Gardening Lessons Learned

Here in upstate NY, most of our yard is still covered with a couple of inches of snow. Patches of grass are peeking out in places, and temps have warmed slightly, but I won’t be seeing any of the bulbs I planted last fall for weeks, I think. <Muffled sobs.> Regardless, I’ve been dreaming about gardening for the past couple of months. I’ve read several books, ordered seeds, and planned exactly where all of my seeds will be growing. All of this is in support of achieving my goal of growing 200 pounds of produce for my family this year.

I’m the daughter of an avid and highly knowledgeable gardener, and started dabbling in it myself a couple of years ago. I started with a couple of containers of cherry tomatoes, and two years ago added three raised beds that my husband built for me. In all of those years, I was really just sticking things in dirt and harvesting what grew, but this year I’m getting more serious about it. Although far from being an expert, I’ve read a good bit, (I love the gardening posts on the blog, One Hundred Dollars a Month!), picked my mother’s brain, and given a lot of thought to what’s worked for me in the past, and what hasn’t. And then I read this post, and it got me thinking about what I’ve learned from my gardening exploits to-date:

  1. Gardening is both incredibly easy, and incredibly complex. On the one hand growing things can be as easy as sticking seeds in the dirt, adding some water and sun, and enjoying what grows. This will not yield the best results, though. Some plants need tons of sunlight and warmth (sunflowers, tomatoes), and some prefer cooler temperatures and will tolerate some shade (peas, lettuce, spinach). Individual plants have different soil/mineral needs, are vulnerable to different diseases and pests, and require different amounts of space to grow successfully. Read seed packets, books, blogs, and talk to other gardeners to learn as much as you can.
  2. Gardening can be cheap, and also very expensive. Seeds, water, and basic soil are not very expensive, and you can obviously save a good bit of money by growing your own produce. But fertilizer or compost, insecticides, containers, and tools can get very pricey. I can say without a hint of exaggeration that I could walk into my local garden center today, and drop $1,000 without trying very hard. I would buy several beautiful, large containers, bags and bags of compost, potting soil, and fertilizers, fancy shovels, gloves, and rakes, and more. Instead I reuse as much soil as possible, compost my family’s yard and kitchen scraps, grow a cover crop, and received some free containers after posting a request to my local Freecycle group.
  3. Planning will save you time, money, and frustration. Because plants have different needs (see #1 above), learning what those are and creating a plan will help you meet their needs and minimize loss from mistakes. Carefully consider what makes sense for you to grow, where everything will go, and a timeline from planting. For example, I got stir-crazy last March, and planted a bunch of seeds all at once. I ended up losing a lot of seedlings because I started most of them way too early for our growing season. This year I planned out a timeline of what I’ll be starting, and when.

What lessons about gardening have you learned?


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Making Memories is Important, Too

Our family hasn’t ever taken a “real” vacation. Last year, we were lucky enough to spend a few days on Cape Cod, with free accommodations. The year before, we had a trip to Maine booked, but my husband ended up having back surgery and used too much vacation time for his recovery. We ended up canceling our vacation, which was probably a good thing, given our finances.

This year, our finances are improving, although there’s still quite a bit of work to be done. But my husband really wanted to take a summer vacation, so I didn’t argue when he scheduled a trip to Maine in August. I figured, he works hard and deserves to enjoy his time off. At the same time, I was really thinking, “I’d rather put the money we’ll spend toward our debt, or retirement savings, or paying for our new propane tank.” Then, I read this post, and it stopped me in my tracks. This line, in particular, brought tears to my eyes: “Because money isn’t the only thing in life where you are only given so much; we only have so much time with our loved ones.”  What a timely and spot-on reminder!

My daughter is five, and already more than halfway through kindergarten. The other day I dropped her off at a birthday party, and she didn’t even ask me to stay. (That’s HUGE for her.) She’s reading simple books on her own, and doing countless things for herself that I used to do for her. Waaaah! There’s nothing like watching a small child grow to remind one of the passage of time. And I want to make memories with her and for her. They don’t always have to cost money, but I want to take her on a family vacation. Is it the best move for our finances? No, but there are more important things than money.

How do you like to make memories?


