Friday, September 28, 2012

Week 2 & 3 - Road to recovery stepping goals

Last week went pretty well, all-in-all.

So, let's see how I can do these next two weeks? (a single paycheck that's going to be tight)

Goal 1: Cook 6 from-scratch meals at home in two weeks

Details:
Sunday - Taco Soup (new recipe) (1)
Monday - Bought pre-made Roasted Chicken (no time to cook, yummy cold - want bones & leftovers)
Tuesday - Grilled Chicken and Mashed Potatoes (hopefully enough with leftovers of each) (2)
   - Also cook up chicken broth from the bones and skin of Monday's roasted chicken
Wednesday - Chicken Tortilla Soup (old favorite - use chicken broth and leftovers from Monday) (3)
Thursday - Fast food -- working second job
Friday - Saturday - Tuna and Noodles (easy/fast stand by) (home cooked, not from scratch)
Saturday - Sheperd's Pie (old favorite from growing up) (4)

Sunday - Yummy Chicken Alfredo (new recipe) (5) (use left overs from Tuesday's grilled Chicken)

Monday - Left overs (no time to cook)
Tuesday - Fast food/take out -- working second job
Wednesday - Creamy Chicken Rice & canned chicken (easy/fast stand by) (home cooked, not from scratch)
Thursday - Fast food/take out -- working second job
Friday - Frozen dinner/mac n cheese
Saturday - Spaghetti (6)
 

Goal 2: Take left overs to work for lunch every day - 10 meals
Details:

Now that I'm filling the freezer with yummy food, no sense letting it go to waste. Savings - $6-9/day x 10 days. Worth it.
Goal 3: No yarn buying, no 'fun' buying, no browsing online and indulging any purchases
Details:

The deal I found on yarn last week? Wasn't a time-specific deal. I did need that yarn, but I could have bought it this week. Well, now it's bought, and that's fine. But need to resist the urge for this payperiod to even go looking. Therefore I'll be less tempted.

Goal 4: Identify opportunity for a weekend in Eastern Iowa - October or November
Details:

I love to travel, but don't have the money for any more adventures this fall. But, staying with family and finding a way to get to introduce my future daughter-in-law and her son to the extended family shouldn't cost more if I'm already driving to the area for the weekend anyway. Spending time planning this will bring enjoyment and anticipation and keep me from looking at other (more expensive) travel options.

Goal 5: Don't dip into Savings
Details:

Expenses already spent:
$790 Rent
$350 Month of daycare
  $60 Car Insurance
$100 medical bills

$100 on gas to get my son to get to see his dad, picking him up and gas for the two weeks
 $10 breakfast
$100 Take out meals - buying for extended family (compensation for babysitting)
$175 Groceries and dog food for two weeks
  $25 Dye and supplies for dyeing yarn for Sweater project
  $20 Tickets to +20+Living History Farms for son

-- leaves less than $100 for just-in-case; which isn't enough to build up much of a buffer that I'm looking for. But next paycheck should stretch just a little further - while also paying off a Hospital bill. The paycheck before rent is always just a little more *out* for expenses than the other paycheck each month.

So, not ready to increase savings this next two weeks yet, but if I can NOT dip into the savings already made? That would still be better than the last six months.

Week 1 - Progress Report

Goal 1: Cook home-cooked, from scratch meals at least 3 times a week (with a bigger meal for Sunday for planned leftovers) next week.


Results:
Sunday - Stuffed Green Bell Pepper Soup - 5 servings frozen for lunches
Tuesday - Ghoulash - 7 servings frozen for lunches
Wednesday - Tuna and Noodles
Goal MET

Goal 2: Take leftovers to work for lunch four days next week (am working from home one day).

Results:
Monday - worked from home
Tuesday - Had leftover chili
Wednesday - leftover ghouash
Thursday - leftover pepper soup
Friday - leftover chili
Goal MET

Goal 3: Check out programs that might help save money on non-grocery items that we regularly use.
Results:
KMart Reward program researched and money already saved. Will use as I regularly do.
Walgreens Rewards program researched and am thinking about documenting my walking program to add to my savings. Also considering signing up for emails to take advantage of sale prices/rewards/combined with coupon deals. But will probably not spend very much more at Walgreens than I do presently.

Goal MET

Goal 4: Keep searching for more affordable yarn options.
Results:
Found an online source for 100% cotton yarn in bulk. Won't get it until next week, so I don't know if it's going to work out long-term as a replacement source for cotton. But, found the yarn I thought I would have to spend $50 for for $30 (including shipping)

Goal MET

Goal 5: Not dip into savings this week for expenses. (this one is probably going to be tough)
Results:

Mostly good, a little bad. There were some savings over planned expenses and  two unexpected expnses (gas fill up and yarn opportunity) - and yes, the yarn opportunity was something that could have waited. But at least this week, I didn't need to dip into savings.

