Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Leftover Turkey New Life

Greetings to you on this Black Friday.  No, I did not step foot in a mall.  Nor did I purchase one thing on-line.  We started the day by decorating inside the house for the winter holidays.  Next my husband ran with the jogger to our local post office to put four boxes in the mail. Cookies from a local bakery and school photos to the kids are on their way to: Boston, Tampa, Seattle, and Agat, Guam!  That was the extent of our spending money.

I took a few hours this afternoon to address the emails and client calls that do not stop, not even for national holidays.  Again, my husband used the jogger to ferry the children to visit his extended family and a local park.  No gasoline used, not a drop.  And tonight we'll dine on a variety of leftovers.  Our turkey supply was rather limited since I made a tenderloin breast yesterday -- just the right amount for one meal.  However, we are the exception, I am positive.  If you have a mound of turkey, consider the following options:

  • Turkey Bake -- toss in cooked pasta, sauce, chunks of turkey veggies, and a bit of cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes, 350 degrees;
  • Turkey Chili -- tomatoes, tomato sauce, black beans, onions, assorted veggies, chili powder, and shredded turkey.  Top with cheese or sour cream
  • Turkey tacos -- shred the turkey, saute with onions, peppers and tomatoes.  Serve in hard or soft shell tacos with cheese and or sour cream; and
  • Turkey soup -- saute onions and peppers, toss in chunks of turkey and other assorted veggies, empty in a can of chick peas, a container of broth, and your favorite spices.
And voila, turkey in a whole new light.  No need to waste.....stretch those dollars as far as possible!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick note to wish my readers a happy Thanksgiving.  May you have had a joyous and relaxing day. Ours was a quiet affair.  Meals at home, all three: breakfast, lunch, and then the big meal for dinner.  All standard fare, most of which I've blogged about in the past, with one exception.  Breakfast consisted of fruit, sausage, and the new whole wheat cranberry walnut muffin.  Delicious!  Here is the recipe I worked off of (from The Tassajara Bread Book):
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup molassses
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup cranberries (I chopped mine in a food mixer)
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts
Mix and bake standard muffins at 400 degrees for 15 minutes!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cheap or Frugal? There is a differnce

Wednesday before Thanksgiving -- many people are in cars, planes or trains, zipping from one end of the country to the other to be with loved ones.  This year, as most, we will stay put here in cold and quite Madison.  A simple meal, with only one guest, my mother, is on the agenda.  But it will be a day filled with baking, cooking, and lots of pots and pans.  Seeking an easy dinner the night before the cooking storm, I thought I was pulling off a frugal move.  Turns out I was wrong.

Armed with a coupon for a 1-topping large carry-out pizza (valid on Monday - Thursday) for $6.55 and a gift card with a $7 remaining balance, my daughter and I headed out into the dark to the nearest Pizza Hut.  As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed that La Baguette was still open!  If you have never been, well you are missing a true French experience.  We dashed inside and I picked up a croque monsieur, an almond croissant, and something my daughter pointed to that was labeled opera.  Thank goodness I had cash in my wallet, because La Baguette does not accept credit cards.  Total cost for our splurge, $13.20.  Back to the car we went, dropped off our spontaneous goodies, and then headed off to claim our frugal pizza. At the counter I handed over my coupon, gift card, and $0.59 to cover the tax. Then it was back home before the pizza got too cold.

Before leaving we had put some pasta and peas on to boil.  An apple waited on the counter to be sliced and shared.  And thank goodness I had a few other things to round out the meal.  Upon opening the box it hit me, this pizza is not frugal, it is cheap.  Essentially it was way too much dough, not enough sauce, and a scant amount of cheese.  I ate one slice, and decided my dinner would be the almond croissant!  Wow -- what a difference in quality.  Frugal to me is not just about spending as little as possible, but more about getting the most value of my dollar.  Obvious to me, my dollar went farther at the Parisian bakery.  For dessert we all split one decadent piece of opera, and the croque monsieur waits in the fridge to be warmed up tomorrow and served with creamy tomato soup -- my very American approach to a simple lunch before the Thanksgiving feast.

