Pinching Pennies at Home

By into the rustic - 8:02 AM

Here is a series of different tips and ideas on how to save money around the house, whether it is to clean, to heat, recycle, or to celebrate. We are all feeling the crunch of the economic times we are in. To be able to cut corners is golden, to be able to do things for just about free with items lying around the house-priceless.

I welcome any additions and suggestions by my readers that I can insert into this article or add on to a part II. You can never know enough!

These are “old-school” tried and true methods passed down from generation to generation. The days of doing things on the cheap and also eco-consciously..have vanished. We have become lazy and unskilled, depending on products to ease our lives when those products are both expensive and poisonous to both ourselves and our environment.

Let the revolution of being fully independent, self-sufficient, and green begin now and be passed down to your family for years to come.

Homemade Cleaners and their Uses

 -To remove rust from silver or copper, use a paste of water plus wood ashes. Or for just removing rust from copper, use a lemon sprinkled with salt and scrub. To remove tarnish from silver or copper, you can rub with toothpaste, ketchup or Worcestershire sauce.

-To clean tarnished jewelry, soak them for several minutes in a concentrate of lemon juice. You will be able to wipe the tarnish off very easily afterwards.

-To clean out your refrigerator, use baking soda dissolved in water to make a weak solution. Scrub and wipe down inside doors, shelving, and walls.

- To clean wallpaper, mix 4 T. baking soda and 2 c. flour. Then once these are mixed, add 2 ½ T. ammonia with 1¼ c. water and beat all together. Next, put this mixture in the top of a double- boiler, with boiling water in the bottom pan. Let this steam over the lowest heat possible for about 1½ hours. Remove top pan with dough and let cool till it reaches room temperature. Remove dough and knead until it is pliant. To clean the wallpaper, start at the top of the wall with a small piece of the dough. Roll it down and knead against wall to absorb any dirt. Repeat until cleaned completely.

- To remove fresh paint from skin-use kitchen cooking oil to dissolve and wipe off.

-To clean the sink, add lemon juice and wipe down sides -let this set for about 10 minutes. Then using baking soda, scour until clean.

-To clean the shower or tub to remove mildew, use a diluted solution of 2 tsp. white vinegar in 1 qt. warm water. Use a soft sponge to clean with, and then dry surface completely.

- To clean toilet bowl, pour a bucket of water down drain to empty the bowl of water. Sprinkle now empty bowl with baking soda. Adding a little vinegar use the toilet bowl brush and clean away.

- To unclog a drain, make a solution of ½ c. vinegar and ½ c. baking soda with 2 c. boiling water. Pour down the drain and let sit for 3-5 minutes. Then flush again with hot water.

- To clean windows/mirrors, use a solution of diluted vinegar, rubbing with a soft cloth in sections, and drying immediately to prevent streaking or film forming.

Environmentally Safe Cleaning Solutions

Ammonia- *Note-This cleaning agent is safe to use as long as you are using it in a ventilated area. Do not mix Ammonia with any other cleaners especially Chlorine Bleach! When Ammonia evaporates it becomes Nitrogen gas. If in an unventilated room, the Nitrogen will displace the Oxygen in the room and cause you to suffocate!!*

Uses: Oven cleaning- (preheat oven to 200 degrees F. - Turn oven off. Next add ammonia to a shallow non-aluminum pan on the middle rack. Close the oven door and leave overnight. The fumes from the ammonia will loosen up the grease into a sludge that can be wiped off easily the following day.

Baking Soda- The chemical name for this is Sodium Bicarbonate. Its benefits are it is an excellent deodorizer and has mild abrasive qualities for scrubbing with.

Uses: Polishing, used as an abrasive for scrubbing burnt pots and pans, cleans bathrooms, kitchens-added to laundry it makes your whites whiter, for spills especially on carpet, sprinkle on spill and let dry, then vacuum up.

Cornstarch- this is used commonly in the kitchen as a thickening agent for gravies and stews, but is also an excellent cleaning tool too.

Uses: Make into a paste with water and use to polish glass. Mix 1 ½ T. cornstarch with 3 c. water and you have your own laundry starch.

Distilled White Vinegar- One of the safest and most natural cleaning agents there is. The active ingredient in vinegar for cleaning is the acetic acid.

Uses: Cleaning off mildew, cleaning stains and odor from toilet, and removing various other forms of residue from a multitude of surfaces.

