Friday, February 7, 2014

February Menu & Accidental Once-a-Month Shopping

Due to the January Pantry Challenge, our stock of lots and lots of things was depleted.  So on February 1st we picked up our produce co-op offerings and I made a huge grocery list for 3 stores and ended up spending 4 hours shopping and the bulk of our grocery budget for the month. The good news is that I think I've got a plan for all this food and purchased more than enough convenience things to hopefully keep me sane. I admit I am compromising on health in favor of more time.  I'll still need to buy milk, butter, eggs and a bit of produce throughout the month, but for everything else we are set.

Here's the plan:
February Meals
Goals: Eat at home. Eliminate meal prep stress. Keep an orderly kitchen.
Dinners:
Sandwiches (on the marathon grocery shopping day)
Baked spaghetti (x2)
Super Bowl: chips with homemade salsa & guac, veggie platter with dip, buffalo chicken, smoothies
Spaghetti and meat sauce (up to 4 times)
Runza casserole, fruit salad, asparagus (+1 for another family)
Chicken rice soup, whole wheat bread, fruit
Garlic brown sugar chicken, brown rice, peas
Homemade pizza with beef, pepperoni, ham and/or peppers (x2-3) birthday meal
Buffalo chicken salad (x2)
Cheesy broccoli chicken & rice
Vegetable beef soup, biscuits
Beef brisket, baked beans and vegetable
BBQ brisket sandwiches on homemade buns, coleslaw
Broccoli cheese soup, angel biscuits
Steak tacos
Beans & cilantro-lime rice, cheese, sour cream, etc. (x2)
Pasta/veg/bratwurst skillet
Valentine's Day: Chicken enchiladas with sour cream white sauce, cherry bars or chocolate fondue
Sanity saver options: chicken nuggets & fries, peas / frozen lasagna / frozen pizzas
Lunches:
leftovers
ham sandwiches
pizza soup
fried brown rice (make rice ahead, freeze, and add veggies & eggs at the time of the meal)
frozen pizza
Breakfasts:
cereal (1-2x/week)
apple oatmeal (1-2x/week)
steel cut oats with blueberries (1x/week)
sausage or ham/potato/egg casserole (1x/week)
soaked oats with blueberries (1x/week)
toast from homemade bread (1x/week)
egg sandwiches on english muffins
Extras:
bring snacks for homeschool group (30+ people) – caramel corn, veggies & dip, brownie bites, bananas
***Do you have any suggestions on how to economically feed a large group of children with hollow legs? ****
Chocolate chip cookies
Little boy birthday! Cupcakes, goldfish, capri sun 

The shopping:
Safeway - $93.22
6 cans beans
3 boxes Cheerios
1 mayo
6 packages cheese (=12 lbs.)
4 packages hash browns
1 gallon ice cream
3 Digiorno pizzas
2 10 ct. English muffins
2 loaves whole wheat bread
Dairy markdowns: 4 4-pks Activia yogurt, 2 single serve Greek yogurt
1 family size Oreos
2 6pk. soda bottles 
10 lbs. sugar
5 lbs. boneless ham (I took this from the meat department to the deli and they sliced it free for a HUGE savings over fresh or packaged deli meat.)
1 red onion
4 large avocados
1 coffee creamer

King Soopers - $94.04
Dairy markdowns: 27 individual Greek yogurts, 3 gallons chocolate milk, 4 cartons cottage cheese
2 bags chips
1 pkg. beef for pizza
1 pkg. pepperoni
10 ct. razors - markdown
1 chicken burrito - markdown
1 Hormel REV snack (free - I ate this for lunch while out shopping)
5 Tombstone pizzas
4 sour cream
1 deodorant
2 bottles All laundry detergent
4 12-pks of soda
5 cream cheese
5 lbs. pasta
2 pkgs. hygiene products
3 10 ct. Capri Sun
2 large lasagnas

