Sep 062010

Woman with piles of books

10 ways the library can help you save money and lead a richer life

There’s a wonderful source of free materials, events and help—the local library. It’s one of my favorite places. It helps people in so many ways.

1. Do you want to landscape your yard, decorate a room, fix a faucet, make a present, learn a craft, invest for the future, study world history, learn another language or plan a vacation? The library has books that will help

2. The cookbook section provides a wealth of ideas for meal planning. There are books for every taste, ranging from quick, child-friendly meals to sophisticated fare. The library also has books on preserving the harvest from the garden.

3. Are you looking for work? Your library has books on career planning, resume writing and job hunting. I’ve found many books that have helped me build my home business and learn new work skills.

4. The library supplies plenty of material for that terrific free activity—reading. It has fiction and nonfiction, recent best-sellers, old favorites and the classics. If you’re not sure what to read, just ask a librarian for suggestions.

5. The library is for little readers too.  Children can find book to help with school projects and information on their latest interests.  Many libraries also have free story times for children.

6. Libraries have more than just traditional books. They lend audio books on tape or CD. You can listen to a book while you are stuck in traffic, or cooking dinner or doing crafts. Some libraries also lend music and videos and offer computer and Internet access.

7. Do you want to make new friends? Check your library for special events, classes, book clubs, discussions and workshops.

8. Reference librarians are treasures. They can help find the address of a wholesale supplier for a home business, suggest a book for a school project, and dig up a statistic for a business report. Many libraries will supply reference information by telephone or e-mail, so that you don’t even have to leave your home or office to get help.

9. Check to see if your library provides access to electronic databases via their web site. I can find articles from subscription-only newspaper, research information from medical and academic journals, check several encyclopedias, download legal forms, do stock research and even get auto-repair information.

10. We’re not limited to the books in our local library. Through the marvels of Inter-Library Loan, we can borrow books, articles and microfilm from libraries and universities across the United States.

Ben Franklin helped to start the first lending library in the U.S. Thanks, Ben.

Jul 212010

Turn your pantry into a tool to help you save money on your groceries. The pantry is the unsung hero of rock-bottom grocery bills. It will help you save money in several ways:

  • When you have enough storage space, you can stock up at sales and buy in bulk. The goal is to buy enough of each non-perishable item at a low price to last until the next time you find a great deal. This saves time as well as money since you’re not running to the store as frequently.
  • Avoid expensive convenience foods and the drive-through window at fast food restaurants.  Keep ingredients on hand to cook from scratch. Also store home cooked meals and your homemade convenience foods for those too-busy-to-cook times
  • The pantry isn’t just for “store-bought” food. It’s a place to keep homemade mixes, jams, jellies and home-canned or dehydrated foods.
  • A well-stocked pantry provides a reserve of food in case illness, financial difficulties or an emergency situation makes it difficult or impossible to shop.

But what if you don’t have a pantry?

But what if you don’t have a pantry? Or your pantry is too small to store much food? No problem. Look around your home to find some space that you could use to create a pantry or several mini-pantries. For example:

  • Kitchen cupboards. Are there infrequently used items in your cupboard that could be stored elsewhere or discarded to make way for food? Can you use shelf dividers, organizers, turntables, sliding shelves or risers to create more usable space in each cupboard? Is there space in your cupboards to add a shelf? Can you put bulky item on top of the refrigerator? Can you free up cupboard space by hanging your pots, adding a spice rank or putting up a pegboard a la Julia Child to hold your kitchen gadgets?
  • Refrigerator and freezer. I think of my refrigerator and freezer space as part of my pantry. Along with the usual items, I keep homemade mixes, gluten–free flours, homemade yogurt, stock, vegetable trimmings to turn into my next batch of soup or stock, home-frozen dinners, pasta sauces, pizza crusts, breads and home-baked desserts.
  • Closets. My everyday pantry used to be coat closet. The addition of shelves turned it into a convenient pantry. The Flylady’s associate Leanne Ely turned her linen closet into a pantry. If you can’t spare a whole closet, is there a part of a closet that you can use? And don’t forget that frequently-wasted piece of real estate—the inside of the closet door.
  • Basement or utility room. As long as your basement doesn’t flood or have moisture problems, this can be a great place to make a pantry. You can use second-hand bookcases, plastic bookcases or metal shelving to store food and supplies. Remember to keep your food away from the furnace. Heat shortens the shelf life of food. Also, food containers should not be stored directly on a concrete floor. Moisture can seep up and spoil the food. Use a piece of wood to raise the containers off the floor. If you don’t have a basement, but you have a utility area for your washer and dryer, is there space to put shelves over the machines or to one side of them?
  • The divided room. Author Barbara Salsbury tells about turning part of her child’s nursery into a pantry. Do you have corner in a guest room to create a pantry? You can use a screen, curtains or bookcases to separate the space.
  • The hidden pantry. An old armoire can be fitted with shelves to make a pantry. Or do you have a spot under a staircase that could be used for storing food? In Smart Closets Makeovers, there is a photo of a pantry created by putting shelves between wall studs. The narrow pantry has a door that matches the paneling in the room. Very impressive, but utterly beyond my do-it-yourself skills. Those who are very space-challenged can use extra-large lasagna pans or boxes on rollers for storage under a bed or couch. Make sure your hidden pantry is easily accessible so that you can use it every day.

