Thursday, April 23, 2015

A small thing to love: sunlight

This past academic year, I've been buried under paperwork.  Perhaps I have mentioned my burial a time or two; sorry to be such a whiner.   My paperwork prowess comes with its own kind of nebbish pride, but it isn't the kind of thing to inspire lofty conversation or deep emotional connection, y' know.  

So a week or so ago, I was especially grateful for a morning walk with N-son, a chance to be (a) outdoors and (b) with an actual person.  N-son and I walked eastward, into the rising sun, and we fell into our old habit of playing "I like".  The game is simple: we take turns saying things that we like to do.  It is a game that sounds incredibly hokey, and yet N-son and I, we always fall to playing it when we walk together.  And when we walk across the campus into the rising sun, we both know that my opening line will likely be,
"I like having the sun on my face."

This time of year, there are many reasons to be grateful for the sun, many of them frugal.

For example, by taking my tomatoes outdoors to play in the sun in their Magic School Bus cardboard box lid, I get big healthy tomato seedlings without paying for grow lights or electricity.  Frugal score one for the sun!

Another example: by capturing daylight in these special solar jars, . .
 . . . I get free night lights!  Frugal score two for the sun!

Or what about this?  By putting my own body in the sun during the day -- say while I go jogging along merrily with my friends -- I manufacture my very own life-giving, health-building Vitamin D.  The Vitamin D Council (did you even know there was such a thing?) says
The two main ways to get vitamin D are by exposing your bare skin to sunlight and by taking vitamin D supplements. You can’t get the right amount of vitamin D your body needs from food. 
The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight (ultraviolet B rays). This can happen very quickly, particularly in the summer.
So sunlight saves at least $9 (compared to taking costly vitamins) per year. Whoop!  Frugal score three for the sun.

But there's more of course. Moving into a sunny reading spot (either indoors or outdoors) saves money on lightbulbs.  A well-timed dose of very bright sunlight helps travelers overcome jet lag. A solar clothes dryer (e.g., an outdoor clothes line) brightens those whites, saves on dryer costs, and preserves clothes longer.  Frugal score four, five, six, seven, and eight for the sun!

And this time of year, everywhere I go, people are glorying in the weather.  No matter what our resolutions, winter is a hard time to exercise outdoors.  It's not so much that it's more difficult to be outdoors in cold weather, but rather that it's difficult to be outdoors more.  But spring has sprung us from our cages, so now when I walk outside, I see students from classes past (hugs, hugs).  I see professors who just got tenure (high fives!).  I see colleagues from other offices (gossip, gossip).  Sunlight is a social capital enhancer.  It brings people into contact by bringing us out of our buildings.  Score nine-through-goodness-knows-how-much for the sun!

I know we've just come off of Earth Day. I love that day.  But I also love having the sun on my face.  I'm ready to celebrate Sun Day now.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The swapping jar

Here's one of the nice things about living in a world where we have plenty: if I spill something on the shirt that I'm wearing, I can take it off and put a clean shirt on right away, while the dirty shirt wends its way through the laundry pile.

I remember reading a story when I was a child about a girl who burst into tears when her dress got splashed by a passing car, because she didn't have another dry dress to wear.  I had a student who visited her family in Zimbabwe over break, and while she was traveling her suitcase with all her clothes was stolen -- and by that, she really meant ALL her clothes (except the ones on her body).

I think about these stories and I remember to be grateful once again for all the clothes I own.  Having enough of a wardrobe that I can swap out the dirty for the clean at a moment's notice:  that's a blessing.  I try not to take this blessing for granted.

And since Tuesday is my canning jar fetish day (has anybody noticed this?  probably nobody but me) I just wanted to point out that this Swap-ability blessing extends beyond clothes. 

To wit, one of the small canning-jar-fetish-things I'm so grateful for is that I can (and do) exchange clean jars for dirty jars at a moment's notice.  And for this reason, I use canning jars for things like our butter dish, and also for corralling our kitchen scrubbers . . . 

