Saturday, February 28, 2015

Steps Toward Financial Fitness (Last Weeks Frugal Accomplishments) Volume Six

The temperatures have been terribly frigid as of late and I have been working awfully hard to heat our drafty home.  I am certain that I will have quite a large utility bill arriving in the near future.  In anticipation of that bill I am seeking ways to offset that expense.

One thing I intend to do is avoid the grocery store and its related expenses.  I have a freezer, fridge and two pantries full of food.
Menus for the next week or two could easily include meatball sandwiches, salsa and guacamole with southwestern chicken, roast chicken with stuffing, homemade broth and soup, more pumpkin bread, more blueberry coffee cake, chocolate cookies with sprinkles, whole bean burritos, quiche and hash browns, more cupcakes, and iced tea.

We still have many performances of My Son Pinocchio to see, otherwise I intend to stay home (the frigid temperatures actually help with this goal) and utilize what I have to occupy myself.  I could plant seeds to give them the start that they need before their outdoor planting.  I could do some bulk cooking.  I could finish up the painting of the stairwell and I could do some purging.  I could create some art - I have a LOT of art supplies.  I could play Colorku or any other of a number of games.  The boys and I could utilize our bacteria science kit or electronics lab and snap circuits.  We could build our motorized k'nex roller coaster or robotic atv.  There is so much we could do.

Last Weeks Frugal Accomplishments(February 22-February 28):
-I saw the show seven times this week and Bishop saw it twice and I paid only $9. (savings of $120).  I did flowers, boutique and ushering each of which allowed me to see the show for free.  I used the complimentary tickets that come with Maceo being in the show and the tickets that I earned by putting up the show posters to have four more viewings of the show.  The other two shows were seen during special school showings and the tickets were only $4.50 each.
-Maceo was interviewed by the newspaper regarding the show.  I was able to pick up two copies of the interview at Panera as people left their newspapers at the restaurant.
-When I ran out of trash bags I went "shopping"in my pantry.  When I purchase a household item I buy multiples and tuck them in my pantry where they are readily available for use.  Not only does this approach encourage me to really take advantage of good prices but it keeps me from having to go to the store frequently.  Which, in turn, reduces the number of impulse purchases that can be made while, simultaneously, puts me in the position to use what I have rather then heading to the store.  I find I am much more likely to use leftovers and dig deep in the pantry and freezer when I am going to the store less frequently.  I cannot even begin to calculate the savings.
-I saved some plastic juice and soda bottles to be used for future biome making.  I also saved a plastic liquid soap dispenser bottle that I intend on using to make a cute little inexpensive gift.
I must admit that I struggle a bit as to what to save and what to let go at this point.  It seems like a paradox - some of the things that I can do to save money (ie. recycling materials and stockpiling food and goods) conflict with the need to reduce my belongings for a possible move.  I will just have to find the balance.  At least with the plastic bottles I can just trash them if the projects don't get done prior to a move.
-I purchased twenty pounds of chicken for .59/lb.
-I resumed swagbucks and bing rewards routinely and I resumed taking my vitamins routinely both things that had been slightly derailed during the joyous chaos of having so much family around.
-At the end of a youth group meeting Bishop accepted an offer to take home leftover pizza.  I have trained him well - never turn down an offer to take home free food.
-For the most part we did a good job eating our leftovers.

There were many things that I did well this week.  However, I did eat out too often after the family left.  I attribute that to fatigue and poor planning.  I will keep track of all my eating out expenses during the first week of March to help me get back on track.  I will also make menu plans.  I need to pay the bills and get the taxes started.  I also need to get back on track in regards to the home improvement efforts and I need to begin brainstorming gift giving ideas, particularly since three birthdays and Easter will be coming up within the next six weeks.
I look forward to continued progress.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Steps Toward Financial Fitness (Lasts Week Frugal Accomplishments) Volume Five