Costco - $145.74
12 lbs. organic brown rice
4 lbs. butter
2 ct. plastic wrap (1500 sq. ft. total)
3 lbs. sausage
3 lbs. bananas
5 qts. oil
2 qts. Famous Dave's pickles
30 ct. foil pans
5 lbs. ground beef
18 ct. extra large eggs
8 lbs. brown sugar
2 2-box packs of cereal
1 organic tortilla chips
2 lbs. fresh parmesan and romano
1 #10 can tomato sauce, 1 #10 can crushed tomatoes
coupon offers: Golfish crackers, veggie straws, 5 lbs. chicken nuggets, 2 - 3 lbs. bags boneless buffalo chicken

Total to date for February: $333.00 
February 1st Mega Grocery Shopping

Have you tried once a month shopping?  What are the pros and cons you've experienced?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Super Simple Play Tent

For Christmas I wanted to make my little kids something special that they could enjoy together.  Pinterest to the rescue.  I found inspiration here and made them using fabrics I had on hand, which came mostly from a fabulously junky secondhand shop in Nebraska.  It is actually becoming a little tradition for the gals of the family to make it an outing when we are together. 


I used 1/2" dowels instead since our largest drill bit was 1/2" and I didn't want to buy a bit that we would likely not have a use for again.  While I was at it I made one for my nephews and niece.
For one tent:
4 - 1x2" x 4' boards, mine were pine select - $8.00 total
3 - 1/2" x 4' dowels, mine were poplar - $5.04 total
about 2.5 yards 45" wide fabric - on hand

This turned out to be a really fun, simple and economical project with a result my kids love!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Days 26 - 31 and Pantry Challenge Oberservations {Making Do}

Day 26 -
We grilled steaks (they weren't getting better with age in the freezer) for lunch and had leftovers.  I cut meat off the bones and froze the meat for stew, then made broth with the bones and some limp veggies in the fridge. I also wasted food today.  When I emptied the deep freezer last week I moved a package of beef liver to the fridge.  I just couldn't stomach using it in the end, so it went in the garbage.
We're out of packable lunch food.  It was time to pick up a few things for the week ahead, which will involve a little ski trip for two in our family.  I plan on sending sandwiches and a sufficient quantity of junky foods to make it fun for this father/son excursion.  The child who gets to go is often complaining that everything we have to eat around here is "too healthy" (ha!) so hopefully he'll feel loved by my effort to send these treats. 
Safeway - $20.47
1 gallon milk, 2 loaves of bread, 1/2 pound of ham, 1 bag chips, 2 stax of chips, marked down Reeses (a treat for a child who never gets to have peanut butter but will be away from our allergic child), 4 2-liters of soda, 1 Greek yogurt cup
Target - $6.84
licorice, bagels, 1 pound of turkey

Day 27 - I ordered Bountiful Baskets today for pick-up on Saturday
$58.00 for 2 conventional baskets and a "super pack" which is to include fixings for tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, a veggie tray and tropical drinks. 
I was out with my littles and the day had gotten away from me, so we did the drive-thru.
Steak & Shake - $8.58

Days 28-29 - No purchases.

Day 30 - The fridge is very bare and it is not a big fridge. My husband and oldest were gone skiing and the rest of us needed to leave the house at the end of the second day.  I could have probably pressed through, but when you are out of milk, butter, cheese, enough eggs to make a breakfast and oil to make bread, I figured it was getting a bit ridiculous.  So off to Costco we went and bought enough to get us through until I make a detailed plan and shop this weekend.
Costco - $45.52
2 gallons milk, bag of specialty potato chips, frozen soft pretzels (a total splurge for the kids, which is rare), *3 lbs. summer sausage, *8.25 lbs. boneless skinless well-trimmed chicken
*mark-down or coupon offers
Chick-Fil-A - $19.22
There were some additional dining out expenses for our skiers, but this was a pre-planned trip and part of our son's Christmas gift, so I'm not counting this toward the total for the month.  I did pack sandwiches and snacks so they were able to avoid some dining out on their two days away.  

