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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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Because Little Girls Should Dress Like Little Girls

I lean pretty far to the left when it comes to politics.

And every one knows with regard to curse words, I use those fuckers liberally.

But there are some areas where I guess you’d call me conservative.

And one of those areas is the clothing my daughters wear.

I believe little girls should dress like, um… little girls.

And I believe pre-teen girls should dress like pre-teen girls. Not like 24 year-olds.

Since we are coming out of a really bad financial situation, I have not bought new clothes for any of the kids for a few years. (Except for things I see at Costco, like pajamas, and you know, the robes).

Plus, I am not a shopper. I hate shopping.

But we have our swim team banquet in a couple days, and Number 5 and Number 7 really didn’t have any dresses to wear that fit them, so I told them I’d take them to Kohl’s to get a new dress. I had some Kohl’s cash to use, so it wouldn’t really cost me anything.

So we went to  Kohl’s yesterday. Number 4 came along for the girl time. Since I never ever take the girls shopping, this was a big deal.

Number 7 acted as if she’d never set foot outside of our house before.

Number 5 has just moved up from the little girl section of Kohl’s to the regular girl section.

She and Number 4 ran to check the dresses there out while I took Number 7 to look at the ones in her size.

I found some great dresses for Number 7. Some appropriate, modest, super cute dresses.

After we had picked out a bunch, we found Number 4 and 5. They had an armful of dresses.

An armful of cheesy, crappy, and borderline slutty dresses.

In a size 7/8.

What. The Fuck.

I vetoed almost all of their choices.

25% of them were inappropriate. 50% were super cheesy.  And 20% were just plain ugly.

Half the stuff she picked out looked like something Tess from Working Girl would have worn.

Why do girls’ dresses and clothing in general need to be so goddamn grown up?

I know little girls like that. I know they like to put on their mom’s high heel shoes and dresses and they dream about the day they can wear that kind of stuff.

But let them dream! Let them wait! Let them wear fucking kids’ clothes, for chrissake.

Who is designing this shit?

It’s terrible!

I sent Number 4 and 5 back to the drawing board about three times.  Each time, Number 5 became more and more upset.

“MOM! Everything I like, YOU HATE!”

She was right. I hated almost every single cheesy thing.

I went with them and searched. And searched. And searched. I found a few things that were cute.

And Number 5 hated all of my choices.

“MOM! Everything you like, I HATE!”

We finally found something adorable and appropriate. But it was amidst a whole bunch of horrible garbage. And Number 5 was really, REALLY distracted by the garbage.

And by the time we found it, I was a sweaty and out of breath and ready to gouge my own eyeballs out.

So while the deals at Kohl’s are pretty good, the selection is horrendous. At least for eight-year-old girls.

If I didn’t hate shopping before, I sure as shit hated it after taking three girls who are ten and under dress shopping there.

Sure, there are some good deals at Kohl’s. But I think the next time we spring for something new, I’m just gonna bite the bullet and go to Janie and Jack.

That shit’s expensive.

But I think keeping my daughters’ dignity intact is worth a few extra bucks.

 

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To All The Moms at Christmas

My aunt always used to say that Christmas is a woman’s holiday.

And she’s totally right.

Before I go any further, this post isn’t about bashing dads.

And I know there are a handful of fathers out there who do help out with shopping and wrapping and whatever.

But for the most part, moms around the world have been busting their asses over the last few weeks to give their kids a Christmas season they will remember. And also to make sure they let pretty much everyone they come into contact with on a regular basis know they are appreciated.

It’s not just about the shopping for presents. And wrapping them.

It’s about the thinking. And the details. And the time. So. Much. Time.

It’s making sure you contribute to the teacher’s class gift.

It’s letting the bus drivers know you appreciate what they do for your children.

It’s remembering your kids’ coaches.

It’s leaving something for the UPS guy or girl and the mail carrier and the garbage man and your hairdresser and whoever else.

It’s buying all the gifts not just for your children and your parents and your siblings and your nieces and nephews, but also for your husband’s parents and siblings.

So yeah, it is a lot about the shopping.

But it’s everything else, too.

It’s doing research and mapping out routes for your kids to see holiday light displays.

It’s decorating your house because as Number 4 says, “Mom! I love how every room in the house has a little bit of Christmas in it!”

It’s moving the damn elf around every day (and sometimes at  3 a.m. because you forgot to do it before you went to bed) because even though you think that fucker is kind of creepy, your kids can’t wait to look for him every day.

