How I made my peace with hiring a housekeeper

J.D. and I have been employing an independent housekeeper for about 10 years. The one who's been working for us for almost five years, Michele, is fantastic and we feel lucky to have her. (We found her through Craigslist). Housecleaning is her full-time job.

It took us some time to get over our self-imposed barrier of hiring some help with the house chores. I'm not lazy, and it struck me as a weak, self-indulgent thing to do. But, as J.D. freely admits, he's a slob. We'd fight over the mess in the house, and time and time again would try to institute a “system” to keep it clean, only to fail once more and descend into arguments. With both of us working full-time, we wanted to spend our time at home in other ways than cleaning.

Still, I felt guilty for paying someone else to do work I didn't want to do myself. I admit it: It feels weird to pay someone to clean your toilets! And I felt guilty for even being able to afford considering “outsourcing” the housework. After all, anyone can do housework, right?

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More about...Home & Garden

The art of the potluck

J.D. and I love going out to eat, but we also like to cook. And, fortunately for us, so do most of our friends. This allows us to partake in the art of the potluck.

Potlucks are a frugal way to entertain and bring people together to share good food. Even with quality ingredients, making food at home lets us eat well for less. The hosts provide the space, the organization, a dish or two, and perhaps a theme to spice it up a bit. The guests each bring something for the feast, and the focus is on enjoying everyone's contribution.

This distributes the cost and effort (enabling more people to host), and makes gatherings more group-oriented. If everyone is on a tighter budget, a potluck still feels like a treat — but with a lower bill. The food choices are usually more varied, too! Continue reading...

More about...Food, Frugality

Starting seeds indoors: Jump-start your garden today

In some parts of the U.S., vegetable and flower seeds can be successfully planted directly into the garden. But in many areas, the growing season is too short to allow this.

Cool spring soil temperatures and cold weather can prevent seeds from germinating or kill young seedlings. If you wait until the weather warms, the plants get off to a late start only to be zapped by fall's first frost; they don't get a chance to bear a full crop or to put on a full floral display.

There are three solutions for home gardeners:

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More about...Home & Garden, Food, Frugality

Young Entrepreneurs: Encouraging Children With Kid-Sized Businesses

Last weekend I explored Portland's beautiful Eastmoreland neighborhood during its annual 140-family garage sale. In the past, I've come away with major bargains, but this year I had to be content with enjoying the first day of summer with a couple of friends. We admired the homes, gardens, and assorted cast-offs of the well-to-do.

Many of the adult garage-salers were raising funds for charities. Sidewalks and curbs were also strewn with young entrepreneurs selling their wares: homemade cookies (still warm from the oven), beaded jewelry, rice-krispie treats, iced bottled water, and grilled hotdogs.

Over the past two years, J.D. and I have had fun meeting one pair of entrepreneurial sisters who rise above the run-of-the-mill baked goods and soda. I was pleased to see them once again. In 2006 they were selling jokes:

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More about...Side Hustles

The Bountiful Container: Gardening in small spaces

I've been gardening for almost fifteen years. I started with flowers, added herbs and vegetables, then a few fruits, then a lot more. I've gardened in plots and pots and raised beds. I've drooled over bedding plants, spent too much on whatever was my obsession-of-the-moment (bulbs! daylilies! gooseberries! ornamental grasses!), and have certainly read my fair share of plant books and magazines.

By this time, I'm somewhat jaded about most gardening educational materials — I find they are often at one extreme or another: either an all-around reference that is about as exciting to read as The Merck Index, or beautiful but vapid plant-porn packed with color photos of planting schemes and "outdoor rooms" that can only be reproduced in Southern California!

However, I give a rave review — and two green thumbs up — to a recent find on container gardening: The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (2002). This book was suggested last spring by a reader named Beth in J.D.'s overview of square-foot gardening. It will find a permanent place on my gardening reference shelf, despite the fact that I don't plan to grow anything new in a container in the foreseeable future. (Although this book just may have changed my mind.)

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More about...Books, Food, Home & Garden

How To Escape the Gift Trap

Amanda recently sent J.D. an e-mail looking for advice about gift-giving:

My husband and I have made huge lifestyle changes since our son was born with congenital heart disease four years ago. He's had five open-heart-surgeries, and we've had some killer medical bills. My husband stays home with both of our kids to help prevent Liam from getting sick too often, so we've gone down to one income, one car, basic cable, and a really aggressive budget.

One of our worst budget breakers however is gifts. I have eleven nieces and nephews, two kids, etc. At Christmas we've convinced both sides to just do a name exchange and then we only have to buy for two nieces/nephews on either side, which helps and we've just outright stopped exchanging gifts with our brothers & sisters, but there are still our parents, his grandparents, kids of friends who have birthday parties, and graduations, weddings, and baby showers!

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More about...Frugality

Gardening 101: Plan Today for Summer Success

This was an actual weekend harvest from our garden last August.

At Get Rich Slowly, we get many requests for information about starting a vegetable garden. This is huge topic, and really enough fodder for an entire website. If you're a novice gardener you will benefit by asking yourself six questions before mail-ordering seeds or heading to your local nursery. Now is the time to do your research so that you'll be ready for planting season.

Do you actually like to eat vegetables?

If not, focus on fruits and herbs, edible and ornamental flowers, and a favorite veggie or two. A well-tended garden will produce a lot of vegetables. If you are lukewarm about zucchini then pass up that beautiful seedling. (Or go introduce yourself to your five nearest neighbors so that you can share come July).

What is your gardening space like?

This is probably the most important question for the novice gardener. If you are starting from bare dirt or, more likely, a patch of lawn, you have some work to do. The plot needs to be evaluated for sun and wind exposure, moisture/drainage, soil pH and elemental content, pests, and other factors.

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More about...Food, Frugality, Home & Garden