Prudent Joy

Daily Decisions Determine Destiny ~Gretchen K. Ulmer

Last Week’s Frugal Accomplishments

Last week I managed to do a decent amount of baking.

I made apple crisp using apples I purchased for .68 cents per pound.


I made pumpkin cookies, with Ruby’s help. The recipe calls for chocolate chips which I omitted, the cookies are much less expensive to make without the chocolate. All the ingredients were  items I had on hand. The pumpkin was canned pumpkin I had purchased last year at Aldi, I try to purchase several cans every fall. This recipe does not call for eggs making it even less expensive! As a side note: we made these early in the morning, Ruby is still in her night gown which was handed down to us from her cousin.



pumpkin cookies

I made two loaves of bread, one loaf of wheat bread one loaf of french bread.

I made taco soup, which fed us for one dinner and 3 lunches. This recipe is very yummy, super simple and very inexpensive.

We used a coupon for a free pound of bananas my littles obtained while trick-or-treating at our grocery store on Halloween.

We did some cleaning around the house using baking soda and vinegar.

My husband and I purchased a few Christmas gifts for our girls at the Disney Store Outlet, we used a 10% off coupon for the items we purchased. The remainder of their Christmas presents will most likely be purchased at garage sales or thrift stores…maybe I will brave Black Friday…we’ll see.

We spent quite a bit of time at the park and the Nature Center last week, we wanted to get a lot of time outdoors with the frigid temperatures on the way for this week.

girls at the park

What did you do to save money last week?


October’s Task: Tracking Every Dollar, Find the Leak



Well, it isn’t quite the very end of October but I have managed to track the dollars and have discovered the small leaks for which I was searching. Those “small” leaks have proven to be major budget busters.

The problem really revolves around the debit card. The purchase of convenience items (grabbing a beverage at a convenience store, a candy bar at check out etc.) that we initially thought were rare occasions are actually a GIANT monster. Our lack of forethought or self control in this area has cost us over $200 this month! I also spend more on household items than I imagined. We also spent money eating out…we were not supposed to spend any in this area, but again, lack of foresight caused some fast food trips. (My new job will help in this area since I will be home in the evenings starting November 10th, I will go back to cooking all dinners so….no more convenience/ fast food!)

In order to combat this issue we will be going to the envelope system for some of our spending. We will use envelopes for household/hygiene, and when food stamps are done we will use an envelope for food. All convenience items will be cut, which means more planning but that’s fine with me.

So far our Budget for November is looking like this:

  • Rent-$560 (cable, internet and water are included in our rent)
  • Electric-$80
  • Phone-$35
  • Laundry-$40
  • Subscriptions- $18
  • Clothing- $35 (this is an amount to be saved that covers all 5 of us)
  • Christmas/Birthdays/Holidays-$50 (saved with money pulled out for the occasion)
  • Family Entertainment-$20
  • Personal Money (His/Hers)-$20
  • Childcare-$200

Total: $1058.00

Any additional money remaining will be allocated 1/4 into savings and 3/4 toward paying student loans. The student loans do not appear on the budget because my husband’s are on income based repayment, currently that is $0.00 and mine are deferred since I am currently a student.

I am sure there is probably more that could be trimmed off of the budget, if everything were up to me our living would be 100% austere until some goals were reached, since I am married to a person who would be unable to function under such conditions this is the compromised budget.


New Jobs, Medicaid, Foodstamps and Hope


I will begin a new job November 10th, it will be a little more money at a different hospital and I will FINALLY be able to use my CPC credential! Currently I am in school to earn RHIT and CCS credentials which will open the door to more money, working from home and other possibilities…right now I am just excited to finally have the opportunity to gain coding experience.

The pay increase means we will finally be able to afford health insurance! My husband and I have had no coverage for well over a year, we didn’t qualify on the exchange because our income at the time put us into the Medicaid bracket…Missouri did not expand Medicaid therefore we were left in the same uninsured boat. Our children, however, are Medicaid recipients. It makes me feel a sense of elation and pride knowing that in December the government/tax payers will no longer be providing for my children’s healthcare needs. I know most people hate paying for Health Insurance, but, when I see that deduction I will be smiling.

