Wise Spending on Landscaping – What to Hire, What to Do Ourselves

8.15.09 Bowling 011

Our home is on nearly 2 acres of land, so there’s a lot of grass. And a lot of hedges.  And lots of flower beds.

Grass that needs to be cut.  And hedges that need to be kept trimmed.  Flower beds and other decorative landscaping that need to be planted and maintained.  We had to decide what we were going to do ourselves, and what – if anything – we would hire someone else to take care of.

Most of the decorative landscaping was already here and just needed a little TLC.   I’ve already written about how I used what I had to reduce my costs on planting the flower beds and a bit of the other decorative stuff, so we’ve obviously decided to do that ourselves.   Hiring a landscaper to do that planting and maintenance would cost us a fortune!  Even though I’ll probably do more planting as the  seasons change, we’ll still save all of the labor costs by doing it ourselves.

It’s not always a good idea, though, to do it yourself.

My father had always paid a service $145 a month to cut the grass, no matter how many times they cut it.  Standard here is twice monthly in winter, three times per month in summer.  Whenever needed, he paid them another $200 to trim the hedges and other landscaping.

When we were talking about the possibility of moving into this house, Husband said he really wanted to cut the grass.  It was one of the the things he enjoyed about his prior home ownership, and he’d missed it since moving to the townhouse (with it’s landscaping taken care of).  He planned to buy a riding mower and an edger, thinking that within 6 months they would have paid for themselves.  Great!

But he hadn’t considered taking care of the other landscaping chores, especially trimming the hedges.  And after much thought and discussion, Husband decided he didn’t want to spend every weekend taking care of the yard.  And I really couldn’t blame him.

So, we decided to keep the landscaper, at least for the time being.  The hedges were trimmed just prior to moving in, so we wouldn’t have to worry about them for a couple of months.

After we moved in I started talking to people about how much they paid to get their grass cut.  Most of the people I spoke to paid about half of what I did – but their yards were much smaller.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to get some quotes.  The first quote I got was less than we were being charged.  A few others were in that same ballpark.  The best deal, though, was from my brother’s well-recommended landscaper, who only wanted $50 per cut.  And since he’ll only cut when we ask for it, we can sometimes wait an extra few days or a week to stretch our landscaping dollar.

So, I spoke to our landscaper about the quotes I’d gotten, and he really didn’t want to come down in price.  That was fine with me – I wasn’t too happy with him anyway.  First, he’d told me that the $145 only covered two cuts per month – NOT what he’d been telling my father (I honestly think he’d been skipping cuts since my Dad moved out, still charging him full price).  On top of a myriad of other issues with him, he’s only cut our yard 4 times since we moved in on May 23rd (and didn’t cut it  at all until I called to ask where he was – more than 3 weeks since the prior cut).   I’d decided to take it up with him when I got the bill…only I’ve never gotten one.  I finally had to call him for the bill, which will be reduced by half, since he should have cut our grass at least 8 times by now.

So, he’s history.  The new landscaper begins this week.   We are still hiring out the grass cutting, but we’re saving money by getting a better deal for the same service.  Issue settled.  We hope.

Since the hedges and other landscaping need to be trimmed every two-three months, it has now become time to make a decision about who is going to trim them.  We decided to forgo a landscaper to do the hedges and buy our own hedge trimmer.  We spent $80 for the trimmer,  which is far less than the $200 per month the old landscaper wanted to charge, and the $150 the new guy quoted.

Husband is out there now, trimming hedges, and enjoying the exercise.  And doing a heck of a job, if I do say so myself.  It’s a great win for us because we are saving a great deal of money, and he gets to do yard work he enjoys without spending every weekend doing it.

That, to me, is what frugality is all about. It’s not about NOT spending money. It’s about spending money wisely.


Deal of the Day, August 16, 2009 – Ben and Jerry’s Buy 1 Get 1 Free!

Two ice cream posts in a row.  Sue me.

Now you have a reason to look forward to Mondays.

Through Aug. 31, participating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shops are letting you buy one sundae and get one free every Monday.
This one is a little confusing, since it says you can “mention” the special at the time of your order to get a free treat of equal or lesser value than the one you purchase, but there are other references to a coupon.  My best guess is to go here, print the page and bring it with you.

This offer is limited to one coupon per customer, per visit.

Check back tomorrow for another great deal!

