Saving Money With Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent

I used to loathe spending money on laundry detergent.  Every load screamed at me, “Just look at all those dollars headed straight down the drain!”

But, not anymore.  Now, I whip up my own batch using three simple ingredients.  It’s quick and easy to make, comes out to only pennies per load, and performs just as well as most other detergents (for heavily soiled garments, I do a little pre-treating with a Fels-Naptha bar, and for whiter whites, I toss in some baking soda at the beginning of the cycle).

This mixture can be used in high efficiency machines, and it is also safe for all sewer and septic systems.  As an added bonus, your fingernails will look impeccably clean when you get through putting it all together — just make sure you use both hands for the soap grating!

I’ve seen many different recipes for Homemade Laundry Detergent on the web.  Some are made with different soaps, others are made with different measurements.   I’ve settled in on this one for its simple ingredients and ease of making.

Okay, here’s the 4-1-1…


1 Fels-Naptha soap bar

1/2 cup borax

1/2 cup super washing soda


1.  Grate the Fels-Naptha bar with a hand grater.  You want to grind into the smallest pieces possible.  I’ve found that a zester works best for this.  The larger the pieces, the more difficult it will be to get the soap to mix with the other ingredients.

2. In a large container, thoroughly mix one cup of the grated Fels-Naptha bar with 1/2 cup borax, and 1/2 cup washing soda (you can get about 4 cups from the whole Fels-Naptha bar).  It should look like this when you’re through…

Store the soap in a lidded container (I think it looks pretty in a glass jar).  Use one tablespoon per load — two for extra large or heavily soiled loads.

What could be simpler than that?

Happy Savings!!!


Our Key to Successful Shoestring Living…

When Matt and I were first married, had no children, and lived off of two incomes we didn’t face very many tough financial decisions.  We pretty much bought whatever we wanted — as long as we knew it wasn’t going to get us into long-term debt.

Now, with a family of six, living off of one income, we have to scrutinize nearly every penny we spend.  People often shake their heads at us and say, “I don’t know how you do it.”  Believe me, there have been many months when I’ve said the same thing.  Yet, over the years, and by the grace of God, we’ve learned how to successfully live on a shoestring budget —  and the key to all of it has been nothing short of  life changing!

But, before I tell you about the one, simple thing that has allowed us to live, successfully, on one income, I want to fill you in on a little background…

You see,  Matt and I never planned on being a “one-income” family.  No.  Our plan was to get married, buy a house, and both work until the mortgage was payed down a bit; then start a family, have two children, put them in daycare and continue living off of two incomes, buying larger houses and bigger cars as we needed (or wanted) them, and live out the “American Dream” (whatever that meant).   Isn’t it funny, though, how God often has different plans?

Well, the day we signed our first home mortgage loan, about a year and a half into our marriage, I found out I was pregnant with our first child.

“No problem”, I reasoned.  “He’ll be born in July, when I’m on vacation from teaching.  I’ll get to be home with him for a couple of months, and when it’s time to venture back to school in September he’ll be ready for day care and I’ll be ready to go back to work.”   But…

About two weeks before school was to start, I looked down at our little son and  said, “I can’t do this.  I can’t leave him with someone I don’t even know!” (we had just moved to a new city and had no family living near us at the time).  “But”, I thought, “How in the world are we going to be able to afford our new mortgage, much less pay for all of the necessities of our growing family if I don’t go back to work?”

I quickly broke the news to Matt when he came home, later that night — he actually took it much better than I’d expected…

“Okay”, he said.  “If that’s what you want to do.  I’m behind you one hundred percent.”

“Really?” I asked, a little stunned. “But”, and I posed the million dollar question, “How are we going to live on one income?”

“I don’t know”, he promptly responded, “But we’ll figure it out”.

That day was the beginning of our journey to learn how to live on a one-income, shoestring budget.  In the eighteen years that have passed since making that decision, we’ve added three more children, been through more job losses than we care to remember — including two self-employment ventures (one of which got us into a heap of debt!), and, as you know, moved out into the country where we raise chickens, goats, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables.  I can’t say we’ve perfected this “living on a shoestring budget” thing, but we’ve come pretty close, I think.

