Friday, June 28, 2013

Reuse in the Garden -- Frugal Inspiration

Earlier this week the kids and I paid a visit to a friend and neighbor.  We share several common interests, including frugal living and gardening.  As she showed me around her yard I simply had to take a few photos to share here with all of you.  I was there for about 30 minutes, and left inspired to spend little to have a remarkable garden.

First, using old CDs (unusable installation disks, the free AOL ones that used to arrive in the mail, etc.) to deter birds on the cherry tree.  It is supposed to be dwarf, but has gotten a tad to big to easily net.  The disks cast shimmers throughout the day, and so far, so good.  The old net was not discarded, it now protects her blueberry bushes!

Old hubcaps became stepping stones in the garden.

And a headboard found on the curb was given a second life for her bean plants that need something to climb.

What frugal inspiration is in your garden?  Leave a comment and inspire us all.  Thanks to Cindy and Molly for the tour....we'll return later in the summer for a morning visit (my kids started to wilt, cutting the visit a bit short).

Frugal Farmers' Market Tip -- Buy in Bulk

Yesterday afternoon the kids and I ran several errands, all centered around the primary destination.  Fitchburg's evening farmers' market.  It runs from 3-6pm, located under a tent, and offers lovely live music and the best French pastry store this side of the Atlantic -- La Baquette.  It's a drive, but worth it, especially if I work in other errands in the area.

As noted in my previous post, this years freezer strategy is two fold: buy in bulk, and buy it all at one time.  And once again it seems to have worked well.  This week I took Swiss Chard off my to-buy list.  When I asked "do you give a discount if I buy a lot?" the response was "yes, I can do 2 for $10".  So I took $20 worth.  Cleaned, chopped, steamed, and then into freezer bags.  I'll have Swiss Chard for quiche and soups all winter long.  From the rest of the season any that I buy will be for immediate consumption.  It's efficient and seems to stretch the dollar well.

What's your favorite frugal farmer's market tip?

Thursday's purchases -- from fresh berries to cilantro to greens and of course the pain au chocolat (divided three ways between the kids and I)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Strawberry Season in the Frugal Home

The expression "eat locally" is easier here is verdant Madison, Wisconsin then let's say Washington, D.C., a city I once called home.  However, while lush with vegetation during the summer months, there is no getting past the fact that strawberries have an "in-season", and when it is over, it is over until next year.

Last year I did a wonderful job of freezing fresh local fruit; sometimes twice a week I'd visit a farmers' market with the kids.  That was last year, this year our schedule is a bit demanding.  And so I found myself last Wednesday looking at the calendar.  Time was ticking on the strawberry season, and I had yet to freeze a single one.

So what do you do the morning before you leave for a 6 hour car drive north, with 2 kids, for a few days or relaxing up north?  And you have an afternoon of client meetings, followed by packing clothes and food?  You run off to the market with the children and buy 8 quarts of berries....that must be frozen that day.  Nothing like a tight deadline to stir up motivation.

And so there you are, for $24 we now have 7 quarts of local strawberries tucked away in the chest freezer.  The remaining quart was cleaned and enjoyed with meals for the following 36 hours.  The process was really quite fast.  We returned home, the kids played in the backyard while I sliced off tops, rinsed a quart at a time and put them in freezer bags.  And it was a hop to the backyard compost bin to maximize the refuse.  While a bit time pressured, I actually preferred this approach.  I have enough strawberries stored for winter.  Any we purchase now are for immediate consumption.  Time to focus on the next fruit or veggie to preserve.  One item at a time is my motto for Summer 2013.

Also, I picked up a new trick this year.  Use a brown paper bag in the freezer to hold each food item.  It is easy to locate, move around, and write on.  A friend from Prairie UU showed me this idea when she pulled out a bunch of rhubarb that needed a new home.....and is now in our freezer.  We now have a bag of rhubarb, strawberries, and asparagus.  What will I freeze next?

Author's note: my posts have been quite sporadic on Frugal Upside, but for good reason.  This summer I am finishing a book I have written related to my legal practice.  Most "free" time has been focused on that project, but as the writing comes to an end I'll have more time to write about our frugal life.  Thanks for reading, and all those comments!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Quicken Deal

It was the acquisition of my new laptop that forced us into an examination of our use of Quicken software.  Why?  We'd lost the installation disk.  Did we really want to spend $60 for the new software?  Especially since we use it as a register for our various accounts, and do not use it for the "auto" updates.  We're old school.  We enter expenditures and deposits, and then cross check it with statements.  And every now and then we find errors.  Trust them to sink up? least not my engineer husband.

