Sunday, August 30, 2009

14 Years of Marriage, $40 bucks, and a hole in the ground.

In just a few days, my husband and I will celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. We are many times blessed in that well after a decade of married life, we're still crazy about each other. I won't say my husband Greg is a saint as I recently learned in Julia/Julia this isn't a moniker to which macho men aspire. But let's just say there appears what looks suspiciously like a halo hovering over his head at times, especially when he's asking, "Would you like me to take the kids a park for a few hours so you can have some peace and quiet?"

So will we be jetting off to a tropical island or will I be opening an exquisitely wrapped robin's egg blue box of jewelry to celebrate our marital success? No. In fact, I'm not even expecting a $4 Hallmark card.

Awhile back we agreed we'd rather exchange letters than buy cards. And in the time it would take for my husband to leave work and walk three blocks to the closest Walgreens and search to find a card written by another that expressed his own thoughts, he has instead written me some lovely letters through the years, which I've kept and treasured.

My 14th wedding anniversary gifts are a garden bench and wrought iron outdoor lamp, both purchased off Craigslist for $40 and picked up by me this morning. Then there is the three foot deep hole in the ground to mount the large birdhouse that's been languishing in the shed. Greg started digging last night only to upset a wasp nest and got three stings for his troubles.

Some may question how romantic it is to pick out, much less pick up your own gifts. And doesn't a $100 bouquet of roses - a pure luxury - say romance more than a hole in the ground?

And I think the answer is, it really depends. I have girlfriends who treasure an expensive gesture - seeing the thought and effort that went into it. But the fact is I can go out to my own garden and gather a bouquet five times the size of any florist's and a $150 meal would pain me as I would mentally figure how many tulip bulbs that would have purchased.... I would vastly prefer a less expensive dinner where my husband and I could enjoy each other's company without the thought of an impending three figure bill handed to us after dessert.

But I am similar to my friends in seeing romance in terms of thoughtfulness and effort. My husband lets me sleep in most weekends; he still hold doors and my hand whenever we go out. Recently he tracked down the number of a client's mom who had been successful holding plant sales, something he knew I was interested in. He regularly tells the kids they're lucky to have me as their mom, he comes in the back door each night with a smile, even after a 12 hour day, and he tells me I'm beautiful so often I question why Loreal hasn't tracked me down for a modeling contract......

This morning Greg told me he was going to find our "mosquito jacket" so he could finish getting my bird house up. And as he dons his armor and faces that heavily armed swarm all for his lady's happiness, I know I chose well fourteen years ago. He truly is my knight in green, netted armor. And unlike an expensive bouquet that will wilt within days, his daily gestures of romance do indeed bloom year round. Thanks Greg for fourteen wonderful years and many more to come. I love you!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A few pounds lighter and $1000 richer for just changing my driving route;-)

I read awhile back that according to the AAA, driving costs about 50 cents a mile, when you factor in maintenance, gas, insurance, etc.

That figure really has been sticking in my mind recently, when I think about having to sell two kids books at my garage sale to even earn 50 cents. Putting it in that sort of exchange rate in my head, I've been rethinking my driving routes.

Last year, 2008, my husband and I spent $5696 on car expenses, including gas and maintenance. This does not include a car payment as our Toyotas have been paid off for awhile now. That number astounded me as it does not even include insurance.

Broken down, it means we spend $474 a month or $15.80 a day. Each of us then spends $7.90 a day on car expenses. As I figure my income as clearing $10 an hour teaching law when all the taxes, commute, dry cleaning, and various expenses are tallied in, that means I would have to teach one hour a day, seven days a week, just to keep the mini-van running.

So the next question, how to reduce that? Got to cut those miles!! We live about three miles from town, so now I question a "milk" run. It will cost me $3 round trip to run to the local Kwick Trip, which means the gallon of milk is now running $6.00 or so out of pocket. Maybe just drink water and wait till the next grocery trip?

And a spur of the moment trip to Walmart, which is almost about 12 miles away, again costs $12 round trip (24 miles), and would I really want to teach another hour just for the privilege of driving to Walmart or can it wait.

One of my cousins got cheaper housing living 40 miles from his job. The 80 mile a day round trip ($40 a day in commute costs) adds up to $200 a week, or $800 a month, or $9600 a year. That would likely easily have covered a higher mortgage closer to his job. He does love his home but if I'd known more about commuting costs when he was house hunting, I would have sent him some numbers to crunch.

