29 May 2012

DIY for cleaning, facial cleansing and clothing

In general we spend way too much in the shops on things we already have. You might think you’re making your life easier by buying ten kinds of detergents or five types of face care items, but in reality, we don’t need all those products. The simple truth is that advertising convinces us that we need much more products than we actually do and that only that specific, specialized product can do the job. But will you really notice if your windows were cleaned with vinegar instead of window cleaner? Of course. You won’t smell the fumes while in the process.

Vinegar in a spray bottle can be used to kill weeds
Vinegar can clean windows and kill weeds.
Image by lisaclarke
That’s the other problem with all the cleaners for our homes, bodies, cars, pets, hair, skin, linen…they contain a lot of chemicals. These chemicals had to be made somewhere, there was probably a lot of waste in the process, and it had to be shipped to your nearest shop so you can have chemicals poured down your drain too! It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not to mention the dangers of nasty pest repellents. Pest repellents might kill one pest, but do you really want toxins or dangerous traps around your home where any man, pet or child can find them?

Non-toxic surface cleaners are available in most shops, but you can also use cheap vodka! It cleans bathrooms in a jiffy and doesn’t leave ugly smears marks on glass and tile. Think about it, it’s cheaper than normal cleaners, doesn’t release headache-inducing fumes while you are cleaning and it’s mostly alcohol so germs don’t stand a chance! Just be sure to hide the bottle when your mother-in-law comes around.

For an all-in-one laundry detergent, your best bet is buying a big amount from a supplier in your area. We have found one from Eco Clean that is suitable for very sensitive skin and you can buy it in different amounts, from small bags to very large ones, and it’s definitely cheaper than in the shops. You have to pay for the advertisement and packaging of these store-bought products, and if you go cheaper, you’re losing out on quality and end up spending more fixing your clothes or irritated skin.

A cheap and easy moth buster
Moths hate Sunlight
To keep those nasty moths out of your cupboards and their teeth away from your jerseys, you can put Sunlight soap in your cupboard. Slice the soap in smaller pieces (not too small) and put it between your folded clothes. For hanging clothes, grab a few sprigs of lavender and rosemary, tie them in an anti-moth bouquet and hang this by a string on your clothes hanger. These sweet smells sure beat that old moth ball smell that can stick to clothes.

If you do have clothes that have been infested with old-school moth balls, wash them with organic cleansers - vodka or vinegar instead of detergent will work a charm – and leave them out to dry and air for a few days sprinkled in bicarbonate of soda. Don’t ask why, but it works. Non-organic products do nothing for that smell.

Olive oil is great for many uses, from the kitchen to skincare
Olive oil can also save
dry skin and hair.
Image by Kevan

Recently I’ve been exploring alternatives to breaking the bank on beauty products that are safe (and not tested on animals). With make-up I’m cool with splurging now and again, but cleansers, toners and moisturizers are a different story. 

What I’ve found to work a charm is the oil cleansing method – I use olive or sunflower oil – rose water for toner and a chain store’s very affordable “earth friendly” brand moisturiser.

Save your well-earned money or pay back that loan and discover a world of home remedies for almost everything! You will be surprized once you start looking. Today I found a recipe to make your own mineral make up – who knew?!

14 May 2012

Tips for saving money that will always work

Whether you want to save money, avoid the debt trap or pay back your debt, there is a way to teach yourself to save. Some of these tips are geared towards learning new habits to save around the house, but the others that can really make a difference in the long run. Setting goals is important as, well as daily reminders, of where you want to go with your finances, instead of trying to stop yourself from overspending. Have a jar to put R20 notes or any small change in so you are aware of the fact that you need to save. Label the jar with your goal, like buying something you would ordinarily feel guilty about, or to go away for a weekend.

The reminder money jar, picture by Images_Of_Money

If you want to avoid being over indebted or you want to save money, the easiest and most effective way to save a bit every month is a pay-check deduction. This way, you will not be tempted to spend the money you are planning to save as it does not show on your bank balance. Instead, it is automatically paid into a savings account and even better: make sure it’s not easy for you to draw your savings.

