A STARter is Born

When I was a kid, one of my favorite sandwiches was the crispy chicken on sourdough from Cracker Barrel. I always thought it was the mayo that gave the sandwich it’s tangy taste. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned it was the bread  itself.

I love sourdough and after getting Angie to try it at the Fall Festival, she fell in love with it too. But sourdough at the produce stand (or Farmer’s Market) is a bit too pricey for our new budget (at $6 for a small loaf) so we decided we’d try to make our own.

A couple of Youtube how-to videos later, we mixed 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup of filtered room temperature water in a quart jar and sat it on the counter with the lid slightly loosened. The next day – not much was going on inside the jar. No bubbles, no liquid, no growth of any kind. We thought maybe we were failing from the start but as it turns out, not much happens to sourdough babies in their first 24 hours of life.

Just like a real baby, sourdough starters have to be fed regularly. For the first few days, we had to feed it every 12 hours. In the mornings, Angie would discard half of the starter (into our compost) and feed it 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water. I had the evening shift, which was the exact same process.

By the third day, we started to see life. There were bubbles in our starter and it was growing! Then one day, this happened:

We thought this was a disaster too, but again, it’s all part of the process. Sometimes good starters go wild and try to escape.

It was around this time that our starter got a name too. Angie had hurriedly written on the chalkboard the night before – don’t forget to feed sour doug. And so, the bubbly goo that was starting to smell distinctly sourdough-ish became known Doug from that point on.

It took 8 full days for Doug to reach perfection, at which point, we fed him and put him in the fridge. My aunt had just arrived from North Carolina and we had no time to try making anything sourdough related until late last week. When we took Doug out, he still smelled great and was ready to be fed again. This time though, we saved the discarded starter and used it to make a Rustic Sourdough Bread (actually 2 of them).

We used our cast iron Dutch oven for one of the breads and a regular loaf pan for the other. Both turned out phenomenal!

Doug is back in the fridge now and he’s on a once-a-week feeding schedule. If all goes well, Doug will be with us for a long, long time, since each time we use him, he grows back. (By the way, The Zero Waste Chef has had her starter, Eleanor, for 5 years now).

If you’re interested in making your own sourdough starter, I encourage you to check out King Arthur’s Flour for their starter instructions and this video from Andrea at VW Family Farm, which shows how to make the same bread we made.

16 Things We No Longer Pay For

Frugality is always at the forefront of our daily life and finding ways to be more frugal has become somewhat of a hobby for us. From dumpster diving to making our own laundry soap, we’re likely to try all manner of things in the name of frugal living. Sometimes the goal is to save a buck or two, but more often than not, it’s for the sheer fun of it. We like to challenge ourselves to be more resourceful, to learn new skills, and find better ways to use what we already have. Our frugal efforts over the years have helped us to no longer pay for:

[Some] Personal Hygiene Items

We finally ran out of the all-natural deodorant that we scored for $1 a stick on clearance last year and had to go on the hunt for something new. Since the last time we purchased deodorant, it seems the market has become flooded with a lot more options, some costing more than $10 a stick. No, we don’t want to stink but we also want to eat and pay the rent. So we opted to make our own, using this recipe. And guess what? It works! We also started making our own mouthwash (with just water, baking soda, tea tree and peppermint oils). Yep, it works too.

Microsoft Office 365

Okay, this is going to sound silly, but, the one thing I was looking forward to most in leaving my job was not the freedom to do something on my own; it was being able to ditch Microsoft Office 365. For 7 years I’ve paid either an annual or a monthly subscription fee all because I was required to use Outlook. As soon as I quit, I switched to LibreOffice. It’s 100% free. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between their software and Microsoft Office when it comes to word processing or spreadsheets. Google Docs is another good free option.

Amazon Prime

It’s not always feasible to shop local so on occasion, we do buy online, and often it’s from Amazon. But, after a couple of years of paying for Prime, we realized two things – first, we ordered stuff a lot more often just because we wanted to get our “money’s worth” out of the subscription and second, all that packaging just didn’t make us feel good about our environmental impact. We cancelled Prime in 2017 and have made only 6 “strategically planned” purchases since then. Yes, Prime offers other benefits, like videos and books, but for us it was not enough to justify paying $119 a year.

Giving Mom a trim at “Outdoor Clips”

Haircuts

More than six years ago, I ordered an $8 clipper set from Amazon – probably on Prime đŸ™‚ – for the sole purpose of learning to cut our own hair. More inspired by the ineptitude of Great Clips than frugality, I watched a few YouTube videos and sat Angie down in front of the bathroom mirror for her first trim. I was terrified! As the years have gone by, we’ve both gained confidence. I’ve even given haircuts to other family members. At a cost of $30 every 6 weeks for the two of us, I estimate that we’ve saved nearly $1,600 so far.

Central Heat

Last year, we tried an experiment of not turning on the central heat unit in our apartment all winter. We used supplemental heat sources, specifically small room heaters. We saved $91.12 on our heating bill (over the previous year). This year, we’re going to do the same thing and maybe even toss a log in the fireplace every now and then.

