Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sweet Bag Sales, How I Love Thee

My garage sale-ing has been thwarted this weekend due to badly-timed car malfunctions, so I thought I'd relive past successes! I didn't blog about last week's trip because I washed and put away everything before I thought to take a picture.

We started out badly. It was late in the morning, so we were only planning to hit up two or three sales on the way to the park. It's true that garage salers fall into two categories: people who just want you to take their "junk," and people who are trying to make money. Both of the first two sales fell into the second category. Everything was priced up to retail value (retail, in this case, being our already-overpriced thrift stores).

So we (mostly I!) were feeling pretty dispirited when we headed to the last sale. If it hadn't been basically across the street from the park, we might have decided to skip it. The ad on Craigslist just said it was a fundraising "dollar sale," which I thought meant that everything was a dollar. Boy, was I wrong! As we pulled up, I saw a parking lot full of tables, piled high with clothes, curtains, and what-have-you, and a big, glorious sign that read, "FILL A BAG FOR A DOLLAR." That's right, glorious. I was out of the car and off before Hubs had a chance to say, "I'll just park, then?"

I duly filled my bag (plastic, not paper, unfortunately!) and we headed to the park. On the way home a half-hour later, though, we were passing by the sale again and the sign had changed . . . . Now it read, "EVERYTHING FREE."

Oh, you can bet I told Hubs to pull over and went scurrying across the street with my mammoth shopping bag in tow. I knew that keeping a "green" shopping bag in the car for impromptu trips to the grocery would pay off . . . . I found more good things the second time around, probably because the items on top had been picked through and/or carried off already. So, for the price of my original dollar, since I can't remember exactly which clothes I picked up when, I hauled off a winter coat, black Dickies (capris), a pair of brown Eddie Bauer jeans, a zip up black sweater, a 65% angora beret, a white scarf, a J. Jill blouse, a polo shirt, robe, and a pile of clothing to resell or give away. Whew!

Where else could I have gotten a whole new wardrobe for a dollar? Talk about a great, guilt-free shopping spree!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Frugal Gardening

Here's a peek at our little garden. We have limited space to garden in (obviously!) so we try to make the most of it. Here are a few frugal tips we've used:

1) Start plants indoors, from seeds. We picked up most of our seeds at 10 for $1 at a local discount store and started them a few weeks before planting time in an improvised windowsill greenhouse. This tactic has saved us from purchasing "pre-started" plants for a much greater cost.

2) At the end of the planting season, stake out nurseries. In July of last year, we noticed a "free" sign next to Wal-Mart's Bonnie-brand herbs and vegetables. We scooped up Greek oregano, sweet marjoram, several jalapeƱo and habanero plants, squash, green pepper, and tomatoes. We harvested dozens of peppers, plenty of herbs, and a few squash before the frost came. Most of the tomatoes didn't have time to ripen, but we made fried green tomatoes and they were delicious! We like to garden, so the minimal time investment was worth the joy of harvesting our own free, homegrown herbs and vegetables. As an added bonus, the Greek oregano wintered over well and is exploding in one corner of the garden (bottom left).

3) If you have limited gardening space, like us, plant the herbs and vegetables that are most expensive at the grocery store. We took that tack this year by planting cilantro and dill. My husband has a few signature recipes that call for these herbs, and I frequently make salsa, so having "free" herbs makes a big difference in the expense of these recipes.

A few frugal gardening practices that I haven't yet tried mainly revolve around composting and natural fertilizers. I can't wait until we're able to have our own compost heap--how weird am I? We haven't yet made the leap to natural fertilizers because we're having some trouble figuring out what kind of soil we have. Some of our plants thrive, but others are really struggling, namely our thyme and basil. To any gardeners out there: what are your favorite natural fertilizers? How do you practice frugal gardening?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My frugal bathroom makeover

Some of you may have seen the "before" of our dilapidated '50s bathroom. For those who haven't, I'm sorry that I don't have a photo to show you, but it would have broken the lens.

