Saturday, January 2, 2016

January Grocery Budget - week 1

When writing up our budget, after all is said and done, it seems like whatever is leftover from our monthly income is thrown into the food budget pot. And especially this month, it is pretty slim. I suspect that it will be for several months BUT we have a lot of extra expenses this January.

First, we have a lot of birthdays. All three of us have January birthdays, though thankfully mine isn't until the very end. Because of this though, we have to pay to renew our license plate tabs and/or licenses all in the same month. We also like to throw Colton a birthday party each year and the cost of food and decorations can add up. My mom has a birthday as well as my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, though we just do small presents for our moms and don't exchange sibling gifts.

Each January we pay our renter's insurance for the year. This year we also have a January wedding in a few weeks and have set aside gift money. So for January, we have a lot to think about when it comes to allocating for these things.

Our grocery budget this month is set at $216. I am bound and determined to stick to that budget if I can help it. We also have Colton's birthday budget set at $118, and this includes food. So for these first two weeks (I shop on Saturdays) I will be dividing up some of the grocery bill between these two categories.

I shopped at two different stores this week - Target and Meijer. I actually stopped into Target on New Year's Eve but am still counting it toward our January budget.

Total amount spent on groceries: $22.01
Total amount spent on birthday supplies: $5.50
Total savings: $6.29

On this trip, I made some purchases that were not necessities. I had some cartwheel and Ibotta deals that kind of pushed me toward making these purchases, but we could do without them. Here is where I saved:

2-Liters of Coca-Cola 5/$5 - you had to buy all 5 to get this deal, and I bought these for drinks at the birthday party. Regular price $1.79 plus deposit.

Boogie Wipes $3.77 - 5% off with Cartwheel, regular $3.97. These were not a necessity, but my little guy has been sick for nearly 2 weeks now and I thought it would be nice to have.

Earth's Best Organic Fruit Smoothie Pouches $4.23 - 20% off with Cartwheel, regular $5.29. These are going to my parents house for when my mom starts babysitting Colton two days per week while Mark is in class and I'm at work.

Earth's Best Strawberry Snack Bars $3.03 - 20% off with Cartwheel, regular $3.79. Same as above.

Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa $1.12 - 5% off with Cartwheel, regular $1.18. I bought this and Kraft mini marshmallows ($1.19) and got a $0.25 credit through Ibotta.

Total amount spent on groceries: $53.52
Total amount spent on birthday supplies: $38.57
Total savings: $58.13

That's right! FIFTY-EIGHT dollars and thirteen cents. I was so concerned when she told me my total was $92 but seriously, I got so much stuff. My receipt says 49 items to be exact. 

I don't know that I want to get into everything that I saved on because a lot of it was store sales, but I'll give you some high-lights.

First, I had two different rewards that I had clipped from MPerks. If you have a Meijer in your area but don't use MPerks, you are missing out! I had an $8 reward that I had earned over a 4 week period just for regular purchases, and since I spent over $100, I got $10 off. This was a weekend coupon that you had to clip online. There was also $5 if you spend $50. So there is $18 in savings right off the bat.

I took advantage of a "buy 6 and save" promotion where you buy 6 items and $6 is subtracted from your bill instantly (a dollar off each item). With that I bought a lot of the cheese I needed to make macaroni and cheese for the birthday party, some frozen pizzas, and Doritos. Nothing too healthy but hey :)

Kraft Singles were 2 for $6. I had an MPerks manufacturer's coupon for 75 cents off clipped, and went online to print another coupon for 75 cents.

What really helped me was shopping the ad and purchasing things on sale. There were a number of things I purchased that weren't on sale, but I couldn't wait around for those things (like milk).

I'm feeling like this happy housewife above with all the money I saved today. Our grocery budget balance is $140.47 which is a lot more than I thought I would have for the rest of the month!

Colton's birthday budget is down to about $74 which should be plenty to cover decorations and fresh fruit that I am going to buy a couple of days before, plus a small gift of course. 

Now comes the difficult part - no fast food, no restaurants, and no extra trips to the store until next Saturday.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Resolutions 2016

New Year's Eve is tomorrow, and my wheels have been turning for weeks now on just what types of goals I want to set for myself this year. I have a (rather long) document that I created last year listing many resolutions and I can't say that I really kept many of them.

Last year my focus was on health and fitness and while that is still important to me, I am setting my major resolution this year to be in the financial category.

