Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making Felt Table Mats

Recently, I was given a pretty rock garden which has been precariously perched on two coasters to protect the table from moisture.  Since today was rainy I decided to make a felt mat to place under the garden.

Wool Mat With Embroidery
I like to use various wool felt mats to protect my furniture from scratches and moisture.  Wool is water repellent and is easy to dye with plant materials.  The mottled purple mat above was dyed with logwood.

Pick out a piece of felt and find a pencil that will show up well on the fabric.  I chose a dark green felt, so I tried a white and yellow pencil for contrast.

Next trace around the base of the vase or bowl that will be on top of the mat.

After tracing add another line 1 1/2 inches from the original line.  This will give you a nice border area to embroider.

Cut out with scissors or rotary cutter.  The marked side will be the bottom of the mat.

Choose a coordinating embroidery thread.  I chose this silk thread that I have dyed with Brazilwood.  I like to use a color that is on the opposite side of the color wheel from the base color.  My base is green, so I chose thread with red tones.

Using a sharp embroidery needle I did a running stitch around the edge of the mat about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the edge, then did a second line of stitching 1/4 inch in from that with a lighter colored thread.

My stitches and the space between them are about the size of a piece of short grain rice.  This is a good first embroidery project for a child.  We were taught this project when I attended the Applied Arts teacher program at Sunbridge College.

As you can see the finished mat makes a decorative, but unobtrusive protective barrier between the dish garden and the wood table.  I like to think of these felt mats as modern doilies.

Well, this is what I did with my rainy, lazy afternoon.

God bless,

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: It's Pesto Night

The extreme heat we are having now in Florida is starting to slow the garden down.  My basil is at the point where it's harvest or waste it.  So, what is a good way to used my extra basil?  Pesto!

Right Out Of The Garden

Pesto is super easy to make in the blender or food processor.  Just combine several cups of herbs/leafy greens, then to taste add cheese, nuts, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.  Whiz it to finely puree and you are done.

Soak In Water To Remove Grit

I used basil, parmesan, walnuts, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil today.  I also used my trusty food processor that was given to me thirty years ago as a wedding present.  I have quite a few small appliances that are considered vintage and they are running strong.

Puree In "Old Bessie"

Tonight we will have penne with pesto and a salad.  Such an easy meal.  The kitchen doesn't get hot and I don't get frazzled.  Plus, I will have plenty of pesto to store in a 1/2 pint jar in the freezer for the next time I need a quick meal.

Some To Freeze

God bless,

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Which Appliance Uses The Most Electricity?

If you are like me you have guessed at the refrigerator or the air conditioning system.  These are the obvious culprits, but there are small appliances that use a huge amount of electricity and most people aren't even aware of it.

Look on top of your television and you will find the answer.  High definition DVRs and high def. digital cable boxes use more electricity in one year than a 21 cubic foot, energy efficient refrigerator.  More than your air conditioner.

In the United States these appliances do not go into sleep mode, but are continuously running at full power.  In Europe, they are required to design DVRs and cable boxes to have an automatic sleep mode or an automatic shut down.  Why we have not is beyond me, but is indicative of our overuse of fuel in this country.

Having these appliances makes it very hard for the average homeowner to significantly lower their electric bill.  No matter how much you try these little boxes are going to keep your bill well above where it should be.

So to bypass this electrical drain problem I suggest an easily accessible power strip with all of your entertainment equipment plugged into it.  When you are not watching television turn off the power strip. You may wish to do the same with your computer equipment as they also drain power when not being used.

This just proves that to live frugally we need to look beyond the obvious to the seemingly minute things that may be costing us a great deal of money.

God bless,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shopping With Competitor Coupons

Coupon policies are nebulous, ever changing things, so it is important to keep up to date on your favorite stores' policies.  One policy that has changed recently at Publix is which competitor coupons they will accept.

Publix used to accept grocery store and drug store competitor coupons, but now they only accept coupons from grocery stores.  On top of that, each Publix decides which grocery store coupons they will accept. It is important to check with the store where you shop to get a copy of their policy.  Below is the policy given to me by the Belleair Bluffs Publix.

As you can see, I can use Albertsons, Save-A-Lot, Target and Winn Dixie coupons at my Publix.  This allows me to do more coupon stacking (combining manufacturer and store coupons on same product)  than if I could only use Publix store coupons.

