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A Simple Six: 8/14/11 - 8/21/11

Saturday, August 20, 2011

We Don't Buy It

We had company for dinner last Tuesday. I spent three and half hours preparing and cooking five dishes. I don't typically spend this much time on meals, but I wanted to cook enough for everyone's varying pallets and to also have leftovers for the rest of the week. I was successful in both quantity and flavor. Dinner was good. The trouble was I didn't have any napkins for my guests. I haven't bought napkins or a roll of paper towels all year, maybe since before Halloween last year, maybe longer.

Our family uses dish clothes and kitchen towels. We do have company often, but I had been using a stack of Valentine and Halloween napkins that were in the basement from old parties and functions. We are classy and practical people. Now, here I was with four guests and nothing for their spills and fingers. I rummaged through the kitchen towel drawer and found two scraps of cloth I use for wrapping bread or laying over food to keep the bugs off. Perfect for napkins, although a bit frayed.

Then I started thinking about the things we just don't buy. Things we have never purchased, or have quit putting in our cart. Each item was probably eliminated because we don't need it, they weren't in the budget, or we found an alternative.
  • cereal-we now make hot breakfasts or prepare baked goods ahead of time
  • laundry detergent-we make our own
  • fabric softener
  • paper towels, napkins-started to use cloth
  • air fresheners, candles, etc
  • plastic ware, paper plates, etc
  • dishwasher rinse aids-now use vinegar
  • Ziplock bags and baggies-I save bread bags and other plastics from purchased items or use reusable cloth sandwich bags, Rubbermaid items, glassware with lids, etc.
    • Ziplocks for my soup swap every fall is an exception
  • Individual serving size anything (yogurt, raisins, soups, snack packs, juice boxes, etc)-we buy larger containers and dole out serving sizes, make our own or do without
    • Beer is the only exception I can think of right now
  • tissues-use toilet paper for now, thinking of flannel hanky come back this fall and winter
  • specialty cleaners (dusting sprays, window cleaners, mop solutions, bathroom cleaner, etc)-replaced them all with castile soap, vinegar and baking soda as they ran out
  • microwavable anything (we gave our microwave away)
  • special "baby" item-the adult/child version were just fine or we did without
  • magazines-use the library, get old issues from friends, read online
  • accessories for the home or for us personally (i.e. picture frames, nick-knacks, jewelry and hair pieces)
  • cards-call, email, make our own, send e-cards or replacement videos and pictures
  • bath extras (i.e. bath salts, bubble bath, special shaving creams, exfoliates, muds)
  • babysitters-trade child care with friends
Things we have significantly reduced our consumption and purchases of:
  • pre-made, packaged and processed foods
  • paper diapers-we cloth diaper during the day and paper at night
  • disposable wipes-recently made flannel cloth wipes, which Brent doesn't use and we still take a pack of disposables out with us in the diaper bag
  • car washes-I don't recall the last car wash
  • stamps-we use online bill pay and email for most everything, buy postage at the PO for larger packages or print postage from my computer
  • envelopes-we don't mail a lot anymore, and when I do, I have a stash of return envelopes from bills that I have kept or I fold and tape a piece of scrap paper around whatever I am mailing
  • books-library,, or ebooks
  • photos-I have ordered photos online to be sent directly to my mom, but otherwise we just look at pictures online
  • newspapers-I check online to see if getting the Sunday paper is worth the coupons
  • meat-we buy meat for our meal co-op group only, Brent's recently converted to vegetarian and the rest of the family just follows suit.
  • spray oils (Pam)-I replaced them with an oil pump spray bottle from Pampered Chef
  • gifts-we make what we can from fabric in the cabinet, blank CDs, baked goods, experiences, trading services/babysitting, bulk school book orders and other creative giving
  • light bulbs-for over two decades we have replaced nearly every light bulb with compact fluorescent, thus reducing the need to buy them often
  • seeds, flowers, lawn care-save seeds from produce, share seeds and bulbs with friends,and use our own compost
  • date nights-date less, or stay up later to date at home
  • movies, videos, Netflix, and other media time-We rarely go to the movies, if we do, it's the discount theater and not everyone goes. We reduced our Netflix to streaming only. Are there any more video rental stores? We use the library for free.
  • drawing paper and art supplies-By keeping the copies of paper that come home from school and work and saving single sided papers from junk mail, we have a profound stack of art papers for airplanes, grocery lists and doodles. Taking four children to any family friendly restaurant will yield a set of at least 8 crayons, sometimes up to12. My grandma B has taken us out and asked the server for old crayons that were destined for the garbage, she is my savings inspiration (she could go to Fulmer's and always get them to pay her to shop when she used coupons).
  • hot water-I started using cold water for everything I could, including hand washing. I let the dish washer use hot and wash only diapers with hot. Showers for children are timed, minimum bath water is shared for the little boys.
  • make up, nail polish, fragrant lotions/sprays, and other temporary accessories-My mom bought me eye shadow and mascara for my birthday two years ago and we haven't bought anything else since or probably many years before.
  • gasoline and other car items, services, etc-Besides the obvious reduction in driving, we do a lot of our own basic maintenance and my dad has helped with brake pads and more.
  • clothing, shoes-Buy used, buy very little, buy only what we need, borrow and be extremely grateful for hand-me downs.
Certainly I am forgetting many things. What have you given up or reduced in your lives?

