Thursday, February 1, 2018

28 Day Pantry Challenge

Hello February!  A month of cold dark nights, icy sidewalks in the morning, and countless Wisconsinites daydreaming about Spring.  Need proof, February is Garden Expo month in the frozen tundra.  We need hope of warmer and less icy days.

First things first though; we need to empty our pantries and freezers of the fare we squirreled away last Summer and Fall.  For many living the frugal path January is "Pantry Challenge" month, as shown here on my friend and fellow blogger's Yarnstead page.  The idea appealed to me last month, but the reality of life ceased any efforts of focused chipping away at the food stocked on our shelves and in our freezer.  Unexpected travel for a funeral, getting 2017 tax papers in order for the CPA, -- you know the drill.

But here I am on the doorstep to the shortest month of the year, February with it's 28 days. I can do 28 days.  My goal, each day to use at least one item that has been sitting on a shelf or in the freezer for more than 1 month.  Our home does not need to function as though we were -- it's time to use it up, give it away, or toss it on the compost heap (yes, I compost all winter long).  Out with the old to make room for the new, arriving in a few short weeks.

February 1st -- using the Rhubarb compote I froze last Spring.  Gathered from our home garden it is a quick and easy way to capture the smell of early summer to enjoy on a cold February morning.  Sound tempting, here is my simple recipe.  Perfect topping for oatmeal!

Be well, and thank you for following me on the frugal path through life.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Frugality & Swedish Death Cleaning

It's rare for one book to hit the trifecta of my interests: frugal ways, Nordic living, and Estate Planning and Probate.  Yet, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson hit the mark!

Magnusson's book is a quick read at just over 100 pages, and hit my work desk after I was invited to be a guest on WPR's Central Time to discuss this idea of "Death Cleaning", which is defined as "remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet."

As I read the Nordic follower in me loved Magnusson's blunt words and apparent lack of emotion for "things".  The Estate Planner in me nodded, and made notes about how Wisconsin Statutes relate to her suggestions.  And the frugal in me screamed -- don't wait until age 65 to start.  Stuff costs money to house, to maintain, only keep what you love and you'll save money, and maybe the Earth.

This is a great book to read to spur you into Spring Cleaning action.  I highly recommend getting a library copy.  It can be read in an afternoon, and is charming in the blunt and resourceful ways of my Swedish ancestors.  If you want to learn more, join me Feb. 10th at the Cross Plains library where I'll be leading a book discussion!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Citrus & Mushrooms -- Embracing Plants at Mealtime

Nine days left in January, and we are doing well on increasing our plant consumption at mealtime.  My husband and I have declared weekday breakfasts to be meat free.  Last year I'd routinely make him egg sandwiches with some sort of lunch meat or other breakfast meat.  Gone!  Instead I've added chopped veggies (onions, peppers, or tomatoes) enhanced with some hot sauce.  My go-to remains old-fashioned oats with berries and honey.

Embracing the season of citrus, I've been adding an orange to many of my meals.  It fills me up, tastes like sunshine, and allows me to limit any meat I might be enjoying. 

Opting for mushrooms!  Last weekend my book club went out for our monthly meeting (we meet for a meal and talk about what we've read in the last month, no pressure to all finish one book or nominate something everyone would like).  My food option was tea, a cup of cream of mushroom soup, and a dessert.  The bill was reasonable, and once again I limited meat consumption.  At home I have been enjoying leftover Wild Rice Mushroom Bake -- the kids and my spouse are not fans, but it freezers well and tastes lovely on a damp winter day.  Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice, combine with 2 cups boiling water, let stand for 1 hour
  • saute 1 pound fresh mushrooms and 1 medium onion in 2 tablespoons butter
  • Mix it all together plus: 3/4 cup uncooked long grain rice; 1/2 cup sliced almonds; 3 cups broth (chicken or veggie); 1 and 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  
  • Spread into baking dish.  Sprinkle 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese on top
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 75 minutes
What's your favorite way to enjoy mushrooms or citrus?  Help me keep creative in the kitchen with plants.  It's better for my health, the earth, and my budget!

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!