Friday, February 27, 2015

Crossing the 400 Mark!

It's Friday again, time for our weekly check in on the efforts to purge 2,015 items from our home. Thanks to a new technique, the grand total of items gone is 409!  An increase of more than 100 items in a week.  What is that new technique?  Pile stuff in boxes, call Travis at Wise Owl Auctions, and greet him with a smile when he shows up to cart it all off.  This week it will be sorted, photographed, and put up for auction on-line.  He'll handle questions, packing, pick-up, and take a cut of the proceeds.  We'll receive a share of the sales price, and it is far easier than selling this and that on Ebay.  No search for a box, no trek to the post office. We'll reserve Ebay for higher priced items.  For now, batches of smaller miscellaneous items will be handed off to Travis and his team!  The flip side of donating items was to recycle stacks and stacks of personal papers.  Most were items I had inherited from my parents' home.  Far to numerous to keep, I enjoyed a final look and put them in the recycle bin.  Old cards, obituaries of their friends, report cards from the 1950s and 60s.  Slowly the piles are being reduced in size.  Some I will mail to relatives, a few that are special to me will be framed and enjoyed, the rest my husband added to the recycle bin for this week's collection.

How go your efforts to be more frugal in 2015?  I'd love to hear about your stories.  Post a comment, share and inspire!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Living Frugal Thanks to Amazon Prime

Image result for image amazon music

Yes, yet another post on the upside of Amazon Prime.  Many of you may know that with $99/year Amazon Prime delivers "Prime" items in 2-days (Sundays included) to your doorstep with NO shipping cost.  Then there is Prime Streaming -- from movies to TV series, the offerings are plenty. And then this week Amazon sent me an email announcing Prime Music.  Yes, that is correct.  With my Prime membership comes access to 1 million songs.  I have a playlist going at the moment as I write, taking a break from legal work this afternoon.  And there is an app to install on my phone. Timing could not be better. In our efforts to purge 2,015 items in 2015 my pile of CDs and DVDs needs to shrink or disappear all together.  Amazon Prime makes that much easier.  Why store all that media when Amazon will do it for me!

How about you?  Are you frugal?  Do you use Amazon Prime on your frugal journey?  If not, why not?  I'd love to hear some feedback!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Guess What I'm Thinking?

Who introduced or exactly when escapes me at the moment, but this question starts each round of this fun verbal game ideal for anyone exploring simplicity parenting.  No batteries, no wrapping, well suited for long car rides, waiting for a meal to be put on the table (home or out) or in the doctor's office.  It easily matures with your children, evolving along with their vocabulary.

Guess what I'm thinking?

Person, place or thing?


Real or fake?


Is it tangible?


Is it portable?

And it goes on from there.  We do not limit ourselves to just 20 questions, but let it go on until it is either guessed or the guessing parties give up.  Everything from President Obama to volcanoes to subdermal medicine patches (what our 6 year old was thinking off one night) -- we laugh, flex our brains, and bond.  No cost, just an investment of time and love.  Give it a try with your little ones, ify you have them in your life.  If not, try it with any loved ones.  Unplug and connect!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Closing in on 300 Purged Items!

It's Friday, which means it is check in time here at Frugal Upside. Loyal readers know that my frugal family is working to purge 2,015 items from our home in 2015.  The goals: decrease clutter, raise a little cash, and minimize the number of things that need attention (i.e. cleaning, etc.).  Since the first of the year we have now tossed 298 items overboard.  Most have been donated or sold via Craigslist or Ebay, earning us just shy of $325 (the bulk of which came from selling a laptop computer on Ebay).

In order to keep on track we need to find a new home for an additional 38 items in the final week of February.  I think we'll make that goal thanks to a new strategy I am putting in place this coming Monday.  Tune in next Friday for an update, and more on yet another way to lessen our load here in a frugal home.

Photo: Our son this past Christmas at his grandparents in Florida.  The tower of presents started on the floor and was at or over his head.  Yes, the time to purge was upon us!  We are nearly buried under "stuff".

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Frugal Food Ways!

Food -- the amount we spend is equal to our mortgage. Paying attention to frugal food ways needs to be larger area of focus in our lives given that dollar amount!  Loyal readers will remember a recent post about my attempts to save freezer peaches, and I gave frozen peach yogurt a whirl.  The results? Both kids turned their noses up at the final product, and I was not overly thrilled either.  It was better before it was frozen.

