Thursday, June 30, 2011

Attempting to Grow Cilantro

Cilantro, it's something I buy at the store weekly. And it is also something I toss in the compost weekly. I use it, but not all of it. The store sells it in predetermined clumps. I need a little, not a lot. So, I bought some cilantro seeds. I figured I'd grow my own. Failure! Next I bought a cilantro plant for $2.50 at Trader Joe's. I put it out with the potted tomato plants. We had a summer storm. The cilantro was dead before I could harvest one snippet! Help, how does one grow cilantro? I still have some seeds and would like to give this another try. Suggestions?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trying to Salvage the Dryer

WARNING: Do not read this post if critter stories give you the willies! This past weekend a "dryer issue" developed. I went to retrieve a load of laundry that our nanny had put in the dryer. I opened the door and a smell hit me. Hmmmm, must not have dried completely, I'll wash them again. So, I put the kids clothes back in the washer and put the washer load in the dryer. A few hours later I returned, pulled out the dried clothes....that smell again? Hmmmm, something is wrong. I went to tell my husband, something was up with the dryer. He stuck his nose in the dryer, no not a musty smell. Something else? A bad belt? Maybe. His engineering mind went into action. Soon he had an hypothesis. A critter crawled in from outside and ended up in the dryer, hence the smell.

A critter? He suggested we call a repair company. My response, "What -- pay those rates, on a weekend! No, let me take a look." He explained how to disconnect the vent and stepped back. Sure enough, once the vent was disconnected and the dryer pushed out, I could see a tail. I confirmed his hypothesis. Up went his hands and he headed for the stairs. I told him to keep the kids up stairs and I would take care of the critter.

My husband is frugal, but as a child he took swim lessons at a country club from a lady named Miriam. I took swim lessons at Spring Harbor Beach here in Madison. There were bugs, fish, critters. I saw critters at our cabin and my dad's used car lot. He grew up in affluence, I did not. As a result, removal of a critter was something I could handle. Had I not been there he would have paid a fee to a company. This weekend we figured out where his frugality ends, but mine continues.

However, we are both committed to salvaging the dryer. Even though Chipper the Chipmunk has found a more peaceful final resting place, the smell lingers. I was amazed at how a google search connected me with others with this same problem. A towel soaked in vinegar has done no good. A jar of baking soda, left inside, overnight, has yielded no change. Today I purchased an odor sponge from the hardware store, cost $5. It is in place, and while we wait for it to do its magic (please work!) we are back to using our drying rack and in-door clothes line. Something I probably should have done anyway.

If anyone out there has another suggestion on getting rid of the odor, I'd love to hear it. I really, really do not want to buy a new dryer. Oh, and a vent guard was purchased and is awaiting the engineer to return home and install it. I'll deal with the critters, he can handle the hardware installation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Frugal Flooring for the Basement

New Years day, 2011, we discovered that the foot of snow outside that had melted in 24 hours had worked its way into the finished part of our basement. It was not the way we'd hoped to start a new year, especially in our new home. But that was life. What followed was a six month journey to get it restored to the state we'd bought it, and for a frugal price.

First, we had to discover the source of water. Two cracks in the foundation, hidden behind the drywall. Those were fixed in mid-January; $700 in repairs. We opted to skip on the $4,000 sump-pump. Instead we addressed run-off issues and had all the down spouts adjusted and fixed. Cost, $200. Then we decided to wait, to see if any more leaks made themselves known. Why bother fixing the rest just for it to get flooded again.

The Spring thaw arrived, no leaks. Summer rains feel, some quite hard. No leaks. We decided we'd found the source, and it was fixed. Repairing the drywall was next. A Facebook post lead us to a quality contractor who patched the drywall for $200.

We were ready for flooring. The initial quotes stopped us in our tracks, $3,000 - $4,000! For a basement floor, a Wisconsin basement floor? We have 2 kids, 2 cats, a doorway from the backyard. We needed utilitarian, not home show prices. My frugal nature reared up, and was determined to get the price down.

Carpeting was determined to be the most economical approach, as opposed to tile, vinyl, or laminate. Should we flood again it has the greatest chance of being salvaged. Even with carpeting, the quotes were running well over the $1,500 we wanted to spend. Through time, prodding, and questioning, we got the job done, and under budget. Here's how:
  • labor -- we found a contractor through Menards. They have contractor contact sheets available in the flooring section; we could scan and find someone who did carpet, and see how much they charged. Wallie Zimmerman was our man; the biggest difference was that he charged $2.50 a step; Home Depot charged $8.50 a step. Total charge for laying the carpet, including removal of the old carpeting, $515;
  • materials -- Wallie was able to get padding through a wholesaler for $225. Menards had carpeting on sale, 54 cents a square foot. Total cost of 1,000 square feet was approximately $650.
It took 6 months, but for $1200 we have our finished basement back! We didn't rush, we waited, we questioned, we asked for deals, and we came in under budget. And now we have extra funds this month for house repairs. Blinds for the bay window are next.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Curly Girl Experiment

I've been on vacation, the perfect time to embrace the Curly Girl method. Why? Giving up shampooing every day in order for the natural bounce of your hair to emerge takes time. And the period in between isn't that lovely.

