Friday, 5 February 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 31-Feb 06

I have already written about my savings on groceries this week. Using in-store coupons, a rewards card, and buying multiples of items that were on special saved me around $39 that I can think of off the top of my head. Had my kids not noticed that the coupons they took from the coupon wall matched the razors I bought for Husband, we would have paid the full price (even though neither of them can read. What brilliant kids!).  Had I made several smaller trips to the grocery store I would not have spent the required $250 that got me $20 off my future groceries. Had I not stockpiled coffee (for a savings of $16) I would also not have made the limit. This is one instance where spending more saved us money. I am very grateful that we have money to spare so that I can save by stockpiling. When, out of necessity, you must buy smaller portions you are usually paying a higher price and are unable to wait for the specials. It is a vicious cycle to be in.

Image Credit: Pinterest

I also saved money this week by going to my bank to cancel the over-draft protection fee I was being charged, and the life insurance that I had on my account. We have life insurance now and that account is barely ever used. Even though money rarely goes into it, I was losing an extra $10/month in fees for things I didn't want or need. I hate to say how long I have known about these fees--over a year I am sure. So that's $100 at least I could have saved by being more proactive. I was unable to cancel the fees online, and it is hard to get everywhere I want to go in town with the kids along. That said, I have had plenty of days alone in town where I simply forgot or ran out of time. When I went in to do it I was very impressed that they reimbursed me $60 for the overdraft protection without my even asking. I had to call an 800 number to cancel the life insurance but I actually remembered. So in addition to saving $10/week from now on I also have an extra $60 for emergencies, for a total of $70 saved at the bank this week!

Just to pat myself on the back, I tallied up the monthly costs that I was able to eliminate in the last few weeks (these are not one-off savings but rather monthly charges that I was able to reduce or eliminate).

  • cancelled an insurance policy, dropped cell phone bill: $66/mo
  • put satellite TV on seasonal break: $75/mo
  • cancelled overdraft protection and an unneeded life insurance fee: $10/mo
Feel free to double check my math, folks, but by my calculations that is an annual savings of $1812.00, all achieved in less than a few hours and with minimal inconvenience. That is more than an extra mortgage payment that we were allowing to go down the drain. If at all possible, I would like to make a prepayment of $1812.00 on our mortgage this year. Just for giggles I looked it up on my mortgage calculator: a prepayment in that amount would pay off our mortgage 7 weeks faster. We would save $133 in interest this period, but over the entire remaining amortization period we would save $1199.10 in interest--all with money that was being frittered away here and there without our ever realizing it. Doesn't it make sense to patch the holes if your boat is leaking?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

February 1 Grocery Shop

I made it!

I had promised myself that I would not give in and go get groceries until February. We ran out of a few things, and yet we survived. I borrowed a pound of butter from my mom (have since returned it) and she gave us some cauliflower. I'll get her something back eventually. We ran out of cream for coffee, which neither Husband nor I like to have happen. We like the 18% coffee cream and it is one of the few things we don't want to compromise on. But as it ran low I added some milk to the jug to help it stretch and we only had one morning of imperfect coffee :)

Speaking of coffee, it was on for $9.98, down from $13.98 per 930 g can. There was a limit of 4 cans per customer so I bought 4. Yes, I spent $40 on coffee this week, but if I was to wait until I was out of coffee and just buy them full price one at a time, it would have been $16 more. Also, I spent the required amount to receive $20 free groceries (which brings my 2016 tally of free groceries up to $40). I plan to use the free groceries if we are ever in a pinch or save them for special groceries at Christmas.

My February totals are going to show a skewed total for cleaning supplies. I bought 3 sets of tinfoil pans and filed them under cleaning since they are not food. That brought my cleaning total up by $11 which will seem like a lot spent on cleaning supplies when I am already fairly well stocked. The happy reason for the disposable pans is a new baby in the family :) I have a darling baby nephew now and I've been cooking up meals to send down to the new parents. Another purchase was a gift pack of razors with shaving gel for Husband. Usually his razors are about $20 for replacement cartridges (yikes!) but this pack had a new razor with 3 cartridges and a shaving gel for $20 and the kids had actually picked up a $3 coupon for it without my knowing it. They are becoming little frugal shoppers already ;)

I spent $271.59 on groceries on February 1st. I am more confident now that I can keep to my goal of $600/month (or less). The breakdown is as follows:

