Top Money Savers

Above: growing some of your own food is excellent, but one must give it time

For those just venturing out into the field of frugality and a more self-sustainable lifestyle, here are some of the things I find most helpful:

1. Cooking from scratch. This really is a no-brainer. As a rule (though there might be exceptions), ingredients cost less than food. Flour is cheaper than bread, vegetables are cheaper (not to mention healthier!) than pre-packaged soup, and whole chickens are usually cheaper than chicken parts (and you can use the carcass for making rich soups and stocks). Dry beans are cheaper than canned ones. Oh and of course you get an even better return of your investment if you grow your own.

2. Making your own cleaning products. Apart from making and using my own soap, I also clean with a mixture of vinegar and water, and the windows, mirrors and taps come out squeaky clean. I will probably look into homemade replacements for fabric softener once my stock runs out.

3. Buying the best quality you can afford. This can be a double-edged sword, because it’s easy to get carried away. Recently, a neighbour of ours wanted to get “the best” antenna for his internet connection. Well, he got something that could probably transmit a signal from Mars. It was ridiculously expensive. We, on the other hand, did a careful evaluation and bought something adequate that does the job. On the other hand, it doesn’t pay off to buy something cheap and of low quality that will soon fall into disrepair.

4. Growing a vegetable garden and raising your own livestock. To this I would add gathering wild foods, or taking advantage of abandoned fruit trees. We do that every year.

A warning about raising livestock – it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn’t go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost.

5. Thrift shops and op shops. A very good idea and there isn’t much to add. There are enough people who have more clothes and things than they can ever need, want or use – and some of that inevitably trickles into thrift shops. I know, because I used to be one of those people! One of my favorite things to wear for yard work a sturdy denim skirt which was priced at a second-hand store at 3 shekels (less than a dollar). I have worn it at least 3 times a week these past two winters, and it’s perfect for working around the house and yard.

There are of course many other great ideas, such as stockpiling, mending and repairing things, revising your internet and phone bills (you might find out you’re actually paying for something you aren’t using, or paying full price when you are entitled to a discount), but time is too short to expand on each of those right now.

It seems to me this often boils down to a difference in attitude – would you rather do it yourself, or pay for the convenience of having someone else do it for you? There isn’t a right and wrong or black and white in this, it’s all a matter of priority in every specific area of your life.

What are your top money savers?

Harvesting and Using Carob

carob powder

Although it isn’t quite carob season yet, I’m already gearing up for it, especially now that I have a nice new food processor which is going to make turning the pods into powder a breeze! Those dark brown pods are just loaded with nutrients, they are naturally sweet, which means that when using them in baking you can use less added sugar, and best of all, they can be picked for free!

Read more about harvesting and using carob in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in similar climates), and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer. They keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it at your convenience. Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. Choose the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.”

Image above: carob powder in the process of making.

Just Being Home

Image result for there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort

I think the best, most effective, and most enjoyable way to save money at home actually isn’t about pinching pennies, or utilizing the contents of our freezer and pantry to the utmost efficiency, or saving electricity and water (although all these practices are good and valid, of course). It is simply staying home, as opposed to running/driving about.

Of course, we all like to go out sometimes. Day/field trips, visits with family/friends, even shopping trips are fun – but it’s all about the proportion of time spent in vs. out (by “in”, I also mean on your lot – in your garden, on your deck, on your sun roof, etc, not necessarily in your living room).

It is really quite straightforward: when you are pleasantly occupied in your home, instead of browsing shop-windows, for example, you have less temptation to buy stuff you don’t really need. Also, you don’t waste money on gas.

Naturally, this means you have to put in the effort to make your home a place of fun, enjoyment, wholesome activity, family togetherness, usefulness, comfort and recreation. And there is really no limit to all those things, even in the smallest, most humble home.

This doesn’t mean you need to have expensive decorations or furniture, or spacious rooms. A welcoming home is cozy and well-organized, without being oppressive to children or visitors (as in, making people wary of touching anything for fear of ruining a perfect arrangement).

A day or two ago, my daughters complained about “having nothing to play with”. Now, if you had seen their room, you would have known the claim was simply ridiculous – because though we’re not at all consumerism-driven when it comes to toys, still, gifts from grandparents and friends, and giveaways, etc, make for quite enough to be getting on with. As a matter of fact, they had a couple of new board games and puzzles they had hardly touched. All these, however, were lost in a jumble of toys all piled atop one another.

So, you need to make books, games, toys, and art and craft supplies easily accessible.

