Tuesday, July 22, 2014

3 Ways to Repurpose Water for the Garden

To Do List.....
#27 - Install rain barrel.

Yes, it is still there, on our to-do list.  One day we will install a rain barrel, allowing us to reduce watering costs for the garden. Rain barrels are great, but installation takes time and money.  We'll get to it, but in the meantime we have our own little repurposing tricks.


  • Pour cooled water from cooking pots onto potted plants.  This time of year we boil a lot of vegetables: spinach, corn, beans.  And once it cools I pour it on the potted plants on the front steps, just beyond the kitchen;
  • Dump dehumidifier container into watering can and head outside to the tomato and pepper plants.  This is water literally pulled from the basement air, and it nourishes the garden plants!
  • Catch water in the shower with a watering can.  Our kids love to play and splash in the shower at the end of the day.  Once they are inside the shower, I drop in a watering can and after they are in bed, head outside to finish watering any plants that are too dry.
Do you have another great way to repurpose water in the garden that is virtually free?  If so, please leave a comment!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Efficiency At The Corner Of A Frugal Life

Most posts here on Frugal Upside focus on what I do in my daily life to be frugal.  Some include quips and practices from my husband, who is also frugal. Today I turn the focus on him directly, and literally.

When an inexpensive pair of sunglasses breaks, he does not toss them out and head to the dollar store. Nope, he pulls out the crazy glue and fixes those dollar store shades.  Twice.  Yes, he has glued this pair back together two times now.  He says after the third time he will break down and get a new pair.  They work just fine, all they need is a little adhesive, which he keeps handy in a kitchen drawer.

The fix is a vertical line, on top, aligned with his nose!

And then there is the subject of his cell phone.  Having lived without one until late in 2005, he is very reluctant to buy the latest and greatest phone.  Just recently his old carrier, a regional one, announced they were going out of business.  He was forced to go with a new plan, and with it received 4G service.  His phone however is still at 3G, or as I type I think it might actually be a 2G.  Oh well, the phone still works and he sees no need to replace it.  The model was purchased on-line, and had default settings for Ireland.  The price was right, and did not require a trip to a mall store.  No financing was needed, it was basic, it worked, it was frugal.

Thinking what's the big deal, lots of us use okay phones and service plans that are becoming outdated.  Sure. But how many of us are electrical engineers with a masters in digital signal processing that spend our days designing and building circuits boards that make all those snazzy tech devices work?  My husband is, yet he uses old technology.  He can design the very brain of these tech devices, but will not part with them, or the money to buy the latest and greatest, until the old one has been used up.  And then he will sell it on Ebay where it will head to Mexico or Africa for another life.  That my friends, is frugal.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Simplicity Parenting: A Saturday With the Kids

Dance class, errands at Target, cat sitting, beach.  Those were the ingredients in my simplicity approach to parenting yesterday.  Doing the necessary, with a splash of adventure and a pinch of appreciation for the mundane.

Stop number one, the Madison Ballet School.  Minutes from our house, we could walk, and will in the future.  While my youngest enjoys "creative movement", the precursor to pre-ballet, my son and I cuddle on the floor.  Between his trusty copy of Legos Stars (used, from Goodwill, a gift from an aunt) and his stop watch for practicing number recognition -- well it was a parenting dream.  Quality time and really no expense other than the $70 for six Saturdays of dance.

Stop number two, Target.  From cat food to tooth paste to selecting match box cars for a classmate's birthday gift we chatted and wandered and took advantage of the Target Red Card DEBIT card, which saves us 5% on every purchase.  Note, it is a debit, not a credit card.  And Target always offers up great conversation topics with the kids -- such as pink aisles do not equate to "girl aisles", at least not in this mom's approach.  Once I start going on how offensive the "boy" vs "girl" sections are, both kids are eager to find the check out.....and a little bit more of my philosophy sinks in, all at Target.

Stop number three, cat sitting.  A dear friend is out of town caring for her ill mother.  Giving us the opportunity to scope our her amazing collection of cookbooks and bond with Paulie and Tiny.  Well, just Paulie, Tiny is a bit anti-social around my kids, who we affectionately call "the gibbons" because of their energy level.  Again, it was quite time together.  Another chance for me to talk with my kids about why we were her, why friends are so important, what it means to be a friend.  And to top it off, we learned that Paulies' favorite spot is perched on the closed toilet.  Classic memories in the making.

