Saturday, April 30, 2011

To Be Frugal Is to Cook

In my opinion, you can't live a frugal life without being able to cook. Yet, there is one frugal person I know that doesn't have a clue about husband. Before meeting me he was very "efficient" with his money, he is an engineer. Yet, when it comes to food, he gravitated towards prepared/processed foods and take-out. The reason, he never learned to cook. Growing up his family routinely got take-out 5 or 6 nights a week, the other nights it was something processed. I grew up in a radically different home, dinner was always prepared at home, except for Saturday. My parents hired a sitter, ordered me a pizza, and went out to eat.

So, as my husband and I merged lives, the cooking issue emerged. If life was hectic, he'd say, just order something. Living the life of a poor college kid for 9 years as a student, and another 4 after graduation, I just couldn't let myself spend $15 Mexican take-out when I knew I could create equal if not better in my own kitchen for half the price. Within a year of marriage he had a change of heart; he loved home cooked food, and he loved the frugality of it too. Still, he doesn't know how to cook.....mainly because I love to do the cooking, and there hasn't been much opportunity. In an effort to foster cooking ability, and frugality, into our children, both of them spend a lot of time with me in the kitchen and grocery shopping.

If frugal living appeals to you, but you are not a cook, keep the following in mind:
  • cooking does not mean you have to be Julia Child. Keep it simple and add complexity later on, if at all;
  • develop the ability to make a few standard dishes you like;
  • figure out how to freeze the dishes you do make; frozen leftovers make for great lunches or "fast food" in a time pinch;
  • find recipes that use the same ingredients (i.e. rice, spices, eggs, etc.) and keep those on hand;
  • most dishes can be made for half the price of a restaurant meal....especially pasta dishes. You'll save quite a bit of money of a year's time; and
  • home cooked foods will hopefully reduce future health care control the ingredients and can make a huge different in your veggie and fruit intake.
What are your favorite cookbooks or recipes? I plan to spend more blog time on the concept of cooking in the month of May. I'll be inspired by the fresh veggies appearing at the local farmers' markets.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rebates And Why I Love Them

We are a rebate household, our postal delivery person can attest to that fact. From organic smoothies to vodka to contacts, we've done a rebate for them all. Does getting a check for $2 seem silly? Maybe, but if you saw $2 blowing down the sidewalk, free to the first person to grab them, wouldn't you?

If, like us, you are going to make the small effort to fill out a rebate form, make sure you don't squander the proceeds. All of our rebate checks are deposited into our checking account, and are record as "revenue" in quicken for the category from which the expenditure was made. So, if we bought a bottle of vodka at the grocery store, the refund check would be registered as "grocery revenue".

We joke that a room in our home should be dubbed the "rebate room", knowing at a fair number of checks have come our way. And, each month, those savings put us one step closer to being mortgage free.

Writing this I wish I could say, last year we received $x in rebate checks. I'm type A, I like facts, neat clean facts. Sadly, this information is not available for last year. But, we are about to enter a new month. Starting this May I am going to track how much we receive in rebates. I'll post the results in June of 2012.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Business Supplies for the Frugally Minded

If you can't already tell, I'm a fan of loyalty programs. Through my business, Gustafson Law Office, I participate in the rewards program at Office Depot. Within walking distance of my home, the store is easy to access. Every time I shop I present my rewards card. I can also return ink cartridges and receive a $3 credit per cartridge. These savings are sent to my quarterly in the form of a store credit. Also, as a member, I receive coupons in the mail for various office supplies; ink, paper, copies, etc. Sound silly? Last month I put $77 worth of office supplies in my cart, presented a coupon for $15 off a purchase of $75 or more, then presented my quarterly credit, and owed less than $1. This practice took little to no effort, decreased my expenditures for office supplies, allowing me to allocated dollars towards any number of other items.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Frugal Doesn't Mean Cheap: $30 for Toddler Rain Boots Was A Good Deal

My toddler had outgrown his rain boots; these are not an item we go without? Since joining the Madison Waldorf School playgroup we live by the mantra "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes". In simple terms, we go outside as often as possible. Like the mail, neither rain, sleet, nor snow keeps us inside. Living in Wisconsin and having this life style requires good rain boots. So, time for new boots.

A quick internet search determined that the going price would be $30, plus shipping and handling. Kohl's, a store I had to visit to return an item, showed some listed for $15. When I got to the actual store they had one pair left, in pink. I'm not a fan of pink, not even for my daughter. So, I decided to go to the family shoe store, Morgan's Shoe's at Hilldale.

