Okay, it is that time of year. You may be thinking (or agonizing) about how you have to file taxes online or maybe you already have them done. Either way if you are expecting a refund from Uncle Sam than you have already started dreaming about what you will do with it. Same here. Though some will certainly say it is silly to loan the government money, my family usually overpays our taxes during the year and thus we get a refund. We don’t do it as some sort of savings plan, we do it to cover our behinds. I am self employed and my income is unpredictable at best. It just makes us feel better to overpay and make sure we are covered in that department. And let’s face it, it you have no willpower than having a savings account you cannot touch but once a year is kind of logical. :)
So…what to do with all that moola? Well, big or small there are probably a few purchases that you can make that will be helpful in the long run to help you live greener, save money, and be more self sufficient. I understand the tendency to want to blow the money on a trampoline for the kids or a down payment on a newer (but really unneeded car). Part of our personal refund is in fact allotted to purely fun stuff since paying higher taxes throughout the year meant less fun money to play with. But now is also the time to make smart purchases that will pay all year long and even for years to come. Here are a few ideas:
Freezer – A stand alone freezer (either upright or chest) is a great purchase if you want to save money on healthier foods. Being able to freeze more food makes it possible for you to buy in bulk, purchase more sale items, preserve seasonal, local foods, and to store a herdshare. If it is cheaper in the long run to buy 20 pounds of raw almonds then go ahead and do so and then freeze the ones you wont use within the first month or so. Extend blueberry season by visiting the pick-your-own farm and buying enough (and freezing them) to get you through to next season. Having a freezer can really help you save money long term and they are generally cheap to power. Look for an energy star model and/or buy used from Craigslist.
Remodel/Refurbish Supplies – Using tax money to do home improvements is always a smart decision. You can refinish your deck, insulate the attic, paint, install a programmable thermostat, replace carpet and laminates with wood or tile, replace appliances with more energy efficient models, etc. Think about the projects you can do now that will increase the value, efficiency, and comfort of your home.
Gardening Materials – Growing your own food is like printing money according to TED speaker Ron Finley so investing in what you need to grow more of your own food just makes good sense. You may want to use refund money to build raised beds or to buy equipment such as a tiller, hoe, shovel, etc if you plan to sow your seeds directly into the soil. If you have a small area to grow in you may want to buy pots and planters that will fit on decks and inside window sills. A compost bin can be very affordable if you are able to build it yourself. Building plans are abundant online. Buying a plot at your local community garden is another option. Just don’t forget to reserve a small amount for buying heirloom seeds!
Canning, Preservation, and Food Storage – If you grow your own food or buy in bulk during the growing season then you need a way to preserve it for the off season. I mentioned the benefits of a freezer (above) but also helpful would be a good dehydrator. I prefer Excalibur for the space and temperature controls but it is a bit large. Nesco makes a decent smaller version. Canning supplies are another good investment and a vacuum sealer is also a good idea if you buy meat in large quantities (see below for info on that). I hate contributing to plastic waste but I also hate to waste money on good grassfed beef!
You may also want to overhaul your food storage containers. Ball jars and Pyrex always work well and you can pick them up cheap at yard sales and auctions. I use the half gallon size jars for everything from almond flour and nuts to dehydrated apple slices. If you want to save money on bulk and preserved foods then you have to have a place to keep them that will preserve their freshness.
CSA share or Herdshare – A CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is basically a system where you pay a quarterly or annual fee direct to a local farmer and in return you get a box of home grown foods each week or so during the growing season. A herdshare is where you pay your farmer for your “share” of a cow, pig, etc. You can buy a whole pig, half pig, quarter cow, etc. You essentially pay the farmer to board and feed your animal and then when butchering time comes, your fees pay for a certain amount of the meat from the animal. In case of dairy cows your share pays for weekly raw milk. Doing a herdshare eliminates the middleman to save you money and you can choose to support farmers who raise their animals humanely, feed them appropriate foods, and don’t inject them with growth hormones.
