Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Purge of 2015

image 1
Friday whizzed by so quickly I failed to have the time for a post on our efforts to purge 2,015 items from our home in 2015.  To date we have sold, donated or tossed 134 items.  Not that great considering it is the last day of January.  An epic head cold, the demands of parents, and the little thing known as work delayed my efforts.  But there is a plan, at least for one area of the house.

Having cleared away a nice part of the kitchen, a vision of in-fill emerged.  Tucked into one corner I plan to empty and organize the drawers, then fill in with the items from our household desk.  The counter, not the desk, will hold my computer (sleek laptop) and serve as a "standing desk" without buying a standing desk.  Once complete the desk now in our bedroom will be listed on Craigslist. There is the plan, all I need is the health and time to execute.

A highlight from the most recent purges -- selling a 4x6 foot area rug bought in 2008 with the birth of our older child.  After a quick wash in the machine it was photographed and posted on Craigslist. Within a few days it had a new home, we had one fewer item in the house, and$15 in our wallet. Why the rug? It was very neutral in color, but it was less a style issue than a practical issue.  With a recent asthma diagnosis we are working to eliminate unnecessary items that may collect dust, etc., contributing to allergy and asthma issues.

So that is us, how are you doing on your new years resolutions my frugal friends?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Craigslist Saves the Show

We'd bought the tickets months in advance, splurging for great seats to see Neil deGrasse Tyson up close at Madison's Overture Center. My mother-in-law, who resides in the Sunshine State asked "how can you make plans now (it was September) for January......January in Wisconsin, what if it snows?"  It did not snow this past Monday, just a bit of freezing drizzle. Nothing to keep Wisconsites home.  A virus however did.  Yes, starting last Thursday a nasty little virus invaded our home, uprooting our routines.  First it was the older child, then the younger, and on Sunday it took aim at yours truly.  We had to admit, we were too sick to attend the show.  What to do with the $158 tickets?  Sell them!

Within 2 hours of posting them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Craiglist they were gone.  Another couple was set to see the one and only Neil deGrasee Tyson.  The funniest part of this story -- another hour later a friend posted on my Facebook page that Madison is small world. The buyer of those tickets turned out to be a friend of hers; she made the connection when the friend came to visit and gushed about getting tickets to the sold-out event.

With money set aside, we'll find another event.  What event?  We have no idea, and realize the we need to be a little more last-minute.  Life with young children makes planning long-term just a slight challenge.

While many love Craigslist as a source of good buys, we currently love it as a selling place.  It saved the money from the show, and is playing a key part in selling or giving away items to met our 2015 pledge to purge 2,015 items from our home.  What is your favorite Craigslist story?  Leave a comment and share!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Living Frugal Thanks to Amazon

First there was Amazon Prime.  For $99 a year we have access to a nice selection of streaming movies and tv shows.  Just enough to offer variety for our minimal use of screen time family.   The real draw is the 2-day free shipping for items marked Prime on the Amazon web site.  From office supplies to cat litter to books to kids Halloween costumes, it is my first destination when a need arises.  I find that ordering just what we need cuts down on impulse buys that go with trips to a brick-and-mortar store.

And now there is the Amazon credit card! Loyal readers know our frugal home is not big on credit. We pay our cards off each and every month, and as business owners we know their use drives up prices.  When we can, we pay cash/check.  That comes in hand with locally-owned business, such as our gym.  But when it comes to Amazon credit is the option.  And now we earn 3% back on purchases made with our Amazon cards.  Yes, that is 3% on Amazon purchases, 2% on gasoline, pharmacies or restaurants, and 1% on everything else.  Quicken, your card is taking a backseat in our wallet now.  Once used for that same 2% discount, we are shifting to the Amazon card.  Quicken will remain, but just for Quicken purchases, which pay us 5% back.  And as a thank-you for signing up gift, we receive $70 in credit.  I used $15 for a book I wanted, the rest is waiting for our next needed item.

Those are a lot of numbers to juggle, and it is more of a game that pays us back than anything else. Our primary focus is on maximizing time at our professions (his is engineering, mine is law), while not sacrificing family time.  Of all the commodities, time is the most precious.  But when we can play the credit card companies game and win, we do.  2014 cash back rewards equaled the cost of a domestic airline ticket.  And with cash back, there are no hoops to jump through and we can use it wherever cash is accepted.  Nice move for a frugal homestead.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Oatmeal Cookies

Sick kids result in many days spent in the solitude of home.  With naps and low energy from the littlest in the family, I had extra time to ponder the cabinets.  What can we use up?  My husband put in a half-joking request for chocolate chip cookies.  Soon discovered to be a no-go -- no chocolate chips.  However, we did have coco powder and peanut butter chips.  Modified into a Betty Crocker Oatmeal Cookie recipe, here was the result.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup coco
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 egg
1 and 1/2 cup oats
1 cup flour

Mix the dry, then mix the wet ingredients, then mix them all together.  Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. Delicious treat!  We are having fun working our way through the cabinets.  Continued illness today by our kindergartener means he'll be home from school tomorrow.  Home with his frugal Mama.  I'll be spending some time in the kitchen.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Smothered Turkey

In parallel with our 2,015 purge another current frugal goal is to use up most of our consumables. The time is now, in the middle of a Wisconsin winter.  Clear the cabinets, fridge and freezer before the emergence of a new growing season and farmers' markets.

A recent creation merged leftover turkey with leftover Alfredo sauce from a jar.  Just meat and sauce, no pasta.  Quite tasty and prepared in less than 2 minutes.  What's in your cabinets?  Use up what is on hand and you'll save money by not letting the expiration date pass, eat at home which is nearly always healthier than a restaurant meal, and minimizes waste for the planet.   A win-win-win. Thanks for reading, and I love reading your comments with suggestions, ideas or support.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Purging 2,015 Item in 2015 - An Update

Friday has arrived, and our house is missing a few more items.  To date we have donated, sold or toss out a total of 115 items since the New Year began.  It was a week of easy pickings, mainly due to yet another virus making its way through the house.  Elementary school kids bring home copious amounts of artwork, and germs.  A future agenda will include opening cabinet by cabinet, drawer by drawer, just not this week.

Notable items include:

  • Lego set my son sold on Amazon Prime, for 2x what a store would have given us credit for;
  • an extra pencil sharpener....really one is enough; and
  • a stack of blank greeting cards that I put at my office to use for Thank You notes.
115 items gone, 1900 to go!  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chilly Weather Chili

Are you a creature of habit?  I am.  Some good habits, some not so good, and always seekingto add or adjust a habit, especially around the new year time.  Over the past few weeks I have taken to cooking up a storm over the weekend.  We are home more, there is extra time to prepare slower-cooked meals and quite honestly I have the time to think about what to make.  Our weekdays run rather intense at the end of the day.  There is pick-up at our preschool, then pick up at the elementary school, both kids are tired and more often than not, starved. It is not uncommon for us to literally fall in the door from the garage.  Landing in the kitchen, thoughts immediately turn to dinner.  But dinner at 4:45 or 5pm? Yes....and the faster the better.

A staple of my weekend cookahtons is roasted meat, usually chicken or turkey, sometimes a slow-cooker pork.  We have a warm meal with veggies, then I cut up pieces for sandwiches or chicken salad for the my lunch over the week.  And there is always plenty to make a chili.  Onions, garlic, olive oil, chili powder, a few cans of tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, meat from the roasting project, and then random, on-hand veggies such as corn or spinach.

That huge pot of chili provides many easy, frugal and healthy meals in the week that follows.  Take tonight for example.  With one child battling another virus, the kids wanted buttered toast, fruit, yogurt and for our son, his current staple.....a bowl of Special Kay Protein cereal.  My meal was a heated bowl of chili with cheese sprinkled on top.  The perfect quick meal for a gray day here in Madison, one that offered up various stages of freezing, chunky rain.  Chili -- oh I am so glad I whipped up a pot last Sunday!

What is a staple frugal meal in your kitchen?  As the seasons change, so do our staple dishes.  While we are creatures of habit, we do enjoy trying something new sometime, so please leave a comment if you have a suggestion.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Frugal Shopper -- TMI On-Line?

