Monday, June 28, 2010

First challenge of Frugality Revisited

Eat at Home! (Sweet potato hash based on one of my favorite brunches from Northstar Cafe: basically you sautee some sweet potatoes, onion, peppers, turkey or bacon, whatever you have on hand, then throw a fried egg on top. Great meal!)

Things at home are kind of up in the air for a number of reasons this week. But I have vowed to avoid any sort of spending, aside from tomorrow's farm market which will be paid for with my few leftover pocket dollars from Disney, until the first of July. So this means we are emptying out the fridge, freezer and pantry. For kids who can be sulky about not having certain things for certain meals (OJ with breakfast, PB&J for lunch, etc.) this is less than ideal. However IMO apple juice with breakfast for a couple of days never killed anyone. (To their credit, they have become leaps-and-bounds more adventurous with their eating over the past year and a half.) This does lead me to the answer of a question that's been on my mind while following Katy Wolk-Stanley's Food Stamp Challenge this month: perhaps when you literally cannot afford to throw out uneaten organic veggies, your food choices necessarily gravitate to what your kids are willing to eat: nuggets, mac and cheese from a box, anything to be dipped in ketchup.

I intended to do the Challenge in June, but with being on vacation and eating at Disney (read: spending well over a month's grocery budget in a week) it really didn't work out. Now I find myself actually needing to do this challenge. So for the month of July, my family of four would get about $404 of food stamps. However, because I am starting off with a deep freeze full of farmer's beef which cost about $230, or about $19 a month, I will keep our food budget to just $385. This will include our food expense to have cookouts for both the 4th of July and our son's 7th birthday. Our normal food budget is about $450, so anything I save will be donated to The Mid Ohio Food Bank.

Additionally, we will cut down our eating out expenses to about one trip a week, not to exceed $100 for the month. This sounds like a lot, and personally I'd like to cut out restaurants entirely for a while, but the husband works mega hours lately, and likes to unwind by going out. The catch is, if we want to go somewhere nicer than $25, we have to give up subsequent trips out. I think this will work out better than cold turkey.

Now I guess I need to do the meal plan for the next 3 days. A task I'm not terribly fond of.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Real. Frugal.

"Thrift comes too late when you find it at the bottom of your purse."

Here we are nearing the end of June, and I am realizing that our checking account has dipped to its lowest point in our entire marriage. This is owing to a sort of monsoon of spending which included needing to repair then sell Ken's truck and purchase a new vehicle big enough for the whole family, the annual homeowners insurance which was supposed to have been rolled into the refinance we did last year but didn't get done, the Disney trip incidentals (the trip itself was paid for last year, which we could afford then!) my brand new car battery and alternator, a dozen misguided attempts to find entertainment through restaurant meals, the spa day with friends that we'd been trying to do for over a year, a bunch of other random stuff purchased from Target, and the decision to have a quarter of our income automatically invested in the IRAs and 529s. All of this has left us somewhat cash poor for the moment.

We are now living on Ken's salary from 4 or 5 years ago, and I'm somewhat, no, VERY astounded and disheartened at how we've "grown into" the salary adjustments. I've always felt a degree of pride in living simply and frugally. But now I have to admit that this pile of credit card receipts in front of me doesn't lie. I've gotten a bit lazy, and now we have the choice of either sacrificing our financial future or trimming the fat. Trim the fat it is.

So with a little help from my friends, I will review some of my practical thrifty tips:

Use what you have.

Eat at home.

Earn some extra money.

Take fun, free adventures on the weekend, like the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Treat your home to a no-money makeover.

Use your library and read books!

Enjoy nature at a local park or forest.

Save fuel by getting out of the car.

"Upcycle" your old clothes.

Make something yourself.

Grow food.

Find fun and meaning in your own backyard.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Garden Inspiration from Walt Disney World

Of course everything at Disney is beautiful and well manicured.

Living with the Land is a favorite attraction of mine from Epcot.

However this was my first time seeing it with the eyes of a gardener, and I was so inspired! Especially being a suburban gardener with big ideas and limited space.

Animal Kingdom was my favorite park. I love the idea of creating some type of vignette for my outdoor areas.

There were tons of these cool birdhouses at AK.

View from the side.

I am inspired to be a little more creative with birdhouses now.

I'd like my birdies to have a few beautiful palaces.

I could totally see a relief...

