Monday, April 30, 2012

Baking soda toothpaste doesn't work for me

You probably remember me raving about how clean my teeth felt after trying homemade toothpaste.
Now that I've been using it for a little over two months, I've noticed its making my teeth sensitive. I kept asking my husband if he was experiencing the same thing and he kept saying no . . .  .until this week.
So, back to our old natural, store-bought toothpaste! :(

Photo credit: Walterrrrr

I think I'll keep the baking soda toothpaste for deep cleaning and whitening, but use it no more than once a month. Here's some of the reasons why:

  • Baking soda has made my teeth feel very clean. When I run my tongue over my teeth, it is squeaky clean like I just came from the dentist.
  • The baking soda does a great job of whitening naturally.

Besides the very important teeth sensitivity, here are other things I didn't love about my homemade baking soda toothpaste after two months of using it daily:

  • The bathroom sink became covered in an oily residue. Because I switched over to the paste instead of the powder, there is coconut oil residue in our sink. Not a huge negative, but it definitely made the sink harder to clean and keep clean.
  • My breath wasn't feeling fresh over time. I've read other homemade toothpaste users say they've also had this experience. Even with the mint, my breath wasn't as fresh as I would've liked.
  • Brushing with baking soda made me really thirsty. This is probably due to the saltiness of the baking soda. The bigger problem was I brush my teeth before bed, which would make me drink lots of water in bed, which would make me have to get up more in the night to go to the bathroom. I found this annoying.
Now, I'm not saying I've given up on the idea of homemade toothpaste. I've been reading lately about the benefits of Xyitol and the concept of re-mineralization. But, for now, I'm going to put perfecting my baking soda free homemade toothpaste at the bottom of my to do list.

So, those are my homemade toothpaste adventures. Hopefully they were helpful to hear about. Maybe some of you already knew I would come to the conclusion not to use baking soda daily on my own. Maybe some of you are using baking soda daily and loving it. Either way, I'd love to hear about your experiences!

What happened when you used baking soda as toothpaste? Have my experiences deterred you from trying it?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Homemade lemon-lime Gatorade

Here's a drink I make for my kids when they are under the weather or in need of electrolytes. My kids love it and request it frequently. It tastes just like store bought lemon-lime Gatorade. Here's what you need:

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt

Put the sugar, salt, and lemon juice in a regular sized pitcher. Fill the rest of the way with water.

That's all there is to it!

Do you make your own electrolyte drink? Does your household have a special "sicky" drink?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What should I do about medical insurance?

Photo credit:
What should I do about medical insurance? 

By far, this is my most common reader question. My family is very fortunate that my part-time employer provides medical insurance at no cost to me. I feel like my family does a lot to insure our own health by eating well and living a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, even if you take great care of yourself, you just never know what the future brings.

I'm not an insurance expert, but here are some insurance options that might work if don't have employer-provided affordable coverage:
  •  Look up insurance agencies in the phone book and get quotes. For a while we used an agency from a company who shopped around for the best quote. It was great because that one agent could give us at least five good options that she could provide. I also loved having that agent to call with questions or concerns. The coverage was surprising affordable too.

  • Check with the local hospitals. Sometimes hospitals also have their own health plans that are affordable. We've had this kind of coverage as well. Of course, you'll want to make sure any coverage you get covers major medical and catastrophic stuff--not just regular doctor's visits.

  • Carry a high deductible. If you have a six month emergency fund and are mostly needing insurance for catastrophic purposes, consider carrying a $5,000 or higher deductible. This can prevent you from going bankrupt if you have a serious medical issue arise. In this scenario, you'll probably want to rely on health clinics for routine care or minor injuries.

  • Consider all alternatives. One of my favorite blogs, Stacy Makes Cents, did a great post about alternative plans. She mostly talks about faith based plans, but there are also other kinds out there. 
  • You may qualify for state insurance, especially for your children. Check with your local department of social services or their website. You may be surprised at how high the income guidelines are!
I hate hearing that some of my readers struggle to insure themselves and their families. This is a struggle that my family and I can absolutely relate to. It makes me angry that medical care costs so much. Sometimes it seems that there aren't easy answers when it comes to health insurance.

