Archive for June, 2009

Time To Give Your Carpets A Cleaning – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Now that the weather is nice and you can leave the windows open to gather a breeze, it’s time to clean the carpets.  I don’t know about you, but the winter is hard on my carpets.  With the house closed up,  pets and kids dragging in wet dirt on their little feet, and all that stuff that comes with a winter season, the carpets just get a work out.  Come summer, I’m faced with stains and generally messy carpets that don’t look, smell, or feel clean.

How to clean the carpets is certainly an issue to explore.  If I could, I would always hire a professional carpet cleaning service.  It’s easier and, with the right company, the results will be better than if you do it yourself.  There are several methods to choose from which include steaming and chemical.  The few times I’ve hired a professional carpet cleaning system, I was happier with the results of the steaming method.  It just seemed cleaner to me and didn’t have any residual soapy or chemical feel or smell.

When you consider the cost, it may not be an option to hire a professional cleaner, although many companies are offering deep discounts trying to bolster their sagging bottom line.  Take advantage of these deals if you can afford to.  Dirty carpets harbor more than just dirt.  For your family’s health and well being, your carpets need to be cleaned somehow.

If a professional carpet cleaning is not possible on your tight budget, consider renting a carpet cleaning machine.  But, before you decide, do your homework.  Look at all the machines available at the various home centers and compare them.  Beware that these machines can sometimes require quite a bit of muscle to operate, so be prepared if you decide to rent one.  Also, the machines available at some outlets may not be maintained very well.  You may save a few dollars by renting at a grocery store, but they are not in the rental business, therefore may not overhaul their machines like an actual rental outfit would.  Just be wary of the condition of a rental machine before you decide.

The solutions sold with rented carpet cleaning machines are not as powerful as the professional grade solutions.  Your rental center may require you to purchase their cleaner, but if they do not, there are many other solutions you may want to try.  If you have a janitorial supply store, check out their solutions for carpet cleaning machines as these would be closer to a professional grade.  You also may want to consider a homemade cleaning solution.  Using a simple vinegar and hot water mixture in a rented carpet cleaner has proven to be very effective in most situations for removing soil and deodorizing.

If you decide to clean your carpets the old fashioned way, on your hands and knees using a bit of elbow grease, the cleaning solution you choose will make a big difference.  You’ll want to thoroughly vacuum before you begin.  Using a cleaning solution that suits you, whether it’s vinegar and water, ammonia and water, a laundry pre-soak like Oxiclean, or a store-bought solution, always begin by making a test for colorfastness of the carpet.  Choose inside a closet, make a couple good dabs at the carpet with your cleaner, and wait until it dries to see how the carpet holds up.  Use a flashlight if you have to in order to get a good look.

If your test spot is fine, proceed next by pre-treating any stains.  Normally, a couple clean, old thirsty towels and some big, clean sponges make good tools for stain blotting and overall cleaning. Once the stains are treated, you’ll be working the cleaning solution you’ve chosen into the fibers the best that you can, covering the entire surface.  Make sure you don’t saturate the carpet with the solution.  It should be damp, not wet.  This method of using a bit of elbow grease is certainly more difficult, but it works well, especially if you have small carpeted areas.

With any method, be sure to have some fans available to move the air around and speed the drying process.  Open the windows and doors if you can, or if it’s more humid outside than it is inside, the air conditioner will help suck up the moisture and get the carpet dry.  Try not to walk on the carpet until it’s dry, but if you must, lay down some old sheets or towels in your path.

When your carpets are fresh and dry, you’ll get a good feeling again playing on the floor with the family.  It’s just nice to know your carpets are as clean as they can possibly be.

It just feels good to have everything nice, inside and out.  Now that you’re on a cleaning roll, check out even more Spring Cleaning Tips For Mom.

Make Your Own Frozen Summer Treats – Frugal Challenge

Monday, June 29th, 2009

My family loves all those yummy frozen treats that look so pretty in the grocery store, but in order to buy them each what they want, my grocery budget would be seriously depleted.  However, the nice thing about figuring out how to live a frugal lifestyle is you have to get creative to save money.  That’s when you come up with the best ideas to live well and not sacrifice every luxury.

Of course, many people know how to make a popsicle, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  I’m just going to share a few ideas for frozen treats that our family has been experimenting with.  We’ll start with just a few favorites.

1) Classic Kool-Aid Popsicle. The classic Kool-Aid popsicle is certainly a tradition in our house.  Mix up a batch of any flavor Kool-Aid, using a bit less water so the flavor is more intense, pour into either popsicle forms or plastic cups with popsicle sticks inserted (purchase at any hobby or party store), and stick in the freezer.  Do this in the evening and you will have popsicles for a treat after lunch the next day.

