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.