Goal MET

Spending tracking - to keep me honest.

So, my goal this week was to NOT dip into savings.

So, how did I do?

Planned expense - Saturday bribe (errrr.... positive behavior modification tool) $4 for McDonalds
Actual expense $4 (right on)

Groceries expense - planned $150.
Actual expense - $100 ( a little lower than expected) - I keep forgetting buying scratch food is a HUGE savings over buying ready made - even though we usually buy such inexpensive ready made options.

Treats - planned $25
Actual expense was $20 -  (a little lower than expected) bought mostly fruit in season, with a few exotic fruits to try with the boys and the ingredients to make fruit dip plus extra Capri Sun 100% fruit juice.

Hair cut - planned $50
Actual expense was $40 - (a lot lower than expected, not sure why, but love the stylist and if it's more affordable, you can't really argue the point!)

Meal on Thursday night - planned $10
Actual expense was $17 (exceeded plan) - bought enough for four of us to eat as a thank you to my future Daughter In Law for watching my son Thursday  night.

Breakfast at work every day - planned $4
Actual - $4 (right on)

Not planned - but spent. $30 on yarn. I was so excited to find a new way to shop for inexpensive cotton yarn that I went ahead and bought it. I had hoped to buy it for less than $50 with shipping and got it for $30 with shipping. I also got just shy of double what I needed for the project I was shopping for (kind of what you get when you buy in bulk). My biggest issue with this is that I have no idea what the yarn is like - but if I don't like it for sweaters I can use it in the future for other projects and experimenting with dyeing.

Not planned - but needed $35 gas.

Over all? Still didn't spend as much as I could have - calling this a win!

Planned spending total - $244
Actual spending total   - $210

The next couple of months are going to be tight on the budget, but the whole point of this is to try to get back to the point of saving money. So, one step at a time. Cut expenses. Get into the routine of cutting expenses. Then I'll start finding times when I can start plugging some of the money into an account. For right now? That $34 saved is staying in checking account to build my account buffer towards the $400 I want in my account at all times in case of unexpected expenses.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

KMart Rewards Program - points redemption

So, I had about 15 minutes last night and needed paper plates.

I also had a $5 gift card for KMart that would expire by the end of the week as well as up to $6 worth of points to redeem. I told "a" that I thought we could go to KMart to get the plates and if they weren't free, they would be close to free. Plus I really wanted to figure out how easy it would be to redeem points.

Of course paper plates cost less than $5.00.

Of course, I didn't have much time to explore to find something else we 'needed'. I settled on two bags of Halloween candy. How much do you want to bet they'll be eaten before Halloween. Actually, the snickers (my favorite) probably won't. The Crabby Patty Gummies (which I can't stand but will dole out just a little bit at a time to "a") probably will.

So, I bring the membership card thinking I'll probably have to enter the pin (I didn't). And just so happens that about $1.30 of my points were due to expire - so this trip is the very first trip where the cashier actually asked me if I wanted to redeem my points. (I did).

Normally, I only stop in about once every two or three months - so I've had lots of points expire and since I hadn't been in there recently, no one to tell me they were about to expire. My advice? Cash in early and often unless you go in there regularly and want to save up for something big.

Total cost for my $10.41 cent total? $.30. Plus I earned 50 points for the $5.00 worth of shopping that went on the gift card.

How easy was it to redeem points? Simply tell the cashier to redeem any points you have available at the time every time you check out. SIMPLE

What did I forget? I had an 'offer' receipt I had forgotten (or lost - still not sure where it was) - that if I had presented when I cashed in my points that would have earned me thousands more points. sigh.

I got more of those offers with my receipt. Lesson learned? Read those receipts and hang onto them because the 10,000 rewards points would have been $10.00 off a future purchase. Not the end of the world that I forgot it; but something to remember for the future.

All-in-all, I still say that my best option is to continue to use KMart the way I have been, but take better advantage of the savings program they've provided.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Walgreens Royalty Reward Program

I'd seen something in the store last week, and I knew enough to know I knew nothing about it. But, I hadn't realized it is a pretty new program. The official start date was Sept 16th.

Here's the site to sign up (or you can sign up in the store).

These points don't officially expire - yet on another site, I learned you can only keep them for three years (so that seems like an expiration date to me).

Unlike KMart's program - these do have a hierarchy. Hanging onto points (to a point) will save you more money in the end.

5,000 points = $5.00
10,000 points = $10.00
18,000 points = $20.00
30,000 points = $35.00
40,000 points = $50.00
Also, you earn points for buying in the store. BUT the trick is that you HAVE TO HAVE the card to get most of the sales prices in the flyer. If you don't have your card with you, you can use your phone number to get linked to your account (as so many other buyer rewards programs work).

