Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Bran Muffins

My son and good friend, photo taken by Lea Wolfe

Following the birth of my second child, a dear college friend flew to town to lend a hand around our home. Of the many wonders she did for us during that visit was an introduction to Chocolate Bran Muffins (officially a Weight Watchers recipe). It is easy, yummy, and inexpensive:
  • Put 3 cups All Bran in a dish, add 2 1/2 cups warm water. Soak a few minutes
  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 package brownie mix (I like Hodgskin Mills Millet Brownie mix).
  • Mix
  • Drop into mini muffin pans
  • bake 20-25 minutes, 350 degrees
Bit sized, fiber packed, goodies. And kids love them!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day and Feeding the Goats

Up until I read this blurb, I thought that I was the only one who associated Memorial Day weekend with feeding the goats at Henry Vilas Zoo. Apparently not. Regardless, it is a great, inexpensive way to kick of the summer season.

Feeding the goats at Vilas Zoo

It's not exactly the running of the bulls, but Madison's Vilas Zoo has its own highly anticipated animal tradition.

Since the 1970s, Memorial Day weekend has meant the opening of the zoo's goat yard.

Starting Saturday at 10 a.m., visitors will get their first opportunity of the year to feed the zoo's 25 goats.

"People have come to expect it," said Jim Hubing, zoo director. "They just get excited being that close to animals. And the goats like it, too."

Bring some coins — feed must be purchased on site. No carry-ins. (The zoo itself is free.)

And while you're there, don't forget to give the kids a spin on the "Conservation Carousel," a highlight of the children's zoo that also is now open for the season.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fasolia Gigandes

Earlier this month I wrote about my belief that to be frugal, one must also know how to cook. Why? The cost of restaurant or processed foods runs quite high when consumed day after day, month after month, year after year. Not to mention the associated costs from dental and or medical bills. So, in an effort to promote cooking within the frugal ranks, here is another easy recipe. And, it is also quite inexpensive.

Fasolia Gigandes (yee-ghan-tez)
  • boil 1 1/2 pounds large lima beans for 1 hour. Make sure beans are fresh or they will never soften (use a store with a lot of turnover).
  • saute 2 medium onions and 1 glove garlic in 1/2 cup olive oil. Add 3 large tomatoes (peeled) 3/4 cup tomato sauce, 3 tabelsppons parsley, 3 tablespoons dill, dash of salt and pepper, 2 cups water. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Add mixture to beans (after draining) in a large baking pot. Bake for 1 hour, 400 degrees.
This pairs well with corn bread, spinach, and pork. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Book Recommendation: I Love Dirt!

When my husband or I mention to people that we have two children under the age of 3, most role their eyes and lament about the expense associated with raising kids. their comments usually don't get the response they expect; we don't feel that raising kids is all that expensive. Why? We attribute it to not going along with the consumerism associated with kids. "Less is more" is a mantra in our home.

Now don't take this too literally, we did spring for a very pricey stroller, but love it and know one day we can sell it. But for the most part, we let the kids explore their world without too much influenced from corporate America.

A great resourced in accomplishing this is the book, I Love Dirt! 52 Activities To Help You & Your Kids Discover The Wonders of Nature by Jennifer Ward. Divided into 4 categories, one for each season, there are 52 "chapters" or short passages about discovering the simple wonders of the world.
  • See That Tree?
  • Leaf Looking
  • Moon Shadows
  • Snow Me Some Fun
Those are a few examples. It is a delightful way to get out and enjoy the outdoors, and doesn't break the bank. If you are interested in Simplicity Parenting or Frugal Parenting, this is a must have for your bookshelf.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Buying in Bulk

84 ounces of yogurt, at one time, that's a lot of yogurt. Even the vendor at the farmers' market thought so. But I bought one. My daughter, just shy of 10 months LOVES it. And I try to have a serving at least once a day. So, we can work our way through yogurt fairly quickly. And, it was cheaper buying the larger container.

