Frugal Birthdays for Kids: Guest Post on Picky Pinchers!

By on January 19, 2017

Hello there! Today I’m guest posting over at Picky Pinchers! I’ve been a big fan of the Picky Pinchers blog for a while now, so I’m super excited to share some frugal birthday tips with their readers! 

Our baby turns two exactly one month from today. As I pause to reflect on how crazy that is (how does the time go by so slowly and yet so fast?), I’m also starting to think about celebrating his birthday. We’ve kept our kiddos’ birthdays really simple thus far, usually with casual cookouts with family. No plans to change that default anytime soon!

I’m sharing a few great frugal birthday ideas in my guest post today. This blog has been such a blast for me so far (almost a year old for this baby), and I’m pumped to do my first-ever guest post for another blog! Head on over to Picky Pinchers here to check it out and share your own penny-pinching birthday tips! 

*Here are a few of my favorite recent Picky Pinchers posts:

Save Money With Kindness

5 Ways to Live With Intention

Our Money Lessons From 2016

Happy reading, everybody!


Uber Frugal Month Update

By on January 16, 2017

Since Mr. and Mrs. COD are working on their Uber Frugal Month Challenge, inspired by the Frugalwoods, we thought we’d check in with a little halfway update! See how they’re doing in their quest to be frugal weirdos! 

Mini COD assisting me in the kitchen, pressing the Ninja button (the MOST important job in frugal muffin making)

January is as good a time as any to begin making changes in our lives. While some may have differing opinions on the meaning of “resolution” versus “goal”, to me they are synonymous. Either way, I want to always believe in my potential to change!

The goal of the Uber Frugal Month is to reset your spending default, in the hopes of continuing at a lower spending rate even after the appointed period of time has passed. So, for example, if we were previously spending an average of 1,000 Galleons, and during our uber frugal month we lowered that total to 500 Galleons, we’d be pretty stoked. After the extra frugal time, we might resume spending a little bit more, but end up with a new average of 700 Galleons a month. We’d have learned we could survive, even thrive, while spending less than we thought was necessary. (If you’re wondering why I’m using Galleons in my example, I’ve recently finished reading the Harry Potter series and it’s in my head. Hope ya don’t mind!)

Our goal with the Uber Frugal Month Challenge is to uncover new ways to save money, since in most areas of spending, we’ve already frugalized. (We bought a cheap used van with cash instead of taking out a loan. We use Ting for cell service. We switched to Aldi for the majority of grocery shopping. I’ve quit buying clothes, new or used.)

Uber Frugal Movie Night: Tigger Movie borrowed from the public library, shown on our home projector!

For anyone not signed up for it, here are some suggestions the Frugalwoods have offered in their daily emails for the Uber Frugal Month.  Could you give up spending on beauty products? Can you make sure to eat everything you buy from the grocer (and only buy what you will actually eat)? Could you start doing tasks yourself that you’d normally outsource (oil changes, minor household repairs, etc.)? Have conversations with your partner/significant other to ensure you’re both on the same (frugal) page. Think through your WHY for being frugal–early retirement, freedom to travel, ability to give more to charity, paying off debts, etc. 

The main areas I was hoping to really decrease were groceries, utilities, and eating out, as discussed in my previous post on the Uber Frugal Month. I’m keeping an eagle eye on our food spending and turning the thermostat down. 

GROCERY SPENDING

Amount spent on groceries so far, halfway through January: $184.07. We’re more mindful of the food in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, using up a lot of items that have been there awhile. We’re being extra careful to eat ALL our leftovers, too. The turkey we bought on sale after Thanksgiving 2015 finally came out of the freezer to be cooked. It turned out beautifully and tasted great! We turned it into pulled turkey BBQ sandwiches and a turkey and dumplings meal. We’re also slowly eating our way through the twelve cans of green beans on the shelf (also likely a Thanksgiving sale stock-up). 

My goal was to stay under $400 total for groceries for the four of us this month. That’s easily $50-100 less than we typically spend, but approximately the amount I like to believe we’re spending, haha! Seeing our progress thus far, I’m feeling confident we can keep it under $300! We really still have more than enough to subsist on for two more weeks, and we’re getting pretty good at frugal homemade soups and similar meals. (I just made a delicious kale/white bean soup last night that was super hearty and filling!)

