Stockpiling with little space

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Following a post on stockpiling, one reader commented that she would like to stockpile but doesn’t have the space. Many people, including us, have a problem with storage space. My kitchen is just a small area where we managed to squeeze a refrigerator, a countertop gas stove and a toaster oven. I barely have room for the bare essentials in my kitchen, let alone keeping a stockpile. I don’t have a pantry either.

Read here about creative solutions for stockpile storage. Personally, we keep our stockpile in a cabinet in the guest bedroom. An unorthodox solution, but it will have to do until we have a nice big kitchen with lots of cabinets.

Our stockpile was not created deliberately, it just grew; most often, my husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There’s often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.

I was always of the philosophy that buying something you didn’t plan to buy was still spending money, even if the price is very good. It is indeed a fine line between stockpiling wisely and becoming a pack rat. Unhealthy foods, snacks loaded with salt and sugar, are never a good deal even if they happen to be very cheap. And luxury items won’t help you stretch your budget, no matter how you look at it.

Yes, it’s true that we bought more than we needed at the moment, but back then, we could spare the extra cash. I was very glad we did when time came to cutting back costs as much as we could (even though we always did our best to live frugally).

All over the world, people are struggling with the results of a major recession. People who didn’t imagine it would ever come to that, now have to think twice before buying food. I know it’s unpleasant to think about such possibilities, but it may happen. Being well stocked up on the essentials makes the tough times pass more easily.

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Expecting Expenses

There is a whole industry built around anxious new parents (and grandparents!) of baby “must-haves”, the sole purpose of which is to make people shell out money. We’ve been lucky enough, so far, to spend remarkably little in our babies’ first year, compared to what is considered average. Here is how we did it.

I would strongly encourage you, before you buy anything new, to look at baby stuff people are willing to pass on, or sell after a brief use at the fraction of  its cost. Most baby things only get a very short and gentle use anyway, if we’re talking about a small family. We got a lot of things from family, friends, and off online swap lists/second hand shops.

If you know people are planning to give you gifts for the birth of your baby, make a list of what you need and pass it around, or simply tell them what you need – otherwise you might be stuck, for example, with a myriad of toys your baby won’t look at for another year or so, but without things you’d find truly helpful to have right now.

I stay at home and breastfeed, which automatically eliminates the costs of daycare and formula. We don’t use bottles or pacifiers, and I comfortably do without all the nursing-related accessories such as specially designed nursing clothes, nursing covers, nursing pads, etc. I do love my nursing pillow, which I got from my sister-in-law, but I wouldn’t buy one otherwise.

Some more specifics:

Car seat – if you have a car, of course. That’s something I wouldn’t get used, because of safety reasons, unless you’re absolutely sure it wasn’t involved in anything that could cause it damage. We chose something very simple, straightforward, and inexpensive. It does its job just fine.

Someplace for the baby to sleep – we got a used baby bed (if you do that, make sure it’s safe – no nails sticking out or something like that). It came with a mattress in very good condition, with a washable cover. We paid a fraction of what we would pay if we bought it new. But with our two youngest, so far, we have co-slept most of the time.

Baby bath tub – I know some parents wash their babies in the sink and/or shower with their babies, but I personally have found the bath tub to be tremendously helpful. However, when I’m at my Mom’s, I bathe my babies in a large old pail that I place on the bathroom counter. Mom bathed me in it when I was a baby, so that pail has served as a bathtub for 5 babies now!

Entertainment – Very small babies don’t really need much in the way of entertainment. Mobiles, in my opinions, are hugely overrated – my babies always preferred to be placed wherever they can observe real people doing real stuff. Even later on, you won’t need that many toys. Better keep a few and rotate them. A large number of toys is an insane waste of storage space, since little ones get bored with them so quickly.

Prams/strollers – Not strictly necessary but I’ve found it to be very helpful. We never bought a new one. Sign up to giveaway boards and look for people looking to pass theirs on, or spread word to friends and family. For older babies, it’s even easier. Some months ago, we actually found a perfectly good lightweight folding stroller someone had just thrown out for some reason.

Slings/carriers – Some people say they can’t do without their slings or baby carriers, some say it’s a waste of money and space. It’s very difficult to know in advance what will work for you, so it would be ideal if you could borrow a sling/carrier you consider purchasing, and try it to see if you like it. Again, this can be bought used, and you could make your own baby wrap from simply a very long, wide and stretchy piece of fabric (you don’t need to sew for it, just hem). I love my carrier and take it whenever we travel, but the downside is the summer heat – it can get uncomfortable with a little one pressed so close for a long time.

Oh, and of course, everything is passed on from child to child around here! We didn’t have to get a single new item for Hadassah, because we have so much stuff left over from her three older siblings. She doesn’t seem to mind. :o)

The photo above is of Shira as a baby. It’s hard to believe she is 9 years old now!

