Frugal Step: Do-It-Yourself

Our toilet in the downstairs half bath has caused us problem for the 11 years we have lived in this house. I will never forget it overflowing before both my bridal shower and baby shower, and my friend Laura having to plunge it.

In the past few months, it has been constantly getting clogged, even though our kids have never thrown anything down there and we avoided the toilet paper issue by installing a bidet. Once it was so bad we had to call out a plumber, who told us the toilet was cheap and possibly could have been installed poorly, something he sees often in suburban neighborhoods like ours that grew quickly during the housing boom in the late 90s/early 00s. We already have found so many issues related to the builder cutting corners, it would not be a surprise.

Two nights ago, Mr Thrifty was up until 3 am dealing with an overflowing toilet  that would not correct with plunging or the snake (the same night Miss C was up all night sick- that was one hell of a night). We knew we would have to bite the bullet and replace the toilet.

He ended up taking time off work yesterday and today to deal with the situation. He did research and watched some videos and decided to try and replace it himself. He is pretty handy, so I knew there was a good chance he could do it without calling the plumber out for an emergency.

The first thing he found when he took off the lid- this mysterious message. Did the builder install a defective toilet? This makes it look like they did. We used a $50 Lowe’s gift card to buy a Toto toilet for $300. Not the cheapest but not the most expensive. We have a bidet insert that we kept to place on the new toilet.

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He found multiple problems when he removed the toilet and slab. Installing a toilet on a wood floor causes problems keeping it level. He had to back up the cheap particle board sub floor with scrap wood from when we installed a new floor of the deck to make sure everything held. That added a lot more work.

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We probably spent $100 on those extra parts needed to fix pipes and ensure a level toilet on a safe surface.

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Mr Thrifty estimates we saved about $300 doing it himself, though it was quite a time investment. We already tested it, and it works! Now let’s cross our fingers that I don’t have to plunge that sucker for at least another year.

Our Garage Sale Experience: Part III

Garage Sale

Our garage sale was held Saturday and I thought I would share our experience, including what worked and what didn’t work.

The Good

  • We made $140.
  • We cleared out all of the baby things that took up a large portion of our basement. Yep, done having babies!
  • We got rid of wedding gifts we have never opened from their package and never used in our home. This is one of the reasons I like to give cash as a gift.
  • My son earned $1 per hour for helping me and learned the value of working for his fun money. He was able to earn $5 towards a video game he wants.
  • People saw our Disney sign and offered to donate towards it without buying anything. It was very sweet.

The Myeh

  • It was freezing cold and raining, so we had fewer people than expected.
  • We didn’t grill our hot dogs because of the rain.
  • I probably should have checked the value of a few things on Ebay before trying to sell, including these Lenox porcelain cat spice jars that belonged to my husband’s late aunt. We didn’t sell them at the sale, but they are worth $12-25 each, and we have 22 of the set. We were going to sell them for $3!

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The Bad

  • I baked all four dozen cinnamon rolls in the morning, but should have waited to bake them one dozen at a time. We only sold about a dozen, and have had to eat through the rest. We only sold a few bottles of water.
  • It took at least 4 hours of work the night before to get ready, plus an hour in the morning. I the  sat out in the garage for 7 hours. Our hourly rate was just under $13/hour. I make an awful lot more per hour as a nurse.
  • I froze my behind off!
  • No one wanted my husband’s and sister-in-law’s 30 year old skis.

In the future, I will not choose to work a shift before the day of a garage sale, and I will check Ebay for higher value items. We probably only sold 1/3 of our stash, but we did get rid of some big things that were taking up room. All the extras are going to Goodwill!

Frugal Family Fun All Year Long

 

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This post contains affiliate links.

With three kids age eight and under and a tight budget while we are paying cash for my graduate school, we try to keep our entertainment budget low. It doesn’t mean, however, that we want to miss out on having fun. We just focus on free or nearly-free activities while allowing a few extras within our budget during the year.

