Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016: A Year in Review

You know as posts go this one is probably one of my hardest to do the last couple of years.  In this case when I looked at what we'd gone through the last year and everything and realizing how bad of shape we're in now was hard not to just sink into a deep, dark depression.  Financial hard times are like a war in some ways.  You go in with a fighting spirit, get depressed, pick yourself and fight on, but sometimes it's hard to see the big picture for the month to month hardships.  I wanted to make sure I was over the "darn, I can't believe we're still here in the financial pits" type of depression before I wrote this.  I needed to be able to see the positive as well as the negative that has happened this last year.

So, let's get to "2016:  A Year in Review"

2016 Financial Review:

The Pros:
  • 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).  
The Cons:

  • 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 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.
In short, it's been a stressful year for finances.

The Garden/Produce:

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!
Overall, as the garden and just generally being able to stock the pantry and freezer this year, it was a good year!

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.

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 :).
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!


  1. I'm so glad I came across your blog about a year ago or so as it has become one of my favorites! It has really opened my eyes to areas where I could make improvements. Even when the going gets rough, you stay positive and your sense of humor shows through in your writing. Thanks for sharing your life!

  2. Debbie in the U.P.January 4, 2017 at 6:35 PM

    I agree with Stacey. You're always positive, even while fighting the good fight.
    When we were first married, my husband slept on the floor while I got the couch. One baby was in a crib while the toddler was in her bed. We all slept upstairs in the living room while we tried to fix up a decrepit old house that we eventually sold to the city. I even cooked in a toaster oven til we could afford an apartment size stove.
    You offer hope, which is nice to read.

  3. Erika, I have been reading your posts since you started this blog and I have to say how incredibly proud I am of how far you have come. Do you remember last winter how you had so few veggies and fruit options to feed your family they were ready to revolt? Do you remember using thrift stores for retail therapy to make yourself feel happy, even when you should have used the money for other things? (by the way, that's a really hard lesson to learn and a very difficult habit to break, too...but you did it!) Just think of how you were able to fill your pantry with a wealth of healthy foods this summer...on a decreased grocery budget no less! That is nothing short of amazing, Erika...BRAVO!!!!

    Furthermore, $12,000 paid on a dental bill alone is amazing! That's on top of your normal household bills. Plus, you did it on a really strict income. Another HUGE accomplishment!!!!

    You found a way to fix things in your house with what you had. You learned so many new skills this year, it's ridiculous. You found ways to give, even when you had nothing. Your children are loved, happy and doing well. And you shared it all with us with a smile on your face. Erika, wipe those tears from your are nothing short of awesome!!! If I could reach through this computer and give your hugs, kisses and so much praise for a year full of hard jobs well done, I would!!!!!

    With the greatest sincerity and admiration, I want to wish you the best for another year of incredible, mind-blowing adventures in frugal living!!!!! Can't wait to read along with EVERYTHING you post this year.

  4. I wish I could be better with my food costs like you are. The things that you can do on 50 a week make me envious at times, and I spend 65!

    Hang in there. You've proven that you are an amazing steward and creative beyond words. Your talents have multiplied and are a great example to all who see you.

  5. Hi Erika. I started reading your blog a while ago and I am amazed at how much you accomplish with such little income. You can be proud of yourself. Keep up the good work. Greetings from Germany

  6. I will reinforce what the others have said here; you are doing a great job! All the best in 2017

  7. Well, you made me cry, again. Your positive attitude shames me as I sit and feel sorry for myself. Blogging has taught me you can show one side of yourself to the world, yet the reality is very different. You manage the miracle of showing your heart. Wow!
    Ok. Here goes.
    This past year was awful, second only to the year I endured chemo and this next year (on day 5) has not started out much better. At least this year begins with Bill out of the wheelchair (Doctor's could never figure out what was wrong) but I have been on the couch with major back problems. Ice on, ice off. Hence, the new blog I am writing. It has kept me sane by pretending to be sane. Mom went to the emergency room New Year's day with internal bleeding and on it goes from there. I can't help the family because I can't sit up. But hey, at least the doctor has gotten my thyroid medicine dosage straighten out so that my hair has stopped falling out.
    What more can I say, other than, tomorrow will be better. It has to be.
    Jeannie Where I laugh instead of crying.

    1. Aw, Jeannie, I feel for you! I'm sitting here with a pillow propping me up as straight as possible with an ice pack below my shoulder and a heating pad set to "as close to Hell hot as I can get" on my arm. Not sure what I did, probably slept wrong, but WOW is my shoulder setting my entire body back today. The migraine from the pinch nerve it's creating ain't fun either. I hope you feel better soon :(.

      I'm sorry about your mom. I lost my dad to a heart flash nearly six years ago and it still hurts, so I can imagine what you are going through. Hang in there, fellow soldier! I'm praying for you.

