Friday, August 29, 2014

Changes to the Budget and Our Savings Goals

I've often said that if we had the chance to increase our grocery budget, we would, because there are definitely things that I would like to buy more often. That time has come, so I will share our new grocery budget, as well as some other changes that we are making.

Determining the amount has not been easy. Because we don't have a steady, fixed income, it is not as easy to determine what we will have each month for groceries. I study our budget three months at a time; I have it in a spreadsheet (I use Open Office, which you can download for free if you don't have a program for spreadsheets and word processing). I make sure we have money to cover the next month's bills before I go grocery shopping for the current month.

We're able to increase the budget for a few reasons. We've been continuously finding ways to cut our expenses, which you can read about in my frugal accomplishments postings each week. The largest blessing, however, occurred earlier this year, when we were able to modify our home loan to a lower interest rate and a lower payment. 

Our previous budget was $100 a month for food and $65 a month for non-food items. I am now counting those two things together and have increased the budget to $275 a month. I tried going higher than that for the first couple months of the year, but that didn't look like an amount that we could continue, so I didn't go shopping one month to lower my amount for the year. What we've spent so far ($2220.61 for the year) includes the price of the chickens that we raised for meat at a friend's house (including their feed).

We have also been blessed to have a somewhat larger income this year (and last year) than in 2011 and 2012. Those were our hardest years; we made less in each of those years than we did in 2007, where we went 8 months without any income. We went without buying most everything those years, making due with what we had, and selling what we could to help pay our bills. Had we not lowered our expenses, however, we would be struggling to make ends meet right now. As of January, we have cut our bills in half from what they were in 2006, when we bought our house. 

Our increase in income is not tremendous; the ways that we are able to save money are extremely important in helping us reach our goals.

Part of the increase in the grocery bill will be eaten up in inflation. As you know, prices for both food and non-food items have increased tremendously recently. For the most part, I will be sticking to my price points for things, but there are some changes due to inflation, including the cost of eggs. I will be making an exception to our $2 a pound limit for meat for one item: pepperoni (for pizza). I am buying more dairy. The children have also increased their appetites substantially, so part of the budget is going towards simply more food. If we were not able to increase our budget for groceries, I would be making more changes to our meals to feed everyone, having our least-expensive meals even more often.

Last year we did a couple of things that we felt were important:

We put in the garden in the front yard. This was something that I had long hoped for, but I also felt was important in increasing the food production of our lot. Right now I am harvesting herbs, flowers, and cucumbers from that space; in years to come we will also have lemons, peaches, and apricots, as well as lettuce in the cooler months. We did a lot of things to save money on this project, which you can read about here.

We bought a new mattress. Our previous mattress had been given to us by my mother-in-law when we were married; it had belonged to my husband's older sister. The mattress was 35 years old. It was time for a new one.

We bought a new-to-us van last year, selling our previous vehicle. We needed something larger to fit the entire family. After selling our old vehicle, we had a new one for only $500 out of pocket.

This year, we saved up this year to see my brother get married out of state, and turned that trip into a 2-day vacation--our first family vacation.

The other thing I have been doing is finally buying some new clothes. Most of the clothes I've had were bought when Cyrus was a baby (he's 11 now) and they were wearing out. I made a trip to the thrift store earlier this year, and I also have bought a few new things as well. My husband also bought some new shirts. 

Our savings goals now: 

Build back up our emergency fund. So far this year, we have managed to save a month's worth of expenses. Our goal is to make that 3 months, then 6 months, and eventually a year's worth. Our emergency fund was spent in 2007 when we had no income. It is a relief to be able to begin building this again. Because of the variable nature of our income, we could need this savings at any time.

Purchase some new bookcases. Our books are double and triple stacked, and we could use some more bookcases. We ordered some for one side of the library (they arrived Wednesday); we will need to save up for matching ones for the other side of the room. They won't be ordered until we have the money.