I actually keep a list with a seasonally-based bucket list all year. I include outdoor activities, holiday-related fun, crafts for my girls, who are 5 and 2, seasonal food and desserts, movies, and local seasonal festivals or activities. We usually use our budgeting tools to plan for one family membership to the local zoo, aquarium, or amusement park, and otherwise stick to a small monthly entertainment budget of $100 or less. This budget includes ice cream, admission to places, food at festivals, movies, or a pizza night. We use an Excel spreadsheet, but other people might like something ready-made like Personal Capital, You Need A Budget, or another budgeting software.

What do we do throughout the year?

Spring

  • Sprout some seeds and plant them when they are ready
  • Easter/spring treats: chocolate bunnies, Peeps, candy eggs
  • Dye some eggs
  • The first post-winter bike ride
  • Fly a kite
  • Grab the rain boots and umbrellas and splash in the puddles
  • Lemons are in season, so we make Lemon Bars
  • Crafts at home: bunnies, rainbows, leprechauns, baby birds
  • Eating main dishes that include eggs or asparagus

Summer

  • Water play: go swimming, to a splash pad, or run through the sprinkler
  • Go hiking in the woods
  • Go camping, either in the woods or in the backyard
  • Have a bonfire and make S’mores
  • Watch fireworks
  • Have a picnic
  • Roll down a hill
  • Catch fireflies (we have them here in Ohio)
  • Buy fruits and veggies form the Farmer’s Market
  • Grow something
  • Go to a festival or amusement park
  • Crafts at home: sunflowers, ice cream cones, hula girls, and mermaids, fireworks
  • Grilled foods
  • Strawberry sponge cake, Agua Fresca, Peach Pie, and Israeli Salad made with fresh summer veggies

Autumn

Winter

What do you do for frugal fun? 

Planning A Garage Sale

Garage Sale

This post contains affiliate links.

Every year our neighborhood holds a huge community garage sale. Though we had garage sales when I was a kid, in the ten years we have been in this house, we have never participated in the community sale.

I have sold a few things on Ebay and craigslist, and a Facebook yard sale page, but my success has been hit or miss. I don’t have a lot of time right now to make weekly trips to the post office or to meet in a parking lot to make an exchange. We have years worth of baby clothes, and though I have been able to pass on our girl clothes to someone who needed them, I haven’t had much luck selling our boy clothes or the baby equipment we have left, never mind the skis my husband and his sister used in the 80s, endless boxes of books I KonMari‘d this past year, and wedding gifts from ten years ago we never really wanted and have been storing in the basement.

Since I don’t have a lot of experience, I reached out to members of a frugal Facebook group and asked for their best tips. I’ve devised a plan using their advice and I thought I would share it with my readers. The sale is on April 30th, and I will check back in and let everyone know how it went.

The Plan:

  1. Create a “garage sale” pile in the basement. I know it’s a big job to gather everything together, so I am making a corner of the basement to pile things over the next month.
  2. Price everything- but price things using “batch” prices if you can. The skis will be listed for $40, but the books will be $1 each for paperback and $3 each for hardback.
  3. Offer a “bulk discount” if possible. I am going to do this with books by selling 4 for $3 for paperback and 4 for $10 for hardback.
  4. Price a little higher than you want so you can haggle down- but not too much higher.
  5. Hang up clothes or lay out on a table rather than jumbled in a box.
  6. Stack books in boxes with spine facing out for easy reading.
  7. Have lots of change ready.
  8. Put the most interesting pieces out by the edge of the driveway to pull people in.
  9. Have bags available for buyers (we have a huge stockpile in the basement).
  10. If it’s going to be hot, keep a cooler full of water bottles and soda on ice and sell for $1 a bottle.
  11. If you expect a crowd, think of selling food. (I am considering my homemade cinnamon rolls recipe, which costs me $0.50 for 14 and are easy to make ahead, freeze, and bake the morning of the sale. Maybe hot dogs for lunch?)
  12. Get up early and be set up by 6:30 to take advantage of early birds.
  13. Plan to be exhausted by the end of the day and anticipate you won’t want to cook. (I think it will be a pizza night).
  14. Put an extra sign up in simple clear lettering with your most interesting pieces listed. (I think I will have one that says “Cold Water! Fresh Cinnamon Buns! CDs! Boys Clothes! Books!”)
  15. Have something to keep little kids occupied. (I think I will put the water table and bubble machine in the front yard.)

