Uber Frugal January, weeks 3 and 4 recap

Our über frugal toilet training stool thanks to the talented Mr. Journeys.

This month I’m participating in the Uber Frugal January event hosted by Frugalwoods. If you’d like to check it out you can visit the Frugalwoods website.

During week 3 of this challenge my family suffered the loss of my uncle. I’m lumping weeks three and four together as last week I wasn’t in a good place to update the blog.

I talked about our goals in a post at the beginning of the challenge, and here’s how I did the past two weeks:

#1 Take control of our food budget. Over the two weeks since I last checked in we spent $192 on groceries. This is definitely more than I wanted to be spending, I am going to try and spend $30 or less on food this week to help even out the average. We only spent $22 eating out for the last couple of weeks, which is pretty good and included a date at a brewery while Mr. Journey’s family was in town to watch the little one.

#2 Figure out health care. There were a few follow items that we completed this week to finalize our ACA marketplace plan. Mr. Journeys had to submit a ledger for our business that showed how much profit we were expecting for 2017 and I had to submit a month’s worth of pay stubs. We are still working on Little Journey’s CHIP, when we followed up on it her case was in limbo for the past week, so she will probably not be covered until a week or two into February.

#3 Inventory fixed costs and try to lower them. We inventoried our fixed costs and they were more than I had hoped. We decided to drop our trash pick up and take our 1-2 small bags to our rental property’s dumpster. I’m hoping this well help us to focus on reducing the amount of trash we generate also. We will continue to recycle, but take it to the recycling center instead of having it picked up. We are trying to decide how best to organize the recycling in between visits.

#4 Seek out free activities and “treats”. Nothing exciting to report here, hmmm.

#5 Cultivate a postive attitude. I have been positive about this challenge but I also feel like I haven’t fully embraced it. Maybe next week will be an ultra-uber frugal month, I feel like a week would be much more manageable than a month feels.

Notes for this week: While Mr. Journey’s family was visiting over the weekend they made a little potty support stool for our daughter so that she could use our big potty and have something to support her legs. In the past we definitely would have just gone out and bought a plastic stool instead of using supplies on hand to make a much nicer version.

We also ran out of apples this week and I stopped by the orchard to pick some up. It occurred to me to check the membership card for our local public radio station, and the orchard had a buy one peck get one free coupon, so we saved $16 for apples. Note to self, always check to see if there is a discount or coupon available!

Finally, my uncle’s passing has caused us to incur some expenses. I sent a sympathy food basket from a local gourmet deli at a cost of $136 and made lodging arrangements through Air BnB for our family to rent a house in February for the celebration of life service. My siblings and mom will be paying us back for their part of the reservations, so I am only counting what we will owe in the total

What we have spent so far this month:

Food:  groceries $307, dining out $28, $335 total

Gas: $144 (includes a New Year’s Eve trip for my husband to visit family and 4 days of commuting)

Childcare: $280 (for the month of January, 2 days a week in an in-home daycare)

Home Improvement: $11 + $805 for a fireplace install that should have been completed in December

House Cleaning: $60

Healthcare: $458 (2 prescriptions and medical / dental insurance)

Automotive: $150 (oil change supplies and registration for Mr. Journey’s car and our teardrop camper)

Entertainment: $13

Personal Care:  $26

Utilities: $214

Travel: $142 for our part of an Air BnB reservation for my uncle’s memorial service

Gifts: $136 for food basket

Monthly Total: $2866 out of $2,123 for the month. However, if you subtract the $805 insert install that we had already saved for and planned on purchasing in December, we’re at 2378. If you take out unexpected sympathy gifts and travel we are at $1892. I’m really pleased at what we were able to accomplish this month.

Uber Frugal January, Week Two Recap

This week I saved some serious cash! Image Credit: www.401kcalculator.org via flickr

This month I’m participating in the Uber Frugal January event hosted by Frugalwoods. If you’d like to check it out you can visit the Frugalwoods website.

This was the second week of the challenge. I talked about our goals in a post at the beginning of the challenge, and here’s how I did this week:

#1 Take control of our food budget. According to Personal Capital I spent about $43 on food this week! I’m really pleased that we managed to spend so little on food. $5 of this was for an emergency trip to Tim Horton’s after we belatedly realized we couldn’t take my daughter to the swimming pool as promised since she had outgrown her swimming suit. She was satisfied with a couple of Tim Bits and we didn’t feel like quite so horrible parents, so I consider it $5 well spent.

