Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Thrifty Thursday: Make Your Own "Junk" Food

This is my fifth "Thrifty Thursday" post. I want to stay motivated as I work on our family budget--part of that motivation is sharing what I am doing. It can be discouraging to read frugal blogs and see how people feed their families on so little money--I feel like I am trying hard and yet I don't see those results. I am sensitive to the fact that many people are frugal out of necessity and don't have the option to "not succeed" in their attempts. The last thing I want to be is patronizing. Nonetheless, I feel like we are bleeding money around here and there are some expensive things we need to save for. I know there are people who want to reduce their spending but do not know where to start..so I am writing these posts for them and myself :) I hope you are inspired and if you can add any ideas of your own I hope you will comment below :)

If, like me, you are trying to stick to a grocery budget then you know that buying snacks adds up quickly. I don't mean fruits and veggies--although they add up fast, too--I consider fruits and veggies a staple for our snacks and try to grow as much as I can and keep my kids on the daily recommended servings. I am talking the cost of sweet and salty treats.

If you walk down the cracker/cookie aisle at the grocery store you are entering an empty calorie zone. Although some of the products might boast "whole grains" or "low sodium" or "organic" ingredients, it is all processed and packaged far away and trucked to us and beyond all the other reasons to avoid it it also costs. too. much.

So what can we do to satisfy little cravings or my own total weakness for carbs and a hint of salt? Here are some treats that I make at home for my kids and for Husband's lunches (some of these are healthier than others--it's a post about junk food, after all!)


  • popcorn: popcorn is our #1 family favorite treat. J, the 5 year old, chomps it down and hoards the bowl. I buy the jug of popcorn for $5-ish and our occasional treat works out to just cents per serving. A no brainer. And if you limit the salt and butter I don't consider it altogether unhealthy especially compared to chips etc.
  • kale chips: my kids love them. I love them. Husband even loves them. I cut out any larger ribs and rip the leaves into bit sized pieces, coat the inside of a bowl with olive oil then flip the kale around in the bowl until lightly oiled. Spread on parchment lined baking sheet, sprinkle with parmesan and just a hint of sea salt and bake at 375 for approx 10 minutes, checking often. We like the chips to have a good crunch. I try to grow more kale every year for this reason alone (I also steam it and chop it to freeze for throwing into casseroles all winter). Next year I need to dedicate a much bigger space for some succession planting.
  • I made beet chips the other day for our snack. I sliced them very thin, tossed with olive oil then baked on my cooling racks. I think they would get crispier if I bake them next time on cookie sheets. The kids ate them for awhile and said they were "ok". I actually liked them but want to get them "crunchier" without burning them. It is definitely something I will try to improve upon because I can grow the beets and they are so good for us!

  • homemade baking: I know that sweets are not the best thing to give my kids, but baking with my mom is a very happy childhood memory and I want my kids to have that experience. Wherever possible I reduce salt and sugar, use apple sauce instead of oil, substitute whole grains and talk with my kids about eating sweets in moderation. We rarely ever buy baking, particularly packaged cookies and the like. This also helps keep the cost of Husband's lunches under control--when you work a 12 hour day it is necessary to eat a lot of calories! I would rather he eat my baking than fill his diet with store bought sweets full of preservatives. 
A great way to save on groceries is to eliminate snacks altogether. I no longer buy juice and my kids really didn't complain. What is never there does not get asked for! The same goes for snacks...if I or my kids know there is junk food in the house we gravitate towards it. If it's not there we are saving money while also eating better. When fruit or veggies just doesn't satisfy a craving, we have some frugal homemade options to fall back on :) Do you have any favourite homemade snacks you would like to recommend?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The End of August, 2015

September will be a month of growth. My 5 yr old, J, begins kindergarten on the ninth. I know it is the natural way of it; it is right to raise them to be independent and step out on their own. But today, today I wonder where it has gone. This boy that even in the womb I felt like I had always known, every wiggle and movement was familiar and meant to be, is 5 and beginning his journey away from me. It is my ultimate joy and my ultimate sorrow to watch him take that first step.

