July Challenge: Give away 100 things

I had so much fun with Just Cash June, I’m going to do another monthly challenge next month: get rid of 100 things in the house by the end of July. Venessa is doing it too, so as a house we’ll be rid of 200 things total.

Cleaning house reduces clutter, and may allow you to move into smaller living quarters or take on a housemate, which will save big bucks. And giving things to charity is a tax deduction, so either way you’re helping yourself and the community.

I cheated and started early, by clearing out some books and other assorted things from my bookshelf:

  • 20 books
  • Exercise band
  • Map of Yellowstone

I have a few other things on the chopping block that I need to find. The basement is a mess, which means there’s a lot of things down there that will go. I’ll make updates throughout the month of July to track my progress.

Frugal School is in session

For a long time, I’ve wanted to add a book list to this blog, but they’re so boring. Like when your teacher would make you read books over the summer. So I decided to make it fun and scholastic by calling it Frugal School.

I’m happy to present the Freshman Year curriculum of Frugal School. I’ll roll out more “years” soon. There are 12 books in all, made to be read one book a month. Freshman Year has 4 books, and the other 8 will be revealed in subsequent posts.

Freshman Year – Prerequisite Reading

The books for this “year” aren’t even about money. They’re about laying the groundwork for making a lasting change in your life and I recommend them to anyone looking to make any form of self-improvement. Until you know how to make changes in your life, none of the books from the following “years” will be of any help.

mindset Mindset by Carol Dweck
I picked this book first because it’s going to flip a switch in your brain that says “I can make changes in my life.” The author calls it a “growth mindset,” but it’s really just the knowledge that no matter what hand we were dealt in life, we can improve attributes about ourselves by practice and mindfulness. She gives countless examples of athletes not born with any special gift, but who went on to dominate their sport due to determination and hard work. There are examples from almost every walk of life: sport, business, parenting, etc.
7 habits The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Yes, this book is over-recommended and the tone is often sanctimonious, but it’s popular for a reason. The 7 habits work, and they’re presented in a way that’s easy to digest and integrate into your life. My favorite habit is “Sharpen The Saw”, which just means always keep improving.
power of habit The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Another habit book? You’re probably seeing the pattern. 7 Habits told you which habits to adopt, but this book goes deeper into the psychology behind how humans form (and break) habits. It gives specific tips to help you adopt new habits and make them stick. You could even read this one first.
choice theory Extra Credit: Choice Theory by William Glasser
Here’s some extra credit reading for you brown-nosers sitting in the front row. This book offers a different take on personal responsibility, though it’s similar to Mindset. The author believes that almost everything about one’s current mental state is due to choices they are currently making. Forget about what you’ve done in the past to get you were you are, and focus on improving the choices you are making now.

Hope you enjoy my school. You can always find a link to Frugal School at the top of every page.

Update: Continue on to Sophomore Year of Frugal School.

I Forgot My Lunch! Picnic Time

Actual lunch from 2002 backpacking trip

I’m unpacking my bag at work today and I realize I forgot my lunch! I try to limit eating lunch at restaurants to twice a week, usually when the entire company goes out to eat together. I could use up one of my restaurant meals, or I could get creative!

I needed to run an errand at the grocery store near work (a benefit of urban frugalism), so I decided to run it right before lunch and pick up some lunch ingredients as well. I was reminded of the backpacking trip I took across Europe 10 years ago, and how I’d walk into grocery stores and pick up lunch and dinner for the day, hopefully for a couple of euros at most.

So I bypassed the deli counter and grabbed myself a small loaf of organic bread, and a tiny wedge of French goat cheese to go with it. When I got back to the office I got an organic nectarine from the fruit basket. And I always keep a jar of trail mix on my desk to combat the mid-afternoon munchies. So I added a handful of that to the mix.

And that’s the lunch I’m eating as I write to you. It was under $4, mostly organic, and better than most leftovers (unless you live with a professional chef).

Why “Urban Frugalism”?

In a rural area, you can have inexpensive outbuildings on your property to store 5 years worth of oats and toilet paper, but in the city you have to be much more creative. Urban Frugalism is a lifestyle of thrifty resourcefulness that’s only possible in a big city.

(I’m not sure if I made up the word “frugalism,” but it’s a combination of “frugality” and “pugilism”, since you need to fight for what’s right in your life.)

The Urban Frugalist relies on biking and public transit to get everywhere, which is only possible in an area with urban density. He/she takes advantage of an active used market (namely Craigslist), a well-funded public library and parks department, access to farmers markets, and proximity to other like-minded people.

To be clear, I’m not advocating the city mouse over the country mouse, I’m just writing from the perspective I know best.

Lastly, this isn’t about spending less money or denying yourself. It’s about thinking for yourself and aligning your spending with your values.