What do you think? Any tips from seasoned garage salers?

 

 

Things We’ve Given Up- and Things We’ve Gained- By Being Frugal

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Most of the frugal lifestyle changes we have made over the last ten years have come about slowly. We changed a few things after we had our first and second children, but the third child two years ago was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only did we have day care for three children, but all the chaos three children can bring.

This time last year we were managing health crises for all three children, had five horrible GI bugs in the span of three months, and despite neglecting our own well checks and dental visits, had almost no time off at work left. Something had to give, and that something was our belief that we couldn’t manage on one income and still meet the financial and educational goals we wanted to meet.

Frugal living has an unpleasant reputation because it brings to mind deprivation and want. 

In reality, it is about prioritizing the needs of your future self over the wants of your present self. Five years ago, we could not have imagined needing to have one parent in the home. Our future selves are surely happy, though, that our past selves opted to cut cable, skip vacations, and maintain a tight grocery budget so we could prioritize payoff of our student loans and cars. Misfortune in an inevitable part of life, and that means we all have a future self who is going to have to live with a job layoff, emergency, serious illness, fire, or unexpected death.

Frugal living is not just focused on the big picture either. It is also focused on thinking carefully and mindfully about “just enough” in the now. We’ve all watched a kid at a birthday party bursting with enthusiasm when opening the first present become bored and uninterested halfway through a giant pile of gifts. I have seen it happen in my own kids.

The truth is after a certain amount of something, the pleasure we get from more of it falls sharply. Think of all the things we consume: clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets, books, music, restaurant food, toys. While we have basic human needs that must be met for food, clothing, shelter, health care, and comfort, past a certain point we are just piling crap on top of crap.

At the same time, we have emotional and physical needs that are being neglected. How many of you get three hours of outdoor time every day? Spend hours every day pleasantly interacting with family and/or friends? Share a meal together? How many hours of free play are your kids getting? How much time do you spend stopping and smelling the roses, in prayer or meditation?

Conversely, how much time do you spend on your commute? How many days go by where you only spend a few minutes outside of your house, car, or office? How much time do you and your family spend rushing from one place to another? How often do you take a vacation day for actual relaxation?

Our life before a year ago meant spending a morning rushed and stressed getting three kids ready for day care, even though I worked from home, followed by a workday with a lunch break at my desk for me and a lunch break running errands for my husband. We paid for a cleaning service because that meant even less time with the kids if we had to do it ourselves.  We ate out several times a week. I would sometimes jump on the treadmill desk here and there during a lull in work, because neither of us had time or energy to exercise regularly. We were constantly sick from day care germs, and it was not helping our 1 year old with asthma. We had a monthly date night with a paid sitter at an expensive restaurant. We spent a lot more on Christmas, but I can’t even remember what we bought the kids. I got monthly pedicures and used a Groupon to get my hair cut and highlighted every two months.

This week is a pretty typical week for us now: I walked the preschooler back and forth to preschool three days this week, which is 4 miles total each day.  We ambled along and looked at the trees and birds and rocks along the path instead of worrying about being late. I might put about 10-12 miles a week on our minivan tops. I walked on the treadmill 6 days and lifted weights three times. I stood at the bus stop with my son every morning and chatted with the neighbors, and was there every afternoon when he got off. I worked on Monday, and my kids were at the sitter, where they played with a half dozen other neighborhood kids and will spend all afternoon outside on a nice day instead of a scheduled 30 minutes twice a day. On my days off we spent most of every morning outside or at the YMCA’s indoor play area. We had an impromptu trip to the park. We ate healthy at home meals every day. We had homemade snickerdoodles and cinnamon rolls. We relaxed by watching movies (all from the library) and reading books (the digital library).

If I compare last year to this year, I can easily see the real deprivation. Though we had a lot of frugal habits, our time-deprived and stress-full lifestyle lead us to spend more to try and buy back that time and reduce the stress of finding dinner, cleaning the house, and to give ourselves some more “me-time”.

This past year of working only a few days a month and being carefully spendy  on only those things that have enough wow factor and get us out experiencing things instead of sitting inside (amusement park passes, cheapie theater tickets, nature camp) has only driven home that our plan to minimize our wants, save as much as we can, pay off the mortgage, and retire early is the right path for us.

