Friday, July 20, 2018

Back With an Update: Frugal Living with Icelandic Oatmeal Pancakes

Time flies when you are having fun.  Since my last post in March our frugal lives went through several transformations.   We've left the path of owning two businesses, and returned to a spouse working for a large local tech company, and the other (me) focused on a small solo legal practice.  Debt is a thing of the past, mission accomplished.  Now on the other end we find our desire to live a frugal life intensified, frugal is good for our health, our pocketbook, and our planet.

Key to our frugal living is the kitchen, aiming to cook meals from scratch.  When done in bulk it saves time and money.  We avoid more expensive pre-cooked meals as well as the waste that comes with the deli or take-out bag. 

Remember, frugal doesn't mean a life without joy, it means spending your money wisely and prioritizing the things you love.  For us that is: quality food, books, and travel.  Two of the three were accomplished with my recent purchase of Magnus Nilsson's The Nordic Cookbook.  This is a massive cookbook, hitting 768 pages.  Our first recipe was amazing -- Icelandic Oatmeal Pancakes.  I made them for dinner, and then again for breakfast.  We always have leftover oats from breakfast, and this recipe is ideal for not tossing those in compost or the trash.  So simple, so healthy, and so delightful.  I would add, make them in butter.  Do not substitute with American cooking spray.  I did use spray on some of the first batch, but stuck with butter for all in the 2nd -- there is a difference.  Use your butter!!!!  We have multiple recipes flagged and will be exploring those in the year ahead.  This was worth every cent. 

Priced at $49 I ordered mine from Amazon Prime, using what remained of a gift card, receiving 5% off by using the Amazon Credit Card (we get cash back at the end of each year), and by using Smile Amazon, the purchase generated a donation to my selected nonprofit.  Researching this post I discovered The Nordic Baking Book is set for an October 2018 release.  I'll be buying that as well!

What's your favorite way to lead a frugal life?  Let's inspire others to be in control of their money, live healthy, and walk more gently on Mother Earth.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hail the Season of Mud!

Hail to the Season of Mud!  For fellow frugal parents, I encourage you to embrace the season of mud.  Let your kids explore (assuming they are old enough and mature enough) the local habitat around your home on their own!  Pictured above is The Fort (presently unnamed) my two kiddos constructed over the winter in a parkway, along a creek, behind our home.  From The Fort has sprung a "farm"; they  have a food cellar, fishing hole; workshop, and all the things that come form children with unleashed creativity.

Today we welcome Spring.  Don't shun the mud, let your kids get dirty.  It builds strong muscles, a strong sense of self, a creative mind, and a world that they manage.  It's what we did in the 1970s and 1980s, and what our frugal family does today.  Cost?  $0 -- they used logs, branches, and two shovels and a bucket from our home stash.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reminder -- we are doing our own version of The Freezer Challenge in March, and likely into April.  The goal is to eat up items in the freezer, cabinets, etc.  I don't want to store this food for the long-term, that's the purpose of a store.  I also want to make room for Spring and Summer fruits and veggies from our farmers' market and personal garden.  Posting the meals here is a bit cumbersome, so check out the Frugal Upside Facebook page to see what's been cooking in our frugal kitchen.

Friday, March 16, 2018

When the Numbers Are Off....

In recent months I have begun experimenting with online grocery shopping and delivery.  The honeymoon phase was lovely.  In 10 minutes I could order groceries that would normally take two hours to acquire: drive to store, gather items (which took longer when the store manager opted to change location), do self-check out, haul them to my car, drive back home, haul them inside and put them away.  Now, with delivery I could place an order online and for a mere $10 have them delivered to my front door.  It worked so well because I would have the delivery on a day I worked from home.  It took 15 minutes max to put them away.  I was getting Woodmans (our locally owned, employee owned, mega warehouse store) prices, without the Woodmans experience (finding an item out-of-stock, epic-ally long lines, and the occasion fight that breaks out among the fellow shoppers (yes, someone did throw a frozen turkey at another shopper: hysterical police report here).  This went on for several months.  And then on a day I had time I popped in for a few things, and my eye noticed something.  The honeymoon was over!

On-line my favorite spaghetti sauce (Frabonis, also locally owned) was $5.69, but on the shelf it was $4.99.  One time fluke?  I checked a few more items.  The energy drinks my husband is addicted to sell for $1.09 online, but are $0.89 in the store.  Same with my favorite brand of cottage cheese and bottled iced coffee.

That tells me online shopping has a delivery fee of $10, but also the cost of each item is approximately 20% higher online than in the store.  If I spend $1,000 a month on grocery items and bought them online I'd pay and additional $200 for the food, and $40 in delivery (assumes I have one order per week).

The penny pincher in me was not happy, and so, for now, we are making those weekly treks to Woodmans.  We combine it with some other trip that has us in the area.  Our daughter has weekly ice skating lessons at the ice rink down the road, making the trip a bit easier.  If life it too hectic because of a surge at work or an illness, I'll used online shopping.  Until then, this eagle eye shopper plans to shop in person.