So -- do we make another purchase?  Alternatives were considered, none seemed that great, or able to handle the various accounts.  Joint checking, emergency fund, business accounts for me, business accounts for him, a credit card, and then our investments: retirements, HSA, college funds.  Quicken had what we needed, so we moved forward.

And then a moment of loveliness for our frugal family occurred.  If we signed up for a Quicken credit card we'd receive $60 toward a Quicken purchase.  And the basic software we wanted was....$60.  We signed up, and intended to cancel the card once it was received.  Sure enough it worked.  Approved, credited $60, paid in full -- as we do with every and all credit cards.  But then we got an even more pleasant surprise.  Should we use the card at drug stores, gas stations or restaurants we would receive a credit of 2%.  Double the 1% we now get with our USAA credit card.

Credit is not our go to when making purchases, as business owner we are aware just how much of an extra costs our convenience creates for the business owner.  And when an owner has higher costs, they are passed on to the consumer.  Used sparingly, I do routinely use them when buying gas for no reason other than when I have two kids strapped into car seats, I am not inclined to run in and use cash for the purchase.

Credit cards should not be the first line of payment in a frugal home.  If you are disciplined, they can save you money.  Keep it frugal by:

  • using one that pays you CASH back....skip the miles and other teasers;
  • track each purchase in your don't want a surprise when the bill arrives;
  • pay your balance in full; and 
  • never use it for a cash advance.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rules for Frugal Thrifting

Sunday was a day of relaxation and no work for our little family.  We started with attending services at Prairie Unitarian.  Returned home for a quick lunch (soup and sandwiches).  My husband and gets tackled the laundry while I cleaned up after lunch and prepared a slow, frugal dinner.  Chicken in the crockpot with peppers; oatmeal bread in the bread machine; and diced veggies in the wok waiting to be sizzled later in the. After about an hour of putting the house in order, we headed out.  Our first destination was our neighborhood Goodwill Store.  And once again we left in happily, my husband humming the lyrics to this recent hit....$20 in my pocket.

We "scored" well on Sunday, spending $20.82.  For me three pairs of shoes (two for business, Ariat and Fair Indigo, both new and pricey when purchased from a retail outlet), a pair of indoor slippers for our son to use this fall at school, kitchen pans for the children's backyard  mulch pit; a hooded wool sweater for our daughter; a Magic School Bus book both children will enjoy; a few cloth napkins (why toss paper when you can wash); and sunglasses for my husband.  The total was closer to $30, but we had an $8 store credit to use.  But still, all of that for $20.  Here are my favorite ways to make the most of thrift store shopping.  It's good for your wallet, the Earth, and can put a smile on your face:

  1. Shop alone. Okay, so I didn't do that this time.  Sunday is family day, and with both parents along it was far easier to watch and manage young children if just one of us was there.  I will never pay a sitter to thrift shop -- savings are quickly offset by sitter fees.  We have no family to provide free care, so this is a huge factor for us;
  2. Make a list.  I entered the store with specifics in mind -- rain pants for both children were at the top of my list, but did not appear this time.
  3. Have standard items you keep an eye out for -- outer wear for the children (hats, coats, mittens, etc. of high quality), items for the garden (bird feeders, pots, etc), shoes, and books.
  4. Use coupons for the store.  I have "frequent shopper" cards which often come with advance notice of sales or special rewards.  Savers will give you a 20% off coupon if you bring a donation.  Many offer Seniors a discount on a set day of the week, Tuesday for example. Hunt around and figure out how you can save when buying use; and
  5. Enter with a budget, preferably in cash.  Set a limit on what you spend, don't let "bargains" drive you to toss things in the cart.  Most stores a full of great finds, but soon you have a bill upwards of $100.
We'll go again, once or twice a month.  Always following the above rules.  The savings can be quite impressive.  And when disciplined you'll find yourself with money to save.  I doubt if I'll ever purchase much from retail outlets for the next few decades.  And when we move our children into their college dorms, I'll smile knowing my thrifting ways allowed us to save aggressively for college when they were tots.  And hopefully the thrift gene will continue.  Both already know that trips to Goodwill and Savers give items a second or third life, save us money, and make mom smile. 

We topped off the afternoon my enjoying Wisconsin State Parks' Open House and visited Governor Nelson State Park.  The playground, beach, and trails made for a lovely end to a highly frugal day.  And reminded me that a park sticker is needed for the car....exploring the great outdoors is a wonderful, frugal, way to spend time.