What, if any, software do you use to help track and plan your home finances?
Hi there, I have used paper in the past, and I still recommend physically writing down spending, but I do like Mint.com for getting a sense of the big picture. It's owned by the same company that makes Quickbooks, but it's free, and quite easy to use.
How do you earn money with your Blog?
Good question. So far, I have made indirect income: the blog has led to other paying assignments, like writing for Parentables, or doing a video series for TLC.com. However, I have just decided to put ads on my site, and I'm hoping this more "passive" income will help me capitalize on all the work I put into the blog.
Why should I take any sort of financial advice from a person who freely admits she has no retirement?
You bring up a great point. Until a year ago, when my husband finished his long medical training, we were just trying to survive. We deposited a small portion of his paycheck into retirements funds, but that was all we could do at the time. The challenge -- now that we are seeing more income -- is to continue our frugal life (out of choice, not immediate necessity) so we can catch up and build a nice nest egg for the future. I know we can do it if we are smart with our money, and I share this evolving journey with my readers.
Do you have a recommendation for a paint consultant and/or funky home decorator (no Colonial/traditional!) I could pay to help me chose paint colors and flooring? I have spent so much money on paint samples in the past, but the one paint consultant I used before was not helpful. I have several rooms that flow into each other, and altho several colors I have picked have worked out, I'm stuck on the last room (kitchen) and hallway colors.
Try Monarch Paints on Connecticut Avenue. They have a group of decorators who even do in-house consultations for a great price. You could meet with a few first to see if you're on the same page. Bring some pictures of what you like; most decorators can work in a variety of styles.
Just curious what internet service Amy uses for her blogging. In refusing cable and hanging onto my copper landline, I find that I am paying as much, if not more, jo have FIOS for just my computer. How to be frugal and principled with telecommunications?
We use Verizon FIOS: since my job is based online, I needed fast service. But I hear you on refusing cable. They always try to sell you more, and bundling can save you -- but that's only if you want the services. I justify paying more for a few things that really matter to me.
I am moving into a condo and need to replace the wood floors. The ceilings are low (8 feet). I plan to paint all the walls very, very white. Now comes the flooring: I love the dark chocolate wood floors that are popular now. Is it too trendy? Will the dark wood make the ceiling look even lower? It is going to cost a lot of money to put in the floors and I don't want to make a mistake I will regret in a few years. What would you recommend? Thanks for your good advice.
Dark hardwood flooring is a classic look, not just a passing trend. I think it will look fantastic with your white walls. Go for it!
I have a mid century secretary - and it is locked closed. The lock may be broken, or I may not have the right key (long story). There are two locks, and the key sometimes works on one, but never on the other. Who can I call to open this or help me identify a skeleton key that will work, if that is an option. I don't need the lock fixed if it is broken, I just need it opened!
I would say first see if you can find any manufacturer or designer marks on the piece. Try and google to see if they are still in business. They might help you with a key. A locksmith or a handyman could help you pick the lock I think.
How have your children reacted to this frugal lifestyle you have choosen? Have they embraced it/complain/or just see it as a way of life?
Another meaty question! For the most part, they just see it as normal. Many rules -- like little to no screen time -- have gotten them interested in other activities, like drawing or playing with stuffed anmials, dress-up -- that they actually prefer over watching a movie. Sure, they complain sometimes about doing their chores, but they also feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. My 4th grader -- who is more aware of what her friends are doing -- is starting to challenge me and my "simple, frugal" ways. I made her happy the other day by just wearing some glittery earrings: frugal mama's love sparkle too!
I loved the article in this morning's Post! I am new to the area; just relocated to Arlington from the west coast. What are you favorite thrift stores, etc in this area? Thanks!
Hey there, welcome! Since moving here last year, I have been more interested in home stuff than clothing stuff. I love Community Forklift for architectural salvage. Frederick, MD for antiques (and Old Lucketts store). I've heard Unique Thrift is good. Hope this helps!
