Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Toothpaste

My family buys natural toothpaste. We used to pay about $5 a tube for it when we lived in the city. Since we moved we were excited to learn our local Mennonite store carries it for $3.50! Still, it seems like we go through quite a bit of toothpaste and I've had to buy some at least once a month.

I remembered a couple of people I've known saying they brush their teeth with baking soda. Honestly, this struck me as kind of gross. I like strong minty breath that provides evidence of teeth brushing. However, I came across a local place that sells essential oils pretty cheap and I was able to pick up some peppermint oil. I decided to mix it with the baking soda and see what happens.

baking soda and peppermint oil
I filled a little glass condiment container I have about 1/3 the way full of baking soda and added about 5 drops of peppermint oil. Then I mixed it up with a spoon.

All mixed up
I was really disappointed by how it looked after mixing because I expected it to be more paste-like. At the same time, I was excited about the powerful minty smell. (Natural toothpaste typically doesn't usually have a super strong, minty smell.) I went straight to the bathroom to test it out.

Wow! I can't tell you the last time I was so excited by a product, especially one I made! It works AMAZINGLY! The baking soda gets all the build up off my teeth (from my 2 cup a day coffee habit) and my breath was SO minty fresh! I absolutely love it.

Even if it cost the same as store bought, I would still use this homemade toothpaste. Of course, this stuff is a fraction of the cost. How much, you ask? Well, I probably bought a box of baking soda for less than $1 and my peppermint oil was less than $3, so I would say that for $4, I will have enough toothpaste makings to last my family for at least a year. Since I was spending almost $4 a month, that means homemade toothpaste is 1/12 the cost!

Okay this picture is dorky, but MAN do my teeth feel clean!
Has anyone else made homemade toothpaste? Did you also think brushing with baking soda might be weird? Have I convinced you that homemade toothpaste is the way to go?

UPDATE: Please read my experiences after using homemade baking soda toothpaste for two months. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chai Tea Recipe

I have recently developed a love for chai tea. I like to make it in the evening after dinner. I make it with decaf so I can sleep and also so I can offer some to the kids.

If you order chai tea at a restaurant, expect to pay $5 a cup. On the other hand, homemade chai tea costs about 7 cents a cup to make!

Here's how I make it:

Put about 3 cups of milk (any kind) in a sauce pan. Turn it on medium heat. Add two tea bags, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, 1/8 tsp cloves and 1/8 tsp ginger (or less). Let it simmer for 5 minutes (or longer for a stronger taste). We often make this on the woodstove too which works well.

Right after I've thrown all the ingredients in the pan. I usually don't measure.

Pour into mugs and enjoy!

Do you have a favorite winter beverage?

Friday, January 27, 2012

What To Do With an Income Tax Refund

One benefit of living simply is that it seems the less you make each year, the bigger your income tax return. I'm not saying this is a reason to quit your day job, but it is a perk. The middle class have it the worst when it comes to taxes. I know, because that used to be me.

Since Mr. Bushman and I both went part-time at work a couple of years ago (and now since we all live on only one part-time income), income tax season has become something to look forward to. This year, after having spent so much to move, put on a roof, install a wood stove, etc., I am looking forward getting our income tax refund more than ever!

For those of us who usually get a refund, sometimes it can be hard not to take all that money and make a big purchase. This year, instead of buying something, why not try doing one of these things with your refund?

1.  Pay something off. If you have debt (especially credit card debt), use your income tax refund as an opportunity to get rid of some of it! Paying off debt feels great and can help you take a big step in the right direction for the New Year by lowering your monthly bills. 

2. Save it. If you don't have at least six months expenses in an emergency fund, consider saving your income tax refund. Having an emergency fund is a huge stress reliever. Suddenly, the car breaking down or some other catastrophe is not the scary thing it otherwise might have been.

