Blueberry Picking

About a year ago, I found out that there is a U-Pick Blueberry Farm in our area–Leavelle Farms! I was so excited…until I realized that it was already closed for the year. 😦 Bummer. I was determined not to miss it again, though, so I “liked” their Facebook page to make sure I was notified when they reopened.

They opened in mid-June, and I kept trying to schedule a trip out there…and kept having conflicts come up. I’m actually glad that I didn’t get to go sooner, because Michael was able to go with us when we finally got to go! Woohoo! I love a family adventure!

We headed out mid-morning on Saturday. We arrived to find the weather pleasant and the sky overcast–perfect berry-picking weather!  The farm was perfect–plenty of bushes with lots of berries, easily accessible bathroom (essential for a pleasant outing with kids), friendly owners, and only $6 per GALLON of berries you pick! We picked and picked…even through a rain shower. We all got a bit wet, but we also left with a full gallon of berries to enjoy.

It was a wonderful day, but I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves…

(I apologize for the focus issues in some my pictures. I’m still working on getting used to my camera, and I get in too much of a hurry sometimes.)

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Note that the focus here is on the bush, not the adorable face…should’ve switched to manual mode… 😉

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Note that NOTHING is in focus here…I like to call this one “auto-UNfocus”

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Marked improvement. I love this shot.

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All of my guys working together…smile.

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And finally, my little drowned rat. 🙂 Sweet boys, sweet berries, and sweet memories. You can’t beat that.

We had so much fun that I gathered up my mom, my niece and nephew, and our awesome neighbor friends and went back on Monday! We gathered another 4 gallons between the three families! There are now 12 quarts of berries in the freezer to get us ALL through the winter with muffins, cobblers, and other blueberry dishes. 🙂

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I’ll have to share my recipe for blueberry cobbler that came out of this adventure soon, too. 🙂 Yum!!

 

 

Extreme Couponing?

It’s Sunday morning, and you know what that means…COUPONS! It’s a time to grab your paper and pray that the coupons that you saw forecasted online are actually IN your area’s paper (since many offers are regional, and I often don’t live in the right region apparently).

Once you have seen what coupons you have, it’s time to hit the match-up blogs and sales papers to plan your shopping adventure. Plan, organize, clip as necessary, print online coupons, strategize, anticipate stock shortages and create alternate plans…

That’s what I did every Sunday for the several months that I now reflect on as my “extreme couponing” experimentation period. I was good at it too. I would often come home with 75% savings or better. My husband was in awe of my savings skills. My children detested shopping with me.

I had the binder. I knew the rules. I was rocking the shopping scene.

I was also making about 15 trips to different stores every week. I would often visit multiple stores in the same chain to get all of the deals on my list because of stock shortages. I was obsessed with getting good deals. My mind and day were consumed with planning and executing detailed shopping plans to avoid missing out on unbeatable deals.

Was it worth it?

I had a very well-stocked pantry. I had a stash of toiletries that I had purchased for little or nothing.

So why have I not rushed out today to get my 4-6 copies of this week’s coupons? Why do I have absolutely no idea what is on sale this week at the local drugstores? Why is my printer silent?

Here is my take on the pros and cons of extreme couponing.

Positives of Couponing:

  • I saved money on things that we use a lot like mayo, salad dressing, sauces for cooking, etc.
  • I saved money on toiletries. I haven’t bought razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, or deodorant in over a year.
  • I increased my awareness of price cycles, sales gimmicks, marketing strategies, and real prices.

Negatives of Couponing:

  • I spent money on things I didn’t really want/need or never used.
  • I spent time and money on couponing outside of the products I bought (buying papers, ink, etc.).
  • I made extra trips to the store and had the extra stress of trying to shop with my kids without messing up my deals.
  • I had the pressure of making sure that I didn’t violate any ethics issues in the execution on my awesome deals.
  • Couponing consumed my mind.
  • Buying things that I didn’t really need or use led to additional clutter in my home.
  • The time and energy that I spent couponing and shopping reduced the time and energy that I could spend on my home and family (cooking, cleaning, and parenting took a backseat to deals).

For me, the cons outweighed the pros. I returned to shopping without a binder of coupons. I stopped stalking savings blogs for freebies and money-makers. I didn’t leave everything behind though.

