Monday, December 29, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments 12/22-12/28

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It is that time of the week again! This has been a busy week thanks to Christmas parties and getting ready for our Spring homeschooling semester!                                                                              

            
We attended my husband's unit Christmas party. The tickets were $20 per plate for a sit down style dinner. I wasn't overly thrilled with the price but it was a mandatory attendance situation so I went with it. While we were there my number was chosen to pick a prize from the Christmas tree. I won a free photo shoot for our family! I have been saying for months that we need new pictures taken but have not been able to afford to have them professionally done. I am pretty excited about this opportunity! Also while we were there a friend of my husbands won a 5 pack of free skating tickets and was unable to use them so he donated them to our family. I am sure the children will be over the moon for this outing!

As we were leaving another friend of my husbands insisted we take the wrapping paper that was leftover from another game. Apparently it was destine for the garbage if we didn't take it home with us. We had run out of paper here at home and I still had quite a few packages to wrap so I was very excited about receiving the free paper. I was able to wrap all of our remaining gifts with the free paper and still have a half a roll leftover for next year!

As I mentioned we are working on our Spring homeschooling semester prep at the moment. The biggest financial outlay came in the form of buying Sonlight Core B for our oldest two girls. It is a core curriculum that covers a years worth of History, Language Arts, and Bible through the use of living books.  We finished our History curriculum just before we took our winter break so I needed to get a new curriculum in place by January 5th when we start back. The Core retails for $459. Ouch! No matter how much I loved the curriculum I couldn't afford to pay that kind of money. Just the thought of it made me ill. I began looking for a used option and found a complete set for $200 plus $15 shipping. We decided to go for it and used our homeschool sinking fund to pay for the books. When we received the package I found that we were 3 books short. I contacted the seller who couldn't remember ever even seeing the books when she used the curriculum. I decided to look into purchasing the books used via amazon and wasn't happy with the price ($4 per book). I figured it was a long shot but I asked on our local homeschool facebook group and found two ladies with the books that were more than happy to let us borrow them for the weeks we needed them! I am crazy excited to get started!

The next "hole" in our Spring semester was a new handwriting book for our 8yr old daughter. We have been using Handwriting without tears but the costs of the workbooks ($11 with shipping) was adding up very quickly. I guess it is a blessing that the girls love them so much they insist on finishing the whole thing in one sitting. It however wasn't a blessing to my budget. While piddling around on Facebook I found a code for a free copy of Cursive Handwriting Practice From The Bible.  I am good with free! I am not sure if the code still works but you are welcome to give it a go and see: BIBLEFREE.

While looking at the handwriting practice sheets listed above a popup appeared offering me a free copy of Elementary Writing Plan: From Handwriting Practice to Writing Essays. Why yes, yes I will. I have not had a chance to read through the book yet but from a cursory glance it looks interesting and helpful.

This week I have also been using my swagbucks account more regularly in the effort of earning amazon gift cards to put towards the purchase of our January Science book and an external CD drive for my laptop. I somehow managed to buy a laptop without a disk drive which isn't cool when you need to play CD's for school assignments. For those who have not heard of swagbucks it is a site that issues points for doing surveys, using their search bar, and watching videos. I installed the swagbucks apps on my phone and then simply let them run while I am busy doing other things. At the end of the day I earn 126 points just from letting my phone run the apps! If I have time to do surveys or otherwise interact with their site I earn more points. Once I have 450 points I can trade them in for a $5 amazon gift card. If I chose to save the points up a bit more I can also exchange them for a  $25 paypal gift card! In the last week I have earned $15 in amazon gift cards. I plan to earn one more amazon gift card in the next day or two and be able to purchase the Science book and disk drive for free. I then plan on saving my points towards 2 of the paypal gift cards with the intent of using them towards the twins next level of workbooks. I know it isn't exactly a landslide of cash but every little bit counts and you can't beat getting paid to simply let apps run on your phone while you are going about your life!

Speaking of going about your life we managed to run out of dishwasher tabs this week with nothing left in the budget to buy new ones. I can, and did, do the dishes by hand but lets face it I am addicted to my dishwasher. While cleaning out my laundry room I found all of the ingredients for making our own dishwasher detergent. I had purchased the ingredients a few years ago to make our detergent and then forgotten about them in the hussle and bussle of having our 6th child. I figured now was a good a time as any to get back into making it.

Our recipe:
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing soda
1/4 cup Epsom salts
4 Tbsp Citric Acid

Mix well and store in an air tight container. Use 1-2 Tbsp powder per load.


That was our week at a glance. I would love to hear about your frugal accomplishments!




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our Final December Grocery Breakdown!

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Time for our final installment of our weekly grocery and menu plans for this month!





Check out the links for all of this months previous installments.


Week one
Week two
Week three

So what are we looking at this week? Our normal grocery budget is $100 per week. This week was a bit less thanks to the hubby needing some toiletries a few days prior to our normal shopping day. I sent him to the store for his own products and added on 2 gallons of milk, 5 loafs of bread, and 2 boxes of spaghetti. He spent $35 from the grocery budget leaving $65 plus some loose change for this weeks groceries. I also decided to buy the groceries for the rest of the month while I was out and about. So that is $65 for 10 days. Lets get started!

Costco*
25lbs flour $7.99
6lbs tomato sauce $2.69
7lbs brown sugar $3.99
9lb spiral ham $22.66

Total:  $37.33

Aldi
 7 loafs of bread $6.51
Iceberg lettuce $1.19
20lbs potatoes $3.98
2 gallons skim milk $5.98
2lbs Pinto Beans $1.89
40oz Peanut butter $3.49
75' aluminum foil $1.99

Total: $25.91

That is $1.76 under budget!

*I don't normally shop at Costco for a weekly grocery shopping trip. I however needed the large quantities of flour and tomato sauce and hoped they would have the cheapest option for a spiral cut ham for Christmas dinner. I saved quite a bit by hitting up Costco this week. I however am still quite frustrated by the cost of ham this year! I hear tales that hams are down to $1 a pound throughout the country. Wouldn't that be wonderful here!?

So how are we using these items for this weeks meals?

Breakfasts
Scrambled egg with ham and cheese
Pancakes with homemade syrup
Baked oatmeal
Smoothies
Biscuits and gravy
Biscuits with butter and jelly

Lunch
Leftovers
Sandwiches (Ham, turkey, and peanut butter)
Homemade chicken based soups

Dinners
Taco soup
Pork chops with roasted broccoli and rice
Hamburgers with homemade rolls and homemade fries
Roast beef with potatoes and green beans
BBQ Pork sliders with roasted broccoli
Chicken sliders with green beans
Christmas ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and honey butter
Leftover Christmas dinner
Ham casserole
Chili with cornbread


I am very excited to be finished with grocery shopping for the year! How are things going at your house?

Frugal Accomplishments 12/15-12/22

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I am a bit late with this post thanks to the holiday's and a few sick kiddos. We however do have lots to talk about this week.

