Archive for the ‘Thrift’ Category

Choose Your Joneses Carefully

Second Hand Clothes

Second Hand Clothes: Our preferred method for dressing our children.

I read somewhere yesterday that you should choose your Joneses carefully and it resonated with me. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the line anywhere. I thought it was in A Good Enough House for a Great Life at Frugal Babe, but it might have been in this article by Joshua Becker over at Becoming Minimalist.

Regardless, it has stuck with me. I like the idea that, instead of looking around and blindly coveting the more stylish clothes, fancy electronic devices, and nicer car of a coworker, parent, or even friend, you can choose whose life you’d like yours to emulate. I thought about this for a while last night and realized that my Joneses are bits of my real-life friends, and large chunks of my online friends.

For several years I’ve wanted the one-car lifestyle of several of my friends (all it takes is an opportunistic car thief and a dropped set of keys!).

I’ve wanted the discipline of one of my friends who exercises consistently, and probably isn’t even letting her first trimester pregnancy get in the way of her workout schedule.

I’ve wanted that same friend’s wide open indoor spaces and clear counters–as far as I can tell, she’s a minimalist without even really trying.

I’ve wanted another friend’s commitment to healthy eating.

I’ve also wanted the fancy, internet-enabled electronics, but I could temper that by reminding myself that I didn’t want the bill, and nor did I want to become one of those parents who is glued to their phone.

Online, Frugal Babe is one of my favorite Joneses. She tries to make all of her family’s food from scratch, eats 95% vegan, buys everything used whenever possible, and works to repurpose what she has rather than buying something new. I love how she counters the Never Stop Improving mentality of a new generation of homeowners. I can’t wait to stop improving!

Some others in the online realm are J.Money at Budgets Are Sexy (I want his career!), Mr. Money Mustache, whose Muscle Over Motor principle Jason and I embrace heartily AND whose early retirement we both are jealous of, and Rachel at Minimalist Mom, whose minimalist lifestyle I’d enjoy.


Those are my Joneses. Who are yours?


Megabus Adventures

Megabus photo

I recently had the opportunity to take a Megabus to Cleveland. And when I say opportunity, I mean that our newer, more comfortable car was stolen and Megabus became the best option. I honestly wouldn’t have considered it an option if my friend I was traveling with hadn’t mentioned it.

Pittsburgh is  a Megabus hub, so there are many destination options from here. All are relatively close by, and ideal for a trip into a city where you won’t be needing a car (New York City, anyone?).

Megabus is:

Cheap: It cost exactly $24.50 for a round-trip ticket. $13 to Cleveland, $11 back to Pittsburgh, and a $.50 processing fee. My friend estimated that we’d be paying about $50 in gas for the weekend, not to mention putting miles on the car Jason and I wanted to sell at some point in the near future.

Comfortable: The seats were soft and cushy, and I sat on the second level.

Convenient: They depart exactly on time, so you arrive when they say you will. The bus stops in Pittsburgh right downtown, about two miles from our house.

There’s also wireless internet! I didn’t try to use it on my trip to Cleveland because I was traveling with a new friend  whom I wanted to chat with instead. On my trip home, I couldn’t convince the wifi to work on my computer, but I had a new magazine, so I’ll admit that I didn’t try very hard. But many people around me took advantage of it and were happily facebooking away on their computers.

Honestly, I spent 2 hours and twenty minutes talking to a friend one way, and relaxing and reading trashy magazines the other way.  This, instead of dealing with Friday rush hour traffic, aggressive drivers, and trying to navigate a new place. We were of course extremely fortunate to have my friend’s friend to both pick up and drop off at the bus stop!

I can see taking the Megabus with my family, particularly when J & P are of an age when they no longer need such large amounts of gear and can walk more. What a great way to explore a city for a weekend!


Have you ever taken a Megabus? 

Family Photo Swap

Frugal Family photo swap

2011’s Family Photo Swap (one of many)

We just came from our now-annual Family Photo Swap. Some friends take our family photos, then we take theirs. We switch back and forth every time we move to a new location.

Photographers are expensive (and worth it most of the time), but in these years of temper tantrums, high energy, and J’s extreme fear of new people, having friends who we can swap family photos with has been a huge help.

Last year around August, my friend Jenee approached me about heading to a park with our families one morning and taking family photos. She and her husband, GI, have a nice camera and both know their way around it (she’s even taken classes). Jason took photography classes in Germany and traveled through Europe practicing with his photography classmates. So each family has at least one person who is a good photographer.