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Using What You Have – Landscaping the Yard

This may or may not  become a series, so just in case we’ll call it “Using What You Have”.

As Son’s birthday pool party approached, I really wanted to do something about the landscaping of the house, particularly the back patio area.  The house had been vacant for a year, and my stepmother (queen of the garden) had died the year before, so things were dead, overgrown or in various other states besides vibrant and beautiful.

I gave myself a budget of $100 for the project (which included the front patio and entry area, too, but this article focuses on the back patio area). I knew I needed new things, but I used what I already had wherever I could.   I knew I wanted to do a lot of potted projects, mostly because there were several beautiful pots left with the house.  They would look great at intervals around both patios.  There was also a patch of garden right by the pool that needed attention, so not everything would be in pots.

Over a few days, whenever I found myself nearby,  I went to Home Depot, Lowe’s and my favorite nursery.  I looked in the past-prime section of Home Depot and Lowe’s, and was able to purchase several perennial and year-round plants for 50 – 75% off.  They just needed a little TLC.  I also purchased a few other items that were on special.  I bought potting soil and and mulch at Walmart, where they were cheaper (and again, I was going there anyway).  Remember that I live in a suburb dense with retail establishments, so none of these were more than a 5 minute trip away.  If I had to travel out of my way the additional costs for gas and my time would have made it less frugal.

My favorite deal was at the nursery, where they had beautiful flowering shrubs on sale, 3 for $10.  My thumb is closer to black than green, so I made sure that all of my selections would grow where I planned to put them.  And all three places I shopped will take back a plant that fails – a benefit I’ve had to use on occasion.

Back at the house I cleaned out the dead plants and removed about 2/3 of the soil from the pots.  I  did this because the pots are large, and though new plants deserved fresh soil full of nutrients, I used what I had and saved the bottom third of soil, which was still usable. The new plant would have fresh new soil around its roots, and with my continued care should be fine.

There were a few pots that had no usable soil, so in those cases I used what I have to lessen the amount of potting soil I’d have to use.  I’d been collecting broken pool noodles, perfect for placing at the bottom of a large pot.  They won’t rot, they hold water for a little while, and thrown haphazardly into a pot before adding soil they take up room and are terrific for drainage, too!

Copy of 8.13.09 Misc Aug 089

I have to admit, I was pretty proud of this idea.  It’s not one I picked up on the internet, TV or from a friend.

I made sure to sprinkle some plant food (I already had it on hand)  in the planter before placing the plant.  That stuff really works!  After finishing all of the potting I placed the pots at intervals around the patio.  Here’s one looking all purty:

Copy of 8.13.09 Misc Aug 090

Now I was ready to get to work on the garden patch.  There were a few salvageable plants already there,  and I didn’t want to move them because I’m not really a gardener at all, and was completely sure  that I’d A) kill them and/or B) make a big mess of things and have no earthly idea how to salvage it.  So I left them as is, and added some of the past-prime plants I’d picked up in my travels.  A little mulch, and it looks decent, if I do say so myself.

8.13.09 Misc Aug 089

There were a few areas where I thought lariope would look good, and take little maintenance.  I didn’t want to spend money on lariope plants, so I used what I have, culling the lariope from the huge swath we have in the front yard.

8.13.09 Misc Aug 091

Culling – or thinning lariope is really easy.  I’m going to do a how-to post tomorrow, so please check it out.

I used the pieces I pulled in two places in the back yard.  The first is in front of a fence, which had nothing but dirt.

7.31.09 Butterflies 011

The second was  at the edge of the garden bed, under the butterfly bushes.  Before there was just dirt.

7.31.09 Butterflies 009

The plantings are thin now, but they should grow in nicely.

Several bags of mulch later and the project is done.  And the best part is that I came in $20 under budget, and in time for Son’s birthday party.

Someday, when I’m a grown-up gardener, I’ll learn how to grow plants from cuttings.  There are many people who get free plants by sharing cuttings with one another.   There are even clubs devoted to the practice.  In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with what this closer-to-black-than-green gardener has accomplished.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Cold Stone Creamery Grand Opening With Free Giveaways!

This is true decadence.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Cold Stone Creamery launch a joint operation at the Promenade, 4425 Lyons Rd., Coconut Creek, with grand opening festivities Saturday and Sunday.  Kids under 12 accompanied by an adult will receive one small ice cream with one mi-in FREE!  There will also be face painting, balloons, tattoos and a prize wheel.

