Cleaning Up

This blog seems to have become a saving money blog of late. Mostly it is because I feel guilty about staying at home with my son who at 14 is technically able to supervise himself. In reality though, I have noticed a few seriously worrying judgement calls on his behalf lately so I’m sticking around for a bit longer. Perhaps the year he starts High School is not the year to disappear back into the world of work. It’s a funny age for teenage boys, 14. Still interested in lego and trading cards, but also interested in girls.

So to make myself feel better I do what I can to save cash. One of the ways I save serious money is by making laundry detergent. I found this recipe on The Simple Dollar blog and have been using it for the last year. The ingredients are simple and cheap, other than a big bucket with a lid, no special tools are needed and best of all, it is really fun! I love messing around with gloopy buckets of stuff, and this is most certainly gloopy buckets of stuff.

All you need is

  • One bar of soap – I use Fels Naptha laundry soap but I have heard of people who use any bar of soap you might have on hand. Not the beauty bar types, the old fashioned bar of soap is what you need.
  • One cup of washing soda – some supermarkets stock this, mine doesn’t so I buy it at Walmart.
  • One half cup of borax – also found at Walmart. This is optional but I always put it in. People seem to be scared of borax but I use it all the time. It is great for cleaning up dog pee, I know this thanks to my insecure Chihuahua.

You will also need a clean 5 gallon bucket with a lid, (Home Depot, Lowes, your garage etc.) A big saucepan, spoon and grater. You can use old utensils if you have them or do what I do, clean them really thoroughly afterwards and them soak them in baking soda to get rid of the smell of laundry detergent afterwards if it lingers.

To make the detergent simply warm water in the saucepan – fill it up no specific quantity is necessary. While the water is warming, grate the laundry soap and add to the warm to hot water incrementally. When it has dissolved add another handful. Keep going until all the soap is dissolved into the water.

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Ingredients, not shown is the bar of soap.

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Soap grated ready for dissolving into water.

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Soap dissolved into water. The whole house smells of laundry soap now.

 

Add the soapy water to the 5 gal bucket and top it up to almost the top.

Stir in the washing soda and then the borax. You will feel the liquid start to thicken up. Put the lid on and let it all cool down, I leave it overnight. 

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Mix in washing soda and borax.

You will be left with a lovely solid jello like substance. You can use it like this or give it a big stir and break it up a bit. I give it a stir because it is fun. Sometimes I get my hands in there too, Freud would probably have something to say about that.

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One final stir and ready to use.

I use about a cup or so of this stuff per load and it works as well as any shop bought detergent. A major bonus is that it is a lot less fragranced. My husband and son are delicate flowers who have to have the un-perfumed shop bought stuff, this is fine for them. I have been using it for about a year in my machine and my machine seems just fine. I don’t know about HE machines, I don’t have one, but I can’t imagine it would be a problem, it dissolves really quickly into the laundry water. 

Just think how much less plastic there would be in the landfills if even 1% of us did this! And think of the electricity saved if we then line dried those those clothes instead of putting them in the dryer! Being English, where we all line dry our clothes as often as possible I am a fan of line drying. Plus everything smells nicer line dried. The only thing I can’t do is line dry my towels. We live in a severely hard water area and line dried towels can practically stand up on their own in the bathroom. They absorb much better though, and if you ever need to exfoliate your luck is in! A quick rub down with a line dried towel in this area is like an expensive microdermabrasion – another way to save money! OK off my soap box now, haha get it?

The Simple Dollar website estimates the cost per load as around $0.03 I haven’t crunched the numbers myself but that seems a little low for me. I use the more expensive laundry soap because I found it cleaned better than hand soap. I can’t imagine it’s much more than say $0.05 per load though, if that. I don’t actually pay anything for it because I confiscate all cash that comes to the laundry in pockets and put them in a jar. When I need something, say soap, I use the cash in there. My family knows the rules. I find that this bucket will last me several months which also means I don’t have to carry big bulky laundry detergent home from the store. Yet another bonus.

Give it a go and tell me how you get on. If you have any questions I am happy to answer them in the comments. Happy glooping!

