And here is a link to a Wisconsin State Journal article on homemade Halloween treats!
Monday, October 31, 2011
October 31st -- Halloween! Okay, so it's not an official holiday, but I'm going light on the blogging. I took the day off to spend with my kids. At ages 3 and 1 they are still home all day, and just old enough to start getting interested in Halloween. So, to maximize time with them, I bring you a reminder that great entertainment can be had for free on YouTube and some recipes for homemade Halloween treats that will rival any fancy pastry shop. Happy Pumpkin Day!
Friday, October 28, 2011
If you use a Kindle, live in Southern Wisconsin, and have a library card....then you are in for some cost savings. The Wisconsin library system is now offering over 5,000 Kindle titles to patrons with a library card. Apparently Wisconsin is unique in how much money it has put towards digitizing its library collection. Learn more here!
I'm a huge library fan, but don't have a Kindle. It makes the device just a bit more tempting....although I still love the feel of an actual book!
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Pumpkin, often called a Super Food, it is a delightful food to add to the freezer. I use it to make pumpkin bread as well as pumpkin muffins. It is far healthier and far less expensive than using canned pumpkin. Here is my method of putting pumpkin away for the winter:
- buy pie pumpkins (I found some for $1 a piece at both the famers' market as well as a farm where we bought larger pumpkins for decoration). The price was great, I've seen them as high as $3 a piece in grocery stores;
- preheat your oven to 350 degrees;
- cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin, remove stem, slice in half and remove seeds;
- place upside down in pan, fill 1/3 of the way with water;
- roast, just as you would an acorn squash, for 1 and 1/2 hours;
- let cool;
- scope each side into a freezer bag.
Also, to get the most out of your money, you can do the same with decorative pumpkins / jack-o-lanterns. I opt to draw faces on them with marker so that we can enjoy them as Halloween decorations, but not ruin the insides for later use. They are larger, and the taste won't be as intense, but it works just fine in recipes.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Last week my husband sent me to on-line poll about which city the New York Times Frugal Traveler should visit. Our home town of Madison, Wisconsin was one of five on the short list. When I voted we were trailing Montreal. But, thanks to social media, word got out, and the Frugal Traveler was here over the weekend. Check out is blog and the New York Time web site for specifics on how to enjoy Madison without breaking the bank!
As I write this post, his article is not yet available. However, as Madison native I'll offer a few free or inexpensive ways to enjoy this lovely city:
- Henry Vilas Zoo -- one of a handful of free zoos in the country, it is a delight no mater what the season;
- Holy Wisdom Seminary -- great for possible lodging or just a day-hike....the view of the Madison sky line is breathtaking at sunset;
- Farmers' Markets -- inexpensive, quality, fresh food. Great way to grab a fast snack, wander around town (they are held in various locations), and enjoy the mid-morning;
- Tour the First Unitarian Society of Madison - the historic meeting house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (a former member) and the new addition it a marvel in green building; and
- Enjoy a fantastic pizza at Paisan's downtown. The location has changed several times over the past 40 years or so, but the delicious pizza always pleases.
How about you dear reader, what frugal Madison offering did I miss?
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Halloween is just around the corner, and stores are bursting with colorful packages of candies. Individual portions, bulging bags, and prices that cause a frugal shopper to ask "really?". This frugal shopper took an alternative route this year. Half inspired by a desire not to spend a fortune to fill a candy bowl for kids that may or may not show up, and half imposed by our recent decision to limit our 3 year old's consumption of sugar.
So, this year, I filled our candy bowl for just under $12. How? I bought 6 packs of 8-boxes of individual raisin containers. I added with 1.5 pounds of bulk caramel candies from our warehouse grocery (Woodmans). At $1.99 pound it was a steal. In the past I've always bought a few pounds of the bulk candy, far cheaper than the "special" Halloween bags that line the store aisles, but this year I opted for some healthy options. We don't have much use for lots of leftover candies, and avoiding waste is key in a frugal home.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Okay, so the day has come when my two blogs converge. One blog is devoted to living a frugal life, the other captures thoughts and ideas related to illness, death and taxes. The later is inspired by my work as an estate planning attorney. Today I give you a frugal estate planning attorney post!
