Friday, September 28, 2012

Squirrel Away

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Cooking is one of my favorite ways to execute a frugal lifestyle.  Home cooked meals can save a household hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year.  However, one caution is to make sure everything you purchase is actually turned into a meal, and that entire meal is consumed.  When packages expire and are tossed into the garbage or leftovers go bad, it is the equivalent of tossing money into the trash.

This is a principal I know, and one I preach to my kids.  And yet, after the weekly trip to Trader Joe's this week I could not help but notice the pantry doors bulging.  And so when my kids wanted to play "clean the cabinet" (yes, I am lucky in many ways), I followed their lead.  As they pulled out boxes and bags, I set certain ones aside for immediate use this weekend.  A meal for the table or freezer will occur in the next 48 hours.  As a result, the cabinet is much cleaner, allowing me to note its contents. That makes meal planning a bit easier, and prevents me from purchasing duplicates.  Thanks to my kids digging, I now know that I do not need to purchase canned cat food or maple syrup for a long time -- way too many back-ups were found.

And so I am resisting squirrel like behavior to store away endless amounts of food.  For the next seven to ten days that plan is to turn as much of the food in my fridge, fridge freezer, and pantry into a breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack.  The chest freezer in the garage is off limits as it serves as the storage place for the local farmers' market buys slatted for winter consumption.

So, if you have tips for using any of the following, I'd love some suggestions.  Variety is wonderful:

  • Barley;
  • lentils;
  • animal crackers; and
  • almond smooth non-dairy beverage (a Trader Joe's impulse buy).
Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

From Frugal to Hoarder?

Earlier this week I finished reading the book The Hoarder in You: how to live a happier, healthier, uncluttered life by Dr. Robin Zasio.  I was quite relieved to realize that I was no where near the level of hoarder she describes in this book, however, there are some things that were a little too close to home.  Clutter and a zen like home, my ideal, do not mix.  Overall the book motivates me to keep with my current habits -- purge as much as possible, and do some routinely.

One sentence jumped out at me and made me think of my frugal minded friends -- "free can be very costly" (bottom of page 127).  While little hotel shampoos and packets of salsa with take-out may be "free", they do come with a cost.  They contribute to clutter, which leads to a stressful environment.  And I would like to add, the cost of space to house all of that clutter.  I am not over the top on collecting freebies, but I do have a large part of my brain that says "hold on to this, you might need it....especially if it is a child related item".  Robin as well as my husband have a good response to this behavior - you can always get another one if and when you need it again.  Let it go, free up space, reduce stress.  And that is the trend I am living on these days.

I'd recommend this book for anyone seeking tips on how to keep ahead of the clutter.  Our world tends toward chaos, so this will be a lifelong battle.  She has some excellent tips.  My copy of the book is headed back to the library -- which is a great way to be frugal, and keep book clutter to a minimum in your home.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Frugal Fall Food

This evening we enjoyed the first acorn squash of the season.  Purchased for a mere $1 last Saturday at the farmers' market, it was the center piece of our evening meal.  My favorite way to prepare it (I'm not aware of any other way in fact) is to roast the squash.  Simply cut it in half (top to bottom), scoop out the seeds (great for your compost bin) and place upside down in a baking dish.  Add enough water to cover one inch up and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.  Cool a bit and then scoop out the tender insides.  Toss with butter and salt and pepper, and you have the makings of a healthy, inexpensive, and farm fresh meal.  Our squash was baked alongside boneless chicken breasts and served with wild rice.  Other ideal pairings might be fresh baked bread or crackers and cheese.  Hands down a frugal fall food you should not pass up!

Frugal Living: The Art of Simplicity, Birthdays, and Consignment

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To most people it was just another Monday, the start of a work week.  For me it is a mini-holiday; yesterday I turned 39.  And I have this little tradition on my birthday, I don't do paid work. But writing is more passion than work, so there I was at my desk.

Something about starting a "new" year inspires me to get my house in order.  So, for the past few days I have been donating items to Savers, giving outgrown kids clothing to friends with smaller children, and tossing papers into the recycle bin.  The clutter decreases, my mood improves; but, as my husband points out -- the world tends towards chaos, so don't be upset when a weekly later the clutter is building once again.  It's a continuous battle.  Today though, the cleanliness and calm trump the disorder of chaos.

