Archive for the ‘Frugal Living’ Category

12 Ways to Find FREE Plants

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Plants in a Red Wagon

There’s nothing I like better than getting something for free, especially if it’s something I need or really want.

As a suburban homesteader my world revolves around making the most of my little plot of land and that means green things growing; lots and lots of green things. From flowers and shrubs to trees and vegetables I use a variety of ways to get “free” plants to fill out my little farm.

If you need to fill in a garden space or start a brand new garden try these ideas to get you going, while saving a ton of money.

Earth Day – Many Earth Day celebrations give away plants and sometimes soil. Over the years I have gotten shrubs and trees for free, along with a bag of soil or a truck load of compost through City programs. And that’s not all I get. Our Earth Day features several community garden and garden club booths, many of which “give away” plant starts or started vegetables for free or for a small donation.

Local Garden Clubs & Community Gardens – Over the years I have become part of our local garden club and community garden efforts. Through these associations I have been able to get seeds, cutting, plants, divisions of bulbs and irises, and so on. Many of the community garden folks start way more seeds than they have space to plant, so they offer them up at monthly meetings.

Neighbors – Spring is prime landscaping (or, re-landscaping) time. Keep an eye out for neighbors re-doing their yard and ask if you can have some of what they are pulling out. If left up to the landscaper or homeowner, most of those plants will end up in a landfill. Better to have them adorn your yard.

Divide & Conquer – If you already have plants in your yard, see what can be divided, like bulbs or rhizomes. Or, check with friends and offer to help divide some of their plants for a few to take home. More times than not, you’ll end up with a lot more than you can use. Now you can share.

Forage for Seeds & Cuttings – Keep a watchful eye when running errands or traveling locally. Many times you’ll find seed heads ready to burst or plants that grow well from cuttings. It doesn’t have to be so local either. While traveling up north I stopped at a little market to refresh my drink and saw the most gorgeous hollyhocks coming to seed. I asked the cashier if I could have a few seed heads. After looking at me like I was nuts, she said yes. I quickly broke off a few of the dried pods loaded with seeds and wrapped them in a napkin. They became the beginning of a wonderful garden near my greenhouse.

Craigslist – The free section on craigslist is a great place to find free plants. Sometimes the ad requires that you dig up the plant, but most of the time they don’t. Even if you have to pay a few bucks it’s worth keeping track of. When my sister wanted to plant an iris garden she haunted craigslist for weeks before finding a gal who was pulling out her iris bed. Sis got 2 paper grocery bags full of irises for $5.00. When she got ready to plant she realized there were more than 100 rhizomes. Not a bad deal, even if it wasn’t free.

Trade – Gardeners love to share! If you have established plants and would like to add variety to your garden, try trading with other gardeners who have something you want.

Nursery Cast Offs – Not all plants at a nursery or garden center are sold. Some get over grown in their pots, while others get shaded out or covered up by other plants and don’t get enough sun or water. They look too shabby to sell, so they are tossed aside as “not sellable”.  Some nurseries or centers, especially locally owned one’s, will gladly give away these sad little cast offs. Think of it as a rescue for plants.

Seed Banks – Some local libraries have begun offering “seed banks”, a place where local gardeners can drop off seeds from their own harvests, and pick up seeds from someone else’s garden. The best part is…no late fees, because the seeds don’t have to be returned. The library just asks that you share what you can.

ASK – This one seems so simple, but in real life it is the least used way of getting free plants. Every time I have admired a plant in someone’s yard and asked for seeds, cuttings, divisions, etc. I have always been told yes. There’s something so gratifying about having one’s yard admired that they just can’t say no.

County Extension Office – Many counties have Cooperative Extension Offices, which are the educational arm of government programs revolving around gardening, farming, and home economic subjects. Sometimes the offices offer free seeds as a way to encourage home gardening and food production. If you don’t find seeds, all is not lost because they have a wealth of information on many interesting topics from beekeeping to livestock production to food preservation, even hunting safety and archery.

Be a Seed Company Volunteer – When seed companies change their displays the company rep often times uses local volunteers to inventory and restock the display rack. As a thank you for helping, the rep usually gives the volunteers a selection of seed packets to show appreciation. For a few hours of my time last year I walked away with dozens of seed packets, and a few new gardening friends, too.


