When I started my website, the intention was to help others who are struggling as we have struggled. I never knew how many ways I would be blessed by my readers, however.

I didn’t foresee the friendship I would make with a reader who lives in another part of the country.

I didn’t know how many letters I would get from readers who are struggling and who are finding ways to keep going thanks to what they have learned from this blog and my website. I have had several of those letters recently from readers all over the world, and they have touched me so much. Thank you for those letters. They have encouraged me and helped me to remember why I am writing.

I smile when I get those letters. I know you are struggling. I smile because you are here, and it’s a good place to be when you’re wondering how to feed you family because your income has stopped or been cut so drastically that you don’t know how you’re going to keep going. I smile more when you find ways to glean food and to make presents for your family from what you already have.

On occasion, I get asked if things are better for us now. After all, it’s been 6 1/2 years now.

Let me tell you about the real estate market in Las Vegas.

The electric company currently records 60,000 abandoned houses without electricity. These houses have not yet been foreclosed on by the banks. There are another 20,000 houses where people are still living but are behind in their mortgages.

If no other houses were to come on the market, at the current rate of home sales, it would take 17 months to get through these houses alone.

Interest rates are rising. Loan rules are changing again and requiring a much larger down payment.

Because banks haven’t been foreclosing much, prices started rising. An artificial bubble started, as there weren’t enough houses on the market.

Most houses are still underwater, and not by just a little. At one point my current house was worth less than 50% of what we paid for. (Our last house dropped in value by $10,000 a month for months before it sold, and then it dropped even more. It went from $350,000 to $80,000.) The artificial bubble (artificial because 80,000 houses that should have been on the market weren’t), though, had house prices rising again, though not as dramatically as before.

The shortage of houses is about to go away. The number of houses on the market quadrupled in the last three weeks. The investors rate of return is going away. (Investors made up 80% of the buyers here the last several years). The bubble (much smaller than the last one) is popping.

We didn’t have a sale in the last couple of months, and our agents (my husband is the broker and owner of the company with 40 some-odd agents who work for him) haven’t had as many as they were having, either.

This means things get tighter.

This is why I know that sometimes, I won’t be going to the grocery store. First we pay the bills, and if anything is left over, then we go shopping. If not, we eat from the pantry. (I get asked a lot about how we budget with a variable income. That’s it in a nutshell.)

This week, a reader who lives in town, whom I had never met in person, emailed me. She is moving to North Dakota, and she asked if I would like to have some of the food that she’s not moving with her. She hoped her offer wasn’t too strange.

Of course I said yes.

She put out a bunch of things for me on her front porch. She couldn’t meet with me, because she was on her way to her chemo treatment that morning.

She thought of me on her way to chemo.

Are you crying yet? Because I am.

And then a couple of days later she brought me some more things from her pantry and a few from her freezer. There was a little bag of frozen strawberries. Liberty asked for strawberry shortcake for her birthday. There is enough there to make one for her. I had to hold back the tears when I saw that bag of strawberries.

God is good.

If you’ve noticed my mention of staying home from the store lately, it’s because I’ve needed to stay home from the store. Adding to my pantry at this time is a great blessing.

I want to say thank you to all of you who have blessed my life so much. Thank you for your kindnesses. Thank you for thinking of my family. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for telling me when you’re out of ideas for what to make with the little bit left in your pantry, and letting me rejoice with you when you find a way to put something on the table, serve a new frugal meal that your family loves, find that you’re going to be able to stay home with your children and not need to return to work, and are able to make Christmas presents for your family when you thought this year would mean no presents for anyone.

Thank you.

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  1. Get a Ball canning book and follow the instructions. They’re quite thorough.If you don’t have some 25 pounds of rice and of beans, now would be a good time to get some. You can do a lot with those.If you look through past posts I’ve written quite a bit about things we’ve done to save money on utilities. Others have commented with ideas as well.

