Saturday, December 10, 2011

Change Should Be Gradual for Best Results

Homegrown organic salad mix, much cheaper than store bought!
When you are thinking about making lifestyle changes, whether they are because of your own core beliefs or are imposed from the outside due to things beyond your control it is always a good idea to work at them gradually.

When you are working with your budget you should take things item by item and make changes slowly. Making too many changes too fast increases your risk of failure.

Right now I am working on changing my diet to one that is nearly all home grown. I can't do that all at once, I must do it at the pace the garden sets for me. But I can concentrate on doing everything possible within the framework the garden gives me. I eat a lot of organic salad greens, generally about 2 pounds a week. at over $5 a pound this amounts to a substantial amount of grocery money each month.

I have several areas of baby lettuce production in the garden, at differing stages of development. In the beginning, as the first area began to produce leaves big enough to pick, there wasn't really enough to make a dent in the grocery budget. Now that I have several areas in production I have been able to stop buying salad mix at the grocery store. Some weeks I am not able to pick as much as I could eat, so I have adapted my diet to the level of garden production. If I don't have enough salad greens, perhaps I am able to pick beets or carrots. If I'm not able to harvest enough vegetables from the garden then I fall back on the grocery store, but now I purchase things that are a little less expensive than salad mix.

I think it's all about adaptability and doing things a little at a time. By this time next year I don't think I will be buying any vegetables from the grocery store at all. My next big ticket in the grocery dept. to work on will be fruit. I do eat a lot of fruit, especially apples and pears in the winter, probably about 3 pounds a week. It will be awhile before I am able to put in a lot of apple and pear trees. In the meantime I need to work on taking better care of the apple trees I do have so that they will bear more fruit. I'll also be putting some other fruiting plants around the place, like strawberries. And of course come summer there will be watermelons and cantaloups in the garden.

Other things in the budget that I'm slowly nibbling away at is of course the last of the debt. I won't be done with it in January like I'd hoped, because I took a nice vacation. But I'll be done with it soon and then I will be able to ramp up the infrastructure I need to become more self sufficient, like a decent building to house the rabbits and some more chickens, where dogs can't kill them. Electric fencing so I can fence off part of my land and perhaps get some dairy and meat goats. There are many other projects planned, but for now I'll just go at them a bit at a time and try not to be too impatient.

Are you thinking you don't have enough land to grow your own food? You might be surprised at how little you actually need, check out How Much Land Does it Take to Grow Your Own Food?

Saturday, November 26, 2011


organic baby lettuce & radishes, home grown!
Today I am thinking about the future. I soooo want to be able to stay home and putter about with the garden, some animals and play on the computer! I know that I need to get a bit more organized about every part of my life and that is a continuing process. Besides creating various income streams that will create money for me to live on in the future, I am also trying to reduce the amount of money I need to live on.

Some days it seems like I'm spinning my wheels, I'm trying to save money but I need to spend money to build the infrastructure I need for the future. But I keep plugging along! Right now I have been harvesting lovely baby lettuce for my daily salads, along with occasional radishes, carrots and beets. I've gotten my greenhouse up and am planting things in it and I'm working on another one. Details can be found over at the Edible Garden Blog. Be sure and check out Seedy Saturday, I'm giving away free garden seeds! Having all my home grown lettuce means I'm saving about $10 a week on the grocery bill, perhaps even more.

My greenhouses turn out a big crooked and ugly, but I point out to the naysayers that I'm making something useful out of stuff other people have thrown away! So who cares what it looks like? It works and does the job I need it to do!

In the meantime I've also been writing a lot of articles over on Squidoo about all sorts of things and that is a small but growing stream of income, along with my Zazzle shop and I've even sold some books in my Amazon store, so things are looking up!

I had hoped to have my debt all paid off by January but this is not going to happen. Overspending on my vacation put a dent in that, but I should be out of debt before the end of 2012, even with spending some money building new infrastructure. Because most of what I am building will give me a long term gain economically, building up my gardens, putting up a new chicken house and raising chickens, all of this will put food on the table and reduce the amount of money I spend at the grocery store, saving me money in the long run.

I recently read about a lady who is trying to spend zero cash for her family's Christmas presents by using Craigslist, bartering and her own crafting ability. I think this is a wonderful thing to do myself, tho I don't know as I will have the time needed to do it this year.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This N That

Well I have been very bad! I overspent a bit on my vacation, though I will say in my defense that a great deal of it was bank fees that I hadn't counted on, first they charge for having to convert the transaction from foreign money then they charge for you for using a foreign ATM. Next time I think I will look into having the bank order the money for me ahead of time or something. The other part was not always converting Euros to USD in my head correctly.

But I had a great time in Italy and did a lot of drawing and painting and took like 3,000 photos. No I am not pulling your leg, I really did take about that many shots.

You can see a lot of my photos and some of the places I visited over on my art blog; check the archives beginning August 15th.