Over the past year, I would write up budgets and track spending, but the two weren't mutually exclusive. The budget would look nice on paper, but our spending was high above it. Each time I received my twice per year "bonus weeks" of pay or other influx of money, we ended up blowing through it somehow. Some of it was necessity, like car repairs. Others definitely were not, and I couldn't even tell you what we spend that money on.

My major financial goals are to:

1. STICK to our monthly zero-based budget. No more miscellaneous category. I have already planned out every likely expense that we will face from now to October.

2. Keep our grocery budget at $200. While I'll be the first to admit that this feels impossible, it needs to be done. I want to free up money to put toward savings and debt, and this is the only place I feel like we could actually cut. I have been doing a decent job with meal planning already, and I'd like to see what I can do about using some coupons in addition to the rewards I use through one of our local supermarkets.

3. Eliminate restaurant and fast-food budget most months. Certain months throughout the year, we will have extra money to set aside for going out or ordering pizza, but most months, IF we want to continue saving and paying off debt more aggressively than before, this budget will need to be eliminated. I'm hoping this goal will help with my diet without me even having to try much ;)

4. Allocate "extra funds" wisely. At the school I work at, we have 4 weeks out of the year for intersession where it is optional to work and we are paid, essentially, a bonus. Since I am paid bi-weekly with 26 pays per year, there are two months out of the year where we will have an "extra" paycheck. And of course, the ever-important tax refund. I have already allocated where I think these funds should go and approved it with my husband, so now we just need to make sure it sticks when the time comes.

5. Have $1,000 in an emergency fund. We had our bare-bones emergency fund last year, until we had to dip into it for car repairs on BOTH of our vehicles. We are only $300 away from this goal now, so by February or March we should be all set.

6. Pay off both credit cards by October 2016 and stop using them! This has been the problem for us. We are always buying more than we actually have money for. We will say things like "put it on the credit card until next payday/next intersession check/ect" and then never end up paying it off. Likewise, we use our Amazon rewards card for subscribe and save items but haven't actually been paying for those items with our real money in full! So my goal is to pay close attention to that especially and when we have a month of subscribe and save items, to pay that bill right away.

7. Begin bulking up our savings. After our credit cards have been paid off, while ideally we would keep pressing on with debt and begin tackling student loans, I feel like it would be best for our family to revisit our emergency fund. I'd like to have a 3 month emergency fund well on its way by 2017.

These financial goals are really important to me because until we can start making some headway, we won't be prepared to accomplish my 2 GREATEST goals - buying a house and having our second baby. So 2016 is the year to build the foundation for my greatest goals to be accomplished someday soon :)

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Summer Recap (in phone pics)

School has been in full swing for over a month now (!!!) and I never once blogged about having an amazing summer at home with my family. My summer only lasted about 5-6 weeks but even still, I really enjoyed the time off at home.

We saw fireworks twice this year. Our city fireworks were actually on our anniversary (4 years!) and so we went down to our neighborhood park to watch like we do every year. We allowed Colton to stay up and watch too. The park was fairly crowded and the view was terrible! They shoot the fireworks off from a golf course across the street and the were all perfectly placed right behind a tree.
Nice view...
My anniversary flowers and hand-decorated vase.
Fourth of July was spent at my parents house. Since the 4th was on a Saturday, I thought it was a good opportunity to change things up this year because usually we spend the holiday at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes with Mark's family. Colton got to stay up late again to see more fireworks that my dad and uncle set off.
Selfie! My youngest sister and me.
We went on our usual trip to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes as we do every year. It was a good time and the weather turned out quite well. I think we only had one day that rained and only in the evening. It was chilly in the mornings but by 2-3 PM it warmed up quite a bit. It was a fun trip. Mark's mom was quite ill on the trip after having had some complications from surgery a few weeks before but she really was a trooper and I am amazed that she even decided to come on the trip! (She is doing much better now, a few months later.)
Colton's first go-kart experience (sorry for Mark's silly face)
Once we got home from the trip we did your typical summery things every day. Many trips to the park, trips to the zoo, swimming, bike rides, eating ice cream, grilling, picnics, movie days when it was too hot to go outside. I tried my best to savor every moment. It was nice for us all to be home, too, because we were able to really keep up on household chores and didn't have much to worry about juggling. Is it sad that I am already looking forward to next summer?

Extra sweaty after cherry picking!

Goodbye summer.

