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We’re hoping to get the items needed for our (very first) garden next weekend.  Aaron grew up on a farm, and his mother’s “garden” was a whole acre!  But I’ve never gardened before, so I’ve been reading up lots and lots on the topic to prepare me/us for this new venture.  Here’s the two books I’ve found most helpful (I’ve probably read both cover to cover at least twice now).

The many advantages of raised bed gardening

First, there are advantages for your garden:

  • Perhaps the most important advantage is greatly reduced soil compaction.  Plant roots need air.  In an ordinary garden, you can’t avoid stepping in the garden bed occasionally when doing your everyday gardening.  A properly designed raised bed garden allows you to do all your gardening from the garden path.
  • Plants can be spaced a little closer together in a raised bed because you don’t need places to step.  This increases productivity per square foot of bed and reduces weeding when the plants begin to mature.
  • Note:  Avoid the temptation to crowd your plants.  You will still want to use generous plant spacing because your plants will grow much larger in raised beds.
  • Raised beds tend to drain away excess moisture better than ordinary garden beds.  This is another advantage that helps the plant roots to breath.  In areas that have saturated soil like Florida and many areas of the South, raised beds may be the only way you can grow many types of plants.
  • Soil conditions and types can be controlled more efficiently in a raised bed and they can be varied easily from bed to bed.  Raised beds are the answer when topsoil is thin.
  • Water, fertilizer, compost, mulch, etc. can be applied more carefully because they only need to be applied to the garden beds.
  • Various studies have shown that raised garden beds produce 1.4 to 2 times as much vegetables and flowers per square foot as ordinary beds, due mainly to the above advantages.  You can have a smaller and more manageable garden that produces more goodies for your table.

Then, there are advantages for you:

  • Raised garden beds bring your garden closer to you.  Raised beds are after all, raised!
  • Raised beds tend to bring more order and pleasing geometry to your garden, especially when forms or edging are used to define them.
  • Raised beds can extend your gardening season.  They tend to warm up a little sooner in the spring and remain productive later in the fall.
  • Do your gardening from the comfort of the garden path.  No more bending over to pull weeds or trim plants.  Sit on a stool or put a seat board on your garden wagon!

We are hoping to grow … tomatoes, beans, onions, lettuce, peppers, and possibly raspberries.  I think that’ll be more than enough than enough for us to “learn” on for our first year.  Then, this fall, I’m hoping to plant garlic.  This past week we noticed that in our back yard are cherry trees and an apple tree.  Here’s hoping they all bear fruit this year!

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It’s Spring, and with it comes seemingly endless rain.  We’ve decided to put the RAIN to work to save our family some money!

FACT: Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer.

FACT: Residential water use increases 40-50% during summer months due to outdoor water use.

FACT: A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months.

FACT: One full 55 gal rain barrel can water a 4×10 garden for a whole week.

FACT: For every inch of rain that falls on a 1,000 square foot roof, you can expect to collect approx 600 gallons of rainwater!

FACT: Rainwater is naturally soft water.

FACT: Rainwater is FREE, all you need to pay for is something to store it in.  Enter the rain barrel.

FACT: We’re hoping to plant a garden this Spring (I better get crackin’, eh?), and the Feitners are “GOING GREEN” by using rain barrels!

QUESTION: Can I drink rainwater?

ANSWER: NO! It must be filtered first to remove possible contaminants from the roof, gutters, etc.  But rainwater is fabulous for your outdoor uses (obviously).  If you lose electricity, you probably could use rainwater to help flush your toilets.

QUESTION: What can I use rainwater for?

ANSWER: Vegetable garden – flower pots, border planting and shrubs – car washing and outdoor power washing or deck cleaning – hot tub refills – extra water reserve for fire protection and earthquakes.

QUESTION: How much rain water will I need to collect for “normal” use?

