So, let's get to "2016: A Year in Review"
2016 Financial Review:
- Groceries: Our food budget went down to 100.00 per week in 2015. In 2016 it went down to 50.00 per week and I found that, for the most part, I was able to stick close to that for the most part. I plan to stick to the 50.00 per week grocery budget. If I can somehow get ahead in the financial department in 2017, I am thinking of trying out just taking the grocery budget in one big chunk (more on how I'd break that down later if we can get to that point) and maybe trying to just do one big shopping trip a month to buy the bulk of what we need, while reserving a bit of money to buy things like milk and such. We'll see how the year goes.
- Dental Bills: We paid off dental bills this year, sometimes with out and out help from family to get the last bit of money needed to pay off the chunks of dental bills needed before deferred interest would. eat our lunch. We paid off another 12,000.00 in dental bills last year by sinking every bit of extra cash we'd get in (from PFD's or our income tax return and things) onto the dental bills.
- Utilities: I have carefully, over time, adjusted the heat down in the house at night, which has thus far saved us about 40.00 per month on our gas bill (and it's been COLD this winter, so that was a good thing to find). I also found that despite running the electric heat earlier than the last couple of years and having to keep it higher than normal due to the really nasty cold snaps we've had so far this winter, that our electric bill is still about 70.00 less than this time last year. I attribute this to figuring out to turn off heaters as SOON as we pack up to leave for school, LED light bulbs in the house, turning off the banks of florescents in the garage every chance I get and just being really careful to not waste electricity at all if I can help it.
- Mortgage: By looking up my husband's credit report online right before our home owner's insurance was set to renew I found that my husband had several credit cards on his credit report that weren't his, so we contested the cards and after quickly researching social security numbers and things the credit reporting agencies removed nearly 12,000.00 of what was registering as debt from my husband's credit. This helped to improve our credit rating with the insurance company, which lowered our home owner's insurance and as a result our mortgage is lower this month (and I hope lower for the entire year, but I'm waiting to get the paperwork from the mortgage company to confirm this).
- Well despite paying off 12,000 in dental bills, we still have a ways to go to get them paid off. We have another 5,000.00 in dental bills (a combo of my daughter's braces and my husband's teeth) in Care Credit we have to pay by November and it adds on another 300.00 onto our bill load every month. Bright side while my husband still has two teeth to cap and one future extraction, after that we're hopefully done with dental bills for a while. We really need to get those teeth done this year, though, as the molars that aren't done are still breaking and getting worse as time goes on. I want to get them done sooner rather than later before we end up with either root canals or worse yet extractions (as my husband is already missing a few teeth from having to have them extracted).
- Unfortunately, by my husband getting taken in by the sleep center I have another 2200.00 to pay in bills. I was able to get it adjusted down by fighting with them about the bill (it would have been nearly 5000.00 if I hadn't), but it still adds on another 100.00 onto our monthly bills until paid off.
- Due to sporadic income, increases in taxes and inflation, getting the PFD cut by 1/2, numerous dental bills that had to be paid, a higher mortgage than the year before due to increases in home owner's insurance and just general life stuff happening, we have nothing in savings at all and we're living from month to month and praying we have enough to make bills. I kept hoping we'd be in better shape by the end of 2016 and hopefully have some money in savings, but it didn't happen. Thus the depression I was battling.
- Big problem with lack of funds is all the things we've had to put off doing that need to be done or need to be addressed. The sewer is supposed to be pumped this year, 1/3 of the gutters on the house have blown off and are broken and the rest of the gutters don't work and need to be repaired or replaced, both my husband's and my vehicles need to be replaced sometime soon (mine is on borrowed time for trade in and my husband's truck is nearly 20 years old now and was used hard when we bought it...it has over 200,000 miles on it now) and other things. We still have a huge hole in our laundry room ceiling because we haven't had the money to rebuild the ceiling, we desperately need to build proper shelves and storage for things like linens, etc. Even our heating system in the house desperately needs to be done right, but there's no money to save toward getting that done either. It's overwhelming sometimes, but I am just trying to have faith that we'll get there eventually.
I felt like the garden had to have it's own section this year as so much went on with it!
- Due to lack of finances I couldn't plant the garden from plant starts this year like I normally would. Which actually worked out okay and really opened my eyes to how great seeds are.
- Thanks to Jeannie at Get Me to the Country I became the proud owner of a ton of seeds when I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to do a garden with no money to speak of (an offer of help that I will always appreciate). With the seeds she sent me and a few packets of seeds I had bought on my own that I had, the garden took shape. With Jeannie's additional guidance and sometimes just general butt kicking (of which I needed from time to time as the whole "growing from seed" thing was a bit overwhelming for me), the garden actually did do well this year!
- In my small garden beds I was able to grow rat tailed radishes (makes great relish and pickles, not to mention really nice addition to salads), Chinese vegetables, lettuce, three different types of potatoes (along with a few in pots I found around the house to supplement garden space. These were grown from locally sourced sprouting potatoes that I had), chard, peas, bunching onions, carrots, garlic (left over in the garden from the previous year, which didn't do so great) and spinach.
- I was gifted a rhubarb plant, which did well for it's first year and have an open offer to go and dig some plants at another friend's house come Spring (which I'm looking forward to :).
- The rain during the summer was terrible toward the middle and end of summer, so some things like the Swiss Chard didn't seem to do as well as in previous years. But the peas tried to take over the universe, growing at least seven feet tall, and the rat tailed radishes did wonderful in the garden as well.
