Sunday, March 31, 2013

What a Great Day!

Near the end of this arrangement is the refrain 'He is worthy.'
Let us so live and have faith that we may be worthy, too.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rainwater Harvesting

Many of you who follow this blog also follow Being Awake, my alter ego. Sometimes a posting fits the parameters for both blogs, so I cross-reference.  This is one of those posts. Your rooftop can provide low-cost (over the life of the project) additional water for your outdoor use. In an emergency, this resource can supplement your domestic use with some 'home treatment.  There are lots of ways to capture your rainwater.  If your home already has gutters and downspouts, you have a lot more options because you can place a larger volume collection tank right under a downspout.

In addition to the types of collectors in the Being Awake post, you can use almost anything that will hold water. A wide opening is best for lots of reasons of you aren't equipped with gutters and downspout.  Before we installed our system in the back of the house, I put a laundry tub under the drip edge of the house.  It collected a fair amount of water, but because it wasn't covered, I had to use it all within 3 days or the mosquitoes started maturing.  If you have some sort of tub to collect, you could go one step beyond what I did in those days -- get an old screen, from a window or door and put it over the top of your open collection tub. Then you can use the water over a longer period.

If you are blessed with regular rainfall, you can have the pieces of this system identified and implement it only during emergencies to supplement stored water. For non-potable uses other than watering fruit and veggie plants, you'll need fabric to strain the water, a bucket to strain into, a bowl or smaller bucket for the transfer and a way to disinfect the water. Boiling the water works and can yield potable water, but takes a lot of fuel.  If your need is for bathing or clothes washing, a little chlorine bleach may do the trick.  Chlorine products tend to dissipate over a relatively short time, so let the water sit an extra hour or two before washing dark clothing or they may not remain dark for long.

Depending on the geometry of your roof, or if you have a flat roof with canales, you may want a rain chain to help direct the water to your catchment. If you do research and decide you really need one, here's a tip: make your own. The commercial ones are lovely, but I sure don't need $200 worth of lovely. There are a lot of DIY designs on the Internet, like this one and this one.  Or you can just use a big rust-resistant chain you already have. It just needs moderately large links to help direct fast flowing water.

I chose a simpler method. To make this kind, you need pre-rolled wire or use a form and roll your own. I used a form (I used a 2 foot section of 2" PVC pipe), a way to cut metal (I used a hacksaw and some tin snips) and some soft metal wire or tubing. You'll be bending it, so nothing stiff or it will be a real ordeal. The process is a lot like this, except I didn't solder the rings together.

Decide how long a chain you need. For a 2" form, you'll get a little over 2 chain links per foot of material. I had a couple of coupons and a gift card from Lowe's, so I went nuts and bought soft copper tubing -- the stuff that's already in a roll. You may want to use a few separate pieces of the wire just to make wrapping easier. 

Wrap the wire around the form so that it forms a single layer, like you are making a big spring. Then use the hacksaw to cut the 'big spring' along a line that cuts each twist of the spring on one place (A single long cut parallel to the long direction of the tube). If the hacksaw can't get through the full diameter of the metal, use the tin snips to finish off each link ( hence using soft metal). You may need to slide the 'spring' off the tube to make the final snip. You should now have a bunch of links.

Loop these together one at a time and bend each link slightly to close the opening as you go.   After a few links, you'll start to see your chain emerge!

So you can use transform your pesky roof runoff into a useful resource with stuff around your home, or go hog wild with a fancy system, depending on your budget and how much you need the resource!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Put on your socks and shoes!

We grew up frugal.  Not to the point of obsession, but to the point of a balanced family budget, including some savings. Dad was career Army and in those days, debt was a career-ender. We always had what we needed, but not always what we wanted, which is fine because kids always want everything.  Growing up was fun. Whether we lived on or off post, there was usually a wooded area or pond nearby where we could learn and play simultaneously.

So what does this have to do with the title? Part of our basic civility training as children was that we did not 'appear' in the morning before we had brushed our hair and teeth, washed our faces (easy to fake!) and put on our socks and shoes. No fancy slippers, just socks and usually Keds. We could still be in our pajamas. Other than flip-flops, if we appeared without socks, we were sent back to our rooms for them.

So what's the big deal about socks? The right socks cushion your feet and absorb perspiration. Not only does this help keep your feet in shape (Dad was infantry), and reduce shoe odor, but can help extend the life of your shoes. Ahhh, here's the frugal part! 

Have you ever thrown out a pair of otherwise OK shoes due to their odor? Do your shoes seem to melt after several wears, to the point you either sideline them or get rid of them? Do you buy cheap shoes because of this problem? Maybe it's not just the shoes.  My feet are shoe-destroyers. If I don't wear socks or stockings the leather seems to wilt. I have a few pairs of shoes that are more than 20 years old.  I can still wear them, especially a really nice pair of Timberline moccasins with vibram soles, in part because I always have worn socks with them.

What's your shoe behavior? Buy cheap and toss or buy better and take care of them? How about socks? My default footwear includes a pair of Smartwool socks and Teva sandals, year round. I purchase both at Sierra Trading Post. Yes, I signed up for the annoying e-mails, but they often include notices of extra savings. I pay about $5 a pair for what are normally $18 socks. I usually buy the Teva sandals when they are $20 or less. I can toss them in the washer (not the dryer!) when they get filthy and they're ready to go after a few hours of air drying.  I wear them out -- literally wear the treads to nubs.

