It’s 6:41 am and I’m in my fleece Ghostbusters pajamas without a coffee. (I’ll grab the coffee after I’ve worked for a while- it makes a nice reward.) I’m sitting here on my kneeling chair, facing my computer with excellent posture. I’m here to pay myself first.
Good advice: Pay Yourself First
“Pay yourself first” is common advice in the financial independence (FIRE) community. Usually, it refers to putting money into savings, or better yet, investment accounts. The idea is to save some of your money right when you get it- before you have the chance to see that bright shiny item that you just have to spend it on.
Most people seem to do the opposite: pay the bills, buy the groceries, buy whatever they start to “need” during the month, and then consider saving whatever remains. Unfortunately, it tends to turn out that, with this method, there is simply nothing left.
So, to “pay yourself first” is to make savings a priority. It is the top priority.
I was thinking about this concept recently (while spiralizing zucchini) and it occurred to me that the same principle can, and should, be applied to time.
Today, I’m paying myself first in a different way: with time. Instead of waiting to have time to do the things that inspire and motivate me, I’m going to do them right away, before all of the time is spent.
Just like you, no doubt, I am busy. I am a stay-at-home mom. I homeschool 3 great kids, two of whom have difficult-to-manage health conditions. I am going through a divorce.
Around our house, there is always something to do. We have an expansive garden and 14 fruit trees on our ½ acre property. 3 of the 4 of us living here have Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis– a genetic disorder that requires a special diet, which means a lot of cooking. A lot of cooking means a lot of cleaning. It seems that I always have a long list of boring-but-important tasks to keep me busy.
While I’m harvesting vegetables, freezing tomatoes, organizing the house, and putting stuff away, I listen to podcasts. I discovered podcasts years ago when I realized that my mundane daily tasks weren’t feeding my hungry mind. I started with Dave Ramsey, then Suze Orman, then finally discovered the Financial Independence/ Retire Early (FIRE) podcasting crowd. ChooseFI was an early FIRE favorite.
I noticed that if I listen to podcasts while working I don’t resent my housework. I am happy to work as long as I am learning at the same time. There was just one problem: these podcasts are incredibly motivating. More and more, I felt the desire to actually do meaningful work to contribute to society. I knew that raising super-impressive kids was a great service to the world. But, what else could I personally do?
I decided to collect all of the wonderful information that I acquire through podcasts (and life) and share it. I decided to become a blogger.
Sounds easy enough, right? But here was the problem: I didn’t have time. More accurately, I didn’t make time. Each night at about 11 pm, I found myself cleaning the house, making homemade bread or yogurt, doing some last-minute processing of garden produce before it could spoil, etc. There was no time left to blog or do anything else. I wouldn’t even read at night or watch a favorite TV show- I’d just climb into bed exhausted.
That’s exactly what happened last night, and I told myself it would be the last time. I set an alarm for 6 am and labeled it: start blogging.
Before sunrise, I woke up to a cold house. The mornings are cold here in Utah right now, as the hot summer weather transitions to fall. I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t turn on the heat and the air conditioning on the same day, so I have to buck up on these cold mornings. Usually, I cope by staying in bed way too long, browsing Facebook or surfing the Internet.
This morning, I threw on my Ghostbusters onesie. It’s like footie pajamas, but there are no feet on it. I like it that way because I can still wear socks and shoes. I bought it for a Halloween costume last year at my kids’ insistence. It’s warm and silly and fun.
I don’t plan on waiting for my coffee every morning, but today that was the deal because I procrastinated getting out of bed and it was already nearly 6:30. There was no time to get coffee and still get my “me time” before the kids would wake up. Besides, I can easily multitask making coffee and answering my kids’ questions, but it’s much more difficult to write while doing that.
Tomorrow, I hope to wake up at 6 again (or maybe even a little earlier) but jump right out of bed. I will have my coffee already waiting for me (cold brew). Every morning, I will “go to work” in my little loft office, (which overlooks both the garden and the kitchen,) and enjoy the beautiful morning silence.
I’m still a divorcing, single, stay-at-home mom of 3. I’m still homeschooling my kids and I still have yard and house maintenance, cooking, cleaning and shopping to do. Those things will take up most of my time for the foreseeable future. But today, I took on one more role in order to pay myself first: Starting today, I am a writer.
Long before I found the FIRE (Financial Independence/ Retire Early) movement that inspired the title of this blog, I discovered minimalism. Minimalism, to me, is a study in less and a pursuit of the answer to the question, “What is enough?”
Vicki Robin analyzes the concept of “enough” in her iconic book Your Money or Your Life. One interesting graph, “The Fulfillment Curve,” shows how things bring happiness until one achieves a particular peak happiness point. From there on, having more things diminishes joy.
I’ve been a bit of a natural minimalist all of my life, so when I found out that there was a popular movement, I was naturally drawn to it. For me, the appeal has always been a neat, clean space: I love for my surroundings to be peaceful and inspiring. I’ve noticed that the less I own, the easier it is to achieve that goal.
Unfortunately, I also enjoy the adrenaline rush of buying a nice, new, shiny thing. So, I have to constantly ask myself when do I already have enough (of any given item, or of items in general.) Minimalism is a lifestyle and a constant journey.
Minimalism has many benefits, but there are three that really stand out to me:
Minimalist decor is beautiful and can be inspiring.
Time is your most valuable asset, and the less stuff you have, the less time you spend maintaining stuff.
Minimalism can save you money.
The study of “enough” and the general pursuit of balance has enriched my life and made me happier.
Good advice: adopt minimalism to achieve the elusive “enough.”
Let me tell you more:
Minimalist Decor is Beautiful and Inspiring (#1)
I love “house porn.” I could spend hours watching HGTV (Home and Garden Television) and reading Real Simple magazine. I love the images of beautiful, clean houses. All different types of home decor are appealing to me: I love modern, country, shabby-chic, and other styles. One thing that I’ve found in all of the decorating styles is that the decorator knows exactly when to stop. The rooms are stylishly furnished with the perfect amount of stuff; they have precisely “enough.”
