Finance Part Two – Saving Money

In my bid to seriously change up my life I have embarked on a series of small changes, hoping they will ultimately lead to a better life and lifestyle for me and my family. Micro changes. Several are ongoing but it is time to address our financial situation. I am a stay at home parent and see the value in that. My son has had some challenges in the past few years, he’s a talented, sensitive teenager and although he is very mature for his age in some ways (he just got himself his first job with no input from me at all) he still needs some supervision. So going back to work is out of the question for now.

I earn a small amount on mTurk and have amped that up somewhat but now it is time to address saving money. Frugality can be a dirty word in some circles I have found. Tightwad, skinflint, money grabbing, cheap, many of the words used are negative but I see saving money as being responsible, smart and creative. So below is a list of things I currently do or are thinking of doing to save some cash/wonga/ackers/benjamins etc. Feel free to comment on my list or add suggestions of your own, I will try almost anything. But first I need to check that the lights are turned off in the house. 

1. Cook at home. I already do this as I said in previous posts. I cook almost everything, I love the challenge of learning new ways to be creative with cheap ingredients. I actually prefer bean burgers to the meat kind and have realized that soup is my favorite part of any meal – or just a meal in itself.

2. Grow food in the back garden. This I also do, my cucumbers are my pride and joy! My results are erratic, can anyone say Tomato Hornworm? But producing food is the stuff of life and I love it.

3. Make cleaning products at home. I do make some cleaning products already, for example laundry detergent which saves a fair chunk of change, and I also tried my hand at liquid soap. Next up will be cleaning spray (I usually use 409) made with vinegar or lemon juice. 

4. Couponing. Now this is a thorny topic for me because I have tried couponing in the past and found it to be almost a complete waste of time. The trick, I have found is to only clip coupons for items you actually use. Thing is, most of those coupons are for things like scented candles or boxed food which I absolutely never use. So sorting the wheat from the chaff can be a total time suck. I stick to a few basics – I use the coupons I get mailed from the grocery store, they are targeted to what I use anyway, I go onto and print any coupons that I actually want, you can print these out three times so I do that, then I wait for a sale and use them in conjunction with a store sale. I am also trying out a coupon rebate site called Checkout 51 where you upload your receipt and get rebates for certain products, again mostly products I just don’t use so we’ll see if it is worth it. I will usually go with a generic product too if I can, I have zero customer loyalty (unless it’s ketchup or cornflakes my family just won’t eat the cheap versions of them!).

5. Phones. Our family have three iphones. I know that is a bit excessive but I just won’t swap. My phone has saved my time, gas costs and my sanity. I love it and will not give it up, neither will my husband and although my son is not allowed his full time he will be getting it back when he starts his job. But our plan is expensive – we pay $205 a month for three lines. There might be a saving there somehow, needs some investigation.

6. We have two cars. One is paid for, one is still being paid off. My husband has checked out the credit union at work and they are offering car loans at 1.69% so he is going to refinance the rest of the loan. It was tempting to him, to extend the term of the loan and make the monthly payments even lower but after I pointed out that we would end up paying more he saw the light. We will save $24 a month on this. It’s not a lot but it’s $650 or so in total.

7. The trash company have smaller rolling trash carts which cost less per month. As I recycle most of our waste – compost and the recycle bin and we don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged foods, the smaller bin is plenty big enough for the three of us. Again, it’s only saving $4 a month but that’s $48 a year I don’t have to pay and I’m helping the environment.

8. I pay all my bills online. Can’t remember the last time I ordered a check book – oh wait yes I can it was when we moved house and we needed to update the address. I also buy very few stamps, only really for cards which I think are much nicer than e-cards.

9. We pay about $60 a month for internet and $80 a month for DirecTV. I could look at getting this cheaper. We survived before without cable TV and could do so again I suppose. There is a point at which frugality and quality of life collide though and this could be it! No Dance Moms? Sigh…

10. We switched our back lawn to a water wise garden and although we are having to water to establish it, we will be able to cut it down next year. Another way we save water is by putting a bucket in our shower, in the morning the bucket fills up with run off water and we either use it to water the plants in the garden or flush the toilet. If everyone did this, think how much water the state would save!

