Sunday, June 7, 2009

That's what I'm talking about!

Great strides were made in the last month in terms of debt paydown. We finally took control of our spending and went to an all-cash system, no writing checks whatsoever (over $250 in bounced check fees will do that to you). I have been wanting to do this for some time, but I finally felt that things were in such crisis that we had no choice. So I re-arranged the finances so that NO checks can be written out of the joint account, or they WILL bounce. My husband and I are each on allowances of $20/week, which we can spend as we like, but when it's gone it's gone. My husband chafes at the restriction, but he is also mowing lawns right now for extra cash, so he has that to spend as he likes as well. I have started donating plasma for extra cash and that is also helping.

The bills were REALLY behind, but I have almost got them caught up as well. It feels good to know where every penny is going. When I told my husband that an outstanding debt for a water ionizer got paid off completely this month, over $900, he appreciated the tighter control of finances. Over $1500 in debt repayment in just the last 4 weeks! I feel hopeful.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Easiest and Best Granola

For a long time I have searching for the perfect granola recipe. Because my family are cold cereal fiends, I had to find something to replace their fix. I tried a number of granola recipes, but all were rather high maintenance. They required frequent stirring, during which I usually managed to spill some over the edges of the cookie sheet, and they burned if not watched closely. Crockpot granola was an improvement, but I still managed to burn it from time to time.

So I was ecstatic when I discovered Lazy Granola. The original recipe is from Lori Flem's Sanity Saving Breakfasts. I left out the brown sugar and doubled the recipe and found it to be just great. It takes about five minutes to mix up and makes a large batch of very delicious granola. Start it the night before you want to eat it.

Lazy Granola

14 cups rolled oats
1 cup oil (I use coconut or butter)
1 cup of honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt the honey and oil together, either in the microwave or on the stove. Stir in the cinnamon and vanilla. Pour over the oats in a large roaster pan, stir well, and place in the oven at 350 degrees. Cook for 20 minutes, stir, place back in the hot oven, close the door, turn off the heat and leave overnight. Tape the oven door with duct tape if needed, but do not open it till the next morning, when you will have crunchy and delicious granola, ready to be doctored up with coconut, raisins, nuts, or whatever your heart desires. I make this every friday night, and it lasts my family of eight through the weekend.

Now, is this cheaper than store-bought cereal? You have to compare apples to apples. Yes I probably could find giant bags of sugar laden Dead-Flour-Pops for less than it costs to make this cereal....but why would I want to do that? If you compare the cost of this, using bulk bought organic oats, bulk organic coconut oil, and home-made vanilla, it should pencil out to be much cheaper than similar quality store-bought granola. Someday, when I have time to kill, maybe I will do the math. But right now I am feeling hungry for some cold cereal.......

Friday, April 24, 2009

One down and two to go!

Card number one is PAID OFF!!!!!! Yay! This is the only one that was charging interest at this point. It is such a great deal to pay the stupid thing off, but it will be even more of a big deal to KEEP it that way. The card WAS paid off last fall and just from those four or five months, it took another four months to get those charges taken care of. I really plan to accelerate my debt pay off now. I am caught up on contacts and glasses, and I have signed up to be a cook at the Bible Camp where my children go in the summers, another "big ticket" item that was coming up. So I should be able, Lord willing, to devote the majority of my paycheck to debt pay off in the forseeable future.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Happy Birthday Brenna!

My oldest daughter, Brenna, is 18 years old today. Everyone should be blessed to have such a kind, caring, hardworking, and fun daughter. I am truly blessed and wish her all the best God has to offer for her in her adult life.

Seventeen Years!

Well, it looks like it will not be worth it to refinance at this time. But that's actually GOOD news, because our mortgage is in better shape than I realized. We took out our mortgage in 2004, $102,000 at a rate of 5.75% for 30 years. We put it on a bi-weekly payment schedule right away, which made sense because our paychecks are bi-weekly. We time the mortgage payment with my husband's paycheck, so we know the money will always be there. Just putting the mortgage on a biweekly schedule has our mortgage paying off about 5 years sooner, basically giving us a 25 year mortgage. But here is the good part. Some time back, I don't even know when, I added $30 to each mortgage payment. It was barely noticeable to us because our insurance payments went down at this time, so the payment is nearly the same as it had always been. According to the mortgage man, this small extra payment means our mortgage will pay off in 17 years! WOW. I had no idea we had made that much progress. This motivates me to put as much on that principle as I can in the next year, before I hope to cut back on working. You save more interest by paying extra principle earlier in the loan, when the interest payments are higher. So who says $30 doesn't buy much these days?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Some hopeful news today....

I have been watching the mortgage rates for awhile now, to see if it would get into the territory where it would be beneficial to refinance. We already have a good rate, 5.75% on our 30 year mortgage, and we have 24 years left to pay. To refinance to a 20 year mortgage and get about the same payment, our rate would have to hit around 4.62%. 30 and 15 year mortgages have been in that territory for awhile, but the 20 year rates have hovered above that.

So today I was discussing the options with a mortgage guy who wants our business. He said that for what we still owe, $89000, the rate would most likely NOT hit the target we were hoping for. So I mentioned, "Well, we DO have this little debt." When we roll the $10,000 credit card debt on there, we can hit that target rate! So, for a payment only $75 more per month than what we pay now, our credit card and part of our other debt goes away and we pay our mortgage off 4 years sooner. Then I can take the money I was going to pay on our debt for the next year and pay down the mortgage, so we can be paid off even sooner than 20 years. Any way I pencil it out, it comes out to a good deal to me!

Our mortgage man is putting together the numbers for us, and I have also contacted two other companies. But hopefully VERY soon, you will see that column to the right drop by at least $10,000!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yay! Progress!

We made good progress in this last pay period. I felt that we were both disciplined in our use of finances, as there was very little "blow" that took place. Ideally there should be no "blow" but we are human. Anyway, we paid down $517 on our debt and still had enough cash to pay for some repairs and other needed items. My paycheck is about $900/biweekly. I would love to see all $900 go to debt. Getting there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Batch Cooking for the Busy Woman

I mentioned in an earlier post that batch cooking, or cooking more than one meal in one session of cooking, is one of my biggest sanity-saving tips. I thought I would share how I fit a session of batch cooking into my busy schedule.

