Saturday, January 18, 2020

10 Thankful, Thrifty Things: Cheap Tickets, Free Hotels, CNY and Saving Soap...

Chinese New Year is next week, and that means festivities are ramping up here in Hong Kong. I always look forward to this time of year. Firecrackers, orange trees, dragon dances, cherry blossoms, traditional much fun!

I'm also thankful for The Ronald McDonald House and all they do for families around the world. I was blessed to volunteer at the RMH here in Hong Kong today. One of the regular local volunteers, Candy, makes the most amazing homemade Hot Chili Sauce. Today, I mentioned how much I like it and she gave me a jar! Thank you, Candy!

I'm also thankful that it is raining in Australia. My friend and former coworker, Jane, posted this picture today. I think it is a touching shot. (PC Pamela Schramm.)

We are part of a wonderful international community. Last week, we had a little gathering of "awoks"(adults with out kids--(at home:)). Some were back visiting, some are getting ready to leave, and some of us still call this city home for right now. New Zealand, US, and Canada all represented here. Thankful for these people who love Jesus and love each other, and thankful for the Autys who hosted.

Our son needed to fly home earlier than he had originally thought because of some college issues. American Airlines wanted to charge us $3000.00 USD!!!! to change our ticket to an earlier day. That was NOT going to happen. I had some points with the same airline, but since it was a last minute flight, I was looking at 120K points for a one way economy ticket from HK to Philly. I didn't have or want to use that many points, but I kept checking several times a day, and sure enough, a business/first class ticket showed up for 70K points and $62, so I snagged it. My son got the enviable opportunity to fly in a sweet lay flat seat for his 13 hour flight, after his steak dinner. I have never been able to do that. And that, my friends, is nothing but mother love. Here he is back in Philly with his girlfriend. 

A few things on the thrifty front:

I have a pair of slippers that were wearing through on the the bottom. I found a child's fleece jacket on the free table at work, and it yielded enough material to add two extra layers to the bottom of my slippers. I cut them out and rough-stitched them in. Not only are they softer, they are much "cushier." 

How many small, almost used bars of soap can you add to a bigger bar? In this case, the answer is three.

I told my kids that the only thing I wanted for Christmas was cheese and coffee, and they delivered! This is only a portion, but today we enjoyed some Wisconsin Cheddar from Abby and some Starbucks from Lee, (who happens to work there). 

I know it's a little thing, but I get free trash bags every month from our apartment security guards. We get a receipt in our mailbox when our landlord pays the management fees, and our guards stamp it and give us our free trash bags. It makes me smile every time!

I needed to get in a free night at a hotel within the IHG group before my annual certificate expired, so last Friday, Mike and I spent the night at the Crowne Plaza in Causeway Bay. Had a little fruit platter waiting for us, and we had nice view. Room was comfy and we slept in. What more can you ask for?

In other news, we are trying to eat up all the leftovers before Chinese New Year break begins next week. Do you know where we are going? I'll let you guess!

Thanks for those who participated in my contest a week or so ago. The winner was Jon Seah, who correctly guessed 4 out of 5 of our favorite eats.

That's a wrap for this week. Tell me...what are you most grateful for this week?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

22 Ideas that are Helping Me Declutter My Life

We all know it. We are consumed by STUFF and it drives us crazy. And yet, somehow, we can never quite conquer the piles. Oh, sister (and brother) I am right there with you. Living in Hong Kong in 425+-sf, I sometimes start feeling smug. "Look at me," I tell myself," I have all I need right here in this tiny space. I am amazing! Who needs a McMansion?"

My tiny kitchen in Hong Kong. 
Then I remember that I have a 2700 sf home in the US that is full. (1800 sf of living space, plus a basement/attic that are jam packed.)
Our home in Maine. (PC the fantastic Morgan Wiley)
I am quite naturally a hoarder. I am sentimental. I love anything antique. Items received from any member of my family are precious to me and I feel like I am giving away a part of my soul when I part with them. OK...maybe a slight exaggeration, but still. I like to be be prepared. I hate to waste. These are just a few of the many reasons that is it difficult for me to part with...anything.

My grandson, Calvin, playing with a safe that belonged to his great, great, great, great grandfather. 
The last few years, I have been making a concerted effort to scale back, minimalize, it what you will, but here are some thoughts that have helped me. I am a work in in progress.

1) Only keep one or two items from a loved one. This is one idea that has helped me immensely. I remember when my Great Aunt Blanche died and my mom had me chose some items to keep. For some reason, I felt I could never part with any of those items since they came from her. Now I have narrowed down my selection and saved items that are actually useful, like her bread box, which sits on my counter in Maine and her picnic basket, which I actually use.
Aunt Blanche's picnic basket in our borrowed canoe.