What options have you used to insure your family? Have you ever had to go uninsured? Are you aware of insurance options that I didn't mention? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How to Clothe Your Family for Free

You may remember from my budget, I do not budget any money for clothes. How can I clothe four people for free? Its not as hard as you think. Here are the things we do that allow us to get clothing using no money.

  • The main way we get clothing for free is through clothing swaps. We have done them formally through homeschooling or other groups where everyone brings in old clothes and swaps them for clothes they need. We currently do them as part of a group we meet with weekly.
  • We also have a system with many friends where they pass clothes to us when their kids outgrow them and I pass mine to someone else. Passing bags of clothing to friends is fun.  My girlfriends and I also have a clothing bag that we continually pass around, taking out what we like and putting in what we don't need. When we see each other we point and say "Hey! That looks great on you!" I love seeing our family's old clothes being put to good use.
  • I know I've mentioned this before, but another way I get clothes for free is to help people move, clean, or have a garage sale. Although I never formally ask, the people I help always give me lots of free stuff. Another strategy I've used is to hit garage sales at closing time and offer to help clean up. People are usually exhausted and are glad to give me stuff just so they won't have to deal with it.
  • My mom picks up used clothes for the kids pretty regularly. Grandparents and other relatives are a great way to fill in the clothing gaps that occur.  If, like us, your kids don't play with lots of electronics and they aren't into whatever the hotest toy is, then that leaves room for clothing as gifts. (If you specify that you prefer used clothes, you're likely to get even more!)
  • We take old items that we don't want to the consignment store regularly. (This includes clothes, books, and anything that's cluttering up our house.) Then, I use the credit to get "new" things we need. Right now we are getting lots of credit at the consignment store because our $13,000 house came with LOTS of the previous owner's stuff. So, we take that stuff in for trade-in credit. :)
  • If you do drop some money for clothes, try to buy out of season.  Even better if you can combine this method at a trade-in consignment store. For example, bring them clothes they need this season and make your store credit go further by "buying" clothes that are going out of season and thus 50-75% off.
  • Many thrift/consignment stores I've found have free boxes where the clothes didn't quite meet the standard in one way or another. These are a jackpot, as far as I'm concerned. I pick up anything my kids can wear or will be able to wear in the future.  (Mending is often required.)
  • If you shop thrift stores, do it when there's a sale. A thrift store near my mom's house is one where everything costs a quarter. On their sale days, (usually at change of season) they give you a sack and the sale is as much as you can stuff in a sack for a quarter! Even though that's not technically free, its pretty stinkin' close!
Photo credit: Brian J. Matis,San Luis Obispo, CA
There are a couple of tricks to keep in mind to make this free clothing stuff work:

Store it. In our garage, we have tubs of clothes that are too big for the kids.  Every season change, I pull them out and then figure out what we need. I trade in their out of season clothes in order to get any needed items.

Stitch it. If your not a mender, taking free clothes will turn you in to one. Many people get rid of clothes when all they need is a button or a patch.

Say it. There's something magical that happens when you let people know your needs. It didn't take long of me telling people that I'm open to free clothes before the clothes started finding me. So many people have stuff that they want to get rid of and they are happy to give it to someone who will use it!

So, can you do this? Do you have a group who you can swap clothes with? Have you asked around at all the thrift store to see about their sales and free boxes? Do you have a consignment store that allows you to get store credit?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our new piano

Hi all! We've been busy as we enter into the last month of our homeschooling school year! We've also been doing a lot more playing outside, gardening, etc. I'll share some garden pics with you soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to show you my newest freebie. We got a great piano from another homeschooling family for free. My husband and daughter are learning to play, so its great that we now have something for them to practice on. Even though our house is small (850 square feet), we made room for the new piano in the living room.

Our living room previously had an entertainment center with a TV on top, which we kept around for the purpose of watch DVDs even after we gave up broadcast TV several years ago. We decided to get rid of the TV and entertainment center to make room for the piano. Here was our living room before the piano:

The corner piece must go

This stuff must be moved to make room for the piano
Even though our living room is now a little more crowded, I'm very happy that we decided to get the piano. I've noticed my kids stop to play a little on the piano every day without any prompt from me. I think the piano makes all of us strive to be a little more musical.

