Sunday, July 31, 2011

Extreme Frugality -- Reusing Cereal Boxes

The main focus of this blog is not to come up with 101 uses for dryer lint, the approach of some frugal bloggers. Rather, it is the philosophy of making your time and dollars go as far as possible. But, I am not immune from some extreme frugal ideas.

One is to cut up cereal boxes. Usually the inside is blank. The large sections I give to my 3 year old for water colors or drawing. The sides I cut up and use for grocery lists. Why? My motivation is more at keeping things out of the landfill than saving money, but I'll take that to. Once you are frugal, it can be hard to stop.

Anyone want to share an "extreme frugal" tip today?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Picking Peppers

This past week my one pepper plant, growing in a pot on the south side of my house, offered us 4 green peppers. Two more are in development! The freshness of the pepper was amazing. All in all, I'm probably not saving much money though. I had to purchase stones, soil, pots, and plants.
This year I stared with 2 tomato plants and 1 pepper plant. For some reason one of the tomato plants didn't drain, water pooled, and the plant is no longer with us. I am by no means a farmer. From a dollar perspective, it is probably cheaper for me to buy directly at the farmers' market and not dapple with gardening. But, there is an added benefit. An educational one. My son, nearly 3 years old, is understanding where food comes from. Even if I can't get him to eat a green pepper this year, he will have some sense of food coming from the earth, and not just a shelf at the store or market. My hope watching plants grow, offering food, will encourage him to continue playing in the kitchen. And from that play will grow the ability to cook, an ability that can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in food expenses over the years.

What container gardening tips can readers offer? I plan to repeat this again next year, adding a few more options.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Frugal 1st Birthday Celebration

Today is just an average Friday for many, but for our family we are celebrating our daughter's 1st birthday. Unlike most American families, there is no grand party planned. In our house, a frugal house, we aim for "Thanksgiving like" qualities at all holidays. What does that mean? Family, food, and fun.

We'll spend the day together. Both parents off from work. No child care. Depending on the weather we'll do something at a local park or check out the Blooming Butterflies at Olbrich Gardens. In the evening we'll enjoy a home cooked meal of spaghetti, garlic bread from our bread machine, veggies, and for dessert, carrot cake.

This past week I asked my husband, should we get her anything for Friday...you know, a package to open? It is a custom so entrenched in modern society that I felt bad for not having boxes for her to open. My mind said no, but some Mama guilt was creeping in. Thankfully my equally frugal minded husband does not suffer from said guilt. His response "goods and services -- why are birthdays just about goods -- services count too". And by services he meant the fun activities we would do, the meal we'd prepare. We talked more, and decided that as the kids age we'll continue to nurture this trend. Spending their birthday together, maybe incorporate travel at one point, but avoid giving a gift just because marketers tell us to. Instead, as they need things, we'll acquire them.

And so that is how this frugal family is spending July 29, 2011. Happy birthday "Smidge".


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Incorporating Soy Milk

The kitchen cabinets were a bit lean the other day, and I opted to offer buckwheat pancakes for lunch. The only problem, our milk container was low too....not quite the full cup I would need for the mix. I remembered a box of soy milk up in the baking section, and pulled it out. We had a yummy lunch thanks to the box of soy milk. I realized that in my baking projects, soy milk is a great option. It stretches the container of organic milk (which costs about $6.39/gallon) and gets more soy in our diets. So, from here on out, I'll be using soy in my recipes. It even worked well in last Sunday's quiche!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt and D.C.

During times like this, I really appreciate not having a TV watching habit. From NPR I've heard about talking heads, dualing press conferences, and stalled talks. Why? America is about to reach it's debt limit, and a showdown is occurring in Washington, DC.

