I’m Changing the Way I Approach Meals (And Saving Money In The Process)

Cutting down on the grocery bill is always a goal of mine.

With a few significant extra expenses in the last few weeks (some expected and some unexpected) combined with my husband losing his job a couple months ago, cutting back everywhere I can is higher on the list of priorities than ever.

We have eight mouths to feed right now. There’s me and my husband. Then a 17-year-old, 12-year-old, 11-year-old,  8-year-old, 7-year-old, and 5-year-old. The three younger kids don’t eat massive amounts of food. But the other three kids eat a lot.  A LOT. They are growing and doing sports and it seems that they are burning off more calories than they can keep in their bodies.

So we need a decent amount of food.

I try to stick to a $250/ week grocery budget. This budget includes other things, too. Laundry detergent, toiletries, cat food, etc. I come pretty close to that each week.

But the last couple weeks, I’ve been trying to keep it under $200.

I’ve been doing it, but I’ve had to make some changes to the way I’ve been doing things.

And I think these changes are going to lead to even more changes which will enable me to get my grocery bill down closer to $650/month, which is my goal.

So what changes have I made?

First, let me rewind.

When I was in high school, I went on an exchange trip to France where I lived with a French family for three weeks. One of the biggest differences between life in France and life in the United States was how meals were shopped for, planned, prepared, and eaten.  Shopping was done on pretty much a daily basis. Nobody rushed through meals or ate in the car and the kids never ate goldfish and granola bars and bags of chips (I don’t think I ever even saw a bag of chips while I was there).

Eating was an experience.  Meals were prepared daily and they were delicious. There were plenty of treats. We’s have one snack when we got home from school. The one I remember the most was a chocolate sandwich. It was part of a baguette hollowed out with a few slices of chocolate put in the middle.

OhMyGod it was SO GOOD.

If you’ve ever been to Europe, you probably noticed that they don’t have refrigerators the size of Rhode Island in their houses and apartments, and they don’t have stockpiles of fifty boxes of cereal and enough bottles of shampoo and conditioner to last until their kids graduate from college.

So I thought about that.

I also have been bothered by the amount of food that gets thrown away in this house.

It happens quite often for a number of reasons.

First, there is too much crap in our fridge, and it’s rarely organized. Second, I buy food in bulk which would make sense for a family the size of ours, but then I often don’t cook it immediately, or I don’t freeze it immediately, or I make more than we can eat at once and have plans to do something with the leftovers, but then for whatever reason, I get off track in the meal planning and prep department, and I forget to use it.

Then, two weeks later, I find it buried in the back of the fridge where it’s on its way to becoming penicillin.

So back to the changes I made…

1) I stopped buying processed snacks again.

All of them. No chips. No crackers. No salty junk at all, really.

I struggle with this. I struggle with the worry that if I don’t let my kids eat garbage that when they go off to college or are living on their own, they’ll just binge nonstop on the crap they weren’t allowed to have as kids.

But here is the thing. They already do that.

Whenever I buy crap, it’s the only thing my kids want to eat. When we have cereal, that’s the only thing they want for breakfast. When we have junk, the more junk they eat, the more junk they crave. Shitty food is designed to make you crave more shitty food.

And that’s exactly what happens with them.

So I hope to teach them about the cost of food and how to prepare food that tastes really good but is also halfway decent for them.

And I am trying to teach my kids that it’s okay to be hungry. Hunger is a healthy thing.

We have this mindset here in the United States that our kids should never be hungry. That’s not true!

I am definitely guilty of this fear-of-my-kids-being-hungry thing.

How many times have I fed my kids and then packed four million snacks to take with us before we walk out the door so they aren’t hungry at all wherever we are going?

Then we become adults who don’t eat because we are hungry. We eat because we haven’t learned how to cope with any amount of hunger at all!

It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Slight discomfort is not equivalent to malnutrition.

This being-hungry-thing happened just yesterday.

It was 5 pm and Number 5 was starving. She was going to die.

I was actually in the kitchen at the time starting to get dinner ready. I assured her she was not going to die, and I told her she’d have to wait until dinner was ready to eat.

She stomped out of the room yelling about her impending starvation-related death.

I made some pretty good stuff for dinner. I made a version of these cheeseburger quesadillas, corn, a green salad, three-bean salad and smoothie popsicles for dessert.

(It was almost as if we were eating dinner in Paris 😉 ).

When dinner was ready, I called the kids into the kitchen.

And you know what Number 5 said?

She said, Hold on Mom, I just want to finish watching this show.

She wasn’t gonna die anymore!!! It was a miracle.

