Monday, December 30, 2013

Homemade Tea Tree Laundry Detergent

Making my own laundry detergent is another way I'm trying to stretch our budget! I've made a basic, homemade laundry detergent in powder-form in the past, but I am loving this liquid version (more like liquidy-gel) so much more! Plus, the antimicrobial qualities of tea-tree oil is a definite added bonus.

Here is the simple tutorial:

You'll need:
1 bar of Fels Naptha Soap, grated

1 Cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (not baking soda)
1/2 Cup Borax
20 drops tea tree oil (you could also do 1/2 tea tree and 1/2 lavender)

Heat 4 cups of water on stove with grated Fels Naptha. Stir and let it dissolve.

Fill large bucket 3/4 way full with water. Pour in the water with Fels Naptha. 

Stir in washing soda and Borax.
Stir, stir, stir 

Cover bucket with towel and let it sit for a few hours or overnight.
Transfer to containers or one large container. (I found the lovely 2-gallon glass container with lid from Walmart!)

Add tea tree oil and stir.

It always helps to have a little helper!

 This is by far my favorite homemade laundry detergent so far. It makes our clothes smell wonderful and they come out very clean! We have a high-efficiency front load wash machine. I use a 1/2 Cup of detergent per load.

Friday, December 13, 2013

An extra $40.96 in one day for our Emergency Fund

If you look on the side bar to the right of my blog, you will see I've listed "Creatively Building Our $1,000 Emergency Fund". Here I am listing all of the creative ways in which we're making money for this fund. I update this as money is deposited into our emergency fund.

In one day we made an additional $40.96 to deposit into this account. It is possible to start building your emergency fund quickly - you just have to be willing to be creative and put in some time and effort!

Here is a breakdown of this week's deposits:

1. On Wednesday I sold $7 in items through our local Swap & Sell site. I do not arrange a meet up unless I'm already on my way to run errands. This saves on fuel.

2. While at the grocery store on Tuesday I used the Coin Star machine and received $13.37 in cash from our change jar. Make sure you have a change jar and keep putting your coins in it - even pennies you find on the ground. I'm telling you, these add up! Our change jar was empty last month and it wasn't even full when I cashed in this week. I got over $13 out of it!

3. Our bank has a rewards program through our checking account. We get cashback when we shop with certain companies that we'd normally shop at anyway. I received $6 this week.

4. I made $14.59 in Ebay sales on Thursday. I still have items with active bids, so this is just my initial profit!

All of this equals $40.96 in ONE day! I'm pretty excited, especially with the decluttering that is also taking place during this process.

Some tips:

1. Take time to list your items you'd like to sell, and make it look professional. Be honest, and thorough in your listings. Your customers will greatly appreciate it. Be courteous as well. I have many repeat customers both through Ebay and Swap & Sell.

2. Don't underestimate value of your "junk". There are items you own that someone else will love. Some items I really didn't think would sell were the first ones I'd hear an offer on!

3. Start rummaging your house and vehicles for change! You never know how much money is just laying around. Put them in a jar and cash in the next time you're out.

Our Ebay site: Mountaintop Bookseller

Monday, December 9, 2013

Building our $1000 Emergency Fund #1

As I have shared in my previous debt-free living posts, we are following Dave Ramsey's steps to getting out of debt. Since we are nearly caught up on our current bills, I'm finding ways to start building our $1000 Emergency Fund. I opened this account at a bank that is not attached to our checking. We are $895 away from our goal.

This week the steps I've taken to continue building our Emergency Fund:

1. I listed many items on Ebay. Most of these items are popular homeschool materials, so I'm confident they will sell.

2. I listed items in my Etsy Shop. I am also offering a 10% Off code to boost sales. My e-book Mama Don't Sew is my most popular and lowest priced item.

3. I plan to deposit the difference between October's electricity bill and this November's into the account. October's bill was $117.57. November's bill is $107.20. Therefore I'm going to deposit $10.37 into our Emergency Fund. I came up with this idea at the top of my head to continue with the momentum of saving money. Plus, creativity keeps me going!

