Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lunch Special: Whatever You Have on Hand Wrap

I'm in frugal overdrive these days in the kitchen. Too many scraps of food tossed into the compost -- I'm on a mission to use up what we have on hand. So, in that mindset I created the "Whatever You Have on Hand Wrap". My latest creation:
  • one burrito;
  • smooth on hummus;
  • add chopped onion, carrott, diced leftover boiled potatoes, and cheese;
  • several dashes of Mongolian Fire Oil (this wrap for my husband who loves spicy foods);
  • heat for 30 seconds in the mircowave.
My husband's opinion, delicious! In my mind, to be frugal is to be comfortable in the kitchen. Be creative, try new combinations, and have fun. You'll eat your veggies, reduce waste, and save some cash.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Make Every Cent Count

Years ago I designated a certain jar, one I'd received as a gift, as my "coin jar". If I find loose coins while doing laundry or cleaning the house, I toss them in the coin jar. When my wallet is weighted down by too many coins, I dump them into the coin jar. And, thanks to being mindful of my loose change, I am never shy to pick up the stray dime or quarter I see on the ground in the parking lot, etc. Into the jar it goes.

Prior to marriage, during my "pay down the debt" years, I would take the coins to the bank on a monthly basis, have them deposited into my checking, and tack the balance on to my student loan payment. With the debt behind me, I still have a coin jar. Now I take it in quarterly (life is a bit crazy these days), and put the balance towards our efforts to pay off or mortgage.

Every cent matters. Create a coin jar, pay attention, take charge, and you'll feel great. And you don't need to buy a coin jar. Here are suggestions on what to use:
  • decorative jar or glass you received as gift;
  • old coffee can;
  • child's piggy bank;
  • emptied animal cracker plastic tub;
  • finished ice cream gallon container; or
  • a shoe box.
Be creative, find something in your home now, and dump in some change. Oh, and when you cart if off the to bank or credit union and you use a plastic bag rather than your jar, re-use the baggie....then you'll know you are really frugal!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Free Lunch at Panera

A smile spread across my face last week when the cashier at Panera told me I had a "free you pick two" on my loyalty card. I had come in specifically to get a "you pick two" meal, the BBQ chicken salad and cheddar and broccoli soup are a favorite. My total bill was $0 -- who ever said there was no such thing as a free lunch?

Loyalty cards are a favorite of mine, I have them for coffee shops, Goodwill, Panera, and Office Depot. I keep them tucked into a specific part of my wallet, ready to go when I am at the register. If you are not a user of them, I encourage you to give them consideration.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Great Dollar Store Buys

My approach to frugal living is more a focus on getting quality for the best price, and rarely do I find that at a "dollar store". However, my husband adores such establishments and recently made some wise purchases:
  1. Sensitive toothpaste -- the brand he bought, for $1, performs the same as the pricier versions found in stores like Target;
  2. Tupperware -- at $1 a package, he stocked up (after forgetting sets at a client's office, which the cleaning staff promptly tossed in the trash); and
  3. Cleaning supplies -- he found a broom for $1. We didn't need a broom, but our 3 year old son did. This has been designated his broom -- a great, practical toy for $1.
If you know your prices, you can spot a bargain. Start paying attention to what you pay, and then you'll know if a trip to the dollar store is worthwhile. How can you pay more attention. One, carry a calculator with you when you shop. If you put something in your cart, punch it in to the calculator. Two, watch the cashier as s/he scans your purchases. Seeing your item zapped and a price register on the machine will help it register in your mind.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Low Cost Window Cleaning

The other day I read on Facebook that a friend had cooked up her own "home brew" to clean windows when she ran out of Windex. She'd found a recipe on the internet. My approach does not call for a recipe nor does it require you to purchase Windex. My frugal way to clean the windows....vinegar! I have a spray bottle with straight vinegar. Spray and wipe clean with discarded newsprint.

The newsprint is a great way to get more out of what you are paying for a newspaper subscription, gives it a chance to do a little bit more before being tossed in recycling, and helps avoid the purchase of costly paper towels.

