Saturday, January 9, 2016

Answers to a Reader's Questions on Frugality

I recently received a few questions from a friend who is suddenly living on less money.  I started to put some thoughts down on paper but then decided to turn it into a post hoping my answers might help someone else. We could all use help these days (myself included) with grocery prices rising and no end in sight. I have not 'arrived' but continue to learn from trial and error how to live within the confines of a lower income.

So, here are a few of her questions:

1. What has been the largest area (monetarily) you have had to learn and practice frugality? (groceries, utilities, extras, etc.)

I would say that my grocery budget has been the largest area I've had to learn and practice frugality. 
If I exceed my monthly budget it's almost ALWAYS in the grocery area. Not monitoring my expenditures close enough is my main problem. But, if I work hard at tracking my spending then this is also an area that I can save money.


2. What has been the most difficult area for you to bring under control / practice frugality in?

Again....groceries!  I still don't feel like I have as much control in this area as I'd like to. I made the mistake this month of shopping on 2 different days without catching up in my checkbook. I sat down to enter my receipts into Quick Books and found that I had overspent. *sigh* 

My 5 week pay periods are the hardest. I had a victory though this past month. I normally keep a running grocery list on my fridge. This 5 week pay period I went through the list and only bought bare necessities. I also relied heavily on what I have in my pantry.

A PRICE BOOK is very helpful. You can add any information for an item that will help you personally. I like to keep track of the date, weight and where I purchased it along with the brand. 

 I take advantage of the store's reward programs, too. Walmart's Savings Catcher program will match competitive store prices in their weekly ads and if they find a lower price they will give  the difference in an e card. I have a $10 balance. I also buy some hard to find items through Amazon and use their credit card which gives me reward points that can be used toward future purchases. Most credit cards offer rewards. Just be careful to track your credit card spending for groceries from your checkbook as if you were writing a check or you can get yourself in trouble by the time the bill arrives.


 3. What is your best piece of advice for frugality?

Plan ahead for known/and possible unknown expenses and work these into your monthly budget.

 Make a list of all the categories in your checkbook ledger over the past year. Most will be monthly expenses and others may be quarterly or yearly. You will get yourself in trouble if you only plan for monthly expenses without planning for the quarterly and yearly expenses. Divide those quarterly and yearly expenses by the months needed to save and then add the category to your monthly budget.  You can 'hide' the money for quarterly/yearly expenses in your checkbook under that category name or start an envelope system. For instance, I have a 'dental fund' that I hide in my register of Quick Books. I add my monthly budgeted amount for dental to the previous months total. This way I have enough to pay for our cleaning by the next quarterly visit.

Here are just a few examples of quarterly and yearly expenses:

 Quarterly expenses:

- Hair appointment (I save $25 a month and get my hair done on the 3rd paycheck)
- Dental cleanings (I save $25 a month to clean our teeth several times a year)
- Oil Change (I save $10 a month. Oil changes are approx. every 3 to 4 months) 

Yearly Expenses:
- Dog license (I save $10 a month which goes into a Vet Savings for office visits, vaccinations or dog license)
- Christmas (I have the bank transfer money every month from my checking into a special savings account)
- I used to save for accountant fees so this may be an area you need to set a side for monthly. Now we qualify for the free tax preparation at our local library. 
- DMV ( I save $15 a month for my yearly DMV fees) 

Second best advice is to save something, no matter how small, every month for unexpected expenses (car repairs, appliances, etc.)  If you can't save then you need to find some place to cut back. Seriously! Nearly everyone can find somewhere they can cut back. Check impulsive spending such as fast food expenditures, extra snacks at the grocery store, Starbucks, entertainment, etc. If not, then look for ways to bring money into the home. Swagbucks is a fun way to earn and never leave your home.  Living paycheck to paycheck without saving for unexpected expenses is a recipe for disaster which usual means credit card debt.

This past summer we had an unexpected plumbing expense that cost more than $500. I had set aside a small amount for quite some time in my household expense fund and by God's grace I had enough to cover the expense. If not, then I would have had to put it on a credit card which would have put a monthly burden on us until we paid  it off.

Here is an example of what I save each month: 

- I take $18 out a month for house expense (filters, garden fertilizer,etc.). Why $18? That is what I had left over at the end of my monthly budget. *smile* (Put this last)

- I put aside another $30 a month for a larger house expense (plumber, new fridge or washing machine, etc.).

- I save $10 a month for vet bills. My goal is for $300 or more since it's nearly impossible to get out of an office visit for less. Yearly license fees and vaccinations also come out of this account. This year I hope to add another $100.

Your savings plan won't work if you get into your savings. Just remind yourself what your goals are! Write them down if necessary. 

It seems like I am always changing my budget because new expenses come up or prices rise and I have to adjust the previous amounts. I will be paying a higher amount for my medical insurance starting in January so I readjusted my budget this afternoon. I have a budget spreadsheet on my Microsoft program which I love! My cable bill went up... I negotiated a lower price but it will change my budget.

