Archive for the 'frugal' Category

couponing gone extreme

Monday, February 9th, 2009

One frugal tip that I always scoffed at was cutting coupons. I had plenty of reason to scoff: it takes too long, I never buy name brand anyways, it’s all for processed foods we don’t eat, I’d never remember to take them to the store. Reality was that I’d never really looked into the art of using coupons and maybe that was a good thing.

Turns out that couponing or Qing is quite an elaborate system thanks to people’s obsessive natures to save a few dimes (or many dimes) and the wonderful community building aspect of the internet. A friend told me how much money she saves and all the free products she gets and I made the mistake of looking into the sport of using coupons, a mistake that cost me about 5 hours of my time so far. I looked it over, read everything over and over again (maybe I’m dense, but this stuff can be confusing), and finally think this is something I could get into on a small scale.

There are a two things going for coupons that has me interested: I already subscribe to the daily paper and I need to save money. That seems like simple enough motivation. I still feel like coupons are often for items that I typically don’t buy and this is where the wonderful world of FREE comes in. Now, I’m not someone that has to get something because it’s free, but I do like taking advantage of opportunities when I find them. While I usually don’t buy items like cereal bars or frozen meals, I would bring them home if they were free or darn close to it. The partner can use them for snacks and meals at work and it’s often nice to have a dinner alternative around for those night when no one feels like cooking — plus any food with a $0.00 cost is a budget bonus right now. Another reason to try it out is that with all the internet sites out there supporting the coupon habit, I don’t think it will take much time in my extremely busy schedule. I don’t have to actually clip any coupons unless I need to. Coupons get filed away by date, intact with the insert they came in, and I wait until a handy dandy coupon database tells me there is an awesome sale that is too good to pass up. When such sales come along, the database tells me where to find the coupons I need, so I clip only when it’s worthwhile.

I admit that there is still a lot for me to scoff at, but I’m going to hold back on my coupon-clipping-criticism for a couple months and give it a try. My first adventure into playing the coupon game will be a trip to CVS to pick up some free items and start the ball rolling. I’ll try to update with how things go, but don’t hold your breath, you might have notice the intense lack of posting over the past two years.

clothes shopping time

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

One of the joys of raising children is that they need things, like clothes. Luckily, I have a wonderful daughter who isn’t the least bit interested in fashion or keeping up with her friends. This makes clothes shopping an easy and affordable experience.

A couple years ago, I stopped at my favorite thrift store to pick up some camp clothes for the daughter. These were clothes that I didn’t care what happened to them or if they ever came back from camp. Since we’re pretty frugal with most of our purchases, I didn’t want her taking her “normal” clothes to camp and getting them ruined or lost. I think I spent about $20 on shirts and shorts for the two week camp.

It turned out that she really liked a lot of those clothes and they quickly became part of her normal wardrobe. Suddenly, I realized that buying her clothes anywhere else made no sense whatsoever. So, we started shopping at thrift stores for pretty much all of her clothing needs. I love that I can pick up an entire season’s worth of clothes for about $30. I also love how flexible she is and the fact that she could care less where they come from or what they look like, for the most part. Plus, if you see the way she treats her clothes, you’d probably feel much better knowing that she crawling in the mud in a pair of $3 pants versus a pair of $30 pants.

So, today we’re heading down to our favorite thrift store shopping district to get some summer clothes that she’s been desperately needing. I’m really getting tired of seeing her running around in mid-nineties degree weather wearing flannel lined jeans (she swears she isn’t hot, but come on!). While I figure we’ll spend about $30 on clothes, maybe a little more if I get a few things, we’ll probably spend almost that much on lunch and gas as well. Unfortunately, there are no good thrift stores where we live and we’ll be making the partners commute to the stores that have proven time and again to be worth the drive. And, since we’ll be down by the partner during his lunch hour, we’ll stop in and dine with him too. A nice family lunch out on a weekday is a rare occurance these days since gas prices went up and we moved so far away from his work.

How much is vanity worth?

Monday, May 19th, 2008

The decision to not drive my accident-damaged car is mostly based on vanity issues. I don’t want to drive a car that is smashed in on one side, no matter how much I love the car or how much I dislike driving our other two vehicles. We decided to keep the car, as-is, and the partner can start driving it to work since his commute is 70 miles a day and his current vehicle gets about 16mpg and the car gets 30mpg. Before that switch happens, though, there are still some repairs/improvements the partner wants to make and there is the issue of wrapping his mind around driving a stick-shift car. The partner worked on the car a bit this weekend, making it drivable and the passenger door is now mostly-operable. But, he’s not quite ready to drive it yet, so it’s in the driveway this week.

