Friday, October 13, 2017

Perfect. It Isn't Fun. And It's Expensive

Smile, it's picture day!  Yes, Friday the 13th was school picture day for our 2nd and 3rd grade children.  Last week I thought I had perfected a parenting task -- the School Photo Hair Cut.  No, I did not pick up a pair of sheers.  I did a 180 and booked the kids appoint with my stylist at a nice salon.  She is a junior stylist, so the price is quite favorable plus you get the perks of an Aveda salon -- neck massage, fancy scalp oil, free coffee. It is quite divine.

We had an appointment, no waiting like we normally do at the classic barber shop we've used in the past.  My son got a cut while I sipped my free cup of herbal tea.  Then my daughter hopped in the chair for an extensive brushing session -- oh the tangles!  She only needed a bang trim in the end.  Then we were off to pay.  I wasn't charged for the bang trim, and even with a generous tip, the bill was $30.  That was $20 below my budgeted amount, planned earlier in the month when I thought we'd go to the regular barber shop, where both kid cuts and a tip comes to $50.

It all seemed to come together, but a few days later it was clear my son's cut just wasn't quite right.  Too long on top, not enough cut around the ears.  My hyper-Type personality thought about dashing them off to the regular barber before picture day.  The only chance would be this past Wednesday.  But my son, keeping with our frugal ways said "nah, it will cost more money and I'd rather just play after doing my homework."  Wise beyond his years!

A passage from a long-ago read parenting book immediately came to mind, "perfect is not fun".  And I'd add, perfect is expensive.  We let the hair go as is.  We didn't pay more for another cut.  We didn't rush about after school and then cram in the nightly homework.  Instead we got our work done and went into the back yard where I tossed a ball with my son while my daughter made musical instruments with containers, water and a stick. 

Today was picture day.  Was his hair perfect?  Probably not.  Does it matter?  Not at all.  We had fun, and we came in under budget.  When walking the frugal path remind yourself of my new mantra, perfect isn't fun, and it's expensive.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Frugal Halloween

October has arrived.  Leaves are turning color and falling.  Flowers have dried and turned brittle.  Pumpkins are all that remain in our little garden.  And the question of "what to be for Halloween?" dominates kid conversations.

October also marks the arrival for Q4, otherwise known as the Fourth Quarter of the year.  Our family has set some aggressive savings goal for this quarter.  To meet them we'll need to work some more (we both own businesses, so that is easier to generate than if we were employees), sell some unneeded items, and cut expenses.  Here are a few ways we'll be cutting expenses in the area of Halloween:


  1. Creative Costumes -- we have close to two dozen costume props from various holidays, gifts and toys.  From those the kids had the idea to create an outfit.  Our son is considering going as the #1 Seattle Seahawks fan using all the clothing and fan gear he has.  There will be no purchases this year; 
  2. Halloween is for Kids -- there will be no "family costume" for this frugal family.  We are "older" parents compared to our peers at the school.  We are doing this 80s style.  The kids dress up, the parents do not.  I shutter at the cost that goes into family costumes -- and time to create is a cost just the same as cash; and
  3. Bowl of Trinkets -- in the 7 years we've lived in our house we have had 1 or 2 trick-or-treaters.  Kids, with the exception of ours, do no live on our street.  We do not get traffic for the holiday, so I refuse to buy a bunch of candy or things to hand out.  I do want to have some on hand, just in case.  Over the year I've saved the tattoos, pencils, book marks, and unopened candy from all those birthday party treat bags and school give-aways. 
Those are three frugal approaches to Halloween in our home.  What are your ideas?  Please share and inspire, and thanks for reading. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Harvest

What may be the most neglected garden in America today, it continues to produce a harvest.  Last Spring I put up some fencing on the south side of our house, expanding what had been a perennial bed into a vegetable garden.  We hauled some stepping stones out of a remote part of the yard, having been buried under weeds when we bought the house in late 2010, and voila, we had a path to navigate.  With shovel in hand I turned the grass over to soil, tossed in some plants from Jung Garden shop, put down a layer of newspaper topped with straw.  Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and pumpkins went into the ground.  Pepper plants were relegated to pots -- I had bought more than I had space for.

The calendar pages turned, summer arrived, and I worked the busiest summer at my legal practice that I ever have since launching a solo practice in 2005.  Mother Nature had my back; gentle and frequent rains combined with cool temperatures kept the soil moist during my neglect.  And the plants put forth a harvest.   August arrived.  We left the country to visit Iceland and the same time an exterior house painting trampled all over the garden.