A good idea is to arrange for a three day period between requesting a withdrawal and receiving the money and to only be allowed a withdrawal once every three months. This way, you cannot use the money for instant gratification and if you do use it, you have to save another three months before you can touch it again. This is great for people who feel like saving is impossible because once they get to the end of the month, they think about using their savings instead of spending less.

The next big thing is saving money in your everyday life. Follow tips to save water and electricity in South Africa and be aware of all the spending that you are doing. Below is a room-by-room guide on saving around the house.

It’s important to keep to a budget, especially around times like holidays and Christmas when we tend to splurge and forget about budgeting. Instead, draw up a new budget for times when you will have new expenses. A great tip for Christmas spending is to arrange with you family beforehand that everyone gets only one gift from one person. The gift giver should be someone who knows them pretty well, not Aunt Edna you haven’t seen in 10 years, as a thoughtful gift is even more valuable than an overtly expensive one. But because everyone is only buying one gift, they can buy one R200 gift instead of 20 R50 gifts. You save R800 in this scenario. Of course it will take some planning to let everyone know of the arrangement, who they have to buy a gift for and what the value of the gift must be, but in the end everyone will save time and money AND receive a gift they will appreciate.

Finally, steer clear of people you know who live lives that you can only dream. The thing is, when we are around people who buy only the best of everything we either feel like we don’t fit in because we can’t afford to live that way, we try to buy some of the things they have or we feel discontent with what we have. Either way, these people mean no harm, but if you struggle making ends meet it will only make you unhappy (and bankrupt) to be around people who are better off than you, have expensive hobbies and visit places you cannot afford. You can easily forget that money cannot buy happiness when their lives seem so much more glamorous and exciting than yours. 

Vision board part I: To get the life you want now

Many people think that a vision board is visual motivation, but life coaches have different ideas about how they work and what we can take from these approaches are two ways to use visualization. Both work, but the one is for realizing what your goals are and the other for realizing your goals.

ErinPavlina sees vision boards as most people do: it’s a collection of images of things you desire that you put together. Life coaches differ on how they work, though. Pavlina recommends that you then put it in a place where you can see it often. This works as motivation for reaching goals that need daily attention, such as losing weight or saving money. The constant reminder of what you really desire reminds you that you are working towards something and that a small sacrifice now will get you closer to your goal.

To motivate you to get out of debt, you can create a motivational board of things that you want to do, but you can’t because debt is holding you back. This seems like a silly exercise, but when you’ve assembled those images, think of their impact on your happiness and reaching your potential. If you decided you want a holiday in Mauritius and you put it up on your board but surround it with things like getting a better education, sleeping easy at night, having less stress, having more time to relax and getting to know your true purpose…suddenly a holiday doesn’t look like such a great goal. Will it really make you more content and get you where you want to be in life? Of course it will be fun, but it will take a lot of money and work and only last a few days. A motivation board helps you to put things into perspective.

If your motivation board only has pictures of cars, diamond rings, happily married couples, tropical holidays, mansions or actors, throw it out and start over. Motivation and visualizing only works if it is personal. See “Vision board part II: for long term goals" as to why this is true.

For more on vision boards:

Vision board III: You have the life you want now

Vision board part II: To get the life you need

Martha Beck writes that your vision has to come from your non-social self and not culture. She says this is easy: find pictures that trigger emotion, that make you feel “wowed”, or make you feel any positive emotion: calm, in control, focussed, positive. You don’t even have to know why the photo of two bright houses on a cliff above a crystal clear ocean makes you feel so inspired, because that is the beauty of a vision board. It makes you realize what you need as you go along.

