Saturday, September 28, 2013

Silly Things to Say to a Frugalista

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- Hand of 3 year old at Science Festival

Do you have a frugalista or other so-called frugal one in your life? If so, the following questions are likely to draw out a laugh:
  • How much doe this event cost?  An actual question my husband posed to me earlier today when we made plans to check out the Science Festival at the Institute for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus?  I chuckled, shook my head and answered with a question of my own -- what do you think? The answer was no!  Off we went, via bikes for an afternoon of exploration in a state of the art facility.  Search your weekly free newspaper or websites for ideas on events that are free an open to the public.  I did, and that is how we ended up spending less than $7 for an afternoon (we splurged for coffees for mom and dad, and a cookie for the kids);
  • Was that expensive?  Asked by my husband seconds after a coffee mug slipped from his hands and shattered in the kitchen sink?  Really, you know me better than that!  The mug was part of a set I bought in 2006 when we married.  Bought on clearance I got big and small plates along with mugs for just under $20.  Over the years the set has shrunk, but that fact is no big deal. Growing up my husband's mother would order a replacement piece from the vendor when a plate or mug broke.  At our house, when one breaks I pull from the stash I have in our basement.  It was created from trips to Savers and Goodwill and is usually used for parties.  Mismatched bohemian is the theme in my frugal kitchen. I highly recommend it if you are working to save dollars.
  • Should I have thrown that baggy away?  After parking our bikes on campus I pulled out a small cooler with snacks for the family.  Not wanting to spend too much money on food, it was easier and less expensive to raid our fridge before leaving home.  When possible I use tupperware containers, but in this case I had used a plastic baggie to bring along leftover eggs.  Only after tossing the bag did my husband ask this final silly question of the day.  And the answer was no, I wash an reuse them.  Plastic is quite durable.  It's not my go-to portability method, but when used I attempt to stretch every last bit of utility out of it!
Have another sure-fire question to elicit a laugh?  If so, please leave a comment!

A Day Late: Passing on the Coupon

Friday night usually means pizza night at our house.  Combined with veggies and or fruit, it makes for a simple meal at the end of a work / school week.  As I contemplated an order last night I felt that I had a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.  One saying "order it, make life easier!"  The other saying "no, no, you said you didn't want to spend money.  Make something out of what you have, it's work, but you said you wouldn't spend!"

Which voice did I follow?  The one telling me to order the pizza.  Why? To have a frugal life is to pace oneself.  Too intense for too long will result in meltdown down the road.  I called our favorite place, with coupon in hand.  It would have been $15 for a medium pizza, plus tip.  As I called I realized we did not need a medium pizza, a small would suffice and it was $2 less.  Sure, you get more for your money, but did we need more?  No.  I skipped the coupon, got a small sausage pizza and added apples and peas to the plates.

A frugal life does not require you to live "off-the-grid" 24x7.  It does require a pause prior to a purchase, give some thought to what you need, what you want, what your goals are.  Stop, reflect, and make a decision that allows you to be frugal for life, not just a day.

And now we are off to get ready for a science fair on the UW-Madison campus.  We plan to bike down, giving us exercise, no parking fee, and no gasoline use.  Watch for pics and a post later today.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Frugal Isn't Cheap

It was the 2 day notice that the book was needed back at the library that encouraged me to pick up Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live better by Clare Levison and Sharon Lechter.  If frugality is new to you, then I highly recommend the book.  A quick read, it's broken down to chapters you can zero in on. For example, investments or another on major purchases.  Being a CPA the author does a great job of breaking down the math many people have a hard time with. For example, the $10 you fritter away every week on something you really do not care about could be $520 in your savings account.  For me, this book was too elementary.  It's for frugality 101, and I'm interested in PhD level frugality.

I must say that one chapter did stand out, and is rarely present in other books on frugality.  The concept that time is money.  She tears into the coupon extreme behavior, pointing out buying something for pennies is silly if you do not really need the item(s).  One story was a women who bought 30 jars of mustard for dirt cheap, but has a family that does not eat mustard.  The author continues on to encourage readers to focus on paid work. Many frugal practices, when viewed as hourly work, pay less than minimum wage.  Again, this topic is not new to me.  I realize that you can only trim so much from a budget, but income can be increased to generate savings and other frugal moves.