So, as I had suspected, her hunger wasn’t life threatening and her death wasn’t imminent.

In fact, it took her all of ten minutes to forget she was even hungry at all.

But when it was time for dinner, the kids ate, and they ate well. Their appetite hadn’t been ruined by mindlessly snacking on a bunch of garbage an hour earlier, and they willingly ingested vegetables.

Then the next thing I did…

2) I cleaned out the fridge.

If it’s not organized, I won’t know what’s in there. How I’m going to discipline myself to stay on top of this, I’m not sure.  (But #4 is going to help).

3) I used the leftovers immediately for snack.

There were a couple quesadillas left over last night. I heated those up for a snack along with some hard boiled eggs and grapes.

It was easy to find the quesadillas because the fridge was clean and neat!  Plus, using that for snack immediately the next day prevented me from completely forgetting about them until they became something completely unrecognizable.

Killing two birds with one stone and having the kids eat leftovers for snack and decluttering the fridge is extremely satisfying.

4) I’ve started going to the grocery store almost daily.

This is a big change. It probably takes about an extra hour out of my week to make the extra trips.

But because I’m not doing a massive weekly shopping trip and consequently opening the refrigerator door and struggling to find space in the fridge for everything I’ve just bought, this has cut down on any food being wasted, forgotten about, and thrown away which is saving me a significant amount of money.

This new way of looking at shopping for my family and preparing food will take some tweaking to really be as efficient as possible. I still plan to prep and plan meals and buy only things that are on sale. I’ll use coupons when I can. And I plan to make double batches of things that I can freeze and reheat on those super crazy nights and weeks.

Maybe one Sunday a week will be a big meal prep day. I don’t know. I still have to figure that out.

I also have another plan to cut down on expenses…

Our electric bill is not small. We have a second fridge in the mudroom which is at least fifteen years old. It’s definitely not energy efficient. We also have a chest freezer.

With this new way of shopping and thinking about food, we don’t need two full size refrigerators and a freezer!

I think it’s time to get rid of that second fridge. Not only will that help us to be more efficient with the food, it should make a pretty big dent in our electric bill.

I’m kind of — okay — really excited about this new direction.  I’ll keep you updated on anything else I find to be helpful in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned for updates and tweaks that you might also be able to incorporate to cut down on your monthly food bill, too!

 

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Don’t Complain. Especially If You Are A Part Of The 80%.

I recently saw a Facebook post written by a teacher where she described two different interactions with parents regarding school supplies.

It’s a post from last year, but now that it’s that time of year again, the post is resurfacing.

In a nutshell, one parent was complaining about how much money she had to spend on school supplies for her kid, and the other parent was completely supportive and understanding about the whole thing.

As a parent, I get it. With five kids in the public school system this year, we will spend between $100 – $200 getting everything on the school lists for our first, second, third, sixth, and seventh graders.

As a former teacher, I also get it.

When I first started teaching, there was money in the budget for most supplies.

We got paper and pencils and crayons and scissors and tissues and almost everything we would need for our students. And then, as budgets were cut, those things were some of the first to go. And gradually, students were responsible for more and more supplies until eventually, they were responsible for pretty much all of them.

It’s not a fun position to be in as a teacher or as a parent.

But here is the thing…

Parents.

You do have some say and some influence in this department.

But it’s not by complaining to the teacher. It’s not by complaining to the principal, either.

Your influence comes at the times that most parents choose to be ignorant and oblivious.

Every year there is a vote on our town’s school budget.

The first five or six years we lived here, I was completely uninvolved politically. I was as clueless as you could possibly be.

If there was a budget vote, I couldn’t even tell you when it was.

Ignorance was bliss.

Until my kids entered school and I saw the f*&@ing supply lists.

HOLY SHIT.

They were massive!

How many goddamned glue sticks does one kid need?

It took me a few years to educate myself with respect to local politics.

And I don’t have the exact numbers. Not even close.

But here is what I have learned:  the percentage of people with children who vote on school budgets and who attend Board of Ed and PTA meetings is embarrassingly low.

And I know it’s not just my town. It’s every town.

It’s something like less than 20% of parents who vote.

But it’s 100% of parents who complain about how much money needs to be spent on school supplies.

You know where your influence is? It’s at the polls. It’s at the Board of Ed meetings.

But you have to be involved. You have to speak up.

And you also have to approve budgets.

The last time one of our budget increases for the school was shot down, the increase in taxes per family was something like $38.

Thirty eight dollars.

A year!

