Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Control Clutter & Calm the Chaos

This past Sunday I attended a service at Prairie UU where the speaker was from a local Buddhist group.  Her topic was happiness, and she made an excellent point -- how can you be happy when you are drowning in stuff.  Agreed!  And the perfect inspiration for this week.  While my husband does his electronics engineering thing abroad, I took an extended break from client meetings to focus on our wee ones and doing a little Spring Cleaning (yes, I know it is Fall).  Out with the old, and hold off on the new!

Part of my chaos control is to find a home for everything.  This forces me to hold an item and ask, do we really need/want this?  If so, where shall it live in our home?  If not, it get's donated either to the kids preschool or the Patron Saint of Clutter -- Savers (the Buddhist nun prefers Saint Vincent de Paul).

During this process I had to ask myself, seriously, how many bottles of acetaminophen do we own? Answer, 2 too many.  And I can easily surmise this by glancing at the second shelf to the right of the stove.  It is the new, permanent home to all over-the-counter medications.

How do you control clutter?  Calming the chose gives you an appropriate inventory of what you own and what you do not.  Why spend money on an item that is already tucked away in the back closet. Out of sight, out of mind means money out of your wallet.  If you are like me you'd rather have a heftier emergency fund, gaining interest, than an inventory rivalving a corner store.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Frugal Parenting in Seattle

I'm back, literally and figuratively.  Loyal readers may remember posts back in May about frugal travel to Seattle, planned for later in the year.  Well, that is where I have been -- sadly, I did not have my computer along and posting was not an option.

Seattle -- lots to say and reflect on, more in the future.  For now I will leave you with a few pictures.

When traveling with kids, focus less on venues that charge admission and focus more on the simple wonders of the area.  My husband and I stood watch as our two creative ones played in a make shift fort along the shore of Lake Union.  No admission fee necessary.

While in Seattle I celebrated the conclusion of my 41st trip around the sun, to quote my daughter.  And by the time I have made my 42nd trip, I plan to have off loaded package from the homefront.  Less is more, something driven home by traveling about the world.  My current focus -- replacing our bedroom dresser without having to buy another.  Can I make that happen without feeling like living out of a suitcase?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Frugal Twilight Walk...

Laced up my walking shoes and zipped up my fleece for an evening stroll to the Office Depot last night. In my pocket were the two loyalty credits sent to me on a quarterly basis.  Totally $50, I was off, via foot, to buy 1,000 self-sealing envelopes for my legal practice.  Not needed until January when I sent out an annual newsletter to 2,000+ households, I wanted to get them for "free" now and have them on hand.  Coupons, walking instead of driving the Honda, earbuds in with some Brad Paisley, it was a perfect frugal.

On the return trip the sun was down, twilight was upon me, and out of the corner of my eye -- movement on the edge of the wooded research park that is two blocks from my house.  Instantly my mind said - doe!  I stopped, focused my eyes, and then my jaw dropped.  No, it was not  doe but rather a very tall and proud coyote who stopped and looked intently in my direction.  There I stood, and then s/he turned and went into the cover of the trees.  On a busy city intersection, mother nature holds on.  Madison awed me yet again.  And that is the upside of opting to walk to use coupons for office supplies.  Good for my wallet, my health, and my appreciation of Mother Nature.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Transplants in a Frugal Garden

Slowly I am sprouting a green thumb.  Over the weekend I took a frugal approach to filling in the front yard.  Last year we removed the ugly old pine like shrubs and worked to decrease the "grass" -- which really only takes up time for mowing and gives nothing else of value to our little family. The far end started as a potted veggie garden this Spring, but working full-time over the summer left the garden as an after thought.

With fall temps blowing into the area, I realized I needed to get moving on transplants.  Perennials re lovely, coming back year after year.  But the price can give the frugal buyer sticker shock.  In prior years I have put in plants from other corners of the yard that came with the house, or even free plants set out by neighbors.  My most recent transplants have far more sentimental value -- I brought them from my mom's house.