Family photographs, and those of our kids, make awesome Christmas gifts. We who have four sets of grandparents like to keep those kid-sitting grandparents happy, and smiling photos make them happy. Also, in year’s past, we make our Christmas card with photos and create a calendar for grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

I was thrilled when Jenee suggested a photo swap again this year!

Frugal Family Photo Swap

Last year we took them on Sunday, September 11; this year, it was Saturday, September 15. Apparently we stick to the same time each year. It’s so nice to have them taken early because, as Jenee mentioned today, when the deals on photo cards (and prints and calendars!) crop up before the holidays, we’re ready and able to take advantage of them.

Here’s how it works for us:

  • Choose an outdoor place with an indoor back-up, day and time.
  • Get everybody dressed, relatively clean, and make sure the kids are well-fed.
  • Take lots of non-messy snacks, water, and toys. Stuffed animals, cars, balls–all good.
  • Even though our kids prefer not to use a stroller for short distances, we took one anyway. We liked having a stroller with us to move the bags of toys, snacks, purses, etc.
  • Move around a lot; kids get bored easily. We took photos in four different locations in and around a place called Schenley Commons. It has a large fountain, lots of flowers, Dippy the Dinosaur, a carousel that was sadly closed today, and across the street is the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus area. We spied some beautiful red doors near the Cathedral of Learning and took the last of the photos there, hoping they would look great for holiday cards.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the other family’s snacks and toys as bribery. I was pretty grateful for for Jenee’s Curious George gummi snacks today.
  • Press that camera button as fast as possible!
  • Know when to say when. At about an hour and a half, everybody had had enough.


Have you ever tried a photo swap with someone else or another family?

The Two Car Debate

Subaru Forester carrying sled

The Green Car carrying a 10-foot sled as indicated by Vanna, I mean Michael. Why IS this photo so blue?

J was for a while mildly obsessed with what color car every person he would meet drove. He named our cars The Green Car and The Blue Car. He’s a very literal little boy.

The Green Car is a 1998 Subaru Forester that we bought in December 2005 after our previous car was totaled  (4 weeks after our wedding, 2 weeks after our return from our honeymoon, 6 days after Jason quit his job to go back to school full time, and while the car was parked in front of our house). We did our research, waited until we found just what we were looking for, and bought her and her 149,000 miles for about $4,300. 

For a while after our son was born, we fretted that she wasn’t that reliable. And an unfixable problem meant that she was a tiny bit stinky when idling at a light.

But The Green Car hit 200,000 miles earlier this year, and for most of its life with us it has needed nothing more than an oil change. In fact, this car has had the lowest cost of ownership of any car I, and probably Jason, have ever owned.


The Blue Car is a 2007 Dodge Caliber that we were given in early 2009. It was, and continues to be, an extremely generous gift. Without it being a gift, we could not have afforded the luxury of two cars.

This car has under 50,000 miles on it and has been a great, and reliable, second car for us, with the bonus of having working air conditioning. That alone makes it a winner in my book

However, Dodge discontinued the Caliber last year and the car is devaluing quickly due to its reputation for needing significant repair.


Our cost of owning The Blue Car will go up soon. Jason and I have been debating buying a new car sooner rather than later because we know The Blue Car will need more large repairs in the not-so-distant future.

I’ve been advocating for going back to one car.

I read an interesting (but a little old) article on about how many families are moving to one car. I like that the first family is in a similar situation to ours, and they acknowledge that it could get tougher as the kids get older.

Most of my motivation is financial, but some is environmental and my interest in simplicity. If we have two cars, we’ll use two cars and much much more gas than if we’re limiting ourselves to one car. Maintaining and repairing two cars is a drag on time and money, not to mention that our parking situation would be immediately easier with only one car to deal with.

Now that we’re into the renovation, I think having one car would strain Jason’s time somewhat more as the person who would have to constantly rent a truck for the Home Depot and Construction Junction runs if I’m out of town. While a car isn’t required for Jason’s job, he has a commute to think about. His office is not reachable by mass transit.  Several of his coworkers live nearby–I wonder if they’d consider a carpool arrangement?

And I do have to admit that one car would put a significant strain on me as the person who totes around two children and their assorted sundries all day. And we probably wouldn’t get to have quite as many play dates with friends. But I think we’d adjust if we gave it time.