Hi there. We recently purchased a picnic table for our backyard. I'm excited to have family dinners out there, as long as the weather cooperates. But I'm trying to think of ways to make it more exciting and visually appealing, as right now it's a bunch of wood. Thanks!
How about having long cushions made out of a cheery outdoor fabric for the benches?
We have a small kitchen, so we eat all of our casual, everyday meals in our dining room, which is casually decorated (we rarely entertain formally). We need a new dining room table, but I want something that does not require a tablecloth all the time - something that plates can sit on, kids can do homework at, and that can be wiped down with a damp cloth after meals. Any ideas? Would like to find something under $1000 (well under, if possible!). Our style leans clean/modern/nonfussy with rustic/earthy touches (white walls with warm aged wood accents and exposed brick). And, I am not opposed to IKEA, etc. given the abuse the table will take, but I don't want to have to replace it in a year.
I know I say this all the time, but you should really take a look at Craigslist. I'd be willing to bet you could find something exactly what you're looking for and get it for a steal.
Hey Amy! What are your top five or six favorite places to shop for your family? Do you do a lot of bargain hunting online? Any hidden gems in the area that you hit up for good prices/sales?
Hey there! I have to admit I don't do a lot of shopping. I order my groceries online with Peapod, and I get specialty items from Amazon, so I'm not running around town looking for a specific thing. The kids clothes are hand-me-downs, but my husband and I might fill in gaps in our wardrobes at Nordstrom Rack. I recommend always reading product reviews and ratings before buying online: no one wants to get stuck with a shoddy product and have to buy again in a few months. ConsumerSearch.com is a great resource.
Saw you ujust got a new dining room table! We did, too. Can you recommend a good polish commercial or homemade?
I wish I could! If you see in the article, ours is a raw, old salvaged wood table. We don't worry too much if stuff gets spilled -- it jsut adds to the patina!
I bought an antique lapdesk and the guy at the antique store made a key out of another old key. It required a bit of filing. No pun intended.
Good suggestion. Thanks. I actually have a gumball machine in my garage that was a gift to my son like 12 years ago. It is full of decayed gumballs and a lot of quarters. I have no way to unlock it and open it. Ideas?
We discovered after a move that the key to an antique trunk had been locked inside the trunk... A local antique furniture store had a ring of odd keys they loaned to us and we were able to open the trunk and retrieve the key. Take a photo of the desk and ask around shops that stock that type of furniture.
Wow. Love these tips! Thanks. Very helpful. I think lots of people have locked stuff that they can't get into.
There are so many problems with today's feature, I'm not sure where to begin. Her suggestion that you should ignore sales, etc, because it will force you to buy things you do not need is ridiculous. Many people wait until an item such as a piece of furniture or clothing goes on sale. It is sad to think that sending your child to public school is considered "cutting corners." I'd like to know if it was a family decision (meaning including all four kids) to buy a $1,000 dining room table instead of perhaps going on a weekend trip to Williamsburg which a child would remember more than the dining room table later on in life?
Yes, I figured that ignoring sales would be controversial. What I propose is taking the time to figure what you want, and then waiting for it to go on sale -- not the other way around. So many times we feel rushed into buying something because it's discounted for a short time and we think we are losing out on a good deal.
I don't feel public schools are cutting corners, but a lot of people might, especially in D.C. (which is notorious for having bad schools). I am committed to public schools, and I feel my kids have always gotten a great education whereever we have lived (even though some people would move away to avoid the schools we went to).
Agreed on Williamsburg vs. dining table. If there were a choice, I would totally choose the trip. We have been there and we want to go again. Positive experiences are said to last longer than material things.
We are trying to invest in quality furniture that we love, not just cheap trendy stuff, and we are also spending time and money on providing our kids with an enriching childhood.
Terry, where are you going?? You'll be greatly missed!
Aw...thanks! I will miss being here and answering questions about paint : ) But I have some exciting things planned: writing for magazines, working on a book project and, most importantly, spending more time with my two year old daughter. Lots to come, so stay tuned!
