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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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Financial Friday — Making more money isn’t the answer to your money problems.

Last week I wrote a post about the most important thing we did to dig ourselves out of financial trouble.

It was just one bullet point in the list of many, many things we did, but it was definitely at the top.

Once we did that, it helped us to see how we had been contributing to the problem, and it also helped us figure out what we needed to do next to change our situation.

Now I think many people who are in debt or who can’t make enough money to cover all their expenses or who are living paycheck to paycheck will immediately think, “Okay, now that we actually know how much money we are spending every month, we need to find a way to make more money.”

That’s what we did.

Once we added up all our expenses, we realized we needed to make about $8800 a month to cover them all.

$8800 a month!

That’s a lot of fucking money!

We do live in Fairfield County, CT where the cost of living is extremely high. There are some other reasons why our monthly bills were so high. I’ll get to that next week. But there was still a whole lot of room for improvement.

And after coming to our senses, we realized that rather than killing ourselves trying to come up with ways to make more money, we needed to find ways to spend less.

So we took a good, hard look at every single thing we were spending money on, and we figured out where we could lower our expenses.

Here are some of the biggest ways we cut back:

1) I made a food budget and I started planning meals.

Before making a food budget, I  had no plan when I went to the grocery store. I bought whatever I wanted. bought name brands and tried out recipes that had like a hundred ingredients in them, and if I didn’t have  95 of the ingredients, I’d buy all of them.

After putting us on a budget, I only bought stuff that was on sale, and I planned all our dinners around that. I stopped buying name brands. I use coupons when I can easily, but I don’t go crazy over this. I know exactly how much pretty much everything costs at every nearby grocery store. If I went on the Price is Right, I would kick some serious ass at that game where you have to guess that actual prices of stuff from the grocery store. Anyway, I don’t know how much I actually spent on groceries before we started making a budget for that. But I’d estimate I was spending about $500 a week on food. Now I spend about $ 250 a week. Sometimes it’s closer to $300 when I include things like laundry detergent and cleaning products and cat food and that kind of stuff.

But realistically I  cut about $200 off of our weekly grocery bill.

So that’s roughly $800/month I cut out. $9600 a year! ON FOOD! That reduced what we needed to make every month from $8800 to $8000.

2) We got rid of cable.

I never ever EVER thought I’d be able to survive without cable.

But now that we’ve been without it for about 2 years, we don’t miss it at all. We still have Netflix, and just about every show that’s on network and cable TV is on Netflix.

So I never really paid attention to our cable bill. We had about seven million channels. We had all the movie channels. So at first I just got rid of the movie and other premium channels. This cut our cable bill by about $75. But it was still over $80 a month!

What the fuck!?

I had no idea we were even paying that much before I sat down and listed all our monthly expenses.

So a couple months after we downgraded the cable, we just got rid of it altogether.

That saved us another $150 a month, or $1800/year!

Now our expenses were down to $7850 a month.

3) We switched cell phone carriers.

We were paying $350/month to Verizon for four phones.

That’s a lot of fucking money.

So we switched to Republic Wireless.

We’ve been with Republic for about two years now, and I have to say I don’t miss Verizon at all. The reception is basically the same.  The phones are just as nice. And the plans are much less expensive.

We did stop paying for the older kids’ cell phones (the youngest five don’t have phones).

Our cell phone bill went from $350/month to $90/month!

That’s a savings of $260 a month, or $3160 a year.

What. The fuck.

I felt really stupid when I realized that one.

So now we needed to bring in $7,590 a month.

4) We switched automobile insurance carriers.

I felt stupid for not doing this one sooner, too.

This is a pretty easy thing to do. It just takes making a couple phone calls or doing a little research online. We cut about $100/month off of our insurance bill.

Now were were down to needing to make $7,490/month.

5) We turned the heat down.

We have oil heat and we live in a very old house that is not exactly energy efficient.

But we also used to keep the heat set at about 68-70° during the day (and not much lower at night).

We were spending a ridiculous amount of money on oil deliveries. (We also switched oil companies and stopped getting regularly scheduled deliveries and only got oil when we called and ordered a delivery. And yes, there were several times we ran out of oil because we forgot to check the level of the oil tank. But we are getting better at this).

Anyway, we turned the heat down to 60° at night, and the highest it went during the day was 64°.  That reduced our oil bill for the year by approximately $2000!

So that’s only over the winter, but for simplicity, we’ll say that’s another $150/month we cut off of our expenses.

