Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Frugal Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend -- taking the form of quality time with family (my in-laws) visiting from Florida and gearing up for the 2014-15 school year.  Early in the day we took a delightful little drive to a relatives lake cabin, grilled and soaked up the lapping waves and lake breeze.  Nothing fancy, but priceless.

This evening I made a quick dash to the higher end grocery store.  Time is a precious commodity here, and I knew I could accomplish most of the week's shopping in 30 minutes.  In, out, free newspaper because I spent over a certain amount.  Groceries tucked away, a list of meals for the weeks hangs on the fridge, the discarded newspaper slated for the compost bin, and a useful coupon tacked to the bulletin board.

Enjoy the final day of this long holiday weekend.  We are sticking close to home, Tuesday brings a new phase of life.  One child at the Madison public schools another in the 4k program and a private child care center. Lots of driving to and from, with a legal practice squished in between.  Planning ahead will help minimize chaotic spending if we are stretched too thin.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coupon Miss, then Coupon Hit

After a picturesque hour and a half of outdoor play at Spring Harbor Beach and Playground, the kids and I piled into the Honda and headed to Windsor.  As the skies clouded over, we were happy to have a coupon for 2 for 1 entry at Bouncy Town.  We'd been there last summer, and it left an impression.  We pulled up and bam -- reality hit me.  Before driving this far, relying on a coupon, make sure the place is still in business.
Deflated literally and figuratively, we switched to plan B.  I agreed to take the kids to the indoor playland at McDonalds.  Then the breaks start to squeal.  Louder than they had been, this Mama realized they needed attention ASAP.  One quick call to our repair shop, and we were off and running.  Within minutes of arrival we learned the front breaks were out, and for $350 and 1.5 hours wait, the car would be as good as new.

What to do?  Thankfully I had grabbed coupons off the counter before leaving for our day of adventure.  Tucked inside was 20% off a meal at Ihop, a place the kids had never been to before.  It was a five minute walk from the repair shop, and with borrowed umbrella in hand we set off from Plan C for the day.

We took the back way back to the repair shop, and spent another 45 minutes burning off the Ihop goodies at a local park.  My mission to spend time with kids, mainly outdoors, and burn off some kiddo energy was complete.

Frugal lessons of the day: 1) travel with your coupon stash, just in case a change of plans are needed; and 2) call ahead before driving 20 minutes or more to a location -- businesses come and go, do not waste time, gas and money until you know the place is still operational.

Playground memories in the making.  Better than any indoor bounce town in this Frugal Mama's opinion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farmers' Market Frugal

Wednesday, the day of the local market at my office.  There was no office for me, I took the day off from legal matters.  My little ones have their last days as a Buckaroo and Wizard at their preschool and will be leaving school early today for a meet and greet at our son's elementary school.  During their time at the school, I tended to errands.  They will be with me at home until school starts next Tuesday -- one can cross a lot off a to-do list when one does not have a 6 and 4 year old along for the ride.  Since my office is between home and the school, it was market day as usual.  Two bags full, less than $20 spent.

From this selection will emerge a frugal dinner for tonight.  Scrambled eggs (not from the market), cream of cauliflower soup and zucchini bread.  Fresh, tasty, and frugal.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ikea and Me: Frugal, and then real Frugal....

It was Sunday Dinner, and I mentioned I might want input on doing some work in the kitchen.  Instantly the party came to life.  Ideas, suggestions, colors, products I'd never heard off -- they all came flying at me. Knowing I am frugal, they said "hold on, work in a kitchen is always one of the two places to invest, the other is a bathroom."

Invest?  What are we talking about here?  My idea was to paint some walls, put up a board of the Paris skyline, and hang a drawing I "won" at a silent auction of a rooster.

Oh, $20,000 maybe $30,000.  You'll need floors, new cupboards, new appliances, maybe knock down a wall.

At this point you could have knocked me down with a feather.  And my husband knew it, but kept silted. He'd have no problem with this expenditure, and would agree with Sunday Villagers, kitchens are the best place to spend remodel dollars.  But he knows me, and knows me well.  The more they gave me ideas, the more I retreated.  That is just way too much money!

When I balked they offered up Ikea as an alternative.  Noting they were all seated, I said to brace yourself, I have never been to Ikea.  Over my life I have ordered fewer than 5 things from the catalog.

They were silent for a minute, and then said "find an accent pillow, work from there with the colors and style."

There is frugal.  That means you do a lot yourself, you buy smart, you turn trash into treasures, and you love Ikea.  Sunday Villagers are this type of frugal.  What they can do with discarded furniture amazes me -- I love it.  But, it isn't my kind of frugal.

No, I'm a bit more extreme.  Instead of shopping smart, I just do not shop for the most part.  I'd rather do without and leave the money in my investment account.  I find comfort in access to cash, just in case.  Most likely a byproduct of being raised by parents who hovered at the poverty line.  High school educations, manual labor jobs, with the persistent threat of evaporating - that feeling is hard to wash away from ones reptilian brain.  Not spending money as a young person allowed me to squirrel away money and be the first in my family to go to college.  And I kept on going, earning a Masters and then law degree.  Graduation brought with it great opportunities, a lot of letters after my name, and $97,000 in student debt.  And not spending money was a key feature in erasing that debt.

Retired long ago, the debit is gone.  The savings have grown, but I'd rather see them increase than diver $30,000 into a kitchen that functions just fine.  So for now, talk of $30,000 kitchen refresher is set aside.  I think I'll just give the one I have a good cleaning.  It has all I need -- fridge, stove, sink, storage, and my little family seated at the table, together.

Our fridge -- it keeps items cool, displays preschool art.  What more does one need?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Peck's in Spring Green, Wisconsin

We live in Wisconsin, we are surrounded by corn.  But this past Monday we made corn an adventure.  One of our son's favorite foods, it was essential for his birthday dinner.  No market or store would do, we used our day off from work/school to drive to Peck's Market just outside of Spring Green.  We bought 6 ears of corn and some melon.  Then we enjoyed the grounds, all for donation prices.

Whether you have kids or are a kid at heart, consider the drive to this lovely spot.  Pick up local foods and enjoy the randomness of this roadside attraction.

Bouncing in an inflatable pumpkin for those 12 and under:

Watch for the sign and American flag.

No fee, just donations.  There are deer, a bison, donkey, goats and countless birds.

The only Angry Bird our kids know - this one got outside it's coop and wanted back in, and us away!

My personal favorite, the goats. Twenty-five cents for a handful of corn.

And playground equipment to burn off yet more energy!

Frugal -- why pay for pricey parks and zoos when you can go to Pecks!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Another Frugal Birthday at Aldo Leopold Nature Center

Local to Madison and have children and a desire to be frugal?  If yes, consider holding your next child birthday party at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, Wisconsin.  Earlier I posted about the one we threw for our daughter when she turned 4.  Over the weekend we held another as our son turned 6.

ALNC has about ten different themed parties to select from.  The $160 fee includes: room, instructor for 2 hours, take-aways (i.e. party favors), plates, cups, utensils, and a breathtaking setting.  ALNC allows you to bring in your own food; healthy and frugal is a delightful change to the pizza and ice cream so commonly found at more mainstream locations.  In July our daughter celebrated with Ferries and Gnomes.  Our son opted for Space Exploration, and we were all awed by the programming.

Here are a few pictures.  And even if wee ones are not in your life, consider the center for other life celebrations or work retreats.  It is a gem for the local area!

The sphere of wonder!

Planet talk in the party room.

Dials of the sky -- the take away.

Powerful memories from July; 
looking for the ferry and gnome nests they made at our younger one's party.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Home Hair Cut Success Secret.....Low Expectations

Dusk was settling over the backyard.  From our perch on the back deck, nestled among the fifty plus year old pine, we had a clear view of "our boy".  His boundless energy haulted, fussing with his hair in a corner of the yard, a worried and annoyed expression on his face, and then the call out "Mama????"

Our son.  Rooster is his nickname because since even before his birth six years ago, he has had me up with the sun or even before its rise.  Yet Rooster's mannerisms are much more akin to a 1 year old lab.  A body longer than he has been able to get used to, prone to knocking things over.  Bounding into my lap without a sense of just how big he is and how small I am becoming.  Unable to pass a large stick without picking it up. An endless ball of energy, until the backyard burs got on his shirt and in his hair.  That stopped him in his tracks and sent him whimpering into my arms.  Our daughter, who also was frolicking in the backyard, was bur free.  Siblings, yet so different.

My husband and I attempted to pull out the burs.  Oh so many, and it became clear, it was haircut time.  I had been thinking that I'd take him to a salon for a proper cut in preparation for kindergarten.  Change of plan, scissors were needed to get out the burs.  Home hair cut time it was.

We've been doing this for a few years now.  The key to our happiness with home cuts does not lie in technique or tools.  No, it is low expectations.  I have no allusion that he'll emerge with the same cut as though we were at a salon.  I've been trained to write wills and administer probate, not cut hair.  But, I can snip and trim and have a modestly respectable cut.  Give up a desire for a cover photo child, cut their hair, and you'll save money and time.  With those savings, we enjoyed a lazy summer night in the backyard.  That is the upside of a frugal life.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Don't Fall for "Free" Offers

Sometime a year or so ago I saw a line of people in downtown Madison.  Lines there are not unusual, however, this one was.....everyone person was holding or carrying some version of a coffee pot.  Turns out the line was for "free" Keurig pots.  Give us your old one, we'll give you a new one, and the hope was that people would focus on the free expensive pot and not the logical question of how much more expensive those little cups of coffee are compared to bulk coffee.  Now if you drink a cup here and there, this may not be a big difference in cost, but for our house it is.  We drink pots, not cups.

