Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Purge Time

Yesterday's post was about a splurge, today it is about "the purge".  As we head into the Extravaganza of Winter Holidays and a New Year, it was time to clear out the toys and other items we no longer needed.  Both kids helped me fill one bag to donate at Goodwill.  A great exercise in kids thinking about what they have, need, and want.  It also reminds them that others have less, and second hand stores may be key to their family life.  And of course, there is the tax receipt Mama tucks into the tax folder -- something those who itemize may not want to overlook.

Looking ahead, you'll see more about my efforts to purge in 2015.  What can be:

  • sold
  • donated (with tax receipt)
  • reused for another purpose
  • given to a family/friend to pay forward the Curb Karam we've benefited from (so many friends give us items they've outgrown)
  • recycled
  • Admit it -- off to the dump
We have been in our house for just over 4 years, and it is beginning to have closets and other areas bursting with stuff.  There is enough chaos in my world, I do not need it in my closet.  Earlier I blogged that when I die and someone cleans out my home my wish is to have only things I treasure and adore, keep it simple, keep it lovely.  2015 will begin my path towards a less is more feel to our home.  And just might make it easier to do the scrubbing kind of cleaning, which is hard and often delayed when you have to pick-up first.

Thanks for reading, and be well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Making the Most of a Splurge

After one, possibly two years, of noticing them on what seemed every other women's feet....I know own a pair of black knee-high boots.  Years ago, okay over a decade ago, I had a pair.  Sleek, with a high-heel, pre-kid footwear.  With the birth of our second child came an increase in shoe size -- a permanent one, as well as a need for "comfort" shoes.  The years start flying by, and between kids, marriage, career, and sometimes housework, fashion was not on my radar.

Times are settling down a bit, and my husband encouraged me to buy a pair of boosts -- Just think, in photos we look back on the kids can say, oh that must have been the teens, see the boots mom is wearing.  So I began to look, here and there.  Cheap and second hand were not going to work because of my new foot sensitivities.  New and expense gave me sticker shock.  And then I walked into Macy's.

My purpose of being there was to find a snow globe for our son under the tree.  They were sold out, but look there, the shoe department was amazing a 50% off sale on boots.  I wandered over.  A clerk approached and I clearly told her what I wanted: black, knee-high, no heel, and designed for comfort not style.  Astute, she directed me towards a pair of Born (read with a slash through the o).  Not at 50% off, they were marked down.  She pointed out a few other pairs, less expensive, but I noted her comment that the Borns were made for comfort -- then I asked for a 7.5.

She returned with the boots, and a few others.  I tried on the Borns and knew what she meant.  I'd tried others on, but these were so comfortable.  I said I'd take them and then asked "I don't have any coupons to go with my Macy's card, do you have any?  If not I'll use my 1% cash back great card".  She did, and extra 20% off, which was a $13 savings as opposed to earning $1.30 on my card.

At home I realized the box was quite large, and actually the perfect size for our 4 year olds' napping baby lovies (she is going through a Mama/Baby phase).  Instead of donating it to the school for art supplies or recycling it, it began a source of enjoyment for our little one.

I do not make purchases like this regularly.  Having avoided  proper footwear in a long time, I have acquired two pricing pairs of boots in the past month.  But, they'll last a long time, are comfortable and facilitate getting out in walking in winter weather.  You'll note that at the point of purchase I looked for ways to save, and made the most out of the packaging.  Key ingredients in our frugal life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice: Return of the Light

It's December 21st, a special day in our home.  Nine years ago, as the sun set on the shortest day of the year, my husband proposed, asking me to marry him on the summer solstice.  Early in the afternoon I had set a pot of veggie chili to simmer on the stove.  I said yes, and every December 21st since have made some version of veggie chili. Whether you embrace the Solstice or not, it is the perfect frugal meal for these damp, cold winter days -- beans, corn, spinach and of course tomatoes -- smells of the summer we are working our way towards.

Normally we take this day for a winter walk, where we scatter seeds for the birds. Plans took a detour this year as we have two sick wee ones; fevers and viral bronchitis call for adjustments in a days plan. But there was chili, and there were candles.  After the match was snuffed, into the compost bin it went.  A few weeks ago I google "can I compost matches".  Instantly I found a yes answer, along with 75 other things  you might not know you can compost.  So, if you celebrate the Winter Solstice and our march toward longer, sunnier days, make sure to drop those matches in the compost.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Being Present is a Present

Drab gray skies blanked Madison today, but I set off with a spring in my step as soon as our oldest was settled into his kindergarten class, my husband was handling preschool drop-off for our youngest.  Downtown was my first step, taking care of minor financial related matters (it is property tax time).  Then to an adorable little street locals know as Monroe Street.  My mission -- securing a snow globe for our oldest.

Apparently there has been a run on snow globes locally, but Orange Tree Imports confirmed that they still had several in stock, setting one aside for me.  While there I picked up a few more fun things for stockings and under the tree, plus a few items to share with loved ones we'll visit on the road trip I mentioned yesterday.

Yes, this morning was not within my normal pattern.  I shopped, and I shopped for things that we do not need necessarily.  Why?  Having children ages 6 and 4, they are all about Christmas, and I want them to feel a bit of that magical joy broadcast by media and reinforced by peers.  But, I did not go crazy.  They will not round the hallway on December 25th to heaps of packages.  They will likely go through the gifts quickly compared to many American peers.  But there will be one gift that they may not full realize until they are adults themselves, the gift of being present.

By not going nuts this time of year, throwing reason and common sense to the wind, neither of their parents will be mentally focused on a looming credit card bill that will arrive in January.  No, we do not finance our joy.  Keeping the holidays modest also means we can enjoy time off from work, time that is not paid (we are both self-employed), and play with the kids.  Our meal will be breakfast/brunch foods.  Easy to prepare, not overly costly, and not tethering mom to the stove.  No, once they get through the wrapping paper on December 25th I plan to assemble puzzles, cut out paper dolls and build the Lego Arctic Explorer Base.  Mom will be present, focused on them and the moments that are sliding through the hour glass of life.  And that is the upside of choosing a frugal path in life.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Forget It, Let's Drive!

Enter the date, the airport, wait for the search results.  Day after day, looking for a reasonable ticket price.  Finally we found this:  Milwaukee to Fort Worth to Miami to Tampa, 13 hours, 57 minutes, at $900 a ticket!

What -- 13 hours!  We could drive there in that time.  Okay, it is more like 19 hours from door to door, but that is our plan.  We'd had a price point in mind when we starting looking at tickets.  Realizing our travel dates were not flexible, we were willing to double our initial price.  But $900, at 4 tickets, before factoring in luggage fees and airport parking!  No way, not for this frugal family.