The biggest frugal accomplishment this week was changing from our current homeschool art class to a 4h art class. We had been using the base arts and crafts center for our art class which wasn't really working well for our family. The classes were at the same time as our son's bus drop off. So I either had to hire a babysitter to get him off the bus or drive the 30min to the class, drive the 30min back home, get son off bus, drive the 30min back to the base, pick up the girls, and drive the 30min back home.  Only the oldest two children were able to participate so that is 2 hours in the car for them driving back and forth. The total cost of the class was $200 per semester plus $160 for babysitting for the youngest 4 children. Not my brightest decision.

As much as I appreciated having 2 hours once a week all to myself while the kids were in their lessons and the little ones were with the babysitter we couldn't continue to do so long term. I mentioned to a friend that we were no longer doing art lessons and she told me about a 4h art class for homeschool children. The class is in the mornings so it no longer interferes with the bus drop off schedule, the twins are able to participate, all their friends are present, and it is FREE. Done!






I think the best part for the oldest girls was realizing that their artwork would be displayed at our local farm fair this spring.













We stayed on budget for our grocery shopping this week, ate at home for the majority of the week (out daughter did get a happy meal after being seen in the ER for a virus), and avoided the majority of the consumer driven insanity that is taking place out in society.

This week we also kept our budget tracking software up to date, worked on our excel spreadsheet outlining our financial goals for 2015, tracked all of our large upcoming expenses (summer camp, birthday's, etc), calculated our sinking fund totals for the coming year, and found that we are very close to being able to max out our retirement accounts!

Over all we had a pretty frugal week! I would love to hear how your week went!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our Review of Schoolhouseteachers.com

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I am very excited to announce that our family has been chosen to participate in the Schoolhouse Review Crew for 2015! What does this mean? Our family has agreed to test out various curriculum and educational items throughout 2015 and then review them for you! We couldn't be more excited about this opportunity!

We have begun our journey with The Crew and have been gifted a one year membership to Schoolhouseteachers.com! Schoolhouse teachers contains online classes with downloadable and printable options. We were very excited to delve into the site, explore the vast array of classes offered, and begin our review!


SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review



 Ready to get started?!

We started by looking through the Pre-k/Elementary and Middle/High school tabs. Within the tabs there are three sections broken down; Full Year options, Full Semester options, and Supplemental Curriculum and Resources for Parents.

Pre-k/Elementary ages
16 Full year classes
11 full semester classes

Middle/High School ages
28 full year classes
31 full semester classes

That is a lot of classes! I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of classes offered. They cover everything from Trigonometry to Art.  My favorite options include Literature, Foreign languages, Guitar lessons, Animal Science, Architecture, and Tinkers Club. There really is a little bit of everything available for all age ranges.

We are not done there however. After the age range tabs we move on to Family/For Parents tab. Oh my! There are some really cool options here including Nature/Outdoors, ASL Adventures, Whole Food Cooking, Homesteading, Family Fitness, and Monthly Reading Lists. My favorite section in this tab would have to be the Special Needs class. There are 19 lessons for parents of special needs children covering writing goals and choosing curriculum, modifying and adapting instruction, how the brain processes instruction, and more! Being a parent of special needs children is already challenging. Adding in homeschooling and adjusting curriculum can be overwhelming. It is so refreshing to see a teaching site cover these topics so well!



One of my favorite sections is still to come. The Dailies tab! I fell in love with this section! Included are even more classes intended to be completed every school day. We are talking Spelling, ABC with ME, Daily Math, Daily Puzzles, Everyday Explorers, Everyday Copywork, etc. Love these!



So what exactly are we using with our family? Lots!

Literature kits: These are amazing! The teacher takes a unit study approach to literature which I love. We chose to start at week 1 of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe literature kit. First up was reading the first three chapters of the book. This took our girls 2 days to complete. Our first day using the kit (Tuesday) began with a summary of the book and a section of facts about the author, including pictures of the author and a timeline of his life. We then moved on to our language arts section where we delved into a bit of Greek and Roman mythology in an effort to get a better understanding of the animals included in the story. 

On Wednesday we began the History section of the kit and researched "Operation Pied Piper": The evacuation of Children During WWII. There were a variety of links and information provided that kept us quite busy researching:
After spending so long researching for history we chose to finish day three by completing the section discussing afternoon tea. Unfortunately we were too busy to complete the included recipe option for Sugar Topped Cake. I would like to go back and try it on an afternoon when we have some free time for a real afternoon tea party!

On Thursday we learned about rationing during the war and the children had a great time playing the activities provided in the kit and learning what rationing was and it's role throughout the war. We then moved on to the science section of the kit. We are very much a science centered family so I was really interested to see what they would cover in this section. They chose to discuss winter and snow which I find appropriate not only for the book but also for December in New Jersey. Some of the questions and links include:
The last activity for the week was to make paper snowflakes. I think this was their favorite activity of the week. We found printer paper to be a bit too small to work with so we broke out the craft paper. You can see how massive the snowflakes turned out. They had some really cool patterns available within the kit and the girls really got into making the snowflakes.


 I love going deeper into the books my children are reading and find this style of learning to be a more centered approach. You are not hopping from one subject and time period to another constantly throughout the day. Overall I am extremely excited about this kit and our daughters are in love with the books chosen for the units.

Art Techniques: Our oldest daughter is quite the artist and was jumping up and down squealing when she saw this class listed. She is very excited to be learning new techniques and is coming up with some lovely artwork.


Schoolhouse Preschool: Our 4yr old twins are in love with doing school work these days. We are loving the preschool curriculum offered on schoolhouse teachers. They have a Charlotte Mason preschool class, sensory activities, ABC with ME, and animated story books. All of which have been a HUGE hit with our girls. So much so that their older sister felt the need to get in on the action.  We used our touch screen laptop for the animated books and they caught on quickly how to navigate the stories. The songs are catchy and our girls have been singing them since "reading" the books.


 Spelling: I just decided to toss our current spelling curriculum because it was not working well for our oldest daughter. I was very excited to see that schoolhouse teachers has a pre-k through high school spelling curriculum all set up and ready to go. I also love that the lists are fairly short for the elementary aged children.  All of the lists that I have seen are centered around a short reading selection. There is a separate printable available for each day of the week, and each day has a different activity associated with the spelling words.  
  • Day one our girls completed a Charlotte Mason inspired copy work activity using the short reading selection
  • Day two was an editing activity centered around finding the misspelled spelling words
  • Day three was a multiple choice activity using similes
  • Day four was a crossword puzzle
  • Day five centered around a spelling game with an included video. The girls are enjoying the activities and appreciate not having to endlessly write lists of words over and over again.





Since this is an online curriculum we would like to note that we used our lenovo touch screen laptop and opened all of the attachments in Firefox. We had no problems using any of the features of the site or the links provided within the classes.

  So in all we have 4 children using some aspect of the site! The best part? The membership is per family not per student! So the monthly fee of $12.95 is a flat fee. For our 4 children using schoolhouse teachers that is only $3.24 per child per month! Anyone who has ever priced out any of the curriculum options above knows that you could drop some serious money on just one of them and here you are getting SO many different classes and lessons!

