Archive for the 'inspiration' Category

Some Wonderful Links!

Just a quick post today to share some excellent articles and resources I’ve run across in recent days:

  • How to Practice Hospitality on a Budget – Hosted on the marvelous MoneySavingMom.com, this is a gem of an article with super tips for blessing others while living on a budget.
  • Tips for Reducing Electric Bills – Fantastic information from the great people at LivingonaDime.com. Lots of common-sense ideas, but you’ll also find some that make you say, “OH!” Great stuff.
  • Promotional Codes – This is a fantastic one-stop shop for online coupons, discount codes, and more. I love to find discount codes I can use when placing an order online. This is by far the most user-friendly way to discover new coupons!
  • Soda Stream – I admit it, I absolutely love sparkling water. It’s one of my big addictions. But it is SO pricey if you purchase it in the stores ($1.49-$1.99 a liter — ouch!). I was thrilled when I discovered this handy gadget that allows you to make your own sparkling water (and flavored drinks) at home for 20 cents per liter! I’ll be reviewing this nifty tool later on.

Enjoy!

© Podius | Dreamstime.com

© Podius | Dreamstime.com

Here’s a great $10 challenge!

I was scanning through radio stations while running errands this week and ran across a really neat feature on NPR — a challenge to create a delicious meal for a family of four with a $10 budget! Now, these aren’t just run-of-the-mill casseroles and crock-pot meals (though I’ve certainly got tons of recipes for those). These are chef-created meals using delicious, easy-to-find foods and spices.

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Check out the links below for the first three challenges (including recipes!), and bookmark the page to get the rest as they are posted:

From Chef Jose Andres, A Family Favorite for $10

Chef Ming Tsai’s $10 Dish

Navy Chef Gets Creative with $10 Skate Meal

Enjoy! Also consider submitting your own $10 meal recipes to NPR. They’re going to share the best on the air. And if you’ve got budget-friendly meal secrets you’re willing to divulge with the rest of us, share them in the comments section! I love to bargain shop and bargain cook. It’s amazing how creatively you can stretch the grocery budget when you’re willing to try!

PS – For some of you old pros out there, this challenge is a walk in the park. When we had a family of four, our entire weekly grocery budget was $40 — never $10 a meal! But if you want to make something really special for a birthday or to take to a friend as a gift, these $10 menus are fantastic!

A Fantastic Frugal Homesteading Kit!

I just got an e-mail newsletter from Vision Forum with this wonderful package in it on sale (I ordered it!). I thought I had all the frugality and homesteading books out there, but these two were new to me, and I’ve not had a chance to see the videos yet, but I’ve heard rave reviews of them. Just click the banner below to read about the sale. You can get the books bundled, the videos bundled, or everything bundled together. There’s also a deal on the Entrepreneurial Boot Camp CDs. Check it out!

Fantastic Article Link on Building Smaller and Smarter

I’ve been out of the loop here for a while with family coughs and colds and general late winter ickies.  While playing catch-up, I ran across this excellent article about the sudden boom in smaller house plans–no more McMansions! Here’s a little blurb from this piece:

“You can save thousands of dollars” by using simple materials in a well-designed space, says [Sarah] Susanka, author of the best-selling 1998 book The Not So Big House.

For more than a decade, she has urged people to build better, not bigger. Now, as the U.S. economy struggles to climb out of a tailspin and environmental concerns rise, her message has gone mainstream.

New homes, after doubling in size since 1960, are shrinking. Last year, for the first time in at least 10 years, the average square footage of single-family homes under construction fell dramatically, from 2,629 in the second quarter to 2,343 in the fourth quarter, Census data show.

The new motto: living well with less.

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I own Susanka’s Not So Big House books and have admired her ideas for years while collecting my own folder of plans and ideas for the house we hope to build. Even with a large family, it is not necessary to build sprawling mega-houses with bedrooms in every corner. In fact, it’s far better to build smarter, making public areas (kitchen, dining room, living room) the focal point and devoting greater space to those. Bedrooms are really only necessary for sleeping and dressing, and I’ve never seen the sense of having a gargantuan master suite that you hardly spend any time in when you’re awake! We’d much rather have plenty of room to have guests around the table–not to mention places to spread out homeschooling projects, read books together, etc.

