Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Life Happens in the Frugal Home: Emergency Vets and Hardwood Floor Cleaner!

They say if you want to make god laugh, make a plan.  If so, someone or some thing has been laughing quite a bit this past week.  My plan has been to post a Sunday Green note every Sunday, using the wonderful ideas share in the Prairie UU Order of Service.  And this Sunday we did attend, even though sleep deprived. I remembered to bring home said Order of Service.  And in the evening I took a brief walk to relax, and planned to return home and post.  Instead I returned to find what looked like a kitty homicide had occurred in the kitchen.  And standing there was my 15 year old male, bleeding from his head.  And there went my plan.

First, everyone is fine.  At least fine now.  It appears our newly adopted 5 year old had had enough of his grumpy ways and let him have it.  Not until the next morning did we learn that all that blood came from one strike, which had hit a vein in his ear.  Wow -- that is a lot of blood from one strike!  She has excellent aim it appears.  And so the cat I wrote about frugally adopting has now generated a $400 emergency vet bill. Thankfully we use our frugal ways to build an emergency fund for the months when such an expense is not built in.  The upside of frugal, a bill like that does not require you to use a credit card as an emergency fund. Sure, I used it to pay the bill.  Why wouldn't I; we receive 1% cash back for every purchase.  But our frugal ways mean it is paid in full, no interest in this home.

Our "frugal adopted" cat -- who has excellent aim,

So, it may be Tuesday, but here is the Green Note from Sunday that makes my posts easier....but not always timely.  I have not used it yet, but will be.  We have hard woods, and now in an effort to keep the cat peace and prevent another ER Vet visit, a litter box is situated upstairs. Translation; I'll be cleaning the floors upstairs more often than in the past!

Green Floor Cleaners. For hard floors, combine 1/4 cup liquid castile (vegetable based) soap with 1/4 to 1/2 cup either vinegar or lemon juice in 2 gallons of warm water in a bucket. Use with a mop or a sponge.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Homemade Birthday Cake, It's The Frugal Way

Over the summer our two children turned 3 and 5.  In the weeks, maybe even months, leading up to their birthdays both children placed and revisited their "birthday cake order."  A common trend it seems is for a parent to order a cake at the grocery store, bakery, or ice cream shop. Sure, the quality is usually top rate, any imaginable theme can be captured, and it' fairly easy.  Unless you are this frugal mom.

I simply refuse to purchase a birthday cake.  And shhhhh, I don't think my kids even know it is an option. When birthdays role around in our frugal home, Mama heads to the kitchen.  Cooking, which includes baking, is essential to running a frugal home.  And one need not be a french trained chef to pull off a birthday cake.  All you need is an idea and access to Google.  In fact, once you are comfortable enough in the kitchen, it is a great place to spend time with wee-ones, and instill in them the basics of food prep.  It will save time, be relatively healthy, and cost far less than a cake from the store.

My little one celebrated first, and had been requesting the following for months: "a rainbow cake with fish.". It only took me a few minutes to zero in on an Angle Food cake.  Fruit would make up the rainbow, a bit of whip cream to create clouds and base to a-fix blue sprinkles for "water" where I used frosting gel to create some fish.  The cake was from a mix -- which I opted for after reading about how hard one is to make from scratch.   It was easy enough, and assembled in a hotel bathroom since we were traveling on her actual birthday.

Our son adored his 4th birthday cake, and requested a repeat -- chocolate, chocolate chip.  I used Ghiradelli coco as well as chocolate chips.  His theme included an airplane this year.  To accomplish this I dusted the cake with powered sugar (for clouds) and poured blue/purple frosting into an airplane cookie cutter.  It turned out fine, and was delicious!

And I threw in a bonus....we took treats to our church on his actual birthday.  Cupcakes inside ice cream cones.  Filled 2/3s of the way with batter, baked for 25 minutes, topped with frosting and sprinkles.  A great twist on cupcakes -- no wrapper to purchase and then toss in the trash, and amusing for children and adults.

