Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Frugal Friday: Money Saving Weekly Recap (Times 2)

I opened this fortune cookie the other night (I bought a big thing of fortune cookies at the store to have as dessert on Chinese food night and it has been a huge success to make dinner feel more special and has been a lot of fun), and I have to say I wanted to say something nasty about what the fortune cookie could do to itself.  Unfortunately, the darned thing ended up being kind of accurate and I've had to learn to accept being flexible in my plans the last little bit.  Mainly when it comes to what I had been planning on how we would spend out tax return when it comes in.

I had planned on paying a bill ahead and then paying off the credit cards, but now...now I'm going to hold it in the bank until we know how much braces will cost for the daughter, hopefully pay off some credit cards and then bank whatever I can to go toward home repairs and things as it seems like every time we turn around there is something else that needs repair or replacement.  We are getting there with the earthquake damage.  Slowly, very slowly, but one room at a time.  Which is how the son's flooring is getting replaced as nails started coming up through the carpet that popped in the earthquake and the carpet split its seems in a bunch of different places, preceded to get gross things under the carpet because of it which led to nasty situations and such (we picked that up this last weekend and it is currently stacked up in a corner ready to go).  We are, somehow, going to have to figure out how to do the kitchen soon as the floor in there is getting water under it through the holes in the linoleum and things, the counter top is chipping out from where it was damaged in the earthquake and...yeah...we're looking at one expensive bunch of repairs there.  But, we'll get there.  One step at a time.

I had a lot of stuff going on the last few weeks.  There was Valentine's Day, which went well for the most part.  My husband got me a single rose again this year (which I really loved that he did that) and got me some chocolate covered strawberries (which the daughter ended up eating most of them as she goes nuts for them *laugh*).  I actually spent some money and got the kids some nut free Valentine's chocolates, which the daughter really loved (turns out that she loves the fruit cream chocolates that most kids run for the hills when they see them in the box *laugh*) and the son enjoyed his Hershey bars and his small valentine's chocolates (I just made some out of Hershey kisses and gave them to him, which went over well).

We also had my daughter's birthday, which went great and she had a blast.  She had a decent amount of family show up and even a couple of her friends came.  By the end of the evening she actually admitted that she wished the day didn't have to end, so I'm calling it a success.

On top of therapy, birthday, holidays and school it was busy enough, but the antibiotics also started to really hammer my energy levels and I was actually really grateful when I was off of them.  I still have a residual cough, but it is slowly getting better, so I'm focusing on the improvement rather than getting depressed that I'm not 100% well yet.

So, yeah...we've had a lot going on the last few weeks.  So, let's get to the money saving bits shall we?

1.  Instead of paying for delivery on the flooring for the son's room, my husband went and picked it up himself.  He also did the measuring of the room and figuring out the square footage of the room, which also saved us some money (and led to a practical math lesson for the daughter on area).

2.  I mended two pairs of pants and a couple of tears in a comforter.  Still got a ton of mending to do, but progress was made!

3.  I made an angel food cake.  I then cut it in half and froze half of it so we could have it for dessert a little later on.  I went online to make sure that you could freeze angel food cake before I did it so I didn't inadvertently wreck it.

4.  I ordered a few small things from Amazon that the tax return money will pay for.  Bright side, by figuring out what we needed and would definitely use I was able to really cut down on what I wanted to buy.  I'm really working to streamline things around here to keep food ahead, but in realistic amounts that we'll be able to use in a decent amount of time.

5.  I used some potatoes that were going past their prime by putting them into a meal I cooked low and slow in the crock pot.  It worked great and no one noticed if I was using wrinkly potatoes :).

6.  I took a bag of strawberries out of the freezer that were looking a bit freezer burned and macerated them with some sugar.  We had those with the one half of the angel food cake we ate.  They turned out great.

7.  I took a bag of raspberries that were getting freezer burned and cooked them on the stove with some sugar.  I then added some cornstarch to the mix to thicken it to a pie filling consistency and we had that, along with some blueberries I defrosted and some breakfast sausage I am trying to use up, to go with Swedish pancakes a couple of nights in a row.  I really enjoyed the dinner and am really thinking of doing more of those nights in the future :).

8.  We had a parent meeting at therapy for Alvah and we discussed a bunch of different things including some issues I'm having with how he uses his talker.  We came up with some plans to get him to make some connections when it comes to communication and to hopefully get him to use his talker more and expand his communication horizons.  I came away very pleased with how the meeting and the new goals worked out.  Here's hoping the new plan works!