Cleaning: $32.67
Dry Goods: 138.47 (includes stockpile of coffee, bag of flour)
Produce: $28.33 (prices seem to be settling down)
Meat: $5 (we were given some beef by my parents so I only bought a $5 pack of sandwich meat)
Dairy: $44.86 (I got 2 800g blocks of cheese as they were on for $7.98 instead of $9.48. This cheese should last us most of the month. Although I do love me a cheesy casserole :-]
Health: $16.98 (razors)
Garden: (a new category!) $5.28 for seeds as I am attempting to sprout spinach and lettuce and bring down my produce spending :)

I feel so much more in control of my kitchen budget now that I am in the habit of checking the weekly flyers and coupon board at the store, menu-planning to ensure that I do not waste what I have purchased, and doing without the items that I would ordinarily go to town for and inevitably buy more than I had planned. Although I have almost spent the budget for the month, I have a good supply of rice, pasta, my own potatoes, and there is plenty of meat in the freezer. Most of what gets spent now will go towards fresh produce and dairy so I may possibly make it to the end of the shortest month with a bit of money leftover :)

Friday, 29 January 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 24-30, 2016

As I mentioned, we tried to keep our 6 year old's birthday party reasonable in both expectation and cost. Yes, we are tightening up our budget around here, but I'm also conscious of setting an expectation in my children's minds. When everything you do is lavish and on a grand scale, it gets hard to have ordinary days of work and play. It is my goal to teach my kids to enjoy work and to recognise a feeling of accomplishment when something is followed through from beginning to end. When you live a simple life, do a day's work and go to bed tired, it is easier to appreciate time spent with friends in genuine conversation, a warm fire, a homemade meal. I am not interested in competing with other people's lifestyles, although I respect their right to live as they choose. I am also not interested in trying to outdo last year's costly and elaborate birthday party with something even more costly and elaborate this year. I'm pleased to report that the other moms felt the same and I sensed a sigh of relief when I pulled out cookies as parting gifts and said "I don't expect my kids to bring home a toy from a birthday party"! I know that making all the food and cake myself saved us money, but compared to last year when each child got to take home the superhero plate he or she ate off, I'd say sending home cookies saved me about $25.

I called our cell phone provider to try to downgrade my cell plan. Although our combined plan is cheaper than Husband's individual plan was when we met (for real!) I don't feel that I use my phone enough for it to cost me $65/month. Truthfully, I should go "pay-as-you-go" because I dread talking on the phone. However, I text like a bandit and sometimes our internet phone doesn't work very well, and those seem to be the days I need to use the phone. So after half an hour on the phone with them, I decided that when my contract is up I will have to shop around for another provider with cheaper plans. This of course got me patched through to a supervisor, who after another 30 minutes and the same declaration was finally able to come up with a plan that is $50/month. I will now have 1 gig of data instead of 5 (my usage was never over 1 gig anyways). I think for a $15 savings I can stay off the internet when I'm out and just use wifi at home. If I need something googled I will just have to (gasp!) ask a stranger. So downgrading my plan, combined with cancelling the insurance on the phone, saves me $21/month.

I also cancelled the package policy on an older truck that Husband will no longer be using for work. It would have been easy to forget, but the extra coverage is not necessary and costs $544/year. So cancelling it saves us $45/month. The truck still has insurance, mind you, just not the lowered deductible and special coverage that it used to.

I have not gone to town for groceries. That saves me $10 in gas for the week. I want to make it until February 1 before I get groceries again and I have meals planned so that I can do just that. I've been baking bread and cookies and only just ran out of butter. My mom had a pound I could have until Monday when I get groceries, and she also found cauliflower for $4 and it was a HUGE head that she shared with me. We always share food back and forth so when I find something that is a good deal I will return the favour.

All in all, I spent $101 less this week than I might have, but more importantly I eliminated $46 $66 (don't ask. I am soooo mathematically challenged!) from our monthly bills. That's a savings of $552 $792 in a year. A good chunk out of an extra mortgage payment, or a really good addition to an emergency fund. Or almost a month worth of groceries. It feels good to reduce our spending, and I have only just begun!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Thrifty Thursday: Practice Your Hobbies for Less

It's been awhile since I've written a "Thrifty Thursday" post. I like to post some frugal ideas when I think of them in hopes that they inspire others who are possibly trying to save or reduce spending.