So it is no surprise to me to see a headline announcing the price spike of the cups, going up 9 percent.  Sure all coffee prices are going up, but the cups offer less selection in variety. And we all now bulk is usually more cost effective.

My point -- free is never usually free.  There is some cost, likely hidden.  Find it, analyze it, and then make a decision.

Life here has been frugal, but extremely hectic leaving little to no time to blog about frugal ways.  That should be changing, back to more time to post.  Thanks for sticking with me during quiet times!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Upside of Very Little TV

In 2006, when we married and merged households we sold my old TV.  My husband's apartment, which became our apartment, had no TV.  "We'll be able to watch a lot on-line in a few years, trust me!"  I had no idea what was coming to modern culture, but he did.  A self-described bookworm, I did not miss TV much at all.  Our first child was born in 2008, and we brought him home to our duplex home, again, absent any sort of TV.  "Oh, you'll get one soon, and with cable, that's for certain!"  It was the mantra of many a family and friend.  But the years went on, and there was no TV.  We had the radio, and we have my beloved books, and we had streaming video.  No need for TV and the associated costs in our frugal home.

It was the the 2010 Winter Olympics that broke me.  I loved figure skating, and the events were no available on-line.  My mother loaned us a small TV so I could watch them, and share my love of this event with our child.  And then the TV stayed.  So small many walk into our house and never notice it.  Very importantly, it was not connected to cable, just the free broadcast channels.

A second child arrived, no cable, even though everyone knew swore up and down that with two kids we'd need a TV.  Well, our son is a week from being 6 and that younger child just turned 4.  We still have the teeny tiny TV my mom loaned us, and it is not hooked up to cable.  When my mother died this past February and we were faced with emptying her home, the large modern TV she had in the living room required no thought. It would be sold on Craigslist.  Our little one is just fine for viewing the children's programming on PBS. Other things, such as House of Cards, can be watched on the computer thanks to Netflix.

Over the years books have been a large source of entertainment.  Earlier in the week a package arrived from Puyallup, Washington -- south of Seattle.  As always, it contained a wonderful assortment of children's books and magazines acquired by a dear aunt who works for the library system.  How many children today would shout with glee at the arrival of books.  Dense, science books for kids.  Used, dense, science books?  I don't know the total, but I can confirm our two did.  And that is the upside of a frugal life.  Living without cable TV has given rise to another generation of bookworms.  I cannot tell you why, but that makes me feel good.

Library Book Sales -- We LOVE Them!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Forget the Latte Factor, How Much Are You Paying For A Cell Phone?

A Facebook status update from earlier in the week read something like "Stuck in a frugal person's hell....AKA US Cellular".  It was a cell phone that dipped beyond the point of functioning that forced me to make the short walk to the storefront in the shopping center next to my office.  With apparent software and hardware failures it was no longer a question, I needed a phone, an operable phone. And I needed it immediately; there were 4 voicemails on my phone I could not listen to.

In I went.  Questions, answers, more questions, annoyance, and out I stepped.  Incoming calls and text were functioning on my phone, and I was able to speak with my electronics guru husband, and fellow frugal soul. We chatted about options.  Break free, go to the guy I use!  He was advocating I chuck the phone and US Cellular, to go with a regional carrier that sells service plans for half the cost of mine.  "But when, and it took you quite a bit of time to set it up, what if they go out of businesses next (his previous regional carrier had).  With my practice and the kids, I need reliable service!!!"  And so we hashed out points for me to re-enter the store with.  Two hours later, yes 2, I left with a new phone in hand.  I worked for it, and so did the unfortunate salesman who had to handle my case.

My main point -- there is no such thing as a "free" phone, don't let them fool you.  In my case I was contract free and had earned 21,000 points.  I could use the points to get a "free" phone, but to do so I had to sign a 2 year contract.  As noted above, the US Cellular service plan is 2x as expensive of smaller regional ones. Those so called "free" phones are actually financed over the period of the 2 year contract; you pay a premium each month, but instantly receive the latest and greatest of phones.

In my case I signed a 2 year contract, but the rate was $20 less a month than my current plan.  Thanks to lots of free wi-fi in the world, I opted for a lower data rate.  I'll use free wi-fi more and my US Cellular 4G data less.  Because I signed a contract I was able to use my points.  8,000 points got me free activation. Another 10,000 got me a phone, some sort of Motorola.  There was no point in banking my points in case I need a new phone next year -- "you are only eligible to use them every two years", exact words of the sales agent.  I had been told I could use the points, if I signed a contract, for: activation; a phone; and accessories.  Seeing that I had some points left I inquired about a gel cover for the phone, and was unable to hide my disgust at the response "oh, to use points for accessories you have to go to corporate, and we're not corporate."

Common culture makes used car salesman the butt of many jokes.  I've always been sensitive to those given my father earned his living buying and selling used cars.  In my frugal opinion, the US Cellulars and other phone companies of this world are no better than the snake oil or used car salesmen of the past.  They plan to extract money from your wallet and to do so in the manner of a pick-pocket.  Extricating myself from this land of phones is a long-term goal, one I'll tackle when I don't have files on my desk to address and preschoolers to pick up.  If you have the time, and a budget calling for savings, consider changing up your cell plan.  My exit would look something like this:

  • $350 to cancel the contract
  • 9 months of half the cost of my current plan would equal $360, equal to  the cost of the fee to break the contract;
  • sell my US Cellular branded phone on Ebay for about $150, and use that money to buy an unbranded phone to use with a regional company.
I doubt I will do this, there are far too many ways to use my time.  Enjoy it with kids and husband, take care of my health, earn money serving clients at work.  The thought is tempting, especially when they kept saying the phone was free.  Nothing bothers me more than being lied to about money.  The phone is not free, the cost is buried in a service contract.  How well do you know yours?  Be frugal, dig in, ask, seek out options, and save!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Live Frugally, Pay for Delivery

Time -- my most precious commodity.  The one I am focused on saving the most at the moment.  Having children ages 6 and 4 reminds me that time is passing with a blink of an eye.  Today we are readying them for kindergarten and 4K, tomorrow it will be college campus visits.  And this Frugal Mama wants to save not only money, but time. Time I can focus on them, on life, on health, on marriage, and myself.

As a result I often pay for delivery.  Recent case example, paying $5.50 for a cat's medication prescription to be mailed to our house.  Instead of spending an hour, round trip, driving to our kindhearted and frugal vet, I paid for postage.  An hour to play in the yard with the kids, an hour to cook a meal, an hour to read a book, or an hour spent billing at my office.

If time were endless, I'd probably make the drive down to Oregon, throw in a walk at the park or a meal out, something. But time is not endless.  And when the work/school day ends, the kids and I are both fairly tuckered out.  Strapping ourselves into the Honda to make a trip that the US Postal service already does? No, it just does not make sense.

Want to live frugally?  Look for ways to acquire what you need via mail order.  From Amazon Prime to a vet willing to mail medications, I save time.  And spend both my dollars and hours wisely.

And now I'm off to enjoy the kids' (as well as my) favorite TV show, Wild Kratts, free on PBS.

Our most "senior" cat, Reilly, age 16.  
Showing is cat disdain for the racket of his human brother and sister. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I'll Take That To-Go.....For The Compost

Some people may leave a gathering with leftovers, but this frugalista leaves with "trash".  Corn on the cob was on Sunday's Village Dinner menu.  As we shucked, we bagged, and into the Honda trunk it went.  A few hours later it was resting in my compost bin.  I have big dreams for my flower and vegetable gardens in the 2015 growing season.  Today's trash is next summer's fertilizer.  Keep this thought in mind if you are running a frugal home!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Construction Waste to Kids' Balance Beam

We saw it on our way home from school, a castoff of the construction that engulfs the streets surrounding the kids' preschool.  We attempted to put it in the Honda, but it would not fit with the car seats in.  Set aside, I said I would claim it the next morning, after drop-off, it was still there.  It was, and out went the booster seat, down went the backseat, and home came the blank.  Tune in later to see how we convert this into a balance beam in our frugal backyard.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

State Park Beach Bum

Neighborhood pools, community pools, city pools....they surround us here in Madison.  But this lifelong Madisonian and frugal Mama prefers the inexpensive and endlessly creative beaches of the State Parks.  Admission is free all year long for a fraction of paying to frolic in the water.  And most of those venues are a little to clean and far too restrictive.  Cannot bring your own food, etc.  And I'm certain finger paints would be a no no.

Here are a few pictures taken this morning at Governor Nelson State Park, where the kids and I explored, talked, and took it all in (while my husband is at the house, poor guy).

We started with "art" -- finger paints and canvas my daughter received for her 4th birthday.  Creating outdoors is ideal, and keeps the kitchen clean.

Then to the water's edge.  They splashed, dug, built, and discussed how water seeks its source.  Tributaries, dams, floods, and pollution were all part of the conversation.  Powerful talk about keeping our waters clean while we played on the water.

Later my son placed a stick in the center, declaring it the Towns Temple.  Again, great conversation about communities and religion.  All sprinkled into the sand conversation, they had no idea we were talking about such heavy subjects.

And the end.....we'll be back here, and hope to explore the other Wisconsin State Parks.  We have no pool membership, and I think I plan to keep it that way.  This was simply too much fun!