In other good news my husband was just hired as a server at a breakfast restaurant (chain) that is still in the process of opening. He has worked as a server before; in fact, he supported our family working as a server for 3 years! He really is almost a magician with customers and manages to make more money than most other servers I have encountered (I worked in the restaurant industry for around 10 years). My estimate is that he will probably make $23 – $25 thousand, which is not nearly what he has made in the past, but it is a very safe estimate to use for forecasting.

My small pay raise combined with my husband’s forecasted income means we will no longer qualify for food stamps. Right now I am estimating that January will be our last disbursement. It could be be further out, but I am placing my bet on January.

foodstamps3   We have used food stamps and WIC for 100% of our food budget for over a year, we will still qualify for WIC (if everything runs according to plan we will surpass the WIC income ceiling sometime in 2016), but we will lose the $404.00 for food we currently receive. Losing this assistance will be a good thing, it means we are progressing, not remaining stagnant…yet, I feel anxiety.

I look at our children and wonder, “Will they have hungry tummies?” This thought is irrational, the numbers tell me everything will be fine… more than fine…I can’t help but think back to the time immediately before applying for assistance; opening the cupboards and refrigerator to find only small amounts of odds and ends; scraping together enough money to purchase an onion for another night of fried potatoes and beans. I know we won’t go back to those days, yet the fear persists.

foodstamps4   The only thing I can think to do is work at stocking the pantry and the freezer over the next few months. This should help combat the anxiety by providing a REAL and SOLID security blanket.

Even with the anxiety, even though we are in the process of bankruptcy, even though our children are still receiving Medicaid and even as current food stamp recipients…I can already sense a small swelling of pride and a huge wave of hope. I feel it in my chest and I see it on my husband’s face.





After struggling since the birth of our first child in 2009, we are giving up and declaring bankruptcy. We have been fighting the debt for years squeezing every penny out of every dollar…now we are tired and we are being sued. With a lawsuit comes a judgement and judgement brings a garnishment. I know these things don’t happen overnight, but, my husband and I made an agreement: as long as we were not being sued we would keep trying, the first lawsuit to arrive would send us to a bankruptcy attorney.

We had our official consultation on September 10th. We had enough in our savings account to cover the lawyer’s pre-filing fee as well as most of the court’s fee. We will be paying the remaining $175.00 at our next appointment. According to the attorney we qualify for Chapter 7, all of our bankrupt-able debt will be eliminated. That being said, we will not be completely debt free as we still have around $50,000.00 in student loan debt.

I imagine after all of our paperwork is done, after the meeting of the creditors and after our case is finally discharged I will feel a sense of relief. As of right now there is a lot of information that needs to be gathered and paperwork to be done and meetings to be scheduled. I feel a little overwhelmed (not that I didn’t feel this way before it was just different) and frustrated because we worked so hard for so long, maybe we should have just declared a couple of years ago and saved ourselves the heartache of watching our effort be for nothing.

We continue to look to the future. After the debt is cleared we can focus on eliminating the student loans, building emergency savings…maybe work on a down payment for a home. It is our hope for the future that keeps us moving forward.

Job Loss….hahaha PERFECT!


As you know I am the full-time worker and full-time student in our household. My husband was working a part-time job at a fast food restaurant (this was the job with the most flexibility which is needed as my work schedule has frequent changes being that I am in a supervisory position) after taxes and paying for a sitter two days per week his checks were about $220 every two weeks. Not a lot of money but very much needed money.

On Wednesday he pedaled off to work only to discover upon arrival that the restaurant is now closed…no notice…no phone call…nothing.

For most families the loss of part-time minimum wage income would barely be a blip on the radar, for us it is fairly significant. Yes I work full-time, yes I am in a managerial position but, the hospital does not pay my department well. After my merit increase goes into effect my base wage is $9.49 per hour, I work 4 10 hour days on second shift so 6 of my 10 are paid at $10.89 after differential…this is supporting a family of 5. So,yes we will notice the the loss of $440.

