Be Prepared or Be Me

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We had some nasty storms roll through over the weekend. There was a lot of tornado-ish activity, 70 mile-an-hour gusts of wind, hail, and an electrical blackout.  For almost 24 hours, we were living in the stone age, with nothing but smartphones for internet, and high-lumen flashlights being used to see.   With no cartoons for the girls, we were forced to read them bed-time stories, while my son and his friends were forced to use their imaginations to entertain themselves.

Every time we called, the electric company added 12 hours to their estimated repair time.   Amazingly, they came in 7 hours ahead of schedule, if you don’t count the first two revisions.

By Saturday afternoon, we were out shopping for things we should have already had ready.

For years, we had discussed buying a generator.  For some reason, it never became a priority.  We have a large freezer and refrigerator full of food.   With no electricity, a generator was suddenly prioritized.   All of the places near us were sold out of budget-priced generators when we decided it was better to drop $400 on that than to lose $600 worth of food.   We did find one, eventually, but it would have been better to take it out of the garage than have to shop for it when we needed it.   Naturally, 10 minutes after we got it home, the power came on.  Do yourself a favor:  if you own a home and have a small corner available for storage, start shopping for a generator. Pick one up on sale instead of waiting until you have no real choice.

We have a ton of batteries.  It’s one of the things we stock up on when they are on sale.  Unfortunately, our broadest-beam flashlight takes a 6-volt battery, and we don’t keep a spare.   By the end of the night, it was getting pretty yellow and dim.  Another night would have killed it completely.   This wasn’t a widespread blackout, so there was no shortage of batteries, but it would have been nice to have the spare already at home.  Check your emergency supplies and make sure you have replacement batteries that fit everything you need.

The one thing that would have improved the night most is a good lantern.   We had our 5, plus two of my son’s friends all trying to play board games by flashlight.  A lantern could have been set on the entertainment center and lit most of the room.

For everything we were without due to the blackout, the one thing I truly missed was the air conditioner.  When the storm died, so did the wind.  Completely.   Opening all of the windows didn’t help at all.   Other than that, it was nice to have everyone forced to interact.   Nobody was whining about being bored and we were all having fun.

I want to schedule a pseudo-blackout more often.

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Party Planning on a Super Tight Budget

Sliced Fatty
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I like to party.

Actually, that’s a lie.  I’m too introverted to be a partier.   More accurately, I like to throw two parties per year.  I am also cheap frugal, so I try not to break the bank feeding fifty of my closest friends.

I have two entirely different parties.   The first, known as the “Fourth Annual Second Deadly Sin Barbecue of Doom”, is a daytime party with a lot of food.   The second is a Halloween party which takes place at night and refreshments are more of the liquid variety.  Two different parties, two different strategies to keep them affordable.

Meat

For the Halloween party, meat consists entirely of a meat/cheese/cracker tray and a crock-pot full of either sloppy joes or chili.  Quick and easy for about $20.   For the barbecue, meat is the main attraction.   The menu varies a bit from year to year.   Last year, we had burgers, brats, hot dogs, a leg of lamb, pulled pork, and a couple of fatties.   The year before, we had a turducken, but no fatties.    From a frugal standpoint, the only meat mistakes were the turducken and the lamb.  Neither are cheap, but both as delicious.   The rest of the meat needs to be bought over the months preceding the party, as they go on sale.   Ten pounds of beef, 2 dozen brats, 2 dozen hot dogs and a pork roast can be had for a total of about $75, without having to worry about picking out the hooves and hair.    Fatties cost less than $5 to make.

Sides

Both parties have chips, crackers and a vegetable tray.   Chips are usually whatever is on sale or the store brand if it’s cheaper.    Depending on our time management, we try to cut the vegetables ourselves, but have resorted to paying more for a pre-made  veggie tray in the past.   This runs from $15-30.

Drinks

For kids and adults who don’t drink, I make a 5 gallon jug of Kool-Aid.  Cost:  About $3.    For adults, I provide a few cases of beer.  I don’t drink fancy beer, so this runs about $50.    For the Halloween party, I throw open my liquor cabinet.   Whatever is in there is available for my guests.   The rule is “I provide the beer.  If you want something specific, bring it yourself.”   I have a fairly well-stocked liquor cabinet, but I don’t stock what I don’t like or don’t use.   Part of the stock is what guests have left in the past.    I don’t drink much and I buy liquor sporadically when I have a whim for something specific, so raiding the leftovers in the liquor cabinet doesn’t register on my party budget.

Potluck

While it seems like an obvious and easy way to keep costs down, I do not and will not expect my guests to bring anything.  I throw a party to showcase either A) my cooking, or B) my Halloween display.   I don’t charge admission.  I don’t charge for a glass.  I throw a party so I can have fun with the people I care about and the people the people I care about care about.   I consider it a serious breach of etiquette to ask anybody to bring something.   On the other hand, if someone offers, I will not turn it down.

Fun

The most important part of either of my parties is fun.  All else is secondary.   I seem to be successful, since reservations are made for my spare beds a full year in advance.   Last Halloween, people came from 3 states.

Cost

How much do my mildy-over-the-top parties cost?   The barbecue runs about $150-180 plus charcoal and propane.    Yes, I use both.  I’ll have 2 propane grills, 1 charcoal grill, and a charcoal smoker running all day. The Halloween party costs $80-100 for the basics.    The brain dip costs another $20 and there’s always at least another $50 in stuff that seems like a good idea to serve.

Update:  This post has been included in the Festival of Frugality.

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May 30 Day Project

Before I discuss May’s 30 day project, I’m going to talk about April’s.

