Friday, June 29, 2012

Frugal Summer Salad

If your mind is planning a restful weekend, here is a simple summer salad.  Easy on the pocketbook, great for your health, and goes easy on mother earth.

Quarter a few ripe tomatoes.  Peel and slice a cucumber.  Add chunks of fresh mozzarella.  Pour in olive oil, sesame seed oil, and a bit of red wine vinegar.  Finish with salt and pepper.  Let stand for about 1 hour.  Enjoy along with a can of tuna or a slice of bread with butter.

Simple, frugal, and delightful.  Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Free Hot Yoga Pass For Dragonfly

I've been writing frugal long enough that I now routinely hear "hey Melinda, this would be great for your blog".  Today's post is a product of one such exchange.  Free yoga class!  News of it was delivered by the young women we asked to care for the cats while we were away -- she is working there over the summer before returning to Minnesota in the fall (where she is studying education).

Where - Dragonfly Hot Yoga's new Middleton location

When - June 30th and July 1st.  Free classes for those who sign up in advance.  Other activities are planned; see web site.

Can't make it this weekend or the idea of hot yoga in the middle of a heat wave is too much for you?  You can still get a free class pass if:

1. you are new to Dragonfly;
2. you can try a class before August 31st; and
3. you email

Chances are I won't make it there this weekend, but I have requested my free class pass.  I enjoy yoga, but have never done "hot" yoga.  Sounds like a great way to improve my health, and I can try it for free.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Frugal Lunch On The Go

Eating away from home is a sure fire way to spend, eat, and waste more.  One strategy that I enjoy goes easy on your wallet, your waist line, and mother earth.  Opt for a grocery or deli instead of a restaurant.  Case in point -- last week I attended a seminar on the UW campus.  The area is filled with restaurants and food vendors.  None appealed to me.  I was short on time, and am avoiding gluten (a lengthy story, but in short, avoidance leaves me feel great, so great I don't need allergy meds).  My lunch situation was solved by a quick stop at the Fresh Market on campus.

First I got a salad from the salad bar.  Veggie with dressing totaled $1.74.  Then I went to the meat counter and got 5 slices of hard salami (marked as gluten free).  Total cost was $0.53.  I drank my own water and enjoyed the meal on a stone picnic table in front of the store.  Lunch cost me $2.37 (there was a charge of $0.10 for tax).  Far less than any restaurant would have charged.  It was fresh, portioned enough for one meal, and very inexpensive.

The next time you are on the go, avoid the Subways and TGI Fridays, and go find yourself a good grocery store.  Most have salad bars with hot and cold options.  And don't forget the deli counter for a few slices of your favorite meat and or cheese.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Don't Let Frequent Flier Miles Fall Into the Abyss

Frugal folks probably extend their spending habits to air travel.  As a result they likely carry a frequent flier card for an airline or airlines.  Hopefully those miles will be redeemed.  But what if they remain when the person's earthly time ends?  Yes, the estate planner in me emerges for this post.  But a fact just came to my attention in a seminar, and it is one my frugal friends will appreciate.
Without written (i.e. will) language transferring frequent flier miles, most airlines are happy to let them fall into the abyss.  -Stacy E. Singer.

If you are frugal, it is probably wise to check your paperwork.  Read the fine print.  Take control over those miles.  Hopefully you'll enjoy them, but it not, they may fall into the abyss and go unused.


Image credit: - free image

Monday, June 25, 2012

Living Frugally Via Farmers' Markets

Happy Monday loyal readers!  Regular readers are familiar with my devotion to using farmers' markets as a core part of my frugal approach to life.  As usual, I was at a farmers' market over the weekend, but not my normal Westside Community Market.  For those who read last Thursday's post you know that the Summer Solstice marks our wedding anniversary.  And once again we took our family north to Bayfield, Wisconsin.  As you read this we are in our car, headed South back to Madison.  Watch for future blog posts about how to incorporate frugal habits while traveling.

