The journey of a Christian wife, stay-at-home mom, quasi-tree-hugger, and cheapskate to find ways to "CHanGE" her life to be Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier. Constructive feedback always welcome!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Site Maintenance: New Feature!

I've added a Twitter feed to the sidebar so that I can post quickie deals as I come across them because not everything is worth a whole blog post. For example, today I posted a link to a coupon for a free piece of clothing at Sears Outlet, but it's only good for today. You can just follow my Twitter feed if you use RSS and don't come to the website regularly. I've tried to get it set up so it automatically feeds to Facebook as well, but it doesn't seem to work right for whatever reason, so I'll keep working on it so that if you don't tweet, you can follow my fan page on Facebook for the quickie deals as well. I'm not sure how often I'll post them, but hopefully it'll be more often than I blog because I can do it faster. See you around!

Cheaper: Free Texting and Long Distance

Even though I'm hooked to my smartphone, I've never been much for texting, mainly because I'm Cheap and don't want to pay extra to talk to people since I can already call, email, and send messages on Facebook to them for no additional charge. Even AT&T's old plan of 200 messages for $5/month (which I understand is no longer offered) did not appeal to me. I'd be lucky to send and receive 5 texts per month. Even at 20 cents per message, it still didn't add up to add text.

In the past couple of years, though, I've found some easy workarounds so that if the need to text arises, I can do so--for free. It's not quite as convenient as texting, but for the savings, it's pretty nice.

Here's what I've done:

1) Set up a free Google Voice account. It gives you a new phone number in whatever area code you'd like--your own, the one for your hometown, etc. When I set up my account, I could even try to customize part of it. I made it so that the last 4 digits of my Google Voice (GV) number were the same as our home phone number, making it easy to remember. You can make part of it spell out a certain word as long as phone numbers are available. If you live on the outskirts of a metropolitan area like I do, you might want to make your phone number one for that major city instead of your suburb so that other suburbs can call you for free. Once you get that number set up, you can have both voice and text come to it. If you don't want to pay for texts, I would recommend forwarding the texts to your email address so that they come through just like any other email message. The account is extremely customizable--you can set up different voicemail messages depending on who calls you, you can set multiple phones to ring (I have both home and cell ring), you can block phone numbers, etc.

Another neat feature that's not too prominently advertised--it gives you free long distance within the US on your landline. Just call your GV number from your home phone, push *, enter your 4-digit access code, then press 2, then dial the phone number with area code. I used this feature frequently to call Huz in Afghanistan since he was outfitted with a Virginia phone number all the way over there. It was just like calling Virginia--and I got to save my cell-phone minutes.

The only time you'll have to pay is if you call internationally or switch your GV number. Beyond that, all the features are free. Can't beat that!

The next way to get free texting is limited to those people using Apple devices--iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.

2) Use iMessage. As long as you have an Apple device that supports iOS 5.0 or greater, and the person on the other end does as well, you can text each other within the Messages app on your device, and you will not be charged for SMS. Your Apple device will know before sending which kind of message your recipient can get. If the other person has iMessage, the data box will show "iMessage" instead of "Text Message," and your chat bubbles will show up in blue; regular texts will be green, like this:

(Image courtesy of PC Pro)

If you no longer need regular SMS service at this point, you can block both incoming and outgoing SMS via a phone call to your cell company and still have the ability to use iMessage. You'll have to give people your direct cell number instead of a GV number if you want them to be able to iMessage you.

3) If a lot of your friends are on Facebook, as is the case with me, you can just use Facebook Messenger to shoot quick private messages back and forth.

Advantages that regular SMS has over these three contact methods:

1) It works even if data coverage is not available but you're still within their voice coverage area, which is a much wider area.
2) SMS tends to come through faster than GV.
3) Messages don't count against your network data allowance.
4) You don't have to have a smartphone to use them.

iMessage will not work outside of 3G or WiFi, and GV and Facebook will be very slow. So if you're in a rural area without convenient WiFi and you need to text, these may not be great options for you. But if you have the option--take it! You'll save money every month! If nothing else, sign up for Google Voice and use it on your landline to get free long distance if you have trouble staying within your allotted cell-phone minutes.

Here's another article explaining these alternate texting methods as well as some others available that I haven't used.

Happy chatting!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cheaper, Healthier, Greener: Homemade Dog Shampoo

My concern for the products in our household hasn't stopped with just what the humans use. While giving my Yorkie a bath one day, I happened to take a look at the ingredient list on her bottle of dog shampoo. This is what I found:

This is supposed to be "oatmeal" shampoo, but I only found one ingredient that even hinted at having oats in it. Aside from water, everything else appeared to be some sort of chemical cocktail, most of which with names I can hardly pronounce.

Then I wondered--could I make my own dog shampoo? I had tried making my own herbal shampoo before for my own hair but wasn't very pleased with the results. It just felt way too oily and heavy. But I was willing to try again with a different combination for my dog. Upon some research, here is a recipe I found using simple, natural ingredients comprised of mostly things I already keep around the house--Dr. Bronner's castile soap (I did have to go buy that), distilled water, white vinegar, and olive oil.

I have tried to find the original source of the recipe, but my Google search came up empty-handed. If you are reading this and are the creator of the recipe, contact me and I'll give you credit for it.

The recipe is:

- 1 cup of distilled water
- 1/2 cup of Dr. Bronner's
- 2 tsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp olive oil

Mix and shake gently, then store in a waterproof container. When my dog's regular shampoo ran out, I simply rinsed it out well and put these new ingredients in there. I would recommend sticking a label on the side of that container listing the ingredients, similar to what I did.

If you don't know what Dr. Bronner's is, it's an all-natural vegetable-based castile soap. You can typically find it in the organic or natural personal care section of your local grocery store. It's a bit on the pricey side, but you don't need much of it, and it'll last you a long time. Here is a picture of the ingredients list. A lot safer-sounding to me!

You can use any scent of Dr. Bronner's that you prefer, but I use the lavender scent because it's supposed to have some bug-repellent properties and be calming. And it smells nice. And I've seen other recipes that call for apple cider vinegar instead of white. Maybe I'll try that the next time I run out of my homemade batch.

The end result is a clean, shiny, wonderful-smelling dog...well, until she decides to go out rolling in the grass the next time she has to go do her business.

So, how does this stack up according to my criteria?

Cheaper: Even with the initial investment of buying "fancy" castile soap, this works out to be cheaper than traditional dog shampoos. I figured that it costs about $1 per 6 oz to make (assuming that I can find a BOGO deal on olive oil, which I typically can). To fill up that 18 oz bottle, then, it would cost about $3. The last time I bought traditional dog shampoo, it cost about $4 for that same bottle.

Healthier: Fewer chemicals so I have a better idea of what's penetrating my dog's skin.

Greener: Not washing said chemicals down the drain and risk contamination of water supply. The Dr. Bronner's bottle also claims to be made from 100% recycled plastic, which can in turn be recycled. I buy vinegar and distilled water in large jugs, reducing packaging. Olive-oil bottles can also be recycled. But overall, I'm using less packaging by making my own shampoo.

Easier: OK, it's not really easier to make than it is to buy. But it's not hard to do and doesn't take a long time.

The benefits of making your own dog shampoo could be quite worthwhile. Give it a try.

And what would be a post about dog shampoo without a picture of said dog? Just call her York. Yes, she's in dire need of a haircut; she's scheduled for one next week. But she's nice and clean in the meantime. :)