Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saving money on a cat expense

While there are many things about cat ownership that I am less-than-pleased with, my cats do use the sisal scratching boards I provide them. I try to have at least two on the living room floor to minimize any territorial issues between my two cats. Since declawing means essentially removing the equivalent of the first knuckle on human hands, I refuse to subject my cats to such mutilation. In my experience, any damage to furniture is minimized with access to acceptable outlets (e.g., Sisal Scratcher) and by covering vulnerable furniture.

However, even cat scratchers, sisal or otherwise, become worn out. Since the scratching posts I use are sisal rope wrapped around a wooden board, I figured out a way to reuse them. I removed the frayed sisal rope and added it to my composter (sisal is a grass and therefore, biodegradeable). After studying the construction of the sisal scratching board, I purchased sisal rope from the hardware store and borrowed my mother's staple gun. I secured the ends of the rope with three staples and then tightly wound the sisal rope around the board. Reaching the end of the board, I secured the end with staples and cut off the excess rope. Although it took me some time and I ended up with lots of twisted rope (and tired hands), I managed to reuse the scratcher boards to create a new scratching surface for my cats.

Reluctant kitties can be lured with catnip, but my geriatric cats (nearly 13 and 15) recognize that the sisal rope boards on the floor are theirs to use as needed. My older cat has used the revived scratcher without any issues and I am proud of my handiwork. Again, I minimized my garbage footprint by keeping the boards out of a landfill. With a small outlay of cash ($5 for rope) and about 30 minutes of my time, I generated two scratching boards for my cats to use that should last another few years before making them again. Since each new sisal scratching board costs $12 a piece, I saved nearly $20 with this project. I wish I had figured this reuse project sooner!

Monday, December 29, 2008

DIY savings!

In the midst of the paper waste and multiple gifts of the Christmas celebration, my sister revived her iPod mini. Like me, the younger of my two sisters listens to her MP3s old style. Instead of the flash drives present in the cute little iPod nano or iPod shuffle, the iPod mini, the nano's precursor, used a hard drive. Unfortunately, my sister noticed she would get about 15 minutes of battery life before the iPod shut down stating it was out of juice. Knowing about her predicament (an older PowerBook G4 that did not work with the newer generation iPods), I found replacement batteries on eBay for her iPod model, so she asked me to buy it for her as she did not want to sign up for an eBay account.

A few days later, I received the battery I purchased and drove it to our parent's house over the Christmas holiday. With some instructions on the web and the provided screwdrivers and battery, my sister proceeded to swap out the old battery for the new one in less than 15 minutes. By paying $6.50 for a new battery and a small time investment, my sister was able to revive her iPod mini. This meant she did not have to buy a replacement iPod (equivalent model is $150) nor did she trash an item that just needed one component replaced. While I may envy those beautiful iPod Touches, I will follow my sister's path and replace the battery before I trash my cute pink iPod mini.

I am proud of my sister for being frugal and keeping e-waste out of the garbage stream. Spending under 5% of the cost of new to get her well-loved iPod mini into working condition was a great investment of her time. Have you kept an electronic item out of the landfill?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Managing finances in difficult times

My net worth analysis for November was down by 2.11% compared to the month before. In fact, this was the third month of negative numbers. Not surprising when the stock market is going down and staying there. The shares of mutual funds I bought when the market was high have lost a lot of value and the shares I am buying now when the market is low are not enough to counteract the losses.

I am happy I have a job, am saving money and have no debt aside from my mortgage, which is still a comfortable payment. I wanted a fixed rate, 30-year mortgage and in these turbulent times, I am glad I was firm in my resolve. While I cannot control much in the face of the US economy, there are a few strategies I employ that do affect my bottom line.

Keep adding to my savings account.
Extra money in the bank or credit union means when something breaks, my cat is sick or my job is cut back or lost, there is a financial cushion to keep me from sinking immediately. Currently, I have enough liquid assets for at least six months of expenses. That is enough to take care of most issues without resorting to credit cards.

While I have money set aside each paycheck, I also use leftover money from my spending plan to add to the savings balance. As a single woman, a large financial cushion makes me feel less stressed and more able to weather blows that may come my way.

Stay within the spending plan.
This strategy can be difficult sometimes, but if I keep within my plan, I know I will not overspend and may even save a bit extra money with the leftover amounts in various categories. By keeping to my spending plan, I cover the basics with room for small indulgences and know my savings goals are funded. The money in my spending plan is total after taxes, 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions as well as saving for charity, emergencies, car and other goals. By allocating my money into categories, I keep my spending at appropriate levels and know when I only have $2.10 left in my grocery allocation.

Shop for great deals.
Hand-in-hand with the saving money and keeping to a spending plan, I keep an eye out for items to buy at great prices. Because I have no consumer debt and a good savings cushion, I can take advantage of great prices. Knowing how much I normally pay for items in the grocery store lets me know when loss leaders at my local grocery are worth making a trip. This month, I had $21 left in my grocery category and took advantage of some loss leader sales on eggs, sugar and flour. By keeping an eye on my local charity thrift shop and craigslist, I can get items I have wanted (e.g., wool blankets) and pay less than new. There are many people that are trying to get rid of items in his or her home to raise extra cash. I have money I can spend so this is a win-win situation.

However, spending comes with a caveat: spend for only what you will use. There are many things I want that I do not need. Sometimes I push my spending plan or savings harder than I should because I could not walk away from the "deal" I saw. It is not deal if you do not need it and will not use it. Instead, it becomes clutter that takes up precious space in your home.

Keep it simple.
Keeping expenses low involves many strategies including cooking meals from scratch, bringing lunch to work, combining errands into a single car trip and staying home to enjoy time with family and friends. Purchasing lower cost, unprocessed ingredients to cook meals saves a lot of money. Bringing leftovers or making a sandwich saves money spent on lunch. Instead of going to the grocery store to pick up a snacky I desperately crave, I keep a list by the refrigerator and visit the grocery store when there is a deal running. Instead of just visiting the grocery store, I also visit the hardware store for the nuts, bolts and washers I need, the drugstore to buy candy for Christmas presents, the library to return my books and the thrift shop to check out the deals. This means several errands are accomplished in a single trip as these places are close together so I waste less time, gas and money.

Instead of dinner out, movie and some drinks at a bar after, try inviting people over for a potluck, rent a movie or play some board games and enjoy beverages. Meeting at one location, staying there for the entire engagement and then leaving once is simpler and less stressful. Try carpooling to the hostess's house. Less gas is used and fewer cars are strewn along the side of the road or in the driveway. Rotate socializing at various homes.

Setting aside time to spend with family is valuable as well. Friday night games and Saturday night movies marathon at home mean a lot to kids. I have fond memories of playing card games and consuming vast quantities of taco dip with my family on special weekends. Allow the kids to choose the movie, snuggle up on the sofa and eat some freshly popped corn.

By saving money, sticking to a spending plan, watching for good deals on items I will use and keeping to simplicity strategy, I am keeping my head above the swirling financial waters. Controlling expenses and saving money will put anyone in a better situation and reduce the stress engendered by our global economic situation.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Celebrating one year blogging

As I get ready to look at November's finances with some trepidation, I realized I have been blogging for a year now. Prior to starting my own account, I had been reading various personal finance blogs and believed there was room to share my perspective on frugal living as well. I enjoy writing and my NaNoWriMo challenge was not exciting me. The blog however, has been going for just over a year and I still have more left to explore.

When I first started, I wanted to talk money, budgeting and native plant gardening. Now I have shifted more strongly into green living, edible gardening, and my dream of owning my own farm. Regardless of the shifting of focus, my goals to live frugally (if not uncluttered) have been keys to reducing my resource usage (e.g., buying secondhand and throwing away less garbage) and saving for the future.

One of my earliest posts was about once monthly shopping. I have been practicing this for the last four years so I was surprised when other more popular bloggers were writing about it just recently. My once monthly trips were born out of fewer trips are better for my sanity (I hate grocery shopping), but ended up being a frugal practice as well. This and several follow-up posts have proven to be quite popular.

True to my original ideas, managing income and rolling over an IRA have been frequented by visitors as well. My postings on saving some money in the garden as well as examining the cost of replacement windows garnered positive results as well.

I hope you have enjoyed your time spent here and welcome you back every time you stop by! If there is anything you would like to read or would like a followup on a previous posting, please let me know.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

So much for buy-nothing day

Despite the fact that I have either already purchased gifts for people on my list or plan on making them, I did shop on Black Friday. However, instead of rushing out of the house at ungodly hours of the morning, I had time for breakfast, conversation with family and setting up my dad's Mail account before riding in the minivan with my mother and sister. Then our only shopping consisted of three charity thrift stores within a 30-minute driving radius. Furthermore, if I spent at least $10 at the previous store, I received an extra 10% discount at the next for up to 30% off the price (i.e., 20% discount at the second store and 30% discount at the third store). Plus, many items were 50% off as a store special. I did not intend on going shopping so I walked away with more stuff than I should have purchased. However, I did get items that encourage my air drying habits (a sweater dryer), encourage cooking and gardening (six books), fill in little holes in my life (a wind-up glow-in-the-dark travel clock and a spray bottle) and keep me warm (a fleece sweatshirt).