 

Saving Time AND money!

Like everyone else in the world, I do not have enough time to do everything I want to right now. Add to that the fact that I am not able to go out much at the moment – bad back again! Sigh…and that money is tight and I start to feel deprived. Deprived is dangerous to living on a budget, it sneaks up on you and whispers in your ear, “You’ve got so much going on right now, why not have a cookie or ten?” To combat this and being unable and unwilling to pay for a $5 frappachino – seriously how do you spell that, am I close? – I decided to make up a batch of iced coffee. The inspiration came from Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman show but I have changed it up somewhat, I like my iced coffee sweetened so I add it to the pitcher. Saves me adding it later. If you are opposed to sugar just leave it out, if you like it stronger add more coffee, do what you want, it’s your coffee and this is America, damn it!

In a pitcher add half a packet (6 oz) of good quality coffee. This makes a big difference, don’t cheap out on coffee, not ever. I’d rather have no coffee than weak or tasteless coffee.

Top up the pitcher to the top with cold water – I use a 1 gallon pitcher. Actually I use two you’ll see why later. These pitchers cost $2 each from Walmart.

Then give the coffee a stir and leave it to steep for a good few hours, I usually leave it overnight.

In the morning – or 8 hours later or how ever long you can wait, start straining. Now this does take a while but just go about your day and let it do its thing.

At this point I make a simple syrup of one cup sugar and one cup water, put them in a saucepan and warm until the sugar dissolves completely, then put it in the pitcher.

When it’s all drained stick it in the fridge and let it chill down. This pitcher lasts my family a week or two and it’s never gone bad on me. I find that it feels super decadent but it’s not too bad for calories, especially if I avoid the extras which I usually do, using almond milk helps. You could omit the syrup and use a sweetener like Stevia if you wanted to. Like I said, it’s your coffee.

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Here’s my serving suggestion – ice cubes, almond milk and some whipped cream. I don’t always add the whipped cream, because I don’t always have it in the fridge. I have also blended it to make a frappachino and it’s ok but it does separate pretty quickly. I have also added caramel sauce or chocolate sauce or Toffee syrup which was delish but my teenager found it and the expensive bottle of syrup is now in the recycling having been drained in a couple of days! Kids, sometimes only the thought that one day my son will be a parent and all his stuff will be appropriated is all that keeps me going.

I’m going to have one right now.

Time for Creativity!

My last few blog posts (like my life) have been all about saving money but this week I needed a creativity fix. I was vaguely pondering what to do when one of my neighbors put this on the sidewalk. Now putting things on the sidewalk is code in our locale for, “Please someone take this hideous thing that the dog has chewed to pieces because I just can’t stand to look at it for one more day. Plus I have replaced it with something better and/or found the dog a new home.’

So I sent my son and my husband over there and this is what they came back with:

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In fact I had to send them back for it because my husband thought it had woodworm (English version of termite damage!) and wouldn’t bring it over. It turned out to be dog tooth indentations and gnawing – poor bored dog!

But I liked the shape and figured the worst of the damage could be covered up. I spent Monday prepping and sanding the cabinet and filling most of the holes with filler. I say most because I ran out of filler. Then headed off to the store for supplies. Tuesday was painting and more painting. Luckily it is really dry and warm here so the paint dried within an hour. I decided to stencil a pattern on the drawer and it took me a while to figure out a pattern. I have a cricket (diecut) machine so I cut out my stencils to the size I wanted and got stippling.

Here is the cabinet half way done:

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To make this a useful pretty thing I decided to tile the top – plus I have never laid a tile in my life and wanted to have a go. I chose little white mosaic tiles, they come on a big sheet so it was really easy to use, plus they were the cheapest tile in the place. I added some trim to hide the edge of the tiles and some more dog damage and ended up with this:

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You can see Cesar taking a long look at it, no peeing or chewing allowed!

I’m thinking of using this as an outdoor buffet/cocktail cabinet but after the husband has seen it he wants it inside. I’m not so keen though, it is still a little, shall we say ‘rustic’? I don’t mind imperfections outside but I think it is a little rough for the dining room!

