Five Frugal Things

by Katy on October 7, 2014 · 27 comments

  1. I deliberately planned all the activities for my son’s birthday day of adventures to be in the same neighborhood. Previous years have found us driving back and forth across town to get to everywhere we needed to be. No reasons to waste money on gasoline. Plus, we got to walk around the neighborhoods with no time pressures.
  2. I needed to pick up milks and a loaf of French bread at New Season’s last night. That was all I needed, but I had a coupon for a free half-gallon of milk if I spent $10. I didn’t want to overspend on stuff I didn’t need in order to save money, so I bought green beans to go with tonight’s dinner. This brought the price over $10, which then made the milk free. I had been tempted to pick out some treat to bring the trip over $10, but this worked out better, both for the wallet and my waistline. (I know the true savings would have been to make the bread myself, but I’d had a busy day and wasn’t home long enough to put together a batch of bread dough.)
  3. I am buying my son a good pair of left handed scissors for his birthday, but am choosing to support a local business. However, I see that they honor competitor’s coupons, so I’ll print out a Joann Fabric 30%-off coupon to bring the price down.
  4. We are preparing a special birthday meal at home for my son instead of going to a restaurant. It won’t be impressively frugal as I’m preparing steaks, but steak at home for six people vs. steak in a restaurant for six people makes this a very budgetary meal. (BTW, I’ve only prepared steak a few times in my life, so any and all tips are extremely welcome! I’m planning on doing the cast iron pan method using this method.)
  5. I took my behind the scenes tour of Goodwill yesterday, yet didn’t buy a single thing. Which I think deserves some special kind of medal. (A used one of course!)

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

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 27 comments }

It’s Okay to be Cheap!

by Katy on October 6, 2014 · 45 comments

Happy Birthday!

The word “cheap” gets a bad rap. It’s grouped in with “miserly” and is rarely used as a compliment.

“Wow, that awesome lady sure is cheap!”

Nope.

I used to try and distance myself from the word, saying that I preferred “frugal,” but the plain and honest truth is that I am cheap.

Cheap, cheap, cheap!

I don’t like to spend unnecessarily, and I prioritize having enough money to pay my bills. I don’t want to work more than part time, and if you ever see me in a retail store, you’ll know that I’m being held prisoner.

Cheap.

But I make zero apologies for my cheapness. Because without my focus on the nickels and dimes in life, my family would be in serious financial trouble. I do not owe the world an outward appearance of wealth, and I’m comfortable making cheap decisions, even when those cheap version is slightly less desirable.

Need an example?

Tomorrow is my older son’s nineteenth birthday. Because the actual day falls on a Tuesday this year, we spent yesterday, (a Sunday) celebrating him. We have a family tradition where I plan a “Birthday Day of Adventures,” and the four of us spend the entire day going from activity to activity that caters to the birthday person’s specific tastes. It’s all a surprise ahead of time, and it’s an extremely fun way of making the birthday person feel special. (It’s part of how I’m transitioning my kids from gifts of things to gifts of experiences.)

But since I’m the one doing the planning, it veers towards the cheap. I take full advantage of available discounts, and I hoard any credits I’ve accrued throughout the year.

I decided one of our activities would be to see a movie. My first thought was Guardians of The Galaxy, as I knew he’d enjoy it. However, it’s still only in first run theaters which would set us back $36 for tickets, plus the cost of parking. (It would have been a downtown theater.) Instead I found a showing of the movie Chef at a great old refurbished theater which cost only $2 per person, (plus the parking was free!)

I chose to be cheap.

Would my son have liked to see Guardians of The Galaxy? Sure. But it’s mindless Hollywood entertainment that’s great fun while it’s happening yet completely leaves your mind by the time you’re home. Plus it’ll be in second run theaters and on DVD within a month or so. I figured he would like Chef, even though he’d never heard of it.

