Our Frugal Fast From Netflix

In January, I persuaded my husband to commit to a Netflix fast for one month:  from January 13 to February 13. Our subscription payment came due on the 13th of each month, which determined the dates of our fast.

We don’t have cable/satellite/dish and haven’t since 2004. If I had my preference, we wouldn’t own a TV. But since we do (and I don’t think it’s all bad), I want us to consider how we use it–and how much money we spend on it.

black and white 2 boys in flowers

Our family possesses one TV–only one–and we’ve never had a TV in our bedroom, save for a few weeks during our first year of marriage, before we sold a small extra TV Mike owned when we got married. We limit screen time for the boys; they have a budget of 4 half-hour shows from which they can choose during the week.

Most weekends, they watch no TV–and they don’t own or use tablets, iPads, cell phones, or the like. Although Woodrow has learned to use my phone to take photos, mostly of the fish he and Garfield catch…Once in a while, we allow them an extra half-hour show on a weekend afternoon. Or even a movie, such as the one we watched on Mother’s Day evening.

We have an Amazon Prime membership, and with that comes access to Prime Video:  movies and TV shows we can watch at no extra charge. During our Netflix fast–which, incidentally, stretched from one month to a total of 4–the boys used Prime Video to view Popular Mechanics for KidsWild Kratts, and Thunderbirds Are Go. And the Mother’s Day movie? The Nut Job, also accessed via Prime Video.

board cinema

As we neared February 13, and the end of our one-month Netflix fast, we easily decided to extend it for another month. Then another, and another. May 13 approached, and I understood that my husband hadn’t committed to an indefinite departure from Netflix. So, that day, Mike reinstated our membership (for streaming videos only, the only Netflix subscription we’ve had).

For those 4 months without this service, we saved over $40 in a painless way. And I have to say, I didn’t miss the extra TV options. It actually felt freeing. A couple of times during this season, Mike and I found a movie on Hoopla (a free service provided by our library for e-books, audio books, movies, and TV shows). This gave us extra entertainment choices, all for free.

colorful guitars

Entertainment deserves a category in our budget, but a small (and sparsely funded) one, I think. For now–this month, at least–Netflix gets a spot in that budget. While we have it, we’ll enjoy it. Going without it for a time makes us more appreciative of it now. Just yesterday, the boys (gratefully) watched an episode of Magic School Bus that they’ve gone without for months.

Have you embarked on a “frugal fast” from anything in particular lately? Did you save for a special goal–or simply to spend less on luxuries?

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5 Must-Haves for My Frugal Household

On our way back to Orlando from sheltering at my parents’ home in Mississippi last fall–to escape Hurricane Irma–I read a book called Faithfully Frugal (and blogged about it here). It provided much encouragement to keep pressing on with frugal living–but, more than that, it pointed me to the heart motives and reasons for maintaining a frugal lifestyle.

painted egg

And one of my 2018 goals is to continue in the journey toward faithful frugality. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my go-to items that help equip us for simplicity in the Lee house.

  1. A clothesline. This provides a savings of less than $100 per year for our family (which I estimated based on a few blog posts I read–it will vary from household to household). But the money saved last year by using a clothesline covered the cost of the shoes I bought to run a 5K with the boys. I appreciate using the sunshine and breeze to accomplish the work (for free) that our clothes dryer would otherwise do. This process is good for the environment, too. In our townhouse–where clotheslines were disallowed–we used a few folding dryer racks instead.
  2. A library card. This gives our family access to free books, movies, and e-books–vital for a home schooling family. We do own a number of books, but the library offers a plethora of resources–and my children are learning to use the library. One of Garfield’s favorite things to do is sit in the reference section of the downtown library perusing guidebooks of collectible toy cars.

old books

3. Cloth napkins. We don’t buy paper napkins. Well, maybe once every couple of               years…for a birthday party or Scout event. We’ve received lots of beautiful cloth              napkins for gifts, and last year we bought a set at Kohl’s with our $10-off-anything-in-the-store coupon–because the set we’d bought with a gift card (received as a wedding present) had finally worn out after almost 15 years of use.