As a homeschooling mom who also works outside the home, my time is at a premium, and I also have health issues, so a big day-long session of cooking once a month usually doesn't work well for me. I have done it only a time or two, and while I loved all those meals once I was done, I found I dreaded the big day so much that I just never got around to doing it. What works better for me is doing several smaller sessions throughout the month. I spread the work of that session over several days.

Today, I went to the store just to pick up some water. I broke one of my cardinal rules of shopping and decided while I was there to buy some chicken (Beloved is not a chicken fan; he is out of town; chicken was on sale at a decent price; I love chicken; haven't had chicken in forever; let's buy chicken). I wandered over to the chicken and was blessed from heaven to see package after package of bone-on breasts that had just reached their sell-by date, marked down to 59 cents/lb and thighs marked down to 71 cents. All just for me. I bought it all, over 75 pounds of chicken!

Because it was at its sell-by date, I decided to process most of it immediately. It was a busy day, so I got out my biggest roaster pan (left over from a broken Nesco Roaster), skinned all the breast pieces, sprinkled them with salt, onion powder, and garlic, covered the pan with foil, and placed them in the oven. After an hour I turned the temp down to 225 and left the house for errands and a doctor's appointment. About 40 pounds of meat was in that pan, but it only took me about 15 minutes to prepare it.

When I got home, the house smelled wonderful. We had a simple meal of hot chicken with rice from the freezer. I spread the rest out on two cookie sheets to cool. When it was cooled, I deboned it, put the bones back in the roaster with two cut-up onions, about 8 cloves of garlic, a bunch of chopped up celery, and some salt. I filled the roaster with water, added a couple of tablespoons of vinegar (to help the bones leach calcium), covered the pan with foil, and put it in the oven again at 225. That probably took me another 15-20 minutes. I will let that cook all night. Tomorrow I will strain the broth and make some soup for lunch with the broth, chicken, and leftover rice. I'll make enough to freeze at least one batch.

I also have 25 pounds of thighs to deal with. Tomorrow, I will look through my freezer cookbooks for a couple of easy recipes using chicken thighs. We can easily eat 6 pounds of thighs at one meal, so this will supply four meals. We'll have one for supper and freeze the other three. Cooking those four meals won't take me any more time than cooking one.

On Friday, I may or may not deal with the chicken breast meat cooling in my fridge right now. If I am up to it, I will find a few recipes and cook it all up. If not, I will just dice it up and freeze it in meal sized portions. I probably have enough for about 8 meals. I also bought 10 pounds of hamburger today, and I plan to make some spaghetti sauce with that. We'll have spaghetti for supper, and cooking up enough sauce for four meals also takes the same time as one.

What I am going to do with the breast meat is an unknown at this point. But by Friday night, I will have an extra five fully cooked meals in my freezer, plus a bunch of broth and diced chicken ready for a quick meal. If I am extra energetic, I may just cook up those chicken breast meals tomorrow or Friday and that will mean 14 meals in my freezer for just a few hours of work.

Other strategies that work well are to cook up a HUGE pot of beans or rice and freeze them in one quart containers or can them in a pressure cooker (the beans). Yesterday I was feeling lazy, with Beloved out of town, so I just had my daughter thaw a couple of bags of black beans, and we ate them with sour cream, salsa, and cheese, either in a bowl with a piece of cornbread, for us celiacs, or on a whole wheat tortilla. (Ever since I saw "Napoleon Dynamite", I love to tell my kids to make themselves a "dang quesadilla," pronouncing the "l". I know, I am easily amused.)

Anyway, that's what works for me. Any task you do in the kitchen, ask yourself if you can double or triple the results without doubling the effort.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Low Do I Go?

I had someone criticize me for doing family wipes and yet spending $500 to send my girls on a "vacation," as she called it. It got me to thinking about just how far one goes to get out of debt.

I think I live a pretty frugal lifestyle, the credit card debt notwithstanding. I was living a frugal lifestyle even AS I was getting in to debt! The main reason my husband and I are in debt is a lack of planning and a lack of communication between us. So my question is, do we "punish" our children by making them quit music lessons or miss out on a good educational opportunity just because mom and dad have a hard time getting our act together?

I say no, personally, and so I use cloth wipes and let my daughter continue her music lessons. If you read all my posts, you can see that my children pay their own way for many of their activities. They work hard and have lots of responsibilities.

Is there a compelling moral reason for me to quit the music lessons (and the TeenPact and the life insurance and the many other rather radical suggestions I have been given) just so I can pay my debt off 2 months sooner than I would otherwise? And if so, can I really stop there or does that moral reason encompass our mortgage as well? Should all outside spending beyond food and clothing stop until every last cent is paid off?

I guess I don't see it. I want to be out of debt, very badly, and I want to be able to quit, or at least cut back, work. But I don't see being in debt as a sin or a sign of moral weakness. The weakness or sin is the lack of communication in my marriage. We are working on that.

I am interested in hearing others' point of view on this question.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life keeps knocking me for a loop

We made no progress on our debt this past fact we went a little backwards. Hopefully it will be for the last time, since I think beloved has finally got the travel money thing taken care of. His credit card debt increased because he used it for travel but didn't pay it back. Now he has taken the reimbursement for his travel out as cash and will use that for his next trip, and I will slowly chip away at that balance increase. I hope he can remember to keep taking out the cash as it comes in.

On the home front, we had several expenses come due that we did not have the cash to pay for, so had to use the old plastic. It is discouraging, but again, hopefully will not happen again. Our daughters attended TeenPact and had a wonderful time. It was totally worth the expense, but the $500 tuition came off the credit card, not out of the bank. My girls were already scheduled for this before we made the decision to accelerate debt payment, so I was not going to take that away from them. The other expenses were also "from before." I think we may be past the hump for those types of things. We'll see.