Since I've been home I've been working on getting the garden back in business and last week had my first harvest of beans, baby lettuce and baby beets. Photos of those are over at The Edible Garden.

I have decided to eat up a lot of the stuff in the cabinets instead of going to the grocery store.  I have some older canned goods and need to get them eaten up before they get too old. This is also stretching my money a bit so I can buy cement for the rock wall project; we have put culverts in the dry wash so we can drive over to the other side and I am building stone walls around them and along the creek banks to keep everything from washing away. Pictures of this is also on The Edible Garden.

Another thing I've been doing is writing up a storm at Squidoo and making new things over at Zazzle. One of my articles is a yummy soup that I make, Italian Potato Soup, that tastes just like Olive Gardens. I have also been making what I call the never ending pot of soup. For instance if I make a roast chicken and make chicken and rice soup out of the leftovers, when I get to the bottom of the pot I start adding more vegetables to it and maybe even a different kind of meat and just keep eating on it.  Another one I do occasionally is clean out the fridge soup. I just toss in all the leftovers that are in the refrigerator and cook them all up together. Sometimes you have to adjust the seasoning as it might be bland, but it's always good and always different and really doesn't cost anything because you weren't doing anything with those leftovers any way and they were going to go bad and end up in the compost.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Everything Goes in Circles

There is a reason they call it the circle of life. Everything is connected to everything else. There are so many of these loops in our lives that we don't always pay attention to them. If you are trying to live simply and have a joyful, enriching life experience, you might want to take some time to observe these cycles and see how many of them you can boost in your own Cottage Economy.

The first thing that comes to mind is keeping a few chickens and raising a little garden. Chickens and gardens do go very well together in our cottage economy, as long as they are physically separated by a good fence. For example, while most of you, living on really small plots of land, as in the city, will not be able to grow all the food for a few chickens, you can easily grow some. Collard greens are excellent and high in calcium which the chickens need in abundance to make their egg shells. Collard greens are also good for people for the same reason.

In addition the chickens will be quite happy to have any bit of weeds, vegetable peelings, and old, bug infested garden truck as you have time to toss over the fence. (Chickens love bugs and worms!) Chickens are omnivorous and opportunistic eaters. They well pretty much eat anything that doesn't get them first. I have even see a flock of chickens attack and eat a small snake. This means that if you scrape all your plates and about to go bad leftovers and feed them to the chickens, you will greatly reduce the amount of chicken feed you have to buy and of course you are sending much less garbage to the landfill. (Though of course I hope that if you don't have chickens you are putting all of your food scraps into your worm bin or compost pile.)

Then of course if you are raising red worms in your compost piles you have a perfect protein food for your chickens. In fact the combination of garden greens, plate scrapings and worms may mean that you won't need to buy food for your chickens at all.

Now take cleaning out the hen house. Deep litter is the recommended way of keeping your hens. This means putting down a deep, absorbent organic base in their house, straw, leaves, sawdust, fine wood chips, etc. This is best layed over a dirt floor or a layer of sand. Toss in some more dry, absorbent bedding each week as needed. The chickens will scratch and peck around in it, finding good things to eat. The mass of manure and straw will actually begin to decompose some and set up a beneficial bacterial culture which makes antibiotics. The chickens will pick up bits of this as they scratch around and it will help them stay healthier. This is a much better scenario, getting bits of naturally existing antibiotics than being kept in a wire cage with no access to dirt or bugs and being pumped full of antibiotics in their food just to keep them alive.

When you clean out the hen house (I usually do this about twice a year, early spring and early fall) and pile it up and wet it down you then begin another bacterial fermentation. The pile will heat up to over 200 degrees F. and in doing so will kill any weed seeds, insects and most 'bad' sorts of bacteria. (the ones that cause diseases).  Each time the pile begins to cool down you turn and water it a bit and it will heat again. When it quits heating up, it is safe to put on the garden.

Now that manure pile is composted and it will have a high nitrogen content. Perfect for growing lettuces, cabbages, collards and other leafy greens that need a lot of nitrogen. And so the cycle begins again; feeding garden greens, food scraps and earth worms to your chickens in exchange for meat and eggs on your plate.

At the same time since you now have some meat and eggs of your own and you have vegetables and fruit from your garden, you are buying less at the grocery store. Besides keeping some more money in your pocket, you are now bringing home less packaging. Food packaging is probably the biggest amount of waste going to the land fill these days. I know from experience that even when I have 5 people to feed, if we are mostly eating from our own place, my actual garbage going to the land fill is reduced to about 1 bag every two weeks.

So now take a look around and look at the systems and cycles going on in your cottage economy and see how you can tweak them to get the most benefit from them.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Don't Be A Debt Slave!

Why is it that Americans are (on average) only frugal when they are facing a big financial crisis? Then once the crisis is past they don't seem to learn from their mistakes, they just go right back to their over consuming ways. If they would continue to be a bit on the frugal side, they could avoid another financial crisis!

You must be responsible for your own security. You must provide for yourself and your family. There are many ways, large and small to do this. First, get rid of your consumer debt. As long as you have the rental place, credit cards and store charge accounts hanging over your head, you will never be financially free. These things make you a slave to your debt.

If so many millions of people had not taken on so much consumer debt then the recent financial crisis in this country could have been averted or at least would not have become such a big meltdown. If every American would pay attention to where their money goes, and live a bit more frugally, they could accumulate some savings. It has taken me a long time to get where I am, and I did it very gradually over about 10 years, paying off a lot of debt and as I was getting out of debt, when I got a little breathing room, I started putting some money in savings.

Today I continue to make a budget each month and try to stick with it. If you are deep in debt I would like to recommend two things that have really helped me a lot. How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously*:  by Jerrold Mundis was the amazing book that helped me out when I felt things were hopeless. I read his original edition and it has some very good advice and many helpful tips for beating the debt trap. He even tells you how to deal with creditors and how to negotiate lower payments and interest rates. This was my financial bible for about 8 years while I dug myself out from under a mountain of debt.

An important part of Jerrold's message is that things are going to be ok, at least in America there aren't any debtor's prisons. Through true life stories of ordinary people that were once deeply in debt he gives you hope. If they did it, so can you.

Then about 2 years ago I discovered YNAB; I had stopped paying attention to my money and had become overdrawn in two bank accounts. A few weeks later, searching for an easy budgeting tool that I could keep open on my computer, to help remind me to pay attention to my money, I found YNAB. Jesse Mecham's sound and simple financial philosophy gave me another boost towards my goal of financial freedom.

The first "rule" of YNAB is to stop living paycheck to paycheck. To accumulate enough savings so that on the first day of the month you already have all the money you need in the bank to pay all of your living expenses for the month. In practice this means that the money you earned in June becomes the basis for your budget and the money you will spend in July. Jesse calls this your 'buffer'.

Since I get paid every two weeks, regardless of the date, one or more times a year I have a month with 3 paydays. This happened the first time about 6 months after I found YNAB. I was really paying attention to my money and making a lot of progress towards my goals, but had not managed to get my buffer in place yet.  But during this 3 payday month, the first two paydays paid all of that month's expenses and then the 3rd payday became half of my buffer. In other words on the first day of the following month I already had half the money I needed to live on for the month. When the same situation rolled around a few months later I had my complete buffer in place.

The relief of having my buffer is enormous. No more running around on payday trying to get my check and get to the bank because I have to pay a bill and am in danger of something being turned off or repossessed. I love it. I don't even worry if I'm not at work on payday, I just pick up my check and go to the bank when it suites me.

And now when I have a 3 payday month I have time to think about what I want to do with the extra check that month. I am on the last of my debt, the line of credit on my house. It should be paid off about January of 2012. So I can decide if I want to make an extra payment on that bill or buy something I'd really like to have or put it towards my vacation fund. It has become a lot of fun to think about all the things I could spend a whole paycheck on!

And here's a couple of t shirts for you depending on where you are at!
Financially Free shirt
Financially Free by maryhysong
Browse zazzle for a different t-shirt.zazzle

Friday, July 8, 2011

False Economy

To me false economy is when we do things too cheap. When we buy things from an extreme discount store where all the merchandise is made over seas with cheap labor. Well come on, why do we keep buying it? It is not only cheap, it is cheaply made. It will not last, it is going to fall apart about the first time you use it.

I don't know why so many people keep buying this junk. What a waste of time, money, resources. Better to wait a bit and save up and buy a better made, better quality product to begin with. If you think about it, there will be no antiques from this generation. It is all press board and card board. Most of this type of furniture and goods don't last even 5 years, let alone 50.

Why do you think our economy is in such bad shape? All our manufacturing jobs have gone over seas, where things are made with virtually slave labor. Help the American economy; buy American made products whenever possible, even if they are a few cents more. The job you save may be your own.

Help out a local business, buy used, vintage, antique furniture and goods. They might even cost more than a new piece, but if they are made from good solid wood, and are properly cared for, they will probably outlast you.

You could even learn to build it yourself. There are many plans and books showing you how to build things. Some are simple and easy for beginners, while others are more difficult. While not impossible for a beginner, they do take some knowledge of wood, tools and require a little more care and patience. But the satisfaction, oh that is wonderful. Who knows perhaps you will make a table or cup board or chair that is revered and cherished for generations in your family.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Stillroom

The stillroom is something that has long gone out of fashion in most countries. Once it was a cool dry place where (usually) women worked. It was the place to prepare herbal tinctures and other home remedies. A place to hang cheeses to dry and cure. A place to brew beer, wine and cordials.

I love this book by Grace Firth and refer to it often. She shows you how without a  stillroom you can still have lovely stillroom treats. Home cured meats, preserves and pickles are but a few things she shares. Beer, wine, soup, stew, preserves, bread, they are all here.