Here are the things that I took away from my venture into the “extreme couponing” world:

  • Extreme ANYTHING is usually not a good idea. Moderation is key. Shop smart, but don’t obsess on deals, prices, sales, and stockpiles.
  • Pay attention to sale cycles and base prices for the products that you buy often. Shop ahead when you find a great price. Tomatoes for $0.52/can? Stock up! Just make sure that you only buy what you will USE. It’s not a good deal if you don’t use it up before it goes bad.
  • Don’t waste your time obsessing on the prices of things that you buy infrequently. Does it really matter if you save $0.50 on something that you only buy every 6 months?
  • If you don’t buy it regularly already, don’t buy it…no matter how good the deal! Spending $3 on a $15 product is not a good deal if it then sits in your closet because you didn’t need it to begin with (not that I have an automatic air freshener sitting in the bottom of my pantry or anything…).
  • Check deal-matching blogs if you want, but don’t obsess over “missed” deals.
  •  There’s a price for every coupon you use. Just use what you can easily get and forget the coupons that were in the paper that you didn’t get last week. The paper probably cost more than you would have saved!
  • Make sure you’re not sacrificing a clean and orderly home for a stockpile of “deals.”
  • Put your family and their happiness before shopping trips. Necessities are different—sometimes we HAVE to go to the store amidst protests, but if you’re just trying to “score” the great deal on deodorant…listen to the cries of your children.
  • If you’re too wiped out after shopping to cook, clean, love, or care for your family, you have things backward. Step back, reassess, and reorganize those priorities.

Needs vs Wants: Dishwasher

dirty dishes

dirty dishesEasy call, right? A dishwasher is obviously a need. In these rushed days, who in their right mind would opt OUT of having a dishwasher?

The situation is this…my dishwasher is dead. It developed a terrible sound, followed by a terrible smell, and utterly failed to wash the last several loads of dishes that I forced through it to a decent level of clean. Once I was sure that it was dead, I did what any normal homeowner does when a major appliance bites the dust–I went shopping.

I went to Sears first because (1) we have a card there and (2) our last dishwasher was a Kenmore, and I liked it a lot. I found a model that was perfect almost immediately. It had hidden controls (since I have a toddler and don’t like my dishwasher turning on at random times of the day), it had bells and whistles (something like a thermoblaster area for pots and pans…sounded perfect for those dishes that wait a week to be washed), and it had a moderate price tag for a washer with those features ($600…when sitting next to the $2000 washer, that looks like pocket change!). I always shop around though, so we left without even talking to a sales rep.

We went to Home Depot on a whim, but they didn’t have anything that could beat the Sears machine. Since I am not one to snub my nose at a discount, we also went to the local scratch-and-dent store. They had a washer with the hidden controls for $349! Of course, it didn’t have a thermoblaster, but it was also almost half the price.

At this point, I’m about ready to whip out the debit card and go for it. Of course, I know that I really need to talk to my husband about it before spending that kind of money, so I left.

After leaving the stores, I started having those guilty second thoughts. I remembered my efforts to rein in out spending habits. I remembered our decision to stop relying on credit for major purchases. I remembered my budget guide that tells me to save money specifically for big purchases. I remembered my resolution to be a lot more strict about needs vs wants with myself.

So I started washing my dishes.

Know what? My glasses aren’t nearly as cloudy as I thought they were. They actually sparkle. It also didn’t take that long to wash a day’s worth of dishes. Of course, I’m still washing because I had a LOT more than one day’s worth waiting on the new dishwasher.

The time I spent washing my own dishes gave me time to really reflect on the usefulness of a dishwasher and the habits that it creates in my kitchen. Here’s the problem: the more I rely on my dishwasher, the more dishes I allow to pile up.

Think about it this way. If you know that you have to wash the dishes by hand, are you going to let them sit in the sink or on the table overnight? No! Knowing you HAVE to wash them by hand instead of just throwing them into the dishwasher, you are more likely to just go ahead and rinse them off right after dinner. Newsflash: when you wash a dish immediately after using it, it comes clean with almost NO work! Holy cow!! (I know, I know…some of you are thinking that it should have been obvious to me much sooner than 28 years old, but I have always had a dishwasher to depend on.)

After all of that introspection and dish washing, I have decided to do something really crazy. I am going to wait to buy a new dishwasher until I can pay cash for it. I don’t want to put it on a credit card, and I don’t want to undo our progress toward having an emergency fund for a “want” that I can do without.

That means that I will be without a dishwasher for at least 3 months…one of those months, I’ll still be working outside the home. I think that it also means that I will be a lot more conscious of using only the dishes that are necessary when cooking and serving meals. I washed 36 cups and glasses today. That’s A LOT of cups and glasses for a family of 4…especially when we aren’t at home most of the day 5 days a week!

I have had Zander, my niece Katie and my nephew Joe playing at my house today. They have each had a single cup from this morning when they first started playing till now. They will keep that cup until this evening.  I have had to remind them and rescue the cups from the sink a few times already, but  I know that they will get into the habit.

Baby steps.

