January 31, 2011

Food Prices are Going, Going - Have Gone Up


This article was in the Des Moines Register yesterday.  It is worth reading.  Here is the link.

I posted several months ago that food prices were predicted to go up and in our area of the world they have gone up.  When I went to the grocery store last week I noticed a considerable increase in staples from the previous week.  From flour to meat to bananas to milk, prices have gone up around 10%.  Also some experts are warning that this is just the beginning and prices will be going higher.

For those who are unemployed and living on Social Security, this will definitely be disheartening news.  The food pantries will now be used more than ever to supplement those individuals who don't have enough money to buy food.

But what is a little more disturbing to me beyond food prices going up are the other predictions. Some economists are saying that IF corn prices rise this year due to bad weather, then the shortages of corn will continue.  Farmers have already shrunk their herds of cattle and hogs due to the high price of feed and will continue to do so.  This means that meat prices could skyrocket due to the low amount of animals going to slaughter.

It's not just meat that is going up.  It is other commodities such as sugar, flour, coffee, produce and pretty much everything.  Gasoline prices have gone up so the cost of delivering goods to market have gone up.

So, what is the writer of this blog who focuses on living a frugal lifestyle going to do?  Get prepared and not panic. 

I have been able to cut back our budget over the past 18 months so that we can absorb the increase in the cost of food.  However, I am going to do my best to continue to use coupons and buy items on sale to save money and want to keep my food budget in check.


Last week at Fareway I was picking up a couple of cans of Progresso soup that was on sale (and I had a great coupon).  As I reached for the soup I looked over at the meat case and there was a large sign "Hormel Cure 81 Spiral Hams 99 cents lb." Holy Cow!!! This is a top of the line bone in ham that sells for close to $3.00 a pound before prices went up. I checked the sell by date and it was February 12th. I bought the last one - it was 18 lbs. and I will put it in the freezer for Easter. This is a delicious shank ham that makes excellent lunch meat for leftovers and I always cook the bone and use the broth for soup.  This is why Fareway is one of my favorite grocery stores.  When things get close to their sell by date, they reduce the prices on those items. 

Other ways I am saving:
 
I have been reducing the amount of meat I serve at a meal.  Also when I brown ground beef for a casserole I remove 1/4 cup and put it in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  I then use it for pizza or soup or I use it in another casserole.  So far, we have not missed that 1/4 of meat in a recipe.

I'm becoming more and more conscientious about ingredients in baking. I have been decreasing the amount of sugar in some of my recipes and have not noticed a difference.  For a basic cookie recipe I take out about 2 tablespoons of the sugar. 

Every week I plan to pickup at least 1 bag of flour and sugar to add to my stockpile. I easily go through 1 bag of flour a week in my baking.  This week I will be picking up a large bag of cornmeal before the prices get too high.

I will be making more and more of our homemade bread and rolls and I am going to try my hand at bagel making. 

One thing I have been doing to save some money on water is that I don't wash my hair everyday. I know to many people, this isn't a new revelation. For me, I have found that with going back to my shorter hair style that my hair looks better the day after I wash it. So on those days I take a quick shower - less than a minute and I let my hair go another day. I have been doing this for over a month now and my hair has adjusted and I love not having to wash, dry and style it every day of the week. What a time saver.

My son comes home for lunch during the day as he is a Senior in High School  and is allowed this opportunity. My husband also comes home for lunch. Twice a week they eat leftovers for lunch. These are leftovers that aren't enough for the three of us to eat the next night for supper. I always seem to have a little bit of this or that so with both of them at home for lunch, those leftovers are being put to good use.

This summer I would like to try my hand at soap making. After my pasta supply in the pantry is used up, I plan to make my own pasta. I want to get better at making bread and would love to get a flour mill. Also, I have the opportunity to buy 1/2 a hog from a local farmer for meat for my freezer. I just have to find one other person to take the other 1/2.

The hardest part about food going up in price is to determine a new target sale price for many items.  For example, my target sale price for 85% hamburger has been $1.60 lb., for boneless chuck roasts $2.25 lb., for 5 lbs. of Clementine tangerines $4.99; 8 oz. blocks of cheese - $1.50; 8 oz. bags of shredded cheese - $0.99.  These have been normal sale prices over the past couple of years.  Having a target price helps me to know when a sale is a sale and when to stock up.   

It's unsettling to see prices go up on food, gasoline and utilities.  I think a lot of people thought that come 2011 we would start to see some relief in the economy but it looks like we still need to stay on top of things and watch those pennies.  To coin a phrase from President George H.W. Bush, we need to "Stay the Course" and continue to do our best to pay down debt, reduce expenses and continue to meet our financial goals.

I know of people who will probably give up and throw their hands up in the air and say what's the use, it's just too hard.  They're right. It is hard to live differently from others and cut back and save and be frugal - but it is also very gratifying to watch debt go down.

So, no matter what the financial news brings us, stay the course.  We just have to dig in, learn new ways to save money and help each other by sharing tips and news.

January 29, 2011

Don't Buy Stuff .....

I remember when Saturday Night Live was first broadcasted.  I was in High School. 

Go to this link at NBC.com and see what I think is one of their funniest sketches.  This sketch came out in April 2007.    "Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford" 

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/dont-buy-stuff/27169/

January 28, 2011

Supermarkets, Inc.

Yesterday CNBC aired a documentary called Supermarkets, Inc.  You can read about it at this link.  It was a very interesting documentary about how grocery stores do business, how they set up their stores in order to sell us stuff that we didn't even come to buy, how they order food, how long they have items such as bananas in their warehouse and so on. 

It should be on again over the next month or so.  If you notice it on your t.v. schedule, I recommend watching it.  Anything we know about the grocery business helps us become more savvy shoppers. 

January 27, 2011

Company Chicken - An excellent recipe

I know that this recipe is going to sound weird, but this is the most fabulous chicken recipe and the sauce is to die for.  I serve this when we have company.

Company Chicken

6 boneless chicken breasts
6 pieces of dried beef or beef lunch meat (such as Buddig) (I have also substituted ham slices.)
6 slices bacon
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
1- 8 oz. carton Cool Whip

Pound the chicken pieces til they are flat.  Lay a piece of dried beef or beef lunch meat in the center and roll up the chicken breast.  Wrap a bacon strip around the rolled up chicken breast and secure with a toothpick.  Place these 6 chicken breasts in a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Fold the soup (undiluted) into the cool whip.  Then spread the cool whip mixture over the chicken.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. 

Serve with carrots and wild rice or mashed potatoes.

My $400 Savings Challenge

Before I get into what I want to write about today, I want to remind everyone to continue to pray for Elizabeth's son, Jacob, and all of their family as Jacob goes through cancer treatments.  You can view Elizabeth's blog The Trenches of Mommyhood here


$400 Savings Challenge

On Monday we will take our son's car to the collision center for the autobody repairs that he sustained in his minor accident last month.  Our son turned 18 earlier this month and the car is actually my old car that he drives and it is in my husband's and my name. This car will last him through college and hopefully beyond.  So, since he is on our insurance, we will be paying the $500 deductible for the repairs. 

Our son has a job and the majority of his money goes to his college savings account, so we would never ask him to pay the $500.  This is what parents do for their children. 

We use a modified version of the envelope system in our budget.  We have money in savings earmarked for certain categories.  One of those categories is auto repairs.  So the money is there, but I hate it when we have to pull money out of savings and start to rebuild it again for those specific categories.

Well, over the past week I have been reading a couple of the blogs that I follow and a few of them are taking on the challenge of a No Spend Month in February.  If you're interested check out Sharon's Blog My Year of Spending Less and Living More and Maureen's Blog Toward Retirement with Debt.

