Monday, November 5, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live Well On Less: Reviving Furniture

Used wooden furniture is the frugal home's best friend. Here are a few easy ways to revive old furniture with a minimum of work and expense:

Clean it well. Try Murphy's Oil soap, Dawn detergent, and the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for mystery spots. Hose in the yard if necessary!

Wax wood furniture for a subtle glow. Many fine antique shops use Briwax to brighten patina.

Mix one part white paint and one part water and apply with a rag. Rub off as much as you desire for a translucent glaze similar to Swedish furniture.

Use soft greens for a natural look. Consider painting the interior of bookcases or cabinets a contrasting color.
To blend varying wood tones in one room, don't strip and stain all your furniture. Simply wipe a light wood piece with a darker stain like Walnut for a two-toned, French Country effect. This works best on furniture with details, molding, or carving.

Unite mismatched furniture with soft black paint. You will find the "antique black" finish in Pottery Barn catalogs, but the look is timeless.

Rub the edges of a painted finish for a subtle contrast.
Move a tired piece of furniture to a different room or an unexpected function. Cover with vintage linen or a square of burlap.

Add whimsy and color with acrylic craft paints (.97 cents at Walmart) protected with polyurethane.
Good colors for painted furniture include shades of white or cream, antique black, and soft greens.

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live Well On Less: Secondhand Best Buys

My sofa was a wedding gift. Other than that, there is not a single furnishing in my home that was not bought secondhand!

True designers always incorporate items with age and from different sources. Even the Pottery Barn catalog displays pressed ferns and tobacco baskets among its new furniture!

Here's how designers find some of their fantastic pieces:
Pickers--people just like you and me--buy great-looking stuff at yard sales, auctions, and thrift stores. Pickers sell directly to a few dealers and designers--or, bring their wares to wholesale antique markets like Scott's in Atlanta. Antique dealers and designers all over the Southeast drive there to fill their shops back home. At that point, a lovely piece of furniture has been marked up as many as four times from its humble secondhand origin.

Here's a short list of what I consider some of the best buys in used furnishings--the things I stop and investigate whenever I see them cheap:

Custom-made draperies and hardware:
The fabric is usually expensive if someone has spent the money to have draperies custom-made, with trim, double linings, and weighted hems. Unlike ready made curtains, these are often the only way to find true floor-length panels. Use the voluminous yardage to cover tables, make pillows, or reuse hardware and trim for another project.

50's and 60's furniture:
The ubiquitous French Provincial and Modern furniture is usually made with real wood and dovetailed drawers. French Provincial has good grooves and molding for do-it-yourself glazers.

Real wood bookcases:
You can find sturdy bookcases for less than the cost of Sauder specials, and you don't have to put them together yourself. Paint them whatever color you wish, with contrasting interiors for interest. Link several bookcases together with molding across the top.

Lamps with character:
My favorite copper kitchen lamp cost $1.50. Unusual or antique lamps are elements which can lift a room from the ordinary Kirkland's variety.

One-of-a-kind pillows and artwork:
Look for the handmade touch and textures here--needlepoint, old tapestry, bark cloth.

Benches and chairs you can reupholster yourself:
Some chairs have seats which unscrew for recovering. An old remnant and a cup of paint can transform a plain chair in half an hour. Benches and pairs of chairs are extremely versatile.

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!


Amy said...

Almost everything in our place is second hand as well, and it all adds so much character! New is not necessarily better. :)

One thing I wish people wouldn't rule out is sofas. Sure there are some bad ones, but we have three sofas (one 2 1/2 seater/sofa bed and two 2 seaters) all cramped in our place, but they're both so near new nobody would know! We've even been asked where we got them from! :)

The 2 1/2 seater/sofa bed I got from Ikea (where I used to work, years ago) from their Bargain Basement/Corner. It retailed new at more than $1600 and I got it for $200! So many people passed it buy thinking it was so cheap there had to be something wrong with it! There was nothing wrong with it, it had just been on display so after a wash of the covers and pillow cases it's now been with us for 6 years. :)

The other two sofas we got from friends who were moving back to another country and were wanting to get rid of their things - never be afraid to ask people who are moving for their things! I used to be, but I've now been given so many beautiful things by asking that I've learned the value! They had bought them new recently and when we visited I fell in love! They decided they were just going to give them to the first people who asked, and we did!

Anyway, that's enough of a novel, but never be afraid to get second hand sofas because usually there is nothing that a hand wash or cover won't fix! :)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live Well On Less: Home Decoration

Is there anything more ladylike than concern for others? Our lives may reflect God's grace, but so often, our homes do not.