Save up for a second car. We have been a one-car family for a very long time. My husband foresees the time when it will be nice to have a second vehicle (when we have several teenagers all needing to be at different places.) This is going to be a different situation than our van. My husband wants to restore a 1953 Chevy truck. We were able to purchase the truck last year (for an incredible deal), but it is just a shell--no engine, no instruments, no bed. He is teaching the children with this (the boys helped bend some sheet metal for this earlier this year). My husband researches everything to get the best deals--and then researches it again, and then again. His goal is to build the truck for as little as possible. We expect this to take several years, as we have a little bit to spend at a time on Craig's list, buying a used piece here and a piece there. 

Recover our living room furniture. The couches are falling apart and need to be recovered and repaired.

With all of this, we are being very cautious. Interest rates are set to rise, and that will mean a slow down in the housing market. Sales in Las Vegas have already started to slow way down (even during summer, which is not a good sign). This makes building up the emergency fund a huge priority, because a drop in sales for us and our agents can mean a decrease in income. 

I will be spending a good portion of each month's grocery budget towards rebuilding our pantry; my main goals are to increase our powdered milk, oil, and toilet paper supplies. If our income decreases significantly, we will be able to eat from the pantry again. If it decreases just somewhat, we will lower our budget.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Chore Assignments

It has been over a year since I last posted our chore assignments. For the most part, they have remained the same, with a few small changes.

After a while, everyone is ready for new chores. Changing the chore assignments helps alleviate boredom and more importantly, it helps children progress in their knowledge of how to run a household. One of the main reasons we have chores is to help our children grow into capable adults who know how to take care of themselves.

We decided to start new chores today along with our new school year. I asked the children what chores they didn't want anymore and what chores they would prefer. Some of the answers for the chores that they wanted surprised me! They did a great job today in their new chores, too.

We've given more chores to our 6-year-old, who asked for three things rather enthusiastically, and then proceeded to do them rather well! I was very surprised and happy about that today.

Here are our children's current ages:

Winter: 12
Cyrus: 11
Ezrom: 9
Liberty: 7 (almost 8)
Wren: 6
Elsa: 4
Ivory: 2

Ivory has been rather helpful in picking up the toy cars and people, and the blocks, and those are usually her mess. Unlike her 6 older siblings when they were her age (and some still!) she will go pick up the cars right away when asked, and will do a thorough job. She seems to understand that everyone cleans up, and she loves to help; she tries to fold laundry, but is still working on getting a washcloth folded (she has done it a few times).

Winter is assigned to make breakfast. She is learning to make more things this way. I'll help in her this chore; sometimes she can simply dish up breakfast, but the main goal is to teach her to make a variety of things.

One thing we've changed is that instead of just vacuuming their rooms on Saturday, the children will now vacuum on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays.  This is just part of cleaning their rooms. Since all rooms are shared, they can trade off who gets to vacuum.

Our trash is collected twice a week. The job of taking out the trash includes taking the big cans to the curb on those days as well as bringing them back up; every day it includes emptying all but one of the trash cans in the house (the kitchen trash, three bathroom trash cans, and my desk trash; I empty the sewing room trash when it is needed).

Also, though it's not on here, Cyrus cuts the grass each week as part of his chores. Winter helps in lots of ways that aren't listed on here (she helps with Ivory a lot and all of her siblings love her a lot because she plays with them); they all help in lots of little ways each day as well (taking plates of food to the table or offering to help in other ways, etc.).

