Friday, October 2, 2015

Heave-Ho, The Purge of 2015 Continues....

Weeks have passed, actually months have passed, since I've reported on our efforts to rid our frugal home of 2,015 items in 2015.  Why?  I pressed pause during the summer, conceding to the crush of having two kids home from school while working part-time as my husband underwent yet another round of hellishly long days (we're talking 12-18 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week).  One can only slay so many dragons in a day, and the purge was paused.

And then the school bell rang on September 1st.  Our wee-ones strapped on backpacks and joined the hundreds of kids at our local school.  All of a sudden, on occasion, I found myself at home in a quiet house.  A house where I could spend 30 minutes scooping up all the clutter we do not need, let alone even realize we have.  While his career still pushes my other frugal half to his limits, and my practice hums along, I have just enough time to resume my fight against all that we do not love and need.

Twenty-nine items left our frugal home in September, one fetched $50 on Craigslist -- a double bike trailer, one I had purchased used in 2013!  The rest were donated or recycled.  That brings our yearly total to 1,435 purge.  When you do the math you'll see we have 3 months to purge 580 items.  Can we do it?  Stay tuned.

For those who wonder why do they care about purging?  First and foremost, I cannot clean a house well when it is strewn with clutter.  Second, we find comfort in having just the things we love and cherish on hand -- I swear I can "hear" clutter.   And third, there is some value in the discarded.  Just this month it took 30 minute to clean-up, post and sell the bike trailer.  Freeing up space in our garage, and adding $50 to our budget.  And that is why 2015 is about the effort to say enough, heave-ho you go!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Frugal Living: Listen to the Math, Not Just Your Gut

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2015
"You guys have an ARM?" a work associate of my husband asked, eyes widening in shock. "Yeah, we got a lower rate which means we save $x/month rather than paying more to insure the rate doesn't adjust." My husband replied, and then I assume he launched into a more detailed discussion involving math, economic theory, the cost of insuring against change, and interest rate policies.  As he went on the other party nodded, "yes, yes, that makes fiscal sense -- it is a better deal than a fixed-rate mortgage."  When turning off his emotional response to the ARM he saw what we'd seen back in 2010 -- the ARM was the best deal. But when emotion lead his thinking, he shunned the device.

Following my frugal-other-half's lead, we try and leave emotion out of all financial decisions.  This is easiest accomplished when you determine the number, or cost, before being presented with a price. "Never ever hear the prices and then decide -- always enter with a price in mind", or says my husband. Taken to the extreme, I've seen him walk away from a bottle of soda that was $0.25 higher than the amount the was willing to pay.  No, I am not kidding, he has done this on more than one occasion.

As for those ARM -- adjustable rate mortgages, they are not perfect for every one or for every situation. But it was the best choice for use when we went from renters to owners back in 2010. Why?  The ARM rate was low, and lower than a fixed because we assumed some risk that when it re-set down the road it might be higher.  Looking for consistency?  You'll end up paying a bit more for that assurance of no change in what you pay.

One  reason the ARM worked for us is that we borrowed about half of what the bank would have lent us, and we had a hefty down payment.  As a result our monthly mortgage payment as a percentage of our monthly budget was not that high.  If it were to adjust upwards, it wouldn't be too hard to absorb. The other factor that makes an ARM easier for us than others -- we have no other debt.  No student loans, no car loans, no loans of any kind too worry about or feed.

In the end, as we approach the end of 2015, it appears the risk or gamble we took back in 2010 will pay off.  The rate is set to adjust, but rather than go higher, it will likely go lower given the Feds position on not raising long-term interest rates.

Should the frugal life appeal to you, I urge you to apply frugal ways to the three biggest items on your budget (and if you don't have a budget, get one -- take control of what you spend, don't let expenditures control you).  Ask how you can save costs in those top three areas.  Frugal shopping sprees will likely never come close to the savings you may reap in these areas, likely: housing, child care, transportation, or food.  And by frugal I do not mean "go cheap", but rather how can you most efficiently spend those dollars.  Follow the math, not just your gut.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Frugal Living: Nature Hikes and Bike Shops

Standing in the kitchen "I cannot believe how much better I feel when I bike!" said my equally frugal husband.  "Then take your bike in, get it back into commuting shape" I replied.  "Yeah, but Dream Bikes isn't open today" he said with a sigh.

Dream Bikes has been our go-to bike shop for more than half of our frugal marriage.  While we love the prices and service, the hours are limited -- closed Sundays.  And Sunday happens to be the one day of the week both my husband and I say no to client matters and business development (well, at least most Sundays). What to do?

A few minutes after posting a query for bike shop recommendations it was settled, the bike was going to Budget Bikes on Regent Street.  Open from 10-7 today, we thought there was a chance we could get it in, fixed, and home, allowing him to resume his bike commuting ways.  "I'll try" was the service person's response, too which a grim look of "not sure about it" was added.  With the bike in the hands of the pros, we returned to our Sunday plans: laundry, lunch at home, and then a family hike.  It was during the hike the cell phone rang -- the bike was done!

Some frugal folks would have opted to fix the bike themselves.  To those who possess the skill, space, tools and time - well done.  We are not that type of frugal home.  My frugal half puts his work energy into circuits and the electronics design firm he is building, and my work efforts focus on estate planning and probate.  There is no room in the garage nor spare parts tucked away.  Most importantly, for us, when not working we focus on family time, our health, and a few hobbies (reading for me, ham radio for him).  As a result a company now cuts our lawn.  The kids go to the barber for a trim - I've put away my cutting sheers.  We are not a DIY frugal home.  Yet we are frugal.

Could we have saved money if we were?  Yes.  But really, today we would have saved $36, that was the cost of labor.  The other cost was all in parts.  An entire day would have been spent focused on the bike and not one another.  And these photos would have never been taken -- from our hike at Pope Farm Conservancy outside of Middleton, Wisconsin.

In the end, yes, well worth the cost of labor.  Plus we supported a locally owned business and paid in cash (no fee to them for processing via credit). For those seeking the frugal path, do not forget to factor the cost of your time into the math you run in your head.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Frugal Life: Nature Walks, Coupons, and Hotel Splurges

Twas another Sunday in our frugal home.

My Husband tended to urgent needs of client.  The day doesn't matter when you are a dual entrepreneurial household. Crisis management under way, even if it is a Sunday.

I ran errands with the kiddos.  Wisely burns off some of their energy with a nature hike at Madison's Owen Park.  Free and full of nature at it's best, allowing them to show of the knowledge they've acquired with Science Friday camps at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Then it was a flurry of stops.

Office Depot - my legal practice is out of file folders.  Toss the 1/2 inch three-ring binder needed for our oldest's first grade school supply list.  At the register present a $20 coupon for the loyalty rewards program, pay the $5 difference with my 1% cash back credit card.

Next up, the hardware store where $23 was paid for one LED flood light for the backyard. Worth the up front expense when you consider the reduced power it will draw and longevity of use.  Add in a $5 hummingbird feeder, again giving the kids an outlet for the science knowledge they've acquired this summer.  It was basically free, because I had a $5 coupon form the store's loyalty program.

Then to Target for a mismatch of pantry items and cat foods.  After a quick look at the shoe section, we headed to the check out with our 5% off Target debit card and coupon for the cat food.  Yes, the store can track my purchases, but they know what cat food I buy and give me coupons.  Bonus -- 1% of my purchase is donated to the kids's school.  The brief exposure to the shoe section there reinforced prior decisions to pay for high-end shoes.  We dropped the bags in the car (cloth, for which I receive a 10 cent discount each) and we walked to Morgan's Stride Rite.

Twenty minutes later a professional had measure each child's foot -- missing from Target was such a device, and professional.  I spent $190 for 5 shoe boxes -- fall shoes for each child, a clearance pair of tennis shoes for our oldest who needs to leave a pair of gym schools at the school, and new rain boots for each.  With a coupon there was 10% off the regular priced items, and my loyalty card received lots of punches.  Overall -- I am happy to pay for the quality and speed of this store, and will not bother with Target's shoe section again.  Time is money in my mind.

On the way home I swung by the drive-thru of my favorite coffee shop, MOKA, and used a gift card a former clerk gave me last week on her last day.  $2 for 20 ounces of iced coffee, fueling up for an evening of solo parenting while my frugal other half tends to a client's crisis.  Might we work weekends?  Yes.  But we also booked a night at the newly opened Legoland hotel in Winter Park, Florida for late December and didn't flinch at the cost.  The excitement on our kids faces upon hearing of the stay?  Well, it was the upside of a frugal life.

Homemade chili and zucchini bread are in the mix for a healthy and frugal dinner at home.  Thank you coffee boost!  And that my dear reader is a frugal Sunday in our home.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Crying Uncle: Saying Good-bye to Traditional Frugal Ways and Hello To Smarter Frugal

What is frugal?  For years I've written about it being the efficient expenditure of time and money.  And these past few weeks have forced me to Cry Uncle on several of my more traditional frugal ways.

The Purge of 2015 is on hold.  It will resume after the start of school.  Why the change?  Children's birthdays!  Oh my the inflow of stuff is amazing.  One child's birthday has passed, another looms. For now I am just swapping out an item for those that come in, making no progress on our efforts to rid our home of 2,015 items in 2015.  But I will pick that challenge back up once the school bell rings.

Then there is the lawn.  Having grown up in a lower-middle class, blue collar home, I mowed lawns starting at about age 12.  My husband who grew up in a more affluent home never mowed a lawn, his family had a lawn service.  Since buying our home and push mower, I've taken a great deal of frugal pride in mowing my own lawn -- great exercise, no gas used because of the push mower, out there connecting with nature. And then this summer happened.

My husband's business is morphing into something greater than his former freelance engineer practice: there is a partner, a new web site, a line of new clients, notice of upcoming international travel; they are hiring of staff.  In short, he is busy, but he never mowed the lawn anyway, so what gives?  At the same time my legal practice has kept me hopping all summer long.  Even with reduced part-time hours my revenue was the same as earlier in the Spring when I was full-time.  I have been as efficient at the office as possible, meaning I only have so much left to expend elsewhere.  And with the call of a cell phone I have handed over the lawn duty to Kevin of Cutting Edge Lawn Care.  Now I can remove another task from my to-do list, allowing me more time to focus on the kids when I am not at the office, and when I am at the office not spend time figuring out "when will I mow the lawn?".   Yes I could do the work myself, but there is a hidden fee there.  This new cost will be $36/week.  Money well spent, and a perfect example of the frugal life -- efficiently spending money as well as time.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Turning 5 in a Frugal Home

As of 7:52 pm last night, our youngest is 5 years old.  How does a child in a frugal home celebrate a birthday?
  1. Throw a party at home, maximizing the use of your living space, furnished basement (that is often neglected) and the backyard.  All that space costs money -- my husband could tell you the cost per square foot without blinking an eye!  
  2. Keep the games simple: squirt guns and a bubble machine equal target practice; paper plates, string, markers and glue become a mask making area; baskets of Halloween costumes combined with music on the stereo give you free-tag dance party.  And then of course there was the pinata -- not exactly frugal, but rather fun.
  3. Order 5 large cheese pizzas from your regular place, and you use the 25% off reward you have on file.  Everyone loves cheese pizza, and it will be gone in a flash.   Avoid the oven and stove by putting pork roast in the slower cooker, combined with broth and apples for 24 hours.  Add a stack of buns and you have tasty sandwiches for the older crowd without heating up the house.  Round out the mix with veggies, that if leftover, make an excellent soup.
  4. Turn to Betty Crocker for a classic cake recipe, and whip one up at home.  Midnight chocolate cake was the winner for yet another year!  
  5. Presents presented in gift bags with homemade cards.  All wrapping is tucked away for future use or the recycle bin.  Nearly all purchased via Amazon Prime for efficiency and the 3% back credit card. which is always paid in full each month;
  6. Make another batch on child's actual birthday, making cupcakes this time.  Baking with the soundtrack to Frozen while she wears a new swimsuit and apron while mixing the batter is a priceless memory for her, and the frugal parent.
  7. After five years of frugal living you will likely have a child with frugal tastes.  For the actual birthday, parents didn't work (okay, dad worked a half-day) and we focused on time together.  Her request -- swimming at Gov. Dodge State park (free with the $25 annual sticker), dinner at home (pasta), followed by a night hike where we spotted toads, bats, and fireflies.
  8. The empty pizza boxes never make it to the trash -- the plastic inserts to prevent the top from settling on the pizza have been cleaned and are now used to support Lego creations, and the plastic mesh lining and box itself are set aside for future garden projects -- drainage and weed control.
  9. And the #5 from your cake has been posted on Facebook (and here) to re-home.  No need to hold on to it until our next frugal member has a 5 in their birthday numeral (the author, in 2018 will be 45).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Homemade Ocean Themed Birthday Cake - Someone's Turning 5!

Birthdays have morphed into extravagant affairs these days, even for the smallest among us.  Up until last year the children's birthdays were marked by both mom and dad taking the day off from work (significant when you are both self-employed) and spent the day focused on the child's favorite things.  Think beaches and mini-golf.

As they've grown older, the circle of friends and family has grown.  Enter the kid birthday party!  Last year both children had events at the Aldo Leopold Center.  This year our youngest is no longer in preschool and not yet in kindergarten, so instead of invite the whole class to party, we did a hybrid.  Invite our whole village to celebrate. We'll sing happy birthday, and then wander up to the free Opera in the Park later in the evening.

A home birthday party's price tag climbs quickly.  Food, drinks, utensils, activities.  We'll have paper mask making, dress-up musical chairs (or possibly just a dance party) and a pinata for the finale.  But what is a party without a cake!  Once again the guest of honor selected Betty Crocker's Midnight Chocolate Cake.  We mixed it up last night, both kiddos helped (it was late, and I'll admit, a few tears were shed, but did baked together!).  Here is how a simply cake became an Ocean Themed One:

White vanilla frosting was mixed with blue food coloring.  Rock candy started the transformation.

 Add in gummy sharks, turtles, fish, and then some Rainbow Goldfish as well as a few sprigs of mint -- and voila, a fun cake made in our own kitchen.  The memories will last forever!