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Frugal Project Update #2-A Little Better, A Little Worse, And Still Learning

It’s been more than two weeks since I shared a Frugal Project Update. It’s time again to share how I’m doing with some of my frugal projects and approaches. So here goes:

The Paper Towel Project:

  • We made it 2.5 weeks on one roll of paper towels!  How did we do that?! We are getting better at not using paper towels unless we absolutely have too. I’m really proud of my husband and kids for getting on board with this project. Paper products are expensive and I’m really glad we’ve cut our budget so deeply. We just started our 3rd roll of paper towels and since it’s the beginning of August-that means we used 2 rolls of paper towels for all of July. Amazing! I didn’t think it could happen but it has! Looks like our paper towel weaning is working. Next step: making it a full 3 weeks on one roll!

My Household Notebook:

My household notebook has fallen by the wayside a little. I have it. I’m using it. Sort of. Mostly I use the calendar. I really need to get back to working with this more. I know it’s going to make a difference. I just need to keep prioritizing my use of it until it’s a better habit (I’m beginning to wonder if I have a short attention span!). Again, like the FlyLady recommended, it’s a slow going project and constantly in development. What I’m using most right now is the calendar. I’m still scribbling to do lists on scraps of paper. Not so effective. Sad but true. It’s on my “get better at it” list. I spent time making it look great-I will use it. I will!

My ongoing challenge that I’m struggling with: 

  • Meal Planning: I’m still working on the fine art of meal planning. I like ‘spur of the moment’ a little more than I realized and this is not effective in meal planning. However, I am good at keeping simple and flexible staple items in my house and that helps me keep our grocery budget on track. As we gear up for our homeschool year though, this is becoming more important as a time saver for us so it’s still an evolution for me-more for my time budget than my grocery budget.
  • Our cloth diapers: Success! We skipped trying the RLR I’d talked about in the last update in favor of trying a different bar soap in our homemade laundry soap recipe. Dr. Bronner’s is a clear winner over the Ivory bar I’d been using. I’m thinking it was less a mineral deposit issue and more that the soap not rinsing completely out of the diapers (clean rinsing is very important in cloth diapers!). I’m a big fan of Dr. Bronner’s soap anyway and I like the lavendar scent. It’s subtle and my little guys bottom seems to be just fine with it! We’re sticking with cloth and very happy about it.

New challenges for our Rice and Beans Life Frugality:

  • I’ve jumped on board the Food Waste Friday wagon from The Frugal Girl’s call out. I’m excited about how this is keeping me on my toes and minimizing our food waste.
  • Adjusting our prepaid cell phone needs. My husband needs more minutes than we’d previously needed for him so we are working on finding the right balance for his phone. I’ll keep you posted!
  • A friend recommended using cloth napkins to continue our quest to minimize our dependence on paper products in the kitchen. I’m trying to decide if it will be less expensive to make them or buy them. I’m wishing I had an overlock machine just now to make this decision a no-brainer. But I don’t. And buying one just to make napkins definitely wouldn’t be budget friendly (though maybe it would get me sewing more again!). I’m still exploring the best approach for us on this one!
So that’s where we are this week with our Rice and Beans Life and the challenge of staying frugal minded.
Comment Worthy-let’s discuss it further:
What are you doing well with and what’s getting the best of you in your walk with frugality?

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The Most Important Tool in Becoming Debt Free

As my husband and I were discussing our finances this evening, our conversation veered, as it often does, into questions about where we’ve been so we can better determine where we are going. We found ourselves on the subject of discussing what, exactly, was the most important thing  in our journey to becoming debt free. He said something that surprised me but that I found rather profound: “It is more of an attitude than a technique.” I looked at him and waited for him to go on as he was sorting laundry from his most recent trip out of town for work. He said, “the thing is, it’s so easy to talk yourself from a want to a need.” I smiled at him. He did not easily jump on board with our debt free journey. For a long time he humored me but didn’t really embrace that where we were going was not only important but achievable. Over time, as he has seen our debt decrease and our choices in life expand he has become even more enthusiastic about getting debt free than I am. My husband, who once coveted a Breitling watch to the tune of several thousand dollars, is now incredibly excited about a re-issue Army watch instead. For less than $100 (but isn’t sure if he really needs it since he has one that tells time fine now, though it is heavily worn and falling apart and has been to the repair shop countless times in the last two years). He even sold several things he loved in order to upgrade his bike recently. It didn’t cost us a dime. He used what we like to call “found money” in the objects he already owned that he was willing to part with in order to have his better bike. He rides joyfully and often and it is a serious hobby for him so I’m proud of him for doing it this way. His attitude has most definitely changed over the course of the last many years that we’ve gone on this journey to debt free. We both backslide on occasion, but I realize tonight how right he is. It’s easy to talk yourself from a want to a need. We still struggle with this, but a whole lot less often than we used to. There are long lists of items that can be cut from a budget but the reality is that the most important tool is this: It’s more of an attitude than a technique. When you embrace the attitude, the techniques will follow more naturally.