Farmers Market

Farmers markets are a great place to buy local produce and talk with local growers, but did you know it’s a great place to volunteer? Most vendors can’t be at all the markets they sell at, so they bring in volunteers to help man their booth and sell their product. It’s a fun way to become part of the “inner circle” of your local market, and, you may even get paid in produce. You may even get enough to can.

Check with the organizer of your local farmers market to see if vendors are looking for help.

Trash can

We as a society spend hundreds of dollars each year buying items that we just throw in the trash. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, but it’s true. Trash bags are a good example. We buy them just to throw them away in a few days or a week. You might as well throw dollar bills in the garbage.

Try using paper or plastic grocery bags, or other shopping bags and save money for other purchases; useful one’s that is. I have not purchased a trash bag for more than 15  years, and I haven’t missed them. Sure using a grocery bag may mean more trips to the outside trash can, but I’d rather save the money to buy more seeds or garden supplies. Wouldn’t you?


Long winter days that have us trapped inside is the perfect time to start going through those closets and cabinets, decluttering what we haven’t used in a while. But, don’t just donate the discards. See if they can be sold on craigslist, ebay, at a garage sale or local consignment store for cash. The cheapskate in you will love making money before donating the items, and you never know what people are looking for. If that puts a bit of green in your wallet, move on to the garage and earn even more.

To make the process less overwhelming start small, one closet, one cabinet at a time. I go through my house one drawer, cabinet, closet at a time throughout the year. Over time you will create a routine that keeps your house and mind clutter free.

Frugal Friday – Gleaning Fields

Friday, February 5, 2016


Not every homestead can have a huge orchard and vegetable garden, or even a small one for that matter. Lot size can make it difficult. But, did you know that many regional food banks have gleaning programs? That’s right! Food banks partner with local growers and backyard gardeners to glean excess fruit for low-income families.

Volunteers are used to pick fruit and vegetables from local growers and are sometimes rewarded with a portion of the harvest. Check with your local food bank to see if they have a gleaning program. You may just fill your house with produce while teaching your kids about giving back.

Frugal Living – Reassess your Bills

Friday, January 29, 2016

Review Bills

January is the time when I get all my tax paperwork ready. It is also the time I reassess my bills, like utilities, water, trash, insurance, etc., to make sure I am getting the best possible deals. This can be different from region to region across the county. Find out if there are alternatives to utilities and review the costs. If you can get a better deal elsewhere, switch. If you have a landline, check to see if they have a bare bones price or cancel options you’re not using.

Check how many cell phone or internet data minutes you’re using. If you’re not using all of them switch to a cheaper plan. Review the channels you watch most often on cable and reduce your package to get rid of one’s you don’t watch or seldom watch.

Bundle your home and auto insurance, if it’s not already, and ask your agent how a higher deductable will effect your coverage and monthly bill.

Little changes made now can save you money all year long.

Freezer Meals

To reduce your grocery bill and save a few bucks after all that holiday spending, dedicate the next 10-days to eating out of your pantry. Take a day and prepare meals using what’s on-hand from your pantry and freezer. This is a great opportunity to use up freezer items you’ve had for a while and learn new recipes using just the ingredients you already have. Only shop for essential perishable items, like milk, eggs and produce (if you don’t already produce them yourself). You’ll not only save money, but also have a chance to inventory your pantry, creating a list of “to buy” items.

To extend your savings even more “eat-in” for another 10-days and watch the savings grow. You may even be inspired to not spend on other items, like clothing, toys, or entertainment.


Heating Bills

25% of your houses heat can escape through windows and doorways, not to mention a few other sneaky places. Take steps now to close off the escape routes and save a bundle on your winter heating bill.

• Check door thresh holds and replace if they do not fit tight. If you can see daylight you’re losing heat…and money.

• Switch plates on outside walls are notorious for leaking heat because insulation is not installed close enough to stop the airflow. Remove the plate and fill small gaps around the box with an acrylic caulking. For larger gaps, use a foam sealant. Then, place a foam gasket over the outlet and reinstall the switch plate. This small investment will save you loads of heat from escaping and tons of money.