Last month, my goal was to declutter my entire house.  Every room, every closet, every drawer.

I missed the goal.

My wife has gotten behind this project wholeheartedly.   She’s had friends over helping almost every weekend.  She’s kept the kids occupied while I’ve been working on it. It’s been a team effort, which has been nice.    One room at a time, we’ve tackled the entire house, except for a couple of spots.

Our son’s closet isn’t finished.   He hasn’t had use of his closet since we moved him into the room he’s in.  It’s been the filing center for a couple of business opportunities.   Most of it has been cleared out, but not all.  It will be finished in the next few days.

Our storage room isn’t done.  It pains me to have a “storage room”, but I don’t think its purpose will be changing.   Now, however, instead of unopened appliances and boxes of clothes, it’s almost down to just seasonal stuff and things we do need occasionally.    We have the Christmas decorations, the pet crates, and a few other things that get used rarely, but do get used.   This room used to have a 6-foot cabinet of computer parts, leftover from the days when building/supporting computers was my main side-hustle.   That has been reduce to just one box, mostly power cords.    The gaming pads and old hard drives are gone.    All that’s left for this room is one shelf, and the remainder of another old side-hustle that has some emotional attachment for my wife.

The remaining trouble spots will be cleaned out by this weekend.   We’re having a garage sale the following weekend, and it will all be there. We’ve been pricing as we’ve been sorting, so we’re almost ready.

Decluttering an entire house that’s been filled by the horrible habits of two accumulators means we literally have thousands of things we’ll be selling in two weeks.   We split our garage with our roommmate.   Our stall is full.    We’ve got some stuff in the driveway.   We’ve got a pile of boxes in the basement, ready to go.  Our dining room is full.

Let me repeat that last point:  Our dining room is full.

My project for May was supposed to have been having dinner at the table at least 3 nights per week.   At the moment, I’m not entirely sure we still have a table. I certainly can’t see it and there is no way to use it for dinner.  This project has to be moved.

So, what’s the plan for May?   I’m going to tackle June’s project.

I will not use the computer while anyone else is awake, except for household necessities. Household necessities on the computer are almost nonexistent, since I’ve automated almost everything.    I balance the checkbook on a monthly basis, and may have to pay a quarterly bill later this month.   I’m going to take the time to be with my family, and do something that matters more than Google Reader.  That means writing happens after everyone goes to bed, or at 5AM, which will be motivation to keep that wake-up time. Internet on the blackberry counts as computer use.

Family first.

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Decluttering the House – April 30 Day Project Update

My 30 Day Project for April is to declutter my entire house.   That’s every room, every dresser, every drawer. We’ve got 12 years of jointly accumulated clutter.

Our progress so far has been wonderful.   The main level of our house is almost done.

In our daughters’ room, we put in bunk beds and pulled out a dresser.   With the crib, changing table, and toddler bed removed, they actually have room to play on the floor.  Their closet has been emptied and repurposed as scrapbooking and blanket storage.  Cost: $140 for the bunk beds.

Our son’s room has had a dresser, a desk, and a bed replaced with a loft bed.   Even with the 6 foot tall monstrosity of a bed, his room looks so much bigger.    We still have to clean out his closet, which is mostly artifacts of a business we no longer have, leftovers from when his bedroom was our office.  Cost: $260 for the loft bed.

Our room was depressing. Never dirty, but oh-so-full.   The closet was jam-packed.  The top shelf was full of towels and sheets.   The closet rod couldn’t fit another shirt.   There was a modular shelving system on the floor of the closet–full.  We had three full dressers.   The headboard has 5 foot tall cabinets, half of which were full of makeup and jewelry, the other half with books.   Now, there is 1 empty dresser.   It belonged to my great-grandmother, so it’s going to the shop to be refinished, instead of the garage sale to be sold.   Another dresser has spare room in it.   There’s no need to rearrange the cabinets to get to anything.    The closet is less than half full and there is almost nothing on the floor of the closet.   Gear for my side-line business is stored out of sight and out of the way.  This is so much more relaxing.

We’ve tackled the kitchen, except for 1 cabinet, which is mostly cookbooks and booze.   That will be fun to clean out.

Our front closet was worthless.   It was so full we put hooks on the outside of the door to hang our coats.   We pulled out a dozen coats we never wear.   At least 20 pairs of shoes, some belonging to roommates gone 1o years.   We can actually use the closet now. The shoes and boots all have homes.  Our coats all fit…inside.

We have 1 closet and 1 cabinet left to address on the main level.   There are also 3 small rooms in the basement that need to be gutted–the laundry room, the family room, and a room that has been designated for storage and the litter box.    The last one will be the hardest.    It’s full of remnants of hobbies past and failed ventures.   I’m expecting some fights, flowing every possible direction.

In the process, we’ve filled our dining room with stuff for our garage sale…twice.   It’s all getting priced and boxed as we go through it.   We thrown away anything we won’t be able to sell.   We’ve done all of this with the mutual understanding that nothing is coming back in the house.  After the sale, it will be donated or sold on Craigslist, but it won’t become a part of our lives again.   We are successfully purging so much.    The “skinny clothes” are gone.   When the time comes, they’ll be replaced.  In the meantime, they can be put to better use on someone else.   Hobbies that never took, games that are never played, it’s all going.    We are getting down to the things that are actually used and useful.

It’s interesting to note that the process is getting easier as the month goes by.     My Mother-in-Law is a hoarder.    Those habits get passed down, but what was originally a source of stress has turned into a pleasant chore.

The most wonderful discovery of all?  It turns out we don’t need a better storage system, we just need less stuff.

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnival.

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