Monday, January 31, 2011

Week 4: Pantry Challenge

Well, this is it - the final week. Well, not really, because our pantry and freezer is still pretty well stocked. We have run out of a bunch of stuff and the grocery list is quite long, but there is still so much more to eat.

But as for the results of our final week - I ended up spending $11.05 on groceries and $2.38 of that was not part of the "plan", but we wanted some cheap hotdogs and buns to take with us on Saturday night to our playgroup family event of ice skating & a bonfire (we did have marshmallows which we brought along & roasted too.) In total for all four weeks, I spent $92.33 on groceries and we only went out once a week (not included but was generally less than $20 each of the 4 times.)

Plus my husband was gone for 4 out of 7 days, so there wasn't any big meals being made. Also, I realized that we do eat a lot of eggs (for breakfast or hard-boiled for a snack or egg salad sandwiches.) And since eggs were on my "ok-to-buy" list we weren't forced to eat all the cereal or oatmeal and since they are pretty inexpensive, my grocery bill doesn't raise too much. Eggs are really great! They are inexpensive, quick to cook, a good source of protein and enjoyed by all members of our family.

We have decided to extend our pantry challenge, but change it up a bit. We want to continue eating down our surplus without having to become creative with meals due to missing ingredients. This week we will continue the pantry challenge pretty much as is with the exception of buying food for a planned vacation where we will have a full kitchen, so we will purchase some prepared & convenience foods for that since we won't have the whole pantry with us. After we return, I am going to make an attempt to do a 4 week menu planning challenge.

My hopes with the menu planning challenge is that I will continue to use up what I have in the pantry and freezer and only shop each week for those items that I need to make my meals that I do not have in my pantry or freezer. So, I am going to be forced to shop only from my list and not stocking up and no spontaneous purchases.

This new challenge could be even tougher because I need to plan out the whole week in advance, whereas I tend to decide anywhere from 24 hours to 30 minutes before supper what I am going to make. And now I can look at the sales ads again (so I can use that to help plan my meals based on what's on sale to help keep food costs down) but I will have to restrain myself from wanting to stock up if there is a some desirable loss-leader items. So, stay tuned for my Menu Planning Challenge, which I plan to kickoff on February 14th (which makes it really easy for me that first day since our Valentine's tradition is to get a heart-shaped pizza from Papa Murphy's.)

If you would like to read about how my challenge started or week 1, week 2, or week 3, please check out the links I provided.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Week Three: Pantry Challenge

Oh, I am a bad blogger this week. I should have posted this on Monday, but didn't get around to it and then it slipped my mind.

We did good this week. Only $22 at the grocery store buying dairy products, fresh fruits & veggies & juice. Pretty much all the convenience foods are gone and I have been having to make all homemade meals.

Although, I have been really good and making meals with leftovers & eating all of them, just so I can cook a little less. Usually we good at eating leftovers, but sometimes we forget about them and then have to throw them away. Not right now, I remember the leftovers and they get eaten. Otherwise I have to figure out a meal to cook from scratch.

The other thing is that I have been remembering to take out previously made meals to thaw and cook. When I make a casserole, lasagna, chili or soup I usually try to make a double batch so I can throw one in the freezer to have a homemade meal at a later date with little prep work. This week we had chili & lasagna that were already made in the freezer. So, needless to say that my Tupperware collection in the cupboard is filling back up.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#182 Make Your Own Granola Bars

Why not try making your own granola bars. It's pretty easy and not very time consuming and can save you some money. I decided to make some because we had run individually packaged snacks for the kids, while doing this pantry challenge. And sometimes it is nice to have snacks already divided out into appropriate size portions. This recipe will make 24 crunchy granola bar. After they were completely we wrapped each one in some plastic wrap (we bought this huge roll 10 years ago & are still trying to use it up!)

Crunchy Granola Bars
2 C quick cooking oats
3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C wheat germ
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 C white whole wheat flour
1/2 C chocolate chips
1/4 C cinnamon chips (you could just do all chocolate chips)
1/2 C honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13x9 pan.
* Mix together oats, sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour & chips.
* Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; pour in wet ingredients.
* Mix together with hands.
* Pat mixture into the bottom of your pan.
* Bake for 25 minutes.
* Cut immediately after you take them out.
* Let cool completely before serving.

By the way, I noticed in the grocery circular this week that a box of 10 Quaker chewy granola bars cost $2.50 as a sale item. So, it would have cost you $6 to buy as many as I made. And the Nature Valley 12-pc crunchy granola were $3.50, which would have been $7 to buy as many as I made. But I also tried to use as many organic ingredients as possible, so if you compare it to the Taste of Nature granola bars on sale for $1 each, it would have cost $24 (although, if you were to buy them not on sale it would cost you approx. $1.50 each, making the total $36.

I added the cinnamon chip because I ran out of chocolate chips, but I think I would change it to being 3/4 C chocolate chips and not use any cinnamon chips.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Natural/Organic Sales, Coupons & Deals

"Like" Organic Valley on FB and get a coupon for 75 cents off OV Half & Half and while you are there, sign up for a chance to win "The World's Best Coffee Maker".
I love because they have a pretty wide selection of natural & organic products and there is free shipping. But you do have to purchase 6 items in your order. I placed an order today and was happy to find that a couple things I needed were available with a coupon (limited quantities available, so purchase soon if you want to get these prices). CitraDish powder Detergent for $3.89 (after $1.50 coupon); ECOS Laundry Detegent, 100 loads for for $8.49 or 210 loads for $15.89 (after $2 or $3 coupon); PrideGreen Biodegradeable Bags (sandwich bags, storage bags, garbage bags, etc. with coupons ranging from 50-cents to $1 off)
Submit a tip to the Earth's Best Baby Book and they will mail you $5 in coupons for submitting your first tip. Also, you will be entered for a chance to win $500 in free products (5 winners) and with each submission a donation will be made to Vitamin Angels.
Go to Mamapedia (choose Minneapolis for a city for this deal, not sure if it's national deal, but the store is online only) to buy a $20 gc for only $10 to Natural Family Botanicals. Plus, make sure if you purchase anything on here to select your school and they will get 5% of your purchase.
B3G1 Free on Ferry Morse Organic Seeds on Amazon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week Two Finished: Pantry Challenge

Well, week number two is finished. I did not purchase any items from the grocery store that were not listed in the Original Pantry Challenge post. But I did end up spending $43.22 on milk, cheese, juice, fruits & veggies. It was more than I intended but there was cheese on sale and thought I might as well buy a few in case it's not on sale this week. But since we average about $80 a week on groceries, this doesn't seem to bad.

And I bought the bulk of those groceries at the end of the week, so I shouldn't need to go too soon this week. Also, our paper with the grocery circulars was not delivered to us this weekend, so I have no idea who has what on sale, unless I go to their websites.

I do have to say, though, the grocery shopping like this felt like I was grocery shopping on a diet where you don't allow you to buy certain things. I don't really like that feeling of restriction. I also found myself frustrated that I couldn't stock up on on organic foods item that were on sale for a really good price. But I do like how quickly grocery shopping went since I avoided all of the aisles and there was essentially no label reading needed.

We did go out once this week for dinner as allowed. Although, this week I think we might end up at McDonald's since I was informed that the girl happy meal toy is My Little Ponies. I was told it started last week, but they were doing a "clean-up" week and getting rid of extras and it will start this Thursday. So, I bought myself some time and don't feel like I am going to have to compromise on our meal out as much. My Little Ponies are one of my daughter's favorite things in the world and I would like for her to be able to get a couple to add to her collection. When we go, I will ask for different ones in each of the kids Happy Meals so we can get them without having to go to McDs a whole bunch.

Another thing for this week is that my daughter and I made homemade granola bars, which are in the oven as we type.

To keep up with our pantry challenge, you can also read about Week One and see how that went.

I also wanted to make a point of clarification, that we will be doing a 4-week month. I figure it's just easier to to post about and figure out what I spent on groceries rather than trying to fit in an extra 2 days to make an average 30-day-month.

Friday, January 14, 2011

#181 Snowman Dress Made from a Bed Sheet

The original idea for this dress came from the Sugar Bee Craft Edition, where she made the dress out of a pillowcase. I didn't have any extra pillowcases laying around last night, so I decided I would use an extra bed sheet that was in the linen closet. It was actually a brand new queen-size flat sheet, sitting in the bottom of the drawer.

