Archive for April, 2010

Free Bricks Project: Adding a path to the driveway.

Saturday, April 10th, 2010 is an excellent resource for the frugal do-it-yourselfer.  I constantly search under the “Free” category to find things for our various home improvement projects.  One day I saw a post titled, “Free Bricks – All You Can Haul.”

I drove the pickup truck to the address in the post and a demolition company was tearing down a house.  The old professor who had lived there had recently died and his family sold the entire property to a developer.  They had been tearing down the brick walls to expose the “bones” of the house.

I started loading the truck up with bricks, one by one, until I had gathered over 2,000 of them.  Later that same month, I spied another ad for Free Bricks.  This time an old church was being torn down.  Over 3 days, I gathered 3,000 more.

Ever the watchful hawk, I saw that someone was giving away the excess sand from a patio job just to get the pile off his driveway.  I grabbed a shovel and filled the truck up with free sand.  Next came a lady who was tired of her gravel and was giving it away for “free” to whoever wanted to come dig it up.  2 trips later, we had a mountain of rocks in our driveway.

We had all the ingredients for a nice walkway or patio.  We have decided on a walkway on both sides of our driveway and a small patio on the side of our house where we can store our garbage cans.

Here’s what we did today:  Phase 1

We chose a brick pattern from a library book and measured the width of the path.  My husband then cut squares out of the sod to preserve the grass for another location.

Removing the Sod from the Pathway

This is the path cleared out to the depth of one brick.  We will excavate more inches down later so we can add gravel for drainage and sand for a base.

The Staightaway Dug Out

Next, we dry-fit the bricks to see how the pattern would look and to see how many bricks we used.

We Dry Fit the Bricks to See How it Would Look

We had barely dented our stack of bricks and decided to go ahead with the patio for our garbage cans.  We outlined our plan.

We Decided to Go For the Patio

The hard part was trying to figure out how to angle our path pattern 45 degrees.  My  husband loves solving puzzles – he has yet to be stumped by any puzzle that I’ve bought for him! I left him to figure out how to merge the two paths together at the corner.

Figuring Out How to Merge the corners with bricks.

Once we decide on the final layout of our path/patio, we will move all the bricks and finish excavating the earth.   Without the added width of the pathways, we stomp the grass flat when we get in and out of our cars.  Without the patio, we have two ugly garbage cans sitting directly in front of our house in the driveway. I think this will be a nice improvement to our house!

Stay tuned for Phase 2!

Frugal Tip of the Day: Search often for freebies and be ready to pounce the moment you see the ad.  Most freebies are gone within the hour of the post.  Most people are willing to set up a pickup time convenient to you so you don’t have to drop everything that moment.

Magic Jack It!

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

While looking for ways to save money on our utility bills, I decided to give magicJack a try for home telephone service.

magicJack is a USB device that has a USB connector on one end and a phone jack on the other.  The device plugs into your computer’s USB port and then you plug your standard phone into the other end.  The entire device is about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide.

The magicJack provides free local and domestic long distance calling using Voice Over IP technology.  Instead of using the telephone lines to transfer your calls through, you use your internet provider.  magicJack also offers 911 service, caller ID, and has voicemail.  The device costs $39.99 and includes 1 year of service.  Additional years are only $19.95 per year.  There is a complete money back guarantee for the first 30 days.

Does it Work?

I purchased it from Radio Shack, brought it home and had it setup within 10 minutes.  The software self-installs when you plug the device into the USB port.  I chose a local telephone number and skipped through a bunch of screens asking you to buy more features or pay for more years up front.  I did spend $1 to get the 1 year warranty where magicJack will replace my device for any reason whatsoever.  Personally, I think the $1 pitch is just to get your credit card info on file so that they can auto-bill you when your year is up.

I hooked a cordless phone into the magicJack and everything seems to work okay.  There was initial confusion answering calls from my hubby where he couldn’t hear me.  I solved that by clicking answer using the magicJack software on the computer.  My cordless phone sometimes has a little static, but the people on the other end don’t hear it.  When I got too close to the microwave, the static picked up.  Not sure if it’s my crappy phone or the magicJack.    I can call any telephone number in the United States – cell or landline – and anyone can call me.