. . . and (as I mentioned last week) for messy foodstuffs like oil.  If the jar gets disgusting, then I just use a new jar!

There are other containers that I interchange, beyond canning jars and clothes (are clothes "containers"?).  I've remained a huge fan of printer-boxes-with-one-edge-trimmed, even though they're not perfectly beautiful, because they are at least instantly replace-able in my son's high-energy bedroom
and also, they really help me keep my supplies (like my light bulbs + the receipts for the lightbulbs) organized.

So the canning jar part of this post is just a symbol of the grander aspect, the aspect that signals bounty and ampleness, of having enough and then some.  I have enough clothes, enough jars, enough boxes, that I can just grab clean ones when I need them.

Life is good.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Allowance Arithmetic

Our family has moved away from Mommy Dollars as a form of currency (pause to shed a tear or two . . . sniffle . . . sigh . . . okay, now we can return to the topic at hand).  We've moved to an allowance system that I'm really enjoying, that I'll describe more later.  For now, it's enough to say that my teenage sons get $5/week.

Of course, the amount a parent gives a child depends on many things, including the child.  And with that said, I would like to share True Questions of an Allowance Getter:

On a week after we'd skipped allowance one week -- so he was about to get $10 instead of the usual $5 -- N-son asked me:

"If I give one dollar to church and save $4.50,
how much money do I have left?   
Is it $3.50?  Is it $2.50?"

What's most interesting to me as a Math Mom is how he arrived at these numbers.  N-son is a pleaser: he wants to do what's right by his mom.  We've drilled in the "tithe" lesson enough that N-son now automatically begins with setting aside $1 for church.   (This doesn't necessarily mean he knows that $1 is what you get when you compute 10% of $10; he'll often set aside $1 out of a $5 allowance for church.)

Having subtracted $1 from $10, he then decided to divide the remaining money in half, and devoted the first half to savings.  I think it's remarkable both that he can figure half of $9 in his head, and also that he's absorbed my lessons enough that savings, not spending, is the the second item in the list.

But here came the problem.  In his head, he had to reconcile all these numbers.  There's something about $4.50, and he's giving $1 to church, so does that mean only $3.50 left?  But when he repeats the problem in his head -- there's $3.50, but he gave $1 to church -- is there only $2.50 left?  Keeping so many different quantities straight is really tough.  

With careful and kind logic, we determined that under these circumstances, the amount N-son can spend is actually a full $4.50.  At this point, we left the realm of arithmetic and embarked on applied philosophy.  Miser Mom asked her child, "If you’re going to spend $4.50, what are you going to spend it on?  Will it make you happy?"  N-son carefully wrote, "What  I think i'm going to spend my 4.50 is food for when I get hungry and i'm not home".

Good choice.  (Although I *do* feed my sons, I swear!)

The choices part is the reason I love our current allowance system so much.  But that's the part I'll write more about later.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Money Dinner

Tax day has come and gone.  In the Miser Mom Household, we celebrated Tax Day with our favorite new tax deduction, appropriately documented . . . .

. . . Baby A!  K-daughter's daughter celebrated her first night out of her own home by joining her MiserNana in our annual Money Dinner.  We decked the table with coins from around the world, plus a few left-over chocolate coins from a friend's Hanukah celebration.

And then we feasted on some of our favorite money-themed foods, including the bringin'-home-the-Turkey-bacon from market, plus a giant pile of the green stuff (kale chips) . . .

. . . and some scrounged food as well, a la these giant tortilla chips.

(The chips, I got in my usual mooched-food way: I helped to clean up at a a big event on campus.  After urging as much leftover food on other people as I could, I took home my own baskets of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, and these great-for-our-money-dinner chips).

This year we played a small quiz game:  do you know what a penny looks like?  (I printed out a few sheets from  This was surprisingly tricky and fun.