I have two new goals with regards to reducing mileage. The first is that I've started parking about 1/2 mile from the preschool my son attends. This gives me an extra mile a day of walking (good for burning calories) and keeps 50 cents in my pocket each day. It's sort of like finding two quarters on the sidewalk each and every morning;-)

The second goal is to reduce my driving by 40 miles per week. The only problem with this is I don't have an accurate tabulation of how many miles I drove last year to break down by month, but if anyone has ideas on this, I'd love to hear them. For now, I start the morning with hitting the odometer back to zero and make a goal to help myself, our finances, and the planet by keeping that number as low as I can for the day.

If I can achieve 40 fewer miles a week, in a year, that would be $1040 more in my pocket ($20 a week times 52 weeks in a year), less carbon in the atmosphere, and those blue jeans just a little looser;-) At worst, I'll start looking at other modes of transport.....

Best wishes!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A little more beauty and order - four minutes at a time.

At a thrift store yesterday, I picked up The Shabby Chic Home by Rachel Ashwell. The book cost $1.50 and flipping through I LOVED what I saw. Lots of antiques, lots of whites and creams, lots of lovely linens, lots of eclectic flea market finds, lots of natural materials, feminine but not "girly" - in a word - the style I wish I had been born with.

Reading the book last night, I came across this passage "Every cupboard should hold things of beauty or function. I allow for one junk drawer or cupboard in my house. Otherwise, whenever I open a cupboard it should be like Christmas, beautiful and sumptuous. It doesn't need to be organized perfectly."

And again later in the book, "I try to make sure any cupboard I open anywhere in the house gives me pleasure."

Now after a short, very unfeminine snort (see before pictures of my cupboards), I pondered how wonderful it would be to open a door and see beauty and order. How I would no longer hope guests were distracted when they asked for a drinking glass so they need not see the piles of mismatched Tupperware, some rather grimy glass casserole dishes that even SOS could no longer save, and some giant, hideous plastic ELMO mugs gathering dust on the top shelf.

What would it be like to "feel like Christmas" when I opened a cupboard?

I was especially intrigued as I grew up in a crazy messy home. The sort where if the doorbell rang, we all froze and stopped speaking for fear the ringer would know someone was home and there was NO WAY any outsider was going to see the chaos inside.

It helped a lot that my good friend since fourth grade, grew up in similar surroundings. Now we try to one up each other sharing our horror stories and I find myself laughing until tears stream out my eyes.

I remember the time someone who knew our family came to our garage sale and asked to use the bathroom. We tried to explain the place was "a bit of a mess" due to getting ready for the sale and maybe this wasn't the best time to use it.

She was insistent and finally my mom let her go in and to this day I can remember the shell shocked look on her face. Another time we'd finally convinced my mom to hire a cleaning person but we got the dates wrong. She showed up when we were gone and to add to the usual disarray, our dog had gotten fleas and in those pre-Frontline days, you set off "flea bombs". To make sure it really got the job done, my mom had taped giant sheets of Visqueen between all the doorways and as you entered that cavern of chaos, the smell must have knocked her out. She never came back.

Clearly we had it a lot better than children who may have grown up in a pristine environment devoid of emotional support. Along with lots of clutter, we did have love and laughter. My mom always had a sense of humor. Christmas Eves were spent in a wild frenzy of cleaning for soon to be arriving relatives. When my brother or I would start to weary, she would start hollering, "WE DON'T STOP CLEANING UNTIL WE SEE THE WHITE'S OF THEIR EYES!!!" - a takeoff of the battle cry supposedly given at Bunker Hill - "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes."

Later in life, I found I'm quite sure the wonderful woman who founded this website to help those who live in CHAOS - Can't Have Anyone Over - will be richly rewarded in the afterlife for all the confused souls like myself who grew up not having a clue how one kept a clean house. I now keep a fairly tidy house, helped by an occasional cleaning "expert".

But the closets are another story. Oddly enough, growing up, my mom's closets were one of the few oases (not a misspelling, but the plural form of oasis- I looked this up;-) of tidiness to be found. The sheets were tidy in the linen closet and Christmas decorations were carefully marked and boxed. I guess it's an example of perfect being the enemy of the good. By the time she got those few areas so perfect, the thought of tackling the kitchen, family room, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, and basement play area probably was just too much.

So today I set the timer for five minutes and tackled one cupboard. I donated about half the contents, moved a few things to another area, and reorganized the rest. I was actually done in four minutes and while this cupboard wouldn't make the editor's cut in an Ashwell book, I think I may be on my way for the insides to match the outsides of my house;-).

