Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Year in Review

This post has been HARD to put together this year, not that it's ever easy mind you.  Main reason?  A LOT happened this year.  Going back through everything...I was kind of amazed at how much we've gone through, but managed to get through, if that makes sense.

So, let's get to the events of 2017 and then I'll break down pros and cons for the year afterwards.

Big Events That Happened in 2017:
1.  We lost our cat, Ginger after 14 years.  It amazes me how much we all still miss her, even though the only human she really loved was my husband.

2.  We gained a new cat to our family this year as well, getting him as a birthday gift for my daughter.  After a lot of medical bills trying to save Ginger and getting the new cat (and our other poor cat who got sick from all the other going ons around the house), he finally settled in and got healthy and kind of fat.  He quickly decided he was my cat. Our other cat, who had previously hung around with me, decided that my daughter was her human after everything, so it all worked out in the end.  And he's good at killing mice and other vermin, so at least he earns his keep!

3.  Alvah went through terrible times with his moods and autistic behaviors to the point we had to take him to a mental health professional for help and had to start him on medication.

4.  My husband started a new job 1/3 of the way through the year and we went through some really tough financial times until his new hours, shifts and things worked themselves out, and also coming to grips with a stable job, but one that required a 10.00 per hour paycut.  Honestly I'm still working on coming to grips with going from a variable income for 16 years to a job where we know when we are going to get paid (a few days play here and there, but we still know what days we have to get paid by).

5.  We found out my son's speech therapist and my friend Shani had cancer, and then later found out it was inoperable.  So far she's hanging in there and doing the best she can, but every day she's here is precious because we don't know when her time will run out.

6.  We got a new speech therapist and started going to speech therapy twice a week in the summer.

7.  I continued to fight frozen shoulder and bicep tendonitis into 2017.  I can't say when the darned conditions finally started leaving me alone, but I'm pretty much back to normal now, thank goodness.  I still get nervous anytime I have a twinge in a shoulder or bicep, though, I have to admit.  That was a miserable run of agony I went through.

8.   We ended up having to get the rest of the husband's teeth done early in the year due to them just getting too bad to deal with, which added more dental bills onto our financial burdens.

9.  I ended up becoming a chicken keeper this year for a while, until I realized that I couldn't afford to do it anymore (see above about new job and pay cuts and things) and then the chickens went to a good home where my nephews are enjoying their company.

10.  A drug treatment center moved in next door to my house, so I ended up on TV more than once this year voicing my objection to putting it into the area and well...it didn't do any good and it moved in anyway.  We definitely have increased police presence in the area now, but overall, so far anyway, my land has been decently quiet.  We did end up losing one of our favorite neighbors over the entire thing, though, as he decided to sell his home and retire away from it all.

I am sure I am missing some things, honestly, as it was a pretty hectic year, but those were some pretty big points to the year.

And now onto the good stuff that happened this year!