Recently I discovered an interesting book, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson. The book begins with a review of consumer issues related to death; from green burials to embalming to casket sales. The second half details laws, regulations, and facts associated with caring for the dead in all 50 states.
Why is this fodder for a frugal blog? First, the book asserts that 90 percent of Americans do not "shop a funeral". They go with the funeral home the family has always used. They don't compare prices. Why? The reason is obvious, they are grieving and decisions need to be made quickly. When my father died it was 11pm on a Friday night, and the hospital gave me 1 hour to decided on a funeral home! The other reason this is worthy of a frugal post is that the typical American plans only two funerals in his/her life. That simply is not enough experience to learn how to be frugal in this area.
Addressing this issues before crisis mode sets in is always wise. I encourage you to read the book and check out the Funeral Consumer's Allicance web site. Educate yourself now, save money, reduce stress on loved ones, and maybe you'll opt for a green burial to save money and go easy on the earth one last time.
Friday, October 21, 2011
If you are a parent of young children with frugal parenting aspirations, I highly recommend you read the book Childhood Under Siege by Joel Bakan if you need some motivation. Frugal parenting goes against the tide of modern culture. Saying "less is more" takes energy and effort. I write from personal experience. Since my first child arrived just over 3 years ago we have had a constant battle with family, friends, and society overall in order to parent frugally. We've held our own, and now I have more ammunition in defending our stance thanks to Bakan's book.
What does frugal parenting involve? In my mind it is the same as simplicity parenting. A focus on a few quality toys, minimize or avoid TV and other media, serve healthy unprocessed food, and stay clear of corporate marketing bonanzas.
Even if you don't have young children, Bakan's book will fire you up to live a life questioning marketing. Why? It is full of stories detailing how corporations manipulate marketing to sell items to children. Please note that I do not hate Wall Street. I have investments. My kid's college funds are invested on Wall Street. I like shopping at Target. What I don't like are the allegations made in this book about expanding pharmaceuticals to children with little to no testing. How fast food has taken over the lunch room at the school. Or how video games and social media are designed to foster addiction in children, and they just have to check the site. Parents, or anyone wanting a frugal life, read this book for a dose of motivation. Corporate America has given us many great things, but sometimes too much of a good thing is not that great. Decide for yourself. Think before you consume. It's good for your wallet, your health, the planet, and your kids.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
We live in the Midwest, Madison, Wisconsin to be specific. My in-laws live in Tampa, Florida. To be concise, we live in two different worlds. Over the past year or two, my mother-in-law routinely said how our life resembled the show In the Middle. Since I don't watch TV, I didn't quite understand. We decided to look it up on the internet, and chuckled at the first episode; the Indiana family attends a block party -- how stereotypical. Then earlier this month, we attended a block party.
Feeling every bit the midwesterner, I took note of this frugal entertaining style. The host paid $50 for a permit and picked up the road barriers. She had needed 80% of her block neighbors to agree, and they signed the permission page. Everyone brought a dish to pass. She put out tables with kid activities (decorate your bike, play-doh, a homemade pinata). There was a grill, and good conversation. Simple and fun.
My two children at play
My contribution to the food table. Noodles, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and olive oil.
As we walked home we commented on how living a frugal life is easier in the Midwest. Unlike the coasts or Florida, we are relatively free of the pressure to "have simply the best" of everything. We have block parties instead of pool parties at the club. I'm certain people live frugally in more cosmopolitan areas, but I think it is a bit easier when you are surrounded by like-minded people.
Are you a reader living, or who has lived, in a big city? Are you able to be frugal? During my 3 years in Washington, D.C. my frugal ways evaporated. It only returned after I had moved back to Madison for law school, graduated with even more debt, and had an intense desire to pay it off. What about you?
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The day has arrived....we finally turned on the furnace. Here are a few thoughts on how to keep your energy bill low during the winter months:
- before entering the winter season have your furnace inspected and "tuned up" -- it will run more efficiently;
- dress as though it were winter. In our home people where sweaters, slippers, and layers. This allows us to keep the thermostat lower than the average Wisconsin home;
- aim for lower on the thermostat -- we are between 61 and 63 degrees. Where ever you are, try lowering it a degree or two;
- program the thermostat to dip lower if you are out of the house or it is bedtime. There is no reason to heat a empty home;
- make sure window are shut well; and
- use draft dodgers for outside doors.