So in a shocking change of behavior, one where we usually aim for being at the office when we can (we are both self-employed, so there is no paid vacation) we are going for savings on pure cash. The trip will now be twice as long as we initially planned, but that makes us happy.  We are forcing ourselves to take a longer, and much needed break from our professional lives.

When waking the frugal path in life, we find that before looking for an item, any item, you benefit from having a predetermined price point.  Don't just pull it out of the air.  What is a normal price? What can your budget afford?  Those types of things.  Set a number, then go looking.  Do it the other way around and you are no longer in control of your finances.

That's it from our frugal house.  Stay tuned for more on the Epic Road trip yet to come!  And thanks for reading.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Who Doesn't Want to Save $1,000!

Scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning I came across a List from a local TV station's feed -- 25 Ways to save $1,000 in the new year.  Always eager to find new frugal ideas, I took a look.  In the end -- not one new idea.  Most I agreed with, such as buy one-generation old electronics.  My husband just bought at "new" phone, one that was new 18 months ago.  He paid cash, got a great deal, and no one knows the difference (unless they read my blog).  Avoid the ads for "Phones for $100" and skip the fine-print.  Trust me, you are paying the $600, $800 cost of that snazzy phone through the service agreement.  It's hidden in the fees.

My point?  To be frugal, really frugal, you need to be skeptical and shrewd.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  My husband is an electronics engineer and can easily guess that cost to design, build and sell those Smart Phones.  There is no way they cost $100 unless they are fake or stolen. Knowing this, he can guess the true price is hid someplace else.  This is true of many "deals" you see.  Someone, somewhere, somehow is getting paid.  From investment insurance policies to phones to time shares, the devil is in the details.

Also, don't just adopt what some list maker says about saving money.  One suggestion was ditching the gym and getting a set of weights, DVD player and tennis shoes.  Yes, that may work, but it may not work for everyone.  What if you like to swim?  If so, then figure out what you pay per month for the gym, your average swims per month, do the math and figure out how much each swim costs. With that number, you can now shop it.  I did recently.  And in the end, realized my current gym is the best option.  It is close, which reduces gas costs -- I can even bike there.  The hours are far better than places where a swim costs $5/time.  It is not weather dependent.  And, when we pay for a year at a time, in cash (check is cash to them) we get even more of a discount.

To be frugal is not to act like a sheep, following the herder around.  It is to go our own way, to question, to think, to revisit an issue because times change.  Question, question, question....and then you'll find ways to save $1,000, if not more, in 2015.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Brie Baked With Honey

Need a quick, last minute dish to put on a holiday table?  Last night I discovered the easy and luxurious dish of honey baked brie.  As simple as can be, and thanks to Trader Joes -- affordable.

  • Large cut of brie in  a baking dish
  • drizzle with honey (local is ideal)
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees
  • Serve with apples, crackers or baguette.  
Simple, healthy (come on, we all know the French are healthier than Americans), and not all that pricey.

Sorry, no photo from last night.  The brie was served alongside some slow-cooked pork (simmered in apple juice, water and dried apricots) and chocolates as part of a Scotch tasting we (well I since my husband had to be in London for business) at a local UU church.  We'd offered the event as a service auction item, and I left with a favorite new recipe.  And I cannot wait to see if my little frugal ones will eat it up?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Cheer.....Not Always Easy to Channel

Happy, happy, joy, joy? Not quite -- that is one mad little girl.

A picture says a thousand words -- this one -- cheer is not always easy during the "holidays".  Just as darkness, bitter cold or miserable dampness, and stomach bugs or never ending coughs descend on the lives of Midwesterners, so does the added stress of the holidays.  Now some may thrive on the shopping, wrapping, baking, and hoop-la.  Others, well those who like to keep in simple may have a hard time keeping a joyful spirit.

Yes, I "give" to the holiday traditions.  Some I enjoy, such as mailing holiday cards.  Others, shopping mainly, I detest.  Gift giving in  my mind should spring from the heart, not a date set on the calendar and reinforced by Madison Avenue.  Buy, buy and buy more.  Really?  Does our family really need more stuff?  I argue no, we need more experiences, time together.  Yet we have small children and Christmas is the joy of the year -- or so they are learning from their peers.

As we slip and slide our way towards The Extravaganza (what my husband and I refer to as the Christmas holiday) I work to find a balance between our simple, frugal life that emphasizes quality and time over cheap never ending stuff.  Thoughts or suggestions from those who have traveled this path are welcome.  Until then, I am taking calming breaths, setting realistic limits, and seeking out the little annual traditions associated with this time of year that put a smile on my face.

Thanks for reading -- many posts are fluttering in my mind, but with a husband traveling abroad for an extended period of time I am flying solo as a parent who has children at an early start school and a busy to-do list at the office.  Posts will keep coming, just sporadically.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Joint Custody of a Coat....

The daughter of a factory worker and a struggling car dealer, the Wisconsin winters of my youth were void of the excellent outdoor gear common today.  Always frugal and cautious with my dollar, I tended to avoid expensive winter gear for far too  many years.  With the marriage to my husband, also highly frugally minded, came the proximity to excellent winter wear.  While cautious with his spending, he learned young the benefit of paying for quality.

Last week I wrote about the purchase of Lowe hiking boots, my second pair -- I wore the first ones out. Never did I think I would spend $250 for one pair of boots, but I did, and am thankful.  Cold feet?  Nope?  When you consider I can wear them October - April nearly every day, and then on hikes in the summer months, the cost per wear is quite low.

But then there is The Columbia.  My husband bought the coat back in 2005 during his first winter living back in Wisconsin since the 1980s.  Warm blooded and as tolerant of the cold as a bear, he rarely feels the need to pull out The Columbia.  I however has discovered the luxury of this coat, which I now routinely pull out for my morning walks with our son to kindergarten.  Having lived here for decades, I know that past years I would have been frozen on the walk. But with the Lowes boots and the Columbia jacket (and a balaclava), I wonder -- what's all the complaining about?

Yet, we still have One Columbia coat.  I borrow his, he rarely needs it, and unless we are sledding (which we have not yet done this year) we do not need the coat at the same time.  Joint custody of the coat, that's my plan until the stores start slashing prices to make way for Spring items.  February - that's when I plan to seek one out for myself.  Until then, we'll share -- and that's the frugal life here.

P.S. for those who read yesterday's post......we'll pass on the Fig Bread.  The smell was lovely, but the end product was more of a Blondie with figs, far too sweet for me.  Both kids turned their noses up at the treat, and my husband only really likes chocolate chip cookies.  What to do with it?  I passed it along to my assistant at the office -- college kids are so happy for any form of home cooked food!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Judging A Book By Its Cover

It was a few weeks back when my library copy of Recipes & Tips for Sustainable Living by Stacy Harris showed up in my hold que.  Always eager for ways to stretch the value of a dollar, it went to the top of my to-read pile.