      And yay about the hair loss being under control. My step mom has really naturally curly hair and loses her hair due to stress. The last couple of years her life has been such a bad soap opera drama (not her fault) that she says she looks like a balding Q-tip without a hat on.

      If you need to rant, rave, scream, cry, laugh or just go off and sound utterly nuts for a little bit, you have my e-mail, okay? Feel free to use it, my friend!

    2. Thank you. I feel better this evening. Right before I posted, I was told her heart had stopped for 12 seconds. Yes, I was upset. However, they found out what the internal bleeding was and it will heal by itself. Tomorrow they will put in a pacemaker and she might be able to go home. She was visiting my sister in another state and will be staying with her to recover. So tomorrow will be brighter.

      My ice pack is melted, but there is another in the freezer waiting. We should get together and have an ice pack party!
      This post was wonderful. Just seeing the vegetables in your basket from last summer was cheerful. Tonight snow is predicted and I am wanting spring so bad.

      You have done so much with so little this past year it is amazing.

      Thank you for sharing you life and letting me share it also.


    3. I'm happy to hear about your mom. My dad went through a lot through the years including having a bad reaction to a medication his crazy wife was slipping him (long story) and him lapsing into a coma for two months as a result. His heart stopped a lot during that time to the point he used to joke that dying was easy...he'd done it a lot (dark sense of humor runs in the family). The reason I am sharing that is that he lived another 10 years after that and after he got a pacemaker in it really improved his energy and health for the time he had left. I hope your mom has much the same experience with the pacemaker. Prayers for good health are with her.

      With the ice pack try icing for 20 minutes and then a heating pad for about 45. It helps.

    4. I just talked to Mom a few minutes ago. They had just released her and she was in the car riding back to my Sister's house. The pacemaker is in and everything is fine. Prayers answered. Thank you so much. They made a difference.

      You should do a post on your family. It would be fascinating!

      We were slammed with snow last night and we will have three nights of temperatures in the teens. Winter is here. I am staying parked on the couch.

  8. Erika,
    Rhonda A.'s comments covered everything I was thinking, so I'll just add an Amen. Dorothy

  9. Erika,
    I, also, love reading your blog. If I could say anything, it would be to just keep on keeping on. Things come in seasons, and it sounds like you are at least approaching the end of your "expensive dental bill" season. I love how you've learned to garden more this past summer. It makes a huge difference to my grocery bill to have all that canned and frozen produce to pull from. This week we are hunkered down (no laughing from either Erika or Rhonda A. or anyone who comes from anywhere really cold) because we've had snow again, and the temperature is down into the 20's. I should have gone to the store last night after church, but I was just too cold to get out of the car.........Instead, I'm doing lots and lots of homeschool in front of a roaring fire, getting the 2 girls finished up with their first semester. And, we are eating from storage. Maybe today.

    I know keeping positive is hard for all of us. (Jeannie, I get it!) I also get how writing about being cheerful somehow makes me more cheerful, and it must work for you, too. Also, every time I've felt like having a pity party, God brings someone into my path that has it worse. In some cases, much, much worse. He reminds me that I'm actually quite well off with my warm house, plenty of food, bills are paid....etc. Sometimes, I AM THAT PERSON--the one everyone else is saying..."I'm glad I'm not her...." But, He always brings me through. And, I am grateful for that. One thing that has helped me so much in my life is remembering that I don't have to live tomorrow, the next day, next week, or next month. I only have to get through today. I'm glad to get encouragement from ladies on the internet--I know you are, too. Years ago, we just had to suck it up:) So, there's that.

  10. Girl, you not only survived in 2016 you THRIVED! Your kids are doing well and you continually amaze me with what you are able to do with very little at times. Wow, you paid off 12,000 in dental! Just think what it will be like when the last of the dental is paid for and you still have the skills you learned being thrifty but still having a good life. I was also impressed with your preparing your pantry for the winter. On very little you were more prepared than people who have lots of money to spare. You should be congratulating your self on that. Your presents are creative and well thought out for the recipients. All in all you were pretty amazing in 2016. Looking forward to a good year for you and all of us. Take care.

  11. Erika, I think you are amazing! Your blog is my favourite blog. I admire how hard you work to care for your family and how you think outside-the-square to find solutions to your problems. You are a shining example of doing the best we can with what we have. Through your suggestions, I borrowed, and later purchased, some books from the World War 2 era on making do and nutritious recipes using basic ingredients. My WW2 era recipe books are amongst my favourite recipe books, so thank you for your suggestions.
    Hang in there Erika! You've got this!

  12. You do a great job! I wish I had your skills. :) Good job! Love reading your blog! Hope you are all over your sickness now!.