Feeding my Family on $80 for a Month Part I

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By Liz

Last week I announced that I was instituting a Penny Pinching June here at the house since I have felt like we had been “bleeding” money for the last couple of months. I wanted to reign in some of our spending while building our savings account back up to my “I can sleep at night” comfort level.

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I had taken an inventory of our current stock of foods from the pantry, freezer and fridge, did a small amount of stocking up in May on those staple items we seem to plow through and have decided that I would buy nothing else for the month of June and we would be living off of what we already had on hand.

My regular food budget for our family of 7, is approximately $600/month; however my challenge and goal for the month of June is to spend only $80 for the month on the perishables that I know have a much smaller window when it comes to expiration dates, items such as milk, eggs and fresh produce.

You might be wondering how I came up with the amount of $80. To be honest, it was what I had left in my wallet after my last grocery shopping trip in May.  I did however sit down and ran the numbers really quick on the perishable items listed above to see if this was a realistic amount, turns out; it is if I want to reach my goal of saving $500 this month.

As you may have deduced, $80 for the month, equals roughly $20 for the week. That sounds crazy…right?  C’mon…$20 per week for a family of 7 + 3 dogs?  Impossible you might say, well I guess we will find out together.

Thursday’s are my “running day”, the day when I do the majority of my shopping, errands and appointments and this past Thursday was my first attempt at shopping on this small budget. I had a very short shopping list with me that included only my absolute necessary perishables and my $80 in cash. I left all other means to pay (credit and debit cards/checkbook) at home. This day, I had a lot of errands to take care of, so I decided to shop at my local Aldi, which I would be passing on my route home. The entire time I was in the store adding items to my cart, I was doing the math and making a conscience effort not to go over $20. Currently, the price of eggs and milk are pretty low here in Texas, so I am taking full advantage of these particular 2 items that I can never seem to keep on hand with my brood and the rest were purchases that I needed, but looked for the best deal in the store and if it wasn’t within my price range or keeping within my budget…I put it back down.

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Here is a snapshot of everything I purchased that day:

2 packs of chicken thighs

1 gallon of milk

2 packages of mozzarella block cheese

1 container of cream cheese

1 container of ricotta cheese

1 (1) pound package of black forest ham

Bananas

3 dozen eggs

2 containers of strawberries

1 head of cauliflower

3 pounds of onions

My total came up a little higher than I wanted, it was $26.21, leaving me $53.79 for the next 3 weeks, but I am confident I will be able to pull it off.

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In my previous Penny Pinching June article, I said that we would have a monthly menu that included variety, and not just a diet of beans and rice or PB & J sandwiches. Here is what was we ate so far since June 1st until this posting.

Thursday:  Slow cooker corned beef and veggies.

Friday: Loaded Nachos, with beans, cheese, jalapenos, salsa and sour cream

Saturday: We were visiting my sister and brother-in-law, so we were invited to have dinner at their house.

Sunday: Grilled chicken thighs, potato salad and garden salad.

You might be wondering about breakfast and lunch. In our house, we all have different schedules as our kids are mostly teens and young adults, these two eating periods are an “every man for himself” situation. We always have a variety of breakfast and lunch items on hand; plenty of bread and bread like options (bagels, tortillas, English muffins), oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, cheese, eggs, sandwich meat, pre-cooked and frozen meats and pastas (made previously, bagged into portion sizes and then frozen), or the inevitable leftovers from the night before.

As a parent, and provider I have always felt this drive to ensure that my family is well fed and nourished, after all it’s one of our a basic necessities, because of that, we always have a decent size stock pile and selection in our freezer and pantry. And just as I have a certain discomfort level when our bank account drops below a certain amount, I have the same apprehension when it comes to the inventory of food in our home. I have to admit, that as I start this month, I feel as though we are in good shape and I am confident, at this point, I will make my goal, however, it will be interesting to see how I feel towards the end of the month, when my pantry and freezer starts to really look bare and I run out of cash. So I invite you to stay tuned to see how this experiment winds up, won’t you?



50 Pound Weight Loss, 10 Minutes at a Time

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By Liz

No one needs to tell you how to save money, the equation is simple, spend less than you earn. The same common sense formula applies to weight loss, burn more calories than you consume. It is that simple. You have to eat in moderation and you have to exercise.

However, in today’s, quick and convenient world, many of us choose to find the fastest, easiest and in many cases costliest ways to achieve weight loss. Procedures such as; starvation diets, diet pills, meal replacement shakes,  bariatric surgery, gastric bypass surgery, cool sculpting, diet food subscriptions, and the list goes on and on and so do the prices.

weight-loss-04Unfortunately, many of the above named procedures are not always a success story.  For instance, when I worked in the white collar world, I knew of 2 rather large women who had both undergone the costly, surgical route.  While at first, they each seemed to be melting away in front of our eyes, as they had each approached their one year anniversary date of their procedures, their old lifestyle ways were back and so was the weight. They were once again, back to a sedentary lifestyle, in addition to poor eating habits.  Not only did each of these ladies gain the weight back they had lost, they had both gained extra to boot.

I too, like so many, struggle with my weight, I always have and I probably always will.  I never had the resources for any of the above methods of losing weight and I probably never will.