So there you have my frugal birthday cakes and treats.  Have something to share?  Inspire others on how you celebrate without breaking the bank!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Frugal Living: A Sunday Green Note

Okay, so it is actually Monday, but here is a Sunday Green Note, borrowed from the service bulletin at Prairie UU here in Madison.  Every week (we do miss some) I enjoy taking a few moments to read their recommendation on how to save resources.  And it makes for an ever so easy post to share with you here.

From Sunday, August 18th, 2013 --
Generating enough electricity to cook for an hour in a standard electric oven creates 2.7 pounds of carbon dioxide.  For less output: toaster over = 1.3 pounds over 50 minutes; slow cooker = 0.9 pounds over seven hours; and a microwave oven = 0.5 pounds over 15 minutes.

Reading this reinforced my love of my slow cooker!  Save energy, save money, eat at home, and reduce your carbon foot print.

Sunday also marked our oldest child's 5th birthday.  More on that in future posts, but it was filled with laughter, love, time, and was frugal compared to what has become of the child birthday in modern America.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Raising Children Without Paying for TV

A few weeks ago there was a knock on our front door.  I opened it to find a well-dressed salesman from Direct TV on the steps.  Politely he informed me that his crew was in the area installing services at neighboring homes, and "since we're here we can offer you a discount."  I smiled and said thank, you no thank you.  Being a well trained salesperson he attempted to keep the conversation going by asking "may I ask what TV service you currently use, we can beat their prices!"  My response was not part of his script and left him a bit puzzled, "we don't pay for any TV, in fact we watch very little and when we do it is PBS."  He muttered something along the lines of "you don't watch TV?" My smile continued, and as my three year old joined me at the door I said "yes, we prefer them to be entertained by the outdoors, books or games.  Thanks and good luck."  I closed the door and returned to my kids, who had been coloring at the kitchen table.

Now don't get me wrong.  Our kids do not live in a bubble of no TV.  In fact, as I type they are watching a Magic School Bus episode.  TV, or screen time does exists in our house, but with limits.  We are doing our best to help them have a healthy relationship with TV -- it's all about balance.

So how do we raise kids without electronic media in constant play?  Here are a few tools from our playbook:

  1. Garden and do yard work.  The patio railing holds a collection of herbs.  We have a few potted pepper and tomato plants that need water and tending to every day.  We recently add some perennial plants to our yard.  Give kids a directed place to dig and get dirty.
  2. Take nature walks in your neighborhood.  There is a creek (think city water draining to the lake) with a bridge just behind our house.  Most night we walk over to take a look.  Might we see the raccoon again?  What color are the leaves.  Is the mulberry tree ripe?  Both kids usually take a notepad and colors with them for make drawings.
  3. Embrace the power of colors!  A great way to have the kids close in the kitchen and not too underfoot is to have them color at the table while I cook.  Paper is the discarded sheets from my writing efforts or seminar handouts that I do not need.
  4. Ask them to build something.  Whether it be with blocks, Legos, or toilet paper rolls, give them a pile and say "surprise me with a creation!"
  5. Board games are a great way to be silly and practice important life lessons.  We have a lovely collection of age appropriate games given as birthday and holiday gifts from a dear friend.  
  6. Books -- read aloud with emotion and gusto.  Kids will laugh, you'll all be entertained, and it is a great way to enhance vocabulary.
  7. Let them get a little bored.  Then let them figure out something to do. TV often lets kids sit still for hours.  Figuring out what to do, or seeking something out is a great life skill.
  8. Set limits.  Screens are not in our car.  They never have been and never will.  Take books, stuffed animals, or drawing tablets (not the electronic kind) in the car.  
Those are my go-to ways to raise children without the constant drone of the TV.  It severely limits exposure to advertising designed to get kids to beg, kick and scream for products at the store.  It is not easy, but sometimes the hard route is worth it.  Our library supplies most all of our videos.  And we have an Amazon Prime Membership; for $79 a year we get access to streaming videos as well as free shipping for any item labeled as prime.  No Netflix, no direct TV, not cable -- yet we survive.  In fact, I'd say we thrive.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

When Frugal Isn't Thrifting

Loyal readers of Frugal Upside now how I love thrift stores -- great prices, great way to keep products out of landfills.  It's a win win.  But it isn't always the most frugal approach.  Yes, sometimes a trip to the high-end mall is more frugal.  

