Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-A Common Goal

Doug had a day off yesterday, and I have to admit, having him home on a weekday throws me off, a bit. Don't get me wrong, it's great having him home. But I sort of have my weekday routines and it is a little disconcerting to have him here during the week, especially on a Wednesday, which you all know is my grocery planning day. Still, it was nice to have his input, and also good for him to see what all goes into planning our grocery budget for the next few weeks.

For the first time we looked through all the ads together, and made out our lists, and looked for coupons at the same time. This week was especially critical because we wanted a little extra money to put towards extras, like a trip to Des Moines to visit my niece and her family, and a night out to celebrate our 3 year dating anniversary. We crunched our numbers, and thanks to a few of our other frugal living adjustments, I think we can eek these things out of our budget.

I think one thing that Doug and I have going for us, is that we communicate. We talk about money, and neither one of us are frivolous spenders-at least, not anymore. We put thought into where our money goes. We have made a very concentrated effort to live within or below our means and not take on any more debt. I think we are doing a great job, but could be, and will be, better. Right now, our game plan is to be in our own house within a year. To get to that goal, we need to make some sacrifices. Thus, our year of living frugally, which is quickly turning into a frugal lifestyle. It has been eye opening for both of us, to really think about what we are doing with our money. To not be going out every night, to live sensibly so that down the line we aren't stressed over the amount of debt we owe. Having common goals helps. I know that it would be easy to just whip out credit cards and buy what we want, now. But the stress of debt is not worth it, in the long run. So we set little goals for ourselves, we make do with what we have and improvise to get what we want. What we are recognizing is that we are a team, and we are playing on the same side to get what we both want-a home of our own. I know we will reach our common goal, together.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-NetFlix it!

Doug and I both love movies. I guess you might call us film fanatics. I know that when I met Doug, he had hundreds of DVDs and crates full of VHS tapes. When I moved in with him, he valiantly sold and gave away most of his collection, to make room for things that I felt were necessary-like clothes and furniture. When we were figuring out our entertainment budget, we realized that buying DVDs was just not an option anymore. We looked into Netflix. For $10.00 a month, which is the same price of one admission to a movie, we can have DVDs mailed to us, and even better, we can have them on demand. Doug already had an XBOX 360, and with that, we download many movies, tv series and documentaries right to our television. It is pretty cool!
One of the great benefits is being able to watch programming that we don't see on regular cable or in the theaters around here. We both love foreign films, and old classic movies and we are both avid documentary fans. Sadly, most of these never make it to the QC. But, now we can watch them at home. Plus, many old tv series that we either never watched or enjoyed in the past, are available. Having a tv marathon is a great way to spend a rainy day. Right now we are plowing through Battlestar Galactica, and watch a few episodes every week.,  as well as 3 to 4 movies a week through NetFlix. We've cut way back on going out to the movies. That opens up money for other things-like paying down debt. For us, our NetFlix account pays for itself a dozen times over in the amount of entertainment we receive. I think it is our best Frugal buy yet.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Habitatat ReStore

A few years ago I made an amazing discovery. The Habitat ReStore. When I lived in Omaha, I had a fixer-upper house, that was constantly in need of something. The ReStore was a lifesaver. For those of you who have never heard of the ReStore, let me tell you about it. It is run and maintained by Habitat for Humanity. Most every metropolitan area in the country has one. If you need cheap appliances, lighting, plumbing fixtures, furniture, doors, tile, windows, paint, tools, nails, nuts and bolts, not to mention a bazillion other things, this is the place. Some of it is used, or salvage donations. A lot of the items are new. I know that many contractors donate their leftover stock to ReStore, as a way to get a tax write-off. Some retail stores will liquidate their overstocks, or scratch and dent items through ReStore. Upgrading to stainless steel appliances, but your white appliances are still good? Donate them to the ReStore. Painted your wall, but only used a fraction of the gallon of paint you bought? Donate the leftover paint to the ReStore. Need a small amount of paint or stain for a project? ReStore it. It's a total community experience.

Recently I was at the ReStore in Davenport, which is a virtual handyman's playland. I saw that someone had donated some gorgeous woodwork, salvaged from an old house. I salivated over the antique crown molding, and the newly liberated built in cabinets. Sadly, I don't have a need for these things right now. But I envy the person who will get to make use of this beautiful woodwork in their home. I think the best thing about going to ReStore, other than it is so much cheaper than any retail outlet, is that it is a green alternative. I can actually feel like I am helping the environment by shopping at ReStore. By buying used or overstock, I am keeping useful items from go to a landfill. Saving money is just a by-product of this process. So I can be frugal, and green, at the same time!