My husband has already started applying for other jobs. We are really hoping he picks up employment as server, we have both worked as servers in the past and know that job can provide the most money on a part-time basis.

We are not panicking, we know we can survive (barely) on my income alone and we are satisfied knowing we are working toward improving our lives and the lives of our children. My pay is low but the experience is invaluable. My husband’s schedule is restricted because of my school attendance, but, we know that the experience I am gaining at work combined the education I am finishing is worth his working part-time at a low wage for a period of time.

We have hit a bump but we are not derailed. For anyone currently in a similar circumstance: just keep moving forward, as long as you are working toward something better everything will work out for the good eventually.

With Love,



Crazy Life

My family and I moved almost a year ago. The contract we “had” fell through and we decided to start looking for jobs. My husband and I began sending out resumes and applications all over, we agreed the first one to land a job offer paying more than we were currently making would take the job no matter where that job may be. I got the job, so we moved.

I worked for that particular employer a total of 3 months. I hated the job and went to work instead for a hospital as a kitchen worker. The work was hot, sweaty,gross (you don’t even want to hear about that dish room) with lots of mandatory overtime…I did this job for 9 weeks and received a promotion. I have been a supervisor of patient food service for about 7 months or so. The pay is nowhere near fantastic but it pays the bills, fortunately our expenses dropped dramatically with the move as well.

I also went back to school in August. No loans, we are trying very hard to avoid any new debt; between grants and what my employer is paying my whole school year is paid. Things are a little bit crazy around here right now, with me working full-time, going to school full-time, my husband working part-time and taking over as the main caregiver to our children we feel as if there aren’t enough hours in a day to breathe. I am not trying to complain, I realize the sacrifice we are making now will benefit us in the long run and honestly, we don’t have any other options. At this point we either break our backs to make it or we will be stuck in low-wage jobs for the rest of our lives. And so, I embrace the sleep deprivation, I embrace the schedules detailing the day down to each half hour because that is what it takes; the part that hurts is seeing my babies sad when  I am leaving the house at 11:30 am and they know they won’t see me until noon the following day. Yeah, that’s the part that hurts.

I hadn’t written anything in a while since our lives were sort of in a state of limbo, but I miss doing this and so I am hoping to once again use this as my outlet. I just thought I would start with a swift summary.


Fabulously Frugal: Homemade Citrus Hand Scrub

coconut oil hand scrub

I have always LOVED the hand/body scrubs from Bath and Body Works. However it is a non-essential item and from my current vantage point it is also a complete waste of money (pay-off debt/save money or purchase overpriced body scrub? I’ll take the former).

Honestly the thought of body scrubs had not even crossed my mind in a very long time, until that is, my husband began working in the construction industry. He would come home with dirty beat up hands and no amount of washing would totally clean out all of the tiny creases; and, as many of you know, the more beat up and rough your skin becomes, the harder it is…the dryer skin just sort of becomes stained.

I was watching my husband wash his hands after work and I was reminded of my Dad.  My father was a carpenter who regularly worked on his own vehicles and often worked on vehicles with his friends (a fun “guy time” activity?).  We had commercial hand scrubs around our house that were made for “the industry”, from what I remember they worked…they also made the drying and cracking worse…so one problem was solved and another problem was either created or exacerbated. And then, I thought of my once loved Bath and Body Works scrub and I realized, I had items in the house to make something similar. I didn’t look for any recipes online I just grabbed the first items that came mind.

Hand Scrub


Sea Salt, Coconut oil and a lime, if you want something a little less harsh you could use sugar instead.





Grab a container, ( I used a half pint mason jar)…spoon in your coconut oil and add your salt/sugar. The great part about this is you can make this as thick and scrubby or smooth and silky as you would like!




