On Self-Reliance

Daisy Luther over at The Organic Prepper recently posted a piece called Self Reliance Strategies for Small Spaces, Temporary Locations, and Rentals, which got me thinking about how the Little Hippie House is doing on that front, and how we might improve. I know the word “prepper”sometimes conjures some extreme ideas, but there are more similarities among hippies, preppers, homesteaders, and even gentrifying hipsters than one might think. Our politics vary widely, but most of us share a vision of being as self-sufficient as our circumstances allow. We’re tired of relying on a broken, profit-based supply system to meet our basic needs, and would rather do it ourselves wherever we can.

Working toward self-reliance serves a variety of purposes, from tiding a household over till payday, to making sure the food you eat is free of toxins, to surviving the zombie apocalypse that even the CDC has (jokingly) acknowledged could happen. And self-sufficiency is scalable: In our 486 sq. ft. apartment, we had a balcony garden for herbs, tomatoes and peppers, about two weeks of water stored, and plenty of beans and grains stored in pretty containers. We knew how to turn off the gas to our apartment building in the event of an earthquake, and we had some ideas about how to evacuate from our city in the event of a large-scale natural disaster or civil unrest (not unheard-of in Los Angeles).

We’re still settling in and working on our self-reliance at our new home in Austin. We’ve planted a backyard orchard with nine varieties of fruit, and our little winter garden was fairly successful. Spring will find us expanding the garden to include warm-weather crops, and doing some edible landscaping out front, and adding rain gutters and barrels for water harvesting. Like California, Texas experiences frequent and severe droughts, so it’s important to us to have a cost-effective way to keep our little urban farm alive when the next one hits. Having been through several job changes over the past few years, we have learned that keeping a well-stocked pantry is nearly as important as our emergency fund, and it also comes in handy when we’re just too tired (or sick) to make it to the grocery store!

You don’t have to be a “crazy prepper” OR a “crazy hippie” to appreciate the security and satisfaction that self-reliance brings. One of the beautiful things about about it is that it’s not limited to preparing for one particular outcome: Maintaining a vegetable garden is just as wonderful when we are living in financial abundance as when times are tight. Being able to water it with collected rainwater benefits the planet and our wallets. Living close enough to bike or walk to work means that we can take advantage of our mild southern climate and stay employed regardless of gas prices or whether our cars are running. And the list goes on.

Which aspects of self-reliance appeal the most to you? What have you been working on lately to increase yours?

 

 

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Start Your Seeds!

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It’s that time again, in most of the northern hemisphere… If you haven’t already, grab a shallow container, some lightweight growing material, and some seeds and let’s get growing! Of course, you can always pick up some seedlings at the nursery in a few weeks and start your gardens that way, but several packets of seeds usually cost less than a couple of baby plants. By starting with seed, you can get a lot more for your gardening dollar… and did you know that you can buy seeds and plants with food stamp benefits? That’s right: Food stamps grow gardens!

We are not the most masterful gardeners here at the Little Hippie House, but we do know that the more you do it, the better you get. And so we’ve started seeds for two kinds of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and eggplant. Everything else, we can sow directly into the garden after the season’s last freeze.

What’s in your gardens this season? Are you growing anything from seed? 

 

It’s Time: The Grocery Price Book

I first read about grocery price books over at The Simple Dollar, years ago. Not being into spreadsheets… or math… or shopping, it didn’t seem to me to be a terribly sexy project. The other ways in which I managed to trim my expenses were successful enough that I usually had enough room in my food budget to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without much thought. When Mr. Vega and I began to focus more on whole, real, organic foods, our grocery bills went up, and I just felt happy that we could afford to eat the way we wanted to. After all, we were debt-free, saving for a house, and even had money left over for travel and fun.

Since my husband traded his full-time sales job for life as a full-time student, however, we’ve had to tighten our belts a bit. In January, we managed to wrestle our food expenses down to just over half of what we’re accustomed to spending… mostly by eating out much less than we had been. Also, one of my favorite bloggers, Brandy over at The Prudent Homemaker, is diligent with her food expenses: She keeps a detailed price list of food she buys to feed her family of nine, and her monthly shopping lists are terrific guides to seasonal low grocery prices. Simply following along and stocking up on some things when she does has been tremendously helpful!

But each home is different, and no one solution works for everyone. Our household in Austin, Texas, comprised of two adults with full-time outside commitments, two cats, and a nascent garden, is quite different from hers in Las Vegas with seven children, a work-at-home spouse in addition to a full-time work-outside one, and an abundant home garden that is the result of several years’ worth of effort. And both her home and mine will be different from yours, with your brand-new baby, or giant dogs, or busy travel schedule.

And so the time has come for me to buckle down and invest a bit of time and energy into learning exactly what our most-purchased items usually cost, what a good deal really looks like (because fifty cents off sounds great, but what if it’s normally sixty cents cheaper at the store down the street?), and seeing how much more space we can get in this recently-contracted budget of ours.

I’ve sorted through our shopping lists, and created a spreadsheet on Google Drive listing sixty items we purchase regularly (conventional wisdom suggests starting with a list of 15-20 things, but once I started, I kept thinking of more!), and I’m actually looking forward to learning where the best prices are and seeing how much money we can save. Grocery store sales generally run in 8-12 week cycles, so I reckon it will be Spring by the time I have a good handle on this, but check back and I’ll share how it’s going!

How do you keep track of grocery prices in your area? What patterns have you noticed?

 

Frugal Tuesday: Watch a Video!

