Monday, March 31, 2014

Simplicity Parenting Boosted With Warmer Temps

Sixty degree weather has arrived in Madison, and with the southerly winds my simplicity parenting efforts received a much needed boost.  Once home from preschool the kids enjoyed a snack of trail mix and crackers, and then it was off to the backyard.  Compost was added to the pile.  Leaves recently thawed were raked and added to the compost.  Dirt and pine needs were moved, and the first crocuses of the year were found.  Simple, messy, and very frugal fun was had in our yard today.

Our second year of beauty -- bulbs were purchased through an environmental nonprofit.  Great purchase, it just keeps on giving!  Note the decomposing pumpkin in the back -- last years jack-o-lantern.  Nothing goes to waste if I can help it.

 Here you see winter sleds getting new life in the spring -- perfect for wee ones hauling leaves and such.  The pine needs were added to the their mulch pit -- better than the compost pile.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inexpensive St. Patty's Day Gift for the Wee Ones Keeps on Giving

Found in the $1 bin at Target, each child in our home received a small clay pot with soil and seeds.  Perched on the bathroom window sill (the best southern light we have inside), the gift waits patiently for warmer days.  Seeds are doing there thing, and soon will grace our front yard.  Chinese Primrose in one, Strawberry in the other.  When seeking out gifts for gifts in the Spring, do not overlook gardening ideas.  Easy on the wallet, gentle on the earth, and may inspire healthier snacks down the road!

Friday, March 28, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Optimal Living 360 by Sanjay Jain

The title caught my attention and I put it in my list of library requests -- Optimal Living 360: smart decision making for a balanced life by Sanjay Jain.  A very quick read, I am happy it was not a book I bought.  I am glad I took time to read it, but 98 percent was information I already knew, packaged in a MBA approach to life.  The acronym ROI (return on investment) appears throughout the book, and was a bit too trendy for my tastes.

The final chapter touched on what I hoped the book would have gone into far more substance on -- time management. A few gems were found.  The idea of eliminating one hour of clutter from your day results in an extra 23 hours a year.  If I could save an hour on junk emails, annoying tasks, etc., I could gain an entire day.  That is motivating.  Followed up by a great quote, it is something I plan to tackle in the days and weeks ahead.  I am frugal with my money, but also my time.

It [time] is our most valuable currency and our most limited resource.  It can't be bought no matter how rich you are or how many material goods you acquire.  Nor can it be recovered; once lost, it is gone forever.
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sales People Beware -- Avoid "the pressure" when trying to close a sale with a Frugalista

Eagerly I awaited this past Wednesday!  A consultant from JC Penney was scheduled to come to the house and help me select window shades for the three first-floor bedrooms.  Not one for home decor, I was eager for the consultant's input and expertise.  She arrived right on time and in a matter of minutes we'd selected colors (any surprise I opted for Cafe) and the measurements were underway.  This was going well, and I was proud of myself for opting for decent quality -- not too cheap, not over-the-top.

The consumer road began to hit some bumps when her Ipad would not provide the pricing and specifications for the brand I had selected.  What to do?  Okay, let's look at colors in a brand that would work on her Ipad.....but the colors just weren't the same.  And my euphoria began to fade a bit.  But I told myself "be flexible, they are blinds -- so what if this color is not quite as nice as the one you selected".  While she ran the numbers I packed my brown bag lunch for the office, running numbers in my head.  It's a great frugal trick I've picked up from my husband -- always, always have a number in mind first.  Without it they are setting the tone.

What number did I have?  There were seven windows, for which I guestimated $100 each, plus some for installation.  The number in my head was $1,000 give or take $200.  Just as I finished filling my thermos of coffee she called out that she had the total.  And that is when the fast talking began.  At first I thought the total was $525. Then I realized the $525 on the paper was for one window, not seven.  In fact, the total was $1852.  What!  I had gone with a few low-end options, non-room darkening for one.

