So I mentioned a few weeks ago that one does not count lightbulbs when one is looking at houses. You know what else you don’t notice? Whether or not the mini blinds have strings in them.
Yes, all the mini blinds that came with the house are missing at least some of the strings used to open the blinds. I don’t mean that they are broken. Someone clearly took the blinds down and carefully extracted the strings. Why, you ask? Excellent question. The sellers had small children, so I suppose it’s possible they removed the strings in a burst of excessive caution. Except, then why did they leave some of the strings behind?
Regardless, the situation was this. The main living area had four sets of blinds. Only two of them went up and down. And those two had broken slats.
Now, I was seriously tempted to throw them all away and go buy real wood blinds (I have ethical and environmental concerns about vinyl). But… real wood blinds are expensive. And while I think it would be “better” to buy real wood, the best case is generally to fix what you have.
See below for details, but here’s a quick summary of tips:
- You can restring horizontal blinds. It’s easy.
- If you hang new blinds, when you shorten them, save the extra slats from the bottom to use in future repair jobs.
Step 1: Restring the dining room blinds
These weren’t too bad. This set of blinds originally had two strings, only one of which was missing. These blinds had been shortened correctly and none of the slats were broken.
So I took it down and restrung, using this excellent tutorial and some twine we had lying around. The cotton twine was not really the ideal string for the job, but it worked with a little finessing. Because it tended to separate at the ends, I used a large plastic yarn needle to help thread it through the slats.
The new string needed a tassel and a cord stop, which is a little clear plastic doodad. This doodad is EXTREMELY important (not but pictured). It prevents small children from being able to strangle themselves with the cord, which is a real thing that real children have done (not just a theoretical danger). Fortunately, I had some on hand. You can order them for free from the Window Covering Safety Council.
Tip: If you try this at home, make sure to run the new cord to the INSIDE of the ladder strings holding up the slats. It will help the slats stay in place better.
Step 2: Single living room blinds, broken slats
The set of blinds facing the street, miraculously, had both its strings intact. It was, however, missing three slats. It had also never been shortened, so when fully extended, it hung perhaps a foot below the end of the window. In a rare case when two wrongs DID make a right, I was able to take the excess slats off the bottom and use them to replace the missing ones.
This part I found easier to fix with the blinds still hanging–no need to take them down since I was not restringing. The process involved taking the little buttons off the bottom and cutting the knot off the bottom of the strings. Then, I pulled the string out above the broken slats, slid new slats in from the sides, and worked the string back down.
Step 3: Double living room blinds, broken slats and missing strings
On the side of the living room was a double set of blinds 41” wide. The ones on the left had only one string, while those on the right had two strings out of four (enough to function). Both sets had been shortened and they both had several broken slats (see picture above with Kitty Paragon). Boo.
Nothing to do here but buy new blinds, since I had no extra slats to work with. However, I had the brainstorm of buying only one set. Our 2” faux wood blinds come standard from Home Depot. We measured the space between the strings to determine that they had been cut down from a 42” set. We hung the new ones, shortened them and saved the extra slats for future repairs, and then cannibalized the now-defunct set for the spare slats we needed to fix the other old ones.
I could have run two new strings through this other old set, of course. But since two do the job, I decided to leave them alone. I’m not a fan of doing extra work just for the hell of it.
So instead of buying four new sets of blinds, I bought only one. Is it better environmentally to buy one set of vinyl blinds or four sets of wood? Well, I’m not sure, but I suspect that once you factor in all the energy and waste from the manufacturing process, plus the shipping, I did the right thing.
It was certainly the right thing for my pocketbook. The new blinds were about $40. The wood blinds would have run at least $280 for the most basic, more if I wanted upgrades like cloth tapes over the strings.
What have you saved from the trash bin or avoided buying recently?
