Taking Care of your Body While Watching your Wallet

Whether it was part of your New Year’s Resolution or not, as summer approaches we are now in high gear to get in shape and look good, many of us belonging to gyms and having strict diets.  These are part of getting that summer ready body, but how much are we willing to spend to look good?  There are so many ways to save money and look great, from skin care regimens, diet habits, and workout plans there are a lot we can do while still on a budget.

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When joining a gym, never join in January with the rest of the crowd and try to join in spring and summer months to get better membership rates.  When you first think about joining a gym, try to go there in person, not signing up online, as most fitness centers will negotiate your monthly bill and maybe even wave your initiation fee.  It is best to sign up for a couple’s membership too, as you can save money each month by signing up as a pair.  If you can afford it to do so, you should see if there is a discount offered to pay the membership fees in full for the year, just be sure to check the fine print for cancelation fees.  Ask for coupons to the juice bar, free classes, and personal training sessions.

Along with your body you need to take care of your skin as well, and if you have problem skin this could get expensive.  Using lotions with SPF is very important as it helps the skin from aging too quickly and can help protect against skin cancer in the future.  If you have acne there are many affordable skin creams and treatments on the market you that do not cost much, or IPL acne treatment targets the bacteria that causes acne, not just with lotions and potions.

Eating right is important on the inside and out.  Always stick to a high protein, low-carb diet if you are trying to lose weight.  Buy fruits and vegetables at your local farmer’s market and big box stores to save extra money.  Save your seeds and plant a garden for free this spring and you can have healthy fruits and veggies all summer long!  Cut down on eating out as much, as this will save you money and keep your waist size down, as portion sizes and prices are much higher at restaurants than you can provide in your own home.  Remember to always use coupons when going grocery shopping, write a list before you go, and stick to it at the store.  Do not ever go shopping for food while on a hungry stomach, as you will buy more food than you need, spend way too much money, and purchase unhealthy items.

It takes discipline to accomplish staying fit and keeping a healthy diet, not to mention continuing to build your bank account, sustaining your body and wallet.

 

 

 

Saving Money in the Kitchen

Stop buying the latest and greatest kitchen tools and gadgets; stick the basics, and you will save more money in your kitchen than you ever thought possible.  Saving in the kitchen not only helps your wallet, but you become more aware of the food you buy, when you buy it, how you store it, and when you eat it.  After all, being sustainable in the kitchen is about spending responsibly, but also having a higher standard to the meals we prepare, as well as the environment.

For starters, invest in tools in the kitchen that you actually need to cook.  A set of high quality knives is a necessity as it can do a number of jobs without the need for additional tools.  Of course it is fun to make zucchini spaghetti noodles with a peeler, but you can make veggie noodles by slicing them thinly with a knife as well.  Do not buy a cheese grader, lemon zester, or garlic peeler when they all do the same thing, and just spend a few extra dollars and invest in a high-end paring knife to get the job done.  When it comes to hand held mixers, blenders, and food processors, just pick up a Vitamix, which may have a high sticker price, but serves as a blender and processor and will last for years.  Read about the possible treatment options for trigger finger if you find yourself having too many kitchen gadgets.

Next, try and reduce the use of throwaway products in the kitchen.  I know that paper plates and paper towels are very convenient, but the cost can really add up when you start to notice how many you are using.  I find that I often tear off too many paper towels at once and have more meals on paper plates than I should, adding to the garbage load when I could have easily have rinsed off a plate.  Remember to keep those fast food and carryout napkins when they throw extra in the bag, as they are free and do a great job cleaning up small messes.  Using fabric towels that you can wash and reuse is a great way to save, as you can buy great fabric towels and plastic plates in bulk or at a dollar store.  Investing in reusable products, may not seem like much in savings, but think of the amount of paper products you are throwing away in a week, let alone a month or a year, adding much to plenty of savings.