9.  Shopping went well the last couple of weeks.  I've been able to keep it way below what it has been of late by carefully picking up just the essentials of what we need.  I know eventually doing it this way that I'm going to have to go on a big shopping trip, but in the meantime at least I'm saving money.

I also got a bunch of freebies the last few weeks!

I was checking my Just 4 U coupons and found that the coupon for a free gluten free pizza had reset for me AND had added a free thing of granola (which honestly the free granola excited me the most *laugh*).  So I picked those up one week.

I also won a free thing of Hummus through the Monopoly game, which kicked off the last few weeks as well, so I redeemed that while I was there.

A few days later I was surprised to get an e-mail, once again, offering me a free pizza and a free bag of granola through Just 4 U.  I added them to my card to use later. and honestly I was kind of surprised when the coupons worked when I went shopping (I mean I now have three free pizzas and two free bags of granola...surprising to say the least!).

I also went online and put in all of the online codes I had from the Monopoly game and was able to win a pretty good amount of tokens.  So, I redeemed enough to get a free 5.00 gift card.

I had also, before January rolled over to February, redeemed the 1 fuel reward that would net me two free boxes of pasta.  I went and got the pasta while shopping last week as I kept forgetting to pick it up and I finally remembered to write it down on my shopping list.

Overall I was really happy to how shopping went the last couple of weeks :).

10.  I was able to participate in a continuing study on autism and family relationships dealing with autism.  As repayment for taking the surveys they are going to send me a 10.00 Amazon gift card which I will use toward paying for laundry detergent :).  Every little bit helps.

11.  I signed my husband and son up for Special Olympics swimming again this year, which is a great program that will allow them both to get another day of swimming in every week.  The son really enjoyed the program last year and even won some ribbons, so I'm hoping he'll enjoy himself as much, or more, this year :).

And there you are folks.  A few things that have happened the last few weeks.  I'm glad I finally had time to get this post done as I've been working on it for a good week (see above about being crazy busy).  How has the last couple of weeks treated you all?

Monday, February 10, 2020

Reconsidering Shopping Goals: Freezer Inventory

So, first, where is the "Frugal Friday" post for last week?  Well, a bunch of stuff happened.  We ended up buying flooring for the son's room way sooner than we had planned when we discovered his flooring was in worse shape than we had at first thought, so while we saved 50.00 by buying during a sale and using a coupon...we spent a LOT more than that on the flooring and the other things we would need for installation.  While working on the son's flooring to see if I could save it for a while I overdid it and my body had enough and my cough got way worse.  So, off to the doctors I went and I'm on antibiotics again.  Between that and just general life things, like grocery shopping, we didn't so much spend money last week as bleed it.  Nothing to be done about it, but yeah...there wasn't a lot to report on the money saving front, unfortunately.  I will, however, have a ton of stuff to report on monthly goals in the next couple of days.

Anyway, part of what we spent money on this month was because I had a kind of rethinking of how I do some of my grocery shopping, especially when it comes to meat.  

So, allow me to drag you down an interesting rabbit hole.  

It all started with me going through all of my cookbooks and things looking for ideas on what different things you could make with hamburger to use up some of my surplus I have in the freezer.  And I happened to stumble across this in my collection of vintage pamphlets and booklets.  I had bought it at one of the used stores for .25, mainly because it was from 1949 and I LOVE vintage reading materials like this.  What can I say.  I'm a home economics nerd *laugh*.  Anyway, while reading through all of my booklets on how to use up left overs and things from the same era, I decided to flip through this booklet to see if they had any recipes tucked into its pages.  I didn't find any recipes, but I DID stumble across this neat item... 

A suggested freezer inventory for a 6 cu. ft. freezer.  

I read through the list and was kind of like, "Interesting" and then went about my business.  And then later as I was taking stock of what was actually left in my freezers, I remembered the inventory and that the pamphlet had a bunch of advice on what to stock in the freezer and things.  So, intrigued now, I went back and read the booklet.  And then I read it again.  And again.  Every time I read it the advice and the method for what you should keep in the freezer and when to use it made more and more sense to me.  

I'd always kind of approached my spare freezer as a kind of food hoarding mechanism (which was against EVERYTHING the booklet suggested you use your freezer for).  Sure, I used the meat and things in it, but I also used it to hoard sale items (such as the pie crusts which were 1.25 per package right after Christmas and I stocked up a ton of them to use later) and would hold onto free things that I always ended up cooking and we'd end up choking down because they were free and we weren't going to waste food.  Now, I started to look at those items as wasting space that I could better use putting up something my family would actually want to eat willingly.  The, "put cheap meat into the freezer and use it" method was a product of my childhood and I hadn't thought much of it.  And the hoarding everything like the end of the world was coming was pounded into my head over years of dealing with the feast or famine pay schedule that my husband had at his old job.  But, I finally realized that I could rethink things a bit now that my husband's pay schedule is regular and I could still stock ahead, but I could maybe do it in a way that better suited the needs of my family.

