Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I Learned in the Challenge

Participating in Mary's $75 a Week Grocery Challenge (check out the button in my sidebar) has been very enlightening. At the outset of the challenge I stated that this was just the push I needed to permanently cut back in this category.

I honestly never thought I could cut back that far and not feel the pinch. I figured I would deplete my stock pile and go without several items until the month was over. My plan at the end of the month was to raise it up slightly from the $75 and feel like I had a little more wiggle room but probably still feel squeezed.

I am blown away by the results at the end of the month. My pantry has never been so full - ever. I bought diapers, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a special toy for my son, frozen pizza (ironically - a luxury item around here), and many more items we could have lived without (OK - not the diapers!) for the month. I never felt deprived. I felt . . . challenged, and focused, and really excited to see how well I could do it.

I did learn that it takes more time to save more money. I was much more willing to hit a greater number of stores in order to hit the lowest price on something. I spent more time scrounging for coupons for everything I was buying - clipping and arranging A LOT. But, I saved the money. And, right now I have the time and NEED to save the money.

My previous $100/month allotment was a HUGE accomplishment for me when I began to shop differently almost two years ago. I had cut WAY back from my previous spending of I-don't-even-know-how-much. But, I became so skilled at my new way of shopping, that $100/week became quite easy. I was more willing to forgo a sale or skip looking for a coupon. I also gave myself license to buy things with the extra money that really had nothing to do with that budget category (such as clothing or haircuts). Not a huge deal, except that then I really don't have an accurate account of what I was really spending in those categories.

All that to say "THANK YOU!!" to Mary for the challenge. I enjoyed the stretch, learned a lot, and feel much more confident that I can permanently cut back to $75/week and survive - quite happily.
Click HERE to see how all the other challenge participants ended this month.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Last $75 a Week Spending Challenge!!

Here is this week's shopping low down:


1 can green chilis

1 box gallon freezer bags

2 pkgs. paper plates

3 cans veggies

6 cans fruit

4 bottles ketchup

4 Healthy Choice Frozen dinners

1 jar olive oil



1 matchbox motorcycle for 1 middlechild/only boy who needed a special day all his own



4 Chicago Tribunes for extra coupons



3 frozen OJ

2 frozen 100% grape juice

1 can cr. of mushroom soup

1 bottle reduced sodium soy sauce

1 8 oz. block cheddar

3 gallons milk

4 oz. chili powder

3 lbs. Gala apples

3 lbs. bananas



2 boxes quart, expandable freezer bags

1 bag brown rice

1 bunch celery

1 whole farm-raised natural chicken

2 tubs vanilla yogurt

2 cans chili beans

12 jars baby food

2 lbs. pears

1 lb. bananas

3 lbs. Golden Delicious apples



1 bag bean sprouts

2 loaves bread

5 frozen Jack's pizzas



18 cans of tuna

1 Reese's PB cups (for Jason)

1 bag candy corn (for Jason and Sophia)

1 bag caramels (for Jason and me!!)


Total spent for the week - $109.89. Yikes. BUT, I had $18.81 left over from last week AND my $20.00 Kraft rebate came this week!!! So, I had $113.81 left for the month when I started this week. That brings me to $3.92 left to spend (if I absolutely need something). I hope I don't!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

$75 a Week Update

Here is the low down on my shopping this week. Remember I am following along with Mary's challenge to only spend $75 a week on anything I buy at the grocery store (diapers and toilet paper included, etc.)

Meijer - $13.58
Chicken Sausage
2 hand soap pumps
2 pks. paper muffin liners
4 large cans baked beans
2 pkgs. turkey lunch meat
Jewel - $17.37
Boneless pork loin
4 loaves cinnamon raisin bread
4 bags Goldfish crackers
Sam's Club - $19.31
Swiffer sweeper pad refill
Walgreens - $24.49
6 packs of 6 kid toothbrushes (clearance for $1.09/each!!)
2 Angel Soft 12 double rolls
2 adult toothbrushes
9 12oz. bags of Nestle chocolate chips
KMart - -$22.60
I returned 4 Jumbo packs of Pull-ups that we no longer need (YAY!!!!)
Aldi - $4.04
2 gallons of milk
1 dozen eggs
Total Spent - $56.19

Pastry Chef - I am not

Today was a great family day of celebrating Daddy as he turned . . . older. Sophia and I made a cake this morning. She wanted a "tall" cake despite my reminders that my tall cakes usually fall apart in some way. Alright - we'll try again.