And for a lot of people a birthday translates into chaos under the label "celebration".  Not here, we keep it simple.  More so for the adults than the children.  Turning 39 consisted of a lovely dinner out with my husband last night.  My plan to dine at Harvest was tossed aside when were learned they were not open on Sunday.  However, a meal at Bunky's saved the evening.  We paid a total of $45, including tip, for some amazing food.  My beef kabobs were divine; grass-fed local beef!  If you are in Madison -- this place is worth every penny.  If you go, I urge you to pay in cash as we did.  In the entry way is a framed news article about the costly impact of credit cards on independents, featuring Bunky's.  I believe my husband said that in one year the restaurant paid $38,000 in merchant fees!

I gave myself the gift of time.  The sitter came for her normal hours, and instead of handling client matters, I laced up my running shoes and took a long run along Madison's lakeshore path.   The fall day could not have been more idea; crisp blue skies punctuated with bursts of fall colors.  Following my run I enjoyed a cup of coffee while reading a recently released F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, Thank You For the Light.  My afternoon consisted of our normal Target errands with the kids, followed by toddler play at the local park.  My husband left work early to pick up Indian take-out and join us for dinner.  A simple balloon from the dollar store was the extend of his shopping.  I have no desire to open gifts.  Time, what I value most, cannot be bought in a store.  If your birthdays are about shopping and consumption, try my style one year and see if it works for you!

I also received a comment on the blog, which was a pleasant surprise.  It inquired about my thoughts on children's consignment shops.  In my opinion far too much of "frugal writing" focuses on shopping techniques.  A lot of it skews towards how to shop for the longest with spending very little.  My approach to frugality is more about efficiency with both time and money.  And I do not find consignment to be efficient.  I do not purchase items in consignment stores (they tend to be priced a bit high), nor do I attempt to sell my unwanted items at consignment. At one point in my life I did (the time when I bought new trendy items that would be acceptable).  Now I focus on thrift stores, especially Savers.  If I donate a bag, they give me a 20% off coupon.  As I wrote in an earlier post, this results in more cash savings, and is far more time efficient than consignment.  My approach to frugal clothing, for kids or adults, is:

  • simple, clean, basics are key -- you don't need tons of variety;
  • thrift stores are the first stop -- get a regular plan (1x month, every 3 months, etc.) and shop with a list (i.e. rain coats, snow pants, shorts, etc.);
  • shop clearance racks at one or two department stores that are easy to get to (I prefer Kohl's and Macy's).  Set a budget and again, focus only on basics;
  • use Amazon Prime -- the free shipping allows you to shop from home with very specific criteria.  You avoid impulse buys while standing in line and can compare costs;
  • if you are looking to get rid of items, donate to Savers and get the coupon -OR- box up the sizes and list them on CraigsList (i.e. Girls Winter Clothing, size 8-10 for $20).  It will save you a lot of time, and keep you out of consignment stores (which are also attempting to get you to spend).
Thanks for reading, and have a frugal week!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rainy Day at the Market, Thrift Shopping, and Saying Hello to the Furnace

Yes, I am back.  Life has been hectic.....or at least that is one adjective you can use.  My husband and I are both adding staff to our respective businesses, the children have had colds resulting in me having the sleep habits of a giraffe, and there are only 24 hours in a day.  Thoughts of frugal posts pop into my mind, but the time and energy required to tap the computer keys has been missing this week.  Until tonight, so I am back, with a journal like approach this blog.

Of all the days of the farmers' market season, today I made it there with both kids, flying solo as a parent.  The temperatures hovered around 50 degrees and a light drizzle fell from the sky.  The first pie pumpkin of the season was purchased for $1.75, a few acorn squash, a bag of local pears (which I plan to puree and freeze), green onions, spinach, and green beans rounded out the purchase.  The last two found themselves on the dinner plate, along side some tasty pizza from down the road, making for an easy dinner.