One item that I walked away with at 50% off was a chair. The issue is I could not get it home. It did not fit in my car no matter how I tried to maneuver it. So, I paid $28 for a Queen Anne-style chair that is residing in my parent's basement until some future trip my parents make to my house. However, this incident reinforces my thoughts on buying a newer vehicle that can haul things much easer than my four-door sedan. I like my car, but it does not lend itself to hauling much wood or furniture larger than a table chair or small bookshelf. This gets in the way of plans for gardening, building and buying new-to-me furniture.

Even though I spent just over $51 for the day, according to Riot4Austerity, none of this spending counts because I purchased it all at charity thrift shops. However, I do find that by the time I reach November, my spending plan is pretty far gone even at the beginning of the month. Aligning purchases with the spending plan took some justification, but all is rectified and I can enjoy my new purchases.

Did your shopping break the bank or did you throw yourself wholeheartedly into buy-nothing day?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What are you grateful for?

As I live in the U.S.A., I am part of the millions that celebrate Thanksgiving today. Truly, the holiday is about more than turkey, Pilgrims and family. It is one day out of the year to reflect on what one is thankful for in life. We should take more time than that, but it is a start. So what I am grateful for?

Health It is difficult to enjoy life without good health. Aside from my surgery earlier this year, I have had decent health. There are additional steps I need to take to improve my health, but I am generally healthy and have few worries about medical expenses overtaking me.

Wealth Despite the bite the downward stock market has taken out of my retirement portfolio, I am still wealthier than the majority of the people on this planet. I can not only pay the expenses of my American lifestyle, but save some money as well. There is even room for spending on unnecessary items.

Freedom I am grateful for having the ability to walk out of my house, drive to the polls and vote all without dodging bullets, bombs or other threats to my democratic duty and right. I am grateful there are people willing to give their lives so I can live my comfortable existence in the U.S.A. with all my personal freedoms intact.

Home I am thankful I have a comfortable place to call home where I am sheltered from the weather and can grow my own food.

Friends and family Despite my family knowing all the buttons to push and how little I see some of my friends, I am grateful they are in my life. I know who I can turn to for support--emotional, physical and financial. I do not always appreciate what they do for me, but their presence in my life is important to me.

Blog readers I am glad there are people who stop by regularly or on occasion to read my postings. You keep me going and help inspire me. Thank you.

Take your thankfulness and pass it on!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How my savings accounts work for me

When I save money, I have manyfold goals (and expenses) in mind. Let us break down my myriad of savings accounts to see how they forward my goals for the present and future.

Standard savings account
This is my first line of defense against rainy days, car repairs, unexpected medical or veterinary bills, and even the occasional overspending. I transfer $160 per pay period with a larger amount deposited when I have my extra paycheck month. I recently tapped into this account for medical deductibles and car repairs. This money is easily transferred to my checking account at my credit union, immediately accessible if needed. Less liquid CDs also hold a share of this money that can be used for emergencies. I am working on having CDs due every month so I have a larger pool to draw from without sacrificing other savings goals.

House account
This is where most small expenses associated with the house including gardening and landscaping are drawn from. Each pay check, I transfer $75 for these expenses. Typically, I can purchase small machines like a snow thrower, pay for small electrical jobs like installing a new outlet in the basement, but the window replacement expenses usually end up drawing from my standard savings account. Most of this money is spent at hardware stores with brief stops at a garden store or the thrift store. At various times, I have nearly depleted the account, but winter is generally quiet enough, a nice balance accumulates--just in time for spring!

Car savings
I would like to buy my next vehicle with cash if circumstances allow. However, if the time frame is shorter than I would like, I can at least put a good chunk of money toward a newer vehicle. Each paycheck donates $71.50 to the fund with any bonuses, rebates or other extra money adding to the account balance. In 15 months, I have saved over $2,700. My actual savings account only has a few hundred dollars in it as $2,000 is in two separate CDs with rates of 4.00% APY. I am gambling I will not need the money for at least a year, but having a bit more interest is worth it to me. After the above two accounts, the car savings has the highest priority.

By saving each paycheck, I allow myself to pay less money than a car payment for a future car. If I am forced to buy a car sooner than I would like, I will have to sacrifice money I was saving for emergencies, the house and future goals to make a car loan payment. The faster I can accumulate money for a newer car, the less likely I have to short change other savings goals.

Charity savings
I set aside a small amount every month for this account. Using this method, I can accumulate some funds and chose to send a larger amount to my charity of choice. Since the amount is so modest, my plans are to increase the donations to this funds so I can spread it around to more than one charity in a year. I focus on local charities like the food bank and make sure that I can help others that are not as lucky in their circumstances as I am.

Found money
I started this fund to see how small amounts of money can add up. Since opening the account, I have also added money from an internet subsidy from my employer. The small amounts of money did add up quite nicely and helped fund the purchase of my chest freezer. While the current balance is $256, I am hoping to purchase a computer with the money in a year or two. This means I will need to save more money and I may be more reluctant to part with my hard-saved dollars to purchase new technology as much as I admire it.

Farm account
This is ~4 year goal and lower priority than a new driving vehicle. Right now, this account has been funded by a portion of the last extra paycheck and some stray money leftover after funding the car account. Additional funding will have to come from another source yet to be determined. There just is not enough of my paycheck after funding the other accounts to put a substantial amount here as well.

Conclusion: Each account keeps me on track so I have cash available for immediate use as well as prioritizing my savings goals.

Could you adapt this method for your goals?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shopping the loss leaders

I am uncertain how common this is, but I have recently begun to only shop loss leaders. While I still undergo my once-monthly grocery pilgrimage to supply the bulk of my groceries, I have started looking at the flyer for the local grocery store and seeing what the deals are. I began noticing great prices like $1.50 for a pound of butter, 98 cents for 4 pounds of granulated sugar, and $1.49 for 5 pounds of flour and thought hey, I should stock up.

Then there are the unadvertised specials. Recently, I went into the store looking to purchase shampoo for 88 cents and found the same size, different brand for 59 cents. Which do you think I chose?

My grocery store is not the only location for good deals. I have been looking at the Walgreens flyer online for any deals I could use. I have not quite gotten the rhythm of what is on sale when or even if it is a good deal. However, I have noticed in the last six weeks, none of the Neutrogena products I use have gone on sale. But when they do, I am prepared to snatch them up.

Between the loss leaders and my monthly grocery trip, I can add to my pantry (or freezer) and save a bit of money buying items that are cheaply priced. Do you only shop the loss leaders?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Christmas jelly jar saga

At my local thrift store, I had been looking for jelly/jam jars to make jam in for Christmas gifts. However, the usual location was not yielding any jelly jars, just a few lonely quart or pint jars. With Christmas looming closer, I broke down and bought new jelly jars wrapped in thick plastic during my big once-monthly grocery shopping trip. Not only was I buying new, but had a lot of plastic waste to deal with. Why not the good old fashioned cardboard box Kerr!

So my new jars were all nestled in their plastic-wrapped cardboard divisions in my basement waiting for me to fill them with strawberry and red raspberry jam goodness from the berries I picked and froze in my chest freezer. I was looking forward to making a batch of jam with my homegrown strawberries. Then I made a recent pilgrimage to my local charity thrift shop, the one I visit weekly and brag about all the stuff I find. Internally I was shrieking in frustration because there on the shelf was not one, not two, but four boxes of a dozen jelly jars complete with dried up spiders for me to purchase. Well, of course I bought a box because a gal can never have too many jelly jars and if I gave them away as gifts, well, less crying over jars that never return to me. I will take 25 cents a jar any day!

I visited the store two days later and there was still another box left so I bought that one too. Now I have an assortment of jelly jars in raised-relief fruit, quilted, standard smooth, and wide-mouth half pint sizes. I think I can freely give away jars with little guilt even if I thought six weeks without jars in the thrift story meant I could purchase new. And no, I am not sharing my ill-gotten gains. I may even been stingy with the two batches of strawberry freezer jam I made. I never shared my homemade jam gift plans so if the jars never leave the freezer, no one but me will know...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Planning for my long-term goals

Although I am on my way to converting the lawn on my suburban lot to growing food, my future plans include being able to keep animals, bees and vast numbers of fruit bushes and trees, something that my small lot cannot support nor is allowed by my city ordinances. As I look forward to my future farm in four years, what am I thinking about now to facilitate my plans?

Plans I had for my current home will need to be limited to keep more future capital for the farm. This means the minor bathroom remodel and potential kitchen remodel are shelved. However, I will finish the window replacement, will consider additional attic insulation and need to persuade my neighbor to paint the wood exterior next year. Keeping and enhancing the value of my home will help me get the best price I can when I sell. At least that is my hope.

I will also really need to focus on saving additional money. In looking at my numbers, the best way to reach at least 5% down payment and enough cash to purchase trees, equipment and animals is to save another $175/month. Since this money is hard to find in my current income, I will have to get a second job or determine what alternative streams of income I can set up. This will require more thinking on my part to figure out what I can do to increase my savings.

To be honest, earning more money is where I really get hung up. I have a few ideas for self-employment, but nothing that has been executed. A couple ideas would be in highly competitive venues and I do not want to fight hard to earn some money. A second job in an established business would be best, but my city has a small list of job openings with few for which I am able to qualify. In addition, the job market for retail jobs has become quite tight recently.