I was quite pleased with how things were shaping up with 8 minutes to go on the timer. Counted my chickens before the eggs hatched, for sure. I came back to peek with about 5 minutes to go to discover that BOTH circles of cake were oddly raised - really high - on one side of the pan. Dern it.

I got them out of the pans in one piece - yay. But they each had a lovely divot in them from where the ginormous air bubble used to be in the pan. When we were ready to frost this thing, I did my best to camouflage the pit by aligning the layers just so. No luck. Then I thought - aha! we'll FILL the pit!! I gave the kids two choices - chocolate chips or marshmallows (the big ones - I'm serious about the size of this crater). They went with the marshmallows. Excellent choice. Slice, stuff, frost, douse with sprinkles.

That's what the pros do, right?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crock Pot BBQ Sauce Pork

I made this meal last night and was reminded how much I really like this recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Crock Pot BBQ Sauce Pork

1 can of cream soup (celery, chicken, or mushroom will work) or equivalent of homemade
1 C. of BBQ sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 large onion chopped
garlic powder
pork chops

Place the pork chops in the bottom of the crock pot. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and a little garlic powder. Sprinkle with chopped onion. Mix the soup, BBQ sauce, and soy sauce together and pour over chops. Cook on high for 30 minutes, then turn the crock down to low for 4 1/2-5 hours.

I usually put my crock pot meals together around lunch time, but you could easily throw this together in the morning and cook it on low all day.

I served the chops with lots of sauce poured over the top, oven baked fries, and broccoli. Delicious!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This Week's Plan

I have finally completed my new 6 week Rotating Meal Plan. I will be posting in the next couple of days to keep you going on the path to creating your own!! I am actually starting the plan on Plan #1, Week #2. It made the most sense for the groceries I have on hand already. I am still challenging myself to spend $75/week or less on groceries, household and personal items (including diapers). So far, it has been difficult but doable. I think I will adjust in time. Here are the meals I have planned this week:
Crock Pot BBQ Sauce Pork, Roasted Potatoes, green veggie
Sloppy Joes (with a shredded carrot snuck in the mix) on homemade Pumpkin Rolls, green veggie
Baked Penne and Spinach, bread, fruit
Black Beans and Rice, veggies
Tuna Melts, veggie, fruit
Pizza and Movie Night
Waffles, Homemade Blueberry Syrup, yogurt, sausage
That's the plan - and I plan on stickin' to it for a change. What do you have planned? Follow along with other Menu Plan Monday participants at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Giveaway Alert!!

Kelly over at The Morris Tribe is giving away a copy of Mary Ostyn's book "Family Feasts for $75 a Week" - head on over there and poke around. And don't forget to sign up to win this great book!!

Stickin' to the Plan

What a wonderous thing it is to actually stick to the meal plan that I created earlier this week. Tonight will be spaghetti, tomorrow will be tacos, Saturday will be pizza and movie night, and Sunday is soup.

OH - how freeing!! I may even have time to make that bread we've all been dreaming about around here. . .

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mega Spending Challenge Anyone?

Day 14 of the $75 a week spending challenge. I am wondering if there is some crazy group of bloggers out there who are doing the opposite challenge - the "How Much Money Could I Possibly Spend in the Month of September?" challenge. I think I would feel ill after reading the first 3 links. I am quite happy pinching my pennies.

After thinking I was going to blow the budget last week, things actually turned out quite well. I never did make it to Walmart, thus saving all the money I was planning on spending there. And, I was kinda dumb when I was calculating my totals last week and included a Walgreens purchase that was not actually for me. Yay. So I was able to subtract $15.40 from last weeks total. But then of course I needed diapers. Always the diapers. So add back in $19. After all that adding and subtracting - I basically came out just a tiny bit shy of $75. And I didn't feel deprived at all. Amazing.