Mr. Vega loves to fix things. He’s a visual person, so frequently he can figure things out just by looking, but when he can’t, he turns to You Tube. Thousands of helpful people have made videos of themselves doing maintenance and repairs, so you can just watch and follow along. You can get instruction on oil changes, cooking, mechanical repairs… even farm chores for beginners!

We’ve saved a lot of money by being willing to try new things. Made-from-scratch food, gardening, remodeling projects and auto repairs. And having access to visual instruction makes it all so much easier… I learned how to open a coconut with almost no effort by watching a video someone had posted of an old island man doing it!

Just this week, one of our pawn shop tool scores stopped working suddenly. When the manufacturer’s repair shop gave us a repair quote of $50-$200 (“We won’t know for sure until we open it up,” Mr. Vega took to the internet and found that the likely culprit was a $20 part. And some kind DIY-er had made a video of himself replacing that exact same part. Feeling confident that he can do it, he ordered the part and saved us $30-$180!

What new-to-you projects have you tried lately, and did you get help from a video?

Frugal Tuesday: Juice It!

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The other day, we found ourselves with the quality problem of having more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could reasonably consume before they went bad.  Noticing that some of them had already passed the point of being super-delicious for eating, Mr. Vega brought out the juicer and made some delicious green juice for us to drink. Super-yum. Bonus points for finding other uses for the pulp (zucchini muffins anyone?), or at least composting it (we did).

What do you do with produce that’s about to go bad?

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This is a post for the true DIY folks… nothing Pinterest-worthy here today! But life in a fixer-upper demands an embrace of the process, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

This was an unexpected project, so I don’t have a photo of the hideous bathroom cabinet sink that came with our little hippie house, but it was an ancient wood laminate beast with a yellowed fake marble sink (and a burn mark where someone had once laid a cigarette on the edge of its basin).When it developed a drip, Mr. Vega decided that he would rather replace the whole thing than repair the faucet. We had gotten a white pedestal sink that had a crack in it from a neighbor who remodeled, and the $40 porcelain repair kit that we ordered was a total failure. With our House Fund running on fumes, we were starting to get discouraged.

Mr. Vega, being the never-say-die type that he is, stopped in to our local Habitat Re-Store to have a look, where he found a very passable basin for $20. He brought it home, and using the pedestal and faucet handles from the giveaway sink, and the stopper-pull from our previous ugly one, created the one you see above. He kept the actual faucet from the Re-Store basin, as it was the tallest of the three: Hand washing is much more convenient when you can actually fit your hands under the faucet! In the outline left on the wall by paint around the cabinet, you can see we’ve gained a good three inches of the room back, and the pedestal makes the small room feel much less confined than the cabinet did.

Unfortunately, the previous owners had not removed the cabinet sink to install the too-porous-for-a-bathrooom Saltillo tile they had chosen, but rather had gone to the trouble of cutting the tile to lay around the cabinet. Fortunately, they also had not bothered to remove the linoleum that graced the bathroom before the tile, making it much easier to remove than if the job had been done correctly!

So what you see on the floor in the space left by the removal of the cabinet is $9 worth of tile meant to look like rustic hardwood. It’s really kind of cool up close, but it was chosen strictly for its price, as this is a temporary stopover on our way to a full bathroom remodel (some day it will be glorious, with a walk-in steam shower and a skylight). One of the tiles needed to be cut down to fit right, and a kind employee at the Big Box store tool rental department looked the other way for twenty seconds while my resourceful husband made the single cut he needed. He also managed to find, in a scrap pile, just the right amount of baseboard to fill in the gap that was left when the cabinet came out.

Our next project will be to sand down some of the half-century’s worth of paint layers (nearly 1/8″!) made evident by the cabinet’s removal and to paint the whole room with white semi-gloss. I also have a feeling I’m not going to be able to prevent him from replacing the current flooring with ceramic tile, which would be fine by me!

Because of our futile attempt to repair the secondhand sink we had been given, the total cost of our new-to-us sink, including a few bits of hardware, caulk, and the three tile plates, came out to about $80, about half the cost of a brand-new pedestal sink. Mr. Vega got to pick up some new repair skills that will come in handy during the rest of our remodel, and we feel good about salvaging some things that were destined for the landfill (all the usable remaining sink parts will be donated back to the Habitat Re-Store). We’re really happy with the look of the new sink, as it’s much more retro-fabulous than what was in there before, and we think it fits nicely with the updated Atomic Ranch style we’re ultimately going for.

What projects have you undertaken lately in your home? Are you glad you did it, or do you wish you had called in a professional?

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Freeze it!

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Years ago, Nigella Lawson blew my mind when she suggested freezing the rest of any wine still left in the bottle, to use for cooking later. Poured into a freezer bag and tossed in the freezer, it makes a sort of slush that is easily measured for use in recipes. I tried it, and I haven’t looked back! You can freeze all sorts of things: bread, milk, grated cheese, casseroles, Chinese take-out… even fresh herbs in olive oil or broth, poured into ice cube trays. Do you like iced coffee? Coffee ice cubes are a game-changer!

Frugalista extraordinaire Donna Freedman has mastered the art of freezing food scraps in a “boiling bag “to be reincarnated as broth later. If you like soup even a little bit, this practice will ruin you for canned soup forever. Luckily, soup freezes well, too.

If you’re not freezing your leftovers, or your little bits of ingredients that are left after using what you need for a recipe, not only are you wasting food and money, but you are depriving yourself of the enormous convenience of having just-enough tomato paste, pesto, or other fantastic things to take your weeknight cooking from adequate to awesome.

What’s in your freezer?