I dumpster-dived a massive armload of fabric wallpaper samples from the architecture firm near a downtown bank. I don't usually prowl the dumpsters, but they was lying right on top on a pile of clean-looking magazines, so I backed the car up and loaded them in. I also found the green rug that lives on our porch. Just your basic, industrial-grade rug, but it's better than nothing.

I debated for a long time what to do with the samples. One day last week when we were having guests over for our dinner party, I decided to tackle the bathroom. Hubs and I have been meaning to repaint it since we moved in, but good intentions don't make for time off work, and I don't feel confident enough of my painting/sanding skills to tackle it alone.

So we used upholstery nails to nail the samples in a (hopefully) artistic way around the bathroom. We also made a Home Depot run to buy knobs for the cabinet, which didn't have any, and I rehung a couple of framed, pressed flowers between the sort of awful mirrors. I hated those mirrors at first, but now I've embraced the whole gold thing and they are, unbelievably, growing on me. I picked up on the gold again with new switch plates and a thrifted gold toilet paper holder. So, here it is, in all its dubious glory!

The picture is sort of yellow because we don't get much light in the bathroom, but the wallpaper is unfortunately sort of yellow anyway. This might not be my dream "after," but it's already such a relief to both of us not to have to look at quite so much of that wallpaper, and when your decorating budget is $5, you can't be choosy!

So, I still have a big pile of same-sized fabric samples in various prints and fabrics. I'm considering making a really big, mismatched quilt, which shows how (not) crafty I am. Does anyone more blessed have some more practical ideas?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: Invalid Edition

Hubs has thrown his back out, which happens a few times a year. He can still walk, which is good; sometimes it can be really bad. Consequently, he's coming home from work as I type, so I won't have as much time as usual to work on this week's menus. I usually brainstorm while I do other things in the morning, and then sit down and plan in earnest in the afternoon.

A friend of ours gave us the leftover ground beef from the birthday party we attended over the weekend. Combining that with my leftover ground beef from last week means that this week is going to be very "beefy!" Here is my rough menu plan so far:

Monday: Savory Pancakes, melon, leftovers from this weekend (I was planning to make the stuffed chiles today, but Hubs devoured the cheddar!)

Tuesday: Meatloaf?

Wednesday: Chicken-Stuffed Poblano Chiles with Enchilada Sauce

Thursday: Shepherd's Pie (Thanks to ahorne for her suggestion in the comments! We tried this last week and it was great, but I'm still plugging away at that pile o' meat.)

I still don't think that meatloaf is going to use up all of my uncooked ground beef, and I think we're a little meatloaf-ed out at this point. So I'm throwing myself on your mercy again . . . any meals that will use up about five pounds of ground beef? Neither Hubs nor I are big hamburger fans, and we did the pizza and mini pizzas thing last week. And tacos the week before. Ground beef ice cream? Beef-sicles? Aaagh!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer at Last

A roadside flower stand downtown had a sign posted: JUNE SNOW BRINGS JULY FLOWERS. I hope that's true, since our cold snap has finally passed by and the snow on the mountains has melted. Today was hot and beautiful. I love skirt weather

We just bought me my first sewing machine, a Brother ES3000. We found it for $115 with a coupon code on, so I was very happy! Hubs is almost more excited about it as I am, since he's always wanted to learn how to sew. Right now I'm working on a "gathering apron" from The Cottage at Frog Creek. I'm feeling proud that I haven't managed to sew through my finger yet. I'll keep you posted!

To compare with this photo of our roasting black cat, here is a photo my husband took on his way to work last week:

See those big clouds and the snow on the mountains?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cheap Makeup and Easy Freebies

This has been a big week for bargain shopping, and it's only Tuesday! Here is a round up of some great deals I've been reading about:

  • Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "Outback Steakhouse Fathers Day Certificate Request, 2202 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, FL 33607" to receive a free $10 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse. This deal may be too good to be true, especially because it looks as though you can request one certificate a day from now through July 5th. Read more about this deal here, as originally posted at iMommies.
Right now you can purchase $25 worth of beauty products from Amazon and get $20 back. Yes, really. Read the terms, there, but basically any $25+ beauty purchase from a single seller will come with a free subscription to US Weekly. You can send in a rebate form so that instead of the magazine subscription, you get the retail value back—$19.80. (Although I am generally not a fan of rebate deals, I have always requested rebates on Amazon magazine bonuses and they have always come without a problem.)