A random evening meal, but our stomachs are full.  Tomorrow we'll start the day with cranberry walnut muffins (which I'll back as soon as I finish this post), sausages, and fruit.  Lunch will be the grilled sandwich and tomato soup (to warm us up after a holiday family walk), and then the dinner.  A turkey tenderloin will simmer in the slow cooker, and the rest of the dishes will be variations of veggies -- mashed potatoes, baked squash, green bean casserole, pumpkin cake, and apple pie.  A relatively inexpensive meal when compared with what some families spend.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the long holiday!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Running Errands, Literally

Want to live a frugal life?  An easy way to meet your goal is to literally run your errands, or at least walk them.  Over the weekend we needed to restock the childrens' medicine supply, from Ibuprofen to nasal spray, our reserves were running low.  Facing the combined storm of preschool germs and the upcoming Thanksgiving vacation / shopping bonanza, I wanted to re-stock now.  So my husband turned his normal evening run into running errands.  Off he went with his Target Red Card (the debit one, not credit) and headed to our neighborhood Target.  By far they have the best prices on off-brand medicines.

Not a runner or only a fair weather runner?  Don't let the long nights and falling temperatures force you to drive an errand you could otherwise walk.  Tonight I bundled up and walked to our library.  One DVD was overdue and I had a stack of materials to pick up.  I ditched my plan to drive to the gym and swim, and instead crossed an item off of tomorrow's to-do list and used my foot power.  I must say that a balaclava is key to surviving the frigid weather (it felt like 6 degrees F).  But I'm glad I did.  It was a nice long walk.  I didn't use gasoline.  And I enjoyed the pleasantness that is a wintry night walk.

So as we launch into the season of winter, challenge yourself to do one errand on foot or by bike.  You'll burn some calories, save gas, and walk a bit more gently on planet Earth!

Hmmmm, the cable to move photos from my phone to the blog is still missing.  I'll borrow my husband's when I can, and post a pic from my night walk later on.  If you have a photo from a wintery errand via foot, feel free to share and it on my The Upside of Frugal Facebook page!

Found it!!!  Here is a picture from my cold wintry walk to the library, note the faint hint of my shadow.

Friday, November 22, 2013

From Compost Springs Simplicity Parenting

Simplicity parenting is a term that flies around certain parts of modern society with a far amount of zing.  The concept takes the "less is more approach" philosophy and applies it to parenting methods.  A common byproduct is a parent child relationship that centers around nature as its primary playground.

Then there is the compost movement.  It has left behind the image of tree-hugging extreme lefties and the tightwad of the year, and become a practice you can find in the average American's home (or apartment thanks to composting worms), college campuses, and even some cities (Madison, Wisconsin has a pilot program to offer curbside composting bins).  From trash springs fertilizer for our gardens, flower beds, and lawns.

And in the backyard of our frugal home the two have merged.  Thanks to my composting efforts, which are not remarkable really, our children are farther on the spectrum leaning towards simplicity parenting.  Here are two illustrations:

  • One -- most afternoons when we return from work (me) and preschool (them) we head to the back yard with the compost bucket.  I make the daily offering to the pile, adding in any brown source (leaves, trimmings, paper, etc.) and give it a bit of a mix.  The kids scamper around running, spinning, climbing the compost heap.  No, nothing all that special except the fact that we are outside after school.  Sometimes it is 5 minutes, others a half hour.  The TV and internet are bypassed, and twigs and other forms of nature become toys.
  • Two -- leaves in our home do not keep collected and heaped at the curb.  Why give away stuff that will benefit our yard!  Our raking this year has been spotty -- cold weather, rain, a mom who works evenings every now and then.  But what we have raked was done in large part by our 5 year old.  He went at it with a great deal of force, the pile was jumped in a few times, and then moved over to the compost heap.  Thanks to those leaves and compost we can take our time gathering them up and putting them in the best spot.  No pressure to get them to the curb by the date the city stops its collection.  And it is a simple source of play and wonder for preschoolers.
And there you have it, from compost springs simplicity parenting.  Frugal on so many fronts.  Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.  Oh, and for those not in Madison -- leaves and compost will take on a new challenge because we awoke to a blanket of snow.  Hard to say if we'll have a warm spell that returns us to the green, or if it means we'll have a lot more to handle next Spring when winter recedes.  Stay tuned.

