When making homemade products goes too far…

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I am all about making things at home. I love it. It helps save me money and I feel good about knowing the exact ingredients. I like creating, experimenting, and coming up with that perfect custom recipe that works just right for me.

My journey started 5 years ago when we were going through one of those tight financial spots.

I needed to find ways to save every penny we could so I started experimenting. The first thing I tried was homemade laundry soap. I loved it and it was saving our family hundreds of dollars a year. Before long, I was bit with the frugal-make-it-at-home bug.

Willing to try anything, my poor husband never knew what concoction I would be cooking up on the stove next.

Over the years I’ve discovered some gems:

  • I found a simple cleaner using distilled vinegar and essential oils. I add tea tree oil to the vinegar for everywhere except my kitchen. In the kitchen I use peppermint and clove. It smells so good and I feel much better using that around my food surfaces instead of things with harsher chemicals.
  • I adore my homemade sun block You can read the story behind that here.
  • My newest discovery is homemade lip balm (see my recipe here). I will never go back to buying it at the store again.
  • And oh, my herbal cough drops are a hit in my family. They taste as good as candy and work marvelously.

But I’ve had my share of epic fails too:

  • Dish soap seemed to breed grease. I think there was more on each plate than there was before I ever took a sponge to them.
  • I don’t care who tells you that cheap hair conditioner watered down with vinegar works as well as fabric softener, it doesn’t. I got a gunked up fabric softener dispenser and clothes that smelled all kinds of fun things, but not like I imagined. And when they did smell as they should I got stares because no man wants to go to work in a “man’s profession” smelling like sweet strawberries or fields of flowers.
  • Lotion worked awesome for about 1 day until it separated and became a mass of oil & beeswax floating in a jar of lightly scented water. (still determined to figure this one out but not there yet)
  • Soaking orange peels in vinegar to create a wonderful smelling all purpose cleaner encouraged me to spray sugary sweetness all over my kitchen. 4 years later we are still trying to kill the ants who built a colony under my house during this period.
  • Speaking of ants…ant bait. Leave that to the professionals too. Mixing honey and borax definitely tempts the ants. They came running from miles around. I had a semi-permanent black stripe around my kitchen for about a month. They never died, just enjoyed the extended 4th of July feast that summer.

But nothing, nothing compares to what I tried last fall.

We were in one of those tight financial spots again. It seems to be a cycle for us, but this one is stung a little harder because there wan’t anything left to cut, yet I had to cut. So I started looking at anything and everything that I had not yet experimented on but could possibly turn into a pinterest worthy success story.

And that is when I discovered No-Poo!

I had heard whispers of it for years but never gave it a serious thought. Why would I want to mess with my wonderful shampoo? But since I was cutting the budget and we have 2 girls who are still learning what an appropriate amount of hair product is, it is a significant monthly expense. I wasn’t about to make the girls suffer, but me, I was willing to sacrifice for the bottom line.

I found a simple and good recipe comprised of everything I already had in my kitchen, whipped it up, threw in a few essential oils for scent and 10 minutes later went to take a shower with my new creation.

The first few times were not that great but I knew to expect that. All the reviews said it takes time for your hair to adjust, balance, and get used to not having oils stripped off it daily. Over time my hair seemed to balance, it was a little flatter than normal but I quickly adjusted to that too. I just always wore my hair up in a clip or a ponytail. Easy fix to save money.

Then one day I grabbed my bottle of dinner and tea tree oil to clean the bathroom.

After I got done scrubbing all the grim off my tub and toilet I decided to take a shower to clean that “cleaner smell” off me.

It started with the shampoo. After an awkward wash using baking soda and orange essential oil mixed in water I grabbed my conditioner.

The irony hit me like a deer in the headlights.

I was using the same ingredients to condition my hair as I had just used to scrub the grime and mildew off my toilet!

That’s right, my conditioner consisted of (apple cider) vinegar and tea tree oil!

And that is where I realized I had crossed the line and gone to a place nobody ever wants to find themselves. A place where you lose all kinds of common sense for the sake of saving a penny.

My hair is slowly recovering from the lack of being properly washed for months, and my husband is thankful too. I now smell fresh and good after a shower instead of like toilet cleaner.

