Friday, December 30, 2011

End of the Year Quote

"He who does not economize will have to agonize". - Confusius

Concise isn't it?  And that brings me to the end of my posts for 2011.  May you all have a lovely end to 2011 and start to 2012.  I'll be back next week with more thoughts and reflections on living life on the frugal upside.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Frugal Calendars for 2012

It is nearly time to flip the calendar to the next month....and that means a new calendar.  This year I am resisting the urge to buy a 50% off artistic calendar.  Instead I plan to use the three free ones I received.  One from a financial planner I know through my business, another from the bank my mom has her accounts at (they handed us one after our year end visit), and a third we received after purchasing some bird seed from Wild Birds Unlimited.

All three contain lovely photos, ample space, and an accurate recording of the date.  That's all you really need in a calendar.  I'll leave the beautiful ones at the store, even if they hit 75% off.  When you can get one for free there really is no need to spend anything.  And that is why family and friends call me frugal.

How about you -- will the deep discounts tempt you into a purchase?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Frugal Coffee Pot

When you live in the upper midwest, have your own business as does your spouse, and two children in diapers...well, coffee is your friend.  Your BEST friend.  I've been a coffee fan for nearly 15 years, so my addiction pre-dates my business and motherhood.

I've also been frugal for several decades, and that extended to my coffee pot purchases.  Prior to saying "I do", my coffee pots were the standard $19.99 Mr. Coffee versions you could find at Walgreens.  I thought it was a great way to save money. The only problem was that they would break after 9 months, maybe a year.  This was even more pronounced if I tried to clean them with vinegar.

Then I met my husband.  It was Christmas 2005.  We were newly engaged and celebrating the winter holidays with his family.  Our gift was a Cuisinart Coffee pot.  Price tag, $100.  I was shocked to own such a "high end" kitchen item.

That shock has given way to awe.  We still have that same coffee pot.  Six years later, it is used once if not twice a day....every day.  Once a month we run a 1/4 vinegar 3/4 water mixture through to clear out mineral deposits.

The lesson I learned was that spending $100 for an item that will last 6 six years and counting is less expensive than the cheap option.  Not only am I no longer spending money once a year, I no longer have to shop once a year.  Or go a morning without my coffee.  To be frugal does not translate into being cheap.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No Tears Over Broken Dish

First I heard the crash, and then I heard the scurrying.  My husband, in an attempt to kick start his day with a cup of coffee had instead dropped the coffee mug.  The spill was minimal, but the mug handle broke off.  Immediately he said "oh dear, I hope this isn't an expensive cup to replace?"  Apparently he had forgotten who he had married.

To give you a bit more context, my husband grew up in a home that prized very expensive items.  From wall hangings, to silverware, to vehicles.  They always bought the best.  And when you only buy the best, it is a problem when an item breaks.  It also creates a low level of anxiety about not damaging an item.

I on the other hand never buy the best.  I am frugal.  That means I seek out good quality for a decent price.  I am also realistic.  We share our home with two children, ages 3 and 1, and two cats.  Things break.  Things get beat on.  Why have a home filled with pricey items no one can touch?  I keep this in mind when making purchases.  We have items that are lovely to us, but you don't break the bank when they break.

With a puzzled smile I asked him, "seriously, do you think a broken cup is a problem?".  I reminded him that I bought the set of dishes shortly after we were married.  They are white with red trim.  That makes it very easy to add replacement items and add to the collection.  White and red, easy!

So, the mug was tossed.  I think it is the second or third to break.  Time for me to add "white and or red" coffee mug to my list of items to keep an eye out for.  I carry it with me on my monthly treks to second hand stores or while scanning clearance at the few stores I frequent for daily purchases.

And that is one upside to frugal living....little or no stress to maintain or replace items.

Photo credit: - free image

Monday, December 26, 2011

Putting The Green Back in Christmas

Reading the letters that arrived in this years holiday cards, I came across a lovely and frugal story.  One family that we know decided to wait until December to cut down a blue spruce in their yard.  The tree had become over grown and was blocking a window.  Once it was cut down, the top was used as the family's Christmas Tree.  Now that is really cutting down your tree.  No selecting one from the lot at the corner store.  No tramping through the manicured fields of a Christmas Tree Farm.  This tree literally came from their suburban yard.  I love it!