The view from my office, of snow, through the geraniums that winter in my window.  It has amazing Southern exposure.  No need for their glory to end with the end of summer -- continue here, 
and provide cheer to my clients!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dinning In - Swedish Meatballs

365 days ago I marked the calendar for November 20, 2013 as "Dinner at Paisans".  Why?  Well of course I am an over-the-top Type A personality, so planning in advance is my M.O.  Why there and why today? It's simple really, today marks what would have been my father's 72nd birthday.  Sadly, his time with us ended in the fall of 2009 when his body simply could not fight any longer.  He was your typical blue collar Midwestern male: hardworking, came from a challenging background, and had quite a few struggles and demons to battle.  Cultivating joy was not a strength because it was not the way in which he was raised.  The "cultivating joy" bit always puzzled my husband when we first met.  Somehow it made him envision my parents lighting candles and meditating or something along those lines.  No, it meant the ability to savor and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.  It may seem basic to some folks, but to the people who populate my family tree it is not a skill they possess.  And so now that he is gone, and I see so many of his silly ways emerging in our son, I made a vow to enjoy his favorite foods on his birthday.  Honor something he was not exposed to, and instill the trait in his grandchildren.  We were aiming for a bit of joy tonight.

Paisans was his favorite pizza place in Madison, and was the last restaurant meal he had before passing on (I had got take out).  Even though it was marked as a dinner for our family tonight, I turned to Plan B.  We are still being very cautious with our budget while the preschool contract works its way to resolution.  And then there is the factor of tired children who would really struggle to eat out in public after a day at preschool.  So we ate at home, where I made a favorite meal of my fathers.  Swedish meatballs, and they were every bit as delicious as I remember.  It was a frugal and sensible way to take time to pause and remember my father, share a bit about him with his grandchildren, and cultivate a bit of joy.

Posting a picture of the simmering meatballs on Facebook resulted in a request for the recipe.  Here it is, and it is truly one passed down by my father's mother to my mom and now to me.  No exact measurements -- a pinch of this, a bunch of that.  Every time it turns out just a bit different than before, but does wonders do warm the stomach on a cold and dark November night.

Swedish Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 cup left over mashed potatoes (absent milk or butter)
  • Dash of salt and pepper
Mix everything together, using your hands is by far the most efficient manner.  Shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or a bit smaller.  Assemble in frying pan.  Drop in butter, and brown.  Once browned, cover 1/3 height with water and let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  And that's it.  I always love to serve with cottage cheese and green beans.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Holiday Shopping Via Gift Card, A Frugal Move!

Gift cards and the winter holidays are a common combination.  Most people think of the relationship being give a gift card, but not here in our frugal home.  I use gift cards to give.  For example, last week I finally used a $50 gift card I was given in September 2011.  Yes, it was two years old.  Tacked safely to my bulletin board in the kitchen, it was safe until I finally had the time to make the trek to Paoli (a small town outside of Madison) where the gallery was located.  $50 in the gallery would not buy all that much, a mug (a single mug) or a pair of earrings.  None were items I needed.  What I did find were two holiday ornaments for our children and a small light weight gift (no details since the recipient may read this) that will ship with ease to an island in the Pacific.  Essential purchases for my holiday traditions, all at no cost to our budget because I strategically used a gift card.  So this holiday season, flip the view on gift cards.  Are there any taking up space in your wallet or bag?  If so, ponder how you can use them to stretch your budget.  A few points to keep in mind:

  • keep your gift cards in one, visible location (bulletin board, dish on your dresser, section of your wallet);
  • know if you the gift card will expire or loose value after a point in time -- highlight this fact;
  • consider using gift cards for date nights or entertainment you would otherwise pay for out of pocket;
  • can you use the card to buy food items (i.e. gourmet candies, jellies, sauces, etc.); and
  • what does the store sell that you might be able to purchase as a gift for a loved one.
Sorry for the lack of pictures.  The cable that allows me to take photos off of my phone has went missing, and I'm not inclined to order one.  It will turn up one day.  Until then photos may be limited -- my camera phone is always with me, but my Nikon is often tucked away.  And of course, I have the cable for the Nikon, just not the phone.  Oh well, adjusting my habits and not stretching the budget.  That is a key to frugal living.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A $100 Holiday?

