Monthly Archives: June 2008

In Love with Mulberries

On the edge of town, we have a community fishing pond. It’s been great fun going there this summer because it’s like we have a little vacation only five minutes away. We pack up all the fishing gear, chairs, a blanket, and a picnic. Five or six hours later we come home relaxed, refreshed, and feeling like we went on a grand adventure.

For me, the most exciting part of the trip is picking mulberries. The first time we went, the future husband told me that he thought he saw some blackberries. I quickly went off to investigate because I love warm, fresh blackberry cobbler. My parents had some bushes on their property in Missouri, and it was always great fun to pick and eat them. I’m no horticulturist, but when I saw that the berries were growing on trees rather than bushes, I knew that they couldn’t be blackberries. We went ahead and picked a bunch anyway, but I wouldn’t let anyone eat them until I did some research.

After a sound google search and a consultation with Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Fruit, I knew that I had mulberries. Apparently, our trees may be native red mulberry trees, but a white mulberry has made its way from China; many trees are hybrids. The trees will be ripe throughout early summer, so I’m planning on at least one more round of picking. Most of what I’ve read says that you can substitute mulberries for any berry recipes, like cobblers and muffins. The first morning we ate them with crepes and strawberries, absolutely delicious! I’ve been stirring them into yogurt and oatmeal, also. This morning I froze a big batch after finding out that mulberries have a lower acidity than other fruits. I think freezing will be wiser than canning.

All in all, they’re a delicious little treat, and I feel quite sensible and frugal picking them for free! It’s been a great summertime activity. If you’re out and about in the Midwest or Great Plains, keep your eyes open for my new favorite thing.

One is the Loneliest Carnival

I participated in two carnivals this week. The first was the Festival of Frugality at Out of Debt Again. This one was a great read; I found some good tips myself. Be sure to look over CVS Extra Care Bucks at To Be Debt Free. I think I’m finally ready to start raking in the ECBs myself.

I was also in the Carnival of Snowflaking at Paying Off My Future this week. Alas, I was the only entry!! This carnival is going to a monthly format for the summer, so be sure to participate next month. I know lots more people have great snowflaking ideas. . . look how huge the blogroll is over at the Snowflake Revolution!

Daily Accounting: Week 3

Earned: $20 Spent: $407 Saved: $0
Snowflaked: $103.33

Yikes! Where did the week go? Between spending time with the kids and working, suddenly another week in June flew by! We had great fun, fishing, going to the zoo, even getting lots of chores done around the house. I earned $20 at the garage sale and spent it paying the kids for extra chores. It was so nice to have a clean house, especially because I had to work the next day. At work, I’m trying a new approach where I don’t check my e-mail until noon. It really does boost productivity. I’m comfortably on-track for our first target Monday.

I certainly spent a lot this week! Because I’ve been at work, I’ve been eating out more. I also did the “grocery game” all on my own. It was much more satisfying because I found better bargains for my family and didn’t waste time looking for coupons that were mistakes on the list. My best buys were spaghetti sauce for $1 a jar and Advil for $2.50 (regularly $6.69). The biggest purchase happened at Hobby Lobby. Last week, all wedding stuff, ribbon, and silk flowers were on sale 50% off. So, I loaded up two carts full of great stuff. I spent $200, but everything I bought was half-off. I plan to resell the wedding arch, vases, and a few small things on craigslist. The rest, we’ll actually use again. It was a very fun trip and now I feel in great shape for the wedding.

Finally, I got a reimbursement check for my trip to San Francisco. I STILL haven’t gotten the other check from March! Crazy!! When I finally do, you’ll be the first to know. The check I did receive was for $103 more than I budgeted (I was planning on the safe side), so I sent $503 off to the credit cards. Now, I’m under $5,000!!! Hooray!!!

Daily Accounting: Week 2 of June

Earned: $102.54   Spent: $185   Saved: $0

To the credit cards: $97.54

Wow, this week has zipped by!  As part of my June goals, I’m trying to focus more on gathering extra income and less on spending.  I was happy to rack up almost $100 this week from our garage sale, spare change, and survey checks, so I promptly sent that off to the credit card.  You’ll notice that the debt tab is inching toward that $5,000 milestone.  Yay!

Another of my June goals was to get out and socialize.  To that end, I had lunch with one friend and drinks with another.  That ate into my “fun” budget for June, so it looks like I won’t save anything there.  However, spending time with friends is important to me, so I call it money well spent!  The grocery shopping went really well this week.  I spent $130, but came out with a full cart and some needed staples.  I hope to spend less over the next two weeks, when we don’t have the kids.

