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Life on the Farm with Chickens

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Life has really slowed down for us.  I am spending 4-6 hours a day working on work or finding work or thinking about work, and then the rest is spent on schooling or sports with the kids.  Everyone is really happy with this move.  But we’ve also had some excitement…

History Buff with rooster

History Buff with our lone rooster – name Milo after my beloved dog.

Princess and Sea Cadet with our 25 chicks

Princess and Sea Cadet with our 25 chicks…living in our kitchen!

 

Yes, we’ve got chickens!  24 pullets and 1 rooster.  Our hosts ordered 450 new chicks for the farm and after filling their garage offered to let us care for some.  We are all thrilled!  We are learning a lot, enjoying playing with them and look forward to the day we can move them outside…three more weeks or so.

The hosts are covering all costs, we are just putting in the time.  So it’s a win-win.  The kids are literally spending hours playing with them, digging worms for their dessert and reading up on caring for them and their predators we have to be careful of.

And our hosts say that once they start laying eggs in the fall, we can help sell them at our local farmer’s market where they will take them.  Fun times all around!


All about the Money – Tracking

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We got all settled this past weekend, and it is glorious!  Everything is unpacked, we have far more space then we’d anticipated and the kids are fully engaged in building a fort up in the trees and tending the animals.  The twins’ 15 year old brother (they have additional siblings who were fostered and adopted elsewhere) came to spend our first couple of days with us and they had a blast!

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My view from my kitchen.

Now it is Monday and I’ve been busy with work all morning.  Tomorrow I head out of town again for work, so I wanted to get this post done and ready for Wednesday.  Here’s what I’m thinking, a weekly recap of where my money (household operations account) is coming and going…

Here’s a small example of what I’m thinking, this is how my money has been spent since Moving Day, Friday, April 15th:

Week of 4/15-4/18
Category Amount Balance
Moving Day 339 339
Auto – Gas -55 284
Savings -100 184
Food – Eating Out -100 84
Birthday Present -20 64
Debt -40 24
Child Support 150 174

I started with the balance in my household operation bank account on Moving Day and went from there.

You will see my gas was high for just covering a weekend, but I filled my car and History Buff’s car up on account of the multiple trips we both made for the move. (I typically fill his tank up once a month and he covers the rest.)

We ate out three times due to the move. And I received $150 in child support from the little ones’ dad.

I also transferred my first 30ish% in savings. I know there is A LOT of controversy about the percentage post; however, one thing is certain, I MUST save.  This housing situation, as generous as it is, is only temporary, and getting to a good place savings wise is number one on my priority list right now.  I will write a full post on how that is going to look for the time being, but right now, first thing I do when I receive money – 30ish% to savings.  Balance as of today in what will be my primary savings account = $100.

Now what this doesn’t show is the $300 I spent on groceries when we moved in, I have been saving a little bit at a time for the past few months in anticipation of the day when 1) we moved and 2) we no longer received food stamps. The total in that savings account was just shy of $700 the day I went grocery shopping. So I anticipate being able to live off it until mid-May as far as groceries go. I am keeping it separate from my operational account so I don’t spend it, I just transfer it to the account at time of checkout.


Lessons I’ve Learned being Poor

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We hear all the time about the welfare state, and the generations of people living on welfare, etc.  And being a conservative, that has always driven me batty.  “I’m working my butt off to support my family with no assistance, and these people who are perfectly capable for working, just sit on their butts and collect a check which I worked for.” –has been my attitude on it.  And this even coming from a social work background.

Now I certainly know that there are people who truly need the assistance, they cannot work or what they can do would not be able to support them.  I get that.  But having been in and around the social work field since the early 90s, I can promise you that this is not the majority of welfare recipients.

But now I am one of those people.  We are receiving SNAP (food stamps) and Medicare.  I do not qualify for any other assistance due to the adoption assistance for the twins…$1372 per month. (This number is public knowledge and every state sets their own rates, you can read more about in on the NACAC website.)