There are other problems that are costing me money right now. Namely that my migraine headaches have increased in frequency to the point that they are greatly interfering with my life. The prescription medication I use, Imitrex, also seems to be losing its effectiveness. I cannot tell you how discouraged I feel today. I seem to have been blessed with a body that just does not work right. I know....."God don't make junk"......but I seem to have gotten junked up after birth for sure.

For as long as I can remember, I have had health problems. Headaches, stomach problems, body aches, fatigue. I can remember having such severe headaches as a tiny child. Most doctors told my parents I had a nervous disposition. Thanks a lot! At the age of 35 I found out I was intolerant of gluten. Following a wheat free diet has helped greatly, but sometimes I wonder if I am too damaged to ever get completely better. I have worked so hard to overcome so many health problems...I eat a healthy diet 98% of the time...and just when I think I am making headway, some new thing comes along. Kinda like with our debt!

The newest problem is migraines related to my....ahem...advanced age and hormone fluctuations. I have had four fairly severe migraines in just the past week. That is the most yet and I cannot function as a wife and mom at that level. My medication didn't seem to make much of a difference either, another discouragement.

So I am off on another quest to improve my health beyond what diet and exercise seem to be able to accomplish. Just in the last three days I have spent nearly $300 on supplements and hormone creams. If this works, I have to keep buying the stuff at least for a few years, and insurance does not cover supplements. If it doesn't work, I will need to seek the help of a practitioner like a naturopath or chiropractor, again not covered by insurance.

My health problems have put a burden on our finances for most of our marriage. It is so discouraging. I wish I knew a permanent answer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How we do "Family Wipes."

It has been a very busy week around here, and I am still recovering from the Daylight Savings Time switcheroo. On Sunday morning, I had to report to work at what my body was telling me was 4:30 AM, and my body is still not happy about that! My two teen-aged girls are gone all week to TeenPact and, oh my, am I already missing them terribly.

I have been planning for awhile to tell about our Family Wipes adventures, and now seems to be a good time. We began to use Family Wipes a couple of months ago. I had actually thought about doing it a long time ago, before I even read about it on the internet, but when I was looking for a way to slash our expenses, the time seemed right to implement it. Now I am the kind of gal, that, when I make up my mind about something, there is no turning back, even if I had to drag everyone kicking and screaming along the way. I also do not believe a family is a democracy. I am "she who must be obeyed," so there was no discussion. I just got everything set up and then made the announcement to my children.

I will never forget the literal wail that arose from Sweetness.
"Mooooom, noooooooooooooo!"
She then did not speak to me for the rest of the day. But, true to her name, she was back to her sweet self the next day, but she warned me, "No-one outside our family must know of this." I promised her and have almost kept that promise. I have told one equally crunchy and insane friend who got very excited about the idea, and I made her promise not to tell anyone else.

The verdict three months later is that, well, they still would rather use toilet paper but are used to the whole process now. I take care of the washing etc so for them using a piece of cloth and dropping it in the basket is not much different (or so I keep reminding them) from using paper and dropping it in the toilet. My husband has not yet brought himself to use them. I don't know what the hangup is, but I am being patient. I am sure he will come around eventually. As for me, even if all our financial challenges disappeared tomorrow, I think I would keep on using them because they feel nice.

So, on to the nuts and bolts. For the wipes, I went to a thrift store and bought a set of queen-sized flannel sheets. I wanted a brown print (for obvious reasons) but had to settle for a dark blue and white plaid. I spent one evening cutting the flat sheet up into squares that are about 6-8 inches. I did this very non-carefully, but they came out pretty even. I did not take the time to hem the edges but if one wanted to do that, one could. I just wanted to get the show on the road. I still have the fitted sheet in reserve for when we need more wipes. So basically I got about 250 wipes for about $2.50. I also purchased three net lingerie bags

with the toggle type drawstring closings. These go in a garbage can with a swinging lid. The wipes go in a cute little basket on the back of the toilet, and after use they are dropped in the can. The mesh bags were $4 apiece and the garbage cans were $8 apiece. The baskets were each a dollar. So my start-up costs were $44. You could save more if you found the supplies on sale or used. I wasn't that patient!

Here is a picture of what it looks like in our girls' bathroom (and you do not know the bravery it took to post a picture taken in our actual house).
Here is a closer look at the set-up.
When laundry time comes, I just remove the lid from the garbage can, cinch up the laundry bag, and throw the three bags in the laundry. I use my regular one tablespoon of homemade laundry soap, but I do wash these in hot water. I run them through the fast cycle on our front loader, which takes 30 minutes. I usually add any rags that need washing.

Then comes the most tedious aspect of the whole process, and that is hanging them out to dry. I use two racks to hold our week's supply for a family of 7-8. It probably takes me half an hour to get them all hung out. They dry very quickly and in a few hours are ready to stack in the baskets. I do believe that if I machine dried them, the smoothing out and stacking would take longer, and my wipes would also ravel badly and not last as long, so I will keep line drying them.
To answer the questions I KNOW you have:
-No, they don't stink. I went into this figuring they would and planned to wash at least twice a week. I went back to once a week because I realized it was simply not needed. One day something was stinking in the bathroom, so I washed the wipes, thinking that was it, but the stink remained. I was a brave one and actually brought the empty but not rinsed bucket up to my face and took a good whiff...NO ODOR. The stink was coming from something in the regular garbage can. I am sure that if I left them for weeks on end, they would develop an odor. I just don't plan to let that happen.

-Yes, they feel nice. Try it out, the chicken way. Take a piece of toilet paper and rub it on you face, as hard as you would if you were "wiping." Now rub a piece of flannel there. Feel the difference? Now imagine this same difference on the most tender part of your body. Aaaaaahhhhhhh.

-No, the cost of washing them does not compare to buying TP. I wash a load of rags almost every day, and I just add these in with that.

-Yes, it's worth the work. I estimate I save about $15/month by not having to buy toilet paper. Subtracting start-up costs, I will save $120 the first year and $180/year after that, more if the cost of TP goes up. If someone wanted to give you $180 once a year, would you take it? I sure would, and I have!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Works For Me Wednesday: De-gassing Beans

We are a family with rather....ahem......SENSITIVE digestive systems. For that reason, I have rarely cooked beans, because I get way too many complaints about the side effects, and buying Beano cancels out any savings I might have realized. The my younger children spent a week with some friends who eat beans a lot, and they reported that Michelle "knows how to cook beans right." So I picked her brain, tried her method, and IT WORKED. So now we can eat beans with only minimal side effects. Yes, still a little bit of gas, but not enough to keep you from going out in public. Hallelujah!

