Five Frugal Things and One Horrific Waste of Money

by Katy on March 10, 2015 · 51 comments

My week has started out on a decidedly non-frugal note. I’d briefly mentioned that I’ve been disputing a charge on my son’s university bill, but had been deliberately vague about the issue as I didn’t feel that it needed to be written about at the time. Suffice it to say that due to some extremely convoluted issues related to my son only being a part-time student and being unaware that he’d been assigned an official e-mail account, we were charged $694 for a term of health insurance despite already having it. We disputed the charge all the way up the ladder and lost. So yesterday my son and I went across town and to paid the fee in person. A fee for a service my son will never use.

But having overpaid in one area doesn’t mean that all the small and medium sized things I normally do to save money are suddenly not worth the effort. I’ll continue to watch my pennies and I’ll still put the work in to spend less than we earn and put money aside for my sons’ college expenses.

So here you go — Five Frugal Things:

Sunny clothesline

  1. With the extended warm weather here in Portland, I’ve been starting to use the clothesline again to dry my family’s laundry. It’s amazing how much sunnier an area it is when my huge maple tree has no leaves. I can’t remember if I’ve ever used it this early in the season before.
  2. My next door neighbor and I met up yesterday to go through our Chinook coupon books together. She gave me the coupons she wouldn’t use, and I gave her the ones I won’t. She now has coupons for restaurants she and her husband enjoy, and I have extra ones for The Grocery Outlet and other places that I frequent.
  3. Our dinner last night was a big pot of chicken soup with dumplings. I boiled up our leftover chicken thighs from the night before to make the soup and simply added a few carrots, herbs, garlic and frozen peas to round it out.
  4. Some of my husband’s old work uniforms were no longer usable due to broken zippers or being extremely faded. They had both his first and last names embroidered on them, so were not a good candidate to be donated to Goodwill. Plus, since my husband works in emergency services, it wouldn’t be so good for the general public to be wearing his official uniforms. I discovered a textile recycling drop box in my neighborhood and dropped the uniforms off, which was great as they’d been sitting in my house for years! Nothing frugal about holding onto useless items.
  5. I took an envelope full of coins that had been part of my sons’ college fund to the credit union to covert to bills. Of course I swept my hand under the machine and came up with . . . $1.61.  Not exactly $694, but it’s a start.

Sigh . . .

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer N March 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm

I’m so sorry about that fee! What a heart-breaker. All of your frugality surely paid off because you were ABLE to pay the fee even if I still think it’s unfair.

My frugal things:
1. In an ongoing effort to keep up with the hubby’s weight loss, I found a nice pair of jeans for him in his new size at Goodwill today, and a nice blouse for me, both of which were in nearly new condition.
2. My son and I walked to the mall on Sunday because it was such a gorgeous day and I wanted to grab lunch and pick up a birthday gift for my brother. I had credit for a free kids meal at Panera so that’s where we ate.
3. We had beef brisket for dinner last night, which none of us liked very much but we ate it anyway because it’s food! I added some strawberries for the boys so they wouldn’t starve.

That’s all I can think about right now. I haven’t been focusing on frugality too much lately, but I need to get back on that bandwagon!


Stephanie March 10, 2015 at 8:11 pm

How did you make your brisket? I made one for the first time on Super Bowl and it was delicious but super expensive! However, I saw one tonight at Wince far cheaper but still out of the budget for this month (at $55). Curious what you didn’t like about yours? We ended up eating ours as sandwiches – actually that was the intended purpose lol


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary March 12, 2015 at 7:31 am

I make brisket all the time — my family loves it. 🙂 It can be expensive though, so I keep out an eagle eye for sales. I would say the key is to really tightly cover the pan so that the meat remains juicy.