I would (and have) recommended Schoolhouse teachers to all of my homeschooling friends and family. It really is a wonderful blessing and a great addition to our homeschool family.

Know how it gets even better? Schoolhouseteachers.com is having a huge sale from now (December 16, 2014)  through Christmas Day at 11:59pm ET! They are offering 40% off the monthly membership ($7.77/month) or 50% off the Yearly Membership ($64.26/year). Homeschool families who join at this rate will keep the rate forever by maintaining a continuous membership!


SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

Want to read some more reviews about Schoolhouse Teachers before you make a decision? Check out what the other Schoolhouse Review Crew members have to share about how their families are using the schoolhouse teachers website!


SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review




Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Another week....Another meal plan

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I have been tracking our grocery spending and meal plans this month in an effort to show how we spend an average of $600 a month on groceries. We are on week 3, the meal plan has been made, and the grocery shopping has been done!

My budget for this week was $100.

Aldi

Gingerbread house supplies:
Graham Crackers $2.78
Cake Icing Cans $5.98
3 bags of candy $4.75

Meal items:
3 dozen large eggs $5.97
10 loafs white bread $8.90
16 tortillas $2.98
Romain lettuce $1.99
Cheddar cheese $3.69
Mozzarella cheese $7.38
6lbs apples $6.58
10lbs carrots $3.18
3 gallons skim milk $8.97
3 cans tomato sauce $0.75
2 cans tomato paste $0.78
2 large cans crushed tomatoes $1.90
5lbs onions $1.99
10lbs potatoes $1.99
Spanish olives $0.99
Popcorn kernels $1.69
Lettuce $1.19
2 bags Frozen Strawberries $4.38
2 bags frozen berry mix $4.58
Creamy peanut butter $3.49
Sliced pepperoni $1.99
2lbs butter $4.58
Toilet paper $6.99

Total spent: $100.06
I actually found I was charged for 20lbs of potatoes instead of the 10lbs I actually bought. So my total should have been $98.07.

Our meal plan for this week:

Breakfasts:
Biscuits and gravy
Pancakes
Baked Oatmeal
Smoothies
Breakfast cookies

Lunches:
Leftovers
Homemade soups (chicken noodle, chicken and dumpling, etc)
Sandwiches (ham, turkey, peanut butter)

Dinners:
Spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread
Chicken fajitas with mexican rice
Hamburgers with homemade fries
Slow cooker pork chops with roasted broccoli
Homemade pizza
Roast with potatoes and green beans with homemade rolls
Honey soy chicken with broccoli and rice

How is this months meals coming along at your house?

Frugal Accomplishments 12/8-12/14

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Time for this weeks frugal accomplishments!

Our son is now potty trained! We are down to just 1 little one in diapers! This is a bit bittersweet for me as it is even more of confirmation that my babies are growing up. I am not so sure I am ready for that one yet. I however do appreciate changing less diapers.

We were able to set up a free membership at our local YMCA that includes FREE childcare! I am very excited about this one. When my husband deploys it is very difficult for me to leave the house to workout. I can't afford to hire a babysitter 3-4 times a week so I tend to just skip working out. We headed over to check out the YMCA this week and I was very pleased with what I found. They have over 100 free classes available and I am looking forward to trying several of them out very soon. The kids spent sometime in the daycare and did very well so we are all set!

We ate at home this week and even extended our last grocery shopping trip by eating from the pantry on Saturday instead of grocery shopping. We were just too busy doing our volunteer work on Saturday to get to the store and were very blessed to have plenty of food available on hand here at home.

We kept our budget tracking software up to date and filled our sinking funds with the required funds. It is so calming to know that all of our upcoming expenses are covered and ready to be paid.

I shaved our son's head instead of going to a barber. Luckily he is little and doesn't mind a buzz cut because that is all I know how to do!

We made gingerbread houses "from scratch" instead of buying kits. We found the kits in the stores for $6 per kit. With six kids that is $36....on gingerbread houses! Nope. Not happening. I purchased 2 boxes of graham crackers, 2 bottles of spray icing, and 3 bags of candy. We made six gingerbread houses for a total of $13.50 and had plenty of graham crackers, candy, and icing left to make several more houses.

I would love to hear about your frugal accomplishments this week!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to make your own audiobooks!

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As I have mentioned our 8yr old daughter is working her way through her dyslexia curriculum and doing very well with it. We however wanted to continue to challenge her mind and encourage her to expand to books meant for her age range. We began a 3rd grade literature program at the beginning of this school year and while the books are right on for her developmental age the words are above her current reading level. We started out reading the books together as a family. That worked well as long as I was able to find a quiet moment in the day when none of the other 5 children needed my attention. As you can imagine that didn't happen often. We decided to switch to audiobooks and have her read along in her own book.  We are loving the audiobooks and the independence she is able to have with her reading. She reads her books when and where she wants, such an amazing thing! The trouble? Not all of her books are available as audiobooks and lets face it audiobooks can be expensive!

I decided to start recording our own audiobooks. Of course I had no clue how to go about recording the books. I mean do they make cassette players anymore? Am I showing my age? I asked around and was directed to a small digital recorder available on amazon. I wasn't so sure I wanted to spend $30-40 on a digital recorder so I kept searching and decided to see if my android phone had a digital recorder app available. Of course it did......and for FREE. Okay I am sold!

We chose to install the Titanium Recorder for several reasons.
  • It was free
  • Ease of use. Push the blue microphone to turn it on then push the red microphone to turn it off
  • Ability to label the recordings (book name,chapter numbers, child intended for, etc)
  • Able to sync recordings with dropbox and then be used on any of my devices
We completed a few test runs and we were quickly up and running. I sit down in the evening after all the kids are in bed and look through the teachers manual for our daughters literature program. I record the chapters based on the way they are broken down in the curriculum. So if she needs to read 2 chapters per day I record both chapters in one recording. This makes it easier for her to know when her lesson is finished and keeps her from playing around with any of the settings on my phone.


So how long does it take to make our recordings? Well lets start by saying I am not reading War and Peace here. These are chapter books intended for young children. As you can see above each 2 chapter set took roughly 6-7min to accomplish. I spent about 30 minutes reading this one book into the recorder. I could have broken it down to just 10-15 min a night if I had needed to do so.

I do have a few tips:
  • Make sure you are recording in a quiet environment. You want your child focused on the words they are "reading" not someone talking in the background.
  • Speak slowly. My first recording was apparently rushed and our daughter had trouble keeping up in her book.
  • Have some water nearby. I found I needed a water break after every recording session.
  • Keep the recorder close to you but not too close...clear as mud? I kept mine at chest height and it works out well.
  • Have your child use headphones while listening. It helps to keep them "in the book" and makes hearing the recording easier.
I would love to hear about your experiences making your own audiobooks!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Space!

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This month we have been studying one of my husband's favorite topics.....SPACE! 

Our "textbook" for this unit was the National Geographic Kids First Big Book of Space. I have found that you really can't go wrong with anything from the National Geographic brand. The book was very clearly written and easy for our 10 and 8 yr old to understand. Each page was filled with amazing photographs from space and small easy to digest facts and terms. The book was broken down into 5 chapters so we decided to schedule one chapter per week.