Okay, that’s 10 items with a couple for me to look into, anyone else got ideas? I’d love to hear them.

Below is a iPhone case I designed, the text reads :”In the future phones will play music, take photos and fit in your pocket” I should have also put, given you directions, played a movie and allowed you to read the entire world’s newspapers, but it was too long! Sometimes I feel very old.


1970s dudes shooting the breeze.



Drought Tolerant Garden Update

A few weeks ago my family and I finished off our water wise back yard. It cost a lot of cash, both in terms of the plants/gravel/hospital bills after I realized I am nearer 50 than 40 and can no longer do the work of a 20 year old! It also took a big chunk of time too, which is free, but was totally worth it.

Being a keen gardener I especially enjoyed the planting aspect of the make over and I distinctly remember telling my husband who is a gardening novice, “Now, don’t panic but some of these plants might die on us, OK?” Well that time is here. We are in mourning for 6 out of our 8 woolly grevilleas, and one and a half sweet pea shrubs. I was very careful about buying only drought tolerant plants, we live in a desert after all but still I think I underestimated how often I would have to water to establish these plants. Hey, I’m from England, we have no shortage of rain our ground is soggy much of the year. But being philosophical about it helps. Learn and move on.


Some of the sad looking plants I gave a hard prune and I can see some growth happening, others were christmas tree in January dry and got put in the green waste.

We have also had a near death experience:


I caught this ceanothus just in time. I had read that they didn’t like to be watered, well they don’t but they have to get a good root system in place first. This was the only plant my husband planted himself and when all the leaves turned brown and started to fall off he thought he had killed it. In reality I think it was just super thirsty so I upped the frequency of watering from twice a week to three times a week and it breathed a sigh of relief and got to growing some new green leaves. It’s been a roller coaster of emotion for Alan!

Of course we have also had some wonderful successes:


These salvias have been in bloom for about three weeks now and are growing well.

We have a six foot wall all around our garden and even so our neighbor dog, Molly likes to say hello to me every morning.



This pic doesn’t really convey the full bounce of her jump!

In our food production area of the garden we have lots happening, here is my favorite this week:


Meyer lemons, first time they have ever set fruit (in over 3 years!).

So the garden is looking lovely, and even with watering more to avoid the die off we are still using less water than we would trying to keep a lawn alive and we will soon be eating produce from the garden too. I love my garden!

The Rain Comes

This week we have had rain. Ok I know that it’s not news for most people but I live in the low desert area of Southern California so even a cloud can lead to ‘Live Team Coverage’ on the news. I love living where I do, I love the cold fall weather and winters and the red hot summers. I love getting the misters out in the summer and watching the leaves change color in the fall. I love being able to see the stars at night and that I can grow apples here (just!). But most of all I love when it rains. I am English after all! Spring here is a wonder, the dry dusty areas get flooded with water and suddenly what was ashy brown and barren becomes green and lush. The birds sing harder, the bees fly faster and I start drinking my morning coffee outside, looking at my garden and making plans.

Spring is hope in a rainstorm. And after a pretty awful March (hospital, pain, bills, sickness, calls from the school) hope is all I’ve got!

So, my goal this week is get outside. Every day, in some way and really notice and be grateful for the season. I am not a religious person so sometimes it is hard to know where to aim my thanks, perhaps it is enough to acknowledge it and enjoy it.

My damson tree getting a little over excited.