The experiment started well. My hair was a bit oily on top, but was fuller than in recent years. Then I had my hair cut. Not thinking to speak up, the stylist shampooed, conditioned, spritzed my hair during my cut. So, I'm starting again.

Today I used a simple mix of baking soda and water, the oily look vanished. My hair looks like I got a perm, but all I did was eliminate the shampoo and take a simplicity approach.

So far so, good. I'm curious to see how this hair care method will hold up when vacation ends and life returns to normal.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Frugal Recipe: Saute Veggie Sandwisch


Several years ago my husband and I went to lunch at a great local restaurant. We both ordered the grilled veggie sandwich. They were delicious, but cost $8.95 each! As we enjoyed the food I realized I could make this for far less at home. I paid special attention to the ingredients. It has been a successful recreation ever since, and for far less than $8.95 per sandwich. Here is what to do:
  • gather assorted veggies (great way to eat up leftovers) and saute them in olive oil for about 4 minutes. The more variety in color the better. I usually opt for onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, spinach and or summer squash;
  • toast a bun or roll, again you can use what is on hand or on special at the store;
  • apply pesto (I use a pre-made jar purchased at Target; their price is extremely low, less than $2) to the bread.
  • Pile on veggies and drop a few clumps of fresh mozzarella on the veggies; and
  • Place in toaster oven or under the broiler for a few minutes.
The most expensive item will be the mozzarella, but it keeps well in the fridge. Severed alongside pizza, pasta or a salad, this is a simply, health, easy, and frugal meal. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Frugal Travel: Bayfield, Wisconsin

If you haven't been, Bayfield, Wisconsin is a town to add to your "must visit" list. The location is somewhat remote, but well worth the effort. We arrived Friday evening, parked our car, and did not get back in until we went to leave on Monday morning. And we had a toddler and baby along for the trip! Little resort towns like Bayfield can become expensive vacations in a blink of an eye. Here is how we kept the price down.

Lodging: We lucked out on this one; I won 3 nights free at the Ada O'Day Condos (Unit #3). In total, we spent $20 on lodging. But we had such an amazing time (our third, but the first with children) that we've decided to make this an annual trip. We made mental notes about future lodging options:
Meals: Eating out adds up very quickly, and with children a large portion of the food ends up on the floor or in someone's hair. So, to save costs we ate in. I highly recommend staying in a location that has a fridge and at least a microwave if not a full kitchen. In terms of food shopping keep the following in mind:

  • there is a small IGA on the main street, selection is okay, but produce was more limited than I expected;
  • Saturday mornings, April - October, there is a small farmers market in town. I got fresh onions, garlic, mushrooms, and apple mint for tea -- total cost, $2;
  • Fresh baked bread was purchased Saturday morning from the rack at the Egg Toss as well as some pastries for dessert that evening;
  • Fish -- the highlight was buying smoked trout from a local fish market (Bodin's) -- it is located on Lake Superior. And the fish, well, it was superior -- cost $3.58!
  • Treats -- Your sweet tooth does not need to be neglected on a trip to Bayfield. Again, on the main street, is a delightful candy shop that sells ice cream, chocolates, taffy, baked goods, etc. It is open until 9pm, unless, like me you attempt to open the door not knowing 9pm has passed (easy to do around the long days of the Solstice) and the owners open back up to sell you an ice cream cone; for $2!
Entertainment: Avoid the shops of Bayfield, and you'll keep your travel budget lower. It is not hard to do, there are so many possibilities:
  • Walk around the small town and simply soak in the slow pace and natural beauty of the area -- facilitated if you go with a camera in hand;
  • Bike -- no need to bring yours, there is a small bike rental shop with great service;
  • Hike -- we spotted a few trails we plan to do when the kids are tad bit older; and
  • Island hop -- take the ferry to Madeline Island where you can bike, walk, hike, swim (if it is warm enough). This was the most expensive "attraction" we paid for....$12/adult. We left the car on the mainland, otherwise it would have been an additional $25.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Frugal Wedding Tip #5: Honeymoons That Don't Break The Bank

The honeymoon -- the part of a wedding that appealed to me the most. I love to travel, and a marriage is a great excuse to take a vacation. When negotiating the terms of our wedding, I pushed hard for a planned elopement abroad. My husband pushed back with a destination elopement, but contained to the borders of Wisconsin. We went back and forth, his argument prevailed. We were married on the lawn of the courthouse in Washburn, Wisconsin and stayed that week in a cabin just outside of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Here are a few ways to save money on the honeymoon portion of your wedding:

  • marry and honeymoon in the same location;
  • plan your honeymoon trip during the off season for your destination;
  • lodging should contain a full kitchen -- if you like to cook you can drastically cut expenses by dining in;
  • consider a volunteer or "work vacation" -- you can see some amazing parts of the world for less, and maybe even get some sort of tax deduction;
  • select a location that offers inexpensive or free entertainment; think hiking, biking, free or low cost museums, music festivals, etc.

