I checked in this week to see how I’m doing at my goal to save $200 by 2014: $53.  That’s one-quarter of the way there with three full months to go.  I’m starting to feel like I can do this, in spite of birthdays, Christmas, new contacts, and a much needed dentist visit being on the agenda.  But I can’t get complacent.

Next week I’m going to pretend I’m on food stamps for a week and see if I can survive on $4.50 a day (or $31.50 for the week) as part of the Feeding America SNAP Challenge.  While this will be good for my wallet, it isn’t so good for training, so I’m going to bring my training down for just that week.  I did bike 37.6 miles and run 8 this week, so I wasn’t totally slouching, but I need to get back to weight training soon.

Beyond that, I don’t have any words of wisdom on this whole savings thing.  Slow progress is still progress.  I’m still moving up, not down.  I guess saving money is like weight loss; you want it to magically appear all at once, but it’s a lot healthier to do it in bits and pieces and get the habits in place for long-term living rather than short-term results.

It still would have been nice to win the $400 million Powerball on Wednesday night.

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Beauty is a $170-billion-per year industry [per GCI Magazine].   Unsurprisingly, a lot of those products are over-processed, over-priced, and downright unhealthy.  For example, the little microdermabrasion beads in scrubs are tiny bits of plastic that get through water filtration systems and kill birds and fish that ingest them [per Scientific American, 25 June 2013].  This is ridiculous when personal care can be easy and inexpensive… and healthy. As part of my savings goal, I’m trying to cut down on expensive beauty products (not that I use a lot anyway), so I went on a search of the best in beauty from head to toe. Hair Care There are lots of ways to save money on hair care.  Don’t color it or at least color it less often.  Wash less often; unless your hair is extremely greasy, you can wash every other day.  Other tips include:

  • Remove hair product residue with a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar (the vinegar smell fades as soon as it dries).
  • Combine one tablespoon of baking soda with two tablespoons of water and apply this paste to your hair thoroughly.  Rinse well.  This is better than a shampoo, minus the chemically-induced bubbles.
  • Knead a few tablespoons of olive oil into your hair and scalp, cover with a shower cap, and let set for thirty minutes.  Rinse or shampoo as usual for fully conditioned locks.

[Reference: The Daily Green]

Facial Care

  • Papain, found naturally in papaya, and bromelain, found in pineapple, both make excellent topicals to remove the dull look from skin.  WebMD has a papaya-pineapple mask on their site here.   Papaya also may help lessen the appearance of fine lines and dark spots.
  • Oatmeal, honey and yogurt are more than breakfast foods; they make great skincare, too.  For a once-a-week exfoliant, finely grind one cup of oatmeal and stir into a mixture of one cup of plain yogurt and two tablespoons of honey.  Mix thoroughly into a paste and apply to face, leaving on for 15 minutes.  Rinse with warm water and pat dry.  Don’t use before a beach day or after a sunburn.  [A variation on this recipe is available here.]
  • Add a little baking soda to your normal facial wash (or use it on its own with warm water) to boost the gentle cleaning [see here].
  • Make your own moisturizer, ala’ Crunchy Betty (I’m not even going to try to duplicate her genius here).
  • Use a dab of coconut oil around the eyes to reduce lines.

Your Teeth

You probably already know that you can brush with baking soda.  Want more of a smooth, toothpaste feel?  Mix the baking soda with coconut oil.  Want to whiten at the same time?  Once a week, crush in a fresh strawberry (just be sure to floss away the seeds afterwards).  The malic acid in the strawberry will act as a natural whitener.

Shaving

Shaving cream can be expensive and pretty unhealthy.  You can use plain coconut oil to shave with or you can try this recipe from Homemade Mommy (a little more complicated and expensive).

Your Feet

Feet take a lot of abuse.  If you want to baby yours and get rid of the dead skin, try a coffee rub:

  • 1 c ground coffee (wonder if you can make coffee and use the grounds?)
  • 1 c crushed strawberries
  • 3 tablespoons salt (sea or kosher)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix all ingredients together, rub over feet (get in a personal foot massage while you’re at it), and rinse.  Follow with a good moisturizer.

So, there you have it.  Give up your Suave, your Oil of Olay, and your Jergens.  Everything you and I need for beauty may be right in your kitchen.

I’ve kept it kind of quiet here, but I’m a bit of a hippy.  A conservative hippy, but still a hippy.  I take the admonition from Genesis 2:15 and 3:23  to tend to the Earth pretty seriously.  So, how to save money while being more green?