September has brought the heat we normally have in July.  I've watered a few times, but have really ignored the garden.  And still it produces.  Earlier this week I broiled tomatoes with sweet peppers and onion, sprinkled with salt.  Into the food processor, add some lime juice, and you have a very mild salsa.  Perfect to top a burger or plate of slow cooked pork.

2017, the year I ignored our garden and ended up with a continual harvest.  My interest in gardening has been sparked.  What might happen if I actually gave it some attention?







Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dropping the Ball and Skipping "Enrichment" Activities

What is the saying, make a plan and then life happens?  I had a plan.  Once our son's NFL  Flag Football ended in mid-October I would sign both kids up for Sunday swim lessons at our gym.  And that would end just before the winter ice skating lessons for our daughter AND basketball league for our son.  Did I mention that the kids are only 9 and 7?

Then life happened.  The swim instructor email went out saying lessons would be on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  Wait, what?  My hyper-active Type A planning mind froze-up.  I work late on Tuesdays and Thursday, the kids go to after school. We CANNOT due swim those nights.  This past summer the kids had swim on Tuesdays, after a full-day of summer camp, and on more than one occasion our oldest was in tears in the pool because he was being pushed so hard.  For 24 hours I asked around for recommendations.  My plan was to have them swim on Sundays.  And then the storm clouds cleared and my mind settled.

My kids are 9 and 7.  We are entering cold and flu season.  What are the chances they'll both be healthy enough to swim on Sundays in late-October to December.  What will the weather conditions be like for driving?  I may have been born with a Swedish last name (Gustafson), but I really dislike driving in snow (we live in Madison, Wisconsin -- we get snow, and ice).  And then I realized I could simply take them swimming with me at the gym.  Friday night and Saturday as well as Sunday there is "family swim", and other times we could just share a lane.  They know HOW to swim, for now we just need to keep swimming.  Lessons aren't essential.

Gone was the stress of scheduling, opening up time for the kids and I to share a way I love to stay active - swim just to swim.  I have no dreams that a swim scholarship will put them through college. Our frugal ways and devotion to funding their 529 college savings plans will pay for school.  They are not yet double-digit age and have a hefty amount tucked away for higher education.  My undergraduate and law degree are from public universities, so I don't buy into the "you have to do x, y, and z to get into the ivy league sales mania."

So I dropped the ball and found: piece of mind, more relaxed schedules, no stress of missed lessons due to illness, and more money in my budget.  Today the Washington Post ran an article on teens delayed development.  Oddly there is little to no discussion of the modern trend to "enrich" our children's lives with near constant organized activity.  Kids these days have little to no time to just play in the back yard or splash in the pool.  I'm bucking the trend with our kids and backing off of the enrichment activities more than I have in the past.  Where are you on your frugal path?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Icelandic Inspiration: Leading a Frugal Life

The upside of a frugal life is that one has funds to travel if one makes travel a priority.  And in our frugal home, travel is a top priority behind a cozy home and quality education. Five years ago the city of Reykjavik, Iceland hosted 300,000 tourists a year, in 2017 they expect 1.7 million. Recently we spent a week in the island nation of Iceland, and I left more inspired than ever to lead a frugal life given the domination of climate change in the news cycle.






While I could not read the actual story as it was in Icelandic, the headline was clear.  Even in this remote gas station in rural Iceland, Harvey caused the world to take note.  As I write this post Irma is headed to Florida, where we have extended family.  Fires out west, earth quakes, more hurricanes; denying climate change is not the path to follow!  I spend a great deal of time thinking about my children's school experience and the return on their college savings accounts.  And more than ever I think about the state of the planet will are handing to them.

Join me on my path to re-affirm a frugal life.  One that is not only easy on our planet, but good for our wallets and health.  Have you taken any new steps to off-set climate change?  I am not waiting for our elected officials to take action; I firmly believe public policy lags social norms.  Since my return from Iceland I have increased my efforts to leave my trusty Honda Civic parked in the garage, and get about without a car.  Forbes reports that parents with kids increase their carbon footprint by 6% because they "need" to use a car.  I can attest to the fact Little Americans can walk more than one might expect.  We experienced this first hand in March 2016 while traveling in Southern Sweden, going 2 weeks without a car.  And this past August in Iceland.  Granted, Northern Europe is more walker (and biker) friendly.   But I'm up for a challenge, I think I need to be given the historic storms brewing in the Atlantic.


