24 December 2011


Today is Christmas Eve.  It's Mr. Ryan's birthday.  He is officially 4 years old!  He's in Florida right now, visiting with his father.  I can't help but think back over the years as my babies grow.  It wasn't really that long ago, when Terri was insistent that an apple was called "bateek" and Brianna was afraid of a certain hat scene on Blues Clues Big Musical.  Ryan was so tiny and the weather was a lot colder back in 2007.  Now, he wants to be called "Mr. Big Boy" and run around in circles.

There has been a lot through these recent years that happened around this time. I'm reminded of that each time we go back to court...or have to work out holiday visits...or when I see how much my babies have grown.  Now that their father is in Florida, we have more court to go to.  There is a 2-day trial coming up in April to address custody and visitation. I can never feel like "this is it" because as the kiddos continue to grow, and as life changes, we will very likely have to keep adjusting and readjusting based on the circumstance.

This year, I don't get to be with them on Christmas (or for Ryan's birthday), but I will get to spend a week with them in Florida.  It's always awesome times when I'm with them.  As we close out this year, I can't help but reflect on what we've been through and where we're going.  I see great things in the future!

Image from federatedmedia.net

2012 will be a great year!  Why? Because the economy will be looking up? Because of a potential new president?  No...because we can start now to plan how we will safely manage and save our money!  Think about all those bills you had in 2011.  Now think about how many of those bills you could have cut.  Now is a good time to shop around for better rates for your phone, internet, tv, etc.  If you are locked in a contract...well, you can ignore that until you get close to the end of your time period.  I have been paying a little over $80 with Verizon telephone and internet.  Just talked to a guy with Comcast who can give me the same for $39.99 (+ taxes and fees), with faster internet.  That would save me about half what I'm paying now!

Think about how you've been spending money on disposable things.  I'm not really big on buying paper towels, but when I have them, I use them like crazy.  If you're a regular paper towel user, this can get pretty expensive on a monthly basis, especially if you're picky and won't use just any kind.  It's better to buy towels for drying hands and dishes on.  Even keep some extra rags around for cleaning up crazy messes.  Also towels work in the place of sponges.  You can throw them in your laundry and use them again.   Towels cost more up front, but for what you pay, you will have run out of a lot of paper towels.  Check out Made In the Red Barn on Etsy.  There you can find "unpaper towels."

I've been thinking about air fresheners and ways to save money in that area.  I have used coupons to buy a few of those Glade Sense and Spray thingies.  It's quite nice to not have to remember to spray the room every 1/2 hour.  However, I've been wondering if there was a more cost-effective way to keep your home smelling wonderful.  Perhaps keeping rechargeable batteries around? Maybe using plug-ins?  What do you think?  Should I start making my own?

Probably next week...maybe...I will discuss changes I've made in my home decorating.  Nothing AMAZING, just different.  I'm still looking for ways to improve the atmosphere and make good use of space (not make it look like it was mostly free).

Merry Christmas and happy new year!  Think back on your year and anticipate ways you can do things a little better next year.  I'll see you in about a week-ish. ^_^

13 December 2011

Tis the Season

It's been a couple of months since I last posted.  Someday, I will be more consistent (I promise!).  This time of year is a bag of mixed emotions for me.  Four years ago around this time of year, was the beginning of an end for me.  The start of a new struggle that I never knew that I would still be dealing with.

I have heard about welfare, but not until four years ago did I know what it really was.  I heard the term food stamps, but for the first time in my life I applied for them.  I had actually been on medical assistance when I found I was pregnant with my first beautiful baby and we didn't have family health insurance.  I had never even understood public housing until I had started applying for it.  I've been in my home for almost two years now.  I don't plan on being here forever, but I'm so thankful that there are programs available to help you get on your feet.

This time of year gets pretty difficult for me emotionally mainly because I still feel like I've lost so much.  I feel that I'm constantly struggling to get back what was taken from me and that it's a hopeless battle.  What's even more stressing is holiday travel.  I have to invent money so I can spend holidays with all of my children.  I also have to constantly make changes to my goals because of the constant big changes my family is dealing with.

I don't usually worry about Christmas gifts.  I love being able to shop for people, but I don't sweat it if I don't have the funds.  Christmas isn't about what you spend financially on others.  It's about celebrating the greatest gift of all.  Jesus Christ.  He was born to die.  He died for all our little struggles in life.  He died for our sins.  Even if I feel like I'm fighting hopelessly or if I'm in a tight place, I can be reminded that all this stuff is temporary.

I also understand that there is always someone in a more difficult situation that than me.  This year, we are receiving Christmas gifts through donations from Toy for Tots.  If you don't know what it is, Toys for Tots is a charity, run by the US Marine Corps, that takes new toys to be given to less fortunate children.  They usually collect the toys starting in October for the Christmas season.  I am the face of one of the recipients.  I have also donated in the past.  Children don't understand much about financial situations.  I don't think they really care about how much money the family has as long as they feel safe, secure, and loved. They do understand toys, and don't care about how much they cost.

This time of year is the biggest time that people find it in their hearts to help someone less fortunate.  Don't just think about others during Christmas, but all year.  My budget is pretty non-existent these days, but I have always kept in mind to set aside something so that I can share.  It may not be much, but remember if millions are setting aside a little bit, think of how much there would be to give.

We like to open our hearts and dream big near the end of the year.  Don't lose that.  Ever.  God has given to us so that we can freely give to others all the time.

15 October 2011

Keep It Moving!

I've been in and out of piles and piles of things to do.  I've been crunched and crushed and stretched and spread, but I cannot take a break from saving money!  I get into moments where I end up spending more than intended...but we'll talk about that another time.

Recently, I received an elliptical through Freecycle.  The only thing wrong with it was the resistance couldn't be adjusted (and I had to figure out if I had room for it).  I figured out that I could make room for it and I fixed the resistance.  I am now aiming to workout daily for 30 minutes or more.  I would like to get back down to size.  I moved my Xbox upstairs for a few days, so I could watch my shows and workout at the same time.  I like that.  Keeps me from focusing too much on the exercise and I won't be taking away precious study time with TV.

Coming up, I've got a court hearing on Thursday regarding child custody.  It's been a long road and of course, it's not over yet. There are so many feelings that well up regarding the whole situation.  Mainly, I don't want to lose my children.  I don't believe that will happen, but I've been dealing with someone(s) who have made every effort to do just that to me.  Currently, things seem different in how the issue is approached, but nonetheless, they want the same outcome as before.  I don't see any drastic changes being made as far as the all the children being given over to me or to him.  I think the most likely thing would be that the judge will rule for things to stay as they are (as if it ain't broke).  I don't think I can emotionally prepare myself for whatever possibilities could come up, but I continue to follow the encouragement and wisdom from my loved ones.  To pray is the biggest and best advice I'm given.  That will help to calm my anxieties and give me peace.  It also helps me to stop trying to control the situation, because really I have no control.  The hardest thing for me to think (and I think it more often than I should) is did God have me have children only to take them away and have someone else raise them?!  What can I do?!  KEEP IT MOVING!  I have to be able to roll with the punches (even if they knock me out for a few days).

What else have I been doing?  Well, I've been fixing other things.  It's what I do!  I got a cross-cut shredder from the thrift store for $10.  It's pretty nice.  The only problem is that it will run, but after a few seconds one of the shafts will stop rotating.  Turns out, a metal gear has lost two teeth.  So I need to find a company that will have the gear I need.  I might have to get it made. I would also like to get back into the PS2 since the reset button also opens the disc tray and the eject button does nothing.

