Friday, November 27, 2015

Moving Boxes & Black Friday: Life in a Frugal Home

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2015
Black Friday, and this frugalista was no where near a mall or store.  After a stop at the Credit Union, we went through the Goodwill drive-thru with a massive drop off!  Five years ago today we moved into our current home, the very home we are attempting to purge 2,015 items from this calendar year. And today we unpacked two boxes that had not been touched since that move.  Both of us home from the office and stuck at home due to a child's case of pink eye, we tackled the basement.  The trunk of our Honda was filled, and more items were lined up for another drop-off later this weekend.  The grand total of items donated, recycled, sold or tossed is currently at 1,671. When you do the math you'll see we need to purge another 344 items to meet the goal we set back in January 2015.  With another full day of two parents at home and two weeks off at the end of the year, I'd bet we can pull this off!

It was not all work, there was a bit of play, decorating inside and out.  Not too much, using items we've collected over the years and a few I inherited when my mom died in 2014, leaving me with the ranch home of my youth to clear out.  Proudly displayed out front is a classic light-up Santa, circa 1980.  Dated and tacky, yes, most likely. Yet we are squeezing every ounce of life out of its plastic nature, and keeping just a touch of my childhood, and my parents, alive for another season.  Ho ho ho, have a frugal holiday!

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Purge of 2015

Nothing stokes the fire of my 2015 purge more than time at the office.  Why?  When your professional work takes you to the home of the recently departed to sort through items for essential paperwork, and you leave with the family finding the most cost effective way to deal with the unwanted items is to "trash" it, well you want to do all you can to prevent your stuff from the same fate.  Be selective, buy quality, routinely purge, make sure what can be salvaged is via donation or recycle or using it up.  The drive was lovely, but the visit was heavy on the mind.  As the weeks count down towards December 31st we have removed 1,597 items from our home.  Of late I've been distracted by the demands of life, neglecting posts here on frugal and neglecting the purge.  Will we pull off the 450 more items?  I have no idea, but after today I am going to give in my all.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fall Leaves on a Frugal Yard

What do you do with your fall leaves?  Seems to be the social media question of the week!

  • Do nothing, let them decompose
  • Mulch with a mower
  • Rake them into compost
  • Hire a company to blow them into a large truck to be hauled away
That seems to be the spectrum.  Earlier this week I fell into the third category, rake them into my flower beds (the compost is too far off -- that is where the backyard leaves will go).  Before doing so I tossed down an old cotton sheet (thank you purge of 2015 for making me recognize this unneeded item) as well as pizza boxes I had saved for this very purpose last year when our youngest turned 5 with a pizza party at home.  Organic material, dosed with water, topped with dead leaves, and dosed with water.

Oddly, around the corner my neighbors took option D.  Count them, 6 as in SIX, garden workers, all armed with cordless blowers, returned them to a blanket of green gas.  We noticed this on our walk home from school, as I explained to the kids that our warm weather (70s in November in Wisconsin!) is likely due to a hot/cold cycle, but even more so by humans nasty habit of burning fossil fuels, which heat up the earth.  And voila, 6 men with blowers caring for your run of the mill semi-urban yard.  All I could do was shake my frugal head, and then show the kids how I had taken care of the leaves.  To each their own I suppose.

Option D

Option C

Next I plan to put some of our compost on the top to weigh this down even more.  Next Spring we'll try some veggie plants in the ground as well as transplant a few perennials.  Have any frugal ideas for our garden?  If so, please leave a comment.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Sinking Target: Frugal Shopper Seeks Alternatives

"That will be $0.76 cents, you can slide your card here." Said the Target clerk ringing up four photos I had printed for the Federal Tax Credit I've blogged about recently.

"The power of my Red Card -- I'll use it for the smallest purchase!" Was my response.

"Oh really, did you know THEY are ending that program in May 2016?" Said the clerk, with THEY meaning the powers that be at Target headquarters.

Shocked and a bit annoyed, "Seriously?  Don't THEY know how powerful the 1% donation to local schools is?  If that ends, so does my loyalty to Target."

A bright clerk quickly sought confirmation from a manager, "yeah, they're ending it in May, why?" The manager was not as savvy as the clerk.

Why?  Because supporting local education is important, very important.  I am am mom, but also the first in my family to go to college, followed by grad school and then law school.  The school donation program at Target was the impetus behind many purchases I could make elsewhere.  I conveyed this to Target via its Facebook page. The company confirmed it was ending the program, but to stay tuned for new and exciting local programs.

My husband scoffed at the response, "they are simply cutting costs, remember the Wall Street anaylis we looked at?  They are looking to cut costs, plain and simple."  Earlier in the month our 7 year old was interested in why Target stock was falling; yes, he is 7 and very wise with money -- his college fund owns some of Target.  The analysis had a lot to say about how shoppers just won't buy furniture from Target.  I laughed, of course not -- "you go to Target for over the counter medications, Kleenex and a Starbucks.  Their shoppes (me excluded) flock to IKEA when they want furnishings -- what a waste of focus."

And sure enough, today I see that Target is beginning to close retail outlets in the States.   As the 1% of purchase price being donated to schools ends, so does my loyalty.  I'll still shop there, but not nearly as often and not for nearly as wide a range of products.  When it comes to over the counter medications and other items for the bathroom, the price is great on their Up & Up line.  However, Amazon Prime lurks around the corner.  Buying on-line yields me 3% back on all purchases, free delivery 7 days a week to my home, the ease of shopping for staples as well as specific items (holiday gifts) from the comfort of my home anytime of day.  As we approach rounding the corner to a new year, I plan to experiment with Amazon Prime.  Will it actually reduce my spending by cutting down on impulse buys?  Will I buy in bulk more, and shave time off of my already hectic schedule?  I am not alone, another working mom out in the Bay Area uses Prime the same way.

Tips and suggestions for alternatives to the Big Box stores are welcome -- saving time is almost always more important to me than saving money.  What smart tips can you offer?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Day of the Dead Wardrobe 365

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2015
November 1st - The Day of the Dead.  Spinning a bit on today's theme I give you my new frugal plan for work clothing -- a uniform of black. Living frugal to me is not just the expenditure of money, but time.  We all only get 24 hours a day, and I spend too much of those precious hours debating what to buy and wear to the office.  Envious of my husband's "owner of an engineering firm" look, I too wanted a uniform.  And then in my Facebook feed was this article on successful folks who wear the same thing everyday.  No that might be a bit extreme, but I've decided to focus on black pants, skirts, and sweaters (cardigans essentially).  Underneath a white or cream shirt.  Color will be a scarf or belt or maybe shoes.  The goal is to be able to dress in the dark and have everything match.  This also stream lines shopping time; zero in on the black clothing with dark gray being acceptable.  Crazy? Maybe, but I'm going with it for now.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooky Frugal Halloween: A treat and a fright!

