Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

How to Build Your Emergency Fund

Everyone needs an emergency fund. Life is going to happen, and those unexpected expenses can sometimes come with some serious sticker shock.The emergency fund provides that buffer between you and life, and prevents you from incurring debt when a true emergency arises.

emergency fund

When life throws you a financial curve ball, the emergency fund will turn what would otherwise be a crisis that has you running for your credit card, into an inconvenience that has you writing a check. Let’s look at the four steps you can take to help you start to build your fully funded emergency fund.

1. Open an account that’s accessible, but not too accessible:

When an emergency occurs you want to make sure that you can easily access the funds, but not have them so accessible that you accidentally spend the money on items that are not emergencies. Consider opening up a separate savings account that is not attached to your debit card. We have ours in a higher interest rate savings account where the money can be transferred into our checking account within 24 hours.

emergency fund

Remember though, your emergency fund is insurance rather than an investment. We’re not looking to make big returns on the money that is sitting in this account. If you make some interest (I think we earn $5 a month), that’s fine, but earning money is not the intention. The intention of this money is to protect the rest of your finances – including any investments.

2. Determine what 3 to 6 months of living expenses are:

Most financial experts agree that a fully funded emergency fund should contain 3 to 6 months of living expenses. In order to determine this amount, go back to your budget and look at the essential expenses that you would need to calculating living expensescover in order to get through each month. Add up your housing costs, transportation costs, monthly grocery budget, and any other monthly fixed expenses that you would still be obligated to make (insurance premiums, etc).

In order to determine whether you should be closer to the three or six month savings mark, you also have to factor your risks. If your job is stable and you are in good health or if you have disability coverage through work if you were to become ill, you could consider keeping your savings closer to the three month mark. If you are self-employed or have a variable income, you would want to set your savings goal closer to the 6 month mark.

3. Set aside a savings goal in your monthly budget:

When you add up the amount to save, it might seem overwhelming at first, but don’t let that stop you from working towards this goal. Start small with a starter emergency fund and once you get all of your debts paid off (minus your mortgage), then you can focus on building that emergency fund by taking what you were putting towards debt and now putting it into savings.

spare change

Each month when you make your budget, look at the money you have left over and commit a certain amount of it to your emergency fund until it is fully funded. The more you are able to set aside for your emergency fund, the faster you will hit your goal amount.

4. Only use the money for emergencies:

The best way to make sure that you are building your emergency fund is to only use the money in that account for actual emergencies. So what constitutes an emergency? Any major expense that you couldn’t have anticipated, such as:

  • An unexpected job loss
  • A medical emergency
  • A sudden, major car repair
  • A leaking roof during a storm

What doesn’t count as an emergency are those expenses that we should have anticipated and been planning for already. Christmas, annual insurance premiums, and regular car maintenance are not emergencies so be sure to plan for these somewhere else in your budget.

Our emergency fund has saved us in a couple of occasions over the last three years and turned those “emergencies” into much less stressful inconveniences. When it was not only raining outside during a particularly heavy storm, but also raining inside, we had the money to be able to put on a new roof. More recently when our minivan, and main form of transportation, decided to pack it in, we were able to use some of the funds from our emergency fund to purchase a new to us car with cash.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to leave your emergency fund sitting untouched, but if the time arises, you’ll be glad that it is there.

Your Turn!

  • What has life thrown your way that either made you glad you had, or wished you had, the extra funds available?

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

When I was growing up I could never imagine that I’d be sitting here writing an in depth review on a toilet, but here we are!  This is a review of my experience with a 5 gallon bucket composting toilet with the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

I want to qualify this review before we get started.  I’m a very particular person, my house is kept very clean and tidy, I have germaphobe tendencies and I work in a white collar work environment where good hygiene is a must.  I say this only to give people an understanding of where I’m coming from because when I was reading reviews I couldn’t find others with similar lifestyles or standards.  When I first started, I was concerned how making the shift to living tiny might impact my corporate job at the time.

With that out of the way, when I first sat down to plan my tiny house a flush toilet was a very important thing for me to have.  I was dead set on having a traditional toilet.  Then the real world happened.  The city I live in prohibits septic systems unless you have an extenuating circumstance (read: it ain’t happening).  For me to get a sewer line ran to my tiny house, permits, connection fees and labor it was close to $50,000!  I was shocked.

So I started looking into options: Nature’s Head, Envirolet Systems, Sun-Mar, Incinolet and many others.  The one thing that stood out to me is that they were all big, complicated and expensive.  I hadn’t made a decision because whenever I’d talk to friends who actually used them in real life, they all weren’t super happy with them and many didn’t like it.

