Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why waste matches or a lighter?

Are you tired of passive solar ideas yet? Just one more...

A good magnifying glass is worth every penny. When you need to start a fire in a fire pit or campsite, use the magnifying glass to concentrate the sun's rays onto a piece of paper or dry leaves. It won't be long until a flame appears then you can add other fuel carefully.

If you have a fireplace or woodstove, you can even start a fire outside in the sun and bring it in. Just use a wide mouth metal container like an empty tuna can, poke a few holes around the sides for air flow and put the paper or other tinder in it. Use a cloth or create a handle of some sort to move the can of fire indoors.

It's no wonder that early religions worshiped the sun. We owe much to this ball of fire and we could use it a lot more than we do.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More about passive solar power

If you're into saving money, using as many solar powered ideas as you can find makes sense. It can be fun to find different ways to get the sun to do for us what we now pay to have done. If you haven't tried these, they're worth thinking about.

Passive solar powered oven
It took me a long time to decide to spring for a solar oven, but I'm glad I did, not only for the money it's saved, but for the pure pleasure of cooking a pan of cornbread or soup in it. The food is delicious and it never burns or dries out.

The concept is simple: A black box to absorb heat, a see-through cover to allow the sun in and to trap the heat as well as to keep the food safe from dirt, bugs and animals. There are many variations on the basic plan, from elaborate solar kettles to cardboard pizza boxes. Aluminum or mylar can help reflect even more sun rays into the box to raise the temperature a little more. You can cook anything from hotdogs to cake in the right solar oven. 

Passive solar powered dehydrator
A simple tray with a mesh bottom can be put together by almost anyone. Put the food on it, cover with a cloth and set or hang it in the sunshine, or use your car. Just be sure that the mesh is food safe. Window or door screen are not. You may find a plastic mesh that's food safe or look around at what you already have. It doesn't have to be "mesh" as such, just something flat that will allow some air circulation. I have used a mesh type of no splatter lid, and although it was small, it worked fine. The ridged part of a broiler, if it has holes, will work. If you can't find anything else, go ahead and use window or door screen, but cover it with a cloth before putting the food on it. Cloth itself, when it's stretched tightly onto a frame, is good to dry things on. Use your imagination.

Passive solar powered food warmer
Again, use your car. Put your food, wrapped like you would a sandwich or in a covered container, on the dash of your car when it's in the full sun. It won't be long until it's warm enough to eat. Use this method to save honey that's started to crystallize, to thaw frozen soups from the freezer and to melt butter or to melt chocolate for dipping or any time that you would use a double boiler. It may be a little slower, but it's cheaper by far.

Friday, March 18, 2011

There's passive solar and then there's passive solar...

And the most frugal is the latter.

Okay, I'll explain.

Passive solar power is usually used to produce heat for various applications, and indeed, heat can do a lot of things besides just heat your house. Unfortunately, most passive solar "systems" are expensive to obtain and install and it takes someone very handy to build their own system.

But of course, there's another way. It may not produce the dramatic results that a system does, and it may not be visible so that others can see how cool you are, but you may save just as much money with even more efficiency. Affordable passive solar power comes in many ways rather than one, and some of the ways might even be frowned upon by your neighbors. If you're ready to be a rebel with a cause (that of saving your bank balance), read on.

Passive solar powered ice tea maker
Fill a gallon glass jar or pitcher about half full of water, add three heaping tablespoons of loose tea or four to six teabags and set it on a slab of stone or dark cloth in a sunny location for several hours. That's all there is to it. If the tea is too strong, add water. Add sugar if desired. You'll save money hand over fist if you've been buying tea premade from the grocery store.

Passive solar powered water heater

This is a very affordable way to heat water. Put it into well washed milk jugs or other clear or semi clear containers and put them in a sunny place. In a few hours, you'll have water hot enough to wash dishes or wash your hair (or take a bath if you've put out enough containers). If you need convincing, just test the temperature of the water from a garden hose that's been in the sun all afternoon.

Passive solar powered clothes dryer

This was invented many years ago. In the traditional manner, two T-posts are set in the ground, usually about 20 feet apart, and wire or plastic line is strung from one to the other. You pin wet laundry to the line with clothespins and wait for it to dry. It works best when the sun is shining, of course and a breeze will hurry the result. The sun dries, kills pathogens with its ultraviolet rays and, given enough time, will whiten whites and remove stains.

Do you use the sun in these ways? It will save you money.

There are more ideas coming up, but share yours, please. Why not use passive solar power for all it's worth?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I keep saying it...

The situation in Japan should be seen as a warning. Emergencies often strike quickly, giving little to no time to prepare. We've seen the stories of runs on grocery stores when a hurricane or blizzard is forecast, but those are tame compared to fears of nuclear disaster in the aftermath of a huge earthquake and a monster tsunami.