I love reading about the challenge and will follow them daily to see how they are doing.  My challenge to myself is going to be different.  I want to cut back over the months of February and March in order to put $400 of that deductible money back into our savings account.  Now the total sum of $500 is a lofty sum for me to save in two months since we already are on a frugal budget.  In fact it is way too high and it would be self defeating to set a goal that high.  $400 is still a tough challenge but it may be attainable. I feel a challenge should be just that.  It should be challenging and perhaps hurt a little bit but should still be attainable if I stay on track. 

How do I plan to do this?  If you look at my blog list towards the bottom of the sidebar, you will find that I follow these blogs because they give me so many ideas on how to save money.  I learn a lot and I dedicate 1 hour a day to reading those blogs.  Also, I will really begin to learn to conserve more of our resources in order to save. 

Instead of using my debit card for paying for groceries and miscellaneous spending, I will take that money out of our account on my husband's pay day and will spend only what is necessary and will save the balance.  Having cash in hand will help me see how much I am actually spending and I will then be able to see my savings grow. Then on April 1st I will tally up my savings to see if I have met my goal.

I don't plan on telling my husband about the challenge I have given myself as I want to surprise him on April 1st with the money I have saved.  While I don't believe in keeping secrets from your spouse, somehow saving money and surprising him with the extra cash seems like one of those secrets that will be okay to keep.  It's the secrets of hiding debt from a spouse that is a big No No.

My husband will continue to take money out of his paychecks to add to savings and some of that will be earmarked towards auto repairs.  He will be building that savings amount back up as we always do.  So I think on April 1st it will be a pleasant surprise when I hand him some extra cash that I have saved.

January 26, 2011

Meeting our Financial Goals


There are blogs that I follow of women who are dealing with debt and are serious about getting things paid down and finally being debt free.  I am fascinated by their stories as I can totally relate to what they are experiencing. 

We are 6 months away from fulfilling our 3 year goal of having a car payment and our mortgage as our only debt.  While I am not considering this being debt free, it is very, very close. 

How did it feel back then to look at three years of serious cutting back in order to accomplish this goal?  Well, in a way 3 years seemed like a long time but as we stayed committed and started to see our plan work, I got more excited as each month passed.  Then 9 months into our three year plan, I lost my job and was home full time.  Having a 9 month warning was more than what a lot of people get when they lose their job so we took advantage of those 9 months of getting money into savings and working on our debt reduction plan.

I believe that the reason we have been able to stick with our plan is due to the fact that I have been happy.  My happiness comes from being home full time.  While I enjoyed my employment as a legal assistant, I find that I am much happier being a stay at home wife and mom. 

In my opinion, if you're miserable and you are trying to pay off debt, it will be more difficult for you.  You will want to spend money in order to make yourself happy.  If you go ahead and buy something that you feel will bring you happiness, it will be short term and then you will find yourself back to being unhappy because you spent the money that you didn't have.

My advice is this.  I know it will probably go against everything that some financial experts will tell you.  Here it is.  If you are going to be miserable, better to take some extra time to pay down the debt and give yourself some breathing room, than to set yourself up for failure by trying to be too restrictive and then becoming miserable and disillusioned with putting all your money towards debt.  For example, if you are working a job that you hate and you are miserable but you have no other employment options, I wouldn't cut the cablevision in order to save money if that is your one source of enjoyment and entertainment when you come home at night. 

My husband was working a miserable job between July 2009 and January 2010.  We were blessed when he found a new job in February 2010 that he is totally happy doing.  Those 6 months that he was so unhappy in his work would have been more miserable if we hadn't freed up a little money for him to buy tickets to some college basketball games.

2 1/2 years ago it seemed like a long time for our plan to be fulfilled, but along the way as one debt was paid off and then another, we had small celebrations.  There was constant affirmation that we were accomplishing our goal. 

We had to pick a starting point, that is a commitment to cut back and focus on getting the job done.  Then we had to pick a realistic ending point.  In other words 3 years was a realistic amount of time for us to get the debt paid off, but it did mean sacrifice.  Our motivation was to get the job done before our youngest son went to college this year. 

So here we are 6 months from our goal.  Has it been worth it?  Yes.  Has it been scarey at times?  Yes as we had unexpected expenses and our savings account dwindled to next to nothing a time or two.  Have we had to sacrifice?  Yes.  We have consistently had to find cheaper sources for items that we needed and have learned to do without.  We have constantly been reminded of what is a want and what is a need.

So to those of you that are beginning the journey of debt reduction from someone who is coming close to meeting her goal, keep your focus on the end of the race and constantly look to what your life will be like after your goal is met.  Think daily about what it will be like without the debt hanging over your head and it will spur you on to cut back, save those pennies and commit to meeting your goal. 

It has been worth it all.

January 25, 2011

Patching Plaster Walls

Overalls are not very flattering.
But they are my uniform for home projects.

Well, I started to patch the plaster in my entryway today.  I was delaying working on this project as I have never done this before.  It's one thing to tuckpoint bricks (for the first time) around a corner of the foundation of our house, but it's another thing to do something like this in our entryway.   After all, this is the gateway or main entrance into our home. 

Then I knew I had to begin as it had to be done.  I was on a time schedule and needed to repair the plaster walls in order to prime and paint those walls.  So, I mixed the plaster mix - 3 parts mix to 1 part clean water and it became the consistency of pudding.  Then I started applying it to the holes and cracks in the walls.  It took no time to smooth the mixture over the wall.  I stood back and knew that half of the hard part was done.  When it dried I have to carefully sand it smooth.

As I tell people about the projects I have to complete this winter, many ask me why I don't just wallpaper those plaster walls and that will cover up all of those imperfections.  My main reason for not wallpapering is that when I was growing up my mom wallpapered anything that wasn't moving.  When you look at a wallpaper catalog they show the main papers and the complementary papers and the borders and how you can order matching fabric for curtains.  My mom did it all in nearly every room of our house.  I just can't wallpaper every room in my home because of that.

Also, you can't wallpaper over cracks and such in plaster as the wallpaper won't stick.  Even if I were to wallpaper I would still be facing repairing those plaster walls.  Another reason not to wallpaper is that it is expensive.  And the last reason, I want to faux paint those walls and make them look unique and then if in two years I get bored, I can paint over them. 

I have no idea what it would cost to find a professional plasterer to come in and repair what needs to be done.  I would love to know how much money we are saving by doing it myself.  Now I need to figure out how much paint it will take to paint the entryway and livingroom and calculate the cost. 

So, I'm on my way.

January 24, 2011

Salad - My favorite lunch


My two favorite foods for lunch is a salad or soup.  I've been on a salad kick lately and have also been eating a late lunch. 

This is one of my favorite salads.  It has a little bit of lettuce, chopped red pepper, cucumber and Roma tomatoes.  I threw in some defrosted frozen peas and I always add some pieces of sharp cheddar.  As to the dressing, I don't use low fat or a reduced calorie dressing and I avoid Ranch dressing.  Instead I use a french dressing and am careful not to pour it all over.  I use a moderate amount. 

The base of the salad is always three things.  A small amount of lettuce, then red pepper and cheese.  To this I add whatever else I like, perhaps chopped carrot or even some frozen corn.  I may toss in some kidney beans or chopped onion.  Basically I look at what I have on hand and make a salad.   I have even added some chopped pear or apple to a vegetable salad and it was delicious.

I started doing this about 3 years ago and have never been sorry as I get a nice assortment of fresh vegetables in my diet.  Also, it is extremely filling.  That bowl in the picture above, well, it is a serving bowl. 

I'm always on the look out for reduced priced fresh vegetables at the grocery store to put in my salad.  A large salad such as this for lunch has helped me lose and maintain my weight.  Those chopped vegetables are really satisfying and filling.