While I was trying to decide what I was going to do, I had to move into my tiny house and just needed something.  So I swung by my local big box and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket ($5) and a Luggable Loo ($13) and some hamster pine wood chips ($3.50) and a roll of 13 gallon trash bags ($4).  A Complete kit for $25.50, much cheaper than a $600 composting toilet or $50k for a sewer line.

The setup was simple.  Take a five gallon bucket, place a trash bag in the unit with the edges hanging over the edge, put on toilet seat (which firmly clips onto the lip of the bucket) and then toss in some wood chips.  The lid will keep the bag in place so you don’t have to worry about an edge falling in.

how to setup composting toilet

Like I said, at the time I viewed this as a stop gap, something that I was begrudgingly going to use until I could make a decision.  Then something interesting happened… I really liked it!

I will be the first to admit that there was an initial ick factor to get over, but that goes with all composting toilets.  But after a few weeks I realized it’s seriously no big deal.  If you’ve ever had a kid and changed diapers, that’s way worse.  With this setup I pop the seat off, pull the trash bag draw strings, tie it off, and drop it in the trash bin at the street.  You only have to touch the draw strings.

pee diverterOne caveat that I do want to make here is that, as a male, since I keep my toilet outside, I just pee straight forward on the ground, I keep the liquids out of the bucket for the most part.  I don’t have a diverter of any kind and if a female needs to use it, I just toss in a bit more of the wood chips for a little extra absorption and not worry about it.  If I had a live in girlfriend I may look into more complicated setups.

I’ve been using this setup now for over 3 years and that means I’ve had a lot of experience in different weather, temperatures, rain, snow, etc.  Here are some experiments and lessons learned:

No Wood Chips

Since I’m a guy I don’t have much liquids coming into the mix, so I thought I’d try not using wood chips at all.  That was over a year ago and now I don’t use them at all unless I have company.  Wood chips absorb liquids – some what – (I want to do a test with peat moss) so in reality it’s only to cover up what you leave behind and keep it out of sight.  If I was using it with someone I might switch back to chips or opt for a his and her throne.

Summer Vs. Winter

I like the toilet setup much better in the winter.  Since I keep my toilet outside, the weather is a factor.  With cooler weather means less bugs, which means less flies and gnats.  To mitigate the bugs in the summer I just empty it once a week and I never have to worry.  There may be a few flies inside, but I give the bucket a kick and they fly away.  If you wait a few weeks in the summer you’ll run into flies laying eggs, which leads to larvae, which are gross.  Emptying it once a week means you’ll never have that happen.  In truth you can get away with a few weeks, but why chance it.

In the winter I usually empty it once a month.  There are no bugs to speak of in the winter and the cold of Fall and Winter make everything a breeze.

The Smell

This is a very common question and here’s the truth: there is a smell.  This is really why I started using this outside.  Now that said, there is a smell, but it’s never worse than if you just went.  I have considered adding two little fans to the cover to bring in fresh air and draw smells out.  With those fans, there never would be any smell.  For those of you who are skeptical, consider that I’m a very clean person and the smell has been so little of a concern I felt adding a simple fan wasn’t worth my time.

Keeping The Toilet Outdoors

I don’t really know anyone else that does this, but I am a major proponent of this.  I have considered building a little enclosed area to keep it in, but living on 32 acres, I don’t really have to worry about privacy, plus the view is much better!  My recommendation would be build a little outhouse, throw a little solar panel on the top and have a tiny fan always running.

Many people ask me about rain and snow, but honestly it has never been an issue.  Every time it has rain I just put it under a base of a tree and the leaves shelter me pretty well.  There was one time when I got very sick and needed to use the facilities very often, it also poured for several days.  I just put it on my tiny house porch and it was totally fine.  In the snow, which it doesn’t snow a lot here in NC, it wasn’t a big deal either.  Even in wind, no big deal.  I have been surprised at how little it matters when it rains, is windy or is snowing.

Going To The Bathroom Outside Is Awesome

There is something really pleasant about taking care of business when you have a really nice view or just enjoy the peace and quite of nature.  If you’ve ever gone backpacking and use a toilet with a great view, it’s very enjoyable.

The Seat Of The Luggable Loo

I am very impressed how comfortable this seat is, for $13 it’s totally worth the money.  The lid for me broke off after about a year and I like it better because the lid kind of hugged a tad too close in the back.  The lid still works, I just set it on top and it has a pretty good fit.

The other thing I really like about the Luggable Loo is how well it snaps onto the 5 gallon bucket.  It has a very positive snap on the lip of the bucket, but still leave room for you to put a trash back and lock it in place.  It’s holding power on the bag is very important because it means the bag is kept in place and your business goes where it’s supposed to and stays here.

