Ocean in the Middle of Iowa

“This post brought to you by Derek!”

Derek got out the boxes of summer decorations and cobalt blue glassware that the doctor ordered me not to move! One was on the bottom of a stack of boxes.

Decorating this month reminded me of two things:

  1. Buying out of season makes it feel like Christmas all year-long, and
  2. I’m an Iowa girl.

Last week, I shared my inspiration for my August decorating. I talked about the “whale lights” I purchased earlier. Only, they aren’t whales, they’re dolphins! I also bought a glass dolphin, not a glass whale!

I unpacked my box of summer decorations and found a candle embedded with shells! Surprise! I purchased it last fall on a clearance rack and packed it in my summer box right away. Finding it was like opening a Christmas present!

It became the centerpiece for my kitchen table. I put my clear glass dolphin on one side of it and my new cobalt blue, glass dolphin in a vase on the other side. I didn’t have a cobalt blue table runner and pulled a scarf from my closet to use instead.Glass Dolphins and Seashell Candle "Ocean in the Middle of Iowa" frugalfish.orgOverturned vases are the platforms for my glass fish and a crystal oyster. My china cabinet is on a side wall. I try to have two layers of decorations in it because you are not looking at it from the front. I put a large starfish in front of my cobalt blue plate for that reason. The plate with a beach scene was a gift from Aunt Lesta! The candle in front of the plate is fish-shaped.Glass Fish and Crystal Oyster in China Cabinet "Ocean in the Middle of Iowa" frugalfish.orgI hung “dolphin lights” in my front window and put my three largest shells on the windowsill. I used shells everywhere!Dolphin Lights in Window "Ocean in the Middle of Iowa" frugalfish.orgShells fill my blue vases and I put a layer of small shells in the bottom of my glass block. On top, I put cobalt blue marbles and a few blue glass stones.Shells, Marbles, and Glass Rocks in Glass Block "Ocean in the Middle of Iowa" frugalfish.orgEven my wreath has shells on it. I opened up the blue bandana bow and wrapped it around the base of my wreath as an ocean. I added two white bandanas for the sea-foam on each side. I reused the material I used on last year’s wreath for the sky, see here. The rest of my seashells are in a net that I tied and wired to the bottom of the wreath.Ocean Themed Wreath "Ocean in the Middle of Iowa" frugalfish.org

The best way to shop is at the end of the season or in the opposite season. I buy summer clothes in July and winter clothes in January. The stores are trying to make room for fall clothes in July and drastically mark the spring and summer clothes down.

My next shopping trip I will be looking for patriotic and beach decor. I will pack them up and surprise myself again next summer. Of course, that means I have to pass on the items I no longer love to make room. It’s how you survive living in a small house.

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Frugalfish Gets a Fitbit?

Anyone who has read many of my posts knows I am NOT a fan of exercise, see here. (That title alone will make my friends think I fell off of the deep end.) Sweating makes me break out and I avoid it, but I do want to be healthy and used a pedometer for years to track my steps.

On the other hand, my husband is a jock. He loves to exercise and plays every sport. A month before his birthday, I found an offer from flylady.net that I could not refuse. It was “Buy One Get One Free” for a “J-Style Health” activity tracker for $60.00. That was a little more than I normally spend on a birthday gift and I made up the difference out of my spending money because I would be getting one, too.

$$$$$$$$

I ordered the tracker to use a pedometer but was fascinated by the other features. Of course, this generic version does not work as well as the Fitbit brand that sells for $100.00.

Heart Rate Monitor

I never was able to get the heart rate monitor to work. Every time I tried to sync that feature to my phone I got the same message, “Good Morning” which is equivalent to…

“WAKE UP!”

I guess my heart rate is what other people’s heart rate is when they are asleep. I decided I didn’t really need that feature. Both my husband and I have had our hearts tested with EKG’s and he had a stress test. Our hearts are healthy and we do not have a murmur or irregular heartbeat.

The funny thing is my tracker would give me the same message when we were practicing for church and the guitar player went off on a tangent playing blues or country. My tracker must not care for that type of music.