There are some basic ones with utilities.  I don’t have utilities yet, but when I do:

  • Turn off lights.  It should be basic, but people leave lights on all the time.
  • Turn off the water.  We do this, too.  Run the shower too long before we get in; run the tap while we brush our teeth; and keep it running the whole time we wash dishes.  Just turn it off.
  • Use curtains to control temperature.  In winter, open them wide and let in the sunlight, then close them as soon as the sun goes does.  In the summer, keep them closed to keep the heat out.
  • Keep the thermostat set lower than you think you need in the winter and put on some layers.  We always wore sweaters, even in the house, when I lived in Illinois.
  • Keep the thermostat at 78F or higher during the summer.  Use room fans and close off unused rooms whenever possible.
  • Skip on bottled water.  If you can’t stomach tap water, get the larger bottles (25 cents to refill), home delivery if you must, or a good water filter.  (I’m the biggest fan of the water filter.)  There are higher standards for the tap water than the bottled anyway.
  • I’ve said it before, but air-dry clothing.  No  matter what, skip those silly dryer sheets.  You don’t need them.
  • Use natural cleaners (I’ll do more on this later).
  • Carpool, walk, bike, or use public transportation.
  • Walk your errands– or at least group them.  Do your best to not do single errands at a time.
  • Bring your own grocery bags shopping.  Some chains charge for the grocery bags.  If you don’t bring your own, at least reuse the ones you get (poop bags, lunch bags, etc.).

Happily, I do most of these, but there’s always room for improvement.  I did forget my grocery bags last time.  What can you do?

 

I was hoping it wouldn’t have to come to this, but it does.

I need to freeze my debit card.

I’ve put this off because I work far enough from home to want to have my money available to me at all times.  There are ways around this, though, and I need to use them.

I’m going to use the envelope system.

Basically, I’ll pay what has to be paid by check or out of the account as soon as I get paid.  This includes what goes into my savings.  Everything else, every last penny, goes into an envelope in the form of cash.  If I don’t have cash, I can’t spend it.

Again, I used to be good at this, so it’s driving me nuts that I’m not anymore.  But with a little hard work, I can be good at it again.

It just might pinch a little at the beginning.

 

How to Budget With the Envelope System

 

 

I have four kids.  Three of my kids have birthdays within a nine-day timespan (coming up shortly).  Shortly after, there’s Christmas, then the fourth child slides his birthday in at the middle of February.  Needless to say, this makes gift giving… interesting.

Now, back when I was a better budgeter, I had money set aside all year for gifts and spent it at the right time.  Now… I tend to plan for gifts far too immediately before the event.  That needs to change, but I’m still going to have to manage three birthdays in the next few weeks.  How do I save money on gifts?

One sneaky thing I do is movie clubs.  If your kids love movies (mine do) and you can do as much of the “deal” as possible to start, these can actually be a good deal.  For example, I have a deal from The Disney Movie Club to get five movies for $1, add a sixth for $11.95, add a seventh for $8.95, and free shipping.  Do the math on that one… I’m getting seven movies for the price of one.  In exchange, I agree to buy two more movies at some point during the next two years.  I usually buy one for the odd man out (whoever didn’t get a birthday or Christmas present in the original seven) and then buy the last one when it’s a good deal or something we really want.  I’m sure eventually we’ll run out of movies, but, for now, this works well.

Another thing I do is buy a gift through my kids’ school fundraisers.  This year, I managed to get one for each kid that way and still raised money for their school (and maybe helped them get a little prize).  This isn’t a favorite thing of mine; I hate these kind of fundraisers.  But it helps the school and the prices are usually reasonable, so it happens.

As far as birthdays go, I sign up for all the birthday clubs.  All of them.  We may not use all the freebies each year, but we always use some of them.  I took my oldest and two friends to an amusement-type park for almost six hours last weekend.  After snacks, drinks, and dinner, the cost was under $100.  I told the oldest this was his birthday present as well as party and he was good with it.  (Your mileage on that one may vary.)

I don’t try to buy gifts for every person we know.  I’d like to (even though gifts isn’t one of my predominant love languages), but I’d rather get nice gifts for those I get them for than get a bunch of cheap gifts for everyone.

The kids only get three gifts for Christmas (just like baby Jesus).  One very small gift, one medium gift, and one larger gift.  By saying it this way, I can change what “small”, “medium” and “large” are defined as when money is tight.

The final big gift giving tip is to buy all year around.  I don’t try to buy for Christmas during December; in fact, I try to never go near a shopping establishment after Thanksgiving.  Sales come up all year around and shouldn’t be missed just because it’s not Christmas yet.  The one exception is to make a run for a really good Black Friday/ Cyber Monday sale… but only if it’s really good.

Gift giving should never be painful and it should never put you into debt or stress  you out.  If it does, then you’re doing it wrong.  Seriously.