1) Soak the beans at least overnight, the longer the better. I always add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda, not a tip Michelle gave me but I read it somewhere a long time ago.

2) After soaking, pour off the soak water and rinse well. You can also change the soak water a time or two, but I haven't tried that yet.

3) Now cook the beans a long time, the longer the better. A crockpot works well, but I have also just simmered them in a kettle for hours with good results.

4) Here is the SECRET WEAPON: Bury a whole plain potato in the beans as they cook. Apparently the potato absorbs the carbohydrates from the beans that cause flatulence.

5) When the beans are done, carefully fish out the potato. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT eat the potato, unless you want to single handedly contribute to global warming through increased methane gas production.

That's it! Your secret weapon against the gassy bean is the lowly potato. If you have other secret weapons, I would love to hear them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grocery Savings

This is a brief summary of how I have been able to slash my grocery bill by more than half. I feed our family of 7-8, including four teenagers, for $200 every two weeks. I've done tons of reading and gleaned the best strategies for what will work for my family. I should say at the outset that we have a number of food sensitivities in our family. My daughter and I can't have gluten, and I do best with as few grains as possible. My daughter can't have cane sugar in any form. If we didn't have these restrictions, I am sure we could do even better.

1) Buy in bulk. Sometimes you can do better just waiting for sales, but other times it pays to buy in bulk. I never see brown rice, dry beans, wheat berries, etc, go on sale for less than bulk in my area, so I always buy them in bulk from Azure Standard. I usually spend about $100-150 per month there. They are a great source of bulk organic produce as well. I buy my organic apples, oranges, potatoes, and onions there for less than what I can usually find conventional produce at our local grocery store. BTW, when I say buy in bulk, I do NOT mean Sam's Club. There are a few things there that are a good deal, like the large cans of crushed tomatoes, but often I can beat them using loss leaders or Azure Standard. You have to know your prices. I don't have a price book written down, yet (hangs head in shame) but I have a good one in my head.

2) Make everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING from scratch. And not just things like cream soups and spaghetti sauce. I have started making home-made tortillas, peanut butter, yogurt, etc etc from scratch. With a little bit of family cooperation it doesn't take that much longer and the savings are significant. It is worthwhile to invest in appliances that make the job easier. Remember, the Proverbs woman had her servants. Mine are my appliances! The nice thing about making things from scratch is that you can make organic versions for less than the store bought non-organic versions. Eating organic as much as possible is important to us, but we would go broke in a hurry if we bought the many organic convenience foods available.

Because I am gluten intolerant, I have my 10 year old son bake our bread. I pay him a quarter a loaf. It is worth it to me not to get sick and he loves earning some money. His bread is really great too!

3) Meal plan from the pantry. I never used to meal plan, and I admit I don't really like to do it now. But my family loves to see that list posted on the fridge and anticipate the good meal they will have. Best of all, my older children will often pitch in and start supper when they know what is on the menu. But, rather than plan my meals and then go shopping, I just shop the sales and to restock my pantry, and I plan my meals from what is in my pantry and freezer. I should add that we are a meat-eating family. We eat meat every day. I buy the loss leaders and we also buy bulk meat from local producers.

4) Bulk Cook. I am a working mother of six homeschooled children. I defy you to find very many women who are busier than I am. Quite often, I used to feel sorry for myself, or just plain worn out, and that is when the frozen pizza and hot pockets would appear on the table. By always at least doubling what I am making, I always have a meal in the freezer that my children or husband can pull out and heat up. This is really my secret weapon! It is no more work to double a recipe than to cook one batch. Every once in awhile I do a big OAMC cooking session, but most often I do mini sessions every few weeks when I bring home a bunch of meat from the store. Even cooking six batches of chili is not much more work than cooking one.

5) Shop the sales, mostly the loss leaders. I don't do coupons because I rarely buy anything that comes in a box or a can. By mostly buying loss leaders and the lowest price produce each week, I can save more money than coupons, and the work they entail, ever would.

6) Quit using paper products. We use cloth in place of napkins, paper towels, and....yes....toilet paper. No, it is not gross. One queen sized flannel sheet, bought at the thrift store for $5, will take the place of toilet paper for at least a year.

7) Make your own cleaning and beauty products. So far I have made laundry soap, Dishwasher soap, and deodorant. Soon I will branch out to toothpaste and shampoo, as soon as we use up what we have. Again, it is much cheaper to make your own than to buy the organic versions, which is what we were doing before.

8) Learn to be satisfied with simple food. There are women out there who make a home-cooked breakfast and lunch as well as supper. More power to them, but I will probably never be that woman. My children are old enough to fix themselves eggs and toast or oatmeal and I tell them they need to be satisfied with that. There are people in this world who eat the same three or four foods day in and day out because that is all they have. We are blessed with such abundance in our nation. For lunch, there is nothing wrong with a peanut butter sandwich or leftovers.

9) Limit the goodies, as a continuation of #8. For most of the history of man, desserts and sweets were only consumed on feast days or special holidays. I don't get having an abundance of sweets and desserts available every day. You can go too far in the opposite direction, I realize. My mom limited our diets a great deal when I was growing up, and my brother and I went wild when we left home, and have battled weight problems because of it. But now I only make dessert once in awhile, and my children will bake cookies or a cake only once or twice a week as a snack. We use almond flour, which costs $4 a pound, so you can see why we limit it.

Future plans include having a garden and learning to dry food. That should make next winter's meals even nicer. I am also working on wasting less food and getting a better handle on what is in my freezer and pantry. I have lots of room for improvement there!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Our monthly bills.

