Saturday, April 30, 2011

Normal is Stupid!

I was listening to a Dave Ramsey Show podcast on my way home from work yesterday, and Dave was ranting about how much debt the "normal" American has.  He also said that "normal is stupid!"  I couldnt agree more.

Since January 1, 2010, Todd and I have paid off $23,000 and change in debt.  We have been in debt since the very moment we met in 2005.  As of today, we only owe $2098 on our very last debt and I couldnt be happier.  The light at the end of the tunnel is definitely coming closer and closer.  I never thought we'd get this far, but day-dreamed of a time when we would.

By July 1st, we should be completely debt free (except the house).  We have been able to "snow ball" over $850/month to go toward this last debt by paying off the other debts we had.  Those included $375 for the property we bought next door, $227 for a car loan, Home Depot card (0% financing for a year), and $200+ for the credit card we are currently paying off.  We were paying nearly half of my take home income on revolving debt payments! No more!

We killed it this month by living so tight we squeaked! I think Todd is sick of hearing me say how broke we are and then in the next sentence, how much less our credit card balance is.  Even this week, we have only $95 to live off of.  This month, we both had extra pay due to 5 Friday's as well as Todd getting paid a little more money for training a new guy at work.

I told Todd that if we squeak through the month of April, we could breathe a little bit in May and June to pay off the rest of the debt.  May is going to be an expensive month for us due to a vacation the first weekend of May, our puppy getting fixed mid-May, and hubby's birthday the end of May (he's turning 40, so I am doing something nice for him!)

Do you have debt?
Are you working Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover?
How is the process going for you?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Home Remedy : Poison Ivy

A couple of weeks ago, I was at dinner with my mom and her husband who is as a physician. Doc is the smartest person I know.  He offers little snippets of interesting information and I love it!

With the arrival of Spring also comes poison ivy, especially in my family.  My father gets a horrible case of poison ivy every year, it seems.  I’m not talking a little spot here or there: it spreads over his entire body!   Todd has been known to get poison ivy and so have I!

Want to get rid of it quickly without even having to go to the store?  Apply vinegar or tomato juice to the poison ivy.  This will help dry the poison ivy up and heal much quicker than other methods.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recipe: Waffles

When Todd and I got married, Todd had a waffle iron.  He said we could throw it away because he didnt like it due to the batter sticking to the iron.  This gave me the incentive to find the best waffle recipe I could find.  This is our favorite recipe: 

Waffles:

2 C flour
1 tsp salt (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 C milk
1/3 C butter
1 tsp vanilla

Mix it together and pour it into your waffle iron.  They are so nice and fluffy!

Todd prefers the recipe above, but I like to make the waffles a little healthier.  I substitute:

2 bananas for the eggs
1/3 C applesauce for the butter

This makes a thicker batter that can easily be thinned with a little more milk.  I have made this recipe with chunky applesauce and it was delicious!  These waffles can be made in advance and frozen, which is what I am doing this week for our vacation next week!

Also, if you dont have a waffle iron and would like to make homemade waffles, this is the time to pick one up at a garage sale.  I see them all he time for a buck or two because people dont use them.  We absolutely love our homemade waffles and make them at least twice a month.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Our HomeMade Chicken Coop

Our homemade chicken coop is a hybrid between two plans we liked in a book checked out from the local library.  It cost approximately $125 to make the coop; however, it is much bigger than we need it to be.  It could easily house 6-10 chickens.  We are looking forward to this house being a home to many chickens over the next several years! 


The Coop

Nesting Box /Main Area

Nesting Boxes

Looking into Main Area / Nesting Box

Back Door
The chickens will also have an area to run around in outside of their pen.  That is still being constructed.

I have seen coops made from wire and a plastic dog house.  The coop could be made from whatever you want, as long as it keeps the predators out.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cost of Raising Chickens

Many times, people ask if it is “worth” raising your own chickens.  I would love to hear from other readers who raise chickens themselves to get their input. 

This is my point of view*:

There are many costs to begin with when raising chicks.  You have to provide them with sufficient shelter away from the elements and predators. That being said, my husband has built a portable chicken coop (aka chicken tractor).  He built the coop with materials that cost less than $125 and used paint and other items we already had on hand.

There are also the unknown factor(s) when you bring home the little chirpers for the first time.  We lost one chick within hours and another overnight.  That was a $5.00 loss within the first day. 