For today I would like to share a link to how to find a local farmers' market in your area.  No one site stands out as being great to me.  Some have outdated information, but this article has great bullet points on how to find one in your area.

If you don't currently use a farmers' market for your food shopping, keep in mind:

  • farmers' markets cut out the "middle men" and keep prices low;
  • you can negotiate prices with the seller (i.e. how about 10 for $5?);
  • walking or biking to a market saves gas money as well as wear and tear on your vehicle;
  • paying with cash forces you to be more aware of your spending, and you'll stay in budget;
  • cash keeps costs of commerce low -- no credit card  or check fees; and
  • evidence mounts showing that eating local, fresh foods is the best preventive medicine you can find -- and it is usually less expensive than prescriptions.
Image Credit: 2011, taken by author, M. Gustafson Gervasi.  Farmers' Market, Bayfield, Wis. June 2011

Friday, June 22, 2012

Frugal Living Via The Beauty School

Enough.  Time for the limp, stringy hair to end.  Last summer I experimented with the curly girl method, but the results were inadequate.  I wanted more body in my hair, instead I got a tangled mess.  Sorry no photos.

This summer (what is it about summer) my desire for a bouncier hair do has returned.  Curly girl was out.  Spending a $150 or more for a cut and perm at a salon is more than I can tolerate.  So I am taking a middle ground approach.  Off to the beauty school.  Cuts are $12.  Perms start at $32 and up.  It is my first time at VICI Beauty School.  I will be on campus for a legal seminar and decided to extended my stay and do something about my hair do.  

My husband dropped me off on campus before heading to a client on the other side of town (saved me $2 in bus fare and gave us 15 minutes of uninterrupted conversation, which is priceless).  As I got out of the car I reminded him that I'll have a new hairstyle the next time he sees me.  A shadow of concern washed over his face?
Husband: Can it be undone?  What if you hate it?
Me: Yes, I'll just wash it over and over, that would fix it.
Husband: Oh good, you get a little frustrated with your hair at times.  Sigh of relief.
Tune in next week for find out how the beauty school visit went!  Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Summer Solstice 2012

Image credit:  June 2011, taken by author, M. Gustafson Gervasi

Glance at the calendar and you will find that today is June 21st, otherwise known as the summer solstice.  It is the longest day of the year, and the shortest night.  It also marks my sixth wedding anniversary.  And for that, I take the day off from I do for other important holidays.  I'll close with a quote.  Please share a comment with your favorite frugal summertime activity!

"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." ― Henry James

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Frugal Backyard Birding

My children are little scientists, a trait they get from their father.  And a trait I want to encourage.  One way is to support their enjoyment of birds.  Living in Madison, Wisconsin, a block from a huge wooded park means we don't have to do much to attract feathered friends.  Cardinals, wrens, hawks, and blue jays are regular visitors.  But backyard birding can break the bank quickly if you don't approach it with a frugal filter.

Case in point -- we wanted a platform feeder to put out egg shells and peanuts.  I called a bird store and sure enough they sold them, ranging from $40 - $100+!  There is no way I'm paying that kind of money to feed birds.  So we got creative.

An old feeder and pole that came with our home was our focus.  We replaced the wire and moved it next to our other feeders.  Eggs from weekend meals were baked in the oven at 275 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Smashed up, they were added to the feeder.  From our reading we've learned that birds benefit from the calcium in shells to replenish after raising their young.  Who knew!

The ultimate frugal use of eggs:

  • scramble them for lunch;
  • bake the shells for the birds; and
  • tear up paper cartons for your compost bin.
Hopefully images of birds will be forthcoming.  We are in waiting mode for them to find the shells!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hiking With Tots

Frugal living and the great outdoors go hand in hand.  Usually admission is low if non-existent.  Little gear is required.  And venues into which you mindlessly deposit your hard earned dollars are few and far between.  Plus, watching a sun set over a mountain lake or a hawk soar over a Midwestern prairie develops a sense of awe and respect for mother earth.  That is why my little family is working to incorporate more day hikes into our life.  Inexpensive, healthy, and awe inspiring natural fun.  And it is not impossible with small children.