As far as the cost, I’d say it is a good deal.  Bell South offers local and unlimited nationwide calling for $40/month.  That’s $480 per year.  I only have to pay $39.99 for the first year and $19.99 after that.  That’s extremely competitive if you ask me.

The Catch:

The magicJack sounds too good to be true.  There has to be a catch right?  Yep.

1) You must have High-Speed Internet Access for this to work.
2) Your computer must be ON for this to work.  If your computer is off, all incoming calls will go to voicemail.  You will not be able to make outgoing calls, even for emergencies.
3) 911 is not guaranteed.  e911 will only work if your computer is on and if you have the right address, etc… in the magicJack software.
4) The magicJack desktop console must always be running.  They do have a nice option to minimize it to your system tray so it is not taking up space on your task bar.
5) The magicJack desktop console will always pop up when your place or receive a call.  This hasn’t been a big deal for me.  In fact, when I have the microphone hooked up I can actually answer the call while at my computer using the computer speakers and the microphone.

We are still in our 30 day trial period.  I’ll let you know if we decide to keep it!

Frugal Tip of the Day:  If you purchase your magicJack from a store, you don’t necessarily need to purchase the store’s warranty (ie. Radio Shack or Best Buy’s additional consumer warranty).  When you set up the magicJack you will be asked if you want to purchase a 1 year warranty for $1 that will cover the cost of replacing the device under any circumstance (ie. lightening struck it, the dog ate it, etc…).

All Worth It

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

The baby has learned to put the ball in place.

I went into my old office today to pick up a few items I had left behind and I must admit, I sort of miss it- just a little.  I miss the camaraderi the most.

At home, I do not have a shortage of things to do.  Every day is jam packed and what little breather I get during nap time is spent doing house work.  I have actually watched him flourish before my eyes in the short 1.5 weeks that we’ve been together.  For example, in the picture above, he learned how to place the ball correctly after we practiced for 4 days.  He was so excited that he started clapping his hands afterwards!  Priceless.

Choosing to stay at home has been worth every penny we pinch.

CVS – A Total Steal of a Deal!

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Here’s what I bought last Sunday for $15.57 pre-tax:

15 Bucks Worth of CVS Groceries

I felt like I had robbed CVS.  Well, to be exact I told the cashier – “Man, you all are just giving it away!”  Yes, I said “You All”.  Moving on…

I don’t know if I am more shocked that I only paid 15 bucks for all that loot, or that I shared a picture of my maxi-pads and hair dye with the world.

Building upon what we learned from my CVS lesson, I meticulously scanned the Sunday CVS insert in the paper and looked for sales.

These are the 4 things I looked for:

1) Sale items at a discounted price.
2) BOGOs – Buy One Get One offers, either free or half price.
3) If buying the item would earn me Extra Bucks – bonus if the item was also on sale.
4) If we would actually use the item.

I circled everything interesting that I found and then went to my coupon stash.  I found all the matches that I could and crossed off everything on the list that I did not have a coupon for.

With 9 coupons, one CVS $4 off $20 coupon, and $12 in Extra Bucks in hand I went to CVS.  I left CVS with 14 items, another $4 off $20 coupon, and $10.50 in Extra Bucks.

Total cost: $18.50 after tax

CVS receipt showing the savings after the coupons.
Total savings: $53.09

Total Money Saved at CVS This Shopping Trip
Total discounts for next time:  $14.50

More CVS Coupons and Extra Bucks

As I said earlier, a total steal!

Frugal Tip of the Day: Look for a Customer Care Card Coupon Kiosk.  I’m not sure if that is the official name, but it will be a tall machine where you scan your CVS card to print out coupons on the spot.  I scanned my card and got a $4 of $20 and some EBs that had been adding up in my account.  Also, buy the Green Bag Tag for $0.99.  Attach it to your reusable tote and earn 1/4 of an EB each trip.