What ideas do others have, I’m sure there must be some I overlooked!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Frugal Wedding Tip #4: Decline Gifts

Gone are the days when a newly married couple is "setting up house" for the first time. Chances are they have lived on their own, or as a couple, and have the basics in place, if not more. So this custom seems a bit dated. If you (the bride and groom) want to save money on a wedding, consider telling family, friends, and guests that you respectively decline gifts. Why? Gifts take time, space, and money.

First time; Registering for gifts takes time. Time you could spend in a gazillion different ways. More likely than not you'll find yourself wandering around stores with a zapper in hand, selecting items without much discernment. Really, do you need a silver punch bowl?

Second, gifts must be stored somewhere. Look around your current home -- where will you put the 100 plus gifts you are likely to receive on your wedding day. Will it feel cramped, putting pressure on you to move into larger living space? Figure out what you pay per square foot in your rental or home, then you'll get a better idea of what it will cost to store the china set you likely won't use but once a year if at all. Remember, space is not cheap, and it takes time to maintain. My husband and I managed to live in an 800 square foot apartment for the first year and a half of our marriage, moving only when I was 6 months pregnant. And our move was to a two bedroom duplex. It was only after the birth of our second child that we moved into a small-ish home. People thought we were nuts. But we didn't have much stuff, we could keep life simple. As a result, we lived debt free for just under 5 years of marriage. Marriage without financial stress is a wonderful thing, much more enjoyable than new towels from Target.

Third, receiving gifts takes money. Upon receiving a gift you should properly thank the giver; you'll need thank you cards and postage. They are not free. The cost adds up, faster than you might think.

In practice, this is how declining gifts might look. On our marriage announcement we stated something on the order of "your gift of well wishes and kind words is appreciated, no other gifts are necessary". Most people honored our wish. We did not view our wedding as a way to "cash in" and score some great stuff. Some people did send a gift, and others gave us cash. My parents gave us the amount they would have spent on the wedding, which came as a delightful surprise. We put it into savings. Another twist would be to ask people to honor your vows with a donation to a charity you have selected; what charities reflect your values and dreams? We didn't think of this in time for our wedding, but on each anniversary we donate money to the Arbor Day Foundation instead of purchasing gifts for one another. Get creative. Get inspired. Walk away from convention. You'll save money, do something nice for the earth, and feel good about yourselves. At least we did.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Frugal Wedding Tip #3: Embrace Nature

Yesterday I blogged about my super frugal wedding, a planned elopement. I realize that that might not be for everyone, but there are plenty of people who want to get married without breaking the bank. Reflecting on weddings I attended in my 20s and 30s, one theme jumps out at me for minimizing the financial impact of marriage -- embracing nature. Here are a few ideas from weddings I attended as a guest:
  • choose an outdoor venue, preferably one in a public park or venue as well as family/friend properties. Locations included the Arboretum in Madison, Wisconsin, where a May wedding was conducted among the blooming lilac trees. Another was conducted on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin. And a third was on a lake pier where the couple had vacation property. The cost was minimal to none, the scenery amazing, and the setting intimate. You run the risk of mother nature throwing you a curve ball, but small tents are inexpensive. Nature centers, public gardens, and family homes abound....consider your options.
  • bring the outdoors in. When looking for decorations look no farther than the local park or field. I've seen amazing things done with twigs and a single bud as well as decorating with flowering vegetable plants. You can even place a single potted flower on the table as decoration, and it can double as a wedding favor for those green thumbs on your guest list.
How about others -- any suggestions on how to incorporate the natural world in a wedding? Honoring nature and keeping the costs down, a great way to view a wedding.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Frugal Wedding Tip #2: Have a Planned Elopement

According to The Knot.com, the average American wedding costs between $25,000 and $30,000; a.k.a a 10 percent down payment on a contemporary home. Yes, you can hear my disdain already. My wedding, honeymoon included, cost approximately $3,000. When we said "I do" on June 21, 2006, we did so without going into wedding debt. How? We had a planned elopement.

What is a planned elopement? Well, upon getting engagement we told our family, friends, and anyone who'd listen that we were getting married. And we had a date, June 21, 2006. It was not a secret, but it was exclusive. No guests, not one. No parents, siblings, friends or family? They knew were were getting married on that date and that we'd selected Bayfield, Wisconsin to be the location.