When I laid out the sheet, I realized just how much fabric was available to use and how little I was actually going to use making this dress. I decided I am going to try and see just how many dresses or pieces of clothing I can make out of this one queen-size flat sheet. And since it's 100% cotton, it should dye nicely, so you will see some of that coming soon.

Anyways, I didn't have a pattern I was working from, so I took a jumper-style dress that currently fits her and cut around it with enough extra on the sides to allow for seams. Next came the sewing parts where I stitched my side seams and shoulder seams and hemmed my armholes and neck hole. I actually placed the bottom of the dress even with the bottom of the sheet so that there was already a perfect finish at the bottom & left me with one less step to do.

You can read more of the step-by-step on the Sugar Bee blog about how the dress was embellished and I will give you my short version here.

Using a sewing pencil, I traced around a ribbon spool to create the eyes & buttons (then cut the inner circle of the button just smaller so you could see the layer) and traced around the lid from a baby food jar to create the circle for the mouth. The carrot nose I drew freehand. I used felt for all of the pieces except the inner circle (which you might be starting to recognize this fabric.) And then I stitched each of the pieces on.

And that's it. It was pretty quick and easy to whip together. Considering the sheet was just sitting around here not being used and the fabric & thread where leftovers. All I really purchased was the felt pieces, which were pretty inexpensive.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Get KIWI Magazine for $2 for a year

I love KIWI Magazine. It is a magazine dedicated to natural parenting and is a valuable resource!

My subscription recently expired and I was very excited to see this deal come across to get to get 1 year for $2 or 2 years for $4. Now, to get these prices, you need to be a new member to Mampedia.

NEW Mamapedia customers can use code 1YEARKIWI2 to bring the price down to just $2 (opposed to the deal price of $6, which is still fantastic!) Or buy two years for $4 with code 2YEARKIWI4 (opposed to the deal price of $10.)

ALSO -- you can select your school and if they are listed (seems like most are), they will get 5% of your purchase. I thought that was awesome, because now my children's elementary school will get 5% back.

This deal is only good until JANUARY 18th.

CLICK HERE to purchase the deal.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Week One Finished: Pantry Challenge

I bought groceries twice this week and each time I only bought exactly what I set forth to buy (milk, eggs, veggies, fruit & cheese.) I spent exactly $6 the first trip and $10.06 the second time.

I do have to admit that I spent $1 to buy a $5 gift card for Starbucks from one of those daily deals websites. That deal was too good to pass up.

Also, my husband was working late one night and stopped at Taco Bell on the way home and spent a couple dollars there. I had to remind him that he was part of this challenge and if he can't make it home to eat his supper without being ravenous, then he should plan ahead and have some kind of crackers or chips sitting in his car (since it doesn't matter if those things get cold or freeze.)

And we did go out to eat only once this week, which is the expectation. Next week, we do have the previously scheduled playgroup at McDonald's for lunch that will be in addition to going out once (but that time will be a date night, so the kids will be eating what we have at home.) Although, I do have a plan on how I will save a little money on that McDs visit and will share that later this week.

So far the only challenge is I am trying not to use up the convenience foods too quickly, so that I still have some if we need to make a lunch quickly. So, I have been making a lot more meals from scratch. And to make those from scratch meals, I need to plan ahead and make sure I take meat out of the freezer with enough time so it can defrost in the fridge.

So far, so good. Even my daughter understands that I am doing this challenge and that we can only buy certain items at the grocery store and she cannot ask for things that do not fit into the challenge. She did very good with this tonight when we went to the grocery store after her ice skating class and I told her she could pick out a healthy snack, and she picked out Clementines.

#180 A Quick Scarf from Leftover Fabric

Yesterday, I was busy crafting items for my daughter and myself and thought I should think of a craft for my son and remembered the other day when I realized he really needed a scarf.

Ok, I admit, this isn't my best work. It's hard to cut a really long straight line, which is why I would have actually preferred to have sewn this but there was only a section long enough to make a single layer scarf with no heming. The other fabric I embellished it with is the same stuff I have made a couple items for him with (and will continue to since I had bought about 3 yards of this fabric years & years ago.) I did sew on the plaid rectangles.

So, for no money at all and a little bit of time, my son has a wear. And just in time too! Since the are forecasting that we will have a very cold spell hitting up that has highs that do not go above zeros. Yup. Highs in negative numbers. Boo. Hiss.