I used some of our stockpiled Amazon rewards from our Chase Amazon Visa to buy myself some Bare Escentuals powder foundation, which I've been lusting after but can't ordinarily afford. I don't use a lot of makeup, but I do like to have a nice powder and some color on my lips, so I'm excited to try this popular foundation! Mine will be $5.20 after the rebate, which is cheaper than the powder I usually use!

  • Also, Walgreens has Organix shampoo and conditioner on sale this week buy-one-get-one-free. Many of their bottles come with full rebate forms clearly visible around the cap. If you haven't yet taken advantage of the rebate deal, this is a great time to pick up two bottles of shampoo or conditioner that would usually retail for $6.99 each. Hooray! Edit: Bethany just gave me the heads up that not everyone is receiving their rebates. Maybe I'll get lucky, since it's too late now! Proceed with caution if you decide to give this a try.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: Party Leftovers!

Welcome back to Menu Plan Monday! This week has raced by. I've learned my lesson about inviting guests over for dinner with only a week's notice to clean, cook, shop, and finish redecorating the bathroom! Or maybe it's that I've learned my lesson about leaving the house so messy that it takes a week to clean up . . . .

Anyway, we planned the amount of food for the party pretty well so we only had a few odds and ends, mostly half a can of this or a handful of leftover fruit. Guess where I've incorporated the party leftovers into this week's meals!

Monday: Beef Tacos
Tuesday: Cambodian Chicken Soup (first time trying this recipe--it uses coconut milk, pineapple, and shredded chicken, so I'll be able to clean out the fridge a little!)
Wednesday: Corn Chowder
Thursday: Meatloaf

You might notice that this menu bears some resemblance to last week's menus. The corn chowder was a big hit and was very cheap to make, and I messed up the meatloaf by doubling it and then mis-measuring the amount of beef involved, so it ended up being basically two large hunks of flavorless, cooked beef. Hubs was very sweet, but the leftovers didn't disappear like they usually do, so I thought I'd surprise him with the "correct" version this week.

I also don't usually serve soup two nights in a row, but I had to plan this week's menus in order with the earliest-expiring foods going first. Hubs found some homemade chicken stock thawed in the fridge that I had completely forgotten about, so I plan to use that up in both the soups, hopefully before it goes bad. I hate wasting good food.

So . . . any ideas on how to reuse tasteless, leftover meatloaf?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Party Menu

After much discussion, Hubs and I have (hopefully) finalized the menu for the dinner party Saturday. It was harder than we expected to plan a complete dinner with no dairy. Fortunately, it's summer (supposedly!) so we used a fruit salad for dessert rather than the usual cake or pie. The menu might change a little depending on what we find on sale when we go shopping tomorrow, but here it is:

  • Appetizer: Fruit Salsa and Tortilla Chips (one of our friends is bringing wasabi-coated seaweed for an additional appetizer--that should be interesting!)
  • Main Course: Jamaican Jerk Chicken
  • Sides: Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus
  • Dessert: Fruit Salad and Hummingbirds (a Jamaican mixed drink that tastes like an alcoholic smoothie--yum!)
  • After-dinner: Espresso (we received a very nice espresso machine from my aunt as a wedding present)

We went back and forth quite a bit over the main course, but settled on jerk chicken because we know our friends like spicy food, and chicken with a few spices is frugal, yummy, and easy to make. Hopefully the weather will hold--it snowed here yesterday and the mountains are still covered with white.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mismatched Black Chairs

I love this idea! This photo was taken at Sarah Jessica Parker's home, as featured in Elle Deco. See how the black paint unifies a group of otherwise mismatched dining chairs?

The chairs really stand out against the white walls. The uniformity of the black also brings out the lines of the chairs. Very elegant and structural, and a great way to use stray thrifted chairs. This look reminds me of Meredith's black chairs and table. Her table decorations stand out so beautifully!

