Monday, June 30, 2014

Out With the Old, In With the New...

Today's frugal move happened on the office front.  Thanks to Craigs List my old laser printer has a new home, and my business checking account has an additional $75 in it!  A few weeks ago the quality of printing from my 8,000 pages per toner Brother printer was no longer acceptable.  After all, I charge people money for paper (for those new to Frugal Upside, I am an estate planning and probate attorney) and it should look perfect.  Smudges are not acceptable.  So, out it went.  The new model was the exact same one, purchased for $350.  I'll get the amazing 8,000 pages per toner and no learning curve since it is the same model.  It took a few weeks, but the wonder that is Craigs List landed the old one in the office of an in-home daycare. Likely a perfect fit.

Other frugal developments at the office are in action now.  Hard decisions.  Honest review of numbers.  And the ever present question, am I spending my time as wisely as I could be?   More on those decisions later. But in a nutshell the changes were not easy, but in my gut I know I am on the proper path, one that will lead me to spend not only my money, but my time wisely.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Welcome to the Jungle - Adventures in our Frugal Garden

Above average rainfall, moderate temperatures -- I have just described ideal growing conditions for weeds. Our return from Bayfield brought us home to growth, amazing growth in all corners of the yard.  Homeowners twice removed put in landscaped gardens in our yard.  Left unattended for too long and combined with the recent weather, my yard conjures up images of the song Welcome to the Jungle.  Wanting to keep costs and chemical use low, I am seeking frugal ways (both time and money) to tame the yard.

To my delight I found a post from the Larry Meiller show with some great suggestions.  The obvious is to live with weeds -- basically a plant that simply takes over, but can be lovely.  My two pronged approach going forward is pulling large amounts of weeds, and putting in "paths".  For the later we'll use cardboard, carpet, etc., and then cover with mulch to create more space among the plants. Wish me luck, and I welcome any suggestions.  Both children have mid to late summer birthdays, and we'll be having small gatherings at our home.  I would like the yard to be spruced up a bit before the parties!

 Strawberries in a pot -- I am thinking of transplanting them at the 
end of the season, to a permanent spot in the yard.

 Asparagus hidden among the Jungle Weeds

Even my potted peppers are not free of invasive growth!  What a summer!

A little sampler of the Guns and Roses song Welcome to the Jungle.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Avoiding the A/C For As Long As Possible

Living in the final stretch of hours when I can assure the A/C will not be turned on.  My husband returns from a business trip to England in a few hours.  His return to the homefront will spark our perpetual debate -- what indoor temperature is tolerable>  It's a Ying-Yang relationship.  During the winter months he is loathe to turn the heat up past 62 degrees.  A wee bit cold for my tastes, but he plays off my frugal side and quantifies the savings by low degrees on the thermostat.  And he always counters with "you can put a sweater on -- and a scarf."  However, when summer roles around we change position on the argument. He is quick to turn on the A/C, a byproduct of his seemingly warmer body temperature and his upbringing in the South where a home without A/C is nearly unheard of.  But he married a Yankee, one whose youth was typical 1970s.  When it got hot outside you slept in your underwear with a fan on.  As I type, that is exactly what our children are doing!  Here are a few more ideas on how to keep the home cool during the dog days of summer without running the A/C:

  • Embrace hardwood or surface floors.  Remove your shoes and go barefoot, it will cool you down. Remove rugs and put them away until the leaves start to turn golden;
  • Shade windows.  Think long term and plant trees in southern windows to provide natural shade during the summer.  Pull window coverings down or shut to keep the sun rays from penetrating and driving up the interior temperature;
  • Sleep with a fan and "light" clothing;
  • Avoid using the oven and minimize stove use -- why intentionally heat up the inside of your house.  Meals of sandwiches, salads, fruits, cheese, cold cuts, beans -- all healthy, and most do not require much if any heating;
  • Banish the dryer.  For those without allergy concerns, dry clothes on an outside line.  If, like our frugal home, allergies are a problem, dry inside on a rack and or line.  This is the first summer we've taken this route.  Our dryer is on its last legs and loads take twice as long to dry.  We've opted for indoor drying even though it causes the dehumidifier to run a bit more.  Avoiding the heat generated by the dryer off-sets the increased energy use of the dehumidifier -- or says my husband, an electrical engineer.  I take his word on this fact;
  • Keep lights off, and if you can, use ones with LED bulbs.  Again, the energy output, thus heat, is much lower;
  • Enjoy FREE A/C -- libraries, movie theatres, shopping malls, museums -- focus on the free ones, and leave your credit cards at home taking just enough cash to pay for admission.  Using the free A/C but blowing your budget on impulse buys at the mall does not do much for keeping your home A/C use low;
  • Camp in your backyard or basement at night; and
  • Use window fans at night to suck in cooler air, thus forcing out the warmer air inside.  Just check the weather first to make sure it really is cooler outdoors -- sometimes temperatures and humidity rise at night.
Those are my little tricks of the frugal life trade.  What ways to you stay frugally cool in the summer?  Leave a comment on the blog, or follow the discussion on the Facebook page (click here).

