Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We got a bedroom wall, ya'll!

I actually squealed with delight Saturday night when I came home from roller skating with the kids to discover that Mr. Bushman had essentially created a bedroom for us while I was out. If you remember from this post our house was purchased as a two bedroom, but we had plans to make it three. When we moved in we gave the kids the two existing bedrooms and we set up camp in the open space next to the kitchen.

This is how it looked for about a month. It looked and felt pretty disorganized.


Squeezing around the bed was difficult.

But now  . . . .



Still using that great wardrobe, but not as a wall anymore!

It may not look like a huge change to you, but the difference feels like sleeping in an real bedroom as opposed to sleeping in the kitchen!

And just putting up the wall is not all! We still have to tape, mud, paint and hang a door. We've chosen a pretty bold color scheme so stay tuned to see how it turns out!

Speaking of turning out . . . part of building a new bedroom wall (see below),


required removing some of the ugly fake rock paneling above our kitchen cabinets. Here's a picture of what the rock paneling used to look like (when we got our new fridge):



Here's a sneak peak of how much the removal of the paneling is opening up the feel of the kitchen:
Where the other side of the bedroom wall and the fridge meet


The ugly rock paneling is going, but there's some ugly water damage in its place.

Obviously, we aren't even close to being done yet. So far, Mr. Bushman has put on a new roof, ventilated the attic and built us a bedroom! And that's just the big stuff. You can't even imagine all the clean up and small projects we've taken on over the past month. We've been doing it ourselves in order to save money and learn.

Best of all, it feels so rewarding! I already feel more of an attachment to this house where we've done the work ourselves, rather than our old house where most things were done by hired help. Here's to many more successful projects . . . but not too many. :)



Monday, October 24, 2011

Toilet talk

When we moved in we discovered our toilet seat was broken. It would move around when you sat on it and often just come apart from the toilet completely. Many times I walked in the bathroom to find it on the floor with only a gaping hole to sit on.

I guess old habits die hard as my first response to this problem was to go to the store and buy a new one. Typical consumer, right? While in town I looked at new toilet seats. They cost $15-20 and all had something I didn't like: cushioned seat, cutesy pictures on the lid, etc. So I went back home to come up with a new solution. I looked the toilet seat over. There was nothing wrong with it. The problem was it was held on by two plastic bolts. Like this:

A slightly blurry plastic bolt and nut

The plastic nuts kept slipping off and one of them had been lost forever. This was the cause of the wobbliness and falling apart of the seat.

So, I walked back to the store, taking my plastic nut with me. I found a metal bolt and nut approximately the same size for 79 cents. I got two of them for a grand total of $1.58. I took them back home, screwed on the toilet seat and check it out!

\
Notice the metal bolts!


The toilet seat is fixed. I saved at least $13.42 and it didn't take much time or effort.

TA DA!

Its unlikely that you'll have the exact same problem with your toilet seat, but I wanted to share my story to encourage you to resist that first impulse to "just buy a new one" and try working with what you've got. You might save money, save something from going in the landfill and learn something along the way.

What's your most money saving do-it-yourself repair?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Books, books where art thou?

Okay, so not everything is sunshine and roses living in the middle of nowhere. One big thing I'm having trouble adjusting to is the library. Where I'm from the library accommodates one's every reading whim. Here, not so much.
Also, the library here only lets me check out six books at a time. Times four in the family that is only 24 books every two weeks. This is not enough for the Bushmans!

But what can I expect since I only pay $88 a year in property taxes? They are doing the best they can! Unfortunately, this doesn't change the fact that I need more and newer reading materials!

My first solution was to break down and buy a Kindle. When it arrived, I thought it was the answer to all my problems. The thing is . . . I hated it. Why you ask? Even though I bought the cheapest model, it seemed very cheaply made. Also, I just started feeling like it was a money pit. What I mean is it costs: $80 for the Kindle itself, $50 for a cover so it doesn't get scratched, $10 per book. That adds up FAST! I'm used to getting my books for free, people! So, I sent the Kindle back to Amazon.

Bye-bye Kindle!

What's a girl to do? Then I remembered hearing something about book swapping. I got on http://bookmooch.com/ and it was the answer I was looking for. For those who don't know, it works like this: you get one point for listing your first ten books. Then, each time someone requests a book and you agree to send it, you get another point. You then use your points to request books from others. The only cost involved is the shipping of the books, which is about $2.

I'm sending:


And receiving:


YAY for book swapping!

