Grit Blogs > Close to the Earth in Alaska

Save Money: Think Before You Buy

A photo of Susan B. SommerEvery day we’re bombarded by advertising on TV and radio, in catalogs and magazines, in our mailboxes. Having grown up in our throw-away quick-fix modern society, I constantly struggle to fend off these entreaties to buy new gadgets and spend money on all kinds of things I don’t need. But I also come from a family and am married to a guy who knows how to fix old stuff and build new stuff from scratch. So, though I’m sometimes lured into the thrill of buying new, I’m getting better at purchasing wisely and making do with what we already have. Here are a few ways creative thinking has saved us money.

Plastic Bag Dryer

I use a lot of Ziplock bags, most of which stay fairly clean. I rinse them and have been laying them atop the stack of clean hand-washed pots, pans and delicate stemware in the dish drainer, but inevitably the corners get squashed and don’t fully dry, or they get splattered being so near the sink. Flipping through catalogs, I’ve eyed those bag dryers with the nice ash or birch sticks poking up from an attractive base, but just can’t bring myself to spend upwards of $20 on one. So I decided to make one. I dug through my box of extra jars and found a tall plastic container with a lid, through which I pierced holes with a small nail. I filled the inside with rocks to stabilize it, then gently stabbed a wooden cooking skewer through each hole. I covered the whole shebang with wrapping paper to pretty it up, and voila!

Plastic bag dryer

Clothes Pins as Bag Clips

Those large plastic bag clips are overpriced and unnecessary. We use clothespins for open bags of cereal, frozen veggies, pasta, etc.

Clothes pins as bag clips

Cat Trees and Toys

Have you shopped for a cat tree lately? Highway robbery! Though I’m willing to spend whatever it takes to keep my pets healthy, I’m a cheapskate when it comes to buying their happiness. Shortly after I got two kitties from the pound last year, I visited several pet stores looking for a tallish carpeted cat tree so they could spend the winter spying on critters outside and gazing contentedly down upon their humans and dogs below. Every “tree” I sampled either cost hundreds of dollars, or was cloaked in hideous purple shag carpet, or wobbled. Sometimes all of the above. What to do?

“Could you make one?” I asked my husband, who has lots of tools.

He’s a smart man, and knows that a happy wife equals a happy life, so after only a week or two of hemming and hawing, he cut a large old willow out front, and set to work peeling the bark, drying the trunk, measuring and cutting and nailing shelves. “They better use it,” he said. We joked that it would make a really nice plant stand if they didn’t. Turns out they love it. When they feel like it. That’s how cats are.

As for cat toys, I admit I do buy the bag of 10 rabbit-furred fake mice, but beyond that they get cardboard playhouses constructed on a dull winter’s eve, crinkly tissue paper, and shoelaces.

Homemade cat tree

Corn Bag Helps Keep Thermostat Down

I remember as a child sometimes taking a hot water bottle to bed with me (does anyone use those anymore?). Now I use a corn bag that we acquired as a gift. This year, especially, we’re more conscious than ever of reducing our costs, and rather than have “heat wars” (I’m too cold, he’s too hot – typical couple), we keep the thermostats turned down a bit more than we used to, and I crawl into bed each night with my microwaved corn bag. Within minutes, my whole body is toasty. Two hours later, heat still radiates from the bag.

Corn bag heating feet

So, how do you save money through creative alternatives?

dorlis
10/10/2014 3:26:02 PM

RE: CAT TREE. JUST HOW DID HE STRIP THE BARK? HOW LONG DID IT DRY? I HAVE SOME TREE TOPS FROM HARVESTED LOGS THAT MIGHT DO. BEN ON GROUND FOR 1-1/2 YEARS.