If you wanted to buy the food and watering dishes, that is another $15 cost from Tractor Supply Company (TSC).  We chose to make our own feeders and watering dishes at first, upgrading the watering dishes to rabbit water bottles.  One with a ball at the end, the other is a no-drip bottle.  Chickens like to walk around in their watering dishes and get bedding in it.  They had to be cleaned out twice a day.  To me, paying $10 for two rabbit water bottles was well worth it and makes the chickens that much more maintenance-free! 

Then you have food.  You can buy different ingredients and make your own feed if you wish (to keep them organic).  We took the simple route and bought a 20 lb. bag of chick starter/grower from TSC for $7.99.  Even after 2 months and their growing appetites, the chicks are on their first bag of feed.  We supplement their feed with cracked corn ($2.99/5 lb bag), oatmeal, and anything that may have gone stale in our cupboards.  I have given the chicks pieces of bread, potatoes, and apples, but they seem to prefer the carbs (oatmeal and cereal)!

Let’s do some comparisons (oh how I love numbers).

Based on their food and the cost of the chicks alone, we paid:

·        6 chicks - $15
·        40 lbs of feed - $15.98
o       20 lbs at $7.99
o       We will need second bag to last until the chicks begin to lay
·        5 lbs of cracked corn - $2.99

Total for chicks and feed for first 6 months of life:  $33.97

Based on building a coop, supplies needed to water and feed chicks and food:

·        6 chicks - $15
·        40 lbs of feed - $15.98
o       20 lbs at $7.99
o       We will need to get a second bag before the chicks begin laying
·        5 lbs of cracked corn - $2.99
·        $125 building supplies for coop
·        $7 for watering dish at TSC (we bought two rabbit water bottles for $10)
·        $8 for food dish at TSC (we made our own for $0.70 total)

Total for chicks, feed, housing, food and watering supplies: approximately $200!

Are they worth it?

Assumptions:

·        $4.00/dozen organic eggs (thank you, Rachel for the price reference!)
·        Each chick lays one egg a day, every day (this is very optimistic)
·        Chicks begin to lay eggs at 6 months of age

Based on the assumptions above, the break even point of owning chickens would be:

  • 8 1/2 dozen eggs based on the chicks and their food costs alone
    • Assuming 4 chicks laying 4 eggs a day, it would take 26 days to break even
    • Assuming 6 chicks laying 6 eggs a day, it would take 17 days to break even
  • 50 dozen eggs based on chicks, coop, feed, food and watering supplies
    • Assuming 4 chicks laying 4 eggs a day, it would take 150 days to break even
    • Assuming 6 chicks laying 6 eggs a day, it would take 100 days to break even
Every time you have to go and buy more feed or make your own, you are adding an additional 2 dozen eggs needed for the chicks to break even.

As you can see, it is much more cost effective if you didn’t have any (or very low) housing start-up costs; however, it appears that within the first year of life, each chick would theoretically pay itself off. 

Stop on by tomorrow to see Todd's homemade chicken coop.  It looks great! I cant wait for it to warm up enough to let the chickens live in it for good!

(I hope this makes sense and I didn’t mix any computations up!)

*Please note: I am only speaking from 2 months worth of experience.  I am not an expert by any means.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vlog : HomeMade Cinnamon Rolls


There is a first time for everything, right?  This was our first attempt at a vlog.  Truth be told, I can’t stand cameras and I really do not enjoy being recorded.  I sucked it up because I wish I had this when I made these cinnamon rolls for the first (and second and third) time.  I thought it would make it easier to see how simple it is to make homemade cinnamon rolls versus post the recipe that I use from eHow.  This recipe is not exactly healthy, but they are really good and extremely simple to make.  They store well for several days in a Tupperware container (though they don’t last more than 3 days in our home).  We like ours warm, so we nuke them in the microwave for 30 seconds before eating.

If you make a healthier version of these cinnamon rolls, I want to know about it! What did you substitute and how did they taste?

Finished Product
Cost Analysis:

Tube of Cinnamon Rolls from Aldi’s : $1.89 (Yield: 8)
$1.89 / 8 = $0.24/cinnamon roll

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls: $0.78 (Yield: 16)
$0.79 / 16 = $0.05/cinnamon roll

This is how I came up with this cost:

  • Flour - $0.14
    • 4 cups per lb
    • $1.39/5 lbs = $0.278/lb
    •  $0.278/4 cups = $.0695/cup
    • 2 cups used = $0.139
  • Sugar - $0.15
    • 2 cups per lb
    • $2.39/4 lbs = $0.5975/cup
    • 1/4 cup used = $0.149
  • Brown Sugar - $0.13
    • 2 cups per 2 lb bag
    • $0.99/ 2 lb bag = $0.495/cup
    • 1/4 cup used = $0.1275
  • Butter - $0.22
    • 4 sticks - $0.69
    • $0.1725/stick
    • 1 1/4 sticks used = $0.2156
  • Milk - $0.08
    • 1 gallon is $1.99
    • 16 cups per gallon - $.1243/cup
    • 2/3 cup used = $0.0828
  • Cinnamon - pennies (assuming $0.03)
  • Baking Powder - pennies (assuming $0.03)
     But the question is, are they good?

I think the face says it all... (and puppy begging)

 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Green Zone: Uses for Peroxide

I am a peroxide junkie.  I’m not sure why, but I have been this way since I can remember.  People would always tell me that doing the things I did (and still do) with peroxide would hurt me, but I have found articles online that prove otherwise. 

Use #1: Mouthwash
Every morning when I brush my teeth, I put a capful of peroxide in my mouth and swish it around.  I can see the areas I need to brush thoroughly (like between my teeth) because of the bubbles, and it helps to keep my teeth nice and white.  I have been doing this since I was in middle school.  (Don’t swallow it though – yuck!)
                    
Use #2: Blemishes
If I have a pimple, I put peroxide on it before I go to bed and in the morning when I wake up.  When you put it on a blemish, it will turn white for a few minutes, but it will then go away.  The peroxide seems to dry up the blemish much quicker than if I were to let it be.

Use #3: Ear Cleanser
I put a few drops in my ears every week.  At first, it feels weird with the bubbles, and then it gets to be enjoyable.  I let the bubbles rise in my ear for a few minutes, then turn over and empty it out in a wash cloth.  I then use a q-tip (I know you’re not supposed to, but I do) to get the remaining liquid out.  It has gotten to the point that my ears are so clean, sometimes they don’t even bubble anymore. 

I have read that doing this helps to prevent colds which would explain why I don’t generally get sick very often (except for last month).  I have been doing this since before high school.

Use #4: Congestion
About a month ago, I got the horrible sinus/head cold that everyone in the office passed around (thanks guys!).  I was so stuffed up that I couldn’t breathe out of my nose.  I read online that you can put peroxide up your nose to help clear your sinuses.  I don’t really know how to pour peroxide up my nose without choking on it, and I wasn’t willing to try it, so I put peroxide on a q-tip and swabbed my nose with it.  I wasn’t decongested for very long, but I was able to breathe for about an hour by doing this!  I reapplied every time I’d get stuffy again. Some articles state that this is fiction; however, it worked for me!

Use #5: Cleaning Agent
I haven’t done this, but I read online that peroxide is a great cleaning agent for the house.  It is non-toxic and cleans wonderfully.  You can clean any surface to get rid of bacteria and germs.  It was also mentioned that it is great as a produce wash!

Do you use peroxide for anything other than what is listed here?
If so, I want to hear about it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Frugal Vacation

Hubby and I love to get away every year.  Todd does not require a vacation away but I do!  Growing up, I have great memories of different places we went as a family: Nova Scotia, Disney, Phoenix, Hershey, Cooks Forrest, and the Bahamas to name a few.  Whether we were “tenting it” or wined and dined on a cruise ship, we had a great time and it was something I looked forward to every year. 

I like to explore and experience my surroundings.  Since being together, Todd and I have been camping a couple of times, an Alaskan cruise for our honeymoon, Gatlinburg, TN for our one year anniversary, Lancaster, PA for our second anniversary, Washington, DC for our third anniversary, Michigan, Indiana and upstate New York.  The first few years, we took one week vacations but they seemed to eat up our precious vacation days real quick!  Last year, we did several 3-4 day weekends and we had a blast!  By doing this, we chose not drive any longer than 4 hours away from home but still explore new places and attractions. 

For our four year anniversary next month, we are going to the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I found an awesome cabin that is pet friendly and only $111/night after taxes!  This will be our first vacation with Lana, so it should be interesting.  I am thinking the trails will wear her out just as much as they will wear us out!  Usually, we have a piggy/puppy sitter come to take care of them twice a day when we are away.  Because this place is pet friendly, we are saving $20/day alone by bringing Lana with us.

