Thursday, February 26, 2009

Two Nickels to Rub Together

My friend The Endurance Diva posted this joke/card the other day and it CRACKED ME UP. Whew! I laughed myself silly, because sad to say, this reminds me of me. Oh my goodness, at least we can laugh, right?

In all seriousness though, last week when Christopher and I realized we could not afford to both refill Genevieve's acid-reflux medicine prescription AND buy the necessary groceries for a dinner for some visiting relatives before the next pay-day, we faced the unpleasant facts that since Christopher lost his second job in December we have been down nearly a thousand dollars per month in income. I had avoided actually adding up the numbers because I was afraid to know how much less money we were making each month, but it turns out that his former part-time job brought $900 per month into our household, $900 we are now struggling to do without. If by "struggling" you mean "frantically trying to figure out what we're going to do." Oh, and also if by "struggling" you mean "begging your parents to bring groceries along when they visit, and also shamelessly and gratefully accepting their $100 check." (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

When I quit my part-time practice when Genevieve was born, Christopher and I knew that he'd have to teach part-time on top of his full-time day job for us to survive as a family of four with a non-working parent. We just didn't know that his teaching job would dry up this winter. It's shocking to be an educated, graduate-degreed, professional couple and be doing things like deciding to skip the dental check-up because there's always a hefty co-pay, like not replacing the Diet Coke carton when it's empty, like taking Genevieve to library storytime every week instead of Wiggles & Giggles, because even though Wiggles & Giggles is the only opportunity she has to get active play in the winter and that's important, it costs $5 to get in and storytime is free. It's realizing we really can't afford that coffee date we were thinking of in a few weeks, with the babysitter and everything; it sounds pathetic, but I don't think we have $15 to spare right now for a sitter.

And of course, we are so much better off than so many in the country today. But it's still very stressful. (One note: please don't tell me I need to go back to work. Have you seen what full-time daycare for two children costs these days?)

So! On to the point of this post!

I've been working hard to discover creative ways to save money. I haven't quite gotten to the point of re-using coffee filters, but I'm tempted. I'm feeding my kids the cheap store-brand bread instead of the super-healthy whole-grain variety. I'm scrubbing the toilets with generic bleach instead of pourable Lysol. I'm making cheap dinners like waffles (thanks for the waffle iron, Mom and Dad!). I'm using half the suggested amount of laundry soap, and hoping the clothes still get clean. I'm doing without certain toiletries and cosmetics I typically use, or buying the cheapest versions available. I've sworn off the gas fireplace, lovely and cozy as it is. I'm drinking my coffee without cream. I'm making homemade pizza dough rather than buying take-out or frozen pizza from the store. I'm using cloth rather than paper napkins even more than we already did. I'm using fewer paper towels and Kleenexes each time I need them.

Most of us are tightening our belts these days, and maybe you have some good household tips for pinching pennies. Care to share? What are your best money-saving secrets, oh Internets? I'm especially interested in economical cleaning products: do any of you use that old vinegar and baking soda strategy? Cleaning products are crazy expensive--what are some cheaper ways to clean house? Any ideas?


Mnmom said...

Hey! That's what The Endurance Diva is all about!

Here's a few I've found:
Suave Hair Conditioner at 97 cents a bottle makes great shave cream for women.
Use rags instead of paper towels.
Homemade popcorn!
Trade babysitting time with another couple so you can still get away for a lunch date or just a walk.
Could you take in another child for pay? (Although the very idea sends chills up my spine).

I'm not going to tell you to go back to work - that day will come soon enough. When they are both in school all day, things will be very very different.

Mom and Kiddo said...

We use primarily baking soda and vinegar to clean since I have an irrational fear of chemicals. It is super cheap and gets everything just as clean. We occasionally use Bon Ami, a cheap and fairly non-toxic scouring powder for tougher jobs.

I second the use of rags and homemade popcorn which is really fun for my son to watch pop, pop, pop.

It is so annoying to think about how if I went back to work (which I have no desire to do right now), almost all of my salary would simply go to child care. Ugh.

Mom/Nonna said...

Remember your yesterday's post? Get serious about encouraging Genna to use the potty. She is smart and will catch on quickly. Voila! No more diaper expenses! You're welcome for the "help", such as it was. It's fun to reprise my role as the "grocery fairy" once in awhile.