ruth degraaff
3/6/2011 1:32:23 AM

Hi Susan, I love your website! How do I save money? I use white vinegar for laundry softner, shower, sink cleaner (to remove calcium from hard water). It also removes some stains, but not all, from clothes. I soak my shower curtain in it for about a day, when it gets coated with calcium, likewise dish drainers etc. I use about a gallon of white vinegar for things like this each month. We found out that our gas bill was reduced by $60 just by closing the curtains after the sun goes down. I've also signed up on Cindee's fb page to trade items I need for things I have. Let me know what you need--I probably have it!


s.m.r. saia
5/23/2010 6:40:27 AM

I use butterfly clips in the kitchen - you know those black ones that are usually sold as office supplies? They're excellent for keeping bags closed. We also keep heavy curtains drawn in the living room as soon as the weather warms up to keep the room from heating up. That reduces how often we have to run the air conditioner. Without this step, it's just not possible to cool our house. Love the bag dryer. I use a lot of those too.


cindy murphy
3/12/2010 11:50:42 AM

Hi, Susan. So many blogs here now, I'm having a hard time keeping up! I always try to read every one, but don't always have time to comment. There's been quite a few posted in the last few days, and I missed this one completely! I do the 'clothes pin on a bag' thing too, and wash most of our zip-lock bags. The cats play with paper bags, and the widowed socks that somehow lose their mates to the dryer; I stopped buying cat toys a long time ago, because they always disappeared under the furniture - they seem to like to swarm, because I'd find them all huddled together whenever I got around to moving the furniture to vaccuum. Give the dog a stick and she's good to go; give her a lid from a butter tub, and she makes a whole-hearted attempt at becoming a frisbee dog. Probably the biggest "room" I repurpose things for is my gardens; containers of various sorts become planters, clay drainage pipes became stands for a planter bowl and bird bath, the headboard and footboard of an old metal bed is a "gate" - which is really just to block the compost heap from view. You get the picture - if someone's throwing something away, and I can find a use for it, it finds its way into my yard, (or much to my husband's dismay, into the garage until I find a use for it).


jennifer jensen
3/11/2010 5:35:04 PM

We cut the ends off of those plastic hangars that clip skirts or shorts at department stores, when they send the hangers home with the purchase. We use the clips as chip bag closers - they are stronger than clothes pins for this purpose.


susan_7
3/11/2010 11:10:28 AM

Dave, A corn bag is just a bag with feed corn sewn inside. I found this comprehensive website on the subject of microwave heating bags that covers all kinds of info such as types of fillers, heating safety, cleaning, etc.: http://www.diamondthreadworks.com/microwave_heating_bags.htm. I thought I might try making some to give as gifts or possibly even selling them. I also have a smaller bag that I think has rice inside, but it doesn't hold the heat as long since the rice grains are smaller than the corn. One really nice aspect of the bag vs. a harder object is that you can wrap it around your feet, ankles, neck, etc.--it's malleable. I hear ya about sving money by staying home! I once read a quote that said "All our problems arise from our inability to stay quietly at home." So true! Thanks for reading. Alaska Susan


nebraska dave
3/10/2010 10:52:28 AM

Susan, what exactly is a corn bag? I can remember my Mom talking about heating bricks in the oven before bed time. I believe they were covered with cloth and placed near the feet. Of course in those days the bedrooms were not heated so feather comforters and many blankets were used in the Winter. I only got to experience the no heat bedrooms when I visited my Grandma. She had the old oil stove in the living room which heated that room and the kitchen. Those were the only rooms that were heated. She didn’t have to worry about the bathroom because there wasn’t an indoor bathroom. She only had the little half moon shack in the back. I always wondered why they had a sliver of a moon on the door. The best way for me to save money is just stay home. I can’t spend money if I’m not at the store. When I go to the store I have a list and determine in my mind to get only what I have on the list. I’d like to say that it works every time but I’m a work still in progress. My greatest down fall is the Home Improvement store. I could use every thing in the store. Spring is the worst time for me as I could find a place for every plant in the garden area of the store. Every yard ornament, new gadget, or piece of lawn furniture would certainly look good at my house. Haw man, my juices are starting to flow just thinking about it. Yeah, I know I really need to seek out a withdrawal support group.