The first week was all about "Looking up from Earth" so we spent the week learning about the sun and the moon. We had a wonderful time learning the phases of the moon thanks to Oreo cookies! I found this free worksheet detailing the phases of the moon on education.com and then had the kids reproduces the phases with Oreos. It looks easier than it was. The cookies kept crumbling and breaking when the kids tried to cut them into the correct shapes. We did eventually get it finished however and the kids were more than willing to eat all of the "oops" cookies. Come to think of it they may have broken a few just so they had more to eat. I wouldn't put it past them!
 
The next chapter in the book was "Earth's Neighborhood". After reading about all of the different planets in our solar system the girls were getting pretty confused. It was a lot of information to retain and they had never covered the planets in public school. I found a free printable that outlined the popular "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles" mnemonic for remembering the order of the planets. The free option seems to have disappeared but there is a $6 unit still available. 

We also printed out these free planet cards and then turned them into a simple planet themed books. The girls just stapled together 9 pieces of construction paper into a book and then cut out the facts about the planets and glued them on the appropriate pages.


  What would a unit about the planets be without a model of the solar system? We decided to do a 3D poster board using a foam board, Styrofoam balls of different sizes, paint, and chalk.We simply cut the balls in half and then the girls researched what each planet looked like in order to paint it correctly. Once the planets were painted we glued them on to the foam board and added the orbits around the sun with chalk.


The next chapter we covered was "Earth's Other Neighbors"  which covered asteroids, meteors, dwarf planets, and comets. We decided to add these to our solar system model as well. The girls had a blast using white beans to make the asteroid belt.




Next up was the chapter "Far Far Away" which covered stars and constellations.  We found a free map of the summer constellations and used mini marshmallows and toothpicks to attempt to recreate them.

Of course the kids may have invented a few of their own along the way......
The last chapter in the book was titled "Exploring Space" and had to do with space travel. I was able to find several free Apps from NASA that showed actual photo's from space, updates on what NASA is currently working on, past missions, etc. They are some really cool apps! You should be able to find them simply by searching NASA in the google play store.

What kind of homeschool mom would I be if we didn't finish up our chapter about exploring space without some sort of rocket launch? I researched several options and finally settled with this Stomp Rocket Kit.  At $12 it was in our budget, it is foam so I don't have to worry about anyone putting an eye out, and it can be reused over and over again. WIN!

Over all we had an amazing month studying Space and I honestly can't wait to do the unit again with our younger kids! I would love to hear about your own Space units!

Frugal Accomplishments 11/30-12/7

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That time of the week again! This week has been a whirlwind of activity thanks to a shift change at the hubby's work. I already rambled about that however so I will try not to do so again.

This week we have kept our budget software updated and reconciled the account transactions at least every other day. I am not overly thrilled with completing this task but I have found that if I do it more often it is a lot less stressful. Things just line up easier when you are only adding in 3 transactions at a time instead of 23.

We have stayed on target for our budget categories and have managed to even underspend some of them!

Our 3yr old little man is currently potty training so we are saving a fortune on diapers for him at the moment. He uses 1 disposable on the way to school, 1 disposable on the way home, and 1 at bedtime. So far he is doing amazing with staying dry during the day as long as we remind him every hour to try to potty. We are really hoping to have him 100% potty trained very soon.

We have been using our cloth diapers during the day for our 1 yr old and 1 disposable at night. We tried cloth at night but have found she sleeps better with a disposable on. So far it has only added 1 extra load of laundry per week which is doable for me. Back in the day I had 4 in cloth diapers so as you can imagine I was washing a load of diapers a day. Having to just wash one load a week seems like a vacation compared to that!

The kids and I have eaten at home for all our meals this week. My husband was working killer 12 hour shift and I had a really hard time sending him with enough food to keep him full for the entire time. We eventually conceded to his eating fast food when he needed to do so.

Remember how I shut off the electricity to the second floor of our house last week as a lesson to the girls about leaving lights on? Our electric bill was $100 less this month! I am still in shock over that one.

I think that is about all we have been up to this week. I would love to hear about your frugal accomplishments this week!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our December grocery story continued......

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As I mentioned in a recent post we are tracking our grocery shopping by week for one month to show how we primarily live off our pantry storage. I am a numbers person so I of course had to include the grocery totals and the corresponding menus.

We have had a crazy busy week this week thanks to my husband's work implementing a shift change. He went from working afternoons and evenings to working 12 hour shifts over night. As you can imagine that was a bit brutal on our family, we averaged about 30min a day with him if we were lucky. With him being out of the house for 12 hours at a time it became difficult to provide him with enough food in his lunch box to sustain him the entire time he was gone.  We tried for a few days but the poor guy was running out of food and going hungry. So I pulled some cash from our grocery budget to put towards his eating out when he needed to do so.

 I also forgot that our daughters had to pay their Girl Scout dues this week, it is $10 per month. I of course forgot to budget that into this weeks categories. All I had with me was the grocery budget money and that was all in $20's. So the grocery budget became short another $20 and we are now paid up till the first of February. Guess that is a bit of a win for next months grocery budget.

All of that rambling means that this weeks grocery budget was $52. For the record I do NOT advocate "stealing" from your grocery budget for things like fast food or wants (Girl Scout dues is a want not a need). I could have easily adjusted the other budget categories to cover the eating out or the girl scout dues. I however chose not to do so. I knew that we could eat well out of the remaining grocery budget so I decided to "let it ride". Please understand that the needs of your family come first and I do not advocate taking funds from a need category to pay for a want category.

Anyways back to the topic.........Obviously the majority of our meal items this week will be coming from our pantry stockpile. It is times like these that I am VERY happy that we learned how to stock pile our necessary staple items. You know the old fable about the grasshopper and the ant? It is very applicable in this situation.

So how do we feed 8 people for 7 days on $52? It could get really bleak if we didn't have a fully stocked pantry and freezer!

Breakfasts:
Baked Oatmeal
Blueberry Pancakes
Waffles
Toast with eggs
French toast casserole
Biscuits and gravy

*All breakfasts include fruit and milk

Lunch:
Leftovers
Sandwiches (peanut butter, turkey, or ham)
Homemade soups (chicken noodle, chicken and dumpling, etc)

Dinners:
Homemade Pizza
London Broil with potatoes and green beans
Pork chops with broccoli
General Tso chicken with rice and mixed veggies
BBQ pulled pork sandwiches with green beans
Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and corn
Chili with cornbread

So how did the grocery shopping turn out?

Store 1

Pepperoni $2.16
1 lb Dried  pinto beans $0.95
1 lb Dried dark red beans $1.29
1.2 lbs Kale $1.04
1.8 lbs Collard Greens $0.72
Plastic Forks $0.96 Someone keeps throwing our real silverware away. I suspect the 1 yr old.
Plastic Spoons $0.96
Mom treat $0.62 Sometimes you just gotta have a treat!
Oldest Daughter treat $1.10 Going shopping with mom is always a coveted job.

