Category Archives: free

Last-Minute Frugal Date Night Ideas

Items from a frugal date night As if she was reading my mind, Foundry follower Sally Ashley asked if she could do a guest post on Frugal Date Nights. Just in time for Valentine’s Day! When she’s not reading this blog, Sally writes about romance and personal finance. Her most recent work focuses on how to pick the best finance schools.

So if you don’t have anything planned for your sweetie tonight, and you want to keep it frugal, read on…

How to Plan a Frugal Date Night
Planning a date doesn’t always have to be expensive, and you can have just as much fun on a frugal date as you can on an expensive date. Below are some great ways you can plan a frugal date night and still have a great time!

Hangout at Home
You can plan a fun but cheap date night in your very own home. You probably have food there, so look up some recipes online and cook a great meal for you and your date. More than likely, you have some good entertainment in your home as well. A stereo, television, computer, video game system or just some good old-fashioned board games can be fun on a date. Simply invite your date over to hangout and listen to music, watch a movie and share a meal, or play some fun games.

Attending Local Events
Most every city has local newspapers that list local events and happenings that will be going on in the next few weeks. Some cities have their own websites that list these events. Look in those papers or Internet sites, and search for some local events that you and your date can attend. When you see something that looks fun, and go out and have some fun. Most of the time, these events are relatively cheap or even free.

Visit the Park
A romantic AND cheap date that can be a lot of fun is going to the park. If you or your date has a dog, take your pet along. You can pack a nice picnic lunch and a blanket and sit under the trees and enjoy good conversation while eating lunch. Some parks host events and activities as well. They might have a swimming pool, walking/jogging trails or some secluded areas to get some privacy. If it’s winter, there might be somewhere to go ice skating.

Cheap Movie 
Going out to the movies on a date is ridiculously expensive, and more often than not, boring. Staring at a screen and being silent for over two hours can make it tough to get back into the vibe after the movie is over. However, if there is a movie you both want to see and it is available by rental, check it out and watch it at home. You can pop your own popcorn, have your own drinks and sit down and share a movie together. Every now and again, you can stop the movie to enjoy some conversation or refresh your beverages. If you know your date pretty well, take advantage of the cheaper movie specials during the daytime, or visit the dollar movie to catch a really cheap one. [ed: Even cheaper, borrow a movie from the library for free!]

Cheap Coffee Dates

Meeting up for coffee can be a good idea if you know your date pretty well. If so, you can engage in good conversation the entire time you are there. If you do not know your date well, a coffee shop can be intimidating – trying to find something to say for a couple of hours. If you have a nice coffee maker or cappuccino machine at home, ask your date over for some homebrew, and make your own coffee at home while enjoying conversation, a meal or just watching television together. First dates at a coffee shop are easier if you go on a double-date to help break the ice. Afterwards, you can go to a cozier place alone if things go as planned.

Hopefully, you can use some of these frugal date ideas for yourself. They are easy on the wallet, and they will allow you the opportunity to get to know your date better. You can learn a lot about a person by using one of these cheap date ideas over the more expensive options.

Thanks, Sally! Readers, how are you spending your Valentine’s Day (frugally or otherwise)? In our family, we exchange hand-made cards for each other, and Mrs Foundry usually bakes a treat for the family. This year I splurged and got her a bouquet of her favorite flowers (even though we agreed on no gifts). Oops!

The cost of a Free Concert

My uncle gave our family free tickets to a concert last week. It was Pink Martini, one of my wife’s favorite bands, so we couldn’t pass it up. The concert was a blast (especially for the kids who got to dance around) and I don’t regret going, but the evening came with an important lesson about the hidden costs of “free” activities.

Transportation: it was too far for the little ones to bike, and the bus ride would have been inconvenient with our picnic supplies, so we took the car. This put me over my limit in the gallon challenge, so although it wasn’t a huge deal to drive for the rest of the family, it was a personal defeat for me.*

Food: we were in too big of a rush to prepare dinner, so we ordered a pizza to go (and they forgot to put tomato sauce on it, WTF!?)

Other temptations: the concert was in a park that had a carousel, so the children wanted to ride on that. Only a couple bucks, and well worth the price for the nostalgic fun. Grandma bought the children some treats too. That’s what grandmas are for, right?

The point here isn’t “don’t leave your house” or “never take anyone up on an offer” since that would make life boring. The point is that it’s rare when things are truly free, and it’s important to think ahead about the actual cost of your choices.

* For those keeping score at home, this trip brought me up to 1.85 gallons.

Hang Dry Your Laundry: Just Do It!

Speaking of laundry… Hang-drying your laundry is so easy, it’s something everyone should do! The sun is just sitting out there waiting for some laundry to dry for free. Even in Seattle, we keep the clothesline up year-round (though it doesn’t get much use from October – May).

We hung some rope from the house to a spare bamboo pole, and then back again, to provide two lengths of clothesline from which to hang clothes. And we added a drying rack for increased capacity. You can also see stuff hanging from chairs and even toys.

We’re blessed with a large deck that has Southern exposure, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do this inside, or on a small scale if you have a smaller yard.

There are plenty of other tips to increase the space on the clothesline: hang clothes from hangers or even an old umbrella frame.

And the proof is in the financial pudding. Dryers are one of the biggest energy consumers in the house. We just got our electricity bill for June/July (when we’ve been able to hang-dry almost exclusively). We used 387kWh per month.

According to the Government, “In 2010, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,496 kWh, an average of 958 kilowatthours (kWh) per month. Tennessee had the highest annual consumption at 16,716 kWh and Maine the lowest at 6,252 kWh.”