I love it when life works out !  No, the law suit with the preschool that has become my most recent frugal muse is still "developing".  No resolution there.  But sometimes simple things occur that makes life feel like is is unfolding nicely.  Such a situation happened this past Sunday at my Book Club With a Twist (a great frugal way to run a book club by the way).

Gathered around a conference table with coffee and treats at Madison's recently remodeled Central Library, a fellow member set out a copy of Bill McKibben's Hundred Dollar Holiday: The case for a more joyful holiday.  It was a book I had requested from the library, but never got to before the due date arrived.  My intention had been to re-request it the following week.  Based on her comments, I'll be leaving it at the library.

One message jumped off the page for her, and according to her it is one that pops up her on Frugal Upside.  Essentially, time is more valuable than stuff -- focus on experiences, time together, creating memories, and not so much on the tangible items available at big box stores or Amazon Prime.  From there the book was a let down.  Considering the author has another book titled The End of Nature, one would have thought the book would offer more on the environmental impact of "stuff".  Not the case.

Moreover, the joy referenced in the title is highly Christian.  The main tips offered by McKibben would resonate with church goers, but not so much with a more secular crowd.  So it is not a book I plan to look at any more closely.  I already know that I get more value from experiences than I do "stuff".  We'll have some presents under the tree, but will place great attention and detail to the time we spend together this holiday season.  For now I'll look for inspiration on a less material holiday in other sources -- and if you have an idea to offer, please leave a comment!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

We Went to the Mall!

Yes, you read the headline correctly.  Over the weekend this self-declared frugal family made a trip to our local shopping mall.  It was the big one -- anchor stores and all.  Why an act so far outside our norm? Simple, it is the only place that has a Build a Bear Store.  Readers may remember last February when a holiday gift card to the store drew us in.  Since then one of the bears, a jaguar technically, has been loved so much his stitching came loose.  And to my delight, a call to the store confirmed they would fix him at NO CHARGE.  So off we went on a Saturday afternoon.  And I am happy to report we did not spend one cent in that mall.  Not one, not even a coffee or treat.  We did stop at the sporting goods store on the way out to feed my husband's curiosity in shot-guns.  Those who know him will gasp, but it is what happens when an engineer lives in an area that has had a huge spike in break-ins.

Our only purchase that day was made at the SAVERS behind the mall.  There I selected a much needed winter coat for work.  With my 20% off coupon, the total bill was $12.66.  It is a lovely deep purple, and will work splendidly as the winter winds blow into Wisconsin.

Sunday ended on an frugal educational note.  As my daughter bathed and my husband went for a run, I pulled out the hair scissors and trimmed my 5 year old's hair on the bathroom counter.  With the exception of a nip to my finger, it was an easy project.  And I thanked my son in a language he could understand -- the home hair cut, done at a time when no inexpensive salon would be open, saved us the money equivalent to a new LEGO set.  It's never too early to start associating stuff with cost and cost with work.  He understands he is not getting a set, but rather that the home project was worth that amount of money (I'd estimate $20).

And so there you have it, a frugal weekend in our home.  There were a few treats, a coffee and dessert bought at my book club meeting.  But life needs some perks.  And stay tuned, later this week I'll blog about a book another reader read that I had intended to read, but after hearing her account am glad I skipped it. The topic -- having a $100 Christmas.