Of course, I will continue to utilize my public library and take out my 24 books every two weeks, but now I have another option to get newer or more obscure books. YAY! I love it when things work out!

Now, to put it in the budget . . . :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real help for a real budget

A reader of my blog took me up on this offer and graciously agreed to send me the information necessary to make a budget. Here's their situation each month:

Incoming:
550 Rental
1600 Salary
2600 Salary
4750 TOTAL

Outgoing:
1st Mortgage 1200
2nd Mortgage 700
Insurance 60
Trash 20
Internet 50
Phone 100
Tithe 475
Gas 400
Paypal 25
Visa 100
Groceries 800
Total 3930

There is a difference here of 820! That is great news!

So, what's the problem? They make a good income, but they also have some outstanding debt:

Balances due relatively soon:
Paypal 325
Balloon 750
Tractor 800
Balloon 2100
Balloon 4100
Visa 4800

This family needs an action plan. Here's what I recommend:

1) No more debt! This means that credit cards and debit cards should be hidden somewhere safe and your family should go on a cash only diet. Each time you get paid you need to decide (based on the budget) where the money will go. Once bills are paid, put cash for things like gas, groceries and tithing in weekly envelopes and spend nothing else. For example, your grocery envelope will contain $200/week in cash.

2) Add personal spending to the budget or anything else we've left out. Having a budget means having a plan. Every cent that comes in or goes out should be part of that greater plan. It is very hard to spend no money at all, so add $10 or so a week of personal spending for each adult or family member. Hand it out in cash on payday. When that money is gone, stop spending.

3) Take the 820 left and start paying off the outstanding debts you have. Its hard to get your money under control if you are enslaved to others in debt. Notice I listed the debt from smallest amount to largest. Unless you are in danger of losing your house, pay the debt off in that order. The reason is that when you pay something off it feels WONDERFUL and can keep you motivated.

4. Say no. Part of budgeting is having good boundaries. When your kids or spouse want something not in the budget, you have to learn to say no. Practice it, "No. We are not spending any extra money right now."

5. Find a greater meaning. The reason many people stink at budgeting is because they fail to see its importance. I can't tell you why you should improve your money management skills--only you know what you value. Some good reasons are: being a good example for your children, creating a secure feeling for yourself and your family, living with less stress, having money to put toward your goals/dreams, etc. I know some people look to the Bible or other writings to find wisdom about not taking out debt and/or being a good steward of their money. The important thing is that you find something that motivates you!

6. Find a way to stay motivated. I find writing my budget down and carrying it with me to be helpful. When I want to spend money on something, I pull out my budget and ask myself where will the money come from? For example, am I willing to spend less on groceries that month to buy it? Usually, the answer is, "No. Obviously my family needs to eat more than I need this impulse item." Also, when I had lots of debt (Yes, at one time I had $30,000 in credit cards and medical bills), I found it helpful to post my outstanding debt balances and mark a big ol' line through them as I paid them off. Posting your budget or debt can also help everyone in the household to get on board!

I also recommend the following books to get you inspired:

 

I hope this was helpful. Who else has paid off a large chunk of debt? Anyone else need help coming up with a plan?

Friday, October 14, 2011

A roof over our heads!

We've been a living at our new place for almost a month. I wish I could tell you that its all painted and unpacked and perfect, but that's not exactly the case. We do have a new roof though! I am so proud of my husband for installing this roof in one day with the help of a friend!

They still have a bit of flashing and capping to do, but you get the idea.

Our new place was such a mess when we bought it. The old owners left us SO much to clean up and go through. The good thing about that is we did find some treasures. Hubby found lots of tools, but my two favorite finds are:

an old trunk I put at the foot of our bed for blankets

and an awesome wardrobe that serves as our "bedroom" wall for now!

I use the term bedroom loosely because our house is still technically a two bedroom and we parents are occupying the 2nd living area right off the kitchen. The next project is to build an actual wall, thus giving us a real bedroom with actual privacy!

Here are some pictures of the living room, which may be the room closest to being entirely unpacked.

Notice our stack of new light fixtures soon to be installed!

One side of the living room

and the other. Don't let our identical couches disorient you!

Well, a month in and I would say we're pretty happy with the move. The cost of living is so much cheaper here. We got our first utility bill and it was $14.44. No kidding! It was a few days short of a full month, but still. . .

Speaking of getting a bargain, look at what else we bought!



Don't be fooled by the list price, we paid only $1,000!

Why would we buy a commercial lot? Because we plan to own a business in our new town, of course! For us, part of living a frugal, more self-sufficient lifestyle means being our own boss. We have big plans for our new business, but I'm not telling what they are just yet. You'll have to keep reading to find out more!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Things I don't buy anymore (cause I make 'em)!