The farm market had some interesting finds this week.  For $20, I got peas, kohlrabi, aspargus, mizuna, and swiss cheese.  I had no idea what mizuna was, but I figured I could find a way to cook it.  I did some research and found out that it is closely related to kale, so we ate some in a salad the first night, along with a grilled chicken and grilled asparagus. The next night, I stir-fried the rest of the mizuna with leftover chicken.   It was all smoky and delicious.  I pureed the kohlrabi with potatoes the next night; we ate that with steamed mint and peas and grilled shrimp.  Then, we finished up the produce last night with a cream of asparagus and pea soup and homemade bread.  Tonight is pizza night, and tomorrow our town’s farmers’ market opens.  I can’t wait to see what all of the different farms have!  I’m hoping for some organic beef, good cheese, and more vegetables.

Finally, this week, I was in another carnival, the very creativeCarnival of Snowflaking at Finance Gets Personal.  This is another of my favorite blogs, so be sure to read around.  I really like their plans for a “staycation” this year!

Save Money Canning Preserves

Yesterday, my home-canning season officially began with my first batch of strawberry preserves.  My spine went a little tingly when I heard that “pop” from each lid, signaling another successful jar.  I also shelled and froze a pound of peas for the winter.   Now that I’m done, I thought I’d share a few tips.

Cost: $2.33 + sugar

Since I already have all my canning supplies, for this batch, I only spent $2.33.  I bought six pounds of strawberries for $7 (we ate two pounds, and I made one pound into strawberry syrup).  So, I only canned two pounds ($2.33) and ended up with 4 half-pints of strawberry preserves.  I used three cups of sugar in the whole batch, but had that on hand.

Store-bought equivalent: $16

I did a quick google search and found Dickinson’s organic preserves for $4 a jar.  Certainly, my strawberry preserves rival that, so yay!  That’s a savings of $13.67. I plan to can a total of 12 jars, so that will easily save me $30 for the year, if I subtract out estimates for the lids, sugar, and lemon juice.

The process.

Be sure to buy or check out a book about canning and follow your recipe exactly.  I’ll just give you an overview of what’s involved.  You want to hull the berries and mash about half of them.  Then add sugar and lemon juice and cook bring to the jelling point.  This can be a little complicated.  My favorite method is to freeze a saucer.  Once the berries have boiled and gone over to lots of bubbles, I put a spoonful on the frozen saucer and re-freeze it for a minute or two.  Then, when I run my finger through the jam, if it holds my finger mark, rather than running right back together, I know I’m in business.  Stop, let the preserves cool and plump them overnight.  The next day, bring them back to boiling, pack into hot jars, and process for ten minutes in your canner.  Pull them out and wait for that satisfying “pop.”

My advice:

Try to find a u-pick field.

As you can see, I got a great deal on my strawberries.  There’s no way that I could get them that cheaply from our farmers’ market.  By picking them myself, I save about 50%, and I get that nice summertime feeling being out in the strawberry patch.

Break the canning into steps.

I did this batch over two days, about to an hour each day.  This time, I made sure that I sat down while prepping the fruit.  I used to stand while doing everything in the kitchen and was exhausted after canning for the day.   Now, I understand why my grandma always sat down to shell peas or cut strawberries!

“Plump” your berries.

Last year, I was too impatient to wait for the berries to plump overnight.  This year, I followed the advice in my trusty Joy of Cooking: All About Canning and Preserving.  The idea is that the chunks of berries left in the preserves absorb more liquid and sugar so that they won’t rise to the top of your jar.  Sure enough, my jars look much nicer, with big chunks of fruit spread throughout the jar.

So, that’s my advice for canning berries.  Along with saving money, I love to do it because I can control how much sugar goes in the jars, and I know that there are no other chemicals or preservatives in my jam.  Plus, I love the consistency.  It’s a bit runnier than store-bought preserves, so it’s delicious on ice cream or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal.   You’ll save even more money by buying plain oatmeal and yogurt and flavoring them yourself with preserves.  Mmm, I think I’ll go eat some oatmeal with preserves right now!

One Grand Snowflake

Potential Snowflake: $2,666!!!

For the month of June, I set my snowflake goal at $400. I’m pretty close: I’ve got about $325 so far, thanks to budget extras, our garage sale, some survey checks, and my spare change ($30!). I’m going to try to save $75 out of my budget for the rest of the month to get to my total. For the whole summer, I want to end up $1,000 ahead so that I can pay off my debt by September 1 rather than October 1. I was starting to sweat where the extra $600 in snowflakes would come from. I’ve sold almost everything that I want to sell. In fact, the final odds and ends from my old apartment will go to Goodwill. Surveys average about $30 a month for me. I do have a $12 rebate to send in, but no major potential snowflakes besides savings from my budget. I know that they all add up, but it’s nice having something semi-big to pad the month out.

