Thursday, November 13, 2014


Cleaning, surprisingly, costs us a lot of money.  We have to have one cleaner for wood, another for glass, an all-purpose, an abrasive, something for toilets, etc.  That doesn't even touch on sponges, cloths, brushes, or other instruments of delivery.  Nor does it address dishes or laundry.  So let's talk about savings in some of these areas.


Have you ever tried making your own dishwasher or laundry detergent?  I haven't done laundry yet, but I will need to sometime within the next few weeks.  I have made my own dishwasher detergent, though.  I made it over a year ago, and at only one tablespoon per load, I still have about 1/3 of the batch left!  The only caveat is that I've had to buy a lot more rinse aid than I ever have before, just to keep my glassware not only clean, but also looking clean (I always find coupons for Jet-Dri, though!).  Here are some detergent recipes to get you started:

Dishwasher Detergent (this is the one that I use, but I didn't bother with the Lemi-Shine or drink mix for fragrance) (and in case you're wondering about hard vs. soft water, I have very hard water, and this works just great!)
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Cubes (I think I might try these when my powdered stuff runs out)
Homemade Laundry Detergent

On pretty much each and every tutorial/recipe/blog post I've ever read about making your own detergent, it has said that you can just find washing soda (similar to, but different from, baking soda) in the laundry aisle.  I have never seen it in a store.  Ever.  I've heard rumors that you can sometimes find it at Walmart, and it is available on their website.  However, when I got mine, I actually bought it from a friend who had bought a package of three or four boxes of it on Amazon, which seemed to be the most reliable way to find it.  You can find it on Amazon here.


Dry cleaning.  Sometimes you just can't get around it.  But it's expensive, right?  Here is a tutorial on 3 Ways to Wash a Dry Clean Only Garment.

I can't remember the last time I used a dryer sheet at home.  Not for softening, not for static, and not for fragrance.  I use dryer balls exclusively.  Dryer balls serve many functions.  They get in between all your clothes, lifting and fluffing them nicely.  That helps them dry more effectively, and helps prevent both wrinkle and static.  All of that adds up to keeping cloth feeling softer as well.  Dryer balls do need to be replaced every so often, but the savings stretch out quite a bit.  There are a few different varieties as well:

the original "as seen on TV" dryer balls
aluminum foil dryer balls (great for absorbing static electricity) (and yes, they're safe -- my MIL uses them without any problems)
wool dryer balls (quieter than plastic, hypoallergenic, and they're more eco-friendly)
3 ways to make your own felted wool dryer balls (you don't need any sewing/crafting skill for these!) (the first method is the kind of dryer balls I have and love!)

If you still prefer actual fabric softener, you can still save money on it:

Homemade Liquid Fabric Softener Recipes Tested!
DIY Reusable Dryer Sheets


General cleaning. Instead of dish sponges, you can crochet or buy your own dish cloths. Here are some ideas for where to buy dish cloths:

Fjorn Scandinavian (super cute cloths!)
Amazon (an eco-friendly option)

Who doesn't love Mr. Clean Magic Erasers?  They're like a fountain of youth for cleaning walls of homes with young children -- a miracle potion!  But they're not cheap.  Compare a four-pack of the name brand original version at $3.47/box, with the generic "melamine foam" you can buy on eBay for $4.59 for a 30 count.

Swiffers are awesome.  They replace both broom and mop for regular (not deep-cleaning) use.  But replacing the cloth can add up over time.  You can make your own with fabric and some basic stitching.  Or you can even go way simpler than that with some of the suggestions found here: Homemade "Swiffer."

Homes in Northeast Ohio have beautiful hardwood floors, which offer a classic and timeless look, but also require maintenance.  In order to preserve the beauty and construction of true hardwood, you should use a hardwood-specific cleaner.  However, you can make your own that, again, has the dual benefit of being less expensive and all-natural: DIY Homemade Cleaners {Hardwood Floor Cleaner}.

There are a lot of cleaning products that you use regularly in your home that you can probably make, by purchasing ingredients instead of pre-made solutions.  When you do it this way, you know what's going into your cleaners, and you can save money by using the same ingredient for multiple cleaners.  Making it yourself also tends to produce a higher concentrate, which means you can make your solutions last longer than a store-bought product.  Plus, you get to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab when you mix!  Here are 32 Brilliant Homemade Cleaning Recipes for a Frugal Household.