Soon I learned that like me, Ms. Harris has a legal education.  Life paths took us in different directions; she is the mother of 7 children and opted not to practice law. Myself, I have two small children and my own little law office where I counsel people on the ins and outs of wills, powers-of-attorney, probate, and related matters.  A frugal life is shared by both of us, but her's is more the "concept car" take on frugality.  I like to think mine is do-able for life; not too extreme, just smart choices each and every day.  Another difference -- frugal mode or lawyer mode, I never look as put together as Ms Harris does in the snapshots from her frugal life.  While her husband and children look like every day people, the photos of her seem as though they should be in a copy of Vogue, not frugal living.  Picky?  Maybe - put it was a total turn off as I read.  Reality gets across to me, not fantasy.  Doubt me, just take a look of her reclining in the chicken coop on page 79.

Now I know, don't judge a book by its cover.  So I didn't, I dug in.  A few recipes caught my attention, and one for fig bread is currently baking in the oven as I type.  In the end, the book is just okay.  I may copy the recipe for the bread, but the book is going back to the library.  Chickens and hunting wild game are not in my near or distant future.  Nor is bee keeping or other "sustainable / urban farmer" techniques.  I admire those who do, but it just is not for me.

Check in later for the verdict on the bread.  Both kids love Fig Newmans (note, Newmans and is Paul Newman's brand, not Fig Newtons).  At $5.99 a pack, I am eager to find fig treats that come directly from my oven.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Memories from the Kitchen

Black Friday, Americana at its best.  Just not in this frugal house.  No, I did not hop on-line or dart down to my nearest Target on Thanksgiving Eve.  I washed dishes and cuddled on the sofa with my family.  When Friday rolled around my husband set off to his office, the kids and I transformed the house for the holidays.  Up went the tree (artificial -- I am a Christmas Tree Asthmatic -- real trees grow a mold, too which I am severely allergic -- explaining why ever winter break as a kid I was deathly ill), up went the lights.  The mantle adorned with random candles and pine cones collected in years past.  By 10am we were done.  What to do?  Head to the mall?  Not a chance.

From the garage I pulled out a bag of lids I had started saving mid-summer.  Stashed on the kitchen counter was a bag of supplies, purchased at Wisconsin Craft Mart, just down the road from our house.  This year we started a new tradition -- sending handmade ornaments to family who live far away.  Since it was the first go-around, I made a few mental notes.  Primarily, spray paint the tops in the garage our outside at least a day or two in advance.  Wow -- the smell.

Second, coffee lids are ideal -- light weight, circular, and they come with a ready made hole for the string.  Tops from jelly jars, pickle jars, or an assortment of goodies from Trader Joes -- just get a hammer and a nail, and tap away.  A huge thank you to the clerk at Wisconsin Craft Mart for telling me this when I showed up in the store looking to buy something from which to make a hook. Thanks, and we'll continue to support such a great store!

Decorations?  A few were gem stones and mini-presents I picked up at the craft show.  But the big winner were 2013 holiday cards that I had kept, from which the kids used their advancing scissor skills to cut out stockings, stars, trees and polar bears.  The end result?  Re-purposed gifts, from the hearts of tots, and priceless memories of a day in the kitchen with mom.

For those who enjoy the deals and the crowds, I hope your day(s) of shopping were productive and fun.  Our world needs all types, and the store owners, employees, and in some case stock holders, are thankful for your patronage. Having worked my way through college and grad school by working retail, those extra hours were welcomed.  But now, you could not pay me to go near the mall this time of year.  That is what one too many holiday shopping seasons at Hallmark and TJ Maxx can do to a gal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pumpkins, Cranberries and a Swim

The day before!  Both kids home from school, we started the day with cooking lessons in the kitchen. Our boy was in charge of mixing the wet ingredients, our girl the dry.  Units of measure, basic chemistry, fractions -- all in the middle of whipping up some fabulous desserts for the Thanksgiving table.  Kitchens provide not only lessons in math and science, but essential life skills of the future frugal -- how to cook.

Lunch took us to the local Pizza Hut where our son redeemed a coupon earned from reading 20 books a month at school.  A free personal pan pizza.  Not the greatest food option for this mom, but it was a treat and he was excited to get something free.  With the amount we read we'll need to reconsider how we use them in the future.  The three of us dined there and with a decent tip the total came to $15.  Not a free lunch, but a great way for the company to get families in the doors every month. Watch for future meals where take home the free pizza and surround it with healthier options from our pantry -- pasta with veggies, chicken, etc.

Snow earlier in the week prompted me to reschedule the kids swim lessons for this afternoon, perfect with them having the day off.  Added bonus -- mom was able to use the adult lap lane for free.  My work out completed while they enhanced their "otter" skills.  Yet another win win in my frugal book. It is not just money I strive to spend wisely, but time as well.

Pie pumpkins roasting on the bottom rack, which turned into pumpkin bread. One loaf for our Thanksgiving table, another to take to friends when we visit later in the day.  Cranberry Walnut Pie bakes on the top rack.  My modified recipe is as follows:

  • mix 2 cups fresh/frozen cranberries with 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a 9 inch pie dish.
  • combine 2/3 cup butter, softened with 1 cup almond meal (instead of flour), 2 eggs, and 1/2 cup sugar.  Blend and pour mixture over cranberry mixture.
  • Baked at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
As you can see, I started my roasting pumpkins and then added the pie for the last 40 minutes.  A very efficient use of the oven.

Enjoy the day in whatever manner your select to pause, give thanks and savor the wonder of life.  We'll enjoy a quite day together, and likely light a candle in memory of my mother -- the last meal I served her, in fact the last time she was in my home, was Thanksgiving 2013.  Life is short -- spend your time and money wisely, and aligned with your priorities.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Extremes in Frugal Living

Evening descended upon Madison, bringing with it a nice dosing of snow.  Enough so my children put on their outdoor gear and headed to the back yard with visions of snowmen dancing in their heads.  While the snow was too fine to pack into the shape of a man, it was perfect for snow angles and sprinkling bird seed.  I joined them outback, and quickly grabbed my counter top compost bin to join me.  Yes, the snow falls and I still compost.  Just toss it on the frozen pile, and come Spring mother nature will continue the decomposition process that yields nutrients for the yard. Unable to toss away the value in coffee ground, egg shells and pumpkin skins, I compost year round.  