What's your frugal way to shop for groceries?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Frugal Food Moves in February

Last month I professed a commitment to eating the food in our freezer and pantry.  I assumed I could go full force all of February, it is such a short month.  But, work got busy, life got crazy, you know the story.  I did make progress, but I could have done better.  Given that, I'm continuing the effort into March.  I'm frugal with my time as well, and do not often have the time to sit down and write about our frugal ways.  I am going to start posting our food from the freezer, etc. on the Facebook page, here is a link, LIKE away and follow along. 

February did allow meal to face the freezer and reality.  Several items were beyond edible, so into the compost or trash they went.  Other items were given to a local food bank; there is a collection bin at our library branch.  And other items did make it to the plate.

Battling a cold and with no meetings on my calendar, I opted to work from home today since it was file review and paperwork.  I had time to turn leftovers into lunch: bacon from Sunday was added to veggies and the last of our fresh mozzarella to make an omelette, and a lone pancake from Sunday brunch got a boost with raspberry jam.  A wonderful meal, and one that used up leftovers before they expire.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Frugal Ways to Keep Medical Costs Down

Regular readers know that we've taken a creative path for our health care this year, going with an ACA exempted cost sharing program.  Assistance kicks in if we have a hospital stay or surgery, everything else is our responsibility.  Technically we do not have health insurance.  And oddly, that fact is help us save a lot of money.  We had the option to pay $1300/month for a plan requiring us to pay the first $13,000 out of pocket.  Note, that $1300 a month premium was paid with after-tax dollars.

I'll admit, I was quite nervous about this new path.  I am not any longer.  We've had several visits to the doctor, and after we tell them what our situation is it is like a light goes off in their heads and they take us down a different path. They are free to practice without HMO restrictions, and we are in control of what we will and will not elect to do.

Here is how we've saved so far:
  • Lowest Med -- we have received significant savings on prescription with their coupons.  Earlier this week I paid $45 for three medicines that would have cost $280 without the Lowest Med Coupon.
  • Shop your Pharmacy -- Lowest Med linked us up with HyVee.  The coupon was low, it is right up the road from our house, and I earned $0.15/gallon off on the gasoline card the store offers.
  • Amazon for supplies.  My husband needed a sleep apnea machine.  We bought it on Amzaon Prime and received 5% back and had it delivered to our door in 2 days.  His primary recommended the device, and we skipped opting for the sleep study which would have delayed treatment and cost a large chunk of change.
  • Shop your doctor -- we've learned that some UW clinics here in Madison are "physician" owned and others are owned by the hospital.  If we see a doctor at the hospital owned facility we get a bill from the doctor AND the hospital.  If we go to the physician owned building, we get one bill from the physician.  We opt for "physician" owned clinics!
  • Ask for an uninsured discount.  This ranges from 25% to 33% off visits.....the price to see a doctor is less than what our insurance negotiated rate was last year with SSM/Dean.
  • Ask for samples of medications, especially if it is something new.  You don't want to buy a month supply of something you cannot tolerate.
  • Pay with a cash back credit card.  Our dentist offers a 5% discount when you pay day of, but that is not something medical office can offer because of delays in medical coding.  When possible, I use the credit card that gives cash back.  We claim it all at the end of the year and put it into our travel savings account.  One percent may not sound like much, but on medical purchases it can add up quickly.
Health care is one of our largest annual expenses.  Last year it cost more than our mortgage and property taxes.  We made some radical changes, have reduced costs, and are stock piling the savings so that we can shoulder future medical expenses.  We do not know when they'll arrive or their severity, but this path allows us to bulk up our medical nest egg.

Stay tuned as well explore how to reduce child care costs in 2018.  Two days of after school care for two elementary school aged children costs $3,600 for the 9 month school year. Summer camp options can easily cost $1,000 to $2,000 a MONTH for two kids needing full-time care.  If you have ideas on saving in this area, I'd love to hear them.  We are working on a plan now, which is made even more challenging with my unpredictable work schedule.  Sometimes I am crazy busy, other times is a calm flow of part-time hours.  I can't predict, but have to plan for summer care.  Time to get creative.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

28 Day Pantry Challenge

Hello February!  A month of cold dark nights, icy sidewalks in the morning, and countless Wisconsinites daydreaming about Spring.  Need proof, February is Garden Expo month in the frozen tundra.  We need hope of warmer and less icy days.

First things first though; we need to empty our pantries and freezers of the fare we squirreled away last Summer and Fall.  For many living the frugal path January is "Pantry Challenge" month, as shown here on my friend and fellow blogger's Yarnstead page.  The idea appealed to me last month, but the reality of life ceased any efforts of focused chipping away at the food stocked on our shelves and in our freezer.  Unexpected travel for a funeral, getting 2017 tax papers in order for the CPA, -- you know the drill.

But here I am on the doorstep to the shortest month of the year, February with it's 28 days. I can do 28 days.  My goal, each day to use at least one item that has been sitting on a shelf or in the freezer for more than 1 month.  Our home does not need to function as though we were -- it's time to use it up, give it away, or toss it on the compost heap (yes, I compost all winter long).  Out with the old to make room for the new, arriving in a few short weeks.

