Vacationing on a Shoestring Budget

What is a young couple to do when they’re on a shoestring budget but are dying to get away for a long weekend? They find the most breathtaking coastal area in their state and go camping.

A few weeks ago we packed up and headed north up the coast to Bodega Bay for a 3 night camping trip. Honestly, we live in one of the most amazing areas in the state. There is never a lack of places to go see and explore, never too few options for a weekend getaway. Last year we headed a couple of hours south down the coast to Big Sur for a weekend camping trip

We headed to Bodega Dunes Campground which is a part of the Sonoma Coast State Park. When you arrive, they tell you to drive around and find a site that you’d like to claim and head back to the gate to check in. Well, after a few loops around the campground, we thought we found “the one.” It was sunny and open and close  (but not too close) to a restroom. We let the nice lady at the gate know that we wanted to claim it and started to set up. Well, we quickly realized that it was too open and too windy. Strike one.

On to site number two. We found this cute little area that was secluded, yet still sunny. It was set back from the road and there was a perfect nook for our tent. It reminded me a little bit of the Secret Garden. Well…this site definitely had its secrets. And unfortunately those secrets were stinky like a skunky.

After the sun went down, we had not one, not two, but THREE skunks that came out of the bushes. Three skunks that had their own agenda and were not the least bit afraid of us. One of us was exceptionally afraid of the skunks. One hint- he has a beard. Josh may or may not have hid behind me as as I was warding off the the stinky beasts. I’ll let it slide this time…

There was no way that we were going to be able to sit and relax around a fire with our new found friends, so we hid in our tent and played cards. Looking back, it’s hilarious. In the moment, not so much. Strike two.

The next morning we packed up camp once again and began looking for another campsite. After looking for a while, we happened upon a gem. It was a campsite that overlooked the bay and had the perfect combination of sun and shade. No skunks in sight. It was glorious!

This was the view from behind our tent. Pretty great, right?

While we were planning the trip, I scoured Pinterest for as many food ideas as possible (see my camping board right here). We tried a few ideas, but relied on some old favorites like Saturday Morning Breakfast.

My Husband is a bit obsessed with campfires. He brought 1/4 truck full of wood and was determined to use it all before we went home. This meant that we had a HUGE fire each morning and night!

We did our fair share of exploring up and down the coast during our 4 days there. The Sonoma coast is  absolutely beautiful. There are areas of sandy shoreline and sections of rocky sheer cliffs. We quickly realized that the ocean was angry and definitely not worth swimming in.

One afternoon, we drove about 30 minutes north to the town of Jenner. It’s a really cute little area with one hotel, one gas station and one little store. The town is built right where the Russian River comes into the ocean. There is a little peninsula that separates the river from the ocean where people kayak and swim. It is also where 50+ seals hang out, play, and sunbathe.

We’ve decided that all of our camping trips need to be at least 3 nights. If anything, it takes that long to find a campsite that isn’t occupied by skunks…

Some tips on how to plan and enjoy a camping vacation on a budget:

  • Choose a location that is close to home, but is far enough to feel like you’re getting away. We traveled about 3 hours from home, which was close enough to save on gas, but far enough to have a change of scenery.
  • Plan simple, but tasty meals. Use websites such as Pinterest and All Recipes to find new ideas.
  • Save in advance! I found it helpful to stash cash away in an envelope or jar for a few paychecks.
  • Use websites/apps like Yelp to find local favorites and affordable restaurants.
  • Plan simple & free activities to enjoy throughout your stay. If you camp within the State Park system your campsite fees will get you into any other local park. If you don’t own bikes, try to borrow some from friends! Take a picnic to the beach, go tide pooling, take a good book and relax!

The Camper,
Mrs. Edwards

Homemade Liquid Hand Soap

This past week we ran out of our beloved Mrs. Meyers geranium scented liquid hand soap. I may or may not have shed a tear or two. Not just because I absolutely love the stuff, but because of the dent it makes in my budget when I buy it. The way it’s priced, you might think the ingredients would have gold listed somewhere. Sheesh.

Since I’m sort of on a kick of making my own home goods (see how I made laundry detergent here), I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try my hand at making my own liquid hand soap! One of the best ideas ever! We recently started a pretty strict cash based budget which is making me pay more attention to every single dollar that I’m spending. I’ve been paying attention to the per ounce or per unit pricing of things, and wow…things are expensive, especially in this part of CA! I figured out that per ounce of store bought Mrs. Meyers Liquid Hand Soap we were paying $0.32/oz. when I could be making my own for about $0.08/oz! The store bought type is four times as much as what I could make at home! SOLD!

Just so you know, you’re going to end up with a gallon of liquid hand soap.  Enough to share with a neighbor or hoard for yourself- both perfectly respectable ideas!

Ready to try? It’s very easy!

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 bar of soap (Mrs. Meyers is  an 8 oz. bar)
  • 1 Tbsp. liquid glycerine (I found mine at our local natural nutrition store, I think you may be able to find it in the first-aid section of your pharmacy)
  • 1 gallon of water
  • Cheese grater
  • A large pot (big enough to hold a gallon of water)
  • A large container (big enough to hold a gallon of soap :) )

Step 1: Begin by grating all of your soap. Like I said with the laundry detergent, be prepared- your arm will get tired. But keep going, it’s so worth it!