Total: $10.29

Aldi

3lbs Apples $3.29
2 gallons skim milk $5.98
5 loafs of white bread $4.45
2 dozen large eggs $2.78
2lbs butter $4.58
Half gallon egg nog $2.99 The only thing my husband asked for this week
Mayo $1.95
Chocolate chips $1.49 We are making cookies this week as a thank you gift for our rabbit sitter.
Peanut butter $3.49
2 bottles of syrup $3.58

Total: $34.68

That brings us in at $44.97. We have roughly $7 left for any incidentals that are needed this week. My guess is that we will need more sliced bread at some point. Our 8yr old is going through a phase where she eats nothing but white bread and peanut butter. I keep telling myself that she will outgrow it but I am not too sure at this point. Kid is stubborn! I guess she comes by it honestly!

The amazing news is that my husband has a three day weekend happening at the moment and is going back to his normal shift on Monday. I am VERY happy to only have to worry about sending him with one meal while he is away and thrilled to see him for more than 15min twice a day!  I would say things are settling down here but I know not to jinx myself with that kind of talk.

I hope you all have an amazing week and I look forward to hearing about any adventures you have going on!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Spicy BBQ Sauce

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As I mentioned we bought a 6lb can of tomato sauce while at Costco doing our bimonthly pantry stockup. I figured what better way to use it up then to make lots of tomato based meals this week. Tonight's creation was a super yummy spicy BBQ sauce.


Spicy BBQ Sauce

2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/2c white vinegar
8 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 Tbsp ground mustard
2 1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low and simmer for 45min until sauce thickens up and reduces down. Use immediately or cool and store in your fridge for later use.

This was a bit too spicy for me to eat straight up but it was tamed down and really yummy on a slow roasted london broil slider. So good not a speck of meat survived dinner. I am totally planning on a BBQ chicken pizza sometime in the next week.



Black Friday Shopping

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Last week I posted a list of ways we cut our grocery bill down to only $600 a month to feed our family of 8. I started thinking it might be helpful if I posted some actual numbers and meals.

As I mentioned in my post last week we vary our grocery budget throughout the year:

 Six months of the year we spend $400 a month
Six months of the year we spend $500 a month and stock up on pantry items
Two months of the year we spend $900 a month and stock up on meat items

This month is a pantry stock up month so we have a budget of $500 for the entire month. I break that down to $100 a week for meal items and $100 for pantry stock up items. I usually do our stock up shopping on the first of the month and this month I wasn't letting a little thing like Black Friday stand in my way. I did however sleep in till noon (thanks hubby!) and take my sweet time getting to the store. I had no interest in joining in with the insanity of Black Friday shopping so I stuck with just Costco and Aldi.

Costco 

Pantry Items:
25lbs sugar $10.49
25lbs flour $7.99
5lbs broccoli $6.39
5lbs green beans $5.99
3lbs coffee $10.99Chicken Base $5.99
10lbs rice $4.99

Meal Items:
5 lbs Mozzarella $14.39
#10 can tomato sauce $2.69
64oz eggnog $4.29

Total: $74.20

Aldi

Pantry:
10lbs potatoes $1.99
3 dozen eggs $4.77
Baking cocoa $2.19
Black pepper $1.99
Olive oil $2.99
3lbs butter $6.87
Freezer bags $1.69

Meal Items:
10 loafs Wheat bread $4.90
Turkey Deli Meat $3.29
Ham deli Meat $3.29
Iceberg lettuce $1.19
Diapers $4.99
Carrots $1.39
Salami $2.99
Breakfast sausage $4.78
Baby carrots $1.29
Biscuits $4.36
Bell peppers $1.59
2 gallons Skim milk $5.62
Peanut butter $3.49
Pancake syrup $1.79
Oyster crackers $0.89

Toiletries:
Deodorant $2.59
Mouthwash $1.79
Body wash $0.99
Toilet paper $6.99

Total: $82.19

 While I am buying bulk items I like to plan that weeks meals around at least one of the bulk items I purchase. This week I planned my menu around a $2.69  #10 can of tomato sauce. For those unfamiliar with the #10 cans available at Costco they are MASSIVE cans usually meant for use in a cafeteria or restaurant. The #10 can of tomato sauce is 105 ounces, or 6lbs 5oz, of sauce. That is a lot of sauce! You have two options when dealing with such a large cans, portioning it out into individual baggies and freezing them for later use or using the food item in several meals. I think it is much easier to just store the food item in the fridge and use it throughout the week. So this week I am planning to use the sauce in pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce, and sloppy joe's,

Some of the meals we have planned this week include:
Breakfast:
Baked Oatmeal
Pancakes
Sausage Biscuits
Sausage gravy and Biscuits
Scrambled eggs with turkey and cheese

Lunch:
Sandwiches
Chicken noodle soup
Leftovers

Dinner:
Pizza
Sloppy Joes
BBQ Brisket
Spaghetti
Italian Pork Chops
Chicken sliders
Leftovers

Did you do any amazing shopping this holiday weekend? I am quite happy with my pantry stock up items!

Frugal accomplishments November 23-29th

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That time of the week again...lets see how we did with our fugal accomplishments this week.




We stuck with our goal to update the budget each night and balance out the categories. I kind of failed on this one however due to getting a due date on a bill wrong. The good point was that I had it set to direct debit so the company got paid, but the bad part was that I forgot to add it into our budget. It got paid but it sure did cause some scrambling on my part to get the budget back into line. Lesson learned and the budget is up to date for this month with the correct due date.

We ate at home throughout the week which lets face it sometimes is a massive struggle. It helps that we live 30min from "civilization" so not like I can just pop into a fast food place to get something to eat.

We stuck to our grocery budget and brought in our Thanksgiving dinner on budget at $11. It was very good and actually made enough food for 2 dinners and a lunch.

I skipped the Black Friday insanity and purposely avoided all email and online advertising. I did find 2 free ebooks about creative writing for the girls thanks to a sale on amazon. I couldn't pass up free! I spent Black Friday doing our grocery shopping for the week. More about this to come in a later post!

We have been using our cloth diapers more this week. I admit I tend to slide back into the ease of disposables when I am busy or behind in laundry. I am trying to get this under control since our son is a very big boy and finding diapers in his size is getting expensive.

After trying to find our daughters new literature book through an inter-library loan and failing miserably I gave up and ordered it via amazon. I did however buy it used and saved a few dollars. It showed up today and looks to be in brand new condition. I am sure she will adore reading it (not!).  I am still looking for the last workbook in our handwriting curriculum for our oldest daughter. It retails for $15 with shipping which isn't a bank breaker but if I can find it cheaper I would like to do so. There are several book stores running sales for Cyber Monday tomorrow so I am hoping to find a really good deal.