Perhaps you truly aren't affected by the way things look, but what about your family? Is your husband is longing for a handsome place to sit? Are your children's toys unwelcome in the living room? Providing an attractive, comfortable home is an extension of caring for others.

You can live well on less by creating an environment that makes others feel at home--on any budget.

Let's not talk about styles or even colors. Let's talk about the elements of beauty in the home, what some might call good taste. When we're dealing with a tight budget, we can't afford to buy junk.

Below, I had to sift through many ugly lamps to find this $11 pottery lamp.

The more an item costs, the more carefully you should scrutinize your options:
$100 at a consignment sale..."when will this item be reduced in price?"
$5 at a yard sale..."I will use it for now, and sell it when I find something better."
FREE..."Sure! I can make this work somehow!"

Appropriate vs. Tacky
Does the item suit its purpose? Is it there for show or function? We don't have room in our budgets (or our homes!) for looks alone. As much as I love the spirit of Emilie Barnes, I could never advise you to decorate an adult room with teddy bears!

The reading chair and ottoman was a splurge at $90, but its natural sheen and soft seat make the whole room cozy--and functional.
Genuine vs. Fake
It is always better to choose a real thing, even worn, over a reproduction.
An old Oriental rug adds richness that a polyester version can't. I would take bare wood floors over an ugly rug. Whenever possible, choose natural materials over synthetics--you can't fake the sense of touch.

The same applies to flowers. I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but it would be better to paint your front door a rich glossy color than to hang a wreath of fake roses on it. You can buy gallons of expensive paints for $5 at Habitat Homestores or the Oops bin. Plant a six-pack of annual plants for $1.47 in pots on either side of your door. The yellow rattan chair-turned-pedestal was rescued from the curb.
Plain vs. Fancy
Simple forms mix better than highly ornamented furniture. The bigger the piece, the less pattern it should have, if only because this makes coordinating with other secondhand finds easy. My childhood windsor chair mixes with curbside chairs and a $5 coffee table.

Handmade vs. Mass Produced
Always choose the unique over something that came out of a box. Don't buy a print from Target when you can hang your children's artwork for free. Why? Handcrafted items pack more decorating punch. They look real.

How To Cut Your Decorating Budget Without Even Trying:
Don't buy accessories.
Make your functional objects beautiful, and you won't need to accessorize.

My advice may be contrarian, but it works. People always write to ask how I keep my home from looking cluttered. Now you know my secret! I may choose a pretty pitcher, but I would never buy a decorative figurine to sit on the kitchen counter.

The few accessories I keep have sentimental family value. My home gets most of its color and interest from books, art, plants, and functional beauty--all items which can be made, grown, or found with little cost. (We bought this French Country patterned lamp for $5.)

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Live Well On Less: Good, Better, Best

Here's the irony of living well on less:

If you're a smart shopper, both the high and low ends of the price range can be the most alike in quality. The middle-road shoppers sometimes get the least value for their dollar--even when they shop at "everyday low price" stores.

I love it! By using creativity and effort, I can produce the highest quality product for less than the mediocre price.

Perhaps you want to landscape beds in your yard. The most expensive option would be to hire professionals to berm, edge, and mulch for you. The cost is high, but with a fine result.

The middle-road shopper might go to Home Depot and purchase $50 in decorative edging and mulch, then spend a Saturday installing the beds.

The low-budget landscaper might spend one day gathering free rocks and spend another Saturday installing the border.

The cheapest landscaper might take a flat-bladed shovel and dig a sharp trench, using mulch or compost for top dressing.

Which landscaper spent the least...and got the result most similar to the expensive job?

Here's a Raymond Waites designer frame. I saw it first in a catalog for $19. Then, I spotted the same frames at Dollar General. They still had Steinmart price tags inside, marked $11.99.

The Dollar General price was only $5. A few weeks later, they went on clearance for $2.50. Someone with more time than money could cover an old frame with leftover fabric.

This spring a friend and I admired the Siberian iris at a local garden. I priced plants at the nursery, but they cost at least $10 a pot. Walmart's bulbs ($3.97 a package) never came up at my old garden. This weekend I visited the last hour of the Iris Society sale. The volunteers were so nice, they sold me 8 of the full grown plants--$5 for the LOT.

These examples came from the last week alone. I'm sure you have your favorite stories of getting an expensive result for less. Keep your eyes open for quality, and the bargains will find you!

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Live Well On Less: Purchasing

Thrift need not be grim.

In fact, thrift should be anything but grim. A small budget demands that everyday life include color, beauty, fun. Perhaps even the occasional Aldi bouquet!

Will you have to work harder to create what others can simply buy? Yes.
Is it worth your effort? Absolutely.
Thoughtful purchases can add to our quality of life--regardless of price.

