A Mini Money Diet to Begin the Second Half of 2015

Lettuce coming up in the garden

Today begins the seventh month of 2015, a fact that amazes me. For those of you who participated in the January Money Diet, it’s been 181 days since we first decided to begin the new year with 31 days of no spending.

I caught up with a few January Money Diet participants to see how things were going, and thought you might enjoy some of their comments.

“The gains we made with the January Money Diet jump-started our emergency fund.  We’ve been able to keep it growing because of the habit of thinking before spending, which we established in January. Thanks so much for your encouragement to start 2015 off with a more mindful use of our resources.” – Annie

I have really committed to not buying new items unless the old one wears out, or they offer a significant value and improve our lives. I have not purchased any clothing, instead culling my wardrobe down to those things I really like. This way I don’t feel like I need anything new. Goodwill received multiple bags from me! Cutting extra purchases now leaves some money at the end of the month for a vacation fund. I am finally starting to realize the value of experiences over things.” – Lisa

“I think about that January challenge a lot. I don’t spend nearly as much as I use to on clothing and have toned down a lot of the other “useless” shopping. I don’t even go to the stores that much anymore.” – Lynn

A number of you expressed interest in doing a Mini Money Diet this month, and I am with you! With the year half over, I’ve been reevaluating my goals and savings plans to try and finish the year strong. I think it’s actually easier to spend less during the summer, and these are some things you might like to do during the month of July:

1. Figure Your Net Worth

If you haven’t done this exercise since January, I suggest you calculate your net worth now to see where you stand. With six months left in 2015, you still have plenty of time to get your net worth headed UP, UP, UP!

2. Enjoy Seasonal Produce and Find Alternatives to Restaurant Meals

Homemade pizza

Take-out, pizza delivery and restaurant meals can quickly derail a budget. With so much good produce in the stores and farmer’s markets right now, vow to cook easy meals from home in July and save big. Cook on the grill, enjoy garden foods and try easy stir-fries, salads or wraps loaded fresh veggies.

If you make a batch of dough ahead of time and freeze it, you can make a homemade pizza in less time than it takes to wait for delivery–for a fraction of the cost. Here’s my easy homemade pizza recipe. You can also find easy dinner ideas on my Happy Simple Suppers Pinterest board.

3. Make Adjustments to Your Savings Goals

Life happens, and you may not have saved as much as you wanted to in the first half of the year. Why not set a monthly goal to set aside in the remaining six months? If you can scrape up just $38 a week to divert to savings, you’ll have a $1000 nest egg at the end of the year.

4. Plan to Eliminate or Drastically Reduce a Debt by Year-End

Could you pay extra on your lowest debt and completely eliminate it by the end of the year? Do a little calculation, dividing the total by 6 and adding back the monthly interest payment. Could you set up an automatic payment for this amount and enjoy the peace of paying off a debt by the end of December?

5. Hold a Garage Sale While the Weather is Nice

Garage sale

If you sell items you no longer need, you’ll enjoy more space in the areas you declutter and earn extra cash to apply to debt or savings. Maybe you’ll do as well as our 2015 January Money Diet participant, Lynn:

“We had an extremely profitable garage sale and made over $600. Even better, I got rid of so many unneeded items and organized the storage area. It was a proud moment.”

I’d love to hear how your year is going, what you’re doing to save money, and whether you’ve changed any habits as a result of participating in the January Money Diet.

Here’s to a prosperous, happy 2015 for each one of you.

Hugs and happy July,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Remarkable Rose from a Sweet Grandma

Grandma

Grandma C. had 17 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Sylvia Crosslen became my step-grandmother when her son Howard married my mom Betty, some forty years ago. If you are fortunate enough to have a special relative through marriage, then you’ll understand when I say that it didn’t take long for me to not even think about the “step” part and just call her Grandma.

 

GrandmaGrandpa

Sylvia and Orville Crosslen on their wedding day in 1933

Born in 1908, Sylvia traveled to Colorado on a covered wagon from Paris, Texas when she was eight years old and married Orville when she was 25. Grandma and Grandpa raised seven kids in a simple cabin in the Black Forest of Colorado Springs; my Pop was the youngest, and only boy. We’ve heard many stories about the family’s challenges and Grandma didn’t have luxuries, but she grew a fragrant, old-fashioned pink rose in her garden. In her later years–before she moved to the apartment–she gave a slip of the rose to my Mom and Pop, who carefully carried it back to Denver and planted it in their garden. When their rose became established, they in turn gave my sister and me a slip, and we each planted the roses in our gardens, too.

 

old fashioned rose

The tiny stalks take a while to get established, but soon they grow into a wild cascade of canes and leaves. Once a year, for just a week or so in June, the plant blooms with the most fragrant, extravagant pink roses you’ve ever seen.

 

Old fashioned rose

The roses are impossibly fat and packed with pink petals, and you can smell their sweet aroma across the yard in the morning.

 

Old fashioned rose bush

The blossoms last only for a day or two, and then they litter the grass with pink petals.

 

old fashioned roses fading

Grandma Sylvia “Jean” Crosslen passed in 2001 at the age of 93, but I’m thinking of her this week because her rose is blooming once again and putting on its extravagant show in the garden. I am grateful to have the offshoot of her rose bush here with me to remind me of her gentle spirit.

 

Old fashioned rose

We sure do miss you, Grandma.

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally

Get rid of ants naturally

My friends, tell me if you agree with this statement:

“The depth of one’s dedication to organic gardening can be tested when one discovers a writhing mass of ants on the patio.”

The ants have set up homes in a number of areas in and around our yard, including a couple of ant mansions smack-dab in the middle of the lawn. Since I’m trying to be a good citizen and not use chemicals, I began researching natural ways to get rid of ants. I found four methods that called for ingredients I had on hand, and tried all but one:

1. The first treatment I tried was cayenne powder, which I sprinkled lavishly around the ant hills. The spicy red pepper seemed to deter the ants for a day or two, but after one rain storm they were back and frisky as ever. Was it my imagination, or did they seem to be salsa dancing as they returned?

2. Next, I sprinkled a thick line of salt around the ant hills on the pavement. (I was afraid to try this method on the grass-dwelling ants.) This just didn’t do a thing for my ants, except perhaps to raise their blood pressure levels a wee bit.

3. One site suggested pouring boiling water on the ants. I bet this works, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I never said I wasn’t a wuss.

4. Finally, I read that sprinkling coffee grounds around would motivate ants to leave. This sounded like the least plausible treatment, but to my surprise the coffee grounds seemed to work and I’m not sure why.

If I were an ant, of the four choices presented here I would request the coffee ground punishment myself. Perhaps the ants are pretending to be cooperative while secretly training me to bring them caffeine.  Next, I’m imagining an ant setting up a phony blog that suggests Heath bar bits and Chardonnay as effective ant killers.

[UPDATE – Readers have suggested ground cinnamon, cinnamon oil and cornmeal as natural ant deterrents.]

How about you?

Have you ever dealt with ants in an organic way? Have you found a treatment that works to add to this list? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

Hugs and happy summer,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Pea shoots in the garden

 

Our garden is getting a slow but promising start this year. Here in Colorado we had snow on Mother’s Day weekend, a big wet spring storm that bent trees here but didn’t break branches.

Spring Snowstorm in Colorado

 

“We need the moisture” is what we Coloradans always say when this happens in May, and that moisture really did jump-start the peas we planted the weekend before.

Garden peas

 

The leeks are about the diameter of a pencil right now. Just ignore those dandelions.

Growing leeks in the garden

 

Hoping that the snow is over (dare I even say those words), we planted heirloom Amish Pie pumpkin seeds in the sunniest raised bed. I’ve never grown this type of pumpkin before, but I was won over by the charming seed packet.

heirloom pumpkin seeds

 

We harvested a little spring spinach last week, too.

Fresh spinach from the garden

 

A pretty viola that Mom gave us seems very happy in a partially shaded area of the front garden. Last year a gardening expert I interviewed suggested pine needles for mulch, and since we have an ample supply I’ve been using them quite a bit with good success.

Viola plant

 

Still to get in the ground:  tomato plants, basil seeds, bell and jalapeno pepper plants, and several BrazelBerries blueberry bushes I’m excited to try this year.

How about you? What have you planted, and what’s popping up in your yard? May your gardens grow exceedingly well this season.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. From the archives, you might enjoy 11 Frugal Gardening Ideas and 11 Easy-To-Grow Seeds You Can Direct Sow.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

How I Ditched My Loyalty Rewards Cards and Created Wallet Space

Tips for reducing loyalty rewards cards | Happy Simple Living blog

You can’t blame retailers for loving loyalty rewards cards.

If we shoppers don’t agree to use the card, the store charges us higher prices–Ka-CHING! If we do sign up to use the card, we have to share our contact information, phone number and e-mail address–Ka-CHING! When we use the card, the retailer can track all of our purchases and buying habits–Ka-CHING! Meanwhile, we carry around a little plastic ad for the company in our wallets. What’s not to love?

We’re promised **BIG** rewards and special discounts for carrying and using these cards. I’m excited to receive my meaningful rewards, which should arrive any day now. Have you gotten yours? I like to imagine that you’re cashing in lots of valuable freebies, rebates, and luxury vacations.

Fat Wallets ‘R’ Us

Card-lovin’ retailers don’t seem all that bothered that it’s physically impossible for your average consumer to carry a thick stack of cards around. Neither do they care that we can never quickly access the correct card at checkout time.

Have you ever muttered while you’re digging through your bulging wallet something to the effect of, “I have so many of these cards, and I can never find the right one!”

Cashiers must hear this muttering all the time. This is my fantasy reply:

“I so feel your pain. You know what? You’re a valued customer, and I don’t need a plastic card to tell me so. We’ll give you the discounted price AND a $50 gift card for your trouble. Furthermore, I will pass your helpful feedback along to management and suggest that they come up with a better, less cumbersome program–like maybe just charging everyone fair prices and eliminating the cards. Did I mention that we’re giving shoppers a free SKOR candy bar today? It’s Loyalty Card Customer Appreciation Day.”

A Possible Solution?

Key Ring AppLast month I wrote about purse and wallet decluttering tips, so I decided to give the Key Ring app a try. Once you download the app, you hold your loyalty cards’ bar codes in front of the phone and it instantly copies the codes and logs your membership numbers. You can also photograph your cards as a back-up if you’re paranoid, which of course I am. It took me about twenty minutes to scan and photograph all of my cards, but I didn’t feel comfortable discarding them (paranoid) until I was sure the app would actually work.

At Walgreen’s last week, I proudly handed the cashier my phone with my Balance Rewards bar code showing. (I felt so high tech!) When he scanned my phone, it didn’t pick up the code so he entered the number manually which took another ten seconds or so. “This scanner has been acting up,” he said, handing my phone back. Because the app now holds all of the membership numbers, even if it doesn’t always scan I think it’s good enough and I’ve removed the bulky cards from my wallet.

UPDATE: I used the app successfully at another store last week; the cashier easily picked up the bar code from my phone.

How about you?

Do you participate in store loyalty rewards programs? Have you scored some fabulous rewards? Please, do tell.

Have you ever been forced to buy a second, auxiliary wallet to hold all of your loyalty rewards cards? Have you tried an app like Key Ring? I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas.

Meanwhile, here’s to free SKOR candy bars and slimmed-down wallets for all of us!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Planting Peas and Hoping for the Best

Planting Peas

I planted peas last week, so the 2015 summer garden is officially underway.

I probably should have gotten them in the ground earlier, but we had heavy, wet snow last weekend and I was ensconced inside with a good book and hot tea.

With our changing weather patterns it’s hard to know exactly when to sow seeds and how our plants will respond to temperature extremes, but we do our best and keep trying.

Gardening always has been, at its heart, an act of faith.

 

How to plant peas

 

These are organic Oregon Sugar Pod snow pea seeds. They soaked in filtered water inside for 24 hours before planting, so they were nice and plump. I planted half of the packet, and will save the other half for a fall crop. The seeds are planted about an inch apart — twice as dense as the recommended 2-inch separation. When the plants emerge I’ll thin them and we’ll enjoy the tender pea shoots on pasta.

Close up of peas before planting

 

To give the vines something to climb on, I planted them around a cone-shaped support woven of willow:

Willow support for peas

 

How about you? Have you started planting your summer garden yet? What do you hope to grow this year? I’d love to hear about your plans.

Hugs and happy digging,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Nepal-childP.S. My heart is heavy this morning, mourning for the people of Nepal. So far away, all I know to do is offer the two things that can help — prayers and support. Organizations like Mercy Corps and American Red Cross are on the ground right now providing assistance, and we are grateful.

Photo: Mercy Corps

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.