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.