Harvest Time

“Mother Frugal, your family has just lost its sole source of income. What are you going to do next?”

“I’m goin’ SHOPPING!” (at least it wasn’t Disney).

Before you tackle me, throw me down and take away my Mother Frugal badge, please realize what time of year it is. Sales on many essentials are better than ever right now. It’s time to stock up and, in the long run, save money.

There is a reason why Thanksgiving has been held in November. It first happened right after harvest time, when the bounty of the fields had been collected and the people with those weird belt buckle hats had reasons to give thanks. Food was abundant, but it wouldn’t all last. Without many food preservation methods, they had an excuse for gluttony before they faced starvation over the winter months. It was time for a feast.

These days, the harvest time still takes place at around the same time each year. Food is abundant, and we now have better methods to preserve it. Supply exceeds the demand, so prices take a nosedive. It is time to stock the pantry.



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When certain non-perishable items have gone on their best sale of the year, I’ve been known to buy as much as a year’s supply. Our favorite brand of green beans, regularly priced at $1.19 a can that was on sale for 49 cents? We have a couple of cases stacked in the basement. Baking ingredients like flour and sugars are at great prices, too. And the soups… oh, the canned soups! Generally, canned goods and the traditional foods you need to make Thanksgiving dinner are the loss leaders this time of year. If you store it right, it can last a very long time (Ironically, whole frozen turkeys are at their best prices after the holidays, although their prices are pretty decent now, too).

So if you have the funds, and have the storage space, this is the time to shop with a little gluttony and save money at the same time. Of course, don’t go into debt or buy things you will never use. That’s always an understood. What you buy at discounted prices now, could last you until a time when your pocketbooks are leaner and the prices have risen. It’s the perfect time to prepare. Don’t forget the coupons!

Whether or not you stock up for yourself, keep in mind that there are food pantries that always need food this time of year. There are some who cannot purchase these great deals, even when the prices are as low as they are. This is a time of year when it is easy to be generous for those in need.

So please don’t tackle me down when you see me walking out with a case of canned soups, and I’ll do likewise for you.

Mother Frugal

Preparing for the Cat to be Dead

“Kids, we have some news for you,” I said as we sat at the dinner table, nearly done with our meal. This automatically proceeded with several wild, way-off guesses by the kids, ranging from a new kitten to a trip to a world famous amusement park. None of them were even close.

It was my husband’s turn. “Well, you noticed I was already here when you came home from school. You probably didn’t notice, though, that my work truck wasn’t in the driveway.”

“You lost you job?” Our youngest, at eight years old, was the one to figure it out immediately.

The conversation progressed to what they could expect. While we had no income, we would be cutting back expenses. I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t seem upset. Instead, without prompting, they made suggestions as to how they could help, like turning off lights when they left rooms and by taking shorter showers. This was a way they could contribute. All in all, they took the news incredibly well. Whew!

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A little over two months ago, my husband (the sole bread-winner for our family of six) was notified that he might lose his job in sixty days. At that time, it seemed like a hypothetical situation that may or may not happen. We did not know yet whether the cat in the box was alive or dead*, but we did know that we should be prepared for the worst. Here are a few changes we decided to make at that time:

1 – Cut the cable – This was our only completely frivolous expense, which we actually had canceled the previous month. We had subscribed to cable television when we upgraded our internet connection, because the promoted “bundle” made it cheaper to have cable than not. When the promotional period was over and our bill suddenly increased by over seventy bucks a month, cable tv didn’t look so good. Except for our favorite zombie show, we usually watched the over-air networks anyway. An antenna and an internet connection are enough to keep us entertained.

2 – Stay liquid – Keep our assets liquid, that is. As I wrote in my previous post, our checking account has been below my comfort level. Instead of maxing out our contributions to our retirement accounts, we decided to halt investments until further notice. Further notice, a little over sixty days later, was not good, but our checking accounts now give us a more comfortable cushion.

3- Brown-bagging and eating at home – Although our family usually eats at home (lunch after church being the only regular exception), we made an effort to avoid restaurants more. My husband made more of an effort to bring lunch to work instead of finding a cheap meal deal at a restaurant. In the long run, this is much healthier for not only our bank accounts, but for our bodies as well.

And that’s about it. We couldn’t think of much more we could do.** We already live a very frugal lifestyle, so there was little more we could cut back. If we lived lavishly or had a great deal of debt, this would be a catastrophe. Instead, we’re still watching network television after eating a home-cooked meal. Big deal. I can wait to watch that zombie show later. It could be much, much worse.

The good news is that we are healthy, debt free, and have a substantial emergency fund. Although we aren’t yet fortunate enough to be able to live off our investments and retire early, we could live off our principal for quite a while. We are in a lot better shape than many. So far, I haven’t lost any sleep.

And a good night’s sleep, my friends, is what makes every moment of a frugal lifestyle completely worthwhile.