Our family was not nearly as creative, but we did try and maximize holiday related items:

  • envelopes from holiday cards were cut up and put in the scrap paper pile;
  • holiday cards will be tucked away for next year's winter craft box; and
  • the wreaths and garland that hang outside will be put beneath the bird feeders in late January. They will provide shelter for the winter, and in spring will be tossed in the compost pile.  For those who opt for a live Christmas tree, this is a great post-holiday use.
How about you?  What holiday tips did you come up with this year to make it a "greener" holiday for the earth, your wallet, and or your health?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Gift Ideas

It's Christmas Eve. If your shopping is not complete, or even started, no need to fret. The following list of gift ideas was read recently for the closing words at a First Unitarian Society Service. No store is needed.

Christmas gift suggestions:
  1. To your enemy, foregiveness.
  2. To an opponent, tolerance.
  3. To a friend, your heart.
  4. To a customer, service.
  5. To all, charity.
  6. To every child, a good example.
  7. To yourself, respect.
-Oren Arnold.
May you have a warm and lovely holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soba Noodles Tossed with Veggie Chicken

Mondays I roast a chicken.  That means we have left over chicken for a few days.  Inspiration hit and I tossed the leftover chicken with cilantro, diced tomatoes, and soy sauce and served it along side soba noodles.  The end result was fantastic!

No recipe.  No list of ingredients to purchase.  Just simple food tossed together using what was on hand.  Cannot get much better than that during this hectic time of the year.  Not only was the meal tasty, it maximized the food we had in our fridge.  I cannot express how much I detest tossing out food that spoiled before we had an opportunity to eat it.  It is the same as tossing money in the trash.

How about you?   What are some simple favorites you've cooked up lately?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Frugal Celebration of the Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!  December 21st marks the shortest day of the year, the longest night, and the return of the light.  Starting tomorrow our amount of daylight will continue to increase until we hit June 21st, the Summer Solstice.

The Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice are special holidays in our home.  Why?  It started on December 21, 2005, when my husband proposed, asking me to marry him that following June 21st.  Plus, we find it a great way to decrease the craziness associated with Christmas.

Here are a few frugal ideas on enjoying this magical day:

  • embrace nature -- go for a walk, bike ride, hike, sled down a hill, or simply sit and watch the birds;
  • enjoy light -- whether it is a candle, a fireplace, or an outdoor bonfire;
  • prepare simple food -- soups, breads, and fall harvest options (squash, cranberries, corn).  I found a tempting recipe on-line for a Winter Solstice Soup.  I will be giving it a try this year.
Photo credit: - free image
How about you -- what frugal thoughts do you have for celebrating the Winter Solstice?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Google Docs Rocks!

Last week I gave a webinar about how non-profits can make charitable giving easier for members (when not blogging about living frugally or parenting, I am an estate planning and probate attorney).  The hosting organization asked me to provide a "power point".  Hmmmm, I do lots of seminars, but never use Power Point or any slides (called foils these days).  Instead I have hand out and simply talk with the audience.  But, this was via the web with people from all of the country.  A presentation format was needed.

My husband, a tech aficionado, recommended I look into Google Docs. I did and I was amazed.  The software was free, easy to use, and contained a pool from which to select images.  It came together amazingly fast.  I will certainly use it again.

One downside was that it was on the cloud, and when my internet connection suffered a meltdown at the beginning of my presentation, my slides went with it.  Thankfully I had saved them as a PDF and sent the to the coordinator.  All in all I was happy with the program, and delighted I didn't have to buy Power Point.  If you give presentations, Google Docs is worth a closer look.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Recycle Holiday Lights and Cords

I was delighted to learn that my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin has implemented a program to recycle holiday lights and extension cords. Sadly, it is only available for residents of Madison (be prepared to show proof of residency). Drop off bins are available through January 13, 2012. There is no limit on the number that can be dropped off. It is recommended that string with large bulbs have the bulbs removed. Drop offs are at 1501 W. Badger Road and 4602 Sycamore Avenue.