I have fifteen more kitchen cup boards to go. And at just four minutes a cup board (assuming the others go as quickly) that's just 60 minutes out of my life - four minutes at a time - and maybe I'll find myself humming Jingle Bells every time I open one up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A wee bit of longing for?? A simpler life or a mansion??

My five year old and I visited a living history museum today called Norway Village, near Mount Horeb, WI. It was lovely.

Those early settlers truly lived a simple life; everything they used was hand made, and though the thought of digging through the sod with the blunt wood shovel they showed us gave me chills as a gardener, I was incredibly drawn to the "naturalness" of everything they interacted with on a daily basis, from the stone walls, to the handmade quilts, to the wood carved spoons, each one with a date carved on it.

Truly, one of the first thoughts I had was, "I've got to start buying some of these Norwegian antiques!" Somehow I was linking this purchase to the feeling of simplicity and peace that resounds about this museum.

Fortunately, it wasn't long before Jane Hammerslough's words in Dematerializing - Taming the Power of Possessions was whispering through my memory.

I'd read the book on a plane ride and 30,000 miles above earth, the ridiculousness of thinking objects could somehow make you happy made sense. Ebay created an ad not long ago implying that if you could just find the sailboat you'd used as a child, via Ebay of course, you could in some way recapture your childhood. And the plane's magazine actually had an ad for chocolates you can buy, that were prayed over by monks of some sort (maybe Tibetin?) that "studies showed" resulted in a feeling of peace when eaten.

But back on the ground, those thoughts wrangle with the message of the Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, that says if we wish for it and visualize it, it will come. Then you start thinking, if this is true, shouldn't we all wish for more. Whatever our own specific more is. Why settle for less?

While I have two beautiful boys, I sometimes long for a third child, and wouldn't it be wonderful if it was a girl. And while we have a very nice 1970's split level house with five mostly wooded acres, wouldn't a 3500 square foot Federal style home on 20 acres with a pond be even more wonderful? Heck, maybe we could get a horse!

And while I love my job teaching, maybe I should write that book I think about so much. And wouldn't it be lovely to travel to Italy with my friends Emelia and Lisa, but how would that work with a new baby and at 41, am I too old for more kids? And can I really go back to sleepless nights and exhausted days?

And then I read Eckhart Tolle's A New Awakening and think I should just be in the moment every moment, and why would I waste time and energy in future plans, when I have SO MUCH to be grateful for now. Indeed the average American lives far more richly than even the richest kings and queens of old.

And in the end, would my life be "richer" for more travel, more children, more hours spent building toward goals, or "richer" for doing less, contemplating more, and wanting nothing more than I have??

So these are my evening musings and anyone still up tonight drinking that herbal tea, is invited to give input;-).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Re-using and Re-purposing my trash for one week!

Day 1, Monday, August 17.

Someone came to my son's preschool this year and taught the kids that rather than just recycling, which takes energy, ideally we need to learn first to reduce, then reuse, and only then recycle.

He came home all fired up with ideas to reuse the trash, but we didn't follow through at the time.

But the idea has simmered in the back of my mind since then and here and there I've tried to reuse items. Now I'm committing one week to really forcing myself to reuse all the trash/recyclables our family produces for one week.

Already I'm astounded at the sheer amount of trash/recyclables we've produced. Yesterday alone, we produced 27 items. I'm going to call it all trash now for purposes of ease, but much of it is recyclable and would have gone into our recycle bin.

Yesterday was Sunday and a bit unusual since we stayed home all day as our trip to Lake Geneva was cancelled due to weather. As a result, we snacked a lot and used up bits of this and that including half drunk bottles of pop the kids had gotten for a treat the week earlier.

In addition, I made three casserole/crockpot meals of lasagna, german potato salad, and grilled veggies, so more food containers were used than will be the rest of the week.

All the produce scraps went right into my lasagna garden bed.

Here's what Day One Produced.

5 20 ounce pop bottles.
1 Wall Street Journal (that had been sitting in the mailbox from Friday).
1 Pizza Box (polished off the rest of Friday pizza)
2 cereal boxes
1 plastic potato bag
1 plastic cheese bag
1 plastic green peas bag
1 plastic tostitos box
1 wax cereal box liner
2 plastic strawberry cartons
1 plastic yogert container
1 plastic cottage cheese container
1 waxy bag of pita chips
2 cardboard boxes of spaghetti (both 1/2 empty when I used them up)
1 glass bottle of olive oil
1 glass bottle of spaghetti sauce
1 cardboard box of SOS
1 plastic mustard bottle
1 plastic water bottle (very rare as we filter our water and carry reusable drink containers- this was from a trip)
1 Panera Bread plastic iced tea cup - from Saturday.

