Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taxes Done and FAFSA Filed

My taxes are completed. And now that they are, I'm completely sick to my stomach. It seems this year was a busy year for me. The raise I got in July, combined with income from the side gig, plus a loss of the Earned Income Credit AND the Child Tax Credit (since the Princess is now 17) means that for the first time EVER I owe money to the Federal Government. $755 to be exact. I will be getting a $142 refund from the state, but that barely dents the money owed to Uncle Sam. Add that to the debt I'm trying to get out of, and I'm just about SICK to my stomach! Okay I am actually sick to my stomach!

After the taxes were completed, we started work on the FAFSA. It appears that the Princess will qualify for a small Pell Grant, and a Stafford Loan. However, I'm confused on the amount the summary listed because my understanding was that for a first year student you could only qualify for a smaller amount. I am scheduling a meeting with the school college counselor to try and figure this stuff out.

In the meantime though, time to seriously readjust my thinking and my budgeting bottom line. I've got to make some deeper cuts.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thrift Store Shopping

I have always enjoyed garage sale and thrift store shopping. To me, its always been a fun and frugal way to indulge my latent shopping tendencies. We now have 3 thrift stores in very close proximity. The oldest one, I'm not too fond of. I've never found anything there that I wanted and the store always seems dirty and quite frankly overpriced for second hand merchandise.

The second, and my former favorite, you really have to DIG to find the good stuff because it is arranged by gender and then by color. So you might find exactly what you're looking for, but then its 3 sizes too small. It doesn't bode well for a quick let me stop here and see what they've got. You have to really block out some time to find anything worth having.

The third, and newest one, is my current favorite. You walk in and the store is very clean. There are wide spaces between the racks, enough for two shopping carts to pass each other. And its arranged by gender and then by size! You don't have to spend tons of time going through stuff that simply will not ever fit! And they seem to be picky about what goes on their racks, because everything seems to be in like new condition.

I made a quick stop on Saturday at Store 2 and Store 3. Store 2 was a complete bust. I walked out empty handed. Store 3, I found some great deals --- 3 tank tops, (2 for work outs, one suitable for actually wearing under a casual jacket for work), a cabinet organizer, a lanyard (for display of the Princess's newest Disney Pins), and a little ceramic plaque that says "If your dog is fat, you're not getting enough excercise" (perfect for my newfound fitness motivation). All told, I spent $11.50 --- not bad at all!!!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Getting Ready for Another Round of Freezer Cooking

I paid a visit to my local Aldi over the weekend to get stuff for another round of freezer cooking plus a few basics and the makings of a veggie tray for my sister's birthday dinner. With grocery prices continuing to rise every week, even though I am shopping sales and using coupons, I'm thinking I may need to tweak my grocery budget. But, here is what I got:

7+ lbs Ground Chuck
2 Refrigerated Pizza Dough
2 Dog Treats
Bell Pepper
1 Alfredo Sauce
2 Shells & Cheese
Egg Noodles
2 Stuffed Shells
2 Frozen Ravioli

Spent: $48.53

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Princess Room - Finished!!!!

Last weekend, I began the arduous task of shoveling cleaning out the Princess's bedroom while she was out of town. It took me the FULL week, but at 11 p.m. Friday night, I finally completed it. Her room is very small, her closet teensy, and its very dark (the girl totally likes to sleep in on the weekends and a darkish room helps with that). The room presented several problems: too much stuff, not enough storage and not enough money to buy new storage stuff, so I had to go with what I had on hand.

I wish I had thought to take a "before" picture, when you couldn't even walk through it, but here are a couple of "during" (warning! these could cause nightmares!):

And 7 days, 4 garbage bags, 2 boxes of donations, and 6 boxes of stuff for us to sort through together, we have:

(I had to repair the seat cushion above, the ties had totally ripped off. My sewing skills are less than stellar, but fortunately you can't really see how bad the job is,and they are at least holding!)

(Yes that is a jillion times larger than life picture of Kellan Lutz from Twilight, at least its a PRETTY picture to have to look at all the time --- ha!)

