About Me

Hello readers!  

After over a year of blogging in this space, it finally occurred to me to post an "About Me" page. It's honestly overdue, as it's the first thing I read when I discover a new blog and it frustrates me when bloggers have one but leave it blank.  I like to know where people are from, where they live, etc. This is especially important when they discuss prices of things where they live or their gardening habits as the physical location makes a huge difference in whether or not I'll be able to use their information for my own benefit!

As my brief Blogger profile states, my name is Nathalie and I live with my family in Central Florida, in the United States. More specifically, I live in South Lake County, about 30 miles west of Orlando (or about 45 minutes away from either Walt Disney World, Sea World, or Universal Studios!)

My family consists of my husband Greg, and our teen son who is a sophomore in high school this year.  Greg has 2 daughters who are grown, married and with babies, and I have 2 older sons, one who lives with his girlfriend in Orlando and makes a living as a jazz musician and music teacher, and another who is has a Photography degree and works as a photographer assistant and retoucher and also at Walt Disney World as a photographer. Luckily for me, he lives in Clermont so I get to see him once in a while.  My Oldest Son and I are estranged for reasons that I don't understand but that's how life goes. I'm estranged from my dad and Greg is estranged from his brother, so it's not all that unusual, I guess.  Still, it makes me sad and I miss my son.  I also have a daughter who is currently studying Computer Science and Art History at UF in Gainesville. She and I are very close. 

Greg is the money earner and I'm the money manager :)  I'm very lucky to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, or homemaker, as I have started calling myself, since the kids are one by one leaving the nest and I don't really intend to rejoin the workforce if I can help it.

I'm originally from France and have lived here since I was in college.  As I have alluded above, I'm divorced from my first husband.  We both worked at Walt Disney World when we were younger, and so did Greg, although we didn't know each other then (life is weird, sometimes!).

Since several readers have asked how I came to the United States, I have decided to share a bit of my life story.  Feel free to skip many paragraphs if that doesn't interest you!

I first came to Florida in 1987 as a college student.  I was studying at the University of Dijon back then (now named The University of Burgundy) and was completing my 2nd year of majoring in both Business English and Business Spanish when a friend of mine asked for my help in rehearsing for an interview in the hopes of obtaining one of two year-long fellowships to Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.  I had heard of the fellowships but since I was pretty poor and would have had to pay for my travel and other incidentals on my own, I didn't think there was any way I could afford to win it and so didn't apply.  So I helped my friend and she interviewed.  On the last day of the interview deadline, one of our professors of English reminded us of the fellowship, and I thought to myself "I should apply, it'll be good interview practice!", especially since the interview was in English.  So I went ahead and applied and was the last student interviewed. 

Well, of course by now you will have guessed that I won one of the two fellowships!  But when I went to look at the results of the interview, the departmental secretary told me, in front of my friend, that they had originally picked her but then decided to give it to me instead because I had interviewed much better.  I was so happy and felt so guilty at the same time!  However, they allowed her to apply for a 3rd year student scholarship at Colgate University and she won it!  So she also was able to go spend a year in the United States, and, in the end, met her husband there.

I hadn't told my mom that I had applied for the fellowship so she was very surprised and happy to hear about my win but also concerned about how I was going to get there.  The fellowship included my tuition for a whole year of studies at Stetson, and also my lodging, food, and books. However, I had to cover my transportation to and from there, any other expenses (clothing, medical insurance, etc.) and also the dorms closed at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break so I would need to find a place to live during those times. Ah, to be young and naive again because I said that I would figure out something.

My mom worked at a hospital back then and children of employees were given priority for any summer jobs so I worked at the hospital that summer (as I did every summer) and also saved as much money as I could during the rest of my 2nd year of college (I heard about the fellowship at the beginning of my 2nd semester that year). I pretty much lived on water and soup packets, let me tell you!

I met the other student who had been selected for the fellowship, Carole, and we became fast friends.  We also were both in the French English Club (I was the Secretary, that year) and made friends with many British and American students. One of the American students, Michael, was from Colgate University and his family lives in Glen Ridge, NJ (where Tom Cruise is from), just across the river from NYC. He invited us to spend time at his house!  So finally, the big day came and in early August 1987 we flew to New York City.  It was our first time in the USA and a dream come true.  I never ever thought that I would make it to the USA. It was one of those countries that you saw on TV and dreamed of, but I never thought that one day I'd actually go there, for some reason.  Seeing the Statue of Liberty from the plane still makes me tear up when I think of it.