I am one more step to getting hired!  I applied for a job with Montgomery County to be a traffic enforcement field technician.  I've been waiting patiently and watching my application status updates.  I applied Aug 19 and the same day my status was changed from "active application" to "rater review."  Just this past Wednesday, the status was changed to "qualified after review."  I'm excited!  I hope they find me the best one out of all the applications!  I would then have a new full-time job that's close to home.  I know I shouldn't get too excited, because anything could happen.  However, it's nice to know that I applied for a job that I feel I'm able to do and the employer feels the same way.  I can't tell you how many jobs I've applied for, knowing full-well I could get the job done right, but the employer didn't feel the same way.

I have cancelled my account with The Grocery Game :(.  Just to save $12.50 a month.  I do plan on going back to it, but my food stamp amount has changed drastically and it plays a big part in what I have from my paycheck to cover everything.  I've cut a few other things to help save money.  There isn't anymore cutting I can do at this point, since everything else is utilities or insurance.  You can still save money without relying totally on The Grocery Game!  TGG just makes it so much easier to get organized!  Remember to check the sales papers for the stores in your area for the best deals.  Check for coupons on those items for an even bigger discount.  TGG would do this for you (even telling you which newspaper has which coupon), but you can manage without it, if you had to.  There are discount stores like Aldi or Bottom Dollar that have much cheaper groceries than larger chains.  Don't hesitate to check them out (and take your coupons with you!)

I've got quite a bit on my plate right now, but I'm still going.  I'll put up some pics of my "projects" later.  I'm at work right now and do not have any on me...

16 September 2011

Braggin' Off Some Steam!

Labor Day, Monday Sept 5 this year, I decided to go out to my local thrift store and take advantage of 50% off.  I was met with hundreds of others with the same idea.  I really wanted to get a bedspread for my bed and a little something for Mr. Ryan (especially if he was a good boy in the store).  There were so many people, I decided not to get a cart, as there wasn't much room to maneuver.  We went to the blanket aisle, where there weren't so many people, picked out a nice light shade of green, then to the toy aisle.  Too many people looking at toys!  I found a LeapPad (one that wasn't pink) like this one here.

Just with three things, I decided it was time to go.  Ryan wanted to look at more toys, but I had enough of the large crowd.  We were able to skip to the front of the line because we didn't get carried away with shopping.  The lady rang up two items, including the blanket, then she looked for a price on the LeapPad.  There was no price written on it, so she sat it aside.  *GASP!*  She said I couldn't buy it because there was no price written on it.  I asked if there was someone I could talk to who could tell me.  She said, "no."  Now I don't know if it was because someone mistakenly put out the toy she wanted to take home to her children, or any other reason it had to stay.  I was pretty crushed (and it's not like it was a big deal).

I decided that we would go back the next day.  There are some really good deals everyday at the thrift store.  It's always better when you have some time to relax and find those hidden treasures.  Ryan and I returned the next day.  I was able to breathe and we found some really cool things.  One of which was a My First LeapPad, which came with a book.  Ryan had one before, but it stopped working and (aside from changing batteries) I didn't feel like trying to figure it out.  We also found some books and cartridges to go with it.  We also found a Leapster that was in working condition!  Grabbed that sucker, too!  Feeling pretty good about the things that were in my cart, mostly for Ryan, I continued browsing.  In the electronics, I found lots of cables and controllers for all kinds of things.  I will probably go back once I start working on this broken PS2 I've acquired.

In the furniture and appliance section, I found this little baby.  Normally retails (brand new) for $119.  The link I've provided shows $44.88.  I got it for $14.99.

Either way, I saved a TON of money.  Once I got it home, I looked for a website that could have a manual.  Euroflex does not provide manuals, unless you call customer service. :(  No biggie.  I made my own mop pads, using microfiber towels that I decided I didn't want to use.  $2 for a 2-pack from Forman Mills.  I used a bit of an old t-shirt and a Sham-wow for padding.

One gross thing about it was not the amount of dust that had built up on it, but what was inside.  There was nasty water inside and chunks of what I believe to be calcium.  I think the previous owner may have had hard water.  Of course that needed to be cleaned out.  The mop doesn't take more than 10oz of water (about 1.25 cups)  I used a cup of water and added 1/4 cup of vinegar and turned it.  I was hoping to try and mop that day...but it didn't work.  Decided to let the vinegar water sit for a couple nights.

Today, I emptied out the tank and filled it with a cup of water.  I decided to lay the handle down on the floor as the mop heated up.  After a few minutes, it was steaming.  A few passes proved that it worked.  Of course, my floor was not vacuumed beforehand, so...use your imagination.

I think after a few uses, I'll have it completely cleaned out.  I will make a few more pads as well.  I'm so proud of myself!

14 September 2011

What have we been up to?

Well, it's been almost a month since my last post.  I'm sure you've been wondering what's been going on.  Well, I'll tell you.  I've been looking for a job that I could do from home.  I haven't found one yet, full-time, but I have begun training as a public adjuster.  I have to go to classes and take the exam for my license.  That's all been going pretty well.  I hope to find some lifelong clients.

In other news, Ryan is still home with me, for the time being.  I will begin searching for a school for him.  He's 3 and will turn 4 in December.  Next year will be time for preschool!  I would like to home-school, but I'm a little concerned with my lack of organization.  Perhaps, I'll revisit that in the near future.  He and I have been running around being silly...

As I mentioned, I've been very disorganized lately.  It's been a combination of emotional and physical.  I've been pretty strong for the most part, but there are still some days where I can't function at 100%.  I miss my girlies that much.  For the last week, I've been fighting a cold.  It took me down for about a day and a half, which is normal.  But yesterday, the sucker came back!  I'm feeling better, but not completely there yet.

As far as saving money goes...I haven't been spending much!  There are a LOT of advantages to not having to drive an hour to work everyday or pay for childcare.  Ryan and I don't really eat much between the two of us, so we're okay on a $200 monthly food budget.  You would like to think that me being at home would give way to a lot of free time...ha!  Any housewife or stay at home mom knows better!

One of the things I'm working on is a schedule.  I need to come up with a schedule of regular things I do around the house.  I've learned that you don't have to cram everything in 2 days to have order in your home. Just break it down.  Do one room a day or do a few different things (cleaning the bathroom and take out the trash) each day.  If you keep this up along with remembering to pick up when you mess up, before you know it you'll find you don't have to sweat as hard to maintain.  Incidentally, since I haven't really been doing any shopping, I also haven't been clipping my coupons.  Remember that no matter how much shopping you do, you can always use coupons!

And one last thing...I'm still looking to do something different with  my living room.  If you can come up with some neat ideas, let me know.  My color palette has been decided.

I don't think it looks terrible.  I just want to clean it up a bit and add something(s) to the walls.  The other side of the room, however...

...is pretty bare and cluttered.  I would like to either paint or cover the file cabinet, paint the desk, cover the chair, and add something to the walls.  I think the living room is my most challenging room....it's also usually the most neglected...

I hope all is well with you!  Give me some ideas, if you've got any!

20 August 2011

How to get back to it...

The last time I saw my darlings was Tuesday. I dropped them off at their father's house and there were quite a few people helping to pack and load the moving truck. I had offered to help, if there was anything that needed to be done, but in reality couldn't stay much longer. I was just about to break down, when Ryan said, "let's go, Mommy."

This week has been very hard for me. I have been so down, it's not funny. I don't even know what's been really keeping me going (of course I do, it's been God Almighty, but I really don't know how He does it. I'm just glad He does). I got a chance to talk to my girls via Google Talk, but last night was so difficult.

Tonight, I'm working and I'm feeling okay. I didn't get the chance to talk to them today. I wasn't feeling well and slept all day. Tonight, I'm working (but I'll be off very soon!). I was hoping that even at work, I would get a chance to call the girls or video chat for a few minutes, but it's been so busy. I haven't even had much time to eat my bowl full of cherries.