I’ll be posting more about our home plans/ideas here in the future, sharing what I’ve gleaned from years of tearing out magazine pages and reading dozens of books. I inherit all of this from my mother, who was designing “green” before it was ever in fashion. Being green may be hip today, but it’s really just going back to older principles of building to last for generations and using materials that don’t have to be replaced every few years. We’ve got high hopes of using reclaimed barn wood, as one of our neighbors is frequently called upon to tear down old barns and sheds and recycles the lumber. We’re looking into passive and active solar options,  structural insulated panels (SIPs), and  talking about tankless water heaters (did you know roughly one-third of your electricity bill is due to keeping a tank of water hot?).

It is a really fun challenge to figure out where you can cut costs without cutting any real corners. Who cares about granite countertops when the extra money you’d spend on those could go to a high-efficiency tankless water heating system? We love to think outside the box. Below are some of my favorite links I’ve bookmarked over the past few years as we plan and dream. If you’ve got favorites, post a comment and share!

Architectural Salvage Yards – Because salvage is now “hot,” it can sometimes be pricier than new, but check locally, because that’s where you find the savings. We have three salvage places within 50 miles of us, and their prices are much lower.

Valuebuild Panel Home Kits – These kits use the SIPs I mentioned above, which have an incredibly high “R” factor when it comes to insulation. Energy bills in SIP houses are typically 60% lower than in stick-built (i.e. “leaky as a sieve”) houses. And if you’re not brave enough to literally put your kit together yourself, a local builder can easily do it for you with far less waste than a stick-built home entails.

The Affordable House – These plans are so much fun to look at — like little storybook cottages. The designer works to put lots of usable space into a small footprint with charming results.

SIPA (Structural Insulated Panel Association) – This site explains how SIPs work and why it is better (and faster!) to build a house with them.

Greenblock Insulated Concrete Forms – Another alternative to stick-built, these pre-molded forms go in quickly and are solid and long-lasting. There are some drawbacks when it comes to certain heating methods, but if you’re in a hotter climate, they’re a really good option.

The Natural Home Building Source – A great place for information on passive solar design, graywater reuse, heat storage tubes, and more.

Another quickie from Country Living!

I just love Country Living’s online features. This link came in their e-newsletter today.  Check out their Small Space Solutions.  I’m not crazy about all the color schemes, but the ideas for arranging furniture and making the most of tiny spaces are great. I especially loved this bed nook, which reminds me of the one my mother created for me in my small room when I was growing up:

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Mine wasn’t nearly this fancy, and it wasn’t literally a niche’ in the wall, but it was heaps of fun. My room was 9×12, so my bed went at one end of the room, framed by bookcases at the head and foot and a wooden “valance” connecting them with a curtain rod behind. I had white ruffled curtains that made the nook feel like a storybook princess’s bed. I loved that spot! It wasn’t expensive to create, and it made my cozy little room very special.

There are so many good ideas for using small spaces — post your favorite links in the comments if you have some fun space solutions to share!

A quick link to share…

I get Country Living Magazine’s email newsletters, and they always have something fun to click on and explore. I thought this piece on renovating a small country cottage was charming: Country Cottage Small Budget Makeover — Easy, affordable updates give a characterless country cottage an inviting new attitude, both inside and out.

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Scroll through the slide show to see what a huge difference paint can make! You’ll see that the kitchen cabinets were repainted rather than replaced (and look totally new and different!) and that the owner used vinyl sticky-tile on the kitchen floor, just like I did. He also tiled over old kitchen counters to cover them inexpensively.

It’s so inspiring to see how much can be done with very little money. Just roll up your sleeves and get cracking! 😉

A No-Cost Room Redo!

Those who know me well know I have a real thing for rearranging. It happens at least once a year in almost every room in the house, wherever we’ve lived. One day I wake up and just feel the urge to move things around in a big way. It’s like nesting syndrome–even when I’m not expecting! I just love to try the furniture in different places. If you ever start feeling the redecorating bug hitting when there just aren’t funds to do anything big, then rearrange! It’s every bit as gratifying, and you can get really creative by rotating photos, knick-knacks, wall art, lamps, and more.

frombookcase1My rearranging bug hit the evening of New Year’s day this year. I walked into the living room and said, “I really want to get the couch out of the middle of the room. Who wants to help Mommy?” My oldest son, who has a tendency to think everything should stay exactly where it is, gave me his quizzical raised eyebrow look. “Why do you want to move stuff, Mom? I like everything this way!” My second-born son, who is always ready to dive into anything no matter how crazy or spur-of-the-moment, said, “What do we move first?” My toddlers, who thought this was all fun and games, ran around the front of the couch to help push. And that’s when the real fun began!