On my feet we another frugal purchase, but some my question the label frugal.  At the start of my day I look my trusted four year old Lowe hiking boots down to Morgan shoes at Hilldale.  The daily foot pain could not be ignored, and my hope was all I would need were new inserts.  But now, after four years of nearly daily wear, the boots were nearing the end of life.  The clerk suggested I spend $30 to $40 at a cobbler and use them for gardening, but as for my morning walks with my son to school, the hikes, etc. - it was time for something new.  

To get even more versatility out of the shoe, she brought me the version of Lowe hiking boots that went to my ankle.  She'd listened well - I wanted something for summer hikes, daily walks to school in rain, snow and heat, and something for shoveling and sledding days.  All of that in one shoe. Slipping my foot in, I realized how unsupportive my old pair had grown.  I'll take them, and I need a good house shoe as well.  Within 10 minutes the house shoe was added to the pile.  I took advantage of the buy 4 get the 5th pair of Smartwool socks free, and added a canister of water proofing spray.  I handed over my client loyalty punch card and the $20 off coupon from the Bucky Book.  In under 20 minutes I spent just over $500.

Some may choke on the price, but I don't.  The frugally minded factor in the price per wear, as well as the fact shopping takes time -- time I could spent at my legal practice, working out, playing with kids, or preparing a healthy meal.  I paid for time, quality, and will argue until I am blue in the face that it was a frugal purchase.  Spur of the moment yes, but when you watch your pennies daily, maximized the efficiency of everything you can (note the winter compost) your budget allows this type of expenditure.

And now it is time for me lace up those boots and head up to my son's school for a Thanksgiving feast his teacher is preparing in the classroom.

Be well, enjoy the holiday, and keep it frugal!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mental Note to Self

Sitting on the bleachers with my kiddos enjoyed their weekly swim lesson, it was the nudge of the deck manager that pulled my nose out of my library book.  Here is a flier about upcoming events here at the pool!  And off she went to touch base with other parents.  Glancing at the flier I made a mental note -- free family swim on November 22 for those who bring canned goods for the food drive.  Perfect.

Our youngest adores the water, just like her mom.  We've been meaning to come here as a family and play in the water, and now we had a free ticket.  And today was that day.  We turned over a bag with lentils, rice cakes, hot coco, and some canned veggies.  Off we went to enjoy an hour of jumping and splashing.  Perfect for this frugal mom.

Mental notes, I make them all the time and as soon as possible jot them down in a way that I will remember the deal that has caught my attention.  The swim flier became my bookmark, and then reminded me to 1) note the event on the kitchen calendar, and 2) tell my youngest, who then asked me daily - is today the day we go to family swim?

We live in a deluge of deals, make mental notes, then real notes to maximize your ability to cash in on said deals.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Low-Hanging Fruit

Would you pick up $96 if you found it on the sidewalk?  Don't wait for luck to come your way --  instead take a close look at the little monthly charges and figure out one to eliminate.  That is what I did at the office today, saving myself $96 a year.

Some time ago I had a landline installed when an associate worked for me.  Having abandoned that model of business, I am now back to using college student help and handling all calls on my own.  While I made this switch back in mid-summer, I still had a landline.  Even worse, the phone had been turned off because the only calls that came in on that number were telemarketers.  Finally I turned on the speaker phone, called TDS, and waited while balancing my business checking account. Thirty minutes later the request to terminate the landline, going just with DSL was complete, and my profit grows by a tiny amount for the year ahead.

One action like this really does not make a huge difference, but channeling this mindset day after day, looking for long-hanging fruit of the frugal world will add up over time.  What can you cut, disconnect, terminate?

Thanks for reading, and keep on with the frugal path.  It's good for your health, your wallet and the planet.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Swedish Meatballs

Tempted, oh so tempted was I to get take-out for dinner or order a pizza.  Happy my husband, fresh off a transatlantic flight from England, took the day off to be home, my plans for dinner were seriously neglected.

Wow!  It's totally dark out! -- said our four year old as we left the after school program her brother attends.  Yes, even though the days are getting shorter and the sun sets earlier and earlier, this was the latest pick-up in the 2014-15 school year history for our family.  As we piled into the car, it was clear that two of the four of us were starved, cold and tired.

Should we order a pizza?, I whispered to my husband who shot down the idea.  Less from a financial perspective and more from a health one, No, you always feel sick.  What was the plan for dinner?  For the past few weeks I knew that tonight I would make Swedish Meatballs, a favorite of my late father's.  Why today?  November 20th was his birthday, and I make a point of fixing some of his favorite foods to feel closer to him, and connect the children with a man they will never know.

Swedish meatballs, but they talk 1.5 hours to make.  These kids are starved.  My look of defeat did not deter my husband.  Hmmm, they can wait, they won't die.  So home we went.  The car door knocked into our daughter's head and her utter melt down, which somehow pushed her brother over the edge, put two screaming kids in my kitchen.  While mixed up, the meatballs were not even shaped.  What to do?

Enter the incredible, edible, frugal egg.  Two eggs, scrambled in butter, paired with cheese, pumpkin bread, and banana slices.  In under ten minutes the kids had a healthy, fast, and inexpensive dinner. While they ate, I prepared the meatballs to be enjoyed later in the evening by my husband and I.  As I write the night time music filters down the hall, my husband is finishing a reading of Star Trek Legos to our son, and we'll dine in a few minutes.

Home cooked food -- it is at the core of our frugal home.  Take-out is easy, but pricey, usually not that healthy, and a burden on the local dump with all the containers.  Parents in a rush?  Turn to the scrambled egg.   Eager to try new dishes in the kitchen, here is my mom's highly simplified version of Swedish Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 mashed potato
  • diced onion
  • dash of allspice, salt and pepper
Mix, roll into balls (golf ball sized), brown in butter, then simmer in water, covered, for about an hour.  Authentic?  I cannot say.  Delicious on a cold November night, yes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Meet Sir Frugal, Jr.

Mama!  Today I earned a BONUS penny!

Really, why?

Hmmm, I don't remember.  But I got a bonus one!

So how many pennies do you have now?

About 80.

Wow! What are you going to spend it on?

Hmmmmm, I don't know, but I will at some point.  You know, some kids are really bad with their pennies, they have like 10.

Sir Frugal, Jr. -- always an intense thinker.

For context, this was a snippet of the after school talk I had with my six year old son.  His kindergarten teacher operates a penny reward system.  On a daily basis kids earn one or two pennies for a day of good work and or behavior.  Excellent behavior leads to a bonus penny.  And you guessed it, bad behavior results in a fine.  Every now and then the teacher opens up her "store", allowing the kids to use their pennies to make purchases.

And to think last year my husband and I paid private school tuition, at school with soured with us after 13 days, and down the road was our free public school brimming with brilliance.  The Penny Store -- oh I adore thee.