Share your thoughts and ideas here, let's inspire and motivate one another.  Public policy will eventually catch up with us.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Celebrating #9 Frugally

Recently our oldest turned 9.  Contemporary birthdays are beyond over the top, something our frugal family simply cannot embrace.  Parties often strain a family's budget, tax the children (too much sugar, too much noise, too much consumption, etc.), and trash Mother Earth. We wonder, what are we teaching our children?

Every year we tweak our approach to the kids' birthdays.  As infants and toddlers it was nothing more than a day with mom and dad (we both own our own businesses), an outing to a favorite place (the beach, museum in Milwaukee, Day trip to Chicago) and a home cooked meal with their favorite foods.

With preschool came the pressure to "throw a party".  A few times we rented a venue, invited 20+ kids, and let chaos unfold for 2 hours.  For dual career parents flying without any grandparent assistance, this was doable.  It took very little of our time, but felt over indulgent.

This year we went with a home party and a smaller number of kids for each party.  My husband was delighted to see the furnished basement we've been paying for since buying this house in November 2010 finally being put to use (the kids have been too scared to play down there until recently).  We also gave the kids a budget of $500 to cover: gifts, party, and supplies.  Any remainder would be cash for them to save, spend, and or donate.  Why the budget?  It's a hidden gift, giving our kids the power to spend, and learn from overspending.  We rather they make money mistakes at 9 rather than 19.

After watching his sister spend money on a lot of party favors (which she did not regret), he took a more austere approach:

  • homemade cake which he helped to bake and decorate -- toppers ordered of of Amazon, recipe is Betty Crocker Midnight Chocolate (he gets it every year)
  • Evites saying "let's reconnect" before school starts
  • Guests built Lego free-style cards upon arrival, that were then raced down a homemade ramp
  • Guests took plastic bracelets and did a modified ring toss over Lego towers
  • Dinner of pizza (using Feed an Army $26 coupon from Rocky Roco's), corn on the cob, and melon.
  • Prizes were given out to Lego Race winners, with 1st selecting 1st, from a stash of over-sized candies;
  • Candy and popcorn consumed with watching Lego Batman movie (purchased at Barnes & Noble with a 30% off coupon plus another 10% off for being a member)
Connections were reinforced, friendships strengthened, and fun was had.  Our son received all his presents, ordered off of Amazon Prime.  I used my Amazon Prime credit card, which is paid in full each month, receiving 5% cash back that will be added to our travel fund.

The experience of having a budget for a party forced the kids to think about what resources at home we could use.  For example, the ramp was a huge piece of cardboard that had been in the garage since we bought the house, coated with black spray paint purchased for a bat house yet to be mounted.  We could see the wheels turn behind their eyes -- do I need to spend money on fancy plates when we have plain paper plates at home?  One kid said yes, the other no.  Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, but about maximizing your spending power to enjoy your time on this little blue dot sailing around the sun.

 Dad was the judge of the races.

 Football themed cake for our sports crazed son.

 Watching a DVD on our 1990s TV and VCR!

His actual birthday, with a 2nd cake.  Happy 9th our love, next year it will be double digits.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Frugal Family Photos

Sunflower Days at Pope Farm here in Madison just ended.  We made the annual pilgrimage to this lovely field again this year.  In addition to stunning sunflowers one is likely to find families, clustered together in coordinated outfits with the lens of a photographer focused directly on them.  It's holiday photo time.  It's time to document the children's growth, to capture those radiant smiles.  It's time to hand over a lot of cash for those Kodak Moments.

Last week I also received an email from a local photographer I had used to take candid photos of both kids in the days after they were born.  Since then I've taken my own frugal path and not paid the annual fee for a family photo session.  The cost is too much for me to wrap my head around; $600 for 1.5 hours.

Instinctively I read $600 and think, that's one international airline ticket!  I also own a decent SLR camera and spent a lot of time and money developing my hobby photography interest in my pre-husband and pre-children life.  Because I have decent equipment, enjoy taking my own photos, and love to travel, you won't find this frugal family spending that kind of money.   Here are my thoughts on creating lovely family photos without breaking the bank.

There is the frugal cell phone selfie, this one taken in Copenhagen, Denmark.



There is the option of asking a stranger to capture your family among the flowers:



And then there is getting down to kid level (down on your knee, possibly your belly) and shooting hundreds of frames, knowing a little bit about the power of light, and then sort through for a gem.