As I close tonight, I'd love recommendations for books that take frugal living beyond 101, but not "living off the grid".  A dose of inspiration or fresh ideas is gladly welcomed as we continue our "talks" with the children's former school.  I'm amazed that an organization that prides itself on being progressive and anti-corporate holds so tightly to contractual language of a harsh nature.  The sting of paying "stupid tax" is sharp tonight.

A favorite image from our nature walk earlier in the week at the UW Arboretum.  
M. Gustafson Gervasi 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Frugal at 40

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 - UW Arboretum

To most it is Wednesday, hump day.  For me it is my first full day of being 40, that great marker in life was passed yesterday. My original celebration plans were altered by the changes going on in the chidlrens' lives, so they were with us all day.  And it was a lovely unplanned turn of events.  For me turning 40 did not translate into a big party, luxury gifts, or spa retreats.  It was simple, and it was frugal.

Two coffees from two favorite coffee shops, both free with loyalty punch cards.  A buffet lunch at a favorite Indian restaurant -- the bonus of the kids eating for FREE.  Followed by a stroll in the UW Arboretum where we pointed out signs of fall and simply took in the beauty of nature.  Dinner was steak and lobster, at home, from the freezer.  Dessert was an apple pie my mother made and brought over.  I finished the night with a short run, looking ahead to a new decade.  Time was the largest gift of my day.  No meetings to rush to.  No school bell to scurry after.  No lines or menus or excessive waste.  And that to me is the upside of being frugal.

Thanks for reading, and I'm back to attempting posts at least 5 days a week.  And guest posts are always welcome!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Pajama Hanger

After a good nights rest our frugal family seeks out the pajama hanger.  At ages five and three our children are well aware of different ways to save money.  There are the big things, such as purchasing a house at half the price the bank said we could afford.  And there are the little things like the pajama hanger.  It's a great way to stretch the use of PJs before the are dropped down the laundry slot.  Nothing causes me to smile more than hearing my five year old explaining reasoning to our three year old.  In the case of the pajamas he'll say: 
  • it saves us money on water because we won't do as much wash
  • it saves money on electricity because we are not using the washer or dryer as much
  • saves money by not buying as much detergent!
And at three she also knows "And it's good for the rain forest!"  Both children love the animals of the rain forest, and we've used that to help them understand why something they may not like actually does something good.  It works well on hot summer days and they want the water hose running for hours -- it would be fun, but not fun for the rain forest (might be a stretch, but it works).

If you are looking for ways to save, consider a Pajama Hanger.  This is not something you'll find on-line or in the store.  Just take one from the closet and put it in the bathroom.  You now have a place to hang your pajamas in the morning, ready for another wearing.  When children are involved you will get far more wears if the pajamas are put up before breakfast (think oatmeal with honey).

And for loyal readers, my apologies for the gap in posts.  My intention had been to post almost daily, and then life happened.   What we thought was a wise and frugal purchase for our children turned into a week of hard decisions.  In the end we are likely going to pay some of what Dave Ramsey calls "stupid tax".  When paying for a service in advance to receive a "discount" I will always remember -- they have your money, and if you are unhappy and leave, then you have to get your money back".  We are in the midst of reworking a very large and important element of the children's lives.  My posts may or may not be more regular, but this development as thrown me into super sonic frugal overdrive.  And I'd love ideas from readers.  My goal is not to simply save, but to simply not spend.  Or at least for a few more months.  And once again we've been reminded that the upside of frugal living is the power of choice.  We have freedom in our careers to start our own businesses, which is wonderful.  And when we reach a point where something is clearly bad for the children, we can walk away and rely on the cushion of savings.  And that is the blessing of a frugal life.  

And now looking ahead, to my favorite time of year - fall.  Enjoy, be well, and thanks for reading.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mother-Daughter Bonding, Frugal Style

One Sunday a month I gather with a group of women in what we call Book Club With a Twist.  Also referred to as the Twisted Book Club, we meet in a cafe or restaurant to discuss what we've read in the past month.  No pressure to finish a book by a certain time, no pressure to select a book other members will enjoy.  Just a gathering where we talk about what we've loved, liked, or couldn't force ourselves to finish. Our conversation often strays from books, and then weaves back again.  This past Sunday there was much discussion about a shared hatred of shopping, and it thrilled me beyond my normal joy of our conversation.  I was among my people!

