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.