4.  Castile soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (currently the lavender-scented variety) in a number of ways:  for homemade laundry detergent, dishwasher gel, and foaming hand soap. I ordered this 3-pack of foaming soap dispensers in January–so far, so good. I think the recipe for liquid hand soap that accompanies these dispensers calls for 80 DROPS of essential oil–for one batch of soap! Too much. I leave out the essential oil entirely, because the castile soap already has a scent. The dispensers are reusable (no need to buy bottle after bottle of Soft Soap or the like for your bathroom counter), and the fact that the dispensers cause the soap to foam means less soap gets used with each hand-washing. I’ve even used castile soap in homemade toothpaste. 

colored eggs in nest

5.  Hair clippers/scissors. We received a set (pair? just one?) of Wahl’s hair clippers as a wedding gift from Mike’s parents almost 16 years ago. To add to our hair cut supplies, we purchased a pair of hair cut shears (about $14) from a beauty supply shop, along with some oil to keep the clippers in working order. This small investment pays off every month. 

Hopefully, these simple-living tips will inspire you on your own path of money-saving ventures that fit your life and family.

 

At-Home Haircuts, After All

Well, he did it:  Garfield acquiesced to another at-home haircut. After the last (horrendous) haircut session–filled with fears and tears–we’d discussed taking him to a salon for a professional haircut the next time around.

However, after about 6 weeks (during which time I gave Mike 2 haircuts), when I mentioned we needed to get haircuts done again, he told me he preferred to have me do it after all. Perhaps the known factor won out over the unfamiliar.

shoes hanging from wire

I promised him that I’d be extraordinarily careful about his ears and about staying patient. We prayed and then, making my voice as calm as I possibly could, we started in on the task.

And together, he and I made it work. No tears, no fuss, no muss. There’s no guarantee that next time will be smooth, but I hope one truly peaceful haircut will help set a new pattern. For us both.

calvin new hair cut
Garfield, sporting a new haircut at his first soccer practice of the season.

I tried an approach with Garfield that I’d read in a midwife’s memoir. In her book, she mentioned coaching women in labor with what she called P.E.P. Here’s what that means:  P = Progress (“Look how far we’ve come! Every snip of the scissors gets us that much closer to being finished.”) E = Encouragement (“I see how still you’re being; that really helps me get the job done.”) and P = Praise (“You’re being so cooperative! I know it’s not easy, but you are really hanging in there.”) 

Success! Giving the boys their haircuts was, no kidding, one of the highlights of last week. I’ll be considering other aspects of parenting where I can apply some P.E.P.

wilson new hair cut
Woodrow with his new haircut.

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened at the Amusement Park…

I like to search the Internet in hopes of finding odd holidays each month. I discovered one for March:  “I Want You to be Happy Day.” I cannot attest to whether this is a legitimate celebration, but let’s just go with it.

yellow stuffed animals

Today happens to be “I Want You to be Happy Day,” so here’s my unselfish gesture in hopes of making you smile today–an embarrassing story from my teenage years. I have affectionately titled this one “The Rides of My Life.” Names have been changed to protect the innocent, because this story might not make them happy, and it’s not “I Want You to be Unhappy Day.”

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One dull afternoon during the summer before my freshman year of high school, I got a phone call from my friend Rita. Her older sister Shelly had offered to drive her, our friend Lola, and me to an amusement park for the afternoon. Not only that, but she’d agreed to let two of our guy friends join us. Rita’s call felt like cool rain quenching the parched soil of my teenage summer day.

ferris wheel

Since my mama was out grocery shopping, I couldn’t ask her permission to go until after she got home (remember the days before cell phones?). But I wanted to ensure that Mama would say “yes,” so I started cleaning our house like the woman on a mission that I was. By the time Mama arrived, the house was noticeably cleaner, although she didn’t seem so impressed with my work once she learned I wanted to ask her for something. I practically hopped from foot to foot explaining our plans to her. She gave me the thumbs-up, and I rushed around getting ready, packing my purse.

All five of us kids plus Shelly crowded into her little tan hatchback, and I don’t think anybody wore a seat belt. There weren’t enough to go around. With the windows rolled down to keep cool (since the vehicle had no air conditioner), we played “Truth or Dare” while Shelly sped us away from our small town and toward the city on the coast where we’d play at Fun Time USA.

vintage radios

Once we arrived, the boys went in one direction, the girls in another, and I have no recollection of where Rita’s older sister went. Rita, Lola, and I enjoyed the Tilt-a-Whirl, laughing and screaming the whole time. When that ride ended, we jumped off and made our way to the next one. Later we caught up with the boys and had some fun with them—I’m not sure we actually spent much time with the boys that day, but simply having them on this trip elevated the adventure in our boy-crazy minds.

