Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We'll Leave the Light on For You -- Not an Expression in this Frugal Home

Remember those commercials from the 1980s for Motel 6, with Tom Bodett saying "We'll leave the light on for you"?  While a catchy advertising tool for Motel 6, it is not a sound policy for frugal homes.  Something I came to realize this past winter.

Around the holidays I noticed that only one of the six light bulbs in our front light was working.  At the hardware store I picked up two packs, brought them home, and asked my husband to install them.  An electrical engineer and die-hard efficiency king, he quickly noted that six lights at 40 watts each totaled 240 watts, or, the equivalent of every light being on in our house, both floors.

Inside we use all compact florescent or LED bulbs, and it cuts down on the energy use.  This point was underscored when my math brain of husband ran that simple calculation.  And ever since I have made a point to keep the light off as much as possible.  When the sitter leaves and it is dark, I turn it on until she drives away.  If my husband or I go for an evening run or walk, it stays off because we have a motion sensor light at the garage that will come on for about five minutes when we leave and return.  Once that porch light is on, there is the risk we'll forget about it and it will be on for a day or more (this has happened too often).  So I do my best to keep it off.

Saving energy, saving money, saving resources....that's life in our frugal home.  And the next time we need new outdoor lights, I'll be looking for an energy efficient brand.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Frugal Banking

Image credit: - free image

Recently I drove my mother to her long-time brick and mortar bank.  Once a local bank, it is now part of an international banking giant.  Not wanting to take my two children along, my husband spent some quality time with the kids.  But he was perplexed --

why did we need to go in to the bank to take care of some routine paperwork?  

Me - Because she has to sign papers, an IRA is involved, I responded. 

Him- Sure, but why not download the form and simply fax it back?  Why bother with all of this fuss?  

Me -Good point, but all I know is that they said to bring her in.

And half way through the visit it hit me, they were fishing for more business.  At first it was subtle.  Is she happy with her credit card.  Then inquiring about her mortgage rate, which I found odd, the banker knew she no longer had one, and her response was -- oh yes, I know, but what about you, are you happy with your rate?

Ding, ding, ding.   She was trying to bring me into the fold; we have no accounts with the institution.  Nor will we anytime in the near future.

And there we have a lesson -- banks are a place of business.  The take in your money and pay you x, then they lend it out for x plus y.  And they need the plus y to make profits.  So remember, when you stop in at your local bank or credit union, they are friendly and helpful, but also in the business of sales.  Compare prices, ask if you really need what they are offering, and understand all the associated fees.  They make a profit -- due you know how?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Diverting Food Scraps From the Landfill, and Some Thankful Squirrels

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

Meet my new friend, Sir Squirrel!  Yes, I have befriended the squirrels.  No longer tossing the copious amount of food tossed, shredded, and discarded by my children (which was not suitable for the compost pile due to the presence of butter or being a meat or cheese product) into the trash, it now goes into a bowl on the back porch.  And the squirrels adore me.  I can say they'll be sorry when the children mature enough to drastically cut this kind of waste, until then, we'll have a sense of equanimity in the backyard.

Sure, I'm certain this behavior violates wildlife management protocol.  But I no longer fuss when I see a squirrel eating the bird food. They wait for the bowl offering, leaving the seed for the birds.  We're all happy. And my cats love the close up wildlife action...a mere few inches separated by the glass door.

How do you minimized what goes into the landfill?  This is one of my creative ways, but I love to hear about more.  Post a comment, and enjoy your weekend.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Frugal Kitchen: Chicken Soup to the Rescue

A quiet week on Frugal Upside usually translates into a chaotic week in my home and work life.  And that has been the case of late.  Maybe chaotic isn't the right word, but rather sickly.  It started with a sick husband, spread to the older child, brought down the nanny, and then our younger one fell ill.  As I type the children are resting on sofas, and my husband has recovered enough to go to work.  Thankfully  I am still standing, with a mere froggy voice and a cough.

Going on two weeks of extended illness in the house, our grocery plans have gone astray.  And thanks to the art of chicken soup, my frugal kitchen turned with the times. Earlier in the week I was called home early, scratched plans for a dinner meeting, and ended up bringing home rotisserie and egg fried rice from the local grocer.  It provided a quick and simple meal for the adults that evening, and the next day morphed into a simple salad for me as well as chicken soup for the entire family.

A favorite salad from leftovers is so simple: grapes, walnuts, hunks of chicken and a dab of mayo.  This was perfect because we were reaching the end of the grapes shelf-life, no waste! Combined with crackers and a few slices of cheese for a tasty, simple lunch before heading off to the office.