I buy the best boots I can afford from STP. Right now I'm wearing Lowa's that cost me less than $70 on special, but were originally several hundred.  These have lasted 3 years thus far, and will probably outlive me, in part because I wear socks with every use. 

Even good socks are cheap when compared to the cost of quality shoes and boots. You can toss them if they get a hole or wear excessively in one spot. Don't stop wearing socks due to their cost. They'll save you and your feet a bundle in the long run. Pun intended!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What if?

First, a bit of housekeeping: Welcome new followers to FrugalPrep! Thanks for signing on. If you've read some of the FrugalPrep pages, you know this blog is about those baby-steps to get at least to the FEMA guidelines for family preparedness without breaking your budget. Some of the posts will be about my experiments in suburban gardening, but most will be about different ways to think about preparedness and how to put your thoughts into action.  Thus far, I do not have advertisers.  I posted the buttons for the Food Storage Analyzer and Preparedness Pantry because I find them useful, especially the FSA. The links are wonky because the business changed their URL's, but you can still get to them via the buttons, just need to hit a few more links.  The webguru at has assured me that they are working on the new 'buttons'.

For those who have been with me a while, please check out the other followers. Many have great websites I follow because they challenge my thinking and provide insight on 'how to' on a regular basis. I hope they do the same for you.

The $16 Bountiful Basket yesterday had: 6 lbs of russet potatoes, 1.5 lb broccoli, 1 lb asparagus (tiny baby stalks, yum!), 1 hydroponic butter lettuce, 3 medium zucchini, 1 English cucumber, 3 nice sweet onions, 2 coconuts, 1 pineapple, 2 Texas pink grapefruit and 8 mineolas.  I got my money's worth and saved myself a trip to the grocery store.  Next week the basket should be great for Easter dinner. Want to see if there's one near you? Go to and check locations.

Now for today's content:

What if we woke up to the same scenario that is occurring in Cyprus -- no access to 'your' cash or debit for almost 10 days? What about the potential that IF you get access again in a week or two, you may have much less spendable cash than before the 'bank holidays?' Situations like this -- disabling injury, layoffs etc. may present the same challenge to you and yours.

Now, check your preparedness supplies and plans to see if you and your family could make it through those days. Food? Water? Got 5 or so gallons of fuel for your car? Bills paid so you won't find yourself without power, water, car, shelter, etc?

How about some cash-on-hand in your preparedness supplies? If you need to get to work and it's a long drive, you may need that to buy gas.  Use it sparingly when you need it. You really don't know when the banks will reopen, do you? Virtually all preparedness sites advocate having some, many advocate having 'n' months of expenses in available cash-on-hand, with 'n' being anywhere from 1 to 6.  (yea, right, put by 6 months in cash...) Better if you don't need to use it on everyday items or food -- good thing you have your preparedness supplies!

Friday I went to Target to buy milk. As I was browsing the specials, a thought came out of nowhere -- what if you knew this would be your last shopping trip. What if stores closed due to...whatever.  Is there something we're out of that we really don't want to do without?  There will always be something.  I knew that we had the basics to last a few weeks and could learn to do without the other.

Being prepared is probably a task never really finished. Once you try a little 'preparedness,' you tend to think more would be better -- until you find yourself working toward true self-sufficiency. However, once you have enough put by to last you and yours a few weeks, you've earned a better night's sleep for now.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Yam I am

I love yams. Most of us call them sweet potatoes, but the ones I like are really yams. What's the difference? A truly sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family of plants. Yams belong to to a different clan (Dioscorea), known for their edible tubers, not their delicate flowers. Neither are related to white (yellow, purple) potatoes which are members of the nightshade clan (Solanum tuberosum).  I love yams baked, french fried, souffle-ed, made into soup, made into pies, ad infinitum.  Also, yams are NOT food that will kill you. Check them out.

This year, I had a Food Coop organic yam sprout in the veggie bin. (Be aware, many grocery store yams are now coated with chemicals to prevent the yams and potatoes from sprouting)  I don't like to kill accidental life, especially with such a strong will to live, so I hit Google to see if I could grow the little devils. I found this and this that told me how to get started.

I followed the directions and now have 3 little yam plants (with more on the way) in small pots of soil.
In case you decide you want to join the Yamboree and don't have a source of free bushel baskets or other suitable container, let me help.  I found lots of places with low-cost baskets but their shipping was INSANE -- most more than double the cost of the baskets, i.e. $30 for baskets and $60 for shipping. No thanks. Buckets, old horse toughs or, my favorite, last year's plastic baby pool will do. If you insist on bushel baskets, I found the best deal at Lehman's.  If you buy 4 or more, the price drops to $8 each and the shipping is under $10 for 4 full bushel baskets for a total of around $50. Ya gotta grow about 30 lbs of organic yams for that to break even. 

Of course, you can grow these in the ground but take some precautions. If you have gophers, some hardware cloth under your loosened soil should reduce the varmint's share of your bounty.