Debt and D.C. -- those two words bring back memories, and not the happiest of ones. Following my college graduation back in 1995, I packed all of my belongings into an old Honda Civic and moved east to work for free for the Public Defender Service in D.C.. There I assisted an attorney in the defense of juveniles. Most interns were earning credit for college. Having graduated, I was simply gaining experience to add to my law school application. It got me out of Madison and into an entirely different world. During this time I worked for money selling clothes at The Limited in a high end D.C. neighborhood. Not being the most sophisticated person when it came to money, I had emptied my bank accounts in Wisconsin and operated with cash until I got a new bank in D.C. The cash habit continued. I walked everywhere. Bused and metroed most of the rest of the time. And then my internship ended. I accepted a job, one with pay and benefits, and Arnold and Porter -- one of the nation's largest law firms.

Graduation brought not only a diploma, but student debt. Not a whole lot, roughly $7k, in 1995 dollars. My move to D.C. is not something I regret, but soon after moving into the beltway I found my frugal habits fading. Especially after signing on at Arnold & Porter.

Yes, this frugal person who's blog updates you read daily or found via a Google search, has not always been frugal. My D.C. years brought about an every increasing lot of debt:
  • at the firm I routinely worked 60+ hours a week. I earned a great deal of money for a 22 year old, but life was so crazy that I did not have time to make wise decisions. I bought what I needed, when I needed it. Budgeting, seeking out deals, I just didn't have the time....plus, I was earning "good money" or so I rationalized;
  • not too long after starting at the firm I found myself on assignment in New York City for several months. I had a hotel suite, expense account, and no friends. Transplanted from the Midwest, I knew no one. Isolated and lonely, I found comfort in shopping. And it was a great antidote for stress. I'll never forget on the most stressful day on the job I left work, headed to Macy's and bought the Coach Beckman Brief briefcase I'd coveted for several years$500 on a Macy's charge card;
  • a few months after starting at the firm, work life in a cubicle farm clearly was not what I wanted....so I started a masters program. It was designed for people who worked full time. Each class met once a month, Thursday - Sunday, 9am - 5pm. I was earning a masters in Public Administration, and financing it ALL through government student loans. I loved school, hated the cube farm, and didn't really think too hard about using loans to fund a private school degree. Soon my debt swelled -- D.C. style swelling;
  • after three years in D.C. I had worked for the public defender, a major law firm, and the federal government (a paid internship for my masters). It was time to go to law school, a childhood dream. In state tuition and a letter of acceptance were offered by UW Madison. Back to the 608 area code I went. The move was financed entirely by credit card. And the debt just continued to grow.
It was not until I graduated from law school in 2001, with $97k in student loans and about $5k in personal debt, that my frugal roots re-emerged. Why then? Upon graduation I found myself limited in job paths I could pursue because I needed to pay off my loans. I hated being limited! Within weeks I was intent on paying off my debt, living debt free, and having a world of choices. Six years after graduation the debt was gone. The bulk of those years I worked for a state agency; no six figure salary there. Through penny pinching, working a full time job plus side jobs, and determination, my debt was gone. My world opened up. And that is some of history behind this blogger. I hope my story and habits help you reach our sustain debt free living.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Almost $9 For One Light Bulb? Yes, That Is Correct

Flipped the light switch in the kitchen the other day, and the flood light above the coffee maker was out. We have six of them up there, and considering how much time we spend preparing, eating, and clean up after meals -- we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. On my next trip to Target I picked up a Reveal 15w flood light, designed to replace the 65w regular one that had been there since we bought the house last November. I hesitated at first, nearly $9 for one bulb? Sure, I use the Target debit card and get 5% off, but that is still a lot for a frugal minded person to hand over. But, I could hear my husband's voice in my head...those bulbs save on energy costs overall.

I left the package on the kitchen counter with the intention of putting it in at my next opportunity. Oddly, before I had a chance, it was in place. When you marry an electrical engineer you may find that he has a "thing" for light bulbs and batteries that most men reserve for beer and football. Delighted to have another "toy" to install, he'd jumped at the chance. Plus, as I wrote it was the light above the coffee maker, so he noticed it immediately. His job each night is to have that coffee maker prepared and ready to go off at 6am, just before our little ones start their day.

