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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas is coming- Ready or Not!

Tomorrow is December 1. Let that sink in a minute, folks. Yep, only 24 days until Christmas according to Christmas Clock. Are you feeling a bit frantic? Last year I wrote a post about this topic called Are You Ready for Christmas? where I explored ideas to pay for Christmas without cutting into one's regular budget.

So, here we are again and I am getting together my Christmas funds. Here is what I have done to earn Christmas money this year.

1. Swagbucks- by using the Swagbucks search engine, watching videos, and taking the daily polls, I have earned enough points to get $45.00 in Amazon e-gift cards. You can do this too. It is easy!  Sign up under my link  and help us both to keep earning Swagbucks.

2. Writing opportunities- I wrote a review of a product recently for THSC Review and earned $100.00 that I earmarked for my Christmas fund. ; )

3. The aluminum cans I have been saving up are about to get smashed and redeemed. I think I have at least $20.00 worth amassed. I am hoping it ends up being more and I will have to update y'all on the total once I get them turned in to the recycling center.

4. I have a big bank full of change that I have collected for at least a year that I am going to put towards Christmas. I will have to report on that total once it is counted.

5. I will be receiving a stipend from my college for providing notes to a person in my English class. I think I will be receiving $50.00.

So, there you have it. Without doing anything too drastic, I will have at least $250.00 for Christmas.

We are very frugal shoppers and that little amount will go a long way. My husband has been doing Listia and has accumulated a lot of points there which we will also be using to purchase Christmas gifts. I also do Listia (click to sign up) and if you join under me, you and I both get credits to use to shop there AND clear out our homes of no longer needed items.

How do you fund your Christmas purchases each year? Let me know in the comments. All respondents will be entered in a drawing for a Pampered Chef Season's Best Fall/Winter 2002 cookbook. I will draw for the winner on December 7 and announce the winner right here on my blog!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Recent Victories in Thrifty Living

I like to encourage and entertain myself by turning necessary activities like bargain shopping into a game. When I do well at my self-imposed game, I feel quite victorious and smart.

Here are some of my recent little victories in the money saving game I enjoy playing:


Just a few weeks ago, I declared to my husband that I was badly in need of some new pants. Kohl's was nice enough to send me a postcard good for $10.00 savings on a purchase so off I went to paw through their clearance racks in hopes of scoring something to fill the gap in my wardrobe. Not only did I find a cute pair of petite sized Capri jeans for myself, I also found a gift for someone in my family for Christmas (I cannot reveal what exactly I found because that person sometimes reads this blog).

I ended up spending a total of $5.94 and saving $61.50! I make sure that I go to Kohl's every time I get one of those $10.00 Kohl's cards in the mail. I have gotten all kinds of amazing deals for my family, home, and myself this way. As I write this, I have another $10.00 card in my purse that has to be used by August 31 and since my grandson has a birthday coming up, I may be able to snag him a cool present using nothing more than my time and a bit of cash out of pocket.

Healthy Breakfast for Pennies a Serving

Whenever I shop, I make it a practice to check the clearance items in each department of the grocery store. I stroll through the produce section, meat department, and the miscellaneous clearance rack in the back of the store. Recently I found a dented box of oatmeal with added oat bran marked to just $1.00 from its normal price of $1.69.

My grandson loves oatmeal and we used to buy the pre-made packets of oatmeal. Each box has 10 servings at $1.69 per box. So, 17 cents per serving. Not bad, except he eats two packets each breakfast, so the cost is actually 34 cents per breakfast. I decided to just buy rolled oats and flavor it myself with various ingredients we have on hand. Some days, Liam gets apple brown sugar cinnamon oatmeal (if I have unsweetened applesauce on hand), other days he gets strawberries and cream oatmeal if I have strawberry jam on hand.
I'd say he enjoyed his oatmeal!

The oatmeal I purchased on markdown has 11 servings so it cost 9 cents per bowl of oatmeal.  The cost of the add-ins is negligible because those items were all purchased for other  purposes and the amount added to flavor his oatmeal is fairly small. Creating flavored oatmeal at  home doesn't take much time at all. It is just a moment or two to measure out a spoonful of strawberry jam or to sprinkle cinnamon on the oatmeal before popping it into the microwave.

Once the oatmeal is gone, we may switch to some other breakfast item that I purchased on a clearance or coupon deal. We stay flexible on what we eat so that we are always spending the least we have to spend. When I find a great deal, I buy as much as I can afford to lock in that deal for as long as possible.

 Going Bananas

When I go to the produce section looking for good deals, I always look for a big bag of marked down bananas. The bananas are still fresh enough to eat out of hand for a couple days and I have a lot of uses for them as they ripen. I happened upon a large paper sack of bananas recently weighing about 20 pounds that was marked down to $1.50 for the whole bag! That is 7 cents a pound folks!
 This go-round I made grain-free banana pancakes and dairy-free banana ice cream. The beauty of these recipes is how they can be customized for the consumer. I spent some time cutting up bananas for our "ice cream" and freezing them so they would be ready when the desire for a cold, creamy dessert hit.

