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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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40 Bags In 40 Days — I Totally Need This

I’m not really a religious person. But whether you are religious or not, you probably know that we approaching Lent.

And while you may know that Lent begins tomorrow, you may not know exactly what Lent is all about.

Simply, Lent is a 40 day period leading up to Easter which symbolizes the 40 days Jesus spent fasting, enduring, and resisting the temptations of Satan, and preparing to begin his ministry. It’s a time for Christians to focus on their relationship with God, and many will give something up or volunteer and give to others during this period.

But you don’t have to be religious to participate in this observance.

I haven’t ever given anything up for Lent.

But I’m going to try something this year.

Something I saw floating around Facebook recently.

Because Lent is also described as a time of self-examination and reflection.

And I’m all about that.

After doing some serious self-examining and reflecting, I have realized something.

Actually, I didn’t have to do that much examining or reflecting.

It’s totally obvious.

We still have way too much shit in this house.

While not as bad as it was a year ago, we still have too much stuff!

The other morning Number 5 was telling me she had no pants to wear.

I went to her room and pulled out four different pairs of pants, and for each pair, she said, “I don’t like those” or “Those don’t feel good” or “The knees in those look funny.” (What the f*ck to that last one, by the way).

Well then why the hell do we have all those cluttering up her damn dresser drawers?

I have too many papers, still.

The bottom of my hutch in the dining room is full of dishes I seriously haven’t touched since we moved  to our house almost eight years ago.

We have toys the kids haven’t played with in forever.

I have kitchen gadgets that have never been used.

The list goes on and on.

What I am (re)realizing is that we still have lots of room for improvement in the simplifying department.

I am tired of shuffling crap around in my house.

So I’m ready for round two.

Aside from just being tired of having too much stuff everywhere, I know that clutter affects the kids’ lives.

I think it affects their moods and their behavior, because while they don’t realize it, clutter creates stress.

If their rooms get really messy to the point of overwhelm and I help them clean them, they thank me profusely.

They can physically feel a difference.

If you have kids who have trouble staying focused or keeping things organized, clutter makes it even harder for them to function.

Then when they don’t stay focused and you are trying to help them with their homework or they are losing stuff and asking you to help them find thing multiple times a day, you lose your shit.

And now you are not the mom you want to be.

I 100% believe that clutter makes parenting way harder than it already is.

Stuff does not make your job as a mother any easier. It makes it much harder.

So yeah.

Back to Lent…

I saw this on Facebook, and it starts tomorrow, and I’m doing it.

And if any of you want to do it with me, that would be awesome.

It’s called 40 Bags in 40 Days.

I really, REALLY want to do this for me, but I also want to do if for my kids.

I want to help teach them that stuff doesn’t make you happier. That too much stuff makes the quality of your life worse, not better!

I want to teach my children that less really is more.

Because I know that the less stuff I have, the less stuff I have to keep track of, organize, and clean.

And the less stuff I have to overwhelm me!

The less overwhelmed I am, the less of a bitch I am, and the more able I am to be the mom I really wanna be.

Who wants to join me in this?

There’s a whole closed Facebook group for this challenge — I joined it today!– (find out about that here), but I’ll also be posting about it on my Facebook page to keep myself on track and also to help motivate any of you that are interested.

If the thought of 40 bags in 40 days overwhelms you, it doesn’t even have to be big bags of stuff. It doesn’t even have to be bags at all! It could be 40 things in 40 days. And the things don’t even have to be things!

It could be cable (I know, not cable. You definitely can’t live without cable).

I used to think that, too, but I was totally wrong. And my life is better now without it. Honestly! I used to be addicted to all the Real Housewives shows. For real.

Then I tried to watch the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills the other day and the only thing I though was How the fuck did I ever watch this? What a fucking waste of time!

It could be deleting emails.(I have about 25,000 in my inbox. No joke.)

But I’m starting with bags o’crap cause there’s too much damn stuff in my house.

Oh yeah. One more thing.

In the true spirit of Jesus and Lent, I suppose I should be just donating or giving stuff away.

I’m not doing that.

I mean, I will sometimes. Maybe a lot of the time.

But if I come across things I no longer need that I think are worth selling, I’m going to try doing that. If they don’t sell quickly, then I’ll donate them.

All I know is that I may have a big expense coming up in the beginning of April, and I’m going to see if I can cover some (or all) of it by selling things that I no longer need and are just causing me stress by keeping them in my life.

Maybe that’s not what Lent is all about, but I think Jesus would be okay with it.

So yeah.

That’s what I’m doing starting tomorrow, and I’d love for you to join me.