I love her word pictures too of what's in her "stillroom" which is really just small scattered storage spaces around her home; the crisper drawer in the fridge, a cool corner of the cellar or a cool dark closet. Corned beef, pork and beef sausages, bacon, cheeses both fresh and aged, smoked and not. Would that she lived down the road that I could visit!

Some of you may wonder why go to the bother when you can pick up the same stuff at the market, can't you? The answer is yes, sort of. You see more and more nowadays what you buy at the store in a package is less than what you thought it was and much more about chemicals, preservatives, fillers and other additives to turn a bigger profit for the company. Some of these things we know harm our health and the rest are mighty suspicious.

Then there is the satisfaction of sitting down to eat and knowing exactly where everything on your plate came from and how it got there. To be intimately associated with the food you put in your mouth is divine. To remember planting and waiting (it seemed forever) for the carrots to sprout, then weeding and thinning them, watering them when it didn't rain, anxiously looking for the first signs they were gaining girth so you could pull some babies for dinner. There is great satisfaction in it all.

Besides, even if you are not able to raise everything you need, when you have the opportunity to acquire half a pig or a side of beef it is nice to know ways of keeping it without it taking up space in your freezer. Let alone the delight to the taste buds of something new.

And aside from all these, you will almost always save money and feed your family healthier food when you take the raw ingredients and produce the final product. Compare the price of beef jerky to the price of fresh meat (realizing of course in this instance the difference in weight is what, about 1/4?).

Two years ago I canned dozens of jars of green beans, both regular and some pickled. Of the pickled ones I had some with hot chilies added. So from my little patch of beans came several products, for very little cash outlay (since I've had my jars and canning equipment for years). Fresh beans, canned beans, Dilly Beans, Hot Dilly Beans. The list of things you can do is endless.

Well, I hope you enjoy Grace's book as much as I do.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are you a maker or a buyer?

Now then, do you make most of your food at home or do you buy most of your food ready to eat at the market? Besides the extra expense is the way of profit to the grocery and the sales tax upon your purchase, there is of course profit to be paid to the company which produced the food in question.

By buying (or even better raising your own) raw ingredients you can greatly reduce your expenses. That 'hamburger helper' in a box is merely pasta with with seasonings. I'll bet that even if you are beginner cook you can make something that tastes at least as good and probably a great deal better.

To top it off, if you used your savings to purchase whole, organic foods, then you will greatly reduce the amount of chemicals of all sorts to which your family is exposed. It is my *personal opinion* that the great rates of cancer, arthritis, diabetes and even autism and other health problems are being caused by the chemicals in our food, air, water and soil.

Check about in any vintage, antique or even thrift shop and you will find a great many cook books. Look at the older ones, printed before 1950 or better yet, those printed before 1930, when convenience mixes and such first came on strong. In them you will find good recipes for good food made with simple ingredients.
While  you may not be a vegetarian, I do think you will enjoy some of Helen's simple, delicious and nutritious recipes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How I Named This Blog 'Cottage Economy'

Some wonder why I named this blog Cottage Economy and where did that come from. Well, it comes from a book by the same title, written in 1833 by William Cobbett. Mr. Cobbett concerns himself with how poor laborers families in England and other countries can improve their lot by doing many things for themselves, by conserving their resources and in so doing give themselves a leg up.

In his introduction he gives us this definition of 'economy':

3. ECONOMY means management, and nothing more; and it is generally applied to the affairs of a house and
family, which affairs are an object of the greatest importance, whether as relating to individuals or to a nation.
A nation is made powerful and to be honoured in the world, not so much by the number of its people as by the ability and character of that people; and the ability and character of a people depend, in a great measure, upon the economy of the several families, which, all taken together, make up the nation. There never yet was, and never will be, a nation permanently great, consisting, for the greater part, of wretched and miserable families.

I love this book, so many wise things in it. It's been awhile so I'm going to re-read it. I've just discovered that you can download a free digital edition of it in quite a few different formats here.

But if you would like to own a real paper and board copy of
William Cobbett's Cottage Economy, there are several
different editions available.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Plugging the Leaks!

"It is not what we earn, but what we save, that makes us rich. It is quite as important to stop the leaks as it is to figure on big profits" Rolfe Cobleigh, Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them, 1910

I so love that quote! You can read the book here When we take control of our lives and our finances and begin to scrutinize what will give us the best return for our time and money in every area we find those little leaks. Quite often the ailing business can be brought round with some cost cutting measures and a case of plugs. The same holds true for the family budget.

Where is your budget leaking? Remember all those dimes add up to dollars. Spend a few minutes filling a water bottle and putting it in the refrigerator, pack yourself a lunch, make your own pot of coffee. None of these takes much time to do but they will quickly plug that convenience store leak in your budget.

If you don't know how to hem your pants, patch a hole or sew on a button, don't you think it's about time you learned? These simple things can keep your clothes going a bit longer, they don't take very long to do, in fact I used to keep a basket with mending or some sort of sewing or embroidery by the couch and while the rest of the family watched the movie, I was sewing (or sometimes knitting). I was still enjoying the movie, but I don't have to have my eyes glued to the screen to follow the plot.