My grandson and I are both dairy-free so regular ice cream is out of the question. We love our banana "ice cream" and so do the dairy eaters in our home. Another plus on this tasty treat is that it is friendly to those of us watching our waistlines. And, finally, it is very inexpensive!

The grain-free banana pancakes were amazing. With nothing more than mashed banana, eggs, and some seasonings, I made pancakes! They were tasty, gluten-free, dairy-free, inexpensive, and easy! I encourage you to give them a try! Everyone in the house who tried them, liked them.
Here they are just about ready to flip. 

I have found that being willing to try different foods and recipes is one of the keys to the biggest savings in a grocery budget.

Well, it has been a very busy week. School began for me and my youngest son on Tuesday. I have a bunch of homework and since I want to make A's, I will sign off now and get to studying.

If you decide to try the banana "ice cream" or banana pancakes, please let me know what you think of them.

I will be back soon with more tips, tricks, and encouragement to help you to thrive instead of just survive on a tight budget. And please, share your tips and tricks with me!

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Crazy Life Gets Crazier...on Purpose!

You may remember that my grandson came to live with me on  April 1 of this year. My then 19-month-old grandson. To a home of adults who weren't expecting a little child to be in residence 24/7. We were all a little shell shocked to say the least.
Liam hugs our trees every day
during our evening playtime. 

Talk about a major life changing event for that sweet little boy and all of us, which includes my husband and two young adult sons in their early twenties. The dogs also were taken off guard by this tiny human who thinks that they are little horseys for his riding pleasure.

Here we are just about in mid-August and we all have settled in to a routine that includes locking every door in the house, always having company in the bathroom, and hoping for a good nap time.

Not content to leave things static, I have decided to complicate my life further by going back to college.

Yep, this grandmother (Gigi to be exact) is a college freshman (because my previous college was on semesters and the credits weren't acceptable to my new school). I took the assessment tests and passed all but the math with flying colors! Take that assessment tests!

I will be taking English Composition I and Intro to Speech this semester. I will also be working while going to school because we  have this habit of enjoying food, shelter, and clothing. ; )

I am working on a liberal arts degree, mainly because I am too much of a dilettante to buckle down to just one discipline. I will get to study English, history, French, and art and at the end I will be the proud owner of a Bachelor's Degree!

I am also working on moving my blog at some point to a self-hosted site. As I said, my crazy life is getting crazier on purpose.

I am striving to get back on a blog posting schedule but I am not making any promises. You may have to come see me on Facebook (Holly Williams Urbach) or Pinterest (whollyholly) to keep up with me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Turn Shabby Into Chic

Everyone has heard the saying, "You either have time or money." In the summer, I have more time and way less money due to the fact that one of my big contracts is tied to the school year. But, because I am home more, I get the itch to fix up around the house at a time when I have less money to do so.

I don't let my lack of money stop me though, I just use it as fodder for exercising my creativity. We have a couch that was given to us around seven years ago and though still comfy, it is showing signs of its age. I don't tend to buy furniture as people are always giving me furniture, so when my current acquisitions start to look shabby, I make them last a little longer until something better comes along.

 It seems that the arms of
furniture wear out faster
than other parts, though
I blame my dogs for this
as they stand here to get
a better look out the living
room windows at passers-by.

The damage to the back of
the sofa is also due to the
silly dogs who used to stand
on the back of it to look out
when the couch was in front
of the living room windows.
Obviously these damaged parts of the sofa need to be addressed and without any cash outlay. I realized that I had purchased some forest green napkins at my thrift store for 50 cents that could work to cover the arms of the sofa.

I also realized that I had a throw in the cranberry color that I could use to cover the torn center back cushion of the couch.

Prior to covering the problem areas, the whole couch just looked sad and made the whole living room look run-down.

The dog doesn't mind the shabby couch but I sure do!

And now the after-

Not perfect but a whole lot more appealing until something better comes along! How do you manage when you are short on money but need to do some fixing up around the house?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Giving Up Isn't an Option

Mandisa has a song titled "Overcomer". I love this song, especially the chorus.

You're an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You're not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it's hopeless
That's when He reminds You
That you're an overcomer
You're an overcomer

I have had a lot of challenging circumstances in my life to overcome. My parents divorced and remarried multiple times and not amicably. One sister had a terrible car accident. Financial struggles. My husband had a severe head injury and we didn't know if he would recover, my dad died of cancer , then my mother died of cancer, and on and on and on.

 Events happened in my life that made me feel like giving up...but I just couldn't give up. I wouldn't give up. What is it about some people that tough times make them tougher and others crumble?

I became a Christian in 1988 but even before that I was not one to let troubles stop me in my tracks. So, is it in our DNA? Is it how we are raised? Is it just stubbornness?

Some of it has to be our innate personality. I just took an emotional intelligence quiz to learn more about what makes me tick. My result is below.

How Did You Score?
Your results indicate a high score on emotional intelligence.

What Does Your Score Mean?
People who score high on emotional intelligence tend to be skilled at interpreting, understanding, and acting upon emotions. They are adept at dealing with social or emotional conflicts, expressing their feelings, and dealing with emotional situations. 

It's important to remember that no matter how good your score is, there is always room to improve your emotional intelligence. Consider areas where you are not as strong and think of ways that you can learn and grow. Take stock of your strong points and find ways to continue to develop and apply these skills.

