Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saving Money ... or trying to!

Today is grocery shopping day ... again!  I am always amazed at how quickly we go through food around here.  It seems that we shop for a month on Saturday and by Monday I'm hearing my 17year old, head in the fridge, saying "I'm hungry mom.  Don't we have any food around here?".
It's really quite exasperating. 
  Now, truthfully, there is food.  It's just not the grab and go sort of food my children would love to see more of around here.  You know; chips, candy, hot pockets, mini-pizzas, etc.  If my kids want pizza, they have to wait for me, or the pizza chef - Night Owl, to knead the dough.  I rarely buy candy because high fructose corn syrup is a definite no-no around here.  Chips are rationed.  I see these foods as empty calories so I don't buy them often.
What can they eat for snacks?  Fruit, veggies, nuts, some of them can have cheese, pb&j is a big hit for those who can eat bread, leftovers, homemade cookies, ... There's really quite a bit of food.  How can I help it if my 17 year old considers an entire box of pasta (that's a pound) mixed with Alfredo sauce  an after school snack?  Or, an entire baking sheet of barbecued wings (made with his own barbecue sauce by the way!) is a bedtime snack?!  This kid is so hungry all the time and even without purchasing junk food, I am spending way more money than I want to at the grocery store.  Jetter and Builder are following closely in his footsteps, so I know there will be no financial relief anytime soon.  With the gluten restrictions, Beany's diet can make things more expensive too (although he is worth every extra cent we have to spend!).
So, the dilemma - how do I feed these precious and very "hungry all the time children" without spending way more than I have budgeted for food?

I do several things that help:
I make up a monthly menu that I stick to as much as possible.

I try to shop once a month for most things to discourage impulse buying.
We don't eat a lot of junk food.
I try to buy fruits and vegetables in season.
I buy large portions of meat and use leftovers for lunches.

I don't clip coupons because I found that many of the coupon items were things I wouldn't normally buy.  So if I save .50 on a box of cereal that I wouldn't have bought in the first place, that's really no savings.

I would like to do a better job at maintaining our garden and preserving what we have grown.
I would like to find a better, less expensive way to buy meat.  I'm looking into the cost difference of buying a side of beef vs. buying the various cuts we eat. 

My current project is to develop and use a price book.  A price book is simply a way to keep track of prices of frequently purchased items.  This link describes  one method of making such a book. This is not a new concept for me.  I've actually been trying to keep a price book effectively for a couple of years.  My problem is that I was using methods that didn't really fit my circumstances.  But after reading Miserly Moms, I decided to give it another try.  So, a little brainstorming and problem solving helped me to come up with my current system.

The first price book I made was a binder style book.  I had created a chart for each item I purchased on a regular basis.  The chart was similar to the one in the link above.  This was all kept in a 3 ring binder.  The binder is supposed to sit, open, on the front of the shopping cart so the shopper can make notes as she goes and easily flip to the correct page to check the prices of an item.  My problem is that this front seat of the shopping cart is rarely empty!  I always have at least one little person with me.  When that little person is a toddler it's even more difficult because they want to "help" and the pages to the price book get ripped out or scribbled on or whatever.  The whole thing became very frustrating.

Price book number two was created on my computer and filed as a document there.  My intention was to fill in the information when I came home from the store.  Then, once it was complete, I would just take it with me to refer to, but not write on.  I thought it would be easy to just use my receipts from each trip to record the information.  Well, as most busy moms know, it's not always easy to find that time to sit down at the computer and fill in a chart right away.  By the time I got to it, I would have a pile of receipts and then I often forget the size of the items and the receipts don't always show that.  So that was slow going and frustrating as well.

So, what exactly did I need?
1~ The price book had to be portable.  I wanted it small enough to fit in my purse.
2~ The price book had to be something hard that I could write on even when a little person was in the front seat of the cart.  (A clip board came to mind, but lose papers wouldn't work.  I'm sure I would lose them.)
3~It had to be organized so I could quickly find an item or jot a price down.  (Quick is vital with toddlers in a grocery store!)
4~ I wanted it to be some sort of notebook with the paper bound into it.  It's too easy to tear the papers from a binder.

