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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

DIY Landscaping on a Dollar Store Budget

I work in a call center, and I've developed a major case of TMJ, which prevents me from being able to talk for any period of time.  I'm awaiting referral to a surgeon this week to fix it, but I've had some extra time at home because of this.  I have never had any interest whatsoever in digging in dirt, and suddenly I'm really  into gardening! While out on sick leave, however, it's important for me to not spend a lot of money.  I set out to have the cheapest possible garden (that doesn't look cheap).  here is how I did it:

Materials and sources:

This is Cypress Mulch from Home Depot, $2.00 a bag.  I bought five bags totaling $10.00.

These gloves were from Dollar Tree for a dollar. 

These stepping stones were already in my garden area, since the prior owner had a garden years ago, but I wanted to price them anyway for the purpose of this blog post, so you know where to find the best deal!  Available at Home Depot for $1.27 in red or gray.

I got this plant, Salvia Rhea, at Home Depot for 2.99.  It adds a little pop of color and the price was right.  Plus, it's a perennial!

This is technically a transplanting tool, but it's basically just a small trowel.  You can get this, a trowel, and a little rake for 88 cents apiece.  I grabbed this because I have little hands, and it was perfect for digging up all the weeds.

This Weedblock is 3'x50' and cost $9.99 at Home Depot.  However, I later found 5'x10' sheets of better weed block at Dollar Tree, so I could have spent even less money! 

I also bought a Japanese Maple tree at Meijer for $6.99 a few weeks ago.  Michigan had an unseasonably warm March, so they put some things out in the garden center at very low prices, and I couldn't resist!

I was lucky enough to have some stuff to start, since the prior resident had a garden in the same spot.  First, I have about a million Tiger Lilies running along my fence.  Ugh, I hate them, but I'm not quite up to digging them all up at this time.  Maybe next year.  For now, I planned to work right up to them and stop, so they looked as if they were intentional.  There were also a bunch of rocks to use for a border, so I didn't have to use that black plastic stuff.  These also proved useful to holding down the edges of the Weedblock fabric.  

The other part I forgot to mention was the awesome arbor that my neighbor threw out last year, that I had been saving in my garage!  

Here's how the garden looked about six weeks ago:
As you can see, there's some rocks, stepping stones, and a few perennial plants that are coming up.  This is what it's been like for the past 2 years, and in the summer it was just a big "weed garden."  That's my next door neighbor's dog, Bella.  Isn't she cute?

Here's the closest thing I have to a "Before" photo from a couple of weeks ago.  You can see that I put the arbor up, and everything else weeds and those two decorative grass perennials, and don't forget the tiger lilies:

I had planned to do each step at a time:  Dig up the weeds, level the dirt, plant the plants, add the weedblock, then cover it in mulch.  However, that proved to be very ineffective for a couple of reasons:  First, it was very windy that day and the weedblock would have just blown away, and secondly, because it would have been a lot more tiring to do things all at once.  I found it much easier to work in sections.  This way, I didn't get too fatigued or cause any repetitive motion injuries, and I had the satisfaction of seeing a little preview of how the finished product would look:

I ran out of Weedblock with about 5 square feet to spare, so I had to wait until I could run to Dollar Tree to  buy another packet.  I finally finished it today, and here's the finished product:

It's not perfect, but for a budget and not much skill, I'm satisfied.  I'll probably buy one more bag mulch because I have some bare spots to cover.  

Total Cost:  $32.85

I do have plans to add more items in the future, but I also plan to stick to my small budget:

These solar lights are available for a buck each at Dollar Tree, however my local store was out of stock. 

I'll update this post if I find other great deals.  You don't have to have a lot of money to have a yard that looks halfway decent!  Happy gardening!