Lemon- Citric acid is what makes this a useful cleaning agent. It also has a wonderful smell to act as a natural deodorizer.

Uses: removing tarnish, cleaning counters, deodorizing, removing residue and stains from sinks and other surfaces.

Salt- Known as Sodium Chloride, this household staple is useful because of its abrasive qualities and its action as a mild antiseptic and disinfectant.

Uses: removing rust, removing tough residues, etc.

Natural Soap- Homemade or store bought, this should consist of nothing more than lye and a type of fat or oil. The benefit of this over commercial soap is it is completely biodegradable and has no toxins in it.

Uses: Laundry, hygiene, washing out foul mouths, etc.

How to Keep a House Warm on a Budget

Insulating Windows:

-You can buy some thick fabric to make warm drapes to hang over your windows. Even better if you can buy also some thick almost rubberized plastic lining (similar to picnic table topping or if really tight for cash, use a plastic table cloth and use that to line that back of the fabric-this will keep out the maximum drafts possible using curtains.)

- You can also buy from your hardware store insulation kits, which is basically thin plastic sheeting, some two sided tape, and maybe a piece of foam to put in between the two halves of the window to prevent leaking drafts. But when you think about these kits, you don't need to buy all of this stuff for the price they are asking. Go get some plastic sheeting and your own roll of double sided tape separately. It will be cheaper. Then when you finish taping up the sides around your window, take a hair dryer and blow on the plastic. This will heat up the air inside and make the plastic stretch nice and taut to make your insulation sealed tight.

- Really in a pinch, just wave your hand around your windows to see where the drafts are coming in the strongest. Take wadded up strips of newspaper and stuff it into any crevices where air is leaking through. You can also then seal it over with some masking tape. Be careful to not use any duct tape, or it will rip the paint off your window frames.

- Don't have any storm windows? Well just buy some thick plastic sheeting, and using thin strips of wood, hammer the plastic into place, sealing it all the way around your window frame.

- My personal highest recommendation is what my parents did for our old house growing up. They made their own window panel inserts. These were brilliant because unlike with plastic sheeting, which you have to replace almost every season (esp. if using the thin kind in these kits), these literally lasted decades. They were pieces of insulation wall panels, the thickness of the windows, so about 2-3 ", that he cut and fitted for each window in the house. We even had them for our bedrooms upstairs. To make them less ugly, fabric was glued to them to match the décor of the room they were in. To ensure that around the edges of the panels, that air still didn't leak through, he took some cheap shag like carpeting that he had extra of, cut it into strips, and put that on the edges of the panels. We put them in every night around suppertime in the winter, and we had to take them out of the windows as soon as we woke up. They worked like a charm! My parents have lived in our house for 40 plus years and they still use the same panels every cold season.

Insulating Doors:

- Install storm doors. My parents installed them for both our front and back porch. A storm door is an extra thick door, in our case, about twice the thickness of the other doors. They also closed tightly shut, with rubberized linings on the bottom to prevent drafts from coming in under the door.

-Having a porch creates an air buffer between the inside of the house and the elements inside, use this as your main entrance to the house and seal off other doors for the winter.

- If in an emergency, tear old sheets or t-shirts into strips. Soak in water and stuff into cracks around doors. As the water freezes it seals perfectly creating a draft free zone.

Closing off Spaces:

- Any pantries or closets that don't have doors-close off with thick hanging blankets or curtains so you are heating the most usable space as possible.

- Keep rooms not using closed so you are not wasting heat to warm them up during the day (i.e. bedrooms)

What to Do When There is no Electricity?

Keeping Food Cool:

-Run cold water in your bathtub and put perishables in there.

-Use a box with a tray of water on top. Then drape a piece of cloth over the tray and down the sides of the box. The water will slowly seep down the sides of the fabric and as it evaporates, cause a cooling effect, which will keep your food fresher.

-If you have a basement, move all perishables there to the coolest corner.

Making Light:

- If you are out of batteries or just don't have enough lanterns for all rooms, you can make a quick easy and cheap lantern on your own. Take a empty can, or an empty bottle, and pour some cooking oil in it. Then take some twine or string, or a shoelace if that's all you have, and put that in the oil, leaving about 2 inches hanging out over the top edge- Voila, instant oil lantern for emergencies!