 It is emotionally intense to reach these milestones, as parents know. I don't wish the emotions away--I want to savour the feeling of still having him so close and wanting me to snuggle and read and play. And I want to feel every single tear slide down my face and the lump in my throat and I want to burn this feeling of helpless devastating love on my memory forever. Because life goes by too fast to not embrace its intensity. I am saying goodbye to the first part of our relationship together--the dependent baby is gone and I am only just realizing it. As he moves into a new chapter his younger brother, also, moves into the role of my only child at home everyday. My new sidekick to do all the things I had time for with J before O came along. Now O will have my undivided attention in a way that, sadly, he has never had. We are growing up, this little family.

It is less emotional, sure, but saying goodbye to a summer garden as the autumn weather and vegetables dominate also marks the end of another season of life. It is bittersweet to see the summer's labour come to fruit. It is not that I would want to have the summer heat last forever. But I am always melancholy to see it go.

Today I walked around the yard and took some pictures of the blooms that have hung in there. We still have good heat despite the shortened days. There was quite a bit of rain in August which is unusual but really brought on some growth.




I can't show a full picture of the pond because the edge hasn't been trimmed and the quack grass has grown up between and around the rock edging. I am all for authenticity and honesty, but it's just ugly.

So many sunflowers...They seem like ladies in the garden to me, heads bobbing in the breeze. I will always grow sunflowers.


These zinnias are from a seed packet, as are the bachelor's buttons to their right. I am always proud to point out that I grew them from seed. Sometimes my company is suitably impressed.



LOVE.




Deer sheds borrowed from a friend to keep the cats from using these raised rock beds as their litter. It actually worked great and for whatever reason the dog didn't steal them to chew. He has managed to dig up or chew almost everything else...


I do love these snapdragons. The little girl in me loves to see pinks and yellows together. This bed needs the edging finished (I haul rocks down from the piles up the hill, so it's an early spring/late fall job). Once the basement wall has been finished I want to fill this bed with hollyhocks and fox glove and lupins...


The peppers are on and await their destiny in various salsas. We have also been enjoying the heat of the hot portugals in chicken tikka masala and stir fries. So hot. So yum! The tomatoes are turning red slowly and soon will come the glut and the rush and the fatigue and eventually the basement will have tomatoes ripening in boxes and newspaper.


This apple is big, like, really big. The tree is only 4 feet tall (its second year). The plan is that the family will share this apple soon. I hope it doesn't disappoint!





Nasturtiums. I plant them every year. I began to doubt they would ever grow. I have them this year blooming in abundance-reds and yellows. In the above picture there is also volunteer cilantro that appeared as what I planted went to seed.


I didn't notice the grasshoppers on this sunflower until I added the picture. Her head is too heavy to lift anymore. The kids planted one each in their own little raised bed.

The gardening year is not over yet. I have weeds, so many weeds. I want to do a much better job this year of mulching and putting things to bed properly. Ideally I would like to start the year off without as much work, which means doing the work now while I can. But I've started a new quilt...and a little boy needs hugged and held and talked to and read to and snuggled and sniffed and I need to remember the sound and sight and smell of all of this. Savouring. This. Day.




Friday, 28 August 2015

A Lucky Find

Whenever I am in a thrift store I check for three things: real wooden furniture that I can paint or refinish, fabric (the more retro the better) and sealers. Recently I picked up a dozen quart jars (sealers) at the thrift store for $3. Compared to $12/dozen in the store it only makes sense. This morning I went to bring that box in from the garage and noticed one of the jars is a blue glass gem jar, made in Canada. 


Glass jars are hard to photograph. But I'm really happy with my morning's discovery. My new old jar now has a spot with some other favourites. 


