Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Keeping a Grocery Budget on Excel

One thing I was NOT when I got married to my husband was organized. The one thing that annoys me the most and helps me the most is his organization skills. This extends to budgeting the monthly grocery budget and list. He has a system and I think it is great. It has truly helped our family out a bunch. Getting started takes a bit of work but it is worth the effort. You need a place to keep receipts and an excel-type program on your computer. Here is what we do.

In order to get started, the first month you need to…

1. Keep every single receipt we get from every purchase. I found an old school crayon-supply holder of my daughters and set it in the kitchen. Then every time the family buys something, as far as groceries go, we stick the receipt in the box.
2. Go through the box at the end of the month. My husband calculates the total we spent on groceries for that month and writes it on the top of an excel sheet.

Then my husband went even further and this step is what has really helped with organization and saving money.

3. Make a list of commonly bought items. For instance with five girls we drink a bunch of milk and applejuice. Those are always on our list. This list is now my shopping list. I can print this blank sheet out and use it to remind me what to buy at the store. We have also posted a copy in our cupboard to keep track of what we normally have stored, but that is for another post.
4. My husband also has calculated, from the previous months receipts, how much milk we are using, for instance. Or, how many diapers we used and how much we spent. This led me to switch to cloth diapers. I have also cut down on the amount of orange juice we are buying because no one is drinking it and we are not buying frozen, we are buying it in the container. No sense wasting something we do not drink. So, I changed the required number of OJ to buy on the shopping list. That way if dear old hubby goes to the store for me, he will not buy as much.
5. The next step really takes extra work but again, if you are on a really tight budget, it is worth it. We shopped at two different stores and bought the same, or basically the same brand milk. Then we compared the prices. There is also occasionally in our newspaper an article about milk prices. We therefore know which store to buy our milk in. Every cent counts in a house with five girls. Especially with as much milk as we drink! Well, baby Sarah drinks Mama’s milk but her time is coming!

Now, this may seem really like penny pinching and too much work but after the initial set up on excel, it is smooth sailing from then on. Now we simply keep the receipts and do a monthly tally. We then know if our money saving efforts have worked for the month. If there is a drastic change in the total for the month, my husband looks through the list and sees what happened.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Update and Thank yous!!

The last two weeks have been very stressful in our home. We have come forward with this situation and I want to take time to thank you all for helping us so far. I want to address a few questions you have asked about our situation. I also want to tell you how far we have come and what we are still trying to do. So, bear with me and read on to find out what has happened to the Meyers.

· We have received many great donations from people all over the US, including people I have never met. This has lifted my spirits up so much and given me hope. I received donations from strangers, my uncle, my aunt and her mother, my cousin, old friends, an old boss, old students from LCU, another mom from the CP website, and many other people who just heard about our situation from the website. I am trying to email everyone individually but it will take me a few days. I am currently sharing the computer with my teenage daughter and with the other four girls around, there is not much time.

· I received one email asking why we are asking for our donations to be sent to an American address and account. That is because I still do my banking in America and it would be easier for us to get the money from my debit card here than have American friends trying to send things to Germany.

· Another friend asked if it was too late to send donations. NO, it is not too late.

· We have approached the firm that provided the nursing services last year and given them what we have collected so far. We still do not have the complete amount to pay off the bill but I am hoping this will buy us a few weeks time.

· People have asked me why we do not just get a lawyer and sue the insurance company. There are several reasons we are looking at.
1. The company found a nice little loophole and said they do not have to provide the type of care we received while I was pregnant. There are different words for different kinds of care given to sick people in the German insurance language. They told us that what we received was not what they covered in the insurance. Then they pointed to the city and told us to contact them. The city said the insurance should pay for it and we needed to work on their interpretation of the wording. This game of pointing fingers went on during the whole pregnancy.
2. We cannot bite the hand that provides for Kelly. We just checked with a social worker familiar with the law and they think that it would be very difficult to sue the insurance company. The other problem would be that if we attack the insurance company, and we later need them to approve something for Kelly, then we have bitten the hand that feeds us and may be denied for something important.
3. So, we would have to sue the city of Barsinghausen. We could do that and still may but if we do not pay this bill ASAP, it will not matter because we will lose everything anyway.

· I know many, many families in the US with children who suffer from CP or other medical conditions who have the same problems. Medical bills that the insurance will not pay. Insurance companies are evil. The difference is that the families in the US can ignore their bills for years and no one comes and takes their house or job away. I live in a foreign country where things are different. In America the other parents with CP children have had fundraisers done for them in their hometowns to raise money for bills, or new therapy or equipment that the insurance will not pay. People give them money and participate in the fundraiser and never once tell the people that they should just get a lawyer.

· So why not do a fundraiser here in Germany? Those are not common at all here. People give once a year around Christmas to big charity foundations. The social worker we are speaking with is trying to get us funding through one of these foundations. We will apply for something next week.