You could be involved, know what’s in your town’s budget, speak up regarding what you are unhappy about, and approve a $40/family increase that could pay for a lot of those supplies you complain about having to buy, or you can remain completely uninvolved, bury your ignorant head in the sand, and shell out two or three or four times the amount of a proposed tax increase at the beginning of the school year depending on how many kids you have in the school system.

Those school supplies you are paying for? They aren’t the teachers’ faults.

They are the parents’. The 80% of the parents who don’t want to be bothered participating in the decisions that will affect their kids in school in the years to come.

And waiting until your kids are in school is not early enough! But the time they are in kindergarten, there are decisions that have been put into place that could take several years to reverse.

You need to get involved well before your kids are ready for kindergarten!!! You need to get involved as soon as you are a taxpayer!

So before you complain this year about how much money you have to shell out for your kids’s school supplies, first you might want to consider a few things.

Did you vote on your last school budget?

Did you vote in your last local election?

Are you even registered to vote?

If not, you really have no right to complain about anything.

And instead of spending time bashing school systems and teachers in an angry Facebook post about how much shit you have to buy, maybe you should focus your energy on being a responsible citizen, filling out a voter registration card, and educating yourself on what is going on in your town.

 

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A Book Review For Mom’s Like Me — Behind Closed Doors

editor’s note: I wrote this post simply because I appreciate a good book and a recommendation from someone I trust. But this post also contains affiliate links. Meaning if you decide to by this book off of Amazon by clicking on the link in the post, I will receive a (very small) commission. That helps me keep up with costs for this site.

But I got my copy of the book from the public library 🙂

It’s time for another book review!

First, a disclaimer.

I was not an English literature major or anything in college. So don’t be expecting anything professional.

As a busy and exhausted mom who still does not have large amounts of uninterrupted time to read anything, my criteria for a good book are as follows:

1) Degree of Difficulty — I like to read for entertainment. To escape. And I don’t want to have to think too hard. My attention span and level of energy are better than they used to be, but they still kind of suck. So… it needs to be a fairly easy read.

2) Narcolepsy Factor — I need to be able to read more than two paragraphs before I fall asleep.

3) FWOFF (First Week of Facebook Factor) — Obviously, if I find myself not being able to put the book down, and if I want to ignore my kids as much as I did those first few days I discovered Facebook and Pinterest, then that’s good.

4) Vacuum Factor — It can’t take like 100 or 50 or even 25 pages to suck me in. It kind of has to be immediate.

5) PTBD (Post Traumatic Book Disorder) — When I finish the book, I want to be missing the protagonist. Like to the degree of depression I felt when I watched the final episode of Breaking Bad.

6) The Goldilocks Factor — Too much sex, too little sex, or just the right amount of sex. A little bit of a naughty factor is good. But massive amounts of smut don’t really appeal to me.

7) Zoloft Factor — It can’t be depressing.

8)  Do Over Factor (DOF) — I don’t have to go back and reread pages, paragraphs or sentences multiple times because I can’t remember what the hell I just read.

9) Potty potential — If the chapters are short enough for me to read while I’m going to the bathroom, that’s a major bonus, because sometimes that’s the only time I have alone to read.

10)Neat Package Factor —  If the ending sucks, that’s not good. I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Or at least an ending where everything is resolved and wrapped up with a bow and I’m not left wondering why I spent all that time trying to get to the end of the book when I still have no idea how the hell the story finishes.

Now onto the book:  Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris.

In a nutshell, this book is about a a couple who appears to have the perfect marriage. It’s like peoples’ Facebook and Instagram posts. But we all know those aren’t a true depiction of reality.

If you like a twisted story, or if you want to be reassured that your marriage isn’t as fucked up as it could be, then this is for you. (I told you this wasn’t a professional review).

Now for the scores:

1) DD (10 = easy read, 1 = whoah, I have to think way too hard to follow this shit): 10 

2) Narcolepsy Factor (10 = I can’t believe I’m still awake, 1 = I’ve been on the first page for four weeks now): 15

3) FWOFF (10 = I haven’t checked on the kids in 90 minutes and I cannot put this book down, 1 = I think I’ll go check Facebook because this book kind of blows): 20

4) Vacuum Factor (10 = I’m sucked in before the end of the first page, 1 = why the fuck am I reading this?): 10

5) Post Traumatic Book Disorder (10 = What will I do without the main character in my life?, 1 = Wait, who was the main character again?): 10

6) Goldilocks Factor ( 10 = just the right amount of naughtiness, 5 = no naughtiness at all, 1 = I should have just watched a porno): 1

7) Zoloft Factor (10 = it’s all good — no drugs necessary, 1 = I think I need a stronger antidepressant): 8

8) DOF (10 = no do overs necessary, 1 = I think I’ve read that sentence seventeen times): 10

9) Potty Potential (10 = I can finish a whole chapter by the time I have to flush, 1 = does this book even have chapters?) 6

10) Neat Package Factor (10 = All situations resolved, 1 = WTF?) 10

Final Score: 100/100

I loved this book. LOVED it.

