About Elizabeth Vega

Hippie, Wife, Auntie, Voter... Debt-free except the house, committed to staying that way. Working to live more lightly on the planet and more deeply among its people, and to sharing what I learn along the way.

Frugal Tuesday: Lend a Hand!

Here at the Little Hippie House, we believe that frugality isn’t just about saving ourselves money… We’re part of a growing community of like-minded folks who want to live lightly on the planet, eschew indebtedness, and have fun doing it! So when a friend of ours bought a 40-year-old travel trailer to restore and convert into a mobile eco-boutique, we were happy to go pitch in with the work. We love helping our friends save time and money while keeping things out of the landfill, and pitching in on other people’s projects lets us practice skills and try out tools we can use for our own endeavors (like our upcoming school bus renovation) later. We never help out as a transactional thing– we do it for fun and for free (and maybe an occasional cold beer)– but being the kind of people who show up and help makes it more likely that our friends will want to come lend a hand when we need it, which is also nice.

Plus, being helpful just feels good! There are all sorts of studies showing that doing good for others benefits our mental health and self-esteem more than doing things just for ourselves, so it’s really a win-win situation. And if you’re really looking for the saving money angle, we got to spend a whole day yesterday hanging out with friends and we didn’t spend a dime!

Have you helped a friend with a project lately? Did you enjoy the time you spent?

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Get Bumped!

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Life happens, and people sometimes miss their flights. The airlines know this, and so to ensure they keep their airplanes full, they sometimes oversell their flights. But if everyone happens to have a good day and arrive at the airport on time, the airline faces the problem of having more people holding paid-for tickets than they have seats to put them in.  Being willing to take a later flight saves the airline the trouble of having to deny passage to travelers who might not be as happy to wait as I usually am.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I visited family in Portland three times a year.  And every single time, my first order of business at the airport was to check with the gate agent to see whether the flight was overbooked and if it was, to volunteer to give up my seat in exchange for compensation. My preferred airline, Southwest, has a compensation policy of  giving you credit for your ticket price + $100 if you are delayed by less than 2 hours, or and additional $300 if you are delayed by 2 hours or more. The credit is good for travel within one year.

Within the last year, we’ve had some unexpected flights: Mr. Vega flew to another state for the funeral of a good friend’s loved one, and when we bought our bus, we traveled by plane to pick it up in Indianapolis. So even though we don’t have travel plans for the immediate future, I still volunteered to give up my seat when I had to travel for business last week, and my offer was accepted. I was put on a direct flight five hours later (we live 15 minutes from the airport, so I was able to go back home), and still reached my destination on time. Now we have a few hundred dollars in airline credit in case any emergencies come up, and if they don’t, we might finally take that weekend getaway to NOLA we’ve been talking about ever since we moved to Texas!

EDIT 6/21/16: AND I just got four drink tickets in the mail from Southwest, with a nice letter thanking me for being so accommodating! That never happened before! Our weekend getaway is looking better and better…

Have you ever volunteered to give up your seat on a flight? How was the experience for you? Would you do it again?

Frugal Tuesday: Fixit Clinics

Last Saturday, a good friend and I walked into Austin’s Recycled Reads bookstore, each with the unlikely goal of getting our pants hemmed. Rather, it would have been an unlikely goal, if the bookstore hadn’t been hosting a FixIt Clinic, where volunteers help members of the community learn to repair their own items. Past clinics have included bicycle and tool repair, and this past weekend’s focus was mending clothing.

My friend and I browsed the used bookstore while we each waited our turn,  enjoyed the in-store performance of four live harpists, and finally got to sit with our volunteers. Mine was a lovely, motherly type who took my garment out of my hands and chatted away for about fifteen minutes while she tackled the repair all by herself, and my friend made herself comfortable on the floor and hemmed her own pants with her volunteer’s guidance and supervision. We had a wonderful time, both with each other and participating in our vibrant, active community, and we each saved the $10 it would have cost to have the repair done at a tailor shop or drycleaner.