I enjoy decorating my own house and sometimes it’s hard to quit. Minimalism has taught me that adding more items to a room doesn’t necessarily make it look better. In fact, sometimes the best way to spruce up a space is to remove something from it.
Have you ever tried that? Occasionally, I clear everything out of a space just to see how it looks empty. Then, I add back only the things that I really want to look at. The result can be very beautiful.
Time Is Your Most Valuable Asset(#2)
When we were newlyweds, we were very excited to see what we could make of our lives. We had the typical interest in collecting things: maybe one day a boat, a camper, or a jacuzzi? Luckily, we talked it through and paid attention to the experiences of others who owned those things. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we didn’t want a jacuzzi and that we’d rather just temporarily rent a boat or a camper.
The people we know who own these things say they like them. However, after the shiny newness wears off, I notice them spending much more time and money maintaining them than enjoying them. Boats need a lot of cleaning. Campers need to be stored, fixed up, and then repaired when things go wrong. Jacuzzis require a lot of work to keep clean with balanced chemicals in the water.
When we moved to our current house in Utah, there already was a jacuzzi in the backyard. It had a nice cedar building around it. Maybe this would have been a great bonus to someone else, but to us, it was unwelcome work. Some cedar planks had fallen off the building and many wasps nests lined the walls and ceilings. I probably could have gotten the whole thing cleaned out and ready to use within a week- after many, many hours of work. Then I could have found a way to repair the missing boards and I could have mastered the art of checking and adjusting water chemicals. I could have periodically drained and cleaned the hot tub and removed wasp and spider nests from the building. After and between all of that, we could enjoy a hot tub a few times a week for the first month (before getting bored with it and tired of all of the work it involved.)
So, we sold it. I think we got a few hundred and someone hauled it off for us. When it was gone, we celebrated how much nicer the yard looked to us without a big “to-do” list sitting in the middle of it.
Maybe you’re a hot-tub person and you think I’m crazy. I will concede that if someone absolutely loves jacuzzis and plans to use one several times per week, they might enjoy owning one. In our case what matters is that we recognized that it wasn’t right for us.
Everything you own costs more than money: It costs time. Because time is your most valuable asset, it is important to spend it wisely. Which things are truly worth your time? Joshua Becker, a star of the Minimalism movement, wrote about his garage full of stuff. This is on his blog and is quoted from his book, The More of Less:
“The sentence reverberated in my mind as I turned to look at the fruits of my morning labor: a large pile of dirty, dusty possessions stacked in my driveway. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my son, alone in the backyard, still playing by himself. The juxtaposition of the two scenes dug deep into my heart, and I began to recognize the source of my discontent for the first time.”
(Ad link to the book The More of Less)
You see, even our smallest, most mundane possessions can own us. We spend time sorting them, dusting them, storing them, and cleaning around them.
Even worse, in some cases, we actually pay to store them in storage units. Of course, there are some good purposes for storage units, but there are also reasons to avoid them.
Why Avoid Storage Units:
1. They cost money!
2. You have to drive to the storage unit to access your stuff. So, you mostly store things you won’t need often (or at all). “Out of sight, out of mind” comes into play here.
3. Storage units make it possible to push the natural limits of what fits in your home.
I think one day I will start an experiment tracking how much of my time I spend maintaining, organizing, cleaning up, and fixing our family’s stuff. Watch for that in a future blog post. Unfortunately, I can already predict that the answer will be “way too much!”
How much time do you spend on your possessions? Do you own them or do they own you? Would minimalism save you precious time? Owning less saves me time, but so does shopping less. Minimalism could be the answer to our overpacked schedules.
I already have my “enough.” I don’t need anything else, except for the occasional new clothes when kids outgrow them or mine wear out. I would like to take the time I spend shopping and instead spend it at a park, in the garden, or playing board games with my kids. Would you benefit from the same?
Minimalism Can Save You Money(#3)
Is there anything you own that currently needs repair? I have a white picket fence that is tipping over, a tree limb that is threatening a different fence, and a porch swing that needs rebuilding. Why haven’t I already fixed these things?
Okay, harsh reality time: I haven’t yet made these repairs because I don’t have the time, and I don’t have the money. But that’s not true. Really, I have enough time and enough money to do these things, but I am “too busy” shopping and my money is tied up in the new things I’m purchasing. The repairs seem big and daunting to me, but buying a new pair of garden boots is easy.
Yes, I “needed” the new garden boots. My old boots flaked and the rubber failed, so water could enter them. I also “needed” whatever else I bought this week. But, I spent time shopping. I spent money on things that were less urgent than my home repairs. Sometimes it’s easier to acquire something new than to take care of what you already have.
Buying new stuff is expensive. It doesn’t matter if I “save” money by using coupons, promotion codes, sales, or even buying used. Those things help, but I’m still consuming. I’m still spending money, often on things I don’t even need. One prime example is the impulse buy: when a bright, new, shiny gadget pops out at me in the store and I suddenly “need” it. How can it truly be a need if I had lived without it just fine?
Since discovering minimalism, I have been practicing a new skill: repurposing. Often, if I “shop” in my own house, I can find something that perfectly fits my purpose without buying something new. This has dual benefits: it removes the need to go spend money, and it gives a job to something that was otherwise just taking up storage space in my home.
Some bloggers that I follow have tried taking a month or more off of shopping. I love this idea. Basically, you promise yourself that you will only buy food and necessary consumables for the next month. If you “need” something, you just wait. The result is almost always a large pile of saved cash.