Sunday I cleaned out the food storage pantry.  It is amazing just how quickly all can go awry in that pantry.  While I am cleaning and reorganizing I inventory all that is stored there.  I find the whole process to be satisfying and inspirational.  I see eight cans of pumpkin and decide that I must make pumpkin bread and the refried beans and tortilla chips will be served as the best bean dip ever.  I have boxes of cake mix, three containers of frosting and a ton of sprinkles so fun cupcakes go on the menu.  There are eight boxes of cornbread mix.  I will serve pinto beans, fried potatoes and cornbread this week.  I have sourdough bread that will become french toast casserole and still plenty of blueberries to make another blueberry crumb cake.  I have peanut butter and mini chocolate chips that will be yummy made into a dip to be served with the pretzels that are in the bread drawer.  When I see the box of stuffing I recall that I have a whole chicken in the freezer so I determine that roast chicken should go on the menu.  I have so much hot chocolate that I know I need to set up my hot chocolate bar again.  And I have a plethora of waffle bowls and ice cream toppings.  I will set up an ice cream bar soon, as well.  This inspiration is particularly important right now as I await the arrival of my guests during a busy time.  (Family is coming in from out of town to watch Maceo perform in My Son Pinocchio!)

Menus include:
Monday:  Pumpkin bread for breakfast (make extra loaves for our guests breakfasts)
Leftovers for dinner.  I want the refrigerator cleaned out so that foods that I am preparing ahead of time will fit in the fridge.
Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday to be exact:  French toast casserole, blueberry crumb cake, bacon and sausage, fruit, chocolate covered pretzel rods, juice and kool-aid for dinner.
Wednesday:  Pinto beans, ham steaks, fried potatoes, and cornbread for dinner.
Thursday:  We will go to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate Lunar New Year.
Friday and Saturday:  A lot of family will be here and Maceo will be having a lot of performances so I intend to have food that is easy and good for grazing and I expect other family members to bring food as well  Here are my contributions for the two days of feasting:  ham sliders with bean dip and chips; chili with baked potatoes; a green salad with homemade italian and ranch dressings or potato salad; peanut butter dip with pretzels, cupcakes and sugar-free jello (for my niece who has special dietary considerations).
Next week I will likely serve roast chicken with stuffing, quiche and biscuits, bbq chicken or pork and cole slaw and potato salad.
Lunches will largely be leftovers and breakfasts will be quick breads, eggs and oranges.

As the week comes to its conclusion I can say that I am really quite proud of myself.  Despite the fact that things have been so very busy around here I have not eaten out all that much.  I had breakfast out at Panera on Tuesday just as my mom and sister were arriving.  Then we had dinner out just before the opening night performance of My Son Pinocchio but my dad paid for that (Thanks, Papa, it was yummy).  I did bring home a sizable container full of hummus that was leftover from that meal and will enjoy it this next week.  I imagine I will set it out with meat, cheese, crackers and fruit and just graze while playing games.  My menus were very effective.  They allowed me to serve large numbers of people consistently over several days.  I was serving seven to fifteen people for more meals then I had even imagined I would.  (While we were watching Maceo's opening performance ice was falling from the sky.  The roads became very messy and I ended up with eight additional people camped out at my house.)

Other frugal accomplishments would include:
-volunteering to usher the preview performance of My Son Pinocchio allowing me to watch the show for free.
-reorganizing and inventorying the closet that contains my stash of household and hygiene items.
-washing and reusing lightly used ziploc baggies.
-reusing aluminum foil.
-hand washing all dishes.  I didn't run the dishwasher all week.

I am sure that there were other little things but my week was full and now I cannot recall.  However, the triumph of the week was the menu planning and meal preparation!  I am satisfied with that and inspired to press myself to continue with meal planning.
Over the next couple of weeks I will focus on reviewing my subscription services and will return to household projects - decluttering and improvements.