To put things in perspective, it might be helpful to list what our basic monthly bills are, for a family of 8, including one in college. My husband's salary does meet these basic bills, with absolutely no wiggle room.
Mortgage: $800/month
Natural Gas: $77/month
Electricity: $87/month
Water: $40/month
Car Insurance: $68/month
Life Insurance: $88/month
Groceries: $440/month
Car expenses: $200/month
Music Lessons: $100/month
Giving: $160/month

Total: $2060/month

My husband's take home pay from his job is $2167 per month. You will notice there is nothing in that list about medical expenses, homeschooling, travel, etc. When I said, no wriggle room, I meant it! My husband also has other income which comes to about $400 per month. It arrives once a year and in the past we have just used it for Christmas or to pay off bills. We will have to be much more wise about its use from now on.

We do live in an area of the country where living expenses are pretty reasonable. But then salaries are also low.

What I am doing right now to save money.

We are trying to live on half of our income. We are not being completely successful as of yet, mostly because we don't have any savings to take care of unexpected expenses, but we have made a lot of headway. I like to read what others are doing to save money, so I thought I would list the basic things I am doing, and I will elaborate in future posts.

1) GROCERIES- This is the biggest area of savings. I have cut our grocery bill from about $500 every two weeks to $200 every two weeks, more than half. To do this, I am combining the many ideas I have gleaned from the web and my reading. I will post more on this later.

2) Phone and Internet-I consider the Internet to be pretty much a necessity, especially with homeschooling, so I searched until I found a way to cut the expense and still keep the internet. The answer was VOIP. We have not quite cut the landline but I expect to do so in the near future. Before, we had basic phone with a basic DSL service, and we used calling cards from (1.5 cents a minute). All this came to $65-$75 a month, depending on how much we called long distance. that is pretty cheap, but I wanted cheaper. What I found was cheaper and BETTER! We got higher speed wireless and bought a Magic Jack for our phone service. Now, for $150 in start-up costs, our internet with unlimited local and long distance calling is only $37 per month.

3) Hanging out all my laundry instead of using the dryer. The first few months this didn't look like it was going to save more than a few dollars. Then this last month our bill dropped by $25! I am going to guesstimate that our average savings will be...

3) Washing everything in cold water and keeping the thermostat on 60 degrees. I can only estimate what this is saving us. The month we started doing this, the cost of gas rose astronomically, but our bill stayed the same. Our bill is still $73 per month. So for fun let's say....

4) WATER- We are doing many things to save water. We bought a front load washer, which not only saves us water usage, it also prevents us from having to pump out our septic tank every 3 months like we were having to do. So the machine paid for itself in a year. We also installed all low-flow toilets. The old ones were broken and needed to be replaced anyway. The first month after my husband did these things, our water bill dropped from $6o per month, to $30 per month. It is back up to $40 now due to an increase in water. I have just started having everyone limit showers to 5 minutes. Too soon to know how much water that saves.

5) No paper products.....period. That's right, none.

6) I am making all my own beauty and health products and cleaning supplies. I don't know how much this is saving. Sometimes we bought this stuff with the groceries and sometimes separately. But it is helping me stay in my $200/biweekly grocery budget, so I will just leave it at that.

7) We cancelled our garbage service. We will recycle everything we can and haul the rest. If we keep our garbage below 150 lb every two weeks, it will be free.

8) We cancelled our paper delivery. Waaaaaaaaah. This has been the harderst and we may end up getting it again, when the credit cards are paid off.

Those are the basics. There are other things I would like to try. This summer we will be adding a garden. I would like to build some solar collectors and also do solar cooking. I know there are other ways to shave off a few dollars here and there and every bit helps. If you have any input, please share! As for now, the grand total is................drum roll..................

I bring home $880 every two weeks. This savings gets us almost halfway to me staying home. The other half can be mostly made up by being wiser in how we spend. I may not be able to quit work completely, but I can certainly see myself being able to go to registry (I am an RN) and working as needed. Even that would bring about a huge improvement in my state of mental health. Our biggest expense is housing. Our mortgage payment is $800/month. We have a really good interest rate so probably won't be able to jump on the refi bandwagon. I am hoping beloved will want to look for something less expensive. We have about $50-$60 thousand of equity in this house so could downsize a bit and get a much smaller mortgage.

Menu Planning Monday

First, a cause for celebration.....I have a SINK! And countertops! For the first time in a YEAR, I have a fully functional kitchen! YAY! I do have to be careful of the countertops for about a week, as they have to fully cure, but we can use them lightly, and, better yet, no more dishwashing in the bathtub!

I do have some details of painting etc to finish up this week, while my beloved is gone on a business trip, so the menu is going to be simple.

MONDAY: Pork roast and potatoes....this was supposed to be for yesterday while I was working but the family forgot to cook it. When I got up this morning, Sweetness was in the process of putting this in the crockpot! She is definitely my sweetness.

TUESDAY: Lasagna, per family's request. I have not made this in forever.

WEDNESDAY: Pasta with Peas (from the depression cooking lady on You-Tube)

THURSDAY: Chili and cornbread

FRIDAY: Pot roast with potatoes and carrots in the crockpot

SATURDAY: Spaghetti

SUNDAY: Life Group Sunday...we are having Breakfast for Supper and I think we are supposed to make pancakes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I think this will work...

I have gotten in trouble a couple of times because I made some necessary online purchases with my debit card, then the charges took a long time to come through and I forgot about them, then got caught short when they finally came through. So today I decided I would buy the items with a credit card and then immediately make a credit card payment from my checking account, even before the item gets charged to my card. The end result is the same and since I am beating the grace period, it should be fine. I know I do not want to use the credit card, BUT these are for necessary purchases, one to my food co-op and one for contact lenses. So let's see how this works.

It looks like we will not be able to put much towards debt this pay period. I have to buy the contact lenses and pay for my daughters' tuition to TeenPact, as well as fund my husband's travel envelope so he can stop using the credit card to pay for his expenses when he travels for work. He gets reimbursed but our budget is so tight that it can get dicey if he writes a check at the wrong time. I want as much as possible to switch to cash only. It has sure helped me get my grocery budget under control.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Menu Planning Monday

No headaches or kitchen disasters today. Let's see if I can come up with a menu that only uses what is currently in my stores.

