Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A boost for your New Years Resolutions!

I honestly don't know what to resolve to do this year. Be a better mom, get organized, yell less, do more hands on projects (but keep the house cleaner), write more, ride bikes more than driving, all that jazz.

But if you're resolving to save money and get out of debt this year, my book, Hard Core Poor, will be FREE for Kindle on Jan 1st and 2nd. This will be the last time I will be able to offer my book for free for a long time, so if you're in some tight times and could use the information in this book, now is your chance to get it free!

My friend "Penny" at Penniless Parenting has been scolding me for giving my book away - she wants me to make money on it (so do I!) - so lemme 'splain. When you sign up with Kindle Select, you're given 5 free promo days in your 90 day contract to help you boost your visibility. The Amazon algorithm is set up so that the more people download the book, the higher it appears on the list of books for that topic. In the vast digital marketplace that is Amazon, any signal boost is a good thing. That's why I don't mind if you download it while it's free - you're advertising for me when you do!

If you miss the promotion, I've really worked hard to keep the price low so that the people who need this information the most could still afford it, and those who would enjoy it can afford to buy a stack and give them away to friends!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who do you ask?

In our family, my Uncle Mike is something of a Wikipedia on many subjects, mostly dealing with practical knowledge. Like, if you're trying to figure out whether to buy a special air filter to help you with your allergies, he'll tell you that you can buy a 20" box fan, a 20"x20" high quality furnace filter, tape that to the intake side of the fan, turn it on high, and you'll get the same effect as a high end HEPA filter. And when allergy season is over, you can take the filter off so you can use it as a fan.

He's full of neat facts like that. We call him when we're considering a new furnace purchase, debating the merits of a heat pump, wondering about the best place to plant blueberries, how to regulate the temperature on a wood stove, and whether an SUV makes sense if you don't live on a gravel road. He's the kind of guy you can learn a lot from.

I recently made friends with another guy like that, only his area of expertise is bicycles. His name is Ross Willard, and he runs a local charitable group, Recycle Bicycle of Harrisburg. You can ask him a question about any model of bike, any gear type, any brake type - he'll tell you exactly how to maintain and fix it. He's even more knowledgeable than the local bike shop guys (shhh - don't tell them I said that!).

I've known people you ask about herbs and essential oils, my brother sighs every time I call because he knows there's usually a computer problem I'm begging him to deal with, and my own husband is the guy people call when there's an issue with electrical issues.

So it blows my mind when I'm considered an authority on a given subject. Yes, I wrote a book about saving money, but it's still a bit weird when someone tells me they did something because I said it was a good idea! I mean, I'm thrilled that my advice helps people, but being someone's cloth diaper guru surprises me.

For example, a friend recently contacted me about the most ideal, cost-effective cloth diapers for her 3 year old son, who has Down Syndrome. And it's not the first time I've been contacted by friends about a hard-to-find or hard-to-fit cloth diaper. I have a few topics like that where I can talk your ear off, like diapers and washing laundry by hand. (Yes, laundry can be a topic of deep discussion around here.)

So, when you have a problem, who you gonna call?

(Ghostbusters is always an appropriate answer.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas, all!

Merry Christmas!

Yes, I know the 25th is over, but that's actually the first day of Christmas. You know, where you just get a partridge in a pear tree. The twelveth day of Christmas is Tristan's birthday - January 5th. (He was a great present. Way better than twelve lords a-leaping). So Christmas is still going - make the most of it!  :) I hope it's been wonderful for you so far.

But since the rest of the world doesn't recognize the twelve days, and the retail discounts have begun, now is the time to start planning for next year. You can get a lot of very cheap wrapping paper now, and Scotch tape has uses throughout the year - it's a good idea to get it now while it's marked down.

I see a lot of blogs advising people to get those "generic" gifts, like boxed bath salts and scented candles, now that they're on post-Christmas sale. I think that's a great idea, but I want to add something to that. When you're buying these gifts, get a small notebook (or pull one from the back-to-school stockpile you amassed when they were a dime each). Write down a description of the items you bought, and where you hid them. Then stick the notebook in your underwear drawer so it doesn't get lost. When next Christmas comes, you might have an awesome memory and know exactly what you have and where - my brain power is usually sapped by trying to keep up with all the events and appointments, so I need a record of the little goodies we have lying around.