Happy frugal living everyone!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cutting Costs At The Office

I'm a solo attorney, and I take my frugal habits with me to the office. Keeping costs down is essential to running a profitable business. Here are two frugal approaches to cutting costs:
  1. sharing internet costs with the lawyers one floor below -- through a wireless router they can access my internet. We split the costs and everyone is happy; and
  2. redeeming my "rewards dollars" from Office Depot. Yesterday I received a $35.74 credit in the mail, rewards I receive from loyally purchasing office supplies from Office Depot. Ink is running low, and through this reward and other coupons, I'll pick it up for nearly no cost!
What ways do you cut costs at the office? Please share!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Carrot, Barley, and Chick Pea Soup

Making the most of the farmers' market season, here is a tasty recipe that will cost you pennies - Carrot, Barley and Chick Pea Soup:

  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups chopped carrot
  • 2 cups carrot juice
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 cups chick peas
  • dash of red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Bring to a boil, simmer for about 30 minutes. Serve with fresh bread, garnish with your favorite herbs. Delicious dinner for pennies!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Frugal Air Travel

Last weekend I was driving to a client meeting and had time to listen to NPR. Nickolas Kralev has written Decoding Air Fare: A guide to saving on air fare and flying in luxury. Apparently Kralev downloaded raw data on air fares and uses it to know what the best price is. Practical tips he can offer for those not accessing data are to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. It is an interesting interview, just shy of 4 minutes. I love the fact that on a budget that once funded 3 international trips, he can now fund 10 or more!

Have any ideas on how to make travel more affordable? Share, we'd love to hear about them!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Frugally Fit

Looking for low cost ways to stay fit? Here are a few suggestions I can offer:
  1. Hula Hoop - an adult sized hula hoop is a fun way to work your abs. Do a search on YouTube and you can find amazing tricks and stunts, or just keep it simple. My hoop cost $20.
  2. Jump rope - return to childhood and jump rope. Outside or inside it is easy, quiet, and cheap. My rope cost $10.
  3. Walk -- walk for fun, errands, exercise -- it doesn't matter, just walk. You need a comfortable pair of shoes and patience. I love to listen to my MP3 player and walk to the grocery store every few days when dairy and fruit run low.
  4. Public library DVDs and media -- check out the shelves of your local library or its on-line database. From belly dance to tai chi to cardio boost - they have it all, for FREE.
  5. Yoga -- developing a simple morning or evening practice you do at home is relaxing, affordable, and you can do it while on vacation as well.
Did I overlook a favorite frugal fit routine of yours? If so, please share!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Giving Up My Paper Towel Habit

Last week I started reading Suddenly Frugal: How to live happier and healthier for less by Leah Ingram. After paying way too much for a house in the boom era, Ingram and her family were forced to turn frugal so that they could stay afloat. Her book is engaging and full of great ideas. I consider myself quite frugal and am always delighted when I pick up new ideas.

I'm still working my way through her book, but wanted to share a challenge she I've accepted. Giving up my paper towel habit. Instead of whipping and tossing in the trash, I am working towards building a nice stash of rags to clean up the messes left behind by a 3 and 1 year old, two cats, and a husband (oh, and me at times).

To build a stash of rags, Ingram suggests raiding your t-shirt and undershirt drawer. Pull out ones that are beyond their prime and put them aside for use. Once used, toss them in the wash and re-use. She even goes as far as putting the depleted rags in her compost pile, a trick she got from her mother.

I have one suggestion to add to building a supply, cloth diapers. Whether you have little ones at home or frequent garage sales and thrift stores, old cloth diapers make great rags!

Thanks to Ingram I hope to chop of my approximate $65/year paper towel habit, and tread a little easier on planet earth.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Toddler Bike Trailer / Jogger

This past month we decided that our youngest was old enough for a bike trailer / jogger. Thrilled at the idea of working out together or biking to church we jumped at the idea of getting a bike trailer / jogger. We determined a few criteria before shopping: it needed to be a double, collapse, and fit into the trunk of a Honda Civic.

