Thursday, May 31, 2012

Frugal Summer Lodging Options



Do you enjoy spending time in nature, but are not quite up for full force bonding with nature via camping?  If so, you are like my little family.  We love the idea of spending our days and evenings on hiking travels, but want something more than a tent and sleeping bag to return "home" to when our exploration ends.  And recently I read through a book that combines great nature with rustic like accommodations.

The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges by David L. Scott and Kay W. Scott is an easy to read resource, full of information and photos on the various lodges nestled in our National Parks.  From Alaska to the US Virgin Islands, they have descriptions as well as prices.  Sure, it is more than camping, but far less than a traditional hotel.   Prices range, but you can find rustic cabins for less than $100 a night.

National Parks are not on the agenda for our summer travel this year, but when they are, this book will be one I turn to for trip planning.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Frugal Coffee Habits

Image credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

Nothing beats the aroma of coffee brewing in the morning.  I love my coffee, probably a bit too much.  If you are like me and enjoy your cup of joe (or pot), here are a few tips on how to make the most of your coffee expenditures.

  • brew at home, the cost per cup is far less expensive (this varies depending on the coffee you buy);
  • during the summer months pour coffee that was unused into a class or metal container and put it in the fridge.  Add to ice and you have yummy iced coffee;
  • if you need a bit of milk to cut the bitterness, use a smidge of whole or half & half.   A little goes far further than skim and saves resources;
  • consider sweetening with almond or soy milk, again much less expensive than cows milk;
  • keep the used grounds to add to your compost pile or give to someone who does compost; and
  • if you are drinking away from home bring your own cup -- usually you'll save $0.25 or so.
Enjoy, and share any tips I have yet to uncover!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Frugal Living and Farmers' Markets

It's Tuesday, but I am still starting my week of Frugal posts with reflections on the local farmers' market.  Over the weekend I finished the book Culinary Intelligence by Peter Kaminsky.  I will have more to say about that book in a later post, but I can say that reading his book motivated more than ever to shop local.  So, in the fairly heavy rain I set off for the Westside Community Market (due to the rain, I left my camera at home).

Saturday evening we had a guest coming for dinner, and it was all inspired by the market.  Green salad with garlic scapes, asparagus, and hot house tomatoes.  Frittata with scallions, mushrooms and asparagus.  Italian pork bratwurst from a farm in Watertown.  And for dessert pumpkin bread (using last years stash of pie pumpkin) with fresh whipped cream, chopped almonds, and dried cranberries.  Oh, and I picked up a pint of strawberries.  Another market buy was yogurt from Sugar River Dairy.

Given the pace of a holiday weekend, I put nothing away in the freezer.  But after eating those strawberries I promise you that I am going to purchase more, freeze them, and from now on just eat those that are local.  Small, but do they pack a flavorful punch. Nothing like the jumbo sized watery ones you find in the store off-season.  And that concept is the main one I took from Kaminsky book.  Eat things with intense flavor.  You'll be satisfied and not feel the need to add little extras, like salt, sugar and fat.

The dinner guest is also quite the gardener and help me identify numerous rhubarb plants in our yard as well as chive and mint!  I hope to harvest some and freeze it, straight from my own back yard.

Welcome to summer, one I hope to spend walking and biking to local markets and grocers.  I can't travel to Europe this summer, so I plan to life like a European as much as possible.  Suggestions are welcome!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Observed

Image credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

It's Memorial Day, and I am spending the day with my family, remembering those who have and do defend our democracy, and feeding the goats at Henry Vilas Zoo.  It's a tradition for us, and a frugal one because Madison offers a FREE zoo.

Image taken by author, M. Gustafson Gervasi, May 2011

Enjoy your day, and I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts on the upside of frugal living.



Friday, May 25, 2012

Guest Post: Frugal Kitchen Efficiency Upgrades

As we head into the long holiday weekend, I am ending the week with a guest post written by my better half.  Upon hearing this story from his friend in Florida, he knew it would make a great story for Frugal Upside.  I love the fact that it saves money, reduces energy use, and does not involve having to purchase "new" products.  

Guest Post: Frugal Kitchen Efficiency Upgrades
by Charles Gervasi


A  friend of mine just replaced his old refrigerator in a very frugal way. He started with a 29 year-old 14 cu ft Hotpoint. He wanted to upgrade to a larger model. He found a 17 cu ft Frigidaire on Craigslist for $250. The seller accepted $225 in cash. He sold the old refigerator for $100, so the net cost of the upgrade was $125.

