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Key appliance failure can wreak havoc on short-term financial planning. Setting aside a small amount of money each week to prepare for such occurrences is a good idea. (Business Wire/File)

Are you prepared for appliance failure?

By Guest blogger / 01.30.12

Just a few days ago, Connie wrote in:

It’s been a real challenge turning our financial situation around. My husband seems supportive but he’s having a really hard time breaking his old spending habits and with our reduced income it is really a challenge every month.

I finally was able to get about $300 together for an emergency fund and I was really happy with my progress when our hot water heater died. We had to replace it and it not only ate all of our emergency fund but put us a few hundred deeper in debt.

It feels like every time we start to get ahead we end up further behind.

Connie nailed it. One of the most common reasons for the failure of short term financial plans is a key appliance failure. I’ve seen it happen in my own life, when our own hot water heater failed a couple of years ago and our washing machine failed about three years ago.

The appliances in your house are not infinitely reliable. An appliance failure is going to happen in the future.

There’s never a good time for an appliance to fail. It will always cause difficulties that eat up our time and energy and add to our stress level. However, it doesn’t have to add to our financial stress.

Our solution to this challenge is really simple. We simply automatically save $10 a week for appliance replacement.

That $10 a week turns into roughly $525 per year. That’s enough to replace a washing machine or a dryer with an economical model. Over multiple years, that money will grow to enough to replace even major appliances, like a central air conditioning unit or a furnace.

We started this fund after our hot water heater failure depleted a piece of our emergency fund. We’ve put in $10 a week as well as a bit of extra “found money” along the way. It has just shy of $1,000 in it.

What will happen the next time an appliance fails? We just go replace it, then take the money out of that account to cover it. It’s as easy as pie – no financial stress, no mess.

Appliances will fail. It may be an emergency, but it’s not something you don’t know about in advance and can’t plan for. You can plan for this, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of money each week to plan for it.

$10 a week is a few beers or a few morning coffees. It’s one dinner you make yourself instead of getting a pizza.

What does it transform into? It becomes not having to stress out if an appliance fails. It becomes not having a sick feeling in your gut if your washing machine begins to make a bad noise. It becomes not having to go into debt if your air conditioning unit bites the dust.

It becomes freedom, in other words.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

A sign promoting a sale is seen in a retail store at a shopping mall in San Francisco, in this file photo. If you want a particular item, but don't need it right away, wait for a sale. (Robert Gailbraith/Reuters/File)

Do you really need that deep freezer? Really?

By Guest blogger / 01.29.12

When we were first considering a move into our current home, my wife and I made a list of things that we wanted to have in our home that we just didn’t have room for in our small apartment. One of the big items on that list was a deep freezer.

We wanted one primarily because we often had offers of buying shares of venison or beef, where entire animals had been processed at a meat locker and the person was hoping to get back some of their investment by selling a quarter of the meat. Per pound, this was an incredible deal, but you would often have to deal with thirty or forty pounds (or more – sometimes much more) of wrapped and processed meat.

We also wanted to take advantage of specific sales at the grocery store. For example, if a store has a sale on flash-frozen vegetables, we’ll often stock up on them.

As we moved into our current home, we had money set aside for buying a deep freezer, an amount based on the prices we could easily find at the time. We knew some of the specific models we wanted that had a good “bang for the buck,” and we had the cash in hand. Time to buy, right?

Wrong.

The thing was that we didn’t immediately need that deep freezer. Yes, we wanted one and it was clear that over the long run such a freezer would save us money, but we weren’t pinned up against the wall with regards to the purchase.

This distinction between want and need is a key one. It is incredibly easy for people to decide that something useful that they merely want is actually more of a need – something that they have to go out and purchase right away. I see it all the time with people in my social circle, and I even see it uncomfortably often in myself.

Holding back on those “wants that seem kind of like needs” is essential for saving money.

What are you holding back for? The sale. There are many ways where you can find that item that you’re looking for at a much lower price than what you’ll see at your local department store or appliance store.

All we did is sit on this idea of buying a deep freezer for about two months. We watched the ads from the local hardware and appliance stores, waiting for a great price on one of the models we wanted. Eventually, we found it on sale at about a 35% discount, saving us quite a bit of money.