Hope this isn't off topic! I'm helping my mom prepare to move and she has a lot of china/dishware that does not hold sentimental value that she'd like to sell. I know we can go try eBay or Craigslist, but can anyone suggest a local anique shop or similar place that would be willing to purchase these items directly? From some basic internet research, I know some of the items are valuable and would prefer not to have to worry about packing and shipping.
You can sell things like that directly at yard sales or on craigslist. But if the things have a value, of say, over $50, you can also take them to a consignment store - you will get from 50 to 75 percent of what they sell for. Most small antique shops will not buy something directly.
We'll miss you Terri, best of luck on your next adventure!
: ) Thank you! That's so sweet of you. I miss you guys, too!
I love the photograph of your table! Did you get it locally?
So glad you like it too! I found it at Old Lucketts in Leesburg. I love that it's so solid, and I don't have to worry about scratches and dings. Plus it's long enough to have lots of guests. :-)
First of all, Terri: We will miss you! Best of luck wherever you are going.
Secondly, I wrote in a week or two ago about a search for roman shades. I got quotes from Calico Corners and G Street Fabrics, both around $1k for fabric plus labor for a 80x40 window! Labor was well over 50% of the cost. I have since found more reasonable quotes from Blinds to Go and Shades.com (under $500), although the fabric selection is limited. Still toying with the idea of making them myself but I'm worried that my amateur sewing skills will not be up to par!
So excited to have you on the chat today. I loved today's article and found it interesting and useful. Wondering about your home improvement recommendations. We're beginning a modest renovation on our house and are looking to "cut corners" wherever we can. Any inexpensive paint lines you know of? Or tricks in terms of DIY furniture, whether it's painting or remodeling? This might be out of your purview but I had to ask!
Hello there! I love the Farrow & Ball palette, but it's expensive, so I had the colors matched in Ben Moore paint. I highly recommend hiring a decorator by the hour. You can find a one-day designer, a use-what-you-have designer, or a designer who works for a decorating center -- all of which should be affordable. In addition to preventing costly mistakes, they can recommend affordable yet quality sub-contractors -- as well as tricks and secret sources.
Greetings! You said earlier that your kids' clothes are hand-me-downs. Do you think when they get older, they will still be okay with hand-me-downs?
Good point! My 10-year-old is starting to be interested in fashion, but thankfully, so are her cousins who share the clothes with us. Not sure how long we can get away with this, but if worse comes to worse, I'll do what my mom did: give her a fixed sum to spend on clothing -- a great way to teach budgeting and frugality!
Don't get them unless you don't mind frequent vacuuming. Every bit of dust and lint will show -- and if you have a pet, hope it's dark-colored! Personally, I think the lighter wood floors look best with start white walls. Just a thought!
A different opinion...
Hi; its me again - the newbie in Arlington! Any other grocery deliveries suggestions in addition to Peapod? I have used amazon and been happy with that but am specifically looking for dairy & fresh food delivery now. Looks like Peapod has that, but am looking for other suggestions, too. Thanks!
Check LocalHarvest.org for a farm share (or CSA) with a pick-up point near you. I know people get milk delivered but I can't remember the name of the dairy. If you are interested in whole real foods, you might look up Nina Planck's website (or Michael Pollan) to see if they have any resources.
I suggest Next Day Blinds. Although we prefer blinds not shades, we got high-quality wood blinds for 8 windows, some of them quite large, for less than $1K, including measurement and installation. Plus they have a lifetime warranty.
Thanks for weighing in!
You replied to one question: "We are trying to invest in quality furniture that we love, not just cheap trendy stuff, and we are also spending time and money on providing our kids with an enriching childhood." Aren't you just showing that underneath it all, you still really value things?
I see what you are saying, but I do think it's all right to value some material things. Cars are not my thing, but a beautiful home is. Some people might love shoes, or clothes, or jewelry. It's ok, as long as you are not going into debt to feed your loves. As long as the other important things are in place, or at least on track. If we put every single penny into mortgages and mutual funds, what would be the fun in that? Even though the future is important, life is happening right now. That challenge is part of what makes it fun and interesting.