-To make the light spread further, put a metal cookie sheet behind or some aluminum foil, or a mirror, to reflect the light outward into your room.


- If you have land, you can just cook over a campfire or on your grill.

- You can make a solar cooker out of a cardboard box with the sides painted black, put some aluminum foil to line the bottom, and then some plastic wrap on top or a piece of glass. You can bake casseroles, breads, eggs, just about anything!

Christmas Time on a Budget

It's Christmas again, and this is the most expensive holiday of the year. This doesn't have to be so, it's just that over the years it's become more about what you can buy or cash you can give away, instead of trying to come up with something creative on your own. Instead of buying something impersonal to decorate your tree, try making something very personal even with your kids that you can keep for years.

Classic Old Decorations:

1.) Salt Dough Ornaments: I made these when I was little with my mom, and I cut them all out and painted them myself. They were hideous yes, but they make wonderful timepieces and collectibles for parents and their kids that they can keep and use to mortify you years later with.


1 c. Salt
4 c. Flour
1½ c. water

Instructions: This will be pretty stiff to work with. You knead it to make it a little softer and more smooth and elastic. Roll out dough till it is ¼ " thick. Using cookie cutters, or if none available, use lids from jars to make cut outs or hand form your own creations. Then using a pencil make a hole on the outside edge so that you can put string through later on. Don't make the ornaments too big or too heavy, or the branches of your tree won't be able to support them. Bake the "cookies" at 225 degrees F for ½ hour. Check on them periodically to make sure they aren't burning.

2.) Blown Eggs: These are one of my personal favorites, not only can they be used to decorate at Christmas, but also at Easter for an Easter Egg tree. You decide whether you want to use brown or white eggs. White eggs will dye easier, but brown are naturally beautiful. Take the eggs and with a needle or pin, poke a hole into both ends of the egg. When you have the small hole you can pry around its edges with the needle to lift up some more shell and widen the hole. Put your mouth on the smallest opening, and blow the egg innards into a bowl. Save and put in the fridge for breakfast the next day, or use for baking Christmas cookies! Next step is you want to rinse out the eggs with water, and lightly wash the outside to make sure no egg whites or yolks got on the outside (this will damage the dyeing). Let air dry on some paper towels until no water drips out from holes. Next you can dye with food coloring, or use crayons to make designs and then dye, or paint by hand, or put ribbons on, or wrap in fabric…the possibilities are endless.

3.) Cranberry and Popcorn: I remember doing these when I was little, it was fun to pop a huge bowl of popcorn and string them alternating with cranberries to hang on the tree. The great thing about this decoration, is you can use it for your tree and then after Christmas is over, drape it on a tree outside and it makes an excellent bird feeder!

4.) Colored paper Garlands: Cutting strips of festive colored paper and looping together and pasting to make long garlands to decorate walls, banisters or the tree.

5.) Recycling Old Christmas Cards: If you are a pack rat like I am, or as I prefer to be called, sentimentally inclined, you keep all the Christmas cards you've ever received from birth. Now drag out that shoebox (or crate, depending on your age), and put those cards to use. You can use some masking tape and double side it to the back of each card and tape the cards to form a Christmas tree shape on a closet door or on a wall. Or if you are willing to cut some of them, you can cut out the pictures or designs on the front of them to turn them into Christmas ornaments. You can also make kissing balls out of them, by taking the cards, cutting them into octagon shapes, folding the edges about a ¼" on each side, and gluing them together with the decorative sides facing out, to make a nice festive ball.

6.) Quilling: This is a very old craft, where you take thin strips (1/4 ") of paper, and using a Quilling tool you twist the paper around the tool as tightly as you can. Pulling it off you let the paper uncurl until it's reached its limit and is a circle shape. Then you pinch this circle into tear drops shapes, triangles, circles, hearts, etc gluing the ends together to hold it. You can make your own snowflakes with this, or angels, etc.

7.) Potato Print Wrapping Paper: Slice a raw potato in half so that the sides are perfectly flat. From there, carve out a raised relief area of a design you desire. Blot off the potato to remove the juices. Then did in acrylic paint and start stamping some plain or colored paper.

Recycling Everything Under the Roof

You remember stories from your grandparents or parents about how everything was saved back in the day to be reused later on. This was usually during times of war or during the Great Depression. We've become a highly wasteful society in the United States, and instead of burying it, burning it, or throwing it in the ocean, we can all use and reuse to make the longest life out of some very useful items that otherwise will take decades to break down. Here are some tips and ideas on what to save and their different beneficial uses.