Michael picked us up at the airport in his parents' big American car and turned on the radio and everyone sounded like they spoke with gum in their mouths!  LOL.  You have to realize that all of our teachers had been British or trained in the UK and our British and American friends were in France to study French so we mostly spoke French with them to help them practice. TV shows in France are dubbed, so I had rarely had the opportunity to hear Americans speak. It was a little scary to realize that, after 8 years of studying English, you couldn't understand much of anything!

But we spent a delightful week or two (?) with Michael and his family and I am forever grateful to them.  We went to NYC, of course, several times, and while I was in awe at the time, I have then realized that NYC is not the city for me at all, lol. Still, I'm glad I had that time there. We took the subway, walked almost all of Broadway (that street is loooooooooooooong!), went to a famous book store, looked for cheap jeans at a store a guidebook had told us about, etc, etc. We had to be very careful with the little money that we had brought, though, because it was to last us the whole year!

So finally we left to come to Florida.  I'll always remember that Carole and I had dressed alike as a joke.  We both wore jeans, the same tennis shoes, white polo shirts, and we had a red bandana in our hair.  The plane (American Airlines) took off.  We were a couple of overexcited school girls and were exclaiming about everything and when we saw some kind of smoke coming out of one of the engines, we joked (thankfully in French!) that we were about to crash... only, a few minutes later, the pilot came on the intercom saying that we were having an emergency and had to turn back to go to the airport!!! So that was unnerving, especially when. as soon as our wheels touched the ground, we were trailed by firetrucks and ambulances with their flashing lights on!  At that point we were pretty scared. But nothing happened. We had to wait a couple of hours and then switched planes. Of course there were no cell phones back in those days so we had no idea whether whoever was going to meet us at the Orlando airport even knew about our delay.

And when I say that "nothing happened", it wasn't true.  They ended up losing our luggage.  And I mean, LOSE it.  Unbeknownst to us, we landed in Florida in the middle of August, and the heat and humidity hit us as soon as we stepped out of the airport, like a giant wave of hot water. We were wearing jeans and they started sticking to us and we thought we'd never experienced such heat. And we hadn't, really. Even when it was so hot in France in the summer of 1976, it hadn't been as humid. Welcome to Florida in August :)  Our advisor from Stetson, Dr. Ferland, was the main French teacher (director of the French department, I believe and director also of the "International House", who took care of all the international students on campus). He met us at the airport and we soon realized that our bags didn't make it to OIA.  Oh no!  But he reassured us that they would probably come in on a later plane and assisted us in filing a claim for our bags.  Then he drove us to Stetson.  There, the International House secretary, Grace, took us to her home, as the campus hadn't officially opened yet (I think we stayed with her a couple of nights). Over the next two days, she fought with American Airlines on our behalf as it became apparent that they had no idea of what had happened to our bags. By then our "joke" of having dressed alike didn't sound like such a good idea, especially since we had no change of clothes, and it was stinking hot!  After a week (!) Grace got A.A. to give us $50 in emergency funds so we could buy some undies, etc.  It doesn't sound like much but she pointed at Kmart on the map and we took a walk (over an hour!) there. The prices were SO LOW!  For $50, I got so much stuff, including Little Debbie's brownies. Oh yum.

Eventually, Carol's bag was located and she received it, but they never found mine.  Grace fought with them again because they only wanted to give me $300 in compensation, but finally they agreed that it had been part of an international flight (as it was booked at the same time as our flight to NYC) and they gave me the $1,350 that they had to give for lost international luggage; So in the end, that really worked to my advantage because prices were super cheap here so I could replace my wardrobe for a fraction of the cost, and I had plenty of money leftover to last me the whole year. Phew!  However, I had brought some important documents like my vaccination records and other papers that were lost forever, along with some books, the things I had bought in NYC, etc. 

Our year at Stetson was awesome!  I had earned my 2 year degree back in France (which Dr Ferland insisted was equivalent to an American bachelor because our last year of high school is your first year of college and our college classes are much more rigorous than American classes) and didn't feel the need to earn credits at Stetson towards my 3rd year degree (License) back in France. I could have only earned partial credits anyway and would have had to obtain A's in all classes to receive any credits at all!  However, Carole had failed her 2nd year exams so she really needed to study hard in order to get her 2nd year diploma at the end of this year in Stetson.  So while she had to study, I got to pick such classes as German, Japanese, Philosophy (which had been my major back in high school, along with English and Spanish), Spanish, Tennis, International Film Festival, and French Literature, which was taught in French by Dr. Ferland.  I barely studied at all and I think I did OK.  I'd have to look at my grade reports!

