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?




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?




Spring is Coming…


The tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings we started a few weeks ago are doing well, and the bigger, outside garden is in sight! Our first real attempt at growing in Central Texas was a Fall/Winter garden, and it’s done pretty well. We’ve got plans to build a couple more raised beds and see what the Spring brings us. In a couple of weeks we hope to be sowing carrots, cucumber, kale, beets, bok choy, and summer squash directly into the planters, in addition to transplanting these little guys.

It feels fairly ambitious for us: 50+ square feet of raised beds…. we’re planning to expand well beyond that eventually, but after years of apartment living, we’ve never had that much space to  grow food in! It’s exciting to walk outside and grab kale for a salad, or herbs for a recipe… I’m dreaming of the day I can make a whole meal out of what we’ve grown!

Ironically, we’ve had some difficulty harvesting: I’m working 45+ hours each week, rarely getting home before dark, and Mr. Vega’s full-time school schedule and home-improvement projects keep him hopping. I’m not a fan of Daylight Saving Time, as a modern concept, but I sure am looking forward to it this year! Meanwhile, my husband finally found time to grab the plants that had begun to bolt and make them into a fresh vegetable juice for us…he even juiced the carrot and beet tops, and it’s delicious!

I’m looking forward to longer daylight hours, time spent both in the garden, in the kitchen making some proper meals out of these beautiful plants, and out on the newly screened-in porch my handsome husband has worked so hard to create.

What are you looking forward to this season?


Frugal Tuesday: Make a Casserole!


One of our favorite things to do with leftover meats or hearty vegetables on a lazy weekend morning is to sautee them in a cast iron pan and then throw in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of cream-of-something soup. We top the whole mess with tots and throw it in the oven for the recommended cooking time, add some cheese, and pop it back in until the cheese melts. It’s super-easy, super-Southern, and super-delicious. Last weekend, we did it with some leftover lemon chicken, and we were so sad when it was all gone.

What are some of your go-to meals that use up leftovers?


How We Did: Our January Budget Review

Yeah, it basically went as planned…

I was expecting some kind of thrilling follow-up, but after writing it all out, it was essentially a copy of our planned budget, and I was bored reading it!

So, to recap, what happened was, we planned out all our spending before it happened, and then we followed the plan. 

If you are new to budgeting, it’s going to take several months or  even a couple of years before this starts happening for you. You will forget to include occasional expenses, like car registration. You will not know how much you usually spend when you go to festivals or other events where there are lots of vendors. You will not have begun the practice of checking your calendar to see whose birthdays are coming up, so that you can plan to give them a gift. Your tire will go flat, and your emergency fund might not be ready for it.

But then next time you will remember. Each month, I take a few minutes to look at our calendar for the month ahead, and also, at our expenditures for the same month the year before, to see if I may have missed anything. For our second year attending Austin City Limits, I noted what we had spent the previous year, and budgeted the same amount. We ended up spending less the second year, probably because it wasn’t nearly as hot and we drank a lot less beer! So now I know: plan to spend a little more if the weather forecast is hot! And I’ve learned to pay attention to the tires on our cars, to fill them and get them rotated regularly, to ask the technicians (or my car-guy husband) how much life they seem to have left, and to start researching and saving up well before we need them!

But I only learned that through years of record-keeping, which means, if you didn’t get it perfect the first time, if you ended up coloring outside the lines, or throwing it all away and starting with a fresh page, you don’t get to beat yourself up, and you don’t get to quit.If things feel constricted, remember that you won’t have to do this forever. Things will get better if you don’t give up.”Done” is better than “perfect,” and you can do this!

Now go make your budget!




New Year, New Website:

Happy New Year!

I started and named our blog when we were still in Los Angeles, preparing to make our big move to Austin, uncertain of what our lives might become. Since buying our home last July, we have started calling it our Little Hippie House, which represents well our intention of smaller-space, simple, natural living. We want our home to be as self-sufficient as possible, a welcoming center for the creative and community-minded group of friends we are lucky enough to be meeting in our new home city of Austin, Texas, and an environment supporting our own healing and personal growth as well as offering encouragement to all who visit (either in person or online).

