There Is Such A Thing As Free Lunch!

I’ve always wondered how I would do stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food for days on end. I never did learn proper foraging skills (bad Girl Scout!) even though I know some wild plants are edible. I just don’t really know what any of them look like. Luckily, you can’t browse too many urban homesteading websites or read too many books without coming across a section on edible weeds. And then you can google pictures of those weeds. Thanks to modern technology, I’m about to eat weeds!  Totally free lunch. 

The other day this little plant I thought was clover grew little yellow flowers. Umm…. I have clover everywhere because, well, I planted it. And it spreads like wildfire. So when my pot with last years lettuce started growing this clover look-alike, I paid no notice-until the yellow flowers popped up. I had to know if I should pull it since it was growing next to my volunteer lettuce from last year’s bolting. 

Turns out, it’s just wood sorrel. 

Turns out, that’s edible. 

Even better, it’s really good!

Sorrel growing next to volunteer cut-and-come-again lettuce

When someone says something is “lemony” they almost always mean it “tastes like dirt with a lemon flavor” to me. Or maybe that’s just my experience with lemon herbal teas! This stuff actually tastes like a squirt of lemon juice!  I was shocked when I chewed up that first leaf. So, it’s going into tonight’s salad along with some of that volunteer lettuce. Totally free greens for my salad!! Didn’t plant it or water it or tend to it in any  way. I love free lunch!

I wonder if the wild violets in the back yard taste as good…

Advertisements

Convenient Water Saver

Convenient Water Saver

I had an occasion this winter to go to the local big box hardware stores. This is never good because my imagination gets carried away with all the projects I could do…if only I had the time and I tend to spend way too much money on stuff that never gets finished (I’m talking about you, galvanized wire and uncut tree limbs that will make a new garden border). But while I was there I picked up some seeds. Nothing special, just some perennial wildflowers and chamomile and mint. I got the chamomile specifically for tea and have every intention of adding some tea bushes for black tea to the garden. We go through a lot of black tea in this house. But I knew I really really wanted a tea kettle to heat my water because they’re cute and they whistle so I would stop getting involved in something and the pot of tea boiling over before I remembered it. So I hit up Amazon and Target and the tea websites trying to find one that was super adorable and whistled. I had no idea they were so expensive!  A whistling tea kettle costs more than a coffee maker!  Eventually I gave up looking because I had other things to do and the reasonably priced ones seemed to have horrible reviews. Well, while I was BJ’s the other day, I saw they had tea kettles!  Reasonably priced and actually the exact Cuisinart version I had eyeballed. But they also had almost the exact same kettle from their house brand Berkley & Jensen for just $24.99. I knew from my days working there that BJ’s gets good product for their house labels. I also knew that if it didn’t work properly they would take it back and give me a refund or store credit with zero problems so I bought it. It works just fine and boils more water in the same amount of time as my pot I was using for tea. 

What on earth does this have to do with saving water?  I went to clean a pan this morning and was about to flip the faucet on and wait for the hot water to come out when my shiny kettle looked back at me. I’ll hang on to that cold water until you can use it, it said (OK, it didn’t actually look at me or say anything, but if it was a TV tea kettle it totally would have!). So I ran the cold water into my kettle and cleaned the pan when the warm water came out. I used the cold water to water my plants. I already paid for it when I turned on the faucet, and it just rushing down the drain every single time I needed hot water annoyed the crap outta me. Especially knowing that I would have to run the faucet again to water my plants. So from now on, I have a new habit of keeping a pitcher, tea kettle or watering can right by the sink to catch that cold water I don’t need right now. I can’t wait to see how this impacts my water bill!

Strange things that saved me money 

Strange things that saved me money 

It’s always fun to find that some accidental change in your lifestyle saved you money. Here are some things I have done, mostly by accident, that have saved me money. 

Using an electric razor to shave my legs cut my water bill by 10%

Yep, because my showers were 5-10 minutes shorter my water bill dropped. Now 10% of our regular water bill was only $7, but that’s lunch out one day. Over the last 2 years, that saved me $168.

I had a phase of super dry itchy skin and started skipping showers

Gross, right?  Except that I work an office job and really only need to clean those parts of my body that touch each other regularly and my feet. So I grabbed a soapy washrag and cleaned those and flipped my head into the tub to wash my hair and face. Skipping showers eventually led to skipping washing my hair too. I used some dry shampoo instead. My water bill dropped another 20%. Bonus: I’m not in the slightest bit oily or itchy. My skin adjusted and my hair is slowly getting used to less washing. If I worked out every day, this routine would obviously need tweaking but um…I don’t do that. 