First we called our favorite second hand bike shop, but no luck. Next we called a local bike shop (my husband has been a serious biker since moving back to Madison after living in the Tampa area). Lowest quote possible, near or above $500! Ugh, that's more than we want to spend. Armed with this price, we hopped on Craigslist. At first we were amazed at prices people were or near full retail price of a NEW trailer / jogger. Then we saw a posting for a Trek model, $50! Perfect, but what were the chances of it still being available? The post was over 2 weeks old. Figuring what the heck, we dialed. The family answered, confirmed that they still had it and would be home all day.

A few hours later we were out for a jog together. We are looking forward to more runs and eventually biking to church.

Our lesson -- set your criteria, gather price information, and work through the ads. Be patient, have a little faith, and soon you'll poses what you are looking for at a fraction of the price.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Corn Chowder Recipe

From the leftovers of our birthday dinner, I created a delightful corn chowder by improvising a recipe in my trusted binder. Here is what I cooked up:
  • saute one small onion and garlic in olive oil;
  • add diced green pepper;
  • add leftover corn (cut off the cob) and potatoes (diced);
  • drop in 2 or 3 tablespoons salsa;
  • add 3 cups vegetable broth;
  • simmer for 20 minutes;
  • add 2-3 tablespoons whole milk (that is what I had on hand, cream or half and half are other options).
  • Turn off and let cool.
From leftovers to a new meal. Saving dollars, saving the earth, and promoting healthy eating -- you got to love it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Low Cost 3 Year Old Boys Birthday

Children and birthdays -- these two together usually mean large expense. The party, the decorations, the gifts! Not in our house. Our son turned 3 this past week and we celebrated, but that celebration did not break the bank. If you have a toddler son, considering the following when putting together his birthday "party":

  1. Find a train to ride. We opted to enjoy a 1-hour excursion on a steam engine featured at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin. A steam engine has not been on its track since 2000, so this was a big draw. Total cost, $38 for two adults....our kids were young enough to ride for free. We scheduled this event for the Saturday prior to his actual birthday.
  2. Honor his heroes: Firetrucks and firefighters are deities in our son's world, and we used that as a theme for his actual birthday. No, I did not spend a bundle on firefighter plates and napkins. Instead, we cooked up some food and took it down the street to our local fire station. Complete with a tour of the engines and a chance to ask all those pressing questions like "how do you decide who gets to drive". Cost? Just the groceries for the food.
  3. Food Thanksgiving style: In our home both parents take the day off from work and we spend it together as a family. This gives me a chance to work in kitchen time so that we can have a lovely meal. Since it is August we opted for the grill: hotdogs, potatoes, corn, etc. Quality food is the centerpiece. This meal cost less than $10 thanks to farmers' markets.
  4. Family: we did invite his grandmother and aunt/uncle cousins for dinner the previous weekend. We asked them not to bring gifts as we are swimming in toys already. We shared a meal, good laughs, and one another's time. The most precious thing we think you can give a child for his/her birthday. A meal for 7 adults and 2 children cost less than $25; one pot roast, the rest veggies and home made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
There you have it, a frugal approach to a child's birthday. Think outside the box and be willing to take a path away from the ordinary. You just may save some money, go easy on the earth, and have very little stress.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Money Conference

This coming Saturday there will be a low cost seminar in Madison on a range of topics. The Money Conference will offer: how to read a credit score, home ownership 101, eating on the flash for less cash, and wills and other documents. I will be at the seminar, presenting the wills portion. The cost to attend is $5 at the door, child care on site.

What: Over 20 one-hour seminars
When: Saturday, August 20th, 7:30 am registration, 8-1pm seminars
Where: MATC Truax Campus

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seeking a Frugal Government

A little over 10 years ago I graduated from law school and opted to take my 9 years of knowledge (BA in Political Science, Masters in Public Administration, and a law degree) and go work for the government. I started at a state legislative agency charged with identifying fraud, waste and abuse in government....seeking to improve through performance reviews. Sadly, it was not meant to me. We were not a good fit. Our fate was sealed the day a supervisor told me I was "too efficient and too ambitious, take it down a notch, this isn't law school". So, I said good-bye to public work and hello to a legal solo practice. But, my frugal eye always seems to catch stories or situations related to government. This happened one day last week while walking with my children along the Lakeshore path. Why was my alma matter, which I adore, watering its athletic fields at 11am? That is not efficient. And why was it being monitored by an employee driving a GMC Subburan? Disappointed I went to my computer and fired off a letter to the editor. When you are frugal at home, at work, at play, it's hard to to expect your alma matter and government to be frugal too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Smell of Home Baked Bread