Knowing my son's size I was able to shop without him, shaving a good hour off the visit -- he adores the model train set in the middle of the store. The clerk retrieved a pair, bright yellow, and we proceeded to the check out. I had a coupon for a free pair of Smart Wool socks with any purchase; I selected a neutral pair that will fit him next winter. I also had my loyalty card in hand, receiving a stamp, putting me one step closer to a $50 off coupon (recently I maximized this program and got a great pair of shoes for pennies).

Some people may think Morgan's Shoes is too expensive. But, when compared to the cost of internet options, including shipping and handling, it is actually a reasonable deal. The boots are also very durable, meaning that the baby can wear them one day...hence the selection of yellow, a neutral color.

Frugality is not taking the cheap route, it is taking the smart route.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Frugal Cooking - Get a Crock Pot!

Reading Facebook recently someone from my high school posted a request for crock pot recipes. I cannot emphasize how much I LOVE crock pot cooking. It is a great saver of time. Toss everything into a container and put on low or high, and when you return, a complete meal is finished. Beware, make sure you actually plug in your crock pot before setting the control. I've forgotten to do this at least twice in the past few months. That puts a whole new twist on "slow" cooking.

New to crock pots? Here is an easy, easy, way to get started.

Add a package of meat (chicken thighs or cubed stew beef are favorites of mine) and a jar of salsa. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. That's it, a meal that easy.

People may think of crock pots being great in the winter months for stews, etc., but I enjoy using mine in the middle of summer. A crock pot won't heat up the kitchen like the oven will. It is a great energy saver.

What are your favorite crock pot recipes?

Monday, April 25, 2011

1, 2, 3, .... 29! Wow, 29 Play-Doh's -- That's Too Many Play-doh's, and Other Thoughts on Simplicity Parenting

Last week our nanny arrived for her afternoon time with the kids, and the first item on her agenda was to straighten up the play area. She started by attempting to get the "play-doh situation" under control. Our 2 year old son LOVES play-doh. It is a great creative outlet for him. It is also cheap, and we've received a ton of it for gifts. Not thinking, we allowed him to open each new package without waiting for an already opened container to run its course, i.e. dry out. As a result, he had 29 containers of play-doh. Her comment, directed more to herself than anyone, struck a cord with me.

It has been on the back of my mind to de-clutter our home, starting with the mass amount of kids items we've collected over two and a half years of parenting. We have tried to keep the toys to a minimum; primarily by not holding events where people show up with a gift in hand. Compared to the average American home with a toddler and a baby, we have very little "stuff". But yet, it still feels like we have too much. Especially if the concept of "simplicity parenting" is a goal. I first learned about this concept through the playgroup at the Madison Waldorf School. The author, Kim John Payne recently visited Madison, WI, and gave a talk on the subject. The movement, as he calls it, can be summed up as follows:

Environment: De-cluttering too much stuff at home.

Rhythm: Increasing predictability by introducing rhythmic moments for connection and calm.

Scheduling: Soothing violent schedules brings moments for Being into all the Doing.

Unplugging: Reducing the influence of adult concerns, media and consumerism on children and families to increase resilience, social and emotional intelligence.

As we move forward on the parenting journey, we are attempting to integrate these concepts into our lives. We already have a no-screen time policy for the kids. They've never had it, so they are not missing much.

Yesterday, during nap time, I gathered up all the cheap, plastic baby toys and boxed them away. What remains is a wicker basket with baby toys made of natural fibers; finger puppets, a wood rattle, organic rubber teething toy, etc. She seems delighted even though half of her toys are gone. The concepts of simplicity parenting appeal to me on many levels, including my frugal side. Next on my agenda, put away 3/4 of our son'd play-doh containers until his supply needs to be replenished.

What are other people's experiences with "simplicity parenting"?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hippity, Hoppity....Frugality and Easter

We're Unitarian Universalists and attend services at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, so Easter for us does not mean the same for many other Americans. We view it more as a celebration of Spring. The Rev. Karen Gustafson stated had a lovely expression today, "Easter is a celebration of the promise of Spring.....and let our spring celebrations be simple, focus on what really matters".

