A Weekend at Our House

This past weekend was a typical one at our house – lots of time spent together as a family and surprisingly little money spent. There were activities that cost very little, bartering, home improvement projects, and time spent together as a family.

During the weekend, I kept a notebook, jotting down the things that we did that show how easily frugal tactics can be integrated into a normal, joy-filled life. Here are some of the highlights. I highlighted some of the things we did to save money, along with a count of them (perhaps convenient for comments!).

Friday
We started off the weekend with a nice family dinner together, consisting mostly of leftovers (1). Later in the evening, I left to meet up with a local board gaming group for a free evening (2) of games – my one “guy’s night out” activity. While there, I bartered (3) away a big pile of our games to get several new ones for us to play. My wife stayed home with the kids, put them to bed, and read a book sent to us for free via PaperBackSwap (4).

Saturday
After everyone woke up, we had from-scratch waffles for breakfast (5) requiring only a few staple ingredients and using a gifted waffle iron. We spent the morning doing household chores (6), as the day was rainy, and playing with Joseph’s wooden train set (7). Afterwards, had a simple soup for lunch (8) that just required a few handfuls of leftover ingredients, a few spices, and some water.

In the afternoon, John paid us a visit and we spent several hours socially playing board games (9) – the very ones I’d acquired for free the night before. For dinner, we had a pot roast. The roast came from our freezer (10), as it was purchased during a meat sale a while back, and many of the vegetables came from our garden (11).

Sunday
Sunday featured beautiful weather, so we spent much of the day playing outside in the grass (12). For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs and toast (13), then we went to church. After church, my son went to a kid’s event and I sat outside, biding my time by reading a book I checked out from the library (14). For lunch we had leftovers from lunch the day before – soup (15). While the kids napped, I bought a few groceries for the week at Fareway (16) and also picked up some supplies for a home improvement project. I bought a high quality brush (17) to use for the project.

In the afternoon, we worked on refinishing our deck (18) while the children played in the yard some more. For dinner, we had a large pan of homemade lasagna (19). Later, we prepared for the week ahead by transforming the leftover pot roast into a shepherd’s pie (20) with just a few added ingredients.

That pretty much sums up our weekend. Living frugal is simply a way of life for us now. At each of the numbered points above, we would have either done it a more expensive way – buying new, not reusing leftovers, hiring someone to do it, buying an el cheapo brush, going out and about, buying new books – or just done something completely different. Instead, we find ourselves spending less at every turn – and it makes a tremendous difference in our pocketbooks.

How Did This Save Money?
Here are some additional notes on each point above.

(1), (15) If there’s food left over from a meal, it’s always incredibly cost effective to eat the leftovers later until they’re gone.

(2) Social events with no cost to get in or to participate are always great. I brought along a travel mug and filled it up with tap water a few times, so there really was no cost at all aside from the gas to get there.

(3) Swapping items is always a great way to save money, as you’re directly transforming something you don’t want into something you do want. In this case, I transformed some old, tired games we’d played to death and/or grown bored with for games we’d never played.

(4) Almost all of our books come from PaperBackSwap, which allows us to read almost any book we want for the cost of mailing another paperback via Media Mail – about $2. The books are delivered to our home – we don’t have to go shopping for them. Incidentally, it was this book

(5) We did this instead of buying a waffle mix, using Alton Brown’s recipe. Given that the powdered ingredients add up to a cost of about fifty cents and replace the cost of a kit, I’d say this was a bargain. Plus, the waffles turned out tremendously well – perfectly crispy.

(6) I worked on my home maintenance checklist, which extends the life of things in our home, saving us some serious coinage by significantly delaying appliance and repair costs.

(7) He has the Thomas Wooden Railway. For his third birthday and fourth Christmas, he asked that his grandparents and aunts and uncles get him parts for his wooden railway instead of highly disposable plastic gifts. Now his wooden railway can take over the entire kitchen table, he has tons of wooden cars to drive on them, and the vehicles easily take a bruising and beating without skipping a beat. A three year old and a one year old have beaten on them for a year and you can barely tell it. This is a toy that will be used with these two kids for a while longer, with any future kids we have, and likely with any grandchildren. It’s a gift with strong staying power. Sturdy toys always trump plastic, semi-disposable ones.

(8) All you need is real chicken stock, maybe half a pound of cooked chicken, and a few vegetables – a carrot, a couple celery sticks, an onion – and the soup will blow your mind.

(9) A free social afternoon spent entertaining ourselves with new items acquired for free.

