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!