I first tasted Rocky Mountain Chocolate on a ski trip to Steamoat Springs, Colorado.  Oh. My. Gosh.  Go forth and try it!

Fore more info call the store at 954-977-9555.

Thanks  to BW who Facebooked this deal. 🙂

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Sometimes Buying What You Don’t Want or Need is a Frugal Choice

I know, that’s a ridiculous statement to anyone who has an iota of frugality in their body. And in most cases it is ridiculous.

But sometimes we need to think outside the box to get what we really want, and save money in the bargain.

Prime example: I needed a table and chairs for the kitchen in our new home. I considered the size of the kitchen (quite large) and the color of the floors (brown ceramic tile – ugh!), and spent some time looking in stores, catalogs and online before I decided I wanted a farmhouse-style table with off white legs and a wood top, plus six chairs. I found one I liked at a local furniture store, and it would have cost $1000. I just didn’t want to spend the money…

So, off to Craigslist I went, and spent a few weeks checking the listings every day. I found a few that I liked, but they were either too small or too expensive. The ones I liked were listed in the $500 – $600 range – too much.

And then I saw a listing with a table and chairs that looked darn near perfect. The catch? They were selling a china hutch with it. I don’t want or need one, and I wasn’t particularly fond of the one being offered. They hadn’t purchased it as a set, and it was a cheap fiberboard piece, likely purchased at K-Mart or Walmart. Just not my cuppa tea. Besides, the only appropriate place for the hutch in the kitchen was already appropriated in my plans to house the pasta table (a lovely butcher block table on wheels that my mother had handed down to me, and that many friends have tried unsuccessfully to buy from me over the years).

So, ick on the hutch.


All of the pieces – the table, leaf, six chairs and the dadgum hutch -were priced at $200. Two hundred dollars!!!!

So, I made an appointment to see it. Naturally.

I knew I wanted the set the moment I walked in. First, the house was immaculate. That tells me that the owners are clean, and took care of the pieces. BIG bonus points. If the house was a pigsty it would be really difficult for me to buy a button, let alone furniture.

Second, the table and chairs were almost exactly what I wanted. Wood top with a leaf (so it could sit 4 or 6), white legs, and six chairs that are sturdy as heck. There were a few things I wasn’t entirely crazy about – the scale of the legs was large compared to the table – not my preference. And the wood top was basically rectangular, but was beveled and curvy. My clean-lines loving self would have preferred a regular old rectangle.

And then there was that hutch. That I didn’t want or need. Or like.

What did I do? I gave her a deposit right there, of course. Then I corralled my best friend (the one silly enough to purchase a pickup truck) to help us pick everything up and drop it off at the new house – and this was before we moved in.

And that night I listed the hutch on Craigslist, and sold it the next day for $75. In retrospect I should have asked for more, based on the number of inquiries I received. Live and learn…

So, I bought something I didn’t need to get something I did, and wound up paying only a net $125 for a wood table, leaf and six chairs.

And doesn’t it look nice?

6.14.09 Move and After 149

Garage Sale Finds Make My Day But Leave Me in a Frugal Conundrum

There is so much to do to get ready for this move, and so much we still need.  It’s somewhat ironic that after spending lots of time and energy to get rid of things from my Dad’s house – like a microwave oven, a kitchen table, televisions and a patio set – what we most need to replace are the microwave oven, kitchen table, a television and a patio set.  I don’t feel the need to fill all the rooms, but there are some things we’d need and/or want right away.

My community’s annual garage sale was today, and since I decided not to participate as a seller that means I was free to be a shopper!  I love to go “garage saling”.  Son and I will get up early, go to Dunkin’ Donuts and make the  rounds.

We’ve not gone in awhile – part of my campaign to divest us from clutter instead of collecting more – so this was a treat.  Heck, this move has almost made it imperative that I hit the garage sales.  Snort.

Son and I were up and ready to go by 7:15 am.   I put a huge “FOR RENT” sign on our front door as we left (hey, you never know), armed with cash,  my cell phone and my huge Vera Bradley tote.  Son was armed  with a Hotwheels car.  Priorities…

There are 300 homes in my community, but only about 40 owners participate in a good year.  At 7:30 this morning I only saw a handful, but from experience I know that some people skip the professional garage-salers (or sleep off one too many Cosmopolitans) and set up as late as 10am.