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, lately you've seen post after post of the number of steps a Facebook Friend has taken.  And it is unlikely that the raw number is typed in, but rather a wrist selfie showing the number of steps in snazzy neon digital display.  And if you are like me, one wanting to do the right thing in the health department, you find yourself wondering do I get 10,000 steps a day?  And sooner or later you think maybe I should measure my steps?  Which leads to what is a fitbit, and do I need one?

My weekend errands took me to our neighborhood Target, and I decided to take a look at these Fitbits I'd been reading about, assuming they actually stocked them.  As I wandered into Electronics I inquired and was told "yes, we sell them, over there in Wearable Electronics".  Approaching the display my eyes landed on the price tags.  To the left was $59, aligning with the price I somehow had implanted in my mind (likely from a Facebook Ad).  And as my eyes moved right, the prices rose to over $200!  What on earth do these things do, all I want is to know how many steps I take each day.  I said it to myself, at first.

A helpful clerk informed me that this little bitty things are powerful -- they'll record my steps and tell me a calorie burn.  Advanced models will measure my sleep and some will even wake me up in additional to "going online" and coordinating with my Smart Phone.  I thanked her, but said, really -- I don't need all that, I just want a pedometer.  At which point I was lead out of Wearable Electronics to the Sportswear section.  Hanging on a hook was a simple pedometer, costing $10.46.  And yes, that is what I left the store with.

Why not a Fitbit?  I have a Smart Phone, it wakes me up and should it fail I have a backup system I call "children" and "cats" -- both have assured that I have not overslept in the past decade, if not longer.  A device to monitor my sleep?  Unless said device can ensure that none of the two children, three cats or night owl husband will wake me up once the lights are out......we'll I do not need feedback on the quality of my sleep. Thanks anyway.  And why on earth would I pay a hundred and fifty dollars to have my number of steps posted on-line?  Yes, there are motivational programs and peer pressure with friends, etc., but I do not need any of that.  I just want a count of my steps, and I can get that for $10.46.  So I did.

In about 5 to 7 years Fitbits will have come down to a price point close to what I paid Sunday. Moreover, the future version will have to link to a Smart Phone because it will not have a display like the old school pedometer I bought.  Who told me this?  The night owl husband of mine, who is also an electronics engineer.  Yes, keeping with our frugal trend.....never pay for the technology when it is new. Wait, let the powers that be work the bugs out, and buy an older model for far less.

I do not mean to rain on the parade of Fitbit users, I just prefer to go old school with electronics when I have a simple need.  Ultra frugality in this area allows me to buy higher quality in areas that mean more to me on a personal level....footwear, travel and healthcare -- areas where I'll pay more for superior quality.  Techie products?  The bells and whistles would be wasted on my luddite ways.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Zone Defense: Purging 2,015 items in 2015

It's a Sunday in mid-January, and our beloved Packers played a nail bitter of a game.  As many here in Wisconsin mourn the end of the football season, I am borrowing a term from the game to use here on the Frugal Upside.  Zone Defense -- a method of defense in which a member of the defense guards a specific area in the playing field.

Yes, that is perfect guidance as we attempt to purge 2,015 items from our home in the year 2015. Thank you to all who left on a comment on Facebook, here on the blog or spoke with me in person -- each one encouraging and supportive!  From one of those comments came the realization that to achieve this goal we cannot breeze through our day, plucking an item here and there and putting it into the donation pile.  No, we need to guard or target specific areas and then purge from that area. And I mean specific, taking each drawer, cabinet, closet at a time.  The defensive angle seems appropriate.  In today's world it is easy to buy a home that is empty, and slowly, day by day the clutter builds leaving the residents feeling buried alive.  On guard!

For an update on our efforts, I did shop today.  All items but one were consumable and thus exempt from the rule of buy one, purge one, with nothing towards our goal being added.  The purge is to decrease our overall items by 2,015.  The one item bought (read more about that purchase tomorrow) is being off-set by a Memorial Book placed in the donation pile that will not be logged on our 2015 Purge Spreadsheet.  To date we have donated or recycled 50 items towards are goal, from kids clothes that no longer fit to a long ignored plastic Netty Pot.  Tune in more next Friday for a progress update.  And tomorrow I'll take you through the frugal mindset of today's purchase.....a teaser - "Fitbit".

