Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Frugal $400 April Final

For those of you who may not know, I have challenged myself to spending only $400 per month on household and grocery items in 2008. I must say that though I'm getting better at planning and using coupons, the economy is not making this any easier. Prices at the stores are on the rise, my friends. I noticed that the usually $2.00 large container of yogurt was $2.85 this week!! I'm seeing (as I'm sure you are) little increases here and there which could add up quickly.

These were my totals for April:

Spent: $409.78 Total Savings: $373.15 Coupon Savings: $101.94

As far as reaching my other goals for March, I did this fairly well. Had the garage sale. Freezer cooked with Barbara (it's all gone now). However, we ate out a lot more than usual. Chinese, Mexican, Fazoli's, Pizza. And we did this without coupons as I had promised myself. This has got to stop, I say.

Some of you think that I have some sort of Super Powers that allow me to save money. This simply is not so. On Bloglines I have three sites listed that I use exclusively for finding deals. There are a million more than these, but I simply do not have the time to read them. From these blogs I get a good picture of what's going on at the major chain grocery stores and CVS. They also have great links to internet deals. This month I was able buy some very nice makeup on clearance for a $1 and received a $10 off $25 coupon from Lowe's.

You should check these blogs out if you have not already: Money Saving Mom, Thrifty Florida Mama, and The Bargain Shopper Lady.

I've finally figured out a system to shop CVS in which I can keep it all straight and even do the math with my seven children in tow. I'm hoping to have that post up shortly.

I know to some that it seems like frugal shopping comes naturally. I won't lie. It is work.

Sometimes I wish that I could just walk into a store and buy anything off the shelf not even looking at the price. But since that's not an option, I'll continue to be as resourceful as possible and apply myself to learning from those with far more experience.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spring Cleaning Treasures

I feel like I've been Spring cleaning for the fast four weeks. Constantly I'm tackling another pile or closet or drawer. I've made three trips to Good Will. It feels good to get rid of the extras and just focus on managing the necessities. Slowly but surely things around here are feeling more manageable. The house, however, still looks like a bomb hit. Why does it require a big mess to get things straightened up?

In my purge, I ran across some hidden treasures. It's been fun putting them in their rightful places and on display for others to enjoy. Want to see?

Three items have joined our international guest bathroom. The first is a hand painted card that my sister, Cindy, gave me from her trip to the Ukraine.

Another is a piece of embroidery that my father-in-law, Mike, brought back from the Vietnam War. I salvaged it from their old house during their move. I have no idea what it says, but the embroidery is beautiful. Whenever I see it I have to stop and thank God for His care for Mike during those years. Otherwise, there would have been no Sean.

I also found in the bottom of a pile this great wall decoration. Our first nursery had a "Little Children of the World" theme. This was given to us at our first baby shower and I've never had the heart to part with it. I'm glad to have it one display once again.

I've been holding on to these glass bottles and had to put them to use or they were going to recycycling. I covered them in scrapbooking paper I had left over from my Grandma's recipes project and filled them with grains.

My sister, Vanessa, taught English as a Second Language in Thailand many summers ago. She brought me back this antique fabric piece. It is far too beautiful to tuck away in a chest. It now hangs in our bedroom on a curtain rod attached to the wall and clips. This was so inexpensive (under $10) and easy to do. The year after I received this the Tsunami hit and much of Thailand was affected. I often wonder what happened to the hands that created this beautiful work and it does remind me to pray for the many families that are still feeling loss.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stretching it Farther

My frugal buddy, Tisha, and I pulled the card tables and some bigger household items out into the driveway this morning. We filled the card tables with our excess CVS stash from this winter and waited to see what would happen next.

Our only advertisement was a few signs. We were not part of a neighborhood sale. As far as garage sales go we weren't busy (likely due to the frigid temperature). But most everyone that got out of their car to browse walked away with a few items. Who can resist toothpaste or deodorant for $.75 or pain reliever for $1-2? Our stock also included a few household goods like Glade candles and scented sprays, makeup, vitamins and cereal. Our only strategy was to only have a few of each type of item on the table and to restock when needed.