I miss them terribly. That's an understatement. Though I miss them, I have to be sure to keep moving ahead. I've come so far. I'm still not where I want to be, but right now is where I need to be, until the next step. Currently, I'm looking at my options to figure the best way to move. Picking yourself up is not possible. There are too many people and resources to not accept help and encouragement. I'm not saying to use others, per se, but try not to get caught up in your pride.

I struggle with that. It's not so much pride, but I really don't want to be a burden on others. I have to forget that though, because if someone else needed, my help, I would want them to come to me. We should all be like that.

I need to write my goals down and the steps to take to get there. Since being shot in the heart (figuratively), I've let some things go. My appetite has gotten out of hand, my house is un-tamable, and my emotions are down more than they are up. I need to consciously and actively work to keep these things at bay, so that I don't slip into a depression. I think I may have talked about this previously... I sure did. I touched on ways to help eliminate stress. I will have to follow my own advice.

13 August 2011

...The Unknown pt 2...

Well, yesterday's hearing could've only had one outcome out of a few possibilities. The judge allowed for my two girls to go to Florida with their dad. I cannot express the level of heartbreak right now. Being positive in this situation is hard work and very exhausting. Since we have to have a hearing for modification for custody and visitation, this perhaps may not be the end.

I'm afraid that now they are able to move down there, perhaps the future judge will not want to move them back. Right now, as always, I have to keep trusting in God. None of us have control over our lives. Even the crummy things that come up are all part of His plan. Everything will be okay in the end. This is why when I pray, of course I ask for the things that I want, but I also ask that even if God doesn't grant me those desires, that I can be satisfied with what He chooses to do.

I hope that you can pray for this as well...and try not to be too disappointed when not everything works out the way you think it should. Just take my divorce for example. I was a very shy, low self-esteem kind of person. After getting divorced, I've been through a series of events that have led to me being a much stronger person. I used to be terrified of my ex-husband, now I can look him in the eye and tell him how I feel about something, without shaking in fear. That's just one thing, but it's a huge one!

Don't lose hope! You might be in a bad situation now, but it could always be worse! Remember that you don't have control of your life, God does. If you trust in Him, he will give you peace in whatever state you are in. Right now, I'm heading out for some comfort food at my local 24-hour CVS. I'm using extracare bucks and coupons! Even in sad times, always save that money!

11 August 2011

The Unknown...

We all want to be prepared for the future, right?! Well, as much as we plan and prepare and make notes, etc., the future will be what it will be. Sometimes, our dreams don't come true. Sometimes, our minds change. We can't look at everything as a disaster, but we have to try and keep in mind that everything happens for a reason...and that all things work together for the greater good.

These are tough words to live by, I know. In the midst of difficulties, I struggle with remembering that I'm not in control of my life (though I like to think I am sometimes). God is. He takes the good things and the bad things and use them to grow me stronger. Better. And ultimately closer to Him.

I know this is my frugal, money-saving blog, but I've been away for a while for a pretty big reason. My ex-husband has recently announced his plan to move to Florida and his desire to take all three of my children with him. This isn't something that has taken months to think about or work out. I just found out two weeks ago. His plan is to move down there at the beginning of next week. He's even already registered my girls in school down there.

I have to say that I've been devastated. I have been fighting for a balance in my children's lives...the chance for them to be together, but have equal opportunity to spend with their father and myself. Every step along the way, I've been met with absolute opposition. It has only been recently, when he's decided to move, that he's been approaching me differently. I don't know whether to believe his sincerity or learn from the previous lessons of being ambushed.

Tomorrow, we have a hearing at 2pm. I can't speak for my ex-husband. I can only go off of what he says and does. He claims that he has their best interests at heart, but based on his previous actions, I can see otherwise. I love my children dearly and have lost time with them for the sake of keeping peace. I would do anything for their sake, but I wouldn't give them up so easily.

I wouldn't ask anything of you, other than to pray. Pray for wisdom on my behalf, on my ex-husband's behalf, and on the judge's behalf. Pray for justice, for peace. Pray for a decision that would truly be the best solution for my children (not just what I speculate and not just what my ex-husband speculates). And above all, pray that whatever the outcome, both my ex-husband and myself can be satisfied with that.

The fight over child custody is always an ugly one (even if there isn't much of a fight and the adults are able to work something out). No matter which parent/guardian is the "winner", the children are always the losers. Their family is still split, a good ways off from where it's supposed to be, and they have to deal with so many changes. Life is naturally full of changes, but a broken family is filled with unnatural changes as well.

Of course I want them to stay with me forever. I gave birth to them. I vowed myself to them for the rest of my life. They are my babies...

09 July 2011

Back to reality!

Well folks, we really enjoyed our vacation time. I got to spend an entire week with my babies before spending an extended weekend with them in Ocean City. I think I will make O.C., MD our annual destination (provided I book the room sooner) every summer. We always have a good time.

Now it's back to the grind! I'm back at work this weekend. I will be working the next two full weeks and from there it will be weekends only at the hotel. Obviously, I won't be making the same money, but I will no longer require $400 worth of gas every month, or $500 for childcare. Those were the only things my check covered anyway, so I guess I'm not really losing out, am I? I will be entering school this fall, so not working full time will give way to study. I'm absolutely determined to not remain on welfare. I know I'm qualified to do many jobs, but because I don't possess a degree, it's been a hard road. I hope that the completion of my bachelor's degree will open up at least a few more doors for me.

Ryan's daycare provider has been preparing to move her daycare and offer more to her children. It's been a long road, but we shall see this coming week, what will be. She has prepared a space for Spanish curriculum, which I would be teaching 3 days a week. Very exciting!

Lots of stuff going on. I miss just lazying about in the pool. But it's good to take a break for a bit, so that you can be refreshed to get back to it!

Back to savings!

Be sure to pick up a Greenbagtag from CVS. You can earn $1 in Extra Care Bucks every 4th visit you use it. If you are not an Extra Care card carrier, I urge you to sign up right away. It's free, and when you buy certain products you can earn even more Extra Care Bucks that you can use (like cash) on future visits. Don't throw those receipts out because your ECBs will be on there.

From Sunday 7/10/11 to Saturday 7/16/11 Staples has a pretty good back-to-school sale going on. In my area, you can find things like a pack of pens or a pack of erasers for a penny! Check the weekly ad in your area to see if you can take advantage! I'm certainly going to stop by to get a few things.

Restaurant.com has 80% off gift certificate sale going on. Use the promo code SUN between Sunday 7/10/11 to Wednesday 7/13/11 to receive this special savings.

I'll always be checking for more savings, so keep checking back!

23 June 2011

Things to do for those around you...

Today was a big day for me. I went on my first sales call! It wasn't just a sales call...it was one that I made the first contact and worked to arrange a meeting time. I went to Six Flags today. There was a lovely lady (by the name of Darlene Blevins) who handles group sales and events. She showed me and my general manager a little bit of the park and we talked about things we could offer our hotel guests. We would be able to sell tickets as a part of a package for our hotel guests at a pretty good rate. She talked about upcoming ideas she wanted to implement to give local kids something to do. That got me thinking.

Perhaps the same could be done for low-income kids. If offered a lower rate, I'm sure some low-income families wouldn't mind paying for park tickets. But why stop there? Perhaps there are things for the kids to do in the area that could either be cheap or free. Our housing manager for our housing authority (Mr. Peet) has some good money-raising ideas that the kids could also be involved with to help pay for costs. It would sure beat sitting around every day during the summer.

Even if not all days are filled with activities, there should be some things here and there available for them to look forward to doing. Also giving them a part in raising money for their activities should not only give them a sense of responsibility, but help them to know what it feels like to reap the benefits of their hard work.

If you have any ideas (namely those that don't cost too much or are free), please let me know! A few ideas that I'm working with:
* Trip to D.C.
* Swimming at a local pool
* Picnics
* Trips to the zoo

21 June 2011

Don't Hate The Grocery Game

I'm just a player!