Finally, storage containers are a great investment and are never missing in my refrigerator.  When packing your lunch, use washable plastic containers instead of plastic sandwich bags you throw away after each use.  Save the nice containers when ordering carryout from your favorite Thai restaurant, or the plastic bowls you receive from the deli counter at the grocery store, as these are free and you can use multiple times simply by washing.

With a little discipline and a new outlook to the way you organize the kitchen can add up to huge savings.

 

 

Stop Spending So Much on Groceries by Making These Things at Home Instead

As anyone who has shopped for groceries can attest, food is expensive. According to the USDA, the weekly grocery bill for a family of four on a “thrifty” budget is about $146.

For families that purchase higher priced items, including costlier cuts of meat and organic produce, the typical bill increases to about $289 per week.

This is a marked increase over the average bills of a decade ago, when a thrifty family could buy a week’s worth of groceries for $108, and the top range of shoppers spent about $200 per week.

While many families use some sort of cost-cutting measure to lower their grocery bill, such as using coupons, using a rewards credit card that gives cash back on grocery purchases, or eliminating certain items from the list entirely, there is another tactic that can cut the bill significantly while also allowing for healthier eating — and better tasting foods.

By making many popular convenience items at home instead of buying them, you cut the food bill and the amount of processed foods your family eats. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider starting with some of these homemade substitutions.

Dips, Spreads, and Dressings

The typical bottle of salad dressing costs an average of $2.50, with a per serving cost of about 30 cents. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But check out your fridge. How many bottles of salad dressing are in there? If you are like many families, there are probably 4 to 5 bottles of different flavors, all of them half-full. Most commercially-prepared dressings are also full of preservatives, making your salad less healthy than it could be. Instead, whip up your own salad dressing; basic vinaigrette is simple and quick, but you can develop your own, more complex recipes.

The same principle applies to other dips and spreads. Why spend upwards of $3 on a container of hummus or salsa when you can mix up your own recipe using fresh ingredients? If you have a garden, nothing beats the taste of homemade salsa made from fresh tomatoes and peppers. You can even make your own homemade peanut butter with nothing but peanuts, oil, and salt. Try experimenting with recipes to find one that you like, and avoid the high prices of store-bought items.

Spices

Home cooks often face a common dilemma: A recipe calls for a particular spice, but you don’t want to spend $5 or more on a full container, which will most likely go unused after that one recipe. Spices are one of the most expensive items in the store, and prepared spice mixes also tend to contain some questionable ingredients. Check out the typical packet of taco seasoning, for example, and you will find that it’s full of salt and preservatives.

One way to trim the bill is to make your own versions of commonly used spice mixes. You’ll have to invest in the necessary spices (look for stores that sell them in bulk, allowing you to buy just what you need) but in just a few minutes you can create mixes for tacos, salad dressings, meat rubs, and more. Store your mixes in glass jars, and revel in how great your food tastes, and how much money you saved.

Snack Mixes

Trail mix is expensive, and let’s face it: You just want the chocolate anyway. Instead of spending a small fortune on a small bag of mix, create your own recipe that only contains what you want to eat. By purchasing the ingredients separately, the per-serving cost decreases significantly — and again, you get a healthier mix. In fact, many snack items can be easily made at home for less. Granola bars, vegetable chips (including potato chips), and even yogurt are simple enough for even the most hesitant home cook to make.

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Cleaning Products

Stop wasting money on cleaning products that are mostly water, mixed with some toxic chemicals. Vinegar remains one of the most powerful cleaning agents on Earth, and you can use it on most surfaces; add some essential oils, many of which have natural antiviral and antibacterial properties, to make it smell better. Castile soap and baking soda are also inexpensive, non-toxic, and effective cleaning agents. Try mixing up your own cleaning wipes (soak paper towels in a solution of water, vinegar, and essential oils and store in a plastic container), laundry soap, or bathroom cleaner and save money while keeping your family and planet healthy.