It seems that our modern culture assume a females favored pastime is shopping.  When we went to Dubuque, Iowa this past summer a travel guide listed Shopping as a number one activity for women.  Why not hiking?  After book club I headed home to my little family.  My daughter gushed and asked for Mama time.  This means she wants a little time with just me, no boys.  And I can understand it because my husband and son are both cut from the engineer cloth.  Their discussion is heavy on science and the abstract.  I love that she spends so much time immersed in their world, but I also recognize she is her own person and wants to develop her own interests.  She is a doer, loves action, needs big movement in her day.  And I use that Mother Daughter time to nurture our bond, and learn about what lights up her world.

If I followed modern culture, we'd do this bonding at the nearest mall.  Next time you're in a store pause and look around.  Make a mental note of the ratio of men to women.  Chances are the females will far out number the men.  And yes, there are many reasons for that -- which are beyond the point of today's post. But how often have you heard a man say "I need retail therapy!"  or "let's wander around the mall, see what they have, and maybe get a makeover?"  Those who know me and my frugal ways know those words will never be uttered from my mouth.  And I hope that my frugal ways will trickle down to my daughter.  From them has come a great deal of freedom, especially in my chosen career where I've carved out my own business.  I hope she has the same freedom one day.

So what does an afternoon of Mother Daughter bonding frugal style look like?  Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Dance party in the living room.  At age 3 her favorite song is Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl.  It's not just kiddo music we enjoy;
  • Nature walks.  A slow meander around the block this past Sunday uncovered a slow moving spider, smashed tree nuts, four dogs, and countless spray paint marks where the walk needs to be repaired;
  • Books!  A stack from the library can facilitate great questions, cuddle time, and a trip down memory lane when they center around favorites from Mama's childhood; and
  • Cooking together.  Whether it be putting bread in the bread machine, washing dishes, or chopping veggies it is a great place to talk, and a frugal skill to instill.
How about you?  Whether son or daughter, niece or grandson -- what frugal ways do you use to bond? Post a comment to share and inspire others!

She is 3 and has NEVER gone with me to "hang out at the mall".  In fact, while both kids are quite verbal for their ages,
they have no idea of what the "mall" is.  And that is something this frugal Mama is quite proud of.

2nd Life for Linens And Such

Kiki -- Our "frugal" cat

Content for Sunday's frugal post was made easy thanks to the order of service at Prairie UU.  Posting was made impossible thanks to a wireless card on the fritz.  My brilliant spouse, who has a master's in wireless matters, was able to create a work around, but not until the late hours.  Too late for my fingers to type.  So in the sunshine of Monday I now bring you what would have been Sunday's post.

The Green note at Prairie suggested donating old rugs to your local animal shelter, where they would receive a second life.  Great idea, and one I can expand on.

First, do not limit yourself to a local animal shelter.  My guess is the shelter may have limited storage space, and if another kind person had just made a donation, have a plan b. What other animal focused centers might you call:

  • humane society
  • rescue organizations specific to a breed (i.e. pug rescue)
  • a zoo
  • an emergency veterinary office
Second, they can probably benefit from more than just old rugs.  Here are a few that come to my mind:
  • pillows
  • blankets
  • sheets
  • towels
  • rugs
  • tennis or other sporting balls
Post a comment if you have another idea that might inspire others to make the most of our resources, which is good for the earth, wallets, and our overall health.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

American Players Theater Soup

Every fall for the past few years I have had the pleasure to join approximately 50 women for a catered dinner, drinks, socializing, and viewing an outdoor play at American Players Theater in Spring Green Wisconsin.  Far and away it is one of the best expenditures I make throughout the year, underscoring the premise it pays to buy quality.  I'd take one $50 night a year to five $10 movies anytime.