Guess what? My son really enjoyed Chef. He liked that it wasn’t yet another formulaic Hollywood blockbuster with nothing to offer beyond mindless entertainment. He values having stuff to ponder, and he’s old enough to understand that the $40 we saved by seeing a second run movie completely covered the cost of the Indian buffet lunch we’d just consumed.

It was a cheap decision, but it was the right decision.

When we spend beyond what we can afford, it’s the same as admitting that there’s shame and embarrassment of living within a budget. No one should make you feel bad about staying out of debt. Period. Living beyond your means in the here and now robs your future self.

Do you feel bad about being cheap when it’s all that you can afford? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 45 comments }

October Grocery Challenge

by Katy on October 3, 2014 · 59 comments

october grocery challenge

There are few budget categories that have as much wiggle room as food. Sure, you can turn off unused lights and use a clothesline to bring your electric bill down, but those measures only have the potential to save you tens of dollars. But put an effort into saving money on your food budget? That’s where you have the potential to save hundreds upon hundreds of dollars.

Although I do keep an eye on how much we’re spending on individual food items, I rarely take the time to look at how much we’re spending per month. (I’m so focused on the trees, that the damned forest takes over!) And since my family of four made an effort to not eat out last month, I took a few minutes to tally up how much we spent on food during the month of September.

$707.70

Crap. That’s a lot of money. Yes, I stocked up on sale Tillamook cheese ($4.99 per 2-lb loaf!) and I filled the freezer with 12 loaves of outlet Dave’s Killer Bread, but still, that’s so much more than I’d like to be spending.

This number includes one takeout meal from a Mexican restaurant, pizza before a soccer game and two forays into my hospital cafeteria. It also included any non-food items (like cat litter) purchased from a grocery store. However, I buy shampoo, conditioner and soap at The Dollar Tree and household detergents from Costco. And feminine hygiene products? I don’t buy them at all, since I have a Moon Cup. And single use items like paper towels or napkins? You already know I never buy those!

My husband and I went to the grocery store a whopping total of 36 times, although I usually walk to both Fred Meyer and New Seasons on a single trip, as they’re both just a few blocks from the house.

We can do better.

New month, new goals. I would like to stay under $450/month, but I’m a realist and know that life gets busy and I’m not the only person picking up groceries in my marriage. Then again, I also know what my husband needs to see when he opens the cupboards or refrigerator door in order to not head out for a $50 bag of Trader Joe’s goodies. (If we’re out of any staples, he will spend at least $30 – $50 on food that’s unrelated to any particular meal.)

On the other hand, I may be cheap with my money, but that doesn’t mean that I’m cheap with my food. I buy the quality brands I want, but I use coupons and stock up when it’s on sale. I take advantage of the monthly Safeway $10-off-$50 coupon to buy the stuff that never goes on sale and I know when brand loyalty makes no difference. I keep the kitchen stocked with fresh fruit, but it’s what’s in season/on sale. And when we buy meat, it’s almost entirely from New Season’s, which ain’t cheap. Also, we’re feeding two teenage boys!

Here’s what I plan on doing to bring our grocery budget down for the month of October:

  • I will meal plan to avoid last minute trips to the store.
  • I will shop nontraditional grocery stores to take advantage of available bargains. (The Grocery Outlet, ethnic markets, Costco, etc.)
  • I will continue to use paper coupons for the items I normally buy. (For example, I’ll use coupons for Tillamook sour cream, cereal, pasta, etc.)
  • I will cook from scratch whenever possible.
  • I will take advantage of Safeway’s Just For U digital coupons when putting my grocery lists together. (Coupons for eggs, milk, tea, etc.)
  • I will keep the cupboards and refrigerator organized in order to minimize unnecessary purchases and food waste.
  • I will keep a few made ahead frozen meals to combat busy nights when takeout sings its sweet siren song.
  • I will make sure I have a plan of what to bring for my work lunches. (My husband is better than me when it comes to making his lunch the night before work.)

Life is busy, and we’re feeding four adult-size mouths in this house, so I suppose I should cut myself some slack; but I know that being organized and deliberate will not only save us some significant cash, but will likely better our meals and decrease meal time stress.

Although I’m starting this challenge three days into the month, I think we’ll do alright. Just yesterday I shopped at The Grocery Outlet and took advantage of their crazy good prices. I was good about avoiding temptation, (no chips made it into my cart!) and even used a $3-off-$25 coupon from my Chinook Book.

Here’s what I bought:

  • Large bag of tortillas $2.99
  • 5-lb bag of potatoes 79¢
  • 2 tins of smoked oysters $1.98
  • 4 32-ounce cans of organic tomatoes $3.96
  • 1 large bag of assorted plums and apples 99¢
  • 1 bag of assorted bell peppers 99¢
  • 1 box of lovely Italian Pizelle anise cookies $1.99
  • 1 large bag of salami ends and pieces, which I’ll freeze to have on hand for homemade pizzas $4.49
  • Garlic salt 99¢
  • Garlic powder 99¢
  • 2 cans of pumpkin puree $1.98
  • 2 bags of dried black beans $2.18
  • 8 assorted cups of yogurt $3.66

Total $25.32

Today I’ll spend my $10-off-$50 Safeway coupon, which should A) fill our cupboards and B) keep us out of the grocery stores for awhile.

Although October includes two family birthdays and Halloween, I think we can stay within the set budget if I just make sure to stay on top of things. I put two huge pasta dishes into the freezer the other day, so that’s taken care of, and with all the stuff I stocked up on last month, we should be good.

Do you see your food budget spiraling out of control? Please share your thoughts and money saving tips in the comments section below. And if you want to follow along in whatever way seems right to you, then please add your two cents as well.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Today I Am . . .

by Katy on October 1, 2014 · 24 comments

Today I am . . . 

  • Home after working the last two days.
  • Thinking about playing a round of “What can go to Goodwill?” and filling a few bags for donation. And then going into the store itself to photograph weird stuff for a blog post.
  • Laughing at this post.
  • Excited for my personal behind the scenes tour of Goodwill next week.
  • Thinking about the concept of “breeding discontent.” Without it, nothing would ever go out of style and no one would feel bad about their perfectly functional things.
  • Reveling in the silence of my home.
  • Planning on participating in some humdrum activities such as kitchen cleaning, laundry washing, meal planning and general organization. But thinking I’ll try to do them in the moment and without distraction. It’s hard in the beginning, but I always end up daydreaming in ways that sharpen my mind and passively problem solve any issues going on in my life. (Essentially, I’m doing all the dull stuff today so that the next few days can be more enjoyable.)
  • Thankful for my world which includes healthy family members, paid for cars, thrifted clothes and furnishings, Tyrion Lannister and cozy blankets for chilly rooms.

Now your turn. What are you doing today? 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Five Things That Make Me Happy:

  1. The past two days here in Portland have been drizzly and grey, which somehow just feels right. I’m sitting on the couch drinking tea in my fuzzy flannel pajamas and thinking maybe I should add a pair of warm socks.
  2. My older son turns nineteen next week, which absolutely floors me. I have a tendency to give all my good gift ideas away, (I call it “outsourcing” to grandma) and often end up with no idea of what to buy for the kids. However, I came up with a great idea, which although not officially compacty, will support a local artist and friend. I’m starting to plan fun activities for his birthday day of adventures, and am excited to help him celebrate his very last teenage birthday!
  3. I ended up having a change of shift delivery at work yesterday, which would usually not make my happiness list. (There’s a tremendous amount of charting with each delivery!) However, this particular baby was one of the cutest newborns I’ve seen in years! This little girl snuck in under any pending grumpiness.
  4. I know you’re probably getting tired of hearing it, but I am soooo happy that my blog is fixed and back in action! There was an unbelievable amount of back and forth with WordPress, my hosting company and WP Fixit, but it was all worth it in the end. (Gotta tell ya’, there were a few times when I almost decided that blogging was not worth the hassle.) It makes me unbelievably relieved to click over to The Non-Consumer Advocate and see a functional blog.
  5. My neighbors make me happy. I live on a rather short block, (only four houses) but all four houses are filled with wonderful people. I noticed this week that I was putting out the garbage for all four houses, which made me smile. We all know we can count on each other.