I had several errands to run today, which happened to be in opposite directions. Living out in the country has the disadvantage of being far away from everything. Last night, as I planned out my morning trip: chiropractor, freecycle pick-up (on the way), fabric store, feed store, and attorney’s office – I realized I was going to be doing a lot of driving. Since the partner had fixed the immediate driving problems with the car, I had the option of driving it or the utility van I’ve been driving. Because the cost of gas is at the seriously-painful point, for me at least, I couldn’t ignore the financial implication of my two options:

    All of my errands totaled a 41.5 miles roundtrip. Current gas price is $3.79/gallon.

  1. Vanity Option: Drive the van, at 18mpg, for a cost of:$8.74
  2. Practical Option Drive the car, at 30mpg for a cost of: $5.24

I decided to save the $3.50 and go with the practical option. Also, considering the fact that 30mpg is my low estimate and the majority of my driving is at highway speeds (one advantage to country living, everything may be far away, but you don’t have to crawl to get there), I probably saved a bit more than that. I still don’t want to drive the car, but if it means helping our dollars stretch a little further – I will do what I can.

Also, since the accident, our gas usage has dropped dramatically. Because I dislike driving the van, I will stay home if I have the choice. This means combining trips even more than before and resiting the urge to just get out of the house – a very common issue for me. Now that I have the option of the van or the car, at least till the partner finishes the improvements he wants, I’ll still probably chose to stay home due to vanity and gas-price concerns.

Sustainability: Ethical or Financial Decision

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

In my reading and social circles, sustainability is a huge topis – from being personally sustainable to supporting agricultural and business practices that are sustainable. I’m not sure if there is a general shift in U.S. socio-consciousness that is focusing on these issues or if I’ve just surrounded myself with fairly “crunchy”, earth/environment conscious folk at this point. But for brevity sake, I’ll focus on personal sustainability in this post.

For us, it is a combination of financial and ethical motivation that prompts us to incorporate more sustainable practices in our life and support other’s doing the same. From an ethical standpoint, we’ve read and watched several books/movies lately that have really helped us define our previously unsubstantiated reasons for making a difference in our ecological footprint and fully utilizing our land. These experiences helped us shape the sometimes incoherent thoughts, ramblings, and reasons we’ve given for our view points that come from a fairly deep-seated personal and ethically motivated response to the current conditions of the world.

Financially, increasing our personal sustainability is a step in reducing financial unknowns and variables. This year’s plans include growing as much food as we can and learning about raising chickens for meat and eggs. One of the requirements for buying a house was that there be enough land to raise as much of our own food as we could and our little one-acre plot provides a good start in that direction. With food prices on the rise, this couldn’t come at a better time.

2008 Garden Plot Currently, we have four garden plots dug and plans to dig up 4 more plots and add space for 4 vertical-crop plots. We’re currently using the Square Foot Gardening method developed by Mel Bartholomew. Anyone interested in growing their own food (whether to supplement your weekly grocery shopping or to replace it altogether), I suggest checking out Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book. For those who are going this route, I like pointing out that we’re using an older addition of the book and method, and are planting everything the ground as opposed to the raised beds he now recommends. The older method is a little more work, but also uses less material resources and makes use of the land we purchased for that purpose.

We started seeds indoors about five weeks ago to get a jump start on the season. Last week, those items finally made it outside and in the ground – just in time for two overnight freezes. Luckily, these are cold-hardy plants and they did just fine. Each weekend, we’re busy adding more and more crops to the plots or starting them in seedling trays with supplemental heat (because I only heat house at 58 degrees during the day) and light. I need to add up how much we’ve spent so far, but I’m pretty sure it’s still less than $100 and half of that was on seeds.

2008 Baby Chicks In addition to fruits and vegetables, we’re interested in raising our own meat and eggs. We’re not even slightly interested in becoming vegetarian and I happen to live by the mindset that if processing animals for my table is too gross or offensive, then I shouldn’t be eating it in the first place. We currently have 10 baby chicks that are living in our mudroom, waiting to go outside in chicken tractors. We got the chicks when they were just one day old and have really enjoyed watching them grow. We’ll keep 4-5 of them for egg layers and the rest will be harvested for our freezer. The goal is to start small, in terms of processing them, as we learn what we’re doing and get the hang of it. Financially speaking, raising your own meat and eggs isn’t all the cheaper than buying from the grocer – but you have the reassurance that you know exactly what they’ve been eating and how they were treated. I do plan to sell excess eggs and will probably take a few orders for meat chickens on the next go-round.

While raising our of food reduces the impact on soaring grocery prices on our budget, we trade the financial variables for natural ones. Several things could take our crops, from drought conditions (we live with a well and that is a very real concern for us) to predators. Our chickens could get sick or attacked by a neighboring dog. While we’ll take all the necessary precautions to protect our food investments, it is somewhat more risky than relying on super market convenience. But, when we sit down to dinner, we’ll know exactly how things were grown and that it didn’t take much oil consumption to get it to our table. Separating ethical and financial motivations for increasing sustainability seem impossible at this point, but I appreciate that individuals interested in either motivation can take steps to reduce their environmental footprint.