Our day started with a treat, a friend dropped off two bags of surplus veggies from her CSA at the farmers' market.  Leeks, squash, carrots -- a true delight!

Then I opened the mail and received a fright.  Our health insurance, an individual plan outside of "the market place" informing us that our old grandfathered plan is ending, and the new one will offer all the coverage mandated by law.  With that coverage, our policy will go from $540/month to $1500/month, and that is with an $10,000 annual family deductible (yes, we pay the first $10k out of pocket with HSA dollars or our budget).  We've scanned other options out there, but are not pleased with what is offered.  This will be a hard pill to swallow -- health coverage greater than our mortgage.

Be well, enjoy the evening stroll if you have little ones in your life. The gentle rain of the morning begins to end, promising a gray, wet, but not rainy Halloween night here in Madison.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Spending More to Save Some -- Analysis of Purchases

Followers of this blog will remember that recently our home was granted an historic status, which opens the door to federal tax credits for certain upkeep and repairs -- exterior items primarily.  When the federal government will give us a 25% discount, our frugal eyes zoom into the details.  And as we dig in, the appeal of the program is beginning to face.  Why?  It seems that we have to spend more than we really need to in order to save.

Furnaces and A/C replacement are included, but the quote for a new furnace was far below what we braced ourselves for.  Knowing about the federal program, the sales person started adding suggestions about how we can climb to that magic number of $10K minimum to apply for the grants. Discussing what he told me with my husband we realized -- we are talking about replacing an A/C that still works, and we live in Wisconsin, a place where if an A/C breaks life goes on relatively undisturbed.  And the chipping away at the purchases covered by the program continues.  Why are we spending money to save money?  Yes, these are all items we want to address, but do we need to do them immediately?  Why not wait until the life has been extracted from the furnace, the A/C, and the exterior paint?

So, what seemed to be a very attractive program is fading in our eyes.  We may still use it, but not until we "run the numbers", factoring into our analysis depreciation.  A furnace will likely have 30 years in it, depreciating slowly.  I am not sure that will hold true for the outside painting.  The quote will come in later today, and I anticipate it being quite high.  And I was not pleased when I asked how long the work would last and was told "it depends on what is underneath -- the more paint build up, the more frequent the need to paint, but likely 5 to 7 years."

We'll be creating a spreadsheet to capture all the number, etc.  We are a frugal lawyer and frugal engineer - a nightmare for any salesperson who has to do business with us.  And that is all for today from our frugal corner of the world.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Happy Frugal Halloween!

Not even Halloween escapes our frugal ways!  Kids need costumes? Skip the store and find your dress-up basket instead.  This with that and a touch of whatever fosters creativity, guarantees a look no other kid will have, goes easy on the budget and is gentle to the earth!  And I can think of no better venue in which to share these beliefs than a UU church, specifically First Unitarian Society of Madison.  Taken this past weekend as our little frugal ones participated in a dress-up parade as we ring in the Halloween season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Frugal Living: Delay Spending Money Until a Deal Is Seen

Working from home today, I wandered into the living room for something (I forget what) and was stopped short.  Why is a tree trimming crew in my backyard? -- the thought popped to mind.  I was under the impression the free work our utility company was doing was over, my assumption upon finding the pesky mulberry gone this past weekend.  But no, they were back, trimming yet another tree that I was thinking of paying to have trimmed.  Was it a comprehensive trim?  No, but it suits our needs for now.  Just another examples of how delay on purchases turns into a deal.  Trimmed trees, including one removal, for free.  I love it!

For those following along with our frugal ways, today we learned that our furnace (and A/C) installation plus exterior house painting fall under the possible federal tax break granted to historic homes.  Saving 25% on both items is huge for us, and we are moving forward with quotes, the application, etc.  Stay tuned to see if it really pays off.  Both were items we've known we should address, but delayed.  Recognizing the savings that we would not benefit from, we are moving forward, paying with cash, which also generates consumer savings.

And that is all from this frugal house in Madison.  Be well, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Frugal Living: Take the ToothBrush, Leave the Dental Plan

Finally, after three days of getting up to scurry out the door to the car for a 1-hour drive north for a legal conference, today I am linger at home over coffee.  An article in my beloved NY Times catches my eye.  After reading and dreaming, I share it with my husband (electronically). If a family of 5 can live in that small of space, why do we have what we do?  Where can we find that kind of community and living in our city?  The wheels are turning, looking ahead.

Looking back, you can sum up the conference with "I'll take the free toothbrush, but leave the pricey dental plan.".  Yes, when lawyers gather for mandated legal education, vendors flock to sell us things. From fancy technology to insurance, all offering endless swag -- the free junk none of needs, but all of us seem to enjoy carting home.  My efforts to purge 2,015 items this year helped me just say no to the free stuff.  With one exception, our oldest child was in need of a new toothbrush -- an item on the shopping list tucked into my black bag.  And here one was sitting on an insurance table.  Selling all sorts of insurances to lawyers, from long-term care to dental I happily took the tooth brush, but turned down the offer to buy dental coverage.  It took a strong no for the sales person to get it though -- in the area of teeth, we are private pay.

When it comes to our teeth, we shun dental coverage.  When we've done the math, the monthly premium appears to be ironing out the spike costs from routine visits and repair.  Yes, dental an be expensive, but if you are frugal and in control of your money, private pay can be less than the monthly plans that add up for months and years.  Here is how we keep it frugal when it comes to teeth:

  • emphasize good daily cleaning with all family members -- prevention is powerful
  • select a dentist that offers a 5% discount if you pay with cash/check (it also offers 3% if you use credit card, but we go for the bigger savings)
  • obtain cost of cleaning, filling, etc. when setting appoint and build that into the monthly budget
  • each month contains an allotment for general medical costs for unexpected visits (admit it, life happens, plan for the unexpected)
  • should we have an expense that is too large and unexpected for our household budget, we turn to our Health Savings Account.  This is similar to an IRA, but is specific to health expenses.  Each year we max out what we can set aside, and then avoid using it.  Part of the funds are invested, parts of liquid.  It is a pot of money that receives a tax break going in, is tax free if used for medical (including dental) going out, and in retirement we can use the balance for anything.
When we've done the math, and trust me we have, this approach is far more economical than a monthly dental plan.  But I did appreciate the free toothbrush!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Frugal Life: Lazy Brunch and Other Benefits of Taking Your Time

Tucked into the door of the fridge was a jar of Spanish pears, purchased from Trader Joe's and rejected by our five year old.  Why?  Who knows.  But saved this past Sunday as I tossed together fruits, cheese, and crackers for a brunch with friends.  Type "baked pears" into Google and you'll find an endless list of recipes. Working off of the top result, I emptied the jar into a baking dish, drizzled maple syrup over the top, dropped some butter on them, and sprinkled brown sugar over the top.  Baked for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, and they were a tasty treat.  One even our 17.5 year old cat enjoyed on the sly, sigh.