Remember a special meal--one that was as pleasing to the eye as it was satisfying to the palate. Imagine how much more you would have enjoyed that meal if it cost less than $5--or if it were free, from your own garden. How much more could you savor the experience if you knew there would be no credit card bill at the end of the month?

Living well on less means having the freedom to enjoy small pleasures. The tighter the budget, the more thoughtful our purchases must be. The pie may be small, but each slice can be delicious if we cut it with care.
*Consider what you really need. Eliminating wants is cheaper than finding bargains.

*Make your dollars align with your values. Refuse junk.

*Find the best quality for your money and time, whether that means making it yourself or buying secondhand.

*Anticipated needs are easier to fill on a budget than immediate needs. Spend a little now to save a lot later.

Are you intimidated by thrift? Frugality is not absolute. Start wherever you are...and then spend one level less! Challenge yourself to downscale further, or stop where your budget feels comfortable.

Cable--->network TV + Netflix--->network TV--->library DVDs
Furniture stores--->consignment shops--->thrift stores--->yard sales--->hand-me-downs
Professional caterer--->Sam's Club cake and deli trays--->made-from-scratch party menu
Stonewall Kitchens preserves--->Polaner all-fruit--->Bama jelly--->homemade jam

Today's assignment: Think of one product or service you routinely purchase, and find a way to spend one level less.

New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Live Well On Less: Managing Servants

Oh, I wish!

You've read the analogies which liken the Proverbs 31 woman's servants to our modern gadgetry.

Somehow, my washing machine is still not the same as a crisply aproned housekeeper!

Yet, timesaving appliances do help us live well on less, by making scratch cooking convenient and big chores do-able by the average family.

Just for fun, let's apply The Amy Vanderbilt Book of Etiquette's chapter on domestic help to our household tools:

"The interview--the surest way of finding the right person is through word-of-mouth references."
  • Borrow a friend's new gadget before investing in one of your own.
  • Read reviews on Epinions or Amazon.
"Her quarters should be shown and discussed."
"An employee does not train herself."
  • Buying a new appliance will not save you money.
  • Using your appliances saves you money.
"Do a time study on your housekeeper, if she says she is overworked."
  • Constantly re-evaluate your resources at hand.
  • Consider picking up a second crockpot, arranging the freezer for more efficient air flow, or hanging the comforter in the sun instead of drying it for an hour.
"If you wish her...out of the house at once, ask her to pack up and leave immediately."
  • Don't hesitate to get rid of a dust-gathering appliance, even if it was an expensive gift.
  • An empty counter is more valuable than most equipment.
  • Sell it on Craig's List, Freecycle it, or bless a friend.

It's easy to find great appliances, secondhand! Here are some posts which show how my servants enrich my life at home--for pennies on the dollar:
---Bread machine conquers my dough-phobia.
---Food processor shreds cabbage and chops nuts for crust in a snap.
---Clean your oven with a shop vac.
---A used Kitchenaid mixer gave me the strength to bake 26 dozen muffins.
---Two wafflemakers and a Waring blender whip up cheap whole grain breakfasts.
---Crock pot chili prevents fast food spending.
---The Rowenta iron made me love the smell of starch in the morning.
...not to mention the other gadgets I haven't praised yet--our Wahl home hair clipper, the coffeemaker that fits in the cabinet, the $5 Oreck vacuum, and more.

What is your favorite "domestic helper," and how does it save you money?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


It's difficult to organize a lifetime's opinions on frugality into five easy lessons! Each reader has different experiences and comfort levels, impossible to address individually.

I will be presenting how to live well on less from my unique perspective. To do this, I will gloss over some of the basics while showing examples from my own life. You don't need to copy what I do (or even agree)--just interpret with your own resources and creativity.

At the end of the week, I will provide a bibliography of sources which have taught and/or inspired me in my pursuit of cheerful frugality.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Live Well On Less: Breakfast

Living well on less begins before you ever clip a coupon.
The scene: a typical breakfast counter (mine!), with spilled cereal, a jug of milk, and all the extras on the table.

It took me less than two minutes to add beauty to our morning, using containers I already have.

The food is the same...but the meal is not. An attractive table is time well spent.

  • Removing the wrappers from the table is a simple way to introduce generic brands to your family.
  • Using your own containers lets you take advantage of bulk packaging and its cheaper price-per-ounce.
  • Or, take your budget to the next level by making your own yogurt, powdered milk, and jam.

  • No serving pieces? Improvise!

    Substitute a pretty saucer for a butter dish, a tiny cup for jam. Yard sales are a great way to find odd serving pieces. The creamer (which I use for syrup) cost a quarter; mismatched butter knives and jelly spoons cost a quarter or less.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Live Well On Less: Starting Small

    Before we dive into budgeting and decorating, let's start small. You can live well on less by taking care of the details.