Our FREE piano

The bookshelf and dresser found a new home
I also really like having our bookshelf so close to the couches because it feels like a built-in reading nook. The couches now both have a window directly behind them which makes for great access to natural light in the daytime when we sit on the couches to read or do other tasks that require light.

Do you have a piano? Did you get it for free? Do you think mastering a musical instrument is important in the homeschooling/self-sufficient lifestyle?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time 4 Learning Review

I can't believe its already been a month since I told you that we were going to try out Time 4 Learning.

In the past month we really haven't used it too much, mostly because it wasn't a good fit for our family. Here are some reasons why it didn't work so well for us.

  • My son didn't like it. He sometimes get frustrated easily and the lessons didn't appeal to him, nor did the way to operate Time 4 Learning seem intuitive to him.
  • I didn't like not teaching my kids and having them plugged into the computer. I'm a creative gal who really likes homeschooling (on most days). I felt like a computer based curriculum was trying to steal my thunder.
  • Time 4 Learning has social studies, which I hate. The phrase "social studies" just makes me mad. In my opinion it is usually a watered down version of real subjects that students should actually be studying; namely, Geography and Science.
  • The last thing I didn't like about it was something I wouldn't have liked about any boxed/all inclusive curriculum, which is that I don't want to be boxed in. I want to be free to teach my kids about things that interest them as well as teach them a subject from an angel that reinforces our family values. 

However, Time 4 Learning wasn't all bad. My daughter really liked it. Here's some reasons why I might use Time 4 Learning if my life circumstances were different.

  • If I had an only child. We get a lot of our family interaction when we homeschool. If I just had one child, they might get more out of the computer based lesson.
  • If I wanted an all inclusive curriculum.
  • If I didn't want to or have the time to teach homeschool my kids but still wanted my kids to learn at home.
  • If my kids grew tired of learning primarily from me and wanted more independence, but with structure.
So, for us Time 4 Learning is a no, for now. I might revisit it later should our  needs change. Thanks to everyone who recommended it and thanks to Time 4 Leaning for letting me try their program for free. I love looking at what other people use to homeschool their own kiddos, because I always learn something from the experience to make my own homeschool program better!

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    Real World Advice from the Festival of Frugality

    One thing about living a lifestyle that is financially deviant from the norm (the norm being a debt ridden consumerist lifestyle), is that it can be hard to know what to do at times. If you, like me, reject consumer culture and the media that it promotes, then where do you turn for answers that apply to your life and your situation? One place that I get information is from fellow bloggers, especially those bloggers who I feel hold similar financial goals and moral values. Here are some of the blog posts submitted to this week's Festival of Frugality. Many of these bloggers have been there and done that when it comes to frugal wisdom. They have that real-world advice that I crave!

    Photo credit: Jen Collins
     Here are my absolute favorites:

    LOVE the post by Living in Financial Excellence about how to get started making a budget! Personal Finance Journey also provided three great tips about growing your emergency fund. 20s Finances weighs in with more easy ways to save money. I liked Married With Debt's non-traditional look at early retirement. Also among my favorites was Brip Blap's top 10 healthy and frugal foods. LOVE The Happy Guy's take on creating your own fast food.

    There was a lot of great advice! Here's some of the others I enjoyed:

    Money Counselor offers the truth about Six Gas Mileage Myths. Prarie Ecothrifter explains how driving the speed limit saves money. Experiments in Finance ponders the benefits of taking the bus.
    The Outlier Model explains how to get starting brewing your own beverages. The Frugal Toad reviews DIY projects anyone can do.

    Little House in the Valley is talking about Save Up. Christian Personal Finance is reviewing Manilla, another of the money management tools that seem to be popping up everywhere. Personally, I prefer to keep it simple and use something like the jar system. However, My University Money is criticizing Gail Vaz-Oxlade, who is a Canadian financial expert who coined the jar system.

    Boomer & Echo have tackled a subject some of my readers have asked me about: Is a Costco Membership worth it?

    Money Reasons lists the benefits of getting a tax refund. Broke Professionals have the opposite advice.

    Funancials tells you how to pay off your mortgage quickly.Things college students can do to avoid being in debt upon graduation comes from Free Money Wisdom. PT Money offers financial planning for stay at home moms.