Deciding I will have a farm in spring 2012 and having one are two different things. Opportunity and ability to take said opportunity need to come together for me. I am certain my ideas and plans will be refined in the next 3.5 years. What is acceptable and important today will be modified by the time I truly implement my lifestyle change. I have just recently added beekeeping to my ideas for the farm and oddly enough, am debating myself about adding a dairy cow. This from a woman who made all sorts of excuses to get out of milking cows. What is the world coming to?

By the time I would like to purchase country property, the current economic issues will hopefully have eased. I do not want to find a place that will make me happy, but am unable to get a loan or cannot sell my house. I am in a better position to sell than some as housing values in my area have not declined much and my home is a starter home. However, where everything will be in four years is tough to say. I would like some equity from my home to help me in my new place.

I was raised on a dairy farm and am familiar with crop farming. However, my dad is a conventional family farmer while I want to have a small organic farm that will at least sustain me if not generate a small income stream. Instead of the 85 head of Holsteins my dad milked regularly until 18 years ago, I want 3-4 sheep, maybe a cow, a couple of beehives, 6-12 chickens (egg layers and meat), a couple of geese and some farm cats to keep down the rodents. Rather than farming 1,000 acres of alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and corn, I want to grow veggies and fruits on a few acres. While I might be familiar with farming, I do not have the knowledge to farm how I want to do it.

Therefore, I need to find mentors, take classes and educate myself on what I need to know to make things work. I have been reading books, but that can only take me so far. Talking with someone knowledgeable and willing to share his or her experience is important to understanding more issues involved in what I want to do. My first couple tries in this matter have given mixed results. I need to find the right people that will support me in the manner I want. That mentorship can be difficult to find and challenging to foster. Classes would be a formalized way to instill knowledge and there are programs at the local university on various farm topics including sheep. I may consider exploring that next year. If I can get the knowledge and mentorship I need, I will be better prepared for starting and running my own farm.

I desire to return to the country. This call to have my own small farm is a new twist on the idea, but one I am thoroughly embracing. While I am surprised at the intensity and interest I have in owning and running a small organic farm, I want to see this through. Yes, I worry that despite my plans, my preparation, skills and money will not be enough to get me to a break-even point, much less making money at a farming endeavor. I may even fail miserably.

However, I am taking steps to get me to a level I can tackle starting a garden bigger than 100 square feet. I am learning what I need to do to plant crops successively on depleted soil, how to amend it, how to expand a garden and how much time it takes to get started and support 210 square feet rather than 81 square feet. How much mulch, compost and other amendments do I need? How long do I have to wait until I can harvest a crop? Do I need to wait years, months or weeks? How do I deal with rodents? The experience on my small suburban lot can translate to a larger garden and converting lawn to garden space will also prove useful. Learning is not only classwork and reading, but doing. I may not be able to practice animal husbandry on my current property, but I can grow as many different fruits and vegetables as the land can support with correct sun exposure and between trees. Building knowledge and confidence is a good thing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Surprise harvest: Strawberries in November

I have written endlessly about gardening, my garden plans and my new gardening areas including my raised strawberry pyramid. Well, Sunday November 9, I was picking strawberries in freezing temperatures (30 degrees Fahrenheit) with little flecks of snow sprinkling on me and the strawberry plants. Talk about a disconcerting experience--picking strawberries in November in the upper Midwest! The snow is not enough to do anything but add flecks of white, but not how I imagined my strawberry harvest would take me this year (or any year). I guess when the Jung's catalog says Ozark Beauty is an everbearing strawberry plant, they are not kidding. With freezing temperatures, I am not sure how long I can expect any berries to ripen, but I am interested in seeing how long they can hold out. There are a few that are starting to blush red...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The end of the no-furnace challenge

Well, I made it until November 7 before I had to turn on my furnace thanks in part to a warm spell with nearly 70 degree Fahrenheit temperatures in early November. Of course, I am unlikely to see 68 degrees F in my house for a few months as I set my thermostat to 64 degrees F or lower.

However, I did decide to modify my thermostat settings. Last year, I set it at 64 degrees when I was home, 55 degrees when I was gone during the day and 56 degrees at night. Since I was able to tolerate lower temperatures during my furnace-off challenge, I decided to decrease my thermostat settings to see how I would fee. My current settings are 63 degrees when I am home, 55 degrees when I am not and when I am sleeping. I do not know how much this might affect my natural gas bill, but I will do my best to lower my usage and add on the blankies.

With lower temperatures in the house as well as outside, I finally added my down comforter to the bed, which keeps me right warm all night long. With plenty of supplies laid in for home, craft and clutter projects in my home, I am ready for colder temperatures to keep me indoors. I do plan on trying to line-dry clothing outdoors during the winter and will continue to supply my backyard composter with leftover fruit and vegetable bits. Otherwise, I plan to keep most activities indoors for the next few months.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

U.S. election day--be sure to vote!

By the times this posts on my blog, I will be working the early shift at one of four polling locations in my small city. This is just a reminder to come visit me or your local polling place and vote. It is a great responsibility and even if you cannot stomach the rhetoric after all this time, there are still local races and referendums that are important and will more directly affect you. Please be responsible and vote!

And if you are wondering which person is me, look for the woman who looks like she could be the daughter of any of the rest of the workers. I really enjoy helping out and seeing all the people voting. The local clerk's office is always looking for more poll workers if you are curious.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Referral Love for October 2008

October was a busy month for me. Putting my garden in order, raking leaves, picking up compost and organizing my garage along with shopping the grocery store bargains kept me running around. November brings NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and one year of blogging. I plan to take the novel writing challenge so I will likely have even fewer posts. I have no particular plans to celebrate my blogoversary, but I have a few weeks to think of some possibilities. I am open to suggestions...

Festivals or Carnivals
I contributed an entry Frugal tips for the autumn garden in the the Festival of Frugality #149: Monster Mash Edition! hosted by Living Well on Less.

Top Referrals (excluding search engines)
1. Direct links--I love to see these listed. I am glad you find visiting my blog worth your while. For convenience, consider subscribing to my RSS feed.
2. Living Well on Less
3. Funny About Money Thanks for linking to my post "Frugal tips in the garden".
4. Blogger Hi fellow bloggers on Blogger.com!

Top Articles for October
1. Frugal tips for the autumn garden Thanks for choosing my entry Living Well on Less.
2. Analyzing my net worth for September 2008 It is a bit painful, no?
3. Crafting my way out of clutter I am likely in more company than I imagine, or you were chuckling at my foibles.
4. Referral love for September 2008 Thanks again kind visitors!

If you are curious about me or want me to explore a topic, just comment here or send an e-mail to frugal(dot)pursuit(at)gmail.com

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Challenge: Keep the furnace off

So how did my "Keep the furnace off until November 1" challenge go? Well, it is now November and I can turn on the furnace if I want, but with temperatures predicted in the 50s and 60s for the next five days, I am keeping it off. However, it was not easy to keep my eye on the cold challenge because there were about four days in a row where there was moderate to no sun and temperatures with highs in the 50s and lows in the upper 20s to low 30s.

While I succeeded in keeping the furnace off, I did use some supplemental heating to help me to get through the colder evenings and mornings. I turned on my oil-filled radiator three mornings in the bedroom and two evenings in the living room. I also added my electric blanket on top of my bed, turning that on before I went to bed to warm it up. I am not sure how this will be reflected in my electric bill, but it is likely a wash between the decrease in my dehumidifiers running and the draw from the electric heaters.

Regardless of this supplemental heating, the coldest morning was 53 degrees Fahrenheit. For five days, I did not get above 60 degrees. I rediscovered the joys of snuggling under my covers, wearing a bath robe and having a blanket across my lap. Sometimes regardless of measures, I was cold, but I held out for November 1 and succeeded. Since the temperature is more reasonable right now (63 degrees), I plan on holding off turning on my furnace for another five or six days. Snow is predicted for the end of the week, but none of the lows will hit freezing. I will give an update when I actually turn on my natural gas furnace.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Analyzing my net worth for October 2008

I do not mean to depress you, but I have done my financial analysis for the month of October and now have enough data to compare year to year. Since I started calculating my net worth October 22, 2007, this is the lowest my net worth has been. So much for my goal to reach a net worth of $100,000 by the end of 2008.
October 2008 net worth -9.5%
11/1/07 to 11/1/08 net worth -7%

Extreme stock market volatility
I purchased some stock in February 2008 when the Dow dipped into the 11,300 range and thought I did well for myself. Well, October saw lows in 8,000s from highs of about 10,000. While October ended with the markets up, I will not be holding my breath that my stock values will return from their nearly 40% plunge. My 401(k), rollover IRA and Roth IRA all had a nice downward trajectory that ended up pushing my net worth down 9.5%.

Savings and cash
I keep saving money, but not enough to fill the hole from the stock market. In all cash categories (except the cash kept on hand), the amount of money is up. With gas prices easing at the pump, I can put more money back in savings and build a small cushion of gas cash for extra travel or sudden price jumps before I need to change my spending plan.

