Archive for the 'Nitty gritty how-to help' 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

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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!

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

cardornament

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!

windowlights

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!

Quick bathroom floor re-do

One Friday afternoon with the house freshly cleaned and the children watching a movie, I decided to tackle their bathroom floor. It had the same white linoleum that was in the kitchen, and with lots of muddy feet and little bodies, this floor was never clean for long! I had plenty of tile left over from the kitchen floor re-do, since I never ended up tiling into the large utility closet. I’m glad now that I didn’t, since reflooring the bathroom was a much better investment of the tile and the time! At left you see the bathroom before. I’ve removed the floor vent cover, and the linoleum has been mopped and stripped to remove any waxing remnants. You can see the vinyl sticky tiles waiting for me.

I debated on where to start tiling in this room, since it is so small. It seemed silly to mark the exact center and begin from there, so I chose instead to start behind the door (the lower right-hand corner in the photo above). This proved to be a very good choice, as I ended up not having to cut so many tiles to get around the air vent hole.

Here you see the first tile with a notch cut out to go around the corner where the door’s threshhold met the hallway’s carpet. As in the kitchen, I laid the tile down, fitting carefully, then used an old rolling pin to firmly adhere the sticky backing to the floor. I followed up with the second tile, making sure its left edge matched exactly to the first tile and its upper edge butted up against the hallway carpet. Below are the first two tiles in place. See how the second tile comes exactly to the edge of the air vent? I was so happy about that little bit of serendipity. (I confess I didn’t measure–I just eyeballed it and guessed; I’d recommend measuring if you’re having a first go at this sticky tile thing! Measuring in the large kitchen saved us a lot of grief.)

The first two tiles

The first two tiles

With these tiles in place, I quickly moved on, since I could just place all the tiles along the left-hand wall and match another row next to them before I had to cut around either the vent hole or the toilet. Cutting around the vent hole wasn’t very hard, since I only had to cut two tiles, and both of those tiles went up against the bath cabinet. The only tricky tile was the one that had to go around the door jamb (which you can see in the upper right-hand corner of the photo above). But after all my practice in the kitchen, I just sailed on through with my handy-dandy utility scissors.

The part of the bathroom floor re-do that took the longest was going around the toilet. Here you see the last bit of tiling yet to be done (and the tiling that required all the cutting for a perfect fit):

I should have been a good girl and made pattern pieces out of cardboard or paper for the curved base of the toilet, but I was in a hurry and just eyeballed and hand-cut a tile to go around the front of the toilet. I was tickled pink when it was a perfect fit and prematurely patted myself on the back:

I figured that, having eyeballed the first tile so easily, it would also be a piece of cake to eyeball the final tile, but the final one included not only the curved back edge of the toilet but the metal pipe running into the floor and the metal ring around it:

I sailed blithely into cutting the last tile anyway, doing my best to accommodate the little curve at the corner. That proved a bit more difficult than I’d initially thought. When I laid the tile down for a test, I saw that I’d cut too little away from the corner where the small ring sits and too much away from the curve to go around the toilet. Blah. I didn’t want to waste an entire tile, so instead of cutting a new one, I just picked up the scrap that came from cutting out the larger curve and cut a piece from it to fill in the half-moon area of linoleum that still showed. When I stepped back a couple of feet, I couldn’t even see the “patch,” and I was delighted to have the entire bathroom floor redone in under 45 minutes! The new floor is very nice to look at and much easier to keep clean. Total cost for this redo (at 44 cents per sticky tile)? $11! Can’t be beat. Well worth the elbow grease! Next bathroom project: painting over the vinyl wallboard’s “wallpaper” to give the bathroom a more updated look. Hurrah!

All's well that ends well!

All finished and looking good!

Livening up the front door

First coat!

First coat!

While I don’t mind white in my kitchen (where soap and water are always handy for clean-up), I can’t stand a white front door. It always looks dirty, particularly with little hands (and feet!) constantly on the door. So with the approval of our landlord, I got a pint of “Spanish Red” (like a dark mulberry) from Lowe’s. On a day when the humidity wasn’t as extreme, I gave our front door a quick makeover!

The first coat of red over a non-primed surface is always scary. It looks hot pink (no matter how dark that color sample appears). If you opt for red on anything light, be prepared for at least three coats, if not more. If you prime first with a dark grey, it will still take at least two coats. This door took four coats before it finally looked solid and beautiful, as you’ll see in the photos below. I used a high density foam roller–the same kind I used on the kitchen cabinets–to get a nice, smooth finish with no visible “seams” or bubbles. If I’d been aiming for a totally professional look, I would have removed the door hardware or at least masked it off with painter’s tape. I did neither, as this was one of those spur-of-the-moment redos. The nice thing is that latex paint peels easily off of stainless steel, so I had no problem cleaning up the door knob and deadbolt later.