If money was tight this year and you want to avoid the tension and scrabble-feel next year, I have some great ideas for you. Do you have direct deposit? Some banks and credit unions will set up an automatic transfer between your checking and savings in any amount you choose. If you can spare $2 a week, you'll have an extra $100 in your Christmas budget by the end of the year. I know sometimes every dollar is needed, but $2 is usually an achievable goal for a week. If you get paid biweekly, $4 - $5 is a good number to set aside. If the money is in an account you don't use much, and the money is deposited without your needing to fuss with it, you don't have to use as much discipline to save for a goal. The downside is that it distances you from the joy of hitting your goal - of taking your money, putting a few extra bucks on top of it, and adding it to your savings and watching the total rise.

Another great way to save painlessly is to rack up Swagbucks points. If you don't have an account yet, please click through and join. I'll wait.

You can easily get a $5 Amazon gift card twice a month if you use Swagbucks for your searches, do an occasional survey, answer the daily poll, and watch their TV clips (you can put your computer on mute if you don't want to REALLY watch). Each of those tasks earns you Swagbucks - as you accumulate more 'bucks, you can earn different gift cards. There are other store cards available - usually a $5 card is 500 Swagbucks - but the $5 Amazon card is 450 Swagbucks. If you earn 2 cards a month, that's another $110 - $120 for Christmas next year!

What if you do BOTH? 

Yeah. Think about that.

And what if you take $30 now to get your wrapping paper, tape, and 2 or 3 "generic" gifts marked down by 70% to hide away? (You could probably get more gifts than that for $30.)

(By the way, the savings tips work for saving toward any event - birthdays, the birth of a baby, a new bike to ride in a Peloton.... it doesn't have to be for Christmas, if you don't celebrate it.)


Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas, almost.

We're almost there now. And of course, because it's almost Christmas, all of us are fighting some kind of illness. I just got my voice back, and I'm still very congested and gooey-headed. Daniel had a stomach virus. Catie has been so stuffed up she sounds like Steve Urkel. And last night Tristan developed a fever.

I hate fevers in children, mostly because I've leaned in recent years that I'm supposed to counter every early teaching and instinct, and let the fever burn. I HATE letting the fever burn. I want to give them medicine so they feel better. And I had a nasty scare with Catie when she was 4 and had pneumonia - her only overt symptom was a 105 degree fever. But the fever has a purpose - it's the body regulating and killing off the germs - and the scare stories of burning off brain cells have turned out to be mostly inaccurate.

So, no medicine, and popsicles for breakfast for the sickie. As long as he doesn't seem severely ill, I can just let him rest.

Meanwhile, the tree is decorated, the lights are up outside (for the first time since we've lived here), presents are piled under the tree, and lots of fixings for Christmas foods line the cupboards. I just need to bake the pies and cookies (gluten free, so Catie and I can eat them) and pray that everyone is well by Christmas morning.

Does your family have a sick-for-Christmas problem?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cloth diapers, training pants, and assorted thoughts.

I love modern cloth diapers because they’re friendly. Easy. Non-threatening. Velcro and snaps are total game changers from those plastic pants that would drag the poop down babys’ legs. A new mother or caregiver looks at these diapers and will say “Oh, that’s not bad at all! I could use THAT – I thought I’d have to use pins!” And cute! Goodness, would the cloth diaper community be the same if moms weren’t enjoying the adorable prints and colors on those diapers? And squishy soft, with their plush linings, but still so trim with the microfiber inserts! Modern diapers really bring cloth diapering to people that would otherwise never try it. I’ve met many moms who decided to use cloth, but only pockets or AIOs because they looked easy. After all, cloth is such an investment that you want to be sure you (and anyone caring for baby) will use them rather than having a disposable relapse. And even though they tend toward the pricier end, they still cost less than disposables and can be resold or used for another baby. 

That said, I’m over them - the fancy ones, anyway. Yes, they’re easy to put on and take off, but washing them can be finicky, and heaven forbid you void the warranty by using the wrong detergent. (I don’t want a diaper that is so expensive that it requires a warranty to begin with!) They’re cute… but they’re diapers – unless it’s summertime, my baby isn’t going to be showing their diaper. (Yes, there are those full-length leg warmers, but they always leave a gap at the top of the leg that looks chilly.) I still have some, but they're really not my go-to solution, especially because of the finicky fabric care involved. I can't use most rash creams with them, detergents can leave a build up causing them to become less absorbent, and stuffing them is a pain.

So what do I use? Good, old fashioned, cotton prefolds! 

Some Green Mountain Diaper prefolds, some are retired diaper service diapers, and most were bought used. The only prefolds I bought new are the ones I like the least, from Kawaii – even after repeated washing, they’re not very soft. But the rest – oh! Soft, plush, they absorb without a hitch, they’re easy to wash, they can be folded in different ways for nearly any baby butt, and with a good cover I can honestly say that I never get leaks! I've used Boingos or a Snappi to fasten the prefold, then I put a one size snap cover over them. Done. I can get away with trifolding the prefold and laying it in the cover too. I like the added containment of fastening the prefold – it’s like an extra poop barrier.