ANSWER: General guidelines for determining how much water you might use outside:

1 watering can = 3.3 gal. (15 L)
3 ft. shrub in hot weather (1 week) = 7 gal. (32 L)
18 in. pot in hot weather (1 week) = 1.8 gal. (8 L)
40 deck pots – drip water (1 week) = 50 gal (227 L)
1 sprinkler full flow (for 1 hour) = 240 gal. (1100L)
Car washing (1/2 hour) 120 gal. = (550 L)
Pressure washing (1/2 hour) = 40 gal. (180 L)

QUESTION: Can I leave the rain barrel out during the winter?

ANSWER: Yes, however it’s suggested that you empty the rain barrel and take it “off-line” so that water does not enter during this time.  You can simply turn upside down at the same location or store it somewhere else.  Water expands when it freezes, and you don’t want it to crack the barrel.

QUESTION: What type of maintenance is required?

ANSWER: The barrel will require periodic cleaning. A safe cleaning solution is 2 teaspoons of castile soap and 2 teaspoons of vinegar per gallon of water or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice per gallon of water.

QUESTION: What happens when the rain barrel is full?

ANSWER: There are two options.  Either excess water can be directed back into the downspout, or flow out through a run-off pipe.

QUESTION: How big are rain barrels?

ANSWER: They can range from about 40 gallons, up to 1,000+ gallons.  The average is 50 gallons, but the one in the photo is 850 gallons (and cost $450).

QUESTION: What’s the water pressure like coming out from a rain barrel.

ANSWER: The pressure will be less than what you get from a traditional tap water spigot, so “overspraying” your plants will be difficult.  To water perennials, place the end of the hose at the base of the flower bed.  Move the end of the hose every few minutes to reach different areas within the bed.  (Gardening Tip: “overspraying” is not recommended since it can promote certain plant diseases).  Also don’t forget that raising your rain barrel by placing it on a STURDY platform will increase the rate of flow.  This is because it flows with the force of gravity.

We’re planning to purchase at least one rain barrel in the next couple weeks, hopefully two or three.  How many will probably depend on if I end up selecting one based solely on price, or if aesthetics plays a role in my decision (like the faux-rock one pictured above).

‘Cause they’re definitely WRONG!

This morning I spent about 15 minutes online, clicking on links, and in 4-8 weeks 25 FREEBIES / SAMPLES (some of which are FULL SIZE) will arrive in my mailbox!  No shipping or processing fees – no stamps required – not even tax (which I need to pay for “free after coupon” items at the store).  I have a girlfriend who goes through this process a couple times a week, and most days SEVERAL free things arrive in her mailbox.  I tend to get around to requesting my freebies once a week.  This means that sometimes I miss a good deal (because they’d already given out their alloted amount), but it works better for my schedule.

Here’s what arrived the past couple days in my mailbox…

There were 6 coffee packets (I already used 2 of them). This was enough for 2-3 days of coffee consumption, 2 loads of laundry, and 1-2 times washing my hair.  AND IT WAS ALL FREE!!!

What will you need to “do” to get free stuff? Provide your name, mailing address (duh), birthdate (because you must be 18 or older to receive them), and give your email address.  A pointer here, CREATE A SEPARATE EMAIL ADDRESS JUST FOR THESE TYPES OF THINGS!!! You don’t need to check it, you just need to HAVE IT.  Generally, you’ll get a lot of spam, and this way you’ll save yourself headache and hassle!!!  So, my just for free stuff email address is “julialongfeitner @ gmail dot com”.  Once in a while in order to get the free item, you need to click on the email they sent you to “confirm” – and I can quickly go into gmail and do that.  I use this same email address when I’m signing up for coupon offers.

So – how does one GET FREE STUFF??? I’ve mentioned a million times Couponing to Disney.  Kristen will occasionally put links on her blog to freebies / samples.  (It’s a fabulous website!)  But, if you want to get TONS MORE, my girlfriend Jess from The Patchwork Farmhouse (check out her blog HERE – it’s all about “frugal ideas to enrich your life” – and tell her that I sent you) compiled a list of websites to check out.  She has given me permission to share that list with you.

heyitsfree.net

freeflys.com

totallyfreecrap.com

totallyfreestuff.com

freegrabber.com

freebieblogger.com

frugalfreebiesanddeals.com

shop4freebies.com

freesnatcher.com

freesamplefreak.com

walmart.com

I haven’t checked all of them recently, there’s two or three that I stick with for the most part, but depending on what type of free stuff you’d use, you might end up preferring a different website than I do.  Of course some of same the freebies will show up on all the websites, but I’ve found that there’s plenty of unique ones on each website too!  Most freebies have coupons with them when they arrive in the mail too!

