Our Family Chunk Clock

I listened to a wonderful seminar from The Homeschool Coach, Mary Ann Johnson, on Hecoa's free Not-Back-to-School Summit about the family chunk clock.  It was so amazing, I watched it again and took a LOT of notes and then also listened to the audio and printed out the handouts to make ours.  My daughter Katie has voiced to me before that she feels like she doesn't know what is next each day.  I knew that this would not only benefit me, but especially her!

How it works is, you divide your day up into chunks of things you do.  If there are days where things come up, someone gets sick, etc. (and they will!) this chunk clock helps you see a visual of what is important to finish that day, what you can skip and to help you refocus when you get off track.  You can listen to the audio on her website, just google the homeschool coach and family chunk clock.

We wanted a catchy funny name for our clock instead of the generic -- Family Chunk Clock, so we came up with "Got Chunks?" LOL!

You may be wondering what is up with the weird names on each chunk.  Well, my daughter created each of those names to add some FUN to our chunk clock!  Here are the why's of each chunk:

  • Snore No More - because we are not morning people and we must stop snoozing
  • Moddy Time - She took Mo from Mom and ddy from Buddy (my son’s nickname) to show it was for me and Buddy (Zach) to have time together.
  • Hope Lu - She took Ho from homeschool, pe from P.E. and Lu from lunch!
  • Kazm Time - Ka from Katie, Z from Zach and M from Mom - since this is our time to do individualized things
  • Chep Hour - usually 5-6pm, so an hour and she got Ch from chores and ep from prep (dinner).
  • Foing Up - Fo from food (dinner) and ing from Washing (dishes)
  • Chee - Ch from church and ee from Free(time)
  • Spied - Spi from spiritual and ed from bed

I didn't put every detail in our clock (showers, time with husband, etc.) because I wanted to keep it simple and this is our guide to show us our natural flow and/or routine.

This has already helped Katie KNOW what is next and have a visual of how our day will go.  This also is helping me in the same regards and also to have my priorities highlighted, so I don't lose sight of what is important - God, School and Family!  It will also make a great conversation piece when friends visit!

Making Freezer Pizza & Spaghetti Sauce in Bulk

I'm back to doing a lot of freezer cooking, though not as I did before my son was born when I made 3 months worth of meals but I'm getting there.  One thing I do like to make in bulk is our pizza and spaghetti sauces.

I make enough pizza sauce to last us for two months.  I divide it so that we have enough for 2 pizzas on Friday, using the leftovers on Saturday for lunch.  We used to only make one pizza and this sauce would have lasted us 4 months but now we are utilizing the extra pizza for leftovers.  On Friday morning, I sit one of these on the counter from the freezer and by the time I make the pizzas it is thawed completely.  I also normally do these in Ziploc bags but when I went to get them, I was out, so I had to use the containers we normally use for spaghetti and jam.

I couldn't find the recipe for the pizza sauce I use on Crystal's website (The Family Homestead), so I'm posting it here.  The one she has up now does not include the soy sauce.  I'm pretty sure this pizza sauce recipe came from her though, I've been using it for 8 years or so now!

Adapted from Crystal's recipe at The Family Homestead

Bulk Pizza Sauce
makes about 14 cups (enough for 14 X-large pizzas)

106 oz. Tomato Sauce
24 oz. Tomato Paste
1/2 cup Italian Seasonings
2 tsp. crushed garlic
4 tsp. soy sauce
4 tsp. salt

Mix together with a whisk and divide into freezer bags or containers.

We used to have spaghetti every Tuesday but now we just have it twice a month but I still need spaghetti sauce for my lasagna casseroles, which take 4 cups of sauce per casserole.  I left 4 cups of sauce in my measuring cup because I'm making my 2 lasagna casseroles today.  Here is the batch I make with a large 106 oz. tomato sauce can:

This recipe makes 16 cups of sauce for 4 lasagna casseroles with enough leftover for 2 spaghetti meals.

Adapted from Crystal's recipe at The Family Homestead

Bulk Spaghetti Sauce
makes about 19 cups

106 oz. Tomato Sauce
24 oz. Tomato Paste
60 oz. Diced Tomatoes
4 tsp. Salt
1/2 cup Italian Seasonings

Mix together with a whisk and divide into freezer bags or containers.