In the year ahead, I’ll continue to share our personal finance journey, how we are fixing up our home and making the house and property more self-sustaining, and what we are doing to live the healthy, happy, socially responsible lives we aspire to as individuals. You can also find me on Twitter: @lilhippiehouse.  Please feel free to comment, share, and link to your own blogs or sites throughout the year… the more the merrier!


Frugal Tuesday: Create Less Trash


Our new, smaller trash can was delivered today. After the initial mess of moving in calmed down, we noticed that we weren’t filling up the city-provided can that was here when we bought the house.  If we forgot to take it out to the curb for a week– or even two– it was no big deal. We’re fortunate to live in a city that provide curbside recycling and even composting, and we also make an effort to buy used, and buy items with less (or at least recyclable) packaging. While we’re far from perfect, we think our new 24-gallon can will accommodate our landfill trash needs perfectly. The best part? Making the switch to a smaller can will save us about $8/month on our trash pickup bill, as compared with the 64-gallon can we had before. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather do with $96 a year than spend it on garbage. Plus, all the coolest neighbors on our block have the smallest can… peer pressure works, y’all!

If you are living in an apartment, or somewhere you don’t pay for trash pickup, focusing on generating less landfill trash might not seem like a money-saving activity, but it still is. You might be able to save your bottles and cans to recycle for return for cash. You might try starting a worm composting bin on your patio or balcony, which is an easy way to turn your daily food scraps into nutrient-rich compost that your potted plants will love. Your efforts at reducing your trash production may find you buying from the bulk bins and farmers markets, buying used, or going for out-of-the-box floor models at deep discounts. You probably already shop at stores that gives you a nickel or a dime off your grocery bill when you bring your own bags. The more lightly we can live on the planet, the more money we can keep in our pockets!



Seriously: Live Beneath Your Means!

Stretching a dollar!

Stretching a dollar!

This past Summer, I realized that the full-time job I had taken on was not a good fit for me. I called my husband and explained my feelings, and he responded “Then quit! We’ll be fine, we always have.” The next morning, I tendered my resignation.

A couple of months later, A Random Thing happened at one of my several jobs, and work hours were cut in a way that affected some people (myself included) more than others. It’s been humbling to hear people speak about the problems that the drop in income is causing. Because while the change has tightened our finances, it did not constitute a financial emergency in our home, the way it has with some of the others.

Shortly after that, Mr. Vega reached his personal stress limit at his place of employment– in fact, with his entire field of employment– and we were able to make a plan for his career change that allowed him to leave his job within a couple of weeks. He is registered and ready to return to school in January, for a two-year program to train for an entirely different career.

Most recently, a family friend lost a close relative, and Mr. Vega was able to get on a plane with a week’s notice to attend the funeral in another state. Spending time with his friend of more than twenty years, and with his friend’s extended family of origin, gave him insights he would have never gotten otherwise. Not only was he able to support a dear friend during a sad time, but their connection was enriched simply because he could be present.

Although it’s actually a lot more fun that most people might imagine, living beneath our means isn’t always easy. Mr. Vega wore the same three pair of dress pants for work until they literally wore out. I finally replaced the last pair of work appropriate flat shoes I owned… about six months later than I should have. We have eaten beans and rice and potatoes and leftovers cooked more ways than I previously thought possible. We drive subcompact cars when we would prefer SUV’s and classic trucks. We bought a house with one fewer bedroom, one fewer bathroom, and one less garage space than we would have liked, because it was important to us to keep our payments well below what we could afford. Those are all choices we have made so that we could pay off our debt, save an emergency fund, and buy our own home.