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Second Thought

Was it an email comment of post on Facebook?  I cannot recall, but the point made by a friend of mine, who is also the Executive Director of Wisconsin's Sierra Club settled into my mind.  Made about children's summer camp programming she said "they sell it as eco-friendly, but then the kids come home with otherwise recyclable items that are now hard to recycle if not impossible!"  Yes, I see it all the time.  Giving second life to an empty cereal box is nice, and provides an artistic medium for kids at no charge to the school or camp.  But when it comes home with paint, glitter and glue....and the weekly showing of art on the fridge expires, can I recycle it?  With the new year I also pledge to recycle more items directly, reserving donations to schools and camps to things that would otherwise be donated or tossed in the trash.  Recent items given to the Art Gods of Preschool include: holiday cookie tin (minus the cookies); spiral that held together an outdated and now recycled neighborhood directory; and candy that was insanely too sweet for the kids (apparently the teachers love it for their meetings).  Gone from the school donation bag are our cereal boxes and paper tube rolls;  the first is recycled, the second is added to winter compost.

Frugal living, it is good for your health, your wallet, and planet Earth.....but it is not autopilot, really think things through a few steps before declaring something frugal.  Thanks for reading, and tune in tomorrow for an update on our work on purging 2,015 items from our frugal home in 2015.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Great Purge of 2015 - Status Update

Friday, trash/recycle day for our part of Madison, Wisconsin.  As the trucks rumble in the distance I sit down to give you an update on my effort to make 2015 the Year of the Purge in our frugal home.

First, why the purge?  We moved into our home just over 4 years ago, and this past holiday season left us feeling buried under stuff.  It is hard to do anything when one feels buried.  On a more practical point, we need to be able to easily clean our home.  And to clean the surface, you first have to have it void of stuff.  Why the renewed push to have a clean home?  We were recently told our six year old has asthma, a likely offshoot of allergies.  Words I have heard myself since middle school. Maintenance drugs are neither fun for a kid, nor inexpensive (one inhaler costs $187, and he has two different inhalers).  A clean home is a highly effective way to minimize reliance on medications.

As we begin our walk through the year 2015 I could be general and say, let's get rid of stuff.  Sell it, donate it, recycle it, and trash it if we must.  But there is part of me that likes to measure progress, a likely reason why I earned a Masters in Public Administration a decade and a half ago.  Measurement creates accountability, so measure it must be.  I also like reach goals, aim high and do your best. Even if you miss your goal you still probably did quite well.

So, out of thin air I said it is the year 2015, let's get rid of 2,015 items this year.  That comes out to just 38.75 items a week, every week, all 52 off them.  Okay then, that might be easy in January, but what about December?  Like I said, it is a challenge, selected for no other reason than it popped into my head.  As Friday is trash day for us, I will aim to report my progress on Fridays.  Today I put 4 items into donation bags.  There are several other bags I did earlier this month, but have not yet counted.  Watch for an updated tally in the next day or two.

How will I handle shopping and presents?  Shopping is easy, consumables such as food, health products, cat litter, do not count.  But if I buy a new pair of boots or a new book, something needs to go and that something does NOT count towards the weekly 38.75.  Harsh?  Yes, but that is what makes a challenge worth the effort.  Presents.....I am still pondering what to do when someone gives us, well realistically gives the kids a gift.  Thoughts dear reader?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this purge project.  Leave comments if you can with suggestions, motivation, even a criticism if you like.....I enjoy hearing from readers.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