(10) We buy meat in bulk when there’s a sale and store it in our freezer. This cuts down on the initial cost of the meat itself, plus reduces incidental costs – it’s a lot easier to throw together a meal if you always have a freezer stocked with meats and other items. This means less eating out, less last-minute runs to the store, and less prepackaged meals, too. Vive le crock pot!

(11) Our vegetable garden provided many hours of outdoor enjoyment during the summer and is now providing lots of fresh vegetables (we’re getting to the end of them, finally), all for not much cost. We compost our vegetable and yard scraps and use that for fertilizer and do the work ourselves by hand for the fun of it, so the free vegetables are just an incredibly delicious bonus. Here are some details (and pictures) of our spring planting.

(12) Instead of going somewhere to entertain our kids, why not just enjoy a day running around in the yard? No cost – and with an imaginative three year old and a dad who loves a good game of Calvinball, there’s no need for much else.

(13) The total cost to feed all four of us was less than a dollar.

(14) I am a fanatical user of our library – that’s where I get the newer releases that I read. The book I was reading at that time was This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.

(16) We used a price book to determine that, for the staples we buy, Fareway is the cheapest local store for us. Thus, we shop there for our staples – and since we cook as from-scratch as possible, most of our shopping happens there. We save money each trip there compared to other stores – the places we used to shop for groceries.

(17) We have several refinishing projects that need to be done over the next year, so buying one high-quality brush that we can reuse several times is better than buying a cheap, disposable one that loses bristles often and will have to be discarded after a couple of uses. This brush can go on our tool shelves in the garage and be used over and over again as we refinish deck furniture, etc.

(18) By putting a water-resistant finish on our deck, we’ll greatly extend the life of the deck. This means putting off the cost of replacing it by years and years, perhaps allowing us to never have to replace it before we move (or if we do, being able to sell the house with a beautiful new deck attached).

(19) A “large pan” means ingredients could be purchased in bulk, especially if you make multiple pans at once. This means it’s cheaper per serving. A “large pan” also means leftovers, which means that pan covers lunch for both Sarah and myself for the next few days.

(20) Reconstituting leftovers as ingredients for subsequent meals always saves some money.

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34 thoughts on “A Weekend at Our House

  1. Thank you! I think when I get dissidents making statements about putting your life on hold when you’re not spending money, I’ll just throw this at them.

    To give another example, this Sunday I was the mainsail trimmer in a yacht race and thus got to sail on the bay on a $100k+ boat while racing other sail boats next to the frolicking seals. Many boat owners need crew, so if you’re willing to be slightly useful (pull a few ropes), you get to sail for free. Naturally, the more skills you have, the more desirable you are as a crew member, but people can serve simply as “sandbags”, that is, by contributing their weight to the stability of the boat by sitting on the windward rail. Later we turned this season’s tomato harvest into salsa and canned it. We made jam Saturday. Today I’m baking bread.

  2. Amy says:

    Fun post, Trent, thanks!

  3. Penny says:

    The bulk of our enjoyment is productive fun like canning, baking, hunting and fishing, etc. Even when friends come to visit, they sit around and help us or just talk to us while we do it. Most of my entertaining occurs while I’m in the kitchen working on something. It’s just “the way we roll” as my students might say.

    As a side note, I would just like to commend you for actually spending time with your children and setting the precendence for family time. I work in a city high school where most of the parents don’t take time to spend with their children, but give the child anything he/she wants and lets them do what they want, so long as it keeps the kid quiet. It gives me hope that there are parents out there who want to socialize with their children. So, on behalf of the future society, I thank you.

  4. Kelly says:

    We still do things that don’t cost us a LOT of money. We go camping a lot in the summer. It’s fun. DH loves the outdoors. We cook food that we already have on hand. Cost of the campsite are cheaper than one night in a hotel.

    It’s college football season. ABC has college games on every Saturday. We also have basic cable and watch Ohio State on the Big Ten Network. NFL games on Sundays are also usually free to watch too on Network TV(CBS, FOX, ESPN on basic cable).

    We also gardened this summer as well. With DH laid off, it gave him something to do. We encourage our son to play outside as much as he can rather than sit in front of the tv playing video games.

    We’re still using crockpots and casserole dishes that DH and I received as wedding shower gifts over 10 yrs ago! I still have a stand mixer brand new in box that I haven’t used. Our kitchen counter is not big enough to allow it a spot there.

