Monday, March 29, 2010

Frugal Crafting: Homemade Travelmate

About a year and a half ago I made my own travelmate. I'd seen them online, but didn't want to pay the $80+ price tag, which didn't include shipping. I also didn't think their method of securing the carrier to the car seat (two screws that screw into the back of the car seat) looked really secure.
Why would I need one in the first place? Ever try carting a heavy car seat through the airport, along with whatever suitcases you have and the child that needs said car seat? It quickly becomes too much to handle. By adding wheels to the car seat, you can easily pull it through the airport. You can even strap your child into the seat before heading off to the far reaches of the airport.

It wasn't that hard to make- two pieces of wood screwed together, with corner supports on the inside for added suport. I cut holes in the wood for the straps that would hold it to the carseat. Then I added an axle and wheels.

The finished product wasn't very pretty, so I covered it all with some denim fabric (sewn and hot glued), then added the straps.

The car seat rests on the small ledge, and is held to the travelmate by two sets of straps- one goes through the LATCH straps that hook into the car seat when not in use, and the other follows the path of a regular seatbelt (under the armrests and around to the back). Once strapped in, the car seat isn't going anywhere.

I've used it on a couple occasions, and have only come up with one thing I'd change. I used some webbing as a handle for dragging the whole contraption, but it really needs a rigid handle for added stability. I think some metal tubing from the hardware store should work, but I haven't had a chance to try it out yet. 

Even with the non-rigid handle it worked quite well and cost a fraction of the original. The wood was scraps my dad had laying around, as was the metal rod I used for the axle. I did pay a dollar or two for the 'hub caps' (I don't remember what they're really called), and the wheels were about $12 on ebay. I also paid about $5 for the straps and buckles, and I had the fabric in my stash. All together, I paid less than $20 for something that costs more than $80 (not including shipping), and if I only use it a few times, I don't feel guilty about wasting lots of money :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Frugal Eating: Noodles & Company

Noodles & Company
I used to love their mac & cheese, which is definitely not mac & cheese from a box- it's sooo much better. However, since going gluten free, I haven't eaten there since I didn't think they had any options for me.

I recently found out that they do have a couple gluten free options! Their Pad thai, Sauteed beef, Braised beef, Sauteed shrimp, Cucumber tomato salad and Tossed green salad are all ok for me to eat.

They don't have any Noodles & Co restaurants near where we moved, so I decided to try out the pad thai before we moved. While we were out running errands, LMS and I stopped in for lunch. I checked with the guy at the counter before ordering and he confirmed that the rice noodles are cooked separately from the other noodles, so I ordered the pad thai with sauteed beef, and it was sooo yummy! I always ask for an extra plate and split the order with LMS (two for one!). I've done this with their smaller size and their regular size and it works well both ways. It had been so long since we were last there that I forgot about the portion sizes. I ordered the regular size and had a hard time finishing, even after giving LMS a decent amount.

A regular portion with protein is about $7 or so, about the same as a hamburger meal at a fast food place. Personally, I think a dish of noodles with sprouts is healthier than a hamburger and fries. The service is quick, too. Splitting a meal with LMS saves the money I could have spent buying a separate meal for her, that she would only eat a little of. She is just not a fan of fast food, other than french fries, but she does enjoy Noodles & Co. The pad thai is a little spicy, but LMS didn't complain (she's quick to say when she thinks something's too spicy), and she ate all her noodles.

If you go to their website, you can sign up to get coupons emailed to you periodically. Sometimes the coupons are for specific items, so they're not always useful for me, but you never know when you'll get a good one.

I took a picture of our lunch with my cell phone, but I guess if the lighting is too bad it causes problems when sending the picture to my email. I've tried multiple times to send it to my email, but none of them were successful. Sorry!

I've also been inspired to learn how to make pad thai at home, and hope to do so in the next week or so, once I've excavated my pots and pans from the piles of boxes that will soon be everywhere. Anyone have a good pad thai recipe they'd like to share?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Frugal Crafting: Fabric Wallet for Cash Envelopes

I saw this post, which inspired me to make my own fabric wallet. I decided if I was going to make a wallet, I should make it how I wanted it. So I put more slots for cards- I wanted room for IDs, library cards, club cards, debit card, and so on. Instead of a pocket for cash, I used the pocket to hold the card stock attached to the cash envelopes I made.

the card pocket section

upholstery microfiber(?) fabric I used for the outside

the outside, laying flat. the seams weren't as straight as I'd like (too many layers), so I'm hand sewing some ribbon to the outside to cover them

cardstock sliding into its pocket behind the card pockets

all put together- patterned purple fabric for the card pockets, dark purple corduroy for the backing

folded in half

my lovely hand holding the flap down

the ribbon for the trim and the buttons and hair ties to hold the flap down

Purple pattern fabric- been sitting in my stash for awhile
Purple corduroy fabric- also been sitting in my stash for awhile
Tan upholsery fabric- bought 1/2  yard at JoAnns for 60% off- paid $2.80, but used only about 1/4 of it, so about $.70
Purple ribbon- $1.99 for the roll, but I won't use it all- probably 1/4 of it, so about $.50
Purple Thread- borrowed from my mom
Total: $2.78

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Frugal Eating: The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook

The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook by Erin Chase  (check our her blog by following the link in the book title)

This book finally came available at the library a week before we were to leave, so I read it quickly so I could turn it in before we left.
I thought it was a good book. Her premise is that you can plan and prepare dinner, including sides, for a family of four for less than $5. In some ways it was similar to the Family Feasts for $75 a Week and Make it Fast, Cook it Slow cookbooks that I read earlier. This isn't a bad thing, by the way.

Erin has a good section on coupons- I think I'll give it another try once we're moved and settled. She uses a price book too (like the $75 a week lady). She buys very little canned goods and processed items, so she's making couponing work without buying the items most coupons are for.

She advocates buying mostly from the outer edges of the store: produce, dairy, and meats- and staying away from aisles full of refined {expensive} foods. Since that's what we should be eating, that works for me.

She also talks about portion control- be aware of how much you're eating and what- protein, starch/grain, veggies, etc, and not just loading up your plate and mindlessly eating.

She also said to be careful about snacking- a quote she used is 'You crave what you eat'. So true. If I eat one piece of chocolate, I crave more. If I don't eat it at all, I don't crave it (unless it's that time of month...). Good for saving money too. Have fruits and veggies on hand for snacking instead of candy, chips, etc.

She talks about meal planning, which I have to say has got to be one of the biggest ways to control your food budget- plan what meals you're going to have, then plan the shopping list, then stick to it.

The recipes Erin includes are cooked from scratch. Like the authors of the two cookbooks I mentioned above, she makes her own 'canned' soups for cooking and uses very few canned items.

Her recipes include lots of produce, beans, lentils, etc. They're not intentionally gluten free, but a number are naturally. Most of those that aren't can be easily tweaked by substituting gluten free pastas, flours, or bread products. This does increase the price per meal, but the price per meal is still doable. Gluten free pastas, flours, and bread products are significantly more expensive than 'normal' varieties, are hard to find in bulk, and rarely go on sale (I've never seen them on sale in the 9 months I've been gluten free, but I'll be paying closer attention from here on out).

I'm looking forward to trying out some of the recipes she included in her book, and giving couponing another try. Has anyone else read this book and tried any of the recipes?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Frugal Crafting: Cash Envelopes

I found some paper envelopes here, but since I made a fabric wallet to put them, rather than buying one, I made my own templates to fit the wallet I made. I followed her lead in putting them together- I definitely like the idea of the piece of cardstock that slips into the wallet to hold the envelopes in place.

template on top, unfolded envelopes beneath

folded envelopes

I used a glue runner to stick the envelopes shut

the finished envelopes

I punched holes in the bottom of the envelopes and in a piece of cardstock that will hold the envelopes into the wallet