So, wanna see what I came up with?

I used a journal style notebook because, in all honesty, I thought it was pretty.  A steno notebook or composition notebook would work just as well though.  The size of all of these is just right to slide into my purse, and because they have a hard binding, I can easily hold them in one hand and jot a note or two while resting it on the edge of the cart (or even my hip).  But, pretty won out so this is what I'm using.

To make it organized, I used a copy of my shopping list.  This is a list of the items I keep stocked in my kitchen or pantry.  It is based on a menu rotation that I created some years ago and still use.  (That took some time, but talk about a time saver!  I highly recommend it!)

The above picture shows a shopping list that has been used already!  You can see I scribble notes, circle certain items and then fold it to fit in my purse.  The items are colored coded according to what store I buy them at. 
In the price book I attached tabs for each division of grocery items.  Since my shopping list is organized in order of my favorite grocery store, this was easy.  (It also streamlines the shopping and makes it easy for my husband or son to find items if they need to go for me.)  So my tabs say things like Dairy, Household Cleaners, Canned Goods, Produce, Meat, etc.

In order to do this, I used a sticky note per category and jotted the items in that category.  Then I counted the number of pages I would need for the category, added a few for new items I might find, and went forward that number of pages before I started the next category.

Then I went through the list again and wrote each item on it's own page or 1/2 page.  My intention is to keep track of the items, making notes on the brand, the size, the price and the store it was purchased. 

Finally, I used a few of the most recent receipts to write in some of the items I had information for.  This will give me a head start.  As I mentioned above though, receipts don't always show all the needed information (like size of the item) so I still have quite a few items to write information for.  This I will do as I purchase those items at the store.

In this example I have written notes for Salsa.  It says "Pace, 38 oz 2 pack, $5.58 from Sam's Club."    These are notes I can jot quickly at the store.  Now, when I'm at a different store and I see that this salsa costs less, I can jot that information down as well.  I can plan my shopping trips so that I'm buying the items at the lower prices.

I stuck some sticky notes to the back cover.  These I will use if I need to jot an occasional note.
Finally, I stuck an envelope to the front cover.  As I mentioned, I don't clip coupons on a regular basis, but occasionally I do see one that I can use.  This will be a way to store them easily.

One thing I will add is that I only shop at 3 grocery stores.  One is a regular grocery "super store", then there is a warehouse store that requires membership, and most recently I found that I can save money on some items from a local GFS.  My husband and I usually go to the warehouse store and GFS once a month.  It's nice to have him help me at these stores because the items are usually heavy!  I try to go to the grocery store once a month as well, but it usually turns into one big trip a month and then smaller trips each week.
I know some people that go to 4 or 5 stores.  But for me, the amount I would spend in gas and time just isn't worth it.

I would love to hear your ideas for saving some money, or things you've done with a price book to make it workable for you!

Oh, and just since he's so darn cute:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


For homeschoolers using the Montessori Method, here's a great website to check out:

Here's a quote describing the program:

NAMC's 3–6 Montessori Homeschool Program is an all-inclusive program that provides you with everything you need to set up and put into practice a three-year homeschool educational program for your child. In a convenient, single shipment, you receive all the curriculum, materials, preparation instructions, and support material you will need to build a solid homeschool foundation. The program is rooted in Montessori philosophy and methodology and is designed to meet the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development needs of your child.

I can't imagine anything more helpful for a mom using the Montessori Method for her preschoolers!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Planning Changes

I've written several posts about planning over the years.  Maybe readers will see that I tend to change things each year.  I suppose that's part of homeschooling, at least for me.  Each year there are different circumstances to deal with; new babies, nursing babies, toddlers, traveling, learning difficulties, etc. etc.  Around here, these changes usually mean I have to adjust my planning system.  This year, back in August, we began with what I thought was going to be a great plan.  But by October I was completely stressed. 