    My 5 yr old LOVES board games…We’ve been playing Connect Four and DH taught him how to play Yatzee. Looking for some board games to gift him for Christmas. Life maybe?

  5. Kevin M says:

    I could spend an entire day just watching Good Eats. Alton Brown is really entertaining and I love learning the Why? behind the How? to cook.

  6. tambo says:

    Um. Great post as always, but Fareway’s closed on Sunday, least they were the last Sunday I tried to go there.

  7. MegB says:

    This was a fun read! We spend a lot of our time watching college and pro football on Saturdays and Sundays in the fall. In between games, we do projects around the house and cook lots of meals to enjoy together. We are always amazed at how much money we save, plus we both love football, so it’s a great way to spend quality time together.

  8. Bliss says:

    I found paperback swap anything but free. You pay to send the book, and in my experience it was more than $2 and you have to have a mailer. I try to save mailers, but there is just so much of that stuff you can store Then too, you have to be sending a book. True its not one you want, but it still has a cost.
    While I share your goals, I couldn’t emulate your lifestyle. Was so glad when my daughter outgrew her interest in board games :-)

  9. cv says:

    It would be interesting to see this sort of narrative from people in different phases of life. As a married person with no kids living in an apartment, my weekend looks quite different from Trent’s, but it’s still filled with frugal things like reading, hiking in local parks, cooking, etc. I imagine that a family with teenagers, a retired couple, a single young adult, etc. would all have very different “typical” weekends, but they’d share some similar frugal threads.

  10. @#8 Bliss – For pbswap, print out their mailers, that is, the two pieces of paper that tape together. Then you only pay postage. Also, don’t pbswap huge textbooks on the sending side. If you need to source books to send, pick them up at freecycle or a thrift store for 25c each. Regardless, it is much cheaper than paying retail.

    (I use pbswap to get books I want to keep. Like manuals and reference books. Everything else I get from the library).

  11. almost there says:

    Thanks for the waffle recipe. Our favorite breakfast. Of course, the dog knows them as pancakes and doesn’t differentiate between the two. He just knows that he gets the first starter one that always comes out underdone. Sine last week was my final day at work my spouse and I are people of leisure now and it is hard to stay around the house and not think of a reason to go out and spend money.

  12. Adrienne says:

    Kelly – My 4yr old is on a huge board game kick as well. Current favorites – Parchesi (sp?), Backgammon and Rack-o.

  13. sipote says:

    Trent,
    I noticed you do a lot things at home; however, i rarely see you posting regarding all the “dirty” stuff as a result of this. By “dirty” i mean, the dirty dishes from cooking at home. This is a constant in our home, since my wife cooks at home alot. In addition, there’s the constant laundy (folding, storing), and just keeping the house clean/upkept Is it us (a working couple with kids) that are not doing something right? We are considering going to a one earner income household, but it just seems like others in our positions would struggle in these issues, but not your family. Any advice you can provide would be helpful.

  14. The best way to have a harmonious household is for both spouses to participate in the housework.

  15. Gwen says:

    Trent, You mentioned a few months ago that you had lost 40 lbs so far by eating right and exercising. I would be very interested in an update on how that is still working for you.

  16. kristine says:

    #9 CV: As a mom of teenagers, our most frugal activities are: the kids play guitar, and write songs, then play them for us. They design CD covers for them. We read, or grade papers, or indulge correspondence, writing and painting. I read this blog, and 2 others. We all do our own laundry and contribute to housework (not entertainment, but it does take up a lot of time)

    We play board games like Blokus, Othello, Boggle, and monopoly (can get pretty intense). My husband is a Civilization fanatic late at night- and he has near worn out the disc- great bang for the buck. I get some free magazine from a survey site.

    My kids go out to friends, and have them over, mostly for study followed by eating and horsing around. The amount of homework is mind-boggling. A dollar store face mask can entertain teenage girls for 2 hours. Flarp can entertain teenage boys for a long time. The mythbusters soda/mento experiment is great fun. So is a whiteboard and markers-endless hours of fun.

    They play badminton, and play other music too (instruments, not I-pods), and try out recipes, and draw, and take digital photos. We let them take over the kitchen- they love it.

    We go as a family to the library to get books and occasionally a DVD. We watch Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters, and our guilty pleasure- Judge Judy. We dance in deranged ways to whatever music pops up on TV shows, and have ugly face-making competitions. They skateboard on our dead-end street.

    The kids are both extremely active in extracurriculars at school- most of the family afternoon time is spent driving to and attending these activities, or resting from them!