Making your own products instead of buying them does require an investment of time, but in the long run you’ll save money and improve your health. Experiment with these substitutions, and see if you can find others that work for your family.

It’s Time We All Embrace the Spirit of DIY

Here at SLB, we’re all for the spirit of getting your hands dirty and learning a thing or two on DIY projects. DIY can really save you a lot of money, especially on big home improvement projects such as refinishing your deck or repairing your dining table. You can paint, hammer and build your way to a more sustainable lifestyle.

A Different Kind of High

There’s just this sense of accomplishment when you do something on your own, using your wits and skills, no matter how rudimentary. You can’t possibly have the same high when you go to a store and buy furniture versus making your own from scratch. Building and creating something is right up there in the realm of the arts, and it feels great.

Granted, not everyone has the woodworking chops to build his own furniture, but there are a ton of better things to do than to buy affordable, brand new furniture, even if you end up assembling it yourself. You can buy quality, wooden furniture at garage sales and flea markets, haul it off to your house and refinish it.

That’s a heck of a lot cooler than assembling crappy furniture, no matter how new it is. You’ll learn something new about the wood you’re working with, proper sanding technique, how to varnish or paint it, and a whole lot more. You’ll get schooled by an old piece of furniture, and it’ll feel awesome.  Plus, you’ll be doing the planet a big favor by reusing old furniture.

A sense of accomplishment, an education and becoming a hero to planet Earth? It doesn’t get any better than that!

Curious George

It takes curiosity and a love of how things work to take something apart, look for issues and put it back together again. If you’ve been bitten by the engineering bug, you know what this means! The only problem here is putting it back together again. If you fail in one step, the chances that things won’t fit or it’ll fail to work are high.

But it’s all part of the learning process, that’s the beauty of DIY. You’ll never stop getting an education that you can use in real life. Imagine if you’re a salesman or computer programmer and the world is plunged into a zombie apocalypse. No power, no internet. You need to learn real-world skills other than what you know to survive, and it won’t hurt to start now.

When to Give DIY a Break

Speaking of programmers, there are instances that you shouldn’t DIY. One such example is testing your own code for bugs. Even the best programmers have problems testing their own software because their mindset is to “build”, while the mindset of a QA Tester is to “break”.

There’s also the principle that you can’t find fault in your own creation, because there’s a level of attachment to it. Like parents who can’t find fault in their kids. It’s pretty much the same for programmers, because their code is their baby. If you’re a programmer, ask someone else to test for bugs in your system. Use software testing services like Pegasie if the project is too big to handle.

Another instance where DIY should be off limits is when working with electricity. Don’t underestimate it, or you might end up in the emergency room. If the wiring in your house is out of whack, or if you suspect water damage, call a licensed electrician or the utility company.

Same thing for water. It’s easy to repair the kitchen sink, but when other pipes around the house give you trouble, call the plumber. When you do call in the experts, ask them if you could watch and even assist. Be honest with them and tell them that you want to learn the basics, so you can be better at troubleshooting problems. Some of them might not agree, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

It’s Time to DIY

The trick here is to troubleshoot everything that breaks in your home or vehicle. When your washing machine suddenly dies on you, use a process of elimination and see if you can zero in on the problem. It helps if you know a thing or two about how things work. If you don’t and still want to do your own troubleshooting, Youtube is your friend.

It’s never too late to embrace the DIY spirit. You’ll feel alive while you’re doing it, and you can even become a real badass!

The Best Retirement Account For FI

There are a lot of posts claiming to talk about what the best account for you to reach FI is. My good buddy the MadFIentist has a few, where he talks about traditional or roth IRAs and how to use your HSA as a retirement account. Of course, he’s assuming that if you’re getting into those strategies you’re maxing out your 401k and taking advantage of your employee match (if you get one).

Unfortunately, the 401k, while a very good retirement tool for avoiding taxes, is not the best out there.

