Showing posts with label Homemaking 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homemaking 101. Show all posts

Nov 19, 2014

The Right Way to Wash Dishes by Hand

When it comes to housekeeping, I hesitate to say one way is wrong while another is right - because, really, what's "right" is what works for you. However, when we move into our tiny house motorhome, for the first time in my life, I won't have a dishwasher. Sure, I've hand washed stray pots and dishes now and then, but I've never had to rely entirely on hand washing. And since no one ever taught me how to hand wash dishes, I knew I needed to research the "proper" way to do it. And if I'm not sure of the "right" way to wash dishes by hand, I feel pretty certain some of my readers don't, either.

First, a couple of notes:

* Consider putting dirty dishes in a plastic tub, instead of the sink. This way the sink is always available for dish washing - or whatever else it's needed for.

* Do dishes after every meal or snack. The sooner you wash the dishes, the easier they are to wash. Besides, nobody likes to see a sink full of dishes waiting to be washed.

How to Wash Dishes by Hand

1. Scrape food off the plates and into the compost bin or garbage.

2. Sanitize the sink.It's one of the germiest spots in the kitchen. Soap and water work okay, but a little bleach or ammonia really gets things much cleaner. Sometimes I'll spray the sink with Windex (which contains ammonia), walk away for several minutes, then rinse.

3. Fill the sink with hot, soapy water. It's smart to put a rubber mat or plastic tub in the sink, to protect glasses and plates from breaking. Use the hottest water you can stand, but don't burn yourself. Rubber gloves make it possible to use hotter water - and protect your skin from drying out due to soap and hot water. By the way, don't fill the sink or tub all the way up, because the water level will rise once the dishes go in.

4. Start washing. There are at least two schools of thought on what to wash first. Some believe that things that touch the mouth (utensils and glasses) should be washed first, since the water will be hotter and cleaner. Others simply wash things from cleanest to dirtiest. Certainly pots and pans should be washed last, because they dirty the water quickly. Also, some people like to use a brush to clean dishes - others prefer a scrubby cloth or sponge. I like Scotch Bright scrub sponges because one side is rough but don't scratch surfaces. Ideally, whatever you use should be easy to disinfect. (For example, you can microwave sponges or wash cloths.)

To wash: Place the item in the hot, soapy water and scrub it while it's underwater. Lift up from the water to examine it. Scrub again, as needed.

5.  Rinse with hot water as you go. If you have a double sink, run the rinse water in that. If not, just run it into the soapy water. Avoid letting the water run in between dishes, since this wastes water and money. If your dishes tend to look spotted after drying, fill a large bowl or tub with water - plus a splash of white vinegar; rinse the dishes in this. (Dump out and refresh as needed.)

6. Drain the tub or sink, if at any time the water seems too dirty. Refill with hot, soapy water.

7. Dry. There are two ways to deal with wet dishes. Some people place them on a dish drying rack; you may wish to place a rimmed tray (like a baking sheet) beneath it, to contain the water that drips off the dishes. Other people prefer to dry dishes as they go, using a good, cotton dish towel. (I find "flour sack" towels work best.) This method is less likely to leave dishes looking spotted.

Want more tips? Check out 10 Ways to Make Washing Dishes Less Miserable

Sep 22, 2014

How to EASILY Clean Ceilings & Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen!

Few things make the whole house look grungy than dirty ceilings and walls. Yet many of us put off cleaning ceilings and walls because the traditional way to do it (with a sponge and chemical cleaner) is a real pain. But it doesn't have to be that way!
Last weekend, I decided it was time to tackle my really grimy, greasy kitchen ceiling and walls. (Yep, that's my kitchen ceiling in the photos here.) It wasn't hard, and it took me only about 15 minutes. (And so you can truly appreciate just how very dirty those ceilings and walls were, I hadn't cleaned them in about eight years. Yes, eight! Suffice it to say I just haven't been well enough to keep my house as spic and span as I'd like; recently, I gave up on conventional doctors and am seeing a naturopath who is really healing me up. But I digress...) matter how dirty your walls are, you really can clean them in a short amount of time - and without a bunch of chemicals.

NOTE: Popcorn ceilings require a different cleaning method; click here for more information.

How to Easily Clean Even Grossly Greasy Ceilings and Walls - Without Chemicals:

1. Grab yourself a new mop head. I highly recommend you use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop head because I think they are one of the greatest inventions in recent history. They make cleaning so much easier - and may make it possible for you to clean your ceilings and walls without any cleaners whatsoever. (More on that in a moment.)

If you prefer, you can use a regular sponge mop head. (Don't use the string-style, cut end mop head.)

2. Thoroughly wet the mop head, then wring it out very well.

3. Test clean an inconspicuous spot. Any type of mop head has the potential to do weird things to paint, so this is an important step. Read step 4 for advice about using cleaners - or not.

4. Start with the ceiling, so that any dirty drips that might roll down the walls get cleaned up later. Now mop the ceiling, beginning at one end of the room and working your way across.