The reality is, my attachment to those items will mean nothing to my kids, who don't even remember this aunt.
Lilacs from my Mom's bush. Everything in this photo has sentimental value.

2) Ask yourself if you've used it in the past year.  There will always be items that we keep that don't fit this category--certain tools, craft supplies, books-you get the idea, but for me it has been best applied to clothing and dishes. 
3) Is it a rarely used item that you could borrow and/or rent if needed? We borrow items like extension ladders, baby equipment, air mattresses and power tools. We are always happy to lend items also.
4) Do you want to leave this to your family to deal with? This thought is what keeps me motivated. I have heard so many nightmare stories about "cleaning out" Gramma's/Dad's/Uncle's house. All these "things" that represented a whole lifetime, and no one is interested. I'd like to save my family the hassle as much as possible.
5) Can something else you have do the job just as well? How many kitchen gadgets do you really need? Small appliances are a huge money drain and space saver. That fancy yogurt maker? You can probably use your crock pot. The new instapot you were gifted for Christmas? Time to hand off your slow cooker because now you have an appliance that does the same thing. 
6) Is it online and on paper? I save many of my tax receipts in a folder online now. No need to print them. Likewise with recipes and owner's manual, most can be found online these days. 
7) Clothing? Does it even look good on you anymore? Do you have 20 sweaters, 40 pairs of shoes? You know what to do.
8) Scale photos back to about 20 per trip. I try to delete photos from my phone at the end of everyday while we are travelling and only save the best shots of the day. I need to go through my boxes of printed photos. I know I have duplicates.
Every time I go to Macau, I take this photo. Seriously? How many do I need? 

9) Does it make sense to sell the item and invest the money? I have some jewelry that I never wear. I doubt that anyone in my family would wear it either. I am contemplating selling some of it and investing the money elsewhere.
10) If you had to move to 300 sf, would you take it with you? Pretty self explanatory.
11) Can it serve someone else better?  I have too many winter coats. I'm pretty sure there are people who need a warm coat. Time to pass some of them along.
12) How many of any particular item do you need? Random coffee mugs. Scarves. Half burned candles. Sample sizes from hotel stays. You know what I'm talking about. You know what to do.

13) Can you sell it and use the money for something that will make you happier? I use this as a challenge to myself sometimes. While I was planning one of our trips, I really wanted to stay in certain hotel that was out of my price range. I challenged myself to sell enough items to pay for the difference in room prices. Effective. 
14) Can you give it to a family member now rather than later? I had a ring that belonged to my Great Uncle. It was a simple gold wedding band. I decided to give it to another cousin who was closer to this uncle. He was happy; I was happy. The ring stayed in the family. 
15) Does it cost you more for upkeep than it is worth? Case in point: our 1991 Honda Accord. I love this car. I really do, and it has been a great vehicle up until the last few years when it started nickel and diming us like the old vintage car it is. It's time to let it go and quit paying the annual registration, insurance and inspection fees. Especially since we only use it for 7 weeks every summer. 
16) Seasonal decor is nice, but can you simplify? It's easy to let seasonal decor get out of hand. One year when we were first married, my husband was gifted a ceramic village house. I found another I liked at a yard sale. The collection kept growing. As pretty as it is when it's all set up, truth be told, I don't really enjoy it anymore. I need to pass it on or sell it.
17) For everything you bring in, send one out. Twice a year, the ladies at the school where I work have a clothing exchange. My goal is to never bring more home than I donate. 

An outfit from a few years back. 

18) A decluttered home looks cleaner. I read somewhere that a refrigerator with nothing on it looks much cleaner that one that is covered with magnets, pictures, coupons and takeout menus. It's true. Think about it. Both may be equally clean, but perception is reality. 
19) The bigger the space, the more you need to fill it. Downsize. Smaller home. Smaller vehicle. Less storage containers. Get. Rid. Of. Things. Don't give yourself more storage options, get rid of the stuff you were going to store.
20) Does it bring you joy? Marie Kondo made millions after her book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" became an international best seller. Her key question? Does it spark joy? I read her books, and I did learn some very helpful tips. I changed the way I organize my closet and fold my clothes. I learned to work with the storage space I have rather than buy more shelves. I did actually get rid of some items that I really disliked, but kept because I thought I should.
21) Don't be afraid to ask for help. A few years ago, a younger colleague of mine was wanting to get rid of some of her clothing. She thought she had too much, but was afraid she would not be ruthless enough. I spent an afternoon with her and helped her evaluate. She got rid of several large bags of clothing.
22) Can you re-purpose something?  Several years ago, my cousin gave us a wooden boat that he had built in the 1960s. It has brought us lots of joy, but my husband has been having to repair leaks every summer lately. When the time comes, we are planning to turn the boat into a bookshelf in our cabin. 