Here is how we observed the holiday, in a frugal and simple way:
  1. Easter baskets were purchased at Savers, total cost less than $3;
  2. Brought th baskets with us to FUS for the community egg hunt -- allows the kids to play with baskets, but we didn't have to fill them;
  3. Attended services at FUS and participated in the "egg hunt" following the service. This provided just the right amount of treats for the children; total cost -- free;
  4. Easter lunch served at home. Dinning out with two small children is not fun, especially if the greater Madison population is also attempting to eat out;
  5. Lunch consisted of primarily vegetarian food: zucchini quiche, green bean casserole, homemade bread, sweet potatoes, asparagus, jello (in the midwest jello is associated with holiday celebrations, not illness), and a slice of ham for my mom, a non-vegetarian; and
  6. Time outside walking, filling the bird feeders, and looking for plants rising from the earth.
A lovely time, emphasizing family, food, and nature. Easy on the wallet, the earth, and our waistlines.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

$139 Shoes for 84 Cents

Following my second pregnancy, I developed "foot" issues. Not only did my shoe size increase from 6 1/2 to a 7, but I had strained ligaments. Gone are the days of cute shoes I found at thrift stores. No, I needed solid shoes and they had to really fit my foot, otherwise I hobbled about. Painful is the word that came to mind as I wandered into Morgan's Shoes at Hilldale and buy shoes last fall. But, I'm now a convert, and I've found some great deals.
  • no longer do I own 20 pairs of shoes. I used to pay $8 or so a pair. They were inexpensive, so I bought a lot of them. Now I pay $100 a pair, and own 4 pairs. Two for work, one for casual, and the best pair of hiking boots ever (good in snow or summer heat). I like the simplicity of owning 4 pairs, it is easy;
  • when it is time to buying shoes for myself, my husband or my kids, we go to Morgan's. They have a great loyalty program. After 10 purchases, you get $50 in store credit. With little ones, we are buying them new shoes every 3 to 4 months. In less than a year we filled up the loyalty card;
  • Morgan's has a lot of great coupons in the Bucky Book, and if you get a coupon on the back of the Sentry grocery store receipt, you get a free pair of wool socks.
Recently I put all of these together and got an amazing deal. I needed a brown, delicate pair of shoes to use for work clothes in the Spring, Summer and Fall. I found just that on the CLEARANCE rack. $139 shoes were marked at $59.90, and then there was an additional percentage off. The total was $50.84. I handed over my filled loyalty card and 84 cents. The shoes were mine, and I got a punch on the next card. Plus, with the grocery receipt coupon I added another pair of wool socks to my drawer, for free.

Frugal shopping does not always require thrift store finds. But it does require organization (I need to have that loyalty card punched with each purchase, meaning I need to know where to find it) and the ability to zero in on bargains. Thankfully I have both, and now a great pair of shoes that will likely last years....for pennies - 84 to be exact.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

Happy Earth Day! Remember, what is good for the earth is usually good for your wallet. Here are some of the little things I do that are kind to the earth and go easy on the wallet:
  1. Cover pans when boiling water, it uses less energy;
  2. Keep the thermostat at 62 degrees during the winter (even a Wisconsin winter) results in major energy savings;
  3. Use reusable grocery bags at the grocery store and Target; both give me a 5 or 10 cent credit per bag. I'm there once a week, using approximately 10 bags a week. It won't put the kids through college, but little bits add up;
  4. Replace regular light bulbs with compact florescent;
  5. Prepare a large number of vegetarian meals;
  6. Cook meals at home;
  7. Sign up for paperless banking and avoid banking fees;
  8. Purchase kids clothing and household decorations at thrift stores whenever possible;
  9. Borrow books, music, and other media from the library instead of purchasing items;
  10. Taught my toddler to turn off the lights to "save energy".

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Frugal Move

I am a fan of the blog, The Other Side of the Ocean. The writer shares my love of photography, home cooked food, and travel. And she was one of my law school professors. She also leads a frugal life and is in the middle of a home move. As you can see from a recent post, she opted to move as many of her belongings as possible on her own. Why? The movers charge by the hour, so the fewer items to move, the smaller the bill.

Last fall we bought a new home and moved -- three blocks away. We still needed a moving company for the heavy items. When I booked the movers and described the items the company estimated taking 7 to 8 hours to move everything. This also included wrapping furniture.