4. Any profit from items I sell through our local Swap & Sell site I plan to deposit into our Emergency Fund.

5. Money from our change jar will be cashed and deposited on a monthly basis.

So those are the steps I'm currently taking to build our Emergency Fund! After this, we'll begin taking more chunks out of our debt.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Our November 2013 electric bill

I received our November electric bill and am happy to say that it is the lowest it has been all year! This is even before switching to the A-TOU rate I talked about in this post. I am so excited to see our next bill with this new rate, especially with this month's bill being much lower.

Last week I went through all of my electric bills from this past year and logged them in a notebook, so I could compare our usage for the year.

The set up in my notebook looks like this:

Amount due:
Daily Usage (kWh):
Monthly Usage: 
Supply rate:
Delivery rate:

The highest it has been this year was February 2013 at $239.17! Our daily usage was 55 kWh. I am guessing we ran the furnace and dryer much more then. My husband just reminded me that we also had to run space heaters in the basement around that time when the water line froze right as it entered the house. My husband purchased a sheet of foam board insulation, dug and placed it against the foundation. We're hoping this does the trick.

Our bill for November 2013 is $107.20! Our daily usage was only 25 kWh. My goal is to get our next bill under $100, and if I can keep it that way throughout the winter it will make our plans to becoming debt-free that much quicker and easier. Every step counts. 

Here are two things I've been doing that may have contributed to this lower electric bill:

1. I rarely use the dryer (only for towels). I hang dry all our clothes...on a rack, on the shower curtain rod, over doors and chairs, pretty much anywhere I can hang clothes.

2. We've been using our woodstove as our primary heat source. We did have oil delivered, but we're going to conserve this as much as we can. We have enough wood to heat our house all winter.

We are taking a few more steps this month to lowering our bill, in addition to our new rate and supplier. Our next step is to purchase an insulation blanket for our water heater. We also need to change out a couple remaining light bulbs to CFLs.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Day 4: Breakfast & Lunch on a $100 weekly food budget

Yesterday our daughter had rehearsal for her part in the Nutcracker performance tonight. My dad joined us and he treated us to dinner last night to a Chinese buffet that is my absolutely favorite! So, I only have breakfast and lunch in this post :)

For breakfast we had granola cereal with whole milk and a side of sliced apples. The apples were only 79 cents per pound our last $100 weekly grocery trip. The granola cereal is Sunbelt brand, for which I had a coupon for. 

For lunch we enjoyed homemade italians and chips

I wanted to be sure I squeezed this post in before we head out for the show tonight. Hope everyone is having a blessed weekend! Stay tuned for our next $100 food budget post.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Switching to an at-time-of-use electricity rate

In yesterday's post I mentioned one of the steps we've taken this week to debt-free living was switching to an at-time-of-use (A-TOU) rate with our electricity company.

The reason we switched to an A-TOU rate is because it allows us to shift our electricity usage to a lower price period (Off-peak). Our usage is billed on-peak, shoulder (interim) and off-peak. Here is a look at these times and their rates with this service:

On-peak 7:00am - 12:00pm and 4:00pm - 8:00pm   $.105288/kWh

Shoulder 12:00pm - 4:00pm   $.091088/kWh

Off-peak 8:00pm - 7:00am   $.046007/kWh (Saturdays, Sundays and holidays are also designated as off-peak)

With our previous Residential Service Rate, we were paying $.068920/kWh no matter the day or time of day. An A-TOU rate basically allows us to control the cost of our electricity.

A-TOU works best for our family and our lifestyle for many reasons.

1. My husband leaves for work between 4:45 and 5:00 in the morning. He is able to take his showers early in the morning or late at night when the rate is off-peak.

2. I am up early with my husband and am able to do laundry, run a load of dishes through the dishwasher and take a shower before the rate switches to on-peak. I can also prepare the makings for dinner, bake, etc. during this time. For example, this morning I toasted bread pieces in the oven to make a crock-pot stuffing for tonight's dinner.

3. We watch very little to no television during the day. The television usually gets turned on between 7:00 and 8:00 at night , but we're all usually so tired (plus the kids go to bed around 7:30) that we don't really watch much during the week. Most of our television viewing - er, hubby's television viewing - is on is football season! The plus side of that is Sundays are designated off-peak, all day!