It was a VERY humbling experience to apply and have an in person interview for these services to be awarded.  I had to prove everything…my kids, my income, my bills, my job loss, my bank balances, etc.  I am not sure I have every felt so much shame and failure.  But I had to do it, I have four children to take care of.  And the only way I got through it was by telling myself – I have paid into this system since I was 15 years old AND this is not a long term solution, just short term assistance.  But frankly, I am so embarrassed to go buy groceries and have to use the SNAP card.  And while I pray that embarrassment never goes away as that is certainly a lesson in and of itself for me, I am educating our children at the same time and teaching them not to judge people in these situations, as I have for so long.

Needless, to say, we cannot live on $1372 per month, especially when rent on our 2 bedroom, 900 square foot apartment is $1435 per month.  So I’m having to continually seek additional assistance (in addition to my job search, odd job, etc.)  And it’s in seeking this assistance that I have learned ALOT about this “system” of ours.

I don’t want to write a book here and I could not about my experiences the last couple of months, I do want to give you some highlights.  And maybe some food for thought as you think of your charity choices.

  1. EVERY SINGLE place I’ve applied for help has turned me down.  The most common reason…I haven’t received an eviction notice.  Something is wrong with this picture to me.  So you want a single mom of four to be put out on the street before you step in?
  2. YOU CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE and receive assistance.  I did not buy my kids Christmas presents. Every dime I get, I put toward bills.  We ate ramen for most of the month of December SO that we could have a great Christmas dinner.  Yes, that might have been my receipt with a couple of steaks at Christmas time…but if you looked at the rest of the month it was sandwiches and ramen.  So when I’ve gone to get help, don’t have an eviction notice and my utilities are just a week or so late…yup, no assistance for you.
  3. NO ONE EATS expired or weird types of food.  We have been blessed beyond measure with food.  Thanksgiving basket from a church, turkey from our neighbor and boxes and boxes of cranberry sauce and yams.  I am so guilty of this.  When one of my kids activities required a canned food drive, I would find whatever we wouldn’t use in our pantry, no matter how long it had been there and send it.  Gross!  Now I have received those foods.  My kids won’t eat them, I won’t eat them.  So when you are going to give to a food pantry, give them money…they can buy fresh food, food that people will actually eat.  I have a big box in the back of my car of food to donate…because we don’t eat it.  But I hesitate to send it back because I hate for another family to get a whole box of cranberry sauce and yams!
  4. IT IS REALLY HARD to get ahead and by ahead I mean paying your bills on time or at least on time enough not to accrue late fees, when you can only get help when you are SO far behind.  Since I’ve known I had this part time job for months now, I also knew that if I got to my start date being so far behind on bills, I would NEVER catch up.  And while I knew I wouldn’t make enough to cover all the bills, but I figured I would be able to at least “borrow from paul to pay larry and vice versa every month.)  Do you get what I’m saying?  But if I am even one day late on my rent, there is a fee of over $400 added on.  And with other bills the fee ranges from $5-25.  So I knew I needed to stay as current as possible.  And by the grace of God, awesome friends and community and family assistance, thus far I’m pretty close to on time (4 bills currently in arrears, 2 due to dog bite medical treatment/insurance fiasco,) but I know not everyone in my situation can.  So if you want to help someone who is struggling, don’t give them “stuff” or gift cards and I know most don’t want to give money…but you can, absolutely can, pay a bill for them.  It won’t take too much time out of your day to make a phone call or take them to a payment center and pay it.  No expectations, no strings, just pay it.

I won’t keep preaching.  But I can tell you this, I have changed significantly since starting my BAD journey a couple of years ago now. But these last months have made a forever imprint on my life and my attitudes, I have learned so much about the populations that I have wanted to serve my whole life.  And I have learned so much about the systems, they are dealing with, I am dealing with.  When I am through this phase in my life, I can promise that I will be paying it forward like a crazy person AND more importantly I will work to help improve the systems/services that are supposed to be “helping” these communities.  I think for the most part, they are just holding them down…the responsible ones that is. And I promise you there is more than just me that falls into that latter category!

