Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Greetings, everyone!

I'm reviving my blog after an absence of 3.5 years. Oh my, how is that possible! I guess we can thank Facebook.

Why am I back, then? Well, I'm starting a project tomorrow (Oct. 1, 2014) and Facebook just isn't the right place to write about it. I need a forum that will allow longer-form writing, so here I am, home again.

The project I am undertaking is a challenge to myself to live within the food budget allowed to SNAP participants. I know the amount per-person varies (I've worked for DHS in the past and did a lot of food stamp cases in the dark ages, so I know the variables.) For the purpose of this experiment, the budget I will be using is $4 per day for food. Wow. Will it be tough? You bet. But I have a lot of reasons for wanting to test myself this way.

As I posted on Facebook, I read a newspaper story by a reporter who had decided, with spouse, to attempt to live a week within the SNAP guidelines. The story wrote about how hard it was to stay in that budget and how painful hunger is.

Here is my personal challenge: I want to try this for the month of October, not just a week.

Here are the things I have to work out: I have a lot of food in my home. The more I have thought about this project, the more I realize I could survive a month -- maybe longer -- on my pantry and freezer. But I can't then turn around and say I spent zero dollars and did just fine.

To try to do an honest test, I have decided this will be a two-part experiment. First, I will live on these resources and try to give a honest price to what I use, for however long they last. After that I will report when I start spending again on food and see how I do with $4 a day.

I welcome anyone who feels led to walk this road with me. I'll post on my blog as we go along.

There are several reasons I feel called to this. First, if we expect the least among us to survive on this amount, I want to know I can, too. Second, if there is information I have or knowledge I gain that could help someone else, I want to share it. Third, this is the harvest season. I am grateful for all I have --in abundance --and I want to be mindful of these gifts and not wasteful. This is one of my biggest sins.

Hope you come back tomorrow and join me on this journey!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hi guys

It has been a long and at times difficult six months. I'll give you the nutshell version of events and going forward I'll try to make more frequent updates.

I'm still living a frugal life, but in October I had to take out a home equity line of credit to have central heating and air conditioning installed. I had no heat as a result of Bernie's biting of the water line last year about this time, which flooded my house, including the floor furnace.

The heating system was a real blessing during this winter -- you know the winter, the one with -25 degrees one day, with 21 inches of snow. And a week later, it was 75 degrees.

Well, Mother Nature apparently takes her calendar seriously. Spring sprung this weekend and with it came HEAT. So I decided Saturday to turn on the A/C, and it in turn decided to do ... nothing. No cooling. So on my "to do" list this week is calling the company to have them come do what they need to do to make their system work. Thank ye Jesus for warranties.

I'm still nursing my 16-year-old Honda along. I had new tires put on today, but while they were doing that they discovered the bushings on the lower control arms of the rear need to be replaced. I told them to keep the car -- they will get the parts tomorrow to replace those bushings and then go ahead and fix those. I also asked them to make me a running list of the repairs that are yet to come so I can start planning for them. I don't mind keeping my old car as long as I have some confidence in its safety and performance.

Now, as to other things going on:

During the week of Thanksgiving 2010, my good friend Rita needed to make a trip to Stillwater to have an MRI done to try to determine why she was having pain in her right shoulder and lower back. I went with her to keep her company, and to get an escape from town for the afternoon.

Rita had been hurting for a few weeks, and things really deteriorated on this Monday that we made the trip. I had seen in her face how much pain she was trying to cover up during our recent visits, which is why I invited myself along this time. And it is a good thing I did.

Things changed dramatically while I was in the waiting room. When she came out, she had to rest before we could go out to the car. I wound up driving us home. She wasn't the same person after she came out of the inner office of the imaging center.

On Thanksgiving Day, we went to her mother's house to have dinner with her big family. After we ate, she went off to a bedroom to rest and slept through the rest of the day while the rest of us played cards, visited and watched football. After most of the family left, she broke down and asked her mother and brother if she could have them bring her one of the beds from her mother's house because she was having too much trouble getting into and out of her waterbed. Of course they brought it to her the next day, but this was a defining moment.

