Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thrift Goes Mainstream (Thrift Shop)

Yesterday something happened that has never happened before. My son introduced me to a rap song I actually like. The song has some strong language in it, but I think there is a clean version. It is called Thrift Shop. The artist is saying that he buys all of his clothes from the thrift shop and he looks incredible. He also talks about people paying $50.00 for a t shirt and states flat out that someone who pays that much for a t shirt is being tricked by a business. With the exception of the language and the fact that our styles are completely different, I agree with this guy 100%. I will actually go farther than he did. Many of these businesses are raping people. They can only sell a t shirt for $50.00 because someone, actually a lot of someones are willing to pay that much for a shirt.

The fact that this song was on the radio tells me that there is the beginnings of a culture shift. Most people are struggling just to get by. There is a growing group of people that are looking for any way possible to make their money go farther. I applaud  this young man for being willing to proclaim the virtues of thrift store shopping.

I love thrift stores. I go into a thrift store at least once or twice a month. I am not just looking for clothing. I always look through their electronics and their kitchen wares. I have bought several drinking glasses, a couple of vases, and other things for the kitchen at a thrift store. We have even bought furniture at the thrift store. If you take your time you can completely outfit a home in the thrift store at just pennies on the dollar of what you would spend to buy new.

One of my New Years resolutions is to keep some cash on me at all times. Any time I see a promising yard sale, I am going to stop and see what I can pick up. I will only buy things that we need or we will truly use. I have a list in my mind of thing that I will consider purchasing.

My sons and I are very hard to buy for at a thrift store or yard sale. Men tend to wear their clothes completely out before we get rid of them. I will never fault someone for that. The boots that I wear everyday are five years old and I plan on getting at least three more years out of them.
My youngest son needed a new pair of shoes. I am not a fan of buying shoes at a thrift store, too much fungus going on out there. I won't buy underwear from a thrift store either.To quote my daughter, "that is just gross". So we went to a clothing store. I will not name the company. We walked to the shoe department and were looking around for him a pair. We did find a pair that he liked and he said were comfortable.

Me being me, I started looking at the clothing in the store. The first thing I look at is where the item was made. The countries that I saw today were Vietnam, China, Egypt, Honduras, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Mexico. The item that was made in Mexico was of US fabric. That was the only time I saw the US mentioned. I am fine with products being made in any of the North American countries as long as some of it was manufactured in the United States. If you wonder why you or your neighbor or someone in your family cannot find a job. I just showed you.

Buy everything you can at thrift stores and yard sales. You will save a lot of money and you will help people out in your community. The money for those items has already been sent overseas, they will not get a cent of your second hand purchase. I personally will not buy anything that I do not absolutely need that is not at least partially made in America. If we can get enough people to do that and to communicate to the corporations that this is why we are spending less money in their stores, they will bring the jobs back, plain and simple.

If you look up the song, please remember that I warned you about the language. Find the clean version and listen to the message that is now being broadcast to our young people and be proud of someone who is telling them that saving money and making smart purchases is cool.

Remember to Always Keep It Rural

Friday, January 25, 2013

Barter is Back

First a Rural Economist definition. Barter is the exchange of goods or services for other goods or services in which currency is at most a secondary consideration.

Barter was the first economic activity. Ever since there have been enough people to form bands, clans, or tribes, trade has occurred. Fish traded for furs or berries for arrow points. Currency was not created til much later. The advantage currency did and does have is it makes things easier. If you have something I want but I don't have anything you want, currency enables us to trade where we would not have been able to before without bringing someone else into the transaction. That is where the traders came into being. If you have a pig for trade and I have chickens and eggs to trade, a trader could assist in getting each of us what we want by using a network of people who have and want different things. This process could take quite some time to work through. People traded with a purpose. They knew what they wanted or needed. This process by default made people more frugal. There was not much impulse trading.
Barter is an economic activity in which all participants can feel as if they made a profit. If I purchase an item from someone, at most I can feel as if I have gotten a good value but no profit. Barter is also a way of getting things without a need for currency.