Two More Things
I found that by not shopping at WalMart and Target we are no longer tempted to buy things we don't need just because they are there and they are on sale. When ever something runs out, I ask myself if I need it and could I make it for less. Perhaps I need it, but not now and it sits on my list for a long time or until it's forgotten.

Just by keeping a list I am no longer running out for a couple of things just when I need them. I might have air filters on my list for a long time because they are more expensive at Kroger, but when I finally get to a place where they are less expensive, I buy more of them to cover the time between store visits.

Damned If We Do
The thing that gets me, is that despite our change in habits, purchasing shoes stills "breaks the bank." It may have something to do with our deprivation/impulse issues. When we have gone a fair amount of time cutting back, doing without, feeling deprived (again, by middle class standards), and then we may get some windfall money or Brent takes on an extra job for cash, and we blow it. We feel we can go out to eat, spend a little more on a bike helmet, buy a bike, drink more beer, visit family and friends out of town, get the odor controlling cat litter, pay back favors or give gratitude with purchased gifts, pay more on a debt or utility bill, send a kid to day camp, get the name brand popcorn, or tap the thermostat down a little more (all recent splurges). The reality is that because we did all this impulsive spoiled spending, we have to return to lengthy stretches of conservation. The habits of saving and thrift are not as strong as the desire to spend and consume (though both have strengths that ebbs and flows). We are working on it.

Money Talk
I wrote a bit about all this here and here, and will continue to come back to it. I hope to also give a good update on what we have been able to save by not driving, how we ended up using that money instead and what our financial plan is for the remainder of the year. What else would you like to see/hear/read/know? I feel very comfortable talking about money and my family with the exception of our actual base salary income and the tuition situation for my children at school, as these two issues would effect a lot of other people beyond our six. Ask away.


    Shoe Shopping

    First day of school shoe violations.
    We knew the children needed new shoes for school. We knew they had to meet the uniform policy. We hoped they could wear the shoes they wore last year. London's still fit, Elliot's didn't and they were worn clean through. What we didn't plan for was the cost of shoes when you can't get to Payless or find any at WalMart or Target.

    Prior to school starting my sister took the children to WalMart and they couldn't find any that met our needs, be it size, color or price. A few days later my friend Ashley called to say they were going to Target and do I need anything? YES, shoes! Again, they came back empty handed. I posted to Google+, in my local circle, asking about downtown shoe possibilities and a friend suggested Payless on Route 60. Brent said Roby Rd was far too dangerous to ride and I didn't feel like taking all day to bus back and forth to get the size right and cause Brent to miss more time at work while playing with the children. Our neighbor looked at Sears the weekend before school started, still nothing. My online shoe shopping experiences of the past have only yielded one success despite a dozen attempts and I was pressed for time and didn't care for the hassle.

    School started on Monday. I sent Elliot in his brown summer athletic shoes and London in the shoes she wore last year. I knew Elliot's were not going to meet the dress code, I thought London's might, since they passed last year, but were not following the written policy.

    My friend Rachel and I were talking about shoes and she said her husband shopped at Glenn's Sporting Goods downtown. It never occurred to me to buy shoes at the sports shops. Huntington has several athletic store options. Glenn's, Dan's and Robert's are all on 4th Avenue, and I knew Glenn's and Robert's sold shoes, but I didn't know if they sold children's. Brent bikes right by these store on his way home, so I sent him to Glenn's for two pairs. He came home with a pair that fit Elliot and he had to return the ones for London as they were too small.
    Elliot's new Nikes

    I was happy he found good shoes, I was mortified by the $47 price tag. I try to pay less than $20 for new shoes and prefer to buy our shoes used. I was able to find the shoes London wore last year at Target for $4. Yet, with the increase in biking, walking and leg pain, I do feel that a better shoes is worth that ounce of prevention. My own bout with plantar fasciitis a couple years ago when I started running without proper shoes, still serves as a good reminder.

    Yesterday London came home with a reminder from the school that she needs shoes that meet the dress code. I am very happy to see the school enforcing the code. Now we have two days left to fix our shoe problem. I don't see how we are going to get shoes from anywhere other than downtown and for anything less than $20. Brent's on a lunch hour mission today,(as he is working all weekend), to find shoes. Back to Glenn's and to check with Dan's and Robert's. I am on an emailing mission to see which of my friends can spare a pre-sale pass to the Kid's Sale tomorrow. Perhaps Brent can spare me the time to go to this consignment sale, as it has some potential for a cheaper fix?