The down side is that you get a large amount of meat all at one time so you need to be able to store it. It is also pricey for the same reason, even if the per pound price is low. For example, here in Ohio I can get a half share of a grassfed Texas Longhorn and the price is only $3.95 per pound (hanging weight). BUT a half share can be 300 pounds which puts my price for all that meat at well over $1000 and I have to have a place to put all that meat! In the long run and health wise it makes good sense to go this route if you can though. Your beef needs for the year will be covered with no time wasted looking for sales. The quality is MUCH better than what you will find in stores too.
Clothes Line and Drying Racks – Dryers are a big waste in the energy department so it makes sense to use wind and solar power to dry your clothes if you can. You can purchase a clothing line or a drying rack for a relatively small investment so why not??? If I owned my own property then I would totally go for big steel T-posts and good thick lines just like my grandmother had. She even had raised flower beds surrounding both of her posts. But for people looking for something requiring less work and space you can get a parallel style clothes dryer and even drying racks which can be used indoors and out.
Take a Class – Do some searching in your city to find specialty classes that you can take and invest in your own education. If my location is any indication of what is available then you can take classes on quilting, sewing, canning, bread making, pie baking, pottery, wild food foraging, animal butchering, maple sugaring, etc. Many places offer classes in homesteading and life skills like this so take advantage of them!
I could keep this post going on and on but you get the general idea. When a small windfall of money lands in your lap there are many smart things you can do with it that will help you save money and be more self sufficient. Money used to empower you and better your situation is always money well spent. Do you have anything to add to this list?
This is the time of year when garden plans start to come together. You may already have seedlings growing indoors so that they will be ready for transplant when the threat of snow and frost has finally passed. You might be itching to get outside and start digging in the dirt. I know I am! It is important to me to grow at least some of my own food, even if it just keeps me in tomatoes or bell peppers all summer, that is a step towards sustainability and self sufficiency. It is important to me personally and it is important to me that I show my children by example that we can and should grow our own food. Just because I cannot do it on the scale I want to (not enough space) doesn’t mean I can’t use every bit of space that I have to show them the importance of growing their own food to the extent they can.
Kids typically love to spend time outside when they are young but as they get older nowadays and the digital world calls to them they start to enjoy that outdoors time less. It is important for parents to keep motivating them to get outside and getting them excited about gardening will help. You can start early by reading to them or providing them with books to read themselves that have gardening as the central theme. There are some really, really good ones out there! Here are a few that I like…
Our Community Garden – This books brings gardening and different ethnic communities into focus. It is all about a community garden in San Francisco where the children play among the garden beds, giant sunflowers, and compost piles right in the heart of the city. They also grow food together with other members of their community and gather together for a pot luck using local foods.
In the Garden: Who’s Been Here? – Christina and Jeremy are on a mission to gather vegetables from the garden for their evening supper. On the way they discover that they are not the only ones who have been in the garden on this day. Who else has been there??? They take a scientific journey to discover why there is a slimy trail on a leaf in the cucumber patch and some corn kernels have been pecked off the cob. Christina and Jeremy follow the clues to discover which birds, animals, and insects have been in their garden why the garden is vital to all manner of life.
The Forgiveness Garden – This book is about so much more than gardening. When a boy from one village throws a rock across the river and injures a girl on the other side, their two villages Vayam and Gamte, become mortal enemies. The villagers become consumed with getting revenge upon each other until a young girl comes up with an idea to help bring peace to all involved, a forgiveness garden. It is a parable inspired by the original Garden of Forgiveness in Beirut, Lebanon, created as a tribute to the lost lives in the fifteen-year civil war that claimed 300,000 lives. Great story and very educational!