He used a Ryobi power meter to measure the power consumption of the old refrigerator and the new one. Some libraries lend power meters like this for free. The old refrigerator used 140 kWh of power per month, while the new one uses 31 kWh per month. Don't let the kWh units scare you. Kilowatt-hours (kWhs) are a measure of energy, like gallons or liters are measures of gasoline. My electric company charges $0.14 per kWh. So if I upgraded to an appliance that used 100 kWh less per month, it would save $14 per month. Assuming my friend pays a similar amount, he will have recouped the cost of the refrigerator upgrade in well under a year.

Image taken by Florida Friend - Out with the old, in the the not quite new!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What I've Been Reading: 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker



On a recent trip to the library to pick up my holds, I discovered that 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley was waiting for me.  I had requested it awhile back and was eager to review her suggestions.  The cover looked so promising, and then I dived in.

Maybe it's just me, but I didn't give one single recipe a try.  Simple is probably not an adjective I would use to describe her suggestions.  Slow cookers are usually easy, but if the ingredient list exceeds 5 or 7 items I would omit the word easy.  Maybe if it were the dead of winter these would be more appealing, some sound interesting:

  • chickpea soup arrabbiata;
  • countrywild rice soup; and 
  • cuban black bean and sweet potato soup.
One did catch my attention for summer time, although "soup" seems like an odd name.  The recipe is listed as Swedish Rhubarb Raspberry Soup, however, the description attributes it to norwegians.  Little details like that, especially in recipes, bother me.  If the plants in my backyard are indeed confirmed as rhubarb by a friend who is visiting this weekend (they look like it to me, but I want a second opinion from a gardener before feeding them to my family), I'll be giving it a try.

All in all, I'm glad this was a free library read.  Interesting, but certainly not one for my bookshelf.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Free Admission Wisconsin State Parks

Wisconsin has countless attractions for its residents or those from who find themselves here for business or recreation.  At the top of the attractions list one should find "state parks"; according to the DNR web site Wisconsin offers the following parks and other areas:


  • 47 State Parks 
  • 13 State Forests 
  • 76 State Wildlife Areas
  • 23 State Wildlife Management Areas 
  • 2 State Wildlife Refuges 
  • 31 State Fishery Areas; and
  • 5 State Fish Hatcherys
Usually entry fees are required, the annual sticker for a Wisconsin resident is $25 (less if you are over 65) and $35 for non-Wisconsin residents.  Day passes are $7 for residents and $10 for non-residents.  However, the first Saturday in June is an Open House for Wisconsin State Parks, which coincides with National Trials Day; all fees for Wisconsin State owned properties are waived for the day.  For 2012, that means there is no fee to enter Wisconsin State Parks (and other properties) on Saturday, June 2nd.  This allows overlaps with Wisconsin's free fishing weekend; no license is needed to fish on June 2nd and 3rd.

I noticed that this information was not easy to find; it is buried at the bottom of the DNR web page, under fee waivers.  Close reading is needed.  I hope this post made it a bit easier for people to visit this wonderful places.    We purchase an annual sticker, so no savings for us, but I hope it will help others.  Share your story if you take advantage of the open house!



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Frugal Cities

How would you go about identifying the most frugal cities in the US?  One study did so based on couponing.  That would not have been my first choice.

Last week a news story hit listing the 10 most "frugal" cities in the US.  Do you agree:
  • Houston
  • Chicago
  • San Antonio
  • Columbus
  • Indianapolis
  • New York
  • Miami
  • Dallas
  • Jacksonville
  • Las Vegas
If I had been asked to develop criteria for what makes a city frugal, it would not be the frequency of coupon use of its residents.  That just tells me that the shoppers there like to save money, and use those nifty new apps on Smart Phones.  Here are a few ideas I'd offer for ranking truly frugal cities and its inhabitants, they would include:
  • excellent public transportation that is used at a high rate by locals (which is low-cost);
  • plentiful bike lanes and routes that are well funded and traveled (inexpensive way to commute);
  • quality public schools (avoid the cost of private education);
  •  local farmers, frequency, and use (buy directly, or near direct, from the source);
  • low average cost of housing (price per square foot);
  • numerous credit unions  (which offer lower cost banking services); and
  • density of thrift and second hand stores.
Funny, based on that I think my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin would crack the top 10 if not lead the pack.  What about you -- how would you define a frugal city?