Earlier this week I pulled out a piece of paper, not for listing items to get at the store, but rather to construct a meal schedule based on what we have on hand.  To my surprise, it went for two weeks!  Until I peeked into the chest freezer in the garage I had forgot about the ground turkey -- turkey burgers are one of the many items listed.  Others range from Walley (again, the freezer) to eggs with veggies to soup.  The effort to purge 2,015 items from the house also motivates me to use up what we have here, make a meal from it, and buy only the essentials.  My grocery bill is about 2/3s its normal expense.

How to you maximize use of food in your kitchen?  What are your frugal food ways?  Leave a comment, share and inspire.  And thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time to Admit, It Does Not Fit

Colorful Plastic Pegs Stock Photo

We all have them.  Well worn clothing we just cannot let go of. Our kids may still sport their favorite pants from last year, even though at least one growth spurt has occurred since  the clothing received the label of "favorite".  It is time to admit, it does not fit.

Maybe it is faded from years of wear.

Maybe it fit a child 2 summers ago, but today a stomach protrudes.

Maybe it has held up over the years, unchanging in shape, but you likely have changed shape.

Each new day brings a new batch of laundry.  There is the pile that goes into the washer.  The pile that leaves the washer for the drying rack or dryer.  And there is the pile waiting to return to the close of its owner.  During this last phase I have begun to pause and ask -- does it still fit?  This mainly holds true for the kids' clothing.  Favorites are worn again and again, but in a year to purge 2,015 items from our home, and closets bursting with free or near free clothing, we need to be selective. Here and there the stock pile of clothing dwindles.  Setting it aside for donation to either a family with younger children we know, or off to a nonprofit for resale.

Last week I said good-bye to over a dozen pieces of clothing, most of which as been with me for awhile.  And by that I mean pre-marriage.  Yes, it may have been a favorite of mine or the very sweater I wore the night I met my to-be husband.   But, times change, people change, styles change, and well, bodies change.  Out they go!  Next up, my husband's side of the closet.  His t-shirt pile alone contains relics of Turkey Trot Races from his college days in Florida.

In your efforts to purge items from your life, pause during the mindless laundry sessions and ask yourself - is this still a good fit?  Some may wonder why care?  The answer - simplicity.  The more we have, the more we are responsible for.  Items need a home, and space is not free.  What is the price per square foot of your living space?  Imagine if you cut your space in half?  Then there is the little issue of maintenance.  Items must be cleaned.  Your space must be cleaned.  The more there is, the more complication there is. And that is why we are on quest to rid our home of 2,015 items this year.  Three more textiles joined the donation pile this afternoon after I was done folding laundry.  Item by item we are working towards that goal, easing the burden of "stuff" in our lives.  In the end we'll be surrounded by that we truly love and use, the rest will have relocated.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Run The Numbers...

Hatchetman Green Run Sign

At Target last week I had a stack of soon to expire coupons, the ones the check out machine spits out based on your shopping habits.  Of the many things Target knows about me due to my use of their Red Card is that I am an allergy sufferer.  And that I prefer the Target brand of Claritin.  And there it was, $1.50 off a box of their brand.

Stopping in the allergy aisle I scanned the boxes.  One would think buying 90 pills at a time would be more cost effective than buying 30, but it wasn't.  Oddly, the smaller package was a few cents less per pill than the 90 count box.  Puzzled, I used my Smart Phone to confirm.  Yes, the 30 count box was a better deal.  Into the cart it went, and I handed over the $1.50 off coupon at check out.

In the frugal life one must question the price per unit or use.  The focus is not on the cheapest, but rather the quality or overall buy.  In this case the cheapest box, the 30 count, was the frugal buy. Never turn your brain off when shopping, at least don't if you want to be frugal.  Assumptions that the larger box is a better buy can trip you up on the frugal path.  Now I know these are mere pennies we are talking about, but applied daily, over years, this practice can allow one can rack up significant efficient buys, and amass a nice little rainy day fund.