I think it's fair to say that modern day society is geared towards spending money in free time. Never mind family vacations that might be saved for and occur annually, how much money do we spend simply because we have the time and feel "bored"? Shopping as a pastime is driving household debt through the roof, not to mention creating homes overflowing with clothes and "stuff" and a society that is stressed out and working ever-harder to pay for a lifestyle that brings them little joy.

I think that hobbies and non-work related interests are what truly enrich our lives and bring a gratification well worth the cost in time and effort. Some hobbies can be costly, true, so I wanted to examine how a person can learn and practice a hobby/skill without it becoming a financial burden.

  • I had my first garden while I was pregnant with my first child. I removed myself from Facebook the following year, feeling that it wasted my time and prevented me from learning more about the things I was interested in. Instead of spending my time creeping on FB I began reading gardening blogs and books about landscaping and permaculture. Fast forward to building our acreage and doing our own landscaping. I derive such joy from my yard, visiting nurseries, buying flowers. This year I want to focus on reducing the cost of this hobby. I plan to:
    • tour my neighbours yards rather than cruising nurseries for plants. My yard is filling in now and there will only be a few specific things I add. Rather than tempting myself with the possibility of spending more on plants I think I'll get my fix of beautiful flowers by visiting the talented gardeners nearby.
    • Offer to plant swap by dividing perennials and trading with friends and neighbours. This way I will achieve variety without the added cost
    • Experiment with more plants from seed. I don't have terribly good luck starting things from seed, but I figure with more practice my odds will improve.
    • Trade fellow gardeners for their excess produce. Perhaps someone will have pumpkins they would like to trade for potatoes or beets. Even if I'm not able to grow everything under the sun, asking around might develop a bartering relationship that benefits everyone

  • It's no secret that I love fabric. LOVE. FABRIC. There's been a moratorium declared on buying more, however. This year I plan to make scrappy quilts using flannel sheets as batting and thrifted sheets as backing. What was becoming an expensive hobby (considering I like to give away what I make) can still be practiced using what I have and what I can find at thrift stores. I've already gone through my mom's stash and my own and started a lovely morning star scrappy quilt. I still get to practice one of my favorite pastimes but without the guilt of spending too much!
  • Husband likes to take the kids to the movie theatre for a movie once in awhile. It just really costs too much, though. I think the last time it was $60 for the three of them including drinks and snacks. We can borrow movies from the library or find something on Netflix for free or next to nothing. Throw in a homemade pizza and stove-top popcorn and you've got a special family night at no extra cost. Better yet, skip the movie and play board games and really interact as a family.
  • Try to take your hobby to the next level. We have some sheep now and in the spring they will need sheared. I've volunteered to help the neighbours with their shearing day so I can learn how and shear my own. Who knows, but this little venture might end up actually earning us some money if we can eventually shear for others. Aside from that, I have big plans to learn to spin wool and hope to work off the cost of lessons rather than having to pay cash. 

  • Get to know the hobbies available near you. I enjoy doing pottery and would one day like to take another class. It's rather costly, though, at $220 for six evening classes. I know of a couple local potters who might be interested in giving pointers and allowing me to use their pottery wheels. Perhaps and arrangement could be made to trade/barter for lessons. 
  • Make a plan and make it happen. For a couple years I've been talking about building an outdoor pizza oven in our yard. I'd like to find salvaged bricks and build it myself but usually get too busy to really look for what I need. Although there would be some cost to the project, dedicating the time to finding used (cheaper) materials would be a challenge and something to do in my free time. Although, looking back on the list there is probably not going to be much of that!
Having a hobby is a great stress-reliever and enriches our lives. Some things we have decided to try as a family are: rather than going to a movie, go fishing at the river or for a picnic at the park or go riding bikes. Rather than take the kids to the fair (very costly) we could visit the museum or art gallery (much cheaper) and do some follow up activities to learn more about what we see. This summer I want my boys to play on the informal--and free--local ball team. There are many hobbies to be had that do not need to cost much money if you are creative. Have you got any low-cost, high entertainment hobbies that you could add to the list?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Sweet Annie's Chocolate Cake

We recently celebrated my 6 year old's birthday with a sliding party with his little chums from school (plus siblings). My decision to give each family cookies instead of loot bags was a great hit, by the way :) We also did "Happy Face Pizza" where each child got to decorate their own personal pizza with peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni etc to look like a face. That part was a little hectic with 9 little excited bodies in my kitchen clamoring to have their turn. But I survived and a good time was had by all :)

I made a chocolate birthday cake with chocolate icing and served it with ice cream to the kids and parents for dessert. The recipe is special to me for a couple of reasons and it's such a good cake I wanted to share it here. When we first moved into this house a friend kindly brought us the most fabulous chocolate cake to thank us for food we had taken her when she had a baby. No such thank you was necessary but boy did we enjoy the cake! I told O, then about 20 months old or so, to say thanks for the cake, and he waved and said "Fank you cupcake!".