Like Nina, I was inspired to shave down the bill. Here are some steps I took to turn an 8 hour move into 4 hours!
  • Purge items you have not used in the past year. You can donate items to a charity (some will come to you for a pick-up), post items for free or a low price in Craiglist, or simply put them at the curb;
  • Opt not to have items "wrapped". We were going a short distance, and nothing we own is that valuable so we decided it didn't need to be packaged as though it were going cross-country;
  • Move items yourself. Ideal for children's toys, clothing you can put in luggage, and fragile kitchen items;
  • Use a coupon for the mover (mine was 1/2 off the first hour);
  • Purchase new items and have them delivered to the new location. Instead of paying movers a fee to move our old furniture we sold some and donated the rest and then bought new for the new house (at a great and inexpensive local furniture store).
I'd love to hear about other people's techniques for frugal moves.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Frugal Ways To Send Greetings

I put myself through college, and one way I earned the funds was by working at the various Don's Hallmark Stores located around Madison, Wisconsin. Ever since I have been a sucker for greeting cards for holidays. Of course there are the big ones: Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day. And there are the fun ones: Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, and of course birthdays. But when I flip over one of those lovely Hallmark greetings, my frugal heart sputters....some are more than $5 a card!!! We have a large family, and that will start to add up quickly. Until recently I used to go to Factory Card Outlet and stock up on cards, but you can't stock up on holiday cards very easily. And with two small children and a demanding career, I don't have a lot of time to make a trip there for each holiday. This past Valentine's Day I stumbled on a great solution. Send a homemade card or collage, crafted by my toddler. Even his 8 month sister got into the act recently by pounding a crayon on Grandma's birthday card. Here are some thoughts on doing this in our home, with our without children:
  1. have a good supply of colored construction paper;
  2. trace cookie-cutters to make shapes;
  3. pick up a variety of stickers;
  4. invest in nice crayons, markers, and colored pencils;
  5. buy blank card stock that can be painted or drawn upon; and
  6. have a drawer filled with odds and ends that can be glued on.
Once again, it is a great way to spend time with your children, or with yourself, and minimizes that time you need to spend in a store and goes easy on the wallet. And from the people who have received our creations, the one-of-a-kind mailing is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Double Edge Sword of Couponing

Coupons, suddenly they are "high fashion" as the recession continues to inspire hundreds of thousands of Americans to question their spending habits. I've been "frugal" for at least two decades now, and coupons play a role in that life style. But, to a limited extent. Frugal for me is not spending excess time or money on things. If I have a coupon for something I already plan to acquire (good or service), then it is a good deal. If a coupon is going to make me spend time and or money doing something I would not normally do, then it might not be such a good deal. Sure, trying something new at a bargain is good. But if a 30% off coupon for Kohl's (one just arrived) motivates me to wander around their store, seeking out an item that I did not need prior to the coupons arrival, then it is not frugal. At least not in my book.

If you can be patient about purchases, and then keep an eye out for a discount, that is ideal. You'll guarantee that your really do want the item or service, eliminating impulse purchases. And you may be able to get it for a steal. One of my favorite coupon sources is the Bucky Book. It is a fundraiser for my Alma Mater (UW Madison), and is filled with coupons for stores I regularly visit (hair salon, kids shoe store, favorite restaurants). And when I need something new, like drywall repair, it is the first place I turn. Happily I discovered a coupon for 50% off drywall repair, which we needed when a foot of snow melted over new years and ended up in our finished basement.

So, that is my view on coupons. I like them, but I know that can inspire impulse buys and view them cautiously. And that is why people call me frugal.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Celebrate Earth Day, Madison, Wisconsin

April 22, 2011 brings around the 41st Earth Day. Dubbed "earth week" there are countless events going on around the Madison area. Here are some links to help you find the right one for you:

Many of the Earth Day habits will also foster frugality. What is good for your wallet, is usually good for the earth.

Please let me know if you know of another option not posted here...there are a lot and this is just a small sample.

Frugal Baby Gift

Inspired by the gifts we received following the birth of our children, I have developed what I think is a lovely baby gift...and one that doesn't break the bank. Following a child's birth, I send a card welcoming the little one into the world and extend an offer to bring over a home cooked meal to the family.....and not in the first few weeks. I know, from personal experience, that the 3rd, 4th, 5th months after an arrival are sometimes the most difficult. Sleep deprivation has taken its toll and the "high" of a birth has faded. And in many cases so has the help from others. That is when I like to deliver:
  • soup (black bean, chicken tortilla, or split pea);
  • fresh baked bread from our bread machine; and
  • homemade cookies.
These are all standards in my kitchen, so I have all the ingredients. I also use containers that do not need to be returned; much easier for the parents. My toddler loves to help add ingredients and the baby giggles as we hand her various cooking items. It is a great way to pass a morning with your kids. And the end result is a thoughtful and welcomed gift to the family. If you want to add a material item, lotions, soaps, or a gift card make for an easy to transport package. I also offer to lend a hand with the new baby.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Salvaging Meals From the Freezer

My last trip to the grocery store came in at half the normal price! We are executing our plan to use up some of the food in our freezer, fridge, and cupboards. I love to buy fresh produce, but sadly toss too much because we don't eat it before it goes bad. Friday night I decided to put that beautiful produce to use.