    Smart Family Finance weighs renting against buying a home or apartment.

    Money Spruce talks about the all important relationship between time and money.

    Thanks for reading this week's Festival of Frugality. Hopefully you found some of this real world advice as helpful as I did.

    Do you prefer to get advice from someone who's been there, done that? Do you give advice about things you haven't tried yet or have no intention of trying?

    Sunday, April 15, 2012

    Getting rid of fleas naturally

    Did you ever read that Amelia Bedelia book where Amelia is told to dust the furniture and so she puts dust all over it? This is the time of year where I feel just like Amelia, because to get rid of fleas I dust our beds, couch, and cats with Diatomaceous Earth.

    If you've never heard of this stuff, it's great. You can buy it at farm supply stores. Just make sure you get the food grade, NOT the pool grade. To use it, you simply sprinkle it on anything that might attract fleas. Diatomaceous Earth is safe to eat and be around. The only thing it is not safe to do is breathe, so make sure you wear a mask or some other protection when applying.

    Our family has two indoor/outdoor cats that we really love. One is quite the mouser so he serves a really practical purpose. The other one? Well, she looks nice sitting in the window. :) I started the process of getting rid of fleas by dusting the cats.

    Mouser kitty BEFORE and Diatomaceous Earth

    Mouser kitty AFTER

    Pretty kitty DURING the dusting

    Our fleas were getting pretty bad in the house so after dusting the house I had the cats stay outside in the nice weather for a couple of days while the Diatomaceous Earth took effect. The way the stuff works is that it cuts and dehydrates the fleas and ticks, thus killing them. It is also great for the cats because as they lick it off they are swallowing it which gets rid of any intestinal parasites as well!

    While the cats were outside I also dusted our beds since the cats often sleep with us.

    A bed with Diatomaceous Earth all over it.

    The way I dust our beds is I put on a mask, ask the kids to play outside, and then sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth all over each bed. I let it sit for a day or two and then vacuum it off. When I vacuum it off, I also put on a mask and send the kids outside, just to be safe since you are not supposed to breathe it in.

    In the same fashion, I also dust our couch and any area rugs we have. If you have carpet (which we don't), you would definitely want to dust that too.

    Dusting with Diatomaceous Earth won't get rid of your fleas right away. It takes a while to work. Some sources says a couple of weeks, although we usually notice an improvement within a couple of days. Also, you must re-dust about every month during the months when fleas are a problem.

    I love to use this product because it is totally natural (after all, its just dirt). It is also WAY cheaper than any other flea product I know of. I paid about $7 for my container of Diatomaceous Earth, have had it for about a year, and I still have over half a container left!

    Another way to get a jump start on fleas is to bathe your pet. You do not need a special flea soap to do this. Water combined with any soap that is allowed to sit on your pet's skin for five minutes will kill fleas. However, many kittys do not like to sit still with soapy water on them for five minutes!

    What have you tried to get rid of fleas naturally? Did it work?

    Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Kitchen chair reupholstery

    My mom visited me last week which means we got tons of stuff done around the house. My mom is a real go-getter who doesn't know how to sit still. One of the many projects we marked off my to-do list was to reupholster the chairs to my free kitchen table.

    Of all the before photos I've shared with you, these are the most embarrassing.

    My kitchen chairs BEFORE:

    That's a fresh coffee spill, which served as extra motivation!

    When we got the set (for free while helping a friend move) it came with two chairs upholstered in the brown pattern and two with the blue pattern. In our old, much bigger house this table served as our craft/homeschool table and so I never bothered jazzing it up because its purpose was to get glued on, written on, puzzled on, etc.

    In our new smaller house, we couldn't bring our nicer dinette set because it was too big for the space. That left us with this freebie set as our main dining set. It has served us well, but with chairs that look as bad as those above, I'm surprised anyone was willing to sit at it. (I honestly didn't realize it was that bad. I think I'd just gotten used to it.)

    With my mom and her project tackling energy, we decided to make the kitchen set a little nicer. A while back, I picked up some red vinyl fabric for $5. So, that's what we used for the job.

    First we removed the seat.

    Then I "measured" how much fabric I would need by using the old, yucky fabric as a template.

    I roughly cut the new fabric in fourths.

    I flipped the fabric over and laid the seat face down on top of it.

    I stapled the two opposite sides first.

    Now comes the tricky part: folding in the corners. You can just fold it like a birthday present, but I don't like the look of that. So, I start by folding the corner down a little at a time. I staple, then fold down again and again. It isn't an exact science. You just want to get it as flush as possible.

    My first corner folds

    Before you know it, you've got a reupholstered seat!

    My job was to do the reupholstery. My mom's job was to take off and put on the cushions. Here she is hard at work.

    And here's the finished product! Better? I think so!

    The great thing about these new seat covers is that they wipe down easily. I also love the splash of color that they add to the kitchen!

    Have you reupholstered chair cushions before? Do your seats looks as bad as mine did? Anyone else have a dinette set that they got for free? Who else has a mom like an Energizer bunny?

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    DIY Free Kindle Cover

    You may remember me talking here about how I bought a Kindle and returned it because I was afraid it would just continue to cost me money through the buying of accessories and electronic books. When I told my husband this, he said "So, make your own cover and don't buy books." He's so practical.

    Because of the work I do, it is important that I keep abreast of current books. Since my local library finally got e-books, I decided a Kindle really would be a good choice for me and so I ordered one last month. I couldn't decide exactly how to take my husband's advice and make my own cover until one day when inspiration hit. I saw an unused DVD case and thought, "That would make a great cover for my e-reader!" And it works great! And it was free. And it won't take you long to make one for yourself. Here's how:

    Find a DVD case that isn't in use and tear off the plastic parts that stick up on its interior.

    I've already torn off the two tabs on the left side.

    Take a razor blade and cut off the part where the DVD rests, like this:

    I starting gluing my fabric before I realized that this part would have to be cut out with a razor blade.

    Now that you've cut your case up, you've got to cover that ugly butcher job up! Choose some fabric. You'll want to grab your Kindle and make sure your case is going to close securely once you glue your fabric inside.

    Testing it out.

    Now you're ready to glue the fabric onto the inside of your former DVD case. This will help your Kindle to fit more snugly and not get scratched.

    I used some fabric that I had on hand and got for free. It is soft and ribbed.
    Now its time to personalize your Kindle cover. I simply took the DVD paper that was inside the DVD case's plastic cover and flipped it around so that my cover appeared to be an all-white piece of paper. My daughter offered to make me a beautiful origami flower for the cover. I slipped it right in between the plastic covering and the flipped over DVD paper.

    Isn't it pretty?
    I've been carrying my case around for about a week and I love how durable it is. I also love that it was free and I made it out of something that was essentially trash (the DVD case). And it only took me about 30 minutes to make. This DIY Kindle cover saved me from buying one for $40.

    What do you think? Do you have an e-reader? If so, did you make your own cover?

     I'm linking up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways blog hop.

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    How to cook and love beans

    We eat a lot of beans! I'm a vegetarian and a cheapskate so this makes sense, right? One of my son's friends was over to play and he told my son, "I don't like beans". My son replied, "Then you're not gonna want to eat dinner at our house."

    Yep, we are usually having some kind of bean dish for dinner. Not every day, but most days.

    I grew up on a beef farm and the only kind of beans we ever had growing up were pinto beans. So, when my extended family hears that we eat beans as our main protein source, they all envision that bowl of plain-jane beans my Grammy used to make.

    Although we do eat pinto beans, we also eat several other kinds of beans. Here are beans we keep on hand (listed in order of preference.) We buy them by the 25 lb bag as part of our bulk food order.
    1. Pinto Beans
    2. Green lentils
    3. Black beans (These are the cheapest organic bean I buy at $18 for 25 lbs)
    4. Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
    5. Black eyed peas

    Now, what do I do with all those beans? Here are links to my favorite recipes.

    Chickpea Tacos
    Black bean burgers are a favorite at my house.

    Chickpea Cutlets

    Black bean burgers

    Sloppy Lous

    Lentil Loaf


    Hoppin' John

    Syrian Lentil Soup (I use green lentils.)

    I also make quite a few things that I don't have recipes for--I just kind-of throw them together. (If these intrigue you, use them as meal ideas and search the internet for a version of the recipe that appeals to you.)