Here is why we need 4 boxes of cereal:

Baby Spilled His Cheerios Everywhere

The baby grabbed the cereal container off the table and dumped the entire thing in his lap and onto the floor.  This little dude knows what he wants!

Does It Work: Homemade Powder Laundry Soap

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

I made a batch of powder laundry soap a little bit ago and have used it for about 10 loads of laundry: colors in cold water, whites in hot water. We use an old formula scoop, which equates to 1.5 tablespoons per load. The load is extra large. The soap dissolves easily, within seconds, in both hot and cold water. There has been no staining that I can tell, no lingering funky odors, and the dirt appears to be lifting from the clothes. There is a very slight Fels-Naptha scent to the wet clothes, but that disappears after a turn in the dryer.

Does it work?

Here are the results of the Norton test:

I took two old t-shirts and gunked them up.

The Gain t-shirt:

Everything but the ketchup and mustard came out.

The powder laundry soap:

Everything but the ketchup and mustard came out. (The arrow says “This is paint. Not dirt.”)

Side by side results:

The homemade soap cleaned just as well, if not a little better than Gain. The mustard on the Gain t-shirt is more vivid than the other mustard stain. In person, the ketchup is also slightly more vivid.

My verdict:

This money saving idea is a winner in my book. Since the ketchup and mustard did not come out in the Gain t-shirt, I say that my soap worked as expected. The soap takes 20 minutes max to make and costs pennies per load. We are happy with the results.

Now, does anyone know how to get rid of ketchup and mustard stains??

Broke Ground for a Garden

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

My husband made short work of turning over my garden plot! 

We decided not to grow tomatoes this year.  Without adequate space, the tomatoes were too buggy and I didn’t want to turn half my yard into a garden.  We had 4 or 5 old landscape timbers left over from 2007 and decided to use those to frame the garden.  That made the size decision easy – 8′ x 8′.  That should be plenty of space to grow all my herbs and peppers.

Oliver supervised while munching on a cracker.

The soil looked good and was nice and soft.  The last time I had planted here was 2008.  Can you believe that this same soil used to be red clay???  To get it looking like this took 3 truckloads of compost spread out over 5 years.

Oliver liked being outside with us.  He had his afternoon snack of 1/2 a graham cracker and cup of water.  He will go to the edge of the blanket, but won’t touch the grass yet.  He has tried to eat what he can reach (a leaf, some bark, and a pinecone).  It’s only a matter of time before he’s chasing after bugs too.

We are going to Lowe’s tomorrow to buy a couple of bags of compost to work into the soil.  I’ll be pulling the root clumps out as well and laying down my pathway. 

We also have to figure out how we are going to irrigate.  I’ve done soaker hose before, but that really works best in long rows.  I might try drip irrigation since I will be planting in a grid.  Next week I’ll sow some seeds!

Gardening – Money Saver or Not

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

My husband doesn’t know it yet, but he will be turning over the ground for my garden tomorrow morning.  I haven’t had a garden since 2008 and cannot wait to get the seeds in the ground. 

Here are the crops that we plant regularly:

Cool season:  Sugar snap peas, radishes, lettuce, and arugula.

Hot season:  Tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers, cilantro, Thai eggplant, purple eggplant, spicy basil, lemongrass, Thai basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupe, Thai peppers, okra, and mint.

We save money buy planting items that we consume a lot of, such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini.  We also save money by planting items that cost a pretty penny in the grocery store, such as arugula, bell peppers, Thai eggplant, purple eggplant, lemongrass, Thai peppers, and the fancy leaf lettuces.  Lastly, we save money by growing fresh herbs that we use fresh at our leisure, or dry to fill up our spice rack.  The rest we plant just for fun, such as the watermelons and cantaloupes.

For me, planting the herbs and Thai spices are the most important.  These single things seem to cost the most at the grocery store for a tiny portion.  These items tend to rot in the refrigerator “crisper”, because we don’t use an entire package at one fell swoop.  If you haven’t noticed, cilantro has a shelf life of about 1.5 days!