[EDITED TO ADD: Some of the “freebies” out there aren’t really free … I think it’s pointless to get a “freebie” that requires participation in something (other than just answering a couple questions.  So, pay attention to what you’re clicking on.]

So – go out there and get you some FREE STUFF – and stretch your budget even further!  Make sure you let me know what you found!  I get all giddy excited by (me and my girlfriends) finding a good deal – and getting stuff FOR FREE!!!

(p.s. This weekend Jess is gonna help me finalize plans for my vegetable garden – my first year doing one – so, those posts should start coming pretty soon.  Check out her blog HERE for tips on vegetable gardening!)

fiscal responsibility

Earlier this week new couches were delivered (purchased on SERIOUS sale – with no tax and free delivery!!!).  The evening before they came, a neighbor came over and helped Aaron move the “old” ones downstairs.  For those of you (most of you) who’ve not been to Dogwood, our finished basement was practically EMPTY.  Dogwood is so much bigger than Melbourne was, that we didn’t have enough furniture to go around.  Well, the addition of two couches to the basement REALLY helped make it feel less cavernous!

Yesterday we finally got around to rearranging the basement to make the couches “fit” better.  As we rearranged furniture, we both REALLY wanted to get my hundreds of books out of boxes and onto shelves.  The problem is that we don’t own enough bookcases.  All six of our bookcases (scattered around the house) are already filled with one thing or another.  We’ve been talking for four months about what kind of bookcases we want in the basement, and yesterday decided that maybe – just maybe – the time had come to go buy some.  So, we bundled up the kids and set off in search of decent-quality, fairly inexpensive bookcases.

IKEA. (Need I say more?)

The boys were VERY well-behaved (5/6 of the way through the store, at least – after almost 2 hours, Harrison reached the end of his attention span), and we looked, measured, and selected the perfect solution for our basement.  Our own combination of some of these pieces…

Once we selected which pieces we needed, and where to find them (near the check-out), we added up the total and swallowed hard.  In all reality, it was VERY inexpensive for the number of pieces we were planning to buy (barely more than one car payment).  But, we have some other financial goals other than just buying bookcases right now.  We proceeded through the store and discussed possible future purchases.  Finally, we reached the aisles/bins where we were to pick up the packaged bookcases, and realized that the boxes were 8 feet long.  (We drove both cars to Ikea – one with me and the boys, and the Subaru emptied with seats pushed flat so we could bring home any purchases.) There was no way 8 feet of boxes would fit in the back of the Subaru.  SIGH.  So, we went back and picked up something else that we had decided could wait till next time (because we didn’t want to spend too much that day), and went to the checkout.

On the way home (in two separate vehicles), we thought about the bookcases we had been sooooo excited about.  They were fairly cheap, but Aaron thinks he knows how we can get them even cheaper.  So – LONG story short … we decided to be fiscally responsible rather than happy decorators.

DELAYED GRATIFICATION YET AGAIN.

Sometimes saving money is exciting – like when you see on the end of your grocery receipt that you spent $14.69, and saved $36.87.  Sometimes it’s less exciting – like when you find a really good deal, and then decide you can still find it CHEAPER some other way. But – either way you save money – IT’S STILL SAVING MONEY. A lot of my friends / acquaintances have recently gotten on the saving money bandwagon.  Don’t get too discouraged when saving money’s less glamorous.  It still produces the same result – a bigger bank account / less debt / wiser use of your resources.  We try to teach our children the importance of delayed gratification, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the same lesson.

heat wave

Yesterday the thermometer hit 38 – an absolute heat wave!  Never mind the snow still on the ground – it’s melted enough that we can now see some plants peeking out – it’s practically shorts and sandals weather!  I asked my honey to sweep all the cinders out of the garage, and he decided to surprise me by washing the cars too.