Image taken by author, Melinda Gustafson Gervasi, at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison -- a FREE zoo.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Farmers' Market Report

Welcome back to another week of frugal thoughts.  This past weekend I paid an early morning visit to the DOT market, so early some vendors were just setting up.  I was there without my kids (who were still sleeping) and made some quick purchases before returning home for a day of kid adventures.  Those frugal finds included:

Image credit:   www.sxc.hu - free image (author had a very full Saturday, so full my camera was never taken out at all)

  • $2 for a perennial chive plant.  Potted, it should yield produce for years;
  • $3.50 for a cilantro plant.  Not nearly as long lived as the chive, my hope it is start cutting within in one week of being transplanted to the pot and it should produce until July.  By that time I hope the seeds we planted will have sprung to life;
  • $4 for two huge leeks.  Chopped and bagged in small amounts, they will bring a hint of onion to and endless count of soups and egg dishes this winter;
  • $6 for a bag of spinach, another of lettuce and a handful of Swiss chard.  Some will be tossed into salads and eaten now, other diced steamed and frozen for winter; 
  • $3 for yet another bunch of asparagus.  I love chopping it up and tossing it with scrambled eggs; and
  • $5.50 for a pound of ground beef (steer, 100% grass fed, from a farm that is a 1 hour drive from my home).  It was $0.50 less than my normal source, Woodmans.
My devotion to farmers' market shopping has recently been reinforced by reading the book Culinary Intelligence: the art of eating health (and really well) by Peter Kaminsky.  I'll post more on the book once I finish it, but I can say that it has reminded me how fortunate I am to live in the middle of the Midwest.  Surrounded by fresh produce, dairy and meat products (that are usually organic) I feel blessed and compelled to turn them into my primary shopping for the season.  Doing so while feeding a nearly 4 and nearly 2 year old may be a challenge, but one I'm embracing this summer.  If you are in the Madison area and need to locate a market or even a farm, take a look at the REAP Food Group web site; a friend shared a link on facebook when I posted a query for a Friday evening market.  She found one, in Cambridge, that starts in June.  I hope to make that a more regular trip next month.






Friday, May 18, 2012

Homemade Hummingbird Solution

Birds!  We cannot get enough of them at our house.  The backyard currently features two feeders and two bird houses.  Living just around the corner from a small stream and huge urban park / woodlands, we have birds.  Even a hawk that graces our backyard.

And with each visit and new species spotted, we are eager for more.  Our latest acquisition is a hummingbird feeder.  I found it for $8 at the local hardware store.  Yes, I know you can build them yourself, but that takes time and skill, and I'm running short on those these days.  So $8 was handed over, and I brought the box home for the kids.

Image Credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

The nectar however is not something I bought.  A little research and I learned to boil 4 cups of water and then add 1 cup of sugar.  Let cool and add to the feeder.  Wash once or twice a week and put it in a shady spot to discourage bacterial growth.  No honey, no coloring needed.  Just water and sugar.  That I can handle.

And now we wait for those little delights to find the nectar.  The feeder is in the front of our house, attached to the kitchen window.  My plan is to convert much of the front yard to flower beds in the years to come.  We can enjoy our meals inside, and hopefully watch the various feathered friends enjoy a meal in our yard.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Frugal Dogs

If you're frugal, you likely have a well-worn library card.  Why?  You can check out endless books for no cost, of a small cost if you generate late fees.  And we are a frugal, library loving family, so much so the volunteer in the childrens' section commented on being happy to watch my children grow.  And on one of our recent trips, we picked up a great photo book, Shelter Puppies by Michael Kloth.  My almost 2 year old daughter loves all animals, but dogs top her list.  The book was a must get, and offers delightful images of some of the cutest dogs I've seen in recent years.  Winston became a fast favorite of ours.



So why is this worthy of a blog post?  It's Spring.  It is puppy season for many families, and I highly encourage you to give serious consideration to adopting a puppy, or more mature dog, from a shelter or animal rescue.  Growing up all of our family dogs came from the "pound" and one was a stray we took in.  Years of loving companionship followed.  And no one forked over hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a dog.