As soon as the sun comes out, I'll be posting photos of the chair we painted and re-covered last weekend. It snowed today, so it's very dim in the house today. I actually had to turn the heat on for the first time in weeks. June in Montana, I guess!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Party planning

We just received the last RSVP from our guests for dinner Saturday. It will be just two couples in addition to me and Hubs, and one woman is allergic to dairy. That puts the cheesecake out of the running!

Tell me, does anyone have any good summer dinner menus? The weather isn't acting very summery here, but we can at least pretend. Dinner will be indoors, probably, unless things warm up, so we don't have to worry about bugs. What are your go-to, frugal summer desserts, appetizers, entrees...? Hubs wants to serve Roman popcorn as an appetizer, but, although it's tasty, I'm hoping for something a little less "movie night." Plus, not everyone is a fan. Help!

First Menu Plan Monday

I've been planning my menus for the past few months, but this week is my first chance to participate in Menu Plan Monday, now that I finally have a site of my own! I haven't yet mastered creating menu plans based on the sales, although we do buy all our meat on sale. We have a standing chest freezer that I usually go to for that week's meats, and I go through the fridge to see if anything needs to be used.

I generally plan my menus based on what we have around the house, rather than deciding what we want to eat and then shopping. I keep a few vegetables on hand (onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, celery--in season), and buy extras like lettuce or jalapeƱos if we have a little wiggle room in the budget. For side dishes, we usually eat frozen broccoli or frozen corn, or biscuits if we're having soup.

I have three goals when planning my menus:

1. Serve a variety of tasty, reasonably healthy meals.
2. Don't let food go to waste.
3. Create enough leftovers to provide Hubs with lunches throughout the week.

As you can probably guess, goals 2 and 3 tend to conflict with each other! It's always disappointing to find a tupperware with two-week-old soup moldering in the back of the fridge. Especially if you've run out of leftovers and sent your husband off to work with hot dogs and popcorn. Although he probably doesn't mind!

Anyway, thanks for letting me participate in my very first MPM, and here is my first contribution! Let me know if you'd like me to post any recipes.

Monday: Barley Risotto with Shrimp and Peas, courtesy of Martha Stewart (one of the few recipes of hers I haven't botched hideously). The shrimp I picked up at a great sale at Safeway, of course!
Tuesday: Yummy Potato Casserole. This recipe came from my mother and is very easy to make--potatoes, cheese, sour cream, and whatever else you have on hand to throw in.
Wednesday: Indian Chicken Curry II from I chose this recipe because I need to finish off the yoghurt before it goes bad, and we love this dish. I'm using chicken leg quarters this week, because we barbecued the last of the chicken thighs over the weekend.
Thursday: Meatloaf, my husband's favorite, which he requested.

I usually don't plan meals for the weekends because there are often "leftover leftovers" to finish up. (Hubs works a four-day week, so for us, weekends include Fridays.) I also don't like to cook and make a big mess when Hubs is around, because his "dirt-dar" goes off at the appearance of a single dirty dish. This weekend, we're having a few friends over for dinner, so we'll have to work up a menu for that after we know who's coming (one of the invitees has dietary restrictions). Hubs likes to cook for company, so we'll plan that meal together. Maybe I can convince him to make his prize-winning cheesecake, although that might be too rich depending on the main course. I'll keep you posted, and thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A-yard-saleing we go!

I hit up three yard sales this morning, Hubs and the dog (Chase) in tow. Hubs definitely plays the part of the aloof, merchandise-carrying spouse, but if he offers to come, I figure he's enjoying himself! In any case, we take a nice drive around town and Chase hangs his head out the window.

Today Chase was a little under the weather. He had "minor surgery" yesterday to remove a benign tumor from his face. It looked exactly like a mole, and he'd had it for years, so we almost didn't mention it to the vet. It's a good thing we did!

The weather was cold and windy today (summer in Montana!) so we didn't browse long anywhere. I did manage to pick up two leather-looking trays and a pretty little dish for $2.50 total. The price stickers were still on: $14.99 each for the trays and $7.99 for the dish. Hurray!

