7 MAY 2015 :: National Day of Prayer

The first Thursday in May is always the National Day of Prayer for America... and many Christian events are created for that day.  I haven't been able to attend much in the past many years, but I did go online and post prayers on Twitter and Facebook after I entered some calls to action at the Etsy forum and team threads that I post in.  Now, I would like you to enter prayers for America as soon as you are able...and often.  We don't need to pray for America just one day a year...we need to pray for America every day.

I think that is all I need to say today.

6 MAY 2015 :: Paying by card, instead of with cash.

This is my first month using my Social Security Retirement Benefits Debit and MasterCard from Direct Express.  It is very different from what I had been doing before, which was only carrying the money I had budgeted to spend.  Using a credit/debit card for everything seems to make it easy to go "off budget" and spend more than you wanted to.  I have done it several times already and I still have several weeks until there is any more to spend.  This is not a good thing! 

I wanted to try it this way for the first month to see how it worked.  I am already working on a new plan to try with my next payment.

I probably need to confess that this is not a normal month for me, I have two events to buy gifts for and haven't figured out that part of my budget yet.  Normally I can't afford gifts so I rarely get them for anyone. I will give food items sometimes, like cookies, candies, or specialty foods.  Sometimes I will try to create a gift, like handmade crafts or personal service coupons.  Sometimes a card is all that I can afford.  There have been times when I didn't even have a stamp for a card.  Naturally, because I have some income, I wanted to buy a gift this year.  I just didn't have an amount figured out in my budget plan.

I suppose this is the reason so many are in debt beyond their means...it is so easy to spend too much with a card.  If I had a credit card, I wouldn't have much to keep me from buying the best thing I could instead of what was planned in my budget.

Keeping to a planned budget is just as hard.  In the past, when I would only carry the cash that I planned to spend on certain items, I would get to the store and discover item I needed on sale at really good prices and want to buy them, and sometimes the item I wanted wouldn't be in stock. The budget would get changed and the original plan, the thing that didn't get covered, would have to be refigured in a future budget.

I think Dave Ramsey is popular right now, but every generation and class and income level has their own "guru" of finance.  The envelope method Ramsey teaches has been around a long time, too.  It is simple, and visible, and seems to work for lots of people.  I think it works because you see that each dollar is committed to a specific need, it isn't just waiting to be spent on something you see in a commercial.  It is important to note that envelopes don't have locks...we still have to develop the discipline to get through the mistakes in spending we make.  I suppose the easiest example would be the food budget :: once the food budget is gone, you don't buy any more food...you have to find a different way to get through the month. 

Budgets are a major challenge for low-income households.  Getting past rent, utilities, and food is often impossible, but laundry still needs to be done, and you need laundry detergent to get your wash clean...like you need shampoo to wash your hair, and soap to wash your body.  Everything costs money and there is only so much you can buy with a limited income.  This is why community resources are so essential for poverty households.  They help fill in the holes of a budget that can't meet the basic needs of life.

I have to find a way to control my spending if my budgeting is going to do any good...and I need to work out a reasonable budget for the amount of money I have.  I guess I will have some time to get that done...my card is almost down to zero.

5 MAY 2015 :: Creating food from what you have in the cupboards.

Today I had to go through my food supplies and try to make them into meals. This happens when my cupboards start to get bare and continues until I can fill them up again.  Since my food stamps were reduced, food has become a greater issue.

I needed something for breakfasts, so I finally made more granola to go with my powdered milk.  When I first started making granola again, I made a very large batch  --  too much!  I gave a bunch of it away.  The next time I made granola, I tried a different recipe and made less. This time I wanted to make just enough for me to eat for a short while so I could make fresh granola more often.  I think I ended up with about six cups of granola anyway.

This time I decided to use a smaller recipe from Cook's Country (on PBS) as my foundation, then I cut it almost in half.  I also tried several different ingredients than the recipe requested. 
  • Since I needed sugar for the recipe, I used the (EXPENSIVE!) date sugar I purchased awhile back while looking for sugar substitutes.  I hoped it would flavor the granola with the taste of dates since the only dried fruit I had was raisins.  
  • Instead of the maple syrup the recipe called for, I used the last of a bottle of corn syrup I had. 
  • Because I have made different kinds of granola in the past, I went ahead and included some powdered milk and wheat germ to improve the healthiness of it. 
  • After it was baked, I added the raisins along with the last of some Rice Krispies I had, and included a small amount of Nutritional Yeast (which I understand is healthy, but not sure how). 
My granola browned a bit more than I wanted it to, but it still was good enough to eat.  I tested it as it cooled.  :-)  Tomorrow I will have it for breakfast.

