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Life in the Greene House

Creative Ways to Save Money on Back to School

Amy GreeneBelieve it or not, summer is almost over and soon we will be facing back to school. A time for new clothes and shoes, new pencils and erasers, fresh crayons and notebooks … and money to be spent. But, with a little planning and ingenuity, you can keep more money in your pocket while still getting all the supplies you need for your students. Here are a few ideas on how to save money on back to school supplies.

1. REDUCE: We've all seen the lists sent out by the schools for the supplies needed in each grade. Is it just me, or do those lists seem to grow every year? When my first child started school (we had homeschooled for years, then decided to allow her to attend the last year of public middle school), we followed the list to the letter, buying exactly what was on the list, not deviating an inch. We quickly learned that those lists should be followed as a guideline, not a playbook! When my oldest started school, we saw that almost two-thirds of what we had purchased either did not get used, or did not get used until MUCH later into the year. So, study those lists carefully. Look through them and decide from experience – what is a must have for the first day/week/month of school? What can wait?

school supplies | Fotolia/Jenifoto

A pile of supplies waiting to be used. Photo: Fotolia/Jenifoto

2. REUSE: We have four children. When buying for more than one child, we discovered there can be quite a bit of leftovers in many areas, whether it's food, clothing or school supplies. We soon learned that having our children clean out their rooms before school started led to amazing discoveries of stacks of notebooks, reams of filler paper, multiple binders, boxes of colored pencils, crayons and markers, and even extras such as glue sticks, highlighters and scissors. After that first year, I cleared out a spot in a central location and started stashing extras items there, especially those that were located in the darkest recesses of the children's rooms. At the end of a semester, or a year, we would put any excess items in our designated spot. Then, at the beginning of the next year, we will "shop" our shelves FIRST – that way we don't buy too much or duplicate something we already have.

crayons | Fotolia/Martin Garnham

Old crayons waiting to be used for something new. Photo: Fotolia/Martin Garnham

3. RECYCLE: We have had some fun with this one over the years. It is interesting how different each child's taste in supplies can be. What one child thinks is amazing, the next child will most definitely turn up a nose at. So what we've done is find various ways to make old things look new. That old white binder? Use various colors of duct tape in interesting designs to make an original new binder. That practically new notebook with only a few sheets used, but it has a sibling's name on it? Markers work wonders to make that name into a crazy design. Minimally used pencils? Yarn around the ends for a "wrap" design make something new that no one else has. Between your imagination and Pinterest, there are a HUGE number of ideas to make old supplies new.

duct tape binder

Supplies used to make old binder new. Photo: Amy Greene

4. RESEARCH: If, after doing all of the above, there are still items that you need to purchase, do your homework. It seems as though every store has some sort of deal on school supplies. Make a list each week of where all the best deals are and then hit each store quickly. Buy the loss leaders at each place, and you can save a ton of money. Also, be sure to take advantage of rainchecks if you happen to get to a store too late for their deals. That way, later in the year when you might need more notebooks, you can use the raincheck and get them for the 25 cents each price. My first time school shopping, I thought it was foolish to buy anywhere other than one store. That was a huge, and very costly, mistake, as I realized too late how much I could have saved by bargain shopping several stores for school supplies the same way I do for groceries. It was a lesson quickly learned and never forgotten.

In short, being creative, and savvy, can have a positive effect not only on your wallet, but even on the environment, as you reuse items, use less of them, and recycle things that might otherwise have been thrown out.

What ideas do you have for saving money on school supplies? Leave them in the comments below.

Until next time,
Amy Greene

The Best Crochet Teacher Ever

Amy GreeneMy husband and I have been married almost 30 years. It shocks me to realize I have been a part of his family for that long – doesn't seem like it has been three decades! However, one of the best parts of his family that I was able to experience was his grandmother – or as she was lovingly called, Mamaw. Because my grandparents were all gone way too soon – before I really had a chance to know them – she adopted me as one of her own.

Mamaw was self sufficent from way back. She didn't need books telling her how to be "green" or "organic" – she just was! She planted a garden, canned the resulting produce, sewed clothes and other home needs, and crocheted gifts for everyone, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even several great-great-grandchildren! By the time I joined the family, Mamaw wasn't doing much sewing or canning as she was far too busy mowing her grass and helping out her family members who needed help, as well as helping to care for my father-in-law who was terminally ill. However, she was still crocheting constantly. During the few times she was sitting down, she immediately picked up her crochet work to finish the current afghan, the current Christmas ornament, the current dishcloth, etc.

My beautiful adopted "Mamaw."

My beautiful adopted "Mamaw."

Mamaw was sweet and patient enough to help me learn how to improve my crochet skills. My godmother, who was a wonderful woman, taught a less than excited 9-year-old girl how to crochet. I did a make a couple things, but then it fell by the wayside when high school, college and boys entered the picture. After I was married, though, and met Mamaw, I realized how much I would enjoy being able to make beautiful gifts for people on our newly married limited budget.

My latest crochet project. 

My latest crochet project.

Mamaw showed me many new stitches – a triple crochet, a half-double crochet, a chevron, and others. She never tired of my constant questions, or at least she never showed me any frustration. She was always willing to look at my work, exclaim with pride over its beauty, and encourage me to continue working on whatever new project I had.

