Friday, September 22, 2017

Harvest

What may be the most neglected garden in America today, it continues to produce a harvest.  Last Spring I put up some fencing on the south side of our house, expanding what had been a perennial bed into a vegetable garden.  We hauled some stepping stones out of a remote part of the yard, having been buried under weeds when we bought the house in late 2010, and voila, we had a path to navigate.  With shovel in hand I turned the grass over to soil, tossed in some plants from Jung Garden shop, put down a layer of newspaper topped with straw.  Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and pumpkins went into the ground.  Pepper plants were relegated to pots -- I had bought more than I had space for.

The calendar pages turned, summer arrived, and I worked the busiest summer at my legal practice that I ever have since launching a solo practice in 2005.  Mother Nature had my back; gentle and frequent rains combined with cool temperatures kept the soil moist during my neglect.  And the plants put forth a harvest.   August arrived.  We left the country to visit Iceland and the same time an exterior house painting trampled all over the garden.

September has brought the heat we normally have in July.  I've watered a few times, but have really ignored the garden.  And still it produces.  Earlier this week I broiled tomatoes with sweet peppers and onion, sprinkled with salt.  Into the food processor, add some lime juice, and you have a very mild salsa.  Perfect to top a burger or plate of slow cooked pork.

2017, the year I ignored our garden and ended up with a continual harvest.  My interest in gardening has been sparked.  What might happen if I actually gave it some attention?







Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dropping the Ball and Skipping "Enrichment" Activities

What is the saying, make a plan and then life happens?  I had a plan.  Once our son's NFL  Flag Football ended in mid-October I would sign both kids up for Sunday swim lessons at our gym.  And that would end just before the winter ice skating lessons for our daughter AND basketball league for our son.  Did I mention that the kids are only 9 and 7?

Then life happened.  The swim instructor email went out saying lessons would be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  Wait, what?  My hyper-active Type A planning mind froze-up.  I work late on Tuesdays and Thursday, the kids go to after school. We CANNOT due swim those nights.  This past summer the kids had swim on Tuesdays, after a full-day of summer camp, and on more than one occasion our oldest was in tears in the pool because he was being pushed so hard.  For 24 hours I asked around for recommendations.  My plan was to have them swim on Sundays.  And then the storm clouds cleared and my mind settled.

My kids are 9 and 7.  We are entering cold and flu season.  What are the chances they'll both be healthy enough to swim on Sundays in late-October to December.  What will the weather conditions be like for driving?  I may have been born with a Swedish last name (Gustafson), but I really dislike driving in snow (we live in Madison, Wisconsin -- we get snow, and ice).  And then I realized I could simply take them swimming with me at the gym.  Friday night and Saturday as well as Sunday there is "family swim", and other times we could just share a lane.  They know HOW to swim, for now we just need to keep swimming.  Lessons aren't essential.

Gone was the stress of scheduling, opening up time for the kids and I to share a way I love to stay active - swim just to swim.  I have no dreams that a swim scholarship will put them through college. Our frugal ways and devotion to funding their 529 college savings plans will pay for school.  They are not yet double-digit age and have a hefty amount tucked away for higher education.  My undergraduate and law degree are from public universities, so I don't buy into the "you have to do x, y, and z to get into the ivy league sales mania."

So I dropped the ball and found: piece of mind, more relaxed schedules, no stress of missed lessons due to illness, and more money in my budget.  Today the Washington Post ran an article on teens delayed development.  Oddly there is little to no discussion of the modern trend to "enrich" our children's lives with near constant organized activity.  Kids these days have little to no time to just play in the back yard or splash in the pool.  I'm bucking the trend with our kids and backing off of the enrichment activities more than I have in the past.  Where are you on your frugal path?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Icelandic Inspiration: Leading a Frugal Life

The upside of a frugal life is that one has funds to travel if one makes travel a priority.  And in our frugal home, travel is a top priority behind a cozy home and quality education. Five years ago the city of Reykjavik, Iceland hosted 300,000 tourists a year, in 2017 they expect 1.7 million. Recently we spent a week in the island nation of Iceland, and I left more inspired than ever to lead a frugal life given the domination of climate change in the news cycle.