I have to say though, I do find prefolds to be more ornery as babies get to the toddler stage. I’ve had to fasten a trifolded prefold in a snap cover while the little guy was standing and trying to play with the toilet paper holder. That’s frustrating. Having the prefold slip around in the cover as you try to fasten it – well, it’s no wonder people like less fiddly solutions for this age. So sometimes I fasten my pocket diapers a little loose, so we can pull them up and down like training pants.

But to my absolute delight (and a little teeth gnashing, because I had something like this idea about 8 months ago, and just wish I could have just gotten some of the credit for it) Super Undies has come out with a training pant that uses prefold diapers as an insert. 
Do you see how there's a collar of fabric all the way around, so you can tuck the diaper underneath and not have it shift? Isn't that brilliant? You can pull that up and down, if there was a mess, you change out the prefold, and you have all the easy wash/fast dry benefits of prefolds and covers with the easy-to-manage training pant style. I was working on something similar, based on Chinese diaper designs.

See, in China, they often don't use diapers at all. They use kaidangku, or "split crotch pants".

 Babies and toddlers traditionally just squat and go where they like, and as they get older they (hopefully) start to go in the toilet. But as hygiene awareness grows in China, more people are trying to use diapers that will keep baby covered, but that they can still pull away quickly to allow baby to use the potty. The cloth diapers have a velcro waistband and a drop front with a fabric collar to keep the prefold in place. I can't copy the image here, but you can see the diaper covers here on Alibaba.

I was tinkering with that pattern, and even thinking of importing those covers. But I had missed a serious point - that design is not child-operated. It's for very young toddlers and babies that depend on someone else to open and close the flaps - people who do elimination communication, for example. Super Undies are meant to pull up and down. Much smarter for Western customers.

I want one. Or five. I could probably spring for one at $35 - you don't have to buy as many as you would regular trainers, since you don't always have to change and wash the whole thing. And I just may make my own versions of them (not for sale, just to use) so I can beef up my trainer collection.

Then again, I hear from everyone that naked is the best way to potty train... and naked is free...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cell savings

I want to break up with you, but I can't.

Don't get me wrong, there are problems in every relationship, and relationships take work. But for me it all boils down to one serious problem - compatibility. I have needs that you can't meet, and you have needs that are draining me. So I really want to leave you.... AT&T.

But I can't.

We're not iPhone devotees, so that's not the issue. The issue is when we upgraded our flip phones to  Galaxy III minis, you hooked us in with a contract. If we break this contract, even halfway through like we are now, we will have to pay $225 PER PHONE. Even though the new plan to which we would switch would save us a bunch over the remaining life of the contract, we just can't afford the up front cost of switching.

And who would we go to, if we left AT&T? RePublic Wireless! RePublic Wireless has been getting top marks in service and affordability lately - their business model is based on routing all services through wifi whenever it's available, and Sprint cell network if you're not in a hot spot. That allows them to keep their monthly charges REALLY low. How low? If you're in a wifi saturated environment, how does $5 a month sound? If you may wander away from wifi occasionally, the $10 a month plan allows unlimited talk and text through cell, and unlimited talk, text and data through wifi. The $25 a month is unlimited data, talk and text through both cell and wifi, though if you go over 5GB of data via cell, you will get throttled down.

The Moto E - not bad for an entry level phone.
I don't have RePublic Wireless, obviously, but my parents do, and they love it. It works, if they need more services for a short time they can change their plan up to twice a month, and the cost is minimal. There is a small hitch - it only works with their own phones, which you have to buy up front.

The Moto lines they offer start at $99 for a Moto E, $149 for a Moto G, $299 and $399 for different generations of Moto X. However, their discontinued beta phone, the Defy XT, is available on eBay for $20 - $25, and can be reactivated with a new account - just know that the old phones had issues when you would leave wifi areas and go into cell coverage. I understand there were a lot of dropped calls - still, it's a well made, solid, dust and moisture resistant smart phone, so if you want to get started cheap (or allow a youngster to have their own phone) it could be a nice starter model.

Currently our cell bill for two smart phones and one voice-over-internet "landline" is about $170 a month though AT&T, and I'm told that it's not an unusual amount to pay. If we could afford the switch right now, cancellation costs would be around $450 to break up with AT&T, plus at least $198 for new Moto Es and maybe a $20 Defy XT for the kids to use at home through wifi only. The first months bill is rolled into the starting costs too, so add another $25 (two $10 plans and one $5 plan) to that total. That's $693 up front.