As we finished up the meal portion of the evening there was a large container of sliced veggies.  If no one claimed it, off to the trash it would go.  Hating to see anything wasted, I scooped it up and deposited into the trunk of my Honda.  In went the veggie, out came my bag with socks, a hat, and blanket -- all aimed to keep me warm enough to enjoy the entire play.  The past two years I'd left early because of the cold, and simply being so tired.  This year would be different.

Thankfully I made it through the entire show, and laughed under the clear star-lite sky.  Upon returning to the car for my drive home, I was reminded of the veggies when I opened the trunk.  Soup!  That is what I'll do with those vegetables: carrots, celery, cauliflower, and broccoli.  Neatly tucked in the fridge tonight, and the container set aside for recycling, I am delighted to have eked so much enjoyment and utility out of the night's expenditure.

Here is what I'll do with those vegetable later this week:

  • chop and saute in olive oil along with garlic and onions;
  • add one container of broth (chicken or vegetable);
  • add one can of chick peas;
  • add 1/2 cup barley
  • simmer for 30 minutes

Serve alongside warm bread from the bread machine and local Wisconsin cheese.  Yes, I'm ready to embrace another Midwestern fall.  Keep this in mind at the next event you attend, and the host is attempting to dispose of excess food.  What goodness might you be able to turn it into?

Friday, September 13, 2013

If It Can Be Done Via Email, Email It Shall Be!

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013 -- Chalking at the Park

Frugality is the efficient use of both money as well as time.  This is a concept I first embraced when reading the book Your Money or Your Life back in the late 1990s.  And it bubbled up into my mind last night. Being the typical dual-income family with young children, demands on our evening were conflicting.

First, there was a parent meeting at our children's school, an orientation essentially.  Second, there was a board meeting of a professional organization that my husband vice-chairs.  And third, the less obvious choice of staying home for family time.

In the afternoon my husband and I analyzed the options.  He opted to contribute to his meeting by submitting an email with his comments.  Knowing the agenda for the evening, it was a way to share his thoughts, but not have to drive across town and sit in on a meeting that he could learn about via the minutes.  Instead, we decided that I would attend the children's school event while he tucked them in for the night.  School after all is important, very important to us.  And this was the first "parent night" in our lives.

Just before 7pm I set off for school, and he set off to get the children settled for the night.  Upon returning home just before 9pm I announced that I too should have opted for email.  The event at the school conveyed nothing other than materials I could have received via email, or a chat on the playground when I pick up the children.  While nice, it was not of the magnitude to require me to remove myself from family time.  I've decided that if it can be done via email, then email it shall be!  Life is full of options, but those options are not always the most efficient, or enjoyable.  Underscoring this decision was the wakefulness of my children at 9pm.  They were battling colds and adjusting to life going to school five full days.  They'd wanted Mama, but Mama was off at school being read materials I could have read myself via email.

Frugality is often about money.  But what is money without an enjoyable life.  And when all those opportunities, aka demands, descend upon you, ask yourself, at what cost?  What else could you do with that time?  Will you have to spend money as a result (i.e. hiring a babysitter)?  Are there transportation costs? Will rushing to attend a meeting cause you to eat dinner out, costing more than a home cooked meal?

As I close this post I know that my attendance at school events will be limited to when the children are present (i.e. a festival or play) or it is a direct interaction with a teacher about my children's performance. Beyond that, I want the time with them.  Before I know it they'll be off to college, and I'll have a lot more time to parcel out for interesting events.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wait! Free May Not Mean Frugal

Something seemed a bit odd to me this morning as I sought a parking spot in a downtown Madison city ramp.  At 9:45 I found myself claiming one of two open spots left on the roof level.  As I descended the stairs I noticed a very long line of people extending several blocks, winding up towards our famed Monona Terrace.  It was odd enough to catch my attention. People were in lawn chairs.  They were adults, not kids on a field trip.  I have no memory of ticket sales being held at the location.  And then I noticed that nearly everyone had a coffee maker on the ground by their feet.  As I approached the building where I had a meeting, and had an aha moment.  Keurig Coffee had tents, tables, and coffee at the head of the line.  That's it, they are handing out free Keurig System for those trading in the Mr. Coffee Maker and Cuisinarts.