As you can see the only difference between pizza and spaghetti sauce is the diced tomatoes, soy sauce and garlic.  You can use garlic in your spaghetti sauce too though, but the soy sauce is normally just used in the pizza sauce.  You use diced tomatoes in spaghetti sauce to make it more liquid but you leave it out in the pizza sauce so it is thicker.  These are easy to make in bulk when you purchase those 106 oz. huge cans of tomato sauce, which is what I do!  Two of those cans lasts us 2 months of lasagna, spaghetti and pizzas.  We only need 12 of those a year and we buy them in bulk for just $56 a year for the organic sauce.

Natural Remedies for Colds and Coughs

We have added more to our alternative medicine cabinet recently, mostly a lot of herbs, and I have been busy finding good recipes for natural remedies.  Since colds have made their appearance in our house this week, I was able to try several new things and am finding they are working!

Here are the recipes I used for each:
Elderberry Syrup
Thyme Cough Syrup
Garlic Syrup
Sage Gargle Rinse

The elderberry syrup recipe called for cloves but I didn't have any so I left that out.  All of us have been taking it a few times a day, even my toddler but I've had to give it to him in a syringe in order for him to swallow it.  It is very sweet!  My husband is taking it in hopes of not catching our sickness and so far, so good.  Elderberries have more vitamin c than oranges and are ant-inflammatory and contain an antioxidant and antiviral properties.

The thyme cough syrup was from Dr. Low Dog, who is an expert on herbal medicine.  It can be used for everyone of all ages.  My daughter used it for her dry cough tickle and it worked and stopped her cough!!  It only lasts a week in the fridge, so it is something I will only make when someone needs it.

I'm the only one brave enough to do the garlic syrup, it is 4 big garlic cloves blended with raw honey.  I normally just swallow crushed garlic cloves with water but this helps get it down easier.  Garlic has so many healing properties, it is the one thing you should always take when sick and even when well for prevention!  It is great when you have an infection and don't want to use antibiotics as it is antibacterial.  I use children's garlic oil in my son's ears now because he always get an ear infection with his colds but this time hopefully I caught it in time as I'm putting them in his ears every morning.  Before, I would always forget and then when he would get the ear infection it was hard to treat - so it is something I try and remember now whenever he gets a cold.

We also have found that sage gargle rinses also work wonders for sore throats!  It is another recipe from Dr. Low Dog.  My daughter's cold started with a very bad sore throat and she did the sage gargle rinse and found immediate relief.  I used it today for my sore throat and also got immediate relief!  Sage kills bacteria in the throat and can reduce inflammation, that along with the salt, soothes a sore throat.  It is pretty nasty though, so good thing we don't have to drink it!

We still use our old faithfuls for colds - echinacea, hot lemon/honey water, vitamin c and eucalyptus and steam.  I'm the only one the family that will use the Neti-pot when I get nasal congestion but my daughter is almost willing to try it next time she gets nasal congestion and my husband does only if I make him LOL!

Related: Cold/Sinus Infection Remedies and Bronchitis Remedies

Family of 4 $200 a Month Grocery Budget - How We Do It

We have always been pretty frugal before my son was born spending anywhere from $120 - $150 a month for food, but since he came along with his and my health issues and I haven't been doing freezer cooking, our costs have gone up dramatically.  Now that I'm doing better, we are getting back to a lower food budget as I'm able to make more homemade foods.

This month we are going to see if we keep our food budget at $200 for our 4-week period that starts today.  It is possible but takes planning and a stocked pantry, which we do bi-yearly.  If you spend $500 a year on stocking your pantry, that only equals to about $42 a month and it saves you a LOT of money by buying in bulk!  There were a few stockpile items I had to buy this month and I don't count those towards my $200 monthly budget as they are part of our yearly $500 stock-up fund.

*My son is only 22 months old but he eats the same serving size as my 10-year old daughter at dinner!  He also eats a good amount during the day but we are still able to feed all 4 of us on $200.

Here are our meals for the next 4 weeks:

4 weekends = 4 casseroles: 2 Lasagnas and 2 Chicken Divans
4 Fridays = Homemade Pizza
4 x Pancakes with organic pure maple syrup
2 x Hamburgers with Fries
2 x Red Bean Sausage & Rice
3 x Beans & Rice
2 x Mac n' Cheese with Tuna and peas
2 x Spaghetti with Cheese Bread

You can see that the weekends are easily taken care of with 1 casserole per weekend.  I make the 4 casseroles and then freeze them and then put one in the oven on Saturday and that day's dinner and Sunday is already done, so no cooking on Sunday!  We have to eat a salad and a dessert to make the casserole last 2 meals but everyone is satisfied.

