Join my spending challenge?

small treasure

It’s Frugal Friday today, and  after rassling with the contents of my fridge, pantry and freezer this past week,  I decided it’s time to give myself another spending challenge. I usually spend around $700 on groceries in a month and during the month of September, I’m going to try to get by on $300. Honestly, I think we should be in pretty good shape– I have LOTS of meat in the freezer right now and the produce is pouring out of the garden lately.   I’m going to start by challenging myself to see how many days I can get without shopping at all.  7 days?  10 days? 2 weeks?  We’ll see.

Would you like to be part of this challenge? Pick a dollar amount that seems doable yet is a decrease from what you usually spend.  If a whole month seems too intimidating, you can challenge yourself for a shorter time– maybe just two weeks?  But the goal is to use what you have as much as possible, and decrease your spending for the month in the process.  If it goes well, you’ll have a bit of cash left over to tuck away, maybe for Christmas spending in a couple months?

I’ll report every Friday how I’m doing. I’ll share what we’ve been eating and how I’ve been making do when we run out of things here and there.  I always find it to be an interesting challenge. If you want to play along,  comment each Friday and share a report of your own.

 

Notes from other years I’ve done this challenge

A funny post from our 2006 Spending Challenge

Start of the 2009 Spending Challenge

Day 1 of the 2013 Spending Challenge

 

Frugal Friday

swimming

I’ve got almost nothing for you this week.  It was a very busy erranding/soccer practice/school prep kind of week which always results in eating fast food more often than is strictly necessary.

  • One day when the fast food craving hit, we did go with McDonald’s instead of Jimmy John’s which would have been twice the cost.  So I guess that was a victory, kinda.  Another day we had Chinese food at the restaurant where my daughter has worked all summer. Not the most affordable but I’d been wanting to try her restaurant out for awhile, and it was fun to see her there, hard at work.
  • This week I canned 25 quarts of tomatoes and 15 quarts of pickles.  I also did about 8 pints of raspberry plum jam. And still there are cukes in the fridge and tomatoes and plums on the counter.  Yikes!
  • I stocked up on school notebooks on sale.  I still need to get more though.  I think I only have a couple dozen, and that’s not enough to get through the year.
  • Our pool pump broke this week, so new parts are being ordered.  Bah humbug.  Definitely a ding in the budget, but I guess we should just be glad we got nearly 6 years of use out of a pump that was old when we got it.  (Hooray, Craigslist!)
  • I combined a whole bunch of errands several days this week, so at least we got good use out of all that gas and time in the car!
  • We are opting to go to the fair on the very last day this year, which means half price admissions.  We are giving the kids $10 each to spend, for food or rides or whatever, and the rest is up to them.

That’s all I have for you this week.  I’d love to hear more successes from you!

 

Free online resources for school

Free Online Resources for SchoolWith school just getting underway, I thought I’d share some online learning resources that are out there for folks who don’t have a lot of money to spend.  Twenty websites, all free– what a beautiful thing!  If you know of other free online resources for homeschooling or for enrichment learning, please share them in comments, below.  And if you find this post to be helpful, please feel free to pin it so that others can find it.

 

  • Starfall — an online phonics learning website, complete with lots of games
  • Young Minds — free printable handwriting pages
  • Arcademics– this site combines math learning with the fun of arcade games.
  • Calculation Nation — here’s another math learning website
  • The Teacher’s Corner- offers free printable worksheets
  • Seterra — This is a great free geography learning resource
  • Youtube Primary & Secondary Channel– ] learning videos on scads of topics appropriate for elementary school learners
  • Music Appreciation, Charlotte Mason style- hints on teaching music appreciation to children
  • Patrick Math — this is a website devoted to math tutorials, some on very complex topics
  • Free Rice Grammar- English grammar drills for junior high and high school kids
  • Free Rice Vocabulary– vocabulary drills for kids and teens
  • Free Rice Math — review of pre-algebra skills
  • MOOC—lists classes you can take online for free.  In some cases you may need to pay to earn actual credits.
  • MIT Open Courseware- offers many different college level classes for free
  • Textbook Revolution — has many textbooks available in pdf’s or other forms online for free.  Check here before you buy a spendy book.
  • Spreeder.com — free online speed reading course–what college student doesn’t need that?
  • Khan Academy — bills itself as providing a free world-class education for anyone.  Many topics.
  • Duolingo — is a great little language learning website that offers 14 different languages.
  • 8notes.com/ –offers free sheet music and instruction for a variety of instruments
  • Code Academy — teaches basic beginning computer coding step by step.