The Pros:
  • The Income:  We started a new job this year!  Sure, it was a pay cut on how much he was making per hour, but the job also has good benefits, paid leave and the best part is that my husband really enjoys his job and the people he works with.  That, to me, is worth it's weight in gold!  And after finally getting used to the paychecks and how much they are and when they come in, I'm finally being able to start budgeting things.  
  • Dental Bills:  By using every available penny we had when we had it and using our dividends toward getting dental bills paid down as well, even after having to add yet more dental bills to what we owed by finishing the last few of my husband's teeth, we managed to pay off another 7,000.00 in dental bills this year.  We were able to pay those bill chunks on time so we didn't have to worry about deferred interest charges.  The daughter's braces are now completely paid off.  Everything but the dental work we got done this year pretty much is paid off as well.  It feels REALLY good to be able to report that! 
  • Groceries:  I continued to do a 50.00 per week grocery budget for a time and then money completely dried up for part of the year pretty much and we ended up having to be even more careful with groceries and how to make money stretch.  It was bad for a bit, but we got through it and now I find that I'm getting more and more careful with grocery shopping and am slowly coming up with new, and perhaps better, ways of shopping for my family.  I'm curious to see where this part of my life will evolve in the coming year as we not only live as cheaply as I can, but we are also going to have to start eating healthier for the sake of my husband's and my health (we want to nip things in the bud before they become real problems later).
  • Utilities:  Once I knew we were going to be going onto regular paychecks with the husband's new job, I called the utility companies and went on budget billing so we would know exactly how much we owed on the utilities every month.  So far it's working okay and we do have credits with the gas and the electric companies.  Since we started budget billing later in the year, I'm not sure if we'll have enough credit to last us through the winter months with the companies, but we'll see how it goes and see if I have to call them to readjust things later.  It does lead to a lot less stress every month knowing exactly how much bills are going to be from month to month.  Our telephone company even reduced our bill due to a new billing scale and increased our internet speed for free, so we are able to stream movies and things a lot better now.  It's been nice being able to watch things on YouTube and other places and just have it all be a part of our normal phone bill (we used to pay a LOT of overage charges for kind of crappy internet, so our phone company has come a long way over the years).
  • Mortgage:  Despite the home owner's insurance company messing with our insurance score and things this year, I managed to pay in the 350.00 that the insurance company later sent us as a rebate check back into our escrow with the mortgage company.  By paying into the escrow a little bit at a time, I managed to get the 350.00 back into it, which helped to alleviate increases in property taxes and things on the mortgage for the coming year.  So, despite it all, our mortgage is only increasing by 4.00 in 2018 and we ended up getting a 70.00 refund check from the mortgage company for over paying on the escrow.  I have to say I do feel proud of that accomplishment.

 The Cons:
  • We still have 2700.00 in dental bills to pay off by April, but that is it.  The dental bills should be done at that point (I pray, I hope, I knock on all wooden surfaces).   I'm praying for a good tax return this year as that's about the only way we're going to be able to pull that much of a payment off by April barring a miracle occurring in step two somewhere.
  • We are down to one vehicle right now due to my husband's truck not dealing in the winter weather.  We're not sure if it needs better winter tires or if it is just getting old and loose, but either way we're driving my car day and night, so we are trying to figure out how to get another vehicle onto the road so that my husband, when he switches to a four day ten hour schedule that he'll be able to make it home without worrying about me getting the kids to school on time in the morning.  We are going to to go and talk to our bank about options soon as getting a new truck with auto financing is DEFINITELY outside of our price range for payments (500.00 a month blew my mind...it seriously did).
  • We have gutters that desperately need to be replaced and other things, like new doors that really need to get done and soon.   We still need to repair the holes in the laundry room ceiling from a couple of years ago, might need a new water heater at some point and other household maintenance and improvement items that really need to be addressed.  Not sure how we are going to pay for those, but it still needs to be done, so planning must be done here to start figuring it all out this year.
  • We still owe the sleep center 1100.00, but with our payment plan that should get paid off by the end of 2018.  Halfway there!  I have to say that bill annoys me every single month I pay on it,  so I will be more than happy to see that bill go bye bye.
  • With everything that happened this year...with all of the job changes, new payment schedules, new shifts getting switched to, paying bills and just general surviving we still have 100% no money in savings at the moment and are still living month to month.  We're making it, but that's about it at the moment.  I'm hoping to get that better worked out and figure out ways to scrape money together to start saving in the coming year (more on all of that later when I kick off the goals for 2018).
Really, it was a stressful year for finances and downright terrifying at times trying to figure out how in the Heck to make bills and still have money to live, but we made it and are starting to get ahead SLOWLLLLYYY but surely (I hope!).