Clinics a, organizations and events that assist community members in doing their own repairs are not only frugal, but also eco-friendly: every item that can be repaired or refurbished is one less thing headed to the landfill. And it’s a terrific way to interact with your community and meet more like-minded people.  A quick online search led me to a Fixit Clinic Facebook page, which connects to clinics in many US cities, and similar programs such as the Fix-It Fair in Portland, Oregon, Bicycle Kitchen in Los Angeles,  and U-Fix-It Clinic in Boulder, CO.

If there isn’t a clinic in your community, you can always start one. Many such events are held at public libraries, and you don’t have to know how to fix things to be able to search out volunteers who do, and organize an event.

What do you have that needs fixing? What do you know how to fix that you could help others with?

 

That Time We Bought a Bus

We’re not sure when the idea formed… Some friends of ours bought a 15-passenger for less than $3, 000 van at the Texas State Surplus store, and we were pretty taken with the idea of getting a well-running vehicle for such a good price. Another friend bought a used Airstream, fixed it up, and made it her primary residence on a piece of rental property just outside a state park. We’ve watched a lot of Tiny House Nation. However it happened, we got the idea of buying a school bus and converting it into an RV/ guest house.

And then we got on eBay.

And a couple of weeks later, we had flown to Indianapolis, where Ron Garrett at MacAllister Transportation facilitated our descent into total bus madness. Seriously, if you are considering buying a bus, this is the guy to see: when Something Unexpected happened, Ron went so far beyond the call of duty to make things right that I’m not going to write about it, because it was done entirely on his own time and on his own dime, and he didn’t have to do any of it. But I can safely say that he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure you drive away happy in your new-to-you bus, like we did.

1300 miles (and two chiropractic appointments later!), our new bus was home, which I’m sure thrilled the neighbors…. Although maybe it’s not an issue, because the people on one side have a little food truck in their driveway, and there’s a reclaimed ambulance on the other side. One friend who visited says our street looked like an Emoji Village! We’re planning on building a driveway/RV pad to park it in the back yard, but record-breaking rains in central Texas over the past several weeks have soaked the ground and postponed our ability to begin that project. In the meantime, the bus is parked in an inexpensive local storage lot, because no matter how cool we think it is, the big yellow bus was a bit of an eyesore in our front driveway! Still, we got such a good deal that we could store it for two years and still come out ahead of what it would have cost to buy it locally!

It’s  been registered, titled, and insured in Texas, and that stuff will all be much less expensive after we’ve converted it into a bona fide RV. Even with no seats, it’s still considered a commercial passenger vehicle until we’ve made some changes. Stay tuned over the next several months, as we gut the inside, paint the outside, and begin the work of transforming our bus into a safe and stylish recreational vehicle!

What’s the biggest DIY project you’ve tackled? 

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Shred It!

Paperwork is part of #adulting. Around this time of year, many of us find ourselves reviewing files, statements and receipts in preparation for tax time. Our organizing efforts are often accompanied by the discovery of papers we no longer need. If those papers contain private information such as social security numbers, account balances, medical information or other identifying data, there’s always the possibility of it falling into the wrong hands and being used to steal your identity.

If you’ve got a shredder of your own, the solution is easy enough: sit down and get shredding! Bonus points if you have a child old enough to operate the device safely… Kids love shredding!

But if you don’t have the space or money to get a device of your own, or if you find you have way more papers to dispose of than you have time to do yourself, try doing an Internet search for “Community Shred” in your city for the current year. Many communities and shredding companies offer events allowing you to drive through and drop off your boxes of paperwork which will  be shredded and recycled, boxes and all, for free or for very little money. If you’re in Austin, the next community shred event will be May 14, 2016 at the Austin Community College Highland Campus.

