goes, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

Make it a frugal success.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to School


You may not be sending the kids back to school today or tomorrow, but it's coming soon (where did the summer go?) and the sales are popping up all over, so take advantage of them.

A thread called "Shopping Challenge: School Supplies is a good place to start finding the best sales.

But besides supplies, clothing takes a big bite out of the budget if your child goes to public school. Here are a few ideas to help cut that cost:

Go through the closet and drawers, making note of what needs to be replaced. While you're at it, check the coat closet. Make a master list - not of everything you have to rush downtown and buy tomorrow, but of things that are needed that you can keep an eye out for. Make note of colors and styles that need to be matched.

Don't go shopping all at once for those things, but watch for sales and shop garage sales for some things. Your kids can only wear one set of clothes at a time anyway, so don't go whole hog in buying an entire wardrobe at one time. A real money saving strategy is to wait until after school starts and all the hoopla dies down to shop for clothes. Overstocked items will be on sale then.

Buying very high quality underwear for growing children is a waste of money, since they will soon grow out of them and underwear is one thing most people won't buy or don't want second hand. Don't go too cheap though... underwear needs to be comfortable!

Buy socks all the same color. When a sock gets lost or wears out, you won't have one sock left that can't be worn with anything else. (If you notice that socks are wearing on the toe or heel, darn them. It's not so hard and it will extend the life of the sock.)

A good rule of thumb is to spend more money on the lower half of the body - pants and skirts - than the upper shirts and tops. Solid good quality color pants or skirts can be mixed or matched with less expensive tops. Jeans, if allowable, wear well and "go with" just about any shirt from t-shirts to button downs.

Most importantly, make lists and stick to the lists. You may have to revise them, but at least you won't be revising your budget to accommodate high back to school expenses.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Frugal is a state of mind

The other day, after a meal with a friend, we were still sitting, lazily gathering dishes and putting lids on things in preparation for cleaning up. I had used a spoon to get some salad dressing from the container and the spoon still had a glob of dressing on it. My friend put the spoon on her plate along with other silverware. I silently protested. That half teaspoon of dressing should have been put back in the container for use at another time. I'll know better next time and not allow her to waste it. I'll get a spatula and clean out the spoon myself.

Frugal is a state of mind. Most people go through life wasting a half teaspoon of dressing and never even noticing. How many half teaspoons until you've wasted an entire bottle of dressing? How many pennies until you've wasted a dollar, and how many dollars until you've wasted enough to... get out of debt, pay off the house, buy a new car...

There are bigger things you can do, of course, and they should be done. Don't buy more insurance than you need, don't pay high interest rates and so on... but the little things add up, too, and it's in the little things that we develop and exercise a state of mind that we can put on auto pilot to save the pennies and the dollars and the hundreds of dollars.

Can't beat that for an easy way to save.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The working of a frugal mind

Last night I cut broccoli from the garden and got it ready for the freezer. Since I was using cottage cheese containers (I'll take out the individual portions and put them in a large freezer bag later), I had just a few pieces of broccoli left over, which I put in the refrigerator.

So today I had to buy a few groceries and as I was walking past the frozen dinners section, I happened to see a container of broccoli, rice, chicken and cheese. It looked so good that I was really tempted to buy it... then I remembered: I had broccoli at home.

There was also leftover chicken... and there is nearly always cheese. There was a serving of rice in the freezer.

It was almost a free meal, since most of it was leftovers and there wasn't a lot of any one thing. It sure was good, though.

It isn't always easy to make your mind go from "just buy it," to "just make it," but it's worth the discipline. I saved almost four dollars on one meal. Multiply that times the three times I go grocery shopping each month, times a year: $144.

That will buy a month's worth of food, plus. A "free" month's worth of food is OK with me!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Save money with passive solar energy

It's free, so why not? Why do we think that just because it doesn't cost us, or doesn't take a special appliance, it somehow isn't worthy of our consideration?

If it's free, and it works, use it! You'll save money, guaranteed.

Sure, you can spend a lot of money on solar panels and entire systems and eventually, you can save money. But if you can't afford that, or don't want to get that deeply into it, why not save money right now, doing the things you already do, just in a different way?

Try these out:

Need to heat some food? Before building or buying a solar oven, try opening a can and setting it in your car in the sun. It will warm to eating temperature faster than you think, even when the weather is cool. A solar oven will expand your options here, and allow you to cook food thoroughly.

Dehydrate fruit and vegetables by putting them in a single layer in the sun. Use the roof or a table covered with a clean cloth. Got a window screen lying around? Put it under the cloth for air circulation. Or use a tray from an electric dehydrator. Cover the food with cheesecloth or netting of some kind - old nylon curtains work well - and set it in the sun. You may have to move it a time or two to keep it in the sun so a small table is easier to handle.

Everybody knows about sun tea, don't they? Just put your tea in water in a glass jar and set it in the sun. Use the same method to make herbal tea. Warm lemons in the sun, then roll on a flat surface and you'll get more lemon juice for lemonade.

Dry your clothes with a solar powered clothes dryer, of course.

And if you do want to put a little money in it, there are many, many small and large products which either operate entirely from solar energy or uses it for a backup. Everything from electric fence chargers to automobiles use solar rechargeable batteries.

Solar power rocks... especially the free kind.
More ideas here: Solar Power for Fun and Savings

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Christmas in July

Do you realize that from the first week in July it's only 24 weeks until Christmas? Did that startle you? It did me!

I know some of you start the day after Christmas and are already stocked up on gifts and decorations. Some of you might even be done with it, but for those of us who aren't, July is the time to start!

Christmas can be the hardest time of all for a frugal pocketbook, since most of us want to make the holiday a happy and fulfilling one, but with the stores and newspapers and magazines filled with goodies and tempting displays of gifts, it's hard for even the most experienced tightwad shopper to keep from overdoing the budget.

If you start now, there's still plenty of time to look, sort and sift, until you find that perfect and gorgeous gift. Unique, better-than-new presents and decorations are out there just waiting for you, and they're not at the mall, and you don't have to wait until Christmas to find them!

Garage sales are the number one place to look this time of the year for that elusive super holiday bargain, but second-hand stores and special sales all count. Real antiques do hide in the dusty corners of garage sale boxes and classic (and classy) items are still found in thrift stores or second-hand shops.

Some things to look for: True vintage clothing, a special hand tool, an original recording of a favorite musician, depression glass, an antique - looking ornate photo frame (put your own photo in it), costume jewelry with a special theme, or anything that will conjure up fond memories for the giftee.

Don't forget about gifts you can make from your finds. Interesting jars, bowls, or glasses, filled with dried soup mixes, special baking mixes, potpourri, bath salts, or teas (herbal or otherwise) can make a very special gift.

If you do crafts or needlework, the possibilities are nearly endless. Knitted crocheted and sewn are probably the most commonly given hand made gifts, but if you don't do those, don't let that stop you. Whatever you can do, put it to good use.

When you have the time to think and be picky about what you find or make instead of feeling under pressure to just get it done, shopping for gifts and decorations and getting ready for Christmas really can be as much fun as it should be.

(They're talking about this very thing in the Dollar Stretcher Community forums: Christmas Club.)