Our first discovery was this lovely stash of missing books, socks, toys, and, yes…that’s an old, dried-up apple core next to the sock:

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Oh, joy. No matter how good you may think you are at keeping house, you just never know what’s lurking under the couch. Or the big blue chair, for that matter:

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Okay, so that one wasn’t quite so bad. But we decided to keep going and pull out the jelly cupboard (which we use for school books) in the dining room to see what might have ended up there. Hmmmm….

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So that’s where all the missing fridge art went! But when we swept everything out, still more was hiding beneath the pile of drawings and school papers:

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Crayons and pencils and hairbows, oh, my!

This, folks, is real life in my house! Ever notice how the beautiful photographs of inspiring home makeovers and remodels rarely ever show actual human beings in the rooms? That’s because people are messy. People drop things behind furniture and under the table and in that hard-to-reach spot between the fridge and the cabinets. It’s fun to take pictures of everything pretty and neat and nice, but just remember to enjoy the 2.5 seconds it actually looks that way and then go back to living in your house! That’s what makes it home.

So, back to our no-cost makeover! After we pulled the furniture out into the dining room, the children did a big clean-up, putting away the things we found under the couches and chairs and cupboard. We looped up the living room curtains and washed the windows. Then we gave the rug (a gorgeous hand-me-down from my father-in-law) a thorough vacuuming:

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Now we were ready to put the couch in its new place in front of the window (where the round table with lamp used to be):

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You can see the big, blue chair back in its regular spot on the right-hand wall. It just really fits there very well and would stick out too far moved elsewhere. (It’s a good idea to measure things before moving so you know what can fit where. I’ve done the foolhardy thing in the past and moved something only to find out it wouldn’t go where I thought it would. Oops!) We moved the lamp that used to be next to the blue chair over beside the couch, where it fit perfectly and had an outlet waiting for it. Next we put the rocking chair and the wing chair directly across from where they used to be, meaning they basically traded places with the couch:

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At right you can just see the round table and lamp that used to be in front of the window. They fit perfectly beside the big, blue chair. Here’s another view, this one from the front door:

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And, finally, here’s the view from the kitchen:

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This arrangement makes the room feel so much more open and easy to move around in. The original arrangement was definitely cozy, and I enjoyed it, but we’re really liking this new layout–even my oldest son says he likes it better now, so it must be good!  😉

Rearranging really is a way to get a quick fix when you don’t have the funds to repaint, reupholster, or do other large projects.  It’s also a good idea just to move things periodically to clean (as we found!), even if you don’t want to move furniture permanently. Finally, you can be really inventive and bring in furniture that would typically be used in a different room and repurpose it. A dresser makes a great entry table and can also serve as a storage spot for CDs, books, magazines, table linens, and the like.  A bedside table can serve as an end table. Play “flea market” in your own house and go “shopping” from room to room, seeing what you can move and use more effectively in another spot. It’s a lot of fun and gives your home a completely fresh new look without spending a dime. Have fun, and if you do any rearranging, come post a comment with a link to your own pictures so we can all be inspired!

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Hello, 2009! Let’s start the year off with some frugal links!

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I hope y’all had as wonderful a Christmas and New Year’s celebration as we did.  We had a fantastic time with family and friends and celebrated several birthdays in the process, too. It was a great way to end 2008!

As the economy continues its tumble (and we all start to wonder if it will ever hit bottom), I’ve been pulling out all my old favorite resources, including the following excellent books:

  • Back to Basics by Reader’s Digest- I pored over my mother’s copy of this book growing up, fascinated by all the amazing information it contained (how to site a passive solar house, how to build an underground root cellar, how to find a water source, and so much more). You can find copies of the original 1970s edition and the 1980s update on eBay — both editions are great.
  • Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery – This book has been through numerous editions. Mine is about ten years old and well-thumbed. This book covers everything from gardening to grinding grains, quilting to tending your own plot of mushrooms. Very helpful and fun to read, too!
  • The “Have-More” Plan by Ed and Carolyn Robinson – This is another book I just love to sit and look through (as do my children). It was written in the 1940s by a couple who moved out to the country and steadily built a self-sufficient lifestyle on a small homestead. It shows that a family does not need dozens of acres and a giant farming operation to live very comfortably. And even if you have no intention of moving to the country, the book shows what you can do on very little land with smart placement of plants and careful management of the pantry. I totally ignore the advice on insecticides (yikes!), since we do organic gardening, but the rest is a treat! This is available as a reprint from Storey Communications and as an e-book!