457B Retirement Plans

See, the 401k (and it’s non-employer sponsored, lower limited cousin the traditional IRA) both have withdrawal age minimums on them. As you probably already know, you need to be 59.5 to take money out of them tax free. Of course, you can use the Roth IRA conversion ladder, but there is another way.

Read on and I’ll show you how.

First caveat. Many people (from my personal experience) that are interested in FI have a certain personality type, and that personality type tends to shuffle them into employment as computer programmers, engineers or other STEM heavy fields. There are plenty of other people seeking FI in other professions (like the millionaire educator)  but in my personal experience, it’s mostly programmers, that work for private companies. What I mean here is that you’re probably unfamiliar with the 457, and for good reason – you don’t have one. 457 plans are only available for government and non-profit workers.

Second caveat. If you do have access to a section 457 plan, aside from the benefits there’s one crucial distinction to this account. This is classified as “deferred compensation“.  The major sticking point here is that the funds in the 457 are not yours until you claim them – ie if the non-profit that you work for goes belly up and you’ve got a bunch of money in your 457, that money’s not yours – it belongs to the company and can be accessed by creditors if the situation comes up. I don’t view this to be an issue with government sponsored 457 plans.

What is a 457b Retirement Plan?

These plans work almost the exact same as a 401(k) plan that most private workers have access to, but with a few difference. First, lets go over how they are the same, and how you can use this to your advantage when pursuing FI.

The contribution (at the time of this writing, Q3 2015) limits are the same as they are for 401k plans at $18,000 per year, and have risen in lock step with 401k limit increases. I suspect this will probably continue, but you can never be 100% certain. The plans are funded through voluntary salary reductions, just like a 401k.

Also like a 401k, contributions are pre-tax, and growth is also pre-tax. You won’t be taxed on contributions or gains from the account until you withdraw the money. However at the time you’re ready to withdraw your money, your spending should be well below the long term capital gains tax rate, making the money totally tax free.

So far, sounds pretty much like the 401k right?

Well, here’s where the difference become crucial. There’s no withdraw age minimum for the 457 deferred compensation plans. Let me repeat that so it sinks in: There’s no age minimum to take out your money!

You do need to leave your job to get access to it, but as soon as you do, you can start accessing all the money in your 457 plan. That means no complicated IRA rollovers and conversion to watch for. No trying to figure out how much money you can convert tax free each year. No games, you can just take your money out when you need it, and that’s that.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: what does it mean to me, while pursuing FI?

A Financial Independence/Early Retirement Application for  457 Plans

There are a few different ways you can play this, but the most important to think of this as your “bridge” money (the money that you’ll use while you wait for your roth IRA rollover ladder to come through. Typically, this will only need to be for 5 years worth of money, so you can easily figure out how much you’ll need.

I suggest using this only as your bridge money because goverments and non-profits dont really have competitive wages in most cases, so you wont really be able to build up a lot of cash this way. Here’s the first scenario.

You’re about 3-4 years away from FI, but most of your money is trapped in age limited retirement accounts, with not much in a post tax account. You can take a lower paying job with the government or NGO that offers a 457 plan, and max it out for 4 years, giving you $72,000 in contributions at the end of  year four. You’ll have whatever gains that have happened in the market over the last for years and if you end up in a government position, you’ll have a pension! You can take whatever is in your pension balance and roll it over into your 457 as well, giving you an even larger balance. A few numbers as an example (over a 4 year career in government):

  • 457 Contributions: $72,000
  • Pension assets (I averaged about 5k/yr here in wyoming, so i’ll use that): $15,000
  • Gains: ~10k (over the 4 year working period)

Since your salary has been lower than it was before the job switch, you can convert some of your pre-tax IRA money to post tax, up to the tax free limit for your family situation. This could be a good way to get at some of your FI funds a bit sooner.