Alarm to Wake Up

The alarm feature works really well. It wakes me up every time but I set it on 5:00 a.m. and it refuses to reset! When the clocks turn back on November 5th, my tracker will probably go off at 4:00 a.m. I stopped using it as an alarm.

Sleep Monitor

I no longer use it to monitor my sleep patterns during the hot weather because the wristband made my wrist sweat and I broke out. This time of year, when the Ragweed pollen is in the air, I have to take Benadryl at night along with my regular antihistamines. There is no way I can wake up at 5 after taking Benadryl.

I keep track of my sleep in my DayTimer anyway. Sometimes the only clue that I am fighting an infection is I suddenly start sleeping for 11 or 12 hours a night. The symptoms of a bacterial sinus infection are the same as a bad allergy reaction.  (I rarely run a fever.)

Calories Burned

This brand of tracker records the KCALs but I do not pay too much attention to it.

Pedometer

It seems to record the movements of my arms as steps. I would be playing the keyboard during the Wednesday evening service and in the middle of it, the tracker would buzz announcing I reached my goal of 10,000 steps. Amazing since I had sat down for the last hour!

I decided to keep the tracker in my pocket. Then it only records the movements of my legs and that is more accurate. Also, I didn’t want to wear it because of my sensitive skin.

Activity Alarm

I decided not to activate the activity alarm which goes off every hour to remind you to get some exercise. I don’t want to have to shut off the buzzing every hour. I use a timer to keep me on task. It is set for 15 minutes. I use it for some activities that I lose track of time doing: cleaning, reading, etc. or for things I can’t wait to finish – like exercise. The timer lets me know I have sat for too long.

$$$$$$$$

I talked to a few friends who have the original Fitbit brand of a tracker. They both were given the trackers by their employers as part of their health program. I would take it if it were offered to me by an employer. I did save a lot of money buying this generic activity tracker. I will keep it because it is serving its purpose as a pedometer.JStyle Fitness Tracker, "Frugalfish Gets a Fitbit?" frugalfish.org

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8 Tips For Buying a New Cell Phone

A migraine woke me up and I spent the morning with all the curtains closed. I thought about staying home, but David promised me a new phone in August. (Yeah, August was really busy.) We had a doctor’s appointment that day in the town where there was a corporate U.S. Cellular store.

Yes, U.S. Cellular is my service provider. Why? Because U.S. Cellular covers country. In my neck of the woods, the other providers have too many holes. Southeast Iowa is not densely populated. In fact, the county south of ours does not even have one traffic light! When we looked into cell phones, U.S. Cellular was the only one that completely covered our area.

The last time David shopped for phones, he found out you can get a better deal if you go with a corporate office. He checked with the local offices and they couldn’t offer him anything. He called U.S. Cellular and was able to get 2 free phones because we have been with them since 1994.

We told Ezekiel, the representative who waited on us, that we were their oldest customer. I’m not sure that is true, but many of my friends have moved from one company to another and we chose to stick with the one we had. (Unfortunately, even after all the nice things I have said, I do not get any money from U.S. Cellular. I do not participate in affiliate marketing.)

Back to my story….the days of free phones and penny phones are gone. Now, you buy the phone on time and they give you a monthly discount of $20.00 for buying the phones from them.

We started by looking at iPhones, but I use a Samsung and a Chromebook, which are both Android products. I told Ezekiel I wanted a big phone because I am near-sighted, and I needed one that took great pictures. We looked at the LG phones next, because there was one model with a good camera. I didn’t fall in love with any of them.

Finally, we looked at the Samsung phones. I am not one who has to have the latest product. We looked at older models and found one with a “Stylus,” a small pen-shaped instrument used to input commands. Earlier I shared how I would rather write with a pen than type, see here. That was the one I wanted!

The cost of covers surprised me; most of them were $29.99 to $39.99. I asked if we could use our points to purchase a cover, but the points reward program ended last year. They did have a cover for this phone that was a flip cover for $9.99.

That’s when the debate started.