I’ve also been going through my favorite frugal bookmarks and gleaning from sites that provide coupons, links to special giveaways, tips for budgeting, etc. Here are some of my very favorite sources online:

  • Money Saving Mom – This one always gets top place. Mrs. Paine is a frugal whiz and pulls together the most fantastic deals every week. Be sure to subscribe to her feed so you don’t miss anything!
  • My Penny Pile – Another super site for coupons, deals, and freebies, from one penny-pinching mom to another.
  • TipHero.com – I have learned so many things from reader tips and tricks. Did you know you can cut drying time by 1/3rd if you put a dry towel into each load of laundry? Lots of practical, down-to-earth helps here. Get the feed, and pass on a tip if you have a good one!
  • Better Budgeting – This site is jam-packed with articles, ideas, practical how-to helps, and more. Get a “black belt” in frugal living here!
  • Living on a Dime – I love their fun sense of humor – this is a site that will encourage you and make you smile, even if you’ve got to dig your way out of serious debt or work hard to scrape together savings. Fantastic e-books and e-newsletter!
  • Sufficient Self – A forum for folks to share frugal ideas and tips for making do or making it yourself. Great place to ask questions.

Finally, let me share some favorite helpful articles that have inspired me:

  • “Seven Good Lessons from the Great Depression”We may not be getting ready for bread lines or seeing hobos selling apples for five cents on the corner, but all this talk of another Great Depression should have us looking back in history for lessons that we can take with us into the future of this wild and woolly economic mess.
  • “The Perfect Pantry”Stock up on the basics below for easy home-cooked meals. [If you’ve never stocked a pantry, this is a great starter article.]
  • “Frugal Living in a Tiny Town”Although far removed from bargain shopping and mainstream entertainment conveniences (we live 15 miles from the nearest grocery store and 55 miles from any real shopping), we have found that Tiny Town living lends itself nicely to our frugal lifestyle. [Reading this piece is like hearing from a kindred spirit. I love this!]
  • “Pantry 2009: Groceries and Your Budget”I love trying to cut costs and increase value at the same time.  I love a bargain but don’t like skimping on quality.  I love to be rich cheap.  I love the challenge of building a pantry.  I love buying bulk.  I love couponing.  That is why my dream outing is going grocery shopping with a load of coupons and stopping in at Goodwill on .99 cent day. [I look forward to reading more articles in this neat series.]
  • “Salvage Your Way to a Kitchen Remodel for Less”We bought a small 2 bedroom house, and put a new addition, with 3 more bedrooms, living room and bath. Four years into the project, I declared war against the original kitchen, which consisted of one wall of upper cabinets built with plywood, and a counter top below, that held the sink. This was the only storage/work space in there! My husband and older son said “There is no way you can even start this project without $5-10,000.” I said “Watch me!” [If you’ve read my kitchen re-do posts, then you know this is a topic I adore!]

Enjoy! I hope to be back soon with more stories about some remodeling fun (and serendipitous mishaps!).

Happy New Year!

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In the bleak midwinter…

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When the chill days of winter arrive, I’ve always recalled and savored the lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet 73:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

“Bare ruin’d choirs” — the phrase sent delicious shivers through me when I first read that sonnet, and it still evokes the grey, quiet feelings of this time of year. I thought of those words again today, looking through my kitchen window into a gloomy winter’s sky.

102_00321It has been one of those days when everyone wants to huddle inside, get the fire going, and read books. Which is fine by me. I love days like this. But today we decided the best way to keep off the chill and gloom was to decorate the house for Christmas, break out the Christmas music, and sip some egg nog. 😉

102_0021We had quite an adventure yesterday finding a tree. At first we’d thought the woods behind the house would oblige us with a small cedar, but the trees were decidedly too prickly for little fingers, so we gave up on that idea. I figured we’d easily find a local tree lot and just get something small for the living room, but, long story short, there wasn’t a tree lot anywhere to be found in an hour’s worth of driving and three small towns! Unbelieveable. So we headed down another road where we’d seen a tree lot on our way to get the milk at the dairy on Tuesday. Why I didn’t just stop on Tuesday and get a tree while I was at it is beyond me! When we finally reached the lot, it was already closed. Don’t tree lots usually stay open after 4pm?