Most times when you buy things you are paying for the convenience of the item. As I've started making more and more things myself, I've saved lots of money.

BREAD

Here is my no-fail bread recipe:

3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup warm milk
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup veg oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 1/2 tsp yeast

I mix this with dough hooks using my stand-up mixer, but you could also do it on the dough setting of your bread machine (if you half the recipe), or by hand. Let it rise until very puffy. Put in an oiled bread pan or form into buns or rolls on a cookie sheet. Let it rise again until very puffy. Bake at 400 until brown on top (about 12-15 mins).

LAUNDRY SOAP - this has saved me SO MUCH MONEY! It is so cheap and easy to make! You only need three ingredients and they are all found in the laundry isle!




PIZZA

Take out pizza is costly. I really struggled to find a pizza recipe that was crunchy enough for me. Here it is:

1 cup water
2 TBS oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp oregano or basil
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast

Bake at 400 for 5-10 mins, then put toppings on and bake again until cheese is bubbly and slightly brown.

BIRTHDAY CAKE

I get so many compliments on this cake recipe. I usually make it into cupcakes for a low mess birthday party.

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk

VANILLA

Making your own vanilla is so fun and easy. It impresses people and makes great gifts. All you need is 1/4 pound of vanilla beans and 750 ml of vodka. Put the beans in the vodka and let is set for a couple of weeks, lightly shaking it daily. When you start to get low, add more vodka! I know someone who's been using her same beans for years!

DISWASHER DETERGENT

This recipe can be tricky. Start my making this small amount and see if you are happy with the results.

1/4 cup castile soap
1/4 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup salt

Put in a container and shake. Instead of rinse aid, use vinegar.

HOUSEHOLD CLEANER

Nearly everything at my house gets cleaned with equal parts vinegar and water: Windows, bathrooms, floors, countertops, you name it! I just keep it mixed up in an old spray bottle. (For windows and mirrors, you will need a microfiber cloth if, like me, you avoid buying paper towels. Newspaper works well, too!)

AND MORE . . .

Since I make most household and food items from scratch I could go on and on. I encourage you to try some of these yourself. I remember my first experience in making something from scratch that I normally would've bought was pancakes. After I made them, I realized I was only adding two more ingredients than I would've if I had started with boxed pancake mix! To me, it seemed silly to keep buying a mix that was only saving me 60 seconds!

What's your favorite thing to make instead of buy?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to eat like you're poor, even if you're not!

I want to start by saying that I've noticed people REALLY don't like it when they feel you are telling them what/how to eat. In this blog, I am only telling you how the Bushmans eat and the changes we have made that saved us big money. Take the advice that you think you can use and leave what you can't and please don't be offended.

Bushman shopping rules that save us money:

  • Don't shop at Wal-mart. I have found that when I go to Wal-mart to get groceries, I end up getting a bunch of other stuff I don't really need. Therefore, I stay away even though I know that sometimes they really do sell an item for the lowest price.
Savings: This saved me about $40/week.

  • Shop where you can buy bulk foods. And I don't mean wholesale clubs. At healthfood stores, Mennonite stores or Amish stores you can get great deals on bulk flour, rice and beans. If you don't live close to these things, try: https://www.unfi.com/ or http://www.azurestandard.com/.
Savings: There are weeks that my grocery bill is only $35-$40 because I already have all I need in bulk supplies.

  • Lower your meat consumption. We Bushmans largely don't eat meat at home. We haven't always been this way, though. We started cutting back about six years ago and I noticed BIG savings.
Savings: When I first stopped buying meat, it cut our grocery bill in half!

  • Make your own bread. This is something I just started doing about a year ago. At first it seemed overwhelming, but once I got in the habit I found that my family actually liked homemade bread better and I could make it super healthy. I cheat and use a stand-up mixer and before I saved for that I had an old bread machine from a thrift store.
Savings: Depending on how fancy the bread I bought, this saved $6-$15 a week!

  • Did you know food literally grows from trees? :) My husband loves apples. He eats one daily if we have them. So for his birthday I bought him two fruit trees. See? I'm cheap AND romantic! Seriously, growing my own fruits and veggies has saved me tons.
Savings: Due to my vegetable garden in summer months, I don't need to buy any vegetables at all saving me at least $5-$10 a week.


