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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pinching Pennies?

I was raised to stretch a buck until it almost, but not quite, breaks. I guess it's because my dad owned his own business. Although I never felt the stress, my parents were good at keeping it from me, I'm sure it was difficult having an uncertain income. Mom and dad taught solely by their example, which if you know anything about kids is the only way they ever learn anything!

As a child, some of my happiest moments were spent learning these skills. I remember hanging out in the kitchen with mom learning how to put food by--that's freezing, canning, and drying for those of you that haven't heard that before. We froze rhubarb and asparagus in the Spring, apples and tomatoes in the Fall. Mom canned jam made from the chokecherries she picked down at the far end of the orchard. She taught me to buy ahead when things were on sale and that homemade was always better (and cheaper) than convenience foods. Dad taught me to pay cash for what we needed and to be prepared for emergencies by saving. He taught me about the importance of maintaining your car and how expensive it could be not to. Dad taught me about stocks and the economy and how to make do, reuse, and self sacrifice for the sake of the family. Mom and Dad taught us to keep the heat low and put on a sweater, take your shoes off at the door to keep the floors nice, and to fix things instead of replacing them. They taught me that it was okay to live with appliances that may not be the "in" color, but that work just fine. We garage saled, thrift shopped, and consignment shopped before it was cool. And we enjoyed the eternally in-style family antiques as functional furniture. They taught me to save for experiences, like trips, and not for stuff. They taught me that simple pleasures are priceless.

I am so thankful that I learned this. This frugality has given me the gift of being able to be at home again creating a home for my family. It has allowed us to pay cash for all of our purchases. It has allowed us to travel. It has allowed us to have nice things for our home and garden. But most of all, it has afforded us a great deal of something that is of the utmost value: peace of mind.

I've been making my own household cleaners for many years now and it's a huge money saver. I take for granted that most people know how simple it is. So, having a discussion today with a friend, I mentioned that while we were on the phone, I was mixing up a few homemade cleaning supplies. The phone got quiet, I thought we had been disconnected. Nope, she was in shock and I think she called me a hippy chick or something. After I got done explaining how to do it, she replied, "that's it?" "Yep, that's it."

So, I wonder, just what do people think they're paying for when they purchase a bottle of 409? Check out those bottles and you'll find water as the main ingredient, usually followed by a bunch of chemicals that you just can't pronounce and perfume. Not only are you paying a lot for water, but you're putting stuff into your home, your life, your lungs, your kid's bodys that, let's face it, we just don't know what it's going to do to a human in a few years, not to mention, our environment.

I'm a huge fan of Mrs. Meyers' products. They're made locally, they smell great, and they're environmentally friendly, but they are one of the most expensive products in the cleaning aisle. I haven't been able to duplicate their stainless steel cleaner, so I still use that, but the rest of it-- I've replaced with my own homemade stuff. Since scent was my primary reason for enjoying their products so much, I've scented some of my own cleaners with natural oils and I love them just as much.

I challenge you to start small. Challenge yourself to do these two things and then add more when you're ready:

  • The next time your all purpose cleaner is out, wash out the spray bottle very well and then make my favorite disinfectant, all purpose cleaner. It's just a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar. It shines up my counters just beautifully. Disinfects my sink naturally and without harsh abrasives. And it's vinegar scent disappears once it's dry (and leaves behind the great scent of clean--which is odorless!)

  • Okay, and now, my favorite and one that the dishwasher repairman shared with me (thanks Larry!). When your rinse aid runs out in your dishwasher, just replace with white vinegar.

Both of these homemade cleaning supplies cost fractions of their purchased counterparts. They're environmentally and, more importantly, HUMAN friendly.

What have you got to lose? I paid less than a buck for a gallon of vinegar the last time I purchased it. Try just these things and remember that clean doesn't have a smell. These are the cleaning products our ancestors used. They've been proven and I think if you can get over the fact that your house will no longer smell like a pine forest or a lemon grove, you'll be just fine. And if you absolutely have to have a scent, then look into adding essential oils, dried herbs, or lemon juice.

I'll post more cleaner recipes as I have time, but you can feel free to search them out on your own in the meantime. Baking soda alone has a multitude of purposes--I use it to deodorize my carpets, clean my stove top, and unclog drains, just to name a few. We're all feeling the crunch of high gas prices, even higher food prices, and the recession. It's time to save pennies and these cleaners do that and then some.

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Taking a little time to play with words, to play with food, and just to play!