Well I got dirty and paint splattered, used a saw and learned how to tile. That’s a good couple of days work!

Cost of all materials: $75 or so.

Now, I really need a potting bench, I wonder if I can make one?

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Still saving money over here!

Recently I have been investigating earning/saving cash in the home. In previous posts I mentioned saving money by bundling home phone, internet and TV and also by changing our mobile phone plan. Well, after an hour long phone call with AT&T (no I didn’t get paid to write this review!) I managed to save $1,428 a year on everything. Plus I will get $150 in a rebate card. I get more TV channels too, even though all I really care about is BBC America, don’t judge me I’m a Doctor Who fanatic, I’m British remember? I grew up watching Doctor Who and I will never give it up, ever, not even for a jammy dodger. If you know what a jammy dodger is you are either a Brit too or a Whovian. Which ever you are, welcome. One tip I can offer you, call and speak to a representative. Don’t order from them right away, but take their number, then call another representative a few days later. Tell them what the other person said and then go back to that first person. I didn’t plan on doing this but it is how it worked out and we saved another $8.00 a month. Small potatoes I know but, and say this with me, every penny counts. $8 a month is almost $100 a year, it can be in your bank account or theirs, you choose.

I have also looked at a gift card saving site, called Raise.com (also not paid to review this site, honestly!). It is really a simple idea, if you know you are going to have an expenditure in say Lowe’s, go online and take a look at their offers. Today there is a Lowe’s gift card with a value of $74.84 for sale for $67.66. That’s 9.6% savings. Quantities are, of course, limited as are the stores they offer but most of the major chains seem to be represented, as of today – Starbucks 18% off, Target 5% off, Aaron Brothers 20%, Marshals 16% off. These are not coupons, they are gift cards so you can use them as cash in the store and with a coupon. You might even be able to pay off a balance on a store credit card with them. Most of them are in-store only, check if you want them for online purchases. There are no other fees for you to pay and no postage. I ordered a PepBoys card for my husband’s oil change, well his car’s oil change really, and everything went fine. No problems at all, the card arrived in a few days and you can see on the picture we paid $27.61 for a card worth $31.27. It just takes a bit of advance thinking. Keep looking for great deals and save up for the holidays. You can sell unused gift cards to them too, I haven’t done that so I don’t know how it works exactly but their website says you choose the amount you want for the card, mail it off when it sells and get paid once you confirm postage. They take 15% of the selling price. If you have unused gift cards you will never use, it’s better to get something for them than nothing.

 

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I must say that I am loving the money saving. It is getting a bit addictive, to be honest. I have found that I do have my deal breakers – iPhone, BBC America, heinz ketchup looking at you all here – but being mindful of what the cash is going on makes me appreciate those things even more.

As always, I am happy to answer any questions if I can, I love to hear from people! Makes me feel loved.

 

 

Finances Part Three – Still Saving Pennies

The next installment of saving cash or earning at home really focuses on a few reviews of what I call micro earning. You’re not going to pay the mortgage with any of these but as every penny counts, these small amounts add up over time to something worth having. I often save these up for certain times of the year, you’ll see what I mean as we go.

 

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Viggle is an app for smart phones where you can check in to T.V. programs and music you are listening to and earn points for every minute you’re checked in. For example that morning TV show, or Ellen or pretty much any program you watch you can get points for. You also get points for music you might be listening to. The app does have some bugs, sometimes it just wont ‘hear’ the T.V. show at all and you have to put it in manually. Once you have some points you can redeem them for gift cards (my preferred option) or discounts for some stores, even save them for ever for a cruise! Now, I am not much of a numbers person but I did a bit of math – and if you just check in to regular shows you have to be logged in for 50 hours to earn $1 on a gift card. This is an approximate number, some gift cards are more or less and I’m not good at dealing with numbers that run to 8 decimal places! But, there are ways to ‘super charge’ those check ins. Some programs are promoted by Viggle and you can get double or triple points, or if you watch say six out of eight episodes you could get 1,000 points in a ‘streak bonus’. There are ads to watch too for a few points here and there and games like MyGuy where you choose which basketball player (for example) is going to do something good next and compete with other live players who are logged into the game. Sort of like fantasy football I think? Yes OK I never really figured out MyGuy, not being into sports but if you are you might enjoy it. Like I said, you won’t be paying the mortgage with Viggle but I save up and either use it to get a redbox movie rental free every now and then or turn it into Christmas gift cards like iTunes, Best Buy or Barnes and Noble. I have had no problem redeeming the points.