Frugal Finds

Above: this armchair, a really great find by someone from the family, ended up finding a home with us because we happened to have an extra bit of space in the living room.

Someday (perhaps when I’m a Granny) I might sit down and compile a little book titled “How to Get Good Furniture for Next to Nothing”. Can you visualize this? Chapter 1: The Landfill. It seems to me this has the potential of a bestseller, doesn’t it? :o)

 
Basically, whatever it is that you need, you can be pretty sure that it either lies abandoned somewhere and just needs a little dusting off, or someone somewhere is looking to give it away or to sell it for a fraction of its store price. It might take a little search and effort, but very often it’s just a matter of looking about. Why bother, you are asking? Well, the money-saving element is obvious, but there are other advantages to not following the want, grab, pay routine.

* You get satisfaction in giving new life to items that were discarded as “useless”. And sometimes, surprisingly, the “old junk” is actually something of much better quality than what you can buy for a reasonable price today. I’ve seen old furniture that looks like it will endure for eternity, but today, I get the feeling manufacturers say, “let’s make junk so it breaks down sooner and people will have to buy more from us!” Thus, if you use the old instead of buying new (when you can) you are withdrawing your financial support from a wasteful industry.

* Since your “new” acquisition cost you nothing or next to nothing, you can get creative with it. Basic carpentry skills can often be applied to making shelves from discarded bits of wood, and you can experiment with paint, varnish, gluing a mosaic of glass or pottery onto an old coffee table (I’ve seen this done very artfully) or whatever your heart desires. Lovely slipcovers and seats can be sewn, knitted or crocheted for sofas and chairs.

* You get the additional benefit of not having to fret as much if your children spill something on the sofa or vomit all over their bed. And as we all know, it will happen. I’ve been to many homes (with resident children) where people have bought their furniture new, and after a surprisingly short time it doesn’t look any better than our “oldies”. I remember Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in her book, “For the Family’s Sake”, told about an old table she had. “It was my luxury,” she writes. Was it such a fancy expensive table? Oh no; it was an old giveaway, and its surface was all ruined, so the children could comfortably draw, paint, and get creative with playdough on that table. And when it’s covered with a lovely tablecloth, it looks good as new.

Of course, if money isn’t a consideration at all, it’s nice to just walk into a store and get yourself whatever new gorgeous set of table and chairs your heart desires. But many people who have very little, waste too much of the little they have on things they could have gotten for free or nearly for free, and that is a pity.

OK, I’m on a roll here. If I don’t stop now I’ll press right on to Chapter 2: Give-away Websites, so I’d better get off my soapbox and wish you good night.

Everything for free

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Well, perhaps not everything – but you definitely can get for free, or almost for free, things that people usually pay substantial sums of money to have.

One of the things that I find most thrilling in our journey towards self-sustainability is not doing without (although it has to be done at times, and can be very character-building), but rather, finding out creative ways to obtain some of the things we need without paying, or with paying much less. How?

1. Make it. This can refer to many things: sewing, carpentry, repair works, building, plumbing, and a lot more. Don’t be afraid to mess things up, or to end up with work that looks “unprofessional”. You learn as you go, and the satisfaction in doing something with your hands is great.

2. Find it. People throw away many useful things in very good condition. The computer desk we currently used was obtained this way, as were other items of furniture in our house. They weren’t thrown away because they were only good for the dump, but because someone was moving and had no room for a particular piece of furniture, or because they bought something new instead. We have also found home utensils, excellent books (in very good condition, too), and more. In time you learn to keep an eye open when you drive by, especially in the last couple of weeks before Pesach if you live in Israel or in another place with a substantial Jewish population frantically cleaning out their homes.

Warning: this can get addictive. While it’s wonderful to save good things from the dump, consider whether you really need it, or your home will soon be overflowing. Ask me how I know.

3. Perhaps someone is giving it away. Look through appropriate websites. There are endless lists of people giving away furniture, clothes, baby equipment, toys, books, and more. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, they say – can’t think of anything truer than that. For example, someone used to have rabbits, and now he has a cage he no longer needs – but we could use just such a cage for our baby chicks.

If you can’t find someone who is giving it away, it is very likely you will find someone from whom you can buy it second-hand, for a fraction of the original price.

4. Barter. If someone has something you need, consider whether you might also have something they need, which you can offer instead of money. It might be something you make at home, or a skill you can trade. For example, one of my neighbours makes really beautiful pottery, and I know she wants chickens. If we have a surplus of chicks this year, I might offer her some, in exchange for a piece or two of her pottery. Perhaps you are a computer ace, know a foreign language, play the piano, have a hand for carpentry, or, in short, have a skill you can use in exchange for getting what you want/need.