The Handy Sandy Blog: A Year of Living Frugally-BYOC, and Free

The Handy Sandy Blog: A Year of Living Frugally-BYOC, and Free: "One of the things I love the most about summer, are all of the many outdoor public events. I especially like those events, that are free to..."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-BYOC, and Free

One of the things I love the most about summer, are all of the many outdoor public events. I especially like those events, that are free to the public. Most of these are BYOC-Bring Your Own Chair. I have a few of the area local event calendars bookmarked on my computer. Every week I go in, and see what is going on. Concerts in the park, fireworks, outdoor movies, parades. We're there. I think most people would be surprised at all that there is to do, if you take the time to look for the events. Living in the Quad Cities, there are many small towns in the surrounding area, and it seems each has it's own set of summer events. Some weekends, it is not a choice of what should we do, but what should we not do. It seems that many weekends have so many events, it is difficult to decide. Here are the Seven Simple Rules for BYOC Events:

1) Bring a comfortable, yet lightweight chair-preferably with a cup holder in one of the arms. Keep in mind, you may need to park several blocks from where the event is taking place, and you do not want a chair that is to heavy to carry for an extended length of time.

2) Sunscreen and bug repellent are a must. I just keep mine in the bag along with my chair. Be very liberal with both. A ball cap and sunglasses are a good idea as well.

3) Bring a small throw, or blanket. This can keep your feet out of wet or buggy grass, or, if it is chilly, keep you warm.

4) Get there early, and have a picnic. Most events will allow you, or even encourage you to bring your own food. Make it a special outing by bringing a picnic. You can pack sandwiches and salad in containers in a backpack, along with a cold pack to keep it fresh.

5)Be a good BYOC neighbor. Be aware that you are sharing space with many other people. Don't be rude by talking over the entertainment, or using your cell phone during a BYOC event. Also, if you realize you are obstructing someones view, offer to move your chair over so they can see or hear better. During downtime, do chat with the people around you, but don't be intrusive.

6) If you bring your dog, or children, keep an eye on them. Nothing is more embarassing than your dog taking a whiz on someones chair, or your child helping themselves to food off of someone else picnic blanket. I've seen both happen-not cool. 

7) Clean up after yourself! Most parks, and events have limited staff or volunteers, and clean up after an event can be quite an undertaking! Pick up all your litter, and throw it away, or take it home with you to dispose. Look around, and if you see trash, pick it up! Make it easier for the event organizers to want to do this again.

Those rules seem simple enough. Lastly, if you go to an event, and you enjoy it, let the event organizers know. Most every organization or event has a website, and it takes a few seconds to Google it. Give your thanks and your kudos and show support for their hard work. After all, your free entertainment probably cost someone else hours and hours of organization and preparation. A thank you is the least you can give them in return. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Rediscovering the Library

I will tell you something. One of the moments, I knew that Doug and I were meant for each other, was when he brought me to his apartment for the first time and I saw his floor to ceiling bookcases, brimming with every book, and dvd you could imagine. I am an avid reader, and I love movies of all kinds. We have that very much in common. A great date to us was a few hours perusing the nearest book store. Well, as part of our Year of Living Frugally, we have drastically cut down on our book buying. No more Barnes and Noble ( aka the crack den for nerds!). We do like a few different used book stores, but even we know that is beyond our budget. So, we have rediscovered the library.

I admit, it has been a few years since I stepped foot in a library. I was pleasantly surprised when we went to the Moline Public Library, and found shelves of DVDs available to rent, and the most recent bestsellers on display next to the door. I went to the periodicals area and found hundreds of different magazines, every magazine that I had wanted to buy in the last year, but didn't, because I didn't want to spend the money. All available to check out. I have to say, I was a little giddy. So I checked out several issues of This Old House, Fine Living, Writer's Digest, and Taste of Home. I had my next months leisure reading all set to go. Doug found several historical biographies, and I found a couple mysteries from my favorite authors. We had a foot high stack of books and magazines to check out. More than enough to keep us entertained for the next month. And best of all, it cost us nothing. Not a penny. I feel a little silly that we hadn't tried out the library sooner. I know we are going to be going back, again and again in the future. Not just because it's frugal, but because it is fun!