Walgreens is continuing the register rewards programs that so many others have discontinued - but again - you HAVE TO HAVE the card to earn them now. Basically, on certain purchases, you earn $1 or $2 (or more) in register rewards which is $1 or $2 off your next purchase. These usually have a very quick expiration date.

BUT, additional ways to earn points don't include spending money. They are allowing you to earn points for making healthy choices. Participating in a walking program. Back to their site for details., getting immunizations and prescriptions filled.

If you are already in a walk program or thinking about starting one, this seems like a worthwhile thing to participate in.

They also have a fairly long list of what you CAN'T redeem your points toward.

No information on how to redeem, but they state that it's "instant" and can start with a minimum of 5000 points.

I'm thinking along the lines of trying the walking program (I walk very casually now without much tracking) and linking it to my rewards program. I don't have nearly the prescriptions I used to, but I've always gotten them at Walgreens anyway. Add my occasional shopping for items there and I see this as a program that I won't actively look to use, but will use as I use the store today. If I can hit 40,000 points in 3 years, it's $50 I've basically earned to buy items. If I earn less in 3 years - I'll redeem whatever I have in the bank at the time.

KMart loyalty shopping programs - what I've learned so far

I've been a member of KMart's rewards program for a while. And I'd give them my phone number when I checked out and I'd see something in my receipt that said "You've earned bonus rewards points."

And that's what I knew about it, not much more than that.

I went to the following site - KMart Rewards and did a little reading. What I learned is that while I don't tend to carry my card with me now, I probably will start carrying it in the future.

The minimum points to redeem is 1000 - which is actually pretty easy to earn. Points are earned in two ways

 1) every dollar spent is a point
 2) they have bonus points you can earn all over the store

To redeem it's supposed to be as easy as entering your membership card at check out and using the pin on the back of the card to redeem the points. Since I really don't need to memorize yet another pin, carrying the card with me means that I can enter it directly by reading it - which will simplify my life.

Points DO expire if you don't redeem them.
AND - there doesn't seem to be a cumulative advantage to saving them.

Every 1000 points is a dollar off your purchase - period. No complicated schedule to remember.

I even have a receipt where I'll earn 5000 or 10000 bonus points if I redeem some of my points next week.

Now, I haven't tried it yet, but I always have some odds or ends of items to pick up AND I also have a $5 gift card to spend this week - so I'm going to see if there are limits on combining the gift card and the points program. I have 6000 points right now, so that would seem like $5 gift card plus $6 redeemed points is $11 worth of shopping I can do without spending a dime.

I'll be reporting back after I try it out to see how it works.

Also, it seems like I've let 8000 points expire while I wasn't paying attention. $8 in savings. eh. Not the end of the world to lose them. But it does seem like these expire fairly quickly, so it behooves you to try to redeem points every time you go in.

I don't really see myself changing my shopping habits that much to take advantage of this program. I tend to buy socks, underwear, kids clothing and shoes; school supplies; and small household items there as it is. Being able to save a few dollars the few times I stop in seems like a good program to stay in, but I don't think you earn SO many rewards that I would change my shopping plans.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Cooking

Stuffed Green Bell Pepper Soup (made with yellow and red sweet peppers)


Recipe from www.food.com.

Used half a pound of pre-browned (and frozen) ground beef bought on sale for $3/pound (so $1.50).
Two sweet peppers @ $3
One can of tomato sauce @ $1.25
One can of diced tomatoes @ $1.45
One cup of brown rice  @ $.25
Beef bouilion @ $.25
Brown Sugar @ $.10
Two cans of water
Salt, pepper, onion flakes and garlic powder to taste ( $.15)

Cost to make - $7.85 - servings - about 16 very hearty servings (if that works out as true - less than $.50 per serving.  This was supper tonight and I'm dishing up a bunch of it for the freezer to take for lunch. I'll also set aside a serving tonight for tomorrow's lunch. I'm tagging it as a $5 meal; simply because I figure if you can feed eight people for under $10 it counts as a $5 meal for four. I also think that buying the peppers and tomatoes at a farmer's market (or growing them on your own) would probably make this even MORE affordable.  I had two bowls of it tonight - and am feeling stuffed to the gills... definitely filling.