An example is this Winn Dixie coupon that was in the paper recently:

Publix will accept this coupon for my next grocery purchase.

Every little bit helps when it comes to keeping the grocery bill down and combining competitor coupons with your manufacturer coupons is one way to save more.

God bless,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: Caramelized Onions

Nothing smells better than walking into the house when onions are cooking.  It smells as though the cook has been working all day, but making caramelized onions is very easy.

Add butter to a pan on medium heat, while it melts thinly slice a large onion.  I like to use a sweeter onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla.

Separate the onion into rings, then add to your melted butter.

I like to add a little kosher salt at this point.  I keep my salt for cooking in a vintage glass refrigerator container.

Keep stirring your onions over medium heat.  You will see that the salt is drawing moisture out of the onions.  The onions won't begin to brown until all of that moisture has been boiled off.  It helps to have a helper for this step, while you do other work in the kitchen.

Kitchen Helper
Soon you will see that the onions have let off all of their moisture and that it has boiled off.  If you want the onions to be a uniform, golden color turn the heat down to medium low.  Keep stirring.

Now Onions Are Softened
Your onions will become slightly brown, then will begin to darken.  This is the time to watch for burning.

Starting To Brown
When the onions have reached the color you desire it is the time to add any spices or flavoring.  I left them plain since I was serving them over pirogi.  You could add a teaspoon of sherry (take pan off of the heat when adding) or add some honey.  Slightly sweetened onions would be great on a sandwich, burger or hot dog.

My family is from Amish country in Illinois.  When I grew up the main flavorings we had for our food were onions, bay leaves, salt and pepper.  That was it!  You grow to appreciate the great taste onions add to dishes when that's all you have.

God bless,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Couponing Mishaps

A Beautiful Sight

When you start couponing progress is slow and after some critical mistakes you may be tempted to give up.  Trust me when I tell you that it will become easier, your savings will grow in amount, and it will begin to take up less of your time.  I will not tell you that you will stop making mistakes or having mishaps when out shopping with coupons.

Even though I am now saving 40-50% on my grocery and drug store bills, there are still days when I want to bang my head on the table because of a mistake I or a cashier have made.  But we are all here to learn, so here goes:

I try to shop during the slower hours, first thing in the morning at the start of the sale cycle for that store.  That means Sunday for Walgreens and (in my area) Thursday for Publix.  By shopping early the store is usually not sold out of items, plus there are fewer people for me to annoy with my coupons.  Why my shopping with coupons should bother others is beyond me as it only adds a few minutes to my checkout time.  I guess minutes count to some people, but I always though that was just surgeons and fire fighters.

Anywho...when I finish getting my items I check for a line with few to no people in line, thinking that I can get through quickly and, thus, irritate fewer people.  Now I have got to tell you that I can get to a cashier in a deserted store and, miraculously, ten people (where did they come from?) will appear behind me.

Some days the people waiting for me to check out are good natured, interested and, basically, happy to see someone saving some money.  But, every once in a while, I get a "sigher".  You know, the kind that looks at their watch, shuffles their feet and sighs deeply.  So, I just try to concentrate on what the cashier and I are trying to accomplish, which is to check me out with as few problems as possible.  It's not like I am buying a hundred of something, it's just my groceries with a few stock up items thrown in.

If you watch Extreme Couponing you have seen the EC's unblinkingly staring at the register screen.  There is a good reason for this; people and computers make mistakes and sometimes they are big ones.  You must watch the screen to ensure that your items are scanned for the sale price, bogos are registering correctly and that your coupons are being read.  Just recently I was distracted by someone in the store and didn't catch that the cashier had scanned an item twice.  That's $3 out of my pocket and nothing to show for it.  It's hard to prove that this has happened once you've left the store.

Most stores have a policy that you can only use as many coupons as you have items.  This means that if you are using two coupons (manufacturers and stores) for one item you must pick up an inexpensive filler item.  I usually need four or five filler items when shopping at Walgreens.  Conveniently, they have a display of 25 cent candy sticks by the register.  Dear daughter likes candy sticks so it is a win, win situation.

I will certainly share more tips in the future as I learn more about using coupons effectively.  With coupon policies changing so rapidly, it should keep me on my frugal toes.

