Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Frugal?

The conversation sticks out boldly in my memory,  Recently married, my husband and I stopped in at the home of his extended family.  Out on the back porch we joined the conversation, fast moving among the large family and its various friends of the family.  Somehow or other the topic migrated to eating out.  My comment about saving money by cooking at home is faded, but the response from another is not.  "Why are you two so frugal?"  Blogging does not allow me to capture the tone of the question, but let's just say frugal as akin to a shunned four-letter word.

Having complete the endurance and transformation of a law school education, I immediately responded with three points on why we were frugal.  Those points -- I cannot recall them so much -- later became the basis of The Upside of Frugal blog.  The feeling I remember, one of being on the defensive, one being attacked or ridiculed because my husband and I opted to be prudent with our spending.  To this day, it puzzles me why my frugal spending habits can bother other people so much. I will never know.

Why are we on the frugal path?  That answer depends -- again, a byproduct of my legal education.  In the past it was to pay off a mountain of student debt.  Other times, mere habit.  I grew up poor -- really poor.  My mother was a machine operator in a plastics factory, my father was a disabled construction worker who tried to make ends meet buying and selling used cars -- frugal was a way of life, not a choice.

Today?  In a word -- Freedom!  Being frugal makes a dual self-employed family possible.  I operate my own small, solo legal office writing wills and administering probate.  My husband, an electronics engineer, freelances and builds a business designing and building circuit boards.  Self-employment brings a lot of freedom, but also the need to buy your own health insurance and fund retirement.  But we love it, we love the freedom of steering our work in the direction we want, no questions asked.

Today is Halloween and the lights at my office are off.  I too the day off -- no one to ask or seek approval from.  I will be able to watch our 4k daughter in her costume parade at school.  She will leave school early, where we'll join her brother's Fall Party at the school up the road.  After -- we'll be carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seeds, and knocking on a few doors in our lovely (and warm) Big Cat costumes from Savers.  Why am I frugal?  It means I get quality time with my kids -- when I want, how I want, no approval needed.  Thinking back to that summer conversation about restaurants, I wonder if that person would change his tone hearing my current reason?

That is me.  What is your story?  Why the frugal path for you?  Is it permanent, temporary?  Leave comment and share if you like.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't Compost Us! Using up the Veggies.

Mid-week: energy is running low; previously bought but yet to be used produce is making its way to "compost bin" suitable; and there are still quite a few breakfasts, lunches and dinners to be made this week.  What's a frugal gal to do?

Dinner dishes done, radio turned on, kids unleashed to romp and play as I turned to the stove for 30 minutes of intense frugal kitchen maneuvers.

Sundays remain crock-pot turkey with chickpeas became the base for turkey soup, which will be the focal point of Thursdays dinner followed by a container or two frozen for future lunches.  Broth, garlic and toss in the vegetables that had been screaming "use me before I'm compost material!"



Other veggies were tossed into an egg ring eagerly waiting on a frying pan, followed by one beaten egg and a dose of shredded cheese.  Cook for 2 minutes, flip, and slide it onto a whole wheat English muffin.  Four of those later, and my husband has some breakfasts to go for the rest of the week.


A very well worn frying pan, one my grandparents (in their 90s) discarded when they downsized from a house to condo a few years back.  Happy to give it more life in our frugal home.

And that was it for tonight.  One can only do so much in 30 minutes.  In that time I extended the life of food on the fridge shelves.  We have easy and ready to go, healthy veggie stocked home cooked meals.  Our food dollars did not end up in the compost heap.  And we reduced household waste, which pleases mother Earth.

Keepin' in healthy in the kitchen, frugal style.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Golden Leaves

Fall in Wisconsin brings many things: corn mazes, apples galore, pie pumpkins, frosty mornings, and leaves.  Tons and tons of leaves, falling from trees, painting the ground a vibrant mix of reds, yellows, oranges, and a few pinks.  What puzzles me about Fall is why so many folks put so many leaves at the curb?  Tossing value to the street department!


There is the traditional compost heap to consider.  Pile them up, let mother nature do its thing, and soon you'll have rich nutrients for flower beds, gardens and lawns.  Or take the lazier approach, and pile the leaves on those flower beds now.  Spray the water hose every now and then to prevent the winding taking them away.  That was my approach Monday.  Next Spring I'll have a new layer of mulch added, covering the remains and maximizing the nutrients -- all for free (well the mulch is not free).  These beauty is tucked in well for our upcoming winter.


As a child of the 70s, I have faint memories of parents putting leaves in black garbage bags and tucking them next to the foundation of our home for added insulation.  I cannot remember seeing that frugal move in recent years.  You?  Seems like a smart way to insulate, and then dump the wintered contents into a garden of flower bed.

Enjoy the frugal path, and thanks for reading.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Frugal Halloween Treats

Sunday's order of service at the Prairie UU church we attend offered an interesting statistic in it's Green Note Section:  the average Halloween candy haul per child is 10 pounds!

That is 10 pounds of individually wrapped sugar intensity. Not all that healthy, and certainly not eco-friendly.  How can we keep Halloween fun and treat filled, but go easy on the wrappings?  The article offers suggestions:

  • Pennies or larger coins for UNICEF boxes;
  • Halloween styled pencils;
  • Erasers; and
  • Boxed raisins (in eco-friendly boxes).
I would add bulk candy!  This is what we've done in years past.  The candy is individually wrapped, but not nearly as much waste as you will find in Halloween candy sections of the store.

How about you?  Suggestions on keeping treats in Halloween, but making it a little more frugal?  It's good for our budgets, our health, and the planet.  Please share any ideas!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wintering Geraniums

Lower and lower go the night temperatures as we Madisonians work our way towards the Winter Season.  And so it was time to move the summer geraniums off the front step.  But to where?  Plants of summers past have taken refuge on the window sill at my office, adding a much needed splash of cheer to a legal office.  But the sill is full, what to do?  It was a spark of memory that I went with, something I'd tucked away in my mind while emptying out my childhood home this past year.

In the basement of the home I was raised in, among many things, I found my mom's geraniums.  She would put them in a brown paper bag, pot and all.  When summer weather returned to Madison, she'd place them on her back porch for another season.  My mother left this world in February of this year, but her plants were there in the Spring as we began to sort and clean.  Sadly, even though I had meant to bring them to our home, the plants were sold with other odds and ends.  I may not have her actual plants, but I do have her frugal idea.  When you pay for quality plants, why toss them in the compost heap with the fall leaves.  Have them "winter".

My allergies make bringing lots of plants into the house a challenge, but as I write, the three geraniums that graced our front steps all summer long are snug as a bug (please, no real bugs) in Hy-Vee and Trader Joe's bags.  Nestled close to the exterior door, the one I had meant to replace this year.  The old door is still there -- life happens, items get pushed off and off on a to do list -- and I hope the plants will stay cool, and do a little bit to block any draft from that old door.

Check in next Spring when the plants re-emerge.  Suggestions or tips on extending their life are always welcome, so please leave a comment.


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!