No, I *Don’t* Need to Buy Things for Vacation

We’re less than 6 weeks away from our first-ever vacation with Miss Frugalista, and it may be a crazy idea: We’ve decided to rent a house with 10 other friends and take a road trip from New Jersey down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a full week. Most likely, the bulk of the ride will feature a 18-month-old crying because she wants to get out of her carseat, but we’ll be stopping a few times on the way for bathroom breaks/diaper changes/meals, and, most importantly, to stretch our legs. It will be fun trying to pump our own gas. Maybe I should have someone explain how to do it before we leave!

I’ve had to rein myself in when it comes to picking up vacation “essentials.” The house we’re renting has a pool AND is on the beach, so there are some baby safety considerations. While I have my eye on a $50 beach shelter, I’m still unsure about flotation devices. We already have a large, foldable outdoor gate (formerly the “baby jail”) that may be useful for corralling purposes. I’ve already spent money on a backseat organizer for the car ride down and water shoes so the sand doesn’t burn her little feet. We’re going to use her old Pack ‘n’ Play for a crib, but I want to pick up a $25 playard mattress so she can rest more comfortably at night. We have some beach toys we got for her birthday in February, so that’s covered. She has plenty of sun hat that she won’t wear, and I don’t think I’ll bother with baby sunglasses for the same reason.

My husband believes he needs some T-shirts, and I desperately need a new bathing suit (or two), which is something I’d better buy sooner rather than later — I saw SWEATERS on the racks in Target the other day. I’ve stocked up on sunblock.

Making Our Own Meals to Save Money

What will be nice is that we’ll be buying our own food, with just one dinner planned for a local restaurant. Between the 12 of us, we’re renting a grill and propane tank for $60 a week – that’s just $5 per person — and the majority of our meals will involve BBQ. Breakfast can be a simple bowl of cereal or a “fancier” meal of eggs, bacon and toast, or even pancakes.

We’re all meeting up one day this month to talk about what food we’ll be bringing or buying once we’re in North Carolina and also set up a meal schedule — each of us will try our hand at cooking a meal for the group.

Sharing Resources

Another thing we’ll be planning is who will bring which items. Do we need 10 beach umbrellas when two pop-up canopies would do? So we’ll sort out things of that nature, too, so we’re not buying or bringing superfluous items — we’ll have enough to bring with us as it is! Since Miss Frugalista will be the only child there, we’re in charge of all of the baby stuff.

So besides food, gas for the car, and a few clothing necessities, we shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money — even the house rental was more than reasonable for a 7-day stay. We’re definitely looking forward to the trip, which we think will be a lot of fun.

Has anyone else taken a young toddler on a beach vacation? Is there anything else we should bring with us?

Another of My Frugal & Financial Quirks

Oh, the neuroses multiply. Today, I fully recognized another of my fabled frugal quirks: If I want to get rid of an old box, I faithfully cut the UPCs off the box of every major item we purchase.

Well, maybe that’s two quirks.

1. I hold on to the original packaging of most electronic items, or other merchandise if I deem it will be useful sometime in the future. You never know, in 2024, I might finally need to put the bed blanket back in the plastic zippered pouch it came in. Cell phones, handset phones, laptops, cameras — you name it, I have the box around here somewhere. I kept a lot of the boxes to Baby Frugalista’s stuff for a while, just in case we needed to return a defective swing or Pack ‘N’ Play.

2. When I finally decide to toss one of these boxes — either after I can no longer return the item for a refund or I go on a decluttering binge — I have to cut the UPC out and save it. Many times, the item’s model number and serial number are also printed above or below the bar code. I’ve never actually had to use it, but it will eventually help if I need under-warranty service on any of our stuff. Again, perhaps in 2024.

Lest you picture our house as a box-filled hovel, realize that we rarely buy new electronics and use the hell out of most other things. I do periodically throw stuff out, and any boxes we’re still holding on to are carefully secreted away in one of the closets or in the basement storage area.

As for papers and books, I gleefully admit that I hoard those. In fact, I’m staring at a huge pile of papers right now. It’ll get done, eventually. Right after I rake the leaves in the yard this weekend. Or not.

Recycling Everyday Items

Recycling plastics and other materials such as aluminum and paper has been an ingrained behavior since I was a kid. I remember our school celebrating the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990, and that’s the year I learned all about recycling. So I do my best to reuse and recycle as often as I can – whether reusing old clothes for projects, re-upholstering old chairs or simply putting aluminum and plastic containers in the recycle bin.

Some of the items I recycle:

  • Tin cans. These are from canned goods like vegetables, chili, diced or crushed tomatoes, and any other foods that come in this type of container.
  • Baby food jars and plastic containers. We go through three of these a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for Baby Frugalista, so I’m happy to recycle them.
  • Aluminum cans. I usually drink one can of Coke Zero a day, sometimes two, so they also get tossed into the recycle bin.
  • Plastic bottles. Lest you think I’m a huge soda addict, I also go through one liter of seltzer a day during the week while I’m at work. Occasionally, my husband will drink a Snapple, in either the glass bottle or the bigger plastic container.
  • Shower items. Shampoos, conditioners and body washes mostly come packaged in recyclable plastic bottles.
  • Plastic Ziploc bags. This one depends on what was in the bag– if it’s a non-residue-leaving snack, I’ll turn the bag inside out and wash it, letting it air-dry for another (non-food) use, such as storing rubber bands or paper clips.

