Guest Blogger: Katie Gorsky from The Gorsky House

Hello, Mamatogians!  I am Katie Gorsky, the wife of a dairy farmer, Wayne, and mom of two boys; Joey (10) and George (6 months).  I share our life, through the lens of my traumatic brain injury, at The Gorsky House.  Some days it is a great new recipe I created in our ever-open kitchen, sometimes it’s a money-saving tip that I think others may find useful, and sometimes it’s just about life, but it’s always about family and always real. It is no secret that we are on a skinny budget.  I will be the first to say, I really don’t like that “b word.”  Doesn’t it sound scary?  I avoided it as long as I possibly could.  My husband, however, is a big fan.  It wasn’t until I saw what a budget could do, that I began to appreciate the time and conscious efforts that make it go so much smoother.  A few times I tried to go “cold turkey” into a budget and I freaked and blew it.  So restrictive, so fast, so “ahhhh I need Gap outlet.”  It’s all about the baby steps!  You didn’t create debt and unruly spending in a day, and it won’t go away in a day just because you put all these pretty numbers in a spreadsheet.  (They do look rather charming on paper.)  Recently, I had a few readers say “I know I need to do something, but where to start?”  So here are ten baby steps to cutting expenses:

   •    Grow food This is probably one of the more daunting ideas, it was for me!  Yes, I’m married to a farmer.  Yes, growing things is pretty much what we do.  Why not grow our own?  Eight million reasons: what do we grow?  What about weeds?  What about soil? What about the only thing I keep alive is the aloe plant on my fridge?  (It should totally be dead by now.)  Start SMALL.  I’ve seen many well-intentioned people spending a LOT of money at Lowes to start a garden.  Bring it back to basics; you need seeds, sun, good soil and water.  The pretty walkway and decorative edging can wait.  If you are blessed with a lovely sunny corner of your yard with great drainage and healthy soil, till it up!  Most of us need to supplement the soil.  The most natural way is with compost.  Make your own or have some delivered.  Bulk topsoil and compost are much more cost-effective than bagged.  (I’m somewhat partial to my hubby’s company KW Trucking).  Get good soil, mix it up with your current soil, add seeds (directions on depth/spacing are right on the packet) add water and say a prayer:)  What to grow?  What do you like to eat?  Start there.  Then pick up a packet of something new for $1, and expand your palate…or make friends with your neighbors.:)  As your skills grow, then get bigger.  The first year you may only grow enough to replace some of the veggies that week with homegrown, maybe next year there will be more to freeze or can.  I once thought having a garden meant I needed to be like my friend Darcy the first year and have more canned goods in my house than books.  Not that I don’t envy her stash…but she didn’t do that the first year either.  (At least I tell myself that, she is pretty fabulous!)

      •    Kitchen towels Ever stop and realize how many paper towels you throw out?  I spend a lot of time in my kitchen…a lot.  I was going through a roll of paper towel every three days or so.  (Yikes!)  Not only is that not eco-friendly, but it certainly isn’t cost-effective!  I bought 25 white “bar towels” on Amazon.  These are amazing.  It’s been about 2 ½ months and I’ve used THREE rolls of paper towels.  (Mostly for chicken juice that you just want to throw out!)  You’re doing laundry anyway, and they don’t take up much room in with the socks.  I’ve promoted a handful to “floor duty,” and they do a great job helping me wash our floors.

     •    Make your own laundry detergent Go ahead, say it: “I don’t have time for that.”  You do.  I made a batch in twenty minutes while on the phone with my mom.  It’s lasted over three months.  Do it.  Here’s more info.

  •    Cook This sounds simple enough, right?  The more you cook, the less you buy pre-mixed, packaged and prepared, the less you will spend on groceries, and of course it is much healthier too!  No sneaky ingredients, no preservatives, less things you can’t pronounce.:)  Get to know your kitchen; it’s the most expensive room in your house, you might as well enjoy it!

   •    Make a menu Directly related to the above; make a monthly menu.  It’s a great place to start.  Here is ours, this month.