The acorn squash was sliced in half, scrapped free of seeds, placed upside down in a baking dish with 2 cups water and baked at 350 degrees for one hour. I scooped out the insides, blended them in the food processor and added a little butter. Yummy veggies for the baby, the toddler, and the parents. This was paired with mashed potatoes, also found on the counter, and Swedish meatballs for me and my son and a Walnut burger I found in the fridge for my husband (the vegetarian).

For dessert there was homemade applesauce. A week earlier I bought a bag of red delicious apples for $3; on special at Target. The price was right, but I ignored the fact that my son and I favor this bag was just sitting there. We put them to good use by turning them into a warm and yummy applesauce.
  • peel and core the apples, slice in quarters;
  • dump into crock pot;
  • add 1/2cup water;
  • add cinnamon and nutmeg;
  • put on high for 3 hours.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

National Healthcare Decision Day, April 16th

In my professional life I am an estate planning attorney, and this post is borrowed from my legal work. It is law related, but truly frugal. Today, April 16th, is National Healthcare Decision Day. The idea is to garner attention for the importance of advance directives. Did you know that you can complete these forms on your own, without an attorney? Yes, you can. Of course the forms I draft for clients are much more complete, but there are fill-in-the-blank forms offered by each state. They get the job done, and are better than nothing.

In my state, Wisconsin, we are not a next of kin state. That means if a person, aged 18 or over, losses capacity and cannot make health or financial decisions, guardianship will need to be established. That means a loved one will have to hire an attorney, go to court, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the sick party, and guardianship will be established. Two private sector attorneys going to court is neither cheap nor efficient. It can all be avoided by filling out a power of attorney for health care, a living will, and a power of attorney for finance.

Links to state forms for these documents can be found on the National Healthcare Decision Day web site. These decisions may be hard to face, but doing so is a true gift to your loved ones.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Carrot Cake and Thoughts on Stretching Grocery Dollars

When I look at our monthly expenditures one number jumps out at me, the amount we spend on food. For us, this includes grocery store purchases, baby food and supplies, restaurant meals, and household items (i.e. paper towels and the like).

The amount we spend on groceries, as we define them, is just shy of our mortgage payment. You can read that in at least two different ways; either we have a small mortgage or we spend a lot on groceries. In fact, both are true.

Being frugal, I'm always looking for a way to save. When it comes to food my preferred method is to eliminate waste. I'm not willing to cut on quality of food to achieve savings. So, that means I need to make the most of our purchases. And every now and then I realize that we have quite a bit of choices in our freezer, fridge, and cupboards. This is one of those times. So, instead of doing my normal weekly shopping, I am going to dig and see what kinds of meals I can make from what we have on had. We'll still hit the grocery store this weekend for the necessities (milk and eggs), but I'm hoping the bill will be less than usual.

Inspired by my commitment to not let food spoil, tonight I whipped up a healthy treat for the weekend -- Carrot Cake (minus the sugar). We had made this recipe last weekend for my mother-in-law's birthday. She is diabetic and needs low sugar food. Never having made the recipe before, I found I bought more ingredients than I needed. Seeing them in the fridge tonight I decided to make another cake. I'll freeze half (without sugar it will spoil quickly).

The recipe is from a favorite cookbook, Sugar-free Toddlers:
  • 1/2 cup butter, creamed;
  • 3 eggs;
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened pineapple juice;
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour;
  • 1 and 1/2 cup unbleached white flour;
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ;
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda;
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder;
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg;
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon;
  • 3 and 1/4 cups shredded carrot; and
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained.
Blend the first three ingredients. Add the dry ingredients, blend again. Add the carrot and pineapple, blend. Transfer to baking pan, bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Even after making another cake I had some shredded carrot left over. It is currently simmering on the stove and will be pured for the baby to eat at lunch tomorrow. And a bit of crushed pineapple remained, which I will toss into yogurt with granola for breakfast.

A half hours worth of time tonight, food saved, healthy food created, stretched the grocery dollars, and saved food from simply being tossed out. What a way to end the day.