I haven't been doing much in the way of shopping lately. Usually, I'm spending hours every 1 - 2 weeks with grocery planning and shopping. Now, I'm spending less time. Since I've started the Grocery Game, I haven't had to keep going out to the store as much as before. I've been able to stock up a little bit on some things.

Today, I spent some time gathering my coupons. It really wouldn't have taken as long as it did if I hadn't let the newspapers pile up over the last month or so. I'm also working on a better filing system. I haven't decided what works best for me yet. I have some coupons sorted, in hanging file folders, by date. When I pull up my shopping list from the grocery game, I can go right to that particular date and insert and find the coupon(s) I need. The other method I'm trying out is clipping the coupons ahead of time that I'm likely to use and sort them in an organizer by type. The latter seems to be the messier way of doing things for me. It seems that at the time I may feel a coupon is useless, then I see that I can get the item for dirt-cheap, I can't find it when I go looking for it! When I just keep the inserts sorted by date, nothing gets pre-cut, so everything stays put, until I need it or it expires and it's time to purge.

I've seen people with rather large 3-ring binders with plastic inserts sorting their coupons. When I go to the store, I usually have a child or set of children with me. I would rather not take something large and bulky with me. So, I keep 2 coupon organizers with me. They fit nicely in my purse and can each hold quite a bit. One keeps my coupons that I have pre-selected for each store's shopping list. The other has the rest of the coupons I've already clipped, in case I find something else I wanted. Those other coupons are sorted by category.

All in all, I'm doing alright with the coupon clipping. I'm thinking about giving a little more time and maybe venturing away from the Grocery Game, to see if I am still able to save. Since I don't have much leftover after bills and other obligations are covered, I could probably use the $10 a month for something else. At the same time, I love the convenience. The grocery game makes it so much easier for me to get the maximum savings and it saves me a lot of time with sales research. I think I will stick it out a bit longer, especially when I'm spending $10 a month, but saving over $100...I really don't think that's a bad trade-off...

I wonder who has some TGG tips to save even more? or how to really stay organized?

15 June 2011

Where in the world is...

...my sanity!

I've been ripping and running (or so it seems) this last month. I'm tired and a little bit frustrated! Do you feel the same? If you do, then perhaps we are together suffering from Early Summer Chicken-With-No-Head Stress Disorder. Oh, the humanity!

Haven't heard of it? Well, to sum it up:

1. You never actually got around to finishing your spring cleaning.
2. You want to plan fun activities with the kids, friends, and family, but feel overwhelmed with all the plans (and obligations) you already have.
3. You're concerned about how much money you will not have saved up (or available period) to do anything extra.
4. You seem more so confined to a few places which occupy most of your time (work, household chores, etc), and have actually realized how much you want to get away for a bit.
5. ..anything else you can add to this list that is driving you crazy this time of year...

Does that sound like you? Yes? Well, while there is no permanent cure for ESCWNHSD, there are some effective treatments.

1. Pray. Stay in church. We sometimes have to be reminded of what we should be focused on. None of us can do it all by ourselves. God stands with you and wants to see you at peace. Remember that.

2. Be sure to take some time and list the things you want to accomplish for just one week. Break those tasks down into days. Try not to do more than 2 tasks per day (depending on the size of the task).

3. Schedule relaxing things to do on a daily basis. Whatever it is that you like to do (play an instrument, sing, walk), be sure to set aside at least a half hour (or an hour) daily to just do that. Make sure it's something that will help keep your mind off all those tasks you have to complete by yesterday (and if you would rather not be bothered, try to keep it at at a time you can remain distraction-free).

4. Get more rest at night. Sleep in the right quantities can help with so many things, including weight loss. Play hard then, sleep tight. You shouldn't be necessarily focused on how many hours you get. The important thing is to get enough "good sleep." That's you, not tossing and turning and actually waking up feeling rested. If you have an iPhone/iPod Touch, I suggest you try the app Sleep Cycle. It's pretty good at waking you up at the "right" time, based on your sleep cycles. Try to give yourself at least 6 hours.

5. Talk to someone. While you could pay a therapist/counselor to help you talk through your troubles, it is also very helpful to have a couple of people that you can trust to talk to. Regular time with friends or family will help you to not only vent, but to focus on more happy aspects of your life. Besides, if you need help, how will you get it if you don't tell someone (who loves you) what the problem is?! Do try not to fall into the habit of only talking to people when there is a problem. There is so much more to life!

6. Eat well. It is all too common for us to screw up our diets when we are stressed out. Whether you're not eating enough or eating too much; when it comes to your eating habits, try to be more strict on yourself when you're stressed out. I tend to be at both these extremes when I'm stressed out. I may go days without eating, but when I do eat, I overload on ready-to-eat junk food. If you've got a lot going on, consider what you're buying at the grocery store. Perhaps you should purchase complete meals that don't require much work. Be sure to check the nutrition label, and avoid those loaded with salts and sugars (as well as the things you may be allergic to). Buy more fresh fruits and veggies that you can snack on on the go. If I were to follow this advice, it would take me about 5 minutes to warm up a frozen dinner (with side veggies) and I would have plenty of fresh fruits (like strawberries or blueberries) to snack on in between meals (or with meals). Another thing I like to do is buy frozen fruit and throw them in a blender (with some kind of liquid) for a smoothie. It's fast and delicious even when I don't have an appetite.

7. Exercise. Your body will fare better in stressful situations if you are taking good care of it. There are many physical signs of stress that can be reduced or eliminated if you were to have a regular workout routine. You don't have to join a gym to exercise. Daily walks around your neighborhood, find free videos on the internet, or even join a free fitness community online (like SparkPeople).

It really helps to be already organized when we're hit with feeling overwhelmed. Usually, we are not that fortunate when that feeling hits. Following these steps will help you to crawl out of the abyss, into the light, and get back to feeling like a normal human being. Even better if you can make these suggestions a permanent part of your life, to help keep you from getting to that burned out feeling.

Now Onto Some Crazy Savings!

I don't know about you, but I like not spending too much on a single item. Earlier this week, I went to Target and look at what I saw...

Plastic dishes on clearance for $0.98. Not just any kind of plastic...these seem pretty sturdy and are dishwasher and microwave safe. I got black and yellow (yeah, uh huh, you know what it is) to match my kitchen decor. Sets were 6 small bowls, 4 medium bowls, 6 small cups, 4 medium? cups, 1 large bowl, etc. I'm not sure how many plates were bundled (My Target didn't have black, so I didn't check).

Always check the ends of the aisles at Target because there are so many things on clearance.

Target has some AWESOME prices on food. If you have a Target Grocery near you, I urge you to check it out. There are even some pre-prepared meals in the fridge. Since it's summertime, you'll find ready to cook kabobs, pre-seasoned meats, and pre-packaged fresh salads. I saw large pizzas for $7 and they accept foodstamps. Take that Pizza Hut!

Earlier this month, in preparation for Ocean City, I was pricing beach chairs on Amazon and Walmart. I found a lot of nice chairs, but they were so expensive. I ended up getting these fold-up arm chairs for $9.88. Not bad, huh? They could even be used at other events/locations.

Well...while at target, I found these folding jelly chairs on clearance for $7.70. Wow! They, too could work at the beach or anywhere else.

Supplies are limited. If you're looking for something to keep in the backyard and are concerned about the color, why not get 'em anyway, then make your own chair covers (and cushions?) for a customized look?!

Five Below also never ceases to amaze me. I found an umbrella at Amazon for $17. This was great, considering it's tough to find one under $40. Five Below has them for just $5. They even have beach towels.

Why don't you share some tips to keep your insanity in check? Also, have you found any great bargains this week? Please share!