For some more money saving ideas check out my article at Associated Content.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saving Money

I so so soooo love being in tune! I have procrastinated buying new shoes for several months and printer ink for a few weeks. In the meantime I got emails about sales & such and oh am I happy camper: I got an email coupon good for 20% off my order and free shipping on an order over $75 so I ordered 2 combo packs and have 8 black, and 4 each blue, red, yellow coming for only $78.38.

Then I got an email for, buy anything and get $15 off any purchase over $60. Well my Sketchers usually cost around $60 so I went looking; a pair of Sketchers, usually $105, on sale for $79.95 so they only cost me $64.95 (shoebuy doesn't charge sales tax OR shipping!)

At both websites you can sign up to receive email newsletters which often have coupons or special sales that are not advertised on the website; you have to put in a special code at check out to get them. I don't buy these things very often but am really happy to get the specials when I do need to buy them!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Quick (reasonably healthy) Dinner

A dinner I often make for myself starts with a box of organic whole grain mac & cheese. My local grocery carries a couple of brands so I wait for a sale and stock up. No matter the brand, I generally ignore the directions.

What I do is fill my 6 quart pot about half to two-thirds full of water and when it comes to a boil dump in the macaroni. When the pasta is almost done I dump in a bag of mixed frozen vegetables. I like several varieties and usually have some different ones on hand. What ever you like will work, although I have never tried leafy greens; I think they would get overcooked.

When the veggies are hot I dump it all in the colander and drain well, then back into the pot. I add a couple tablespoons of butter (I object to margarine on several grounds but will save that rant for another day) and stir until the butter is melted. Then sprinkle in the cheese powder while stirring (this and the next step will give you a nice creamy sauce without lumps of powder, yuck.) Then slowly pour in a small amount of milk while stirring constantly.

After that I usually toss in a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese because I like it really cheesy. Sometimes I vary this by adding some chopped or shredded meat, leftover ham is my favorite but chicken or beef also work.

This takes less than 30 minutes to fix, the veggies and whole grain pasta offer fiber along with vitamins and minerals, the cheese and any added meat offer protein. If you use all organic ingredients then it will be a pretty healthy dinner. At any rate it is much better than running out for fast food!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bit by Bit (Time Management)

Well, they say Life is what happens to you when  you are making other plans. Rather I think it's what happens when I get distracted from my goals. After more than 12 month hiatus I am working hard to get things back in shape around here. I'm still working full time, but I have managed to make all of the financial goals I've had and will become debt free around January of 2012.

A few days ago I realized that I had been majorly procrastinating in several areas. So I made up my mind that every day I would spend 15 minutes working on four areas of my life; my kitchen, my garden, decluttering the junk all over the house and my desk, paperwork and business affairs. So far I have mostly accomplished this for 10 days now (I did have a couple days where I didn't get all four done). (edit June 21, 2011 I have now been doing this for 23 days in a row and have begun another blog to chronicle this journey in living color. Come along for the ride at My Journey from CHAOS to Organized)

The result has been remarkable. The kitchen is clean and tidy which makes cooking healthy food and cleaning up after a breeze. The gardens beds are slowly appearing from under a forest of weeds and jungle of rubbish. I vow not to plant too much until I am home from vacation in September. By then things should be quite cleared up and ready to plant. My desk has slowly appeared from under piles of paperwork and filing. I had been slacking a bit about paying bills, losing them in the piles but am back on track now. And slowly boxes and piles are disappearing from the living room and studio.

I can't wait till I've kept it up for two or three months, it will be amazing. On another note, I recently refurbished a resin garden fairy and returned her to greeting duty by the front gate.
Refurbished Garden Fairy

I wrote an article with step by step photos if you'd like to read it go here: Refurbish Your Garden Art

Friday, June 3, 2011


The Dervae family of Pasadena, CA are some of the most inspirational people you will ever meet. They are living the good life right in the midst of the city.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sometimes Making Do is Bad Economy

From Nov 11, 2009
Some recent events have me focused on doing things the right way instead of my usual slap dash and make do. I had some little hens for eggs and spent a lot of money buying some Buff Orpington chicks. The Buffs are a dual purpose heritage breed of chicken. They lay lots of brown eggs and  make nice meaty birds to eat. While not listed as endangered by the Livestock Conservancy they do need more breeders out there keeping them alive. [some older varieties of livestock have actually become extinct because people quit keeping their own farm stock]. Well 2 dogs attacks and a skunk have killed off my chickens. I have 2 left out of 20. So there went a lot of time and money down the drain as well as my future meat and eggs. [edit May 31, 2011 A few nights later another skunk got those last two. I, at least, was able to get the skunk. But these events took the wind out of my sails and in the time since I gradually let the garden and what not go. However, I am resurrecting things and coming back with renewed energy.]