Mr. Journeys and I also met for an impromptu coffee date at Panera one afternoon that we had some unexpected free time. I used a gift card to pay for it, but am realizing that I definitely haven’t kicked the eating out habit like I had hoped to!

#2 Figure out health care. We have enrolled in insurance! We filled out the online forms but ended up having to call a help hotline after we had submitted because the insurance offered by my employer should have been flagged as not meeting the criteria for affordability. Basically, it would have been more than 9.66% of our household’s estimated gross income for the year. After a very helpful conversation with the person on the hotline we were approved for $289 of help a month, and the plan for my husband and I will be about $420 a month. Our daughter should be covered by CHIP, although we need to follow up with them next week to make sure she is covered by February 1.

We decided to only purchase dental insurance for me, I have a lot of dental work to maintain and tend to get cavities very easily. My husband, on the other hand, never has any issues. So, we will pay for his yearly cleanings out of pocket and I was able to get coverage for $24 a month.

Incidentally, a family plan through my employer would have been $1,100 a month, so we are thrilled to be able to use the ACA marketplace to purchase affordable insurance. I hope I will be able to say the same thing next year, but I’m not optimistic. Sob.

#3 Inventory fixed costs and try to lower them. This week we focused on health care, our goal for the coming week is to look into cheaper internet and lower rates for car and home insurance.

#4 Seek out free activities and “treats”. Mr. Journeys and the wee one made it to our library’s story time this week. They had a nice time and plan on making it a regular thing.

#5 Cultivate a postive attitude. This week I’ve been wondering if I’m going “hard core” enough for this challenge. Even though I managed to greatly reduce our food budget we got some restaurant treats this week and I didn’t force myself to use food that we already had in the freezer. I’m going to try and do a better job of this next week.

Notes for this week: A few months ago when my husband was working full-time and trying to manage our 12 unit rental while I was teaching and we were both running after our two year old I decided something had to give. We hired a lovely person to come clean the main living areas of our house every two weeks and it was amazing. Her last cleaning was this week, since now we will have extra time instead of extra money, and I am sad to see her go but so grateful for her help as we were transitioning our lives.

What we spent this week / and so far this month:

Food:  $43 /$130

Gas: $20 / $77 (includes a New Year’s Eve trip for my husband to visit family and 4 days of commuting)

Childcare: $280 (for the month of January, 2 days a week in an in-home daycare)

Home Improvement: $0 / $11

House Cleaning: $60

Healthcare: $15 (prescriptions)

Automotive: $98 (registration for Mr. Journey’s car and our teardrop camper)

Entertainment: $0 / $10

Personal Care:  $15 / $26 (haircut for the Mr. this week)

Utilities: $0 / $97

Spent this week: $251

Monthly Total: $804 out of $2,123 for the month.

Uber Frugal January: 5 items I don’t buy at the grocery store

Soap nuts!
Image Credit: Lisa Brewster via Flickr

This month I’m participating in Frugalwood’s Uber Frugal January. I was thinking about ways to limit our spending this month, specifically at the grocery store. I realized there are already lots of things that I save money on because I simply don’t see a need to buy them. These are some of the first that came to mind:

#1. Detergent, Fabric softener, Dryer sheets. My mom is a laundry scent addict, and growing up our clothes always came out of the laundry room smelling like a field of…artificial cloud flowers? For several years after I flew the nest I assumed you had to buy detergent, softener, and dryer sheets to properly get your clothes clean and smelling good.

I gradually dropped the dryer sheets, then the softener. Then we switched to a homemade detergent, and finally we have gone to soap nuts. I bought a box of them for $10 at Marshall’s at least 6 months ago and haven’t even gone through half a box. Our clothes come out clean and smelling fresh and we can compost the soap nuts when they are spent. Now our clothes just smell like clean cotton, and I think that’s a much nicer smell than a chemical cocktail any day.

#2 Soda. Pop. Coke. Whatever you call that fizzy stuff in your neck of the woods. I was never a huge pop drinker (yep, Midwest girl right here) but gave it up completely when I was pregnant and haven’t gone back. Incidentally, I’m still drinking decaf coffee, after giving up the high octane stuff for 9 months I only crave the hot beverage part of coffee and not the caffeine.

