Family Living 4 Less

Saving Money Without the Sacrifice!

Archive for March, 2009

A Swing and a Smile

Posted by flsquared on March 28, 2009

Yesterday was a beautiful day–60 degrees, the sun was shining….  

We took a ride over to Bartlett Park to meet some friends.  Victor fell asleep in the stroller so all attention fell on David.  He just loved the swing!  

david swing

When Victor woke up, he decided to join the fun:

david victor swing

Yea Spring!!!

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Don’t Tell My Husband, BUT….

Posted by flsquared on March 24, 2009

I had a DATE on Saturday!  

Actually, he already knows.  It was with my son, David.

david

You see, with my husband being a full-time student and my being a full-time mother (and with no family within a 5 hour radius), we get few breaks.  Since David turned 4 months and has started getting a “routine”, I have started to have some time off.  Generally, Wednesday nights are my free nights (usually I get a coffee and work on the blog, go to my knitting group, or take a walk with a friend), Thursday nights out with the girls, and Saturday mornings/afternoons I go to “The Strip” to get our food for the week.

That’s the goal, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  

This past weekend, for example, my husband had to work on a presentation.  So I grabbed David and headed off to The Strip while Victor was taking his nap.  I’m not going to pretend it was easy wheeling the stroller around in the midst of the Saturday crowd, but it was worth it!   In fact, I think this is going to be the start of a new tradition.

You see, Victor, my 19 month old, is always the center of attention.  He loves people (especially women) and is a HUGE FLIRT.  Going to the Strip with David, I realized what a gem he is too.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore him, but we just haven’t have the time to bond as Victor and I have.

As we checked out the produce and fresh pasta, we were stopped by women left and right:  “He is so cute!”  “Just look at those cheeks!” “What a good baby!”  “What a smile!!”  

Makes a mama proud!

My favorite part was stopping to get a coffee and just “hanging out” with David.  We made googly eyes at each other and just smiled and laughed together.  I’ve been making such an effort to have “alone time” with my toddler that until that moment I didn’t realize that I needed time to focus on the baby as well.

I definitely think that Saturdays are now going to be mama and David days!

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Grocery Update: We’re On the Right Track!

Posted by flsquared on March 18, 2009

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were concerned that we were spending too much money on groceries–up to $20-25/day!  The scariest thing about it was that it just creeped up out of nowhere.  My husband and I are very responsible with money and have never used a budget.  We only noticed since we were earning a lot of “free” gasoline!

(Note to Self:  Remember to review your spending every few months, just to make sure it’s under control!)

I am happy to report that since I have taken back over the shopping we have been saving money!  I don’t think that I am doing anything “earth-shattering” or anything my husband couldn’t/wouldn’t have done, but I am just shopping consciously.

Here are the numbers (yea!)

  • January:  $18.71/day
  • February:  $15.11/day
  • March (so far):  $10.87/day

And this is without doing without!  I’m including in here our daily glass of wine with dinner.  I am not including our take out pizza or dining out.  Funny thing, though–since I started shopping this way, we have actually stopped ordering pizza (we now get it about every 3 weeks) and we eat out much less.  Hmm…. that wasn’t part of the plan!

So what have I been doing?  Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Take inventory of what you have at home already.  We had a ton of red and black beans that we had actually moved up here from Atlanta.  Crazy!  And it wasn’t that we don’t like them, we do.  We had just gotten into a “lentils and garbanzos” frame of mind.
  • Shop alone (or with your partner) and when you have time.  Especially on the first couple of shopping trips when you need to stock the cupboard.  My first few trips were big ones and I used coupons to get a lot of the basics.  It would have been too hard to shop this way with the kids.
  • Get a paper and clip coupons once every month or two.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on toiletries, baby products and even some “real food” like yogurts and cheeses.  Try to go through them with the supermarket sales circular to match up brands for big savings.  Even if you just use one or two coupons, you are saving money over the cost of the paper!
  • Eat less meat and more fruits and veggies.  I’ve already posted on this, but I have actually found that we feel better and have more energy after 6 weeks of eating this way.  Yea!  We also found an area of town (called “The Strip District”) that has very reasonable prices on fruits, veggies, and legumes.  Double yea!
  • Make one day a week a “cooking day”.  I’m not sure if this saves money, but it sure helps us.  Every Sunday (or every other Sunday) I try to cook for about 5 or 6 hours.  I roast 2 chickens, make 2 casseroles, cook up lots of rice and beans for the week, etc.  With 2 small children and a super-busy husband it’s great to be able to freeze meal-sized portions that we can defrost and heat up later that week or month.  Come to think of it, maybe this is why we’re ordering less pizzas!
  • Make it a game!  Have fun with saving money on groceries and try out new recipes with less expensive ingredients.  Our “reward”?  I funded our new double stroller with our grocery shopping savings.