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Eating Better

Not long ago, I committed myself to eating better. I am trying to cut out all the junk food and eat more whole grains, more vegetables, and less red meat. I talked this lifestyle change over with my boyfriend and verbally, he said was on board, but his plate said otherwise. I noticed he would either not take any vegetables, or take them and only eat a bite or two or just pick at them. I noticed this with cabbage, with broccoli, green beans, asparagus. I finally asked him, what vegetable I could make that he would eat. He said corn. Yes, corn is a vegetable, but not what I had in mind with my ideas of eating healthy.

Last year I saw an Oprah show with guest Jessica Seinfeld. She wrote a cookbook on how to trick your kids into eating vegetables. She pureed it, grated it, and basically snuck the vegetables in so that they were invisible to the naked eye. Ok, granted, my Doug is not a kid, still, I could see the value of her plan. So instead of making meals where the meat and vegetable were two separate items, I started incorporating the veggies into one pot dishes. Soups that were chock full of things like celery, onions, tomatoes, green beans and carrots. I did stir fry and curries that were brimming with veggies and flavor. When I cooked brown rice, I added onion and a cup of frozen veggies to my rice cooker. I notice, now, when I cook his veggies this way, he eats them.  We are slowly, but surely, changing our eating habits for the better. Sure, we still have our Friday Night Pizza, but if we are eating better for the rest of the week, I can live with that.

The added benefit, is that we are actually saving money. Junk food dinners cost more overall, than healthy dinners. Who knew? Well, now I do, and you do too.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-If Only I Had a Garden

I come from a large family. My parents raised five children. My mother had the ability to stretch a dollar until it begged for mercy. I think I inherited some of that, although in my eyes, she will always be the master of frugality. We were lucky enough to have a large garden when I was growing up. A good solid acre devoted to raising vegetables. We also had choke cherry trees, and elderberry bushes. Late summer saw us spending many hot days in my mothers kitchen, canning tomatoes and green beans and pickles, jams and jellies. My dad had built a wall of shelves in our basement, that held hundreds of jars of our home canned goods. It wasn't until I moved away from home, that I ever bought a can of tomatoes, or a bag of frozen vegetables. I don't think anything on a store shelf can can compare to the vegetables we grew in our own garden and canned and froze ourselves. I am a little sad that I have not followed my parents example of living off the land, as much as possible. Green beans, plucked straight from the vine, and snapped with your own fingers have a taste that you can't duplicate.

I know that the main reason they gardened was to feed their family cheaply. For the cost of a few packets of seeds, they kept us fed all year long. But they taught us more than frugality, by growing things themselves. I learned a lot in that garden. That food planted and tended and harvested with your own hands tastes better. That weeding a vegetable patch can be meditative. That you can take pride in a pumpkin, or a squash, or a gigantic tomato. I learned that hard work, and patience pays off in bountiful ways.

 At the moment, we are living in an apartment-as part of our year of living frugally. I can not wait until we have a house and a garden of our own. I doubt that I will ever grow a garden as big as my parents, but I hope that the people I feed, with anything grown from my future garden know, the way that I knew, that the food was grown infused with love, and I hope it nourishes their souls, the way that my parents garden food nourished mine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Wednesdays, I put on my game face. I know I have a battle ahead, and I have this one day to prepare. What happens on Wednesdays? The grocery store ads come out, and I am ready to pinch every cent I can out of our grocery budget.

Some things, I know where I can find the best bargains. I prefer to buy meat at Fareway. They give discounts for buying in bulk, and the quality is always good. Unless I see a ridiculous sale somewhere else on meat, that's where I go. I search the Hy-Vee ad. They are my go-to store for produce. I have found that they usually have the best quality and the best price on fresh items. They also run great weekly specials in their ads. Last week, 4 Tony's Pizzas for $10.00. So that covers our Friday night Pizza and a Movie at home meal for the next 4 weeks. That's a cheap date night for us!  Cheese is also a regular purchase. I notice that about every 6 weeks, Hy-Vee or Jewel will sell it at half price. That's when we stock up. When I see the price of canned tomatoes drop under $0.50 a can, I will buy a case. We use canned tomatoes in soups and pasta, and salsas. That is one staple I load up on, when the price is right.