What do you think? Could you live without a dishwasher? What would you do without before giving up your dishwasher?

Cutting the Budget “Fat”

I have been trying to “cut the fat” from our budget today. It’s not easy, but here’s what I have found:

  • I called our telephone company, and managed to cut out a whopping $5/month from our home phone/internet bill. Of course, I could just cut off the home phone entirely, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. Soon maybe, just not yet.
  • I called our auto insurance company, and got a few good ideas about how to cut our premiums, but we’re really using most of the available discounts already. I’m going to get my info together and call about adding our homeowners to the policy to see if we could save on both, but that’ll be a task for another day. No direct savings here.
  • I reviewed our power bill and saw that we have reduced our average consumption from April to May even though it was hotter in May, so that’s good. In fact, we’ve dropped our budget billing amount by $17/month!
  • I’m seriously considering cutting off our satellite TV. It’s $90/month, and we watch a handful of TV hours a week. A little more soul-searching will be required before this decision is reached. I did cut off the extra receiver that we don’t use but have paid for about 6 years longer than we needed it. $5/month saved there.
  • I cut off the DVD service for Netflix, saving $7.99/month.
  • I cut off the Equifax reporting for Michael that I have let dangle for WAYYY too long. There’s another $14.99/month.
  • I cut off my subscription to WildTangent games since I really don’t use it much and don’t need to be playing computer games in my free time anyway. 🙂 $6.99/month saved.

Grand total: $39.97 of cut-off stuff + $17 power savings + lots of things to think about = not a bad day’s work

Baby steps…

Here are some other areas that I’m working on:

  • Using meal planning to cut grocery spending in HALF from May to June
  • Driving less, watching gas prices closer, etc. to cut gas consumption by $60 (getting it within our new budgeted level)
  • Eating at home more…MUCH more…to reduce our eating-out budget by 66%

Do you have other ideas on how to cut the budget?

We are Papertowel-less

A little over a month ago (April 28, to be exact), I posted this comment on my Facebook page:

“Ok…I have issued and accepted a challenge to myself. I am trying to eliminate the use of paper towels in our house. My goal right now is to make the 4 rolls that I have left last at least 2 months. I will not buy any more paper towels until July 1. I have plenty of kitchen towels and rags, cleaning rags, and even some homemade “clorox” wipes. I am about to wash the cloth napkins that have been sitting in my linen closet for 6 years waiting to be used. Game on! :-)”

Since that day, we have used less than 1 roll of papertowels. Yep…the other three are still sitting there collecting dust.

Here’s what we are using:

  • cloth napkins for meals
  • flannel squares for quick wipe-ups (faces, noses, hands, etc)
  • kitchen towels for dishes, cooking, and such (I keep a clean one out at all times)
  • kitchen rags for washing dishes
  • retired rags for floors, yuck messes, staining messes, and things that need to just be thrown away (I wash a lot of them, but some things just need to go in the trash!)

We already had a lot of these things hiding in our linen closet. It was just a matter of rummaging through to see how we could use what we already had. I started out using the “clorox” wipes, but have wound up using them only rarely. I usually just grab a rag and a spray of whatever cleaner is closest…or a microfiber cloth. Those things are awesome! I use microfiber for messes that would have usually required a good bit of cleaner or scrubbing, like my flat cooktop after using it to knead my bread dough. 🙂

I have realized that I’m not a huge fan of WHITE napkins, for obvious reasons if you have kids and serve spaghetti. I spent $4 on a couple of yards of printed darker fabric that I’m slowly hemming into napkins. I also discovered that old flannel baby blankets can be cut into the most perfect little rags for toddler-related clean ups. I hated having to run to the closet for washcloths every time I needed to degunkify that percious little face, but I didn’t want to spend  money to BUY even more stuff. One of the points of this whole project is to save some money while lessening our impact on the enviroment. I can’t do that if I’m buying more and more. So, I took a pair of pinking shears to a white blanket that was stained beyond hope anyway, and sent them through the wash with my fingers crossed. Unlike my flour-sack towels, these didn’t ravel AT ALL!! I forsee the demise of a few more blankets in my house’s future…

The only thing that we use papertowels for is really grease. The few times that I have cooked sausage, I drained it on papertowels. I may try it on my flannel rags and rinse them with a little dawn, but for now, I’m ok with this occasional usage. Once we’re out of those 4 rolls though, there’s no looking back! (of course, at this rate, that will be some time in 2013)

The best part of the whole process was the moment that my husband told a friend that he’s really been enjoying using the cloth napkins! He said that he wasn’t too sure about it at first, but he’s really gotten used to it. *smile* I love affirmation. I hope that he’ll look back on a lot of the changes that I’m trying in our house with the same happiness.