Day 31 - Today I'm looking diligently over the flyers and making lists for each store I will hit this weekend. Thankfully, with the SuperBowl happening there are a number of good sales going on. I'm also making a big menu plan for February to make life easier in a demanding season as my husband is studying a lot.

Expenses since Day 25:  $158.63 Yikes!
Total grocery, dining out, and diaper expenses for January: $461.48

So, obviously I did not achieve my budgeted goal of $240 for the month, not by a long shot.

Some observations about this pantry and freezer challenge:
  • It takes more food than I realized to feed our family of 7.  I was way over budget and our stock of lots of stuff has been depleted so living on even a somewhat reduced grocery budget over the longer-term is not realistic.  It may be time to adjust my expectations on how much is reasonable to spend.  The cost of food has gone up substantially in the last few years at the same time our family and the appetites of our kids have grown.
  • I felt like I was thinking about food and what I needed to make next all the time.  And I really would rather not give so much brain space to feeding my family.  
  • Wondering what kind of meal I can concoct out of a far more limited variety of foods than we normally have on hand is stressful. 
  • I felt that I worked pretty hard at making things stretch and not be wasted this month.
  • With the other demands on our family right now (husband in school plus working full-time, homeschooling and being with my kids all the time, etc.) I need to give myself permission to make meals easier and maybe spend more to buy convenience, most likely in the form of frozen pizzas, sandwich bread and fixings and maybe cereal.  Since when did stuff to make sandwiches become a luxury?  I don't know.  Sometimes frugality clouds my judgment. 
  • Eating out with a family our size is just plain expensive, even for fast food.  It would be better to stock something in the freezer for an easy or fun meal than to eat out.

about half full



 





This seems a bit fuller because of those bulky pretzels I bought on Day 31!
 

Overall, I'm glad I challenged myself in January and for the new realizations.  I hope to carry on with careful records of our grocery purchases throughout the year just to be aware of our consumption and spending.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

$265 Master Bathroom Update

We've lived in this house for 10 years and there is one thing I have hated strongly disliked the whole time: stepping out of the shower onto a bath mat that is on a carpeted floor.  So on the last weekday of our Christmas break I plunged in to making our bathroom over on the cheap.  (Note: if you are a homeschooler, this impulsive project mode is not recommended.  I know the following week, our first school days of the new year, suffered from my lack of focus on school while the bathroom was in various stages of disarray.  Not good.)  To keep this brief I'll let the pictures do the talking and do a brief source and cost list at the end.
Before: cheap chrome lights

Before: orangey oak cabinets and carpet in the shower and vanity area

Before: vinyl in the inner bathroom, beige paint throughout

After: gel-stained cabinets with hardware, new light fixtures, paint, vinyl plank flooring throughout


After: new shower curtain which I sewed from a full flat sheet

After: consistent flooring

Lowes - $55ish (give or take $5 as I can't find one of the receipts)
3 foam brushes
2 flooring transition pieces
toilet wax ring
3 tubes caulking
screws for cabinet hardware
painters tape
quarter round - for the far side of the vanity


Home Depot - $159.61
2 boxes Allure "Barnwood" vinyl plank flooring
2 cottage lantern light fixtures
These lights are a bit of an unconventional choice and may not be the best choice for someone who does their make-up daily, but the shower window provides lots of natural light and the room does not seem dim at all, even after having 8 total bulbs before and now only 2 bulbs to light up the same space. The wire cage is removable if I want to change up the look a bit down the road.
I used a coupon code to save a little and went through Ebates to get a little cash back.

Target - $6.56
2 multipacks of cabinet knobs (bought on clearance months ago)

WoodCraft - $42.97
1 quart General Finishes Gel Stain - Java
1 quart General Finishes Polyacrylic, Satin
I used a coupon code to save a bit off the normal prices.  I have about 3/4 quart left of each one so I'll be able to get other projects out of this expense, too. I did 2 coats with each product.

Supplies on hand
paint - I mixed up about 3/4 gallon plain white semi-gloss with about a quart of Valspar "Sterling Silver" and am mostly pleased with the result.  I would have liked it a little paler or greyer, but free is good.
1 partial box of Allure flooring from our last bathroom project
paintbrush and rollers
white full sheet, grosgrain ribbon and thread to make the shower curtain
white fluffy towels - I bought these a year or two ago when they were 6/$10 at Costco. I was saving them for a spruce-up like this.

Project total: $264.14, give or take $5

I am really pleased with the result for the money we put into this. In the future, maybe I will frame out the mirror, but for now this room is done.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Days 12 - 25 {Making Do}

Day 12 - No purchases.

Day 13 - We usually go out for lunch once a week, but this time I packed a picnic lunch and my husband picked up a bag of chips to complete the meal, not for nutrition, but to make it feel like it was a nice, fun lunch instead of deprivation.
King Soopers - $2.50
chips and a free donut

Day 14 - 17
No purchases.

Day 18
We went to a potluck and I made a dish using what we had, not wonderful, but not terrible either.  I also made whole wheat rolls.  We are glad for the blessing of fellowship.  Then we ran by King Soopers to get gas and I ran in for milk.
King Soopers - $7.96
2 gallons milk and....I'm not sure what else as I can't find the receipt.

Day 19
Budget fail! 4 large pizzas on a football Sunday.  We are getting a little weary of the challenge, Mom was tired of cooking and Dad jumped at the chance to fix that situation.
Papa John's - $32.93

Day 20
King Soopers - $6.10
4 boxes of cereal (marked down), loaf of marked down sourdough (to make croutons), 2 donuts (1 was free)

Day 21 - No purchases.  I cooked up some sweet potatoes which needed to be used, then mashed and portioned them from the freezer.  We sometimes get them in our produce co-op basket but no one in our family loves them, so I try to sneak them in to sauces and soups in small quantities.

Day 22 - Unexpected date night.  These days are hard and we need time out to fortify our marriage sometimes.  We used a gift card, but spent $6 out of pocket at Rock Bottom and $5.39 at Kneaders.

Day 23 -25 - No purchases. The fridge is getting empty.  The deep freeze is empty and has been defrosted.  I made pumpkin bread and fruit salad to bring to church tomorrow.

Purchases since Day 11: $16.56 - groceries
                                        $44.32 - dining out and take-in
Month to date: $302.85

We're in the home stretch now, but it'll be a busy week so I may just need to break down and restock.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Menu Plan #2 {Making Do}

Dinners
Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables
Beef fajitas 
Buffalo chicken salad, whole wheat rolls
Swedish meatballs, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas
Vegetable beef soup (with sweet potatoes and yellow squash with lots of other vegetables), biscuits
Mexican chicken casserole
Broccoli cheese soup (chock full of other veggies, too), whole wheat rolls
Poblano Chicken Chowder, quesadillas
Beef tacos
Brat, vegetable, & pasta skillet
Chili, cornbread
Chicken (freezer) sandwiches on homemade buns, fries
Spaghetti & meat sauce (freezer), french bread, 
Homemade pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and red pepper, tossed salad (x2)

Lunches - served with apples or tangelos
Leftovers (several times)
Quesadillas
Chicken salad sandwiches on homemade bread (x2-3)
Almond butter & jam sandwiches on whole wheat homemade bread

Ham sandwiches on sourdough

Breakfasts - served with fruit and/or homemade yogurt
Oatmeal with apples
Steel cut oats with blueberries
Toast using my homemade whole wheat bread
Pumpkin pancakes with homemade apple cinnamon syrup
Sausage, egg, potato bake

Sweets and Treats
cherry pie or cherry bars
date bars
homemade ice cream with toppings
chocolate chip cookies
cream cheese brownies, fruit slush cups (bring to a gathering)

Since I've already spent the whole amount I had budgeted for groceries for this low-spend month, I hope to follow this plan closely and improvise as needed to avoid wasting food. 


Days 1 - 11 {Making Do}


Day 1
Nothing too remarkable, we ate what we had and didn't make any purchases.

Day 2
I cooked a 20lb. turkey. This is one of those kitchen tasks I really do not enjoy, but yields protein for lots of meals and broth for several soups.  It makes a big mess of the kitchen and really takes all day. So I'm glad that is behind me, and that I don't have any more turkeys in the freezer to handle.  :)

Costco - $109.29
2 boxes of diapers (348 diapers), 1 box of wipes (1120 ct.), #10 can tomato sauce, 3 lbs. bananas, 104ct. dishwasher tabs
(Everything non-edible was in their coupon book, saving $19.50 off normal Costco prices. We were down to the last diaper.  I knew this would be a pressing need before this pantry challenge began and it will make the rest of the challenge more difficult, but such is life.)

Albertsons - $12.50
30 lbs. potatoes, 2 lbs. carrots, 1 bunch celery, 3 lbs. onions, 2 gallons milk

Day 3-5
We ate mostly according to the menu plan and did not make any purchases.  I was glad I had planned turkey noodle soup with the homemade broth and noodles I made as the weather has been super cold and a few of us are battling colds.  It was good to stay in and begin on a bunch of simple master bathroom improvements. I'm taking a slow and steady approach this time. 

Day 6
Chick-Fil-A - $3.50 - Four of us had a lunch date and used up a gift card we had received.
Bountiful Baskets - $68.00, to be picked up on Saturday
2 conventional baskets, 38 lb. box Minneola tangelos,  assorted tortilla pack (2 dozen small flour, 1 dozen large flour, 2 dozen small corn, 1 dozen medium whole wheat, 1 dozen medium flour)

Day 7
No purchases, though I did go out alone for dinner with my allowance after fixing dinner for the rest of the family. My kind husband knows I need time away sometimes.

Day 8
No purchases.  We are now getting low on milk, cheese and butter.  And we haven't had yogurt or rice since the challenge began.  The little bits of snack foods we had are gone, too.  Starting to feel the effects of this challenge.  I was working too late into the evening on our bathroom improvements.  Hooray!  Painting is done.  Flooring is now started.

Day 9
We are now deviating more from the menu plan, just to use leftovers up and not let them go to waste.  I also haven't made bread as much as I had planned, so meals involving bread have been switched to something else.  I gave each of the kids a haircut. I'm thankful we have not ever taken our kids for a haircut by a professional so the expectation has not been set.  The little ones really are not cooperative, but I doubt they'd do much better if I was spending $10-15/kid.
To use up the ends of some condiment bottles I made barbecue sauce.  We love the recipe here.

Day 10
I ordered some fun Curious George items from Zulily* for our little boy's birthday next month using a credit I had.  I think he is going to love the stuff and for just a few dollars out of pocket, that'll make us both happy.   I also went through Ebates* so I may get some change back.  I use Ebates all the time when I'm shopping online for cash back. (*referral links)

Costco -  $35.45
4 lbs. butter, 2 gallons milk, 3 dozen extra large eggs, 40 oz. bag organic tortilla chips, 2.5 lbs. Tillamook cheddar, 2 lbs. mozzarella
King Soopers - $13.23
3 gallons milk (1 organic), 32 oz. strawberry yogurt (a treat for the kids), 32 oz. yogurt (I needed a starter so I could make homemade again), loaf of sourdough bread, individual cup of yogurt (free)
Starbucks - used a coupon and gift card

Day 11
No purchases were made, but we picked up our Bountiful Baskets order. This week's conventional basket included yellow squash, broccoli, grape tomatoes, red pepper, onions, romaine, sweet potatoes, apples, grapes, pears, bananas, and mangoes.   And now our fridge is very, very full.
We also had company for dinner. I made shredded barbecue chicken sandwiches on homemade buns and a huge fruit salad.  Our friends offered to bring something and ended up bringing chips, carrots and dip and a chocolate cake.  No one went hungry.

Total spent for Days 1-11: $241.97
Ugh, that was what I had planned on spending for the whole month.  We'll just have to see how long our current provisions hold out. I'm glad to have a packed fridge with loads of produce.