Christmas Jar of Change:  To the previous balance of $60.02 I added $7.28  for a new grand total of $67.30  .
Home Emergency Fund:  $80.  Cool!
52 Week Savings Plan:  I have already made all my deposits for January and February so the balance remains at $152.00. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lifestyle of Learning 2015 Edition: Volume Six

February 8-14

The week began with a little more scouts than usual.  We began with Scout Sunday.  The scouts attend the church that holds the charter for their troop as a way of showing the congregation appreciation for their support.  And then, of course, Bishop attended his regular scout meeting where they are still working on their aviation merit badge.
Bishop began studying Revelations with his youth group and began reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowrey to prepare for her upcoming visit to our area. (I am sooooo excited)!
Bishop is working on perfecting columns in pottery.  His pottery instructor has rented a booth at the upcoming homeschool convention and would like Bishop to work on the wheel at the convention.
I think he can do it!

We studied Mali, Ghana and Songhay empires of Africa in history so we played some games of African origin and took a closer look at some items from African.  We played Derrah and Queah.  We also made Mancala boards and played rounds of Mancala.

Our nature study group turned its attention to rainforests.
They located rainforests on maps
and learned the difference between temperate and tropical rainforests.
And they explored products, in particular foods, of the tropical rainforest.

Maceo continued his vocal lessons and all of his theatre endeavors.  Members of the cast were invited to participate in a Q & A at a kids acting workshop and Maceo participated.
He also pursued a new endeavor.  He auditioned for a regional theatre - Tent Theatre.
For the first time he had to submit a professional resume and headshot.
He did his vocal audition on Friday then the following morning he had a dance audition.
It was all very exciting!

We ended the week sharing love with each other as we celebrated Valentine's Day!

It was a week well lived!

Steps Toward Financial Fitness (Lasts Weeks Frugal Accomplishments) Volume Four

I started out the week abysmally.  The only food consumed on Sunday was purchased out - Steak and Shake and Sonic.  But I did experience victory on Monday.  Not a single meal was eaten out.  It's not that there wasn't any temptation.  Oh, there was temptation.  There was temptation when Maceo kept sending texts about really wanting some Papa John's.  There was temptation when my errands took longer then I anticipated and am standing in the Walgreen's checkout line behind the coupon ladies thinking about Maceo being hungry and wanting pizza...I could just step out of line for a moment and get Maceo a frozen pizza.  But I didn't...I didn't order pizza or buy a frozen one or hit a drive through.  Every meal came out of my kitchen.
I made breakfast burritos prior to Bishop and I heading out to pottery class.
Then I spent time cleaning out the refrigerator.  After a week eating virtually every meal out I was just certain that I had a lot of mush and mold in the fridge.  I am not proud of the amount that was wasted (a rotisserie chicken carcass, a couple of servings of lasagna, a bit of lettuce, two mini souffles, some ground beef that I was going to make meatballs or hamburgers or salisbury steaks with and a couple of rather stinky mystery items from when Herb was home - that's embarrassing) but I did get to the fridge before most everything went bad.  I was surprised to find my bags of meatball sandwich filling and a batch of chili sitting in the refrigerator instead of in the freezer.  So I put three bags of meatball sandwich filling and one bag of chili in the freezer along with a bag of leftover chicken cacciatore.  I used the leftover pizza ingredients for Maceo's lunch, Bishop used leftover pork fajitas from Chili's to make nachos for his lunch, and leftover roast chicken was turned into chicken salad sandwiches for Bishop and I for dinner.  While getting the tortillas out I scrounged around in the bread drawer assessing what I had.  I noticed hoagie rolls that were on the verge of turning so I determined to serve meatball sandwiches for Wednesday's lunch.  The chicken broth I had made was still good and I still have a load of potatoes that need to be used so potato soup went on the menu.
When I ran low on food items in my canisters and pantry I went shopping in my own long-term food storage pantry.  I refilled my sugar, flour, and brown sugar canisters and topped off spices jars.  I am really going to focus on using my long-term food storage.  If we have to move I have no intention of packing up all of my foodstuffs.  I will move my food-grade buckets of grains and beans but definitely no canned goods will be hauled.  I ran out of vanilla extract and went shopping in my food pantry.  I found no vanilla extract but did find almond extract.  I have substituted the almond extract for vanilla in my cookie and coffee cake recipes.  It imparted a slightly different flavor but it was good!
Saturday evening I began to feel a little run down, like my body might be fighting something.  I began taking my vitamins - Vitamin C, garlic and multivitamin.  I really need to be taking them daily regardless of whether I am feeling down or not.  I have a slew of vitamins and by not taking them I run the risk of allowing them to expire thus wasting their beneficial properties and my money.  I am determining to utilize my resources well.  I am determining to take my vitamins routinely.
I own chickens.  (By the way, I can feed them scraps which makes me feel somewhat better about the waste from the refrigerator).  Because I own chickens I also own a slew of egg cartons but I really don't need all that I have (and if I have to move I am not moving them.  In fact, the chickens won't be able to move with me either).  Last week I took some to history group to be available for medieval-esque weapon making.  Bishop used them to make a mace.  This week we are touching on Africa in our history group.  We are going to play African games, including Mancala.  And each kid will get to make their own Mancala board using those egg cartons.  I think it is going to go over well with the kiddos and it gets some more items out of my house.