The last thing I want to share in the "cleaning" section is a book I came across several years ago.  My mom had this book, and it was so helpful that I asked her to send me a copy of it on my mission.  Technically, I suppose that was probably contraband, but it was helpful, and in no way distracting from preaching the Gospel.  Rather, it helped me keep my apartments clean and ready for the Spirit.  It's called Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean, and it's written by Linda Cobb, who has been widely recognized as the go-to cleaning expert for such television shows as Oprah, Dr. Phil, The View, The Today Show, and Live with Regis & Kelly.

Grocery price comparison information

Here's the big one.  This is the catalyst by which I was asked to teach the workshop at Stake Women's Conference.  I sent the following to my ward Relief Society email list in May of this year, and received a lot of feedback.  Rather than re-type and re-explain it all, I'll just be copying the full text here.


I wanted to share something with you that falls into the "provident living" category. Bear with me, because this email is going to be long, but I hope that it will be beneficial to at least some of you.

For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a coupon binder. It's a system that she's used for a few years now and has been successful for her. She made one for her mom (my mother-in-law), and I started expressing interest in it. I've long needed an efficient coupon system but never found one. So she made one for me for Christmas.

The binder has dividers for various categories (baby supplies, frozen foods, meat, healthy/beauty, snack foods, cleaning supplies, etc.) as well as sections for store-specific and restaurant coupons at the back. Each section has plastic sheet protectors for sorting the coupons into. Some people use baseball card pages, others use business card pages. But the idea is to get each coupon in its own slot, where you can see the front and back of it. There's also an index at the front, so if you don't remember whether rice is under "dry goods" or "international/ethnic food," you can check. (If you're creating your own categories, however, you can put things wherever you want…I'm just still using the categories my SIL set up for me.)

At the front of the binder is a store price comparison sheet, which actually gets to the crux of my email today. I finally finished my own version of this document, and thought it might be helpful to each of you as well. It might look overwhelming, so I'd like to offer some explanation.

To start, I chose five stores to compare: Giant Eagle, Heinen's, Aldi, BJ's, and GFS. A little quick info on each of these, if you're new to the area or aren't familiar with them:

  • Giant Eagle: the big grocery store chain in the area. Anything and everything you need, basically. Reasonable prices but not great ones.
  • Heinen's: a locally owned grocery chain. More upscale, trendy. Lower selection, higher prices. The only time I really shop here is when I need something now, because it's closest to my home.
  • Aldi: a low-cost grocery chain based out of Germany. Its parent company also owns Trader Joe's. Aldi carries a lot of propriety and/or "off" brands. They have consistently low prices, but not a ton of selection. They accept cash or debit cards, but no credit cards or checks. You need to bring your own bags. In order to get a shopping cart, you need a quarter, which you get back when you return the cart to the corral. As far as I know, Aldi does not accept manufacturer coupons.
  • BJ's: similar to Costco and Sam's Club, just less ubiquitous. Located on Richmond Road near I-271 in Warrensville Heights. BJ's has a $50 annual membership fee, accepts manufacturer coupons, and is otherwise a fairly basic big box store.
  • GFS is located on Cedar Road in South Euclid, just west of Warrensville Center Road. GFS is a foodservice distributor and paper goods store. You can purchase many basic items in bulk, similar to at a big box store, but without the annual membership. The selection is limited, and many of the brands are proprietary and/or generic. They've got disposable bakeware and storage for super cheap prices, though. GFS does not accept manufacturer coupons, but you can sign up (via email) to receive in-store offers and coupons.

I've lived in the Cleveland area for almost seven years now, and regularly shop at Giant Eagle and BJ's. But when I received this binder as a gift, I decided to actually do the price comparison sheet. I'd been to Aldi once or twice before, but had been mostly unimpressed. I wanted to force myself to really look at the products I purchase the most, and where I could find savings. So I made a list of 41 of the things I find most frequently on my grocery list, and/or things I like to keep a stock of. Then I got nerdy. I made spreadsheets. I spent several hours visiting all of the stores, and making notes. I wrote down brand names, prices, quantities, notes about the product, etc. I started at the beginning of March, and it's taken me until this morning to finish this project (with a few long breaks).