Enjoy the day!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thrifty Thursday: Stockpiling a Pantry

This is my fourth "Thrifty Thursday" post. I want to stay motivated as I work on our family budget--part of that motivation is sharing what I am doing. It can be discouraging to read frugal blogs and see how people feed their families on so little money--I feel like I am trying hard and yet I don't see those results. I am sensitive to the fact that many people are frugal out of necessity and don't have the option to "not succeed" in their attempts. The last thing I want to be is patronizing. Nonetheless, I feel like we are bleeding money around here and there are some expensive things we need to save for. I know there are people who want to reduce their spending but do not know where to start..so I am writing these posts for them and myself :) I hope you are inspired and if you can add any ideas of your own I hope you will comment below :)

If you are a regular reader of this blog (there are a couple of you out there LOL) then you know I talk a lot about reducing our spending, frugality, simplicity, cooking from scratch and making do with what we have. It is important to me that my kids grow up understanding these values (I can't make them "share" my values, but I hope that by being raised this way and discussing consumerism they will think twice about acquiring debt for more gadgets and seeking the instant gratification of more "stuff". A topic for another post, perhaps). It makes sense to me to add having a stocked pantry to the above list. I am in the process of buying a few extras here and there (when they are on special) so that I never have to run to the store (a 25 minute drive) and pay full price because I "ran out" of something essential (flour, etc). There are a few reasons I have always kept a stocked pantry:


  • I live in western Canada and the weather can prevent travel when you live out of town. I am also a home-body and don't make extra trips to town if I can help it.
  • We have experienced power outages that have lasted 3-4 days in the past. I like to have a plan in place for events like that. We now have a wood stove--I can cook on it or my BBQ--but that means having wood available and propane in the tank. It also means having some food on hand for those emergencies.
  • As I mentioned, we live in western Canada. Whether you like it or not, western Canadians depend greatly on the oil and gas industry for their income--directly or indirectly. This is not a space where I want to debate the evils of the oil sands or the long term effects of fossil fuels. Tne fact is if you are a waitress you depend on oil money for your tips, if you are a carpenter you have been busy for years because of the oil boom, and on and on. The drop in the price of oil has left many people scrambling, some have been out of work for months. Having a stocked pantry can help get families through periods of less or no income. Being creative in the kitchen can stretch food dollars to make it paycheque to paycheque. For me, it only makes sense to try to save on food and have extra set aside for the unexpected.
So what are some items that I choose to stockpile?

Baking supplies: I bake most of our bread so flour and yeast, sugar, brown sugar and various grains top my list.
Drinks, including 5 gallon jugs of water: (our well water is not safe to drink) I notice the price of coffee fluctuates week to week. I keep a few extra cans around and buy more when it is on special. I can't be without my morning coffee! I also have an assortment of teas, some of which are medicinal.
Rice: I buy large bags of basmati rice because we love it and it is just a good staple to keep around.
Pasta and lentils: I keep a box of whole wheat lasagna noodles around for when I freeze lasagna to eat later. The kids like pasta and I plan to keep some extra on hand as we go into the winter months. Also pot barley, split peas etc for soup.
Household Supplies: Recently I bought a couple extra bottles of laundry detergent and dish soap that were either on special or had a coupon. Why pay full price because I've ran out and desperately need to do laundry? Toilet paper is something I really resent spending money on. And I don't love
the cheapest varieties. But really how much money should we spend on something that literally gets flushed down the toilet? So I try to keep extra rolls in house so we never have to run to the gas station and pay quadruple, or pay full price at the grocery store. The key is to watch for a decent brand being on sale. I use some shaklee cleaners that I bought years ago. It seems like a lifetime supply because I have had them for years and there is still plenty. While I do try to stay environmentally friendly I also have some cleaners that were the free gift at Superstore as a back up.
Canned Goods: Various soups and vegetables, primarily whole and crushed tomatoes. Last year my garden provided me with several months worth that I had canned or frozen. My plan is to eventually put up our annual supply of tomatoes. I like to have some canned chick peas and other beans on hand for when I've forgotten to soak dried ones overnight. Soup is handy for when we are in a rush or I'm just too busy or tired to make some from scratch.
Cooking oil was an in-store special the other day and I bought another 3 litre jug although I already had one to spare. I also have 3 or 4 gallons of vinegar in my garden shed because I use it to kill weeds. It is also handy to have for cleaning and making my wonderful sweet and sour sauce :) Aluminum Foil is so helpful with outdoor cooking and I got two 50' rolls on sale recently.





There are other things that I hate to be without--obviously toothpaste and shower supplies. We use Epsom salts in the kids' baths and I use them in the garden as well. I have a full spice cupboard that I really treasure. Cutting condiments out of our grocery list is better for the bank account as well as the health, generally, so herbs and spices can go a long way to add variety to our food.