I have no predictions about the end of the year and what my account will look like. While my cash position could have been even stronger, I am in stockpiling mode so I did not have the same cash cushion in my spending plan as last month. With my focus on what I need to get done around my house, I did not seek a second job and am unlikely to find one between now and the end of November. I expect a small bonus with my next check, but I also plan a shopping trip for myself this month. We will see how this affects my totals when the month ends.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sliced cheese dilemma

I love my dairy products. It is all about the milk and all the lovely items derived from it including cheese, ice cream and butter. This is not an inexpensive addiction, but one that was fostered by my childhood on a dairy farm and happily carried into my adulthood. For me, life would be quite unhappy without milk or its derivatives. One item that I like to eat is American sliced cheese. This is a great cheese product for toasted cheese sandwich or melted on top of burgers (beef or tofu), both quick dinner items when I neglected to plan a meal. However, this is one item where frugality and green living collide.

I can purchase American sliced cheese in a plastic package with each slice individually wrapped in plastic for $1.89 for 12 ounces or $2.52 per pound. I feel ridiculously wasteful unwrapping 3-4 slices of cheese from their plastic packaging to make one crispy toasted cheese sandwich.

Where I shop, the deli counter has sliced American cheese without packaging, but it is $4.99 per pound, almost twice as much as the prepackaged cheese slices. However, with the reduced packaging, these deli slices have a lower garbage footprint. I would not be throwing away 3-4 pieces of plastic every time I make a sandwich! So, what is a frugal dairy-loving gal to do?

This last shopping trip, the urge to live greener won. I paid more for American sliced cheese from the deli counter to reduce the amount of garbage I generated. I do not understand why it costs less to have a greater amount of packaging, but I am happier to not be throwing away several sheets of plastic every time I want a sandwich. There was a bonus to visiting the deli counter--I found the price for pepperoni was less than the packaged version.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Crafting my way out of clutter

I confess I was a former fabric-a-holic. I used to haunt fabric stores for fun fabrics and dream of the projects I could create with the fabric as my centerpiece. Now I have several plastic bins full of fabric and taking up space in my house. What is a frugal gal to do? Use the fabric stash and turn it into whatever I can of course!

It all started in the late 1990s when I decided I wanted to learn how to quilt. Conveniently, an evening adult learning class on quilting was being held across the street from my apartment. I signed up for three sessions of six classes/session and learned how to rotary cut and machine quilt. In the frenzy of quilt making, I invested in vast quantities of 100% cotton fabric with many plans to make masterful quilts for myself and as gifts. Unfortunately, by the time the third set of classes came around, my interest and enthusiasm had waned. This is why I have a partially started quilt and bins full of fabric waiting to be turned into quilts.

Since I am interested in decluttering and want to add warmth to cold winter nights, I will make quilts I had planned and either give them away (or store) as appropriate. Quilting is the perfect activity to keep me warm as I try to keep my thermostat low during the winter. Furthermore, I have purchased patterns and fabric for clothing including pajamas. Producing something to wear (and not spending any money) is a good thing. Once the fabric that belongs to half or fully formed projects is taken care of, there is still fabric chosen because I liked it (who can ignore a fun cat pattern?) or thought it would be a great start to a quilt (that UFO pattern is so colorful and vibrant).

I have time before Christmas so I can make other gifts including gift bags, napkins and little girl's purses. It is difficult to find people who want to buy fabric so with leftovers, I will consider crazy quilts, doll clothing and even rag rugs. I have the glimmer of a denim chenille rug in my future. I just need to wear out a few more jeans...

Once my projects are completed, I am hoping to figure out what to do with the plastic bins. Maybe someone from craigslist will take them off my hands and store her own fabric collection in them thus keeping the balance of unused fabric in the world.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Frugal tips for the autumn garden

With 40mph winds whipping around my house and a temperature of 48 degrees Fahrenheit, it was quite chilly outside today. The sun was shining, which helps, but it definitely felt cooler than autumn. However, all the planted areas around the house need to be put to bed for the winter. This is not cheap since using mulch and compost to ensure the plants make it through the colder part of the year and prepare your garden for spring planting can get pricey, depending on how large an area you need to cover. For the frugal gardener, casting your eye around the yard can yield dividends for both your garden and your wallet.

Save those leaves.
Not only is raking the leaves fallen from your trees a great excuse to be outside but it is good exercise too. Leaves are great material to add to your compost pile (you have started one right), or shred and use as mulch around trees. If you have a bagging lawnmower, it is easy to mow the lawn with dry leaves on top of the grass and collect the shredded material. Otherwise, try putting the raked leaves in a trash can and using a trimmer to shred them into pieces. Leaf pieces tend not to blow away like intact leaves and allow moisture to reach the plant roots below.

Or you can make your old leaf mold mulch. Just bag the leaves in plastic, water them well and let them sit over the winter. Alternatively, pile the leaves in a corner of your yard, water well and cover with a tarp. Either way, fungus will begin to break down the leaves and give you with a great cover for the garden in spring. Leaf mold greatly improves the structure and water-holding capacity of soil, and worms love it too.

If you do not have trees or do not have enough leaves, raid your neighbor's piles. In urban and suburban areas, people conveniently place piles of leaves curbside for collection. Just take what you want and use the leaves at your own place. Be careful what leaves you take as black walnut leaves can harm more plants than it helps.

Clean up garden beds.
You know those tomato plants that gave you some nice fruit but are looking a bit awful now? Just cut them off at the level of the soil, chop them up and add to your composter. Most green material in the garden can either be left in place or thrown on the compost heap. Be cautious where the left-in-place material is used. If you are rotating crops, do not use the brassica greens where you intent to plant them next year. Leaving in place or adding to the composter will allow you to return the nutrients to the soil, which means healthy plants during growing season.

Regardless how the above-ground greens are handled, leave the roots of the plants in place. They not only keep the soil aerated, but also may hold nitrogen. Beans and peas are among the plants that do so and fixation happens at the roots. By pulling out the roots, the nitrogen is lost to the greens planted the next year. Having nitrogen available is important for heavy nitrogen-using plants like corn.

Add compost to vegetable garden beds.
Your hard-working compost bin or heap has probably broken down a good portion of your contributions from the beginning of the year. Spread this black gold on top of the newly emptied garden bed to give the soil a nutrient boost before planting occurs in the spring. If you have just started a compost pile, you likely will have to wait another year or so, depending on how active the pile is. My composter is pretty slow so I have just started shoveling out compost from a bin started in 2006. If you are like me and suffer from a lack of material, ask people at work to give you banana peels, coffee grounds or other compostable material. Mix these with the leaves you are composting and see what you have in the spring.

By looking what you have in your yard, you can find enough material to product mulch and compost for your garden beds. Again, supplement judiciously as needed by finding a source of leaves or organic matter if you cannot produce enough. By using what you have and being self-sufficient, you will have no need to visit those expensive garden stores for plastic bags of compost and mulch. Happy gardening!

Update: Welcome to those readers from the Festival of Frugality #149: Monster Mash Edition! If you liked my post, please explore my blog or subscribe to my RSS feed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Challenge: Hold off turning on the furnace

This morning, my thermostat read 59 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a bit chilly in the house especially in my short-sleeved nightgown that leaves my legs uncovered. However, I am determined to hold off turning on my heat until November 1. How will I do this?

Use solar gain.
My only large tree, a green ash, no longer has leaves. That means all sides of the house are hit by sun--when it is in the sky. If I leave the curtains open on sunny days, I can gain from 3-7 degrees of heat in the house, all without turning on the furnace. The drawback is if there is no sun, there is little heat gain.

Cook and bake, baby, cook and bake.
Here is where cooking from scratch becomes a blessing. The more the stove is used for cooking potatoes or baking bread or pizza, the more warmth is added to the house. After baking was finished, my grandmother would leave the oven door open to let the heat escape into the house. I just let the heat move up the stove vent, but her idea will release the heat faster. If bread or boiling potatoes are not your thing, try cookies or simple items like grilled cheese sandwiches or pancakes. My cast iron pan holds heat well and will radiate into the room.

Love your blankie.
I am not ready to break out the down comforter (waiting until November 1 for that as well). However throwing an extra quilt or blanket on top of the bed will help retain some heat while sleeping. I have been quite comfortable in my bed for the past few nights with just a lap-size quilt I made on top of the "summer" bed quilt and over the portion of the bed I sleep. When sitting in other rooms of the house, I have a blanket over my lap. If it is chilly enough (and I am wearing short sleeves), a sweater or bath robe will help retain more heat.

Give some physical affection.
Get all cuddly with a child, pet or partner. Sharing body heat is very nice when there is a chill in the air and being with someone you love is always a nice bonus.

So consider delaying turning on the furnace as long as you can. My goal is November 1. This will save money, natural gas and electricity since I am also hoping to avoid using my electric oil-filled radiator. Cooking and baking will increase the electric bill if you normally do not cook or bake, but they have great rewards for your tummy. I can only look on with awe since my stylist is planning on not turning on his heat until November 15. If you take the challenge, what is your furnace turn on date?

Friday, October 17, 2008

The autumn deadline looms

While I have many plans for the colder months, it is still early autumn and there are outdoor chores I need to finish. My tomato plants are still producing, strawberries are ripening, and my beans are blossoming and offering green pods. I am collecting this late bounty as long as it is produced as I do some final chores. The decreasing daylight makes it all more critical so I need to keep focused.