  2. The average residential electricity use in the US is 940 kw/month (source: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3) Our family of 4 uses about 120 – 150. So, I know a bit about how to save power.The absolute best way to save on utilities is to borrow one of those nifty little meters you plug in to every appliance to see where you’re using power. After all, you can’t save it if you don’t know where you’re spending it! Once you’ve evaluated where you’re spending your money, you can decide where to cut back. When we did our energy audit we were shocked to find that a monitor and fax machine in DH’s office were always left on, and were guzzling *a lot* of power. We never even used them! Things like our surround sound for our home media centre (which we rarely use) were plugged in and even on stand-by, were using power. We unplugged it – it’s easy enough to plug in if we ever want to use it. We replaced our old lightbulbs with CFC as they burnt out – a 60 watt lightbulb uses 60 watts/hour; a 4 watt CFC bulb produces the same light but uses 4 watts/hour. We swapped our electric kettle for a stove-top kettle. We never use our dryer; we live in a relatively mild climate so we very rarely use a/c or electric heat (just dress for the conditions as much as you can – if you’re cold, put on a sweater and another pair of socks and get up and get moving). (Also, weather-proof your home. Heavy curtains to keep in the heat/block out the sun; caulk around windows; etc. – this will save you money in the long run.) Unplug appliances you don’t use; turn off lights when you leave a room – they’re little things but they really do all add up. Bigger things include: When you have to replace an appliance, really do your research and buy the most energy-effecient option. Look into government rebates for things like replacing faulty/old hot water heaters or getting solar panels. Our 1 kw solar panel system (which can produce up to 4 kw/day – about the same as our average household use) cost us all of $200 because of extremely generous rebates. If you are very handy, you can also look into building a windmill to produce some of your own electricity. (You can build a windmill out of an LG washing machine engine and some PVC pipe.)After a while it becomes a game to see just how little power you can use. We live quite comfortably – it’s not like we walk around in the dark – but by implementing some very simple changes, we are saving money and doing better by the environment. To give you an idea of how much we’ve saved – After our solar panels were installed, the power company lost our old meter, and we didn’t get a power bill for over 3 years. They kept telling us not to worry, that they couldn’t charge us for more than 9 months’ worth of power anyway; and we were quite happy not getting a bill. A few months ago we got 9 months’ worth of bills, all at once. The grand total was about the same as 1 months’ worth of bills for most of the people we talked with. So. Little changes; but they really do add up.

  3. Brandy, I am thankful for you. Your sincerity, wisdom and practicality are a blessing to me and countless others. You offer hope and beauty when the world offers despair. Thank you for each post. I don’t think I’ve ever commented, but have been a long-time follower and am so glad you share your life and learning with us.

  4. Oh Brandy! You have been such a blessing to all of us and I’m glad you’re being blessed too!Thank you so much for all the inspiration you have given. While our lives our very different, I regularly visit your website and this blog for ideas and the encouragement that may others have mentioned as well. The ideas are helpful but I will second (third, fourth, whatever…) that the encouragement and hope you spread is even more valuable!THANK YOU right back to you!:)Lea

  5. I found your blog quite by accident a little over a year ago. At first I thought it was a pretty blog but not really germane to me. Though there was a time in our lives when we had to watch every single penny, we had passed those terribly difficult days and moved on to a more comfortable position. Because of my “training” during those hard financial times, I have never been wasteful in my spending.Still your blog was intriguing and I kept reading. It finally dawned on me that anything I could save on our monthly budget, could be donated to local food banks. So I began a game to see how much I could reduce our expenses without anyone in the family realizing it. Now it is my time to thank you for helping me to be blessed by being a better blessing.

  6. I also share your blog with many friends. There is so much good information here, Brandy. So many people are struggling to keep their financial heads above water, that having a place to come & find/share ways to save without being judged is a blessing, but to be able to present it the way you do, with elegance & grace, is a double blessing.

  7. I think one of the things about life is not whether or not we experience hard times, it’s how we handle them when they come. With some, it’s financial. With some, it’s far worse. We’ve had both financial and other problems. So, I’d like to thank you for being an encouragement. One of the things that lifts me up about your blog is the fact that you can keep smiling and living a high-quality life, through what many would feel were unsurmountable hard times.My husband and I have experienced times where all we can do is cry out to God for His help and support. I’ve prayed many, many times, “God, just show me one good thing today.” And, he always does. He is faithful through each and every day. I’ve also spent many years praying that I wouldn’t turn into a bitter old woman because of the things our family has gone through. Because….I don’t want to live my life waiting for tomorrow, hoping for things to change. I want to live today and I want to live it well. So, thanks for all the encouragement and uplifting words. They really are helpful.

  8. I’d like to suggest that you begin to live as if the job loss was a reality. Do not wait and fear *what if*. Just pick one thing and I guarantee that it’ll lead to another. If the job loss hits your family somewhere in the future, you’ll be prepared.

  9. Brandy, thank you. At first I just was looking at recipes and didn’t pay much attention to being frugal but I keep coming back and your blog has inspired me to start trying and to talk to my family about it. You inspire me and give so many good ideas, like soup at least once a week.

  10. Thank you Brandy. Ni found it. Thank you Maydijo for the tips and information. Miriam, I sm trying to get them to see the “need” to live like the job/pay is already gone. Ibhave not yet succeeded, but I am going ahead with many changes. We actually have 2 boxes of 25lb rice, the beans are on the shopping list for this weekend. Thank you all for the tips and information!! 🙂

  11. Thank YOU, Brandy, for such a beautiful, inspiring, and informative blog and website. I rarely have time to comment, but you are such an inspiration to me. Whenever I get discouraged, all I have to do is read the Encouragement section of your website and look at all the wonderful photographs you take. Then I think to myself, “If Brandy can do it, then I can, too!” As I write this, I have a jar of your Italian dressing in my fridge, and a batch of your cranberry-almond granola cooling from the oven. Going to Las Vegas one day to attend one of your garden tours is on my bucket list. So if it sounds like I’m a fan, I am!! Thank you for everything you do!!!