This 84 ounce container cost $8.50, bought direct for the dairy at their farmers' market stand. In contrast, I can get a 24 ounce container at my grocery store for $3.19. It works out to about a 3 cent per ounce savings. I'll take that, I'm frugal.

Now I'm starting to think about other items we might want to 1) buy direct from the producer (i.e. cut out the middle man fee), and 2) what items to buy in bulk. I already do this for paper products, but it seems like I could expand to other areas. Perhaps meat? What do others do?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Frugal Compost Bin

Earlier I wrote a post on building a frugal compost bin. And I'm glad I found a cheap compost method because after just one month, it was filled and we need another. This time I snapped a few photos.

For $10 we got another plastic, black garbage can.

Then I took a drill and put holes in the top, bottom, and up and down the side (about every 5 inches).

Finally, we put in some garden clippings and twigs, added a bucket of kitchen scraps and some water.

A great, cheap, and contained way to compost. Stirring the compost consists of placing the bin on its side and rolling it around....hence the need for a lid.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Frugality and Patience

To be frugal is to be patient, at least in my book. Patience means:

an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness orannoyance when confronted with delay

How does patience help me live a frugal life? Routinely I have a list in my head, or sometimes on paper, of items I'd like to add to my life. Instead of rushing out and purchasing them immediately I wait, and give the universe a chance to bring them into my life.

For example, for several months I had been thinking it would be nice to get a world map to hang up in my son's room. The fact that I have a toddler and infant means I am not out shopping too much; trips are limited to Target and the grocery store for the most part. However, in March we attended a HAM (amateur) radio swap meet in Milwaukee. And, there, for FREE, was a world map showing various frequencies. Perfect for my toddler. I was happy I was patient and did not spend $10 or more dollars on a map.

Several years ago I had a similar experience. I had been wanting a baking tin to make an oversized cookie. My husband does not like cake, so for his birthday I would make a large chocolate chip cookie. I wanted a pan, like an oversized pizza pan. I looked and looked (this was pre-kids), but could find just the right thing. I waited. And I was rewarded. While out at a garage sale I found the perfect thing, and I paid $1. I use it every year, and it makes the most wonderful birthday cookie.

Patience, it is an essential element of the frugal life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Frugality and Saving

To me, to be frugal means to save. Not just on each purchase (i.e. getting something for 20% off), but for the long-term. My husband and I are savers. Our monthly budget includes lines for: retirement accounts; college funds (529 plans); health savings account; and long-term savings for future goals. And we move heaven and earth to max out savings in each account every year.

So, as a saver, I was delighted to read this story about a recent Wisconsin lottery winner. After wining $1 million dollars, which worked out to a lump sum distribution of $672,500, he bought himself an $8,000 lawn mower, paid off his mortgage, and put the rest in the bank for retirement. He plans to return to work, as normal, as a machinist.

Smart. I love reading about something smart in the news. Hats off to another "saver", may he enjoy life knowing he has money in the bank.

Monday, May 23, 2011

UW Hosptial's Child Safety Center

Our almost 10 month old had reached the upper limit of her carrier car seat, the time had come for a Stage 2, a.k.a, a convertable car seat. This time we opted to check out the University of Wisconsin's Children's Hospital Child Safety Center, and we're glad we did!

While the hours are not the best, especially if you are a dual working family, it was worth re-shuffling our schedule this past Saturday (the center is open Monday - Friday, 10-4pm, and the 3rd Saturday of the month, 8-12).

The customer service topped anything you'd get in a general retail environment. All of the staff are certified technicians, and they know their equipment. We were able to let our daughter sit in the seats we were considering. Once we had it narrowed down to one, the tech took the seat to our car. He removed her infant car seat, installed the new one, and let her "test drive" the seat. Only after we knew if was a good fit for the car and our daughter did we pay. Yes, we paid after it was already installed.

The center was funded by Kohl's Department store, so the items are sold "at cost". This savings also includes installation.