First, it is a great introduction to math in the real world.  Second, it connects behavior to something tangible.  Third, it provides real world experience for kids on the use of money -- giving them a chance to make foolish decisions, from which wisdom emerges.  And fourth, it works from what I can see -- kids gauge their behavior because of those pennies.  My only concern? Hoping my apparently frugal son will actually spend some of those pennies.  Having a stash is nice, but one cannot savor certain aspects of life without making a purchase.  For now, I delight in his restraint and discipline.

My point today -- it is never too early to help children learn about money.  Just like drugs and sex, it is out there, they'll be exposed to it, and you want them to be able to talk with you about decisions they made and what happened.  Learn these lessons young, not in your 30s and 40s with mortgages, student loans and credit cards -- when the consequences are much higher.

If you are local (Dane County, Wisconsin) and what to enhance your money management skills, consider the offerings at UW Extension Financial Education Center.  Not local?  Turn to Google and plug in Extension Money Management to find a resource in your area.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tis The Season....To Sell Stuff

Even though we have not roasted the turkey, mashed the potatoes or savored a slice of pumpkin pie -- the stores are engulfed with Christmas decorations.  Santa has arrived at a local mall here in Madison. Sure, the temperatures (a whopping 16 degrees F) feel like the dead of winter, yet we have not even given thanks and watch football -- or in my case the American Dog Show.

Holding on to Turkey Time -- wild turkeys, UW Arboretum, 10/31/14

Stores are prepared with Christmas items, clerks eagerly mark down fall and Thanksgiving stock-- this afternoon I bought a garden flag that was 50% off, costing me $5 and giving me more than a week to display it out front. While many may be shopping and crossing items off their list, I am "opposite girl".  Instead of buying, I'm in a selling mood. Whether it is a box of furnace filters in the basement (sold to a friend) or unread books (listed on Amazon) or outgrown Halloween costumes (donated), I am in full blown cleaning house mode.

If you are frugal, give some thought to these points.

  1. You have to put your stuff somewhere, and that place costs money.  Whether it is a storage locker where you pay a monthly rental fee, your basement, the attic, etc. -- space costs money. Even if you are mortgage free, that space needs to be insured and is subject to property tax (although that varies greatly between states).  The more you own, the more space you need, the more you pay;
  2. Before you can clean you have to put the stuff away.  This is a huge issue in a house with a 6 and 4 year old.  Growing up in an age when stuff is made of cheap plastic means they get trinkets at an alarming rate.  I covet the simplicity of the home decor in the Little House on the Prairie books (but not the bathroom facilities).  Back then a single toy may have cost a months pay.  Today toys explode out of packages, birthday grab bags, library rewards, and birthday and holiday gifts.  All that stuff requires time to be put away before I can even clean the house that stores it.  Stuff, it costs you time and money.  Sure my kids and help clean up, but their time is valuable too.  Read books with mom on the sofa, or pick up the piles of toys?
  3. Cash talks.  I'd rather have more cash and less stuff, it's as simple as that.  Well stocked emergency fund, small mortgage, no consumer or education debt, hefty 529 college plans for the kids, a decent health savings account, and the big one, IRAs.  In a dual self-employed home cash is key, we have no illusion of stability.  Cash gets us groceries or medical care, an awesome pair of designer boots (even if bought at 50% off) does not.  It's all about balance -- what is enough stuff, what is enough cash.
  4. It's easy to sell.  From Amazon to Ebay to Craiglist to a Facebook post to your neighborhood page, it has never been easier to transfer the stuff you are done with to new owners and receive a little jingle in your pocket.
Liquidity is a main motivator for me, but on the back burner sit the images from this past year as I cleared out my childhood home.  With both parents now deceased, the job of emptying their ranch home fell to me.  Sell, share, donate, toss, keep -- asked over and over again.  Given the work I do as an estate planning and probate attorney, daily I face the reality that at some point in time someone will have that job for my possessions.  In the end I hope they are simple, prized, filled with meaning -- and the rest of my "stuff" can sit in an investment account with a transfer on death label.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Same Old Story....

Another frugal weekend:

  • library books and DVDs, stacked nearly the same height as my four year old.  Enlightenment as well as entertainment, free thanks to a single library card.
  • Home haircuts or the kids -- a trim of her bangs, and overall chopping of his hair.  They will not look like an ad from Gap kids, but they have awesome college funds because I rarely splurge for a professional cut.  What I don't spend means the more we save.
  • Split pea soup simmering on the stove as I type -- healthy, hardy, kids adore, and oh so frugal in cost -- and veggie style is kind to the earth as well.
  • Removed our own snow from the walk here as well as at the house I inherited (fingers crossed the closing happens tomorrow, making future snow falls someone else's responsibility).  We could have hired out the work, especially since my other frugal half is in Europe for work, but I'd rather pay my kids and show them that work equals money.  That, and it is a great way to get out and enjoy Wisconsin winter weather and burn off some calories.
  • Our three cats compete for the best spot in the house now that winter has arrived; in front of the vent in the smallest room in the house, making it the warmest.  The indoor temp will hover between 61 and 63 degrees.  Winter in a frugal house means it is time for slippers, layers, and a lovely scarf around Mama's neck. Yes, warmer would be nice, but not as nice as low energy bills this time of year.
The same old story.  Frugal is about marathon speed.  To intense can be too hard to sustain.  A little frugal every day, it adds up to a life without debt, a secure emergency fund, hefty college accounts for kids aged 6 and 4.  It's peace of mind that a furnace going out or a new (as in used being new to us) car will not force us to turn to credit.  We are not glamorous, we are not overly fun and exciting. We are frugal -- free to do as we please.  I could not ask for more.   For that I give thanks.

Gobble, Gobble -- wild turkeys at the UW Arboretum -- a perfect spot
for a solo or family hike any time of year.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On Target for a Frugal Life

Target.  Yes, a big box store is a key part of my frugal life.  Reason number one, I can walk to one from my house and or office.  That alone gives shopping at Target huge bonus points on my frugal scale.  No gasoline required, I buy only what I can carry (lug), and it is a perfect way to keep an active lifestyle.

Then there is the bag credit.  If I bring my own bag, the cashier deducts $0.05 off of my bill.  Saves the store on bag purchases, saves me money, and is kind to the Earth.  A win-win if I ever saw one.

Next -- the Red Card.  Either a credit or debit (we are a debit family) that deducts 5% off the purchase price -- from socks to milk to a latte in the cafe.  I'll take those savings any day.

Off brands -- oh how I love them.  A few years ago I saved a huge amount buying Target brand diapers, wipes and formula (yes, I am "earthy" -- but the natural route did not work for our family).  Now days it is the allergy meds, cough syrup, etc -- the Target Brand, Up and UP, is great and I don't pay for ad costs.