Betty Winslow March 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

1. Put some chicken breasts, chopped onions, and cream of chicken soup in the crockpot this morning, which I’ll serve later over mashed potatoes (to use up the ones that are starting to sprout) and roasted asparagus,
2. Bought a used Keurig/stand a month or two ago, but it takes up too much room for the use we’ll get out of it. Selling it on a FB sale site for the same price I paid. Results? A wash as to the money, but I got back some counter space! The leftocer cups will be taken to school for my co-workers to use with the machine our boss gave us for Xmas.
3. Stopped at the library and picked up a huge stack of mysteries for this weekend’s reading spree.
4. Made rice pudding from leftover rice a couple of days ago, didn’t care for it, so gave it to a friend, whose husband has been begging her to make it for him, and got in return a bag of beads/findings she couldn’t use.
5. Using the bead freebies to make some earrings to donate to a fund-raiser this weekend for some former students who need money to pay for their late mom’s medical bills and funeral. (I’m also using up more of my “bought for Xmas baking” leftovers to make cookies for it…)


Joanne March 10, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Hm. The two things I can think of right off the bat are:

I get to take free classes at the store where I work. Sunday I took a weaving class, and just finished my first woven scarf. Probably not a new obsession, but pretty neat anyway. (I’m glad it’s not a new obsession–we don’t really have room for a loom!)

Last night I made banana bread. I had bought some bananas a while back and the last one started turning too dark before anyone ate it, so I peeled it and threw it in the freezer. Yesterday I made it into banana bread. The recipe called for walnuts or pecans but i didn’t have any so I used almonds (I had a bag around). Different, but still nice.

Sunday night we got together with some friends for dinner. They cooked beans in their slow cooker and I provided the rice and spaghetti.


Susan March 10, 2015 at 1:06 pm

1. I no longer have to commute to my old teaching placement and pay £30 in bus and train fares weekly. I can walk to my new teaching placement!

2. Being a trainee teacher gives me virtually no free time so maybe that’s a good thing.

3. I’ve been knitting from my yarn stash so no recent yarn purchases PLUS I’m using yarn my mum bought me! (I picked it…)

4. I’ve been catching on programmes I like on the BBC iplayer when I actually have some guilt free time so free entertainment.

5. The weather is getting warm so the heat isn’t on as much in my house…


A. Marie March 10, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Re: the university bill: I hate that sort of thing, and I extend my sympathy. We’re getting a few bummers like that ourselves as we wrestle with the new complexities of DH’s post-65 medical care, but nothing that bad yet.

And you certainly have better coin machine luck than I do. The one at our local Wegmans hasn’t yielded anything since I found a bunch of foreign coins (including two British 1-pounders, which I gave to a friend who was traveling to Blighty) about a year ago.

Made beef barley soup this afternoon, and then got an invitation to Favorite Neighbors’ house for beef stew. So we’re going to take them some soup and have a dinner exchange.

And Favorite Neighbors’ friend down in the Philly area who brought the amazing box of Kennett Square mushrooms last fall is due for another visit with them. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for more fungi!


Gloria March 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Have you read the latest Lisa Scottoline? It involves Kennett Square (which I had never heard of) and their mushrooms. Nice to know they really exist!


Kathleen March 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

I’m so sorry about the huge bill. I try to remind myself in those situations that the reason I can just pay the bill (vs charging it to a credit card) is because I do watch those pennies. So bummer on the $694, but congrats on being able to pay it in full.


Victoria March 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I hate when there’s no way out of paying for something you don’t need and will never use. The last time I was in a situation like that, it was $164 and I paid using $1 bills. They’re lucky I didn’t pay with rolled pennies. It might be petty, but it made me feel better. 🙂


Jill March 10, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Ooo, that is such a good idea! You discharge the obligation, but in a way that makes you feel better. Well done!


Katy March 10, 2015 at 4:31 pm

I paid in cash from the money I earned cleaning guest cottages, selling thrifted finds and so many other small things. A HUGE amount of effort went into making that money. I may seem calm about this, but I am most definitely not!


Jane F March 11, 2015 at 4:26 am

Katy, I just want to say. I’m sorry for the situation. That really sucks.


Katy March 11, 2015 at 6:10 am

Thank you, that’s really sweet.


Isabelle March 11, 2015 at 11:44 am

A couples years back a man here paid his taxes (thousands of dollars!!!!!) By dumping 1cents.(Canadian)… a mountain of cents, can you imagine! I think he had to take them back, but still….


Katy March 11, 2015 at 12:02 pm

I wouldn’t want to burden the people who have nothing to do with the school’s policies.


Ruth March 12, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Maybe you could write to the universities executives and dispute the costs higher +/- ask them to make it optional for next year……Ruth


Jill March 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I decluttered the small bookcase in our dining room and came away with many books, videos games, and electronics to sell to the local used book store. Anything, they don’t want, I will try on eBay, or Freecycle, or donate.

The point being, I may get a small amount of money for stuff I don’t want any more, which is awesome.

However, I must confess that we are going to Subway tonight, and without any coupons or deals. I have a pinched nerve in my back and have been in agony for a week. The doctor put me on steroids which has the combined effect of making me flushed, hot, cranky, and hungry. So I want a tuna sub! I am going to get and then sit on the sofa and be lazy because I want to. So there! 🙂


Joanna March 10, 2015 at 4:25 pm

However the tuna sub is one of the cheapest ones! 😉


Katy March 10, 2015 at 4:33 pm

No reason to feel defensive about the tuba sub. You hit that couch and munch away, girl!


Mel March 10, 2015 at 1:50 pm

I feel for you Katy, my son would never have caught the Health/dental insurance fees on his tuition bill. I happened to read how to stop those fees on the University website after they charged it on his tuition (we have health/dental insurance),we had to jump through a bunch of paper documentation hoops and all had this had to be done on a short time schedule stated by the University. We were successful but I will watch every year from now on to make sure these yearly charges do not get added on to his tuition bill. Also he is charged a yearly bus pass (comes with your student id) and he does not use the bus. Trying to get that fee not charged next year as well. We ended up paying that one because there was a huge process with trying to get that charge off his tuition, in the end we let that one go.


K D March 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm

I am so sorry about the $694 bill. I can’t believe you have to opt out of the insurance. Most adult children are covered by their parents until age 26 these days. It seems ridiculous, like a money grab. It is also crazy the amount of fees my daughter must pay every semester, almost 50% of tuition, but they don’t often raise tuition, or not by much, they transfer the increased cost to fees.

Frugal things:

1. Dinner is based yet again on homemade yeast dough. I roll it out into a circle, cut it into 12 pieces, roll turkey sausage in the dough, and bake. It is my much healthier variation on Crescent Dogs (a Pillsbury recipe). Thank good for for the cheap versatility of yeast dough. Yeast at the warehouse club is such a great bargain.

2. I stopped at Safeway to buy a few sale items. They also had their Open Nature ground turkey on clearance. I bought all three marked down packages. I cooked it and will freeze it in 1# packages. Having pre-cooked meat in the freezer helps me many nights to get dinner on the table quickly.

3. My husband is out of town so I have been watching movies (library DVDs) he does not want to watch, in the evening.

4. I am debating contributing to a GoFundMe effort. I don’t know the family well but I have been around one of the kids several times. It is not frugal, but being frugal gives us the ability to do that kind of thing.

5. The warmer weather means the furnace is running so much less, which should save us a lot of money on heating.


Alison March 10, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Bummer about the $694. We had to pay health and dental insurance one year that was added to my daughter’s tuition because she didn’t send in proof of alternate coverage by the deadline. Totally her fault. It was about half of your amount, but still bugs me. You can be sure I don’t do that again!

– I took some apples from work last week that were free for the taking, will make apple crumble (my favourite dessert ever).

– cooked some less than lovely potatoes to add to some soup I made a few days ago. Before reading this blog, I probably would have composted them.

– will visit the Body Shop soon as it’s my birthday month, and I have earned $10 in free stuff. I don’t shop there often, but DH has very dry skin in the winter, so we can always use more body butter.


Alison March 10, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Oh, and it’s also warm enough here that I have turned off the furnace during the day, but we still use our gas fireplace in the evening.


Amanda March 10, 2015 at 2:43 pm

That’s too bad. At least you tried to get the money back. Health insurance is an opt out thing at my school too, but I wouldn’t have thought it applied to part timers. I’ll bet a shocking number of students don’t even realize they are paying for it.


Katy March 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

It is good that I know I did absolutely everything I could to fight the nonsense. It helps a bit.


Chris March 10, 2015 at 4:14 pm

My sister and her 3 kids were here for 2 days – we went to the second run movie theater and saw “Into the Woods” at $2 each and greatly enjoyed! Ate 3 out of the 4 meals at home and ordered out the other but less than I expected with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Today we went to 2 thrift stores – 40% off for senior day at one – then to Goodwill Outlet. We will have our first grandchild in the late summer and picked up several 6-9 months outfits – pretty gender specific – but at $1.49 per pound, I can pass them on to someone else. I also found 2 pairs of dress pants for my husband.