The monetary savings was appreciated, but the installation and ease of shopping was absolutely delightful. We managed to complete this task (both parents, the baby, and her 2 1/2 year old brother all along) in 1 hour! Saving time is just as important as saving money in our life.

I highly encourage those in the area to give the Center consideration; the hours aren't great, but the Center is. All sorts of safely equipment is sold there as well: bike helmets, strollers, bath tubs, etc.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Free Day At Wisconsin State Parks

"FREE" -- a word guaranteed to get my attention. As a self-proclaimed frugal person, I love getting something for free, especially something already consume. And, telling others about the deal is almost as fun. So, if you live in or near Wisconsin and you enjoy the State Parks system but have not bought your annual admissions sticker, here is a deal for you:

State Park Open House June 5

Free admission to all state parks, forests and trails

MADISON – Enjoying Wisconsin State Parks, Forests, Trails and Recreation Areas is a bargain any time of year but on the first Sunday of June they are an exceptional value, as entrance to any state park, forest, trail and recreation property is free.

“Open House Day is an opportunity for all residents and visitors to explore some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful natural locations and enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreation,” says Dan Schuller, Wisconsin State Parks director.

“This year Gov. Scott Walker has officially proclaimed June 2011 as Great Outdoors Month in Wisconsin to highlight the benefits of outdoor activity and focuses attention on our natural resources, including parks, forests and other public lands and waters. State Parks Open House Day will allow people across the state to take in a full day of Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, or just relaxing.”

On State Park Open House Day, no admission stickers are required on vehicles entering state parks, forests and recreation areas, and trail passes are not required for bicyclists, in-line skaters, or horseback riders using state trails that normally require a trail pass. In addition, Saturday, June 4 is National Trails Day and fees are waived to use all DNR-managed state trailson that day as well.

Reservable campsites in Wisconsin state park and forest campgrounds are generally in high demand for the Memorial Day weekend, but there are often campsites available for the weekend of State Park Open House at many parks and forests. Camping fees do still apply on state park open house day. People can check campsite availability or reserve a site (minimum two nights) through the State Parks Web site [www.wiparks.net].

The event also coincides with Free Fishing Weekend in Wisconsin, so no fishing license is required to fish at the many lakes and rivers located in state parks and forests. Several parks are sponsoring free fishing activities, along with other special events (click on tab for June and then see June 5).

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Wisconsin State Parks – (608) 266-2181

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Resale -- Turn Junk Into Cash

We have a pile of books and electronics on our "family" desk. All of the items are listed on my husband's Amazon account. All were once used by us, and all are now for sale. When we are done using an item, we always ask, is this worth selling? If not, it goes in the donation pile. If yes, we pick a venue and post it for sale.

My husband tends to favor Amazon.com. Most of his items are books or electronics, so Amazon is great. No need to post a picture, just find your item and list it under the "used" section. You'll get an email if and when someone purchases it.

Unlike my husband, I find myself putting more household items and clothing into a resale pile. Mine are taken to Puttin' on the Ritz, a consignment store in Middleton. I drop things off once a season and usually receive a check for $25. Not bad for items I'd otherwise take to a thrift store.

In the past I used Ebay to sell items, specifically plastic toys from my childhood. I was amazed at how much people would pay for Barbie and other 1970s toys. The proceeds were put towards paying off my student loans! Ebay worked well for this items, they were no longer in production and needed a wide audience.

Finally there is Craigslist. I find this works best for furniture. Too big to ship. Easy to photograph. After buying our new home I sold the kitchen table that came with the house, it just wasn't for us. I snapped a photo, wrote a brief description, and within 36 hours a stranger arrived, paid me cash, and gave it a new life. The only concern I have about Craigslist is having a stranger come to the home, so it is nice to coordinate when others will be here.