Why a planned elopement? First, neither one of us is a "party planner" person. The idea of having 100 to 300 guests caused us great stress and discomfort. Second, we didn't want to spend money on an event we would likely not enjoy. Third, we wanted to share our news about building a life together, but did not see the need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to underscore the commitment. Instead we sent out announcements with a photo.

Yes, people were mad. My mother-in-law still seems to have a memory lapse on the summer solstice -- never recognizing our anniversary. The "marriage proceeding" is easy for her to overlook, she was not present. Harsh on her part? Perhaps. But in her defense, she is from the South, Virginia to be exact, and large weddings are something they live for down there. But, as I pointed out in only the way a legal bride would do, she had had her wedding, this was mine. And as she had said to my husband the moment she heard our announcement, "Melinda should have what Melinda wants". Only she did not know that I was more anti-wedding than her son, more frugal than she ever imagined.

My husband proposed on the Winter Solstice, asking me to marry him on the Summer Solstice. Very romantic, and also a Wednesday. We decided to have a "destination wedding" -- but one not too far away. With the stress and energy associated with merging two lives we opted to stay in the States; international travel would have been difficult for us -- we were focused on getting married, not on seeing the sites. We wanted some relaxing time, and if we spent the time and money to leave the country, we'd want to maximize our time, which is not relaxing. Instead we decided to return to Bayfield, Wisconsin. We'd traveled there the previous summer and fell in love with the location. What a perfect place to spend the longest day of the year; we rented a cabin for one week.

With a location determined we turned our attention to the proceeding. We opted for a judge to do the honors. We were technically married in Wasburn, Wisconsin, the county seat. The wedding was scheduled for the courtroom, but on a whim, the judge said "it's a lovely summer day -- want to get married on the courthouse lawn?" We loved the idea and said our "I dos" with a bailiff and court reporter as our witnesses. Simple, short, and ideal. No distractions about where to sit Uncle John. No worries about feeding the vegan with nut allergies. Just the two of us, focused on starting life together. A photographer capture the proceeding on film. We ate lunch at a lovely cafe. For dinner we dined at the Rittenhouse. And we crashed a solstice party at a pottery store. Random and relaxed.

This isn't for every couple, but if a wedding is in your future, I recommend you give it some thought. Recently an aunt of mine who is helping two children plan traditional weddings within a year of each other said "you know, what you did seems kind of appealing right now!".

Monday, June 20, 2011

Frugal Wedding Tip #1: Skip the Engagement Ring

One of the largest expenses associated with the modern wedding is incurred even before the big day; bling costs a lot! Want to be frugal? I urge you to thumb your nose at modern custom and skip the engagement ring. Instead allocate the money to other costs.

My engagement to my husband was not a surprise; we are both too analytical for an impulse proposal. So, we had batted the idea of marriage around quite a bit. Included in the banter was my firm an utmost opposition to an engagement ring. My to be husband was shocked, pleasantly, but shocked to learn that some women did not require a precious stone as part of a marriage proposal. So, instead of unwrapping a ring that costs thousands of dollars, I opened a package that contained a keychain with a dangling envelope. Inside was a tiny plate with the words LITHA JUNE 2006. It was his way of asking me to marry him on the Summer Solstice (Litha means summer solstice). It was unique, precious, and cost less than $50. I said yes.

Why was I opposed to an engagement ring? First, it feels like they mark territory; kind of like a for sale sign with "contract pending" hanging on the bottom. The fact that only the female wears one underscores this marking behavior. Second, I'm not sure I could comfortably walk around wearing a ring that was extracted from the earth with harsh chemicals by child labor. And third, knowing that the cost of the ring could easily feed a family for a year in said country did not settle well with me. But that is me. If you really, really want this ring or your spouse-to-be insists (I've heard of this from other women), here are a few ideas on how to keep the cost down:
  • postpone the purchase until reaching a significant milestone in your marriage. I read a memoir of a women about having two children. She too had rejected the idea of an engagement ring. Then, after 10 years of marriage, two children, a home purchase, and the launching of two careers, a ring was purchased;
  • buy a fake or antique diamond;
  • buy a stone other than a diamond; or
  • use a family heirloom.
It takes a lot of self-confidence, mixed with stubbornness to take the non-traditional path, especially in the arena of weddings. Family, friends, my husband's parents, were all somewhat annoyed at the fact there was no ring. I'm not sure why? But, they were. Deciding what was best for us, not others, was an excellent exercise, and one we still continue to practice. And the fact that our money market didn't take a drastic dive upon deciding to get married eased that practice.

Skip the engagement ring, you'll protect your wallet, the earth, and the stress of wearing bling.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Difference Between Being Frugal And Being a Tight Wad

Earlier this month we attended a graduation party at my brother's home; his youngest finished school and they were launching him out into the world. We don't attend many large events these days; with 2 small kids and 2 businesses, we keep it simple. But this was important, so we went.

