Saturday, December 23, 2006

Do You Have a Rag Bag?

You have a rag bag, right? You know what a rag bag is - a bag, box, or storage container where you keep all of your old, torn, stained, or unwearable clothing and linens.

I knew you did. Who would throw all of that great material away?

A rag bag isn't just a frugal way of re-making your cast-offs into something useful, it's also a fun place to let your imagination go wild. I love my rag bag, because there is always something in there that I can use to fire my imagination.

I have found that there are some things that are just impractical to save, though. I can't come up with any useful ways of re-purposing bras and underwear. Although I have tried to re-use the elastic from them, they are usually too worn or stretched out by the time they make it to the rag bag.

Other things that I have found too impractical to save as material:
  • coats or clothing with many decorative seams - the useable material between the seams is too small to be of use
  • socks - these are good as dusting cloths though, so save them for that
  • slick, slinky polyester or nylon - I find this material too hard to handle and difficult to sew

The best things to keep in the rag bag:
  • cotton or blend sheets - remake into pillows, throws, window quilt backs, crocheted rugs
  • towels - remake into wash cloths, rugs, cleaning rags
  • curtains - remake into pillows, quilts, window quilt backs, crocheted rugs
  • tablecloths - remake into any of the above
  • cotton or blend dresses - remake into pillows, quilts, shirts
  • flannel, cotton, or blend shirts - remake into napkins, pillows, quilts
  • fleece or sweat pants and shirts - remake into reusable cloths for the Swiffer or Wet Jet mop, cleaning cloths when you need a material that holds water, throws
  • sturdy polyester or nylon - remake into pet beds, pillow covers for outdoor furniture
  • denim - remake into floor pillows, sit-upons, bed pillows, throws, purses or totes, rugs
A rag bag can be a treasure trove for those of us who like to sew or make crafts. Don't throw all that great material away unless it just can not be used for something else.

Make Your Own Cloth Napkins has a great "How-To" on making napkins from used cloth like old tablecloths or shirt backs. This is where I got the idea to make our napkins.

I didn't make our napkins that big, though. Pat Veretto, your guide to Frugal Living at, suggest making the napkins 16" square.

I suggest thinking about where you will keep your napkins and design them for that space. A 12" or 16" napkin takes up too much room on the small shelf in the kitchen cabinet where we keep our napkins.

At a minimum, napkins need to be as big as your hand. After some trial and error, I found that the best size - based on use, comfort, and the space we had to store the napkins - was twice the size of my hand.

So, I cut the material into 8" x 13" rectangles. I used old flannel shirts because my family perfers the softness and absorbency of flannel. Also, the plaid design and colors mask any stains that might not come out in the wash.

Once you decide how big you want the napkings to be, it's a quick and simple job to cut and hem them. Just cut out rectangles, fold 1/2" seam, then fold 1/2" again to hide the raw edges, and machine sew.

That's all there is to it. After you have them hemmed, just fold the napkins in half cross-wise, then again horizontally, and your napkins will take up a very small space in your cabinets.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Let Your Kids Trade Clothes with Their Friends

Do your kids give their clothes away? My teenage daughter does. This drove me crazy until I realized that new-to-her clothes were appearing in the laundry.

Now, trading clothes with friends might seem like an odd way to get clothing on the cheap, but hey, if my picky, fashion-conscious teenager thinks it's cool, then I'm all for it.

When she first started giving her clothing away I decided it was time to have a talk. I explained to her that I was not in a financial position to buy new clothes to replace the ones she was giving away.

Her argument in favor of the practice was that she didn't like the clothes anymore and she wasn't wearing them anyway, but her friend did like them. So, she wanted to pass them on.

How could I argue with that? If the clothing was just hanging in her closet, it was much better to give them to someone who would get some use out of them.

Completing the trade may not occur with the same friend. But, it usually evens out, because there is always another friend who doesn't like some of her clothes. So, periodically I find new-to-her clothes in the laundry.