Lazy approach to brunch, or you can call it working with what you have.  My go-with-the punches approach to life has had two positive yields recently.  First, after obtaining an estimate for tree work I tucked it aside and thought "I'll get to that, eventually.....damn trees are expensive!"  And then this week I came home to find a note from our power company, the bothersome mulberry tree is in the way of the power line. The very one I was considering paying to have removed.  Delayed action, and now the power company is chopping it down for us -- no charge!

We've also been dragging our feet on home upgrades, etc.  As I piled dishes into the dishwasher after brunch my husband and I discussed the growing list of items the house needs.  After being here five years and doing little to nothing, we might have to make some progress.  And then with a push of the button the dishwasher died, sigh.  The dread of spending all that time and money on house repairs sank in.......only to receive a boost in today's mail.  Congrats, your neighborhood is now on the national historic neighborhoods list.  I could really care less, but then read on, federal tax credits! Yes, for painting (the wood rather than opting for vinyl siding), a new furnace (ours is beyond life expectancy) and weatherizing original doors (we simply could not pay $2,000 to have a basement exterior door upgraded once we saw the quote) -- most of the work on our growing list.  You are safe to wager a bet that my frugal husband and I will be reading the federal guidelines, making highlighted notes, and speaking with the noted contact at the historical society.  Upgrades delayed, but federal tax credits await.  Too good to be true?  Time will tell.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

New Vehicle Purchase Turned Frugal

It was a bone chilling night, as only the dark depths of December can deliver here in Wisconsin. Upon leaving a cultural event, I approached my aged and dwindling car, situated in a parking ramp in downtown Madison.  Chilled to the bone I hopped in, turned the key, and ..... nothing.  Dead, the reality set in after a few moments.  The tow truck arrived and the driver jumped down to take a look, meter running for the service.  Guess what, the fickle thing started.  Just like that -- at the turn of the tow-truck driver's hand.  A service call charge was paid, and I made the decision to say good-bye to this highly unreliable vehicle.  Four years out of law school, it was 2005, and a new year was approaching; I was sick and tired of driving a run down student-esque vehicle.

When I walked into my office an informed co-workers I was buying a new vehicle, they laughed at what they thought was a joke.  Known to walk 2 miles home from work to save the $1.50 bus fare, they never thought I was serious, but I was.  Over the weekend I walked into the local Honda Dealership, told them what I'd found on-line and they brought around a silver 2005 Honda Civic. Brand new, less than 25 miles on the car.  I signed some paperwork, they handed me the keys and I drove off in my highly-unfrugal purchase.  Speechless described my co-workers Monday upon hearing about my purchase.

Weeks later, as Wisconsin began to pull itself out of the harsh winter and work towards longer, milder days, I met another frugal soul on a March evening -- one that nine months later would propose we join our frugal ways in marriage.  He was puzzled beyond words to learn that this highly frugal young attorney would do something so un-fruga-like and buy a new, a brand new, vehicle. Made even more bizarre was that I was raised on a used car lot and knew without question that the moment I drove the vehicle off the lot its value nosed dived, and would continue its rapid descent in value for another two years.

Yes, I admit, purchasing a new car was not keeping with my frugal ways.  However, here is how I turned that purchase around into what I consider quite frugal:
  1. The loan was paid off in 2.5 years, not 5;
  2. It was rarely driven, resulting in low mileage and reduced wear and tear; and
  3. Regular maintenance to keep it in shape.
As December peeks around the corner at us, here I am with the same vehicle.  With a 10 year anniversary approaching one might think it was time to replace the vehicle.  But no, I love that car. With 89,000 miles on the engine, I know it has another 100,000 miles left, if not more.  So instead of trading in for something newer, one with an MP3 player for example, we recently bought four new tires and had the timing-belt, water pump, and other parts you change when the engine is removed, updated.

Pushing to save even more, our locally owned repair shop gave us a discount for years of loyal service, and the fact we pay in cash.  Those credit cards cost the company 3% for every dollar charged.  They were happy to receive nine one-hundred dollar bills in return for parts and labor, and I was happy to receive a discount.

And that is how I converted an on-its-face unfrugal purchase into a frugal one.  At the rate we are going that 2005 Honda Civic will be driven by our now seven year old -- it's going to be around for awhile!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Heave-Ho, The Purge of 2015 Continues....

Weeks have passed, actually months have passed, since I've reported on our efforts to rid our frugal home of 2,015 items in 2015.  Why?  I pressed pause during the summer, conceding to the crush of having two kids home from school while working part-time as my husband underwent yet another round of hellishly long days (we're talking 12-18 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week).  One can only slay so many dragons in a day, and the purge was paused.

And then the school bell rang on September 1st.  Our wee-ones strapped on backpacks and joined the hundreds of kids at our local school.  All of a sudden, on occasion, I found myself at home in a quiet house.  A house where I could spend 30 minutes scooping up all the clutter we do not need, let alone even realize we have.  While his career still pushes my other frugal half to his limits, and my practice hums along, I have just enough time to resume my fight against all that we do not love and need.

Twenty-nine items left our frugal home in September, one fetched $50 on Craigslist -- a double bike trailer, one I had purchased used in 2013!  The rest were donated or recycled.  That brings our yearly total to 1,435 purge.  When you do the math you'll see we have 3 months to purge 580 items.  Can we do it?  Stay tuned.

For those who wonder why do they care about purging?  First and foremost, I cannot clean a house well when it is strewn with clutter.  Second, we find comfort in having just the things we love and cherish on hand -- I swear I can "hear" clutter.   And third, there is some value in the discarded.  Just this month it took 30 minute to clean-up, post and sell the bike trailer.  Freeing up space in our garage, and adding $50 to our budget.  And that is why 2015 is about the effort to say enough, heave-ho you go!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Frugal Living: Listen to the Math, Not Just Your Gut

Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2015
"You guys have an ARM?" a work associate of my husband asked, eyes widening in shock. "Yeah, we got a lower rate which means we save $x/month rather than paying more to insure the rate doesn't adjust." My husband replied, and then I assume he launched into a more detailed discussion involving math, economic theory, the cost of insuring against change, and interest rate policies.  As he went on the other party nodded, "yes, yes, that makes fiscal sense -- it is a better deal than a fixed-rate mortgage."  When turning off his emotional response to the ARM he saw what we'd seen back in 2010 -- the ARM was the best deal. But when emotion lead his thinking, he shunned the device.

Following my frugal-other-half's lead, we try and leave emotion out of all financial decisions.  This is easiest accomplished when you determine the number, or cost, before being presented with a price. "Never ever hear the prices and then decide -- always enter with a price in mind", or says my husband. Taken to the extreme, I've seen him walk away from a bottle of soda that was $0.25 higher than the amount the was willing to pay.  No, I am not kidding, he has done this on more than one occasion.