In three hours my stash was pretty well cleared out with about $40 in my pocket. Considering that these items were free and/or earned me CVS extra care bucks to buy the things we have needed and used, I am quite pleased.

Surprisingly, only one customer wanted to haggle, but she was buying a good amount. We cut her some slack.

Neither one of us has purposely been stockpiling to sell. Today was just a test run to see if it would be worth it to do so in the future. The verdict for me is a resounding, "Yes". With a bit more intention and some advertising, this could be a worthwhile venture I'd say. I think we could multiply our earnings several times over.

What will we do with our $40? It will go towards getting a pre-paid cell phone for our summer travels.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Pianist

I have devoted years of my life to playing the piano. I started lessons right before I turned five and continued through college. It was one of my passions. It was a place I could go to be alone and express myself. It was a place that was continually challenging me to practice more and try harder. It was a place that was rewarding to me. It was a gift that I could share. Playing the piano was not just something that I did. It was part of me coming through my hands and from my heart.

Early in our marriage Sean recognized my need to play. So when someone asked him if we would be willing to "house sit" a piano in our apartment, he arranged with some friend to have it moved up three flights of stairs into our little home. They carried it on their backs.

I remember pulling Hannah up next to me in her high chair and letting her play along while my big pregnant Lydia belly was getting in the way. We would sing together. I would play happy tunes and watch her grin. I'd play slow, sad pieces that would cause her to look concerned. We did this about every afternoon before naps. Baby Lydia would kick and move all around. In my new found role as mommy, it was comforting to have a hobby such as this. It reminded me that though my life was changing in essence I was still me.

The piano went back to its owner when we moved into another apartment. Four years later when we moved into our first home my parents graciously gave me the piano that I had grown up playing. It was like having an old friend come to visit.

As the years have gone on my piano playing has almost come to a complete halt. Time is definitely a factor. There is little time to practice anything new, let alone to review what I know. Whenever I do sit down to work through some music suddenly there are 8 hands joining in to play along. It's really hard to share a bench with three kids and a fourth on my lap.

I so enjoy watching our older children learn to play. They struggle at times measure by measure, even note by note. But with persistence they work it through and their efforts result in sweet songs. Because playing the piano is a passion of mine, I've hired a piano teacher to instruct them. I know that may sound foolish, but I have found little patience in teaching them. This is perhaps the one area in which there is a glimpse of perfectionism in me. I do not want to ruin the experience for them or myself.

I do not miss it in the same way as I did years ago. I accept this season of life as one that doesn't allow for hours of practice or leisurely piano playing. I do, however, have dreams of someday taking lessons again and maybe even playing in a recital or two. Perhaps I'll teach my grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hot Diggity Dog

Doing my best to feed our family well, I swore off hot dogs about two years ago. Certainly we eat them when offered, but we no longer buy them. They used to be a staple in this house.

Sensing my lack of lunch creativity, the kids broke me down in a weak moment and convinced me to buy hot dogs. "Pleeeeeeeeaaaaaaaassssssssssseeeeeeeeee...." How can I refuse this x 7?

Well, they devoured them. Joseph, chewing with his eyes closed like he was savoring a steak or something, asked, "Is this dog? I love the taste of dog."

That night Sean brought home leftovers from a school luncheon for the teachers. You guessed it. We've been eating A LOT of hot dogs.

Go over to Mary's for Tiny Talk Tuesday and read what funny things kids are saying. I promise you'll smile.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bleeding Hearts

Great deal

Great Clips is having their annual $4.99 haircut special. If you need a trim or just need someone to even out what you've been cutting yourself, here's your chance!!

I'm not certain if this is a nationwide promotion or just local to central Indiana. Might not hurt to give them a call and ask.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Can't hurt to ask

Sean is away speaking at a conference this weekend. It was sort of a last minute deal so there was not time to be frugal about making hotel arrangements. I looked around on Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline. The lowest quote they were giving for the hotel of choice (indoor pool and hot breakfast) was $85. The "regular" price was $99. He is taking some of the older girls, so waffles and a swim were a must for a fun weekend. I really didn't want to do the bid thing since there were some less than appealing options that might result.

Sean encouraged me a few hours before he left just to give the hotel a direct call and inform them of the conference. Did they have a discount rate for those participating?

They had no idea there was a conference, but were more than generous in offering a room for $60. Wow, didn't expect that!! One simple question was worth $25.

I'm glad I asked.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring has Sprung

Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. Acts 14:17

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This, that and the other

This week has been consumed with IOWA testing for Hannah and Lydia. Being that they are homeschooled, they have never had a formal exam of this kind. To be expected they were a bit nervous going in but gained confidence as the days have progressed. I'm looking forward to the results and do not expect any big surprises. They can verbalize themselves their areas of strength and weakness. Hopefully, this evaluation will serve us well in planning for Middle School and beyond.

Last night I went to a meeting with other homeschooling moms and we were discussing our kids various reactions to the test. One mom, Beth, shared that after the grammar/punctuation section her son announced, "You know mom, I think every sentence has some mark at the end!"

After two years of trying to get him to punctuate, if this test finally broke through then I'd say it was time and money well spent! I'm hoping for some similar revelations from my girls.

Poor Miriam's spent the better part of the week on the couch with a high fever. At one point she woke up claiming that Mirilla's nosy, older neighbor (from Anne of Green Gables) was in her bedroom telling her things. Up until that point I held off taking her to the doctor thinking that it was viral. Her exam revealed a nasty ear infection. Bad mom. Thankfully, she's feeling a bit better now.

I've been trying to keep the younger kids occupied so Miriam can rest. They took on this painting project. I always let my older ones spend hours in the play dough and paints. I often forget to break out the crafts for these guys and let them create. I need to do that more often.

We are already halfway through April. May is going to be a crazy month for us tying up school, getting ready for Florida, getting in my hours at work, planting our garden, becoming a aunt again!.... Sean will be even busier than myself. He'll have grades and finals due the day we leave on our trip as well a weekend to Washington D.C. with his rocket students in May. Here we go!!

Oh, I almost forgot the "other". Just so you know, if I were a pair of shoes I'd be a clog. This is so true. Tell me about you and your shoe.

You are a solid and down to earth person.
You seek – and almost always achieve – a really sound balance in your life.

You are stylish yet comfortable. Mellow but driven. Excited yet calm.
You are the perfect mesh of contradictions.

No matter what happens, you have the ability to stay well grounded in your life.
People know that they can truly depend on you.

You should live: In Europe

You should work: At a company dedicated to helping the world

By the way, thank you for all of the great responses on the lactation post last week. I teach this Saturday and know that my class is going to be a lot richer because of your wise words. Thanks everybody!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The work of heroes

I recently picked up an old favorite, "Stepping Heavenward" by Mrs. E. Prentiss. This book never ceases to challenge me in new ways to walk closer to the Lord and live out practically the faith He has given me. It's not necessarily a quick read. It was written in 1880 and full of language that can take time to digest, but I think that the foreward says it best:

"One book in particular that appears to be having the greatest impact among Christian women is Stepping Heavenward. According to Elisabeth Elliot, Kay Arthur, and Joni Earekson Tada, Stepping Heavenward will encourage, inspire, and challenge your walk with Jesus Christ in a dimension that few have entered.... I have heard that some have lost interest in the book before reaching the half-way mark. And equally I have heard that it was after the half-way mark that their lives were forever changed."

This weekend I was pondering this quote from the book as I was wading through the mess here at home, trying to create order and dealing with the various needs of the children.

"Suppose then you content yourself for the present with doing in a faithful, quite, persistent way all the little, homely tasks that return with each returning day, each one as unto God, and perhaps by and by you will thus have gained strength for a more heroic life."