When Breakfast is Dinner: Adventures in Frugal Cooking

Thursday, that day in the week when our 6 and 4 year old are starting to show the fatigue of school. While they are at school I work on legal documents, then morph into Mama mode at 3pm for pick-up, dinner prep, bath and stories.  Solo parenting this week as my other half is consumed by an urgent work matter, we were showing the scrapes of a challenging week.  Dinner needed to be easy, so pancakes, fruit and sausage links it was.  The kids are always happy to see dinner foods on the table. Meltdown avoided, food consumed, none wasted, and another week nearly over.  As we head into a long weekend I am going to turn to an old trick, but one I have never really played out completely -- the idea of eating what we have on hand.  Turn that 3/4 bag of dried black beans into a soup, etc. Buy only fruits, veggies, milk products and the ingredients needed to turn the lone can of something into a meal.  Picky eaters, made all the more selective when tired from school, makes this a challenge.  My plan, give them breakfast if the creative cuisine does not appeal.  And a big thank you to a friend and neighbor for sharing this story on Facebook, giving me more frugal motivation and the weeks slows down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Last week it was sick kids, this week a sick computer.  My plan for Wednesday was to work the morning at the office and finish with a client meeting, then pop by our house for lunch and pick up my gym bag -- I'd work in a swim before gathering the kids from 4k and K.  But life, life had another plan.  Some sort of virus infected my computer, and when your work is in the legal field an infected computer shuts the entire practice down. 

My options:
1) Pay $200 for it to be cleaned and install new anti-virus software; or
2) Buy a new computer.

Many may think the frugal option is #1, but I disagree.  The infected computer was approaching two years of age, a senior citizen in the tech business.  The wireless card had recently failed, and a patch system allowed me to surf the web without cables.  What would go next?  Several letter keys were literally worn away from the amount of typing (both blogging and drafting legal papers). 

In the end I paid $450 for a new computer, same brand and model in fact, just faster and nicer.  Once I am certain everything is off of the old computer I will wipe it to factory default (okay, I won't do that, my electronic engineer husband will) and then sell it on Ebay for $100 or a bit more.

Time saved, new life given to an old machine, and an efficient and up-to-date model for my office.  That was the frugal path I took.  Other little tricks -- mail in-rebates offered by Toshiba; used my 1% back office credit card, and letting the manager of Office Depot know I was anything but thrilled that the unit was not ready (they did a data transfer from the old to new computer, ensuring to virus made the move) I was given a $20 gift card for the store.

You may have a plan for your day, but life will happen.  Never go with the first thought, stop and analyze first keeping in mind salvage/resale value, waste of your precious time, and store incentives to cut every cost you can.  Thanks for reading, and I'm happy to be back on-line....nearly 24 hours without my little lap top!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rest Easy

Weeks ago my husband tossed a hotel key card from his work travels in London on our desk, Rest easy.....says Double Tree by Hilton.  A motto for a hotel chain, and a motto fitting here on The Upside of Frugal.  Live frugal, rest easy.

2014 was a harsh year in our home.  January marked my mother's 70th birthday on the 2nd, and then about 2 weeks later she entered the hospital for what would be her final admission.  Over the course of a few weeks it became clear that a cure was not possible, we needed to focus on her comfort. There were good days, some promising, but slowly, day by day she moved toward a final exhale.  I was with her during that moment, a Sunday morning in mid-February.  Sipping a mug of tea, reading a book -- it seemed fitting since she was the one who fed my book cravings as a child.  And then she was gone, into a permanent state of calm.

Not quite so for me.  Relatives were irate that I followed my mother's wishes for a memorial service, their grief clouding that fact my job was to carry out her directions, not theirs.  Our son developed sleep problems, waking every night for months, coming to find me -- he now knew that moms can die, and he wanted to be sure his was still there.  There was the side matter of the contract dispute, one that went so far as to generate a deposition in the Spring and settled a few weeks later.  After her memorial service came the job of emptying out my childhood home, both parents were now gone. What to do with the home itself; fix it up, sell it as is, something in between?  Time marched on. Tornadoes touched down three blocks from her house, but no damage, a sigh of relief.  Time marched on and we listed it for sale.  A showing here, a showing there, too much work was the common refrain.  And just as the snow started to fall here in Madison, Wisconsin the house sold, closed, and for the most part the ordeal was over.

