Thursday, January 27, 2011


Or maybe I should say the ultimate break on coffee.  I'm not normally a coffee drinker, although I have a fondness for Maxwell House International Cafe's French Vanilla flavor.  Since the beginning of the year, as part of my effort to reduce my carbon footprint, I've been trying to set the thermostat low during the day when the kids are at school (and my husband is working upstairs in his office surrounded by heat-generating computers).  I turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees when the kids leave and usually keep it there until my son comes home around 3:00.  Then it goes up to 67, sometimes to 69 depending on the amount of complaining I hear from the children.  Because it can get quite chilly in the house during the day, I find myself having one or two cups of coffee a day.  I already had a can of French Vanilla Cafe in my pantry from last year (normally my coffee consumption is very sporadic), but I was getting near the bottom and debating whether the $3.39 price tag for a new can fit in my food budget for the month.

While mulling over the decision in Meijer, I came across two sets of shelves near the milk with clearance items.  On it were cans of Maxwell House International Cafe in Peppermint Mocha Latte flavor.  They were marked down to $.84 a can.  I debated for a while.  My first instinct was to scoop up every can I saw.  However, I'd never had the flavor and was concerned I would find it undrinkable and then have bought $10 worth of coffee for nothing.  I bought two cans and tried the flavor that day.  It was wonderful!  Next morning I scurried by up to Meijer and found the shelves empty of coffee.  Apparently everybody else found it a good deal as well.  I did some excavating and managed to find two more cans hidden behind other items and quickly purchased them.

My savings went beyond this, however.  It just so happened Maxwell House was having a deal that week (I knew from the cash register-generated coupon) for a $1 coupon towards my next shopping trip if I purchased two cans of International coffee.  So, I got the $1 coupon the first day and when I bought two more the following day, I received another coupon.  That brought my $.84 can of coffee down to $.34!  Cha-ching!

Granted someone could argue, as my husband did, that I don't need coffee and even if I did choose to drink it, there were even cheaper options.  I have no delusions that I'm hitting rock bottom with my grocery budget or spending habits, but my $.34 can of coffee is a huge improvement over the regular price, to say nothing of the cost of a cup from the famous chain coffee shop just down the hill from me...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #2

I have been faithfully taking part in Katy Wolk-Stanley's 52 Weeks - 52 Letters Challenge (  However, I've been unfaithful in blogging about my letter writing, so today I begin catching up...

As a child, Carolyn was one of my close friends.  She left Cincinnati just as we were entering our tween years and moved to California.  She lived near Hawthorne, California (home of The Beach Boys) and occasionally sent me surf reports to make me jealous.  I was a rabid fan of Dennis Wilson, the drummer, and had he not tragically drowned in 1983 she probably would have sent me fake stories of spotting him in the waves.

Like many childhood relationships, we grew apart over the teenage years and only had sporadic contact through the 90s and into the new millennium.  I mailed her a long, lovely letter week before last, telling her of Ohio's unusually cold and snowy December.  As I stare out my dining room window to my snow covered backyard and the deer that wander in to snack from my bird feeder, I have no doubt that any day now I'll receive a cheery missive from California telling me of the warm sunshine and the author's ever darkening tan...just to make me jealous.
My children in Virginia Beach

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I wrote the other day about my Once Upon a Child outing and their $1 clearance sale.  After getting pants for both my kids which should last them for the next year, I spent several days being haunted by the vision of those shirts, skirts, jackets, and sweaters just hanging there with their pretty little orange clearance tags.  I figured after two days the good stuff was long gone, but I kept thinking each item was at least a $3 savings to me (that's if it was purchased full price at the consignment store) and that if I spent an hour and only bought three items it was the equivalent of earning nine tax-free dollars. 

I drove the six minutes to Once Upon a Child and found the place was still bargain nirvana!  I grabbed a cart and quickly purchased next-size or two-size-up long sleeved shirts and sweaters for my daughter, enough to take her through next season and beyond.  I also got my son a couple sized-up sweatshirts and long sleeved shirts and even one short sleeved polo shirt.  I also managed a nice hooded jacket and pair of gym shoes in like-new condition for my daughter.

Total number of items:  38.  Total cost:  $38.00 + tax.  Total if purchased at regular Once Upon a Child prices:  $218.50.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


No, I'm not talking about overindulging in the Christmas spiked egg nog.  I'm speaking of laundry.

One of my goals for the month of January was to reduce our electric usage.  Part of this was financial, most was environmental.  One way to accomplish this was with reducing my dryer usage.  I normally use the dryer for all our laundry, especially in the winter.  My goal for the month of January is to reduce my dryer usage by 50%.  So far I've surpassed that goal and am feeling fairly proud.

I have a finished basement with a small unfinished area roughly 10' x 10' that houses the water heater, furnace, sump pump, freezer, and some storage shelves.  It is a quirk of our home that the basement is the warmest place in the winter.  Our first home, a split level, was warm on the highest floor, cool on the ground floor, and freezing in the lower level.   There was a good ten degree difference between upper and lower level.  In this house the upper level gets warm but so does the basement.  That's actually not a bad thing as the basement is our rumpus room holding the Wii, most of the kids' toys, t.v., and gym equipment. 

