Mary Beth Writes

Yesterday I turned 65. My birthday weekend was great; we saw all the kids and our grandbaby. The baby smiles slowly at us now. When she feels brave that we will be nice to her, she lifts her hand and waves. My socks melted.

So now I’m old!  Well, at least on the outside … inside I feel a smooth 47.  I went for a long bike ride Sunday afternoon and I wasn’t even sore yesterday when I apparently walked seven miles (in two walks). That’s cool!

My bike

I could write a 13-page tome on “How My Life has Worked’ – but I am thinking I don’t want to do that and you don’t want to read it.  In short, what are some of the frugal things that have made my life work?

FIRST and Most Important! I carefully managed to be born into a non-abusive, not-too-addicted Caucasian family. Irony intended.

So besides picking nice people in a nice time to be born ---  how can we peacefully maximize our luck?

1. Get an education. I know the conversation about the questionable value of higher education, let alone the value of studying liberal arts.  We paid more than $200,000 towards kids’ educations and have less house equity now than when they started college. Plus all three have burdensome student loans to pay.

Still. I can’t see the true downside to a good education. The kids are confident, smart, and able to determine who and what they want in their lives. They have jobs and are paying their loans.

Here’s a weird but true warning about NOT getting a liberal arts education. I met a few high-skills individuals in my jail-job years. These were (a very few, not many) smart young men who had completed training programs/internships to learn specific trades’ skills and by their early 20’s were earning $100,000/year - which too easily led to using drugs. I met them in my jail employment program.

I am not equating good jobs with drug addiction – this nation needs hundreds of thousands of competent tradespeople to keep us going. But knowing where to hang out in one’s free time, knowing what kind of people are fascinating and which ones are cool and dangerous losers – this is what liberal education is partially about.

Knowing what to think and what to do when no one is bossing you, this is a frugal life skill no matter how much you pay to get it. We are fools if we think an ability to think critically is easy to get.  

2. Have health insurance. For the past few decades of our lives our health insurance has generally cost us more than our mortgage. Not kidding. However, without it we wouldn’t have followed up on stuff that has, in fact, saved our lives.

Americans probably ought to call it “asset-protection payments” because health insurance seems to cover less and less. It’s mostly about not losing what we already earned and owned.  Without it Len and I would likely be living in your basement now.

3. Self-created bargains. If you use half as much shampoo, or laundry detergent, or hamburger in that chili recipe or anything else you use regularly – you just gave yourself a 50% off sale. If you cut a 50-mile round trip car drive– you save about $15. There are so many items we all use or do frequently. It might be interesting to list all the items you use in a week. All the regular places you go. Can you cut any of that?

Like this. All my life I’ve used a blob of toothpaste instead of a line of it.  Do you think those savings paid for the family trip to Italy?

4. Second-hand stuff. It’s fun to shop at Goodwill. It’s boring to write about it. Most of our clothing, furniture, kitchen equipment, and cool flotsam came from thrift shops. More irony - we often dressed/lived better because I like to buy nice brands.

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm  In 2016 the average American family living on $75,000/year, spent $1800/year on apparel.

We spent $400/year on clothing (the prom dresses and tux rental years were pricier but fleeting). We did buy new shoes, boots, and under-stuff. The math says $28,000 saved.

WAY more than we spent on that fantastic trip to Italy when the kids where youngsters.

revived old dishes

5. Herbs, spices, and salt. Vegetarian/vegan dishes are generally healthy and cheap. Without the luxe of meat, though, they can tend to be bland. 

Add a LOT of basil, oregano, thyme to soups, stews, and casseroles. Add salt at the end. Taste what you are about to serve. A bland soup is almost always improved by a teaspoon of lemon juice, a quarter cup of milk and another five minutes in the pot. Put chili pepper or hot sauces on the table.

I think one of the reasons people think they need meat is because they don’t have a jar of Italian herbs and a bottle of sriracha.

onions

6. Buy used cars and then drive them into the ground – which has been possible for us because of Len. I don’t know enough about autos to have been able to do this on my own. If I had been single, I would have spent extra money towards having a modest but reliable car.

7. Cut cable. We stopped in 1996 and never went back. At around $100 per month – over 20 years – we saved north of $20,000.

8.  Figure out what you DO like to do - and then do it. It’s easier to be frugal if what you are cutting back on leads to what you want to do. This is so simple yet requires honesty and courage.