Watch for other posts on meals salvaged from the kitchen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Frugal Compost Bin

Since moving into our home last November, I have been eager to re-establish a compost bin. So eager that I wanted one quickly, especially when the warmer weather melted away the snow. Being frugal, I didn't want to spent $100 plus dollars on a composting bin. That seemed kind of silly; $100 container for twigs, food scraps, and bugs. I also didn't want to spend hours wandering around a hardware store gathering supplies, and then more time in the back yard attempting to assemble a compost bin. Nor did the idea of dumping scraps in the yard appeal to me. So, I googled homemade compost bin and came across the "garbage can compost bin"! For $10 I bought a black, plastic garbage can (with a lid that snaps on) and drilled some holes along the bottom, sides, and top. And in less than an hour we were back in the business of composting. I followed the instructions on this ehow link. We are happy with the result. Contained, effective, and a cost of $10.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kids Clothing & Garage Sales

During my first pregnancy I became an expert at finding baby clothes at garage sales, rummage sales, and "Mom" sales (usually associated with a mom's group). It was great; quality clothing for a fraction of the price in the store. Before my son arrived I had bins full of clothes, sorted by size, up through 2T. However, by the time my son reached age 18 months I was expecting our second child (they are 23 months apart) and the bargains at these types of sales stopped. Why? My tastes didn't change and I did not suddenly demand new clothing. No, I was not able to bring my son along to the sales. They either said "no kids allowed" or it simply wasn't practical. What to do? I didn't want to hire a sitter to go bargain shopping; any savings I'd reap would be eaten up in sitter fees. Trying to work "garage saling" into Saturdays when my husband was home didn't work well either -- he works a lot, and our family time together is precious. So, I've taken a hiatus from these types of sales. Instead, I frequently visit second hand stores. They have carts and I can bring the two kids along. Or, if I have a break between client meetings I make a quick stop if a store in nearby. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you have a spare hour.

My favorite second hand stores for kids clothes are:
  1. Savers
  2. Goodwill
  3. St. Vincent de Pauls
Anyone have a gem I haven't found?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Split Pea Soup

It's Tuesday, and at our house that is soup night. Here is an easy, tasty, and low cost meal - Split Pea Soup!

1 bag of split peas (I use green or yellow);
1 bouillon cube
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
6 cups water

Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for at least one hour.

If you eat meat, this can be converted into Split Pea and Ham Soup by tossing in a ham bone for the simmering process and some chunks of ham. An ideal way to get the most use possible out of a ham dinner. It was a standard in my childhood home.

I always put a plate of crackers and cheese on the table, and voila, you have a filling, healthy meal for a few dollars. Enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Healthy Fast Food for a Toddler -- Grab a Sweet Potato

Saving time and money, those are two of my favorite things. However, I have two small children, so both are a challenge some days. Feeding my children healthy food is a strong desire of mine, and a feat my son often seeks to thwart. He is 2 and a half. Meal times are less than pleasant at times. More meals than not, we sit down, light a candle (a great little trick I picked up at the Waldorf play group…nothing getssa little boy to the table faster than fire), and put the meal on the plate….or in his case, tray. Usually he has helped me prepare the food, something he loves to do. I’ve read that having a child participate in cooking the food, increases the chances that he or she will actually eat the food. Not the case here. So, what to do when 7pm is approaching and your son (who goes to bed late and rises early – rooster early) hasn’t eaten dinner? I know an empty stomach is a surefire way to have a hungry toddler calling your name in the middle of the night. The baked sweet potato – that is my silver bullet. Drop it in a nifty microwave bag, nuke it for 5 minutes, lather on some butter, and voila, you have Super Fast Food that he’ll devour ….at least for now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Landscaped Yards are Great Selling Points, But Now I Own It....

I’m still on about the lawn. We bought our current home last fall, closing on November 18th and moving the day after Thanksgiving. It snowed a week later, and I had not seen the ground since. But, alas the sun has chased away the snow (a favorite line for one of my kids’ books), and I’m discovering the lawn we purchased. Previous owners had it professionally landscaped. A great selling point. However, now that I own this visually appealing lawn I’ve come to a realization….I haven’t a clue how to maintain or update it! I’m an attorney, I write wills and trusts for a living. I do not have the first idea how to keep up the lawn or integrate the changes I’d like (butterfly and hummingbird garden for example). So, I see two options:

a) hire a professional landscaper and pull out our check book; or

b) follow my frugal inclinations, say, you’re smart, read up on gardening, do it yourself, resulting in me destroying the lovely landscaped yard I purchased.