Finish constructing the new raised garden beds.
Since I enjoyed both gardening and processing my produce, I decided to add more garden space. Using salvage untreated wood, I have created two 8 feet by 4 feet by 7 inch beds on the south facing part of my lawn. These and the current 9 feet by 9 feet raised bed will be growing space for my vegetables. Furthermore, a 12 feet by 4 feet bed will be the new home of a black raspberry patch on the west side of my house. The new beds need to have soil added to them and this requires my dad, who is currently in the throes of harvesting soybeans. However, I have leaves and compost to add to the gardening space. Leaves are not a problem, but I need to finish raking what I have in the beds. The composted (or partially composted) horse manure will require a few more visits to the farm before I call it good enough prior to flying snow.

Mow the lawn at least once more.
I am a bit backed up in my plans. I wanted to use the leaves in the new raised beds, but since they are not finished, I could only do some minor raking. With leaves on the lawn, I did not want to mow especially as I have a mulching lawn mower. So once the beds are made and the leaves are gone, I will do one more pass on the lawn (hopefully the last time).

Empty the rain barrels.
Both 55 gallon rain barrels are full. I plan on storing some of the rain water in the basement to water my indoor plants over winter. After that, I will water my trees with the rest, clean out the barrels and store them for the winter. The diverter will also need to be prepared for the winter season and capped off after the diverter hoses are removed. I have to find space for two rain barrels this winter and that may mean my basement will play host to them rather than the garage. This is a definite drawback to a single-car garage.

Mulch the front rhubarb bed.
I planted some rhubarb on my front lawn as the first step in my plans to convert my lawn to more edible landscaping. The first planting is more vigorous than the second, but the sod I turned over did not eliminate unwanted green growth. As a result, I need to do some weed pulling, laying down of newspaper and then bark mulch. The bed is not large, about 10 square feet, but I plan to expand it with herbs and beans next year. Keeping the weed growth down for next year will be important as I add other plants to the garden space.

Prepare current gardening areas for winter.
I would like to put a nice layer of horse manure down on my 9' by 9' bed along with some mulch. This will add to its fertility and I will have one less step to take next spring before planting. Space around trees and any bare soil around the foundation will need an extra layer of mulch before cold really sets in.

Finish any started yard work.
This is my catchall point. I trimmed my rose bushes but left the branches out to dry. Getting these thorny bits into the composter prior to snow flying is important, but the leaves are taking up all the extra space I have. My new trees will need to be staked for the winter and tree spirals added. I have ~10 tulip bulbs to plant and need to clean up my garage prior to winter. And my strawberry plants will have to be protected before winter sets in (straw is just waiting to be piled on the bed). I also plan to plant five cloves of garlic before it gets too cold. My drip irrigation jugs around the trees will have to be removed and stored for the winter.

After all this is done, I can turn my attention to my winter list--and plans for what I can grow next spring. To be honest, I am looking forward to growing more of my own food and being able to harvest and preserve it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What to get done over the winter months

With the change of seasons showing in the falling leaves and few garden harvests, my mind turns to projects. Yes, if I kept myself gainfully employed redoing landscaping, crafting new raised garden beds and hauling compost, I need to find things to occupy my time once the snow begins to fly and I feel like hibernating. There are several projects that have wanted my attention, but of these, only the GFCI outlet in the garage was installed (and that just a week ago). So what are my plans?

Tackle the basement.
In my earlier post, I mentioned installing an indoor clothesline. This is still on my radar, but has been pushed aside in favor of using my solar dryer (or my outdoor umbrella clothesline). With freezing temperatures and snow weeks away, this pushes up the indoor clothesline priority.

I also want to take a few steps toward making the basement more livable since I am considering moving my sewing area there. Right now, I am looking for lamps to plug into the newly installed outlets in the basement. A nice craft table would be useful for quilting and sorting fabric plus I may use my newly won skills in wood construction to fashion some shelving to store said fabric.

In addition, I would like to fix the holes in the drywall that was installed. Oddly enough, the person who installed the drywall also took his or her anger out on the drywall with hammer and foot. The doorways to the storage and mechanicals would look better with doors so I would also like to install those. This would test the limits of my construction abilities since I have never installed a door. Gaining a new skill would make me feel accomplished so I haunt craigslist with hope.

Craft with confidence.
I owe my godson a doll, my niece is due hers in January and technically, I owe my brother and sister-in-law a quilt. Furthermore, I have collected fabric for at least three quilts, several clothing items and three sets of curtains. Now that all my windows have been rescued from beige plastic blinds, I should proudly construct curtains and valances. These will not only make the rooms more decorative, but also help with light and cold infiltration especially with my single-pane windows. Quilts for warmth in the winter are a good thing especially if I happen to have guests.

I intend to use what I have on hand for sewing and crafting. A few green living projects will likely be incorporated, helping me to dump some disposable and plastic items from my life. Plus, being forced to look at my fabric collection will hopefully inspire me to be creative and to finally craft that blue jean rug I have been wanting.

Manage inventory.
As hinted at with the fabric collection, I have excess stuff. Too many clothes, more books that I really use, a well-stocked pantry that needs rotating and boxes in the basement that need to be sorted. All this and more really need sorting, serious contemplation and more than likely, to be either sold or donated. This is not an easy nor straightforward task, but I want to try another no-spending challenge coupled with a decluttering goal. With few things coming in and stuff going out, I hope to decrease my net stuff and be better prepared to resist buying more.

Fix it and forget it.
I have a table top to strip and refinish, some wood trim that needs the same treatment, and some paint spots that need a touch up, especially around the replacement windows. Cold-enforced indoor time is perfect for getting those small, annoying projects out of the way. I have been lax about getting these things done, but they need to be done prior to either window installation or my house being put on the market. The latter is not intended to happen for another few years, but painting now means less to get done when trying to sell my house.

So there you have it--one giant ambitious list. In the next few weeks, I will look at the time I have and create a to-do list of when to accomplish these disparate items. For me, a list of what I need to do helps me get through the items. I am more successful when I know what I need to do on the weekend before Friday. That way, I will not need to run to the hardware store for stripper before I run out in the middle of the project.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Analyzing my net worth for September 2008

Well, no surprise--my net worth took a hit. Like all of you that have invested in the stock market especially mutual funds, I have lost value in my 401(k) and Roth IRA. In fact, I lost nearly 4% of my net worth compared to August 2008 and nearly all the decrease was due to stock market fluctuations.

Not to belabor the point, but here is the breakdown:

Stock market volatility
The whole stock market is too reactionary to be anything but wild. September had the biggest one day drop in points, 777 points from the Dow, and only had a few days left in the month to make it up. With the overall market behavior, my mutual fund portfolio reflected the downward trend of the stock market. I have nearly 30 years to gain back these losses and I will likely need all the time I can get. Investing in mutual funds is a gamble and September reminded me that yes, it can not only go down, but can do it in a dramatic fashion.

Savings and cash
I gained some here, but not enough to counter the retirement fund losses. I bolstered my Emigrant Direct high yield savings account with another $400 and moved $1,500 I was saving for the replacement car into a 12-month CD at ING Direct, giving me a 4% APY. Any interest gains I can make, I will take! Future plans include boosting CD funds when they mature and adding a new CD to the mix so I have one maturing each month. These are not a true ladder, but three 3-month CDs staggered to give me higher interest than my savings account, but make them a bit more accessible. In addition, I saved almost $37 from my spending plan to add to my savings accounts and hope to add more in the next few months.

My losses are probably greater than I know now. My rollover IRA probably took a hit in September as well, but will not get the statement until October. I want to focus on my level of savings and bolster my cash position as much as possible. While I am far from panic mode over the Wall Street/bailout controversy, I feel it prudent to be more conservative in my spending. A possible second job is being considered and hoping I can save more money toward future dreams as well as present considerations.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Referral Love for September 2008

September was a quiet month for me. Between the demands of my time and the sparseness of my writing ideas, I generated little content. Despite the few new posts, I appreciate everyone who have subscribed to my blog and continued to visit as well as those who arrived via search engines and took the time to read my humble offerings.

Top Referrals (excluding search engines)
1. Direct links--thanks to those of you who think I am worthwhile enough to check occasionally. To have the new posts delivered to you, subscribe to my RSS feed and you can read the newest content without continually checking my blog.
2. Financial Ramblings
3. Frugal in the Fruitlands
4. Squawkfox

I participated in no festivals or carnivals.

Top Articles Ever Published
1. Once monthly grocery list Always popular content. Let me know what else you might like me to cover here.
2. My home page I hope you enjoyed the content!
3. Cost of replacement windows--wood trim Many people seem interested in trimming their windows.
4. Poor food choices and their consequences Many people seem to be searching for information like this. I may expand upon this topic in a future post.
5. How to rollover or move your IRA Not too surprising people are looking for this topic as this is a consideration when leaving a company or consolidating a portfolio.

With autumn upon me and the growing season slowing down, I should have more time and topics to explore. If you are curious about me or want me to explore a topic, please comment here or send an e-mail to frugal(dot)pursuit(at)gmail.com

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why being frugal with water is important

In looking at Google Analytics for my blog, I was intrigued by the search "why should i be frugal of my water usage". I was surprised a person was asking why should he or she be frugal regarding water usage, but decided to tackle the topic as part of my ongoing pursuit of green living and sustainability.

