Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Frugal or hoarding?

I saw Extreme Couponing on TLC and I got a little freaked out.  I buy things on sale, and have a lot of respect for people who use coupons to get the things they use and need for much less money (or even for free).  I'm all for stocking up--I do it myself.  I've got home canned tomatoes and beans in my second pantry, as well as staples bought on a really good sale.  I've got meat that I purchased on sale in my deep freeze.

And I've got enough.  I don't need to get another truckload.   I don't need to shop for another few months -- except to maybe get another box of tea bags or some more toilet paper.

I don't save a lot of things unless I know I have a use for them.  (One exception is my used canning lids--I'm trying to make ornaments out of them for next Christmas.  It's cold and miserable out in my neck of the woods now, so it's a fun way to pass the time.)  I don't save things that I might have a use for or that I could use (but won't).  I have a small place.  And I like it relatively uncluttered.

So, if I had 30 years worth of toilet paper, I wouldn't go out and buy TP for 30 years.  Or, I'd donate a bunch of it to a shelter.  But I wouldn't go out and get more. (If I got to be a master couponer, I'd tip friends and family off to the sales and pass along any coupons I had.)

Here's another thing I don't do: I don't always jump at the chance to get something if it's free.  Yes, it's free.  It also takes up room.  It could have associated costs aren't readily apparent.  It might be something I wouldn't really use and just gather dust.  It might be something I could tell myself I'd sell on eBay only to find that I didn't actually get around to doing it until the thing was obsolete or out of fashion.  I won a portable DVD player as a door prize once; I gave it to my sister.  She and her family routinely travel 1,000 miles to see the inlaws and it was useful for entertaining the kids.  I thought for a minute that I'd sell it on eBay, but I know myself.  I probably wouldn't.

I will, however, take bags--I can always use reusable shopping bags.   

Monday, January 17, 2011

Green and frugal cleaning--less is more

I am one of those tree huggers who tries to avoids harsh chemicals and waste at all costs.  I'm not a fan of plastic (though I own my share, sigh) and I am not a fan of cleaning products that make my eyes water and my lungs threaten to pack their bags and find a more hospitable environment.  I'm also not a fan of greenwashing--so I remain very skeptical about 'green' products.  They also tend to be pricey.

So, once I got my hands on a few books about how to make your own cleaning products, I was thrilled.  I turned my kitchen into a very nice-smelling green clean factory/lab.  I made all purpose cleaners, wood polishes, floor cleaners, you name it.  And they were cheaper than either the chemical stuff you'd get in the store, or the green cleaners.  The thing is, I didn't even have to go through all of that trouble.

Now don't get me wrong--I like making the stuff.  I like using it.  Get some peppermint scented castille soap and you can make some heavenly cleaners.  But you don't even need to spend a lot of time and money doing that.

I just use the basics: soap and water, a bunch of rags, maybe some rubbing alcohol and baking soda for areas that need disinfecting or to be scoured. 

Really: if your counters are dirty, you only need to use a small amount of dishsoap and water to get them clean.  (And if you have granite countertops--it seems to be the default in a lot of homes these days--you want to stay away from vinegar.  It will eat away at the finish).  If your furniture needs dusting, a damp (not wet) cloth will do the trick--it will pick up the dust quite effectively.  If your floors are dirty, a little bit of dish soap in water (or a small amount of vinegar in water) will do just fine.  Rinse well and you're done. 

Though here's a tip--club soda does a great job on any glass surface.  I use it on my mirrors and windows and they look great.  Think about how cheap plain club soda is.  You just pour some into a spray bottle, spritz it onto the surface, and wipe it with a rag.  Boom, you're done.

It always struck me as a little odd for us to tie ourselves into knots over making things green.  You don't have to reinvent the wheel--just get back to basics.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Turn your weakness into a strength.

This Christmas, I got an Amazon gift card from my boss, and a Barnes & Noble gift card from my sister and brother-in-law.  My sister and brother-in-law also got me a gift certificate to one of my favorite restaurants.  So I will be rolling in books and sushi.

Books.  I live within walking distance to the library, but I cannot help but buy books anyway.  It's easier for me to resist these days, since I don't work in the city any more, and therefore do not wait at a station with a bookstore.  I'd get bored waiting for the train, so I'd browse.  And I'd invariably find books that I'd want to read.  And I wouldn't be able to wait until I got home, and go to the library to see if they had it on the shelf.  Nope! I had to have it.  Right. NOW.  It was a long train ride, and I'd already finished the book I was reading, and besides, I might forget the name of the book.  And it was right there. In front of me.  Calling my name. 

Restaurants.  Yes, I cook.  I cook quite well.  But when I get back in the house by seven o'clock at night, the last thing I can muster up the energy to do is cook.  If I make anything, it's pasta.  Which is not the healthiest thing to eat five nights a week.  So sometimes, I'd order out.  I'd get my favorite dish from my local Chinese place.  I didn't have to cook it, and I didn't have to wash a skillet or a pan and strainer. 

Every year, I'd beat myself up about this.  There is no reason for you to buy books, I'd scold myself.  What are you doing? You can walk to the library you lazy sot.  You can make a bleeding skillet meal! You can defrost and heat up some soup in the freezer.

This year, I am resolving again to not buy as many books (at least, once I use up the gift cards) and to not eat out as much.  I've actually been pretty good about both lately, though it has nothing to do with my renewed purpose and iron will.  No--it has everything to do with circumstances. 

I don't buy as many books because I am no longer working in the city, so I'm not waiting for a train with a bookstore in it.  No, I drive an hour each way to work now, so any savings on unnecessary book spending is pretty much moot. (It's a long story.)

I don't eat out as much because my route home does not take me near my favorite Chinese place.  I can still order it on my way home and pick it up, but it takes that much longer, it's that much more trouble, and I won't bother.  I have to pass by my home to get to the restaurant, which I cannot abide.  So, laziness will work for me in this regard--I skip the takeout and take some homemade soup out of the freezer to eat. 

I try to remember this when I see people talk about or post about things that strike me as stupid or irresponsible.  I've been both--in spades--and if I'm doing better now, it's because I'm out of temptation's way.  It's because I finally figured out how to use a weakness as a strength (who knew that end-of-day laziness could save me from unnecessary takeout?).

So, I'm doing what I can to make the things I can't or shouldn't do unappealing.  That's the only advice I could ever give anyone who's trying to budget effectively, who's trying to eat better, or who's trying to keep up with a resolution.  Stay out of temptation's way.  Make it too much work for yourself to indulge. 

Turn your weakness into a strength.