The double crochet stitch Mamaw helped me perfect. 

The double crochet stitch Mamaw helped me perfect.

Because of Mamaw's encouragement, my two daughters learned how to crochet as well and have used those skills to make gorgeous, lovingly handcrafted gifts when their wallets were empty. I believe this is one of the best testimonies to loving, close, connected families – watching each generation being taught by previous generations and moving forward to use those skills.

Mamaw passed away two weeks ago, and she leaves a huge hole in our family. We all miss her deeply – but all I need to do is look at my latest crochet project in my bag, or any of the many that my daughters are working on, to know that her spirit and her gifts will live on in our family forever. I just wish I could tell her "thank you" one more time!

Teach Your Children Well

Amy GreeneI have enjoyed everything I have learned in my journey towards self-sufficiency. However, it is interesting to me just how many parts of "going green" or being "organic" I learned growing up. When I learned them as a child, though, it was just the way we lived because my parents were born to parents who went through the Great Depression.

In talking to my mom the other day, I shared with her about wanting to learn to dehydrate food. She said, "We used to do that when you were little. Don't you remember?"

I had to admit I didn't, and she reminded me of the apples, peaches and pears that grew in our yard, which we picked by the bushel. She reminded me of the screens my brother made that we put out in the yard and dried the fruit the old-fashioned way – with sunlight and window screens. Suddenly, the memories came rushing back – putting the screens up where the dogs wouldn't get them, covering them up so the birds wouldn't get them, carrying them in and out and in and out day after day.

I was surprised I didn't remember that, but it did explain a lot as to why wanting to dehydrate was something I really wanted to do – it was in my DNA!

The same could be said of canning and freezing food. I DO remember helping my mom can – very vividly – and just as vividly I remember the complaining I did (sorry, Mom!). However, once I got married to a man who loved to garden, and was very good at growing things, I began viewing those long summer days in the kitchen with hot jars and fresh food in a whole new light.  

As I began to put up jars and jars of food, I realized just how much of that knowledge had seeped into my brain from all those years ago and all those days in the kitchen working side by side with my mother. I can't tell you how many times I called my mom to say, "Even though I griped a lot, thanks for teaching me how to can."

Interestingly, over the years, I have taught quite a few friends how to can as well - people who weren't as blessed as I was to have a mother well versed in the ways of canning and freezing.

My youngest canning beans.  My youngest filling jars with beans.

In my opinion, it is very important to pass along this knowledge. I want all four of my children – both boys and girls – to have a basic knowledge of canning, dehydrating, freezing and other preservation methods for their future.

I have already seen my children can green beans and freeze corn by themselves, start to finish. It was a teary moment – as well as a Kodak one! – while I was on the phone with my mother, sharing the moment when her youngest granddaughter was canning green beans and letting her know how what she taught me had been passed to another generation to be preserved.

This is just one of the many things I want to pass down to another generation. What knowledge do you want to share, or have you passed along, to your children so that it can be preserved for the future generations? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

If At First You Don't Succeed

Amy GreeneIn my constant pursuit of trying to learn how to make things from scratch, I am usually willing to try anything once. There are even times when, although I've made a horrific mess, I'll even try a second and third time. Such is the case with orange marmalade. My husband loves orange marmalade and over the course of our almost-30-year marriage, I have attempted to make this concoction for him. It seems as though, even with the ability to make jelly that might win blue ribbons, my marmalade leaves much to be desired.

The first time I tried marmalade was not too long after we were married, when my husband made the usually fatal mistake of saying, "I wish you could cook like my mother – she makes the best orange marmalade." After successfully quashing any latent thoughts of severe pain for that statement, I swallowed my pride and called my mother-in-law to ask for guidance. "Nothing to it," she said, and gave me instructions. However, whatever I did wrong turned those lovely oranges into orange bricks. Trash can it was. 

Fast forward several years and we were living in Florida to pastor a church. In our backyard were gorgeous orange trees with free fruit. I grew up with Great Depression-era parents, so letting anything like that go to waste was unthinkable. I squared my shoulders and decided to again make a foray into the world of marmalade. I followed a recipe in one of my cookbooks to the letter – or so I thought. My second attempt turned out to be more like orange mud – and the pile went to the trash again.

Fresh oranges

Fresh oranges

What may well be my last attempt was this past weekend. My husband bought oranges at Christmas from a coworker whose child was selling them. We had eaten as many as we could stand, and given away more. There were just a few left and my husband looked at me hopefully and said, "Those would make delicious marmalade." Despite the knowledge of my past two less-than-stellar results, I gamely agreed to give it a shot. I scoured the Internet for a "no fail" recipe. I again followed the directions step by step, put everything together, and even found cute little jars at a thrift store into which I ladled my marmalade, ever hopeful that this, THIS was my time to shine.

After a night filled with the wonderful sound of jars sealing, I eagerly entered the kitchen the next morning, hoping to see gorgeous marmalade ready to eat. What I found was jar after jar of orange – syrup. Yep – every jar was liquid – not a solid jar in the batch. I think we'll be having pancakes with orange syrup this week – and the next – and the next.

While I'm not sure I'll ever try to make orange marmalade again, my latest less-than-perfect project won't stop me from trying the next thing. I will admit, however, that it probably won't have the words "orange," "marmalade" or "jelly" in the title!

'Til next time,