Mind you, I probably wouldn't have even attempted to start a new freezer system if we hadn't eaten down the freezers so much over the last year (earthquake matters and lack of money DUE to said earthquake really helped to motivate me there) and the lack of good meat sales hadn't helped it along. But looking at the nearly empty fridge freezer and the second standing freezer that had a bunch of empty space in it and I thought, "You know, this whole freezer inventory thing might work.  Let's give it a try."  

So, I give you a new thing I'm trying out this year.  I'm going to try and work around a freezer inventory.  Not an inventory of things that are currently in my freezer, which is what I have done in the past, but actually making an inventory of things that we would want stocked in the freezer and working hard to make sure that we have those things in the freezer at all times.

Mind you, this is still a list in progress.  I started with the above freezer inventory they had listed, made the amounts more realistic for us, and honestly some of them I'm still trying to work out in my head (10 lbs of steak for instance...I still need to take stock of how much steak I have and how much 10 lbs would equate to *laugh*).  Of course, I also deleted things that I plain didn't want on the list (liver for instance is out for us) and tweaked this and that, but finally got a basic beginning list of things I wanted to put in the freezer.

So, with a supplemental list of things I wanted to put in the freezer in hand, I sat down and went on our local Meat Market's website and started figuring out how much things would cost to add to the freezer.  My husband and I both decided to go to a really nice big meat market in Anchorage (my husband stopped off after work one day to get my list of things I gave him) and I had him pick up a few specialty items, along with the basic items on my list, that I wanted to put in the freezer for future projects and/or just because I liked them and wanted a bit more variety to the meat we had in the freezer.  I used some birthday money combined with a home school reimbursement for some supplies I had bought earlier (and already paid off) and off my husband went :).

So, for about 100.00 we got enough meat to stock up the freezer nicely with enough room left over for some corned beef briskets that I want to add when the sales go on for St. Patrick's Day coming soon.  

Right.  Here's the list of things that I'm hoping to keep in the freezer at a minimum...

Meat, Poultry, Fish:

2 Beef Roasts (totaling about 8 lbs).  At the moment I have 2 chuck roasts. 
Steaks -- Still in progress on amounts (at the moment I have a few packages of steaks, but ideally I'd like to have enough steaks for 2 meals of decently thick cut steaks and 2 meals of thin cut steaks for things like fajitas or beef teriyaki and things). 
2 Pork Roasts (boneless pork loin or bone in pork roasts both count toward this).  Currently I have two bone in pork roasts. 
Pork Chops, 8 lbs (since I can get the big value packs of chops pretty cheap on reduced a lot). 
Lamb Shoulder Chops, 3 lbs (this was a purchase I made at the meat market and would like to keep stocked in the freezer because I really like these for a change of pace for dinner.  3 lbs netted us enough chops for three meals). 
Hamburger (6 lbs).  Currently I have about 20 lbs in the freezer since I was able to score hamburger so cheap, so I won't have to buy that for a while. 
Bacon (2 lbs).  This actually works out to be, what, about a pound a half I'm sure with product shrinkage, but I just bought a big slab of thick cut bacon on sale and that'll last us a long while. 
Sausage (breakfast or other):  3 lbs 
Chicken, cut up (4 big value packs of chicken or 16 lbs, depending which is accomplished first).  We eat chicken a lot and I can get the value packs of chicken thighs or drumsticks for 5.00 per package on 5.00 Friday about once every month, so I THINK that should be enough chicken to see us through until the next sale comes about.  I might have to tweak the amount but we'll see. 
Ham, 2 steaks.  With the husband's blood pressure we just don't eat much ham anymore and this really is a good amount for us I think. 
Fish/Shrimp:  Enough for 3 meals, at least.  I'm hoping to get more fish into the freezer as we really should be eating more of it, but we'll see how the budget stretches as fish is not cheap price-wise up here.
Hot dogs (1 big package) 
Corned Beef Brisket:  3 
Miscellaneous Meats, sometimes for specific projects (as needed). 

Strawberries (4 lbs)
Blueberries (2 lbs) For waffles, muffins and pancakes and things. 
Other fruits as I need them or put them up (like I have applesauce in the freezer from getting apples cheap earlier in the year).

