Friday, January 30, 2015

The shockingly simple way to start your garden NOW!!!

A hands-off approach to starting your garden from seeds.


I have always loved growing things outdoors, but my feeble attempts to start seeds indoors were always failures. If I did get seedlings going, the hardening off process usually killed them. Last year, I was directed to look up Winter Sowing. I'm not sure who came up with this idea, but Kevin Lee Jacobs writes about it on his awesome blog, A Garden for the House. I suggest starting with Winter Sowing 101.

No grow lights, no pellets, no pampering. This is by far the easiest and cheapest set up I can imagine. Milk jugs act as mini greenhouses. Put them out in the snow and rain, they can take it! Perennial seeds that often need series of freezing and thawing to sprout are ideal for this, but everything that I planted sprouted just fine. Here's how I did it:

1) Collect milk jugs for a few weeks. If you don't drink enough milk or you don't have enough time, ask your neighbors and friends for theirs. You can promise them seedlings in exchange. Other food-safe containers such as vinegar gallon jugs, 2 Liter bottles, and etc can be used. Milk jugs were preferable to me because they resisted tipping over and taped back together well. They also let in enough sunshine, but not too much to heat up the seedlings too fast.

2) Prepare the containers by washing them out and cutting around the center, leaving a small amount attached to act as the hinge. Puncture the tops and bottoms for ventilation and drainage holes. There are many ways to do this. I first tried heating up a screw driver over the stove and melting the holes. It works, but it had a danger factor from burns and made my house smell like burnt plastic. I found that my sharp kitchen shears easily pierced a hole and with a twist, widened into a nice hole.  Since last year, I have learned that I don't need as many drainage holes as someone who lives in a humid, rainy climate. Here in the arid west, one or two holes should be sufficient.

3) Fill bottom of containers with seed starting soil. Last year, I only had potting soil in the garage, so that's what I used. And it worked! I figured if it didn't work, I was only out a few bucks for seeds. But it did work. The moral is- if I was buying soil, I would get the seed starting one, but it's ok to break the rules and use what you have! Moisten the soil with a little water.

4) Sprinkle seeds* on top of the soil, press down, and cover with a little more soil. Use less soil for tiny seeds, more for large ones. Sprinkle a little more water on top.

5) Label the containers and tape them shut around the center. Last year, my labeling washed and sun bleached off. This year, I will find a more permanent way to label. Maybe sharpie marked popsicle sticks inside the container.

6) Place in sunny area of yard, out of reach of animals and secured from wind. I used low boxes from costco placed on patio chairs to protect from frugal schoodle and wind. Again, use what you have!

7) As the weather starts to warm, allow the seedlings to be open in the day, closed at night. This will naturally harden them off.


I was amazed at the success of this easy, inexpensive experiment. I used free containers, potting soil I had on hand, and spent maybe $25 on seeds. When it came time to transplant, I had more seedlings than room and gave away a lot of plants! If I can do this, anyone can! Good luck and let me know how your winter sowing goes!

*As for selecting seeds. Last year, I got a selection of organic, non-GMO vegetable seeds from Costco for a really good price. Flower seeds I got from my yard, Lowes, and the dollar store. Everything grew great and I had a lot of color in my garden and patio pots last year. This is a great alternative to spending hundred$ to buy annuals in the spring!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ditch the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ in favor of an Abundant 2015!





Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It has been our national birthright, no? And yet, pursuing happiness has led to so much misery. Debt, divorce, landfills full of outdated/out-of-fashion goods, and plastic islands in the Pacific. We pursue happiness as hard as we can, and yet it is the one thing that eludes us. 

In 2010, I stumbled across a video that has helped shape my perspective of happiness. Four years later, I am amazed that it only has a little over 20,000 views! Please take less than 7 minutes and watch this amazing talk! 

So what really makes us happy? I would like to put forth the concept of Abundance. The Abundance principle is closely related to the miraculous principle of Gratitude. It is truly looking at our life and everything in it as a gift and a wonder. Enjoying this moment and the people we are with as a miracle. Appreciating what we have and not focusing on what we lack. Abundance is sharing, appreciating, loving, serving, and being loved and served. Abundance is not Spartan simplicity, nor excessive consumption, but it lies in knowing what is enough. Abundance isn’t a lack of striving, but in realizing the beauty of the journey, not just the end result. And in some cosmic way, Abundance keeps giving. Living your life in Abundance just keeps giving more abundance. The ability to notice the miracle of a sunrise, a heart beat, a child’s face- these compound as you walk down the path of Abundance.