A free Keurig, just give us your old maker and you'll get ours for free.  Does that sound frugal to you?  Maybe it does, there were hundreds of people lined up.  And at my meeting someone indicated the same thing had happened last week.  But to me, it is not an automatic frugal move.  Here is why:
  1. Time is money.  These folks were camped out to get a machine for free.  On a typical work day.  Did they use vacation time to get a free coffee machine?  Based on a Google search, one can be had for under $100.  That's a lot of time to use for a $100 giveaway.
  2. Transportation.  Getting downtown requires a car or bus, and that is not free.
  3. Lack of competition.  Now you've got a free Keurig, but you'll be stuck with purchasing those little packets that you have to use.  How much comparison shopping will you be able to do?
Okay, those little canisters work great in an office where tastes in coffee vary.  And since they brew a single cup, you won't waste half a pot if you don't drink as much as planned.  But my gut tells me that those little canisters cost more than a pound of coffee, and generate a lot more garbage than your traditional brewing system.

Is the Keurig giveaway a way to save money?  Maybe, maybe not.  But taking the time to analyze a free offer, that is what makes a person frugal.  And there is a reason the saying "there is no such thing as a free lunch" is timeless.  Keep this in mind the next time Madison Avenue marketing experts play to your frugal side.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Frugal Basics: Staying Grounded in Reality

The kids, being kids this past summer.  In a blink of an eye, we'll be moving them into college dorms!

This week marks a huge milestone in the course of our little frugal family; our children start school.  The eldest will be in kindergarten, and the youngest in preschool.  Both will be attending five full-days.  While we were marking their outwear with our last name and gathering comfy blankets for their afternoon rest/nap time, my husband and I found ourselves talking about college.

To my surprise my husband was bracing himself for the not so distant future when college will present itself on the horizon.   College for him marked the first time he saw people spend like crazy.  It was college, spare no expense.  And it was clear he was concerned about that tidal wave hitting our home.

I do not fear the tidal wave.  Why?  It is the same thinking we've been exposed to on our journey into marital life.  First it was the wedding -- "it's your special day, indulge and spend".  Then a child was born -- "he must have the best of everything!"  When we bought a house "borrow the maximum that the bank will lend -- money is so cheap!".  Time and again sales people, and those who have bought the sales pitch, encouraged us to do the same.  Basically saying for this one special thing, forget your frugal ways and have fun.  To date we've never followed that path.  Our wedding day was special, and unlike most marriages these days -- very simple, very frugal.  Our children have all the clothes and and items they need, even though most were not new but rather from thrift stores.  Our home is relatively modest, and far less than what the bank thought we could afford.  We never suspended our critical brains and "just went nuts".  And so as we enter the school years I have no fear that we'll go crazy when college applications before a focus.  I assume we'll take our same frugal approach"

  • avoid or limit the use of debt to make the purchase;
  • pay cash or in advance in order to receive a discount;
  • analyze options and compare features;
  • look for hidden costs;
  • seek out discounts or freebies (i.e. scholarships or grants);
  • create a budget and live within it
If a big life event is upon you, do not get swept out of your reality.  Remember that people are selling you things.  Their sales numbers are their main concern, not your financial health.  Stay grounded.  Accept what you can afford.  Question the value of what you are being sold.  Aim for long-lasting quality when possible. And remember a frugal life does not mean a life without nice things.  We just do not have the nicest of everything, just the things we really value.  For us they are: food, travel and education.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday Green Note

Earlier in August the following Green Note ran in the Prairie UU Order of Service.  The concept is not only healthy and good for the earth, but financially wise as well.  Show of hands -- who thinks it sounds like it was written by Michael Pollan?

The UN estimates that if Americans ate one
plant-based meal per week – just one meal – the
environmental impact would be equivalent to taking 5
million cars off the road.
This is a favorite plant-based dish of mine, and when served alongside scrambled eggs is delightful.

Summer Cherry Tomato Salad:

  • ripe cherry tomatoes (best when immediately picked)
  • fresh mozzarella
  •  diced celery
  • diced cucumber
  • chopped basil (best when just snipped off your own plant)
  • salt and pepper
  • drizzle with olive oil, add a 1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar

Enjoy, and have a great frugal week!