Generally, we do not stay in hotels.  We like our privacy, hot tub (a luxury) and the modern amenities of home.  That being said, we have used Vacation Rentals By Owner for the past three get-a-ways we’ve taken.  We have found affordable places to stay costing us $100 or less a night! We enjoy staying in houses or cabins because it helps us to save money on eating out and it is more relaxing for us.  Todd and I are foodies: we enjoy eating!  If we were to go out to eat three times a day on vacation, we could easily spend $60/day on food.  When we go on a vacation in a cabin, I try to plan special meals that we don’t generally eat at home.  For instance, I am planning on making homemade biscuits* and sausage gravy for breakfast on vacation.  I will also make waffles at home and freeze them.  We can pop them into the toaster and have waffles for breakfast one morning.

Seeing as this vacation will consist of being on hiking trails most days, we decided that we would pack lunches to take with us.  Lunches will consist of cold cuts and marinated tomatoes and onions on hoagie rolls.  I will make homemade granola bars* and seasoned oyster crackers* as snacks along with fresh fruits and vegetables. Dinners will be hamburgers, steak and shrimp.

In the past, I would plan meals for every day only to come home with a lot of food!  This trip, as you can see, does not have many food items.  Simplicity is the key on this trip.

Just by going out and enjoying nature, we are planning on a nice, relaxing, frugal get-a-way!

What do you do as a family to save on vacation?

*Recipes will be posted so you can try them for yourself. They are simple to make and delicious!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Chickens

Starting in February, the chicken hatcheries around the United States start to ship out their day-old chicks.  The general public is able to purchase chicks from these hatcheries; however, it has to be in larger quantities.  Our local Tractor Supply Company got in their first chicks on March 2nd of this year.  I have always wanted chickens for the eggs, but due to some bad experiences as a child, Todd said there was no way he would welcome any chicken into our house.  His theory is, “Chickens are for eating!”

With nearly 5 years of persistence, Todd finally gave in and said we could get chicks this year.  Not only was I surprised, but I was excited!  I have never had chicks and didn’t know the first thing to do to take care of them. 

After checking out 3 books from the library, I was scared to death of owning chickens.  They seemed so complicated to keep.  To my surprise, they are so very simple to take care of.  When choosing chicks, make sure they are laying pullets which means they are females and they will lay eggs.  You do not need a rooster if you are looking for chicks to produce eggs.  If you want meat chickens, you can get any kind.

What you need before you bring the chicks home:

  • Rubbermaid Container (or large cardboard box)
  • Wood shavings or paper shredddings
  • Heat Lamp
  • Food & Water Dish (we made our own)  
  • Starter Feed (can be purchased at TSC $7.99/20 lb bag)

In the state of Ohio, a person is required to buy at least 6 chicks because they are a flocking animal.  Todd was nice enough to go to Tractor Supply for me while I was at work on March 2nd and pick up the chicks.  He brought them home and put them in their new area to get settled in.  Within a couple of hours, we lost a chick. 

Apparently, while at TSC, Todd saw the woman picking out the dead chicks from the bunch.  Transport is very stressful for these little creatures, and having to go through it twice is not favorable.  The next day, we had another one pass away.  This leaves us with 4 chickens.

Things to know about baby chicks:

  • Chicks should not be handled the first few days
  • Chicks can carry germs that make humans sick and vice versa: make sure you clean your hands thoroughly before and after handling the chicks
  • Chicks are very fragile the first week of life
  • Chicks require a temperature of 90 degrees the first week of life.  After the first week, you can decrease the temperature 5 degrees each week until the temperature is at 70 degrees
  • If you live in a cooler area, chicks will need to live inside with you until it is warm enough to put them in their coop outside
  • Chicks taste great to predators, you have to protect them at night!

The chicks have grown tremendously since the beginning of March.  Sometimes, I feel like we can sit and watch them grow!  I try to handle the chicks as much as possible now, but they are still pretty skittish.  Oh, and just so you know, they are not the smartest animals. 

Did you know?
  • You can teach a chick to drink out of a rabbit water bottle
    • Todd did this after Week 3 of owning the chicks
    • No more mess in the homemade water dish!
  • A chicken starts to lay eggs by the age of 4-6 months
    • Depends on breed
    • I was informed that hybrids can lay starting at the age of 4 months
  • On average, a chicken can lay an egg every day
    • Chickens lay less when it’s cold or dark
    • They also lay less if they aren’t getting the property nutrition
  • Chickens lay eggs until they are approximately 4 years of age

Todd is currently building the chicken coop that they will be living in once they get old enough (8-10 weeks) and it’s warm enough outside for them to live.  There are books from the library that have great chicken coop plans if you feel you can make it yourself.  I have seen chicken coops run from $200 up to over $1,000! 