Shan said...

Hmmm, Mom has a point about the diapers.

Mom and Kiddo, can you elaborate on the process of using baking soda and/or vinegar for cleaning?

Anonymous said... had a good list of homemade cleaning products. The one I easily found today was for homemade laundry detergent. Another sidebar is for 168 frugal tips to make your dollar stretch. Her blog is widely read and she always has lots of good ideas, although not all apply to all people, obviously. She often has links to other similar blogs. Hope that helps, and best wishes!

donna said...

I'm afraid I don't have new ideas, but will support those ideas which have already been thrown out there.

I already use only half the recommended amount of detergent in my laundry because I feel that it fades the clothes less (I have no idea whether it's actually true, but I think it helps the longevity of clothes) and I feel my clothes get plenty clean. (I do use the full-amount on whites.)

You could use your dryer less to cut energy costs. Put it in for half the time so clothes aren't dripping and then hang them to finish drying - especially heavy things like jeans that take a long time to dry. This should also extend the life of your clothes. (You'll need somewhere to hang the clothes. I'm sure Target has a clothes drying rack for cheap.)

I've done the cheap hair conditioner as shaving cream, too. It's amazing. My skin was so much softer and you don't need a lot. Hm... maybe I should go back to doing that again....

We use old cloth diapers for EVERYTHING.

My grandma used to cut paper towels and napkins in half.

I was also going to suggest potty training.

Cooking from scratch is often much cheaper than buying convenience foods so that's a good thing you should keep up! Use your freezer a lot. Make a lot of waffles and freeze them (separate them with waxed paper or aluminum foil so they don't stick together into one giant waffle). Make a double recipe of pizza dough and freeze half. Do you have a bread machine? You could make your own whole wheat bread.

Read up about diluting household cleaners (like bleach). For most, it should be okay. Should help the environment, too.

Do you have anything you can sell?

Question said...

We use vinegar, baking soda, and ammonia or vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. We reuse all zip-top bags many, many, many times. We don't use the dryer (We have a drying rack and lines strung around the basement) except for sheets and towels. I use 1/4 of a paper towel, if I use one at all. J saves any container/bag that comes through the door and it gets reused somehow.

Laura said...

The short version of baking soda and vinegar cleaning is to use vinegar anywhere you need a liquid (or a spray) and baking soda anywhere you need a scrubbing powder.

There are also some recipes here (it's a pdf):

Our shower drain was clogged a few weeks ago and I dumped some baking powder down there, then poured in a little vinegar at a time, letting it fizz up, then sit until I couldn't hear the fizzing anymore, then pouring in a little more. It worked! It took kind of a long time (and a whole bottle of vinegar), but still! $1.75 in supplies is a lot less than calling the plumber!

Shan said...

OK, but how does one use vinegar to clean without having the house end up smelling like a salad? Also--does it kill germs/disinfect? Anyone?

Anonymous said...

Club soda is a fabulous replacement for Windex or any other such glass cleaners. It's cheap, non-sticky, and it does a wonderful no-streak job. Buy it and a spray bottle from the Target $1 Spot, and you're in business

- Anonymous in GA (fellow penny-pinching mama to two girls)

Shan said...

Amazing--I was JUST thinking I should post and ask what folks use for cheap glass cleaner. God, I love the Internet. (Thanks, Anonymous in GA!)

Lori said...

Have you considered putting ads on your blog, or a tip jar? You should totally be getting paid for writing!

I can explain further, if you'd like.

Shan said...

Lori, I'd be happy to hear your perspective on the blog ad idea. I'd always heard that unless you're a true blog rock star, you make what one writer called "money for gum"!

Is it worth it?

Mom and Kiddo said...

We use a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part water in a spray bottle to clean any and all surfaces. You have to dilute, or it is too strong. Unless you have something fancy like marble, which would not react well to acid vinegar. The vinegar smell disappears as soon as it dries but you could also use a little lemon -- I never bother with that because lemons are expensive! Vinegar does disinfect but I understand some people use hydrogen peroxide for further disinfecting power. I don't do that, my mom told me just to use boiling water on my counters if I have cut meat or something like that. The only drawback to vinegar is that it doesn't dissolve hardened food (her kitchen must be gross! is what you are thinking now) but super hot water will do the trick there.
A paste of baking soda is good for cleaning the sink and stove.
In the bathroom I pour some vinegar straight into the toilet, scrub and flush. voila! But on the bathtub water rings I do tend to use the aforementioned Bon Ami.
It works beautifully as a window/mirror cleaner.
I also hear that you can replace half your laundry detergent with white vinegar. My neighbor does this and loves it. I should try that, too.
I second Laura's suggestion of bkg. soda as drain cleaner/clearer -- that has worked for us, too.
There is actually a book called Vinegar: Over 400 uses.... I've never read it, but I am intrigued!