Recently I read through Molly Absolon's book Backapackers: Hiking and Backpacking with Kids.  Mine was a library loan, and not one I'll buy for my shelf.  Her advice is basic common sense, but on this side of parenting I can benefit from her tricks to pull off hikes.

Being prepared is one, that seems obvious.  Snacks are recommended, but nothing that brought new knowledge to my world.  I did benefit from her discussion of games and songs that can motivate kids along a path.  More than anything it reminded me of how great life can be on a hike, and taking kids is not out of the question.

Seasoned hikers with kids probably already know her tricks and recommendations, but for those looking for a bit of motivation, check out a copy from your local library.  You can get what you need with about 1 hours focused reading time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Frugal Living Via Farmers' Market

Saturday was farmers' market day.

Scallions and mushrooms were chopped, sauted and served with scrambled eggs.  Berries and cheese curds from the market rounded out the plate.  Simple foods, yet two delicious meals.

Potatoes added to a crock pot with baby carrots (from a store purchase). Drizzled with olive oil, dash of salt and pepper, left on high for 3 hours.  With one hour left, torn up pot roast from a previous meal was added.  Tender and yummy dinner Saturday evening.

Leftover pot roast enhanced with market potatoes!

Berries, berries, and more berries were washed, dried and frozen.  Five 1 cup servings of raspberries and 10    bags of strawberries in 2 cup portions.  Berries for yogurt and granola breakfasts or smoothies in the depth of a Wisconsin winter.

Forty dollars spent.  Foods just plucked from the field.  Transported less than 20 miles.  Fresh, wholesome  and easy on the pocket book.  That is the upside of frugal living.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Frugal Father's Day Fun

Recently I was asking my son if he wanted to make or purchase a father's day card this year.  He opted to make one, but then asked me a hard question. "Mama, can you send your baba (our word for dad) a father's day card?".  With a hint of sadness in my voice I answered, "no, my baba is in a place where I can't mail a card.". My dad died in September of 2009; my son was 13 months old and my daughter a twinkle in my eye.

This holiday I encourage you to think beyond the stuff associated with father' day, and focus on the person.  And then ask, how can I make our time together more meaningful.  Structure your approach to father's day around your answer.  You'll save money, use less resources, and create an emotionally healthy day.  Here is how it breaks down:

  • what topics is the father passionate about?
  • what experiences, not things, can I do to share that passion with him?
For example, in the case of my husband he has a boyish love of: Star Trek, junk food, and things that fly.  Our gift to him will be a day focused on these activities.  We hope to visit a small local airport restaurant where we can have some junk food and a beer while watching the planes land and take-off.  In the evening we'll enjoy an episode or two of Star Trek.  And I won't remind him of the health consequences of his junk food selection.  There will be some cards.  No tangible gifts, just time together sharing the things he loves. I think we'll all remember the day far longer than if we had bought him a tie, a mug or some other item sitting on a shelf some where.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Own When You Can Rent?

Does one need to own something to enjoy it?  For the folks at Mesh, the answer would be no.  Take the concept of lending libraries and expand it to cars, homes, canoes, fundraising, and the list goes on.  Sadly it appears that no Madison companies are listed at this point in time.  So, it is not something I can immediately try out.  However, I will keep it in mind for future travels.  Bikes for example -- enter "bike" into the search engine along with the city and you may find bike rentals by the day, hour, etc.

My husband and I are huge fans for renting when needed as opposed to owning all the time.  We canoe, but rent one instead of own one.  We love northern Wisconsin, but will never buy a cabin or condo.  And when my husband was a bike commuter he'd rent a car for the rare days he needed one.