Other items that can be recycled are plastic food containers such as Gladware or Tupperware, plastic hangers, plastic and paper bags, newspapers, magazines and books. We reuse plastic bags at least once, mostly when cleaning out the cat little. Paper grocery bags can be reused at the grocery store on the next shopping trip for a 2-cent credit; sometimes, I put the extras out with the paper recycling at the curb.

If we didn’t recycle, we’d be contributing a good amount to landfills. I know a number of people who don’t bother to sort their recyclables from their regular garbage, and honestly, it drives me nuts if I think about it.

Every little bit helps, but I still think I could be doing more. What other items do you reuse and/or recycle? Am I missing anything in particular?

Tips for Staying Cool During a Heat Wave

We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in the Northeast. It’s been in the mid-90s for days now, and it’s going to top 100 degrees for the next three days, if the weather forecasters are to be believed. I know lots of folks deal with this hot weather for much of the year (Nevada and Arizona, I’m lookin’ at you), but that’s out in the fabled “dry heat” area of the country.

Come to New Jersey, and enjoy our famous high-humidity summers. July and August can make you feel like you’re in a sauna 24/7. For all the attitude we throw out at you, we’re total wusses when it comes to dealing with the heat.

Unless you don’t mind inside temperatures soaring into the 80s, scorching temperatures mean scorching electric bills. I don’t know anyone who refuses to put on their air conditioner once it regularly reaches the upper-80s around these parts (even a cheapskate like me). But there are a few things I do to stay cool and to keep from losing my mind when the electric bill comes in each month.

1. Keep the air conditioner on — but at a higher temperature. It doesn’t have to be set at 60 degrees all day and night. I find that I’m comfortable at night with the temperature set to 76 degrees (yes, you read that right). That’s because the air conditioner counteracts the humidity in the air, making it feel even cooler in the bedroom. The air conditioner in Baby Frugalista’s room is also at 76 degrees at night during these warmer summer months.

2. Close the blinds and curtains. Why let in all that unwanted heat? I draw the drapes and pull down the shades in my house most mornings in the summer to keep the sun from shining into our rooms. This works especially well if you have heavy and/or energy-efficient curtains that are better at keeping your home cool in the hotter months.

3. Skip hot meals. Don’t add to the heat by using the oven or the stovetop. Microwaves throw off less heat, but hot food makes you feel hotter. Stick with cold foods such as sandwiches, gazpacho, or fruit.

4. Go find some “free” air conditioning. Walk around a mall or a local big-box retailer and enjoy THEIR air conditioning while getting some exercise (just don’t spend a ton of money while you’re there, because you won’t be saving ANY money). Be sure to shut off your home A/C before heading out of the house!

5. Try a cool washcloth. Run cold water over a washcloth or soak it in a bowl of ice water. Put it on your forehead or on the back of your neck to temporarily bring down your body temperature.

Do you have any other tips for staying cool during a heat wave?

Gutting the Bathroom? Yes, I’m Nuts.

Now that our two upstairs bedrooms have been remodeled, I’ve turned my attention to the full bathroom up there, the last piece in the second-floor renovation puzzle.

Yes, I know. I have a 3 1/2-month-old baby at home. But I also need to do something constructive with my down time (yes, I still have some of that).

So yesterday, I decided I wanted to see how big the bathroom would be when I busted out the walk-in closet that was built into the bathroom space — we’d sealed up the entry door from the hallway side. And who the heck designs an L-shaped bathroom with a huge closet taking up all the room? That’s a question for another time.

Here’s the bathroom, with the wall I ‘removed’ — there’s a full shower behind the other gray-green wall, next to the toilet. See what I mean?

I think I’m just going to continue tearing the wood paneling off the walls and see how it goes. We have another (real) full bathroom on the first floor, so it doesn’t matter that this will take a while. After I go back to work, I’ll see how much it will cost to replace the shower with a tub and build a small closet in the space. The rest I can do myself because I plan to use the existing plumbing.

Did I mention my husband thinks I’m nuts?

Am I?

Little Bites: A Frugal Snow Day

Since I was stuck in the house after yet another snowstorm here in New Jersey (19 inches this time, on top of the foot or so that was still on the ground), I didn’t spend any money today. Instead, I worked from home and then spent some time mending holes in a few socks, followed by sewing up a rip in my favorite pair of maternity jeans (for, oh, the fourth time!).

Yes, the fourth time. I love these suckers, made by Motherhood Maternity, but the material is crappy and thin. First, I got holes at the corner of the pockets. But this time, it was a rip in the groin area — not a good look. I sewed it up tight since I really didn’t want to put a patch there. Just last a few more weeks, please!

As for the socks, Mr. NSF asked me what the hell I was doing. When I told him I was sewing up the holes made by my overly long big toe, he rolled his eyes, laughed, and told me to just buy new socks. I can only make the man so frugal, right?

Bedroom Renovation: (Almost) Finished

In other news, our bedroom renovations are now complete — I’m very excited about that! Mr. NSF and his dad will clean up the room this weekend and apply the primer coat to the walls and ceiling. There are 3 closets that need to be painted, which will be a pain. This time, I won’t be helping, though. My job is to get blinds and curtains. Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty helpless at this point. I was scraping spackle off the floor with a putty knife taped to the end of a pole — with one hand and minimal force — and I got yelled at. “You don’t need to do that!” No, I don’t, but I gotta do SOMETHING. Oh, and I may or may not have wired an outlet or two last night…

I’m getting pricing on wall-to-wall carpeting for the upstairs, and I hope that can be done in the next 2-3 weeks, because our bedroom furniture (and the baby’s) is currently all in the baby’s room, and it’s getting closer and closer to “go time.”