He suggested I write a frugal post on the savings. Great idea, how much do we save? He muttered a bunch of numbers under his breath. Watts, kilowatt hour, etc. I'll spare you the details. Should you question his math, I'll get you his email. But, based on his mutterings and calculator mind, in under a minute he determined that, assuming that the one bulb is on for 10 hours a day, we'd save a little over $2 a month. What, with all six bulbs we'd save over $24 a month on the electric bill.

And that my dear reader is why I spent nearly $9 on one bulb. A bulb that is guaranteed to last 6 years. Remember, frugal is not always the cheapest route.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Banana Bread Recipe

Yesterday I wrote about how you can stretch the life of an over-ripe banana -- toss it in the freezer until you have time to bake. My favorite use of "saved" bananas is banana bread, but a more whole grain, healthier bread. Here is my recipe, a doctored version from Betty Crocker.

Mix wet ingredients:
3/4 cup molasses;
1/2 cup softened butter;
2 eggs;
3 or 4 over-ripe bananas;
1/2 cup milk;
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix dry ingredients:
1 cup white flour;
1 cup whole wheat flour;
1/2 cup wheat bran;
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts or sprinkle in some ground nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts all work and add protein).

Fold together, bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or smidge longer. Voila, a hearty, tasty, and not overly sweet banana bread. Never toss over-ripe bananas again.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Don't Toss That Over-ripe Banana

Have you ever discovered a brown, over-ripe banana and thought "darn, money in the trash (or compost)!" Never think that again. Instead, take that brown banana and toss it in the freezer. No bag, just toss it in. Later, when you have time, pull it out and let it thaw. You now have ingredients for a wonderful banana bread or other homemade treat. Check back tomorrow for my favorite, self-doctored, banana bread recipe.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yard Sale With a Good Cause - Madison Waldorf School's Annual Rummage Sale

Does the idea of a mega yard sale appeal to you my frugal friend? If you are reading this, the answer is most likely yes. It's a great way to find wonderful items at a great price and delay the filling up of our landfills. Now what if I told you that there is a yard sale the benefits a local non-profit? Double the fun! I've blogged about other charitable events, and here is another. Mark your calendars:

Friday 9/2 & Saturday 9/3, 8-2, Sunday 9/4, 9-12
446 Charles Lane in Madison

The Madison Waldorf School is a local, not-for-profit private school. As a disclaimer, my children attended their toddler playgroup last fall. It is an amazing place. Check out the sale, find some bargains, and help support an educational outlet focused on play-based learning, the arts, music, and foreign language.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Asbury Church Offers Up Free Oil Changes and Burgers!

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, tomorrow, Saturday, July 23rd, Asbury United Methodist Church will be giving away $6,000 in oil changes at Jiffy Lube and hamburgers at Sonic. The reason? To put a smile on a face and give people a little economic stimulus says Rev. Harold Zimmick. So, if you need some oil or have a taste for a burger, bring your patience and enjoy the gift. What a great way for a religious community to support businesses in their area, give people a boost, and get their name out into the community.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Market Bounty

Living in the Midwest during the growing season is an amazing time. We've hit the stage of summer where the farmers' market stands burst with color and options. It can be a bit overwhelming. So much to select, yet not enough time to property preserve this wonderful locally grown food. So, I'm selective at the market. I seek out items that are easy to freeze,incorporate well with dishes I'll prepare this winter; and are harder to find fresh once the frost arrives. For the moment those items include:
  • kale;
  • swiss chard
  • zucchini;
  • yellow squash;
  • eggplant;
  • garlic scapes; and
  • tomatoes.
Do any of my readers have suggestions on other items that should find there way into my chest freezer? Remember, easy to preserve is key, I don' have a lot of spare time these days.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Frugal Fast Food on the Go

If you follow this blog, you know that I am currently attempting to avoid or at least minimize my sugar intact. My motive? Several, but a strong one is the fact we'll be purchasing health insurance on our own next year and I'd like to do my part in falling into the least expensive premium category possible. So, sugar is on the outs.

If you are out and about in modern society, and you have a 3 year old and a 1 year old in tow, food options if a snack attack hits are limited. Coffee shops are everywhere, but protein is few and far between. Muffins, scones, snack bars are an easy grab. Not only are they high in price for a single purchase, they are usually packed with unhealthy ingredients.