What's your frugal path to capturing life with a camera that does not cost a small fortune (to me, that is the cost of an international plane ticket)?  Leave a comment and share.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Frugal Travel Tip: Skip Restaurants, Aim for Kitchens

Followers of this blog know that our family loves to travel, and we travel as often as we can.  They also know that there is no money tree in our backyard.  Each and every month we make a decision to allocate the prior months earnings (yes, we budget) to the current month's expenditures: mortgage, health insurance, transportation, food, etc.  We also save money each month towards travel.  And when it is time for travel, we pull our funds from the savings.  As we launch into one vacation we usually have plans for the next simmering in our mind.  That causes us to know what we spend on vacation #1 impacts our ability to take vacation #2.  One way to stretch our travel dollars is to eat in.

Rarely on travel do we eat out at a restaurant because we select lodging that comes with a full kitchen: fridge, stove, cookware, etc.  Upon arrival we unload what food we brought along and then head to the local market.  Simple meals are the staple: pasta, eggs, grilled sandwiches, etc.


From years ago on a trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin to last years 2 week adventure in Southern Sweden. We find hotels or apartments to rent for home base, and enjoy traditional family meals for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal.


What's your key to frugal travel?  I'd love some more ideas since my to-see list continues to grow!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cost Per Wear!

Rarely does our frugal family approach a purchase price by looking only at the cost of an item.  When it comes to clothing we ask what is the cost divided by the likely number of times wearing an item. There are exceptions, with special event clothing we assume a low number of uses.  Something I did in 2011 when I found a lovely knit dress for our daughter to wear at her naming ceremony at First Unitarian Society of Madison.  It was a bargain buy at Baby Gap, the cost was less than $20.  This is our little one in April 2011.


And to my delight, here is my little one a week ago wearing the same dress, just as a shirt.


When it comes to girls' clothing -- aim for loose fitting dresses that can become tunics and then a shirt.  If you're lucky, your frugal ways will find 6 years of wear.  And yes, I see that we are likely at the end of the road for this shirt.  We'll either pass it on to a new family, but since it has special connection to her naming ceremony we may fit it on a  favorite stuffie.

If you want to go the frugal path, ask yourself what will this item cost per use, don't focus on the price in isolation -- it tells you nothing.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wonder Woman: A Movie Leaves Me Wondering, How Do People Afford The Movies?


Earlier this summer my husband stayed with the kids (no sitter expense) while I joined a close friend for a viewing of the summer hit, Wonder Woman.  Movies have been a huge part of my life, especially during my law school years. I would finish an exam, and then escape to a dark theater and lose myself in the story on the screen, giving my mind a break from the intensity of a legal education.  After graduation movies remained a staple in my life, often seeing all of the films nominated for awards, etc.

Time moved on, I married and children joined the picture.  No longer was a movie a simple pleasure, but one that required paying a sitter ($14/hour) plus admission.  Over time my habit of going to the movies faded.  And as work pressure and parenting duties mounted, even watching a movie at home became a thing of the past.  If the kids were asleep, I opted to sleep as well.

Now the kids are older and I thought I'd venture back out to an old favorite, the theater.  It had been awhile.  Now you select your seat at the point of purchase and hand over $10.50 for a ticket.  The night I went I wanted to get a bottle of water or small soda in case I needed to take a pain pill; earlier that day I had had a root canal (ouch to the mouth, and ouch to my pocket book).  My jaw dropped at the counter; $3.50 for the smallest soda and not basic bottled water.  I'm far too frugal for those prices, and found the water fountain and took the medication in advance of the movie starting.

Wandering into the theater my jaw dropped again.  I believe each and every seat was a huge recliner with drink holders, etc.  It took me a few minutes to figure out how to adjust the seat and then an image hit me -- this is like Rome.  What the heck, we are too decadent in America.  How do people afford to bring an entire family to the movies ??!?!?!?!?

I enjoyed Wonder Women and am glad I saw it with a good friend and supported the production of this movie.  But I will think twice before feeding my movie habit with an outing to the traditional theater.  There is only so much money and I have yet to find a money tree.  We prioritize our hard earned salaries to pay for quality food, travel, and good health care.  Movies are not high on the list.