I told David I could buy the flip cover and just cut the flap off. He said the phone would not be secure because the flap had to snap into the cover. Ezekiel reminded me that I was purchasing a $535.00 phone and I should protect it. He also recommended the glass screen protector. If you drop the phone, the glass breaks, not the screen. The glass has a lifetime warranty, as long as you own the phone, and they send you a new one if it breaks.

I was overwhelmed. I like to be frugal, but I don’t want to be cheap. I knew I would hate the flip cover, but didn’t want to buy the expensive ones. I left the decision up to David because he pays the bills now. He ordered a regular cover and the glass.

I’m sure I could have gotten the phone on Ebay for less, but I could not pay for it over several months. The monthly payment is less than the $20.00 credit.

David was also eligible for a $20.00 credit on his line. He likes his phone and did not want a new one, but we asked them to add that credit to our account also because we were afraid that program might end before he needed a new phone. So his credit will offset the cost of the cover and glass screen protector. It’s a big phone and I plan on using it for several years.

Before leaving, I gave Ezekiel my business card and told him I would be blogging about buying my new phone today. He walked us to the door and opened it for us.

(Hey, Ezekiel, show this post to your boss and tell him I said you deserve a raise! Thanks for your help!)

Phone buying tips:

  1. Choose your provider based on coverage. Do you travel often? Rural area?
  2. Call or go to a corporate store.
  3. Remind them how long you have been with the company.
  4. Change phones when you are eligible for a discount. End of contract?
  5. Find the phone that fits you. Look at older models.
  6. Don’t buy something you will hate or won’t use.
  7. Do protect your investment.
  8. Take advantage of any perks, discounts, and programs offered. They don’t last forever.

How do you save money when you need a new cell phone?New Cell Phone, "8 Tips For Buying a New Cell Phone" frugalfish.org

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Shopping for a Chest of Drawers with a $65.00 Budget and $7.00 Cash

My husband works for a small lumber company. How small is it? There are only two salesmen…and one is a farmer…and you work every other Saturday morning. That means you can only take vacations in the winter.

Unless your Saturday off is a Holiday weekend!

David got lucky and had Saturday, July 2nd off. We decided to spend the long weekend in Des Moines. I looked at everything there was to do, but decided I wanted to spend the time shopping for a chest of drawers for our youngest.

His buffet/dresser served three generations. The repaired drawers were more suited for cloth napkins and tablecloths than for clothes.

We just replaced the washer and I knew our budget for appliances was not large. It discouraged me to find there was only $65.00 in that account. On top of that, I had purchased 4 pairs of shoes on clearance prices and didn’t even have much spending money left.

We took off on Saturday and I had $7.00 in my wallet. David had the money for food in his wallet. The motel and gas money came out of our vacation budget. I actually thought about staying home, but we love eating at new places, so off we went.

We pulled up the used furniture stores in the Des Moines area on David’s phone and used the GPS to try to find them. Several were in the poorer sections and we didn’t even bother to stop. We did go through D.A.V. Thrift Store, run by disabled veterans because we wanted to support them. We didn’t find what we were looking for there.

Our last stop was “Do Overz.” I loved the look of this store when I went to their website and I was not disappointed when I went inside! The owner sells furniture on consignment and she is very choosy about what she takes.

We found two!

The first chest we found was dark wood and had a bit of scratching on the top and the front. But it had two things going for it: 1) It had the same manufacturer of the chest of drawers we purchased a few months ago, and 2) It was $68.00!

The second chest was in better shape, but it was light wood and cost $124.00. I thought it was a better deal, but it will be in the “locker room.” (The guys keep their clothes in our large laundry room/bathroom and we dubbed it the “locker room.”) When we first moved in, the basement flooded and we had to throw away carpets, couches, and chairs. If that happened again, I would be crushed to have this nice chest be damaged.

We bought the dark chest. It fit our budget and it matches.

Don’t be discouraged when you don’t have a large budget to work with. You might be surprised at what you can find in consignment shops, thrift stores, auctions, and garage sales. Chest of drawers

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Choosing My New Washer

My husband worked almost 30 years at the same lumber yard. It was family owned and opened in 1926. They closed its doors for the final time last year.