Have you ever gone too far and had to be talked back off the ledge of the for-the-sake-of-all-things-frugal-homemade cliff?

~Crystal

As a side note: I have also quit using homemade laundry detergent. I began noticing my husband’s work clothes and our towels were not getting clean so I switched back to commercial detergent for those. I ran out of my homemade stuff and used the commercial detergent on all our laundry one week. I noticed a difference. Recently, I discovered this article  that may explain why homemade laundry detergent is the newest addition to my “homemade fails” list.

Tips to Stretch the Dollar

Last week I shared some budget tips and how we manage our money. It isn’t easy and I am often needing to find solutions to make the dollar stretch a little further. I have gotten creative in the past and am pulling out all the stops this time around.

 

save at the grocery store

beeki / Pixabay

Food and Groceries:

I use coupons when I can but because of my dietary restrictions it is hard to coupon regularly. The only coupons I use are ones that I can get online or come in the mail.

A few months ago I created a 4 week rotational dinner menu. I know what I need when I go grocery shopping and what staples too keep in my house. This allows me to buy in bulk and stock up during sales without fear of wasting food.

Contrary to what most “savings blogs” recommend, I only grocery shop once a month. The only grocery store in my town is priced higher than some. I live about 25 miles from a cheaper grocery store. To save time and money, I go once a month. I know there are weekly sales, coupons to use, etc but I have found that shopping this way saves more money.

 

daviddchristensen / Pixabay

Free Samples:

I love my free samples!

I highly recommend creating an email address just for free samples. You will get lots of junk email.

I don’t buy razors. I bought deodorant once in the past 7 years and that is because Miss Crafty now uses it. I don’t buy any travel size items (shampoo, soap, etc). I had enough laundry soap that I was able to go a month on samples only. I rarely buy lotion. I haven’t bought bar soap for about 5 years. It adds up.

To find samples can be very overwhelming. I recommend following a frugal blog or two. They are all over the place and often have similar samples. Try a few and find one or two that you like.

I also use a service called PinchMe. Many Tuesdays at 12PM EST they release boxes. You can request up to 3 different samples. You have to be there right at noon as samples run out quickly.

 

Mobile Apps:

There are a lot of mobile savings apps out there. Each one works a little differently but they all help you save money. Some of my favorites are

 

 

Keep it homemade:

Often homemade things are cheaper. Vinegar can be used in so many different places around the home. It is a greener option, and saves me some money as I clean. However, sometimes vinegar doesn’t cut it. I have my jar of PineSol as a back up.

I make everything I can from scratch. Instead of buying expensive rice flour, I buy rice in 25 lb bags. I have a WonderMill Grain Mill. It is an investment (currently $240 on Amazon) but it has been worth every penny. I can now get flour for $0.50 per pound instead of $3-4 per pound.

I also make my own laundry soap, liquid hand soap, and stain remover. It saves so much money. I can make a two gallons of laundry soap for under $1. Compared to what it would cost at the grocery store, this is a significant savings.

 

Surveys:

I take surveys. I took them several years ago, took a break, and have recently begun taking them again. In the past, I have used the money to pay for our extra fun things like birthdays and Christmas. This time the money is going toward bills.

There are so many companies out there. Some are good, some are not, and some are scams. I like the survey companies that pay in cash and not reward points. This is because I know how much I am going to make. Often they promise thousands of reward points per survey but when you check out the redemption catalog, you realize that you made 10 cents.

You will not make a lot of money, and most days you won’t make minimum wage, but every penny adds up and it makes a difference in my house.

Next week I am going to type up a blog post on surveys and how I have learned to maximize my profits. I will share more details and all of the companies, but if you are interested in getting started now, here are two of the companies I use:

 

JD power panel

 


As with free samples, please create a separate email address. You may get a lot of extra emails.

 

Let’s help each other!

What are some creative ways you save money?

 

~Crystal

8 Difficult Budget Tips

Budget tips are all over the internet. A quick search and you’ll find all the information you need. From being able to Create Your First Budget in Five Easy Steps to Easy Budgeting Tips it seems like it is easy.

I would agree, it is easy.

It is easy to write a bunch of tips. I could write a pretty little blog post giving all the kinds of free advice. I could tell you what other people already do.

Easier said than done.