4. Any bulk cooking I do is done on the weekends or after the kids go to bed. This is also when I make hubby's breakfast sandwiches for the week.

5. Our woodstove is our primary heat source. We do have oil heat as well, but it gets used very occasionally, and typically at night if we're too tired to stoke the fire. With me being pregnant, I usually get up at least once in the middle of the night, so I throw a piece of wood in. In short, little to no electricity is being used here.

6.  We have a lot of natural light that comes into our house. We don't use lights during the day.

7. I unplug everything! Yes, I'm one of those people. It's been habit for years. It drives my husband nuts sometimes, but I know he appreciates my efforts to lower our electric bill :)

The real test will be when our new electricity bill arrives! I will definitely be posting about that, so stay tuned!

In my next post on saving money on electricity, I will share about how we recently switched to a new electricity supplier.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Steps we've taken this week to debt-free living

For us, becoming debt-free means being intentional and making little goals each week. A couple questions I ask myself each week:

1. What is one thing we can do this week to chip away at our debt?

2. What is one way we can bring in a little extra cash?

3. How are we doing with our budgets?

It is so much less overwhelming to take baby steps! I also look back on the previous week to see how we're doing with the changes we've made (such as a lower food budget).

Here are some steps we've taken this week to improving our finances:

1. I switched our electricity rate to an At Time of Use rate (A-TOU). Our new meter was installed this morning. I will post all about this tomorrow.

2. I switched to a different electricity supplier (our deliverer, Central Maine Power, remains the same). The new supplier has a lower, fixed rate and better contract. I'll explain more about this in tomorrow's post as well.

3. Yesterday, my husband sold a pair of boots to a co-worker for $100. He took $20 for two weeks of coffee and I deposited $80 into our Emergency Savings Account. We are up to $105 on this account. We are $895 away from our goal. Again, baby steps!

4. I'm creating a budget for toiletries and cleaning supplies. I'm thinking $20 per month on toiletries (toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, etc.) I'm not sure what budget we'll need to make for cleaning supplies yet. However, I did score free dishwasher detergent today after mail-in rebate!

5.  We applied for a gas program that will save us 10 cents per gallon! This program is completely free. A friend who recommended it to me said she has saved over $200 in gas since July! Thankfully, this particular gas station is right in our town, and on my husband's route to work.

Those are the steps we've taken this week. We aren't at the snow-ball phase yet, as we're still getting caught up on current bills. We also had to have the oil tank filled today ($685) and Monday we have a propane delivery coming for our stove ($68). Our driveway is nearly impossible to get up in the winter, so we definitely needed to make those deliveries priority.

The only change we've made so far in our current budget is we had to increase hubby's coffee budget by $2 to account for tax.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 3 - Three meals on a $100 weekly food budget

Another successful day on our food budget. Here is a look at today's menu:

This morning we had oatmeal with cinnamon & brown sugar and a berry smoothie (whole milk, blueberries and strawberries). The blueberries and strawberries were in my freezer. I love "shopping" my kitchen!

For lunch we had grilled cheese, orange slices and celery. The kids didn't have a snack today, by choice. Haley had some tea with me this afternoon. I snacked on oranges and left over Shepherd's pie, though :) The baby especially enjoyed it.

For dinner we enjoyed chicken (I cooked these ahead of time, and then set them to low in the crockpot before hubby came home. I tossed them in a mixture of dressings from the fridge while they were in the crockpot). I sauteed fresh garlic and onion in a pan, and mixed it into brown rice with a little soysauce. We also had diced potatoes that were baked with green onions and various seasonings. Absolutely delicious!

 We had plenty of dinner left over to pack for hubby's lunch tomorrow :)

As you can see, having a smaller food budget does not mean you have to succumb to processed foods. In fact, we eat far less processed foods now! I haven't really done much couponing either. If I see a coupon for something I know we actually like, then I'll use it. The savings is all in planning and preparation!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Day 2: Three meals on a $100/week food budget - snacks too!