Here are the new chore assignments:

Before Breakfast:
Get dressed
Make bed
Straighten bedroom
Sort dirty laundry

Winter: Make breakfast
Cyrus: Take out trash
Ezrom: Put away Clean dishes
Liberty: Pick up living room
Wren: Set table
Elsa: Pour Drinks
Fold laundry
Put away laundry

After Breakfast:

Clear Spots
Brush teeth

Winter: wash dishes
Cyrus: Wipe table and chairs
Ezrom: Sweep the floor under the table
Liberty: Pick up girls' hall
Wren: Sweep and mop the kitchen
Elsa: Dust

Before Lunch:

Put away schoolbooks

Winter: Sweep wood floor by piano
Cyrus: Clean boys’ bathroom
Ezrom: Pour drinks and set table
Liberty: Pick up library
Wren: Clean girls’ bathroom
Elsa: Pick up living room
Ivory: Pick up library

After Lunch:


Clear Spots

Winter: Wash dishes
Cyrus: Sweep both halls
Ezrom: Wipe table and chairs
Liberty: Sweep and mop under table
Wren: Vacuum Living room
Elsa: Clean bedroom

Before Dinner:

Winter: Pick up and vacuum living room
Cyrus: Put away clean dishes
Ezrom: Wipe and set table
Liberty: Clean Patio
Wren: Clean up by front door
Elsa: Pour drinks
Ivory: Pick up library

Clean rooms
5 minutes cleaning in the library

After Dinner:

Clear Spots
Put on pajamas
Brush teeth

Winter: Sweep and mop kitchen floor
Cyrus: sweep and mop by piano
Ezrom: Wash dishes
Liberty: Sweep under table

Wren: Wipe table and chairs

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

This post is without pictures as I misplaced my battery charger for my camera. I found it this evening, so I'll have pictures on the next post!

I cut 3 Armenian cucumbers and brought them in.

I cut two large bunches of basil, rinsed them, and hung them to dry. I also gave a large bunch to someone else. It is growing quite well and is regrowing quickly. I would be happy to share some with any readers who want to come by!

I cut zinnias, roses, and basil flowers for an arrangement.

I cut fig branches for a vase on the entry table. These have a milky sap (like poppies) and like poppies, need to have the stems seared after cutting and before putting them in water.

I cut chives and rosemary from the garden.

My husband bought 4 LED lights for us to put in the living room ceiling fan. While these are an initially large expense per bulb, we hope that over time, they will help to save money. We are working on slowly changing out our light bulbs, starting with the ones that are used the most often. We rarely need to turn the lights on for more than an hour or two a day now (between 7:45 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., usually), but once it starts getting darker earlier, we'll be using the lights in the evenings. We have been waiting to change our bulbs from incandescent for some time, since the bulbs we had  from years ago were still working fine (as we rarely use them), because we didn't have the money for new bulbs, and because my husband installed dimmer switches in all of the ceiling fans that he installed in our house (there are 10)--and fluorescent bulbs don't dim (plus the fluorescent bulbs were too long and stuck out of the shades quite a bit). We are happy that there is now a small LED bulb that dims, which should be fantastic come winter when we need the lights on more often.

While I had no plans to go grocery shopping last week, a friend let me know a local store was closing out a whole bunch of unsalted butter (the only kind I buy) that would expire in two days. They had priced it all at .50 a pound! I bought 45 pounds to freeze. While I was there, I also bought 3 gallons of milk and the first head of lettuce I've bought all year (I'm looking forward to growing more in the garden when it is cool enough to plant again).

I also didn't plan to go to Target this week, but after a post I read about some shirts on sale, I decided to buy a few for Winter. We didn't end up liking the $5 shirts, but found 3 for her on clearance for $6.30 each. I also purchased a skirt for her to wear to church that she picked out.

While I was there, I bought two shirts for Liberty at $4.20 each. I also bought her a new church dress for $11.

My husband and I watched an episode of a show for free on Hulu.

I downloaded some mazes and a Maxfield Parrish image from week's Dover Sampler.

What did you do to save money last week?

Goals for the First Week of School

We're starting school again this week, so it should be quite busy. I want to keep on top of lessons and reading books, and I definitely want to do more science experiments and art projects this school year. I'll have 6 children doing schoolwork now, in 6 different grades, which will definitely take a lot of time and effort!