27 items in essentially one day! Yikes. And being forced to reuse them already has me thinking going to a store with refill bins might be a great idea. Also maybe buying larger containers of things like cottage cheese might be an option, though often these end up spoiling before they are used.

And I found myself a bit testy when I realized my husband had used up yet another box of Uncle Sam's cereal, and that along with a tea bag are going to be added to my list today;-).

So here's what I've come up with so far. I've re-purposed a bit more than 1/2 the items and stretched my creativity a bit.

All the plastic bags (cheese, potato, peas, etc.) went right to the car to use to clean up dog messes when I take Brandi with me. I keep these in my car door so I'm never caught without a bag. In the past, I used old plastic bags from the grocery store, but since I've switched to cloth bags, I no longer have the stash I did.

The newspaper and all cardboard when right into a new flower bed I'm creating on a far corner of our lot.

I used the wax cereal liner to store the last SOS pad after using it. I find if you put it in a bag and stick it in the freezer, you don't get that nasty, rusty mess under your sink.

Kirk came up with the creative idea to put Brandi's Iams food into one of the pop bottles and she pushed it around with her nose as kibble fell out. She has a similar food toy we bought at a petstore for about $10. This wouldn't work if your dog is a chewer, but Brandi had only a handful of teeth left (she was a rescue dog with some major health/dental issues) and doesn't chew.

The plastic containers are all storing seeds - one for hollyhocks, one for gas plant,
one for mallow, and one for poppies. I will use some of these myself and some I will trade for other seeds on (An aside, this is a WONDERFUL garden website!!! I haven't yet figured out how to post links, but you can do a google search.)

The Frito Lay bag is up on my son's changing table as I often double bag the smelliest of the diapers.

I made a pot of iced tea and refilled the Panera cup and will use that as my drink when I do some errands today.

I used the two glass items as vases and will put one vase of surprise lilies in Kirk's room and one vase of white phlox in Kai's.

The remainder of the plastic bottles have cuttings from houseplants in them. I would love some advice on this as I'm always able to root them, but often kill them when transplanting to dirt.

I've reached the end of my creativity for the day! Would love it if some of you would like to join the challenge or share ideas to use up the rest of it.

DAY 2 -

Closing in on the end of day two.

I find myself giving longing glances to the recycles bins in the garage. I am careful to recycle everything I can. We usually have two full recycle bins each week. And in my efforts to reuse everything this week, I fully acknowledge you can only keep so many reused items around before it becomes clutter and you can't open a kitchen cabinet without thinking a small pile of Coolwhip bowls may topple on your head;-)

But I keep coming back to my son's insistence that recycling isn't as "pure" as it might seem - there is pollution created with each recycled item. As I abhor clutter, this being forced to keep all these items around, even for a week, is mostly a consciousness raising exercise to myself to ask if I can reduce the amount of stuff that will eventually go into the recycle system.

I'm definitely rethinking the soda habit. I almost passed on my afternoon Diet Coke as I still have two 20 ounce empty bottles waiting reuse on the table and there are only so many creative things I can come up with for them. But the 4 p.m. sleepies and power of habit had me twisting off that red bottle cap (what to do with THAT?) and checking my email.

I did reuse my plastic straw from my earlier iced tea at Panera bread since I had no idea how I was going to find a new use for a straw once it entered my pile;-). I may just end up using it all week.

So today, entering my need to reuse pile are two cardboard boxes - Cereal and raisins, one 20 ounce plastic Diet Coke bottle, one paper tea bag and the wax paper bag out of the raisin box. Farmers market with a cloth bag is looking better and better;-).

One unexpected financial benefit is that I'm using less of everything from dish soap to shampoo to peanut butter because I just don't want to find yet another use for those containers!!


I find myself becoming frightened of the UNENDING amount of trash and recyclables I'm creating each day.

Today, I found myself weighing the benefits of mouthwash. If I use much more, that's one more empty bottle I've got to find a use for, but if I skip it, will my husband inform me when he kisses me hello coming in the door tonight?

I'm telling the kids that one squirt of soap is plenty as they wash their hands - what am I supposed to do with a bottle with a film of soap? And don't get me started about when my husband pulled out a bottle of cleaning spray for a spill - reusing something with likely toxic chemicals - now that'll stretch my imagination.

Then there is the bottle of hair gel that is thankfully half full, but the shampoo bottle felt a bit light in my hand today. The conditioner bottle seems okay, but the razor blade felt rough on my legs - what DOES one do with an old shaving blade? Maybe I can count that one off my list as I reuse the ones my husband uses to shave his face, so they did get re purposed at least once.