When I told my friend how much we loved the cake she told me the recipe belonged to our mutual friend's mom, Ann. Unfortunately, Ann passed away last spring. She is sadly missed by many, many people. I thought of her all day as I prepared the cake and shed a tear or two thinking how unfair it is that she is gone. Ann had a wonderful laugh and was always positive even though she was often in pain. I learned something from her whenever we were together. She showed me how to stitch in the ditch and how to prune an apple tree. She made wonderful bannock and apple pie and never had a bad thing to say about anybody. I could go on. Suffice it to say that she's the type of lady and mom that I aspire to be.

Making Ann's chocolate cake got me to thinking about how recipes are passed on, and how when we share our recipes we share a bit of ourselves. My granny's zucchini relish takes me back to being in college and her sending me to her basement to bring up jars of relish, jam, even canned potatoes. Her and grampa put up a bunch of extra food that year and had extra supplies because of Y2K. I have her old recipe books, many that are handwritten, and seeing her writing especially makes me feel closer to her now even though she is gone. I know these women would like the idea of people enjoying good food together and exchanging favorite memories and stories. It's what I'm doing now.

Sweet Annie's Chocolate Cake

 Preheat oven to 350F. In small bowl mix:

2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

In large bowl mix:

2 2/3 cups flour
2/3 cups cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Boil 2 cups of water and, alternating with wet mixture, add to dry. Mix until smooth. Bake approximately 40 minutes in a greased 9"x 13" pan. Ice with ganache-type icing or buttercream.

I have other recipes from friends and relatives and relatives of friends. Our favorite salsa recipe came from my cousin's husband's gramma. Another of the significant moms in my life passed away last year. I have a few of her recipes and was very touched to have been given some of her excess canning jars. It is nice to think of the recipes we love being enjoyed in other homes and passed on. It's a wonderful way to honour the cooks in our lives and remember them as we prepare that special food. Do you have a favorite recipe that was given to you by someone special? 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

January's Grocery Spending

Although it is not yet the end of the month, I had the time this morning to study my receipts and analyze this month's grocery spending. I made up a spreadsheet so that I can track, month by month, the different categories in my grocery list. I broke it down into:

  • Pets/Feed: we have 4 sheep which receive a supplement, 2 cats and a dog who receive some leftovers but primarily purchased food, and 2 rabbits who, for the winter, eat pellets with a bit of hay and lettuce scraps as treats. The cats are good old fashioned barn cats and share a heated dog house with our dog, so I do not buy kitty litter. The bunnies are in cages in our car garage for the winter and I have plenty of straw that keeps them warm, at no cost to us. I'm still debating whether or not to include pet feed in my grocery total...for now I will leave it because I primarily buy the pet food (not sheep supplement) at the grocery store and because I had always intended my monthly groceries to be $600/month including pet food. Now that we are acquiring a menagerie of animals I may move this to its own section in our budget!
  • Cleaning/household: in this category I include things like light bulbs, toilet paper, napkins, cleaning products, dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry
  •  Dry Goods: I don't have time (or specifically care) to break down the dry goods groceries into sub-sections. Canned goods, dry lentils/beans, flour, pasta, even items from the bakery fall into this category. More or less anything that isn't in a different heading is considered dry goods.
  • Meat: I didn't include canned meat (ie Tuna--called that a dry good) but did include processed packages of meat (ie pepperoni and sandwich meat). Frozen chicken and pork are our main meat aisle selections as we do usually have free beef from the farm.
  • Dairy: self explanatory, oui?
  • Produce: includes any frozen fruit and veg, and anything fresh from produce section
  • Health/Beauty: feminine products, shaving, Epsom salts, prescriptions, vitamins, band aids, that sort of thing
  • Ready-to-Serve: I added this section because it is interesting for me to know how much extra it is costing me to have the occasional frozen meal on hand. We don't often pick up ready-to-serve items but I do prefer it over take-out. I am giving it its own section because I want to know how much extra I am spending on convenience.
  • Take Out: I don't include this in my grocery spending but I plan to track it alongside my food budget, again, to see how much extra "convenience" is costing