This small unfinished area is the warmest spot in the entire house.  The downside is that nobody's ever in there.  Who wants to curl up with a book on a cement floor next to a water softener?  I realized, though, that this would be the perfect place for my drying racks.  I have one wooden rack purchased from the Lehman's catalog and a tall rack purchased at Ikea.  Between the two of them I have room to hang roughly two loads of laundry.  And the space is so warm that most things dry in less than 24 hours.  Where my adjustment has been is in doing laundry every day.  If my goal is to hang the laundry I have to make sure there are enough clean clothes to last until the stuff actually dries.  I can't wash something now and have it be dry in an hour as I'm accustomed to. 

What has happened, much to my amazement, is that I haven't cut my dryer usage by 50%.  I've cut it by at least 80%!  For me that's a big accomplishment.  Some of the clothes are coming out extremely wrinkled and while I'm not the fussiest dresser in the world (my husband works from home, I'm home all day, and my kids could care less), I don't want to look like I slept in my clothes.  For the most wrinkled items, I let them get almost completely dry and then load them into the dryer and give them a 10 minute fluff.  This does not make them wrinkle-free.  It does, however, take the worst of the wrinkles out and get them to a level of smoothness that is acceptable to all concerned.

I haven't done the actual calculations to figure how much money an hour's worth of dryer usage costs, but based on some general estimates I've seen around, I figure each load not dried in the dryer saves about $.30 to $.40 in electricity costs.  While $10 a month in electricity savings alone doesn't seem like a big deal, I figure the environmental impact of the reduced electricity makes it totally worth it.  Plus, $10 is $10...

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Yesterday I mentioned my goal of buying used versus new and to that end I hit up the Once Upon a Child $1 orange tag sale last week.  I had expected a small rack of clothing and very little selection and had swung into the parking lot with a van full of groceries since I was certain I'd only be a few minutes.  Thankfully (for my groceries' sake) it's been freezing around here and I knew my groceries were good for a while.
What I found inside was HEAVEN.  I saw row after row of beautifully organized clothing with orange tags dangling.

My son is 11 years old and a few months ago was wearing a size 14, occasionally a 16.  He decided to surprise me at Christmas by chunking up a little and complaining of tight pants.  My first stop was the boys' section.  The boys pants only go up to size 18 and, unfortunately, the pickings are slimmer at that age.  I managed, though, to find about half a dozen pairs of pants in size 16 or 18 in nice condition and plain enough that he won't mutiny if I insist he wear them.  Even on sale for one of the minor brands I would have paid $9.99 for one pair of jeans new.  At Once Upon a Child these pants would have cost me anywhere from $4-$10 each.  Many of the pants were by brands that I would never purchase new, such as Old Navy and The Gap, because the prices are beyond what I'm willing to pay for something that will be outgrown in six months. 

Next stop was for my daughter who is 7 years old and extremely tall for her age.  She's very thin but has a very long torso which means she outgrows her shirts because they've gotten too short, not because they're too tight.  Right now she's wearing a size 8 and has plenty of pants and shirts for this season.  I planned ahead.  (I'm learning quickly that part of the key to buying used is to anticipate needs since snow boots in size 4 may or may not be available when it's snowing and that's her foot size.)  I purchased half a dozen pairs of pants for her as well in size 10.  Again, they were $1 apiece and even used would have cost $4-$8 each.
My mind was on my groceries sitting in the car, so I didn't want to linger much longer.  I did take a quick swing through the shoes and boots.  I found a nice pair of boots that were not on sale but were a size and a half bigger than my daughter's current size and for $4 I thought they were worth grabbing.  Also not on sale were a pair of roller skates for $4 and I've been wanting to replace my daughter's outgrown Barbie skates.   Lastly I got a pair of white sandals with that lovely orange tag that will be perfect for my daughter's Easter outfit.

When my purchases were rung up I spent a whopping $33.50 for 16 items, including a pair of skates and a pair of boots.  The receipt also shows that I would have spent $104.50 for these same items at "regular" price (i.e., normal Once Upon a Child prices).  When I think of what each of these items would have cost new, especially those Old Navy pants, I start to swoon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


My goal this year is two-fold as far as spending goes.  Number one is to spend less.  Number two is to buy fewer items new.  One of my favorite blogs is The Non-Consumer Advocate by Katy Wolk-Stanley (  I'm constantly inspired by her even if I often fail to follow her lead.  One of the things she advocates is buying used.  She has pointed out numerous times not only the financial benefits of buying used but the environmental ones as well.  I really considered the latter during the Christmas season when I found myself overloaded with shipping boxes, packing peanuts, and brown paper from numerous online purchases.  Christmas morning there were the toys' cardboard boxes, little bits of wire that held dolls in place, clear plastic covers, etc.  The environmental impact was overwhelming even though I recycled as much as I could and I almost exclusively use cloth gift bags.