There is some goodness to the basket idea. In the hot, dry high desert, they could be moved either into partial shade in summer heat or full sun in the winter. These can also be placed near other plants to provide evaporative cooling and better humidity during the deep heat of summer and under some cover to prevent rotting during the monsoon. Yes, if I use baskets I'll need to grow a bunch of yams to cover their cost burden.  The current price of organic yams is almost $2 per pound. Eventually I  hope to support my habit from homegrown!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Liebster Award Announcements

In my last post, I accepted the Liebster Award(s) with honor and fulfilled part of the voluntary duties.  The post was getting long, so thought I'd continue it in a second post.
Announcement of Liebster Awards

I used several criteria for my nominees. These include content that makes me think or stretches my perspective, devotion to family (including 4-legged) and a sense of humor.

My 3 to 5 Nominees:
1. Tin Can Assassin at Nine Pound Sledgehammer
2. Mr. Dave at the Ridiculous Food Society
3. 2 Tramps at Tramp's Camp
4. Murphy's Law at Lagniappe's Lair

I also offer this one as an Honorary Liebster. I've been following this blog for several months and Barkley Pontree carries a burden of love that we should all honor. Please look in on occasion and offer encouragement. I am taking the liberty of making this Honorary because answering the Award 'duties' takes a bit more time than I think Barkley has right now. However, Barkley, you are welcomed to do this if you have the time and energy and would like the diversion!

Nominees, please see this post for the other 'rules' and benefits.

As nominator, I can ask 5 questions of the Awardees.  They can choose to answer any, all or none! Here they are:

1. You are about to eat your last meal from your favorite restaurant. What is the restaurant and what is the meal?

2. You have been transported back in time and are suddenly a representative to the US Constitutional Congress. What provision (in a nutshell, no need for full legal description) that is not in our Constitution would you champion to have added?

3. You've died and discover that the first part of Heaven is to come back to earth as an animal to watch over your family. What would you be and why?

4. What is your favorite poem or scripture verse?

5. You've just rubbed the magic lamp and have 3 wishes. Share one of them with us.

Congrats and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thanks for the Liebster Award!

Connie from Frugal Living on the Watkins Ranch kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. THANKS CONNIE!!! I've learned a lot from you!

Shortly after, K from Planning and Foresight nominated me too.  THANKS K!! I learn from you virtually every time you post!

My cup runneth over!

From what I can tell, the award is for relatively new bloggers, with 200 or fewer followers. The other rules are:

1. Thank your Liebster Award presenter on your blog and link back to their blog.

2. Answer the 5 questions from the nominator, list 5 random facts about yourself and create 5 questions for your nominees.

3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 3 to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less whom you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have been chosen.

4. Copy and paste the blog award on to your blog. It is an award so show it off.

So, got to follow the rules (which is a rare event for me!).

Answer the 5 questions from the nominator ( times 2):

From Connie:

1. What is your favorite holiday?  Memorial Day.  The weather is perfect, my peonies are in bloom and we formally remember the patriots (with or without uniforms!) who gave and have preserved us a nation. My Dad was one of those, so since his passing the holiday has taken on even more meaning.

2. What would your ultimate vacation be? See #4 below!

3. What’s one thing you couldn’t live without? Lip balm. My skin is really dry and I've had chapped lips since I was a kid. Lip balm is a major quality of life item for me. I love my husband, but he's not a thing!

4. If you won a million dollars, what is the first thing you would buy?

A place (20+ acres) near Albuquerque as a guest ranch where non-profits like Canine Companions and Guide Dogs for the Blind could match people with their dogs and help them become teams.  When the dogs are gone, my friends could stay in the cabins and we could hike and BBQ in the cool mountain air. Life would be like one big vacation!
(Update: That's been a dream for many years. Given the current situation, I might change NM to a place near a town in MT)

5. What is your least favorite thing to do? Have dental work, for sooo many reasons.

From K:

1- What is your favorite color? To look at, periwinkle blue. To wear, jade green.

2- What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Silly Rabbit! There is only one possible answer: African or European?

3- What started you into blogging? A case of the shingles and a prescription for percocet! Seriously, I was loopy on pain meds for the shingles and at the same time really bored and philosophical.
4- What is your favorite disaster/survival movie? Probably the Volcano movie with Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton (Dante's Peak?). It has a lot of cornball bad science, but he's handsome and I'm a volcanic geochemist by education...

5- If you only had three plugs for electricity: What would you have plugged in? (no power strips!) My bread machine, a fridge and use the other to charge my tablet and cell phone. Dear Husband will just have to learn to like whatever hairdo I can manage without all the hair tools! 

5 Random Facts about me:

1. I am 100% a dog person. Although I'm allergic to cats, it wouldn't make any difference.
2. I really love making preserves from fruit I grow, so I just planted 3 more fruit trees, including 2 Montrose Apricots (late bloom, late harvest, self-fertile, edible pit). These were developed for cold areas at higher altitude and until recently were very hard to find and expensive. I found a low-cost source and pounced!

3. Sometimes I think too much. I'm a scientist by nature and education. Much of life is a science experiment, from developing bread recipes to deciding what route to take to town. If the experiment fails, try another approach! Yup, I'm a senior citizen geek!

4. I'm a terrible housekeeper. Not a candidate for the Hoarders shows, just not very tidy. It could be related to #3 -- I only see the relevant information. The mess is just background noise.