We may have given up cable, plans for a big house, expensive birthday parties, salon haircuts, pedicures, and the latest electronic gadgets, but I think our future selves are not going to miss them very much, not when we have the happy memories of endless summers.

 

 

 

Menstrual Cups: 5 Reasons To Give Them A Try

Menstrual Cups-

I know many of you might have a strong reaction when you read the title of this post, but let’s be real: we are all grownups, and I think we can all get  through it without squealing like some middle-school girls, right?

If you own a uterus, and you are between the ages of 11 and 55, that uterus is probably giving you a little inconvenience about once every moon-turn. Whether you want to or not, it will show up and must be dealt with. Tampons and pads are not cheap. Many of us spend $5-10 a month, every month, for years . Not only that, but we get taxed for these “luxury” goods in at least 40 states.

Back in 2001 I first read about The Keeper in my beloved copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette. I was so broke at the time, I could only afford $10 a week in groceries. $10 a month was a big stretch in my tiny budget to take care of lady business. This was before everyone had internet, so I sent away for it mail-order and probably paid $20 that I scraped together God knows how. That lasted me 7 years, until I had my first baby in 2008.

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It was then that I heard about the new Diva Cup, made of silicone instead of latex. As a nurse, I wanted to reduce my contact with latex, since the more exposure to it increases risk for developing a latex allergy, so I decided to switch. I paid about $27 for a Diva Cup and have been using it since. Yes, that is 8 years now. The only time I haven’t used it is post-childbirth, when I did use disposables. I have reusable pads called Gladrags as backups, but generally don’t need them. (Update: I just got a new cup- a Super Jennie– and I love it!)

I know the idea of a reusable is a little frightening, but here are a few reasons to give them a try:

#1

It’s cheaper. It may require an up-front cost of about $30, but over the long-haul you will pay much less. Manufacturers of convenience items are pretty certain you won’t do the math, but allow me to show you.

Cost of usual products, $10/month x 12 months = $120/year

Cost of a menstrual cup, $30 x 1 time. Some brands recommend changing your cup yearly, and other recommend years of use. For me, I have used each one for minimum 7 years.  Your cost will be anything from $30/year to $3/year if you keep it for a decade.

While you can cut more money all at once by cutting cable, your cost savings do add up over time. Besides, why shouldn’t you get an extra $100/year to blow on something you actually would enjoy?

#2

It’s less wasteful. Imagine all the women of childbearing age in the world, and then imagine all of us ditching used feminine products into landfills every month. I’d say that in the past 15 years, I have saved 3600 tampons from being dumped into a landfill. And I’m just one person!

#3

It can keep you covered all day. Many users, including myself, only need to empty twice a day. Now, I have not yet experienced the joys of perimenopause, so ask me about that again in 10 years, but for normal purposes, you should probably be able to go an entire workday without having to worry about leaking.

#4

It’s comfortable! Seriously! It can take a learning curve of a few months to get the hang of inserting and removing, but when in use you shouldn’t be aware of its being there. I didn’t have many options back in 2001, but nowadays there are enough different cups out there to find one that works best for you. I just updated my cup to a Super Jennie Small (yes, even after 3 kids) and I think I found my Goldilocks cup. It’s so comfortable I can’t tell I’m using it.

#5

Do you have sensitive skin? A cup may be your best bet when it comes to staying irritation-free if pads or tampons cause rashes. Tampons also tend to dry out the mucus membranes and this can irritate some women. A silicone cup does not have the same effect as it does not absorb moisture.

One last thing: reducing the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). There are plenty of menstrual cup advocates that will cite a nonexistent or significantly reduced risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome for cup users versus tampon users.

I did a literature search, and the truth is there aren’t any good studies that compare menstrual cup users and tampon users and their risk of TSS. There is a case reported in the literature that connects a case of TSS with menstrual cup use. Don’t assume if you have symptoms that it couldn’t be TSS and always follow recommended hygiene practices: hand-washing, washing cup daily during use, a sterilize by boiling, or soaking in half-water/half-vinegar or hydrogen peroxide after each cycle. If it’s looking cracked or worn out, toss it and get a new one. Use common sense!