Even better, during that period, a friend of ours came up with a used deep freezer that he offered to give to us. We were strongly considering taking the item, even though we were a bit concerned about the fan motor in it, but we went for the discounted one instead.

We didn’t lose anything by waiting, but we gained about the third of the cost of our deep freezer.

This type of story repeats itself time and time again when you’re making any major purchase. The price you find today is likely to be easily topped if you exhibit a little bit of patience, and considering that the items that you’d do this with aren’t really essential to your day-to-day life, there’s no real drawback to waiting.

What kind of threshold should you have for pulling the trigger? For me, I usually try to wait for a price that’s at least 20% lower than the lowest regular price I found when I was initially searching for the item.

How long should you wait? This is really up to you. What I typically do is wait until I notice a continuous stream of possible uses for the item I was considering buying. Whenever I notice a use, I bump my threshold for buying closer to the lowest regular price until it becomes clear that the item is nearly a “need” in terms of how we live our lives, then I’ll just go for the lowest-priced version I can find.

Patience is the key, and patience pays off time and time again.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

Forgetting to clean out your dryer's lint trap can reduce energy efficiency up to 75 percent. Hamm also recommends cleaning the lint filter and dryer vent.

Don't forget your lint trap!

By Guest blogger / 01.28.12

This seems like such a simple thing. Most of us do this as a matter of course whenever we dry a load of laundry in our dryer.

Forgetting to do it, however, adds up to a significant cost. Not only does it make your dryer run less efficiently (depending on the level of lint and your specific type of dryer, it can reduce the efficiency by 75%), it also forces your dryer to work harder and can contribute to a shorter lifespan for your dryer.

One key step to making sure that your dryer is free of lint is cleaning out your lint trap. Whenever you’re about to run a load of clothes, simply remove the lint from the lint trap with your fingers and toss it in the trash.

However, that’s just one step in the process. There are additional steps you can take which will maximize the airflow into and out of your dryer, making it run more efficiently. A more efficient dryer is a dryer that costs less to run per load and has a longer lifespan, saving you money both now and later.

First, make sure the external opening for your dryer vent is clear. If you don’t know where your dryer vent is, spend some time tracing the vent that goes out of the back of your dryer. One method is to simply inspect the outside of your house, particularly on a very cold day, when the dryer is running. At my home, if the temperature is below freezing, there is obvious steam coming out of the dryer vent.

Cleaning it is easy. Just lift up whatever is guarding the trap and remove any lint or debris that is filling the exit. Ours tends to fill with debris about every six months or so and it makes our dryer run much less efficiently.

Next, once a year or so, clean out your dryer vent completely. This is a straightforward process, but it does take a bit of time and requires you to move your dryer. eHow has a great step-by-step guide for the process.

Many people tend to do this only when they install (or have someone install) a new dryer – and they’re often shocked as to the incredible level of lint and other materials that have built up in the vent. Quite often, that material has caused the person’s dryer to work much harder than it otherwise would have, bringing on a dryer replacement much sooner than would otherwise have been needed and also using more energy per load, adding to the usage cost of the dryer.

A final tip: occasionally wash your lint filter. That’s right, pull out that lint filter wash it with soap and water.

Why does that make a difference? As Snopes explains it, “[j]ust removing the lint from the lint filter isn’t always enough – the fine mesh of most dryer filters can be clogged in ways that aren’t obvious at a casual glance.” A quick scrube and rinse in warm soapy water will do the trick.

We try to wash our lint filter once every three months or so. Honestly, we’d probably do it more often if the lint filter wasn’t on the other end of the house from our primary sink for washing dishes.

What will all of this accomplish? For one, it will make your dryer run efficiently. While it’s hard to find exact data on this, simple observation bears this to be true. If our vents are clogged, it can take twice as long or longer to dry a load of clothes. More efficiency when the dryer is running means more savings for you.

For another, it will extend the life of your dryer. The heating element will receive less stress, as will the fan. The less stress you put on these key components, the longer they will last.