Tastes just like stuffed green peppers without all the fuss. Recipe is the type I love - throw all the ingredients and cook. It turned out more like a stew-like consistency which adds to the heartiness. This is very really delicious and so much easier than making stuffed peppers. I will definitely be making this again. I just hope it freezes and reheats well. But I think it will. My mother used to make stuffed peppers when I was growing up and make dozens that she put in the freezer in individual packages for us to pull out for a heat-and-eat meal. I would think this will reheat even better because we can stir the bowl after it has thawed so it will reheat more evenly.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Week 1 - Setting stepping goals for my financial freedom

I have big, well planned out long-term savings goals. I have shorter-term mini savings goals that are my benchmark as to how I'm doing and where am I vs where I should be.

While I'm still almost debt free, I really haven't been seeing much success in those short-term goals. And those long-term goals seem very distant right now and almost unattainable.

I figure my best strategy would be to make myself accountable. I'm going to keep documenting my frugal steps, my planning and my achieving (and/or roadblocks) here. Win or lose, fight or flight... I'm going to be baring it here and get my butt back on track.

For now, I'll be posting weekly goals and challenges for myself. I've already posted on Monday a couple of things that I could be doing better at. And by making small 'stepping' goals, I'm hoping to do better at a few things.

Goal 1: Cook home-cooked, from scratch meals at least 3 times a week (with a bigger meal for Sunday for planned leftovers) next week.

Details:
This past two weeks, I've cooked only two meals from scratch. Mostly I've either eaten take out, fast food, or heat & eat meals from the freezer/refrigerator. I'm happy to report that most of the frozen meals are eaten. I'm hoping to get my grocery list and planning done today to try to resist taking the easy way out when it comes to shopping for groceries this weekend.

Goal 2: Take leftovers to work for lunch four days next week (am working from home one day).

Details:
I have chili and spaghetti frozen from the last couple of weeks. Add a big meal from Sunday that will freeze well and I should have a third choice to take to lunch with me. This should save me $5 - $7 each day.

Goal 3: Check out programs that might help save money on non-grocery items that we regularly use. I used to LOVE the walgreens rebate program. I saved a ton of money and clipped coupons to save more in combination with it. When they stopped the program, I kept clipping coupons - but found that my savings just didn't add up like they used to - so I stopped.  Sadly, there isn't a CVS in the area (as I've been drooling over their savings program for a while). But I thought I saw something recently for Walgreens that might be a new option for me. I also am a member at K-Mart's awards programs but never really learned about it. I saw that they are starting to regularly offer double coupon programs (in a much more limited fashion) at K-Mart. I'm going to spend a couple of hours this weekend learning about the opportunities to see what will work for me.

Goal 4: Keep searching for more affordable yarn options. I need some brightly colored cotton yarn in a fingering weight that has a specific style of dyeing done. Right now I can't even find the yarn I want for my project; but if I could it would cost me approximately $136 or more for the project. By dyeing it myself I can save a bundle. But, first, I have to find an affordable source for the base yarn. My goal? spend less than $50 (including shipping). I won't buy it until after payday... but first, I have to find it.

Goal 5: Not dip into savings this week for expenses. (this one is probably going to be tough)

Details:
My checking account is running a bit low with a full week until payday. I have about $320 in it and my original budgeting plan (that has been failing all to often lately) is to have a buffer of $400 in it every week when the NEXT payday rolls around. That gives a buffer for those tough weeks and is intended to keep me from dipping into savings. I'm below it and I still have a week to go - including needing to get groceries. This week, it's low because I paid about $600 in medical bills, plus I had already spent my buffer the week before.

Expenses between now & next Friday (payday):
1) Alex has a scouting event Saturday morning - no direct expense - but a good attitude when he'd rather be watching cartoons first thing in the morning will probably require a bit of snack bribing. I will treat him to McDonald's afterwards, less than $4.

2) Groceries. A well planned, less pre-made shopping list. I will resist the urge to go crazy with it, but will try to limit myself to just the next ten days (gets me through the next weekend). Included in this will be a pack of Pepsi bottles and a pack of water bottles to take to work to avoid paying $1.50 each x 2 each day. Approximately $150 spent

3) Wedding Saturday afternoon, evening. No gift per request. No cost, free meal. Again, the McDonald's bribery is intended to cover the attitude adjustment. Hoping for two events from the one trip.

4) Alex has scouting event on Monday night - we're bringing treats and drinks for the boys. They want them to be 'healthy' for a change... which fits in well with me trying to do better as well. Not sure exactly what I'm taking - but I will be taking 100% juice drinks. Still thinking about a baked item that's got fiber, fruit and less sugar for the snack. Would rather not bake it from scratch just now.  - $25

5) Hair cut - $50

6) Meal on Thursday night. I treat my son to McDonalds usually on Wednesday night (and me to Wendy's). But will convince him to make it wait until Thursday  night as that's the night that I'll be working my second job. - $10

7) Breakfast at work next week - approx $1 each day (x 4 days) if I don't pay for my Pepsi bottle with it. I am probably going to keep this pretty low-cost breakfast option for a while and see if I need to adjust more later. $1 a day is a lot less than the $7 - $10 a day I spend now.