Worst Case Scenario

The setup has worked really well for me, but there was one thing I’ve always dreaded: if it tipped over.  One day I came out and it was apparent that some animal had come up to it, knocked the lid off, then flipped the whole thing seat down.  This mean that the “contents” literally were on the ground.

This was very unfortunate, but I figure out that I could grab my shovel, slide it under the leave on the ground, using the leaves as a barrier layer, and in one motion, flip it right side up.  In the end not one bit fell out and I just bagged it and it was all good.

So far, knock on wood, I haven’t ever had a bag leak.  Even if I did, I keep a few extra pails on hand and a few lids.  This means if I ever have a catastrophic failure I just put a lid on the bucket and seal it all in, then toss it.  Pail and a lid are super durable and at only a few bucks, you don’t care if you have to toss one.

 

So that’s my review and experience with the Luggable Loo 5 gallon bucket composting toilet.

Your Turn!

  • What are you planning on using for your toilet?

What I’ve Learned After 2 Years As A Minimalist

Two years of minimalism has brought with it more lessons that I could have imagined. I’ve not only learned a ton in regards to the collection of physical items, I’ve also started to focus on other aspects of minimalism that may be a bit unexpected. Here are the lessons I’ve learned after two years as a minimalist:

Lessons After Two Years of Minimalism1.You Don’t Miss The Stuff

While I was decluttering, I second guessed 20% of the things I got rid of. I knew they were things that I didn’t love but didn’t need; I still thought that maybe someday I would miss them. Two years in, I haven’t missed anything yet, and I actually can’t even remember most of the things that I got rid of.

2. You’ll Start to Question Your Habits

Though I hardly buy clothes anymore, of course there still comes a time when I need to replace something in my wardrobe. Before minimalism, I would have simply headed to my nearest Target or shopping mall and got what I needed from the most convenient big box store. Now, I think more about the items that I buy. I strongly believe that every dollar I spend is a vote for what I believe in, and I don’t spend many dollars, so I want to make them count. I now try to buy my clothes second hand if possible, and if that isn’t possible, I opt for sustainable and fair trade clothing.

3. You’ll Start To Spend Your Time Differently

What I've Learned After Two Years of MinimalismPre-minimalism, I spent quite a bit of time at my local Target and shopping mall. After adopting the minimalist lifestyle, I gained all of that time back. At first I started to use my time doing things like hiking and reading books from the library. Then I decided to quit my job to travel the world. Minimalism allowed me the space to truly think about what I wanted out of my life, and the resources to create that ideal life.

4. Quality over Quantity Will Filter Into Other Areas of Your Life

Though I had more free time after becoming minimalist, I also decided that it was time to take back control of my schedule. I became much more intentional with the way I spent time. I no longer attended events just because I was invited to them. I spent more time with friends who truly lifted me up and inspired me, and much less time with friends who just wanted someone to go to happy hour with. I didn’t feel guilty anymore if I decided to read a good book instead of going to an event.

5. You May Become Even Richer

Once I decided to start traveling, I created a little website to keep track of my adventures. I spent my time writing and working on my photography, which has turned into a beautiful scrapbook, and even a small income over the last year. I have started to earn money from doing things I love, which I would have never thought possible before.

I’ve learned so much as a minimalist; these five lessons brought even more value to minimalism in my life. Minimalism has changed the way I live, and I could not be happier with the results.

Your Turn!

  • Do you consider yourself a minimalist?
  • What has minimalism taught you?

 

 

 

 

Cooking with and Caring for Cast Iron Cookware

Cooking with cast iron is such a visceral experience, using a pan that could be as old as your grandparents, the oil sizzling in the pan, and the aromas as you create a depth of flavor not possible in a Teflon pan.

egg skillet

My grandma used cast iron in her kitchen every day. The roasts she cooked in her dutch oven were full of flavor and tender as can be. In the morning she would cook eggs in a small cast iron skillet. She had the coating on her pans so fine tuned that she could just slide the egg out of the pan without a spatula. Whenever I pull out one of my cast iron pans I feel connected to her and the commitment she had to feed her family delicious, nutrient-rich meals.

Cast iron is quite inexpensive and will last a lifetime. You can pass them onto your children; they are nearly indestructible. However, there is a learning curve to using cast iron cookware. Here are a few tips to give you a head start.

seasoned cast iron

Preheating is vital

Cast iron heats unevenly but retains the heat wonderfully. Use a heat-tolerant oil like avocado or coconut oil in the pan and heat until the oil begins to shimmer (move across the pan due to the warmth of the pan).