This week is going quite well. You can find my meal plan for the week and a couple recipes here, and here is what I spent to make that happen:

Jewel - $0.79 This was 2 loaves of bread, bananas, peaches, nectarines, and grapes. I used my Register Reward coupons from Walgreens to bring my total down to almost nothing.

Walmart - $32.96 Blasted Walmart. I was able to price match a few things though, which always makes me happy. And makes the people behind me in line a little annoyed : (. Sorry. I bought a gallon of vinegar (for cleaning), 2 gallons of distilled water (for the fish bowl), 1 roasting chicken, 1 bag yellow onions, 2 cans of low sodium beans (finger food for baby with no teeth), ricotta cheese (also for baby food), 3 vats of vanilla yogurt, bananas, All You magazine (that counts as a staple, right?), 2 frozen pizzas (price match and coupon), apples, and 18 jars of baby food (I do make a lot of her food, but not all of it - time to stock up).

Aldi - $15.24 This was 2 gallons of milk, 12 eggs, 1 can refried beans, tortillas, lettuce, strawberries, 4 cans frozen juice, and 1 bottle of parmesan cheese.

Walgreens - -$1.58 The diapers I bought on sale last week went on an even better sale this week, so I brought my receipt back to get the difference. Woo hoo!



Which means I have $27 left to spend at Meijer this week to stock up on some great sale items.


I spent $20.21 at Meijer today and $8.39 at Target yesterday, bringing my grand total for the week to $76.01. I know I can make up that $1.01 next week!

How did everyone else do this week?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ironic Chili Recipe

I plan on roasting a chicken this week and then later in the week I will use the leftover chicken in this amazing White Bean Chicken Chili. Ironically, the recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker's Vegetarian Cooking, and decidedly UNvegetarian. I am not complaining though because it is definitely a family favorite.

White Bean Chicken Chili

2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 c. chopped fresh or 1 t. dried basil leaves
2 15 oz. cans, or 4 c. chicken broth (you could use veggie broth to go vegetarian)
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (or nice sprinkle of dried)
2 t. chili powder
1 15 oz. can Great Northern beans, undrained (2 cans if omitting the chicken)
1 medium tomato, chopped

1. Melt butter in pan with olive oil. Cook onion and garlic until onion is tender. Stir in remaining ingredients except tomato.

2. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Serve chili topped with fresh chopped tomato.

Very easy, and can usually be made with things I have in the pantry and freezer. Make it earlier in the day, or the day before, for a night you need a quick meal but dinner time will be hectic.


This Week's Plan

I am excited about this week's meals. For no particular reason. They look a lot like any other week around here. Maybe I am just excited about the impending change of season and reason to make chili more often. And bake bread. YUM. I am trying to stick to things I already have in my pantry, and just filling out the menu with a few items from the store. Here is my plan so far (always subject to change!):


Classic Spaghetti, bread, green veggie

Blueberry pancakes, homemade syrup, scrambled eggs, yogurt

Tuna Melts, tomatoes, green veggie

Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob (Those foods are all the same color, which annoys me, so I'll probably have to throw in a green veggie as well.)

Tacos, fruit

Pizza, carrot sticks

White Bean Chili, bread or corn muffins


Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip muffins, baked beans, cheese/yogurt, fruit

Soup, crackers, cheese/yogurt (There was a time when 2 of my kids liked to have shredded cheese IN their yogurt - so glad that phase has passed. Ew.)

PB & J, fruit, pretzel sticks

M & C, veggies


Granola bars, cheese/yogurt, fruit, veggies

Apples & PB, crackers, cheese/yogurt

That about does it. Stop on over at I'm An Organizing Junkie to see what other families are eating this week!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chili - Can I Call it a Recipe?

Tonight we scrapped the usual pizza, in favor of "Chili and Movie Night." Equally great. I wanted to share my chili recipe since it is SO EASY, and people rave about it. It isn't even a recipe, so much as an opening of a few cans.