I need an option c) – any ideas?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lawn Care for the Frugal Minded

Note to Self: Before purchasing your next home, pause, grab a rake and look at the backyard. That lawn, beautiful and expansive, may take on a new, less lustrous feel when you realize how long it will take you to clear the yard of leaves. Sure, raking is great fun, when you have endless amounts of time. I have two kids under three years of age and a part-time legal practice. Free time is non-existent here. Ten years from now raking with my kids may be great fun. But tackling the feat now is less than great. My 2 year old son hacked a muddy hole on the edge of the bushes. And my infant daughter was less than thrilled to be strapped into a carrier while mom flipped around this new and disturbing tool (a.k.a. the rake). So, after completing 1/20th of the mess to be cleaned up, I decided, some of this lawn needs to go. And that will require a consult with a landscaper. And being frugal, I’d like another option…..suggestions anyone?

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Can You Be Frugal and Have a Nanny?

Frugal, it’s a word I’d include if someone said describe yourself in 5 words or less. So, when people who know me heard that we were going to hire a nanny to care for our children while we worked, heads tilted, looks of puzzlement shadowed faces, and the question emerged – how can you have a nanny AND be frugal? It may not be apparent, but it is true.

First, you need to start with the word nanny. Nanny may conjure up images of palatial homes, maids in outfits, and a mother who lunches. No, not at our house. A nanny is a child care provider who views themselves as a professional, often with a degree or two that focuses on child development. Many of them are connected with families through an agency; that is the case with our current nanny. They hope to earn a decent wage and provide quality child care.

Second, nannies care for sick children. In our home we are both self-employed. We did not want our work to come to a grinding halt if a child were sick. That would translate into no work = no pay. Yet, in a traditional child care center or home daycare, you pay even if your child is home sick. So, not wanting to pay for care when a child is sick, and see our own income go down, a nanny was an attractive option.

Third, children at home are less likely to pick up a virus, the flu, or other common childhood ailment if they are at home, away from lots of other small children. Sure, kids need to build immunity, but we have a high-deductible health insurance plan (remember, we’re both self-employed). That means we pay the first $5200 of health care expenses out of pocket (we use our HSA – more on that in a future post). A sick child for us does not mean a $25 office visit co-pay and a $10 co-pay on a prescription. If we have not hit the deductible, we pay the negotiated rate. Both kids recently spiked fevers (after a water park visit, which is retrospect, was a terrible idea). The virus lead to a UTI in our 8-month old daughter. That translated into a doctor visit ($250), cauterization and lab work ($150), antibiotic, ($130), and another doctor visit to make sure it was really cleared up ($250). That my friend is why we try our best to keep our kids healthy and out of the doctors’ office. We think using a nanny accomplishes this; in two and a half years of using a nanny, this was the first type of visit of this nature. All others were for Well Baby checks.

Fourth, when you have a nanny you get more than just childcare. We get someone to helps with household chores. From doing the kids laundry to emptying the dishwasher to prepping dinner one night a week; you won’t get that from a home daycare or traditional child care center. There is plenty of housework left for us to feel connected to the kids and our home, but it certainly eases the burden a bit.

And fifth, nannies work around your schedule. We are not confined to the hours of a center. When you are self-employed, this flexibility is wonderful.

Finding a good nanny is key. We resisted the idea of using a placement agency for a long time, finally did and were very happy. As the owner of Nanny Connections told us, it is more than connecting a family with a nanny who lines up with their needs. It is about matching personalities, and is very akin to a match-making service. We are delighted with our current nanny, and take comfort in knowing that should she be sick or go on vacation, we can be connected with a fill-in nanny (who has been thoroughly screened) through Nanny Connections. So, that is why we opted for a nanny and think it was the frugal approach.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Does the State of Wisconsin Have Your Property?

Once again the State of Wisconsin Treasurer's Office is looking to match unclaimed property to rightful owners. You can check the list for your name, or that of a loved one who has recently passed away. It's something I'll recommend to my clients who are acting as personal representatives in a Wisconsin probate.

I'll be curious to hear if any one finds his/her name or that of a loved one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Discussing Voluntary Simplicity

Came across this course offering in my church's adult education flier....a discussion group for voluntary simplicity. For the sake of simplifying my life, I'm opting not to join any groups at the moment. However, for those with more free time, you might want to check this out. It starts on April 7th...that would be tomorrow. If any one goes, or has prior experience, I'd love to hear your impression. I've always found talking with others motivating. It is being offered through The First Unitarian Society.