So we’re at about 1/3rd the national average. Granted, energy costs are lower for us in the summer, so let’s look at our family’s yearly average (the Seattle City Light bill gives you a nice graph of your yearly consumption), 811kWh per month. Lower than average, but we still have some ways to go before we can beat Maine! In February, our most electricity-consuming month, we use over 4x the amount of electricity we use over the summer!

Not only are you saving money, by hanging your clothes to dry you’re also helping save the earth. I love when those two things go together!

PS: Washington state enjoys the 2nd lowest energy costs in the nation (probably due to all our hydroelectric). But that doesn’t mean you can waste it!

The Seattle Public Library gets even more kickass!

Here’s a new way to beat the summer heat: starting today, you can “check out” free passes to many local museums, using the Seattle Public Library website. As if the library wasn’t already the most awesome thing known to man.

According to the SPL website, “The Museum Pass allows you to use your Seattle Public Library card to reserve and print out an admission pass to participating Seattle museums at no charge. You can reserve a Museum Pass either by venue or date.”

So far, they have passes for EMP, Children’s Museum, The Burke, The Henry, and many more. The only way this would be more awesome is if you could use your smartphone to get in, instead of needing a printer.

Bread Machine In Da House!

A few weeks ago I read this article on bread machines, and thought to myself “I bet Venessa would love a bread machine, since she loves to bake.” I brought it up with her, and she said “Only if you can get a free one.”

So I saved a search on Craigslist, and last night an ad was posted for a free bread maker. I didn’t notice the listing until it was a few hours old so I didn’t have my hopes up, but this morning the owner mailed me back and said it’s all mine!*

I brought it home and Venessa was very surprised. Turns out she didn’t really want a breadmaker, and she only said that thing about it needing to be free because she thought I’d never be able to find a free bread machine! Even after all these years, she still underestimates my power of frugality.

I immediately got a recipe from the article I linked to above, and plugged the thing in. It’s humming away in the kitchen as I write this. It shakes the counter wildly as it kneads the dough, so I coined the phrase “If the kitchen’s a-shakin, then bread’s a-bakin!

A good blogger would probably bake a loaf and eat it before writing an article about it, but I’m too excited to wait 3 hours. I guess that provides a good excuse for a follow-up post. I estimate it’ll save about $2 per loaf of bread, so it’ll pay for itself in 3 loaves.

* Worried that it wouldn’t fit on the scooter, I drove the car 6 miles round trip to pick it up. So really it was $6.

I’m Going Into Collections

I bet you thought this was a post about a bill I didn’t pay. As if! Instead, this is an article about collecting things as a hobby.

Collecting can be fun, educational, and sometimes profitable. But some collections are prohibitively expensive both in terms of money spent, and the wasteful amount of stuff one acquires. Not to mention the toxic “collect them all” mindset that can plague compulsive collectors.

For a collection to be frugal, it needs to meet the following three criteria.  Collectables must be…

  1. Cheap or free to acquire
  2. Easy to store
  3. Useful to own

Examples of frugal collections:

  • Shells, or other beautiful artifacts from travel (be sure to Leave No Trace in protected areas)
  • Postcards (Mrs. Foundry collects these)
  • Keychains (The Mini Foundries collect these)

Examples of non-frugal collections*:

  • Guns (fails test 2)
  • Sports cars (fails tests 1 and 2)
  • Antique bureaus (fails tests 1, 2, and 3)

When I was a boy, I collected pins and baseball cards. I was unwittingly part of the baseball card bubble of the early 1990s, which means crafty grownups got rich on my allowance money. Pins are a great frugal collection, but baseball cards are in a frugal grey area (at best), since they’re inexpensive (unless you have a taste for Babe Ruth rookie cards) and easy to store, but not very useful on their own.

Now I collect two things: bookmarks and rubber-bands. The latter I store in an ever-growing rubber-band ball, which I admit is very silly in a Peewee Herman kind of way. But they come in handy now and then for craft projects and grouping stuff.

On the other hand, the bookmark collection is over 20 years in the making and very dear to me. Since I’m an avid reader, it comes in handy literally every day. It’s fun to sort though the collection and choose a bookmark that fits the book. They were mostly free (from bookstores) and the collection easily fits in a small box. People who know me bring back bookmarks from trips. It’s a very easy way to get on my good side.

You can even make your own bookmarks, like the ones pictured above. Try doing that with sports cars! Does anyone else have interesting collections?

The most frugal collection, of course, is money. Collect enough of that and you can retire, which will give you plenty of time to start many other frugal collections!

* I have nothing against cars, furniture, or guns. I own all three. I’m talking specifically about collecting lots of them.

Maybe there IS such thing as a free lunch?

Since my paid employment involves building websites, I’m always trying out new websites and phone apps (as long as they’re free). With Mrs. Foundry starting up her food truck, I was interested in a mobile payment app called Level Up. It has a cute interface where you dock your phone in the restaurant’s payment system and the dock turns green when the transaction goes through.

I installed it on my phone and forgot about it, since I’m in the middle of Just Cash June. Then I got an email saying a $10 credit was applied to my account, so I figured “what the heck.” I took it for a spin at a nearby pizza place, figuring I could get a couple slices and leave a nice tip, all for under $10. I’m not sure what Level Up’s business model is, giving away $10 to customers, but that’s not my problem.

The transaction was so smooth (and free) I got really happy. Maybe it was the pizza that made me happy. I was so happy, I walked next door to the frozen yogurt place and got a cup of yogurt. The froyo place didn’t have Level Up so I had to pay cash for that. Maybe they’re owned by Level Up, and that’s their business model!

If you’re interested in trying out Level Up, here’s an invite code. We each get $5 if you use it: