Category Archives: diy

How to Plan an Awesome Retreat – Step 1: Get pumped about something

camp cabinAlong with a few internet friends, I’m planning a retreat for fans of Mr Money Mustache and JD Roth, two awesome bloggers. It’s going down in the Spring of 2014, here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

This isn’t the first retreat I’ve planned, but it has been a while. As a teenager, I planned a retreat for my youth group. Like any large event, it went off with only a few snags, that were mostly invisible to participants. I still get ribbed by old friends about the schedule for the weekend. I made a silly one as a rough draft and turned it in as a placeholder. Whoever was in charge of photocopying thought it was the real deal, so they made copies of it and handed it out to all attendees.

What that old retreat and this new one have in common is that in order to put in the time and energy to making any dream into a reality (whether it’s a retreat, or a startup, or making balloon animals), it’s essential that you pick something you’re really passionate (or pumped) about. For me, that’s financial badassity. Or whatever you want to call it.

I’m gonna do a few posts while I figure this retreat-planning thing out (again). At least I know how not to make retreat schedules this time around.

Leave a comment if you’re interested in attending and want the deets when they’re available. Or if you have questions about planning your own retreat.

Sriracha Popcorn Recipe

popcorn This is a first for my blog, I think. A recipe!

One thing I hate is when there’s not enough contents left in a bottle of sauce or tub of yogurt to do anything with it, but too much to throw out without feeling guilty.

We had this exact situation in the Foundry household a couple nights ago, when I found the sriracha (Thai hot sauce) bottle sitting next to the sink (in Venessa’s patented “Joe, I put this here so you’d wash it out” spot).

I couldn’t let this precious mouth-watering nectar go to waste, so I decided I’d try to make popcorn with it. The popcorn turned out AWESOME, Venessa mentioned it to a friend on Facebook (giving it a lukewarm review. Thanks, honey!), and a friend of that friend requested the recipe (despite the lukewarm review). Since facebook is private, I figured I’d put it here to share it with the world.

Two servings of Sriracha Popcorn:

Ingredients:

  • Popping corn – a handful
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)* – 2 Tablespoons
  • Sriracha – 2 squeezes
  • Butter – 2 Tablespoons
  • Salt – to taste

* [edit: Venessa told me not to use EVOO because of its low smoke point. But I used it and things turned out OK. Caveat emptor.]

  1. Put a medium sized pot on medium-high heat and pour in enough EVOO to barely coat the bottom (about 2 good “glugs” out of the bottle).
  2. Pour a handful of popping kernels into the pot and put the lid on it. It always makes more than you think it will so err on the side of caution.
  3. Watch the pot carefully (watched pots never boil water, but they will pop the heck out of popcorn). When the popping starts, grab the pot and the lid and give it a few good shakes (using a potholder).
  4. When the popping slows down to about a pop per second, turn off the stove and empty the popcorn into a serving bowl.
  5. Salt to taste. A large 3-finger pinch should do it.
  6. Put the pot back on the stove, but leave the heat off. Put about 2T of butter into the pot. The heat of the pot will melt the butter. It may spray up so be careful. (1T of butter is like the size of the pat that they slice off the stick in butter and bread commercials. Also most butter wrappers have a little measuring guide printed onto the side.)
  7. Squeeze 2 squeezes of sriracha into melted butter. It may spray up again so be careful.
  8. Put the popcorn back into bowl to soak up the sriracha-butter magic you just made. Shake it around and pour it back into the serving bowl.
  9. Prepare your mouth for the imminent onrush of awesomeness by saying the following out loud: “I JUST MADE SRIRACHA POPCORN FROM SCRATCH!!!!!”

You can actually buy pre-made bags of sriracha popcorn from J&D (the Bacon Salt guys). I know the J&D founders personally (we used to work together) and love ’em, but $5 a bag is highway robbery! This recipe is about 50 cents worth of ingredients and 5 minutes of your time.

Most of the credit for this recipe goes to Venessa since this is pretty much her popcorn recipe, but with sriracha added at the end.

So there ya go! Enjoy! Maybe I’ll do more recipes, but how can you top this one?

* I even tried to condense the recipe but it’s still way too long for a tweet: “cook handful kernels in 2T EVOO on med-hi. Empty popcorn into bowl when popping finishes. Salt to taste. Melt 2T butter in cook pot. Squeeze 2 squeezes of sriracha into melted butter. Put popcorn back into bowl. Toss.”

Last-Minute Frugal Date Night Ideas

Items from a frugal date night As if she was reading my mind, Foundry follower Sally Ashley asked if she could do a guest post on Frugal Date Nights. Just in time for Valentine’s Day! When she’s not reading this blog, Sally writes about romance and personal finance. Her most recent work focuses on how to pick the best finance schools.

So if you don’t have anything planned for your sweetie tonight, and you want to keep it frugal, read on…

How to Plan a Frugal Date Night
Planning a date doesn’t always have to be expensive, and you can have just as much fun on a frugal date as you can on an expensive date. Below are some great ways you can plan a frugal date night and still have a great time!

