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Tips for Saving Money on Food

No matter what our budget looks like, food is always a part of it. You have to eat, right? There are many thoughts on the best way to save on food. These are the things that work for me.

Eat at home

This one is probably the most important. If you eat out, regardless of whether it’s a dine-in or fast food restaurant, you are going to spend more than if you cook and eat at home. It’s fine to splurge once in a while, but if you’re looking to save, eating at home gives you the most bang for your buck.

Buy mostly ingredients

Prepackaged foods are sometimes quicker, but they are usually more expensive per serving. If it’s a choice between eating out and eating convenience foods from the grocery, it’s still usually cheaper than eating out, so if it’s a choice between KFC or a deli rotisserie chicken, bagged salad and prepackaged dinner rolls, the deli chicken is probably the cheaper and healthier option.

There are some convenience items that I find helpful, especially when life gets hectic. Jarred sauces, bouillon and frozen potatoes in various forms are things that I like to have on hand to help me get a meal on the table quickly. When there’s not time to make the sauce from scratch or I don’t have homemade broth on hand those can make it easy to still throw something together. They’re also usually fairly inexpensive, so I feel they are budget friendly convenience choices.

Buy in bulk where it makes sense

Don’t buy a ton of perishables like fresh fruit just because it’s on sale. If you have time to prep and freeze or can the fruit, then go for it. Things like canned goods, freezer staples and shelf stable items are great for buying in bulk, if you have the room. We have a small chest freezer, so I’m able to buy fruit on sale to freeze for smoothies or desserts and an extra ham or turkey when they are on sale for under $1 per pound around the holidays.

I also buy basmati rice in 20 lb bags because we prefer it over other types of rice and it is so much cheaper that way. To keep it fresh and manageable, I keep a small container of it in the cupboard and the rest goes into the freezer.

Shop creatively

It’s easy to have one or two grocery stores or box stores where you do all of your shopping. If you have farmer’s markets, discount groceries or ethnic groceries in your area, you may find better deals on some items.

For starters, if you have an Aldi nearby and haven’t given them a try, please do. I’ve found them to have a good selection of staples and they have a good guarantee on everything they sell. You won’t find many name-brands at Aldi, but with their guarantee, it’s worth trying and seeing if you like their store brands. They also carry a lot of gluten-free options, as well as dairy-free milk alternatives and a dairy-free mozarella cheese.

I also frequently shop a local Vietnamese grocery store. They have tons of fresh greens and other produce at really good prices. I also get a lot of specialty items, like things for making pho or sushi for sometimes half the cost or less of what I would pay at Kroger or Walmart. Bulk spices and rice are also cheaper there. For gluten-free pasta, rice noodles from there are cheaper than gluten-free options from Kroger and Walmart.

Find a method of meal planning that works for you.

Some people do really well with having every meal, every day planned out to every last detail. I prefer something more flexible that allows for changes based on last minute plans or whatever is on sale that week or whatever leftovers we need to eat. Regardless of the type of meal planner you are, have some sort of game plan in place.

Meal planning is one area where I need to improve, but I do have a basic game plan for meals that I’ll post on at a later date.

While you’re planning, don’t forget lunch. Leftovers are quick and easy lunches, so if you’re planning a dinner that reheats well, make enough for lunch the next day.

Keep staples for one or two quick meals on hand always

This is important in case you forget to plan, or something doesn’t work out with your plan. Whether it’s spaghetti and premade sauce, eggs, fruit and toast or some other meal you can throw together in under thirty minutes, keep the ingredients on hand for one or two backups that you like. Having a backup option makes it easier to eat at home when you might otherwise be tempted to eat out.

Eat real food

If you have to change your eating habits due to health or personal beliefs, it’s easy to try to substitute faux or “free” foods tailored to that diet. Price-wise though, it’s better to adapt your diet with real foods. Rather than faux meat burgers, try grilling portobello mushrooms or making your own patties with chickpeas. Instead of gluten free pasta, substitute rice or potatoes. Instead of diet drinks, flavor water, tea or soda water with fruit.

If you’re really craving cheese and you’re dairy free or bread and you’re gluten free, go ahead and splurge on the dairy or gluten free options. If you’re on a plant-based diet but desperately want something like a real burger, go for one of the faux meat patties. Just try to keep those splurges to a minimum and you’ll save money.

