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)