Trading is not limited to clothing. My daughter has traded purses, backbacks, shoes, and even jewelry. These things are often traded back again, though, so maybe it's more like borrowing. (Who can follow a teenager's thought processes, anyway?)

I can't say that I am always happy with the trade. If I've spent more than $30 for an item and she gives it away, I feel a frugal pinch in my pocketbook. (When you are Living Poor, spending $30 for one item is a chunk of cash, and it doesn't happen often.) But, as long as my kid has enough clothing to last the season, and she is happy with what she has, I'm not going to complain.

So, I recommend the practice. Let them trade, or borrow clothes from each other. It's a viable way to get new-to-them clothing - on the cheap. And, truth to tell, you probably couldn't stop it if you tried.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Replace a Dryer Element

Have you ever tried to replace the heating element in a Dryer? If you haven't, I wouldn't recommend it.

When our clothes dryer stopped heating, I did research to find out whether it was something we could repair ourselves. It looked easy online, but it was a tough one in real life.

After ordering the element for our dryer, taking the dryer apart (not an easy task), and carefully re-stringing the darn thing, it worked for one day and started blowing cold air again.

The clerk that worked at the dryer-part store where we bought the element warned us not to pull the heating element too hard because it could break. So, it was strung very carefully.

There were no visible breaks when we finished, but it still didn't work. Evidently we did something wrong. We ended up having to buy a new dryer.

If you encounter this problem, I would recommed that you either let a professional replace the element, or just bite the bullet and buy another dryer. It's too delicate to be one of those DIY jobs, in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Easy Cash Budget - Envelope System

Some people simply do not like to budget (go figure). It's understandable, though. Budgeting can take quite a bit of time in the beginning, especially if you create a spreadsheet yourself, from scratch.

There is a simpler alternative to saving all of your receipts and keeping track of every dollar spent. It's the Envelope system. With this method of budgeting, everything is done with cash.

Here is how it works. Cash your paycheck and divide it up for each spending category you have. Put the amount needed for each category in an envelope and write the category names on the envelopes. Put all the envelopes in a safe place until money is needed for an expense.

Let's try an example. You get your paycheck for the week and cash it. You know you will need money for rent, gas for the car, groceries, the electric bill, the phone bill, the bill for cable TV, some money towards Jr's school clothes in the summer (school starts in 6 months), money towards insurance for the car (due in 6 months), and something for entertainment.

OK, that's 9 envelopes. Label each envelope and write the amount needed for the month on them. Divide the amount needed for the month by how many paychecks you get that month. For example, if you get paid weekly you will divide the monthly bills by 4.
  • Rent - $350/4 = $87.50
  • Gas - $50/4 = $12.50
  • Groceries - $250/4 = $62.50
  • Electric - $100/4 = $25
  • Phone - $35/4 = $8.75
  • Cable - $50/4 = $12.50
  • School Clothes (needed in 6 months)- $100/6 (months) = $16.67 (a month)/4 = $4.17
  • Auto Insurance (due in 6 months) - $350/6 (months) = $58.34 (a month)/4 = $14.59
  • Entertainment - $20/4 = $5
Technically, there are an average of 4.3 weeks per month, but I always use 4 because most months have 4 weeks. This adds in an automatic cushion that should carry over each month.

This cushion should be put into an envelope labeled "Unexpected Expenses." It will be used when the car needs a new tire, or everyone gets sick and you need to buy a zillion dollars worth of vitamin C and cold medicine.

Place the calculated weekly amount into each labeled envelope and put all of the envelopes in a safe place. When you are ready to go food shopping or a bill is due, take the money from that envelope and pay that expense.

Once the envelope is empty, there is no money left for that category of spending. If you find that you run out of money before your needs are met in certain categories, you will need to re-work your budget, or find a way to cut back spending in that category.

The Envelope system works fine for a family with basic budgeting needs, as long as they have the needed discipline to stay out of the other envelopes when one is empty. This method of budgeting removes the need for listing each dollar spent, and offers the ability to see how much money is left in each category by simply opening the envelope.