Water is a limited resource.
Freshwater makes up 3% of the total available water on our planet. Of that amount, nearly 68% is locked up in glaciers (Source: U.S. Geological Survey). In the United States, we have several regions experiencing water shortages from the south to the west. Even the Great Lakes region where I live, water resources of abundance are becoming more scarce. We are withdrawing more water than can be replenished in the groundwater. More of our lakes and streams and groundwater reservoirs are contaminated with chemicals including our own bodily waste. In a particular location, water may not be expensive, but careless use of water means fewer resources for all of us whether we are in the United States or subSaharan Africa. And regardless of where one lives, water is essential to life.

Americans use more water than the rest of the world.
Why do we need to use 100 gallons of water per day per person? We need to consume water to live, but do we need to take a shower where 2.5 gallons of water per minute rain down on our head? Do we really need to use drinkable water to flush toilets, using another 5 gallons every time? A green lawn may look nice to some, but all I see is water that could be used for drinking or growing food. Does the faucet really need to run to hot water before washing hands? Well-applied soap does well even without hot water.

Learn to love your rain barrel (or other water-collection device).
Lawns are a huge drain on water resources. I am always surprised Kentucky bluegrass is planted in places other than Kentucky. While it might be all right in Tennessee, I doubt it is well-adapted to Arizona. Instead of growing grass, create rain gardens to allow water to infiltrate back into aquifers, replenishing groundwater, rather than running off onto asphalt streets, collecting all the chemicals and debris on the road surface, and draining into lakes and rivers. Let the lawn go dormant when it is dry, and then revive with rain, or remove lawn and replace with xeriscaping. Native plants require less water than lawns. Who wants boring old grass when you can grow your own food, plant beautiful flowers or towering trees? And hey, less lawn means you can reduce the amount of time mowing. I'm all for that!

In the end, be more aware of your own water usage. According to my calculations, I use around 45 gallons of water per day. This is less than half the US average and is thanks in part to my conscious efforts to reduce my usage. Areas I need to improve: my showers and my dish washing. These are my biggest water usages. My rain barrels supply the water needed for plants outdoors and use of the initial water run in the bathtub helps flush my toilet. I even reuse gray water and the moisture collected by my dehumidifier in the basement.

Every little bit of conservation and reuse helps. Remember, other than for drinking and cooking, nonpotable water can be used for most things like watering plants, flushing toilets and washing cars. Turn off faucets when rinsing dishes, brushing teeth or soaping hands. Our water resources are precious and minimizing your own usage keeps us all appropriately hydrated and reduces ground- and surface water contamination.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Frugality and grocery spending

Like most people, I have noticed the increasing cost of groceries. In fact, my last grocery trip, half of my spending allocation went to meat and dairy products. I love my milk and cheese! Part of the reason for the large purchase was I would be hosting my family for dinner. However, until this most recent trip, I did not realize how great a share the meat, cheese, milk, sour cream, butter and cream cheese take up in my grocery spending. I can certainly see how people insist going vegetarian is not only green, but may help the pocketbook. Being the woman I am, I will not be changing my omnivore habits (heavy on the dairy) any time soon.

In my various postings on my monthly grocery trip, planning it, what my allocation is, and the tools I use, I realized I never discussed how I kept my grocery spending fairly steady. Yes, I occasionally exceed the amount of money in my spending plan for groceries (this month is one of them). However, as I became more aware of the cost of items, I adjusted my purchases to give me the best value for each dollar. For example, I used to purchase shredded cheese for use on pizza and in recipes. However, using a bit of elbow grease to shred my own cheese resulting in lower spending for the yummy dairy product and a bit more room in my grocery spending for another item that may have increased in price. As I did more of my cooking and baking, and purchased fewer convenience foods, I could keep the amount of money for groceries the same but without decreasing the quantity of food.

Most frugal and personal finance bloggers would say to bank the money not spent. In fact, this would have been the ideal use for the extra cash my behavioral changes freed up. However, I have only increased my grocery allocation by $5 in the last three years of using my spending plan. Even with the price of food rising astronomically, I have no plans to increase the money for groceries. I have been able to occasionally buy in bulk (I have enough dried milk for a couple years), buy larger quantities (purchasing 10 pounds of bread flour saved me more money than purchasing 5 pounds) and occasionally buy items at farmer's markets.

As I take a look at what I eat and my grocery spending, I can see as I took on more of the baking and cooking myself, I was able to leave more cushion in allocated amount for price increases. Baking my own bread, experimenting with new recipes, discovering the joy of making my own freezer jams, and growing my own food make it easier for me to keep my grocery spending steady without sacrificing the items I do want. Yes, I do crave highly processed foods (potato chips and soda!) and have five or six frozen entrees for lunches if I have not cooked something with leftovers to bring to work. However, my efforts at being frugal coupled with my desire to live a greener life by minimizing plastic packaging mean I stretch my grocery dollar a bit further and learn to be just a bit more independent. Now if I could only learn to cook and enjoy eggplant and peppers...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reducing my consumption levels

I have starting keeping up with Sharon Astyk's blog Casaubon's Book. Her topics and ideas are great food for thought regardless if I agree with her perspective or not. Throughout various entries, she kept mentioning something called Riot 4 Austerity, piquing my interest. Once I found a web link, I followed it here. To summarize, people pledge to reduce their consumption in one, some or all of seven different categories by 90%. This means they try to use ten percent of the current levels of consumption of natural gas, consumer goods, gasoline, water and electricity, only throw away 10% of the garbage, and increase the amount of locally grown and purchased food. Being the numbers gal I am, I calculated several numbers to compare my consumption to the average and see how close to 90% I am. To be honest, I did not think I would have made it close, but I had the sense I was running ~50% of average numbers. How did I measure up?

Riot 4 Austerity: The average American uses 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. Ten percent levels means 50 gallons per person, per year.
In keeping track of my miles per gallon, I had a handy-dandy notebook that could tell me how much gasoline I have consumed in the past year. From July 7, 2007 to July 8, 2008, I consumed 377.35 gallons of gasoline, just over 75% of average usage. This number was achieved with minimal carpooling, combining trips, driving to and from work five days a week as well as at least monthly visits to see family. When I did carpool twice a week, eliminating one trip to work per week, I used 366.87 gallons of gasoline (July 6, 2006 to July 7, 2007). With similar consumptions rates for the last two years, I can see that I have not really reduced my gasoline usage. I have started working from home once every two weeks, occasionally carpool to work and am conscious of how much driving I do. I hope I reduce my consumption, but anticipate it will not drop below 300 gallons unless the mpg suddenly skyrockets. In fact, since I have started keeping track of my consumption, I have reached and passed the 90% reduction goal of 50 gallons in two months. However, this number may look promising, but my gas mileage decreases in the winter compared to the summer. I would love to achieve 300 gallons in one year, but I could reach 350 gallons for one year.

Riot 4 Austerity: The average American uses 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH.
I like my modern life equipped with my iBook, TV, dehumidifier, lights, oven and refrigerator. However, some of these, Energy-Star certified or no, suck down the kilowatts like price is no object. I used 4,705 kW of electricity from July 2007 to June 2008. While this is 42% of the average consumption, I know my electricity usage spikes during the warmer months. Between central air and dehumidifiers (and adding in a chest freezer), my consumption dramatically spikes compared to the cooler months. I average ~400kW per month, four times the goal. While I buy 300kW worth of renewable energy, I have not completely offset my usage. I want to reduce my usage to an average of 300kW per month so I am solely buying renewable power. With the cooling season almost over, reducing my AC use is easy. In fact, I have already seen a drop in my most recent bill compared to the month before. I am slowly replacing my incandescent bulbs with CFLs as the incandescents break. The clothes dryer is convenient especially in winter, but I will try a few days in the winter to hang out my clothing. I am still looking for other ways to reduce my electric consumption without giving up all my electric-powered toys.

Natural gas
Riot 4 Austerity: US average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR.
According to my calculations, I used half the average amount in 2007--500 therms, but this is still above the 90% reduction suggested. While it is easy to keep the consumption low during the summer since only my water heater is pulling natural gas (last bill, I used 6 therms), winter is my highest usage. I already set my thermostat as low as I can handle it, but I plan on setting it lower during the nightime hours. Last winter, I set it to 55 when away from home, 64 when home and 58 when sleeping. I will have my daytime and nighttime temperatures agree this winter and see if I can decrease my usage further. I have a down comforter and an electric blanket. With the electric blanket to take the edge off the cold bed just before I climb in and the down comforter, I should stay warm overnight. Blankets, slippers, robe and sweaters are my usual winter wear. I have supplementary heating based off electricity, but I will try not to use it much to keep my kilowatts down as well.

Riot 4 Austerity: The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.
This is a tough number to hit. If I cannot reduce my natural gas, gasoline and electricity usage to 10% levels, how could I get water down to 10 gallons a day? According to my water meter, I use about 1,100 gallons per month. This comes out to ~36 gallons/day. Guesstimating what I use when at work, I believe I use ~45 gallons per day. This is pretty good, about half of the average daily consumption. My biggest water waster is the shower followed by the dishes. I could halve the amount of water I use in the shower if I shut it off when lathering, but in my current setup, this is a hassle. I am working on minimizing the water I use to rinse dishes and hoping I can further reduce the water used. My goal is to get to 1,000 gallons a month.