Monday: Shredded Pork over Rice
Tuesday: Lamb Stew
Wednesday: Sausage Breakfast Casserole from A Year of Crockpotting
Thursday: Lasagna....I will have to buy some rice lasagna noodles for this
Friday: Crockpot Chicken
Saturday: Meat Loaf
Sunday: Roast

I will flesh it out as I will all be with potatoes or rice and frozen veggies....I may buy some fresh stuff on Wednesday if there are some stellar bargains. Most of my grocery budget this week goes to the Azure Standard Man.

For more menu plans, visit the Organizing Junkie.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

God provides!

We all know that God knows the number of hairs on our heads, but I often get to thinking that He doesn't really care all that much about the mundane everyday details of our lives. I mean, who would have the time? But He proved to me today that He does.

Our family loves to ski, but this is not a frugal hobby, as you can imagine. Our local ski area allows homeschoolers to register as a school group, and this greatly reduces the cost. For a day of skiing, including equipment and lessons, it is only $20. This is a fantastic bargain, but for a family of seven (eight if the college kid is home) it really adds up. We didn't get to go skiing at all last year, so I really wanted my kids to be able to do this, even with our present challenges. There is a little bit of wiggle room with my salary, especially if I get in some overtime, so I told the kids we would pay for skiing once a month.

I made the reservations for this Friday, but then several unexpected things happened that ate up all the reserved cash that we had. I was ready to charge it on the card, if I had to, in order to keep my promise, but really didn't want to do so. I prayed about it and left it at that. Then today I was looking around in my bedroom for something completely unrelated and I ran across a check for $100 that my mother had given to my son for Christmas, and that he had given me to pay me back for something I loaned him way back in December (whew that was a run-on!). I had completely forgotten about it! $100 was exactly enough for my five children to go skiing tomorrow and they are really excited. Thank you Lord for watching out for us sparrows.

And now, Lord, our family computer completely died today. Um, do you have a minute to spare for that?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pork Chops with Apple Gravy

This is a family favorite, even though the sound of it is off-putting to younger children. Every time I make this I have to remind my children, "Yes, it really does have apples and onions together in the gravy, and yes it is delicious and you loved it last time we had it."

This is a very frugal recipe if you can get your pork chops for $1.39 per pound, as we often can here. Right now I have a bulk 4-H piggy in my freezer so we are eating pork like kings. I adapted this from a recipe found on the 30 Day Gourmet website, but I modified it to not have to brown the pork chops and to be cooked in the oven. You can cook this in the crockpot too.

Pork Chops with Apple Gravy---8 servings

8 pork chops (about 3 pounds)........$5.17
1 large onion, chopped.........................0.20
5 tart cooking apples, sliced thin........0.79
(you can peel them if you want but I never do)
2 T beef broth granules........................0.25
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups water
1/4 cup flour...........................................0.10

Layer onions and apples over pork chops in baking pan with lid.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper
Dissolve beef broth in water and pour over pork chops.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees until tender, 1-2 hours.
Remove pork chops and whisk in flour, cooking until thickened. I use brown rice flour and a little bit of milk.

Serve with mashed potatoes and veggies.
4 lb potatoes............................$3

Total for eight servings, ABOUT $10.51. I always see if I can meet or beat the $5 limit for four people. I buy organic potatoes and apples from Azure Standard, so non-organic on sale would easily get this under the $5 limit from $5 Dinners. This also provides us with a small amount of left overs for lunches the next day (or in my family's case, breakfast, as they always try to beat each other out to eat the leftover potatoes and gravy!)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Menu Planning Monday......on Tuesday

Well, Menu Planning Monday here turned out to be Migraine Monday, so I spent most of the day in bed wishing for very strong drugs while my family fended for itself. Migraines are the bane of my existance right now. I have done a lot of natural health work and it has fixed most of my other problems but not the migraines. They are hormonal and I am at "that age" so I hope a few years will make the difference. But right stinks to be me sometimes.....

.....ANYWAY, I am fine today so here is a belated post.
MONDAY: My sweet daughter, Red, made the dutch baby pancakes and bacon that I had planned for a no-school-today treat.
TUESDAY: Pork Chops with Apple Gravy, from the 30Day Gourmet website, I'll make one for tonight and several for the freezer. Salad and potatoes.
WEDNESDAY: Chicken and rice with either salad or frozen veggies.
THURSDAY: Lamb Chops in the crockpot, with veggies and potatoes
FRIDAY: Homemade enchiladas
SATURDAY: Beef Pot Pie
SUNDAY: Life Group, no menu planned yet

My shopping list for this week is.....NOTHING. I still have plenty in my cupboards and freezer so plan on buying no groceries this week. YAY!

For more Menu Plans, head on over to Organizing Junkie.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How Are We Doing?

Today I sat down and tallied up how we have done since making the decision to accelerate debt paydown. The bad news is that we owed more than I realized, $2000 more! That is depressing, and might still not be accurate, since I don't know exactly how much I owe my mother. She is sending me her records so I will update when I get them. Totally lame, I know, but now I have a spreadsheet going and will keep track of it myself.
The good news is that we made over $2000 in debt payment in the last 6 weeks, AND we paid cash for things that we have normally had to charge in years before, such as glasses, contacts, and supplies for our kitchen remodel, which is almost complete. The only real problem area is my husband's credit card, which he uses for work. He travels a lot and sometimes he writes a check for his room and sometimes he charges it. Last week he wrote a check but it overdrafted his account. So for the rest of the trip he charged his room and that actually made his account balance go UP. I want to get him to take out the money when the state pays him back and use it for the next trip, but he has never gotten into the habit of doing that. Now he is behind, so we will have to take money out of my debt payback account for him to use as cash for the next trip. Then we should see that balance go down every month, rather than up as it did this month. Such a little bit of planning can save a lot of cash. Fortunately it is a zero interest card. It will get snowballed as soon as the current card I am paying down is paid off. Only $500 left on that one, whoo hoo!