These are few ideas that have been helping me. I'd love to hear what you would add to the list!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

How Well Do You Know Us??--Win $25 Gift Card

While our kids were all here with us, we told them they were responsible to provide one meal for the entire family. They could buy groceries and prepare the meal, or take everyone out to eat. Everyone chose going out to eat. I thought choices were interesting, so here's a fun little game for you: match the restaurant with the right Cliff for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card. First person to correctly guess all 6 on facebook or the blog wins! Contest will close on January 12, unless someone guesses correctly earlier. If no one guesses them all correctly, I will pick the person who gets the most right. (My can't vote!)

Although kids' spouses did help pick, for the sake of ease, just list a number with the following names: Mike, Trish, Abby, Will, Aaron, Lee---numbers below:

1) Paisano's Pizza

2) McDonalds: (Are Chicken Nuggets the Universal Kid Favorite?)

3) Bafang Dumplings with Bubble Milk Tea

4) Ichanzo Sushi

5) Hot Star Fried Chicken

6) Macanese Pork Buns

Friday, January 3, 2020

15 Recent Frugal Wins and Losses

A new year is upon us, and like most of us at the beginning of a new year, I'm feeling a bit reflective and am in the midst of coming up with a new set of goals for 2020. We had all our children and their families here in Hong Kong for Christmas. With a total of 10 now, it was a bit chaotic and crazy, but all kinds of wonderful. 

Our youngest son, Lee, proposed while he was here, on New Year's Eve, and we are excited about welcoming Emily to the family soon! 

Having 10 people around for nearly 2 weeks wasn't exactly always thrifty, but I wanted to share 10 recent frugal wins and 5 fails:

1) The next few days, we will be eating up lots of leftovers, which means odd combinations. But that's OK, and it fills our bellies. 

2) I dyed my own hair today with dye I purchased in the summer and brought back.

 3) I'm using the drying rack to hang a boatload of laundry.

4) I'm decluttering and taking a couple of bags to the free table at school. This allows me to open up space and also to find things I forgot I had!

5) I'm writing a menu for the next two weeks, trying to clean out the freezer and cupboard and buy only what is needed.

6) I'm scheduling free dental cleanings for Mike and I. (Sadly, for the first time ever, I missed our appointments. I should have known better than to schedule them two days after Christmas while everyone was here!)

7) I downloaded 2 free kindle "first read" books because I just signed up for prime for the month of January as we will be going to Maine in a couple of weeks for Chinese New Year holiday. Normally, Prime offers one free kindle book per month, this month, they offered two. I got them both. 

8) I used a gift card to get two free Starbucks drinks for a rare coffee date with my daughter. (Thank you, ICS PA.) 

9) I am using Clinique face cream that I found on the free table at work, but have taken it a step further and cut the tube, allowing me to get even more out of it.

10) I am returning several items that we borrowed while my family was here. It is a blessing to be part of a generous international community. From an entire apartment to a stroller and an air mattress, it's great to borrow and not have to buy!

1) I threw out several large containers of food that had gone bad. I hate to waste food, and I'm usually very mindful of what I have, but with the chaos of having so many around, I lost track, which makes me sad.

2) I ordered some photo books because I had a 40% off coupon. I suppose this could be seen as a win, but it's not something that was a need, and as soon as I ordered, I questioned my decision. I'll let you know how I feel after they arrive.  

3) I had a deal for Hello Fresh, which I normally would not use because it is expensive even when it's on sale, but since we were going to be in the US for 10 days, I signed up. Frustratingly, I mixed up the dates, and the first order will arrive 2 weeks before we do. At least our son and daughter in law will be able to use it!

4) I let the $250.00 airline incidental fee on my Amex card expire at the end of 2019. To be fair, I did try my best to use it, but you have to sign up for a particular airline, and you can only change this once a year. I had signed up for American Airlines, and sadly, we did not fly much with them this year. You cannot use the fee toward airline tickets, although Amex used to let you buy gift cards, but now, the fee can only be used for things like extra baggage and lounge access fees, something we don't use often.

5) I missed a BOGO offer on my Starbucks app. I thought it was good until 12/31, but it actually expired 12/30. Boo.

So here's to a productive 2020. I would love to hear about some of your wins and losses and goals for the new year!