And, the one thing that has made us so successful:

None other than the “B” word…BUDGET.

The best money we’ve ever invested was in a book entitled, The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples: A Lifetime Approach to Spending, Saving, and Investing by Larry Burkett.   When we made the adjustment to one income, it was the first resource we purchased to teach us how to live on meager means.   Boy, was that a life-changer!  For the first time, Matt and I learned about budgeting — how to truly control our resources.  One of Larry’s key teachings centered around the fact that it doesn’t matter how much you make, but how much you spend.  What a revolutionary thought!   We’d never even thought about the fact that a person can make a million dollars, and be in debt up to their eyeballs while another person can make thirty thousand dollars and have a good sized nest egg stashed away just because he spends wisely and sticks to a budget.  Larry’s book helped us get started on the road to developing a budget for our family.  Over the years we’ve altered and refined it, but not a month has gone by, in the past eighteen years, that we haven’t made use of and, to the best of our ability, stuck to one.

With a budget, not only have we learned to live within our means, but even below our means, which has allowed us to pay for medical expenses when we didn’t have any insurance (yep, even our second pregnancy),  pay off $75,000 of business debt (without declaring bankruptcy), save up for a down payment on our current property, create a “rainy day” fund worth half a year’s salary in case of another loss of employment, and cover all of the day to day expenses that are a normal part of everyone’s lives without incurring long-term debt (except for our home mortgage).  True, we’ve had to forgo a lot of the “luxuries” that many people are accustomed to.  We don’t have the latest and greatest when it comes to technology, we  wear a lot of  used clothing, drive cars that are at least ten years old, live in a manufactured home, don’t eat out at many places that cost us more than $20 for our entire family, eat a lot of beans and rice at home,  and  make and do as many things as we can by ourselves.

We’ve learned to be content with everything we own, recognizing that all of it is a gift from God, and we’ve simply been given the privilege of caring for it.

We’ve also learned how not to hold onto things too tightly — what’s here today can so easily be gone tomorrow.

The best thing we’ve done, since we learned to live on a budget, is to develop our own special, customizable “Budget Board”.  Not only has it been the absolute best tool for helping us keep our spending in check and reach our financial goals, it has also been a wonderful way to include our children in the budgeting process, and start training them how to handle money in a responsible way, whether they live on a shoestring budget or have millions of dollars at their disposal.

It has a prominent place, right on our refrigerator door, and is used to engage everyone in discussion about how we’re handling the resources we’ve been given for the month.

The idea for a budget board came about because I needed something visual and tactile to help me know exactly how much money I could spend on particular items at any given time.   I wanted a system that would tell me, at a glance, how much money I had left in  a particular category, and this is the solution we came up with…

The budget board is divided into a series of different spending categories (ours are: housing, groceries, entertainment, auto, medical, school, clothing, giving, gifts, miscellaneous, and saving).  Each category receives a fixed amount of points every month (there are one hundred points total that get divided among all of the categories).  Each point equals a certain dollar amount (Matt’s net salary, divided by one hundred), and each point is represented by a box on the board.  At the beginning of each month, all of the boxes allotted in each category are colored in green, showing that they are fully funded, like the example above.

Then, each time we spend money,  the budget board is updated.  For example, when we eat out, the entertainment category, after being updated, shows fewer boxes colored in green, demonstrating how much was spent and how much money remains for the rest of the month.  It works much like an ATM, in that sense, but the boxes help create a more concrete picture of where we’re at.  Like a traffic light, green means “go” and red means “stop”; as long as the boxes remain green, we get to keep spending, but as soon as they turn red (when we’ve overspent) we know to stop.  The goal is to end the month with no boxes in red – that not only means we’ve stayed within our budget, but also that we’ve been able to save some of  “Daddy’s salary”.