After stocking up on local veggies, the kids and I headed to Savers in search of a winter coat for my two year old daughter.  The past few days I have used Amazon Prime's free shipping and my ever loved Morgan's Shoes to outfit the kids in winter gear.  As a result of me getting ahead of the game, I bet we won't see snow until February.  You can thank me now or later, unless you are a snow lover, to which I say "sorry".  It feels wonderful to have most of the gear we need, and to have it come in under budget.  While Savers was a bust on the winter coat, we did pick up some lovely Halloween decorations and the building block of costumes.  Cheetah ears and tail for my son, and rabbit ear and a tail for my daughter.  Both cost less than $4/each, and will work well with warmer weather clothing.  Now I just have to sell the kids on the idea of this being an outfit.  Time will tell.

The afternoon brought a quick stop by my husband's office; he wanted me to see the suites he is considering relocating to.  The kids sprinted up and down the hallways, and we discussed layout, price per square foot, and the logistics of the move.  When you are self-employed there really is no such thing as a lazy Saturday.  Thankfully we both love our work, and enjoy relaxing at odd times (yesterday he came home for lunch, and then we each took our daily run, before he returned to the office).  The upside of frugal living is that we can be a dual self-employed couple, and not be in a financial crisis.

After the office tour we burned off a bit more energy at a local park, and then made our weekly stop at the neighborhood library.  Once again we loaded up on books, colored, and did some puzzles.  The lure of ice cream to go (for dessert) allowed me to have the children leave peacefully.  Once home it was a quick bath, prepped dinner, order the pizza, and dined.  A few stories over mint tea, and I could see the heavy eyes.  Both went down within minutes, and my deepest hope is that they'll stay that way until the birds chirp.....most   recent nights have brought calls for mama at 12am, 2am, 4am, and 6am.  Hence the nod to being like a giraffe.

And tonight may be the first night we turn on the furnace, which we usually set for 62 degrees.  Earlier tonight the temperature was at 64, and given tonight's forecast of 32, I think we'll be saying hello to it for the first time this season.  We have until November for it to fail and be covered under the extended home warranty....which was the best gamble we've taken in years.  Given that it has now exceeded it's life expectancy we are going to watch it closely.

Because of the sleep challenges raised by my kids, I have not been able to walk as much as I had hoped.  Why?  If either sleeps for more than 20 minutes, they are up until 11pm or later, and then sleep horribly for the night.  If I walk anywhere in the afternoon, the risk of a nap in the stroller is quite high.  So the Honda it is, or we walk in the AM.  I had a plan for living frugally, and then they shot it down.  So we switch gears, for now.  Sleep is of the greatest importance.  Wouldn't you agree.  What do you allow to trump frugal living?  Where do you draw the line?

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back as much as possible.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Frugal Living: Home Offices, Tulip bulbs, Wild Turkeys, and Leftovers

Thursday morning was spent working in my home office.  Yes, I can actually work from home, and I have done so for years.  Not only does a home office generate a write-off on our taxes, it allows me to avoid a commute half of my working days.  Plus, I can easily toss in a load of laundry on my way to the office, which I did earlier.

As the clock struck 12:30pm I morphed from lawyer mode to mama mode, and prepared to spend the afternoon with my kids.  Hmmmm, what to do?  It had rained just enough to make the park swings too wet.  With the cooler temperatures and rain, there was no denying fall was upon us. And fall means buying spring bulbs.  So off to favorite local greenhouse, just two beltline stops away.  I have my own childhood memories of Johannsen's, and now my children will as well.  In about 20 minutes we managed to spend $46 on spring bulbs.  Goodness, we have a lot of planting to do around Halloween.  The bulbs we planted last year did not materialize, most likely I planted too early.  I know better now.  With a variety of shades of purple (my son's favorite color) and pink as well as green (my daughter's favorite colors) we headed to the car.

It seemed too early to return home for dinner, so we went down one stop on the beltline to check-out the UW Arboretum.  With raincoats and a light sprinkle my children chased wild turkeys, literally.  A small flock of four or five was hanging out in the parking lot when we arrived.  Once our feet hit the pavement, they waddled off, and my kids were in hot pursuit.  Along the way they each found a turkey feather to bring home.

Sufficiently exercised we headed home for dinner.  Pasta with a tomato sauce, frozen spinach, and leftover chicken (yes we are still eating the chicken baked on Monday, and have just enough for a chicken omelette tomorrow).