What a great way to reduce clutter and avoid unnecessary items from ending up in landfills. Kudos City of Madison!

Photo credit: - free image

Friday, December 16, 2011

Frugal Holiday Cards

For three of my four years of undergrad, I worked for a chain of Hallmark stores to put myself through school. Ever since, I have had a strong fondness for greeting cards -- especially holiday cards.

This year we are trying a new approach to holiday greetings -- a frugal one. We are making our own cards. At least we are making some of our own cards. When the primary artist is a 3 year old, production cannot be guaranteed. So, each afternoon he is tackling a few cards. The gap will be filled by ordering some photo cards from Woodmans (a local warehouse grocery store). The cost per card is $0.30 -- a very low price.

To make our own cards I went to a local craft store and bought two packs of blank greeting cards (70 in total), envelopes included. I also picked up some holiday stickers, rubber stamps, ink, and acrylic paint. The total cost was $34.00. Combined with craft supplies we already have, my son (aka artist in residence) is well equipped to unleash his creativity.

My frugality went into overdrive as we set up for the first time. I now have a new use for the leftover baby food jars. The jar itself is the right size for water to clean the brushes. And the lids are ideal for holding small amounts of paint.

The end product so far has been very creative and fun, for mom and son. I look forward to my daughter joining the effort next year. He contribution has been somewhat limited because she prefers to chew the crayon rather than color. Paint brushes are not even an option at this point!

These cards are adorned with towel paper used to clean paint brushes, fastened with snowflake stickers. No waste at this craft table!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Being Frugal During Winter Heating Season

Winter officially arrives on December 21st, but when you live in Wisconsin the word furnace starts popping up in sentences by late October or early November. At our home, a frugal home, we keep the thermostat set at 62 degrees. Yes, that is 62, not 72. This was the temperature we used when both our children were infants. When our son was born in 2008 I heard several people say, "oh, now that you have a baby you'll have to raise the set temperature." Being an anxious new mother, I asked our pediatrician. Her response -- "babies live all over the world in all sorts of temperatures and are fine. Your son will be fine with the temperature your family sets.: And he was -- just like his father, he is warm all of the time....especially at night. Our daughter who joined us in 2010 is just the same. So we are living proof that families with young children can survive a Wisconsin winter without running the furnace non-stop. Here are a few tips for enjoying a home when the furnace is set at 62 degrees:
  • dress as though it were winter -- oh wait, it is! T-shirts are covered with sweet shirts or sweaters. Socks and slippers are worn (by me -- the kids opt to go barefoot on our hardwood floors) while inside;
  • pull out the throws. You'll find a few festive blankets in the living room. When we curl up to read stories, a blanket helps keep us warm;
  • let the sun shine in -- open your drapes or blinds and let Mother Nature give you some solar warmth during the day;
  • enjoy winter beverages (coffee, tea, hot cocoa, Bailey's Irish Cream.....);
  • close vents in rooms or areas you do not use regularly. We have the vents closed in our finished basement because we are not down there enough to justify the cost; and
  • use space heaters. We have three; one in each bathroom and a third in my home office. The cost of each heater was approximately $17. There is no need for the bathrooms to be a toasty 70 degrees all the time. When needed, it is turned on to make showers more comfortable. As for my office, it is our finished basement. I use it two afternoons a week. There is no reason to open up the vents in the basement for this limited amount of time. I have a nice space heater at my feet. The savings from not heating the basement is huge!
We are frugal, but not crazy. When we have company we will turn the heat up because not everyone is comfortable at 62 degrees. How about you -- what temperature do you use to get through the winter?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fruitcake gifts....

We've entered the holiday season, and with it comes the well intended, but not quite right gift. The question arises, what to do with it? At Thanksgiving I was given a Starbucks mug with one of their new instant coffees. It was sweet of the giftor to bring the mug; it was a hostess gift for me having prepared the meal. However, the last thing I need is another mug and instant coffee is not something I enjoy. Being who I am, I thought "oh, I'll exchange this for a bag of a dark roast coffee!". Then I went to Starbucks.