How do you get started down the path of Abundance, you might ask? The first thing would be to take stock of what you have right now. Allow yourself to feel real gratitude for those things- family, faith, freedom, health, friends, the beauty of nature, etc. The second phase of Abundance involves selective editing of your life. Remove those things that do not ‘spark joy’. For me, those items are things that take too much of my life energy to maintain, clean, pay for; while not giving a proportionate amount of joy. For me, kids= tons of work/tons of joy! Big/fancy gadgets/houses/cars ≠ tons of joy, usually just tons of debt and headache. This too is a process and doesn't happen overnight. Enjoy the journey! I'm not where I want to be, but I am happy for where I am. The third phase is actively seeking and striving for those things that do spark joy- service to others, exploring talents, enriching your spirituality, learning a new skill or pursuing a new career. These three phases can happen simultaneously and are all on a continuum. Remember that happiness will be found everyday on the path of these phases as you celebrate and appreciate life in all it's imperfect beauty!

May this year be one of Simple Abundance for you and your loved ones! Cheers!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cut Your Cell Phone Bill in Half With a No-Contract Phone


I don't know about you, but I like it when I can get the same thing for half the price. A year ago, I was paying $172/mo. to AT&T for my family's cell phone usage. Here's what it bought me:

*My iPhone Unlimited data, unlimited text, shared 700 minutes talk
*DD19 iPhone 300MB data, unlimited text, shared talk
*DS 17 cheap PAYG phone (because he had lost or broken his good ones) unlimited text & shared talk
*DS 15 (same as DS 17)
(Mr. D's phone is provided by his employer)

Every time I talked to AT&T about saving money on my phone plan, they told me I had the cheapest one I could do. What about lowering my data? "You never want to do that! You're grandfathered in our unlimited plan! You can't even get that plan now!"* And so it had gone ever since I had discovered that an iPhone was an indispensable tool in my back pocket five years ago. So what changed? In the summer of 2013, I discovered Mr. Money Mustache and found the Communications & Tech Superguide (Now Son of the Superguide)! A kind and patient fellow forum-er named IP Daley (who also must have a sense of potty humor!) posts excellent information on all things regarding communication. I won't rehash what he has to say, I suggest checking it out yourself. Ask Daley a question and he will be happy to help, although you might get a "face punch" MMM-style. Try not to take it personally, sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind! In my case, I needed to lose the idea that I needed unlimited everything. Daley always says to use cell phones as a tool, and pay for what you use.

I wanted to write about my own journey with cell phones and MVNOs. And I'll share some tried and true advice. First, what is a MVNO?

Mobile virtual network operator
A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), or mobile other licensed operator (MOLO) is a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which the MVNO provides services to its customers.

From my understanding, it is a cell phone middle man. Usually, a middle man makes the cost to the consumer go up, but in the case of cellular service, a middle man may save you a bundle. For example, I was on AT&T. I wanted to keep and use my same phones. This meant that I had to find an MVNO that uses AT&T towers/technology. Daley recommended Airvoice Wireless as having good plans, service, and track record. I was still worried about service and how this would all work, so I did a test run. My DD13 became a teenager and wanted to have a phone. She really wanted an iPhone (which AT&T won't let you have without a data plan), but didn't need data. She found a used iPhone 4 on a local classified site and used her birthday money to buy it. I ordered a sim card for $5 from airvoice. When it arrived, I got it set up and put her on the $10 plan which lets you send 500 texts or 250 minutes or a combination of both** for $10/mo. I would like to stop here to reiterate some advantages to Airvoice over AT&T:

1) You can use an out-of-contract smart phone without a data plan (using Wi-Fi only)
2) $10 is literally $10- no taxes, fees, and etc.
3) If you set up a plan with auto-billing, the money you haven't used rolls over to the next month. My now 14 year old DD is a super light user and has about $80 in her account. I would adjust to a different plan, but I know she may use more as she gets older.

So the test run with my DD was a success. I finally bit the bullet and ordered sim cards for the whole family and ported our numbers. I gave the kids the $10 plan each. The idea was to have them learn to use texting for conveying important (and whole) ideas.  This worked wonderfully for three of my kids. The fourth was too popular for his own good. He burned through $10 in less than a week. He put more of his money on his account and burned through that too. He's on an LDS mission now and not using a cell phone, but when he comes home, he'll have to get a bigger plan or curb his usage. For myself, I bought the $30 unlimited plan. Talk and text are unlimited, but data has a limit of 500MB. I don't have long distance on my home phone, so I wanted an unlimited plan. I also wanted a little bit of data for when I don't have wi-fi. So here are the new figures:

*My iPhone unlimited talk, text, 500 MB data $30
*Kids plans x 4 $10 each ($40 total)
Total each month $70- Savings $102/month or $1224/year ($2448 for an equivalent 2-yr contract period) And that's with one extra kid than with the AT&T plan!