Ouch. But considering the carrying cost of staying with AT&T through the rest of our contract is $170 a month for 12 months, that comes to $2040. Even with $693 up front, and another $300 - 660 for monthly fees for 12 months (depending on which plan we choose), we would save between $687 and $1047 over the next year. Really makes me wish we had an extra $700 just sitting around right now! Since our Galaxy phones are only a year old, we could offset some of our costs by selling them, too.

Unfortunately, the cost of switching plans is too high for us to manage now, even though it would save us a bunch. However, at the end of our contract next January, I'm pushing to make the switch. Then the switching cost will be only the cost of the new phones and plans - maybe $250 - and we can still sell the Galaxys for probably $75 each - that will reduce the switching cost to $100.

So, if your contract is ending soon, or if you're thinking about a new cell plan, check RePublic out. Big savings await you!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Death of a Minivan, or Willy Loman as an Astro Van

Our Astro is slowly dying. As I mentioned before, we have a serious van which is developing serious problems. One of them is the rear axle power hub is leaking oil, which may have something to do with why the "Service AWD" light is usually on.

Our plan has been to exchange it sometime after tax season, using part of our usually bountiful refund to pay whatever isn't covered by the trade. But last night I was fiddling with numbers, and came up with a much lower number than we usually get in return - about 10% of our usual refund. That number later turned out to be WRONG - I was calculating based on full wages, not with the deductions. But with that number in mind, my husband and I stared at each other in sick shock. We wouldn't be able to replace the Astro with that kind of money. We would have to repair it and make it limp along for another year.

Thankfully I found my error, and we should be getting a refund much like last years. But while we were freaking out, I was pondering what our alternatives would be. You see, we currently have one car payment for Goliath, my husbands huge SUV. The payment isn't big, but we don't want to have another one. We paid for the Astro with cash and trade. The Saturn ION that I traded for the Astro had carried a payment for only 4 months - I paid nearly all my savings as a down payment, and paid it off with my tax refund when that came through. I haven't had to drive a vehicle with a payment since the ex and I were getting ripped off by a buy here pay here lot. I really have an issue with car payments. Like, really, really have issues.

So, with that in mind, with no tax refund, we COULD get different car with a payment, we could buy it with trade and our 0% credit card and pay it off before the 0% expires, or we could fix the Astro and keep going for another year. (My other suggestion, that we try being a one car family for a while and use the bikes and bus more, did not go over well with Jake. He is serious about the safety and comfort of his family, and it makes him nervous if we don't all have access to a car. I have to respect that - it comes from his need to provide for and protect his family, and that is a Good Thing.)

Since we figured out our math error, though, I'm now wondering how feasible it would be to repair the Astro. It IS starting to falter in a lot of areas, and the mileage is lousy, but it's a paid-for vehicle that runs. I'm thinking of asking a garage what it would cost to keep it running another year, and doing a cost/benefit analysis complete with gas savings against a newer Odyssey or Town and Country, and letting the numbers make the decision for me. It could work out that the newer vehicle would be a smarter choice, especially since as I keep driving the Astro it loses more trade-in value. I don't want to drive it until it's barely worth the scrap metal it's made from.

Do you have any suggestions? Have you ever had to make the choice between nursing the car along for another year vs. trading up?

Monday, December 15, 2014


Two years ago, Advent was a very real, serious thing for me. I was hugely pregnant with Tristan in the run-up to Christmas, since my due date was Dec. 31st. Every time I looked at the nativity sets, my eyes went straight to Mary first, then Jesus. It was reassuring to know that I had a heavenly advocate who really knew what I was going through, and then some. After all, I wasn't going to have to give birth in a stall, with only my husband's help, after a long donkey ride.

A quirk of late pregnancy, which someone else recently pointed out on the internet (I wish I could remember who), is that the closer you get to your due date without going into labor, the LESS likely it seems that you will ever give birth. And if you go past your due date, it gets even worse. All of my children have been at least 5 days past their dates, and I was always more than ready to give them their eviction notices! Obviously, I did eventually have each one, but each time I was convinced that I would be the only woman who would be pregnant for the rest of my life.

But the point was I really FELT that sweet, slow, expectation. Waiting to deliver and waiting to be delivered. This year, I feel much more harried. More frazzled. I'm crabby, and I find myself not wanting to attend Christmas events like cookie exchanges or classroom parties (they just seem like a big hassle). I mean, I want to make those Christmas moments, but I don't want the pressure that goes with them.