So, if you are looking to be frugal take a look around. What items are never used, pile them up, and then ask - are they worth selling. Personally, it feels great keeping the clutter to a minimum in our home.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Inexpensive Gift

For Mother's Day I received the sweetest gift, one made by my toddler with the assistance of his nanny. They took old baby food jars, washed them, decorated them, and filled them with epson salt and scented oil. What a simple, lovely, and inexpensive way to express gratitude. This is one I'll be likely to repeat and pass along to others.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Always Keeping An Eye Out For Coupons

Recently I learned something about myself, apparently I have an eye for coupons. During a play group gathering at the Madison Waldorf School I was talking with the other parents about deals I get at Morgan's Shoes at Hilldale. They quickly responded "oh, that store is too expensive" for me. But after hearing about the coupons I use there, their tune changed. "How did you find them (meaning coupons)?" they asked.

How did I find them? The question struck me as silly, it was like asking how I knew to breathe. My eye is always out for a coupon. But not just any coupon, one that is for a product or service I already plan to use or try. Otherwise, if I let coupons dictate my spending, I'll find I'm spending more and not being frugal.

So, where do I commonly find coupons:
  • the back of grocery store receipts (that is where I found the buy a pair of shoes and get a free pair of Smart Wool socks at Morgan's Shoes);
  • the Bucky Book;
  • bottom of register receipts (common at Morgan's Shoes); and
  • magazines and coupon packs that arrive in the mail (great for hair cut coupons).
I have a special spot on the kitchen counter, near my notebook where I make lists of things we need, where the coupons reside. Whenever I pull out my notebook to make a list, the coupons are immediately at hand.

What about you, where is your favorite source for coupons?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Free Shredding Services

Have a box of papers that need to be shredded, but haven't found the time to feed them into a shredder? I have a solution for you. Starting tomorrow, the UW Credit Union (3500 University Ave., in Madison) will be offering free shredding services:
  • May 19th, 2-6pm;
  • May 20th, 10-2; and
  • May 21st, 9-1.
If you are a member of the credit union, or interested in becoming one, this is a great way to securely dispose of sensitive materials. The documents will be shredded and then recycled.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gift Bags, Take 2

Sunday evening I was putting together an end-of-the-year thank you gift for the playgroup leader at the Madison Waldorf School. She did a wonderful job introducing our family to the rhythm and flow of Waldorf, and we look forward to returning in the fall. However, the leader of the playgroup as decided to change directions, and will not be there in the fall. We picked up some lovely yarn for her at the Midwest Alpaca Festival that was in town recently. And, it was time to put the gift together.

So, I made a short trip downstairs to the "holiday" closet; it is where I store decorations for various holidays (most of which were purchased from 2nd hand stores). The left side of one shelf is devoted to gift bags and tissue paper. Not new ones, ones that were given to us as part of a gift.

This is a lovely and frugal way to stretch a dollar and keep gift wrap out of a landfill. My suggestion -- have a specific spot devoted to storing these items and make sure to stock it if and when you receive a gift.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stocking Up For Winter

A rainy and cold Saturday did not keep us away from the local farmers' market. We opted for the smaller one in our neighborhood as opposed to the large and wonderful one on the square. We picked up spinach and asparagus.

The spinach was steamed and the asparagus boiled; both are frozen in the chest freezer waiting for the cold depths of a Wisconsin winter to be pulled out and inject a bit of Spring into our meals. The spinach will give us a delicious quiche, and the asparagus will be used for cream of asparagus soup. Watch for recipes later on.

What other springtime favorites to others freeze for use during the winter?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When You Don't Agree With the Property Assessor

Last November we bought a home. We got it for $80,000 less than the assessed value. We were assured that the new assessment would come in at the purchase price; it was not a distressed sale, financing was normal, etc. In February the City Assessor came for a visit, made some notes and left. A post card arrived in late April....assessing our home at $5,000 more than what we paid. My husband, the ever mathematically efficient electrical engineer, took issue with this assessment. As he is apt to do, he put together a concise email questioning the assessment (which took him about 10 minutes to write). The response that came back was "new windows added to the value". Really those must have been some windows, and the ones that came with the home were functional. Another email, stating this question, resulted in the City Assessor lowering our assessment to the exact value we paid.