Reward yourself, treat yourself, buy something for yourself.  From my husband to my friends to anyone who knew a little about my 2014, they all encouraged me to spend a little.  In the end, I am my mother's daughter.  Growing up I heard my father say "she can go to the mall and actually come back with more money than she left with -- picks up  penny in the parking lot, and spends nothing." What did I do with the modest inheritance?  Some might describe it as nothing, but I did buy something -- resting easy at night.  Instead of a new camera lens, an expensive vacation or diamond earrings we opened a specific mutual fund.  And after my husband calculated the power of compound interest, running the numbers to the year I turn 90 (my mom's parents are still alive, in their mid-90s, and live independently -- I am counting on those genetics) that modest inheritance will turn into a very hefty sum. I have no intention of taking a cent out of that fund.

As a result, my plan for the foreseeable future is to work limited part-time hours in the summer. Why?  My kids are an age where we can garden, read books, swim at the lake, etc.  They are not old enough to have their own agenda to explore on school breaks, time with Mama is still coveted.  Earrings sparkle, camera lenses dazzle, vacations excite -- but none compare to the luxury of stress free time with my kids.  And that is the Upside of Frugal.

My parents, a key source in my frugal path in life. Miss you both!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Exhale.....Finding Calm in a Frugal Home

For many last week was a time to exhale and relax from the energized frenazy of end-of-year holidays.  Not so for our house.  We had hardly returned from a 9 day road trip to Tampa, Florida when illness settled in, followed by dangerously cold winds.  Schedules were shuffled, emergency sitters called in, doctors offices visited, client meetings reworked, and a very large stack of mail -- home and work, tangible and intangible, sorted.

But today! Today I exhaled.  Healthy kids were delivered to school.  Errands were completed, the gym was visited for a swim, and lunch was eaten at home, not on the run.  And just as many people are starting to cave on their new years resolution, I am making mine - to use less take-out in the year ahead.  Skip the coffee to go, pass on the drive-thru, and settle into my kitchen at home.  Regular readers know that 2014 was a very difficult year for us with the death of my mother.  Standards were relaxed and fewer of our meals came from home, not a lot, but more than my comfort level.  So today I enjoyed this lovely lunch, while reading a book someone passed to me at book club.  Ahhhhhh, the calm.

Enjoy your week, and I'm curious, do any of you have frugal new years resolutions?  If so, please share with a comment!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fun in the Sun....and Snow

Sunday, family day here in our frugal home.  A husband home from work, the other six days he is usually working on circuits and the like.  The AM was given over to our son, building a prized Lego set he bought with his own money.  My husband looked on, offering help here and there, but it was largely Rooster's project.  While they built, my daughter and I headed out for errands.  Two holiday returns and a stop at the local grocery to prepare for a week of breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

All four gathered around the table for a meal made from leftovers; Mac and Cheese for the kids, turkey, veggie and noodle soup for the parents, and fresh pumpkin bread for all.  Once the dishes were cleaned and a load of laundry started, we headed to our back yard.  Compost was added to the frozen heap, bird feed added to the feeder and our sled located.  Relishing the heat wave, I think it might have been close to 20 degrees, we decided to walk up to Garner Park and give the hill a whirl.

Sledding -- one fantastic and frugal way to spend time together as a family.  We live a block and a half away from a piece of winder wonderland, and look forward to many more Sunday afternoons spent speeding down a hill, giggles flying to the wind.  There were some tears and fit eruptions, signalling the time to return home.  But all in all, it was a glorious and low cost day.  How was yours?

 Tracks in the snow....view from the top of the hill.

Another of Madison's stunning public parks.  An ideal winter's day.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Frugal Lego Table

What a difference 24 hours can make!  Today I declared a snow/sick day and kept the kids home, allowing us all to get some extra rest and fight off the bugs ailing the kids.  While my husband dived into his world of electronics engineering, the kids and I enjoyed a day at home.  In the morning we focused on "academics" -- literacy, writing, math games, and writing out thank you notes for holiday gifts.  After a late lunch we bundled up and headed out into the snow where we dropped compost into the frozen pile and put out food for the birds. The middle of the day yielded a tremendous frugal score -- creating a Lego table for our son with items in the basement.