But the latest frugal find involves fundraising.  With a few clicks on the computer, my son's school now receives 1% of my purchases from Target's Take Charge of Education Program.  There is no cost to me, the shopper.  It works for the Red Card, credit or debit.  All I did was log on, create an account, and then link my card to Stephens Elementary on Rosa Rd.  Anyone in the country can link and support his school, or a school that is near and dear to their heart.

I must say, other fundraisers pale in comparison.  Gone is my guilty pressure to purchase trinkets or candies or holiday decor, from which the school may receive 30%.  Instead, I am focusing my purchases at my local Target.  Things I need anyway, now resulting in a 1% donation to his school.

Here is a big thank you to the family and friends who have signed up since I started making noise about this program!  Care about the future of education in America?  Here is a great way for frugal crowd to make wise purchases and direct corporate dollars to America's future.  Yes -- corporate! Frugal folks can embrace locally grown and international companies, it takes diversity to make the world go around.  And for the record, my kids 529 college savings (i.e. mutual funds) own shares of Target.  Corporate is not necessarily evil.

Thanks for reading, and please share other frugal ways to fund raise that do not involve glossy magazines!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Frugal?

The conversation sticks out boldly in my memory,  Recently married, my husband and I stopped in at the home of his extended family.  Out on the back porch we joined the conversation, fast moving among the large family and its various friends of the family.  Somehow or other the topic migrated to eating out.  My comment about saving money by cooking at home is faded, but the response from another is not.  "Why are you two so frugal?"  Blogging does not allow me to capture the tone of the question, but let's just say frugal as akin to a shunned four-letter word.

Having complete the endurance and transformation of a law school education, I immediately responded with three points on why we were frugal.  Those points -- I cannot recall them so much -- later became the basis of The Upside of Frugal blog.  The feeling I remember, one of being on the defensive, one being attacked or ridiculed because my husband and I opted to be prudent with our spending.  To this day, it puzzles me why my frugal spending habits can bother other people so much. I will never know.

Why are we on the frugal path?  That answer depends -- again, a byproduct of my legal education.  In the past it was to pay off a mountain of student debt.  Other times, mere habit.  I grew up poor -- really poor.  My mother was a machine operator in a plastics factory, my father was a disabled construction worker who tried to make ends meet buying and selling used cars -- frugal was a way of life, not a choice.

Today?  In a word -- Freedom!  Being frugal makes a dual self-employed family possible.  I operate my own small, solo legal office writing wills and administering probate.  My husband, an electronics engineer, freelances and builds a business designing and building circuit boards.  Self-employment brings a lot of freedom, but also the need to buy your own health insurance and fund retirement.  But we love it, we love the freedom of steering our work in the direction we want, no questions asked.

Today is Halloween and the lights at my office are off.  I too the day off -- no one to ask or seek approval from.  I will be able to watch our 4k daughter in her costume parade at school.  She will leave school early, where we'll join her brother's Fall Party at the school up the road.  After -- we'll be carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seeds, and knocking on a few doors in our lovely (and warm) Big Cat costumes from Savers.  Why am I frugal?  It means I get quality time with my kids -- when I want, how I want, no approval needed.  Thinking back to that summer conversation about restaurants, I wonder if that person would change his tone hearing my current reason?

That is me.  What is your story?  Why the frugal path for you?  Is it permanent, temporary?  Leave comment and share if you like.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't Compost Us! Using up the Veggies.

Mid-week: energy is running low; previously bought but yet to be used produce is making its way to "compost bin" suitable; and there are still quite a few breakfasts, lunches and dinners to be made this week.  What's a frugal gal to do?

Dinner dishes done, radio turned on, kids unleashed to romp and play as I turned to the stove for 30 minutes of intense frugal kitchen maneuvers.

Sundays remain crock-pot turkey with chickpeas became the base for turkey soup, which will be the focal point of Thursdays dinner followed by a container or two frozen for future lunches.  Broth, garlic and toss in the vegetables that had been screaming "use me before I'm compost material!"

Other veggies were tossed into an egg ring eagerly waiting on a frying pan, followed by one beaten egg and a dose of shredded cheese.  Cook for 2 minutes, flip, and slide it onto a whole wheat English muffin.  Four of those later, and my husband has some breakfasts to go for the rest of the week.

A very well worn frying pan, one my grandparents (in their 90s) discarded when they downsized from a house to condo a few years back.  Happy to give it more life in our frugal home.

And that was it for tonight.  One can only do so much in 30 minutes.  In that time I extended the life of food on the fridge shelves.  We have easy and ready to go, healthy veggie stocked home cooked meals.  Our food dollars did not end up in the compost heap.  And we reduced household waste, which pleases mother Earth.

Keepin' in healthy in the kitchen, frugal style.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Golden Leaves

Fall in Wisconsin brings many things: corn mazes, apples galore, pie pumpkins, frosty mornings, and leaves.  Tons and tons of leaves, falling from trees, painting the ground a vibrant mix of reds, yellows, oranges, and a few pinks.  What puzzles me about Fall is why so many folks put so many leaves at the curb?  Tossing value to the street department!

There is the traditional compost heap to consider.  Pile them up, let mother nature do its thing, and soon you'll have rich nutrients for flower beds, gardens and lawns.  Or take the lazier approach, and pile the leaves on those flower beds now.  Spray the water hose every now and then to prevent the winding taking them away.  That was my approach Monday.  Next Spring I'll have a new layer of mulch added, covering the remains and maximizing the nutrients -- all for free (well the mulch is not free).  These beauty is tucked in well for our upcoming winter.

As a child of the 70s, I have faint memories of parents putting leaves in black garbage bags and tucking them next to the foundation of our home for added insulation.  I cannot remember seeing that frugal move in recent years.  You?  Seems like a smart way to insulate, and then dump the wintered contents into a garden of flower bed.

Enjoy the frugal path, and thanks for reading.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Frugal Halloween Treats

Sunday's order of service at the Prairie UU church we attend offered an interesting statistic in it's Green Note Section:  the average Halloween candy haul per child is 10 pounds!

That is 10 pounds of individually wrapped sugar intensity. Not all that healthy, and certainly not eco-friendly.  How can we keep Halloween fun and treat filled, but go easy on the wrappings?  The article offers suggestions:

  • Pennies or larger coins for UNICEF boxes;
  • Halloween styled pencils;
  • Erasers; and
  • Boxed raisins (in eco-friendly boxes).
I would add bulk candy!  This is what we've done in years past.  The candy is individually wrapped, but not nearly as much waste as you will find in Halloween candy sections of the store.