It’s like a weight loss challenge for my house, and I can’t wait.

A less cluttered and more simplified and manageable life is only 40 days away!

 

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My parenting idol is an unwed mother who got knocked up when she was sixteen years old.

I’ve discovered why I love Gilmore Girls so much.

And I’ll be honest.

It took me a little while to get to this point. To the point of loving the show so much that I now feel the need to pace myself and ration episodes because I know I’m gonna be really depressed when I’ve watched them all.

Because the show started off a little bit hokey.

The character of Sookie was way over the top in the first season.

The pace of the dialogue between Lorelai and Rory (or Lorelai and anyone) was (and sometimes still is) way too fast to really be believable at all.

But by the third episode I was hooked.

Because even with the fast paced dialogue and the over-the-top characters, I eventually fell in love.

And the biggest reason I fell in love with the show isn’t because I live in a small Connecticut town.

It’s not because I might be semi-obsessed with Milo Ventimiglia.

Okay — the Milo thing might be part of it, but that’s not the biggest reason.

It’s taken me until the end of the fourth season to figure it out.

But now I know what it is that makes me love this show so much.

It’s because Lorelai Gilmore = Total Mom Goals.

Seriously.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

Not just since I started watching this show, but since this past September when I declaredthis school year would be the Year of No for me.

Somehow we moms have convinced ourselves that in order to be good parents, we have to be the best.

At everything.

We have to be thin and in shape.

We have to still fit into our wedding dresses on our tenth, fifteenth, and twentieth anniversaries.

We have to raise children who excel at everything.

We must make sure our kids hit every developmental milestone on time, and we must also document each and every one in a detailed baby book. And scrapbook. And video montage.

We have to meal plan and only use whole and unprocessed foods and prepare the perfectly balanced, homemade dinners. And lunches. And breakfasts.

We have to stay happily married and model a healthy a respectful relationship with our husbands. At all times.

We have to throw the perfect birthday party for our children .

Every year.

We have to make sure our children participate in every activity and program they ever express interest in, and we definitely have to make sure we present them with all the opportunities we were never given as children.

We need to stop yelling but maintain order and respect, we shouldn’t swear, we need to declutter, maintain a clean house, and be completely organized.

Oh yeah. We also need to learn how to do Common Core math. And listen to recorders and trumpets and saxophones. Without wincing.

And if we are really good moms, we will find a way to do all of this on our own. Without any help. From anyone. Ever.

Of course, when you read this on paper, you realize how fucking ridiculous it is.

But still, we have all gone mad.

All of us except Lorelai Gilmore.

And that is why I love Gilmore Girls so much.

Because Lorelai, for me, is that slap across the face bringing me back to reality. Telling me to snap the hell out of it.

She’s a single mom who got knocked up when she was sixteen.

Her personal life is a mess and she can’t maintain a relationship with a man for more than a few months (I’m only on Season 5, so don’t ruin anything for me).

Her relationship with her parents is a complete disaster.

She never has food in her fridge, doesn’t know how to cook, drinks an insane amount of coffee, and she and her daughter eat out for every meal.

She’s far from perfect and plenty fucked up.

Yet, in spite of all these flaws, she has the relationship with her daughter that every single mom envisions when they are pregnant.

She’s raised a daughter who is responsible and kind and intelligent and proactive.

And she’s done it without making gluten-free pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse every morning for breakfast, being married, or enrolling her daughter in every activity known to mankind.

With all her flaws and shortcomings, Lorelai Gilmore has done a kick ass job in the mom department.

Because she never lost sight of what is really the most important thing with respect to raising her daughter: spending time with her.

That’s what our kids want the most.

They might say they want stuff. They might say they want to do things.

But have you noticed what it is your kids do the most when you are watching them at a baseball game or a swim meet or in a concert or on the basketball court?

They are looking to see if you are watching them. They are waving and trying to find you and making sure you see them wherever they are.

Because the primary goal of not just children, but of all people is to feel a sense of belonging and significance. To feel important.

And children don’t get that from a bento box lunch that looks like Anna and Elsa or from being enrolled in fourteen activities in the third grade.

But they do get that from parents who may not be perfect and who may be a little fucked up, but who are also present and available for their children.

Do yourself and your kids a favor this weekend.

Leave the phone in the car at the basketball game.

Put aside a half hour to play a game. Or talk. Or hang out.

Don’t worry about perfection. Don’t worry about doing it all.

Don’ t worry about anything.

Instead, take a page out of Lorelai’s book.

Eat cereal with your daughter for dinner, or order take out, then curl up on the couch, watch a movie together, and make sure you let her know who you think is most important.