The Great Laundry Wars

A pile of purged clothes

I hate laundry. It is probably the greatest contributing factor to the overall messiness of my house at any given time. I don’t mind washing and drying it…I really don’t. It’s just that I often forget that it’s in the washer, and then it has to be washed again. Or I don’t have enough red clothes or delicates for a load, so they sit there and piled under for so long that I forget that they are there.

The thing that I hate most about laundry though, is folding and putting it away. Confession–we usually just get dressed from the couch/baskets. When I get all fired up and actually fold and put away clothes, it confuses by husband and oldest son. They can’t find anything to wear. Sad but true.

This struggle with laundry isn’t a new thing. I remember my years of high school at the Alabama School of Math and Science (a boarding school for nerds like me…I loved it!) where I would go the whole 6 weeks between trips home without washing clothes. Of course, this meant that I collected a LOT of clothes and learned to wear clothes more than once (a good and bad habit all rolled in to one…). It also meant that the whole weekend I was home, the washer and dryer never stopped.

One of the habits that has most enabled this aversion to laundry is the collection of clothing. I rarely get rid of clothes, and I frequently receive hand-me-downs or gifts of clothing. Because of this clothes-hoarding (let’s call it what it really is people), I CAN avoid washing and putting away clothes. Even if I can’t find the top that I would really like to wear, there is always another one that will work close at hand. Who cares if I have 25 t-shirts? That means one is always clean, right?

Until recently, I didn’t fully realize that the AMOUNT of clothing that I owned was one of the reasons that I so hated doing laundry. I would often say, “we have too many clothes,” but I never really acted like I believed it. I would occasionally get rid of a few pieces that were severely damaged or just ugly, and I told myself that I was purging. Ha!

In the last few weeks, I have really gotten serious about reducing the amount of STUFF in my house. I am tired of living in a house that can’t really be a home. Our stuff is out of control. It is time for change. I have spent a good amount of time reading through blogs on minimalism, frugal living, and cleaning/organizing, and I have made some major realizations about my life and home.

I always have gotten frustrated when I tried to organize my stuff. Marla at FlyLady.net helped me to realize that the “a place for everything and everything in its place” rule only works when clutter is not taking the “place” of the things that I actually use and love. Simple concept, but earth-shaking to my way of life. She also helped me to realize that my perfectionism is one of my greatest liabilities. I won’t let myself achieve anything in small steps. I force myself to try to do everything immediately, and by doing so, set myself up for failure every time.

A few minimalism blogs that I discovered helped me to start a war on my over-consumption and over-stuffed house. I don’t need all of this stuff to be happy. In fact, the more I get rid of, the happier I have become. The blogs are theminimalistmom.com, becomingminimalist.com, and thenonconsumeradvocate.com. Since my “awakening,” I have purged 24 large garbage bags of stuff from my house. Most of it was clothes. Most of the clothes were mine.

I have been doing a lot better about keeping up with the washing of clothes since I got fired up by the purchase of a new washing machine, making my own laundry soap, and a general cleaning fever. We also had to take the laundry room door off the hinges to get the new washer inside the room. We had planned to switch it so that it would open out, but we didn’t get around to it immediately. I got a baby gate for the doorway to keep the little man out, and I have decided that I really like it this way. No door means that the laundry room is never “out of sight and out of mind.” I also keep the room much neater because of its visibility. It’s great!

My cleaning fever has not helped me conquer the laundry couch issue though. As you see below, I have reduced the pile to the point that you CAN tell that there’s a couch underneath the clothes, but it’s still not a usable piece of furniture.

The Laundry Couch

The Laundry Couch

It’s MUCH better, but not fixed. So, as I was standing at the couch, trying to make myself fold clothes, I went into full-on ruthless purge mode. Here’s the result:

A pile of purged clothes

Casualties from the Laundry Wars

I purged two full black garbage bags of nothing but MY clothes. This is after the weeks of purging that I had already been through, so my husband was baffled when I walked in with huge armloads of clothes AGAIN. I am getting rid of anything that doesn’t fit right, doesn’t flatter me, doesn’t go with anything else that I own, and that I have too many of. I don’t need 24 solid colored t-shirts. I’m keeping a few of the best ones and getting rid of the rest. It doesn’t matter if I WILL wear it. What matters is whether I have 6 of the same thing! If I still have something that I wore when I was dating my husband, it’s time to let it go.

One other piece of wisdom from the FlyLady: when you donate something that you don’t need, you’re blessing someone else. When I let go of a dress that I really loved once upon a time, I can have peace about it because I know that someone else is going to love and enjoy it now. I’m not putting it in the trash. I’m sending it to bless another person. That thought just makes me smile.