Sticking to a $100 weekly food-budget is just one of our many steps in becoming debt-free. What I've learned so far in having a budget for food:

1. Creativity really takes place. This reduces SO much food waste, by using up ingredients we already have on hand.

2. We don't even want to waste our food. A budget can mean limits and makes you appreciate the food available.

3. How thankful I am to God for His provision. Even on a budget, the table looks plentiful. Our bellies are content and we are happy.

Here is a look at today's menu:

For breakfast we had toast with natural peanut butter, orange slices and a glass of whole milk

For lunch we enjoyed grilled cheese sandwiches, carrots and celery with ranch dressing

Our snacks today were homemade popsicles (our daughter makes these. It's just orange juice, and the kids love them!)

and crackers with natural peanut butter

For dinner we feasted on spaghetti with homemade meatballs and garlic bread. It was so delicious! I will share my meatball recipe in another post this week!

Want to hear something neat? The only things I purchased with our $100 food budget for these meals were:

- milk
- oranges
- the cheese for the grilled cheese sandwiches
- carrots and celery
- spaghetti
- ground beef
- pasta sauce
- eggs

Everything else I already had on hand!

Hubby's Breakfast Sandwich How-to

One way we save a significant amount of money each week and stick to our $100/week grocery budget is by making my husband these easy, homemade breakfast sandwiches. I set aside less than an hour over the weekend to prepare and freeze these for the week. Before I head to bed each night I place one into the refrigerator to thaw and heat them up in the oven the next morning while hubby gets ready.

I use either my homemade bagels/english muffins or ones that I find on sale

I fry up eggs on the griddle to go with however many breakfast sandwiches I'm making. This week I had 6 bagels, 1 English muffin (left over from last week) and 1 sandwich roll (also left over from last week). As you can tell, I don't let anything go to waste, so I find a way to use up things we have.

Depending on what is on sale or has the best price, I buy either sausage, bacon or ham. Make sure you check your local farm stand or meat market - many times you can find the best prices here. I always shop around, though. This week maple breakfast sausage links were on sale at our grocery store, so I just cook and split them in half to place on the sandwiches.

I also had a roll of pork sausage. I made patties and cooked them on the griddle as well. Just place on paper towel when done to absorb excess grease.

I freeze these sandwiches in aluminum foil since I toast them in the oven. If you plan to microwave instead just remember to remove the foil or plastic wrap - whatever you decide to freeze them in. Alright, so onto assembling the breakfast sandwiches.

First I place the egg onto the bagel.

Next, the meat.

Lastly, the cheese.

Place other bagel half on top

and wrap the foil around the sandwich.

Place all the sandwiches in the freezer and you're done!

 See how simple that is? Now you don't have to worry about your husband going without breakfast, or going through the drive-thru in the morning. You save so much money preparing his breakfasts, whether it be breakfast sandwiches or breakfast burritos -both freeze well. Just send him off with his sandwich, a fruit and coffee and he will be one happy man!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Day 1: Three meals on a $100 per week grocery budget - not bad!

Yesterday I shared our absolute excitement about us on our way to debt-free living, and our plan to do so! I mentioned that we are also feeding our family on a $100 per week grocery budget. Here is a look at our meal plan for today (excluding hubby's breakfast and lunch, which you can read about in this post, too)

For breakfast the kids and I had oatmeal, orange slices and a glass of whole milk.

Lunch was macaroni and cheese, celery & carrots with ranch dressing

The kids snacked on homemade popsicles Haley made over the weekend (orange juice and water) and tortilla chips.

Since the kids have their Christmas piano recital tonight, I prepared a Shepherd's pie this morning. All I have left to do is roast the side of brussel sprouts. When we get home I'll just pop the Shepherd's pie in the oven to heat dinner will be served!

The Shepherd's pie was one of my plan-around-what-we-already-have meals. I do this pretty often, actually, and it saves us from extra-spending and reduces waste. I already had a bag of frozen corn from early fall in the freezer.

My father-in-law blessed us with ground venison over the weekend, so I sauteed that up with minced garlic, salt and pepper.

I bought a 5 lb bag of potatoes during this week's grocery trip to spread across a few different meals. I already had butter on hand, so I boiled and mashed! Easy, affordable dinner!