Welcome to late fall in Wisconsin. We have days in the 50s or 60s, but the temperature has start to fall close to or below freezing. It is furnace time.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
As a little girl I read all of the Laura Ingles Wilder books and just adored them. There was something so appealing about their simple life. I still have those feelings today, especially during the fall harvest. Two hundred years ago I would be a women busily gathering food from the dwindling garden. The children would be at my heels while I canned and dried the bounty. We'd tuck it away and pull it out when the snow fell. Saving just a bit of summer and fall in a jar!
But, it is 2011. I balance my days between raising two children that are 23 months apart (currently 3 and 1) and running a legal practice. My attempts to preserve for Winter are selective. I'm glad I'm not alone, a fellow blogger here in the Midwest writes about the same decision; for her, applesauce comes from the store.
The options can be overwhelming, and since many things can easily be found in a grocery aisle, I am selective in what I put away. I should clarify "put away". For me, it means to freeze. Not can, not dry, not pickle. I need to be able to freeze it easily and toss it in the chest freezer in the garage. Now that we are in Fall I've limited my efforts to 1) apples, 2) pie pumpkins, and 3) cranberries.
If time is short, I focus just on pie pumpkins. My goal is to purchase 6 of them, which will give me 12 portions for the freezer. From those will come pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins. Watch for recipes in the months ahead.
Famers' Markets offer inexpensive, local produce that does wonder for your health (or so I hope), your wallet, and the earth. You don't have to be Ma from Little House to preserve just a bit of this goodness for the winter. You just need some freezer bags, google search, and a freezer.
Monday, October 17, 2011
We are coming up on the one year anniversary of being in our home. Translated that means we have 98 percent of the boxes unpacked, major repairs completed, and a "to-do" list that has been misplaced. One of the remaining items on the list was "replace basement door". We have a walk out basement, and the door appears to be original. Dating back nearly 50 years it is cute, but inefficient. It is also no longer standard size. We've been told it will cost between $500 and $1,000 to replace. But, it sill works, so it hasn't been a priority. However, with winter fast approaching my mind goes to the gaps the door allows. I want my house warm, not the backyard. I'd also like to fully research options for replacing the door and don't want to be rushed. So, what to do in the meantime?
Last weekend I stopped at our neighborhood hardware store, Ace at Hilldale. Rewards coupon of $5 in hand I went to the register and inquired about weather stripping. "Aisle 27, we'll have someone meet you" was their reply. Within a minute I was standing in front of quite the variety of weatherproofing supplies. I located some foam stripping with adhesive on the back and the packaged claimed it would cover one standard door. Price, $5.49. Since my door is smaller than the current standard door, I felt confident one pack would do the job. At the register I presented my rewards card, the package, and my coupon. The total out of pocket came to $0.52! I was done in under 5 minutes, and this was in the middle of a Sunday afternoon (with no Packers playing at the moment).
We are a frugal family, but that does not mean we shop at the big box retailers on the edge of town. We tried it when we first bought this house but found them impractical. It was hard to find anyone to help. It required a drive there and back, double it if you have a return. And the savings were never that great, especially on single items.
I'm hoping that my $0.52 weather stripping will save us some dollars on heating costs. And next Spring I'll be pricing a new, energy efficient door! Now I just need to put the weather stripping on the door....where is that "to do" list?