That brings us down to $7,440 a month.

That’s still a big chunk of change. But with those changes, we had managed to cut our monthly expenses down from $8,800 to $7,440 a month.

That’s $1,660 less each month.

That’s $19,920 a year!

We were unnecessarily spending $20,000 a year.

Wow. If we had made some of those changes five years earlier, that would have saved us $100,000.

Ugh.

I guess some people have to learn the hard way.

So we had cut down the amount of money we needed to make each year by $20,000 just by making those five changes.

There was more we had to do, but that would take some bigger changes.

Next week, I’ll share with you how we cut an additional $2500 a month off of our expenses.

Yes, you read that right. No there’s not an extra “0” in there.

Another $2,500 a month.

Until then, if you are hemorrhaging money, take a look at where you can spend less.

It takes much less energy than trying to figure out how you can make more!

 

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Costco Turkey Chili — quick, healthy, inexpensive, and delicious


I want to share my Costco turkey chili recipe with you because it’s super easy to make, it’s tasty, it’s fairly healthy, it freezes well, and it’s inexpensive.

(And if there’s anything I’ve learned to do over the past year, it’s feed my family fairly nutritious meals on a budget).

Now if you are a purist who only buys organic and who won’t buy canned stuff and who would never dream of using taco seasoning from a packet or a plastic container, then this isn’t the recipe for  you.

But if you are on a tight budget, if you try to make the healthiest choices you can on that tight budget, and if your time is limited, well, then you might want to give this one a try.

Plus, it only requires six ingredients:

  1. ground turkey
  2. red beans
  3. black beans
  4. crushed tomatoes
  5. corn
  6. taco seasoning

Total cost for those six items from Costco: $41.48

Here is what it looks like when you buy that stuff from Costco:

 

chili4

(I forgot to take a picture of the corn with all the other stuff before I opened the can and used some of it for something else, but here’s what it looks like):

chili5

So for this chili, of those items you will use:

  • 2 packages ground turkey
  • 4 cans red beans
  • 4 cans black beans
  • half big ass can of corn
  • half big ass can of crushed tomatoes

or, half of the items you bought. So you will have half of that stuff left over, plus more than half of the taco seasoning, and this recipe will cost you about $20.

Here’s what you do:

  • Brown 2 packages of ground turkey in a big stock pot. Drain, and add in taco seasoning according to directions on the label.

Add in:

  • 4 cans red beans (including liquid)
  • 4 cans black beans (including liquid)
  • half of that big ass can of corn (including liquid) — (store leftover corn for later use in fridge or freeze in gallon freezer bags)
  • half of that big ass can or tomatoes (use the other half of the can to make my awesome and inexpensive Costco pasta sauce).

Then comes the hard part…

  • Stir and then simmer on low for an hour or so. If you have time, let it simmer for a couple hours, but if you don’t, an hour (or even just until it’s heated through) is fine.

Yep. That’s it.

(My family isn’t a big fan of a lot of heat in any food, really. The taco seasoning does have a little kick to it. If you like a little more heat, use more taco seasoning or add in some chili pepper or red pepper).

So easy, and it’s really good! My husband loves it and I love it and most of the kids love it.

This will make about four dinners for eight of us (bigger portions for the bigger family members and smaller portions for the smaller family members), or three dinners and then enough chili for me to eat it for lunch for the week (which is what I often do because I love it that much and all I have to do is throw it in the microwave for a couple minutes).

I put a quarter of it in a bowl to eat in the next couple days. I portion the rest out into three, one gallon freezer bags, and I freeze them for later use.

chili1

That works out to about 24-32 servings, depending on the size.

$20/24 servings = $.83/serving! (even less if your portions are smaller).

chili2

Enjoy!

 

Not Your Average Mom’s Costco Turkey Chili

What you need:

  • 2 packages ground turkey
  • 4 cans red beans
  • 4 cans black beans
  • half big ass can of corn
  • half big ass can of crushed tomatoes

What you do:

  • Brown 2 packages of ground turkey in a big stock pot. Drain, and add in taco seasoning according to directions on the label.

Add in:

    • 4 cans red beans (including liquid)
    • 4 cans black beans (including liquid)
    • half of that big ass can of corn (including liquid)
    • half of that big ass can or tomatoes (use the other half of the can to make my awesome and inexpensive Costco pasta sauce).
    • Stir and then simmer on low for an hour or so. If you have time, let it simmer for a couple hours, but if you don’t, an hour (or even just until it’s heated through) is fine.

 

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