Another great technique is to wait for the alley to provide. I learned this phrase while listening to the ChooseFi podcast. They were interviewing Mrs. Frugalwoods, and I heard her say, “the alley will provide.” It was said with humor, but it’s really great advice. Mrs. Frugalwoods will wait a pre-established length of time before buying something that she wants or needs. If she still wants it after the waiting period, she buys it. She said that most of the time she no longer wants or needs it. On the other hand, it often magically shows up in the alley at the curb or somewhere else for free. I love both the idea of the waiting period (which I need to instigate in my own life) and the advice to watch for it to appear for free. Here is the Frugalwoods’ post about 12 Tips For Finding Roadside Treasures.
This has worked in my life. I always wanted a porch swing on a stand. That’s a decent-sized purchase, and luckily, I waited. Just last week, “the alley” provided. I found a porch swing offered up for free on Facebook Marketplace. My kids and I rushed over to find it at the curb. It took two trips and we had to learn how to use ratcheting straps to hold it in the truck bed, but we did it: we got a free porch swing! Okay, so it’s not 100% free, because I’ve decided to rust-proof it and paint it. And, I’m going to refinish the fabric part. But, when it’s done, it’ll cost a total of about $30, and it will be 100% personalized. That’s a lot more fun than buying it new.
I knew I wanted the porch swing because I had wanted it for a long time. It was a smart acquisition. Other things gather for less appealing reasons. For example, in the past I might have purchased cheap lawn chairs to use while I waited to afford the porch swing. It wouldn’t matter that I didn’t even like the lawn chairs, because they were convenient and quick to buy and were “good enough” in the meantime. Now that I am a student of minimalism, I would rather wait for what I truly want and go to the effort to get it.
Minimalism means finding your perfect “enough.” That’s a constant effort for me, but it pays off in money, time, and beautiful surroundings.
What is your “enough?” Do you currently have everything you need? Do you have too much? How could finding this balance improve your life? I’d love to hear from you.
Have you ever done something really amazing and wondered if anyone could tell that it was only little-old-you doing that? I felt that way while organizing and running a national weight-loss contest in 2007. I still don’t know where I came up with the audacity to give it a go.
At the time, I was a work-from-home mom and definitely not famous or noteworthy. With the help of my husband at the time, I had commissioned a website with a complicated database and advanced features. The website was automated to help people lose weight the healthy way, through customized diet and exercise plans. For 2007, it was a pretty great technology. Building the website was exciting and fun and it inspired me to want to do even more. I decided to organize a national weight-loss contest, right there from my house.
I convinced several different popular companies to donate a total of over $50,000 in contest prizes. I recruited many nationally recognized experts in fitness and nutrition to volunteer their time as resources for the contest participants. The media picked up on the contest and spread the word. Many people changed their eating habits, learned to exercise safely, and won great prizes. The whole time I watched in amazement at what I could accomplish with help.
I had a strong sense of “imposter syndrome”: feeling like I wasn’t worthy or experienced enough to put on something of such a massive scale. I often wondered if the people I was working with imagined me in my home, sitting at my PC, crossing my fingers.
On a smaller scale and at a younger age, I also remember feeling imposter syndrome the first time that I trained a fitness client in the gym. I was freshly certified, relatively inexperienced, and there I was with the responsibility to safely and effectively train someone in proper weightlifting form. I think I planned for that first session for a few hours beforehand and showed up very early for the appointment. I was so concerned that my lack of experience would show. I applied the concept of “fake it ’til you make it.” And guess what? It went great.
It’s normal to feel like a fraud when you are stretching yourself. And it’s very, very good to keep reaching anyway.
My goal this year is to experience much more imposter syndrome. That is because imposter syndrome is a sign that I am pushing my limits. It’s a signal that I am doing more and hopefully making a difference.
I will also try to get comfortable asking. I tested my fear of rejection both when I asked my first client to sign up for a training package and when I asked companies to donate tens of thousands of dollars worth of prizes. It was tough and scary. I got many, many “no’s” before each yes. I often felt like it was hopeless but I convinced myself to just keep calling, emailing, and asking. Rejection isn’t fun. But, I need to do more of it. Facing rejection is something that we all need to practice.
Don’t believe me that facing rejection is a good thing? Check out this amazing Ted Talk on the topic. Jia Jang realized that he had a fear of rejection and that the fear was limiting him. He gave himself the challenge to get rejected every single day for 100 days.
He made up his own rejection challenges and completed them, taking video footage of the experiences. His very first challenge: borrow $100 from a stranger. The second challenge: ask for a burger refill. Then, to his great surprise, the third challenge didn’t lead to rejection. He was to ask a donut shop to link some donuts to make an “Olympic donut” for him. Much to his shock, they gladly fulfilled his request. That video went viral and Jia Jiang (and presumably the donut shop) became famous. He said that he began to learn that the secret is to “not run away” after asking, and even to ask, “why?”
When he asked a stranger to let him plant a flower in his backyard, the answer was no. But, when he asked why not, the stranger explained that his dog would eat the flower and he didn’t want to waste the flower. He suggested Jia go across the street because his neighbor Connie loved flowers.
Connie was delighted, and Jia planted a rose bush in her yard.
Jia also learned that just asking, “Is that weird?” put people at ease and opened doors for him. That simple phrase got him a temporary position as a “Starbucks Greeter,” even after he told the guy at Starbucks that his intention was to “give a Walmart experience to the Starbucks customers.” Ha! If that doesn’t make you want to take a risk, I don’t know what will.
Seriously, you have to watch this Ted Talk. It’s hilarious and also very motivating and educational.
If, like me, you become an instant rejection fan, check out the book Rejection Proof authored by the same Ted Talk speaker, Jia Jiang. I plan to add the book to my Audible collection. Don’t forget, you can likely read or listen to it through your local public library through the Libby app. Also, check out the author’s website, where he is introducing his new DareMe app.
Are you comfortable with rejection? If not, now is a great time to get a little practice. What is one thing you wish you could ask for right now, but you’re afraid the answer will be no? What is the worst that can happen? If you never ask, the answer can never be “yes.”