Expect to spend just under $250. Still more than I would like, but it's less than I have in checking. Enough left for gas, if needed, and other minor, unexpected expenses.

Random conversation

I was walking by as I heard a snippet of an interesting conversation.

The reason teenagers have all the answers, is because no one has asked them all the questions yet.

You have to admit, there's a certain wisdom in that statement.

My take, though, is a little different.

I think some teenagers believe all the answers are simpler because they haven't experienced very many roles.
Here's why. As a teenager...

You have been a child, you have the child's perspective.

You have been a student, you have the student's perspective.

You might have even been exposed to the perspective of being a girlfriend or a boyfriend.

You might have been exposed to clubs and/or part-time work.

But chances are, you haven't been a wife or husband, or parent (well, at least not the parent of a teenager). Chances are you haven't been sole support of a family and lost your job. Chances are you haven't been an ex-wife or ex-husband. Chances are you haven't been the primary wage-earner and ended up homeless.

I would almost BET that the few teenagers whose life experience has been a little more varied - tend to be the teenagers who know that the answers to life's questions aren't black and white and straight-forward and realize that they don't know all the answers.

I don't think the answer to this is to take teenagers and force them to marry young, have kids, lose their jobs... BUT I think that we can get more social conciousness by exposing teenagers to other perspectives. Get them engaged in tutoring kids whose lives aren't as easy as theirs. Take them to a local homeless shelter to serve a meal (and not just on a holiday). Have them help sort through their outgrown/out-of-style clothes AND deliver them to a clothing bank during open hours so they see the people who need them. Get them to a build for Habitat for Humanity where they work besides the people who don't have money but are putting in hundreds of hours of sweat equity into a home.

Not to get political (well, not too much) but I wish MORE of the politicians really understood the following: Sometimes people don't pay taxes because they REALLY can't afford to. AND just because they aren't paying taxes does NOT mean that they aren't putting forth tremendous effort to improve their situation (sometimes against ungodly challenges). Adding more burden to their lives (like removing some of the tax credits they get?) will only potentially break the working poor.

Yes, there's a percentage that isn't working and has given up all hope of a better life. But if they (for whatever reason) are convinced they can't do better than they currently are? I think society has failed them. Educationally, or emotionally, medically, or otherwise. Most people have a survival instinct to do better to get more, to feed and clothe and live with more... the ones that don't - they need a short-term hand out and a long-term educational, emotional and maybe medical support plan that brings them around to recognizing that they are capable of more. I don't think this makes me a Socialist. I think a socialist would say to give them what they need and not expect them to rise above. I see myself as a realist. Portions of society that have given up hope don't contribute (taxes, purchases, gross national product, etc). They take... it happens now in subtle ways and not so subtle ways (welfare assistance, medicaid, unpaid medical bills passed on to other patients, fraud, all the way to crime, etc). And, if too many people in a concentrated area give up all hope? That area becomes a cauldren of unhappiness, unrest and crime.

None of this is 'all the answers'. I don't have all the answers just like everyone else. The problems are just too complex. But I do think that by expanding perspectives within at least the polititicians, we can at least get people making policy decisions to start thinking beyond their own perspectives.

Just my two cents.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the wonder of Technology

"a" is convinced that the Kindle Fire (which isn't even an HD one) is AMAZING and the best technology around and unlikely to get replaced with anything better any time soon.

He's 9.

He wants to make sure that if I pass away, he can get the Kindle.

He wants to make sure that he can pass it down to his children.

... cracked me up. He was very earnest and all I could do was sputter, cough and laugh because he caught me mid-swallow of some water when he informed me of his wishes.

Sharing a little good news

That lump in my windpipe? Shrunken down to nothing all by it's little self.

One less thing to worry about.

So, that was about six weeks of sore throat post-surgery. During which there was a very sore point about four weeks long where I had a physical lump I could sense when I tried to swallow that just got bigger and bigger - then suddenly disappeared.

Anyone else think it's weird?

Not that I'm not going to enjoy being lump free. I just think it's weird is all... :-)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Financial progress... or lack there of.

Five years ago I was looking into filing for Bankruptcy. I had a good income considering I'm a single mom. But after severe illness, immense hospital bills, running up credit cards to support my family when my pittance of an Emergency fund ($2000) ran out and I didn't have income coming... well, things got a little rough. I had over $50,000 worth of unsecured debt; and $80,000 on a mortgage for a house I couldn't afford; and $13,000 worth of a car loan on a six year old vehicle that I couldn't afford to pay for. AND everyone wanted their money NOW.