#3 Breakfast cereal. Mr. Journeys is a die hard oatmeal fan and Little Journeys has followed suit. I like to change up my breakfast with eggs one day, a bagel the next, maybe pancakes if it’s a lazy weekend. I no longer really see the appeal in that bowl of cold cereal, other than convenience. Toasting a bagel and slapping on some (a lot of) cream cheese and homemade strawberry jam sounds much yummier these days. BTW, check out your grocery store’s bread mark-down area. I routinely get 5 packs of great bagels for about $1.49 at my local Kroger.

#4 Paper napkins. We switched to cloth years ago. Single use paper products seem more and more silly to me. Except for toilet paper. That’s a single use paper product I can get behind (ahemm).

#5 Single serving sized yogurt, applesauce, pudding, etc. If I buy yogurt or applesauce I get a large container and portion it out into smaller containers as needed. I’ve become more and more averse to wasteful packaging, and I really don’t even notice the extra 20 seconds it takes to put my yogurt into my bowl instead of peeling off the film from a single serving size container.

How about you? What are common items that you don’t buy at the store and don’t miss at all? What do you wish you could take off your list altogether? 

Uber Frugal January, Week 1 Goals Recap

Image Credit: TaxCredits.net via Flickr

This month I’m participating in the Uber Frugal January event hosted by Frugalwoods. If you’d like to check it out you can visit the Frugalwoods website.

This was the first week of the challenge and I have learned a lot already. I talked about our goals in a post at the beginning of the challenge, and here’s how I did this week:

#1 Take control of our food budget. According to Personal Capital I spent about $87 on food this week. While this is much less than in previous weeks, I was surprised that we still managed to spend this much. About $10 dollars was eating out during a week-long retreat. While I had hoped to avoid eating out all together, I did pack a lunch for three out of the four days of the retreat. In the past I wouldn’t have packed at all, so instead of buying coffee most days and eating food from home I would have bought lunch and coffees each day.

During my second grocery shop this week I bought several items that weren’t on my list, and this accounted for a about a third of the money spent on that trip! I was shocked when I added this up. My goal for next week is to buy produce only.

#2 Figure out health care. I got an updated quote from my school for 2017 insurance rates, and it doesn’t look pretty. My individual cost for insurance would be $395 a month (this actually seems somewhat reasonable to me) and a family plan would be about $1095(!). Ouch. On the agenda this week is to look more closely into the ACA marketplace options.

#3 Inventory fixed costs and try to lower them. Mr. Journeys noticed that our internet went up about $12 dollars this month thanks to the promotional price expiring. He will be calling our provider to try and negotiate a lower rate. Still on the agenda is to look into lowering car and house insurance rates and other fixed costs.

#4 Seek out free activities and “treats”. Little Journeys loves the snow, so we had some fun playing in it as a family this week. I did spend $10 at a local wellness center that has an amazing hot tub which is an expensive way to spend an hour but I felt relaxed all day and I think the visit was worth it. Last week was Mr. Journey’s final week at his corporate job, so I hope that we can begin to take advantage of some of the free activities offered in our area.

#5 Cultivate a postive attitude. My attitude about this challenge has been fairly positive this week. I felt good about taking my lunch to work and spent some quality time in the kitchen making meals. I had some nice social time in the hot tub with a friend and some good family time playing in the snow and enjoying a warm fire.

What we spent so far this month:

Food: $87

Gas: $57 (includes a New Year’s Eve trip for my husband to visit family and 4 days of commuting)

Childcare: $280 (for the month of January, 2 days a week in an in-home daycare)

Home Improvement: $11

Entertainment: $10

Personal Care: $11

Utilities: $97

Total: $542 out of $2,123 for the month.

What are some of the free or low-cost activities that you participate in? If you are doing an Uber Frugal month, how is it going? 





Uber Frugal January – an empty Amazon cart

Empty carts galore! Photo Credit: Kevin Lau via Flickr

This month I’m participating in Frugalwood’s Uber Frugal January. One of her suggestions this week was to put a hold on any purchases until after considering them for 72 hours. That’s right, she says that if you want to buy something you should think about it for 3 days. Oy. My bestie Amazon Prime and I are going to have to redefine our relationship.

I have a soft spot when it comes to educational toys for my daughter, especially if they are Montessori approved. Today she read the book Are you my Mother? by Dr. Seuss at school, and when I picked her up she and another child were happily playing a matching game together. She was clearly captivated by both activities. My natural inclination was to look for a similar matching game on Amazon, but then I realized there had to be a way to avoid spending money.

My first thought was to make a matching game using clip art that I could find online, but then I realized how silly it would be to do that without doing a search to see what was already out there. I found these awesome freebie flashcards of baby and adult animals. Bam! Both of her interests covered in one printable activity!

