Hi there from North of the Border. Did you have a great Canada Day (July 1) and a fantastic Independence Day (July 4)? As admission to our national heritage and historic sites was free on Canada Day, hubby and I enjoyed a visit to the interpretive site of a First Nations Village c1430-60, and a walk along a scenic highlands trail, ending our day by watching a fireworks display in a small village nearby.
Thanks for all your questions. I will attempt to answer a few in this column, the first being frugality vs miserliness. There is a big difference between being frugal and being misery. We had a MISERY neighbour once. He and his wife never put enough food on the table for their growing children, who "bellied up" to my groaning board 50% of the time. He died leaving a very wealthy widow, who promptly spent the entire wad on things she had been denied throughout her marriage! A frugal person will know when to "slack the reins" - as grandmother would say - when to give themselves a little injection of treat or fun. Frugal persons spend wisely. Misers spend not at all.
Water: (for the fellow in Australia) Yes, we do have lots of water in Canada. That does not mean we do not conserve this precious commodity. As with the USA, many communities meter water, which means residents pay for the water they use. Many small communities are not metered. In a conscious effort to save water and money, hubby and I practice the following. We never water our lawn. Grass is drought tolerant. We do not buy into a green lawn as an important asset. We have rain barrels strategically placed under eaves and close to flower and vegetable gardens. We water the vegetable garden but only if it desperately needs a sprinkle. We mulch our garden which conserves moisture. We have heavy dews which benefit gardens and lawns to a certain extent. Remember that plants have been "catching" dew and water for thousands of years in their own unique ways. We cringe when we see people, while uselessly watering their lawns, wasting water on blacktopped driveways and streets. I have news for them. Concrete and blacktop do not grow. When doing laundry I use the 1/2 load water level - unless I have a heavy dirty load to do.
Laundry: Arm & Hammer Washing Detergent with Baking Soda is the detergent of choice for my laundry (Any detergent with baking soda added is alright). This particular product is approx. $2.00 cheaper than more well known brands but does a great job. It is also easier on the environment. I use one half the amount specified on the package and throw in two cups of vinegar at the beginning of the wash cycle. I wash in warm water and rinse with cold.
Curtains: One has to deal with huge windows in an old house - but there are cheap and effective solutions to the problem. Those windows that look out onto private gardens do not have curtains. We let the vista speak for itself. Kitchen windows do not have curtains, just lots of colourful house plants. Where curtains are needed I use sheets - draped artistically from rods. Sheets are a bargain when purchased on sale and come in a great variety of colours and patterns. Do not cut the sheets. When I tire of the colour, I choose new patterns and use the old "curtains" as bed sheets. For large windows and paito doors, sew cheap oval plastic shower rings on the top of the sheets. I clip them through a wooden rod that hubby installed and VOILA - great curtains at a fraction of the price of drapes. Privacy? No problem. Install two wooden rods, one behind the other. One holds plain privacy sheets and one holds a more decorative set. Curtains can be closed easily as the plastic rings run smoothly along the wooden rod. They are a breeze to wash too.
Drying Food: One can save money by drying certain foods. I have just finished drying this winter's supply of strawberries(for baking) and am now drying mushrooms, onions, peppers and blueberries. At one time I dried the food on trays, covering it with cheese cloth but I saved my pennies and bought a dehydrator - on sale in February. What a difference it makes to time and quality of product. We do not dry huge quantities - just enough for two for the winter. Along with the above mentioned the larder holds dried tomatoes, peaches, pears, plums, apricots and cherries. Use plastic margarine tubs with lids for storing the well dried foods. You can also freeze dried food, should you not have decent storage for it elsewhere. Substitute any chopped dried fruit for raisins and dates in recipes. I have even dried mangoes and paypaya- when I can buy them cheaply.
Drawer Scents: It is not necessary to have scented drawers but if you have a ready source of flowers, here is a neat way to save money and have prettily scented clothing and towels too. Make a "tussey mussey" of scented flowers from your garden (or the roadside) - roses, lavender, heather, wild sweet grass (vanilla grass). Tie all in cheesecloth (or a square of cotton) and tuck in the very bottom of the drawer. I do not dry anything first - just make sure it is all bug and dew free. Use your nose. There are lots of things (wild and cultivated) growing around you that can be put into a tussey mussey. Bothered with flies in the house? Hang "bouquets' of wild tansy around your rooms - stem and flower heads tied with a pretty ribbon. We NEVER use bug spray.