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, WI

Friday, June 27, 2014

Saying Good-Bye to Duplicate Checks

Just now I was reminded of a funny little statement my husband made a week or so ago.  A new box of checks had arrived in the mail, and I pointed out that they were no longer duplicates.  We would have to make sure to record the check in Quicken or look it up on-line, via the image, the credit union provides.  He made a face, knowing he is rather absent minded and said "really, I like those duplicate checks, it's worth the little bit of paper waste..." When I pointed out that we get one free box of checks a year for our account (they also give me one free a year for my business account), but that free no longer includes duplicates, his response -- "goodness, I do not like them enough to pay for them".  And with that our frugal home enters the world of non-duplicate checks.  Considering we get one box free a year and there is no charge to generate an on-line check, we gravitate towards that option whenever possible.  No cost for the check, and no postage. My only concern is that the payment is not always obvious to the recipient.

That's all I have from the frugal landscape of my life today.  More to come later, now it is off to work I go, hi-ho, hio.....enjoy your Friday everyone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

1950s Style Lawn Care

She does not have a name, but she should.  Earlier this Spring, as we cleared out the possessions at my childhood home, I could have brought over a gas mower, hardly used by my parents, to cut our lawn.  It was given to a friend as a gesture of thanks instead.  Why pass up a free, modern machine?  This trusty gal requires no gasoline, she is self-propelled.  Maintenance consists of a blade sharpening every year or so, depending on how often we cut the grass.  No oil, belts, bags -- just a blade, hopping toads, and energy from the ice cream I have enjoyed this summer.  If you are seeking a frugal path in life, consider bringing a self-propelled mower into your yard.  No trips to the gas station, no messy oil, a noise level that is not deafening, and a great way to burn off some calories.  It's good for the earth, your wallet and your health.

Now if you have a name suggestion, leave a comment for me (just hover over the word comment, click and write in the pop up box).  You can also follow along on Facebook and leave a comment there!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Motivating Headline - The Danger of Plastic

Adjusting back to the normal rhythm of life here in Madison, grocery shopping is on the list.  And after reading this headline from a local news source, I will be certain to bring along my reusable cloth bags.  It is a sobering reminder that our oceans are suffering from our upstream ways.  Whether it is the earth, your health, or your money, if you do not already "cloth bag it", consider giving it a start.  When heading out to the following, bring along a bag or two:

  • grocery store,
  • library,
  • garage sale,
  • thrift store,
  • Big Box store such as Target or Wal-Mart,
  • beach/park/nature outing, or
  • pharmacy.
And think outside the box when it comes to a reusable bag: backpacks, canvas bags, paper bags from the grocery, and more!  Here is my trusty Eddie Bauer, circa 1991.  Enjoy the frugal path, I know I am!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Travel Size Heading Home - The Frugal Life

I will admit it, I am not ashamed to to share with the world the fact that when packing up to head home after vacation I will toss the half-used shampoo and lotion bottles into my suitcase.  Would you?  Why leave them behind?  They came with the cost of the room, and we pay a nice price for a literal home away from home (full kitchen, washer/dryer), and would the rest of the bottle ever be used?  Likely not.  Most likely for hygienic reasons it would be dropped into the trash.  Save it!  Save some money, save the earth, and put a smile on your face.

Thanks for following along.  Back to Madison we go today, via the public library in Land O Lakes, Wisconsin where I am doing a book reading.  Yes, it was a traveling vacation.  Three book readings and a document drop off for a client at the county courthouse in Washburn.  To some that may not sound like much of a vacation, but to these frugal ears it deduction for mileage and at least some if not all of the lodging.   Now that is a frugal vacation!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It's Summer Solstice Time!

Greetings from Wisconsin's North Woods.  We are on our annual trek to Bayfield, Wisconsin.  Yet again, amazed by how much we can pack into the trunk and backseat of our 2005 Honda Civic.  The condo we rent is not cheap, but comes with a full kitchen, gas grill, and washer/dryer.  That means we bring few clothes, lots of food from the home kitchen, and save.  Days spent wandering this coastal town, time at the park and maritime museum.  Meals in the comfort of our home away from home.  Some my blush at the $250/night fee.....but we basically only pay for the room.  And to boot, we get free coffee.  That is a huge savings for this caffeine addicted author.

Happy solstice, welcome to summer one and all.  What frugal ways do you plan to enjoy the season of the sun?

Give us a free beach, logs, and time.  That's all we need to entertain these kids!

My trusty Eddie Bauer Backpack.  Purchased in 1991 when I started college.  from text books to parenting gear, it has given me over two decades of reliable use.  That is a frugal purchase!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Play Like It Is 1975

From Disney to Melissa & Doug, there are countless ways for parents and grandparents to spend money on "dress up" outfits for kids.  Here in our frugal home, we revert to 1970s dress up.  Find a basket of winter wear, throw in a pair of boots 5 sizes too big, and add a dash of something from your room.  Bam, you have a butterfly ninja master.  No cost required.  Imagination stimulated.  And parents laughing in the kitchen. That my friends, is the upside of frugal life.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Waste Nothing, Welcome to My Frugal Kitchen

Two nights a week our older child has karte lessons after school (see a prior post on how we got $500 in lessons for $100). That means two nights a week we need a simple dinner, because by the time we arrive back home I have two very tuckered kiddos. Many nights I opt for eggs, especially now that the local farmers' markets are reviving up.  Eggs pair well with some many veggies and or fruits.  Into the compost bin go the shells, and that paper egg carton too.  We do go through a lot of eggs here, so most weeks I send a few empty cartons to the preschool where they re-emerge as art projects.  My goal, keep as much from going to the curb as possible. I do have a new idea for reuse of the cartons, but it may be season specific -- using them as planters for seeds.  I've seen folks fill them with dirt, add seeds, water and place in the sun.  My guess is that only works during traditional growing months -- is it too late?  I'd love to try lavender from seed -- two of my three plants did not survive the polar vortex of the past winter.  Seed is far more affordable than the lovely, mature plants at the greenhouses!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the frugal path.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflections on Debt

Some conversations will stick with you for your entire life.  It was back in 1997 when a friend said "oh I charged the flight to Colorado to go skiing -- I'm so far in debt I will never get out, so why bother trying to live within a budget."  She had a nice time on that trip, but today I wonder what kind of stress she must have if she still lives by the assumption debt is a way of life?

After finishing 9 years of higher education, I left school with a BA, MPA and JD.  I also have $97,000 in student debt.  That was May of 2001, and within 6 years it was gone.  I did not win the lottery.  I did not score a six figure job with a huge law firm, I used my law degree to work in public policy.  I did not inherit a huge sum or marry of man of independent wealth.  What did I do? I lived below my means.  I spend less, far less than I earned.  And I sent a check each and every week to my student loan servicer.  Why each week? The faster I whittled down the principal, the less interest I paid.   The less interest I paid the more that went to principal.  It was a vicious cycle, but one in my favor.

Today as new batch of grads walk into the world.  Student loan reform is in the news.  Whether you are the student needing to pay back debt or the parent of young children saving for a future education (that is the boat I am in today), here are 10 things you can do immediately.

  1. Eat at home instead of out.
  2. Eat food in it's most natural state, the less processed the better.
  3. Enjoy nature and avoid the mall.
  4. Bike or walk to work or errands, and leave the car at home.
  5. Cancel what is not necessary -- from subscriptions to vacations to memberships.  Do you really need all of that?
  6. Sell things and put the money toward your debt or savings.  Garage sales, ebay, craigslist, Amazon, and I'm sure there are more.
  7. If you have spare time, turn it into money.  Dog walk, babysit, house sit, tutor, deliver pizza, sign up for extra shifts.  You'll be busy earning more money, and too busy to spend it.
  8. Accept that not spending money is the true bargain, not something marked down 50%.
  9. Learn about the power of index funds, especially if you are investing in 529s for future college expenses.
  10. Avoid shinny and large stores, and hit the 2nd hand thrift stores instead.
Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you have a tip to inspire others or me -- I am always seeking new ways to live the frugal life.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Take a Seat at the Frugal Table!

Closing out the work week with a quick post to share this cute idea -- from construction supplies to conference table.  The ingenious idea was tucked into a corner of a tech company my husband is consulting at here in town.  Nothing makes me happier than to see goods being repurposed.  What's your favorite? Leave a comment and share!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Light Bulb Moment!

Over the weekend I picked up an LED light bulb for our daughters room.  We already had an energy efficient bulb, but it was still pulling 25 watts.  This frugla Mama likes to keep the lights off, however, when a small lamp on all night translates into my daughter sleeping all night.  Well it is a no brainer, the light stays on. A complete night's rest is priceless in our household.  And now it is even more frugal.  We went from 25 watts down to 2 watts.  The bulb cost less than $5.  Don't you just love it when we have those light bulb moments!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Selfie With My Latest Frugal T-Shirt -- How Was Your Weekend?

Thrift store clothes are a norm here in our frugal home, but occasionally we are the recipients of the "gift clothing".  Friday my husband returned from another day of intense on-sight work with a client and tossed a t-shirt my way, given to him by an electronics vendor.  Saturday morning I scooped it up and went about my day.  While the free gift cards from Starbucks the vendors often drop off for him are my preferred gift, this was not a bad second.  Perfect for errands and garden work.  Happy frugal living all!