Don’t wait around for someone else to act in some way that will make you happy. Experiment with activities until you find what pleases you, and then you find ways and times to do that thing. Music, reading, politics, art, crafts, helping, organizing, hiking, skiing, traveling, whatever.

Forward Band in Madison

I don’t know what the big answer is in a life crowded with family, jobs, obligation, and expectations. If you can find 20 minutes in a day to do what you love – that hiatus will often nourish the rest of your day and evening -- until you turn 65 and can have a website of your own and spend six hours wrestling with that joyful, exasperating thing.

In the next week I am going to try to write about 10 most expensively stupid things we did. That sounds like fun, don’t you think?

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Comments

I love all the tips. We're in our 40s with two young ones and trying not to overdo anything. (My husband comes from frugality; I do not.) Everything in moderation is our motto. This makes me think we're headed down the right path.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks for writing. I started INTENTIONAL frugality in my early 40's.

Hi Mary Beth, I enjoyed reading that. As you well know I have been practicing what you preach for most of my adult life and live pretty well. As a old hippie I have been recycling before it was popular mostly by purchasing used items. ( no packaging no waste ) A Baldwin baby grand at St. Vincent in like new condition. I thought I should learn to play the piano so I bought it to teach my brain something new. A small lawn and a push mower means no gas used and more time spent growing things I actually like. I spent the summer watering potted plants from three rain barrows. Cold, put on a sweater... All these things make for a ( Almost ) stress free life.
Mary Beth's picture

You are the most "off the radar" awesome lifestyle person I know. Even your Italian greyhounds are "used" i.e. rescued i.e. gorgeous and lively and happy as pups can be. The fancy big websites do "Interiors" of fancy important people. Let's set a time when i can take pix of your stunning little house and yard - and then Feature It!

I think I need to put off reading these, instead of reading them promptly. I like to read other people’s comments, love the frugality tips. Seeing someone else’s tips makes a person think

Love the 20 minutes per day to do what I want! For frugality I have rediscovered canning. Wonderful, spicy garlic dilly beans... Crisp, pickled beets...Blackberry jams that make winter less dreary. Also making large containers of soup using marked down veggies and then freezing leftovers has saved money, plus made for some easy dinners.
Mary Beth's picture

We didn't can anything this year, although we have in other years. When we were very young in Chgo, Len went to the neighborhood library, got pickling recipes, made amazing pickles. Everyone loved them. We ate them up in mere months. When he wanted to make more, we were in a different neighborhood and he couldn't remember what book he had borrowed. So they became Len's Brigadoon Pickles. We talk of them, but will probably never know them again...

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Mindful Chickens - the "It's been a while" edition

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of dollars and choices.

...

Mindful Chickens in Canada

In case you don't already know... My husband and I did a 15-day road trip to eastern Canada.  Kurt Vonnegut wrote “Unexpected travel is like dancing lessons from God.”  The plan was to visit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – but then Hurricane Dorian changed that. Stories and photos at my website. https://www.marybethdanielson.com/

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

How Big IS Grandma? Do You Need More Space?

Our internet service had been goofy all that day; the house alarm system sent a random beep to my phone at 3AM. Waking from deep sleep to “Is there a bad guy coming up the steps right now?” turned into the kind of insomnia that requires … decluttering videos. My heart stopped racing as I watched a mild woman talk about the closet in her laundry room.

How I saved Tens of Thousands of Dollars Lately and also got a New Kazoo

Just in case you thought I stopped paying attention to how to live cheap and well. 

1. For several months we have composted veg and fruit scraps - our weekly garbage reduced by half! We collect detritus through the day in a bowl on the counter, carry it out to a steel garbage can we brought from our last house. I’ve dug some of this collapsed organic stuff into the garden.

Less Lemming, More Living

Last week I posted an essay railing against our North American/western maniacal consumerism. We are so deep into climate crisis and into destabilizing world poverty caused by the oligarchy of the few.  Something has to give. Plus this: If we are living on $50,000 a year or more, we are already earth’s top 1%. Isn’t this nuts? It really is up to us to turn back this crazy lemmings’ march to the sea.

Mindful Chickens/ The "Before its Too Late" Edition 5-14-2019

Mindful Chickens   5/14/2019

Other people call them “frugal things I did lately”. I call them Mindful Chickens because they are about:

1. Being Cheap (cheap, cheep).

2. Being thoughtful about how choices affect our community and our earth.

3. Paying attention to the constant tumble of dollars and choices.

These are things we have thought, attempted, and done in the past month to live more lightly and frugally on our City Plot of Planet Earth.

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