And who knows? Maybe when you’re finished with your shredding project, you can finally park your car in the garage, let go of your rented storage space, or rent out that extra bedroom!

Frugal Tuesday: Learn a New Skill!

The Little Hippie House had a couple of mature loquat trees on it when we moved in, and we have since planted nine other fruit trees on the property. The rest of our trees won’t bear fruit for another couple of years, but the loquats have given me an opportunity to learn how to can my own food. A lifetime of apartment-dwelling had left me without this particular skill, and figuring there’s no time like the present, I jumped right in.

As it happens, loquat jam turns out to be one of the easiest things I could have chosen to start with: loquats are in the same family with apples and pears, and are naturally high in pectin. To make the jam, I literally only needed to add water and sugar and leave it all on the stove for a few hours before running the stick blender through it and pouring into sterilized jars to self-seal as it cooled down! As a bonus, the fruit turns a gorgeous crimson color when cooked, and it tastes like plums. Super-yum.

Not everyone needs to know how to can their own food, but like me, you might be curious about how to preserve food and to control what goes into the things you eat. Or you might have always wanted to learn to do your own oil changes, mend your own clothes, or cook a favorite meal that you usually eat out. Find something this week that you’ve been wanting to learn to do, for yourself and decide to learn it. Like my canning experiment, you might end up having a lot of fun and saving some money in the process!

What money-saving thing have you learned to do recently, or what do you want to learn? 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Check Unit Pricing!

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Bigger packages are often labeled as “Economy Size,” and while that’s usually true, it isn’t always the case. Around here, we’ve gotten very comfortable standing in the aisle at the grocery store, calculating prices per unit on our mobile phone calculators, to see that our hard-earned money is going as far as it possibly can. Sometimes, as in the photo above, the store is kind enough to do the math for us, but if they hadn’t, I would have been happy to take an extra moment to do it myself. By choosing the larger bottle of raw agave, I would have saved 41 cents over the same amount of product in two smaller bottles. And I could have kept another nickel in my pocket by choosing the lighter syrup. That might not seem like much, but we go through one large bottle a month at our house (What can I say? We like our coffee sweet!), so over the course of a year, that single choice would save us around five bucks. Multiply that sort of tiny savings by the number of items in your grocery cart each week (10? 25? 50?), and you might start to understand why small economies can matter so much. Simply paying attention to the unit price could save you hundreds of dollars a year!

I’ve recently started a grocery price book — actually a Google Drive spreadsheet– which helped me to recognize that the prices above, while better than our regular grocery store, are still much higher than what Costco charges for the same product under a different brand (Truthfully, I wasn’t even grocery shopping when I took the picture… I was picking up something else at a store we don’t frequent, so I snapped a couple pics of items we commonly purchase to compare prices later).

Finally, be careful to not be lulled into a false sense of security because you’re shopping at a “discount”or “dollar” store: Many years ago, my roommate at the time came home with a box of plain white envelopes from the dollar store, and I had coincidentally picked up the same exact box at the office supply for fifty cents. She was a much more careful shopper than I was back then, so we were both surprised at my accidental savings!

Does price per unit factor into your shopping practices? What surprises have you found?

 

Frugal Tuesday: Use Dried Beans!

Beans are cheap. Dried beans are cheaper. Like 70% cheaper than canned. And with none of the pesky BPA that lines many cans. Cooked beans can  also be frozen, to make them nearly as convenient as canned beans. If you’ve been putting off using dried beans because you always forget to soak them overnight, you’ll be glad to learn that that requirement has been debunked: you can start with dried beans right from the pantry and have a delicious finished product in 1-3 hours on the stove, depending on the variety. Which happens to be just about the amount of time needed to do a load or three of laundry, so it’s win-win. Or you can use your slow-cooker and come home from a long day’s work to a delicious dinner that’s crazy inexpensive

The Internet abounds with recipes for cooking dried beans, but this past weekend, I used this Tejano Pinto Bean recipe from The Food Charlatan. Actually, I adapted the recipe to use some of the stock I made from our Thanksgiving smoked turkey carcass, which made the beans smoky and awesome, and amazing on nachos!