Image courtesy of Artur Staszewski 

Many people tell their vision board stories with words like “I totally forgot about that picture of the houses on the cliff until I was looking for a place to stay and had to choose between a house surrounded by nature and one close to work and I knew the answer”. Beck says that after you have assembled these images that inspire you, you must get rid of them. A great way to make a vision board is digitally, but do not search for specific images, like typing “love” or “money” into a search engine. Instead, find websites that inspire you and take those images or even short phrases and put them all together in a collage. Then look at it, feel how they make you feel, and delete them. Forget about them.

It is the process of finding things that truly inspire you and putting them all together that will change your life, not looking the board itself. Beck says they “will stick in your subconscious mind and steer your choices toward making the vision real”. You won’t know right away why these images inspire you, but when a situation arises that gives you the opportunity to realize your true desire, you will feel that same feeling and know that this is what you’ve been waiting for. This is a powerful tool to steer the focus of your life away from material possessions and society’s idea of success and to find what you really need.

The first approach to visual boards is for short term goals, like getting out of debt and meeting monthly debt commitments, while the second one can take any amount of time to change your life, but it will give you a subconscious motivation to realize your dreams and to not be side tracked by diamond rings, mansions and sports cars.

Getting off the grid

A minimalist lifestyle is the most effective and easy way to free yourself of debt and the trap of material possession, but people have different strategies to live lives that are less dependent on materialism. One lifestyle is referred to as getting off the grid. This means adopting a lifestyle where you are not in contact with society and you are self-sustaining when it comes to three major factors: waste disposal, electricity and water.

The “grid” refers to the way in which our houses are usually set up: on a power grid where we (who can afford it) receive water and electricity without a second thought of where it comes from. From above, suburbia also looks like a grid and many people feel that this lifestyle that is separated from nature and contributes to the detriment of the ecology is not for them. The simple truth is that living on the grid is not contributing to a sustainable future for the planet as waste disposal, generating power (if done with fossil fuels, like most power is generated at the moment) and food production are the major contributors to environmental destruction.

Of course, people have very different reasons for deciding that they want to live such a lifestyle and there are just as many ways to go about it. On off-grid.net one can find information about all the difference aspects of off-grid living. It also allows for people to connect with each other so they don’t have to go at it alone. Anyone who has seen Into the Wild and other movies where people take themselves away from the hustle and bustle in favour of nature will realize that there are dangers to going at it alone.

Some who live off the grid don’t separate themselves from society as much as someone who decides to travel to Alaska, for example. It simply means living in such a way that you are not dependent on the water, electricity, waste disposal and housing of suburban society. Some even stay in mobile homes, which as you don’t have to buy your own land and you can simply pick up and move in a heartbeat, but those who settle with a home can have other advantages such as growing their own food, settling into one place, sharing their lives with animals and living more comfortably as they are pretty much set once they have organized ways to tend to their needs.

Some will save to start their lives off the grid and others sell all their possessions they will no longer be needing off the grid to start over. Living off the grid is often associated with frugal living as people either have simpler jobs, jobs they can do over the internet or only work on improving their surroundings and making the most of what they have. There is no drive for better material possessions as few people will see your house and the most important things would be to have it sturdy and functioning. When you have to create your own power and water sources you are also far less likely to waste power on things like a TV and other gadgets and will save it for cooking, hot water and lights.

Image of a van promoting off-grid living, by axmai
People find that this way of life gets them in touch with what really matters: their families, enjoying their time and working towards a better future instead of contributing to the destruction. Some have found a simpler yet more purpose-driven life living close to nature and not spending hours every day in a work environment that they hate to come home to a house that does not satisfy their need for relaxation and the things that are truly important (and aren’t “things” at all). 

Don’t let finances ruin your relationship

When we are under stress about our finances, we tend to take it out on the people closest to us: our partner, spouse, friends, siblings or even co-workers can get the not-so-bright side of our personality when we feel we are under pressure. While we are under pressure because of our finances and trying to reduce our living expenses, we don’t want to lose or hurt the people closest to us in the process. Terez Williamson, a relationship blogger, wrote an e-book about saving your relationship by living a simpler live. We might think that downscaling can put extra pressure on interpersonal relationships, but Williamson sees it as an opportunity and stepping stone to better relationships.

He focuses on romantic relationships and especially those that have lost their romance because of the pressures of our modern lives. People ask where the passion in their relationship went. The simple answer would be that we don’t prioritize the other person or our relationships enough and that work, financial troubles, kids, and the other million things we need to see to take centre stage and we move our partner to the outskirts of our lives, taking them for granted. Williamson says that then you risk the inevitable: living together like siblings, so used to each other and probably always quarrelling.

As we discussed in the previous posts on freeing yourself from debt and living a simpler life, there are numerous benefits to living with less. The main one would be focussing on the important things in life as opposed to being consumed by everything going on in and around us. Why would it be any different for your relationship? The first thing people might worry about is that their partner will not respond well to their new way of living. In reality, as soon as they see the benefits: paying of your debts, less to clean and maintain, more time for each other and less stress, they will thank you for selling and donating all the things you did not need.

Put up this picture to inspire you to make time for what is important in your life

These “things” that drive a rift between people can also be technology and therefore a digital diet is another big step to having a simpler life with more time for each other. When we spend every free moment in front of the TV, the computer or on our cell phones, we lose sight of what is real and truly important in life: our loved ones.  Williamson says switching off your phone when you are eating out with your partner is the first step to saving your relationship from being like siblings.

It’s not just entertainment that we can make simpler and more real, but our whole lifestyle. When all of our time and energy is directed towards making more money and sustaining a high cost of living, we have nothing left for enjoying the relationships that we have. 

7 May 2012

A holiday without taking time off

When we are working hard or finding ourselves stressed over work and other responsibilities, we often day dream about going on holiday and having lots of leisure time. Unfortunately, we want a holiday when we are least able to take one: when you have to work extra hard to pay back debt, when you have a new baby, when you want to earn a promotion or when you just feel run down but nothing specific is draining you.

 In How to Reclaim the Lost Art of Lingering, Courtney Carver says that by choosing to reprioritize and by enjoying the little things, you can bring the feel of a holiday to your everyday life. On holiday we forget about time and we do things slower. We cook food and dine at restaurants instead of nuking something in the microwave and eating in front of the TV. You come back from holiday feeling rested and being able to concentrate better. The lesson seems to be that when you are not focussing on doing everything, you can focus better.

But how do you begin to live like you are on holiday? Luckily it requires little effort, but making the decision to take it slow takes some getting used to. Instead of looking forward to the weekend so you can lie on your couch the whole day and finally just do nothing, find ways to re-energize yourself now. Lingering means being less focused on the distractions around you, but focussing on what your surroundings can do for you. It’s taking control of your time by not filling up every second of it.

This may seem like a bunch of contradictions, but when put into practice, it makes a lot of sense. When you open your eyes in the morning, don’t think of all the things you have to get done and check your phone or PC. First, look outside your window. Wake up earlier so you can make breakfast that is nutritious and sit down and eat it. Making more time to eat well is something all of us can benefit from as fast food and fatty, high sodium, low nutritional value convenience food is not only expensive, but contributes to many health problems in the long run.

When you have breakfast sorted, dress to make yourself happy and feel comfortable. When you rush you often get out of the house without realizing your shoes pinch or your top is too tight to go with the pants you are wearing. Dressing well also contributes to self-confidence and being comfortable means you can enjoy life more. For lunch, don’t grab something from the vending machine to wolf down. Instead, go out with a colleague for lunch or meet a friend somewhere. This is what a holiday is all about: taking your time and making time for the things that you enjoy.

If buying lunch is too expensive, pack your lunch the night before or before work and sit somewhere quiet where you can unwind, preferably surrounded by nature. Studies have found that after people were surrounded by nature or just an environment that looked and sounded like the outdoors, they could focus better afterwards and had a better memory. This will prevent that after-lunch slump where you keep looking at the time and can’t seem to sit still.