Find recipes for soups, stews and beans that you like

Soups, stews and beans are usually cheap, filling and can be a one pot meal. Having a few recipes you like and keeping the ingredients on hand can really help save money on food. They also are easy to make in bulk and usually freeze well, so making a bunch and having it for lunch or in the freezer for nights that dinner plans don’t work out helps prevent eating out. I love crock pots or pressure cookers for making soups and stews. It’s absolutely not necessary to run out and buy a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but if it’s something you’ve been considering, I love my electric pressure cooker for so many things.

Saving money on food.
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Patching Denim with an Embroidery Machine

I love wearing denim blue jeans, but chasing my boys and taking care of my small zoo, they get lots of wear and tear. One of the worst things is having to scrap a favorite pair because of one too many rips. I’ve repaired rips in a utilitarian way in the past. This time I thought I’d try patching denim using my embroidery machine. I haven’t done much applique, so I learned some things along the way.

This tutorial makes use of an embroidery machine and serger. You could also adapt it to use a sewing machine or applique by hand and embellishing with hand embroidery.

Items needed

  • Denim jeans or other item to repair
  • Interfacing
  • Thread in colors of choice
  • Seam ripper or similar tool
  • Scrap of fabric at least 4 in x 4 inches
  • Stabilizers: Cut away or tear away, water soluble optional
  • Floral denim patch applique design file

Step 1: Open the side seam.

Since I’m repairing a ripped knee, I needed to take out one of the side leg seams on my jeans. Using a seam ripper made this easy, but you could use small scissors, too. I left the seam intact at the hip and ankle, only removing what was necessary to lay the ripped area flat in the hoop without risking sewing it to the back. Leaving a little intact makes it easier to resew the seam at the end.

Step 2: Prepare the rip.

Iron the area around the rip so it’s smooth and flat. If there’s a lot of loose threads around the rip, trim them. I caught this rip before it frayed too badly, so no trimming was needed.

Before photo patching denim
Side seam removed and jeans ironed flat.

I wanted the embroidered area to be solid, so I applied some interfacing to the back of the rip. I used some medium weight interfacing, but any should work, since it’s job is just to hold it together while the jeans are embroidered. This is a perfect project for using whatever scraps are handy.

Interfaced rip
Back of rip with interfacing applied.

Step 3: Hooping.

For denim, tear away or cutaway stabilizer is best. I chose cutaway for the most stability. It’s stiff, but it should soften in the wash. If not, I’ll switch to tear away next time.

I tend to float projects and only hoop the stabilizer whenever possible. This project seemed like it would work better tightly anchored in the hoop. It took a few tries to center the rip in my hoop so that all edges would be covered by my design. My machine has a 4 in x 4 in embroidery field, so the rip just barely fit. Smaller tears will be easier to fit in my small hoop.

Hooped denim
First attempt. Once I put it in my machine and had it circle the embroidery field, I saw it needed re-positioning.

Step 4: Embroidering the patch.

Once it’s properly hooped, it’s time to sew. On my machine, the first color stop said “Applique Material”. I haven’t done much machine applique, but the ones I am used to usually follow the sequence: placement stitch, tack down the applique (then trim excess), sew the final applique stitching. So, confused I just put the applique fabric and a water soluble stabilizer (optional) on top of the rip and pushed start.

stitching denim patch

What my machine was telling me to do was to just hoop the applique fabric so I could remove it from the hoop and cut it neatly. The second color stop was the positioning stitch. That would be stitched on my jeans and then my neatly trimmed applique could be placed in position and the stitching completed. Since I did everything at once, my applique isn’t as tidy as it could be. I will definitely listen to my machine next time.

Finished sewing, but still has water soluble stabilizer on top.
Finished sewing.

Step 5: Remove from hoop and cut away excess stabilizer

I also steam pressed over the back of the patch to start softening the stabilizer.

Patch from the back.
Patch from the back with stabilizer trimmed.

Step 6: Sew the leg seam.

To repair the leg seam, I used a lock stitch setting on my machine. You could also sew the seam twice to reinforce it or just use really heavy thread. I then serged the raw edge. If you don’t have a serger, an overedge stitch or zig-zag stitch would also work.

Finished!