January 23, 2011

Analysis of a Grocery Shopping Trip



We have two grocery stores in our community and we also have a Super Wal-mart.  Both grocery stores are less than 1 mile from my house and they are only two blocks from each other.  It's convenient to shop at both stores when they are located near each other.

When the grocery ads came out last Tuesday, I braced myself for several trips to one of those stores.  Why so many trips?  This store, Hy-Vee, had four separate sales for the week. 

There were two local sales.  These are sales that are only for the Hy-Vee here in our town.  One was an 8 hour sale Thursday beginning at noon.  One was a Thursday, Friday, Saturday sale.  Then there was the company wide sales.  On Friday beginning at 8:00 a.m. there was a 12 hour sale and then there was the regular ad that runs from Wednesday through Tuesday. 

First of all, I love sales and usually the local sales have phenomenal low prices so it is definitely worth the trip.  What I hate about these sales is the majority of the time they have coupons you have to clip from their newspaper ad and you have to remember to use them on the appropriate sale day.  It can be confusing and I have been in the checkout line more than once when the person in front of me thinks that that day is the sale for the newspaper coupons that they have clipped only to be told that sale either ended the day before or begins the next day. 

The other grocery store in town, Fareway, has a regular corporate ad and usually a special local Thursday through Saturday ad also.  They did not have a local sale this week. 

This is not an unusual sales week as these type of sales happen about once a month. 

So how do I keep my grocery list organized?

When I look through the sales ads, I immediately make a list.  This is what this week's list looked like:

Hy-Vee - 8 hour sale - Thursday - noon to 8: p.m.

French's mustard - 20 oz. - 49 cents (limit 1)
1 lb. loaf of bread - 59 cents (limit 1)
Shaved smoked turkey - $1.69 lb. (limit 1 lb.)
Bologna - 12 oz. - 79 cents (limit 2)

Hy-Vee - 12 hour sale - Friday - 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Chicken quarters - .39 lb. - (limit 4 pkgs @ 3 lbs.)
Crest toothpaste - 6.4 oz. - 99 cents (limit 2)
Purex Laundry Soap - 33 load size - $2.00

Hy-Vee - Thursday through Saturday sale

Pillsbury Crescent Dinner rolls - $1.50
Ham Loaf - $1.69 lb. (limit 10 lbs.)

Hy-Vee Regular Ad

Clementines - $4.99 for 5 lbs.

Fareway - Reg. Ad. 

Store brand Peanut Butter 18 oz. jar - 98 cents (limit 2)
1 dozen large Eggs - 99 cents
Nature Valley Granola bars - 3/$7.00
Dawn Dish Soap - 24 oz. - $2.00

After making my list I look to see if I have any manufacturer's coupons for the sales' items.  I had two 75 cent off coupons for the Crest toothpaste which made my cost only 24 cents for a 6.4 oz. tube.  I also had a 25 cent off coupon for the Dawn dish soap, I had four 25 cents off for the crescent rolls and 50 cents off coupons per box of granola bars. 

I love Nature Valley crunchy granola bars and when they are on sale, I stock up as I enjoy having them for breakfast.  I didn't have a lot of manufacturer's coupons to use this week but what I did have I teamed up with sales. 

On the sales that begin at a particular time, I get to the grocery store 15 minutes before the sale time.  By the time I have picked up everything and am ready to checkout, the sale's time has started. I learned this a long time ago when I went to a Saturday sale that began at 7 a.m. and people were leaving the store with carts loaded with sales items.  I found out from an employee that they will start giving the sales prices out 30 minutes before the time actually begins.  Now I get there early.

On Thursday I headed to Hy-Vee shortly before noon.  I picked up the 8 hour sales items along with the sales items for Thursday through Saturday and the regular ad that ran Wednesday through next Tuesday.

On Friday I was out the door at 7:50 a.m. to go to Hy-Vee for their 12 hour sale that began at 8:00 a.m.  The temp was minus 5 degrees when I started my car.  When I got to the store there were only 5 cars in the parking lot.  I knew it was worth getting their early because with the weather being so cold I knew there would be few people in the store.  On Thursday when I went to Hy-Vee at noon the parking lot was packed and the checkout lines were long. 

Getting up early is worth it to me to get 24 cent toothpaste. 

As to the Fareway ad, when I shopped there Friday afternoon I also picked up produce and milk. 

I saved a lot of money on chicken and ham loaf this week.  As we have been using the meat in our freezer, we have freed up more space for meat sales. 

It can be a challenge when there are multiple sales' days at one store. But with a little organization I not only saved some money, but I also saved my sanity.

Dinner on January 21st with some recipes

Friday night I made oven barbecued chicken, fried potatoes, broccoli, tossed salad and rolls.  We had ice cream for dessert.

For the barbecued chicken, I make my own barbecue sauce.  I make up a recipe and keep it in the fridge.  Many times you can get barbecue sauce on sale, but I prefer to make my own.  For the potatoes, we had some leftover baked potatoes in the fridge so I used them up by frying them.

Last night my husband's boss put on a "Christmas" party at his home for the employees.  I appreciate that he has this party in January when things have settled down as it makes it more enjoyable and I had the evening off from cooking.

Today my sons and husband went to a basketball game after church and my daughter in law treated me to lunch out.  This has been a great no cooking weekend for me.  Gotta love it.

Barbecue Sauce

2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
9 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice

I mix the ingredients together and then warm the mixture in a sauce pan so that the sugar melts and absorbs into the sauce.  Cool it and store in the fridge.

Fried Potatoes

I cut up the potatoes and put a little butter into a frying pan to brown them.  While they are browning, I sprinkle them with chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder to add a nice flavor.  Right before serving I sprinkle them with seasoning salt. 

January 20, 2011

Getting ready to work on my livingroom

As a warning, I have included a lot of pictures with this post so you can see what I am facing.

I am getting ready to repair our old plaster walls in our livingroom.  Actually the entire downstairs has old plaster walls in each room, except the bathroom. 

I stripped the wallpaper in the livingroom and in doing so I went through decades of wallpaper.  It took a very, very long time.  The walls are now stained yellow from the old wallpaper paste that was used somewhere in the 1890's.  Now before I can get to the fun part of painting the entryway and livingroom I have to spend time repairing the cracks and holes in the plaster walls.  Some of the holes you can see the lathwork behind the hole. 

I have never done this before.  But, in saying that, I  had never tuckpointed bricks before this summer either.  Here is what I know.  If you believe you can do something, that is 75% of the battle.  Second, this is my house.  I want it to look nice, but I also don't mind it not being a perfect house.

I took these pictures this afternoon.  I didn't pick up so you will see a little clutter.  We begin our picture journey in the entryway and at the front door.

The door needs to have the finish repaired


Front door is to the left.  Original stained glass window.

To the right of the entryway, note the bookshelf.

The bookshelve on the left is the same one in the prior picture.
 
The bookshelf in this picture is the one on the right in the prior picture.
 


The doorway on the left goes to the bathroom at the end of the hall and
two bedrooms on the left.
The doorway on the right goes to the diningroom and kitchen.


The door to the diningroom is to the left.
The window on the right is a curved window.

 
We are now back to the entryway - the curved window is on the left.
Ignor the gold blotch of paint on the wall
 Here are a few of the holes I have to patch



This is near the ceiling in the entryway.
The stain is from the yellow wall paper paste.

In the entryway also.

You can see the lathwork behind this hole.




Some more cracks

A little bit more wallpaper to scrape away.

The ceiling needs some work also.  It was papered with white wall paper years ago and there are several long cracks in the paper.  But I am not going to remove it as it could bring trouble and instead I plan to paint it a color other than white - perhaps I will sponge it with a couple of shades of a beige to hide those cracks.  I haven't decided.