It is always an interesting visit; they live in a small town, a very small town. Their home is on a hill, overlooking the highway that runs through the town. A bonfire is almost always going, lawn chairs circled around, guests watching the "traffic", enjoying various kinds of Wisconsin beverages. The language is also quite colorful. On this particular visit my brother and his friends were discussing another person who had lived in town, but recently passed away. The man had apparently built quite a nest egg, and my brother referred to him as frugal; said with just a hint of annoyance. Another individual responded "there's a difference between bein' frugal and bein' a tight ass". At this point I chimed in and asked, "what's wrong with frugal?" The conversation quickly dwindled.

My husband and I had several things in common when we met: attended First Unitarian Society; born in Madison; Swedish heritage; relatives who thought our financial habits were bizarre, too strict, crazy, etc. The only thing more odd about our financial habits was that we'd found each other; both frugal. Nothing underscored this more than our wedding, a.k.a. the marriage proceeding.

June, the month for weddings. Our anniversary falls on June 21st, the summer solstice, the first day of summer, but we did not have a traditional wedding. This year marks our 5th anniversary. In salute to five years of marriage, I will be writing five posts about frugal approaches to weddings starting tomorrow. I'll share tid bits from our wedding as well as others I have attended. As wedding debt continues to mount and divorce rates stay about 50 percent, it might be worth it to buck cultural norms and take the frugal approach -- you just have to be willing to let some people refer to you as frugal or if they are brazen tight ass.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Selling Books on Amazon

Earlier this year I had great intentions; I would start reading non-fiction again. The way I used to, before kids. Law school had not slowed down my reading habit, and I vowed that being a parent would not as well. In a burst of energy I ordered four months of books for the First Unitarian Society of Madison's Social Justice Book Club. Each month I started the book....only to find myself 30 or 40 pages in by the time the meeting rolled around. The parenting role, a.k.a., sleep deprivation was still deflating my reading habits.

So, I had a pile of books, non-fiction books that delved into complex social issues. They were not page turners, they were not anything I would read soon. So, in yet another burst of energy, I listed them all for sale on Amazon.com; within 48 hours they were all on their way to new homes. And I had $34 more in my bank account.

I am happy to report that this month I am making great progress on the book, and will have it completed by the time we meet. However, I do not plan to keep the book. I've read it once, will have it with me for discussion purposes, but will then once again "release it into the book world". I used to have shelves and shelves of books, then I met the many who would become my husband and I learned about the "cost per square foot" of housing....my books took up a lot of space. Should I want to read it again, there is always the library or I can find it used or new with a key stroke.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cut Costs, Cancel Cable

My family uses USAA for several financial products; as a result, we receive their magazine. Geared toward saving money as well as spending it wisely, the magazine is one of the few I make an effort to flip through. The current edition has an article on "Turn Finds Into Cash". Under the $500 section is "watch TV for free". They are preaching to the choir with this suggestion.

From March 2006 through January of 2010, we had a TV free household. Yes, you read that correctly. It is not just that we did not have cable, we didn't even have a TV. Sure, we watched episodes of The Daily Show off the web, but only every now and then. As the winter Olympics approached, I had a desire to watch the opening ceremonies as well as the figure skating competition. Not available (reliably) on-line. My mom loaned us a small flat screen she had in her kitchen, but never used. We still have it. It is turned on once every few months. Most recent viewings were: weather updates during a major thunderstorm; the Royal Wedding; the Green Bay Packer's Superbowl Victory; and President Obama's State of the Union Address. All available on free TV, all historical in some sense. I was amazed at the options that now exist with digital TV -- I agree, if you have a TV, there is no need for cable.

If you have children I cannot emphasize this enough. Our kids don't even know where the TV is. As a result, there is little to no begging for items pushed by advertisers. Library books are a delight. And they are somewhat sheltered from the harsh reality of our world. Of the limited programming they have had, our toddler knows the following: President Obama, Aaron Rogers, and Queen Elizabeth.

If you are looking to be frugal, start with cutting out cable if not the TV entirely. You'll save on monthly bill, sell your TV for some easy cash, and reduce the influence of advertisers on your pocket book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brown Bag Popcorn

Several years ago I bought the book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, by Mark Bittman. In a nutshell, it contains his philosophy along with recipes for a way to eat that is easy on the earth, your wallet, and your waistline. I've recently found myself thumbing through the book again and plan to give "brown bag popcorn" a try while on vacation.

  • 1/4 cup popcorn;
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt; and
  • 2 teaspoons oil (book recommends peanut or vegetable).
Toss items together, put in brown paper bag, fold opening closed, microwave for 2-3 minutes.

Sounds easy and tasty. Anyone tried this before?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When the Middle Man Saves You Money...