Part of my October stress was due to the pregnancy.  I remembered that when I was pregnant with Beany that "2nd semester energy boost" was non-existent.  I suppose when your over 40 and pregnant energy boosts just don't happen.  So, I was feeling tired and didn't see any light at the end of the nine month tunnel.  That can be a bit depressing, especially as the days get shorter and colder.

Then there was the crazy schedule we had going.  Both Night Owl and Jetter were playing football and while it was all very exciting, every weekend was taken up with football games.  Night Owl's were on Friday nights and Jetter's were on Saturdays.   So my Saturday routines which included some final school preparations, and normally extra cleaning, laundry, and errand running, were pushed to Sundays.  That is something I really had a hard time with.  Remember, I was already very tired, but now "the day of rest" was used for catching up from the hectic week!  I just plain ran out of energy.  Not to mention the planning, which I had enjoyed so much at the beginning of the year, just wasn't getting done.  This made our Monday mornings less than stellar as far as schooling went.  I didn't have my planning done and for me that is like being stuck in the mud.  I have a really hard time just "winging things".  I need a plan.

On top of everything else, I was feeling a bit burned out.  Looking back, I'm not sure it was actually "burn out" but maybe just plain ol' tiredness.  I actually cried when our homeschool group decided to have an All Saints Day Party.  This is something I normally looked forward too, and my kids love!  But I just saw it as one more thing I had to do.  Costumes!  Ugh!  (I'm not proud of my attitude - just tryin' to give you a clear picture of how I was feeling!)

So, I remember thinking, "How on earth am I going to do this?!  I'm already exhausted.  I have a husband and kids that need to be loved, fed and cared for.  I have kids that need to be educated. My house needs to be cleaned.  Groceries need to bought.  Errands need to be run ...  AND this baby is due just before Christmas!  I have to get ready for Christmas, like ... NOW!   .... "  Get the picture?  I was wigging out big time!

Then, as a result of clicking through some of my favorite blogs, looking for inspiration, I clicked on a link, that linked to another link, that linked to this blog post:

Springs of Joy blog 

Talk about "Springs of Joy"!  I could almost hear The Hallelujah Chorus playing in the background!  This file system saved the day, and since it's still working, the rest of our school year!

Here are her opening paragraphs - the lines that grabbed me and helped me realize that this is just what we needed:

"Wouldn't it be nice to have a personal assistant in your homeschool? How about an administrative assistant who would hand you everything you needed for the week pre-photocopied and organized by child... including lists for shopping and the library. Maybe she would even hand you a pile of fun coloring pages and games for your littles to do.
Perhaps she could help you get all the things you wanted to do in your homeschooling but never get to because you didn't have time to get it ready. Like what about that FIAR study that you always meant to do with your littles, or the fun lapbook units that pass by your email box."

Yes, that is exactly what I need!  So how do I do it? 

So I read the rest of the post, realizing that I had already completed the first 3 of her steps to starting this system.  I then sat all the kids down and asked them how they would feel about taking an unplanned break from school - probably a week - so I could get a new system into place.  Silly question!  Of course they were on board, even though it meant that we would have to attach a week onto the end of our school year.  They quickly calculated it and realized they would still be done with school before Night Owl, so they were all for it. 

The kids started their "Fall Break" and I started gathering the materials.  I already had tons of file folders on hand that I recycled for this purpose.  No, they aren't pretty, but they are functional which is all I cared about at that time.  (If I do this next year I might buy some pretty folders!).  I found 2 file boxes and divided the folders in half, so they fit easily.  I originally tried getting them all into one file box but they were really tight and getting things out would have been difficult.  This way there was a little breathing room.  Then, starting with Social Butterfly, I went through the rest of the year's plans and week by week filled the file folders with everything she would need, from grammar pages, to notes regarding papers to be written, to copies of poems to be memorized ...  It was actually kind of fun.  I was in organizer / planner heaven.

Then I moved on to Jetter, and then Builder.  I did not do folders for Beany, although I realize now it would have been nice to put some coloring pages and number / letter worksheets in folders for him.  The one subject I did not divide by week is Math. 

There are a few reasons why I did not include Math in the fild folder system. 

First, I would have had to tear out the pages and the math books are some big books!  The thought of tearing them up just bothered me.  Also, Social Butterfly's math book is not consumable, so I couldn't tear hers apart anyway.

Second, one of the things that makes the file system work is that if you miss a day, you just keep going.  The missed work is quickly done orally, or even not at all.  I can't do this for math.  As you know, in math, each lesson builds on previous lessons.  It's important that the child understands each step or they will find themselves totally lost a little while later (don't ask me how I know!).  If we missed a day, I couldn't see just skipping the assignment, so the kids do every assignment in order.  Yes, they might have a few days at the end of the year after the rest of the school work is done to finish up math, but it's not usually a problem.

Third, we have a great "flow" to our day and that is something that didn't need changed.  Part of that flow is that we do math at the dining room table, all together, while the kids eat breakfast.  The rest of our school work is done in the school room.  So I just kept the math books and materials in the dining room where they had always been.  The file boxes are stored in the school room where the rest of the work is done.

One week later, or really less than a week, the file system was ready to go.  It works beautifully with our workboxes and binders.  Each Saturday, it only takes me a few minutes to pull out each child's folder and pop the assignments into their boxes or binders.  The kids are cruising along with their school work despite the fact that I might be changing a diaper or nursing a baby.  Mondays are no longer dreaded ... well at least not much, and I don't have to spend hours on the weekend planning for the week.  (Actually, I do still plan a few things but they are the fun things we weren't getting to before, like Lap Books!  But that's yet another post!)

Friday, February 4, 2011


Frozen - That's how I feel here at this blog!  I guess I match the weather...

By the way, my husband did not agree with my last post.  Maybe because it's his job to clear the driveway. 

One of my kids all time favorite things is to run next to the snow blower and have the snow fall on them.  I don't get it, but they sure have a good time doing it! 

Anyway, back to being frozen here at the blog.  I have quite a few things I would like to write about - mostly homeschool related - but for some reason I can't get myself to just sit down and write them!  For example, what exactly was I doing from All Saints Day until PJ was born?  That was a big gap of nothingness at the blog, but it was filled with lots of exciting things in real life.  Night Owl can't believe I didn't even post anything about the football team going to the state finals and then winning the championship! 

One of the most time consuming things I did was to completely revamp my system for planning for the kid's learning activities.  After a panic set in regarding how I was going to do everything when the new baby arrived as well as just get through the last couple of weeks of pregnancy and then Christmas, I went in search of a better, more streamlined way of doing things.  I'll be writing about it soon - it's working well.  It practically runs itself which is what I needed. 

On a not so positive note, Beany, who had been doing so well on a gluten free diet, started to lose weight.  This was due to the mistake I made.  About 6 months ago he had some gluten and it didn't seem to have any negative effects.  We slowly added in more and more until we were back to eating a "regular" diet.  I had assumed that he grew out of his gluten sensitivity.  Not so!  The symptoms just took a while to show and when they did ... they really did!  Poor kid.  When we realized he had lost nearly 5 pounds we new what the problem was.   We are back to a strict gluten free diet for him and he's already starting to gain weight.  I would like to write a post to share some of the new resources and recipes I've discovered.

There are also big plans in the works for a summer vacation!  Planning a trip out west has us all excited for summer to arrive!  I'll be posting about that as it gets closer.

Then, of course, there will be the planning posts for next year!  Can you believe I've already started looking at curriculum?!  School room changes will be included as well.

So, not much has been posted lately, but I have alot of posts tucked away in my brain.  I just need to get them organized!  Maybe if we get a February thaw, my brain will thaw a bit as  well.  From the looks of things lately though, that might be a while in coming!