Hangout at Home
You can plan a fun but cheap date night in your very own home. You probably have food there, so look up some recipes online and cook a great meal for you and your date. More than likely, you have some good entertainment in your home as well. A stereo, television, computer, video game system or just some good old-fashioned board games can be fun on a date. Simply invite your date over to hangout and listen to music, watch a movie and share a meal, or play some fun games.

Attending Local Events
Most every city has local newspapers that list local events and happenings that will be going on in the next few weeks. Some cities have their own websites that list these events. Look in those papers or Internet sites, and search for some local events that you and your date can attend. When you see something that looks fun, and go out and have some fun. Most of the time, these events are relatively cheap or even free.

Visit the Park
A romantic AND cheap date that can be a lot of fun is going to the park. If you or your date has a dog, take your pet along. You can pack a nice picnic lunch and a blanket and sit under the trees and enjoy good conversation while eating lunch. Some parks host events and activities as well. They might have a swimming pool, walking/jogging trails or some secluded areas to get some privacy. If it’s winter, there might be somewhere to go ice skating.

Cheap Movie 
Going out to the movies on a date is ridiculously expensive, and more often than not, boring. Staring at a screen and being silent for over two hours can make it tough to get back into the vibe after the movie is over. However, if there is a movie you both want to see and it is available by rental, check it out and watch it at home. You can pop your own popcorn, have your own drinks and sit down and share a movie together. Every now and again, you can stop the movie to enjoy some conversation or refresh your beverages. If you know your date pretty well, take advantage of the cheaper movie specials during the daytime, or visit the dollar movie to catch a really cheap one. [ed: Even cheaper, borrow a movie from the library for free!]

Cheap Coffee Dates

Meeting up for coffee can be a good idea if you know your date pretty well. If so, you can engage in good conversation the entire time you are there. If you do not know your date well, a coffee shop can be intimidating – trying to find something to say for a couple of hours. If you have a nice coffee maker or cappuccino machine at home, ask your date over for some homebrew, and make your own coffee at home while enjoying conversation, a meal or just watching television together. First dates at a coffee shop are easier if you go on a double-date to help break the ice. Afterwards, you can go to a cozier place alone if things go as planned.

Hopefully, you can use some of these frugal date ideas for yourself. They are easy on the wallet, and they will allow you the opportunity to get to know your date better. You can learn a lot about a person by using one of these cheap date ideas over the more expensive options.
———————–

Thanks, Sally! Readers, how are you spending your Valentine’s Day (frugally or otherwise)? In our family, we exchange hand-made cards for each other, and Mrs Foundry usually bakes a treat for the family. This year I splurged and got her a bouquet of her favorite flowers (even though we agreed on no gifts). Oops!

Borax + Baking Soda win again: how to make homemade scouring powder

japanese bathIs there anything that Borax and baking soda, once combined, can’t clean up? Actually, don’t answer that.

You all know the childhood song: Comet, it makes your teeth turn green. Comet, it tastes like gasoline. That song was written because Comet is nasty and it doesn’t belong touching the stuff you touch with your naked body, like your bathtub*.

It was time to clean the Foundry bathtub and I had to think fast. Truthfully, I had plenty of time. I’m just trying to build up suspense for this blog post.

I found this recipe for “scouring powder” (the generic name for Comet) and noticed it contained my two favorite household cleaning ingredients: borax and baking soda. So I gave it a try, and it works great!

The recipe is: equal parts borax, baking soda, and salt.

So here’s the updated, ever-expanding list of commercial household products I’ve replaced with diy recipes:

Anyone else have any other household products that they make themselves? Even if it doesn’t use borax or baking soda.

* There’s a product called Bon Ami that’s a lot less caustic. So if you must buy a commercial scouring powder, buy that one. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, why did you read this post?

Lifetime Gym Membership: $10.99. Not being able to make excuses any more: Priceless.

you are your own gymAs much as I love running and cycling, I’ve never really been a gym kind of guy. It’s not just the crazy prices, but also simply getting to the gym, and the sweaty equipment, and the lukewarm showers, etc. I bought some dumbbells a few years ago to do arm workouts at home, but they mostly sit unused under the couch.

Recently, I heard about a workout program called You Are Your Own Gym, that uses “bodyweights” (pushups, situps, etc.) and common household objects to give you a workout. I checked out the book from the library and loved it so much, I bought the book!

Yes folks you read that right, I actually bought myself a book! I can’t remember the last time I did that. The way I see it, I spent $10.99 for a lifetime gym membership, since I don’t ever see myself needing to step foot in one again.

What I like about the exercise program is that it requires creativity. No chin-up bar? Use a door. Instead of dumbbells, bicep curls are done with a towel wrapped around your foot (pulling up, against the weight of your leg, provides the resistance).

And the part of this book that I LOVE has nothing to do with exercise at all. It’s about getting rid of your excuses. The author asks you to list all your excuses for not exercising, so you can see them for what they are. After doing that, I’m very motivated and have only missed a single session since I started. The same technique could be applied to breaking through the mental barriers preventing you from making any positive change in your life!