5. Not a big surprise, but I'm a fiscal conservative. Maybe Gilligan's Island was too much influence on me as a child.  I still remember the 'play' they performed that featured the song "Neither a borrower nor a lender be...." Still good advice!

This post is getting way too long, so I'll continue the Award-passing part of the process for the next posting. Thanks again to Connie and K from your humble servant, MM.

Welcome! and other info

To 3 new followers! Thanks for adding your names to the roll. 

Regular readers, please check them out -- there are new blogs in there to read and follow as well.

Sorry for the hiatus.  I'm working on a long post and a contest offering.  I hope to have them done very soon!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh my!

Here in the southwest US, we have forest fires in our mountains.  Every few year you can expect one of those to be near you if you live away from the large urban centers like Phoenix or Albuquerque. Similar to some other types of natural disasters like major floods, landscape-altering fires disturb the patterns of wildlife. Predators usually move through large territories.  Recent studies show that a male mountain lion may have a range of 30 square miles.  Bears in our area will move from the high mountains to the small river many miles away (and back), using stream beds as their trail. Coyotes are transient as well.

When normal routines are perturbed by landscape-level events, wildlife may move toward new sources of water, hunting or forage.  A coyote will eat a rabbit or a house cat with equal relish.  Bears don't distinguish between wild berries and your berries. Mountain lions may develop a taste for goat or chicken if the deer population has been reduced through fire or floods.

In a suburban area, firearm deterrent of these major predators is likely illegal. Code where I live is no firearm discharge within a quarter mile of an inhabited structure, and then only into a backstop. So what can you do to protect your pets or small livestock?

Many good blogs and web publications address building varmint-proof enclosures for your chickens, rabbits, goats, etc.  My favorite is Backwoods Home. Use their search for anything from regular to solar-powered coops.  Probably some great plans for rabbit hutches, too. This post is not about that.

You can throw rocks to persuade varmints to leave your area. For me, that works if the critters are within 20 feet of me -- the old upper body strength in women thingy. If I have to get that close, I'm not going out to shoo! them away.

This is really about slingshots. When the structural approach fails, or is too expensive for you, with weapons fire and rock throwing eliminated as options --- try a well-placed piece of gravel. Slingshots are ancient weapons that have passed that test of time. Your slingshot and the one used by David against Goliath probably won't look the same, but it's the same idea. Propel a projectile through space with great velocity and hopefully equal accuracy.

A slingshot can be as simple as a Y-shaped stick and some big rubber bands to a more expensive high-tech model like this or this fancy one.  Ammo can be anything from pea gravel to steel shot. You can use big rocks or small. In most environments, running out of some form of ammo wouldn't be a challenge for a slingshot, even if you have to break into your pinto bean or mismatched nuts-and-bolts stash.

My choice is the old standard wrist rocket. You can buy one for $5 or more from eBay, yard sale or retailer or make one. What these all have in common are the very stretchy tubing and a wrist-stabilization system. My targets are usually raccoons, who love both apples and chili peppers in my yard and can get through my obstacle course of deer-defenses. The deer can be moved by just walking out and clapping my hands.  They are also less likely to charge and bite me. I actually try not to hit them, just plink near them to get them moving.

You will need to practice. A garden glove may be helpful early in the process. Once you are a relatively good shot and start to use the weapon to dissuade wildlife, remember to aim for the hindquarters.  You are trying to move them out of the area, not maim them.

If you goal is the kill the animal(s), you must check with your local law enforcement to find out who can and how this can be done. Don't be surprised if it's either expensive or prohibited. Also, killing one coyote is unlikely to dissuade the other 30 in the area from coming into your area.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

MRE Minestrone Review

I received several copies of the Minestrone MRE entrees (side dish?) recently and thought I'd give one a try. Our friend K at Planning and Foresight hasn't reviewed this one yet, so hopefully I can save him the trouble.

The nutrition facts on the packet are promising.  Low fat and 220 calories per serving, mostly protein and complex carbs. Lots of vitamin A, C and iron. Good stuff inside! Once open, the contents come out as a soft slab that breaks apart into your bowl.

I heated it in the microwave, and it was very thick.  I did not like the consistence at all, so added water.  It helped, but the general mouthfeel is somewhere between slimy and gooey.

I added more water until it actually became soupy.  The stuff has a strange bitter aftertaste, so I added some salt to help mask the odd taste.  Otherwise, it tastes mostly of beans with a hint of pasta.

After trying a few other tricks to make the taste more appealing, I quit. If I could eat chili (allergic) I'd give it a big squirt of hot sauce, which fixes everything, right?

Guess I'd give the unaltered minestrone a one on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being really yummy. With a blast of tobasco, for those who can, it has potential to be a two. It's nutritious food and edible, but not necessarily a pleasant dining experience. I'd love to hear from someone who has broken the code on making minestrone MRE's taste better.  Thanks in advance.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Living Below Your Means

We've all heard about or know people who live beyond their means. A house that's a bit more than they can afford, a couple of high-end new vehicles, mom gets her hair and nails fancied-up about $200 worth a month, etc.  They are always stressed out trying to make ends meet.  Some of them lost sleep, their homes or more in the last few years. The current state of the US and global economy can't be helping the stress level there. 