This past Friday the kids and I were in "back to school" mode.  An odd phrase since this is their first school season; our son will be in kindergarten, and our daughter pre-school. Both are enrolled in the full-day, 5 day program, and Madison Waldorf.  And with enrollment comes many things, including a supply of appropriate clothing.  At Waldorf there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.  Rain boots are a key feature, and will be used a lot.  

With our son having a growth spurt, I know his current boots will suddenly be too small.  We need new ones, and being Type A, I want them now so they are ready when needed.  It was to Morgan's Shoes at Hilldale that I directed my shopping.  In the past I have found excellent footwear at thrift stores, but the supply is not certain.  I knew I needed size 11.  Throw in a coupon for $10 off plus a store credit of $50, I knew Morgan's was the best bet for maximizing our time and money.  They'd have exactly what I'd need, in the correct size, be of durable quality so that our daughter can use them too.  And the prices on everything else will not tempt me to "buy because it so cheap" -- something too many people, including myself, fall pry too at thrift stores.   Off we went!  My daughter led the adventure.

And frugal it was.  Boots, sized 11, were acquired.  And classroom slippers (required for both kids) were found for our daughter.  I had already found some for our son over the summer, at Goodwill, paying $2.99. Her slippers were marked down to $14 and then had an additional 50% off.  The total for both boots and slippers would have been $42, but I had the $10 coupon.  The final bill was $32 and a little for tax.  My loyal shopper card was full, giving us $50 store credit.  When the transaction was complete the clerk handed me my new punch card and a receipt showing my credit.  I had already done the math in my head, and expected to see $15 listed.  Instead it said $5 -- "hmmmm, why is this $5 and not $15, looks like the $10 coupon is not reflected?"  And that was the case.  My kids and I waited while the clerk battled the computer.  In the end the credit was adjusted, and she gave us a few extra punches on our loyal shopper card for waiting patiently.  I was pleased....once it is full, it will be worth another $50.  Here was the end product, not costing a penny out of pocket.

As you find yourself with a shopping list and a desire to save money, ask yourself is thrift is really frugal. Will you be tempted to fill the cart knowing you can leave with a ton of stuff for $50?  Sure, it may only cost $50 and you have a ton of it, but did you need it?  A "good buy" is not always wise or frugal.  Also, make sure you have a total amount in mind as you approach the register.  Mistakes happen all the time.  Don't overpay because you were distracted or had no idea what the bill should be.  This behavior is common when paying with credit or debit; when you pay with cash you are more mindful of the dollar amount spent.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the back-to-school season!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Frugal Perennial Vegetable Garden -- Use Barter

 Bag of plants exchanged for bread

My desire is to convert the south facing side of our ranch house from an overgrown bed of weeds to a lush perennial vegetable garden.  This past week my wish converged with two other desires: not to spend much if any money on gardening, and deepen social connections with friends.  As I write tonight I can say, mission accomplished.  Okay, mission underway!

Thanks to Facebook and a post on the church listserve, we now have numerous perennial vegetable plants -- and new friends.  I posted a want for rhubarb in exchange for home baked bread.  One house passed on the bread, and we dug up on rhubarb plant.  The other house gladly accepted the bread, had us over, and sent us off with not only rhubarb but: garlic, oregano, chives, and some ground cover.

Motivated, I hope to continue this model as we aim to expand the garden.  Plants for baked goods, sharing time with neighbors, and next I'll offer up trades -- something I don't have for any of the countless day lillies or hostas that abound in our yard.

Thanks to "the barter" we are achieving several goals, and are falling in love with home gardens.

Home of our garlic plantings