Figuring out meals is also a challenge every month.  I have learned to freeze parts of the bigger dishes I make for another day...so I try to keep using those stored meals as I go along.  Pasta and rice and oats are things that I make more than I need of and freeze the extra.  Pasta and rice go well with just a few veggies in a salad or fried, oats go well with dried fruits and brown sugar for breakfast.  Having staples handy allows a better choice of meals to make.

I haven't quite decided what MY staples are, but some of these "regulars" do well :: pasta, rice, onions and carrots, sweet potatoes, tuna, some kind of cheese, dry milk, yeast and flour to make breads, a sweetener of some kind, and canned fruits and beans.  Canned tomatoes are also a real good food to have on hand.  Some people like to have spaghetti sauce for a lot of options, too.

For spices, I like salt and pepper and garlic powder. After that I would want parsley and Italian blend.  Important condiments are oil (I like olive oil and safflower oil right now.), vinegar, butter, eggs, and mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.

I could live awhile on these things, depending on how much of them I had, if it was required. My BASIC FOODS list is long...  it is my impression that, in some disaster relief distributions, rice is the only thing provided, and that it becomes a black market commodity.  I have often thought that a food stamp program in refugee camps and other difficult living situations might be better for all...but theft and corruption are everywhere there are struggling people.

If you have read my writings, you know that hunger has been a part of my life.  Because of that, having as decent a back-up pantry as I can is important.  I have read that we need at least one gallon of water per day per person, and that most grocery stores are ravaged and empty by three days when an emergency happens, if there is any food left at all.  I don't know how much poor people can prepare for these things, but I always try to build up emergency food rations as I try to survive each month on food stamps.  It is what helps me get through times when I can't buy anything more, which can be two or more weeks at the end of my "food month."  Staples like rice and pasta and other foods that can be kept without refrigeration will provide some food even if it isn't the greatest meals.

My pantry is what I have to work with.  It allowed me to make some granola, and some pasta salad, and soups...these will provide healthy food until I can get to the store for fresh supplies.

Doing this again helps me to remember what hunger is like, increases my desire to change the poverty of others, and moves me to find better food options.  I hope I will be able to do some of that before I die.

4 MAY 2015 :: Another Monday, another set of goals.

I have been working on weekly goals for some time.  After trying to find my way through goal setting materials, weekly views seem to be the best timeframe for me -- probably for everyone else, too -- because it allows me to work out a more general plan.  Life is always interfering with our plans, so a weekly focus is more flexible and that doesn't create a terrible feeling of failure if you don't get everything done. 

When I started my latest effort to create goals and find the path to achieving them, I worked on Brian Tracy's 30-day Top Ten Goals process.  That led into other efforts to make the process fit my life and limitations.  Figuring out what to record, how to evaluate it all, and then working what you learned into your future, is a major challenge.  It takes time to change our habits, to find new ways of doing things.

Most of the business aids (planners) I looked at seem to be focused on the same four time categories : year, month, week, and day.  Project Management is also focused on dividing the goal you are working on from the end point backward, which would be similar to looking at the year, figuring out what you need to do each month, breaking down the goals for the month into weekly pieces, and then dividing the details into daily portions, too.  I suppose this process applies to any project you have to get done  (breaking it down to smaller parts and then getting those done).

Deciding what to do first, second, third, etc., has always been a challenge to me. I think it has been because my finances are so limited, but I'm not sure. You always have to figure out what to do first, second, third.  Financial issues make the process longer, and more difficult, but finding a way through your limitations is the same requirement for achieving goals no matter what your situation.

I have been fighting my way through this process repeatedly for almost 40 years... I may be a little tired and discouraged, my faith may have wavered, and taking a rest at different times was required.

I hope to make it to the goal this time, but I may die trying.  I have left it in GOD's Hands.  I am committed to just doing the best I can each day... and each week.  :-)