One Thing That’s Pissing Me Off:

  1. I succumbed to a stupid impulse purchase. I’ve been wanting a pair of cozy Ugg boots for years, but buying them used is pretty much a non-option. (They would have to be in brand new condition for me to even consider them.) I rationalized that this could be a compact-expection, as I would not buy a pair of used slippers. They were a crazy Amazon sale, setting me back $15 instead of $45. I knew they were off brand and certainly not real sheepskin, but I thought they would meet my around the house cozy-feet needs. I had enough Amazon $5 gift cards from Swagbucks to pay for them, and hey I had my mother’s Amazon Prime info to get the free shipping. (Are you starting to notice a lengthy list of rationalizations yet?) Needless to say, they are horrible, both in look and comfort. They feel like putting my feet into gutted Tickle Me Elmos. Scratchy and uncomfortable and almost magical with how fast my feet start to get both itchy and sweaty. I totally got what I deserved here, and I should know better.

Now your turn. What’s making you happy, and conversely what’s pissing you off?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Do you Envy The Joneses?

by Katy on September 29, 2014 · 55 comments

Envy

A thought provoking post was recently added to The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group in which Sarah shared this experience:

This was a tough weekend…. I was bitten hard by the jealousy bug! We visited relatives who seem to “have it all” – designer clothes, new cars, remodeled house, and I couldn’t help it, I wanted a taste of that lifestyle! Of course I don’t know what their financial situation is, but I know they work very hard. I have spent the last few hours reminding myself that our life is great (good health, good jobs, stable finances, beautiful kids, happy home life), and that no fancy car will make me happier in the long term. even when we have extra money sitting around (like now) we save or make extra payments on something. Anyone else feel a twinge of jealousy sometimes, and how do you deal with it? Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way?

I keep telling myself slow & steady wins the race, and I would rather have a paid-for house than new jeans purchased on a credit card . . .

The post was immediately replied to by multiple group members, varying in their responses. This is just a small sample:

Elizabeth:

I can tell you first hand that looks are not always what they seem. Our neighbors next door seemed to “have it all.” They had a Jaguar in the garage and paid to have the entire yard landscaped immediately after the house was built, while we planted everything ourselves as we could afford to do it. Fifteen years later, they abandoned the house, and it was foreclosed on. The property was vacant for two years, so I’m happy to have neighbors who are taking care of it again, but unhappy that they paid so little for a house right next to mine.

Joan:

I think it happens to everyone. We have very dear friends who own 3 houses, a motor home and travel all winter. I don’t begrudge them what they’ve earned. They did the work to have it. But sometimes, when I’m sitting on their deck, with the lake just 20 feet from their back door, I feel a twinge. But, then I think about how much upkeep 3 houses entail and I get over it.

Chris:

I feel jealous all the time, and my weakness is clothes because i care overly much about how i present, because I grew up poor in a wealthy area and everyone could tell by looking at me that we were poor. It’s a hang-up, I know. But usually when I feel jealous, eventually I come around to what Joan said about the upkeep. That’s not how I want to spend my time.

Andrea:

We have a town home that is feeling very small since we had our second child. I am having a hard time being content and really want a bigger house. Last week I decided that I need to focus my energy into making my current home beautiful, if not to get it ready to sell then maybe so that I feel at home again in this space.
Jessica:
When I see folks like that i just remember that they are most likely in debt up to their eyeballs and I am debt free. The peace of that far outweighs any fancy car, house or clothes! I’ll just get those fancy clothes at a 90% discount after they have gotten tired of wearing them (after 3 wearings!) and sent them to Goodwill!