So there you have it, a full week's worth of work. I'm just hoping she can keep it looking the way it does now. It won't be pretty if she can't!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

In A Time Crunch

Last weekend, I started cleaning out the Princess's room while she is gone to Disney World with her Dad. Here we are, 7 days later, and I'm not finished yet. This was a HUGE undertaking --- who knew that a 17 year old could cram so much stuff into such a small room?

I worked diligently throughout last weekend. I put in several hours on Monday night. Tuesday night, I had meeting and didn't get home until close to 9 so nothing then. Wednesday night, I put in some more time. Last night, I went to Zumba after work and was exhausted by the time I got home, so nothing last night either.

Problem is, she comes home TOMORROW. I've got tonight and tomorrow morning to finish this up or the princess will come home to a room still torn to shreds! I'm down to the reorganizing the clothes and the last bit of "stuff" that is laying on the bed and then a final sweep and mop. I've been dusting and sweeping as I go, but will still need to do a final hit on all surfaces.

I'm hoping that with everything in its place and a place for everything she will not only keep it in order, but it will also make things easier when it is time to pack her up to go off to college. One can hope, I suppose!!!!

Wish me luck! I've got a deadline to meet!!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Viva Italian Days! Publix Shopping

This week's shopping was a doozy. I had a plan in place, but I quickly adjusted it on the fly when I got into the store and the Publix Store Coupons were all over the place, meaning quite a few items were definitely down to my "buy it now" price. I think this is the longest it has taken me in the grocery store in quite a while, but it was definitely worth it. Here is what I got:

1 Purex Laundry Detergent
2 Smart Balance Spreads
3 Green Giant Frozen Vegetables
2 International Delight Coffee Creamers
10 Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks
2 Tyson Chicken
1 Progresso Panko Bread Crumbs
3 Progresso Chicken Broth
1 Lucky Charms Breakfast Bar
1 Nature Made Fish Oil Capsules
4 Green Giant Canned Vegetables
1 Sundown Adult Multi Vitamin
2 Kraft Shredded Mozzerella
4 Pedigree Dentastix
1 Quaker Oatmeal
4 Hefty One Zip Freezer Bags
1 Muellers Whole Grain Spaghetti
3 Zatarains Rice Mix
4 Ramen Noodles
3 Hunt's Tomatoes
1 Gatorade
Fresh Express Salad Mix
2 Kraft Chunk Cheese

When I got to the checkout I was a little nervous looking at my cart as it was close to overflowing:

I hadn't had a cart that full in quite some time and I was hoping I hadn't just sent by budget to squawking! Fortunately, though it came in better than I thought:

Spent: $82.93
Saved: $95.94 or 54%--- and while most of those savings were due to the really great sale prices this week, a full $26 of that was just coupons.

Monday, February 20, 2012

No Long Weekend For Me. Sigh.

While many are off of work or school today for Presidents Day, I'm up and getting ready to go to work. Bummer. Of all weekends to have had a long one, this would have been perfect!!! Why? Because I have a HUGE uncompleted project going on!

The Princess left Friday afternoon to drive down to Mobile to her Dad's. Saturday, they got up and headed to Orlando for a week at Walt Disney World. That leaves just me and the pups at the house. Saturday morning, the temps were nice although it was pretty overcast, so I got out in the yard and got to work. I cut back branches and bushes. Hauled debris to the curb. Cut the grass/weeds in the backyard. Cleared the front bed of the bane of my yard existence (monkey grass). Put a new border around that bed to define it better, moved rocks around the border of another bed and planted more bulbs. By noonish, I could hardly move.

So, I decided to start another project --- cleaning out the Princess's Room! Its been a while since it was completely shoveled out, and I thought it might go better if she wasn't there for us to snarl at each other! Wow. That has been a project!!!! I've been sorely tempted to just get rid of about half her stuff, but my Mom did that to me once and it still makes me mad! So, I've been good. If its obviously trashed or broken, it goes in the garbage or recycling. Obviously too small, in the donations box. Not sure? Into another box for her to go through when she gets back. Progress is being made!