    We utilize Tuesday night free movies at a local movie theater, and the kids use Entertainment book coupons for an ice cream or movie with friends- they use allowance. We frown on “malling” as entertainment, and give them no such extra spending money. If they need more, I hire them to help me at home or work.

    We keep an eye for free museum events, and we drive out to a more rural area to get duck eggs and walk through the farms a few times a year. We go to the beach after parking fee hours, visit battlefields, and camp.

    By far our best investment for teenage parties is a firepit. It is the center of every party, and marshmallows are cheap. That and wind-up flashlights for manhunt.

    All of the things we buy for fun are reusable, and do not lose their charm.

    We spend almost no money on entertainment, and my kids have never found anything to be more engrossing than creating something or learning something new. And that entertains us!

  17. I hate to admit it, but weekends are fairly big spending around here…. I never used to, but now I live for the weekends. Not so much because I hate my weekday life, but mostly because it’s the only time I really get to see my husband for dinner. (Most meals we eat separately due to schedule differences.)

    The best times we’ve had on weekends is hanging out with friends and otherwise being young “delinquents.” Cost for that? Gas to get down to the city and a couple of cans of Red Bull. Beats a movie any night! But we try to keep costs down as much as we can during the week so that we’re able to do things together, and indulge in good sushi. :)

  18. Vanessa says:

    I think you forgot the end of #4.

    “(4)Incidentally, it was this book…”

  19. Kelly says:

    @Adrienne

    Parchesi? BackGammon? I don’t even know how to play those games! Lol!

    ———————
    @Kristine–We already have a firepit!! I guess our house will be party central when my son hits the teen years!

  20. Rachel says:

    I really liked this post, you really are living so many of your beliefs in this example –

    You are saving money by doing things yourself, which you enjoy, so it’s not a sacrifice. You involve the whole family in the activity, which meets your family-oriented values, and it takes up time you might otherwise end up using in a way that costs you money, so you are saving money all over again!

    Oh, and writing a post about it is both feeding your writing hobby AND helping people (who read it)

    Great work!

  21. brad says:

    #8 FAIL. should read:

    “interviewed john and reviewed the pictures of his fully self sustaining campground. blew my mind. wrote up an article with all pictures for my readers. blew their mind.”

  22. Nice breakdown of your weekend! I’ve always enjoyed playing board games with friends. If you’re meeting new people apples to apples is a good one for an ice breaker.

  23. Little House says:

    What a wonderful way to spend a weekend! I love hanging out with my husband at home on the weekends, we cook out and hang out on our back patio. Of course, we squeeze in some housework and I have to set aside time for school work, but all and all just being relaxed at home and not having to work on ‘work’ is great.

    This is a recent thing for me, my husband runs his own business and up until about 6 months ago, we usually had to work one of the weekend days. Now, we are able to enjoy the entire weekend, and usually quite inexpensively.

    thanks again for sharing-
    Little House

  24. Sunshine says:

    Calvinball!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Holly says:

    This sounds like a great weekend. My Sunday was like this…but Saturday was brutally expensive because we made the mistake of not planning ahead! We went to a pumpkin festival and realized we were all starving and had forgotten to eat lunch. Cha-ching. And we didn’t realize how cold it was and didn’t bring a jacket for our son. Cha-ching! We went on a date and managed to do quite well for dinner (excellent sushi dinner at a good price) but blew those savings by going to Ben & Jerry’s after…. $9.50 for two ice cream cones. I do think that immediately reviewing our spending the next day taught me a lot about what we could have planned and done differently. Like buying a whole carton of Ben & Jerry’s at the store for $4! Their store atmosphere was definitely not worth the $5 markup.

  26. Susan says:

    @ Kelly – We always loved Trouble when my son was young. Phase 10 can be adapted to work with a younger child as well.

  27. lis says:

    I second comment #9! Trent, do you have some frugal friends in different life sitautios who would be willing to either write up something like this about their weekends, or keep some good notes and let you write it up? I think it could make a very interesting article about all the different but still frugal ways people with different life situation adapt.

  28. beth says:

    We need to re-incorporate taking care of the house back in to our weekend routines, as that is definitely lacking, but most of our weekends are pretty frugal and we have teenage girls.