Thanks for reading, and have a great frugal week!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Kid's Birthday Gift

Along with the merry-go-round of viruses that comes with raising little kids, you also receive an endless source of invitations to classmates' birthday parties.  We receive at least three per month.  We welcome the chance to get to know other children and their families outside the school grounds, and to see all the variations of party locations Madison has to offer.  My standard go-to gift has been to pick out an age appropriate puzzle at Playthings, a locally owned toy store next to my office.  I can walk there, select a quality gift, pay about $12, and they'll wrap it for free.  Included in the card, usually home made, is a gift receipt.  This worked fine until a recent invite arrived

Via email, no wasted of paper, came the invitation to help family friends celebrate their daughter's 3rd birthday.  Included was the language "please do not feel like you need to bring a gift, if you do, used doll clothing would be nice, but Plastic".  I smiled, knowing the mother of the family well.  Holding a PhD in a scientific area and running the statewide office of a national environmental group -- she rages against the explosion of harmful materials so common in the upbringing of children these days.  I  applauded her suggestions.  And loved the challenge she'd given.  My go-to new puzzle wouldn't work, what to do?

Time is the most precious resource in our home, and scouring second hand stores for doll clothes was not something I could easily work into my schedule.  What to do?  Then, upon pulling into the garage one day, I noticed two small terra cotta pots sitting on the shelf.  Left over from a failed project with my kids, they needed a new home!  Inspiration hit, and I pulled together this "think of Spring" birthday package for the three year old.  Nothing, not even the bag were purchased.  Now, some parents of young children may be offended that we did not pay enough respect and spend money on a gift. But not my friend. She'll be thrilled we did not trample Mother Earth for her daughter's birthday.  
Gift complete, and I am adding 3 points towards our 2,015 purge of 2015.  These were all items that were simply sitting around waiting for a new home and or use.  Looking ahead, I hope to use this level of creativity for another gift.  And it will be soon - our next kid birthday party is next Saturday!

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Purge of 2015: Low-Hanging Fruit

It's Friday, time to check-in on our frugal families effort to purge 2,015 items from our house in 2015. Simply put, we are still in the low-hanging fruit stage of this project.  Stuff is everywhere around us, and the question is really "where to start" rather than "what needs to go?"  Yet, we have entered a new phase of this project -- the Ebay phase!

Ah Ebay, the web site played a prominent part in my husband and I's dating history.  He was a whiz at selling items, I had a mountain of school loans I was chipping away at, and my mother finally agreed that I could sell all the Barbie stuff she had stored in a closet.  Each Sunday we would take photos, use the free wi-fi at Panera, and write catching little descriptions.  Those precious items from the 1970s and 1980s found new homes, some as far away as Canada, and I made more progress on becoming debt free.  And true love bloomed into a marriage of two very frugal people.

And here we are again, using Ebay to unload items that we do not want or need, yet others might value.  From various electronic do-dads my husband acquired to items I inherited from my parents that have absolutely no emotional connection -- it is all going!  Curious about what we are selling, my Ebay ID is uwalumna9501 -- take a look.  The first round of auctions ends this Sunday, and more are going up whenever I have a few minutes to list items.

So, where are we in the effort to purge those 2,015 items?  As of today 242 items have left our home via sale, donation, recycle, or tossed into the garbage.  Actually, this week nothing was actually tossed.  Nothing is too small.  Pictured above is a bag of plastic fruit I posted on Craigslist.  We still have enough at home for our littlest one to play with, but now this bag has gone to another home and I added $3 to our sale total.  If you are tracking our weekly progress, we purged 54 items in one-week.

Thanks for all the encouraging words.  we still have a ton of items to purge, but we are taking it bit by bit -- the manageable and sustainable approach.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Frugal Use of Frozen Peaches

Flash frozen fruits and veggies are said to have more nutrients then fresh options at the grocery if those fresh items are out of season.  Why?  If they are out of season, they have logged a lot of miles to make it to your neck of the woods, and along the way nutritional value drops.  So, look to flash frozen products, frozen immediately, locking in the nutrient value.

Frozen peaches!  I tossed them in my cart, stored them in the freezer and recently pulled them out to thaw.  Yet, upon opening the bag my heart sank.  Limp and brown, there was no chance my picky 6 and 4 year old would ever try them.  How do save the peaches, and get the kids to eat them?

