Feeding my Family on $80 for a Month Part II

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By Liz

If you are just tuning in, feel free to check out Part I of this series.

So how did I do this week with only $53.79 of my $80 for my Penny Pinching June?

Well, not too bad. Earlier in the week I was prepping for dinner shortly after lunch, since my cutting board and knife were already out, when I discovered I was missing a key ingredient for dinner.  So with a lot of hemming and hawing, I broke down and went to the store for the one ingredient I needed.

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I needed Parmesan cheese for the lasagna rolls I was making that evening, and even though I could have probably omitted it from the recipe, I use a lot of Parmesan in many of my recipes, (comes with being Italian, I guess).  While in the store, my two options were the large container for $4.84 or the smaller container for $3.98, even though I knew I was on a strict budget, buying the larger container was still the better price per ounce, so I hesitantly ponied up the $4.84 for the larger container.  On a side note here, later that afternoon I had emptied the dryer to fold clothes and found $2.36. We have a standing rule in the house that it is “finders; keepers” in regards to money found in the dryer, so I added the $2.36 to my cash budget for food, thereby only costing me $2.48 for the Parmesan.

 


I went to Aldi again this week because I knew the kinds of fresh produce I needed for the upcoming week was going to be comparable in price versus Winco, the store I alternate with Aldi, however Aldi is slightly closer to my house, so I went there again.

Here is a snapshot of everything I purchased that day.

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2 gallons of milk

2 packages of strawberries

3 pounds of apples

1 block mozzarella cheese

1 block Swiss cheese

4 peaches

2 cucumbers

3 pounds of bananas

1 package of green onions

2 pounds of white onions

1 quart of half and half

2 dozen eggs

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My total came up to $19.21, and with the extra $2.36 from my dryer score, I still have $32.10 for the next 2 weeks.

As mentioned before, we are not living on rice, beans, peanut butter and jelly or breakfast for dinner (you will rarely ever hear me mention that as an option, as my husband despises breakfast for dinner).

So what did we eat for the week? Here was our menu:

Monday: Lasagna rolls; mozzarella/tomato/pesto Paninis.

Tuesday: Steaks on the grill; au gratin potatoes; grilled corn on the cob; fresh baked bread.

Wednesday: Grilled cheese and tomato soup (ok…I phoned this one in on this particular evening, but most everyone was out for the evening, so it was just me and one of my sons).

Thursday: Rustic Pork Ragu over spaghetti; pita/garlic bread; Caprese salad (basil and tomatoes from our micro garden were used in the salad).

Friday:  Dijon/garlic and lemon salmon; green onion and garlic quinoa; lemon cauliflower.

Saturday: Spinach and Feta cheese sausage and fresh veggies (bell pepper, tomatoes & zucchini from our micro garden) served over brown rice.

Sunday: A quick and easy one pot jambalaya.

So that is how I measured up this week, to be honest, when I was at Walmart for the Parmesan cheese, I felt slightly disheartened seeing many good discounts in their bakery and meat departments, knowing I had to pass them up because all I had on me was my small cash budget that I have to make stretch, BUT that is the purpose of this exercise…right? Well, that and saving $500 cold hard cash.

Stay tuned to see how I do next week.

 


 

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?



Food Subscription Boxes

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By Liz

Talk about all things trendy.  If you haven’t seen or heard about food subscription boxes yet, then you must be living under a rock. This is not a new concept, I mean, take Omaha Steaks for instance…they have been around since 1917.  But nowadays you can get just about any kind of food, delivered to your door with easy step by step instructions, with little to no waste and without the hassle of visiting your grocery store to pick up the ingredients.

Types of boxes available are fruits, vegetables, and snacks, jerky, chocolate, bacon, cheese, full meals, seasonal, regional and the list goes on and on.

Sorry to say, I think this trend, is a waste of your hard earned money!

We as a society already spend so much money on food, whether going out to eat or at our local grocery store(s), so it seems to me that this kind of service is really irrelevant.  However, like most trends, these companies are trying to convince you, that you need their product to be hip, trendy, creative, and money savvy; but do you really need their help?