Stop number four, our last for the day.  Saving the best for last as my Smidge declared, was the beach at Fireman's Park in Verona.  Total admission was $13 for one adult and two kids. They splashed and dug and splashed some more.  We snacked on cold cuts, cheese, crackers, and lemonade girl scout cookies I pulled from the freezer.  Then they splashed some more.  We opt not to join a neighborhood pool, we simply would not use it enough to justify the $700 one-time admission fee to the pool, and the $700 annual fee.  Sure, swim lessons are included, but the kids are too young to be too structured.  At the moment they spend five full days in preschool, that's quite enough structured time.  One day we may join the neighborhood pool, but for now we'll swim in various spots around town, fitting it into life and our budget.

All in all it was an ideal day.  Errands completed.  Little bodies exercised.  Faces enveloped in smiles.  And a feeling of warmth in a frugal mom's heart.  What more could I ask for?  And that is the upside of a frugal life.

I will leave you with Paulie, just too darn memorable!


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sidwalk Sale In a Frugal Life

Both children have summer birthdays, just three and a half weeks a part (because my daughter arrived three and a half weeks early!).  One huge advantage of late summer birthdays?  Frugal mom has a chance to scope out the sidewalk sales for gifts.  Now don't be alarmed regular reader, I did not make a special destination trip to a mall or shopping center.  No, I walked to Hilldale Mall from my office located next door.  Once there I visited three stores: toy store, book store, and a favorite clothing store of mine that is moving.  And bargains were found.  Keep in mind that before walking to the store, in fact before July 2014 came into existence, our family budget contained a line item for such an adventure -- gifts and repair/replace.

The toy store had Legos on sale, 25% off, not something you will see every day.  A box was selected for our old child, a self declared Lego addict.  For the younger, a floor puzzle of a farm, also at 25% off.  Inside I selected three other items for the younger one, who's birthday is first.  All of those received 20% off because I had saved my frequent customer reward coupon for this time of year.  Rarely do I buy the kids gifts unless it is for a birthday (summer) or winter holidays (winter).  But during the year we have occasion to attend a classmates birthday.  When that happens I pop into the toy store before or after work, without either of my children, and select a small gift.  Gift wrap is free, and the points add up.  Once we hit $150, we get 20% off the next purchase -- not just one item, but the entire purchase.  Now that it has been used, it will take me another year to spend the $150 -- or so I hope.

Then it was on to the UW Bookstore.  Bucky t-shirts were half off, and several were selected for the kids.  It is never to early to start promoting Bucky, and that fact we have a nationally ranked school minutes from home, with in-state tuition (and my alma matter).  An added bonus was finding 8 boxes of holiday cards at 75% off!  They are now stashed away, ready for November and December.  At the register I pulled out my Belly Card, which tracks customer loyalty.  The UW Bookstore is also a point of frequent purchases for my office, just next door, and the spending will turn into future discounts.

Last I stopped at Terese Zache, a favorite store of mine.  There I found a lovey black and white cotton fitted sweater that was 80% off, from nearly $200 to $40.  It fit well and could easily be worn for client meetings or with jean and a t-shirt on a weekend.  I predict a decade of wear.  And then I could not resist a lovely fall scarf with creams, plumb and browns.  At $14 it was no real bargain, but it will put a smile on my face once the fall weather arrives.  Frugal is not always about cheap, it is about the wise expenditure of money -- and time.

So, that is my recap of how a frugal one uses sidewalk sales.  In my youth I was attracted to them like bugs to a light on a summer night.  No real thought or purpose, just a reaction to SALE!  No more of that, I am much more purposeful with my time and money.  Regular readers know I tend to shun shopping, but not entirely.  I just shun mindless shopping or shopping as a form of entertainment.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Frugalista's Coffee Break

Work purposes took me to downtown Madison earlier today.  After my drop offs at the Register of Deeds and courthouse, I found myself with 45 minutes paid on the parking meter.  Cool and overcast, I opted to walk around the Square, a place I once went to daily when employed by a government service agency. While meandering, noting the new store fronts and my old favorites, I crossed paths with American Family DreamBank.  My first visit was on a "date night" with my frugal husband, who insisted we stop.  And oh I'm glad we did.  Not only does it featuring inspiration installations in a museum style, designed to fuel your inner dream, but they provide free coffee.  Perfect, I'll sip coffee and read a bit before picking up the kids.  And then I saw the note on the door - closed 3pm-6pm for a private party.  Of course, the clock on my phone informed me it was 3:02, too late.