I saved the best advice for last... put your trust in the Lord and not your budget or savings. No matter how diligently we plan and save there is always that unknown factor that can throw our best made plans out of whack. Last month I made a mistake in one area for my 'envelopes'.  I panicked! Thankfully, the Lord had mercy on me and had already made provision through another mistake I had made in my checkbook which was to my advantage. (can we say OLD brain!)  Boy, did I praise Him for His mercy.

Remember to give to the Lord's work. Be a cheerful giver as an act of worship. Give to others. There are so many ways we can give...even if we don't have anything left over at the end of the month. Prayer, our time, a phone call, small acts of kindness. 

So that is about it. Can you help my friend and add to what I have already shared?  Is there anything you can think of that I missed? We both would greatly appreciate it. 


A Typical Frugal Day 

So, here are a few things I've done in my home this month.

1. I am still watching for ways to stretch meat since it's so expensive. I cut the 1 pound bacon packages in 1/4's and use 1 section per week. I either use it in a Frittata or in a veggie scramble or on the side with fried eggs. This way my hubby doesn't feel deprived and it doesn't put a strain on my grocery budget. 

Time to dry SF cranberries, again!
  2. I ran out of my homemade cleaners all at once. Homemade cleaners can save a lot of money in my grocery budget. Here are my favorite cleaning recipes: 

Bathroom Cleaner

I fill a spray bottle with half white vinegar and half water and use this to clean the sink and toilet.

Laminate Floor and/or Window Cleaner
Put in a spray bottle and spray onto mop.

1/3 c.  water
1/3 c. rubbing alcohol
1/3 c. white vinegar
3 drops liquid dish washing soap
5-10 drops lemon essential oil (opt.)

Spot Remover

I keep this spot remover in a small plastic container with a lid and I use an old toothbrush to apply it on the stain

2/3 c. Dawn dish soap
2/3 c. ammonia
6 Tbsp. baking soda
2 cps. warm water

A few laundry soap ingredients
NO GRATE Homemade Laundry Soap

I decided to make a MEGA BATCH of laundry soap. I've seen this recipe in many places on the web but basically it's a huge batch similar to what I've made for years.

3 bars of soap, cut up in pieces before you put it in the food processor (I use 3 bars of Fels Naptha or 1 bar of Zote)
1 box Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
1 box Borax
2 cups of baking soda
3 pounds of Oxyclean (I use a cheaper brand like Sun Oxy)
1 bottle of Gain Fireworks or similar product (Optional for fragrance)

Use food processor and add in the order given above. Be sure to cut up the soap before you put it in the food processor. You may need to add Borax to the Zote  in the food processor so it won't stick to the blades.  Use 2 tbsp. per load in your wash. I'm hoping this will last at least 9 months for our family of 2 and 3 pets bedding. I'll track it on my calendar.

I spend $1 a month on Fabric Softener from the dollar store. I need to cost this out to see if I'm getting a good deal. I've tried using vinegar but it doesn't get the towels soft enough since I hang them on the clothes line.

Spot Remover
 3. I normally don't reuse tinfoil that has been used for dairy, meat or egg products. But, I had an idea recently to use the opposite side of the tinfoil after it's washed. I mark with an X which side to not use.
4. I reorganized my freezer so I can keep better track of what I have. I have  2 'meat only' shelves and vegetables, fruit, etc. on separate shelves. This will also save time in the long run. 

5. I'm so excited that I found a way to dry my clothes faster this winter. I put a drying rack in front of my gas heater in the living room. My wet clothes dry in no time. I keep checking them throughout the day and move the ones that are already dried to the back rung.  If company comes to the door then I throw a towel over the rack and remind myself that this is a 'working home' not a show place. I can't wait to see how this helps on my utility bill this month since I had an increase last month because I used the dryer on damp, cold days.

6. I started a 'soup' container in the freezer of bit and pieces of vegetables, tomato products, meat, etc. that normally would have been thrown away. It's such an inexpensive meal. I love to make a pot of soup each week for lunch. My hubby likes any soup I make as long as I throw a Habanero pepper in. 

7. I've continued to knit dishcloths for Christmas gifts in the evenings while watching TV. This way I get a head jump on next year's Christmas. A friend has been teaching me how to make beanies on a loom. Such fun!

This barn was our home for 1 year while waiting to be approved for disability. We loved it!

8.  I squish my toilet paper roll before I put it on the roll dispenser. This practice helps slow down the speed of the roll. This is especially helpful if you have young children at home who like to play with the toilet paper. :-) 

9. I made Jalapeno Jelly from our garden surplus of jalapenos which I gave for Christmas gifts. Ritz sells a box of crackers with small individual wrapped tubes. I also found small tubs of cream cheese at the dollar store. I was able to give all 3 together as a gift. 

10. I love to cook and bake recipes in bulk and then freeze for later.  I made up 2 batches of homemade pie crusts to put in the freezer. I love to have pie crusts on hand to take a quick Chicken Pot Pie meal for someone who is sick. My mama loves them, too. I also made up a low carb pie crust for us.  I like to make a big meal on Saturday so that I don't have to cook on Sunday. It's my one day of the week that I like to take a break from cooking. I  made a huge batch of meatloaf and froze 3 of them. I fried up 3 pounds of hamburger and divided in 3 freezer bags to use in future meals. I also cooked and then froze a batch of coconut flour pancakes for my low carb diet. Last night I made Egg Muffins to put in the freezer for a quick breakfast.  I like to think of my freezer as my 'fast food' drive through. :-)


Here are a few new recipes (and an old favorite) I made this month: 

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash
We really liked this new recipe.  It will become a regular. 

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes (warm squash in microwave for 4 minutes to make it easier to peel)
1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 to 1 tsp. onion salt or seasoned salt
1 tsp. white pepper or black pepper
1-2  tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil

375 for 50 minutes. You can turn half way if you'd like.

My orange tree is full this year!
Cowboy 'Caviar'
A great recipe to take to your  parties.  

2 cans of black eyed peas, drained
4-5 ripe tomatoes (or a can of drained, diced tomatoes)
3 avocados, diced
garlic salt to taste
minced yellow onion
1/3 jar of La Victoria Salsa (medium heat)
1/4 cup Italian Dressing
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Mix and let it sit overnight. Eat with tortilla chips.  

Oatmeal in a Jar 
I've been trying to add small amounts of carbs to my diet to help discourage kidney stone formation. I've especially missed oatmeal since going lower carb 4 years ago.  I put one serving of instant oats (rolled oats would be better but the instant oats were free) in a canning jar and poured coconut milk (you can use cow's milk instead)  to cover the oats. You can add nuts, raisins, coconut, etc. You can even add seasons like a little cinnamon and a sweetener.  Let it sit overnight and it's ready to eat the next morning. I heated mine in the microwave but you can eat it cold, too. Great idea to make ahead for busy mornings with school age children.

Bapa playing checkers with an older grandson

Julia Child's Braised Red Cabbage

1/4 lb. bacon
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup slice onion
3 Tbsp. butter
2 lbs (6 or 7 cups) red cabbage, cut into 1/2" slices
2 cups diced tart apples
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 tsp ground bay leaf
1/8 tsp clove
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 cups good, young red wine (Bordeaux, Chianti) or more beef stock
2 cups beef stock
24 peeled chestnuts (I didn't use these)

Salt and pepper to taste Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Cut bacon into strips 1 1/2" long and 1/4" across. Simmer for 10 minutes in 1 quart of water. Drain. Cook the bacon, carrots and onion in the butter slowly in an oven-proof pan for 10 minutes without browning. Stir in the cabbage leaves and when well covered with the butter and vegetables, cook slowly for 10 minutes. Add all additional ingredients (except for the chestnuts). Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover and place in middle of preheated oven. I used an enamel Dutch Oven pot. Regulate heat so cabbage bubbles slowly for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Add the chestnuts, cover and return pan to oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours more, or until the chestnuts are tender and all the liquid has been absorbed by the cabbage. Taste carefully for seasoning. Can be made ahead - this is even better when reheated the next day! Serves 6 people. Next time I'll cut it in half for the 2 of us.

Snoopy thinks if he stares at me long enough that I will feed him early.


Save, Repurposed,Stretched or Reused! 

- Baggies, storage bags, most plastic bags (reused: washed and reused)
- Coffee (stretched: replaced coffee taken out of pot that morning with more water. I pour the rest of the coffee into pint canning jars and refrigerate)
-Small paper bags from grocery store (I save these to ripen fruit)
-Rubber bands off of newspapers
-Plastic bags from grocery store (reused for garbage cans)
-Newspaper (Lasagna Composting by adding grass clippings and leaves on top)
-Toilet Paper (I'm saving the very end of the paper on the roll. I take it off the cardboard, fold it and save to wipe down the toilet. It normally was thrown away. As soon as the weather warms up I'll start saving the cardboard roll for my compost pile).

Deepening the Pantry (or prepping)

-1 bottle of lamp oil
-Canned chicken and tuna (3 each)
-Bottled Water (2 gallons)
-Toilet Paper (I'm buying the largest package and then putting aside 4 rolls each month) 
-Canned soup (5) 
-Beanless chili (1)
-Box of matches (1)

Oh... and I heard that Blogger has changed things so that it's necessary to sign up with Google in order to post? I hope I understood correctly. You can always sign up for emails through a link on the side of this blog or join my Facebook page. It really doesn't take long to join Google from what I remember. 

I miss hearing from you girls and what you are doing in your homes. You always teach me so much. Anything new? How was your Christmas and New Years? Any New Year's Resolutions?

Blessed to be home!

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