Your pantry doesn’t have to be in one space. You can have several pantry areas. I put my a few most frequently used items in kitchen cupboards. Perishables go in the refrigerator and freezer.  But because my kitchen is small, most of my everyday food supplies are in a closet-turned-pantry near my kitchen. Shelves in my utility room provide longer-term storage.

What space can you find to create your money-saving pantry?

Jul 152010

It’s so easy to buy the things we need. Yet many of us love to do things ourselves. Why do we bother? Here are six reasons to choose the homemade option.

1. Save money

Many things are cheaper when we make or grow them ourselves. For example: you can grow broccoli or lettuce for less money than you could buy them. Practically all the convenience foods in the supermarket have less expensive and tastier homemade alternatives. Food isn’t the only thing that’s usually cheaper homemade. Think of the price of greeting cards. You can create a card, whether made by hand or on a computer, for a personalized greeting for not much money. Homemade jewelry can rival commercial jewelry in looks at a fraction of the cost. It’s far less expensive to paint a room yourself than to hire a professional to do the job. But the benefits of doing things ourselves go far beyond money.

2. Enjoy better quality products

Homemade products do more than save money. Frequently they’re better than their commercial counterparts. A vine-ripened tomato from your garden tastes far better than one that was picked only partially ripened and shipped across the country to your local grocery store. Or compare a beautiful hand-knit scarf with a discount store version. Think of the difference between a loaf of bread you bought at the supermarket and one you’ve baked yourself.

When we cook our family’s meals, we control the ingredients. We can use nutritious foods with names we can pronounce. We can adjust for our family’s tastes and health needs. And when we sew or knit a garment, we can construct it to fit our own bodies and not some generic body shape.

3. Spend time with your family

Making things at home can be a great family project. Everyone works together on a shared goal. It’s fun and it builds family bonds. Children develop good work habits. And they learn useful skills like cooking, sewing and carpentry that they can use later in life.

4. Provide economic stability

Most of us will probably never go back to the land and homestead. But to the extent that we make, build, grow and repair some of the things we use, we move a bit of our household economy away from the ups and downs of market forces. Producing some of goods you would normally buy makes a great work-at-home project to supplement the family income. Plus money you save is tax-free. A small home business (or two) adds another layer of economic protection.

5. Be good to the environment

Homemade goods can be much better for the environment than their commercial counterparts. When we grow and make things ourselves we eliminate packaging and the need for transportation. We can use sustainable materials. Each of us can work to heal that patch of earth we call our own.

6. Have fun

We all have creative talents, even those people who insist they don’t. Traditionally homemade goods expressed that creativity. Rarely were things made in a strictly utilitarian style. Garments were dyed, decorated, embroidered, trimmed or smocked. Gardens were laid out in pleasing geometric shapes such as four-square kitchen gardens or grown with exuberant abundance in a cottage garden.

Doing things yourself still is a wonderful way to express your creativity. I enjoy the kitchen alchemy of taking simple ingredients and turning them into a delicious meal. I imagine that a woodworker feels the same way about watching pieces of wood take shape and turn into something useful and beautiful. For all the practicality of making our own things, one of the best reasons to do so comes down to the sheer creative pleasure of it.