When you eliminate non-natural sugar (i.e., sugar from ACTUAL food, such as fruits and sweet veggies, with MAYBE a dab of honey) you can never really go back to tolerating the poison that is 99% of the packaged beverage industry. The brand of soda is irrelevant, but the last time I tried a “natural” soda, I had a headache halfway through from the intense sugar dose, and would have thrown up if I finished the whole thing.
So this means a lifetime of boring water, right? No flavor at all?
If you like citrus sodas, try out my natural cherry limeade. Not only is it PACKED with fruit flavor, but there’s no added sugar (and barely any sugar at all). Every time I drink this, I feel refreshed and cleansed, not with gross teeth (diet soda) or gross stomach (regular soda).
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 8-10 fluid ounces sparkling water (I drink a lot of this, so we invested in a SodaStream, which cuts cost in half versus even the cheapest bottled stuff even with the rather pricey official CO2)
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice or RealLime
- 2 fluid ounces (1/4 cup) Montmorency (sour) Cherry Juice –> This is the only source of calories in the drink, and only 35 of them for a delicious beverage.
Pour into a tall glass over a couple ice cubes and enjoy!
Not the greatest picture, but it’s what the picture shows that’s important. Inside that trailer is 90 pound of children, 40 pounds of groceries and toys, with another 20 pounds of bike strapped on top (6 year old goblin had a terrible meltdown and this was the only way we were getting home long before dark). Oh, and I had a good 50 pounds of water, books from the library, and my still yet-unfinished emergency collection of bike tools on my back. I am hauling 200 pounds in this picture OR 450 pounds if you include my still slightly flabby ass and the weight of my bike. All for the low, low price of free** (technically I have to consume more calories to fuel MY body, but it’s a fraction of what a vehicle costs on fuel alone, let alone the hidden $0.50 mileage figure very few people are aware of).
I’m sure you’re picturing me covered in sweat, breathing like a beached whale, all while and invisible slave driver is cracking the whip against my back. Hah! The instant I got back on my wife yesterday, after a week full of errands too far away, or in too miserable of weather (until we get good outdoor gear, that is), I was EXCITED to be back on my bike. Especially when I’d realized after commuting all week last week that my tires on both the bike and the “carriage” were dramatically underinflated (increasing rolling resistance by at least 50%).
People who already know me know I am John Q. Average when it comes to fitness. Over my lifespan, I’ve actually been dramatically BELOW average. I’ve never even considered a 5K, let alone a triathlon. Can’t swim, don’t really want to, but training for endurance bike races sounds appealing in a year or two when I can frivolously spend on entrances fees.
“But, but, I’ve got this health problem! I’ve got no energy! Waah, waah, I am a Mr. Complainypants!”
I will grant there are people with serious enough health problems that they can’t ride, but excepting the very old, you’re talking a ridiculously low percentage of the population. And there are people way, WAY worse off than I am who ride full-time. My favorite example was an autistic who had special heavy-duty training wheels (hard to find ones rated for more than 100 pounds, let alone full adult male weight) fabricated because he loved to ride and felt so free doing it, but he simply couldn’t balance.
My own example is illustrative, if somewhat less extreme, and I hope it gets you to thinking what you CAN do, not what you
can’t do. 5 years ago I weighed 300 pounds. Today I weigh 215 and could easily lose another 20 pounds of fat on my 6-foot frame. Here’s the real kicker: I have mild cerebral palsy. Most people don’t notice it, thanks to a very dedicated mother and the life-changing suggestion from a pediatrician that I be started on martial arts as early as possible. I was effectively paralyzed on my ENTIRE right side when I was born. Now I regularly carry my 30+ pound 3 year old in that arm.
I’ll leave the details, tips, tricks for a future article but the important point is NOT being sucked in by the Marketing Machine, even it’s (marginally) healthier Fitness Division. This is a great time to start biking, because people are trying to off-load old bikes. If you’re willing to put up with a vintage ten-speeder, I regularly see them for $50. Quality road or mountain bikes will be $100-$150. If you absolutely can’t find anything under $200 in your area after a couple weeks’ search, go to Nashbar and grab any number of quality bikes for $300, all of which need some assembly but — critically for beginners — ship with their brakes and gears fully tuned.
Your bill of materials is as follows:
- Bike (I use a Schwinn 21-speed mountain bike my parents got me for my 16th birthday. I think I’ve replaced one set of brake pads, but otherwise it’s the same bike I got 13 years ago for $400 at the time.)
- Bike helmet: $25
- Bike lights for safe night riding (one front, one back, about $30 should be enough to get you started).
- Bike lock: $20, unless you live in gang city, where getting a nicer one like this might be worth it.
Many of you can stop here, but if I can haul 450 pounds on my bike, you can handle a couple bags of groceries! For families with kids, there are only two options: buy a used Burley (regularly under $75 used) or get one new ($250 and up). There are cheaper brands, but they are utter shit. Canvas seats can barely hold a small child, let alone any goods. For adults, cargo trailers aren’t very common on the used market (probably because the people buying them are hardcore cyclists and thus have no need to ever sell them!) but Amazon has a number of models starting around $60 and specialty companies will sell trailers with ratings of 500 pounds and up. I’ll never get one of those, not because I couldn’t use it, but at that point it’s worth getting a nice $300 welder (next on my priority list) and making my own trailer for sub-$50 of steel and supplies, especially if I found good salvage wheels.
So, that’s a MAXIMUM $655 investment. What’s the recoup? I’m writing this at 5AM because stomach cramps kept me up last night and I’d rather be productive than lie miserable in bed, so I’ll stick to back-of-napkin math:
- Reduced driving: ($0.50 mile plus fuel costs, calculated as cost of gas DIVIDED by miles per gallon in your vehicle. My 20mpg minivan costs roughly $0.16 per mile.) Driving reduction alone pays for the bike and trailer in 1,000 miles. That’s a few months tops for the average American. After that, the bike is paying YOU. This month alone we banked $150. I’ve used two gallons of gas in my car. As soon as the Alchemist gets a bike and we train her up, our fuel and maintenance bill practically vanishes. We’ve gone from $250 (both of us) to $140 (just Alchemist) and we could probably get that under $30 a MONTH if both of us switch over. At that rate, my snowblower and mower will burn fuel faster. (!)
- Drastically increased fitness and energy. More on this in a future post, but consider any gym membership you have CANCELLED. Every hour you spend on the bike burns a MINIMUM of 500 calories. Add a couple hundred pounds of gear or kids, a hillclimb or two, and you’re nudging over 1,000 calories. AN HOUR. You simply can’t EAT enough food to stay fat. I continue to be dumbfounded at how much I eat and I’m still hungry, and losing weight.
- Psychological health. I plan an entire post or more, but I wonder how many Americans diagnosed with depression/anxiety could stop their medical care simply by switching to biking.
It mystifies me when people claim that making pancakes is hard, over-complicated, or too time-consuming to do it. Pancakes are so easy, I could make them blindfolded. Here’s how I do it:
What You’ll Need
- [Tool] Griddle, ideally cast-iron, though I use a well-aged aluminum one with years of seasoning baked into its coating. Electric griddles are fine too, I just find them annoying to clean.
- [Tool] Whisk, ideally rather large, even for a single person.
- [Tool] 1/2 cup measuring cup
- [Tool] 1/2 tsp spoon
- [Tool] Large spatula/turner
Yield: 3-4 pancakes about six inches in diameter. This recipe is very easy to scale down or up depending on your appetite and the number of people you’re serving. By the time I make breakfast for the goblins in the morning, I’ll have already eaten, but on the weekends typically I’ll make a bigger batch for the Alchemist to have some.
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (feel free to eyeball this if you don’t have a liquid measuring cup. Pancakes don’t demand the precision of other baking.)
- 2 heaping teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, which is $4 for a 5lb bag. It’s commonly available, but stick to standard all-purpose white flour if your store is trying to charge more than $5, as it’s a subtle flavor difference.)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
Standard pancake recipes call for mixing the dry ingredients first, mixing the wet in a separate bowl, and then pouring the wet into the dry. This dirties two bowls and has absolutely no impact on the final product. It’s POINTLESS frippery. If you see a cookbook that says something so stupid, stop reading it. Consider getting rid of it, because those authors are surely adding all sorts of complexity in OTHER matters — like telling you waffles are hard (Hah! More on that later).