Defying the money economy can be fun. It is also a challenge of sorts. Many times, we did one or all of the above (making things ourselves, looking for someone who is giving something away, etc) not because we could not afford to pay, but because we saw no reason why we should. It becomes a way of life. The bonus part of it is bringing people closer. By making contacts through giveaway lists (lately we have been more on the giving side) we met some wonderfully interesting people. Compare this to just walking into a big impersonal store, picking up an overpriced item, and paying for it, perhaps without even saying a word to the cashier.

Simple, rural living: be prepared financially

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Image courtesy of solarhomestead.com 

Many people have this dream of leaving the rat race and the crowded city behind, and moving out to a rural area where they can live a simpler, slower, more peaceful life. “We’ll start a little farm or homestead,” they say. “We’ll live in harmony with nature. We’ll grow a large part of our own food. We won’t need fancy work clothes. There will be so many wholesome attractions that our family won’t need any paid entertainment. We’ll make less money, but we’ll also need less money, and our lives will be peaceful and satisfying.”

That was – and is – our dream, too. But if you intend to follow it, you need to be financially prepared. Moving out to a rural area and/or starting a homestead isn’t a solution for those who can’t make ends meet – on the contrary, setting up such a household can cost a bundle of money in the short-term, and possibly in the long-term.

Read more in my latest MEN post:

“Home maintenance costs money. Land maintenance costs money. Gas costs a lot of money. Whatever homesteading project you might want to do on your property costs as well, from setting up a chicken coop to building fences – though the expenses can vary wildly according to your budget, creativity and DIY skills. It takes a lot of time for these projects to turn productive, not to mention offset the initial cost. And while we love supporting our farmer friends and buying top-quality, organic local produce, it doesn’t actually save money – large chain stores and coupons do, though they are a disaster in terms of food quality, ecology and the community.

Lesson learned: a rural life is not inherently a low-cost life.

Another consideration is that, if you happen to be in urgent need of a little extra money, picking up a temporary and/or second job is a lot harder to do when you live out in the boonies and it takes at least an hour to drive out anywhere. Employment options will be limited, and that’s a fact.”

Reviewing our grocery shopping habits

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Food comprises an important slice of every household budget – a slice that is likely to grow, as food prices are rising. Food is one of the variables of household consumption, together with electricity, water, clothing, entertainment, and miscellaneous purchases. It’s an area where we can exercise a lot of creativity (as opposed to, for example, rent).

We still have a lot of room for improvement, but a fair examination of our pantry, refrigerator and freezer showed that we have actually improved a lot, in points such as:

Shopping less often. We have managed to go down to one shopping trip per week, and sometimes we even pull off a bi-weekly shopping and errands run. This is partially due to more successful list-writing. When composing the shopping list, I began to write down not just things that we almost ran out of, but also things that ran just a little low. Also, if we forget to buy something, now we most often just do without it for a few days, until the next shopping trip.

Diapers and wipes. For seven or eight months now, since Israel got the hang of using the toilet, we have enjoyed the freedom of not having to buy diapers, which has really been a blessing – because we didn’t just cut the cost of diapers, but the need to rush to the store for an emergency pack. Plus, our trash bags last longer because they are filled less often with no diaper-users in the house. Of course, this break is temporary and due to come to an end in less than a month, when new Baby Girl joins our family.

Less pre-packaged foods. In particular cookies, cakes, sweet rolls, etc. There was a time when I decided that we’ll consume less sugar if I bake less. I tried that, and the result was only that my husband started buying cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc, which of course contained much more sugar than what I would have put into my homemade treats. So back to baking it is. Of course if it depended on me I’d bake less and serve platters of fresh and dried fruit, nuts and such like, but one has to be realistic. If the choice is between my homemade cookies and cakes and store-bought ones, it’s obvious that mine are the healthier and cheaper variety.

We also buy less spice mixes, which are mostly a waste – it’s much cheaper to use basic spices and make your own mixes.

Less store-bought bread. We do buy bread for sandwiches in the middle of the week, but I make our Shabbat challah. This saves a last-minute dash to the store on Friday (during which other things, some of them unneeded, are all to often picked up along with the challah).
Better-stocked shelves. I now have a larger variety of beans, grains, lentils, rice, pasta and such like inexpensive versatile basic foods which I can make into frugal meals.

Speaking of frugal meals, most of the meat I cook these days is made in the form of a stew with a lot of rich sauce that can be spooned onto rice or pasta or soaked up with bread. For example, if I make beef stew, one evening we might eat couscous with some of the liquid part of the stew. Then on the next two days we eat the beef. Lastly I take what is left of the stew – mostly liquid and little chunks of meat that fell apart – and serve it with rice or quinoa. This makes an excellent lunch, and a total of four days’ worth of meals – not too bad.

What about you? How are you working on improving your shopping habits?