An old favorite picture of mine: Thoughtful by the sea.

Frugal Project Update!

Ok. I figured it’s time to share how I’m doing with some of my frugal projects and approaches. So here goes:

The Paper Towel Project:

  • Week One: We made it!! We got through a full seven days with paper towels left on the roll. I found I had a few busy moments that impeded my mindfulness. My husband enjoyed poking fun at me for forgetting a few times and reaching for a wad of paper instead of the cloth kitchen towel. Even my little ones are on board and it’s going well. Our challenge to get through one week on one roll is now moving into Stage 2: Two weeks on one roll of paper towels. Can we do it? Stay tuned! I’ll let you know in two weeks!

My Household Notebook:

My household notebook is getting plenty of use and is continuing to evolve daily. Like the FlyLady recommended, it’s a slow going project and constantly in development. The things I’ve found that I love having in my notebook are:

  • My husband’s work schedule (it changes a lot and with this insane summer overtime it’s very, very handy to have on hand. We have it in our computer calendar too but somehow having it printed out is easier for us.)
  • My Daily To Do List.
  • My Monthly Calendar (just a print out of my iCal. I print new ones if it changes significantly. Otherwise I pencil it in.)
  • My Shopping List-now everyone knows where to write down what we run out of and no one has an excuse for not finding a writing utensil.
  • My running training schedule
  • Tracking my calories. I’m still working on losing some baby weight (yeah, it’s hung around a little too long since baby is now toddler!) I like having this in a place I look at several times a day. It’s keeping me on track better than I had been previously.

My ongoing challenge that I’m struggling with: 

  • Meal Planning: For some reason I’m a little too loosey-goosey with this. I’m having trouble making and sticking to my plan. I’m still working on it and trying to get the rhythm of it. I like routines (because they are open-ended) but I’m bad with schedules (which are more specific). I’m working on this. I know it can benefit our lives so it’s staying on my list of things to improve on.

New challenges for our Rice and Beans Life Frugality:

  • Our cloth diapers: Ugh. This one is getting the best of me. When we moved to the desert we got hit with having to use what seems to be the hardest water on the planet. I’ve learned far more about water, detergents, soap, minerals, pH and softeners than I EVER wanted to know. I loved using cloth before moving here. But we are having issues with mineral deposits from before we realized we had to have the water softener. Having done a load of research I have found out a couple of things: Very few people in this region seem to use cloth diapers which I’m guessing is because of the water issues and basically, hard water is a pain in the neck. Our water is off the chart hard. BUT, I’ve decided to try a product called RLR (no affiliation, by the way) to see if that helps. It’s supposed to. I really, really, really don’t want to go back to the hassle and expense of paper diapers. Fingers crossed! (Maybe we can get him potty trained shortly and this whole challenge will end naturally anyway!).
So that’s where we are this week with our Rice and Beans Life and the challenge of staying frugal minded.
Comment Worthy-let’s discuss it further:
What are you doing well with and what’s getting the best of you in your walk with frugality?

Is Being a Naysayer Hurting Your Chance at Better?

I read a lot of blogs, a lot of books and a lot of, well, pretty much anything that comes across my path. Heck, I’m even guilty of actually reading some of my junk mail (sick, I know, right?). With so many people struggling financially and the tough state of the economy these days (don’t we constantly hear about this on the news?) I’ve seen a lot of articles and blog posts about how to save money. I’m always looking for money-saving tips myself and trying to share with you what I’ve found to be good (or not so good) for our household. I also read the comments below online articles. Readers have great insights and additional tips. I love reading them  (I also love it when people jump in and add their two cents here as well! I’m grateful for any source of wisdom!).