Please believe me that we are trying everything we possibly can to take care of this situation. I have thought about doing some type of craft and selling it on the internet. It is all a matter of timing and funding. At the moment we have done what we can for the short term and it is a matter of waiting and seeing what happens. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Janette and the Meyer Family

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Great Cloth Diaper Experiment

I am trying to find a way to save money. One thing way we keep throwing money in the trash, literally, is with our daily diaper use. We use 6 diapers per day, per child. With four children, that diaper use adds up and it all gets thrown in the garbage.

So…Okay, maybe I am nuts but I am changing the four little ones all over to cloth diapers. Yes, I will have four children in cloth diapers. Why am I doing this insane act? Do I want to live with the smell of wet diapers in a pail? Four sets of diapers? Well, that is something I am going to find out.

Katja needs training panties. She knows how to use the potty, but she is in a lazy mode and does not always make it to the potty. With everything that is going on here, I have not been able to focus time and remind her every so often. She needs to have training panties on, instead of a diaper, which will be uncomfortable and alert her that she is wet. So, the cloth diapers here look like training panties with Velcro. I will be using the largest size on Katja, which should speed up her toilet training.

The plan is for us to find used diapers and start the kids out next week. Cloth diapers are very expensive now. There are so many varieties here.

Here is our plan.

1. Not buy the diapers new. They are really expensive.
2. Bid on used diapers on ebay.
3. Ask the neighbors and the midwife if they have any or know of anyone who has old cloth diapers they do not use anymore.
4. Put diapers on all of the children during the day. I might put them on the older ones at night. They are very absorbent.
5. Use a paper lining product that you can get cheap, to catch the BM or poop so it is easier to dispose of. I swished them out in the potty when I had my first daughter in diapers and that was gross. I do not want to have to do that now, with four little bottoms at once.
6. Put the used diapers in a pail to soak with detergent in the water.
7. Wash the diapers every other day on 60°. This is a European temperature. They have a temperature that is 95°, which is close to boiling. It would get them cleaner but it would cost us more money. I plan to use the 60° first and then if that is not enough, I will move on to the higher temperature. The German washing machine I am using is awesome and will probably get everything out on 60°.
8. Hang the diapers up to dry. I would use our dryer, but again I am trying to save the family money. These diapers are thick so they will take longer to dry if I hang them up. We have a room in our basement where I do the laundry. The cellar does not get warm ever, so it takes longer to hang dry clothes. We also have a room in the cellar where the heating unit is located. This room is warm in the winter. I will be hanging the diapers up in this room. I will be timing how long it takes to dry them in this room. I am washing a pair today and want to see how long it takes to dry. On sunny days, which are rare in the winter here, I will hang them up outside.
9. If the children get wet and have trouble sleeping through the night, God forbid, I will put one disposable diaper on them at night.

This sounds like a bunch of work, and it will be. The idea is that I am hopefully going to save 200 Euros a month by cutting back on our diaper bill.

I will keep everyone updated.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Family in Danger of Losing Everything

Dear Friends,

This is an emergency posting asking for help. This past year, while I was pregnant with baby Sarah, several things occurred that have now put us in a real state of jeopardy.
These things were:
1. I became pregnant with Sarah in August
2. I began to bleed after lifting Kelly and taking her to a doctor appointment
3. I was put on bedrest for the remainder of the pregnancy
4. I was told not to pick up my children, do housework, or I would lose the baby

So, because Katja was not even 2 and the twins not even a year old, we had to have in-house care. The doctor reassured us this was something that the insurance had to pay. Kelly, who was the sickest of the twins, was not developing and becoming mobile and needed nursing care and I needed in-home assistance while Michael was at work.

Then in September of last year, Kelly was diagnosed with West Syndrome and I stayed with her in the hospital for a week while they tried to get her seizures under control. The nursing staff then took on more hours. Again, we had a prescription at this point from my Gynaecologist and the Pediatrician stating we were a family in need and that we required care for the 3 children under 2 years of age. Michael and I were sure things would work out.

The insurance DID NOT PAY. They simply told us that it was the responsibility of the city. The city then pointed their fingers back at the insurance…and this dance went on for 7 months. During this time we had to keep someone working in the house and caring for Kelly so the nursing company we hired kept billing us.

In January we got the first diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy for Kelly and then we started to battle the insurance for therapy, and medical equipment. Do not get me wrong, they do cover the bare basics for that. What shocks me about this the most is that they knew from this diagnosis that we needed help in the house with the children but no one helped.

We contacted the local churches and they had no program to help people in need. The nurses were even calling people because they knew we were getting further in debt and that the insurance was not paying.

To make the point even worse, I also have a back problem and will need to find someone to help carry the children until it is repaired or grows stronger. On advice from the doctor, we found an AuPair to help us. Again, the insurance does not cover this cost either. Even though Kelly is non-mobile and requires more care than the other children.

Now, we have to pay off this debt, or we lose everything. I am an American but I live in Germany and therefore I have to abide by the German laws. There are laws in Germany regarding debt. My husband works for the German government in the IRS and he is not allowed by law to be in debt. If we do not pay off this debt, Michael will lose his job.