Part of our fellowship deal is that we had to animate the French table at lunchtime once a week, I believe. Students who wanted to practice their French could stop by and practice with us.  Also we were expected to tutor students individually.  We didn't room together. I first had a roommate with whom I didn't really get along (a freshman who cried all the time about her boyfriend) and asked to be moved so I ended up rooming with an awesome girl named Chris.  She was so very nice to me and generous with sharing her possessions like her hair dryer since I didn't have one.  She was a big part of my year at Stetson and I regret having lost contact with her.

Chris invited Carole and myself to spend Thanksgiving Break at her family's house in Jacksonville. How nice was that?!  And then at Christmas, one of Chris's and my friends invited me to spend a few days at her family's house in Rockville, MD. I remember we went to look at the Christmas lights outside the Mormon Temple there. It was so pretty!  From there, I took a greyhound bus to go visit my high school pen pal, Lisa, who lived in Indiana, PA. She had spent a month at my house a couple of years before that as her high school had an exchange program with my high school, and we had remained in touch.  I spent Christmas with her Italian family, which was a hoot.  Then I took a Greyhound bus all the way back to DeLand, which took a long time, but I was amazed that we arrived exactly at the advertised time despite the snow and a bus mishap that had meant switching buses!

One of the students who came regularly to the French table was named Eric and Carole had a huge crush on him so we hung around him quite a bit. He was very intellectual and smart and brooding and we liked him.  Eventually, in January, he introduced us to his roommate, Sean.  Sean used to attend Stetson but nowadays attended UCF. They shared an apartment in Sanford, FL, and they both commuted to their schools.  Sean struck me as super funny and I appreciated his sense of humor.  He was also very very nice.

Eventually, Sean and I became good friends, and he asked me whether I'd be willing to obtain an American driver's license (I had my French driver's license) to help him return a camper van to his father, who had just moved to California, over Spring Break.  Go to California for free?  I was in!  So I obtained my American driver's license (it was super easy back in those days) and then Carole pouted that she wanted to go too (Eric was going as well but he couldn't drive because he was Sean's roommate but he wasn't on his insurance) so she also got invited and got her driver's license.

So for Spring Break in 1988, Sean, Eric, Carole and I drove across the country in a camper van!  It took us a week. We stopped in New Orleans and in San Antonio (because Sean had grown up in San Antonio and wanted to show us the sights), and then in Phoenix to visit his aunt.  From there we drove to the Grand Canyon and camped there overnight so we could see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful!  From there, we drove through the desert to Bakersfield, CA, I believe, where Sean's brother lived at the time.  Their dad, stepmom and little stepsister (she was 3!) lived near San Luis Obispo and we spent some time there.  Eric and Carole had to go back because Spring Break was over, but for some reason Sean didn't have to go back, and since I wasn't taking classes for credits, I could afford to miss classes as well, so we both stayed an extra few days. By then Sean and I had started dating :)  We drove down the California Pacific Highway to Los Angeles, where we visited DisneyLand!  That was my first time ever in a theme park!  From there, we flew back to Orlando and continued dating through the end of the school year.

Of course, I had to go back to France.  Before I did, I stayed with Sean's family here in Clermont for a couple of weeks, first with him and then on my own, because he was also studying French and had secured an intensive immersion program in Beaulieu before he ever met me and had to leave before I had to leave!  His mom and stepdad were so nice to me, and so was his little stepbrother (who was about 8).  It was very hard to leave them all and also Florida. But I had to go back and finish my studies.

That summer was very busy. I worked 2 jobs so I could afford my rent and expenses for the upcoming school year.  Sean's brother from CA came to visit him after his Beaulieu trip and they came to stay with me at my mom's for a few days. We took the train down to Dijon to visit Carole too and our campus.  When Sean left, it was horrible.  Going back to class in the Fall, I had a big cultural shock.   France didn't feel like home anymore, I missed my boyfriend, the sunshine... I had lost interest in my studies and was depressed.  Sean and I made plans for me to come visit him for Christmas so again I saved as much as I could so I could afford the plane ticket for 2 weeks.  Back then we needed visas to come visit and the American Embassy thought it was weird that I wanted to come back and visit so soon so they asked me to come see them down in Lyon to discuss my visa. Only that day, everyone went on strike!  Buses, taxis, the trains... the post office had been on strike for several weeks before that and they had wanted me to produce an official invitation letter from Sean and his family because they thought I was trying to go back to the USA to illegally immigrate there.  Ugh.  Finally, I got his letter, and I had to walk all the way from campus down to the train station very early in the morning, in winter, to try to catch the one train that was still operational and could take me to Lyon. From there, I had to walk a long way, again to find the American Embassy.  Finally I got my interview and the embassy employee asked me point blank if I was planning on emigrating to the USA to marry my boyfriend. Good grief, no!  We had been dating for less than a year!  I had 2 more years to go to finish my diploma!  Finally he stamped my passport, allowing me a tourist visa for 90 days.