If you, like me, are turned off by the over-the-top cost of watching a film, here are some frugal ways to enjoy films without breaking the bank:

  1. Be selective and don't watch everything released.  Time is our most precious commodity, and movies can take up a lot of time.  Life is too short to spend hard earned money on a mediocre film;
  2. Borrow films from your local library.  I was patient and this weekend all four of us will watch Hidden Figures for free in the comfort of our own basement.  If the kids lose interest, it didn't cost a penny;
  3. Rent from vending machines, stores, or on-line services;
  4. Subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime -- we use Amazon Prime and will watch what is free if the stars align and we have time for an entire movie, or pay a small rental fee to watch one we specifically want to see;
  5. Find out if the theater has discount days, coupons, or find a theater that shows films just before they go to DVD -- they are often a fraction of the cost (but the popcorn is just as pricey); and
  6. Ask for gift cards to theaters for birthday and holiday gifts.  Experiences beat stuff any day.
Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if I've overlooked a method you employ to live frugal but stay current on Hollywood releases.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Efficiency: The Key to a Frugal Life and the Reason I Freeze Leftover Coffee


Efficiency, it is what drives our frugal path in life.  Whether it is ditching US Cellular in favor of the new Google Phone network (a move I made earlier this year, and LOVE it) to asking your insurance agent to look for savings when a policy comes up for renewal to freezing the leftover morning coffee into an ice cube tray to be used in home brewed iced coffees later in the week - efficiency is the driving force behind each decision.  That is our key to frugal living.   Ask yourself, how can you be more efficient in your life?  The answer will likely benefit your health, your wallet, and your Earth.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Avocado Smoothie - Keeping Frugal in the Kitchen


Did one too many avocados land in your grocery cart and now you are wondering how to use this pricier produce item?  My favorite way to use up uneaten avocado is to toss it into a smoothie, giving the drink heft, creaminess, and fiber.


My latest version involved frozen chopped mango, plain whole milk keifer, and a bit of vanilla yogurt along with the avocado.  Blend and pour.


This drink, combined with apple slices, left over bread, and some salami and I had an easy and filling meal that made use of items approaching their end in my fridge.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Frugal 7th Birthday!


Our youngest has recently turned 7, and even with all the over-the-top birthday parties these days our family followed the frugal path.  First there was the party with kid friends at our house.  Why pay for a venue when you have a finished basement.  We hired a former preschool teacher who is a certified art teacher, purchased modeling clay on Amazon, and it was "Art Night".  Classic French sounds acquired on CDs from our local library provided the background music.


The food was pizza from the locally loved Rocky Rocco's -- coupon for $26.99 got us two huge cheese pizzas.  We added apples, grapes, water and lemonade.  Dessert was homemade cupcakes.  Now that we are done with that #7 candle we'll be passing it along to a family with younger kids -- still plenty of burn time left, and no immediate need here in our home.


 Kiddo energy was burned off out back with a short but lively water balloon fight.

Her actual birthday involved opening gifts from friends and family, breakfast featuring her favorite, Morning Buns (acquired at Classens with a buy-one-get-one free coupon), and the most precious gift of all - time.  My husband and I, both self-employed, take the day off for each child's birthday (both summer babies) and simply spend it as a family.  Given our demanding work life, this is precious time.  Below the birthday girl explores the ins and outs of her Rock Tumbler; a great gift for an science curious child.


The afternoon involved time spent together in nature.  Once again we used on Wisconsin State Parks sticker and enjoyed the beach at Gov. Dodge State park.


A final key ingredient to keeping it simple, we had a budget. This year each child has $500 for his/her birthday.  That money has to pay for the party and parental gifts.  Anything not spent is given in cash to the birthday child.  Wow, my kids were looking for bargains knowing that a trip to the Party Store was coming out of his or her wallet.  Watching his younger sister put together a fun party for a fraction of the price a local venue might have cost encouraged him to plan a home party for his 9th coming up later in August.  This has proven to be a great lesson in passing frugal mindsets onto our children.  They don't just put things on a list and hope it will show up, and there is no tossing this and that into the cart with no regard to cost.  We loved this approach and will likely follow it next year.  For the record, those morning buns and birthday meal did not factor into the birthday budget, they were part of our normal grocery expenses.

How do you keep frugal on birthdays?  Leave a comment and inspire.  Thanks for following along.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Composting Again!


Unearthed!  And back to composting we go at our frugal home.  Vines cut down, a small tree sawed and hauled to the curb.  Throw down and old rug (from says when an elder cat had litter box challenges), and there you go.  We can compost again.

