100 Little Steps Add Up to Great Things

2015 January Money Diet comes to an end

It’s officially the final day of the 2015 January Money Diet.

I logged in to my bank’s website yesterday, and was pleased to see over $1000 remaining in my checking account. A month of very limited, essentials-only spending means that all my money doesn’t evaporate by the end of the month — what a concept!

If you’ve followed the diet, perhaps you’ve seen a similar benefit to taking a spending break.

Our fellow dieter Laura shared this comment yesterday:  “With the money we saved this month and from selling a few things, we were able to put an additional $800 towards the student loan!” Hurray!

I am so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together this month. You have been the most engaged, generous group of money dieters yet, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you.

Since January 1, we’ve undertaken many efforts to stretch our money: we’ve been resourceful, we’ve used up what we already had, we’ve fixed things, we’ve planned our meals, we’ve saved energy, we’ve rediscovered the public library, and we’ve reviewed our ongoing monthly expenses.

Many of you generously gave things away, and decluttered your drawers and shelves in the process. We considered the beauty of a simple home, and collectively agreed that less is the new more.

Some efforts produced big results and others are small, but financial stability comes as a result of many efforts and thoughtful decisions, practiced faithfully over time. If we continue what we started together in this first month of 2015, I promise that these steps will add up and produce real, lasting change in our finances.

Thoughts About Spending

Many of us — including me — will continue to stay on a modified version of the money diet in the coming days. As needs arise, we will inevitably shop again. Perhaps we might ask ourselves these questions before handing over our hard-earned money:

Do I love it?

This is now my mantra for every single clothing purchase. Do I love this? Do I feel great when I wear it? Will I want to wear it for years to come? Do I need it? I no longer buy something just because it’s a good deal. I have to love it. Consequently, my wardrobe has shrunk quite a bit. For one thing I don’t go shopping that often, and when I do, I don’t often find clothing that I truly adore. But interestingly, my smaller cache of clothes is evolving into a better selection of nice pieces that I truly love to wear.

Can I plan for the purchase?

If your old hot water heater suddenly breaks, you’ll have to raid your emergency savings account and make a fast buying decision based on what’s in stock locally. On the other hand, if you know your water heater needs to be replaced and you have the luxury of a little time, you can research the best quality models on Consumer Reports (at the library, of course). You can figure out the exact size you need for your family, and choose whether you want a tank or an on-demand heater. You can comparison shop, and watch for sales. Best of all, you can save up the money for the water heater, and replace it before your old one breaks and causes damage and stress.

Can I wait?

I have a weakness for the light fixtures made by Rejuvenation. The designs are classic, the quality is first-rate, and the products are priced accordingly. For a few years I’ve been lusting after an Art Deco semi-flush light with reproduction slipper shades for my office. I created a custom search on eBay, and several times a week I receive e-mail notices about Rejuvenation light fixtures that are listed for a fraction of their original price. My exact fixture hasn’t been offered yet, but the hunt is part of the fun. In the mean time, I have a simple overhead light in my office that illuminates the room just fine.

By being willing to wait, I used this method nine years ago to purchase the exact energy-efficient ceiling fan I wanted for our kitchen at a deep discount; you can see the old and new fixture here.

Will this purchase lower our overhead?

Certain purchases might quickly pay for themselves in future savings — a rechargeable lawnmower that you use instead of paying a lawn service, for instance, or quality scissors that you use for kids’ haircuts.

Denver Water is currently offering rebates up to $150 for certain models of high-efficiency toilets. Some of the models are priced below $150, meaning that if I can figure out installation I can replace our privies practically for free and in turn save water and money. However, I’ve read that some models can require multiple flushes under certain conditions — which would cancel out the environmental and monetary advantages. Guess who will be researching toilets next month?

Can I innovate instead of spending money?

I love the Budget Living section of Apartment Therapy, where readers show their amazing hacks to transform spaces for little or no money. Lois at The Eco Grandma frequently posts about her own and others’ adventures in repurposing on her Thrifty Thursdays feature. Make it and Mend It has tons of DIY ideas. Figuring out a solution for little or no money can be not only fiscally rewarding, but personally satisfying.

How About You?

Did you achieve any specific results as a result of your participation in the January Money Diet? If so, we’d love to hear your experiences in the Comments section.

If you have excess cash left over as a result of saving all month, I challenge you to go stash it immediately in an inconvenient savings account, pay off debt, or invest the money before it drifts into the slush fund.

As you may remember, I have a special Happy Simple Living gift box for one lucky January Money Diet participant. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.

I don’t know how I’ll choose just one of you, but early next week I will give away the box to one dieter who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results.

Let’s Continue What We Started

Although our month-long experiment is coming to an end, I look forward to continuing this journey with you in the year ahead. I’ll be sharing ideas and posting about my money-saving strategies in the coming months, and I encourage you to do the same.