Here’s a close-up of that first coat of paint, plus a shot of my roller so you can see what it looks like:

Here’s the door after one coat of paint (looks frightening, I know!):

The second coat started looking better, but it was still “choppy” and pinkish in tone:

By the third coat, you start breathing easier and feeling like this is going to be a beautiful front door!

With the fourth coat in place and nicely dried, we have a beautiful, deep red front door. I love it! This exterior Latex is washable and weather-hardy. Best of all, it really doesn’t show handprints like the white door did. This door makeover took about an hour total (because the day was warm, each coat dried enough to paint over in about 20 minutes). It’s so easy to make a quick change without the cost of replacing a door!

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

Tiling Laminate Countertops – Part Two (The Grout Stops Here!)

Since I’d run out of mastic before placing the small tiles on the edges of the peninsula or adding the backsplash, that was the first order of business when I returned to the trailer. It didn’t take long to finish placing the tiles along the front edge and to set the backsplash along the short area at the wall end of the peninsula. It was so exciting to see everything coming together so beautifully. I decided to mix up the grout and do the other counters while the peninsula was drying, so I pulled out all my grouting tools and read the directions on the 25-pound bag of grout mix. Grout is extremely caustic and can harm eyes, skin, and lungs, so I had purchased heavy-duty rubber gloves just for grouting, and I carried the grout out to the front deck to mix so the grout dust wouldn’t be in the house. I also tied an old shirt over my mouth and nose to avoid breathing the dust. In the photo below, you see my grout bucket, grout float, rubber gloves, clean-up sponge, and cheesecloth (for removing the haze afterwards).

After adding the correct amount of water, I began mixing the grout with a large paint stick. Grout has to be stirred for five minutes, then allowed to rest for ten minutes, then stirred again before spreading. I found out which muscles are out of shape about a minute into stirring the heavy grout! 25 pounds of grout takes about 1/3rd of a 5-gallon bucket, and it’s heavy! I set the timer to allow the grout to rest for ten minutes, then gave the grout one last stir when it beeped and began using the float to spread the grout over the tiles on the small counter next to the fridge. There was no way to get a picture, since I couldn’t hold the camera with grout all over my gloves, and I couldn’t take off the gloves with all the grout around!

Let me just tell you that I had forgotten how extremely messy grout is. The last time I grouted was when I helped my mom tile a bathroom over twenty years ago. In my hazy memory, that was a totally clean and easy job. Ha! If I had known how messy grouting was going to be, I’d have waited to redo the kitchen floors. Failing that, I’d have been smart enough to place drop cloths on the floor first! As it was, I made quite a big mess that I had to clean up quickly before the grout had a chance to harden onto the floor or cabinet fronts! Pushing grout into the grooves with a float isn’t at all difficult if you’ve gotten the grout to the right consistency. It just kind of seeps down as you gently pull the float over the surface of the tile. Then I followed this 20 minutes later with a damp sponge to make everything neat and smooth. I had the small counter grouted in about ten minutes and was ready to move on to the sink countertop:

In this picture you can see the haze forming as the grout dries. This is normal. You wipe the haze off a couple of hours later, once the grout has had a chance to set in the spaces between the tiles. If you’ve been paying attention, you may wonder why there’s no backsplash on this countertop. After I’d placed the backsplash on the peninsula, I stepped back and had second thoughts. It would probably be easier to grout the countertop first, then go back and set the backsplash and grout it. That way I could also be sure that I’d filled in the crack underneath the backsplash between the tiles and the kitchen wall. So I ended up creating yet another step for myself. If I had it to do over again, I’d just go ahead and place the backsplash and do all the grouting at once!

I moved next to the long sink counter and grouted it. This went pretty quickly as well, though I had to stop several times to clean up grout I’d dropped down the cabinet fronts or let dribble on the floor. Messy, messy, messy. But I was absolutely thrilled at the beautiful appearance of my grouted countertops! Everything was looking gorgeous–even better than I’d hoped.

But here’s where I must confess to yet another rookie mistake. I’d come out to the trailer later in the day, thinking it wouldn’t take very much time to finish up what I’d started. So I took a leisurely lunch with our next-door neighbors after laying the last of the peninsula tile, chatting for about an hour before heading back over to the kitchen to do the grouting. By the time I had finished mixing the grout, grouting the first counter, and cleaning up the colossal mess from that area of the kitchen, it was already 3:30 pm. I had to head home by 4:30! Even though the sink counter grouting went fairly quickly, it was 4:15 when I was cleaning up the mess from it, and I knew there was no way I’d get the peninsula grouted and cleaned. My children were playing next door, so I’d have to clean up, pack up, pick up the kids, and head home–all within fifteen minutes. I inwardly berated myself for foolishly thinking I could get so much done in so little time. Worst of all, I had to dump the last third of my grout out, since it would harden in the bucket while I was gone. Rats. Another half day added to this project unnecessarily. Thankfully, my neighbor was willing to run over later that evening and wipe the haze off the grouted counters for me, since that didn’t need to sit for so many days!

