Friday, November 27, 2015

Moving Boxes & Black Friday: Life in a Frugal Home

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2015
Black Friday, and this frugalista was no where near a mall or store.  After a stop at the Credit Union, we went through the Goodwill drive-thru with a massive drop off!  Five years ago today we moved into our current home, the very home we are attempting to purge 2,015 items from this calendar year. And today we unpacked two boxes that had not been touched since that move.  Both of us home from the office and stuck at home due to a child's case of pink eye, we tackled the basement.  The trunk of our Honda was filled, and more items were lined up for another drop-off later this weekend.  The grand total of items donated, recycled, sold or tossed is currently at 1,671. When you do the math you'll see we need to purge another 344 items to meet the goal we set back in January 2015.  With another full day of two parents at home and two weeks off at the end of the year, I'd bet we can pull this off!

It was not all work, there was a bit of play, decorating inside and out.  Not too much, using items we've collected over the years and a few I inherited when my mom died in 2014, leaving me with the ranch home of my youth to clear out.  Proudly displayed out front is a classic light-up Santa, circa 1980.  Dated and tacky, yes, most likely. Yet we are squeezing every ounce of life out of its plastic nature, and keeping just a touch of my childhood, and my parents, alive for another season.  Ho ho ho, have a frugal holiday!

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Purge of 2015

Nothing stokes the fire of my 2015 purge more than time at the office.  Why?  When your professional work takes you to the home of the recently departed to sort through items for essential paperwork, and you leave with the family finding the most cost effective way to deal with the unwanted items is to "trash" it, well you want to do all you can to prevent your stuff from the same fate.  Be selective, buy quality, routinely purge, make sure what can be salvaged is via donation or recycle or using it up.  The drive was lovely, but the visit was heavy on the mind.  As the weeks count down towards December 31st we have removed 1,597 items from our home.  Of late I've been distracted by the demands of life, neglecting posts here on frugal and neglecting the purge.  Will we pull off the 450 more items?  I have no idea, but after today I am going to give in my all.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fall Leaves on a Frugal Yard

What do you do with your fall leaves?  Seems to be the social media question of the week!

  • Do nothing, let them decompose
  • Mulch with a mower
  • Rake them into compost
  • Hire a company to blow them into a large truck to be hauled away
That seems to be the spectrum.  Earlier this week I fell into the third category, rake them into my flower beds (the compost is too far off -- that is where the backyard leaves will go).  Before doing so I tossed down an old cotton sheet (thank you purge of 2015 for making me recognize this unneeded item) as well as pizza boxes I had saved for this very purpose last year when our youngest turned 5 with a pizza party at home.  Organic material, dosed with water, topped with dead leaves, and dosed with water.

Oddly, around the corner my neighbors took option D.  Count them, 6 as in SIX, garden workers, all armed with cordless blowers, returned them to a blanket of green gas.  We noticed this on our walk home from school, as I explained to the kids that our warm weather (70s in November in Wisconsin!) is likely due to a hot/cold cycle, but even more so by humans nasty habit of burning fossil fuels, which heat up the earth.  And voila, 6 men with blowers caring for your run of the mill semi-urban yard.  All I could do was shake my frugal head, and then show the kids how I had taken care of the leaves.  To each their own I suppose.

Option D

Option C

Next I plan to put some of our compost on the top to weigh this down even more.  Next Spring we'll try some veggie plants in the ground as well as transplant a few perennials.  Have any frugal ideas for our garden?  If so, please leave a comment.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Sinking Target: Frugal Shopper Seeks Alternatives

"That will be $0.76 cents, you can slide your card here." Said the Target clerk ringing up four photos I had printed for the Federal Tax Credit I've blogged about recently.

"The power of my Red Card -- I'll use it for the smallest purchase!" Was my response.

"Oh really, did you know THEY are ending that program in May 2016?" Said the clerk, with THEY meaning the powers that be at Target headquarters.

Shocked and a bit annoyed, "Seriously?  Don't THEY know how powerful the 1% donation to local schools is?  If that ends, so does my loyalty to Target."

A bright clerk quickly sought confirmation from a manager, "yeah, they're ending it in May, why?" The manager was not as savvy as the clerk.

Why?  Because supporting local education is important, very important.  I am am mom, but also the first in my family to go to college, followed by grad school and then law school.  The school donation program at Target was the impetus behind many purchases I could make elsewhere.  I conveyed this to Target via its Facebook page. The company confirmed it was ending the program, but to stay tuned for new and exciting local programs.