Friday, January 7, 2011

$25 Off at Gardens Alive

You need to request a catalog here from Gardens Alive to get the coupon for $25 . I already have my catalog because I am already on their mailing list. So, next year you should get a catalog (with coupon if they offer it again like they did the past few years) in the mail without requesting it. Otherwise, right now on their website they have a promotion to get $20 off a $40 order. You will have to pay shipping & handling, but as long as your order is under $20 the shipping & handling will be $7.95.

They do have a variety of organic seeds to choose from (which is what I plan to buy) and sprout seeds (which you can start growing those indoors NOW!). The seed prices start at $3.25, which is what I have seen organic seed packets sell for at Lowe's and is cheaper than organic seed packets listed in catalogs from other seeds companies that I have started to receive. So, you will be able to purchase a lot of organic seeds, approximately 7-8 seed packets for the shipping & handling cost of $7.95. That's really about $1 a seed packet.

Just think about how much organic produce you will be able to provide for your family (& your friends & neighbors) for approximately $8.

Remember, if you are planning on gardening without chemicals, it is best to use organic seeds. Non-organic seeds have been tested & grown in environments with chemicals used, so theoretically will not thrive as well in an environment where chemicals fertilizers or pesticides are not used.

Of course, they do have a variety of other products related to gardening. I have to respect their slogan "Environmentally Responsible Products that Work!"

Good luck with your garden planning

Monday, January 3, 2011

Month Long Pantry Challenge

I have read lots of bloggers who try to save money by doing a Pantry Challenge and use up what they have rather than buying more stuff and continuing to stock the pantry. I have often thought I can easily do that because we have way too much in the pantry, but I have never made the decision to just do it.

Here are the rules I am going to set for myself:

* Only grocery shopping for fresh produce, eggs, juice & dairy products as needed
* Purchasing my husband's pop (although if I start making coffee more in the mornings, he won't need the pop)
* Only eating out once a week (with the exception of a pre-scheduled playgroup to McD's once this month)

That's it really. I think I should be able to do it. And I don't think I have any parties or special events that I need to buy for.

I think the real challenges are going to be:

* Not looking at the sales flier and wanting to stock up on sale items
* When I run out of pre-packaged kids snacks and having to make up my own snacks (sounds like a good time to try out making homemade granola bars though)
* Planning far enough ahead to get meat out of the freezer to be thawed in time for dinner

I think this is do-able and my pantry & freezer could use to be emptied a little. Really what I am not doing is purchasing any non-perishable items (canned/boxed) or meats or frozen fruits & veggies. I plan to check in weekly and let you know how it went the week before. Anyone want to join me on this challenge?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

#179 Hand Dyed Hand print Kitchen Towels

This was a present that the kids both had a "hand" in making for all the grandparents and great grandparent for Christmas. We used leftover fabric, fabric paint & heat & bond, tea to hand dye the towel, and purchased a towel from Fleet Farm.

This is simple enough to make but have several steps to it that make it a little time consuming.


* Boil a pot of water large enough to fit in the amount of towels you are dying.
* Steep tea for about 20 minutes (we used about 8 tea bags per gallon of water)
* Soak towels in tea for approximately 30 minutes (leaving it longer, may dye the color darker if that is desired)
* Wash the towels w/o soap and dry
* Iron towels
* Trace hands onto a piece of paper
* Cut out squares of fabric and heat&bond that are just barely larger than the hand print
* Iron fabric on to one side of the heat&bond
* Trace hand onto backside of heat&bond (on the paper part)
* Cut out hand print
* Iron hand print on to towel
* Paint on names & year with fabric paint (my daughter wrote her own name on the towel in a permanent marker and then I traced over it in fabric paint)
* Paint around edges of hand prints (this will make sure the edges stay down)

Also, be sure to let your used tea cool to room temperature and then use water your plants.

#178 Recycled Artwork Bookmarks

I can now post about these because they have been given out as gifts.

This summer I had my children create some Initial Artwork (fingerpainting over masking tape intials) that they entered into the county fair for the Youth Art exhibit. Afterwards, I cut out the intials to hang up and there was still finger painting left. So, I got crafty and used "fancy" scissors and cut out book marks, used clear contact paper to laminate them, punched a heart hole at the top and strung ribbon through.