We use Washington's Green Grocer for fruits and veggies (can choose all organic or mixed box) delivered to our door. Can opt out weekly if you won't be around. It's a great service.
That sounds good.
Benjamin Moore is still quite expensive. I use it for trim paint--love their Atrium White--but for wall paint I don't think you can beat Home Depot's Behr line. Great color selection (or you can color match anything), has a paint & primer in one option, it wears well, and costs quite a bit less than BM.
Good thoughts. Thanks.
First off, Terri, bon voyage! I hope you're moving on to something new and exciting, and I'm sure you'll be successful at whatever you do. Second--the web site is driving me insane. I just want to look at the Housecalls feature, and the site keeps directing me to a page to update my enewsletter subscriptions. There's no way around it or to bypass it. I don't want to update my subscriptions. How do I get around this?
Hi there -- sorry to hear you're having problems with viewing House Calls! Here is a direct link to the feature in case that helps at all. I have alerted IT as well.
Surround it with Tiki torches!
Personally, I think your blog has a great balance of honesty and creativity. I appreciate that you're honest about wanting something of a material value, and you save up for it. People who pretend like it's inhuman to value material objects... well, great for them. But they certainly don't live in my suburb.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. Material things have gotten a bad rap, but I think that is when a pursuit of them is taken to an extreme and becomes detrimental to the rest of our lives.
How do you ever manage to be frugal with all the remodeling you have been doing with your house?
Remodeling is expensive, but we have set aside money for it. We are debt-free, besides the mortgage, and we vowed not to take out a loan to renovate. We found an excellent yet affordable contractor, and we are just focusing on basics for now. (I might add that we paid less for our house because it needed work.)
My parents never allowed us to "hang out" at the mall or just to "go shopping". If you needed something and had a purpose, you went shopping. Shopping was not a hobby or a form of entertainment. I save more money just by not going in the stores!!
So agree! Avoiding stores is one of the best strategies.
Terri Loved your story today. As usual, a job well done. Will miss your articles and your Thursday chats, but more than that will love the extra time we will have with you and our beautiful granddaughter. We're so proud of you! Love Mom and Dad
I think this will go down as my all-time favorite chat comment, and the first one to make me cry : ) Thanks, M &D.
Interesting article today with Frugal Mama. You've got me thinking about online shopping for staples to stay out of stores. Regarding fashion and clothing (and home furnishings), do you sew or knit or do other handcrafts? If so, teaching that to your kids (all of them, not just girls) can be a great way to save money, recycle hand-me-downs and get some fashion-forward looks on a shoestring.
Yes, I do sew and I have made curtains and duvet covers, among other things, for our house. My daughter got a sewing machine for Christmas and will be taking a sewing camp this summer at G Street Fabrics. My mom also taught her how to knit. I agree -- these skills are fun and can really help us save money!
For the recent question re: home improvement recommendations, check out Houzz. It's amazing--I've created ideabooks for my home and can talk with professionals/basically "try them out" before I hire. Totally cool. You can hone in on your specific area, too to find a professional that you need.
I'll need some home babysitter assistance for Summer; maybe to assist with some activities for kids and to cut down on daycare expense. Ideas for finding this type of person?
What about a college career services department? I have found sitters from the American University jobs board, and they have all been wonderful.
As soon as my daughter could wear sizes 0 and 2 (age 11), we started shopping at Plato's Closet (franchise used teen clothing, located in many cities); we could buy 5 pairs of almost new jeans for $50. She "outgrew" Plato's when she was earning her own money in high school; we had a twice yearly clothing budget that included expensive running shoes and soccer cleats and she carefully purchased the few "can't live without" mall store items herself.
Good stuff. Thanks.
I live in Arlington and get a weekly box of fruits and vegetables from Washington Green Grocer. They deliver to Arlington on Fridays. They deliver much more than fruits and veggies - I also have them bring eggs and grains. Their prices are reasonable, and so much better than dragging cranky children to the grocery store over the weekend.
