Sunday, October 19, 2014

Off to Savers We Went

Friday after school I handed my children half a bagel each, and we piled into the Honda.  I knew the bagel treat would dampen their after school ravenous appetite and give them just enough stability to tackle Halloween costume shopping.  Off to Savers we went, just as we had the prior year.

On the drive over I explained to them that their desired outfits were not going to be easy, after all, my attempts with Amazon Prime and a general Google search had yielded pitiful results.  A unicorn and snow leopard.....we needed some Gervasi luck if they were going to get their wish.

With coupon in hand (20% from a prior donation to Savers) we walked to the kids section.  If a shopping experience can have fireworks, we had them.  There on the rack hung a size 4-6 unicorn outfit.  New, it was priced at $24.  My daughter was delighted, my son sank into despair -- if we'd had so much luck for her, his search was a lost cause.  But we proved him wrong.  One rack over, buried at the end, hung a darling snow leopard (or some sort of spotted big cat) outfit, complete with hood and face.   Next to his find was a smaller, pure black cat outfit, just the right size for our daughter.   Now she had a unicorn, appropriate for indoor events (school and church) and one for going out on Halloween night.  A few minutes later, our son found something akin to a Star Fleet uniform, and he too had one outfit for indoors and other for the cold Wisconsin night.

We threw in a huge black spider that we now have hanging from our bay window as well as Halloween t-shirts for the kids and a Poncho for my cow girl outfit.  We were done shopping in 20 minutes.  And the total price came to $70.  Far less than any of the not-quite-what-they-wanted outfits I'd found on the internet, with prices coming in between $40 and $60 each.

Savers, an essential ingredient in the frugal life we are carving out for ourselves.  Stay tuned, cute kid photos will follow in the next few weeks.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

Waste not, want not.  That is an underlying belief of our frugal home.  Minimizing waste maximizes our budget, allowing us to save and live a comfortable life.  Frugal for me is two part -- yes, finding "deals" at the store is one factor.  But the second is stretching your household budget. 

Two images from today illustrate how we aim to avoid waste when possible.

Drying rack doubles as a laundry detergent holder -- an ideal way to let the contents drain into the cap, eking out every last drop.

Organic waste (banana peels, apple cores, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.) have a temporary residence under the kitchen sink.

Until I take the short walk, pail in hand, to the compost heap in the backyard.  Compost -- it happens without much prompting.  Looking for a low key approach, check out this article, posted by a fellow frugal friend of mine earlier in the week.  We have a similar approach.  The part on the left has been decomposing for longer, and is ready to be placed in the yard.  To the right, our recent contributions. It works, it is simple. And it is highly efficient!

Waste not, want not.  Look for savings, maximize every dollar you spend.  It's the frugal way!

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Picked over a month ago, these little Japanese Lantern plants started in our backyard.  Now they add a splash of color to our kitchen counter.  How long will they last?  I am not sure, but I'm thankful for the cheer and no need to buy flowers at the market.

How do you frugally decorate your home for Fall?  Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you wish!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Frugal Fast Food: Burrito Assembly Line

The cost per burrito may be equal to or slightly more than those at Taco Bell, but they are the preferred fast food in our frugal home.  When finding a stack frozen in the freezer, my frugal husband's eyes light up!  Here is why:

  • Fast food -- pull from freeze, microwave and 2 minutes later the perfect lunch for an efficient and frugal engineer.
  • Perfect place to stash left over veggies -- from spinach to squash to mushrooms, just mix them in.
  • When making dinner, put 2 cups of brown rice in the rice cooker.  Serve a small portion to wee ones with olive oil and parmesan cheese, set aside the rest to cool.  Dump in a jumbo can of beans, add a jar of salsa, drop in those veggies.
  • Far healthier than the sodium filled burritos sold by Taco Bell and the like.
  • Use heavy duty foil, which can then be reused again and again.....assuming the absented minded engineer remembers to toss the foil in his lunch bag.
And there you have it, fast food in a frugal home.  What's your favorite frugal fast food?  I'd love some new ideas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall in the Frugal Home

Car tires generate a hissing sound as they drive past on the rain soaked road out front, filling the background of my afternoon working at home.  It's a busy road that we live on.  Yes, that brings traffic and its noise, and a bit of danger.  But it also brought a lower price per square foot purchase price for our own, and it is high priority for plows -- this is Wisconsin after all. Not once in the years we have lived here have we been late because of snow!

As the garden has retreated, so has has the whirl of the clothes dryer.  Items hang from racks and bars, indoors, making the most of the dry and cool air.  Drying without energy use, putting a touch of moisture in the air, stretching the life of our clothes, sheets, etc.

Pumpkins roast in the oven, providing "pumpkin meat" for countless breads, muffins, scuffins and pancakes for months to come.  The oven ads a bit of extra heat.  A happy extra since our furnace has yet to come on during the day, how could it with a thermostat set at 61.  Yes, 61 degrees, we call ourselves frugal for a reason.

Looking ahead there are more pumpkins to roast and a trip to Savers for the wee ones to select Halloween outfits, and I'll have my 30% off coupon in hand.  That is what fall looks like here, in our snug and frugal home.  How about yours?  Leave a comment, share and inspire.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Do It Myself!"....from the mouths of Frugal Folks

Image by author.  "Who me?  Yes, me!"

Fiercely independent since birth, my daughter's two-year old catch phrase was "do it myself!"  While her grammar has improved over time, her attitude remains that of "I can accomplish tasks on my own, no assistance needed."  She shares this attitude with many young girls, and also those who lead a frugal life.