  • Don't buy what you can get for free. This is a general budgeting rule that applies especially to groceries. If you have an in-law who loves to give away deer meat and your family would normally buy meat, then take it! Keep trying recipes until you learn to cook it well. There are lots of opportunities out there for free food from someone else's abundance, you just have to let people know that you are receptive to freebies!


  • Learn to eat in season. Yes, I know you make you best guac in town, but if avocados are at their highest price point, then now is not the time to make it! Wait it out. Find something you love that is in season and thus, on sale (or free).


  • Shop only once a week, or less. The more you go to the store, the more you will spend. Set a day of the week (or month, if you are hardcore) as your shopping day and DON'T go to the store until it rolls around.
Savings: I've seen this save couples hundreds of dollars a month. If you go to the store every night or so, please take this advice!


  • Don't buy convenience foods. Buying prepackaged foods kills my grocery budget. To create my own convenience foods, I simply double or triple my recipe and freeze it.
Savings: This saved me about $30 a week but it could be more, depending on your reliance on these things.


  • Consider changing the person who grocery shops. Momma Bushman used to do the shopping, but we actually found that Daddy is the best shopper. This is because he only gets what is on the list. Mom tends to think about sales or the poor little child who loves gummy bears, but to Dad if you didn't write it down, then its not going in the cart.
Savings: $25 a week on average


  • Cook with powdered milk. I know most people don't like to drink powdered milk, but who can tell when its baked in? Also, having it on hand prevents me from running to the store before it is grocery day because I typically don't run out of milk.
Savings: Our family used to drink several gallons of milk a week so initially this saved us $8/week. However, now we don't drink as much milk since I encourage the drinking of good ol' free water!


  • The BIGGIE--Meal Planning! I fought meal planning for years. I don't like to be too pinned down, but I learned the hard way (through wasted dollars) that sitting down before you shop and writing down the meals for the week equals big savings. If you are new to meal planning and live with others, go around and ask each family member to name two of their favorite meals. Viola! Your meals are planned. (Adjust advice for family size.)


  • Change your tastes and those of your family. Your family is used to the foods you buy and if you change their diet to save money or for health reasons, you can expect some negative feedback. Hang in there. Examine your grocery receipts and find the items that are sucking you dry. Getting kids to eat oatmeal instead of sugary cereal can be hard, but they will come around.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Our monthly budget exposed!

I had someone ask me recently, "What are guys doing for work up there?"

Part of the reason I wanted to write this blog is so I can be really specific about what an extreme budget looks like and how you can baby step your way there too! I've done lots of budgeting with friends and family. I LOVE to put together a budget! In fact, if you want help with yours, I'd gladly do it via email or phone. Yes, I AM that big of a nerd!

So, I'll tell you that for work I am essentially a virtual teaching assistant. I am working on my PhD and teaching classes, both on-line. Here's me at "work":


Or am I at home? :)

I make a part-time income and believe or not, it is more than enough money to feed and house our family of four. Here's how:

Bushman's Monthly Bare Bones Budget

$300 Groceries
$30 car gas
$20 water
$35 utilities
$45 Internet & landline
$30 cell
-------------
$460 total outgoing every month or $5520 per year

I want to mention that I do not consider cell phone service to be bare bones. It is something I have currently chosen to pay for, though.

But what about . . .

Heating? - Our house is currently heated by propane and we did have to fill up the tank for a one time cost of $600. However, we have plans to get a very energy efficient wood stove very soon and so do not plan to be getting propane regularly--thus, I did not add it to my monthly budget.

Cooling? - You may have guessed that our $13,000 home doesn't have AC. It doesn't and we are fine with that. One of the biggest benefits of small town living is feeling safe while sleeping with the windows open!

Taxes? - I pay our taxes yearly. Basically I take our income tax refund and apply to our yearly bills so I don't need to budget for them monthly.

Insurance? - Did you know that you usually pay for the privilege of paying your insurance monthly? If you pay by the year, you often save about $5 a month automatically!

Trash? - Ditto for trash service. Trash service is another thing that paying by the year will save you money, but you have to ask for the discount here. So you say, "If I pay you yearly, will I get a discount?" I've never had a company say no. Usually it is one month free for one year's payment.

I know your minds are probably still stuck back up there with groceries. How do the four Bushmans eat on only $300/month?! Well, we didn't get there overnight! Next post I will give tons of tips about how I feed four on $300/month without couponing.

I also want to say that this budget is for when everything runs wonderfully and no one has any unexpected needs. When unexpected needs arrive, I call on savings . . .more on that later.

Oh yeah and I promise you'll see some pics of the house very soon!
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