What I’ve noticed when I go reading lately troubles me. I’ve seen a persisting attitude of “that just won’t work for ME-therefore it’s bad advice!” For example, I recently read a blog post encouraging people to ride bikes or walk more. It had a link to a great little calculator to help determine the potential savings, and even went so far as to admit the thing might not be 100% accurate to each persons personal situation but that it might be helpful and at least interesting to check out. Then I read the comments. There were a surprising number of comments stating  reason after reason why they thought this advice was so off the mark: Can’t ride my bike to work because I live 65 miles from my job. Can’t ride my bike because it’s too hot here. Can’t walk because it takes too long. My town is not bike friendly. We don’t have sidewalks. I shook my head. And then a quote I often hear Dave Ramsey make crossed my mind:

Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.~Dale Carnegie, American author, lecturer.

I shook my head. Personally I love to bike. Our whole family does. We’re that family that you see tooling around with the kids in the bike trailer, using correct bike signals, heading to the park, or the grocery store or the library. We purposefully chose to live close to my husbands job to maximize biking and walking. We live in an environment that often shoots over the 100 mark on the thermometer. We’ve also lived in towns that aren’t bike friendly. We’ve lived in areas that lacked sidewalks. While it made it a little harder, we still managed. Because we chose to.

The thing is, it’s not really about biking or walking being some great avenue to financial savings and a more frugal life that I find to be the problem here. It’s about owning the choices we’re making. It’s about unwillingness. It’s about an attitude of reluctance to challenge yourself. I’m not saying all advice out there is good. Some of it won’t be. But don’t go throwing the baby out with the bath water. If you are happy with the state of your finances or don’t feel compelled to live a better life then by all means, stay put. No one is shoving you of the cliff of making positive changes. No one owes anyone the perfect answer or parachute, either. Sometimes you have to be willing to find the gems that work for you. Sometimes it’s one idea, heck even one sentence in an article that might speak to you. You have to find it and be inclined to see it.

Being willing to try something new or see a solution from a different angle so that it fits you better is all it takes. You have to be willing to take a chance and experience the discomfort of change or newness. And you have to take ownership of your own attitude and how it affects your personal success or failure. Check in with yourself. If you have a habit of being a naysayer-or seeing that glass as half empty-is this blinding you to the positives and the possibilities of better?  I think everyone does it at some point in our lives. But don’t let it get the best of you and be where you stay.  Some times all you have to do to succeed is to get out of your own way.

 Comment-worthy:

Have you gotten in your own way recently? What can you change your attitude about today that might open your eyes to a positive change in your life today?

Do You Read the Box? A Tip on Finding…Tips!

As a kid, I remember sitting at the table early in the morning before school reading the cereal box as I munched on my breakfast before heading out for the day. Over and over again. To make sure I’d read all the words on it (Yep. I’m a reader.). Even the ingredients that I often could not pronounce (and if I were still eating some of those cereals it’s likely I still couldn’t pronounce some of those ingredients!). As I’ve gotten older, and truthfully, since I’ve become a mom, I’ve had a lot less time to read the box. I do scan the ingredient list when I’m in the grocery store. I’m pretty careful about making sure we try to keep things simple and healthful (while we don’t actually use too many prepared foods-I do manage to check the lists on what we do buy). But the other day I found myself with some quiet time while I was making a batch of waffles (I’ll post about my batches of waffles later-I promise!). I found myself reading the back of the Clabber Girl Baking Powder Can. There was a recipe for biscuits. I found myself thinking it was probably a darn good one. Biscuits are the one thing that I never managed to master that my grandma could do with her eyes closed (it was hard to get it just right when she had the art down to a “handful of this and a pinch of that”, I suppose). I haven’t tried it yet, but it occurred to me that if it’s on the back of the Clabber Girl can it might just be worth trying. As I put away the tin of baking powder I curiously pulled down my Arm & Hammer baking soda box to see what was on that one. I’ve been using baking soda for all kinds of things for quite some time. I make cleaning products for my home using it. I’ve had giant boxes of it in my possession. But I hadn’t really read the box. Now looking it over I saw a list of uses for it I hadn’t noticed before: Relaxing bath. Fuller, more manageable hair. Invigorating yet gentle facial exfoliant. I scratched my head thinking “really?” Cool! Very curious now, I pulled out my giant bottle of white vinegar. I use vinegar all over the house too. I clean windows with it. It’s one of the ingredients in my homemade all-purpose cleaning spray in my kitchen. I use it in my laundry. I found a tip for marinating beef and for keeping cut fruit from darkening. Wow. I’ve read long lists of vinegar use tips but hadn’t seen these before. So the next time you have a few extra seconds with that box or bottle in your hands-even if it’s something you’ve used a hundred and one times-take a look at it. You might find a great new practical tip you hadn’t found before!

Check the back of the box-you might find some great tips there!