What’s a “Foundry in the Forest”?

The hardest part of creating anything is giving it a name.  I live in the Pacific Northwest and I love evergreen forests.  When brainstorming a name for the blog, I visualized myself in a mossy green forest, smelling the pine needles and hearing birds. How unexpected it would be to come upon a foundry in the middle of such a rustic setting. It’s operating self-sufficiently, in harmony with nature around it.  That’s how I’m trying to live.  This blog is a little peek into how and why.

A Foundry in the Forest needs to be:

  • Self-sufficient – It’s hard to get raw materials out to the forest, so the foundry needs to make or grow the things it needs to sustain itself.
  • In harmony with nature – A foundry that pollutes or wastes resources will find itself no longer in a forest, but in a dead zone.
  • Productive – What’s the point of building a foundry if not to produce useful goods? Likewise, what’s the pont of Financial Independence if–once reached–isn’t used to make the world a better place?
These are the three visions of my life (and thus of this website).

I don’t use shampoo any more

Update April 2015: I started using pure baking soda instead of the recipe below. I just keep a bunch of it in a water-tight container in the shower. One less thing to make! I also increased the concentration of apple cider vinegar in the conditioner, to just shy of 50/50 vinegar/water. Seems to help with dry/flaky scalp.

I gotta come clean with everyone: I haven’t touched a bottle of shampoo or conditioner in weeks and my hair is feeling better than ever*. Never mind the price of haircare products, what bothers me is the stuff they put in there. Also, I’m always interested to see if I can make something instead of buying it, and get a equivalent or better effect from my own labor. I’ve had dandruff most my life, and none of the dandruff shampoos seem to work. I read that homemade shampoo will fight dandruff, and I thought it sounded too good to be true. Also, I read that two of the ingredients are baking soda and vinegar, so I had a mental image of a bubbly volcano on the top of my head every shower.

Turns out there’s no volcano, but these homemade haircare products are just as effective as the commercial stuff (though there are so many variables to the dandruff situation). I’m convinced that homemade versions with a few ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen is superior to anything you’ll find on the shelves. The only thing they lack is fragrance and foaming action (both of which are artificially created using toxic chemicals).

Here are the recipes I use (note the ratios are both 1:5 active ingredient to water):


  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda

Fill an empty bottle with the two ingredients and shake well. Shake before each use (the baking soda falls to the bottom). Work into hair just like a commercial shampoo, though you need to use more each time since it’s more watery.


  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Fill an empty bottle with the two ingredients and shake well. Use more or less vinegar depending on your tolerance for sour smells. It only smells while you use it, not all day long. No need to shake before use. Just massage into scalp and tips.


My hair went into a detox period for about 10 days, where it was all like “WTF?” It was extra oily and flaky, but now it’s back to normal and I even forget that I’m not using shampoo any more. I have fewer “snow days,” if you know what I mean, and my hair feels full and healthy. And for the fellas: I’m losing less hair (though it still does fall out, only slower…)
Just one less thing to buy every month, and one step closer to living in that Foundry in the Forest.
It’s ok if you want to touch or smell my hair next time you see me in person. I won’t mind.

* The current positive state of my hair can also be attributed to a rad haircut that the Mrs. gave me about a month ago. At 5am on the front porch in my underwear. I was in my underwear. She was dressed.

Bread Machine Update: It’s Good

Quick update on the bread machine loaf: unfortunately, I was out of the house* when the timer went off, so I couldn’t taste it fresh from the “oven.” Though I did try it shortly thereafter, and it’s very good. The flax seeds make for a rich texture. It’s a bit dense, so I’ll add more yeast next time.

Here’s a photo of the loaf. You’ll immediately see that I’m not a food blogger.

Venessa said it’s the best food-thing I’ve ever made, but I can’t take much credit. I just poured some stuff into a machine and pressed Start.

When this loaf is gone, I’m going to try a dairy-free recipe so we can eat it with meat. I’m also excited to try making some pizza dough in the bread machine.

I have to say I’m now a bread machine convert. Just gotta figure out a good place to store it when not in use, it’s a pretty big gadget.

* Ironically, I was volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Bread Machine In Da House!

A few weeks ago I read this article on bread machines, and thought to myself “I bet Venessa would love a bread machine, since she loves to bake.” I brought it up with her, and she said “Only if you can get a free one.”

So I saved a search on Craigslist, and last night an ad was posted for a free bread maker. I didn’t notice the listing until it was a few hours old so I didn’t have my hopes up, but this morning the owner mailed me back and said it’s all mine!*

I brought it home and Venessa was very surprised. Turns out she didn’t really want a breadmaker, and she only said that thing about it needing to be free because she thought I’d never be able to find a free bread machine! Even after all these years, she still underestimates my power of frugality.