 

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frugality this week

Time for frugal Friday again! We’ve had a busy week.

One of my sons (Josh) started soccer practice this week and had two-a-day practices ALL week long, so I deliberately avoided most activities besides that, but I still had at least a couple days wheresoccer practice I probably drove 80-100 miles in one day alone. Thankfully I was able to drive John’s tiny car a few times, which helped decrease our gas use a bit. Josh has been hunting for a good used car to buy for when he gets his license in September, but hasn’t had too much luck yet.  I guess we’ll keep looking.

When uniform shopping with my daughter who’s doing a dental assisting program this fall, after buying the required scrubs, we checked the thrift store for the required white leather work shoes.  Found a very nice lightly worn pair for $6.  She then was fortunate enough to be given another scrub top for free by a student who’d finished the program.  Hooray!

From the garden we got at least 30 cucumbers,  a dozen zucchini, several dozen tomatoes, a cabbage, and about 12 cups of plums.  For lunch I made this pasta salad with long thin shreds of zucchini as some of the ‘noodles’. We are definitely moving into the season of garden abundance, and I need to get serious about using those veggies!  Today I canned 7 quarts of pickle spears using this recipe and still have a heap of about 15 cukes to use.  I also have a huge bowl of tomatoes sitting waiting to be canned.

One day this week I bought two chickens for $1/lb, and roasted them in the turkey roaster on the back patio so that the house would stay cool.  $9 of meat gave us two different dinners for 8 people:  one of roast chicken, and the other being a very hearty chicken noodle soup, complete with zucchini, carrots, garlic, cilantro, ginger, and lime– yum.

Today I spent awhile talking with the banker at our newly merged bank about checking account options for our young adults.  It seems the only option for folks who don’t keep at least $750 in their checking account is one that charges a $6.50 service charge each month.  The good news  (according to the bank) is that for every time you use your debit card in a month, 25 cents is taken off that service charge.  So if you use your card almost every day, you don’t pay a service charge.  That might be an okay option for me– I probably use my card almost that much.  But it’s not so great for my daughter who uses her card maybe 3 times a month.  So we may be bank shopping.

How did the frugality adventure go this week at your house?
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recipes you know by heart

The winner of the book Waking Up White is commenter #8 Lynda.  Send me your address, Lynda, and I will get the book headed your way!Make Your Own Pizza

I read a couple of interesting articles about food yesterday, the first titled Why So Many Low-Income People are Overweight and the second The New Face of Hunger. Reading those stories with my ‘momma-goggles’, I got thinking about the types of skills that my own kids would need to make wise food choices later on in times when budgets are tight.

Obviously being able to walk into a store and know what types of foods give you the biggest bang for your buck is a huge part of being successful.  (Here are a few of the ways I save at the store.)  Each time I bring my kids along with me to the store, I encourage them to check unit prices and be on the lookout for good deals. I’ve also talked with them about the kinds of foods that are best for budget-stretching and for our bodies. Sure, they’ll cave in to spendy and unhealthy junk at times as adults– don’t we all?  But hopefully shopping with me now will give them a basis for shopping affordably and in healthy ways later on.

Another component of success in the kitchen, especially, especially when life gets busy, is being in the practice of cooking efficiently.  Brown that ground beef and chop that chicken as soon as you get home from the store.  Double recipes and freeze part for another day.  Habits like these decrease overall time in the kitchen and make meal prep much less intimidating.   I’m guessing that a lot of people who struggle to make their grocery money last all month do not habitually do these types of things.   I’m hoping that involving my kids in these types of tasks as kids will help them be more likely to remember these huge time and money-savers as adults.

One final skill that’s huge in my mind is the ability to make at least a few meals without a recipe. Sure, it’s easy to google recipes these days, and I’ve been told by my kids that anyone who can read, can cook.  That’s true to a certain degree.  But there’s something really empowering about having a few recipes right in your head– a few simple meals you can just do, without resorting to any reference books.  It is a huge step toward feeling truly capable in the kitchen.