The Garden:

Ugh.  The garden.  The garden started out the year with such potential.  I managed to jam so much food into a small area that I was hopeful that if I had a bountiful harvest it would be an awesome boon to us this winter.  Then the weather, which could be summed up as "rain with a rain chaser" happened all summer long so the nutrients were just getting washed out of the soil.  I couldn't fertilize the garden enough, it seemed.  But, the garden was still struggling onward and finally starting to produce decently for a little bit there.  I was getting lettuce and peas and other things were growing to a point where if the winter held off for a bit I could see actually still getting an okay yield of veggies.  I was looking forward to harvesting cabbages as those were actually doing pretty decent.  And then moose happened.

In short, the garden was an epic fail this year, ground into the dirt by big heavy animal hooves.  But, I did manage to salvage what I could and we are eating what I salvaged (the carrot top pesto is strong, though, I have to say).

If you want to read more about the garden drama you can check out these posts here...

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap and Garden Update (It's Been a Hard Week)

Operation Garden Salvage (or "The Adventures of Ted and Bob")

One thing that did make me feel a little bit better about the garden failure this year was that NO ONE had a good gardening year up here unless they had a green house.  It was just too wet, too cold, too everything and moose and other garden eating vermin were EVERYWHERE!  The U-Pick Farm didn't even have half of the produce come in that they normally did, so I wasn't even able to get turnips from there this year.

Bright side to the train wreck was that I had put up so much the year before that it has seen me through till now.  I just ran out of the turnips I had frozen in the freezer from the You Pick farm in 2016 last night while making beef stew, so hey, I had over a year where I didn't need to purchase turnips.  That was definitely something.

So, let's get to the lessons learned and the silver linings of 2017!

1.  Dental bills are nearly paid off!  After three long years, very long years, of every bit of disposable income having to go toward dental bills, we are finally into the home stretch.  I will never be so relieved as to see those bills behind us. 

2.  Alvah is slowly but surely getting better when it comes to his moods and behaviors.  It's a long slow process to get there, but when it comes to medication, I'd prefer it BE a long slow process so you know for sure you have them on what they need to be on.

3.  I am finally starting to get used to a new way of thinking when it comes to grocery shopping and menu planning.  It's been hard to walk away from a great mark down or sale with just one or two of the item instead of buying enough for a year at a time, but I have had to coach myself that we are in different circumstances now and I need to think more short term versus long term, which is the EXACT opposite of dealing with a variable income.  When we were on a variable income I had to grab as much as I could when we had the money and things were cheap as I never knew when work, or money, would just simply NOT be there and for goodness knows how long.  So, I have to say it's been a change and a bit nerve wracking getting used to this new way of thinking, but I AM getting there.

4.  This year saw me not only accept help from others when offered, but I actually had to seek out help when we needed it.  THAT was hard for me to do, but I did it and I am glad I did it.  It helped us get through some pretty tight and scary times over the middle part of the year.

I just want to thank everyone who has offered help this year or has helped my family in any way.  I was truly blessed in so many ways this year.  I am truly, truly grateful.  Thank you!

5.  I discovered the wonder that was free E-books on Amazon this year.  I knew OF them in the past, but never really liked E-books, much preferring written texts.  Now I have learned to embrace the E-books.  I still PREFER print to electronic format books, but E-books are a great for things like some cookbooks (which I am definitely a cookbook nut).  I have even looked up some really out of print old books that I have been wanting to get or read on Google books and things and have enjoyed reading them on my Kindle when waiting for my son to go to sleep at night.

6.  I have improved my sewing and embroidery skills over the course of the year, which definitely makes me happy.

7.  The failure of the garden and other failed attempts taught me a lot and made me realize that I have gotten better at rolling with the punches and adapting to new situations.  Sure, I would have preferred those new situations had never presented themselves to begin with, but at least I'm learning from my failures (at least I hope I am).

Actually, really, I've learned a lot this year and have gotten better at being broke again this year. 

I made my husband and kids gifts with 100% materials I had on hand, so I spent nothing on Christmas this year when it came to making gifts.  I can say that's a first for me.  I usually keep home made gifts cheap, but usually have to spend a couple of bucks here and there to make the gifts happen, but this year I was able to just make do. 