Squeeze your lime and stir…Done!  I imagine you could use pretty much any citrus fruit or none at all! If you would like a different scent you could add essential oils if you happen to have those lying around.




When you use this: scoop out a dollop and rub into dry hands for about 30 seconds and then rinse with warm water. For REALLY dirty hands, wash first and then use the scrub.

You don’t have to be a guy in manly trade to use this…you could use it as a gardener’s scrub or you could just want soft silky hands.








































In the Middle of Surrender September…

Surrender September

Holy Hannah! August and the first half of September….totally crazy!

My mom had two surgeries for carpal tunnel which led us to hosting family who were here to help (my mom’s business requires the use of her hands so naturally we were all helping out a bit).

We live in a college town; as the students began their flood back to school my husband’s hours at his part-time serving job were cut drastically as the students began refilling their positions; as a result, our income plummeted…again.

We were feeling a little hopeless when a potential opportunity presented itself. We began negotiating a contract with a company here in town. After a couple agonizingly stressful weeks of back and forth, feeling hopeful yet insecure…we got the contract!! This new venture is going to raise our income significantly and bring about a major lifestyle change due to the work hours. The job requires both of us to be working in order to complete everything on time…so my husband may have to drop down to part-time or completely quit his current job. I will talk more about our lifestyle changes as they come…there will be big changes.

Last weekend while doing my restaurant visits about 4 hours away from home the van began misbehaving. We made it back home but had to replace the alternator, timing belt, battery and few other more minor things associated with the alternator. When all said and done the repairs wiped out all the money we were planning to use toward our new endeavor in October (our contract begins October 6th and our first check will come November 15th…in the mean time we will have to find a way to pay all the gas and other expenses out of pocket).

While irritating, the repairs sucking all of our money away is sort of a blessing. We have carried forward our Austere August habits into…Surrender September, except now we absolutely MUST follow our list ALL of the time, no exceptions: we can’t run the A/C if we feel it is just too hot (fortunately our temperatures have cooled dramatically this week), no cheating and taking a long shower if I have had a bad day with the kids…and best of all, there is NO money for cigarettes. My husband did smoke less last month but he didn’t quit, now he doesn’t have a choice.

So we have dubbed this moth Surrender September mostly as a nod to my husband not smoking. As for me, I am surrendering eating meat through the day. We already eat meat for dinner only 4 times per week typically…so if I eat no meat through the day it will cut down on our expenses a little more.

As for the outcome of Austere August: we shaved only $2 off of our water bill…obviously we need to follow our list a little more closely in this area and we spent $50 less on electricity. We plan to do to better this month.

What can are you willing to surrender in order to vastly improve your life?

Austere August: Mid-Point Blues

cutting expenses

Well, so far Austere August has been a bit of a flop, I mean…we have been much more resourceful but many circumstances have been working against us….

  • I decided to only line-dry our clothing throughout this month: it rained everyday for 10 days and on the days it rained there was so much humidity in the air I couldn’t even dry our clothes on the drying rack. Our laundry was building and building, I finally broke down when we were out of towels and my husband had no more work clothes and used the dryer.
  • It was so humid the first week my husband couldn’t stand coming home from working outside all day to a hot humid house, so we turned on the A/C in the evenings.
  • We had three house guests for 4 days. We were not initially anticipating any guests at the beginning of the month. Since we had guests we felt certain concessions needed to be made such as running the A/C while they were here; it wasn’t hot everyday they were visiting so it is not as if we had the air running non-stop but still….we used it much more than we would have otherwise. Plus the use of extra water and such things that go along with having more people in the house.
  • Again, because of the rain and having guests I did no bike riding whatsoever. I realize people get groceries on their bikes in the rain…I am just not that hard core yet…yet.
  • I completely lost my nerve as far as attempting to cut my own hair :(. I thought I could do it, but I couldn’t. I did pay to have it cut but I made it worth the money…I cut off 13 inches! My hair is now jaw length so I shouldn’t need it done again for quite some time and my hair was donated.