But I caught him in the act!  Isn’t he AMAZING??!!??!!

Like I’ve said a million times before – save money one place so you can spend / save / invest it elsewhere.  My honey saved $12 yesterday by washing the cars by hand. I’m so glad that we agree on this philosophy – it makes the biggest difference that we’re both on the same page.  We’re not really frugal (or cheap) – we just deliberately pick and choose what we’ll spend money on, and what we won’t.

I’ve shown three weeks worth of shopping with Julia.  At one point I commented that it’s VERY possible to make healthy, well-rounded meals from my grocery purchases.  Let me expound on that point a bit.

The cheapest way to cook is to grow your fruits/veggies yourself.  I plan to start my first garden this spring – this will be the first time we own grass (technically we didn’t own the grass at our townhouse).  At the moment I don’t have any homegrown veggies, fruits, or herbs in my freezer or pantry.  It’s far cheaper to “make your own” meat from larger cuts (purchased when they’re on sale) than to buy already processed meats.  However, I usually don’t have the physical stamina for that kind of “real” cooking these days.  I try to buy healthier options (less preservatives, etc.) that save me some effort.

Tonight I fed 3 adults and 2 children (and dessert for myself) for less than $5.00.  Not $5 each – $5 TOTAL. The only ingredients that were store brand were butter, and salt.  The menu: Beef tips with buttered egg noodles, and corn on the cob.  My dessert was a homemade peanut butter cup blizzard.  Everything was from the pantry/freezer (except obviously the butter).

How is it possible to stuff 5 people a fairly healthy, decently-balanced dinner for under $1 per person?  Let me break down the cost of each ingredient. (Remember that I buy 2 Sunday newspapers – so I have two of each coupon.  Remember also that coupons save you money, but they save you even MORE if you use them when the item’s already on sale!)

At the local Giant Eagle, Hormel’s Beef Tips are $7.50.  I’ve had two coupons, each for $1.50 off sitting in my coupon book for WEEKS waiting for the right moment to use them.  This past week the time finally came – Hormel refrigerated meals were BOGO.  Yay – that made them $3.75 each.  But, I had two coupons – so I bought 4 containers (two were free, and the coupons made the other 2 not full price).  Subtract my coupons, and they were $2.25 each package.  Now, THAT is a price I can live with!  We used one package tonight.

Several weeks ago I bought two packages of No Yolks egg noodles.  I don’t remember the specific original price, but they were on sale, and I had 2 coupons – they ended up being $0.12 each bag.  We used one bag tonight.

I bought a bag of frozen corn on the cob at Costco with probably 30 half ears, for $9.99.  That makes each half ear $0.33. It’s much cheaper to freeze your own (purchased at a farmer’s market in summer) – but this is what I had.  We ate 6 half ears, so that was $1.98.

We put 1/4 stick of store brand butter on the corn.  The pound (4 sticks) was $1.99 – so the 1/4 stick cost $0.12.

I bought Turkey Hill ice cream when it was on sale for 4/$10 (which makes it $2.50 each).  I used 1/10 of the container for my homemade blizzard tonight – $0.25.

I bought 2 bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups at Walgreens with a Register Rewards certificate.  They were on sale 2/$10 – I had a coupon for an additional $2.00 off, and had a certificate that was for $10 – they were FREE (technically I was paid $2 to buy the two bags). (My entire purchase cost me $0.03, and the candy gave me $2 in RR for my next purchase.)  I grabbed my cutting board and chef knife and went to town chopping them up.  I mixed them with the ice cream, and voila – instant treat!  (Dairy Queen’s peanut butter cup blizzards are my downfall – and they helped me gain the 60 pounds with my first pregnancy!)