Simply removing lint from your dryer’s exhaust system is a double win. You save now by using less electricity per load, reducing your electric bill, and you save later by not having to replace your dryer as often.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

Not a refrigerator in sight: According to Hamm, your fridge and your dishwasher shouldn't be anywhere near one another if you want to keep your energy bill down. (Genral Electric/Business Wire/File)

Keep the dishwasher and fridge apart; save a bundle on energy

By Guest blogger / 01.28.12

Your dishwasher gets hot. Your dishwasher also gets moist, meaning it’s harder to cool down the air around it. Your refrigerator gets cold. So does your freezer.

Why would you put a device that gets hot next to a device that gets cold? No insulation is perfect, after all, so they would both be using energy to fight the effects of the appliance next door.

So many elements of frugality and personal finance come down to paying attention to the details. This is one of those little detail things that so many people will overlook, but over time it just continually costs you money.

When we moved into our current home, one of the things that annoyed me about it was the relatively small kitchen. It wasn’t much larger than the kitchen in our small apartment, having only a small counter that the other did not have.

Even worse, the refrigerator was installed next to the dishwasher, and the only way to fix it would involve an extensive reworking of our kitchen, as the cabinets are all formed around slots for the appliances.

There’s no doubt that energy is lost in this process. The dishwasher, while running a cycle, puts off a tremendous amount of heat, some of which you can feel on the side of the refrigerator. I often hear the refrigerator kicking on just a minute or two after starting a dishwasher load due to the rise in internal temperature of the refrigerator. It’s actively costing us money.

So, what can we do about this? At the moment, not much. Other than the side-by-side appliance issue, our kitchen is laid out fairly well for its size. Although we’ve looked at alternate arrangements, none of them have provided enough value to be worth the cost of rearranging things.

One short-term fix we’ve done is to insert a piece of thin insulation between the two appliances. There was just enough room for a small piece of insulation to fit between the two, so we purchased a piece of heat-resistant insulation. While this isn’t a perfect fix, it does reduce the heat directly transferred between the two devices.

We also try to make an effort to keep the refrigerator door closed while the dishwasher is running. Opening the refrigerator door while the dishwasher is running causes the cool and dry air to rush out and the warm, damp air to move in, making it that much harder for the refrigerator to do its job.

However, we do plan to build a new house in the future. When we do that, we’ll make sure to avoid having a “hot” appliance next to a “cold” one. In fact, in our latest design sketches (a fun project that Sarah and I work on sometimes in the evenings is doing sketches on the computer of what our dream house would be like), the refrigerator and dishwasher are pretty far apart, with a large counterspace between the refrigerator and the sink and the dishwasher on the other side of the sink.

Another thing to watch out for: avoid having your refrigerator or freezer next to an air vent, particularly if you live in northern climates. During the winter, your air vent will be blowing out hot air, which you don’t want blowing directly onto your refrigerator. This is something else to consider when designing or re-designing a kitchen, as it’s all about the energy efficiency.

Will this save you a lot of money or a little? It’s really hard to measure, as it depends on the modes you’re running in your refrigerator and dishwasher, the amount of insulation between the two, and countless other factors. However, I’d have to be oblivious to not hear our refrigerator kicking on and running almost contiunously when our dishwasher is running. If a simple kitchen design decision will make a real difference in how much your refrigerator is running, it’s well worth keeping in mind as a principle.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

A U.S. dollar note is pictured alongside an Australian 10 dollar and 20 dollar bill in this file photo. What comes after you've succeeded at paying off your debt? (Jason Reed/Reuters/File)

Is there life after debt?

By Guest blogger / 01.27.12

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end – Seneca

As I write this, Sarah and I are completely debt free.

We have no mortgage. We have no car loans. We have no student loans. We have no credit card balances. We have no consumer loans of any other type. We have a healthy emergency fund that will keep us from falling back into debt very easily. We have a healthy amount of savings for our next car and for our next appliance replacement or two. We’re saving for retirement, for our children’s college education, and for our dream home. We both have steady incomes for the time being, incomes that exceed our monthly expenses.

Our monthly bills right now, taken as a whole, are lower than they’ve been at any point in our married lives.