12 June 2011

Financial Planning Resources

Take a Step!

If you are reading this, I hope it's because you want to take a step toward taking control over your finances. Most people are stressed by their budgets. Why? Why is it such a hassle to take the time to create a financial snapshot? Why do we dread crunching the numbers? I think it's because we are reminded of what we don't have. You've seen my budget...I'm not working with very much after my bills are paid and allotments are made for essentials. Knowing what you're working with will work for you!

We all have to do it! If you didn't plan or even have an idea of exactly how much you have, you would really be flying by the seat of your pants (or rather, your pockets). You would end up over-spending in several areas and not having enough money for the things you need (including emergencies). Perhaps the first time you sit down to analyze your spending will take you an hour, but if you make it a regular habit to revisit your budget, you'll find you have more time to enjoy doing other things.

Why would you want to take advice from me? Why wouldn't you?! I'm sure people would be pretty hesitant to listen to financial advice from a person who is on welfare. There is a stigma about those depending on government assistance as they are tagged as being unwise or just freeloading. While I cannot speak for everyone, I can simply ask that you read on. Perhaps there will be some information you haven't thought about, or maybe reiteration/reminder of what you've already learned. It helps to get information from different sources, so that you can mix and match based on what you need or what's easiest for you.

Track Your Income & Expenses

I have stated before that I like Crown Financial Ministries for their worksheets. You can actually download them for free. They have this envelope budgeting thingy that helps you to allot money to specific needs. I'll talk a bit about that later. Even googling "financial worksheets" would bring up a slew of resources (what would I do without Google?).

First things first, you'll need a list of all your sources of income and all your expenses. Try to break everything down monthly. If you get paid bi-weekly or if you pay a bill every six months, be sure to break down what that will turn out to be every month. Once you have done that, you'll see what you have to work with. Remember My Budget post?

Next, subtract an estimate of how much you will need of that leftover money for things like food, gas, etc. These would be the things you have to spend for on a regular basis, but don't have an exact total. One of my favorite worksheets to use is the Income Allocation Sheet.
You can break down every pay period per month and get a good idea of how much you are working with at the beginning and the end of the month. This gives way to finding out how much you'll need to set aside every pay period specifically for all of the expenses you already know about. Remember, if you have expenses that you pay yearly or every 6 months, break them down to what they would be monthly and include them. It's not a bad idea (if you would like) to round up to the nearest dollar if you have cents in your amounts (just don't round down). When you get to that point in time where you have to pay that lump sum again, you'll already have it all saved up for that day.

I like to use a blank calendar and fill in what's due, when, and how much. This gives me a chance to see my daily or weekly break-down, as I'm a very visual person. It's easier for me to see that on 6/22/11 I need to transfer $320 to my bill paying account. If you would like to use a blank calendar, you can google "blank calendar" and pick one that suits your style. I used timeanddate.com and printed one out. There is also your computer office software, calendars associated with your email account (I like Google calendar), or even within your email client (Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird). The dollar store sells little pocket calendars for (as you can guess) a dollar!

I also like to keep a list of my expenses (sorted by date due). On this list, there is also a total of how much to set aside per pay period for my bills. If you have a wall calendar or a fridge calendar in your home, don't be shy about writing your bills on their designated due dates (especially if you don't have automatic payments set up).

My list is usually updated every pay period (bi-weekly for me)...just to make sure I've got things where I need them to be.

If writing things down by hand is not appealing to you, you can always use financial planning/budgeting software. Quicken has been around for so long. It's tried and true, but paid financial software companies will usually encourage you to upgrade to the newest version. Before buying an older version, keep in mind that perhaps there will be no support or bank account synchronization available. You don't have to pay an arm and a leg for software. If you're like me, you'll try not to pay retail price. You can find financial freeware through sites like download.com, or you can use simple spreadsheet software. Openoffice.org has a free download of office software (comparable to Microsoft Office). There are even online planners that can sync with your bank accounts to give you up-to-the-minute totals. I've used Mint.com in the past. It's free, there is even a mobile application for your smartphone or iPod touch.

Some banks (if you have online banking) will allow you to link your accounts to all your financial institutions. This is helpful so that you don't have to open multiple web pages to view all of your balances. There may even be a free mobile application. Bank of America and USAA each have one.


Most people today have some form of debt. When considering paying back your debt (and you really shouldn't just consider it, but actually do it), there are few things to keep in mind. Always remember to include these obligations in your monthly expenses when you do your budgeting.

It's absolutely necessary to have a plan to pay off your debt. Whether it will take you 5 months or 10 years, make sure that you have a plan to pay it off for good. Lenders may even work with you to create the best repayment plan for you. I have USAA and have access to financial advisors at any time. Use your resources. Find out if your financial institution has someone you can talk to about managing your debt. If you have to pay for it, check to see if you can actually afford it, or simply look elsewhere. This country is in massive debt as a whole. Wouldn't it be nice to not be in the same boat as an individual?

Allocations and Accounts

I had mentioned Crown's envelope budgeting system. When you understand how much to set aside from each pay period for your bills, you can break it down even further into categories. Each envelope would represent an expense category. The money for that category would go into that particular envelope and once it runs out, you are not to spend anymore (not even from another category). This is a great way to allot money for vacation, children's allowance, or the occasional night out. If you don't usually carry cash, and would rather use your check card, you can use the Individual Account Page to set aside money. You would want to have one for each category, and when you allot money to the category, you would put it in your checkbook ledger. Say you allot $40 weekly for your groceries...

You would subtract the amount from your checkbook ledger...

..then add it to your Grocery Account Page. Whenever you spend money on groceries, subtract it from your Grocery account page (NOT from the checkbook ledger).

This is a very easy way to make sure you don't go over budget with things like groceries, clothing, housewares, etc (basically, those expenses that you spend on regularly, but are not exact like bills). Even if you receive foodstamps, it's pretty easy to budget. You already know how much you're receiving and when you'll receive it. Just keep a running tab of what you're spending, so that you don't go over.

I have a separate account for paying my bills. Every pay period, I transfer my allotment to my bills to that account. Only bills get paid with the bill paying account. You could have multiple checking accounts for your specific needs. I wouldn't advise you get 10 different accounts. I would say perhaps no more than 3 or 4, as there are also sometimes maintenance fees. No matter what, try to keep things at a minimum, but you need to have everything accounted for. You don't want to have too many things going on. The less you have to keep up with, the easier it is to stay organized.


Perhaps the most important thing with any kind of planning is organization. Keep your financial planning tools together. Use a notebook for all your worksheets. Keep one computer file for all your virtual financial documents. Be sure that you know where your checkbook is and use it regularly to keep it up-to-date. Don't hesitate to review your documents to be sure you have everything in the right place and remove things that don't belong there.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These steps will give you a good picture of where you are currently. It's always surprising to see that, even when it doesn't feel like it, you can make a budget work. I had a friend who commented on how little I made (I made even less money then), but how much I've been able to do for my family. Don't ever think that you don't make enough or you make too much to budget. We all need a plan. There are other tools that will help you with where you want to be, but we will touch on those another day. I think I could go on about all the things you can use and do to for your finances.

Here is a list of books and things that I've used:
Young Couple's Guide to Financial Planning
How to Manage Your Money
Financial Planning Workbook
Crown Financial Ministries
Quicken Financial Software
timeanddate.com online calendar
OpenOffice.org Software
Microsoft Office (there are even templates you can download for free, based on what version you have).
Microsoft Works
Microsoft Money (if you're familiar with MS Money, then you know that it doesn't exist anymore, but Bundle is available online, free to use. I have not tried Bundle.com)
Incomeptech.com has different kinds of pre-made paper to download, if you would like to write things down. I love to use the cornell lined paper for notes.