I have a laminator but am sadly lacking laminating sheets to go into it, so I found 100 sheets on Amazon for $8.38. But I would have to wait for 3 days to order them, and then another 2 days to receive them, and by then Baby Journeys might have lost interest. So, I decided to print out  a couple of the sheets on paper and we will play the game tomorrow. If she enjoys it I will either use the contact paper I already have to make more cards or I will consider buying the laminator sheets. In a few days.

What creative ways have you found to avoid buying things? What do you find worth spending money on even though you could make it yourself? 


Uber Frugal January

Picture credit: TaxCredits.net via Flickr

Tomorrow I will be embarking on an Uber Frugal January with Mrs. Frugalwoods to try to spend as little as possible during the month of January. No restaurants, no shopping trips, no spending unless it is absolutely necessary. The intended result? Lots of cash in our money pot and a whole lot more freedom!

Mr. Journeys and I are getting ready to transition to a very different lifestyle in 2017. He is leaving his lucrative corporate job to manage our 12-unit rental property. Our daughter will be transitioning from four days a week at daycare to two days a week, and I will continue to teach part-time through at least the end of the school year but may decide not to return in the fall.

Our goal is to spend $25,000 during the entire year. At this rate of spending we could rely on the proceeds from our rental business along with money pulled from investments or side-gigs. This would mean that I could decide to not return to school next year, if I wish.

It’s pretty motivating to look that freedom in the eye, let me tell you!

This month I definitely have some goals to address:

#1 Take control of our food budget. According to Personal Capital, we spent about $800 on groceries and dining out over the past 30 days. Ouch! I am cleaning out the fridge today and my goal is to eat down food we already have. I have plenty of dry goods, so I’m going to only buy produce and milk. We are also going to eliminate restaurant visits for the month.

#2 Figure out health care. Mr. Journey’s last day is January 6, so we will have health coverage through the end of the month. After this we will need to find a new insurance provider. We will be looking into my school’s policy (expensive!) and the ACA website to decide on coverage for 2017.

#3 Inventory fixed costs and try to lower them. I’ll be looking at our fixed bills, especially our homeowner and car insurance policies to see if there are ways to lower them. Fortunately, we already have great cell phone plan through Republic Wireless, it only costs us about $15 a month per phone.

#4 Seek out free activities and “treats”. We are going to have a lot more time with Little Journeys thanks to my husband’s new schedule. I want to focus on activities that bring us closer as a family while also being friendly on the budget. Also, Mr. Journey’s birthday is at the end of January, so it will be a challenge to come up with an uber frugal birthday celebration for him.

#5 Cultivate a postive attitude. My goal is to see this coming month as a fun adventure in challenging myself to the limit! I hope you’ll come along for the ride!


Are you joining in the Uber Frugal Challenge? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about how you are approaching it!



Montessori Kitchen Cupboard, 2.5 years old

As part of the September cohort of Simone Davies’ (The Montessori Notebook) excellent e-course on Montessorisizing (new word alert!) your home, today I tackled Baby Journey’s kitchen cupboard. At Simone’s suggestion I got rid of most of her plasticware and cleaned out the random stuff that had made it’s way down from the junk drawer above. OSU beer koozy, I’m looking at you!

She was excited about the pitcher of water and glass, we had used them a while ago when she was first learning to drink from a glass and it prompted a half an hour of water play with her discarded plastic cups and a metal baking tray. She was SUPER excited about the little snack dishes and wanted to eat both of them before breakfast. We compromised and she had the grapes with breakfast and the fig bars for a snack. I’m pleased with how the cupboard looks and hope to add some more tools so she can start preparing snacks for herself.



Easy Toddler Gift: Sew a birthday crown!

IMG_8600A friend of ours daughter is turning three, and while the party invitation said “no gifts necessary” I wanted to bring the birthday girl a little something. It can be tricky to walk the birthday gift line, so after thinking about it I decided to go with something small and handmade. I found a great free pattern and tutorial for a birthday crown  and whipped it up in her favorite color (pink) with two fun prints that her modern and sporty mama could appreciate. I love that this crown pattern is reversible, it’s two crowns in one! I’m curious though, how would you handle a “no gifts necessary” invite?



I’m trying to save money and use up craft supplies that I already have, so I got out the stamps and made her a little card and gift bag. Isn’t that stamp on the front wonderful? I got it from The Small Object , but sadly she is no longer selling them. I drew a little birthday crown on the front, and used some letter stamps from the Target dollar bin to stamp just the first letter of each word on the inside of the card.