I worked all afternoon Saturday, and from about 11 - 6 on Sunday (had to go grocery shopping Sunday morning). I still have several hours worth of work to do -- not to mention a mountain of laundry that I pulled out from the recesses of her closet and under the bed! I'm hoping to put in a couple hours each evening this week, Zumba and other meetings permitting so that I can focus on some freezer cooking and other areas of the house next weekend!

Really, really wish that THIS was a long weekend!!!!!!! But alas, time to get ready for work.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Proof I Actually Do Cook!

Do you Pinterest? Earlier this week, when I was home sick and basically unmotivated to do anything but laze on the couch, I did find the time to play on Pinterest. For those of you that aren't addicted yet, Pinterest is basically an online version of tearing ideas out of magazines and putting them in a binder. However, it requires far fewer organizational skills!

One of the things I pinned recently was a recipe for Crockpot Potato Soup which can be found at the fabulous Pearls, Handcuffs & Happy Hour Blog. This soup was SO easy to make, I basically just dumped everything in the crockpot and let it do its thing. Perfect for an easy dinner when you feel like crap! In truth, since there are only 2 of us in the house, I reduced the recipe by 1/3 and we had enough for dinner, several leftover meals and I froze the rest (we will see how it does on the thaw, because googling produced mix results regarding potato soup out of the freezer).

Another recipe we have been loving has been for Cheesy Biscuits which in all honesty, a friend found for me first on Plain Chicken, but that another friend found on Pinterest, which is now how I easily go back to the recipe. I am talking YUM!!!!! These get made, and then quickly disappear. I've made them in mini muffin size and regular muffin size and both have been perfect!!!!

So there you have it --- proof I actually cook!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Aldi Shopping

I split my shopping between 2 stores this week. Knowing my price points for most basics things off the top of my head helps me do this with the minimum of work. Aldi usually has prices that kick the tail off of the larger grocery stores when items I need aren't on sale. So, here is what I picked up:

2 Boxes Dog Treats
1 Quart Sized Freezer Bags
1 Mini Rice Cakes Snack Pack
Black Beans
1 lbs. Spaghetti
2 Coffee Creamer
1 Light Sour Cream
Chili Beans
Great Northern Beans
Red Beans & Rice
1 Crescent Rolls
Chili Powder
Crushed Red Pepper
Rice Cakes
Oat Bran Bread

Spent: $30.65

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This Week's Publix Shopping

I have been totally absent this week due to being sideline with a sinus infection. You'd THINK that laying on the couch for a couple of days would have provided me with plent of time to blog, catch up on blogs and stuff. But no, I completely vegged. I did make it to the grocery stores oer the weekend. I stopped in at Publix to take advantage of several deals they had going on. Here is what I got:

4 Red Baron Frozen Pizzas
1 Betty Crocker Fundamiddles Cupcake Mix
2 Grands! Biscuits
4 Ramen Noodles
1 Breyer's Ice Cream
1 Crystal Light
1 Smart Balance Milk
2 Pasta Roni
1 Publix Sweet Peas
1 Simply Potatoes Hashbrowns
1 Publix Cheddar
2 Orville Redenbacher Popcorn
1 Lucky Charms Cereal Bars
1 Campbells Chili
1 Angel Soft Toilet Paper

Spent $41.11
Saved: $38.43 or 44%

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Pricey Weekend Ahead

I've been working on my to-do list for the weekend. I've realized that I'm going to be spending quite a bit of money this weekend. Sigh.

First up, the Princess is going to Disney World next week with her Dad, StepMom and brothers. She's been saving up her allowance and Christmas money so that she has plenty of her own spending money for the trip. I'll give her a little bit too. The rest of the trip won't cost me anything, however, she needs some clothes for the trip. She wants to wear yoga pants to the parks most days because they are more comfortable than jeans (and its not hot enough for shorts really). A brief survey of her wardrobe reveals that she needs a couple of new pairs.