When troubles come my way, I often stop what I am doing and cry but I don't stay there. I take stock of my situation, formulate a plan, pick myself up, and move forward. I try to use my problems to improve myself.

So, what do you think? Why do some people rise above their challenges and others go to pieces?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Life, Interrupted

Hello! I have been away since April 1 from this blog, from my social life, and barely keeping my head above water because my 19 month-old grandson came to live with us unexpectedly.

Now, I raised five children so I have at least a few child rearing skills up my sleeve. And I had those five children in eight years so I got pretty adept at juggling my time. I haven't lost any of the knowledge I gained...

So, I find it quite interesting that I am not getting much done with Liam living at my house. First, the lack of sleep derailed me because he didn't sleep well when he first came to us. Thankfully, now he often sleeps an entire 8-9 hours at night. This means that I get to sleep at least 6-7 hours uninterrupted which has improved my productivity and clarity of mind immensely!

Rearranging the house to keep Liam safe from harm and from harming our things took a bit of work as did figuring out what he liked to eat, when his nap time should be, how to get him to sleep, and so on. Getting back into the swing of shopping with a small child was also a skill to reincorporate!

Coming up on a month of having him, we are all adjusting well and thriving. We are climbing out of survival mode into a daily routine. When I was raising my children I did not work like I do now. Coordinating child care with my husband for our grandson was another challenge to be resolved.

I had a lot of emotions to work through when my life changed 180 degrees upon the receipt of a phone call. It was April 1 but it was NO April Fool's prank that would be over before the end of the day.

I was angry, disappointed, and mourning the loss of my freedom. Don't get me wrong- I am glad to be in a position to be able to help my grandson and his parents but it is still not at all what I envisioned doing once my children had all reached adulthood.

Thankfully, my grandson will be returning at some point (sooner rather than later we hope)to live with his mother. Until then, hubby and I will continue the juggling act and find some suitable sitters so we can get out together once in a while!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Think Healthy Equals Expensive? Think Again!

It's tax matter how much we wish it wasn't. We are faced with our income or lack thereof in stark black and white and we start thinking about earning more money in the future or how to pay those stinkin' taxes!

I am in the category of thinking about how to increase my earnings and because of that, I live extremely frugally. I am also kind of a health nut unless I eat something sugary and then I become a voracious eating machine, but that is the subject of a different post! Can being frugal and healthy co-exist?

Many folks think that living a healthy life is expensive. They are sure that eating healthy food is pricey. They are sure that they can't get in or stay in shape without a membership at a fancy (meaning costly) gym. With those assumptions, a lot of people just give up or they blow their budget at the grocery store and don't have money for much else.

When I am faced with prevailing thinking such as, "It costs a lot of money to be healthy," I take it as a personal challenge to see if that school of thought is true or not. Let me encourage you that giving up a large portion of your budget to groceries to have quality food is not necessary if you are willing to change your mindset just a bit. Isn't that good news?

What do I mean by changing your mindset? You have to be willing to buy marked down items at the grocery store. These items are marked down because the packaging has been damaged, the item is about to go past its sell-by date (which isn't its expiration date, by the way), or the store is clearing out the item because it wasn't a good seller. Generally, these items will have large orange stickers on them showing the original price and the new, reduced price and the savings is anywhere from 25-80% off of the regular price. I also use coupons and oftentimes I can use a coupon on a marked down item for the maximum savings possible.
This nice California mix made a delicious
addition to our healthy stir-fry. 

I don't know about you, but I would rather get the best and most items I can for the least amount of money and have some funds left to put towards other items I have to buy.

Recently I made a nice pot of vegetarian chili. It made 7 1/2 cups of chili, which was about seven 1-cup servings. I often serve my chili over rice so we don't need huge portions of chili that way. This pot of chili cost me a shade under $2.00 to make and I got two dinners and a lunch out of it. Right now, you are thinking that can't possibly be correct. I can feel your skepticism coming through the computer. I will explain so you can do similar feats of financial alchemy yourself.

My husband, who wasn't frugal when we married but has been a good student, purchased two cans of pinto beans that were marked down because the cans had been dropped and dented. The regular price of these beans is 72 cents per can, but in this instance, one was reduced to 36 cents and the other to 18 cents.
He also bought a bag of black beans that had been torn open and re-closed with tape that had been $3.00 but was reduced to 25 cents. I had some Northern beans in the cabinet from an earlier purchase to add to the mix of beans and I had a can of diced tomatoes. I had purchased some cans of seasoned tomato sauce that was originally intended to make meatloaf the store was clearing out because it hadn't been selling (I am always thinking of multiple ways to use items). Each can was marked to 24 cents and I bought a dozen cans (when you see a great deal, buy as much as you can). I had onions and the seasonings for chili already on hand that I had used for other dishes so the cost of these ingredients had already been paid. The total of all items used in the chili was $1.77! And it was no-meat chili which is healthier.

It may say Dinner Starters for Meatloaf
but the way I think, that is merely a suggestion.
We scour every store where we shop for clearance items or hugely discounted items. Because of this unique acquisition method, I do not make a menu prior to going shopping. Once we get our goodies home, then I proceed to create a menu and see if I will need to buy any additional items. We eat a good variety of foods due to this creative way of procuring groceries.