 

 

I spent a lot of time travelling this last weekend.  Even though I’ve always been a fairly thrifty traveler, I wasn’t as frugal as I might have liked.  I learned a few things that I’d forgotten:

  • If you want the best price on travel, you need to be flexible.  If your dates are set in stone, try to be flexible about destination or at least the time you travel.  If your destination is unchangeable, be more flexible about dates or time.  Likewise, if you can change how you travel (plane, train, bus), you can find better pricing. 
  • Driving isn’t always the most expensive option.  If you are a party of four or more, driving may actually be cheaper.  The easy way to do the math?  Miles divided by your MPG (equals gallons of gas) times cost per gallon.  For example, this past weekend, I travelled 375 miles.  The car I would have driven gets a whopping 12 mpg (or so).  Gas was about $4/ gallon.  So 375/12 = 31.25 * 4 = $125.  I’d also be putting wear and tear on the car, probably need to eat once (I get grumpy after four hours of starvation), and would have to pay for parking at my destination (around $12/day).  For me, driving was the expensive option.  However, if there had been two or three of us travelling, then the car would’ve been the same as or cheaper than most alternate forms of transportation.
  • Bring your own food and drinks.  Even without a cooler, you can get by with just an insulated bag for hours.  I have a bag from Trader Joe’s that cost me $3.99 that keeps things cool for almost 8 hours.  I wouldn’t pack meat or mayonnaise, but I feel pretty secure packing cheese, fruit, vegetables, or even bottled juices.
  • Think like a local.  If you go out to eat, find out where the locals go (yes, this means talking to people).  Better yet, get a hotel that has a refrigerator and microwave and buy groceries for most of your meals.  Even better, stay with friends and split the cost of groceries.

There are dozens of other things you can do, but these are the big ones that save money for me.  What do you do?

 

 

 

I’m not going to be much help in the social arena.  For me, going out involves an active activity, a movie, or dinner.  I’m happiest with a stay-at-home night.  But on those occasions when you want entertainment and you don’t want to spend a lot of money (or any at all), there are ways to cut down the costs.

Movies

  • First and foremost, check your library!  Many libraries have a movie rental section.  Yes, some of them are older, but some libraries do a good job of keeping up on Oscar winners and such.
  • Look for free movies on television if you’re paying for cable or satellite (although I definitely don’t recommend it).  Yes, you might have to put up with a commercial or some minor editing, but if you just want something to watch, it’s free.
  • Try one of the online services.  Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime all offer streaming movies.  I’m sure there are plenty more, but these three come out to about $8 a month– of less than the price of a matinee ticket at some theatres.  Hulu even has some for free.
  • Look for free movie offers (I do the Disney movie deal once every two years or so).  I also make sure I do the digital version of movies when I can (VuDu or Ultraviolet).
  • Renting from Blockbuster, Netflix, or Redbox will still be cheaper than going to the movies.  Save the theatre experience for movies you either can’t wait for or that are greatly enhanced by having the large screen and surround sound.  (If you have these at home, you really should get the most out of what you paid for.)
  • As an “out there” option, sign up to be a mystery shopper and get to watch movies for free.  Don’t sign up with just anyone; go to Volition’s mystery shop database to find reputable companies to sign up with.

Music

  • Make use of your radio.  There are still plenty of radio stations out there that you can listen to absolutely free.
  • Try Pandora, Spotify, or half-a-dozen other streaming radio stations.  You can listen for free with ads or pay to remove them.
  • Get free music from iTunes (see your local Starbucks or Jamba Juice or just do a search on the site), Google Play, or Free Indie.  Here’s another way your library can be useful; see if they offer Freegal.  Download three free songs each week.  Period.  No strings.  The selection is decent.
  • Get free Amazon MP3 downloads by filling out surveys, playing apps, etc.  May require giving out your email, so keep a burner email.

Books

  • The only books you should be buying are those you will be reading over and over and/or marking up.  Otherwise, USE YOUR LIBRARY!  Get free books on Kindle, Nook, Amazon… the lists of freebies are endless.  “But I don’t like any of those classic-schmassic books.”  Read a book on getting a better paying job.

Activities

  • Look for listings at, yes, your local library.  Do I sound like a broken record?  Make use of your library!
  • Look online for your Parks and Recreation district.  Some events tend to be free in larger communities.
  • Get free classes at Lowes, Home Depot, Michaels, Hobby Lobby… check your local retailers.
  • Sign up for a free online class.  My current favorite place to look is Coursera.com, but there are lots of great lists.
  • Volunteer somewhere.
  • Make use of your local park.
  • Have a stay-in game night.

There’s really no reason to be spending a lot of money on entertainment.  Oh, need wifi?  Try your library (yet again!) or buy something small at a coffee shop (Starbucks, Coffee Bean, smaller coffee shops), Denny’s, McDonalds, etc.  Only pay for at-home wifi if you are going to be using it a lot.

I’ve got to get back to being good at a few of these, but a lot of these save me a ton of money.  I’ll work on a few more over the next few months.