Finished patching denim
Finished patch. Next time I will use heavier thread so the embroidery shows better.

Not bad. I wish I had used heavier thread so the embroidery would show up better. Listening to my machine and cutting the applique fabric to size before I sew it on to eliminate the raw edges peeking out is another improvement for the next time I’m patching denim.

If you’d like to use this applique design, you can download the file here. You can use the design on items you make to sell as well as for personal use, but please don’t sell the design file.

Floral knee patch applique
Floral knee patch applique design image.

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Want to be Featured?

Want to be featured?

In the past, I often featured handmade or vintage shops on Fridays. Over the years, the world of crafting and blogging has changed dramatically. I would love to resume Feature Fridays, but with a broader scope.

Handmade shop and websites are still welcome. I also want to feature guest writers sharing tutorials, tips, advice, recipes, etc. Categories that I feel are a good fit for this blog are crafting, sewing, sustainability, refashioning, healthy living, parenting, hair and beauty tips for busy moms, homeschooling and homesteading. I am open to other topics as well, so if you are interested but don’t quite fit into one of the above categories, please contact me anyway with your idea.

Guest posts will be promoted across my social media sites frequently throughout the week they are published and then periodically after.

Handmade shop/website features

For handmade shop/website features, answer the questions in the following list and email them to csloan@subearthancottage.com. I will contact you before your shop is featured and if any clarification is needed. You can give as much or a little info for each section as you are comfortable with sharing. Be sure to include links to your shop, web page and blog, if you have them. If you sell your products in a brick and mortar store and would like to include that info, you may include that as well.

I also choose a favorite item from your shop on the week that you’re featured and briefly tell why I like it. The first image from your shop for both your favorite item and my favorite item will be included in the blog.

  • Name and Business Name
  • Tell us a little about yourself and your business.
  • What made you get started in your business?
  • Anything else you’d like to share?
  • Tell us about your favorite item listed in your shop.
  • Links to your shop, website, blog, etc.
  • Email address (This will NOT be published)

Guest posts, tutorials and everything else

Please contact me at csloan@subearthancottage.com with your idea. If you already blog, a link to your blog or site where your writings are published is also helpful. Newbies are welcome, too. I’m also not opposed to reposts if they are a good fit and your own work.

If I think your idea is a good fit for SubEarthan Cottage, I will let you know and we will work out the details from there.

Matisse Creativity Mug Mugs featured
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DIY Colorful Sugar Sprinkles

A few days ago, I thought it would be fun to make Christmas cookies. Then I remembered that my Christmas cookie cutters had disappeared, we were out of any sort of sprinkles for the cookies and I really didn’t want to make decorator frosting or go to the store for supplies. My solution? DIY sugar sprinkles!

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

Ingredients

  • Granulated sugar
  • Food coloring

Supplies

  • Jars, plastic containers or sandwich bags, one per color. (Ideally something with a shaker top, which I didn’t have)
  • Spoons or shakers
DIY sugar sprinkles top view

How to make the sugar sprinkles

  • Measure about 1/4 cup of sugar into each container. 
  • Add 2-3 drops of food coloring to the sugar. 
  • Shake or stir until the color is evenly distributed. 
  • Let air dry. I just left the lids off the jars and set them on the stove while the cookies baked, stirring occasionally. If you use bags or plan to store it for a longer period of time, you may want to spread it on parchment or a cookie sheet to make sure it is super dry.  
sugar cookies
Mom tip: If your cookie decorating skills are not Pinterest-worthy, just let your kiddos do the decorating.

The recipe I used for the cookies was the sugar cookie cutout recipe from my trusty red and white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. To make them gluten free, I substituted Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. If you are new to gluten free baking, it is a great flour to start with. I have had lots of success making all my old recipes gluten free with just that simple substitution.

My solution for not having cookie cutters was to use a round glass to cut out “ornaments”. We dusted some of the cookies with the sprinkles prior to baking. For the rest, I made a simple icing that got dusted or caked with sprinkles, depending on who was doing the decorating.

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Goodwill Finds and Refashion Ideas

Pink tunic after removing the lining.

This weekend, we visited a local Goodwill store. Unlike the other Goodwill’s in our area, this one has everything in big bins and they charge a flat, by-the-pound fee. Thrift stores always have unique items, but this one seems to have some really good finds, if you’re willing to dig.