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Letting Go….

Posted by flsquared on March 18, 2009

We all have our weaknesses.

Even though I like to live simply, and even though it takes a very little amount of “stuff” to make me happy, and even though we try to send one thing out of the house for every thing that comes in, it seems like the amount of things we own keeps multiplying.

But I keep fighting the battle.

Right now, we’re preparing for my husband to graduate and a summer move from Pittsburgh to Manhattan.  While we live in a small space here, I’m afraid that the space may be smaller (and the kids bigger) after the move.

In preparation for the move, I am starting to sort through our things…. mostly the kids’ things.  I think the most difficulty I’m having is getting rid of outgrown clothing and streamlining “clothes-in-waiting”.

First of all, the clothes are so little and cute!  Not to mention the what ifs.  Mainly, what if we have another baby?

We’re not completely sure one way or another what we will do, but it’s a definite possibility.

In the end, I’ve decided to only keep clothes that fall into the following 4 categories:

  1. those that were given to me by my mom that I (or my brother) wore when we were little.
  2. those that were hand-knitted by me or my mother-in-law.
  3. one or two things from each size that we absolutely love.
  4. those that Victor has outgrown, but David can still wear.

Using those rules, I’ve already pulled out 7 boxes of clothes!  Amazing!!

If and when we have another baby, we can buy a few things at that point.  After all, it doesn’t make sense to lug around several boxes on a “what if”.

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Hanky-Panky!

Posted by flsquared on March 16, 2009

The other day, my husband and I were reminiscing about our childhood school days.  Growing up in Spain, one of the “rules” in his all-boy school was that they always had to wear a handkerchief.  

To this day, he still uses one.

They are so convenient (and soooo soft, especially after several washes) that I’ve started using them as well.  I have several that are embroidered and so very girly.  And super-easy to clean when they are soiled–just throw them in the wash and grab a fresh one.  Love it!

Added bonus?  I always have something on hand to use to clean up my boys’ drooly faces, and I don’t have to worry about “killing trees” (or the added expense of boxes of tissues).

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #4: Chili

Posted by flsquared on March 16, 2009

My college boyfriend used to make a fantastic chili several times a year.  Thank goodness I grabbed his recipe as a “parting gift”. 🙂

I did change it this time to add a few veggies.  It was awesome!  In fact, hubby even suggested that we add more veggies next time and use about half the meat.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

“Billfred’s”* Chili:

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 16 oz beans (kidney, pinto) — next time I will add an extra 8 oz
  • 1 lb ground turkey — next time, 1/2 lb
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3-4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2-4 tbsp chili powder to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp cumin to taste
  • I also added 2 ribs of celery, 1 package of sliced baby bellas.
  • grated cheddar cheese and chopped red onion as topping
  • potatoes cut into bite sized pieces

Directions:

  1. Brown meat, onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms.
  2. Stir in all except potatoes.  cook 1 hour + (the longer the better).  In a separate pot, boil the potatoes.
  3. Put it all together in bowl–potatoes, then chili, topped with cheddar cheese and red onion.

chili

MMMMMMM!

PS.  if you have leftover chili, it tastes even better the next day!

*not his real name

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Sometimes It Takes a Little Push…

Posted by flsquared on March 15, 2009

This winter has been a cold one.

We live in a renovated Victorian, split into 3 apartments.  Our landlord did most of the renovations himself.  You can tell it’s a rental as it looks pretty on the surface, but when you look close, you see that the tile is uneven, the cabinets are misaligned, and the insulation is lacking.  

Really lacking.

So much so that this winter the pipes burst in our bathroom ceiling.  Luckily, I was up nursing a newborn so we were able to turn off the water in the basement and minimize the damage.  Our landlord was great and repaired it all, and purchased a space heater to keep in the common area so that the pipes stay warmer.

At the same time, we had to put a space heater in the boys’ room since it was freezing in there at night.

Then we got our power bill.

Ouch!

Let’s just say that for the last 18 months, our power bill went from $40 to $175.  We started to triple-layer the boys’ pjs and used the gas heat.  We hung our clothes to dry, turned off lights and TV.  We got the bill down to $130.  

Still, ouch!

We called our landlord.  He came by and it turns out that the common area outlet is actually wired to our apartment!  We’ve been paying for the common area space heater!  

So he offered us $100.

Luckily, we had done our homework.  We had our bills for the last 18 months and he could easily see the difference that began as soon as he installed the heater.  After a little talking, my husband persuaded him to allow us to deduct the difference from last year and this year’s bills from our rent.  Yea!

My advice?  Make sure to keep bill records and if they start looking funky, take a stand.

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Less is More: Check Out Your Local Library

Posted by flsquared on March 13, 2009

Now, everyone knows that you can check out books at your local library.  And most people know that you can also get DVDs, CDs, and even use the internet.  But did you know that there are a ton of free activities?

I have seen postings for the following at our local branches:

  • Baby/preschool storytime
  • Film festivals
  • Poetry readings
  • French/Spanish conversation group
  • Computer classes

This morning I decided to take Victor to Toddler/Preschool Playtime.  A huge room was filled with toys for kids 0-4 years old in various stations such as art, music, reading, food, dress-up, etc.  There were also representatives there from the library and Early Intervention to answer any questions and give advice.

What a great way to meet other parents and children!

We spent nearly the entire 45 minutes playing “beach” with buckets full of rice:

victor rice play

Fabulous!  We had a great time, didn’t spend a dime, and were even given a new board book as a gift on our way out!

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #3: Homemade Pizza!

Posted by flsquared on March 13, 2009

Just about once a week, when I have a loooooong day with the kids, we get a pizza.  We’ve tried the supermarket pizzas, but they just aren’t the same.  It’s a little luxury that we’ve allowed ourselves, guilt free.

Since I’ve taken back over the grocery shopping, I have started going to the “Strip District” here in Pittsburgh which is comprised of about 10 blocks of small “mom and pop” grocery-type shops.  Love it!

Well, my first weekend there, I stepped into a teeny bread shop, but didn’t buy anything as the line was long and I needed to get back home.  I did grab a menu, and saw that they sold pizza dough.

**IDEA!**

Why not make our own pizza?

So for the first attempt, I purchased pizza crust at the supermarket next to our house, and dove into the veggies that we had at home:  baby ‘bellas, roma tomatoes, red onion and fresh parsley.  Topped with a little mozzarella, I popped it into the oven for 10 minutes and …

Pizza

Soooo yummy!  Half the price of the take out and I’m sure much more healthy.  We’ll definitely be doing this again!

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They Did What? Top 5 Silliest Ways to Save Money

Posted by flsquared on March 11, 2009

When I started this blog, I mentioned that I tended to run across two types of information when it came to saving money: “common sense” methods that were things that I already do (or specifically choose not to do) and “extreme” penny pinching.  

The following are some of the funniest ways that I have heard about people saving a dime:

  1. Separating the two-plys of toilet paper.  And limiting your family to a certain number of squares per use.
  2. Reusing envelopes that businesses send you for personal mail.
  3. Making “lemonade” in a restaurant from tap water and sugar packets.
  4. Saving soap chips and putting them into a plastic bottle with a bit of water to make “liquid soap”.
  5. Turning your underwear inside out to wear again before the wash.

What others have you heard?  Or tried yourself???

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