A daily price of a rental may scare some people, but make sure you compare it with the cost of ownership.  With ownership comes:

  • a purchase price -- what else could you do with that money?  Pay down debt, save for retirement?
  • storage -- space costs money, and cost per square foot is a very useful way to look at how much you are paying for a canoe you'll buy, use 3 weeks out of the year, and store the other 49.
  • insurance -- cars, bikes, second homes...some form of ownership is usually required if not simply wise.
  • taxes -- cars in some states are subject to an annual tax.  Why pay that when you can rent it when needed.
  • flexibility.  We own a Honda.  It is great most of the time, but if we ever want to move something large it does not fit our needs.  If we rented as needed we could shift what we drove.  
Mesh -- intriguing or an internet fad?  Please share your thoughts and experiences with other readers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Progress on the Biking Front

Earlier this month I blogged about wanting to incorporate more biking into my life.  Sadly, those rides to the store had not materialized like I had hoped.  No, I was not using the car.  Instead I used the bike stroller and walked with my two kids.  Yet, I wanted to bike more.  And then yesterday arrived.

Tuesdays are days I meet clients at my office.  There were 4 meetings in total, and none required me to bring my lap top....I could use the computer in the office. I tossed what I needed into my backpack, added coffee and some protein options to make sure I had the energy to bike home.  It went well, but was not without a few snags.

  • Biking in a dress is not as easy as it looks.  All the way to work I feared a Marilyn Monroe moment, thankfully it was only a fear, not reality. How do other ladies bike in a dress?
  • Bike racks are not required at office buildings. Yes, in bike friendly Madison there are buildings without bike racks....mine.  Upon firing up the desk top computer at the office, I promptly emailed the landlord about having one installed; and
  • When you live and work in the "hillfarms neighborhood" expect hills.  Thankfully the up part of my commute is going home....leaving me a bit frazzled looking, but a frazzled bike commuter!
Tips and suggestions on working biking into your daily routine are welcome!  I'm saving gas money, strengthening my body, and going easy on the earth. And I want more of it!

My office -- hopefully a bike rack will be added soon!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Frugal Checks!

Free, it's hard to be more frugal than that!  Earlier this month we discovered we were out of checks.  Sadly it was writing the last check that made us realize there was not another box.  We were in a bit of a rush, but because we use cash a lot not as much as others may have been.

Then my memory kicked in and I reminded my husband to order them through the UW Credit Union.  We get one free box a year.  Much better than the low-cost ones in the Sunday ad section.  So, if you use a credit union for your banking needs, ask if they have a free check policy!  They offer banking services for free if you maintain a certain balance.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Frugality Via Farmers' Market Shopping

This past Saturday you would have found me at the Westside Community Market, cash in hand and cloth bags full of produce.  My main goal was to find strawberries for the freezer.  Mission accomplished!  For $16 we now have five, 2 cups each, bags of frozen berries, plus one jar of "mashed strawberries".  Weather and time permitting, I hope to do another round next weekend.  And vow never, ever, to purchase the bloated tasteless strawberries sold in grocery stores from August - May.  If so, I will save myself money because those berries usually mold quickly and never live up to the taste promise.

Image credits:  taken by author, M. Gustafson Gervasi, June 2012

For immediate consumption I picked up tomatoes and cucumbers ($4), from which I'll have several tasty salads.  For $2 I got enough greens to fill a large salad spinner.  And for $2 there were mushrooms to add to sautes for the week ahead.

Ahhh, there is nothing better than a June morning at the market.  Amazing food, low cost, and the taste of summer tucked away in the freezer for a winter's day.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Culinary Intelligence

It was a New York Times write up that spurred me to buy a book.  Yes, you read that correctly. I purchased it instead of waiting for a copy through the library.  Having finished my impulse buy I now know I should have waited for the free copy!

Culinary Intelligence: The art of eating healthy (and really well) by Peter Kaminsky sounded promising.  Even the cover looked great -- simple, pure, delightful.  Not so much.  A friend to whom I lent my copy said it best when she said "I'm a third of the way through and haven't learned anything I didn't already know".  That statement is true for me after finishing the book. The author seem to be confused about what he was writing.  Part memoir, part cookbook, part diet manual.  In total, a disappointing read.