1 32 oz. can Brooks brand MILD chili beans (I go for the mild, because I like the flavor better, and there are several other ways to add heat if that's what you are looking for)
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb. ground turkey or beef
Chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste

Chop the onion. Cook the onions and brown the meat at the same time in a large pot. Add chili powder and ground pepper as it cooks. When the meat and onions are cooked, open up the cans of beans and tomatoes and dump them in the pot. Simmer and stir every once in awhile for about 30 - 60 minutes. Taste and add seasonings as you like.

That's it. Seriously. And every time I make it people ask me for the "recipe." ENJOY!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Make Up Your Minds, Kids

Tonight I planned to serve pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage. Earlier today I cleaned out my freezer and found an entire meal's worth of frozen pancakes. Fantastic - now I don't really have to MAKE them. Love that.

During the clean out, I also discovered that I have depleted my stock of sausage links. Shoot.

So, I was glad I had eggs to scramble. But I NEVER know how many to make. 2 adults, 4 kids. Well, 3 kids eating eggs. It never fails that if I make 8 eggs, the kids let them grow cold and lifeless on the edges of their plates. If I make 5, everyone suddenly wants 2 and 3 servings and they are splitting the last morsel in 3 pieces to make things fair. And looking hungry. And sad. Tonight I went with 7 eggs. Mostly because that is how many I had cracked when I didn't feel like cracking another.

And guess what - not enough. So next time I'll think back to tonight and make 10 eggs. And have enough left over to feed the neighbors. I just can't win the "how many eggs?" battle.

$75 a Week Update

Can I buy a chicken, a tube of kid toothpaste, fruit for the week, and 3 tubs of yogurt for under $5? Dang. So, I guess that means I'm going over budget for the week.

I just couldn't stay away from the great General Mills deals at Jewel this week. But, like Mary said in this post, it doesn't seem prudent to pass up REALLY INEXPENSIVE cereal, soup, granola bars and frozen veggies just to stay under budget by a few dollars this week. I do need to think long term a little bit.

So far, though, my major downfall this week was Walgreens. Yikes - did I really go wild there.

Here is my running total for the week:

Walgreens - $53.46 (ouch)
Jewel - $6.83
Aldi - $10.14

Total - $70.43

I still need to go to Walmart to gather the above items to ride out the week. OR - I could serve granola bars and soup for dinner one night instead of chicken. Trust me - it's scarily tempting.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

As the saying goes, "Desperate times call for desperate measures." These are desperate times, Ladies. We have seen a DRASTIC reduction in income this past year and it is time to cut back. Again. Even further.

I am trying to cut back to $75/week for all grocery/household/personal items for our family of 6. This means staples and eating from the pantry. A lot. I'm looking forward to it though, because I have some yummy meals planned despite the restrictions. Here we go:

Dinners this Week:

Homemade Pizza, fruit
Tuna, Spinach and Rice Casserole (Jack's FAVORITE meal!), bread, fruit
Chili, cheese and crackers/corn bread
Blueberry Pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs
Roasted Chicken, potatoes, corn on the cob
Popcorn, smoothies, and veggies and dip
Classic Spaghetti, bread, peas

Lunches this Week:

PB & J, fruit x 2
Banana Chocolate Chip Oat muffins, baked beans, cheese and fruit
M & C, green beans
Grilled cheese, fruit
Leftover pizza
Cheese and crackers or PB, fruit, yogurt

I really do plan to make 2 loaves of Oatmeal Wheat Bread this week. Really. It is SO WORTH the effort - I just have to carve out the time. And clear off the counter.

Join in the Menu Planning fun over at OrgJunkie! Or, just snoop around there and see what others have planned. No pressure.

$21.54 to Go

I usually try to keep all of my shopping local unless there is a screaming deal worth the gas money and time to drive farther. This means I do my weekly shopping at Walgreens, Jewel, Aldi and Walmart.

I buy the free and cheap items at Walgreens and collect my Register Rewards. The Register Rewards are like money to be spent at Walgreens the next time I go there. However, since my next stop is almost always Jewel (which has no problem taking the Walgreens RR as coupons), I just spend my RR there. Then I don't have to worry about them expiring when I forget that I have them next time I go to Walgreens!