It is now only 11:00 and I think it's time to head out the door away from all these boxes, bottles, jars, wrappers, and containers leering at me from every angle;-).

Today we sign up Kirk for kindergarten. Hope his new teacher could use a whole lot of empty peanut butter jars for some art project....;-).

Edited to add one plastic milk jug, one plastic popcorn container, one more 20 ounce Dr. Pepper bottle, one candy wrapper, one Nestle milk shake container (the last three were a weak moment - after kindergarten registration Kirk and I went to a living museum called Little Norway and on the ride back were famished). Should have packed snacks.

Used two of the new cardboard boxes for Brandi's "thinking exercise" putting the kibble in the smaller one then putting that in the bigger one. She showed little interest until I tucked a small piece of deli turkey in (my husband is not a vegetarian). Then she went at it with great gusto and joy;-). Milk jug will be used to water houseplants. Will likely divide Brandi's next meal into three different containers left around different spots in the kitchen for her to practice her hunting skills;-).

And now, post kids' bath time, I am THRILLED to report we used no fewer than 7 plastic containers as "ships" that my two and five year old played with. They truly had a blast and I am so glad to have seven fewer items on my kitchen table awaiting "re-use".

I also reused the one paper towel we had out (this is one we rarely use as we almost always use rags) and put it under my toes while I painted them red.

Day 4

Challenge is getting long and still things pile up on the table. I watched with envy as my neighbors' put out their trash and recyclables and that magical green garbage truck just came along and took it all away....Leaving them with tidy kitchen tables and no quandaries about what to do with all this stuff.

But I digress.

Today we added a big diaper box - this will be used to round up odds and ends for donations. Yet another 20 pop bottle - yes I know I probably need help with this issue from some sort of popaholics are us... A tissue box was added to the pile along with the cardboard box that came with the English muffins and the plastic bag that it went in. Did indeed divide Brandi's meal into three containers. She saw herself as a mighty wolf of the North finding and demolishing some caribou carcases and I saw three fewer items in the pile. Will be glad for day seven.

Day 5 - Chocolate soy milk jug (waxed paper with film all around inside) went into the trash (with maybe a wee bit of vengeance?) Plastic egg carton filled with some of Brandi's kibble for her dinner hunting exercise. This is about the tenth container I've had her "break into" for food, and if she weren't a short, rather stout Pug, with few teeth left, I would be worried I've trained her to become quite the stealth food thief.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Average American tosses $859 worth of food a year - How do you stack up?

According to the 2009 Department of Labor's consumer expenditures reports, the average American spends $6133 on food each year. And according to several reports, the average American wastes 14 percent of their food purchases.

Broken down, this means the average American is tossing $858.62 each year. That's $71.55 per month. If that same amount was invested at 6.5% from age 20 to 65, that's $230,000 being tossed in the trash.

We're hearing a lot these days about would-be retirees who simply don't have the assets needed to leave the work force. The almost quarter of a million dollars tossed as bad lettuce would come in handy to those and others stuggling with a job loss or temporary leave of employment to raise young children.

These numbers were startling to me as I think we are actually worse than the average American in tossing food that's gone bad. I would guess we easily toss 20 percent if not more.

So I challenged myself to track this for a week and actually see the numbers for myself. As you will see, the amount wasted clearly was substantial. These days I'm finding myself tossing a lot less and plan to start another week of "food tracking" this month.

Day 1, August 16.

Tossed: 1 small squash 50 cents, entire bag of cherries $5.00, container of strawberries $3.00, small squash .50, 1/2 tomato .25, 1/4 container of guac. .75. Total day one = $10.00 (What I clear after taxes, commute, babysitting costs, dry-cleaning, and associated work expenses for one hour).

Day 2, August 17

The only thing wasted thus far today was about 1/8th of a bagel with cream cheese, and that was partly to just be a bit healthier and eat less. The bagel with cream cheese is a bit over $2.00 so I will estimate that at .25 tossed. I could have just wrapped it to take home. The moment he saw me toss it, my five year old exclaimed, "Mom! I didn't know you were going to be so wasteful!".

Also, my "new awareness" forced me to cut up an almost overripe canteloupe and my two year old and I are eating that now for dinner.

Edited to add: Bedtime snack ended with 1/2 cup of leftover yogert that had to be tossed as my two year old poured his water in it for fun. This is organic yogert, about $4.00 for a the container that has four cups. So that is 50 cents more being tossed tonight.