What happens if my phone dies or drops in the toilet? Well, my phone has already become acquainted with the toilet- turn it off and put it in a bag of rice! We did that to a contractor's iphone 5 that fell from the second story down to a bucket of water. And both phones still work! But if your phone truly dies, make sure you have set aside a bit of the above savings to replace it. Daley isn't fond of iPhones, but I'm a fan and the great thing is that they keep making new models. That means older, but still great out-of-contract phones are available in the used market all the time. I'm not someone who needs the latest model, but you will save enough to buy it if you really want it. I also like that I'm making my kids responsible for their account. We provide a basic $10 plan. This is for OUR convenience, so that we can contact them when we need to. If they want to go beyond that, they can use their hard-earned $ instead of ours. 

So overall, the pros and cons:
Pros
-huge savings
-able to use smart phones without a data plan
-roll over of unused credit
-same AT&T coverage, phones
-no contract, walk away at any time

Cons
-kids' texting is limited (this is also a pro)
-$10 plan will give you a message each time you text or call with your new balance. Some find this mildly annoying.
-Only half of my data plan is loaded at a time. I have to "activate" my second half of data when the first runs out by calling Airvoice. This is a small inconvenience, but it also has a useful feature. This month, with all the Christmas shopping and price matching, I ran out of my first half of data in just a week and a half. That let me know that I need to be a bit more careful for the rest of the month. I set my cellular data to off, and will only turn it on when I really need it for the rest of the month. Normally, I don't use all my data, and I don't have to keep my data off like this.
-no "free" upgraded phones, but were they really free?!

In conclusion, I really like my MVNO, Airvoice Wireless and I'm staying with them. There are options for Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile users, as well. Again, check out the Superguide at the MMM forums! Here are some other recommended MVNO's from Daley's Superguide:
ATT- Airvoice, Pure Talk
Sprint- Ting, Virgin Mobile
Verizon- Page Plus
T-Mobile- P-tel, GoSmart
There may be other MVNO's with plans that work for you, do some research and find out what your options are. Remember, break out of the idea of "unlimited" and pay for what you need!


*Interestingly, I found out that I was using less that 1GB per month at AT&T. And that was when I wasn't being careful of data usage at all. It was hard to find out how much I was using, because my bill would list my usage in KB, which had to be converted to MB, and then converted again to GB. Nice, AT&T!

**There is a way to use data on this plan. It costs $.06/MB, a decent price for data. You have to call and get data enabled on your phone, which is not something I want for my kids, and therefore I pretend it doesn't exist. ;)

*** I have no affiliate links and get no bonus/commission from recommending any links on this page. This is just my opinion and recommendation hoping that it helps someone else.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Save these Jeans!!! DIY Denim Repair


Jeans have history- they live with you, move with you. Each wash and wear make them softer and more comfortable, until the sad day when the waft and weave just can't take any more! Dear Mr. D had such a pair of jeans. Now Mr. D isn't a non-consumer, he is more than happy to replace anything thing that wears out. But these jeans were his favorite. They weren't fancy or expensive, but they fit him just right. When he threw them in the garbage, I promptly dug them out, planning to make them into a quilt, bag, or something else. When he saw them again, he asked if there was a way to patch the hole. Well, yes- yes there is.




Now there are lots of cute ideas of how to patch jeans for your little ones. You can even make toothy monsters out of the hole. But Mr. D's repair demanded a bit more subtlety. I had done this repair once before and thought I would share it on the blog for others that might like to save their beloved jeans. As the old saying goes, "A stitch in time, saves nine". Or in other words, do this repair when you first start to notice the fabric is thinning. You can do this over a true hole, but it may not last as long or look as good.

What you need:

-Sewing Machine
-Denim (or blue) thread $1.99 (use 40-50% off coupon) Of course, you could also use a contrasting thread for a different, less subtle look.
-Heat and bond (I used one that felt like a light cotton muslin on one side and had heat and bond on the other.) You do not want a thick stabilizer, thinner is better. But I did want one that had fabric instead of one that would just pull apart. I bought 1/8 yd for 34 cents and have plenty for several more repairs.
-Scissors
-Iron

Cut a piece of heat and bond larger than the repair.  I rounded corners to help hide the patch. Often the area around the hole is weakening also. You want to extend your repair to an area that is strong.