That was when I decided to buy only from local merchants.

I shared in a post earlier that my washer was not repairable. Saturday, I put a load in, and it would not fill with water. I shut it off, and the lights didn’t come back on, except for…

“Door is locked.”

I turned it back on, no luck.

I unplugged it, no luck.

I tugged on the door, no luck.

Finally, I plugged it back in and pushed the “start” button anyway. It went through a cycle draining imaginary water and then unlocked. After rescuing our clothes, we headed to our Hometown Sears.

Hometown stores are small hardware and appliance stores operated by independent retailers.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Hometown_and_Outlet_Stores

I watched the wife of the owner grow up. Now, I see their kids growing up on Facebook. I want to support this family business. That is why we bought our microwave there, (not at Wal-Mart), and our snow blower, and David’s new “doo-hickey” – a leaf blower with a vacuüm attachment.

I re-read the article at debtproofliving.com about choosing a washer. I looked at washers at Searsoutlet.com and printed out a few prospects.

My children are grown now and our needs have changed. Our current washer is a large capacity, front loading machine. After the gasket needed replacing for the third time, I decided I wanted a top loading machine.

Following Mary Hunt’s advice, I set our budget, $400.00, and made a list of my top three requirements:

  1. Top loading machine
  2. Load size indicator
  3. G.E. or Whirlpool brand

We looked at the washers on the floor and only one met our qualifications. It was not the cheapest washer available.

I showed the saleslady the washers from searsoutlet.com and asked if the store would get credit if I purchased one of them. When she said no, I threw the list away.

We got a discount of 5% for using our Sears charge card and used the rewards money from earlier purchases. We talked about having it delivered, $45.00, and having them dispose of our old one, $10.00, but decided against it. Total cost – $427.00.

We paid for the washer and drove to a local waste management company. They said they would dispose of it for free if we brought it to their location.

David got on the phone and called a friend…who called his son-in-law…and came over. The three of them brought the new washer downstairs and lugged the old one out. (Our Hometown Sears loaned us a 2-wheel cart.) It pays to have a truck and friends with strong backs!

When I washed the first load, I set it on “Speed Wash.” I want it to last a long time. Next to it is my dryer that has lived through 4 washers, because I dry every load on “Permanent Press” and “Delicate.” It still gets really hot!

I encourage you to buy locally!

Washing Machine Panel

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Stainless Steel or Silver

I own two grapefruit spoons.

The same manufacturer made them using the same molds. The only difference is the material used. One is stainless steel and the other is silver or silver-plated.

Spoon Manufacturer

One is easy to care for – you just throw it in the dishwasher. The other requires a special cleaner, and even if you don’t use it, you have to routinely clean it. You have to store it in a special place or it will tarnish.

Yes, it tarnished.

2 Grapefruit Spoons

I never use the expensive silver spoon. I also don’t take care of it as it needs. I always grab the stainless steel one.

The funny thing about expensive things is they require more work. A lot more work.

It’s the same with any riches. You have to take care of it in a particular way or you have to hire others to “polish your silver.”

When we desire lovely things, we don’t always count the cost of taking care of them. We don’t own them; they own us!

No matter how wealthy you are, the practical items will get used more often.

Form follows function.

Practical before pretty.

Practical is always frugal.

©2009-2016 frugalfish.org. All rights reserved.

JCPenneys “Black Friday Rebate Reward Cards” are Useless

My daughter moved into a new apartment last fall and she needed kitchen appliances. We had read the Black Friday flyers advertising appliances for “$9.99, $14.99, and $24.99. We should have known it was too good to be true.

We headed home after Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s and put our leftovers away. We decided to go to the Pre-Black Friday Sales and pick up a few appliances.

When we got to the store we noticed the prices were not reduced. You paid full price and then sent in a “rebate.” The store then sent you a VISA card for the difference.

I am really good about filling out rebates and we decided to go ahead. We got the same type of deal at another store.