I made my daughter's Halloween costume from things we had around the house and it was a big hit at school...

We even were able to get a few nice drives and adventures in this year.
I hope that I can learn a few lessons this coming year on scrimping and SAVING instead of figuring out ways to just get by with nothing.  Here's praying!

8.  I did, indeed, bake more this year!  So, woohoo for accomplishing one goal that I was really hoping to accomplish.  I hope to continue THAT trend into the new year.

9.  By simplifying my life a bit and concentrating more on my kids and husband I have found that I am a lot happier and less stressed than I was in the past and has allowed me to enjoy time with the kids and things more. 

10.  I was able to cut waste down even further than I had in the past this year.  I am hoping to continue this trend as "waste not, want not" is definitely a way of life now.

11.  My husband, after spending WAY more money than we needed or wanted to spend at his regular doctor (who has been raising their prices TERRIBLY the past couple of years), finally started going to the clinic that is run by his union and he can get pretty much 100% free medical care when he needs it.  This was such a relief to me to find out and has saved us a bunch of money since he found that out.

12.  I am thrilled with the advancements my kids have made this year.  Even with his behavioral problems Alvah is starting to verbalize more, is starting to mimic behaviors of those around him (like he'll scribble for fun on a Boogie Board and just do it by himself without prompting.  That's huge for him.  And he's sitting at the table at dinner time more and more, which is a big thrill for his dad and I to see).  My daughter has finally started to take school a bit more seriously and as a result her grades are going up and her teachers are really proud of her.  As a result of it, her self confidence is growing, which is good to see as a parent.  She has had a lot of her friends move away in the last year, but has continued to just adapt and overall she's done well with everything.  I'm really proud of both of the kids for doing as well as they are :).

13.  I was truly blessed to receive a new little block freezer and a bunch of food from my brother and sister-in-law when they moved out of state.  This really helped to pad out our canned goods and other items for winter and allowed me to save money to buy some Christmas gifts for the kids and things by not having to appropriate that money elsewhere.  I am very grateful for that windfall.  The mini-block freezer alone has been wonderful to have in the kitchen and has helped me to be a LOT more organized.

13.  I am SO grateful for the support, help, feedback and friends I've gotten through this blog.  Sometimes in the last year the support and just talking to like minded people, or comforting words from those who have been there before, kept me going when I just wanted to curl into a hopeless ball and not know what to do.  Thank you all for being there and just thank you for everything.  You all are great!  I am looking forward to reading about how your lives are going this coming year and sharing stories and reading about what you all are up to.  It's great having this little community to come to.  Thank you for reading and to those who comment (if Blogger will let you ;) and those that e-mail and things...thank you from the bottom of my heart!

And here's to 2018!  May it be a good year!


  1. The saying "That which does not kill us, makes us grow stronger" comes to mind. You have made great strides and should be quite pleased with yours and your families accomplishments.
    God bless and may 2018 be the best!

  2. I am excited for you to finish paying off your dental bills! I am glad you enjoyed your birthday and Christmas. As always, I admire how hard you work to support your family and care for them with what you have. I hope that 2018 is kinder to you and your family and that you are able to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

  3. I'm hoping 2018 brings us both good things! I totally hear you on car payments. I'm shocked too, we will need one soon. I can't imagine why someone would buy a new one for a year, or more salary, and used is still half that, maybe more. Makes it frustrating.

  4. Best of luck in 2018 - I am always amazed that you cope as well as you do with all that you have on your plate so I think you need to pat yourself on the back a wee bit and truly acknowledge how strong you are. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  5. Blessings to you and your family! You’ve done a fabulous job! May you have the best year yet!

  6. Erika, Your blog made me smile!
    My best to you in 2018.

    I admire your embroidery!