On the wrong side of your jeans, iron on the stabilizer heat and bond. Follow directions from the manufacturer. 

Now turn the jeans right side out.* Starting from a strong area of denim, start going back and forth over the hole. You can use a straight stitch or a zig-zag. A zig-zag will be a bit more obvious, and will give it a more apparent patch for a distressed look. A straight stitch will hide the repair more.
You are trying to replace broken threads and stabilize the repair; so take your time, go over the entire area, and extend out to strong areas.
It takes a while, but eventually, you will have the entire hole covered by your repair.
Here's a view from the inside
Turn right side out and prepare to receive love and appreciation for your labors! In this case, the thread was not an exact match for the area, but it will work for this repair. If I had more time, I would have found a thread that was a bit lighter. I may go over it again with a lighter thread if it bothers my (very small) perfectionist side.

*If the hole is on the leg or knee, you may have trouble accessing it with your sewing machine. I would suggest unpicking the leg on the side that is not top-stiched, doing the repair, then sewing the leg back together. Sometimes an area is too thick to fit under your presser foot. I would then just remove the presser foot, feed the fabric under, then replace the presser foot.  Let me know how your repairs turn out!

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to cut cable (without everyone hating you!)

Save thousands and still be entertained!

You guys, I had been toying with canceling satellite for years.  I have a small HGTV addiction, the little girls love Nick Jr. and Disney, but the real problem was sports.  Mr. D doesn't watch a lot of TV... unless it is college football season.  The TV is on one game or another until the bowl season is over.  Seven months of the year he could care less if we have a TV, but during the other five he NEEDS it!  

Because of that, I continued to pay $75/mo for the DISH America's Top 120 plan (3 TVs, 1 dual DVR), which was the smallest plan that offered the sports/home improvement channels that I needed wanted.  I've had a plan like this for probably over 15 years, costing me over $13,000 in that period of time.  Now if I had put that money in a money market mutual fund over the 15 years, I could have had an average of $21,000.  That would have been nice.  :(  

But let's not lose sight looking backwards.  After bowl season was over early January of this year, I talked Mr. D into cutting the cord.  I told him if we hated it, we could always go back to paid TV in the fall.  I called to cancel DISH, and they offered me other plans, bundling, and finally a free "pause" for 9 months.  I caved, and let them pause the account.  That kept everything on our DVR, and provided a few channels that would change from time to time.  After a while, our family stopped even looking at the DVR or the available DISH channels.  Football started up again, but now we had an antenna, so all the local networks were available.  Mr. D's follows his favorite team on online radio broadcasts whenever they aren't on the networks.  It's working.  So I called this week and cut my relationship with DISH for good.

So what do you need to cut the cord 
without causing riots in the streets?

1)  You need to find out what local channels you can get.  Start at tvfool.com.  Input your address and find out where your stations are and what kind of antenna you need to get them.  We get about 30 channels locally through our antenna.

2) Buy or better yet, build your digital antenna.  I used this tutorial to upgrade from the rabbit ears I had.  It works great and cost less than $15.  I bought copper wire, because I didn't have any wire coat hangers.  If you had some hangers and scrap wood, you could build this much more cheaply.  
3) Consider purchasing a Roku, Apple TV, or other streaming device.  Our Roku was a factory reconditioned model for $39 and it works great.  You can also stream Netflix on a Wii or Xbox, if you already own those.  There are many channels that are free, including PBS, PBS kids, BYUtv, and others.  If you would like paid streaming channels, Netflix and Amazon Prime are good.  I have Amazon Prime for the shipping, so the movies are a bonus to me.  
4) Watch the movies you already own, borrow movies from your local library, or get a Redbox for $1.29/night.  

Now for the Pros/Cons:

Pros:
1) $900 or more in your pocket each year.  $$$

2) Less screen time.  Frankly, we only have TV on when we really want to watch something. It is not the background noise of our family anymore.  

3) A quieter house (see #2)

4) More reading.  We go to the library almost weekly to find books and DVDs.  Due to #1 and #2, I have come home to find all the kids reading instead of glued to the TV.  It's a good thing.

5) Less of the "gimmes".  Less screen time means less time for advertisers to convince your kids that they need some new toy or breakfast cereal.  