She parted our world this past February, and with her house on the market I had no time to waste.  Internet reading suggested I move the peonies in the fall, and I brought along some ferns, hostas and a tiger lilly.  Into each new hole my daughter dropped some compost from the backyard.  In went the plant, we covered and then watered.  This little part of the garden will be my mom's -- her plants (fingers crossed they make it), the three rose bushes an aunt and uncle gave us in her memory last Spring at her service, and the loving hands of her grandchildren.

A frugal way to grow our garden, a lovely way to think of my mom when I use the front door, and the most precious items from her estate.  Time permitting, I may bring more plants in the next few weeks.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Facebook Freebie

Thursday I went to the high price salon for a hair cut, an infrequent indulgence.  It's location, quality service, and pure pleasure justify the expense in my frugal budget.  With tip, I walked out with a fresh cut (I go about 3 times a year) for $65 -- which included a brief, but enjoyable head/neck massage.

My eagle eye noticed a sign -- like us on Facebook or do a status update here, leave with a free gift.  I had already done a status update, so I asked "what do I get".  Turns out a travel size of my Aveda Shampoo.

Facebook, sometimes I detest it, sometimes I love it.  Keep your frugal eyes open for how you might be able to use social media to help your budget.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kids Clothes in a Frugal Home

Early one morning this week I pulled my son's navy blue sweat pants from his closet.  Hmm, hole in the knee, not quite right for school.  I set them aside and was delighted to find another pair of navy blue sweat pants.  But, they too had a hole in the knee!  We settled on a pair of jeans, and off we went to school.  Mental note made, a trick of all Mama's out there -- buy him new sweat pants, find time.  

A night or two later I was sorting through his closet, pulling out the items he had outgrown. Then I pulled out a bin of items a childhood friend gave me a year or so ago.  I thought, look in here before you do any shopping, you might find some things.  Well, it was like Christmas morning with birthday cake on top!  Pair after pair of sweat pants, hood sweat shirts, a black tee-shirt he declared "oh, so cool!"  And with that bin opening, I no longer needed to shop.  This friend has lightened my Mama duties so many times, heaping bags of boy and girl clothes into my trunk.  As her son enters 8th grade, mine has just started kindergarten......and apparently boys like sweat pants!

Handmedowns are a cycle in my frugal mind.  To receive also means to give, and give I have been doing.  Off went a huge box of infant clothes to the daughter-in-law of a women I met at a book reading.  Three bags of boy 3T will be picked up by yet another childhood friend who has a son just over one.  And our daughter's items are given a second (or third or fourth) life by the little sister of a former preschool classmate of our son's.

My children, especially my son, love looking at a necklace I picked up years ago in Ireland.  It is the Celtic Knot.  It symbolizes no beginning and no end, just constant flow.  That is how I like to think about the used clothes of your children's youth.  Sure, we buy a few new things here and there.  But for the most part we embrace and enjoy the generosity of others, and pass it on to others.  My trips to the mall are nearly nonexistent, our clothing budget hardly a slice of the budgetary pie, all allowing us to maximize their 529 college savings.  That is one thing we won't be able to acquire second hand.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Frugal Cafe au Lait

Fall is in the air, and if like me you are saying good-bye to iced coffees and hello to warm and creamy cafe au laits.  No need to break the budget with these treats, you can have one at home with an open mind.  All you need is a hand immersion blender and a wide mug.  Heat your milk of choice (I use the microwave) and then use the blender to create froth.  Pour along with coffee from your home machine, and voila, gourmet coffee without the high price.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Making The Most of a Gift Basket

Recently we returned home to find a gift basket on the doorstep.  From a vendor my husband had ordered from for his electronics design practice.  Most of the time the thank yous are gift cards for Starbucks, which never go to waste.

This was much bigger:

A BBQ theme, and not the type of thing we'd use much around here.  But I put my frugal hands to use.

One pile of cardboard and ribbon for the preschool art basket.  Another pile of goodies to share with the Sunday Dinner Village Community we join (friends who gather weekly for a meal), and one for the house.  The only item tossed was the plastic wrap.

And now the metal basket has a second carrier in our back bathroom, filling a job that needed filling -- at no expense.