Day 3, August 18

Some of this may be sinking in, only tossed some bread crusts today. Cost of one piece of whole wheat bread is about 20 cents, so we'll call this a nickle for the day and pats on the back all around.

Day 4, August 19

Unlike the re-using my trash challenge, which is driving me a bit batty, I'm thrilled with my newfound dedication to tossing no food. I "re-used" the crusts today and just slathered on peanut butter and the boys look at it like a whole new sandwich. And the tiny bit of French bread that was to be wasted is in a recycled bag in my car to bring to the fish pond we go to to feed the fish. Not bad!

Day 5, August 25

Nothing tossed today, but a bowl of bean casserole is looking a bit shady and we went out to dinner which will just add another day to its aging....but otherwise good!

Day 6, August 26

Bean casserole will be going into the compost (1.50?) (80 cents can of beans, salsa, some onion). Used up the last of a very sad onion with the last of the spinach for a spinach pasta which is sitting in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch. Pat on the back again Eileen - doing really well at this.

September now and time to see if my progress is holding steady. Good wishes. Eileen

Update on the Toy Reduction Strategy!

The kids have been home for four days now and there has not been a single mention of the fact that 3/4 of the toys are gone. They didn't even notice!

That sends a powerful message to me that they were overwhelmed by the number of choices.

Since their return, they've just picked new games like "squirt gun" battles with mom and dad. Kirk got the one water gun and the rest of us used squirt bottles we had around the house for plants and other uses. We took our soccer flags and played "capture the flag" Revolutionary War battles. I personally think Kai and I won - seeing Kirk and Dad as Cornwallis and sidekick in the battle of Yorktown and you know how that ended. And since I'm the one writing this blog, that's how it shall go down in the annals of The Frugal Millionairess.

Kirk also took all the money out of the Monopoly game and opened his own "bank". Then he decided he would have a toy store and "sell" his toys to Mom and his brother. This led to a library idea where he lent out some of his books to me then fined me for being late returning them - modeling some real life situations he's witnessed.

My kids are pretty young, five and two, and I'm not sure how this would work with older kids, but I'm thrilled with the outcome here. My basement has never looked better, tidying up time has been cut by 80%, and the kids are finding no fewer game ideas day to day.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Venture Capitalists and peanuts that add up to a quarter of a million dollars.

With the kids at the in-law's Iowa farm for a few days, I had an afternoon free and attended a presentation by a pair of venture capitalists starting a new fund in the Midwest. Their pitch is that the Midwest is an under served market with lots of start-up ideas that are beyond the angel investor stage, but still falling far short of stirring interest in the big funds. Those big funds, according to Judy Owen of Calumet Venture Fund, see only "peanuts" in these small companies. But what they may fail to realize is there's a "LOT of those peanuts lying on the ground all around."

Driving home I thought about how this is so true for the average middle class American. So many of us fail to realize all the "peanuts" we are leaving on the ground. And if we took some time to pick them up and invest them, we might well be shaving years off the quest for financial independence.

Like the big venture capital funds, we take the time to analyze the big acquisitions - mortgages and vehicles. But then we spend little time running the numbers on the day to day stuff that will have as much if not more impact on our net worth.

Let's look at an average day and assess the impact of some peanuts.

Peanut #1. You wake up in the morning and shower and shave. Many use a palmful of shampoo, a palmful of conditioner and a palmful of shaving cream, among other products. This is despite the fact it is better for your hair to use much less, a dime or quarter size is actually recommended. And when you throw a load into the washing machine did you know you should be using only 1/2 cup at most according to Planet Green, thereby helping the planet and reducing skin irritations among other things. And if you run a dishwasher cycle in the morning, the company I just bought mine from insists most people use way too much and it is not necessary to fill the cap. So let's just start with the assumption you're able to halve your use of these five products with no investment of extra time or money.

Peanut #2. All cleaned up, it's time to get dressed for work. You scan your closet and decide you really need to go shopping as you've got "nothing to wear". According to the Department of Labor's April 2009 Consumer Expenditures report, the "average 2.5 member household" spends $1881 on clothing.

For purposes of ease, let's make it a family of three and that gives each $627 spent per year on new clothing. If most of your clothing items cost in the $25 range, that's twenty five new items joining your closet each year. Basically, two new things per month per family member.

Now I suppose it's possible that there exists in America people who actually need new clothing, but from the overstuffed closets I've seen in friends' and relatives' houses, to the piles of clothing I see at most garage sales, to the glimpses into strangers' closets on shows about decluttering, I have to believe those "need new clothes" people are in the minority.

So let's say you cut this expenditure in half, and each family member gets one new item per month and finds a way to creatively mix and match the other items to create some new outfits with the existing clothes.

