Monday, November 9, 2009

Snowbound = One Free Week!

Woke up to a snow covered wonderland on the shopping day for our next 10 day venture. My first thought, "Guess we aren't shopping today!" Not that we were truly snowbound, we only received about four inches, but with all that beautiful, untouched snow all over our property, who wants to get in the car and drive to town?! Not us. So we decided to stretch our food supply for a bit. We definitely had enough to get by, so I decided to conduct a little experiment. Just how far could we go?

The answer came as a bit of a surprise. We went another week. Another full seven days
without buying any main ingredients...besides milk and bread. Not too shabby if you ask me. I also took a break from forming a new menu, and went back to some of the meals that were a big hit, as well as a couple of meals that got skipped (due to change in plans, a dinner out, etc.) so no new, new meals this week. For those of you keeping track, this puts us at $240 for 27 days. So, the breakdown is as follows:
$240 - 27 days
$8.89 - each day
$2.96 - each meal
$0.74 - each person!

And besides saving us a little more money on groceries, the snow was beautiful and fun to play in!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Second 10 Days.

I started off the second 10 day meal plan with a bang. I was excited to see if all of my planning, list making, coupon clipping, etc. would actually pay off for more than one week. So it came time for shopping day, and I must admit, I was a little nervous. My list was pretty long...there were a lot of new ingredients to purchase for all of these new meals. But, I was also confident. I shopped with an open mind, looking for the deals and making smart decisions. Again, I paid attention to the per ounce pricing information, and checked my coupons to see if purchasing the name-brand item with a coupon would really save me any money, or if the store-brand would be the better deal. Again, I was surprised at the difference in prices when you purchase say, the giant yogurt tub (at 6 cents an ounce) compared to the individual cups (at up to 40 cents an ounce) Yikes! The same for block cheese vs. sliced or shredded cheese (although on this particular day, the shredded cheese was a great deal, so I got some of that, too). I know I've mentioned this before, but it still amazes me that I never noticed it all that much prior to now. Ignorance is not's expensive!!!

By now, my cart is getting full, and the kids are getting restless (yes, I shop with my children, but if you can shop without, you may save more money. I hear that shopping alone can really help, but alas, that is but a fantasy to me). Their stash of bakery cookies and stolen fruit is winding down and it is time to head to the cashier. As she rings up my purchase, I watch the screen with hope. Can I do this again? Am I really able to save us money this way, or was the last time just a fluke? The total.....$88.98. For 10 days worth of food. Hallelujah!

So, I can do it. I did do it. And this time, we went back to the store once, and had my hubby pick up more milk on his way home from work, so that added to my me, when all was said and done, a grand total of $105.26. $10.53 per day, $3.51 per meal, $.88 per person. I fed my family for 10 days for $.88 per meal. Less than a buck! And we are eating REAL food!! I am not making this up!

The Menu. For this 10 day period, I used the following cookbooks: "Wholesome Meals for Babies and Toddlers" by The Bridgewater Book Company, "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld, and a few recipes from Parenting magazine.

Day One.
Oat Bran Cereal with Fruit.
Turkey Sandwiches.
Meatball Soup.

Day Two.
Rice Balls.
Cheddar Stuffed Turkey Burgers
w/ Sweet Potato Fries.

Day Three.
Double Banana Crepes w/ Coconut Creme Syrup.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
Winter Sausage Casserole.

Day Four.
Yogurt and Fruit.
Hot Dogs and Cheese.
Tomato Gnocchi with Chicken.

Day Five.
Banana Bread.
Cheese Quesadillas.
Turkey Chili.

Day Six.
Banana Bread and Applesauce.
Ham and Cheese Sandwiches.
Moroccan Chicken Couscous.

Day Seven.
Deviled Eggs.
Falafel Burgers.

Day Eight.
Cereal and Fruit.
English Muffin Pizzas.
Macaroni and Cheese w/ Peas.

Day Nine.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins.
Leftover Buffet.

Day Ten.
Muffins and Applesauce.
Turkey Sandwiches.
Chicken Nuggets and Mashed Potatoes.

A Few Observations. I have noticed several things during the 20 days of meal planning. Here are two that are most significant.