I wish I’d learned about FIRE a long time ago. FIRE is an acronym that stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early. Here is a summary of FIRE from the FIRE Movement Wikipedia page:
The FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement is a lifestyle movement whose goal is financial independence and retiring early. The model became particularly popular among millennials in the 2010s, gaining traction through online communities via information shared in blogs, podcasts, and online discussion forums.
Those seeking to attain FIRE intentionally maximize their savings rate by finding ways to increase income or decrease expenses. The objective is to accumulate assets until the resulting passive income provides enough money for living expenses in perpetuity. Many proponents of the FIRE movement suggest the 4% rule as a guide, thus setting a goal of at least 25 times estimated annual living expenses. Upon reaching financial independence, paid work becomes optional, allowing for retirement from traditional work decades earlier than the standard retirement age.
Like many things in my life, the path to discovering FIRE was a long, meandering one:
First, I found frugality. I can’t remember the exact moment that I initially took an interest in saving money, but I do recall a certain book: The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn. I think I ran into the book at a yard sale or a library book sale. It caught my attention and curiosity, and I spent several days devouring its tips about penny-pinching. It turned out to be a compilation of what would have been blog posts, but they were written long before the Internet existed. So, they were letters. Yes, actual snail mail. When I finished it, I wanted more. I discovered that The Tightwad Gazette had sequels, and all had great reviews and were available on Amazon.
(Ad link to the book The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn)
It was written in 1999, so as you can imagine, some of the tips in the Tightwad Gazette were a bit outdated. (Use WD-40 on a typewriter ribbon to extend the life of the ribbon. Write letters to save on long-distance phone bills.) Still, there was much that was timeless. I was fascinated by the lengths to which people would go to save a few cents. Even more intriguing was the idea that this woman created a newsletter of tips so long ago, developing such a massive following. She even had “tightwads” paying good money for her tips! It turns out that the craving for advice on frugality is nothing new.
Frugality fascinated me. I searched for more content- blogs, podcasts, and books about penny-pinching and making do. Many of the tips I discovered seemed over-the-top, but there were also money-saving gems and new ways to look at the world. For example, why was I buying disposable plastic fridge storage containers for my leftovers while throwing away glass bottles and other useful containers? I started to wonder why I was so wasteful. In my Google searches about waste, I discovered the Zero Waste movement, and I realized that I wanted to be a tree-hugger. (More to come on this topic.)
The next thing that I remember on the journey toward FIRE was discovering minimalism. I learned about loving what you own and owning only what you love. This was a natural fit for me as I’ve never enjoyed collecting things and I’ve always preferred neatness in my surroundings. An interesting challenge I discovered in minimalism is that it doesn’t always go well with frugality. Frugality and minimalism can be complementary, but there are often challenges to decide which takes priority in particular instances. For example, it is more frugal to wash out product containers and then save them for future use. It is more minimalist to own fewer containers. The perfect balance can be tricky. For me, it helps to consider the packaging as part of the purchase right from the start.
In my search for knowledge about minimalism, I found The Minimalists, (Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus,) and Marie Kondo. I discovered the joy of getting rid of stuff (it’s as fun as buying stuff!) and the joy of owning only what I love. On the topic of frugality, I enjoyed podcasts by Clark Howard. (The man can make one disposable razor last a year!) Still, with minimalism and frugality, I felt something missing.
(Ad link to Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus)
(Ad link to The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo)
(Ad link to Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul)
Around that time, my dad shared a book by Dave Ramsey with my brothers. I heard about it and wondered why he hadn’t shared it with me. I still don’t know why, but it doesn’t matter- my curiosity took it from there. I found Dave Ramsey’s podcast and listened to months’ worth of episodes. Dave Ramsey taught me the horrible power of debt. I was surprised at how fascinated I was about the subject of getting out of debt. It seemed like an extension of the same principles I’d learned in minimalism (less consumerism, more quality) and thrift (save more, spend less.)
(Ad link to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover)
After a while, I was able to predict Dave’s answers to every single caller; it was clear that it was time to move on. I spent some time on Suze Orman’s podcasts until I ran out of episodes. I enjoyed Suze’s podcast and the focus on a female audience (although Suze pointed out that smart men were her listeners, too.) Suze inspired me to finally take action writing my will and other important documents. I signed up for software through her company before unfortunately discovering that it had to wait until after my divorce was final.
(Ad link to Suze Orman’s Women and Money)
By then, I knew that financial podcasts were of interest to me. I was hungry for more. I googled “top financial podcasts,” and found ChooseFI. ChooseFI is hosted by a couple of “regular guys” learning about financial independence. One of the hosts, Brad Barrett, is already “FI,” meaning that he has achieved financial independence and doesn’t have to work for a living. The other host, Jonathon Mendonsa, is on the road to FI. As they teach on their podcast, you are “FI” when you have enough money invested that you can live on only the investment returns. At that point, work is optional and can be focused exclusively on one’s passions. Their casual, inquisitive and informative style really caught my interest. They invited experts in the FIRE movement for guest interviews and I learned about many of my favorite bloggers and podcasters through them.
I don’t know where I am on the road to FI because I am going through a divorce. Divorce is a topic that FI bloggers and podcasters don’t dwell on. I suspect that the reason for that is divorce is entirely unpredictable.
I don’t know my net worth. I don’t know my financial future. As a homeschooling stay-at-home mom, I did the unpaid labor for the family, and I lack paid work experience.
Divorce can take months or even years. During that time, one’s financial situation is unclear and is in a state of limbo. So, that is where I am right now. I have been in the process of divorce for over a year, and there is no telling how much longer this uncertainty will last.
In the meantime, there is much that is in my control: I am learning all that I can so that when I am able to take action I will be ready to make smart financial decisions. I am adding skills such as computer coding, dishwasher installation, and tree pruning to my can-do list. I am “habit-stacking,” as James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits would say. (More on this later, too!) Most importantly, when it comes to the time I spend with my three wonderful children, I am aiming for both quality and quantity.