So, that gives you a visual of what I am up against.  I'm ready to start working on it and will begin this Saturday.  Wish me luck and I will post pictures as I go.  Not as many as I did today - I don't want to overwhelm anyone.

Dinner Tonight - January 20th - and a recipe

It's breakfast night.  I try to have one night a week as a breakfast night otherwise we would probably only have special breakfast foods on holidays.

Tonight we are having Oatmeal pancakes, homemade chunky applesauce and scrambled eggs with real bacon crumbled in the eggs. 

I love oatmeal pancakes as they are very tasty and a way for me to get some whole grains into my family's diet.  They are a little heavier than a normal pancake and more filling.  As a variation I sometimes add a little cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter.

Oatmeal Pancakes

1 cup quick cooking oats (not instant)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center.  Combine the eggs, milk, oil and lemon juice; pour into the well and stir just until moistened.  Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a lightly greased hot griddle; turn when bubbles form on top of pancakes.  Cook until second side is golden brown.  Yields about 12 pancakes. 

January 19, 2011

My New Favorite Thing - Siesta


I've been on an anti-depressant for 3 weeks now and I am not depressed anymore BUT I can't sleep at night.  I am constantly waking up - every hour or half hour and I am not getting a good night's rest.  BUT never fear as the anti-depressant keeps me awake during the day and feeling great until about 2:30 p.m.  Then I crash. 

I fell asleep in a chair today while reading the newspaper and awoke with drool coming out of the side of my mouth panicking as to what day it was, what time it was and was I supposed to be somewhere.  I sat up and my dog sat up, looked at me and then she laid back down to nap. 

I realized that it was Wednesday afternoon and I didn't need to be somewhere so I fell back asleep only to be awaken by the telephone.  It was my husband.  He needed a ride to pick up his truck from the mechanic.  I am sure I sounded like I was drunk but I felt rested.

I have to laugh at myself because it is really funny.  I have had to change my schedule and take advantage of the energy I have in the morning and early afternoon.  Then I give myself permission to take a much needed nap if I need it and that keeps me going for the rest of the day.

I would never make it if I was working outside of the home as I don't know of an employer alive that would let an employee lay down and take a nap in the afternoon.  Then again, maybe workers would be more productive if they all took a little Siesta. 

Now I just have to harness the energy I have in the morning to get to work on the walls in the livingroom.  I wouldn't trade my lack of sleep for how I was feeling last month for anything in the world.  It is much better to have to take a nap and be happy, than to be awake and crying all the time. 

Dinner Tonight - January 19th

I've been forgetting to post what I have been fixing for dinner each night.

Tonight we had cranberry pork roast.  I made this last month and had frozen half of the sauce since I had used a small roast.  I had another small pork roast to use up and it only took 50 minutes to roast it.  I baked whole potatoes along with the roast.  The best part was that having the oven on warmed up the kitchen.  The temps here have been close to zero.

I served steamed mixed vegetables with the roast and the potatoes and I also made a tossed salad of lettuces, red peppers, cucumber and tomatoes. 

For dessert we had Skondra's Tin Roof Sundae ice cream.  This is a premium ice cream that sells for close to $5 for a 1.75 quart package.  Last week I happened to walk by the ice cream section in the local Hy-Vee grocery store and I noticed a sign posting an instore special on this flavor of Skondra's ice cream for only $1.50.  I bought two containers and probably should have bought more.  I try to make it a point to go up and down each grocery aisle in case there is some kind of instore special.  Usually things get marked down when they are close to an expiration date but the ice cream had an expiration date of October 2011.  Perhaps they are going to discontinue this flavor.

Which leads to this.  Here I am complaining about the low temps here in Iowa and I am serving ice cream for dessert.  Go figure. 

January 18, 2011

Reducing our Debt

In the fall of 2008 when I learned that there was a great probability that I would be losing my job in 9 months, I came home and told my husband that I really didn’t want to look for another job. I wanted to stay home full time but on one condition. I wanted to make sure that we could afford it.

At that time we had a considerable amount of debt stemming from some credit card debt to auto loans and our mortgage to loans we had taken out to help put our son through college. After we sat down and looked at the debt and considering the time we had to prepare to go to one income and the time we had until our other son went to college (fall of 2011), it became clear that I would be able to stay home if we stuck to our financial plan. This plan became a three year plan of paying down debt to the point that the only debt we would have is a car loan and our mortgage by the fall of 2011.

In the 9 months leading up to my becoming unemployed, we buckled down and took advantage of my income and paid off the majority of the credit card debt. We also built up our savings.

Our income was reduced close to 1/3 when I lost my job. That is why I have tried hard to watch those pennies as I could see in our budget “leaks” that added up to a great amount of money. I became diligent at learning ways to run a home more economically and to make things last and to also learn to do without. This was hard for me as I was not used to doing without. I learned to coupon and to build a stockpile on less money than what I had been spending on groceries prior to becoming unemployed.

We set up rules to our financial plan. 1. We put money into my husband’s 401K plan up to what his employer matched – no matter what. 2. We put money into a college fund for our youngest son – no matter what. 3. We gave money to our church out of each paycheck – no matter what. 4. We put money into savings, albeit it was and has been a small amount – no matter what. 5. We doubled and tripled what we were paying on debt – no matter what. 6. We lived on what was left.

It takes quite a bit of faith and willpower to put numbers 1 through 5 in place and then live on what is left. Now, I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that we were putting thousands of dollars in numbers 1 through 4. It was what we could afford on one income. If we didn’t do 1 through 4 we would have been able to pay off our debt sooner, but we would have put our finances into jeopardy. You see we aren’t just paying off debt. We are also saving for our future.

When we had some extra household expenses or car expenses our savings account got very, very low to the point that the balance was less than $100. But, our bills were paid and we persevered. One time my husband told me that we only had $60 until payday, which was one week away. All our bills had been paid and I had purchased groceries so we felt victorious that we had money left.

When you are only paying a small amount on a debt, it is draining not to see progress in the balance going down. When you continually see the debt balance going down considerably it gives you the encouragement to keep doing what you’re doing.

The first year I was home was the hardest year because I had a lot to learn about cutting back on expenses. Now we’re into our second year and we have seen debts being paid off and we are coming close to getting all but 1 car loan and our mortgage paid off by the time our youngest son goes to college in the fall.

It has not been without pitfalls. I have had my share of sleepless nights worrying about if our old furnace would break down, about the old roof holding on just one more year and about other maintenance issues in our old house. And then I thank God for our old house and low mortgage payment and that we have not had too many repair issues.

When you sit down and add up your debt and you see the numbers, you may want to throw up your hands and give up. It is easier to continue on and live the lifestyle you have been living and only make minimum payments. The years it may take to cut back and sacrifice by living a frugal lifestyle to pay off debt can seem overwhelming. But, you have to begin somewhere.

Paying off debt brings independence and security. So I would encourage you to be brave and sit down and add up your debt. Look at the total of that debt. Do you want to see that same amount next year at this time? Start today to make a plan to bring your finances in order and start to pay off that debt. Take it one day, one month and one year at a time. Watch the balance go down and determine not to add to that balance. Again, you have to begin somewhere. Start today.

January 17, 2011

A Delicious Chicken Salad Recipe

This is my favorite chicken salad recipe.  Anytime I make a dish and someone wants the recipe, I always share it.  I have known women who never give out their recipes and I think it is very sad.  In my opinion it is the nicest compliment for someone to ask you for a recipe. 

