Friday, March 31, 2017

Saving Money and Being Frugal - Week in Review - March 31, 2017

Here's what the week from March 25th-31st looked like:

Progress on Financial Goals I Set for this Week

Last week, I set seven goals to work on. This is how I did:

- Bring taxes to the accountant. DONE!!! (Finally.) I am so happy to have this done! Brought all the paperwork to the accountant on Tuesday (March 28th) and now it's just a matter of waiting to see how everything pans out.

- Go to a Fashion Consultant at the Thrift Store for New-to-Us Clothes. On Wednesday, March 29th, my daughter and I took advantage of a free service where a fashion consultant helps clients at a thrift store that's about 40 minutes from us find clothes that match their style.

Sophia and I filled out a comprehensive profile form ahead of time and provided the link to our Pinterest boards that shows examples of the types of clothes we would like to wear. Before the session the consultant pulled clothing in our sizes and what she thought would be our style.

When we got there, the excitement about what we would like our "fashion vision" to be clashed with the reality of the limits of previously-worn clothing. This particular store didn't have a lot of contemporary, brand-name clothing. So, what we envisioned and hoped for, just wasn't a reality.

We left disappointed with the experience. Tried a Goodwill store that was closer to us with some limited success (for me, but not Sophia). Ended up taking Sophia to Maurice's so she could get some Spring clothes that she needed.

To get the looks that we are after, we almost would need to hire a seamstress who could custom design and create the clothes. Alternatively, we could do an extensive amount of online shopping to get each of the pieces we would want. Neither of those options is financially practical.

For me, too, the reality of an aging body that no longer looks like it did when I was in my 20s (even my 30s and early 40s) put a damper on the experience. Degenerative disk disease and hypothyroidism have taken their toll.

- Go to Fare for All. This was a great month for the items that were in the packs. All the packs that were available this month were filled with food that we can use and enjoy.

The produce pack had a nice variety of fruits and vegetables. It was $10.

The meat pack had four types of meats: ground turkey, beef hot dogs, pork roast, and whole chicken. This was $15.

The mega meat pack had eight meat products: bacon, two pork roasts, chicken nuggets, chicken breast fillets, Trader Joe's shepherd pie, breaded fish fillets, and ground beef. This was $25.

There also was a special brunch pack this month which included a bag of broccoli, two bags of shredded cheese, two packs of bacon, sausage, ham, turkey sausage links, and a bag of hash browns. This was $20.

My parents introduced me to Fare for All when it first started. I was in elementary school at the time. Back then, the food for the monthly packs was what wasn't sold from stores and - sometimes - on the verge of spoiling. In some cases, it was past its prime and my parents had to toss it out.

I remember them being so frustrated after paying hard-earned money for it; and I felt so bad for them that they were getting food that we all couldn't even eat.

Yet, they needed to make their food budget stretch on one income. They did what they could and tried to look for ways to make each dollar my Dad earned provide for the family.

Fare for All is significantly better now. All the food is fresh - nothing is spoiling; or it has been frozen so it can be used at a later date.

I am so thankful for Fare for All and the food we are able to get each time we purchase from them.

- Help Olivia finish setting up her binder to hold her statement for different accounts (e.g., savings, checking, CD, savings bond, emergency fund, retirement, college, life insurance).

Olivia finished setting up her binder on Friday, March 31st. She likes that everything is in one place now for all the statements.

- Finish setting up my binder to hold statements for different financial accounts and policies.

Completed this goal on Friday, March 31st! (What a relief to finally have this done.)

I gathered all the paperwork and statements that I had been collecting for the financial binder. Was given a nice binder back in 2006 when I initially met with a financial planner. So, I had some statements from that time period in it.

Went through all the loose papers and kept only the most current statement for each account, policy, and investment.

The rest (an entire bag!) I will burn since the papers have confidential information.

The binder is done in the sense that I have in it what is available/accessible at this point in time.

When I was going through the papers, I found an article that I had clipped: 12 Months to a More Organized Financial Life from Trivent magazine. I'll be following the recommendations now for the balance of the year to get everything in even better shape.

- Make a deposit into two Roth IRAs.

I decided to wait on this goal until I get the taxes back. In that way, if I can put more into the IRAs (because of not owing as much in taxes), I will do that.

- Help Sophia and Oliva set up their first mutual funds/Roth IRAs after meeting with a financial advisor.

We will be doing this when I pick up the taxes from the accountant (who shares an office with the financial advisor). Hopefully this week we can get the girls' accounts set up.

Progress on Blog Goals I Set for this Week

Last week,  I set the following blogging goals to work on  as they relate to saving money and home organization:

- Continue to work streamlining and organizing our home by doing Week 13 of the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home. Didn't get started on this goal. Other priorities took my time. Am planning to tackle this project over the weekend.