    Today, let's discuss the little things that can make home life so comfortable without costing a dime:

    Small moments are ideas that you can do with 5 minutes of extra time.
    Small touches are details only you may notice, but contibute to a sense of beauty.
    Small spending are projects that don't require a trip to Michaels for supplies.

    Use small moments on the telephone to fold dish cloths into pretty layers. They are just as easy to grab as paper towels. My stash of yard sale hair bows keeps growing. A small moment hunting in a closet produced an old ribbon belt and a nail for hanging. Much better!

    Can you make something more attractive by using something from your cupboards? If your husband unpacks his pockets each day, give him an odd salad bowl or wood box for the contents. He may not notice, but you will.

    Here's another small touch of beauty. Fine hotels place paper doilies at the bottom of wastepaper baskets. If you don't have any doilies, cut a few of your own using children's old sketches and scalloped scissors. A dampened doily lets you know when to wash the container.

    Small spending encourages you to find solutions with what you already own. The baby loves to stir this palm's soil, but I didn't want to buy moss at a craft store. These rocks, gathered on a fishing trip, add a touch of color. Pinecones, shells, or sprigs of ivy to root would be just as unique.
    What small touches make your home a more gracious place to live?

    New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Live Well On Less: A Bibliography

    Below are books which have contributed to my understanding and practice of cheerful frugality. I have linked to Amazon for ease, but you will check your library catalog before ordering...right?

    This list is by no means complete. I read many of these titles simply because they were in my local library's collection. I am placing a star by my top favorites. You can also find additional book reviews by clicking on the "library bag" category on the sidebar.

    Saving Money:
    The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn*
    Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom by Stephanie Nelson*
    Shop, Save, and Share, How To Save Money Every Day,Half Price Livingby Ellie Kay*
    Miserly Moms, Frugal Families, andMiserly Mealsby Jonni McCoy
    Mega Cookingby Jill Bond*
    How To Survive Without A Salaryby Charles Long*
    The Complete Cheapskateby Mary Hunt
    Yankee Magazine Living Well On A Shoestring
    Frugal Luxuries and Frugal Luxuries By The Seasonsby Tracey McBride*
    Living Well On One Income In A Two Income World by Cynthia Yates
    Raising Kids On Just A Little Cash by Lisa Reid
    Downsized But Not Defeated by Quinn and Miller-Lachman
    Saving Money Any Way You Can by Mike Yorkey
    Living Cheaply With Style by Ernest Callenbach

    Money Management Philosophy:
    The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey*
    The Millionaire Next Door and other books by Thomas Stanley*
    The Overspent American and other research by Juliet Schor*
    Consumer and real estate guides by Clark Howard
    Debt-Free Living by Larry Burkett

    Homemaking and Decorating:
    Design books by Alexandra Stoddard*
    Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer*
    Scaling Down: Living Large In A Smaller Space by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker
    Use What You Have Decorating series by Lauri Ward*
    Homemaking books by Emilie Barnes
    Mrs. Greenthumbs gardening books by Cassandra Dantz
    House Thinking by Winifred Gallagher
    Budget Living's Home Cheap Home

    Simplicity and Contentment:
    The Circle of Simplicity: Return To The Good Lifeby Cecile Andrews
    Home Sweeter Home: Creating A Haven Of Simplicity And Spirit by Jann Mitchell
    The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs
    A Simple Choice: Practical Guide For Saving Time, Money, and Sanity by Deborah Taylor-Hough*
    Simple Abundance by Sara Ban Breathnach
    Celebrate Simply by Nancy Twigg
    Six Weeks To A Simpler Lifestyle by Barbara Degrote-Sorenson
    Your Money Or Your Lifeby Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

    Secondhand Shopping:
    Alligators, Old Mink, and New Money by Allison Houtte
    Secondhand Chic by Christa Weil
    The Rummager's Handbook by R.S. McClurg

    Free online texts:
    I collect old homemaking books, so I wanted to include some vintage titles that everyone could read. I have not read all these completely yet.
    The Next-To-Nothing House*
    The Furnishing of a Modest Home
    Adventures In Thrift
    Thrift In The Household (*especially its definition of thrift)
    The Honest House

    Today's assignment: check your library for books that will encourage you to live well on less. This subject can be hard to find, as it overlaps several categories. Periodically, I search the online catalog using the following keywords:

    thrift(y) * budget * saving * frugal * simple * less * recycling * reuse * consumer * green * secondhand * home * homemaking * home economics * stewardship * sustainability * poverty

    New to Like Merchant Ships? Here are all the lessons in our Live Well On Less week of study!