Budget and accounting

AlexanderStein / Pixabay

 

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago and she said something that summarizes living in contentment.

It isn’t about making more money, it is about living with what you have.

She said she was learning this. I smiled, agreed, and secretly thought, “She gets it!”. I’m sure she has heard it before, many times, but that doesn’t matter. Until you live it and accept it, nothing will change.

It is a long hard road once change comes and can be quite overwhelming. Occasionally, friends will ask me for budgeting advice. I’m not an expert and don’t have all the answers. However, I do maintain a strict budget and have for several years. We are not rich by any standard and living this way has eased the financial stress and allowed us to move toward contentment.

I have created some difficult steps that I used to create my budget.

Step 1: Figure out your income

The easy part: The first step to creating a budget is to figure out how much money you make. This is standard and might be the easiest part in the process.

The hard part: If your income changes from month to month, figure out your baseline and write your budget according to that.

The Husband gets paid on a weekly basis. That means that he gets 4 paychecks per month. However, 4 times a year he gets 5 paychecks. Instead of creating my budget on his annual income divided by 12, I wrote our budget for his 4 week income. More later on what I plan to do with the ‘bonus checks’. If you get paid bi-weekly, you get 2 ‘bonus checks’ a year.

Also, we plan a month ahead. The income he is making now (in June) is going toward July’s budget. It took us a long time to get to this point, but it is well worth it once you do.

Step 2: Budget all your regular bills

The easy part: Gather all your regular monthly bills. The things that you have to pay to keep a roof over your head, would get in trouble if you skipped, and are paid monthly.

Write down your mortgage/rent, insurance, phone, internet, electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash, local monthly taxes, credit card, loan and debt payments, etc.

The hard part: For things that can change on a monthly basis, figure out a 12 month average and then add $5.  This is how much money you are going to set aside each month to pay for these things, and then don’t spend it on anything else.

We set aside a certain amount for our electrical bill. It is often significantly less during the spring & fall, and slightly less in the summer. Instead of using that money for something else, I save it. Then, when the winter arrives and our electrical bill doubles I don’t have to scramble to keep the lights on. The money is already there, and without having to sacrifice something else.

This is where the big shift comes from normal budget tips.

It is not about thinking month to month or even year to year, it is about thinking several years ahead and planning for it now. No, I’m not talking retirement funds. We don’t have one of those. I’m not even talking about savings accounts. I’m simply talking about day to day expenses, even if they come every few years. More on that in a bit.

Step 3: Budget other monthly expenses

The easy part: Figure out your grocery, gas/fuel, entertainment, eating out, sports, hobbies, and fun stuff budgets.

Write down the amounts you think you spend on them every month. Don’t look at your income, just write amounts for right now. Stay realistic as this isn’t a dream budget, but don’t focus on income to expenses yet.

The hard part: Figure out your clothing & shoes budget for the year. How much are you going to need to spend during the year to keep your family clothed. New shoes and clothes for the kids for virtually every season, updated work clothes, emergency clothes because something got a hole in it, etc. Take that amount and divide it by 12. It is the same idea as the electrical bill.

Step 4: Plan for occasional expenses

The easy part: Set aside some every month for doctor’s visits, home maintenance, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and any other holiday your family celebrates. You know they are coming so why be surprised when they arrive?

The hard part: Think about the really small things that only come once a year but they are guaranteed to come. Auto registration, 6 month insurance renewals, vacation, camps, seasonal activites, club memberships, etc.

You also have to take into account the hidden expenses. We like to go camping. We budget money for the campsite, but we also budget extra money for food (camping food is always more expensive than home cooked food), fuel to get there, and any extra activities we might do while there. It isn’t just about the campsite, it is about the entire event.

Take each one of those line items and divide them by 12. That is how much you need each month to pay for these occasional items.

Step 5: What did you forget?

The easy part: Go through all your expenses and look at what you may have forgotten to include. Look at your bank statements and see if there is a withdraw that belongs in a line item.

The hard part: You have to think beyond a year. Driver’s Licenses are renewed once every 4-8 years. That expense will come, and when you live on a super tight budget it can throw you over for the month. Figure out your state fees and divide by the years between renewals, then again by 12. That is how much it costs for you to hold that license each month. Budget that.

