Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And then life happens.....

So, if you have read one of my earlier posts, not sure which one right now, then you will know that life loves to throw us curve balls. All I can say is at least it waited until tax time. Now we don't get a huge tax payout because I think it's silly to let Uncle Sam "borrow" your money all year for free but we do get a little. Enough to cover an unexpected plane ticket and a cat who needs unexpected surgery.

Anyway, on to the good news....drum roll please! I actually almost did not go over my grocery budget (otherwise known as I did go over it but not by too much). I pretty much expected that because this month had some great sales and couple that with some great coupons and I was pretty much doomed to fail. I actually blame Kellogg's but that's another story.

While I stood at the stove tallying my receipts, and then re-tallying my receipts three more times because I didn't trust my numbers, I noticed a pattern. I was paying only 10-50% of retail at most. And if you really must know why I did all this standing up at the stove it's because my two year old can detect when I sit in front of my computer from a mile away and it doesn't matter how enthralled he is in whatever he is doing, it's like a shark to blood and he attacks. So, I stand to fool him, which by the way, only buys me a little extra time.

Alright, back to numbers. My grocery budget is $400 and as far as I can tell I went over by about $25ish. The "ish" comes from the fact that I also have SavingStar deposits that I am not accounting for and I know my husband bought me newspapers but I am not sure how much he spent because he didn't give me receipts and used his debit card! So, $425ish this month. The retail value of what I bought before coupons was over $1385.93! The savings is actually a lot higher if you figure in that I bought a lot of things on clearance, like four sleds for $1.00 each that retail for over $10 a piece or 4 light bulb packs that also retail for over $10 a piece for $1.49 each. Now I did shop at the military commissary a few times this month and while the products there are usually priced about 33% below the average retail, you still are charged a "surcharge" on the pre-coupon amount so this adds up and sucks up the savings. Regular retailers cannot charge you tax on items that are free or pre-coupon price in my state, currently.

I won't even go into my eating out budget because my dear husband came home and we ate out more. I don't understand this because we have such a huge stockpile but nonetheless, I have yet to asses that damage.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

"He's socially retarded".....

First I want to say, I hate the misuse of the word Retarded. Like so many words in our vocabulary, this one has been taken and convoluted to become a word of hate and ignorance. I cringe when I hear people using it. My son's school, the Norwich Free Academy, recently did a great presentation seen here: Norwich Free Academy R Word Campaign

My 17 year old son has Asperger's Syndrome. It's sometimes hard to explain what it is.  Someone once described it to me as he's socially retarded. From the time my son was very little, I knew something was off but because I was a young mom with three kids by the age of 22, I was just seen as what's often referred to as "a breeder". You know, a person who has a lot of kids at a young age. I was discounted because they thought I was just needing attention. That I was a hypochondriac. So, I gave up on fighting but only for a little while.

When my son was a baby he was almost always content. He didn't crawl normally, he did a combat type crawl, he didn't walk until almost 18 months old, he had a speech delay and he was obsessed (read crazily, insanely obsessed) with dinosaurs. As soon as he could say Paleontologist, that's what he told people he wanted to be.

When my son started school some things we noticed were almost innocuous but they just didn't sit right with me. He did math "out-of-the-box" as his first grade teacher described it and he couldn't spell no matter what. Or so we thought. Turns out, he just couldn't spell on paper. When he was given an oral test, he could spell almost all the words. I tried to get his teachers to understand this but they didn't want to hear it. He was later diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. Common in kids with Asperger's. He didn't understand sarcasm. For example, his third grade teacher once asked her class "What are some things money can do?" and all the kids responded with buy things. My son about came out of his seat with excitement because he knew something money could do that no one else had mentioned. When called upon by his teacher he excitedly proclaimed "Mrs. Ramsey, did you know money can burn a hole in your pocket?" and he was DEAD serious! She had to turn around to laugh because he was that serious and because if he saw her laugh, he would cry. He didn't like it when people laughed at what he did. Even if it wasn't making fun of him, he took it that way.

When my son started middle school, that is when things became glaringly apparent. He could not connect socially with his peer group any longer. We were seeing a psychologist at the time and he was in counseling and they said he had ADHD and depression. So onto meds he went. Not because I wanted him to take them but because I wanted him to be able to function.

He had always struggled with organization and could never turn in his homework because he could never find it. Another common trait amongst Aspergian's. Unfortunately, he almost failed 7th grade because of that so I pulled him out and home schooled him. He was testing into college at this point in everything except Language Arts and mostly because he had to write things. There are fewer bubble tests, or multiple choice questions in Language Arts.  His handwriting was so poor. It still is.

So the catalyst for him being diagnosed with Asperger's was not what you would think.  It did not come from all the countless meetings at schools with their Special Education Department, or from the Psychologist or from a therapist. After 14 years, it came from me channel surfing. Yep, channel surfing. One of the thing my husband hates that I do actually is what got my son diagnosed.

I happened to be channel surfing while the show I was watching was on commercial break. I happened to flip over to a channel that had one of the Hollywood new shows on like Entertainment Tonight or Extra or something like that. There was a girl on there talking. Her name was Heather Kuzmich and she had just been kicked off America's Next Top Model. She was talking about how she didn't do well in social situations and didn't like to be touched or like certain textures. Bells started going off in my head. OMGOSH, she is talking about my son! That's when I started researching. That was around November of 2007.

It took 8 months to get my son diagnosed by a Developmental Pediatrician and Child Psychologist. I went through hours of frustration with this man. He actually asked me if I was one of those parents that was just unhappy with the fact that my kid wasn't a straight-Student. I was so mad I cried, an unfortunate problem I have and hate. I told him I would be happy if my son brought home an F if his teacher said he was doing the best he could. Apparently that appeased him because he became nicer after that.

Needless to say, it took 14 years and a lot of frustration. I was humiliated on many occasions and I almost gave up. Heather's diagnosis and testimony lead to my son being finally diagnosed and my son's diagnosis helped a friend realize her son too has the same disorder.

All I can say is NEVER give up. If you believe with all your heart and mind that something is not right and if you gut tells you the same thing, chances are, you are probably right. No matter what, stick to your guns! I can tell you that I had a Special Education Superintendent sit with my son for 5 minutes and actually ask me on a scale of one to ten, how convinced was I that my son had Asperger's. Yes, really! I told her that since a Developmental Pediatrician and Child Psychologist of over 35 years of experience diagnosed him, I would say about a nine and a half. She STILL did not believe me and sent my son for testing. No shocker when it came back as him having Asperger's!

Above all else I will tell you that if your child has special needs, fight like you have never fought before and DO YOUR RESEARCH! Educate yourself so you can educate those that aren't. Be your child's best advocate.

My son is about to graduate high school. I love the school he is in. They have great Special Education resources and a great team of facilitators willing to make the necessary accommodations for my child to succeed. No, he is not an A student, although if he turned in his homework he would be, but I am happy he has made it this far. And for the record, he plans to go into the Culinary Field and has already been accepted into college. So much for Paleontology, right?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Working from home....through the Zombie Apocalypse

In a perfect world we would be able to work from home and our children would never have to go to daycare unless we wanted them to, you know, for that much needed break. But for most of us this world just isn't perfect.

I have tried a number of the "work from home" things like selling Tupperware, toys (kids toys that is), a music program and I realized I am just not cut out for them. Either that or I haven't found the perfect one. And no, I am not interested in selling make-up. Please don't ask! I have also tried earning money from doing surveys and mystery shopping. Those weren't too bad, if you didn't mind waiting more than two weeks for your pay and if you didn't mind driving around. Sometimes that costs more than what you get paid so keep that in mind.

Nonetheless I "make" money from home, and no, I am not copying it on my copier. I am couponing. Spell check doesn't like that word by-the-way and neither do some grocery stores. I started a year ago and have saved my family a lot (read A LOT) of money.