Chicken Salad

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken (or turkey), chunked
1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
3/4 cup seedless grapes, sliced
3/4 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
1/2 cup mayonaise
1 cup Ranch dressing (prefer fresh and not bottled)
1/2 cup toasted almond slivers

Combine all ingredients except the almond slivers.  Chill for at least one hour and then spoon portions onto a bed of Romaine leaves and garnish with the almond slivers.

For variation, I have served this as a wrap using spinach tortilla wraps.

In the Spirit of a New Year.....


I'm making some changes.  I will be adding an expense to our budget.

I have been given a free week at our local Curves franchise.  I just got back from Curves and I am very impressed.  Perhaps it is because I live in a small town and I recognized a lot of the women that were working out there or perhaps it is because our local Curves exhibits that small town friendliness that everyone enjoys.  The bottom line is that I had a great workout and it was wonderful to get out of the house and be around other women.  The location is perfect and I can walk there in good weather.

The coach that trained me on their machines and workout routine spent 1 hour with me.  I never expected one on one attention during my free week.

I have been working out at home for years and it wasn't a problem until a few months ago.  I came to a roadblock and looking back I realize that as days turned from fall to winter, I was becoming more isolated.  My workout had become monotonous and boring.  I struggled to make fitness a priority. It wasn't fun anymore.  What else wasn't fun was that some of my clothes were getting tight on me. 

In the spirit of frugality I have the perfect workout equipment here at home and to think of going elsewhere to workout was not necessary. 

Last month when I realized that I was fighting depression, I knew that I had to get out of the house and going somewhere else to workout was the answer.

So next week when my free week is up I plan to sign up for a membership.  Right now there is a sweet deal going on and the one time sign up fee is $49.  After that I will pay a monthly fee of $34.  I researched other gym options and by far Curves meets my needs and just happens to be an amount I can afford.

How do you fit something like this into a budget?  First of all we are progressing along paying our bills and paying off debt.  We are not in a survivor mode, but we are doing fine.  I am fitting this into our budget as it has become a need.  I need to workout, I need to get out of the house and be around other women and I need to stay healthy. 

We are wives, moms, sisters, daughters and we tend to extend ourselves to others, to help, and we put ourselves on the backburner too often.  We work hard in our careers, be it at home or work, and we burn the candle at both ends more times than we want to admit. 

A lot of us have financial goals of paying down debt or perhaps our financial goals are simply to pay what bills we have and maybe have a little left over and others may be in a survivor mode and need assistance to put food on the table or pay bills.  In the midst of it all, we need to take care of ourselves and get away for a walk, for some time alone or with friends for some girl talk.  We owe it to ourselves and our family to be happy and healthy.

No matter what your budget, find a way to pamper or take care of yourself.  I stretched myself for months trying to get housework done and projects and then went into the holiday season drained. 

One month later I am feeling wonderful.  Lesson learned.  

January 15, 2011

A Delicious Cake Recipe


Tomorrow our son and his wife will be joining us for lunch after church.  I always try to have something in the crockpot so we can come home and set the table and then eat.  No one likes to wait until 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon to eat. 

I keep it simple.  Tomorrow it will be sloppy joes, cheesy potatoes, steamed broccoli, fruit salad and a Cherry Coffeecake for dessert.  What makes this meal simple?  The night before prep.  I have already browned the hamburger and added the sauce ingredients and they are chilling in the fridge.  The frozen hash browns for the cheesy potatoes are thawing overnight in the fridge and I have already mixed the soup, milk, cheese and spices and poured this into a container and it is in the fridge also.  Tomorrow when I get up in the morning I will simply pour the sloppy joe mixture into one crockpot, put the hash browns and cheesy sauce in another crockpot and set them both on low. 

The broccoli is the Steamfresh kind and it will steam in the microwave.  The fruit salad is just fruit cocktail mixed with some canned pineapple.  It will be a breeze to get this meal on the table after church.

Also, in keeping with my frugal mindset, it is an inexpensive meal.  What makes it inexpensive is that the ingredients have been purchased on sale at one time or another. 

Now for the Cherry Coffeecake recipe.  But first, back in November I purchased several cans of name brand Cherry Pie Filling for only 75 cents a can.  It was on sale and I had a lot of coupons so I was able to get about 10 cans.  Cherry Pie Filling is usually over $2.00 a can so this was an excellent buy.  My husband loves Cherry pie and I love to bake pie for him but I also love this coffeecake recipe and so does my family. 

Cherry Coffeecake

Batter:

1 egg
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
milk
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Filling:

1 can cherry pie filling (blueberry will work just as well)

Topping:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 cup flour
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Break the egg in a 1 cup measuring cup and add the extract.  To this add enough milk to make 1 cup.  Set aside.  Cream the margarine (or butter) with the sugar.  Add the milk mixture and mix.  Then add the dry ingredients and mix with an electric mixer for about 1 minute until well blended and smooth.  Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan.  Dollop the cherry pie filling over the top of the batter.   Sprinkle the topping over the cherry pie filling.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

For the topping:  mix the margarine (or butter) with the sugar.  Add the flour (and nuts) to form crumbs.  Sprinkle over the pie filling.

January 14, 2011

Our Budget is my Friend

We have been living on one income since July 31, 2009.  While I wish we had more income (everybody wishes the same thing), I can honestly say that I have gotten comfortable with living on the one income.  By that I mean that I am so used to bargain shopping and putting off purchases that it has become a way of life. 

In the fall of 2008 I knew there was a good possibility that I would be losing my job in the spring.  We had about 9 months warning of that possibility.  I sat down with my husband and told him that I didn't want to look for another job.  I wanted to stay home.  But I also wanted to make sure that we would be able to make it financially.  So after looking over our finances, we both concluded that I could stay home as long as I worked to at least March of 2009.  I knew that the soonest I would be without work would be July 2009, so we both knew that we could do it.  The only fact that we knew for sure was that the first year would be the roughest and it was. 

We're well into the second year and while our income has only increased by $50 a month, we are able to pay our bills, set some money aside in savings and pay down debt.

The one thing that has brought me peace of mind throughout the past 18 months is that we have a budget and I have learned to live within it.   We reviewed our spending and saw areas that we were overspending and knew we could cut back on those areas.  We also looked at areas that we did not budget, but we were spending money.  Those areas included some miscellaneous spending, entertainment and eating out.  We started to budget for those items.  We didn't put a lot of money in those categories, but we still budgeted for those areas.  It's odd but when I see that I have "x" amount of dollars to spend in a certain category, I am more apt to stay within that guideline.  I don't want to jeopardize my being able to stay home by overspending if I can help it. 

There were two months that first year that were tough.  It was November and December 2009.  At that time what was making it tough was that my husband was seeing the writing on the wall as to his job and he had started to look for a new job.  I would go so far as to say he was miserable.  Added to that stress was that we had some extra expenses those months, along with Christmas, which created a very high level of stress in our household.

I pondered during those two months if I needed to go back to work to help alleviate the stress in our household and take back some of the income producing responsibility.  But we got back on track with our budget in January 2010 and at the end of that month my husband had found a new job which he loves.  I decided that I should continue and persevere being home.  It was too early to throw in the towel and give in to fear.

Yes, I said fear.  There is a small amount of fear of living on one income.  After all if my husband were to lose his job, we don't have a second income to fall back on.  Yet, I can't live my life fearing something that may never happen.   In any event, we are preparing every month by putting money in savings just in case this would ever happen.

Now we are only 7 months away from having only our mortgage and one car loan as debt.  The same month we have the debt paid off, our youngest goes to college.  Still, financially speaking, we are making it and will continue to make it. 

I read recently that the unemployment numbers will not go back to their pre-recession numbers until 2016.  I read another article that said that the unemployment numbers will never be that low again.  Everyone has an opinion and each financial analyst makes an educated guess. 