As this progresses, though, I am sure that Mother Frugal will eventually come out with a vengeance again. I suspect… this ride is about to become more interesting.

You might want to fasten your seatbelts.

Mother Frugal

* In case you didn’t get this one, it’s a reference to Schroedinger’s cat. Sorry for the nerdiness.

** I didn’t mention anything about job-searching, such as re-vamping the resume, networking and applying for jobs. For someone who hasn’t had a “real job” for nearly eighteen years, I feel woefully inadequate to write about this, so I have purposely stuck to the economic side of this situation. Needless to say, both my husband and I are searching again.

A Car Named Murphy

I blame the car. I’m convinced that it’s jinxed.

It all started last spring, when my husband bought another car. I had no problem with that. We had been a one-vehicle family for six years.* With two teenagers learning to drive and another not far behind them, it was becoming apparent that another car would make life for us much, much easier. So my hubby set out on his own to make a responsible purchase. He spent a few weeks researching models, prices and what was available locally for sale. He finally came home with a used, paid in full, late model, dependable sedan that our teenagers will have no desire to show off or hot-rod. I had no complaints.

Timing could have been better, though. This was the same month as some large, expected expenses: annual home insurance premium, semi-annual house taxes and car insurance, 90k mile servicing for the minivan, summer camp fees for four kids, replacement of our 15 year-old dead lawn mower, two pairs of glasses for myopic teenagers who would like to be able to see when they drive… you get the idea. Even though we were completely prepared for all of these expenses, our checking account balances sunk temporarily lower than my comfort zone.

And then everything in our house started to break down.

First, it was the central air conditioning, which (luckily) was quickly fixed by a repair guy. Fast forward a couple of weeks, when our microwave stopped working on Monday, then our dishwasher stopped cleaning dishes on Wednesday. That Saturday, our clothes washer suddenly decided it didn’t want to spin anymore; naturally, the day before the kids and I were going to pack for a week-long camp and we kinda needed clean clothes. Hello, laundromat! It’s the savior when Murphy’s Law visits your laundry room.

While the kids and I were away at camp, my hubby (a regular Mr. Fix-it) fixed the microwave and the clothes washer. We’re still washing dishes by hand. We’ve found that it’s not so bad when there are six pairs of hands in the house that are old enough to take turns. Frankly, the dishes are cleaner than that durned dishwasher ever got them. Sure, we plan on fixing or replacing it in the future, but padding our cash cushion is a higher priority at the moment. There couldn’t be much else in our house that could break down since we got that second car, right? Nothing more could go wrong… right?

And then the clothes dryer broke down.

*Sigh*

I have named that car “Murphy”.

As I whine and complain about all the recent mishaps in our home, and how uncomfortably low our checking account balance has sunk, I must remind myself that we have been very fortunate to be able to cover all of these expenses. Our balance has sunk, but it has certainly not reached zero. We can still cover all the bills. We could even replace our dishwasher and clothes dryer with cash if we really wanted, instead of hand-washing dishes and hanging clothes on the clothesline. We choose to have other priorities at the moment. I must remind myself that there are many people in the world who are not so fortunate.

There are some who don’t have any choice but to wash dishes by hand and hang their clothes, plus much, much more. As my youngest daughter reminded me during her bath the other night, some people in the world must walk great distances to get water from rivers and wells, and then they must carry it home. We are fortunate to live where clean water pours abundantly from the many faucets in our home.

I must remind myself that we have hands that can wash our dishes and hang clothes until these appliances are repaired or replaced. Those occasional, expected large expenses will not come around again for a few more months. We know how to live frugally and know how to keep our expenses low, so our cash cushion can be filled with a little more comfortable padding. We know that this is slump is only temporary.

Murphy’s Law comes into everyone’s life at some point, and he always has bad timing. This is often when many dive into a great deal of debt, charging everything on credit, because they weren’t prepared with a cash cushion (Many call it an “emergency fund”). The car, the insurance premiums, the taxes, the mower and all our expected expenses were not emergencies. Appliances breaking down right and left were.

How much of a cushion do you need? Some recommend at least a thousand dollars. Personally, that is way below my comfort level. Some recommend at least a few months’ worth of expenses. Seriously, I feel more comfortable with MANY months’ worth of expenses available. I’ve been criticized because we could put those funds into riskier, less available investments that could bring us higher returns. Instead, I prefer to sleep well at night, as I still do, even now. Find your comfort level that lets you sleep well, too.

In the meantime, we will be tightening our frugal belts, paying closer attention to how we can reduce our expenses until we have a larger cushion again. Hopefully this will inspire me to write more as well.

Next post will be about how it looks like Murphy (both the law and the car) might be with us for quite a while.

Mother Frugal

*Sort of. We have been fortunate that my husband drives a company vehicle not only during work hours, but to home and back as well. His employer owns it, though, not us.