A bit shocked she should have just let the number settle in, instead she went into sales overdrive and lost my business in an instant.  I grew up on a used car lot -- literally growing up among wheelers and dealers, and the fastest way to shut down my consumption is to throw it into fast talk and high pressure.  She explained, at rapid fire speed (at I am often told I talk fast) that the price included a 30% sale.  Technically it expired over the weekend, but I'll give it to you today if you sign the contract was her spiel.  Instantly I could hear my husband's voice in my head, "yeah right, like she wouldn't take our money a week from now if we called and said we sign up if the 30% were part of the deal!"  I was polite and said I had to think it over, and that I would not sign a contract today -- I need to think about it and discuss it with my husband.  I know I'd want him to do the same before spending two grand.  And she walked out the door, samples in hand, leaving our windows in a state of inadequate covering.

Options -- I know I have options.  There are talented and crafty friends who can offer frugal ideas.  There are do-it-yourself web sites, which in fact we havee used in the past.  And there is the fact I will simply not spend that kind of money to cover windows.  I will pay for quality, I did just today, buy a classic black dress from a high-end store at Hilldale Mall.  It was $157 and not on sale.  Yet I brought it home with me  -- high quality, perfect for the office or fancier events, and a salesperson who was helpful, not high pressured.  Keep that in mind if you are trying to close a deal with a self-declared frugalista.

Thanks for reading, and if you have window covering ideas -- please, let me know!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Discards in a Frugal Home

Discards!  We aim to put very little in our trash bin.  It's good for the earth because we reduce what takes up a space in a landfill.  It's good for our wallet because we eek every bit of utility of an item.  And it's good for our health because the other items listed simply feel good.  Looking for ways to reduce what goes in your trash?  Consider:

  1. Composting -- I keep a bowl on the counter into which I toss egg shells, coffee filters and grounds, spent flowers, brown paper, and of course veggie and fruit scraps.  Off to the back yard they go, to break down, turning into fertilizer for our flower beds and potted summer veggie plants;
  2. Sell It -- From Craigslist to Ebay to a garage sale, turn your gently used yet no longer necessary items into cash for your emergency fund, investment account, or put make a large payment on debt you carry.
  3. Donate and Deduct -- If you itemize your taxes consider donating items to nonprofits such as Goodwill, St. Vinencet de Paul, Savers, etc.  Get a receipt and deduct it from your income tax for the year.  This is an option we turn to because time is often too short to sell small items at a sale, but a drop off at a thrift store is easily accomplished.
  4. Craft It -- empty salsa jars and the like are cleaned and stored on a shelf in my basement.  They are perfect for homemade gifts -- facial scrub, scented bath salts, or a batch of homemade granola.
  5. Pass It Along -- We keep a brown grocery bag near our front door into which paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, plastic lids, mail order brochures, etc. that we deliver to our children's preschool where they turn them into arts and crafts.  Even if you do not have young children, consider this option if your church has a childcare room, your gym, or a local community center.  Reuse is wonderful.
Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment if you have a suggestion to share.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cookbook Delight!

Sunday was a stellar day on many fronts -- and here is one excellent high-note!  As Sunday dinner with The Village came to a close I handed "my" copy of the Attic Angel Association's Cookbook.  I was told volume II was not as good as volume I, but it "is still excellent -- we'll keep hunting for volume I for you, everyone in The Village has both." The Village consists of several women I went to grade school as well as high school with, their parents, siblings, spouse, children, and dogs.  They put the substance into "it takes a Village" and we are so thankful for them.  And just like us, they adore thrift.  My most recent cookbook was found via St. Vincent de Paul, and it will be the location where volume I is eventually found.  Thanks women of The Village!  Our frugal path relies heavily upon eating home cooked meals.  It keeps food expenses down by minimizing meals out, provides easy fare for brown bag lunches, allows children to be involved with preparing veggies.  And goes easy on Mother Earth in terms of reducing paper waste, etc., associated with restaurant meals.  Now it is time to close the computer and open my latest cookbook -- what delights await?

Monday, March 24, 2014

What Surrounds You?

What surrounds you?  Do you know?  Tucked way back in the kitchen drawer there lurks what?  What delights, or horrors, does your freezer store?  The shelves in your basement are home to how many items you cannot name?  As we start a new week, focus for a few minutes on how much clutter is in your home.  Even frugal people like me tend to have a lot, maybe more because we hold on to it thinking it will save us dollars down the road.  Yes, it might, but it also costs us dollars a day to hold on to these items.  What is the price per square foot of real estate in your hometown?  Look it up, and then ponder how much it costs to save all those gift bags, jars, old towels, baby clothes from 15 years ago etc.

Use up what is around you.  Commit to using what you have, figuring out what you have, before you spend another dollar.  My weakest area on this front in the kitchen.  There is something thrilling about buying fresh and tasty food, and whenever I pop in for a carton of eggs or gallon of milk, I end up leaving with $20 in other items I picked-up.  I am challenging myself to pause with that habit and really focus on making meals out of what is already in my freezer and cupboards.  Regular readers of this blog know that I tend to enter this phase every Spring, just before the local farmers' markets get back into the swing of things.  Meaning I'll start buying in bulk and freezing.  Before I can do that, I must empty what I have.

A renewed commitment to this practice, and a desire to extend it to other areas of my fiscal life stems from the work I have been doing to clear my mother's home. She passed away this past February -- and my job ranges from emptying her fridge to finding a way to recycle the old cans of paint to digging out meat entrenched in ice in her basement deep freeze -- seriously, the meat was so old.  Yet, as her health declined it sat there forgotten.  Now it sits at the curb, headed for a landfill, after years of energy use to run an out dated freezer.  Look around and ask what is this and why am I holding on to it?  If the reason is not rock solid, move it along to a new home.  That is the frugal path, or at least it is the one I am currently on.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Time, Money, and the Frugal Brain

Commonplace among the frugal are yard sales.  Have an item you no longer want?  Sell it and salvage some money from it.  I was firmly planted in this camp for a good portion of my frugal life.  But upon meeting the man I would later marry, my approach to frugality shifted.  And that shift is highlighted during the phase of life I am in at the moment.

With both of my parents now deceased there is a home and two lifetimes of items to re-distribute.  Meaningful ones to my home or those of others.  But what about the stuff, things like coffee pots, dishes, clothing, etc.  "Have a garage sale" is the overwhelming consensus among the many who are kind enough to offer a hand.  And of course there is the perpetual Craigs List and Ebay routes.  I will be taking those routes, but I will also be donating a large portion.  Why?  My husband has pointed out that taking the time to sell items distracts me from my two passions: practicing law and parenting my kids.  Also, the donation may have more bang for the buck come tax season for 2014.  We itemize, and those donations are a deduction.

I offer this to other frugal minded folks -- penny wise and pound foolish is an expression worth thinking about.  Do not forget, your time is valuable.  You can use it to earn money, but also devote it to things that mean the world to you. Spending an entire Saturday selling goods means you are not doing something else.  Is it worth it?  Question, question, question and do not follow the well worn path all the time.  You just may do a little something nice for your health, your wallet, and the earth.

Friday, March 21, 2014

For the Birds!