Some of these goals are things I didn't get done last week; hopefully they'll be finished this week! I'm actually sick right now, so I may be taking it easy while I work on recovering. If I feel better, I'll work on getting all of these done. Otherwise, schoolwork and cooking might be all I get done this week.


1. Keep on top of all schoolwork, including assigning and correcting

2. Find my camera battery charger. I've never mislaid this before, but it has been missing for a while and I cannot take pictures until it is found.  We found it!

3. Go through all library and living room books and reorganize them yet again. I did this earlier this month, but we are hoping to have some more bookshelves arrive at the end of the week, so I no longer have to have double stacked books.

(On a side note, last week I moved all of my library pins from a private house board to a separate, public library board on Pinterest, which you can see here.)


I'm sure I'll cook a lot more than this, but this is what I have planned so far:

1. Roast turkey

2. Bake ham

3. Slice ham and turkey for sandwiches

4. Bake rosemary olive oil bread

5. Make tomato basil soup


1. Bring a few objects into the library from other parts of the house

2. Cut flowers and branches from the garden

3. Hang 2 pictures in boys' room

4. Iron pillow cover and put it back in Cyrus' room (I washed it a couple of weeks ago)

5. Have my mom print transfer for pillow for Ezrom's room

6. Move (rehang) a couple of pictures into different spots in the library


1. Sew pillow and cover for Ezrom's room

2. Sew buttonholes and buttons on 3 items

3. Finish hemming my husband's shirt sleeves


We are having cooler than usual weather this month; normally these are temperatures that I see in September. I am going to try starting a few fall seeds in the garden to see if they germinate. The hardest part is keeping them damp long enough to germinate when it is this hot still.

1. Spread some manure in the garden (I have just a little bit to use)

2. Plant a few fall seeds in a small area

3. Cut more basil and hang it to dry

Monday, August 18, 2014

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

I cut branches from the garden to decorate the house.

Two of the boys' posters showed up, and one was rolled in brown paper. I saved the brown paper for other projects/wrapping presents.

The Amazon gift card that I ordered from Swagbucks came, and I was able to order one more poster for the boys' room, and two MP3 songs that the family wanted, plus a little gift for Ezrom (that I am thinking I will wait until Christmas to give to him).

I did do a little shopping for food last week; I bought 14 pounds of frozen sweet peas at .98 a pound. We eat about 1 1/2 pounds at a meal. By buying several pounds at a time, I can save myself several trips to the store.

I dug up and cut off a new euyonomus plant that I started by tip layering months ago. I planted it in a pot that I already had. It will take years to get bigger (it's just a single branch now), but eventually I will be able to trim it as a ball topiary.

We had a bit of rain on two days. I put out buckets and collected water from where it falls off the roof (it rains so little that houses here do not need rain gutters), collecting over 7 gallons of water during our short amount of rain (one time it rained as long as 15 minutes, which is rare for here). I used that to water potted plants in the garden. The rain brought a bit of cooler weather, which allowed me to turn off the air conditioner for 12 hours one night, saving me about $7. I was also able to have it off for several hours each morning when it cooled in the early hours of the morning--an unusual thing that I don't usually do until September. When I turned the air conditioner back on, it was humid enough to collect several more gallons each day from the condensation that dripped from it, which I also used to water the plants. I also had the drip line and sprinklers turned off for a day because I watched the weather and was turned it off in anticipation of rain.

My husband and I watched an episode of a tv show that we like for free on Hulu. Ivory watched a few episodes of Little Einsteins for free on Disney Junior.

I took Ezrom to the library to pick up several Lego books that he had requested. He was so delighted with his stack of library books that he kept giggling as he checked them all out.

I shared several Armenian cucumbers and bunches of basil from the garden with friends. I bottled 26 pints of dill pickles using Armenian cucumbers from the garden, and 6 quarts of grape juice.

The cooler weather and humidity of a few days brought on lots of flowers on my beans at the beginning of the week, and on Saturday I harvested a large amount of red noodle beans, which made for plenty at the table one night.

I made a triple batch of laundry soap.

I bought something from Craig's list for the first time. I was looking and not finding anything, and then, I found it--and it was a fantastic deal!

I found a Thomasville nightstand (these run hundreds of dollars new and on sale) in just the color and size I needed for a table in our library (being a nightstand, it gave me the bonus of storage in three drawers, something I had been wanting, and why I was looking at furniture other than tables). The listing had it at $75; I took it home for $60. I am completely delighted with this find and it is perfect in the room. Buying the piece used saved me a lot of money over buying a new piece of furniture.

What did you do to save money last week?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

This Week's Goals and Meal Plans


1. Clean and organize closet with printer and school papers.

2. Put schoolbooks and teacher's manuals together for the current school year

3. Make sure I have everything I need to start the school year

4. Clean and organize my desk

5. Put away clutter in my bedroom


1. Pick ripe apples and Asian pears in the garden

2. Plant sunflower seeds in garden

3. Plant zucchini seeds in garden for a fall harvest; these should ripen in October

4. Plant more red noodle beans

5. Trim grape vines

6. Trim espaliered apples

7. Cut flowers to bring in

8. Cut basil and hang it to dry

9. Plant peanuts (if I can find a place to try again; they did not germinate last time)


I don't usually list cleaning goals, but I want to make sure I don't forget these this week.

1. Clean glass on oven door (I'm going to try baking soda)

2. Clean oven racks

3. Run a short self-clean cycle on oven (It recommends 8 hours, but it is usually done after 30 minutes. During that entire time the windows have to be open, according to the manual--the smell is quite bad and supposedly toxic, so I only run it for 30 minutes while having the vent fan on and the windows and doors open.)

4. Sweep and mop my bedroom and bathroom

5. Wash hairbrushes and combs


1. Finish hemming my husband's shirt sleeves

2. Add buttonholes to three items and sew buttons on them

3. Sew Scout insignia on Cyrus' Scout shirt

4. Sew arrow points on Ezrom's Scout shirt

5. Look through fabric that I have and decide on some things for some new dresses for Winter


I am working to recover a set of chairs. I'm doing one chair at a time. Last week I removed the double welting and washed the new fabric. This week I hope to:

1. Remove staples from chair

2. Remove fabric from chair and use it as a pattern to cut new fabric

3. Take all stuffing off of chair

4. Strip chair (I want to stain it a dark color, and right now it's more of a pecan)


I do not plan on buying any food this week; we will eat from what we have on hand in the pantry and freezer, and what is ripe in the garden.

1. Order a print of a picture I downloaded (for free from the Getty) for Ezrom's room

2. Look online for clearance shoes/sales for Winter, who is outgrowing her shoes and will now wear larger shoes than I do. (All of my family have wide feet, which usually means I purchase shoes online for the biggest selection and best deals). I may or may not purchase anything this week for her.


1. List items for sale on Craig's list

2. Bump up listing of table and chairs that I already listed on Craig's list

3. List books for sale online and figure out shipping costs (any suggestions for figuring out shipping expenses/how to best list books online for sale at Homeschool Classifieds would be appreciated, as I have never done this before and I don't want to shortchange myself in shipping items).


Here are some of the things I plan on making this week:

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

Tarragon Chicken Salad (using cucumber and tarragon from the garden)



Smoothies using home-canned and frozen fruit

Popsicles from the leftover syrup that was in the canned fruit

Banana Bread and zucchini bread

Fruit Salad using canned peaches, pears, and grapes

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Swiss chard (from the garden)

Chicken Flavored Rice

Cucumbers in Vinegar

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

Rosemary White Bean Soup

Minestrone Soup

Bean and Rice Burritos (I'll cook a big pot of beans and freeze some to use another time as well)

Fruit Crumble

Carrot Cake