Katy March 10, 2015 at 4:33 pm

I kind of want to see Into The Woods, but there’s no one in my life that shares that inclination.


Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom March 10, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Today we got up to 8C and I was thinking of shoveling off the back deck and hanging our laundry. It feels like spring might actually be coming and the cabin fever has lifted, woohoo! (I ended up scraping more of the driveway instead and hanging the clothes inside by the sliding doors.)


Karen March 10, 2015 at 4:55 pm

That stinks about the health insurance bill. My son attends a NJ state school and the fee appears on the tuition bill itself. There is an option to waive the fee by filling out an online form each semester to avoid paying the duplicate insurance fee. I don’t understand why your son’s school doesn’t do it this way. And if not, why not? This kind of fee shouldn’t be reliant on receiving an e-mail notice. It should be more obvious by placing it directly on the bill.


Katy March 10, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Is yours a paper bill? Because I always pay any bills I’m aware of!


Kim from Philadelphia March 10, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Ugh. Sorry about the I insurance snafu. It sucks
Nothing new to report here!


Linda in Mass March 10, 2015 at 5:35 pm

The same thing happened at my daughter’s school one semester. We provided our insurance card on her health forms but they were for athletics. The athletics department records do not cross reference the other records, so they ordered insurance for my daughter, even though we pay for our own insurance. Now we know we have to give the insurance cards twice, once to athletics and once to the health services.


sarah March 11, 2015 at 2:24 am

I respect your resiliency, dedication to frugal living, and your determination to exhaust the options regarding the charge. Thanks for sharing the story of this bump in the road, and more importantly your commitment to intelligent living!


Jill A March 11, 2015 at 7:06 am

Sorry to hear about the snafu…. that’s just wrong. I think we had to sign up for insurance if we wanted it ( which seems like the proper way to handle that). Just to be sure I checked my daughter’s bill.

My frugal list:

1. Washed two loads of laundry today and hanging them to dry on racks. I have two racks and they fit two loads perfectly. With the winter weather and the furnace running this will be dry by tomorrow and I can wash another couple of loads.
2. Furnace is turned down. The sun is shining so it’s heating up the house ( and melting the snow). I will open the shades on the south side of the house to bring more heat in.
3. Searching for a new chicken recipe for dinner tonight. I bought chicken breasts on sale at Aldi yesterday.
4. We are finishing our basement ourselves. Well I should say my husband is. He just finished drywalling and he and I will be painting next.
5. Not so frugal. My daughter is on spring break. We went out to lunch with my mother yesterday to a deli they had never been to. The sandwiches were so huge that my daughter and I could share one and still couldn’t finish it. It was a nice way to spend three generations of mother/daughter time.


Isabelle March 11, 2015 at 7:32 am

* I was about to go buy a mattress cover (plastic) to put on my daughter’s bed, when I thought : <>. So I took 4 big garbage bags, some ducktape, and she now has a perfectly find cover under her sheet.
* My daughter is now out of diapers during the day but needs her pull-ups at night (regular diaper won’t do because she goes to the bathroom and detach the diaper, and can’t attach it back). I have a big box of diapers left, and pull-ups are so much more expensive, so I’ve decided to make <> with the diapers. Again, a bit of duck tape on the tabs that attaches to the diaper and voila!
* Reconsidering going back to school… Not to brag, but I have a very well paid job (by the hour) for the degree I have, and could probably manage to work more hours ( I am part time now) if I wanted to…. so it’s a war between a good pay and a job I would perhaps like more if I go back to school, but that pays less…. what would YOU do?? arghhhhhhhh…….
* Staying put in our small town house for now. It’s a good house, the mortgage is great and it’s almost paid off (4 more years)
* Keeping the old 2004 Echo. Still going strong after 215 000 km and we didn’t have to put that much money into it yet (2000$-3000$ maybe)

Have a great frugal day!


Isabelle March 11, 2015 at 7:33 am

Hmmm…. between should read :

“” I can make one at home””
“” home made pull-ups””


JD March 11, 2015 at 8:31 am

Ugh, Katy, I feel angry for you! That’s outrageous. I would have been so furious.
I’m being normally frugal today — leftovers for lunch, driving as little as I can, wearing a thrifted outfit, etc. Today, I mainly have a question;
I have to ask — do most people in Oregon just not care about change? Surely not. But I’ve found only one single coin left in a coin counter, drink machine, whatever, in my whole life! I would be thrilled to find over a dollar’s worth in change trays as Katy does now and then, but I can’t even come up with a penny. It makes me wonder what the difference is.