My quick and cheap favorites include pasta carbonera, Molly’s 10 Minute Chicken, and Thai chard wraps.  In addition, my ramen-loving kids have all mastered Veggie Ramen Stirfry. (I make them add veggies if they want to eat ramen.) They also can make their own pizza, including crust from scratch.

That’s a great start, but this school year I’m going to work on helping them expand their ‘know-it-by-heart’ cooking repertoire even more. I’m going to ask each of them to choose 2 recipes they enjoy, and then have them each cook one of those recipes once a week during this school year. I’m interested to see what they’ll choose to make, and it will be neat to see them gaining competence in the kitchen.

What are some of your favorite by-heart recipes?  Which meals do your children enjoy the most?

 

Also of interest

103 Family Friendly Recipes

Can Africa’s Fertile Farmland Feed the World?

Frugal Friday

Just a few quick notes from this week!  Frugal wins this week included:

  • Bought a vinyl remnant at Lowes for the bathroom floor– got double the vinyl for the same cost– enough for two bathrooms.  We do have another project in mind one of these days, so that reduce the flooring cost to $45/bathroom!
  • Instead of buying a new vanity, we reused the vanity from the old bathroom, and freshened it up with dark stain (like this) and a fresh pair of door handles.
  • Spent 10 minutes hunting down coupon codes on a clothing website- tried a bunch before successfully saving 20% plus getting free shipping– $16 savings for 10 minutes of work.
  • Eldest spotted a GREAT sale on ground beef $1.79/lb, and bought me 30 pounds.  The kids browned some and made some into hamburger patties.  So we are all stocked up at a great price.

That’s it from here.  How’d you do?

this week’s frugal accomplishments

I always do better telling you about details when I start a blog post early in the week and this week I actually remembered to do that. On Sunday when we were getting the table set for our family dinner, I asked one of the kids to pick me some flowers, hoping I could put together a couple of bouquets for the table.

bouquet

Well, most of the flowers are getting pretty dry, so there was only enough for one smallish bouquet.  It looked nice, but when I’ve got a table set to seat 20 people, I like to have something pretty at each end of the table.

I got out a pretty teapot that I rarely use, and set it at the other end, but it looked a little out of place.  Finally I had an inspiration and poked three little flowers into the spout of the teapot.  Unexpected, but I thought it was cute, and then I had a fun spot of color at both ends of the table.  Bonus:  the cloth napkins under the center pieces, the little teapot, and the blue rocks in the bottom of the vase were all thrifted at various times.

teapot

Speaking of thrifting, I found myself a really cute shirt at the thrift store for $2, and one of my teen daughters found 4 t-shirts and spent only $9.  Not a bad shopping trip at all.  I think next time I get my Stitch Fix, I might toss a thrifted item into the mix and see if you can tell which one I got at the thrift store.  Maybe you’d be able to tell right away, but we’ll see.

I found bone-in chicken breasts marked down to $1.29 a pound, and also grabbed a few loaves of marked-down bread.  I’m planning on making french toast for breakfast this morning with one of the loaves.  I also bought a bunch of marked-down bananas, many of which we froze for fruit smoothies.

My mother in law who is moving gave me a bunch of jelly jars, enough that I have plenty to share with my married daughters, who also enjoy canning. I added a few dishes to a bin of dishes I keep in the garage for kids who are moving out and setting up their own spaces.  That’s always an exciting time for kids, whether the move be to a dorm room or an apartment, and I like being able to hand them a ‘starter’ set of items to keep that move more affordable.  With four kids in the 16-18 year old range, I’m working on getting that bin fuller than usual.

We got peppers, yellow cauliflower, and a few cherry tomatoes out of the garden this week– hooray! Cabbages are also close to ready.  I made more apricot jam, and gave some apricots away to my daughters.  And there are still apricots on the trees!  It is promising to be an amazing fruit year.

It’s so amazing, in fact, that our best-producing apple tree has branches that are literally touching the ground, weighted down by all the apples.  I went around the tree and nipped off the ends of the most-laden branches, hoping there’ll be less breakage and larger fruit overall. I tossed the wormy apples to the cows and brought 20 or so of the best green apples inside.  They’re pretty sour still, so I’m planning to make my first-ever batch of green apple jelly.