In my first (of four) tours of the property I found someone offering a microwave oven for $25.  I was going to buy a new one, but after pricing them at the size we need I realized it was going to cost over $100 – something I was not doing. The oven being offered was white, it was clean, it was big enough.   The owner had never even removed the protective plastic covering over the keypad, making it seem in worse shape than it was.  I bargained down to $18, and the first thing I did when I got it home was remove the plastic covering.  The darn thing looks brand new! Cha-ching!

I needed to take Son to his Karate class, and after we returned I took another tour.  This  time I found a 19″ television that will be perfect for either Husband’s office or Son’s playroom.  They were asking $25 – I got it for $15 and they threw in a VCR for free.  Cha-ching!

On my third tour I picked up four DVD’s  – two Thomas the Train and two Spongebob Squarepants for $5.  That’s better than the usual going rate of $2-$3 per DVD, but I think I got the “cute kid” discount.  Whatever works!

On my fourth tour I came across a kitchen table and chairs that may work for us.  It’s  from Pier 1, made of Brazilian  wood and I could  probably get it for $150 or less.  Here is a very lousy photo showing some of it:

Garage Sale Table

It’s very rustic looking, and  it comes with 4 chairs.  The table is marked up a bit, but it is a great deal.

I didn’t buy it, but I did get the owner’s phone number.  Why not?

Well, I don’t love it.  I love this:


But THAT set will likely set us back $750 – $800.  But it does include the hutch and 6 chairs.

But I love it.  It’s so preeeeeeeeeeetty.  And well made!

I want to make a good decision, and sometimes that’s hard to do.

We may only be living in my Dad’s house for 2 years.  Do I spend an extra $600 for something I love, something that won’t  fit well into my townhouse (if we wind up moving back), or do I buy the inexpensive, not quite as nice rustic set?

That’s a good question.  What would you do?

Holiday Tipping? Not So Much

I read an article today that provided guidelines as to what we should tip people who provide services to us throughout the year.  It told whom to tip and how much, whether to give a tip or a gift, and as usual when I read these articles I was surprised at who tips whom and how much they recommend you give.

Perhaps this is a more regional thing, but I just don’t do much of this.  True, I don’t have pool maintenance people, a personal trainer or a dog walker – I do these things myself.  Still, if I did I would figure that I pay these people for their services, so unless they go above and beyond the call of duty I don’t see any real reason to tip them.

Of the twenty-two service providers mentioned in the article, I only receive services from four: mail carrier, newspaper carrier, hair stylist and teacher(s).

My mail makes more than Husband, so I don’t think he (she?) will be getting a tip.   I have a newspaper carrier, but only have it delivered on the weekends so no way am I going to follow the article’s advice and give the tip of a full subscription period, especially when he/she has an uncanny ability to toss the paper right next to the sprinkler.

Isn’t that telling.  I don’t even know if my carriers are male or female.  It was different years ago, when the mail carrier was a neighbor and the newspaper carrier was my friend’s little brother.  In those days we seemed to have closer relationships with our service people, so tips and gifts felt more like giving and less like obligations.  It just shouldn’t feel that way…

My hairdresser has been doing my hair for 22 years, and even once set me up on a blind date with his brother.  If I wind up getting a service from him around the holidays I’ll probably bring a bottle of wine, but I consider the fact that I still tip him even though he now owns his own salon generosity enough.  Come to think of it, my new hair color had to be applied twice and is AWFUL, so perhaps this year he should be giving ME a gift.

Who else will be getting a gift or tip from me this year?  Well, Son’s teachers will be getting tote bags that hold photos, and I’ve filled the slots with shots I took at the Halloween party.  Inside will be a thank you note from me along with some cookies or other baked goods.

I’ll also give a some baked goods or a small, special gift to the teller at the bank who is always so cheerful and helpful, the girl at Costco who always chats with me and the Office Manager at Son’s doctor’s office who always, always goes above and  beyond.

I’m not going to feel obligated to give a gift to someone just because “that’s what’s done”.  Perhaps if I lived in a New York highrise I’d pay the price for not tipping my super or doorman (remember Ross getting shunned by his neighbors on Friends?), but I never expected a gift from any of my clients for doing my job.  Those that did give me a gift felt that I’d gone above and beyond my job duties in my dealings with them, and that’s because I did.

If people go above and beyond for me I shall give them a gift from the heart.  Not because some nebulous “they” say I should.