I have been monitoring our electricity usage and have been driven a bit batty by all the lights left turned on. I lectured the kids that if they didn't start turning their lights off when they left the room I was going to turn the electricity off to the second floor of the house. The next day I turned their bathroom light off as I was walking to my room for a shower. After my shower I walk out to see the light on again. So I went straight to the garage to flip the breaker to the upstairs lights and outlets. I didn't get two steps in from the garage before I was met by a child informing me that their bathroom light wasn't working. *Sigh* I left the electric off to the second floor all day only turning it back on once it got dark outside. The shock value seems to have worked for the time being and I have only had to turn off a few lights here and there versus ALL the lights multiple times a day.

My husband received his paycheck on Black Friday (dangerous time to get paid!). I moved the required money to sinking funds for future bills and pulled out the cash we will need for this week and loaded up my cash wallet system. I am really liking having the cash on hand as it makes updating the budget categories much easier throughout the month.

All in all we had a really good week here and I am happy to be starting December with a plan in place. How are things going with you all?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Living life on a budget. Our $11 Thanksgiving Dinner

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It is that time of year again, the holidays are here and the corporations are in full swing selling us everything under the sun. We as a society have become so confused with what is a want and what is a need that we get ourselves into such predicaments. Yesterday on the Rachel Ray show they had a viewer on who felt she had to provide perfect Thanksgiving for her children so she spent her gas money on a $35 turkey. Please understand that I am not in any way bashing this woman. She is a single mother working two jobs to provide for her children. She is doing everything in her power to do what she feels she has to do for her children.

I am however bashing a consumer driven society that has made this woman feel like if she can not give her children the perfect Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving she is somehow lacking as a mother. It is one meal. ONE MEAL in which we are to come together as a family to thank the Lord for the many blessings He has given us through the year. Do you think the Lord cares if you have a turkey? Or do you think the Lord cares that you were a responsible steward of the resources He gave you?

We as a society have be come so confused on what is a want and what is a need. You need to have food. You want a turkey with all the trimmings so that you can check some invisible box on a checklist that society made for you. We get so caught up in buying things we are told we need to make happy memories for our children. You know what? I never had a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner as a child yet I have only the best memories of Thanksgiving. We would all get together as a family at my grandparents house and have chicken and dumplings. Every year. Like clockwork. Those are some of my fondest memories of my childhood. Just being together and spending time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We spent the day talking and just being together.....without a turkey. Every time I make dumplings I think of my grandmother and the Thanksgiving dinners throughout the years. I wouldn't have traded even one of those dinners for a traditional Normal Rockwell meal.

Our children look to us as role models and base their reactions to situations off of our reactions. If you are happy and content with your circumstances that is what they will remember throughout the years. If instead you are stressed and crying because you feel you failed your children by not being able to live up to some standard set by people you don't even know trust me they will remember that as well.

As I mentioned in my last post we are on a very strict grocery budget. I budget $4.70 per meal and that is for EVERY meal........even Thanksgiving. The national average a family spends on Thanksgiving is $54.18 That is about $50 too high for me. When planning this years Thanksgiving dinner I decided to allocate $9 to the meal since I assumed we would have leftovers the next night thus eliminating the cost of the second meal.

How was I going to pull off Thanksgiving dinner for 8 people for $9? I needed some creativity to be sure.


I started with the protein since it is the star of the show on Thanksgiving. As I shared earlier we make the protein component an accent to our meals. How could I do this on Thanksgiving when a large turkey or ham is the centerpiece of the meal? I gave my husband two options. A turkey meatloaf or a very small ham. He chose ham (big surprise!). While at the grocery store I had heart failure over the prices of hams. $30??? Are you serious? Nope. Not gonna happen. So while standing in the middle of the store I made a command decision. Ham was out and Pork tenderloin was in. I decided to cook a tenderloin I already had in our freezer at home, slice it thinly, and add a brown sugar glaze to turn it into a "honey baked ham".

Now on to the sides. I had 2 small bags of green beans in the freezer and half a bag of potatoes in the pantry......so I added green beans and chunks of potatoes to the crockpot with the pork tenderloin. I also really like soups and squash...so how about a Curried Butternut Squash Soup? Yes please! Bonus points because I already had a butternut squash in the pantry waiting to be used for something this week. (I just made the soup portion of the recipe substituting in skim milk for coconut milk and left out the bread bowl and toppings part of the recipe.)

Every Thanksgiving dinner needs rolls, at least in our family, so I made a double batch of these Italian Rolls from items already in our pantry. What is bread without butter? Pretty boring if you ask me so I threw together a quick batch of super yummy whipped honey butter.

Dessert is a must at our house for Thanksgiving. I needed a cheap option this year and decided to go with a family favorite, Banoffe pie. Bananas, homemade toffee, and whipped cream.....really who wouldn't love it?

So how did we manage on the budget front?
Pork Tenderloin: Freezer
Green Beans: Freezer
Potatoes: Pantry
Brown sugar glaze: Pantry
Butternut squash soup: $2.69 for a gallon of milk, 3/4 the gallon left for future meals
Rolls: Pantry
Honey butter: $3.49 for a lb of butter, 2 sticks left for future meals
Banoffe Pie: $4.35

Total for the meal: $10.53

Yes I went over budget by $1.53, the extra was covered by a ATM surcharge rebate that was credited to our account the morning of our shopping trip and had not been added to a budget category yet. We could have done the entire meal from our pantry if money had been super tight this year.  I felt it was worth it for the gallon of milk and the butter both of which can be used in future meals. I wanted to get eggs as well since we had run out that morning and the girls wanted to make chocolate chip cookies but I drew the line at going any farther over budget. We will live without cookies or eggs for a few days till the next budgeted grocery shopping day.

Is this the traditional Thanksgiving meal? No.
Was it yummy? Yes.
Did it fill our stomachs and leave us thankful for the meal and all of the Lords provisions this year? Yes.
Did my children care that there was not a traditional turkey or ham? No.
Did they care that they had pie to eat? Yes.

Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that matter. Time with family, thankfulness for the Lords provisions, and pie.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How we feed our family of 8 on $600 a month

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When people hear that in a typical month we only spend $100 a week at the grocery store for our family of 8 they are usually more than a little shocked. I do have to clarify this is not accomplished EVERY month. Some months are stock up months with a larger budget being implemented. 

Typical month (6 times a year): $400 on food and toiletry items
Meat stock up month (2 times a year): $900 on food and toiletry items
Staple stock up month (6 times a year): $500 on food and toiletry items

That comes to an average of $7,200 a year or $600 a month. That breaks down to $75 a month per person.

*Totals include food, toiletries, and rabbit supplies and food items*

So what are our tricks?

Buying Meat twice a year. We stock our freezer with meat every 6mths. I have found this to be the easiest way to make sure we have what we need on hand on a daily basis and cut down on trips to the grocery store. Even when there is "nothing to eat" I can turn frozen chicken breasts, flour and yeast into chicken sliders in under an hour and stretch our last shopping trip even farther. With the protein item already supplied and ready it is much easier to come up with simple meals. I like shopping at Costco for bulk meats. Everything is already packaged up for the freezer and ready to go. I count up the amount of dinners needed for the upcoming 6 months and plan 1 pound of meat per day for our family of 8 with leftovers counting towards lunches the next day. We typically have chicken, ground beef, london broil, pork chops, and pork tenderloin in our freezer.