Yes, according to this Forbes article, a pure bred dog can run you between $500 and $3,000.  The article devotes its time to discussing the benefits of high-end breeders over backyard breeders; you'll save more in the long run if you pay for a quality dog and avoid an animal that needs double hip surgery because of poor breeding.

If you want a four legged companion, one who slobbers and scrambles to the door when you return home, check out your local shelter.  Sure, there will be dogs that don't fit into your life (a.k.a. the pit bull), but there are countless others that need a loving home.  This point is driven home by the endearing photos in Kloth's book.  Other frugal advantages:

  • the adoption fee is usually less than $100;
  • you may be able to pay no fee at all; and
  • mature dogs will likely be spayed or neutered, saving you over $100.

As for us, we are still a 2 cat home.  My husband is less than thrilled with the idea of a dog.  I adore them, and am waiting patiently until my daughter is older.  She'll want one, and I can already tell that my husband will grant her her wish.  All in good time, and I guarantee that little puppy will come via a shelter of the Dane County Humane Society.

Have you rescued a dog from a shelter?  Share your story, and help motivate others to do the same!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taking Frugal Too Far - A Painful Lesson

Frugal, I've defined it for you many times before, is the wise expenditure of time and money.  I live my life as frugally as I can, always seeking out wise ways to save money, and that ever so precious commodity known as time.  Sadly, one frugal attempt lead to the painful reminder that quality is an important factor in frugality.

Going cheap can have its down falls, and thus going cheap is not always frugal.  Case in point, name brand contact cleaner is worth every penny.....at least in my home.  I've been a contact wearer for nearly 2 decades now.  And a few years ago I learned that the eye discomfort I began having was caused by an allergy to the contact cleaner.  The answer was to switch to Clean and Clear; you wash the contact with solution and then but the contact in another chemical the bubbles and removes the residue.  After 12 hours the chemical morphs into simply saline, allowing a chemical free contact to go back into my eye.

After successfully making the switch to this bubbly process, it was time to restock.  I opted for the no-brand generic version.  For some reason I ignored the link between the brand switch and the return of eye/contact problems.  Distracted by life with two small children, my legal practice and my husband's growing business, I wrote it off.  And simply tossed the contacts far too soon.  Sanity returned and I asked the contact lens place about the change, and they told me that I am not the first to report problems with generic cleaner.

Once again I bought the name brand.  My contacts are now wearable, clean, and do not need to be tossed after one or two wears.  Frugal does not mean cheap, it means spending your money wisely, and in some cases that means paying more for quality.  Trust me!

Image Credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Inexpensive Nursery Decor Options

As of 2011, it was reported that the average cost of raising a child to age 18 (note, that does not include the cost of college) was just shy of $227,000 per child.  Nearly 50 percent of the cost was attributed to housing and food costs, which are hard to control.  But in my mind, every penny saved makes a difference.  Here is how our frugal household tried to keep that cost down when putting together the nursery for our infant daughter.

Image taken by author, done in an effort to share the room decor and to attempt to wake the baby in the crib - look closely, she's there.


  1. Use a general theme that picks itself for you.  Instead of deciding on ferries and then going shopping, go shopping and let the deals dictate the them.  My daughter's theme was butterflies, and was determined by the four Anne Gette's framed photos of babies and butterflies I found at Savers.  Total cost, $4.
  2. Mine the internet for lighting deals.  Soft lighting is a great feature of a child's room, and I found wonderful Japanese lantern lights on-line.  Total cost, less than $5 with shipping.  These lights (featured below) are easy to find, weight very little making shipping cheap (and free if you use Amazon Prime), come in an endless selection of colors, and will merge into a toddler room when needed.
  3. Reuse items from your pre-child life.  Adorning the one wall of my daughter's room is a print I bought many years ago while traveling in Paris.  It is cheerful and bright as well as a great conversation piece for those moment when we hang out on the floor and bond.
  4. Think beyond baby.  Believe it our not, soon your little bundle of joy will sit up, crawl, stand, speak, and before you know it request not to have your arm around their waist while riding the zoo carousel (as my almost 4 year old requested earlier this week).  Select items that will grow with your child.  When I opted for butterflies, I remember the butterfly wings sold at our zoo.  The cost was $25.  At the moment they serve as a great wall hanging.  In the future they will be removed, washed, and used for dress up and at least one Halloween costume.  The wings have arm bands can be worn.  From wall hanging to Halloween costume....great value.  Plus, the purchase helped our local, free zoo.
  5. Keep it simple.  The more you pack into that room, the more you'll have to pick up, organize, and mediate fights over (if a sibling is or will come into the picture).  Trust me, more is less is so many ways.
  6. Create your own mobile with a photo hanging mobile.  Ours is simple metal holder, with clips for photos.  Currently those clips hold little foam cut outs with butterfly stickers (created by my mom).  As we approach the end of her baby years it will be taken down, and can be used in her room to hold  photos or another part of our house where we want pictures.  Reuse, I love it!
Image taken by author: shown is butterfly hanging and France poster.