    Poor planning on our part is costing us more money and time. I guess I have been out of touch with the cost of shoes. My grandma tells me that I should expect to pay that much for a good pair. We must not be "good shoe" people. I think we are just more of "good enough" sort of family.

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    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Critical Mass August Edition

    Miles Walked: 23.8 Biked: 50.4 Bused: 10.5 Drove: 3.6 This week
    23.8 50.4 10.5 3.6 Since August 14, 2011

    For your viewing pleasure.

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    Patience with Huntington

    There are challenges in every city in America and beyond. Sometimes I get very short sighted and focus on my angst with Huntington, WV. The city has a failing infrastructure that is taking a lot of time to fund and repair. One of the unique features in this town are the aqua-ducts or via-ducts. They are roads that were cut to go under the rail road tracks that run on the level ground. When we get a heavy rain, like we did very early this morning, they fill with water so quickly cars can get trapped and the water can't get drained away (The details are in the link above).

    This morning Brent had intended to walk the children directly to school but London wanted to take the bus, so he oblidged her. They left at 7:20AM for a bus that was schedule to arrive at 7:50 and didn't arrive till 8:10. The via-ducts were full of water and the buses had to find other ways around. Brent called me from the school at 8:22 to report they just arrived, London forgot her lunch and our friends would be taking the children to school all next week. I know he was frustrated.

    I am frustrated too. The bus was working out OK when it was only a couple minutes late (the very first day), but the inconsistencies and the forces of nature are too hard on the start of the children's school day. We were not the only ones on that bus trying to get to school this week either. Every day I rode there was another mother and son going to Spring Hill Elementary. I don't know what time their tardy bell rings, but if it was 8:00AM, they were late most days too. I wonder how many other Huntington families rely on the TTA for school transportation?

    There was an opinion piece in our local Herald Dispatch newspaper this summer about how we can all help with the stormwater issues. If you live here, I suggest taking some of Bill's advice (we have). In the mean time, we are going to go forward with our car pooling plan to get the children to school.

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    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Carpooling to School

    Miles Walked: 19 Biked: 37 Bused: 8.4 Drove: 3.6 This week
    19 37 8.4 3.6 Since August 14, 2011

    We arranged a ride for London and Elliot to go to school this morning. They were able to wake up a bit later and got to school on time for the first time all week. These friends had three children of their own to take up to school, but we were on their way, so it all worked very smoothly. The children welcomed the break from walking and biking, but they were most relieved they were not going to be tardy.

    Other Events of the Day
    Brent biked an errand to Rite Aid this morning then biked into work. I had arranged to keep a friend's daughter today as well as had an in home appointment for Oliver with Birth to Three, so Brent biked up to the school to walk the children home. My legs were very thankful for the day of rest.
    Brent's new rack with his new lunch box.

    Arriving at campus.

    Going through Marshall University campus.

    Children's packs loaded on the rack, then they walked home.

    This evening Brent did a larger grocery trip on his own. He took the empty trailer to Kroger on 7th Street and filled it up. His purchases and approximate weights:
    • 4 dozen dinner rolls, 4lbs
    • 1lb of cheese
    • 5-1.5lbs of whole wheat bread, 7.5lbs
    • 3lbs of apples
    • 2-1.5quarts of ice cream, 3.5lbs
    • 1lb of coffee
    • 2-half gallons of almond milk, 8lbs
    • 2-half gallons of soy milk, 8lbs
    • 2 gallons of milk, 16lbs
    • 1 box wheat saltines, 1lb
    • diaper wipes, 4lbs
    • paper diapers
    • 5 lbs of pastas
    • 1-2lt of diet Coke, 4lbs
    • dish washing detergent, 2lbs
    • 5lbs of bananas
    • 2.5lbs of grapes
    • 14lbs of cat litter
    85.5lbs Total.

    Red Light Runner
    As we were recapping the day Brent noted that he had to run a red light on his way to pick up the children. He was at a light for a very long time and it wasn't changing. He presumed it was because the light is tripped by a magnetic sensor and his aluminum bike was not giving it anything to trigger the light. Anyone know how to overcome this? Should he have moved over to the cross walk? What would you do?
    A red light that wouldn't change until a car arrived.

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    LGRAB Winner

    Maybe you saw our entry for the Summer Games? Yesterday our entry was featured on the Let's Go Ride a Bike blog and today we were randomly selected as "winners." I am pretty certain this will be my sister's wedding gift next month. She's an aspiring baker who needs to start delivering her goodies by bike, don't you think? (And Sara, don't worry, I will make sure to get you something from your registry too.)

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