I arrived in Orlando about a week after my birthday, if I remember correctly, so early to mid December.  Sean's mom had brought me a hamburger birthday cake from Publix, lol!  We were so happy to see each other again.  I can't remember what all we did, but one of our visits took us back to Stetson University and there, in the courtyard where we used to have lunch together, Sean dropped to his knees and produced a (fake) diamond ring and proposed to me!  Well, I said "yes", of course!   He had just graduated from UCF and, for the time being, worked at Walt Disney World.  And since we couldn't imagine being apart for another 2 years, we decided that we would get married while I was there, and that I'd just get a job at Disney and try to finish my studies over here.

So we did.  We got married that January at his parents' house, surrounded by friends and his family. It was lovely. I got hired by WDW just a few days after I received my temporary green card. It was going to be a temporary job. I ended up working there for 15 years!

Sean and I went on to have three beautiful children together.  We had some really good times and some bad times, like all couples, and after 11 years of marriage, we called it quits and divorced. We remained friends and co-parented our children until they left the house. I'm still on friendly terms with him and his (now) 3rd wife, although there isn't a need for us to really be in each other's lives and we're kind of happy that we no longer have to communicate as much as we needed to. Life moves on. He's a terrific dad to our kids and a great ex-husband, even though we do have our differences.

A year after our separation, and in the midst of our divorce proceedings and my American citizenship process, I met Greg. And the rest is history!  Those details shall remain private, lol. He's the love of my life, truly.  We've been through a lot as well, very trying times with our blended family (he had 2 , I had 3, and we have one son together), but we are a very strong couple. As of this writing (February 2018), we've been married for not quite 17 years.

End of my life story, lol.

So what will you find on this blog?  Well, I try to keep the focus on my frugal efforts... and failures. It really is an online diary/motivational tool for myself! If you find a post useful, I hope that you will let me know. 

By the same token, I'm not really into trying to please anyone but myself and the format of the blog and repetitiveness of the posts (as well as the bullet point format) is something that I find pleasing and satisfying. If reading long lists of daily frugal efforts isn't your cup of tea, then you're in the wrong place, hahaha!  

I find that posting those things publicly helps me with accountability a lot more than if I kept this blog private.  I have also gained a small number of followers (for the most part fellow bloggers whom I follow in turn) who have been awesome in helping me feel motivated and connected to a larger world than my living room.  I am a total homebody otherwise!  I am discovering a middle-age passion for vegetable gardening and nature observing so I also sporadically post pictures of my veggies, my garden, and Florida fauna and flora, as well as our 6 cats.

What won't you find on this blog? Pictures of me or my family, my kids' or cats' real names or even the specific name of the town where we live.  I'm actually a very private person and I have a strong dislike for any kind of social networking (Facebook... ugh). I do use Twitter occasionally but it's mostly for retweeting things that might earn me some reward or contacting companies to complain about something, and Instagram but only to keep in touch with a couple of my kids and my siblings back in France :)  So no, you can't follow me.

Also, you don't find ads. I don't monetize anything although I do post the occasional referral link for Swagbucks or Bing Rewards, but when I do I always mention that it's a referral link.  If I review an item, store, or service, the review is completely my own and almost 100% of the time I receive no compensation for the review, in cash or in kind. I say almost 100% because I did contact Ball back in 2015 to see if they would be interested in partnering with me as I learned to can, and they very graciously sent me several items. And then I failed at my canning attempts. Oops.

I wrote a comment on another blog a while back, which pretty much encapsulates my and Greg's life philosophy. I'm reproducing it below to help readers better understand the background of some of my posts:

There is a distinction between living on a limited income and living on a limited  budget.  Living on a limited income isn't something you have much choice in.  You've got to make do with what you have. 

Living on a limited budget has its challenges too because we could spend more in a myriad of things but we choose not to.  We live on a limited budget (i.e. below our means although we could do better, as my husband has a good income) and we don't feel deprived at all.