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Frugal Planning: Valentine’s Day

Valentine's

If you are part of a couple, this weekend is probably one with a host of built-in expectations that generally entail forking over a big wad of cash.

If you are in need of permission, I am here to tell you that you do not have to do any of that stuff. Seriously.

I can’t remember the last time my husband bought me a gift. It was probably in the first few years of our relationship. We (mutually and voluntarily) stopped buying each other gifts over a decade ago. We will have a nice dinner date, and he will sometimes buy flowers, but once we started having children the best gift we have given each other is to take the children to Grandma’s for the day and give our other half the house to his or herself.

I am not a card person (useless killing of a tree), a stuffed animal person (ugh), a jewelry person (waste), or a candy person (milk chocolate is revolting). I am a foodie and I love fresh flowers, so in Februarys past we have had a nice dinner out (usually on a slower weekend a week after Valentine’s), and Mr Thrifty has bought me flowers.

This time last year, I had just started my experiment living on my husband’s salary alone. In cutting back, I asked him not to buy me flowers for Valentine’s, my birthday, or Mother’s Day. I love fresh flowers, and they are a luxury I never treat myself to, but being home with my children is the better luxury in my mind.

This year again I have asked that there be no flowers. Our daughter’s birthday is the 16th, and we will have a combined birthday party for our girls tomorrow. I will make her spaghetti with meat sauce for her birthday night, and in a couple weeks we will have an at-home dinner date with a tea party theme. Maybe we will do flowers again next year when we are done paying my school, maybe not.

We want to watch a movie together, so I have decided to set up a “clubhouse” in our daughters’ room, where the kids get to sit in big boxes with pillows, eat a homemade treat, and watch a movie on their Kindle while we watch a movie on the big TV downstairs after dinner.

If you have no children, your at-home date night would probably be a lot easier than ours. Even if you wanted to go out, there are plenty of ways to make it a cheaper night.

You can find a place offering a coupon or try a Restaurant.com or Groupon deal.

You might find flowers for cheaper at the grocery store, or you might choose to buy the flowers after Valentine’s, when they are cheaper.

You can see a matinee instead of an evening movie, or better yet, find a free Redbox code, a free to stream show on Netflix or Amazon,  or a movie from the library.

For gifts, you can do what we do, and pledge not to buy any. It truly doesn’t bother either of us. We do nice things for each other throughout the year.

If gift-giving is your love language, you can give a massage or perform a service. Let me tell you how much I would love if is my husband did the dishes for a whole week, or cleaned the bathroom, or took the kids to the YMCA so I could have a bubble bath.

 

What do you do for a frugal Valentine’s Day?

Wholesale Clubs: What I Will Buy at Sam’s

What I Will

This post contains affiliate links.

Warehouse clubs can seem like a great deal. We’ve all probably heard that most things are cheaper in bulk, and the cost per unit price usually goes up when the size of the package goes down.

Here’s the thing: it’s not true in all instances. Retailers are savvy, and they understand their market. They know you might be walking into a Costco or a Sam’s thinking “bigger is cheaper”, and you might just walk out with more than you were planning to buy if you think you are getting a great deal.

My advice to you is to be familiar with prices period. I started my frugal journey before everyone was on the internet and couponing websites made match-ups of every conceivable deal. I owned a copy of the Complete Tightwad Gazette, and learned how to keep a price book. It was a three-ring binder with college-lined notebook paper, and every sheet listed a different item.

Through that, I learned that store brand mac n cheese usually went on sale for 20 cents per box every 3 months or so, and so did store brand spaghetti (at least they did 15 years ago!). I lived off a tiny food budget of just $10/week for just myself, and I did it- with full cabinets– by using that price book. I would only buy mac n cheese when it hit its lowest price, and then I would buy 20 boxes, or enough to get me through until the next sale cycle.

Now, I don’t really have the need to keep a formal price book any more. I can tell you what my stock-up price is for most items after doing this for over 15 years. For those of you struggling to get your food budget down, however, I highly recommend it as one of your main strategies to use.

Because I know my stock-up prices, I know when I walk into Sam’s and see a double-pack of Cheerios for $7.98, that it is way overpriced. I generally buy 12 oz. boxes of brand name for $1.50 or less per box, or 12.5 cents per ounce. Sam’s is making a killing on those huge boxes!