I hope  this sweet and simple gift will strike the perfect balance between my wanting to give a gift and the parents not wanting to be inundated with presents. Happy Birthday, Princess Pearl!

Happy Birthday Princess Pearl!

Birthday Present for a 1 year old: Easy Xylophone or Glockenspiel Gift Bag Tutorial


Did you know that there is a difference between xylophones and glockenspiels? I sure didn’t, in fact I hadn’t ever heard of a glockenspiel until I started looking for a musical instrument for Baby Journey’s first birthday. I wanted something with a pure tone that would also stand up to a bit of rough play. I found this which is technically a glockenspiel. The name differentiates what the bars are made of. A xylophone’s bars are made of wood, while a glockenspiel’s are made out of metal and are generally smaller and higher pitched. Fascinating!

I love amazon for their selection and cheap prices. However, when we got the glockenspiels I was dismayed that the bags were cheap looking and warped. I think babies (and all children) benefit from beautiful, useful things surrounding them. I was also giving one of these away as a gift to Baby Journey’s birthday buddy Stella, and I wanted a nice presentation. The following is just a basic outline of the steps I took to make the bags.

There are lots of great bag tutorials and patterns online, and you might already have a favorite. If you don’t, I used the drawstring bag tutorial here as a starting point. Instead of doing the French seams inside the bag I just sewed up the sides and then did a zigzag stitch outside of the straight stitch line to add extra durability. I followed the instructions as written for the drawstring casing.

For the applique, I first sketched out an idea of what I wanted to do. I used a piece of notebook paper, and the lines made it very easy to keep everything straight and parallel. Then I traced the pattern onto a piece of freezer paper using my ruler. The outside lines aren’t at the exact same angle, but I don’t require perfection. If you’d like to do something similar the top line measured about 3″ long and the bottom line measured about 5 & 3/4″ long. In between the two there are 9″. As you can see, each bar was three lines college-ruled notebook paper lines in width and I left one line between each.


After selecting the fabric I wanted to use I cut each into a 1″ strip. This is slightly larger than the strips I drew on the pattern. If this bothers you, I encourage you to be daring and welcome imprecision into your creative endeavors.

Next, I cut out the pattern and taped it to my cutting mat. 


I then lined up the strips of fabric so that they were evenly spaced along the pattern.


Then I used my ruler and rotary cutter to trim each side.


After both sides were trimmed I set them aside and cut the fabric for my bag. Then I traced around the pattern piece, marking where the top bar began and the bottom bar ended.


Once the pattern was traced I laid out all the pieces.


I glue basted the pieces onto the fabric using plain old Elmer’s Glue. To glue baste, just dab a little bit of glue where you want to join two pieces. You can press the piece with a warm iron for a few seconds to speed up drying if you want to hurry things along. IMG_4070

Next I stitched each piece onto the backing fabric using a straight stitch and coordinating thread. I considered outlining the edges of the glockenspiel with stitching, but decided to keep it very simple. Once everything was secure I finished constructing the bag.IMG_4100

The result? Two fun birthday presents for two amazing little girls. And a lot more noise music in both our households.

Small pots: Thai green curry (inspired) soup

Thai Inspired Soup for Three
Thai inspired soup for Momma, Papa, and Baby. Juuussssttt right!

The sour/hot/sweet/salty flavors of Thai green curry were calling to me on this chilly Ohio day. A quick look in the fridge revealed that I had some key ingredients that needed used up, a perfect marriage of desire and  necessity – this soup was meant to be. I might as well call it “half soup” because I had half a lime, half a can of coconut milk, half a carton of vegetable broth…you get the picture. Omit the fish sauce and it is vegan and vegetarian friendly. Gluten Free. Delicious.


½ onion, sliced thinly

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thinly and cut into small pieces

½ medium red pepper, sliced thinly and cut in half

1 leaf Lacinato kale, chopped into small pieces

½ carton vegetable broth

½ can coconut milk

½ lime, juice and zest

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

½ tsp fish sauce

½ tsp green curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen brand)

Coconut or olive oil

Fresh ginger to taste (I used about a 1 inch nub, peeled and grated)

Saute onion, red pepper, carrot, kale, and ginger in a couple of tablespoons of oil until the veggies begin to soften. Add broth, coconut milk, lime, red pepper flakes, fish sauce, and curry paste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not limp. Serve over rice.