a "been-there" mom of six offers encouragement
to wives, young mothers, and those not so young,
and simple common-sense approaches to
the "ings" of life:
child-rearing (hints and helps), homemaking (all areas),
cooking (simple, cheap, and do-it-yourself)
making (toys and gifts), preparing (for the unexpected),
maintaining (sanity and peace in this increasingly crazy world) and more---
all aspects of making the most of making do on little---
and having fun in the process.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The 80/20 Rule.


        The Simple Dollar is one of two blogs I subscribe to. Trent, the author, often has great money-saving advice, and once a week directions for a frugal meal. He has given me, the creative cheapskate, permission to include information from The Simple Dollar.
        I have excerpts from some of his posts set aside for possible inclusion when I am posting on a similar subject. I was impressed with his insights earlier this week so I'm including it here. It  is food for thought.
                                                    Simply, Gail

Financial Balance and the 80/20 Rule 

"One of the most fascinating things I’ve discovered since starting The Simple Dollar is the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle. Simply put, it means that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes.

"It’s perhaps easiest to explain this principle by giving you several examples of how I see it popping up again and again in my life – and how I use my understanding of it to my advantage.

"80% of our total grocery bill comes from 20% of the items. This is actually true. If I take a typical grocery receipt and count only the top 20% of items in terms of cost, those items will make up close to 80% of our grocery bill.

"Thus, if I want to save money on my grocery bills, I need to address those items instead of the staples. Is this expensive item really the best bang for the buck here?

"You don’t save a whole lot of money by fretting over the items that cost less than a dollar. You save money by not buying (or finding a less-expensive equivalent to) the ten dollar items.

"80% of my clothes-wearing is done by 20% of my clothes. I usually rotate about five pairs of pants and about eight shirts all the time until something wears out. If I actually look through my clothes, I own substantially more shirts and more pants than that.

"So why buy them? Why own them? Eight shirts and five pants gives me forty outfits – and more if I combine some of the shirts together into a layered look.

"Simply put, I don’t buy new clothes unless they’re on sale or at a thrift store, period. If I do pick up new clothes, they will simply wait to go into the normal clothes rotation until another item wears out.

"80% of my time in my home is spent in 20% of the space. Think about it. How much time is spent in your bed? How much time is spent in your favorite chair? For most of us, that eats up the vast majority of time they’re in their living quarters.

"I spend most of my time in my home either at my desk in my office, in my bed asleep, or in the family room. I spend very little time in the rest of the house.

"The only reason to have a large home is so that you have room to store lots of stuff.

"80% of my entertainment enjoyment comes from 20% of my collection. I tend to re-read my favorite books, re-listen to my favorite albums, and re-watch my favorite television shows and movies fairly regularly. I’d far rather watch the run of Freaks and Geeks again than a new episode of most of the things currently on television. When I’m listening to music, I’m much more likely to throw on an old Pearl Jam CD than anything new.

"This realization has moved me towards trying to find free or very inexpensive ways to expose myself to new media. I use the library. I watch free samples online. I read free sample chapters of books I’m interested in.This way, I’m not actually investing my money into something that doesn’t click deeply with me.

"To put it simply, the reality of my behavior leads me to frugality. I just have to sit down, look at what I’m actually doing, and make sensible financial choices accordingly."

I have included The Simple Dollar address under the graphic.

Thanks, Trent, for allowing me to share.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Keeping Track of Canned Goods---Simply and Cheaply (Naturally)

You will totally agree with the adage 
"a picture is worth a thousand words" 
      as you attempt to decipher my written instructions! 
     Since we encourage buying foods you regularly use in quantity whenever there is a good sale --- both for economy and security ---
Once you have it, where do you put it?
     Naturally it is a good idea to rotate your supply, using the oldest ones first. With traditional shelving this becomes a little bothersome since it is much quicker and easier to put the new purchases in front.
     There are very expensive racks made especially for this purpose. At Wal-Mart they sell for well over $200, and they also take up quite a lot of space.

We prefer to spend the majority of our money on the food itself!

Here is our cheap way of keeping the cans moving, with the additional bonus of storing a lot of cans in a small amount of space.

The photo and drawing insert will help you understand what I am trying to describe.
(Except the photo shows one of our larger, earlier units that has a second leveled shelf at the top. Plus, at the time, that unit was large enough that we didn't need to stack the cans in two layers--as the illustration shows.)