Have you ever had a garden?  If not, here are some things to think about before you ever pick up a shovel or buy your first seed.

1) Do you have sunshine?

* Fruiting Vegetables need 6 hours – 8 hours of sun.  This includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and vine crops such as cucumbers, melons, and squash.  This also includes many herbs, such as basil.

* Root Vegetables need 4-6 hours of sun.  This includes carrots, beets, etc.

* Leafy Vegetables need 4 hours of sun.  These are your “greens” such as lettuce, spinach and collards.

2) Do you have land?  Or do you have the space for a container garden?

I have had garden plots from small (3’x5′), medium (6’x10′), and large (17’x25′).  I have also had successful container gardens, especially when growing tomatoes, herbs, and peppers.

3) Do you like getting dirty?

Digging around in the dirt and compost isn’t high on some people’s likes list.  Neither is getting sweaty, getting mosquito bites, and dealing with grubs, insects, and other pests.

4) Do you have the time?

Once you put in the initial work, you will need to do maintenance on a weekly basis at the bare minimum.  Ideally, you will be in the garden every few days pulling weeds, inspecting for disease, drought, bug damage, etc…  You will be tending the plants, pinching suckers off, tying up branches on sticks/stakes, mulching, and fertilizing.  Don’t forget the harvesting!  If you are growing herbs, you will need to pinch the plants back frequently so they don’t bolt.  If you have fruits and veggies, you cannot let them rot on the plant or go to “seed”.

5) Do you have easy access to water?

Several years ago we had a severe drought and I used rain barrels to water my garden.  I had to use a sprinkler can and go back and forth from the rain barrel to the garden.  Half of my garden died.  I’ve also used sprinklers where the spigot was on the opposite side of the house from where the garden was.  Half of that garden died too due to not remembering on a regular basis to turn on the water (out of sight, out of mind) and too many issues working out the kinks in a 150ft hose.

I see articles all over the web that say: Money saving tip – Plant your own garden!  Gardening tools, supplies, compost, fertilizers, mulch, seeds, plants, water, etc…  all generally cost money.  Your time is also money.  The time spent gardening is time you could be doing something else that you will have to give up to garden.

If you can say yes to these 5 questions, then jump in and have fun!  If you say no to these questions then you may want to second think your garden idea.  I’m not saying that it couldn’t or wouldn’t work, but you might not get a good return on your investment of time, energy, and money.  At that point, gardening is no longer frugal.  It is more cost effective to buy your veggies at the farmer’s market or grocery store.

Frugal tip of the day:  If you are overwhelmed by the idea of gardening, start small and plant high dollar items, such as herbs and unique veggies.  An herb garden can be as small as a 2’x3′ plot or a few nicely sized containers.  You’ll make your initial investment back quickly by never having to pay $2.25 for 3 sprigs of basil again!

Cheap Versus Inexpensive

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I joined a cheap gym to save some money.  The membership was only $10/month.  The place had horribly stained carpet and a bunch of sweaty shirtless men using the machines without towels.  Ick.  The worst part was at the very back of the gym, there was an archway that led to a store of ill repute on one side and a manicure station on the other.  The staff was very rude and I was fairly disgusted.

When I went outside to get in my car it had been vandalized and I was angry for choosing such a crappy gym in such a crappy part of town.  I started jotting down notes for my blog about how being frugal doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your safety or well-being. 

There is a difference between the words inexpensive and cheap.  Inexpensive simply refers to the low cost of an item.  It says nothing about the character or quality.  Cheap also can refer to a low cost or inexpensive item, but it also refers to the low value, poor quality, and inferior worth of an item.  If a gym is inexpensive, it still might be a good gym, just at a low cost.  If a gym is cheap…steer clear.

Being frugal means knowing the difference between the two and finding the inexpensive deals for the best quality possible.

And then I woke up.  I have reached a new level of frugalness when I dream frugally!

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