Time Versus Convenience

I’ve started trying to reduce my grocery lists, replacing store bought items with things I’ve produced at home. When looking online for ideas, the most common thing I’ve come across is laundry detergent.

To be honest, I don’t get it. Rather than buying one item, I’d now be buying several. And then mixing them, and storing them in a different container. They may be cheaper, but that’s not simpler, which is also my goal, as I focus on minimalism and reprioritizing my life.

I love gardening, which led to my interest in canning. Which somehow managed to lead me to dehydrating. It must have been the herbs that did that one. I happened to be making spaghetti sauce, and added store bought dried oregano.

I had the thought…wait a minute, I’m growing oregano! So as I dried herbs last year, I got to thinking, what other spices could I replace at home? I don’t just want to buy something different at the store, but instead not need to buy the item at all.

Last year, I grew cayenne peppers for the first time. I had no idea what I was going to do with them when I planted it, but I was in the mood to see what we could do. And, oh my, that little pepper plant produced! I’ve never see so many peppers on a plant–and it kept going at that pace all season.

I had cayenne peppers coming out of my ears. In desperation, I ended up drying those suckers whole. Last night, I pulled them out, trimmed the tops and removed the seeds. I ground them in the coffee grinder, and ended up with beautiful cayenne powder.

The color is even more gorgeous in person. And the strength of the peppers is so much stronger than store bought. Sounds wonderful, right? Uh, not so fast!

The coffee grinder is not airtight. And I wanted the powder to be very fine. So I got a cloud of powder airborne. I tried to keep it contained by placing a paper towel over the grinder, but whenever I opened it to add more peppers, I also released more powder into the air.

Long story short, I quickly ended up with a burning nose and face. Heck, it’s the next day and my fingertips still aren’t happy with me.

So how important it is to produce something at home versus buying it at the store? The store is definitely more convenient. And there’s definitely a time investment to producing an item at home. But there’s more than to consider.

Will I do it again? Maybe. If I’m armed with latex gloves and a dust mask. And as long as the Dawn and rubbing alcohol are on standby.

Yes, the Dawn and rubbing alcohol really do work. I promise.


Two Ways to be Rich

There is a quote from Jackie French Koller that I absolutely love, so I thought I would share it. 

There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little. 

I think this is something we should all consider more often. So many of us struggle with feeling like we don’t have enough. But enough what? What exactly are our priorities?

I think of budgets as a priority list. If it’s important to you, it will be the first thing to budget. That’s where the saying “Pay yourself  first” comes from. If establishing an emergency fund is your number one priority, make it happen.

But it’s easy to lose sight of priorities. Especially when you’re tired or in a hurry. At those momemts it’s so much easier to grab a bite at a restaurant, or that pick-me-up fancy coffee.  And when reading about sticking to a budget, those items are always the ones mentioned, right?

What if you’re like me and hate coffee? It’s easy to say, “That’s not me,” and move on. But we all have our weaknesses. The important thing is to identify what yours is and have a plan to combat it.

I know so many people who say if only the made X amount of money, it would be so much better. But the raises and bonuses always go to the newest, biggest whatever to replace something that is still perfectly serviceable. I think the second portion of the quote especially applies to them.

If you’re always focused on what you don’t have, how can you appreciate what you do have? If we were to really consider our individual purchases, big and small, and ask ourselves are we desiring less, it would be much easier to stick to our budget and get ahead.

This Week’s Menu

One part of running a household that I’ve always detested is menu planning. I admit to being a picky eater and preferring a more limited diet than what I should be eating. Plus, it’s very easy for me to get into a routine, buying the same items at the store, and making the same meals over and over.  And trust me, hearing lots of complaints about dinner, but no suggestions does not make for a happy cook!

My solution was to go back to meal planning, but this time, involve the family. My husband is more than happy to make suggestions and be experimented on. The girls, not so much.

Each week, I take a look at next week’s schedule and figure out how many “fast” meals we’ll need. Each girl selects a meal they want, and my husband and I tackle the rest.

Winter is coming, though you can’t really tell with the sun shining and temperatures still in the 50s. But you’ll be able to see its influence in the selections we made. I try to focus on (relatively) healthy meals that do not break the bank or take hours to make.

Saturday: Lemon pepper rainbow trout with baked potatoes.

Sunday: Potato soup. This is a soup made with broth and dill, not the usual creamy potato style.

Monday: Chicken breasts and salad

Tuesday: Parmesan tilapia. This is a staple and one of the few ready made items I’ll buy. It is cooked from frozen and great for those crazy, busy nights we all have.

Wednesday: Another soup. This one was Asian style with bok choy, noodles, and shrimp.

Thursday: Since this night was busy, we did beef stew in the crockpot. It was wonderful coming home and already having dinner ready and waiting.

Friday: Spaghetti made with turkey meatballs for half, and kale/quinoa “meat”balls for the other half. The sauce was canned this past summer.