The Curious Garden – This book is one of my personal favorites and tells the story of a little boy named Liam who lives in a very urban, factory town where little to no greenery exists. One day when he is exploring, he is run under the railroad bridge by rain and he discovers a door with stairs that goes up to the tracks. There among the broken tracks he sees a spot where a little moss and a small tree are growing and he falls in love with this tiny little garden. Liam becomes the city “gardener” and helps this little spot to grow. What happens after that is amazing…
This is the time of year when you will begin to be bombarded with magazine articles and blog posts about spring cleaning. I certainly understand the idea and full support it because after those long winter months cooped up in the house I am more than ready to start fresh and clear the cobwebs. Spring is my favorite season and I am so energized by it that even cleaning is bearable…and seriously, by then I really do have lots of cobwebs to clean.
There is a step that comes before spring cleaning though, at least for me. I call it winter nesting. It begins in early to mid February. The thrill of the holidays is well past gone and the long, dark days are starting to get to me. I am ready for spring but it is still a long way off, or so it seems. I have to get ready for spring gardening and indoor planting. The urge to start cleaning is strong also but logistically I need to declutter and purge first. How can I clean the kitchen when the pantry, the drawers, and the counter tops have all become collection grounds for all manner of items? How can I clean the cobwebs out of the cupboards when things are falling out on me? Yes, this is when the urge to purge comes in.
Before I even think about scrubbing my baseboards with a toothbrush I need to think about how to get rid of the clutter. This year in particular it has bothered me more than usual and I have been asking myself lots of tough questions. Do I REALLY need this? Have I used it or wore it within the past year? Does it enhance my life in some way or just sit there unused and unappreciated? My children have to answer these questions as well. What clothes do not fit me anymore? Can they be passed down to a sibling? Since I haven’t used it in over six months should I sell my 3DS? Kids tend to have a lot of clutter and it is good to teach them to let that go.
Here are some ways to declutter before you get to the deep cleaning…
Wardrobe – Evaluate what you REALLY wear. If you are anything like me you tend to wear the same stuff over and over again, washing it as needed. If you have some good quality basic items then you don’t actually need a whole lot of clothing and you can still look stylish. The No Brainer Wardrobe ebook is a quick read that teaches you how to do this. I highly recommend it. If you haven’t worn something in a long while or you consistently look at some items and then choose something you like “better” then let them go. This goes for clothing you bought in smaller sizes too, hoping that you would lose weight and they would fit someday. Don’t give up on your fitness goals but don’t hang on to clothing you cannot wear either.
Papers – It is tax time so when you are going through papers, receipts, and documents to get them ready for your taxes go a step further and purge the stuff you don’t need. You probably don’t need utility bills from three years ago or user manuals for products that have long been broken or donated. Go through your filing cabinets and desk drawers and do a major purge. Scan some of your receipts and other documents that you need to keep so that you can store them digitally from now on and let go of the physical clutter.
Electronics – We tend to hold on to pricier household items even if we don’t use them anymore. Yet if we use our iPhones and a sounddock to listen to music then we don’t actually need that stereo anymore. If you find it easier to use your phone as an alarm clock then the actual alarm clock can go. Find a place where you can resell these items and earn a small profit. Try places such as ebay and Craigslist. You might be able to earn enough to pay for a professional cleaner to help you with that deep cleaning come spring.
Pantry/Kitchen – Once again it is all about how much you used the items you choose to store in the kitchen. Don’t use the dehydrator or yogurt maker? Let them go. I just let go of my dehydrator and my back up crock pot because they were just dust collectors. I never used them. Go through all your pots, pans, and baking items and see if it makes sense to keep them. Do you need two stock pots? Do you need three muffin tins? Do you actually use all of the spatulas, tongs sets, ladles, and serving spoons you have? It is easy to think that “someday” you may need them but think about it. That is what you say EVERY YEAR and yet another year has passed and you didn’t use them. What does that tell you?
Books – I KNOW how hard it is to get rid of books. You always imagine that you will read them again or need to use them for reference but years pass and they never get read again and you didn’t even touch them. With excellent public libraries at our disposal though there is no reason to hang on to fiction books for years and years that you think you might someday read again. If you truly do want to read it again, you can borrow it. If it is a recipe book go through and see how many recipes you actually cook. If you actually cook 3/4 of the meals found inside it, then keep it. If you only use 2-3 recipes then copy them down (or scan them to your computer) and let the actual book go to a new home. Amazon is is excellent place to sell used books. I sell there frequently.