Even while stuck in a waiting period, I’ve found the concepts of FIRE very comforting. Budgeting is not as stressful when you’ve learned to identify your “enough.” (See Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin.) Considering a job search is not as scary when you understand the secrets to getting your dream job. (Check out this episode of ChooseFI: https://www.choosefi.com/how-to-get-any-job/) And, for me, working-from-home is my best option, but even that isn’t so scary with FIRE.
(Ad link to Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin)
I can grow my writing skills and create a type of a resume right here, with this brand-new blog. Maybe my own struggles and learning experiences might help you. I certainly hope so. Do you want to try starting a blog, too? Check out what this talented FIRE writer has to say about it: https://millennialmoney.com/how-to-start-a-blog/.
I am at the beginning of my FIRE journey. I’m a newbie. I’m excited, curious, and eager to learn. Want to come along for the ride? I promise to share everything I discover, even what I learn from my mistakes.
25 Things That Could Save You From a Run to The Store During The Covid19 Pandemic (Or Anytime)
I am happy to be alive.
I always feel that way, but I’m acutely aware of it today, shortly after finally recovering from a 7-week bout of what can only have been Covid19. Testing was not yet available when I, and then two of my children fell sick. We experienced a dry cough, severe fatigue, fever, and shortness of breath. Struggling to breathe makes you intensely aware of your mortality.
On an only slightly lighter note, we are under Stay-At-Home orders right now in our county. There are shortages of toilet paper and cleaning products and rumors of a future scarcity of eggs, milk, butter, and meat. My family is quarantined and not leaving the house even to shop. Thank goodness for our garden and the fact that we’re used to “making do and doing without.”
It occurred to me that certain aspects of our lifestyle make this much easier for my family than for many others. I would like to help. Over the next several months, I’ll try to tailor the tips, hacks and advice that I share to be specifically useful during the Covid19 pandemic.
Today, I want to share a list of my personal must-haves in order to spend less, save more, and quit “needing” to shop all of the time. Many of these items first interested me because they are environmentally friendly, but, even though some have a higher upfront cost, they are also very frugal choices.
When thrift stores open up again in your part of the world, and if you believe it’s safe to do so, I recommend starting there. Most of the purchases I make cost a fraction of the normal cost because I buy used. This is also protective of the environment: it’s the second R in “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”
I will include links to show which products I use, many of which are available on Amazon. This is mainly for illustrative purposes. I do receive money from Amazon if you buy one of the products through my links. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I appreciate the support, but I really do hope that you’ll wait for a thrift store treasure, find a coupon, or make do with something you have that can serve the same purpose. Think creatively! If all that fails, just comfort yourself with the knowledge that the items I share below can save you a lot of money in the long term, even if you pay full price upfront.
Here are the investments I’ve made to that end:
I always thought cloth napkins were for people who had too much time on their hands- for washing and then, worse yet, ironing. Yikes! The appeal of saving money and trees sure was a nice dream though.
Then, one day I discovered small, square, soft flannel napkins. They don’t need to be folded. They don’t need to be ironed. They even come in adorable, cheery mixed patterns.
Flannel napkins don’t need ironing and stack nicely. They’re cheaper and work better than paper, yet they feel luxurious.
There are many beautiful designs and styles to choose from, including elegant, matching napkins or fun, playful variety.
Here is a link to some of the napkins that our family uses:
I spent most of my adult life wishing for a bidet. I first saw one on a vacation in Europe, and I was amazed: you mean a large percentage of the world walks around with behinds that are actually clean? I never stopped thinking about that.
It was many years later that I learned that it is possible to get a bidet without remodeling your bathroom. They now sell bidet attachments that go under your toilet seat or even bidet toilet seats to replace your old seat altogether.
Even with this newfound knowledge, it took me quite a while to take the leap. I wasn’t afraid of the change but the cost seemed a little steep for a frugalista. Worse yet, I hadn’t yet developed the low-level plumbing skills needed to install a bidet.
Finally, one day I just bought an inexpensive bidet attachment. It was a holiday gift to myself. I was so excited, but my husband at the time was not. He wasn’t interested in having a bidet attached to the toilet and he procrastinated installing it (okay, let’s face the facts: he probably never intended to install it.)
At least a year later, I determined that I would figure it out and install it myself. However, by that time I felt even more inclined to spoil myself. So, I bought a fancy bidet toilet seat. It’s amazing: the seat is heated (with three temperature levels to choose from), there is a separate spray for “front” and “back,” there is a “massage” option and a “movement” option to make sure the job gets done, there is an air dryer, and there is an air freshener feature.
At that point, the splurge was great enough that I really needed to buck up and learn to install it. I opened the package and read the directions, and did it. It was really quite simple and not even time-consuming. One tip I would recommend is to use Teflon tape (plumber’s tape) on the threads before screwing the hoses to the pipes.
I installed the fancy seat bidet in my master bathroom and I installed the simpler, cold-water attachment to the kids’ bathroom. The bidets saved us money on toilet paper and helped save some trees.
You might be surprised to find out that bidets also save water. The production of toilet paper requires so much water that you actually *save* water when you spray it on your backside instead of wiping.
Here is some great information that I found about bidets on the Scientific American website:
Justin Thomas, editor of the website metaefficient.com, considers bidets to be “a key green technology” because they eliminate the use of toilet paper. According to his analysis, Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper every year, representing the pulping of some 15 million trees. Says Thomas: “This also involves 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching.” He adds that manufacturing requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually and that significant amounts of energy and materials are used in packaging and in transportation to retail outlets.
To those who say that bidets waste water, advocates counter that the amount is trivial compared to how much water we use to produce toilet paper in the first place. Biolife Technologies, manufacturer of the high-end line of Coco bidets, says the amount of water used by a typical bidet is about 1/8th of a gallon, with the average toilet using about four gallons per flush. Lloyd Alter of the website treehugger.com reports that making a single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and some 1.5 pounds of wood. Thomas points out that toilet paper is also a public nuisance in that it clogs pipes and adds a significant load onto city sewer systems and water treatment plants.