I am the type of personality that when I get into something, I get into it hard core. Good and bad I suppose. I researched like crazy and came upon a few websites, www.livingrichwithcoupons.com , and www.thekrazycouponlady.com and a forum www.weusecoupons.com . They are my favorites and the ones I go to prior to stepping out the door to go shopping. They are also the ones I subscribe to on my Facebook page. There are a few blogs I follow but I only subscribe to them by email feed so I get a daily update of what they posted.

So, how do I "make" money with this? Well, it's simple. Our grocery bill for the 6 of us used to be over $1000 a month for groceries, personal care, etc. When I started couponing I really didn't see the savings in the first few months but what I did see was a stockpile growing. It just so happened that I started couponing when my local grocery store had their best sales. It was about 3 months before I saw the "savings". I didn't have room in my pantry for the foods I had bought and I didn't have room in my upright deep freezer for them either. That's when I really started seeing the savings. I wasn't going to the grocery store as often and when I did, my savings were over 60% every time.  We used some of our savings to buy the wood to make more shelves and another upright deep freezer.

Now I budget $400 a month for everything grocery and personal care. And yes, that is still for 6 people. What that means is I basically "make" over $600 a month "working" from home. I get to sit in my pj's with my hair going every which way. I get to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast while working. I get to have my two year old at home with me. I can work when I want to work or when I can work, mostly nap time and bedtime, and I don't lose half my pay to childcare and gas. I get to see his firsts and be there when he is sick. And that goes for all of my other kids as well.

My final advice, buy the newspapers every Sunday that there are coupons and buy multiples at that. I usually buy 4-8 papers depending on what coupons are in them. My papers run about $2.00 so that is about $7-$15 a month (one I get on subscription at half off) and that comes out of my grocery budget. Or, the other option if you hate getting all the papers or coupons you don't use/need like I do, order online from either eBay or a coupon clipping service. Yes, there is controversy over that and no I am not going into it but until it's definitively said to be illegal, I will do what I need to do to feed my family and save money.

My stockpile is big and growing weekly. As my 17 year old says, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, we can just board up the doors and windows and live in the basement on our stockpile for over a year.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cash Envelopes

So it may be a little crazy of me to think that we can only spend cash on our everyday expenses but I sure am determined to try. So here is my cash plan for this month, notice I said this month because who knows what drama, trauma, or incident is waiting to happen.

  • Groceries: $400 (yep, for 6 people, this is where couponing helps)
  • Eating out: $150 (really almost unrealistic for my family since we have caviar tastes on a shoestring budget but it's what I feel the max we should spend is)
  • Haircare: $48 (I am really bad about getting everyone a haircut and they typically look like they have tumbleweeds on their heads by the time we get around to haircuts but we usually go every 2-3 months)
  • David's Money: $50 (someone has an addiction to soda and snuff, he also gets haircuts every two weeks so this has to cover it all)

So here is what we put in savings: (we do this because these expenses we only access every 3-6 months so to have cash just lying around in an envelope in our house would not be good, just sayin')

  • Gifts: $180 (for Christmas and Birthdays...we do have 5 kids)
  • Clothes: $100 (again...5 kids, well 4 at home and we do pass down clothes a lot so this is the emergency fund disguised to look like our clothing fund)
  • Oil: $150 (to heat our house, took all the bills from the last two years added a few hundred for inflation and averaged them...)
  • Vehicle Maintenance: $93.00 ( we averaged out our oil changes and other misc things we need to have done routinely)
  • Chiefs Dues: $17 ($200 a year, will not get in to this now)

That's it. Well, we do have other monthly bills but those stay about the same and are just that, monthly.

So far, so good this month. We are on track except for eating out. We have blown most of that. Might be in part due to my husband being away for the past few weeks and I am too exhausted to cook. I also have incurred some scouting expenses that were not planned for. These I took from my grocery budget since I don't need most of it this month but I will repay it. I need to re-evaluate and add those into our yearly budget as well and since they don't happen every month they can also go into savings.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's all in the name...