If you're using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop head, try moping without any cleaner first. I know this sounds crazy, but even my really greasy kitchen ceiling came out perfectly clean just by using water and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop head. If you're using a sponge mop, I recommend using a little Dawn dish soap in warm water, and using that as your cleaner. If a damp Mr. Clean mop head or a mop head with a little sudsy water doesn't so the trick, I recommend using Windex. But that is almost never necessary.

5. Once the ceiling is clean, mop the walls.

6. If there are areas where the mop couldn't reach - say around light fixtures or in corners - use a clean sponge to wipe down those areas. For a cleaner, use warm, sudsy water or a little Windex sprayed onto the sponge (not onto the walls or ceilings).

Ta da! All done!

Apr 18, 2014

How to Buy Bath Towels that Last

Are you tired of buying bath towels only to have them shrink, fade, and unravel a short time later? Next time you're shopping, use this bath towel buying guide and avoid the disappointment and waste!

#1: Materials Used

The first thing to look for in quality towels is the type of material they are made from. The best towels are made of either cotton or bamboo. Cotton comes in several quality levels:

100% Cotton - 100% cotton towels are the minimum in quality you should look for. Many durable bath towels are made of ordinary cotton.

Prima Cotton - This type of cotton is made from the same plants that make the best Egyptian cotton, but are grown in the United States. A brand name for prima cotton is Supima cotton.

Organic Cotton - This type of cotton is about giving you a more natural product. Towels marked as made from 100% certified organic cotton are made from fibers that were never treated with chemicals while growing.

Turkish Cotton - Made from cotton that's grown in the Aegean region. Turkish toweling is almost as absorbent as Egyptian cotton, and is usually fluffy and thick.

Egyptian Cotton - The highest quality cotton available. The fibers are extra-long, highly absorbent, and very durable.

There are also micro fiber towels whose primary advantage is they dry quickly after use.

Be sure to read fabric labels carefully. Look for "100%" (i.e., "100% prima cotton"). Towels labeled "made with" (i.e. "made with prima cotton") include other fibers - usually synthetics.

Cotton plant.
#2. Construction
 In addition to the type of material used, consider the fabric weight. Sheets are given a thread count, but towels are measured by grams per square meter, or GSM. A lower GSM means the towels are thinner and lighter; a higher GSM means they are thicker and heavier. I recommend only considering towels 400 GSM or higher.

400-600 GSM towels are often used for beach towels or guest towels that aren't often used. They are medium weight, and each additional 100 GSM makes the towels a little more absorbent and heavy.

600-900 GSM towels are of the highest quality. They are heavier, more absorbent, and more durable.

You may also see references to "twist" - or the number of twists per inch made with the yarn during constructing. A lower number means the towel is softer and more plush; a higher number means the towel is more durable and heavy.
Some other construction methods are of note, too. For example, if the towel is combed cotton, the material is literally combed so that only the strongest and longest threads remain. Terry cloth towels have extra yarn and longer thread loops, making them more absorbent. Ringspin cotton is made from finer, smoother yarn, resulting in a softer towel, while two-ply towels are made with double the amount of yarn, making the towel absorbent, durable, and heavy.

#3. Size Matters

It's not true that all bath towels are of the same size. Some manufacturer's cut corners by making them smaller - and some more luxurious bath towels are considerably larger. The standard size of a bath towel is anywhere from 27 x 52 inches to 30 x 58 inches. If you want over-sized towels, look for "bath sheets," which are usually about 35 x 60 inches to 40 x 70 inches.

Hand towels are 16 x 28 inches to 18 x 30 inches in size, finger towels are about 11x18 inches, and wash clothes are about 13 x 13 inches.

#4. Making the Purchase

It may seem that buying towels in person is the best way to go. After all, if you can handle the towels, you can tell by feel how soft they are, and you can look closely to see how well made they are. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for manufacturers to apply a finish to the towels to make them feel softer or look shinier - and that finish will go away the first time the towels are washed. And unless you can see that the towels are raveling in the store (highly unlikely), it's pretty tough to tell much about the quality of the construction by just looking.

Instead, I recommend buying towels online - or at least consulting the store's website to look at online reviews. Begin by seeking out towels with 4 and 5 star ratings. From there, look at the worst reviews for the towels. Read those reviews carefully. Is the customer really complaining about the quality of the towels, or something else? It's also important to note how many great reviews there are vs. how many bad reviews there are. If, for example, a set of towels has one hundred 4 star reviews and 2 bad reviews, it's likely you will be pleased with the towels. Another thing to look for, however, is how long the customers have had the towels. Some people leave a review immediately after buying the product - perhaps even before using the product. Such reviews aren't very helpful. But reviews written by customers who've used the product for, say, a month or more, are highly useful.

Mar 31, 2014

Spring Cleaning & Repair Organization - Plus FREE Printable Notebook Pages

Do you ever feel there's so much spring cleaning, repairs, or just general housework to do that you can't possibly remember it all? Me, too.

Here's an idea I love, which I originally saw at Clover Lane: Get yourself a nice, fresh notebook. Or download this free .PDF, print out the pages, punch holes in them, and stick them in a binder. Then:

1. Pick a room and either choose the appropriate printable page for it, or write the name down on the first page of your notebook. Then walk into that room and inspect it. Write down down everything that needs attention. You can include simple cleaning chores (like wash the ceiling and scrubbing the floorboards) to repairs (like fixing the grout or painting). If you like, you can also include things you'd like to change about the room (like change the color scheme or buy a couch slipcover).