What does this have to do with Cottage Economy? Just this, I made do in building my pens. I just slapped them together with just the thought of keeping the chickens IN and didn’t think about keeping other things OUT. I have learnt my lesson. In the future my animals will have secure pens and cages. In fact they are going to be living in Fort Knox. Because it certainly has not been an economy to make do.

This will mean more capital outlay in secure fencing and housing before acquiring an animal. But it will also mean that the animal will not be destroyed before it fulfills it’s destiny in my household. In the end it will add to my economy, not detract.

Shopping Lists

From Oct 31, 2009
One of the best aids to staying within your budget is to make a shopping list and stick to it. I have typed up a list for my regular shopping. One side of the paper is for the discount store for household items. The other side is for the grocery store. I post this on the ‘fridge and just circle the items I need.

As I make and do more things at home the list actually gets shorter because I am buying few items and these are the most basic foods. When the sale papers come out I take a look and see what is on sale. I really try not to buy anything that is not on sale. Things that will keep on the shelf or in the freezer I try to stock up on when they go on sale. Butter, cheese and milk all freeze well, so if you have the space, stock up.

Learn to do your own canning so that when your garden is producing well or there is a terrific sale on fresh produce, you can stock your shelves with home canned goods. Yes it takes a little investment to start this, but you can buy things a little at a time. Yard sales are great places to pick up extra canning jars and sometimes other equipment that will make it easier and faster. The canning kettles will last nearly forever and the glass jars will make many round trips before they are retired because of nicks or chips in the rim. Even then they can hold dry goods on the shelf.

I bought a gadget on Ebay that peels, cores and slices apples and will also work on potatoes, for less than $20 with the shipping. Now when apples are on sale or friends have bumper crops it is a breeze to process them, especially for making apple chips in the dehydrator. Have you priced dried apples lately? I dip mine in an acid solution (so they don’t turn brown); made with lemon, lime or even just vinegar and water. Then  add a little bit of cinnamon. These make great snacks or additions to home-made granola. If you have a dehydrator, live in a warm sunny climate or even have a pilot light in your oven, you can dry fruit and vegetables without too much trouble. Any time you have a dab of this or that which is going to be spoiling and you can’t use it up fast enough, just slice it and dry it. Then instead of being wasted it is right there on the shelf, ready to use when ever you need it.

I’ve done this will celery, onions, mushrooms, carrots, then mix them together for nearly instant soup or to flavor roast chicken or beef. This year I’ve dried grapes, plums, apples and bananas. Extra 7 bone steak became beef jerky. (marinate in soy sauce with crushed garlic and a little brown sugar first)

But I have digressed. Make your list. Make sure everything you will need until your next payday is on your list. Check your sale paper and plan negotiable things like what fresh produce and which kind of meat you will buy based on what’s on sale.  Write your budget amount for this shopping trip in big red numbers at the top of your list. Take your list to the store with you along with your calculator and any coupons you have. Try to leave your spouse and children at home if you can. Comparison shop, always compare the price by the ounce, pound or other unit. Bulk packaging is not always the cheapest, sometimes, especially with a sale, a smaller size might have a cheaper per ounce price. Also, compare prices between stores. It might be worth it to shop 2 or more places, at least occasionally for great sale items.

Most of the time I do not bother with coupons. 99.9% of the coupons out there are for packaged convenience foods which have too much salt, sugar and chemical additives and not nearly enough fiber, protien, vitamins and minerals for the price. You can make them much cheaper at home, so why pay extra?
My list for household goods is even shorter, toilet paper, laundry soap, bleach, ammonia, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant. Occasionally trash bags and light bulbs. Again, I try to wait for a good sale and stock up. This coming month I’m going to try doing this shopping just once for the whole month. The less time you spend in that discount store the less you will be tempted to buy things that are not on your list, just because they are a good buy or on clearance.

Stretching Your Food $$

From Oct 26, 2009
When we think of economy, we perhaps think of saving money or we think of skimping, saving, deprivation. At one time Americans were big savers. We kept a fair amount of our earnings in the bank, where it made decent interest. Our national economy was strong and healthy.

Today though, the average rate of American savings is actually a negative number! Not only do we not save any money, we are spending more than we make, both nationally and personally.

This trend is a disaster, as we have all seen, with the bank bail outs, housing market crises and job losses this past year.

How do you protect yourself from the next $ crisis? You have to sit up and pay attention to your money. Where is it going and why? Is your money actually helping to make your life better? Is it taking you where you want to go? Or is it going down the drain, spent mindlessly on junk and frivolous items? Your money is a tool and you are supposed to be in control of it. Don’t be a slave to credit card companies, working just to make ends meet because you wanted instant gratification. Now you have to pay for things that are perhaps already worn out and discarded, while you are stuck with the bill for months or years.