But. Then I remember. Advent is a time of preparation. Of waiting for the birth. And if anyone is frazzled, cranky, and harried, it's someone awaiting a birth! The focus shouldn't be the extras, the frills, decorating the nursery, coordinating the linens, but we get caught up doing it anyway. We run to and fro, wanting everything to be perfect for the big day. And sometimes the big day falls short of our expectations - the baby's delivery doesn't go as planned, the kids don't like the gifts Grandma brought, the ham gets burnt, people argue. But the real point of the day is still the good, perfect thing.

A child is born to us.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Balaclavas, or what cyclists call ski masks

Seriously. They call ski masks balaclavas? OK, if I want to be one of the real cyclists, I guess I have to fit in!

It's been getting pretty dang cold here.

I've been reluctant to ride bikes lately - in fact, we haven't had the bike out since we went flat on our trip to the Capitol that never was. I keep meaning to get some spare tubes so I can ride with peace of mind again, but the other thing that's been holding me back is the icy wind in my face.

A store bought fleece balaclava can cost $20 each, and to ride with the kids, they really should have one each too. After fretting about this for a little bit, I realized I was being silly! I could sew some easily enough, for very little money.

Fleece is currently 50% off at JoAnn Fabrics - already a nice deal. But for small projects like this, I like to check out the remnant bin - those fabrics are another 50% off whatever the current price may be. I got some blue and some black fleece lengths for about $4.15.

Then I searched around online for a pattern - this one is nice, but make sure it prints out to scale on your printer. I already had a 50 yd spool of fold over elastic that I had scored at PA Fabric Outlet for $2, so I used that to go around the eye holes. I didn't bother finishing the neckline, since fleece doesn't fray, but I should do that soon to make it look more nice.

The result? Cozy faces!

Somewhat mysterious cozy faces.

I've made 4, but one turned out too small even for Tristan. I still have enough material to make more - that's less than a dollar a balaclava, which is an awesome savings!

Now I have one less excuse to to skip riding!

Winners and unicorn farms!

Guess what? Wendy A. WON their own, paper-and-ink, physically tangible copy of Hard Core Poor!


But to those who entered and didn't win, or those of you tuning in late, THIS WEEKEND the Kindle version of Hard Core Poor will once again be FREE. That's right folks, Saturday and Sunday, all day, you can obtain your very own free digital copy of Hard Core Poor!

All proceeds from the free books will go towards my unicorn farm. I'm trying to get a stud license.  ;)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Homeschool head butting

It happens in the smoothest of households. With the easiest of students. They seem like they're doing beautifully in all their work.

Then BLAMMO! You switch to another subject - writing, for example. Original writing is tough enough for some minds. If you're still struggling with the whole "forming letters, arranging said letters into words, and lining all that up into a sentence" thing, writing becomes a big fat roadblock in your day.

I'm being extra mean about it today, too. Sometimes, if he needs to write something long, I take dictation, and then we look it over. But today he has to write a whole PARAGRAPH. HIMSELF. He's been groaning about how he can't think of anything to write about for 15 minutes. I get that putting thoughts on paper can be tough, but when I ask him out loud "What happened in The Swiss Family Robinson?" he can tell me. So I ask him questions, and when he answers I tell him to write it down. Oh, the torture! Flopping over, moaning.

We need to work on typing, I think. Once he's familiar with the keyboard, typing will be much faster than handwriting. Maybe writing will be easier for him then.

We use as our curriculum. It's well organized, includes all grades K-12, and it's free and available online to all. I recommend it to anyone interested in homeschooling for the first time, since it helps if you're worried about lesson planning and covering everything.

Oh! In the time that it took me to write this post, he's ALMOST finished his paragraph! Woot! Then we can move on to testing how many pennies a tin foil boat can hold before sinking.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Saving the savings.

I'm thrifty. I love a bargain. But I have trouble holding onto the money I've "saved".

You see, I rarely have cash in hand, and I have a hang up about using the debit card unless I have the go-ahead from Jake. (He deals the most with the checkbook and bills, so he has the best sense of how much is in the account at any given time.) Yes, I COULD run the card for a small purchase, but then I also have to save the receipt, enter the purchase, yadda yadda... And I have to admit - since I don't have a "job" that gives me a paycheck, I feel weird about spending anything on little luxuries, since I didn't "earn" that money. I mean, we could get into the dollar value I represent as a housekeeper, cook, teacher, daycare provider, but the fact is that doesn't bring dollars INTO the house. I do have a few sidelines - babysitting, massage therapy, and of course, my (tiny) book royalties. Nothing that brings in the big bucks on their own.

So when I DO have a little cash on hand, I tend to say yes to the little purchases that I usually say no to. I usually justify it as a treat, or something I've been wanting for a while. We're talking small amounts here - less than $5, usually. $10 is quite a splurge. Like - we're heading home from some errands, we're getting hungry. If I have $5 in my pocket, I'm likely to stop for some fries for everyone to hold us over until we're home.