Bring on the fall! Even though I have to be back at work now, fall is my favorite season, and everything that comes with it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

School Counseling Life

My first year as a school counselor in an urban elementary school is almost complete. We have just 6 school days left for the year, 3 of which are half days, and then 1 final planning day for teachers and staff.

Long ago, when I first began working as an intern with juvenile probation during undergrad (and again in graduate school), in the very same city that I now work, I talked to my supervisor about how I just wish I could have helped some of these kids sooner. I wanted to be there to help them, to guide them, to put a spark in them, to show them love and kindness, and teach them the same thing. It's so ironic that this setting is really where I ended up.

This job is not luxurious. It does not pay well. I don't even get the perk of Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness since I am not a teacher. It is very flexible in that I am able to create my own schedule and my own program which I certainly like a lot.

But first...

There are a lot of rough days. There are days when I find it difficult to stay objective. There are days when I can't wrap my head around how broken the systems in our society really are. I don't think you could ever really even begin to contemplate it until you actually SEE what it is like. See the homes of people living in poverty. Speak with them. Teach their children. Learn about their backgrounds.

Some of those days feel like a whirlwind of breaking up fights, of students yelling over me during guidance lesson, of kids that constantly run out of their classrooms, students swearing at each other, jumping off of tables and bookshelves, blatantly disrespecting their teacher, throwing chairs in anger, kicking a wall, screaming and crying.

But then...

There are wonderful, beautiful days.

When the boy that has gotten into countless fights this year alone comes up to me and tells me that someone hit him today and he didn't hit them back.

When the girl that is constantly threatening people is certain to tell me several times about how she is now being a good friend.

When my students ask me how I can always help make everyone be friends again.

When a student learns some real anger management strategies and uses them in the classroom.

When some students insist that after learning more about respecting others, they owe their teacher an apology.

When the kids get to have a special event or assembly. I almost cried the day that we had a really big, fun assembly in late fall. The kids were SO happy. It made me so happy to see them that way.

Now that I've had a year for trial and error, for learning more about the environment as well as my profession, I hope that I can continue to make a difference in someone's life.

Friday, November 21, 2014

adjusting to more changes.

Last I left us, I was working two jobs for a short six-week period while I looked for a permanent full-time job.

A part of me really hoped that I wouldn't find one right away. I thought maybe it'd be nice to work part-time for just a FEW more months. Just keep working each of us part-time, equating to one full-time job, and lots more time spent together as a family.

But I got a new job. My first real job with my Master's degree. I am now an Elementary School Counselor.

This is what I always wanted when I began my program. I wanted to be with the little kids. I wanted to nurture them and help them along the growing pains of the childhood and pre-adolescent years. My school is inner-city/urban, about 600 students in Kindergarten through 6th grade. There are a lot of challenges but a lot of rewards too. I thought I would be somewhat well prepared because I had experience with children in this city and district in previous jobs and in my practicum. After a month of working there though, I realize now that there is a huge difference working part-time in an office separate from an inner city school (but still working with the children), and an even bigger difference working in an inner city school part-time versus full-time.

It is exhausting. It has already gotten to me. Sometimes I feel like - am I even helping anyone? What am I even doing?

I try to remind myself that even though change is hard to see, the fact that after only a couple of weeks there I had touched so many children who were genuinely excited and happy to see me, who remembered my name despite it being difficult for the adults in the school to pronounce, makes me feel like at least they know I am a person to trust, a person who cares about them. I get at least 10 hugs a day. The kids are just so sweet.

Adjusting to a difficult job is one thing. Adjusting to being a full-time working mom is another. I've never felt like such a horrible mom. Even when my schedule was at its craziest, I usually only worked 3-4 days in a row at a time. And the schedule varied so many I was home in the morning during more of Colton's waking hours and got to spend more time with him. Now it's just 2 and a half hours together before I put him in his crib. Much of our time together is preparations for bed, or bath time, or eating dinner. Sometimes I am so exhausted that we just watch TV after dinner or he plays while I watch. I feel like the quality of our time spent is just not good enough. I feel like I don't even know what he and Mark have been up to all day.

I should be happy that at least one of us can be the stay at home parent. But I can't help but be jealous that it's not me. I know that we've discussed my staying home with our next future child, but that won't be for a long time and by then Colton will probably be in kindergarten or first grade. I'll have missed so much time with him.