2) Yogurt Fruit Popsicle. Take the classic popsicle up a notch or two with yogurt and fruit.  Use a plain yogurt, drained overnight in a colander in the refrigerator.  Mix together the yogurt with any fruit you like, smashed up nicely, a squeeze of lemon, and a dash of sugar.  Put this mixture into plastic cups with popsicle sticks and place in the freezer.  Again, do this in the evening so your yogurt pops are ready when you are the next day.

3) Drumstick-style Ice Cream Cone. Even fancy drumstick-style ice cream cones can be made at home rather than buying the pre-packaged ones.  A box of the classic cylindrical sugar cones is relatively inexpensive, and you don’t need a fancy ice cream.  You will need a way to keep the cones upright in the freezer.  A wire shelf works well if you have one, or a shoe box with appropriate size holes cut out of the bottom works.  Just be sure to cover the box with wax paper before placing the cones in the holes.  A real drumstick-style cone has a drop of chocolate in the bottom that keeps the melting ice cream from running out.  Purchase plain old chocolate coating, the cheap stuff.  It works better and is easier to use than real chocolate.  Melt down a small amount to drip in the bottom of your cones.  Another ice cream parlor trick is to drop a Malted Milk Ball into the cone before filling with ice cream.

Once you finish that, scoop the ice cream into the cones, pressing down gently to fill the cone up, then make a nice round top with a final scoop.  Place in the freezer until the ice cream is good and hard.  Now, melt enough of your chocolate to top each cone.  Remove the cones from the freezer and quickly dip each one in the melted chocolate and place back in holder.  If you want to be real fancy, you may dip the cone’s chocolate topping into some chopped nuts.  Place back in freezer until chocolate hardens, remove and wrap in plastic, sealing tightly, and return to your tray in the freezer.

Won’t your family be surprised when they ask for a freezer treat and you produce your very own homemade specialties?  Because you can make them for less than it costs to buy, and because you can use fresh, wholesome ingredients, you’ll feel just fine about providing your youngsters with all the treats their little hearts desire!

Bring Out The Inner-Crazy-Kid With Water Balloons – Frugal Fun Friday

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Having a little foolish fun may be just the thing today, especially if your week was long and hot.  A simple game of balloon toss with the family is perfect to lighten and brighten everyone’s mood.  You can make this as easy or complicated as you like.  It all depends on your family and how much effort you want to put into thinking.

You’ll need a bag of balloons and a faucet.  First, fill the balloons, tying them shut, and place them into a plastic bin.  Take the bin outside and gather the family.  If you want to just play “Water Balloon Tag”, that’s great.  If you want to divide up into teams and play, that’s great, too.

Put your bin of balloons in the “safe” zone so everyone can go back for more “ammunition” when they need to.  Then, let the games begin.  Depending on the ages of your children, you may need to develop some rules, but normally a bit of freestyle hide and seek, with a water balloon waiting, is just about all a family needs.

A very simple game that doesn’t involve a lot of throwing and aiming is great for the younger children.  A game of “Balloon Toss” is usually successful, and fun, for kids who are learning how to catch.  You face each other standing quite close, and toss the balloon so they can catch it.  Then, take a step back and toss, then further, and further, and so on.  You’ll eventually get far enough away that your child is bound to end up with an exploded balloon at their feet.  In this game, I recommend that you be the first catcher so your child will see what happens when you miss the balloon.  Your child will think it’s pretty silly to see Mommy or Daddy miss the balloon and get all wet and want to share in the joke.  A young child might not think it’s so funny if their lovely balloon breaks and they didn’t know that it would happen.

Be careful to pick up the leftover balloon after it breaks so you don’t end up with a yard full of choking hazards.  Adjust your balloon games for the ages of your children and get everyone involved.  Have a great day in the sunshine and cool off at the same time.  Enjoy your day!

Hanging On To Your Grocery Money – Tight-Fisted Thursday

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I know you’ve probably read all the information you could possibly read about how to save money on your family’s groceries.  You’ve heard it all before.  But, are you still frustrated that the one area in your budget in which you have gobs of control is still so out-of-control?  Let’s see if there’s anything about your grocery budget that you’ve let slip out of your tight fist.

There are only two ways to hang onto more of your grocery money and that is to buy less or pay less.  Of course, there are many ways to do those two things.  You don’t necessarily have to starve your family to buy less, and you don’t necessarily have to shop at a warehouse buying huge quantities to pay less.  Let’s just take a look at a couple ways to save without suffering.