We could afford many things but we just choose not to spend money on those things... 
  • We rarely buy books or music; that's what the libraries or Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks are for!
  • We don't have cable (although we do have Netflix and Amazon Prime)
  • We don't have huge data plans on our phones (we mostly use them while on wi-fi anyway)
  • We rarely eat out - that was a total lie in 2016 and 2017! But I'm trying to really scale this back in 2018. 
  • We don't have expensive hobbies
  • I don't get manicures or pedicures or haircuts (not difficult to do as I don't like getting those things anyway!) 
  • We don't care about fashion or trends
  • We don't need the latest gadget
  • My kitchen is from the 70s, including my wall oven.  No granite counters or stainless steel appliances for me. Our dishwasher is broken down so I do the dishes by hand. Our refrigerator is 16 years old and won't make ice or dispense water anymore but it still works otherwise so we're not replacing it anytime soon.
  • A lot of our furniture is from thrift stores. The rest is from Target, Walmart, Wood You or hand me downs.
  • I just don't care for our house to look like a magazine picture. Nothing matches and we don't care. I'm really NOT into decorating.
  • We don't have a lawn service.
  • I fish things out of the trash that my family has thrown away so I can recycle/upcycle/reuse them.
  • I try not to pay full price for anything if I can avoid it.
  • I use coupons, send for rebates, participate in Swagbucks and Bing Rewards, use our credit cards to earn free to us rewards, use loyalty cards, subscribe to many e-mail newsletters from manufacturers, follow many blogs that deal with frugality via Feedly.
  • We bought a large house in a semi-rural area several years ago because the price was equivalent to what we were spending on renting an apartment closer to Orlando. We didn't borrow what the bank told us we qualified for, far from! We paid it off in 2017, 15 years ahead of schedule. Woohoo!
  • We don't have any credit card debt or car loans.
  • We drive our cars until they die, even if that means we're spending more on gas because they are gas guzzlers. However, we definitely use them to haul things (and even people once in a while) and we keep up on their maintenance.
  • We are lucky that we are in relative good health so we don't have medical expenses to worry about (keeping our fingers crossed!).  I do have dental problems that I'm finally getting fixed so that's costing us a pretty penny nowadays. Good thing we just paid off the house so I can afford new teeth!
  • Like his older siblings, our son can join activities if they're free or if he earned the money to pay for them. I don't "do" clubs or travel teams for anything. Time spent at home with family is what's important to us and he's also a homebody.  However, I have actually forced him to join in school clubs or library activities or school sports so he does develop interests outside of just sitting at home.
  • We don't pay for our kids' college education.  We completely agree with the philosophy that we won't be able to borrow for our retirement whereas the kids can borrow for college. We spent years warning them about the importance of obtaining good grades in school and entering competitions so they could earn scholarships and lessen their debt burden. We tried to encourage them to choose career paths that might be lucrative, although my two older sons are strongly artistic so they picked their field of study accordingly. My daughter earned her AA while she was dual enrolled in high school and has qualified for the Bright Futures Academic Scholars scholarship, which, this year, paid 100% of her tuition at UF. She saved her job earnings and other cash prizes for her living expenses.  My middle son worked at Universal Studios to support himself while attending college.  Our youngest son has been in charge of taking care of our cats (feeding, grooming, cleaning up after, entertaining) for many years and does this without complaining so this year we opened a Prepaid College fund for him and are depositing the money that he would have received had he been paid for those chores throughout the years and also depositing the money he currently earns in a 529 Educational Savings Account for him. He is about to take the P.E.R.T. test this semester because we hope he can also do the dual enrollment program and earn his A.A. for free while graduating from high school. He wants to study Game Design at UCF afterwards.

We're homebodies who like freebies :) I'm not joking, we're pretty much a bunch of introverts.  Dealing with people exhausts me and I regularly take breaks from blogging because it becomes too much at times and I need to regroup.

Since I'm a stay-at-home mom, I have plenty of time to shop at several stores around town to spend as little as possible on groceries and other things.  I post weekly pictures of my groceries and my food waste (ooh, I stopped doing the Food Waste Friday posts but I need to start again!) to help hold myself accountable... and because I love it when other bloggers post about their groceries and their food waste! I'm weird that way.

My ultimate ambition is for my kids to learn to be self-sufficient and live a frugal yet fulfilling life.

Thanks for stopping by!  Please consider leaving a comment on a post, I love to hear about other people's experiences and discover new-to-me bloggers.

Nathalie, September 2015 (Updated February 2018)