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?