My solution? I've filled an old spaghetti jar with a mixture of peanuts, soy nuts, walnuts, raisins, and unsweetened coconut. I keep it in the glove compartment. Glass means I don't have to worry about plastic releasing who knows what when temperatures soar....as they are this week. And not only is it a great source of quick and inexpensive protein for me, but my 3 year old as well.

We're enjoy easy, affordable, and healthy food on the go!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Discovering Dane County's Clean Sweep Program

Finally I got a chance to box up some of the chemical cans left in our garage by the previous owner. Paint, cleaners, motor oil, you name it, it was there. I had heard about the Clean Sweep Program, but knew very little. From its web site I determined that it functions from May through October and is based at the Dane County Garage. Check the web site for exact dates and times.

Upon arriving I was greeted by a staff person who provided a concise overview of the program, and pointed out a feature I did not know about....Free items for the public. Yes, in addition to gathering old and unusable chemicals for proper disposal, the site provided a booth for people to select still usable items from. There was a lot of paint, some household cleaners, etc. I left packages of window insulators (for cold winters) and a garden hose.

So, if you have chemicals that need to be disposed of, or you are looking for small amounts of paint, cleaners, etc., check it out. What a great government program!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Frugal Place For Kids to Play: Backyard Mulch Pit

We needed a designated spot in our backyard for our son to dig. Without one he was digging where he pleased, and the result was less than ideal. Being a lawyer and engineer, we analyzed our options....and analyzed some more. Sand box? Covered or not? Fill an old used tire? Sand attracts kids, and outdoor cats. Then we stumbled on the idea of mulch. We decided is was more yard friendly; it will biodegrade into the lawn when the kids outgrow it. And the spot we selected will one day sport ground cover rather than toy dump trucks. The results are wonderful. He has a large place to dig and dump. It is not as attractive to cats and other critters. And the total cost was $75...and that included delivery of the mulch. If you are looking for an easy, affordable, and environmentally kind way to give your kid a spot to dig, try mulch. Just don't add peat moss...I tossed some in and learned it is way too dirty. I had to buy a few more bags of mulch to cover it up. Lesson learned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Fun Family Projects: 15 Great Ideas That Mom, Dad, and Kids Can Build and Enjoy

Fun Family Projects: 15 Great Ideas That Mom, Dad, and Kids Can Build and Enjoy by This Old House caught my eye on a recent library visit. A quick scan and I decided to put it in my "take home" pile. I spent about 30 minutes flipping through the book and decided a few things. One, it is not for families with little kids. If your kids are 8 and older, it might be worth a read. And two, the projects seemed pricey. Build an easel, cost estimate, $125. Build a fort, estimated cost, $175. Build a raised garden best, estimated cost, $225.

Great ideas, but my frugal sense tells me you can do these projects for less money if you get creative in gathering materials. Personally, I like the project ideas of a fort and homemade bird feeder. This book will be by inspiration, but I'm aiming to build them for a lot less than what this book suggests.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lesson Learned: Paid Premium Prices, Received Poor Service

It was the 4th of July weekend and somehow the window on the rear passenger seat of my car went down....and would not go back up. The locks had been touchy for a few weeks, but we let is slide. Now this. Stressed about needing to use my car for work, and having a window stuck in the down position, we decided it could not be ignored any longer. Repairs were needed.

Me: "Let's call Zimbrick in the morning -- being the dealer they'll be able to fix it fast. And they've done great work in the past."

My Husband: "The Dealer? Are you nuts, it costs soooo much more to go to the dealer! Let's call around, maybe your brother could help?"

Me: "No, he is out of town. The dealer costs more, but you get great service. I'd have to work around my brother's schedule. The other place down the road doesn't have that great of a waiting area...and with the kids...let's just take it to Zimbrick and get this fixed ASAP."

My husband: "Okay, paying more but getting great service makes sense -- but I could sense his doubt".