Granted, I did not have a receipt, but I was greeted with anything but the holiday spirit. There was no question it was their product -- they had nearly a 100 displayed on the shelf surrounding the register. I explained that it was given as a gift and I wondered if I could exchange it for a bag of coffee. The price was $13.65. The clerk (or are they all a barista?) said -- "no receipt, no exchanges, what do you want to order?" Not said with a smile. Not a sorry, store policy prevents me from exchanging this. Just a blunt "no, now what do you want to buy". I asked again saying I would hate for it to go to waste. To which the response was "well, re-gift it.".

Re-gift it? I didn't want to get into a discussion of how my family avoids the whole gift giving exchange just because the calendar says it is late December and Madison Avenue executives have an agenda. His statement seems to sum up holiday giving in America these days. Buy crap no one wants or needs, and if you are against keeping the crap, pass it along to someone else. I tucked the mug in my bag, headed for the door and asked myself "who do I know who would enjoy this". No one came to mind. It then sat on the chest freezer in the garage for a week.

On my next trip to Target I noticed that they too were swimming in the mugs. Hmmm, would they take it back? It was worth a try. And they did! The clerk looked at my driver's license (not quite sure why) and gave me a store credit. There was nothing special we needed from Target, so I just applied it to our weekly purchases. The mug is now back on a shelf, waiting to be gifted, and if Starbucks has its way, re-gifted.

So -- was I too frugal? Too practical? Am I obligated to keep this type of gift? If you think so, why? This is hot button issue in our extended family. Grudges have been formed from past acts. So much for happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wisconsin State Parks - Free Hike January 1, 2012

If you are looking to start the new year out on a frugal foot, look no further. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has announced it's First Day Hikes initiative. On January 1, 2012, admission to selected Wisconsin State Parks will be FREE. What a wonderful way to enjoy the natural beauty of Wisconsin, work off some of the holiday food, and not spend a penny (unless you count gas). Volunteers and staff will be on hand to lead guided 1 to 2 mile hikes of varying ability. Learn more on their web site!

Thanks to my loyal reader and friend, Elizabeth, for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Salvaging a Cheap Toy

For regular readers, you may remember that last Friday I mentioned that one of the items I picked up for 40% off at the Henry Vilas Zoo was a train. My son is 3, and obsessed with trains (and a few other things). He saw it dangling on the wall and had to have it. Slightly distracted by being in a gift shop with a double stroller, a 3 year old and 1 year old I agreed to the purchase even though I had my doubts. The train was originally $10, but with the discount came down to $6. That was worth the price to avoid complete meltdown of a child who could not understand that this toy was highly unlikely to work with his wooden Nuchi train set. Being frugal also focuses on the wise expenditure of time. That translates into me picking and choosing which fights to take on. A $6 train did not rank high enough to "discuss" this in public.

Once home the train was removed from its package and the disappointment quickly set in. No, it would not fit on his Nuchi train set. He was okay with this because the box included not only an engine but two box cars, its own track, and a few sign posts. We decided he would have a mini-train set. Then we discovered just how cheap this toy was. The cars would not stay hooked together. The cars would not stay on the track. The track would not stay connected. The signs were way too small to exist in a home with a 1 year old sister. The only thing of value appeared to be the battery that came in the box. Did I mention the train claims to be musical?

Most people would have tossed the train the moment the child's back was turned. My son not only has an obsession with trains, but a very good memory. Plus, I hate tossing money into the trash. This thing wasn't 2 hours old! Something must be done with it. Then inspiration hit. Let's add some ornament hooks to the engine and box cars and put them on the tree! My son was delighted. He had taken charge of putting decorations on the tree this year. Not only did he hang the ornaments from the box, but supplemented with a toy harmonica, a discarded sock, cat toys, and now a cheap plastic train from a gift store.

Remember what I said about choosing battles wisely? This year I have delegated the tree to my son, and unleashed untapped creativity. I have no opinion on what should or should not be on the tree. I sit back and admire his selections, and often think I know how Frank Lloyd Wrights' mother may have felt when he was a toddler. My son is a short Unitarian with a flare for design and an eye for the ladies. All he needs is a cape! He also has a frugal mom who stretches the family budget so that we can one day pay for college...which may or may not focus on architecture.