Holiday Spending Role Reversal

Son has asked for only one thing for Hanukkah/Christmas this year.  A Tri-Rail train.

He adores trains, just like his Dad.  Husband and Son regularly go to the local train museum, and I’ve been known to just pop by the train station on a random afternoon just to let Son watch them go by.  And not just any generic trains; he particularly loves all of the trains that serve our local station – Amtrak, FEC, CSX, but most of all he adores the oddly shaped Tri-Rail trains that serves South Florida commuters.

Son is not a “gimme” kid.  He doesn’t ask for much – in fact this is the first toy he’s ever asked for.   Of course I want to get it for him.  I hoped to find something like the trucks Hess comes out with every year – sturdy for kids and about $15-$20.

Nope.  I’ve scoured the internet and come up empty.  I even had Husband try – and if there’s a train he’ll find it.  Nope.  I’ve even tried calling Tri-Rail directly.

There is no regular toy Tri-Rail.

You’d think a large-ish regional system would have toy likenesses, wouldn’t you?  Well, so did I.  Unfortunately no one makes a Tri-Rail train fit for a preschooler.  The only Tri-Rail trains available are expensive and fragile model trains, the type that people (like Husband) build entire train layouts around so they can run trains to their hearts content.   The thought of Son mistreating playing with a model train – the way a preschooler would play with a model train – makes Husband cringe (he hates to see any train not treated with the reverence they deserve), but doesn’t bother me at all.  A toy is a toy.


An engine is $90 and each car is $30.  That’s at least $150. For a toy that Son will likely break.


I even asked Tri-Rail if they had any special promotional trains, perhaps a model sitting in some executive’s desk.  Nope.  The marketing representative was very nice, and she even sent some train erasers, but even those aren’t Tri-Rail.

Have these people no sense of merchandising????

Spending $150 on these trains is nuts.  Completely insane.  Totally irrational.

And  I soooo want to do it.    Because I soooo want my kid to get what he wants.   I’m willing to forgo any gift for myself, and cut spending on others.  I’m willing to take it out of savings.  I’m willing to do just about anything.

I find myself in an unusual circumstance – wanting to spend money on something frivolous while Husband is being more circumspect.

He’s right.  I know he’s right.

But I sooooooo wanna get it for him.

So, this is the dilemma we face.  Do we spend $150 on the only thing Son has ever asked us for?   Or do we have him face the harsh reality and disappointment of not getting the only thing he’s asked of Hanukkah Harry and Santa Claus?

What do you think?

Lackadaisical Housekeeping Seems More Accurate

Recently I received an e-mail from a woman wanting to interview me for an article she was writing for a “national publication”. She’d seen my article about how I got Comcast to lower my bill with just a phone call, and she wanted to find out what I did and how I did it.

Being that I’ve never completely given up my adolescent quest for fame (albeit fifteen (or even three) minutes), and though we already have a Paris Hilton, I demurely accepted the invitation. I joked with my friend that the national publication was likely Cat Fancy, though the joke was not as well appreciated since the friend has two cats herself.

This morning Margarette called, but I was outside wrestling with a witch (Seriously. It’s 60 degrees here and I had a plastic witch taped to my wonderful slide-screen door. The witch had to go, and she decided to fly away rather than be taped to my dirty garage door. I had to clean it for her so the tape would stick. Stupid witch.).

I called her back and waxed poetic about the great deal I got, other things I do to save money (I even confessed to buying some holiday gifts at garage sales – they were brand new items!) and how I marvel that frugal is now chic.

She then tells me that the article is for Good Housekeeping! Huh. That’s not Cat Fancy, is it?

She asked for my first and last name, which I was happy to give. It did bring up an issue, though, about my anonymity on this blog. I’ve chosen to be BeThisWay and not divulge my name, for reasons of safety and anonymity.

I’m happy to report that my principles flew out the window faster than that plastic witch and I’ve decided that fame is more important than anonymity and, apparently, safety. After all, I’m on Facebook now, so the gig is up.

I am such a fame whore. Though it’s funny that I’d be mentioned in an article in Good Housekeeping when mine is…not.

Deal of the Day October 11, 2008

Another Halloween Deal!

Joann Fabric & Craft Store is knocking 60% off all Halloween costumes, Halloween fabrics, and accessories. You can also save 50% off the price of any one regular priced item from the store with coupon code SFD287. Sale ending unknown, coupon expires 10/14/2008.

Check back tomorrow for another great deal!

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