Monday, September 15, 2014

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments


We enjoyed some rain on Monday. I collected 20 gallons of water from the roof and used it to water plants. The children enjoyed floating a few corks (it wasn't deep enough for their cork boats, so they took them apart and floated individual corks; I found the corks a few years back at a garage sale).

We enjoyed a beautiful rainbow and a wonderful sunset.

My husband was able to watch a football game online for free on ESPN3. He was thrilled!

I downloaded 10 free worksheets from Education.com (the limit for the month).


I printed a model project for school that I downloaded for free several years ago (a $10 off $10 deal while they were having the e-books on sale for $1 each; Scholastic regularly has these on sale for $1 each) for school. Ezrom made the model above from this book.



We showed Grandpa what Ezrom was learning about the Pueblo Indians, and since my parents had recently been to see the real thing, my dad came over to show the children some photographs they had taken there, and to teach a lesson about the people.

I was able to glean pears. I made a batch of pear butter.

There is a picture that my husband has liked for a long time. I ordered a poster of the image from All Posters.com. I went through Ebates first for 12% cash back, plus a 30% off coupon code. I paid for the whole thing with money I made through taking Pinecone Research surveys.

I canned 17 pints of dill pickles with the cucumbers from our garden.

We celebrated Liberty's birthday this week. I hung the banner that I had made for Cyrus' birthday. I made her a necklace, and also gifted her one of my old necklaces. I also made her some bookmarks. Her other gifts were much more than we usually spend for birthdays, but something she had long looked forward to: she got her ears pierced and she received her own set of scriptures. For dessert, I made brownies from scratch (I'll be making some adjustments and testing these several more times, and then they'll be up on the website!) and topped them with small white chocolate frogs. I didn't get any pictures, though! We had a great time and had her grandparents over for lunch and the party.

Blouse: free from clothing exchange. Sweater: purchased this week at a garage sale for .25. Skirt: gift from youth leader, from the thrift store.

Winter did a service project with her church youth group at the thrift store where one of her leaders works. Afterwards the leader bought each of the girls one thing from the thrift store. Winter came home with a beautiful skirt.

I went to a three garage sales on Saturday morning, all very close together. I found several books and articles of clothing, for which I paid .25 each. I found a sweater for $2. I found a length of fringe for $2, two picture frames for .50 each, and a beautiful, amazing queen's dress for $2, that my girls loved at first sight; it fits my 6-year-old perfectly. I also bought a dresser and a mirror.

Earlier in the week I found two brand-new matching dust ruffles for $5 on a Facebook garage sale site. These will go in the same girls' room after I am done ironing them.

I set a few of the books aside as Christmas gifts for Ezrom and the sweaters as birthday gifts for Winter.

What did you do to save money last week?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments



I cut apple branches from the garden. Something about having them on this table makes me feel immensely rich. I definitely need to cut some more often.



I cut zinnias from the garden.

I cut basil, red noodle beans, and Armenian cucumbers from the garden.

The children watched a few episodes of Little Einsteins for free on Disney Junior. I printed coloring pages for them from the same site. I printed free dot to dot pages from this week's Dover Children's Sampler and free coloring pages from here.

I listed a couple of items on a Facebook garage sale page and sold both the same day. This has encouraged me to get rid of some other items that are going unused and taking up space. I have decided to set a rather large goal of selling enough stuff to buy matching bookcases for the other side of the library! It might take me a while with some items only being $1 each (I'm planning on listing some children's clothing, among other things) but if I can do this, my house will be cleaner, definitely less cluttered, and I'll have a room that I have dreamed about most of my life.

We added to our emergency fund this week.

Underwater volcano experiment: sand, water, and the wax from a tea light, which melts like magma and pushes up through the wax to the surface of the water.

I cooked a large pot of black beans this week, from which we ate for several different meals, including black bean burgers, and rice and beans (twice).

I coked a pot of lentils to make lentil tacos. I made enough for us to have them again another time and froze those.

We made blueberry muffins,

I made French bread.

My husband cut his hair and the boys' hair. He also blew out the coils on the back of the fridge, which keeps it running better and longer.

Winter made a gift for a friend using supplies that we already had on hand.

What did you do last week to save money?

