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!