  7. i am so proud of you as you had quite a year. I too suffered with frozen shoulder because of my arthritis. It was a two year struggle and I also get very tense when I get shoulder pain as I dread it coming back. Have you thought about sewing for others? Hemming pants at 10.00 a pair will net you a good income.

  8. It looks like a good year, when you see it all down in writing like that:). I'm glad you are making such great progress on your dental bills. Imagine how nice that will be when those are out of the way completely! You won't know what to do with all the extra money! LOL:)

    1. Well, it looks like we might be trading one debt out and getting new debt to pay for a car, but still...yes it will be SO nice to see the end of that three year stint!

  9. I helped out a friend and kept a little boy with special needs with our family for 2 years. With the IEP that the school is required to offer we were provided appropriate bus pick up and drop off.
    This is a federal requirement. I hope this will help with the car situation for the school year and help give you a bit more time to plan for your "newer' car.

    1. Our bus service is awful. I tried putting my daughter on the bus a few years ago and in nice weather she was getting home two hours late. The worst, though, is that bus pick up is on a busy highway, so the kids have to wait at the end of the road for the bus to get picked up, while the Special needs bus gets picked up at your house. It would just end up in logistical nightmares trying to get it all to work where my daughter wouldn’t be required to sit by a busy highway by herself waiting for a bus. Honestly, I would rather the kids be late than deal with that.

    2. Under these circumstances, I would inquire whether the school would go ahead and pick up your daughter at the same time. Do they go to the same school? Given that she needs to ride the bus, I would think the school would approve. Chris M.

  10. You have been so inspiring to me since I found your blog. I love to read about your family and the lessons you are learning through everything that happens (and the moose episode STILL makes me laugh!). God bless all of you in this new year.

  11. Oh what a wonderful post. I have followed each and every one, but it is different when looking back. It was a hard, very hard year, but you have done great. I am impressed. We too, are glad to see 2017 leave. We counted down the seconds and felt a relief to have it over. My son said, "Next year will be better because it can't be worse." I cringed because I know it always can be worse.

    We look ahead and see only a fog. Two of my sons have returned home and will be leaving again when they find new jobs. My oldest son is looking at a promotion and we don't know where he will be going. Bill and I have decided to sell the house since our health no longer lets us manage the upkeep. Everything and everyone is in turmoil. Nothing is set. All of us will probably go in opposite directions, maybe even across the country. My husband said something sobering, "Everytime we are together, may be our last. At any second, anyone of us can be leaving."

    I don't like change, but prefer a rut. This year will be nothing but change. It will at least be interesting.

    Jeannie @ GetMetoTheCountry

  12. We've had a terrible decade-long journey of hard times. But through those years, I learned to stretch my grocery budget in ways I never dreamed of; to learn how to garden eventhough it's not my forte; to forage when it never occurred to me to do so before; to sew clothes for my family (eventhough I dislike sewing) in order to stretch those dollars...etc. etc. It is a wonder that when we face hard times, we somehow manage to find ways to survive. That seems to be what you have done as well and it's a wonderful testimony of your strength and ingenuity. I found that life seems easier when we count our blessings - as you have done, to look for the humour in our circumstances, to lean on God when we just don't see any way out of our situations, and to continue to cling to hope and faith when it seems like all appears hopeless. You've proven to yourself that you are a fighter and that no matter what is thrown your way, you just keep plugging along. You should take encouragement in that!

    Here's wishing you and your family a blessed new year.

  13. I read your blog often and have certainly appreciated your tips on survival as well as your positive attitude in the midst of challenges. I often check in when I am feeling down, or I'm having a hard time being creative with finances. I wish you and your family a happy, healthy New Year!

  14. I'm so glad the year ended on a high note for you! You're amazing! I'm glad I was able to help in a small way this year. Here's to a hopeful 2018!

  15. Thank you so much for this blog and being so real! This year will really be a year of making do and learning patience(for me, I am SO patient with others). Its nice to know there are others out there who understand :)