Category Archives: Saving money

Second-hand Shops and Sites

Good Friday morning! As promised, I’m back with another post for you!

In 2016, a survey showed that Americans throw away about 26 BILLION pounds of textiles per year. Think about that. Somewhere in the world, a poor farmer was paid a slim amount for his water- and pesticide-drenched cotton crop. Then children and other workers (making far too little to live on) put in long hours weaving, dying, cutting and sewing that cotton into shirts. We popped in to a fast fashion retailer and bought one of those shirts because “it’s just a couple bucks and I really like that color.” We wore it a handful of times, and because the shirt was cheap, when it started to show wear we didn’t feel bad about just tossing it out. Now multiply that by 26 billion pounds, and repeat year after year.

Retailers compete with each other, so keeping prices low is a priority for them. To do that, they have sacrificed both the quality of goods offered and the wages paid to everyone on the supply chain. The obvious answer is to buy from retailers who use fair trade labor practices, which insure that everyone along the supply chain was paid a fair, livable wage, and that no child labor or unsafe workplace practices were used. I’ve written several times about the importance of buying fair trade to provide safe, meaningful employment for people (I’ve linked to one of those posts, but to read more about it, use the little search window to find all of my articles on fair trade, or check out the FSF Pinterest boards), but let’s be honest, fair trade isn’t cheap. I mean, that’s the idea, of course, but in a world where we’re used to $10 tee shirts from Old Navy, there can be some sticker shock!

So lets say we decide to stop being part of the problem and get off this crazy cycle. What can we do without going broke?

  1. The first step, if fair trade is out of your budget, is to evaluate if you really NEED another shirt, pair of earrings, etc., or if it’s just a want. If we can really be honest with ourselves, that hard truth alone will stop us from about half of the purchases we make (or is that just me…).
  2. Cotton is recyclable: If you have a clothing item that has reached the end of its life, read the label. Synthetics and blends can be reused as dust rags, but 100% cotton can be recycled. Most cities have single-sort recycling bins, and cotton can be tossed out with your milk jugs and soda cans.
  3. When you really do need to buy something, or when the itch for some retail therapy gets particularly bad, the next best thing to fair trade is second-hand. Purchasing second-hand keeps textiles out of landfills, and satisfies our needs without contributing any more of our hard-earned money to the un-fair trade cycle.

Here are some of my favorite second-hand shops and sites. If you want to find second-hand clothing and accessories near you, a quick internet search for “consignment shops near me” or “used clothing near me” should reveal what’s available in your area.

  1. Donation sites like the Goodwill, Savers, or Salvation Army stores. These are also great places to donate gently-used goods. You can find anything from nice designer brands to crazy, off-the-wall fashions. My son and I have a tradition of going to the local Goodwill every summer when he finds out what color team he will be on at camp. For a couple dollars each, we can get him a week’s worth of tee shirts in his team color, the stranger the better! After camp he uses the shirts for work projects and things, and some of them even make it into his regular rotation. This year he did some of his back-to-school shopping at Savers and Goodwill, too. He was able to stretch his back-to-school budget a lot further!
  2. Ragstock: Ragstock is a Minnesota-based company with stores around the upper-Midwest area where they buy and sell vintage and recycled clothing. They cater to a younger crowd, and are a great place to get unique, funky fashions.
  3. Once Upon a Child: Once Upon a Child is another upper-Midwest chain. They buy and sell gently-used clothing, equipment, toys, and shoes for babies and children. When my son was young, I loved shopping there for the things kids outgrow before they wear them out, especially dressy clothing. They’re part of the same company as Play it Again Sports (used sporting equipment), Plato’s Closet (clothing for teens/young adults), and Style Encore (clothing and accessories for women).
  4. Thred Up: If shopping online is more your thing, Thred Up is the best! They buy and sell better brands of clothing, like Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, and Calvin Klein. They even have a luxury tab where you can find designer brands, gently used and deeply discounted. I have both bought and sold from Thred Up many times and have been happy. They even offer returns if you get something and it doesn’t look or fit like you expected. (The hyperlink for Thred Up will take you to a referral page. If you sign up on their site, you and I each get a $10 credit. Just so you know.)
  5. The Real Real: If designer brands are more your speed, then The Real Real is for you! They sell vintage men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories (hello designer handbags!), as well as artwork and home accents that are all designer brands, certified authentic, and deeply discounted because they’re used. I have bought and sold with them once, and was very happy with my experience. (The link on this one is also a referral link)

That should give you a good start shopping for gently used goods! If you know of other shops and sites, leave them in the comments! Thanks!