Sure, there were some great points buried in it.  The primary one I took was looking into local sources of fish.  Kaminsky hates frozen fish, and he has point.  Combined with over fishing, it makes turning to the great lakes that surround Madison, Wisconsin appealing.  Later this summer we are headed to Bayfield, Wisconsin for some R&R and I hope to pick up some smoked fish that I can bring home with me.

In the end, I'd say read a free copy of the book.  And be prepared to be annoyed if you consider yourself a down-to-earth person.  I've lived on the East Coast and adore it.  Yet I found Kaminsky to be way too out of touch.  Even though he references his wife's family in Rockford, Illinois, I kept thinking "seriously, do you know how most of America lives?" when reading his suggestions.  Such as shopping at 2pm for dinner, going to the bread store, the grocer, the veggie stand, etc.  That sounds lovely, if you're vacationing in France or retired in New York City.  But I live, and work, in Madison and have two little kids who want dinner on the table by 5:30 pm.  Afternoon strolls to the market aren't part of my life.  Nor will they be for a long time.

For now I'll take comfort in my books by Michael Pollan and Mark Bittner.  Both advocate eating foods that are as close to nature as possible.  Nothing too fancy.  Keep it simple.  It's good for you, your wallet, and planet Earth.  All my bookshelf needs is one in this style written by a women with kids....someone who I can relate to a bit more.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Frugal Does Not Always Mean Consignment

For the past decade I have had an account with a local consignment shop.  I drop off items, she sells them, and I get a percentage of the profit.  It worked really well for me when I started.  Then I was single, bought stylish clothes more frequently, and had lots of spare time.  These days I shop for my clothing at second hand stores, and rarely at that.  Spare time to lug items to the shop is near existent.  And most of the stuff I want to get rid off is from my children -- and she does not sell baby/kid stuff.  As a result, the money I generated from consignment sales has dropped to less than $10 per quarter.  It is not worth the effort, or gas to drive there (about 5 miles away from my home).

My consignment drop off has been replaced by a donation to Savers, which gives me a coupon for  20% off my next purchase.  The new routine is to fill up a bag of unwanted items, go to Savers, get coupon, shop, and save usually $6 - $12 per visit.  I do this about once a month.  It is a great way to keep moving unwanted items out of our home, save money on second hand purchases, reduce trips in the car, and support a non-profit.

If you have stylish clothing, accessories or furnishings that you spent a lot of money on in the past 2 or 3 years, consignment might make sense for you.  For this frugal person, a 20 percent coupon off at Savers in exchange for a bag of donations makes more financial sense.  Lesson, run the numbers.  Question convention.  An alternative route may save you time, money, and tread a little more lightly on mother Earth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Biking Comes To My Life

The following are signs that biking is not your normal mode of transportation:

  • your bike helmet has cobwebs in it;
  • it is easier to get your car out of the garage than it is your bike; and
  • you have to search for a bike lock.
All three faced me this past Saturday evening when I decided to bike to the grocery store.  But they did not stand in my way.  It took about 15 minutes to get my self situated, but I did.  Up the hill (yes there is an upward grade to Copps from my home) I went, empty backpack and all.  At the store I selected my items with care; they had to all fit in my backpack, and I had to transport them home via peddle power, not petroleum.

Mission accomplished.  My first bike outing went well, and I'm eager for the next.  Traveling solo is not common for me, the kids are usually along.  For now my trips will not be daily events.  My biggest obstacle remains biking to work.  I'm tempted to bike with my computer, but pause....I can't risk all my work documents.  Open Office seems promising, we just need to figure out how to get "numbered lines" working and then biking to work will be a reality.

Thanks for the positive feedback, I can use it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From Frugal Use of Wheat Comes Death's Door Vodka

Yesterday Middleton, Wisconsin saw the opening of a new facility; Death's Door Spirits Distillery.  The company started in Wisconsin, in Door County, and was born from a desire to use every last bit of locally grown wheat that was grown on Washington Island.  Originally the wheat was to be used for bread, but there was much more available.  And Vandewalle, who runs the company, thought of making vodka.  And from that frugal use of materials came the emergence of vodka, gin, and whiskey.