     •    Use your library! If ever an institution existed whose sole purpose was to be used, the library is it!  “Look at this cove, treasures untold, how many wonders can one cavern hold?”  (Thank you, Ariel.)  I am a huge fan of books, reading, and learning.  I LOVE Barnes and Noble.  I’m also not the only one who has ever walked out of B&N saying “whoa, did I really just spend $80?”  I like to think of the library as the “free trial.”  I’ll get a book from them, if I really like it and think I would use it all the time, then I’ll buy it.  If it’s a nice story but it’s over…back to the library.  The only thing I get a little “eh” on is board books.  I’m pretty sure George isn’t the only one who occasionally shows his love of books by chewing on them.  Which means last week, some other kid probably did too.  Those we can buy new. :)

   •    Don’t use money Did you know you can get things you need without spending?  Consignment stores are wonderful for this!  Bring in gently used items, then use your store credit from sold goods to buy what you need.  It’s like having a garage sale without sitting in a lawn chair all day while it inevitably rains…plus the return is better:)  My favorite spot for kids clothing and gear is Cuddle Bugs on Weibel.  Lovely store and nice loot!  Freecycle.org and craigslist.org are other potential winners.  There is also a new group forming in our area called Battenkill Time Traders essentially a group of people who give their skills for an hour and then use someone else’s skills for an hour…in its most basic form.  Visit the group to learn more!

   •    Shop I’m sure this sounds counter-intuitive.  I don’t mean “shopping spree” I mean shop as in to “investigate,” not buy.  Set a threshold for yourself; if I’m going to buy something that’s more than “$x” I’ll shop for it.  It doesn’t make much sense to run all over town to try and save 8 cents on a sippy cup.  Say $20, or $50.  If I’m going to buy a vacuum or a toaster oven I’ll do some leg work.  There are some things I’m ok with buying used, some not so much.  This will come down to personal preference.  With the world at our fingertips, and for so many, in the palm of our hands this really is an easy thing to do.  I did get a little carried away with this at one point and clearly remember my uber-conservative husband saying, “do we have to research EVERYTHING?”  Thresholds and practicality will be your friend.

      •    Buy toys that last This may be a pet peeve of mine.  I hate plastic toys.  You know, the kind with a character on them, or that makes noise, or are screwed into the box in four places?  There is a direct correlation between the amount of time a toy takes to remove from the packaging and the amount of time it lasts out of the box.  It took a few years to figure this out with Joey, but for the last few years we’ve really narrowed it down.  Yes, he’s 10.  Yes, he still plays almost daily with toys he got for Christmas four years ago.  I won’t say there aren’t any plastic toys in our house, because that’s a lie.  We have a Fisher Price Nativity, which Joey claims is his favorite part of Christmas.  We have a LOT of tractors, some plastic and some die cast.  The key is to buy toys that are multi-purpose, which your child won’t outgrow in three to six months.  George is six months old, and we play, a lot.  Oddly, there aren’t that many “baby toys” in our house.  (Yes, they are all inspected to make sure he won’t choke on them.)  This forenoon he played with a Green Toys Dump Truck, an angora wool ball from etsy, his brother’s rubber sharks, some Tupperware cups my neighbors were getting rid of, some wooden stacking rings, and a few Eric Carle board books.  There were no batteries, no annoying songs, but there was a happy baby.  I told him what color things were, not a recorded voice.  We threw on the Pandora Beauty and the Beast channel and sang songs.  We stood up, we sat down, we floor swam, we stood up again, we watched the dog and the cat, we put balls in the dump truck and dumped them out, we read books, we stacked, we built, we chewed, and we put it all away in one market basket.  I think it’s so very easy to get caught up in the “BuyBuyBaby sent an email and says you need a jumper this week”, and “ooh you meet the cutoff for a walker.”  Budget aside, they don’t need it.  They need love, toys that encourage creativity and that target the skills they are developing, and they need aural and visual input.  They don’t need a living room full of “things” to be put in to teach them how to count and read, just quality play time, a few inspiring toys and books.

   •    Look at where your money goes Now, now don’t panic on me.  I just said look, not cut.  Take a solid glance over that bank statement, see how much those Dunkin runs are adding up, and how many times did you “pop into Target?”  I still didn’t say cut it.  They may be completely justified, but knowledge is power.  Seeing where it is going might just make you start thinking about the next time you get a hankering for a Large Iced milk and sugar or a Quad Venti Nonfat Caramel Macchiato.   Without adding it up (ignorance is bliss, yes?) my hubby and I both knew that there were far too many Dunkin receipts in the car.  This did not happen in a moment, it was a slow realization.  (He may have realized it first but knew I better discover it on my own.)  I finally bought a new coffee press so that I can make yummy, quick coffee without waste right in my kitchen.  At $25 with shipping, I’m certain it has already paid for itself. Now that you’ve completely shut down and need retail therapy to revive you, let me reiterate, this won’t happen overnight.  This was almost a year’s worth of discoveries and modifications for me.  Take one baby step a month, two if you are brave (and/or broke:).  There will come a moment when you don’t hate the “b word” every day.  Your checkbook will thank you, your kids will survive, and you will find joy in curling up with a library book and a homemade coffee.  Knowing you just saved $20 will make it that much more cozy.