Lori said...

It's true, you start out with money for gum, but it grows from there depending on traffic, links, etc, etc. And hey, a few dollars a day isn't bad to start, and who knows? You might become the next Dooce. I also have another freelance writing gig I can try to set you up with.

I just noticed that Elise was friends with your husband on Facebook, so I'll friend him over there and get your info.


Shan said...

Aw, I love you all! I'm a vinegar convert from now on, I swear. I'm so thrilled to get all this info on how to use it! Thanks, guys! And Lori, thank you!

Tiffany said...

There are ten thousands ways to cut expenses, but $900 is A LOT to try to make up. You are probably going to need to cut some things and make some extra money (you or DH).

Look at cellphone plans. Do you really need what you are paying for?
Look at cable/dish bills. Do you really need or even use what you pay for?

When is the last time you shopped for house or car insurance? A day on the phone with a few insurance people could save you hundreds of dollars a year. Shop around for sure.

Are you getting the most out of insurance policies you have? My disability insurance offers to pay me $50 up to 4 times/year when I go to the doctor when I'm sick.

Are you participating in a health savings account?

Buy a mini-trampoline. Your girls can exercise at home in the winter. Not sure if you go to church, but many churches have gyms in them. Go run around for a while there--for free.

Is it possible for you to do some counseling like one night/week or on Saturdays? I don't know enough about this field to know how feasible this is.

Have you looked into teaching a class online? Or your husband? I know lots of professionals that do this. Lots of research universities are even offering lots of courses online now.

Sorry, this is so long. I'm a single mom of three. I've had to be pretty creative.

Shan said...

Tiffany--I appreciate your comment! Funnily enough, the second job my husband just got laid off from was a part-time online-teaching (college) position. Ah, the economy. Gotta love it.

What's most frustrating to me is that we've already reduced our expenses so much as it is. We pay a very small amount for basic cable ($15/mo.), and only have that because without it, due to where our house is situated, we can't reliably bring in ANY TV channels at all. We own only one car and pay minimally for its insurance. We live in a townhouse and therefore only have to pay for "renter's" insurance (the association pays for all exterior insurance). We maintain bargain plans on our cell phones, which we went without for 2 years but recently reinstated in order to have emergency contact info when our daughter is in school if we're not at home. We already own a mini-tramp for the girls to jump on for free winter exercise (it's just that they get bored of that sometimes and need alternatives now and then).

It's hard to imagine many other ways to feasibly cut expenses, which means we need to hope my husband can find another part-time teaching job and that I can find some freelancing. (I've considered returning to a part-time evening/weekend psychotherapy practice, but the outlay of money it takes to start up something like that is not something we can invest in right now, and in our small town, there aren't any clinical opportunities with hours like that.)

It does help to know that others have had to be creative in finding ways to get by also. And I appreciate EVERY SINGLE SUGGESTION. Honestly.

Trish said...

Alright, I am sure you are overwhelmed with responses but I have been meaning to post for a few days. My Mom is CRAZY about homemade skin cleansers/exfoliates so here are a few tricks I have acquired from her:

Baking Soda Scrub:
2 to 3 Tbsp. Baking soda
Small amount of water

Mix the ingredients into a paste.
Using a circular motion, apply to face and gently scrub. Works on arms & legs too!

Honey Sugar Scrub
1 tsp. of honey
1/2 tsp. of sugar (either cane or brown — both work well)

Blend in bowl. Apply.
Rinse very thoroughly, as this recipe can be slightly sticky. *This is a SUPER cheap scrub if you ask for honey at a restaurant & grab a handful of cane sugar from them too! By cheap I mean, perk of eating out : )

Enjoy! Not household cleaners but I figure you need to clean yourself too : )