And that is a typical day in my frugal life.  Always looking for efficiency, hence the home office.  Playing with my kids in nature, and instilling in them an appreciation for the outdoors -- it costs very little.  And limiting waste by eating simple meals at home.  That was our Thursday.  How was yours?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Efficiency at the Core of Frugality

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7am Tuesday morning.  Standing at the stove I was transforming leftover chicken from Monday's dinner into a breakfast of salsa style eggs.  Scramble a few eggs, add some chopped chicken. Top with salsa, mild for me, spicy for my husband.  As I opened the utensil drawer I grabbed a spoon and my internal frugal voice said "ah, use a fork instead because you can put that on the plate to eat the eggs, a spoon will mean an extra thing to wash".  Down went the spoon, out came the fork.

And there is a glimpse inside a frugal mind.  Efficiency is never far from my radar.  Without it, frugality would be a challenge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Frugal With Your Time

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In my world I am frugal with both my money and my time.  And these days time is more scarce than money is.  There are only 24 hours in a day, of which I should devote 8 to sleeping.  Without adequate sleep my energy levels fall and modern conveniences of the world sneak into my life.  Generally those are not good for my pocket book, health, or the planet I call home (i.e think take-out).  That leaves me with 16 hours a day to run my legal practice, nurture my marriage, raise my children, practice self-care, maintain a household, and if possible, work in some fun.  Here are a few strategies I use or have recently adopted.  They work for me, and may work for you to get the most out of your 16 hours:
  • outsource things you do not love.  For me this means asking the babysitter to wash, fold, and put away the children's laundry as well as the household towels.  When my mother fell ill and was admitted to the hospital, I hired a pet sitter because her cat needs insulin shots twice a day --doing this myself was not an option;
  • focus your energy on skills that pay you the most.  For me this translates into getting as many hours as possible in at my law practice (my goal is 20 - 25 a week).  While the idea of posting the numerous baby gadgets we have on Craigslist or having a garage sale is tempting, I know it won't yield the same amount of money if I took that time and focused on client matters.  So, I have given it away to various friends and charities.  It is far easier, nurtures relationships with friends and community, and makes me feel good.  The hassle factor associated with selling used items is non-existent;
  • assign tasks to a day of the week, and don't do more than two "errands" a day.  For me this translates into Target on Monday afternoons, Trader Joe's on Wednesday mornings, the neighborhood grocery on Friday afternoons, the library on Saturday afternoons, etc.  I keep a running list to note things I need.  If it is not the day for me to go to Target, I don't go, I make do with what I have.  I've cut down on car trips and dashing off here and there for this and that;
  • put your meals on a schedule, it will make shopping much easier.  While I work in my home office on Monday mornings, I have a chicken baking for dinner.  Meals throughout the rest of the week will feature left over chicken as well -- we have a meal plan and food purchased or on the list to be purchased;
  • allot 30 minutes at the beginning of your day and again at the end of your day for household chores.  To a little bit every day and the chaos doesn't get out of hand;
  • stick with the schedule even if the calendar declares it is a holiday.  We did this over Labor Day weekend and my Tuesday was far more relaxed than after prior long weekends.....we stuck to your routine; and
  • don't forget to have some fun times marked off.  After our Monday Target runs we either meet up with friends or head to the nearby beach to dig in the sand.  After our run to Trader Joe's on Wednesdays we stop at the park to swing before coming home to put groceries away.
When you feel tempted to squeeze a dollar out of an item for resale, ask yourself what you have to "spend" to get that dollar.  Will it distract you from your career related work?  Does is it take a lot of effort, leaving your too tired to make a homemade meal?  The key to frugal living can be found in analysis.  What do I have to spend, and what will I get?  Pause, ask yourself this question, and no matter the situation, you'll be in the land of the frugal.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cheap Local Eats in Madison, Wisconsin

Saturday was the perfect day for the neighborhood farmers' market.  With the kids in the bike stroller, we set off for the 30 minute walk on a blue and crisp Saturday morning.  Being on foot we were mindful not to buy too much.  Purchases include zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, and swiss chard.  From which we consumed or will consume several tasty meals where the plate featured mainly local foods.  Fresh, tasty, and inexpensive; I spent a total of $11 at the market.  Toss in getting children excited about healthy eating, and you've got a win-win situation!