So not only is my blog called "a year of change" because I hope that it will be just that, a year full of positive changes and movement forward, but, it's also called that because I am determined to see how much actual change I can save in a year. I call it my "passive savings account because we have no savings".
Anyway, it's gonna be a bit harder on the cash diet because we are only using money out of the envelopes for their intended purpose however I think that if I have change left at the end of the month, I will buy it off myself. It sounds kinda silly but as an example, if I have $10.00 left in my grocery envelope at the end of the month and it just so happens that $5.00 of it is left in change, then I can replace the change in the envelope with dollar bills and then put the change in my jar....seen here:

Yes, there are "little hands" trying to get into my jar!
This is some from last year and it's about $108 or so...minus the one roll the "helper" stole.

So, that's it. My "passive savings" plan. Someday I will get to Dave Ramsey's recommended minimum of $1000 but for now, we are at $10.00.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chicken and a Chainsaw and the Chicken Nugget

So I have a son with Asperger's. If you are familiar with the disorder then you will understand what it's like to have a child walk around ALL day saying the same phrase over and over and...over. If you don't know what it is, google it. It's interesting. Needless to say, my son used to walk around saying "chicken nugget" and my best friend Kathy's son used to walk around saying "chicken and a chainsaw". While this seems pretty innocuous, it's incredibly annoying after hours of it.

But, never fear, this post has nothing to do with anything other than chicken. (I cannot vouch for how the chicken was killed however).

Chicken in a Crock pot (my recipe hack)

1-Whole chicken (giblets or whatever is in that bag removed, rinsed and patted dry)
3-whole carrots cut up in 1 inch increments
5-potatoes, whole, washed and unpeeled (I used white potatoes, I think)
1-Onion, quartered and then sections pulled apart
1 tbs.- crushed garlic (not fresh, the kind you find in a jar, only because I don't have a garlic crusher and partly because I am a lazy cook)
a few pats of butter
Onion soup mix (used Lipton)
1 cup-hot water
2 Cups Rice

Okay, so here's what I did. First I sprayed my crock pot with Pam with Olive Oil. I refuse to use liners and when the Pam stash runs out from my adventures in couponing, I will probably buy on of those "make-your-own" oil spray things. I then put the carrots on the bottom with a few onion sections and the chicken on top of that. I sprinkled the chicken with a little salt and a little pepper then put a few pats of butter on top. Then I placed the potatoes on top of the chicken and put the garlic in the cavity. Then I mixed the onion soup with the hot water and poured it next to the chicken. In hindsight, I should have poured the soup mix in with the carrots then put the garlic in the chicken cavity then chicken on top. You know what they say about hindsight, right? Finally turn the crock pot on high for one hour then low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-6 hrs. My chicken had the nice little pop-up timer, which I did not notice until it popped up. It said it was done at about 4 1/2 hrs (or at least that is when I noticed it had popped up) but I never trust that thing. Anyway, I let it cook about 5 hrs total and it pegged my kitchen thermometer so it quite possibly may have been done earlier when the pop-up thingy said so.
I planned to serve it with Sweet Hawaiian bread but alas, I forgot to get it so we are eating it with rice. We love rice here. Who doesn't? We use the medium grain rice that is bad for you. It's sticky, yummy, and oh, cheap! Did I mention I was cheap?

So, the verdict? It smelled amazing all day. Let me emphasize that, AMAZING! I pulled the potatoes out first, mostly because I had to to get to the chicken, then sucked out all the juices around it with my baster. That I made into gravy but I forgot to measure so it was more clear than opaque. When I went to pull the chicken out using two wooden spoons, the legs and wings fell right off. Good sign, right? As I was putting it on the plate, a whole breast section fell off. Nothing like a self-carving chicken! I thought everything was pretty good, except the carrots. I think baby carrots might be better or cutting them smaller. It also could have used a touch of salt but because my husband and I differ in our opinions of how much salt is too much, I err on the side of less then I add more to my plate. All my boys ate it. My 7 year old did comment the chicken tasted like potato though. So, if you don't like a "potato" taste, maybe put them on bottom. They were super tender though. Overall, it was a mighty tasty former clucker.

Some side notes to consider: I am not a chef or a cook but rather I have to cook for my family or they will eat junk, I think you could add any concoction of seasonings you like to this and it will turn out well, the skin does not brown well but if you could get it out in one piece versus the eight mine came out in, you could possibly broil the skin to golden perfection, and don't let your 14 year old cook the gravy because he/she may let it boil over on the stove, leave the burner on with the gravy on it and create a wonderful, blackened, smokey mess. All I can say is thank-goodness for glass top stoves.

So, I thought I would tell you what my meal cost. Since I am a couponer, my prices may differ from yours. Here we go:
Chicken:$5.33 (on sale for $.89/lb which is not my stock-up price but wanted an easy dinner)
Potatoes: $.66 ($1.99/5 lb bag, of which I used about 1/3)
Soup mix: $.25 (hit a sale with coupons, paid $.50 for the 2ct box)
Carrots:Free (had a coupon from recyclebank)
Onion: $.20 ($1.99/3lb bag, about 10 in a bag)
Spices/Garlic: $.25 (I mean really, who knows but I think that is fair)
Water: Free (we have a well and thank goodness because our boys take FOREVER in the shower)
Butter: $.19 (got it for 1.99/lb, divided by 32 tbs)
Rice: $.50 (I use medium grain rice and buy it in the 20lb bag for about $10 at my local commissary)
Total: $7.38 for 5 of us.

That's about $1.48 per person. Try that at McDonald's!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cheap Eats

So in my quest to save my family money, I have been using my crock pot a lot (read a whole HELLuva lot). Some recipes are from other blogs/websites but some are just my hair brained ideas. Be warned I am not a chef. Just a mom/wife of a whole mess of kids and I am cheap. So, without further ado, here is my recipe for something for which I have no name yet:

2-chicken breasts cut into small pieces (use your discretion, chicken shrinks)
1-12 oz Bag of frozen corn and black bean blend (I used Veg-All Steam Supreme mix which had peppers, BONUS!)
1-16 oz jar of salsa (I used medium)
1/2 tbs-ground Cayenne pepper
1/2 tbs-crushed red pepper
1/2 tbs-chili powder (I was honestly scared at this point 'cause it looked hot)
1 cup of water
Instant Brown Rice ( I used uncle Ben's whole grain brown rice and used 2 cups)
Shredded cheddar

Cook first 7 ingredients in crock pot low for 10 hours or high for 5-6 hrs. At about the final hour mark I added the rice then had an "oh, crap" moment when I realized there wasn't enough liquid to make the rice cook properly so then I added about another cup and a half of water (again if you add less rice, add less water and if you add more, add more). I stirred it a lot at first to make sure all the rice was covered then threw the lid back on and served it about an hour later on tortillas and tostitos with shredded cheddar on top.

So, it was hot. Spicy hot, but not the crying, begging for your momma hot. It did make our noses run though. I at first ate it on a whole wheat tortilla but honestly whatever brand I used tasted a bit like I imagine cardboard would taste so I defaulted to tortilla chips and that was much better. My husband liked it but then again he eats his momma's cooking and that's not a compliment.

If you try it, please let me know your thoughts. If you share it, please link back to my original post.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Cash Diet

So this year started out with a lot of good intentions. They always do, don't they? We decided to do a modified Dave Ramsey cash envelope approach to our finances and get our financial house in order, amongst other things. January 1st we began our "cash diet" taking out cash for everyday expenses and then putting into savings the things that come every few months. We started off great, until we hit the 15th of the month and were mostly blown through our grocery budget (there were some great stock-up sales and I'm a couponer) and then my husband's grandmother passed away. That meant a road trip to Ohio and lots of money spent on gas, lodging, food and clothing.

Unfortunately, we totally tanked our month.That's what happens when you don't have a financial cushion.  So February 1st, here we come ready to take on the challenge again.