As the sun began to set and our time at the park came to a close, Lola, Rita, and I wanted to take a spin on the Tilt-a-Whirl one more time. We were the only passengers on this ride, so we asked the operator if we could go several times in a row. He agreed, so we piled into one of the bowl-shaped seating areas ready for some fun. As our bowl spun round and round the platform with the other seat compartments, and then spun individually at the same time, we squealed and begged the operator to make our bowl spin faster. He gave us our wish. The ride stopped and then started again; then stopped and started for a third time. At some point, my shrieks of glee turned to desperate groans.

colorful teddy bears

When the ride ground to a halt, the three of us stumbled out of our seats and shuffled our Keds tennis shoes off the platform. We all complained of feeling queasy. I quickly realized my feeling was turning into action, and whatever had gurgled around in my stomach during those repetitive rides was making its way back up.

Horrified, I confessed to my friends I had to vomit. They followed me to the public restroom, where I retched while they waited for me. One of the other girls threw up later in the parking lot of a mall near the amusement park. I begged my friends not to tell the boys who had come with us. I was actually the oldest of our little group that day (not counting Rita’s big sister, of course); Rita and Lola and the two boys were only entering eighth grade, while I was going into HIGH SCHOOL. The thought that those boys might find out I couldn’t hold my Tilt-a-Whirl rides embarrassed me to no end. I’m not sure if those boys discovered my secret, although I think they suspected it. We played some more “Truth and Dare” on the drive home, and I’ve never stepped foot on a Tilt-a-Whirl again.

For almost eighteen years, that afternoon at the park would remain the last time I threw up. And it all could have been avoided if we’d been content with just one—or even two—rides on that old Tilt-a-Whirl. As my daddy says, it was too much candy for a nickel. Or, in this case, too much fun at Fun Time USA.

 

Do Everything in Love–How?

One phrase I frequently use around our house with my children is this:  Do everything in love. It comes from 1 Corinthians 16:14. A couple weeks ago, I wrote it on a piece of paper (well, on the back of a piece of paper that had printing on one side–we like to reduce, reuse, recycle around here). Then I taped it to the side of a kitchen cabinet, where it remains visible throughout our days (and supper times, too). It’s very basic, and Woodrow–the artist of our family–would have produced something much more creative. But it gets the point across.

lamp in pine tree

So if a constant refrain in the instructions I give my children is Do everything in love, how do I give them a framework of what that actually is? What do I mean by Do everything in love?

I decided we needed to dig deeper into this, so I brought my Bible to the supper table one night–I have a captive audience there, so it seemed an appropriate time.

First, I surfaced the topic of doing everything in love. I asked why they think I give them this instruction, and why this is a high value in our family. From there, we could reflect on the verse from which this command comes. As a family, we could remember that we want to hold to this instruction because it originates in God’s Word to us.

vintage keys

After asking how we know what love is, we read Romans 5:8…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is ultimately our frame of reference for love:  Jesus Christ surrendered His life for us, and the Father sent His own Son to die as part of His great rescue plan.

So how do we live out that kind of love–a love that puts others before ourselves? For this part of the discussion, we flipped over to 1 Corinthians 13–the oft-quoted Scripture at wedding ceremonies for generations.

ice cream cones

We read…Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. And so on. We also discussed the words in this chapter that remind us we can perform great feats and have deep knowledge (or even give all we possess to the poor) but still not have love at the root of our motives. The boys cottoned to the idea that we are simply making noise if we exercise great faith or great abilities without love. They tried out some of that “clanging cymbals” and “resounding  gong” racket the apostle Paul mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

Now I hope that, as we continue to remind each other to do everything in love–and to confess to each other when we don’t–we’ll grasp what doing love truly involves.

Something New Saturday: Elderberry Syrup

Over the past year or so, we’ve purchased elderberry syrup made by a central Florida mom named Julie. We’ve been so pleased with what she produces as part of her cottage business, but it’d become increasingly hard to meet up to buy her product.

So…given the fact that this year’s flu season seems especially nasty, I decided I would make a batch of elderberry syrup myself to help boost my family’s natural immunity.

elderberry syrup
Reusing a jelly jar that was a Costco purchase…

This post is not intended as medical advice–everybody needs to do her own research and make decisions best for her own family. With that said, I’m intrigued by the reputed benefits of elderberry syrup.