I feel like we could share one car fairly easily, especially if we have both kids in preschools nearby and he continues to enjoy biking to work a couple of times each week. We live in a densely populated urban area with good mass transit and 5 (five!) grocery stores within an easy walking distance. All of our doctors are within walking distance.

It would be even easier on us if that car is The Green Car or a similar-sized vehicle.

Jason points out that the extreme heat of the summer and cold of the winter could make it tough for us to walk the two-mile round trip to J’s school even a few days a week. Not to mention tough for him to ride the 8-mile round trip, part of which is a busy highway.

With the money we’d save on insuring, maintaining, and fixing The Blue Car, we could easily afford to rent cars for longer travel or trucks to make our Home Depot runs. But is it worth the inconvenience? Because, ultimately, a second car really is a convenience since I don’t need one for work.

My argument is that, if one car isn’t working for us after two months, six months, a year or even more, we can always buy a second car.

And at least we can say we’ve tried it.


If you have one car, how does the car-sharing work for your family?

Have you had two cars and considered moving to one car, or vice versa?


A Wonderful, but Not-So-Frugal Weekend

laptop computer

photo by maljam2002

This weekend we had 9 people to our home, sharing three different meals with each one. Some planned, some not so planned. This part was wonderful, lots of fun, and frugal. Everyone brought something to share for the meal, and there were lots of laughs. It’s so much more fun for kids (and much easier on their parents, too!) to have a meal at a home than in a restaurant.

I also tackled some gardening and harvested tomatoes and 4 butternut squash from our tiny backyard garden.


Here are the not so fugal parts:

  • I bought two birthday cakes, rather than making the cupcakes I’d planned. Being in town only four days made me prioritize my time.
  • We ordered pizza when I forgot about dinner Saturday evening. Dinner always happens, same time every day. So how could I forget? This was just laziness.
  • We went out for drinks to celebrate a friend’s promotion. Worth it: We loved seeing and supporting our friend, met some lovely people, and didn’t drink much.
  • I destroyed our MacBook. The MacBook on which I am currently trying to make a living. I won’t go into details, but I’d like to state here that my husband was right and I was wrong, and that he’s the most patient and kind person I know. I’ll either freecycle the hanging plants that leak or find very inexpensive new pots that don’t leak this week.

That last one made me pretty sick. I couldn’t blame it on anyone but myself, and I felt terrible not being more careful. Unfortunately, we need to replace it, and quickly. Jason’s uncle reminded me that it’s just a thing, which I had been telling myself but not really listening to. But it really is just a thing, and an easily replaced, tax-deductible thing at that.

Stay tuned for the computer shopping saga!



How to: Buy on Craigslist

To many of you, Craigslist is old hat. But you’d be surprised how many questions I receive about Craigslist. This post isn’t just how to buy an item on Craigslist, but how to be a responsible buyer.

A little background: I don’t remember when exactly I started buying and selling things on Craigslist, but I can tell you that almost every month we sell a few things that we just don’t need any more. In July, we sold a jogging stroller, a double stroller, a baby carrier, and a rototiller, making $330 on stuff we no longer use. Can you tell we cleaned out the garage? When there’s something we need–a lamp breaks, a toy for the kids I’ve had my eye on, less wobbly dining chairs that won’t fall over on our children–the first place we look is Craigslist.

Little Tykes Car Craigslist

Things bought on Craigslist: a Little Tykes car modeled by P on her first birthday, exactly one year ago.

In fact, we’re starting to look for a replacement vehicle for The Blue Car (J named the cars. We also have The Green Car, which will be driven into the ground) and it’s the first place we went when wanting to see what the models we’re considering cost.

Tip #1: Search Frequently.

A couple of months ago I decided I’d like to buy a juicer. I knew I’d use it often and likely travel with it, so I wanted something very sturdy with a minimum number of parts to break. Once I identified the ideal juicer, I searched Craigslist every evening before I shut down the computer. On the Craigslist homepage for my city, I typed in “Breville” on one search and “Juicer” on another. I was looking for the Breville Juice Fountain Elite, specifically, and also wanted to see all juicers listed.


Stroller on Craigslist

Wonderful folding stroller we keep in the car, also from Craigslist. This picture cracks me up.

Tip #2: Traveling soon? Search at (or near) your destination!