God bless,

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Frugal Pantry: Vitamin C

The human body is able to store most vitamins for use when needed, but it is unable to store vitamin C.  Vitamin C must be eaten when needed and you need it every day.

Without vitamin C you can suffer from many symptoms of ill health, but the worst is a condition known as scurvy.  Scurvy is the break down of tissues, evidenced by bleeding gums and other oral problems.  It is also believed that vitamin C boosts the immune system.

Storing vitamins, especially C, is absolutely necessary if you are surviving on your pantry stores.  Vitamins must be stored in a cool, dark, dry place.  Watch the expiration dates, be sure to use them before they expire.

Vitamin C tablets can also be smashed and used to keep sliced fruit fresh.  Soak the fruit slices in water with one vitamin C tablet dissolved in it.  They will not turn brown and fade.

Add a few bottles of Vitamin C to your pantry shelves for good health and food preservation.

God bless,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Twelve Week Plan: Walking

Do you think that you couldn't possibly walk for an hour several times a week? Go to The Walking Site twelve week plan and accomplish just that.

This is a walking plan that gradually increases the time and distance you walk over a twelve week period of time. It's simple, easy and an achievable goal for almost everyone.

Good walking!

God bless,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

This is one of those super simple and quick recipes for crazy days.  It takes little time and is inexpensive.

If your family thinks that sauerkraut is too sour try one of the half sour or "new" krauts.  One brand is sold in the refrigerated section and it is very mild.  Or you can try rinsing the kraut with water before cooking.

Pam's Quick & Simple Kielbasa With Sauerkraut

2 Tbls. bacon fat
1 apple, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
fennel or caraway seeds to taste
1 jar sauerkraut
1 pkg. kielbasa

I like to use a cast iron skillet when cooking.  Fry onion in bacon fat until lightly browned.  Then add all of the other ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Cook for a couple of hours, covered.  Add a little water if it starts to get too dry.

The bacon fat is important to this recipe; it just doesn't taste right without it.  This recipe can be doubled, tripled or quadrupled to feed a crowd.

God bless,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Twelve Week Plan: Clean and Purge

The summer heat is so hard for me to bear here in Florida that I concentrate on indoor activities for these twelve weeks. It is time for my yearly, really serious, clean and purge.

My favorite tool during my C & P is my little vacuum cleaner with the long hose and many attachments. It makes cleaning the cabinet shelves, baseboards, window sills and behind furniture relatively easy compared to having to bend and dust.

Next is a bucket of water filled with Murphy's Oil Soap and water, plus a micro fiber cloth. I just go through the house wiping down surfaces after I have vacuumed up the dust and dirt.

Just a quick memory: I used to have a home economist friend that always said that dirt is just dust that got wet. Better to deal with it while it is dry. Remember home economics? I wonder what replaced it? Probably takeout and debt.

Throw any washable fabrics into the machine, dry and iron. I have really been moving toward machine washable curtains, slipcovers and pillows in my advanced middle aged years. No more worrying about spills or every day wear and tear for me. I feel the same way about clothing fabrics these days.

Books will be replaced on the shelves in an orderly, or at least sane, fashion. All food storage items will be scrutinized for expiration dates and thrown away if they don't pass muster. Newer dated items to the back of the shelves. Get in the habit of placing newly purchased items to the back when you bring them home from the store. Boric acid tablets are put along the back of the shelves to keep insects at bay.

Purging should have been mentioned first. Before all of the cleaning starts, I walk through the house with two garbage bags; one for trash and one for donations. Be realistic when purging, if you didn't use it in the last six months do you really need it?

I make this process sound easy, but you can do it without much strain if you break the work up. Do one area each day for a half hour. Work your way around the house gradually. I, of course, will have my reluctant, almost eleven year old helping me. Isn't it funny how when they want to help they are too small to do much and when they are big enough to be a real help they don't want to?

Oh, one more thing, start high and work your way down. No reason to make more work for yourself.

God bless,

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Twelve Week Plan: College

The Goal!

Just had a baby?  It's already time for you to start paying for the little peanut's college education.  How does this apply to the twelve week plan?  I am asking you to research the different college education plans and set up an account within the next twelve weeks.  Don't wait until your child in in middle school, it will be too late to easily fit into your budget.