Voluntary Simplicity Discussion Group

Thursdays, April 7 – May 5
Time: 6:30 – 8 pm
Fee: $25 pledged/$35 non-pledged;
Location: Isom House
Facilitator: Ann Puser

Simplicity has a long tradition in religious practice and philosophy of life in the United States. From Thoreau to the "back to the land" movement, people have been drawn to the idea of living lightly on the Earth. Yet Americans remain at the top of the list of consumers in the world. Why the disconnect? Join this small discussion group to explore why we feel enough is never enough, to examine our own lifestyles, and to develop ways to bring our behavior in line with our beliefs about fairness in the world.

Ann Puser is a student of voluntary simplicity. Facilitating this program is a wonderful opportunity to share what she has learned on her own journey and to learn from those on the same path.
Participants will need to purchase Voluntary Simplicity from the Northwest Earth Institute,; the cost is $20.

Voluntary Simplicity Discussion Group, Pledged, $25

Voluntary Simplicity Discussion Group, Not-pledged, $35

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Inexpensive Beauty

Recently our family drove to the Horicon National Refuge in Horicon, Wisconsin for a few hours of natural beauty. Being our first visit, we were delighted to learn that admission was FREE. What four letter word brings more joy to parents of young children!!!! We spent just over an hour walking a loop near the visitor center. Fresh air, birds chirping, children burning off energy. And did I mention, it is FREE! Parent or not, I highly recommend the trek to Horicon Marsh is an inexpensive outing is on your wish list.

Spring arrives at the marsh.

Monday, April 4, 2011

To Return or Not?

Is it worth the trouble to return? That is the question that went through my mind following a recent grocery store purchase. I had just come from our monthly Woodman's shopping (large, warehouse type store) with our standard staples in hand. After putting away the items, it was time to feed the kids. I opened up a jar of Earth Best Spinach and Potatoes for my 8-month old daughter. Ughhh! Once again, the jar of food was bad....puffy and dry is not edible baby food.

This is the second time I've gotten a bad jar of this food from Woodmans. Since it is the only place I can find this flavor, and my daughter loves it, I bought 6 jars. Now I must answer the question - should I bother returning it? Shopping with a toddler and a baby is no easy feat, especially when you factor in my 20 hour work week as an attorney. Inspiration hits. On our way out of town for some family R&R, we'll stop by the store. My husband can wait with the kids in the car while I do the return.

My recommendation, always keep a receipt. If you end up with a product that does not work or goes bad, not returning it is the same as tossing money out the window. It helps to have one spot for all receipts, and toss them out once you know a return is not an option (i.e. it was consumed or used beyond a point of returning).

And next time, I won't be purchasing this product from Woodmans again.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Top 5 Thrift Store Items

Here are the top 5 items that I look for when shopping at thrift stores:
  1. Children's clothing;
  2. Seasonal and Holiday decorations;
  3. Candles;
  4. Books; and
  5. Adult clothing.
What are you favorite thrift store finds?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Target Card...5% Off

Recently we opened up a Target Debit Card and now receive 5% off of all of our Target purchases. With two kids in diapers and one using formula, we make weekly trips. Not big fans of credit, we decided to take advantage of an easy 5% savings. Wow, do the savings add up quickly. I'd recommend a debit card over credit because people are known to spend more, especially impulse buys when using credit. Those impulse purchases quickly eat away at any savings....probably one reason why Target offers this "great" deal.

Any one else fan or foe of the Target card?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vegetarian Black Bean Soup

As the mother of two young children (2 1/2 years and 8 months old), an attorney with a part-time estate planning and probate practice, and the wife of an entrepreneur, simple, fast, and healthy meals are my favorite. These meals also tend to cost very little, allowing us to put money towards other priorities. Dinner tonight - Vegetarian Black Bean Soup, whole wheat bread, and corn.

The soup is simple, combine: 2 cans black beans, 1 jar salsa, and 2 cups vegetable broth. Simmer for 20 minutes. Garnish with sour cream or cheese. This can easily be converted for meat eaters (I am one) by using chicken broth and tossing in a cup or two of shredded chicken (great for using up leftovers).

The bread was made in our bread maker (given to us by an aunt who no longer used it). Check out any thrift store (Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Savers, etc.) and you'll likely find several models for around $10. Google the model name and you can download the instruction booklet. While making homemade bread may sound time consuming, it really isn't. And it is great entertainment for a toddler. My son loves to help toss in the ingredients. Word of caution, when a toddler is tossing in ingredients, be certain that nothing hits the heating element....if it does, you'll have a smoking bread machine...I write from experience. Total prep time, 15 minutes, and that was while carrying the baby in a sling and supervising my toddler.

Finally, frozen corn boiled in water.

Total cost of dinner, less than $10.