An Early Career Move (My Path)

I worked for the government from 2011 to 2014, and I had access to a 457 plan (as well as a pension) the entire time. Unfortunately, I didnt get as much money in here as I would have liked as I was busy paying off debt, but once that had finished I had started to increase my contributions and get more money put in there. It wasnt long (just a few months) that I decided to switch jobs and my option of a 457 went away. Here’s what I did, and how I think it will help me with FI when the time comes:

  • Contributed a bit (like $100/mo) to my 457 until debt was paid off
  • Had about 2 months of 750/mo contributions
  • Rolled pension account (I wasnt vested) into my 457

All of those manuvers left me with about 1 year of living expenses post FI in the account, and I’m not anywhere near retirement. At this point, I suspect I’m around 9-10 years out, depending on market returns. Assuming a 6% rate of return, this money will about double, and will probably provide for about 2 years of living expenses when I’m ready to tap them – giving me more time to run my roth conversion ladder and more time for me to grow my after tax stash.

I know that these accounts are not that popular and most people dont know about them, but the high contribution limits and the fact that there’s no minimum withdraw age make them prime candidates for FI accounts. If you live in the right area and are interested, taking a government job for all of your working years could be a great idea. You could get into the 457 plan, have a pension to kick in a bit of old age money, and enjoy a relatively low-stress lifestyle. Of course, you’d have to deal with all the things that come with government work too.

The choice is yours for those of you interested in FI, but personally, I think the 457 makes a pretty compelling case.

Homemade Hard Apple Cider

Note: This article was originally written in early 2012, and I’ve done quite a bit of cider making since then and have learned a lot. I’ve updated this post to reflect that, as well as added a few recipes I’ve tried or developed on my own.

Since my wife and I have officially begun our journey to FI, no expense has been spared. The larger expenses (such as our house and other structural expenses) have been optimized to the fullest, and we have now turned our sights on other things. One of the first was alcohol, and this was mostly me, since my wife doesnt drink that frequently.

About 10 years ago, I used to spend a lot on alcohol (it was college), and since graduating I’ve been able to take that down quite a bit – to about $500/year or $10 per week. Some weeks more, some less but this is where I had settled for a while.

It wasnt until I decided that there had to be a way to get it lower that I looked into DIY-ing my booze. I started in 2012 or so and have not looked back, and the cost of my boozing has been reduced to dimes per bottle and the occasional headache from overindulgence.

Now, I stick to homemade hard cider that costs approximately $20 for 5 gallons, and takes me about 5 minutes to make (and another 30 or so a few weeks later to bottle).

If you buy about a 6 pack per week, you’re consuming 3,600 oz of beer per year, or the equivalent of 5.5 5 Gallon batches. You can bring your spending on booze down from ~500 per year, to just over 100 per year. Lowering your needs and increasing your savings + a fun activity that allows you to experiment and build your own small scale cider operation? Awesome.

To me, this is one of the perfect hobbies. Once you’ve got all of your equipment, the costs are cheap, the benefits are huge, and it gives you something to fill your time. You can get as crazy (or not) with the different juices and add ins and it can supply the boundless curiosity that every human innately has.

So, lets make some cider!

What Is Hard Apple Cider?

Hard cider is a fermented drink, typically made from apples. Since it’s fermented, it does contain alcohol. The amount of alcohol contained varies by the process you use, but typically they come in between 5 and 7%, or about the rate of a standard microbrew. Today, we are going to go over the entire hard cider making process, from brewing to cider fermentation to bottling. You can do this with easy to find ingredients as well as spare bottles laying around the house, but since I already have a home brewing set up, I just use that. Note that this is not the same thing as cider as it does not have alcohol (but is still great to enjoy warm in the winter months).