01 June 2011


This year, I've decided to do the summer vacation thing better than before! Last year, I was very hesitant about taking the kids someplace, because I was concerned about saving money. We went with a co-worker of mine to Solomon's Island, MD and enjoyed a cool September day.

I really enjoy going to Ocean City, MD with the kids, so I want to try to make it a yearly thing, even if it's for a weekend. This year, I've been planning ahead and will probably take a week off from work either prior to or after our vacation weekend. We get paid days off and must use them before they expire. So...How does one plan some time away without breaking the bank? Vamos a ver...

Cutting Accommodation Costs:

One thing that I can benefit from is using my hotel employee discount. I'm able to find hotels all over the country (maybe even the world). I have to say it's a perk I am glad to have. If you don't work for a hotel, perhaps you know someone who does. Friends and family discounts can be pretty awesome. For Choice Hotels, they can be as low as $49 a night and as high as $69 (based on availability). I haven't used any discounts from friends at other chains, but you basically get to stay in a good quality hotel for motel prices!

Another way of cutting costs is to travel with a few people who will equally contribute. Some of my family recently went to Myrtle Beach and was able to stay in thousand dollar vacation homes because they had quite a few people to stay and split the costs.

If you are going some place where you have friends or family that don't mind you staying with them, then you should! Usually you can stay with people you know for free and you can save a bit of money on food.

Cutting Food Costs:

It's inevitable that you will have to eat while you're on vacation. I find the best thing to do is buy groceries (especially if you receive foodstamps). Make a shopping list and plan out your meals, so that you don't get too much or too little. Of course you should plan your snacks for the ride to and from your vacation spot. Many hotels will have a micro-fridge in the room and a continental breakfast. Some even have microwaves in the room or the lobby to use. Take advantage of all of it. Keep in mind where you will be and what would be appropriate to pack for lunch or to have for dinner.

Don't think that just because you want to save money on food, you don't get to eat out at all. Remember, planning is the key. Before you go, search for information on restaurants in that area. Keep in mind dining styles and prices. If you're going with kids, seek restaurants that are family friendly. If you're going with a group of people, look for places that have a good variety on the menu, so everyone can enjoy something.

You can use Restaurant.com to purchase gift certificates for local restaurants ahead of time and use them when you get there. I have scoped out 4 places in Ocean City that are family friendly and are not too expensive. Using the Memorial Day promo code, I was able to find some $25 gift certificates for $2. *Big Smile*

Cutting Fuel Costs:

This one is tough. If you are driving, then you should have an idea of what it takes to fill your tank. You should also have an idea of how much driving you can do before having to fill it up again. Create a fuel budget and save up that money on the side, to make sure you're not cutting into funds for something else (like, say food?). Also consider tolls along the way.

If you are taking another form of transport (plane, boat, train, etc.), then make sure you have enough for your tickets, and a little extra for other traveling costs (especially if you're unable to bring your own snacks for the ride).

If you are driving, be sure to have your vehicle's regular maintenance up to date before taking off. In my case, I need to change my oil and my front brakes. You can even look for coupons for auto services.

Cutting Entertainment Costs:

Depending on where you're heading and who you're with, you may need to have some money on the side for fun things to do. Since we are going to the beach, most of our fun will be in the sand or the water. We've been able to get away with not spending anything at the beach during other trips in the way of toys or souvenirs (or rather we could have...I usually can't help but to get a box of salt water taffy...).

If you plan to go to a show or see a movie, try to have an idea of what you want to see, and check for discounts. Yes, I don't think I can stress enough how important it is to plan ahead. Not so much that every minute of every day is thought out, but make sure you have made provision for as many things as possible, so that you don't feel unaccomplished when you return home. The main thing is making sure you have the money available. If you don't use it, even better. You won't return home more broke than when you started.

We like to take our own things with us, especially for the car ride. Coloring books and various toys keep little ones busy (along with the snacks that keep their mouths full and tummies quiet) and each one of us has a digital camera.

Had Enough Planning Ahead?

Well, I hope not! It makes it so much easier. The more time you have to plan, the better, as you won't have to worry about getting so many things done at once.

I like to make a list of things we will need and make a mark next to the things we already have. Looking for things that we don't have is pretty simple. I first check my local Freecycle group for anything that may be on my list. If I don't find it there, I check my websites...Craigslist, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and eBay. If you can find something for free, go for it! If not, don't pay retail!

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some beach chairs. Someone was giving 3 away for free on Craigslist. Unfortunately, I was too late. I didn't find anymore until today, when I decided to check my websites. Wal-Mart had the lowest price. $9.88 for a folding chair (with cup-holder).

Don't forget that you can also check thrift stores in your area. While I wouldn't buy a bathing suit from a thrift store, I will be going in search for some beach towels and maybe some sand toys. If you're pretty crafty, perhaps you can make your swimsuit or beach towel? I've found some pretty easy tutorials on sewing your own towel wrap. Just google something like "how to make beach towel wrap" and get inspired.

You can always google "free/cheap things to do in [insert city here]." You will be amazed at how many things you can do, without spending any money.

If you have any questions on ways to make vacation cheaper, ask away.

My next post will be a more in-depth look at financial planning resources.

28 May 2011

My budget

I'm going to do something that I don't know too many people to do. I'm going to put my income and expenses out there! Usually, finances are a private matter. People don't want to talk about how much they make or what they spend their money on. The government wants to talk about how important the budget is, but do we really know what goes on there? I have used Crown.org for a lot of guidance (and their free worksheets) and have been able to keep a pretty good picture of my finances.


Let's start with how much I earn and receive on a monthly basis.
I make $9.50 an hour and work about 4 days a week. After taxes, that comes up to about $559 and some change every other week. I also receive child support from my ex-husband. It's about $375 every other week. To figure how much that rounds out to be for the month, rather than multiplying these numbers by 2, I would want to multiply the number by 26 and divide by 12.

Sum of total income X 26 / 12 = Monthly income

Doing it this way, as opposed to the way of multiplying by 2, will yield a larger number, but this number will account for months where perhaps you will receive a paycheck 3 times, instead of just 2. Remember, there are 52 weeks in a year. If you get paid weekly, then you want to take your weekly amount and multiply it by 52 before dividing that by 12. I get paid bi-weekly, so 26 should do it for me.

559 + 375 = 934
934 X 26 = 24,284 (Without child support, I would only make $14,534 per year! Trust me, I'm looking for another job!)
24,284 / 12 = $2023 (and some repeating 6's) per month. Not too bad!

If I were to simply multiply by 2 = $1868. Sometimes it's better to go with the lower number to make sure that in the tightest situation, bills are covered and savings can be built.


Now the "fun" part. *rolls eyes* These things are the monthly bills that I pay. My rent is variable and depends on how much I make. Some bills are paid every 2 months or every 6 months or yearly (whatever) but I will break them down per month.

Rent = $445
Childcare = $500 ($125 per week = roughly $541 and some repeating 6's Usually about $6500 per year)
Auto & Property Insurance = $94.12 (since I have more stuff, I should probably redo this one)
Term Life = $5
Term Life = $20.79
Auto Loan = $71.58 (once I receive my tax refund, I will pay this off ^_^)
Verizon Internet & Phone = $95
Washington Gas = $80 (this is an estimate, based on the highest bill vs the lowest bill. It will not necessarily be $80 every month, but I budget for it, just in case)
Boost Mobile = $53 (soon that will change, as I am enrolled in the shrinkage plan)
The Grocery Game = $10 ($20 every 8 weeks)
Amazon Prime Membership = $6.58 ($79 for a year. Usually I pay the whole amount with tax refund, if I'm feeling up to it)
The Washington Post = $3.38 ($20.26 every 6 months)

The total of my regular expenses is *drumroll please* $1312.87. I have not included food, gasoline, or clothing (yet).