When we decided to go temporarily back to being a two-car family, we found ourselves with only two harness car seats and a need for four. Since Big Brother has turned four, we decided to put one harness seat in each car for Little Brother and buy a booster seat for Big Brother. Not finding anything on Craigslist or after making a few calls, I bought one new for $30.
I only bought one. While harness seats are bulky and a major pain to install properly, booster seats are light and portable and pop in and out easily. I bought one partly to save money, but equally importantly for the environmental impact. I didn’t want to cause a whole new thing to be manufactured, not to mention creating all the packaging trash.
But lugging it in and out of the cars was a bit of a pain, especially because often I drop off the boys at daycare and Mr. FP picks them up. You should have seen me when Little Brother had his cast on–giant casted toddler on one hip, booster seat on the other, walking into daycare!
So I was thrilled to find one at a large yard sale for $5.* No packaging! Hardly any cost! Saving something from the dumpster! Money for a good cause! (Presbyterian youth group, as I recall–service trips, maybe? I’m an atheist myself but I was certainly happier giving the money to them than Walmart.)
The only problem was that the elastic straps holding the bottom pad in place were a mess! They were all stretched out, knotted together strangely, and in no way doing their job. The pad slid around each time Big Brother got in, in an annoying way.
So I bought some replacement elastic at Jo-Ann’s for $1.99. My strategy was to cut off the old elastic, but leave perhaps a quarter-inch stub, and then hand-sew the new elastic directly to the old elastic.
Because I’m slow, this took me about an hour. But it was an hour that I spent with my sewing basket on my porch watching the kids play. I could make $20-$25, the amount that I saved, working on my computer, but I would not have gotten to:
- Be outside.
- Be with the kids.
- Remind the kids to look but not touch.
- Practice my sewing.
- Practice my general problem-solving skills.
- Save waste from the landfill.
And perhaps most excitingly:
- Take a Broken Thing and make it once again a Useful Thing.
What have you fixed lately? Did it give you that warm fuzzy feeling?
*Not even my $5. I didn’t have my wallet and I asked Grandma FP if I could “borrow” $5. She later gave me such a generous housewarming present–thanks, Mom!–that it seemed rather churlish to insist on repaying the $5.
Disclaimer: As you probably know, used car seats should be accepted with caution. I feel confident that most human beings would not donate a car seat that had been in a crash–remember, they did not personally get the money. And the seat is not expired, etc.
Disclaimer: This blog post is about me. No judgment about the size, shape, appearance, or health of any other person is intended.
Friends, I have never been what you would call svelte. I haven’t had flat abs since puberty and empire waist dresses only looked good on me in the adorable second trimester of pregnancy. My “skinny” jeans have a high waist and control top, suggesting that the garment is somewhat misnamed. I’m not ashamed of this. I’m a mom and I like ice cream.
But I do exercise (to the extent that I enjoy it) and make some effort not to just shovel whatever I want into my mouth, so, it was a bit of a shock last week when I was filling out an online health questionnaire (as part of an effort to get a $240 bonus from my employer) and realized that the last few pounds that have snuck up on me have pushed from the high end of normal to, technically, “overweight” on the BMI scale.
Yes, this is a seriously flawed measure, but it’s the one that the software was using. (The latest evidence seems to suggest that the scale may need shifting upwards–people who are slightly overweight on the scale seem to be less likely to die at any given time than people at the low end of normal.) To be clear, I don’t think that there is anything particularly unhealthy about my current weight.
So why am I talking about it at all, and in particular why am I discussing it in my frugal living blog? Well, I am clearly eating up more dollars, in the form of food, than I need, and fluctuating weight can also make maintaining a wardrobe a pricey proposition. (Fortunately, I have not, thus far, actually outgrown anything.) And the technicality of the word “overweight” really got my attention. It feels like some weird mid-thirties, post-motherhood rite of passage that I never saw coming.
Most importantly, though, steady weight creep threatens things I value. Like being able to take the kids to school by bike. Walking across downtown. Hiking in the mountains. The general sense that I am strong and capable.
