Friday, December 19, 2014

Being Present is a Present



Drab gray skies blanked Madison today, but I set off with a spring in my step as soon as our oldest was settled into his kindergarten class, my husband was handling preschool drop-off for our youngest.  Downtown was my first step, taking care of minor financial related matters (it is property tax time).  Then to an adorable little street locals know as Monroe Street.  My mission -- securing a snow globe for our oldest.

Apparently there has been a run on snow globes locally, but Orange Tree Imports confirmed that they still had several in stock, setting one aside for me.  While there I picked up a few more fun things for stockings and under the tree, plus a few items to share with loved ones we'll visit on the road trip I mentioned yesterday.

Yes, this morning was not within my normal pattern.  I shopped, and I shopped for things that we do not need necessarily.  Why?  Having children ages 6 and 4, they are all about Christmas, and I want them to feel a bit of that magical joy broadcast by media and reinforced by peers.  But, I did not go crazy.  They will not round the hallway on December 25th to heaps of packages.  They will likely go through the gifts quickly compared to many American peers.  But there will be one gift that they may not full realize until they are adults themselves, the gift of being present.

By not going nuts this time of year, throwing reason and common sense to the wind, neither of their parents will be mentally focused on a looming credit card bill that will arrive in January.  No, we do not finance our joy.  Keeping the holidays modest also means we can enjoy time off from work, time that is not paid (we are both self-employed), and play with the kids.  Our meal will be breakfast/brunch foods.  Easy to prepare, not overly costly, and not tethering mom to the stove.  No, once they get through the wrapping paper on December 25th I plan to assemble puzzles, cut out paper dolls and build the Lego Arctic Explorer Base.  Mom will be present, focused on them and the moments that are sliding through the hour glass of life.  And that is the upside of choosing a frugal path in life.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Forget It, Let's Drive!

Enter the date, the airport, wait for the search results.  Day after day, looking for a reasonable ticket price.  Finally we found this:  Milwaukee to Fort Worth to Miami to Tampa, 13 hours, 57 minutes, at $900 a ticket!

What -- 13 hours!  We could drive there in that time.  Okay, it is more like 19 hours from door to door, but that is our plan.  We'd had a price point in mind when we starting looking at tickets.  Realizing our travel dates were not flexible, we were willing to double our initial price.  But $900, at 4 tickets, before factoring in luggage fees and airport parking!  No way, not for this frugal family.

So in a shocking change of behavior, one where we usually aim for being at the office when we can (we are both self-employed, so there is no paid vacation) we are going for savings on pure cash. The trip will now be twice as long as we initially planned, but that makes us happy.  We are forcing ourselves to take a longer, and much needed break from our professional lives.

When waking the frugal path in life, we find that before looking for an item, any item, you benefit from having a predetermined price point.  Don't just pull it out of the air.  What is a normal price? What can your budget afford?  Those types of things.  Set a number, then go looking.  Do it the other way around and you are no longer in control of your finances.

That's it from our frugal house.  Stay tuned for more on the Epic Road trip yet to come!  And thanks for reading.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Who Doesn't Want to Save $1,000!



Scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning I came across a List from a local TV station's feed -- 25 Ways to save $1,000 in the new year.  Always eager to find new frugal ideas, I took a look.  In the end -- not one new idea.  Most I agreed with, such as buy one-generation old electronics.  My husband just bought at "new" phone, one that was new 18 months ago.  He paid cash, got a great deal, and no one knows the difference (unless they read my blog).  Avoid the ads for "Phones for $100" and skip the fine-print.  Trust me, you are paying the $600, $800 cost of that snazzy phone through the service agreement.  It's hidden in the fees.

My point?  To be frugal, really frugal, you need to be skeptical and shrewd.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  My husband is an electronics engineer and can easily guess that cost to design, build and sell those Smart Phones.  There is no way they cost $100 unless they are fake or stolen. Knowing this, he can guess the true price is hid someplace else.  This is true of many "deals" you see.  Someone, somewhere, somehow is getting paid.  From investment insurance policies to phones to time shares, the devil is in the details.

Also, don't just adopt what some list maker says about saving money.  One suggestion was ditching the gym and getting a set of weights, DVD player and tennis shoes.  Yes, that may work, but it may not work for everyone.  What if you like to swim?  If so, then figure out what you pay per month for the gym, your average swims per month, do the math and figure out how much each swim costs. With that number, you can now shop it.  I did recently.  And in the end, realized my current gym is the best option.  It is close, which reduces gas costs -- I can even bike there.  The hours are far better than places where a swim costs $5/time.  It is not weather dependent.  And, when we pay for a year at a time, in cash (check is cash to them) we get even more of a discount.

To be frugal is not to act like a sheep, following the herder around.  It is to go our own way, to question, to think, to revisit an issue because times change.  Question, question, question....and then you'll find ways to save $1,000, if not more, in 2015.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Brie Baked With Honey

Need a quick, last minute dish to put on a holiday table?  Last night I discovered the easy and luxurious dish of honey baked brie.  As simple as can be, and thanks to Trader Joes -- affordable.

  • Large cut of brie in  a baking dish
  • drizzle with honey (local is ideal)
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees
  • Serve with apples, crackers or baguette.  
Simple, healthy (come on, we all know the French are healthier than Americans), and not all that pricey.