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Busy Side Hustle Week

Happy Monday! Although it’s still quite chilly and snowy here, we had a nicely balanced weekend of relaxing and getting out. I attended two birthday parties with my daughter, got my hair cut, went grocery shopping, and took a nap on the couch. It was a pretty nice weekend.

I’m on vacation this week, since it’s spring break at the college where I work. I usually work on one of my side hustles during spring break, but this year I’m working on two of them. First, I’m doing my last official small business event, a two-day fundraiser for a local preschool. I’ve done this event the last three years, and two of the three, it’s been a good money-maker for me. (We tried doing it at a different time of year last year, and it was a good bit less profitable. As a result, we went back with the original time of year for this one.)

The second side hustle I’ll be working on this week is teaching classes through our school district’s continuing education department. Twice a year, I teach resume-writing and interview preparation classes to adults in the community. These classes are not even remotely lucrative, but they’re an easy way for me to make a few extra dollars, I enjoy doing them, and they enable me to create continuity of experience on my own resume, should my primary job become unavailable to me. And even though I don’t make a lot of money from these classes, given our financial situation, every extra dollar helps.

Do you have any side hustles? I’m a huge fan of them, and this post from Michelle at Making Sense of Cents does a great job of highlighting some of their primary benefits.


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I Did a Bad, Bad Thing, plus 2015 Meal Plan #12

I got my hair cut yesterday morning, and since I was already out, my husband and daughter were doing their thing separately, and I knew I wouldn’t feel like going to the grocery store this morning – ugh, Sunday morning at the grocery store! – or tomorrow – I have a small business event that will take up several hours in the middle of the day – I made a spontaneous decision to go to the grocery store. And by “spontaneous”, I mean that I went with no meal plan, no list, and no coupons. Gulp.

How much damage did I do on this trip? I spent $143, before rebates from SavingStar, Checkout 51, and Snap. I aim to keep my weekly grocery bill at $100 or less, but I typically go over a bit. (Time to adjust the grocery budget, perhaps.) On this trip, I purchased more produce than I normally would, since my parents are coming for an overnight visit early this week, and they’re big fruit and veggie eaters. I’ll also confess to buying a couple of items to add to the salads I’ve been eating lately, to make them more filling (pistachio nuts) and more fun (croutons). I bought the cheapest croutons they had, and they’re neither all that tasty, nor all that healthy. I feel badly about that purchase, and will not repeat. Homemade croutons are much more tasty and are definitely healthier. Otherwise, there weren’t really any splurge items, and I don’t feel too badly about the trip. (Okay, I did feel badly when the cashier asked if I had any coupons, and I had to say no. I don’t usually go shopping with a fistful of coupons, but I generally have a few of them.)

So with no meal plan done before the shopping trip, what will we eat for dinners this week? Here’s the plan:

Meal Plan 12001(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

I made this ridiculously easy lasagna recipe a couple of weeks ago, and it was very tasty. As a result, I decided (at the store) to make it for dinner with my parents on Tuesday.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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Friday Odds & Ends

Happy Spring! Today’s high here is 37 degrees and afternoon snow showers are possible, so we’re still eagerly awaiting the first day it actually feels like spring! Whatever the weather is like where you are,

1. I planted the first of my seeds this week – Black Beauty Eggplant! My daughter helped me plant four small pots of seeds. This is a plant I’ve had trouble getting to maturity with our relatively short growing season, but I’m hopeful that transplanting it into my toasty warm straw bales in May will give it the extra push needed to get some eggplants this year. (I purchased four of those straw bales – all I could fit in my car – from a small farmer this week. I’ll be picking up two more next week.)

2. My job may still exist next year, after all! I overheard my boss telling someone that he’ll have to complete HR paperwork for the other part-time staff member and me each academic term next year. Although I can’t be 100% confident, this gave me the strong impression that my job will indeed exist next year.

3. I love great deals on books! Homespun Seasonal Living’s books are 25% off this week w/ code Spring, and all of Chelsea Green Publishing’s gardening books are 30% off through 3/31!

4. I’m giving Pinterest a try, but I freely admit to not quite understanding how it works. If you’d like to what I’m pinning, please stop by and follow me. (You can also find me on Twitter!)

Have a fantastic weekend! What are you up to?