Don’t skimp on the fats!

More and more research is showing that saturated fats are not the demons we used to think they were, so don’t be afraid to throw a glob of your favorite healthy fat in your pan. It will help develop that non-stick surface and depth of flavor. Start with a couple tablespoons for an 8” skillet.

cast iron cooking

Sear it!

Developing rich flavors is one of the benefits of cooking with cast iron. Once your skillet and oil are good and hot, then add in your veg or meat. Allow it sear before stirring or flipping. I especially enjoy caramelizing onions and browning meat in my cast iron.

Deepen the flavor

Flavor develops in the oil and on the surface of cast iron cookware. To create more depth, you will want to build your flavors in what is best described as layers.

Start with the fat, then add in the aromatics like onions and garlic. Next, add flavorful vegetables like mushrooms and celery. At this point, you can do almost anything. You have the base for soup, a casserole or a stir-fry.

Now you can remove all of the vegetables and cook your meat. Make sure to put more oil in the pan. Once the meat is cooked, your pan will be bursting with flavor. If you want to go one step further, you can make a gravy by deglazing the pan and thickening the liquid.

roast beef in cast iron

Stove top or in the oven, cast iron can do both. There are no plastic or wood parts on cast iron pans. That means you can sear your food on the stove top and then move it to the oven to finish cooking. You can also bake a quiche, cornbread or oven pancake in a cast iron skillet.

Use a flexible steel flipper and not a plastic spatula. Cast iron gets very hot and can cause the plastic spatula to melt. Contrary to the way you baby a Teflon skillet to protect the finish you want to very deliberately make contact with the cast iron using a metal flipper.

Wash but don’t soak your pan. Now that you have eaten one of the most flavorful meals ever, it is time to get that pan cleaned up. If you have stuck-on food the easiest way to loosen it is to put about 1/2 inch of water in the pan then put back on the stovetop until it begins to boil. Now you can easily wash it.

cleaning cast iron

It is ok to submerge the pan and to use soap. Just make sure you do not leave the pan in the sink to soak. Rust will develop, and then you will have to season it (a process of sealing the pan with heat and oil). I use a stainless steel scrubby on my cast iron. It doesn’t absorb the oil and seems to preserve the finish on the pan better than anything else.

You Turn!

  • What favorite memory do you think of when you see cast iron?
  • What is your favorite meal to cook in your cast iron cookware?

How to Save Money

Confession time – I’m a natural spender. I always knew that I should save money, but I never knew how to save money. My idea of saving money was getting something on sale. Sure I spent $25 that I probably didn’t need to, but I “saved” $75!!

 

In order to get our finances in order and get our debt paid off, I had to go from being a spender to learning how to save money. This transition is not always easy, but here are 5 simple things that you can do to start saving money.

1. Save Your Raise:

Any extra money that you receive that you’re not used to living on, save it before you spend it. This can include any bonus or overtime pay, raises, and tax refunds. Before it disappears and you have no idea what happened to it, put those extra dollars into a high-interest savings account.

 

2. Save Your Spare Change:

Every day or at the end of the week, empty your pockets or coin pouch into a jar and watch the savings grow. Since we use cash for most of our daily purchases, our change adds up quickly. In 2016 we accumulated $160 in loose change which was used to purchase the gifts for our two daughter’s Christmas stockings. Not a bad way to use those coins that would normally weigh down your wallet.

 

3. 52-Week Challenge:

If you’ve spent even a minute on Pinterest, than you’ve probably seen this savings trick. The idea is that every week you save a predetermined amount of money. You start by setting aside $1 on week one, $2 on week two, so that by the time you get to the last week, you’re saving $52. Follow this and when the year is up, you will have saved $1,378.00. There are many savings challenges out there depending on what your goal amount is, and the reason why they work is because the savings goal for each week is a manageable amount therefore making it easier to stick with.

 

4. Pay Yourself First:

Another way to save money automatically is to pay yourself first. If you have your paycheck directly deposited, talk to your Human Resources department and see if they are able to split the deposit so that you have money deposited into your savings account with each pay. You can determine how much you would like sent into your savings. It could be $25, $50, or even 10% of your earnings. Since it’s being put into your savings account right away, you’ll be sure to save it before you can spend it.

 

5. Have a Spending Plan (aka The Budget):

This is the biggest money saver of them all. Set up a monthly budget where you list your monthly income that is expected and deduct the various expenses that will need to come out. From the remaining amount you can determine how much you would like to set aside into savings.

No matter what method or methods you use to save money, the trick is to make sure that you are consistent and stick with it. Happy Saving!!

 

Your Turn!

  • What do you do to make sure that you are saving money each month?
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