Garden Seeds Purchased: $68 Saved!

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Winter brings dreams of spring and for some people, dreams of gardens and glossy seed catalogs. We jumped into this a little later than some, as we weren’t yet on the automatically mailing lists for any seed companies yet. But, we did some searching and decided one two companies to work with, at least until I read Get Rich Slowly’s recent gardening post. There a commenter left a tip that saved us $68!

For the non-gardening types, when you order a packet of seeds, you usually get more than you’ll use in a year or even three years. Luckily, if stored properly, seeds will last. But for folk just getting started, initial seed purchases can really add up.

For example, we spent a total of $47.20 on 32 packets of seeds. We purchased 22 super-tiny-packets from artisticgardens.com for a total of $11.20 and 10 packets from another seed catalog for $36.00. The packets from artisticgardens.com (also known as Le Jardin du Gourmet) will be enough for all of this years’ planting and most of next years as well. The packets from the other seed catalog will probably last us for 2-5 years.

While the cost per seed is slightly higher in the smaller packets, the savings for our first year of serious gardening justifies the cost. Also, this lets us try out some items to see if we like them or not. We may find that we don’t care for one of the plants we selected — I’d rather find that out with a $0.50 packet of seeds versus a $3.60 one. If we’d gone with our original plan, we would have spent another $68 in seeds. Thanks artisticgardens.comBekah for the tip!

Also, GRS discussed how they also pool resources with other gardeners to split the cost of seed orders. I’m hoping to take advantage of that idea next year when I have time for a little more advanced planning. However, looking at our gardening calendar this past week showed us that we needed to get moving on starting some plants asap and we just sat down and got it done.

Now bring on spring!

We’re not the only ones watching our spending on food

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

A few days after posting our food related spending, Blogging Away Debt posted a new strategy to reduce grocery spending. Thanks to several money saving tips shared in the comments, they’re working on a master list to share with others, read the details and share you own tip. I’ve read lots and lots of ways to save on food, but will be interested in seeing suggestions offered by fellow bloggers.

Some tips, like supplementing fresh milk with powdered milk may be just a little too frugal for some — however, we’re really appreciating how it is extending our $4/gallon milk purchases. Also, having dry milk on hand means NEVER having to run to the store just for recipe that calls for milk. Just last week the partner was almost out the door to get milk when I trapped him in the kitchen and whipped up a batch of powdered milk in seconds — that saved us $3 for the gallon of gas he would have used just to get the $4/gallon of milk back home and we were able to eat at least 45 minutes earlier than we would have if we had to wait on the milk run.

Why pay retail for kids clothes?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

The cooler weather caught us unprepared, the daughter needed warm weather clothes. A quick 30-minute trip to my favorite thrift store was all we needed to stock up for winter.

I’m a big advocate of having just enough clothes for kids and no more. Anything extra just means more things strewn across the floor and more laundry to wash. Also, having too many clothes means extra time folding and more space needed to put things away. I buy enough clothes that she can wear a different top every day of the week and about four pairs of pants — we buy a couple extra items for days that it rains or the clothes just get messy. I don’t believe in school clothes and play clothes, thats too much space and laundry for me. Shopping at thrift stores means I don’t freak out when she wears her “new” pants to play in the mud (though, I do fuss a little) and I don’t mind (too much) if things get holes in them.

All of our thrift store clothes are in great shape — I don’t buy anything that is worn or has stains on it. The price on the like-new items is the same as the well-worn items, so I like to get my money’s worth. Also, I often end up reselling the items after she’s grown out of them, sometimes for more than I paid. I visit thrift stores where they have 50% off specials; at my favorite store, each items has a different color tag and certain colors will be 50% off that day. If I see something that’s perfect, but not 50% off that day, I pass. I know that I’ll find something else just as wonderful for half the price.

I find it helpful to know your local thrift stores and stick to the ones that are easiest to shop at. There are three near the partner’s work that have good prices. However, I primarily shop at one because they are always clean, everything is hung up according to color, and the racks are not jammed tight. If I feel like I really have to dig to find what I want, it’s not worth it. Today I scored 5 pairs of pants, 5 tops, 1 light weight jacket, and 2 pairs of pyjamas for $30, all within 30 minutes – for me, this is shopping at it’s finest. The daughter tried everything on and it all fits, we’re lucky that she’s pretty easy going in terms of fashions and is usually happy with anything I pick out.

