Sunday, March 25, 2012

Frugal Living

Once upon a time, there lived a woman who could buy everything she needed and some of the stuff she wanted.  She shopped for new clothes for her husband and kids (and even herself if the "right size" fit.) She drank light (to get the "right size" to fit) caramel macchiatos at Starbuck's while searching for the perfect book at Barnes and Noble. She dined in the finest restaurants with waiters who brought her anything she requested and then cleaned up when she was finished.  She drove her own Volvo SUV and frequently downloaded songs on iTunes for her and her children's musical enjoyment while traveling from ballet to baseball, from PTA to ponies.  Life was good in the magical world of paychecks.

When the paychecks ended so did the fairytale.  Sabbatical life has reintroduced me to my dark, frugal side, much to my family's chagrin.  We have ventured through the looking glass and are definitely not in Kansas anymore.  (How many more cliches can I use in one post?  Keep count and I'll send you a coupon for $2 off Folger's coffee since that's all I drink now.)

Thanks, Kelly!
Here are just a few money saving changes we have made this year:

  • Who needs new clothes when you aren't going to work and your kids are being home schooled?  Approximate savings: $3000
  • Forgo the salon and have a friend cut your kids' hair.  Kelly's expertise was a godsend because I was planning to take a whack at it myself.  Approximate savings: $20 x 3 = $60 or $100 in hats and child size wigs. (Kelly, we'll need you back down for a return visit in 6-8 weeks.)
  • Gone are the daily trips to Starbuck's since I switched to Folger's at pennies a cup.  Approximate savings: $3 x 365 = $1095  (No way I spent over a thousand dollars a year on coffee!  Maybe it was just twice a week... but if I add the times I pulled through a window for a Diet Dr. Pepper... Yikes!)
  • With Starbuck's went Barnes and Noble, so we have embraced the local library system and are infinitely richer for it.  Approximate savings: $15/book x 40 books a year (very conservative estimate) = $600
  • We only dine out extravagantly when we are traveling.  Now a trip to the value menu at Wendy's is a treat.  Approximate savings: $3000 - $50 in change spent cleaning the car (Sadly, no waiters will clean up after you in your car.)
Let's pause a minute.  Did we really spend as much in restaurants as we did on clothes?  Probably why the "right size" didn't fit most of the time. Oh, well, back to the list...

  • Sold is the beloved Volvo for a travel fund increase of $14,000.  This also saved us gassing up a second car for a second person on the road at the same time.  We have "carpooled or not gone" all year.  (Does this mean we're a green family?)
  • An iTunes download is now a goody that each person must pay for themselves.  This has taught the kids that if they want a song, they better like it enough to pay a dollar for it.
  • A final, HUGE savings has been not having kids in every extracurricular or "extra currency needed" activity.  Approximate savings: Dance for two girls = $200/month x 10 months = $2000, Fall and Spring Baseball for one boy = $600, Piano lessons = $88/month x 12 = $1056, Cello lessons = $80 x 12 = $960, and Horseback Riding lessons = $220/month x 10 = $2200. 
Holy Cow!  Kids are expensive!

This year of no paychecks has also taught me how to save on things we couldn't cut out altogether.  I shopped more carefully, even clipping coupons, because I have had time to do so.  Back in the paycheck days, I "ran in" the grocery store.  I shopped for our immediate needs only.  We were so busy we had little time to plan.  This year has reminded me that haste makes waste (Another cliche for those counting) and the expense of traveling with three kids left no room for wasting money.

Here are my two most important money saving travel tips:

One of the benefits of family membership

  • Plan, Plan, Plan.  Take the time.  Seriously.  Shopping around is not overrated.  A little work on the web before we leave on a trip has saved us hundreds of dollars.  For example, I have booked cheaper hotel rooms, flights, etc. searching sites like Priceline, Kayak, Fare Compare, etc.  Also, search your travel destination for freebies.  Many cities have free special events if you are in the know. Wink, wink.  Nudge, nudge.  If you have a membership in your hometown, look for reciprocal museums, zoos and aquariums for free or reduced entry.  We are members at Fernbank Museum and Zoo Atlanta and all five of us got in free to the Ben Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and reduced entry to the Monterrey Aquarium.

    Local Lupper in Charleston
  • Introduce your family to new words: Brunch and Lupper.  This two-meal-a-day concept saved us tons of time and money while traveling.  Basically, this is how it works: Wake and snack* in the room (granola bar, fruit, crackers.)  Sightsee.  Around 11-12 noon have a meal.  It's great to go to a place that serves breakfast all day then the kids don't remember if they had breakfast or lunch.  Sightsee.  Have snack*, if needed.  Around 4-5 have lupper.  Splurge on the city's specialty.  Think global, but eat local.  Talk and enjoy.  The kids won't remember if it was lunch or supper just that it was different...special.  Sightsee; then, back to the room for a light bedtime snack*.   
 *Bring your own snacks.

No new American Girl dolls,
 so Emma has to settle for a makeover.

For the woman in my fairytale, frugal living would be a major bummer.   She would hate the restrictions on her spending and feel it a sacrifice to donate time to researching and planning.  Of course, I'd have to tell her for each so called hardship, there are rewards, tenfold.  Life in paycheck land was great (honestly, I miss the shopping the most), but life in sabbatical land ain't so bad... with a little bit of work.  Ironic, huh?

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