I found the exact juicer I was looking for about a 45 minute drive from where I live, but it was missing one (replaceable) part and had been well used. They wanted $270 for it. I know that it used to retail for $399, but the price has dropped to $299 on a brand new juicer, so this was definitely not a good deal.

When I was in West Virginia recently, I searched Craigslist and found exactly what I was looking for brand new, in the box. Never used. Not once. But the asking price was $250.

And when we were traveling to my in-laws house two months ago, we found the exact kid’s bike trailer we’d been looking for about two hours from (and on the way to) their house. It was much less expensive than they run used here, and nicer than any I’d seen listed near Pittsburgh. And it meant that we could use it as a double stroller AND take the kids on bike rides while visiting. We drove all night, picked it up at about 8:30am, played at a playground, ate breakfast, and continued on our way.


Stove from Craigslist

Our black and stainless gas stove? Yep, that’s from Craigslist, too. It’s a little covered in this picture, as I was prepping for a bulk cooking session.

Tip #3: ALWAYS Negotiate. Kindly, of course. And by email, not in person. 

This doesn’t come naturally to me and can sometimes feel very awkward, but the more I do it, the more comfortable it becomes.

Unless you arrive to find the item is in much worse shape than the pictures showed, conclude your negotiations BEFORE you show up to buy. Ask any questions you have via email, ask for extra photos, serial numbers, anything you need before you offer a price. In the email when I ask my questions, I’ll often ask if the price is negotiable or offer an amount then if I know I have a set amount to spend.

And negotiate a little lower than you would normally if it’s been listed for over a month. I had set aside $150 to buy a juicer. I wasn’t going to pay any more for a kitchen appliance that is definitely not a need. This juicer had been listed back on June 6 and it was mid-July. So I emailed, simply stating that my budget was exactly $150 to spend on a juicer. He counter offered, so I let him know that I honestly was giving him the maximum I could afford to spend, and that I’d be paying in cash and was available at any time over the next three days. And he accepted $150!

Tip #4: Be Prompt

Not just showing up to pick up your item when you say you will, but also checking your email when you are in the middle of a negotiation or still hashing out logistics. Now is not the time to decide you are going to have a media-free day!

Tip #5: Offer a phone number, and ask for one in return.

Although the GoogleMaps directions may look straightforward, I have been lost more times than I care to count. And a couple of times I’ve actually been *gasp* running early. Once I was running late and forgot to call (actually, I think I left their phone number at home), and the seller was able to call me. It’s good to have a phone number in cases like these. It also provides both you and your buyer with a little peace of mind that neither of you have anything to hide, and that’s helpful when you need to trust someone you’ve never met.

Tip #6: Bring exactly the agreed-upon amount. In cash.

We pay in cash, exclusively. I don’t accept checks, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to try to pay with one. I’ve not bought anything like a car from Craigslist, but I have bought my high-efficiency washer and dryer, Jason bought a very nice commuting bike, and there have been other large purchases we’ve made. And we’ve paid for those large purchases in cash.

Remember that your bank card usually has a maximum daily withdrawal amount. Jason and I typically subvert this by withdrawing using both of our cards, because we can never seem to make it to the bank before it closes.


I generally find people selling things on Craigslist to be kind, honest, and fair. And I get to buy something I need or want at a steep discount without stepping into a big box store. Win!

Do you have any additional tips that I’ve left out? What has been your experience as a buyer on Craigslist? Mostly good or mostly sub-par? 

Exercise is Frugal

Running robot

I am definitely not a machine, but at least I try.

Yesterday I had a bad day. I won’t go into it, but these things happen to everyone. Often we turn to food, alcohol, complaining, shopping and other things to make ourselves feel better. I’ve done all of those.

Yesterday was different. The kids and I are at my mom’s house this week, so I asked her if she’d mind playing with them for an hour, changed, and went for a walk/run. I walked for about 5 minutes and then alternated running as long as I could with brisk walking. I probably covered a couple of miles in an hour, but that wasn’t the point.

I came back to the same day, but my outlook was far better. Not perfect, mind you, still kind of grumpy and short with my kids, but not nearly as cranky as I had been. I had some time alone, outside in the fresh air on a beautiful, sunny day. I’m in a very friendly town, so almost every single person I saw smiled and said hello, forcing me to smile back. Fake it ’til you make it!

Running saved me money because I didn’t go shopping or buy a bottle of wine or buy some treat “because I deserve it.”

And there was this feeling of accomplishment, that I was proud of myself for getting out and trying something different when I’m in a funk.