Frequently, the price after sale + coupon at a regular grocer or even a pharmacy can be cheaper than Sam’s. This is especially true for toiletries and hygiene items, and certain over the counter medications.

I tend to follow the Prudent Homemaker‘s suggestions for what to buy at Sam’s. I never thought I had room in my home for bulk purchases, or a way to safely store them.  A year ago, I ended up getting the food grade bulk storage bins and gamma lids she recommended to store them. I now have five bins in my kitchen holding bread flour, all purpose flour, white sugar, rice, and pinto beans.

My kids can’t open them and in the year I have had them, we have had no issues with pests or mold. It certainly has helped us save some money.

At Sam’s, you may have a few different bulk options available to choose. To decide which option is better, I always calculate the unit price and compare. Just this week, I calculated that the 25 pound bag of white Domino sugar has a higher unit price than buying several 10 pound bags of Pioneer sugar. Don’t just assume bigger means cheaper!

What I buy at Sam’s:

White sugar

Brown sugar (I keep mine is a tightly sealed plastic container with this terra cotta maple leaf to keep it from going hard)

Powdered sugar

Bread flour

All purpose flour

Block cheese (I shred it myself). Buying shredded or sliced at Sam’s may not necessarily be cheaper. And sometimes grocers have a deal where it meets or exceeds Sam’s good prices.

Dried beans (Only 10 lb. pinto beans are available at my Sam’s, but at 55 cents.lb, they are cheaper than at the grocery store.)

Cocoa powder

Juice boxes and cans of pop (for parties-but I also check for sale prices and coupon deals at stores. They may be cheaper.)

Large bottles of apple juice

Baby formula

Rice

Bulk spices (We buy only those for which we use a lot- Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Cumin, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Kosher Salt). More options are available.

Yeast

Baking soda

Baking Powder

Butter (unless a grocer sells for $2 /lb or less)

Vinegar

Canola oil (we refill a small jar so we aren’t schlepping it from the basement)

Vanilla

Raisins

Walnuts, Almonds, Peanuts, and Deluxe Mixed Nuts

Parchment paper

Now, we eat meat so rarely that I have never bought any at Sam’s, so I couldn’t compare prices. If you are a meat-eater, I would start with a price book and go well armed with that information before stocking up at Sam’s or another warehouse club.

As for us, we stock-up about every 6 months, which seems to be the point when I need more flour, cocoa, nuts, and raisins.

 

What about you? What do you buy at warehouse clubs? Are you certain you’re getting the best price?

 

 

Minding The Details: Calculating The Lifespan of the Products You Buy

MInding Details

Back in 2010, I won my first Sam’s membership and a $50 gift card to Sam’s in a blog giveaway. I bought the mother lode of of dishwasher tablets, aluminum foil, garbage bags, and Ziploc Freezer Bags.

I still have not used all of those Ziploc bags. In fact, just yesterday I ran down to the basement and grabbed a box of gallon sized bags, noting I still have more left down there almost 6 years after I bought them.

One of my frugal strategies is to make things last as long as possible. When it comes to a disposable item like a Ziploc bag that costs me every time I use it, I try to use a reuseable as much as possible or get as much life out of the disposable as I can.

In the case of the Ziplocs, I use them to freeze meat, veggie stock, frozen beans, bread crumbs, and the occasional gifted garden surplus. Because we don’t have a garden and don’t each much meat at all, we go through them very slowly. I do reuse the Ziplocs that have not held meat, so those veggie stock, bread crumb, and bean bags get washed, dried, and reused. It does drive my husband a little crazy, as he does not see the point of the effort. “But look!”, I say, “We’ve had the same oversize box of gallon-sized Ziplocs since 2010!”

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This week, I bought parchment paper at Sam’s. I love parchment paper because it keeps my cookies from burning. I’m aware of Silicone baking mats, but I’ve been leery of buying them until they have been out for longer, mostly because they are made from more than silicone, and I’m waiting to see if they turn out to be the new Teflon or BPA. (This is not an evidence-based opinion, but a pure it’s-happened-before paranoia.)

My cookie sheets are 16 inches long, and I use 3 sheets when I make a batch of cookies. My Sam’s parchment paper has 164 feet of paper, or 1968 inches. 1968 inches divided by 48 inches of paper each time I make cookies makes 41 uses out of this roll.

Now, I make a batch of cookies about 2 times per month. 41 divided by 2 equals 20.5 months of use from this roll.

How can I extend this longer?

Simple, I can reuse my parchment paper more than once, as long as what I use it for is not super sticky or greasy. If I use each sheet 3 times, I can extend the life of this roll of parchment paper to 61.5 months, or Five Years.

I paid $4.97 for this roll. If I extend the life to 5 years then that is only paying $0.99/year for my baking needs.

Now, I know what you are thinking. What is the point? It’s just a piece of paper. It only costs 4 cents every time you pull a new sheet off the roll. The same goes for other things too. Are we using the minimum required for the job when we wash our hair, do laundry, or wash the pots and pans in the sink, or are we using two to three times what is necessary?

What do you use in a single day? Use 6 Ziploc bags in a lunch, 3 paper lunch bags, a sheet of parchment paper, 2 sheets of aluminum foil, 10 sheets of paper towels, 7 sheets of baby wipes (I used to reach for one to wipe the kids’ hands and faces), 2 sheets of Clorox wipes, 3 sheets of Saran Wrap to cover dinner’s leftovers, 3 supersized squirts of shampoo in the shower, 2 larger-than-manufacturer-recommended dollops of Tide in the washing machine- that’s $46.80 a month, or $561.60 per year.

It’s definitely important to look at the big money-wasters in your budget, like cable, a too-expensive car, and entertainment expenses, but the small things do add up too. For us, just changing our habits around disposable items adds up to enough for an extra mortgage payment every year or one credit hour of grad school tuition.

How do you avoid throwing pennies away?

Frugal Planning: $10 Date Night

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We have busy schedules, but Mr Thrifty and I try to have a date night at least once a month. My mother lives an hour away, so we don’t often ask her to babysit on Saturday nights when we go out, and have to hire a babysitter.

We are foodies and like to try unique local restaurants rather than chains. Our monthly budget until now has been $100 to cover babysitter and dinner at a foodie joint.

Because my work is spotty, we have a lot of projects for the home, and want to save for retirements and next year’s Disney trip, we have decided to clamp down on this monthly treat.

Our plan for the next 6 months is to keep the cost of a monthly date night to $10 or less.

I love cooking and baking, so our strategy is to do in-home date nights, with me trying a fantastic new main dish and dessert, and renting a movie or finding one from the library.

Once it warms up, we might try watching something a little more kid inappropriate (we still have’t seen the new Mad Max) on the laptop on the deck while the kids watch a kiddie movie inside.

We do have our 10th wedding anniversary in May, and I have $50 in Olive Garden gift cards I am saving for then. Grandma might be willing to do an overnight that weekend, meaning babysitting will be free.

I am already plotting the next few months and have been scrolling through my Pinterest boards for new things to try. You can probably tell by my boards that I am happily obsessed with food. I plan to keep whatever I make within my grocery budget so I am not spending extra.

Here’s my plan for the next few months:

February:

Our 5 year old daughter got a fancy tea set from Grandma for Christmas, and has liked having tea parties. For February, I have been thinking of trying a few things from my Downton Abbey board, like scones, cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, and a touch of downstairs Ploughman’s lunch (cheese, homemade crusty bread, fruit slices, refrigerator pickles, mustard, tomatoes).

March:

In March, my husband and I have birthdays, and I plan on making his family pierogies from scratch, with lots of sauteed onions, sour cream, some fried kielbasa, and Tuxedo Cake, which resembles an amazing Hoho Cake at one of our favorite restaurants.

April:

In April, I’d like to use some local spring honey to make this Bee Sting Cake from Smitten Kitchen and a Jamie Oliver Royal Wedding Beef Pie with Peas.

May:

May is our wedding anniversary. We may use those Olive Garden coupons or we may have me cook again. There is plenty of time to plan! I think we will only use our gift cards if we can get free babysitting.

How much do you spend on date nights? What do you do for cheap dates?