I know, they're small amounts. And that's how I justify the spending to myself - it's just a few dollars. I'm not one of those shop-till-you-drop, shopping for entertainments-sake types. But when I say that, I'm reminded of the Pharisee that would publicly thank God that he wasn't like that lousy tax collector over there. The tax collector who tore his clothes, put dust in his hair, and said "have mercy on me, a sinner" outside the temple, and who was closer to God as a result. He faced his problems rather than saying "at least I'm not as bad as that guy", confessed his sins, and recognized what was wrong.

But in any case, the money dribbles out of my hands... UNLESS I have a goal to save for. If I don't have something concrete in mind, I won't save the money. That includes far-off, abstract things like college savings for the kids, retirement... it's not immediate enough, and there isn't a good reachable end goal in sight. But when I have a small, reachable goal to earn towards, I'm much more motivated to put that money away rather than spend it. I this case, I've decided to save $500 to put an electric motor kit on my bike. It's something I've wished I could afford even before I bought the big bike.

So I decided that all my earnings from my little side lines are getting funneled into my electric bike kit fund. I'm surprised at how quickly it's starting to add up. I was allowing myself to feel a little pathetic for a while, being the homemaker who doesn't have a salary of her own, while totally ignoring the income I do have from various side hustles. I needed to claim and harness the power that I already had. I'm now a bit over halfway to my goal.

I also needed to stop feeling guilty about NOT spending the little side income on gas and groceries - that's all in the main budget. If we were in a tight place and having trouble meeting our bills, then yes, my side income would be needed for that. But right now that's not the issue - our bills are being paid, and gas and groceries are covered. But if I used that little bit of side money for daily needs, it all just gets absorbed into the main budget. Yes, it benefits the whole family, but then I start feeling put-upon because I didn't get any personal benefit from my work. So that's another reason I would spend those dribbles of money on fries - it was my little reward. Now I'm working to make my little reward a BIG reward!

Reachable goals, man - they make a difference!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Free gas!

Our local grocery store recently ran a promotion. They ordinarily run a deal with their in-house gas station - for every dollar spent, you get a point. For every 100 points, you get ten cents off a gallon of gas. If you have 1,000 points, you get a dollar off of gas. Every week, however, they run an extra bonus - like if you spend $15 on certain products, you can get an extra 300 points. We've often gotten large discounts on gas for our cars this way.

 In recent weeks, if you bought gift cards there, they offered 4 points for every dollar spent - a $25 gift card would earn 100 gas points. We bought a few gift cards as gifts, but the real winner here was my mother-in-law. She was planning on upgrading her washer and dryer, so she bought $1,000 in Home Depot gift cards to pay for the machines, and she also bought quite a few gift cards to places like Kohls, to use for her Christmas shopping. She used our club card for some of the purchases, so she and we were both able to get free gas!

If you were already budgeting and planning certain Christmas purchases in different stores, and your grocery store offers this promotion, your Christmas purchases could also keep your car in gas.

Of course, if you're a dedicated cyclist, this is the kind of advice you scoff at from under your balaclava as you pedal through the slush to get to the store! But if you're a semi cycling wimp like me, getting that free gas is a huge bonus so you can get to places further than 2 miles.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Alternatives to the diaper sprayer!

Because I have little kids, sometimes this blog veers into scatological talk. This is one of those times.

If you're cloth diapering, eventually (or immediately) the question will arise - what do you do with the poop?

You flush it!

How? OK, I'll give a few more details.

When a baby is very little and not eating solids yet, the poop is no big deal. It dissolves in the wash cycle without any extra steps. But when your baby starts eating solid food, the poop has more of a peanut butter lumpy consistency. Most people will tell you to get a diaper/bidet sprayer that hooks up to your toilet supply line, and I have to admit they're great. They really are effective at getting the poop off the diaper. But they cost between $30 and $60, and you have to install them, which can lead to plumbing leaks if you're not careful.

So I present, as an alternative - the sports bottle diaper sprayer!

Shout out to Iron City Bikes for the water bottle. I'm so sorry about what I'm going to do to it.

I put a good sized glob of peanut butter on the diaper here, and smushed it in a little bit. It's a pretty good imitation of how bigger baby poop acts on a diaper. (Maybe you shouldn't read this before lunch.)
And then I took it to the toilet.
and squirt a little more...
There it goes!