Today, my only debt is a couple of hospital bills I received last month that I'm spreading out over the rest of the year to enjoy using Health Care Savings Account funds (pre-tax dollars that will be getting deposited into the account every two weeks).

I've been (mostly) debt free for several months now. And I've been planning and determining how I'm going to boost my emergency funds debt and save up for a down payment for a house. And yet, every dime I put into savings seems to weasel its way right back out. When I figure my budget, I think I should have $1,000 every month of discretionary money that should certainly be able to go into savings. Yet, every month I'm seeing NOOOO progress on the savings front.

I know some of the things I'm doing wrong, but it's hard to imagine that it's covering the complete cost of what I'm spending.

So, I'm looking back at what I did right in the past.

1. I couldn't afford the house plus the expense of commuting, but needed to keep my job. Working locally would have been a drastic pay cut. So, I gave the keys to the bank and found an apartment that was inexpensive. --What I'm doing right now. I can afford a nicer apartment. But this one 'will do'. I'm cleaning and polishing and re-arranging to keep it fresher and convince myself I love living in this small apartment just a bit longer.

2. I couldn't afford the car I had. I tried to keep it for several years. But when push came to shove, the bank took it, as well. I bought an inexpensive car on Craigslist with the money from my then new emergency fund. That particular car ended up costing a fortune in repairs and only lasted about a year. BUT, I had another emergency fund in place which was the down payment for a slightly more expensive car. I ended up with payments for about six months at a finance here dealership. If I have to do it again, the second alternative gave me a better vehicle and didn't wipe out my emergency fund as much... so that's the route I'd take again. -- What I'm doing right - I'm putting $200 a paycheck (every two weeks into savings). What I need to do better, stop dipping into that money every time I get a little short.

3. I cut back drastically on all the services that I could handle. What did I keep? I did keep cable, as I was no longer going to go to movie theaters (except for special occasions) and was cutting back at eating dinner out. Basic cable with the $.99 movie package was going to be most of my entertainment expense. --What I'm doing right - Still have the same basic cable. BUT I have explored Amazon Prime's free month trial. And am thinking about trying out NetFlicks free month trial. From what I hear, folks love it at first, then get tired of the same old, same old after a while. I'm going to watch some cancelled series I always wanted to watch and cancel before getting charged. Probably might have been wiser to not get 'hooked' on streaming. But honestly? I don't really have that large of a watch list.

4. I cut down the internet service to the slowest speed that was still high speed. I need it for working from home, but didn't need the upcharge to get things done faster. Was it annoying that slow? Yes, still is. But it's fast enough I can stream videos. I can live with it. --What I'm doing right. Still at a pretty slow speed.

5. I did keep my cell phone and data plans. That's a possible cut in the future, but geez. It's my connection to the world and I use my smart phone more often than my laptop to look things up. I pay for myself and my adult son... because he can't afford another monthly bill and this way we stay in constant contact. We're close even if it's only cell phone calls every couple of days. I don't want to cut that out. BUT I did cancel home phone service. I have not missed it a single bit. There's less telemarketing, one less voicemail to listen too. If I don't want to use my cell phone (work conference calls, phone is dead, etc) - I use Google Voice to make my calls with a $15 headset on my laptop. --What I'm doing right. I won't ever go back to a land line unless I had a business to run. If someone needs to call me, they get my cell phone number. If I need to make a call that's going to go long, I can use the free Google Voice app.

6. I made a big meal every Sunday that I could divide and freeze leftovers from for work. After a few weeks, I even had variety in what I could eat at work. --What I'm doing wrong.  THIS is something I really need to do again I think. I'm spending on average $7 - $10 a day on breakfast and lunch at work now.

7. We ate out one night a week - my son's treat was McDonald's on Wednesday (kids meals are cheaper that night) and I would usually get something off of the dollar menu at Wendy's. -- This is another thing that might be part of the issue, we've been eating fast food about three nights a week. It's not healthy and not fiscally wise.... it's just fast.

8. I cooked most of our meals from scratch. I only have a handful of trust-worthy and kid-friendly meals... so they got repetitious and old. But they were cheaper. -- This is another thing. When I got really, really tired - I started going for the already prepped food that you just heat and eat. Again, not healthy, not fiscally wise... just fast. And it isn't THAT hard to try to find new recipes these days.

9. I love going on trips and vacations. We went from a week in Orlando every other year down to two weekend trips a year within driving distance and one camping trip (most of our gear is already owned). I did do a celebratory trip to Orlando when I reached the over 50% debt paid off mark. And figured that once I was back on my feet, we'd go to every four years instead of every other year.  -- I thought I could get away with a longer driving vacation instead.... but I think it would be better to switch back to the shorter trips more often. I spent about $1800 for a week in Rapid City this year and it was a really long trip. I think my son and I would have had as much fun for a fraction of that over two weekends. And some of that could have stayed in savings. Plus now, I really don't have anything to look forward to until my next trip which can't be until after the new year.