When you need a pick-me-up during the week, instead of looking forward to lying on the couch that weekend, plan something to do that is a break from the routine of your weekday life: see friends that aren’t in your immediate vicinity, go somewhere you’ve never been for a day even if it’s a park, a garden or a different part of town. Seeing new things makes us feel like we are on holiday and experiencing the slow things in life. Don’t rush and don’t plan out your whole day: allow for surprizing things to happen or to do something new on a whim.

Image courtesy of SashaW

Eating simpler and smarter

If you think about it, if you want to live a simpler, more cost effective life, you don’t have to look much further than an environmentally conscious lifestyle. Saving electricity, using public transport or your bike instead of a car, reusing packaging instead of buying disposables, shopping at second hand stores instead of buying new items: all these things save you money and they are good for the environment.

A simpler, more conscious lifestyle will go a long way to getting you where you want to be, not only financially but also being content and happy. As Linda Breen Pierce said: “Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” As South Africans we are often distracted by the hardships around us or we get caught up in a fast-paced, urbanized lifestyle and we forget to look at where we can improve our quality of life. Often we look to material possessions to make our lives better, but spending too much on things may result in becoming over indebted and will instead have the opposite effect.

When we think about going green and saving money we usually think about changing our light bulbs, riding our bikes or saving water. But what few are telling us is that one of the best ways to be eco-conscious, save on shopping costs and be healthier (less doctor’s bills – save even more) is by eating less animal products.

Vegan Falafel Plate
Corporations selling animal products are much more powerful than those selling fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes and therefore they are marketed as healthy and cost-effective when they really aren’t. Meat has been proven to be a big contributor to heart disease, hypertension, obesity, cancer, diabetes, bowel disorders, osteoporosis, and many other preventable diseases, and vegetarians are far less likely to be susceptible to these serious health risks. And you don’t have to worry about what you’ve heard about people getting sick when they don’t eat animal products: people who have been vegan for life are much healthier than omnivores. You just have to eat a variety of foods as plant-based foods have all the same nutrients as animal products, if not more.

Research has shown that you can feed thirty people from a hectare of crops, but only five to ten from the same space used for livestock farming. Fish are going extinct and endangered species are being compromised by fishing practices. Fish also absorb the impurities from the oceans and transfer them to humans when they are eaten. This means that simpler, plant-based food is far more sustainable than eating a diet high in animal products.

For many, going vegan seems extreme and like too much of a sacrifice, but there are many other ways in which you can prepare “low carbon”, and therefore healthy and cost-effective, meals and take the first step to healthier eating habits:

-       Avoid switching on electricity-guzzling appliances like your oven and use the microwave or stove top (on the lowest setting possible) to prepare food instead. For more not-so-obvious tips on greening you kitchen, read this article.
-       Don’t waste food. Make enough for two meals and find ways to make leftovers interesting.
-       Cut down on meat and dairy consumption as much as possible. Beef is the biggest culprit as it takes thousands of liters more water and fossil fuels to produce than plant-based products, so start there. There has never been a better time to cut down on meat and dairy consumption with all the tasty alternatives available. You can search almost any recipe on the internet and find a vegetarian adaptation.
-       Buy local and seasonal products.
-       Grow your own vegetables, fruits and herbs. This cuts out the cost (for you and the environment) of transportation and packaging of the foods.
-       Forage. That’s right, explore nature and pick up some produce along the way. Wild foods are rich in flavour and nutrients and free of pesticides. Read The A to Z of Foraging to get an idea of where to start.

How you save money is easy to see. Firstly, you save on electricity costs when you cook more than one meal and use electricity saving methods. You save on food expenses as meat costs a lot more than vegetables and seasonal veggies less than imported ones. Growing and foraging vegetables where you can and not wasting food are also major savers. You save on medical bills and save your health in the long run. Not to mention the steep price that animals have to pay when they are farmed to supply humans with food.

Good luck with your simpler eating journey. You will discover new foods and new ways to eat that are fulfilling and makes you feel more conscious of your body and the environment.

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