Milk Cartons and Other Liquid containers made of cardboard or plastic: You first make sure you rinse out with sudsy water thoroughly the insides of the containers and let them air dry. You do not want any fungi growing inside.

-These containers are excellent to use as planting beds for seedlings for your garden when it is still too cold outside to directly plant them outdoors. Just trim down the tops to allow at least a depth of 2" of soil to be put in. Covering these with some plastic wrap to hold in moisture and trap in heat and stick in your sunniest window and watch your seeds germinate.

-Another use especially for gallon plastic milk containers or laundry containers, is you cut of the tops and bottoms and use these as protective barriers to place in the ground around your tomato plants or other plants you are growing that are susceptible to leaf cutters and other critters that like to munch on your garden.

-Cut an opening in one side and hang your plastic milk jugs or juice containers on a branch to make your own birdfeeders.

Tin Foil: It's infuriating to see someone use this to wrap a casserole in and then just dump in the trash. It's a huge waste and it takes forever for this to decompose in a garbage dump. This is a pretty resilient kitchen item that can be used and reused over and over again. Just fold it up and tuck it in a container in your kitchen to keep any and all scrap pieces of. If food becomes stuck to it, you will have to throw it away since cleaning will only tear the foil apart.

-Can be used to make a solar oven

-Can be used as reflectors to hang in your garden to ward off pesky birds that like to eat your corn and sunflower seeds, or on your fruit trees to ward off birds and also fruit bats who devour your crop.

- Can be reused for cooking during camping trips for the grill.

Twist Ties/Strings/rubber bands: This should be pretty self explanatory, you can reuse these to reseal bags whether you are storing your own food in food storage bags, or tying your garbage bags up, etc. Keep a special box or jar for these near the kitchen sink close to your bags and other items used to store things. You can never have too many.

Glass Soda Bottles/Beer &Wine Bottles/Etc: These are going to be needed to be washed out thoroughly in hot sudsy water, and let air dry upside down.

- You can use your old bottles to make your own solar water heater, by getting a glass drill bit for your drill gun and boring a hole in each bottle and connecting them with hoses on a wooden plank. Using a gravity-fed water system you can have water slowly filtrate into these bottles and warm up to high temps in the sun. Then have the water drain down again into your bathroom for hot showers and warm water in the sink.

-Bottles can also be used for decorating- you can drill a hole in the bottom side of a tall glass bottle and feed in a small cord of colored lights that when lit up, add a nice festive atmosphere to any room or bar.

- Oil Lanterns can be made out of nice wine bottles that you have saved. You can buy a wick at a craft shop or a hardware store, and purchase some kerosene fuel (try to get the kind that emits the least amount of smoke and fumes), and voila!

-You can make your own decorative lamp, use some hanging light bulbs at different lengths, and then intermittently around the bulb also at varying lengths you can hang empty wine bottles to act as prisms and light reflectors to decorate a room with.

Metal Tin Cans: Wash out thoroughly, being careful to not cut your hands on the edges. If you have tin snips this will be helpful but not necessary for all ideas listed below.

-Hanging Lanterns can be made by in warm water removing glue and labels. Next you fill each can with water and stick them in the freezer overnight. The next day, using a hammer and various diameter nails, hammer in the desired pattern you want for your lantern. Then hammer in two holes on opposite top sides of the can, this you will use to put wire in to hang your can from .The freezing of the can helps it maintain its shape as you are hammering into it. Let the ice melt, dry thoroughly and pat dry with towels to prevent any rusting. You can use old candle stubs that you've saved, or tea lights (can usually buy a big pack at the dollar store), or some battery operated light if you are afraid of having open flames. Using some craft wire or cutting with wire cutters some old wire hangers, make a handle for the top of your lantern to hang on a nail to give off light. Or if you want this to line a walk way or a garden area, you can just have them on a non-flammable surface to give off light.

-Planters can be made with this, by taking a nail and hammering the bottom with holes in scattered locations. Make sure that you have enough drainage before you plant seeds in or transplant anything to your planter.

Wine Corks: Only save real cork material, not the plastic corks.

-This can be saved and used to make your own corkboard.

- Makes a good pincushion for your pins and needles that tend to get scattered and lost.