As for those ARM -- adjustable rate mortgages, they are not perfect for every one or for every situation. But it was the best choice for use when we went from renters to owners back in 2010. Why?  The ARM rate was low, and lower than a fixed because we assumed some risk that when it re-set down the road it might be higher.  Looking for consistency?  You'll end up paying a bit more for that assurance of no change in what you pay.

One  reason the ARM worked for us is that we borrowed about half of what the bank would have lent us, and we had a hefty down payment.  As a result our monthly mortgage payment as a percentage of our monthly budget was not that high.  If it were to adjust upwards, it wouldn't be too hard to absorb. The other factor that makes an ARM easier for us than others -- we have no other debt.  No student loans, no car loans, no loans of any kind too worry about or feed.

In the end, as we approach the end of 2015, it appears the risk or gamble we took back in 2010 will pay off.  The rate is set to adjust, but rather than go higher, it will likely go lower given the Feds position on not raising long-term interest rates.

Should the frugal life appeal to you, I urge you to apply frugal ways to the three biggest items on your budget (and if you don't have a budget, get one -- take control of what you spend, don't let expenditures control you).  Ask how you can save costs in those top three areas.  Frugal shopping sprees will likely never come close to the savings you may reap in these areas, likely: housing, child care, transportation, or food.  And by frugal I do not mean "go cheap", but rather how can you most efficiently spend those dollars.  Follow the math, not just your gut.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Frugal Living: Nature Hikes and Bike Shops

Standing in the kitchen "I cannot believe how much better I feel when I bike!" said my equally frugal husband.  "Then take your bike in, get it back into commuting shape" I replied.  "Yeah, but Dream Bikes isn't open today" he said with a sigh.

Dream Bikes has been our go-to bike shop for more than half of our frugal marriage.  While we love the prices and service, the hours are limited -- closed Sundays.  And Sunday happens to be the one day of the week both my husband and I say no to client matters and business development (well, at least most Sundays). What to do?

A few minutes after posting a query for bike shop recommendations it was settled, the bike was going to Budget Bikes on Regent Street.  Open from 10-7 today, we thought there was a chance we could get it in, fixed, and home, allowing him to resume his bike commuting ways.  "I'll try" was the service person's response, too which a grim look of "not sure about it" was added.  With the bike in the hands of the pros, we returned to our Sunday plans: laundry, lunch at home, and then a family hike.  It was during the hike the cell phone rang -- the bike was done!

Some frugal folks would have opted to fix the bike themselves.  To those who possess the skill, space, tools and time - well done.  We are not that type of frugal home.  My frugal half puts his work energy into circuits and the electronics design firm he is building, and my work efforts focus on estate planning and probate.  There is no room in the garage nor spare parts tucked away.  Most importantly, for us, when not working we focus on family time, our health, and a few hobbies (reading for me, ham radio for him).  As a result a company now cuts our lawn.  The kids go to the barber for a trim - I've put away my cutting sheers.  We are not a DIY frugal home.  Yet we are frugal.

Could we have saved money if we were?  Yes.  But really, today we would have saved $36, that was the cost of labor.  The other cost was all in parts.  An entire day would have been spent focused on the bike and not one another.  And these photos would have never been taken -- from our hike at Pope Farm Conservancy outside of Middleton, Wisconsin.

In the end, yes, well worth the cost of labor.  Plus we supported a locally owned business and paid in cash (no fee to them for processing via credit). For those seeking the frugal path, do not forget to factor the cost of your time into the math you run in your head.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Frugal Life: Nature Walks, Coupons, and Hotel Splurges

Twas another Sunday in our frugal home.

My Husband tended to urgent needs of client.  The day doesn't matter when you are a dual entrepreneurial household. Crisis management under way, even if it is a Sunday.

I ran errands with the kiddos.  Wisely burns off some of their energy with a nature hike at Madison's Owen Park.  Free and full of nature at it's best, allowing them to show of the knowledge they've acquired with Science Friday camps at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Then it was a flurry of stops.

Office Depot - my legal practice is out of file folders.  Toss the 1/2 inch three-ring binder needed for our oldest's first grade school supply list.  At the register present a $20 coupon for the loyalty rewards program, pay the $5 difference with my 1% cash back credit card.

Next up, the hardware store where $23 was paid for one LED flood light for the backyard. Worth the up front expense when you consider the reduced power it will draw and longevity of use.  Add in a $5 hummingbird feeder, again giving the kids an outlet for the science knowledge they've acquired this summer.  It was basically free, because I had a $5 coupon form the store's loyalty program.

Then to Target for a mismatch of pantry items and cat foods.  After a quick look at the shoe section, we headed to the check out with our 5% off Target debit card and coupon for the cat food.  Yes, the store can track my purchases, but they know what cat food I buy and give me coupons.  Bonus -- 1% of my purchase is donated to the kids's school.  The brief exposure to the shoe section there reinforced prior decisions to pay for high-end shoes.  We dropped the bags in the car (cloth, for which I receive a 10 cent discount each) and we walked to Morgan's Stride Rite.

Twenty minutes later a professional had measure each child's foot -- missing from Target was such a device, and professional.  I spent $190 for 5 shoe boxes -- fall shoes for each child, a clearance pair of tennis shoes for our oldest who needs to leave a pair of gym schools at the school, and new rain boots for each.  With a coupon there was 10% off the regular priced items, and my loyalty card received lots of punches.  Overall -- I am happy to pay for the quality and speed of this store, and will not bother with Target's shoe section again.  Time is money in my mind.

On the way home I swung by the drive-thru of my favorite coffee shop, MOKA, and used a gift card a former clerk gave me last week on her last day.  $2 for 20 ounces of iced coffee, fueling up for an evening of solo parenting while my frugal other half tends to a client's crisis.  Might we work weekends?  Yes.  But we also booked a night at the newly opened Legoland hotel in Winter Park, Florida for late December and didn't flinch at the cost.  The excitement on our kids faces upon hearing of the stay?  Well, it was the upside of a frugal life.

Homemade chili and zucchini bread are in the mix for a healthy and frugal dinner at home.  Thank you coffee boost!  And that my dear reader is a frugal Sunday in our home.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Crying Uncle: Saying Good-bye to Traditional Frugal Ways and Hello To Smarter Frugal

What is frugal?  For years I've written about it being the efficient expenditure of time and money.  And these past few weeks have forced me to Cry Uncle on several of my more traditional frugal ways.

The Purge of 2015 is on hold.  It will resume after the start of school.  Why the change?  Children's birthdays!  Oh my the inflow of stuff is amazing.  One child's birthday has passed, another looms. For now I am just swapping out an item for those that come in, making no progress on our efforts to rid our home of 2,015 items in 2015.  But I will pick that challenge back up once the school bell rings.