How about you?  Suggestions on keeping treats in Halloween, but making it a little more frugal?  It's good for our budgets, our health, and the planet.  Please share any ideas!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wintering Geraniums

Lower and lower go the night temperatures as we Madisonians work our way towards the Winter Season.  And so it was time to move the summer geraniums off the front step.  But to where?  Plants of summers past have taken refuge on the window sill at my office, adding a much needed splash of cheer to a legal office.  But the sill is full, what to do?  It was a spark of memory that I went with, something I'd tucked away in my mind while emptying out my childhood home this past year.

In the basement of the home I was raised in, among many things, I found my mom's geraniums.  She would put them in a brown paper bag, pot and all.  When summer weather returned to Madison, she'd place them on her back porch for another season.  My mother left this world in February of this year, but her plants were there in the Spring as we began to sort and clean.  Sadly, even though I had meant to bring them to our home, the plants were sold with other odds and ends.  I may not have her actual plants, but I do have her frugal idea.  When you pay for quality plants, why toss them in the compost heap with the fall leaves.  Have them "winter".

My allergies make bringing lots of plants into the house a challenge, but as I write, the three geraniums that graced our front steps all summer long are snug as a bug (please, no real bugs) in Hy-Vee and Trader Joe's bags.  Nestled close to the exterior door, the one I had meant to replace this year.  The old door is still there -- life happens, items get pushed off and off on a to do list -- and I hope the plants will stay cool, and do a little bit to block any draft from that old door.

Check in next Spring when the plants re-emerge.  Suggestions or tips on extending their life are always welcome, so please leave a comment.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Off to Savers We Went

Friday after school I handed my children half a bagel each, and we piled into the Honda.  I knew the bagel treat would dampen their after school ravenous appetite and give them just enough stability to tackle Halloween costume shopping.  Off to Savers we went, just as we had the prior year.

On the drive over I explained to them that their desired outfits were not going to be easy, after all, my attempts with Amazon Prime and a general Google search had yielded pitiful results.  A unicorn and snow leopard.....we needed some Gervasi luck if they were going to get their wish.

With coupon in hand (20% from a prior donation to Savers) we walked to the kids section.  If a shopping experience can have fireworks, we had them.  There on the rack hung a size 4-6 unicorn outfit.  New, it was priced at $24.  My daughter was delighted, my son sank into despair -- if we'd had so much luck for her, his search was a lost cause.  But we proved him wrong.  One rack over, buried at the end, hung a darling snow leopard (or some sort of spotted big cat) outfit, complete with hood and face.   Next to his find was a smaller, pure black cat outfit, just the right size for our daughter.   Now she had a unicorn, appropriate for indoor events (school and church) and one for going out on Halloween night.  A few minutes later, our son found something akin to a Star Fleet uniform, and he too had one outfit for indoors and other for the cold Wisconsin night.

We threw in a huge black spider that we now have hanging from our bay window as well as Halloween t-shirts for the kids and a Poncho for my cow girl outfit.  We were done shopping in 20 minutes.  And the total price came to $70.  Far less than any of the not-quite-what-they-wanted outfits I'd found on the internet, with prices coming in between $40 and $60 each.

Savers, an essential ingredient in the frugal life we are carving out for ourselves.  Stay tuned, cute kid photos will follow in the next few weeks.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

Waste not, want not.  That is an underlying belief of our frugal home.  Minimizing waste maximizes our budget, allowing us to save and live a comfortable life.  Frugal for me is two part -- yes, finding "deals" at the store is one factor.  But the second is stretching your household budget. 

Two images from today illustrate how we aim to avoid waste when possible.

Drying rack doubles as a laundry detergent holder -- an ideal way to let the contents drain into the cap, eking out every last drop.

Organic waste (banana peels, apple cores, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.) have a temporary residence under the kitchen sink.

Until I take the short walk, pail in hand, to the compost heap in the backyard.  Compost -- it happens without much prompting.  Looking for a low key approach, check out this article, posted by a fellow frugal friend of mine earlier in the week.  We have a similar approach.  The part on the left has been decomposing for longer, and is ready to be placed in the yard.  To the right, our recent contributions. It works, it is simple. And it is highly efficient!

Waste not, want not.  Look for savings, maximize every dollar you spend.  It's the frugal way!

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Picked over a month ago, these little Japanese Lantern plants started in our backyard.  Now they add a splash of color to our kitchen counter.  How long will they last?  I am not sure, but I'm thankful for the cheer and no need to buy flowers at the market.

How do you frugally decorate your home for Fall?  Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you wish!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Frugal Fast Food: Burrito Assembly Line

The cost per burrito may be equal to or slightly more than those at Taco Bell, but they are the preferred fast food in our frugal home.  When finding a stack frozen in the freezer, my frugal husband's eyes light up!  Here is why:

  • Fast food -- pull from freeze, microwave and 2 minutes later the perfect lunch for an efficient and frugal engineer.
  • Perfect place to stash left over veggies -- from spinach to squash to mushrooms, just mix them in.
  • When making dinner, put 2 cups of brown rice in the rice cooker.  Serve a small portion to wee ones with olive oil and parmesan cheese, set aside the rest to cool.  Dump in a jumbo can of beans, add a jar of salsa, drop in those veggies.
  • Far healthier than the sodium filled burritos sold by Taco Bell and the like.
  • Use heavy duty foil, which can then be reused again and again.....assuming the absented minded engineer remembers to toss the foil in his lunch bag.
And there you have it, fast food in a frugal home.  What's your favorite frugal fast food?  I'd love some new ideas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall in the Frugal Home

Car tires generate a hissing sound as they drive past on the rain soaked road out front, filling the background of my afternoon working at home.  It's a busy road that we live on.  Yes, that brings traffic and its noise, and a bit of danger.  But it also brought a lower price per square foot purchase price for our own, and it is high priority for plows -- this is Wisconsin after all. Not once in the years we have lived here have we been late because of snow!

As the garden has retreated, so has has the whirl of the clothes dryer.  Items hang from racks and bars, indoors, making the most of the dry and cool air.  Drying without energy use, putting a touch of moisture in the air, stretching the life of our clothes, sheets, etc.

Pumpkins roast in the oven, providing "pumpkin meat" for countless breads, muffins, scuffins and pancakes for months to come.  The oven ads a bit of extra heat.  A happy extra since our furnace has yet to come on during the day, how could it with a thermostat set at 61.  Yes, 61 degrees, we call ourselves frugal for a reason.

Looking ahead there are more pumpkins to roast and a trip to Savers for the wee ones to select Halloween outfits, and I'll have my 30% off coupon in hand.  That is what fall looks like here, in our snug and frugal home.  How about yours?  Leave a comment, share and inspire.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Do It Myself!"....from the mouths of Frugal Folks

Image by author.  "Who me?  Yes, me!"