Sorry, no photo from last night.  The brie was served alongside some slow-cooked pork (simmered in apple juice, water and dried apricots) and chocolates as part of a Scotch tasting we (well I since my husband had to be in London for business) at a local UU church.  We'd offered the event as a service auction item, and I left with a favorite new recipe.  And I cannot wait to see if my little frugal ones will eat it up?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Cheer.....Not Always Easy to Channel

Happy, happy, joy, joy? Not quite -- that is one mad little girl.

A picture says a thousand words -- this one -- cheer is not always easy during the "holidays".  Just as darkness, bitter cold or miserable dampness, and stomach bugs or never ending coughs descend on the lives of Midwesterners, so does the added stress of the holidays.  Now some may thrive on the shopping, wrapping, baking, and hoop-la.  Others, well those who like to keep in simple may have a hard time keeping a joyful spirit.

Yes, I "give" to the holiday traditions.  Some I enjoy, such as mailing holiday cards.  Others, shopping mainly, I detest.  Gift giving in  my mind should spring from the heart, not a date set on the calendar and reinforced by Madison Avenue.  Buy, buy and buy more.  Really?  Does our family really need more stuff?  I argue no, we need more experiences, time together.  Yet we have small children and Christmas is the joy of the year -- or so they are learning from their peers.

As we slip and slide our way towards The Extravaganza (what my husband and I refer to as the Christmas holiday) I work to find a balance between our simple, frugal life that emphasizes quality and time over cheap never ending stuff.  Thoughts or suggestions from those who have traveled this path are welcome.  Until then, I am taking calming breaths, setting realistic limits, and seeking out the little annual traditions associated with this time of year that put a smile on my face.

Thanks for reading -- many posts are fluttering in my mind, but with a husband traveling abroad for an extended period of time I am flying solo as a parent who has children at an early start school and a busy to-do list at the office.  Posts will keep coming, just sporadically.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Joint Custody of a Coat....

The daughter of a factory worker and a struggling car dealer, the Wisconsin winters of my youth were void of the excellent outdoor gear common today.  Always frugal and cautious with my dollar, I tended to avoid expensive winter gear for far too  many years.  With the marriage to my husband, also highly frugally minded, came the proximity to excellent winter wear.  While cautious with his spending, he learned young the benefit of paying for quality.

Last week I wrote about the purchase of Lowe hiking boots, my second pair -- I wore the first ones out. Never did I think I would spend $250 for one pair of boots, but I did, and am thankful.  Cold feet?  Nope?  When you consider I can wear them October - April nearly every day, and then on hikes in the summer months, the cost per wear is quite low.

But then there is The Columbia.  My husband bought the coat back in 2005 during his first winter living back in Wisconsin since the 1980s.  Warm blooded and as tolerant of the cold as a bear, he rarely feels the need to pull out The Columbia.  I however has discovered the luxury of this coat, which I now routinely pull out for my morning walks with our son to kindergarten.  Having lived here for decades, I know that past years I would have been frozen on the walk. But with the Lowes boots and the Columbia jacket (and a balaclava), I wonder -- what's all the complaining about?

Yet, we still have One Columbia coat.  I borrow his, he rarely needs it, and unless we are sledding (which we have not yet done this year) we do not need the coat at the same time.  Joint custody of the coat, that's my plan until the stores start slashing prices to make way for Spring items.  February - that's when I plan to seek one out for myself.  Until then, we'll share -- and that's the frugal life here.

P.S. for those who read yesterday's post......we'll pass on the Fig Bread.  The smell was lovely, but the end product was more of a Blondie with figs, far too sweet for me.  Both kids turned their noses up at the treat, and my husband only really likes chocolate chip cookies.  What to do with it?  I passed it along to my assistant at the office -- college kids are so happy for any form of home cooked food!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Judging A Book By Its Cover



It was a few weeks back when my library copy of Recipes & Tips for Sustainable Living by Stacy Harris showed up in my hold que.  Always eager for ways to stretch the value of a dollar, it went to the top of my to-read pile.

Soon I learned that like me, Ms. Harris has a legal education.  Life paths took us in different directions; she is the mother of 7 children and opted not to practice law. Myself, I have two small children and my own little law office where I counsel people on the ins and outs of wills, powers-of-attorney, probate, and related matters.  A frugal life is shared by both of us, but her's is more the "concept car" take on frugality.  I like to think mine is do-able for life; not too extreme, just smart choices each and every day.  Another difference -- frugal mode or lawyer mode, I never look as put together as Ms Harris does in the snapshots from her frugal life.  While her husband and children look like every day people, the photos of her seem as though they should be in a copy of Vogue, not frugal living.  Picky?  Maybe - put it was a total turn off as I read.  Reality gets across to me, not fantasy.  Doubt me, just take a look of her reclining in the chicken coop on page 79.

Now I know, don't judge a book by its cover.  So I didn't, I dug in.  A few recipes caught my attention, and one for fig bread is currently baking in the oven as I type.  In the end, the book is just okay.  I may copy the recipe for the bread, but the book is going back to the library.  Chickens and hunting wild game are not in my near or distant future.  Nor is bee keeping or other "sustainable / urban farmer" techniques.  I admire those who do, but it just is not for me.

Check in later for the verdict on the bread.  Both kids love Fig Newmans (note, Newmans and is Paul Newman's brand, not Fig Newtons).  At $5.99 a pack, I am eager to find fig treats that come directly from my oven.