There was, but-of-course, themed clothing.  I wore a vest with coin-like buttons, plus stockings that remind me a little of dollar signs.
Looks rich, yes?
There was money jewelry adorning certain diners at the table, too; plus, let's just take another look at this adorable one, yes?
Enough already, Nana!
No?  Okay we'll stop.

Okay, but it's worthwhile pointing out how much our celebrations cost the Miser Mom household.  This year a bunch of people were out of town, so the Money Dinner was a small event:  4 eaters plus Baby A.  Oh, and then later, J-son came home and ate all the leftover food on the table, so maybe that counts as five eaters.

I splurged on the Turkey Bacon, buying 5 pounds for $30;  I split this into 6 equal parts and froze most of them, so let's say $5-6 for meat at the dinner.

[Or you could say more like $20, if you want:  I wouldn't have bought that expensive meat if it hadn't been for the dinner, so the extra will just make our other meat-enhanced dinners that much more expensive.  We're replacing cheap (say $10-ish) ingredients over several meals with something that costs $30, so maybe the bacon expense incurred by this one meal is more like $20].

We also bought $4 worth of kale.  And . . . that's it.  The rest of the food was scrounged. Even if we hadn't scrounged food, we would have made a simple alternative (I think our usual homemade dollar-shaped pretzels are actually yummier than the tortilla chips anyway).

So this celebration that we look forward to each year costs us somewhere between $9 and $24 this year.  Having fun doesn't have to be expensive!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Non-miser husband speaks for himself

Every once in a while, I mention that my husband is not a miser.  This is the Gospel Truth.

Even so, he and I seem to get along just fine.  
And to underscore the point that it's possible 
for a frugal-nut like me to live happily with a Muggle like him (and vice versa), 
my husband asked if he could address my blog readers directly.  
Here is what he wrote, with a few small commentaries from yours truly.


Dear Miser Mom Readers,

Let me introduce myself. I am Miser Mom's husband. You will probably remember me as the spendthrift that Miser Mom saves from his financial sins by her laudatory thrift.

As I hope is clear from MM's posts, we agree strongly on many issues that confront families in modern America, and we support each other even when we don't participate actively in the other person's projects. So I admire the lengths MM will go to to save a dollar, use less water, make less trash, drive less, or eat better.

For any of us who live with or are close friends with a true believer of a religion we don't agree with, we have the experience of admiring their devotion, even when we see the glint of crazy in their eyes.

Wait! Does this mean he thinks I'm a bit of a cult-like crazy? 
 Yes, I'm afraid it does.

As it happens, we get along partly because when we see the glint of crazy in each other; we either encourage it or get out of the way. As much as humanly possible, we do not try to hold each other back. So as MM became more and more miserly, I simply got used to using rags instead of paper towels, to cooking more, and to cutting back my spending on big-ticket items to the lowest it has ever been in my long life.

I confirm.  He spends buckets, but he used to spend bathtubs!

For instance, I keep a spreadsheet of all the motor vehicles I have owned. I will share it if you are interested. Since 1969, I have owned 41 cars, trucks and motorcycles. I owned 27 of them by the time I was 30, nine more before I was 40, and (in the 18 years since I have been with MM) we have owned a total of five cars and are still driving the 2001 Prius she bought in 2003. Only five cars in the last 20 years. Quite a difference. 

This is probably the biggest sacrifice my husband has 
(voluntarily, I swear!)  made in order to conform to my odd ways. 
He's a total gear-head. 
His last car was an ugly box, which must have just mortified him, but he never complained;
our current car doesn't even have a trunk that's large enough to hold a bike.  

And since MM last wrote about clothes [see this post from Saturday], let me say that in my closet are 10 suits, including a Tuxedo. I bought them on sale, but I only shop at men's stores, so they list for more than $1,000 each. Same with the 2-dozen dress shirts and 50+ silk ties I own. But I have only bought a half dozen shirts and several ties in the last decade. No suits. MM has me convinced I can mix and match what I have until I am too old to care.