I've attached a copy of the spreadsheet, which is quite extensive. There are several pages to it – a couple of master sheets, as well as individual pages for each store. I also went seriously formula-crazy and brought all the individual information into one big summary page, which is what I will print out and keep in my binder. The page titles are as follows: Group sheet master, Group sheet, Individual sheet master, Giant Eagle, Heinen's, Aldi, BJ's, GFS. The master sheets are mostly for copy-and-paste purposes.

On the group sheet, I have not hand-entered any of the numbers/data. Each cell (brand, price, units) is linked to the corresponding information in the individual sheets. That way, if Giant Eagle changes their price on flour, for example, or Aldi changes the brand of chips they're offering, I can update my sheet in one location and all relevant changes are made, instead of having to find it in multiple places. Unit prices are determined by calculations, and are also not manually entered. I've also done my best to ensure that the unit measurements are the same within each item. For example, instead of using 2 lbs of cheese from one store and 8 oz from another, I changed it to 2 lbs and .5 lbs. That does not mean that all unit measurements are the same across all items. Some are pounds, some are ounces, some are fluid ounces, some are individual counts, etc. That's where the notes on the individual pages come in.

Generally speaking, I chose the lowest priced brand. Exceptions to this were when I knew the brand wasn't very good (Giant Eagle's Valutime, for instance), or had little selection in flavors or varieties. There are very few items about which I'm brand-picky, and most of those aren't on this list anyway. I also recorded regular prices. None of the prices are sale ones, even if one of the products was on sale when I visited. I made sure only to compare base prices.

You'll see that I found more lower prices at BJ's than I did at GFS, and I imagine the results would be similar at Costco or Sam's Club. Remember though, that you pay an overhead for the big box stores, which is what helps keep those prices low. GFS requires no membership or commitment.

If a section is grayed out, it means that either the store does not stock that particular item, or that they didn't have it on the day I visited. The lowest priced store is highlighted in yellow for each item. I've tried to group similar items together (dry/baking goods, dairy, snack foods, condiments, etc.) in a way that makes sense to me.

Feel free to tailor this to your own family's needs. I'm sending it to you as a fully-editable Excel spreadsheet. You'll just need to download it in order to make changes.

Some suggestions for personalized changes:

  • Do your own price evaluations for Costco instead of BJ's.
  • Check prices for ground beef instead of ground turkey.
  • Check prices for condiments and sauces that your family uses a lot.
  • Switch prices to reflect your preferred brand on a particular item(s).

As I said, the products I evaluated are only ones that I was particularly interested in, and I know they won't be the same for everyone.

This is a tool that I hope to update for myself every year (possibly twice a year, now that I have the framework in place and it would be easy to just update where necessary). I hope that it will be beneficial to many of you as you navigate the family budget.


You can find the spreadsheet/workbook here, and you can download it to personalize for your needs:
Grocery Price Comparison Sheet.

In the kitchen

Groceries are probably the biggest money-sucker for most of us, and the area we want to cut our budget most, so that we can spend money elsewhere.  This post includes just a smattering of suggestions to help in that department.

Put it on ice!
Freezable Foods

How many times have you purchased a bundle of cilantro, parsley, or basil at the grocery store, used the 1/4 cup called for in a recipe, and ended up throwing out the rest?  Stop doing that!  You can freeze and/or dry fresh herbs so easily, saving money on dried seasonings later on, and not wasting what you've already purchased!

Drying Herbs: Easier Than You Think
Freezing Herbs (just the leaves by themselves...yes, you can!)
Freeze & Preserve Fresh Herbs in Olive Oil
Pesto Freezing Method


Just like furniture and electronics are available at the lowest prices during difference times of the year, so are groceries.  If you have the space in your home to stock up, buying certain items in bulk when they're at their lowest, and storing them, can save you a lot of money.

Grocery Store Cycles -- When Do Things Go On Sale?

Knowing how much you're spending (or how much you could be saving somewhere else) can also make a big difference in your bottom line as well.  I address this more in-depth in another blog post, which you can find here: Grocery price comparison information.