Our garden experiment has gone better than expected.  Sited on a slight sloped along the side our house, the recent downpours have not caused flooding.  Harvested so far: 2 hand fulls for green beans, 3 zucchini, and 1 cucumber.  Peppers are not doing well, but we may have a record number of tomatoes along with pumpkins.  All in all the garden is a reason to go outside and putter after a week at the office.  There are small toads and other wonders to greet me after a hectic week of client meetings and transporting kids to summer camp.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Compost Confession


I compost.....most of the time.  Yes, one can compost but take breaks in the daily chore when preserving one's sanity takes priority over preserving the Earth.  Oddly I often find it easier to put my scraps and peels in the heap out back during the fall, winter and spring.  Summer is busy, especially this summer.  Toss in a compost heap buried under the jungle that is my backyard, and well I'm pausing in my compost efforts.  One day I'll have down time to clear cut the jungle and return to my favorite frugal habit.  But not today.  My point with this confession is to underscore that a frugal path has bends and turns, sometimes you are more frugal than other times and that is okay.  It is better to be frugal when you can than never at all.  Adjust your speed to meet you where you need to be and sustain the frugal way.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Daydreaming -- Frugal International Travel



Later this summer my frugal family will explore Iceland.  Why Iceland?  Simply, it is a short flight, approximately 6 hours from Minneapolis (we are driving to MN to fly out, not risking a connection). When you are both self-employed you know the cost of not working, and long travel times add up in cost.  Other than that, Iceland is not an inexpensive place to travel.  We have done a nice job on keeping costs low.  We fly out on a Tuesday and return on a Wednesday, which saved us hundreds of dollars according to the flight matrix we used.  We've rented a "hotel" that is a room with a kitchen, located across the street for a grocery store.  When the cost for two to eat out is $100/meal and you are a couple with 2 kids, eating in is the obvious choice.

We love to travel and plan to do an international trip a year, but after looking at the costs of Iceland we want our 2018 international trip to be to a local that is relatively easy to access, but easier on the pocketbook.  Above is a picture of library books I brought home to examine, seeking ideas.  But advice from actual travelers is always best.  So, my fellow frugalista, what would your recommendation be for a frugal 2018 adventure?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Walking The Frugal Path At My Local Hy-Vee


Frugal means getting the best quality for the best price, it does not mean "cheap".  That philosophy follows me to the grocery store, where we aim for quality foods and reasonable prices purchased with relative ease.  Convenience is far more important than spending time and gas to track down the lowest price or buying food that has a shelf-life long enough to see my 2nd and 3rd graders off to college.  Quality, ease, and decent price, that is what is in my mind when we need to re-stock the fridge and cabinets.

Recently my go-to for shopping has been our local Hy-Vee.  It is walkable (rarely do I have that kind of free time), bikeable, and on my driving route to both our gym as well as summer camp.  Toss in a cafe where I can get a coffee fix and a postal window, and this place wins convenient hands down. Hy-vee's prices are not the lowest, but I use a few steps to make our dollars go as far as possible:


  1. Fuel savers card -- weekly promotions ad up on $0.05 cents off here and $0.10 off here.  If you buy an item it is added to your fuel card at the point of purchase.  Your cents accumulate and if you visit a participating gas station, those cents are deducted from each gallon of gas.  Points do expire after 30 days.  In the past few months the store ran some great promotions, such as $0.45 off a gallon with a $100 purchase.  Ease for us to hit the $100 mark with a family of 4 and a preference for organic.  On two separated occasions we earned $2.25 off per gallon.  We basically filled up my car, and my spouse's for free....we did pay the gas tax that came to about $0.16 for nearly 30 gallons of gas;
  2. I shop on Wednesdays when I can because organic and "health" section items are 10% off;
  3. When applicable I use the store coupons that come in the mail.  Today I used a $10 rebate card I received from a recent contact purchase; and
  4. At the register I use my Amazon credit card, which reimburses us 1% back (5% back for Amazon purchases).  We let this built up all year and then request the rebate monies in January to deposit into our travel savings -- far easier to use than frequent flier miles, etc. 



What is your secret to getting quality food for the best prices without spending hours traveling all around time?  Our food budget is equal to our just higher than our mortgage, so if I can shave off some cost I'd be delighted.  Leave a comment with any ideas!


Monday, June 26, 2017

Frozen Fruit Smoothies

So one can have plans to use up the food in the freezer and cabinets AND to then blog about said use.  And then life happens: sick kids, impulse day at the beach, etc.  I can say that when you find frozen fruit way back in the fridge and you want to use it up add it to about 1.5 cups of plain whole milk kefir, add and avocado you might have, then toss in the fruit.   Blend and enjoy.  Beyond that we had a lot of simple meals connected with pasta, grilled cheese of good ol' PB&J.

Following me on the frugal path.  My posts are not predictable, but my frugal decisions are.  Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Frugal Staycation -- On the Beach, In the Kitchen

Empty beach!