On the positive side we are not giving up! The weather has been amazing for a few days now so not only are we not running the A/C we are comfortable. A few items on our Austerity list are becoming a force of habit already so we are not having to remind ourselves to do certain things like plugging the tub while showering on days I am planning to shave or running the tap at a trickle….things of that nature. The first half of August was challenging and we didn’t do as well as we had hoped but we have another 15 days to solidify habits and work on the weaker areas.

How has Austere August gone for you? I hope you are stepping closer to whatever goals you have set for yourself.

Austere August

austerity sign

To start I am super duper excited about this challenge! Starting today with Austere August we are going to work our way through the next 12 months getting progressively more “austere” as we go. Is it going to be tough? Yes. Will we want to quit? Possibly. Will it be worth the trouble? Absolutely! If we just push forward constantly keeping our eye on the prize, we will come out on the other side much closer to our goal than we would have otherwise. My husband and myself have entered another year-long challenge that also starts today (I spoke about the challenge a couple of weeks ago) in regards to the amount of debt we would like to pay by next August…if you are partaking in our austerity challenge it may be a good idea for you to establish at least one concrete goal you can think about as you methodically cut your budget.

As I have mentioned before, my husband and I have already become fairly frugal over the last couple of years so this list really contains more “resourcefulness” related items rather than actual line items we can either slash or eliminate completely. It is perfectly fine if your list is completely different from ours…it is really pretty relative, the items you cut or use more resourcefully will sort of depend on your “starting point”. If you are someone who eats out all the time your list is going to look different than someone who hasn’t seen the inside of a restaurant in years.

Our list for August is somewhat large, our lists for the upcoming months will not be as long we will only be adding 1 or 2 items per month beyond August: (the first set involves resourcefulness the second set are ways to save money NOW)

  • Time all showers (not just some of them or when convenient) 6 minutes for me 5 minutes for my husband
  • Use the trickle button on the shower head when “soaping up”
  • Plug the bathtub drain and collect the shower water to use for shaving my legs (rather than doing it while the shower is actually running
  • Catch warm-up water (all the time) for plants and cleaning
  • When the use of running water is needed, only run at a trickle rather than at full blast for no apparent reason
  • Keep a water pitcher in the fridge for cold drinking water
  • Only brew one pot of coffee per day…this is going to be difficult, I am the type of person who likes to drink coffee ALL DAY LONG; but, this will save water, electricity and I won’t be spending as much money on coffee
  • DO NOT RUN THE A/C!!!! August in Missouri can be killer and I know the further south you go the worse it gets…this one is going to be tough, but it is quite possibly the biggest money saver on the list.
  • Hang dry all clothes, do not use dryer with the exception of maybe a 10 minute fluff
  • Limit TV usage (we haven’t really set-up actual times for this yet…probably next month right now we are just working on being aware)
  • Shut down computer overnight
  • Use only necessary lighting
  • With the exception of my husband (he works in construction) and our baby…there is no one in our house that needs to wear an article of clothing only once: clothing will be worn twice before washing (excluding underwear…this should go without saying)

  • Organize all errands and shopping to be accomplished on my bike
  • Take at least 3 days to consider all purchases
  • Cut the children’s hair at home (jumped the gun on this one)
  • Cut my own hair (YIKES!)
  • USE CLOTH DIAPERS!!!! I have gotten really lazy about this, we used cloth with our second and for some reason I just haven’t switched our 5 month-old over yet…not completely…we will still continue using disposables overnight
  • No snacking (by adults)
  • I am going to work on relactation so that we can purchase less formula
  • Buy no meat in the month of August…we have more than enough now

~I currently receive $10 per month for fun money (which is usually spent at a coffee shop) I am giving this up for the full length of our challenge…not much but it is something

~My husband is a smoker and is committing to quit smoking this month. He bought two packs yesterday, after those are gone…He. Is. Done. (I am still going to set aside his cigarette money just in case…those of you who are smokers will probably understand why.)

Well, there it is…our Austere August list!

I hope you will consider joining our challenge!





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