Saturday afternoon we tackled the zucchini.  My two year old even attempted to do the shredding, but need mama's assistance.  Soon she'll have it down pat!

We got 4 good sized zucchini for $1; we turned one into the nights dinner -- quiche.  The other three were shredded and frozen.  They will reappear this winter either in another quiche or zucchini bread.

Combined with the tomatoes, corn, and cottage cheese (from the grocer) we had a market fresh dinner.  Quiche is a great way to work vegetables into the diets of those less inclined to enjoy them, namely my husband and children.  When hidden in egg and cheese, if is often consumed quickly.

If you are looking to eat well for not so much money, seek out locally grown veggies.  Buying direct from the farmer can save you money too.....they often negotiated, especially if you arrive near closing, as we did.

Thanks for reading, and if you have good recipes for frozen zucchini, please share!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Frugal Geraniums

This past Mother's Day I bought myself four gorgeous geranium plants for a local greenhouse (Johannsen's). The price was higher than the big box stores, but the results were amazing.  The plants are simply gorgeous.  And the frugal part of my mind cannot tolerate the idea of a frost killing them off.  So I have been looking into ways to extend their life......treating them as perennials.

What I've gathered so far is to bring them in prior to the first frost, snip them down about 1/3, and give them as much sun as possible over the winter months.  But one cannot trust everything they read on the internet.  How about you dear reader, any thoughts or suggestions on nursing my geraniums through a Wisconsin winter so they can brighten my yard again next summer?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Frugal Kitchen: Crock pot applesauce

Sometime ago I remember reading a blurb by another frugal one, stating that she would not make her own applesauce when an inexpensive and quality alternative is easily purchased at the grocery store.  And on the broad idea, I agree, why remake the wheel.  But when it comes to applesauce, I can't pass up the chance to make a few jars for the freezer.  Especially given how much we read about the importance of eating local foods.  Ahhhhhh, the smell of fall arrives in my frugal kitchen!

Over the weekend I purchased three bags of local apples (Door County, Wisconsin).  Patient little things, they settled on my counter and waited for life to present the right time to be transformed into sauce.  What kind of apples?  Well, they are small, a yellow green and have a soft skin.  And that is all I remember from my early morning run to the farmers' market.  I'm certain the vendor told me the name, but the coffee had not yet kicked in and my 2 year old was along for the ride.  I got that they were 1) apples, 2) would make a good sauce, and 3) cook with the peels on!  The third one had me, one less step in the kitchen.

Yesterday, after finishing a morning of legal work, I returned home to my children and was faced with the question "how to spend the afternoon?"  With temperatures above 90 at 3pm meant outside play was not ideal.  So, I took a deep breath and said, let's make sauce.  My 4 year old was in charge of coring the apples.  Well, not really.  He stood to my right and stabbed them with a fork.  I did the actual coring and sliced them in half.  My 2 year old was in charge of throwing the core into the compost bucket, and helping me count 1,, 2, 3 core!  It took about 20 minutes.  I rinsed the apples and tossed them in the crock pot.

Crock pot instructions:

  • core apple, slice in half, wash
  • add to crock pot
  • add about 1/2 cup of water
  • dice three dried apricots to had a unique flavor
  • cook on high for 3 hours and low for another 1 hour
  • use a potato masher and the end.
  • let cool for 1 hour
  • scope into food processor, blend for 10 seconds
  • freeze

Other recipes say to add cinnamon, however I skipped it because my kids like to add the spice themselves when it is eating time.  If I added it now, they'd basically have some sauce with a bowl of cinnamon.  $12 in apple purchases will yield 6 jars of sauce (note, I am reusing jars from grocery store applesauce) and a few fun hours in the kitchen with my kids.  