This week's Walgreens trip is pictured above and includes:

8 Crest toothpastes

2 Glade Sense and Sprays

2 Glade candles

4 Carefree Ultra Protection liners

3 AAA Duracell batteries

1 AA Duracell batteries

4 Reese's giant candy bar thingies (which I will have to hide to keep Jason from eating by the end of the week)

My total OOP was $43.30 and I got $39 in Register Rewards to use at Jewel.

This brings my original $75 for the week down to $21.54 (including my shopping trip earlier this week). I will hit Jewel and perhaps Walmart tomorrow. And by hit, I do mean "shop at" not rob. Aldi will have to wait until Tuesday, as their lucky employees get to enjoy the holiday.
I think I can get it done with the money I have left. We shall see.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Hot Dog Fairy

Another way I avoided spending today was the fact that my mom ran to Walmart for me this afternoon. And took two of my girls - BONUS. We do this often for each other, and we just keep track of what we owe and make good by the end of the week. Works for us.

I had asked her to pick up a loaf of bread for me. Ordinarily I would have made do without until my regular Monday shopping trip, but we have a Block Party tomorrow afternoon and evening. I could have gotten creative and whipped up something, but PB&J just seemed like the way to go. So I wanted bread.

But, my mom was feeling picnicky and opted for hot dogs and buns. And then she thought we could use some grapes. And apparently the girls shrilled when they noticed ice cream cones, and somehow they ended up in the cart : ). I started to sweat a little when I saw all of the unasked-for purchases unfurling on my island. I cheerfully said, "What do I owe you?" To which she answered, "Don't worry about this one. My treat."

Gratitude. Relief. Still $289.84 to go.

Spending Less Challenge - Day 4

Another day with no spending. It was a close call though. Jason worked out of the house today for the first time in about 10 months. Threw us for a loop. Back in the office days, I used to pack his lunch. And get up early : ). Well, those days are well behind us, so I was out of practice on both counts. I did not see him off and panicked around lunch time when it occurred to me that he may at that very moment be spending our $75 for the week on a cheesy take-out lunch. I vowed to be understanding. Thank goodness that, although he too was quite groggy this morning, he remembered to pack a lunch.

Lessons to take away from that:

1. Plan ahead to make sure your husband/children aren't tempted to blow the budget when the noon time hunger pangs hit.

2. Make sure you have drilled it into their heads that you cannot afford to spend the $75 for the week on one day's lunch.

I did neither, and thankfully it worked out in our favor. Whew. Way to go, Jason!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

6 Week Rotating Meal Plan - Step 4 Part B

If you haven't been following along and need the previous steps, click here and get caught up.

Step 4 continues. This is the big one - actually writing the meals in the plan. It can be a little intimidating to look at so many blank boxes, but take it one step at a time. There are many aspects of your life to consider as you do this.

1. Consider your budget. Don't include too many meals for which you can't regularly afford the ingredients. Common sense, right? Work with the money you have available to create meals you really enjoy making and eating.

2. Consider your schedule. This means work, travel, church, school, etc. Any outside obligation that may interfere with either meal prep or meal time. Plan for those nights as much as possible with make ahead meals, crockpot recipes, or dishes that are easily reheated.

3. Consider your shopping routine. If you always shop on a certain day of the week, plan to cook or freeze your fresh meats within a few days. If you shop on Monday, and plan to cook a roast on Saturday - stick it in the freezer for a couple days in between. Just don't forget to take it out : )!

Thinking about what your normal routine looks like, and preparing for the activities that can easily throw you off your "meal game" really helps you stick to the plan. This is why doing the work to create a PLAN JUST FOR YOU is so important. No one else has your budget AND your life!

Get as far as you can with these tips in mind. My next post will get your creativity flowing to finish your plans and really make them special for you and your family.

3 Down, 27 to Go

I did not spend any money today. Thank goodness. Suddenly I am very conscious of this, now that I have publicly stated that I am trying to cut back.