Cheap Summer Recipes

Summer is just around the corner, yay! On the upside, fresh produce is abundant and lower in price. On the downside, it gets too hot to cook! So today I’m bringing you a few of my favorite summer-friendly cheap recipes.

Alternative pizza nights
Grabbing a pizza is a reasonably-priced way to feed a family or group of friends, but it’s hard to accommodate everyone’s tastes, and you pay a delivery fee to wait 45 minutes for a pie! We have two alternatives to pizza night that are fun for the family and pretty economical. The first is a simple idea called “pizzadillas,” and the second is a make-your-own pizza night on the grill. All it takes is a pizza stone or one of those grill mats so your pizza won’t fall through.

Shredded mozzarella
Pizza sauce
Pizza toppings of your choice

Put a little mozzarella and the toppings of your choice between two tortillas, and heat on the stovetop until the cheese melts and the outside is browned. Cut the pizzadilla with a pizza cutter and dip into pizza sauce.

Make-Your-Own Pizza Night: Crust recipe originally found on

2 1⁄4 teaspoons yeast
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
3⁄4 cup hot water
1 3⁄4 cups flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water. Let sit 5-10 minutes until the yeast mixture becomes frothy. Add the flour and salt, and mix well. This makes one pizza for 2-4 people, or you can divide the dough in half (or thirds – I have a teenager and a husband who runs distances, so they eat bigger than your young kids will) and let each person make their own. I usually double the recipe and make four individual pizzas. Roll out the dough and top with sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. Cook on a hot grill until the cheese is melted and the crust begins to brown.

Eggs are an economical source of protein, and quiche is a great way to turn leftover meat, cheeses, and veggies into a brunch or dinner for the whole family. Quiche consists of two parts: the crust and the egg filling. You can buy a pie crust to save time and effort, but making pie crust is really not that hard. Here is my go-to pie crust recipe; I got it years ago from my friend’s aunt who is a terrific cook!

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup cold butter (cut in small chunks)
1 egg
1 tsp. vinegar
cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter chunks and mix until it resembles pea-sized chunks. Add the egg and vinegar and mix. Add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Remove from the mixer and divide in two. Roll out the dough and place in pie pan. (makes 2 pie crusts or one double crust for fruit pies)

5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of cream or milk
cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice

Mix the eggs and milk. Pour into pie crust. Add cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice. I’m a big fan of cheddar, onion, and leftover ham. Sometimes I throw in some spinach if I have it on hand. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Top with cheese and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Quiche is done when the filling is firm and the top starts to brown.

Stretching seasonal produce
Summer is the ideal time for the freshest produce at the best prices. And if you’re gardening or subscribing to a CSA box, you might have produce coming out of your ears! Don’t let it go to waste, learn some basics of freezing and preserving produce.

My excess usually comes in the form of raspberries and zucchini, which both freeze well (shred the zucchini, squeeze out some of the liquid, and put in a plastic freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible and freeze). There’s nothing like fresh sweet corn in season, and it’s possible to preserve that flavor for winter too.

Summer Sweet Corn: From on a post on Little Dairy on the Prairie
15 cups raw corn kernels (shuck the corn and cut off the kernels. I like to use a Bundt pan. The little center part makes a great stand for the corn, and the kernels can fall into the round pan in any direction)
1/8 cup salt (I know. 1/8 of a cup. I just half fill a ¼ cup measuring cup. It works out)
½ cup sugar
4 cups hot water
¼ cup butter

Put all ingredients in a large pot. Heat slowly to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer bags and seal. Lay bags flat and freeze.


I hope this gives you some new ideas for affordable, summer-friendly recipes. Share some of your favorites in the comments!



Sell your crap

I found this quote on Pinterest, and it led me to Adam Baker’s website, Man vs. Debt, and his popular Ted Talk. What appeals to me about Baker’s quote, site, and Ted Talk is the absolute freedom of that mindset. Getting rid of debt and excess stuff allows you to be flexible, nimble, and agile. It just sounds so empowering.