Thank you for your time and honesty and help. Congratulations on your new adventures. Advice from a mommy of 18+ years, for your 2 year daughter make memories, e.g., ice cream on the steps, cooking, learning how to use a hammer, washing the car, etc. It isn't the biggest things but the layering of love and good times that make the best memories for you and your daughter. Godspeed!
Thank you, I am so with you! I love these examples you mention: it's about enjoying the little things of every day life.
I'm chiming in just to say "goodbye and best wishes!" to Terri. You have been a great source of design guideance, wisdom, and good cheer :). You will be missed! Don't hesitate to write a guest column now and then okay? :)
So sweet...thank you so much!
I think many people are reacting to the rather indulgent frugality embraced by the family in this piece. For those without resources to hire home decorators and to buy $1000 tables, but who still would like to save for retirement, what tips would you suggest?
This is a big question, but I would like to answer it. If we don't have time here, could you please leave a comment on my blog and we can talk more about your situation?
I might call you a prioritzing mama more so than a frugal mama. You definitely splurge on what other frugal people may never splurge on, however, I think there is something to be said for going through the process of budgeting and figuring out what you want to pay for and what you won't. It reminds me of my great grandparents who would have died if they had to buy a latte at Starbucks but who spent big bucks on a dining set that I now have.
Priorities are really what drive all of our lives. Whether you really love travel, restaurants, decor, fashion, cars, whatever, we all make our choices. Some of us live within our budgets and some don't.
My problem: It's fun to go to Star*****, the local (expensive) bakery, etc. How do you break a habit that is sometimes the one thing you do just for yourself?
If you really love it, and it's the one thing you do for yourself, then keep doing it! It's not going to break the bank. Look at other things that you care less about -- small and big picture things -- to cut.
Teri - I've looked forward to and enjoyed your weekly chat for several years now. You'll be missed! Can anyone recommend a good furniture refinisher? Our dinng room table was pretty badly dinged up in a recent move. Several furniture repair companies have been reluctant to touch it due to the high gloss finish.
Thanks for the kind words! I wish I could give you a good recommendation, but I don't know of any. Can someone else chime in here?
I have several friends who are bloggers and they all receive items for free in exchange for advertising. What kind of exchanges have you made on your blog?
I know people do that, but I struggle enough as it is to keep my house uncluttered. I'm not really interested in having more things; money wouldn't be bad though. I could spend or save that as I wish.
I enjoyed the article in the Post! Thank you for sharing! I too love cooking for my family, but I when pinched for time, resort to eating out. I have thought about the fact that recipes do complicate cooking and shopping for food. Could you expand upon your approach to cooking meals at home using cooking techniques that allow you to simplify. Thank you.
Another good and meaty question. If I don't get to it here, please comment on my blog and I will write a post on this. I have some fast pasta recipes there, but I haven't talked at length about simple cooking techniques. P.S. it's ok to serve eggs for dinner!
Eating out wrecks most families budgets. Cooking a simple meal doesn't require great skills and is also healthy. And as Amy points out, it can involve the whole family.
I actually think eating out occasionally is a wonderful experience for a family. A splurge is needed and mom and dad need a night off from cooking!
Amy, this is your mom. We are so proud of you for finding the best in life and sharing it with others. Mom
Aww, don't make me cry, Mom! Love you, Amy
I agree in general with this concept. Sales are not always what they seem and the point of retail is to get you to increase the ticket. One would need to be very thorough in one's research to make sure to get the right items at the best prices.
Thanks for your opinion on this.
Ms. Suardi mentioned "Unique Thrift" as a good place to browse. Is it in DC? Can't seem to find it online. Thanks!
Let me check on this -- stop by the blog and ask me again.
Oh c'mon. I believe in spending money on certain large furniture items that are used daily and that need to stand up to lots of abuse. I invested larger amounts of money in certain items (mattress, sofa, an armoire that I loved), and bought really cheap on others (chairs, dressers, accessories, my office furniture). Amy's whole point is that you don't have to be cheap on everything single thing. I think we all need to figure out what things we personally are willing to go cheap on or live without so that we can invest in the things that we do want. I have no problem with someone who says they are frugal buying a $1,000 dining table if they are going to use it a lot.