What I love about having a meal plan is that it literally prevents waste. No kids snacking through the cupboards, no picky-eating opportunity. I'm very thankful to have children who aren't very picky and will clean their plates. They are used to a meal-routine.

I'll share my step-by-step making of husband's favorite breakfast sandwiches tomorrow!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On our way to debt-free living!

I'm going to be writing many financial-related posts mostly to record our family's progress to debt-free living. I hope along the way they will encourage others as well. My blog is also considerably new, so I'm not really sure how many readers I have!

A little background....

We are a single income family. I stay home full-time, homeschool our children. I also am manager of our finances (I'm continually learning and getting a little better). Not including our mortgage, we have a little over $32,500 in debt. I'm taking baby steps in eliminating this debt, so I am not including our mortgage until I start eating away at these *little* things. I'm not ignoring the fact that our mortgage is a debt - it just helps me mentally to focus on the smaller debts for now. Our ultimate goal is to have our house completely paid off! Here is a look at our current list of debt:

1. Credit Card #1 $251
2. Credit Card #2 $608
3. Student Loan #1 $2,170
4. Student Loan #2 $3,057
5. Loan #1 $3,700
6. Loan #2 $4,591
7. Truck Loan $6,701
8. Car Loan $11,482

First thing is first.

We first need to bring all our current bills up to current.Thankfully, we aren't far behind. We are following many of Dave Ramsey's suggestions, so after we bring our bills to current we will put $1,000 into an Emergency Savings account. Afterward, we will start snowballing our way through these debts.


Would you believe that I'm actually excited to be implementing a budget? I don't feel panicked or restricted like some. I feel very, very optimistic to know that there is a light at the end of this debt-tunnel and that I know where our money is going. Our current budget is as follows:

1. Food - $100 per week
2. Gas - $80 per week
3. Hubby's coffee - $10 per week

You're probably thinking why don't I just make my husband's coffee at home? Well, I do. My husband is also an electrical lineman and he works outdoors all day, every day. Another hot cup of coffee in the middle of the day, especially during these frigid months, is almost a must

This week is our first week feeding our family of four (well, five, really - since we are pregnant with our third :) on $100. Surprisingly we are eating fairly healthy!Not perfect by any means, but not necessarily junk. Breakfast is typically our heartiest meal, lunch is light and dinner is also quite filling as it is one that is very important to us because we enjoy it together as a family. At this point in our finances I can't eat entirely organic - unless I spot a good deal - but I'm optimistic that one day, very soon, we will be able to do so.

Here is a look at this week's $100 menu:


*Hubby's breakfasts are always homemade breakfast sandwiches. I spend a weekend afternoon preparing and freezing these ahead of time. These consist of either a bagel or english muffin, sausage or bacon, egg and cheese.

For myself and the kids:

- Oatmeal, orange slices and milk
- Toast with butter or PB, scrambled eggs and orange slices
- Berry smoothie


*Hubby's lunches are either a tuna fish sandwich or BLT, leftovers, crackers, orange, and Powerade.

For myself and the kids:

- Mac and cheese, raw carrots and celery with dressing
- Grilled cheese, raw carrots and celery with dressing
- Leftovers


- Shepherd's pie and vegetable
- Spaghetti, hamburg, sauce and garlic bread
- Stir fry with white rice
- Chicken, brown rice and vegetable
- Whole roast chicken, homemade stuffing, roast potatoes
- Italians, chips, juice boxes (we are eating dinner on the road this day)
- Pigs in a blanket and vegetable


- Crackers with PB
- Fruit

The bright side of this $100 food budget is knowing that we are able to eliminate all this unwanted debt quickly. It also means that we will be able to open our budget down the road to organic options and more opportunity to eat out. Honestly, we rarely eat out to begin with, so we aren't at all feeling a loss here. We love our home-cooked meals.

Right now my focus is on what Dave Ramsey calls taking care of our Four Walls - House (mortgage/electric/heat), food, transportation and clothing. Next week's paycheck is going toward food/gas/coffee, filling our oil tank, car payment and half our electric bill. The following week's paycheck is going toward food/gas/coffee, our mortgage and cell phone bill.

I will give an update shortly on how we are doing on our way to debt-free living! Thanks for stopping by.