The confidence to question authority, a few well worded emails, and we saved an additional $100 a year! The drop in assessment resulted in over $1,000 in tax savings. And that is money we plan to re-direct to paying off our loan early.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Frugal Exercise....The Hula Hoop

Following the birth of my first child in 2008, life as I had known it ended. Sleep deprivation, a c-section (he was breach), and owning my own legal practice made it increasingly difficult to find time to exercise. Okay, exercise is not at the top of my to-do list, I admit that. Maybe that is why I was drawn to the hula hoop, or what has become known as "hooping".

I bought a hoop from a local women, she even delivered it to my door. It is large, weighs a bit more than a child's hoop, and offers a fantastic ab work out. I would put on the soundtrack to Monsoon Wedding and hoop through a few songs while my infant son watched and bounced to the music.

Flash forward 2 years. Another pregnancy (so no hooping for almost a year), followed by a second c-section (she too was breach). Working more at my practice, caring for 2 children. The exercise habit is slipping. Last month I received the email newsletter for Hoopeleation.com, and it was perfect timing. Time for me to pull out the hula hoop, give my abs a workout, listen to some good music, and show my children how to live a fit and healthy lifestyle.

And who knows, as they get older and more independent (which I've been told they will d0), I may one day have more free time and can check out classes and events offered through Madison Hoop Dance.

In my opinion, hooping is a great frugal workout. The cost, a hula hoop. Mine cost less than $30. You don't need a gym. Five to ten minutes can make a difference. Hooping, it is on my agenda for this summer.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gift Cards and the Frugally Minded

A few months ago I was given a gift card as a token of thanks for giving a seminar on estate planning to a group of doctors. The card, $50 at Macy's, has been taking up space in my wallet ever since. Macy's is not a typical stop for me, but this past Wednesday I found myself at Hilldale with the kids -- it was Farmers' Market Day.

In my mind I had been trying to work out when I could make a run to Goodwill or Savers as the baby had shot through her 9-12 month clothes and was in need of summer 12 month outfits. I opted to check out Macy's selection. I was there, I had a gift card, and time saved is just as good as money saved. We left 20 minutes latter with 10 outfits in hand. The clerk rang up the total, $50.37! I handed her the gift card and 37 cents.

Now I have some breathing room to find time to hit some garage sales and our thrift stores to stock up on 18 month and 2T options for our daughter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Frugal People Watch for Details

We use Quicken to keep track of our revenues and expenditures, and included on the auto updates is our USAA credit card (which to our delight pays us 1% back each year, in cash, not credits or miles). Recently I noticed a $70 charge appear from a child care web site. We had done a free 3-month trial with the site (sittercity.com), however, opted not to use the site. I failed to notice that the default setting was an auto-renew for 3 months, costing $70. To my surprise I received a phone call within an hour of sending in an email, and the credit appeared on our account days later.

Lesson learned, watch your credit card for charges you may not notice....don't just look at the total and pay. Also, investing a few minutes of your time to question a questionable fee can be worth it. In my case it saved us $70. And I made sure to click "no" to auto renewal.

Lentil Stew in the Crockpot

A weekly standard in our house is lentil stew. It is great as a stand alone dish or along side a main course (i.e. burgers, steak, chicken). Sound difficult? Wrong, my toddler can practically make this dish on his own. Put the following in your crock pot:
  • one bag of lentils;
  • bullion cube (veggie or meat, your choice);
  • one chopped onion;
  • 1 cup chopped carrot;
  • 1 cup chopped celery;
  • 1 bay leaf;
  • dash of cummin; and
  • fill to the top with water.
Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Freezers very well, and tastes great warmed up. As the veggie start to come in you can add others: spinach, potatoes, summer squash, etc.

Farmers' Market Day!

Wednesday in May; that means the farmers' market at Hilldale is back. This morning I'm off with the kids to pick up some local veggies, very reasonably priced. We'll use a few for tonight's curry and the rest we'll freeze.