My husband scoffed at the response, "they are simply cutting costs, remember the Wall Street anaylis we looked at?  They are looking to cut costs, plain and simple."  Earlier in the month our 7 year old was interested in why Target stock was falling; yes, he is 7 and very wise with money -- his college fund owns some of Target.  The analysis had a lot to say about how shoppers just won't buy furniture from Target.  I laughed, of course not -- "you go to Target for over the counter medications, Kleenex and a Starbucks.  Their shoppes (me excluded) flock to IKEA when they want furnishings -- what a waste of focus."

And sure enough, today I see that Target is beginning to close retail outlets in the States.   As the 1% of purchase price being donated to schools ends, so does my loyalty.  I'll still shop there, but not nearly as often and not for nearly as wide a range of products.  When it comes to over the counter medications and other items for the bathroom, the price is great on their Up & Up line.  However, Amazon Prime lurks around the corner.  Buying on-line yields me 3% back on all purchases, free delivery 7 days a week to my home, the ease of shopping for staples as well as specific items (holiday gifts) from the comfort of my home anytime of day.  As we approach rounding the corner to a new year, I plan to experiment with Amazon Prime.  Will it actually reduce my spending by cutting down on impulse buys?  Will I buy in bulk more, and shave time off of my already hectic schedule?  I am not alone, another working mom out in the Bay Area uses Prime the same way.

Tips and suggestions for alternatives to the Big Box stores are welcome -- saving time is almost always more important to me than saving money.  What smart tips can you offer?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Day of the Dead Wardrobe 365

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2015
November 1st - The Day of the Dead.  Spinning a bit on today's theme I give you my new frugal plan for work clothing -- a uniform of black. Living frugal to me is not just the expenditure of money, but time.  We all only get 24 hours a day, and I spend too much of those precious hours debating what to buy and wear to the office.  Envious of my husband's "owner of an engineering firm" look, I too wanted a uniform.  And then in my Facebook feed was this article on successful folks who wear the same thing everyday.  No that might be a bit extreme, but I've decided to focus on black pants, skirts, and sweaters (cardigans essentially).  Underneath a white or cream shirt.  Color will be a scarf or belt or maybe shoes.  The goal is to be able to dress in the dark and have everything match.  This also stream lines shopping time; zero in on the black clothing with dark gray being acceptable.  Crazy? Maybe, but I'm going with it for now.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooky Frugal Halloween: A treat and a fright!

Our day started with a treat, a friend dropped off two bags of surplus veggies from her CSA at the farmers' market.  Leeks, squash, carrots -- a true delight!

Then I opened the mail and received a fright.  Our health insurance, an individual plan outside of "the market place" informing us that our old grandfathered plan is ending, and the new one will offer all the coverage mandated by law.  With that coverage, our policy will go from $540/month to $1500/month, and that is with an $10,000 annual family deductible (yes, we pay the first $10k out of pocket with HSA dollars or our budget).  We've scanned other options out there, but are not pleased with what is offered.  This will be a hard pill to swallow -- health coverage greater than our mortgage.

Be well, enjoy the evening stroll if you have little ones in your life. The gentle rain of the morning begins to end, promising a gray, wet, but not rainy Halloween night here in Madison.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Spending More to Save Some -- Analysis of Purchases

Followers of this blog will remember that recently our home was granted an historic status, which opens the door to federal tax credits for certain upkeep and repairs -- exterior items primarily.  When the federal government will give us a 25% discount, our frugal eyes zoom into the details.  And as we dig in, the appeal of the program is beginning to face.  Why?  It seems that we have to spend more than we really need to in order to save.

Furnaces and A/C replacement are included, but the quote for a new furnace was far below what we braced ourselves for.  Knowing about the federal program, the sales person started adding suggestions about how we can climb to that magic number of $10K minimum to apply for the grants. Discussing what he told me with my husband we realized -- we are talking about replacing an A/C that still works, and we live in Wisconsin, a place where if an A/C breaks life goes on relatively undisturbed.  And the chipping away at the purchases covered by the program continues.  Why are we spending money to save money?  Yes, these are all items we want to address, but do we need to do them immediately?  Why not wait until the life has been extracted from the furnace, the A/C, and the exterior paint?

So, what seemed to be a very attractive program is fading in our eyes.  We may still use it, but not until we "run the numbers", factoring into our analysis depreciation.  A furnace will likely have 30 years in it, depreciating slowly.  I am not sure that will hold true for the outside painting.  The quote will come in later today, and I anticipate it being quite high.  And I was not pleased when I asked how long the work would last and was told "it depends on what is underneath -- the more paint build up, the more frequent the need to paint, but likely 5 to 7 years."

We'll be creating a spreadsheet to capture all the number, etc.  We are a frugal lawyer and frugal engineer - a nightmare for any salesperson who has to do business with us.  And that is all for today from our frugal corner of the world.