If this post inspires you to give homemade applesauce a try, I want to mention that when you buy apples (or any item) in bulk you will get a better price.  The vendor told me "the bags are $5 each or I can do three for $12, bringing the price down.  Usually it is a great buy, just make sure you have enough time to freeze/cook the items before they go bad.  As I noted, apples are patient fruits!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Westside Madison Rummage Sale to Benefit JDRF

Combine giving discarded items a second life with charitable giving, and you have a story that catches my attention!  It's even better when it happens just down the road from my house.  Later this week friends of ours who live in the neighborhood will spend their Friday and Saturday running a rummage sale.  Proceeds will be directed to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in an effort to find a cure for the disease their middle child was diagnosed with just over a year ago.

I have left several boxes and bags on their door step, happy to clear items from my home, give them a chance at a second (or third) life, while raising funds for an important cause.  And you, at least my local readers, can help to.  Rummage sales need shoppers (5110 Marathon Drive on Madison's west side).  Check it out if you can, 8am-2pm Friday, September 7th and Saturday, September 8th.  And if you are not able to put social media to the job of spreading the word.  Dollars add up, and this young man's world can be changed.

Inspired?  Keep the following ideas in mind if you opt to try a sale for your favorite cause:

  • hold the sale in a high traffic area (busy road, ask a community center or church or school to donate space for the sale);
  • skip the pricing and simply ask people to make is for charity;
  • see if a local bagel shop or bakery will donate food to sell, or ask friends to bake items for sale;
  • sell brown garbage bags for $8 or $10 and allow people to fill them up for that price;
  • in the last 2 hours slash prices by 50% or more (if you are pricing);
  • have literature on hand about the charitable organization;
  • offer a way for people to make a direct donation to the non-profit (i.e. computer on hand for on-line pledges); 
  • hold the sale in conjunction with another event associated with the cause, such as its annual 5k; and
  • have a donation center lined up for items that do not sell.
Have an idea I missed?  Post a comment and share.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Frugal Mama Discovers Toddler Yoga

For the past few months a women I know has been encouraging me to give her Toddler Yoga class a try.  She'd sing its praises, but always end with "I know the price can be a bit high...".  Finally, the planets aligned and I was able to take the kids for a trial run.  We left addicted.  And the price is not too high, not when my frugal mind analyzes what we get for the fee.

Offered through Blackbird Family Yoga in Middleton, the class magically falls at the perfect time, 10:30 am on Friday mornings.  Fridays are my day off from legal work, so my mornings we with the kids are open.  A start time of 10:30 allows for a lazy start to the day; plenty of time to get the three of us fed, dressed, and in my case, caffeinated.  Middleton is only a ten minute drive from our home, and a branch of our credit union is next to the yoga studio allowing for me to add on a quick banking errand if needed.  Fewer car trips save money at the pumps!

For $15 we receive:

  • Thirty minutes of adult yoga.  The restorative effect of 30 minutes in a zen like environment can not be emphasize enough.  My goodness, it is like a mini spa treatment.  Cork floors, calm music, natural light, and pleasant smells.  When the 30 minutes end it is as though I've just awoke from a restful slumber;
  • Another thirty minutes of playful yoga with the kids.  We leave with new ideas, awareness of breath, and pure giddiness from the silly games the instructor designs;
  • Flexibility for both body and budget.  Drop in classes ensure that we pay only for what we use.  Case in point, this past summer I signed the kids up for nature classes.  Due to illness, vacation, and extreme heat we only managed to make it to two-thirds of the classes we paid for.  Driving the cost per class higher than I would have paid if purchasing them individually.  That problem is avoided when you can simply "drop in"; and
  •  Killing three birds with one stone.  This class checks off exercise for me (if you doubt yoga is exercise give it a try and tell me how your muscles feel 36 hours later!), and exercise for both children.  The cost if far less expensive than the gymnastic classes I had been considering for the fall, and those would have only been for my 4 year old, not my 2 year old.  All three of us get a workout in with one trip to the studio.
Now that we've gone a few times, I know we'll be back.  And I plan to purchase classes in bulk, which means for $200 I can get 20 classes.  That drives the fee down to $10 / class, a real bargain in my mind.  

I leave you with this thought, when someone tells you "it is a bit expensive", don't take it at face value.  If the fee is "high", but you receive multiple benefits (fun, flexible, quality, etc.) it is worth the money in the long run. At least in the mind of this frugal writer.  Namaste!