3. Pay a bill up for the year. If you have bills that could just as easily be paid by the year, do it. This will create less stress and worry in your life. Some bills that are good candidates for this are:
  • Insurance of all kinds, but especially house and car
  • Trash service
  • Property taxes
  • Propane--if you have a tank to fill up, maybe now is the time to set aside the money to do it. (As propane is usually cheapest in summer, then would be the time to actually buy it.)
  • Any bill that you pay monthly that could more easily or more cheaply be paid yearly.
4. Invest it. When I think of a good investment, I usually think of property--specifically income generating property. With the economy being so unstable now, where ever you choose to invest your money, do a lot of research before hand.
    In addition to putting money back for the usual yearly bills (house insurance, car insurance property taxes and trash service), we Bushmans will be saving our refund. We want to have extra in our savings because this spring we have some big plans coming up that will require extra money. You may remember we mysteriously purchased this business lot for the low, low price of $1,000.

    Our bargain commercially zoned lot.

    I didn't tell you then what we planned to do with it, but I am ready to tell you now! It is the future site of the Bushman self-storage facility! Isn't that exciting? We hope to get started building it this spring, but it depends on finances as well as Mr. Bushman's other time commitments.

    We have a very unconventional building method in mind for our storage units. It is eco-friendly and should be very cost effective as well. In fact, I think we can build the whole thing for less than $5,000! Any guesses as to how we are going to accomplish such a feat?

      Thursday, January 26, 2012

      Thank YOU readers!

      Lately, I feel like my blog is really taking off! You may have noticed I've made some minor changes to its layout. I've been trying to spruce it up a bit to give it a more professional look.

      Since I started blogging a little over four months ago, I've had about 10,000 hits to my blog. That is very exciting to me! My daily hits used to be under 100, except on the days when I made a post--then it would climb to 200-300 hits. Lately, though,  my daily hits are around 300 and on days when I post, I am hitting 600 or more. Once I even got 937 hits in one day! I felt like things couldn't get any better . . . until they did.

      I recently discovered a blog called Penniless Parenting, which was the first blog I'd come across that I felt was on the same level of extreme budgeting as myself. After I read Penny's post about not using toilet paper, I thought she might even be a bit more extreme than me. :)

      Like any fan, I wrote to her and told her I loved her blog and that I thought we were kindred spirits. I shared a link with her of my own blog. Luckily, she wrote back and said she would love if I could write a guest post for her blog about how I felt living rurally saves my family money! I was SO excited, I got right to work.

      So, for this post I wanted to share Penny's fabulous blog with you, along with my guest post and say THANK YOU, dear reader, for reading my blog.

      As I continue to improve . . .

      What things would you like to see more of in my blog? What's a subject I haven't talked about yet that you would like me to tackle? Do you have questions about how the Bushmans do one thing or another? Thank you in advance for your constructive feedback!

      Monday, January 23, 2012

      Cheap Fruit Leather

      Remember Fruit Rolls-Ups? These were a staple in my childhood diet but my kids haven't had them much because they are filled with all kinds of weird ingredients. A couple of times, I've bought them all natural fruit leather strips, but even on sale the least I paid for them was $.40 each. When someone told me how to make them homemade, I screamed at her because I couldn't believe how simple it was! If you don't already know, you won't believe what's in them.
      Yep, this is it.
      That's right! Applesauce. They are dehydrated applesauce! Too easy, right? You can add other pureed fruits for a different flavor, but this is it! Since I bought my applesauce in bulk, these cost about $.08 a serving. During the times of the year I that I can get my hands on some free, homegrown fruit, I could make them for FREE!

      You can make them by using an oven on its lowest setting. However, as I bragged here, I was able to pick up a Ronco food dehydrator at the consignment store for $18, so that's what I used.

      Spread the sauce how in a thin layer. You should probably do it more evenly than this. :)
      Since I never time things, I'm not sure how long they took--somewhere around a day and half. You can tell when they are done because they LOOK like fruit leather. Sort of transparent and darkened like this:

      See? They can't wait to get their little hands on them!
      So that's it! What are ways that you eat fruit out of season affordably?