Stocking the pantry with staple items. The easiest way to stretch your grocery budget is to keep staples stockpiled at all times. Again we like Costco for these items. I budget $100 every 2 mths towards a trip to Costco. Typical items we buy at Costco include flour, sugar, baking powder, oats, vanilla, spices, cocoa, yeast, oils, rice, trash bags, and laundry soap. I am very careful to keep a running total on my calculator as I add items to our cart. It is VERY easy to go over budget at warehouse clubs. I start with my priority items and work my way down the list. If after I have everything on my list I still have money left I like to pick up chocolate chips as a treat for the kids.

Frozen Veggies. Outside of the end of summer it is usually cheaper to buy vegetables and some fruits frozen in bulk. I prefer frozen for a variety of reasons but mostly for the quickness of cooking times, the freshness of the item when it was frozen, and the lessened chance of being exposed to the BPA that is commonly found in canned foods.

Grow your own. You really can't get much of a cheaper options than to grow your own fruits and vegetables. I am hit of miss on this front. Some years I have a great result...some years not so much. I am very happy that we are not dependent on my gardening skills for survival because we would probably all die. I do my best however and we do have some success. I typically grow herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, lettuces, and strawberries. I just invested in blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. They are in the ground now to over winter before the spring warm up. I am hoping that they survive and thrive. I doubt they will ever produce enough to sustain my family of fruit loving children but every little bit helps!

Menu Planning. A menu plan is essential to cutting your grocery bill to the bare bones. Most people will recommend looking at the sales flyers or your coupons to decide on a menu. I do not agree with this philosophy. I look at my pantry and freezer and see what meals I can create from the items I have on hand. If I then have empty spots on my menu planner I then look through my recipe binder, pinterest, and my favorite bloggers to find cheap recipes that I can pull together with very little added items. Shopping from your own pantry is often called a "Pantry Challenge" on frugal forums and it is the best way to reduce wasted food items and save a bundle.

Shop at discount grocery stores. This is a pretty simple one. I only shop where the daily prices of items are already at a reduced amount. I don't have the time or the energy for a price book, sales circulars, coupons, or multiple stores. I need to get in and get out as quickly as possible. We shop weekly primarily at Aldi and during the summer at a local farmers market. I will occasionally run to a bigger store to get a specialty spice or cheese item if I am splurging that week but for the most part we shop only at Aldi. I like the store for it's simplicity. There are only a few aisles and only 1-2 choices of items within a category and all are their own house brand. I have found the food items to be the same quality as the major name brand items and I love paying only half the price for them.

No convenience foods. This was a hard one for my husband to get used to. No sodas, chips, frozen meals, crackers, cereal, granola bars, boxed mixes, or other premade items. You are seriously paying a fortune for these items and in most cases can make them quickly and easily at home.

Cooking from Scratch. After the last bullet this is kind of a no brainer. Cook items yourself and from scratch. It really isn't that hard and nowadays it is super simple to find recipes online for everything you can imagine.You can make your own salad dressing, soups, mixes, spice rubs, gravies, breads, "cream of " soups, coffee creamer, and baking mixes in just a few minutes. Have a little more time and you can make your own yogurt, cheese, jams and jellies, peanut butter, mayo, ketchup, etc. The internet is a big big place and there are a lot of amazing people out there sharing their recipes for "essential" convenience foods.

Meat is an accent not the centerpiece. This has taken some getting used to in our house. My husband is a "meat and potatoes" man and was used to the protein item being the center of attention at a meal. I only allow 1 pound of meat per day...for 8 people. There is no way I can make the meat the center of the show. My father once joked that I could make 3 meals out of one chicken and was shocked when I agreed that yes I could very easily do that. The trick? Casseroles and other items where the meat is cut up and added in with other ingredients. How can I get 3 meals for 8 people out of one 5lb chicken? Well first I cook the whole chicken in my crockpot. Once it is finished cooking I strip all the meat off of the bird and add the bones back to the crockpot with the cooking juices. I mix the white meat and the dark meat together and divide into 2 portions. One portion goes in to the fridge for the next nights meal. The second portion I add to a casserole for that nights dinner. While the casserole is cooking I fill the crockpot with water and cook on high overnight. The next day I store my strained chicken stock in the fridge for meal number 3. On the second day I take the remaining half of the chicken and use it in a new way, such as enchiladas or quesadillas. Day 3 is a simple chicken broth based soup such as chicken noodle or chicken and dumplings. I do not add any actual chicken to the soup but it is still very nutritious since it is made with the homemade low sodium bone broth you made in your crockpot.

Cheap sides. I am not talking about just starch and carbs here however they are very cheap and filling items to add to a meal. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, rice, and pasta are all cheap additions to a meal and fill bellies up very quickly. There are other healthier options however. Such as butternut squash soup, broccoli, sauteed green beans, dried beans such as pintos and black beans, salads, mixed veggies, etc. My kids always ask for seconds of green beans and broccoli which I am more than happy to give them. If they want seconds of the meat item however they have to have first ate all of their veggies. I am a bit of a stickler on that one. Veggies are important to growing bodies and I will happily sprinkle a bit of cheese on them if that is what it takes to get them to eat them.

Soups! I think you can see from the previous items that soups are wonderfully cheap additions to meals. They are super cheap to put together thanks to the ability to use leftover veggies and meat as the base items. On nights when I don't feel like cooking I can usually convince myself to make a pot of soup since it comes together so quickly.

I think I have hit the highlights of how we save money on our grocery bills. Do you have any additions to make to our list? I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Frugal accomplishments 11/15-11/22

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I have not been posting our frugal accomplishments recently because....well to be quite frank we have not been very frugal. I let the stress of everyday life step in and derail our efforts. I have been making a conscious effort this last week to be more frugal so I thought I would return to keeping track of our accomplishments.

Lets see.....

This week we turned our thermostat down from 72 to 68.We keep it at 72 during the summer but when winter comes we find it hard to turn it down lower. It seems to take us a while to adjust to the cooler temps in the house. I systematically turned the thermostat down 1 degree at a time throughout the week and no one seemed to notice. I have been wearing a sweatshirt in the house more often and have been putting warmer clothes on the two littlest ones at bed time since they do not use a blanket. I know what you are thinking "68 is not cold" I agree no it isn't it is just taking some adjusting on our parts. I plan to keep dropping the thermostat down this week till we reach 65 during the day and 60 at night. We shall see how everyone reacts. Our 4yr old twins are used to running around in t-shirts and shorts year round inside so it is taking some getting used to for them especially. We have natural gas heat so not crazy expensive by any stretch of the imagination but every dollar saved really does matter in the long run. Right now our gas bill is going up by $20 every month due to the colder weather outside. This last few weeks it has been in the teens and twenties, I am not looking forward to this months bill at all!

We started using YNAB once again and I have been making sure to reconcile the account every night before bed. I have found that if there is more than a day or so to add into the software I get overwhelmed and have no interest in catching up so I put it off even longer and it gets even more overwhelming.....you see where this is going. So I have been making an effort to add every transaction in via my phone at the time of purchase and then to sit down in the evenings when it is quiet and reconcile it all with the budget. This has been working really well for me so far and making things much easier to stay on top of.