Preheat your griddle. On my stove, medium, or a touch below medium works best.
Mix your eggs, buttermilk, and sugar. The eggs should be completely worked into the milk, but it’s just fine if there are noticeable sugar clumps.
Add the remaining dry ingredients. Technically 1 tsp of baking powder is fine, but the extra 1/2 tsp of soda adds extra leavening and raises the pH just enough to avoid the telltale sour flavor buttermilk products can have (desirable at times, but not here). Mix slowly, just until completely wet. DO NOT overmix, otherwise your ‘cakes will be flat. Tasty, but flat, not puffy and ambrosiac like mine strive to be every morning. The end result should look like this:
Spray a small circle of non-stick spray (PAM or the generic equivalent) on the griddle. I cook one pancake at a time, because (as you’ll see below) I give each of the goblins a chance to make a “picture” pancake by adding chocolate chips. Pour batter onto the griddle with a 1/2 cup measure, smaller or larger depending on the desired ‘cake size.
The only real art to making pancakes is knowing when to flip them. Typically the batter should have bubbles forming in it, but NOT be firm on the edges. The first time or two you flip a pancake, you’ll probably make a horrible, disfigured mess on the griddle. Don’t be discouraged, though. If my three year-old can do it, you can too 🙂 Note: if you’re still having a lot of trouble with overbrowning or messy turns, cook at a lower temperature, closer to medium-low. Every stove is unique and requires some adjustment.
Allow it to cook on the second side until it no longer gives when pressed with a turner. Top as desired and enjoy!
Feeling more adventurous than plain pancakes? Add pretty much anything you want, either by folding it into the batter or simply adding it on top after pouring to the griddle (my preferred way). My goblins love chocolate chips:
I’ve had what might be the single strangest physiological experience
tonight this morning. Holy crap, it’s sunrise in an hour? See, I didn’t get tired. At all. Maybe a tiny bit groggy at 4AM, but I’ve simply been working away all night. Some of it here, at the PC. A lot of it continuing our very thorough personal inventory. The goblin lair is undergoing massive reorganization, streamlining, and all-in-all TLC. A lot of cool projects will get featured, but first I have to get things organized. The Alchemist is a pro at it, and I consider myself lucky to have been her apprentice for the past 11 years.
Originally I was going to put off laundry until
tomorrow today, but I figured: what the heck, I’m up? Which reminded me I have yet to share how to hack your laundry. This isn’t earth-shattering advice, but it is wisdom I’ve collected from a few sources, as well as experimentation I’ve done on my own. It will save you close to $4,000 in a single decade, AND get you better results to boot.
Ditch the clothes dryer. I would never have thought about line drying until MMM illustrated just how ridiculous power hungry those beasts are. An electric dryer uses 5,000 Watts of energy. Depending on the relative price of gas to electricity in your area (see this handy calculator), a gas dryer is more efficient, but not enough to justify actually using such an energy hog. At 45 min per load on average, thats 4kWh every single load (in my area, it works out to $0.55). We do roughly 8 loads of laundry a week, so that’s $4.40 a week, $228.8 a year. Over 10 years, with compounding, it’s $3,382.48. Electricity rates in my area are a little higher than average at $0.14/kWh, but even if you’re in a cheap power area, that’s still an alarming amount of money in the long term.
What I was really concerned about going in was the qualitative aspect. I knew it would save me money, but would it require a lot of hassle like ironing or taking things outdoors to dry? As it turns out, on laundry day #3 (roughly 10 loads in) since the dryer was put in the corner… not really. It does take a few extra minutes to hang everything up, and we benefited from a rather comprehensive set of lines strung all over our utility room by the previous owner, but it costs next to nothing to set your house up for line drying indoors. An unexpected bonus now that cold weather is coming is that the house has a much higher than normal humidity, helping my indoor allergies out dramatically. Even better, I have to date discovered only two pieces of clothing in our COMBINED wardrobe that require a brief 10 minute stint in the dryer to snap wrinkles out (I hate ironing with a passion). Once I have everything hung, I take a cheap box fan, tilt it on an angle and run it – pushing the air across the room towards the furnace, where I run the blower and get “free” humidification spread throughout our modest 728 sqft abode.