Friday, October 14, 2011
Last week I was reading a new favorite blog, Pigtail Pals, and the post posed the question of when did Halloween become about "sexy" outfits for young girls? It made me ask, when did Halloween become about spending $30 for an outfit likely to be worn once? Where is the creativity? Growing up we made outfits out of items we had around the house and supplemented with small trinkets bought at the store (I remember a hula girl outfit and a college graduate that were easy, fun, and inexpensive). This frugal mom is pulling on from her 1970s roots for costume ideas for toddlers. Here is a run down of what we've done or are doing:
- Police officer accessory kit, $3.99 at Savers. Perfect for indoor and outdoor events. Hat, vest, and badge will make great dress up items for the year ahead [2011, 3 year old son];
- The little devil, $0.99, red devil horns headband, new at Goodwill. Paired with black and red pants and turtle neck, it is perfect for our 14 month old daughter. And it is the only thing I can keep our her head. [2011, 14 month old daughter];
- Bumble bee outfit, sirca 1970, found at Goodwill for $4.99 [2010, 2 year old son];
- Cave man -- used leopard print pants, sash of leopard material, black turtle neck, and plastic bone found at Halloween supply store, cost $5 [2009 used for 15 month old son]; and
- Pumpkin PJs, $1, church garage sale [2010 and 2008, used for both children who were about 6 months old].
Other inexpensive ideas we may pull from the in the future: static cling (where all black and safety pin on socks, fabric softener, etc.); chef using hat and apron from toy kitchen set; fortune teller using crochet hat with massive feather (actual gift that we'll never use) with a silk scarf around the neck and a pin that says "Fortunes, $1". I really like this last one for our daughter this year, but she cannot stand the hat and adores the devil horns.
There you have it, a bit of creativity, a few dollars, and you've got Halloween. Why spend $29.99 at a box store when you can get something unique for less. Easier on the wallet, easier on the planet, and a great way to show kids creativity.
Please share other homemade ideas for toddlers by posting a comment!
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Eggs -- they always seem to be on my mind. I'm either cooking them for breakfast (we eat them scrambled, in sandwiches or mixed into buckwheat pancakes), putting them on my shopping list, or seeking out the best price. We've settled into a brand we like; Phil's Fresh Eggs. They treat their hens humanly and use quality feed. No they are not organic and they are not "local", but they are $2.19 a dozen at Woodmans. When you go through 4 to 5 dozen eggs a week, buying organic from a local farmer add ups quickly.
However, price is not the only important thing when buying eggs. Counting the number of usable eggs is key. Sadly, it seems that every carton of eggs purchased at Woodmans has at least one egg that is cracked on the bottom and sticks in the carton. Last week one carton had 4 such eggs. Hmmm, is this really a bargain on this brand?
The next best price is Sentry, which charges $2.79 per carton. Thanks to the human calculator I married, we quickly determined (while sitting outside in our yard) that if 3 or more eggs were broken, then Sentry was the best buy (see math below). Factor in the drive to Woodmans and time spent in this mega warehouse store, and it became clear that paying a bit more was worth it. So, tonight after meeting clients (I'm an estate planning attorney when I'm not blogging or parenting) I'm going to walk to Sentry, located next to my office, and pick up some eggs for the rest of the week.
To be frugal is to always wonder -- is this the best price?
[Math used: 2.19 / 12 = .18 cents per egg; 2.79-2.19 = .60 cents / .60/.18 = 3.3 eggs]
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
For regular readers of my blog, you may remember my endorsement of a local shoe store here in Madison. One that charges a hefty some for shoes, but I claimed was worth it because 1) the shoes are designed to last years, and 2) the customer service was excellent. There is a saying out there that goes something like -- it takes years to build a good relationship, but only minutes to ruin one. That holds true in this case. My love affair with Morgan's Shoes is now over.
About two weeks ago I noticed some pain in the back part of my foot -- tender, almost bruised like. I realized I had just started wearing a pair of "house slippers" I'd bought last year following some serious foot issues resulting from my second pregnancy. Not only had my feet grown a 1/2 size, but had something close to a stress fracture. Morgan's Shoes at Hilldale helped me find 3 different shoes -- one for work, one for inside, and a pair of hiking / winter boots. I spent an average of $100 per pair. And this was from someone who had previously purchased shoes at second hand stores. Why did I do it? I wanted me feet to feel better, and I didn't mind investing in footwear that would last years. The cost per daily use would be low, or so I thought.
I called the store about my pain, and they told me to bring the shoes in for a look. I imagined them measuring my foot to see if it had grown/shrunk or recommending the shoe have a new insert or repair. Instead I was met by a fast talking salesmen who declared the problem was my big toe wearing down shoes, and pointing out the shoes I had bought were only designed to last 1year. Then he offered to knock a bit off a new pair.
What? Last 1 year? Now I know I had just had a second baby and may have been sleep deprived when I made may initial purchases, but earlier this summer I had bought a pair of sandals there, and they had told me the same thing "you'll get years of wear out of these". Wrong. The man in front of me was saying they too had been worn out, and were not intended to last more than 1 summer.
Who to believe -- the earlier sales people or this one telling me I needed new shoes? Does it really matter? Two of the pairs of shoes I'd bought there had worn out in less than 12 months of wear - -worn to the point they were causing pain. A third pair, which they claim will fix the problem with my big toe, leave me so unsteady that I fell after loosing my balance when stepping on a twig in the church parking lot....while wearing my 1 year old daughter in a front carrier. They are not my "go to" shoe for this reason.
It amazes me that this message could have been delivered with greater care. The salesman launched into technical foot speak, blamed me, and pushed for another sale. That is a formula for loosing not only a sale, but a repeat customer. Fast paced technical talk is fine between estate planning attorneys discussing "Give Me 5 Trusts" or electrical engineers discussing circuit board design. It is not okay for a salesperson talking to a customer. If someone does this to you, leave and go find someone who is more interested in doing a good job than closing a sale. You'll end up with a better product in the end.
So, I find my frugal self asking -- what are good shoes to buy? I want something that will last years or at least a few seasons? I doubt I'll return to my second hand purchases, but I may if they are relatively new. Will I try another high-end store? I doubt it. Something in the middle will probably be the result. And some research on the web for products that hold up well. I welcome any suggestions you may have.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Thank you to the kind person in my neighborhood who left 5 perennials at the curb, marked FREE. Not only did he or she offer these lovely plants at no charge, they were potted and came with hand written instructions. Sadly, the rain fell before I found them. So, I planted them in an area of the yard that needs color and gets moderate light. I hope it is a good fit.
For the past week weeks I had been thinking, that spot needs some color. Previous owners had torn up the grass and done landscaping. But weeds moved in, and it was a see of green. I spent 30 minutes pulling this and that, and another 30 minutes adding these plants. I'm always amazed at how upon realizing a need or want, if I wait patiently, an amazing frugal find comes my way.
Thank you dear neighbor. I promise to pay forward the kind act!
Monday, October 10, 2011
I was amazed at how many frugal tips I picked up while reading Suddenly Frugal: How to live a happier & healthier life for less by Leah Ingram. She starts out with a confession, frugality was forced upon her and her family after they "got in over our heads with debt and then bought more house than we could afford." The Ingrams are not alone. If you are looking to cut expenses in your life, pick up this book! Fourteen different chapters offer endless ways to cut costs, reduce waste, and improve your life. She covers lifestyle changes, transportation, heating and cooling, gardening, holidays, vacations, and more. And the writing style is crisp and easy to read.
One area I thought she could be more frugal in was clothing, specifically embracing second hand shops more. She recounts purchasing a $200 down coat, knowing it was well-made at that L.L.Bean would stand behind the purchase. As I read, I noted that she doesn't have amazing finds on the racks at St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill or Savers. I do, endless finds that put high end brands in my closet (Banana Republic suit, Anne Taylor skirts, Clark Shoes, and more).
Don't let this one comment deter you, her book is full of tips. You'll see reference to them in future posts on this web site.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Reading my local paper last week I came across a story called "Organic for All" on how to eat organic food without breaking the bank. Full of useful information, included was a blurb about a class offered at the Willy Street Co-op; how to use their bulk aisle, eat well, and not spend a fortune. "No Secret to Savings" is offered at both the west and east side locations. Free to owners or $5 to non-owners, participants are lead down the bulk-food aisle where they receive introductions to new foods and tips on simply cooking strategies. I found one class, coming up on Monday, October 24th. I just may have to attend.