There are probably more things to add to this list, and it obviously doesn't include what I stockpile in the freezer. I didn't include perishable but long-storing vegetables like potatoes and onions but I do always have them on hand whether from my garden, my mom's or the store. As we get better at self-sufficiency these are things that we would always provide for ourselves. Do you have any items to add to my list, or do you stockpile food for emergencies/security? 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Learning New Skills

I think that, no matter what your interests or talents, life is so much more fulfilling when you continue to learn. Stepping out of our comfort zones can be scary, yes, but exhilarating. I am very grateful that I was able to take part in a cheese making workshop yesterday and I have been walking on air making plans and schemes and feeling like life is full of possibilities. Isn't that great?





I did a mosaic tile table top workshop when my first son was a baby. It was one of the first times I'd left him all day (with my mom, but still!). I was exhausted, I missed him so much that by midday I almost burst into tears and left to go home. But I also felt an old spark rekindled...a creative side that had become bogged down in midnight feedings, diapers, loneliness, isolation and the feeling that my own identity had been swallowed up by something (although wonderful) much greater than myself. I began to remember who I was.

My mom suggested that I do a pottery class a couple years ago--love that woman! I had done a class pre-children and really loved handling the clay. I hand built some pieces that we use all the time. Creating bowls and cups on the wheel is still on my bucket list and the class I did in 2013 really gave me some confidence and it was so healthy for me to have a few hours a week pursuing my own interests while mom took care of my kids.





My love of gardening continues to grow. We have an elderly neighbour who also loves his garden and we visit back and forth to compare notes (he drops in to see if I've got these weeds under control yet!). Even at the age of 75 he is still seeing new things happen in the garden and he is interested in the types of things I plant and he loves to share his vegetables. What a hobby, to garden. The fact that a 99c pack of seeds can bring me years of delightful flowers just makes me full of joy. This yard...my garden...there isn't a day, not one day, goes by where I don't look out my window and thank whatever powers have brought me here to this place in my life.






It is such a delight to have friends that share my interest in crafty, homemade things. I shared a craft table at the local Christmas sale last year and we have plans to do another this year. Scheming and sewing and planning keeps every day interesting for me.



A friend and I made soap a few weeks ago (it may be a bit soft but we are letting it cure. And cure some more!). We plan to try again and as much as I enjoyed taking part in the process it is the company and connecting as friends that really feeds my soul.



The cheese making workshop yesterday opened my eyes to more than just a new homesteading skill that I am interested in. It was a group of local people that are pursuing similar hobbies and the lifestyle that I aspire to. I didn't feel so alone in my curiosity. I felt inspired. I felt like I can do all of the things swimming around in my brain. I felt really grateful that we can afford for me to do these occasional workshops and days out, and I felt very happy to come home to my family that supports my trying new things. When I look back on five years ago when I felt washed up, spent, and like my own identity was lost forever, I feel the need to spread the word to others that if you do the work that you must you will eventually find the time to do the things that you love. Read about it, blog about it, read blogs and borrow books and visit the places that inspire you. Build your knowledge so that when the time is right you can begin.

Not every one would want to try the things that I have taken a crack at in the last few years. We are learning about chickens and ducks and lambs and making syrup, baking bread and quilting and I have a list of things to come. These are not very scholarly or professional endeavors. They are hands on, tactile, artistic, grass roots crafts and skills and that may not be your thing. But I hope that you find your "thing" and pursue it with all your heart. The world opens up when you find your groove and never stop learning new things :)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Thrifty Thursday: Couponing for the Non-Committed

This is my third "Thrifty Thursday" post. I want to stay motivated as I work on our family budget--part of that motivation is sharing what I am doing. It can be discouraging to read frugal blogs and see how people feed their families on so little money--I feel like I am trying hard and yet I don't see those results. I am sensitive to the fact that many people are frugal out of necessity and don't have the option to "not succeed" in their attempts. The last thing I want to be is patronizing. Nonetheless, I feel like we are bleeding money around here and there are some expensive things we need to save for. I know there are people who want to reduce their spending but do not know where to start..so I am writing these posts for them and myself :) I hope you are inspired and if you can add any ideas of your own I hope you will comment below :)

Like me, you have probably heard of people saving hundreds of dollars by extreme couponing, although I've never watched the show by that same name. I know a lady who was actually paid for some things (I mean, she got the product for free plus she was paid a few cents! When I get a chance I'm going to get her to explain that one to me!)

