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.