If you have any ideas about how to improve next year’s January Money Diet, I’d love to hear from you at elizagcross (at) gmail (dot) com.

Hugs and high fives to each and every one of you,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you survived the 2015 January Money Diet, you’re entitled to post this badge wherever you like. (To copy, right-click the graphic with your mouse and save the image):

2015 January Money Diet graduate

Day #30 of the January Money Diet – Trim Monthly Expenses

Mow your own lawn

Keeping our monthly overhead as low as possible is an important savings strategy. The expenses we pay month after month, year after year, can really add up. Companies love to commit us to automatic monthly payments, so we need to be vigilant about evaluating our ongoing expenses.

Look at each of your regular monthly expenses and ask yourself whether you’re truly getting your money’s worth from your hard-earned dollars. Could you eliminate something and pocket the savings each month?

Utilities and Other Monopolies

By now you probably know many people who have cancelled their home telephone service, and simply use their mobile phone for calls. How much do you spend each month for a land line? How many quality calls do you receive, and how many telemarketing calls do you receive? Can you still justify the cost?

Are you happy with your cable or satellite TV bill? Break down your monthly bill and divide it by the number of shows you watch. Is it worth it? Some people don’t pay a nickle for cable TV yet still enjoy dozens of free stations. Forbes writer Amadou Diallo explains various ways to eliminate cable and save a bundle.

Many of your favorite programs are probably available online via the network’s website, and YouTube often features clips or full programs of popular shows. You might also be able to connect your laptop or mobile device to your TV and watch shows from your favorite networks right on the big screen. Tom’s Guide has straightforward advice about streaming video from common devices to your TV, either using a cord or doing so wirelessly.

Other Ways to Save

Speaking of entertainment, do you subscribe to Netflix or another service with a monthly fee? Could you get movies from the library or pay an occasional small fee to Redbox instead? And what about subscriptions to periodicals? If you find you’re regularly recycling publications without reading them, perhaps it’s time to do your reading online or check out publications free from the library.

Does your dog go to the groomer regularly? Learn how to do it yourself, and save both time and money.

Could you cut your own lawn and let the lawn service go? (What about eliminating your lawn altogether and replacing it with hardy clover, xeriscaping — or edible plants?)

If you belong to a gym, are you going often enough to justify the expense? Could you jog, walk and work out at home?

Spend an hour doing the math with your health insurance plan’s various offerings. The true cost for the convenience of a small co-pay for doctor’s visits can often be quite expensive. If you’re healthy and generally only go to the doctor a couple of times a year, you might save hundreds of dollars by increasing the co-pay on doctor’s visits and prescriptions.

How About You?

Today’s challenge is to go through your regular monthly expenses with a ruthless eye, and see if you can find anything to trim or cancel. If you’ve recently found a monthly expense to eliminate, be sure to let us know about it!

As our no-spending month winds down, I feel deeply grateful for each one of you — for your commitment, enthusiasm, ideas and comments.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Day #28 of the January Money Diet – Nurture Your Health

Take care of your health

All the money in the world won’t buy good health.

For any of us who have ever experienced an injury, pain, or sickness, we know how it feels to wake up unwell and think we’d give anything — anything — for a normal, healthy, pain-free day.

Many of us are juggling a million things right now, and taking care of ourselves can fall to the bottom of the list. But really, self-care deserves to be one of our very top priorities. The good news is that most of the ways we can nurture our health are absolutely free.

10 ways to care for your one-and-only precious body

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Here are my 7 natural ways to enjoy better slumber.

2. Exercise each day. I try to alternate each day between upper body, lower body and cardio. Some days are better than others, but I keep trying. In the morning while I’m waiting for the coffee to heat, I do stretches. We walk the dog as often as possible, and I use small hand weights to build muscle strength. Exercising doesn’t need to be complicated.

3. Eat nutrient-rich foods, for a strong immune system and healthy bones. The fewer processed foods, preservatives and chemicals we consume, the better our bodies will feel. We owe it to ourselves to eat as many good foods as possible.

4. Drink water. Staying hydrated helps us look and feel better, and reduces headaches and fatigue. Why don’t we all drink a few more glasses of water today? I think I’ll go pour one right now.

5. Floss your teeth. Dental problems are no fun, and flossing is an easy way to care for our teeth and gums. This simple act has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which might even reduce rates of cancer and other diseases. Let’s floss our teeth today — I challenge you!

6. Have some down time, every day. Meditate. Take a warm bath. Pray. Read. Think. Listen to music. Watch the grass grow.

7. Limit time interacting with digital devices. We all can feel it in our brains when we’ve been online too much, don’t you agree? Push away from the computer. Power off the TV. Unplug from social media for a while. Engage with the real world.

8. Stimulate your brain. Practice your favorite hobby. Write a poem. Do a crossword puzzle. Learn something new.

9. Go outside. Take a walk. Get fresh air. Enjoy whatever today’s weather brings. Notice the world around you.

10. Seek balance. Have you ever gotten sick at the worst possible time? For several years I woke up sick every Christmas morning, because I’d been trying to do too much. Our bodies will complain, and sometimes even shut down, when things are out of whack. A more balanced life will ultimately give us the energy to do the things we really want to.

Let’s agree to honor our health, and make caring for ourselves a higher priority.

How about you?

Time’s a wastin’! What can you do today to better care for yourself? Do you have things to add to my list above? I’d love to hear your thoughts and strategies for living a healthier life.


The signature for Eliza Cross

 Photo: Villa Amor

January Money Diet Day #27: Reduce Food Waste



What if we could easily save hundreds of dollars from our food budgets each year, without making a single sacrifice or doing any additional work?

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family between $1,365 and $2,275 each year.

Nothing makes me feel sicker than throwing away food we didn’t eat. Do you feel the same way?

On the positive side, preparing and using only what we need can be a wonderful way to stretch money and honor the earth’s resources.

How To Reduce Food Waste

What if 2015 was the year we all stopped wasting even one morsel? Let’s do this! Here are some strategies:

* Cook the right amount for your family. If you regularly throw away uneaten portions, recalculate your favorite recipes. Better to eat every bite and occasionally give Junior an apple if he’s still hungry after a meal, than constantly discard leftovers.

* Take leftovers to work the following day for lunch, and save money on meals out.

* Reinvent your leftovers in another meal (casserole, stir fry, soup) within a day or two.

* Freeze leftover meat, veggies, juices, milk, etc. for soups and stews. Do this within a day or two of cooking to preserve quality.

* Save and freeze the cooking water from vegetables, and use it as a flavor-enhancing base for soups and sauces. Spaghetti sauce freezes well, too.

* Be aware of small waste. Do you routinely throw away a third cup of coffee from the pot every day? Measure out exactly how much you need and experiment until you find the exact amount that eliminates waste.

* Save the carcass from a roast chicken or turkey and use it to make a batch of homemade stock.

* American restaurants are notorious for serving too-large portions. Don’t be shy about asking for a doggie bag at a restaurant. Or consider sharing a meal to eliminate food waste.

* If they’re too far gone, compost fruits and vegetables that are past their prime.

For additional inspiration, you might enjoy these tips from Zero Waste Home.

How About You?

Is yours a zero-waste home, or is this an area you want to work on? If you’ve adopted any strategies for using food wisely, will you share them with us?


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Photo:  Liz West

January Money Diet Day #26 – Plan Your Garden

Plan your garden during the January Money Diet

Don’t you love to daydream in January about planting a garden in the spring? Now is the perfect time to begin making plans and sketching out some ideas for your ideal plot. Even if you have a small yard or a balcony for containers, you can grow a surprising amount of food by choosing plants that grow well in your climate and exploring innovative ways to stretch space. My friend Jerry grows cherry tomatoes year ’round from a pot in a sunny window in his downtown Denver apartment. You may want to check out the book “Square Foot Gardening” for more ideas about maximizing your yield from a small space.

I love perusing the new seed catalogs each year to see what new varieties have been introduced, and these are some of my favorite companies:

The site MicroEcoFarming.com has a wealth of information about growing your own food — including tips for how to sell what you grow as an extra revenue source. You may also want to check out the Happy Simple Gardening Pinterest board, where I collect photos and ideas for growing good food and flowers (with a minimum amount of labor, naturally).

This week’s challenge is to start planning your garden. Peruse some gardening sites, sketch out ideas, and make a list of the seed varieties you want to plant this year. If you don’t have a garden, daydream about what you’d like to grow someday.

How About You?

Will you be growing any vegetables this summer? What are some varieties you’ve grown successfully in the past? If you have favorite gardening sites and sources, we’d love to hear about those, too.

Happy daydreaming,

The signature for Eliza Cross


P.S.  You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo:   Elspeth Briscoe

Thank You for Your Generous Hearts

Thank you

Dear friends,

So many of you got in the spirit of clearing clutter this week and giving things away as part of Monday’s January Money Diet challenge. I am so proud of everyone’s efforts.

I had promised to give away an inspirational money book to the one who gave the most things away last week, but I have to confess that after reading all of your comments I was teary-eyed and perplexed. I counted at least nine readers who had given away a truckload of treasures. How could I choose just one of you to win, when so many of you were extra-generous and hard-working?

In the end, I drew three names at random from the nine top givers. Each of those three readers will win an inspirational money book. The winners are Cindy, Kelly and Denae, and I have written you privately to make arrangements to send your books.

Thank you so much to each one of you who participated, and look for a new January Money Diet challenge tomorrow!


The signature for Eliza Cross