We've been wanting trays to use for our dinners outside, since our outdoor "table" is just two small plant stands pushed together. I never expected to find anything this nice, but it's amazing how what we need (or want) will come to us if we're patient.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Teeny-tiny glass ornaments

I picked up these old-fashioned glass ball ornaments for 25 cents at a yard sale last week. They're tiny and very pretty. I think I might cluster them together and hang them like mistletoe, or just heap them in a shiny bowl. What a treat! Hubs and I are planning to go yard sale hunting tomorrow... I'll let you know if I find anything good!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Frugal living in small spaces

My husband and I live in a fairly expensive city, so we’re currently renting-to-own an 800 sq. ft. trailer from a friend. It’s an older model, from the 1950s, so we’ve had our fair share of struggles with repair bills, etc. Now that we’re planning to relocate to the Midwest by early next year, hopefully to a “real” house, I’ve started thinking about what we could do differently to be more frugal if we had a little extra space. Here are some of the pros and cons I've encountered in small-space living.


  • With limited storage space, every purchase acquires new meaning, in a phenomenon I call "forced simplicity." I can't fill up our house with impulse buys that I "might" use someday if the only place I have to store it is under the kitchen table. This limits the number of things we buy, which helps keep us on track with a simple and frugal lifestyle.
  • The lack of space also encourages us to weed through our belongings on a regular basis. This results in less clutter and also more opportunities for income by selling unwanted items.
  • Our trailer is poorly insulated, so we can't reap the full benefits of reduced heating and cooling bills. Even with that said, our bills are lower here than what they would be in a large house.
  • Our yard is as small as our house, so we pay next to nothing on lawn maintenance. Mowing the lawn only takes my husband a few minutes, so it's easy to have a neat, well-kept outdoor space.
  • Maintaining the home is also cheaper and easier. Fewer rooms to clean and decorate means fewer unnecessary purchases and less time spent hugging the vacuum.
  • We have a small garden and try to grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, but if we had a larger yard, we would be able to grow much more of our own produce, significantly reducing our grocery bills.
  • Also, if we had a pantry larger than a cupboard, we could can and preserve more food in season and buy more foods in bulk. Right now, I have a master list of what food is stored where, since our pantry is only a small cupboard. It would be nice not to have to squeeze cans of tomato sauce under the bed or bottles of mustard in with my husband's hunting equipment.
  • If we had a larger house, we could purchase and stock a chest freezer. We have a small upright freezer right now, but if we had more space, we could buy a share in a cow and store the meat for future consumption. Finding affordable meat is one of our biggest frugal challenges, and having the space to store larger quantities would be a blessing.
  • The storage issue applies to every purchase, not just groceries. If we had more space, we could buy more gifts in advance and focus harder on making more of our own goods. My husband was given a beer making kit for his last birthday, but he has been reluctant to use it partly because we have very limited space to work in and store in-progress projects.

I hope that in our next house, we'll be able to have the best of both worlds. I think that with more built-in or concealed storage and maybe a basement or attic, we can reap the advantages of having a small living space while gaining the flexibility to take advantage of good deals and to pursue our hobbies. Has anyone else been in a similar housing situation? I'd love to hear how you manage!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Please excuse our dust

I’m pleased to meet you. Welcome to my blog-in-progress! I like to write and I’ve enjoyed so many excellent blogs that I thought it would be nice to have a little place of my own. I’m a newlywed, SAHW living in Montana. My husband and I live with a cocker spaniel, three fish, and a little black guy we call “The Noisiest Cat in the West.”

I’ll be posting daily about our journey towards a simpler life. There should be plenty of beautiful photos, mostly courtesy of my talented husband, and plenty of somewhat eccentric rambling. I enjoy little moments of beauty, particularly flowers and fancy breakfasts.

My husband and I are both country people at heart, but we’re currently living in the center of a city. This blog will detail our attemps to make more of our own products, as well as my adventures in frugality.

Any comments or advice are welcome, especially about the mechanics of blogging. My computer saavy doesn’t extend very far, so please bear with me as I work out the kinks. I hope you’ll leave a comment and come back to visit!