Then there is the lawn.  Having grown up in a lower-middle class, blue collar home, I mowed lawns starting at about age 12.  My husband who grew up in a more affluent home never mowed a lawn, his family had a lawn service.  Since buying our home and push mower, I've taken a great deal of frugal pride in mowing my own lawn -- great exercise, no gas used because of the push mower, out there connecting with nature. And then this summer happened.

My husband's business is morphing into something greater than his former freelance engineer practice: there is a partner, a new web site, a line of new clients, notice of upcoming international travel; they are hiring of staff.  In short, he is busy, but he never mowed the lawn anyway, so what gives?  At the same time my legal practice has kept me hopping all summer long.  Even with reduced part-time hours my revenue was the same as earlier in the Spring when I was full-time.  I have been as efficient at the office as possible, meaning I only have so much left to expend elsewhere.  And with the call of a cell phone I have handed over the lawn duty to Kevin of Cutting Edge Lawn Care.  Now I can remove another task from my to-do list, allowing me more time to focus on the kids when I am not at the office, and when I am at the office not spend time figuring out "when will I mow the lawn?".   Yes I could do the work myself, but there is a hidden fee there.  This new cost will be $36/week.  Money well spent, and a perfect example of the frugal life -- efficiently spending money as well as time.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Turning 5 in a Frugal Home

As of 7:52 pm last night, our youngest is 5 years old.  How does a child in a frugal home celebrate a birthday?
  1. Throw a party at home, maximizing the use of your living space, furnished basement (that is often neglected) and the backyard.  All that space costs money -- my husband could tell you the cost per square foot without blinking an eye!  
  2. Keep the games simple: squirt guns and a bubble machine equal target practice; paper plates, string, markers and glue become a mask making area; baskets of Halloween costumes combined with music on the stereo give you free-tag dance party.  And then of course there was the pinata -- not exactly frugal, but rather fun.
  3. Order 5 large cheese pizzas from your regular place, and you use the 25% off reward you have on file.  Everyone loves cheese pizza, and it will be gone in a flash.   Avoid the oven and stove by putting pork roast in the slower cooker, combined with broth and apples for 24 hours.  Add a stack of buns and you have tasty sandwiches for the older crowd without heating up the house.  Round out the mix with veggies, that if leftover, make an excellent soup.
  4. Turn to Betty Crocker for a classic cake recipe, and whip one up at home.  Midnight chocolate cake was the winner for yet another year!  
  5. Presents presented in gift bags with homemade cards.  All wrapping is tucked away for future use or the recycle bin.  Nearly all purchased via Amazon Prime for efficiency and the 3% back credit card. which is always paid in full each month;
  6. Make another batch on child's actual birthday, making cupcakes this time.  Baking with the soundtrack to Frozen while she wears a new swimsuit and apron while mixing the batter is a priceless memory for her, and the frugal parent.
  7. After five years of frugal living you will likely have a child with frugal tastes.  For the actual birthday, parents didn't work (okay, dad worked a half-day) and we focused on time together.  Her request -- swimming at Gov. Dodge State park (free with the $25 annual sticker), dinner at home (pasta), followed by a night hike where we spotted toads, bats, and fireflies.
  8. The empty pizza boxes never make it to the trash -- the plastic inserts to prevent the top from settling on the pizza have been cleaned and are now used to support Lego creations, and the plastic mesh lining and box itself are set aside for future garden projects -- drainage and weed control.
  9. And the #5 from your cake has been posted on Facebook (and here) to re-home.  No need to hold on to it until our next frugal member has a 5 in their birthday numeral (the author, in 2018 will be 45).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Homemade Ocean Themed Birthday Cake - Someone's Turning 5!

Birthdays have morphed into extravagant affairs these days, even for the smallest among us.  Up until last year the children's birthdays were marked by both mom and dad taking the day off from work (significant when you are both self-employed) and spent the day focused on the child's favorite things.  Think beaches and mini-golf.

As they've grown older, the circle of friends and family has grown.  Enter the kid birthday party!  Last year both children had events at the Aldo Leopold Center.  This year our youngest is no longer in preschool and not yet in kindergarten, so instead of invite the whole class to party, we did a hybrid.  Invite our whole village to celebrate. We'll sing happy birthday, and then wander up to the free Opera in the Park later in the evening.

A home birthday party's price tag climbs quickly.  Food, drinks, utensils, activities.  We'll have paper mask making, dress-up musical chairs (or possibly just a dance party) and a pinata for the finale.  But what is a party without a cake!  Once again the guest of honor selected Betty Crocker's Midnight Chocolate Cake.  We mixed it up last night, both kiddos helped (it was late, and I'll admit, a few tears were shed, but did baked together!).  Here is how a simply cake became an Ocean Themed One:

White vanilla frosting was mixed with blue food coloring.  Rock candy started the transformation.

 Add in gummy sharks, turtles, fish, and then some Rainbow Goldfish as well as a few sprigs of mint -- and voila, a fun cake made in our own kitchen.  The memories will last forever!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Make It So....Bye Bye Lawn, Hello Frugal!

While my kids played soccer in the back yard with my husband, I pushed our push mower to the side and front yard.  The back was done, free and clear for a pick-up soccer game.  Out front my mind wandered to my plan to do away with the terrace grass.  What a waste of space, and quite frankly my energy. One day, one day I will have the grass turned to mulch and plant something.  Cat nip and other prolific herbs along with a sign that says "help yourself to some sprigs."  Kind of along the line of the Little Lending Libraries that have become some popular.  Seriously, take some and make this one less patch of earth that we need to mow!

As my mind wandered along came a lady with two dogs -- an older black lab and a younger yellow lab, who was quite curious about my soundless mower!  I smiled, getting a bit of a dog fix (I love dogs, one day?) and their walker lady said "I wish my yard were small enough for one of those" as she nodded towards my push mower.  No oil, no gas, just blade sharpening in the spring and some sweat equity.  I thought to myself, "well, then make it so.  Join my in my quest to minimize the green lawns that zap us of time and energy!"  Our front yard was once larger, but with each autumn a pile of leaves is strategically placed to kill the grass and create a rudimentary bed for plants.

Make it so, the upside of frugal is delightful!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Frugal With Five Veggies At Dinner!

Yet another frugal inspiration followed my reading of How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo -- dinner should include 5 vegetables!  Easier wrote than accomplished.  Here is a photo of a recent kids meal: grilled cheese, tomato soup, corn, lettuce, apples (a fruit, not veggie) and potatoes.  We eat veggies here, but trying to put five on the plate for one meal was a challenge.  A challenge I enjoyed!  Veggies -- easy on the budget, great for our health, and excellent for Mother Earth.