Checkout 51 is a coupon rebate website, I wrote about it briefly last post but I have actually used it for a little while now. The new offers come out each Thursday on a smartphone app and include a bunch of stuff I never buy like Arizona Iced Tea for example, and then after you scan your receipt they credit you with (in this case) $0.25. Earn $20 and they promise to send you a check. I will be waiting a long time for my check I think, but if I can get $20 by Thanksgiving I’ll be happy. Each week they do have a few basics that most people buy, this week for example it was $0.50 off a gallon of milk, which I don’t buy, $0.50 off eggs which I always buy, and $0.25 of tomatoes which I also usually buy. So $0.75 for me this week. Most people would probably be $1.25 at least a week. $65 a year for scanning a receipt. There are also pretty cool recipes and a chance to win $500 if you upload a receipt over $60. The funny thing is I suspect they may use mTurk to deal with these receipts as I have on occasion transcribed receipts much like this! I might come across my own receipt and get paid twice! You can also use a regular coupon for the items in question. This would be great for serious couponers . . . couponeers?

Gigwalk – using a smart phone app you become a secret shopper and log in to assignments for shops/businesses near you. It’s pretty cool, the map shows you jobs that need doing, you select one and off you go and do what they want. For example, I have seen assignments that ask for a photograph of the inside of a restaurant, or asking a customer service rep a question. You then have to compile a short report/upload receipts etc and then get paid.  I have tried this twice over the last three years and both times I have found that there are no assignments in my area – I tried it the second time because I had moved and I thought there might be more. Thing is it’s just not worth driving 20 miles to earn $5.00. I never earned a penny from this.

 

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Influenster – this is a review website for people who like to rate things. It is pretty time consuming and there is no cash involved, just the vague promise that you might get some free products to review if you do enough and have enough social media contacts. You link up your facebook/linkedin/pinterest/blog accounts etc. and start reviewing products or services. I have so far given it a couple of hours and will keep up for a while to see if I get any free products to review. It’s quite fun as there are many badges to collect but unless I get something out of it, I won’t continue.

Slice The Pie is a music review website where you listen to songs and then review them. You listen for 90 seconds or longer and then give a thoughtful review. It is mostly new songs and you can choose the genres of music you like, but you still may get a thrash metal song and have to review that. This is great if you actually have an interest in music. I do so I quite enjoy reviewing these songs, some of them are terrible and some are fantastic. You will earn between $0.02 and, my highest so far, $0.12 per review. The longer or more articulate the review the more you get paid. Once you earn $10 they promise to mail you a check. I haven’t gotten that far yet but I will give it a serious go and see what happens.

So there are my five micro earning reviews. I have more to come but I need to actually do them first! CafePress update – still no sales!

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I will do my best to help!

 

 

Money money money

I have been quiet for the last few weeks. Not in my life, just in my blog. I decided to have a bit of a break and focus on just doing stuff. Well, stuff has been done, a lot of stuff.

I decided that my next topic of focus would be financial. With a ton of medical bills arriving we need laser focus for the next few months. Laser, I say. As I am a stay at home parent – and will be for the next four years or so – I feel bad that I don’t bring any money into our lives. There are two ways of attacking this, first save money and them earn some! Simple, right? Right!