I’m not a “stuff” person, meaning that I don’t have strong emotional attachments to things, and that’s weird for an historian. Most of my colleagues hold on to stuff, because physical objects are tangible pieces of our history. Items tell stories, and they connect us to the past. So it’s weird for an historian to be so anti-stuff. I blame my family’s regular moves when I was growing up; the more possessions you have the harder it is to move. Not that I live a spartan life, either. The longer I’ve lived in one place (15 years yesterday!), the more stuff has accumulated in the nooks and crannies of my life. And not just precious memorabilia, either. I have an abundance of papers, craft supplies I no longer use, and don’t even get me started on the wide variety of sizes and seasons of clothing I have stashed!

My lack of attachment to stuff, and the fact that my clothes seem to reproduce while I’m asleep leads to regular purging. My mom, sister and I have an annual garage sale, and unsold items get donated right away. But we follow the donation dropoff with an afternoon of shopping, so the cycle continues.

But I long for that freedom. I want to get to the point where my thesis no longer hangs over my head. I want to own my money instead of owing it. I want to consider possibilities and not have to say, “maybe someday.”

If you feel like I do, I challenge you to make a step in the direction of freedom. Toss some dead-weight junk, like papers and old, worn clothes. Sell some excess stuff that has value to someone else. Finish that project that’s hanging over your life (preaching to myself on that one…). Stop shopping for stuff you can live without (again, preaching to myself), and make progress on your debts. Get free. Reclaim your life. Do what you love.

I have a printable “clutter cutter challenge” for you to help you get started. And be sure to check out the Man vs. Debt website for great articles on successfully selling your stuff!

Clutter Cutter

6 Cheap CROCKPOT Meals Your Family Will Love

cheap crockpot meals

When it comes to making affordable, nutritious meals on a tight schedule and/or budget, the crockpot is a girl’s REAL best friend! Slow cooking allows you to come home at the end of a long day and not have to spend a lot of time cooking, and it keeps you from giving in and ordering out when you’re exhausted. It also allows you to make tender, delicious meals with cheaper or leaner cuts of meat. So here’s a roundup of 6 cheap crockpot meals that each serve four people.

  1. Taco Chicken – I got this recipe years ago from a friend, and it has become a regular staple at my house.2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
    16 oz chicken stock (remember, I make mine for FREE using chicken bones! Click HERE for that recipe)
    1 packet of taco seasoning
    optional: sliced white onion and/or peppers

    It’s really that easy, three ingredients tossed in the crockpot and cooked all day (4-6 hours) on low heat. When you’re ready to eat, shred the chicken with two forks, and you’re all set for quesadillas, chicken nachos, tacos, or healthy taco salads.

  2. Basic Rice & Beans – My friend Heidi, whom you know from her guest post a while back, kicks off every week with a basic rice & beans dinner. Like our Food Shelf Friday meals, her rice & beans Mondays are a cost-saving measure that allows her family to support kids through Compassion International. It also reminds them that this is reality for much of the world. You can read Heidi’s inspiration – We Are That Family’s blog about rice & beans Mondays HERE.bag dry black beans

    Put dry black beans in the crockpot, and fill the pot with water. Let it soak overnight without turning on the crockpot. The next morning, rinse the beans, add fresh water just to cover the beans, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook on low until dinner. Make plain rice according to package directions right before you eat.

    Heidi and her family eat the rice and beans plain, because most of the world does, but if you want to take this basic recipe to a new level, try adding some cumin, salsa, or diced onion and peppers to the beans, add lime juice to the rice, or top the dish with salsa, cheese, avocado, or cilantro.

  3. Crockpot Bean with Bacon Soup (from Money Saving Mom)– I know, ham and bacon are not exactly cheap. But if you buy a ham for a holiday dinner, the leftovers can go a long way. This soup is warm, filling, and uses the ham bone – stretching the value of that holiday ham and turning leftovers into a new meal.Ham bone
    6-8 cups of water
    1 (1 lb.) bag of navy beans (2 cups)
    2-3 bay leaves, depending on size
    salt and pepper, to taste
    4-5 pieces of bacon
    Small amount of chopped ham (optional, the bone will probably have a good amount still on it, so it’s not necessary to add more unless you have some more leftovers to use up)
    1 small onion
    3 stalks celery (optional)
    1/2 cup heavy cream, (optional, I usually use whole milk that I keep on hand for cooking)

    Bring ham bone to boil in water. Add salt, pepper, celery and bay leaves, reduce and simmer for 1-2 hours. (You can use plain water, but the bone gives it some more flavor, and bone broth is super good for you) Strain broth, add to crockpot.

    To prepare beans, soak overnight or for a quick soak, bring 6-8 cups water to boil, add beans and boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse, add the crockpot.