Katy March 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

I’m not finding the money in the change tray, I’m finding it under the machine.


JD March 11, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Aha! That may be the difference!


Beth Casper March 11, 2015 at 3:48 pm

I found out that Comcast double-billed us for a full year even though we had called to tell them we moved and canceled the account at our old (sold) home. We didn’t notice for a full year because they were both automatic withdrawals — one at the beginning of the month and one toward the end. We had also just moved and had lots of unpacking and settling in to do in a new city!
I spent HOURS on the phone with Comcast and in an office here in Eugene to resolve the issue. I got no where — no money back, etc.
I, finally, wrote a letter to Comcast and cc’d as many officials as I could. I also filed a complaint with Oregon’s department of justice.
I got a call this week that they are sending me a check for $924.77! I am very excited, although not holding my breath….


Katy March 11, 2015 at 5:03 pm

I’m crossing my fingers for you!


Jo March 11, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Good for you!

Last year, I disputed a bunch of medical bills with the Clevland Clinic. It took a letter to their CEO and cc’s to the CFO, HR. (Customer service issues), and Ombudsman to get immediate action and immediate payment.

Lesson? Don’t be afraid to go to the top, and include several of the higher-ups so they can all be involved. Document everything, and be firm but polite!


Beth March 12, 2015 at 4:04 am

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here… I notice people are blaming the university for the big bill. Is the university entirely at fault here? It’s up to students and parents to be aware of what’s on the bill and deadlines, and for students to pay attention to official communications (email, social media, etc.) It’s standard practice at colleges and universities for everyone to have an official email account — just like an employer would use your company email account to communicate with you at work.

I’m not trying to point finger because I don’t know the whole story, but I think this is a teachable moment if everyone is willing to accept responsibility for their actions. Perhaps you can’t change the school, but if Katy’s son now looks at bills more closely, then he’ll save himself a lot of money and hassle down the road!


Katy March 12, 2015 at 8:16 am

It was very convoluted for us. We registered online for one class, but had to register for the second one in person as the classes overlapped by ten minutes. It was the second class that tipped us over into automatic health insurance, but there was no prompt about it because it wasn’t online. Then when I paid in person to save money, (2% fee for using a credit card) the student who took my money gave me vague and incorrect information about when we had to opt out by. We received a paper bill for the health insurance, but the due date for the bill was AFTER when it was too late to bring in proof of insurance to opt out. My son and I went in person five times to the school to address this issue.

So frustrating!


Beth March 12, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Grooooan. I figured there was more to the story. Sorry to hear you had to go through all of that and still no resolution!


cathy March 12, 2015 at 8:04 am

I’m sorry you didn’t win the insurance fee battle, but I want to thank you for bringing up the issue on your blog. I have a high schooler headed to university in the not-too-distant future. I took a few minutes to call the income accounting office to see what the current policies are. Though we’d been anticipating expenses based on tuition (there are lots of tuition calculators online), fees weren’t even on my radar. Once I went to the university’s website, I found not only a whole list of “mandatory” fees but also several other fees that vary depending upon the classes a student takes. Student health insurance is an opt-in there. So thank you for helping me become more aware of what we’re in for!


Katy March 12, 2015 at 8:18 am

May my colossal error help someone in some way. Sigh . . .


TerriC March 14, 2015 at 9:33 am

My husband is a paramedic and we’ve a plethora of shirts here with his name/workplace on them. In the past I’ve cut away the embroidered portion but had no idea what to do with the badly worn shirts. I dont’ know of textile recycling here but I can certainly see if they will use them at dog shelter (with buttons removed of course). Thank you for making me think just a little harder.


Katy March 14, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Same boat that we’re in!


Elle March 17, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Since you already paid for the health insurance, make sure you use it, if applicable. Visualizing good health for your son, and that he will not have any medical expenses this term, however, if he does you should be able to use both plans to potentially lower any out of pocket costs. Your benefits will really depend on the specific plans and the coordination of benefits rules… but it is something to keep in mind. I have LOTS of medical expenses for my son and work in health insurance industry so I thought I would share.


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