I kept wandering, remembered a Barriques on the corner near my car AND the Belly Card in my wallet, granting me a free beverage at Barriques.  Off I went, obtaining my Magnum Cafe au Lait, squeezing in a few pages of my current library loan.  And that is how a frugalista enjoys a coffee break, or at least it was today.

Thanks for following along as I take a frugal journey through life.  Always looking for new ideas, please leave a comment or Like our Facebook page!



Monday, July 14, 2014

When the Washer Goes, Gather "Data Points" Before Making a Purchase

In a frugal home, the fading performance of a washing machine does not go unnoticed.  In the past week or so it became clear our washing machine was not spinning properly.  At the end of a wash cycle the clothes were sopping wet.  Repeated spin cycles hardly helped.  A new washer was needed, but not immediately.

First we went to Menards, a regionally owned mega hardware store.  This place has 130 aisles and counting -- it is massive, and the staff are not all that helpful.  We had low expectations.  Honestly, the only reason we walked through the doors was because I recently received a $146 rebate check, earned from the bathroom remodel project we are doing as part of my mother's estate.  My husband, the numbers guru in our relationship was not overly impressed.  He kept going back to what he paid for a washer/dryer in the late 1990s, and felt the prices were more than inflation.  Red flag!

The next day we went to another local shop, Brothers Main Appliance, the location of our last appliance purchase.  Again, we had some sticker shock with the models.  And I was feeling overwhelmed by these washers with more features than I could imagine.  I did not want a machine that cost the equivalent, and in some cases more, than our mortgage payment.  To my husband I pointed out that the washers sold today had more bells and whistles than in the 1990s -- a setting for steam is apparently in vogue.

Needing just one more data point, aka price, we piled the kids in the car and drove the short distance to the mall and scoped out the appliances at Sears.  And with that visit we knew we had a winner, back at Menards. Several things made the first store the one we'd purchase from:
  • Rebate check of $146 applied to purchase price
  • Lowest price
  • Guaranteed next day delivery
One downside was my failed effort to sell our old washer on Craigslist before the delivery van arrived.  I likely priced it too high, at $75.  Oh well, I had hoped to get a bit of cash out of it to offset this purchase, but it was not to be.  And there was no way I was going to leave the old unit in the basement.  After dealing with the issues at my mother's home, I have a new intensified aversion to basement clutter, something I'll write more about here, on my work blog.

We were told this model has a ten year life expectancy.  So I've filed that nugget away in my brain, and should it come true the next time I purchase a washing machine I will have two children in high school, and my oldest will be beginning to drive (note to reader, they are currently weeks shy of ages 4 and 6).  That is a thought to ponder, and now I'm off to fold laundry.  


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Focused at the Mall



Yes, you read that correctly.  I was at a mall today, shockin!  The mission to replace our washer took us to Sears; we were gathering "data points" on the cost of a new washing machine.  More on that process in a future post, the purchase is still playing out.  But, we were at Sears.  The sign for $2.99 t-shirts caught my eye -- that is the price of a thrift store, and white is nearly impossible to find unstained at thrift stores.  I snatched up three: white, cream and brown -- perfect for work or play.  Off to the register I went, and because my husband was along on this trip, he focused on the kids.  I focused on the cashier. And good think I did because the scanned price was $8.99, not $2.99.  I pointed this out, she dispatched another teller to confirm, and with the nod of a head the price was re-entered for the posted amount. Lesson learned -- always have focus at the register.  Paying in cash had me focused on what the total would be -- paying with credit often leads to swiping a card without confirming the price.  Oh, and if they offer you the hangers for free -- take them, I did.  Our little ones enjoy pulling their own clothes off the hooks.  However, they are a tad short and more often than not snap a plastic hanger.  So I left with new t-shirts at thrift store prices and free hangers.  That was my frugal move of the day.  And as I said, tune in later for our frugal approach to a washing machine acquisition.