At this point, the children were rather antsy and not wanting to sit in the van any more, so we headed over to the gigantic nearby Wal-Mart (sigh), which–sure enough–had live trees outside of the garden center. We picked a cute, plump little spruce (soft needles) that smelled faintly citrus. By then, rain had started spritzing down, so our tree had a shimmering mist added to its charms. Amid cheers and squeals of delight, we hauled the tree back home and squeezed it through the door. By the time my oldest sons had wrestled it into the tree stand, they were too exhausted (and covered with greenery and sap) to do more, so we saved decorating for today.

breadornamentWe had no trouble finding the ornaments, as we now have so few boxes in storage (wheee!). The children quickly pounced on their favorites, and everyone had an opinion of what should go where.  We have a neat little set of ornaments that functions as a sort of miniature advent calendar. Each ornament has a picture representing what we’re celebrating–the coming of Christ–and contains a description of His attributes.  This one here shows a loaf of bread. When you open it, there’s a story inside about how Christ is the Bread of Life. Each ornament contains a story, and we will be reading a different one each day over the next two weeks. The children enjoyed placing (and re-placing) ornaments on the tree, then stood back to admire everything all lit up. My oldest son was horrified when I told him that, before electricity, people used to put real, lit candles on their Christmas trees. He said our trailer would burn down for sure if we did that–LOL!

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102_00021After finishing the tree, we created a simple wreath for the front door, and I gave my girls the leftover ribbons to decorate their room with. My four-year-old came out ten minutes later sporting two stuffed animals with new bows around their necks. My older daughter led me by the hand and showed off her own decorations, which included her pajamas neatly folded into a “present” and tied with a bow — and two bows on either end of her bed. Ah, girls! The boys all wanted to head out into the woods and cut down some boughs to decorate the mantel and front deck railings, but the wind had really started to pick up, and the rain was coming down again, so we decided to put that off ’til another day.

I’m now sitting in a quiet house, the only sound the ticking of the clock and the click of my keyboard. All my “mice” are snug in their beds, and I’m enjoying the warmth of the Christmas lights and some soft Christmas carols playing in the background. This is one of my favorite seasons, and we’re going to enjoy staying snug inside our little cottage while the winds blow outside.

In the kitchen, the tea kettle is calling me for a nightly cup of Earl Grey, so I’ll head in there and fix it by the warm light of the countertop lamp (one of my all-time favorite thrift store finds!). I hope wherever you are, you’re enjoying the season and finding time to reflect. When I look outside at those “bare, ruin’d choirs,” I’m all the more thankful for a place to be at home with my family–a place to focus on what’s really important. The economy may look grimmer by the day, but we can hold on to what really lasts–and what Wall Street can’t take away–can’t we? Gather them in close–family, friends, neighbors–and tell them how much they mean to you. These are the riches God gives us all.

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Dave Ramsey’s doing it again — Everything’s $10!

Dave Ramsey did this great sale back on Labor Day weekend, and he’s doing it again through December 18. If you want the best, most down-to-earth, practical tools for getting, staying, and living debt-free, get Dave’s Total Money Makeover book or order his audio CDs.  I don’t get any kind of kick-back for recommending Financial Freedom products; I just want to encourage you to read, listen to, and learn from their resources.

Total Money Makeover

If you’re like me, you may have grown up in a frugal household but without ever learning how to budget, save long-term, or invest.  When I was a newlywed, I prided myself on being able to live on very little, but I quickly found out that I had a lot to learn when it came to thinking long-term.

Crystal over at MoneySavingMom.com has shared her family’s financial goals and also recommends Dave Ramsey’s excellent materials. Crystal’s story is incredibly inspiring. If a young wife and mom can keep the home and run a small business while her husband finishes law school–and still manage to save money–then so can you!

If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, spend some time on his site and check his radio show archive. 60 Minutes also did a special on him recently that you can watch in segments online (if I can find my link I’ll post it!). Dave and his wife, Sharon, tell the story of how they came out of complete bankruptcy and financial ruin and learned to manage money and save carefully for the long haul. It’s good stuff!

Enjoy!


About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

Favorite Frugal Helps!


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Organic Valley Family of Farms - Get coupons and special offers for delicious, healthy food!

The Coupon Mom - Another fabulous source for discounts and freebies!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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