Magazines

Fuss at me if you want but I still like to flip through the glossy pages of a magazine every now and then. I just don’t like to pay for them. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get free magazines – the simplest being to go to the library or flip through your favorites at your local bookstore. If you prefer a paperless copy, go online. Many e-zines offer the same articles as the print version, for free. Often you can find offers for a free 1-year subscription to your favorite print magazines online. Free subscriptions are a marketing ploy to get you to purchase a paid subscription the following year, so if you do this, remember to cancel toward the end of your free period. To avoid clutter, I drop our old magazines in the lobby of the doctor’s office where patients can enjoy them while they wait.

Paper Napkins

We switched to cloth napkins about 4 years ago and have never looked back. I think we paid less than $5 for a set of 4 cloth napkins back then. They were on clearance, of course. The monetary savings is not that big (we save about $20 a year not using paper napkins) but the environmental impact is. Since most paper napkins are neither recyclable or compostable, switching to cloth greatly reduces the amount of waste we send to landfill.

Plastic Storage/Sandwich Bags

Almost 2 years ago, we ditched sandwich bags completely. At first, I thought we’d miss them but there really hasn’t been an occasion where we’ve reached for one and haven’t been able to find a suitable alternative. Even though we’ve cut back on purchasing packaged goods, we still end up with a lot of packaging every week – bread bags, produce bags, and more. Simply reusing these eliminates the need to ever purchase a storage or sandwich bag. For freezing, we have reusable freezer containers (yes, they are plastic but they were free). We also use glass jars. They do extremely well in the freezer, provided you leave a little head space.

Holiday Decor

No, we’re not Mrs. & Mrs. Scrooge. We do celebrate holidays and we do decorate our home. We just do it with someone else’s decorations. You’d probably (or maybe not) be surprised at the amount of holiday decor that gets tossed out, especially in the summer. Why? I have no clue! But I do know that all of our Christmas stockings, plastic Halloween pumpkins, and holiday lights were found in the trash.

New Clothes

The average American tosses out 81 pounds of clothing per year, most of which ends up in a landfill somewhere. Yes, people outgrow things or they wear out, but most clothing gets tossed simply because someone doesn’t like it anymore. I like to think we’re a stopgap in that problem. We shop garage sales and thrift stores to find all of our clothing. Sometimes we even find clothes in or near our dumpster. I honestly can’t remember the last time we purchased something new from the store to wear (besides socks and underwear). This sweatshirt I have on cost me 18 cents at a garage sale. And it’s just my style – warm!

Education

It took me FOREVER to pay off my undergrad loans and to this day, I can’t recall a single time when having a degree has helped me get a job, a promotion, or anything else. Not that it can’t for some folks, but for me, higher education has not paid off. On the other hand, I’ve learned a ton of stuff watching Youtube, reading books and blogs, and taking free classes online (on topics ranging from nutrition to permaculture). I can count the number of jobs that has landed me – two.

Dishwasher Rinse Agent

A bottle of Jet Dry will set you back nearly $4. We hand wash a lot of our dishes but since our apartment was upgraded to new appliances, we’ve been using the dishwasher on occasion. Yet, we’ve never put a single bottle of Jet Dry in it. Instead we mix 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 10-12 drops of orange or lemon essential oil and fill the rinse agent reservoir. We’ve never had a single spot on our dishes.

Dryer Sheets

A few yeas ago, I received a set of 3 wool dryer balls as a reward for completing an online survey. Though I was never really big on buying dryer sheets in the first place (due to all the chemicals in them), I did occasionally grab a box of unscented ones to keep the static down in the dryer. The dryer balls have been great as a replacement. One set is supposed to last for 1,000 uses. At 4 loads a week, that’s 250 weeks or almost 5 years. Another trick to reduce static, if you don’t have a dryer ball or are opposed to wool, is to use a balled up piece of aluminum foil in the dryer. According to my niece, it also works like a charm!

Excess Life Insurance

This one makes our parents cringe all the time. They believe that life insurance ranks right up their on the necessity chart with things like air, water, and toilet paper. We think otherwise. The purpose of life insurance is to cover debts when you are gone or to provide for your non-working spouse and children. If you are debt-free and have no children, it’s not necessary to leave a large sum of money behind. Angie and I each have a $10,000 term policy that we purchased for a few dollars a month when we were in our twenties. It’s just enough to offset the cost of a funeral.

Recreation Center Memberships

When we first moved to TN, we joined the rec center. We did it mostly to have access to the pool (something we took for granted living in Florida). What a huge waste of money! We went swimming only a handful of times and used the other amenities a sum total of zero times. When our lease was up in 2016, we moved to an apartment with a year-round pool. I can’t say that we’ve used it a whole lot but we don’t pay extra for it either. What we do use often is the great outdoors. With dozens of lakes and hundreds of miles of trails within an hour drive of us, why pay to play inside??

Movies

From Redbox promo codes and free trials of various apps to rewards through your favorite loyalty programs, there are just too many ways to watch movies for free these days to ever have to pay for one.

Want to get in on the freebie action? Check out our 5 Favorite Loyalty Programs.

We also don’t spend money on satellite/cable TV, to-go coffee, or bottled water and we’re getting really close when it comes to books, but all of these topics have been explored at length here and on other blogs so I won’t bore you with the details. Now it’s your turn. How has frugality helped your bottom line? What things do you no longer pay for?