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Grocery Shopping Plans



I grocery shop with a monthly budget.

I start with the things that are low in our pantry. Those are my priorities. Once I have worked on filling those, I will make other purchases based on what is on sale.

This month, the supplies that I see low are the following:

Pantry:

Vegetable oil (Note: the oil I buy has 0 grams of trans-fats)

Powdered milk

Mayonnaise

Rice

Salt


Non-Food Items:

Toilet paper

Oxi-Clean Stain Remover Refill Bottles


Fresh Food:

Milk

Eggs

Margarine (Note: the margarine I buy has 0 grams of trans-fats and 6 grams of fat per serving)

Apples

Sour Cream


I'll be making a trip to Sam's Club to purchase toilet paper. We price toilet paper by the length, not by the roll, as some rolls are twice as long as others. The cheapest toilet paper we have found is POM from Sam's Club. Sam's Club started sent out sales fliers, where they are reducing the price of items for 3 weeks. Those items have a limit on how many you can purchase at that price. This toilet paper is on sale for $4 off a box, with a limit of 3 boxes (through the 21st). $12 off my budget makes this item definitely worth stocking, even though I'm not real low on this item.

I will be buying 2 containers of Parmesan cheese while they are on sale ($1.75 off, limit 2). I will buy a 64 ounce container of mayonnaise, 25 pounds of rice, and 4 pounds of salt at Sam's Club.

While the lowest way to purchase powdered milk is in bulk, my priority right now is making sure that we have more in the pantry, so I will be purchasing a smaller amount locally. I prefer instant powdered milk (as opposed to non-instant; you can read more about why and how I use powdered milk here). I will be buying the Kroger brand (from Smith's) in the biggest box they carry (4.4 pounds), and price will determine how many boxes I buy, but I hope to buy 2 or 3 boxes this month. California produces 1/5 of the nation's milk, and with the drought, I expect prices on milk will continue to rise (they rose 7.5% since last year). This will help us to fight inflation. Right now we are still using powdered milk I purchased in 2009, at a much lower price.

I will buy 2 gallons of Great Value vegetable oil and 2 refill bottles of stain remover (I have two 50 cent coupons for the stain remover) at Walmart. (update: Our Target now carries these and they are on sale this week for $4.74. I will be switching this item to my Target list, since Target seems to have sales on these types of items more often than Walmart. I ended up buying these at Target).

I'll make a trip to Winco to buy margarine. I buy the 3 pound tubs of Gold and Soft for $2.48 a tub. Once in a while I can find a coupon to make these about 50 cents lower, and sometimes they go on sale (note: they are currently on sale for $2.26) . I will purchase 4 tubs.

I will buy a few gallons of fresh milk at either Sam's Club or Winco. I'll make yogurt with one of these using some starter I saved in the freezer last time.

I will watch for a deal on eggs before buying any. We still have a few in the fridge that I will use sparingly in baking until the next sale.

With the money that is left, I will look for sales on pork roast and apples, both of which are usually on sale in September (note: Winco has Gala apples for .98 a pound. I purchased a bushel box, which was 38 pounds. These will be good in the fridge for months, if they aren't eaten before then). I also realize there is a possibility of seeing a case-lot sale in September. I will wait to purchase the powdered milk until later in the month, when Smith's is likely to have these items on sale, so that I just make one trip there.

I'll watch for a sale on sour cream. Lately, Alberston's has had the best sales on this. I wait until it is on sale for $1 a pound. My husband's office is in the same parking lot, so if this goes on sale, I'll have him walk over and get some for me.

I will watch Totally Target to see if there are any toiletry deals on items that I use that are worth stocking. The tampon deal at Target this week looks good; Target and Winco are in the same parking lot, so I will make one trip for both stores. I will take reusable bags to both stores; Target gives 5 cents off for each bag and Winco gives 6 cents off for each bag. I may make a second trip to Target later in the month if I see any great deals. Both of these stores are just a few blocks away, so it's not a huge expense in gas.

My new budget is $275 a month. Since I decided to stock up on butter last month at .50 a pound, I am $20.61 over budget into this month, so I will plan to spend $250 this month. The butter was frozen and will be used for baking throughout the next year.