No one can say for sure what the job market will be like in the future.  This is what I do know - be prepared.  The age old sentiment of saving for a rainy day still holds true. Those good ole fashioned values of waste not, want not are in vogue. 

I'll add a new sentiment:  a budget is your friend.

January 13, 2011

Pray for Jacob

Don't forget to check over at Trenches of Mommyhood for updates on Jacob, Elizabeth's son.  Jacob is going through cancer treatments.  Continue to pray for Elizabeth, Jacob and their family.

Dinner Tonight - January 13th

My daughter in law stayed home from work today as she has a bad cold.  I took supper to their house so that she could just rest and try to get better.  They moved back to our community last summer and it has been a joy to have both my sons and daughter in law living near us. 

For supper I made beef and noodles.  Sounded like a good meal for someone who is sick.  It is very cold out so I knew this would be a good choice for the rest of us also.  I made 3 loaves of honey wheat bread this afternoon along with 4 dozen peanut butter cookies.  I rounded out the meal with a simple jello salad which I knew would be a good choice for someone who is sick with a cold.

I spent the majority of the day in the kitchen baking and cooking which meant I was staying warm from the heat of the stove and oven.  Many days when it is close to zero outside I will pick that day to do a lot of baking so that we can enjoy some homemade bread or cookies along with the stove heating up the house a little more.

January 12, 2011

The Contents of a Safety Deposit Box


Last year we moved our accounts to a different bank, but we didn't move our safety deposit box as the rent on it didn't expire til this month.  My husband closed the account yesterday and brought home the contents. We will be opening a safety deposit box at our new bank later this week. I looked through everything yesterday and had forgotten about a lot of the items that we had in that box.  It was almost like opening a time capsule.

When our kids were born, there were no digital cameras.  I always worried that in case of some kind of disaster (i.e., flood, tornado, fire) pictures would get destroyed.  As I looked through the contents of that safety deposit box, there were several envelopes that had photo negatives.  When our kids were young, each year we would take 1 or 2 rolls of film negatives and put them in the safety deposit box.  Then, at least, we would have some pictures of our children in case of a disaster.  Now, we can simply burn a c.d. with a year's worth of pictures on 1 c.d. to put into our safety deposit box.  How times have changed.

There were coins in the box.  We had collected a set of the State quarters for our sons and there were some old coins that were given to our sons from their grandmother. 

Then there were the legal documents such as our Last Wills and Testaments, our Powers of Attorney and our Abstract of Title for our house, birth certificates for my husband and me and our youngest son and our immunization cards.  Then in one large envelope there were the pictures of our deceased daughter, Kelsey, and her birth and death certificates. 

As I looked at our Wills, I was happy to know that we had prepared such a document for our family in case of our deaths.  Our oldest son was happy to know that since his brother made it to 18 years of age last week, that he and his wife wouldn't have to worry about being a guardian to his youngest brother in case we would die.

In one envelope there was a jewelry appraisal of my rings and a few necklaces.  There was my wedding and engagement ring that needs to be repaired as soon as the price of gold goes down - whenever that happens.  I wear a beautiful ring that my husband gave me on our 25th anniversary that serves as a wedding band. 

There are other pieces of family memorabilia such as baptismal certificates and also some financial papers.

That small box contained a small history of our family.  Now we are sorting through those items and giving our oldest son items that belong to him and also reviewing what doesn't apply to us anymore.  At the end of this week we will again pack up the majority of what my husband brought home and it will go into a new safety deposit box for safe keeping.  We will then add to it as time goes on and take out of it what doesn't apply anymore. 

Dinner Tonight - January 11th and 12th

Last night I made meatloaf.  I used 1 lb. of ground turkey and 1 lb. of ground beef.  I always add a couple of shakes of onion powder to the meat along with bread or cracker crumbs or oatmeal (whatever I have on hand), some salt, two eggs, some milk and a couple of squeezes of ketchup and 1 small squeeze of mustard.  I bake it at 375 degrees for a little over an hour.  After I remove it from the oven I spread a glaze of 1/2 cup ketchup, 2 teaspoons mustard and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  Then I cover the meatloaf with foil while I get everything else on the table.  We also had scalloped potatoes, peas and a tossed salad.  For dessert we had brownies with a white frosting.

Dinner tonight was leftovers.  When I reheat the meatloaf I put it in a frying pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter and let it brown on both sides.  My family loves meatloaf and especially when it is leftover and I fry it in a pan. 

It is zero degrees and the wind chill has been below zero.  Meatloaf is just one of those comfort foods that tastes especially good on a cold winter evening.

As far as eating from the pantry and freezer, we're still going strong.

January 10, 2011

Dinner Tonight - January 10th and a Little Bit of This n That


For supper tonight everyone voted on breakfast.  We had scrambled eggs, fresh cut up pineapple and little sausage pigs in a blanket.  I'll explain the latter.  I had one tube of crescent rolls leftover from the holidays that I wanted to use up.  I split them apart into a triangle and then I cut each triangle in half lengthwise to make two narrow triangles.  The result was 16 narrow triangles.  I then wrapped each triangle around a little smokie link sausage.  I sprinkled each with a little bit of brown sugar and baked them at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.  They were very, very good and a nice change from just sausage.  When I set the scrambled eggs, pineapple and sausages on the table I realized that the colors were mostly yellow.  I offered to cook some peas or broccoli to give the meal some color and my family looked at me and said "no,  that's okay."  I was kidding and couldn't believe they thought I was serious.

This morning I baked 3 dozen extra large peanut butter cookies and a batch of my chocolate caramel oatmeal bars as a prize to a local family who won the Homeowner Christmas Lighting Contest for a local news website.  I write an article for this site about twice a month and I added some homemade cookies to the prize package.  I gave them a choice of 7 different types of "homestyle" cookies and I must admit that it was kind of different baking cookies as part of a prize package. 

Early this evening I delivered the cookies to the family - a husband, wife and little baby girl.  They are such a sweet family and they recently moved to our community.

This afternoon I started to notice that I was feeling agitated and started a little bit of the OCD that I had been experiencing two weeks ago.   Not near as bad as it was before I got on Paxil but it caught me off guard.  Taking medications will not simply make everything go away, but it does make it easier to cope the majority of the time.  The interesting thing was that I decided to work out on my treadclimber and I felt 100% better after exercising.  So it is true what they say about exercising raising endorphins. 

We are in the middle of a snow storm right now.  I know it is cold and there is a lot of snow falling but it is really beautiful.  I'm sure school will be cancelled tomorrow but for an 18 year old son it isn't the same as when he was in grade school.  He'll sleep in and then be on the computer or watch t.v. tomorrow.  When he was younger he would go outside with his older brother to build a fort or play with our dog.  Still, I love when he is home for the day as he does hang around the house and he is good company. 

This week I have to get the house picked up and cleaned as next week I start on the plaster repair and painting in the livingroom.  I am on a deadline to get a lot of projects done before our son graduates from high school.  We are having his graduation party here at our house and there is nothing like a party that will push and prod you to get some projects done.  I'm having a hard time beginning as I need to do a little research on plaster repair.  But as my husband has told me over and over, I am doing this to our house and it is not like I have been hired out to do someone else's home.  In other words, it doesn't have to be perfect - nothing is perfect in this little old house.

January 09, 2011

Extreme Couponing


I recently watched and taped TLC's "Extreme Couponing." I have watched it three times while doing housework.   First of all it makes me want to search the internet more to get better coupon deals.  Second, I enjoy hunting and getting a good deal on the items I buy for me family.  Third, I would never spend hours or days looking for coupons and deals, cancel plans with my family, collect a stockpile that fills my house so much that I have to take out insurance on it and go out and buy a considerable sum of candy bars and sports drinks just because I can get them for free or near free.  That is what Amanda was doing.