Why the interest in eating bulk organic? I keep reading this "frugal" stories about homemakers who clip coupons, shop the "sales" and spend $100 on their grocery bill. I wonder --what are they eating? Mac and cheese, from a box? What are the long-term health effects? This month I want to see how little I can spend, but buy eating simple, vegetable and grain based meals. In the article I mention above there is a quote from a women named Jill Richardson who does just this, and she paraphrases her style as "cheap, fast, and lazy". Can I replicate her style? Time will tell.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Once again I am participating in the American Heart Walk to raise funds for education and research. My original goal of $380 ($10 for each year of age I am on walk day) has been met! I want to see how much I can raise, and am now offering a FREE bottle of red wine. I will draw one name from the list of all my supporters walk day. Want to try to win? You can sponsor me on-line (requires a minimum of $25) or post a comment and I'll get you information on where to send a check. Deadline is 7am this Saturday, October 8th.
Help me raise funds. If not for the advances in cardiac care, my mother never would have lived to meet her grandchildren. And that is why I walk, and why this is the only cause I solicit for.
We are well into fall weather, which is the perfect time to pull out your slow cooker! And if "frugal" is the season at your home, a slow cooker should not be overlooked. According to Leah Ingram in her book Suddenly Frugal, a slow cooker uses 75 watts of electricity on low or 150 watts of electricity on high to cook a meal. This fact alone should encourage your to use your slow cooker all year, especially in the hot summer months when you do not want to heat up your kitchen with the stove/oven.
But what do make in the slow cooker? Have you exhausted your recipes? I have, so I've turned to a great blog about a women who made 365 slow cooker meals. Stephanie O'dea claims to have an unnatural obsession with her slow cooker. I like that! I plan to try a recipe I found on her blog -- cauliflower curry and honey soup. Sounds perfect for the cauliflower that is still at the farmers' market stands.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Found on the library shelves, my kids and I have delighted in this gem of a book. Nifty Thrifty Music Crafts by Felicia Lowenstein Niven. It begins with a concise overview of music, breaking instruments into three groups: percussion, string, and wind. What follows are twenty plus pages of simple music crafts that come to life from basic household products. There are:
- baby food jars transformed into a xylophone;
- jar tops become finger cymbals;
- a pie tin as a tambourine;
- a rainstick evolves from a paper towel roll; and
- empty frozen juice containers are filled to become maracas.
Easy, inexpensive, "green", and musical. The perfect combination for little kids. I highly recommend taking a closer look at this book!
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
It's October in Wisconsin. That means we'll get a few days of lovely days, highs in or near the 70s. At night, the temperatures begin to creep south, just like the birds. Soon it will be November. Gray skies, harsh winds, flurries....and that means we'll need the furnace. But, before winter arrives on our door step we are taking steps to make sure the furnace will be up for another Wisconsin winter.
I highly recommend you give your furnace some TLC once a year. We did this week, using a half-off coupon from the Bucky Book. Our hope is to make sure the furnace is running and working well, making it more efficient, and less costly. Also, we know that it is at the end of its life span (we bought the house last November) and want some idea on when we might need to go shopping for a new one. Advance notice is always a good idea.
So, tend to your furnace before the snow flies. It will be more efficient, more reliable, and save resources in the long run. Don't forget to track down coupons for this service, you'll find them in fliers this time of year!
Monday, October 3, 2011
Last week I came across an on-line Time article proclaiming that "old-fashioned Yankee thrift" or frugality has become the new norm. On a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being not frugal, the average American now puts themselves at 7.3 on the frugality spectrum. The article mentions all sorts of ways we are more frugal these days: cutting coupons, home haircuts, etc. One jumped off the page at me:
Consumers have also been spending more on auto repairs in order to keep older vehicles on the road longer, rather than dropping more money to buy new cars.
And I have first hand knowledge that this is true. My brother owns an auto repair shop in Dane, Wisconsin. His focus is on structural repairs as opposed to mechanical. We spoke last weekend, and he said business has shot up....a big change. I've also hear that buying a used car is much harder these days because there is so much demand for them.
I am surprised that the author thinks this frugal trend is the new norm. A change in our Nation's spending habits will be tested only when the economy takes off once again. Will we be frugal in boom years? The fact that credit care spending has crept up (according to the article) eats away at how drastic a change Americans may have undergone.
How about you? When the Dow breaks new highs and unemployment drops, as it eventually will, will you still be frugal? I will. I've been frugal too long to let it go, it is simply part of who I am.