I found this exercise to be very illuminating and I think I can keep up with it especially if I enter each receipt as the month goes on. There were a number of factors that will throw off the results somewhat, but I am more interested in a general overview of our spending so that I can "trim the fat". For instance, 2 receipts were unaccounted for, for a total of about $70 (I'm going to go ahead and blame Husband for that LOL) so I can't say exactly how much was spent in each category. The point is, this gave me a good indication where the money is going and also some ideas to reduce costs. I should note that we stocked up on pet food in December so I have only bought rabbit pellets and dry cat food in January. My monthly total was $22.96 but I didn't need dog food yet. Again, as I track this monthly I can get a better idea what it works out to/month. We have also been using stockpiled flour, coffee, cooking oil and soup. Soon it will be time to replenish those stores but their costs are not reflected in this month's tally. 

Assuming that I don't spend more this month (it will be a challenge not to spend anything in the next 10 days as I am accustomed to weekly grocery shopping), we have spent $617.55 this month on groceries--including $22.96 on pet food. I shouldn't need anything from the store so I feel (somewhat) confident that this will be the final sum (although we lost 2 receipts they show up on the credit card bill as two separate amounts at grocery stores so I was able to include those amounts in my final total). The key is for me NOT to go to the grocery store before the end of the month and drop, say, $200 more on groceries simply because I am used to shopping for food every week.

Of course, there are some problems with deciding to eat down what we have until February. I am immediately uneasy at being low on food in the winter months. Should we be hit by a bad storm and snowed in (or roads too icy) it could be extra days without being able to go for food. That is not smart and it's not what I'm striving for. I'd like to keep a well stocked pantry at all times and THEN stick to replenishing it and my fresh food for less that $600/month.

Another difficulty with resolving not to go to town for the rest of the month (it saves us so much on fuel because it is a 45 km drive each way) is that the winter can get depressing if we aren't seeing people. So rather than relying on my weekly trip to the grocer for a dose of "don't want to see people again for awhile", I need to make more of an effort to take the kids out visiting and concentrating on not spending on "other" items when we are out.

All in all, this was a helpful exercise and it highlighted some things I already knew:

  • I can trim more costs by not buying bread/buns and bagels. If I get bagels for my son to have before school I also get cream cheese spread--these are luxuries, not essentials, and they are now off the list. Also, I can make healthy bread here for a fraction of the cost. I will be more strict with myself from now on.
  • We spent approximately $90 on dairy in January (I include my 6 year old's almond milk in this total. It is expensive but it was recommended that we take him off cow's milk). I have stopped buying the kids the cheese sticks that they love so much. They are expensive and I'm not even sure they are food. I'm concentrating on using less cheese and won't need to buy buttermilk until next winter when all our birthday cake baking happens again (seriously, our family is one birthday after another from Nov-Jan. My recipe is delicious and calls for buttermilk). Any cakes from now on will be made with regular old skim milk (sorry O!)
  • Keeping an eye on how much is spent on convenience, either take out or ready-to-serve, will be a good incentive for me to prepare homemade meals ahead and freeze them for those days I want something quick. Menu planning can also really help with being prepared and less apt to overspend.
  • We eat too much meat. This is my fault, as the cook. I confess that I'm a protein hog. I could live on salad and meat. I NEED to live on more salad, less meat. We have free beef from the farm but have been out for ages. Buying all of our protein really allowed me to sit down and look at what it is costing us. I will gladly accept the free beef when it comes, believe me, but I'm determined to go meatless on Mondays to help refine our tastes and to save money. We will buy less chicken and pork and, at the same time, stretch the free beef out further so we don't run out so soon.
  • As well as reducing how much meat we eat, I also aim to reduce how much we have to purchase. I plan to fatten two weaner pigs over the summer and add chickens to our repertoire. I hope that everything goes as planned (I dislike blogging about high hopes and then not following through on them!). I am also tempted to raise 10 or 12 turkeys to sell, but all of these ideas will be reevaluated nearer to spring.
  • I need a bigger garden. I've been planning this anyways, but the skyrocketing price of fruit and vegetables (seriously, $5 for a cabbage, $7 for cauliflower) has me doubting Canada's food security. We are too reliant on food shipped in from other countries. I need to grow more, store more, and possibly become a source of fresh food for some friends and neighbours.  If I can sell a bit in times of glut it will offset the cost of purchasing when my stores of food are used up. 
  • Foraging wild and local food will continue to be a way to save on groceries. Using frozen fruit for smoothies is healthy and cheap, considering I have bags of frozen Saskatoons and raspberries leftover from summer. 
I feel much more organized and determined to meet my goal of spending $600/month on food. For a family of four this is by no means an impossible challenge. But it is a fact that I used to spend much more. And we used to grab takeout much more. Using the blog to discuss ideas and hold myself accountable has helped me curb my spending. I hope to continue that trend :) Have you noticed the rising cost of food where you live? Is it something you are trying to reduce and, if so, can you make any suggestions?