I installed the bidets before Covid19 came to the USA and they sure came in handy when toilet paper disappeared from the stores. If you don’t yet have a bidet and can fit one into your budget, now is a great time to take the “plunge.” Even the non-heated attachment is easy to use and not nearly as shocking to the system as one might expect.
I think the world would be a better place if everyone who could afford a bidet used one. In my opinion, America is a bit “behind” the times when it comes to bathroom hygiene.
Here are some links to the bidets that I installed:
The “fancy” one:
(Ad link to Brondell Swash 1400)
The simple one:
(Ad link to Luxe Bidet)
Don’t have a bidet yet? You can buy an inexpensive peri bottle (perineal irrigation bottle). It’s basically just a little squirt bottle that you fill with water and use to clean off after toileting. If you’ve ever given birth, you may still have one that they gave you in the hospital.
Here is the type I received in the hospital:
(Ad link to Peri bottles)
They are currently selling for less than $5 for three.
Here is a fancier kind which might be slightly easier to use, though I can’t personally endorse it:
(Ad link to fancier Peri bottle)
Bonus- it’s fuschia!
I think I first heard about family cloth a year or two ago. Family cloth is a replacement for TP which is made of reusable cloth instead of paper. I found the idea to be repulsive: using cloth instead of toilet paper to wipe a dirty rear-end. It’s definitely more environmentally-friendly, but the idea of storing cloth with “number 2” on it until the next wash just seemed a little gross.
Here is one option for family cloth, but you can also consider white terry cloth washcloths or even old clothes that you turn into rags:
(Ad link to family cloth)
But, family cloth combined with a bidet is really perfect. The bidet cleans everything and the only remaining need for any type of wipe is to dry off.
Don’t have a bidet yet? You can use a peri bottle. Don’t have a peri bottle? Any squirt bottle can be repurposed for this use.
Stacks of white washcloths:
Many cleaning experts recommend microfiber cloths to replace paper towels and for all-purpose cleaning. Personally, I prefer cotton terry cloth because it feels nicer to the touch. Microfiber snags on my skin no matter how well-moisturized my hands may be.
I got my white terrycloth washcloths from the Costco warehouse, but here are some similar cloths on Amazon:
(Ad link to white terrycloth washcloths)
I buy a giant pack of plain white washcloths from the Costco warehouse. They are only available in-warehouse at this time, not online. There are plenty of other places that you could buy stacks of washcloths, our you could just make rags from old towels, clothing, etc. I personally enjoy the neatness and uniformity of a large stack of white cloths always at the ready under my kitchen sink.
Because I have so many of them, there is never a worry about running out. I use them instead of paper towels and for all types of cleanup around the house. I think that the reason that I used to think paper towels were more convenient was just that I hadn’t bought enough “rags” to always have a fresh one on hand.
Now that I have and use the cloths instead of paper towels, I actually find them to be more convenient. That is because I never run out, never have to buy them, and never have to run downstairs to grab another roll.
It seems obvious looking back, but just in case it’s news to you: terry cloth actually absorbs more and cleans better than paper towels, too.
If you’re still using disposable tampons or pads, I’ve got great news for you: menstrual cups are made of silicone, they’re comfortable, and they’re reusable. Also, they usually come in a small drawstring bag which you can keep in your purse or car. Buy one menstrual cup and you’ll never have to run out to get supplies for “Auntie Flo” again.
With a menstrual cup, I noticed less cramping, less odor, and definitely much less cost.
Most menstrual cups come in two sizes: small for anyone who has not given birth vaginally, and large for anyone who has. Really, there can be so much nuance to finding your perfect cup, though, so I highly recommend you do your research first. You can learn all about menstrual cups and find the one that best fits you here:
Although I recommend you find your own perfect match, just in case you’re curious this is my personal favorite cup:
(Ad link to Lena menstrual cup)
Once you have a reusable menstrual cup, you’ll never want to pay for any menstrual products- period! So, if you still need a pantiliner for extra reassurance or for slight leaking, consider cloth liners.
Choosing cloth liners can be fun. I like choosing cute ones on Etsy or at Party in My Pants. Here is one cute option on Amazon:
(Ad link to cotton cloth liners)
I think you’ll agree with me that cloth liners are much more comfortable and much more fun than disposable.
Thinx period panties:
Yes, I’m still talking about menstrual products. But really, it’s so nice to just buy a cup, some liners, and some period panties and then hardly notice “that time of the month” from now on. Period panties were an especially exciting discovery for me because they prevent nighttime leaking. Just think of all of the time and stress you’ll save when you don’t have to check for a red spot on the bedding in the morning.
There are many brands of period panties, and I have not tried them all. In fact, I have only tried one brand: Thinx. I like them, but they are a pretty big initial investment. If I ever need to replace the Thinx I currently own, I will probably buy them at Amazon next time to save on shipping:
(Ad link to Thinx period panties)
Reusable K cup pods:
I bought my Keurig machine at Saver’s thrift shop for about $4. It’s in excellent condition and works perfectly. I highly recommend a Keurig if you’ve never tried one. It’s so nice to just pop in a pod and push a button and instantly get a hot cup of fresh coffee.
Definitely check your local thrift store first for the machine. A simple one like mine costs 15 times as much online. Wow. Here in Utah, where I currently live, there is usually at least one Keurig machine every single time I shop at the thrift store.
This is my machine:
(Ad link to Keurig machine like mine)
Depending on your wants, Keurigs can cost as much as $250 online. Again, I really recommend the thrift store.
So, what if you already own and love a Keurig? It’s time to consider the pod. Hopefully, you already use refillable Keurig pods. If not, please check them out.