Meals for the month of September will be based on what we have in the pantry, freezer, and garden. I have lots of chicken in the freezer (as well as some turkey, ham, pork, and corned beef--though I will be saving the corned beef until November, most likely, when potatoes are in season), and plenty of beans (black, white, and pinto) and lentils and mung beans in the pantry. I have frozen peas, spinach, and peppers, and a variety of frozen fruits, including peaches, blackberries, mulberries, figs, apricots and plums. In the pantry I have canned peaches, pears, grapes, tomatoes, tomato sauce, green beans, corn, pineapple, mandarin oranges, applesauce, pumpkin, pickles, mushrooms, salsa, beets and grape juice. I also have raisins, dried cranberries, dried figs and dried onions. I have carrots in the fridge, as well as some lettuce (I traded my mom 2 cucumbers and 2 pounds of butter for some lettuce today). Most of the frozen and canned food is from my own garden.

The garden is yielding apples, pears, green onions, herbs of all kinds (including an abundance of basil), Swiss chard, red noodle beans, and cucumbers.


My fall menu can be seen here. I don't follow this exactly; I base my meal plans on what we have and what is ready in the garden.

I don't have lettuce in the garden yet, but I will be planting some later in the month when the temperatures cool down (soil temperatures are still 10-15º too hot). That should mean lettuce in late October and November (I hope!). I'm planting Swiss chard seeds, radish seeds, parsnips, and beet seeds later this month as well. Our first frost can be as early as mid-November, but it is usually not until the second week of December.

The reason I can shop this way is that I maintain a well-stocked pantry (which you can see here) and freezers.


Notes: I already went to Walmart, Winco, and Target. I've bought 2 gallons of oil, 2 refill bottles of Oxi-Clean stain remover, 2 boxes of tampons, 4 gallons of milk, 2 large (26.2 ounces each) containers of Nutella (at Winco for $4.98 each in the front aisle when you walk in the store; I used 2 $1 coupons on these; they will be used on crepes in the months to come. This was a huge treat; I saw the coupons when I went to print the tampon coupons, so I decided to print them, and if I found a great sale I would use them; if not, I would toss them.) 4 containers (12 pounds) of spreadable margarine, and 38 pounds of apples. I've spent $93.18, leaving me $181.82.  Sam's Club will be around $80; that leaves me $100 towards some pork roast (if I see a good sale; if it's too high, I will pass) sour cream, powdered milk, eggs, and anything else I see worth stocking this month. I also have a $5 gift card to Target to use on my next trip that I got this time.

Non-prepared food is not taxed where I live; prepared food and non-food items are taxed at 8.1%


Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments


I cut cucumbers, red noodle beans, thyme, basil, and lavender from the garden.

I downloaded 10 free geography worksheets from education.com. They have a limit of 10 free ones each month.

I printed free penmanship worksheets, dot to dot worksheets, and math worksheets. I do these each week but I don't usually list them; links for each grade can be found on my website under the homeschooling tab; there is a tab there for each grade in the pull-down menu. (I also have more links to free things on my Homeschool Resources page).

Playing Spies: The red yarn represents laser beams

I sold the table and 5 chairs finally, via a local Facebook garage sale page. While I didn't get anywhere close to what I had wanted for them, I was glad to get something for them. It also made me more determined to list some more things on the page for sale to help us meet our savings goals.

I found a free box spring for a twin bed on the same site, which was something we needed. We had loaned a twin bed to someone on hospice, but he had an accident and it was unable to be returned to us. A free mattress came along and we have been using that for the child (who is now big enough for the bed) on the floor. The arrangement was fine; if she fell out of the bed, she wouldn't go far. I knew we were going to need to get a box again and I wasn't looking forward to spending almost $100 on one. I was very excited to get this one for free!



We did some rearranging in the house, and hauled 2 things off to the thrift store. While there, my husband went in and found a tent for Cyrus to use for Scouts for $4. It will need one replacement pole, but it is a very nice, high-end tent in good shape.

I mended a pillow, a dress, and a pair of underwear.

I cooked both a ham and a turkey from the freezer. I sliced the ham for sandwiches.

I planted a few seeds in the garden, using seeds that I had collected from my own plants earlier this year.