Fiercely independent since birth, my daughter's two-year old catch phrase was "do it myself!"  While her grammar has improved over time, her attitude remains that of "I can accomplish tasks on my own, no assistance needed."  She shares this attitude with many young girls, and also those who lead a frugal life.

Enjoy yogurt?  Make your own!

Halloween is approaching -- pull out your mother's (or grandmother's) sewing machine and whip together stellar costumes.

Cutters filling with leaves -- just hop up on the roof and shovel them out!

Do it yourself resourcefulness is a perfect way to stretch family budgets.  Why pay when you can do the work yourself!  However, while it is possible to stretch a budget of money, one's time is rather finite.  There is the need to sleep, eat, bathe, and bond with family and friends.  Oh yeah, and work. For those without an employer or clients, the stay-at-home parent crowd or recent retires, they have a bit more time to stretch and manipulate.  For me, time is my most precious commodity and I guard it like no other.

So recently I found myself considering hiring someone to clean our house.  There was my husband, encouraging me to outsource, knowing that each item off my to-do list opened the door for either more time at the office or more time with my family, he would endorse either.  A champion of the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none --- Why clean a toilet when you can write a will and earn a lot more?"  His argument, a condensed version.  Friends urged me to call "their person", singing of the joy of returning home at the end of the work week to a clean home.  All I would need to do is make sure the "kids' stuff is put up and away so they can clean."  Easier said than done.

Back and forth I went, and in the end I followed my daughter's mantra -- do it myself.  Why?  It certainly isn't a decision based on math.  Our budget would be higher if I spent more time at the office, leaving household cleaning to someone else.  But the thing is, I like my house.  I like tidying up the place we call home.  Besides, 2/3s of the work is picking up after the kids and then cleaning. Why hire someone and have an on-going obligation, requiring me to work.  When I clean my own house there is no duty, obligation, pressure -- call it what you like -- to keep the cleaning person. And that is priceless.

My decision was reinforced on a recent morning walk.  My daughter and I had just dropped my son off at kindergarten.  On the walk home we met Doris, a neighbor.  She did not look at day over 70, but conversation revealed that she was 86!  She had raised six children, all going to school my son now attends.  "And I still clean my own house -- feels great, keeps me young!" --thanks Doris for the nudge.  Not only am I saving money, but a good cleaning is a decent workout if done correctly.  Also, my inner control freak knows that the products used will be one's I prefer (i.e. vinegar to chemicals I cannot pronounce).  Keys to forgoing the cleaning person when you also work outside the own and so does your partner:

  • Surround yourself with what you need and or truly love;
  • Recognize disorder as a sign of a home bursting with love;
  • Admit that you will not mop every day/week/maybe longer -- it is ok; and
  • Avoid comparing your home to others, especially those in a photo spread or TV show

Friday, October 3, 2014

Frugal People Read the Fine Print....

Opened the mail today and found two surprises.  One was a reimbursement check for $169.99, issued by the manufacturer of the dehumidifier we purchased over three years ago.  This past summer the unit was recalled -- the model had a tendency to start house fires.  Out with the old, in with the new. And today the cost of the new was reimbursed.  Fine print - it is worth the attention.

Mailing number two that really got my attention was a bill from American Medical Response out of Modesto, California.  Wow, they sure do not waste time.  After 60 seconds of scanning the bill it was clear it was for the ambulance we'd called while vacationing in Seattle.  As my son and I drove off into the dark Seattle night to Seattle Children's Hospital because of his croup I wondered "Hmmmm, a Mercedes ambulance, what will that cost?"  Regular readers will recall a post from earlier in the week when cost was not a concern, more of a curiosity.  Our frugal life means that when it comes to medical expenses for our family, we've stockpiled over the years in our Health Savings Account. Concerned?  No.  Curious? Yes.  And I bet some of you are as well.

Based on the bill the ambulance drove us 5 miles, at $18.39 a mile.    So, the mileage totaled $91.95. Ah, but we are not done yet. For reference, the cab back at 2am cost $20 with tip. The ambulance itself, all compact, shiny and new, and European ala the Mercedes symbol -- well that cost $758.00. Ouch!

As my eyes scanned the total I heard a voice in my head (one that sounded just like my equally frugal husband) "wow, that does not seem right, way too much!"  More eye scanning, quick check of the memory bank, and I surmised that our insurance had not been billed.

Now this is not an HMO type of insurance.  We are both self-employed, so we buy it on the marketplace.  There are no HMO hoops, but we do have a $12,000 annual deductible.  Translation, we pay the first $12,000 of medical expenses out-of-pocket.  In our case, we use the tax advantaged HSA dollars to cover those expenses.  In turn, we pay a lower monthly premium.  But even with the out-of-pocket cost on our part, I know from previous medical purchases that we get a negotiated rate. And $758 for an ambulance does not seem to be a negotiated rate.

A quick call to the company confirmed, they had not billed the insurance because it was not on file. Now it is, and in 4 to 6 weeks we'll receive an EOB (explanation of benefits) that will, fingers crossed, give us a lower charge for that ambulance.  And may I point out, this is the charge for the ambulance only, not the hospital.

Oh Seattle 2014, what a trip you turned out to be for our frugal family.  Beyond turning our kid's on to the wonder of Otter forts and sparking in me a new love of lobster chowder, this trip has underscored that fact that life happens, make sure you budget that fact in each month.  And just as important, make sure you take the time to read the fine print.  If you find that hard, use a highlighter, a little trick that got me through three years of buried to the eyes case law reading in law school.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for what the final bill actually turns out to be for that ambulance ride!

Image by author -fruit stand in Pike's Market

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Saving at Savers

October has arrived, and the forecast for tomorrow night here in Madison, Wisconsin includes a chance of flurries late Friday.  Ugh.  Winter coat time is upon us.  How fortunate for me that I just picked up two "new to me" Lands End winter coats at our local Savers.  An email from the company drew me in, offering 30% off for Red Card holders.  Yep, that is me.  Into the cart went two coats, one for cooler temps the other for more serious plunges in the thermometer.  Both are washed and air drying in the basement.   Total cost was $17.48!

Winter - I am ready for you. And thanks to my willingness to shop 2nd hand, my acquisition was easy on my wallet, gave items a second life, and provides peace of mind that something as essential as a winter coat need not be a huge expense in our budget (i.e. costing more than $100).  How about you - do you shop 2nd hand?  Why or why not?  Any taboo items that you simply refuse to put in your cart?  Do you prefer the deep discounts at stores offering new products, skipping the thrift store genre all together.  Drop me a comment, discussion is always fun!

Be well, and frugal on!