One of the reasons that I make this is to help me save money. I estimate that the cost for me to produce 5 gallons of cider (now that I have all the equipment) is around $20, which is the price for 12-20 microbrews. Considering my wife and I have a goal of building freedom through saving money, this really helps. Instead of spending $30-40 per month (or night, or weekend) on alcohol (which equates to about 1 6 pack of microbrew beer or hard cider, per week), I spend about $20 for something that will last me 2-3 months and is stronger to boot in most cases. Cider making has become a hobby I enjoy, and as I continue to tinker with recipes and develop new ones the more I get out of it.

 

Bonus: Get a video showing exactly how to make each version of hard cider, and a shopping list, AND some things you can add to flavor your cider. Get the Extra Flavor Guide Now

Hard Cider Ingredients & Equipment

One of my favorite things about this is that it’s so easy to make and very difficult to screw up. Once you have a beer brewing set up (or just a carboy and an airlock) you’ll be able to make your own cider. Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make a batch:

  • Hard Cider Yeast – This is the most important, and will probably be the most difficult to find. You can use a specialized hard cider yeast (like Wyeast Labs 4766), or you can go with a champagne yeast (like Lavlin EC-1118). I would try them both out and see which one you think is the best yeast for hard cider. Each is slightly different, and I use them both (and others as well, but these are the most common). In my opinion, the best place to buy these would be a local homebrewing shop, as they will most certainly carry something this common.
  • Apple Cider or Apple Juice. You can choose either one as they are both great for making hard cider but you need to make sure that you get the kind without preservatives. I’m not just being all hippy-dippy here either – the preservatives will kill your yeast and will leave you with gross tasting yeasty apple juice. You need to make sure you watch out for sodium benzoatepotassium sorbate. I’ve never seen them both in the same cider or juice, but you cant have either. When I first started, I just checked the label for potassium or sodium, and if it had either of those, I found something else.
  • Honey or Brown Sugar (Optional): These will both increase the alcohol content, and will change the flavor slightly of your cider. My first few batches had brown sugar as I prefer the drier stuff and didnt want to make it too sweet. Since then I’ve tried it both with and without add-ons, and prefer to use them. Not needed at all though. (Use about .4 lbs of sugar or honey per gallon)

These are just the consumable ingredients needed. There are a few different ways that you can make hard cider and those mostly depend on how much money you want to invest in your hobby initially. You can get started for around $15 or less, but as with most hobbies there’s bigger and better equipment (that I happened to own already, so I use that).

Option 1: Homebrew kit & Glass Bottles

This will produce the most volume per batch (5 gallons) but will also cost you some money in set up costs. You can order a kit from an online retailer like northern brewer (this one is a good start up kit) or if you really enjoy this stuff, splurge and get the deluxe model. Either of these will give you everything you need except bottles, but you’ll pay quite a bit more than the other methods below. You can simply save the bottles (pry off only, no twist offs) and have friends save some for you as well and you’ll get enough in no time. You’ll need about 56 12 oz bottles.

You’ll also get a beer recipe ingredient kit, so you can give homebrewing a try as well.

Option 2: Frugal and Sustainable Method

This method is very cost effective, though your yield will be a bit lower because of size constraints. You won’t need to deal with bottling either (unless you really want to) so consider that a win.

To use this method, you’ll need a large glass jug (you can even use the one the juice comes in for added time/money/earth savings) and an airlock. If you cant find your juice in a glass jug, you can always use a spent jug of carlo rosse or other high end wine. Make sure to save the cap for the jug as well.

Option 3: Ultra Frugal Method

This method is the most cost effective (and one I havent done since college). You will need only minimal equipment for this, and it’s super easy to set up.  For this, you’ll need whatever vessel your apple cider came in (plastic or glass is fine), a balloon and tape or a rubber band.

The ultra frugal method should cost you about 50 cents above actual ingredients (hence my college tries), and will yield a satisfactory result.

This is something that I’d put in a relatively high traffic area so you can watch it frequently, as sometimes the balloon can pop off with vigorous fermentation.

As many hobbyists may not believe, you can get started into most hobbies for cheap.