Bagels, we consume a good amount in our home. And the Bagels Forever brand is our favorite, made within 2 miles of our home at their store front on University Ave. So, in my current effort to reduce the grocery bill, I assumed that buying the bagels directly from the store would save me money. I was wrong.

I had been buying 12 sesame bagels, pre-sliced and frozen from Metcalfe's for $4.18. I assumed that I could pick up the same amount, for less, each week when we stop at Bagels Forever Sundays after services at First Unitarian Society.

So, when I arrived this past Sunday I was shocked to see that the a bagel factory would charge me $4.80, plus 50 cents to cut them! There goes my theory of the middleman adding on to cost. Does the store charge a premium for freshness? If so, that doesn't help me because these are the bagels I use to make my husband's egg and cheese breakfast bagels, which I freeze.

Now I know the cost difference, a mere $1.12 ($5.30 minus $4.19) is not huge, but it is the principal. The moral of this story, don't assume the middleman increases cost -- always run the numbers and see if you are saving.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Free Admission At US National Parks 2011

Some of my favorite things: nature and free. When the two are combined I am beyond happy beyond words. Knowing that Wisconsin recently had its Free State Park Day, I wondered if there was an equivalent at the Federal level. To my delight I discovered, yes, and on multiple days. Upcoming free days for US National Parks, in 2011, include:
  • June 21st (1st day of summer);
  • September 24th (Public Lands Day);
  • November 11-13 (Veterans Day Weekend).
My wedding anniversary is June 21st, but being in the middle of the week I'm not sure we can make a trek to a National Park. However, my birthday is September 24th, a Saturday, and is now motivation to find a park and pay a visit....it will be FREE!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Frugal Thrift Store Shopping

As noted in yesterday's post, Friday I had the opportunity to run errands without my children. Thus, I accomplished an astonishing amount in three hours. One stop was at GW a.k.a Goodwill. During my visit I acquired 4 new dress shirts for my husband, but paid for only 3. No, I did not steal one. Instead, I used a coupon for buy one, get one free, out of the Bucky Book. And, at the check out I presented my Goodwill Frequent Shopper card. Once my points hit a certain level, I'll receive an item for free. Yes, you can even make thrift store shopping more frugal if you keep your eyes out for ways to save.

Some may cringe at the idea of shopping at Goodwill. The 16 year old version of myself would. But, I grew up, got smart about money, and realized that other people's discards were perfect for me, my wallet, and the earth. If you aren't a thrift store shopper, I'd urge you to consider it; they are not the stores you may have experienced in the past. Our current culture is one of shop, toss, shop again. Many items still have tags from the original store; new, never worn. I also take pride in the fact that most of my children's clothing is second hand, but know that I spend very little on clothes, which allows us to aggressively save for their college education.

Thrift stores, the benefits are plentiful:
  • inexpensive;
  • proceeds help worth causes; and
  • recycles items that would otherwise be tossed into a landfill
Let's here from other thrifters out there -- why should someone start thrifting?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Frugal Gardening Tip - Buy In The Off Season

Friday afternoon I found myself at Home Depot, pricing carpeting (more on that in a future post) and noticed that Spring bulbs were on sale..... 75% off!!! I picked up two different kinds and will plant them this summer. And I'll make a point to seek out other perennials in the late summer, when they too are substantially marked down. Save now, enjoy later. All for less than $5.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cilantro & Lentil Soup

A new favorite recipe, perfect for a cool summer day or the depths of winter. I found it in a Vegetarian cookbook by Vicki Smallwood:

Cilantro & Lentil Soup
  • saute 1 large onion (peeled and diced), 1 glove garlic (peeled and crushed), and 1 piece of fresh ginger (grated) in 1 tablespoon sunflower oil;
  • after about 3 minutes add 3/4 cup red lentils and 5 cups vegetable stock;
  • bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer;
  • simmer for 30 minutes;
  • chop a handful of cilantro, toss in before serving.
The ginger gives this dish an amazing taste. And the cost can't be beat. If you have the oil on hand for other cooking, the total pot of soup can be made for less than $5.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rice & Beans, Beans & Rice

In the immediate years after law school I routinely listed to Dave Ramsey's radio program. If you haven't heard of him, he has a radio show (and books, and TV program, etc.) where he motivates people to make common sense decisions about finances. He also falls into the area of "right wing" religious beliefs. I don't. But his financial tips and stories were so powerful that I tuned out the social messages that did not align with my life. Of his many catch phrases, one has been bumping around in my head a lot lately, and I don't listen to his show anymore.

"Rice and beans, Beans and rice" -- that is what he would tell people who were trying to pay off mountains of debt. What did he mean? Keep the grocery bill small while paying down debt. Beans and rice can provide the nutrients you need, skip the cuts of meat or take out food.