Spending less when you have the ability to spend more feels, in some ways, more challenging than being flat broke. Because the money is there, after all, and there are days when it feels like everyone we know has more than we do. They drive newer, nicer cars,  eat out in fancy restaurants, wear more fashionable clothes, live in bigger houses, and take actual vacations to exotic locations where they aren’t even visiting relatives! Most people assume from our spending habits that we’re broke, and those who know better wonder why don’t just “treat yo’self” the way they do. On top of that, we see tens of thousands of advertisements a day, all of them telling us that life will be better, we will be more attractive, and that we will feel more successful if we just buy their service or product.

That all starts to look pretty darn tempting, until we realize the true cost. In 2013, CNN Money reported that 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and earlier this year, Deutche Bank published findings that 47% of American households have nothing saved for an emergency. Which means that for the vast majority of people living in my country, a job loss, an illness, or even a cut in hours could throw them into bankruptcy, or worse: The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that more than half a million Americans are currently homeless, and nearly 8 million of us (including members of our own family) are living doubled up with family or friends, representing a 67% increase in doubled-up living since 2007.  Another 6.4 million of us are spending more than half of our monthly income just on housing. That’s not living, that’s survival.

We still go out, spend money, and have fun… we just make sure that when we do, we’re spending less than we could potentially afford. Last night, we picked up some good friends in our little paid-for car, went downtown for a few $4 Happy Hour cocktails, and then took a walk to view a free, outdoor art exhibit. We spent hours talking about everything that was on our minds, encouraging each other in taking steps to achieve our goals, and having a really, really good time. At the end of the night, we went back to their modest apartment, talked some more, and rolled around on the floor with their affectionate, happy (and rescued!) dogs for about an hour. You can’t buy that type of contentment.

This morning, we made a breakfast hash of leftover coffee-rubbed pork and– you guessed it– potatoes, that was as delicious as any $12-a-plate restaurant meal, and we’re looking forward to taking in a movie tonight at Alamo Drafthouse with some new friends. Although the food at the theater is very good, we’ll probably have dinner at home first and then just get some drinks and snacks at the movie, and our good time won’t be lessened because of it.

Because when Life Happens, and it always does, we don’t want to have to stay in jobs that make us miserable, or go into debt to make our bills, or miss out on showing up for the major life events of the people we love… or lose our home. Choosing to live beneath our means allows us to retain control of a lot of other decisions in our lives. Decisions that would be made for us if we lived paycheck-to-paycheck and an emergency arose.

Can you find one thing you can spend less on than you have been, no matter how small? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  

Frugal Tuesday: Homemade Greens Powder

Kale Drying

We have smoothies for breakfast a few times a week, and the organic greens powders we like to mix in cost in the range of $15-20 a jar. Last week, staring sadly at yet another bunch of wilting kale in our fridge, I had an idea: Dehydrate it and make it into greens powder!

That bunch of kale spent a few hours on three racks in my food dehydrator, after which I pulsed it into a fine powder in the food processor. It really couldn’t have been any easier.

A closer reading of the ingredients on the expensive stuff revealed a long list of foods I could dehydrate and grind to avoid food waste and save on pricy supplements: beets, spinach, carrots, broccoli, ginger, tomatoes, lemon peel, pineapple, parsley, mint… basically any fruit, vegetable, or rhizome that we enjoy eating (but didn’t get around to) can be dried and added to our little jar of smoothie powder. I can’t believe I’m actually looking forward to next week’s fridge clean out day!

Frugal Tuesday: Fun With Leftovers

A couple of weeks ago, after a fantastic camping weekend, all we wanted were some margaritas and Tex-Mex food. So we went to Matt’s Famous El Rancho, and got exactly what we were seeking. Except, I got just a little bit too much of it!

Their brisket tacos were too filling to finish, but too delicious to leave the last one on my plate. So we took it home.

The next day, at lunchtime, we kind of both wanted that taco. But there was only one.

So, we grabbed a couple of spuds from our Giant Bag of Costco Potatoes, baked them up, and invented the most delicious meal ever: The Brisket Taco baked Potato. Our handy kitchen shears turned the taco into delicious brisket bites, we added some leftover chili and sour cream and it. was. awesome.

Brisket Taco Potato

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done with leftovers?