So, you find us at a precarious point in our lives. We have a brand new baby and face the possibility of losing first our car, then our house and on top of everything, Michaels job.

We have tried to pursue this matter and force the insurance or the city to pay but it has been to no avail. Now we have to try to save everything before we are sitting on the street with five children.

As I write this I am afraid of stating the truth that it has really come to this point. I am in a country far away from family and friends. I am doing the only thing I can do at this point and that is to ask for your help. We are asking for donations to pay off this debt. We owe over $8,000 backwards for this period. Michael told me yesterday that we have to have $4000 by next week. He has been keeping this from me while I was pregnant and now while the baby is small, hoping that he would find a way. Now we have to ask for help.

My father’s address in Texas is listed on the side of this post. We are taking checks payable to Janette Meyer. We are checking with the bank at the moment to see if we can get an account started in the name of Kelly. I will also be setting up a Paypal button that you can donate with a credit card. I am speaking with someone today about how to make this a tax-deductible contribution for you. We will find out soon how to write you a receipt for your tax records.

I cannot explain how afraid I am at the moment. I am trying to act positive and upbeat around my children so that they do not know what is going on. They feel something is not right.

Even a small donation would help us. Please share this post with your friends, co-workers and any you know. We really need help.

Thank you,

Mommy to Five Girls

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lists save Money!!

Okay, so my mother was a big list maker. I remember thinking, "Oh God, to be sooo old that you need to make so many lists. I will never do that!!" Well, I am hitting the big 39 this next month but in my book that is not old. I do however, want to save money and that requires good old list making skills.
The most obvious job as a money saving diva that requires a carefully planned list is...yes, shopping. Now, that may sound simple. No I have not reinvented the wheel but looking back on the early years with good old Momma, she always had a list prepared ahead of time and she never bought things not on the list.
First the list needs to be where everyone can see it. We have a list in our kitchen where it is accessible to everyone and when something is running low, like cereal, we write it on the list. This also gives the kids a chance to write down a school supply or other items they might need for school down for me and prevents any late night trips to the store for something they need at school the next day.
Second, the night before I go shopping, not the day of or 20 minutes before but the night before, I sit down with the community shopping list, go through the cupboard and refrigerator, look at my meal ideas for the week and finally I go through the weekly specials that are being run at the different markets. If there is a super deal on ground beef, for example, I make a plan to shop at that particular store and put a recipe on my weekly menu plan that includes the ground beef or make sure we have room enough in the freezer to freeze it. I have a weekly menu set up and that way the things I buy do not just sit in the refrigerator waiting for me to have a creative idea or molding while I try to get one. I get out my nice collection of recipes that the family will eat and plan my meals. No since in buying things and cooking them if they are just not going to eat them. I look at my recipes, look at the available bargains, plan my meals and then put the necessities on the list.
I also try to keep my list in season. That means I am not going to make a strawberry shortcake for desert during a time when strawberries are not in season and cost a fortune. So, my menus are also seasonal. I will post more about my menu ideas another day.
On shopping day, which for me is every Saturday morning, I dress and prepare like a woman heading off to do war. I make sure that I have a complete breakfast because when you shop hungry, you buy things not on the list. I choose one of my five daughters to go with me on the adventure and begin my preshopping briefing with that child. This usually is just a happy reminder that we are not buying anything but what is on the list. They are NOT to ask for anything that is not on the list or they will be banned from shopping for the next month. My husband knows he has childcare duties during my trip and keeps the other monkeys busy during that time. This is super imporant when it comes to saving money. Do not take children, unless you have to, when you are shopping. If you must, then you better give them the pre-war briefing about not buying anything that is not on the list. I find if I can ditch all the kids my shopping experience goes even better. Remember the retailers out there stick all kinds of colorful things that are expensive and totally not necessary on the eye level of your child. I find I also concentrate better and find better deals on the items on my list when I am not distracted by my children. However, I need to also spend quality time with my children so I usually take one with me. My oldest daughter is on shopping prohibition at the moment though because she tends to be very vocal and want things not on the list. It is better not to take her at all.
So, lesson number one. The list is the key. The list is gold. Pre-prepare the list and have a plan with what you want to make with the things you buy on the list. Lists do not make you old, they can five you freedom, save you money and make shopping easy and efficient.
I use lists in other areas of my life as well. But that is a story for another day.
Happy shopping!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What in the world to do?

Well, we have five girls and a very tight budget. I have got to figure out how to live and hopefully make life enjoyable and rich for my family while playing the money game.
I figure there are probably plenty of other domestic engineers out there that might give me ideas and/or benefit from my ideas and what I am learning along the way.
My daughters are from two different age perspectives. My oldest is a teenager (God help me). My next one is a young child now. Her twins sisters are considered toddlers and then the baby is well, a baby. This means I have to incorporate makeup and diapers into the budget. One wants to look good and the others need to have dry bottoms.
The fact that they are all girls presents another problem. Girls can be very expensive. What will I do when they all want to be in ballet lessions at the same time? We will have to find a way. So, here begins the journal of my girls on a budget journey. Wish us luck!!