By Sunday she had had a mammogram and another MRI, and her brother called me Sunday night to tell me they had taken her to the hospital.

She was diagnosed with breast and bone cancer. Another friend and I served as witnesses as she signed her power of attorney and medical directive.

Before Christmas there was a trip to the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Tulsa for eight days -- various tests; a round of chemo and a trip home just before Christmas.

The chemo was brutal. Rita lost her mobility and it was clear she couldn't stay in her house -- the doorways were too narrow and her walker wouldn't fit through the doors. She couldn't safely get up and care for herself.

Just after Christmas she returned to the local hospital. It was a horrible, emotional, devastating time for everyone, but the end result was a painful decision not to continue treatment. This was made harder when Rita was unable to remember how that decision was made.

Ultimately, she entered hospice care on Jan. 4 and moved from the hospital to a hospice suite in one of the local nursing homes. She has two rooms joined by a tiny, tiny bathroom -- one is a living room with a sofa and a couple of chairs; the other room is her bedroom, what I call her dorm room.

Rita and I have been friends since the first day of first grade -- 50 years. I'm about to turn 56 and she's six months younger than I am. Her body is filled with cancer -- the PET scans showed lesions on a large number of her bones and her liver, as well as the tumor in her breast.

Generally speaking, patients in Hospice care have a prognosis of six months or less. Of course we have no idea whether Rita will live that long or if she will live considerably longer. At this point, with her pain managed, it is often hard to remember that she is "terminally ill."

And besides that, we are having the time of our lives. Stay tuned -- I will bring you more of Rita's story as I can bear to write it. She amazes me. And I can't let her go as long as she has things to teach me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I'd call this progress

This morning on the way to work I stopped at the ATM to get $20, because on Friday mornings my office has breakfast together. And I figured it was time to get some more cash, since I hadn't been to the machine in over a week.

Well. Imagine my delight when I was putting my card and cash back in my wallet and I still had LAST PAYDAY'S $20 in there -- that's from TWO WEEKS ago, folks!

That's right. I had money left over because I've been taking my lunch every day, cooking from scratch and mostly ignoring the vending machines at work.

It is a lovely feeling!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Home-made pizza success!

After a disasterous recipe for biscuits failed miserably, I needed to get back up on that oven again and come up with some sort of baking success.

I was hungry for pizza. And having just read The Tightwad Gazette's recipe for pizza crust, I made it. Here's the recipe in all its perfect, wonderful goodness. MAKE THIS. IT IS GOOD. And besides, you can make the whole pizza for about $2.50 and not have to wait for delivery.

Thick and Chewy pizza dough
1/2 to 3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 package (1 Tablespoon) dry yeast (I use the bulk yeast in the jar -- make sure it's new)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups flour (I used unbleached all purpose)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (I used olive)
1/2 teaspoon salt.

Combine 1/4 cup of the water with the yeast and sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until bubbly, about five minutes (Note- I had this in an 8-oz. cup. Use something bigger!)

Put the flour, oil and salt into a food processor using the steel blade. and process about 5 seconds.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and process about 10 seconds, or until blended.

Turn on the processor (on high) and drizzle just enough of the remaining water through the feed tube so that the dough forms a ball that cleans the side of the bowl. Process so that the ball turns around about 25 times. (Ironically, my processor quit running just at that time...)

Put the dough ball on a 14-inch greased pizza pan or large cookie sheet (I used my Pampered Chef cooking stone.) Cover with plastic wrap or a bowl (I just turned the food processor bowl upside down on top of it.) Let it stand 10 minutes.

Pat the dough out so that it covers the pan, making a ridge on the edges.

Spread with pizza sauce (it doesn't take much) Add cheese and toppings. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese bubbly.

I will never order pizza again after making this.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to make a hamburger, pepperoni and sauteed onion pizza for tonight's supper.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An update

Things are going very well with the austerity program. This is the end of the first week and I am pleased with the results of being just a bit more conscious of my spending.