To do that, I bought a couple of Jelly Strainer Bags on amazon.  I was going to buy the little rack that the jelly bags sit in, but then in comments I read that the bags fit into wide mouth canning jars, so I decided to do it that way instead.  I cooked down a bunch of apples, and set the mash into the jelly bags to drip out all the juice.  Though the apples were a bright green, the juice ended up being a rather unattractive creamy tan color, not at all pretty for jelly.

I decided then to add a few drops of green food coloring, but got wayyyy too much green.  So now in my fridge I have some koolaid-green apple juice. I’m planning to simmer down a few more apples, add that juice, and am hoping to end up with a more natural-looking green.  I’ll try to add a photo once I get it done.

Here’s the recipe (source) I’m planning to use once I get the color of the juice to my liking.  Supposedly using seeds and skin will produce all the pectin I need to ‘jel’ the jelly.  We’ll see! Oh, the adventures of trying new things!

Green Apple Jelly

Ingredients

  • 4 lb green apples
  • 3 c. Water
  • 1/2 c. lemon or lime juice
  • Sugar (1 c. for every cup of apple juice)

Instructions

  1. Clean sterilized jelly bag and cheesecloth. Do not peel or core. Just wash and cut into pieces. Seeds & skin contain most pectin, so cook it right along with the pulp to get a firm jelly. Cover the fruit with the water, adding more if needed during cooking. Add lemon or lime juice and boil until tender. Remove from heat and mash. Strain the fruit through a jelly bag.
  2. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RUSH THE JUICE BY SQUEEZING BAG OR MASHING FRUIT DOWN. THIS WILL CAUSE THE JELLY TO BE CLOUDY.
  3. Let the fruit stand in jelly bag 4 to 6 hours or overnight. The following morning add sugar 1 cup for every 1 cup juice. Boil in a very large pot until candy thermometer reads 220 degrees F. It should be a rolling boil that can't be stirred down. Turn off heat and skim the froth. Fill and cap the jars.
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Well, that’s all I have time to tell you about this week.  I’d love to hear about any successes you had!

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Frugal Friday: Teen Car Edition

FirstCar

This week was a big one for one of our teens.  After a couple years of working and saving, he was able to buy his first car.  He found this 1995 Cadillac for the princely sum of $1100.  Of course that didn’t include the new battery and oil change it immediately needed, or the price of that first tank of gas. He’s feeling pretty broke right now. But we are pretty proud of our boy for saving and working to buy this car on his own.

How did frugality go at your house this week?  I’d love to hear some of the ways you’re teaching your kids about wise spending.

Frugal Friday

Some of our campers

It’s Friday again. How did your week go? I can’t believe how fast the summer is flying by, with driving kids to work, weeding the garden, swimming, and just living.  The short story with me and frugality this week is that I guess you can’t win them all.  Here are the details.