10. Medical shortcuts. Not something I  would probably suggest to anyone else. But I spent a LOT of money on medical testing because I knew I was ill. But they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I only quit pushing for testing because I was frustrated with the lack of results. But honestly, it was a wild goose chase. I found a couple of studies two years ago that pointed out that one of the crucial tests I was getting done would be misleading in a specific scenario. And ALL THE DOCTORs kept pointing to that result as if it was written in stone saying things like "it seems so much like severe B12 deficiency, but your results look fine." sigh. In the end? Once I got them to ignore that test result, I got treatment, and I got better. -- Technically not the same thing, but now I just need to keep my body from breaking down. I've had two major surgeries each of the last two summers. Less medical expenses = more money for saving.


See?

Going through this list has already pointed out a handful of good opportunities to improve my budget. I probably can't do much with the medical expenses thing. But I've been really good at making sure I set aside pre-tax dollars for it. And so far, so good. At least I'm getting the tax benefit.

So, for planning. Get back into cooking big meals Sunday nights and smaller meals during the week from scratch. Take breakfast and lunch to work. Might even buy a case of my Pepsi and bottled water to the office for my drinks every day. Plan a camping trip for next summer and two weekend get aways. Of course, next Summer/Early Fall is my son's wedding. But if I can save up in the meantime by getting things back under fiscal control, it shouldn't make too much of a dent in my savings. Bride's father will pay for the wedding 100% (last I knew; that's why we were waiting until 2013 to schedule it) so it'll just leave the Rehearsal Dinner to me. AND I have tons of ideas of how to make it special, but lower cost.  Just need to get the bride to finalize the where and when so I can get to planning.

B12 - progress

I'm now taking the shots every two weeks.

I had posted about my fear about over-doing things... and I thought I ought to post my progress.

I went from three or four twenty to thirty minute working sessions and I just kept adding a little longer periods of time to it. Up until the Labor Day weekend, I was up to three one hour working session on Saturday and again on Sunday.

Labor Day weekend? I took it pretty easy on Saturday; maybe only did two one-hour working sessions. But that was to rest up ahead of time for the big day on Sunday. I spent about nine to ten SOLID physical labor work on Sunday. Straight. By 7 pm, I was pretty exhausted. But it was a healthy, hard-work, worn out, kind-of feeling. I took it easy on Monday, but by Tuesday, I was feeling pretty good. a) I never could have done this pre-shots and b) if I'd even tried a third of that I would have been bed-ridden for a week.

I had a three-day work trip later that week, and the following weekend I was pretty lazy recovering. This last weekend we had a Footie game to attend, followed by a wedding in the family, followed by a an interrupted night's sleep ("a" was sick and "A" called at 3:30 am upset). So yesterday I was pretty out of it. But, all that said? There's really nothing holding me back from doing what I want to do for as long as I want to do it anymore.

I'm really glad to be back into the human race, because I sure didn't feel like I was part of it for a really, really long time.  Next up? I think I'm going to be signing up for a fitness program. Can you believe it?

The Kindle Fire

I won a Kindle Fire in a door prize a little over a week ago.

It isn't something I would have gone out to buy. But now that I have it, I'm kind of loving it.

My 9-yr-old son? Totally stealing it from me most of the day.

We had to implement rules that he could only use it similar to how he gets to watch tv; because otherwise he would adopt it instead of the tv entirely. Now, I'm just a little worried that he's multi-tasking too much as he'll stream tv on the Kindle while watching DVR-ed tv on the television. Seriously? He LOVES this thing.



What I'm using the Kindle for mostly? It's handier for web browsing than my laptop ... not as handy for posting to the web, but reading and browing? Yeah - it's handy. Its lighter and easier to handle.

What "a" is using it for? Streaming tv from our free month of Amazon Prime... of course, I'm watching streamed items as well - but I find it handier to set it up on my laptop; that way I don't have to hold the Kindle while watching and it frees up my hands to knit. If I decide to keep the Prime going (which right now the likelihood is pretty high) I think I might buy a PC-to-TV HDMI cable for streaming to the tv.

What do I want to use it for?

Storing and/or accessing PDF files from the Cloud - knitting patterns - YES! I've downloaded a couple of patterns; but once I close them, I can't find them again. I figure I might be better off storing them from the PC on Google Drive and accessing them that way? But I haven't tried yet.