Second, I gave Thing 1 and Thing 2 the last of their food this morning. Since there aren't any super deals out there on their food right now, that will necessitate a trip to Sam's to get a 50 pound bag. While I'm there, I'll go ahead and fill up my car with gas. AND I've realized that Thing 2 is down to 2 pills left of her maintenance meds. That will require a trip to the vet to pick that up.

I also need to do some grocery shopping. Just the basics mainly, but I'm low on coffee creamer (yes even though I picked up a small bottle this week), dog treats, milk, fruit and veggies.

So a super spendy weekend --- PLUS its ridiculously cold outside so I get to do all this running around in freezing type weather! JOY.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Avoiding Temptation and Saving Time

One of the hardest things about staying within a strict grocery shopping budget is avoiding the temptation of the impulse purchases. How many times do we realize that we need to stop at the store for one or two necessary items and end up walking out of the store with an additional $10 - $15 more of stuff we didn't plan on getting because it was a good deal or we just couldn't resist?

It may sound completely counter-intuitive, but one way I sometimes combat this is to shop at a more expensive grocery store! Before you think I have completely lost my mind, let me explain. My regular Publix and Aldi stores are on the opposite end of my suburban town from my office. My house is kind of in the middle of the two. If I need just one or two items, it doesn't seem worth the time or gas to go to one of those in rush hour traffic. To take that detour in rush hour traffic often means I don't get home until at least 6 o'clock and I'm usually tempted to just check a bit further on the deals (regardless of whether or not I have my coupons with me).

So, I stop at a local grocery store that is basically on my way home. Last night for instance, I needed coffee creamer (an absolute necessity for my morning to start off right) and bananas. So, instead of making the detour across town, I stopped at the locally owned store. I grabbed my creamer and bananas (on the same aisle), went straight to check out, and was out of the store in less than 5 minutes. Since I know this store has higher prices on most items, I wasn't tempted to scan the other aisles. I added it up when I got home, and figured out that I paid approximately .65 more at this store than I would have if I'd gone to Aldi. However, I saved roughly 40 minutes of time and nothing else made it into my little hand held shopping basket.

In this case, the time and gas savings outweighed the cost savings I usually see by going to my regular stores. While this would not be the case on a "big" shopping trip. For 2 items, it was definitely the better choice.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ouch! Can't Move!

I suppose, technically, my title is incorrect. I actually can move. It just takes deliberate thought and care! Since the beginning of the year, I've been working to eat healthier and exercise more. I am NOT dieting (because I always fail massively at those). I am simply trying to make healthier choices. (that sounds SO much easier to accomplish than a DIET!).

As part of those healthier choices, I've been getting out and walking every day. Generally short 15-20 minute walks on the weekdays each morning, and longer 35-45 minute walks on the weekends. I'm already seeing some results from just that simple commitment. I feel better and several people at work have commented that they think I've lost weight. I honestly don't know, because I don't have a scale (but that is on my list of planned upcoming purchases).

Anyway, last night, I bit the bullet and met BFF and some other girls at the local Park Community Center for a Zumba class. O.M.G. That was too much fun! I really have not had that much fun exercising since dance class in high school! The instructor had super high energy and we MOVED for a solid hour. I sweated and gasped and danced around and had a complete ball! I think this is definitely going to be a an addition to my healthier lifestyle focus.

The cost is $5/class, or you can pay $40 for a 10 class punch card (yes, that's the way I'm going to go). They have classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and also a Saturday morning class. I think for now, I'm going to start with just the Tuesday/Thursday classes and then add the Saturday one later.

This morning, I'm sore and every part of my body feels that I worked out last night --- but its a REALLY good sore! The kind that makes you KNOW you did SOMETHING! No real pain, just those muscles going "Dude! What the heck did you do!?!?!!?!?"

Once the Princess gets out of season for basketball, she is probably going to join us for the Zumba classes, so I'll need to budget in the cost for both of us. That's going to take some tweaking to the budget, but that's okay --- it will do us both some good!

However, for now, I'm going to go pop some ibuprofen and down another glass of water or two to face the day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl, um, I Mean, Super Small Project Sunday

As much as I ramble about football from August through January, you'd think I'd be all fired up for the Super Bowl. Hmmm, not so much. I'm more of a college football girl. I did watch the game, but mainly because I wanted to see what the creative minds willing to spend over $3 Million for 30 seconds of airtime came up with. I wasn't highly impressed but the Volkswagen one with the overweight pup and the Bud Light "Wego" Rescue Pup were the highlights for me.

I'd like to say I spent the rest of Sunday getting my house in super ship shape, but I'd be lying! Instead, I focused on some nagging projects that I've had sitting around, but since they've been completely IN MY WAY, have hampered other productivity. First off, I had a huge pile of cast off clothing and other items that need to be dealt with. They are now all packed up, itemized and waiting to be hauled off for donation. Second, I went in search of missing socks. I had a huge basket FULL of mismatched socks. So, I cleaned out from under the Princess's bed (I may have nightmares about that for months), washed up the ones I found and got to sorting. In the end, I matched up about half of the rogue socks with mates. The others went into the trash. I'm tired of looking at them. I also spent a few hours playing around with Quicken. I had a friend who is awesome with it on speed dial to help me when I got stuck. After a while I had to take a bit of a break. My brain was overloaded -- but I think once I get it on track and understand it, I'm going to like it.

So that's it. My Super Exciting Super Bowl Sunday. How was your weekend?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

First Shopping Trip of February

Lately, I haven't been super impressed with the coupon/sale deals I've found at my regular grocery store, so I've been doing a lot of shopping at Aldi. Also, I've been way behind on my coupon clipping and organizing so haven't been able to take advantage of the deals that were offered! I've made a real push this week to get the coupons in order, and so, I ventured into Publix yesterday. And I actually found some good deals that weren't on my list! The deal I was happiest with was that Princess's face wash was on sale for $3.50 (normally $7) and I had coupons that totalled $3.00 off of 2 (I actually had more coupons, but they only had 2 bottles left) -- so I ended up getting $14 worth of face wash for $4. That works for me!

Anyway, this is how I did:

1 Mott's Natural Applesauce
1 Rondele Garlic/Herb Cheese
2 Cheez-its
1 Barrilla Penne Pasta
2 Del Monte Tomatoes
1 Contadina Tomato Sauce
1 Mt. Olive Bread & Butter Pickles
1 Powerade 8 Pack
2 Gorton's Fish
3 Sargento Shredded Cheese
1 Hillshire Farm Smoke Sausage
2 Special K Bars 12 Pack
2 L'Oreal 360 Cleansers
1 Lucky Charms Cereal Bars
1 Kraft Olive Oil Mayonnaise
1 Mentos UP2U Gum

Spent: $52.06
Saved: $51 -- That's 49.48% --- pretty darn close to 50/50!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Time to Stop Whining

I got my gas bill today. I opened it, and was terribly disappointed to see the total was $118.43. We keep the temperature pretty low in the house and run around in yoga pants and sweatshirts or fleeces all winter long. I had hoped it would be a little lower. I whined a bit. And pouted.

And then I looked back at last year's bill. $193.82. I think I'll shut up now! :-)

Getting a Jump on Gardening

We've had a milder than normal winter here in Alabama. I think the same can be said for many portions of the country. The end result has been that certain plants have not died back to rest over the winter as they normally do, and others have emerged early. This one for example, has bloomed now all the way until February when normally it dies back in November:

This is Rudbeckia Indian Summer. This is one of my favorites --- drought tolerant, each bloom lasts for what seems like forever, at the height of the season the blooms are massive and it just has such a happy face.  It usually just tends to pop up wherever it feels like it as it reseeds itself. Thanks to some encouragement from a fellow Garden Geek, I decided to try my hand at growing the plant from seed this year. I harvested the seeds from the seed heads of some spent blooms (and shared them, of course). I then actually took the time and planted them in little trays to hopefully give them a nice start indoors:

If I remember correctly, they won't bloom this year (assuming of course the seeds grow at all!), but they should give me a multitude of blooms from one of my favorite garden workhorses next year for absolutely free! I've got my fingers crossed!!!!!!