Jaguar, officially Purple Jaguar, who joined us on our family trip to Washington, D.C. back in April of this year.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Purchases Without Spending Monday -- The Art of Frugal Living

Those who know me well know that I am not one to make a purchase just because something was free or marked down.  My goal is to buy less, spend less time in stores, not just haul home a car full for pennies. But Friday was a day in which I gathered merchandise without spending a cent of our budget.

First stop, Morgan's Shoes at Hilldale Mall.  Situated next to my office, foot power delivered me to the shopping center.  Tucked in my bag was a coupon for a free pair of Smart Wool socks, sent back in September as a birthday gift.  In I went, bee-lined to the sock wall, selected a colorful pair, size Large.  At the check-out I was informed that while the free card was a bit old, they'd gladly honor it.  The only concern was why someone five foot one inch selected large socks?  They are going to be a gift for a college woman in Boston -- she needs a large, much taller than me!  And with that I dropped them in my bag and headed to the next stop.  $20 gift acquired at no cost to me.

My second stop was at an Aveda salon at the mall that offers pricey stylists, pedicures, and Aveda products. Another gift card that made its way into my life back on September was $65 for the salon.  The giftor hoped that for once I'd splurge and get a pedicure.  I've never had one, and starting out with one that costs $50 plus $15 tip is just beyond my mental grasp. Especially given our situation of having spent a large sum of our savings, and harboring  desire to build it back up.  Nope, can't do it.  Instead I leave with $62 in Aveda shampoo and color conditioning products.  Ones I regularly use, and now do not have to purchase out of the household budget.  Tacked to our kitchen bulletin board is that card with the remaining $3 and some odd cents, which I'll use the next time I have an Aveda product need.

Stay tuned for more gift cards transformed into as practical a purchase a possible.  Money, whether earned through work or received as a gift, is not something I can toss about without thought and care.  And that is what makes me a frugal individual.

Thanks for reading, and if you have a gift card story to share, please do.  I'm always inspired by reader comments.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Low-carb and Frugal: Is It Possible?

Chickens (and other livestock) everywhere rejoice in this post!
M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013

Loyal readers of Frugal Upside know several things about me.  The obvious, I like to save money by cooking meals at home.  And the more subtle, my health make-up requires me to avoid too many carbohydrates. The reality of that second fact is that no one meal of mine should exceed 30 - 50 grams of carbohydrates.  The challenge of this hit me tonight as I read the couscous package.  A 1/3 cup serving contains 48 grams of carbs.  That's my limit for an entire meal -- 1/3 cup of couscous!  Needless to say, I skipped my plate when dishing out the grain.

And my body is an equal-opportunity reactor to carbs.  It doesn't matter if they come from a glazed donut, a glass of milk, couscous, or fresh fruit.  If I exceed that mark, I pay the price.  As a result, my diet and grocery cart of late have tended toward animal products.  Meat and dairy to be specific.  Lots of protein, little or no carbohydrates.  And given the fact I prefer to buy organic meat and dairy, it drives our grocery bill higher than I'd prefer.  Plus, it causes unease in my mind knowing the environmental toll it takes to produce those animal products.

Fans of Dave Ramsey will know his signature phrase "beans and rice, rice and beans" -- the meal plan he advocates one follow during lean economic times.  I'd gladly embrace it, but know the health fall out will cost far more in both the immediate and long-term costs.  So tonight I write this post more as an exercise in personal reflection than education of readers. What is low carb, but not too pricey and/or too taxing on the earth?

  • Vegetables.  It's time to embrace roasting, sauteing, steaming an other ways to dress up these affordable and low carb goodies;
  • Nuts.   I'm thinking apple slices dipped in peanut butter might make an easy and affordable breakfast.
  • ????  And that is where I hope the blogosphere might step up and offer inspiration.  Do you have a favorite dish or recipe that might meet my needs?  If so please share.  I do face the challenge of cooking not only for myself, but for a 5 and 3 year old as well.  The universe is dishing back to me what I served out as a child.  Growing up I loved strawberry short-cake with whipped cream; I just had to have a separate bowl for each item.  You guessed it, my kids refuse to eat food that has merely grazed another food group on a plate.  Intricate dishes of melted food groups is likely out of the question for the next few years.  My current routine is to set aside the ingredients for them before I whip up a chili for example.  Disagree?  I'm sure some of you do, but the battle I need to face is not on how to get them to eat what the adults do, but to figure out some healthy higher protein options that are not animal based.  What do you have dear reader?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pumpkins Post Halloween