- Write an update about 40 Bags in 40 Days about Days 16th-22nd and 23rd-29th. Did this post on Wednesday, March 29th about the progress made from the 16th-29th.

- Make homemade Peppermint Bath Melts. Made and tried the peppermint bath melts. Wrote a post that includes the directions to make them.

- Make natural Vapor Rub using essential oils. Formatted the post and have all the supplies; but didn't have a chance to make the recipes and see if they were effective. Plan to finish this next week.

- Make an upcycled bag holder for plastic bags. This was an easy and a simple solution for storing plastic bags that I saw on Pinterest.

Normally I put the plastic bags that I use for the small garbage can in the linen closet on the shelf with the towels. However, this is much easier to find the bags and pull one out to use. I don't know why I didn't do this earlier. Wrote the post on Wednesday, March 29th.

Smart and Not-so-Smart Purchases

Smart Purchases

- Clothing and jewelry at two thrift shops: necklace, sweater, and shirt for Sophia; Eddie Bauer and REI shorts, J. Jill sweater, black cardigan, black jersey zip-up jacket, and pajama pants (2). No piece was over $8.99. Most were in the $2.99-$3.99 range.

- Food from Fare for All: $70 bought a counter-full of food. This will last at least a month.

- As a follow-up to last week, Danny (our smallest dog who is about 20 pounds) had eaten a pork chop bone.

After bringing him to the emergency vet and seeing on the x-rays that the bone had been divided into four pieces, we had two choices: a $1.5K surgery to remove the largest of the pieces or to use a special food that is fed multiple times per day and to watch Danny very closely for signs that the bone was blocking the intestines.

We chose the latter after talking with two vets and asking what they would do if Danny were their dog. After three days, he was out of the "danger time" and we were relieved. Not only was Danny okay, but we saved $1.5K!

- Generic food and household products when they are available. The cents and dollars add up!

Not-so-Smart Purchases

- Treats to eat at the movie theater. Ethically, I'm sure it's not right to bring in your own beverages and popcorn. However, it sure would save a lot of money.

I do remember when I was a child, my Mom would pop popcorn at home and package it in brown bags. We would eat that at the movie theater when we would go (always at a bargain theater and during the day when it was the cheapest).

Frugal Meals

- Ate leftovers was a good way to stretch the food budget and use up what was on hand.

- Sunday night's meal was from Blue Apron that we were gifted from another blogger. This meal was worth about $35 had we paid for it!

Spiced pork with black beans and red onions.

What was on the table for dinner last week:

Saturday - Leftover Za'atar Spice Chicken with Bulgur (from Blue Apron), leftover BBQ beef and pork, nachos, and/or freshly-made guacamole with chips. It was good to use up what we had from meals during the past week so we can start fresh on Sunday.

Sunday  - Top Chef Spiced Pork with Sweet Onions and Black Beans from Blue Apron.

Monday - Pizza.

Tuesday - Taco Pockets.

Wednesday - Teriyaki Chicken Casserole. Read the recipe wrong and put in triple the amount of rice needed. Needless to say, it was an economical way to stretch the meal.

Thursday - Leftovers.
Friday - Chicken meatballs (though they tasted more like chicken nuggets) from Fare For All and baked potatoes with toppings (sour cream, shredded cheese, and bacon bits). Also had a Spicy Southwestern Salad I made earlier in the week.

My financial goals for this week:

- Review the 12 Months to a More Organized Financial Life from Trivent magazine. Do the recommendations for January-April.

- If the taxes are completed by the accountant and I can pick them up, do the following two things:
            - Make a deposit into two Roth IRAs.

            - Help Sophia and Oliva set up their first mutual funds/Roth IRAs after meeting with a financial advisor.

- Using the Letting Go of Debt (a daily meditation book) for ideas, I selected the following goals from the book:
            - Pick one discipline to practice every day for a week (whether it be to make my bed, walk every day, or record my expenses). (See February 24th for ideas.)
            - Write down my top three priorities and keep them in mind when making any decision.
            - Brainstorm a list of simple treats that rely only on me - a hot bath, a walk in the park, or an exercise routine. Treats that will not only reward me but also will improve me.
            - Look for small ways to save $500 or $1000 a year. (See January 21st for ideas.)
            - Clean my wallet.
            - Create a personalized checklist to track my behavior regarding money. (See February 10th for ideas.)
            - Remember one joy or dream I had in my youth and find a way to reintroduce it into my life.

- Read Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey.

Blog as it relates to saving money and home organization:

- Continue to work streamlining and organizing our home by doing Weeks 13 and 14 of the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home.

- Write an update about 40 Bags in 40 Days about Days 30-36.

- Make natural Vapor Rub using essential oils.

- Make Citrus Dusting Spray.

- Write information that I want to remember from The Retirement Catch-Up Guide - 54 Real-Life Lessons to Boost Your Future Resources Now. (I read this book last week...just need to type what I want to remember.)

- Write information that I want to remember from Financial Peace Revisited.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Nature Goals - Update #1

In 2017, I pared back my nature goals a bit to the ones that I feel are realistic and meaningful to me.

1. Take 6 new hikes.

So far I have taken 2 out of 6 new hikes for the year.

Went to Pine Point Regional Park in Stillwater, Minnesota, on Sunday, March 26th.

I have never been to this park nor had I ever heard of it.

Two geese flew up from the pond.
They are in the upper right part of the photo.

It was a bit chilly - only 37 degrees out.

The trail led down to a pond area where there were a few beaver lodges.

There were some moss clumps on the side of the trail which were interesting to see.

Also found out that this park is at the end of the Gateway State Trail which goes from Stillwater to St. Paul.

It also links up with the Brown Creek Trail. It looks like a nice paved road for those who enjoy riding bikes; or want to run or walk.

At this time of the year there isn't a tremendous amount of things to see. However, there was a hole in one of the trees.

It was more near the base than in the middle or upper section. Wondered if it was a woodpecker or other bird that made the hole.

On Thursday, March 30th, I went to Wind in the Pines in Scandia, Minnesota. According to the website about the park:
Wind in the Pines Park is thought to be one of the most diverse ecological areas left in Washington County by the Minnesota DNR. This 44-acre site is located in the northeast corner of the Township along State Highway 95 across from Pilar Road.
Bounded by the Falls Creek SNA to the north and the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway to the east, this parcel offers diversity of old growth forest and pristine prairies- providing invaluable wildlife habitat and unparalleled scenic value.
We were going to hike there once, but had the dogs with us. Dogs are not allowed in the park, so we weren't able to hike there. On the 30th, I didn't have the dogs with me and it was a nice day - in the 50s.

Took a hike on the main pathway since I was unfamiliar with the park and no one knew I was there. At any rate, it was a nice, peaceful hike.

Although I didn't see any wildlife, I heard crows around in the prairie area. Further into the woods, there was an owl.

It was a nice break from the day, and a glimpse into this beautiful parcel of land.

I'd like to go back again later this spring and see how the park look once the trees fill in.

2. Assist as needed with the Wildlife Project Bowl team for our 4-H Club which includes reading 6 nature books or publications.

I attended all the weekly meetings from the first week in January through mid-March in preparation for the regional Project Bowl. The team was undefeated and placed first in the region!

The team before one of the competitions.
The opposing team sat in four desks and
had buzzers just like our team.

They are advancing to the state level on April 8th and we are meeting weekly from March 23rd-April 6th.

The team with their first-place medals.
Olivia and Sophia are to the far right.

During the first seven weeks of practices, I did not sit in with Sophia (who was coaching the team again this year). After that point, I sat in on meetings to see how the team was doing and suggest what they needed to concentrate on to prepare for the competition.

In terms of reading, this year I concentrated on reading and writing questions from two publications: Woodworking for Wildlife and Landscaping for Wildlife.


I asked two other parents to read and write questions for the six Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazines. It was good to delegate and spread the work load among the parents.

I skimmed through the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazines, but did not read them as in depth as during the past two years when we've done the Wildlife Project Bowl.

Since I didn't thoroughly read six publications, I thought I'd pick four more wildlife/animal/nature books to read during the rest of the year. I'm working on Animal Dialogues now which I'm enjoying.

3. Visit 5 state parks that I’ve never seen.

I am waiting until the trees are leafed out and flowers are blooming before visiting state parks that I haven't been to yet.

4. Visit 4 nature centers that I haven’t visited before.

I'm waiting until late-spring and summer to visit the nature centers as well.

5. See 4 National Parks, Forests, and/or Monuments; and/or Reservations.

This goal was set with the trip to Arizona and Colorado this summer in mind.

6. Do 1 entry per month in my nature journal. For some of those entries, identify and journal about 3 new types of wildlife and/or birds.

Each month I've done at least one nature journal entry - so 3/3 months of success!

I did one entry in January, two entries in February, and four entries in March.

7. Go on a camping trip.

We have reservations to go camping in a yurt at Afton State Park in May.

As a back-up, I've also rented a camper cabin during the same time so the girls have their choice of places to sleep. We are looking forward to going camping at this park since it is one that we have not been to yet.

8. Plant on our nature trail 10 trees and shrubs that are native to Minnesota.

It's getting closer to planting season. The ground is still frozen so nothing can be planted yet. However, we can research what type of trees we want to plant.
Found out that we live in the Oak Savannah part of Minnesota. According to the University of Minnesota website:
Much of this area is a rolling plain of loess-mantled ridges over sandstone and carbonate bedrock and till. Soils range from wet to well-drained, formed under prairie or forest conditions. Original vegetation included bur oaks, maples, basswood, and prairie tall grasses.

There are two PDF files that recommend trees for this area. One is for deciduous trees and the other conifers. There are trees recommended for limited use also. These are ones that have some value (e.g., wildlife cover) but are not "general use" trees: limited use deciduous trees and limited use conifers.

We also want to look at adding trees and shrubs that attract certain types of birds we like (e.g., indigo bunting, cardinal) and help support pollinators (e.g., basswood).

9. Attend 4 workshops, classes, or activities at state parks.

I did not attend any programs at state parks during the winter. Am looking forward to seeing the activities that are available this spring and summer.

10. Have 6 picnics when the weather is pleasant and we aren't battling with mosquitoes.

It's still a bit cold to have picnics outdoors. Here's what I am looking forward to (minus the wine):

Friday Foto Friends - March 31, 2017 - Wind in the Pines Preserve

Today I'm joining Deb for Friday Foto Friends. Come join us and share your photos!

This week's post focuses on a hike through the Wind in the Pines Preserve in Scandia, Minnesota.

The trail starts out through a prairie with pines in the distance.

The trees provide a nice wind block. It was in the upper 40s...almost 50 degrees. So, a little chilly, yet still pleasant.

Before long, the main path goes through a grove of trees. The ground is covered with pine needles.

There are fallen branches...some covered with unusual growths.

A tree is marked with an arrow, indicating another trail.

Some of the trees are riddled with holes - evidence of birds looking for a meal. Some holes in other trees are large enough to be homes.

The further I walked, the more I was able to hear running water. I wasn't sure where it was coming from - until I reached a cliff. Looking down, I could see flowing water.

Walking down the hill a bit to see the water, there were signs of Spring: ferns were already growing.

On the way back, there was a climb up a steep hill. The pines seemed to tower above me.

Then, looking down, there were pine cones and needles nestled into the stump of a tree that had fallen over.

It was a relaxing and peaceful walk; and I'm happy that I took the time to be outdoors. My goal is to take six new hikes during 2017. I've already taken two this month. Perhaps I'll be able to meet - and exceed - my goal if I continue to be committed to exploring new places locally, throughout the state, and at any place I travel to outside of Minnesota.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nature Journal Entries in March: Overview, Chronological, Sandhill Cranes, Spring Peeper Frogs, and Killdeer

This year, I set the goal of doing two entries in my nature journal each month. This month, I exceeded the goal by doing four entries.

During March I tried some new ways to do nature journaling for two of my entries. I enjoyed this way of journaling a lot and plan to do it again this year.

The first way is an overview of the month. Each of the boxes is colored in with a different color Prismacolor color pencil and then decorated around the border with a Prismacolor marker.

The second way is a chronological list of different highlights from the month. I thought that if I would have this by my bed that I would write what I saw each day in the nature journal. It didn't quite work out that way. I think I need to develop that practice more if I'm going to do it again.

The third nature journal uses a postcard featuring three sandhill cranes. I've been seeing and hearing a lot of sandhill cranes, so I wanted to create a page about them.

The fourth entry focused on two sounds I heard on March 27th around the pond on our farm: Spring Peeper Frogs and Killdeer (the largest type of plover). I had run out of space on the chronological list, yet wanted to document these seasonal markers.

Although I didn't do this entry in my nature journal, I did do an online post about zoo animals. The Handbook of Nature Study profiled ten animals. Many were ones that we have seen during the past ten years. So, I included photos of the animals that we saw at zoos, sanctuaries, or in the wild.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Upcycled Bag Holder

Many years ago when I first started looking at Pinterest, I pinned a lot of ideas that I hoped to do at some time. As time went by I was doing more "pinning" than I was doing or creating.

So, I looked through my pins and came across an easy one for storing bags. The pin led to Family Handyman which had the simple of idea of using an empty rectangular tissue box to make a convenient holder for plastic grocery bags. You also could put small trash bags or small rags in the container.

All that is needed is empty tissue box and about a half dozen thumbtacks. Simply thumbtack the box to the inside of a closet wall or cabinet door.

I thought that I would need to nail the box to the wall so that it wouldn't come off each time a bag was used. However, the tacks are surprisingly strong and the box doesn't move when I put in or remove bags.

This was such a simple and effective way to organize bags that I use to line trash cans. I no longer have to search on the shelf in the linen closet for bags and can clearly see when I need to add more bags to the box.