After the creation of currency, the popularity of barter began to fade simply because of ease and convenience. Barter slowly retreated to rural areas and certain social groups. The homesteaders for example, never truly gave up on barter. In fact, even if you think you have never traded before, odds are you have. The best example is buying a new car. I remember my dad trading cars. He would normally have to add "boot" money, but the trade would be made. These days people use their car as the down payment. This is still a modified form of barter. (I may talk more about that later.)

The current world economy has brought barter back to life, not only in rural areas,but all over the world. ABC News on January 13th had an article about the rise of swap parties for high fashion items and Newsweek last fall also touted the benefits of the barter economy.

If you do an online search for barter you will find sites for every major area of the country. I myself have started the Alabama Barter Page on Facebook. In less than 5 days we have over 135 likes. This is something we can all do. If you are on Facebook, do a search for a barter page in your state or area. If one exists join or like it. If one doesn't start one and send me a message. You can like Alabama Barter Page and we will like yours. I would love to see a nation wide network of barter pages. There are things that I would be willing to drive for. We can do this.

Being frugal and barter are back. Maybe we can use this to help the whole country to learn how to
Keep It Rural

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Law of Diminishing Returns (Chickens)

First a definition; The Law of Diminishing Returns is defined as -
1. any rate of profit, production, benefits, etc., that beyond a certain point fails to increase proportionately with added investment, effort, or skill
2. the fact, often stated as a law or principle, that when any factor of production, as labor, is increased while other factors, as capital and land, are held constant in amount, the output per unit of the variable factor will eventually diminish
(definition taken from

Okay so I can hear some of you right now asking "What the crap does that mean?" To be honest that is a very fair question .These definitions are too scholarly. Here is a great example; If adding 100 pounds of fertilize to an acre of corn doubles crop yield, does that mean that adding 200 pounds will triple it? Maybe. And maybe not. As you increase fertilize in an acre of ground on the same crop there will come a point where the improvement of yield will start to decrease. If we see the decrease in improvement and we decide that even more fertilize is needed, at some point we will put so much fertilize on the ground that production will actually be worse than if we had used no fertilize at all.

Okay, so now to the chickens. If you have one hen, the most you could expect during the best time of year, with adequate nutrition, and reasonable care is one egg per day. With only one chicken you can easily provide all of the food it needs by allowing the chicken access to green grass or by feeding it your families vegetable scraps. By adding a second hen, you will receive two eggs per day, but you will have to provide a greater food source. If you were to add a rooster, he does not provide eggs, but he does provide the ability to produce replacements for the current flock. Allowing for replacements to be produced also reduces usable outputs (eggs). Every time we add a unit of production (a hen or rooster) they will use the available resources faster.
Right now we have 3 hens and 2 roosters. One of the roosters has a date with the cooking pot very soon. We will continue to keep 3 hens and 1 rooster. This means our maximum production will be 3 eggs per day. We do not eat 3 eggs per day. In fact most of the time we only cook eggs on Saturday. When I cook eggs on Saturday morning, I cook at least a dozen eggs at one time. Okay, so 7 days of production is 21 eggs, once a week I cook 12 leaving an average of 9 unused eggs per week. That is no problem, we let them build up and boil them to either eat as is or use in potato, or chicken salad. This means that our chickens output does not produce a surplus. There are actually times that we still have to buy eggs. I need another hen. I am not trying to produce a surplus. I am not interested in selling eggs. I just want to harvest eggs, allow the hens to raise a clutch of chicks or two each year and put some meat in the freezer.

I use my chickens for several different purposes. 1). of course is eggs, 2) meat, 3) fertilize, and 4) I use them to prep my garden. In the nest box and roost area I use wheat straw as bedding. Every time I clean out the chicken pin I compost the litter. Chicken manure is one of the best types of fertilizer there is, but if you do not compost it first the nitrogen content is so high that you can damage your garden plants. By composting the manure, the nitrogen is reduced and it becomes a true soil conditioner.