The concept of intentionally 'living below your means' is a way to avoid that trap. It is a frugal lifestyle that means you can be prepared for everyday life and for the emergencies that may come your way. You can have money left over at the end of the month! How do you live below your means when the messages we hear every day are that we NEED certain things or are ENTITLED to others -- at our expense, of course. Better yet, some messages state that we absolutely DESERVE their product...Oops, I let it slip. They are trying to sell you their PRODUCT. You aren't entitled to it, you don't deserve it and you sure don't need it.  They need to sell it to you to get your hard earned cash for themselves.

Remember, the cash you earn is the translation of your time and energy into a form that you can trade for stuff.  Living below your means allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor, have what you need and ENJOY life, not be stressed out about it or owe big chunks of your future life for stuff you don't need.
Here are some ideas about living below your means. First, pay cash for stuff like cars and groceries. Yup no credit or financing for these. Save up for a car. When you fork over the dollars from your savings or investments, it's like real money.  You'll probably choose the RAV4 rather than the Escalade. It's much easier to save up and then part with $20K than $60+K.

You also save THOUSANDS of dollars in interest.
Financing is more like 'funny money' -- but it is obligating a chunk of your future to work for the financing company to pay the interest and principle. Don't do that.  Ever hear the term 'debt slave?'  Here's an example of the long-term savings: A $20,000 car at 5% interest for 5 years costs you an extra $5,667 in interest.  That Escalade with the same terms will add a whopping $18,420 to the cost of the car. Unless you have a low price deal AND 0% interest, don't even think of financing a new car. Instead, drive your car for years after it's paid off while saving up for the next, gently used one.  We tend to drive ours until the cost of a required repair exceeds the blue book value of the vehicle. A 20 year old car needs a new head gasket?  Time to look for a replacement.

How about where you live? Rent a place that allows you to save money until you have enough saved for the 20% down on a house. You don't want to get stuck with mortgage insurance.  It's much more expensive than saving for the 20% down. Do the math to decide if it really makes sense to buy at all.  If you do buy, explore how long you want to finance the home. Shorter term means less interest to the mortgage company. A 20 year mortage versus a 30 year mortgage can save you $30,000 for every $100,000 of the loan value.

We took out a 20 year mortgage and paid extra principle when we had any cash to spare. Don't fall for paying an extra month's payment each year.  They are still getting every cent of the interest. When you pay extra principle, you are reducing the real, high dollar interest. Check out a mortgage calculator that shows how much of each payment is principle and how much is interest. Use one that shows the entire life of the loan and educate yourself! Paying extra principle when early in the loan life saved us over $10,000 in interest during the high-interest, low-principle phase of our payment schedule. Once the interest is less than 10% of each payment, you can also opt to stop paying extra principle if money is tight. We paid off the mortgage in 12 years by adding an extra $100 in principle each month, more when we got raises or a tax refund.  What a great present to your family it is to actually own the house your live in, rather than wasting your refund or annual bonus on frivolity. That $10K in saved interest can go toward your next car!

When you qualify for a mortgage, most realtors only show you houses at or above the maximum you qualify to buy.  Shoot for about 60% of that amount and don't go over 75%.  Don't sign up to be stressed out in this economy!

OK, no that you have a home and car that are affordable, what else can you do to live below your means? Ladies, your hair and nails are naturally beautiful. Learn to file and put clear polish on your nails. Find a cut that allows you to grow your hair out and put it in an attractive low ponytail, braid or bun. Don't spend money on a tan that will damage your skin and will later require you to buy more expensive treatments to make you look younger!! A little powder, blush, mascara and lipstick lets your true beauty shine through. (See Trish McEvoy site for classic make up looks, not necessarily to buy her product )You will look very classic, more professional and have more in your savings. If you are unmarried, an additional benefit is that you are more likely to attract a solid, stable mate when you look like a thoughtful conservative woman. My personal experience is that guys who like flashy high-maintenance generously-painted women aren't necessarily the best choices for life partners and fathers. I've seen too many of them abandon their families when the paint wears thin and the going gets tough.

The next item is WARDROBE for both work and play. Two pieces of advice: First is NEVER pay retail. Second is learn about classic styles and colors, and only buy classics for your work wardrobe. Being a current fashion maven is expensive, wasteful and only impressive if you're in the fashion biz.  If you want to look 'au courant,' buy this year's blouse to wear with your 5 year old classic black or navy suit. A great place to buy work and play clothes is Sierra Trading Post (I've gotten some beautiful suits and dress shoes for work at well below retail there). Sign up for their e-mail deals to save more. I buy my play clothes there and get great bargains on good quality clothing that lasts for years. Another place to look is consignment shops near expensive neighborhoods. When I lived in San Francisco in my late 20's, friends and I ventured up to Marin County and found fabulous deals on expensive, gently worn clothes for our work wardrobes. If you want more insight into classic work wear, this is a great overview.

Vacations and hobbies are another area for living below your means. Look for nearby vacation spots or even working vacations with non-profit organizations.  Some will provide you with lodging for your efforts. Visit local landmarks. Find a rural community and learn about the lifestyle and local natural environment. If you must travel, rent a modest cabin or stay in clean local Mom and Pop hotels rather than the large expensive chains.  Check out the Trip Advisor website to find inexpensive but nice lodging.  If you go to a tourism destination, go right after the seasonal rates change to a lower fare. A few years ago I went on a retreat the week after the rates went down. It saved me 40% (and I got a free room upgrade which made it more like 50% savings) and nothing was different from the previous week except the price and the date. By choosing a place that was within half a day's drive, I also saved a bundle versus flying somewhere else for a similar experience.