October 31st may behind us for another year, but do not toss those pumpkins without first asking yourself what a frugalista would do.  Looking to extend the life of your Jack-o-Lantern?  Consider some or all of the following:

  • Roast and use the pumpkin "meat" as puree.  I do this every year, freezing the meat into individual portions. Over the year I pull bags out to add to breads, muffins, and pancakes.  This coming year I will give pudding and plain yogurt a whirl as well.  
  • Roast the seeds for snacks;
  • Save the seeds to use for next years homegrown crop; and/or
  • Compost.  What remains always goes to our compost bin, maximizing every cent we paid for the orbs.
Did I miss an idea?  How do you get the most of out your Jack-o-Lantern?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Math Mind and the Frugal Life

From educators to parents to legislators, there is one very acceptable four-letter word - STEM.  It stands for:

  • Science
  • Technology
  • Engineering
  • Math
And it is all the rage these days, especially in the area of girls in school.  American students rank lower than many other countries on testing.  Throw in the top 10 highly paid professions out of undergrad, and you'll see all are heavy on the math skills.

Beyond ones career, confidence in your math skills can be a key life-skill.  And it may help you take your frugal to a higher level.  Case in point, my husband and what we call his "wet finger".  Earlier this week I opened a letter from our health insurance company.  It notified me that our rates would increase from $350/month to $850/month in order to comply with the ACA.  What!  I sprinted downstairs, waiving the letter in my hand to interrupt my husband's phone call with his parents.  I told him the numbers and he calmly said "no, that is not right."  Then he went back to his conversation. A few phone calls the next day revealed that it was the worst case scenario, we have other routes and options to take with lower costs.  His calm and confidence, as described in this article on what kids excel at math, allowed him to dispassionately analyze a significant monthly budgetary item.

For those wanting to take frugal to the next step, consider building your math skills.  Prior to a purchase give thought to what you expect the price to be, or what you believe you can spend.  Do not leave the math up to the person selling you a product or service.  From a home mortgage to your credit card statement to the hourly rate of a plumber -- pause, be as rational as you can, and give some thought to the math first.  If the number is way off, figure out why.  Did you miss something?  Did they give you a number for Cadillac products when a Honda level would meet your needs.

Image from Mississippi River Museum -- combine travel with education,
that's our frugal approach to parenting.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Review: Go Green, Spend Less, Live Better

Recently I took a look at a book by Crissy Trask, titled Go Green, Spend Less, Live Better: The ultimate guide to saving money, and protecting your health.  Trask is a long-established advocate and writer on green issues and lifestyle.

Organized into eight chapters, the book is user-friendly, calls out shocking statistics, and is full of practical tips to spend less, save more, and allowing you to walk a bit more gently on the planet while nurturing your own health.  From energy efficient to water leaks to healthy food options, she addresses a wide span of topics.

While I enjoyed the book, I did not take away any real new material that I can use in my own frugal life.  A complaint that I have about most books coming out these days on the green and or frugal lifestyle.  It's nothing new.

However, there was one quote that jumped out at me:
The amount of household garbage in the United States generally increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Years. -page 35
That fact will fuel my motivation to minimize our families carbon footprint as we move into the winter holiday season.  Ideas that come to mind are:
  • avoiding gift wrap
  • giving services or charitable donations for gifts without packaging
  • put as much brown paper as possible into compost rather than trash or recycling
  • purchase whole foods to minimize pre-package materials
  • save glass jars from sauces, etc. to use for making scented bath salts (which make lovely gifts)
  • cut back on the holiday card list by sending some people an e-card or thoughtful email with photos
Hopefully more ideas will come to mind as the winds blow in ice, snow, and usher in the season of giving.  If you have a great idea, please leave a comment to inspire others.