Peanut #3. As you dress, you note that pile of dry cleaning on the floor and mentally calculate whether you have enough time to drop it off before work. As you look at the pile of 12 items, you realize that if you simply took better care of your clothing, you could have skipped cleaning at least two of those items. You commit to taking off your suit jacket the minute you come in the back door, seconds before your two year old comes to give you a sticky hug. And you commit to hanging the jacket and pants up in the bath for a few days to let the steam of the shower take out wrinkles and air out the items.

Peanut #4. Morning coffee at Starbucks four times a week is reduced by just one, to three days. The other days you use a thermos cup and feel green all day.

Peanut #5. You decide one day a MONTH, you will ride your bike to work, carpool with someone or work from home. You live 12 miles from work, with a 24 mile round trip. At the average of 50 cents a mile, that's $12 a day on commuting.

Peanut #6. You decide you no longer want spend your weekend running errands, so you carefully plan the week to hit the grocery store, dry cleaner, Walmart, and the pharmacy after work as you drive home. This saves a typical 30 miles of driving on Saturday each week.

Peanut #7. At work, you decide Mondays will be no vending machine days. You continue to go all four other weekdays. Each trip to vendo lands costs you about $1.50.

Peanut #8. And maybe rather than going out to eat every Friday, the first Friday of each month, you eat in, not feeling deprived since you know you get to eat out every other Friday.

Peanut #9. Similarly, you decide drinks or a movie once a week could be easily reduced by one week a month.

Peanut #10. You get home from work and realize the lawn is looking a bit shaggy. Now that you've freed up Saturdays, you take over mowing your own lawn, lose a few pounds, and are about $50 richer each time you finish the lawn yourself.

Peanut #11. You've mowed the lawn and head in for dinner only to realize you're out of milk. Your new mental frugal calculator tells you a "milk run" of about six miles round trip, will cost you $3. You decide the kids can just drink water and pick up the milk Monday night on the way home from work. You get in this habit and drop at least one previous errand run per week.

So let's look at how these peanuts add up.

By cutting shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, washing machine and dishwasher detergent in half, you save about $13.50 per month or $162 annually.

Getting only one new item rather than two each for a family of three saves $75 per month or $900 annually.

Dry cleaning two fewer items a month saves $10 per month or $120 annually.

One fewer Starbucks a week is $20 a month or $240 annually.

Not driving one day per month saves $12 per month or $144 annually.

No 30 mile round trip Saturday errand day saves $60 per month or $720 annually.

One less trip to vendo land per week is $6 per month or $72 annually.

Eating in one Friday a month saves $50 per month or $200 annually.

Skipping the drinks/movie once a month saves $30 per month or $360 annually.

Mowing your own lawn saves $200 per month (four months a year for cold climates) or $800 annually.

One less "milk run" per week saves $12 per month or $144 annually.

These simple peanuts add up to $322 saved per month or $3862 annually. If you started picking up these peanuts at age forty and investing them at 6.5% interest till age 65, you would have squirreled away $241,130 or about a quarter of a million dollars. If you started these habits at age 30, you would have $515,311, more than half a million dollars. And that IS a whole lot o' peanuts!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Staycation - What does your house cost you each night to sleep in? And should you "staycation" more often??

A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair the rest of his life.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I get antsy to get out of my house...often. I have a lovely home, a large garden, and televisions in each room, but still wanderlust hits me most days.

I think this is because my house makes demands on me that Panera Bread does not. Here at home, the dishes sitting in the sink, the dry, cracking deck that has not been stained in four years, and the spots on the white carpet all sitting about whispering of my neglect while I attempt to read a book or work on my computer.

And yet, I like most people pay or did pay, close to $70 a day for the privilege of living here. And with rent rates like that, I really feel I ought to be here more.

At the most basic, to live here, I pay electric, gas, taxes, insurance and until recently, a mortgage. In order of costs, it breaks down like this.

$200,000 mortgage at 6%, is roughly $1200 per month. That breaks down to about $40.00 per day.

Our real estate taxes in Dane County, WI are $6000 a year, or a bit over $16.00 per day (you better believe our kids are going to public school;-).

Our electric bill averages $162 per month or $5.42 a day.

Our gas bill, averaged over the year is $4.50 per day.

Our house insurance is about $2.77 per day. At least that's the number that came up on CompuQuotes as I couldn't find a record of our house insurance bill in our Money Program and hope to heaven we have in fact paid this the last two years or so.....

This comes to about $69.00 per day. And that excludes cable t.v., our new roof costs, the costs of the new refrigerator and washing machine.