Cons:
1) A bit more of a challenge to catch your favorite games or shows.  Not impossible, just challenging.  

2) Lack of elegance.  With DISH I had a single remote that almost accessed everything. Now I have four remotes standing by.  A more tech-y type person could figure this out, but I'm lazy used to it.

3) Antennas aren't pretty.  My main idea was to put an antenna on the roof, tie into the existing coax cable, and have signal to TVs all over the house.  Maybe that will be a project for next year.  I'll post an update when that happens.  For now, my creation sits on my fireplace mantle looking like my kid's science experiment.  My cable-subscribed relatives mock it, but it's become a sign of freedom to me... and beautiful in my eyes.  
What are you waiting for?  Cut the cord!  
And share your favorite free TV tips and streaming channels in the comments!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Store what you eat... Eat what you store!



I just spent the better part of two days going through my pantry and cold storage trying to find out what I have and what I need.  The stores around me have been offering "case lot" sales.  If you haven't heard of that, you probably don't live in Utah.  We Mormons are famous for several things, but large families and food storage may be two of them.  So the stores around here offer cases of canned or storage items at a discounted price.  Most of the time you have to buy the whole case to get the deal.  If you don't have sales like this near you, you can often request a full case of a sale item.  When I lived in the midwest, grocery managers would often grab me a case from the back.  I've also been known as that crazy woman who marks 48 under the quantity of a raincheck item!  ;)
My kitchen pantry.  Staples like flour, rice, sugar, and oats are in 5 gallon buckets with gamma seals.
I wanted to see what I had and what I needed before heading to the store, so thus the clean-out and organization with the help of my lovely 20 yr. old daughter.  It turns out that I have a perpetual feeling that I am out of tomato soup and buy it whenever it is on sale.  Consequently, I may have a two-year supply. And in contrast, I feel like I have plenty of canned corn, when actually I am completely out.

My can rotation shelf "The Harvest".  
I have struggled with figuring out a system to know what I have and to rotate it to minimize waste.  Just a few days ago I printed out a twenty page inventory system... that I just know I won't use.  Since I have a smart phone, I decided the best system for me was to keep a picture of my food storage in my phone and update it every month or so.  I can zoom in on my canned storage and see that I have absolutely no cream of mushroom soup, so I should look for a sale on that.  I can also plan meals from what I have because I can see it!  I am aiming to have a year supply of food that we can live off, but a three months supply is a good goal to reach for if you're just starting out.  A three day supply of water for drinking, washing, and cooking is also a good goal to aim for.  In most natural disasters, a three day supply would avert disaster for your family.
video
This is a great video showing how you can store food even in a small home or apartment.  It doesn't have to be overwhelming.  Even a couple extra cans or items per week can help you get started.  The other part of this challenge is to eat what you have stored.  Make sure you are eating the older food first, in order to rotate the items.  If you are concerned about expiration dates, call your local extension agent and get another opinion.  My goal is to try not to waste, but "when in doubt, throw it out".  Happy Case Lot sales, everybody!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Extreme Hoarders: Fridge Edition!

After: a fridge that you can find food in! (The before was too gruesome for a primetime)


You guys, I wanted my next post to be about meal planning.  About how planning out your meals and shopping just once a week (or month!) was going to save you and me time, money, gas, and would provide healthier meals.  

But this fridge just wouldn't be ignored!  The bottom shelf (the thing that is also holding the crisper drawers) broke and I was faced with the choice to replace or repair.  Of course, I was going to repair it! This model is perfectly functional and only 8 years old.  Of course, if they made a residential fridge that makes that pebble ice, I'd be tempted...

So I ordered the part from repairclinic.com.  As you can see, I have broken tops to one crisper drawer and the deli drawer, but I decided those weren't "must haves".  The part arrived and I pulled everything out of my poor fridge and realized. 

1)  No one needs a half gallon of relish
2)  Four kinds of syrup is maybe a tad much
3)  No more buying every sauce that they are sampling at Costco! (hint for Mr. D!)
4)  What exactly was that once?
and finally-
5)  We waste a lot of food when we can't find it.  

After a thorough purge and cleaning, I snapped the above picture.  I have room now to see and eat delicious leftovers, I can find what we have before it goes furry, and I can see what we need to buy at the store.  Organizers from the dollar store corral small items and keep spill contained.  I am super happy about this and resolve to keep it up as I attempt to save grocery money by meal planning and food rotation.  Who's with me?!?