While I could not read the actual story as it was in Icelandic, the headline was clear.  Even in this remote gas station in rural Iceland, Harvey caused the world to take note.  As I write this post Irma is headed to Florida, where we have extended family.  Fires out west, earth quakes, more hurricanes; denying climate change is not the path to follow!  I spend a great deal of time thinking about my children's school experience and the return on their college savings accounts.  And more than ever I think about the state of the planet will are handing to them.

Join me on my path to re-affirm a frugal life.  One that is not only easy on our planet, but good for our wallets and health.  Have you taken any new steps to off-set climate change?  I am not waiting for our elected officials to take action; I firmly believe public policy lags social norms.  Since my return from Iceland I have increased my efforts to leave my trusty Honda Civic parked in the garage, and get about without a car.  Forbes reports that parents with kids increase their carbon footprint by 6% because they "need" to use a car.  I can attest to the fact Little Americans can walk more than one might expect.  We experienced this first hand in March 2016 while traveling in Southern Sweden, going 2 weeks without a car.  And this past August in Iceland.  Granted, Northern Europe is more walker (and biker) friendly.   But I'm up for a challenge, I think I need to be given the historic storms brewing in the Atlantic.


Share your thoughts and ideas here, let's inspire and motivate one another.  Public policy will eventually catch up with us.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Celebrating #9 Frugally

Recently our oldest turned 9.  Contemporary birthdays are beyond over the top, something our frugal family simply cannot embrace.  Parties often strain a family's budget, tax the children (too much sugar, too much noise, too much consumption, etc.), and trash Mother Earth. We wonder, what are we teaching our children?

Every year we tweak our approach to the kids' birthdays.  As infants and toddlers it was nothing more than a day with mom and dad (we both own our own businesses), an outing to a favorite place (the beach, museum in Milwaukee, Day trip to Chicago) and a home cooked meal with their favorite foods.

With preschool came the pressure to "throw a party".  A few times we rented a venue, invited 20+ kids, and let chaos unfold for 2 hours.  For dual career parents flying without any grandparent assistance, this was doable.  It took very little of our time, but felt over indulgent.

This year we went with a home party and a smaller number of kids for each party.  My husband was delighted to see the furnished basement we've been paying for since buying this house in November 2010 finally being put to use (the kids have been too scared to play down there until recently).  We also gave the kids a budget of $500 to cover: gifts, party, and supplies.  Any remainder would be cash for them to save, spend, and or donate.  Why the budget?  It's a hidden gift, giving our kids the power to spend, and learn from overspending.  We rather they make money mistakes at 9 rather than 19.

After watching his sister spend money on a lot of party favors (which she did not regret), he took a more austere approach:

  • homemade cake which he helped to bake and decorate -- toppers ordered of of Amazon, recipe is Betty Crocker Midnight Chocolate (he gets it every year)
  • Evites saying "let's reconnect" before school starts
  • Guests built Lego free-style cards upon arrival, that were then raced down a homemade ramp
  • Guests took plastic bracelets and did a modified ring toss over Lego towers
  • Dinner of pizza (using Feed an Army $26 coupon from Rocky Roco's), corn on the cob, and melon.
  • Prizes were given out to Lego Race winners, with 1st selecting 1st, from a stash of over-sized candies;
  • Candy and popcorn consumed with watching Lego Batman movie (purchased at Barnes & Noble with a 30% off coupon plus another 10% off for being a member)
Connections were reinforced, friendships strengthened, and fun was had.  Our son received all his presents, ordered off of Amazon Prime.  I used my Amazon Prime credit card, which is paid in full each month, receiving 5% cash back that will be added to our travel fund.

The experience of having a budget for a party forced the kids to think about what resources at home we could use.  For example, the ramp was a huge piece of cardboard that had been in the garage since we bought the house, coated with black spray paint purchased for a bat house yet to be mounted.  We could see the wheels turn behind their eyes -- do I need to spend money on fancy plates when we have plain paper plates at home?  One kid said yes, the other no.  Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, but about maximizing your spending power to enjoy your time on this little blue dot sailing around the sun.

 Dad was the judge of the races.

 Football themed cake for our sports crazed son.

 Watching a DVD on our 1990s TV and VCR!

His actual birthday, with a 2nd cake.  Happy 9th our love, next year it will be double digits.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Frugal Family Photos

Sunflower Days at Pope Farm here in Madison just ended.  We made the annual pilgrimage to this lovely field again this year.  In addition to stunning sunflowers one is likely to find families, clustered together in coordinated outfits with the lens of a photographer focused directly on them.  It's holiday photo time.  It's time to document the children's growth, to capture those radiant smiles.  It's time to hand over a lot of cash for those Kodak Moments.

Last week I also received an email from a local photographer I had used to take candid photos of both kids in the days after they were born.  Since then I've taken my own frugal path and not paid the annual fee for a family photo session.  The cost is too much for me to wrap my head around; $600 for 1.5 hours.

Instinctively I read $600 and think, that's one international airline ticket!  I also own a decent SLR camera and spent a lot of time and money developing my hobby photography interest in my pre-husband and pre-children life.  Because I have decent equipment, enjoy taking my own photos, and love to travel, you won't find this frugal family spending that kind of money.   Here are my thoughts on creating lovely family photos without breaking the bank.

There is the frugal cell phone selfie, this one taken in Copenhagen, Denmark.



There is the option of asking a stranger to capture your family among the flowers:



And then there is getting down to kid level (down on your knee, possibly your belly) and shooting hundreds of frames, knowing a little bit about the power of light, and then sort through for a gem.







What's your frugal path to capturing life with a camera that does not cost a small fortune (to me, that is the cost of an international plane ticket)?  Leave a comment and share.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Frugal Travel Tip: Skip Restaurants, Aim for Kitchens

Followers of this blog know that our family loves to travel, and we travel as often as we can.  They also know that there is no money tree in our backyard.  Each and every month we make a decision to allocate the prior months earnings (yes, we budget) to the current month's expenditures: mortgage, health insurance, transportation, food, etc.  We also save money each month towards travel.  And when it is time for travel, we pull our funds from the savings.  As we launch into one vacation we usually have plans for the next simmering in our mind.  That causes us to know what we spend on vacation #1 impacts our ability to take vacation #2.  One way to stretch our travel dollars is to eat in.

Rarely on travel do we eat out at a restaurant because we select lodging that comes with a full kitchen: fridge, stove, cookware, etc.  Upon arrival we unload what food we brought along and then head to the local market.  Simple meals are the staple: pasta, eggs, grilled sandwiches, etc.


From years ago on a trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin to last years 2 week adventure in Southern Sweden. We find hotels or apartments to rent for home base, and enjoy traditional family meals for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal.


What's your key to frugal travel?  I'd love some more ideas since my to-see list continues to grow!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cost Per Wear!

Rarely does our frugal family approach a purchase price by looking only at the cost of an item.  When it comes to clothing we ask what is the cost divided by the likely number of times wearing an item. There are exceptions, with special event clothing we assume a low number of uses.  Something I did in 2011 when I found a lovely knit dress for our daughter to wear at her naming ceremony at First Unitarian Society of Madison.  It was a bargain buy at Baby Gap, the cost was less than $20.  This is our little one in April 2011.


And to my delight, here is my little one a week ago wearing the same dress, just as a shirt.


When it comes to girls' clothing -- aim for loose fitting dresses that can become tunics and then a shirt.  If you're lucky, your frugal ways will find 6 years of wear.  And yes, I see that we are likely at the end of the road for this shirt.  We'll either pass it on to a new family, but since it has special connection to her naming ceremony we may fit it on a  favorite stuffie.

If you want to go the frugal path, ask yourself what will this item cost per use, don't focus on the price in isolation -- it tells you nothing.