- This was my first year, ever, that carrots actually grew for me beyond like 1/2 an inch. I was thrilled to use them and I still have some in the freezer.
- Through foraging in the yard I was able to get a really good amount of rose hips, which I made into syrup and fruit leather. I also got some wild cranberries and watermelon berries as well.
- I was able to harvest my friend's rhubarb as she wasn't going to be able to use it and offered it to me.
- I was able to harvest raspberries from my mother-in-law's house as her bushes produced way better than mine.
- I was able to supplement a LOT of produce by running into really great sales at local produce stands and just good sales at the store (the produce was worked into my normal grocery budget).
- I was able to barter my labor for blue berries and was given zucchini and squash as an additional thank you, which went into the freezer.
- By finding the wonder that is the you pick farm I was able to get turnips, which failed miserably in the garden due to a birdemic and slugpocalpyse, and get them for a REALLY good price!
So, let's look to the silver linings of 2016:
1. Well, dental bills are finally getting to a "light at the end of the tunnel" phase, which is nice. I'm hoping that maybe, possibly, the tax return this year will be good enough to pay the big chunk of dental bills we owe off and then it would be a matter of getting the last few teeth done.And there you are folks. My year in review. I keep feeling like I'm forgetting things, but it was a pretty eventful year (both good and bad), so I'm sure by glossing over things I've missed stuff *laugh*. And now onto a new year!
2. Our phone company actually adjusted our bandwidth UP this year without us paying an added penny on our bill. Instead of 70 gigs per month we now get 100 gigs. This is great as we are watching more and more online anymore.
3. I am grateful that the insurance we had last year, while it turned out to be a fiasco with the sleep center (which I blame the sleep center for, not the insurance company), covered a physical. I hadn't had a physical in about five years due to it costing too much, so it was nice to know that everything was okay and things. I am also glad that I went to the health fair and got my blood drawn so I knew to be aware of things like my cholesterol and my vitamin D levels as I honestly think this has kept me more on task with eating healthier and taking good care of myself.
4. I learned to accept help from others this year. This was a really hard lesson for me, but I am glad I did it as there were times when the offers of help were really the hand of God being offered through another human being. I will always be grateful for those who helped us this last year and I work hard to pay it forward every chance I can as I've come to realize all the more how even a small offer of help, sometimes, is what someone really needs to see them through a dark spot in their lives. I shed a lot of tears of helplessness and hopelessness this last year and every time I thought there was no way we could get through it, we did. And every one of those times, for me, was a huge blessing. I'd list them all, but instead I'll just say, "Thank you" and move on before I get teary eyed.
5. Every time I think that I can't learn a new skill, a need presents itself and I find that I learn things I really never thought I would learn how to do. This year I experimented trying to do a winter garden. I patched my love seat and patched it again. I ended up reupholstering my couch and redoing a rocking chair with new cushions and upholstering those cushions...all from materials I had on hand. I foraged more than I ever have before to get my stores up where I wanted them for winter.
6. I improved at being thrifty and actually got better at being broke, which surprised me. I found that washing out Ziploc bags wasn't as weird as I thought in the past, I found myself measuring aluminum foil so that I wouldn't throw out extra (yes, I actually do this), I made a point of using up EVERY bit of leftovers I could (to the point of taking meat off the bone for things like ribs before serving it so that I can save the bones for stock later) and worked harder than I ever thought possible to make it on next-to-nothing a lot.
I found myself being even MORE careful with how I spent any extra money that came our way. Gift cards were carefully used to get things we needed as much as possible, versus how I used to do it which would be to get a combo of things we needed with things we wanted if I could. Even when buying something that I knew someone would want, like getting a furry throw for my son for Christmas from my mom, I made sure that I got something that was useful as well (thus getting him a furry throw that you could curl up in when he wasn't playing with it versus getting him a toy he might or might not use). I got myself some food items with the gift cards my family sent this year for Christmas, for instance, but I made sure to buy only those items I KNEW I would use even if the recipe I had them in mind for didn't work out. Nickels were tallied and spent so carefully my step-mom often joked, "You squeeze that nickel so tight the buffalo poops in your hand".
As a result of this, I've grown in wisdom in some ways, although I'll be the first to admit that I have a ton to learn yet. I really have gotten a real idea how far a nickel can stretch and even when we have money in the future (which I pray that circumstance happens soon) I can't see myself spending money without serious thought to the impacts. "Do we really need this? Is it going to last? Should I just wait or not buy it all together and put the money toward something else we need more?" these are thoughts that go through my head every time I pick up a clearance item at the store anymore, even if the item is less than a dollar or something.
I really started to feel a kinship with my grandmother's generation this year as I struggled, learned, stumbled and got back up again. I learned, through necessity, more of the old time skills that most don't even think to do anymore (like rebuilding a pair of boots or reupholstering a couch) and doing it because I had to, not for fun. "Where there's a will, there's a way," really is a true saying in a lot of ways.
7. I am thrilled with the advancements the kids have made this year. My daughter finally spread her wings a bit and came out of her shell enough to join chorus and has been having fun doing that this year. My son got his talking device and has been improving steadily learning to make his thoughts and wants known. He has a long way to go, but it's a start, which it's a start we've been waiting for for YEARS, so I'm thrilled with every new thought he makes known to us.
8. I am very grateful for the friends I've met through this blog and for the little community we've got going. I love reading how people are doing and getting inspiration by reading what they are up to. Thank you all for reading the blog and for commenting. I look forward to reading how your life is going every week and seeing what you are all up to and I have learned a lot from you all this year :).