Save Money on Milk

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I was prepared to write up a fairly eloquent post on how you can save money using dry, instant milk. I’ve seen this suggestion mentioned by the most frugal of frugal and figure that it wasn’t for me. I don’t know, but something about reconstituted milk just didn’t sit right. Crazy part of this untested assumption is that I’m not a milk drinker, so what would it even matter if it tasted funny? It’d still work just fine in cooking and baking, right?

So, I finally whipped up a test batch to test my assumptions and was unexpectedly impressed. What I figure to just be a sign of scraping the barrel of frugality turns out to be a reasonable solution to increasing milk prices. To test it even further, I poured it into the near empty milk container and waited for a blind taste test from the daughter — sure enough, it passed without detection (ie. success).

At the grocery store, I told the daughter that dry milk was on our list. We hit the dairy isle first (because we still needed regular milk, more on that in a bit) and was shocked to see that milk prices have climbed up to $4.25 a gallon – wow!. That means we’re paying more than a quarter for each glass of chocolate milk consumed. Outraged by this price, I vowed that we were now 100% committee to drinking powdered milk. The daughter freaks at this idea — no way is she going to drink powdered milk! I inform her she already has, much to her astonishment, and she’s stumped for an argument.

In the baking isle, powdered milk in hand, the daughter continues the case against the new change in her drinking habits, insisting that she didn’t drink anything like that. Once I tell of the blind taste test procedure, she admits defeat and doesn’t seem so overwhelmed by the idea. Feeling proud and thrifty, I head home with my purchases; but something in my mind starts wondering about the actual cost per gallon on reconstituted milk and how much this new milk is going to cost.

Once home, full grocery bags still waiting on the counter, I whip out the calculator and start playing with numbers. The 4 pound box of dry milk will make 5 gallons of milk, at a price of $2.90 a gallon — for some reason, this doesn’t seem thrifty enough for me.

Also, because we’ll be mixing regular milk with the dry milk to improve flavor for the occasional glass of milk and for cereal, that bring the price per gallon even higher. A 1:1 ratio will give us, at current market rates, a price of $3.57 a gallon. If we increase the ration to 3:1, price drops to $3.23 a gallon — the price we were paying last year for regular milk. Sigh.

These numbers are not very encouraging. Basically, it’s more work for less quality (I said I was unexpectedly impressed, I am not ready to go 100% dry milk – yet) and the price is still more than $3.00 a gallon. All in all, I think it is time for us to consider a dairy goat.

Sushi and Spending: skipping and saving

Monday, March 19th, 2007

I’ve got a thing for sushi, such wonderful,, yummy goodness. But, it comes with a price tag that puts it on the very-rare treat list. It wasn’t always that way though. I used to go our for sushi a couple times a month and threw away lots of money on getting the good stuff. But, now that I’m being a more responsible steward of our dollars, sushi is a luxury that never happens.

The I-want-sushi desire hit this weekend and it hit hard. Every time the partner would mention something about food, groceries, or dinner, I’d start pushing to go get sushi. “You want to spend $100 on dinner?” He’d want to know — no, not really. Sushi for two doesn’t really cost us $100, but getting out for less than $60 would be an achievement. Throwing the $100 amount out there helped paint the picture.

So, how to manage the hyper-drive-cravings that show up with the scaling-back-to-buy-a-house budget we’re living with? For one thing, it’ll include skipping out on sushi for dinner. But, all is not lost. I now work within walking distance to one of my favorite sushi places, so maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop in for a lunch special that will fit my budget and take care of that urging.

Frugal Necessities: Pantyhose

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Dressing for work is costing too much – mostly in terms of time and frustration of knowing I don’t quite “fit in”. While I know I need to go shopping and have reviewed some great comment on the subject, I’m still struggling every morning getting dressed for work.

This morning was no exception. I had planned on wearing a certain outfit that I figured would be suitable for lunch with a coworker. The outfit included a skirt and the dreaded pantyhose (required by office policy).

I bought a pair a couple weeks ago and wore them once. Today, I pulled them on and they’ve already got a run in them – argh!. I know I paid close to $5 for that pair and just one wearing isn’t enough for my frugal expectations.

When I google “frugal pantyhose” I get lots of uses for panty hose – everything except wearing them to work. I’m not looking to store onions or buff my shoes; I want to follow dresscode policy for less than $5/day.

The only suggestions I know are about clear nail polish and careful washing. Handwashing obviously wasn’t enough in this case and an entire bottle of nail polish couldn’t have rescued the panty hose.

So, instead of staying all bent out of shape about the hose, I decided to wear the warm boots all day instead of just to and from the office and snuck in a pair of 50-inch long socks, nice, thick, unprofessional, thigh high socks (thank goodness for long skirts).

However, I need to know what to do about pantyhose. Do I just buy the super cheap brand and pull out a new pair each time or is there a brand or method that will get me a few good wearing out of each pair?