Category Archives: frugal family fun

Sunday Parkways

Three summers ago, the City of Portland’s bureau of transportation went out on a limb and decided to throw a big party in the streets, but they didn’t invite any cars! Sunday Parkways are modeled from events in Columbia and Europe, where they close down the streets to bicyclists, jogging, skaters…just no cars allowed. The first year the route went right past our house, and we threw a barbeque for friends and co-workers to stop by en route. Plus, I volunteered and played in the park with our Big Guy. This is the definition of frugal family fun.


The idea has taken root, and this year there will be five Sunday Parkway events, and our family is planning to go to them all. It’s become a total community event, and I only wish we still lived on a route. Here’s a little video to hear the whole story and get a glimpse of the party: 





In case you’re feeling a little left out if you’re not from Portland, plant the seed in your community and soon you may be celebrating in the streets too!


Have you been to a Sunday Parkway?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Extra Cargo

Nothing says “American Family” like a good old-fashioned road trip. While nowhere near the scale of the cross-country trip we took pre-kids, we’ve got a few excursions planned as we are anxious for summer. We’ll be heading to my parents, which is a four hour trip and then meeting friends for some cabin camping next weekend.


The only glitch is that while we love our Doggy, it’s hard to pack our whole family and our gear in our rig with a big black beast taking up the bulk of our cargo space. We toyed for quite some time after we first got him with the idea of trading in for a family mini-van. It seemed like the only option. We have many friends who love their mini-vans, and it seems like almost everyone opted in when kid number two arrived. 


We did a fair amount of research. We considered buying a Mazda5, but it felt like it wouldn’t really gain much room. There would barely be enough room for the kids’ friends once they are bigger, and team sports are closer than I realize. We checked out Odysseys and Siennas, and it felt tempting.



My biggest hesitation about buying a mini-van is the low fuel economy. I just seems wrong to be going in the wrong direction when we are trying so much to reduce our carbon footprint. 

We’ve decided to try out a large cargo carrier for our family trips. In theory it will give us plenty of room for all the necessities, and reduce our mileage by a small margin. We won’t have to exchange our car just yet, which we’ve had for only two years. If we are all lucky, by the time we may really need a mini-van a hybrid version will be on the market. 

On the cargo carrier research, we found out from friends that Sears actually purchases from Thule manufacturers. They cost about half the price, because you don’t have to pay for the brand name. Of course, just after we bought ours, I found out about a local shop called ReRack. You can’t win every time.

How do you handle the need for extra cargo room?

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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Beach Clean-up

My first SOLV beach clean-up was sometime in my teens, and it had a big impact personally. It was empowering see volunteers dotting the beach on a common mission to restore the beach to its natural beauty and remove the hazards of humanity. I don’t know if I should feel proud or disgusted, but SOLV reported over 50,000 pounds of garbage removed at the last beach clean-up. I haven’t participated in a formal beach clean-up since college, and I’m ready to make this a family tradition. It’s a simple and fun way to feel both an immediate gratification and a long term connection, both socially and environmentally. 

We’re also going to be “yurting” with friends at a campground, which will certainly make it an affordable getaway. If you haven’t been to a yurt before, they are semi-permanent tents (originally from Mongolian nomads.) Oregon’s state park yurts include beds to sleep up to five people with lighting and small heaters. Yurts are like hybrid-camping with basic amenities in a campground atmosphere, and a great way to get in nature during the off season. We’ll get a campfire and s’mores without the need to bundle up like marshmallows ourselves. We’re also not going to be roughing it entirely as we’re staying near a small coastal town and will be grabbing pizza on Friday night and planning brunch on Sunday. My only advice is to plan early, at least in Oregon, yurts are so popular that they are booked six months in advance…so plan your next family adventure soon!

Do you participate in clean-ups with your family?
How about yurting?

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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

PS The Spring 2010 beach clean-up totaled over 70,500 pounds! 

Doggy Debt

Many families wonder, what would it cost to own a dog? Well, since last summer we’ve been finding out for ourselves.


Last July we adopted our loving Doggy, a very large purebred black labrador who needed a family who would give him lots of exercise and lovin’. Our decision was somewhat on a whim, so we were pretty naive about it all and I hadn’t given much thought to how much he would add to our monthly budget. Thankfully he hasn’t broken the bank yet, but here’s the rundown on things you might want to think about as a new dog owner.


Adoption: Adoption is definitely the most cost-effective option. Unfortunately, due to the recession there are still many pets who have been given up and need a new home. The good news is that there are a lot of terrific pets available, and you’ll save a lot. Our Doggy was almost 5 when we got him, and had complete vet records which clearly showed that even a healthy puppy can be pretty expensive. We saved ourselves a lot of initial costs, and didn’t even end up paying a shelter fee because we adopted through a co-worker.


Supplies: While you have to really assess needs versus wants, there are still several supplies that come with dog owner territory: tags, leash, bowl, bed, brush, soap, chuck it, Frisbee and a Kong. You’ll also need several ongoing things: dog food, treats, dental bones and peanut butter for the Kong. We checked out books from the library, and researched online. Our start-up costs were almost $200, and our ongoing expenses average $40-50 per month.


Boarding: We’ve really lucked out on boarding, since I have a dog loving co-worker who has generously taken care of our Doggy on several occasions (we had several weekend trips planned before we adopted). I did spend $50 on a yoga gift certificate over the holidays as a token of our appreciation. If we hadn’t had such social capital handy, we would have to pay $35 per night. 


Vehicle: Truthfully, it first really crossed my mind as we driving to meet our beloved Doggy that we might need to purchase a larger vehicle as a result of our new family member. This is especially true because of our love for camping, which as a family of four means a car packed to the rooftop. We are both a bit reluctant to buy a minivan, but our Doggy may push the issue earlier than we had hoped. We are going to try out a large rooftop carrier first…we’ll let you know the verdict after a cabin trip planned for May.


There are plenty of extensive resources on the costs of dog ownership if you want to consider it further. 


Lastly, the decision to own a dog is not all about the expense though, and there are may “payoffs” that can’t be accounted for. We love going on walks as a family with our Doggy and playing fetch in the backyard. He provides free daily exercise and a mental break, as Hubby wakes up at 5:30 to walk him (part of the reason this blog is always set to post at 5:30). The first Girly giggles and BigGuy lessons are priceless. Plus, he’s now family.


Does your family have a dog, what expenses have surprised you?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.


Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green

Reading is one of our favorite family activities, and as much as we love reading books over and over and over, it’s nice to keep things fresh.  Visiting your local library is really the best option for reuse and your wallet, although I do have to admit that I’ve had a few fines in my day. There are some classic books that you want to read year after year and I occasionally justify a new book, because could there ever be too many kids books in the world?!


As much fun as we have exploring, I always try to manage expectations by choosing our books in advance. I’m in the habit of placing holds at the library once a month, and tend to get books that relate to the current season or holiday. This is a must for us, because our local library branch is really small and as kids get older they want really specific books and you don’t want a trip to disappoint.


When we plan a special trip to the local bookstore (Powell’s in our case), I almost always prepurchase and then pick up in the store. Prepurchasing saves shipping costs, saves time and gives you more time to experience the trip together. I’ve also found that many of the sale books are in the warehouse (not bookstore shelves) and searching by price online makes it really easy to find great deals.


Here are some of our favorite “green” children’s books, most springtime ones:


All Time Favorites:

  The Carrot Seed
  The Flower Alphabet Book
  Jack’s Garden
  Planting a Rainbow
  The Gardener
  Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden

 This list goes on….I’ll continue to add to this list as the seasons go by.


What are your family favorites?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.