By now, you're getting the concept. Start to extend this thinking into all your spending habits. It may be nice to shop at Safeway, but the same stuff is up to 20% less expensive at Target (if you have one with a grocery section).  Do you really need fresh cherries in January, or can you get some fruit that is on special because it's in-season? Do you really NEED the coffee that's $12 for 12 ounces, or will the 2+ pound can for $7.99 brew well enough? When I was working, breakfast was a peanut butter and jam on whole wheat sandwich en route to the office. It did the trick and was about $1 a day less than high protein cereal and milk. (Easier to eat while driving, too!)

Repeat the above for 20 years and you'll have bought a modest home, have reliable transportation and stretched your income to pay for preparedness supplies, more education for yourself and your family and you'll be the least-stressed family on the block. You'll have savings (prudent reserve) to cushion the blow of those little emergencies in life. You'll also have explained and taught these frugal concepts to your children. What a great gift it is to live below your means!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

6-month Review of Used 2011 RAV4

It's been 6 months and I've put twice as many miles on the new-to-me RAV4 than I had planned. (Background is here.)  I took a trip to Idaho in January that I NEVER thought I would take. Living in the southern half of Arizona, I could see snow on the mountains but had no intention of ever driving in the stuff. That leads to the one minor regret I have about buying this vehicle.  I did not get a RAV4 with 4-wheel drive -- Figured front-wheel was enough for me. It would have been, if not for the unexpected trip north in winter to help my brother who had hip-replacement surgery.  Don't get me wrong, the vehicle performed well for the 1200+ miles each way.  I never felt tires slipping on the road. I'm sure it was an operator headspace problem, but I just felt less confident about my safety during two or three particularly wintery hours out of my 20-something hour drive.

So here's what I like about the RAV4:

1. Very good mileage, even when carrying a load. I've doubled the mileage since buying it and improved the cumulative MPG from 23.9 to 24.8, probably from using the cruise control as often as possible.

2. You can carry a load -- I filled it up for my long drive.  I could have built a cabin in the woods, furnished it, and not needed to hunt for food for a month with what I fit in this seemingly small SUV.

3. Seats are comfortable, front and back.  I am really picky about headrests, and these don't force you head into an uncomfortable position.

4. Not underpowered for most circumstances.  Some of the long uphills in Utah challenge it to keep above 65 mph without the MPG going to single digits, but I wasn't in a huge hurry.

5. Corners nicely and has a reasonably small turning radius. Not as small as a Subaru I had years ago when I lived on the UP in Michigan, but still pretty small.

6. Quiet. Very little road noise.

7.  I'm 5'6" and can put one of the back seats down and sack out with room to spare.

8. My 6' tall husband is much too comfortable in the driver's seat when I let him drive.

9. So far, only normal maintenance has been needed -- oil and filter change, tire rotation, etc.

10. Has a cabin air filter, which really helps because I have allergies.

11. The front-wheel drive is enough to get you into a lot of places off the paved roads.  Haven't really tried cross-country, but have been on a couple of fairly ratty 2-track roads and she did just fine.

12. Some cool technology, like the instantaneous and total cumulative MPG and outside temp displays. Remember, my old car was a 2000 Honda, so times have changed and I am playing catch-up.

13. Really good visibility -- lots of nice windows and no weird architectural blind spots.  My brother has a Toyota Cruiser (FJ? BJ? Cruiser) that has some nasty blind spots in places you need to have visibility when backing out of parking spaces. Bad design.

14. The ground clearance on the RAV4 is very good -- higher than several other vehicles in the under $20K slightly-used price range. The little Scions and similar cubish cars have much less clearance.  In fairness, I did not drive a KIA Sedona, so that may be a comparable vehicle for ground clearance.

15. Several good storage spots to keep personal items nearby, but out of sight, while driving.

16.  Sound system is OK -- not a high priority for me as long as I can get clear reception on the radio or hear my Bob Marley driving CD, so it may be better than I think.

Here's what I don't like:

The 2011 standard model doesn't have a way to connect my ancient phone to a hands-free system that is integrated into the vehicle.  The 2012 did, but you needed blue ray capability. Heck, if my crummy old phone had blue ray I wouldn't need an integrated system for hands free!  I'd just get one of those ear thingies!

Also not crazy about the 2-tone interior on this one. It's mostly sand beige (good) with some black accents (not good).  The black dashboard is fine for winter, but by mid-May I'll be begging for one of those cheesy velour dash covers in a light color to avoid a generous blast of hot air in my face every time I get in the vehicle.

I haven't used the roof rack, so can't comment about that, but it was there if I needed it. I'm also completely ambivalent about the 'moon-roof.' If I'd bought new, I definitely would have skipped that extra.

ACCESSORIZING YOUR RAV4:  I bought a cargo net and a cargo cover for the rear storage area. They are very useful and easy to use. I anticipate getting the aforementioned cheesy dash cover and probably will have a trailer-hitch attached.  I don't anticipate pulling a trailer, but one of those small extension carriers would be great to carry a 5-gallon gas can and one or two 20-lb propane tanks.

OVERALL, I'd say that using a 2011 RAV4 as your way to get 2 adults and up to 2 children out of an area on existing roads in ADVANCE of an anticipated potential emergency-- say a Hurricane Sandy -- is a reasonable, relatively low-cost choice. I'd definitely go for a 4-wheel drive if encounters with snow or loose sand would be part of your preparedness scenario.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bartering for beginners

Many blogs have articles on bartering that go into great detail about security, third parties and attracting larger audiences.  Intellectually it all makes sense, but that's a lot to take in if you've never tried it.  How do you get started and develop bartering skills without getting screwed in the early deals? How do you maintain your information security about having some preparedness supplies yet 'put it out there' that you have something to trade?  I've just had my first private barter experience and thought I would share it with you.

My across-street neighbors are part of my neighborhood preparedness team (I'll call him 'Mike' for ease of the post). Because of our location, we have some ability to control entry to our part of the neighborhood in an emergency. In conversation, I asked if he had need for an item I bought, even though I didn't need 'it.'  It was a good deal and it is something in short supply,  so I thought someone I know might buy or trade for 'it.' Mike had no need for 'it.'

A couple weeks later, Mike asked if I still had 'it' and we discussed a trade.  Turns out, a friend of Mike's was in need -- got caught short.  Mike traded with me -- not sure what he got from his friend for 'it,' other than good will, but not my business. I got several useful or hard-to-find items for my $17 initial investment, so I'm happy.  Mike seemed to think he had gotten a good deal as well, because at the last minute he threw in an extra bit of goodness -- a couple of new but inexpensive pocket knives that would be good for future trading. I wasn't even waffling about the deal at the time.

The lessons I've learned about learning to barter include: start local, with people you trust. Use your personal network. Don't start out trying to drive the hardest bargain.  In small trades, think more about what you need or want (or can trade easily), not about the retail value you paid for your trade items. In a real emergency, expensive stuff may be worthless and stuff that's cheap now may demand the highest 'prices.'  It's OK to hold out for something you want -- that's different from driving a hard bargain.  Example: I was offered some MRE entrees.  I am allergic to chili and other peppers, so I specified that I would trade for entrees that did not have peppers as ingredients.  That worked out. Mike also knew of an item I wanted for my first aid kit.  He had an extra one that he threw into the deal -- possibly knowing that in an emergency I might use it for a member of his family.  Smart trade, Mike!

Last lesson: If you know that your trading partner is going to trade the item with one of their other contacts, don't pry in to that transaction. It's not your business and it could hurt your future transactions with both parties. You are looking for a deal that is fair to you, not the best possible deal in the world, even if it is a 'smaller world' than we have today.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Do the math for stealth bargains

Sometimes frugality can be hidden from view because of the way we think. We all develop a way of looking at the world that sets patterns in our perception.  One of those applies to the 'least cost' way of looking at staples.  There are some food supply items that I buy at Marshall's. Huh? Yup, the discount department store has some items that bring a punch to the pantry.

These two are high on my list.  When I open a box or bag or whatever, I rarely use the entire contents because I'm now cooking for 2 people. My preferred storage container is a reusable glass jar, especially the euro style with the air-tight gasket.  I find them at Marshall's and Ross for between 2.99 and 5.99 each, depending on the size and country of origin. I prefer the Italian ones, will buy US or Spanish made.  I do not buy the Chinese or plastic ones.

Occasionally at Marshall's, I'll find jam or honey already packaged in a reusable euro-style jar (some also come in nice-looking drinking glasses). At first, they seem expensive, but you've got to look at the entire product and do the math.  If 2 pounds of honey in a 1 liter euro-jar is $14.99, what is the cost breakdown?  A 1 liter euro-jar is $4.99. That means the 2 lbs of honey cost $10.00, or $5 per pound. How much are you paying for honey locally? I pay about $7. So I can get a bargain by buying the 'expensive' honey occasionally.  I use it next in the queue and save my local honey in storage. That puts the reusable jar to work sooner.

I've found a similar bargain on some preserves made by the US company, Clearbrook Farms. It is really good stuff. When they have it at Marshall's, it's $7.99 for 1.5 lbs.  (It's twice as much in a full price store, so not a bargain) The jar would cost $3.99. That puts the contents at less than the grocery store cost of Knott's jams, and it tastes much better.

The other benefits include not feeling guilty throwing out glass jars (no glass recycling here) because they have no matching tops that will seal.

So what stealth bargains have you found by doing the math?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Consignment shop experiences

One of the ways we can add to our larders is through selling stuff that we truly no longer need or use. If you have the time and patience, you can try eBay or Craig's List (which I use for higher value items that are easy to ship).  If you don't mind getting pennies on the dollar (at least where I live) you can have a yard sale. Another way to recycle your stuff for some greenbacks is through reselling with a 3d party -- consignment shops.

Consignment shops are not created equal. Each has its own rules, what it will take, how it prices merchandise and how you get paid.  My early experiences were not satisfactory. The first had a diminishing payout policy -- essentially charging me rent for the floor space. If it sold in the first 30 days, I got 60%, and my pay out decreased by 20% per month, but I could pick it up after the first 30 days.  The convoluted rules essentially meant that the shop owned my stuff if it didn't sell in 90 days. What a racket, as I also had no say in where within the shop my stuff was displayed. Thanks anyway.