I kept forgetting to buy dog food before we ran out so I set it up to be delivered to the house automatically

I’m a horrible dog mom. I was constantly running to the store at the last minute or feeding my babies extra cookies to get their bellies full when they didn’t have a full bowl of food left. Or my wife would leave the food in her trunk and they wouldn’t get their dinner until she came home from work-at 10pm. I killed both these birds with 1 stone and set up Amazon subscribe & save. My babies all have plenty of food & cat litter, I can’t forget anything and if I have 5 items delivered each month, I get a 15% discount on all of them. I saved $5 a month on cat litter alone! The program has free shipping too so there’s no extra cost to have everything delivered vs driving to the store. Add that to no impulse buys from walking through the pet store…well, lets say I’ve been know to drop an extra $30 on treats and toys. 

I quit using the brakes in my car-as much. 

I spend an hour each morning and each evening in stop and go traffic to get the 18 miles from my house to the office and back.  Eventually I realized I needed new brakes-badly. Instead of gassing just to brake 25 feet away, I just let my car roll slowly so I never gassed or braked in those long lines at the stop lights. I’m now able to get an extra 36 miles out of a tank of gas and my new brakes should last much longer than the last set. I save about $52 a year in gas just on my commute (at $2/gallon) plus the extra brake job of $120. 

There you have it folks. It may not be much, but when you’re on a budget, every little bit of savings helps!  What strange things have you done that saved you money?

Let’s get another round…of budgets

I have a new coworker who is in his first job out of college. With super sweet parents who are paying his college loans and cellphone and car insurance, his expenses are minimal. So, when one of our insurance agents approached him about purchasing life insurance, I agreed that it was a great idea. Being young and healthy now helps him lock in reasonable rates on permanent insurance and gets the expense into his budget early in life. 

Except, he didn’t have a budget. 

My mouth dropped open and I just stared at him. He’s a smart guy and took the hint to lay out all his expenses on paper so he could evaluate the real expenses in his life. You know, the ones you completely forget about like oil changes and gaming memberships? I reminded him about the things he wasn’t paying: cellphone, car insurance, renter’s insurance and deductions from his paycheck like health insurance, disability insurance, and 401k that he wasn’t eligible for yet.

It was his turn for a jaw-drop. He looked at me and said “I have no money.”  

I just smiled, because I had been there, and told him that entry level professional pay doesn’t stretch far even in a major southern city with 4 roommates. I told him that budgets aren’t just for people like me who are desperate to turn their financial life around, but are a tool to stay financially healthy from the start. I also told him the purpose of that life insurance policy was to leave money for his heirs…ones he didn’t have. I suggested he rethink the $500000 worth he was just sold at a premium of $300/month. 

I went home that night and made him a priority list of savings, insurance and investments based on his situation. Here’s what I came up with:

  • General savings of 3 months income
  • Medical savings in an HSA that covers the out of pocket maximum on the policy
  • Disability insurance 
  • Renter’s insurance

From here, I suggested a balance of life insurance and retirement savings. The policy he was sold left no room in his budget for retirement savings which on the grand scale of things is pretty morbid. This strategy assumed he would die an early death and wouldn’t need money for his golden years. I don’t know about you, but spending my retirement on government assistance with a boat load of life insurance sounds sad. 

The next morning I gave him my little sheet of paper explaining the why behind each priority. I’m pretty sure he disregarded the renter’s insurance, but did tell me he was changing the life policy. 

I feel so lucky to have helped him on his way. He told me I should be a financial planner. I laughed my head off. If only everyone had such straightforward circumstances, that might be a great idea. For now, I’ll stick to my day job. 

*This post is a real life example of why I think everyone needs to budget and manage risks in their life and is not intended to be financial, investment or tax advice of any kind. I made these suggestions to my coworker as a concerned friend only. 

Sneaky lazy gardening

Sneaky lazy gardening

Let me tell you the story of how my water hose leaks at the sprayer. Seems like no matter what type of rubber gasket I stick in there, the thing still finds a way to drop water!  Today, I finally found a practical application for that problem!