UTILITIES

Utilities, particularly heat, are also on our radar this month. Though it’s been a relatively mild and warm winter so far (only a few days of below-zero wind chills), someone is home basically all the time now. I’m not at work 40 hours a week, so being home with the boys means greater heat and electricity usage. How are we combating this? Turning the heat down! We had it at 70 or 71 most of December (BOO!), but we’ve worked our way down to 64-65 during the day (YAY!). Junior and Mini COD live in their footie pajamas and love burrowing under blankets, so they’re comfy. Mr. COD isn’t as big a fan of three layers of sweats on at home as I am, but he’s adjusting, haha! 

Unfortunately, we just received our latest utility bill, and we were 14% higher than the neighbors on our street. Normally, our bill lists us as around 14% lower than the surrounding homes, so this was a bummer to hear. I guess the positive side to this is, well, it’s a good thing I’ve been so careful to keep the temp low the past few weeks, or the damage might have been even worse! We figure the difference is partly due to my staying home, partly due to a space heater that we noticed hasn’t been turning off when it’s supposed to. It’s intended to heat up the room to a set temperature, then turn off until it needs to restart, but it’s been running constantly when we have it on. Oh well…now we know. We’ll be trying it without the space heater for awhile now! Let’s hope that makes a difference. 

EATING OUT

Welp, so much for “no eating out at restaurants in January”! Halfway through and already two meals out! 

Why are we not disappointed? Mr. COD and I hadn’t been on a date since November 1st, the last time we had a grandparent available to babysit. When going out to eat or to a movie, it sure helps out to not have the added expense for good childcare! Plus, we had a blast: we stumbled across a literally brand-new restaurant near the in-laws and got to enjoy our special meal out on its first day open. Trendy vibe, great music, unique food. How cool is that?! 

Kicking off the new year with delicious food and delightful company! (Waupaca, WI)

 

I swear he likes me more than it seems in this photo…

   

Sipping a handcrafted mocha in this gem of an eatery! What a perfect day!

I also enjoyed an evening out with an old work friend while Mr. COD hung out with the little dudes at home. I know there are free/frugal ways to spend time with friends, but sometimes everybody just needs to get out of the house, amiright? My friend utilized her free appetizer coupon, so at least we got to take advantage of that!

UBER FRUGAL GOAL ACHIEVEMENT AS OF JANUARY 15:

  • Groceries: $184.07
  • Eating Out: $64.30 total. $34 for our New Year’s Day date, $22.30 for Mrs. COD’s girls’night out, $8 deli lunch I bought to take to a friend home on maternity  leave (new mamas love having food delivered, plus I got to snuggle her sweet little one!). 
  • Utilities: $114 estimated use for January. Hard to compare since pricing can change so much from year to year and month to month.

REFLECTIONS ON OUR PROGRESS HALFWAY THROUGH

1. Although I’m not thrilled about our increased utility costs, I’m happy that we’ve changed our default to dress warmer in the house and save some money. You never know what changes you can adjust to, if you don’t bother to try!

2. I know I had also hoped to avoid all dining out for the month, but we couldn’t help the timing of our date out; we were visiting the in-laws, who graciously offered to babysit for free! So that’s still a frugal win. We have truly not gone on many dates since having Junior and Mini COD, and we’re being more intentional about carving out that time for just the two of us. Also, hangout time with my girlfriends is all too rare since I’ve become a SAHM, so that dinner and coffee time was much needed. Perhaps those sound like excuses; I’m just trying to find a healthy balance here.  I’ll be honest; we have a new prospective babysitter we hope to have over in the next week or two as well. We. Cannot. Wait.

3. Grocery improvements are super exciting! I’m glad we are finally getting more laser-focused on cutting the grocery bill, thanks to Frugalwoods as well as the Picky Pinchers (if you haven’t checked them out, you should!). Mrs. Picky Pincher does a great job of analyzing each week’s groceries and meals, which is a valuable way of making changes. I am really pumped to see this through for the rest of the month and, I hope, keep our total grocery spending below $300 for January. Barring any weird surprises, we should accomplish this! If we can truly reset our default on grocery spending for the long haul, that’ll make a big difference in our overall budget. (Or, another way to look at it: if we lower the grocery bill enough, we can eat out a little more often as a treat!)

So, frugal weirdos, how is your January going? What frugal goals have you been rocking so far in the new year? 

Frugal Friday: DIY Laundry Detergent

By on January 13, 2017

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…

The other day I whipped up some of this nifty DIY laundry detergent in about ten minutes! 

When I first heard about this from my sisters-in-law several years ago, my reaction was sort of indifferent. I thought it was all well and good, but figured we didn’t spend that much on laundry detergent anyway. It didn’t seem worth the effort to save maybe 20 bucks a year. 