Another point is to create inviting areas for all sorts of activities: reading, drawing, sewing, etc. We have one all-purpose table in the kitchen that serves us for eating, studying, ironing, board games, and all sorts of projects. Being so much used, it’s easy for our table to overflow with stuff. I must be careful to keep it clean and clutter-free, so that when my children want to draw, they won’t need to restrict themselves to the last tiny corner of free table space.

Do interesting things at home and thereabouts. We currently have seeds going on indoors, several experiments on the go, our chickens, our garden, and always plenty of reading to do. Naturally, in the winter when it’s too cold and rainy, and in the summer on the hottest days, we are more restricted to indoor activities. The spring and autumn are the pleasantest seasons where we live.

PS: Isn’t it funny how some of my favorite Jane Austen quotes are actually put in the mouths of characters I can’t stand? The above “staying home for real comfort” was said by Mrs. Elton.

Why I love bartering

Image result for barter

As terrific as it is to buy from small local businesses, bartering is even more awesome. It allows one to bypass the money economy entirely. When I trade something I have a surplus of for something I need, I feel like sticking my tongue out and saying, “ha ha ha, mighty Tax Authorities, I fooled you! You won’t get any share of money from this exchange!” (Very mature, I know). Also:

1. Bartering fosters close community ties and allows one to meet awesome, like-minded people. It develops personal connections that may grow into real friendships.

2. Bartering is the very essence of the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. In season we may have so many fresh eggs, for example, that we literally don’t know what to do with them – but other people living right next to us are in need of those fresh organic gold protein nuggets. They, in their turn, might have something else we need (fresh veggies, artisan products, skills). If each side takes something they don’t want/need and trades it for something they do, everybody wins.

3. Bartering is creative and allows for much more interesting business-making than just stepping into a store and buying whatever you need.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“While I’m not naïve enough to believe we can opt out of the money economy altogether – the modern world is too populous and complex for that – bartering can still work exceedingly well in small communities with close-knit personal relationships where people choose to earn less, spend less, and support each other rather than a large chain-store or a mega-farmer.”

The rewards of making bread

bread

Above: a fresh, hot out of the oven, deliciously smelling loaf of bread with onions, caraway seeds and poppy. It was made, in concession to my family’s preferences, with instant yeast and half whole wheat, half white flour. 

Bread is one of the most rewarding and cost-effective things you can make in your own kitchen – anything you bake yourself will save you money, too, vs. any store-bought bread of comparative quality. Far from being time-consuming, it simply requires some planning ahead. Here is the total time it takes to produce a beautiful loaf like the one I made yesterday afternoon:

  1. Mix dough – 15 minutes, more or less, including kneading.
  2. Wait for dough to rise: this varies according to weather, flour used, and yeast (instant or sourdough starter). Can be anything between 1 and 24 hours, but during this time you don’t need to babysit your bread – you just put the dough in a warm place to rise and go on doing other things.
  3. Punch dough down after it has risen – 1-2 minutes.
  4. Wait for dough to rise again: the second rise is usually shorter.
  5. Roll out/shape into loaf (or loaves): 5-10 minutes.
  6. Bake: 20-40 minutes, depending on size of loaves and heat of oven.
  7. Clean up: 10 minutes max.

Total work time: 30-40 minutes. This really isn’t so much at all, when taking into account the deliciousness of the bread and the fact that I know exactly what I put in it (olive oil, organic maple syrup and home-grown eggs, vs. cheap commercial oil, white sugar and I don’t know what else).

So roll up those sleeves, take out your rolling-pin and get to mixing, kneading and baking. You can read more of my posts about bread-baking here, here and here.

The things you will never regret

In our previous home, we had a separate room for a home office. Such privacy is very convenient, but it is also the pitfall of the computer junkie (which, I admit, I am). I could tuck children into naps or, at a period of time when I didn’t have any children young enough to need naps, I could let them watch a movie – while I got into the office to check my emails, etc.
The problem is, the “etc” only too easily turns into watching silly YouTube videos, participating in draining online discussions, making frivolous Google searches (“why does the top point of my left ear sometimes itch?”), and keeping up with the social media. The power of the click is just too alluring.
Of course, there are also the good things – reading excellent helpful articles, writing letters to friends, taking care of personal projects, working on my books. However, the good things are even more dangerous, in the way of justifying an extravagant amount of time spent on them. If you watch a video of a cat playing the piano, you’ll feel guilty for wasting your time after five minutes. But knitting how-to videos are okay, right?