Riot 4 Austerity: The average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.
I mentioned in an earlier post about how surprised I was to find out how people could throw away 4.5 pounds of garbage a day. Between recycling and composting, I have reduced the amount of waste coming from my household. The fewer packaged items (especially plastic) I use, the emptier my garbage bin is. I put out my garbage can less frequently than my neighbors including the person who occupies the other half of the duplex and is there less than 50% of the time. I estimated that I throw out about half the average person, but have started keeping track of the garbage I discard. Based on the last nine weeks, I have discarded approximately 2.75 pounds of garbage per week. This is based on the weight of the garbage in from house plus ~1lb/week allowance for work and eating out. Since I eat out approximately once a week and up until September, used paper towels in the bathroom, I thought this was adequate. I am thrilled I can meet at least one of the 90% reduction goals. This calculation excludes the weight of my old windows. The installers said they did go to the landfill (minus one pane I kept). If I take that weight on myself (and I am unsure of the total), I would exceed the 90% reduction, bringing my total closer to 5 pounds/week. This is less than the typical household, but I will keep working on this number. Being so conscious of what I discard, I feel guilty when I throw away plastic I cannot recycle or reuse (e.g., CD-ROM for an old printer).

Consumer goods
Riot 4 Austerity: The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, on things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR.
So how is this one calculated? The site states: Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not goodwill and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out - that is, if someone says, “If you don’t buy it, I’m going to toss it.” Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills. Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost.

With that in mind, I am attempting to keep track of my spending on consumer goods. According to my totals, I have spent $128.58 since July 12. I cannot exclude I have missed a few entries, but most of my purchases are for secondhand goods, many of which have no dollar charged to them since I purchased the items at a charity thrift shop. The remainder are trips to the hardware store and one excursion to Bath and Body Works. I rarely purchase music since I have $5.11 left from my $25 iTunes gift card from Christmas 2007 and have only purchased a used book this year. I hope I can hit the $1,000 mark, but know that garden purchases and any electronics will bring me closer a lot quicker than I anticipate. I would like to keep it under $2,000 and will report on my progress here.

There is one other category (food), but I have chosen to work on these six. How do you think you measure up to the "average" American consumer?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Workplace green-living challenges

I recently had an interesting experience at work that I wanted to share. In my own pursuit of decreasing my waste footprint, I decided rather than throwing away paper towels after washing my hands in the bathroom, I would bring a cotton terry towel to work and use that. This reduces my contribution to the garbage bulk coming from my company, which gets buried in a big hole in the ground, and I purchased the hand towel at a local charity thrift shop, a lovely lilac color with many good years of use left in it.

So while I was cheering myself for my choice and feeling self-righteous, I visited a colleague with some questions on a project. Interestingly, she was clearing out her drawer of old food. Glass jars, cardboard boxes and other items filled up the garbage can to the brim, an item that stands about 18 inches tall, likely a standard rectangular office garbage can. I was stunned not only by the wastefulness of food, which she claimed she was frightened to touch, but the sheer bulk of the items being thrown out. The glass, cardboard and other items could have been recycled. The raisins could have been used in cooking or baking even if past the expiration date. Dry cocoa mix, packets of Pop Tarts, items that have lots of plastic packaging and preservatives are not likely to be bad, just stale.

I just stood there looking at all the waste and just felt overwhelmed. How do I fight against this? Is it just so easy to throw things away that we do not even think about what we are doing? I had wondered how the statistic that each person throws away an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage a day was achieved and now I understand why. For me, the decision to bring a reusable towel to work to dry my hands was a step forward in my more sustainable life, but my stomach dropped looking at my colleague's garbage can. I did not say a word about the waste and walked back to my own cube with its two pieces of garbage, an empty box from my microwave lunch and a facial tissue.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not left the consumer life behind. I just finished two plastic bags of cereal. After ferrying cat poop from the basement, the bags will be thrown away. My 13-gallon kitchen garbage can is nearly full of stuff, much of it plastic, even if it has not been emptied for a month. I do try to think of alternative uses before discarding an item, but many times, the packaging or item is a one-time use only. With curbside garbage and recycling pickup, I can see what my neighbors discard and some of it could be reused (e.g., furniture) or discarded correctly (e.g., computer monitors). I feel like we have let our life become a mindless throw-away one.

If you had been standing at my colleague's desk looking at all the food in containers she was throwing away, what would you have said?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Update on my financial goals for 2008

I have not kept up with my financial goals since May 7 so these are in sore need of reflection. My last update I challenged myself to fully fund my Roth IRA for 2008 rather than just $3,000, an amount I have easily contributed, and kept the other four goals the same. How have I progressed in the intervening months?

1. To reach a net worth of six figures ($100,000).
I was feeling quite optimistic about reaching the six figures in May, but seeing that I have $10,000 to go and only four months left in the year, I am not so certain. Just from a cash basis, I would need to keep $2,500 per month to reach this number, but am likely to only see an extra $2,500 for the next four months if the savings is not touched. Extra money would help, but I have not fully explored what I would need to do to enhance my earnings. I am considering a part-time job for extra savings, but it would likely be short term. Since the stock market has been quite volatile, I am uncertain how much I can count on my retirement funds to make up this value in four months.

2. To have $15,000 in liquid savings for emergency expenses.
I have almost reached this number. I currently have just over $14,000 in savings accounts and CDs and will easily reach my goal by November 2008, pending any emergencies. Part of this money is allocated to car savings, but in a true emergency, I would use all resources if necessity required more than the $6,000 in my bricks-and-mortar credit union. I am glad to see that I can reach such a lofty number and may set some specific goals for emergency only money versus other savings I have allocated for a newer car, a farm, utilities, charity, etc.

3. To have $500 in my "found money" account.
My current balance is $257.49. I used some money to pay for a chest freezer, but also had a substantial deposit of money with an internet subsidy from my workplace. I am earmarking this money for a future computer purchase instead. Taxes took a big bite out of the award, but I hope the interest will make up some of it. Otherwise, contributions have been $2 here, $3.50 there. I am impressed how much these small amounts of money can add up. While I do not think I will reach $500 as a balance in this account, I know that total contributions have reached $500. This really shows the power of small contributions giving a good size total over the year.

4. To fully fund Roth IRA for 2008 at $5,500. Since I can add funds through April 15, 2009 for my 2008 Roth IRA, I will need the extra money from my 2008 Federal tax refund. I usually get some money back, but with my monthly contributions, my tax rebate and the cash from my life insurance, I will have invested almost $4,000 in year 2008. This is good for me as it is ~$1,000 more than last year. Money from extra income or the found money account as well as tax refunds will likely help fill out the balance of the Roth IRA for 2008. This is a stretch goal so I will have to see what I need to do to fulfill the maximum contribution.

5. To generate $2,000 from an alternative income source.
Unless I am inspired and can really build up a business in a short period of time, I am unlikely to reach this number. While I sold many things in the first half of the year, getting me to ~$500, I have not done much in the last few months. This means little was added to the balance from my alternative income. In fact, I have been more focused on buying things for my home and garden than finding ways to make money. With winter coming up, I will have time to consider all possibilities and even implement some before the weather gets too awful.

These results are not as encouraging as I hoped for when I wrote down my goals. While I am thrilled at my cash position, I need work on my net worth and ability to bring in income not based on my salary. My next analysis will likely be at the end of December so I hope that my net worth does reach my goal, but some of that is likely dependent on me being able to generate additional income rather than depending on the stock market to increase my portfolio value.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Analyzing my net worth for August 2008

I am still surprised we have reached September already. It just seems like summer slipped by me although my garden would tell me otherwise. Where does the time go? The same place my money seems to go--in the wind. Actually, August was not that bad, but I realized I have not checked in with my yearly goals so that will be the next post after this. After two months where my assets decreased, I have a positive month. I am reservedly cheering my 2.3% gain and hope that the trend continues.

That crazy 401(k) (and Roth IRA)
In August, both the Fidelity 401(k) and T. Rowe Price Roth IRA were up. While the Roth IRA gained almost $100 of value over my monthly contribution, the 401(k) was up but no where near the amount contributed. However, I will take a few hundred dollars more than last month especially with the markets closing more down than up. The very modest gains seen with the mutual funds prevented these stock-driven values from decreasing my total assets, contributing to a gain for the month.

The extra paycheck month
Being paid biweekly means twice a year, I receive an extra paycheck. Since I calculate all my expenses based on 24 paychecks rather than 26, I carefully plan how to save the extra month I receive. While a good portion is taken by the automatic transfers set up for each pay period, the extra $1,000 means I can pad my emergency savings account or open a new account or CD. This month I chose to split the money from my extra paycheck among emergency savings, car savings, found money account and opened a farm account. The farm account is for accumulating money for my long-term goal of owning and operating a small farm in the country. The extra check also means a boost to my overall cash situation, substantially helping August end on positive note.

Lack of activity on other accounts
Some of my assets are updated yearly, biannually or quarterly. Without new statements, these numbers remain unchanged. With half of my assets remaining unchanged and the others moving into positive territory, I came out with a gain for August.