      Friday, January 20, 2012

      Even a cheapskate like me needs a vacation!

      I was reading one of the blogs that I follow, which is about a straw bale Bed and Breakfast (B&B) called the Milkweed Mercantile and I saw that they have opened up registration for their 2012 canning seminars! Since I spend a lot of time talking with you about how I don't spend money, I thought it might be fun to tell you about a time when I did, to balance things out.

      When I go on vacation you can be sure that I plan to get my money's worth! My favorite ways to get away are affordable, relaxing and educational. The summer before last, my girlfriends and I loaded up a van and headed off to a weekend canning seminar located inside Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, MO. We enjoyed great organic food and stayed in a comfortable room at an off-the-grid B&B! It was my first introduction to composting toilets, harvesting rain water for drinking, straw bale buildings and more! While we were there we got to take a tour of the Ecovillage, learn about sustainability, and do some canning!

      Included in the cost of the canning seminar, we were given an apron, the items we canned, a book about canning and canning supplies! It was a great deal! Here's me having fun canning:

      I'm at the end of the table facing the camera.

      Our salsa right before canning it.

      For "graduation", we got vegan carrot cake! YUM!

       And here's me in our beautiful room at the B&B . . .

      Those are my dirty feet on the right. :)
      So, in short, we had a blast and learned a lot and, believe it or not, I spent some money (although not much considering all I got in return). If you think this looks like fun and want to make your own reservation, visit: http://www.milkweedmercantile.com/ If canning isn't your thing, they have other workshops and seminars, or you can just stay at the B&B and relax!

      What's your best vacation on the cheap?

      Wednesday, January 18, 2012

      Snow Ice Cream

      Lately we've had some snow and this means the kids start bugging me for one of their favorite treats, snow ice cream. Lucky for them its almost free, so I rarely say "no". Here's how I make it:

      Start by sending at least one kid out to retrieve a pitcher full of CLEAN snow.

      The snow

      While someone is out retrieving the snow, get all your ingredients together. You've gotta make the ice cream pretty quickly because it loses its ice cream-like consistently quickly once you bring it indoors. You'll need:
      • 1 cup of sugar or other sweetener
      • 1 cup of any kind of COLD milk
      • 2 TBS vanilla
      When the child comes in with the snow, take 8 cups of snow out of the pitcher and put it in a bowl with all of your other ingredients.

       Stir, stir, stir and then serve!

      A vanilla cone

      My son wanted chocolate ice cream after he finished his vanilla cone so I took the leftover ice cream and added some cocoa powder to his bowl. The ice cream was pretty melted by this point, but he did not seem to mind.

      It looks kind-of icky, but he loved it!

      If I were going to make a whole batch of chocolate, I would omit the vanilla and add 1/4 cup (or more, to taste) of cocoa powder. You could also use strawberries, bananas, chocolate chips or whatever you have laying around the house.

      Anyone else love snow ice cream? What other treat can be made with free ingredients that fall from the sky?

      Sunday, January 15, 2012

      Cleaning and Decluttering

      The previous owners of our house left us a lot of stuff to clean up. Our house has a two car detached garage and two sheds, all of which were full of left behind items.

      Last week we hit a milestone. After cleaning out our second storage shed completely, we have officially gone through all the stuff the old owners left!

      We plan to make one of the sheds into a chicken coop. Here's the process of getting this final shed cleaned up.

      Isn't this going to make a great chicken coop?

      The side view of the shed with the door and window.

      This is about 1/3 of the stuff left in this building. We'd already taken care of some it.

      Here's the trash we made cleaning out that shed. It was sunny and warm on cleaning day and snowy the next day when we sat out the trash.

      We normally have one sack of trash, but after cleaning and decluttering, it looks like this.

      We put the stuff we thought might be useful in our garage.