While there are various irrigation systems on the market, I’m too cheap to buy and too lazy to install any of them. Plus, my plants are scattered in a dozen pots throughout my yard and I’m sure the HOA would be none to thrilled for me to rig up something that wasn’t a professional sprinkler system. But thanks to my drippy hose nozzle, I have a single-plant drip emitter!  It’s stupid simple, but I only though of it yesterday when I put the hose down after spraying a squash bug colony off my zuchini plants and seeing all that useful water run off my driveway. So I picked up the nozzle and set it in my tomato pot while I checked on my roses. Well, the roses were being munched on by some Japanese beetles!  So while I addressed that problem, my tomato got nice and damp. When I came back, I moved it to my zuchini pot. Today, it’s sitting on the lip of my salad barrel with hopes that it will revive the poor lettuces that didn’t bolt in last week’s heat. 

So there you have it, my super cheap, super lazy watering system. 

Bad Apples

Around here, apples are some of our favorite fruits.  And I can’t wait for the day that I can feed my family from the front yard.  So I decided to plant some apple trees.  In learning about apple trees, I found out that it was going to take 2-5 years for these babies to bear fruit, so I needed to get some in the ground ASAP!  Luckily enough, I had a month’s worth of dog walking income that was exactly enough to buy some trees!

I knew I didn’t want another 2 huge trees in my front yard because then I would have to convince my HOA to let me cut down the maple that was planted when the house was built or have them hanging over into my neighbors’ yards.  Neither of those was a good option, so I had to go dwarf.  Plus, upon submitting an 811 request to have the utilities marked, I found out that over half of my front yard was unsuitable for planting any trees or shrubs or anything that required actually digging a hole in the ground.  In fact, the exact location where I want to plant blueberries and strawberries next year happens to have water and sewer lines running through it.  But back to the apples…

File_000

I picked out 2 spots that were approximately 24 inches away from all these lines zigzagging my yard as required by law and staked the spots.  Then I started digging while my tree roots soaked.  It had been raining for a week, thank heavens, because digging up clay soil when it is dry is a major job.  Soft clay comes up much easier.

I made my holes about 2 feet deep so I could incorporate some soil additive called Claybreaker into the crappy clay soil.  I put the Claybreaker on the bottom and added water to make soup, then added some of the topsoil with the grass still attached upside down to add some more nutrients to the soil as the grass died and started to break down.

Then I positioned the tree and began layering: additive, clay, additive, clay until the hole was almost filled.  I made sure the clay was the last layer on top since it holds water like plastic wrap so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the soil drying out until I got some mulch.  When all was said and done, I had two little sticks poking out of the ground.

File_005

Yes, it was raining on me, but just two weeks later, I am rewarded by some pretty little leaves on my new trees.

_MG_1755

I planted my favorites: Fuji & Gala.  These dwarf apple trees won’t get but 8-10 feet tall and wide so I’ll easily be able to reach the top without climbing a ladder as long as I have one of those apple-picker things.  And, they won’t grow over my neighbor’s yard so he won’t have apples that might get knocked off in a storm rotting in his yard.  I’m sure he’ll like that and I will love having fresh apples right outside my doorstep!

Reasons to make your own detergent

I have a confession to make: I’m a Pinterest addict. So when I found a bunch of stuff on making laundry detergent I had to try it.  But first I had to pick a recipe. 

To borax or not to borax, that is the question

My decision to use borax was based on the rationale that at this point, it can’t hurt anymore than the who-knows-what that comes in my store bought detergent. At least I know what borax is. My store bought stuff doesn’t even have an ingredient list!  

I picked this recipe from Mrs. Happy Homemaker. My ingredients made it cost closer to $3 for the 5 gallons, but that’s cost of living differences for you. 

Why bother?

Did you see where I said it costs Three Dollars? I can’t get one gallon of detergent for $3 around here much less five!  So it’s a great value. 

Plus, this stuff takes a mere 15 minutes to make. It takes me longer than that to go to the store. 

Even better, it made my house smell sooooooo good!  Doggy smell begone! My whole house smelled super clean for hours after making it. 

Guess who doesn’t need Oxyclean anymore? We have dogs and no matter how often we washed the bedding or the reusable pee pads for them, they still smelled like dog and pee after coming out of the dryer. 

This was a major worthwhile investment for us since we use about a gallon of detergent a month and a box of Oxyclean a month. Let’s review: 

  • One gallon of store detergent $14.99
  • One container of Oxyclean $8.99

Total per month: $23.98

  • One gallon of homemade detergent: $.60

Savings: $23.38/month for 15 minutes of my time every 5 months. I know what’s in the detergent and my house got free air freshener. All that sure leaves a smile on my face!