Friday slid past me yesterday, backed with client meetings, heat warnings, and a sick senior cat.  Posting an update on  our purge fell to the bottom of my list, and simply never happened.  Today I can say we have now purged 1,405 items from our home.  This past week the increase was due mainly to a purge of childrens' books (we have quite a few duplicates) and downsizing my CD collection.  It shrank because I purged the jewel cases, but put the CDs in one large holder. Technically we purged items, keeping only the essential component -- removing the case and inserts.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clean & Function - That Is Good Enough in Our Frugal Home!

How to Hepburn: Lessons On Living From Kate The Great

Earlier this summer I read Karen Karbo's book How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great.  One of three lively biographies of amazing women (O'Keeffe and Channel are the other two), it proved to be an entertaining and inspiring summer read.  Towards the close of the book Karbo talks of Hepburns tendency to hand over her movie earning to her father, who would invest them and give her an allowance to live on.  This apparently frugal move, living on less than you earn, allowed Hepburn to have the freedom later in her career to spend decades performing Shakespeare for little pay, but great satisfaction.

For one who keeps a blog on frugal living, one might think this gem is what stood out the most to me. But it does not, it is obvious to me.  Live on less, live like no one else (modified from the famous Dave Ramsey).  Instead, what I took from the book was Hepburn's realization that one cannot have it all, and rather mush choose where to focus her efforts.  Career was her focus, followed by a disciplined health routine of tennis, golf and ocean swims.

As I closed the book I realize that some efforts in my life must go, at least for now.  I am juggling too many fronts. Efforts to create a modernly decorated home are the first to go.  Whether it is from the DIY side of things or having a contractor do the work, quite simply my brain cannot take on this question -- what color to paint the walls -- at this moment in time.  For the foreseeable future the motto will be "clean and functional".  I do not care if the hood over my stove dates to the 60s, possibly 50s.  For now, it works, and that is just fine.  Down the road I can do updates, likely when something breaks.  We have some plans to freshen up the kids bathroom, which we will finish.  But after that, it will be on purging the clutter, cleaning what we have, and keeping it functional.

The hats I want to wear are related to three things: a healthy lifestyle; quality time with my husband , children, and the friends who are family; and my career ( a mixture of practicing law and writing).  My garden will not be featured in a magazine spread.  Our home will not be on any tour of "sustainable" or "make-over success".  I admit, I cannot have it all.  So instead, I am going to put it all into the three things that matter most.

Frugal -- the efficient use of your money, but also your most precious commodity, time.  We only get so many trips around the sun.

Friday, July 10, 2015

And The Purge Continues: Frugal Living 101

Over the summer a new weekly tradition has cropped up for me, going to Goodwill.  However, unlike many frugal folks I am not there for the deals.  I've done that, and will return down the road.  But for now my only aim is to drop stuff off.  Stuff and more stuff as we work to purge 2,015 items from our house in 2015.  The aim - to be surrounded by the the things we adore and cannot do without, and just that.  Goodbye clutter.

Even though we are over the half-way mark in the year, and have now purged 1,372 items through recycling, donation, free on the curb and other means, our house is still cluttered!  There is improvement, but we have plenty of "stuff" to work with.  Our main goal is to clear out the unnecessary and create homes for that we love.  Ideally an item will be returned to its specific home rather than set on random counter tops that happen to be clear.  Time will tell.

Shot from the Goodwill drop off in Monona.  I am there every Friday, just before picking the kids up at Science Camp at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.  Killing two birds with one stone!

The randomly selected Little Free Library where I deposited 6 of the 16 books that left our abode this week.  With the Honda parked around the corner, I used foot power to stop at the library for weekend DVDs (stormy weather is forecast), then to the credit union to deposit a weeks worth of client payments, followed by a stop at Trader Joes (buy only what you can carry to your car a few blocks away -- cutting down on impulse buys).  That my friends, was frugal Friday for us -- what about for you?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Frugal Hiking With Kids: Bayfield, Wisconsin

We've been home a few weeks now, but the loveliness of Bayfield, Wisconsin still lingers in my mind.  Seeing a Facebook post from the Apostle Island National Lakeshore page, posting about swimming bears reminded me to post a bit more about the lovely hikes we took while vacationing in the area.

First - the Big Ravine Hiking Trail.  With a trail head literally across from the condo we rent, this was the first time taking the 2 mile route.  With kids just shy of ages 7 and 5, it was a fabulous hike.   Highly recommend for those new to hiking or who have little feet along for the day.

Second - the Children's Board Walk at Whittlesey Creek, a US National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 minutes south of Bayfield.  We started with the stellar information office, complete with interactive displays, restrooms, bottled water, and rooftop views.  Continued to the children's boardwalk for a short, but excellent walk through prairie to forest and back to prairie.  No admission cost, bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the tables next to the information center.  

Third - Copper Falls State Park, located about 1 hour south of Bayfield, we stopped on the 6 hour drive home to Madison.  Admission was free because of our Wisconsin State Parks sticker, and were were wowed!  I'd read this was a gem of a park, and cannot agree more.  The kids had no problem with the 1.7 mile hike, which takes you along the river, with views of various falls, and across 3 bridges.  We joked it was a bit like a Dora Episode -- cross the bridge, climb the stairs, ......and he had a wonderful time.  The concessions was top-rate and completely unexpected: burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, etc.  A definite "must see", and a place we'll likely return on future trips to the north woods.

Fourth - boardwalk at Big Bay State Park.  With take-your-breath-away views, it was a gorgeous hike.  My apologies for the few others who were there to enjoy the beauty of nature.  Our oldest had a meltdown upon arrival when a "bee the size of a bird" flew into the Honda was he scrambled to undo his seat belt and exit.  It took nearly 30 minutes for him to calm down, stop screaming at every insect hovering at the picnic table, and regain his composure.  The hike out to the beach along the boardwalk was delightful, as were the kids playing the sand, but upon learning she had to walk the entire way back to the car (not ride on dad's shoulders), child number two launched an epic fit.  She screamed, threw dagger eyes, and created a lasting memory for this frugal mom (and dad), but she did "hike" back to the car.  Again, admission was fee with our Wisconsin State Parks sticker.  And a thank you to those fellow park goers who looked the other way as our children grow their hiking skills!  Frugal note -- it cost $50 for the family and car to take the ferry over to Madeline Island, where Big Bay is located.  We looked at leaving the car and walking, but the park is 5 miles from the ferry landing.  The kids are still too young to bike that distance, and walking was out, so the Honda and the extra fee it was!

There you are, four hikes, all with small children, during our week in Bayfield.  Essentially free, fun-filled, and healthy ways to explore this natural wonder and deepen our families connection with planet earth.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Frugal Thoughts on Kids' Shoes

Last Friday I found myself sprinting through Target for a few essential items before picking up my kids from science camp.Why Target?  First, they have a location within walking distance of my office.  Second, the Target red card (debit, not credit for this frugal home) saves me 5% on all purchases, essentially shaving off the sales tax.  And third, 1% of everything we spend at Target is donated to my children's school -- a huge benefit given current education funding in Wisconsin.

There I was, list in hand for a final scan, making sure nothing was skipped.  Ahead of me a women, about my age, piled several pairs of clearance kids shoes onto the conveyor belt. The following exchange pulled my attention away from list and into her world:

Clerk: Wow, these are some great buys, these are so cheap!

Shopper: Yeah, I know. And my kids tear up shoes, so this is great.

Clerk: And they'll outgrow 'em before your know it.

Shopper: Tell me about it!

A multitude of thoughts leaped to the front of my brain, but I withheld interjection into their conversation.  Save it for a blog post I told myself.  And here I am.  Standing in my kitchen (at my make-shift standing desk), eating a homemade cheese quesadilla with guacamole, waiting for responses to posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter seeking recipe suggestions for about 1.5 cups of black raspberries the kids and I picked from our backyard tonight ( a great crop for us!). As the kids drift off to sleep and my husband is working late to tend to the circuit boards of clients (ah, the life of dual entrepreneur home), I will leave you with my frugal thoughts on kids shoes.

  1. Buy quality, they will last long enough for your kids to outgrow the shoes, and have life left for a younger sibling or lucky friend of the family.
  2. Buy service, trained salespeople at shoe stores can fit the shoe to handle growth spurts.
  3. Loyalty pays -- find a store with a customer loyalty program.  We use Morgan Shoes' Stride Rite store at Hilldale mall for reasons 1, 2, and 3 -- with each punch card we receive $50 in store credit.
  4. Find coupons for the store you decide to use.  Seek them out, ask for tips on where to find them, they are usually out there to be found.
  5. Shop the discount rack at the quality shoe store -- savings here can really add up.
The only shoes my son ever wore out where an inexpensive summer shoe, so flimsy they were they hardly made it past the 4th of July!  And wow, finding his size shoe that time of year was impossible. It took my mother-in-law in sunny and perpetually warm Tampa, Florida to locate his size -- everything in Wisconsin was sold out, and stores here were stocking for fall and winter.

Does one trip to the shoe store for two kids cost $100 - $150? Yes, but we go twice a year.  In mid-May for summer and in early October for school/winter shoes.  The shoes hold up.  The kids do not outgrow them.  And every now and then we get a pair for free with the loyalty card.  To be frugal may require you to change your thinking, get out of the big box stores, and focus on quality or quantity.  At least that is our MO in this frugal home.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Frugal Sunday

Leftover brats meet farmers' market veggies:

Add locally sourced eggs (Yuppie Hill Farms):

And you have the breakfast of a frugal champion!

After mowing the lawn (push mower), we'll have a small lunch at home before heading to the lake at Gov. Dodge State park (free admission with our State Parks sticker).  In the evening, back to the yard for annual and perennial planting -- a few more plants found yesterday on clearance.

It's a frugal life!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Frugally Free and Lovin' It.

As we gear up to launch fireworks in small towns and huge cities, from coast to coast, celebrating independence -- ask yourself, how free are you?  If the answer is not enough, consider taking the frugal path in life, or if you already are on that path, picking up the pace.  Frugality spawns freedom.

Followers of this blog know our frugal house is working on freeing ourselves from 2,015 items this year.  As of today we have re-homed via donation, gifting, recycling, selling or trashing 1,321 items. Our recent increase was largely due to a purge of our oldest child's room, primarily his closet.  The departed items ranged from 3 year old puzzles to plastic airplanes he forgot he owned to clothing. Gone, gone, gone.  His closet now has plenty of space, so much that he created a fort inside with an indoor tent!

Many may think we are odd, aiming to reduce what we own.  It is garage sale season after all -- bargains to be had!  No, not for us.  I will admit that some dear friends have dropped off two huge boxes of clothing for our youngest child, and another dear friend has clothing for our older child.  I may be purging, but I am not going to pass up free clothes!  This influx is exempt from the rule of "if we buy something, then we purge something that doesn't count towards the purge".  Rules, you make them, you bend them, you do what you need to!

As for us, we have nothing on another set of friends.  A husband, wife and their twins are getting rid of it all to move to China where they will continue their teaching professions.  What are they taking with?  Just the most precious items that will fit in 8 suitcases and 8 moving boxes, and that is all. Imagine that challenge?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Wisconsin State Park Sticker(s)!

In an effort to entertain ourselves, get out an enjoy nature, and keep our bodies strong and healthy, a $25 Wisconsin State Park sticker is coming in handy!  From short family day hikes to the centerpiece of longer vacations to local swimming options, we love Wisconsin State Parks!  Yes, I know there are those of you who use them for camping -- but our frugal little family doesn't camp.  As you can see from the windshield of my Honda; we've been fans for a few years!  How many will we visit in 2015?  Stay tuned as the year unfolds.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Frugal Ways to Entertain Kids While Traveling

One might think at 5 and 3 the kids were too young for the license plate game.  Wrong!  Okay, last year they could not read the plates themselves.  This year our oldest can, and your youngest is striving to keep up.  Using a printed US map from the web and a keen eye for odd license plates, we've had some epic license plate games.  The Hunt of 2014 ended with all but Delaware.  Oh where or where was Delaware.

The Hunt of 2015 (each year begins with our annual Bayfield trek and continues until we hit all 50) is going well, nearly  half the map is filled in.  But the running joke became "we'll need to go to Delaware to ever get that plate!", especially after I spotted a US Virgin Islands plate at the coffee shop after work -- seriously, that one, but no Delaware.

And then, as stepped off a lovely little hiking bath around the corner from our condo in Bayfield, there it was -- a white car with Delaware plates!  Colored in on the map, the hunt will continue for the rest of the states over our upcoming frugal road trips, where we explore the world with little use of technology (we are not purists).

Friday, June 26, 2015

Purge of 2015 Continues

One might think that a week long vacation would suspend our purge efforts.  If so, that prediction would be wrong.   Our annual trek to Bayfield,Wisconsin to celebrate the Summer Solstice and our wedding anniversary allowed us to increase the purged items to 1,283 items.  How so?  I packed up quite a few used children's books we've received over the past few months.  Pulled out here for reading, they were left at the local library for its fundraising sales!  A win for us, a win for the library.