You might be able to find elderberries yourself at Whole Foods (although I haven’t looked there) or simply buy the syrup ready-made at a pharmacy or online. For ours, I ordered a batch of organic elderberries from Amazon (with a Prime membership, which we make extensive use of every single year), and this order provided the perfect amount for making a batch of syrup. I used the honey my parents harvest from the bees they raise at their home in Mississippi, along with ginger and cinnamon. I also threw in some turmeric (for its anti-inflammatory properties), although my children are of the opinion that I added too much turmeric. With that particular spice, a little does go a long way. Here’s the recipe I used (although I omitted the cloves because I didn’t have any). I give each of my boys about a teaspoon a day to help ward off colds and flu (the same for my husband and me).

Here’s hoping that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure! With “plenty” as my word of the year, I want to give my family plenty of resources to battle cold and flu season.

 

2018 Goals: Where I Am Now

One of my January goals was to complete a scrapbook from our family vacation to New York City last fall. I finished it on January 30, and, although it’s certainly not the most artistic presentation, it reminds us all of a wonderful adventure.

For 2018 as a whole, I set myself a handful of goals and blogged about them here. Now that a month or so of the new year has passed, I’m taking a quick review of those goals.

good morning coffee

  1. Continuing on the journey of being faithfully frugal… We did go ahead and cut out Netflix, and our one-month no-Netflix venture will end mid-February. We’ve been totally content without it (and haven’t had cable in many years). The boys like to watch Popular Mechanics for Kids on Amazon Prime a few times per week, and Mike and I watched a movie on Hoopla together in January. Hoopla is a free service provided through our public library (and many others across the country), allowing us to check out more e-books, audio books, and even movies and TV shows than we could access through our library alone. We just haven’t missed Netflix, and it’s been freeing to go without it–financially and otherwise. The jury’s still out on whether we’ll reinstate it after our one-month fast finishes.
  2. Using my mid-day downtown for quiet time with Jesus… I have continued this practice, and it’s been one of THE most effective uses of my time. I have energy; I don’t feel rushed. My thinking is clear. I think I’ve found a real sweet spot with this habit.

joy candles

3. Write + submit, submit, submit! Good news to report on this front:  I learned in January that a brief article I wrote on generosity will be published in December in a magazine called Purpose. As well, a Christian magazine for girls (called SHINE brightly) will publish a piece I wrote in their summer 2018 issue. This feels like such a victory. Whereas these 2 works are non-fiction, I also wrote a short story for a magazine called Brio (published for girls by Christian ministry Focus on the Family) that is being, as one editor communicated to me, “shown to the other editors.” The 2 articles that will be published later this year will come with a small stipend, and I plan to add that to the money I’m acquiring for extra giving projects. Which brings me to my next goal of…

4.  Raising $300 to give to needs… Right around New Year’s, I connected with a person on Craigslist who needed to have assistance with proofreading a story he’d written. I spent about 5 hours working on the project and earned $50. Then I sold some excess hand-me-downs at 2 separate consignment stores, earning $75.50. Less than 2 months into 2018, I’ve seen over $125 of my giving goal met! With that, we’ve helped a woman from our former church with funds for her cancer treatments. We mailed restaurant gift cards to a family facing huge transition due to a medical situation. And I bought a Valentine’s wreath made by some teens raising funds for a mission trip to help rebuild in hurricane-affected areas of Puerto Rico.

kids playing

5. and 6. Continuing parenting with the trust that Christ is my source of unshakable peace and teaching with the trust that the work of my children’s growth is done by the power of God’s Spirit… Somebody said, “Attitude is everything.” Or, if nobody said that, somebody should have. When I am resting in Christ’s sufficiency, I experience more peace. I combined these 2 goals, which I listed separately on my “2018 goals” blog post in January. I read a book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham over December and January, which has encouraged me in my parenting. I also recently finished an e-book titled The Homeschooling Housewife, by Amber Fox. It’s given me some good ideas to implement in our home, even if the title is a bit off-putting.

7. Creating more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts… Check. Woodrow loves taking pictures, and he often snaps photos of me for these posts featuring outfits I put together for little to no money (through hand-me-downs, gifts, and items occasionally picked up at secondhand stores or yard sales). Please don’t be fooled by these posts that I actually get dressed every day. On cold days–well, cold for central Florida–I sometimes stay in my sweat pants from the night before, throw on a zip-up jacket of my husband’s, and call it a day. Hmm…maybe I’ll need to work on that as a goal for 2019.

How’s your 2018 going so far?