We love pizza and so we have it every Friday and I make my own crust and sauce and then we top it with mozzarella and pepperoni.  I've already made pizza sauce to last until January.

The rest of the meals are for Monday - Thursday, with Thursday usually being pancakes.  I purchased 64oz of organic pure maple syrup from Vermont a few months ago for only $30 and it will last us a long time!!

For the beans and rice, I make a huge pot of pintos and then freeze it in 4-cup portions, which makes it easy to thaw in warm water for dinner with rice!  Also, the red bean sausage meal is something I make a big pot of and freeze as well, I'm actually making enough for 4 meals but the other 2 meals will be for next month's cycle.

We only use 4 pounds of ground beef a month and 3 pounds of chicken a month, so I can buy the grass-fed beef since we don't use a lot of it.  2 pounds are for the 2 lasagnas and the other 2 pounds are for the 2 hamburger meals.  The chicken is used in the 2 chicken divan casseroles.  Other than the tuna and sausage, we only consume 7 pounds a meat a month by having it on weekends.  If we eat out, we usually get something with meat but we are trying to cut back on our entertainment/eating out budget!

Here is what I had to purchase that we didn't have on hand for this meal cycle:

Grocery Expenditures so far - $107.92
  • 2 pounds salad spring mix - $4.99 (I got lucky, it was Buy One Get One Free!)
  • 1 pound light sour cream - $1.89
  • 4 pounds cheddar cheese block - $9.98 (this was a good sale, so I stocked up, this may last us into next month)
  • 2 pounds unsalted butter - $4
  • 4.81 pounds Gala apples - $4.23
  • 2 pounds cottage cheese - $4.58
  • 3.12 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast - $9.30
  • 2 pounds mozzarella cheese - $6.47
  • 2 pounds polish sausage - $5.96
  • 12 string cheese pack - $3.35
  • 3 pounds mandarin oranges - $5.98 (my husband and daughter insist on eating these, I hate how high they have gotten!)
  • 80 oz. Frozen french fries - $3.18
  • 1.23 pounds peanuts - $1.94
  • 1 pound strawberries - $1.98
  • 3.33 pounds bananas - $1.86
  • 4 small avocados - $3.92
  • 3 pounds onions - $1.58
  • 30 oz. Whole-grain Goldfish - $6.48
  • Nabisco Chips Ahoy Reeses - $1.98 (craving!)
  • 1.3 pounds Tortilla chips - $2.99
  • 20 oz. Pretzels - $1.88
  • 13.25 oz. Whole-grain angel hair spaghetti - $1.28
  • 53 oz. Whole-grain pasta - $5.12
  • 1 pound Lasagna noodles - $1.42
  • 30 oz. Light mayonnaise - $2.60
  • 40 oz. canned tuna - $5.44
  • 47.3 oz. Unsweetened applesauce - $2.18
  • 14 oz. Canned artichokes - $2.18
  • 30 oz. Canned green beans - $1.36

Stock-Up Items - $27.01
  • 9 pounds Adam's natural peanut butter - $22.08
  • 32 oz. Lemon juice - $2.18
  • 8 oz Canola oil cooking spray - $1.97
  • 20 oz Mustard - 78 cents

What I have left to buy this month - $69.83
  • 4 pounds grass-fed beef - $20
  • Jam - $2.89 (I forgot to make ours this summer, but hopefully I can next week)
  • 18ct Organic eggs - $5
  • 2 gallons 1% Organic milk - $10.58
  • 2 gallons Organic whole milk - $10.58
  • 4 pounds organic yogurt - $5.98
  • 2 x frozen burritos - $4.80
  • Bananas & Apples - $10

I decided to start making my own bread again this month, hopefully I can get that done today so we don't have to buy bread!  I'm also going to make pita bread since my son loves it.  However, seeing what I've spent so far and then what I have to buy this month, I will still have $22.25 left to spend, so I could buy bread or maybe potato chips and ice cream because we get those cravings a lot!

Here are the rest of our meals:

Apple Tahini Toast
Eggs, Toast and jam

PBJ Sandwiches
Tuna melts
Bean tostados
Chicken BBQ "pizzas"

Snacks & Desserts
Carrots & Hummus
Pita Bread & Hummus
Chips & Salsa or nachos
Trail mix (peanuts, mini chocolate chips and raisins)
Granola bars
Fruit or smoothies
String cheese
PB and Apple
Cookies, muffins or brownies

What I'm making homemade this month:
  • Bread - loaf and pita bread
  • Pizza dough
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Hummus
  • Granola bars
  • Cookies, muffins and brownies
  • Jam

Living Debt-Free Series - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I shared with you how to stay debt free and steps you need to take to ensure that you are not reliant upon credit/debt.  In this part of the series, I will share ideas and tips on how you can live within and even below your means.

