Friday, October 13, 2017

Perfect. It Isn't Fun. And It's Expensive

Smile, it's picture day!  Yes, Friday the 13th was school picture day for our 2nd and 3rd grade children.  Last week I thought I had perfected a parenting task -- the School Photo Hair Cut.  No, I did not pick up a pair of sheers.  I did a 180 and booked the kids appoint with my stylist at a nice salon.  She is a junior stylist, so the price is quite favorable plus you get the perks of an Aveda salon -- neck massage, fancy scalp oil, free coffee. It is quite divine.

We had an appointment, no waiting like we normally do at the classic barber shop we've used in the past.  My son got a cut while I sipped my free cup of herbal tea.  Then my daughter hopped in the chair for an extensive brushing session -- oh the tangles!  She only needed a bang trim in the end.  Then we were off to pay.  I wasn't charged for the bang trim, and even with a generous tip, the bill was $30.  That was $20 below my budgeted amount, planned earlier in the month when I thought we'd go to the regular barber shop, where both kid cuts and a tip comes to $50.

It all seemed to come together, but a few days later it was clear my son's cut just wasn't quite right.  Too long on top, not enough cut around the ears.  My hyper-Type personality thought about dashing them off to the regular barber before picture day.  The only chance would be this past Wednesday.  But my son, keeping with our frugal ways said "nah, it will cost more money and I'd rather just play after doing my homework."  Wise beyond his years!

A passage from a long-ago read parenting book immediately came to mind, "perfect is not fun".  And I'd add, perfect is expensive.  We let the hair go as is.  We didn't pay more for another cut.  We didn't rush about after school and then cram in the nightly homework.  Instead we got our work done and went into the back yard where I tossed a ball with my son while my daughter made musical instruments with containers, water and a stick. 

Today was picture day.  Was his hair perfect?  Probably not.  Does it matter?  Not at all.  We had fun, and we came in under budget.  When walking the frugal path remind yourself of my new mantra, perfect isn't fun, and it's expensive.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Frugal Halloween

October has arrived.  Leaves are turning color and falling.  Flowers have dried and turned brittle.  Pumpkins are all that remain in our little garden.  And the question of "what to be for Halloween?" dominates kid conversations.

October also marks the arrival for Q4, otherwise known as the Fourth Quarter of the year.  Our family has set some aggressive savings goal for this quarter.  To meet them we'll need to work some more (we both own businesses, so that is easier to generate than if we were employees), sell some unneeded items, and cut expenses.  Here are a few ways we'll be cutting expenses in the area of Halloween:


  1. Creative Costumes -- we have close to two dozen costume props from various holidays, gifts and toys.  From those the kids had the idea to create an outfit.  Our son is considering going as the #1 Seattle Seahawks fan using all the clothing and fan gear he has.  There will be no purchases this year; 
  2. Halloween is for Kids -- there will be no "family costume" for this frugal family.  We are "older" parents compared to our peers at the school.  We are doing this 80s style.  The kids dress up, the parents do not.  I shutter at the cost that goes into family costumes -- and time to create is a cost just the same as cash; and
  3. Bowl of Trinkets -- in the 7 years we've lived in our house we have had 1 or 2 trick-or-treaters.  Kids, with the exception of ours, do no live on our street.  We do not get traffic for the holiday, so I refuse to buy a bunch of candy or things to hand out.  I do want to have some on hand, just in case.  Over the year I've saved the tattoos, pencils, book marks, and unopened candy from all those birthday party treat bags and school give-aways. 
Those are three frugal approaches to Halloween in our home.  What are your ideas?  Please share and inspire, and thanks for reading. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Harvest

What may be the most neglected garden in America today, it continues to produce a harvest.  Last Spring I put up some fencing on the south side of our house, expanding what had been a perennial bed into a vegetable garden.  We hauled some stepping stones out of a remote part of the yard, having been buried under weeds when we bought the house in late 2010, and voila, we had a path to navigate.  With shovel in hand I turned the grass over to soil, tossed in some plants from Jung Garden shop, put down a layer of newspaper topped with straw.  Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and pumpkins went into the ground.  Pepper plants were relegated to pots -- I had bought more than I had space for.

The calendar pages turned, summer arrived, and I worked the busiest summer at my legal practice that I ever have since launching a solo practice in 2005.  Mother Nature had my back; gentle and frequent rains combined with cool temperatures kept the soil moist during my neglect.  And the plants put forth a harvest.   August arrived.  We left the country to visit Iceland and the same time an exterior house painting trampled all over the garden.