Frugal Friday

My Frugal Friday tip is not to get overdrawn in your checking account. This is probably a no-brainer for most of you, but it continually trips up my husband and me. We have never been good about communicating about money, so to try to prevent more overdrafts, we have separated our money into two accounts. He controls one and I control the other. I was frustrated at him earlier this week because he overdrew his account. He wrote some checks without making sure there was enough money to cover them. How could be be so stupid? I'll tell you how, because I just did it today! A debit card charge for some contact lenses I bought a MONTH ago from, which I assumed came through the day I bought them but never actually checked to make sure, didn't come through till today and it overdrew my account. Fortunately I also got paid so I was only overdrawn for a few minutes and didn't get charged, but it could have been a lot worse. My husband and I will be having a heart to heart very soon. His overdraft cost us $60 that could have gone towards more debt. My overdraft could have been just as expensive. It is akin to taking $120 and flushing it down the toilet. Live and Learn.

For more Frugal Friday tips, visit Biblical Womanhood

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Frugal Happenings Around Here

Yesterday and today were busy and productive. I am in the part of the month when I usually don't get migraines, yeya, and I have been getting enough sleep and still getting up early so I feel rested and energetic most of the day. As a fibromyalgia sufferer, I know to take these days as the blessings they are!

I spent some time yesterday making home-made laundry soap, dishwasher soap, deodorant, and shampoo. A food processor makes this job so easy! I got my recipes from the Passionate Homemaker (scroll to the bottom of the page for cleaning and personal care recipes). I labeled my containers with my nifty new label maker that I bought a year ago but had never used before. My goodness I LOVE this little thing! (See here.)
I have images of Martha Stewart Style perfectly organized closets and cupboards, everything with neat little labels. I may even label my children, so I won't be constantly calling them by the wrong name. They'd like that.

I did spend a panicked few hours yesterday and today looking for a bunch of jars of essential oils. I found them Friday as I was unpacking boxes to restock my kitchen cupboards and was so excited because now I actually know what to do with them (see above). So yesterday I wanted to make deodorant and put a few drops of tea tree oil in it. The oils were nowhere to be found. I looked high, I looked low, I looked every logical place. Today I even looked through about 10 bags of garbage in the dumpster. Not fun. I was so upset with myself because I had at least $100 worth of oils in those bottles. And it makes me so mad how the chaos in my home lately costs me money.

Well, today I was continuing to stock cupboards and lo and behold, there were the oils in a little cardboard box. Of course, as soon as I found them, I remembered perfectly putting them there. Arg, and thank you Lord.

Today I emptied out a very inefficient pantry closet and organized everything in my new kitchen cupboards. I have more than triple the cupboard space I had before and it is so wonderful. I have organized everything for easy and efficient access. My label maker and charts on the inside of the cupboards and drawers will mean my children will know just where to put things. A girl can dream anyway.

So now I know what is in my cupboards. We don't need to buy peanut butter for many months and no jelly for a year. Beloved has enough salsa to last a long time. it is great to feel in control. That freezer is next.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Menu Planning When You Have No Kitchen


Before I explain about my menu, you need to understand a few thing about my life right now. First is that my kitchen looks like this:

I haven't had a kitchen sink since early December. We have the countertops installed now, but I painted them with a product called Spreadstone, which must then be sealed with a sealer that is apparently manufactured in Outer Elbonia because my local supplier has been trying to locate it for 2 weeks. My beloved is working on getting the floor ready to install laminate, and last night he got out the sander (when I was at work) and started sanding the old glued-on gunk, and covered everything within twenty feet, including clean dishes and open food containers, with a thick layer of 30-year-old particalized floor gunk!!!!!!!!!........DEEP CLEANSING BREATH......

I'm OK now. Anyway, meals are a little difficult right now. They have to be very simple and require minimal preparation. I have a stove and I have a kitchen table, which is usually covered with an assortment of tools and hardware, so I CAN cook, but nothing requiring lots of time and preparation.

The second thing you need to know is that I have bad knees which hurt when I go up and down the stairs. Our freezer full of meat is in the basement, and the stairs were apparently built by someone who is 6'7", not 5'3' with bad knees. So it hurts to go down the stairs and I avoid it at all costs.

So here is my menu planning process:
Sometime in the morning, when I remember, or even the night before if I really am on the ball, I holler down the stairs to whichever child is handy. Usually it is my 13yo son.
No answer.
No answer.
"You don't have to yell, mom, I'm right here."
"Please go look in the freezer for some meat for supper."
*Big sigh and presumed eye roll* "OK mom."

Repeat process a half hour later because he forgot.

Son brings up white packages of meat. He brings three packages because we are a big family that likes meat. Unfortunately he brings three different kinds of meat. He swears this is all he can find. He is sent downstairs to look for three of the same kind of meat.

He is reminded a half hour later.

He brings up three of the same kind of meat, with a sheepish grin on face.

I look at what he brings me and figure out what I can make with organic sheep's tongue or whatever.

Yes, it is an interesting and exciting process. However, very soon I do plan to brave the stairs and actually go down and look in my freezer. I have made a vow to eat from my pantry as much as humanly possible till we have got room in the freezer for the bulk beef my beloved wants to buy.

So, here is what I have for a menu so far this week. I actually do have a fair number of freezer meals stored up, which helps tremendously when the kitchen remodeling goes into high gear as it has the past few weeks.

Monday: Chicken enchiladas...I have some home-canned chicken and I want to try out my new tortilla maker.
Tuesday: Meat Loaf from the freezer and potatoes and peas
Wednesday: Beef stew from the freezer and cornbread and carrots.
Thursday: Porkchops, potatoes, and broccoli
Friday: Early Valentine's dinner of homemade gyros.
Saturday: Spaghetti from the freezer
Sunday: Life Group, no menu planned yet.

For more menu planning ideas, visit the Organizing Junkie.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Being Frugal With Teenagers

Most of the blogs I run across about frugality seem to be written by younger wives (I guess they have more energy to multitask than us old fogeys), and there is a dearth of blogs by mothers of teens. Or at least I haven't found them. It definitely is a bigger challenge to become more frugal and change habits when your children are older. For one thing, my children do the bulk of the work around here, since I home school them and also work 20-30 hours a week. So it's a lot to ask them to take on the extra work that frugality requires, when they are already very busy with school and activities.