To Google I turned, where a search led me to peach frozen yogurt.  Happily I had all the ingredients on hand.  I tossed them into my immersion blender and now have a container of frozen yogurt for the kids.  Even better, our 4 year old just recently asked about trying frozen yogurt.  Fingers are crossed that it will be a hit.

Working off of the recipe, this is what I threw together:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla whole milk yogurt
  • 3 tbsp agave
  • fresh lemon juice
  • package of peaches
About a minute of blending, and it was done.  We'll see what the kiddos think when I offer this up as dessert.  I sampled a bit, and loved it.  So if it is a fail for them, it will work for me.  And as I fight another head cold, the cool treat will be welcome relief on my throat.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Want A Deal? Try Asking

Loyal readers and those who know me in the real world know that this past winter as been a merry-go-round of viruses here in our frugal home.  Inevitable with a 6 and 4 year old in the family, and my work  - which brings me into constant contact with the public. Germs and preschool artwork, our home overflows with both!

Not fully realizing the extent of a Wisconsin Winter with School Aged kiddos, I kept the little ones signed up for their weekly swim lessons. Monday is early release day for the elementary school, which is the perfect time for our little ones to flex their muscles at Madison Swim Academy.  But then the illnesses started.  If one were sick, both missed because I was the only parent home.  Madison Swim Academy graciously schedules make-up lessons -- I routinely opted for the following Sunday.  And Mother Nature routinely delivered bad weather or yet another round of viruses!

We've missed nearly a full month of lessons, which comes to a value of $175.  Figuring it couldn't hurt, I inquired with the manager about some free passes for family swim.  And sure enough, she handed over 4, a value of $60.  Tucked into my wallet, we'll use them on a weekend when we are healthy, are spending time together, and seeking refuge from Wisconsin's winter.  

Lesson learned?  Don't just accept a loss, ask for some form of compensation.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  I was!

Tune in Friday for an update on our 2015 purge of 2,015 items from our house.  The Ebay auctions have started, and friends have already voiced their delight in taking items off of our hands.  Its a win win!  More Friday.....

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Saying Good-bye to the Gym Membership

After 15 years or more, I am not renewing my membership with Supreme Health and Fitness.  One day I will likely return, but for now the $740 annual membership (a discounted price for paying by check in one payment) is just not worth it.  Between work commitments, the winter merry-go-round of viruses, and an upcoming summer of very little child care/camp (read more about that later) -- I had to admit that I was not likely going to get to the gym much.  So, instead of paying to renew we are going to focus on more active lifestyles.  This is a work in progress, so comments are welcome. Immediate plans include:

  • lap swim at Madison Swim Academy, cost is $5/time because we are members (kids take lessons there now);
  • returning my husband to his bike commute -- much more feasible once our youngest stops 4k preschool in June bringing an end to his morning drop off.  Going forward school will be a walk up the road;
  • purchasing a solid backpack to tote my computer, etc. to the mile or so walk to my office. Again, a task made easier once the daily commute to preschool ends in June -- I do the pick-up via car;
  • seek out low-cost yoga classes;
  • use yoga DVDs at home; and
  • work up a sweat with my kids -- as we did Saturday, out playing in the snow.

Building a snowman was lots of fun.  Playing snow football, where my son chases me in deep snow was much more of a work out.  Great for my cardiovascular system, performed in the beauty of the outdoors, free, and a hell of a lot more fun than a treadmill in a gym.  I must give Supreme Health and Fitness a huge thanks for graciously ending the contract (we had planned to be members through 2016), and their willingness to explore some sort of punch card system for me to use the pool next fall.  Need a gym and live in Madison?  Check out Supreme, ask for Howie, Joe or Tim.  For now, I'm looking for frugal fitness tips when time is limited, snow is on the ground, and I aim to maximize my non-work time with my 6 and 4 year old children.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

Clearing A Path to Less: The Purge of 2015

Those following along know our frugal home is working to purge 2,015 items from our house in the year 2015.  This week we brought the total to 188, a gain of 54.  Disclosure -- exempt are the inflow of gifts from relatives, school, and party favors.  These are beyond my control.  Now if I buy a new pair of shoes, another must go, with the departure NOT counting towards the 2,015.  But when someone else just sends us stuff, that shouldn't count.  And to even it out a bit, any things discarded from those gifts does not count towards the 2,015 goal either.