If you own your home there are some long term maintenance projects that are often forgotten. The roof has to be done every 20-30 years. It is usually a large expense, but spread over 25 years it isn’t too much on a monthly basis. Also think about your fences, siding, painting, driveway, water heater, bath tub, etc. A little bit each month can lessen the blow when something breaks.

Also think of any long term savings goals. Do you want to save for a car or your child’s education? Do you want to save for retirement? Put all those in.

Step 6: Add up all your expenses, subtract them from your income

The easy part: If you have left over income you are on easy street. Either allocate more to a specific line item or set it aside in a savings account. I would recommend saving it–especially the first few months. There is probably something you forgot to budget for.

The hard part: I’m here almost every year. I have more expenses than income. Now, you get to look back over your budget and figure out what to cut. What can realistically be reduced. It may not be that you want to, but it must be done. Entertainment and eating out budgets are the easiest to cut. Don’t forget that cutting the eating out budget will slightly increase the grocery budget.

Step 7: When there is not enough money

The hard part: There is nothing easy about this. We are currently living in this situation because of The Husband’s pay cut when he switched jobs. He does not make enough money to pay all of our bills, even on a turnip budget.

I could stop setting aside money for driver’s licenses and other irregular expenses but we would be scrambling when those expenses arose. This is a hard place to be and it doesn’t have a universal answer. I will share our plans.

Remember that extra pay check 4 times a year? When that comes, it is being set aside. Then as I go over budget every month, I have a small buffer.

We also get a large federal tax return each year because we qualify for the EIC (earned income credit) and this increases our tax return significantly. We saved it and are living off a little bit of it every month. This means we have to be extremely careful. That money could very easily run out and then we won’t be able to pay the bills.

Our future also includes SNAP benefits (food stamps). This is not easy for me to write, but this is our reality. I’m not ashamed to be going on them, but there is a social stigma by being on food stamps. I will be judged as being lazy and not working–instead choosing to live off the government. I don’t worry about what others think, but I know it will bother me if I get ‘those judgmental looks’.

For the next 4 years while The Husband is in school and going through his apprenticeship we are going to need extra assistance to put food on the table. Our plan is that this is a temporary thing. Assistance to get us to a place where we are are more financially sound again.

Finally, we also look at creative solutions. Those creative solutions are part of another blog post that I plan to share next Tuesday.

Step 8: Stick to it

The easy part: You wrote your budget.

The hard part: Stick to it. This is so hard.

You will occasionally go over in a line item–I do. It is okay. There are two different way I handle this depending on the situation. I either carry the negative to the following month and less gets put in that line item (a hypothetical debt within my budget) or I rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, when we need to fill up the truck an extra time and it goes over for the month, I take a little money out of a different budget area so everything still balances. Keep an eye on it though, you don’t want to dip into anything too far or you won’t be prepared when that expense arises.

The hardest part of this budget is keeping track of all the little line items each month. How do you know how much money is in the birthday line item?

I use Quicken. I set up a budget and put my amounts in for the year. Then, I make sure I allocate everything to a line item as I track expenses. Nothing is unaccounted for–everything has a place. Some budgeted items will grow large over the course of the year. You may have an expense where you spend $60 in that line item one month with only $5 being put in it. That is okay because you have been planning on it for a year.

I track all our income & expenses through customized reports within Quicken. Rolling over to a new budget year is always interesting and takes time, but with a little practice, it can be done.

In the past I have also used microsoft excel. If you prefer to use the cash/envelope system then get some fat envelopes because some of them will become bloated over the year.

Living in this mindset takes time. You will mess up, but don’t give up. Instead, look at what you have and work with it.

I’d love to hear how you budget in the comments section!

 

And remember: I didn’t say it was going to be easy.

 

~Crystal

 

Edit:

After I posted this I shared it with some friends on my personal Facebook page. One friend told me about You Need a Budget. I was amazed. All these years I have been doing this on my own, knowing others out there did it too. YNAB is this system. It is a budgeting program and rules.

They have free email lessons as well as online lessons for those learning about budgeting.

I haven’t read the emails or the program, but if you are looking at setting up a budget like this, I recommend looking at it. I have customized Quicken to work for me but that took a long time to learn how to do it right. No matter what you use, if you’re setting it up and have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.