I immediately got a recipe from the article I linked to above, and plugged the thing in. It’s humming away in the kitchen as I write this. It shakes the counter wildly as it kneads the dough, so I coined the phrase “If the kitchen’s a-shakin, then bread’s a-bakin!

A good blogger would probably bake a loaf and eat it before writing an article about it, but I’m too excited to wait 3 hours. I guess that provides a good excuse for a follow-up post. I estimate it’ll save about $2 per loaf of bread, so it’ll pay for itself in 3 loaves.

* Worried that it wouldn’t fit on the scooter, I drove the car 6 miles round trip to pick it up. So really it was $6.

Just-Cash June: Halfway done!

Wanted to check in with everyone, since this is the half way pont of Just-Cash June. The half-month has gone by quickly, and I’ve gotten into the swing of things, buying with nothing but cash. I wouldn’t say it’s habitual yet, since I still look at that taped-off pocket in my wallet where the credit cards reside.

I must admit I slipped up the other day, trying to buy an album on Amazon. I thought I had enough store credit to make the purchase without a charge to my credit card, but part of the credit had some fine print that I didn’t read, and couldn’t be used for buying the mp3s. It wasn’t until after I did the 1-click checkout that I saw a small charge to the credit card. Oops! (Don’t ever use 1-click if you can help it. Mp3 purchases on Amazon require 1-click)

I can already say that I’m reaping the benefits of spending only cash. One of the tips in Your Money or Your Life is to write down every purchase you make, since the simple act of having to take out a piece of paper and write it down is enough to prevent some purchases. I read that tip and thought it was quiant in our day of online budgets and credit card statements, but now that I’m tracking every purchase manually, I see how it does impact one’s spending behavior. It’s a pain in the ass, and I wouldn’t wish a lifetime of manual expense tracking on my worst financial enemy.*

In fact, I’m happy to announce that I’m on track to cut my non-food spending in half so far this month! I’ve invested an additional $150 so far from all the things I didn’t buy. It might not sound like much, but if I keep that up until I retire, that becomes an additional $2,000 of income per year in retirement**. Imagine telling your boss you stopped using a credit card and he says “Joe, I’m so impressed, I’m giving you a $2,000 raise!”

I’ll check back in with y’all again at the end of the month.

* In case you’re wondering, my worst financial enemy is anyone who claims to be struggling to make ends meet on a 6-figure salary.

** Here’s the math behind my claim: if you invest $300 a month for 10 years, in a way that earns 6% after inflation, you end up with about $50,000. If you withdraw 4% of that sum, you get about $2,000. Here’s a simple and powerful compound interest calculator I use for stuff like this.

I’m Going Into Collections

I bet you thought this was a post about a bill I didn’t pay. As if! Instead, this is an article about collecting things as a hobby.

Collecting can be fun, educational, and sometimes profitable. But some collections are prohibitively expensive both in terms of money spent, and the wasteful amount of stuff one acquires. Not to mention the toxic “collect them all” mindset that can plague compulsive collectors.

For a collection to be frugal, it needs to meet the following three criteria.  Collectables must be…

  1. Cheap or free to acquire
  2. Easy to store
  3. Useful to own

Examples of frugal collections:

  • Shells, or other beautiful artifacts from travel (be sure to Leave No Trace in protected areas)
  • Postcards (Mrs. Foundry collects these)
  • Keychains (The Mini Foundries collect these)

Examples of non-frugal collections*:

  • Guns (fails test 2)
  • Sports cars (fails tests 1 and 2)
  • Antique bureaus (fails tests 1, 2, and 3)

When I was a boy, I collected pins and baseball cards. I was unwittingly part of the baseball card bubble of the early 1990s, which means crafty grownups got rich on my allowance money. Pins are a great frugal collection, but baseball cards are in a frugal grey area (at best), since they’re inexpensive (unless you have a taste for Babe Ruth rookie cards) and easy to store, but not very useful on their own.

Now I collect two things: bookmarks and rubber-bands. The latter I store in an ever-growing rubber-band ball, which I admit is very silly in a Peewee Herman kind of way. But they come in handy now and then for craft projects and grouping stuff.

On the other hand, the bookmark collection is over 20 years in the making and very dear to me. Since I’m an avid reader, it comes in handy literally every day. It’s fun to sort though the collection and choose a bookmark that fits the book. They were mostly free (from bookstores) and the collection easily fits in a small box. People who know me bring back bookmarks from trips. It’s a very easy way to get on my good side.

You can even make your own bookmarks, like the ones pictured above. Try doing that with sports cars! Does anyone else have interesting collections?

The most frugal collection, of course, is money. Collect enough of that and you can retire, which will give you plenty of time to start many other frugal collections!

* I have nothing against cars, furniture, or guns. I own all three. I’m talking specifically about collecting lots of them.