I know the holidays are over and I know this is a debt pay off blog, but I will tell you this, if you are reading this, there are others who are a whole lot worse off then you.  I challenge you to reach out, lend a hand, even during your payoff journey. 


Saving Money in the New Year

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Since starting my full-time job this past summer, I’ve had a really tough time keeping on top of some household tasks. The biggest of which was meal planning and food prepping. It’s lead to a large increase in our overall grocery spending as I’ve been buying more prepared foods, not buying items on sale, and making more last minute trips to the store for “one item for dinner” (which inevitably leads to over-spending on additional items). Just not a great situation overall.

So one of the things I’m trying to be more mindful about this year is to do some better planning and try to save more on groceries.

Toward that end, I recently came across this article in Cooking Light titled 18 Foods You Can Scrimp On At The Grocery Store.

I hate when articles force you to click through screen by screen, so let me summarize the main points for you (content from Cooking Light)

Buy these foods generic:

  • Sugar
  • Whole and Ground Spices
  • Block Cheese
  • Tomato paste
  • Milk
  • Canned beans
  • Bagged lettuce
  • Table salt
  • Panko
  • Neutral cooking oils (e.g., canola, vegetable, safflower)
  • Cooking spray
  • White vinegar

Save money on:

  • Buying whole produce (as opposed to pre-washed/pre-cut)
  • Nuts, by buying in bulk
  • Brown rice & whole grains, by buying in bulk
  • Dried beans and lentils, by buying bulk
  • Popcorn, by buying in bulk
  • Herbs. Instead of buying lots of individual kinds of herbs, buy blends that can be used more frequently to reduce waste.

Your thoughts? Any items you disagree with? Any other items you’d add that you’ve saved on?

I don’t agree with the idea of buying generic/cheap cooking spray. I used to do that, but noticed that the thing always clogged up or broke before the spray was actually gone. I switched to a name brand and have never had an issue since (update:  I actually started using Kirkland brand from Costco so it’s technically a generic/store brand, but it’s awesome! Costco for the win again!)

I’ll also mention that some of these suggestions are tough with busy schedules. I used to buy bulk pinto beans that I’d soak overnight and then cook all day. We’d use them whole (as pinto beans, duh!) or mashed up (as refried beans). Yes, it cost literal pennies compared to canned stuff in the grocery store. But ain’t nobody got time for cooking foods that take all day when you’re not home to make it! Yes, crock pots can work, but not being present just adds an element of difficulty that wasn’t there when I worked from home.

I’d love to hear other ideas of areas where you save on your food budget!


No Spend Month – Wrap Up

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So if you will remember, due to my job lay off and being on the edge financially I committed to No Spend November. I have to admit, it has been a very pleasant month.  I did ALOT of cooking and really enjoyed every morning getting up and searching through my cookbooks to find new recipes to try out.  In fact today, I have a hearty vegetable soup going in the crockpot which will be perfect for this cold winter night!

But on the spending side…

We did GREAT with no spend November.  But I did cheat…exactly twice.  Once during the weekend of Little Gymnast meet.  At the end of the meet, we were both starving and while I did have dinner at home in the crockpot, I knew I couldn’t make the 3 hour drive without something so when we stopped to get gas, we each got a little snack…$13.59.  And then last night, the last night of the month, I just couldn’t resist a celebratory meal out for the kids and I to the tune of $42.  I immediately regretted this second one especially in light of how tight this next month will be, but boy it was good!

Otherwise, I stayed right on track with absolutely NO SPENDING!  Go me, go me!

Now, on the income side…

As I previously wrote, I have gotten a decent part time job which will start in January, but thus far have found no other work. However, I have been very blessed this week by two friends.  One had surgery and the little ones and I volunteered to go help her out for a few days while she was home recovering; she has a 10 month old and 2 year old at home.  It truly was a friend helping a friend.  Then I went to clean out my purse this weekend and there was an envelope in my purse with a check from them.  I called immediately and she said she knew I wouldn’t have taken it but they wanted to help me out.  I couldn’t help but cry.

And then another friend whose son is in three of my classes, unexpectedly paid me most of next semester’s tuition a month early.  What a blessing that was!

The kids and I had a great low key Thanksgiving.  We actually cooked a full meal including a turkey our neighbor gave us!  And better yet, we set up our 6 ft plastic table in the middle of the living room and ate together as a family…the first time we’ve sat together at a table in our tiny living space…and one of the things I miss the most.

2015-11-26 14.16.26

So in a nutshell, my No Spend November went great!  And I am looking forward to Do Good December!

 


My Stomach was in Knots but it is Okay

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Written on Tuesday…

For the first time EVER in my life, I had to meet with someone and tell them I could not take care of my family.  I had to go to the same building that I visited so many times as a foster parent and later adoptive parent full of pride that I was doing something to give back, something good and right, and admit that I was a failure.  I had to look at a woman in the eye and in essence say “I’ve failed to prepare for this situation by not saving and by using my money un-wisely.”  It was the worst feeling EVER.

And what a lesson.  I hate this situation.  I hate that my decisions brought me here.  I cringe at admitting what a failure I am.  But if the last year and then have taught me anything, it’s that I AM going to do better.

In no way shape form or fashion am I making excuses, but the one thing that helped me get through this morning while I was turning in shot records, leases, bank statements to what turned out to a extremely compassionate worker was that this is temporary.  I will get another job.  I will choose more wisely where my career path takes me.  I will make better money choices, even better than the ones I have started to make.  And more importantly, I WILL give back.

I do not deserve the support my community has given me and yet people have reached out offering Thanksgiving meals, help with Christmas and just words of encouragement.  But I do know that when I am back on my feet, the first thing I am going to do is find someone who has entered a dark time and reach out to them as so many have to me.

I will find out in a few days if/what assistance we qualify for, and I’ve been told that I have 10 days after I get my first paycheck to report a change in status.  I continue to seek the next step in this transition.

(And just a side note: I just completed my first of two phone interviews scheduled for today…and the second interview is scheduled for Friday.  I am counting on God to steer me as I step out in faith to follow what He has for me next rather than what I would choose.  Use me, send me…that is my prayer.)


No Spend Month by Default

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Needless to say, with my job loss, we are tightening our belts financially…

  1. We’ve stopped our weekly fresh milk and organic food deliveries.  Returning to bulk purchases as much as possible.
  2. All entertainment is out  the window – no going out to eat, movies, etc.
  3. I’ve redeemed all my stockpiled points for items needed while I had the cash to supplement them and so I didn’t lose them.  Items purchased include: stockpile of toilet paper (remember when I ran out of toilet paper?) new winter jacket for one of the twins, ink for the printer, Brita pitchers (2) to cut down on buying water.
  4. Cutting back activities where we can to save on gas costs as all activities have been paid for, so just limiting them…so one robotics practice a week rather than two, etc.
  5. Lots of other little changes….

And that has led us to a No Spend Month!  I have paid all the bills for the month, stocked the cupboard with the help of a friend’s Costco membership (I cut our Sam’s Club renewal,) and have laid out the entire month financially based on what we have going on.  The ONLY extra this month will be Little Gymnast first meet which is up near DC so it will require a bit of extra gas money.

So here is our budget for this month (with all bills paid already:)

  • Gas – $150 (includes some extra for travel to the gymanstic’s meet)
  • Food – $50 (will have to restock eggs, milk and some fresh fruits/veggies towards the end probably but we’ll see, I’m going to try and push it but am prepared just in case)

When I first started reading blogs I followed a mom who did not spend months every year and I was always fascinated by the things she did…so here I am looking for tips on making the food stretch, finding meals I can make for days we are gone all day and looking for free activities we can do to entertain ourselves.

So here’s to November…our No Spend Month!  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!


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