Tips from Michigan's most frugal mom

Posted by Erica Noonan  August 7, 2009 10:23 AM

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(Photo courtesy of Fleszar family)

Please welcome back my friend, guest blogger and and car birth pioneer Candice Smith Fleszar, who brought us the amazing Rules for a Rush Hour Birth last month

I have known Candice for more than 15 years, so I can testify that she is also one of the thriftiest people on earth. (I didn't say cheap, Candice, I said thrifty.)

A homeschooling mom of four, she manages to run her active family on one salary. Be impressed, I sure am.

By Candice Smith Fleszar

Erica has called me “The Most Frugal Mom in Michigan.” And I think she means it as a compliment.

I admit that I am even more careful with money after losing my job (and half our income) a few years ago, living in a state with 15% unemployment, and recently giving up 10% of our family's income through pay cuts at my husband's job.

But still, I do not grow my own food (although we have a small garden), save shower water for my plants, or sew my own maxi pads (oh yes, it is done!).

I do watch my money to make sure we have what we need, when we need it. While I do many different things to stretch the budget, here are the few that I live by on a daily basis:

* "Budget” has historically been a naughty word, but it's experiencing a revival. It's not about constraints... it's about POWER! And, who doesn't love power? With a budget (Thank you Dave Ramsey), I realized how much more I could do. I actually got MORE of the things I really wanted sooner and chucked stuff that wasn't important but was sucking away my paycheck.

* Only spend what you have right now. Pitch the credit cards (you can do it, really) and start using only cash. This is not easy to do all at one time. So, begin with the easiest cash envelopes to manage (e.g. grocery, gasoline).

If you have to use a card, use a bank debit card so it comes right out of your checking account. Make sure the money is there before you swipe.

* Bring a calculator grocery shopping. With all the sales and special offers leaping off the shelves, it's tough to decipher what is actually a good deal. It takes only a little extra time to figure out the best deal by dividing the price by units (oz, gal, liters, lbs, etc.)

You'll find some brand-name products on sale with a coupon are still more expensive than the generic. Sometimes the generic on sale is more expensive than the fancy brand in a bigger container.

* Tame the utility bills. The air conditioning does not need to be on 68 degrees and the heat doesn't need to be on 72 degrees. In the summer, wear less and run fans. In the winter, wear more, and weatherproof where you can.

In our house, the cool air (when rarely turned on) starts at 83 degrees just to take the edge off and the winter temp starts at 63 degrees (grab a warm blanket to watch TV at night). We adjust 1 degree at a time if unbearable. Our nearly 100-year-old, three-story home (with a super-efficient furnace) often has lower heating bills than friends with smaller, newer places.

* Goodwill IS the toy store... at least that's what my kids think. You can give as much joy with a $1.99 toy than you can with something new from Toys"R"Us. If you think your kids won't stand for such injustice, change their expectations. Having them expect everything new and expensive won't help them later in life.

Extra-tip: Santa Claus likes Goodwill too and stocks up all year.

Candice Smith Fleszar is a former journalist and corporate public relations specialist turned homeschooling mom in the Grand Rapids, MI area. She has four daughters, ages 2-10, and is a moderator for

Got ideas of your own to share? Leave us a comment!

(Photo from the birthday of Candice's Harry Potter obsessed 8-yr-old Laine. All the decorations were purchased months before at 90% off at a party store going out of business.)

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about the author

Erica Noonan is chief of the Globe West bureau. Before joining the Globe in 2000, she worked for the Associated Press in Boston. Raised in Wellesley, she has a master's degree in political communication from Emerson College and a BA in political science from Trinity University in San Antonio. She lives in Natick with two energetic children: Dennis, 6, and Lila, 4.

Contact Erica

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