If you are a road to purge the clutter from your life, get creative and do not let something like a little vacation slow your efforts!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Frugal Summer Entertainment Via the Library

Looking for a frugal way to entertain a child (or yourself) this summer?  Look no farther than your library.  Even on vacation libraries provided a wealth of entertainment at little to no cost:

  1. Books (the obvious)
  2. Music
  3. A place to hang out and enjoy the A/C during the dog days of summer
  4. Puppets, games, Legos, coloring books, and an amazing doll house (at least at this library)
  5. Movies and other films
  6. Live performances
Check it out if you haven't.  On-line requests for materials are more and more easily available.  Fees are little to non existent.  Open up your world with little more than a library card.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

$3 Flowers On the Table

Clearance flowers, $3 for the bunch.  A great buy.  Purchased from the very IGA I bought the flowers I held on my wedding day -- priceless.  Adorn your surroundings with something plucked from nature and enjoy the frugal path.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Frugal Parenting: Wet, Sandy, and Loving Nature

Entertaining your child (grandchildren) need not cost a fortune.  Here is my evidence -- for the price of an annual State Park (Wisconsin) admission sticker, our little ones dug, explored, and dreamed this afternoon.  There was no fancy beach umbrella or bag full of buckets and shovels.  Just a few sticks, sun caps, and a child's imagination unleashed.  Nature -- get out, get messy, have fun.  It is great for your budget, your health, and the planet.

Disclaimer -- it is not all bliss on these adventures.  Our youngest suffered a major meltdown when it was time to hike back to the car.  She was sandy, wet, and tired.  We worked through the screams, found some calm in a song I've used since she was a baby, and the storm of emotions passed.  All in all -- a gorgeous day to explore, spend quality time on father's day as well as our ninth wedding anniversary.

Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island, Wisconsin

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Half-Way Mark of 2015 Purge

Here we are, upon the longest day of the year, and our efforts to purge 2,015 items from our home are going well.  Mid-way through the year we are now 1,250 items fewer in our home.  From ebay sales to donations to friend give-aways to free on the curb -- slowly we are chipping away at the clutter. The end of the year at school brought a tidal wave of papers, crayon boxes, and books on in one fell swoop.  What to keep, what to recycle -- that is the question of summer!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Am Not Lucky, I Am Frugal

Last week a financial planner pinged me for a meeting.  Having never met she was interested in getting to know my as an estate planning and probate attorney, hoping one day I might refer her services.  And then her more immediate interest, offering financial planning services to my me and my husband.  Was I free for lunch?

My reply, as it is to any request for coffee or lunch these days was, thank you but I am working a part-time schedule this summer so that I can spend more time with my young children, and those part-time hours are entirely devoted to serving clients.  Coffee would be an option this fall, when school is back in session and I return to my 5 days a week at the office.  In her response she said she would reach out in late August and noted that I was "lucky" to be able to take that time off in the summer.

Lucky?  No, I am not lucky.  I am frugal, and I know my priorities.  Stepping back from longer days at the office means I have more time to be with my kids, especially during the years they still want to hang out with Mama (I know those tween and teen years can be touchy).  But it is also recognizing the benefit my health receives from slowing down.  That frugal pedometer I bought a few months ago reinforces the fact that my job is sedentary, very sedentary.  Hours at the office followed by kid pick-up from school make preparing a healthy home cooked meal harder, and creates the question of when and how can I work in a work out.  My summer hours allow for lazy mornings, decent thought on what to make for meal, and ample time to take long walks with the kids or fit in a solo run.  In my eyes, this move is a necessary for a long and healthful life.  So no, it is not luck that gives me this opportunity, it is a frugal mindset.

There are the small, daily frugal moves, such as reading coupons to maximize their effect on my budget as well as a commitment to cook at home as often as possible.

There the big frugal decisions -- such as not financing purchases such as cars, vacations, appliances, etc.  We may use a credit card at the point of purchase, but it is paid in full each month.  And those cards also pay us cash back at the years end.

And there are the huge frugal decisions.  To have a wedding proceeding rather than a full-blown wedding party.  To skip an engagement ring and opt for simple wedding bands.  Setting up my own legal practice where I am in total control of my calendar. Purchasing an inexpensive home on a busy road (drives the price down and we are always the first to be plowed out in the winter) to self-directly our financial investments to save costs.

Day in and day out our frugal decisions allow me the freedom to say, for the next 12 weeks I am working two afternoons, Fridays, and as needed by appointment.  For that, I am thankful!

Hello Summer 2015!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Frugal Since "I do"

We were both on the "frugal path" before we met, and saying "I do" did not steer us away from our devotion to living below our means.  Its good for your wallet, your health, your planet.....and yes, your marriage IMHO.

We were delighted to be recently interviewed by the Bayfield, Wisconsin Blog on our frugal planned elopement back in 2006.  Read more about the "proceeding" here, and spread the word.  Weddings come in all shapes, sizes, and budgets.

Happy wedding season everyone!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Purge of 2015: An Update

Crisp, clean, open, free -- all words that come to mind when I glance at this image I took back in 2013 during a family trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  What this photo projects is what I aim to achieve, on a smaller scale, here in our home.  The motivation behind our efforts to purge 2,015 items in 2015.

Here we are dear reader, once again on a Friday, and ready to report the tally.  As of today we have removed 1,192 items from our home.  Progress continues, but at a much slower pace.  From the open space in closets and drawers, a greater sense of order is slowly taking hold.

When we started down this path I assumed the purge would make cleaning the house easier and put a little extra cash in our pockets from items we sell.  I did not realize its power to stifle my shopping.  Earlier today I received an email alert from Savers announcing a 30% womens' and girls dresses next Monday.  I could use some more dresses, but I do not need more dresses, and darn it -- I want to make progress on the number of items removed from the house.  Shopping would send me in the opposite direction.  Email deleted!

Tips, comments, thoughts on how to keep the purge going are all welcome.  Leave a comment and share!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Up-Gifting: When Up-Cycling Meets Re-Gifting

There is up-cycling (where you take an item and turn it into something else; a glass jelly jar becomes a candle) and there is re-gifting (where you pass along a gift you received, but did not use, to another.  For example, giving a box of lotions with a scent you do not favor to a friend recovering from surgery).  And now I give you up-gifting; one part turning something you have into something else, and one-part giving the final product as a gift.

A violet plant pot had sat on a shelf in our garage for a good two years.  With the Purge of 2015 it was earmarked to be donated to Goodwill.  For some reason it still remained on the shelf.  When the invitation arrived for our daughter to a dear friend's birthday, inspiration hit.  Have our daughter, known for her love of art, paint the pot for her friend, add a violet, and give it as a lasting birthday gift.  Knowing the birthday child's mother well, I know that this would be a treasured item as she detests the cheap, plastic, overly pink toys as much if not more than I do.

I give you the up-gift -- reused, reformed, and given with love (and just a bit of pink).  I challenge you to look around your space. What do you no longer need?  Can you do something with it other than toss it in the trash or recycle bin -- extend its utility, open your mind.  It is great for the wallet, your spirit, and the planet.