Catching up on Going Ons

I am way behind on blog posts so here is a turbo catch up.

Shae’s maternity leave ended a couple of weeks ago.  It was a great taste of what early retirement could be and served to strengthen our resolve to save and be frugal to reach that goal.

Part of going back to work and leaving a baby with a sitter means pumping milk.  Under the ACA, breast pumps are covered by insurance.  Medela is the most well known brand, but Shae opted for a Spectra.  According to her it is a much better machine.

A few weeks ago I turned 30 years old.

Quite a bit of family came to celebrate and spend time with us.  We had a good time.

Shae, Frugal Boy, Frugal Girl, and I did our first camping trip.  Frugal Boy was so excited he didn’t go to sleep until 9:30.  There was a giant raccoon lurking around in the trees to the left of the tent.  Naturally at 3am when he says he has to go pee I tell him to go to the right side.  Does he listen?  Nope!

Summer is definitely here.  It has been hot and like clockwork Shae and I have had the conversation of whether or not we should get air conditioning.  It always goes something like this.

“It is so hot”

“and the kids just want to snuggle”

“ya they are total hot boxes”

“we should get air conditioning”

“no the forecast says it is going to cool off soon”

“yep, let’s just sweat it out”

And then we’ll go outside and make a slip n slide.

This summer we have a nice basement room for the first time to retreat to and even sleep in.

We have also made a couple of trips to the swimming pool.  Frugal Girl did a lot of grunting in the zero depth kiddie pool.

Mulberries are in season right now.  I have a favorite spot to go picking that is about a mile away from our house.  Frugal Boy went with me last year and is now a fairly independent picker.  I’ll have to take him blueberry picking later this summer.

Mulberries are really tasty and healthy.  They are packed full of antioxidants.  The only way to get them is to pick them yourself.  Grocery stores don’t carry them because of their limited shelf life and fragility.

We did our first family 5K.  It was a bit of an operation to load two jogging strollers into the car along with four people.

It was girls vs boys.  Frugal Boy and I did well enough to medal in my age group.

Back at work, Shae needed an adaptor for our laptop to do a presentation for the employers internal ‘shark tank’ competition.  I had Frugal Boy tag along with me to the ‘tv store’.  He was majorly disappointed that we did not buy a tv.

Finally, the library’s summer reading program is in full swing.  Frugal Boy is an avid ‘reader’ and thankfully he enjoys ‘reading’ to his little sister.

That about does it.  I still have some big gaps from earlier this year.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that I want.

How to Refinish a Playset

About five weeks ago our neighbor gifted us their used swing set.  Their kids had grown out of it after about 12 years of enjoyment and it had gotten to the point where Frugal Boy was going over to their yard and playing on it more than their own kids were.  With the help of a few muscular neighbors and a little disassembly, we shuffled the structure across the property line and placed it in its new home.

We are incredibly grateful for such an enormous gift, because even though it looks a bit rough, Shae and I knew we could refinish it and make it look like brand new.

Here’s a view from the other side.

To make this shine again, you are going to need a few tools.

  • A 5″ orbital sander
  • 40 or 60 grit sandpaper for the sander
  • impact driver
  • hearing protection
  • safety goggles
  • respirator
  • paint brush
  • 1 gallon of solid waterproofing stain & sealer (I used Behr Premium sold at Home Depot)

Start by removing all of the hardware.  For our playset, that meant the rock holds for the climbing, the steering wheel, and the green plastic reinforcers.  Spray down all the plastic bits with the garden hose and save all the hardware in a 5 gallon bucket.

Next, put on the protective gear and sand down the entire structure using the orbital sander.  Depending on the size of your swing set this could take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days.  I spent a couple of nights working on this one.  You should see good wood underneath all the dirt, mildew, and crud after sanding.

After it is all sanded down, you’ll need to stain it.  If you don’t stain it, it’ll turn gray again within a year.

I used Behr Premium Waterproofing Stain and Sealer.  You can tint it any number of different colors at the store.

Follow the instructions on the can and apply the stain.  Even though it is advertised as 1 coat, I needed to do two coats.  The old cracked pressure treated wood is just too hard to get one coat coverage on.

After you are finished staining, reattach all of the hardware.

Tada!  It is now ready for another decade of fun, enjoyment, and the elements.  The total cost of refinishing is around $50 making this much cheaper than buying a new set.

2 Month Checkup and Super Cheap Diapers

Frugal Girl had her two month checkup and got a mostly clean bill of health.  She has been growing well with weight at 12lbs 10oz (81%), 23 1/4″ tall (83%), and a head circumference of 15 1/2 (83%).

I am still amazed at how different she is from her brother.  For example, she is content to lay down by herself, something that her brother never tolerated.  It will be fun to watch her grow up and see what kind of personality she develops.

Shae spent the best $10 ever when she bought a corded baby swing at a garage sale.  The low setting makes me nauseous to watch but Frugal Girl seems to like it.

In other news, our diapering expenses have been cut in half.  We initially invested $500 for cloth diapers when Frugal Boy was born.  You can read more about our decision to use cloth and why we love them here.  Now that Frugal Girl is wearing those same diapers, the cost per kid has gone down to $250.  Even after two and half years of use, the diapers are still in really good shape.  I think we’ll be able to get another two years out of them quite easily.

10 Tricks to Save Money While Traveling

I think we can all agree that vacations are a lot of fun, but paying for them is not quite so exciting.  Here are 10 tips that we personally use to stretch our travel dollars farther.

1. Rental Car without the Airport

Booking a rental car is a great way to see the sights, but rental cars can be pricey.  An easy way to save 50% when renting a car is to book from a non airport location.  You can easily find the closest location by opening Google Maps, going to the arrival airport, and searching for “Rental Car”.  We recently booked a compact car (Toyota Yaris) for $125/wk.  The same car, same rental company, airport price was $225/wk.  We took an Uber taxi from the airport to the rental counter for $8 each way.

2. Uber/Lyft vs Taxi

Technology keeps advancing and one of the exciting innovations that has come about is the ability to better match resources to the people that need them.  Uber and Lyft are two ride sharing companies that use the internet to connect drivers looking to make money with passengers looking to get from point A -> B.  Both of these services are cheaper than a traditional taxi company because the new technology cuts out the costs of a human dispatcher.  I expect that ride sharing will become even cheaper when cars become self-driving.  Download the smartphone app before you leave home and make sure you setup an account as well, that way you won’t be fumbling during your precious vacation time.

3. Corporate Rental Code

Yet another tip for renting cars, and this one also applies to hotel rooms but check to see if your employer has a corporate rental code.  Chances are good that if you work for a large corporation, they have deals in place for both business and leisure rental rates.  In our case, we were able to shave off another 10% from advertised rates.  Even if you don’t have a corporate code, you might have an AAA, AARP, or other membership that can reduce the price a bit.

4. Buy Admission Tickets Online

If you are planning on seeing the sights, it pays to buy advanced tickets online.  Not only do you get to skip the ticket counter at the destination but you can also save money.  We used TicketsAtWork.com which was available through Shae’s employer.  The discounts ranged from 10-40%.  Most of the attractions we went to offered tickets through their own websites and many of them had some form of discount.  If you are planning to see a bunch of attractions you may be able to find a bundled “City Pass”.

5. Reciprocal Memberships

Do you have a membership to a museum at home?  You might have free or reduced admission to a bunch of other museums.  Our children’s museum membership ($120) gives us access to the ACM reciprocal network.  Some of the attractions that we went to would have cost upwards of $60 for our family of four to enter, but with our reciprocal memberships they were free!  It does not take long at that rate to pay off the membership and then some.

6. Early Bird Dinner Specials

Yes, the blue hair special.  You might be laughing or rolling your eyes, but we actually took advantage of this twice on our most recent trip.  While it varies from restaurant to restaurant, we were able to save about 40% by eating between 4-5:15pm.  As an extra bonus, I think the portion sizes were a bit smaller so it was healthier.  We really don’t need to eat ginormous restaurant portions.  Finally, if you are traveling with kids, know this.  Eating earlier before your kids crash hard at night lets you go to a bit fancier restaurants.  We weren’t as nervous about getting angry glares from fellow patrons because the places were practically empty!

7. Forgot To Pack

Inevitably you forgot something at home.  Maybe it was a pair of sunglasses, a cell phone charger, or just some toys to keep the kids entertained.  Dollar Tree is perfect for picking up little items.  My pair of sunglasses broke on the trip.  Not a problem!  $1.07 later and I had a new pair.

8. Preparing Meals

I know, you are on vacation and the last thing you want to do is cook or brown bag it, but let’s face it, it saves a LOT of money.  Sometimes paying a bit more in lodging to get a kitchenette or kitchen can actually save you money overall, provided you are willing to do some eating in.  We tried to keep our eat out/in ratio at 1:4.  For every meal that we ate out at a restaurant, we would prepare four other meals.  Obviously you can find a ratio that suits you.  Part of the fun of traveling is trying new foods so don’t limit yourself too much.  You can eat PB&J at home.

9. Pack light

Airline baggage fees seem to be extraordinary these days and it will probably only get more outrageous in the future.  So stop and think to yourself, “Am I going on vacation, or is my wardrobe going on vacation?”.  My recommendation is to pack no more than a week’s worth of clothing and yes, it is okay to wear a pair of pants more than once.  If you are traveling for more than a week, plan on doing laundry.  DollarTree has big detergent bottles that are way more economical than the detergent vending machine at the laundromat.  Also, it is okay to share a suitcase with another family member.

10. Say No to Convenience Charges

Finally, just say no to convenience charges.  Like weddings or babies, you are going to be a victim of price discrimination.  Would you pay $16 for an umbrella at your neighborhood swimming pool?  Probably not, so why are you going to pay $16 for one on vacation.  The tourism industry is a well oiled machine and that machine is geared to pump as much money out of you as possible.  Simply being aware of the markups will help you avoid some of the traps.