Unfortunately, my own attempts at using coupons have been haphazard and usually leave me frustrated (forget to use them) or annoyed (clutter of newspapers/recycling/only coupons for things I don't need etc). But I have also been getting more serious about stockpiling certain items (a post related to that is coming soon) and so it makes sense to watch for coupons for the things that I don't need immediately but want to acquire in quantities.

I saw something on Pinterest that helped explain a few basics of couponing. If you are interested you can read more here. For the time being I want to use coupons to help me 1) reduce our current grocery spending and 2) help build a stockpile of certain household items (which should in turn also help us reduce spending). I am only willing to commit a bit of time to this per week, however, so I have a few guidelines for myself and I'll see how it goes.

1. Pick up the Sunday and Wednesday papers regularly (we now have a worm composting bin in which I use a lot of shredded newspaper, so the mess is less of a concern these days. I also use newspaper to start the wood stove, and we recycle)

2. Check online for manufacturer's coupons the night before I shop. Print and clip. (This will usually be Monday nights as I prefer to shop early Tuesday mornings)

3. Menu plan according to what's fresh in the garden, what needs used up in the fridge/freezer, and what is on special at the grocer.

4. If and when there are enough deals at a store that is not my regular grocery stop, I will go with a list and do a partial shop there. This might include ten-for-ten dollars days at the Co-op (usually get ten canned items for ten dollars, etc) or their meat sale. It does not help me to go to the extremely busy Co-op on 10% off Tuesdays, though, as it is more expensive than Superstore to start with. With two small helpers along on my once-a-week trip to town, multiple stops are near impossible. By the time we do all our errands we are exhausted and starved, so one-stop shopping was mandatory. when they were smaller. This fall, however, my big boy is starting kindergarten and will go on the bus to school every second day for the whole day. So there will be times that I have only one helper which will make it easier and will mean more room in the car.

5. By checking out the flyers before shopping, I will not need to circle the whole grocery store looking for deals (and therefore will succumb less to impulse buying!). I always write my list out in order of where things are, so I can continue to do that and will not, for example, go down the baking aisle if I know that flour is not on special that week etc. This should help curb the non-essential spending.

6. Once I get a feel for how often things go on special I will be more systematic about stockpiling. I read that sales happen on weekly cycles. Once I have those figured out I will report back and it will be easier for me to predict what I'll be buying.

7. I will continue to check the coupon wall as I enter Superstore (my main shopping choice). Twice recently the "coupon wall" has burned me with expired coupons, so I must remember to read the fine print before I use them! I use my points card and I pick up the weekly coupon for the free item if I spend the required amount. My goal is to not spend the required amount but, experience tells me, there is usually one week a month where I get a bigger amount of groceries. Why not time this with a decent free item (or bonus points for free groceries) especially if the money is spent when the groceries are already on special? This is how I hope that stockpiling will help save us money in the long run.

Some of the free items I have received over the years include: Rubbermaid food storage containers (twice), coffee travel mugs, battery pack and flashlight combo (gave away as a Christmas present), men's shaving kit (gave away as Christmas gift), various shower packs for women (I usually donate these unopened to the women's shelter at Christmas time), toothbrush and toothpaste combo worth $30 (it was whitening toothpaste which hurts our teeth, so I donated it to the food bank), free light bulbs, free cleaning product combos, you name it.

One other thing I should add is that I try to pick two on-special items every week that my kids deposit in the food bank bin on our way out of the store. I want them to be aware of our abundance and take their responsibility to help others seriously. If they don't understand that other families don't have enough, of course they won't grow up concerned about it. While I do think food banks and shelters are only band-aid solutions for deeper social issues, they do what they can to help and we must try to help too. I also engage the kids in conversations about homelessness, job loss, the working poor, etc, to try to help them understand where that donation is going. If I can be watching flyers for good deals and coupons this will also mean more donations to the food bank.