    One or both of them typically either spends at least one night at a friend’s or has a friend over, and they entertain themselves by watching movies (we have the Netflix streaming service for our XBox), playing video games (their favorites are the old PS2 and original PS games, although we have the XBox too), or walking down to the park to hang out and take photos. One of the kids plays softball and basketball, so she has at least one game and one practice on the weekends- free entertainment for the rest of us. The other is in drama and busy with rehearsals (free entertainment to come when the school puts on their production). Both are artists (although good quality art supplies can get occasionally pricey) and one is an aspiring photographer while the other sews, so when they aren’t reading, they spend their quiet time creating.

    Weeknights are full of homework (theirs and mine), practices, rehearsals, games, cooking, studying, and downtime, so those stay inherently frugal as long as I remember to keep the crock pot going!

  29. Rosa Rugosa says:

    Sat night used to be a big go-out-to-eat night for us, but we seldom eat out now that we’re trying to be more frugal. My husband is a great cook, and I place my order Sat AM before he hits the grocery store. So we have a great, restaurant-calibre dinner at home with cocktails, or a bottle of wine, good music, candles, flowers from the garden. . . It’s actually better than going out, even aside from the financial aspect! And even if we have lobsters, it’s still a cheap date compared to a restaurant. We don’t have kids, so it’s always “date night” at our house!
    We do spend a lot of the weekend time on errands, housework, laundry, home improvements, etc. because our workweek schedules don’t leave too much time for this stuff.

  30. Mitford says:

    Is Calvinball as in Calvin and Hobbes?

    Mitford

  31. I think the most important part of this post is that it seems as though your family did nothing out of the ordinary. That, to me, was the key. Getting these money saving ideas or recipes or whatever into habits, rather than chores. Once they become habits, it should be smooth sailing financially.

  32. reulte says:

    Mitford (#30) .. Calvinball as in Calvin & Hobbes; as in make it up as you go along!

    My boy and I play board games and card games, but usually the classic 8×8 field (chess, checkers) or with a regular playing deck so there isn’t a lot of additional cost or yatzhee with dice we’ve had for ages (most yard sale specials). Sadly, I’ll have to find someone else for him to play chess with very soon — he’s already starting to beat me (I’m really, really bad).

    Our weekend? Scrambled eggs for breakfast. My boy played with his used Game Cube & games he received free. We went to the swimming pool & playground (no fees), shared lunch of an order of french fries, and hit the grocery store on the way back (unexpected cost was a toy that I had promised about 5 months ago we would buy the first time I saw it — $4); there will be a neighborhood yard sale in early November so I sorted through some items to sell, and the boy watched his ‘new’ DVD from swapadvd and played with his new toy. Relocation is coming up in a couple of months, so I started lists of things to do, to get rid of, holiday presents (most already purchased). Dinner was stir fry meat & veggies.

    Sunday we did clean up, washed the dog, laundry, homework, played some chess (lost my queen 5 moves in!) and read – both together and alone. His ‘alone’ reading is currently my collection of “Usagi Yojimbo” (graphic novels by Stan Sakai) and mine is “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate”, a Paperbackswap book. It is so wonderful I may add it to my collection (you can do that with paperbackswap books). Late breakfast was peanut butter and banana, dinner was popcorn and soup.

  33. Steve in W MA says:

    @ sipote,

    one great solution I have found for the dirty dishes issue is:

    I have a big stainless steel sink. It used to get full of dishes and annoy me.

    Now what I do is put a big plastikc rectangular dishpan on the right half of the sink. During the day I put any dirty dishes in the dishpan, leaving the left side of the sink clear.

    Once a day, or once every two days if I’ve got too much going on to deal with the dishes and pots, I either handwash the dishpan full of dishes or put them all in the dishwasher and wash the dishpan itself with a sponge.

    That cuts way down on constantly cleaning the dishes, allows for more efficient use of the dishwasher, and keeps my sink organized so I don’t think it’s a mess even if the dishpan is stacked full (and above) of dishes.

    I also find that changing my mindset from “doing chores” to “abiding in my home and attending to my home” makes the time I spend on laundry and dishes and mopping the floor much more enjoyable. It becomes an activity in itself, not just something to get out of the way so “real life” can happen.

    I doubt if I spend more than half an hour a day on cleaning the house and it stays pretty nice with that.

  34. Steve in W MA says:

    @ sipote,

    How about having the kids be responsible for some of their laundry? Teach them how, supervise them, set clear boundaries and expectations for the job (laundry separated, washed, dried, folded, and put in separate baskets for each person, say) then hand it off. they have to learn how to do this at some point in their lives, and depending on their ages, it could be now. I’d say any kid over 10 would be a good candidate.

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