We are not paying down mountains of dept. I did that already -- bye bye student loans. So why am I thinking about beans and rice? My grocery bill last month was 20% larger than my mortgage! We buy organic most of the time, and have two small children. But still, the amount was absurd. Especially when you factor in that my husband and I are both self-employed with variable incomes. So, my goal is to get the grocery bill down without sacrificing on quality. Suggestions anyone?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Frugal Is Not Being Impuslive

Last month I wrote about how being patient saved me money, and once again I find it happening again. Several weeks ago I got a quote on having some tree work done. I decided to table the work until late fall, once all the lovely greens that had sprung to life in our yard had receded for a Wisconsin winter. One tasks was to remove a mulberry tree in the corner of our yard, recommended by the company.

Over the weekend my neighbor asked me if I was fond of the tree. I said no, and he agreed, it shaded his tomato plants. Then he said, "I can take it out for you if you want". Sure!!! And to my surprise it was gone within 2 days. The cost, a loaf of homemade cinnamon oatmeal raisin bread. He enjoyed the bread so much he offered to do more work for another loaf.

Patience, so glad I've found a bit more of it these days. Saved money and bonded with the neighbors.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Toddler Haircut At Home

Last week I received a lesson in giving my toddler son a home haircut. It was harder than it looked! But overall it went well and we'll try again when his locks get too long.

Before

After
Anyone have tips for future cuts?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Breakfast Egg Sandwiches

My husband eats a lot of eggs, I mean a lot! He is a vegetarian, so they are a primary source of protein for him. Since moving back to Madison in 2004 he ate 2 egg and bagel sandwiches in the morning. He biked to work and would stop at a local bagel shop. Then we got married, and his bagel habit was wedded with my ability to cook. What did that mean? Well, let's just say the bagel shop is no longer a routine stop for him. Every now and then he'll make a stop, especially if life was too crazy for me to cook (i.e. in the months after having a baby). But now we have a good system, I make 10 bagel sandwiches at a time. And they have added veggies, making them healthier to boot.

I bought 4 egg rings right after we were married, and 5 years later we are still using them. The process:
  • heat frying pan;
  • put down ring and spray with cooking spray;
  • break egg in dish, stir, pour into ring;
  • add chopped veggies (peppers, mushrooms, spinach, or onion work well) and shredded cheese;
  • flip egg;
  • slide on to waiting bagel;
  • after cooling put in freezer bag.

After doing this for so long I have a nice routine, and my husbands $5 or $6 a day bagel habit has been replaced. I estimate the cost of these sandwiches is about is less than a dollar.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Best $20 I Ever Spent....

Last Friday I received a phone call that lit up my face, I had won three nights at a condo in Bayfield, Wisconsin! Earlier in the year I had bout 5 raffle tickets, for $20, to support a fundraising event at our church. Other members had donated the three nights at their condo, located in downtown Bayfield. My husband was puzzled with my desire to buy tickets; he prefers not to mix his "gambling" with his "charity". I on the other hand have a lot of luck winning things, so I said, why not. And how could we resist. We were married in Bayfield (technically Washburn, on the courthouse lawn) five years ago this June. When I saw the dates posted for the condo, I just knew I wanted to enter because it was around our anniversary. And I am glad I did. Funny, the first winner was drawn several weeks ago but just found out he had to leave the country and said "oh, just draw another name". And it was mine!!!

How does this relate to frugality? Well, we will be staying in a condo, which seems to be a frugal way to travel. With the condo comes a kitchen, meaning I can prepare simple, low cost meals and avoid pricey restaurant food. It also highlights that finding free or low cost lodging when you travel is a great way to save big bucks. If you can't win free lodging, here are a few other low cost options that come to mind:
  • camp (assuming if you purchase equipment that you will either use it many more times or sell it and re-coup your costs);
  • exchange homes (search google for web sites);
  • go in the off season;
  • stay with friends or family;
  • check to see if local college dorms rent rooms in the summer; or
  • seek out a hostile.
I don't camp, doubt I ever will. In the past I've seen New York City, Paris, and Hawaii, by visiting friends who lived in the area, and I went to Ireland in the off season, getting great deals at B&Bs. Does anyone else have options for low cost housing?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Frugal Hairdo?

Life tends to cycle, and I find myself seeking a new hairdo. Something easy to maintain, yet professional. With two kids under three and a part-time legal practice, I'd place more emphasis on easy. I don't want to have to run to a stylist every couple of weeks. Finding the time to get there is next to impossible, plus it adds up, especially if I have to hire a sitter to go. Ease it is. And that brings me back to an option I explored 6 years ago, Cury Girl.

Curly Girl -- have you heard about it? Based on a book written by Lorraine Massey and Deborah Chiel, it goes with the less is more approach. Drastically reducing or eliminating shampoos, focusing on moisture, and gentle brushing of the hair. There is very little daily maintenance, and it results (or claims to) the appearance of a perm.