1) Replace throw-away items with reusable ones in order to buy less.  Food bags, plastic wrap, and paper towels are all pretty expensive to use.  Replacing these items with reusable plastic or glass containers and a pile of commercial style dishcloths and towels can save you money and frustration when you see your hard earned money thrown in the garbage in the form of plastic and paper.

2) Buy smaller size containers of foods to prevent spoilage in order to buy less.  We love our large, inexpensive tubs of yogurt and sour cream, but inevitably, it doesn’t get eaten and some of that container ends up getting thrown out.  If this is happening to you, it’s time to be honest and buy smaller containers that will get used up.  Those giant quantities aren’t actually saving any money if you’re throwing out some, if not most, of it.

3) Shop the sales including the Buy One Get One sales, but only if you would purchase those items whether they were on sale or not, in order to spend less.  Specials like BOGO on chicken and beef always save us money.  However, the same BOGO offer on canned peas wouldn’t get us anywhere in my family because no one will eat them.  Be smart, compare prices on sale items, and only buy what you need… even if the sale is great.

4) Shop on a schedule with a list in order to buy less and spend less.  This one gets most people in trouble.  If you have not started planning your meals in advance and shopping only once or week or so, you are no doubt doing a bit of impulse buying.  If you stop at the store on your way home just to grab a few items, I guarantee you just grabbed a few items you didn’t plan to buy.  Without a plan and a scheduled shopping trip, your grocery money will disappear faster than expected.  Stay out of the grocery store, unless you have your meal planned and your list in hand, and then only do so once a week.

With just these few quick reminders of budget saving techniques that you already know, you can get a tight grip on your grocery money once again.  If this seems to be the area in which your family budget gets a bit leaky, it’s well worth the effort it takes to re-examine your meal planning and grocery shopping strategies.  You’ll be back on track with your budget before you can say “Wow! I’ve got grocery money left over!”

Relaxing Or Invigorating Foot Soaks – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Most people fall into two categories when it comes to their style of energy-level-maintenance.  Some folks run around all day at top speed, then need something to help them slow down and relax, sort of shut the engine off before bedtime.  Then there are the folks who run around like crazy, then in late afternoon, their battery runs down and they need something to re-energize them to get them through until bedtime.  Whichever model of busy homemaker you are, have we got a treat for you!

Foot soaks are one of the most inexpensive, but most rewarding, luxuries you can do to pamper yourself.  There are many store-bought varieties of foot soaks which are excellent in their way.  However, oftentimes we’re way too busy to think about taking the time for a foot soak let alone actually going out and buying one.  Rather than deny yourself the pleasure of taking ten minutes out of your day for a foot soak, let’s check the kitchen and bathroom cupboards for ingredients to see what you can do today to create a few moments of luxury at home.

Let’s start with a foot soak for the “run around like crazy, need to relax” homemaker.  Here are some simple ingredients when put together in a tub of nice, hot water will cause you to say “awwww… that’s just what I needed.”

  • A generous squirt of honey.
  • A drizzle of vanilla extract.
  • A drizzle of almond extract.
  • A squirt of shampoo.

Grab a big supply of towels and a washcloth. Take a dishpan or tub that just fits your feet and place it on the floor, fill with ingredients, then pour nice, hot water in, just enough to cover your feet, and swoosh around.   Grab a hot cup of chamomile tea for the ultimate relaxation drink and soak your feet for about ten minutes, then gently wash and pat dry.

Now, how about if you are the “run around like crazy, need to recharge” homemaker.  There are many invigorating ingredients that will work for you.  Here is a simple recipe for a foot soak that will have you up and running around again in no time.

  • A handful of Epsom salts (keep the box nearby).
  • A handful of baking soda.
  • A drizzle of olive oil.
  • A generous squirt of lemon juice.
  • A few crushed mint leaves if you have them, or substitute some peppermint oil.

You’ll  need a big supply of towels and a scrubber brush, loofah, and washcloth. You want to be re-energized, so your feet need some soothing mixed with a bit of gentle scrubbing and stimulating massage.  Use a dishpan or tub that fits your feet, fill it with the ingredients and nice, hot water and mix gently.   You’ll want a cup of tea to invigorate, like green tea with mint.  Soak your feet for about five minutes.  Then, sprinkle another handful of Epsom salts into the water, gently rubbing the salts on the bottoms of your feet, then on top, and up your ankles, until the salts dissolve.