So, what’s next?

It’s a question that Sarah and I have been struggling with for the last few weeks. What is our next step?

Up to this point, there’s been a clearly-defined path to follow. Build up an emergency fund. Get rid of your high interest debt. Build up a bigger emergency fund. Start saving for retirement and for your children’s education. Pay off your lower interest debt. In most cases, own – meaning without any debt – your living quarters, whether it’s a home or a condo or something else.

It’s a long and difficult journey. It took us almost a decade to follow that path, and that’s with us living rather frugally and me working a lot of hours, both at my full-time job, on The Simple Dollar, and on countless freelancing gigs over the last several years (Sarah made this route possible with her spectacular efforts with household concerns.)

In a lot of ways, it required us to change who we are. I don’t have the motivation any more to spend money in the way I did a decade ago. It’s not something I even want to return to, and Sarah feels almost exactly the same way.

Now, though, there’s no clear path for us to follow. We’ve reached the point in our financial journey where the advice begins to diverge heavily.

Some people say that when you have a good foundation, you should “live a little” and do things like travel or own a nice car. Others suggest investing aggressively so you can move towards a life where you no longer have to work for a living. Some point toward entrepreneurship. Others simply say to keep things nice and steady until opportunity knocks.

As different as those paths seem, there are a few fundamental things they all agree on.

First, you need a goal. Without a goal, you’re going to simply spin in place and, as the saying goes, the devil finds work for idle hands to do. The multitude of ideas above are all goals, they’re just different ones that require a different path to get there.

Second, you need communication. Sarah and I have no interest in going down different roads at this point. We’ve travelled this far together and we want to keep going together, wherever that path may lead. However, left to our own devices, we would have somewhat different visions for that path. Without communication and discussion – a great deal of it, actually – we could easily find ourselves going in different directions at this point.

The fundamental question is whether I want to be setting my goals or our goals. I’d far rather set our goals, even if that doesn’t mean having things perfectly my way. We agree on a lot of things, and the value of resolving the other parts together is much greater than what we would get out of addressing them separately and drifting apart.

So, what do we want? What’s next for us?

We’re establishing a list of things for the future that we both agree on. This is in addition to our dream home. We both want to travel a significant amount with our children when they’re older and can appreciate it and grow from it. We both want to increase our giving to charity. We both want to retire as early as we can so we can focus our energy on charitable work.

These are the things we want from our lives. They’re simple things. They are what makes us happy.

We’re not going to move until we can build our dream home out of pocket. We are not going to return to indebtedness again. If that means slow progress toward the house we want to someday build, so be it. Debt introduced an incredible amount of stress to our lives, and there’s no material thing that’s worth bringing that back into our lives.

The same holds true for any of our other plans. We’re not going to do anything that leads us anywhere close to debt ever again for any non-essential reason.

We have a home.

We have what we need.

We have no debts.

Most importantly, we have each other.

Everything else will follow.

Using the microwave instead of the oven or stove for certain tasks will save you both energy and money. (Business Wire/File)

Skip the stove, use the microwave

By Guest blogger / 01.26.12

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. For the specific task microwaves excel at, they’re much more efficient than stove tops and ovens. The basic stats on energy use prove this to be the case.

However, the savings are relatively small. Per comparable use (one hour in the oven versus fifteen minutes on the stovetop or in the microwave), you’re saving on the order of 1 to 1.5 kW by using the microwave – a savings of about $0.20 per hour of stovetop use, in other words.

In truth, though, the savings are bigger than that. Let’s dig in a little deeper.

The one task that microwaves really excel at is bringing water to a boil. They can do this much faster than virtually anything else in your home (except for perhaps a magnetic induction stove top, which is an incredibly expensive investment).

I can bring a few cups of water to boil in our microwave in about two minutes. On our stovetop, it takes about eight to ten minutes to bring a similar amount to a boil. That’s a savings of six to eight minutes in the middle of meal preparation, which can make a quick meal really fast and a slower meal faster. It can get our family to the dinner table earlier and allows us to have more quality family time after supper. That’s a real value for us.