And the same concept was use for the soup.  First I sauteed the few veggies that were in danger of going to compost: peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and added some garlic.  In went what remained of the chicken along with a carton of chicken broth, 2 cups water, and some barley.  Tasty, simple, and a great use of veggies with a short shelf life.  And I was able to freeze two small portions for lunches as well.

Not an ideal way to use the produce I purchased, but you know how the saying goes - make a plan, and make the universe (insert other deity if you choose) laugh.  Flexibility in planning, menus, and recipes is key to a frugal kitchen operation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Frugal Food for a Midwestern Deep Freeze

This past Saturday the high temperature in Madison reached 40 January....Madison, Wisconsin!  And then Mother Nature decided enough with the silliness, ordered up 50 mph winds, and plunged us into a deep freeze.  Today's high did not break double digits, and the wind chill puts us at below zero.  So, what better way to counter such a fierce change of direction?  Plunge into the chest freezer and pull out the tastes of summer for dinner!

Here was dinner at our home (note, a sick child is content with cinnamon buttered toast and ice water -- this was for the parents):

  • slow cooker chicken breasts with chopped tangerines (from the counter, and close to joining the compost pile) and a drizzle of honey;
  • corn; 
  • cream of asparagus soup; and
  • strawberry rhubarb crumble.
For the soup I melted 1/4 cup butter, added 1/4 cup flour, mixed (off heat), added 1 carton chicken broth (substitute vegetable broth if you desire), 1 package pureed asparagus (from the freezer), 1/2 cup cream, salt and pepper to tasty.  Simmer for 30 minutes -- and memories of Spring will spring to mind with the first bite.

The dessert was as simple as thawing a jar of mashed strawberries and bag of chopped rhubarb (both local, from the farmers' market last summer).  Place in a quiche dish, and pour the following mix over top: 4 tablespoons softened butter; tablespoon of honey; 2 eggs; 1 teaspoon vanilla; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1/2 cup almond meal; 2 tablespoons of my homemade granola.  This is great for those in need of a low GI dessert or something that is gluten free.

Amazingly flavorful, simple, inexpensive, and a reminder that this weather shall pass, and once again I'll be making trips to an outdoor farmers' market.

How about you -- what frugal foods to you turn to this time of year?

No pictures tonight...just one of those days.  Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon with more reflections from my frugal life.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Frugal for a Purpose -- I Want to Travel the World

Today, during a first attempt at taking a "day of rest" I shared images from a favorite blog of mine (The Other Side of the Ocean) with my children.  Not only did they learn about mosques, see images of homes so different than their own, but a spark of desire to travel was lit.  My four year old said, I want to travel the world!  To which I responded, so do I and I want you to come with me.  It is this desire, to travel, and travel far and wide, that helps me maintain a frugal lifestyle in a modern culture of consume, consume, and consume some more.

Young children and self-employment have grounded our travel plans of late.  There have been a few trips north to Bayfield (6 hour drive, each way), a trip to Door County back in 2009 when there was only my son, and occasional day trips to Milwaukee.  But this Spring will bring a return to airports, car rentals, and luggage.  Tickets are purchased for an adventure in Washington, D.C., a city I called home for several years in the mid-1990s.  Among the many reasons to travel, the foremost is it is home to a dear friend, the sister I never had.  We'll spend a few days with her and her family, tour some select sites, and get our feet wet as a traveling family of four.  The list of future trips is already in my mind, each year getting a bit more challenging.  Time will tell if we advance enough to be able to make a trip in a few years to the same dear friends, who will have been transferred to Guam thanks to the Department of Defense.

So, as I navigate daily life, making choices between frugal or not, I will call up this song in my mind.  I want my kids to see the Eiffel Tower on a Paris night.  I have, and it was well worth cutting coupons, saying no to the latest gadget, and eating in.

What motivates your frugal living?  Post a comment, I'd love to know.

As for the day of rest, it went well even though we observed it while my husband was at work.  Very low key day.  Stayed in PJs until just before lunch, avoided laundry and other household chores except washing the dishes and cleaning off the table.  Meals were very simple, mainly various leftovers.  We left the house (which when you have young children takes 30 minutes for snow pants, mittens, boots, hats, etc) only to walk to Garner Park.  There we found turkey tracks, made snow angels and bet Mr. Bob the one-eyed dog out for a walk.  The end of the day was about snuggling to watch PBS videos on-line, read books, build with  blocks and listen to the arctic air blow into the region (tomorrow's high forecast to be 14, today it was 40).  Not bad for a first try, and so enjoyable I plan to make a routine out of it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day of Rest...