I carry this way of thinking to just about every budget category as much as possible. Anytime I have to spend money, I see if I can reduce the expense somehow. I pretty much live in hyper-frugal mode. 

 Because I am interested in living a healthy lifestyle, I also am into exercising. Exercise equipment, workout clothes, and gym memberships can really take a big bite of a budget if you allow it. I work out at least three times a week and I can safely say that I haven't spent more than $50.00 in the past two years on anything fitness related.  

I have purchased my gym clothes at the thrift store or found them at retail stores deeply discounted. I received an exercise bike from my brother-in-law for free because he was tired of it and all my free weights were given to me by people who no longer wanted them. My yoga mats were gifts as were many of my exercise videos. Some videos I purchased I found at the dollar store. I also found great exercise programs on my local PBS station. Working out doesn't have to be expensive any more than eating healthy does, especially if you work out at home.

Perhaps you don't need to watch your spending as much as I do. But, what if you did anyway and you saved the difference? What could you do with those saved dollars? Travel? Fund a retirement account? Buy a vacation home? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spa Week Continues with Healthy Eating on a Tight Budget

Taking good care of oneself has a lot of components: getting enough sleep, eating healthfully, exercising, good skin care, filling one's mind with uplifting music and reading, prayer, and so on.

During this week, which I have designated as Spa Week, I am focusing on eating well. Those of you who are regular readers know that in this area, as in all the areas of my life, I work from a tight budget. A lot of people are fond of using the government's qualifications on how much money should be spent to feed ourselves. Even on the thrifty plan, I find that if I am observant and careful, I can do pretty well on a lot less money. If you are curious about these figures, check out USDA Food Plans.

Here are some of my real life examples and by the way, I have to eat gluten and dairy-free, which can be a bit of a hit to the food budget. I make it a habit to be as flexible as possible in what I eat and drink to get the best available deals. This means that sometimes I am drinking almond milk and sometimes I am drinking coconut milk. It all depends on what I can get at the lowest price. If almond milk has a $1.00 off coupon and that is the best deal going, that is what I will have that week.

About a year ago, my local grocery store was clearing out some Bob's Red Mill gluten-free products, which normally run about $5.00 per bag, down to $1.00 per bag. I purchased several bags of creamy rice and creamy buckwheat and popped them into my freezer. Note, that I paid 20% of the regular cost and even that is much less than a gluten filled hot cereal. The creamy rice costs me 5 cents a serving before I add fruit to it and the creamy buckwheat costs 8 cents a serving!
I bought these a year ago and
put them in the freezer. 

My favorite way to eat creamy
rice is by adding strawberries
and bananas with a sprinkle
of stevia to sweeten it. 
The fruit I add to my breakfast is usually purchased on sale or when it is marked down to move it out of the store quickly. Again, I am flexible on what I eat so I get the most out of the money I have budgeted for groceries. A plus to this philosophy is that I also have great variety.
My bargain purchase of almond
milk plus protein shake mix and
fruit make for a filling, nutritious breakfast. 

Another philosophy I employ is to accept whatever people want to give me. In this case, I was given five packages of protein shake mix by my father-in-law. He had been sent them by a cousin and he was not at all interested in using them. I was thrilled because these are gluten and dairy free and I am always looking for ways to get low-calorie protein into my diet. Once people know that you are a person who is happy to receive items, you will be blessed with a lot of different things coming your way. I have been given meats of all types, all kinds of produce, lots of dry beans, furniture, clothing, even a car or two!

Another example of eating healthfully on a budget was finding a Kale Vegetable soup mix marked down at the grocery store. I would normally make my food at home from scratch but on this day I was having a busy day and so I was thrilled to find this soup kit for $4.00! Another plus on this was that I got two days worth of meals out of it so it was pretty cost efficient.
I wouldn't normally buy a
kit but this was healthy and
fairly inexpensive. 

All this healthy eating doesn't mean that there aren't any treats to enjoy. I recently discovered the joys of using frozen bananas to make "ice cream".
No sugar, no dairy, no guilt in this treat! Just slice fairly ripe bananas and pop into the freezer. Once they are frozen solid, just pop into your food processor and add a bit of whatever milk you like using for a plain version of banana "ice cream". I made a chocolate version for me and my youngest son by adding some cocoa powder to the mixture. You can add all sorts of tasty things to this for variety's sake. This is a good use of those really inexpensive markdown bananas we all see at the grocery store from time to time.

And there you have it, healthy eats on a budget! Just the kind of food that is called for during Spa Week!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spa Week

It is spring break here in my part of the country which means that the school where I work is not in session this week. So, I have some free time and decided to spend some of it on myself. I have designated this week as Spa Week!

Even here in the South, it has been a long, hard winter. Cold weather and dark, dreary days have had an effect on both my body and my psyche! If you are in the same boat, join me in undoing the ravages of Old Man Winter.

I am going to be spending this week exercising, doing beauty treatments, eating indulgently in a healthful way, and relaxing.