Simply put, for every cup boiled in the microwave, it takes me about four minutes less time to do it than on the stovetop. It also saves approximately $0.03 doing it that way.

This simple step is something that saves both time and money. Let’s say I’m going to boil some pasta on the stovetop. I get out a large microwave-safe bowl, fill it with a significant amount of water, and microwave it. The time to bring it to a boil or near-boil in the microwave is far lower than on the stovetop, so I’m actually boiling my pasta much faster by bringing the water to boil in the microwave. I’m also saving $0.05 or so by doing it this way.

The same idea is true in almost any recipe that requires a hot or boiling liquid. It’s far more efficient to simply get cold water out of a tap or cold liquid from the refrigerator and boil it in the microwave than to use the stove top or oven.

Typically, I don’t fully cook things in the microwave. Because they excel so well at one specific thing – raising liquids to a boil – they’re often poor at other things, such as properly cooking a dish of food.

Thus, my usual technique is to bring the liquid to a boil in the microwave, then just transfer it to whatever I’m cooking in on the stove top or the oven.

It’s a simple little thing, really. It’s never going to make you rich, but it does save a few cents. More importantly, it saves something else – a bit of time. Simple changes that save both time and money are valuable ones.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

Aside from the occasional special case, like small groups of garments with special washing instructions, always washing dishes and clothing in full loads is an excellent rule of thumb. (General Electric/File)

Only run full loads of dishes and clothes

By Guest blogger / 01.25.12

This seems like common sense at first glance. If you run your dishwasher, your washing machine, or your dryer with only half a load of clothes or dishes, you’re losing out in terms of efficiency.

Even if you run the machine with small load settings, the machine is still using most of the water and most of the energy of a full load.

Let’s look at some actual numbers. A typical household can save 3,400 gallons of water a year by running full laundry loads instead of half loads, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Given a national average of $1.50 per 1,000 gallons of water, that’s an annual savings of $5.15 from just the water in the washing machine over the course of a year.

What about energy costs? Numbers vary, but the sources I’ve seen seem to estimate that a small load of clothes (say, half a load) will use somewhere between 60% and 75% of the energy of a large load of clothes.

In other words, a single large load saves you about 25% to 50% of the energy of two small loads. In terms of dollars and cents, depending on your washing machine, the annual savings can easily add up to $10 or more.

Similar principles apply with dishwashers. A single full load uses more water and more energy than a half load, but a full load uses far less energy and water than two half loads.

So, why would you ever not run a full load?

Perhaps you have a specific garment that you wish to wear. If that’s the case, hand-washing a single item is quicker and far more efficient than running a load of laundry. Just simply wash the item in a sink with a bit of detergent. Soak it in water with a bit of detergent, then wring it out and repeat a few times. Rinse it, then hang the garment up to air dry it and you’re done.

What if you’re single and don’t have that many clothes? This was a challenge I had when I was single. For a time in college, I had just over a load’s worth of clothes. I would literally wear my last set of clean clothes on a Saturday while doing my laundry. The solution is pretty simple: develop a clear laundry routine where you wear your last set of clean clothes while doing your laundry.

Sometimes, you have a small set of garments that have specific washing instructions. Again, if it’s a single item (or two or three items), wash by hand. If you’ve got a small load of these items, add items to the load that can easily wash with those specific instructions (like t-shirts, which clean well in almost anything).

Similar principles apply with dishes. If they’re special items, wash them by hand. Otherwise, fill up your dishwasher (as much as you can) before running it. It’s that simple.

Running a full load saves you time and money. It’s just a matter of choosing to do it.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

Turning on your oven light instead of opening it to check saves heat and energy. (Jenn-Air/PRNewsFoto/File)

How much do you save by leaving your oven light on?

By Guest blogger / 01.23.12

Several months ago, I was curious about how much heat was lost when I opened up the oven to inspect a dish cooking in there. I put an oven thermometer in the oven, waited until the dish I was cooking was almost finished (a casserole cooking at 400 F), then opened the oven door for about ten seconds to inspect it.

During those ten seconds, the thermometer dropped almost 20 degrees. When I closed the door, the temperature slowly returned to 400 F, but during that period, the oven had to put in some extra work to return that heat.