To live within or below your means follow these basic ideas:

                Within Your Means                                              Below Your Means
  1. Pay 10% Tithe and Give Offerings              Pay 10% Tithe, Give Offerings + Extra
  2. Housing at 35% or below income               Housing at 25% or below of income
  3. Save on Utilities as you can                        Cut costs drastically; Basics, cut out luxuries
  4. Keep car maintained & plan trips               Same but also stay home more
  5. Keep insurance costs low                            Same but consider high-deductible plans
  6. Buy discounted personal items                   Get creative and make your own
  7. Plan meals, Shop sales                               Cut down your meat, make more homemade
  8. Shop clothing sales                                     Buy used, shop yard sales, trade
  9. Eat out only a few times a month               Don't eat out, do free things for recreation

Some of you may be wondering why I had giving more under "Below Your Means" column - well that is simple - what you give comes back to you and it really is true!  The saying goes that if you never send a ship out, it can't come back to you.

For housing, it really is up to the family in what you want.  Do you want a larger house and then not save as much and spend less in other areas OR would you rather have a smaller or lower-priced home and be able to save more, do more and have other things?  With a larger home, comes higher utility costs of electric and gas, so you have to remember to factor those in as well.  Also, you need to think about property taxes and homeowner's insurance when counting the cost of your larger home.  You can usually save significantly with a smaller home and still be comfortable.

Other than the varying electric and gas utilities that I talked about, there is water, sewer, garbage, phone, internet and cable.  Water is based on usage, so it is easy to save there - just stop using so much and find ways to cut down.  I wash all my dishwasher loads on the lightest setting to save costs - it really doesn't matter as the lightest still gets everything just as clean as the highest but at a much lower cost in water and electricity.  Garbage can be saved by only using one can and you can do this with a large family by also having a recycling container.  You can cut phone expenses by just having a landline phone and a Tracfone for emergencies when out.  We only spend $120 a year for a cell phone and then my husband's employer provides him with a free cell phone for work that he can use to call me a few times a day.  These days you can go without cable because you can pretty much find cheaper ways to get your shows online.  We never did have cable but we think internet is a necessity in today's world and we like the highest speed, so we found a great deal by negotiating the costs.  I was able to negotiate the costs down and lock in the rate for a year.  Then every year, I have to call and negotiate again and it is a hassle but after it is over, we have the rate locked in for another year.

With transportation, you need to plan your trips that would give you the most cost-effective use of gas.  If you run an errand everyday, you will be wasting a lot of gas.  Why not plan your trips into one day a week?  Also keeping your vehicle maintained will help keep it running longer and thereby save you money on repairs.  Study Consumer Reports and learn which used cars have the best reliability so that you won't have it in the shop all the time.  Staying home more obviously saves you more in gas and wear on your vehicle.  We drive an almost 12-year old car and it only has 102,000 miles on it!

I've already discussed in detail on how to save on various medical plans in this post.  Basically, save as much as you can and costs will vary depending upon risk level.  The best is usually an HSA high-deductible plan.

With personal items in your budget you can save a lot by simply making your own or using generic products.  I used to buy a lot of things I didn't really need and since cutting them out - I don't even miss them, except for my Satsuma Body Shop body butter.  I tried cutting my husband's hair but I was never successful but I do cut my son's hair to save money.

Food is one area you can really save a lot of money in if you are willing to sacrifice.  You can eat meat everyday but you will spend more unless you stretch the meat or use the meat as a condiment rather than the main dish.  We prefer to save meat as a 2-3 times a week thing and save the extra money.  You can also save by buying in bulk things like flour, rice, spices/herbs, beans, etc.  You can also save by making a lot of homemade items and that also saves on health costs as you are healthier by eating no or less processed foods.  Read how we are feeding our family of 4 on $200 a month here: http://www.christianhomekeeping.com/2014/09/family-of-4-200-grocery-budget-how-we.html

With clothing you can shop for the best bargains or you can buy used and/or make your own.  I shopped yard sales last summer and got name-brand pants and tops for 50 cents to a dollar.  I wish I had gone this summer but I didn't get out to search for the next size up, so now I'm trying to find ways to get the most bang for my buck.  I had saved my "skinny" clothes and now my 10 year old daughter can fit into them - so guess who won't be buying much clothes for the next 8 years or so?