We are still in the very early stages of chicken-ownership and are by no means experts.  We are learning along the way and anxiously waiting for our first egg.  I feel raising chickens would be a great learning tool for children to see where their food is coming from as well as how the chickens grow up. 


video
Chicks at 3 days old...so cute and fluffy.

video
Chicks at 5 weeks old! 


Do you have chickens?
What has been your experience(s) with them?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Garden Tip: Start Saving!

Here in Northeast Ohio, it is still a bit too cold to start our gardens. I am envious of those of you who live further south and have nice weather right about now and are starting your gardens. I wouldnt give up the four seasons we see for the world (though I wasnt saying this when it was snowing on April 1st!)

Now is the perfect time to start saving up your coffee grounds and egg shells. 

I have a glass jar full of coffee grounds and a cannister of egg shells that I've been saving up to help make our garden soil nice and rich.  The egg shells should dry out  before you put them into any sort of closed container.  I do this by either leaving them on the counter overnight or popping them in the microwave for a few seconds.  I then put them into a jar.  When the jar is overflowing, I push them down with the end of a wood spoon and crush it up. 


Egg shells and coffe grounds (with eggshells in it)


Used coffee grounds contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur.  The egg shells contain calcium and help to keep the slugs away!  I read that egg shells are great for tomato plants to keep them healthy and abundant. 

If you have acidic soil, you can use ashes from the fireplace.  I know I just added some to our red raspberry bushes and to the area where I will be planting strawberries this year in the garden.

This year, I will be starting a compost pile with manure*, kitchen scraps, soiled chicken bedding (paper), coffee grounds, egg shells, leaves and fireplace ashes.  Before Squiggy passed away, we never had kitchen scraps: he ate them all!  

When you compost, there is no need to buy expensive additives for your soil.  Let your scraps do the work for you!


*Manure should not be spread around plants because it can burn them!  You should let the manure "mature" in a compost pile for a year before spreading it in the garden or flower beds. We will be getting a small load of manure from a local farmer to help with next year's nutrient-rich soil!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Recipe: Hummingbird Nectar

Spring is finally among us, which means the hummingbirds are on their way!  I absolutely love hummingbirds.  They are so tiny, graceful, and absolutely beautiful.  When we moved into our home, we removed many trumpet vines that these beautiful birds frequented. 

After a few minutes of research, I learned quite a bit about how to feed these beautiful birds to replace taking away their vines.  I also learned that the pre-made nectar in stores is not necessarily good for them.  Hummingbirds are attracted to red; however, the nectar does not have to be that color.  I’ve read that the coloring added to the nectar is actually bad for the birds.  As long as your feeder has red on it, the hummingbirds will find it (within 3-7 days).

I could barely believe how simple the recipe was for the nectar: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  The stores want $3+ for their red hummingbird food.  To make 4 cups of hummingbird nectar cost us $0.27.  This is based on the price of a 5lb bag of sugar being $2.69 in our area.

I bought two hummingbird feeders at the Dollar Store and put nectar into each to determine whether or not they would find their new source of nourishment.  Within a couple of hours, we had hummingbirds swarming around our house taking sips from their new feeder(s).  We love how they “hover” and look at us as if we are the beautiful creates to be watched.

There are many websites online that show how to make your own hummingbird feeder with water bottles and plastic containers you may have lying around the house. 


Tools:


Ingredients:

Water
Sugar


Directions:

  1. Heat water in microwave for 3-5 minutes or until hot
  2. Add sugar
  3. Stir until sugar has dissolved
  4. Let nectar cool to room temperature
  5. Fill feeder(s)
  6. Store remaining nectar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks

Side Note:
It is not good for the hummingbird food to stay in the feeder for more than a week.  Otherwise, it tends to get moldy or cloudy.  For this reason, I make smaller batches of hummingbird nectar and refill the feeders more often.  Many times, I make 1 or 2 cups of nectar with ¼ cup or ½ cup of sugar.  Or, I make the full 4 cups and keep the extra nectar in a glass jar in the refrigerator so I can easily refill their feeders.