Access to a storage freezer is key in a frugal home. We opted to get a chest freezer, which was a bit less in cost than the upright. If you want to be able to locate an item quickly, the chest freezer may not be for you. I'm not so picky and don't mind rummaging around during the winter months. What a wonderful way to eat locally grown, organic food, for a decent price....especially during a Wisconsin winter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Power of Cash

This past Saturday I ventured out, with the kids, to our first farmers' market of the season. Cash in hand we picked up some staples: yogurt ($8.50 for 84 ounces -- a great buy), honey, spinach, and scallions. As we headed out we decided to get a treat, and had $6 cash remaining in our wallet. We thought some lemon poppy seed bread and fresh cheese curds sounded nice, but the price was $7. I asked if they had a smaller bag of curds....nope. I said, hmmm, I only have $6 cash. The farmer thought for less than a minute and said "deal", you can have them for $6.

The dollar savings isn't much, but it illustrates a previous point I've made here on frugal. The power of cash. When a seller sees cash in hand it is very hard for them to have a sale walk away and are often willing to take less. The lesson, carry cash, be willing to walk away, but always do so with respect and thanks for the seller.

Happy Market Season!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Simplicity Parenting and Library Books

So I am attempting to incorporate aspects of Simplicity Parenting into our home. With dual careers parents who both own businesses (my husband, an electrical engineering designs printed circuit boards, I'm a solo attorney focusing on estate planning and probate), two kids under three, two cats, a home, aging parents with health issues, etc.....we need to simplify our life.

One way we've hit the mark is with the public library. We both love books, and used to love buying books. But, quickly the material piled up, and space to store it (i.e. living space) is quite expensive these days. So, we purged. It was painful, but we did it. Keeping only the books we adored.

With the addition of children into our lives we now had an entirely new scope of books to potentially purchase. Thankfully we've kept the purchases to a minimum, but we have two kids that adore books. On a recent drive to Milwaukee, Wisconsin (about 1 hour away) our 2 and a 1/2 year old read books there and back, no TV, no electronic media, just plain old books.

We read a lot of books, and after about 2 months we've read the enough times that we become bored with them. Instead of tossing them in the back of a shelf, they go back to the library. Ones that we especially enjoyed are logged into "my favorites" list on the library web site. When we are in the mood for the book again all I have to do is request it; and it arrives at our library. No storing it for months, no endless searches threw discarded toys. I get an email and it is waiting on a shelf in alpha order by last name.

Some books are very special, and those we do opt to buy. Many can be found on Amazon.com for next to nothing. My point -- you don't have to spend thousands of dollars on books (which is an easy task if you are a book worm) to turn your children into book lovers. All you need is a library card!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8th: A Birthday and Mother's Day

Today, May 8th, is a dual celebration in our home. It is my husband's 36th birthday and Mother's day. In America this normally translates into a lot of spending. Not in our home. Just after we were married (in 2006) my husband and I decided not to give one another gifts for birthdays or holidays. We exchange cards, but NO presents. We quickly found we loved the release of not having to stress about getting just the right gift, and extended this policy to our friends and family. Sure, not everyone was accepting of our new ritual, but we can't please everyone. Here are some of the ways we've recognized the specialness of birthdays and other holidays:
  1. We both take the entire day off from work on our children's birthdays and spend the day doing things the kids enjoy, as a family. For people who think this is cheap, think again. When we aren't working, we aren't billing, which is far more expensive than a trip to the mall to get an item had by countless kids;
  2. Donate money to charity. Each year on our anniversary we donate money to the National Arbor Day Foundation to plant trees. Instead of Christmas gifts we select several charities that represent major events in our life over the past year and make contributions;
  3. Bake cakes for family and friends birthdays -- homemade beats store bought any day;
  4. Go hiking. My favorite mother's day ritual is to take a short, local hike following a service at the First Unitarian Society; and
  5. Serve a meal. We invite others to our home, to share a meal, to share our lives. If people are not able to join us, we take a meal or baked good to them. Food, coffee, conversation -- the lifeblood of good relationships; and not something you can order off of Amazon.com.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reducing Food Waste, Saving Dollars