In addition to a few household odds and ends, I found a couple of dresses and a shirt that need a little bit of refashioning, and a pair of skinny boyfriend cut jeans that are like new and fit perfectly. I also found a pretty floral vintage bed sheet. Vintage linens are somewhat in demand among crafters, and I rarely have luck finding them, so it was a nice surprise. 

 

Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet
Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet

Green Dress

The first dress is a casual, green knit dress with interesting cutwork and stitching at the neckline and hem.

Green knit dress
Green knit dress

Pros: It’s comfortable, easy to wear and chase after kiddos, and I like the color and detailing. Cons: It’s a size or two too big. This makes the underarms gappy and the waistline droopy. It’s too short to be a maxi dress, but not short enough to not be frumpy. I could wear it as is around the house, but I think I can make it into something better.

My plan: Separate it at the waist into the bodice and skirt. Tighten the bodice at the side seams. Reattach the skirt to the bodice after removing a few inches from the top of the skirt to make it somewhere between tunic and knee length. Add new, tighter elastic at the waist.

Long, Floral Shirtdress

The pretty blue and floral pattern is what caught my attention with this dress.

Blue, long floral shirtdress
Blue, long floral shirtdress

Pros: The print is very pretty, and there is a lot of fabric to work with. Cons: The fabric is a stiff, non-breathing 100% polyester. It’s a size too small through the middle.

My plan: I have a few ideas for this one. The top (bodice) fits pretty well. The only fit issue is right through the middle. I could separate the bodice from the skirt, raise the skirt so that a wider section that fits me better is at the waist and reattach. Factoring in the button placket might make it tricky, but not that difficult.

I’m not sure I would wear it enough to go through that trouble, though. Option two is to use the skirt portion to make a slip-style nightgown by shaping a neckline and cutouts for armholes, then adding bias tape trim and snaps. I would probably use it more this way, but I still worry about the feel of the fabric. I usually avoid things without at least some natural fiber content. Texas is hot and I need my clothes to breathe.

My final idea is to salvage the buttons and use the fabric for things like bag linings, makeup pouches or other accessories. I will probably try one of my first two ideas before this one. I can always use option three if one or two don’t work out.

Pink Tunic Shirt

I think the flowiness of the outer layer and the stitching around the neckline is what made me grab this tunic shirt from the bin.

Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt
Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt

Pros: Flowy, comfortable fit. Detailing at the neckline keeps it from being too plain. Nice, bright color. Cons: The top layer seems to have shrunk, exposing the lining layer. The lining is 100% polyester knit, which is stretchy and comfortable, but doesn’t breathe.

My plan: This one was so simple, I actually did it in about five minutes this morning. I thought about shortening the lining by a few inches. The top, gauzy layer didn’t really have to have a lining, though, so I decided to remove the lining altogether by simply cutting it out. This made it super easy, and now the tunic is lighter and more suitable to Texas summers.

Pink tunic after removing the lining.
Pink tunic after removing the lining.

It’s not the most dramatic refashion, but it fixed a problem and made it so much more comfortable to wear. I wore it Sunday over my new-to-me Goodwill blue jeans to The Modern art museum and then to Central Market with the family for a treat and playtime on their playground. Without the lining, the tunic was lightweight, and the drapiness of the fabric kept it from feeling frumpy. I totally see it becoming one of my new favorites.

Speaking of The Modern, if you’re on Instagram, I’ve shared a video to @subearthancottage of Thadd and Beckett having fun with the crazy acoustics inside the Vortex sculpture out front. It was so much fun to watch them play, as well as just about anyone walking by. Few people passed without stepping inside to stomp their feet or shout.

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How to make powdered laundry detergent

Laundry detergents have always been problematic for me. Certain brands irritate my skin, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint what ingredient is the problem. Even if I knew, most laundry detergents don’t exactly provide a list of ingredients I could check. Luckily, laundry detergent is easy to make. Doing it yourself not only allows you to control what ingredients are in your detergent, it also saves a ton of money.

My recipe uses four basic ingredients stocked by many supermarkets now, and one optional ingredient.