Pure summer fun in the sun.


Monday was the first official weekday of my staycation.  The plan had been to pack up the car and drive to Governor Dodge State Park for a day at the beach.  The forecast of afternoon storms combined with a nasty dose of insomnia took that drive out of the running.  In its place was a shorter drive to Governor Nelson State Park, only 15 minutes away by car.   We arrived just after 10am and were surprised to learn then 2017 annual vehicle pass was $28, not the $36 my budget anticipated. We were further surprised to walk onto an empty beach; we found blue skies, clean sand, relatively clean water, and a turtle paddling through the designated swim area.  Where was everyone?   Most likely at work/summer camp or the ever so popular "neighborhood pool".  We savored the quite and soothing calm of nature.  Eventually two other groups with kids joined us, but for the most part we had the place to ourselves.  It was bliss.

Evening brought me into the kitchen to tackle my personal challenge to turning random frozen or canned food into something, anything, in an effort to clear out the storage.  First up, zucchini bread. Thanks to the solid recipe in Betty Crocker's Cookbook with an added dash of unsweetened coco along with a handful of chocolate chips, two zucchini were saved from withering on the counter and transformed into something for the breakfast plates.

Next up, a container of frozen leftover beef tenderloin.  This one was easy.  Defrost, chop, add to a bowl of rice with salsa and black beans.  Scoop into tortillas with shredded cheese, role, fold in tin foil, and freeze.  Instant lunches for my frugal husband for the next 5 to 7 days. My supply of rice mixture exceeded my supply of tortillas, so those were portioned into plastic containers (ones I keep and rewash from Chinese take-out at our neighborhood store) -- the homemade version of a "naked burrito."

Not a bad effort for the day, but that freezer seems deeper and the cupboards higher now that I have challenged myself to dig in and turn the supplies into edible food.  If anyone has summer ideas for frozen cranberries, please share!!!!!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stay-cation in the Kitchen

Nothing related to the post, just my favorite summer bloom.
Summer stay-cation!  I am taking off from work at the office from June 9th through the 18th, returning to a schedule of summer camp for the kids and work for me on the 19th.  During that time we plan to enjoy local and State Parks, volunteer, read, sleep late, and cook!  Many frugal minded people use the Spring to clear out freezers and pantries, making room for a new season of stored locally-sourced food.  I love this idea, but Spring never meshes for me. Spring is a very chaotic time for me at the office, school events are in high energy mode, and I lack the most critical ingredient of cooking to use up the pantry, time.

But now I have time, lots of it.  Time to look through the stacks of cans and packages.  Time to ponder what to make with those beans I bought on a whim or the cherries I froze last summer.  Time to run to the store to turn a few random things into a meal with an added ingredient or two.  Time to simply putter around the kitchen.

So are the temperatures here in Madison soar into the low 90s, I will likely have the oven going to make some muffins and breads with all those frozen fruits in the fridge.  And my guess is more than one dinner will consist of traditional breakfast foods.

Stay tuned for a week of frugal cooking thoughts as I work to use it up and keep that grocery bill low.


Monday, June 5, 2017

School Is Out For The Summer!


Summer Break!  Technically the Madison Public School's Summer Break has not yet started.  Classes run through this Thursday, but my mind is ahead of me, dreaming of mornings with no 5:30 alarm or evenings helping the kids with spelling and math homework.  What does this frugalista plan to do with her extra time?  Read!

In reality I won't have that much extra time since I'll be practicing law at my day job while the kids enjoy summer camp, but there will be a definite let up in the daily grind.  Wisely I opted to take the first week of summer off; no camps for them, no office for me.  Governor Dodge State Park and our own back yard and side yard garden are at the top of our to-do agenda.  And lounging in the yard or at the beach is not complete without some good reading material.

Being frugal does not mean you must give up purchases; in my mind being frugal means you are efficient with your time and money.  Life without pleasures really isn't a life worth living, so even though we are frugal we do not deny ourselves a few indulgences.  Books are one for me, the other major area of expenditure would be travel (more on that in the future).  My frugal move of the day was buying Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

After classes and word ended the kids and I headed to our local Barnes and Noble where we bought a membership this past January.  We bought some items for a child's birthday party my youngest will attend over the weekend, both of my budding book worms brought home a paperback to loose themselves with, and Mama got the book I decided to buy after hearing about it at my last meeting of Book Club With a Twist (monthly book club where we go out to eat and simply talk books -- no one book to read, no pressure to pick a book everyone will like), Lincoln in the Bardo.  Barnes & Nobel had it for 20% off, my membership knocked another 10% off, and then for the cherry on top there was another 20% off coupon for the store I'd received in the mail.  All in all I got the book for $16.