Does the Frugal Momma or anyone else know if it is true that laundry detergent is basically a waste of money? There was an Internet article stating water does all the work and that detergent is unnecessary. I wish to please confirm or spike that claim.
I wish that were true! My kids are messy (ok, I am too), and we have to use some kind of stain remover or clothes don't come clean. To simplify, I skip spraying every stain and dump in a cupful of Oxiclean with the regular detergent, then set the machine for the longest, hottest cycle. This strategy is more about saving time, which can be just as precious as money.
Hi gurus! Loved the article this morning. I have been following Frugal Mama for a while and have always loved her creative insight. But I've always wondered: What are some things you just have to splurge on? Any luxuries, either for yourself or the kids, that have been weak spots? In my family, it's summer camps. My husband and I both work and care very much about how our kids spend their summer days... so even though it' makes a big dent in our savings, we can't help but splurge on that. What about your family?
I agree that summer camps are great -- for both kids and parents -- over the long, hot months. I have found really economical and high-quality camps through the parks & recreation department of the various cities we have lived in.
I need some good sturdy dressers/chests for the house and would rather buy something sturdy and used than new and flimsy (MDF) -- where should I head if I have one day (I live in DC, but willing to travel and hour or so.) Would like to be able to visit several shops, though. Thanks!
I can recommend Frederick, MD. There are tons of little antique shops, but the biggest place by far is a sprawling collection of individual shops called Emporium Antiques. I found a beautiful antique dresser from the 1850s there for $315.
I am a big blog surfer and one of my pet peeves is how nobody explains how they pay for anything. The fashion blogs are soaked in items that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars for each outfit. The design blogs blow even immense budgets and the cooking blogs make it seem like everyone lives in a Balduccis. So, thank you for being honest about how you live a life that looks a lot more like the average Joe's.
Hey there! I appreciate hearing your thoughts. Just take one look at our living room, with its hodgepodge of ratty second-hand and IKEA couches, and you'll know that we are not in the same category. (The oriental rug and chests were given to us by family.) As much as I would love my house to look like a magazine spread -- instantly -- I am learning to love slow decorating, or waiting until we have the money to spend on (or the time to hunt down) high-quality, authentic pieces that will see us through our lives.
South Mountain Creamery. I think there's a wait list, but I buy my own groceries. (And save for retirement, and know that DVDs and TV are both screen time, and basically was raised with an understanding of thrift.)
Thank you for the name of the dairy. I know having groceries delivered sounds like a luxury, but the $5 delivery fee (I always find a discount) is worth the time and energy saved, and honestly, I think being able to sort by unit price and make non-rushed decisions saves me money too. I don't prohibit screen time, but I do severely limit it. With DVDs I have control over the programming, there are no commericials, and my kids can strengthen their language skills by watching in Italian.
Although I wouldn't personally spend $1,000 on a table, I want to defend the purchase of said table against claims of "what about the children?" 1) the children can do their homework and projects on the table and use it too! 2) the table can be a gathering place for friends and family, and no one can dispute that family gatherings are important :)
You are so right: our kids in fact do their homework and art projects on the table, and it is a central gathering point. Some would say it's the center of the home. We should invest where it's important, and save where it's not. We'll have this table forever.
Because I live in NYC I'd guess the biggest savings I get is getting my food from a food coop and making my food vs. eating out. I grow some herbs, but is it really cheaper growing your food? It's definitely more rewarding, but the food coop has an economy of scale I can't achieve alone.
Agreed. The main motivation for planting our garden was to provide engaging activities for me and the kids out in nature. Being able to make kale chips from our own plants, or gather our salad from the arugula patch, is exciting and interesting to the kids. Over time we might also see a financial payback, but some things, like learning life skills and appreciating the qualities of fresh foods, are inherently valuable.