It’s making reindeer food for Christmas Eve.

It’s making gingerbread houses with your kids because even though you want to f*&%ing kill yourself about ten minutes into it, once it’s all said and done, in hindsight, it still was (sort of) fun.

It’s blocking off time to make Christmas cookies with your children which are ultimately inedible because your children have licked every finger, utensil, bowl, and surface in the kitchen continuously for 75 minutes.

But they sure had fun doing it.

It’s making advent calendars full of activities that your kids will remember not just the following year, but well into adulthood.

It’s planning and executing and (eventually) mailing a bazillion Christmas cards.

It’s scouring  Pinterest to make a perfect breakfast that everyone will love on Christmas morning and ask you to make again the following year.

It’s finding new Christmas pajamas for the whole family to wear on Christmas Eve.

It’s spending countless hours doing anything and everything you can to make the season extra special for your family.

And it’s doing all of that, with very little (or no) recognition or appreciation, on top of all the other sh*t you do on a daily basis.

So here’s to all you moms in the Christmas trenches.

Your kids have no clue how much thought, effort and time you have put into the past few weeks.

Neither do your husbands, really.

But I do.

Give yourself a pat on the back.

At some point down the road, your family will realize how much hard work you put into this time of year.

Well, maybe your sons won’t.

But eventually, your daughters will.

Take a minute to thank your mom for all the crap she did for you and your family when you were a kid.

And then, take some time in the next couple days to give yourself a break.

Get a pedicure.  Take a nap.  Sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing for a couple hours. Do something special for yourself leading up to Christmas.

You deserve it.

Because what you are able to accomplish and the memories you are creating for your family during the Christmas season are truly impressive.

And you are kicking some serious ass.

 

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Reality Check

Black Friday.

I don’t get it.

In fact, I find it unsettling.

If you haven’t seen the clips of people acting like complete animals, tackling, punching, slapping, and literally wrestling boxes right out of little kids’ hands, Google “Black Friday Fights.”

You’ll see what I’m talking about.

It’s disturbing.

How do you go from giving thanks and sitting around a table with the people that you love the most to beating the shit out of random strangers on the official first day of the holiday season? The season of love and hope and miracles?

What the fuck is wrong with people?

We have such limited opportunities to be with our families. To spend time with them.

I’ve never been a shopper. So I don’t really get the excitement over shopping to begin with.

But today, as I was reading Facebook posts from people who were going out at 4 a.m. this morning for round two of Black Friday shopping, I found myself thinking about what Number 4 asked me yesterday.

“Mom,  what did you get for Christmas when you were a kid?”

And you know what?

I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember much of anything.

The only thing I remembered was the year my parents got us an Atari.

(For all you youngsters, this was back in the mid seventies to eighties and that was one of the first video game systems in existence).

We were the last of my friends to have gotten one.

And I remember my parents telling me a couple years later that on Christmas Eve, before they wrapped up the box, they opened it up and they played Space Invaders until two o’clock in the morning.

I thought that was funny.

And then for the whole vacation, my brother and I played Space Invaders and Combat until we both had blisters on our thumbs that hurt so bad we finally had to cut ourselves off.

But other than that, I couldn’t tell you anything I got for Christmas when I was a kid.

Like I said before, I love a good deal.

But buying stuff because it’s a really good deal is still just accumulating more stuff that in the end, isn’t going to make you any happier. Not even if it’s a big ass screen TV that you got for $300 off the regular price.

I have a friend who is spending the holidays without his wife and the mother of his son. She passed away a couple years ago from leukemia. I don’t think they were probably the Black Friday kind of shopping family back when she was healthy.

But I also bet the most meaningful gift he and his late wife gave to his son wasn’t anything that was purchased in a big box from Walmart at 3 a.m. on Black Friday.

I would wager money that it was memories of time they spent together.

I know Black Friday is pretty much over now.

I spent mine with my kids. I didn’t buy one single thing.

But I did go on a walk in the woods with my kids.

That’s something I’d love to do with them every year the day after Thanksgiving.

And I think that’s something they’ll look back on and actually remember when they are older.

Fondly.

If you are about to head out on round three of Black Friday, maybe you could reconsider.

Maybe instead of rushing back out into the madness, you could spend the night with your family.

The biggest gift you can give them is the gift of your time and attention.

Because I guarantee they’re going to remember that in the years to come.

But that Hatchimal you’d be willing to tackle someone for?

By next year it will be old news.

And in twenty years?

There’s a very good chance it won’t even be a distant memory.

 


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