Our chicken pin cost less than $200.00 to build. It is portable. Another thing that I use the chickens for is for garden site preparation. We move the chicken pin from time to time. This provides the chickens with forage. In the right conditions chickens can forage as much as 30% of their needed feed. This reduces our cost of keeping the chickens. If you leave the chicken pin in one spot long enough there will not be a single sprig of grass left. By allowing them to stay long enough to take out all of the grass and seeds in a section of the garden, this means that I will have to do less weeding. They also fertilize the ground and it takes a lot less effort to till the ground. When used this way the chickens have a better diet, they get to scratch around and do natural chicken things and they benefit my family in more ways than just providing eggs and meat. For me this is the best way to utilize chickens. They have several jobs and they do them well.

Now the other side. My aunt has 54 chickens. She collects an average of 48 eggs per day. She sells eggs for $2.00 per dozen. If she were able to sell every single egg they collect, she would gross $8.00 per day. One problem, she cannot sell all the eggs she collects. There is another problem; her pin is stationary, all of the grass is gone. This means that every calorie that those chickens eat must be provided, purchased, or grown by my aunt. Those chickens have no ability to provide for themselves. The chickens also are not able to provide all of the benefits that they could in a different environment.

Many times smaller and simpler is better. It is extremely difficult to produce enough eggs to make a profit. I believe in the homestead environment it is best to produce enough for your family and maybe enough to give some away. The KISS principle almost always pays off, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Sometimes the best profit from an endeavor is self reliance.

Remember to always Keep It Rural.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Unit Pricing

With the increased taxes on everyone, (yes I said everyone), I believe it is important to focus on ways to make our dollars go further. Many companies realize that people are trying to be more frugal and are marketing to that desire. Just because they are talking about making your dollar go further doesn't mean they are really trying to save you money. Many businesses believe profit is king no matter what. We should live by the mantra " Let the buyer beware".

I have several examples of what I am talking about, but I will cover the most recent first. Last night my wife wanted to cook fajitas. Normally when we cook these we buy boneless, skinless chicken breast. My wife and I normally go to the grocery together. While in the store she asked me to pick out some chicken. I walked over to the meat case and boneless, skinless chicken breast was $4.29 a pound. Right next to the skinless breast was split chicken breast for $1.19 a pound. A no brainer right? Apparently not. Most of the boneless, skinless breasts were gone. I proudly picked up two packs of the split breasts and told my wife for $3.10 per pound I would cut the chicken off myself.  We saved right at $16.00 by doing a little of the work ourselves and my dogs were able to enjoy the skins and the raw bones (raw chicken bones are fine for dogs to eat, cooked bones are a big no no. The bones become brittle when cooked and can become lodged in a dogs throat.) So we saved money on our supper and our dogs supper as well.

Example two:Laundry detergent. I wanted to include a picture, but was asked not to by the management of the store in which I saw this. Before I even start this example, all four are national name brands. In fact the first three are the same name brand. On the same shelf sitting side by side there was laundry packets (no measuring needed) 50 loads 44 oz. for $8.00. Next a liquid laundry detergent of a different fragrance- 70 loads 125 oz. $8.00. Next and the same fragrance as the first but in liquid form 100 loads 150 oz. $8.00. Finally, a different name brand, still nationally recognized, 166 loads 250 oz,. also $8.00. After inquiring, the numbers are in and quite disturbing. The most sold are the most expensive (the packets). The second most sold that made me feel a little better was the 100 load liquid. While I understand the convenience of the packet, I really don't see how much more difficult it would be to measure a cup full, especially considering the cup is included.

Example three: Toaster pastries. We have been programmed over the past several years to automatically think that the store brands will be cheaper than the national brands.Only one problem; I have not found this to always be the case.  This past week I was looking for toaster pastries. I tend to default to the store brands, but I noticed a reduced price sticker on the national brand. Both products had the same weight and the same number of pastries, this time the national brand was $0.43 cheaper for the box.