I used some ribbon to lace the envelopes to the cardstock

Paper: a friend had some left over from another project and gave it to me
Ribbon: given to me with a bunch of other sewing stuff by my BIL- he'd been storing it since his mother died 15 years ago, and he finally sorted through it all last year
Crop-o-dile: Christmas present from my SIL!
Glue runner: already had from multiple other projects
Total: $0

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Budgeting: Envelope System

One of the things Dave Ramsey talks about in his book The Total Money Makeover is paying cash for everything. At the beginning of the month, you sit down and figure out your budget- how much money you will spend on each category. Then you put the cash for each category in an envelope. So, you have your grocery envelope, your gas envelope, your clothing envelope, etc- whatever you decided your categories are.

As we get closer to our moving date, I'm thinking more and more about how we'll be handling our finances once we join Mr S. By the time LMS and I get there, we'll have had two full paychecks, which will put us in a better position financially. It'll still take a month or two to figure out what our expenses will be, as we get the utilities put in our name, do full-on grocery shopping, and so on, but we'll work on building our budget from the time we arrive.

To that end, I've made a wallet that has room for id, insurance cards, etc, as well as envelopes for our cash, an envelope for receipts, and an envelope for coupons. I'll post pictures the next three Mondays- by then we'll have unpacked and I can start posting other projects.

Has anyone else tried the envelope system? 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Frugal Crafting: Mesh Veggie Bags

I saw some mesh veggie bags here, and wondered why I hadn't thought of that. I'm very good about taking my cloth grocery bags to the store (except when I was collecting bags for my fused plastic project), but I hadn't thought about taking reusable bags for my produce.

I filed the idea away, under my 'to do after we move and get settled' list, and didn't think about it again till I found some mesh laundry bags in the dollar section at Target. They're big- about 3 feet by 2 feet- and I realized I could easily make some mesh produce bags out of them.

I cut each bag into 4 rectangles. Since there was already seams in 3 sides, I only had to sew one side and the top or bottom of each smaller bag. I used the original drawstrings in the two bags that included it, and made my own drawstrings and drawstring channel for the other two.
You can see which drawstrings were recycled and which I made.

They were quick, easy, and cheap, and now I can do even more to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Cool!
Total cost:
2 laundry bags from Target: $1 each, $2 total
8 mesh produce bags: $.25 each, since I already had the thread and crochet thread (that I used for the drawstrings)

Have you tried using mesh bags for produce? How'd it work out?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Saving Money: Do-It-Yourself Moving

A week from today we'll be loading up all our stuff for the trip across the country. With this move, we'll have moved 6 times in the 8 1/2 years we've been married. We've also had our stuff in storage on 4 different occasions.

So I thought that today I'd talk about some of the things we've done, and what we've learned.

Our first move was across the street and down several blocks, about a year after we got married. Since it was so close, we loaded my Jeep and my sister's pickup truck and made a couple trips till everything was moved.

Our next move was an out-of-state move when we went to language school the first time. For this move, we rented a Budget truck and drove it ourselves. Since housing wasn't available right away, we put our things in storage for a couple weeks. When a house came available, we rented a U-Haul and transferred everything.

Our third move was back to where we'd been living before language school. Mr. S was finishing some training in another state, and I had stayed behind while I finished my classes. Once I was done, I didn't want to stay there by myself, so I loaded what I could in the car and moved back. We had to have orders in order to have the move payed for by the military, so we put everything else in storage. This was our only move that was done by professionals- they came and packed everything up, stored it for 3 1/2 months till Mr. S was done with his training, then shipped it to where I was living, where they unloaded it. One glass jar was broken and our ironing board got lost, but I'm not complaining- my parents always had massive amounts of breakage/theft/etc with their 'professional' moves.

Our fourth move was back to language school, and we used a Budget truck again. Once again, we put our stuff in storage for about a month while we waited for a house to become available. When it did become available, we used a Budget truck to transfer everything.