I know the whole working mom versus stay at home mom is a big debate. For me I just don't know. I never imagined that I'd still wish I was staying at home when Colton was almost 2. Before he was born I thought 3 months would be awfully early to go back to work, but 6 months would probably be okay. So much happens in a young child's life though! I don't want to miss a bunch of it!

Having this attitude has gotten me no where because when I am home I have just felt depressed on all I've missed throughout the day. Or I just feel totally detached from motherhood and am just counting down the time until he goes to bed - kind of like I'm just avoiding having any feelings about being gone all day I guess. Mostly though, I've been really trying to make an effort to stay positive, to be patient and caring, to play and resist temptation to veg out on the couch for any of our precious time together, and to just be present.

I can tell a huge difference in Colton's behavior when I'm in a positive mindset or in a negative one. It's really interesting how he seems to pick up on that and act accordingly. Tonight I was positive, happy, engaged, patient, and matter-of-fact in our routine. This is the first time that Colton came to the bathroom to brush his teeth the first time I asked him. He was well-behaved during bedtime stories and didn't climb all over me trying to get my attention. He gave me extra hugs and cuddles. He didn't whine or cry when I told him it was time for prayers. He nearly drifted to sleep while nursing and gave me no problems when I tucked him into his crib.

I need to remember what a difference it makes next time I'm feeling sorry for myself and take it out on the darling little boy who only wants my love and attention when I get home.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

one week down.

I finished my first week of having two jobs again and I have been so stressed, it's almost unbearable. I also made the mistake of filling my full and partial days off (Thursday and Sundays I have off, Saturdays I work mornings only) with shopping and errands and a bunch of other things that I really should have just delegated to my husband since he's home more often than I am now. I have a hard time with delegating tasks - very often I like to do everything myself and make sure everyone is taken care of. Except that leaves me stressed and exhausted and depressed, so that's something I need to work on.

Tonight I think I'm going to move showers to PM. Maybe I'll get a little more sleep and maybe Colton will too. Since our house is so small I'm a little worried that my early morning showering has been waking him up, since he actually slept in the past two days that I didn't shower before 6 AM.

Meal plan is complete. Everything is fairly simple and we did major grocery shopping about a week ago so all of the meats and veggies we need are in the freezer already. I may need to pick up more potatoes midweek but hopefully not.

I cooked dinner tonight so we have tons of chicken leftovers - two different recipes of drumsticks. That will be dinner for the next two nights and then Mark will be in charge of dinner Wednesday night. I am trying to give him simple dinners for now since he isn't used to cooking the meals. I'm sure he could figure out something a little more time consuming but there's not really a point in that. We can cook the more involved meals on nights when both of us are home.

Our chore chart has gone straight down the tubes. I haven't kept up with anything at all this week and neither has Mark. We're lucky that we've gotten the dishes done and the toys picked up every night, but that's pretty much the extent of it. I've done about half of the laundry so far and I'll need to throw in at least one more load tonight. Colton's clothes are all washed and folded, at least.

As much as I have a plan to be organized, actually following through with it has been extremely difficult. I think my mental state is just not with it right now. I don't know for certain that I am really tired from work and commute and mom stuff. I think it's just messing with my head to know that I have all of these things to do, and thinking about them makes me just clam up and not do anything at all. I wish I had more drive to get things done.

A picture of the beautiful dinner I made:

A picture of my sweet boy on Thursday at the park. It was so cold. I'm so happy for Thursdays spent with him.

I have to remind myself that I need to work for him. For all of us. 
It's for the best.
If only my emotions would get on board with that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

one little whisper.

Out of my whole stressful day, the time I looked forward to the most is quietly nursing my sweet little boy before bed. I never knew how important nursing would become to me when I first began researching it when I was pregnant and I'm so grateful that I am still able to hold on to this bonding time that Colton and I share.

Sometimes Colton will fall asleep nursing and I'll carry him to his crib. Tonight was a late work night for me, so we got home late and I thought for certain he was would fall asleep. I think the opening the door startled him awake a little bit as I carried him out of the bedroom. He looked up at me with his perfect blue eyes and a big sleepy smile and whispered "hi mommy."

I know it sounds like nothing. But through all the hectic moments of our day and the rushed hellos and goodbyes as we are heading out the door from one place to another, this one meant so much to me. A quiet, peaceful hello, safe in my arms, before drifting off to sleep.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Ever since 2008 I've had a crazy schedule. There have been months of down time in between, but in general it has always been crazy.

Dairy Queen, DSW, college.
Intern at courthouse, Dairy Queen, college.
Dairy Queen, Waitress, college.
Waitress and Intern at courthouse (finally graduated!)
Grad school, Intern at courthouse, waitress on weekends.
Grad school, Intern at courthouse, waitress, and pregnant.
Quit waitressing 3 months before Colton was born.
Quit internship 1 month before Colton was born.
Grad school and newborn.
Grad school, work at Autism center.
Grad school plus Internship, work at Autism center.
Finished internship, last class and work at Autism center.
July & August - work at Autism Center ONLY! Hooray for one job!
September - Autism Center & Substitute School Counselor.

And obviously I am still a mom as soon as I get home which makes things a lot more difficult since we all know that I really do not want to be a working mom. Today was my first day back to the grind of having two jobs and I am pretty much asleep except I needed to vent about how long I've been doing this garbage of working and school and everything I have to do to keep my family afloat financially and try to get the experience to get a full time job someday. Will it ever come?!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unprecendented grocery store tantrum

Today, it happened. The most epic grocery store trip I've experienced yet. The defining parenting moment where everyone is looking at you and your kid, having a tantrum, in public.

Colton had been cranky about getting in the car to go to the store in the first place. He was insistent that he bring his Woody doll, Buzz action figure, and 4 animal figures. As soon as I wrestled him into his car seat amidst protests of "I go PARK! I go PARK!" he tossed all of the toys away. As we begin driving down the road demands are placed to hear one of his favorite song "I like" (which refers to Here in Your Arms by Hellogoodbye). None of these events are super out of the ordinary, so I continue on our merry way to the grocery store.

Parking - great. Getting out of the car - effortless. Walking into the store - no problem. Grabbing a cart and strapping him in - no complaints. We make it through the produce section, deli counter, bread and baked goods, and meats with few issues. He starts throwing his animal figures on the floor - those get taken away. Without any distractions, the frozen foods section is in for a treat. Colton begins screaming. Not crying, not upset, just screaming loudly - red faced, shaking, high pitched scream. I side eye him and try to ignore. I try shushing. I try bribing. He just keeps screaming. Screams turn into "all done-y all done-y" and trying to stand in his seat. Finally, my bribe for snack bars works and we zoom toward the baby section to get him a couple of boxes.

I try keeping him more engaged. "Now we'll get cheese, here hold this cheese; now we're getting eggs, eggs are so yummy." This works for a short while. Mostly between my efforts he is repeatedly demanding to go "see the fishies" in the tanks on the other side of the store. Once we do go to see the fish, we last about one full minute before he is more interested in moving on to something else.

Now we're waiting in line. There are Disney princess pez dispensers in the checkout line - WHY? It distracts him for a bit to hold one until he starts chewing on the package. I take out his animal toys again and they get played with for a few minutes before getting chucked at the people waiting behind us. Halfway through our groceries being bagged Colton stands up and begs to be all done. He WILL.NOT.SIT.DOWN. This is a first. He's definitely stood up before, but he'll always sit back down eventually. He's whining, crying, grasping at me, nothing I can do short of applying some serious physical force will make this kid sit down. I felt all eyes on us as I give in and hold him while I fumble for my wallet, while he cries and whines that he wants my wallet and all of my credit cards and to push the buttons on the credit card machine. I balance holding him in one arm and steering a very full cart out to the parking lot. A nice man asks if I need help and I refuse it.

Out in the parking lot, I manage to strap him in his car seat and full on sobbing ensues. It sounds like I just broke his legs the way he's wailing through the entire time I'm loading up the car, putting away the cart, and halfway through the drive home. We get home and I stick him in his high chair, more cries, and I bribe him with a cup of apple juice so I can unload everything and make him lunch. Mother of the year.

I tell Colton that he needs to stop waking up at 5:30 AM. Obviously he can't handle it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Images and Thoughts

A mom, a dad, a toddler, a cat
A 620 square foot rental house
Paychecks and bills canceling out
Blueberries squished under a high chair
Piles of board books overflowing a plastic bin
Useless TVs no longer hooked up to cable
Marker-colored fingers and empty boxes
Giggles and tantrums and tears
Blankets over bodies playing hide and seek
Inner battles fought, stay at home or work
Early morning darkness curled up and nursing
At home date nights, "I wish we could go to..."
Babbling toddler discussions with stuffed animals
Zero signs of potty training readiness
Long pauses, staring in the mirror
Playgrounds and sandboxes
Making the most of every moment