One of the things I do that MM never says a discouraging word about is race bicycles. This hobby is very expensive by any measure, but under the gentle influence of MM, I have decided to be different than my racer buddies who all buy a new $5,000+ bike every five years or so and a new $2500 pair of wheels in between new bikes. I am riding the same carbon fiber bikes I have had since 2002 and 2004. I have replaced many wheels and gears and chains in those years, but no new bikes. By the way, since 2002 I have ridden more than 120,000 miles, mostly on those two bikes, so I am getting good use from them.

So if you MM Reader have a spouse, child, or other person in your life who does not share your passion, even if  they just don't share the glee of finding that perfect blue suit at a yard sale for 50 cents at the end of the day, when it was marked as costing five whole dollars at 7 a.m., it does not mean you have no influence on them.

And Miser Mom would note that it doesn't matter a whit what the suit "costs" at 7 a.m.; 
all that really matters is how much you're willing to spend.  
I know I can find women's clothes for $1 or less, if I'm persistent, 
but I'm willing to pay $5 for boys'/mens' clothes, because those are harder to find used. 

But the bigger point is that persistent personal frugality of my own, 
with every attempt to be non-judgmental of my family and friends, 
has ended up having profound effects upon their lives, as well as mine, in the long run.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Homemade Pour Spouts for canning jars

Three years or so ago, I started the old cog wheels a-spinning.  For a mere $9, I'd heard, a person could buy a Cuppow lid that turns a canning jar into a beverage vessel.  I wanted, I wanted, I wanted a lid like that.
But of course there is no way I'd spend $9 on a lid.

There are also reCAP lids for canning jars at a more modest $8.  Erica of Northwest Edible Life occasionally wafts these seductively in my direction, tempting me.  
But $8 for a lid?  Still not me.

Still, as a woman who has developed a persistent case of Canning Jar Fetish, I have not let the quest for cheap spouts daunt me.  No, I remain undaunted.  I am sure that a Miser Mom version of a pour-spout canning lid is feasible.

And sometime this past winter, in between acquiring more household members and navigating ice storms and swimming through a sea of bureaucratic memoranda, I found my inspiration.  Here is what I'd been looking for, lo these many years; here is my no-cost Spout Solution: 
Milk Carton Mutilation.

Behold the completed look, as applied to my Baking Soda container.
Note that this lid contains several layers:  (a) the ring, (b) the merely-decorative "Pure Baking Soda" layer, (c) the Mutilated Milk Carton layer, and then finally (d) the jar.

Here, somewhat less prettified, is a Half-and-Half carton standing vigil beside its comrade, who sacrificed its integrity to become the lid of a salad dressing container.
A noble sacrifice indeed.

And suppose, just suppose, that a person wants a pop-lid spout instead of a screw lid spout, so that the contents merely dribble out instead of gushing forth?  Well, many syrup bottle spouts are interchangeable with milk container lids, as evidenced by my oil container below.  This is a true Frankenstein of a creation, with a canning jar body, a mutilated milk carton head, and a syrup spout brain.

Yes?  Yes?  Somebody else tell me you want to take a pair of scissors and dissect an empty milk carton today.  Yes?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bike Grocery Accessories

A week ago, when I described how our family is now a one-car family, Penn asked,
Re: biking, can you do a post on your favorite accessories for helping you be more successful with biking? How do you carry your groceries, etc?
I aims to please.  The short version of bike-grocery-acquisition accessories is this:
  1. Attitude.
  2. Backpacks.
  3. Clothes (Gloves, hat, shoes).
  4. Dark glasses.
  5. Effervescent* lights/reflectors.
*Effervescent? Well, I noticed the ABCD theme,
and wanted to find a word that started with "E".
Here's a slightly more detailed version of the same list.

1.  Attitude
Before the first time or two I ventured forth to buy groceries on my bike, I felt like I was getting ready to trek to the North Pole, or climb Mt. Everest, or something.  Did I have all my equipment? What if something went wrong?