This has been such a tremendous teaching tool in our family!  When the kids want to spend money  all we have to say is, “Look at the budget board.”  From there, they can quickly determine how much money and time are left in the month to help them make decisions.  For example, my daughter might ask if we can go to one of our favorite drive-ins and get slushies.  She’s looked at the budget board and has determined that “It won’t even take up one point in the entertainment budget”.  The rest of the family will then come together to decide if it’s a wise way to spend our money.  One might say, “But I wanted to go eat out at a fancy restaurant this month, and that’s going to take at least three points.”  Another might chime in, “There’s a movie I think we should all see.  That’s going to take a couple of points.”  “Yeah”, another might say, “I really don’t think we should be spending our money on something like slushies when we can get something better with our money.”   We hardly ever hear, “Why can’t I get that?”, or “It’s not fair, I want that!”  Instead, we have a logical, reasonable discussion based on facts and how much time and money are left in the month.  The lesson the kids have learned is:  you can’t spend what you don’t have, and you need to spend what you have wisely. I trust it’s a lesson they’re going to carry with them into the future, as they start their own families and develop their own budget boards.

In the future, we’d like to be able to make our Budget Board available, online, to others who want to use it. ( If you’re interested, send us a note!)  In the meantime, another system we recommend is Mvelopes, an online envelope budgeting system developed by Crown Financial Ministries, a legacy of Larry Burkett.

Whether you’re living on a shoestring budget, like we are, or have plenty of disposable income, living on a budget should be a priority for everyone.  As more and more people struggle  financially, during these trying economic times, it is so important that they learn to gain control of their money.  Developing and living on a budget is one of the best ways to live successfully, no matter how much money you make!

What has been your experience with living on a budget?

Why I Transitioned From Hybrid to Heirloom

About two years ago I made the transition from growing all hybrid fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs to cultivars that are only produced from heirloom seeds.   I’ll share with you some of the top reasons why many people are making the switch, and then I’ll let you know what drew me in hook, line, and sinker.

So, what exactly is an “heirloom”?  It’s difficult to nail down a tried and true definition of what exactly constitutes an heirloom variety, but suffice it to say,  heirloom seeds have been around for a very long time (the exact time is still being debated — at least 50 years, though)  and have unique family traits that have been handed down, through careful seed saving and propagation techniques, generation after generation,  in order to ensure similar results in the plants’ offspring.

Heirloom varieties are not grown on an industrial scale, here in America, where large scale farms now grow only a few varieties of crops that are selected for their productivity, uniformity, toleration of picking and shipping, and a few other characteristics that heirlooms can’t usually “measure up” to.  Some might say that heirloom gardening is a reaction against modern agricultural trends.   I suppose, if you polled one hundred heirloom gardeners and asked them if it were true, they’d say “yes”.  However, there are so many other good, sound reasons why farmers and gardeners, like me, have taken the plunge and become heirloom growers.

One reason why gardeners love heirlooms is for their diversity.  You just don’t see varieties like these filling up grocery stores bins!  Before I started growing heirlooms, I’d never even seen or heard of  things like  Moon and Stars watermelon, which have skins that are splashed with irregular, bright yellow shapes, and look like moons and stars or Black Diamond Yellow Flesh watermelon, a variety that looks like a typical grocery store melon on the outside, but is anything but typical-looking on the inside, with its golden-colored flesh.

Others, no doubt, grow heirlooms for their taste.  With all of the diverse cultivars out there, there are a myriad of unique flavors to choose from!  Everyone who’s ever tasted a home-grown tomato, even if it’s a hybrid variety, knows the superior flavor to that of store-bought.  Heirloom growers kick the taste level up a notch, however,  and experience even more robust and complex flavors than were ever thought possible.  Oh sure, there are varieties that are less desirable than others, but one bite of a pineapple or chocolate-cherry tomato and I’ve (almost) never wanted  to eat or grow the standard, red faire again!

Many gardeners and farmers prefer to grow heirlooms is for their stability, predictability, and ability to reproduce offspring that are genetically similar, if not identical, to their parents — a lesson I learned and shared with you in a past blog about these sweet pea flowers.

