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!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Make It So....Bye Bye Lawn, Hello Frugal!

While my kids played soccer in the back yard with my husband, I pushed our push mower to the side and front yard.  The back was done, free and clear for a pick-up soccer game.  Out front my mind wandered to my plan to do away with the terrace grass.  What a waste of space, and quite frankly my energy. One day, one day I will have the grass turned to mulch and plant something.  Cat nip and other prolific herbs along with a sign that says "help yourself to some sprigs."  Kind of along the line of the Little Lending Libraries that have become some popular.  Seriously, take some and make this one less patch of earth that we need to mow!

As my mind wandered along came a lady with two dogs -- an older black lab and a younger yellow lab, who was quite curious about my soundless mower!  I smiled, getting a bit of a dog fix (I love dogs, one day?) and their walker lady said "I wish my yard were small enough for one of those" as she nodded towards my push mower.  No oil, no gas, just blade sharpening in the spring and some sweat equity.  I thought to myself, "well, then make it so.  Join my in my quest to minimize the green lawns that zap us of time and energy!"  Our front yard was once larger, but with each autumn a pile of leaves is strategically placed to kill the grass and create a rudimentary bed for plants.

Make it so, the upside of frugal is delightful!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Frugal With Five Veggies At Dinner!

Yet another frugal inspiration followed my reading of How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo -- dinner should include 5 vegetables!  Easier wrote than accomplished.  Here is a photo of a recent kids meal: grilled cheese, tomato soup, corn, lettuce, apples (a fruit, not veggie) and potatoes.  We eat veggies here, but trying to put five on the plate for one meal was a challenge.  A challenge I enjoyed!  Veggies -- easy on the budget, great for our health, and excellent for Mother Earth.

Friday slid past me yesterday, backed with client meetings, heat warnings, and a sick senior cat.  Posting an update on  our purge fell to the bottom of my list, and simply never happened.  Today I can say we have now purged 1,405 items from our home.  This past week the increase was due mainly to a purge of childrens' books (we have quite a few duplicates) and downsizing my CD collection.  It shrank because I purged the jewel cases, but put the CDs in one large holder. Technically we purged items, keeping only the essential component -- removing the case and inserts.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clean & Function - That Is Good Enough in Our Frugal Home!

How to Hepburn: Lessons On Living From Kate The Great

Earlier this summer I read Karen Karbo's book How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great.  One of three lively biographies of amazing women (O'Keeffe and Channel are the other two), it proved to be an entertaining and inspiring summer read.  Towards the close of the book Karbo talks of Hepburns tendency to hand over her movie earning to her father, who would invest them and give her an allowance to live on.  This apparently frugal move, living on less than you earn, allowed Hepburn to have the freedom later in her career to spend decades performing Shakespeare for little pay, but great satisfaction.

For one who keeps a blog on frugal living, one might think this gem is what stood out the most to me. But it does not, it is obvious to me.  Live on less, live like no one else (modified from the famous Dave Ramsey).  Instead, what I took from the book was Hepburn's realization that one cannot have it all, and rather mush choose where to focus her efforts.  Career was her focus, followed by a disciplined health routine of tennis, golf and ocean swims.

As I closed the book I realize that some efforts in my life must go, at least for now.  I am juggling too many fronts. Efforts to create a modernly decorated home are the first to go.  Whether it is from the DIY side of things or having a contractor do the work, quite simply my brain cannot take on this question -- what color to paint the walls -- at this moment in time.  For the foreseeable future the motto will be "clean and functional".  I do not care if the hood over my stove dates to the 60s, possibly 50s.  For now, it works, and that is just fine.  Down the road I can do updates, likely when something breaks.  We have some plans to freshen up the kids bathroom, which we will finish.  But after that, it will be on purging the clutter, cleaning what we have, and keeping it functional.

The hats I want to wear are related to three things: a healthy lifestyle; quality time with my husband , children, and the friends who are family; and my career ( a mixture of practicing law and writing).  My garden will not be featured in a magazine spread.  Our home will not be on any tour of "sustainable" or "make-over success".  I admit, I cannot have it all.  So instead, I am going to put it all into the three things that matter most.

Frugal -- the efficient use of your money, but also your most precious commodity, time.  We only get so many trips around the sun.