Start today telling your money what to do. Sit down and make a list of all the bills you pay each month. Ask yourself if you really need or want this. Does it really make you feel good? Do you really love it and want it? If not, get rid of it! I am talking about negotiable items in your budget here. If it is a debt, then of course, you owe that money and you need to pay it back, however long that takes.

But if say you really don’t like your car, think of how you could do without it. Could you walk, bike or carpool to work? Could you trade it in on another car, perhaps one you like better or that costs less?
Do you really need 100+ TV channels? How can you watch them all? Perhaps you would be just as happy with fewer choices. Or even try going without TV at all.  I got rid of television in my home 20 years ago. An amazing thing happened. My kids got up and went outside. They played with each other. They made new friends. They read more books. You might be surprised  to find out that TV isn’t a necessity afterall.
The bottom line is using your money to make your life better does not mean having all the latest and greatest electronics and gadgets. It can mean having money in the bank, a financial safety net that will give you peace of mind.

More $ Thoughts

From Oct 25, 2009
When we think of economy, we perhaps think of saving money or we think of skimping, saving, deprivation. At one time Americans were big savers. We kept a fair amount of our earnings in the bank, where it made decent interest. Our national economy was strong and healthy.

Today though, the average rate of American savings is actually a negative number! Not only do we not save any money, we are spending more than we make, both nationally and personally.
This trend is a disaster, as we have all seen, with the bank bail outs, housing market crises and job losses this past year.

How do you protect yourself from the next $ crisis? You have to sit up and pay attention to your money. Where is it going and why? Is your money actually helping to make your life better? Is it taking you where you want to go? Or is it going down the drain, spent mindlessly on junk and frivolous items? Your money is a tool and you are supposed to be in control of it. Don’t be a slave to credit card companies, working just to make ends meet because you wanted instant gratification. Now you have to pay for things that are perhaps already worn out and discarded, while you are stuck with the bill for months or years.

Start today telling your money what to do. Sit down and make a list of all the bills you pay each month. Ask yourself if you really need or want this. Does it really make you feel good? Do you really love it and want it? If not, get rid of it! I am talking about negotiable items in your budget here. If it is a debt, then of course, you owe that money and you need to pay it back, however long that takes.

But if say you really don’t like your car, think of how you could do without it. Could you walk, bike or carpool to work? Could you trade it in on another car, perhaps one you like better or that costs less?
Do you really need 100+ TV channels? How can you watch them all? Perhaps you would be just as happy with fewer choices. Or even try going without TV at all.  I got rid of television in my home 20 years ago. An amazing thing happened. My kids got up and went outside. They played with each other. They made new friends. They read more books. You might be surprised  to find out that TV isn’t a necessity afterall.

The bottom line is using your money to make your life better does not mean having all the latest and greatest electronics and gadgets. It can mean having money in the bank, a financial safety net that will give you peace of mind.
From Oct 22, 2009
Right now I am very focused on my money. What is it doing, where is it going, how much do I have coming in? In just 2 weeks of being very focused I have discovered about an extra $200 this month. Right now it is just staying in the bank, instead of going to yard sales or Wal-Mart. If you want to save money stay out of Wal-Mart, the $1 store and all those other places.

I very much want to get a buffer of one month’s income in the bank as soon as possible. That will give me great peace of mind. [edit May 31, 2011, I achieved this in July 2010]

Our local grocery ads came out today, so I went over them and checked my list, cut out a couple of coupons, so everything is all ready for shopping on Friday.

So how’s your cottage economy this week? Are you on budget or do you need to work on one? Do you have a list of the things you need to buy? Shopping with a list and a firm amount of money that you will spend (& no more!) will help keep you from overspending. If you know that you should really only spend $50 on groceries, then make a list and write $50 in big red letters at the top. Keep at least a rough count of what you are putting in your cart.

Get the most nutrition for your $1 by buying wisely. Skip the prepackaged junk and make things from scratch at home.

Tonight at my house we had a homegrown/homemade dinner: Spaghetti made from home grown tomatoes and other veggies with home made Italian sausage and home made 100% whole wheat noodles.  I did buy the pork the sausage was made from, the flour the noodles were made from, some olive oil and the parmesan cheese grated over everything. Here’s hoping in a year or two the pork will be homegrown too.

[edit May 31, 2011 Unfortunately a lot of life got in the way of homegrown meals. See my garden blog for an update on how I am currently resurrecting my garden and again working on this goal]