Or a part of a wall as a garden accent.

Finally I love prayer flags! Yes, these are fakes, but they are lovely and colorful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Food at Disney

On our first trip to Disney World, when the kids were babies, we made bad food choices. Like neither getting a meal plan nor booking any type of special meal. Thus we were left often in the pouring rain with an infant and a hungry toddler with no where to sit and junk food as our only option. So this time around we got the deluxe meal plan and made tons of reservations. This proved to be a good thing/bad thing. (Above picture is selections from the dessert buffet at Chef Mickey's.)

On the good front, every meal came with an appetizer, entree, dessert and drink. (Except breakfast, which was coffee, juice and entree or buffet.) But really this counts also as a bad thing, because frankly I spent much of the trip bloated, and feeling a little guilty about all the food my kids were wasting because they were being given such large portions.

In the good column: a meal like this is very very kind to the parents (Salmon dish from the Coral Reef at the Seas.)

The experiences with the characters were totally worth it. Nice food and you are guaranteed to get a few encounters with the characters. (Plus at the castle boys get cool swords for the wishing ceremony. Yup, that's what you want. Two brothers armed...)

I initially felt a little silly taking pictures, so you have no idea how lovely some of my meals were! Also, there was the case of the Tusker House buffet in Animal Kingdom, which has IMO the best food and overall experience, during which I basically was far too busy with my snout in the trough to do any pictures.

All told, the meal plan is great and gave us a lot of options. For instance, the husband and I had a Signature meal at Narcoose's at the Grand Floridian, which took two credits each, as did the princess lunch at the castle. Also snack credits could be used for water bottles, which we needed in the 90 degree heat. But really getting the deluxe plan was just too much food! We had 3 meal and 7 snack credits leftover on our last morning. Thankfully a cast member gave us the idea of using the credits at the cafe for carryout food, so our little guy's rolling carryon became our picnic basket at the airport.

All in all I think this was totally worth it to avoid the long lines, get out of the sun from time to time, and have good food options. (Plus I loved trying out the "food" setting on my camera!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day was fun!

This is one great dad!

We started the day working together to make a simple breakfast for Ken.

We're trying to financially downscale our holidays, especially the ones like Mother's and Father's days, and instead teach the boys the value of a simple but nice gesture, like making a card and fixing a meal for someone.

For lunch we headed to our favorite Mexican restaurant. Really it's our favorite restaurant, period.

We then headed to Indian Run, a park in nearby Dublin.

What a smile.

Hiking has become our standard Mother's and Father's day activity.

Lovely day for taking pictures too!

The parks around here are really making a huge effort of replanting native prairie species, which I love!

All this topped off with Graeter's Ice Cream made it a truly fun, relaxed and memorable day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Remembrance

It's been 5 years since the last Father's Day I spent with this wonderful guy, and he told me, in his unique way, that he was "pretty much done for" and that he didn't want us "moping around" after he was gone. Okay, I'm not moping, but I still miss him so much. Happy father's day Dad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I'm not really a "Disney" person, but...

...I did manage to take a few cool pictures.

Our first ride at Magic Kingdom---we find a train wherever we go.

I just love these mosaics in Cinderella's Castle!

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo

The boys were kind enough to accompany me to the princess luncheon, so I could meet my favorite, Belle! She is like me with her nose stuck in a book , lol.

They decided that princesses are okay. Better than okay. In fact, Nathan tells us Ariel is his favorite, that princesses are pretty and that he wants to dance with them. Zack is keeping his favorite princess a secret.

Buzz Lightyear was also a favorite.

A view of our hotel, the Coronado Springs resort. Would you believe half of Columbus was staying there for a Pampered Chef convention?

Here's a happy boy.

Ken's fave is always Epcot.

I absolutely love this guy.

He took me to Narcoose's at the Grand Floridian while the kids had their dinner and played at the Mousketeer club for a couple hours.

My personal favorite park was Animal Kingdom. It was the best day.

Lots of little moments, like Zack finding the drums and Nathan dancing.

I loved seeing the animals in a more natural environment.

They give them so much room.

We hopped a bus to head to dinner at Chef Mickey's. It turned out I forgot our reservation time, and we showed up 20 minutes late. Bless the Disney cast members---they got us in anyway, with hardly any wait at all!

A monorail ride back to Epcot for the Illuminations show capped our adventure.