There is precisely ONE detergent you should buy: Tide Free & Gentle. I don’t care what CR says, what labs say, it’s the best. It does a fantastic job of pulling stains out, whether in warm or cold water, and most importantly: it’s super nice on your skin, and doesn’t stink up the air with awful fragrance. I am super sensitive to fragrance, to the point where if I wash clothes with regular detergent on vacation (next summer I am PACKING my detergent in a small bottle) I will get itchy and my sinuses will fill up. Even if YOU are not sensitive, do you really want to smell like cheap drugstore cologne? If you’re a sloppy eater, do a lot of grungy work, or have kids, pick up a bottle of plain Shout (again, the ONLY stain remover worth its salt) to give stain fighting an extra oomph, but I’m continually surprised by how many bad stains come out without even supplementing the Tide.
Don’t fund the detergent company’s profit margin. If you live in an area with INCREDIBLY hard water and your softener is BROKEN, skip this tip. Everyone else, keep reading. Detergent measuring markers are set for the absolute worst water (and thus HIGHEST) detergent consumption possible. I eyeball 1/3 of the area BELOW the “1” mark. One day I’ll get really anal and start weighing the liquid by gram. I could probably get detergent usage with just as nice of results at 10% of the “minimum” load, especially on warm loads, and that’s with the dryer FILLED to the brim. That’s probably 1/6th of the amount you are using currently (until i heard about that fact, I tended to fill the cup either all the way, or at least to the #2 line). I have never had issues getting stains out unless it sat for days and days, or I missed it when sorting and didn’t hit it with Shout. The net effect? My laundry is perfectly clean; in fact, it’s CLEANER than yours is, because adding too much detergent causes it to build up on the clothes, making them feel greasy and just…gross. I haven’t had to buy Tide since tracking groceries with a spreadsheet, but my mental math suggests a $13 bottle (the largest before you get to the annoying and terribly imprecise gravity fed pour valves) lasts about six months. Now that the kids are older, a single bottle of Shout lasts at least that long. So about $30 in detergent for an ENTIRE YEAR. (Add a couple dollars for the cleaning supplies needed below, for the actual washer.)
Clean your washer once a year. If you’ve been washing your laundry with too much detergent, DO THIS RIGHT NOW. It’s really easy.
- Go to the store and get a gallon of bleach and a gallon of vinegar.
- Pour the ENTIRE gallon of bleach into the washing machine. Set the load level to full, and run a cycle full hot.
- Pour the ENTIRE gallon of vinegar into the washing machine. Set the load level to full, and run a cycle full hot.
- Set the load level to full, and run a cycle full hot with nothing else in it. Presto chango, your washing machine is brand new! This method flushes out all the soap scum that builds up between the inner and outer tubs. It will also take care of any musty odors. A local appliance repair shop told me that nearly 50% of all washer repairs arise from not cleaning up the scum.
Don’t Read Care Labels. I used to spend nearly an hour every week sorting laundry. Ugh. Here’s my approach, and I’ve yet to ruin or shrink anything in years of housekeeping: sturdy cottons, particularly socks and underwear, get washed warm under the delicate cycle. Cottons that I want to last as long as possible (graphic tees, etc) and poly blend fabrics all get washed cold delicate. Towels get washed full hot and on the heaviest agitation, and I use my washer’s “extra rinse” cycle to wring as much cleaning chemical residue as I can out. See, isn’t that simple?
What, you have dry clean only garments? Try washing them cold, delicate. If you ruin them, well, a couple month’s worth of dry cleaning bills pays for a replacement. And now you know that the ONLY time you read care labels is at the store.