  • We went camping over the weekend, and somehow managed to leave our lunch in the fridge at home.  So that meant a stop at the grocery store on the way to the mountains to buy bread and lunch meat to replace that lunch.  The bonus was that we had an easy sandwich meal already made when we got home.
  • We had to replace two tires on the minivan and one tire on John’s car, so that was a ding to the budget.  Thankfully the flat tire on the wood trailer was free to fix at Les Schwab.
  • One victory over temptation: I went frugal this week with my Stitch Fix package.  I really like 4 out of the 5 items, but I only had credits for 2.  So I chose #2 the striped dress and #3 the striped tank top, for a grand total of zero money out of pocket.  My family has a running joke that all Stitch Fix has to do is send me something in stripes and I will buy it.  I kinda think they’re right.
  • This week I made a dozen jars of apricot jam. The apricots on our tree are just getting ripe, so there will probably be more. This past year we ran out of jam before early spring, so this summer I am trying to make enough this summer so that won’t happen again next year.  Some of the apricots were mushy or had bugs in them.  But those went to the chickens to peck at, so nothing was wasted.
  • John planted flowers in a side flowerbed that he’d grown from seed himself.  He even planted a basil plant for me that I’m hoping will thrive.  We have the new flowers in a flower bed under the swamp cooler, which drains water all day long.  So the plants should stay good and wet without us having to remember to water them–a bonus in dry Idaho in July.
  • Speaking of the swamp cooler, these days that’s what we’re using instead of the air conditioner.  It is able to keep the house a good 20 degrees cooler than the outdoors.  So by late afternoon on 100 degree days, it still feels kinda warm in the house, but it is much cheaper to run than our A/C, and also seems much less likely to need repairs.
  • We still have two steers, which is a bit more than our two acres of pasture can easily feed in the heat of July.  We do have three pasture rotations to move them through, giving a chance for pastures to grow.  But basically in July and August they eat two sections before the third section has a chance to grow up. A week or two ago we decided to start feeding them our lawnmower clippings, something we hadn’t done in the past because we’ve heard that feeding them large piles of grass sporadically can make them sick, especially if the piles ferment.  So we decided to mow about 20 minutes every day, and feeding them just those clippings freshly cut clippings each day. Since we’re mowing about an acre, that’s plenty big enough to mow a little a day.  It looks a little odd to have only part of the back yard mowed at a time, but the clippings delight the cows.  They’re looking fat, and they now are trained to come mooing up to the fence whenever someone turns on a lawn mower.
  • A minor frugal fail this week came on Thursday.  I was having some people over for lunch, and thought I’d have enough time to do soup and bread, or something homemade anyway.  But then a doctor’s appointment for one of my kids went long, and I ended up getting chicken at Albertson’s to serve instead of actually cooking.  It was a perfectly fine lunch and not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.  But I’d wanted to fuss over my guests a bit more than that, and was disappointed that a long appointment plus not planning ahead left me at the deli counter.
  • Another money guzzler this week was opting to drive our largest vehicle on errands, simply because it is the only one with A/C.  But hey, in 100-degree heat, I figure momma’s comfort is worth a little extra gas.  At least that’s how I’m rationalizing it.  I did try to minimize my outings, though, and combined errands to use gas most wisely.

One plan that we have for August is not frugal, but needed.  The boys’ bathroom shower has a leak in the wall that John temporarily patched with duct tape and a shower curtain several months ago. (So pretty!  ;) )  While we’re replacing the shower stall, we’re also planning to bump out a bathroom wall to enlarge the bathroom and possibly fit a full tub up there too.  I think it will be a nice improvement, and if we do most of the work ourselves, it shouldn’t be terrifically spendy.  (I know, famous last words, right?)  I’ll keep you posted.

How’d your week go?

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Frugal Friday

berriesOver a couple days time we picked 5 pounds of raspberries and 4 pounds of plums, so on Monday I made more jam. The berries are looking really nice this year. It was a nice wet spring, and we also did a good job pulling out dead canes. I am hoping to make plum jam later this afternoon, because the ones I picked Monday are now nice and ripe. They’re small plums and will need a bit of sugar, but they should be good for jam. And by now, there are also probably more berries, so I might ask kids to pick again and do a plum/raspberry mix.

On Tuesday I took the kids to the local water park with freebie passes that they earned by doing a reading program this spring. Well, kinda free. If we’d gone last week they literally would have been free tickets, but June was crazy busy, and I decided to wait til July to use them. Since we used them late, they were buy one, get one free passes (as the kids’ teacher I earned one too) which worked out to be $15/person for admission for all our kids who were interested in going. Not bad!

Wednesday we had a quiet day at home — so boring to some of my teens who would prefer to be perpetual motion machines.  But we had some down time anyway.  I did run to the bank when I drove kids to work, and that’s when I discovered that there’s a branch of our bank RIGHT across the street from where my son works.  Our bank recently merged with another, and that bank was totally not on my radar. But it will be such a time saver, especially with kids earning money and always needing to go to the bank.  Hooray for clumping errands in close proximity with each other. Speaking of clumping, I’ve also been shopping a lot at the grocery store near my kids’ work.  I do try to only grab what’s well-priced, but I figure even the occasional higher-priced items still balances out in gas and time savings.

On Thursday after having friends over for a swim day (fun!) I SO did not want to cook. Almost went out for Chinese food for dinner, but instead grabbed pasta and green onions and made these sesame noodles at home. Yay, me!  Sometimes it is SO hard to make myself cook, but I do feel glad when I get moving.  And this recipe was quite good.

Today is a busy day, with dr’s appointments and a run to Boise to babysit grandbabies while my daughter gets her hair cut.  But again I will be clumping errands (dropping a teen off to shop someplace he’s been wanting to go) and also using a coupon for a free loaf of bread right across from the store where I’m bringing my son.

How did your week go?  Did you have some frugal wins that you felt good about?