      Sometimes it feels like we're just moving stuff around, but we really are making progress.
      Of the stuff shown above, some of it can be burned, some will be useful to us and some is going to the consignment store. When we make our weekly trip to town, we take a box of stuff to sell to the consignment store. We average a $5 profit each week, which is $260/year. Most importantly, we are getting rid of stuff and getting it to someone who can use it!

      I've also found several great finds at the consignment store which I can buy for a reduced price because of the stuff we've brought in to sell. So far, I've scored a like-new food dehydrator and snowsuits for the whole family!

      As for chickens, this won't be our first time having them. When we lived in the city we had chickens that just ran around our fenced-in yard. In this more rural setting, we will need a more secure place for them to live because there are more predators and our yard isn't fenced-in. I think the shed is going to make a great coop! Stay tuned to see how it turns out!

      Anyone have great advice about raising chickens or building a coop?

      Thursday, January 12, 2012

      How to Weatherize Outlets

      Cold air can come in through exterior wall outlets. In our house, I could feel the cold air coming in through our bedroom's exterior wall outlets because we had no outlet covers at all on our outlets.

      After pulling down paneling in our bedroom, we had left two outlets totally uncovered.

      I decided I should get busy installing them. I only needed three items to get started:

      An outlet cover, a foam outlet insulator and a screwdriver.

      Step 1: Place the foam insulator on the bare outlet.

      The insulator

      Step 2: Screw the outlet cover on top of the foam insulator.

      Pretty and functional!

      I should mention that its probably a good idea to turn off the electricity to the outlet via your breaker box before getting started. I always forget this step, but still . . .its a good idea.

      To me, there is just something about nice, white outlets. I always feel like having them makes my house look crisper and cleaner.

      I had all the materials for this job already laying around my house, but if I had to buy them both it would've cost about $ 0.37 per outlet. Buying just the foam insulator would cost about $ 0.15 per outlet. (The foam insulators sell in a box of 24 for $3.59 and you can get a box of 10 plastic wall plates for $2.17. I got both prices from Amazon.)

      So, what do you think? Do you have foam insulators on your exterior wall outlets? If not, can you feel cold air coming in through those outlets?

      Monday, January 9, 2012

      Heating our home for free!

      For those of you who are tired of me droning on and on about my wonderful wood heat, I apologize. But, I just couldn't resist sharing with you my recent freebie find!

      When I wrote previously about the cost effectiveness of wood heat, I said that we received some free wood, but that we probably couldn't count on that. Now I'm not so sure . . . Free wood might be more plentiful than I first thought. Right before we left to visit family for the holidays, we saw the phone company trimming trees in our neighborhood. When we returned from our trip 1 1/2 weeks later, all the branches were still laying on the ground. Since our town is very small and poor, we thought it unlikely that someone was coming to clean up the trees, so we decided to do it ourselves and keep the free wood. Here are the trees the way we found them:

      You can't tell from the picture, but there are larger logs of wood under the branches.
      We drug them home and piled them in our own yard to show we'd claimed them.

      There's a smaller pile off to the side, but this is the main mess we dragged home.

      Then we got out the electric chain saw and I started cutting them up.

      Here's me hard at work. This was my first time using a chain saw. It was fun!
      After about thirty minutes of work, I made this stack next to the garage so it could sit and "season".

      This is the stack of wood I cut up and stacked.
      Later Mr. Bushman also made a stack:

      Mr. Bushman's stack

      Admittedly all this free wood took some work, but it was a great day to work outside as a family. We even put the kids to work picking up several wagon-fulls of kindling. The stacks of cut branches pictured above are just a small dent in all that we dragged home, but that's okay. We'll just add cutting wood to the always growing, "To Do List."

      I think this post shows yet another reason that wood heat is great. I can't think of any other heating source that might be laying around your neighborhood for free! Anyone else considering making the transition to a wood burning stove?

      Thursday, January 5, 2012

      Vegetarian/Vegan Pancakes and Sausages Recipe

      Part of my New Year's Resolution was to learn a new low-cost vegetarian recipe each week.