Leave the washer OPEN when done, especially if it’s a top load to avoid odors. And, really, you shouldn’t be buying overcomplicated appliances. Remember that appliance failure increases EXPONENTIALLY with its
intelligence feature complexity. If you have a fancypants “High Efficiency” washer, SELL IT NOW BEFORE IT BREAKS. The used value alone (because people believe the Marketing Machine that these super expensive machine will “save them money, hah!”) will pay for a proper washing machine like this one. The Goblin Chief has abused the hell out of an older version of this for years and have yet to experience so much as a hiccup. If a problem does arise, since it’s as dumb as can be, I’m pretty confident I could tear it down and fix it myself.
So I just had an epiphany that is energizing and humbling at the same time. Recycling my own e-waste turned me on to the beauty that’s ending up in landfills, never to be seen again. From time to time you hear about the value of metal, but inevitably this focuses on the scrap value of it – i.e., it’s worth nothing to me, but Person X will give me pennies on the dollar to make something more valuable. This implies there’s millions of dollars of specialized equipment involved in making things with metal.
Metallurgy is more arcane art than repeatable science, with metal properties dependent on everything from exact alloy percentages to cooling rates, and the best metallurgists keep to secrecy which would make espionage seem like child’s play. That said, based on some cursory research, it requires almost no capital investment. I’m sure my first experiments will fail miserably, spectacularly. In fact, if I burn my eyebrows off I promise to post pictures!
The bare minimum for handling metal, it seems, goes like this:
- Hardwood charcoal (fuel) (Free – already have a bag of mesquite charcoal I don’t particularly like, and was carefully mixing with good stuff to avoid waste)
- Charcoal chimney for focused heat and efficient use of fuel. (Free – already own)
- Crucible made of a material with a higher melting point than the metal you’re melting.
A mental inventory of objects in my position reminds me I have a cast iron skillet I never use, which coincidentally is a VERY GOOD crucible and mold material (Again, free)As it turns out, I don’t have it anymore, but even if I have to buy it brand-new, it’s all of $20. Thrift stores just got added to my shopping list tomorrow!
- Some form of mold. One-off castings seem to be done using plaster-of-paris or clay, but typically they will either shatter in the casting process itself, or require shattering to remove the metal. Semi mass-production or instances where you need exact repeatability (gears, motor parts, etc) require what is called a “permanent” mold, again typically made out of cast iron. (I need to get some resin for another project. I’ll pick up some plaster or clay mix while I’m there. Approximately $5-10)
- Welding gloves to handle the material safely, particularly when handling/pouring the crucible.
For some reason, I was envisioning some sort of specialized furnance equipment, lots of capital expense. Then I realized: DUMBASS, nearly everyone in pre-20th century society needed to melt and cast metal on a regular basis, particularly lead for bullets and the like. Why is it this is such a lost art that I didn’t even realize this without doing research?
So, wow, I’m super excited. I plan on dumpster diving for aluminum soon and seeing how hot I can get a fire. The art will take practice, i know, since I’ve always been incredibly weak in three-dimensions, but suddenly ideas I thought were years of saving and penny-pinching way are tantalizingly close.
More to the point, I feel like fans of technology are so incredibly misled by all the buzz around 3D printing for thousands of dollars (highly limited application, questionable durability since it’s just ABS plastic) when metal — FUCKING METAL — is all of $50 of equipment to try, and a lifetime of experimentation to master.
A lot of times we feel the need to buy something, whether it’s a real need, a perceived need, or simply a luxury item. Bookmark this page. Refer to this checklist when you want to buy something:
- Slap yourself. If you’re like us and just starting out on the race to retirement, you have a negative worth. Do you even have a $1,000 emergency fund?
- Ask your life partner, especially if over $10. If they veto it, calmly accept it. They’re running the race with you. Oh, you’re single? Ask The Goblin Chief, or my master, Mr. Money Mustache.
- Oh, but it’s so shiny! I NEED THIS. Stop. Refer to step 1. Once the pain has gone away and your head is clearer, take a day – a week – do I REALLY need this? What do I already have that might do this FOR me? My brain is spinning with uses for things I had long ago filed under “needs to be e-waste recycled/given away when I’m over near the thrift store”.