I already earn a bit of cash here and there on Amazon’s mTurk. But it can be an enormous time suck for relatively little. For those who don’t know, it is a portal where small jobs or parts of jobs (called hits) are listed for workers to complete. I have completed hits for one penny and hits for $20. I’ve been doing it for over a year now (but not consistently). I usually do this for a thing I want, then transfer the money to my bank account, then stop until I want another thing. It’s reliable and I’ve never had any trouble with it, but it can get incredibly dull and if you don’t choose your hits wisely the hourly wage can be pitiful. Mind you I earned enough to fix our roof so that made me very happy. And I didn’t even have to put office shoes on. I decided to give mTurking another
go being a bit more choosy about what hits I complete. As I can type faster than I can talk I decided to concentrate on transcription tasks and stop after a certain dollar amount each day. It’s a start and as I get a bit more practice in I expect to get faster. It can be interesting too, I have transcribed presentations on investing, blogging (very useful), interviews about football draft picks (less interesting to a UK native who has no clue at all what is going on on the field) and crafting. As I am a keen knitter and recovering crafter I have actually enjoyed these hits. I aim to earn $10 a day but usually get a bit carried away and do a bit more. So $20 a day is good for me, this usually takes me three hours or so. Yes, it’s less than minimum wage but it’s better than nothing. I’m that person who picks up pennies on the ground. Hey, that’s MONEY you are walking by people! Cash money!

To illustrate my point, I put all the money I find on the street and all those dimes that I find in the washing machine in a mason jar in my laundry area. I just needed to buy some laundry detergent ingredients (I make my own more about that another time) and I got it for free (well free to me). That makes me smile!

So for next week, more on earning some cash and more on saving it.

Ps I didn’t get paid or anything to review mTurk, although I probably could somehow! I just thought a real person’s experiences might be useful. I’m happy to answer questions if anyone has any, just leave a comment.

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The Big Reveal!

So, the week has come and gone and I have been diligent in my efforts to keep at my goal of improving my habitat and thereby my life.

Taking on organization first was a stroke of genius because a) I don’t have to think too hard about it. Having worked in finance and admin for many years I am educated to the use of a good filing system, and b) it has meant that my bills got paid on time this month and my tax returns  filed (refund, yay!). What I didn’t anticipate was that it would throw up a whole host of new projects. For example by going through files that I don’t usually pick up I noticed that my husband’s passport is almost expired. Not good when all our family live overseas. I also came across pictures which needed to be framed, or hung, or mended then framed then hung or … well you get my drift. I also came across many many old and dried up pens. Of every variety, with logos for companies I have never heard of. “Where do these all come from?”, I kept finding myself muttering, while tossing them into the bin (US translation: trash).

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Shredder issues above: after this happening several times I gave up and sent the rest to work with my husband. I have no idea what he did with them. They could be propping up his desk but I hope they made it into the secure shredding bin.

But the real breakthrough came on day four. I was sorting through another mound of dried up pens and musing to myself, “Why do I have more than one spare wireless mouse, and what exactly is the plural for a wireless mouse? Mice? Mouses? Meece?” and I had a lightbulb moment. I am great at this! I am great at change, I love it. I like transformations, the drama of them. I leave my hair until it is half way down my back before I get it cut. I haven’t had a trim in 25 years. I love spring cleaning, but hate sweeping the floor. When I worked outside the home I would go into an office, put in procedures, get everything ordered and optimized and then move on. It’s my MO. I am a job hopper, I am a yo-yo dieter.  I have never been able to maintain a healthy weight. I love hgtv for those reveals. I’m addicted to reveals! I love creating order out of chaos but do I create chaos so I can have the payoff of the transformation? Yikes! Heavy stuff to come from some dried up old pens.

The next few days I spent being mindful of my habit of ignoring maintenance tasks. I ended up getting so much accomplished. Just knowing that leaving the breakfast dishes was a conscious decision to create a tiny makeover later made me stop and do it. My mother loved an old saying, any saying really she wasn’t particular. But the one which has been with me this week is: “A stitch in time saves nine.” I’ve heard it so many times it sort of lost its meaning but it is true. By staying on top of the routine you create less drama in your life and leave time for much more interesting things than sifting through 42 pens which don’t work to find a stamp.

I’ll just have to find my drama another way.

Next week’s topic: health.