The cause of the weight creep is, on reflection, totally obvious. I was biking six miles several days a week for preschool dropoff, but now that we have moved across town, I’ve been driving. And I can remember too many times when I got up from the dinner table feeling fuller than full. So… portion control and upping my activity level. I have already gone to an extra Body Pump class and walked by a bag of donuts in the break room at work.
Not because I’m ashamed of myself, or think I look bad, or because I want to look better than other people. For the sole reason that I think my chances of continuing to enjoy an active, frugal life are better if I stop gaining inches and maybe shake off a few.
Do you see a connection between your size/weight and frugality?
I have written here about how we lost all our money on an ill-advised house purchase. And yet, here we are, buying a house again! Why on earth would we do that to ourselves?
Well, for starters, we think it is worth the extra money right now to live in a detached house (as opposed to a townhouse, where we lived before). Our two boys are very active and I really want them to be able to be playing outside while dinner is in the oven, or while we relax on the patio with glasses of wine. (Boxed wine, of course.) Comparing similarly sized houses and locations, buying compares favorably to renting right now.
It seems like a safer decision this time. We have, we hope, outgrown making impetuous, poorly researched moves. There are a lot of opportunities for both of us in Denver, so our willingness to live here is not tied to one particular job (which was the case last time–and when that job went south, we were desperate to leave).
We’re optimistic it will be a good investment. Denver has a robust, diverse economy, and we bought in a neighborhood that is still up and coming. If we want to downsize when the boys are older, there’s a good chance that selling the house would free up a nice chunk of money for investment.
Then there’s the security issue. By buying, we insulate ourselves from rent increases–AND create the possibility of paying off the mortgage, eventually, and having housing drop to a minimal line item in the budget.
Despite the advantages, I’d be lying I said we didn’t have reservations. We’ve enjoyed not being responsible for maintenance, and we are not accomplished do-it-yourselfers. Will we find home ownership too stressful or expensive? The neighborhood school doesn’t sound right for our kids–will we be able to “choice them into” a better fit when the time comes?
Did we do the right thing? Did we choose the right neighborhood for our needs? Did we choose a good time to get in the market? Ask me again in five years!
Do you own or rent? What were the deciding factors for you?
We were a little distracted in February by our house saga, which involved getting a contract, applying for a mortgage, getting a bad appraisal, switching lenders, postponing closing, and paying for a second appraisal (which was better). Whew! I’m also describing it as only sort-of frugal because Mr. FP spent a lot on entertainment. We go to a concert together several times a year, and he goes alone a few other times. Well, it just worked out that in February, he bought three full sets of tickets (one for my birthday–Arlo Guthrie–and the other two for a couple of our favorite bands).
Even with that rather large layout, our total discretionary spending was quite a bit lower than it usually is. If you’re curious, here’s the breakdown:
Earnest money: $3000
Inspections and appraisals: $1631.50
Goodwill bin for Legos: $3.22
Total moving-related: $4634.72
Groceries: $479.41. I have not see our fridge and freezer so empty since we moved in. Which is good, ’cause we’re moving out this weekend!
Restaurants: $61.05 (Why not $0? Mr. FP took a couple of day trips and stopped for meals. And one time he had a bad cold on a Saturday when I worked; he showed movies and ordered half-price Papa John’s for himself and the boys.)
Total food: $540.46
Entertainment: $339.14 (3 sets of concert tickets plus $26 of iTunes and $5 of Netflix)
Evening babysitting: $0!
Kids’ activities: $20 (To be refunded. Poor LB can’t do obstacle course class with his “bo-ken” leg.)