In Florida we have the Florida Pre-paid Tuition Plan.  Many states have similar plans in which you pay for your child's tuition at today's prices rather than future, higher prices.  In these plans you can invest monthly or make a lump sum payment at the beginning.  Considering the rapid pace with which college tuitions are rising, I think that these plans can be a very good deal.  The downside is if your child decides to attend a private college.  You do get your money back, but without a good return on your investment.

The other is the 529 fund plan.  Each state has a 529 plan, but you can invest your money in any state's plan.  This is a state or educational institute sponsored plan that comes with tax benefits.  Many different financial institutions are involved in these plans.  Go to to see a detailed breakdown of the different plans and a more detailed explanation.  I chose Nevada's USAA 529 plan for my daughter even though we live in Florida.

If you do set up at 529 plan, be sure to have a direct deposit set up.  This is also a great opportunity to have your child put aside some of their money to invest.  Your children will have a deeper appreciation of the fund if they have directly contributed.

God bless,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Twelve Week Plan: Savings

A recent paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research states that almost a half of the families in the United States would be unable to raise $2,000 in thirty days if faced with an emergency.  These families are considered "financially fragile" and are only one step from facing foreclosure or worst, homelessness.

Does Your Piggy Bank Look Like This?
What would you do if you lost your job or were injured and could no longer work?  If your roof began to leak buckets and needed to be replaced, could you pay for a new roof without taking out a loan?

My goal is to have twelve weeks of living expense money saved at all times.  This means that my family could live and pay all of our bills from our savings accounts for twelve weeks.  I also would like to have an "emergency repair" fund to cover home repairs and car breakdowns when they occur (notice I didn't say if they occur).

We are close to this goal and have met this goal most of our married life.  Now I have to tell you that when we got married thirty years ago we were dirt poor.  We could only afford to buy one roll of toilet paper each week when we bought groceries (is this tmi).  I worked two jobs and dear husband was a full time student with a part time job.  It was rough!

How did we save our twelve week money?  One dollar at a time.  My goal at that time was to put $10 into saving each month.  If we had a little extra it went in too.  No luxuries for us for a few years.

My point here is that everyone can save, just not the same amount.  But you should set a budget and include savings at the top of the list.  Have you heard the saying that you should pay yourself first?  That means to save what you can afford before you do any spending.  The easiest way to do this is with a payroll deductions.  Trust me, if it never touches your hands, you will miss it much less.

Your twelve week savings is for emergencies, not Christmas presents or other luxuries that we have come to view as necessities in this country.  Nope, I am talking about keeping that roof over your head and one car running so you can get to work type of emergencies.  I am not talking about medical bills; you can negotiate a payment plan with most doctors and hospitals, so don't drain your emergency savings to pay them (this is another post). I am not talking about school clothes for the kids; they can wear hand me downs or thrift store finds.  Emergencies Only!!!

You Want Piggy To Look Like This!

Set up a budget now that covers necessary living expenses.  Include the amount of savings you can afford.  Now add a little more to the savings and try to get by for a couple of months to see if it will work for you.  Set up a conservative investment savings account (your bank or credit union can help you), then ask your place of work to set up a direct deposit for you.  If you can't direct deposit, as soon as you get your pay, immediately put the savings amount in your twelve week account.

Keep adding to your twelve week savings account when you come into some money.  Do you collect your change in one place, like a piggy bank?  Then have it counted and rolled every few months and deposit it in savings.  Skip a haircut, learn to trim your own bangs, and use that money for savings.  Make it a challenge and a game for your family to find the hidden money in your household.  Saving can be fun and very gratifying when you see your twelve week savings plan come to fruition.

God bless,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Twelve Week Plan: Food Storage

Twelve Weeks of Food
While building my pantry supply of food I would vacillate between whether I should store a years supply of food or six months or three months or one get the idea.

Since taking the True Couponing workshop I have decided to store twelve weeks worth of food and sundries.  This corresponds with the twelve week cycle of types of food going on sale.  I also looked at how much food my family would need to have if a hurricane hit or we lost our source of income.  Adding in the consideration of storage space, twelve weeks seems to be the supply amount that best fits our needs.