My view on hobbies like hard cider making is that if you are starting out, try to get it done as cheaply as possible. Once you’ve got enough time under your belt to decide if you like it, invest further if you do, and if not, then continue using what you have.

How To Make Hard Cider

Finally, on to the actual process used to create the cider. It’s very simple and not time consuming at all to DIY hard cider. There are a few extra (though not necessary) steps you’ll need to run through if you’re using honey or alcohol that will add some time to your process, but they are not significant and can be accomplished with the goods you already have at home.

  1. Gather your ingredients and your storage vessel(s).
  2. If you are adding honey or brown sugar heat 1-2 gallons of your cider in a pot on the stove. Make sure this does not boil, as you will cause the pectins to set and make your end product very hazy.
  3. Stir heated product until sugar or honey is dissolved.

This is where the steps diverge depending on what gear you have decided to use for your homemade hard cider journey. They will all result in the same product, just some will be more time consuming (though produce more) than others.

If you’re using the traditional carboy & bottling method (as I described in the original post) you can get a top of the line product by following the steps below:

  1. If you’re adding Honey or Brown Sugar, you’ll need your large cooking pot and your cider.  What you’ll need to do is put 1-2 gallons of your cider into a pot and heat on medium.  Add your honey or brown sugar, and stir over heat until dissolved. Make sure this does not boil.
  2. While your honey or sugar is dissolving, add the remaining cider to your carboy.
  3. Once your sugar or honey has dissolved in your heated juice, take that mixture off the heat and add to your carboy.
  4. The liquid in your carboy should be an appropriate temperature now to add your yeast (below 85 degrees or so). Add your packet of yeast.
  5. Attach airlock to your carboy and move your carboy into a room away from heat and light.
  6. Your delicious beverage will ferment (when yeast converts sugar into alcohol) for 2 weeks. You can leave it as long as 3 weeks and be ok as well. Here’s what my cider looks like fermenting away in the basement. Carboy
  7. Once your fermentation has finished, it’s time to get what is now your alcoholic apple cider into your other carboy (or bucket) for secondary fermentation. Though this step is unnecessary, I have found that it really helps clarify the final product and it’s a great time to do add-ins to add other flavors to your cider. You can see my hand model (AKA wife) adding some pomegranate juice to the bucket for some stirring prior to the secondary fermentation below.
    IMG_20150803_195915534_TOP (1)
  8. Leave your cider in secondary fermentation for 2-4 weeks, and after that, it’s time for the time-consuming process of bottling.
  9. I use 22oz bottles (because there are less bottles to fill) but if you get your bottles for free (ie drink what was in them) you’ll need about 56 12 oz bottles.
  10. Follow the instructions for sanitizing & bottling that came with your brew kit and fill Homemade hard apple cideryour bottles with your cider. This, by all accounts is the most tedious part, and the reason for the other 2 methods. You dont need to bottle anything with the other 2 methods, just drink it straight from the jug. Bottling is a task, but it’s something that I dont mind considering the output (5 gallons) that I’m getting when I’m finished.
    Pro tip: open up your dishwasher, and place all your empty bottles on the dishwasher door. Fill them up while they are there, and if there’s any spillage you can just close the lid! easy clean up.
    Bottling Made Easy
  11. Cap your bottles and let rest for a week or 2. Yes, this process is long, but it yields the best product I’ve gotten so far. I’ve also found that the longer you bottle condition the cider, the smoother it gets.

If you dont want to plunk down the cash for a rather expensive brewing kit, you’ve got a few options.

  • try finding the brewing kit stuff on craigslist. If you live in a bigger market this could work well for you. Lots of brewers give up their carboys when they move on to larger scale brewing.
  • use one of the methods below and make batches a gallon at a time

If I were just getting started, I’d use one of these (probably the frugal & sustainable option).