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Stitch Fix Review #3

After my last “fix” from Stitch Fix did not include anything warm, I was a little concerned when I saw the size of the box my latest fix came in. It was very compact like the last one, but I was pleasantly surprised to see both two sweaters, and a note from my stylist, indicating that she had included some warmer items for me this time. Nicely done, Julie. :)

Each fix includes five different items. Mine included two sweaters (thanks for listening, Stitch Fix!), a knit, long-sleeve top, a blouse, and a pair of pants. I kept one of the sweaters. It came at just the right time: it’s still pretty cold here, and I’m tired of wearing the same three sweaters every day. This one is warm and cozy, and can be worn on both my work and my non-work days, depending on what I wear it with. Here it is:

sweaterThe other sweater was a cowl neck, and I just don’t like this style. The two tops were kind of billowy, which doesn’t work well on me. I’m not a skinny gal, so a more fitted style tends to be more flattering on me. And the pants fit, but were high-waisted, another style that I don’t particularly like. Also, I thought they were pretty pricey for very basic, stretchy black pants.

I’m not sure if most Stitch Fix customers end up keeping all or most of the items in their fixes, but I’ve kept two out of the fifteen items I’ve received, and I’m happy with that ratio. I mean, these are people who don’t know me, don’t even know what I look like, and don’t know anything about my taste, except for the few things I’ve told them. (It never occurred to me to share my dislike for cowl neck sweaters in the style profile I completed when I signed up!) I’m still amazed that every item they’ve sent me has fit me, even if I haven’t loved the style or fit of everything.

What’s your least favorite clothing style?

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A New Financial Goal

We heat our house with propane. (No natural gas lines in our town.) It also powers our hot water heater and our stove, but it’s the heat that sucks up most of the propane we use. When we purchased our house in 2009, the tank came with it. As first-time homeowners, we didn’t really think about who owned the tank, or what the implications of tank ownership would be. Soon afterwards, we realized that having a propane tank owned by the propane company was very limiting. It locked us into buying propane from that company, and therefore negotiating the price only with them.

About a year ago, a neighbor told us about a local propane co-op, and their rates are consistently MUCH lower than what we pay. You cannot lock in a price for the season with them, but they publish two years worth of their propane pricing history on their website, and it’s been less than we’ve paid 100% of the time. I’m not talking about saving $0.10 per gallon here, either. Their price is $0.50 or more cheaper per gallon, than what we’ve been paying. Ouch.

We seriously considered switching to them last year, but our current company lowered their “rock-bottom price” by an additional $0.28 per gallon, when I called to tell them we’d be leaving. Between that and sheer inertia, we decided to stick with them for another year.

We took another look at the co-op’s pricing over the weekend, and discovered that their customers are currently paying $1.90 per gallon for propane. What awesome rate did our company give us for this year? $2.77. Ouch, again. And if we owned our own tank, we’d be paying $1.60, or $0.30 less per gallon. We decided on the spot to change companies after this season.

While looking at the co-op’s website, we learned that we can purchase our own tank from them for $2,450, not including tax and trench-digging fees. That’s for an above-ground, 500-gallon tank, like the one we have now. A below-ground tank would cost $2,900. While I don’t enjoy looking at our above-ground tank, it doesn’t really bother me, and I’m inclined to save the extra few hundred dollars and go with another above-ground tank.

If we save an additional $0.30 per gallon by owning our own tank, purchasing one should pay for itself in a couple of years. So that’s now the plan: purchase our own propane tank this summer, when we switch companies. Assuming we purchase the cheaper, above-ground tank, we’ll need almost $2,950, including tax and digging fees. (I assumed $300 for the digging fees, which seems like it should be very liberal.) We currently have enough money to cover this in our savings, but I’d like to set aside most, if not all, of the cost of the tank, rather than taking it from our savings. Voila – a new financial goal!

Do you heat your home with propane? If so, do you own your own tank? How much have you been paying per gallon?