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts Borax
  • 2 parts Washing Soda
  • 1 part Grated Bar Soap
  • 0.25 part Baking Soda
  • Optional Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil  

Prep:

You’ll want a clean, dry, lidded container or bag to store your homemade laundry detergent. If the container isn’t air-tight, the detergent may clump from moisture in the air. Usually it’s easy to break it up, so this isn’t a big problem. If you don’t do laundry very often, though, you probably want to store it in something with a good seal.

The soap can be anything. Most people start out using a laundry soap like Fels Naptha. Once I started making my own soap, I switched to using whatever basic recipe soap I had on hand. You can grate it by hand with a cheese grater or with a shredding disk on a food processor. 

Make it:

Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. If you’re not familiar with the “parts” measurement, it’s a simple way of making a recipe fit whatever amount you need by giving the amounts as a ratio instead of a specific measurement. You could substitute “cup” for “parts” if that makes it easier.  

Options:

Leave it unscented, use a scented bar of soap, or add your choice of fragrance or essential oil to the combined ingredients and stir to combine. I usually use about half an ounce of fragrance oil per batch. With essential oils, I usually start with 15 drops or so and see how it smells before adding any more. I’ve heard you could use your favorite cologne or perfume, but I haven’t personally tried it. 

Use it:

I use about two tablespoons per load in my top loading machine. You can use one tablespoon for lightly soiled loads, but with my family, every load is a two tablespoon load.

Laundry Detergent
DIY Powdered Laundry Detergent

 

DIY Laundry detergent

 

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DIY Soft Scrub Cleaner

I like getting my kiddos involved in housecleaning. Not just because they are highly involved in making messes, but because it is important that they know how to take care of themselves as adults. I’m pretty choosy as to what cleaning products I will let them use. So many cleaners are irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.

Not only do I want my cleaning products to be safe, I like things that multitask and don’t cost an arm and a leg. Often, I’ve found the best way to achieve this is to make them myself, like with my natural furniture polish. With a few simple ingredients I keep around the house anyway, I find I can cover most cleaning needs.

My most recent cleaning concoction is soft scrub. It works well for when I need a little extra scrubbing power than I get with my usual all-purpose water, vinegar and dish soap mix.

Soft scrub in a jar
Soft scrub in a jar

Soft Scrub Ingredients

  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of liquid soap
  • 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide
  • Optional: 2-3 drops of essential oil

Instructions

Place all the ingredients into a big bowl and mix until a uniform paste forms. To store, I like to scoop it into a wide mouth canning jar, but any lidded container will work. The mix will expand, so use a container that allows for at least double the amount to be safe.

Mixing the soft scrub
Mixing the soft scrub

Variations

Type of Soap

Liquid castile soap will work, but for extra cleaning power I prefer a detergent soap, like Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds or even Dawn dish soap. You could probably get away with any liquid hand soap or liquefied bar soap, but I haven’t tried those yet. The only time I haven’t liked it was when I made it with Ajax dish soap because that is what I had on hand. I think there was something in the Ajax that reacted badly with the baking soda or hydrogen peroxide. That mixture was fluffier and had an odd smell. I’m not quite sure what it was that caused it, but because of that, I recommend staying away from any dish soap that advertise extra cleaning additives. For the soap, basic is better.

Scent

I rarely add any essential oils for fragrance. Usually the soap I have is already scented, so I don’t see the need. Really, unscented is fine, too, unless you just prefer a scent to signal that something is clean. If I were to add an essential oil, though, I would probably use either peppermint, lemon or tea tree oil. If you choose to use an essential oil, please be aware of safety guidelines for using them around children, pregnant women, pets, and other sensitive individuals.

How to use

To use, I scoop out a dollop of the soft scrub and apply a layer to the area I’m cleaning. I usually let it sit for a minute or two then buff it off with a rag. If there’s a residue left, I’ll either wipe it down with a damp rag or mist it with my all purpose vinegar, dish soap and water solution and wipe it clean.

Results

I almost forgot to take a before photo. This is an embarrassing photo of tomato sauce splatter left on my stove overnight.

Before using soft scrub to clean last night's spaghetti sauce.
Before using soft scrub to clean last night’s spaghetti sauce.

This is a photo of what it looks like after using my soft scrub and minimal elbow grease.

Shiny stovetop
Shiny stovetop

I do apologize for the blurry photos. Lighting in my kitchen isn’t the greatest, and also I was in the middle of cleaning.

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