    Black bean soup

    Chili (I love it with corn!)

    Lentils cooked with homemade taco seasoning to use as a filling for tacos or burritos. I make all our tortillas from this recipe.

    Rice, cheese (or nutritional yeast sauce) and pinto bean burritos (These are my kid's favorite.) This recipe is so simple you don't even need to look it up. It really is just what the ingredients say.

    We eat a lot of homemade re-fried beans (made from pinto beans) and homemade hummus (make from chickpeas)--as dips, on sandwiches, on pizzas, with tortillas, carrots, pita bread, you name it. My kids REALLY love re-fried beans.

    We also eat something I call burrito bowls to use up bean leftovers. I make rice and set out the leftover beans along with cheese, salad, sour cream, veggies, or whatever else we have on hand. Everyone then puts together their own burrito bowl from the available options. (I find my kids eat best when they have creative control.)

    Macaroni and cheese with pinto beans. I love this--especially with some diced tomatoes thrown in!

    Beans and Potatoes. Sometimes we eat this cooked crock-pot style where I just throw in black or pinto beans with chopped potatoes, onions, some spices, and tomato sauce. My husband's favorite way of eating beans and potatoes is to have oven baked potatoes with black beans ladled over the top.

    Of course, this isn't all the recipes I use, but these are my regulars.  Hopefully, it helps you to see how many different ways one family can enjoy beans!

    A couple other things about beans:

    • I usually cook my beans either in the crock-pot or on the wood stove (in the winter). I soak them overnight first, rinse them, and cook double the amount I am going to need. I then freeze half of the beans so I have a convenient meal starter for another day when I am a hurry. 
    • If you are new to beans, I recommend starting with black beans, pinto beans and chickpeas. Any of these beans go well with rice. Lentils and pintos make a good meat substitute. We seem to like chickpeas most in the summer. Black beans make amazing burgers, dips and soups.
    •  Liquid smoke works wonders if you want to give beans a savory or meaty flavor. It is certainly cheaper than actual meat. Just splash a few drops into your pot o' beans!
    •  Cooking with beans instead of meat can call for spices you may not have on hand. At first it can be overwhelming --I know that's how I felt when I started cooking with beans. To get started, I just picked up one new spice at the store each week.
    So, how often does your family eat beans? What's your favorite bean dish? Why do you think you don't eat more beans?

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    Where can I get a house for under $15,000?

    One of my readers submitted this question to me:

    Hi Bobbie, where do you recommend I can find a home for under $15,000 in the U.S.A.?

    Photo credit: Basil Gilbert, Melbourne, Australia
    I thought this was a great question so I decided to answer it in a post!

    As we've all heard, location is the key to real estate. Usually, it is also the key to getting a good deal. Buying a home in areas where no one else wants to live will definitely save money!

    Things that will probably mean an area has cheap houses for you to buy are:
    • It is NOT near a major or even a queen city. 
    • It doesn't have much major industry. 
    • It is a small town--probably fewer than $2,000.
    • The town is not on a major highway.
    • It is not in a coastal or popular vacation area.
    • It is in a state with a low cost of living.
    • It is in an area with little in the way of zoning, ordinances, and taxes.
    Once you have chosen some possible areas that have affordable housing, I would encourage you to go visit them. (Camping is a great way to do this cheaply.)

    While you are in the area, look at the houses in person. Weed your list down to one or two good options. Inspect the house(s) or pay to get it/them inspected before making an offer. Yes, this may result in you losing some money by paying to inspect a house you don't actually buy, but that is better than buying a house without knowing what work it needs. The other benefit of having an inspection is that you can quantify why you are offering what you are. For example, with our house we knew we would need to clean up mold, ventilate the attic, put on a new roof, etc. Knowing this helped us calculate how much we could afford to offer on our house so we would have the money left over to fix it up.

    Now is such a great time to buy a house. Many houses are being foreclosed upon and property values are way down. To get the absolute best deal, pay in cash and be a savvy negotiator. Begin by negotiating the best deal and then tell the owner you will close quickly and pay in cash in exchange for them knocking down the price even more.