    Cook bacon for a few minutes, then add chopped onion, sauté until golden brown and bacon is done, but not crisp. Remove from pan and chop, add to crockpot. Add ham to crockpot, if desired.

    Cook on low in the crockpot for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours. Add heavy cream, and continue to cook about 15 minutes more. Remove bay leaves.

  4. Crockpot Baked Potatoes – this is another terrific way to make leftovers feel like a fresh new meal.Potatoes
    Aluminum foil

    in the crockpot on low heat for about 8 hours, and that’s it! Let everyone top them with leftovers, canned stew or chili, or just cheese for a quick, warm, personalized meal everyone will enjoy.

  5. Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches – I love the Six Sisters Stuff They have lots of great freezer meals that you can make up on your day off and throw in the crockpot when you need it. That’s where I found this beef sandwich recipe. While beef roast doesn’t exactly equal “cheap,” a little research on Grocery 411 taught me about the most affordable cut of beef for this recipe – a skill that will help you cut down on grocery spending. Check out the link to learn more about saving money by buying the right grade and cut of beef.2-3 lb select grade beef chuck roast
    2 cans (14.5 oz each) beef consommé (it is right next to the soups and beef broth)
    6-8 buns (croissants are delicious with French dip, but can be overpriced)

    Place roast in the crockpot and pour beef consommé on top. Cook on low for 8-11 hours, or on high for 5-7 hours. With 2 forks, shred roast and serve meat on buns. Top with Provolone or Swiss cheese (optional), and serve the juice from the crockpot on the side.

  6. Crockpot Roast Chicken – Lately I have found whole chickens at the grocery store for $5-7. That’s not a bad price for feeding a family of four. In contrast, a rotisserie chicken at the same grocery store is $9 now. Prepare ahead and get the same roast chicken dinner for almost half the price!1 whole chicken, baggie of neck, giblets, etc. removed. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels
    1 lemon
    salt, pepper, and seasonings to taste

    Slice the lemon and place the slices on the bottom of the crockpot. This adds a little flavor, but more importantly it keeps the chicken from sticking to the bottom of the crockpot. Place the chicken breast side up in the pot, sprinkle with seasonings, and cook on high for about 4 hours or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

    You can shake this up a bit by changing out the seasonings. You could cut a garlic clove in half and stuff it into the chicken before cooking, add sprigs of fresh rosemary, or place additional lemon slices under the breast skin or on top of the chicken.


So there you have it, a hot, tasty, easy roundup of slow cooker recipes that are, or can be, affordable. Do you have a favorite crockpot recipe? Share it in the comments!

Hope For Dinner 2015

Hope for Dinner

In poking around for information this week, I ended up finding a new favorite verse:

Isaiah 58:6-9
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

I don’t practice literal fasting – the principle of skipping a meal (or meals) to dedicate yourself to prayer – very often. Honestly, I become a total crab, and I don’t find that fasting from food creates any more space in my day to devote to prayer. It’s much more effective for me to fast from social media or TV – things that I usually waste time on. But this verse was eye opening for me. It reminds me of a famous quote from Gandhi, who said “live simply so others may simply live.” That’s the kind of fasting I can really get behind!

And that’s the idea behind Hope For Dinner.

For the week before Thanksgiving (November 16-20 this year), our entire church and families across the country will be trading their normal evening meals for simple rice and beans. Every evening. All week. Hope for Dinner (a fundraising arm of Venture Expeditions) says that by having rice and beans for dinner the average American family saves $4 – per person – per meal. So for my family of 3 that’s $12 per dinner times 5 days equals $60. It might not sound like a lot, but Venture, whose overhead is donated so that every penny coming in can go to feeding the hungry, can take $60 and turn it into 600 meals for starving children in some of the world’s hardest to reach areas.

I posted briefly about Hope for Dinner last year, too, and included some different ways that you can participate even if rice and beans is not your thing. Participating in Hope for Dinner last year was one of the inspirations behind my family’s weekly Food Shelf Friday. Another friend of mine feeds her family rice and beans every Monday night so they can start their week with awareness of how many people around the world live. It’s a beautiful kind of fast that loosens the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke…feeds the hungry and provides for the poor.

Please join us in having Hope for Dinner this year! You can send your savings directly to Hope for Dinner via their website, so give it through Riverdale Church or Emmanuel Christian Center with the envelope and/or check memo marked “Hope for Dinner.”