Following a standard engineers frugal desk method (a door over two filing cabinets), I placed a wood plank that had come with our home over two plastic storage shelves that were not needed but sitting in my home office.  In less than 30 minutes my son had an ideal station to build, play and store his Legos.  Bonus feature -- this is an adjustable set-up, allowing us to raise the height as he grows!

Here is an image from the work in progress, cat approved!

And an image from later in the evening after he had moved his Arctic Base Camp from our dinning room table to his room.  Note to self -- purchase used cookie sheets to facilitate future builds and moves -- sets are not always 100% stable.

Looking for a frugal way to add a desk, bench or other work space to your home or office?  I highly recommend this common and frugal method used by engineers (including my husband -- a door or plank over a filing cabinet or other storage method).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Epic Fail.....But Keeping At It!

Ask me to describe the last three days and I'd likely say "epic fail". With a new year, one following an especially trying year before, I had hoped to start off with my feet firmly planted, ready to get things done.  Life had other plans.  A daughter who spiked a fever on our return trip from Florida, which as landed her home sick from pre-school for the past three days.  Nothing throws a wrench into one's work day than a sick little one.  Being self-employed there is no sick day for me -- I either cancel meetings/work or hire a nanny.  A costly decision either way.  The first and second day I went with the nanny service -- a fee we pay on top of her monthly preschool tuition.  A bit overpriced, but I could overlook it if I didn't feel the guilt about leaving a sick one home.  So today when she was not able to attend school again I canceled meetings and took her with me to the office while I briefed my new office assistant.  Toss in an older child with a chronic cough that could no longer be ignored, and you have the recipe for a frazzled mom.  And frazzled does not firmly support frugal.  Dashing here, dashing there, swiping a credit card here, pushing work off to later in the month.  It has been quite a week and it is only Wednesday!  The forecast does not look all that calming either -- bitter cold wind chills may close the schools Thursday, but I likely won't know until 6:30am the day off, one hour before our son arrives at school.  A husband who may be summoned to China in a few weeks, but a client that is uncertain of if and or when or for how long.  And a son who has been referred to an allergy/asthma specialist -- a cost we pay for out-of-pocket since we have a high deductible plan. Striving for balance, having the time to be frugal, it is going to be an up hill battle for the next few weeks.  But that is my point -- sometimes frugal is easy and doable, and sometimes you just have to let up and go with the flow.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  I did have one major frugal score -- a pack of 18 holiday cards for $0.50!!!!  I would have bought more had there been more on the shelf. Holiday cards are the only seasonal item I buy at this time of year -- huge discounts, and relative ease in storage.

So that is all from our frugal home.  Stay well, stay warm if the polar vortex has descended to your neck of the woods, and thanks for reading.  Tomorrow is another day -- and I'll keep it frugal to the best of my abilities!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Credit Cards That Pay Me

Free Spending Money Stock Images - 1810214

January marks the month of the year when our credit card companies cut us a check!   Between his business card, my business card (both through Capital One), and our two personal credit cards (USAA and Quicken) the revenue line for our January budget will be a few hundred dollars higher.

Neither my husband nor I are big fans of using credit cards; as business owners we know the processing fees drive costs higher, but they do come in handy when cash is not an easy option.  And we know that with each swipe we'll receive between 1 and 5 percent back, depending on the place of use and type of purchase (i.e. Quicken gives us more back for fuel purchases).

Passive income, money that comes to you without work, is a great thing to work into your frugal life. No need to drive the car or bus to a location where you spend your precious time earning money. Look for an asset or tool that you own, which then pays you money.  Return on investments (stocks, mutual funds, CDs) are our preferred type of passive income, however, given our age range we opt to have any earnings reinvested in the asset.  Compound interest is a very powerful thing.