September has brought the heat we normally have in July.  I've watered a few times, but have really ignored the garden.  And still it produces.  Earlier this week I broiled tomatoes with sweet peppers and onion, sprinkled with salt.  Into the food processor, add some lime juice, and you have a very mild salsa.  Perfect to top a burger or plate of slow cooked pork.

2017, the year I ignored our garden and ended up with a continual harvest.  My interest in gardening has been sparked.  What might happen if I actually gave it some attention?







Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dropping the Ball and Skipping "Enrichment" Activities

What is the saying, make a plan and then life happens?  I had a plan.  Once our son's NFL  Flag Football ended in mid-October I would sign both kids up for Sunday swim lessons at our gym.  And that would end just before the winter ice skating lessons for our daughter AND basketball league for our son.  Did I mention that the kids are only 9 and 7?

Then life happened.  The swim instructor email went out saying lessons would be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  Wait, what?  My hyper-active Type A planning mind froze-up.  I work late on Tuesdays and Thursday, the kids go to after school. We CANNOT due swim those nights.  This past summer the kids had swim on Tuesdays, after a full-day of summer camp, and on more than one occasion our oldest was in tears in the pool because he was being pushed so hard.  For 24 hours I asked around for recommendations.  My plan was to have them swim on Sundays.  And then the storm clouds cleared and my mind settled.

My kids are 9 and 7.  We are entering cold and flu season.  What are the chances they'll both be healthy enough to swim on Sundays in late-October to December.  What will the weather conditions be like for driving?  I may have been born with a Swedish last name (Gustafson), but I really dislike driving in snow (we live in Madison, Wisconsin -- we get snow, and ice).  And then I realized I could simply take them swimming with me at the gym.  Friday night and Saturday as well as Sunday there is "family swim", and other times we could just share a lane.  They know HOW to swim, for now we just need to keep swimming.  Lessons aren't essential.

Gone was the stress of scheduling, opening up time for the kids and I to share a way I love to stay active - swim just to swim.  I have no dreams that a swim scholarship will put them through college. Our frugal ways and devotion to funding their 529 college savings plans will pay for school.  They are not yet double-digit age and have a hefty amount tucked away for higher education.  My undergraduate and law degree are from public universities, so I don't buy into the "you have to do x, y, and z to get into the ivy league sales mania."

So I dropped the ball and found: piece of mind, more relaxed schedules, no stress of missed lessons due to illness, and more money in my budget.  Today the Washington Post ran an article on teens delayed development.  Oddly there is little to no discussion of the modern trend to "enrich" our children's lives with near constant organized activity.  Kids these days have little to no time to just play in the back yard or splash in the pool.  I'm bucking the trend with our kids and backing off of the enrichment activities more than I have in the past.  Where are you on your frugal path?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Icelandic Inspiration: Leading a Frugal Life

The upside of a frugal life is that one has funds to travel if one makes travel a priority.  And in our frugal home, travel is a top priority behind a cozy home and quality education. Five years ago the city of Reykjavik, Iceland hosted 300,000 tourists a year, in 2017 they expect 1.7 million. Recently we spent a week in the island nation of Iceland, and I left more inspired than ever to lead a frugal life given the domination of climate change in the news cycle.






While I could not read the actual story as it was in Icelandic, the headline was clear.  Even in this remote gas station in rural Iceland, Harvey caused the world to take note.  As I write this post Irma is headed to Florida, where we have extended family.  Fires out west, earth quakes, more hurricanes; denying climate change is not the path to follow!  I spend a great deal of time thinking about my children's school experience and the return on their college savings accounts.  And more than ever I think about the state of the planet will are handing to them.

Join me on my path to re-affirm a frugal life.  One that is not only easy on our planet, but good for our wallets and health.  Have you taken any new steps to off-set climate change?  I am not waiting for our elected officials to take action; I firmly believe public policy lags social norms.  Since my return from Iceland I have increased my efforts to leave my trusty Honda Civic parked in the garage, and get about without a car.  Forbes reports that parents with kids increase their carbon footprint by 6% because they "need" to use a car.  I can attest to the fact Little Americans can walk more than one might expect.  We experienced this first hand in March 2016 while traveling in Southern Sweden, going 2 weeks without a car.  And this past August in Iceland.  Granted, Northern Europe is more walker (and biker) friendly.   But I'm up for a challenge, I think I need to be given the historic storms brewing in the Atlantic.