What tips do you have for decluttering your home? I would love to hear.
We need to be concerned with the air quality in our homes because we spend so much time in them. Studies have shown that indoor air can be even more polluted than what we face outside. The EPA says it is 2-5x times more polluted. Why is this? Well, inside we have close proximity to all the dirt, chemicals, and germs we track inside, pet dander, dust mites, mold, VOCs from paint, and other compounds that off-gas from the furniture and others possession we have inside our home. In winter this is especially worrisome because we tend to stay indoors more and we lock up doors and windows tight so as to keep the fresh but cold air from getting in. This is bad news for our health and perhaps why so many suffer needlessly from colds, flu, and allergies this time of year.
Here are some tips for improving indoor air so that you can get to breathing easier (and healthier) pronto!
1. Open doors and windows more often. Yes it is cold outside but you need the fresh air and you don’t need to keep them open long. Just open a door and few windows for about five minutes once or twice a day to allow cleaner air to makes its way indoors.
2. Bring houseplants into your home. Our air outdoors is cleaned by all the trees and vegetation so it only makes sense that you need to keep plants indoors as well to help with cleaning the air. One or two is good but the more the better. Some good ones include aloe vera, spider plants, snake plants, golden pothos, and English ivy.
3. Use greener cleaners and products. Be aware of what you bring into the house and make sure they are safe and natural. House cleaners that you spray can add to the toxicity of the air but this is no biggie if you are using soap or vinegar based sprays and they clean just as well as the chemical laden varieties from the store.
4. Remove shoes once inside the home to keep from tracking pollutants all over the house. Jut imagine what you may have stepped in via your travels…feces, pesticides, petro chemicals, dust/dirt, and all sorts of nasty things you don’t want hanging around in your carpet or your air.
5. Use high quality air filters in your forced air heaters and air conditioners and change them regularly. Filtrete Brand from 3M makes a variety of filters for every family’s needs and lifestyle and they are rated better than standard pleated filters. They cost relatively little and clean your indoor air for three months before you need to change them, as recommended by the EPA. They also save you money by maintaining air flow and reducing stress to your heating/cooling system.
Filtrete Ultimate Allergen Reduction Filter MPR 1900 for instance, is ideal for allergens. It helps capture up to 93% of large airborne particles, such as household dust, pollen, mold spores and dust mite debris. It captures up to 4X times more microscopic particles such as smoke, smog, pet dander and particles that can carry bacteria and viruses, than ordinary pleated filters.
You can register to receive seasonal e-newsletters featuring special offers, filter change reminders, better home living tips, and more by visiting www.Filtrete.com and use FindMyFiltreteFilter.com to search for filter locations.
The winter will inevitably keep you indoors more so take steps to makes sure the air you are breathing is clean and healthy.
I was compensated for this post as a Filtrete Healthy Home Ambassador, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Every parent probably worries just a little about how much candy their kids are eating at Halloween. This is especially true since it seems to get stretched out beyond just the one day…parties at school, community parties, and of course the night you all go Trick or Treating and you literally go door to door begging for candy. Add it all up and they consume tons of candy this time of year.
We can of course get creative and come up with alternatives and I have many of these tricks in my arsenal to help reduce the candy loot in my own’s children’s lives whilst not being seen as an ogre mom. One of those tricks this year revolves around one of their favorite video games and a clever partnership between the ADA and PopCap Games. I happen to love this game as well so I was more than a little psyched to see this campaign.
Anyone wishing to give away PopCap’s hit game Plants vs. Zombies instead of sweets for Halloween this year can download free game coupons (redeemable for the full PC/Mac edition of Plants vs. Zombies) here. The game sells for almost $20 normally so this is a fabulous “Treat”! The download code can be used any time between October 30th and November 10th.
As you can see above they also have packets of trading cards you can give out too. They have the game code and various cards. I’m stocked up for Halloween. How about you?