Friday, June 23, 2017

Frugal Fun in the City

City living comes with a lot of high costs, but the city offers a lot in the way of entertainment. At times when we had little money, we were able to fall back on lots of free sources of entertainment to keep us from being bored while we were trying to stabilize our finances. Small towns offer some of these things too, so even if you live in a small town, look into some of these options.

* Go to any free festival you find interesting. Over the years, Trucker and I have gone to countless festivals and have never paid a penny to get in. Big cities often have fantastic festivals, and rarely charge admission. In my experience, mid-sized cities are more likely to charge admission, although there are free festivals to be found. I love going to art festivals or blues festivals. Sometimes, I go to other festivals just to broaden my horizons and experience something new. It's a great way to have fun without spending a ton of money. It can even be free if you eat before you leave and bring beverages from home.

* We love to get out deep into the woods for an all day hike, but sometimes car trouble or gas prices keep us from making the journey. On those days, we make a day of walking and exploring in the city. We'll pick a direction or a street and venture out. I pack a snack and a couple water bottles for the journey and we'll usually have a bit of spending money, although we leave the cards and big bucks at home, just in case. A couple of weeks ago, we walked to an ice cream shop to get $.50 cones before walking home. Other times we'll walk to get coffee and then walk home, foraging for wild berries as we go.

* Find out about free access to museums. In Chicago, you can check out passes at any library branch to get into different museums for free (up to 4 people). In my current city, there is no such option, but most of the museums have some option. One museum is free one (very crowded) day a year, another is free every Sunday (with free concerts in the summer!), and a few small museums are free every day. The summer reading program at the library offers a couple one-time free passes for two small museums after you read 4 books during the summer. These are great options for the curious city-dweller, with or without kids.

* Sign up for newsletters with local events. One trendy local site sends out a newsletter with every kind of event going on each weekend. Many of these are way beyond my price range, but there are almost always a few free events going on. Sometimes the events aren't up my alley; sometimes they are the perfect thing for a fun weekend.

* Enjoy the arts. Go to a gallery opening or hop. Watch an art demonstration. Take a long stroll through a neighborhood with a lot of galleries.

* Check with your local theatres. One theatre near us has free symphony performances a few times a year. Another had a free documentary viewing and a meet and greet (with free gourmet ice cream) with the local actor who made it. Yet another has $10 symphony tickets for several shows each year.

* There are likely more movie options in the city than in a small town. You have several theater chains to chose from, so call around for the best matinee prices. Maybe you even have a discount theater. Our's charges $2.25 admission; on Tuesday's it is $1.50! The fancy theatre downtown has a summer movie program. When you buy a strip of 10 tickets, it is only $2.50 each for a really nice experience. Lots of local parks have drive-in movies, so there are lots of movies to chose from. Bring your own popcorn and beverage.

* Art in the park. Many cities offer concerts and plays in the park. These can be fantastic. At one park in my city, it's an all-out thing. People bring short tables and pile them with fine food and pop open a bottle of wine. It's fantastic and costs nothing to get in.

* Find some coffee house culture. Poetry readings or concerts at coffee houses are incredibly frugal events. Often there is no cover, and you can sip your coffee while you enjoy the entertainment. Cost out can be as low as $1.50 a person.

* Go to the library. Not just for books, movies, CDs, magazines, internet, and ebooks (although, certainly check these out while you're there!), the library can be a fantastic source of entertainment. Ask about concerts, movies, lectures and classes at your branch or nearby branches. In one city I lived in, there was a month of financial classes for free at various branches around the city. We bused it out to several events to learn as much as we could. Made for an educational night out and gave us things to talk/dream about on the bus ride home.

* Go to book releases at coffee houses or book stores. These are great fun, depending on the type of book. The best book release I ever went to was for a true-crime mafia book (Trucker and I are obsessed with Mafia movies, so the real-life stories of people we'd heard about was fascinating).