I’ve since changed my tune. Here’s why I like to make our own laundry detergent at home now:

SAVES MONEY (EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS)

Whether it’s $20 or $2,000, we won’t turn up our noses at any amount saved. Little expenses can really add up, so if there’s no good reason to spend more, why would we?

SUPER DUPER EASY

This recipe for homemade laundry soap is just too simple NOT to do. Grate soap, boil with some water, add Borax and washing soda, leave alone. Easy-peasy! 

LONGLASTING

This 3.5 gallon batch will last much longer than a bulk bottle bought at the store. For our family of four, two or three batches per YEAR is about all we need! One less reason to go to the store! 

NO UNNECESSARY INGREDIENTS 

I don’t need to worry about random added scents or chemicals in this, so I feel safer using it to wash all our laundry.  

LESS PACKAGING WASTE

Since we don’t buy laundry detergent at the store, we mix it all up in this lovely orange cooler and don’t go through all those detergent bottles. We kept a few old ones to transfer this stuff into, so it’s easier to lift and pour into our washing machine. Less junk going into the landfills=better for everyone!

Pretty boring…finished DIY laundry soap!

EVERYDAY NECESSITIES 

So many things we use daily can be made ourselves. The first time I made this laundry detergent, I felt a little like I was in Little House On The Prairie! Not all DIY concoctions are created equal, and some I’ve tried didn’t work out (dish detergent was a big fail, for example).

A note of warning: if you have pets or small children, be sure to move your large container into the laundry room as soon as it’s made. This will keep little hands from causing additional mischief. (Last time I cooked this up, I made the mistake of leaving our cooler out just long enough for Junior COD to push it out of the kitchen and tip it over onto our newly uncovered hardwood floors! About half of that batch spilled and stained the floor. Thankfully, Mr. COD hadn’t yet refinished it😀.  

DIY LAUNDRY DETERGENT RECIPE

Ingredients:

1/3 cup cheap bar soap, grated

4 cups water + 3 gallons water

 1/2 cup Borax 

1/2 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)

  • Grating the soap requires a teensy bit of effort, but it’s no big deal. Combine the grated soap with 3 cups water in a pan over low to medium heat, stir until dissolved. In a large bucket or cooler, add to remaining 3 gallons water, Borax, and washing soda. Stir and let sit for 24 hours, and transfer to whatever container you like. 

If you enjoy a particular scent in your laundry, you can select a bar soap that fits the bill, or even add a few drops of essential oils to the final mixture!

Think of some products you use daily or weekly. Could you save some money and help the environment by making them yourself?


Mrs. COD’s January 2017 Goals

By on January 6, 2017

Changing Our Default is the name we chose for this blog because although we do focus primarily on personal finance, our overarching purpose is to provide motivation for those seeking change and pursuing goals. I need only to think back over my social media feeds the past few days to find the evidence: we all know we aren’t perfect and we all desire to change something about ourselves. Resolutions are everywhere. (more…)


Let The Freelance Journey Begin!

By on January 4, 2017

I’ve been away from my teaching job now for one summer and one semester! The fresh new year is cause for contemplation, so I’m thinking about regrets, joys, mistakes and successes. It’s been an interesting time so far, this sabbatical of sorts to be with my kiddos. Junior and Mini COD are our greatest blessings in this life. Sweet, exhausting, fun, frustrating…

Even though the ultimate reason I decided to stay home was to invest more fully in the boys, the secondary reason was equally exciting: my desire to delve into freelance work. Writing has been my passion, my dream, since I was a little kid. While I’m keeping a pessimistic realistic view on freelance income and understand it may never replace my teaching salary, freelance writing is where I’ll focus my extra energy.

Here are some aspects of a freelance career I’ve been contemplating:

FREELANCE CHALLENGES

Irregular Income

  • Not being able to depend on a steady income month after month. Freelance writing would bring some months of decent earnings and plenty of lean months as well.  

Irregular Schedule 

  • Working hours can vary greatly for a freelancer. While that’s one of the biggest draws of the job, it would be an adjustment.

The Hustle

  • Having to hustle for jobs is a hallmark of freelancing, right? Whatever the career field, a freelancer must have the drive to go after business. The “hustle” attitude doesn’t come naturally to me, so I need to work on that for sure! Researching the best websites and resources for finding potential clients, and mustering up the time and courage to pursue the work? Challenges, but I’m up for ’em!

