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?