Subtracting $1313 from 2023 = $710.

I commute about 45 minutes from house to job, daily, so what I pay in gasoline is probably not what most people pay. My gasoline bill averages around $450 per month.

$710 - $450 = $260 left for clothing, household needs, etc. Since I receive foodstamps, I'm able to use only that to buy groceries.

One thing that I am not doing, and I feel I really should be doing is tithing, or giving 10% of my income to the church. Some people don't have a specific church in mind, but give regularly to charities. If I were to give that 10% ($202 per month), I'd have $58 at the end of every month.

Needless to say, I need to find another job. One that is closer to me. I'm looking for a telecommuting job. Even if I made the same hourly wage, I would save a significant amount of money by not spending so much in gas.

A new job would most likely mean a new daycare. That could cause my childcare expense to go up or down. Because I am a recipient of child support and I'm eligible for medicaid, I may be able to apply for child care vouchers to help with the cost of childcare. Why don't I have them now, you ask? Because the lady my son has been going to isn't currently set up to take them. I haven't moved him because of a couple of reasons. He had been going there since my ex placed my girls there. I wanted him to be with his sisters. When his sisters were moved, I didn't want to move him, and I think that was a pretty good decision, since they were taken out of the other daycare. I've been doing the best I can to keep his life as stable as possible, in the midst of all the big changes we have been through these last few years. When I move him, if it comes down to it, I want to make sure it's not just a short-term solution.

I will be back later with some tools for dealing with finances that I find pretty helpful.

25 May 2011


I haven't posted in a while because I've been in a pretty funky mood. I've been having mood swings that are just ridiculous!

It's really hard to say what's going on with me. Could be PMS? Could be general stress? I don't care what the reason is...I really just want to get back to normal! I feel like I've got quite a bit on my plate right now. It's not like things aren't under control (God's got it all worked out), but it really has been feeling like it. I'm considering looking for a new job that I can do from home. It's been on my mind for a good long time, now. The trouble is finding something. Most of the things you find when you type at-home jobs, are pyramid schemes, commissioned sales, or other "business opportunities."

Today, I stumbled across tjobs.com. I found a few opportunities that I could do. There also seems to be a lot of resources to help you out if you're like me and want to get a telecommuting job, but don't necessarily know how to make sure to get the job. Obviously, it wouldn't be the same as interviewing in person, and you would have to make sure you have everything you need to do the job (sometimes before getting hired).

I've already weighed my options and I think that working from home would be the best thing. The first thing would be no more spending >$400 in gas a month! I would have more time at home, doing the regular everyday things that don't get done now. I may actually be able to keep up my housekeeping. My time spent with the kids would grow (every second is precious). And I could get to doing other enriching things like take some classes, practice the violin more, complete my craft/decorating projects, get the garden really growing.

I would probably be able to save money on daycare as well. Currently, I'm spending $125 a week for childcare. That's about $500 a month, which is the biggest expense I have (next biggest is gas). I could look for a daycare in my area. Depending on how much the job would pay and the cost of childcare, I could apply for childcare vouchers to help. According to various financial planning pamphlets from Crown.org, the highest childcare/school should be for a family of 4 (with less than $25,000 income) is 8%. That rounds out to about $2,000 a year. I make about $16,000 a year, so my childcare bill should be no higher than $1,280 a year (or $106 a month). I'm clearly overspending. But considering the costs of childcare these days, I'm actually getting a good deal, paying $500 a month. I also have to consider my kids' ages. As they get older, they are cheaper to care for, not requiring so much.

If you're struggling with how to pay bills and keep on top of things (whether you're low income or just need a little extra help), I would encourage you to check out Crown.org and use the calculators and planning tools. Honestly, when I was married, someone had given my husband and I a book called the Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples: A Lifetime Approach to Spending, Saving and Investing. It really helped us to get started with a proper budget. After getting divorced, I purchased a couple of Larry Burkett's books for just myself: A Family Budgeting Guide, Family Financial Workbook by Larry Burkett - A Practical Guide to Budgeting - Paperback - Revised Edition 2000 and How to Manage Your Money.

I find myself going over my budget every month, to make sure I'm on the right track and to see where I can improve it.

Another thing that has really been bothering me has to do with my precious, broken family. At prayer time Sunday night, my oldest had some very hard questions for me. She wanted to know why I divorced her father. I couldn't fight back the tears. Things I wanted to say, even if true, I couldn't. She is just too young to be occupied with what happened in the marriage. These kinds of things are difficult for adults. I don't have to work too hard to give them the truth, but I have to work especially hard to make sure I don't tell them more than they really need to know at the present time and to keep it light and hopeful. I admitted to her that I didn't want to get a divorce and that I didn't know the actual reason for it. Believe me, I've heard all kinds of things from my ex, but he has never really sat down and told me what was really going on.

I've been falsely accused of all kinds of crazy things. He keeps fighting for full custody and saying before court that I'm an unfit mother. Never has he actually sat down with me to level with me and really work "for the benefit of the children." The list just goes on. I got an email from him, talking about how he had a heart attack and made a deal with God...Your guess is as good as mine on that one...All I know is that regardless of the front he puts up, the lies he tells my children and the people around him, they are starting to pick it all apart. I'm doing my best to protect them and to keep animosity from building in their hearts, by helping then understand that no on is perfect. Even grown-ups make mistakes, but that doesn't mean God won't do what He promised.

That's why I'm still here. I've been knocked down and beat up, but God has always been faithful. Even though I'm not the nicest to be around lately, I still remember that God chose me as I am, problems, mistakes, and all. I do hope that I can get to feeling better soon.

08 May 2011

Babies Make Mommies

Today is Mother's Day! Why do we get so excited about this day? Perhaps finally Mom can put up her feet and let someone else do everything? Or maybe everyone gets the chance to thank the women who chose life? Could it be that finally we can voice our appreciation for mothers everywhere? Do mothers need this kind of attention? Do they want it? Would they rather you just picked your socks off the floor or that you didn't go out of the house without brushing your teeth? Whatever your reason for celebrating Mother's Day, there's a good chance that Mom would love to know that you love her ^_^.

I changed my status message today to "What makes a #1 mom? Her #1 children!"

I don't know about you, but I can't seem to be proud of being a mommy without being proud of my children. They are the reasons I am a mommy. Whether natural-born or adopted, you can't be a mommy without the babies. If there was no one to care for, then no one would do the caring...right? I don't get worked up about the favor I did my children by carrying them for 9 months and giving birth with no epidural. That's just wrong. Instead, I like to reflect on my appreciation for my little ones and for God who graciously placed them in my life.

Now onto some mommy savings!

I wish I had posted this sooner, but Restaurant.com has a promo code that will give you 80% off any order for restaurant gift certificates. Just type in MOM in the promo code box. This offer does expire today (that's why I wish I posted this sooner), but it's worth it. You can search for restaurants in your area (or in the area of the person you want to send it to) and pick from what's available. I've gotten about $150 worth in gift certs for only $13. And I can't wait to treat myself to Phillips Seafood (I've never been there before).

A couple of things I found from The Krazy Coupon Lady's page:

Today is also the last day for Paper Coterie coupon code OPENHOUSE. The deal was extended from May 6 to today and will take $40 off. You pay shipping.

If you have a Facebook page, you can got to Swiffer's page, like them and get back on May 10 to enter to win a Swiffer 360 Duster Starter Kit. I know right?!

You can even Google "mother's day deals" and see what comes up!

06 May 2011

I'm on my way!

Today, I met with Ms. Cole (Family Self Sufficiency Coordinator) and Mrs. Cheney (Homeownership Coordinator) to talk about one of my goals. As part of the Family Self Sufficiency Program with my housing authority, I have to list my goals and possible ways to meet them. My goals have included creating and building emergency funds, savings accounts for myself and my children, and homeownership.

I got my free credit report today before the meeting and saw that credit score went down a bit, since I recently took out a car loan. All in all, I'm doing much better than I was when I was married. My credit took a bit hit during the marriage. When we started out, my ex-husband's credit wasn't so great and mine was barely there. We put bills in my name, but weren't able to maintain them initially. Just a couple of years ago, I managed to pay off all the debts that were in my name. Now, I'm opening accounts and doing my best to keep them current, so that the score will continue to rise.

As far as home ownership goes, I got the chance to show Mrs. Cheney USAA's Home Circle. It's a members only access to several homes available for sale or rent. She told me it was a good resource and suggested that I look in several different places when it's time to do my search for a home. She suggested speaking with different people (realtors, advisors, etc) to learn more about the home-buying process.

So far, I'm doing alright with maintaining good credit standing by continuing to pay my bills on time. Next steps are to take a first time home buyers class and to meet with them again.

I'm also on my way to narrowing down what I would like to get a degree in. I've been thinking about accounting or bookkeeping for some time, and I've also been thinking about perhaps majoring in languages. Today, Mrs. Cheney and Ms. Cole suggested that I major in something that is more career specific (like accounting) and minor (or double major) in something that could complement it (like linguistics). My wheels are definitely turning.

I have to say that I've been pretty worn out lately. Not from lack of sleep or general not feeling well. I've been feeling like nothing is getting accomplished. It's really been wearing me down, as much as I do, as hard as I work sometimes, can't see that I'm making any leeway. My house stills has some piles and some boxes lying around. I seem to do just about the same thing everyday at work....and so on. But today. Today I was able to see that the little things that I've been doing have an effect on the bigger picture. If I get to one pile at a time, eventually, there will be no piles. Even if I clear one box a week, there will come a point of empty boxes. If I continue to pay my bills on time, don't do anything drastic, I will have more opportunities at my fingertips.

Within the next week, I'll be working on balancing everything so that I don't feel overwhelmed, but so I do feel like I'm getting something done...but after today's meeting, I'm really feeling encouraged to keep moving forward. ;)

29 April 2011


Couponing to the Max!

I had recently gotten into the swing of couponing. Not to say that I never used a coupon before, I just never really took the time to do it consistently, until now. I do understand that couponing has gotten a bad rap. Couponers are sometimes seen as hoarders. Sometimes to get a really good deal, you'll have to buy more (or in bulk) However, you won't have to go back for the item for a good while (unless you have like 8 kids). If you're interested in saving money (especially on things you have to buy all the time), then I would encourage you to look into clipping coupons.

I registered for The Grocery Game after a friend of mine from high school posted pics on Facebook of her savings. I was amazed. I knew that great discounts could be had if one took the time to prepare and plan, but since I've never really known anybody to do it...I guess I never really knew, did I?

Simply put, to get the most out of your coupons, shop the sales and use your coupons during that time for even more savings. Teri's List (AKA The Grocery Game) will compile everything for you; even telling you where to find the coupons. It makes it very easy when you can sit down and plan. I have yet to post my savings. I've been on 4 trips so far and did alright. Nothing extreme like $1,000 worth for only $100, but I did manage to save $100 on one trip to Bloom, rather than spend $300. Since all of my food is paid for with foodstamps, it's nice to be able to get the most out of what I have.

I would encourage you to give TGG a try. You get 3 weeks to try it out. It only costs $10 every 8 weeks for the first store and $5 every 8 weeks for each store thereafter. Currently, I get Giant, CVS, and Bloom (which includes Food Lion). My first trip, I stocked up on food and toiletries at CVS. Would have spent $80 but spent only $50.

I have added a button to The Krazy Coupon Lady's page. I stumbled across it while looking for craft ideas, believe it or not. There are some great tips to using coupons and even some krazy savings to take advantage of. I'll have to add a button for The Grocery Game as well.

If you have any ideas to help coupon organizing easier, let me know. Currently, I have a tabbed folder in my file cabinet for each Sunday's coupons. I've been lurking around the World Wide Web, looking for ways to cut down on clipping time, while keeping everything neat. The Krazy Coupon Lady has some ideas for making coupon binders.

18 April 2011

Working on it...

I've been in my home for a year and a month now and I'm finally getting back into the "I want to redecorate" mode. I've been looking for all kinds of ideas that would not only be cheap, but would work with what I have. I've always wanted to paint my home, but never really had the opportunity. Every place I've lived was rented. Even now, I could paint...but I would have to paint it back the way it was when I moved in. I've explored many options as far as wall coverings go. Fabric wallpaper, vinyl decals, paint, etc.

I first thought about using fabric and starch to add a non-permanent texture to the walls. It's pretty simple and all you have to do is peel the fabric when you're ready to take it down. Of course, you'd have to wipe down the walls, but it does kinda beat painting them white again.

I thought vinyl decals would be cool. They would take less time to install and uninstall and usually come with markings to make sure you don't put them up crooked. However, they can get pretty expensive when you have to consider how many you need to buy for whatever effect you're going for. Also, once you take them down, you may not be able to reuse them.

I thought about painting...it would certainly be cheaper, but the overall labor would be more than I'm willing to do (especially knowing I'd have to paint the walls white again). So...that was out. I also thought about maybe just painting a border around either the top or the middle of the wall. That wouldn't be as bad to have to cover up later...and paint really isn't that expensive.

I recently found a book called "Paper Magic." It really inspired me to think more about the things I could do.

I decided on a couple of things to cheaply add some color to my walls. First, I've found an image that I will use as a wall border, using my good old-fashioned printer.

Those puppies you see on top of my laptop will be going up on the walls. In search for the perfect border, I Googled several free-use images and stumbled across a way to create what is known as a block poster. There is a website where you can upload your own photo and it will print out a poster in whatever size you want, based on regular sheets of 8.5" x 11". Pretty cool huh? You can put that inkjet to use more often that just term papers or directions. There is even freeware you can download. I stumbled across The BIG Picture and have yet to use it. I'm still trying to figure out which photo I will use for my wall.

That blank space behind my desk is where I would want it to go. I've measured the area to see how big a picture I would want to go there. The only thing I have left to do (besides pick a picture) is figure out how I will put the paper up.

16 April 2011

It takes a village...

...to raise a child.

This saying is so well-known. When it comes to raising children, we understand that there are more influences than just the parents and the immediate family. People from everywhere will directly and indirectly add input to help mold the values in a child's life. Sometimes intentional, other times unintentional.

Whether or not you realize it, everything we do affects everyone else and vice versa. Remembering this can sometimes be hard. I would like to jog some memories with the making of this blog.

Meet me. Monique Charles. I am a divorced mother of three. During the last 2 years of my marriage, I was a housewife. I was separated from my husband and two older children while eight months pregnant. In the last three years, I have lived with various families, in search for financial stability. Currently, I'm living in public housing. I have recently been promoted to supervisor at my job and I continue work for complete independence from government aid.

For a long time, I've felt alone. God has been the single factor that held me together. He has placed people in my life as a reminder that He's looking out and taking care. This village He placed me in consists of family, friends, church family, and even complete strangers.

I hope to inspire those like me (or perhaps in a worse situation) to keep going. Sure, sacrifices have to be made, but the reward will be great if you can keep moving in the right direction. I would also like to inspire those who don't know what it's like to be so fricken dependant. There are so many people abusing "the system." They take advantage of programs designed to lend a helping hand, so that those who don't have a chance, can have a chance.

Currently, I am enrolled in a program with my housing authority called the Family Self Sufficiency program. It's designed for those of us who want an escape plan. It's a five year program, that I would like to get out of in less than 3. My goals are to build emergency funds, get a better paying job, build savings accounts for my children, and buy a house.

Let's follow this road together to see where we'll end up!