Also, I came up with what I think is a really cool idea that will enable me to purge and utilize items in my house while simultaneously completing some projects with the boys that I have long wanted to do.  I am going to schedule projects and invite friends to join if they so desire (all for the sake of accountability), set out all the materials and then just have at it.  The projects I have in mind are relatively open-ended and utilize items that I have on hand in abundance... encaustic, stepping stones, artist trading cards, fusing plastic, making automata, gelatin printing, making boomerangs.  These are all things that we could do that wouldn't require me buying a thing yet we would have a blast exploring these techniques and skills while hanging out with friends and, if a good group turns out, I could really get rid of quite a bit of stuff.  Good idea, huh?
Thursday proved to be a bit of a crazy day.  Bishop and I have nature study group that usually runs 4-5 hours and I needed to take Maceo to get some jazz pants for an upcoming audition before he went to his 4 1/2 hour rehearsal for My Son Pinocchio.  I planned really well for lunch.  I made ham sliders for my family and my nature study guests, my guests brought chips and we munched the rainforest fruits that we had on hand for exploration of products of the tropical rainforest.  That success was quickly followed by a fail, a failure to plan well.  Everything seemed quite rushed for the remainder of the day and feeling time crunched between shopping for jazz pants and getting Maceo to rehearsal  I opted to run by Little Caesars for Maceo's dinner.  Eating out = $11.84.  Then, continuing to feel the pressure, I took Bishop to Panda Express.  We bought a family meal which has provided ample leftovers; despite Bishop having some for breakfast yesterday there is still some in the fridge.  Eating out = $38.41.
I also ended up eating out on Friday but I can't really consider it a fail.  I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to have lunch with a niece who was rescuing me from sitting in the automotive repair shops waiting room.  Thanks, Sarah!  Eating out = $11.71.
  Another $21.20 was spent on minor eating out expenditures and iced tea.  And then a not so minor eating out expense was spent on donuts.  Yes, I finally went to Hurt's donuts and those glazed donuts are the best and I lost all self-control.  Eating out = $29.

I ended the week on a good note.
I did begin my Saturday at Panera and while there I convinced myself that I should buy heart shaped cookies for the boys considering it was Valentine's Day.  I even went to the counter to order only to find that they were out of those particular cookies.  I tried to convince myself to get a different treat for them  Then I corrected my thinking.  I have so much at home in my pantry.  I need to go home a prepare Valentine's treats for them instead of buying something.  I went home and prepared a little breakfast - I set out the rest of the donuts, made french toast for those who didn't want donuts, made bacon and eggs and sweetened some frozen strawberries with sugar.  It was a delightful breakfast.
I did order heart shaped pizzas for lunch.  That is a tradition that we chose to uphold.  Eating out = $12.  However, we only ate one of those pizzas and will have the second one tomorrow for dinner.
Maceo went out to dinner with some friends, their treat.  Bishop and I had leftovers for dinner - ham sliders and potato soup.  It was really satisfying.  For dessert I offered up some chocolate covered pretzel rods using what I had in the pantry.

While I was sorting through my sweets stockpile I found an inordinate amount of candy melts.  All sorts.  Odds and ends from a variety of previous holidays and celebrations.  I also found an insane amount of sprinkles.  I decided to make some pretzel rods for Shrove Tuesday and I saved the green and red candy melts for St. Patrick's Day and Independence Day.  I think I need to assess all the foodstuffs that I have at my fingertips.
So, this week I spent $124.16 eating out.  This is a significant improvement over last week (about a $90 difference) but there is still room for improvement.  I need to keep fighting the good fight.

I continue to try to do the little things.  I have been washing baggies and recycling bags, like bread bags.  I have been working bing rewards and swagbucks.  I took Maceo out on the town, just the two of us.  I paid for our meal using a loyalty card.  It paid for our meal in full and I still have about $14 on the card.  I did the appropriate maintenance on my vehicle.  I also washed it during happy hour - half price, baby!  Although I was able to resist frozen pizza at Walgreens I wasn't able to resist vitamins on clearance.  I purchased two bottles of garlic capsules that were on clearance for $1.89 each but they were also on a buy one get one free sale.  (Score!).  I got two packages of joint health capsules for $6.49 each  that were regularly priced at $25 each.  I also got a large container of fish oil capsules for $5.49 that was originally priced at $22.  I did a good job taking my vitamins this week and I am going to keep it up.  Even then there is still so much more to do.

Christmas Jar of Change:  The previous balance was $50.18.  I will add to that $9.84 for a new total of $60.02.
Home Emergency Fund:  I now have $60 in this fund.  I really want to get another $20 in there before the month is up.
52 Week Savings Plan:  I deposited $26 and $13 into this account.  When added to the previous balance of $113 I now have a balance of $152.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lifestyle of Learning 2015 Edition: Volume Five

February 1-7

Bishop continues with scouts and Maceo with vocal instruction, troupe, troupe mentorship, My Son Pinocchio rehearsals and traveling company rehearsals.  Maceo also began preparing for auditions for Tent Theatre.  Those auditions will be next week.
Bishop also continues to take pottery lessons and he continues to enjoy it!

For history group we read about the war between England and France and the Battle of Agincourt and, also, about the War of Roses.  I had long been wanting to do a project that involved the kiddos making medieval inspired weaponry.  So with all this talk of war I decided that this was the week to do just that.
This was to be an open-ended sort of project.
Each child doing that which inspired them with the only requirement being that it be inspired by actual weapons from the middle ages.
We set out all sorts of materials...

and books for reference...

and then let them go at it.

Look, a mace!

Maceo and the cast of My Son Pinocchio really began promoting their production.
One morning they performed at a local elementary school.
(For the record, public school children get up very early.  Oh, how I love being a homeschool family).

Declaring the blue fairy to be a fraud!

When you wish upon a star!
For nature study group we did an introduction to the various biomes.  We looked at their individual characteristics and differentiated between things like tropical rainforest and temperate rainforest.
We located each biome type on an pin map
and created our own biome maps.
We'll explore the rainforest next week.  It should be fun!

Maceo's vocal instructor, Lloyd Holt, hosted a cabaret for his vocal students.
Maceo performed Left Behind.
He sounded fantastic.  His range has expanded tremendously over the last year and he has developed a really fine head voice.
I love hearing him sing.  It makes me tear up every time!

Bishop and I went to an art gallery for a really cool art exhibit.  It was the Post-It Note Art Show.  Area artists create miniature works of art on generic yellow post-it notes.  Their art is displayed for a bit and then sold for $2 a pop making art readily accessible.

Bishop chose a couple of pieces that he found inspiring.

Maceo and the cast of My Son Pinocchio had a second promotional performance at our largest library.

Pick a hand.
Why is it that children who shouldn't have children have children?
Once again the blue fairy has been declared a fraud.
After the performance a little Pinocchio fun was had!
Gepetto and son!
Gepetto and Pinocchio joined by the blue fairy and fairies in training,
And here is where silliness ensues!

Gotta love it!

Another fine week!