      This week  I decided to share two recipes with you! One is my old standby, pancakes and the other I've learned fairly recently, sausages.

      The sausages take about an hour to prepare and steam so start them first. I got the recipe from Post Punk Kitchen. She does a good job explaining how to make the sausages so just follow this link to see the recipe. I really love her site! I have tried several recipes from her and liked them all!

      Here's my very own pancake recipe:

      I start with ONE of my free bananas,

      I have two in the picture because I was making a double batch

      mash it up and add:
      2 cups whole wheat flour
      2 TBS sugar
      2 tsp baking powder
      1/2 tsp baking soda
      1/2 tsp salt
      2 cups of any milk (we like rice)
      4 TBS oil

      Whisk it until it looks like this:

      I used white flour in this batch so the batter is lighter than yours might be. Trust me, though, wheat flour makes much tastier pancakes!

      If you aren't a banana fan, you can substitute 1/2 cup of any pureed fruit for the banana. I sometimes also add wheat bran or flax seed for extra oomph.

      Here are the finished products!

      Vegan pancakes and sausages

      At our house we are more likely to eat pancakes for lunch or dinner than for breakfast. Anyone else like to have breakfast foods for lunch or dinner? If so, what kinds of breakfast food?

      UPDATE: Kelly sent me this picture of her vegan pancakes and sausages. They look so much better than mine that I had to share:

      Monday, January 2, 2012

      Money Saving New Year's Resolutions

      New Years is a great time to get off on the right foot. I like to have a really specific New Year's Resolution so I can feel that all important sense of satisfaction when I achieve it. If you haven't come up with your New Year's Resolution yet, here are some money saving ones to get your wheels a-turning:

      • Get a budget. Writing down your plan for your money is key to staying on track. For added bonus points, carry it with you and look at it for needed inspiration!
      • Save some money. Start by setting a savings goal. $100 is better than nothing. $1,000 is a good starting point and at least six months expenses in savings is where you want to be.
      • Give something up. If cigarettes, alcohol, sodas, lattes, fast food, cable TV or something else is bleeding you dry, now is your chance to kick that bad habit to the curb. 
      •  Pay stuff off. Make a goal to pay off at least one bill this year. If all your outstanding debts are too big to pay off in a year (like a mortgage or student loans), then set a dollar amount to get the bill down to.
      •  Buy only used items in 2012. Not only is buying used good for your pocketbook, its also good for the earth!
      • Learn to be a better cook. Cooking at home saves lots of money. For most people, eating out is the number one reason they can't get their budget under control.
      • De-clutter your garage, spare room, etc. Not only does getting rid of stuff result in cash (via EBay, Amazon, garage sale or consignment store), not having all that stuff makes it easier to find the stuff you actually do use and prevents you from going out and buying even more stuff when you can't find what you were looking for!
      • Brown bag it. If you eat out every work day for lunch and spend about $5 each time, you are spending at least $100 a month. There are so many other things you could do with that money!
      • Carpool, walk, bike or take public transportation. Even where I live (in the middle of nowhere) there are public transportation options. For instance, I recently learned that the OATS bus is open to everyone on a donation only basis.
      • Stop using credit. No matter what great deals you are getting by using your credit card, when you use credit, you spend more. 
      • Cut back on or eliminate TV. The job of advertisers is to make you feel inadequate unless you purchase their products. Eliminating TV saves money because you are simply exposed to less things you are told you need, in order to be happy.
      • Go vegetarian, if only for a day. As I've previously mentioned, eliminating meat from our diet cut our grocery bill in half. If you feel you can't be vegetarian every day, make your Mondays meatless or enjoy vegetarian weekends. Meat is costly and cutting back will save money.
      So what is your New Year's Resolution?

      I have two.

      1. Learn a new low-cost vegetarian recipe each week. I will share some with you!

      2. Give the OATS bus a try and see how it helps with transportation costs. For my poor, homeschooled children a trip on a bus will be SO exciting! :)
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