As I work to clear out the ranch home that was my mother's I am faced with a renewed interest to rid my life of clutter and place more emphasis on experiences.  Her home since 1975, it is full.  Not hoarder full, but still full.  Papers, clothing, garage sale finds, decorations for every imaginable holiday, and the every day of life.  I started there, in the kitchen, making due as best I could with the food that remained.  Much of it was expired, and instead of simply tossing it in the trash, I empty the boxes of crackers and the like, into a large plastic bag.  After recycling what paper I could, my daughter and I gave the birds and critters in our yard a feast.  Scattered on top of the flower bed we put in last year, my plan was for the animals to eat up the food and turn it into fertilizer for the yard.  Seems to have worked.  We spread this last Sunday, and every bit is gone.  Now all I need are the flowers to break through!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Frugal Spring Welcome

March 20th is here, welcome to the first day of Spring.  Snow may be in the forecast for the week ahead, but Wisconsinites know that slowly we are working our way towards warmer weather.  For now I am enjoying the dry cold air, it is perfect for line drying the endless loads of wash a family with two children can produce.  Yes, all winter long I use a combination of a drying rack and a hanging bar in the basement to air dry our clothes.  Warm and humid weather will bring a return to using the dryer; our allergies make a clothes line a non-option for us.

Dinner featured turkey burgers, sweet potato, and a lovely cream of asparagus soup.  I'll be the first to admit, I'm quite delayed in the use of my pureed asparagus in the chest freezer.  It is nearly "that time of year" again and this is the first soup.  Oh well, it's been a difficult past six months.  If you have other ideas for pureed asparagus, send them my way.

My apologies for the gap in posts.  I've been frugal here, but just too tired at the end of the day to post.  My Facebook page for this blog emailed me today saying it missed me, and voila, a post results.  Have a great end of the week.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Frugal Living Equals Working a Little Less....

Mansion -- it is a word both of my children know, but I am not sure when or exactly how they learned it. Yet today after school they wanted to "take a drive" through the wooded area they saw off to the right on our drive home from school.  Feeling lighthearted with the 50 degree weather in Madison, I opened the sunroof and took them for a "drive".  We wound along a road that hugs Lake Mendota, and the view was of some impressive homes.  They even thought they were mansions (not quite).  Then they said they wanted to move to this area -- could we?  Well yes, I told them that their dad and I had always like this area, the homes are distinctive and it is near the lake.  But the prices are far more than we would want to invent in a house.  Plus, more house would mean more hours for Mama at the office.

And with that drive I was able to explain to them that our decision to spend half of what a bank would have lent us for a mortgage, combined with a heft down payment, resulted in a monthly mortgage payment that is less than the rent in some fancy new apartments in our area.  The upside of choosing the frugal path is a Mama with freedom to work less than 40 hours a week.  Since I run my own legal practice I can decide when I go into the office, and when I leave.  This week our frugal ways and self-employed has allowed me to both drop-off and pick-up the children from school while their father is out of the country on business. Would they want to trade time with Mama in for a bigger house?  No was the answer from the back seat.  I arrive at school between 3 and 3:30 every day, not the typical 5pm for most parents.  We have a few extra hours for art, stories, snacks, and apparently drives around town.  As teenagers their tune may change, but for now I am enjoying the work freedom that comes with our intentional frugal ways.

The wee ones I maximize time for, thus skipping over things like pedicures.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Second Life of a Salsa Jar

Perched in the drying section of the sink tonight is a newly emptied salsa jar.  Leftover from a Village dinner (our adopted family) a weekend or so ago, the last bit was added to rice, cheese and sausage for my husband's Friday brown bag lunch.  Washed and now drying, the jar is not headed to my recycling bag. Instead, once dry, it will join a growing cachet of glass jars waiting to be transformed into something new.  A container of face scrub, scented bath salts, or possibly a candle.  New life awaits the salsa jar, and the jelly one situated to the back.

Looking ahead towards Spring I see numerous thank you gifts that we will make to the lovely people who have, and continue to, support my little family during a time of transition.  Following several years of illness, my mother passed away in mid-February.  Now is the time for paperwork, planning a service, and the like. But my mind circles on the ways in which we can thank those who supported us with a shoulder to lean on, child care for the children, and meals to nourish us this winter.  Those little jars will be a frugal and earth friendly way to say thank-you. And filling them with joy is a lovely and simple activity for our young children to engage in with me.