While I am glad my mortgage is moving glacially downward and my assets are increasing, the gain is not moving as quickly as I like. I really need to buckle down and determine what means I can use to generate more income. I still have plenty of items to sell, but need something more sustainable for the long term to really get me closer to my goals. In looking at my finances, I need an extra $150 per month to get me closer to my dream of self-sufficient living on a farm.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Referral Love for August 2008

Thank to all who are reading this blog whether by subscription or by search. August was not a stellar month for postings, and I hope to make up some ground in September. If my words tickle your fancy, consider subscribing to my RSS feed so you can stay updated with my blog.

I contributed to articles to two carnivals:
Managing my income at The 164th Carnival of Personal Finance: City Slickers Edition hosted by Squawkfox.
Dealing with a monthly paycheck at Carnival of Money Stories #71-Wander Around the World with Me hosted by Value for Your Life.

Thanks for including my posts!

Top Five Referrers
1. Google I find it interesting to see what searches hit my blog and wonder how Google refers people here.
2. Squawkfox
3. The Festival of Frugality I am glad to see people liked my posts enough to follow my blog.
4. Frugal for Life
5. Financial Ramblings I did better in the rankings for July versus June, but FR exhausted me with his multidimensional analysis of the pfblogosphere.

Top Two Articles
1. Planning for Christmas gift giving
2. Recipe Monday: Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes
My postings were light in August so Top Five Articles seemed silly.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How do I relate to my money?

I apologize for my absence. My mind has been on many things--work around the house, in the garden, in the kitchen and lots of thinking about the future.

Keeping and not spending money is always a battle. Temptation is there whether you expect it or not. For example, I really wanted some chocolate last week. I had even decided to raid the vending machine, but ended up finding a small square of brownie in a nearby counter. I ate that, saving me both money and calories as I satisfied the chocolate craving. Truly, it is the small hand-to-hand combat urges that sabotage my efforts at minimizing spending and saving more. I try to ask myself if I really need that item I want or am craving, and remind myself of my long-term goals.

Although my future plans include buying a small farmette to be as self-sufficient as I can be, I am working with what I currently have to make sure that this sort of living is what I truly want to do. This means I walk around my property with a measuring tape and watch how much sun a particular spot gets during the day. I was committed to my farmette purchase four years from now until my dad tells me of a farm that is on the market--just three miles from him.

You see, this is a real temptation. I wish my dad had not told me of the place because my mind is full of the possibilities with my family nearby to help me out. Now, I have not seen the farm and buildings, and it is likely more than I can handle. The previous owner had been sick for some time and just died, meaning the buildings were neglected for that same period of time, at least two years. But here my dad presented a place, a farm with 10 acres, the minimum size I believe I want at a fairly reasonable price, $250,000. Honestly, I cannot afford this and I am not prepared to buy now, but now I am thinking hard about it. My plans had not included buying a farm in the next year or two. I intended to work at my current job until I found a suitable farm in approximately four years before leaving for my life in the country. Granted, life is not neatly wrapped up in nice packages like that, but four years would give me time to save for the farm. Not only do I have to deal with a mortgage, which means I would have to have an outside job, but I have all the investments to make: renovating buildings, building new facilities, fencing for animals, starting a garden, planting trees, purchasing animals, all things I want to do on my farm. While I may be emotionally prepared for a move, my finances are not.

In fact, I had to perform a reality check, looking at my finances and calculating what four more years at my job would get me. I need to keep working where I am to save the money I need for the farm in the future. Unless a large chunk of money is going to fall in my lap, my plans include the slow and steady course I have steered. My analysis also demonstrated that supplementing my income would help build a larger cushion for the farm purchase and investments.

Generally, I have a good relationship with my money. I may make some compromises with my spending plan that involve borrowing from other categories rather than strictly staying within the allocation. This behavior does shortchange me in the short- and long-term, but if I do not consistently do this every month, I am okay. Then there are the larger temptations. Yes, I can pay $1,400 for a newer laptop, but that would deplete my savings of nearly a month's worth of expenses. The return on investment is important: is this item important enough to sacrifice liquidity to purchase it? And then there is a strong opportunity like this farm. It is a great location, something I can really work with, but not worth throwing over my plans to work and save to do it now.

Therefore, while I live on 40% of my income, save 30% and the rest disappears into taxes, fees and insurance, I still have to be wary of how I spend my money. Sometimes I am less on guard (Oh, it's fine, I'll get that anyway) while other times, I take a harder line (I may want that, but I don't need it). No one can be perfect 100% of the time, that is keeping to the spending plan and not spending money in savings. However, there is always room for improvement. Learning to grow my own food and preserve it eases some of the burden on my grocery allocation even with an initial investment. Breaking sod by hand saves money and gasoline (if not hands or back). I try to make choices based on capability and comfort (e.g., can change an electric outlet but not willing to deal with adding an outlet in a new location) that will help me save money where I can and strategically use the resources I have to increase the value of my property, home and even my savings account.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Recipe Monday: Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes

Since I received new red potatoes in my CSA box, I have been obsessed with farmer's market new potatoes. I have tried Yukon Gold, Red Norland, Russet and another potato from my CSA box that was red on the outside with pink-tinted flesh inside. While Yukon Gold is my current favorite, I like them all mashed with (too much) butter. Since I like cheese and had a smoked gouda mashed potato dish once, I thought I might whip something together to tempt my palate.

1 pound new potatoes
1-2 tablespoons margarine or olive oil
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup smoked gouda cheese, grated
1/2 cup milk (I used 1% milk)

Boil washed new potatoes in 1 inch of water and let simmer until soft. Cut into smaller pieces only if necessary. Heat olive oil or margarine over medium heat and add onions to cook. When translucent, add 1/2 cup of milk and heat until just boiling. Turn off heat but leave on hot burner as you add grated gouda. Stir until melted. Start to mash potatoes with 1 tablespoon margarine and add the gouda cheese mixture. Add pepper to taste and serve with or without butter.

I enjoyed the creamy goodness of this blend of potato and cheese. Quantities are not exact since more or less milk will be needed for a creamier mashed potato. You can experiment with other cheeses and see what might tempt your taste buds!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Visiting my CSA farm

While I have been trying to deal with my weekly influx of vegetables and herbs from my CSA share, I have also been wondering what the farm looks like, how big his operation is and how he got started farming organically. Seeing my farmer's plot was of special interest to me for two reasons: 1) to compare and contrast with the traditional farm where I grew up and 2) to get ideas for my own future gardening endeavors. One part of the CSA experience is touring the farm so I asked my farmer if I could see his place and he gladly set aside some time for me.

Farmer K. welcomed my curiosity and was happy to show me around his farm. The first time I met him, he completely disrupted my expectations. I thought I would meet a farmer, older than me. Turns out K. is younger than me, nearly a decade younger. Oddly, that made me more interested in finding out why he farms organically. Not many younger people are thinking "Hm, I want to farm" as a career option.

The farm was small and quaint. The some of the buildings were original to the farm, which was established in the late 1800s. K. was quite proud of his farm's history even if he was a new farmer. (This was his second year farming.) However, he had worked on other organic farms in the area so had some idea what was involved with organic farming and the issues (and promises) of certified organic produce. One thing I can say: organic or traditional farming, there are many regulations involved especially if the organic farmer wants to be certified!

Farmer K. farms about one acre, tucked along one side of his property perpendicular to the road with a large hoop house right next to the farmed land,and a second section next to and behind the hill barn and shed. This back part was previously used by cows and horses so it had some decent fertility. Other parts needed more compost to supplement the soil. I was amazed by all the plants he fit in the space and by all the trellising for the tomatoes. He ran twine between tall metal posts and then down to each tomato plant. I would rather have tomato cages seeing the length of string or twine needed, but less storage space required for the twine certainly. He was planning for his fall plantings with some space cleared out for winter squash as well as second planting of broccoli, lettuce and root vegetables. He was also growing many things I had never encountered like fennel and chocolate peppers.

Farmer K. was very friendly and did not mind all questions I asked. When asked why organic farming, he said he was raised with mindfulness of food and how it was grown, and enjoyed cooking. He was raised in a less traditional fashion, homeschooled, then attended college for breadth of classwork (he mentioned no degree but focused on biology) before starting a coop in the town I currently live, buying food in bulk for its members. He worked on a local organic farm before striking out on his own. Farmer K. also discussed his plans for the future, namely being certified organic for the area CSA organization, getting into the big (and well-attended) farmer's market in the state, expanding his operation to at least 10 more acres (with additional employees), and renovating the hill barn for a store to directly sell to customers. One thing you can say about my CSA farmer: he does not lack ambition.

I was glad to see a larger scale organic farm in action. Since I only deal with ~100 square feet, anything is larger to me. His farm was a quiet country retreat and a nice place to raise children. (He has a two-year-old daughter.) I have a better appreciation for the space in which my CSA produce is grown and the producer that brings it to me. With his energy, enthusiasm and drive, I am sure Farmer K. will be doing well for years. He is forming connections in his immediate community as well in the community of certified organic farmers. I appreciated the time he took to give me the tour as well as answering all my questions.

Will you visit your CSA farm?