Getting Started

We bought two put-it-together-yourself metal storage units. (The kind where the uprights have holes every inch or so, and you screw the shelves on to them.) They are becoming harder to find but the last time I looked the super Wal-Marts were still carrying them. They are pretty easy to find at garage sales.

The two sets must be identical in the width and length of shelves. If the heights are different that isn't an issue, as you will soon see.

The units don’t have to be the heavy duty type because, even though the weight of canned goods quickly adds up, the way the cans are stored disperses this weight evenly.

We put one unit together following the manufacturer’s instructions with the following important modifications:

  • Except for the top shelf, which we installed per directions, we put all the other shelves on with the lip facing up.
  • And, except for the top and bottom shelves which we installed per instructions, we also put all other shelves on at an angle, usually two screw holes lower on one side.

We added the shelves from the second unit, all lips facing up and at the same angles. So far, we haven't found a use for the four additional uprights from the second set. Any ideas, readers?

Our unit is 59 inches tall. Each shelf measures 29 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Each shelf holds 20 regular (about 15 ounce) size cans of vegetables, soups, etc— 10 in each row, two rows deep (back row against the wall, and front row in front of that)

If you space the shelves right, there is enough room between some of the shelves where you can add a second layer of cans (see diagram).

The top and bottom shelves hold jars or boxes or miscellaneous cans.

Depending on the quantity of each item I want to keep on hand, each type of canned good fills one or both of the rows of a shelf. When you remove a can from the lower end of the slant the remaining cans will move down to fill the space.

When it is time to replenish it is easy to tell, at a glance, how many cans must be purchased to keep the inventory up.

A Trick or Two
For ease, I have two additional tricks.
1) I put identifying labels on the shelves where the cans in the back row are different than those in the front row.
2) On the soup shelves, if I have a variety of flavors in the same row, I periodically turn the “faces” of the cans up you can see the different varieties.

Any Closet Can Quickly Become A Pantry
We live in a small home that has a small walk-in closet. Three of these units line this closet’s walls, without removing the rods where clothes previously hung. Cereals, pastas, crackers, etc. fill the upper shelves above the rods. This little space holds a lot of food!

These units also work well in “regular” straight-line closets or, like the one pictured, against a wall in a storage area.

Dave made our first slanted shelving from wood. When we moved the shelves had to stay with the home so we came up with this idea.  The wood ones were nice but much more labor-intensive and expensive, and didn't work any better than the metal ones.

Challenge yourself to find ways to copy-cat expensive commercial products. It is fun! There is great satisfaction in being self-reliant. As I mentioned in an earlier post, keep your thinking cap handy at all times.

From an article previously published in Simply, Gail column in Desert Saints Magazine

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When There is Need to Go the Distance---Treats that Mail Cheap

I recently read that the US Mail Service is planning on closing down 
many of its offices, cutting out Saturday delivery and adding a day to
delivery time ---- all in an effort to save money. 
It was suggested that the most effective way to get this information
out to all of their customers was by e-mail or twitter!

Mailing treats didn't use to be a bank-breaking experience. But alas, now it is. If  you have a loved one that is away from home and craving homemade goodies, here are a couple that travel well and relatively cheaply.

Popcorn Cake
One 6-ounce can of  cocktail peanuts
One 12-15 ounce package plain M&M's (you can even buy seasonal colors if it is a holiday treat)
One 16-ounce package miniature marshmallows 
1 cube margarine
Approximately 1 cup unpopped corn (enough to fill a bundt pan or an angel food-type tube pan when popped)

Melt margarine and marshmallows over low heat. Mix peanuts and M&M's into marshmallow mixture. Pour over popped corn and mix well. Butter hands generously and press mixture into well-buttered pan. Let cool in freezer to make it easier to remove from pan. Wrap tightly in clear plastic wrap. Pack in additional plain popped corn to mail.

  • This also makes great popcorn balls!
  • You can form the popcorn balls around peppermint candy sticks to make popcorn pops.
  • Or, unwrap lollipops or suckers and form small popcorn balls around the lollipop, letting the stick handle protrude.
This recipe, or the forever popular crispy rice cereal with marshmallows treat recipe, can be formed into many shapes to fit special occasions. We've made a "plaster" cast with protruding toes. Heidi made a giant tooth and a surprise visit to the dental college on her husband's birthday. Both the plaster for the cast and the tooth enamel were made with melted white almond bark. We tinted the almond bark pink to cover the toes. 

The only hard part of this next yummy recipe, from my friend Linda, is finding the main ingredient--the corn pops.  They are not the corn pop breakfast food but the Barrel O' Fun corn pops located in the potato and corn chip aisle.

This treat is slightly sweet and slightly salty---and not too high in calories because the butter and sugar is spread over  lots of pops! 

This is one of the favorite treats of our family members away from home. It is one of my favorite treats to mail because it isn't too much heavier than air itself.

Some of our grand kids call this treat "Sugar Shrimp" and others call it "Pirates Booty."  I call it by its description: Sweet & Salty Corn Pop Stuff!

We ALL call it great! 

1 entire cube plus 1/3 of a second cube of butter or margarine
2/3 cups white sugar
2 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring 
1 very large package of Barrel O' Fun Corn Pops (about 15 ounces)

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Melt butter in large sauce pan. Bring to a fast boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour over corn pops, stirring as you go. Spread on cookie sheets or in a large roaster-type pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and pour onto flat surface to cool. Break up as needed. 

Handy Hint: Cut open the empty Barrel 'O Fun bag and spread it flat on a counter or table. Pour the finished snack onto the bag to cool.  (Our dog loves it when a few overshoot the area and fall on the floor!)

Cheapskate Hint:  Watch the weight of the mailing boxes themselves!!! When mailing unbreakable items, I often mail in large cereal boxes or soda cracker boxes or similar. 

'til we eat again,
          Simply, Gail

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies Can't Get Much Simpler Than This

Peanut, Groundnut clipart
Thanks for the clipart
Many thanks to one of our granddaughter's roommates, who shared it with our granddaughter, who shared it with her mother, who shared it with me. Hopefully, the original share-r doesn't mind me sharing it with the blogworld.

Like the post headline states, peanut butter cookies can't get much simpler than this. Can't get much faster-to-make either. And since my sources didn't include a name for them, I am calling them

Peanut Butter Quickies

In a bowl, use a fork to beat one egg thoroughly. Stir in one cup white sugar and one cup peanut butter until combined. (The dough will be sticky.) Drop by small spoonfuls onto cookie sheet. Lightly crisscross with a fork. (I dipped my fork in sugar---I think my mother used to crisscross her peanut butter cookies with a flour-dipped fork.)
Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes. Makes about two dozen amazingly good cookies.

'till we eat again,
            Simply, Gail

Monday, September 19, 2011

Begin Saving Today on Necessities

"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"By failing to prepare, you are
preparing to fail"
Ben Franklin

I have posted before, and will again, about the need to be self-sufficient in case of emergency. It is unbelievable how fast store shelves can empty when something happens. . . or when something is even just expected to happen.

Even when there is not an emergency . . .
Provident living is a satisfying way of life. 
We save tons of money by buying much of our food and household products at case lot sales, or at least, when they are on sale. We still do this, even with just two of us.

We bought our first case 44 years ago. We took a chunk of our monthly food budget and bought canned pears. We didn't think everything through and we created a problem. We had used most of our food budget on that purchase so we ended up eating a lot of pears----depleting our supply and defeating our purpose.

We came up with a Plan
We decided that the best way to get started on storage was to watch for sales on items that we could not eat or at least not all at once: toilet paper, toothpaste, soaps, vegetable oil, sugar, flour, etc.

We started to buy staples when they came on sale.  When we couldn’t afford a case, we bought what we could. Then, we didn’t need to buy that item or those items until they were on sale again. We would use that little extra money to buy another item when it was on sale.

Slowly our supplies built up. So did our sense of well-being and security.

Self-sufficiency is one of our greatest securities!

We worked our Plan
When we were able to start buying canned goods I found it helpful to make a menu as an aid in knowing what to buy. I tried making a menu for each day of the month but found that overwhelming.

After trying several methods, here is the one that worked for me. I realized we ate basically* the same thing each week so I simply created a 7-day menu and multiplied the necessary ingredients by four. And there was a month's menu!

I know, 7x4=28 days, but work with me here, okay?

*By basically, we might have a Mexican night, an Italian night, a breakfast-for-dinner night, etc.  We didn’t mind having tacos once a week so that was not a problem for us, but if it would be for you, you could alternate burritos or a taco casserole with the tacos.  Many different Italian dishes contain the same ingredients just prepared differently.  Same with pancakes or waffles or eggs for the breakfast night.

Maybe you can come up with a better way --- or any way that will work for you.

When the time of need has arrived, the time for preparation is past.