Just remember, Do not spend the cushion money (Unexpected Expenses) unless a real emergency occurs. (Eating out is NOT an emergency)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Budget for Entertainment - Give Yourself a Break

It's really important to have an Entertainment category in your budget. Even if you can allocate only $5 a week for entertainment, set aside that $5 to spend for fun. This creates a positive feeling about your budget, and gives you a break from working on all the debt you are trying to pay down.

If you are Living Poor, like me, you will have to make your entertainment dollars stretch, but that isn't too hard to do. Here are a few Ideas that we use to entertain ourselves on a slim budget.
  • rent movies - some movie rental stores have deals like 5-for-5 where you can rent 5 (not new release) movies for 5 nights for $5. There are some great movies out there that you probably haven't seen yet.

  • save until you have enough for a board game - my family enjoys playing Trouble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Yahtzee. Our next game will be Scrabble.

  • go to the library for movies, and spend the money on popcorn and candy as though you were at the theatre.

  • buy an extra $5 gas and go for a ride in the country, to a park, or just to some place in your neighborhood you haven't been before.

  • buy ingredients to make a big batch of cookies and bring your entire family in to help make them.

  • save until you have enough to take the family out for breakfast. You needn't go to a fancy restaurant. You can have fun going to Shoneys or even to McDonald's if you make an event.

However you decide to allocate your Entertainment money, have some fun with it. With all the hard work you are doing to get your spending under control and pay off debt, you should have some easy jobs like blowing a little pocket change.

The Fun of Budgeting

I just love working on my budget. There is something so satisfying about closing out your monthly budget when everything has stayed within your budget goals (or come under budget).

It's even more fun now that I've paid off my credit card debt, because I can increase the budget a bit in some areas. Since I've freed up $185 a month, I can allocate that money to other categories in my budget, like Groceries, Savings, and Mortgage Paydown (which is a subcategory in my Savings category).

I'm always within budget in all spending categories now, but it took a while to get it down pat. In the beginning, I would overbudget and end up with money just sitting in a category.

Now, that might seem like a good thing, but when that money could have been in my savings account earning interest, I consider it a lost opportunity. (You might want to have a category to make sure you don't overdraw your account, call it Cushion or Overdraft protection, and make sure you keep $10 or $20 in it.)

Another thing that I think is fun about working with my budget is being able to watch my savings grow. Since I have a separate spreadsheet within my budget for each spending category, I can keep track of both my spending and my savings totals. And, with weekly deposits going into my savings categories, there's that immediate gratification of watching the numbers go up each week.

Budgeting is fun for me, and it will be for you too, once you get the hang of it. If you have a weekly or monthly deposit going into your savings account, you will feel deeply satisfied as you watch it grow.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Urban Legends and Affiliate Programs

While reading at I found a post that indicated that Wal-mart was donating 5% of online sales to the Washington DC Community Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender folks (The Center).

According to this news article, this 5% donation was seen as proof that Wal-mart had a "gay agenda," and The American Family Association (AFA) was encouraging it's members to boycott Wal-Mart during Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) because of it's supposed support for same-sex marriage.

Upon further research I found this report to be inaccurate. It seems that The Center (Home for GLBT in Metro DC) joined an affiliate program that Wal-Mart offers to web site and blog owners through LinkShare (the company that runs affiliate programs for many online stores). has designated this confusing and misleading campaign an Urban Legend, and states that it is not clear why the AFA found it necessary to mislead it's followers in this regard.

In short, Wal-Mart does not have a "gay agenda." They simply have an affiliate program as do most online stores. Many web site and blog owners (both homosexual and heterosexual) have joined this affiliate program to make a bit of extra money by posting links to Wal-Mart and other online shopping sites.

For those of us who support the GLBT community there is some good news to report. During my research of this Urban Legend, I discovered that Wal-Mart joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. And they have pledged to sponsor some of its programs.

This is just one more reason to like Wal-Mart.

LinkShare  Referral  Prg

For more information about joining Wal-Mart's affiliate program, click on this image to join LinkShare.