Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 -- Our Year of The Plant!

Finding our rhythm in 2018 has been a challenge.  The first week of the year found us on an unexpected flight to Tampa, Florida for the Memorial Service of my mother-in-law.  Having fought cancer for 3 decades, her final days and departure moved with lightening speed.  Thanks to frugal living and a solid emergency fund the last minute flight, hotel, car rental, and incidental purchases (our son boarded the plane wearing winter boots.....leaving his tennis shoes back in Madison!), the trip was not a financial worry.

As we settle into this second week of January work and school routines are returning to our frugal home, some with modifications with hopes of making 2018 a bit less stressful.  Integrated into those modifications is my new years resolution -- more plants!  Inspired by the reporting and stories of The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People by Dane Buettner, my goal is to drastically increase the number of plant-based meals our family consumes.  Without question it is the frugal choice.  Meat and dairy products are the most expensive items to go into our grocery cart.  Production of meat and dairy requires far more water and oil to produce the final product, taxing mother Earth.  And plants seems to be the magic ticket to living to 100 years of age; and not just making to 100, but thriving at 100, free of the common diseases suffered by many Americans: heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

This week's efforts started small.  Cutting up more fresh veggies and fruits to go on the dinner plates.  All four of us are eating varying amounts of rolled oats every morning, adorned with our favorite way to make it more enticing.  Frozen blue berries with honey for me, butter and cinnamon for my daughter, and maple syrup or brown sugar for both my son and husband.  Simple, filling, and very affordable -- we love our old-fashioned oats.  We've also increased our consumption of herbal tea in the house, serving it alongside dinner, and for me I've been steeping a pot in the afternoon instead of nursing another cup of coffee, one often picked up in a to-go cup.

Help our family embrace plant-based eating with any suggestions you might have for recipes, new things to try, and even what to plant in our 2018 summer garden.  Leave a comment and join the adventure down our frugal path.

Be well, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Baby It's Cold Outside!

For the week between Christmas and New Years our hometown of Madison, Wisconsin found itself in the swath of frigid arctic air; daily highs were in the single digits (F), lows at night were well below zero.   What is a family with kids to do when they live frugally but plans for lots of outdoor time evaporated with the warmth? 

Coupons and Discounts!  One night we used a Bucky Book coupon for buy one-hour get one-hour of bowling for free at Schwoegler's Entertainment Center.  Combined with a $22 rebate we had on a rarely used credit card we paid $7 to bowl and rent shoes.  Memories were made without spending much money!

Water fun!  Our annual gym membership with Supreme Health & Fitness allows us to take the kids to the salt water pool.  The kids and I shared a lane.  While I swam laps they played with a water ring toss game our youngest received as a holiday gift.  One hour of healthy fun for all; cost was nothing beyond the yearly fee we pay to the gym!

Hit the Library.  Free movies and books line the shelves.  Two films the kids had requested waited on the hold shelf, waiting to be watched tonight and tomorrow.  Several books, both fiction and non-fiction, were taken home to be read in the coming weeks.  Price, nothing as long as we return them on time.

Embrace the frozen tundra.  Long ago we heard a saying at a preschool, "there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing!"  With that in our minds we piled on the layers and piled into our trusty Honda for a drive to Governor Nelson State Park.  On the last day of the year our 2017 admission sticker gave us 45 minutes of fun in the sun.  The kids skidded and skated on the very spot they swam in 6 months ago.  Fresh air, the empowering rays of the sun and vitamin D, and the awesome feeling of walking on water -- a lovely way to say good-bye to 2017.  Again, no cost to us other than our annual sticker fee paid long ago.

Winter break can be long, leaving large amounts of time to be filled.  There are so many costly activities -- indoor trampoline parks, movie theaters, restaurants, shopping centers.  When you live on a frugal path you need to resist the mainstream and think outside the box.  The result can nourish the body, be kind to the earth, and not strain your budget.

Thanks for following along.  Best wishes as you say good-bye to 2017 and toast the arrival of 2018.  Follow along in the new year as we carve out a frugal life here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Last Call for Rewards

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights, Chicago, IL -- FREE

Propelled by urgent issues at work, kids holiday events, and planning a short trip to Chicago pre-holiday, one item on my to-do list could not wait.  Claiming the Healthy Living Reward Points offered by the health insurance provider we used in 2017, SSM Health.

The web site was not easy to use at first, but clicking here and there, noting the preventive and healthy steps we took this year, in under 30 minutes I secured $200 in gift cards for Target.  Our claim was submitted around the 15th of December, and the gift cards were waiting in our pile of mail when we returned from our visit to Chicago. 

With a few days left in 2017 ask yourself, are there any reward points I should claim before the clock strikes midnight on the 31st?  Don't let precious dollars slip through your fingers!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

$11 A Day Matters In A Frugal Home

"Well, that was unexpected" said our son upon seeing approx. 100 Santas on bikes.  

More on the mortgage front.  When I lasted posted I shared our goal to pay off our home mortgage.  The bulk of the pay down would come from a few clicks on the computer, by which we'd cash out our brokerage account and put the balance towards of mortgage.  Click, click, click....but then a brick wall.  

Our credit union told us that we could not transfer that large of a sum to the bank holding our mortgage in one transaction, we'd have to break it into two.  And it got worse, it would take several days for each transfer to be set up and processed. 

It is my partner in frugality, and life (aka my husband) who is handling to logistics of this payment, and his electrical engineering brain that is super charged when it comes to numbers quickly calculated that each day of delay due to financial institutions would cost us $11 in interest per day.  That was unacceptable.  We had the funds, we wanted to pay the balance down and not pay that added interest.

Old school it would have to be.  Just before our son's Cub Scouts meeting, my husband and son piled into his trusted old Mazda and headed to the bank holding the mortgage with checkbook in hand.  At the counter he slid a check with six-digits to the clerk along with a form indicating the payment should go to principal.  Click, scan, printed receipt, and bam -- the mortgage balance fell to an amount roughly equivalent to a new Mazda.  Interest be damned!

And with our frugal fire burning bright, my husband and son headed to the Scouts meeting.  Along the way his long-trusted Mazda lost some steam.  "Don't fail me now" was muttered under my husband's breath as the car chugged its way up a hill.  Our son  may never forget that night.  Our car does not scream fancy or even reliable for that matter.   But both children are getting front row seats to lessons in compound interest, tax deductions (that are evaporating with the new tax bill), and the beauty of used cars.  I'm curious to see if they'll be as frugal as we are, time will tell.

That night we made a decision to operate as a 1.5 car family.  The Mazda, purchased for $5k in 2010 is fading.  We don't want to pose a risk on the roads, nor do we wish to pay for a tow or investigate the repairs to revive its utility.  For now, it's parked in the garage and  my husband is relying on his bikes (his winter bike has studded snow tires), bus, using my car, and an Uber here and there to get to and from work.  My need for a car is low during the school year since I walk the kids to school and can walk/bus/bike to my office that is a few minutes from home.

If an expense is not necessary, it's likely not going to happen in 2018 as we aim to get that mortgage balance to zero.  Will it happen?  Time will tell.  Words of encouragement or tips on wise spending habits are always welcome, so leave a comment and be well.  Thanks for reading.

Following Santas lead, we are embracing winter biking in our frugal home.  Madison is such a gem of a city!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Digging Out: Saying Goodbye to the Mortgage

In the past few weeks we surveyed our expenditures and income, wanting to come up with a fresh approach to our frugal life.  Where could we make a change and see a difference?  We live frugally, could anything significant be done?

The elephant in the financial numbers was there, but we'd ignored it in the past.  We justified the expense.  Mortgage interest is a deduction.  Having liquidity is important when you are both self-employed.  With the apparent end of the mortgage interest deduction due to an increased standard deduction, and the stability of my legal practice after 12 years of putting it together, we were ready for a big change.  With a few clicks here and there, we moved money from our brokerage and paid down a significant portion of our mortgage.  Instantly saving $350 a month (we were paying $460 in interest, now it will be about $110).  But we are not stopping there.  A conservative path has us mortgage free in 24 months.  My aggressive personality says let's pay it off by 12/31/18. The fire I had to pay off $97K in student loans in 7 years is back.  Will we do it?  Time will tell.  The big unknown will be our 2018 health care costs.  We opted for something other than the $1,300/month with a $13,000 annual deduction health plan off the exchange, electing coverage that kicks in only with hospital and surgeries.....other medical, dental, and eye expenses will be ours to bear. 

2018 is brewing up to be a sail down uncharted waters.  Joins us for the journey.  We welcome suggestions on both sides of the frugal equation -- living on less and maximizing income.  Be well, and thanks for reading.

Winter 2010-11.  Our first winter in our home.  Digging out from a major snow.  Symbolic of our efforts to dig out of our last debt, the home mortgage.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Power of Cash in a Frugal Life

Whether it is Icelandic Kronor or American Dollar Bills, cash is a powerful tool in the life lived on a frugal path.  Cash keeps you honest.  Cash keeps you on your toes.  Cash evokes a feeling when you hand it over more so then swiping a credit card or punching in numbers on a debit card.

On recent travels to Kentucky and then Iceland we paid in cash for our discretionary items.  And in both cases we came home with a surplus.  A voice in my head tells me we'd have gone over budget, just a tad, if we had paid with credit cards.  Now we pay those credit card balances in full each month, but spending at or under budget is key in our frugal life.  So we've lifted the travel with cash and applied it to everyday life.  Each week I head the bank.  I deposit payments received into my business checking, and from our joint checking I take out what I'll need for the week ahead: groceries (that's the big one); fun activities, and other miscellaneous items. For the first month in I cannot remember, we've spent less on groceries than we budgeted.  I credit that to knowing we have $x, do we want to spend it on take-out or just make a meal at home, and only putting items in the cart that will be eaten in the week ahead.

Cash -- it's a powerful tool. Anyone else with me on this aspect of a frugal life?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Life at 60 Degrees

It used to be 62 degrees, Fahrenheit where our thermostat rested.  Over the years it was our comfort zone, but near freezing for the unaccustomed visitor.  With our push to fill the hole in our budget caused by drastic increases in our health insurance premiums our new norm has become 60 degrees.  At times we nudge the thermostat higher to 62, and will make sure we keep it high enough to prevent frost from forming inside -- two spots are most prone, the corner of our son's bedroom and the seat of our oversized bay window in the living room.

Life at 60 degrees, made possible by:

  • space heaters in the bathrooms -- an efficient way to heat up a room in the morning or after an evening shower.  We can be comfortable without heating the entire home;
  • slipper socks -- when your feet are cold everything is cold;
  • letting the sunshine in as much as possible -- enjoy the free warmth of mother nature;
  • long underwear make great PJ's and are not reserved for sledding or outdoor play;
  • sipping hot tea;
  • put on a sweater.....and a scarf doesn't hurt either.
Pushing new limits to save costs.  It will help our budget and ease our strain on the Earth.  Not sure if it will help or harm our health (just kidding, all that tea is a good thing, right?)