As I mentioned, we are lucky to have paid off our mortgage, but still, that leaves almost $30 a day to be here. So what are the options?

I recently had dinner with a friend who was showing me pictures from her trip to India, her homeland. Some photos showed squatter villages and I expressed dismay at the apparent poverty. She had an interesting response. Many of those people, she said, have satellite t.v. and go out to dinner. This is because they don't have to pay taxes and if they did, there would be no money for the t.v. and going out to dinner.

And from my college days, I loosely remember Thoreau suggesting we would be better to model ourselves after the Native Americans, who set up what he called a warm and comfortable shelter of a tee pee without the mortgage, furnishings, and taxes of a farm to pay each day.

As there is no available squatter land as far as I know in Dane County, and my husband won't even tent camp, leaving out the option of a tee pee life, my last option seems the best, which is to better appreciate the home I have.

At $30 a day, divided into six main rooms, we spend $5 per day, per room to live here. So tomorrow, before I hit the open road for some coffee house to settle into for a few hours of work or reading, I will see if my own home may suit me as well. And I will simply ignore those rude whispers coming from my carpet; the dirty floors at Panera never have such an attitude!

Knowledge + Action = Financial Independence!

Now You

Take fifteen minutes and add up the costs of your monthly mortgage, real estate taxes, electric, gas, and insurance and divide by 30. Now you know what your digs cost you each day. Maybe it's time to downsize, or simply stay in a bit more and enjoy those accommodations.

Friday, August 7, 2009

2000 Toys or A Plastic Bag?

A while back, I was exercising on my elliptical machine in the basement watching an Oprah show on simplifying. In it, Oprah challenged a family to get rid of the t.v. and video games for a week, and reduce the two kids' toy options down to five toys each.

At the end of the show, the family agreed they'd spent much more quality time together and commented that the kids didn't even play with all ten toys during the week.

I was intrigued as I watched, surrounded in my own basement by what easily amounts to over 2000 toys (if each piece of a set or game was counted as well).

At two and five, my boys don't clean up after themselves very well, which means I regularly found myself wading through a virtual sea of plastic every time I needed to go to the basement.

On one hand, I was rather proud that the kids had such a vast array of toys, many of which were educational, all of which were purchased used at garage sales and thrift stores for so little money. I figured each new toy sparked some new sort of thinking, interacting with a new medium in a sort of "college of toys";-).

On the other hand, a few things had happened lately in addition to watching the show to make me question that. My older son had become fascinated with the Revolutionary War and liked to play "soldier". Since I wasn't a big fan of war games, I hadn't gotten him a toy gun or soldier outfit. And he was quite creative, using his hockey sticks as cannons and finding construction paper and tape to make a "soldier hat".

In days past, I probably would instantly have thought that I should run out and get him a soldier costume and he probably would have loved it, for at least the week or so he was playing Revolutionary War hero. Then, it would have been added to the thousands of other toys collecting in the basement.

Another thing that made me question the volume of toys was a new game my older son created. He had started taking a plastic grocery bag on a windy day and tossing it in the air, then pretending it was a gazelle and he was a lion and running after it. He later switched to pretending he was an Iowa football tackle who was going after a Northwestern Wildcat wide receiver. This is about as simple and easy as it gets!

I read somewhere that architect Frank Lloyd Wright was only given blocks to play with as a child under some educational theory his mother had read about. As a result, he used those blocks for hundreds of different games from building forts to towns, to roads and other things. Needless to say, his own creativity didn't suffer for want of 1900 other toys.

The past few days, my kids have been at their grandparents and I've made huge strides in cleaning out the basement. While I haven't gotten down to five toys each, I did reduce the toys by 3/4 and I sincerely doubt they will notice - they'll just be too shocked to see the basement clean;-).

I'm beginning to think a much smaller selection of toys is really going to offer a far better "college of toys experience". My goal is that each toy needs to offer multiple uses like blocks, Lincoln logs, a kitchen set, and a few costumes.

I'll report back in a few months....and if it's a complete failure, I'm sure the boys will report to their psychologists in 20 years time about their mom's awful "cleansweep";-). But my hope is I will have more creative children, a cleaner basement, and more time to spend with my kids rather than picking up after them. Best wishes. The Frugal Millionairess.

Knowledge + Action = Financial Independence

Now You!

As an experiment, have your kids choose five toys each to play with for a week. Tell them that you will join them in playing with those five toys as extra motivation. Most kids are up for new games and if you present it as a game, they will probably buy in. See what happens and report back;-).