• Water lines, gas lines and cables that come into your house from an outside wall can also leak air and heat, plus they are entry points for bugs and mice. Seal with an expanding foam sealant to keep heat in and critters out. For water lines, slide back the metal ring around the pipe before you caulk. It’s purely decorative and won’t stop air escaping. Check yearly as the caulking can crack or peel off.

• If you work in or gather in one room most of the day use a space heater and turn down the thermostat. The rest of the house will be cool, but you’ll be toasty warm in the room you occupy.

• Use the sun to warm you and your house. If your work at home or are relaxing move furniture to a sunny window where the rays can keep you warm. Keep curtains open, especially on south facing windows to bring in more direct light and heat, and then close curtains at night to act as a barrier, keeping the warmth in.

Even in the middle of winter, you can slash your energy bills without sacrificing your comfort.


Store small bits of leftover veggies, rice and meat in a sealed refrigerator or freezer container for later use. You know what I mean. Those small bits of leftovers that are not enough for a serving, even for one person.

At the end of the week or end of the month make a big pot soup or a vegetable stew. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ve gathered and what a hearty wholesome meal it will make. Add a salad and some crusty bread to round things out.

Do the same with leftover fruit and make yourself a yummy blended treat.

Did you know that 40% of all food in the U.S. goes to waste?

And, 90% of consumers throw food away while it is still edible?

Christmas tree

I know. I know. You’ve barely recovered from this Christmas and I want you to think about next year! What’s up with that?

You may even have kids out of school or spouses off work and are still enjoying the time together. But, if you want to have an enjoyable Christmas next year now is the time to think about it, even if you don’t want to. And, we have a few tips to help lay the groundwork for a jolly holiday season.

1. While the family is still together find out what holiday activities they enjoyed the most and what they didn’t. This will help you keep meaningful holiday activities; building traditions and memories, and get rid of those that drained time and energy.

Remember,  not everything at holiday time has to involve spending money. Walking the neighborhood with a thermos of hot cocoa admiring the decorated houses can be just as fun as money draining plays and concerts.

2. Recap your gift giving list. As much as we don’t want to think about what we spent, now is the time to do just that. Make a list of every person you gave a gift to, listing the gift and the corresponding cost. Decide now if there is anyone you could remove from the list in order to manage the holiday spending better.

Teachers and school staff are a perfect example of people who could be removed from your shopping list. It’s not that you don’t appreciate what they do, but do they really need a Christmas gift? Or, will a heartfelt card be sufficient?

3. Inventory your gift wrapping supplies and replace with sale items. Prices are slashed drastically so stores can get rid of the excess. Replace what you need, but don’t go overboard. Be realistic.

Commit to using up what you already have, too. No sense in buying rolls and rolls of paper or dozens of gift bags if you already have enough.

4. Watch for sales on holiday meal items, like turkey’s or hams, and canned goods as well. Stock up now and beat the rush (shortages or price increases) next season.

5. Start saving NOW! Calculate the money you spent and divide that by 40. This will be the amount to save each week to buy gifts in October, well before the spending frenzy. Pay for gifts in cash and there will be no surprise credit card bills to start the New Year. As an example: if you spent a total of $300 this year you would save $7.50 per week to have that same amount next year.

If you need to, cut something simple from your expenses, like eating out less, to help you save.

6. When packing up your decorations toss out old shabby decorations; donate or sell one’s you don’t use anymore. Check the lights to make sure they are still working. If not, take advantage of the sales to replace. And, organize your boxes of decorations. There’s nothing more stressful than plowing through boxes of decorations only to find out they don’t work or they are broken.

7. Start paying attention. Carry a small notebook to jot down gift ideas throughout the year. Listen to family and friends when they mention something they would like to have or something they have been enjoying. They will appreciate your remembering and thoughtfulness maybe even more than the gift itself.

My sister is building out a very large perennial bulb garden, so guess what she gets for Christmas?

By all means enjoy the holiday. Enjoy time with family before you rush out and plan for next year. That’s what they joy of the season is all about. But, to take the stress out of next year take a few moments and do some planning. It may seem like a lot of work now, but by next October you’ll be enjoying the beginning of the holiday season a whole lot more when you’re not stressing about money or burned out lights.