I started cutting coupons a few months ago. I am not quite to the Extreme Couponing stage yet, but I think we do alright. I go through the ads, and figure out what we are buying, or if there is something on sale that I also have a coupon for. On average, we save between $15.00 and $35.00 in coupons, for every $100.00 we spend. I go to several online sites, such as, and for printable coupons. A month ago I printed out 4 coupons for Ronzoni Smart Source High Fiber Pasta, $1.00 off 2 boxes. Last week that pasta went on sale for $1.00 a box. So I was able to get 8 boxes for $4.00. I was pretty happy about that. That means we are set on pasta for the next two months.  General Mills had cereal recently for $1.88 a box. I had 3 $1.00 off coupons. So I was able to purchase 3 boxes of cereal for under $3.00. Wal-mart is usually my source for box and can foods, and pet food and litter. Milk and butter is almost always cheapest at Aldi's. I also have a liking for their salad dressings.

The most important thing I do is make a list and stick to it. I write a list for each store we are going to, on the back of an envelope. Inside that envelope I have the coupons I will be using. This makes checking out so much easier, as I don't have to dig through my coupon caddy every time I see something on my list. Pre-planning saves time in the check out line. I put about 2-4 hours of work researching the ads, printing and clipping coupons, and making out my weekly grocery list. I figure this is a part time job, and the savings we have on our grocery bill is my pay. It's worth it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-The $17 Dress Excursion

I honestly can not remember the last time I paid full retail price for a piece of clothing. I like to shop, don't get me wrong. I just don't like to spend. Recently I realized I needed a dress for an event. First I shopped in my own closet. Sadly, every thing I had was either to big, to small, or seasonally inappropriate for my summer event. I checked the budget, and saw I had about $15.00 to work with. So first I checked out the Goodwill. Once in a while, I do make a pretty successful score there. However, that was not to be on this trip. As a plus sized person, I often find that the items in my size are limited. It seems plus sized people do not make many donations to the Goodwill or Salvation Army for some reason. Still, I was undaunted. The next stop was Fashion Bug. I love Fashion Bug because they always have at least one rack of mark-downs. Plus, I had an entertainment book coupon for 20% off a purchase. I thought if I could find something marked down to at least $20.00, I would still be good. I did see many things, and actually several outfits that would have fit into my budget. But, not exactly what I was looking for. I then went to the next store, which is a consignment shop in Davenport called Ritzi ReRuns. I like to check this store at least once a month, as their inventory changes all the time. I love consignment stores, as you usually find clothing in much better condition, and higher quality than you would at a Goodwill or Salvation Army. Of course you are going to pay a little higher price, but still much less than retail. As luck would have it, I found the perfect outfit. A cute light weight black skirt and yellow polka dot jacket set that was summery and appropriate for the event I was attending. Best of all, it was new! It still had the original tags on it. I was able to purchase this suit for $12.00. As I was checking out a spied a purse, that matched the suit perfectly. $5.00 for the purse. I couldn't resist. Ok-technically that put me $2.00 over the budget I had set for myself. But a summer suit, and matching purse for $17.00? Seriously, I was high five-ing myself all the way home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Giving up the Vanilla Latte Habit

Right now, things are a little tight, in our household. We are down to one income, but we are making the best of it. Last week, I was feeling a little sad because I realized that it was no longer in the budget, to buy my daily Grande Vanilla Latte, at the coffee house down the street. When I did the math, $3.50 a day times 5 (and sometimes 6 or 7) times a week. Well, in a month that is at minimum $70.00 I was spending. That's roughly the same as our electric bill. So, I had to suck it up, and make the sacrifice. I decided I could make it at home. I checked to see how much a bottle of vanilla coffee flavoring was, and was shocked to find it for $8.00. That was still more than I wanted to pay. I looked at the ingredients on the back, which were basically corn syrup, vanilla and water. I decided to make my own vanilla coffee syrup. Here is the recipe I came up with:

Vanilla Syrup

1 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 1/2 cup water
2 TBSP vanilla extract

In a pan, mix the first three ingredients and bring to a boil on medium/high heat on the stove. Bring to a rolling boil and whisk for about 5 minutes until it is slightly thickened. Cool completely, and add the vanilla (vanilla will loose its potency if you add it while mixture is still hot.) Store in a closed bottle in the refrigerator. Add to coffee to your own taste.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the syrup I made actually tasted better than the one used by my favorite coffee house! I figure the cost of a weeks worth of vanilla syrup for my home brewed vanilla latte is about $0.50. This is do-able. I buy my French Roast Coffee from Trader Joes, and that is $6.99, and normally lasts me about a month. Instead of steamed milk, I went with a dollop of generic creamer-another $3.00 for a months supply. So, from $70.00 a month, for my latte habit, I am down to right around $10-11.00 a month. And now we can pay the electric bill on time. It's all good.