With recreation or fun money it really is up to you how much you want to spend.  You can limit eating out or not eat out at all.  You can only do things that are free for family recreation or do low-cost things.  You can buy used books or just use your library.  It really is up to each family how much they want to spend and then you go from there to find things that work with your budgeted amount.

Living Debt-Free Series - Part 1

Upon the heels of my Financial Budgeting 101 series, I wanted to do a series about Living Debt-Free and give you tips and ideas on how you STAY debt free.  If you have something to share, please leave a comment to help me and others!

#1 Task for Staying Debt-Free  - The first step to living debt-free is to make sure that you have an emergency fund!  If you don't do this, then you probably won't STAY debt-free for long because things break, cars need repairs, kids get sick and on and on and if you don't have money set aside to pay for these things, then what will you do?  Borrow or put it on a credit card and pay interest.  Many financial advisors recommend you have 6 months worth of living expenses (not income but expenses) saved up in a savings account somewhere that you can get to easily in the case of an emergency.  This will help ensure you staying debt-free when trouble shows up at your door and it will.

#2 Save for future purchases - If you plan on buying a big-ticket purchase in the future, which most people do, then you need to have a fund to save for it since you are no longer using credit and paying extra with interest.  Most people need a car these days and if yours is older, you probably should start saving up for a newer one.  Save until you get enough and then go shopping with cash!  Not only will you save on all that interest, but you will get a reduced price by paying cash and if you can trade-in your older car, you will save even more.  Say goodbye to car payments with interest and hello to saving and buying a car with cash!  You will feel awesome when you ride that car off the lot knowing it is PAID FOR!

More things that you can save for are:  electronics (computers, gadgets, etc.), furniture, school supplies or homeschool curriculum, vacations, appliances, and whatever else is a big purchase that needs time to save for.

I will give you an example of a car fund and how it would work to save up for one.  Say your goal is to purchase a newer car in 3 years.  A good, reliable used car for $12,000 is your goal and your current car will have a trade-in value in 3 years of about $3,000.  Subtract the value of your trade-in from the price of the newer car and that leaves you with needing to save $9,000.  Now you know you will need to save $250 a month and you will be able to shop for a $12,000 car - which could very well be a much higher car but you can negotiate that down to $12K easily when paying cash!  Say, you just want to spend $8,000, so subtracting your trade-in, you only need to save $5K, which is only $139 a month.  No interest to pay, just the price of the car - now that is freedom!

#3 Insure Everything - This is one area you must do in order to stay debt-free.  You can't predict the future but you can insure that you are covered when something tragic happens.  This includes health insurance, home/renter's insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, identity protection and anything else that you need to insure that has the potential of bankrupting you or ruining your financial life.  Trust me as I know personally what it feels like to be WITHOUT insurance and a crisis happen - we have paid our share of medical bills because of our lack of health insurance a few years ago.

For those that think you can do without life insurance, well you CAN but are you sure you want to?  What if your husband dies today.  How would you pay for his funeral?  Or better yet, WHO wants to think of how they will pay during that time?  You will be grieving and you sure don't need the extra burden of financial ruin.  It isn't just the funeral either, how will you support yourself or your children?  What will you do until you find a job?  How will you pay for child care?  And on and on.....  These are things a lot of people don't think about until something like this happens and then they spend the rest of their lives thinking about it. 

Same thing goes for disability insurance in the event that your husband becomes disabled and can no longer work.  Disability from Social Security is barely enough to even live on, much less support a family!  The rest of the insurances are really no-brainers, I mean if you go without home/renter's, auto, identity protection or health insurance - you are just one crisis away from debt and/or bankruptcy.  Insure everything!

#4 Live Within or Below Your Means - Most people agree in living WITHIN your means, but how about living BELOW your means?  If you live below your means, you can save a whole lot more.  Whatever you do, always live within your means and not above!!  If you make $50K net - live on $40K and throw the rest in savings.  Then, if one day you get the urge to go to Italy - hey, just GO!  Or you could live on the $50K and have a bigger house, nicer car and more luxuries if that is what you choose.  I prefer to live below our means because to me, that Italy trip sounds pretty sweet!

Part 2 is here where I give you ideas and tips on living within and below your means: