Saturday, October 19, 2013

BIG expenses on SMALL budgets

Good news! My final grocery total ended at $278.38 for last month. My goal was $300. I'm so thankful! Now I know it's possible to stay within budget  if I keep close track of what I am spending! This month I'm going to try and spend even less.

Living on a small budget reminds me of a juggling act.  If you let the ball drop on a large bill and don't prepare then it can have a toppling effect on the rest of your budget.

The 'envelope method' has worked especially well for our big expenses that come around yearly. I also have expenses that are due every 3 months like the car's oil change and my hair cut and color. After I figure out our monthly and yearly needs I divided it by the number of months.  I withdraw the amounts each month from the bank and divide the money into each 'envelope' compartment in a plastic file I found at the dollar store.  The biggest challenge is to not 'dip' into the categories.

Here is my personal list:

Long term:
- DMV yearly fees ($10 a month)
- Accounting fees (year end taxes)( $15 a month)
- Christmas gifts  ($25 automatically taken out each month and goes directly into a savings account)

Short term:
- Hair cut and color ($25 a mo./ use on 3rd month)
- Allowance ($25 each a month)
- Oil change ($15 a month/use on 3rd month)
- Savings ($50 a month)
- Birthday gifts ($25 a month)
- Pet savings (emergency fund/ goal $100)
- Dentist/Medical ($10.00 a month for co-pays)

I find it much easier to come up with $25 a month than $300 all at once. So, this is how I prepare for big expenses and it works very well for us!


Here are a few things I did to stretch our budget this week along with my typical frugal day:

1. Free pumpkins! A friend blessed me with 5 beautiful pumpkins! I plan on canning them to use for pies and holiday breads to give away. I may even try a Martha Stewart idea I saw where you drill holes throughout the entire pumpkin and then place white Christmas lights in each hole.  It was exquisite and I've wanted to make one for years!

2. The fall garden is still in progress. Nearly 100 Stockton Red and 70 Walla Walla onions have been planted. Also 75 sweet peas and 2 kinds of garlic are popping up from the ground. There is also 15 celery and 12 swiss chard plants, 27 broccoli, 9 cauliflower, 25 green cabbages, 6 red cabbage and 2 varieties of beets. A row of carrots have been planted, too.  Hopefully I'll be able to plant some collard seeds this next week. I hope the Lord blesses my cabbage crop so I can try my hand at making homemade sauerkraut.

3. I had 5 buckets of finished compost. It was used to mix in the ground before the vegetables were planted. Store bought bags of mulch or compost are so expensive. Making my own compost is free and minimal work.

4.  My son and his family were moving last weekend.  My daughter in love offered me some half used bottles of hand soap. I was happy to take them and add to my own bottles.

5.  The vegetable garden did so well this summer that I'm looking for places to add more beds. There
was a large piece of dirt between the square foot garden and the berries which is now serving as a bed for the celery and the swiss chard. I keep looking for more and more spots to use for vegetables instead of flowers. I want to learn more about 'vertical gardening', too. I really think that our little city lot could eventually keep us supplied in fresh veggies and berries year round!

6.  I'm still preparing the home for winter. I think I'm almost done. The window air conditioners were covered on the outside with heavy plastic and duct tape. Small rags or insulating foam have been pressed into the space between both windows to keep more air out. Last year I happened to be walking by one of the air conditioners and felt an obvious draft. I investigated and discovered air rushing in at the bottom of the unit. I might as well been piping the hot air from the furnace directly to the outside.

7.  I continue to look for low carb meals that are meat free to stretch our grocery budget. (Oh, and I posted a few more low carb recipes over at our Family Recipe website.) Meat has gotten so expensive.  I made a veggie burrito this week for lunch. It's a recipe I used to make years ago. You saute chopped red onions in a little barbecue sauce (or you can buy SF ketchup or make your own). Smear it on a warmed whole wheat LC tortilla along with mashed avocado, a slice of dill pickle, shredded red cabbage, mushrooms, shredded carrots and alfalfa sprouts. You can also add lightly steamed broccoli or any veggie you like. It was very good and husband said it's a 'keeper'.

Well, that's about it for this week. Most of my extra time was spent in the garden.  I wonder if you use a different approach for dealing with big expenses?

Blessed to be a homemaker,



  1. I have a savings spread sheet also, but seem to always go over in food costs. Do you save for car insurance? We save each month for the twice a year payment.

    1. Our car insurance is billed monthly. I only save for the DMV yearly fees and also to change the oil every few months.

  2. What To Do With Citrus Peel !
    When you have some time and if you wish just find all you can on the Internet.
    My favorite is Mandarin Peel and I make tea sometime.
    Regards Wimmera from Australia(Spring is here)

    1. Hi Wimmera! I've actually been reading about saving citrus peels since we have an orange tree. They are not quite ready for this year but I plan on saving them and putting the peels in vinegar and then using it to clean. I've never heard of making tea with mandarin peels so I need to do some searching online. :-) Thanks for the tip!

  3. I am learning a lot about thrift from neighbors. The rural south is very accustomed to being poor so they know how to manage it. No complaints--as this is all just taken in stride.

    I see people who raise families on very small incomes and I am amazed at it. They don't seem to think there's a thing wrong with that. Its just what they are used to. My son-in-law's family has had some very simple and yet nice weddings. My own daughter's wedding was much less than $1000--including her dress. And it was the prettiest wedding I've ever seen.

    I was raised in the inudstrial mid-west which is much more dog-eat-dog and ambitious than the rural south. I guess I was used to working harder and faster than others all the time. Perhaps over-working.

    I've learned that 'money' is not a good measure of people.

    The kindest most generous and least judgmental people I've known are some of my southern neighbors. They sure get a bad rap on tv. Very unfair--and I really do not see the racism they get blamed for either. I'm sure it exists but not to the extent people think. Mostly among those who would be somewhat 'trashy' anyhow. Racially mixed neighborhoods are very common here. Not so much in the midwest. The little neighborhood my daughter is in--where she rents our other house is about 30% African American and the rest I think are white. I've only see 2 neighbors out of about 30 that I would think 'may be' racist. You can tell by the 'flags' and such. And they are bikers--in the true sense of that word.

    Anyhow that's off track. I'm just always looking for ways to save and one thing I enjoy is collecting old cookbooks. Speaking of racially mixed... I got a great old cookbook at a flea market -- The Ebony Cookbook from 1962; billed as 'a Date with a Dish-- a cookbook of American Negro Recipes (they have it on Amazon, ). Its full of simple good home cooking that African Americans would like. (put out by Ebony Magazine's publishing co I guess. Anyhow it has a lot of good southern food in it--and a lot of that is very cheap to make and feel a crowd with.

    So there's a tip-- if you want to have a collection--collect recipes!

    My great Aunt Dorothy was the families most 'persnickety' cooks. She once showed me her recipe collection it was in multiple shoe boxes!

    I wish I knew what happened to that when she died--I bet it got tossed. :( There are treasures we are losing in that generation's thrifty ways! Perhaps it is good for our grand children that they likely won't grow up with as much $ as some of us had. Perhaps they will value more important things.

    Well anyhow I'm learning some of those old recipes and I love reading those precious books-- as if they were novels!

    1. I made family cookbooks (for both sides of the family) a few years back for just the reason you mentioned .. I was concerned many of our favorite family recipes would be lost within a few generations. I typed out the recipes and then had then spiral bound at Staples. It cost $6 a book. I gave them as gifts. I have my own recipes in the largest notebook you can buy. I think they are 3 or 4 inches wide. I downsized so I only have 2 large notebooks now. I have dividers and put my recipes in plastic sleeves. I love recipes. My house is very small and so I don't buy cookbooks any longer but I'm always looking for new ones on the internet and then I write them out for my own cookbook. Thanks Mary for your thoughts. I always enjoy reading what you say!

  4. I am trying to get into the habit of putting aside money for yearly expenses. I have not ever done this before and certain months of the year are brutally expensive because of it. I am sure it will be so much less stressful.

    As always I am inspired by your blog. I aspire to be as good a steward as you.

    1. I'm sure you'll do a great job Theresa!

      Thank you for the kind words. I actually see myself as a good steward 'in training' because I have so much to learn.

  5. New here.
    I am wondering why you put aside money for an accountant. Taxes are pretty easy at lower incomes (as we found out). Turbo Tax is your friend unless you are doing some complicated stuff.
    Our yearly bills include:
    property taxes and insurance
    auto insurance
    Dog shots (those were about $300 last year!)
    Dental and health insurance
    gifts for kids
    and house repair.
    I take out a bit each month and put it in a separate account. After five years the accounts are humming and I am rarely over budget!

    1. you can check around sometimes there are shot specials. In our rural area you can take dogs on certain days to shot clinics and get shots for $9; also we have buy one get ones on spaying and neutering at $40-- but you do have to go to that particular dr at the dates it is on.

    2. Hi Janette and welcome!
      Actually, I used a free service through our library last year and then used what I had saved for shoes and some other needs. That was the first time I didn't have to pay. I'm still saving for this category just in case they no longer offer the free program. I have looked in to Turbo Tax but I think we have to pay a filling fee possibly. Which still would be cheaper than what I originally was paying for an accountants fee. So, if the free program is discontinued I may come looking for you to give me some advice on how to use Turbo Tax. :-)

    3. Georgene-
      I love your posts because they are real and practical. I am glad that you posted your results of making your monthly budget. I kept checking back and thinking "Oh I wonder if Georgene made it under $300 this month!" Do you have a system for recording/filing bills and budget? I get so bogged down with paperwork. It can be discouraging. Keep up the fantastic work and thanks so much for sharing! Blessings, Jennifer in Iowa

    4. Hi Jennifer! Paperwork is hard for me, too. I have a file drawer with each bill listed on a folder (ex. Utilities, Dental, Credit card names,etc.). I mark the date, amount paid and if there is a check number on each bill after it's paid. Then I file it in the folder. I also have a 'current folder' in the front of the files for things that need my attention but ended up just laying around on my desk. I have other folders for PAY STUBS, DEPOSIT SLIPS, BANK STATEMENTS, GAS RECEIPTS, GIFTS RECEIPTS...oh, I'm sure there are more. I make a folder for any receipt that needs a home. :-) I shred everything in these files at the end of the year if they are not used on my taxes. I hope this helps and thanks for the support! This month was a challenge! :-)

  6. Georgene, if you drive a newer car, you don't really need to change your oil every 3 months/3,000 miles. Most of the newer cars can go 5 to 6 months. Look it up from a non-interested party to see if your car is one of the models. Also, some community colleges or high schools with auto shop classes might be able to change your oil for cheap or free. Call around to see if there are any programs like that in your area.

  7. Just been looking at your recipes, thank you! Really nice! Carol.

  8. With regarding to finding more gardening space you may look at your library for the book, "Edible Landscaping" which may allow you to expand your gardening areas into your front yard as well as the back.

  9. When my daughter was eager to go out for a short tour with friends, I was literally worried about the related expenses, so one of my friends suggested me the best instant finance assistance in the form of payday loan. It helped bringing smile on my face, as I could help fulfilling the requirements of my child on time.


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