Advance to Go

The task I set myself this week was continue with the Egoscue method of pain relief. I’m well into my third week of the routine and as now my pain has significantly reduced – by about 80% – I moved into the extra innings exercises. I have found almost immediate relief using this method and was wondering what would happen when I ‘Level Up’ to the additional ones. Would I be totally pain free? Would I be improved Bionic Woman style? Would I now be able to hoist a fallen tree off railroad tracks? As unlikely as that scenario might sound to you, it could happen. It could, I live in a very windy place. Only today a large branch broke off the tree in my back yard. It’s just lucky that there isn’t a metro line running through my back yard or I’d have been in big trouble! So, I got ready to complete a full set of e-cises and…..nothing. No magical improvement at all! I was somewhat disappointed and still not a superhero. I’ve been doing the deluxe version for five days and honestly I think the extra ones are redundant. I’m sure they aren’t really but they take sooo much longer than the first set. (Like 30 minutes more) and worst of all? They are dull! Three of the four are lying down with various legs supported by a chair. Lying down for 25 minutes – at the start of the day when I should be doing other stuff. I’m not much of a lying down kind of person and I suppose it shows how much I’ve improved if I’m itching to get up to do the ironing! There were whole weeks where the ironing never entered my head. Apparently it never entered anyone else’s either because when I finally got around to it yesterday the pile was around three feet tall and I am not exaggerating. It has taken me two mornings of hard labor to get it under control. And as anyone who has had a painful back knows, Ironing is tough on a spine. Oh, I see. Perhaps the ironing marathon has taken it’s toll? I had no idea we had so many clothes. And I don’t iron everything, only collared shirts, pants and the stuff that had been left in the dryer for a week. But perhaps if I continue the e-cises and don’t do four straight hours of twisting at waist level, two days in a row, I might get some better results. Ok. Let’s try that.

Also in the category of probably should have known better, my husband and I finally finished our drought tolerant back yard. Lots of digging (for him) lots of planting (for me) and lots of mulch later (both of us) we are done! This is a project we have been working on since late last year and it feels great to finally have it complete.

My attempt at Native American art in our now completed drought tolerant back yard.

My next post will show the plants we chose.

The Penny Drops

I am starting my long journey back to health by actually listening to my body. It does a fantastic job of moving me where I want to go, doing what I ask it (generally) and asks for very little in return. As thanks for providing me with 46 years of pretty amazing service – it made a human! – I have treated it like crap. I have put poor quality fuel into it and neglected its service requirements. If it was an employee it would have quit a long time ago, probably changing the network passwords before it left for good measure. So, time to give it a bit of love I think, or a raise.

As my main problem has been back pain, I have taken this week to rest and move back into my family life and obligations slowly. My husband and (to a lesser extent teenage son) are still fetching and carrying for me but now I am up and about and moving much more than before I have resumed some tasks, like cooking (yay!) and laundry (bah!). I have stopped taking the medication, it’s there if I need it but I try my hardest to not take it. If my back hurts I want to know, not mask its message with addictive pills.

As part of getting back to normal I actually managed to find a taker for about a hundred old bricks we had lying around. We pulled up two old patios, the Ash tree in the back yard has grown so big it had done a good job itself of pulling it up on its own and they were pretty ugly. We put some raised vegetable beds there instead and I’m looking forward to planting in them soon.

The nice man who came to take the bricks suggested I read a book called Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. In a haze of muscle relaxants and vicodin I ordered it and when the haze cleared a couple of days later it arrived! Along with a foot peel called Baby Foot which must have been in my online cart and got ordered alongside it! Reading this book was like finding the missing puzzle piece to my problems. It made so much sense I couldn’t stand it! My problems, Mr Egoscue assures me is that I am using all the wrong muscles to stand/walk/bend/work out etc. OK there is much more to it than that but the key is to training the correct muscles to get their act together and give the poor overworked compensating muscles a damn rest. It solved a major question for me – which was how can I be so weak in some areas and still so strong in others? My arms and leg muscles are solid! I shifted 200 plus bags of gravel, I can walk for miles, I regularly hoist 25 pound bags of flour over my head (seriously!) But I’ve been doing it wrong for my entire life.

So I started the Pain Free program three days ago. The first day’s exercises, which are so simple I feel a bit guilty calling them exercises, I got my husband to eyeball what I was doing and point out when I wasn’t in the right position. A couple of the exercises were hard to complete because of the current back pain but I managed them all – there were only five and the total work-out took about 25 minutes. After I finished them I had this really weird feeling of my legs being a bit ‘wibbly wobbly’. Kind of like my hip joints were baggy. I know that sounds odd. I still had pain, even after the exercises but I figured one day isn’t going to do anything. The second day I re-read the exercises and realized I had done one of them incorrectly. Perhaps that is why I still had pain because the second and third day I had zero pain after completing the regimen. Zero pain is huge I tell ya! The pain came back later in the day. How tempting to do the work-out again? But the book specifically tells you not to do this, so I didn’t. I’m on day three now and it is definitely helping. I’ll keep up with it and report back on progress.