- I still need this, I hate to admit it, but I have to spend money on something that’s not food or housing. Start with Craigslist’s free section. Paid ads. Thrift stores. Rummage sales. Friends and family. Then, and only then, are you allowed to buy it. When you do buy something new, however, do everyone a favor and purchase a quality item that will last for generations.
Building wealth, in a wealthy country like America, is less about having “more”. It’s about consuming less. Added bonus: the less consumption you do, the happier you will be. The phrase “retail therapy” makes me want to vomit. When have you ever felt good purchasing something? Why is it we’re so happy when getting rid of things, reorganizing, decluttering — simplifying?
Sounds like a children’s book, right?
I suppose some introduction is in order at this point. Many of you already know me, either in real life, or from months or years online but a lot of you may be new. I’m the one with the cowboy hat. My lovely Alchemist is there next two my two elder goblins. The young one is hiding.
The reason I want to give you a taste of who we are is to realize we are average folks in average circumstances. Retiring in 10-15 years is possible WITH kids, WITH middle-class jobs, WITH good health, and (most importantly) WITHOUT get-rich quick schemes.
I am 29. My wife is 30. We met at 18 and 19 respectively, the very first day of college orientation. Friendship came really quickly. We clicked fast, as any of our friends from that time can attest. After a couple of false starts on my end, friendship quickly blossomed into ULTIMATE friendship: dating, engagement, and marriage. I am mystified at all the people I know who have, at least on the outside, a very antagonistic or passive-aggressive relationship with their life partner. “Old lady”, nagging, complaining to the ‘guys and the ‘girls. FUCK THAT. Get a divorce now if that’s your life.
I don’t believe in soul mates, as that’s a bunch of garbage, but I’ve also never met (nor even been able to dream up) a better partner for me. We fell so completely into each other’s orbit that we were engaged after 5 months, while still in our second university year. My family FLIPPED out. My parents almost threw her out of the house, since I’d had the bright idea of “hey, come meet my FIANCE!” (NOTE: never, ever introduce your life partner to family that way.) My older brother, to his later chagrin, spent an entire evening trying to convince me it would never work. That there was no way we would make it through the transformative years in late teens and early 20s and still be in love.
We got married almost as soon as we could after college. A little earlier, in fact, since goblin #1 was on the way before the wedding. Both of our families are traditional Catholics, so you can imagine how that went down. As it happened, we had a beautiful ceremony with my Alchemist about five months pregnant. Enough that everyone knew she was pregnant, and glowing, but thin enough that she looked fantastic in her dress. We got the intimate wedding WE wanted because the rush to replan kept invitations from being sent out.
Pregnancy at 21 and 22 freaked us out. The Alchemist hadn’t been able to land a full-time job yet (she got one a month later, and works there to this day) and I was working part-time and in grad school (BIG mistake, but that’s a whole other post). It was tough, expensive, but we made it with a lot of support from our families (after the initial “moral” shock wore off). If I knew now what I knew then, we could have done it for a fraction of the cost and stress level. But, it is what it is. Regret is pointless. Everything you’ve done to the present is WHO you are. “Regret” is like wishing YOU didn’t exist.
Just as we were recovering, goblin #2 showed up. Again, FREAKED out. We only have a two bedroom house! Kids need their own bedroom, right??????
At work, I get a lot of customers to shut the fuck up when they complain how small their house is, because I ALWAYS have them beat. I just politely say: “Well, I raise three kids in a 728 sqft house and you know what? We’re HAPPY.” We don’t want more. In fact, we’re actively trying to have LESS. Simplicity is happiness.
Now we have three kids in the same house. It feels huge! No one needs multi-thousand sqft houses, unless they have stupidly massive families. And even then, there’s probably easy tips and organization tools they could do with less.
So, a little rambly, but that’s where we come from. Having kids early, and one college career (mine) being a very poor investment outside of meeting the Alchemist, has put us in some debt but the frugality principles I’m learning from MMM are amazing. I thought frugality was Clark Howard (who’s great at consumer advice about scams and such), who doesn’t strike me as someone who lives cheap and healthy. The GOOD LIFE is also the CHEAP LIFE. The more things we work in, the calmer, more productive, and HAPPIER we get.