* Take a walking tour of your downtown or a historic neighborhood. Do your research before hand, then venture out. Make sure you know some good trivia to impress your date/interest your kids. Try to hit places with fascinating stories, intricate architecture, or vibrant street art. Stroll around interesting little stores (unless you've got kids that would get bored or destructive) or maybe hit a tiny, very localized museum. If you'd like, take a bit of pocket money to pop into a candy shop or grab ice cream cones if you'd like.

* Visit an ethnic neighborhood for fantastic grocery shopping. I love to visit Chinatown to stock up on my favorite herbal teas. The prices are great, and it's fun. This can also help to kick you out of a cooking rut. Since you're just grocery shopping, it doesn't really cost anything out of the entertainment budget and if you do it right, can save you on your grocery bill.

Even if your expenses are high in other ways, city living does offer some great ways to economize in other areas.

Share your favorite frugal city fun tips in the comments.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 5/22 - 5/28

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I got some collard, onion and scallion transplants from the farm stand and popped them into my garden.
* We have lots of lovely growth in the garden. Overall, everything is looking good.
* I harvested some mulberries from the garden and also foraged some when we went out hiking.
* We stopped at the farm stand twice. The first time I just got a head of lettuce, bunch of beets and some sugar snap peas. The second time I got collards, kale, lettuce and peas. All but the lettuce from the U-pick. I harvested some sugar snap peas and some that were a bit more mature. I figured that leaving them on the vine would reduce future yields, and I would love to have some fresh peas to serve this week.
* I harvested the largest garlic scape harvest yet.
* Trucker whacked down some of the Japanese honeysuckle. It will surely be back with vengeance, but at least he keeps it from overtaking the house. Japanese honeysuckle is by far my least favorite plant right now.

* I made an epic brunch one day. I made fried eggs (free from mom; she got them in exchange for watching a friend's chickens while they went on vacation), Brussels sprouts ($.99/lb on managers special), collards (from the farm), toast ($.50/loaf from aldi) and grits ($.10/box at salvage grocer; used 1/3 box and added herbs from the garden). I served hot grape gelatin to drink (never had it? It's an Amish drink for when you aren't feeling well. We use it to get extra gelatin in our diets).
* I made a wonderful quiche for lunch one day with enough leftovers for each of our lunch the following day. I made my own pastry and filled with leftover Brussels sprouts (manager's special), collards (from the farm stand), sliced sugar snap peas (from the farm stand), sauerkraut (free from Trucker's job) and garlic scapes (from the garden). I used 3 eggs (on sale for $.69/dozen), the rest of a container of spinach artichoke dip and milk for the custard and used both mozzarella and romano (manager's special) cheeses. It was amazing the first day and better cold for lunch the next.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some garlic scapes, diced up. I'll add these to soups, casseroles, tacos, and whenever sauteing a mix of veggies as a base.