So if you can't install a sprayer for any reason, you still don't have to dunk n' swish diapers in the toilet. (It doesn't really work that well in newer toilets, anyway - the water level is too low.) You can still get poop off your diaper without having to buy liners or other recurring costs. You can find sports bottles at every thrift store in the country for less than a dollar, and if you spend enough at a bike shop sometimes they give you a free one!

Do you have tricks on how to get poop off of cloth diapers?

If you like the posts, maybe you'll like my facebook page too!

Do you have any tips for poop removal you'd like to share? Comment below!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book giveaway!

Good news all! My print copies of Hard Core Poor have arrived!

I know I've been talking about my book, but I haven't talked ABOUT my book yet. The full title is "Hard Core Poor - a book of serious thrift", and it really does describe the whole book. This is a book packed with the best and most extreme money saving tips that I learned in my years of financial struggle. There are sections showing you how to save money on housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, baby and kid needs, school/college, phone service, and much more.

But lest you think these are the same tips you've read everywhere else, this book is called Hard Core Poor for a reason. I get into the details of how to manage when you don't have a washing machine, and when banks won't let you open a checking account. I talk about maintaining dignity when you don't have two nickles to rub together. These aren't tips that I just thought about - I've personally used almost every one, so I know how workable they are. If I haven't used the tip myself, either friends or family have.

And because I now have physical copies in my hot little hands, I'm going to offer a giveaway!

Enter, tell your friends, and if you don't win you can still get either a print or Kindle copy from Amazon before Christmas!

The drawing begins Saturday

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Zipper fix

Tristan outgrew his coat, so I got him a "new" one - I spent $12 at a children's resale shop and got him a nice warm OshKosh coat.

But as I was unzipping it today, the hasp that holds the zipper pull just crumbled away. Not the pull part - the part that holds the pull to the zipper head.

That sort of brass-ish looking bar - fell right off. (This is a different zipper, to give you the idea.)

If the pull had fallen off, it would have been no big deal. I know a thousand replacements that could take the place of a pull. But the hasp? I was really bummed out - it's a great coat, it should fit him through next winter, and I hated to ditch it for the sake of a zipper. Some people would sew a new zipper in, but I can not overstate how much I dislike replacing zippers. I'd rather chew tin foil.

So I looked at it closely. The broken hasp had left two little protrusions at the top and bottom. Just enough to wrap with thick thread.
I had this left over from fixing an awning. I began feeding the thread through the pull, and wrapping it around the little protrusions and tying, over and over until it wouldn't hold any more thread.

then I added a few drops of Gorilla Glue to secure the thread at the ends.
After a few minutes, it looked like this.

A little ugly, but solid! And I kept wiggling the pull so it wouldn't get stuck in one position.

So I saved a nice coat (at least for now) and I won't have to hunt for another one!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Happy Schadenfreude!

I'm feeling like an idiot. But I'm sharing, because my hero Beth Woolsey has assured me that it's helpful to the people that don't have their poop together, because AT LEAST they didn't do this today. Hear me, momrades, hear me well.

I mean, I'm a smart person, usually. But last night and today, I made some stupid mistakes that could have been serious if something else had gone wrong.

Breaking a glass jar that was holding leftover grease was a simple thing. But it had sat so long it had gone bad. Like - so bad that everyone was asking if the dog had pooped in the house after the jar broke. And the grease got EVERYWHERE. So the clean up was gross, and I was kicking myself for not having thrown it away DAYS ago when I first thought about it. Gag. We even had to pull the oven out to clean where the grease just rolled down between the cabinet and the oven. Pine Sol and 3 rolls of paper towels later, the mess cleared up. (Yes, rags are cheaper, but I didn't want to try washing that smell out of anything!)

Then I went down to add firewood to the wood stove.  The fire was already going pretty well, but we've been trying to cure some mortar in the enclosed porch, so we've been keeping the house hotter than usual to help it dry out faster. So I loaded a bunch of wood in there - hardwood. For the past few weeks, I've been dealing with slightly rotted, slightly damp, non-hardwood. I forgot how HOT hardwood burns. Jake was horrified - it got so hot it could have warped the stove if we weren't careful. That was the potentially dangerous mistake.

Today, we were scheduled to go downtown to the Capitol Building to meet with one of the people responsible for getting the new homeschool law in Pennsylvania passed. Parking in downtown Harrisburg is ugly and expensive, and we're only about 3 miles from the Capitol, so I decided I'd put the boys in the bike, put on the rain cover, and pedal on down. We packed a lunch, a cozy blanket, the diaper bag, we bundled up, and we brought warm cocoa and hot coffee. I had a heavy chain and lock for when we got there, and a full size pump in case of slow leaks.