How much? It’s really difficult to exactly calculate that without a meter running specifically for the oven. My best estimate, using a lot of math and thermodynamics, is that you lose about $0.02 worth of energy every time you open the oven door.

My solution? I turn on the oven light when I’m cooking anything in the oven. That way, I just lean over and check what I’m cooking without opening the oven door. The light bulb uses less than a cent of energy per hour of use, so the cost is virtually nil if I flip it on, inspect the food, and flip it off.

It’s the little things – but there are some bigger tricks when it comes to energy use and your oven.

First, unless you’re desperately pinched for time, don’t start preheating the oven until the food is in there. If your recipe says “Preheat the oven to 400 F” and then later says “Bake for 30 minutes,” don’t preheat the oven at all.

Instead, put your food in the oven, then set the temperature to 400 F. Then, add about half of the preheat time to the cooking time.

Why? When you open a preheated oven to put in your dish, it’s no different than opening the oven to check the food near the end of the cooking time. You lose that $0.02. Also, the energy used when preheating the oven isn’t actually being used for anything at all, so that’s also lost energy. Most of the time, when I’m making a meal, a few minutes on the baking time makes little or no difference, so I might as well save that energy.

Another valuable oven tactic is to multitask by using multiple racks. If I’m cooking a meal on one rack, I might as well throw in a loaf of bread or something else that can also cook while the oven is running. The extra energy used to cook the second (or third) item is much lower than the energy you’d lose by heating the oven a second time (think about the heat coming off your oven on cooldown – that’s money wasted, so why do it multiple times?).

Another simple tactic is to use glass, ceramic, or earthenware baking dishes rather than metal ones. These hold heat much better than metal pans. If I’m using such pans, I know I can drop the cooking temperature by 20 or 25 degrees or shave some total time off of the cooking just because of the more efficient use of heat.

You should also keep your oven clean, so the hot air in your oven is actually cooking your food instead of the burnt materials in your oven. You don’t have to do this every time you use it, but a regular cleaning simply makes your oven run more efficiently every time you use it.

A final tip: turn off the oven when the food is nearly done. If you leave the door closed, the oven will lose heat very slowly, allowing your food to continue cooking. I usually try to turn off the oven when there’s five or so minutes left in the cooking time. The dish almost always finishes perfectly.

These tips, taken as a whole, can significantly reduce the time your oven

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

Even generic laundry detergents like this CVS variety can set you back at least 15 cents per load. Homemade detergent, on the other hand, can be as cheap as five cents per load. (Becky Olstad/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Make your own laundry detergent

By Guest blogger / 01.22.12

I’m often stunned at the high price of laundry detergent. If you’re buying Tide, for example, even if you buy the jumbo pack in multiples, you’re still paying over $0.30 per load. Even generic detergents rarely cost much below $0.15 per load.

That’s why I prefer to make my own detergent. I can easily get the cost down to $0.05 per load, meaning I’m saving at least a dime with every load of laundry I make.

All I do is take a bar of ordinary soap and a box grater, then grate that bar of soap down into a fine powder, about a cup of it. To that, I add one cup of washing soda, half a cup of borax, and half a cup of an oxygen cleaner, such as OxiClean, which serves as the surfactant in the detergent. I mix this thoroughly in a Ziploc container, then toss in a tablespoon for measuring. Some people like to also add half a cup of baking soda, but I’ve never felt it necessary to get my clothes clean.

When I do a load of laundry, I just scoop two tablespoons of my mix into the washing machine and I’m good to go. This stuff works great – it gets my clothes clean and fresh every time.

So, what does this cost? A single batch of this detergent is enough for 24 loads. To make it, I need one bar of soap, which I can get for $0.30; a cup of washing soda, which I can get for $0.32; a half cup of borax, which I can get for $0.24; and half a cup of OxiClean, which I can get for $0.41. That adds up to a cost of $0.05 per load.

I’ve been extremely happy with this detergent. I’ve used it on all types of clothes – whites, reds, coloreds – and all levels of dirtiness without any problems. I haven’t noticed any significant dinginess over a large number of loads, either.