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2015 Meal Plan #11 and a Challenge Check-In

Meal Plan

I’m not going to lie, I really didn’t feel like doing a meal plan for this week. I don’t enjoy cooking very much, and I was feeling particularly uninspired as I sat down to put this together last night. Ultimately, though, I’m happy with what I came up with. We’re having one meal from the freezer, but I’m replacing it with a different one. I’m taking my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party Friday evening, where she’ll be having dinner. My husband and I will either find some leftovers from earlier in the week, or make something easy, like grilled cheese and/or soup (from the freezer). Saturday, we’ll get a pizza for dinner, and watch March Madness games. (Okay, my husband and daughter will watch basketball, and I’ll hide out in the dining room with the book I’m reading.) Anyway, here’s the whole plan:

Meal Plan 11001(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

Challenge Check-In

You may recall that I started a 10-day challenge to sell one item per day, last Monday. I listed one item (actually, they were all sets of items) per day last week, and received not a single response to any of them. I’m guessing that I either over-priced them, or that I chose the wrong Craigslist site to post them on. We live essentially in between two different Craigslist sites, and I opted to post on the one that’s a we’re a bit closer to, but is also a much less-populous area. I’m now wondering if that was a mistake. As a result, I’m going to post the next five listings on the other Craigslist site. (I took the weekend off from posting, so I guess I technically violated the challenge rules.)

What are you having for dinner this week?


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Paleo Event & Giveaway

I’m a big fan of reading, especially nonfiction, lately. This year, I’ve already read several books about food, focusing on agricultural sustainability and exactly what’s in processed food. (Scary stuff!) Personally, I’m working on eating mainly “real” foods, avoiding processed food, and increasing the servings of fruits and vegetables I consume every day. While I don’t strictly follow the Paleo diet – I just can’t bring myself to give up grains or dairy! – I like a lot of the principles behind it.

Are you interested in learning more about the Paleo diet, or to build up your repertoire of Paleo recipes? Buck Books will be hosting a Paleo flash sale event on Tuesday, 3/17. This event will feature 3 Paleo books:

1. The Paleo Cure
2. The Primal Connection
3. The Everything Paleo Pregnancy Book

The Paelo flash sale event will also feature 12 Paleo cookbooks:

1. Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple
2. Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook
3. The Zenbelly Cookbook
4. Make Ahead Paleo
5. 52 Healthy Paleo Breakfast Ideas
6. The Paleo Slow Cooker
7. The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook
8. Make it Paleo
9. Paleo Grilling
10. Paleo by Season
11. Paleo Eats
12. Merrymaker Paleo

Each book will be available for just $0.99 – $2.99! To take part in the Paleo flash sale event on 3/17, or other upcoming flash sale events, visit Buck Books here.


Want to get 10 of the Paleo cookbooks for free? Enter the Buck Books Paleo event giveaway! One lucky winner will walk away with those cookbooks, a Kindle paperwhite, a $200 Amazon gift card, and other cool prizes. Enter here.


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MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom
by Tony Robbins (Author, Narrator), Jeremy Bobb (Narrator) MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom(1133) Buy new: $34.99 $29.95

When It Rains, It Pours!

Typically, when I use the “when it rains, it pours” expression, I’m talking about bad news. Yesterday was one of those special days when it seemed to be raining good news. It started with something relatively minor: I learned that although our minimum payment for the home equity loan is set to deduct from our checking each month, I can easily add additional payments to the principal. Our first payment is scheduled for April 1, and the minimum payment is $482.78. I added a small additional principal payment, and it felt so good!

Next up: I visited one of my small business customers, and she purchased some of my remaining inventory. She gets a substantial discount, but I was able to sell off a small chunk of inventory and make a small profit. On my way home, I took her check to the bank, along with an over-payment check from one our closed credit card accounts.

The best piece of news I received yesterday was that we’re receiving both federal and state tax refunds this year. Last year we owed $1,800, and it was a very unpleasant surprise. In fact, it’s what got me reading personal finance blogs, and eventually, motivated me to start my own. After our accountant’s fee, we’ll net $1,500 this year! This will give us more of a cushion for paying this year’s pricey propane bills.

We’re by no means in good financial shape, but I’m starting to feel like the ship is no longer sinking. The home equity loan is enabling us to pay off our debt at a much lower interest rate, our emergency fund is better funded, and our income stream has ticked up a bit lately, and will increase in a month or so, when my husband gets a raise.

Are you getting a refund this year? If so, what are you doing with it?

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