Unfortunately, I became feeling entitled to that office time, alone behind closed doors. It was my time; I needed it. So when naps were broken, or squabbles interrupted movie time, I became unreasonably frustrated. I don’t have an exact estimate of how many hours were spent on lawful pursuits, and how many on mindless web browsing, but there is no doubt a large chunk of my time could have been better employed.

In this house, I have one computer in the living room for everybody’s use, faulty internet connection and a little one that really isn’t a very good sleeper. And I’m happier than ever; this change has been the best thing that could have happened to me. It taught me to prioritize; on a good day, I might have half an hour after lunch for answering emails, browsing ads, etc, and if I’m not too tired there’s an hour or two at night when I can write, read, research information or watch a movie in peace and quiet.

The thing is, when I look back on times enjoyably spent with my children – whether reading together, or taking nature walks, doing crafts, playing games, even just watching a movie together – I can’t think of one hour I would rather have spent doing something else. Even if a baby is colicky or teething, it means a night of precious snuggling with someone who needs me, just then, more than anything. I might be very tired, but I have no regrets.

But when I remember my “me” time, my feelings are not so unequivocal. There are many pages I wish unread or unwritten, many videos unwatched, many games unplayed, many conversations unspoken. Not because these things were bad in themselves, but because they took away from the truly important things I should have been doing.

You will probably never regret spending time with your children. The same cannot be said of other things, be it personal projects, volunteering, hobbies or social commitments. I keep that in mind every day, and it makes all the difference.

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Speaking on another matter, I’m very excited to tell that my upcoming novel, Wild Children, is now on Kindle Scout – which is essentially an Amazon-based contest the winners of which get their book signed up and promoted by Amazon. You can read the book description and first chapter and, if you feel it deserves to be supported , nominate it on its Kindle Scout Page.

Butter, eggs and food security

Last week my husband went grocery shopping and, though butter was on the list (as it always is) he came home without it. Upon my inquiry he told that plain simple unsalted butter was simply missing from the shelves, and there was nothing to be found but the fancy imported spreadable brands. This has lasted for some days now; butter, an important staple in our daily menu, is missing from the dairy aisle.

Of course, when there’s an overall abundance of food, it might not seem so very important. We can have toast with cream cheese instead of butter for breakfast. Butter can be replaced by coconut oil in baking. But in our culture, so used to affluence and to store shelves groaning under the weight of any food imaginable, it seems almost incredible that one might step out to get butter (or anything else, really) and find out that it’s not to be had.

I was born in a country where food deficit was the daily reality. There was no hunger, but it was common to walk into a store and find half its shelves empty, and make do with whatever was available. People stockpiled canned and dry goods and non-perishables; it was plain common sense.

Above: whole grains and pulses, stored in a tightly closed container, will remain in good condition for years and make a compact, useful, cheap and readily available food source. 

We might not like to hear it or even think of it, but a time may come – and not in the very distant future, either – when food is not as readily and abundantly available as it is today. Some products may become less common than they are now, on a temporary or permanent basis. Others may simply become more expensive. Either way, people who are opting to learn food security skills today will be the gainers.

Stockpiling is one valuable practice to be learned. It makes very good sense to have a nice stash of products that can be stored for a long time, rotating them every few months or so. Canned food, rice, beans and grain of all kinds, flour, yeast, salt, non-perishables such as soap and toilet paper, and much else, can make a nice safety cushion for emergencies or simply for lean times. We have lived largely off our pantry for months on end during several periods.

Growing your own wholesome, fresh food is the next big step. A productive vegetable garden and a chicken coop, even a very little one, contribute a lot toward the goal of food security. Even just having plenty of veggies and eggs can provide one with a variety of delicious meals. A couple of goats or a cow will further enrich the family’s diet. If we had a dairy animal now, we wouldn’t care if there is any butter at the store or not! I remember an egg deficit time a couple of years ago – we were lucky to have eggs from our chickens and so didn’t feel it at all. It might not happen soon, but I’m aiming to have a larger, more consistently productive vegetable garden, more chickens (and maybe other poultry), and dairy goats again.

Another thing to do would be to learn about foraging and which sources of wild-growing food are commonly available in your area. It can be berries, fruit, herbs, mushrooms, and much else. Always play safe and only consume what you know for sureto be edible.

If you are just beginning to learn about food security, I heartily recommend perusing the writings of Jackie Clay, a homesteader with many years of experience under her belt, and a real powerhouse of optimism, cheerfulness, resourcefulness and determination. You can start by looking up Jackie’s articles on the Backwoods Home Magazine archive, reading through the Ask Jackie archive, and visiting her blog.