The fact that heirloom plants protect pollinators is another reason why they are increasing in popularity.  In an effort to keep unwanted pests away, some hybrid plants have been genetically modified so that they produce their own insecticides.  Unfortunately, the pollen from these hybrid monsters is also laced with poisons that may, ultimately, be killing off the “good guys” — the butterflies and bees that are essential to ensuring a stable food supply for us humans.  Furthermore, the pollen from genetically modified plants is “sterile” , potentially leading to malnourishment and even death by starvation in these little critters.  Lastly, some hybrid plants, containing “terminator” genes and producing only infertile seeds are suspected of altering the digestive tracts of bees, causing something similar to human colon cancer, something never before seen in bees, which is leading to thousands upon thousands of mysterious bee deaths, known as colony collapse disorder.  For this reason alone, more farmers and gardeners should be turning to growing more heirloom seeds.  The sake of our food supply may very well depend on it!

On a lighter note, heirloom gardening also saves money.  Because the seeds are open pollinated, they can be saved and replanted year after year, thereby eliminating the need to buy more seed every season.  Because they are easier to produce, heirloom plants can also cost less than hybrid seed, freeing up more money to be spent on tools, watering devices, or more seed!  I saved these English shelling pea seeds in the spring, and just replanted them for a fall harvest.  I’m new at seed saving (which can be quite a complicated manner, as I’m learning) but it appears I did a fairly good job.  I’m starting to see little shoots emerge from underneath the straw mulch where I planted them.  We should be harvesting more yummy peas — direct descendants, and nearly identical in genetic make-up to their parents — in about a month.

In addition, some research has shown that heirloom vegetables are actually more nutritious than store-bought, commercially grown varieties.  This all goes back to their genetic diversity.  Industrialized varieties are bred to produce high yields, but often at the expense of their nutritional value.  It’s true — one of the drawbacks of growing heirloom varieties is that they cannot compete with  producing the vast amounts of food that commercially produced, hybrid varieties do; however, nutrition is far more important in my book than production is.  Besides, with the money I’m saving by purchasing heirloom seeds, I just grow a few more plants to offset the lack of production.  Needless to say, we’ve grown a bounty of fresh, home-grown produce from heirloom seeds this year!

Certainly, there are many more reasons why people prefer to grow heirloom, instead of hybrid varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  I could go on and on about my positive experiences with them.  However, the reason why I now choose and love to garden with heirloom seeds can be summed up in one, simple word: history.  Not because I am a history buff, or because it’s what I have my degree in.  I love to grow heirloom plants because each one represents a real, live connection to the past; each one has a unique story, telling about how old they are, where they came from, and who grew them.  Every time I go out into my garden, I feel as if I’m taking a trip back into history, visiting a distant time and place, and I wonder about things like: Who nurtured, cared for, and saved this seed?  What kind of a garden did it grow in?  Did it grace the table of a simple peasant, or possibly even a grand king?    I  think about Thomas Jefferson when I pass by the Spitzenburg apple tree that grows in my front yard and think about it’s distant ancestor that grew and was cultivated by President Jefferson in the gardens at Monticello. I marvel at the Iraqi man who pleaded with Jerre Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds to save his rare tomato seed, dating back to biblical times, before  his farm became another victim of the American-Iraqi war.  I want to grow its fruit in my garden, not only because of its connection to ancient Ninevah, where Jonah the prophet reluctantly called the city to repentance, but so that this precious man’s efforts to preserve its seed will not have been in vain.  I’m both astounded and humbled to have the privilege to take part in growing heirloom seeds and all of their  rich history.  It’s what I love most about being an heirloom gardener, and it’s why I will, probably, never grow another hybrid seed as long as I live.  I love sharing the stories about these plants with the customers who now visit my produce stand on Saturdays.  There’s something amazing and, I think, empowering that happens when they realize they’re not just eating a piece of fruit, or a vegetable, but they’re partaking in a piece of history.  I’m so glad I made the transition to heirloom gardening and I hope it inspires more people to make the switch!