Share your thoughts and ideas here, let's inspire and motivate one another.  Public policy will eventually catch up with us.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Celebrating #9 Frugally

Recently our oldest turned 9.  Contemporary birthdays are beyond over the top, something our frugal family simply cannot embrace.  Parties often strain a family's budget, tax the children (too much sugar, too much noise, too much consumption, etc.), and trash Mother Earth. We wonder, what are we teaching our children?

Every year we tweak our approach to the kids' birthdays.  As infants and toddlers it was nothing more than a day with mom and dad (we both own our own businesses), an outing to a favorite place (the beach, museum in Milwaukee, Day trip to Chicago) and a home cooked meal with their favorite foods.

With preschool came the pressure to "throw a party".  A few times we rented a venue, invited 20+ kids, and let chaos unfold for 2 hours.  For dual career parents flying without any grandparent assistance, this was doable.  It took very little of our time, but felt over indulgent.

This year we went with a home party and a smaller number of kids for each party.  My husband was delighted to see the furnished basement we've been paying for since buying this house in November 2010 finally being put to use (the kids have been too scared to play down there until recently).  We also gave the kids a budget of $500 to cover: gifts, party, and supplies.  Any remainder would be cash for them to save, spend, and or donate.  Why the budget?  It's a hidden gift, giving our kids the power to spend, and learn from overspending.  We rather they make money mistakes at 9 rather than 19.

After watching his sister spend money on a lot of party favors (which she did not regret), he took a more austere approach:

  • homemade cake which he helped to bake and decorate -- toppers ordered of of Amazon, recipe is Betty Crocker Midnight Chocolate (he gets it every year)
  • Evites saying "let's reconnect" before school starts
  • Guests built Lego free-style cards upon arrival, that were then raced down a homemade ramp
  • Guests took plastic bracelets and did a modified ring toss over Lego towers
  • Dinner of pizza (using Feed an Army $26 coupon from Rocky Roco's), corn on the cob, and melon.
  • Prizes were given out to Lego Race winners, with 1st selecting 1st, from a stash of over-sized candies;
  • Candy and popcorn consumed with watching Lego Batman movie (purchased at Barnes & Noble with a 30% off coupon plus another 10% off for being a member)
Connections were reinforced, friendships strengthened, and fun was had.  Our son received all his presents, ordered off of Amazon Prime.  I used my Amazon Prime credit card, which is paid in full each month, receiving 5% cash back that will be added to our travel fund.

The experience of having a budget for a party forced the kids to think about what resources at home we could use.  For example, the ramp was a huge piece of cardboard that had been in the garage since we bought the house, coated with black spray paint purchased for a bat house yet to be mounted.  We could see the wheels turn behind their eyes -- do I need to spend money on fancy plates when we have plain paper plates at home?  One kid said yes, the other no.  Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, but about maximizing your spending power to enjoy your time on this little blue dot sailing around the sun.

 Dad was the judge of the races.

 Football themed cake for our sports crazed son.

 Watching a DVD on our 1990s TV and VCR!

His actual birthday, with a 2nd cake.  Happy 9th our love, next year it will be double digits.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Frugal Family Photos

Sunflower Days at Pope Farm here in Madison just ended.  We made the annual pilgrimage to this lovely field again this year.  In addition to stunning sunflowers one is likely to find families, clustered together in coordinated outfits with the lens of a photographer focused directly on them.  It's holiday photo time.  It's time to document the children's growth, to capture those radiant smiles.  It's time to hand over a lot of cash for those Kodak Moments.

Last week I also received an email from a local photographer I had used to take candid photos of both kids in the days after they were born.  Since then I've taken my own frugal path and not paid the annual fee for a family photo session.  The cost is too much for me to wrap my head around; $600 for 1.5 hours.

Instinctively I read $600 and think, that's one international airline ticket!  I also own a decent SLR camera and spent a lot of time and money developing my hobby photography interest in my pre-husband and pre-children life.  Because I have decent equipment, enjoy taking my own photos, and love to travel, you won't find this frugal family spending that kind of money.   Here are my thoughts on creating lovely family photos without breaking the bank.

There is the frugal cell phone selfie, this one taken in Copenhagen, Denmark.



There is the option of asking a stranger to capture your family among the flowers:



And then there is getting down to kid level (down on your knee, possibly your belly) and shooting hundreds of frames, knowing a little bit about the power of light, and then sort through for a gem.







What's your frugal path to capturing life with a camera that does not cost a small fortune (to me, that is the cost of an international plane ticket)?  Leave a comment and share.