Home Made Vinegar

From Oct 21, 2009

Vinegar is amazing stuff. Yeast eats sugar and excretes alcohol. If that alcohol is exposed to oxygen then along comes the vinegar bug [I don't remember if it is a bacteria, fungi or what] and makes lactic acid. Lactic acid is a wonderful preservative. Bacteria that cause food spoilage and food poisoning cannot live in a very acid environment. Pickled foods have been with mankind for eons. The pickling process changes the taste and texture of food, giving a new taste sensation, while also making the food store longer on the shelf.
Making vinegar at home is an easy thing. I have been doing it for a long time. sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. Whenever I am processing a lot of apples, I toss the cores, peels and bruised bits into a jar and mash them up. Add a little water if needed. In a few days they will smell a little alcoholic. A few days later they are distinctly vinegar.
Fresh vinegar is sharp tasting and cloudy. I let it sit around for a few months before I start using it. Slowly the sediment settles and the vinegar clears. It grows a ‘mother’ which is a jelly like mass. I siphon the cleared vinegar into more jars and let it settle again. I add the mother to the next batch of vinegar in the works. You don’t have to start with a ‘mother’, but it does speed up the process.
Different flavors of vinegar start with a different alcohol. Apple cider vinegar of course is made from apple cider. (Though you should read the label on the cheap commercial variety. I discovered it was just distilled vinegar with flavor and color added!) Malt vinegar is made from malted alcohol, similar to beer. Of course red wine vinegar is made from red wine.
Vinegar is useful for cleaning as well as having a lot of kitchen uses. Use it in salad dressing, pickles, marinades, et.  Use light fruity vinegars like strawberry or blueberry for salads. Apple cider, malt and wine vinegars are good to marinate tough meat in. The acid tenderizes the meat and the sharp flavor disappears in cooking.
While making your own vinegar may only save you a few dollars a year, it is just one more step down the road to independence.


From Oct 20, 2009
When I really need to, because money is very tight or I really want something, I can  stick  to my spending plan, aka budget,  like glue. But there are times when I drift and stop paying attention to what my money is doing.  Unfortunately these periods of inattention are usually ended by the solid reality check of being overdrawn or receiving a utility shut off notice.

I recently managed to over draw not one, but TWO! checking accounts. I have decided I really need something that will make me sit up and pay attention for the rest of my life.

Enter YNAB, or You Need A Budget software. This software doesn’t do a lot of fancy graphs and charts, doesn’t make projections or plot trends in  your spending. It is a very simple and easy to use program that tracks your income and  out go  each month. There is a 7 day free trial, but I think I went ahead and bought it about day 3.

Now I could probably go back to my old paper and calculator style budget, but I’m hoping that with YNAB open on the computer most of the time, where I am staring at it on a daily basis, maybe, just maybe there will be no more financial crisis in my life.

So far, so good. I started on Oct 8 and since then not one penny of my money has been frittered away mindlessly. It is all there sitting in the bank, waiting for 1) my new box of checks to arrive and 2) my next paycheck to come in on Oct 23.

The next few months will be slow going. While I have no credit card debt (I have already been down that road to the tune of $18,000. No thanks, not ever again.) I do have a line of credit on my home, payments on my van and a line of credit on my checking account that kicks in when I’m in overdraft. Funny how that works; my checking account hits the red and instead of charging me a fee, the bank just gives me more money!

In addition to these and the basic monthly bills, in November my property taxes are due along with my house insurance. So I am trying to squeeze every dime to pay the insurance (there is NO grace period) and at least the first half of the taxes, because they will go to 15% at 5:00 pm on Nov 2. The second half is then due in March.

But I have a plan. I will carefully follow my YNAB. I will not spend a single extra penny. In fact now that I am focused on my money I will try to come in under budget in every category so that I can put some money in the bank for emergencies. A little cushion to smooth out the bumps in the road.

One of the ways I will do this for the next few weeks is to eat down my food stores. I have been spending a lot of money at the grocery store this summer because they had some terrific sales. I canned and dried a lot of fruits and veggies, both from the store and from my garden. Therefore my cupboards are stuffed. I’ll need some meat and some milk, but otherwise things are looking good on the food front. While I do have $100 left in my grocery budget for this month I may very well be able to do it for under $75.00.

For some tips on how to save money you can check out an article I wrote for Associated Content, Seven Ways to Save Money Today

[edit; May 31, 2011 Not only did I meet my goals as above, I achieved my buffer, that is, having all the money I need for the month in the bank on the first day of the month in July 2010. That has been such a great stress reliever, you wouldn't believe it. At this time my van is paid for, I owe less than $5000 on the house and I'm going to take my second trip to Italy this summer. ]

What's going on here?

I am slowly migrating this blog over from another service, post by post. As I cut and paste them all in, I will mark them with the date they were originally published.

From Oct 19, 2009

The idea of Cottage Economy comes from William Cobbet (1762-1835). In 1821 he published his book of the same name. In it he instructs the reader in practical self sufficiency. From baking and brewing, raising animals for meat, milk, eggs, hides and wool along with growing fruits and vegetables.

I will post on these topics as I can. I do many of these things myself. I have made it my goal to retire when I am 55. (which is only 4 years away) No I won’t be eligible for social security at that age, but I have a plan, which I will post more about later. For the moment it suffices to say that my plan requires I really pay attention to every penny that comes to my hand. Benjamin Franklin said “A penny saved is a penny earned”.

This blog will help keep me on my toes and keep me focused in the right direction. so I hope you follow along through my successes and failures as I try out my new plans and ideas.