I’ve been doing it for about 2 months and the differences in my strength and physique are noticeable. Who wouldn’t like to be a little stronger and sexier? Check it out (literally, at the library) if you’re interested in starting a workout routine but you don’t like the gym.

The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio


[This is part 2 of a series on investing. Here was part one.]

I read a number of books on money and investing, each presenting what the author believed to be the BEST way to invest your money. But none of them were able to back up their claims with as much research as The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio.

The author, Alexander Green, first walks readers though the basics of money, which should be review if you’ve been a Foundry reader for a while:

  • the magical compounding effects of saving a lot of money early on
  • why not to “outsmart” or “time” the market when investing
  • why to not trust your investments to a “professional.”

With that out of the way, he gets to the interesting stuff: an investment plan that is based off nobel-prize-winning research on the importance of asset allocation, keeping fees/taxes low, and staying the course (no matter what the latest “news” is from Wall Street).

The author even makes it dead-simple by giving you the actual Vanguard funds that represent each investment. So I went to shift my investments around in Vanguard to match the advice from the book. Uh oh! Since the book was written, one of the funds was closed to new investors. So there goes that portfolio.

In the next post, I’ll explain how I modified the advice in the book to get around this little roadblock, and to make the portfolio even easier to manage.

Hang Dry Your Laundry: Just Do It!

Speaking of laundry… Hang-drying your laundry is so easy, it’s something everyone should do! The sun is just sitting out there waiting for some laundry to dry for free. Even in Seattle, we keep the clothesline up year-round (though it doesn’t get much use from October – May).

We hung some rope from the house to a spare bamboo pole, and then back again, to provide two lengths of clothesline from which to hang clothes. And we added a drying rack for increased capacity. You can also see stuff hanging from chairs and even toys.

We’re blessed with a large deck that has Southern exposure, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do this inside, or on a small scale if you have a smaller yard.

There are plenty of other tips to increase the space on the clothesline: hang clothes from hangers or even an old umbrella frame.

And the proof is in the financial pudding. Dryers are one of the biggest energy consumers in the house. We just got our electricity bill for June/July (when we’ve been able to hang-dry almost exclusively). We used 387kWh per month.

According to the Government, “In 2010, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,496 kWh, an average of 958 kilowatthours (kWh) per month. Tennessee had the highest annual consumption at 16,716 kWh and Maine the lowest at 6,252 kWh.”

So we’re at about 1/3rd the national average. Granted, energy costs are lower for us in the summer, so let’s look at our family’s yearly average (the Seattle City Light bill gives you a nice graph of your yearly consumption), 811kWh per month. Lower than average, but we still have some ways to go before we can beat Maine! In February, our most electricity-consuming month, we use over 4x the amount of electricity we use over the summer!

Not only are you saving money, by hanging your clothes to dry you’re also helping save the earth. I love when those two things go together!

PS: Washington state enjoys the 2nd lowest energy costs in the nation (probably due to all our hydroelectric). But that doesn’t mean you can waste it!

A Supposedly-Frugal Thing I Actually Did Try Again

I previously tried a powdered laundry soap recipe, and concluded that it was too much effort and not worth the trouble for the minor cost-savings. As a footnote to that post, I mentioned a different, liquid recipe that looked promising.

When the homemade powder ran out, I decided to try that liquid recipe. Now that we’ve been using it at home for a few weeks, I’ve concluded that it’s great!

The recipe is from The Duggar Family, and is as follows:

  • 4 c water (heated in saucepan)
  • 1 bar of soap (I recommend Trader Joe’s oatmeal soap, it’s $1 and mostly free of weird ingredients)
  • 1 c washing soda*
  • ½ c Borax
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • Empty liquid detergent container (or any large-ish container with top)
  1. Grate bar of soap and add to saucepan with water. Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap dissolves.
  2. Fill 5 gallon bucket half full of hot tap water. Add melted soap, washing soda and Borax. Stir well until all powder is dissolved.
  3. Fill bucket to top with more hot water. Stir, cover and let sit overnight to thicken. (You’ll either need a very-long-handled ladle or a brave, clean arm)
  4. Next morning, stir well.  Fill a laundry soap dispenser half full with soap and then fill rest of way with water.

Shake before each use, as the mixture will gel. Use ¼ c per load in a front-load/HE washer or ½ c in a top-load/conventional washer.

Cost Savings:

The recipe yields 320 washes for top-load and 640 washes for front-load, so you might want to half (or even quarter) it as a trial run the first time. The ingredients cost about $6 total, so that’s less than $0.02 per load.

We used to use Trader Joe’s powder detergent which is $0.16 per load. We do about 200 loads of laundry a year and I estimate the recipe took about 30 minutes of my time, so I’m saving about $28 for a half-hour’s worth of work, or $56 an hour (more than I make at work). Plus, I know exactly what’s in the detergent and that all ingredients are safe, which is a plus.

In conclusion: totally worth it!

* To make washing soda out of baking soda, bake it for an hour at 400 degrees.

Update: This batch of laundry detergent lasted exactly one year for our family of 5.

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):

Shampoo

  • 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.

Conditioner

  • 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.

Results

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.