February 1st -- using the Rhubarb compote I froze last Spring.  Gathered from our home garden it is a quick and easy way to capture the smell of early summer to enjoy on a cold February morning.  Sound tempting, here is my simple recipe.  Perfect topping for oatmeal!

Be well, and thank you for following me on the frugal path through life.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Frugality & Swedish Death Cleaning

It's rare for one book to hit the trifecta of my interests: frugal ways, Nordic living, and Estate Planning and Probate.  Yet, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson hit the mark!

Magnusson's book is a quick read at just over 100 pages, and hit my work desk after I was invited to be a guest on WPR's Central Time to discuss this idea of "Death Cleaning", which is defined as "remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet."

As I read the Nordic follower in me loved Magnusson's blunt words and apparent lack of emotion for "things".  The Estate Planner in me nodded, and made notes about how Wisconsin Statutes relate to her suggestions.  And the frugal in me screamed -- don't wait until age 65 to start.  Stuff costs money to house, to maintain, only keep what you love and you'll save money, and maybe the Earth.

This is a great book to read to spur you into Spring Cleaning action.  I highly recommend getting a library copy.  It can be read in an afternoon, and is charming in the blunt and resourceful ways of my Swedish ancestors.  If you want to learn more, join me Feb. 10th at the Cross Plains library where I'll be leading a book discussion!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Citrus & Mushrooms -- Embracing Plants at Mealtime

Nine days left in January, and we are doing well on increasing our plant consumption at mealtime.  My husband and I have declared weekday breakfasts to be meat free.  Last year I'd routinely make him egg sandwiches with some sort of lunch meat or other breakfast meat.  Gone!  Instead I've added chopped veggies (onions, peppers, or tomatoes) enhanced with some hot sauce.  My go-to remains old-fashioned oats with berries and honey.

Embracing the season of citrus, I've been adding an orange to many of my meals.  It fills me up, tastes like sunshine, and allows me to limit any meat I might be enjoying. 

Opting for mushrooms!  Last weekend my book club went out for our monthly meeting (we meet for a meal and talk about what we've read in the last month, no pressure to all finish one book or nominate something everyone would like).  My food option was tea, a cup of cream of mushroom soup, and a dessert.  The bill was reasonable, and once again I limited meat consumption.  At home I have been enjoying leftover Wild Rice Mushroom Bake -- the kids and my spouse are not fans, but it freezers well and tastes lovely on a damp winter day.  Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice, combine with 2 cups boiling water, let stand for 1 hour
  • saute 1 pound fresh mushrooms and 1 medium onion in 2 tablespoons butter
  • Mix it all together plus: 3/4 cup uncooked long grain rice; 1/2 cup sliced almonds; 3 cups broth (chicken or veggie); 1 and 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  
  • Spread into baking dish.  Sprinkle 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese on top
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 75 minutes
What's your favorite way to enjoy mushrooms or citrus?  Help me keep creative in the kitchen with plants.  It's better for my health, the earth, and my budget!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 -- Our Year of The Plant!

Finding our rhythm in 2018 has been a challenge.  The first week of the year found us on an unexpected flight to Tampa, Florida for the Memorial Service of my mother-in-law.  Having fought cancer for 3 decades, her final days and departure moved with lightening speed.  Thanks to frugal living and a solid emergency fund the last minute flight, hotel, car rental, and incidental purchases (our son boarded the plane wearing winter boots.....leaving his tennis shoes back in Madison!), the trip was not a financial worry.

As we settle into this second week of January work and school routines are returning to our frugal home, some with modifications with hopes of making 2018 a bit less stressful.  Integrated into those modifications is my new years resolution -- more plants!  Inspired by the reporting and stories of The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People by Dane Buettner, my goal is to drastically increase the number of plant-based meals our family consumes.  Without question it is the frugal choice.  Meat and dairy products are the most expensive items to go into our grocery cart.  Production of meat and dairy requires far more water and oil to produce the final product, taxing mother Earth.  And plants seems to be the magic ticket to living to 100 years of age; and not just making to 100, but thriving at 100, free of the common diseases suffered by many Americans: heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

This week's efforts started small.  Cutting up more fresh veggies and fruits to go on the dinner plates.  All four of us are eating varying amounts of rolled oats every morning, adorned with our favorite way to make it more enticing.  Frozen blue berries with honey for me, butter and cinnamon for my daughter, and maple syrup or brown sugar for both my son and husband.  Simple, filling, and very affordable -- we love our old-fashioned oats.  We've also increased our consumption of herbal tea in the house, serving it alongside dinner, and for me I've been steeping a pot in the afternoon instead of nursing another cup of coffee, one often picked up in a to-go cup.

Help our family embrace plant-based eating with any suggestions you might have for recipes, new things to try, and even what to plant in our 2018 summer garden.  Leave a comment and join the adventure down our frugal path.

Be well, and thanks for reading!