Broccoli in cheese sauce (4 boxes) 
Edamame (3 bags) 
Green Beans (2 bags) 
Carrots (4 bags...I use these in stews, corned beef brisket and things instead of fresh as I've found that this leads to less waste on my part). 
Asian style vegetables (2 bags) 
Onions and Peppers mix (2 bags...for stir fries and things) 
Greens (currently I have spinach and collard greens):  2 big bags


Pies (2 baked).  I plain don't have a lot of time to do things anymore, so I'm putting things up ahead of time for the sake of my sanity. 
Cakes:  2 baked (I'm planning on just making a 2 layer cake and freezing both layers separately.  This will give us cake for two meals at least). 
Cookies/Cooky Dough:  2 dozen.  Baked or unbaked. 
Muffins:  1 dozen (at least)
Bread:  2 loaves, baked (currently in the fridge freezer...this is where I'm figuring on putting a bunch of the baked goods as they'll be more easily accessible there). 
Rolls:  2 Dozen, baked 
Waffles/Pancakes:  Enough for at least four meals.
Ice Cream:  1 Gallon (or as close as you can get anymore) 
Butter:  4 lbs (I wish I could go for more, but unless a great sale pops up, that is where the number stays) 
So, yeah, that is what I have been up to for a good portion of my spare "when the kids aren't sleeping well" time of late.  It's definitely still a work in progress, but I think I'm starting to get things dialed in where I am finally getting down what we like and will eat and what things I definitely want to keep stocked in the freezer to use on a day to day basis.

Will I still shop sales?  Oh heck yeah.  Will I stock up on things?  Sure.  But, I'm really trying hard to make sure that I'm only stocking up a realistic amount and an amount I know we will use in a decent period of time.  It's just another way I'm hoping to keep my grocery budget more tightly under control.

So, let's see if I can do this and if it actually works.  I'm going to be curious to see if this actually saves me money or if it will fail spectacularly and I'll feel really dumb for putting so much effort into it initially.

Let's find out in the coming months, shall we?

How about you?  Do you have a freezer system?  Any advice on what works for you and your family?  Please share as I'm sure I'm not the only one that looks for new ways to do things!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Goals for 2020

Oh my GOSH this is a month late already, but it's been one of those lists where I kept going back and forth on what I really wanted to accomplish this year.

Enjoy a miscellaneous goal I have this year (photo up top there) and that is to try and keep at least a small bowl of produce in the center of the table as much as I can in the hopes that the son will take a bite out of some of it (he will spin apples and chew on the peel every once in a while, so here's hoping).

And without further ado, here's my list of things (so far) that I want to accomplish.

My Goals for 2020:

Home Goals:

1.  Well, basically the biggest goal I have is lots and lots of home repairs.  I still have a ton of repairing, painting and things to do inside.  This includes, it looks like, replacing the flooring in my son's room as it split all of its seams in the earthquake and after years of abuse, combined with the earthquake, it is just NOT holding up anymore.  I want to look into replacing it with some type of waterproof flooring as he's hard on things and I need something really easy to clean that won't get wrecked by constant spills (which happen).

2.  Replace gutters.

3.  Replace broken doors in the garage.

4.  Build shelves in various parts of the house to replace broken bookcases that are held together by a wing and a prayer anymore and also build more shelves to get clutter up and out of the way (and get books out of storage so we can actually use them).

5.  Find something that works for curtain rods in the den.  Make new curtains that fit the den better.  Hang said curtains in the den.

6.  Try to rip up some of the carpet in the den around the door to the garage and put down a tile pad so that we have somewhere decent to put shoes and things when we get in the house.

7.  Tighten up the cabinets in the kitchen to the wall to make sure they remain steady (some of them have a gap between them and the wall due to the earthquake and I need to empty them out and tighten them up again).

8.  Repair the rock/retaining wall for the driveway.

Financial Goals:

1.  Get the daughter braces.  Figure out a budget to get that paid off as soon as possible.

2.  Freak out only OCCASIONALLY about bills and money (I AM doing better at this...sometimes... *laugh*).

3.  Pay off as many bills as possible.  If not pay off bills, pay down bills as far as I can this year.  We have a lot of bills that have increased or are going to increase (like we just got out property assessment in the mail and that is definitely going to raise our property taxes this year *sigh*), so it's going to be all the more important to watch our Ps and Qs.

4.  Figure out what it will take to reseal the deck and the front porch as both of them suffered a lot during the earthquake and after it (I need to wait for the gutters to get replaced before I can do that, though, as the dripping water from the broken gutters has been hard on both of them).

5.  Get a haircut.  I know that seems like a miscellaneous goal versus a financial one, but since my husband is scared to cut my hair and my hair is about 40% split ends and is down to my waist, I really need to go and just invest in a good haircut at this point.  I'm tired of shutting my hair in doors (sorry to those who love really long hair, but I with my life it just isn't a really good feasible option for me).

6.  Try to figure out a way to save on the grocery budget and get it back under control.

Personal Goals:

1.  Remain calm and keep breathing (I've actually done pretty well at improving at this goal every year, so I'm going to keep it on there).

2.  Try new recipes that are within the food budget.

I'd like to try some new recipes that use frugal ingredients like hamburger and dark meat chicken.  I want to avoid good old fashioned monotony, which has been hard the last year with me being as busy as I am.  I have everything but a nice high quality blender (which I'd love to buy one, but 150.00 is a BIT out of my budget, so I'll continue to make my cheapy blender work for as long as I possibly can.  It's finicky, but it works).

3.  Try to get out of the house more and do more with the kids.

This has been hard because taking trips hasn't been in the budget, like ever, so it's been really hard to scrape together money to take trips and go and do things.  Last summer was a complete disaster trying to get out and do things because of all of the fires that broke out and made it so the kids didn't want to spend more than 2 minutes outside before their allergies started flaring up in a bad way.  But, I am hoping we'll be able to get out and do some things this summer one way or the other.  Hopefully it works out.

4.  Get the son to pick up new foods.

Yup, I'm taking feeding therapy personally.  I hope to have the son pick up at least two new foods this year.  I might fail, but I want to work and work some more at this.  I pray I'll succeed as he needs to get an expanded diet going.  Like bad.

5.  Get more organized.

I'll explain this a bit more in another post, but I'm hoping to keep things more organized on the home making front, so that I can streamline stuff better.  It is so hard since home school started to find time to do much of anything because between school, therapies and things like swimming and clubs we are just constantly going somewhere and doing something.  So, keeping the house clean, getting food on the table within a budget and things have been REALLY hard to juggle around everything else.  So, I'm trying out some new ways to help me get things done, keep organized and hopefully stop myself from going crazy while doing everything.  I know there are people out there that juggle WAY more than I do and somehow make it work and MAN do I hold them in awe anymore as I feel like I'm barely holding it together most days.

Getting organized is even more important as I somehow need to squeeze more time from the day to keep everything running around here, getting everything done AND finding time to repair and paint more rooms to get us more and more complete on the earthquake repair front.   Every room we redo, ever nail I pound back into the wall and get repaired and things the more happy the son is in his environment and that is worth all of the extra work and effort for sure.

6.  Get back to blogging regularly.

I actually not only have goals to get back to blogging on a regular basis, but I also want to expand to blog about things like what we are doing in home school.  Things that I found that I really liked and even things that kind of failed.  I have had more than a few e-mails asking me about what I am doing to teach Alvah at home as other special needs parents would like to home school their kids but are unsure where to start. so maybe I can give a few ideas on things to do.

I think if nothing else it might be fun to share in the continual adventure that is home school.

Garden Goals (Yup, I actually have some)

The last couple of years have seen me not do a garden at all due to all kinds of different things, but this year I am determined to put in a garden again.  Will it live?  Will it get wiped out by more moose?  Or some of the huge amounts of rabbits in our area (we are invaded in my area with rabbits and they keep breeding like...well...like bunnies.  I had to stop a bunny from jumping into my truck the other day when I stopped to get something at the gas station)?  Who knows.  But I'm determined to at least TRY again.

The plan is to work this into home school, especially with the son.  I am putting together a unit on the plant life cycle and how food moves from farm to table as well.  I think getting dirty and helping in the garden might do him a world of good, not only on the learning front, but maybe JUST maybe showing him that the food we are eating can be trusted and won't do him any harm.

Here's hoping!

I will need to buy seeds or seedlings.  I'm still debating on what to do there.  I'm thinking I might just buy some seedlings from the nursery and then supplement as I need to with seeds throughout the summer.  We'll see what ends up being the final plan.  Just send up a prayer that it will be a decently mild summer and that the animals and bugs will let at least most of the garden live.

And no.  I will NOT be planting cabbages.  The moose will have to look for those elsewhere.

And there you go folks.  My goals for this year.  I know the length of the post, for me, is actually pretty short, but man I have a lot to do this year, so even though it is a decently short list, it's going to take a LOT to get everything done.  Wish me luck!