2. Walk into the next room, change pages, and make notes.

3. Repeat until you've covered the whole house.

Now you have a handy checklist. You don't have to try to remember everything that needs doing, and you can systematically clean things up or make repairs.

So simple, but so effective, too!

Feb 3, 2014

How to Make a Bed

Nobody ever taught me how to make a bed; so for years, I just plopped the sheets and covers on and called it good. But there is something to be said for a neat, welcoming bed. So recently, I started doing things the right way. It's not at all hard, and it gives a much nicer appearance to the bed.

1. Remove all the linens. I only have two sets of sheets for each bed, so when I remove them, I wash them right away so they are ready to go next time. Although I wash most things in cold water, I wash linens in hot water, which kills dust mites.

2. Once in a while, vacuum the mattress. I only do this with the change of seasons. Again, the idea is to remove as many dust mites as possible.

3. Rotate the mattress. This prolongs the mattress' life and makes it more comfortable for a longer period of time.

4. Put a clean mattress pad over the mattress. It has elastic at every corner, so it's as simple as just slipping it on and making sure the edges are beneath the mattress.

5. Put the fitted sheet on over the mattress pad. I hear tell some people don't have fitted sheets. If that's the case, simply lay a flat sheet over the mattress pad and use hospital corners on all four corners to tuck it under the mattress. (See step 8 for more detailed info on hospital corners.)

6. Center the flat sheet over the bed so the bottom hangs below the mattress and the sides hang the same distance on each side of the bed. The short end of the sheet with the widest hem goes at the head of the bed.

7. Tuck the bottom of the sheet under the mattress, keeping the sheet smooth and wrinkle-free.

8. Make hospital corners at the foot of the bed:
     a. Grab and lift the side of the sheet near the bottom corner of the bed and let it sit on top of the bed.
     b. Tuck in the long side of the sheet, beneath the part of the sheet you just lifted.
     c. Drop the part of the sheet you lifted onto the top of the bed and tuck it under the mattress.

     d. Repeat on opposite corner of bed. If you're having trouble visualizing this, click the video below.

9. On both long sides of the bed, tuck the sheet under the mattress,. Although this gives the neatest appearance, some people prefer to skip this step.

10. If desired, center a blanket over the top of the sheet and make hospital corners at the foot and (optionally) tuck in the sides.

11. Place pillow covers on the pillows, followed by pillow cases. If desired, put pillow shams over the pillows. Lay at the top of the bed.

12. Center a comforter or quilt over the top of the bed and smooth out any wrinkles.

Sep 20, 2013

How to Clean a Stove

Exhibit One: My dirty stove top.
Until I got married, I never knew how to clean a stove. Oh sure, I wiped down the surface with a soapy sponge, but I didn't know how to clean under the burners, behind the knobs, or beneath the stove surface. I'm sure there are others who could use some tips on the finer points of stove cleaning - especially since "How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove" is one of this blog's most popular posts. And, keeping it real, I'm showcasing my extra-dirty, I-just-finish-canning stove top!

The first place to begin is with your stove's manual, if you have it. If you don't have it, try looking for it online. By Googling the manufacturer's name, the word "stove," and the model number (often found in the warming or storage drawer), you can probably find a free manual to download. Read the manual, noting what type of cleaners the manufacturer recommends. Then:

Removing the knobs.
1. Wipe off any food debris, using a damp, soapy dish cloth or sponge.

2. Clean the back of the stove, where the knobs are. Usually the knobs come off with a gentle tug. Degrease and clean that entire surface, as well as the knobs. Replace the knobs.

3. Remove the burners and drip pans. These typically just pop out if you gently lift and pull on them. Clean all around the surface of the stove, removing all grime and grease. If the stove surface just won't seem to come clean, be sure to read "How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove Top."

Lifing up the burner...

...and the drip pan.
4. For electric stoves, examine the burners. If they seem dirty, wipe them down with a cloth dampened in soapy water. Rinse, being careful not to get any part of the electrical plug wet. (Never soak electric burners in water!) If there is tough-to-remove gunk on the burners, in a bowl, pour a little baking soda. Add just enough water to make a paste. Use a cloth to put some of the mixture on the dirty area of the coils and allow it to sit about 15 or 20 minutes; scrub it off and rinse. Let the burners dry completely.

5. For gas stoves, read the manual for coil cleaning instructions. If you can't find the manual, very carefully use a pin to unclog the port of each gas burner. (If your stove has a standing pilot light, be sure to shut off the gas first!) Don't dig around in the port; just poke it. Soak all parts of the burner that can be removed in hot, soapy water. If needed for greasy or especially dirty burners, add some baking soda to the water. Scrub gently, if needed. Rinse well. Let the burners dry completely.

6. For smooth top stoves, there are no burners to remove. You simply need to clean the flat surface with a recommended cleaner.

7. There are several ways to clean drip pans; the easiest is to put them in the dishwasher. Soap, water, and the scrubby side of a sponge can work, too. For super dirty drip pans, try boiling them in water with a little vinegar added. Or place the drip pans in individual Ziplock bags; add 3 tablespoons of household ammonia. Seal the bag and let it sit overnight. In the morning, remove the burners from the bags and rinse clean. (Seal the bags and throw them in the trash.)
Lifting the stove top.
8. Replace the drip pans and burners. Finally, on electric stoves, lift the entire top of the stove. (Yes! It lifts up!) All this usually takes is a gentle tug. Clean the inner surface of the stove, as well as the outer sides of the stove, where food sometimes falls. Replace the lid.

But which cleaning products are best to use? Anything non-abrasive. Sponges are fine, but avoid the rough "scrubbing" type sponges. Dish towels work, too. For cleaners, I like a little Dawn and water. If the stove is particularly greasy, I follow this by putting a little white vinegar on a sponge. After wiping the stove down with that, I wipe off the surfaces again with a clean sponge. I've also heard of people using baking soda as their "soap." If you have a glass top stove, extra caution is needed, but you might wish to check out the homemade glass stove top cleaners here and here.

Just be sure, no matter what type of stove you have, that your cleaning products are not abrasive - or you could easily and permanently damage your stove top.

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Jun 26, 2013

Making & Using a Homemaking Binder

Homemaking binders or books are nothing new. In biblical times, either the husband or wife kept books showing money coming in and out, in addition to noting household valuables, stores of food and other supplies, and what servants were owed. Modern homemaking binders may contain slightly different information, but the principle is the same: To aid in smoothly running a household.

I am not a naturally organized person, but creating and using a homemaking binder has greatly eased my job as homemaker. I wouldn't want to keep house without it! That said, some women, in my opinion, go a bit overboard with their binders. Being ultra-organized is, for some, almost a religion. My feeling is that if you spend more time organizing than doing other homemaking jobs, you probably need to step back and reconsider your focus.

So, I aim for being just organized enough that my household runs smoothly. Of course, what this means for me may be quite different from what it means to you. That's why it's important to remember, as you see my homekeeping binder and perhaps look at others across the Internet, to customize your binder to your own life. I suggest starting with the bare minimum - paying special attention to areas where you struggle in your homekeeping - and building from there if, and only if, you find it necessary.

Let's start by looking at my homekeeping binder:

In the front pocket of my binder, I keep miscellaneous paperwork I know I will only be keeping for a short time. This is mostly bill payment confirmations I've printed off (and keep only until I see my next bill/statement). The rest of the papers in my binder are kept in plastic page protectors.

The first of these contains a stack of my daily to-do sheets, which I use daily. The three most important aspects of my daily to-do list is that it does not contain routine chores; it lists the day's top 3 priorities; and it leaves room for me to make notes about what I might need to do on another day. You can read more about my to-do list, and download a free printable of it, here.

The next page is my monthly bill paying checklist. This page lists our monthly bills and gives me a spot to check off that they've been paid - and when. Without this list, I gaurantee I'd forget to pay some bills. I use a dry erase pen to mark directly on the plastic page protector on this page. Over time, the pen stains the plastic, and when it gets really bad, I replace the page protector.

Next, I have an expanded list of every company that bills us monthly. The chart tells me when the bill isall the contact information for the company, including the bill-pay mailing address, phone number, and website address. This ensures that even if I'm unable to pay the bill by my usual mode of payment, I have some way to contact the company and pay the bill. You can read more about my chart, plus download a free template for making your own, here.
due and

The next section of my homemaking binder acts as my address book. I have a page for all medical contacts (including doctor's names, physical office addresses, website addresses, and phone numbers), another for close family members, another for friends and more distant family, and an "other contacts" section that includes information for miscellaneous contacts at schools, our bank, etc.

My binder also includes copies of my household recipes (for homemade cleaning supplies and similar items - not for food), plus a meat temperature chart and kitchen measurement chart. You could keep the latter in your recipe binder, but mine is so full, I find it best to store them in my homemaking binder.)

Finally, my binder includes my Mama Chore Charts, which list my daily, weekly, and seasonal chores. (You can download these free charts here).

Some people also like to keep a calendar in their binder; I prefer to use a wall hanging calendar. Some also I prefer this method of menu planning, as I find it more flexible.
keep a blank calendar for their menu plan;

In addition to my homemaking binder, I keep an accordion file for miscellaneous household paperwork, including warranties, health insurance paperwork, school flyers and information, and so on. In a separate binder, as I've already mentioned, I keep my recipes, and in another, purse sized binder, I keep a price book. I find each indispensable, but I added them to my routine slowly.

Do you have a homemaking binder yet? What do you find most indispensable about it?

Apr 17, 2013

Laundry 101: How to Do Laundry

Did anyone ever teach you how to do laundry? As I recall, my mom told me to separate darks and lights, throw them in the machine, add lots of detergent, and let the machine do the rest. But even if you had a more extensive laundry lesson than I, it makes sense to review what experts say is the "best way," then determine how - as a mother with plenty of laundry to do - you can make the process easier.
For expert advice, I turned to Martha Stewart, finding her tips matched all the other experts I read - and were actually sometimes more streamlined!

1. Martha tells us to first check the colorfastness of every piece of new clothing. This is usually done by reading the label, but you can also test a small area of fabric (preferably inside the garment - for example, on the seam) by dampening the fabric. Now blot the same area with a white piece of fabric. If any of the garment color transferred to the white cloth, you know the garment isn't colorfast and must be washed by itself. (Often, after several washes, such garments will become colorfast, so retest once in a while.)

2. Next, it's time to sort the laundry. Separate anything that needs handwashing or dry cleaning. Amongst the clothing that can be washed in a machine at home, separate darks and lights: White clothing and clothing in light colors such as pastels go in one pile. Black clothing or any clothes of dark color go in another pile.

3. While you're separating, Martha says to make sure zippers are zipped, drawstrings are tied, cuffs are unrolled, and pockets are emptied. If you see clothes that need mending, fix them before washing them because washing can make the problem worse.
Courtesy admiller,

4. Now Martha says to pretreat stains.
Most should go into a large bowl, bucket, clean sink to be treated with commercially made or homemade stain treatments.

5. Open the washing machine and pour in the detergent, Martha says. She also says powdered detergents are best if you have hard water, or the clothes have mud or clay soil on them; liquids are best for greasy stains. "Use the recommended amount," she says.

6. Add the clothes, says Martha, making sure they aren't packed in and that they are evenly distributed. Clothes need to move, so don't fill the machine more than it's capacity - about 3/4 full, she says.

7. Use the shortest wash time - unless the clothes are very dirty. Select the temperature: "Use hot water (120 degrees) to keep whites white and to clean very dirty colorfast clothes - in separate loads, of course. Warm water (90 degrees to 110 degrees) is good for most average loads. Cold water (below 85 degrees) is best for bright colors that are likely to fade and for delicates. Detergents are less effective in water below 65 degrees. Shrinkage is caused by heat -- either from the dryer or hot water in the washer. To avoid it, wash items in warm or cold water, and hang to dry."

8. Select a cycle. According to Martha, "regular" is good for sturdy clothes; "permanent press" is a bit easier on clothes; "delicates" is the most gentle.

9. Once the wash cycle is over, hang clothes to dry or put them in the dryer and select the appropriate setting. The "permanent press" setting reduces wrinkles because it cools down near the end of the cycle. "Air fluff" uses no heat and is best for fluffing pillows or for freshening up clean clothes that have been stored for a while.

Courtesy of Keerat,

Now, there is nothing wrong with Martha's methods. But are they realistic for a busy mom? Maybe, maybe not, depending upon your life and your personality. So here are a few tips for streamlining things:

* Always read care labels before buying. Don't buy dry clean only clothing, clothes that must be washed by hand, or clothes that aren't colorfast. This will save tons of time and money. If you do end up with something that isn't colorfast (say, black jeans) wash them once in hot water, adding 1 cup of white vinegar to the water. This should make the item colorfast.

* Consider whether the clothes really need washing. Americans waste copious amounts of water, detergent, energy, and time washing clothes that don't need it. Pants, for example, can often be worn several times before washing; towels usually can go a week or so; clothes that your kids dump on the floor but don't wear can get hung right back up. Use the smell test!

* Don't sort lights and darks. I never do. Do our socks look slightly dingy? Eventually, yes, but it really doesn't matter to us. Of course, if you have a special white shirt (Really? A mom with a white shirt??), you should probably wash it separately. Don't rely on bleach to lighten it because bleach is really hard on fabric.

* Treat stains immediately. If you're at home, remove the clothing and wash it right away. Often this prevents the need to use strain treaters. If you're not at home, remove the clothing as soon as you get home and use a stain stick or spray on it. For really stubborn stains, soak in a bowl of OxiClean overnight.

* If you're clothes are coming out with detergent still on them, you may be overcrowding the load. Or,
Courtesy of stockbroker/123RF Stock Photo
try starting the washer (getting the water going). Then add the detergent. Once there's a bit more water in the washer, add the clothes.

* Don't run the washer unless you have a full load. For most families, this is no problem, because even if you want to wash a stained shirt right away, there is always laundry in somebody's hamper!

* Use cold water. It's much cheaper and does a fine job. An exception is if clothes are very dirty or need disinfecting. In such cases, use hot water.

* Use less detergent than the detergent-maker suggests. In many cases, laundry detergent isn't even needed! Use a very small amount unless you're washing very dirty clothes or clothes that need disinfecting.

* Hang as many clothes as possible, to save a lot of money.

* Always use the shortest drying cycle you can. If in doubt, go for a shorter amount of time - you can always add additional time later.

* Clean the lint screen in the dryer every time you use it. It saves energy and makes the dryer a safer appliance.

* If you use a dryer, you'll need some sort of fabric softener. The most wholesome and natural softener and anti-cling "product" is plain old white vinegar: 1/4 cup in the washing machine. Otherwise, I recommend Bounce Dryer Bars; they are much less troublesome than dryer sheets or fabric softener.

* To prevent wrinkles, remove clothes from the dryer as soon as it's done. I know it's not always possible, but make it a goal.

* Give line dried clothes a couple of good shakes before hanging and take the time to straighten cuffs, collars, etc.

* Fold or hang clothes right away to prevent wrinkles and the temptation to re-wash. Sometimes this seems like a monumental task, but it usually goes much faster than you think.

* Have your kids help! This is a life skill they need to know, and most kids enjoy helping if you start them early. Toddlers can do things like pull all the socks out of the laundry pile. As they get older, teach them to roll socks into a bundle, sort clothes by family member (they can at least pull out their own clothes), fold simple things like wash cloths, and put their clothes away. My 7 year old daughter can do all her laundry on her own except for the folding (which we are working on); best of all, she enjoys doing it!

And what about detergent? Well, you already know you need a lot less than you're probably using. And I know some people swear by their homemade laundry detergent. I, personally, have found it doesn't dissolve well in cold water and isn't money-saving in my region. (Read more here.) In most cases, powdered detergent is less expensive than liquid. I've tried all the cheap brands and found they all work about the same - so pick and choose your ingredients as you see fit.

See also:
How to Do Less Laundry
Get Out from Under the Laundry Pile
Air Drying Indoors

Feb 20, 2013

Dishwashers: How to Use them Properly

Last year, we replaced the dishwasher that came with our house. It had stopped cleaning dishes altogether and was too costly to repair. Then, just last week, our new dishwasher began malfunctioning. When the repairman came out, he said the problem was...drum roll, please....I was putting dirty dishes in the machine. (Yes, I'm serious. More on this later.)

With these things in mind, here's what I've learned in recent years about how to (and not to) run a dishwasher.

Why Use a Dishwasher?
Whenever I have dishwasher problems, I feel slightly guilty. After all, one can't actually say a dishwasher is a necessity. On the other hand, a dishwasher does lighten my workload, shortening the amount of time I spend doing dishes. It also saves us money on water and energy bills.

There are a number of studies proving dishwashers use less water and energy (to heat the water), but the most recent was conducted by the University of Bonn. It showed that even among those who took great pains to use as little water and energy as possible while hand washing dishes, dishwashers still did a more efficient job. On average, dishwashers used about 4 gallons of water and used1-2 kWh of total energy. Hand washing used an average of 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kWh of energy.

Not surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has something to say on the topic, too. They claim a post-1994 dishwasher saves 1,300 gallons of water over its lifetime. So yes; there are good reasons for using a dishwasher.

The Problem with Older Dishwashers
I like old dishwashers. As long as they are in good repair, I believe they do a much better job of cleaning dishes. However, they do use more water and energy than modern Energy Saver dishwashers. And now that the EPA has scared dishwashing detergent makers into removing phosphates from detergents, old dishwashers don't clean dishes nearly as well. So many Americans are now finding they must buy new dishwashers, or begin hand washing.

The Problem with New Dishwashers
However, new dishwashers come with their own set of problems. Yes, they use less water and energy - but at a price. Dishes that go into new dishwashers must be well rinsed before they go into the dishwasher. Water pressure is lower in new machines, and sensors that indicate dirtiness may make the washing cycle considerably longer if dishes go in dirty. 

But your dishwasher has a food grater, you say? According to my repairman, they are chintzy and don't work well - so count on them to only get rid of very small, very soft, accidentally-left behind pieces of food.

In addition, new machines are liable to plug up or leak if you ignore these new rules.

When I expressed amazement at all this, our repair man - who has been in the business for over 20 years - said, "They don't make a really good dishwasher anymore. They just don't do the job well. The best brand is Bosch, but they aren't that much better than anything else, and they cost a whole lot more." 

Tips for More Efficient Dishwasher Use:

* Clean the dishwasher at least every two months. Most manufacturers recommend buying special cleaner for this, but our repairman says a cup of white vinegar works just as well. Just pour it into the machine and run it through a wash cycle.

* Inspect the machine before every use and remove any bits of food. Look especially along the seal and the drain.

* Rinse dishes right away; don't let them sit in the sink or dishwasher while they still look dirty. This simple step saves time, water, and energy because you won't have to really wash or scrub dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

* Run the dishwasher only when it's full - but don't overfill, block nozzle sprayers, or overlap dishes so water can't get between them.

* To save more energy, stop the machine after dishes are clean but before the dry setting kicks in. Either use a dishcloth to dry the dishes or air dry the dishes in the dishwasher. (If you feel you must let the dishwasher dry the dishes, be sure to use Jet Dry or a similar product or the sensors in new dishwashers will make the dry cycle last much longer.)

* Use the right amount of detergent. Using too much leaves a film on dishes. Using too little can result in dirty dishes. Consult your dishwasher manual for details.

Read your dishwasher manual for tips on the most efficient loading and maintenance techniques for your particular machine. If you don't have the manual, check for it online. Often, they are available as a free download from the manufacturer.

Jul 18, 2012

Teaching Kids How to Budget

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.."
Now that you have your own finances under control (after keeping track of every cent for a time and then getting a budget on paper), the next step is to start thinking about how to teach your kids the much-necessary skills to handle their own finances.