Wishing you all the best this summer.  Whether it be books, travel, gardening, movies, or home repairs, may it be a frugal and delightful path you follow!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hop On the Bus Gus!

Riding and Reading -- touching the future through parenting decisions.
Some things I cannot control, this I accept.  I can disagree with a decision to remove our country from the Paris Climate Control Agreement, but I cannot control the decision.  Yet there are things I can do, and so I will.  Saturday we focused on both the immediate and the long-term, all by taking the bus.

Once a month the University of Wisconsin Discovery Center hosts Saturday Science, which is basically a themed science fair for kids.  It is awesome, hands-on science for kids (best suited for 1st-8th grade), and it is free!  Normally we drive down to campus and park (space permitting) in the free ramp.  Not this time.  We took the Metro Bus.  First stop, the Discovery Center where the kids learned about the various senses: making noise makers, calculating their horsepower strength, tasting foods while wearing 3D glasses showing them images of blueberries, etc.  After that was done we hoofed it on food a few blocks to our favorite pizza place, Ian's Pizza.  We fueled up and filled up our water bottles and walked one mile to the Budget Bicycle Service Center to reclaim Mama's bike and Papa's winter bike (which serves as his back-up for summer commutes).   We gladly took our Wisconsin Bike Federation discount for the parts (saved us $40), and then scurried to the bus stop to grab the #6 back home.  Our plan hit a bump with the bus arrived with only one spot on the bike rack. A snap was decision to put Mama's bike on the bus; mom and kids bus it home while dad biked with his newly tuned bicycle.

Saturday we used the power of a bus that was already going to zip by our house and kept our Honda off the road.  We also empowered our kids to be just a  bit more comfortable navigating their world without the need for an automobile -- a long-term goal.  We joke that my husband can think of a song for everything.  This time Mama came up with one, Hop on the Bus Gus from 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  It fits considering the kids middle name is my maiden name, Gustafson.  In years to come I hope this little jingle will pop into their heads when they have to decide what type of transport to use.



What personal steps are you taking on the frugal path that are good for your wallet, health, and Mother Earth?  Leave a comment and share!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Outsourced Garage Sale


Summer weather is making its way to Madison, Wisconsin.  Flowers are in bloom, and street corners sprout the ubiquitous garage sale signs.  Given my work schedule and parenting obligations, running a garage sale is simply not feasible.  The math simply doesn't add up; especially when these sales are primarily held on a work day.  But this year my frugal mind had an idea -- give all the outgrown and neglected items we could gather up to a neighbor down the way.  She was holding a sale and needed more items. It was as easy as easy can be!

  1. Gather items to purge;
  2. Mark each with masking tape and my initials to identify our stuff;
  3. Box up and cart over to her house;
  4. Drop at the door; and
  5. She'll keep 50% of the sales, the rest she'll drop off.
In the past this same neighbor has helped liquidate items when we moved offices and when my mother died and we needed to purge items from her home.  She keeps a list, notes the selling price, and passes on the cash.  It is an ideal way for someone with a frugal heart to participate in garage sale season without having to spend all that time and effort setting up, running, and then cleaning up.  Remember, time is often our most precious commodity -- spend it wisely.

What's your favorite frugal way to turn clutter into cash?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Refreshing Frugal Cold Brew Coffee

It's been sometime since I last posted, a lot of time in fact.  Even though life happened and my fingers did not dance across the keys leaving frugal musings for all to read, I was still living my frugal life.  And in time I realized I missed posting, I missed sharing my take on a frugal life.  So here I am.  Posts will be at random, but still focused on living a life that is good for your wallet, your health, and your Earth.

Since I've been gone from blogging I discovered an easy way to enjoy cold brew coffee at home.  Sadly I once thought cold brew was simply cold coffee, how wrong I was!  My take is:

  •  1 cup coarsely ground coffee (key -- coarse!)
  • 4 cups water
  • soak grounds in water for 10-12 hours.
  • pour mixture through filter (I use the one from our coffee pot) into a container (I use our spare carafe).  I hear a french press works as well.
The result is divine!  Caution -- don't let those grounds go down the drain or what you save on buying cold brew will be eaten up with a plumbing expense.  I purchase coffee in bulk and get at least two travel mugs out of each 1:4 cup creation.  Hint, add a few drops of chocolate milk for the ultimate win!

Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you desire!