-Save your corks and put them in a large vase or glass vessel to use as a decorative piece in a room, or an unintentional way to let your family know you drink a wee bit too much.

- Can be shaped and reused to cork smaller decorative bottles that you may want to use to store different cooking oils, vinegars and dried seasonings.

Newspapers: These can be saved in your basement, garage, or another dry location where they won't rot and decompose.

-Can be used to put on the garden beds to act as a covering to prevent weed growth.

-Save the funny papers to use as kitschy wrapping paper.

-Can be used for various projects around the house to spread when painting or cleaning and you don't want to damage your floors.

-Are excellent when used with cleaners to clean your house windows. Streak free and gives a nice polish.

-Can be ripped into shreds to use as litter for a chick brooder or other small animal housing.

-Save clippings of important news events to put in a scrapbook or a photomontage.

-Can be used to make paper-mache crafts

Styrofoam: A lot of produce packaging comes with Styrofoam trays, whether it is meat or veggies, wash off the Styrofoam with soapy water and let air dry completely. Store under the sink or in an area where it won't cause too much clutter.

-This is an excellent tray for your seedlings. When you cut or puncture holes in the bottom of your seedling containers, the water is going to drain out and get all over your windowsill or floors. So by reusing these Styrofoam trays you can save yourself the trouble of always having to clean up after every time you water your plants.

-Can be used as a painting pallet if you are artistically inclined or if you are just doing some touch ups around the house.

-Can be cut into pieces to use as packing material if you are sending a fragile item in the mail.

Plastic Grocery Bags: This is probably the biggest culprit of waste pollution on our planet. Because they are so light and billow in the wind like a balloon, they are carried near and far across the earth. Not only this, but they take decades to decompose and are made of oil byproducts. I keep one bag and stuff the collection I accumulate over time into it. To stop this trend in it's tracks I recommend investing in some sturdy reusable shopping bags (nylon, hemp, or canvas) to do your shopping in and so to let the establishment know that plastic bags are no longer needed.

-Save up your bags to be used as liners in small waste paper baskets in the home office, bathroom or bedroom.

-Can be cut up along the seam to unfold into a flat plastic sheet to make your own homemade kite with.

-Can be used as wrapping and cushioning for putting fragile items in storage such as dishware, glasses, etc.

-Can be used to separate recycling items in your basement.

Cardboard Boxes: This can be used for a variety of different purposes around and outside of the house from paper supply boxes, to shoe boxes, to what your refrigerator came in. Save it all if you can and recycle what you don't intend to use.

-Can be used to make your own chicken incubator and brooder.

-Can be used as floor covering when doing construction, painting, or car oil changes.

-Can be used to put things in storage in your basement, attic, or garage.

-Helps when it comes time to move out of the house or apartment.

-Can be saved to reuse at Christmas time to wrap presents in.

-Can be used for making kids craft projects for school (i.e. dioramas) and home entertainment (doll houses, etc).

-Can be painted or wrapped in extra wallpaper or pretty gift-wrap to turn it into a decorative storage unit. Works best with shoeboxes.

Can be used to store old photos or recipe cards inside.

Old Clothing & Fabrics: If donating to your church or the local Salvation Army hasn't been done yet, there are still some ways that you can salvage and use those bags of yesteryear wear.

-Stained clothing or fabrics can be cut into squares and turned into cleaning/dusting/oil change rags for around the house and garage.

-Old dress shirts, preferably men shirts since they are larger, can be saved and turned into various crafts such as the Shirt Pocket Quilt, or into a decorative pillow.

-Have any scrap fabrics, save to turn into a patchwork quilt.

-Can be used to make a scarecrow for the vegetable garden.

-If especially dated and eccentric clothing, it can be used for costumes for Halloween or parties.

-Hand-me-downs especially for baby and children's clothing no longer able to fit, to family members or friends who could use them for their kids.

Egg Cartons: Save these whether made of cardboard or Styrofoam.
-Makes a good desk drawer or kitchen junk drawer organizer. Can use to store paper clips, rubber bands and other doo-dads that accumulate and need a spot to be organized in.

-Can be also used as a seed-starting tray to plant your seedlings in. Some egg cartons come with a clear plastic lid that makes a perfect little greenhouse to lock in moisture and heat. Remember to puncture a hole in the bottom of the egg holder to allow excess moisture to leak out.

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