And speaking of activities, the bald truth is that the cost of activities grows as the child grows. Since we have always lived a somewhat frugal lifestyle, our children are used to paying their own way with activities. All our children are fortunate to have been able to pursue their passions either by working or by gifts from their grandparents. They know that anything extra is not really possible right now and they don't ask. I cannot imagine the shock that teenagers in today's economy are facing as they have to either give up expensive pasttimes or find a way to bankroll them when the Mom and Dad Savings and Loan has to shut its doors.

Clothing for teenagers can also be more difficult to acquire frugally. Hand-me-downs tend to run out when the child reaches adult size, as four of my children have. More current styles can be hard to come by in thrift stores, especially in our smaller town. Again, I am fortunate that my children usually buy their own clothes if I don't have the money for a thrift store run. My oldest teenaged daughter has two friends that are real clotheshorses. She loves fashion, too, but sticks to thrift stores and Walmart when it's her own money.

It probably helps that we have been "oddballs" all their lives. We used to live in rural Montana, in a county the size of New Jersey, and we were the only homeschoolers in the entire county! We drove 75 miles to a neighboring state to go to a support group. In our small church we were considered "liberals" and were left somewhat alone. We were organic farmers and ate organically way before it was mainstream. We spent a lot of time at home with no TV and basically no friends, so the outside influences on our children were minimal. So we got to totally brainwash them and it was great.

Now we live near the big city (50,000 whole people!) and my children have lots of friends and lots of activities. We have a wonderful, big church. Life is lots more expensive. But so far my children are handling my new, more radical frugal ideas.....well, the jury is still out on the cloth "family wipes" (love that phrase). I'll give it a month or so and let you know.

Moms of teens, do you have experiences to share about trying to become more frugal? Please share! I need all the help I can get.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Most Important Frugal Friday Tip You Will Ever Read

While the tone of my blog will generally be practical but humorous, this post is as serious as a heart attack. I can say with confidence that this is the most important Frugal Friday tip you have ever or will ever read. My tip is simply this: Don't make ANY decisions involving money unless both you and your spouse have prayed about it first and are in agreement to move forward. If your spouse is not a believer, you pray about it but still do not move forward unless your spouse is in agreement. My husband and I would not be in the mess we are in if we had followed this advice from the beginning of our marriage to this day.

I think my husband learned a long time ago that the easiest way to navigate our marriage was to go along with me and keep his mouth shut. Because I generally had our family's best interests in mind, he usually agreed with whatever I decided. If he didn't agree, he most often kept his mouth shut and silently refused to cooperate. Agressive wives of passive husbands will recognize this pattern. I see now that for all the times I was so frustrated with my husband for either refusing to cooperate with my brilliant plan or refusing to "be the man of the house," the wise woman would have simply stepped out of the way and waited for God to nudge her husband into action. No action, better known as waiting on the Lord, is better than jumping feet first into a woman-lead plan that is doomed to failure.

I am so thankful to serve a God whose blessings truly are "new every morning." I am looking forward to Him redeeming the years the locust has eaten. My husband and I will move forward at His lead, and we will do it together.

For more Frugal Friday tips, visit Biblical Womanhood.

How did I get in this mess?

It all started with a trip. OK actually it started way before then, but the most recent accumulation of credit card debt began with a phone call from Ramada Inn, offering one of those "listen to our spiel and stay nearly free" trips. A seven day trip to Florida with all meals and car rental included and even an overnight cruise to the Bahamas for only $299. My husband and I have never gotten away by ourselves on a trip in over 20 years of marriage, and things had been a little tense lately, so I begged him to say "yes" to this unusual extravagance. He did and I paid, with a credit card.

At that time we had no credit card debt, as we had gotten a chunk of cash from the sale of a house and had paid off all our debt besides our mortgage (and then proceeded to squander the rest of it, but that is another post). Now, what to do about plane tickets? Florida is a long ways from Montana, and we never get those super deals that come up on Cheap Tickets, so I did a search of credit cards on Google and found a credit card with a low initial interest rate and generous rewards plan. Then I switched as many regular payments as I could to that credit card in order to build up reward points.

We did pretty well for about six months, using the card for regular purchases and paying off the balance each month. Then, slowly but surely, a purchase here and a splurge there began to add to the balance, a few hundred dollars each month. Sometimes it was somewhat legit, like the dentist wanting to be paid $500 up front, and sometimes it was justified by thinking the purchase would save us money in the long run. Believe it or not, neither my husband nor I are spendthrifts. We are by nature somewhat frugal in our habits. But we are poor planners and poor communicators and that is a deadly combination when money is a little tight. In 18 months, we racked up $10,000 in credit card debt. $6,000 was for a new transmission on our Suburban and a new brake job on Old Red, and $500 was for the dentist, but the rest really cannot be accounted for. That is about $195 per month wasted.
Just shoot me now.
And if we had had a savings plan in place, we could have paid cash for the transmission. Sure, buying old beater and not having a car payment is a great way to save money, but only if you are prepared to pay repair costs. My husband and I have pretty much lived our whole married lives this way, thrifty habits but no planning. Can two old dogs learn some new tricks? We shall see.

PS. The other half of the debt is an interest-free student loan from my mother, taken out to pay off another hare-brained scheme that was supposed to make me rich while working from home. I'll save that for another post.

PSS. We haven't even taken the trip yet. But of course with all that debt we did get plenty of points, enough for two plane tickets.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Can We Live on Half of an Already Small Income?

I hate working. I don't hate work, I just hate leaving my home and family of six children (including the most expensive one who is away at college) to go work for someone else just so we can have more stuff. OK, well maybe food and clothing and shelter don't count as stuff, but it seems like we have a lot more possessions than we need. I also feel called by God to come home again. My husband agrees that we can try, so we are going to try living on my husband's income while using my income to pay of $20,000 in debt. Here's the deal. After paying the very basic bills of mortgage, gas and electricity, water, and phone, we have about $1200 per month to live on. Twelve hundred dollars to cover food, clothing, car expenses, medical expenses, homeschooling, travel......everything.

Can we do it? Stay tuned to find out.