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.
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
ham sandwiches
pizza soup
fried brown rice (make rice ahead, freeze, and add veggies & eggs at the time of the meal)
frozen pizza
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
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.