10 easy steps to a more natural, budget-friendly lifestyle.

I really don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.  Do you?  But in spite of that, today I found myself reflecting over changes we made in our household, and things we’re looking forward to changing in the future.  It’s crazy to think how many healthy, budget-friendly switches Ben and I have made over this last year.

But you know what?  It hasn’t been a shock to our system.  We would introduce one thing at a time, as our schedule allowed.  So instead of watching a movie at night, we might attempt a new project.  Usually, we’d have fun and enjoy reaping the benefits of each thing we tried, which would encourage us to try something new.  Was everything a good fit for us?  Nope.  Definitely not.  But I haven’t regretted a single thing we’ve tried.  I’m here to tell you that a few years ago, we were two regular people who shopped at grocery stores, Target, Wal-Mart, and the mall.  We bought everything we needed.  We still do shop at these places and purchase items now, but much MUCH less frequently.  There are still a lot of things we want to try doing or start making ourselves, but for now we’re just fitting new stuff in when we get to it.  This post will describe  a few of the changes we’ve made, and I hope it encourages you to think about what will be a good fit for your family!

1.  Shop at the farmers market or grow a garden.  First of all, this produce tastes SO MUCH better than what we would buy at the store.  Plus it’s often organic or at least naturally grown without pesticides.  That makes me feel better.  And it helps out my local farmers.  That’s important. I dare you to do a side by side comparison of store-bought and market-bought onions, carrots, and any other veggie of your choice. Hands down, they taste infinitely better.

2.   Switch to cloth napkins.  We switched about a year ago and I LOVE CLOTH NAPKINS!  They are pretty and fancy.  Luxurious, even.  In this last year, we’ve bought significantly less paper towels/napkins so it’s helped out our wallets.  Especially when you think about the fact that you really don’t need to buy more for years.   I started out with a few that I found on clearance.  Then I found some beautiful and pristine linen napkins at a local thrift store.  Then I made some of my own in a fun print fabric that I had in my fabric stash.  Now I actually have to hold myself back from picking up more.  (Confession…. I may have found 8 more vintage linen napkins yesterday for $2.  And bought them.  I think I have a cloth napkin addiction.)  Plus, every time I have to use a paper napkin now it just feels… cheap.  And disposable.  For those of you thinking about your laundry, let me just say that you can often reuse a napkin after each meal.  Just set it down at your seat and save it for the next meal.  And really, the extra amount of laundry is pretty tiny.  Napkins are easy to fold, and every time I fold them, I’m reminded how much I love using them.

3.  Start making your own laundry detergent.  There are tons of recipes online and most call for Borax, Washing Soda, and a bar of soap.  We make it every few months while we’re watching a movie. All it takes is a cheese grater and bowl, and 10 minutes.  Easy peasy.  Plus, it’s so cheap that we are able to provide several of our family and friends with their laundry detergent once or twice  a year for the same price that we were spending for just our own liquid detergent.  Not only does it work great (my step-dad swears by it when washing his dirty gardening clothes), but it’s also waaay more natural than store-bought detergents with scents and chemicals.  You know what’s interesting? I always really liked the smell of some laundry detergents and dryer sheets.  Now they give me a headache.  It makes me sick to think about how desensitized I got to all of those scents.

4.   Wash your hair less.  🙂  Well, I tried the “no poo” method but after 3-ish weeks, I decided it wasn’t a good fit for me.  (You can read more about “no poo” HERE).  But I sure was tired of washing my hair every day.  Yes.  Every. Day.  Plus blow drying and styling… it was getting old, fast.  So I switched to washing every other day.  Now I’m up to every three days.  And you know what?  I save a lot of time every week, my hair is really healthy, and I’m spending less on my shampoo/conditioner which is sulfate free and kind of expensive.  I’m thinking I might go for washing every four days soon.  😀

5.   Make your own toiletry products.  I make my own deodorant (recipe HERE) and toothpaste.  A few weeks ago I started making my own bars of soap and I loooooove it.  Ben loves it too.  In fact, I am pretty sure we will never buy store-bought soap or deodorant again.