Our most recent move was here, where our families are. We loaded everything into a U-Haul truck and drove it here, where we unloaded most of our stuff into a storage unit in town. We eventually used my parents' truck and trailer to move everything to a shipping container in our back yard.

Our upcoming move will be made using ABF to ship our stuff. We're using their ReloCube option, but we have to take our stuff to the ABF terminal to load them, so we'll have to load everything into a U-Haul truck and haul it into the city (a hassle, but way cheaper than all the other options, so still worth it). ABF will ship our stuff and store it for a week or so till we can move into our house, at which time they'll deliver the cubes to our house and pick them up once we've unloaded them.

Some things we've learned:
  1. U-Haul will match other companies' posted prices for the same trip/services. If you go to Budget's site (they've been the cheapest option for our past moves) and get a quote, then call U-Haul, they'll confirm the quote and then match it. I didn't learn this till our second move back to language school, after I had already rented the Budget truck, unfortunately. Budget and Penske trucks are higher off the ground, with a higher center of gravity, which makes them feel less stable. When you're driving a big truck over the mountains or in windy conditions, this could be an issue. I like the U-Haul trucks because they have lower beds and a lower center of gravity, which makes for a more stable ride.
  2. If you don't want to drive a truck, there are other options: PODS, ABF, etc. I called PODS for a quote, but they were going to charge almost twice as much as what ABF quoted me. ABF actually has two options: fill a semi trailer (and pay by the linear foot) or use their ReloCubes. For our move, the ReloCubes are cheaper to use, but I imagine that could change based on where you're moving to and from. The trailers are not as secure- you don't get to lock it; but you do get to put your own locks on the cubes, so no one else can get into them- much safer.
  3. When you're storing things, call around for rates and deals. Both times we stored things for a short time while we waited for a house to open up we used Public Storage. They had a deal where the first month was $1 plus some administrative fees. Since we were out before the first month was up, I think we paid a total of $20 each time. Way cheaper than the $200-300 regular monthly rate (it was an expensive area). I've frequently seen half off the first month's rent and other deals, so call around to see what you can find. Make sure you read the fine print to make sure they don't require a minimum stay- Public Storage didn't.
  4. We didn't have a Public Storage option when we moved here, so we used a local no-name company. I didn't like how much we were paying each month, so I started researching other options. I ended up renting a shipping container from Mobile Mini for half what I'd been paying the storage unit company. Mobile Mini does charge delivery and pick up fees up front, but when you average that across the length of time we used the container, it's still way less than what we were paying for the storage unit. I think for how long we've had it, it ended up being $15-20 a month. Plus, there was the added convenience of having our things in our back yard.
  5. Look around before buying boxes: I've bought them online from Uline, and I've bought them from moving companies and even Home Depot. Buying them online only works if you're buying enough to make the shipping charges worth it. For smaller amounts of boxes, check out moving/storage companies and hardware stores. You can also get boxes for free from stores like WalMart- just ask for them. I like having just 2 different sizes of boxes (I'm OCD like that), so I do pay for boxes. It makes it easier to load the truck or stack in storage.
If you're doing a do-it-yourself move, research the options and see what will work for you and your situation. What are you willing/not willing to do? How much stuff do you have? Are you ok driving a big truck? I drove UPS trucks one summer in college, so I don't have a problem with it, but I've also reached the point where I just don't want to deal with it on a 3 or 4 day trip. What is your budget? How far are you moving? How much time do you have? Do you have friends to help you load the truck, or are you doing it yourself?

Figure out what's important to you, make your decision from there, and enjoy the adventure of moving to a new place.

Have you picked up any money-saving tips for moving?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Repurposing: Socks to leggings, part 2

I made another pair of leggings for LMS. She doesn't really need them, but I couldn't resist the pair of super soft knee high socks that were on sale at Target. I love the argyle detail!

I used the same technique that I used on the purple leggings- quick and easy.

They were on sale for $3.48. A little more expensive than each of the purple leggings, but you should feel how soft these are- snuggly soft!
Since I already explained the process here, I won't do it again, but I did take more pictures.

Total cost: $3.48