Step 2: Place your gallon of water into your pot and add the soap shavings and glycerine.

Step 3: Heat on medium/high heat and stir until all of your soap is melted. Once it has all melted it will basically just look like soapy water. Imagine that! (p.s. your entire house will smell AMAZING while you’re heating this up! Bonus!)

Step 4: Let sit for 12ish hours or until soap has thickened up. After a few hours it will start to separate. After 12 hours it will be kind of a weird slimy semi-solid texture- not quite like jello, but not a solid. It’s weird.

Step 5: Using a mixer or immersion blender, break down the semi-solid stuff until it resembles liquid hand soap.

Step 6: Pour some into your dispenser and the rest into an air-tight container to store.

Step 7: Wash your hands and be proud- you just saved a few bucks! :)

A few notes about this soap:

  1. The store bought version is clear, but the homemade is white. Its okay, don’t worry.
  2. It may have a different texture that you’re used to. It may be too slimy for some. If this bothers you, then don’t use it! If you’re okay with it, perfect!
  3. It doesn’t foam or bubble up the same as other hand soap might, but it still does the job VERY well!

Budget Breakdown:

  • Mrs. Meyers All Purpose Soap Bar: $6.49
  • Liquid glycerine: $3.79
  • Gallon of water: Free
  • Total: $10.28 ($0.08/oz.)

With great smelling clean hands,
Mrs. Edwards

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I’ve jumped on the bandwagon. Maybe I’ve lived in hippy-country too long, maybe I’m just cheap. Probably both. With a little help from some tutorials (like this and this) and a lot of advice from a friend, I made homemade laundry detergent and it is awesome!

This formula is concentrated, so you only use about 2 tablespoons per load. If my math is right (mind you, I’m no mathematician) we’ll get almost 260 loads of laundry out of this jar. We do around 4 loads of laundry per week, so I’m estimating that we won’t run out until September of 2013 (!!!) or so. I spent just about $19 on supplies, so that breaks down to $0.07 per load. A $12.99 bottle of Tide breaks down to $0.22 per load. The 20ish minutes it took me to make this huge container was well worth the $30/year savings that it offers! Just think of the savings it could offer a larger family who does 8+ loads of laundry a week!

This mixture doesn’t have an overwhelming scent, which is great for sensitive skin (like mine) and dissolves wonderfully even in cold water. Want to try your hand at it and save a few bucks at the same time?

Supplies Needed:

Step 1: Begin by grating all of your soap with your cheese grater. Be prepared, this takes a while and your arm will be tired. The soap tends to build up on the grater slowing down the process. I rinsed my grater a few different times during this step to get rid of some of the buildup. It helps speed up the process a little. Just make sure to thoroughly dry your grater after you rinse it!

Step 2: Line your bucket with your bag and add ingredients. I added a little of each ingredient in multiple layers to aid in the mixing process.

Step 3: Mix everything together. A friend suggested using a gardening trowel to mix everything together which worked super well (thanks, Tristan!). Towards the end I picked up the sides of the bag (while still in the bucket) and lifted each side alternately. That helped mix it up a little more.

Step 4: Find a large container to hold your mixture. Our jar is a recycled card holder from our wedding. I think my Mom picked it up at Walmart.

Step 5: You’re ready to do laundry! Use about 2 tablespoons per load. Our OxiClean came with a scoop, so I’m using 1-2 of those per load (depending on size and the dirtiness of load).

Not only does this save us  money, but looks cute in my laundry room too! :)

Budget Breakdown:

  • Borax: $4.99
  • Baking Soda: $3.96
  • Washing Soda: $4.79
  • Store brand OxiClean: $3.29
  • Zote: $1.98
  • Total: $19.01

A few updates! (5/30/12)
I’ve had a few people ask me some questions about this and I’ve caught some of them in the comments but thought an update might not be a bad idea! Hope it’s helpful!

  • For those using cold water: Its been brought to my attention that if you use straight cold water the granules may not dissolve all the way! My Mom has a great way to avoid this- fill a cup/measuring glass with hot water from your tap and mix in your scoop(s) of soap until completely dissolved. Then, pour that into your washer. I realize this is an added step, but it may ease your mind a bit about it all dissolving!
  • For those who use a front loading machine: Try the trick above and either pour directly into the drum or through the normal liquid soap dispenser.
  • For those thinking about using Fels-Naptha: The scent may be a bit overpowering to you. If you don’t like strong scents or have very sensitive skin, try Zote. It has a pretty  mild scent. I found mine at The Home Depot.
  • For those having a hard time finding Arm & Hammer Washing  Soda: I had the hardest time finding it! I finally found it at our local Ace Hardware (along with all of the other ingredients needed). I would recommend looking at Ace or your local mom & pop store.

Another update! (6/22/12) I just found ALL of these ingredients in the Laundry aisle at Walmart! Our closest Walmart is about 45 minutes away and the one place I didn’t try…go figure.

Update (12/24/12) I added sizes of each ingredient! Let me know if you have any questions :)

With squeaky clean clothes and a fatter wallet,
Mrs. Edwards