Rural life and financial security

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When we were about to get married, we knew just how we want to raise a family: we would live a quiet, simple, unhurried life in some beautiful rural place, and I would stay home and raise the children, as they would come.

Ten years and 3 (soon 4!) children later, our dreams haven’t changed, but our perspectives have, with experience that allows us, in hindsight, to realize many things we have missed in the past.

We had a good headstart, financially, and we were prepared to live modestly, which had enabled us to purchase our first little home outright, without getting into debt or mortgage. This was good, but it finished off all our pre-marriage savings, and there was nothing left to do some necessary repairs, which the house badly needed, and when my husband hit a period of unemployment, we eventually had to sell the house for some immediate relief. A lot of money then got frittered away on rent.

We bought another house eventually, the one where we live today, but we then hit another stretch of unemployment, or rather, underemployment, plus a few pitfalls such as unwise investments in projects, and being ill-used by unscrupulous people. This was unfortunate, but it could happen to anyone. The problem was that we failed to take something into account, namely, that in choosing to live in a relatively distant area, we are reducing our earning capabilities, and basically eliminating the possibility to find an extra job quickly and easily if needed in lean times. Spending less is great, but sometimes you just hit that bottom when you can’t cut back anymore, and must earn extra to pull through.

Since we only have one car, I don’t drive, and public transportation in our area is almost nonexistent, we couldn’t even make a temporary switch of me taking a job and my husband staying with the kids, which was, and is, incredibly frustrating, since there were opportunities of jobs five minutes away, but when you have no means of getting there, it doesn’t matter if it’s five minutes away or on Mars. I was prevented from acquiring a driver’s license by 1) all lessons being held in town, so how is one supposed to get there without any means of transportation?? and 2) the prohibitive cost, which is quite a robbery in Israel. Because, you see, around here it isn’t enough that someone who knows how to drive teaches you. Oh no! Even if you know perfectly well how to drive, you still need to take a minimum of 28 lessons (I think) with a licensed driving teacher, which costs a bundle. Sorry for the rant, but I always get my blood boiling over government-sanctioned extortion that robs people of their hard-earned money.

So, for months on end my husband and I would both be home, with the car sitting in the driveway (which, granted, saved on gas), and us going crazy with the despair of not being able to climb out of the pit.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I have to make do with what I have, and find ways to generate income from home. Today, I give nutritional counseling (in which I have a degree), do editing, proofreading and translation, and write both fiction and nonfiction. It’s wonderful, but I wish I had done it sooner, because establishing yourself as a freelancer requires time and dedication, and it takes a while before you’re actually earning. It was also hard to shake off the dogma of the husband being 100% responsible for the income. I do still believe that it makes sense for the man to be the main breadwinner, and that it’s extremely difficult, unreasonable and unfair for the woman to shoulder this burden as well, in addition to pregnancy, birth, and nursing (my husband can change diapers and bathe babies very well, but he can’t breastfeed or do postpartum recovery instead of me, nor can he swap with me and borrow my heavy, tired, pregnant body). However, when one’s family is struggling financially, one of the most empowering things is to be proactive and seek ways out of the rut, rather than only look up to your other half and hope things will improve.

To sum up this long and rather rambling post: if you’re planning on a lifestyle in which you earn less and spend less, in particular if you take the plunge and move to a rural area with the goal of becoming more self-sufficient and producing at least part of your own food, that’s wonderful, and it’s still our path, though it has been rocky and winding. However, you must be prepared for financial crisis, or you’ll find yourself in deep trouble when it hits and you have no way to counter it. So what would I have done differently, if I could (some things really did not depend on me)?

1. Possibly, I would have waited with the purchase of that first home. It’s great to be a home owner, but if it leaves you with absolutely zero in the bank, it puts you in a very precarious position.

2. Once the house was bought, I would have tried harder, and would have been ready to endure more discomfort, to refrain from selling it. Selling your only home does not solve problems, though it may stave off crisis, and is unavoidable sometimes. You have to live somewhere, and loose money inevitably goes down the drain. In hindsight, we could have held on.

3. I would have fought tooth and nail to leave more in savings during that time when we did have a nice income.

4. I would have prepared earlier, and more seriously, to the possibility of having to generate income, by whatever means. Granted, even working from home isn’t always practical when babies come one after another and you struggle to hold your head above water, but I have become a lot more efficient with my time during the past three years, and my heart literally bleeds for all those hours in the past spent on passive entertainment or just muddling around.

5. I would have trusted my judgment more. Not because I’m cleverer than my husband, but because two heads are always better than one. Magnanimously saying, “I’m sure that whatever you decide will be great” may sound nice, but going into all the nitty-gritty together is far more helpful.

The silver lining: we have never been, and are not, in debt. This makes things so much easier and less stressful. Avoiding debt (and mortgage is debt as well) is the best and soundest choice, in my opinion, that a family can make.