Reusable k-cup pods are very easy to use: just fill with ground coffee and close the lid. Then, just pop it into the machine the same way you do with the disposable pods. You may find that, by filling your own pods, you end up with even better coffee. You can buy your absolute favorite beans and then grind them fresh. Cleaning out the k-cups is also very easy: just gently scoop out the used coffee grounds and sprinkle them around your roses-they love coffee grounds.
These are my reusable k-cup pods. I haven’t seen them at a thrift store, plus I wanted several, so I just bought them on Amazon:
(Ad link to reusable K-cup pods)
Instant Pot or Slow Cooker:
An Instant Pot has become a valuable tool in my kitchen. There are more uses than you would expect, but two of my favorite are making yogurt and making bone broth.
Our family loves yogurt, but the cost adds up quickly when you go through it like we do. A large 32-ounce tub of yogurt costs about $4, depending on the brand. It only takes a gallon of milk and less than 5 minutes’ effort to make your own homemade yogurt. You don’t need an Instant Pot to do it, but it really helps. A slow cooker can also make yogurt, but it will require a little more effort to maintain the ideal temperature during the process.
You can make your own homemade yogurt with just milk and a starter (you can buy powdered starter online or use a little storebought yogurt with lots of cultures in it).
I’ll save the exact details of yogurt-making for a different blog post but rest assured that if you just can’t wait, you can easily do a quick internet search for directions. Plan for about 5 minutes of actual active effort, but overnight for processing time.
Make your own bone broth by saving your bones from meat in a bag in the freezer until you have a pot full. Fill with water up to the pot level and pressure cook on high for 120 minutes or more.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can also make bone broth in a slow cooker- just plan on it taking much longer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the whole time you’re making bone broth your whole house will smell like Thanksgiving dinner.
Here is my Instant Pot:
(Ad link to Instant Pot pressure cooker)
Do you still have an old bread machine in your attic? Get it out and look up a recipe book online (for your specific model). Toss in the ingredients and enjoy how the aroma of fresh-baked bread fills your home.
If you don’t have a bread machine, I’d recommend checking a thrift store. They used to be all the rage and many people are finding them in storage and donating them, often without ever using the machine. Most breadmakers work just fine, but if you exclusively make wheat bread or keto bread, consider trying to find a Zojirushi at a thrift store. Here is a popular breadmaker on Amazon:
(Ad link to bread machine)
Leftover bread ends or pieces that are turning stale:
Now that you’re making homemade bread, make sure to use it all. About 40% of food in the USA is wasted, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
If you see that one or two slices of bread are going stale, collect it in a bag in the freezer and then turn it into bread crumbs for breaded chicken, etc. This is especially helpful for people who have to eat specialty bread (gluten-free or low-carb, etc.) so you have bread crumbs with the same health benefits.
Leftovers from meals and snacks:
This really used to frustrate me: I’d cook a great dinner, we’d all enjoy it, and then half would get wasted because no one ate the leftovers. I’ve found the perfect solution for my family. We have a special bin in the fridge called the “leftover bin.” I label all leftovers with the name and date and encourage people to eat leftovers first. Whatever won’t be eaten soon goes into the freezer with the same technique (“leftover freezer bin.”)
This is what my leftover bin looks like. I like that it is clear and easy to pull out of the fridge to rifle through:
(Ad link to leftover bin like mine for the fridge)
Ice cube trays:
Another source of food waste comes from milk or cream that isn’t used in time and spoils. Ice cube trays can help you avoid this problem. Fill them with half of the milk or cream so that the container doesn’t go bad before you get around to use it all. Put the ice cubes in a labeled bag in your freezer so you have ready-made small amounts waiting until they’re needed.
Most ice cube trays you’ll see around these days are made with silicone. I found some of them at Savers, my favorite thrift store, but I wasn’t impressed. It may surprise you, but it’s actually easier to get ice cubes out of the old-fashioned plastic trays. Check for them at the thrift stores because many people seem to be “upgrading” to silicone and donating them.
Here is the type I prefer:
(Ad link to ice cube tray like the kind I prefer)
This is another excellent tool for preventing food waste. As a bonus, I would bet that you could find one in your cupboards right now. I think the regular metal muffin trays work best, but you could try silicone if you prefer.
Be sure to grease the muffin tray with spray oil or Pam. Crack an egg into each muffin spot and then freeze. Pop the frozen eggs out and put them in a bag in the freezer (labeled with date and name) to use when needed. If you like to bake fancy recipes, or even just waffles, be sure to separate some of the eggs into whites and yolks before freezing.
Didn’t find a muffin tin in your cupboards? Always try a thrift store first. This is the type that I like:
(Ad link to the type of muffin tin I prefer)
Do you spend money on storage containers? Do you give away homemade goodies and then lose the glass dish that you gifted them in? Worse yet, do you go through hundreds of Ziplock storage containers per year, adding to the plastic in our landfills and oceans? If so, I have great news for you: glass storage containers work better and in many cases are “free,” or at least included with purchase. The next time you buy pickles, mayonnaise, jam, or salsa, choose a product in a glass jar. Some even come in very pretty glass jars, so don’t throw them in the trash. Remove the paper label and then put the jar and lid in your dishwasher. Designate a cupboard (perhaps the former Ziploc containers cupboard) to used glass jars. Then, when you need to store leftover soup, smoothie, or any liquid, pull out a jar and lid. They even work great in the freezer- just be sure to save some room for expansion.
If removing the label seems like too much work, just give it a try. Many brands glue only the two ends of the label in one spot, so the label pops right off. Others are a little more tricky and could benefit from an overnight soak in warm water.
For very stubborn label glue, check out Goo Gone Adhesive remover:
(Ad link to Goo Gone)
Whatever you do, get the label off before you put the jar in the dishwasher. The dishwasher can cook the label on even stronger. If the label does come off in the dishwasher, it’s likely to clog the filter and cost you even more time and/or money.