I sent in the rebates and after Christmas my daughter informed me she already had one of the appliances. We offered to return it and give her the cash, which we did. When the gift card from that store arrived, we decided not to use it because we returned the purchase.

We still have that card and it is useless now. Since, I didn’t try to use that card, I don’t know if the same thing would have happened there that happened at Penneys.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Before I go any further, I need to tell you…

I LOVE J C PENNEYS!

I was thrilled to have the card because most of the clothes I buy are made by St. John’s Bay which offers 100% cotton and tall sizes. I blogged about my love for those clothes earlier in “The Top Five Things I Love,” see here. I love the quality of their tablecloths and I purchased all of my new drapes there.

But in this case, they let me down. We tried to use the card after Christmas and they asked for our pin number. I thought, silly me, I should have brought the letter that came with them in my purse. I got them out and put them in my purse when I got home.

We do most of our shopping online and I tried to use them there. No luck. Costumer service could not help me. I decided I had to use them in a JC Penneys store.

The cards have a fee of $3.00 that starts to be deducted after 6 months. In June, I realized I was running out of time. I tried to use them again at Penneys, and they asked for a pin number. I pulled out the letter and there was no pin number on them. I asked the cashier for help and they said they didn’t know.

We were beyond frustrated. We tried to call the toll-free number on the letter and it was disconnected. It has now been a year and the cards were eaten up by the monthly fees. Oddly enough, the cards do not expire until 02/16. The fees eat it up by 09/15!

I contacted customer service a few months ago and asked them to pass on my complaint. I did not hear anything back. They would not give me an email address to voice my complaint.

The moral of my story is…the “rebate reward cards” at Penneys are useless. If you are offered the difference in price in the form of a rebate that issues you a VISA reward card…forget it.

The Black Friday Ads came out on Monday and once again Penneys is offering appliances with a “rebate.” I’m not falling for it again.

These cards cannot be redeemed at Penneys or anywhere else.

These cards cannot be redeemed at Penneys or anywhere else.

 

Choosing a New Microwave

We were having a girl’s night and I made several things in the microwave. I foolishly had a decorative cloth on top of it that blocked the holes in the back. It died.

My microwave died.

My microwave died.

After cooling off for 20 minutes, it decided to work again. That was November, 2011 and I decided to just keep using it until it died.

It would cook potatoes for 20 minutes and it would shut off after it finished. Even though I removed the cloth, it still did not like to run for a long time. It would cool off and turn back on after several minutes.

Tuesday night, I cooked potatoes and was surprised that it did not shut off. I put in some frozen peas to cook. When the timer went off, I took them out and found they were still frozen.

The lights were on, the timer was working, but it stopped heating.

At 6 am Wednesday morning, Mr. Frugalfish said, “Hey, you want to go buy a microwave before I got to work?”

“Sure!”

I found the one I wanted…it was large enough for a 9 X 13 pan to rotate. He said it was too big.

On the way home I explained about cooking in the microwave in the summer instead of the oven. He stuck to his guns.

Midmorning I got a text…”Do you want to look for one at Sears?”

“Sure”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“If you are going to pick me up, you have to buy me lunch.”

“Okay.”

I did my homework. I wanted to buy one that was made in America and I wanted to support the local store. I called and had them measure the inside to find one that would rotate a 9″ X 13″ pan.

The salesman took us right to it when we arrived and Mr. Frugalfish said, “It’s too big.”

(What!)

We looked at washers, because ours would be too expensive to repair and that will be our next purchase. Then we looked at freezers because that is on our wish list. We decided to discuss it at lunch.

It wasn’t until late in the evening that I understood what he meant by it being “too big.” The unit itself would cover the top of the dishwasher where it would sit. We would lose that little bit of counter space.

I didn’t want that. I compromised. I told him to get one the same size as our original microwave and then buy a cake pan one size smaller than the 9″ X 13″.

At lunch on Thursday he picked up a beautiful, white microwave. I secretly desired having a white one because all of my appliances are white. Of course, I plan on reducing his serving size based on the smaller sized pan! Lol (And we still are looking for a smaller pan.)

The new microwave we chose.

The new microwave we chose.