I decided to do some research on these companies, because many of my fellow, “frugal” bloggers have wonderful things to say about them, (although, I personally believe that if you are calling yourself a “frugal or money saving” blogger and promote or purchase these kinds of subscriptions…..you’ve missed the mark).

There are so many companies trying to cash in on this latest trend, it is overwhelming, so I decided to just concentrate on just produce boxes, but most of this information also applies to most of the other subscription boxes and this is what I have discovered:

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1. Many are locally based, so they might not deliver to your zip code, or you will be paying very high shipping costs for this convenience.

2. Your going to pay for this kind of convenience, anywhere from $11 to $110 (and these are prices for produce boxes).

3. Most offer both traditional or organic products.

4. You really don’t get what you pay for. If you were to do a price comparison, you would see that in most cases, you are paying double and in some cases, triple what it would cost you at the grocery store for the same or very similar products.

5. Packaging can sometimes be environmentally unfriendly. Some of the organic products being purchased, come packaged so as they are not bruised or damaged; all well and good, but many of the materials used for packaging, are not good for mother earth. (Ironic…..huh?)

6. Some of the produce subscription services are selling “recovered”, produce, meaning fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to eat, but would have otherwise been thrown away. It’s often discarded because of aesthetic imperfections or logistical inefficiencies. They don’t try to hide this; in fact, for some it is on the main page of their website.




So it has been pointed out to me is that these kinds of services  are helping local farmers and business owners  not to mention the convenience it brings to the consumer of not having to go the store to pick these items out for themselves.  My argument is this….you have to go to the grocery store anyway, right? So while you are there picking up the myriad of other items on your list, why aren’t you taking a few extra minutes to purchase fresh, traditional or organic produce from the same place you shop in the first place?

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It has also been argued that these kinds of services offer more natural choices, help many with diet restrictions due to health, and offer step by step instructions with just the right amount of ingredients to make a gourmet meal at home.  My argument for this is the following:  just about everyone owns or has access to a cookbook, (these resources also come with step by step instructions) or the internet, which offers an endless supply of recipes.  Natural and organic produce can be found not only at your local grocery store(s), but also at specialty stores and especially local farmer’s markets.

No matter how old I get, I am always looking for ways to save money, as much money as I can, because my dream is to retire with my husband somewhere close to the ocean and be able to travel, volunteer, relax, and really to just wake up on any given day and do whatever we want, when we want.  We don’t want to realize one day that we don’t have enough for our retirement, and we have to keep working until we are 75 or 80 years old, or that any one medical condition that myself or my husband might encounter down the road, will wipe us out financially.  So we are all about saving as many pennies as we can for as long as we can. My husband and I are both foodies, and we both enjoy cooking, but we also know that, throwing money away on the latest band wagon of what is hip and trendy today, will not help us achieve our goals for tomorrow.

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If you too are financially conscience, and not only want to eat healthy, but well; I suggest that rather than subscribe to one of these, trendy, overpriced and under stocked box services, you should take a little time each week, plan out a few meals, list your ingredients, purchase only what you need for these dishes and keep the money you have saved in your wallet.




Why I Don’t Coupon

 

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by Liz

We have all seen or at least heard about couponing and extreme couponing, where everyday people have been able to save anywhere from 40% all the way up to a staggering 90% off of their grocery bill by means of clipping some coupons and following their local grocery store sales.  To these folks, I say, congratulations!

A few years back, I too, jumped on this bandwagon, hoping to save myself and my family of 7 buckets of cash while amassing stockpiles of items we would not have to re purchase at full price at an inopportune time in the future.

Here is what I experienced:

1.  In order to maximize and accumulate the quantity my family would need of any one particular item, I would need multiple coupons for the same item.  No problem, I just picked up more than one Sunday paper with coupons at my local Dollar Tree for $1.00 per newspaper (our Dollar Tree has a 5 quantity limit). The alternative to this was to print coupons at home, however, it would cost me more in paper and ink to print up multiple coupons, and some of the coupon companies would set a limit of only 2 print out per device, thereby, having me jump from one computer to another to be able to print what I needed.