Friday, 22 January 2016

Making Birthdays Special (without spending a lot of money!)

Money can't always make you happy.. Sometimes not having everything is the best value of all:

It seemed easier to keep birthday parties for my kids realistic when they were smaller. We had usually one or two children (Whose mother's I am friends with), a little lunch, cupcakes and a play. I always do a family supper, as well, because I always had one when I was growing up and because it's a nice reason to get together and my parent's appreciate it.

While browsing on Pinterest for cake ideas I was stunned to realize that some people hire event planners for their children's birthday parties (one that I saw had invited 80 guests to a one year old's party). That just doesn't happen in this neck o' the woods, and I'm glad not to have that pressure. In fact, I'm going a bit rogue and defying the convention of giving little gifts to the kids that attend my son's 6th birthday party this Sunday. It's not that I don't like all the little folk that will come to slide on our hill and play in our basement. It's really just that I feel someone needs to give the other moms permission to stop spending a whack of money on other kids when they might be struggling to buy a gift for their own child's birthday. Even if they aren't struggling (and no one wants to admit that they are) we have a resource-based economy and whether we like it or not we are all dependent upon it. The price of oil has dropped dramatically, food banks are seeing 20% more traffic, breadwinners are being laid off and sent home from jobs, all at the same time as the price of produce at the grocery store has jumped by 13% (heard that one on the radio this morning). This isn't a post about the economy, though. If the local economy wasn't struggling I would still be trying to talk sense about the spendy customs we are creating for our kids and neighbours to uphold. We are spending money on cheap "stuff" because it is expected of us--stuff that as moms we all hate having more of in our homes--and we are doing it out of a need to keep up or out do. I'm just not getting on that train. I've opted this year not to buy little do-dads for gift bags for the kids; I'm not contributing my money to "Made in China" junk that will wind up in the land fill. But as an offering to the families who are so kind as to spend their Sunday afternoon with us, celebrating the birthday of our special little 6 year old, I'm sending home a dozen homemade gingersnap cookies. A treat that won't get broken and thrown away or cause clutter, noise and be lost amidst a sea of other plastic toys. I hope the other moms approve, and we are simple country people so I'm sure that they will. But even if my choice is considered cheap or thoughtless, I am hoping my decision gives another mom permission to do something similar so that we can stop teaching our kids to expect something new every time they go anywhere.

Other ways that I'm trying to keep the cost of birthdays down is having a sliding party in our yard rather than renting a venue. The weather is supposed to be nice so we will have a fire and marshmallows and sliding until 4 when each kid gets to build their own smiley face pizza (J's request, it's something we used to do and I was touched that he wanted to have that for his birthday supper with friends). The pizza crust recipe is from my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, as is the cake that I am making for tonight's supper with my family. Sunday's cake recipe is one from my friend's mom. All of the food will be homemade because I have the time and enjoy doing it, and because it saves us loads of money. The cost of 2 purchased cakes would be $50 or more. I'm sure I can pull off both meals for just over that amount.

Last but not least, we surprised J by putting a birthday announcement on the radio station that he hears while riding the bus to school. The driver texted me that he was thrilled, and I do believe he will remember hearing his name on the radio all of his life. That didn't cost a dime, and it's important to teach our kids that feeling happy doesn't have to cost any money and it doesn't come from getting "stuff". Love is all around us if we are taught to feel it, not expect it to come in gift wrapped packages with large price tags :)

from The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents by William Martin:
From The Parent's Tao Te Ching (via Pinterest)
Happy Birthday to a wonderful little boy that has taught me so much about patience and how to look at the world with new eyes. He has been through quite a lot and he's been happy even as I struggled, strong when I couldn't be, and brave even while I was so afraid. I've learned so much from this child in 6 years I can only imagine what the next 6 will bring. Love you little monkey!