It has been less than a month since we set up our compost bin and it is nearly full!!!! Sure, we put in some yard waste, which was needed to get it started. I am astonished at how much food scrap has been diverted from our trash and the landfill to our compost bin. I am also astonished at how much food ends up there because it went bad before we had an opportunity to enjoy it. That is literally throwing money out the door! In an effort to break this trend I've been doing my best to finish leftovers and make use of veggies before it is too late. This week two lunches can from this effort:
  1. Mexican Chicken Salad: cut up remaining chicken thigh, tossed with remaining pico and avacado, add a scoop of canola mayo. Ate with whole grain crackers. Filling and satisfying lunch; and
  2. Pesto Pasta: tossed leftover whole wheat spaghetti with olive oil, microwaved for 30 seconds, added two scoops pesto, dash of parmesan cheese. Ate with a handful of cherry tomatoes from veggies on the counter. A little heavy on the carbs, but very tasty. Had I had more time I would have made salmon patties to balance the carbs with protein, but as usual, I was running short on time.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Second Life for Glass Jars

Recently I decided to give glass jars a second life. You know, the ones that originally come filled with spaghetti sauce, peanuts, and mayo. I used to use them, wash them, and toss them in the recycling bin. However, once I started buying more items in bulk, I found myself looking for storage containers. Tupperware was not that appealing; opaque, it was hard to see what was inside and I don't like running them through the dishwasher (high temps equal goodness knows what). Inspiration struck, and I started using an old spaghetti jar. Now I keep a few on hand, of various sizes. For kitchen storage they are ideal. Big, but not too big. Easily able to see what is inside. And you can use a permanent marker to label them on the front. A second life, and when I'm done with them, I can toss them in recycling. No extra money spent, no time wandering the aisles at Target looking for "food containers". A win win in my book.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rebates Add Up!

Recently I posted about my family's love of rebates, and my plan to start tracking them so I can see exactly how much they bring in. One requirement, we don't opt to buy something because of the rebate. Rather, when we go to purchase something we take advantage of a rebate if offered.

First check in since deciding to track; $5 for buing 4 Naked Juices. Standard in our fridge, and now $5 in savings on groceries. Glad I took the 2 minute effort to send in the rebate.

And the most amusing part, seeing what the company thought my name was. I print quite nicely, yet they thought I was Melina Gustetso Gervisi. Cute...I hope the bank will actually cash the check!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- Jack Johnson Inspires

Several years ago I heard the song Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by Jack Johnson. Aimed at children, the message is a great one, especially for someone looking for frugal inspiration. Listening to the lyrics I try to think of ways I can meet the goals. He says "three is the magic number" -- here are three ideas of mine for each:

  • avoid holding events where people feel the need to bring a gift (i.e. we've opted to postpone birthday parties for your kids until they are older, instead we take the day off from work and spend it together as a family; and
  • hypermiling (we enjoy pretending that the 2005 Honda Civic is a hybrid);
  • turn the heat down a few degrees or set the temp higher before the air conditioning is turned on.
  • keep glass jars (spaghetti, mayo, peanut, etc.) for bulk kitchen items (popcorn, flax seed, walnuts, etc.);
  • buy neutral clothing items for the kids, maximizing the chance our daughter can wear her older brother's items (translation, Ian recently got a new pair of rain boots....they are classic yellow, a nice option for little sis in a few years);
  • discarded work paper is put into a "kids bin" for drawing paper...the back side is blank!
  • keep received greeting cards for the kids to cut and paste with next year;
  • compost kitchen scraps; and
  • use Craigslist to post items you no longer need or want (great for everything from furniture to soildering wick....yes, someone actually claimed that from a post my husband made).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Simple Chili