Do you have a favorite dried bean recipe? Please share in the comments!

 

Can Two Live as Cheaply as One? An Update

IMG_0720About five months ago, Mr. Vega left his career in sales to become a full-time student. In addition to giving him an escape from burnout and a way to experience  himself and the world in completely different ways, it’s also given us a chance to see if we could really walk our financial talk. We’ve taken great pains over the years to design our life together so that we could manage on one income, but we never had to before.

A full-time position opened up unexpectedly at one of my part-time jobs, so I tossed my hat in the ring for it. I was a little surprised when I was offered the job, which meant taking a 17% cut in my hourly rate, but as with my previous full-time employment, we felt that the stability and benefits outweighed the slightly smaller paychecks.

Several months and a few sleepless nights later, it seems to be going well (except for the normal challenges I seem to experience with full-time work). We’ve reduced our spending and savings rate, averaging about $1300 a month less than we did in the six months prior to my husband leaving his job. We go out less than we used to, and we haven’t been clothes shopping in months, but that’s all right. Like most Americans, we have much more than we need.

Before starting school, Mr. Vega built a raised-bed garden, and screened in our back porch. There are also rain gutters in the garage, waiting to be installed, but whenever he’s been free to start the project, it’s rained! It turns out that being a full-time student is a full-time job, so he hasn’t had the time he hoped he might for projects around the house, but Spring Break just started, so those gutters might finally go up this week… if he’s not too busy partying with his new college friends!

We had a weeklong visit from my husband’s parents over the holidays, and we let them know ahead of time that we wouldn’t be exchanging gifts…. honestly, I think they were relieved! Our holidays were filled with food, laughter, and inexpensive sightseeing around town, so we didn’t miss spending lots of money.

Although we’ve had to reduce our savings rate, we are still managing to contribute 10% of our take-home pay to our emergency fund, which is more important than ever now that we no longer have the luxury of two incomes. Currently, we have enough to go about five months with no income at all, but I’d like to grow that to a year’s worth. We have never had to use our emergency fund, and if that trend holds, when my husband finishes school and returns to work, we would be able to reduce the emergency fund again and have our bathroom professionally remodeled… and maybe take a long weekend away!

So far, it’s all pretty okay. I guess all the work we had done to live beneath our means is paying off… literally!

Have you ever had to– or chosen to– live on a much smaller income than you were accustomed to? How did you handle it?

 

Yard Day

Mr. Vega and I are the type of people who are happy to show up and help our friends with their projects, but for some reason, I’ve always been reticent to ask for help. All that changed this weekend, when I sent a few text messages to some of our friends “Y’all feel like coming over to get a little dirty? Weeding & planting, would love some company! Snacks & cold beverages aplenty!”

A few friends took us up on it, and were happy to spend a weekend day helping us accomplish nearly everything on our list. I’ve heard it said that the way to make a friend is by letting someone do you a favor, and if that’s true, then we’ve got some friends for life, now! Having six people working meant that we could accomplish in one day what would have taken the pair of us three days or more. It was wonderful to see the place improve so dramatically in such a short time!

Community-building is one of the guiding principles at the Little Hippie House. It’s important to us that our home be a welcoming place for friends and family, and we know from experience that helping to create and maintain a space provides a sense of ownership to the people who do it. We want our loved ones to genuinely feel like our home is their home, as well… City life is very isolating, and we’re doing our best to change that for ourselves and for our friends.

We’re looking forward to many more weekends spent working alongside our friends, both on our projects and on theirs. It’s the same amount of work, and it needs to get done no matter how many people do it, but there’s just something wonderful–and much more fun!– about coming together to get things done.

What community projects have you participated in lately? How did you like it?