Just like Lorelai Gilmore.

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Two Pieces of Advice I Wish I Had Taken When They Were First Given to Me

People send me all sorts of suggestions and (unsolicited) advice all the time.

Some things make my roll my eyes and sigh heavily.

But there are plenty of things I am willing to try.

The last couple years have just been so crazy that I haven’t acted on most of the ideas I think might be good.

But I have filed away some of the tips that have come my way for a time when things slowed down a little bit.

I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to tie up loose ends and get things organized.

I actually feel like today, for the first time since I’ve had kids, that I’m on the side of more organized rather than less organized.

I feel like I have about 55% of my shit together with the other 45% still a pretty big mess.

But I’m getting there. I think in about two more weeks the split will be closer to 90/10.

So anyway, I want to acknowledge (and share) two suggestions I  finally took my friends up on today.

When they read this, they are both going to roll their eyes and send me a huge I TOLD YOU SO.

These things aren’t big deals. You’re probably going to be like, um…  you couldn’t do that?

But I’ve felt so overwhelmed that for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get my shit together until today.

And now, of course, I wish I had listened to my friends when they first made these suggestions a long time ago. Because one is going to make my life a little bit easier, and one is going to make it a lot easier and save me a bunch of money.

Okay.

Here’s the first one.

Like I said, it’s not a big deal, so don’t get too excited.

But every time I show a picture of a mess in a blog post or on the Facebook page, my friend Kathy sends me a message and tells me to buy Awesome. It’s an all purpose cleaner.

awesome

You can get it on Amazon. It’s like $8.80 for two bottles.

But Kathy told me it’s at the dollar store, too.

She was right. It’s there, and today I got some.

One bottle of that stuff costs over four bucks on Amazon, but the exact same bottle is only a dollar at the Dollar Tree!

And it works!

Number 7’s favorite shirt had some stains on it that I could not get out no matter what I tried. So this morning I went to Dollar Tree and I got some.

I had to put some elbow grease into it, but those mothereffing stains are gone, and now Number 7 can wear that shirt to school.

She’s going to be so psyched!

So thank you, Kathy.

And you’re right.

You told me so.

The moral of the story is don’t be like me.

Listen to Kathy now, and the next time you’re at the dollar store, buy yourself some Awesome.

Because it’s awesome.

Now the second thing.

My other friend, Lori, has been telling me to shop at Aldi for a long time.

And I just haven’t been able to do it.

I’m a creature of habit in some areas, I guess.

Plus, Aldi is like a seven minute longer drive for me than Costco and Shoprite are, and even that small difference seemed like too much for me to deal with.

Until today.

Aldi is right next to the Dollar Tree.

So after I got my Awesome, I went to Aldi for the first time ever.

What an idiot I am.

To start with, you all know how I feel about people who don’t return their fucking shopping carts.

In fact, I’ve been so vocal about this that I get texts like this one on a  regular basis:

img_20160913_124532

 

And before you start defending yourself and saying things like stores have people whose job it is to return the carts, um…

The only reason stores have people to do that is because people are too fucking lazy to return their carts!!!

And stores have to pay these people. And the money to pay them has to come from somewhere.

(And it comes from you, because you have to pay higher prices to cover the cost of your being too lazy to return your damn cart).

So anyway, Aldi is so inexpensive.

Like  SO inexpensive.

And one reason for that is because you have to deposit a quarter to get a cart. And you don’t get it back if you don’t return the cart.

People will do anything for a quarter, apparently.

So anyway there are no lazy fuckers at Aldi who won’t return their carts.

That’s reason #1 why I am a convert.

Reason #2.

The prices are ridiculously low.

How do they do this?

Well, for starters, they don’t pay someone to retrieve shopping carts.

They also don’t do plastic bags. You need to bring your own.

They don’t have 450,000 different brands in their stores, so the actual buildings are smaller and their energy costs are lower.

And they aren’t open 24/7. Or even super late.

But the last time I did a massive shop at 10 or 11 pm was like, um…

Well, never.

So that doesn’t affect me, either.

But the amount of food I got for $117 today was unbelievable.

Um, yeah.

I should have listened to Lori a long time ago.

And go ahead, Lori. Rub it in.

You seriously fucking told me so.

Well, I really wish I hadn’t waited on the Aldi thing, but better late than never!

Now if you haven’t discovered Awesome or Aldi, don’t be a dumbass like me. Don’t wait a couple of years.

Check them out.

They are two simple things that could improve your life today, and all you need is a dollar, a quarter, the desire to save money, and the willingness to return your damn cart.

 

 

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