Now, one grand snowflake has appeared on the horizon! I’m so excited. A friend of mine at work is writing curriculum for a grant and thought I might like to help; she mentioned that it would pay around $4,000. Of course, I said yes! I’ll probably spend two weeks or so on it, about 60 to 80 hours of work. It’s flexible, so I can set my own hours and the end date is July 28, so I’ll plan to finish early, around the middle of July, so that it’s not stressing me out during the wedding. As I talked to the people involved, I kept telling myself I might not get as much money as the others, and it would be well worth it even if I just got $2,000.

I got the proposal last night, and we each get paid $5,000. Hooray! I’ll sign the contract tomorrow or Thursday, so I’ll wait until then to do the seriously huge happy dance. For today, I’ll just do a tiny happy dance.

Of course, the old me would have quickly started thinking about all the ways to spend that money and probably would have rushed out with the credit cards before even signing the contract. In fact, two years ago, I charged a laptop in September figuring I’d pay for it with my overload payment in May, not even knowing how much that payment would be after taxes! So, the new me is waiting to see if they run the money through payroll and withhold taxes, or if I’ll need to set some aside. However, I still can’t resist a little calculation:

Let’s say 1/3 goes to taxes, so I’ll end up with $3,333. I’m instituting a new 80/20 rule when it comes to windfalls. So, I’ll put 80% to my debt, and I get to spend 20%. I get $667 for fun! Yay!

That means $2,666 goes to the credit cards! Happy dance continues! That will certainly cover the last $600 in snowflakes that I need.  Depending on how quickly we get checks, I could even have the credit cards paid off by August 1, two months ahead of my new deadline.

Taking time to calculate how much of that money I can actually spend is really important. My brain hears $5,000 and starts thinking flat-screen TV, amazing fall wardrobe, or down payment on a car. Now, I’ve convinced my brain to think $650. It’s still a fun amount of money to blow, but the scale changes. Now it could be beautiful new outfit, not wardrobe, or a honeymoon contribution, not a TV, or fixing my car’s AC, not a new car. The other important thing is to wait until I actually see the money before spending it.  Hey, I can just keep chugging along like normal, no worse for the wear if this doesn’t pan out.  Still, in the back of my mind, it is nice to visualize that upcoming $0 balance on my credit cards.  The day when I can truly save windfalls rather than mail them off to my debt is fast approaching.  One final happy dance!

Monday Morning Links and a Carnival

Time for another week!  Wow, that weekend went fast.  We soaked up lots of summertime goodness in the woods, in the pool, even in the strawberry patch.  As you settle in for the week, here’s a great carnival and a few of my favorite posts from the last week.  Enjoy!

Carnival of Money Hacks
Broke Grad Student hosted this carnival last week. My decision to bring some sanity into the wedding preparation is included. I also got a laugh out of PaidTwice’s post: “10 Ways to Stay in Debt.” While you’re visiting the carnival, be sure to hit Broke Grad Student’s newest post, “5 Reasons Why Money is Like Sex.” There are a few surprising comparisons!

Being Frugal has a great post on credit card debt as part of her review of (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents. She has some excellent links along the way.

My Small Cents did a cool comparison between the budgets for her family in France and a family in the U.S. I was especially struck by the differences in taxes!

Mrs. Micah had a fun post about lingerie which actually got me re-thinking what to buy for the honeymoon. Thanks to her, I may go more practical-cute rather than va-va-voom/uncomfortable.

Get Rich Slowly announced an essay contest at Soul Shelter. The top entrant will win $1,000! Time to start brainstorming ideas!

Another great activity for a Monday: Moolamy’s Financial IQ Test. See how well you do, and be sure to follow the links.

I really liked this post on nineteenth-century meal plans. I’m doing some research on how to set up and maintain a frugal pantry. Now, I plan to get A Prairie Kitchen from the library.

Frugal Dad has an upbeat post today on ways to really enjoy living on a budget.

For all you gardeners out there, Frugal in the Fruitlands has an excellent set of tips for new-ish gardeners like myself. I finally learned what “bolting” means.

Finally, the M-Network has put together a cool series of posts on frugal vacations. Thanks to them, I’m all excited about looking into train travel for next summer’s vacation.

Enjoy the reading! I get to go deposit $182 from Saturday’s garage sale. The kids made $42, which put us over $200 for only two hours of business (we got rained out.) Not bad!