2. After gathering all my coupons, I would then spread them out over my living room floor combining duplicates and then separating them into like categories; i.e. dairy; cleaning; beauty; snacks; etc…

3. Then I would have to cut them all down to size and put them all together in my storage system,  I had chosen the 3 ring binder/baseball card pocket storage, as I thought this would be the easiest to carry around and shop with at the grocery stores.  However, before filing these little beauties away, I would first have to “weed” out all my expired coupons, and their always seemed to be a lot of them that I had not used and I had to toss out.

4. Later that day, I would pull out the local grocers sales flyers from the week to start to match up sale items with coupons, giving me the lowest prices I could find on any given item.  This was an ongoing step in this process, because unlike in the North East of the country where the store’s sales run from Sunday to Saturday, here in Texas, the sales run from Wednesday to Tuesday, for this reason alone, there was always more than one trip to the stores in any given week, (this is marketing genius on behalf of the grocery stores.)

5. After gathering my coupon binder, I would head off to seek my treasures, I would then be stopping in at least 2 to 3 stores at least twice a week to cash in on my savings and reap my rewards.  Usually upon leaving the store, I would check my receipt, I would generally save, somewhere in the ball park of 40%, not nearly the savings as bragged about by self appointed “coupon mavens”, but week after week, I would be at it again.

6. Once I got my items home, I needed to find a place to store them.  At the time, the 7 of us were living in a 1600 sq. ft. home, and it seemed as though the kids were growing all the time.  For this reason, I asked my wonderful husband to build me some shelving out in our garage, which he happily did.




After only a few months of this ritual of savings, I had acquired quite a large, over-flowing stock pile of goods. Most of the items were health and beauty items, which we kept in our garage in our then, new, elaborate shelving system and most of the food and pantry staples were kept in our tiny kitchen storage system.

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I was feeling mighty proud of myself at the time and was pleased in knowing that if anyone of my family members needed to replace their toothbrush, deodorant or any other product, all they had to do was go “shopping” in our stash, which I had purchased at a discount.

Here is what I actually learned:

1. My time is precious and valuable.  After only a couple of weeks, I learned I dreaded Sundays.  Spending hours of my time going through this crazy, couponing cycle, only to save an average of about 40% was disheartening, when I was striving for a larger savings.

2. Most of the items, I obtained due to couponing we hadn’t ever really needed or used. The only reason I bought most of the items instead of my usual brands, was because there was a coupon being offered.

3. My family never learned to live the motto of “a little goes a long way” because psychologically they knew there was an endless supply of items, so there was never any thought of how to conserve anything.

4. When my stock pile would start to look sparse, here or there, I would start to panic and get anxious, so I would usually go out of my way, with an additional trip to the grocery store(s), on top of the 2 times I was already going per week, just to replenish my vast inventory, thereby spending even more of my time and my money.

5. We did not have the storage space to keep this “hamster on a wheel” way of shopping up.  If you were an outsider looking in, we looked like a mom and pop general store or a family of hoarders at least that was certainly the way I had started to feel.

6. In the end, when me moved from our 1600 sq. ft. home, we looked at our couponing treasures, and there was a lot of it, we decided to donate most of it to families that were in need.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of “couponers” who donate much of their goods, and I feel like my family and I are very blessed, so we had no qualms about giving to those in need.

7. I have since gone back to my original way of shopping which include:

a. Shopping  at my local Winco and Aldi food stores, both of which offer the lowest prices, compared to the other, larger grocery chains.

b. Buying in bulk.  My Winco has a wonderful bulk section, so I can stock up on nuts, cereals, beans, grains, rice and even candy if I so choose.

c. If I am in my local Walmart, Albertson’s or Tom Thumb stores, I will always swing by their discounted sections to see what kind of deals they have.  I have been able to purchase discounted, but still wonderful looking meats, cheeses, pastries and breads at each of these stores.




My now stock pile(s) only have a 1 to 2 item reserve on any given item, sometimes less. I am ecstatic to say the least, as I do not have to look at all that clutter not to mention, I have regained control of my Sunday’s and now use that time to spend with my family enjoying our life and our home together.

And the most important:  I shop only once a week.  By limiting my trips, I save time, gas and money and who can’t use more of those?