Making a batch of this powdered detergent doesn’t take a whole lot of time, either. Most of the time is spent grating the soap, which is something you can easily do while watching a television program or something like that. After that, you just put the ingredients in a container, shake it thoroughly, and you’re ready to go.

We’ll often make this in quadruple batches. We’ll just grate four bars of soap at once, add four cups of washing soda, two cups of borax, and two cups of OxiClean to the container, and shake it thoroughly. I’ll usually just add a little bit of each ingredient, shake it, and then add a little bit more of each ingredient, repeating the cycle, in order to make sure it’s well-mixed.

How much does this really save? In our house, we do an average of a load of laundry a day – that’s the end result of having two adults and three messy young children at home. If we’re comparing to generics, then I’m saving approximately $0.10 per load. Over the course of a year, that’s $36.50.

If we’re comparing to, say, Tide, we’re saving about $0.27 per load. Over the course of a year, that’s $98.55.

Simply put, we’re saving a hundred dollar bill a year by doing this. To me, that’s well worth the effort of mixing up some powder for about five minutes once every three months or so.

Give it a shot. Make yourself a batch of this at home using the ingredients described above and see if it works for you. If you like it, you’re going to save some significant money over time. Even if you don’t, the ingredients (borax, washing soda, OxiClean) can easily be used for other cleaning projects around your home.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

Marian Dioguardi of Newton Massachusetts hangs her laundry outdoors on a clothesline. Skipping the dryer and line-drying clothes could save you hundreds. (Joanne Ciccarello/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Skip the dryer, save $200

By Guest blogger / 01.22.12

On any given day, if you were to wander into our laundry room, you’d find damp clothing hung up, laid out, or somehow exposed to the relatively warm and relatively dry air in there. They tend to dry out perfectly in a day or so, enabling us to just fold them up and take them upstairs without even having spent a single penny on drying.

This works particularly well in the winter months, when the air in our home is naturally dry because of the furnace. The air seems to simply wick the moisture out of our clothing, leaving them dry in a surprisingly brief amount of time.

A clothing rack is certainly one option for doing this, as depicted above. You can make a clothing rack out of almost anything that provides really good air flow over most of the item. I’ve seen people use anything from treadmills to garden tools (in a bucket with the handle sticking out) as clothing racks in the past.

The most highly efficient way, though, is with a clothes line. Simply stretch a sufficiently strong line or piece of string between two points, grab some clothes pins, and hang up your clothes. It only takes a few minutes to hang them up and take them down and you can fit a lot of clothes onto a single line.

You can stretch a line across a spare room in your house. We’ve stretched lines across our guest bedroom and across our laundry room for the purposes of drying clothes. This can be quite convenient as you can just take down the line any time you’re not using it, so you’ll have a clothesline on a typical weeknight, but it can quickly vanish if you’re going to have guests.

However, my ideal clothesline is an outdoor one. One of my biggest regrets concerning our current home is that there’s no good place to put a clothesline where it catches adequate air flow without dominating the open space of our yard. A clothesline is one of the first things we intend to install when we eventually buy our house in the country.

An outdoor clothesline lets you capture the power of the wind to dry your clothes. The wind billows through, gently drying your clothes and making them smell fresh in a way that a dryer just can’t quite recapture.

How much does this actually save? Mr. Electricity reports that if you run 7.5 dryer loads per week and have a $0.15 per kWh rate from your electric company, you’ll save just shy of $200 per year by air-drying your clothes. Given how quickly I can hang up and take down clothes (remember, there’s no loading or unloading of the dryer if you do it this way), it’s worth it for me to do this most of the time.

From my experience, dryers are a convenience in time-pinched situations. We tend to use our dryer when we need to get a lot of laundry done quickly (usually in conjunction with rack or line drying) or when we need a specific item dried quickly. It’s a convenient tool, but it’s one where the costs can add up if we use it all the time.

Most of the time, we have the spare drying time and the spare space to hang our clothes to air dry, and it takes so little time to actually lay out or hang up the clothes that it’s well worth it.

It’s just another small step toward living cheap.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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