And then I realized:  it's just a ride to the store.  And then a ride back. If I get a flat, I can walk home (our stores are less than 2 miles from my home).  If the groceries don't fit in my bag, I can just put them back, or even abandon them on the side of the road.  I'm not really blazing trails through the Amazon Rain Forest or guiding a team across Antarctica.  

Once I had that amazing revelation, everything else got easier.

2. Backpacks
Our family has been gifted with numerous backpacks.  On the table (below) are three of my favorites. The green messenger bag closest in the photo is small and fun, but the one-strap mode means that it's more likely to swing off my back onto my belly while I ride.  There's a medium sized backpack (with two straps) further back, and I use that one occasionally as well.

But the backpack I actually use the most for grocery shopping is the biggest of these three. It was a gift to my husband from his sister many years ago.

What I like about it---apart from the size (and the size is amazing)---is that it has two shoulder straps (so it doesn't slip around while I'm riding) . . . .
. . . plus it has hand straps, so once I'm inside the store I can carry it around like a normal shopping bag.  I store empty containers that need refilling in the bag during the week, so this bag becomes my shopping list as well as my shopping bag.  This week, you can see I need refills on milk, eggs, and yogurt.

For really really big loads (when I buy my turkey, or when I buy 50 lbs of hamburger, or when I buy 70 lb of dog food), then I'll use a bike trailer.  The boys also use the trailer to haul donations to Goodwill or to take hazardous materials to our Waste Authority.  But we don't use this trailer very often; the backpack seems to work well for us most of the time.

3.  Clothes (Gloves, hat, shoes jacket)
The wind and cold really do make a big difference on a bike.  But the good news is that the frugal versions of warm clothing work very well -- often better than expensive bike stuff.

Case in point:  gloves.

Last summer when I was doing training rides of 25 miles or more in very hot weather, I appreciated fancy bike gloves that have "sweat pads" so I could wipe the sweat out of my eyes instead of going blind.  But for around-the-town riding, a pair of hand-me-down faux(?) leather gloves work great.  The main criteria is that they should stop the wind -- knit gloves are essentially worthless.

Case in point:  hat.

Here is my teddy bear, modeling my expensive balaclava, designed to keep my face warm.  I really don't like this particular hat; it fogs up my glasses, and the chin part gets ice and it freezes.  Mr. Frugalwoods had similar problems, and he bought what he calls a "face mask".   I may check this out in the future.

But me, I just substituted a whole bunch of fleece ear bands (either purchased at yard sales or harvested from local sidewalks); I'll I wear several, one around my neck, and one over my nose, and one around my ears.

Likewise for shoes.  In cold weather, priority one is stopping the wind from getting to my toes.  My fabulous (and very expensive) clip-in bike shoes were perfect for making sure I could go 112 miles in one long 92-degree day last summer, but they stink at 2 mile trips in cold weather.  For short trips to the store, my pair of yard-sale-purchased Ugh-like boots totally rock.

4. Dark Glasses.   Actually, any good glasses.
I would like to tell you that my free (harvested from a parking lot) sunglasses are great for biking.

Alas, they're not.

They look fab, but they don't stay on my head when my head is pointing down.  I really do need eye protection that has curved ear pieces, and also that fits close to the head so that wind doesn't slide in sideways.

I splurged and bought a pair of $20 "IronMan" glasses (not shown here) from the drugstore.  I'm glad I did, because that got me back on the bike.  But I am also glad that found a cool pair of yellow bike glasses for cheap/free.  These work really well in low-light situations.

5.  Effervescent Lights/reflectors

Any bike store can and will sell you great bike lights. These can be pricey, but they're worth it.  

Even more, I've become a total fan of "Lightweights" spoke reflectors.  You don't have to turn these on; you don't have to charge these up, and people can see these from the side as well as from the front and back.  My husband hasn't put these on any of his bikes, but my kids and I have them on ours.  Love, love, love these!

And that's how I get my groceries on a bike; it's really pretty easy.  But I've only been doing this for two years, so I'm sure I have more to learn.  Suggestions for improvements are ALWAYS welcome.