You know what we didn't bring? A patch kit, a spare tube, or tools. And halfway there we got a flat on one of the front tires.
That one. Only I don't have that blogger reflex of taking pictures of calamities yet, so this is after it was fixed.

After calling a few people (and seriously wondering if AAA worked for bikes), my mother- and father-in-law came to my rescue with a spare tube. Ross Willard from Recycle Bicycle sent a wonderful volunteer to make sure I was OK. 

But I can't keep playing that damsel in distress card. For one thing, it doesn't work as well after 35. But for another, I need to be prepared for this kind of thing. Bike tires go flat all the time, mechanical problems arise, and I need to have a tool kit with me to take care of it. I need to have, at minimum, a patch kit and tools. A few spare tubes would be a good idea, too, and maybe treating them with green slime would keep us rolling in cases like this.

Thankfully the new tube went in just fine, and since we were so late for the event (and we were chilly) we decided to just go home. Tristan was really fussy about sitting still until Daniel started reading to him.

Sorry about the reflective thing around the window there - but you can see they're reading Green Eggs and Ham. Cutest thing ever to hear them reading a book as I pedal.

Selfie in motion.

So, you probably didn't cause your kitchen to smell like dog poop, almost burn your house down, or strand yourself and your kids in cold weather because you neglected to bring $20 in emergency supplies. And to the moms I was supposed to meet - now you know why I didn't show up. Sorry I didn't call - I didn't have the contact numbers with me.

Happy Schadenfreude!

Monday, December 1, 2014

You NEED something that can handle the snow... right?

But did you know most standard cars can handle the snow just fine?

I've been reading up over at Mr. Money Mustache, and he did a particularly relevant post to me today - All Wheel Drive Does Not Make You Safer . If you want to read, go ahead. I'll wait.

If you don't want to read, let me sum it up - AWD is a bit of a scam in the auto world. It doesn't make your car/van/SUV handle any better in bad weather conditions - that's the job of the tires.

Why is that relevant? Back before I even got pregnant with Tristan the Toddler Terror, I started feeling a little cramped with two growing kids in the back seat of my Saturn Ion. There were a few minor mechanical issues with my Ion, and I started thinking how nice it would be to have a minivan. I grew up with a minivan, learned how to drive in a minivan. It was familiar territory for me. I dreamed of the extra cargo room, the fact that the kids could be a little further apart, and being able to give their friends a ride if needed.

My dear husband was not impressed. He also grew up with a van, but had memories of it struggling up over mountains while streams of cars honked behind. He wanted me to get an SUV because he was sure they were better in the snow. I refused. I wanted a minivan, or I wanted my sedan fixed up so I wouldn't have to worry.

So we came to a compromise. I could get a van - IF it had AWD or 4WD. Fine. So we got my 2002 Chevvy Astro Van with AWD, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. It is about as close to an SUV as you can get and still be a minivan. It sits really high above traffic, it feels solid when you open and close the doors - it's a heavy duty van. A man's van. I've been driving it for the past 3 years, and I'm fond of it in my way.

  Not my van, but very similar. Note the box-y shape and serious height of this metal brute.

But things have changed since we bought the van. For one thing, Jake bought a huge SUV with ample seating, tow package, and cargo space - a Yukon Denali that's about the same size as a Suburban. It's much bigger than my van - yet it gets better gas mileage! He's averaging between 15 and 16 MPG, while my Astro struggles to get 14.5 MPG. I've since learned that the AWD is the reason my mileage is so lousy - the motor is sending power to the front and rear wheels, expending unneeded energy and gas, just to have that AWD label.  So I don't need my vehicle to be the big hauler anymore - I just need room for the kids, groceries, and my massage table. For another, the van cost us $1200 to inspect last spring. Since then, it's been living on borrowed time - I may not want a car payment, but the repairs are coming close to equaling car payments.

I took it in for an (overdue) oil change on Saturday. The tech looked at me in pity as he told me all the things that were going bad on my heavy-duty van. We were hoping to eke one more year out of the van before switching, but after that news we decided it has to go before May and inspection time. I tried talking to Jake about going to a one-car lifestyle for a while, using some of the savings to get an electric assist put on my bike so I can go more places with ease, but he isn't sold on the idea. He needs to know that in the event of an emergency, his wife and kids have safe, reliable and fast transportation. I can't fault him there. I'll still try to keep it parked as much as possible though. :)

So he started asking me what style of vehicle would I like. And I was able to say "No AWD - it doesn't help!" and have the data to back me up on the decision! So now I need to do some research on minivans, mileage, and seating configuration (I don't like the ones where you have to flip down the middle row seats to get to the third row seats) and start calculating what we can swing in the way of cost.

Any suggestions?