How I Did This Week:

Last week's shopping turned into a frugal failure. This week I went through the weekly flyer (discovered that laundry soap regular $18.98 was on for $10.98-so I got two). It is interesting to note that the Sunlight detergent in the flyer was an $8 savings each, while I had clipped a manufacturer's coupon that would save $2 if I bought 2 Tide products. I saved $16 by cross-referencing with the weekly flyer :)

We loooove Frank's RedHot Bollywood and I had a coupon to save 50 cents so I purchased one bottle. In comparing my grocery receipts I saw that last month the in-store special on the same sauce was over a dollar cheaper--SIGH--a person could really go in circles doing this! What I learned from that is to save my manufacturer's coupons to combine with the lower in-store price. That means checking the weekly flyer before I shop. If I had used the coupon the previous month I would have had the sauce for half price, so I am going to try to be much more aware of prices and, if I can get a decent stockpile, never pay full price for my groceries again :)






Thursday, 13 August 2015

Total Frugal Fail: 08/11/15

Ah, sometimes I can't win for losing. A beautiful summer day, everyone was up and ready for town, we had all slept good, the kids were cooperating nicely (a trip to the splash park as collateral), and then I decided to print off coupons before we left.

On goes the TV. Curious George anyone? Mama just be a minute.

Ok coupons won't print using Chrome. Try Firefox. Bingo.

Must download Java. Downloading. Run to close windows so the house doesn't heat up while we are in town. Tidy the kitchen a bit and check printer. Break up a fight and Fire Up another George; mama's doing my best.There is a problem completing the print, no time now, change of plans if we go to Walmart I can get mulch for the flower beds and look for Simply Accounting or a program like it while also picking up a few groceries.

Off to Walmart. No mulch but potting soil is on for $2/bag. Let's scoop 3 and be ready for spring. Frugal and fantastic, no?

Ever onward. No accounting programs here at all, but the kids do find lots to ask for and beg for. I shall not relent I am on a frugal mission! Well, I justify the purchase of modelling clay as a sensory tool on these hot summer afternoons and some "get ready for kindergarten" workbooks because they are $3 and it beats trying to think of activities myself. So yes we are diverting from The Plan but soon I have us headed for the Groceries and we will be Done In No Time.

Wow, things are pricier here than Superstore....ok we can make it til next week on the butter we have...grab almond milk for the Allergic One although it's a buck fiddy higher. Oooooh toilet paper 30 rolls for $8, mama likes. Chicken legs are $7, but are these ethical legs? I can't think about that now because the Wild Ones are on the brink of revolt in the meat aisle...must make it to the finish...an ice cream cone at the splash park hangs in the balance. No more running, no pushing, let's find something for our picnic and get the haybones outta here...ah yes, of course the potting soil is $7/ bag, not 2 as the clearance sign promised, that's wonderful. Where can I leave that? Oh, I won't be needing the $8 notebook that was marked $3. Oh, you saw that it was marked $3? groovy. I'll take it.

Off to the splash park as promised. We had initially planned a free afternoon at the Bigger Better park in town but invited a friend who wanted to go to the small one by her house. So that the kids could also have ice cream after the splashing. Sigh. OK so it won't be free. Away we go. Friend has forgotten money but the Promise has been made and ice creams must be had. Budget is blown anyway so I indulge in an iced coffee. Teenager texts for a few minutes while we wait. It's 30 plus degrees and the Wild Ones are restless and must be subdued with more sugar (ya right!) and on she texts. No she grabs her purse and leaves the building. What the....! Oh, her coworker has all this while been filling ONE one-scoop cone. And on we wait. The iced coffee has half a cup of 18% cream in it, that's awesome. It is too late now to back out of the 3000 calorie drink. At this point I just want to go home and lay down...When the dust settles it is $16.50 for what was meant to be a free afternoon, after a morning of shopping which was meant to be supplemented by coupons and frugal wizardry. Which clearly it was not.

SIGH. Next time I shall do better! Have you had any frugal failures (or successes?!) lately?