The upside of frugal -- kind to your wallet, your health, and the earth.  One not need spend huge amounts of dollars to say thank-you.  Time, creativity, and a salsa jar can say a great deal.  Thank you for reading!  And if you have other creative uses for old jars, leave a comment and share!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hair Salon in the Kitchen -- It's a Frugal Life

It was simply too long to ignore any longer.  Still in our PJs, following doctor's orders to "take it easy" we were having a lazy Sunday morning at home.  My husband was off at the office and I was home with the kids.  Our son's hair had simply gotten too long for me to not do something.  A coupon for a free cut hung on the kitchen bulletin board, the central spot for household savings.  But using it would require the car, a tip, and getting dressed.  Wanting to save some dollars and give as much as I could to fighting off this virus I cannot shake, I opted for the in-home salon approach.  No tip, cut accomplished in my warm and comfy PJs.

How to keep a 5 year old boy still long enough for a hair cut?  Youtube Lego reviews to the rescue -- free and effective.  A spritzer bottle of water and scissors I bought a year or so ago at Target were quickly located.  Snip, snip, snip.  Slowly the craziness was tamed.  Does it look like the fine hairstyles walking down the red carpet tonight for the Oscars?  No, but he is 5 and not in commercials.  And thanks to our frugal ways, both kids have solid college funds -- we're practical here, not flashy or too fancy.

Do keep in mind that twice a year I take the kids in for a cut from a professional, usually the barber shop at our local mall or one owned by a distant relative on campus.  Both are more outings with the kids than anything. It is a fun and inexpensive adventure, time with Mama.  But their hair does receive some professional attention during a year for those of you who cringe at the idea of a home cut.

That was my main frugal move of the day, what was yours?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Leaving a Double Boiler on the Shelf, and Other Frugal Moves In the Kitchen

An annual chocolate party is marked off on our calendar for Sunday.  Held every year by childhood friends, we will be attending this year for the first time.  Oh, and we are excited!  All week my cooking mind has been hatching plans about our chocolate contribution for the table.  My solicitation for ideas on Facebook yielded several tasty options, including a slow cooker chocolate cake.  My associate recommended a walnut cranberry mixed with melted chocolate.  And the kids voted for chocolate covered macaroons.  Being ambitious, I thought, heck they ALL sound good, why not go over board and make them all!

Seeing melted chocolate on several recipes I decided it was time to purchase a double boiler.  Posting this intention  on Facebook brought forth several frugal observations.  Why buy a special pan when a stainless steel or glass bowl nested inside another pan with boiling water would do the trick.  Listening to them, and my body that was telling me the virus I'd been fighting all week was winning, I opted to leave the double boiler on the shelf.  Why tax our budget and my health, keep it simple!

My plan upon waking today had been to use the frugal approach and melt chocolate for the recipes via Pyrex in a larger pan. That is when this nasty virus decided to play its trump card.  Off to urgent care we went, a son with a double ear infection and antibiotic, a mother with painful sinuses, but not yet infected. "Rest and rest some more, drink lots of fluids", the words of wisdom from Tom the ER Doc.  And so tonight I scrapped my entire cooking plan.

Tomorrow's contribution grew from the cake mix I'd bought for the slow cooker cake.  Mixed per the box instructions and used to fill ice cream cone cups 3/4s full, my contribution will be quick and easy.  Add a little frosting tomorrow, sprinkle coconut on top, and voila -- cupcakes in cones.  Cheerful, easy, and a reminder that maybe this polar vortex winter will finally exist and usher in real ice cream weather.

Thanks to my frugal friends our budget has an extra $20 or $30 this month, our kitchen cupboard is not bursting, and my purchasing consumption did not further drive demand for "stuff".  Now, off to the couch with my cup of tea and David Sadris' latest book -- following Dr. Tom's instructions, and hopeful that I will soon be back to full strength.