So, if you are seeking frugal ways of living, look into credit cards that pay you.  We prefer cash back, not points to redeem -- too many restrictions and hoops to jump through for our household.  A check from them, to us, and then right into our checking account!  Just make sure the credit card is: 1) paid off monthly; and 2) has no annual fee or other hidden fees.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Road Trip Hindsight

Loyal readers will remember, it was the flight itinerary of Milwaukee to Fort Worth to Miami to Tampa, for $900/person for the week we wanted to spend with my in-laws, that pushed us into deciding to drive, not fly.  Not driven by the Badgers Bowl Game appearance, but rather the fact our two businesses were quite and essentially non-function -- the perfect time to travel.  But with a cost of $900/person (there are four of us) and 13 hours and 57 minutes of travel time, we opted to drive.

All in all, it was a wise choice.  We rented a SUV with unlimited miles for $600 -- less than one airline ticket.  Driving gave us flexibility about when to leave and return, a huge perk when you travel party is half made up for little people who think nothing of licking a door handle at a public place (oh yes, Rooster did on the DC Subway, Smidge the handle of a nursing home).  Another bonus, we'd see and interact with the fly-over states.  There is more to the US than airports with the same chain of coffee and bagel shops -- there are places like Huddle House in Puducah, Kentucky that are smoking or non -- we opted for non. And of course there was the allure of extra space, more space than our efficient Honda Civic.

On the way down we tossed prudence and sleep out the window, driving the 19 hours straight, skipping the fee for a hotel.  The kids were asleep in the back and the idea of waking them, unloading the car, and lugging them all into a room was daunting.  We skipped it, got some hot coffee, and took turns snoozing in the passenger seat.

Space -- we filled it with food, a cooler, clothing for warm, cool, and cold weather.  Blankets, books and lovies from the kids' rooms.  It was comfy, didn't use that much more gas than our family cars (about 27 mpg on the interestate), and offers four wheel drive if the weather turns nasty.

The down side -- the space.  When opting not to fly we gave my in-laws the green light to indulge in holiday shopping.  Far more than anything our kids had seen before.  This was the first time the kids were seated under my in-laws tree, and the presents were taller than our 6 year old.  You have room in that SUV, right?  Happy faces between the generations, and a mother with a knack for packing, we made it work.  But my 2015 goal to tackle the clutter in our home, well that mountain just increased a wee bit.

Will we do it again?  Possibly.  Or I may start scoping tickets for the week we want to travel well in advance.  Time with tell, but the trip was an educational one for all of us.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Balance Sheets and the Holidays

Earlier tonight: Hey, who was the guy who balanced his books on Christmas Eve?  Me, asking my partner in frugal living, seeking the name of the Dicken's character perched on the tip of my tongue.  

Me!  We both laughed at my husband's response, and then it came to me, Scrooge.

Our Christmas Eve contained many of the common elements of the holiday.  We attended a church service (First Unitarian Society of Madison), enjoyed appetizers and cookies with my husband's extended family who live in the area, and then shared a Chinese restaurant meal with friends from childhood who have become like family.  After all that we went home, tucked the kids into bed, and while I arranged gifts under the tree my husband enjoyed a scotch and balanced Quicken.  Yes, you read that correctly, he balance the accounts.

In his defense, he works long and intense hours, and was home that night earlier than normal.  He also balances Quicken faster and more accurately than I could ever imagine.  And lastly, he does not just mindlessly click that a check or charge has cleared, he asks does this make sense?  Usually it is related to a credit charge, making sure our number has not been compromised yet again (three times in one year).  This time he noticed that our HSA account is loosing approximately $400 a year due to inflation.  So, he emailed the bank (yes, on Christmas Eve) inquiring about options for us to invest part of the HSA account in a bond fund or other vehicle to keep pace with inflation.

Lesson from our life -- holidays may come and go, but our frugal ways stay in place 365 days a year.  It is one thing to find post-holiday mark-downs, it is another to have your hands firmly in place on your financial plan, thinking long-term and about the big picture.  The upside?  While on a long road trip home after a holiday trip, you can pull off a mountain road, walk into an adorable Inn and take the suite without worrying about your budget (American Eagle Inn, Mounteagle, TN -- quaint and lovely for $125/night).  We spent a fraction of what we could have on this trip because we made one frugal choice after another.  More on that later.  I'm off to savor the fire, and think of my mom -- she would have turned 71 today.  Time -- our most precious of resources, use it wisely.