I headed home, mentally going over my calendar to figure out when I could get back and finish the grouting job. We were already packing for our move at that point, and I had less than a week left before we’d planned to load up and vacate the old place. So I decided I’d just have to take a day off packing and run back over to the trailer to finish the grout and do the backsplash. Four days later, I did just that. I stopped at Lowe’s to pick up more grout on the way, but I couldn’t find the exact same color. I was sure I’d bought “Sandstone,” but Lowe’s only had one called “Sand.” I went ahead and bought a 7-pound bag and another cheesecloth for final clean-up. When I arrived at the trailer, I saw the original paper bag for the first batch of grout lying on the deck and had an “Uh-oh” moment. By now, I’m sure you’ve lost count of my rookie mistakes, but let’s trot this one out as yet another word to the wise: Remember where you shopped! I hadn’t gotten the grout at Lowe’s at all. If you read Part One, you know that I deliberately got the grout at Home Depot, since Lowe’s didn’t have the color I wanted!

Feeling sheepish, I trekked the 12 miles to Home Depot and picked up the Sandstone grout. With that in hand, I was ready to get back to work and not waste any more time. I followed the mixing directions as before, but this grout came out clumpy and sandy in texture–not at all like the first batch. I re-read the instructions, wondering what I’d done wrong, but I’d definitely added the right amount of water. So I wondered if I’d added too much water to the first batch. A glance at the first bag nixed that idea, but I decided to use the grout as it was anyway. It was like trying to force play dough into the spaces between the tiles! So I disobeyed the instructions and added more water. Bingo! Worked like a charm. I quickly finished grouting the peninsula and its backsplash, then grabbed my mastic and finished placing the backsplash tiles on the other two counter sections:

Above is the fridge counter, with some spare tiles lying on the front. Below is a close-up of the backsplash on the sink countertop:

Now we come to my final rookie mistake. When I’d bought the second batch of grout, I’d only counted the square footage of the peninsula and its edges. I hadn’t thought to include the backsplash for the other countertops. So, yes, I ran out of grout and couldn’t finish the other two backsplash areas! There wasn’t time for another trip to Home Depot. I had to get back home. I knew I wouldn’t have time to get the grouting done before our move, so I figured I’d just have to do it after we moved in. I did manage to get the grout sealed before we started using the kitchen. Here you see the handy-dandy sealant dispenser with its little wheel that is sized to go between the tiles and roll on the sealant. Below is a picture of the sealant drying on the grout. You can wipe off any excess as you roll it on. Sealant prevents your grout from staining as you use your countertops, so it’s definitely a step you don’t want to omit.

Now that we’ve moved in, I am loving my tiled countertops. I can place hot pots and pans directly on the counter, and I love the color. It looks fantastic with our old curtains and furnishings. So, without further ado, here’s the finished kitchen!

Our small round table fits nicely into the center of the room with two chairs. I’ve got a spare chair over by the pantry. A toile valance goes with the toile slipcovers on the chairs, and the blue china on those end shelves of the peninsula help pull everything together for our blue and white color scheme.

Here’s a closer view of the sink counter with our new sink installed. I love my sink!

And here’s a nice close-up of the tile next to the stove.

This was a project well worth the time and effort–and the silly mistakes! If you learn from my errors, you could easily cut this down to a two-day job for a similarly sized kitchen. Best of all, you can save serious money by doing this project yourself. Here’s a rundown of costs for several countertop upgrades, beginning with most expensive:

  • Granite – The average cost for granite is $55 per square foot. That would obviously have been overkill for a trailer like ours, but if we’d gone that route, it would have cost us $2,640. Stainless steel would have come in even higher at $3,360.
  • Solid surface (like Corian) – $1,920
  • Poured cement or wood (butcher block) – $1,440
  • New laminate/formica – $720

So, what did we pay when all was said and done? Here’s the breakdown:

  • Countertop mosaic tile: $94.56
  • Backsplash tiles (the splurge): $82.80
  • Tile spacers: $2.97
  • Mastic: $16.92
  • Grout float, sponge, cheesecloth, tile sealant and applicator: $58.22
  • Grout: $31.82
  • GRAND TOTAL: $287.29

That’s almost two-thirds less than it would have cost to replace the laminate, and it’s way, way below any other replacement options. You could bring the price even lower if you eliminated the backsplash tiles, which were definitely a splurge, as they cost nearly as much per tile as the 12×12″ mosaic sections! If I’d left those out, along with the extra mastic and grout needed for them, that would have dropped the full price to $180.67. Amazing, isn’t it, what a little elbow grease will do?

Looking back on this project, I’d say it is something I definitely wouldn’t want to do after moving into a place. Having the time to do it before a move is really wonderful, so if you are able to, do it that way! I can’t imagine the hassle of trying to live for several days without the use of our kitchen while re-doing countertops. But it certainly could be done, so don’t let me discourage you! Just be prepared for the time, effort, and mess. All three are absolutely worth the end results! Below are photos of the before and after–what a difference!


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!

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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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