But in saying all of this, I am not living Amanda's life and her husband seems to be okay with it as he says he is doing it all for her.

There were two other women profiled, one being the Krazy Coupon Lady, and a man.  All of these people have one thing in common and that is they spend a considerable amount of time collecting and organizing their coupons and researching store sales and deals.  When I say a considerable amount of time, it is like a full time job for them.  But, they save hundreds and thousands of dollars doing this.  Also, the man that was profiled did use his couponing skills in order to make big donations of food to his church's food pantry. 

So, where do I stand on extreme couponing?  I'm intrigued by it and would love to save more on couponing but since we don't have a store in town that doubles coupons, it isn't going to happen. I stayed home to be with my family to bless them with a home and I cannot fathom spending my days only on couponing and finding deals. But I do believe that if we did have such a store in our community, I would find a happy medium with couponing and taking care of my home and family.

I will not judge these people as I am not living their life.  They are doing what it is good for them and their families.  It's just too extreme for me.  What do you think?  How much do you coupon? 




Oh I almost forgot.  I did go on the Krazy Coupon Lady's website and found a great coupon - $1.00 off Xtra laundry detergent.  Our local grocery store had this detergent on sale for only $2.00 for a 48 load size.  I was able to get this detergent for only $1.00.  While I didn't get it free, it was a great deal and I would say my deal of the week.

January 07, 2011

Coming out of the Fog - Depression



Today is day nine of being on an anti-depressant.  It has been a little bit of a struggle.  My doctor increased my thyroid medication dosage 1 month ago and about 3 days after being on the new dosage I found myself being increasingly edgy and nervous, which is a side effect.  I'm not sure if coupled with not getting a lot of sleep or the holidays being so hectic, but that edginess and nervousness got worse and I started displaying some OCD behavior and became depressed. 

I called my doctor and I started on 1/2 dosage, for four days, of an anti-depressant.  On the 5th day, being Monday of this week, I started the full dosage.  Eight hours after taking the full dosage I had the type of side effects that, according to the instructions, said to call my doctor immediately.  Namely I had ringing in my ears, a headache that was borderline migraine, chills, weakness to the point that I felt like I couldn't walk because my legs would go out from under me and a mild panic attack.

I called my doctor and he told me to go back to the 1/2 dosage.  I did and now a few days later I am feeling pretty good.  The only side effect that I have now is restlessness at night and unable to sleep very well at night but that is even getting better.  Last night I woke up after sleeping for 1 hour, moved to another area of the house to sleep, and then I fell back asleep for almost 6 hours.  Last night was the first night that I got a good night's sleep since going on the anti-depressant. 

Okay, why am I telling you this?  It pays to stick with the medication.  You may get worse before you get better.  The impetus for my sticking with it was the alternative of being depressed and OCD which was far worse than taking the medication.  Yeah, Monday was pretty scarey when I was experiencing the side effects but I knew that if I went off the medication, the alternative wasn't good either. 

Today I feel like me.  I haven't cried in over a week.  The OCD behavior is gone.  Even though it is a gloomy, snowy day outside, I feel as if I could really tackle some household chores.  This is a good thing since I haven't done much for the past 10 days. 

I went to the grocery store today and picked up a few things.  We don't need much, just fresh produce and milk and eggs.  Having a food supply the likes of mine is great when you aren't feeling well. 

I decided to spend some money on me and my husband thinks this is an absolutely great idea.  I am going to go to Curves on Monday, the 17th for a free week to check it out.  I can walk to Curves from my house and I can then workout away from home and with other women that I know.  I will find out what the one time fee is and the monthly fee when I visit for the first time. 

I can save money in other areas of our budget to make up for this, but since we have been paying off debt, it won't be entirely necessary.  Also, I got my hair cut and colored on Monday, prior to experiencing the side effects thankfully, and it is so much easier to take care of now that it is a couple of inches shorter and it looks better too. 

So here is the lesson learned.  I need to be careful about planning too many projects that keep me at home, especially during the winter months.  Getting out is important.  Making lunch dates with friends are important also.  I can do it all within our budget and still meet our financial goals for the year.

Now that I have the energy I can get back to "What's for Dinner tonight?" and make a list of possible menus to choose from for the rest of the month. 

Life is good - even when the sun doesn't shine outside.

Dinner Tonight - January 7th

Tonight we are having my homemade fried chicken.  I am going to make an artery clogging dinner that sounds good right now.  Besides the fried chicken there will be mashed potatoes, green beans, tossed salad and biscuits. For dessert I have a berry pie in the freezer and I will pull it out and get it baked.

Now that I'm feeling so much better I am in the mood to do some cooking.

January 06, 2011

How long do certain products last?

Back in October I pondered a question of How long do things last?   I always wondered how long some products would last and how much they would cost me over time. 

Last fall I began tracking certain household items by marking the date on those products of when I opened the container and noting when it was used up. 

I started to use a bottle of Finish Dishwasher Detergent (75 oz. size) on October 5, 2010.  I paid $2.75 for this bottle on sale and with a coupon.  I only run the dishwasher once a day as we are only a family of 3.  Here it is January 6th - 3 months later and I still have detergent left in that bottle.  I would estimate I have about a week's worth left.  Now I only fill the dishwasher cup about half or 2/3's of the way so I do save by not using the full amount of the detergent. 

Also, I add Jet Dry Rinse Agent.  I bought a 16 fl. oz. bottle for $1.00 on sale and after using coupons. I started using it the same day as the detergent, October 5th and 1/3rd of the bottle is gone.

So if the bottle of Finish lasts one more week and the Jet Dry dispenser is full and won't need to be filled before then, that bottle lasted 100 days at a cost of .03.  Add the Jet Dry into that (.33 for 1/3 bottle) and it costs less than a penny more - so we will say it cost me 3 1/3 pennnies per load. 

Why do this?  Because I have often wondered how long a bottle would last as compared to the convenient gel pacs - such as Electrasol or Finish or Cascade.  Last year I was able to get Electrasol gel pacs 20 count for $1.00 (or .05 per load), Finish Powerball tablets 32 count for $3.29 (or .10 per load) and Finish gel tabs 32 count for $1.19 (or .037 per load) all on sale and with coupons.  All of the gel pacs and tabs contain a rinse agent.  I used to stand there and look at those gel pacs and tabs and wonder if they were a good deal even on sale. 

So what have I learned?  Buying a bottle of dishwasher detergent does last longer and is cheaper than the gel pacs or tabs.  Even if I purchased the Rinse Agent at double the price I paid, it would still be cheaper than the gel pacs or tabs.  I would have to consistently find a $1.19 sale I mentioned above to use the convenient gel tabs over the bottle of detergent and rinse agent. 

Now on to Shampoo.  I use Pantene Volumizing Shampoo and I purchased a 22.8 oz. bottle on sale for $3.00 back in June of 2010.  I still have 1/3 of that bottle left.  I don't wash my hair every day.  If I washed my hair one day and the next day I get up and my hair looks great even after sleeping on it, then I don't wash it.  Also, I only use one application of the shampoo each time I wash my hair.  My hair is shorter so I don't need as much shampoo.  I would say that I wash my hair 5 days out of 7.  That bottle has lasted a long time and will probably last me a few more months. 

Since I make any good quality shampoo last, I could, if I wanted to, buy a higher end shampoo at the salon - about $15.00 for 18 oz. and it wouldn't break the budget.  I have that option, but why would I?