One other “ingredient” that works for both relaxing and invigorating your feet and body, is marbles.  If your child happens to have a collection of marbles, see if you can borrow enough to cover the bottom of the dishpan.  While you are soaking, gently glide your feet over the marbles, giving your feet a little “marble massage.”  As I said, this little trick will magically both relax and invigorate your feet, depending on what you need most.

These are just a few combinations of ingredients you can find around your house to build a nice foot soak for yourself today.  Don’t be surprised if you start looking at your pantry with luxury in mind instead of baking!

Organize Your Cleaning Supplies Like A Professional – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

How do you organize your cleaning supplies?  Do you keep them all in a utility closet or do you keep them under the kitchen and bathroom sinks?  I used to store my cleaning stuff all together in one closet, but switched to putting everything I need under the sinks when running back and forth to the closet got frustrating.  However, keeping cleaning products underneath a sink where a child could gain access isn’t a very good idea, so I moved them all back to the closet, way up high where youngsters are unable to reach.

Of course, that method is inconvenient when it comes time to tackle cleaning the bathroom.  So, I have now taken a page from professional house and hotel cleaners.  I’ve developed a portable cleaning system for myself, similar to what the professionals use.  It was fairly inexpensive and works like a charm.

You’ll begin by gathering all your cleaning supplies in one area to review what you have.  Sort your supplies by type of cleaner, like scrubbers, glass cleaners, dusters, sponges, rags and so on.  Now, consider what you use in the individual rooms in your house.  You’ll have an assortment of supplies for the bathrooms that is different than the assortment for the living room.  In your bathroom supplies you’ll have a toilet cleaner, tub and shower cleaner, glass cleaner for the mirror, and floor cleaner, along with scrubby sponges and toilet brush.  I try to use as many products as possible that do double-duty to cut down on these cleaning items.  In your living room supplies you’ll have a glass cleaner and a furniture polish, along with your favorite soft rags, and a duster.

Once you have your supplies organized into what you’ll need in each room, create two portable storage bins to contain the items.  I chose a small laundry basket at first, which worked just fine.  But, recently I found some great divided plastic bins with carrying handles at the dollar store.  They had a good selection of plastic carrying bins in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Be sure to measure your storage closet before you shop so you know what space you have available to store the carrying bins.

Now when it’s time to clean, I grab a bin in one hand and a mop in the other and go to work, just like the professionals.  How are your cleaning supplies organized?  It may seem silly to spend time tidying up the items you use to tidy up, but the time savings is well worth the effort.

Tidying up is easy when you have great Spring Time Cleaning Tips to rely on.  Take a look and get inspired!

Save Water By Using It Twice – Frugal Challenge

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

We’ve probably all heard a set of household rules in one form or another repeated over and over again by our frugal ancestors.  Perhaps you live by rules similar to these:

  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Don’t let the water run when you’re brushing your teeth.
  • Put on a sweater when you’re cold instead of turning up the heat.
  • Take off your extra clothes when you’re hot instead of turning on the air conditioner.
  • Wash full loads of clothes.
  • Hang clothes out to dry when you can.
  • When the oven is on, bake more than one meal or an extra loaf of bread, or something, anything.
  • Turn off the television when you’re not watching it.
  • Don’t stand with the door open – refrigerator door included.
  • Don’t just throw that soapy dishwater down the drain.  Use it again!

I was reminded of that final “frugal rule” last night after I finished the supper dishes and was looking at a dishpan full of really hot, really soapy, dishwater and was just about to dump it down the drain.  The concept of getting the most out of a tub of water is certainly not new to folks who grew up in frugal households, but sometimes I forget to put this concept to work.

Granted, my dishwater doesn’t always look so great, so I don’t consider it reusable.  If we have a particularly complicated meal that took a lot of preparation, creating a lot of dirty dishes, involving a lot of grease, oil, or meat scraps, the water is really not suitable for anything else.  It’s already done its duty, and then some.

But last night we had a big salad for dinner so my entire mess consisted of a cutting board with vegetable scraps on it, a knife, a big bowl, and our plates, cups, and utensils.  All we had was just a bit of vegetable and salad dressing debris.  How dirty can the water be?

So, out came my dishpan of hot, sudsy water, and into the bathroom I went with it, and right into the toilet.  I grabbed my scrubber and gave the toilet a swish, flush, and presto!… clean as a whistle.  I call that double-duty, indeed!

Even though I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make everything I do a bit more frugal, sometimes I forget the simplest things.  Just a reminder for all of us to challenge ourselves each and every day to think Frugal.  Have a great Monday… or should I say Frugalday.

Make The Easiest Seashell Candles Ever – Frugal Fun Friday

Friday, June 19th, 2009

It’s that time of year again… we call it “Seashell Season” around our house.  Trips to the beach, whether you live near a beach or vacation at a beach, will always yield buckets of seashells.  No one in my family can walk by a pretty seashell without picking it up.  Therefore, we end up with our fair share of seashells scattered around the house, yard, garden, and patio.  And, it’s not just the seashells scattered about, it’s the boxes full that we just can’t seem to give up.  So, we had to come up with something to do with all those seashells.

For this project, you really only need a few things.  I’m not going to take you into a complicated candle-making procedure here.  That takes time, money, materials, and a learning curve that I just don’t have time or the patience for right now.  I just want to have a bit of fun with my family and create something uniquely ours.

To begin, dig out your bins or boxes of seashells and start sorting.  Shallow seashells work best for this project as you are using tea-lights which have relatively short wicks.  When you find a dozen or so nice seashells that have a small pocket for a candle, set them aside.  Now, you’ll need at least a dozen tea-light style candles.  They are available very inexpensively by the bag at party stores, craft stores, or even large supermarkets.

Remove the actual candles from the metal or plastic cups that form the tea-lights.  Gently pull the wick and wick holder from the bottom to remove, and set aside.  Put the wax in a heat-resistant glass cup with a spout, such as your Pyrex measuring cup, and place in a big pot of water just up to a level in which the cup doesn’t tip when placed in the water.  Heat the water just up to a boil and turn down.  Don’t walk away from this so that the water doesn’t boil up over and into the glass of wax.

While you watch the wax, have your children arrange the seashells onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper.  If your children are old enough, let them gently place one wick in each shell.  Then, when the wax is melted, you’ll carefully pour just enough wax to fill the hollow of the shell and form your candle.  Don’t pour too fast or the wick may tip over.  This can be a bit tricky, but it gets easier after the first one.

Let cool without disturbing for about an hour, depending on the temperature of your home. When completely set up, arrange your candles either all together on a large plate, or in smaller groupings, perhaps nestled in beach sand, and display in a place where they will not be disturbed and are safe to burn.

Now, when you serve fish or other seafood for dinner, you can create a whole beach theme for your dinner table, complete with your very own homemade seashell candles as the centerpiece.  Of course, these make great gifts, too, so this could be just the beginning!

Maintain Control Of Your Budget Over The Summer – Tight-Fisted Thursday

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Many families develop a good, working budget that chugs along just fine all year… until summer comes along.  Then, the family is running all over, spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need.  Summer is naturally a more “loose” time of year.  We’re not sitting inside of our houses, having discussions about money.  We’re not keeping track of things or each other quite as much.  The older kids may have later curfews and everyone is just enjoying themselves a bit more.

So, if you haven’t reviewed your budget in the last month or so, can you be sure that you’re still on track?  Kids are out of school, riding their bikes with friends, and spending money on ice cream treats.  Is that cash allowance supposed to last them a day, a week, or a month?

You’ll need to cover these issues with your family.  But, when is the best time to regroup for a quick talk?  Is there one time of the day that everyone in the family is in the same room?  Dinnertime in the summer months may be a bit scattered as we’re outdoors later and the kids are playing with friends in the neighborhood.  Lunches in your house may often include a few of those neighborhood friends, so that’s not a good time to sit down with your family over the budget.  Bedtime is not a good time to bring up a subject that could get some debate.  So, when is a good time?

I’ve found that breakfast is the only time our family will be guaranteed to be in the same room.  Even if the kids are just grabbing some cereal before they run out the door, they have to pause long enough to pour their milk.  Slow everyone down for just a few minutes, have the budget in front of you, and gently, but firmly, remind everyone involved in spending money that the limits have not changed just because it’s summertime.  You may certainly want to rework the budget, temporarily, to allow a little more pocket money if that’s what you decide.  Be sure to remind the family members that when summer is over, the budget will be adjusted once again.

When the ice cream truck goes by, you don’t want your youngster to be the only one without some pocket money.  When you go to a ballgame, you don’t want to deny your children their favorite treats.  It’s summer.  It’s supposed to be fun and relaxed.  You’re expected to frolic and overindulge a bit.  But, if uncontrolled spending got you into a budget nightmare, then more uncontrolled spending will only make it worse.  If you build some “planned overspending” into your budget so you know where the extra money is going, you won’t be surprised again by a financial collapse in your family.

Have fun, but you should know how that fun is being budgeted for and financed.  Good luck and enjoy the summer!

Treat Yourself To A Fleece Blanket – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

You don’t have to be envious of your little ones’ cozy pajamas anymore.  Fleece blankets are just the thing to give you the same fuzzy wuzzy snuggly feeling that you give your youngsters when you dress them in their blanket sleepers.  Brightly colored, wonderful fuzzy fleece blankets are everywhere these days.  Walk through any department store and you’ll see a heaping display of them.  Even our grocery store has them for sale!

The prices for fleece blankets depend on the weight of the fleece and the size of the blanket.  I’ve seen good-sized blankets for as little as $7 as well as some for $50 and more, so shop wisely.  Look for the words “no pilling” on the label.  Pilling is a term for the little balls that form on the surface of the blanket with wear and tear.  Actually, it should say “low pilling” as there will be some degree of pilling on all fleece fabric, but pilling is minimized in some fleece.

If you want to turn your fuzzy wuzzy Wednesday into a fun project day, you might want to try your hand at making your own fleece blanket.  Take a trip to any fabric store and you’ll find a vast array of colors and patterns from which to choose.  You’ll need a couple yards of fabric and some ideas.  If you like to sew, you can hem your blanket on a sewing machine.  Or, the other great thing about fleece besides the cozy-factor is that you can make a blanket without sewing, keeping the edges raw.  There are many ways to finish the look, including fringes with knots, to make your fleece blanket truly unique.  You may not want to stop at just one blanket!  Once you get your blanket, you could end up with a blanket for everyone in the family.

Take a few minutes today to cuddle up with a good book, a cup of tea, and a fuzzy wuzzy fleece blanket that’s just perfect for you.  And, if your family is lucky, they just might get an invitation to your cozy nook!

Know Your Cleaning Style – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

To what style of housecleaning do you typically subscribe?  Are you the type who prefers to take a whole day and tackle your chores from sunup to sundown?  Or, are the the type who likes to knock off a bit at a time on a daily basis?

I think this is an important issue to look into because if you are cleaning and organizing your house on a schedule that goes against your nature, you may be struggling all the time with this necessary part of your life.  That’s why we like to take a day like Tidy Tuesday to look at our homes and review what we can do to tidy up a bit.  It’s a chance to remember that, other than the routine day-to-day chores of cooking, cleaning, and picking up after ourselves, there are tasks that need to be done to improve both the appearance and the function of our homes.

So, how do you work best?  Are you a “project person” who likes to take one big project and tackle it in one day?  Or, are you a “little at a time person” who likes to work cleaning tasks in with your daily chores?  Either way, you need to know so that you can work out a plan.

Let’s say you are a project person.  The task chosen is to tackle putting away all the kids’ winter clothes and bring out the summer clothes.  A project person such as yourself will look at the day’s activities on the calendar first thing in the morning and block off a chunk of time when it fits your schedule.  It’s going to take at least two hours to gather all the clothes, sort through them, and store the winter clothes in bins and put them out in the garage. Choose two hours on your calendar today and designate it for your project.  Set an alarm clock if you have to in order to remind yourself to roll up your sleeves and dive into your project.

Now, let’s say you are a person who likes to work their larger tasks into smaller jobs throughout the day.  Taking the same challenge, switching out the winter clothes for summer clothes, you’ll also look at your calendar today, but you won’t block off two hours.  That’s just not your style.  You will start your task after the breakfast dishes are done by going into one of the dressers, pulling out any winter clothes, and putting them in a bin to go out to the garage for storage.  While you are in your child’s room, you’ll gather laundry and make the bed.  Then, it’s off to run errands, and when you get back, you’ll make lunch and then tackle another child’s dresser or closet, and repeat these smaller tasks, fitting them into your normal schedule.  It will get done by the end of the day, but not in one block of time.

Today when you plan your task for Tidy Tuesday, ask yourself how you will best handle the chore to get good results with the least amount of frustration.  Don’t block off a couple hours out of your day if you can’t stand turning the house upside down while you dig into your chore.  And, don’t try to fit a big chore into your day a little at a time if you would feel like nothing is getting done if you can’t focus solely on a task from beginning to end.

Take your own style into account when you plan your chores.  Your day will go much more smoothly and you will get the task done, which is what it’s all about today!  Tidy up and smile!

Read some more Spring Cleaning Tips For Mom and add a few more smiles to your cleaning day!

How About Becoming A Locavore – Frugal Challenge

Monday, June 15th, 2009

If you haven’t heard or seen that term before, it’s what some folks who eat primarily locally grown foods are calling themselves these days.  These are people who are shopping the local farmers market and privately owned farms.  In some areas, many smaller grocery stores will carry locally grown produce and other food items, as well, making even a trip to the grocery store a treat for a “locavore.”