Frugality often gets a bad rap.  But this story illustrates that a frugal mind can bring about innovative ideas and concepts.  And those can grow into companies that sell products in 38 states and the UK.  Congrats to Death's Door....I've followed you because my husband always jokes I should hand our product out as thank yous for the referrals I get to my estate planning and probate practice.  That seems a bit over the top for me, but I do plan to have a few on hand for an upcoming party at our home.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Frugal Living Thanks To Westside Community Market

This past Saturday was "chamber of commerce weather", meaning it was a picture perfect day in Madison.  So ideal I was eager to leave the house and ended up forgetting my camera.  Once again I cannot bring you a photo from my frugal trip to the neighborhood farmers' market.  I did find a lovely stock image that I enjoy!

This week I set off on foot with my kids in the bike stroller.  We arrived at the Westside Community Market within 30 minutes.  Not a drop of gasoline used, and some great cardio for me!  My children were not as thrilled as I was to arrive at the market, something about the park we passed on the way there got their attention.  So I bribed their cooperation by letting them split half of a M&M cookie -- purchase price, $1.50, calm in the stroller, priceless.  While all was quiet, I set out to pick up some great local produce.  This weeks finds included:

  • three individual yogurts ($0.75/each) -- which were consumed with lunch
  • a cucumber for $1 -- half of which was diced and added with last week's remaining tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt & pepper for the evening meal;
  • swiss chard for $4 -- it was chopped, blanched, and frozen for soups and quiche later this winter;
  • garlic scapes for $1 -- one was diced and used in the lunch omelette; and
  • leeks for $1 -- which were chopped into small portions and frozen for the winter.
The low prices are wonderful, but what amazes me the most is how long the produce stays fresh.  Since it was just picked, it is usable far longer than anything I've ever bought at a grocery store.

The perfect weather drew a large crowd today, combined with children eager for the park and limited cargo space in the bike stroller, I called it a day.  Next week I'll be going solo, stopping before my 8am appointment to have the car tuned up just down the road.  Traveling without children and with the carrying space of a Honda trunk, I think I'll stock up for the winter a bit more.

Image credit: - free image

Friday, June 1, 2012

Frugal Transportation Via Bike

Image Credit: - free image

Accountability can be a very strong motivator.  It worked for me when I wanted to run a 5k, which I did at the beginning of May.  The friend who held me accountable gave some great tips on how to make sure I completed my goal.  One was to tell everyone that I was going to run a 5K, and the more people I told the more my conviction to run solidified.  Using her advice, I am declaring today on my blog that I will work as hard as possible to bike more.....much more.

And reading this great article inspires me even more.  My goal is to post a blog at the end of the year that reflects on my transition from a driver to a biker.  I can already tell you what my biggest hurdle, aka excuse, will be "The kids".  I have two kids, which makes everything hard.  Knowing my argument in advance allows me to develop a counter argument. And the argument that always works with me is "do what is best for your children".  And here is why Mama biking wins:

  • saving money by decreasing gasoline purchases;
  • reducing the emissions my Honda would put into the air, the very air my kids breathe;
  • biking is good for my health, and a healthy Mama is essential;
  • role model an active lifestyle for my children;
  • enjoy the elements by being in nature; and
  • think about what you are about to buy (when shopping via bike) because you have to bike it home.  I'm certain this will reduce impulse buys.
One logistical problem I have is my computer and biking to work.  I am hesitant to put my lap top into a bag and bike to work.  That little box is a treasure of client documents and business forms.  I know there must be an easy solution.  I have a computer at the office, but it doesn't have Word Perfect (lawyers are the last group on the planet to give up Word Perfect) a my lap top does.  Can anyone offer a simple solution.  I've considered transferring documents to Open Office, but formatting might be a problem.  Your suggestions are needed!

So loyal readers, please feel free to inquire in the weeks ahead about how my biking is going. I need to be held accountable.  By doing so I'll deepen my frugal living habits, which will be good for my health, my wallet, and the planet.