$2.25 + $0.12 + $1.98 + $0.12 + $0.25 + $0.00 = $4.47 If Aaron and my mother wanted dessert also, the grand total for tonight’s meal would have still been less than $5.00!  We all walked away from the table stuffed.

It IS possible to feed your family on the cheap, even if you don’t want to buy store brands.  Buy 2 newspapers, save ALL the coupons (no need to cut them all out, just save them and flip through them before you head to the store), wait to buy food until it’s on sale and you have a coupon.  Don’t buy based on a menu – base your menu on what you have in the house.

(On a different note – tonight I made my own Blizzard, rather than buying one from Dairy Queen – that definitely counts toward “No Dining March” !!  Read about that challenge HERE.  I saved about $3.50 tonight by making it myself!!!)

Spending Freeze

Spending freeze – verb – to stop or limit production, use, or development of: an agreement to freeze your finances.

One of the steps we took last year to help with our relocation budget was a spending freeze.  It was a DRASTIC spending freeze, a REAL spending freeze, not like the one the government recently enacted.  What is a spending freeze?  What was involved?  Why did we choose to do one?  Who’s decision was it to do one?  Was it hard on the kids?  What were the results?  Is it necessary to be as drastic as we were to see results?

A spending freeze is exactly that – a complete stop in ALL spending.  Generally, if we’re gonna make a purchase that’s $50 or greater, we discuss it with the other person.  This is something we’ve done for years – but during the freeze, we changed the “rules” so to speak.  We spent NOTHING.

What was involved? No … movies (unless they were FREE Redbox ones) … drive-thru … soda … ice cream … books … magazines … new socks … car washes … gum … cleaning products … toys … potato chips … NOTHING.  We used what we already owned.  I decided how much (“little”) I thought I could spend at the grocery store each week (while seriously using what was in my pantry & freezer).  We cut back ALL bills to their bare bones (even cancelled things like tv), and spent NOTHING for two months.  At first I tried to feed my family for $60 per week at the store.  By the second month I was spending $20-25 each week.

We paid our mortgage – association fee – electric bill (which I cut by 30% – read about that HERE and HERE) – sewer – trash – water – cell phone – car insurance – and prescriptions.  We dropped our tv and internet down to the cheapest possible plans, then cancelled the tv all together.  I spent about $25 per week on groceries, and that was IT.  I mean it. NO SPENDING MONEY ON ANYTHING ANYWHERE.

I think I went out to eat twice with girlfriends during those two months – and each time I spent that much LESS on our family’s groceries.  So – a $10 meal at the Olive Garden with ‘da ladies meant that I only spent $15 at the grocery store for the whole week. (I REALLY enjoyed those meals with ‘da ladies – it was more than just “hanging out” – it was a deliberate decision with real life consequences.  I made sure I had a great time.  Don’t misunderstand – my family TOTALLY ate that week, I just had to be a whole lot more creative with meal planning.)

I didn’t care if something cost only $5 at Goodwill, I wasn’t going to spend it.  I spent almost a full year without even walking into a Pier 1, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Target, Kohls, or even a THRIFT STORE.  I simply did not put myself in the path of temptation (so to speak)!  I didn’t care if something was only $0.50 at a yard sale – I didn’t stop and look – I wasn’t spending ANYTHING.

Why did we choose to do a spending freeze? We both felt God telling us we were going to relocate to Pittsburgh (even though no job had posted for Aaron to even apply for at the point we started saving money).  Moving is expensive.  Selling your house is expensive.  Buying a new house is expensive.  When we felt “the call” to move, we didn’t have the kind of financial buffer needed to make that kind of move.  So, we looked at the long-term goal, and decided on some temporary sacrifices to help us get there.  We took a long, hard, painful look at our financial situation and budget, and decided that if we were gonna do this, we were going to DO THIS.  We looked at what expenses we couldn’t change (like our mortgage), and what ones we could.  We literally cut (or at least decreased) EVERYTHING that could be cut.

Who’s decision was it to do a spending freeze? I’ve been asked this question SO MANY times – usually it was whispered by girlfriends who were concerned that maybe Aaron was being overbearing, and possibly controlling / abusive because of this decision.  That is so NOT our relationship – we both believe in TOTAL equality in marriage.  Actually, I handle most of our finances.  It’s more my “gifting” than Aaron’s (and he’s better at earning it than I am), and I actually ENJOY writing checks (I know – I’m weird – Aaron doesn’t get it either).  When we came to this decision it was TOTALLY and COMPLETELY MUTUAL!!!

The conversation went something like – if we’re gonna save up for relocating we need to increase money coming in and decrease money going out – how much can we decrease money going out – let’s see if we can stop all we can so our savings account will grow faster – that’s gonna be tough so let’s do it for a pre-determined period of time and re-evaluate at the end to decide where to go from there – how about 2 months, that should be enough to see if this is making any difference – okay, so we start today.

Was it hard on the kids? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!  Alex was 4, Harrison was 1.  Alex was old enough to begin to learn the concept of delayed gratification. When he would ask, “Mommy, can we buy…” my answer was “Sorry, darlin’ we can’t spend money on that right now.  We’re saving up money for a new house.  What would you like in a new house? … A chimney for Santa?  That’d be really cool, wouldn’t it?”  He totally understood the concept of not buying this toy now so that he could get something he really wanted later (and God was extra kind to Alex, his entire house wish list was fulfilled – a chimney, garage, basement, and boy his age next door – our former house had none of those things).  We’re still using that strategy with him “Sorry, darlin, we can’t buy that right now.  We’re saving up money to paint the house.  What color do you think the family room should be?  … Orange?  Really?  Wow.”

What were the results? The first two weeks I was SO EXCITED to see how I could NOT spend money, to find new ways to save.  Week three was less exciting.  But there was an end date circled on the calendar, so I was confident I could push through.  By week four I started to get more and more creative – I found a lot more “free” options to help me maintain some “normalcy” in our lives (like free movies from the library rather than renting ones or watching tv – since we turned it off).

We had guesstimated how much we could save during this spending freeze – we thought we could live on one paycheck a month, and completely save the other.  So, two saved paychecks – that gave our guesstimate.  BUT somehow our bank account balance grew even faster than that.  I started noticing “free after rebate” things in the newspaper (like at Staples), and hunkered down on couponing and paying more attention in the store (the ONLY store I went into during the 2 months was Giant – unless something was “free” somewhere else) to unadvertised savings possibilities.  I also got creative in ways to “find” money for our family.  I discuss some of the ways I “found money” HERE.

The spending freeze was SO SUCCESSFUL that by the end of the two months we decided to CONTINUE IT!!!!  We spent ONE WEEK with no restrictions, and then started again.  We spent almost all of 2009 in some sort of spending freeze.  It’s how we paid for our relocation – moving, selling & buying a house is not cheap.

In addition. We cut our “donations” to various organizations during the spending freeze, but continued to tithe.  It was God who provided us with an income, we needed to give him the first-fruits as He asked.  There were a couple points during 2009 when we “thawed” the spending freeze.  I felt guilty for the “moment of weakness” spending.  But, Aaron NEVER got upset, and NEVER asked me to take the purchase back.  He knew that I was human – as was he.  Of course I wanted to buy a couple things.  There were a couple weeks scattered here and there where I spent lots more on groceries than I had originally budgeted.  LIFE HAPPENS.  I tried not to beat myself up over it.  I just determined anew to try again the next week.  So, if you should decide to try to lower the amount of money going out, don’t get too upset by a hiccup here or there.

Is it necessary to be as drastic as we were to see results? Um…. NO.  Your budget is like your weight.  Calories in – energy spent = weight loss (or gain).  Your financial situation is dependent on money coming in (earned and “found” money) and money going out (bills, donations, investments & purchases).  ANY step in the “right direction” can help!!!  We wanted the biggest bang for our buck – the fastest results we could get – so we were drastic with our spending freeze.  IT WORKED!  We bought a new house, and are discussing when we want to start our NEXT spending freeze!