Big Cheap Storage Jars: Visit your corner variety store and check out the containers used to hold lollipops and suckers which are usually shipped in lots of 100+ in a jar. These plastic containers come with lids. Many owners chuck them out. Ask if jars plus lids can be saved for you. They are great for storage of food products - toys - rocks - yarn & etc & etc.
Food for the Masses: For the lady who asked about the Manitoba barley casserole recipe - cheap and filling for a large family - well, here it is. When I had a dozen hungry mouths around the table I doubled the recipe. Pearl barley should be available at any good grocery or bulk food store - real cheap! Do not soak the barley first. Make this dish when you have the oven on for other baking and let it stew - stew - stew. Served up with meat loaf, there is no better mob meal.
In a heavy frying pan combine 1 cup pearl barley and 2 tbsps margarine or butter. Heat and stir the dried barley kernels until they are lightly browned. Add one 10 oz (or larger) can of mushrooms, liquid and all, 1/2 cup sliced celery, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 2 tbsps chopped parsely, two beef oxo cubes, 1 tsp salt and a dash of pepper. Add three cups of warm water. Bake in a casserole at 350 degrees for two - two and one half hours. Stir once or twice after the first forty minutes of cooking. Add a little more water if necessary. You do not want the casserole to dry out. I substitute one package of dried onion soup mix for the onion and beef oxo cubes - and a pinch of nutmeg. The barley never softens to the point where it is mushy but it is not suppose to. Some people add a tin of kernel corn to the mixture too. Experiment and enjoy a rib sticking meal.
Saving for the Niceties and Retirement: Well, do I have several suggestions. They will take willpower, but they do work. Hubby and I do it regardless of the bills that need to be paid. Way back in the 1960's we began to pay ourselves FIRST. We tucked a percentage of monies earned aside every pay. We started with 5% and gradually increased it to 10%, then 15%. We put this money in a special bank account and NEVER touched it -not for years. By a pactbetween the two of us, we never withdrew any money from the account. Every pay that percentage came right off the top - gone - out of sight - out of mind, regardless of who needed shoes. After awhile it became routine - and the money began to add up $5.00 - $10.00 at a time. Finally, we had a cash cusion. Now we do withdraw a little occasionally - BY VOTE - and as soon as possible we replenish the account by saving elsewhere.
We also save our one dollar coins, the Loonie. If a Loonie comes into our possession, we put it in a piggy bank - every singe Loonie. There is a rule around this house - NO SPENDING LOONIES. When we accumulate enough to make a roll (or two) we deposit our Loonies. Eventually we treat ourselves to a special purchase - one on our list of needs. But we never withdraw more than 50% of the money saved by stacking our Loonies.
This is how I could finally purchase a dehydrator. Choose a denomination of coin - or bill - and save, save, save . Quarters are good to start with. Do not dip into your "horde" for "this and that". This takes a big effort when you are living from pay to pay, but do it. And treat yourself to something on your needs list. You will be surprised at how much money accumulates in your nestegg.
Finally, for those who feel that they are not contributing to the financial well being of the household (by staying home) or their financial contribution is deemed by another to be less than adequate. Once a very long time ago hubby complained a little about my "easy life" as a home mom. So I wrote down all the jobs that I did around the house, called a few agencies, and got prices for "by the hour" substitutes - house cleaner, cook, laundress, babysitter, gardener & etc. I pinned the resultant list on the bulletin board. He never complained again. It would have cost him (in 1970's prices) $372. per week to pay someone to do my job. End of story. Be happy and content with yourself and your decision to be a home mother and/or work from the home. Be proud of your efforts. Be strong and firm in your belief that your time and energy are a valuable contribution. If you "walk comfortably" in your own body and mind, you will be fine. And tell that complainer that he/she should "walk in your moccasins for a week" if he/she thinks you have it easy!
Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at mestern.net. Her latest work of historical fiction is entitled "No Choice But Freedom" which takes place in England and British Colonial America c1750.
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