Weeding Out The Legit Jobs From The Rest

  • The online world is limitless, which makes hunting for potential clients and jobs both easier and incredibly daunting. Not all freelance job sites are created equal, so it’ll be frustrating trying to find people I can trust to hire me.

Lack of Human Interaction

  • The life of a freelance writer or blogger can be extremely isolated, if you let it. As a natural introvert, I’ll have to be careful to make time for people. Freelance work can’t make me a hermit, glued to my computer. 

 

FREELANCE POSITIVES (AKA why I want this)

Freedom to Be My Own Boss

In teaching, you pretty much teach what you’re assigned to teach. You get zero choice of which students or courses you teach. You do the extra (read: required) duties the boss tells you to. Coming from a teaching background, more autonomy at work sounds fantastic. I’d love to make the decision to write about topics that interest me. Proofreading would be amazing too, since I already do this in my mind every time I read anything!

Freedom of Schedule 

This is a biggie, folks! Who wouldn’t like more freedom to design their own life, to schedule their work when they want to work and their personal stuff whenever they like? That’s one reason being a SAHM was appealing: I can be there for my kids when they need me. I don’t need to find a sub at work when they (or I) get sick. As a freelance writer, I could work whenever is most convenient for me. 

Location Flexibility 

With a move looming close on the horizon, the freedom to work remotely from home is exactly what I need right now. I’ve planned on three years at home with the boys, so I’m not expecting to return to teaching until 2019. It’s great that as Mr. COD applies for jobs, we don’t need to stress over jobs for me. Freelance writing is something I can do anywhere!

Working Within My Gifts

  • I’m not saying I was an awful teacher, but writing and editing are much more natural to me, like breathing. Working longer hours would be less draining and stressful if I were operating within my best skill sets.

I write for this little magazine on occasion…

I’m thankful we paid off most of our debt last year so that I could become a SAHM. It’s freeing to know we don’t have to rely on my income to survive. Fortunately, Mr. COD supports my desire to be home with our kids while exploring more satisfying career paths! There’s always the option of returning to the classroom as well. Regardless of how successful my freelance journey may be, I know I’ll keep writing, because it’s what I love. It’s my passion. Stay tuned for more on my freelance failures and (I hope) successes!

When have you taken a chance on a new venture? Did you ever regret changing your default in that case? Any recommendations for me as I embark on my own freelance writing journey? As my three-year-old would say, please tell me in the comments! 

(In case you’re wondering why he says that, he’s a fan of those weird YouTube videos of people describing toys as they open them up. He does a pretty good impression now!)

 


Frugality Report: December

By on December 31, 2016

Ahh, December. Holiday parties, excessive eating, gift-giving…it hardly adds up to the most frugal of months for most of us, amiright? But I know a lot of you out there in Frugal Land are rock stars at this frugal-holiday thing! Let’s take a look at how the COD family fared in their quest for frugality and festivity this month!

(more…)


Frugal Friday: Recovery From A Holiday Spending Hangover

By on December 30, 2016

Hello, Default Changers! Here we are at another Frugal Friday. Even the most frugal of us can be derailed by Christmas spending, which leads to the inevitable Holiday Spending Hangover. We live like the Kardashians during the holiday season, buying gifts for more people than we intended, eating at restaurants more often than planned, spending more on day-after-Christmas sales than we should. Then January rolls around, we remember we’re more like the Heck family from The Middle than the Kardashians, and the holiday spending hangover begins. 

Sporting their Christmas Eve jammies…yes, they’re new. These two love to match…

Stages of the Holiday Spending Hangover (more…)


Our Christmas Eve Fast Food Fail

By on December 27, 2016

Oh, McDonald’s. Those golden arches and fast-food burgers hardly qualify as upscale dining. Far from our favorite meal choice, believe me. Yet, until a week ago, we still would swing through a McDonald’s on occasion. We saw it as a kind of treat, a rare special thing. Not anymore. Two cups of orange juice served as the catalyst for ruining the fast-food empire of McDonald’s for us.  (more…)


Running In Snow

By on December 22, 2016

This will be a quick post. I’m just checking in to say how deeply grateful I am for my afternoon run in the snow! Mr. COD arrived home early and the temps had warmed up to around freezing, so on went the running shoes and warm gear. What an awesome time to run in the snow in lovely DeKalb! 

I needed this snowy workout today!

A passing train breaks the silence

Snowy sunset

Whether yours is a white Christmas or not, may you enjoy your holidays and be grateful!