I opened the windows in the early mornings and turned off the air conditioner for a few hours each morning. The house was much fresher and I saved $2-$3 a day on the electric bill.

I continued to collect water from the shower and from the air conditioner to water potted fruit trees and plants.

Winter's art this week

My husband and I watched a show on Hulu for free.

I have started potty training Ivory. After 6 children, I needed some new training pants. I bought some Gerber cloth ones at the store. My mother-in-law had given me some little flat flower embroidery decorations years ago; I sewed these on the front of each pair to help Ivory know the front.

Winter's second art picture this week

Our home phones are dying; after many years, the batteries are no longer holding a charge. We had a 3 handset unit with an answering machine. We decided to replace it with a 2 handset unit that does not have an answering machine. The ones that did have answering machines were $70 more and up. I'm usually home, and I forget to check the messages if I go out to work in the garden and come back in. I think I'll do fine without an answering machine. For those who are wondering why we have a home phone, you should know that I do not have a cell phone (Shocking!). I pay $18.70 a month (after taxes) for a home phone without caller id, call waiting, or long distance, and of course, my minutes are unlimited. For $35, I have 2 new phones at home that should last me 7 to 8 years.

I signed up for auto-pay for our phone bill, and will receive a $10 gift card for signing up (that should arrive in November).

My husband worked from home several days last week, saving money in gas. He has not filled the gas tank of our van for two and a half weeks, and we still have a quarter tank left.

What did you do to save money last week?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Goals for the First Week of September



I'm still a bit sick. I managed to knock off a good number of goals last week despite not feeling well, but some were left for this week.


Organization:

I'm working on one room/area a week until I get each room re-organized.

1. Photograph and list 5 items for sale on Facebook garage sale pages

2. Organize and clean laundry room

3. Organize girls' socks and discard any that no longer stay up/match is missing


Garden:

It's time to start fall planting this month. I'll be planting seeds directly in the garden. Most things do best planted after the 15th (it's still hot; it's 105º F here today), but I will try a few things earlier this month in some shady spots in the garden.

September is also the time to fertilize fruit trees here.

1. Plant Swiss chard seeds

2. Plant parsley

3. Cut and hang basil to dry

4. Mix up fertilizer for trees (blood meal, soil sulphur, epsom salts, and bone meal). I'll fertilize sometime later this month, but having the mixture ready will make it easier.

5. Weed white garden


Sewing:

1. Sew pillow and cover for Ezrom's room
2. Sew buttonholes and buttons on 3 items


Canning:

1. Can one batch of dill pickles




Cooking:

1. Start a batch of mung bean sprouts for stir fry

Decorating:

1. Finish removing staples from chair

2. Order two pictures for Ezrom's room and have my dad cut a mat for one of them to go in a frame I picked up at a garage sale.

Shopping:

I'll be posting this week about my shopping goals for September, so stay tuned for more details on what I'll be buying.

1. Trip to Target

2. Trip to Winco

3. Trip to Sam's Club

Gift Making:

Liberty's birthday is coming up, so I'll be working on some gifts that she requested.

1. Make bookmarks for Liberty's birthday

2. Make necklace for Liberty

3. Make bracelet for Liberty


Other:

1. Cut both boys' hair

Friday, August 29, 2014

Changes to the Budget and Our Savings Goals

I've often said that if we had the chance to increase our grocery budget, we would, because there are definitely things that I would like to buy more often. That time has come, so I will share our new grocery budget, as well as some other changes that we are making.

Determining the amount has not been easy. Because we don't have a steady, fixed income, it is not as easy to determine what we will have each month for groceries. I study our budget three months at a time; I have it in a spreadsheet (I use Open Office, which you can download for free if you don't have a program for spreadsheets and word processing). I make sure we have money to cover the next month's bills before I go grocery shopping for the current month.

We're able to increase the budget for a few reasons. We've been continuously finding ways to cut our expenses, which you can read about in my frugal accomplishments postings each week. The largest blessing, however, occurred earlier this year, when we were able to modify our home loan to a lower interest rate and a lower payment. 