As you can see, I try to keep meals simple, and mostly frugal. While we had beef one night, it was a pound of stew meat, rather than a couple pounds of steak.  Soups are excellent, especially during winter. They help stretch the food, and reheat wonderfully. It is unusual for us to have it three times in a week, though!

Tub Disaster

Obviously, living frugally is an important part of my life. I’d even venture to say that it’s a generally overlooked life skill that once learned is a sanity saver. However, no matter how frugal you attempt to be, disaster has an unfortunate way of lurking around the corner.

And that is just what happened in our house recently. Our almost new house. Sigh.

I was in the mood to do some serious deep cleaning. I’m not sure why-temporary insanity? Perhaps. But I started in my teenager’s bathroom. What was I thinking? She is supposed to clean it weekly, but suffice it to say, her standards of cleanliness do not match mine. I’ll spare you the details, but in scrubbing her tub, I discovered an almost three inch crack in the fiberglass. Who knows how long it was there!

Luckily for us, my husband is a top notch handyman. He had never encountered this situation before, so off we went to the hardware store. I thought we’d be shopping for a new tub/shower combo, but hubby was on a mission to find a repair kit. Who knew? He verified a few things with the salesperson. In the conversation, the salesperson asked how old the tub was. Houses often have a one year warranty, but we were past that. However, the salesperson asked if we knew the brand of the tub, because they often have warranties as well.

Turns out, tubs are labelled with brand and model either on the lower left or lower right side. When we looked up the information online, we found the customsr service number…and even better, discovered that our particular tub has a twenty-five year warranty.

Service couldn’t have been easier. Tubs have serial numbers, and they were able to look ours up to find when it was purchased, even though were weren’t the ones to buy it.  A repairman came out and fixed it in one day.

So there you have it. What could have been a nightmare was fixed for free and with no hassle. Needless to say, that made my frugal heart happy!

From Stocking Up to Taking Stock

Before, when I was using coupons and apps to save money in my budget, I was confident that I only purchased what I would have anyways. I had discipline, after all. And though I stayed within budget, it was often difficult. I told myself that if I had extra in the budget and splurged, it was all in the name of stocking up.

But as I got more burned out, I started taking a look at what was in my pantry. After all, it’s rather difficult to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and have them last longer than a week. I realized I had more than a few boxes of prepackaged snacks and other processed foods that I normally shy away from.  Yes, I purchased them on sale and for a great price, but they weren’t the types of food I should be eating or feeding to my family. I was feeling run down, and had gained weight.

I have recommitted myself to eating healthy. I menu plan now around what is healthy. My budget is still under control, and yet the food I purchase is better quality and healthier. I thought I was stocking up in case of lean times, but in reality, our diet shifted to processed foods we could grab in a hurry. This led to all of us snacking more, and in the end, it wasn’t as much of a savings as I had thought.

I have to admit, I wonder if anyone else has gone through this, and how do they handle it? For now, I am content to focus on healthy food and finding other ways to cut into the budget. More on that in another post later, though.

Picking Up Where I Left Off

I fell off the savings wagon. I started with the best of intentions, and then life happened. Planning shopping trips to take advantage of sales and deals took a long, long time. The savings just didn’t seem to be worth it, especially since I detest all types of shopping as much as I do.  And the family wasn’t involved, so meal planning was just another chore.

I looked online for new ideas, but only saw variations of the same. Eat seasonally, shop the loss leaders. Meal plan, have a meatless day once a week. But I was looking for a more holistic approach.

I recently started thinking about this as I considered what to do with this blog. I wondered if I was rationalizing my budget laziness? While I may very well be doing just that, it has helped me put some things in perspective.

I’ll try to post more about the different aspects of my current approach. However, the first thing I changed was how I looked at “me” time. Before, I never made time for myself. I worked, did the planning, shopping, meal prep. By the end of the weekend, I was exhausted and resentful. That was not how I wanted to spend my family time.

I started exercising. Before, I considered it luxury time. Something to do if I “found” the time. We all know I never did. I ended up bloated, lacked energy, and just frustrated with how I looked and felt.

Once I heard about Steven Covey’s “Big Rocks”,  it put things into perspective for me. I was trying to put all the rocks in my jar, and not paying attention to my priorities. Working to keep my attitude positive was one of my big rocks. I needed to look at what would help that and let go of what would not.

The hours spent grocery planning went away, and now I exercise immediately after coming home from work. It’s a great stress relief, and is something I can do with my husband. I still have a ways to go to get to where I want to be, but this helps me to have a better attitude as I tackle daily frustrations, and allows me to spend time with my husband as we work towards our goals together. As another bonus, I have more energy to tackle my evenings.

As I was contemplating justification for my indulgence, I realized that exercise is great preventative medicine. I have had fewer colds and minor ailments since I started. Plus my blood pressure and heart rate are lower. Heart issues and diabetes run in my family, so really, you can figure I’m helping to protect my future budget from expenses related to healthcare.

And I’m much easier to be around.