Frugal Friday: Six Fabulous Frugal Recipes 

By on December 16, 2016

Happy Frugal Friday to you! And happy first day of holiday break to my old coworkers–I know you’ll be practically dancing down the halls today! Everyone knows you can save money by giving homemade gifts. It doesn’t make you cheap; it frees you to give to more of the awesome people in your life. For the DIY gifter, here are a few of my top recipes. Since I cannot sew or paint or build things, homemade holiday treats are my favorite route to take for frugal generosity. All they’ll cost you: simple ingredients and maybe a few festive gift bags or boxes. 

Yum!

Each of the following packs a yum factor to wow the recipient. Plus, they are easy to make! The only one in this list that is kind of an exception to that rule is number 1, the decorated cookies. They are not difficult to make, but do take a bit of time. 

  1. White Velvet Cutout Cookies. These come from Taste of Home magazine. By far these are the most time-consuming of this list, but worth the effort once or twice a year. What I do is split up the process by making dough and refrigerating it a day or two in advance of baking. You know those holiday cutout cookies that look super-cute, but taste like cardboard? White velvet cutouts are soooo not in that category! Thanks to the cream cheese in the dough, these cookies taste amazing with or without frosting. If you’re a talented decorator, these cookies are your blank canvas (I’m not, so I simply spread a quick layer of frosting and, occasionally, sprinkles). 

    White velvet cutouts ready for the oven!

  2. 4 Ingredient Toffee. I learned/stole this one from a former coworker, Sue. Ohhhh, this toffee! Every year during finals week at school, she would bring in a huge batch of her toffee to share with the teachers and staff. Let me tell you, those baskets of heaven did NOT last long! The secretary would make an announcement after the kids had been dismissed. Everyone was waiting for those words: “THE TOFFEE IS HERE!” and would make a beeline for the teachers’ work room.  I heard from colleagues that yesterday was no exception to this tradition! This. Stuff. Is. Seriously. Legendary. So easy to make, too! A small part of me wishes I didn’t know how to make this, because it is ridiculously good. When Sue retires in a couple of years, there will be a LOT of sad people at that school…just sayin’. 

    Not as pretty as Sue’s…still tasty!

  3. Peanut Butter Snowballs. Another gem from the Taste of Home magazine years ago. Use dark or milk chocolate instead if you prefer, but they just won’t look like snowballs. If you know anyone who likes Reese’s peanut butter cups, you must include these in their gift packages!
  4. Brown Sugar Shortbread. Check out Brittany’s Pantry for tons of easy and yummy recipes! I love this recipe because it is literally three ingredients and no fuss at all. Definitely a tasty alternative to the white velvet cutouts, with much less work. I’m relying on these babies more this year because, even though I’m home all the time, my kids don’t let me spend all day in the kitchen. Go figure. Feel free to add a festive touch to the shortbread with some red or green sprinkles!
  5. Coconut Pecan Cabin Granola, courtesy of Pinch of Yum. I rely on several basic granola recipes, and this is one of them. It’s not so uber-sweet like most typical holiday treats, but still tasty and looks pretty in a little glass jar with a bit of red or green ribbon tied on it.
  6. Christmas crack.” Often so dubbed due to its “addictive” nature, this stuff is yummy and crunchy, salty and sweet. There are plenty of variations of this online, and you can experiment with the ingredients and quantities as you like. Mix up 6 cups Chex cereal, 1 cup peanuts or other nuts, 1-2 cups small pretzels, 2-3 cups Cheerios, and 2 cups red and green M’n’Ms. Melt 24 ounces white chocolate with 2 TB oil. (I microwave in 30-second increments, stirring each time until smooth.) Toss or stir white chocolate with the cereal mix until it’s all coated with the white candy goodness. Spread out on two sheet pans lined with parchment paper and let cool. Store in an airtight container or give away immediately, unless you want to eat the entire batch by yourself.

    A sea of Christmas crack

    I hope you will give one or more of these delish recipes a try this holiday season! I admit I always eat more than my fair share, but some of my baking madness eventually gets to my neighbors and friends for frugal gifts. These would also be terrific gift options for family, teachers,  pastors, or anyone else you want to honor with a gift. Baking your own Christmas treats is a great way to show frugal generosity! 

    No worries, guys… I didn’t let my elf helpers anywhere near the treats to be given as gifts! This was his own batch😊

    What are your favorite edible frugal gifts? And please, what are your tips for keeping your own calorie intake halfway reasonable in December?