Do you ever have moments when you feel as though The Universe is trying to tell you something?  I do.  At least lately I have.  The message coming through is -- Melinda you need to make room for rest in your life.

First, last night I was reading bedtime stories to the kids.  One book was a simplified version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods.  The author describes Ma's work philosophy -- there is a day for each job: Wash on Monday; Iron on Tuesday.....Bake on Saturday; and rest on Sunday.  Hmmmm, rest doesn't that seem like a nice idea.  And then on I went with reading stories.

Second, today I found a post on Facebook about a new book called 24/6.  Written by an author it advocates that Americans reclaim a day of rest.  Sunday or whatever day works, and with it will come decreased cases of depression, etc.  Intrigued I clicked on the full article.  Immediately I focused on the picture.  Wow, she is in PJs, with feet up, reading the paper.  That looks soooo luxurious!  I'd love more of that!

And it hit me.  This fits into my efforts to bring more of what we have in Bayfield (annual trip) home.  Yes, a day for rest.  That is what we need.  Being who I am, an extreme Type A, I immediately began circulating "days" in my mind.  Monday - Saturday really won't work because my husband works those days.  Without him it would be hard to have a true feeling of rest for our little home.  Of course there is the traditional Sunday, but we try more often than not to attend services at our UU Church (Prairie here in Madison). And when you are taking our young kids to church, well it is not a day of rest.  And with that I am out of days.  What to do, what to do?

Some may scratch there head in wonder at this post.  Rest, why that is so easy to fit in?  However, our house falls more into the category of Busy Backsoon as described in Benjamin's Hoff's book The Tao of Pooh.  Not something I am proud of, but something I recognize and accept.  Maybe an entire day of rest is simply not practical at this stage in our life?  Maybe I can create a hybrid approach?  I already have a rule that I will not do housework after 6:30pm.  If the house is not relatively tidy at the time, then that is it.  I will handle the mess in the morning.  Maybe declaring a few blocks of time every day for rest will be more obtainable?

Time will tell.  For now I am busy working on being a little bit less of a Busy Backsoon and a little bit more like Pooh Bear.  If you live a life more like Pooh and have tips, please share.  I have requested the above mentioned book from the library and am eager to read the doctor's advice.  It seems natural that from constant 24/7 lives flows not only depression, but over consumption, isolation, waste, etc.  With slowing down, doing less, I hope to walk a little easier on the earth, save a bit of money, and improve my health.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013 - The Year of Bringing Bayfield Home

Without a doubt, I am too stressed when I begin to daydream about selling our home and moving north to Bayfield where we would grow sunflowers, raise alpaca, and write.  Yes, it is my litmus test for stress.  When those ideas pop into my daily thoughts, I must recognize that the stress meter for life has gone into the red zone.  Time for action.  And that is what happened just before my last post. the one where I declared a break from blogging here on Frugal Upside.  Life was way too stressful.

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012 -- view from Madeline Island (Bayfield)

Why Bayfield?  It is our annual summer vacation spot.  And with it comes several days of joy and beauty.  Even if the weather is cold and rainy or hot and buggy, what happens in Bayfield always seems magical.  And so it naturally flows that when life gets hard, my brain starts conjuring up scenarios of year round bliss by moving to Bayfield.

Thankfully I also know that such a move would likely be superficial.  Moving locations never really changes anything. It is moving one's behavior that is key to change.  And with that I know that what we need is to bring the feeling of Bayfield home with us, not making our home in Bayfield.  The expression "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" comes to mind as I write tonight.  But I don't want what happens in Bayfield to stay there. Nope, we need the following in our everyday lives:

  • exploring nature;
  • home cooked, fresh meals;
  • adventures in art and culture;
  • locomotion without the automobile, and
  • a simplicity approach to life.
Longtime readers of Frugal Upside might recognize these themes as they are not really new to me.  But I enter this new year with a more mindful approach to embracing them in every day life, not saving them for days set aside for vacation.  While I will still post about frugal ways to spend money, my focus in the near future will be about the bigger picture. Frugality is the efficient expenditure of money, but also of time, of one's life.  

And I have a special thank you to extend to regular readers.  Since taking a pause from writing Frugal Upside, I have heard from several you about how you have followed this blog.  Those comments really warmed my heart and encouraged me to post again.  Since my focus is on keeping stress as low as possible, my posts will be irregular.  I may post several days in a row or only once or twice a month.  Life will dictate, but please follow along as I am back in posting mode.  And I have made leaving a comment much easier since hearing that people had problems posting.  Please be kind in your comments, both to me and other readers.  If they are not kind, they will be deleted as there is too much negativity in the world in my opinion.

Thanks, and my your 2013 be filled with joy and wonder.