The idea behind this “eat locally” movement is to 1) help support the local economy, 2) help reduce energy consumption by eating food that was not shipped long distance, and 3) help reduce the grocery bill.  Buying locally grown items can help achieve all of the above, and more.

When you eat locally you also will be eating seasonally.  Of course, if a food is locally grown, it is in season.  Foods that are in season, grown right down the road from you, will be fresher.  You’ll know when it was picked off the tree, bush, or vine or pulled out of the ground, ensuring the quality and yielding the best flavor and nutrition.

We recently visited a local farm that sells right from their fields.  We loaded up on berries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green peppers.  Why?  Because they’re in season.  My recipes tonight will consist of some, if not all, of those ingredients.  That’s how you eat when you’re a “locavore.”

The frugal part of this method is often debated.  Your local markets may not be as convenient for you, so you may have to drive a distance.  That’s why many of us will pool our ride and spend a nice morning, two or three families, together at the farm.

Another way some people ramp up the frugal aspect of eating locally grown food is bartering.  Some farms, especially toward the end of the season, day, or week, will do a bit of bargaining to clear their bins out.  Be prepared to buy a bit more to sweeten the deal for the farmer.  They are not going to give you a bargain price if you don’t clean them out of their supply.

Many farms offer some “you pick” options.  This can really save you money, if you have the time.  We, of course, get carried away with the obsession of picking until our baskets are full to overflowing.  When faced with an over-abundance of produce, you’ll need to get creative with your recipes.  You still saved money, as long as you eat it all!

There will be an abundance of certain vegetables and fruits at different times of the year depending on what part of the world you live in.  In the coldest climates, you will find root crops oftentimes through December and sometimes beyond.  You’ll be serving lots of meals that will include rutabaga, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, and winter onions.   Greens of all kinds are everywhere in the warm climates during certain months.  Selling for incredibly cheap prices, it’s worth finding a dozen or more recipes that use kale, collard, mustard, and turnip greens just to take advantage of these prolific crops.

Before we had the technology to ship food safely over long distances, we ate what was available to us, just like all the other animals on the earth.  Shipping food thousands of miles can’t make it any better tasting or better for you.

Yes, there are foods that don’t grow in our area – foods we have become quite fond of over the years, and I don’t suggest we give up all our store-bought food items.  I can’t imagine being land-locked and never tasting haddock or salmon again.  However, when good locally grown food is available to us, why not eat that instead of something that’s been shipped in from somewhere far, far away?

Plan a day with your family at the local farmers market or family farm.  Stock up on some good, fresh produce, fish, eggs, or whatever your area provides you today.  Plan your meal around what you found and see if you don’t feel just a bit better about yourself.  This can be a very fun and frugal thing to do!

Turn Old Muffin Tins Into Mini Gardens – Frugal Fun Friday

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I received some nice, new fancy muffin tins as a gift this Mother’s Day.  Of course, I started to get rid of my old tins, but hesitated, and put them back in the cupboard with my new ones.  You never know when you might need them.  That is why I spend so much time organizing and cleaning my cupboards – I tend to hoard some things.  Kitchen gadgets seem to multiple, although I really know who the culprit is.  I admit, it is I.

So, once again I started to clean out baking dishes and pans from the cupboard, and there are those old muffin tins staring at me.  Feeling reproached, I set aside some to give away, and looked at the old dented ones with nostalgia.

That’s when it occurred to me that I have the perfect use for them.  Out on my back porch, I have an old baker’s rack and kitchen chair.  Just a cute little cozy vignette that’s perfect for a quiet sit… and a tray of sweet little “muffin” flowers!

I imagine a muffin tin full of tiny flowers sitting on a baker’s rack will be sort of perfect.  Of course, the muffin tin could be placed on any table in your yard or garden.  Or even set on the seat of an old chair to create a special colorful corner somewhere.

Here’s how my family and I plan to make our muffin tin garden.   There’s actually a couple methods, but either way, we’ll start by going to the nursery and buying a dozen little plants in peat pots.  If they don’t come in peat pots, we just need to make sure that the container is the size and shape of a peat pot.

Once we decide on the plants and get them home, we are going to just set the peat pots right in the muffin tin.  Yes, this muffin tin will definitely rust and look pretty shabby after the first year, but that’s part of the charm in my estimation.