Books. Books. Books. I always feel bad when I buy some new books that I know I'll read once and then donate to charity or take to Goodwill, or that will take up space on my bookshelves. Having a book that I can read easily; set aside when I am done; it's seriously worth paying MORE for the book if I don't have it on hand. Plus, I can download right at home and there isn't any more runs to the bookstore. That's a big PLUS.

Not so much on magazines, though. I mean, I might if there was a magazine I sort-of enjoyed that wasn't a knitting magazine... but right now I don't have many of those.  Knitting magazines are a very tactile experience for me to flip through for inspiration. I HATED the electronic version of the Knitting magazine I accidently got once. I HATED it. I want to physically pick it up and flip through it and wait for inspiration to strike. That won't have the same appeal electronically.

The other thing I love about it? The fact that it's pretty bullet-proof when it comes to settings; etc. Unlike a laptop, there's only so much my son can do to the settings that I'm less concerned about him using it. I've bought him a desktop pc before - and barely let him use it unless I was starting the games/learning sites myself... but the Kindle, it just feels like he can access what he wants without exploring a lot and without as  much risk. That is VERY cool and I didn't realize how much I would appreciate it.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A different complication from surgery

My throat was a little sore after my surgery at the end of July. Not too bad, but sore. Totally expected side effect.

It was still a little sore about five days after surgery - still not bad, but just slightly noticeable. I figured, I had had an endocscopic surgery first where there was some dry heaving during the procedure and then I was intubated during the surgery the day after that - so, hey... anyone's throat having gone through all that might be a little sore.

It seemed like it was getting better around the two week mark (which is when I saw my surgeon for follow up) and didn't bring it up because it was feeling better.

Around the three week mark, I started noticing an odd sensation in my throat - like I needed to swallow constantly, like there was something 'stuck' in my windpipe. Still mild, not painful, just 'there'.

Around the four week mark, I went for my regular appointment with my Internist and by this point, it's gotten a little bigger. It feels like a lump in my windpipe - just beyond the back of my mouth, maybe part way down my tongue; maybe partway down my throat opposite my tongue (it's not like I can tell exactly where it is). It hurts to swallow and I can feel it at all times.

I figure, this is the kind of thing you bring up. This is the kind of thing that might need to be looked at.

He thinks it is probably just a Thyroid nodule. I'm pretty sure those don't grow inside the windpipe. But he's insistant that it's probably just that. And schedules an ultrasound. Which finds a swollen lymph node. Here's the thing, I do have a swollen lymph node. It's OUTSIDE the windpipe. I knew it was there the whole time. It's not like I'm worried about that. I was worried about the lump on the INSIDE of the windpipe. But my doctor was all happy - oh we found it, it's nothing to worry about.

I called the doctor back and requested a referral to an ENT. I'm tired of messing around. It's been two weeks and no one is calling with an appointment... I have to call them back because it's now been six weeks post surgery with a sore throat (admittedly, it didn't hurt that bad the first three weeks, but it's quite painful now all day long every day).

In the meantime? I also mentioned that my chronic diahrea had returned post-surgery. I mention this as an aside because I'd had it pretty severely for three years before and was pretty much ignored by the doctor back then; but thought it would be worthy of mentioning. Didn't expect anything this time around. But oh, suddenly - this is the most interesting thing about me. We have to run a bunch of tests.
I spent three years with chronic diahrea and it was 'eh'.... but now it's been six weeks of it and suddenly it needs immediate follow up? Really?

But the pain and lump INSIDE MY WINDPIPE is hardly worth listening fully to; let alone a good followup?

Sigh.

I shouldn't be complaining though. I still feel about 900% better than pre-B12 shots.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

More B12

So, I did see the doctor a week ago. He approved me increasing my dosage to every two weeks. As much as a miracle getting a shot was, there was a downside. It would take 4 to 5 days for the energy to 'kick in' and it would last about 15 days before it started to ebb away. I would dread the last week of every month and sure enough, there was just 'ugh' energy around. Hopefully now that I'm getting the shot every 14 days I won't be going through that any more.

Next up? Finding a good 'balance' for using energy. Though I have to admit... even if I did overdo things yesterday, I'm not a heap of bones and useless muscles today. I spent 9 SOLID hours doing physical labor and cleaned the last 'disaster zone' in my house. It's not perfect. And there's still room for improvement in other areas of the house... but I can honestly say that I don't have one room that I'm embarrassed to have a stranger see. WHICH IS BIG. BIG news.

Thankfully, I have a big bedroom, because 60% of it has now been turned into a craft zone... but the benefit of doing this is that the bedroom section won't be over-run with the crafting stuff that didn't fit into the little 6' zone that used to exist.

Now to tackle the little projects and start purchasing to replace the items that I'm eliminating.

AND then to start tackling some physical fitness options.

VERY relieved to have less physical impairments and all of these goals are realistic for a change.