Reused glass bottles are often very pretty and can add a nice touch to a gift of homemade bone broth soup. Just tie a ribbon around it. Doesn’t that look nicer than a Ziploc plastic tub? Of course, the very best part about the gift is that the recipient won’t need to try to return your container to you. Just invite them to reuse or recycle it.
Another great use for the reusable glass jars is to gift flowers. I grow hundreds of beautiful flowers in my yard and I love to be able to gift a “vase” of flowers at a moment’s notice with zero cost.
Don’t have enough tomato sauce/pickles/mayo jars? Just buy Ball Mason Jars. They’re pretty, practical, and very reusable. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Remember to always check your local thrift store first.
(Ad link to Ball glass Mason jars)
Got a lonely sock with no match? Don’t throw it away. Fill it with dry rice and knot or sew the end. Now you have a wonderful cold pack (if you keep it in the freezer) that molds perfectly around an injury or a heat pack (if you heat it in the microwave) that holds moist heat for a long time.
I have problems with muscle cramps and tightness, so I’m a big fan of this one. My kids know when they see me rubbing my own shoulders that it’s time to heat up my rice sack in the microwave. The moist heat penetrates deeply and relaxes the muscles. I started with a homemade sock version, and then when I decided that it just wasn’t big enough, I bought this one:
(Ad link to a heating neck wrap like mine)
The weight combined with the heat is very soothing.
Even though the odds aren’t great of finding this at the thrift store, I think this is a worthwhile purchase for anyone with a lot of muscle pain. Think of how many of those disposable heat pad products you could save by just reusing this one.
A bowl of bleach water:
Keep a bowl (maybe your prettiest one?) on the kitchen countertop, filled with water and a splash of bleach. Keep a stack of white washcloths nearby and dip a fresh one in the bleach anytime you want a “disinfecting wipe.” Throw that one in a dirty bin whenever you want to grab a fresh towel. Do a quick 5-minute wipe-down of all surfaces that hands tend to touch at least once a day (and more often when something is going around or if a family member is sick.)
Remember that if you have a big enough stack of white washcloths, you can use them the exact same way you use a paper towel- getting a fresh one every time if you want. It’ll still be less wasteful than paper.
Here is a ratio that the CDC supplied for the bleach water:
5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water
Once chopped, they seem to stay fresh longer in a glass jar of water. To save time and money, wash and chop your own veggies right when you get them. Then, put them in a glass jar and fill with water to cover them. This works especially well for celery sticks. Dip the celery sticks in a bowl of peanut butter with raisins for a delicious snack that is easier than “ants on a log.”
Regrow your green onions:
Green onions are the gift that keeps giving. Save the roots and about an inch of the green next time you chop green onions. Put them in a shallow jar of water in your kitchen windowsill. They will grow back at least once, and sometimes several times. For added value, try actually planting them in a pot in your window or outside in your garden.
Sprouts can be grown in a mason jar with very little effort. They add a lot of nutrition to a salad or sandwich. Sprouting seeds are inexpensive and can be purchased online. They keep a long time and can allow you something fresh to eat when you run out of fresh produce.
Here’s a quick, simple YouTube video about how to grow sprouts in a mason jar:
You don’t need special lids because you can just use cheesecloth or a coffee filter and a rubber band. But, if you like things fancy, check out these reusable sprouting lids:
(Ad link to sprouting lids for Mason jars)
A few drops of essential oils (or lemon juice, or other favorite fragrance) can be added to water in a small spray bottle to freshen bed linens or for a non-toxic air freshener. Of course, lighting a match also clears the room of odors.
My favorite essential oils for air freshener are orange and lemon:
(Ad link to orange essential oil)
(Ad link to lemon essential oil)
Writing an inventory for the deep freezer can save a lot of effort. Put it in a clear plastic sleeve and use a whiteboard marker to change numbers next to the items. Use a magnet to attach it to the freezer. Whenever anyone removes an item from the deep freezer, make sure they mark it off. This way, you can always know exactly what is in the freezer, even if it’s at the bottom. You’ll never buy something you already have enough of.
The “disposable” foaming soap dispensers can be reused, and you don’t have to buy the specialty refills. Just add water, a small amount of soap, and leave air at the top. Start with this recipe:
1 part liquid soap
4 parts water
Scent if desired (essential oils add a nice touch)
Gently tip back and forth to mix.
I use foaming dispensers for hand soap as well as dish soap, and it makes both go much further. Ever since switching to making my own foaming soap, I’ve noticed that I almost never run out of soap and I’m buying it much less often. People often comment that they enjoy the foaming texture and pretty smell.
Here is a very pretty Mason jar version that is made for re-use:
(Ad link to Mason jar foaming hand soap dispensers)
Another perfectly good option is to buy one of the “disposable” types and just refill it yourself:
(Ad link to Method foaming soap)
Pots and pans are generally reusable, right? So why am I including a tip here to save on pots and pans? And, why a marble?
The quickest way to destroy a pot is to let it boil dry. It’s very easy to do: even if you think you’re watching it, you might look down for a second to read something and then, if that something is this blog (wink, wink…) time flies and suddenly the pot is red hot and burned. From now on, when you are boiling water or cooking a liquid on the stove, drop a clean marble into the pot. I have a specific marble that I keep in the kitchen for this purpose. If a pot starts to boil dry, the marble will jump in the pot, sounding the alarm.
Please remember that, even though I am an Amazon Associate and I do earn from qualifying purchases, I will always advocate for buying things used. If you can’t find one of these favorites at your local thrift store, try eBay or Craigslist. If you still can’t find it used and know that it will make your life easier and/or less expensive, it may just be worth it to buy it new.
One great trick for finding the best prices on Amazon is to copy and paste the link for the item you want into the price-tracking website www.camelcamelcamel.com. It will show you past Amazon prices and will even email you when the price hits a level that you choose.
I’ll try to keep this list updated with as many of my money-saving/environmentally-friendly favorites. I’d love to hear about any products that you’ve found or any do-it-yourself money savers that you’d like to share.