He called Tuesday at 7am. They said to get it in by 9am and we'd have it Wednesday. That night they call to say "sorry, we didn't get to it until late today. We know the problem but can't order the part until Wednesday morning. You'll have it Thursday". And yes, you guessed it, Thursday arrives and we are told ONE part came in, but not the other. One door would be working, but if we waited until Friday, both would. And as you might surmise from the fact I'm writing this post, Friday arrives and part number two is STILL not there. To make this situation more difficult we had opted NOT to put the car seats in the loaner vehicle because it was only going to be 24 hours. We only have one car with car seats; the kids were marooned at home. On Friday we took the vehicle, partially repaired, and said "good day to Zimbrick's Honda Service Center." The part cost $29. We were charged $180 to diagnosis the problem and another $15o to fix one side. That is too much, for too little service and no understanding from their service representatives -- at least for this frugal Honda driver. And, as my husband suggested, we'll hire my brother who has a small body shop just north of Madison to fix the other side. Lesson learned, expensive does not always equate to high quality.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Second Life of Cereal Box Liner Bags

Austerity measures are as abundant as summer bugs in Wisconsin homes this year. Why? Well, it has something to do with a new Governor, a Legislature, and a State budget. And I'll leave it at that. I must say, the creativity that has flowed from the historic legislation down the road has been inspiring. This frugal tip was sent to me by a reader in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. More than a reader, she is someone who used to work with me back in my day as an auditor for the Wisconsin Legislature. Now fully focused on running a home and raising two daughters, she applies her analysis tools on the home front to stretch her husband's state salary as far as possible.

Tough as nails, that is how you can describe the cereal box liner bags that most people toss in the trass. Not this frugal Wisconsinite. Once the box is finished the liners are given second life in the kitchen, employed to apply flour or crush crackers. Tough as nails!
I love the fact that something most people toss in the trash can be used usefully! Reuse -- so much better than recycling. I'm thinking I might find a way to integrate these into my toddlers painting sessions.

For my other austere Wisconsin state employee readers out there, we'd love to hear the creative ways you've learned to stretch a dollar. Please share!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Frugal Francophile

July 14th, Bastille Day in France. Today is the country's national holiday, celebrating the storming of the "bastille" or a prison in modern life. Said to symbolize the beginning of the modern government and the end of the French constitutional monarchy, it is a wonderful holiday....even if you are not French. Fifteen years ago I spent this day in the french countryside. Having studied the language and culture of France throughout high school and college, it was an amazing holiday to celebrate. Since a transatlantic flight is out of the picture for me at this time, here is my plan to get a frugal dose of France:
  • pick up some amazing breads and treats from La Baguette, owned and operated by a french couple (located on Mineral Point Rd. near West Towne Mall), their shelves offer the best taste of France without the cost of an airline ticket;
  • turn on my CD player (no I don't have it on MP3) and listen to the London recording of the musical, Les Miserables;
  • read a few pages from Victor Hugo's epic novel, Les Miserables; and
  • open a bottle for French wine for dinner (Barriques has a great $10 and under wall).
Are you a frugal Francophile? If so, having any suggestions to add to this list? Bonne Bastille!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Book - Suicide by Sugar: A Startling Look at Our #1 National Addiction

The title is catching, I'll give it that, however, Suicide by Sugar: A Startling Look at Our #1 National Addiction by Nancy Appleton, PhD did not quite live up to its title. The works I've read by Michael Pollan are far more gripping and vivid, causing a reader to recoil from any thought of sugar, especially HFCS. However, Appleton's book is informative, easy to read, and offers suggestions on reducing the sugar you consume. And given that, according to her research, the average American consumes 142 pounds of sugar a year, of which 74 pounds (more than half) is from added sugar, it is easy to understand that cutting back on sugar may be a good thing.

So, there you have it, this frugal blogger is trying to cut back on sugar. What does that have to do with being frugal? First, added sugars abound in processed foods, and processed foods cost a fair amount. Second, too much sugar translates into more pounds. Motivated by the fact we'll be purchasing our own health insurance in about a year (currently using COBRA), the fewer pounds we list on the application the lower our premium will be. And that can add up quickly.

Unlike Appleton, I do not plan to eliminate sugar completely from my diet. I'm taking a moderate approach. First, noting when sugar is in an item. Ketchup for example, one may not realize that it contains sugar. Second, opting to forego added sugar items. This means I'll use mustard (sugar free) instead of ketchup. Third, minimizing the number of processed, and thus sugar laden, items in my grocery cart. My goal? Increase healthy food consumption, decrease my grocery bill, drop the pounds put on after my children arrived (too many days of grabbing high energy food, meaning sugary carbs), and getting a lower health care premium next year.

Suggestions and motivation are welcomed!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Price of Beauty?

Getting ready for bed while on vacation, I noticed a small sign next to the sink. In a jist - please use the make-up remover toilettes we've set out instead of our towels because modern make-up stains them permanently. What? If it stains towels, permanently, what on earth are women doing putting this stuff on their face?

I gave up make-up when I was pregnant with my first child. I'd never been a big user of the stuff, but lipstick, mascara, and finger nail polish were common in my bathroom. Especially the polish. Upon becoming pregnant I was much more aware of what I was putting in and on my body. After reading a bit about nail polishes they were removed from the cabinet and have not been replaced.

If you are looking to save money, cut back on the make-up. Google searches show that women usually spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year on make-up. In the short-term, that is a lot of cash. In the long term, that could add up to some hefty health care costs if the claims asserted against those products are true.

So, would you give up your make-up? If so, why?

Monday, July 11, 2011

If You Build It....

"If you build it they will come" -- those words or something along those lines were a cultural icon in my youth thanks to a movie about baseball. And it rattles in my head as I think about the loaner car Zimbrick Honda gave us while my car was being repaired. I went from a Honda Civic to a Honda Pilot, and all I can say is "if you have the space, you will fill it".

Not even 2 hours had passed before my husband handed me the keys that I thought "hmmm mid-size SUV, now I can make one trip to Target and get ALL the items I want for the back porch". And sure enough, that evening my 5 foot one self climbed into that vehicle and drove 1 mile to my local Target. I was able to get the patio items we'd been wanting; all 50% off as Target is making room for school supplies. Then I drove to the library, and that is when I felt the stares. I was driving a vehicle that could have it's own zip code. I'd wished it had "loaner vehicle - I'm really a Civic kind of person" plastered all over it.

Zimbrick is smart is loaning out new vehicles; the technology appeals to my husband, and I like the neatness of a new car. But not that much car. It would scare me having that much purchasing power. With all that space it would be tempting to fill it; thrift stores have great bargains! When we bought our home we wanted to keep the space small. For the current times, we do live in a small space considering there are 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 cats, and 2 home businesses. We know that if we have the space, it will fill up. Mostly with items we wouldn't remember owning, yet alone use. Keep it small, that is our house mantra and it will now be applied to any future car purchases.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A European Approach To Food

No, this post is not about my kitchen experiments to fuse Irish and Swedish recipes or something along those lines. It is not about food preparation at all, but rather, food gathering, European style.

This past week my car has been in the shop; wiring issues with the back window and missing the "part order" deadline has kept it there longer than anticipated. So, I'm sans vehicle, and sans car seats. That leaves me with public transit, bike, or foot power. I've opted for the later, it is my favorite and the easiest with children. And this week I've done some grocery shopping via foot. And I LOVE it. It combines some daily exercise, emits no harmful chemicals, and forces me to buy fresh food in quantities small enough for me to carry. Hence the label, European Shopping. I love it so much that I plan to continue once my car is returned.

Now I just wished our house was a smidge closer to a store. We are .9 miles from Copps on Whitney Way and 1.2 miles from Sentry at Hilldale. Pre-kids this would be easy, with kids it is akin to hiking in the mountains. Double stroller, toddler, baby, assorted gear needed for 1.5 hour outing. The entire thing weighs 70 pounds. That is a lot to push up hill, but it replaces a gym workout. Anyone have tips on to make this easier?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elevating the Frozen Pizza

Yes, in our house you will find the frozen pizza. I know, foodies out there are aghast. But, in real life you sometimes want food fast and late. That was the case last night. We had healthy food with the kids, but after an evening of toddler/baby duty and a run, we wanted pizza. Instead of dialing the phone or jumping on the internet, we pulled a plain cheese pizza out of the freezer.

Here is how the frozen pizza is elevated in our frugal home. We don't simply toss it in the oven. First we add chopped veggies: peppers, onions, spinach, tomato -- they all work. Next we add a bit more cheese, maybe fresh mozzarella. Total cost, less than $5 for a pizza. We get 3 cheese pizza for $9 at Target (before the 5% discount) and use veggies we have on had. It's not gourmet, but it works. It is tasty. And it is frugal.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rummage Sale to Support Capital Hill Apartment Residents

This weekend there will be a rummage sale in Madison to raise funds for residents recently displaced by a fire at Capital Hill Apartments. The sale will run Saturday and Sunday, 9am-7pm, on East Johnson Street at Project Lodge.

Now this is a great frugal idea....raise funds for a worthy cause and reuse materials. Check it out if you have items to donate or are looking for frugal treasures.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Road Navigation - Old School Style

Traveling back from our recent trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin, I sat in the co-pilot seat with map in hand. Not a digital map, not a GPS, but a paper map. The kind you fold. The kind you get for FREE from your Senator's office. As we worked our way south to Madison we hit construction. I consulted the map, and we had a new route. The unique event occurring in our car did not register with me, but it did with my husband.

He is an electrical engineer, or EE for short. When our life is missing a piece of technology, he notices immediately. Thankfully he is a frugal and patient EE, so we do not have every bell and whistle gadget on the market. So, during this point in the drive the kids were asleep and we were able to talk.

Him - "hmmm, odd you are using a map"

Me -"Why odd? I've always used maps."

Him -"but a GPS can do that for you."

Me -"yes, but I'd have to PAY for the gadget, and likely for some subscription or upgrade or some other built in fee. A map is FREE.".

Him - "yes, it's free, but not as cool."

Me --"a filled up 529 plan is cool, a GPS is an overpriced toy".

Him -"....yes, but one day, let's get the overpriced toy, once the kids are in college".

And that we agreed on.

Curious later at home, I googled the devices. The price ranges from $75 on up. There are services you can add on. But, the technology will be outdated, most likely before you fully figure out how to use the darn thing. I can fold a map, my free map, and I'm happy with that for now.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Garage Sale Season

Summer is upon us, temperatures rise, thunderstorms break the heat, and the weekend is marked by the sprouting "Garage Sale" signs on road medians. Since my children arrived I rarely have the chance to "garage sale" anymore. Instead 2nd hand shops are easier to navigate with the kids or work into my schedule. Yet, one day I would love to check out the world's largest garage sale. 675 miles in length, from Michigan to Alabama. It sounds like a site I'd like to see. Not this year, maybe next. Anyone attended? Is it worth the time?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Free Opera!

I've been to the opera, once. The cost was just under $65/ticket, and that was 5 years ago. We went because we were given a gift certificate. It was nice, but not nice enough to drop that kind of cash anytime soon. Yet, we enjoy culture. We enjoy exposing our children to culture. And that is why we are thrilled to see that once again the Madison Symphony Orchestra will be hosting the annual FREE Opera in the Park once again this year. Scheduled for Saturday, July 16th, it is held at the park around the corner from our home. With two kids under age 3, we've decided to listen from the comfort of our backyard -- and spare those more serious about the experience the commentary from our children (i.e. screams as bedtime approaches).

If you are not living in or visiting Madison, Wisconsin the weekend of July 16th, you can check out this list of free music festivals -- listed from all across the globe. Enjoy the music everyone!

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Low Cost 4th of July

Celebrating America's birthday does not need to break the bank. Here are some ideas on having fun without going broke, packing on the pounds, or harming the earth:
  • read the declaration of independence (inspired by our neighborhood association, Hillfarms, which will be doing this at the neighborhood park);
  • swim or splash in the water at a FREE town/city/county beach;
  • fire up the grill and roast veggies (diced, dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper) wrapped in tin-foil. Goes well with grilled meat or fake meat entrees;
  • enjoy angel food cake with blueberries and strawberries;
  • light sparklers in your back or front yard; and
  • enjoy the fireflies as the dance at dusk.
May you all have a wonderful 4th of July. If you have any other frugal holiday ideas for the 4th, please share.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Re-doing the deck

We bought a house last November, and the "to-do" list continues to drag on. One take, originally identified by the inspector, was to wash and stain our back deck. Sounds easy enough, but when you have 2 business, 2 kids, and life in general, the deck gets ignored. But the calendar now reads July and another Wisconsin winter is not far off. So, to hire a professional or do it ourselves.

The professional quoted us $500 to wash and stain the deck. That seems too high. The upside, he'd have it done much earlier than we would. The down side, parting with $500. Given our desire to step up frugality efforts a bit this month (even though the downturn we'd expected in my husband's business has not materialized as we thought), we are opting for the do-it yourself method.

So, I turned to wonders of my local hardware stores -- Ace Hardware at Hilldale. These wonderful people took my order via the phone once I explained the challenges of bringing in two small children to shop. I asked questions, they gathered materials, set them aside. The kids and I showed up, paid, and were on our way to the park. Did it cost a bit more? Probably, but for that kind of service, and maximizing quality time with my kids, it was worth it. For around $50 I got:
  • a sprayer (for the cleaner and stain)
  • 2 bottles of cleaner
  • 2 cans of stain
  • and 2 roller pans
Our goal over the 4th of July Holiday is to get it washed. Once it is dried, we'll tackle the staining. We do have our limits on do-it yourself. Yesterday I called in dryer vent specialist to thoroughly clean out the dryer vent. Even though the chipmunk was gone, it did not smell like a place to put laundry. For $90 the bottom vent was replaced, cleaned, and a outside screen put in place. Well worth the $90.

If you have advice on the washing and our staining of the deck, please comment....we could use some insight!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Choose to Reuse

A recent library loan was Choose to Reuse: More thank 2000 resources, more than 200 topics from air filters to zippers, by Nikki and David Goldbeck. This book starts out with a bang, listing the three new R's: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Immediately it zeros in on the fact that reducing and reusing have far greater impact on budgets and the earth than recycling, yet most of what we hear in the popular press is about recycling.

The scope of topics covered is amazing:
  • air filters in cars;
  • bathtubs;
  • cosmetics;
  • shoes;
  • tea infusers;
  • yarn;
  • zippers; and
  • everything in between.
As I flipped through the categories I saw a mention of eye glasses. Sure enough, I have a pair on my desk that are now the wrong prescription. Time to pass them along. However, when I glanced at the resources I quickly noted the lack of web sites.....yes, there are NO web sites listed. That is when I thought to check the date of publication, 1995! Wow, the topic is so hot at the moment, but this book is over 15 years old. This one omission is quickly handled by doing a google search for the program listed. Yet, an update would be ideal. If anyone hears of one, please let me know. For now, this is a great book to have as a resource. Check it out from your library or look for a copy at a bookstore or on-line.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July, Independence and Frugality

July -- a month for celebrating independence. People often ask why I go to the trouble of being frugal. Is it worth the effort? I believe it is. Why? It gives my family independence. Frugality allows my husband and I to both be self-employed. Yes, that is correct. We both work for ourselves. That means we buy our own insurances and save for our own retirement. We also set our own hours and never have to worry about getting a pink slip. It is not for everyone, but it is for us. Through frugality we are able to live on less, save a lot, and ride out periods of unstable income. It looks like July will be one of those months as my husband's business transitions into serving different clients. We are excited about new opportunities, but I'm also gearing up to maximize my frugal ways. Living on less will allow him to take some exciting challenges. Independence, that is one thing frugality gives us.

Why do you read a blog on frugality -- what's in it for you?