* I had one particularly rough day. We decided to stay in and relax. Trucker went out to pick up pizza (we had a BOGO coupon in our entertainment book, so we got two mediums for $10 with plenty of leftovers). We cuddled and watched movies all evening.
* We had a couple coffee dates.
* We went fishing one day at a new place. We went a little too early in the afternoon, so they weren't biting well. I caught two, but nothing big enough to keep. Trucker caught no fish, but did catch a turtle. We were able to get the hook out without hurting him.
* We went to another gallery hop. It was one of the nicest evenings I can remember.  There were just a lot of good shows. Lots of hope in spring. My favorite shows was one in which the artist had painted each and every one of her possessions. It definitely makes you to take pause to consider the Tyler Durden quote about what you own owning you. The weather was perfect. The company was perfect. I guess that makes for a perfect night.
* A theatre troupe in our area does Shakespeare in the Park. We went one evening to see Julius Caesar. It was my first time seeing it live. We packed a lovely picnic from home: manager's special seafood salad, manager's special crab and jalapeno dip, manager's special beer cheese, store brand crackers and drinks from home. Total cost for the food was around $6 and was comparable to the cost to prepare dinner at home (In general, I tend to make nicer dinners on the weekends since I don't have time to cook at all during the week). I always love spending a nice evening outdoors, watching talented actors, eating good food and hanging out with Trucker.
* In planning our vacation, we decided to buy an Entertainment book for the city we were staying in. For Memorial Day they had a $10 sale with free shipping. At that cost, using it for one meal or museum would pay for it. They had a 25% off promo code if you bought two or more books. I called my parents and asked them if they wanted in. They got one as well, bringing our cost to $7.50 each. They are going as a big group (My parents, all three sisters, plus 1 husband and 1 boyfriend), so the BOGO coupons at most restaurants won't be a great deal for them. However, they plan to use a lot of pizza coupons, as they can order whatever size pizzas needed to feed them all. For us, BOGO coupons will make up whatever meals we will need to buy (We plan to use gift cards for 1-2 meals, eat breakfast at the hotel and get no more than 1 meal out a day). Also, a lot of the area museums have BOGO coupons, so we will be able to have affordable options if it rains.
* After a long day of working on the house, we went out for pizza. We went to a place just down the road that had a special since it was Sunday ($10 pizza and one of the best in the city). Whenever we knock out a big project or spend a day doing work we hate doing, we take a little cheap date afterwards to relax and reward ourselves.

* We went for a couple mile walk at the Audubon. There is an obstacle course which I of course ran. I love seeing all sorts of less-common birds. Next time I need to bring my field guide.
* We went for a 4 mile walk at the park. It was a nice, warm day. We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but we did see loads of pretty plants. I loved seeing that the blackberries are coming along nicely.
* We went hiking a few more times.

* My mom's cousin looked at both our cars. Trucker's exhaust was broken in two places and he needed spark plugs changed. He charged $40 for all. I had him look at my car to make sure everything was looking good for our vacation. He replaced the radiator cap and charged me $10. We would be in so much trouble without him.

House and Home:
* We are still line drying clothes. I enjoy it for the most part. I've only once had to go to work in (slightly) damp work pants, which is pretty good when you consider how often it has rained, how high the humidity is and how much we work.
* Trucker made an online query to get some quotes on our electric work. We will get several quotes before we decide on a particular person.
* When we were at the gallery hop, we found a store going out of business. They were selling everything for really cheap. I got some little boxes to use for storage for $.50 each.

* I worked overtime several days. I took one day off (without pay but without using a call-off day) and we had the day off for the holiday so I got a 4-day weekend. It was so needed.

* We went to the gym several times between the two of us.
* I went for a run out in the real world!
* Trucker got a sty on the inside of his eyelid. It was causing him a lot of discomfort so we went to the Little Clinic at the grocery store to be prescribed an antibiotic eye drop (free with our insurance since we asked for a generic). We definitely wanted to get it looked at since his uncle died from not treating the cancer he thought was just a sty.

* One day as we were getting ready for bed, Trucker noticed that my tire had gone flat. This was particularly frustrating because his car was in the shop over the weekend. The plan had been for him to ride with me to work the next morning, drive my car home and my mom would meet me with one of their cars to borrow (We could have borrowed it earlier but I didn't want them to be short a vehicle, especially since we didn't really need it if I was off work). We tried to get the tire off, but we couldn't (torqued too tightly). We called our insurance and they sent someone out who was able to replace it for us. The next day Trucker took it to the tire shop, where they replaced it for free since we had a warranty.
This is my favorite piece from the gallery hop.
* My sister sent me a text and said that at her job they were throwing away the items that had been in the lost and found box for a long time. She said there was a really nice black coat and asked if I wanted. It was a black Dockers brand heavy-duty coat in great condition.  Trucker has been needing a nice, black coat and had just asked me two weeks ago to look out for one for him. This one fits him well.
* When I stopped by the farm stand, my former coworker said that the volunteer she was supposed to meet hadn't showed. She had no one to run the farm stand, but had needed to do some deliveries for her business. I ended up running the farm stand for a couple hours. It was really nice to see some of my clients.
How was your week?
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