Bread, a staple in the American kitchen. From toast in the morning, to a turkey sandwich at lunch , to the peanut butter and jelly slice before bed, it is a constant in our home. And the price tag is $3.99 a loaf. I opt to buy a whole grain bread, one with a few ingredients. Or I should say, I used to buy?

This past month I've stopped buying store bought bread. Instead we use the bread machine. The slices aren't as precise, maybe a little thicker, but we are getting high quality bread for pennies. I haven't run the numbers, but since I have the ingredients stocked in the kitchen, we can enjoy quality bread for a fraction of the store bought price. Plus, we have more control and more variety. The bread is stored in a plastic bag (one I kept from the last store bought loaf) in the fridge to make sure it lasts a few days.

The most expensive part of this process is the bread machine. Don't buy new, instead check out the selection at Goodwill, Savers, Hospice Thrift Store, etc. And if it doesn't include a manual you can find it on the internet. My current machine was given to me by an aunt who no longer needed it. Previously I got one for about $10 at a thrift store and it worked for 3 years.

Happy baking.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: Living Large: From SUVs to Double Ds, Why Going Bigger Isn't Going Better

Last week I finished a very good book, Living Large: From SUVs to Double Ds, Why Going Bigger Isn't Going Better by Sarah Z. Wexler. I picked the book up from the library about the same time we'd observed an interesting new custom in our families. For some reason the baby boomers were opting to put their depression era parents in SUV or stretch limos to celebrate milestones. On my side of the family it was a limo to take my grandparents to a restaurant for their 70th wedding anniversary. On my husband's side it was to drive his Grandmother around town for her 90th birthday. We couldn't help but think it was a bid odd, these are the same people who can talk at length about ration cards during WWII and their in a limo....

The limo trend could have been another chapter in Wexler's book, which consists of 11 easy to read and at times jaw dropping chapters. From the McMansion Explosion to Engagement Ring Bling to This Landfill Isn't a Dump to Meet the Freegans, each chapter offered great commentary, data, and pure shock at what has become of America. Whether you are trying to find motivation to pay down debt, be frugal or decrease the number of items you discard into the trash -- read this book. My own efforts to reduce our household waste has risen dramatically after reading about America's landfills. Wexler states the average American generates 4.8 pounds of garbage a day. After reading her book, I'm aiming to be well below the average American.
That's created what scientists call the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating trash island that weighs 3.5 million tons. It was discovered in 1988, though oceanographers think it began forming in the 1950s. The mass is made up of 80 percent plastic, the final resting spot for about 2.5 percent of all plastic items made since 1950....even more troublesome is that as the plastic breaks down into smaller floating particles, it begins to resemble plankton, which means that animals like sea turtles...consume it, which may ultimately kill them -- not to mention the plastic entering the food chain.
And the information on America's love for debt resonated a bit more strongly given the challenges faced in our Nation's Capitol and State Houses. And it reinforced my desire to live a frugal life. Is my family on the verge of a new trend? Wexler quotes Farnoosh Torabi, another author, who states:
"We're at the beginning of a financial revolution. I'm hoping it will motivate people to learn the fundamentals of financial independence: set both short and long-term goals, be conscious of how much money you earn and how much money you spend, save often and regularly, and be your biggest financial advocate.
There were parts of this book, mainly the author's commentary on how hard frugality can be, that made me feel like a seasoned expert. In one passage she recounts purposely leaving behind a restaurant meal because she didn't have the energy to purchase baggies, bread, etc. to make sandwiches at home. What? Oh yeah, she lives in NYC. No disrespect, but I used to live in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Brown Bagging it there is not common place -- doing lunch is. And that is one reason why I returned to the Midwest. The concentration for frugal folks seems higher, or at least the behavior not quite so weird.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Student Move Day, Madison, 2011

It seems like just yesterday I was packing up my boxes, crates, and laundry basket to move out of one and into another college apartment. But, based on the fact this year is my 20 year high school reunion, it's been some time since I participated in the Madison tradition. Apartments in the Isthmus area, a.k.a Student Ghetto, have year leases. The leases end on August 14th, and start on August 15th. That can making moving a challenge, and a result, hurried. The by-product? Lots and lots of furniture, household supplies, you name it, end up on the curb or in a dumpster. From this purge has grown the tradition of trolling the "waste" for "Hippie Christmas" or "Dumpster Diving". Thankfully times have improved since I was a student. Now there are designated donation sites, where unwanted yet usable items can be collected by the likes of St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill.

So, if you are not a student, are you going to check out the curbside offerings?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Frugality at the Office

I recently relocated my office (when not writing blog posts I am either Mama to a 3 and 1 year old or an estate planning attorney). I can now bike or walk to work if I plan my schedule accordingly. With my move came some overhead costs. I had to furnish the space, and got a great set up from Quality Furniture, with mainly new items. Delivered and assembled for $800 -- it was a great price and very easy.

The move also required me to pay for internet directly. I opted for a 5 year plan with a company to get the lowest rates. It came with a wireless router. From the router and lawyer friend of mine on the floor below can use the internet as well. Her firm is going to split the cost, cutting my internet fee in half. I still need some wall decor and things. A trip to Savers is in my near future.

My frugal ways do not stop when I leave my home, I carry them into my practice. From that I can offer competitive rates, and bring estate planning to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Get the Most Out of Your Newspaper

Unlike many Americans, I still receive a paper newspaper each day. There it is, at the end of my driveway each morning. Canceling it would save me a few hundred dollars a month. But, I grew up reading a paper and want the same for my children. So, I'm determined to get the most value out of the subscription as possible. Here are a few of my strategies:
  1. I read stories aloud to my children (ages 3 and 1). I avoid the horrific stories and focus on science and nature for the most part. It is a nice way for me to stay up to date, introduces amazing words to them, and gives us great conversation topics;
  2. Cut out coupons or note discounts that are featured in the paper;
  3. Use the paper to find free or low cost events to attend;
  4. Complete the games or word puzzles and give your brain a workout; and
  5. When complete, pass the paper on to a friend, neighbor or co-worker. If consistent enough, they may even share some of the subscription cost.
Happy reading!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cutting Costs in the Kitchen

I've been in frugal overdrive the past few weeks. Here are a few steps I've taken to cut costs, save money, and tread a little lighter on the earth:
  1. Re-use baggies. I tend to buy hardy ones, the kind used for freezing. Once used, I turn them inside out, wash them with the dishes, set them aside to try, and re-use them again;
  2. Rinse and wash tin foil for reuse -- again, using a hardier brand to extend use;
  3. Turn off the burner before the eggs or pancakes are done cooking. It will stay hot for some time, I use the energy that would otherwise go into the house, unused, and heat up the kitchen;
  4. Unused coffee in the pot is put into a container and into the fridge it goes. Poured over ice, with a dash of whole milk, it makes a lovely afternoon treat; and
  5. Embrace veggies. Reducing meat and dairy products saves on the grocery bill. And this time of year veggies can be had for pennies.
Can you offer some kitchen savings I've overlooked? If so, please post a comment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

FREE Cello Concert in Madison

Like musical events, but watching your budget? If so, check out the free cello concert, Friday, August 19th at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Being frugal does not mean going without quality.

Outstanding Ancora String Quartet cellist, Benjamin Whitcomb, will be perform a recital of solo cello music at FUS on Friday, August 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium. This will be a free concert, but Benjamin will accept donations to the UW-Whitewater Music Scholarship fund.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't Toss Condiments, Especially FREE Ones

I caught myself the other day, just about to toss some leftover packages of parmesan cheese and red pepper (from take out pizza) into the trash. I retracted my hand. Inspiration struck -- save these for my husband's brown bag lunches. He doesn't really use a brown bag, but I routinely put leftovers in tupperware that I then freeze. If he needs a lunch, he grabs a container from the freezer. A frequent request of his is to "add more spice" to the dishes. I'm not all the found of extensive spices, nor are the kids. It is easier for him to doctor his meals. So, instead of just dosing food with "fire syrup" that we keep in the cabinet, he can use these up as well. Stretching the value from take-out by using every drop off food. I haven't gone to the lengths of gathering free condiments from restaurants.....but this is close!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Frugal Means Anticipating The Cost

This past year we opened a Target Debit Card; we get 5% off our purchase and Target deducts it from our checking account. We have a good routine now, and enjoy the 5% off. It even works at the in-store Starbucks. And thanks to my ability to remember exactly how much that 5% off tall coffee costs, I caught Target making a mistake.

For some reason the coffee was coming up as $1.58, not $1.50. I paid and then inquired at Customer Service. They said, "oh, the machine is down, the teller is supposed to run a coupon instead." I then presented the receipt for my Target purchase, and it too was missing the discount.

Thanks to my concern for 8 cents on coffee, I also received the $3 discount on my weekly had slipped my attention checking out. Lesson, know what amount you expect the teller to ask for. If you can't, quickly scan your receipt before leaving. Remember, pennies add up to dollars!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Frugality and Patience, Toddler Style

This past June I gave our toddler his first home hair cut. This past week I attempted to give him his second. It did not unfold as planned. He eagerly agreed to have his locks trimmed, sitting at the kitchen table while his baby sister napped. However, once the scissors met his hair, he complained that they "hurt". Most likely it was my less than skilled approach (i.e. pulled on the hair a bit hard). Soon he was demanding a trip to Cost Cutters.

Patience is key to frugal living. So, this week he is walking around with an odd cut....I managed to get some off the top before he demanded to be set free. Instead of giving in to his demands, I'm waiting it out. And will attempt to finish the job another day.

If anyone out there has tips on getting a toddler to sit for a home hair cut, I'd love to hear them. Otherwise, we'll be off to Cost Cutters.....and we'll use the frequent punch card!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Simplicity Parenting - Resisting The Urge To Buy

The other day my son called out in delight, "Mama! Look at my wood chipper!" Using a toy garbage truck, excavator, and wood block he had created a realistic looking wood chipper. I offered my shared delight (wood chippers are the current favorite truck in our home these days) and returned to chopping veggies for that night's soup. Soon I was thinking, "oh, we should get him an actual wood chipper truck for his's coming up in a few weeks." Before voicing this thought to my husband I had a moment of clarity. He does not NEED a wood chipper toy truck. He has one that he is happy with, and his imagination benefits many times over. Buying said truck would be a damper. The urge to buy passed, I recognized the power of his creativity, and focused on chopping. Simplicity parenting in action!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Saving Money in the Laundry Room

Yesterday morning I experienced a first; a Skype "audition" with a NYC producer seeking people to be on a cable TV show about frugality. She'd found my blog and asked me to chat on Skype. Why not! It was fun, but I highly doubt I'll get the invite next week....unless they are looking for a slightly frumpy frugal midwestern estate planning attorney with two little kids.

The 10 minute chat stirred my frugality juices, and as I did a load of the kid's clothes a post formed in my mind....saving money in the laundry room:
  • question before tossing an item into the dirty it really dirty or are you simply taking it off? I find this to be most common with work clothes -- you can usually get at least two wearings out of something;
  • when possible, wash on a cold setting in order to reduce energy costs (i.e. not getting the hot water heater going);
  • use half the recommended detergent;
  • use a front loader washing machine -- you'll use less water, cutting your water bill;
  • use "no name brands" of detergent and dryer sheets when possible....I favor Target's brand (and get an additional 5% off when I pay with my Target debit card);
  • opt to skip the dryer when possible and air dry instead. If, like me, you suffer from allergies, have an indoor clothes line or use a drying rack. If you want your clothes fluffy soft, toss them in the dryer on air fluff once they've line dried -- 10 minutes with no heat can do wonders;
  • use a gas dryer if your home is equipped (sadly, ours is not at this time) -- my electrical engineer husband insists that gas is less expensive than electric heat;
  • clean the lint dryer before each use -- it will increase air flow, reducing the time the dryer actually has to work;
  • if you use a dyer sheet (which you don't have to do), tear it in'll get twice the life out of the box; and
  • select the "energy efficient" setting on your dryer -- it will detect when the clothes are dry, cutting down on unnecessary use.
And there you have it, my suggestions on how to cut laundry costs. Did I miss a favorite of yours? If so, please post a comment!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pro Se Payroll

At the beginning of the year we opted to hire a payroll company to handle our domestic employee (i.e. our nanny) as well as the office assistant for my legal practice. January was a crazy time, and unlike our normal selves, we opted to pay for service because we just didn't have the time or energy to figure out payroll. So we signed up, and then the headaches began.

At the end of the first quarter we received a bill from the IRS requesting $700 in payroll taxes we owed for our household account. Apparently the "payroll specialist" we hired hadn't set things up quite right. They overlooked that little detail! Annoyed, but still convinced they were doing us a favor we paid the bill, had a "chat" with the company, and continued paying them for the service. Life was still crazy on our end.

Then life calmed down a bit, and my husband ran the numbers. After adding up all the fees here and there we discovered we were paying these specialists $2800 a year to handle payroll for a nanny who works 20-25 hours a week and an office assistant who averages 10 hours a week. That was way too much, we vowed to make a change.

At the end of the second quarter I received notice from Wisconsin's DWD, unemployment tax issues were not correct, compliments of the so-called specialist. That was the last straw. We knew we could do a better job, they'd set the bar so low.

After a review of on-line options we opted to use a free month trial of a payroll software. Then we paid $75 for a bookkeeper who is knowledgeable about payroll taxes and withholdings to review our system. She had some feedback, and we learned that payroll wasn't that difficult, especially for two type A personalities.

We paid a bit for this lesson, but it is one worth repeating. When you outsource monetary tasks beware -- if you don't know what the company should be doing, you can't adequately monitor performance or judge compensation. The lesson made me remember a quote from Oprah "I always sign the checks, I know where my money is going."

So, if you have a household employee or a setting up a business, steer clear of the payroll companies. I recommend a simple software package, learn the mechanics, and go from there.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


About a year ago a dear friend introduced our family to her "breakfast cookie" recipe during a visit she paid just after my daughter was born. Her visit was designed to ease the burden on our little family as I recovered from a second c-section. One way of accomplishing this was to fill our freezer with goodies. Quickly a family favorite, we renamed them "scuffins" because they are a cross between a scone and a muffin. These treats are healthy, ease to prepare, and cost pennies.

  • mix: 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 melted butter, and 2 eggs;
  • add 1/4 cup finely chopped figs and 1/4 cup dried cranberries (feel free to mix this up with whatever you might have in your kitchen), and 1 teaspoon vanilla;
  • mix dry ingredients: 1 cup white flour; 1/2 cup whole wheat flour; 1/2 cup unprocessed bran; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; generous dashes of cinnamon, ground allspice, and nutmeg;
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients;
  • Drop on greased cookie sheet with an ice cream scope;
  • bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Curly Girl Experiment Update

For the past few weeks I've been using a modified "curly girl" method for my hair care. Why? It is supposed to give your hair bounce and curl, essentially looking like you've had a perm, but didn't have to pay for one. The results, okay. As the book recommends, I don't wash my hair daily. Instead, I rinse with baking powder (I keep a plastic shaker bottle in the shower). I have to apply conditioner to the ends about every day, and wash about every 3 or 4 days. My hair is much fuller than before. So, it looks like I've received a perm (great when you have long thin hair), an reducing the amount of hair care product, and am using very natural products. Seems like a win-win to me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Are Coupons Frugal

Today is August 1st. I have just two months to use up the Bucky Book Coupons I bought last fall. Why is it that every year at this time I wonder, why did I buy this book. And then in the fall I can't help buying it again. So, as fall approaches, my goal will be to get the most value possible out of the Buck Book. However, just because there is a coupon doesn't mean it is frugal. As I've written in the past, if a coupon makes you spend money you would not otherwise spend, it is not saving you money.