My most hated task by the end became rewarding as I considered how I could do it in such a way as to be a blessing to the Lord and to my family.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why, oh why, oh why?

I don't know what possessed me today.

Maybe it was the loads and loads of laundry that I have been doing and not folding these past two days. I had thoughts of folding these winter clothes just one last time and putting them into boxes.

Oh, but then the children would have not clothes. So I started dragging out the summer clothes from storage which means that this has happened in my bedroom.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tutor the Teacher

Part of my job as a nurse involves being a lactation consultant and teaching the breastfeeding class at our hospital. Teaching this class is a challenge in that I can educate people about breastfeeding, but there is really nothing I can do to teach them "how" to do it. Also there is a fine line between presenting breastfeeding realistically and not scaring these soon to be moms.

This is a three hour class with a lot of information. I try my best to make it a discussion type atmosphere so that people feel free to speak up with questions they may have. I'm always looking for ways to improve the material presented as well as meet the needs of the students.

Tell me: What do you wish you would have known about breastfeeding before you had your baby? Looking back what misconceptions did you have about breastfeeding? Did you take a class? If so, what was the most useful thing you learned there? If not, what resources helped you through the process of breastfeeding?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Great finds

I just "happened" to be looking at the Kennedy Space Center Website the other day and realized that the May 25th Space Shuttle Launch had been moved to May 31. We were really praying that we could see a launch this summer and the door was opened wide. We considered leaving a week earlier, but with both of our work schedules it was going to be too tight. I'm fairly certain that He didn't delay the Space Shuttle launch specifically for us, but He did lead me to the site on that particular day and make it possible for Sean to secure the tickets. It's amazing to see God work out these kinds of details.

Sean called promptly at 9 am Monday morning and reserved our tickets for lunch with an astronaut and front row seats (okay, it's really 6 miles away but the closest that anyone is allowed) to the launch. Tickets sold out within minutes. We are thrilled beyond belief!! This is going something that the children will remember forever. There is an age restriction so I'll be back at the beach house with the younger two. I'll be able to see it from there but without all the bells and whistles that NASA provides.

I also discovered today that McDonald's has out some Spring Treat coupons for sale. $1 will buy 12 coupons for various items such as ice cream, apple dippers, kid size drink, small fry, cookie, apple pie. These are intended for children 12 and under. Usually these coupons expire within 90 days. These, however, have an expiration date of 12/09. Needless to say, I picked up several which will come in handy when we are traveling about this summer.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring Break at a glance

That's exactly what our Spring break seemed- a glance. Why does the time go so quickly when it's vacation? We originally planned to do lots of Spring things- make spring rolls, go to Spring Mill State Park or to the Springfield Illinois Abraham Lincoln museum. Maybe next year.

The week started with sick Betsy and her 104 degree fever. She spent the first few days on the couch mostly asleep. Poor little girl.

We did ,however, manage to have a lot of fun regardless. Want to see?

The kids set up a campground in the back yard complete with a stocked pond for fishing. It's so good to see green again. They played like this for hours.

I went to a freezer cooking party with some friends and walked away with some great meals. So no cooking for me this Spring Break!!

There were many hours spent playing Blokus and Sean's new favorite game Equate. It's Scrabble with numbers. I lost miserably but had fun.

Of course we had to do some Spring cleaning. I wish there were words to describe the area under my stove and fridge. I think that if a tornado would have come through here that these two appliances would've stayed fixed in their spots. Need I say more?

Slaves know no age in this house.

My girls learn quickly that it's best just to stay in your pajamas to clean.

Sorting through winter clothes. How they have grown!

Sean cleaned the windows. See the difference?

After moving this heavy piece of furniture and cleaning under it, we caught baby John returning the balls to their rightful place.

Aunt Vanessa took some of the girls to the Art Museum for the day. They couldn't stop talking about what a great time it was.

We said good-bye for now to our friend, Heather. She stopped by briefly on her way to Florida to bring us some cinnamon rolls. That's just like her. She will be working at ECHO as an intern for the next few years. (pictures to come).

Also, this was our last week of homeschool co-op classes. Lydia and Savannah gave their presentation on Indians complete with buffalo stew and sweet potato fry bread. (pictures to come).

Sean spent eight or more hours standing in a field watching his student launch rockets in hopes of qualifying for the TARC finals. (More pictures will go here, too.)He also chaperoned a lock in on Friday night and did not sleep a wink.

I got in 30 hours at work as well.

Whew!! I think we need a break from our Spring Break!!

Got Milk?

I've gotten a few questions about how we freeze milk. We just stick it in the freezer when we get home from the store and when we need some more I take it out a day in advance. I let frozen milk thaw on the counter until it is about half liquid and half ice. Then I put it in the fridge to finish the job there. A gallon takes up to two days to completely thaw. That's why I prefer to freeze 1/2 gallons when they are available.

The expiration day on milk is truly a "for sale by date". After the milk is opened it is good for 7 days past opening but needs to always be kept cold. Once milk is warm the growth of bacteria is astoundingly fast.

When milk freezes it turns yellow, but when thawed again it is white. We drink mostly skim which never seems to change consistency. If milk has a higher fat content sometimes the fat will separate and then there will be small chucks floating around in the thawed milk. I think this must have something to do with the temperature of the milk when it was frozen, because it doesn't always happen. Shaking helps, but sometimes they just won't go away. The taste is not changed, but my kids won't drink it. So I either strain it through a fine metal strainer or just use it for baking.

Keep your eyes open. There's lot of marked down milk out there!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Frugal $400 March Final

I'm a bit late getting this posted. This was a month of great deals for using coupons! We have eaten a lot of free cereal, peanut butter and fiber one bars. I don't know what it is about the grocery stores around here, but they LOVE to compete. Trust me, I'm not complaining, but I ended up A LOT more receipts this month. Opening my purse was like one of those trick cans where the snake pops out and makes you scream.

So this is how it broke down: Spent $482 Total Savings $367 Coupon Savings $76

I realize that I was over my goal, but I began stocking up on freezer cooking items for April's meals, so I'll just subtract that $82 from April's grocery budget. Not bad, I'd say.

Enjoyed another freezer cooking party with some friends last Friday.

Having just completed the first quarter of the year I am quite pleased with how this budget is going. I am getting the itch to go shopping for shopping's sake or to eat out because it seems easier. But I will have to restrain myself here. Our savings is seemingly more stable and we haven't used the credit card once for anything that isn't for reimbursement in 20008. Sure a few emergencies have popped up and it's been a relief to have that money in savings to withdrawal.

Learning that Tuesday mornings is the time that our Kroger marks down produce/meat/dairy has saved us a bundle. I sent Sean out this Tuesday morning to pick up milk on manager's special for our freezer since I was at work. He took his job seriously and came home with this for $36.00. I think it was somewhere around 15 gallons. I'm going to see if I can make this last the whole month. We average about a 5 gallons a week.

Perhaps the financial highlight of March (of our lives perhaps) was receiving the Lilly grant check in the mail. Never (I say never) in our lives have we made a deposit this large. I was certain that the bank teller was going to laugh at me or report me to the police for an "uncharacteristic deposit". Thankfully, that didn't happened. I've been able to order UV protectant swim wear for some of the kids now. Some of our children have only two colors, red and white, so it is necessity . It feels strange to have this money to spend in what seems like extravagant ways for us, but I admit that it is fun!

My goals for April:

1. Stay in budget.

2. Plan a garage sale with Tisha to sell all this free CVS stuff we've picked up.

3. Eat out less and only with a coupon,

4. Put 15% of my check into savings for the next 3 months.

How did your first quarter turn out? How are the small changes you are making adding up to bigger differences?