I also pulled out my cloth envelope system and filled our envelopes up with the cash budgeted per category. We did have some hiccups with this this week. I pulled the cash out for gas for both cars this week thinking it would be simple enough to pay with cash. It is....if you remember to bring the cash with you. It seems my husband doesn't remember he needs gas until he is already halfway to work and all he has on him is the debit card. So he pulls the money out for gas from the debit card and I have already pulled the same money out in cash for the envelope....so we overdraw that budgeted category. So then I have to get creative with moving money between budgeted categories. Not cool. I have better things to do with my time. So we are going to cash for MY gas budget and debit for HIS gas budget in the future. Hopefully this will help with the confusion and make my life easier.

I stayed on track for our variable budgeted categories thanks to the benefits of cash only, you can't spend it if you don't have it. So our grocery, household, clothing, homeschool, etc categories all came in at or under the budgeted amounts.

Here around the house we ate all our meals at home even when I really REALLY didn't want to cook. I even managed to pull together a meal with just an hour before we had to leave for girl scouts. I so wanted to stop and get Mcdonalds on the way. It would have been so much easier. I held strong however and made a large pot of chicken and dumplings. The kids love them and it was really easy to do while the kids ran around trying to get dressed and find their shoes.

We raked the leaves outside on top of our perennials in an effort to insulate them for the coming winter. I figure for an afternoon of effort I have insulated the plants a bit, gotten free compost and weed suppression in the spring. The neighbors did look at me kind of funny as I was piling leaves knee high in my flower beds. Oh well they thought I was crazy anyways for having 6 kids and homeschooling what it one more thing added to the list?!

I did some thrift store shopping this week which is always a thrill for me. I needed to find yoga type pants for our 8 yr old who has some sensory issues with anything on her bottom half. I looked quickly on khols website the other night while waiting on the girls at girl scouts and found with the sales going on I could get 4 pairs of pants for $50. Yeah.....um.....that wasn't in the budget. So I stopped by the thrift store to have a look at what they had. I found 4 pairs of yoga style pants for $1.99 each. As I was walking out I saw a rack of snow boots. I am not going to lie I almost did a happy dance in the aisle and I might have thrown a few elbows if anyone had tried to muscle in on that rack while I was sorting through them. Luckily everyone recognized the crazy lady I was and stayed far far away. I needed 5 pairs of snow boots and I had planned to buy them on black Friday via payless. I expected them to run about $60. I found 4 pairs of boots that would fit 4 of my children, each marked at $3.99-$4.99 a pair. SOLD! All in all with our military discount I paid $21 for 4 pairs of pants and 4 pairs of snow boots. That is a savings of $90-100 depending on how much shipping would have been on the pants and boots if I had bought them retail. I don't normally buy shoes used. I do feel that new shoes are a necessity for everyone since shoes do breakdown with wear and can can cause pain and other problems over time. Snow boots and dress shoes are my exception however. They get so very little wear that even used they are in practically brand new condition.  I still need to find a pair of boots for our oldest daughter but I am quite happy to have my list cut down from 5 pairs to 1 pair.

So those are our frugal accomplishments for this week. Nothing ground breaking up every little bit does add up. I would love to hear about your accomplishments this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ralph the Therapy Rabbit

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Since the day our son was diagnosed as autistic we have been looking into obtaining a service animal. The first option that ocurred to us was to get a service dog. After looking into it for several months we were more than a little shell shocked at the costs associated. There was no way we could afford $25,000 upfront for a dog not to mention the follow up training and costs associated with maintaining a certification. We still felt our autistic children would benefit from a service animal and kept researching.  We started searching for therapy animals instead of service animals. The difference? A service animal is trained to preform actions that the person with a disability can not do themselves. While therapy animals are not limited to working with just people with disabilities and their functions are not legally defined. Therapy animals are less regulated and less expensive. Since we did not intend for the animal to go to schools or other public places having the certification as a service animal was not a deal breaker for our family.

While doing our research I stumbled across an article about therapy rabbits and became fascinated. Our oldest autistic daughter has been obsessed with rabbits since she was 2 yrs old. She carried around a giant stuffed rabbit for years and is still extremely attached to it. Seriously don't touch the stuffed rabbit. Getting a therapy rabbit seemed like a natural fit for our family. 

We were extremely blessed to find a rabbit for sale for $20 including the hutch and a few weeks worth of food. It didn't take long for Ralph the rabbit to join our family.

 Don't let the name fool you, Ralph is a girl. She is a Dutch Blue and extremely sweet and as you can see tolerant of lots of little hands loving on her.


Therapy rabbits are far from mainstream and Ralph was not trained as one before we received her. What makes a rabbit a therapy rabbit? Well what makes any animal a therapy animal? Therapy animals are there to love on, calm anxieties, and give confidence. I saw no reason why Ralph couldn't be classified as a therapy animal. I started working with her several times a day building up her tolerance to being handled and loved on. It didn't take long before she was comfortable being out of her hutch and loved on. I helped the kids learn how to handle her and take care of her daily needs. We have not certified her as an official therapy animal since we do not intent to "take her on the road". She however is functioning as a therapy animal for our family quite well.

So how has Ralph helped our autistic children?
  • Cuddles. Lots and lots of cuddles. When children are overwhelmed and need time to calm down and reset their systems cuddling with a rabbit is just the ticket. There have been many times when our son was overwhelmed and we were unable to calm him down or keep him safe. Ralph has hopped in to the rescue. Something about Ralph shocks him out of his self harming sessions and helps him to recenter and come back to himself. Ralph earned a lifetime of carrots after that first rough night.
  • Confidence. Handling another living thing requires confidence and self assurance. Our oldest daughter has a very difficult time with confidence and learning to handle Ralph has been a great learning curve for her. 
  • Responsibility. Having to feed, water, and clean up after a pet is a big responsibility. Our oldest daughter has been assigned the role of chief caregiver and has done an amazing job at it.
I have to say I have come to love Ralph just as much as the kids have. She is such a sweet and quiet pet. No barking at the neighbors. No having to take her out for walks in the middle of winter. No chewed up shoes or gigantic bags of dog food to haul around. Over all she is very low maintenance and it has even been simple to find someone to watch her when we go out of town. 

Therapy rabbits are not for everyone or every child. Each child is different and you shouldn't make the decision of what type of service or therapy animal your child would benefit from lightly. It is all to common for people to jump into owning an animal without fully thinking the process through only to then dump the animal at a shelter when they are tired of caring for it. I would recommend anyone interested in a service or therapy animal to go out and spend time with the same type of animal. Get a feel for how your child responds and how you feel handling the animal yourself. Lets face it at some point mom and dad are going to be picking up the slack...and the poop....when the new wears off of the animal. Make sure you are fully committed and that the animal has the desired effect on your child.  I wish you luck in your journey towards a therapy animal and would love to hear from you along your journey.



 

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