Sticking to the Budget

Yesterday was my third weekly “deposit” into the grocery fund. As you can see in the picture below, I just track the stores I go to and the amount I spend at each. As with everything else in my life, I try to keep it simple. And even better, I think last week I may have found my shopping method.

First, all week, I keep a list of things the family needs or wants. For instance, as the last of the peanut butter is used, it goes on the list. Then when I’m compiling my final grocery list, I estimate the cost for each item. If the list totals more than $80.00, I go back and pare it down, crossing off items that can wait until next week. If there is additional room in the budget (yea!), I’ll add “extras” for the week. These items are typically stock up items that are in the store circulars and are paired with coupons and/or rebates.

By leaving $20.00 in the budget, I allow for mid week grocery stops in case we run out of bananas (pretty usual in my family) or other items that I don’t want or can’t wait to replace.

And a bonus topic: a few more rebate apps! I don’t use these next three that often, but they are great to use if you’re buying their listed items. Check out Shopmium,  Snap! (by Groupon), and BerryCart.  Shopimum only has a few items at a time, but are fast with funding their rebates. A word of caution on Snap: the rebates go fast, so keep an eye on it.  BerryCart specializes in organic,  non GMO items that often don’t have coupons and aren’t listed on other grocery apps..

Making the Budget Work
Making the Budget Work

Mid-Week Check In

Yes, I know it’s only Monday, but my grocery week started on Friday. So I wanted to report on my progress keeping to a grocery budget. To be honest, prior to this week, I didn’t really have a grocery budget per se. I used sales, coupons and grocery apps, but I didn’t try to stay below a certain amount.  As you can imagine,  this got out of hand rather quickly.

That all changed this week. I forgot when I set out to do this that I was going to be out of state on Friday and Saturday.  I think this is my first stroke of luck. Because of this, I wasn’t able to do my usual grocery shopping and instead had to make do with a couple of quick runs. My husband went on one while I was away and I ran after work today.

Because of this craziness, I’m only halfway through my budget. This can lead to great possibilities. Mainly, I’m hoping to stay out of stores for the rest of the week so I can have a cushion next week, especially since I’ll be needing meat and paper products. This budget challenge is making me realize just how often I give into impulse buys or picking up an extra “just in case” I’m low at home.

For food this week, I’m going to do a simple menu of “find it & use it”. Basically, I’ll be seeing what we have on hand and using it up. After this week, I’ll be menu planning as well. I hope.

Here is my pantry. I wonder how empty it’ll get?


Checkout 51

Another grocery app I use fairly often is Checkout 51. The offers on this app change every Thursday and if you have any rebates for the week, you need to submit them by Wednesday.  Even if the receipt shows the correct date and the offer is the same as the previous week, it will be rejected.

There are pros and cons for this app. I like the fact that once you reach at least $20.00, you can request a payout and a check will be mailed to you. There are a variety of items offered as well, including both brand name items and produce or dairy.  There is no scanning of items. Rather you choose the items that are on the receipt,  take a picture of the receipt, and submit it.

I find myself mainly redeeming the produce rebates, which is 25 cents a week. On occasion, there will be more name brand items that I use, but this tends to be feast or famine. There are also a fewer number items each week than apps such as Ibotta have. Even so, it’s still a wonderful opportunity to cut your grocery budget. I especially like the fact that they always have a produce rebate–have I mentioned my family has a thing for bananas???1420397741764

New Year’s Resolutions

1420125143651My New Year’s resolution is simple, but it won’t be easy!  I want to find ways to cut our grocery budget in half. This is pretty ambitious, and to be honest,  I’m not certain I’ll manage to do it, but it’ll be fun to try! I know there are a lot of people who are able to have a much smaller budget with a much larger family. So why not us?

A little background about “us”: there are two adults, a teenage girl, and a preteen girl who make up the household.  My husband has allergies and food sensitivities, so our grocery purchases will reflect this. In addition, we are all focusing on eating better. This means eating more “real”‘ food and less processed foods. This is where I think the real challenge lies. How can a family eat healthy and not go broke?

A quick disclaimer: we also have two dogs and a cat. However, I will not be including pet supplies in the total budget. This is mainly because they are on special diets due to one having food allergies. Because of this, one bag of dog food would be two-thirds of the weekly budget. As much as I love my pets, on the weeks they need food, I’d rather not go hungry.

So ground rules: each week, I’ll allot myself $100 with which to do my shopping.  Once the money is gone, no borrowing against next week–I’ll have to scrounge and get creative with meals. On the other hand, if by some miracle,  I am under $100 for the week, I’ll roll it over to the next week. I am planning on using a checkbook register to track my progress. I’ll start with a $100 “deposit” and go from there.

In addition, my week will run Friday to Thursday.  With my schedule,  this is just what makes the most sense for me, but feel free to modify however you wish.

Finally, what items will be included in my new budget? Food, paper products, toiletries…pretty much anything that I buy at the grocery store/super center/butcher/specialty shop. I won’t include clothes or meals out.

So, what do you think?  Is a $100 budget reasonable for a family of four to live off? And not just live, but live well? Or does that seem like a large budget?