Ideally, this training begins when your children are preschoolers. (If they are older than that, don't fret! All of this advice works for older kids, too.) Begin by getting your child a teaching piggy bank. For ideas on buying or making one, read this post - but generally what you're after is a visual way for children to divide money up into three basic categories: Save, Give, and Spend. Now whenever your child gets money as a gift, or earns a little something by doing chores above and beyond what he's expected to do, he has a perfect place to put his money.

At this tender age, don't worry about teaching your child about percentages. (For example, giving 10 percent to the church.) Just help your child divide the money up into each of the three categories in some simple fashion; for example, if you child has three quarters, she should put one into each of the three money categories. If she has a dollar bill, she can pick which category to put it in, remembering to put a future dollar into one of the other categories.

As your child gets older and begins learning about dividing and percentages in school, you can teach him a more precise method of dividing up his money.

Above all, discourage your child from going out and spending every cent as soon as it arrives in her hands. It's natural for children to be excited by the idea of having their own money to spend, but encourage your child to spend a small amount, instead of everything he has.

Another important step is to read what the Bible has to say about money. Some children's Bibles contain parables about money, and there are also children's books aiming to teach a biblical view of how to handle money. To encourage generosity in your children, have them give some of their own money in the offering at church, encourage them to put some of their own money in a Salvation Army box, and, if possible, have them contribute to a family fund to help the needy. (If your child regularly earns money, she'll be proud to contribute all such funds at least once a year.)

By the time your child is in middle school, you can begin introducing the concept of budgeting. Let your child look at your family's household budget, and explain how having one gives the family peace instead of chaos. Then help your child create his own budget. This can be much more simple than a household budget. Have broad categories like giving, food, entertainment, and savings. Help your child come up with estimates of how much he thinks he'll spend in each category, then write those figures down. Show him how to keep track of recipts or write down each expense in a small notebook, then review the results after a month. How can he improve his budgeting?

By high school, your child should know how to track every cent and create a truly workable budget of her own. She should have her own bank accounts - ideally both checking and savings. She should know how to write a check and balance her account. It's also a great idea to let your child deal with the family's budgeting and bills, with you double checking her work afterward.

By taking these few steps, you'll empower your child. Not only will he understand God's ideas about money, but he'll have the skills necessary to save himself from the endless debt that so plagues our society. Time to go off to college or move out on his own? It's going to be a lot less scary now because he knows exactly how to handle his finances. What a gift you've given!

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May 7, 2012

How to Create a Household Budget: Part II (Getting it On Paper)

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? "
NOTE: This is part II of the series. To read part I, click here.

 Once upon a time, every Proverbs 31 Woman had a household budget. To many modern women, however, that’s a foreign concept. Why would a private household need a budget? Well…a budget equals:

* Less stress.
* Real control of your finances.
* Always knowing there is enough money for all the month’s expenditures.
* Always knowing how much money is in the bank.
* Getting out of debt faster and easier.
* Easier savings.
* A better feeling about your abilities.

A household that’s run without a budget is one that’s stressful for anyone who pays bills or does shopping; it’s a household that wonders “where all the money goes;” it’s one where the income-earners are easily depressed, wondering why they work so hard; it’s one where debt is common and savings are rare.

The good news is, budgeting isn’t difficult – even if you’ve never created a budget for anything before. Trust me; I count my toes with a calculator, but I still manage to keep a reasonable budget.

Step One: Think Categories
Before you attempt to create a household budget, I highly recommend keeping track of every cent your family earns for at least one month. (Learn how, here.) 
Then you can look at your spending and see what categories it falls into. Write these categories down on a piece of paper.
First, think in terms of regular expenses. These could include:

* Tithes
* Rent/mortgage
* Water/sewer
* Electricity/gas
* Telephone/cell phone
* Internet connection
* Insurance premiums
* Garbage/dump fees
* Vehicle payments and other debts
* Groceries and dining out (they should be two separate categories)
* Toiletries and cleaning products
* Entertainment
* Savings

You will probably also want a category for “free spending” – usually cash you carry around for miscellaneous, smaller purchases.

Now think about your irregular expenses. These might include:

* Charity
* Gifts
* Parties
* Christmas
* Vehicle maintenance
* Household repairs

Once you have a budget in place, these expenses will actually become regular expenses, because you’ll set aside a specified amount for them each month - ideally depositing the amount into a different bank account.
As you create categories, avoid one called “Miscellaneous.” The whole idea of having a budget is to make yourself perfectly aware of your finances. But if you have a “Miscellaneous” category, it’s too easy for money to slip through your fingers.

Step Two: Put it on Paper
There are several ways to get your budget on paper. One is to use graph paper and a pencil. Another is to use a table in Word or Excel. Another is to use an online tool. (I hear Pear Budget is very user friendly.)
To begin, I suggest using either pencil and paper or a program you already have on your computer.

There’s no sense in spending money on budgeting if one of these methods works well for you.