Our previous budget was $100 a month for food and $65 a month for non-food items. I am now counting those two things together and have increased the budget to $275 a month (there are 9 of us). I tried going higher than that for the first couple months of the year, but that didn't look like an amount that we could continue, so I didn't go shopping one month to lower my amount for the year. What we've spent so far ($2220.61 for the year) includes the price of the chickens that we raised for meat at a friend's house (including their feed).

We have also been blessed to have a somewhat larger income this year (and last year) than in 2011 and 2012. Those were our hardest years; we made less in each of those years than we did in 2007, where we went 8 months without any income. We went without buying most everything those years, making due with what we had, and selling what we could to help pay our bills. Had we not lowered our expenses, however, we would be struggling to make ends meet right now. As of January, we have cut our bills in half from what they were in 2006, when we bought our house. 

Our increase in income is not tremendous; the ways that we are able to save money are extremely important in helping us reach our goals.

Part of the increase in the grocery bill will be eaten up in inflation. As you know, prices for both food and non-food items have increased tremendously recently. I will be sticking to my price points for things, but there are some changes due to inflation, including the cost of eggs. I will be making an exception to our $2 a pound limit for meat for one item: pepperoni (for pizza). I am buying more dairy. The children have also increased their appetites substantially, so part of the budget is going towards simply more food. If we were not able to increase our budget for groceries, I would be making more changes to our meals to feed everyone, having our least-expensive meals even more often.

Last year we did a couple of things that we felt were important:


We put in the garden in the front yard. This was something that I had long hoped for, but I also felt was important in increasing the food production of our lot. Right now I am harvesting herbs, flowers, and cucumbers from that space; in years to come we will also have lemons, peaches, and apricots, as well as lettuce in the cooler months. We did a lot of things to save money on this project, which you can read about here.

We bought a new mattress. Our previous mattress had been given to us by my mother-in-law when we were married; it had belonged to my husband's older sister. The mattress was 35 years old. It was time for a new one.

We bought a new-to-us van last year, selling our previous vehicle. We needed something larger to fit the entire family. After selling our old vehicle, we had a new one for only $500 out of pocket.

This year:

We saved up this year to see my brother get married out of state, and turned that trip into a 2-day vacation--our first family vacation.

The other thing I have been doing is finally buying some new clothes. Most of the clothes I've had were bought when Cyrus was a baby (he's 11 now) and they are wearing out. I made a trip to the thrift store earlier this year, and I also have bought a few new things as well. My husband also bought some new shirts. 


Our savings goals now: 

Build back up our emergency fund. So far this year, we have managed to save a month's worth of expenses. Our goal is to make that 3 months, then 6 months, and eventually a year's worth. Our emergency fund was spent in 2007 when we had no income. It is a relief to be able to begin building this again. Because of the variable nature of our income, we could need this savings at any time.

Purchase some new bookcases. Our books are double and triple stacked, and we could use some more bookcases. We ordered some for one side of the library (they arrived Wednesday); we will need to save up for matching ones for the other side of the room. They won't be ordered until we have the money.



Save up for a second car. We have been a one-car family for a very long time. My husband foresees the time when it will be nice to have a second vehicle (when we have several teenagers all needing to be at different places.) This is going to be a different situation than our van. My husband wants to restore a 1953 Chevy truck. We were able to purchase the truck last year (for an incredible deal), but it is just a shell--no engine, no instruments, no bed. He is teaching the children with this (the boys helped bend some sheet metal for this earlier this year). My husband researches everything to get the best deals--and then researches it again, and then again. His goal is to build the truck for as little as possible. We expect this to take several years, as we have a little bit to spend at a time on Craig's list, buying a used piece here and a piece there. 

Recover our living room furniture. The couches are falling apart and need to be recovered and repaired.

With all of this, we are being very cautious. Interest rates are set to rise, and that will mean a slow down in the housing market. Sales in Las Vegas have already started to slow way down (even during summer, which is not a good sign). This makes building up the emergency fund a huge priority, because a drop in sales for us and our agents can mean a decrease in income. 

I will be spending a good portion of each month's grocery budget towards filling the gaps in our pantry; my main goals are to increase our powdered milk, oil, and toilet paper supplies. If our income decreases significantly, we will be able to eat from the pantry again. If it decreases just somewhat, we will lower our budget.