We are eating more vegetables. I've always tried to serve a veggie at every meal, but I'll admit, it didn't always happen. And when it came to my food (especially when it was a night when I was eating alone) I ate very little in the way of veggies. The meals that I have been preparing have several veggies in them, and almost all are from scratch, using fresh ingredients. Although I did skip a step or two some nights when we were getting home late, for example: using jarred tomato sauce as opposed to homemade sauce, or packaged gnocchi instead of fresh. I try to keep jars of tomato sauce (organic) around for times like these. On gnocchi night, I used some of the jarred sauce and then the rest later on for the English muffin pizzas. I also keep organic macaroni and cheese boxes when I am really rushed (but I always give it a veggie boost with butternut squash or sweet potato baby food puree, which I also always have on hand). I won't lie and say I stick completely to the menu, because I don't. We often switch meals around or skip it altogether if we just aren't feeling it. So don't be a slave to the menu; it totally takes all the fun out of it.

We don't snack as often. More veggies and more hearty homemade meals equals fuller bellies and less snacking! It has literally been 20 days since I've heard Bobo say, "Mom, I want something to eat." 5 minutes after she just ate. I give them large enough portions, but don't push if they don't finish. I know that the meals are filling and hearty, so even if they don't eat all of the portion that I have given them, they are still full. If we do snack, it's on dry cereal, fruit, or crackers and cheese, but, snacks seem to be fewer and further between.

All in all, I feel that we have made these 20 days very successful. Prior to this, we would have easily spent $400 - $600 on food, and still have been looking for what's for dinner! 20 days + 60 meals + $230 = 1 very happy family!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two For One!

We have been wanting a cat. When we first moved out to the Ranch, we had two cats: Chloe and Zoe. Zoe was the first to "go wild" and then, when we returned from a three week vacation to Baja, Chloe had followed. We've seen them both "on the prowl" around the property, but neither of them has any desire to return to the "domestic lifestyle" that they grew up in. So, it's been a long, long, while since we've had any "cat germs," as my husband calls them, in the house.

When we were in Baja on our last trip, staying at the Grandstaff Guest House in San Quintin, we fell in love with some kitties that had been born in the Grandstaff shed. Now, the mama cat was feral (but sweet), so the kitties were feral as well, but OhSoCute! Of course, I've never met a kitten that wasn't, but that's beside the point. So, we thought and thought about those darn kitties. I really wanted a cat at the house, but to take these babies would mean, um, smuggling them into the US, and well, that really didn't seem like the best idea! Instead of going to jail (or federal prison) over some cute cats, we decided to check out our local Humane Society at home.

Cut to the chase. We decided it was time. Bobo and Mister were ready for a kitty (but would the kitty be ready for us?!). Load up the car and away we go! Off to the Humane Society of the White Mountains. One of our favorite local charities. We donate aluminum cans and shop at their thrift store to help insure that they can keep all of their homeless animals well fed and warm. They are a wonderful organization! Anyway, wouldn't you know it, the special of the month was - "Adopt One Cat, Get One Free!" Who knew there would be a BOGO for cats? I certainly didn't foresee saving money when we set out to find a new pet to love.

We went into the kitten room, and were surrounded by the cutest cats ever! Seriously, it was a cute-fest in there! Not to mention, an allergy sufferers worst nightmare (and I should know, as I am allergic to my favorite type of pet). So, as I'm sneezing, and sniffling, we fall in love with Mouse.

Of course, then there's that BOGO deal. Two cats for the price of one?! What a bargain! So, we decide to bring home Mouse's brother, Squeeker.

So what do you get nowadays at the Humane Society when you adopt a cat? The adoption fee is $45. And for that, you receive TWO cats! Two microchips, two sets of first vaccinations, two spay/neuters, two first month's of pet insurance, two first vet check-ups, one cat carrier and pet toy. Smoking good deal, if you ask me. And what could be better than this? Two new cats + Two cute kids = Tons of love and smiles!

So, if you are wanting a new little bundle of fluff to love, now is the time!! BOGO cats at the Humane Society of the White Mountains! LOVE!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Making Time Count.

Okay, I'm feeling everybody out there. I know that a lot of Mommies "just don't have the time" to do all the preparation involved in my menu planning that I have discussed. Well, while I'm totally feeling for all the working Mommies out there, I'm not totally buying it. It is true that I am home all day with my kids, and that my job first and foremost is to take care of my family, and there aren't many folks who still live this (rather old-fashioned) way, but, even if you only have a little bit of time, make it time worth while. Preparing and eating meals with your family whenever possible truly strengthens the family bond. I'm not trying to sound all "Dr. Laura" on you, but it's true. My best memories of growing up are centered around meals. My mom and dad and I ate together whenever, and it made a world of difference to me.

So, I'm just saying, plan meals that are easy if you don't have a lot of time to prepare them. The actual menu planning only takes a few minutes, as does the shopping list part. You decide the meals and there are a ton of cookbooks out there that are just perfect for the busy lifestyle. Look for ones with "Easy", "Quick" and "Under 30 minutes" in the titles. Trust me, even you can do this!

My very favorite thing about cooking for my family is that I know exactly what they are eating. I control all aspects of it, and I can make it as healthy, organic, etc. as I please. I know my kids would love to eat hot dogs and mac n' cheese every night (I could do that, too, and I HAVE!) but I am in charge of developing their palates, and that just won't do. So they get to eat all kinds of yummy stuff, because I take the time to prepare it for them.

Another thing that I have noticed is that there are some things we just can't stock up on for the entire 10 day period. One of those things is milk. Our family drinks a lot of milk and we go through it like crazy. We also have a pretty small refrigerator (as we are a completely off-grid solar household) and we don't have a ton of room for storing stuff. So, we always keep a stash of UHT shelf milk, as well as powdered milk, on hand for when we run, which we do often. It seems as though the bigger the milk jug I buy, the faster we drink it :) Go figure. So inevitably, we have to make an additional trip to the store at least once. But I still make a list, and only purchase what is on the list. Then, at the end of the 10 day period, I add up all of the purchases to find out what my actual spending was. For this first 10 days, I spent $125 total. So, $12.50 per day, $4.17 per meal, $1.05 per person. So I was feeding my family wholesome, hearty meals 3 times a day for right around a buck (and that includes drinks and snacks as well) pretty good, if you ask me.

So, it can be done. You can feed your family well, even in tough times. And goodness knows, these are tough times. But the key is, don't be fooled by convenience meals. Even something that looks delicious in the frozen food section and only costs $6 or so, can be made easily from FRESH ingredients, without all the preservatives FOR LESS. So, instead of buying a box of Rice-a-Roni for $1.10 and using it for one meal, buy a bag of rice for the same price and use it for 10 meals. Simple. Instead of Hamburger Helper (ack! Have you seen the label on that?) for however much that costs, buy some pasta (cheap!) some meat on sale, and whip up some sauce and you've got a homecooked meal that you can be proud to serve to your family. It just takes a little thought, a little creativity, and a little time, and the rewards are plenty.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The First 10 Days.

The Cooking Part. Yeah that. I guess it's inevitable that when you make a meal plan, at some point you have to do some actual cooking. Now, don't get me wrong. I love to cook. I have fun cooking and it makes me happy to do this for my family. It's the pressure I don't care much for. You know, when it's close to meal time and everyone starts staring at the ONE person who provides the food. Yeah, that's me! And up until I started this meal planning thing, they would all stare at me and I'd look away, wanting to cower in a corner somewhere, because how should I know what's for dinner? Well, I'm the Mommy and I really SHOULD know what's for dinner and for breakfast, and for lunch, and for whenever anyone wants to eat. I should know this because it's my job and it truly is in the fine print of the SAHM Manual. And if I ever get around to writing that, I will definitely share it! But in the meantime, what IS for dinner?!

The Meals. I would love to share exactly what I cooked for the first 10 days, along with the recipes, but I won't. A) it's not that interesting to read and B) they aren't MY recipes, so I can't very well take credit for them, or publish them here without permission. I will, however, tell you the meals and which cookbook they came from so you can do your own research and go out and buy that book. I'm sure that the authors/chefs would very much appreciate the sales. For the first 10 days, I chose meals from one cookbook: "Wholesome Meals for Babies and Toddlers" by The Bridgewater Book Company. Now I have had this book on my bookshelf for over a year and maybe made one recipe out of it. It's a real shame, because this cookbook is wonderful. And it has recipes for every stage of a baby's first year, as well as food that can be enjoyed by the entire family. That was important to me, because I was getting very overwhelmed cooking different meals for the kids and the adults. So I had to change that as well. Of course, your meal plan does not have to do that, and of course, it does not have to follow any of the same recipes. Any recipes work, even your old stand-bys. I just chose to jump-start our meal planning by preparing all new dinner recipes. I thought it would be more fun. Besides, I was bored with the food I always cook.

The Menu. Here is the menu for the first 10 days. If you decide to do the meal plan yourself, there are several sites that offer a template that you can follow. But, seriously, is it that hard to write out on your own? You could even just use a calendar or dayplanner if that is something that already fits into your routine.

Day One.
Bananas, Yogurt, Cereal.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
Beef Teriyaki w/Soba Noodles and Veggies.

Day Two.
Fruit and Yogurt.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches.
Chicken and Apple Bites w/Mashed Potatoes.

Day Three.
French Toast.
Hot Dogs and Cheese.
Green Giant Pesto Pasta w/ Chicken.

Day Four.
Biscuits and Gravy.
Tuna Salad Sandwiches.
Ham and Pineapple Rice.

Day Five.
Yogurt w/ Granola.
Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches.
Pastina w/ Butternut Squash.

Day Six.
Pear French Toast.
Ham and Cheese Sandwiches.
Starfish Casserole.

Day Seven.
Cheesy Potatoe Pancakes w/Corn and Scallions.
Creamy Tomato and Lentil Soup w/ Cheesy Garlic Toast.

Day Eight.
Macaroni and Cheese.
Minestrone Soup.

Day Nine.
Eggs in a Basket.
Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches.
Vegetable and Cheese Pasta w/ Chicken.

Day Ten.
Bacon and Eggs.
Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches.
Ground Beef w/ Apricots.

Now, keep in mind that in our household, my husband gone every third day (he's a firefighter) but I save his portion for him to take to work on his next shift. Or in a pinch (and if they are really, really good) we supplement our dog's dinner with the leftovers (especially if there isn't a whole lot left.) So virtually no food goes to waste. If your family is smaller than ours, simply cut the recipes to make less servings, or freeze the leftovers. If it's bigger, multiply the recipes as necessary.

Of course, there were some meals that didn't please as well as others. And I'm learning that some ingredients or methods of cooking are not everyone's favorite. Take, for example, Bobo doesn't like scallions, and my husband doesn't like gravy thickened with cornstarch. But other than that, the meals were met with few words (lip smacking and mmmm's don't count as words) and even less resistance. And the best part, no one whined about what was for dinner. Not once. Dinner was ready at dinnertime or a bit earlier. Less stress. Less panic. More eating. All for less money (a LOT less) than we normally spent. Success!!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Simple Plan

Really, it is. Simple that is.

The problem arose when I began to make a budget for my family. I know, a budget? What's that? Precisely. My husband and I are the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to saving money. Saving? You mean, we aren't supposed to spend every penny (sometimes more)? Yeah, that. So, this budget thing. I set out to track exactly how much money we were spending and on what. And you know what happened? I discovered that we spend too much. Shocking. But the point is, I knew we could do better. Now, I tried that whole "keep track of every penny spent for a week and base your budget around that" plan. I'm sure it works for some families, but it did not work for us. It sucked. I hated it. My husband hated it. And at the end of the week, we were both VERY irritated. And we didn't learn anything about our spending that we didn't already know. The truth is, we aren't exactly interested in saving every extra cent so that we have a few million when we retire. We aren't even totally interested in saving for our kids college funds (I know, it's awful, but give us a break here, we are still a young family, and we will figure THAT part out eventually). What we really were interested in is paying off our credit cards and not spending so much at the Grocery Store.

So we decided to tackle the Grocery Store thing first. Why? Because it's tangible. We shop for groceries constantly. We have to eat. We like to eat. And we were spending nearly a $1000 in groceries a month. Yes, we are a family of 4. One Mommy (me), one Daddy (my husband, duh!), one 3 1/2 year old girl (Bobo), and one 16 month old boy (Mister). And we were shopping like a family of, I don't know, 6 possibly? 6 adults? Something ridiculous. I was determined to at least make a dent in this overspending. And I was hoping, (praying), that somehow along the way, I wouldn't be reduced to feeding my family rice and beans every night.

So the plan evolved. A simple plan. A way to alleviate that ever-annoying whine around 5 pm, "Mama (although it's really more of a Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!) what's for dinner? I'm HUNGRY!" and me, standing in the kitchen, scratching my head, thinking, "Darn it, I didn't thaw out any chicken. Guess it's hot dogs and mac n' cheese. Wait, no hot dogs, either. Guess it's mac n' cheese!" Ah, mac n' cheese, the always pleasing, dinner saving treat. What would we do without you? But, seriously, when I began to think about it, my kids were eating mac n' cheese WAY to often. Practically every other night. I suck. I can do better. So the plan evolved.

The Plan. And it is a plan. A meal plan. For 10 days at a time. I plan out what we will be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I write it out. I dig through cookbooks. I spot something that sounds good. Something that will appeal to everyone. I write it in the appropriate meal spot. I then make a list. And this is crucial.

The List. Obviously, every meal needs ingredients. Some ingredients are already in my well-stocked kitchen (remember that $1000 a month grocery spending). Some are not. So, I make a list of the items that I need to make these meals. I write them down. I then search through my coupon stash. I must pause here to make a GIANT note: I AM NOT one of those coupon freaks (no offense to anyone that is. I just really don't have time or patience for that. And I can't figure it out. I've tried. That whole CVS thing where mom's end up getting cash back from their purchases or a totally free shopping trip is beyond me. Beside, we don't have CVS here, but I digress). I have a coupon stash. I clip coupons every week and I print them from online. I do want to save money, remember. So anyway, I find coupons that fit the items I need. If there aren't any, I don't sweat it. The real savings will come on the actual shopping day. Here goes.

The Shopping Day. Okay, it's the big day. I am nervous. I am ready. I am thinking, "10 days, 30 meals, 4 people. I should spend about $200. That would be great!" So, I feed the kids and myself first. This is very important!!! I pack them snacks so that they won't grab stuff to eat in the store. We are very guilty of this!!! I grab my list. I grab my coupons. I grab my diaper bag. I grab my wallet, with the ever-important Club Card (don't go shopping without one!). Am I forgetting anything? Oh, yeah, the kids....and we are off. We arrive. We start to shop. We compare prices of all the brands. We opt for the less expensive (when possible...I still prefer buying mostly organic, but sometimes it's not an option). We opt for the larger sizes (especially with cheese and yogurt....this is where you can save tons of $$. Buy the blocks of cheese and shred, slice, yourself. Buy the big tub of yogurt. Compare the "per ounce" price. You'll be shocked. I was.). We buy on sale. We use our coupons. But most importantly, WE STICK TO THE LIST!!!! We check out. I hold my breath. There are a LOT of groceries on that conveyor belt thing. Of course there are! I'm shopping for 10 days worth of food...for 4 people. We receive the total....$110. Seriously? And I had purchased some household necessities, too (like Listerine and deodorant). $110! Yippee! I can hardly contain myself. Feeling pretty good! Now, for the actual cooking part!

First and Foremost : A Disclaimer

As the title proclaims, before I delve into the blogging world, I must confess something: I have no idea what I'm doing. Yes, it's true. I may come across as a Mommy who has it all together, but the truth be told, I DON'T. So, with that said, I want to present my new blog: This Little Mommy Saves Money. I am not claiming to be able to save anyone else any money, so if you are looking for a sure fire, totally fool-proof, easy peasy way to save some cash, you may want to look somewhere else. What I am claiming is that I saved money and I am continuing to do so, and if you wish to try some of what I've tried, then you (most likely) will save some money, too.

What this blog is truly going to be is a record of some of the things that I've tried, some of the things I want to try, and also some of the things I'm avoiding, and why. It is in no way a manual or a textbook on how to live your life and raise your family. It can, however, be a helping hand, a jumping point, a way to get some ideas of your own rolling, and sometimes even, a hilarious break from your everyday.

Again, I will say it (take note, this doesn't happen often) I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING. And I'm loving every minute of it :)