Of the shopping trip mentioned in my previous post, I have used the ground beef in three meals that consisted of beef patties I broiled and topped with cheese (no buns; don't need the carbs!) I've added a veggie to each from my freezer or pantry stash, not included in the shopping total.

In addition, I made a huge pan of "spaghetti pie" on Sunday which has now provided at least six meals. I'm on track to finish the last of it tonight or tomorrow for lunch. Yep, I'm getting to the point where I really can't stand to look at it much longer. I prepared a 9x13-inch pan; my lesson from this is to make two 8x8 pans and freeze one so I don't get so incredibly bored with it! LOL.

I've eaten the three peaches as desserts, at a cost of about 25 cents each. Sure beats putting 85 cents in the vending machine for a candy bar, for so many reasons.

One more week left until my next payday, and I actually have money left -- a good sum. My phone bill will be the next drafted payment before payday. The other bills will come out of the next paycheck, but I am so well set with groceries that I will only need to make a small purchase, if I have to purchase anything next week at the grocery store.

I did make a tiny supplemental trip to Aldi's yesterday and picked up some shortening, a can of corn and celery. Less than $5. The shortening will be used for baking and the corn and celery will go into another casserole that will last a few days.

To say I am pleased would be an understatement. I had lunch at Taco Bueno yesterday-- just two bean burritos -- and I got my very first senior discount! So with a drink, lunch was about $3.50. Not as cheap as taking my lunch, but since I needed to run an errand to Aldi's, I'm not upset.

In the next week or so, I will have finished paying off a hospital bill to the tune of $300 a month. I will now roll that over to pay my doctor's bill. However, my next major hurdle will be getting a loan so I can have central heat and air put in my house. I need to do this soon, as the season is changing. My floor furnace is kaput and cannot be repaired so replacement and upgrading is my only option. I crippled through the summer with my window air conditioners, but even they are at the end of their useful life. Upgrading will make the house more comfortable, no doubt, and will be value added. I just hate having to pay for it!

I will keep you posted as I continue with my plans of eating breakfast at home, taking my lunch to work and then cooking items that will last for several meals. (This will get better as I empty out some freezer space and get to the point where I can freeze and rotate meals instead of eating one thing until I'm sick of it.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Austerity is not a dirty word

I've begun the program I'm creating to cut costs, save money and still not feel deprived.

Yesterday was payday, which means I finally was able to go to the grocery store again. If you look at my cash register receipt, you might accuse me of shopping hungry and really giving in to pent-up demand. Yes, I was hungry, because I didn't get to the store until well past 7:30 last night after a long day at work. But I made this trip work for me.

Yes, there was added work once I got home, wrapping bundles to restock the freezer in the top part of my refrigerator. For a minute I worried that I had overpurchased and wouldn't have room for everything, but careful arranging made everything fit.

So, I will share with you my purchases and their prices:

Corn meal $1.29
Dry milk powder $7.69 (this one surprised me because I have never bought powdered milk before.)
Butterscotch pudding mix 99 cents (my treat)
Baking powder $1.95
Flour $2.69 for five pounds (unbleached, all purpose)
Yeast $7.05 (jar)
Buttermilk $2.19 (half gallon)
Skim milk $1.91 (half gallon)
Cottage cheese $2.55
1-lb. roll of sausage $2.99
Sliced pepperoni $2.05
Whole chicken $4.45
Boneless pork loin chops $4.21 in saver pack of eight chops
Boneless eye of round roast $7.62
Eye of round steaks $6.28 for a saver pack of six steaks
Ground beef $8.64 in a family pack
Pork sirloin roast $3.42
Smoked ham hocks $3.56
Mini Babybel cheese $3.99 for six
Dozen large brown eggs $1.79
Butter $3.39
Diet Coke $5.00 for four 2-litre bottles; my vice
American singles cheese slices $3.29 for 24 slices
Shredded taco cheese $2.59
Two loaves of whole wheat bread $4
Broccoli crowns $1.12
Peaches $.77
Plums $1.45
10-pound bag of potatoes $3.79
Strawberries $2.59
sweet onions $1.32
Tomatoes $1.43

And then for the dog:
Two bags of Bil-Jac food $6.65 each for $13.30
Cool Jac treats $3.71
Milkbones $4.15
A toy $5.75.

With tax, my total was $146.79.

For supper last night and tonight, I was pressed for time and needed something mindless and fast so I broiled hamburger patties and topped them with a slice of cheese.

Instead of spending 60 cents on a can of Diet Coke, two of my 2-litre bottles have gone to work with me and are living temporarily in the employee fridge. The company provides bagged ice, so I can fill up my travel mug. I calculate I can get at least five drinks for the price of two from the machine. Yeah, I'm not perfect enough to give it up completely, but I am drinking more water in between, hoping someday that maybe I just won't want it. But not yet. As vices go, I don't feel too bad about this one.

So over the next few days, as time allows, I'm planning to do a major cooking and baking day, all from scratch. Stay tuned as I share how many meals I get from this shopping trip. I'll let you know what works and what flops, and what I find out about how these prices at my regular store compare to the other stores in my area.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time for an austerity program

I've been reading the three "Tightwad Gazette" books by Amy Dacyzyn (sounds like "decision") the past week or so and I've gleaned a few good ideas and a few good philosophies about spending money. And I'm at a point where some financial belt-tightening is necessary for a while.

So, as they say, the place to begin is at the beginning, right? This morning I took a few minutes to look at the "money leaks" in my budget, just to get a rough idea how much money I may be wasting.

What brought me to this? I got a notice a week ago that I was overdrawn by $1.05. I was mortified. Part of the cause was that my auto-draft on my car and house insurance payment went up $11 this month after my rates were adjusted for this six-month period. But you know what? I shouldn't have been so close to the margin that $11 would put me in peril.

So for the past week, I have spend zero money, other than $15 in coins I found around my house. With that $15, I bought $5 worth of gas so I could get to and from work; $5.90 for groceries; and I held on to the rest. If I can do that for one week, I can certainly plug some other budgetary leaks.

I've started by getting online and looking at my bank transactions for the past two months -- I opened a new account and now have online banking with this account so I can check any time I want.

I've checked to see how many times I have made cash withdrawals from the ATM-- it was far more often than the once-a-week I *thought* I was doing. Yikes!

I also checked to see how many times I was putting "lunch" on my debit card. Again, it was shocking!

This week I've been surviving by bringing my lunch and using the items in my pantry and freezer that I've just been looking past. And I'm REALLY looking forward to going to the grocery store tomorrow! With this break in the weather this week, bringing cooler temperatures, I'm thinking of all the inexpensive meals I can fix that will be good for lunches as well as dinners.

I've also returned to scanning the coupons for the items I use, then checking the store ads to see where I can get the most bang for my buck.

I don't think I'm at the point of washing baggies and aluminum foil to reuse, but I do use my oilcloth lunch bag (with a velcro closure) and tight-sealing containers for my lunch selections.

Instead of buying a tuna salad sandwich on a croissant at a downtown cafe, with chips and a drink for almost $8 (outrageous!) I've been making enough tuna salad at home for lunch and supper in one re-sealable container. Figure 69 cents for the tuna, a little more for a squirt of mayo and a spoonful of pickle relish, then whatever the cost of two slices of bread from a 79-cent loaf of bread from the bakery outlet store... you can see I would have saved WAY more than the $1.05 I was overdrawn! On average, lunches out are $6 to $7.

Starting tomorrow, I'll post my menus and the cost, plus how many servings they provide for me. And I'll let you know how many of those ATM trips I can cut out, since that cash probably also goes to meals I didn't make. I'll even commit to making a list of any cash purchases to see if I can cut down on my weekly cash allowances just by being aware of what I'm spending.

In a month, I'll let you know how this plays out -- whether I'm still walking along the edge of the financial cliff or if I've been able to step back and keep some money in savings.