I began my day with a weigh-in followed by a Classical Stretch exercise session. Then I took my three
dogs out one by one for their morning walk. I ran through my yard with the two big dogs, Emmie, and Kiah, and did lunge walks around my yard with my sweet little Shih Tzu, Watson.

As I write this blog entry, I am soaking my feet in preparation for giving myself a pedicure. I am all about multi-tasking folks!

I put some lovely light pink OPI polish on my now smooth tootsies. I had purchased the polish on a markdown at my local grocery store. Looking good doesn't have to be expensive!

I also gave myself a mud mask facial this morning. Can you tell it's on over here at my house?

This is as real as it gets folks-
there is no  makeup on my face!

I used Arbonne's Sea Mud Mask
but you can actually make your
own beauty products if you are
up to doing so. 
Spa week can be as inexpensive as the ingredients in your kitchen or as expensive as a trip to the beauty counter. I will be sharing lots of recipes, URLs, and exercises this week. I hope you will share your beauty tips and tricks too! More info to come tomorrow!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Was the Oscar Buzz Deserved?

It has been a BUSY couple of weeks at my house. My younger daughter got engaged, my husband, older daughter, and grandson took a long road trip together, younger daughter and fiance came for a visit over Oscar weekend, and things were hectic!
 All of this activity caused our Academy Awards party to end up being a bit slapdash but my youngest son and I still had a lot of fun. We decided to eliminate some of the voting categories from the ballot because there were areas with which we weren't familiar. At the end of the night, I had predicted 9 winners correctly and my son (an aspiring filmmaker) had predicted 11 winners! His prize was a bag of Skittles as he loves candy. If you don't know what I do each year for the Oscars, take a moment and read And the Oscar Goes To.

I bought this clapboard years ago for a
movie themed birthday party and have
definitely gotten my $5.00 from it!

Just prior to watching the Oscars, we rented Nebraska, Blue Jasmine, and All Is Lost. I found something enjoyable in each film, which especially surprised me with Blue Jasmine as I am not a Woody Allen fan at all.

Following the Oscars, we rented Dallas Buyers Club and went to see American Hustle. Let me just say that if you haven't seen either of these films, you owe it to yourself to see what all the Oscar buzz was about. Both films have a lot of profanity and sex scenes but they are true to the characters and not at all just thrown in gratuitously.

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto turned in amazing performances in Dallas Buyers Club. They richly deserved their Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

The two of us had such fun that I have decided next year to have a real Academy Awards night party and invite other movie loving folks to join us. I got some great decorating ideas from several television shows I watched prior to the Oscars that I can't wait to try. I think I may even start a new Pinterest board to help me in my preparations.

What did you think of the Academy Awards? Did you think that the best movies, actors, and other categories were fairly awarded? Who do you think should have gotten Best Picture, Actor, Actress, etc.?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Healthy, Inexpensive, & Fast Valentine's Day Ideas

So, Valentine's Day is Friday...of course you already know that because unless you haven't left your house in six weeks, you have seen Valentine's products EVERYWHERE you go.

My sweetie and I have each lost quite a bit of weight over the past few years. I lost 60 pounds and hubby lost 120 pounds. We both make much better eating choices than we used to in our nachos and pizza eating days. Boxes of chocolates aren't exactly on the gift giving list with the changes we have made!

With Valentine's Day approaching, I was wondering what to do for Joe this year. As I was walking through the grocery store today, a nice bunch of bananas caught my eye and I knew right away what I was going to put together for his gift!

I am going to make him a fruit basket with a funny little homemade card tucked into it. I am going to include bananas, a couple of pears, strawberries, oranges, and perhaps a pineapple. The card will say something like, "Hey baby, I hope you know that I am BANANAS about you. I think you are the BERRY best thing that ever happened to me. I try not to PINE(apple) away too much when you are gone. I think we are one of best PEARS I have ever known. Will you be my Valentine?"

If your sweetheart is an outdoorsy fitness buff, you could create a nice basket with bottles of vitamin water or Gatorade, a variety of protein bars, a cute towel for mopping a sweaty brow, and some sunscreen from the dollar store.

For a gardening spouse, a basket with some new gardening gloves, tools, and seeds would be appreciated! Or put all the gardening items in a new gardening hat! Your gift can be very thrifty (think Dollar Store or thrift store) or you can splurge on items you know your sweetie would not buy for himself or herself.

The point is that we can show our love and appreciation for our loved one without breaking the calorie bank! And if we can do it inexpensively, how much better is that? It really isn't the money you spend but the thought and effort that you put into a gift that makes it appreciated.

My honey REALLY loves tostadas as a meal and we do bean tostadas so they are pretty healthy, too. I think I will make tostadas and guacamole for dinner this Valentine's Day. I am still trying to decide on a dessert that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and healthy. Suggestions are appreciated!

What gifts are you giving this Valentine's Day? How will you celebrate the day of love? (keep it PG, people!)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

And the Oscar Goes to...

Oscar season is upon us! My youngest son and I are starting our quest to watch as many of the Best Picture nominees as we can before the Academy Awards air on March 2.

Recently we watched Captain Phillips. May I just say that I don't understand why Tom Hanks wasn't nominated for his very superlative performance? His performance was gripping!

I bought some Alamo Drafthouse movie tickets through a wonderful Groupon offer so that we can go see the movies that are still showing in theaters. We are debating on what to go see: American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street are at the top of my list but my son isn't sure he wants to see a movie that may have sex scenes in it with his mother...Twelve Years a Slave is still in theaters as is Frozen, and Dallas Buyers Club.

If you have not had the opportunity to watch movies at Alamo Drafthouse, I strongly urge you to give them a try. The cost of the movies is often less than at other theaters and the movie going experience is much better. If someone in an Alamo theater pops out a cell phone during a movie, the staff at Alamo Drafthouse will pop them out of the theater! Also, they have a strict no-children policy that I very much appreciate. I love children and have often felt very uncomfortable seeing young children at adult movies. This is not an issue at Alamo Drafthouse.

I also want to see Philomena as I adore Judy Dench in just about everything. I saw the actual Philomena on The View. I am a sucker for stories that are based on real people and events; it is the journalist in me. I think that true life is way more interesting than fiction. Unfortunately, Philomena doesn't seem to playing anywhere near me and the DVD doesn't come out until two days after the Oscars. So, I won't be able to see it before the show but I do plan to see it as soon as I can.

We are going to rent Gravity and Nebraska when they are available on February 25. Can you tell that we take this Oscar stuff very seriously?

We find this to be another way we can live large on a small budget- for more on how we roll at my house see my post Tighten Your Spending Not Your Living. We get our movie tickets as inexpensively as possible, rent movies from Redbox, print the ballots (Printable Oscar Ballot) to fill out before the show, decorate the dining room table creatively with movies and other things we have around the house, and serve special snacks for our own Oscar party. The person who does the best at choosing the winners gets a prize too. Last year I found an instrumental CD of Oscar nominated movie soundtracks at the Dollar Tree for our prize. So, even our prize was inexpensive AND it went with the Oscar theme!

Do you enjoy the Oscars? What movie do you think will win Best Picture? Let's discuss below in the comments.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Don't Give Up on Your Goals!

We are three weeks into the New Year and people are already getting tired of going to the gym, counting calories, budgeting, sticking to a routine, or any number of resolution related activities.


I get really tired, at times, of being vigilant with my eating and exercise. But then I remind myself of the results I obtained by not giving up. I lost 60 pounds! It didn't happen in one day. It happened as a result of many days of good decisions and efforts and by not beating myself up for a slip here and there.

Are you feeling frustrated with your weight loss/health improvement plan? Do you want to quit because it is too difficult? Perhaps reading the posts, Low-Cost or No-Cost Weight Loss Resources That Worked for MeNew Year, New You?  will encourage you. I have maintained this weight loss for 4 1/2 years now by sticking with my eating and exercising plans.

Just last night I had to remind myself that I wasn't really hungry at 11:00 p.m. so I made myself a cup of herbal tea instead of eating something. I sat down with the tea and an interesting book and relaxed. I got sleepy after about ten minutes and went to sleep. I should actually have gone to bed earlier because staying up too late is a prime cause of overeating. But, if I do stay up too late, I have a strategy to keep me on track.

Having this book as a
resource was like having
a personal coach at my
Having a set of plans in place is the most important piece to achieving goals, in my opinion, because when faced with a difficulty, you already have the key to overcoming it. A 20/20 show I watched a few years ago stated that the reason people survive disasters such as plane crashes or fires in large public places is due to the information they acquired prior to the tragic event. In the case of a plane crash, survivors are usually those people who know how many rows they are from an exit and who pay attention to the safety briefing.

In meeting goals, knowing what some of the pitfalls that can happen and how you will deal with them in advance is as useful as knowing how many rows you are from the exit in a plane. This information will help you to survive.

I am currently working on improving the way I manage my income and outgo. It's two steps forward and one step back at times, but I am not giving up. I have already seen improvements because I am not quitting. This month I am going to pay my property tax in the month it is due and in full! I have not been successful at doing that in about eleven years due to a low income and poor management of that income in the past. I set myself some financial goals and I am seeing them come to fruition because I kept going instead of throwing in the towel.
I am planning to add quite a few of these to my bank account
this year! How are your financial goals doing? 

You owe it to yourself to keep going because you are worth it! You are deserving of the time and effort required to reach your goals.

If your family isn't supporting you in your goals, find some like-minded people who are also trying to achieve similar results. We will not change if we do not surround ourselves with positive, uplifting influences.

If you can't find people to be with, look for podcasts, Facebook groups, online classes, books, videos, television shows, Pinterest pages, or Twitter feeds on the area of your goal to inspire and educate you.

No excuses in 2014 is my motto! What is yours? What are your goals for 2014 and how will you achieve them? Let's help each other by continuing this conversation below in the comments section!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Better Living Through Conservation of Funds or Thrift Store Success!

Son (aka Sawyer) to mother, "I need some new clothes and shoes!"

Mother (aka me), "I do not have that much money for clothes...let's go see what the thrift store might have."

Son, "Oh, they never have anything good."

Off we went to my favorite thrift store. When we arrived, I asked the clerk what the daily special was and nearly fell over when she said it was 50% off EVERYTHING! I was excited and sad at the same time because there were only twenty minutes left before the store closed. We would have arrived earlier but my son was balking about going! The thrift store is a gold mine people! Shopping there allows you to live BIG on a little money. Read my previous post, Tighten Your Living, Not Your Spending for more on this school of thought.

We went over to men's shoes but didn't find anything that was what my son wanted. A check of men's belts also proved disappointing, but when we went to the pants rack we found a nice pair of GAP navy blue pin-striped slacks in his size. They were priced at $5.00 but due to the sale we only paid $2.50.
The pants are quite nice AND are
machine washable! Deals aren't deals if
dry cleaning is involved, IMO. 

Son (aka Sawyer) likes dress
clothes but is a poor college
student with poor parents. 

He also found three Van Heusen fitted dress shirts that were priced at $4.50 but thanks to 50% off, we paid $2.25 each. The shirts retail new for $25.00 each and these shirts were in excellent condition.
Two Van Heusen fitted white shirts
for under $5.00!

I also found some wonderful items that will be Christmas gifts for some of my family members. A lovely set of brand new Norman Rockwell playing cards in a gift tin that cost $1.00 for my father-in-law who plays cards everyday. A really cute bobble head figure for someone whom I can't name because they may be reading this blog but it was only $1.00! Another item I purchased was a very nice, new in box spa item for $1.50 that will make another family member quite happy at Christmas.

Some folks think that thrift store equals old, broken, out-of-date, junky, stinky, and so on. To me, thrift store equals fiscal responsibility, resourcefulness, dollar stretching, and ingenuity.

If I had gotten the three shirts and slacks new for my son, I would have spent around $100.00! Instead, I spent $9.00. I can't even sew clothes for those prices. Now, I don't often shop retail, but on this shopping day, Sawyer and I went to Ross because he also needed a belt and shoes. We saw the exact same Van Heusen shirts at Ross for $14.99 and the price tag noted that retail for the shirt was $25.00 so I know for certain that I could have spent $75.00 to buy those shirts brand new elsewhere.

As it is, because I opt to check thrift stores first, I didn't spend $91.00 that I could have if I had not checked the thrift store. Today, I took that $91.00 and spent it to pay my water bill, my trash collection bill, and a payment on a medical bill that I am chipping away at bit by bit.

By shopping creatively, I don't have to resort to using credit cards to pay for necessities or to seek out payday loans to cover my needs.

So, do you shop the thrift store? How do you save in one area to free up funds for another?
Sound off in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Year, New You?

Unless you have been under a rock, you have noticed that a few moments after 2014 began, the barrage of weight loss commercials for diets, diet aids, gyms, and the like took over the air waves.

We were encouraged to eat tons of treats during the holidays; every women's magazine and every morning news shows rushed to share recipes for all sorts of foods. Then, one minute into 2014, they pull the rug out from under the partiers and start hitting them in the stomach and wallet.

Well, my friends, if you over-indulged during the holiday season or the past 20 years, don't go crazy and do something drastic to fix your problem. Be kind to yourself and formulate a plan.

I suggest that you begin with walking...consistently. When I decided I wanted to lose weight and reclaim myself in February 2009 , I started walking at a gym. At first, I just walked a mile and I walked it kind of slowly. But I did it and I did it three times a week. I didn't change my eating at first. So, I didn't lose weight at first either. But that was okay, because I was working on building a habit.

After a few weeks, I decided that I needed to kick it up a notch, so I tried running. I nearly keeled over after just 30 seconds of running. Seriously. No, really! It was embarrassing to be that out of shape.

The next day, I walked a mile, and ran for 30 seconds of that time. I was still about to keel over but each day when I went to the gym, I made sure to run for a bit of the time I was on the treadmill. I upped my running by 30 second increments and I also began to alternate walking with running (this is called doing intervals and it burns lots of calories). Eventually (it didn't take all that long) I could run a 5K on the treadmill in about 45 minutes. I know that isn't super fast but I am very, very short and I was running as fast as my little legs could do.

Within two months of beginning to work out, I had lost 15 pounds. By late 2009 I had lost 40 pounds using the principles in Bob Greene's book, Total Body Makeover, and doing interval training.

I have lost about 60 pounds altogether since that cold February day when I nervously stepped into a gym with a friend and her mother. I didn't buy a costly program and I didn't have a lot of support at home. I did pray and ask God to help me to change. If I wanted to eat something I knew would not help me in my goals, I would ask God to help me not to eat it. I would tell myself that I could that food the next day if I wanted to eat it.

I am not going to lie to you and say it was easy because it wasn't. It was a lot more emotional than I had expected. I realized that a lot of my over-eating had its roots in not dealing with my feelings and emotions. If I was annoyed with someone, instead of getting the problem resolved, I would just go to the refrigerator.

As I started to realize what I had been doing, I began to change the way I dealt with anger, disappointment, loneliness, and other emotions and emotionally charged situations. During the time I was working on my weight loss and myself, my mother got very sick with terminal cancer, went into hospice, and died. I was very vulnerable at this time to fall backwards on my weight loss journey, but I leaned heavily on God, threw myself into my work, and kept going.

If you want a new you this new year, you can do it! You just need to decide that you are worth all the work you will have to do physically, emotionally, and spiritually to see the change you want. If I did it and at the age of 45, anyone can do it!

Let me hear about you and your plans. I want to help. And you can help me to reach my goal of losing 10 more pounds. Let's succeed together!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Tighten Your Spending, Not Your Living

People who know me and later find out that we live on a very low income are amazed to discover this information. Some think that given our low income, we get some kind of government assistance such as unemployment or food stamps to make it. However, that is not the case for our family. Our philosophy is that we will trust God to provide what we need, and we will do the very best with can with the resources available to us.

Some of the resources we have are ourselves and our abilities. I love to learn new skills and I love to shop for bargains everywhere I go. Recently, our living room furniture's well loved look started to get to me. I decided to go to the thrift store to see if I could find something to use to freshen up the look of the couch and two side chairs. I don't have any funds for replacing the furniture at this time.

I had a coupon in my possession for the thrift store that would allow me to save $5.00 off a purchase of $15.00 or more. I went looking for a large bedspread to use as a couch cover, a nice piece of fabric to use to recover the living room chairs, and a fitted sheet to use to cover the seat cushions on the couch.

My living room is decorated in the colors mauve, forest green, cranberry, and white. I found a large mauve bedspread, a forest green queen-size fitted sheet, and a drapery panel in forest green that has a nice pattern in it. I also found a new Christmas tablecloth at the same time that has mauve colored poinsettias on a cranberry colored background. I spent around $17.00 for these items. Let me show you the before and after on the chairs.

I can't believe I let the chairs
look like this as long as I did!
 We had originally bought these chairs as part of a lot of twenty chairs for $40.00 at an auction. So, the chairs cost $2.00 each and we have had them for around seven years. This is the third time I have recovered these chairs. Each time, I look for inexpensive fabric at a thrift store. The drapery panel I bought cost $2.99, so I recovered each chair for $1.50 plus the cost of the staples in the staple gun, and my time to recover the chairs. I spent around 1 1/2 hours removing the old fabric and putting on the new fabric. I kept the contrasting fabric from the previous recovering job because I liked that look but I still have enough fabric to change it if I decide to do so later.
All freshened up for the new year!

We have to keep a tight grip on our spending so that we have as much of our income available as possible to pay the non-negotiable bills such as the house payment or electric bill. However, tightening up our spending doesn't mean we don't enjoy our lives. We do everything everyone else does; we just do it differently.

Case in point- I have been wanting a pair of warm, snuggly boots for quite a while, but I was unwilling to spend the money that would be required to buy such boots at a retail store. Every time I went into my favorite thrift store I made sure to look at the boots they had in stock. A week ago, I finally found exactly what I wanted in my size. The boots were only $4.00! The only issue with them that I had to resolve was to buy new laces. I bought an inexpensive pair for $1.97 because if I had bought the suede laces, I would have spent as much for them as I did on my boots. I may upgrade to the suede laces but for now I am quite happy with my boots and laces.
I told my husband that these boots have changed my life. I get
very cold in the winter and once my feet are cold, I can't get warm
for a long time. These boots keep my feet nice and toasty. I can
stay outside longer and more comfortably. I am one happy gal! 
Would it have been easier to go to the store and buy a pair of boots when I needed them? Maybe for some people it would have. For me and my family, when we have a need we know we have to be a bit patient to get that need filled. Would it have been easier to get new chairs rather than to find the fabric and make the time to recover the chairs? Again, for some people that answer would be yes. 

In our family, due to our restrictions, we have developed many useful abilities and attitudes. We are generally content with what we have, we have learned to do many things so that we can live within our means (cooking, baking, making simple repairs, doing simple maintenance around the house), we are grateful and appreciative of whatever we receive, and we help each other as much as we can. 

My younger daughter and her boyfriend recently brought us a microwave and coffee maker that they did not need. A roommate had left the microwave and they had gotten a Keurig so they didn't need a full size coffee maker any longer. 

I cleaned the microwave and improvised a foot to replace the two back feet that were missing. We had been without a microwave for nearly a year but I didn't want to spend money on a cheap model microwave and then have to spend again when I finally had the funds to get the over the stove model I really want, so I just did without. My daughter knew we didn't have one and rather than selling her extra one, she blessed us with it. My coffee maker had also died and again, I want a certain model of coffee maker so rather than buy a cheap one I decided to learn to make coffee without a coffee maker until I could get what I want. Here are a couple sites that I found helpful:

If it had bothered me to be without these items, I would likely have gone to the thrift store to get them while saving for the nicer ones I ultimately want. I find that the thrift store allows me to have just about anything I need or want and still stay within my budget. 

Letting others know of items you need is also a useful way to tighten your spending but still get what you need. Lots of people have no longer needed items cluttering up their homes and would be happy to pass them on to someone who can make good use of these household goods or clothes. I belong to my local Freecycle ( and have gotten lots of needed items for free as well as decluttering my home by passing on no longer needed things to others who need them.

Anyway, I hope you are getting the idea that there are a lot of ways to manage when money is tight and still enjoy your life. There will be more posted on this topic throughout the year and I hope to hear from you so I can learn more!