The location of the muffin tin garden will determine how you plant it, with what plants, and how you will tend to it.  Because we’re using the peat pots, we’re placing our garden where it will get some rain, since it will tend to dry out quickly.  If you decide to plant directly in the muffin cups, you will have a little protection from drying out, but you also don’t want your plants to flood.  So, some shelter is good.

If you live where it’s hot and sunny, consider planting a muffin tin full of succulents, like “Hens and Chicks.”  You may want to punch a couple holes in the bottom of your muffin tin if you can so the soil will drain well.  You can also plant in a mixture of soil and small pebbles.  Also, put a layer of crushed rock or pebbles in the bottom of each muffin cup for additional drainage.

This is just a fun little project that gives instant results with very little money, or expertise!  Kids love it because it’s clever – something made with something else.  It’s a bit of whimsy for kids of all ages.  Enjoy your Friday fun!

Is Everyone In The Family On Board The Budget Train – Tight-Fisted Thursday

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Trying to get your family’s finances back on track can feel like a full-time job. What am I saying – it doesn’t just feel like a full-time job, it is a full-time job.  Just the paperwork alone can be quite a task.  You’ve got information to gather, numbers to crunch, and a bottom-line to watch.  But, when you have reached the bottom-line figure, you’ve done your job, right?  What more do you have to do?

That depends on your family.  Is your entire family on board with your new budget?  And, be honest, are you yourself truly in it for the long run?  If you had a lukewarm reception to the idea of cutbacks, postponing vacations, or eliminating unneeded items from your shopping lists, you may end up with a budget that is doomed right from the beginning.

It may be time to call in the troops, sit down once more around the table, and review where the money has been going.  How well have you been staying within your grocery budget?  Have you really been hanging out the clothes instead of throwing them in the dryer?  Has everyone been walking when they can instead of driving short distances?  Has your favorite fast-food place been missing you?

You’ve made a lot of sacrifices for your financial freedom, at least on paper.  And, now it’s time to ante up.  Let’s see how exactly you’ve been playing this budget game.

If some of the cutbacks you initiated in your budget have lost their momentum, you may need to rethink how the money is distributed or how the bills get paid.  If, for instance, someone in the family keeps going through the fast-food place for lunch, their lunch budget needs to be cut, and a trip to the grocery store, along with a cooking day to create bagged lunches, is in order.

Does the thought of taking a vacation still scare you, budget-wise?  It should. We all overspend while away from home. If everyone in the family is still focused on the same type of vacation you’ve always taken, even though there is no money in the budget, you need to have a heart-to-heart with everyone involved.  Don’t just eliminate the idea of a vacation entirely.  Rather, have an open-ended discussion with ideas for alternatives this year.  Remind the family that this budget will only make things better in the long run, and a nice vacation will be possible in a year or two if everyone sticks to the budget.

If you’ve got some repeat offenders in the family who keep overspending, leaving on the lights, driving the car short distances, and the like, you’ll need to call that person out as a saboteur, gently, of course.  Be clear – you did not create a budget because you are stingy, you created a budget, with the help of your family, so that you could all, as a family, enjoy the benefits of becoming financially secure.

Getting everyone in the family on board with a tight budget is not easy.  Staying on track is often difficult.  If you are upfront in the beginning about why you need to create a tight budget, it will help when you need to reinforce those budgeting strategies.

Don’t lose hope – everyone will get on board your “budget train” eventually.  Give the late arrivals a bit of a nudge, and before you know it, they’ll see the advantages to a tight-fisted budget, too.

Dust Off Your Bike – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Gorgeous days are upon us, and being a good Mom, you’ve already gotten out your children’s tricycles and bicycles, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seats, greased the chains, and made sure they were all ready to ride.  Good job!

But, didn’t you forget somebody?  When you stand there wistfully watching your youngster riding in circles around and around the driveway or joyfully riding around the neighborhood with friends, are you wishing you could feel that joy, too?

There is nothing better than a bike ride to make a day fun.  Like most busy parents, you find the time, somehow, to make sure your kids are given all the opportunities for fun you can possibly provide.  Naturally, your kids are going to want to be out on their bikes, so you make sure that happens.

When is your turn?   Mom, you need to clear your head, get some fresh air, and have a little fun, too.  Riding a bike around is the perfect way to do all that and feel like a kid again.  Including a bike ride in your day will go a long way to improving your physical and mental well-being.

Consider using today to treat yourself to a bike ride.  I guarantee, if you haven’t been on a bike for some time, you’ll remember how to get out there and pedal.  And, once you take a spin or two around the block, you’ll remember what it felt like to be 10 years old!  That is a very fuzzy-wuzzy feeling!