6.   Learn to sew.  (Or if you know how, start using that knowledge!)  Ben is a better sewer than me, but I can sew an (almost) straight line.  Between the two of us, we’ve made linen bread bags, cases for guns and fishing poles, cloth napkins, a cloth doll, and curtains.  I’m sure there is more, but these are some of the items we’ve made recently.  As I mentioned last week, we’re hoping to adopt a child in the next year, and this weekend I’m going to start sewing some cute burp cloths and swaddle blankets to prepare for this baby.  Rather than spending $4-10 for each of these items, I’m going to spend about .50 each.  (And I’ll try to post a tutorial update on this!)  You could make cloth napkins out of an old sheet for pennies.  Make a quilt out of your kids’ old clothes or t-shirts.  You could even use fat quarters from your local quilt shop and recover your throw pillows.  Awesome.  Cheap. And easy. Below is my first attempt at making a “softie”.  Not perfect, but I think it’s pretty cute. 🙂

7.   If you are a woman and haven’t hit menopause yet, take a look at these.  I swear by them.  It made life easier, will save me money for years, and is soooo much more comfortable than the mainstream alternative.  I wish I would have learned about these 10 years ago; now I can’t imagine not using one.

8.  Eliminate expensive, artificially flavored drinks from your diet.  Not only are they chock full of sugars and additives, but they are just bad news all around.  We’re pretty much done with soda, though Ben will still drink Kool-aid sometimes.  However, one thing that he loves is making iced tea ahead of time.  We’ll brew it in mason jars and sweeten with honey, then leave the jars in the fridge so it’s a “grab and go” kind of thing.  If you want to turn your jar into a traveling mug, check out the “Cuppow“.  Basically, it’s a big kid sippy cup.  We bought ours locally at a store in Viroqua, WI called “Tulips”.
Below:   Home brewed iced tea is about .10 a jar, compared to about $1.50 when you buy it at the convenience store.

9.  Buy your meats from a local farmer in bulk.  Have you ever heard of “Pink Slime”?  Google it.  You’ll probably never look at supermarket beef the same way again, and it’s good incentive to buy pasture-raised, grass fed beef.  This year we bought half of a cow from a farmer friend of my parents.  Then we had it butchered and processed to our specifications.  While it was a bit of an investment at the time we purchased it, our grocery bills have gone down significantly since then.  Plus, we’re actually spending less per pound than we would if we were buying our beef from the store every week.  It tastes better and it’s higher quality.

10.   Figure out what foods you can make from scratch rather than buying.  This year we made our own freezer corn, marinara sauce, mustard, soap, applesauce, dog treats, coffee creamer, taco seasoning mix, and more.  We made green bean casserole completely from scratch rather than using canned beans and canned cream of mushroom soup.  We even started making chicken nuggets from scratch with chicken breasts and panko crumbs.  It’s really not that hard and so so so much better for you.  Most of the things on this list we attempted for the first time in 2012… so I promise you, it’s never too late to start.

There is a ton more that we’ve done and clearly I haven’t blogged all of it, but my point is that sometimes you need to stop pinning things on Pinterest and just follow through with your big ideas.  😀  If we could make some of these changes, you can too.  Start with something easy, like using cloth napkins.  Once you’ve got that under control, try something else.  For us, the more we try, the more we get hooked on self-sufficiency, healthy living, and saving money.  So it’s been a fun challenge for us!

Do you have any goals or projects for the year?  Did you try anything particularly memorable for the first time last year?  Is there anything on my list that you’d like to know more about?  Please comment below!


January 19, 2013 - 5:55 pm

Elizabeth - I agree about using cloth napkins, I never buy paper napkins or paper towels but I know some people who go through them like crazy! Also, I found cloth napkins for .25 cents at JcPenneys the other day, I’m so excited to use them now 🙂 Have you ever made chicken tenders at home? If you soak them in milk first, it works better to bread them and they stay really moist, I bet chicken nuggets would be the same way. I also swear by #7 ladies, if you have any doubts, it’s amazing!

January 29, 2014 - 10:51 am

Mandie - I’m loving reading your blog! I have an order of cloth towels on its way to us to replace paper towels, and I’m definitely trying your deodorant recipe, healthy dog treats, and a few more.

In 2012 we began gardening and we REALLY loved it. This week we’re headed to pick up our second order of local, organic, grass-fed meats. We are making an hour trip every few months to pick up delicious beef and chicken, and rotating the trip with our friends so we really only have to go a couple times a year. Having a freezer full of healthier meat is definitely the way to go- at night I can just pop whatever we want for dinner the next day into the fridge to thaw. Love it!

I have to admit #7 is interesting… I have to work up the courage to try it!

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