In the spirit of not completely giving in to a set back, I made the teenager of the house an offer he couldn’t refuse. Dig the remaining beds in the back yard for money! Now I know that this is probably bad parenting, he should offer to do it for the good of the family, right? Yeah I know and he does do chores (admittedly half heartedly sometimes) but this was a lot of garden and I would have to pay someone to do it, so I just sort of gave him first refusal. He roped in a really industrious friend and they spent almost the whole day digging. It was funny to see him organizing the work party. Another, less industrious friend, had agreed to come too, then at the last minute got a better offer of hanging out at the mall. Round here we call that a flake! His mall plans were then cancelled so he asked if he could come and work. The two boys already literally digging in decided no, they would be better without someone so unreliable, plus they would get less money. Real life work decisions in action!

While they were doing that I was grilling ribs for lunch, making potato salad, corn on the cob, lemonade etc. It was 80 degrees, and it so felt like summer. The boys did a fantastic job and the two beds are pretty much ready to be planted. Just got to buy the plants and mulch oh and provide my husband with all the porter he can drink (which these days sad to say is about two!) Well, at least he’s cheaper than the 14 year olds and he won’t want to listen to dub step while he’s working. He’s more of a Billy Bragg fan.


I know it’s sideways, I just can’t figure out how to rotate. Story of my life really.

Breaking the Cycle

This week I have been focusing myself on my back garden. It has been an ongoing project for the last two years or so but late last year my family and I spent serious time improving it. We pretty much gave up our Christmas/New Year break to re-landscape it into a water-wise garden. Our area is having severe water shortages – there has been hardly any rain since we moved here almost three years ago – so we decided to remove our back lawn and put down gravel. Any rain will soak through the gravel and landscape fabric underneath it, plus it looks much nicer than the weedy dust bowl that was there before. The turf had long since gone when we moved in and when I realized I was watering a large expanse of weeds I stopped, they died off and our garden reverted to the desert it is. As I like to line dry my clothes it has been especially annoying as either our clothes have to be dried in the dryer (expensive) or we look like extras from Ice Cold in Alex. The gravel and laying out of new beds made a huge improvement but now it is warming up a bit it is time to plant!

I spent a couple of days raking leaves up from the gravel, filling up our green waste bin quickly, and digging the remnants of weed grass out of the first bed. A couple of days ago I decided to buy plants and had a happy hour choosing drought tolerant plants and arranging them in their pots where I wanted them to go. Sticking to my one hour max was hard but I managed it. But then yesterday – disaster. After popping out to buy mulch and some potting compost I overdid the final bit of digging and strained my back. So here I am, able to stand (for a while), and walk slowly but absolutely no bending at all. Argh! I was doing so well. I had continued with the yoga and dog walking and was feeling great. The dogs were happier too.

Now my old habit would be to give up everything until my back was better. No exercise at all, eating poorly and generally wallowing in self pity in my PJs. This time however, I have decided not to follow that pattern. Ok the yoga will have to wait, I will do some very gentle stretching in place until I can get back to it (could be a couple of weeks but I’m hoping sooner), walking the dogs is just not possible as the slightest pull forward sends my back into spasm, uneven ground is a killer too and as I look like a little hunched old lady I am a bit embarrassed, especially when crossing the road. Drivers can be so impatient! But there are some gardening tasks I can still do, I have some plants to put into containers if my 14 year old will be my substitute spine and lift them down when they’re done. I suspect he will as the parole board (me and my husband) met last week and granted him early conditional release from his grounding starting the week after next.

I have some stuff in the garden to freecycle so I can arrange that. I can also still cook. So I am spending the day (slowly but doggedly) filling up the freezer. I make all our bread. It’s a no knead recipe luckily as I tried kneading briefly and paid the price (which is why I am sitting down typing this now). I started doing it a couple of years ago and now hate having to buy it. My bread costs under $1 a loaf and tastes so much nicer than the stuff at the supermarket. I know what’s in it too. I usually make it fresh every couple of days but it freezes well and the way I see it, it will save me time next week. More time for rehabilitation.


Drought tolerant plants waiting for their permanent home.