About a year ago, I had to undergo total knee replacement surgery.  No big shocker, at the time, I was overweight and according to my doctor, not by a little, but by about 50 pounds. He had explained to me that generally most patients get this operation done when they are in their 60’s and 70’s because this kind of procedure should really be done only once in one’s lifetime.  Due to me being only in my mid forties, this new knee was going to have to last me the rest of my life and for obvious reasons, the less weight it had to carry, the longer it was going to last me.  So, like it or not I had to lose weight.

I had put the surgery on hold for 3 months, because I wanted to lose at least 20 pounds before going under the knife and what they say is true; it DOES get harder to lose weight as you get older. I have never had an issue with the diet portion of my weight loss battles (except the will power segment at times).  I love to cook, and I have always been able to find or create lower calorie and lower fat food options without sacrificing flavor. Even with this knowledge, I am still aware, that whatever it is I eat, has to be in moderation and it has to be well balanced (you know what I am talking about; imagine the food pyramid image).

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My downfall would always come by way of exercise. I hate to exercise. I can’t say that enough, so I will say it again, I hate to exercise!  I would rather scrub toilet bowls with a toothbrush than exercise.  However, being an intelligent woman, I know I have to. To me, it is a necessary evil in maintaining my health.

When my orthopedist told me I needed to lose weight, I took it seriously and maybe, finally, this was the wakeup call I needed to lose weight and maintain my weight loss for the long haul.  In the past, all of my weight loss attempts had been for pure vanity reasons but now my longevity health was at risk.

Anyone with knee problems will tell you, when you place stress on that joint, no matter how much or how little… it hurts. You might be fine while engaging in the exercise, but afterwards is a pain filled nightmare.  I was limited in the kinds of exercises I could do; this made the whole process even harder.

Swimming is the best option for people with joint problems, however, not everyone has access to a pool and joining a health club gets very pricey. Instead, I invested in an elliptical machine. The motion on my knee was fluent without the shocking impact on the joint that I would have gotten from walking or using a treadmill. So once it was assembled, there it sat in my bedroom, waiting to be used. I can’t tell you how many times I really just looked at that thing and wanted it to just become a clothes hanger, but I knew I had to start using it.

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So one morning I decided it was time to start on this journey. I started off with no resistance setting at all.  I just needed to start moving.  I got on for 10 minutes.  The time went by rather quickly, considering it was so short, yes my knee was a sore afterwards, but it wasn’t horrible.  After lunch, I decided to do another 10 minutes, same feeling, same results, and then another set before dinner.  At the end of the day, I had done it; I had exercised for 30 minutes.  You can probably imagine that the next day, I was in pain! I did not use the elliptical that day, but the following day I did, I felt better and repeated the same 3; 10 minute interval way of exercising and kept up this method for months.

In the beginning, I was using my elliptical 3 times a week, 30 minutes a day in my 10 minute “exercise blasts”. After about 3 weeks of doing this, I noticed my body was starting to get used to the routine, and it didn’t hurt as much.  I decided to try to challenge myself.  I started doing my routine 4 times a week.  My eating habits were also improving and after about 6 weeks of eating well and some regular exercise, I got on the scale to see that I had lost 7 pounds.  I know, a lot of you are saying “that’s it!” But I tell you this, it was a true 7 pounds, it wasn’t water weight so I knew it wasn’t coming back after only a few days.



My surgery was scheduled almost 4 months to the day I originally gone to see my orthopedist, and by that time, I had managed to lose 25 pounds.  I was still only half way to my ultimate goal. The recovery was long and I won’t lie, physical therapy was hard and painful.  I think it was “tough love” on their behalf, because I was so young to have had this procedure, my therapy sessions were rigorous. During that time, physical therapy had replaced my use of the elliptical.  I was going to the therapists’, 3 times a week, for 3 months, plus I was doing some of the exercises they taught me at home. Oh and did I mention that my orthopedist wanted me to be walking at least 30 minutes a day? (Yeah…he was tough). So there I was, each night, my husband by my side and me clinging to my walker, taking a 30 minute walk in my neighborhood and re-learning how to walk.  You can imagine that in the beginning, I was moving at a snail’s pace, it would take me 30 minutes to go 4 houses up and 4 houses back, it did not seem as though I was gaining much ground.  Funny thing though, after a few weeks, I noticed I could go 8 houses up and back in 30 minutes.  I finally lost the walker and in another few weeks and I could make it all the way up the street and back in 30 minutes, and so on and so on, I just needed to stay at it and after some time, I was able to go farther and longer.

I am proud to say that 8 months after my surgery, I had reached my weight loss goal.  I had lost a total of 50 pounds with sheer diet, exercise and time; no magic formula, no weight loss surgery, no starving or depriving myself, no harsh workouts that push me into the ground,  just a plain old common sense approach.

weight-loss-08I am glad to say, that I don’t mind exercising so much anymore.  I just needed to find the right exercise for me, one that I enjoy and doesn’t feel like a chore to me.  I have since replaced my elliptical with a stationary bike (recommended by my orthopedist to ensure flexibility and mobility in my knee).  In addition to using this piece of home equipment, (still in 10 minute intervals…..hey, I’m not a fanatic!) I take regular daily walks with and without my dog, most of the time while listening to music, but sometimes, just to take in the sights, sounds and glory of nature and use it as the “me time” part of my day.

Most people that struggle with weight loss want instant results.  That is unrealistic. Think about it, you didn’t instantaneously gain the weight; it took time to put it on, so why would one think taking the weight off would be different?  I now know and understand the severity of maintaining my current weight and I am fully aware that my lifestyle must contain movement and moderation each and every day all in efforts for a long and healthy life.