Enjoy yogurt?  Make your own!

Halloween is approaching -- pull out your mother's (or grandmother's) sewing machine and whip together stellar costumes.

Cutters filling with leaves -- just hop up on the roof and shovel them out!

Do it yourself resourcefulness is a perfect way to stretch family budgets.  Why pay when you can do the work yourself!  However, while it is possible to stretch a budget of money, one's time is rather finite.  There is the need to sleep, eat, bathe, and bond with family and friends.  Oh yeah, and work. For those without an employer or clients, the stay-at-home parent crowd or recent retires, they have a bit more time to stretch and manipulate.  For me, time is my most precious commodity and I guard it like no other.

So recently I found myself considering hiring someone to clean our house.  There was my husband, encouraging me to outsource, knowing that each item off my to-do list opened the door for either more time at the office or more time with my family, he would endorse either.  A champion of the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none --- Why clean a toilet when you can write a will and earn a lot more?"  His argument, a condensed version.  Friends urged me to call "their person", singing of the joy of returning home at the end of the work week to a clean home.  All I would need to do is make sure the "kids' stuff is put up and away so they can clean."  Easier said than done.

Back and forth I went, and in the end I followed my daughter's mantra -- do it myself.  Why?  It certainly isn't a decision based on math.  Our budget would be higher if I spent more time at the office, leaving household cleaning to someone else.  But the thing is, I like my house.  I like tidying up the place we call home.  Besides, 2/3s of the work is picking up after the kids and then cleaning. Why hire someone and have an on-going obligation, requiring me to work.  When I clean my own house there is no duty, obligation, pressure -- call it what you like -- to keep the cleaning person. And that is priceless.

My decision was reinforced on a recent morning walk.  My daughter and I had just dropped my son off at kindergarten.  On the walk home we met Doris, a neighbor.  She did not look at day over 70, but conversation revealed that she was 86!  She had raised six children, all going to school my son now attends.  "And I still clean my own house -- feels great, keeps me young!" --thanks Doris for the nudge.  Not only am I saving money, but a good cleaning is a decent workout if done correctly.  Also, my inner control freak knows that the products used will be one's I prefer (i.e. vinegar to chemicals I cannot pronounce).  Keys to forgoing the cleaning person when you also work outside the own and so does your partner:

  • Surround yourself with what you need and or truly love;
  • Recognize disorder as a sign of a home bursting with love;
  • Admit that you will not mop every day/week/maybe longer -- it is ok; and
  • Avoid comparing your home to others, especially those in a photo spread or TV show

Friday, October 3, 2014

Frugal People Read the Fine Print....

Opened the mail today and found two surprises.  One was a reimbursement check for $169.99, issued by the manufacturer of the dehumidifier we purchased over three years ago.  This past summer the unit was recalled -- the model had a tendency to start house fires.  Out with the old, in with the new. And today the cost of the new was reimbursed.  Fine print - it is worth the attention.

Mailing number two that really got my attention was a bill from American Medical Response out of Modesto, California.  Wow, they sure do not waste time.  After 60 seconds of scanning the bill it was clear it was for the ambulance we'd called while vacationing in Seattle.  As my son and I drove off into the dark Seattle night to Seattle Children's Hospital because of his croup I wondered "Hmmmm, a Mercedes ambulance, what will that cost?"  Regular readers will recall a post from earlier in the week when cost was not a concern, more of a curiosity.  Our frugal life means that when it comes to medical expenses for our family, we've stockpiled over the years in our Health Savings Account. Concerned?  No.  Curious? Yes.  And I bet some of you are as well.

Based on the bill the ambulance drove us 5 miles, at $18.39 a mile.    So, the mileage totaled $91.95. Ah, but we are not done yet. For reference, the cab back at 2am cost $20 with tip. The ambulance itself, all compact, shiny and new, and European ala the Mercedes symbol -- well that cost $758.00. Ouch!

As my eyes scanned the total I heard a voice in my head (one that sounded just like my equally frugal husband) "wow, that does not seem right, way too much!"  More eye scanning, quick check of the memory bank, and I surmised that our insurance had not been billed.

Now this is not an HMO type of insurance.  We are both self-employed, so we buy it on the marketplace.  There are no HMO hoops, but we do have a $12,000 annual deductible.  Translation, we pay the first $12,000 of medical expenses out-of-pocket.  In our case, we use the tax advantaged HSA dollars to cover those expenses.  In turn, we pay a lower monthly premium.  But even with the out-of-pocket cost on our part, I know from previous medical purchases that we get a negotiated rate. And $758 for an ambulance does not seem to be a negotiated rate.

A quick call to the company confirmed, they had not billed the insurance because it was not on file. Now it is, and in 4 to 6 weeks we'll receive an EOB (explanation of benefits) that will, fingers crossed, give us a lower charge for that ambulance.  And may I point out, this is the charge for the ambulance only, not the hospital.

Oh Seattle 2014, what a trip you turned out to be for our frugal family.  Beyond turning our kid's on to the wonder of Otter forts and sparking in me a new love of lobster chowder, this trip has underscored that fact that life happens, make sure you budget that fact in each month.  And just as important, make sure you take the time to read the fine print.  If you find that hard, use a highlighter, a little trick that got me through three years of buried to the eyes case law reading in law school.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for what the final bill actually turns out to be for that ambulance ride!

Image by author -fruit stand in Pike's Market