  12. Thank you for this blog and the time it must take and that you have allowed for that time in your life. Also thank you for explaining the real estate market…I am not quite sure I still understand it but, you made a dent. I don’t think we have that same problem here. I know my daughter’s house sold in 3 weeks and they buyers offered the full asking price, and no, they did not underprice it. The appraisal was very positive.

  13. Real estate markets are different in different areas. Las Vegas usually leads the nation (as in, what happens here is what happens first for the rest of the nation). However, what happens here is much more dramatic than in other places. We had a huge housing jump and we had the 2nd and 4th fastest growing cities in the U.S. at the same time during the boom. Prices tripled in a very short time. Then they crashed and came tumbling down.Last year prices in Las Vegas rose 25%. That’s a lot for prices to go up in a year. The bubble on that is bursting. Banks have started foreclosing again.Houses here were selling before they came on the market. Before listing, agents would sell the houses to another agent within their company (in-house sales) because it was so hard to find a house available for your clients to purchase. There weren’t enough houses to go around.Then all of a sudden the number of house on the market quadrupled in 3 weeks, and it is continuing to rise. Houses will sit now. The main buyers were investors, and since house prices are not going to keep going up, the investors will pull out of the market and buy in another part of the country where prices are still rising. This means even more houses will sit.The real estate market is constantly changing, but we’ve seen some rather dramatic changes in the last few years. The recession in Las Vegas started a year before the rest of the nation announced a recession. Prices started dropping a year before here.The market is not the same all over. Places where houses didn’t rise as drastically as they did here didn’t see such a huge drop in prices when the recession hit. 6000 real estate agents in Las Vegas turned in their licenses during the recession. We lost a third of our agents during the worst years.Places where winter is heavy usually mean much slower house sales in the winter. That doesn’t affect the market here.For my family, if we’re not having many sales, we’re not making ends meet. If our agents aren’t having sales (from which we make a small amount; we don’t take a percentage, just a transaction fee) then we’re hurting as well from that loss of income.Having your own business means if you don’t have the sales, you don’t make the money. It’s a lot different than having a salaried or hourly wage. In those jobs, you still get paid. The owner of those companies, however, is the one who takes the losses, and if he/she doesn’t make ends meet, has to change production, let people go, and assign less hours.

  14. I respect what you are doing to stretch the money your husband brings in and be at home to guide your children. The way you live is similar to our family. When able, we stock up on basic items knowing that it might be a while before we are able to buy again. This year was able to buy only a couple of things at our local case lot sale…..it made me cry because that’s a time each year I try to be prepared to stock up. But then as I chose to be grateful for what we did have, my sadness melted away. Over many years, we have slowly built up/ever rotate a year’s supply of whole grains, dry beans, garden foods bottled and frozen, case lot sale items. I love finding ways to create meals out of the basics, it is surprising the variety that can be created!! I’m always glad to find meat for under $2.00 a lb. or less…..we eat meat sparingly, but it sure helps flavor meals. I decided to use eggs or dried eggs in our whole wheat bread recipe to up the protein for our meatless meals…..soups and homemade bread are a great meal in my opinion! Hardly ever eat/buy candy or snack foods, but have come up with some snacks and desserts that fit into our supply and budget. Recently made amazing salsa from garden foods that was oh so very good. Found cheese on sale while had the money to buy extra that will last a few months….some of the dates on it go into March of 2014. Figured out a cream soup from dry milk that is so handy, tastes good, and is extremely cost effective. Recently made an alfredo sauce from dry ingredients that tasted wonderful. I got invited to a baby shower and had NO gift, NO time to sew a gift. As I thought about it, I put together a husband gift of 2 easy one pot pantry meals he could make after baby was born…..she loved this, which made me feel good since I had wondered if my gift was even a good idea and had almost just stayed home instead of going!! Always an adventure in creativity!!

  15. Your real estate take sounds a lot like the South Florida (where I’m at, as a real estate paralegal) story … we’ve been swamped at the office the past 3 months, and just like that, things have come to a screeching halt, yet again. It’s the investors who appear to the be the smart ones in buying and selling, apparently. And yet, I keep hearing “the economy is good” … uh huh. Hubby is entering his 4th month of unemployment, thankfully, we’ve lived well within our means but I have started to pay a little more attention to the pantry and freezers. Thanks for sharing all that you do …

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