Did I miss a frugal method you used when setting up for baby?  Please share!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Freezer Report: Farmers' Market Finds

Once again my weekend agenda included a Sunday morning stop at our local farmers' market.  Living in the heart of the Midwest can sometimes lead to a lack of things, but amazing locally grown foods are not!  Still in Spring the pickings for freezer fare a bit short.  Determined to find something, I did.  And thanks to googling "how to freeze chives", I now have 9 packs of individual portions of chopped chives.  They'll be retrieved this winter to add a nice flavor to soups and eggs.

However, the primary focus of this past weeks farmers' market trek requires delayed freezer satisfaction.  We bought garden plants!  With two children still in diapers (which we hope to end this summer) and a part-time legal practice, I am not a backyard farmer.  But I do want to encourage my kids to eat healthy foods and spark their curiosity about bugs and plants.  Plus, the delight of eating a tomato plucked off a plant is pure joy.  To make it manageable, we have a container garden.  This year we have:

  • 3 types of tomatoes;
  • 2 pepper plants;
  • 1 cantaloupe; and
  • 1 summer squash.
  • I also added some cilantro seeds to a pot (not from the market).
If all goes well, later this summer we'll enjoy food off the vine and tuck some away in the freezer.  Our plan is to also install a water barrel next to the garden spot.  It should be a project we tackle in June.

Author's photo of 2012 container garden.  Pots were all reused from last year.  Purchases included: 3 bags of mulch ($12); plants ($20) and dirt ($8)

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Frugal" Should Not Be A Four-Letter Word!

Frugal should not be a four-letter word, but it is.  Admit it, if you read this blog chances are someone as called you frugal, and there was a hint of disdain in their voice.  And yesterday's guest blog post was written by a loyal reader who likes Frugal Upside because it makes her feel better about maximizing the utility of items.  Why should she feel bad about that?  Frugal is defined as "economical in use or expenditure".  How, you may wonder, is this a negative thing given the economy's desperate climb towards growth?  Here is how.

Stores want you to spend.  They want you to spend whether or not you should be spending.  A recent radio ad underscores this point.  Using Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, Kohl's Department stores runs an ad where the skier describes the thrill and rush of enjoyment that comes from ...... shopping at Kohl's.  The first time I heard that ad I turned my head in puzzlement;  ummmmm, not all women are shoppers!  Some actually experience that same thrill when executing a skill; practicing law, writing, farming, skiing.  Enough already!  Can we please stop with the "born to shop" stereotypes that consume the American female culture.  And my next point shows why I am not over reacting to the ad.


May 2nd I read a press release that seemed as though it belonged in The Onion, not the local paper.  Apparently our nation now has a debt inequality problem.    They lead off with "the rich are getting richer and everyone else is going deeper into debt trying to keep up!"  Stop trying to keep up America!  Take charge of your life; you can control the level of debt you take on.

And before you label me as anti-corporation, I will remind you that our retirement and college funds are invested in the market.  It is possible to live frugally, participate (to some degree) in corporate America, and not drown in debt.  How? keep reading my blog about the Upside of Frugal.  I'll be back Monday with my weekly Freezer report.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Post: Cutting Laundry Costs by Tamarine Cornelius

Today's frugal post is compliments of a loyal reader.  Thanks for the suggestion, and for challenging me on my frugal ways.  If you are a reader, feel free to submit a question or idea for a guest post.

Cutting Laundry Costs
by Tamarine Cornelius


I come from a long line of frugal women. My grandmother’s highest praise was to call someone “thrifty,” and my mother made us reuse dental floss several times before allowing us to throw it away.  Those frugal genes got passed down to me. That’s why I enjoy reading The Upside of Frugal  -- it gives me reinforcement that it’s okay to use a teabag 87 times before throwing it away. Maybe even 88 times if you squeeeeeze the teabag really hard.

So I was amazed that when a reference came up to hanging clothes on a clothesline to dry, Melinda dismissed the idea as “Amish.” Well! I put on my apron and hitched up the horses to come over to tell how wrong she was.  Turns out that Melinda actually does hang her clothes to dry, just prefers to do it inside because of allergies (clothes hung outside return with all sorts of allergens). But she kindly allowed me to sing the praises of the lowly clothesline on her blog.

Image credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

Hanging your clothes to dry saves money, plain and simple. I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and it turns out we save about $100 per year by hanging our clothes year round, either outside or in the basement. That may not seem like a lot, but it can pay for three family dinners at a restaurant.  We hang the vast majority of our laundry to dry and only use the clothes dryer a couple times a year. In fact, I’ve got a load in the washer right now that I’m going to hang to dry – right after I finish churning this butter.

Tamarine lets the ideal prevent the necessary at her Midwest Potato blog.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Frugal Kitchen Adds A Butter Keeper

Part motivation to spend less at the grocery and part desire to decrease the amount of foods I buy that are processed, I have recently added a "butter keeper" to our kitchen.  No longer do I need to buy "spreadable butter".  Whether it be the injection of nitrogen gas, manipulation of animal feed, or injecting vegetable oils - spreadable butter is processed.  And it costs more than plain old stick butter.  The problem -- it is nice to have soft butter for bread.  What to do?

My solution came from the French!  A butter keeper uses ancient food preservation techniques to keep butter soft, but not rancid.  I recently bought one on-line (using my Amazon Prime account and paid no shipping) for $11.95.  The process is simple.   Set a 1/2 stick of butter on the counter.  Once at room temperature smash it into the inverted cup.  Add 1/3 cup water to the canister.  Put the lit on and a seal keeps the butter at room temperature.

Here is a photo.  I'm holding the lid.  It is placed, downward facing, on the canister.  You can just make out the word butter, written in blue.

Image credit:   Author, M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012

Our only problem is that we keep our house so cold, the butter at room temperature is not that soft!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Frugal Clothes, An Art Form?

Recently I read an article by Chris Martell of the Wisconsin State Journal.  The title caught my attention, but was not what I expected.  Dressing, An Art Form highlighted the shopping habits of a local women who has spent 20 years building a wardrobe from thrift stores.  The bulk of the article focuses on the great finds Robin Pettersen has made over the years.  Name brands for very few dollars.  It also offers a few other tips on having an artistic wardrobe without breaking the bank:

  • buy basic colors and add fabric, scarves, or accessories; and
  • trade with frugal friends who wear the same size.
The last idea sounds ideal if you have a fancy event to attend, and do not usually attend fancy events.  Reading this article made me smile, I am not alone in my love of thrift.  I choose to frequent Goodwill, Savers, St. Vincent de Paul, and Hopsice Resale, it is not a necessity.  Not only do I save money, I give clothes a second life, keep my carbon footprint small, and am now raising two children who think it is normal to shop at thrift stores.  In terms of my favorite find, it was the dove gray Anne Taylor pant suit I found at the eastside Goodwill for $15.99.  It is now in circulation as it didn't fit quite right after having two kids.  What is your favorite thrift score?

Image credit:   www.sxc.hu - free image

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday's Freezer Report: A New Twist With Rhubarb

It's Monday again, and I'm back with my weekly freezer report.  Now that the farmers' markets are back in swing, my focus is on filling the chest freezer in our garage with tasty, locally grown fruits and veggies.  Normally I hit the market on Saturday, but this weekend I ran my first 5k since 2007, and I skipped the market.  Instead,  I took my kids (ages 3.5 and 1.5) to a small downtown market last Wednesday.  Here is my report.

Image credit: photo taken by author, Melinda Gustafson Gervasi, 2012.  I even reused the same image for my earlier post!

The selection was about the same as the previous week, and I was limited on what I could freeze.  In the end I picked up the same two items as last week; spinach and rhubarb.  My three bags of spinach were steamed for dinner, served with eggs and fresh baked bread.  The leftovers were frozen and put way until the snow flies.  

In my last report, I chopped up my rhubarb and froze it in 1 cup portions.  My plan is to pair it with strawberries for a cobble in the winter.  This week I opted to turn the rhubarb into compote.....something new.  I was inspired by this blog post, and followed the first recipe listed.  It is now tucked away until winter.  I'm looking forward to adding it to oatmeal on a cold winter morning!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Frugal Mother's Day Gifts

www.sxc.hu - free image

May 13th marks Mother's Day this year, and the ads for gifts have been running for at least two weeks.  As a mother I would hate for children and loved ones to buy gifts simply because the calendar says so.  This is doubling enforced if those children are struggling in a volatile economy.  There are plenty of ways to say "I love You" to your mom, grandma, mother figure, wife, or mom friend:


  • Perennial plants for her yard -- one plant can cost $10 or less.  If you can help her plant it, the gift is even greater!  I never understood while people plant annuals, which only have one season of life.  Perennials will come back year after year.  Give her one each year to mark her career as a mom;
  • Photos of flowers -- if you don't live nearby, take photos of flowers she likes.  Frame them in simply plastic box frames, and she can display them in her home.  I did this with the Cherry Blossoms when I lived in Washington, D.C. and was thousands of miles from home;
  • Family photos -- take a current or old favorite and put it in a frame.  Thrift stores have a great selection of frames, some are tacky, but others can be a lot of fun;
  • Give the gift of time.  If the mom has young children, give her and her spouse a break for dinner or a walk and don't accept payment.  If the children are grown, return home for Sunday Dinner.  It is a guaranteed way to put a smile on her face, and a tear in her eye if you bring or make dinner yourself;
  • Donate in her name to a cause that is dear to her heart;
  • Purchase a small item from an organization that she supports (coffee from environmental groups, pink golf or tennis balls, etc.);
  • a single rose -- simplicity goes oh so far; and
  • a homemade card that shows you took time to think of her.
There are tons more ideas, but these are my favorite.  What's yours?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Frugal Cinco De Mayo

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This weekend marks May 5th, otherwise known as Cinco de Mayo.  The holiday marks the 1862 victory of the Mexican army over the French in the Franco-Mexican War.  If you are looking for frugal ways to celebrate this festive day, here are a few suggestions:

  • turn on some music.  I love the on-line options these days. Here is a link to Mexican Radio stations.
  • prepare some tasty foods; tostadas are great with refried beans or mashed lentils, topped with scallions and shredded cheese.  Serve with homemade horchata, and you'll have a tasty meal. 
  •  learn about famous Mexicans by reading a novel or viewing a film, a favorite of mine is 2002 film Frida about the life of the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo; and
  • play a traditional Mexican game.....such as the Mexican Hat Dance.
Celebrating holidays from different lands is a wonderful way to add fun to an average day, open your world, and share other cultures with children and seniors.  Have fun, and share any great frugal ideas that you came up with this Cinco de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Frugal Kid Summer Hat

When it comes to well-baby / well-kid checks, some things remain constant.  For example, my kids have big heads, really big.  They are both in the 98 percentile, meaning out of 100 kids 97 would have heads smaller than my kids.  This means that standard hats are not easy to find.

A post on Facebook about this challenge yielded recommendations for One Step Ahead as well as Lands Ends.  Both offer hats sized for your child's head.  I didn't even go on-line to price them; I knew it would be more than I wanted to pay for an item that has a 98% chance of being lost, dropped, thrown, or otherwise encouraged to leave our possession.  Another person on Facebook recommended fishing hats.  Yes, that seems ideal.  But where does one acquire a fishing hat?  Target didn't offer them.....and then I hit the mother-load at Savers.  Problem solved.  For $1.99 my son now has a floppy hat (adult) from the Chicago Zoo and my daughter has a cute straw hat (again from the adult section).  The purchase was inexpensive, proceeds help the Easter Seals organization, and I won't be upset when they are lost in the chaos that are our outdoor adventures.


Recently I did check out One Step Ahead and discovered that the prices are not that bad; some are less than $5 if on sale.  I don't know who shipping might cost.  I will keep it in mind, but my trips to Savers will always keep an eye out for head gear.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Frugal Bikes in Madison

Two weekends ago the local newspaper ran a great story on a non-profit in town; DreamBikes is more than just a bike store.  Located on the edge of the Allied-Dunn Marsh neighborhood it offers a place for area teens to build career skills.  From bike maintenance to sales to management.  If you are looking for great service at an affordable price and want your money to really have a positive impact, go to DreamBikes.  We have been loyal users since it opened 3 years ago.  Eager to serve, willing to repair, and no snobbery over the type of bike you ride -- you can't go wrong!


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