I had to will the van past Walgreens tonight to NOT go in and work the deals.

Whew. What is it today, September 3rd? So I have 27 days left and I still have money in my pocket.

I can do this.

Want to join us? Check out the button in the sidebar!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

$289.84 to Go

I'm going to be really annoyed with myself if I get to the end of the month and can't buy milk and fruit because I just spent $10.16 on non-essentials. If that is the case, it will be a lesson well worth learning. I made my first shopping trip since I started this challenge. A few questions I should ask myself as I ponder that trip:

First, why did I even go shopping when I don't normally shop at all except on Mondays?

Why did I go and buy things that I do not need and could have lived without, for sure?

Answering those questions gets at the root of why I haven't cut my budget back before now. It is SO HARD for me to pass up a deal. Deals are great, but not if I am spending money I don't have to get them.

Finding a happy medium needs to be my goal. I need to buy the items we need every week (milk, yogurt, fruit, bread, eggs), use any leftover money to stock up on deals, and be satisfied with the deals I can get with the money I have. Period. So much easier said than done.

Stay tuned . . .

$300 to Spend for the Month

I am following along with Mary, over at Owlhaven, and cutting my spending back for the whole month of September. I normally spend $100 per week on grocery/household/personal items, but I know I could do it for less. It would require more discipline (and less buying), and thus I have avoided cutting back. Well - NO LONGER!!

Hopefully, at the end of the month I will be used to a new, lower monthly amount of $75 per week. In that case, I can keep the $75 going, or I can raise it a little (maybe $80) and suddenly feel like I have a little more wiggle room. We'll see how it goes.

I am well stocked right now on most things, so that will help tremendously. I will need to buy diapers this month. BUT - only for 1 child!!!! 2 year old Elise is officially potty trained and that is a big relief in so many ways. Jason has a birthday in September, but to be honest we don't usually buy things for each other on our birthdays anyway. The kids and I will make and decorate a cake, make fabulous signs, and sing our hearts out. Free. Perfect.

Before deciding to follow this challenge, I made my usual Monday shopping trip and spent $100. While it was technically done in August, all of the food was for this week. Dilemma. Since there are still 4 Mondays in September, I feel like it will all work out even in the end. SO - $300 for the month. Crossing fingers. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

6 Week Rotating Plan - Step 4 Part A

Do you have your list from Step 3? Great! Let's keep planning . . .

Getting Started on Step 4:

Step 4 is the longest and most difficult to finish. This first Step 4 post will get you started. I will follow this post with several more that will guide you through Step 4 and make it very doable.

First, you will need to make a chart or a simple list that works for you. Something that has a spot for the day of the week and a spot to write down what you plan to serve that day. You'll need one for each of the 6 weeks we are planning.

Now - take a deep breath - start filling it in. Just start, and plan to tweak as you go. USE PENCIL.

This step is going to take the longest, and is definitely the most taxing. BUT, do not lose heart!! At the end of Step 4 you will have a meal plan that you can use for months or even YEARS to come. Speaking from experience it is WELL WORTH the effort now.

My next several posts in this series will guide you through how to choose your meals, what to consider and what to include.

Keep going!!

$75 a Week Grocery Challenge

One of my favorite bloggers has sent out a challenge this month, and I hope I am up to the task! Mary over at Owlhaven has begun a $75 a Week Grocery Challenge for the whole month of September. Yes, ANYTHING you normally buy at the grocery store is included: toothpaste, toilet paper, cleaning products, shampoo, food, etc. And Mary has 1 husband and 10 children (8 of whom live at their house full time). Go Mary!

I only have 1 husband and 4 kids. Should be easy, right? Well, we'll see. But, I am willing to try. Of course as soon as I mentally committed to doing this, I began to dream about all of the things I want and will not be able to buy. This should not come as a shock to my system since I have really tried to cut out all unneccessary spending since Jason lost his job last November. I still dream about the day when I will be able to buy amazing smelling bathroom soap that doesn't come in a 5 gallon jug . . .

Let the challenge BEGIN!!

Follow along with all of the other ladies who have taken on this challenge HERE.