With Ms. Wolk-Stanley's inspiration accompanying me, I hit the new year with a fervent desire to buy used.  The gods were smiling on me last week and, I like think, encouraging my first efforts.  I've always been a consignment store shopper for my kids' clothing, starting when my 11 year old was in the womb and I discovered I could buy a week's worth of onesies used for less than the cost of one new one.  Normally my preference is for a charity consignment store in my hometown of Loveland, Ohio called Truly Blest.  Last week, however, I received an e-mail that the Cincinnati/Dayton area Once Upon a Child stores were having a $1 clearance sale.  Everything with an orange tag was a dollar.  I swung by after my grocery shopping expedition at Meijer so that I wouldn't waste gas making  a separate trip.

Frankly I usually find this Once Upon a Child overpriced for used merchandise and I really thought there would be a small rack of clearance items that would take 5 minutes to go through.  Boy, was I WRONG.  Tomorrow I'll tell you about the cornucopia that awaited me...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

52 Letters in 52 Weeks - #1

My aunt, Shirley Ritchie, passed away last month.  She was my mother's only sibling and although in her mid-70s, she died too young as far as we're all concerned.  She was one of those memorable people, a force of nature with a bigger than life personality.  All those cliches.  In her case they happen to be true.

Once she passed her tomboy stage in the mid-1940s, she went full-on glam.  I remember her best from my childhood in the 70s.  She had teased up white blond hair, usually with a bow, bright red long fingernails, and rings on every finger.  She had a nice figure and fit in perfectly in the decade of hot pants.

I just received a package from her husband, Don, containing three of her many rings.  There was a note tucked inside that said he found these in her jewelry box with my name on them.  I was very touched.  I don't necessarily share her sense of style, but the day she died I told everyone I was going to paint my nails blood red and wear all my rings at once in her honor.  Having these is even better.

My Aunt Shirley on the left, my mother on the right
While at my son's karate class tonight I composed letter #1 in the letter writing challenge to my Uncle Don, expressing my gratitude for the gift.  I let him know how much Shirley meant to me, how he was in our thoughts, and how we understand his loss.  I felt good expressing my feelings to him.  Hopefully he will feel the same knowing how much his family cares.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


As a kid I hated school, but there was one thing I loved -- new school supplies.  There was something about walking in that first day with a clean notebook with no writing, no wrinkles on the pages, no bent corners.  There were those long, newly sharpened pencils and the crayons that still had their pointy tips.  Even during the year, while most of my enthusiasm for school was long gone, I could still get a thrill out of starting a new notebook or getting a clean pink eraser.  I didn't realize it at the time, but this obsession with the school supplies was merely the beginning of a lifetime obsession with fresh starts.

I like the first day of summer vacation, the first day of school for my kids, the first day of each month, and, of course, the first day of a new year.  There's something about the feeling of renewal that comes with January 1st that has a magic for me.  Every year I go into January with high expectations, beautifully worded goals in my planner, and hope in my heart.  Forget the fact that most of it is down the drain by Valentine's Day... 

This year I'm feeling not only my usual January optimism, but a sincere hope that this will be a year of growth and change for my family.  The first day of the year was spent at my mother's with family as always.  Today, though, was my first test of my new commitment to spending less money and using fewer resources. 

The one Christmas activity we had not managed during the Christmas season was going to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo.  It's always a bit of a pain to go as this event draws huge crowds and sitting in traffic just to get a parking spot tends to be a yearly painful ritual.  We were also cursed with unusually cold temperatures for much of the month (down in the low teens or single digits in the evening), as well as an unusual amount of snow.  Combined that with the kids' regular activities and special Christmas activities, and...well...the month just got away from us.

My 11 year old son wanted to do one more "big" thing today before going back to school tomorrow and I mentioned that this was the last night for Festival of Lights.  He happily agreed and my sister accompanied my two children and me.  The biggest issue I face right now in my goals is thinking ahead.  Too often I get wrapped up in some project at home and we end up with fast food because I hadn't planned dinner.  My daughter consumes dozens of juice boxes because I forget to make a fresh pitcher of juice or I forget to bring her Sigg bottle with me.  This time, though, I thought ahead.  I grabbed my Built neoprene lunch bag and shoved in Sigg bottles -- water for my son, juice for my daughter, iced tea for me.  I also packed some crackers in case they suddenly decided they were ravenous as we passed the $5 bags of popcorn.  My final step was to tell them in no uncertain terms that I was absolutely not buying anything in the gift shop, I was not buying food or drinks, and I was not stopping for fast food on the way home.  My son didn't ask for a thing.  My daughter once asked if we were getting a snack (as we just happened to be passing a cotton candy vendor) and otherwise didn't ask for a thing. 

We have family passes to the Cincinnati Zoo which includes free parking, free tram rides, free train rides, and free carousel rides.  While I guess the pass itself isn't exactly frugal, I feel that it's money well spent as the Cincinnati Zoo is a popular outing with my kids and I like to lend support to the zoo where I can.  All in all the outing cost only as much as the gas to get us there and back and I didn't produce any garbage in the process.  We enjoyed the lights (which a few years ago were switched over to LED for greater energy efficiency) and it was a nice way to wrap up the Christmas vacation.  More importantly for me, I feel it was a step in the right direction for my goals this year.  I feel like a passed my first test (or maybe a pop quiz, anyway).