How To Make Hard Apple Cider with The Frugal & Sustainable Option

FrugSustain

  1. Gather your ingredients and materials, including your glass jug if you’re using one.
  2. If you’re adding sugar, make sure to remove an equal amount of liquid so it does not overflow.
  3. Take your apple cider yeast and add 1/2 teaspoon to the liquid. Shake or swirl if you want, though it’s not necessary. Remember to set the jug lid aside, as you’ll need it later.
  4. Add your airlock to the top of the bottle, and fill with sterile liquid or hard alcohol
  5. Take your jug and set it aside in a dark place for two weeks while the yeast work their magic.
  6. After the yeast have done their thing, take off the airlock and put the jug in the fridge. Enjoy whenever you need. No need to worry about over-fermentation, as the cool temperatures in your fridge will slow the activity of the yeast to a crawl.
  7. Congratulations, you now know how to make hard apple cider.

This is one of the simplest ways to accomplish this, and you can use it for many other types of juices as well. You can download a guide at the bottom of this post that will tell you what other juices work great and other flavors you can add to your cider.

If you’re interested in this, here’s what I’d buy: this one gallon glass jug ($5), this airlock ($1.50), this rubber stopper ($1) and this cap ($1), for a total cost of less than $9 before shipping. Note: If you find a cider you like that comes in a glass jug when you buy it, you’ll only need the stopper & the airlock. You can use the glass jug the cider came in, as well as the screw cap.

Homemade Hard Cider with The Ultra Frugal (College) Method

College

I was fond of this method in college, so I know it well and I know that it works. I also know that it costs about 1 to 10 cents above consumables costs, so it’s dirt cheap. Obviously, I don’t condone lawbreaking (no matter how senseless I find it) so if you’re residing in the USA and are under 21 don’t try this at home. Since we’ve got many international readers, this is for them. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Gather your ingredients and materials. This is your cider, the yeast for your cider, your balloon, rubber band (or tape) and a safety pin.
  2. Take your saftey pin and poke a few holes (3 or less) in the balloon and set the balloon aside
  3. Open the cider and add 1/2 teaspoon of yeast in there. If this feels like a small amount dont worry, when yeast get put in favorable conditions like this one, they will reproduce like crazy. Remember to set the jug lid aside, as you’ll need it later.
  4. Pull your balloon over the lid of the container, and wrap the rubber band or tape around it a few times to make sure that it doesn’t pop off during fermentation. Set aside for 2 weeks (though with this method, check on it a few times per day the first few days to make sure everything is still as it should be) and then take off the balloon.
  5. Cap the container and place in the fridge to drink. No need to worry about over-fermentation, as the cool temperatures in your fridge will slow the activity of the yeast to a crawl.

Congratulations, with just a bit of ingenuity and some household goods, you can skirt ridiculous (IMHO) government regulations and stick it to the cider companies that are charging 8 bucks (or more) for a 6 pack of of the good stuff. You now know how to brew cider.

This is the ultra cheap method, and all you’ll need to make many batches is a package of yeast and a bag of balloons (as well as the juice). If you’re frugal but still want a nice alcoholic beverage, this is for you.

Mastering this has also saved me a boat load of money over the last 8 or so years. I used to spend an embarrassing amount of money on alcohol. Making my own hooch and cutting back my drinking significantly have helped bring that cost way down, to the point where I spend about $20 per month or less. I’ll only need a cash stash of $6,000 to sustain this particular part of my lifestyle.

If I spent more on alcohol, freedom would be that much further away.

What’s Next?

Well, once you’ve mastered the process and feel confident in your skills, feel free to step up your game a notch! I have experimented with many add ins to my cider (like real blackberries & vanilla beans) and have tried making cider out of many different juices. Some of this is easier with a carboy set up, but again it’s not necessary. Download the guide below, where I detail all the other juices I’ve used for hard cider, as well as all the additions to the secondary fermentation that have taken my cider from ho-hum to awesome!


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