I checked Dollar Tree in two different cities, and nobody has these darn lights in stock!  If I wanted to buy the regular lights online, I would have to buy a case of 48.  That's not conducive to my budget.  I did, however, find some other solar lights on the Dollar Tree website that were available in smaller lots.  So, I bought twelve of them.  They're smaller than the ones I originally wanted, so I wanted to make sure I have enough to actually light up the garden.  I think they'll look good:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why I Pick Trash

Yep.  I'm a trash picker.  Why?  Because people throw stuff out for no good reason!  When my husband (then fiance') and I lived in an apartment complex, people would often throw out brand new furniture!  And, of course, I was usually the first one out to the dumpster, snatching it up!  Now, I know better than to grab a mattress or a couch (ewww), but over the years, we have acquired many things (some of which we still use today).  Some of the items include an over-the-toilet shelf, a couple of lamps, an (solid!) oak entertainment center, a school desk, a metal cart with a built-in surge protector, and a very nice office desk that was custom-made by a company in Canada, originally costing over $1000.00 (don't you love Google?) in perfect condition.  When I was in high school, I had an old school bus seat in my bedroom.  I know, livin' the dream!  My point is, don't "be above" stopping to check out something on the side of the road or near a dumpster, because it may possibly be awesome.

Now, we do have many pieces of furniture that we did purchase ourselves, but I get such a thrill from finding something for nothing, and making it into something beautiful.  If I were to list the furniture that I bought at second-hand stores and refinished or reupholstered, this would be a much longer post.

My most recent hobby is to spruce up our backyard.  We have remnants of a nice flower garden that was here several renters ago, and I have been trying to make it pretty again.  I never was fond of yardwork, and the only experience I have in the art of gardening is when my dad made me rake the yard with him in the fall when I was a kid.  Thus, it has been a bit of a learning experience, and mostly trial and error.  In terms of the planting of things, plants are surprisingly inexpensive!  however, any sort of garden "decor" is not.  Luckily, due to my trash-picking habit, I snatched up an arbor my neighbors threw out last year, and it has been sitting in my garage, taking up space that was meant for my car.  I finally took it out yesterday and decided to fix it up.  Now, it's not the most expensive arbor, it's actually made of plastic (basically glorified PVC), and all the pieces were falling out of it.  That is where this wonderful product came in:

Shoe Goo is the best adhesive I could have used for this project.  Truthfully, it's the first thing I grabbed out of the junk drawer, but it's waterproof, flexible, weatherproof, and pretty fool-proof.  Plus, it dries clear!  I slopped this stuff on all the joints and stuck it back together.

This is some mystery vinyl tape I found for a buck at Dollar Daze.  It's kind of like a local outlet store, and I love the place.  I've found great things there, but that's another blog post altogether.  Anyway, this tape is white and shiny, the same texture/sheen as the arbor.  So, the broken piece that was missing?   I just taped over it.  Now, the photo looks like it's glaringly obvious, but when you stand about three feet away, you can't even notice the repair. 

Plus, I started some moonflower seeds today, so eventually I plan to have some vines creeping up this thing, which will further disguise my cheapo repair.

The fact that there are sunflowers and moonflowers are a total coincidence here.  I bought the first white, climbing-vine flower I saw, and I thought that sunflowers would be fun to grow too.  It works.

Here's the finished product as of yesterday.  Of course, I have weeding and mulching to do still, but you get the idea.  Would you have known that I found that on the side of the road?  I didn't think so.  I priced this arbor online, and it would have cost $140.00.  I think that's a pretty good find.

Revamped Mail Holder

I bought one of those five dollar paper organizers so that I could help save our table from getting covered in mail by my husband each week.  Unfortunately, since I was unwilling to spend over five dollars, I ended up with this:
Ewwwww, it doesn't match anything!
So, I decided to use some of that Dollar Tree contact paper I had leftover, and some of my Heirloom White Rustoleum spray paint to spruce it up:

I only did a light coat of paint on the sides, because I just wanted to make sure the blue didn't show through.  I wanted to maintain adhesion and the more paint that was on there, the less the contact paper would adhere.

After the contact paper was added.  I may add a clear coat of spray glaze to protect it, but I like the matte finish.  I'm not  sure yet.

My new mail holder, in it's new home!  Much better than the ugly blue!