Many people use a lot of pre-made dry mixes in their home, for baking.  Have you ever thought about making your own versions?  There are so many you can do!  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Mixes, mixes, mixes! (includes brownie, all-purpose, tortilla, pancake/waffle, cornbread, and muffin mixes)
Universal muffin mix
Copycat Recipe -- Homemade Bisquick
Marie Callendar's cornbread copycat
Garlic bread topping
14 Homemade Herb & Spice Blends
Homemade "Cream of" Soup Mix


Other things you can DIY in order to save money in the kitchen:

  • Homemade Microwave Popcorn
  • Bake your own bread.  This can seem really daunting, but it doesn't have to be.  Here is a great tutorial to get you started with baking bread, and understanding different aspects of it. I have a Pinterest board dedicated just to bread.  There are a lot of recipes on there for quick breads, various types of sweet or savory rolls, and more, but there are also several varieties of sandwich-style bread.  This is the recipe that I really like to use.
  • Did you know that you can actually freeze bread dough?  It might sound odd, and it is a little tricky at first, but I've done it successfully several times.  This blog post will walk you through the steps of how to do it.  Basically, after the dough finishes its first rise, you shape it and put it into the loaf pan, wrap it up, and freeze it directly in the pan.  When you want to use it, you need to pull it out of the freezer several hours in advance, because it will need to thaw completely and finish its second rise before you can bake it.  If you want bread with your dinner, you'll need to pull it out of the freezer at breakfast time.  If you want to bake it in the morning, get it out after dinner the night before.  This way, you can make bread/dough once a week (or every two weeks, or whatever) and have hot, freshly baked bread whenever you want!
  • Make your own pizza crust.  This is a pretty straight-forward recipe, which I use and love.  (My only tip on it is to actually weigh the flour, rather than trying to convert to volume.)  This dough also freezes pretty well, but like the bread, needs adequate advance time to thaw completely.
  • DIY smoothie freezer packets can be found here, here, and here.  They're all basically the same, just with different ideas for ingredients.  Really, you can just freeze all the fruits/veggies you want to add, and even the yogurt.  Just be sure to add your liquid directly to the blender when you make the smoothie.

Around the home

Decorating your home can get expensive quickly.  Sometimes the only way around that is to not decorate.  But there are ways to feather your nest without draining your nest egg.

Here are some sites with home decor money-saving tips.  The biggest tool you have, though, is to upcycle and reuse what you already have at home -- move things around from one room to another if you need to freshen a little!

11 Ideas for Designing on a Budget
20 Low-Cost Decorating Ideas
The Budget Decorator
Ways to Save Money on Home Decor

The last decorating idea I'll give you is a link to my Pinterest board about art in the home.  Most of the things that I've pinned there are projects that are meant to be made, rather than purchased, and can/should be personalized to your own colors, etc.  I recognize that many of these ideas may not be very widely applicable to everyone's tastes or decorating styles.  It's meant only as a starting point, and a demonstration of the power and versatility of doing it yourself.


Decorating and/or furnishing your home is one area in which you also have to spend money (usually) before you can save money.  For example, I know several families who don't use paper napkins.  At all.  They have several sets of cloth napkins that they rotate through and wash between uses.  It's an investment at the beginning, but over the long-term, saves money.  You can either buy napkins already made, or find fabric on sale and sew your own.  Here are a couple of tutorials/patterns for sewing napkins.  They're super easy, even for a beginner.

Sewing 101: Mitered Napkins
Sewing Cloth Napkins
How to Sew Simple Cloth Dinner Napkins (includes suggestions for upcycling cloth/fabric that you already have!)


Did you know that certain things are less expensive at specific times throughout the year?  If you know when to buy, you can save money.

Best Time of Year to Buy Essentials
The Best Time to Buy Things, Month by Month

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Canning resources

Canning, if you've never done it before, might seem very daunting.  If you have done it, you know that it is definitely a lot of work and time, but it's also quite gratifying.  Here are some sites that can help you get started with understand the science and processes, as well as some recipes also.

Fresh Preserving (Ball's website)
The Ohio State University Extension's Fact Sheet on canning basics
A Beginner's Guide to Canning | Serious Eats's Canning Store
my Pinterest board on canning