I know that I’m not immune to envy, probably none of us are. Although the cliché is to be envious of The Joneses’ conspicuous consumption.

Fancy cars, gorgeous houses, designer clothes, glamorous vacations and let’s not forget those super shiny stainless steel and granite kitchens!

My envy runs differently. I envy those who’ve been able to fully fund their kids’ college funds, and those who can spontaneously travel without killing their financial goals. I envy people who can have an unexpected $1000 car repair bill without their stomach sinking to the depths. Or maybe it isn’t envy at all. I just wish we were in the financial state to achieve that state of financial independence.

I’m perfectly okay with my formica kitchen countertops and my thrifted decor. In fact I derive great satisfaction in being able to cobble together exactly the look and function that I want from thrifted goods. Personally, I prefer a funky aesthetic. My wonderful $30 love seat gives me daily pleasure in a way that no $500 piece of furniture ever could.

I personally know of two friends who perfectly remodeled their homes and subsequently found themselves unable to afford the mortgage and were forced to sell.

I do not envy that.

I’m happy with how my family lives. We’ve prioritized family goals over career goals, and because of this we’ve been able to be at every parent teacher night, send the kids (and even chaperone) on school trips to Japan and attend almost every single soccer game. Yeah, it feels kind of awful to have teenagers without fully funded college funds, but for that to happen would have involved thousands of extra hours away from the kids.

Which would be nothing to envy.

Do you feel envious when spending time with friends and family who seem to “have it all?” Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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It’s rare that my days don’t include a handful of non-consumer and frugal tricks, sometimes they’re a wow moment, but most of the time they’re so routine, they pass by unnoticed. So now that my blog is back and functional again, (hip-to-the-freaking-hooray!) I thought I’d try and record a few of them. Of course, it’s through my Instagram account, so pardon any overly pseudo artsy-fartsy filtering.

Just the other day I decided the time had come to clean out the ol’ mini-van. I find that sweeping it out is 97% as efficient as hauling out the vacuum cleaner, yet is somehow 167% less hassle.

However, I don’t own a hand broom.

What I do have is a regular broom, which when the handle is unscrewed magically becomes a hand broom.

Ta da!

Hand broom

One less thing to own.

After repainting the windows over the front porch, I took a good look around the porch and indulged in a thorough cleaning and decluttering session. I then put the stuff which didn’t make the cut onto the curb, and it was all snapped up within 24 hours:

curbside stuff

But it’s not just furnishings and household goods that appeal to Portland’s curbside shoppers, as I also had a large bag of dense foam packaging that was staking a claim in my garage. I tried to bring it to the recycling center, but was informed that it didn’t fit any one category.

So off to the curb it went:

Free packaging materials

It too became a distant memory by the time I remembered to check back on it.

I’m not the kind of blogger who styles and photographs her every meal, (you’re welcome!) but I do occasionally decide to record a few. Just today I constructed what I’m going to call the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Constructed from:

  • Loss leader sale Tilamook grilled cheese. ($4.99 per 2-lb loaf)
  • Dave’s Killer Bread, bought at the outlet store, which brings the price down from $5 per loaf to $2 per loaf.
  • A perfectly ripe tomato, which was gifted to me from my next-door-neighbor.
  • Grilled in my ancient cast iron skillet, and sizzled up in my homemade spreadable butter.

Behold the perfect last bite!

The perfect last bite

My husband volunteers teaching CPR, and always brings a carton of Starbucks to the classes. (Paid for by the non-profit that oversees the classes.) The leftover coffee then comes home, and becomes my go-to coffee for the week. I’m not a morning coffee person, but I do love a iced coffee in the afternoon when I start to drag. (Truthfully I’m a drag at all hours, but that’s an entirely different blog post.)

Pour the coffee over ice, add a bit of milk and sugar and I’m in heaven. All in the name of food waste avoidance.

Leftover coffee

Non-consumerism, ever present and rarely a sacrifice.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Wasted wine?

  1. Yesterday I donated a large load of unwanted and non-funtional electronics to Free Geek, which is a “Portland-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering free computers, technology and education powered by reuse & recycling in association with Oregon E-Cycles. We accept almost all technology with an emphasis on reuse. All materials are handled ethically and environmentally.” I love that my unwanted stuff can find a new owner, and that my broken stuff can be responsibly dealt with!
  2. My 16-year-old son has a hole in the fabric of his favorite Adidas sneakers and he asked if I could fix them. I’m not sure if I can, but I do love that my son’s first impulse is to fix rather than to toss.
  3. I called Comcast, as I noticed that our rates had gone up. (We have cable-TV so my husband and son can watch international soccer games.) I was able to get the rate down $35 per month, plus get free HBO and streaming movies added to our plan. I know the true frugal thing is to not have cable, but this is what works for my family. <– Jeez, Katy. Defensive much?
  4. I went to the grocery store yesterday and one item on my list was sliced ham for my husband’s work lunches. I found a big bag of the most expensive deli ham for 50%-off in a clearance bin. Hello . . .  $5 savings!
  5. I found a super useful food waste tip on the back of my cereal box. Because apparently someone out there is pouring out leftover wine when the bottle doesn’t get finished.

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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Blog Update

by Katy on September 19, 2014 · 3 comments

I am still working on the blog issues. I am ready to tear my hair out. I still engage in frugal activities.

I love my blog. I hate computer programming issues.

Here’s a bit of frugal talk to tide you over:

Yesterday I arranged a get together with my friend Sasha, we drank tea at the house and then we walked over to the library where I returned a book. I then hung out with her as she ate some pad Thai from a food cart. I held off on getting anything to eat as my father was coming over for a late lunch.

My father and I then drove over to the Bob’s Red Mill store where we enjoyed a lovely meal, thanks to a buy-one-get-one-free lunch coupon. (I have three of them and they never expire!) We then shopped for bulk goods and used BOGO and 75 -off any one item Chinook Book coupons. We then went across the street to the Dave’s Killer Bread Outlet, where I bought 12 loaves of bread for the freezer. Buying them in this manner brings the price down from $5 per loaf to $2 per loaf. And yes, I did use my Chinook Book coupon, so one of those loaves was free! (The bread freezes beautifully and seems to last forever and a day.)

I did splurge on nice grass-fed blah, blah, blah $6/pound hamburger from New Seasons Market for dinner. (The only way I buy ground beef.) My older son is learning to cook, and he wanted to make bleu cheese burgers.

Today and tomorrow I work, so I won’t have the time to address any blog issues; but if you’re not getting your non-consumer fix, you can always head over to the always active (and private) Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group.

I will get these issues figured out soon, I promise.

The only trouble is that I’ll be bald by the time that ever happens.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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The blog has been having problems ever since I upgraded to the newest version of WordPress. (Ha!) I first tried to remedy it through WordPress, then through my hosting company and am now working with WP Fixit, and am hoping to have the blog up and running by tomorrow.

Things you’ve missed from my gripping life:

  • I spent Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday at work; and am looking forward to a big fat paycheck. I brought my lunch from home each of these days.
  • I’ve been taking advantage of our hot dry weather to hang many loads of laundry on our clothesline.
  • My husband and I are working to finish up home maintenance projects that include supplies we already have on hand.
  • I am geekily excited to stock up on $4.99 2-pound loaves of Tillamook cheese this at Fred Meyer. (So many varieties at this price!) As along as they only get opened one at a time, we should be set until they go on sale six months from now.
  • I doubled two meals this week and put the extras into our basement freezer.

The comments section is broken until further notice, but things should hopefully be back to normal as soon as possible.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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