My memory tells me that I tried this method, and it worked. The only problem was my hairdo was more chaotic than normal, something my husband noticed and mentioned. And for him to notice anything new about my hairstyle means it must have been rather chaotic. But, that was 2006. Life before kids. Before sustaining whiplash when moving from a morning of parenting to an afternoon of drafting and client meetings. My standards....well, they've changed. Curly Girl appeals to me. Ease each day, and a simple cut that I could get at any drop in hair cut place.

Have I lost some of you, those devoted to your stylists? Does anyone have suggestions or thoughts? It's summer, and I need a new, frugal, look.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Taking The Job of Machines?

Odd thoughts come to my mind, especially when I'm cleaning. One such thought developed the other day when I was sweeping. I sweep a lot, at least twice a day. We have hardwood floors on the main level of our home, two cats, a toddler, a baby, and lots of going in and out (except for the cats, they are indoor cats). Thus, I sweep. I used to vacuum, but now I sweep. It is almost meditative. During one of these "meditations" it occurred to me that I now prefer to do jobs I once had a machine do:
  • sweep instead of a vacuum;
  • push lawn mower instead of a power mower;
  • grass clippers instead of a weed wacker;
  • doing dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher;
  • wisking instead of the electric blender; and
  • walking instead of driving.
As a result my life is quieter. I spend less money on energy consumption, and expend a few extra calories. The earth is less polluted. All things that I am happy to have as part of my life. Any ideas on other areas? The tranquility that comes from turning off machines has a powerful pull on me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Great Opportunities to Save in Madison this Weekend

Three things have caught my eye for ways to save this weekend (June 4th and 5th), if you live in the area of Madison, Wisconsin, they may appeal to you as well.
  1. Tent Sale at Hospice Thrift Store - EAST side location on June 4th and 5th. Celebrating its first anniversary, everything in the tent will be $5. In the past I've found several nice household items at the west side Hospice Thrift Store, including a bread machine;
  2. Used book sale benefiting the Friends of Sequoya Library, Saturday, June 4th, 9-4 at Westgate Mall. A great way to find some summer reading material for pennies and benefit a worthy organization; and
  3. Free admission to all Wisconsin State parks, forests, and trails, Sunday June 5th. Nature in all its summer splendor for free!
Enjoy the bargains!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Home Haircuts

So, I bought a pair of hair cutting scissors. $20 at Target. My hope, to use them enough times to recover the cost. My intended customer? Our 2 1/2 year old son. Why? Because someone offered to teach me how to cut his hair. I already cut my husband's hair; he has a buzz cut, no fear of loud machines, and is an engineer (a.k.a. not that focused on his appearance -- just utilitarian about it). So why not! Trying to find a time when I'm not working and both the toddler and baby are fed, rested, and "up for a trip" to the "salon" (a.k.a. cost cutters) is next to impossible. That would explain my son's current hairstyle.

Windblown for summer would be a nice name for this current look. Last week the friendliest grocery store clerk on either side of the Mississippi offered to teach me to cut his hair when I said "one day we'll get to Cost Cutters. This women already gave us a carrier when she saw me at the store with both a toddler and a baby; dropped it off at my house. Yes, she is that amazing. So, I accepted her offer. But there is one condition, in exchange we are giving her a fresh, homemade loaf of cinnamon oatmeal raisin bread; it's in the bread machine at this very moment.

Check back later for before and after pictures. And no, this is not a long-term grooming strategy for my son. Once life calms down, we're more rested, etc., he can to to a regular stylist.....so, probably when he goes off to college.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Less Is More, Especially When It Comes to Property Insurance Premiums

Last week I was reading a favorite blog of mine, The Other Side of the Ocean, written by one of my former law school professors. Like me, she favors a simple life. Recently she sold her condo and moved, and with the move sold a large portion of her belongings. With that decision came the ability to carry little to no property insurance. I left a comment on her blog; we fall into the same category.

When you are frugal you tend not to spend a fortune on "stuff". Sure, we have a very nice stroller and computers. But our home over is void of the trappings of moder life. A small, used TV that is turned on for Presidential Addresses and the like. We have no DVD player or DVD collections. The kids clothes are from second hand stores and cast offs from friends. The furniture is solid, but not of heirloom quality. We have no headboard, no jewels, no mega screen TV.

We don't have a lot of stuff, at least pricey stuff. But we a solid emergency fund. The agent who tried to sell us property coverage had a hard time wrapping her mind around this. One, she didn't understand we didn't have the trappings of most Americans....not even an engagement ring (I insisted on not having one). And two, we have money in the bank to handle and "emergency".

Frugality to us means not accumulating a lot of stuff and keeping our money instead of giving it to an insurance company. We like the arrangement, I doubt the insurance business does.