The second one I tried paid cash or store credit upfront. The cash payout was fairly low compared to what they were charging, but they took the risk re: whether or not it sold. If you took store credit, they doubled the payout. The work wardrobe I was recycling was expensive, good quality stuff and I'd be getting less than 10% on it, so I passed. I was still working then (and paying on a mortgage) so it was more advantageous to donate it to Goodwill for the tax deduction.

Third time looks like the charm. I took a box of good quality work wardrobe to a local shop (mid-month). I selected items that reflected the season, mostly woolens with a few spring items, and made my own list of what was in the box. The owner took a quick look and said she would take it all, acknowledging the quality of the items. She initialed the list, issued me a seller number and my work was done. Her policy was that she did the pricing and took 30%. I gave it a try and was very impressed.  My first check arrived last week. Six items sold.  She had a list of what sold and for how much. Total sale was $85 of which I got $59 + change.  Push the EASY button for that one.

My "lesson learned" is to shop around. Don't feel like you just have one option. Even in small towns you may be able to convince a regular shop owner to try selling some consignment items.  Know what terms you are and are not willing to accept. Know your stuff, too. I'm not talking about selling family heirlooms or original art, but your used mass-produced clothes, dishes you've replaced or kid's toys. Provide neat, clean stuff. Polish shoes, wash and press clothes, hose off kid's plastic toys. That extra $50 now and then is real money from stuff you weren't using that can be used for other stuff you need.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cooking with Stored Food Products

For about 6 months, I've been experimenting with the Emergency Essentials dehydrated onion and carrots, freeze-dried celery and tomato powder from their My Choice line. I thought I'd share my experiences. First are the onions and carrots. I'm hooked on these. I rehydrate with some hot liquid and then treat them like fresh.  The onions will turn golden brown like fresh, but they take a little longer. The carrots saute well, and if you rehydrate and cook them for a longer period, can also make good puree. What I especially like about these products is that I can use just what I need and not worry about wasting the other half of the onion, for example.  Fewer former vegetable science experiments can be found in my fridge, I promise!

I love the tomato powder.  I was very skeptical about this stuff. I was so wrong. I hope to never buy another can of tomato paste or sauce.  (Maybe some day I will grow and can my own!)Yes, this may seem comparatively expensive, but I can't count the number of times I threw out a few tablespoons of unused paste or sauce in the past.  No longer a problem! I can make exactly what I need. The flavor is fresh, better than the stuff coming from the cans. I'm hooked -- spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, jambalaya, soups whether as the main sauce base or just a flavoring, this stuff is worth the $6.50 for the #2.5 can.  My first can lasted several months of regular use.  A tablespoon or two makes about half to two-thirds of a cup of tomato paste, or a cup of sauce. Just add water!

I'm not as crazy about the freeze-dried celery. It takes longer to rehydrate than the other items, probably because it is so dry that it floats, so you must work with it to make it rehydrate.  It does add some celery flavor and color. Some dishes like jambalaya require celery, and if you don't have fresh you can make this work.  I used this to make roux several times, along with the onions and carrots.  It was fine, but I had to allow an extra few minutes (beyond the time needed for the dehydrated foods) to rehydrate it.

Hope this is helpful.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Don't be fooled by seed packets!

Over the past year or two, I've noticed seed packets displaying ORGANIC on the front. Who cares? I think it is an effort to fool or confuse new gardeners and people who want seeds in their preparedness supplies. First, the term ORGANIC is not well defined legally.  Second, where it is defined, it has to do with HOW the 'plants' that produced the seed are grown. The immediate growing conditions and environment -- no pesticides or use of only natural fertilizers. It has nothing to do with the level of hybridization of the seed itself.  An organic seed can be so hybridized that seeds from their fruit are sterile, and it can still be sold as 'organic.'  These could also be seeds for genetically modified plants.

Most people who want to save seeds from their produce want HEIRLOOM seeds. These are seeds that have experienced minimal hybridization and bear seeds that are fertile and will produce fruit or vegetables similar to the ones of the mother plant. An HEIRLOOM tomato can be grown to maturity and the seeds will produce plants with the same type of tomato, unto multiple generations as long as the seeds are pollinated by a similar heirloom tomato.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

Years ago I saw a copy of this book by Carla Emery at the local bookstore. It was probably just before Y2K.  I bought it, and despite living in the suburbs, found a lot of pertinent info in the book. She covers so many topics in an amazing amount of depth. If you want to know more, you can do other research or get another book....  (I copied the image from Amazon, so it won't open here)

Since then, both Carla and I have updated the book.  She goes first, then I buy the new one. The 40th Anniversary Edition has just been published. It's a whopping $20.45 on Amazon (a $ less from other sellers), which is less than I paid for the first copy I bought. Fortunately it is a wildly popular book, so the Amazon price has come down.  The last time I looked at it, about a month ago, it was $25 and change. It is worth every penny as a quick reference, and could be your primary reference in an extended emergency.

If you have an extra $25 (find something that will sell w/ free shipping on Amazon to equal the $25 free supersaver shipping) it's a good investment.