Monday, September 29, 2008

Tough Times Call for Tougher Resolutions



It's hard to turn on the TV or read the paper now without realizing that everyone is on edge over the economy. Proposed tax bills have been sent out, back to school supplies have stressed our budgets, layoffs and business closings have us worried, the holidays are coming, gas prices are up markedly, and that's just to name a few of the many things on our minds. Psychologists tell us that when we are worried about potential problems, our best course of action is to take ownership and DO SOMETHING--anything--that will positively impact the situation.


I see the worried look on my husband's face every night as he is dealing with the economic pressures at work, and then he has to come home and hear about how the pressures are affecting us personally, so he is getting a doubly-whammy. I'm sure this same story plays out in many homes, where one or both working members of the household have responsibility for the financial health of their businesses, along with the pressures of personal finances. College tuitions all over the country are rising dramatically, and we have 2 kids in college, with the likelihood of 6 more years of college costs to bear.

What can I do to ease the pressure? As usual, I can brainstorm and make a list. I'm a list maker. Lists always get me motivated; it's something about seeing it on paper that makes me realize I need to act now to complete all those tasks. I guess you could say I'm making my New Year's resolutions early. So, here's my resolutions for reducing our expenses at home:

1. As often as possible, use the car that gets the best gas mileage, for my errands and such. Our energy efficient Honda Civic gets 36 mpg--pretty good by most standards, but no Prius.

2. Use my coupon posts to the maximum possible, saving big bucks at the grocery store with their discounts.

3. Use a list when I go to the grocery store, to avoid too many excess purchases which don't get eaten.

4. Watch the sales in the Food section of the paper and clip coupons. Roxanne--You're my hero. I hear you are great at this.

5. Eat more simply 2-3 nights a week: sandwiches and fruit, salads, meatless meals like pasta with marinara (recipe in the post at this link), etc.

6. Turn lights off everywhere, except the room I'm in.

7. Revisit my saving water post, and add a few mental notes to that. Checking my water bills since that post, I've saved $10 already, just by watching things like leaving the tap running and washing clothes when I have a full load. This saves electricity too.

8. Speaking of electricity, I've started unplugging small appliances, phone chargers and such, shaving a few more dollars off of the electric bill. Considering that last month was our hottest in Florida, when our air conditioners work the hardest, that's an accomplishment.

While reading Living Like Ed, by Ed Begley, Jr., I learned that about 35% of my power bill can be contributed to our air conditioning use. I did the math and decided to experiment by dropping the A/C one degree and using the ceiling fan in the room I'm in. We'll see what the net effect is on the next bill.

9. Plan my errands for several days, grouping them into trips that involve visits to the same area, saving gas and time.

10. Switching to organic lawn care this month has already saved me about $40, and I know my dogs appreciated not having to stay inside all day while the old chemical treatments dried on the lawn.

11. This year I hope to do as much as possible with making holiday gifts, a practice I employed as a newleywed, when money was tighter. This should save money and make for more personal gifts. I'm planning to bake lots of goodies like the ones I've posted on Blake Bakes, where I write about organic baking. Interested? Visit my posts on organic oatmeal raisin cookies and organic cinnamon raisin bread for ideas. Oh, and watch for rich organic pound cake, coming on October 2 to Blake Bakes.

12. Saving money on weekend activities is a no-brainer. While I live in the theme park capital of the world, I rarely visit them, opting for activities which save money while preserving my health. With 3 dogs, I have definitely earned the frequent dog walker award in my neighborhood, where I often bike with them, walk with them, play obstacle games with them outdoors, and Tanner's favorite, swim. I can't even say that word without him running to the back door and beginning to yodel with excitement. There is nothing like a good fetch game in the pool to wear him out.

Of course, if you don't have a dog, that doesn't preclude you from biking or walking, but it always helps to have a partner for motivation. With a dog along, they never want to go back home. Friends and family can keep each other motivated to keep going as well. Even a baby in a stroller loves the movement that a walk provides, and often, it is the quietest time a new mom gets during the day, with the exception of nap time.

Did I mention parks? Remember the city and county parks; we all have them. Even if you're not up to the swings or the slide, many parks have nature walks with fitness courses along the way, making for a nice change of routine in your usual neighborhood walk.

One creative solution to weather issues is growing in popularity. Some of our malls are now co-sponsoring walking hours, along with area hospitals. If you arrive early, you'll often find many people enjoying a vigorous walk around the inside of the mall, allowing them to walk rain or shine, snow or intense heat. Although this is particularly popular with senior citizens, I have seen a whole range of ages enjoying the climate-controlled paradise of mall walking.

Lots of parks have nature walks, springs or rivers to swim in and streams that can be floated down in a lazy tube ride. This is a relaxing way to spend a hot afternoon, one which my family has enjoyed many a summer day, and costs only a few dollars. Don't forget to bring a picnic lunch. Visit my posts on lunch box ideas at:

This whole park theme I have going here would not be complete without mention of the dog parks, which are also becoming more common across the country. My dog behavior guru, Cesar Milan, aka the Dog Whisperer, has done at least a couple of shows on his National Geographic Channel program, designed to help your dog get the most out of a visit to the dog park. My 3 dogs love the feel of wide open spaces and running off leash, not to mention the socializing with other dogs. It is cute to see them greet other dogs in their uniquely doggie fashion. Cesar would call this proper dog etiquette, even though most of us find it distasteful; it is their way of getting acquainted. If you have not yet tried a dog park, and your dog is friendly with other dogs, I advise you give him and yourself a chance to try it. You'll meet lots of friendly dog lovers to talk with, while your furry best friend will enjoy a good run, followed by a long nap when you arrive home. Think what you can do with that time, while the dogs nap. You could clean out closets and sell some old stuff on EBay; there's a money-making idea. Let me know how it goes for you. COMMENT below at the purple link. I'd love to hear YOUR money saving ideas for tough times, and your questions about dog parks. Lots of people ask me about my dog park visits, and are surprised to learn that so many dogs can enjoy playtime, just like kids. Also just like kids, though, they do require supervision in case they disagree over anything, like who owns a stick or who is the most dominant. Keep a close eye on your "kids" at the park, particularly on their first few visits. This should always be a pleasant experience for both of you.

Don't forget to stop in at Blake Bakes for my organic pound cake recipe on Thursday, October 2. The recipe makes 2 loaves and they are deliciously rich. Don't miss it.

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