Bus and train ticket books: $40 (not all used)
Ting mobile phone service: $43.88
Bike supplies: $6.45 (inner tube to replace shredded one)
Gift (nephew’s b-day): $15
Wallet for Mr. FP: $32.16
Reimbursable parking: $12
Total other: $521
Total minus daycare and house expenses: $1369.48
Since my general non-housing, non-daycare monthly spending goal is $1750 AND we weren’t really going flat-out this month, I consider this a win. I think we developed some good habits, like doing a better job of eating up existing food before buying more, eating our cheaper meals more often, making substitutions to extend the time between grocery trips, buying milk in gallons instead of half-gallons (Mr. FP really, really likes the paper cartons, but, as we’re looking closer at our finances, has come to admit that this is not worth $6-8 a month), and just generally refining the household routine. I’m making thicker yogurt, for instance, which means a better Greek yogurt yield.
Most importantly, we have now started tracking all our purchases as they are made. Let’s face it, it’s already March 12 and I’m just now finishing our spending analysis for February. An end-of-the-month review was not really helping us calibrate during the month. Now, we enter everything immediately and see the new total. No doubt we will continue to refine the system (currently a Google Sheet, as Mr. FP wanted control over it), but at least there IS a system now. I just finished reading Your Money or Your Life (Mr. FP read the summary at the end) and, despite our general level of distraction and discombobulation, we’re slowly implementing some of its ideas. Like to keep track of every penny, both coming and going.
I’d like to try this experiment again when we’re settled in our house, perhaps in the fall, and see if we can hit a lower number. Friends, what’s your low-spending record?
I had hoped to have for you today an analysis of our highly distracted but well-intentioned uber-frugal February. But I have not had time to compile this analysis, as we spent half the day yesterday at the ER with Little Brother. He had a sledding accident, you see, and when he was still complaining of pain the next day, we thought perhaps he had a sprain of some kind.
It was an honest-to-God broken leg.
- We are buying a house! Our boys will have their own rooms and a backyard for the first time ever.
- I can afford to pay the bill, unlike the last time I went to the ER and, as I mused about during my flat-tire debacle, I had to ask for three different payment plans. I even have a medical FSA; I only put in $400, which may not be enough, but it will keep me from having to shell out a giant wad of cash all at once.
- My kids are healthy enough to break legs sledding. No one is guaranteed even one healthy, typically developing child, and I have two. How great is that? This is one month of my life that I’ll laugh about later, not my long-term reality.
- We have easy access to top-notch medical care. We drove there in our totally functional car and got him X-rayed and fixed up. In much of the world, that’s not possible.
- Because of that prompt access to top-notch medical care, we can expect Little Brother to make a full, uncomplicated recovery.
- People love us. We got lots of Facebook well-wishes, plus calls and e-mails from our loved ones and presents from Grandma FP.
What are your first-word problems this week? What are you grateful for?
I think Valentine’s Day is a silly holiday, and I would like to go back in time and tell Geoffrey Chaucer* not to start the whole thing. It comes with too many expectations, too much romantic competitiveness, too much obligatory cheer.
But my children will have to make up their minds on the subject, and, well, Valentine’s Day at the preschool/elementary level is A Thing. I successfully dodged this Thing last year by scheduling a doctor’s appointment for the boys that morning and not taking them to school (it wasn’t their usual day of the week anyway), but this year Big Brother goes to school every day.
Obviously, I did not go out and buy printed cards for his preschool classmates. Rather, Big Brother and I spent an agreeable hour together making extremely simple construction paper doodads like this:The beauty of the design was that we could really work together. Big Brother worked extremely hard cutting out all 16 paper hearts while I cut the squares and wrote on the backs. Then we glued a few together; he got bored gluing and put on stickers while I glued the rest.
We already owned the paper, stickers, and glue stick, so the cost in new materials was $0. Priceless: Big Brother’s obvious pride in his hearts.
How do you work Valentine’s Day? Those with older kids, how have you negotiated the minefield of expectations?
*Geoffrey Chaucer’s piece The Parliament of Fowls, about amorous birds, is the first known reference to Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday.