Sunday, July 29, 2012

Home-made laundry detergent

So first it was home-made ice cream, then home-made pizza, now home-made laundry detergent???

I am not the type of person that will just making something home-made for the sake of making it home-made.  In order for me to consider making something home-made, it has to either:

a.  Be cheaper to make
b.  Have better/healthier ingredients when home-made
c.  Taste better/work better
d.  Be a fun activity to try with the kids
Or some combination of all of the above.

So the other day on facebook, I saw one of my friends had made home-made laundry detergent.  And I was skeptical.  Surely it couldn't be cheaper or better?  But then she posted the website for the recipe she used, and I was inspired to try it!

So first let me preface this by saying that I was already saving money on laundry detergent.  I usually buy Purex, which is not the most expensive brand (regular price $5-6 for 48 loads).  I always buy it on sale and stock up when it's $3-$4 (so about 30% off).  Pat myself on the back for saving on laundry detergent.

I don't count how many loads of laundry my family does each week, but I'm guessing it's at least 8 loads or more.  (We are a family of 5).  So that bottle of Purex lasts us about 6 weeks.

The recipe my friend posted on Facebook is here.  The website claimed to make a 2-gallon batch of laundry detergent, covering 64 loads, for only 71 cents.  Ok, now I had to try it!

There are only 3 basic ingredients in the home-made detergent:  Fels-Naptha laundry soap bar, washing soda, and borax.  I was able to find all 3 of these in the laundry detergent aisle at Wal-Mart.  I spent a little over $8 for all three ingredients, but the purchase will make many 2-gallon batches of laundry detergent.

Here is the breakdown:

Fels-Naptha bar:  $0.97
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda:  $3.24
Borax:  $3.38
Total without tax:  $7.59
Total with tax:  $8.21

So the first step was to grate the bar of soap.  The website said 1/3 of the bar but also commented later on that some people like to use more.  I grated half of the bar.

Then I added it to a saucepan with 6 cups of water and heated it until the soap melted.

Next, per the website recipe, I added the washing soda and the borax.

Then I followed the rest of the instructions, which was to basically add the mixture to a bucket and add water and stir, then add more water and wait 24 hours for it to gel.

I had a bucket, but no lid, so I improvised with a towel and headband.

And the next day, sure enough, my soap had turned into a gel.

A look into the container (like jello):

So yesterday afternoon, I tried out the new soap with a few loads of laundry.  The gel was like a big glob in the water for a few minutes, but pretty quickly mixed with the water.  As the website warned, it did not become sudsy/bubbly-looking.
But I could not tell any difference in the end result with the clothes.  They were clean.  I had read that this home-made soap doesn't have that "freshly-laundered" smell that store-bought detergents have, but since we already used perfume-free/dye-free detergent I think that difference is negligible to us.  The website does say you can add in some fragrant oils to make the soap more scented.

So how much does this save?

Well, I used the same calculations that the website used to determine the cost of the home-made detergent.  The initial cost of the ingredients were slightly higher than in the example on the website, but I still calculate that my 2-gallon batch cost about 91 cents to make.  64 loads.  Or about 1.4 cents per load.  Compared to about 7-8 cents per load that I was getting when I bought the Purex detergent on sale.  So how much does that save per year?  If I've estimated my # of load of laundry per week, it adds up to be about $25/year in savings.

Some of you may say, why go through all that for only $25 a year in savings?  By itself, it's not much.  But combined with everything else I try to save on, it adds up.  A few hundred dollars a year by switching insurance companies.  A few hundred dollars a month by not eating out.  A few hundred dollars a year by buying basics at Aldi.  None of these things by themselves are huge savings, but just think if you could get all of your expenses reduced by 30% or more a year, it really adds up! Enough of a savings to amass a bigger chunk to go toward something more meaningful than expensive detergent.

Yesterday I saw my husband throw his cycling clothes in the washer and he reached for the Purex instead of our new home-made stuff.  And I asked him why he wasn't using it, and he said "But these are expensive shirts!  I don't want to ruin them!"  Ok, so he's not comfortable switching over yet.  And he's even the one who started making our own home-made house cleaning supplies!  But that's another story.  Hopefully when he sees I'm not ruining everyone's laundry by using this home-made soap, he will come around.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eat at home inspiration: Home-made pizza

I'm pretty sure that eating at home more often over the past year and a half has been the one change in our lifestyle that has affected our savings budget the most.  It's now become a habit, but we are still tempted all the time to just grab some takeout on the way home or appease the kids by stopping through a drive-through. 

We are halfway through this year, we are in a big push to meet our year-end savings goal.  And I've been trying to re-inspire myself with new dinner ideas and recipes. 

I'm going to start sharing some of my favorite easy and cheap dinner ideas on this blog.  None of these recipes I dreamed up myself.  If I can remember where I got them from, I'll post a link.  Most of the dinners I cook cost less than $10 to make, many are around $5.  I don't like to and can't spend all afternoon in the kitchen, so most of my dinners take less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Maybe seeing one of these dinner ideas will inspire you to skip the take-out and cook at home tonight.

First up:  home-made pizza.
Time to make:  ~20 minutes
Cost:  $3 base price for cheese pizza plus some extra for toppings

I'm a big pizza lover.  I could easily eat pizza once a week if not more.  When we were both working we used to order pizza delivery at least once a month.  Then when I quit my job, I looked into making pizza but I found that delivery or even frozen pizzas were just as cheap as making my own.  When I got pregnant a few years ago, sodium really started to bother me and I found that most delivery/frozen/takeout pizza was just too salty for me.

So I started to look into making pizza, not really for the price break, but for having more control over the ingredients and sodium content.  I've made pizza with several different kinds of crusts--Bobboli, Pillsbury refrigerated crust, and out of a package...and I think I've come up with the best combination for me in terms of price & taste.

The crust I now use is the Great Value brand pizza crust mix, sold at Wal-Mart.  It's 50 cents.  Just add hot water and a teaspoon of oil.  The pizza sauce at Wal-Mart if $1.00 a jar, and it's enough for 2 large pizzas.  So, 50 cents a pizza for sauce.

After mixing the water and oil with the pizza mix, the dough needs to "rest" for 5 minutes.  While it's doing this the oven can pre-heat to 450 degrees (the package says 475, but I've had better results on 450 degrees).  The crust then bakes by itself for 5 minutes.  It's a thin crust.

After pre-baking the crust for 5 minutes, it's time to top the pizza.  This is where my kids like to help.

As far as toppings, you can get as creative as you want.  I like to use the Hormel italian sausage crumbles (around $2/bag and it lasts for 3-4 pizzas).  We've also browned ground beef and mixed in grilled onion.  Or bell peppers.  Our pizzas usually have pepperoni (this can be bought at the dollar store in small packages or at any store in larger packages that last for a few pizzas).
I use a little more than half a bag of shredded mozzarella cheese for a large pizza.  I can find the shredded cheese on sale for $2.50 or usually less, so I figure $2.00 at most for the cheese.  So the base price for this home-made pizza is around $3.00.  With my toppings, I'm still usually at $5.00 or less.

Now it's ready for the oven:

And after 8 minutes at 450 degrees it's bubbly and done.
Add a salad and fresh fruit, and the meal is done!

One large does it for our family of 5...since one of our kids doesn't eat pizza and our kids are still pretty young.  I'm sure once our kids get older we'll have to  make more.

Sauce and cheese are always handy to have around the house--they can be used for quick lunch pizzas on english muffins or those round bread thins.

Do you make pizza at home?  How do you do it?  What are your favorite toppings?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Home-made ice cream

The boys love to help me bake in the kitchen.  Last weekend I decided to give home-made ice cream a try.

I found this recipe that only requires 2 ingredients (heavy whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk) and no special tools or equipment:

The first step is beating the heavy whipping cream until it's stiff:

In a separate bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk with whatever ingredients you want to use to flavor your ice cream.  We used chocolate syrup to turn it into chocolate ice cream and I also baked a small batch of brownies ($1 at Wal-Mart) to mix in.
Then we combined the 2 bowls. It had the consistency of a heavy pudding or mousse.

Then you freeze for 6 hours, and Voila! Home made ice cream.

It tasted really good.

The article with the recipe did a cost analysis, and basically this ice cream is more expensive than the store-brand ice cream but less expensive to make than most name-brand ice creams.  And of course not as much artificial "stuff" in it, and it provides a cool summer activity for the kids!

What sort of things do you make in the kitchen with your kids?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mid-Year Update on 2012 Goals

Is anybody out there still working towards or tracking your 2012 goals or New Year's Resolutions?

It's time for a mid-year check-in.  For me, the results aint all pretty.  But I have to keep it real and be honest with myself.  And having this blog and sharing my progress or lack thereof helps me keep some accountability.

So, in case you've been wondering, here is where I stand on my goals:

Financial Goal:  Get our emergency fund (4-6 months of living expenses) in place.

Progress:  We are approximately 75% there.  We had actually projected that we would reach our savings goal by August (next month).  However, life happens.  We have continually been hit by expenses that have dipped into our savings.  A plethora of medical expenses at the beginning of the year.  New tires for both cars.  A sick dog.  And we over-spent our budget on certain things this summer.

This is our 2nd year of trying to get our emergency fund in place.  And it's so frustrating that it seems like we take 2 steps forward and 3 steps back.  However, we are really determined to complete this goal this year. 

How we're going to make it:  We have gone back and read Dave Ramsey's advice on this.  He recommends getting this fund in place before any retirement contributions or college fund contributions.  We had already stopped contributing to the college funds, but we were still doing the 401k.  We recently decided to cut back on the 401k and play with our tax withholdings (so that we don't get a tax refund) in order to help us get to where we need to be.  And hope that no other emergencies come up and really pay attention to keeping our spending within our budget.  I think we really need to do a better job at saying "No" to our kids, friends & family, and ourselves when it comes to our spending!

It's a hard one, this one!

Housekeeping Goals:  Make and stick to a cleaning schedule.  Declutter/organize one area of our house each month.

Progress:  The cleaning schedule worked really well for me the first 5 months of the year.  I had the bathrooms on a rotating schedule and would clean them while my 2 oldest were at school and my youngest was napping.  Then once a week I'd have all 3 kids play upstairs while I cleaned the entire kitchen and downstairs area (dusted, swept, mopped, vacuumed).  I think my husband was even impressed at the regularity at which our house was cleaned.

However, in the 6 weeks since the kids have been out of school, I haven't been as religious at keeping with the schedule.  It's been hard with traveling, having guests over, taking the kids to various summer activities and having them here more often.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how I've stuck to the cleaning schedule goal.  I'm cutting myself some slack for the summer and vow to resume the strict schedule in the Fall when school starts.

As far as the decluttering goes, we've decluttered 3 major areas.  So we're behind on that, because we should have decluttered 6 areas by now.  Since my husband is the one who wrote this goal, I'm putting this back on him!  LOL

Health/Fitness Goals:  I had a few of these:  Lose 20 more lbs this year.  Increase 5k speed by 3 minutes.  Try new kinds of exercise.  Teach my kids more about health and fitness.

Progress:    I haven't lost any more weight since I updated my progress in the Spring.  Losing weight in the summer has historically been harder for me than during the school year.  My goal is to maintain my weight this summer and lose the remaining weight in the Fall.  I'm still running, but I haven't done a timed 5k since the one on our cruise.  I have one coming up in October, so that will give me a chance to see how I'm doing on my speed goal.   As far as trying new kinds of exercise...does bike riding count?  After our fun bike rides on Castaway Cay I told my husband I'd like a new upright bike for a gift someday (I'd say for Christmas, but please refer to our financial goal above!  LOL)  We've definitely been teaching our kids about health and fitness.  That's an ongoing discussion.  We've talked about how eating better and exercising can help you live longer and not get diseases like diabetes.  I'm most proud of how my 2 oldest kids were able to walk all around Disney World without complaining and without using strollers.  You'd be surprised at how many kids who appeared to be much older and bigger than they are were using strollers to get around!

So that's where we stand, folks!  If you have any words of encouragement, or can point me to any articles or websites you think may inspire me to help reach any of these goals, please share.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What's next???

Several people have asked me if we are going on another Disney Cruise next year. Or another trip to Disney World.

And as much as I'd like to say, "Yes!", it's "No". For a few reasons.

#1--a Disney Cruise does not fit into our budget every year. This was our most expensive family vacation to date.

#2--my family lives in another state. If we only went to Disney World or on a Disney Cruise every year, I'd never see them.

#3--I want my kids to experience other places too, not just Disney.

So what's our vacation for 2013?

We are going to Colorado!

I grew up there (mostly). My family is there.  We went there for a week last year for my 20th high school reunion. We've been to Denver twice as a family in the last few years, and I went there just a few weeks ago with my daughter (she's still young enough to fly on my lap for free).

But this time, we will be renting a house in the mountains near Pikes Peak in the Colorado Springs area. We will still see my family (they are about an hour away from where we are staying) but we will also visit several attractions that I haven't been to since I was a young kid.

We will take a train to the top of Pikes Peak:

Near Summit of Pikes Peak

Visit Santa at the North Pole:

See the breathtaking views at The Royal Gorge, our country's highest suspension bridge:

Hike at the Garden of the Gods:

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo:

Maybe visit the Air Force Academy, the Olympic Training Center, go ATVing...we haven't nailed down everything yet.

To save money, we will be driving there (about 13 hours) instead of flying and cooking most breakfasts and dinners at our rental house.  I'm hoping to buy some tickets to several of these attractions online in the months before our trip so that we can spread out the cost a little.

If you've been to this area before, what are some other attractions you recommend?