Refurbished School Desk

Why did my neighbor throw this out?  Well, Unfortunately, I don't have a before photo, but this desk was disgusting.  Just imagine your typical, run-of-the-mill classroom desk, and that's what this was.  I really wanted to fix it up, so I used some paint I had on hand (leftover from my bathroom paint job), a little contact paper from the dollar store, and a clear-coat of spray glaze, and the end result is this:

Total cost:  $1.00!!!!!

Homemade Mocha Drink Mix

I am a huge fan of coffee.  Generally, I just drink it regular (one cream, one sugar).  If I want to get really fancy, I'll use some of this:

Today, however, I found myself out of mocha mix.  Instead of going to the store and spending three bucks on another one, I thought I could make my own for much less money.  So, I checked out the ingredients list:

Okay:  Sugar, nondairy creamer, instant coffee, cocoa, and other flavoring.  I think I can do this:

I have a few different jars of instant coffee around, so I took the jar that was just under half full.  I filled it with sugar up to about an inch from the top.  Seem like a lot of sugar?  It's probably less than what you're drinking in your Starbucks every day, actually:
Visual representation of the sugar equivalent in a Starbucks Mocha, via, totaling a whopping 660 calories, 22g fat, and 95g sugar for 20 oz.

 Next, I added about 4-5 tbsp of dark cocoa.  I decided to omit the nondairy creamer, because it's bad for you.

After adding the cocoa, I screwed the lid on tightly and shook until mixed well:

It's a little darker than the original store bought mix, but since I omitted the nondairy creamer, I expected that. 

To test it out, I put 12 oz hot water in a mug, and mixed 2 tbsp of my mocha mix into the water.  I added about 2 tbsp of 2% milk, and this is the result:

Compare your Starbucks to this drink mix.  Assuming you mixed 20 ounces of this Mocha mix, you would have 120 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 24 grams of sugar. That's assuming 4 scoops of mix for 20 ounces of liquid.  For one serving (2 scoops in a 12-ounce mug), you have about 60 calories, 1/2 gram of fat, and 12 grams of sugar.  Win!

When I add 2 tbsp of 2% milk, that brings it up to 74 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 14 grams of sugar, and all delicious!  (Nutrition facts calculated at Recipe Calculator.)  Isn't it amazing how much healthier something becomes when you take out the unnecessary junk?  This also makes my drink mix much healthier than the store bought mocha mix!  If you used 2tbsp of the store bought stuff, you would ingest 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 18 grams of sugar.  I win!  Not to mention the fact that my mix is a lot cheaper.  Enjoy!

Dollar Store Storage Bucket

I've been looking for some nice little baskets for my kitchen to hide my prescriptions in that doesn't look like crap.  I couldn't find anything in the store that I was willing to pay for, so I made them myself:

Contact paper from the dollar store
2 buckets from the dollar store
spray paint on hand

Before the spray paint

It looks like I paid a lot for these now but the total cost was 3 bucks!  

Framed Antique Keys

This is what I made today.  I'm not sure what to call it, but it was very simple.  I have seen variations of it in magazines, at Pottery Barn, etc, but I really wanted something monochromatic.   My house is full of dark trim so I am always looking to brighten it up.  Here's how I made it:


Antique keys (available at antique stores for about $3 each
4x6 frame (This is from Dollar Tree)
Spray paint
Scrapbook paper
Tacky Glue
Cardboard for painting

First, remove the backing and glass from your frame and set aside.  Put frame and keys on cardboard. 

Put several layers of paint on the frame and on both sides of the keys.  I sprayed 3 coats.

Using frame back as a template, cut out scrapbook paper.  Once the frame and keys are dry, put the scrapbook paper in the frame in front of the glass so that the paper is the outermost layer.  Using the tacky glue, put a thin layer of glue on the back side of each key and arrange as desired.  Let dry overnight and hang in an area that is not prone to moisture.  Keep away from basements and bathrooms, and this should hold up well.  Enjoy!