    In our situation, we were able to get such a cheap house because I work from home and we didn't care what kind of jobs were in the area. However, now that we have lived here for six months I think there are more employment opportunities than I originally thought. So, be open to what your new area has to offer!

    When thinking about buying cheap houses, you hear a lot about auctions and properties for back taxes. Both of these can be sticky situations. I haven't bought real estate with either of these methods, but I plan to in the future. I've been to some real estate auctions and I know there are some rules, specifically surrounding how much money you need up front and how fast you have to get them the money after you win the bid. So, if you go this route, find out all the details in advance from the auction company. As for back taxes, I would probably only do this option if you are really getting a steal of a deal. This is because once you buy the house for back taxes, you could owe other things on the house that the previous owners didn't pay. In our county, I called our courthouse assessor who told me that houses go up for back taxes once a year. She also said that the rules of my county are that you must already be a county resident to purchase properties for back taxes. Therefore, it definitely wouldn't have worked for us to buy our first house in the area that way. However, you can bet that I'll be be on the lookout for deals now that I am a county resident. :)

    Our current house was listed for $17,500 through a real estate agent. When we were searching I did a lot of internet searches through real estate agencies by simply typing in the name of the county, state, and the key word, "real estate".

    I would say the key to getting a great deal on a house is to be flexible. In fact, be flexible on as many points as you can: location, what you expect from the house, what your willing to fix/put up with, etc. When we bought our house, we had no idea how to fix anything--we just knew we were willing to learn! A funny memory I have is of us driving to our new house after we bought it and my husband reading a book along the way about how to ventilate attics. As soon as we arrived, he put his new knowledge into action and got the job done within the day!

    The last thing I would say is to have a house hunting partner who can provide feedback for you (even if they can't go to every viewing with you.) My husband and I are good house hunting partners .This is because I think every house is going to be awesome--I can see the potential in almost anything. He is a bit more cautious and realistic. For this house, though, we were a little flip-flopped and I was the cautious one.

    So, that's all I know about buying cheap real estate. Perhaps some of you have advice to add on the subject!

    I want to thank my reader for submitting this question. I've been getting a lot more questions from readers lately so you can expect more posts like this. Some of the reader questions I'm working on currently are: What do I do about health insurance? What are the secrets to cooking and loving beans? How do I clothe my family for free?

    So what do you want to know? Are you thinking of trying to get a great deal in real estate? Or do you have a different question for me?

    To ask me a question of your own, please email me at

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Easy DIY Compost Bin

    I have composted for many years, but I admit that I haven't paid attention to my compost like I should. Sometimes I've had good compost that I could put in my garden and sometimes I've just had sludge.

    At our old house, I had an actual compost bin that my dad built for me out of steel. It was huge and heavy enough that we couldn't bring it with us when we moved. Living at our new house without a compost bin, I'd been just piling the kitchen scraps in our yard somewhere out of the way.  The piles I'd created this winter are not looking much like compost--just piles of garbage that stray dogs have picked through. Yuck.

    When my friend came to visit recently she offered to help me build an easy breezy compost bin. She said all I needed was a large container with a lid and a drill. I was excited to finally have a real compost bin so I got started by following her directions:

    Step 1. Get a container

    If you are buying a new one, you should make sure it is BPA free. (For mine, I used one we already had.)

    Step 2. Drill holes all over it, but not in the lid.

    A rare look at me in action.

    I started the project only to realize I didn't have a drill bit! (My husband had loaned his good drill and all his drill bits to a friend.) I improvised by using a finishing nail in my drill to make the holes. It worked great!

    Drilling holes in the side

    Step 3. Add kitchen scraps.

    I added kitchen scraps plus some hand-shredded newspaper
    My friend says she had a bin like this for years and it made excellent compost. She said that she simply put kitchen scraps in and then added either shredded paper or water, depending on whether the mix was too wet or too dry. She kept a shovel next to it and stirred it about twice a week.

    I set mine right outside my back door with the shovel on top. I'm pretty excited that I won't have to carry my kitchen scraps very far now to empty them! I wish I had done this sooner.

    This doesn't have all the holes drilled in it yet, but you get the idea. :)

    Do you compost? What do you put your scraps in? Did you make it yourself?

    I'm linking up to the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog Hop
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