Make the most of what comes our way.  Donate it, share it, keep it, recycle it, but never through much if anything away.  That's the frugal way, at least in our home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Ahoy (Frugal) Mama"

From toilet paper roll to spy glass, loved the creative play our youngest child explored as we walked up to gather her brother from the neighborhood public school.  Spy glass, pirate girl, taking in her surroundings -- all at not "toy" expense.  Kids can turn the most mundane into the most creative. Think kids educational toys are expensive?  Think again.

When she is done it will go into the preschool donation pile (for their art table) or my compost bin.  Either way, it's usefulness will continue.  That's how we roll in our frugal house.

For those following along, we are one week in to using the neighborhood public school, and are delighted with the experience.  Maybe we needed that difficult private school drama to fully appreciate the magic of Madison public schools.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thresholds of Frugality

Checking my email today I saw a message from 123 Print that Labor Day Sales had been extended. Order today and save 15%, and there was free shipping on orders over $100. The timing was perfect! The task of reordering business cards for my practice has been hovering on my to-do list, and finally I had a day to tackle pesky small tasks.

And thanks to Threshold Frugality, I was able to save on an item I had to purchase.  Exploring the quantity I discovered that 3,000 business cards, with the discount, totalled $102. And sure enough, the shipping was free.  All it took was recognition of a sale on an item I intended to purchase, less than 2 minutes of scanning the offer, and another minute or two to maximize savings.  Spending just over the threshold saved $16 in shipping fees.

Business cards are not the only way my threshold frugality pops up.  A few weeks ago I had walked over the Macy's, coupons in hand, to purchase boxes of Frango Mints -- I keep them in the office for clients.  Many need a pick-me-up following a meeting.  The coupon of the day offered $15 off a purchase of $40 or more.  Perfect!  Each box of candy was $21, so two would total $42.  Just enough over the threshold to trigger the savings.

When you want to save money, my approach is to spend just enough to realize the value of a coupon.  No need to go over the limit in excess.  I'd rather have that money on hand for other purchases or parked in an investment account.  Have you seen the stock market numbers lately?

Thanks for following my frugal journey, and I love your comments if you have time!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


No photo from my day, but it was another frugal one.   After walking our son to the (free) public elementary school up the road, while my husband delivered our younger child to her preschool, I drove to Dubuque for a funeral mass.  The mother of a dear friend passed away a few weeks ago, and today we gathered to honor her life and spirit.  Below is a quote from the order of service, and its fits my frugal philosophy.  No author was noted, leave a comment if you know the writer:
To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation to know that even one life has breathed easier because I have lived.  That is to have succeeded. 
No mention of the square footage of your home, make/model of your vehicle, or if you made it to the upper tax brackets.  No mention of couponing your way to over-stuffed cupboards or getting the absolute most for the absolute least amount of money.  It's much more about quality over quantity.  And that is my approach to a frugal life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Madison Public Schools in a Frugal Life

Today our frugal family embarked on a new path, public schools.  Last year we gave a local private school a try, wrongly thinking private equaled small, flexible, attentive.  We have no problem paying for quality, and as we flipped the calendar to September 2013 we thought private school meant all of those things.  After 13 days it was clear it did not, at least at that one institution.  It was more like 1920s Germany there - rigid, dogmatic, inflexible, staff of questionable professional abilities, and absolutely no fun for the kids.  Followers of this blog know the route we took, and that we were grateful to find a different preschool for the children.

However, as we turned the calendar to September 2014 our oldest was now of kindergarten age.  A decision was required, go with the public school up the road or try our hand at another variety of private schools.  I spent a good portion of the winter and spring interrogating schools (the legal training comes in handy at times) and we determined that the public school was by far the best fit for this family.  And the decision is a frugal one.

Today we walked our son to school.  The staff greeted us with music and smiles, it was festive. Enrollment involved some government forms, a materials fee of $40, and less than $100 in school supplies. A far cry from the $10,000 we'd handed over the summer before.  Quite skeptical, my husband is reserving comment until we are a few more days or weeks in, but so far, I am thrilled.  And I am planning to advocate, volunteer, and cheer on the public school teachers.  One of the things I kept hearing in my "research" was that a quality education is less "the school" and more "the family at home".   And that is how 13 days last September turned this frugal Mama into a supporter of the Madison Public Schools, which I attended myself, kindergarten through senior year of high school.  Stay tuned.