I use a name brand liquid fabric softener on my clothes and since I get the ultra type I only need 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per load depending on the size of the load. Yes, I have experimented and that is all that I need to soften my clothes.  I am presently using Downy and I bought a 77 oz bottle or 90 load size on sale and with a coupon for $6.00.  There are 6 teaspoons in an ounce so I will get about 462 loads out of this bottle.  I opened it on August 16th and I have been using it along with some fabric softener sheets I still have on hand so I have about 3/4 of the bottle left.  The cost is a little over one cent.

Why two kinds of fabric softener?  Well, back in the summer I was drying my clothes outside so I liked using liquid fabric softener.  I have softener sheets on hand because I got some name brand softener sheets for $1.00 for 80 sheets.  I cut the softener sheets in half and use them on jeans, whites and such.  I use the liquid softener on dress shirts, dress pants, and delicates.  When the fabric softener sheets are gone, I will use only liquid fabric softener from now on.  Why two kinds of softener?  I have found that softener sheets can sometimes leave marks on some clothing items.  That is why I only use the softener sheets I have on hand on darks, towels and my load of whites. 

As to coffee, oh my, we are obviously drinking too much in our household.  A 28 oz. container lasts us almost 3 weeks.  I have been able to get our coffee on sale and with coupons over the past 6 months for between $4.00 and $6.00 for a large canister. 

So what I have I learned from all of this?  First, since I know how long things last, I know how much to stock up on when there is a sale.  Obviously I can buy 2 large bottles of softener and it will last me a year.  My shampoo will last about 9 months and dishwasher detergent will last about 3 months.  Now I know when there is a sale and I want to get a one year's supply, I just buy 2 large bottles of softener, 2 bottles of shampoo and 4 bottles of dishwasher detergent. 

Coffee is a little different - I try to keep a 6 month's supply and now I know that is about 9 large canisters of coffee. 

As I stockpile I don't want to get to the point that I overbuy something.  That is why it is good to know how long it takes our family to use up certain products and I can then judge accordingly when there is a great sale nnd how much I would need to have on hand until the next sale comes along.

With all of the above said, how many of you watched TLC's Extreme Couponing?  What an eye opener into, in my opinion, how you can let something good such as saving money with coupons grow into something that totally takes over your life and becomes a compulsion.  I save money on groceries by using coupons and sales shopping, but I will never let that control the time I spend with my family nor will I let a stockpile overtake my entire home.  That was the case of one of the women profiled. 

I would never let that happen. 

January 05, 2011

My baby is 18

How do you get an 18 year old to smile for his picture?
Put him in a head lock. 
Yes, our youngest child turned 18 yesterday.  And yes, I am starting to take off the wallpaper in my diningroom and kitchen.  Which is a mistake as I need to paint the livingroom first.  Anyway, we along with his older brother and his wife went out to eat at Applebee's and then back home to have birthday cake and open gifts. 

As many moms know, it is hard to believe that our kids are growing older and then when they reach a milestone birthday it is even harder to believe that you are the parent of a child that age.  So here I am a mom to an 18 year old and a 25 year old. 

Soon our youngest son will graduate from high school, go to college, graduate and then be off to his first big job.  I remember when our oldest went to college.  I missed not seeing him every day but I came to really enjoy the college years and his growing and becoming a wonderful, mature young man.  And then he married and I now enjoy not only him, but his beautiful wife and my daughter in law.

As we celebrated our youngest son's birthday, I truly know that the best is yet to come in his life.  I am glad I will be a part of that.

Watching your child grow from infant to toddler to school age to teens to young adult years is a privilege.  Seeing the hard work of raising young boys to be capable, responsible, good young men makes my heart burst with pride.  It doesn't just happen -- it is the fruit of the small things building upon each other - the discipline and the love which builds character.

When they are born and the love sweeps over you, you can't imagine ever seeing them grow and letting them go.  When the time came for my oldest son to go to college, I felt such excitement as I knew he was going after his dream to become a math teacher and coach. Now our youngest will be off to college this fall following his dream of majoring in government and journalism.  Watching my children fulfill their dreams brings me happiness.  Yes - the best is yet to come.

January 03, 2011

Grocery Expense and Coupon Savings for 2010

Last night I tallied up my monthly grocery expense along with my coupon savings to get my yearly total.  For the year 2010 I spent a total of $4,026.43, after coupons, on groceries.  This comes out to $77.43 a week spent on groceries for our family of three.  I saved a total of $863.86 using coupons or a weekly coupon savings of $16.61. 

I didn't use a lot of coupons in November and December as I was cutting back on what I was buying and frankly, although there were coupons for things I normally would buy, I didn't need to add to my pantry.

So, for a family of three I feel I did pretty good.  Not only did I average $77 a week on groceries, this $77 includes money spent to contribute to stockpiling food in my freezer and pantry. 

When I worked full time, I used to go to the grocery store with a short list that I would add to as I went throughout the store throwing things into my cart.  I rarely used coupons and I never had a plan.  I would have some things in my pantry, perhaps a few cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce, but that was about it.  I just bought food and came home and put together whatever I could with what I had bought.  And I spent a lot more - close to $500 to $600 a month. 

What have I learned?  I'll never go back to the old way.

I know my prices, so I know when a sale is a sale and how to match coupons with sales' items.  I have learned something else.  Groceries in Iowa are cheaper than many places in the United States and in the world.  I have access to good prices on fresh produce and on meat.  Perhaps it is due to living in a primarily agricultural area of the country, I'm not sure.  I just know that I am getting better prices on food than a lot of people and that is why I can stretch my food dollar and feed my family and stockpile on $77 a week. 

I have tracked my grocery prices and coupon savings since November 2009 and I am glad that I have been disciplined to do it.

Today I will be going through my freezer and pantry inventory lists making note of expiration dates and will make up a list of possible meals to make from what I have on hand.  I never like making a weekly or monthly menu plan posting what we will have to eat on a specific day.  Instead I prefer to make up a list of meals and then I can pick and choose what I want to cook for my family that night. 

I have always preferred to make up a "meal plan" this way than the traditional calendar out what we are going to have to eat for each day of the week or month.  When doing this I also come up with the side dishes or salads and note what I will  need to purchase from the grocery store to add to that menu, keeping in mind what can be substituted with sales' items.  Then when I go over the weekly grocery sale flyers, I look at the list and pick out a few menus noting anything else that I will need to purchase.   This works well with our schedule, and especially, my personality.  I think it's just the creative side of me not liking to be boxed into a particular schedule.

If you are interested in stockpiling food for your freezer and pantry, go to my label section of the blog, to the left and click on Pantry Challenge and Pantry Principle to see more information on how I did this.  If you are just beginning to develop a stockpile of food and have never done it before, I would suggest starting out small so as you don't become overwhelmed with storing the food and keeping track of what you have on hand.  I started out with stockpiling canned goods, then I started to stockpile baking supplies and then meat for my freezer.  Now I buy whatever is on sale at a good price and add to my pantry and freezer as needed.

January 02, 2011

Frugal Blanket Throws

I came across a great deal on some fabric recently.  I only spent $2.00 a yard for a soft, sweatshirt, fleece type fabric - you know, really soft and warm.  Sorry, can't remember exactly what it said on the bolt.  I just knew that it was a great price and perfect for making blanket throws for winter. 

This afternoon I trimmed the selvages and then I did a simple zig zag stitch on the edges pulling the fabric taunt so it would then have a raggle look to it.  I'm not sure if "raggle' is a word or not, but for the sake of this post I will say it is a word.

So here is what the edges look like.  I had to put an ivory placemat under the edges so you can see what the zig zag stitching did to the edges.


And here is my son holding the four blanket throws.  Each blanket is 6 feet in length and 5 feet in width.  A perfect size to wrap up in while watching t.v. or reading a book.  Beats one of those "Snuggies" anyday.  Best of all the price to make each blanket was just $4.00 plus a spool of thread.