A good chili, every cook should have one in their repertoire. Here is one I cooked up recently.
  • saute one medium onion in olive oil;
  • add cummin and chili powder, stir;
  • add one can of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, and black beans;
  • add one jar of salsa; and
  • add handful of fresh spinach.
  • simmer for 30 minutes.
  • serve with shredded cheese on top.
Freezes easily. Tastes great with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Any interesting chili twists to suggest?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Used Cars and a Frugal Life

At the gym last week I heard two women talking about buying a used car. My ears perked up; I had been raised on my parents' used car lot. After paying a bit of attention to their conversation I realized that I knew both of them from church; what a small world. I said hello and mentioned that I'd overhead the conversation. One women had been encouraging the other to buy a used car. I seconded her opinion. My father would be proud. He passed away almost 2 years ago, but loved used cars. He had owned a used car lot for over 20 years. Yes, he would have been proud to hear my voice support for a used car purchase....and possibly surprised by my opinion.

I have not always been a fan of used cars. In high school I was routinely embarrassed by my parents' cars. But aren't high schoolers embarrassed my anything their parents do? I also had a bit of a breakdown some years ago, literally and figuratively. My 1991 Honda Civic died, wouldn't start, on the coldest day of a Wisconsin winter. I had been out of law school for 3 and a half years, and said enough. My co-workers didn't believe me when I first told them that over the weekend I had bought a new Honda Civic. I had. I had had enough of "used cars".

That Honda is still in my possession, safely parked in the garage and fully paid for. But, when it comes time to replace it, I will not be buying a new car. There is a new influence in my life, my husband. No, he does not own a used car lot. Instead he is an electrical engineer. That means he can take the concept of efficiency to extremes most people have not heard of. And buying a used car is not an "efficient" use of money. "The minute you drive it off the lot is looses something like 20% of its value!!!"

Two years ago he decided it was time that he get a car; he had been a devote bicycle commuter, but a change to a freelance career with multiple clients make that impossible to continue. He decided it was time to purchase a used car. I gave him some advice that he felt was a bit odd and doubted would work. Bring cash. He was wrong, I was right.

Once he had a car selected I suggested he take cash to the dealer. Having grown up on a car lot I knew that people, all people, having a hard time saying no when there is a stack of 100s on the table. The uncertainty of another deal coming in the door is usually enough for them to take a "sure thing". Financing isn't going to fall through (which had happened on the two earlier attempts by other customers interested in what became my husband's Mazda). A check isn't going to bounce. Cash in hand, deal done, commission earned, next customer please. He felt odd, still does, but is amazed at the price he paid. They couldn't inch him any higher, the limit was the amount of cash he had. A key point to this being a success is the willingness to walk away. Don't get emotional, there will always be another car. Preferably a used car.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What to Eat? Have a Plan!

People who know me would likely say I have little if anything in common with a 1940's housewife. I have three degrees, a double last name WITHOUT a hyphen, and I am a lawyer who owns a legal practice. Yet, I also have a husband, two small children, and a home. I work part-time. The mornings I am with the kids, raising them and tending to the house. At 1pm the nanny arrives and I switch into legal mode.

In an effort to keep the whiplash under control, I've developed a routine for dinner. One taken straight out of Betty Crocker's 1940 cook books -- a routine meal plan. Why? Not agonizing about dinner is a blessing. Instead, I have a plan developed, shop accordingly, and meals run much smoother than they used to. It also cuts down on wasted food. At our house, here is what you'll find on the dinner table:
  • Sunday = Quiche and veggies;
  • Monday = Crock pot chicken, brown rice, curried veggies;
  • Tuesday = Soup and Bread;
  • Wednesday = Leftovers (this is also the night I work late);
  • Thursday = Bean dish;
  • Friday = Pasta; and
  • Saturday = Take-out -- Indian, Chinese or pizza (we usually use a coupon, and always get one more meal out of the leftovers).
Simple, uneventful, and low stress. The women of the 1940's knew a thing or two about running a household.