If   Sleeping With the Enemy and Silence of The Lambs had a baby book, it would be this one.

There was just the right mix of fucked up crap in it, and when I was done reading it, I was left really missing it. (But if you like some serious sex scenes, you’ll be disappointed. Actually, if you like any sex scenes, you’ll be disappointed).

I wasn’t, though. I read it in a weekend. (It’s a great book to read if you are at the beach on vacation.)

Check this one out from the library asap!

(or you can get it on Amazon here):

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Why Are You Acting Unusual?

The other day, the kids were a little bit out of control.

We were coming off of a three day swim meet, the kids had been dragged back and forth to a pool that was almost an hour away all weekend, I had been gone for basically three days, and everyone was e xhausted.

So I took Monday to regroup. It was a cool, rainy summer day, and it was just what we needed.

Or so I thought.

I figured the kids would enjoy the down time and not being dragged to another pool and another meet and being able to stay home in their pajamas all day.

I was hoping to use it as a day to catch up on all the stuff that had fallen by the wayside while I was gone.

Around 11:30 a.m., the first kid informed me that she was starving, followed by a second kid who was apparently on the verge of dying from hunger a short time later.

I stopped what I was doing, and I went into the kitchen.

I told the kids I’d make them lunch, that I wanted them out of the kitchen, and that I’d tell them when lunch was ready so they could come and eat.

One of my kids’ favorite things to do is sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch me make lunch and complain about how long it’s taking me.  And once one kid is doing that, it’s not long before they are all doing that.

And that shit drives me insane.

So the kids stayed out of the kitchen for approximately 47 seconds.

And then two of them were screaming at each other. I heard them coming from a couple rooms away.

I was already out of patience.

I told them that I was going to leave the kitchen when they were in there, especially when they were yelling at each other, and that if I had to leave the kitchen, it would take me that much longer to make lunch. And seeing as a couple of them were apparently on the verge of death because it had been more than an hour since they had last eaten, they might not want that.

They didn’t care. They kept screaming at each other.

So I left the kitchen.

I went into the bathroom where the washer and dryer are, and I started sorting laundry.

When I didn’t hear any more screaming, I went back into the kitchen. I resumed the lunch making process.

About five minutes later, the kids resumed the screaming process.

So I left the kitchen and I took the recycling out to the recycling bin.

I stayed outside for a few minutes because I was starting to get seriously frustrated.

I went back inside and the screaming had stopped. Again, I resumed the lunch making process.

And again the kids were at each others’ throats in a matter of minutes.

After about a half hour of this back and forth bullshit, I had had enough.I told the kids I was no longer willing to spend any more time making lunches, that I had been trying for a half hour and that was the maximum amount of time I was willing to spend.

I told them I would  make dinner later, but I had other things to do, and spending ninety minutes waiting for them to stop arguing was not one of them. If they wanted lunch, they’d have to do it themselves.

Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but it was three days after I’d been gone all weekend, and we had like three cans of green beans, some tortillas and for some reason, about fifteen bags of marshmallows.

So it was going to take some creativity.

I didn’t really care, though.

I walked out of the kitchen.

The kids looked at each other like, What the hell are we going to eat and What the fuck happened to Mom?

But I was exhausted from the weekend and stressed out and I was just done.

A little while later, Number 5 delivered me a note:

 

On the left side it said:

This is now, surrounded by a bunch of sad faces.

On the right side it said:

This is how it should be now,  surrounded by a bunch of smiley faces. And then it said:

Look on other side ——>

I turned the note over and read:

Dear Mom,

Why are you acting unusual (AKA mean)

it’s wierd

so please tell me why

Aha. I had struck a nerve.

The fact that she saw this as unusual behavior showed me one thing. I have been letting the kids be disrespectful to me more often than I think.

And she noticed my new response.

Today it’s three days later.

The kids certainly haven’t been angels.

But they’ve been better.

And they definitely haven’t been fucking around when I’m making them something to eat.

If your kids are driving you insane with bickering and fighting, consider trying this.

Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Don’t threaten.

Just quietly define your boundaries.

And then stick to them.

You might be surprised by what happens.

 

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