How about you - have you transformed a holiday item or gift to give it new life? Share your ideas and stories.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How to be Frugal for the Holidays

So you are frugal, or you are trying to be. Then along comes December and you are blasted with advertisements. A billboard along the highway in Madison suggests buying a loved on a remote car starter. Facebook posts mention the arrival of fruit cakes in the mail. Stores are open earlier and stay open later than ever. So, what would the frugal do?

In our house we opt to give 90% of our holiday budget to charities. Usually 3 or 4 charities receive a check this time of year. With the rest we buy a few small gifts for the kids. It is not an extravaganza at our house on December 25th. But the spirit of giving is in the air.

Giving to charity at the holidays is frugal in many respects:
  1. Writing a check requires no gift wrap, packing, or extra postage;
  2. Charitable donations are an itemized deduction on 2011 taxes;
  3. There is no time wasted looking for parking at the mall;
  4. We don't have to hire a sitter for the kids to go shopping; and
  5. Giving our money to charities forces us to come up with non-consumption ways to tell loved ones we care about them.
And if you are in an ultra frugal mood, you can maximize your donations. I did this past week after seeing an announcement that if I gave a donation to the Henry Vilas Zoo I would receive 40% off in the gift shop. Perfect! It was the first charity on our list this year (we get a lot of value from our local, FREE zoo). Plus, I had hoped to find a few items for the kid's holidays. So we bundled up and headed to the zoo. After taking in the lions, alpaca, and reptiles we headed to the gift shop. I wrote a check and then received 40% off our items: a drum, ornament, and train. In addition, the donation level we gave at included 15 passes for the train and carousel next Spring; that is an additional $15 in savings.

If you opt to give to charities, keep an eye out for ways to maximize your donation! Happy holidays.

Photo credit - image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2009.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Office Depot Rewards

My quarterly rewards check arrived from Office Depot; $74.63. Yes, nearly a hundred dollars as a thank you for using their store for my office supply and copy needs. I've tucked it away, waiting for a pack coupons to arrive before making my next trek up the block to the nearest location. Rewards shopping, I love those programs for the most part. If a store has good service and product, I am likely to return. What more could I ask for than discounts off of those future purchases. Keep your eyes out for shopping rewards, they are popping up everywhere. I have them for office supplies, coffee, Goodwill, shoes, and an Indian restaurant for its lunch buffet.

Photo credit: - free image.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alternative Christmas / Holiday / Solstice Trees

When I first started my legal practice I worked from home. Not a home office, but home. I set up my desk, computer and books in a corner of our 750 square foot apartment. For client meetings, I went to the client. Yes, I was a lawyer who made house calls. As my practice has grown and become more established, I now rent a small space near our home. It is there meet clients (although I will still make house calls when needed).

There are a few things I miss about those visits to clients' homes. One, the clients with dogs. I grew up with dogs, but have none in my current life. A dog fix was wonderful. I also enjoyed glimpsing how other people lived. Home decorations, gardens, etc....One couple stands out in my memory.

Both academics with jobs on the UW-Madison campus. A small home within walking, bus, or biking distance of campus. They'd raised two kids being a one car family. It was about this time of year that I visited them, and upon entering the house I saw the most amazing Christmas, or Holiday, or Solstice Tree (call it what you like) in the living room. I was too frugal to have a phone with a camera back then, otherwise I'd post a photo. Using rolls of toilet paper and holiday lights, the family had constructed the most utilitarian tree you can imagine. Quickly I came to learn their story.

Years ago, when their children were small they vacationed to Mexico over the Christmas holiday. Wanting a touch of Christmas they fashioned several wire coat hangers together, added some lights, and had the first in a line of alternative Christmas trees. Over the years trees were formed from used water bottles, shingles from a roofing job on their home, and that year rolls of toilet paper. The plan was to take the tree down after the holiday and divide up the presents. I was not surprised to learn that both children had grown up and entered "creative professions". One a writer, the other graphic design.

So, if you are looking to save money, walk lightly on the earth, and instill creativity into the next generation I challenge you to take the same path as my former clients.

Photo credit: - free image.

Toddler Home Haircut, Take 2

A few weeks ago my son, who is 3, decided that it was an okay time to make a trip to Cost Cutters for a trim. He had been holding off because he wanted his hair to grow long like Mama's. After outfitting two kids (one 3, the other 1) for an outdoor trip we arrived at the store down the road. Upon entering we were told there was a 20 minute wait...even though there was no one else waiting. Apparently Cost Cutters, at least this location, prefers call-in appointments. In the past it had always been a walk-in for us. Waiting 20 minutes with my two kids in a warm store was not an option. We buckled back into car seats and moved on with our day; a lovely walk along the lakeshore path. And decided, enough is enough, I am going to cut my son's hair at home!

I already cut my husband's hair, so it was time for me to master a toddler cut. Motivated less by money (approximately $150 a year) and more by convenience, it was time. Then we waited. My son was again resistant to a cut. I've learned not to push an agenda, we'll just end up in a tug-of-war. Then this weekend, in the middle of a Packer game, he decided, sure, Mama can cut my hair.

Again, my do-it-yourselfer turned to Google. There I found a YouTube video on home hair cuts for toddler boys. Nothing other than the fact it was the first at the top of my Google search makes it special. I watched it (approximately 3 minutes) and went into action.

Scissors, comb, water, towel, computer set to Amazon Prime for an episode of Dinosaur Train, a treat of roasted soy nuts (not the lollipop that video lady recommends) and we were set. Ten minutes later his hair was trimmed. Would I win hairstylist of the year award for this cut? Probably not, but calling Fords Modeling agency is not on my to-do list. It works, it is function, no fits were thrown. That is a success in my book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frugal Francophile and Coupons

Over the weekend I went to the high-end grocery store at the high-end mall here in Madison; Metcalf Sentry at Hilldale. Shopping with classical music in the air and a tasty cafe au lait in hand is decadent, at least in my frugal mind. Weekly I undergo a debate in my mind. One side says to save every penny and shop at Woodmans, the huge warehouse grocery. Quality is not as good, finding things in stock is hit or miss, but it is cheap. Another side says that convenience and quality are more important. Saving 30 cents on eggs is not going to make or break my budget. Living frugally does not mean doing everything based on the cheapest selection. This week that later argument won out, and I was at Hilldale.

At the check out I noticed I was stuck between two very different types of shoppers. The couple in front of me bantered back in forth in French. Ah, French. My ear adores the language and it quickly brought to mind my travels in France in the mid-1990s. Their cart screamed for french cuisine. Several bottles of wine, greens, fresh fish from the seafood section, a $5.25 loaf of whole grain bread, and yogurts. Looking at their purchases, part of me longed to live more like the French. Then I looked behind me. There stood a women, mid-40s. Cart overflowing with frozen pizzas, soda, chips, and granola bars. Without a doubt an American. Then I glanced at my cart: frozen spinach, fruits, cottage cheese, eggs, milk, and quite a bit of meat. Okay, it looked more like the French people than the American lady, so I felt better about our eating habits.

As I paid and walked towards my car I decided my new year's resolution would be to work closer to eating like the French. Not easy when half our household consists of toddlers. But there are toddlers in France, what do they eat? Even if my kids prefer bagels, peanut butter, and cheese, my husband and I can certainly set an example of eating quality meals. So, if you are going to go the way of the French that means saying good-bye to most if not all processed foods. Which also means that the Sunday newspaper coupons will be on little or no use to you. That is except for the coupons this past Sunday. There, nestled between the Toys-R-Us ads and the sports section I founds several great saves:
  • $0.40 off of baker's yeast;
  • $1.00 off of spices; and
  • $0.75 or $0.45 off of "cuties" clementines.
Yes, a coupon off of fruit!!!! Now I just have to decide whether to shop on a Wednesday for double coupon day at Sentry or make a trek to Woodmans and save on their already low prices.

Photo credit: - free image.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: How to bury a goldfish and other ceremonies and celebrations for everyday life

Do you ever find yourself wondering how to address a life event, but come up with nothing so you send flowers, fruit, or some other random item off the web? If so, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of a delightful book -- How To Bury A Goldfish: and other ceremonies and celebrations for everyday life.

Written by Virginia Lang and Louise Nayer, it is a compact book organized into 7 chapters. Topics chapters address: Everyday; Beginnings; Fabulous Firsts, Red-Letter Days; Transitions; Loss; and Holidays. Sprinkled throughout the recommendations for ways to honor and celebrate life's events are concepts found in Quaker and Unitarian Universalist traditions.

Suggestions that caught my frugal eye included:
  • creating, updating, and revisiting an annual family time capsule on New Years Eve;
  • putting a small, felt heart in a small child's pocket -- it will be with them while you are away at work;
  • designate a story-telling stool in your home; and
  • finding a harvest calendar for your region to follow in meal preparation throughout the year.
This book will help anyone who is looking to slow down, dig deeper, and find meaning in ritual and not an item at the mall. It can be purchased for mere pennies on the internet; I've added it to my permanent reference book shelf (as an Amazon Prime member it was mine, no shipping, for $4).

Friday, December 2, 2011

How to Measure a Toddler's Foot?

Okay, I have to admit that one reason I take my kids to the pricey shoe store at the upscale mall is that they measure my kids' feet. This "service" is not as common as it used to be. Stores like Target and Kohls don't have staff on hand, nor have I seen those little scales that the sales people whip out at the high-end store.

But, there is Google. Ah, how the frugal love Google. A Mecca for do-it-yourselfers. With a quick search I found a printable foot chart. It even has a key at the bottom; compare it to a credit card to make sure it printed to scale. I plan to have mine laminated so that it is more robust. Attempting to measure my daughter's foot is a challenge since she is only 17 months old and in constant motion. But, it is a skill I plan to master. Now I can shop on-line or pick items up that are on clearance. For 3 years I lived in a fog, not having a clear sense of my chidrens' shoe sizes. I'll blame it on sleep deprivation.

How about you? What have you used Google to find resources that you once paid for?

Photo credit: - free image

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Frugal Tips for Great Holiday Photos

It is that time of year, time for holiday photos. Photography has been a hobby of mine for the past 15 years or so. These days I don't have as much time for it as I would like, but I still enjoy capturing images when I have the chance. As a result of my fondness for photography, we have rarely paid for professional images of our children. Since getting married I have paid a photographer for pictures of our "wedding proceeding" (it was a planned elopement with no guests, but they knew what we were doing), new born photos of our son, and new born photos of our daughter. The rest have been my own. And I usually get some positive feedback. So, if you want to share the smiling faces of your children, your pets, or your life, keep the following seven pointers in mind

One: If you have an SLR camera, set the aperture for 5.8 -- this is the setting commonly used by photo journalists. Your subject will be in focus and the background blurred.

Two: Start cropping in the field. Frame your shot, then before pressing the shutter, check all 4 corners for things you don't want in the photo (drink glasses, your finger, a branch, a trash can, etc). Re-adjust to crop it out of the frame. Here is photo of my daughter from the summer. You can't tell that we were at a water park swarming with other kids because I cropped in the field. No cropping was done later.

Three: Shoot and shoot some more. If a professional photographer is able to use 5% - 10% of what they shoot, they are happy. With the era of digital, this is much easier.

Four: See the light -- looking for light as it casts upon the subject at an angle. Taking a photo at noon in the summer is not ideal, the light will be flat. In this photo you can see the sunlight on my daughter's face. The photo would not have worked as well if she were back in the shadows.

Five: If an image has lots of color, use color. If you want to hide color (i.e. red skin, bad color, etc). opt for black and white. Recognize that black and white photos work well when there are lots of lines and contrast in the frame, color is not important.

Six: Get to the level of what you are shooting -- whether it is kids, pets, or flowers, bend down and get to their level. You'll have fantastic improvement in your images. My daughter was seated on a bench. Had I stood and taken this photo her scalp would have been far too prominent. Bend and look your subject in the eye.

Seven: Don't center everything. Have a subject off to the side gives a sense of motion and feeling. Another photo taken, this time of my son, at the water park. It was his 3rd birthday, and it seems express a young boy looking ahead....he was really watching the splash park equipment.