By shopping the BOGO sales and using coupons for each item I have easily reached a twelve week level for most items.  Now my problem is storage.  My project for this summer is to go through all cabinets and closets, purge outdated items, organize according to expiration date and type and, hopefully, free up space.

While doing my organizing I will be making lists of what I need to purchase to bring me up to a twelve week supply level in everything my family needs.  Do I need to shop for shelves or organizers to make my supplies more accessible?

I will also lay out some boric acid tablets and deal with any other pest control issues I see (I hope very few).  Keeping the food storage areas free of pest has been a consideration for generations.  Many a Colonial homekeeper has been plagued by mice or insects in the cellar.  It's the age old battle in self sufficiency.

My goal is to complete my twelve weeks of storage and free up more storage space by the end of the summer.  I'll keep you updated on my progress.

God bless,

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Frugal Eyeglasses

Maybe These?

It has now become obvious to me that I must (finally) get a new pair of eyeglasses.  I have, literally, been peering at people trying to see their faces.  As for reading, it's not pretty.

The cost of eyeglasses has delayed my purchase.  Eyeglasses are extremely expensive, especially when you need some special features.  So I have been going to optical shops and doing my research to find the best prices.

For Eyes is reasonable IF you are a member of AARP.  That little membership card cuts the price by 1/2.  But, I thought that I would research Costco, since I already am a member.  Guess what, Consumer Reports Health has rated Costco as a top choice for eyeglasses in the areas of price and customer satisfaction.

Well, that sealed the deal for me.  Next week I'll dig up my prescription and head over to Costco Optical.  In a couple of weeks you should see me with a new look and much less squinting.

God bless,

Frugal Little Flower Arrangements

I don't have a garden dedicated to cutting flowers, but I do like to bring cut flowers from the garden inside for special, little flower arrangements.  This harkens back to my days at the Waldorf school when I would substitute for the kindergarten assistants.  We would walk in the field behind the school cutting wild flowers, weeds and interesting leaves to create small arrangements to decorate the childrens' snack tables.

Using small vases, purchased in thrift stores, and random foraging finds we created truly charming flower arrangements.  This is such an easy thing to do, just give up any thought of creating designer looks and allow the natural beauty to shine.

Find a small vase at a thrift store or at online stores such as  Ikea or Chinaberry.  Look for inexpensive vases that are made to display one to several flowers.

Picture This Beauty From Ikea With Three Daisies
I like to fill my vase with water, grab my scissors, then head into the garden to harvest flowers and leaves.  Having my vase in the garden with me allows me to see my arrangement grow flower by flower and allows me to harvest just the flowers I need.

Soon I have little arrangements on the bedside tables, in my kitchen window and in the bathroom.  Any place that makes me happy.  These arrangements are for private viewing and need only give pleasure to my family.

A Grouping Of Vases From Chinaberry
When using small vases you can make a more powerful visual by grouping vases with different types of flowers.  Or you can use just one perfect little vase to display the flower brought in to you by your children.

One Perfect Vase From Chinaberry
Have fun with your arrangements.  Simple flowers from your own garden and both beautiful and frugal.

God bless,

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Couponing Progress

It has been a little over a month since I attended the True Couponing workshop. I am happy to report that by using their techniques I have cut my grocery and drug store (excepting prescriptions) bills by 50%.

Unfortunately, in my state (Florida) none of the grocery chains doubles coupons. If they did, by buying BOGOs (buy one get one) and using coupons for each item, I could come close to the results we see on Extreme Couponing. But, I am thankful that I am able to get the savings that I am.

Speaking of Extreme Couponing I am happy to see them using shoppers that are a little less likely to foam at the mouth when discussing their savings. The last two were very likable people that I wouldn't mind learning some shopping tips from. I enjoy the show, but some of their shoppers have made me a little nervous.

One tip I have learned recently is that I can save more money if I shop twice a week. The first shopping trip to buy the sale items listed in the newspaper, and the second trip to buy items that I saw on sale (not listed in the paper) during my first trip. I don't want to carry two huge binders stuffed with coupons; I prefer to only carry the coupons I plan on using.

The second tip is to keep at it. With each week coupon shopping is becoming easier and resulting in more savings. You will spend less time preparing for your shopping trips and cutting coupons as time goes by.

God bless,