Was it a once in a thousand years event? We don't know. Could it happen here? We don't know. Could other emergencies occur that would be at least locally as devastating? Yes. Here's a look at what could happen:

What Your Grocery Store Will Look Like in an Emergency

How's your food storage pantry coming along?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Painting and planting

I started doing a major paint job in the kitchen over the weekend. It's going to take all week to finish it (and maybe longer!), but it will be nice when it's done. The cabinets are made of press board and this is the first time they've been painted inside, so they take three coats of paint and a fourth touch up coat. That doesn't sound too bad, except that my kitchen is small so there isn't much room to put things that I take out of the cabinets.

That means it's one cabinet at a time, nearly an all day job for each. I take things out, wipe the cabinets down, paint inside and out, let it dry, paint again, let it dry, paint again, let it dry, touch up, let it dry... then put on fresh shelf paper and replace things. THEN I have room to take things out of the next cabinet and repeat the process.

And most of the time, I'm planting the garden in my mind. Killing two birds with one stone, you know. ;)

It's been warm here with threats of rain. The dandelions are beginning to grow and I see good sized, pinkish nubs of rhubarb. The tulips are up, the crocus is up, the grape hyacinth is up and I'm ready! Well, as soon as I finish the kitchen, I mean.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Up and Up and Up

Food prices, I mean. And gas prices. And clothing prices.

It may be time to start putting some of that extreme frugality into practice. Things are not going to get better in the near future, so don't put off finding ways to get through this. The longer you wait, the more it's going to hurt.

Be diligent in watching out for sales and cooking from scratch. Stock up on basics when you see them begin to inch up in price because the next time you need them, they may have leaped up in prices.

And how many times have I said this: Grow as much of your own food as you can. Even if that means a tin can of dirt on your windowsill. You might be very glad to have some free lettuce when the price doubles again.

Don't think things will always be the same. There are rumors of global food shortages due to the weather, and pathogens growing in GM crops. GM has permeated almost every part of our food system. 

I'm not trying to frighten anyone into a panic, but I'm trying to wake us all up. We need to be very alert to what is going on around us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Online shopping: coupons, codes and good deals

I shop online quite a bit. Although the cost of shipping can sometimes cancel the savings, there are still ways that make online shopping very frugal and I try to take advantage of every one.

First, use a shopping bot like Bizrate or Pricegrabber. These shopbots search the web for the lowest price in the stores that are in their database. You can usually find a good price through them, but beware that they only search within their own databases, so check a couple of them before deciding.

Secondly, search for coupons or promotional codes for the product you want.  There are sites that list coupons and codes for almost every retail site online, but be sure to check the date and any other limitations before trying to use them.  Discontinued codes and coupons are usually removed, but not always. You will usually use these codes at checkout and they're usually good for anything on the site, unless it's restricted to a particular item. Combine these coupons with sales items and you can get a very good deal.

Another way to get coupon codes (some of them specific to you) is to sign up for site newsletters. These will often contain special savings, coupons, codes and "insider" news that will help you shop wisely.

Yet one more way and one that I've found is fun as well as money saving is to work a few "rewards programs" like MyPoints and Swagbucks. You can get gift certificates to your favorite stores and you're getting them free if you don't count the few minutes it takes each day to rack up points.

Online shopping has definitely come of age, so it's up to us to make the most of it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Save money or pay off bills?

Another question I get here at Frugal Living is "Should I save money, or pay off bills first?"

If you ask that question in a room with ten frugal living and personal finance experts, you'll get fifteen answers. I'll throw mine into the ring:

It's never a good idea to put all of your money into one pot. If you're in debt, you need to get out as soon as possible, but if you have no savings, you need to get some started immediately.

Why not get the best of both? After your basic bills are paid, divide whatever money you have and put part of it toward paying down bills (pay extra) and put the rest into a savings account. You will eventually be in a position to handle any money emergency without worry. 

The argument for starting a savings along with debt down payment goes like this: If you don't spend all your money paying down debt and something happens (your car needs repairs, you have unexpected medical expenses, etc), you can cover them with cash and not go deeper in debt.

All of this supposes that nothing is going to happen for awhile. If it does, be a little more frugal (or a lot more frugal if you need to) and pay as much in cash as you can.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What do you want?

I like to say that I was born frugal. For some of us, it really is an attitude that we come by naturally, but for some of us, it has to be cultivated. No matter which camp you're in, frugal living can make a big difference in what you get out of life.

Do you know what you want? For sure? Tell me. I don't want some vague, "I want to buy a house". What do you want? Do you want a cottage on the sea? Do you want a cabin in the woods? Or maybe a McMansion in the newest subdivision. How much will it cost? How much of a downpayment do you have? How much can you save each month toward a downpayment? How big of a mortgage can you make payments on? What can you do to increase your buying power?

Once you can answer those questions, then you can move forward. Frugal living will not magically make those things happen. You will have to work for them.