Most of the gain this week resulted from a massive clothing donation to Goodwill.  We did sell one book via Amazon, allow us to clear out an item and add $2+ to our checking account.  Not a huge event, but moving in the right direction.

The week ahead, if things go as planned (did you just laugh out loud) allows me large gaps of time to tackle some of the low hanging fruit of items to purge.  Check in next Friday for another progress update.

Thanks for reading, and my your own road to a de-cluttering 2015 go well.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Frugal Soups

Yesterday at the office my assistant and I got into a discussion about soups.  A recent undergrad graduate, she is working part-time in my office before launching into her next phase of life.  Our conversations cover a large territory, and often have me feeling like the mom I am.

"Canned soup -- it puzzles me how it can just sit on a shelf like that.....I mean it has chicken in it!  I just have to make my own, and am trying to figure that out!"  A comment she offered in her tale of giving up eating out for Lent (she observes for the challenge of it, not for religious reasons).

Immediately I rattled off three of my go-to soups here at home.  Quick, simple, healthy, and easy on the planet as well as your wallet.  Here they are:

Split Pea Soup

  • saute diced onion and garlic in olive oil
  • add bag of dried yellow split peas
  • add container of broth (chicken or vegetarian)
  • add 2cups water
  • toss in a bay leaf
  • bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour
Black Bean Soup
  • 1 large can black beans
  • 1 jar salsa
  • 1 container chicken broth
  • toss any any cut up veggies such as onion or peppers as well as chunks of chicken, pork or turkey
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes
  • Check out a prior post for the details -- does require a slow cooker and immersion blender.  Easiest of the three, and so tasty!
Those are my top three go-to soups, what are yours?  Please leave a comment and share, I am always looking for new recipes!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Snow Bunnies: Adventures in Winter Simplicity Parenting

Mother nature brought Madison more snow this afternoon -- the forecast predicted another 2 to 3 inches.  Taking advantage of being my own boss and the fact I had no client meetings for the afternoon, I left work early to start the weekday ritual of school pickup.  My goal -- get the kids and get home before the roads became an utter mess.  First to the preschool on the edge of my alma mater, UW Madison.  Then to the elementary school up the road from our house.  It was slow going, but made without incident.  Once home it was time to burn off some of the kid energy -- early pick up meant they both missed afternoon outside time.

Off to the back yard we went.

The picnic table became an Olympic diving board, or at least in their minds it was.  No diving, just jumping! Nice jump Smidge!

The classic snow angel!

Dumping the compost, leaving behind a feast for any critter that finds it!

Hide and seek among the winter landscape.

And that my dear reader is how a frugal Mama entertains her kids after school on a snowy afternoon in the Midwest. It is possible to survive -- no, no, actually enjoy life with no, cable TV, no video games -- just fresh air and the glory of our own backyard.  Simplicity parenting win for the day.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Frugal Even in the Snow....

My purchase price was $10, not $1,000.

I require no gasoline or oil to operate.

Rarely do I break.

There is no maintenance or repair of my body.

My  use facilitates neighborly chats and conversations.

When not in use, I hang quietly on a hook high up in the garage rather than lurk on the precious floor space below.

Should my owners' gym be closed "due to the weather", no worries.  I guarantee both a cardiovascular work out as well as strength training.

My use draws little ones away from the flicker of a video screen, out into the fresh air -- 20 mile an hour winds or more.

Families come together outdoors and memories are made.

I am the frugal snow removal device.  I am the snow shovel. Hear my scrape!!!!

****Note: while removing the snow together as a family, my husband and I loosely chatted about the cost of a snow blower.  What do they cost new -- $1,000?  How much would that earn over 25 years if invested in the market instead?  Let's keep on with the shovels and keep socking away funds.  When we are too old and infirm to shovel, our nest egg will generate more than enough to hire young ones in the area to shovel or hire a company.  We finished round one, then headed inside for lunch. We'll all go out again at 4pm for another round, and likely late tonight or very early tomorrow.  The snow started Saturday night at 7pm, and as of Sunday at 3:15 the snow continued to fall.  How much will we get?