Example four: Dried beans. When calculating unit cost I always use ounces, but I have heard of people using servings. A couple of weeks ago I was looking at the dried beans, and I am almost always trying to find the best deal. One bag said,"Contains x amount of servings". The bag looked a little smaller than the one next to it, but the cost was less than a dime different. I picked up the larger of the two bags and on the back it had the same number of servings as the slightly smaller bag. This made me curious. I picked up the smaller of the two bags. On the larger bag, the serving size was one cup.On the smaller, it was three quarters of a cup. The lesson we have learned;always use ounces.Serving sizes can be changed by the company.

Example five: Value sized containers.We'll use Oatmeal for example. Not only have we been programmed to think the store brands are always cheaper, we have also been taught that the larger a container the item comes ,in the cheaper it is. I looked at some oatmeal not too long ago and I compared the value size container to the normal size. Just by comparing the two prices I realized they were really close to the same value. So I pulled out my phone and accessed the calculator that is on nearly every cell phone out there. Guess what? The smaller size was 3 cents per ounce cheaper. The company spends less on packaging, because it takes fewer packages to hold the same amount of a product. They charge more for that product based on the fact that we now see larger sizes as a greater value. My dad told me that the last time he went to one of the members only stores, a five gallon bucket of pickles by unit price was more expensive than buying the smaller, more usable sizes.

Example six: Coupons. Coupons can be a wonderful way to stretch your money. Some of the large retailers even have store coupons that print out when you go through the register,( i.e. save $5.00 on your next purchase of $25.00 or more). Some of these can be a good deal, but when it comes to grocery coupons there are some danger zones. 1.) Don't buy things that you normally wouldn't if you didn't have the coupon. I LOVE sweets, but I don't need them as much as I want them. Many of the coupons are for desert type items. 2.) A good rule to follow is if the item was not on your shopping list before you got the coupon, do not add it unless you can substitute it for something else that was already on your list. 3.) Coupons only good for multiple items. I have seen coupons that were only good if you bought 10 or more items. When you see these you must remember that in order to calculate the true cost you must divide the face value of the coupon by the total number of items that you are required to purchase.4.) Always check unit price. Many many times I have seen that even after the coupon has been applied, there are more affordable choices of the same item available right beside the one you are considering. Remember: there is a calculator on your phone.

And finally example seven: Sodas. The average name brand 2 liter soda around here costs $1.25, the average 20 oz costs $1.59 and the average 12 oz costs 69 cents.

Formula for figuring unit price
Price divided by ounces = unit price
2 Liter $1.25/72 ounces (that is how many ounces are in a two liter, the bottle that I had did not show this number, but on the back said a serving size was 12 ounces and serving per container was about 6. So 12 times 6 is 72) this gives us a unit price of  1.736 cents per ounce

20 ounce $1.59/20 gives us a unit price of 7.95 cents per ounce

12 ounce $0.69/12 gives us a unit price of 5.75 cents per ounce

This tells us the most popular size is the most expensive. Do you think this was by accident? Higher profits maybe? Okay, so let us finish the math all the way to the end. If you buy a 2 liter drink for $1.25 in that drink you will be able to get the equivalent of 3 20 ounce drinks at $1.59 each and one 12 ounce drink at $0.69. When we add these up we will come up with a grand total of $5.46. Then we subtract the cost of the 2 liter drink and we will have saved $4.21. If you drink 3 20 ounce sodas a day, and I know many people that do, even is you leave off the 12 ounce, and you do this 5 days a week, you will save $17.60 per week for taking a glass with you. That adds up to $915.20 per year, plus you are putting less plastic in the garbage.

I hope you have found this informative and maybe it will give you something to consider next time you are going to buy something. We all need to make our money go further.

Remember to Keep It Rural.