The basic format of a budget is simple and straight forward:

1. The top row should have one rectangle labeled with each one of these: “Category,” “Budgeted Amount,” “Actual Amount,” and “Difference.” It is possible to use just “Category” and “Budgeted Amount,” but I think you’ll find it’s helpful to write down exactly how much you spent each month – and to know what money is left over (if any).

2. Along the side, first write any appropriate categories for income. (For example: “Hubby’s salary,” “Ebay Income,” and “Garage Sale Income.”)

3. Next, write the categories for your regular expenditures, such as tithing and utilities.

4. Finally, add the categories for your “irregular” spending.

(If you're having trouble visualizing this, the last section of this post contains links to examples.)

Figuring the Figures
All this may seem obvious to some of you, but you may wonder (as I did for many years), just how you’re supposed to accurately project how much you’ll need spend in each category.

That’s why you’ve tracked every cent of your income for at least one (and preferably two or three) month(s). From this list of expenditures, you can come up with figures that will actually work in your budget.
For example, let’s say I want to try to figure out how much to budget for our water bill. I’d look to my booklet where I track every cent of our spending, noting how much I paid for water each month. I’d use the highest figure for my budget.

It’s true that some expenses vary throughout the year. For example, my water bill is always highest in the summer because there is little rain when my vegetable garden is in full swing. So I’d use whatever my highest bill was as my budget for water, knowing that most months I’ll spend less than that. (If you’re not sure what the top figure might be for some categories, just use your best guess. And continue writing down every cent you spend; trust me, it really helps!)

For your “irregular” categories, such as “Christmas,” decide how much you’ll want to spend, then divide that figure by 12. For example, if I wanted to spend $300 for Christmas gifts, my monthly budget in that category would be $25 a month. I could actually spend that $25 a month on gifts and squirrel them away, but I think it works better to stash that cash in a separate bank account each month.

There may be some irregular expenses that you can’t predict, like vehicle maintenance. So just estimate what you think you may spend in a year’s time, and divide that number by 12. Sometimes expenses like these are determined by what’s left over from the paycheck at the end of the month. The trick then is to make sure those left over funds go into a separate bank account and are set aside for specific purposes.

It Isn’t Perfect
You may be sensing that a budget isn’t set in stone. And you’re right. You should not expect your first budget to pan out perfectly. But with time, as you adjust your figures to your actual expenditures, you’ll find that it’s accurate most of the time.

Left Overs
Hopefully, you’ll have some money left over at the end of every month, even if you don’t have a “Savings” category.

I like to completely zero out my budget at the end of every month – otherwise, I always find a way to spend that left over money on inconsequential things. So once all the bills are paid, transfer any left over money into one of three places:

* Your separate bank account, where you stash money for “irregular” expenditures, or
* A savings account/investment, or
* Put the money toward a debt

If There’s Not Enough Money
With a budget, you will quickly learn if you are spending more than you are making. (Actually, keeping track of every cent spent should show you that, too.) If this is the case, drastic action is needed:

* Cut all “fun but unnecessary” expenses. We can all learn to entertain ourselves for next to nothing, money-wise. And if you get your budget under control and get out of debt, you can always begin giving yourself a “fun” allowance again.

* Cut back on bills. This can be tough, but it’s possible. For example, if you pay for cable, try Netflix instead. If you have a high speed Internet connection, go for a slower speed (and shop around for a better deal). Get rid of your land line (or dump your cell). Consider moving to a smaller and less expensive home. Stop using your air conditioner. Et cetera.

* Cut back on other spending. Learn to shop more frugally for groceries. Learn to use fewer beauty supplies. Use coupons. Make your coffee instead of buying it at Starbucks. Use energy and water frugally.

* Get out of debt as soon as possible. Sadly, many of us could live quite comfortably if it weren’t for credit card and other debt. Figure out how much you’d have to pay each month to get out from under your highest interest-rate debt, then make it happen by budgeting in that figure and paying it each month. When that debt is paid off, scrape together every extra cent to pay off the next highest interest-rate debt. If it’s not possible to spend more than the bare minimum payment on your debts, you really need to find another way to bring money in to pay those debts off.

Hopefully, these steps will leave you with at least a little bit left over at the end of each month. If you’re in debt, dedicate that money to paying off those debts. Even an extra $5 in a credit card payment, made whenever there is extra money, will get you out of debt faster.

And one final tip for those who are spending more than they bring in: Arrange your monthly budget so that the most important items are at the top and the least important are on the bottom. For example, aside from tithing, your mortgage payment or rent is your most vital bill, so put it first on your budget. Groceries is right up there, too, as is a source of heat, like electricity or gas. In the middle, you'd put other utilities. The last things on your list would be things like entertainment, cable television, and an Internet connection (unless you need one for work). Now pay your bills in this order; this way, if you can't pay all the bills, you'll at least get the most important ones covered and you'll easily see what things you can chop off your budget.

See a Sample Budget
There are many, many examples of household budgets on the Internet, so I didn't create yet another one. Here are a few to check out:

* Sample layout, plus a free Excel download to get started on your own.

* Sample layout with figures - just remember, these figures may or may not be realistic for your household.

* Free. PDF offering a basic layout for a household budget.

* Another free downloadable layout, plus other helpful money related worksheets.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."