The point is, buy what you need, but the largest one may not be the best one for your space. We only spent 1/3 of the money we have in our appliance category in our savings account. Just because you have the money, don’t buy the most expensive one. Buy only what you need and keep talking it through until you understand each other.

Steamboat Dinner Cruise

Today is my birthday!

This year we did something different, when my husband’s birthday rolled around we put the money in savings. The money we would have spent on our anniversary went into savings, also. We did the same thing with my birthday money.

Instead of presents for those three events, we chose to do something on my bucket list. With those pooled resources we were able to take a “Steamboat Dinner Cruise!”

The Spirit of Dubuque Steamboat

The Spirit of Dubuque Steamboat

The SPIRIT has been showcasing the vast history and beauty of the Dubuque area for over 20 years with a variety of cruises to fit into everyone’s schedule. Cruising May through October, the SPIRIT of Dubuque has sightseeing, lunch & dinner cruises that would delight the entire family! www.dubuqueriverrides.com

We boarded the “Spirit of Dubuque” at 5:30 p.m. and were seated next to the entertainment. It was a 2 man band with: an accordion, electric guitar, a pedal bass, and a preprogrammed drum kit! The singer played the last three instruments.

Our musical entertainment.

Our musical entertainment.

I was a little bummed until I noticed the cabinet next to the band marked “Life Jackets.” I decided it was the table I wanted after all! The band won us over, by the end of the night we were singing along with them!

Sitting next to the life jackets!

Sitting next to the life jackets!

We walked around the top deck while the rest of the passengers were loading. It was in the 80’s and we decided to stick to the air-conditioned dining room after that.

The Dubuque Bridge over the mighty Mississippi.

The Dubuque Bridge over the mighty Mississippi.

They served: prime rib, chicken Marsala, party potatoes, green bean casserole, cole slaw, rolls, and mini muffins shot with caramel sauce.

The hostess had a note that we were celebrating our anniversary. She asked us how many years we had been married. We told her 33.

The band recognized each couple and announced the years of marriage and then sang a special song for each one. We didn’t know the one they sang for us, but they played our song earlier, “Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life.” They also sang “Happy Birthday” to each one celebrating on the cruise.

We left Dubuque and rode north until we reached the locks and turned around. We didn’t notice any motion, until a boat sped by a little too closely and we felt their wake.

We turned around at the locks.

We turned around at the locks.

We were the last table to go through the buffet line and I did not have my sea legs! You notice the motion when you try to walk. A teenager laughed at me and I laughed along with her. After all, most of the people at her table were on their third drink and were walking much worse.

We passed the dock and went just as far south as we had gone north. We watched the sun set over the bluffs of the river and enjoyed the leisurely trip back watching the lights on the shore.

Watching the sunset from the steamboat.

Watching the sunset from the steamboat.

We docked and no one was in a hurry to disembark. When the band started to yodel, we decided it was time for us to go!

The best gifts are not items you have to dust. The best gifts have a memory attached to them. Every once in a while you should pay for an experience instead of paying for more stuff.

Saving money does not mean spending less money. It means setting money aside for something special!

STOCK UP AT “BACK-TO-SCHOOL” SALES

I love the new commercial about “Parent’s Vacation Sales!” I’m sure the kids know they are really “Back to School Sales,” but kids and teachers alike are trying to just enjoy summer. Whatever you call it, these sales are a good time to stock up on clothing and supplies whether you are a student or not.

I do most of my writing in ring-bound notebooks. There is just something about using pen and paper that I enjoy. (Maybe it is the scent of Pentel blue ink.) During these sales, I purchase enough notebooks to last me for a year.

This is also a good time to stock up on underwear and socks! There are bonus packages with an extra pair in them.

You can find inexpensive housewares that are being targeted for college students. Think bedding, towels, small appliances, and electronics.

Don’t just shop at the big box stores. Check the flyers for dollar stores and grocery stores. They may have a limited number, but the price is set to move the stock.

You don’t have to be in school to benefit from the…ahem…”Parent’s Vacation Sales!”

Stock up on Back to School Sales,