Saving Money Tips From Our Family To Yours: Part 3 of 5

Part 3: Bars!

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We eat A LOT of bars. They are the perfect snack, wrapped up nice and neat, usually with chocolate in or around them. We just love bars.

The cost of bars adds up. Sometimes we will eat more than one a day. I drive around all day for my job, and a bar is a jiffy little snack that’s easy to eat while driving and staves off the hunger cravings in between meals. Mint Chocolate Builder’s Bars by Cliff Bar are my FAVORITES!

I’ve tried to pick different snacks: veggies, cheese, nuts, etc. And while we do eat other snacks, the truth is that everyone in my family prefers bars, and at some point, I stop fighting against it.

And instead I think…how can I save money and have my family still enjoy their favorite snack?

Make your own! But they have to actually be good.

Here’s what I did. After trying many recipes, I decided I loved  these 

They are soooo simple, and you can add whatever you like into them.

Now, once I made these, I thought I had declared victory over the $500/wk in bars problem. (Just kidding we don’t spend quite that much on bars, but we do spend a lot.)

Anyway, I was WRONG!

The pan of bars were gone THE SAME DAY.

I felt defeated, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Thus began a series of failed attempts to make these bars last an appropriate amount of time and therefore save money.

I decided to pre cut them so that people wouldn’t reach their sticky hands inside the fridge and rip off huge pieces to stuff into their mouths…nope. They just grabbed pre cut piece after pre-cut piece.

I decided to wrap them in plastic wrap so that they were more like a store bought bar one had to open…again, nope. Bars were unwrapped and eaten late at night and throughout the day, much the same way as before.

Seriously, does it have to be so hard? Why can’t I make a big batch of homemade bars on Sunday, and have them last throughout the week? How crappy I feel when I make them, and we are back to buying bars at the store by Tuesday?!

Here’s what I ended up doing: first, I had a heart to heart with my clan. I let them know that we had to show a little self restraint. Then, I calculated how much I would need to make in order for everyone to have one, nice-sized bar per day (cutting them smaller does not make them last longer in our house). I figured out I could double the recipe (I use 2 cups of honey and add a bit more oats until I find the right consistency). On Sunday, I made PLENTY, cut them up, wrapped them, and made a stack for each day of the week, complete with a piece of tape on each one with the day of the week (let’s not leave room for ANY confusion here). I stacked them by day into the refrigerator.

Guess what…it worked. I guess that when we know we have bars in the fridge, and that we are allowed one every day, we find that it’s…enough. If we wanted more than one, than we had an apple instead.

Cost comparison: I spend roughly $25 for 28 bars (4 people eating one, 7 days a week). We were buying Cliff Builder’s Bars (did I mention the mint-chocolate one is to die for?) A box of 12 is $15. You know how long 12 bars lasts for us? If you can do the math, then you do. Yeah…I’m saving money this way people.

I’ve added chocolate chips, nuts, shredded coconut…you can add whatever you want.

Your family might not be as neurotic as mine is with bars. You may not even need to pre-cut them or individually wrap each one up and label them with the day of the week!

You do what works for YOUR family.

For our family, this is a money saver.

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Saving Money Tips From Our Family To Yours: Part 2 of 5

Before I begin, I must let you know that most of not all of these tips are about food and/or the kitchen! That’s where I have focused my energies in our adventures in frugality.

That being said, let’s dive in to Part 2!

Part 2: Vegetable Stockalyson-mcphee-499812-unsplash-2

Photo by  Alyson McPhee

Do you enjoy smelling a big pot of stock simmering on the stove as much as I do? Because I really really like it. The smell is comforting and I know that when it’s done,  it can be used in a variety of different meals. Make a yummy soup, or simply cook your pasta in it for extra nutrition.

This post is specifically about vegetable stock. This post is specifically about making vegetable stock FOR FREE. Sounds exciting right? Here’s how you do it:

You will need a gallon sized plastic bag.

And to make this for free, you do have to buy your normal vegetables that you usually buy for meals anyway. So if you never buy vegetables…this won’t be free.

Here’s what I do: say I’m cooking a Mexican dish and I have an onion and a bell pepper. I cut off the ends of the onion and peel the outside off, but I don’t throw it away. I keep the peel and the ends and put it in the bag. Same with the top of the bell pepper where the stem is.

I do this with garlic ends and skin, carrot ends, celery ends and leaves, broccoli stems, mushroom stems, pumpkin guts (technical term?), you name it! I store these all in the bag in the freezer, add to it until I have enough and I’m ready to make some stock. I don’t keep any bad pieces obviously, and I may even keep two different bags with different types of vegetables that go well together in a stock. I’ll always go through my refrigerator before making veggie stock (or broth), and see if there are a few carrots or whatever that I know I’m not going to use in time and don’t want them to go bad. Throw them in! SUPER EASY.

As we all know, vegetables have a lot of important nutrients, and are very good for our bodies. Why not make a big pot of stock to add flavor and nourishment to your food? I only used to make chicken or beef stock, but I’ve been very surprised at how good vegetable broth is.

By the way, broth and stock are different by the times they take in the old stock pot. Stock is cooked 24+ hours and your veggies will basically be mush, but every ounce of goodness will be left in your liquid. Broth is lighter and can be made in only a few hours.

So there’s Tip #2. Instead of buying broth/stock at the store, make it yourself for basically free.

 

Saving Money Tips From Our Family to Yours: Part 1 of 5

I have spent countless hours pouring over the internet: blogs, Pinterest, etc, in an attempt to save more money.

Maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned:

You must do what works best for your family.

There is no magic formula that I have found on any website or blog post. I have learned to take bits and pieces and apply them to what works for MY family.

SO, that is what I encourage you to do here.

I want to share five ways I’ve learned to save money/spend less money/make things stretch farther. Ready? Here goes nothin…

Part One: Use less meat, or no meat at all.

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photo by Heder Neves

Wait what? Yeah, meat can be a touchy subject. I know a few people who are really attached to their meat and will have it at every meal. Again, take bits and pieces that work for YOU and YOURS.

We are not vegetarian. My husband has had some health issues and seems to have discomfort when digesting animal protein, and this is one of the reasons we have decreased our intake of meat. While doing this, I realized…we were spending less money on groceries! For our family, we would have meat for every dinner and usually for lunch. Now we don’t! And we have not missed it, which is weird. I personally loooooove me some bacon and sausage.

NOW, going meatless may not be you. Read on.

Before we cut most meat out completely, I learned a secret that made me super excited. Enter: Spaghetti. Usually, I buy a pound of chuck and cook it and add it to the sauce, right? Well, I started dividing that pound in half and saving the other half for another meal. What made me super excited was that we didn’t notice! There was still meat in the sauce and it tasted good. Done.

So if I spent $7 every time I bought organic ground beef, and we ate spaghetti/tacos/enchiladas/_______(whatever you want to cook with ground beef), each meal cost me $7 in meat. After dividing said meat up, I was now saving money. I could make spaghetti AND beef enchiladas with one pound of ground beef. Score, man.

Veggies are usually cheaper than meat. Even organic ones. What veggies does your family like? If you are like my kids…there ain’t many to choose from. Pick what you like and go from there. Don’t try to get too ambitious and buy a bunch of exotic-for-you vegetables that you’ve never tried before. Keep it simple.

Last night we had spaghetti, without meat at all. I made sure that the sauce was super good, not chunky because yuck. (See, chunky sauce just doesn’t work for our family. I’m not even going to try.) We put yummy Parmesan cheese on it and used our favorite pasta. And I roasted some corn on the cob with salty garlic herb butter. Simple. Enjoyed. Cheap.

Another option is to have at least one night a week with no meat. Research recipes without meat and choose one that everyone (or at least most family members) likes.

Saving Money Tip Part 1: Use less meat, or no meat at all.

That’s not super terrible right? Again, I can’t stress this enough, do what works for your family. I tried, countless times, to follow someone else’s way of doing things to a “T”, and everything fell apart.

I’m super excited about the next tip. I’d like to write about it right now but, I gotta pace myself! I am attempting to put out a blog post at least once a week…consistently.

Continue reading

Save money on organic chicken…

Call us crazy. Call us food snobs. Because we are. We spend a lot of money on food. We believe it’s crucial to our health and wellbeing to buy food without pesticides and poison in it. And we pay dearly for it.

So I’m always looking for ways to save some money with food. One great idea is to grow your own food, which we are working on. I’m pregnant with our third, and my hubs has had health problems (eating real, organic, nutrient-dense foods has really helped him to heal), so we are currently lacking in the garden department this year due to our decreased energy. Excuses.

Anyway, I wanted to briefly share a way I save money on organic chicken. One way, is stretching meat buy eating less. Pretty simple to do…for example we use about half the meat called for in recipes, and just add more veggies.

Second way: Do you know how much two organic chicken breasts cost? Here, they are about $8.00, I’m estimating depending on store. That’s enough for one or two meals for us.

I don’t buy lone chicken breasts. I buy whole chickens. They are about $15, with the giblets. This is a weeks worth of chicken for us. It’s not necessarily the only meat we buy per week. But it’s 2-3 meals. PLUS, I make chicken bone broth from the bones and some veggies I have on hand. Hear me- this is not the same as chicken broth bought at the store. This stuff is liquid gold. It is healing. That’s for another post, but seriously, just google it.

So for $15, I’m getting 2-3 meals worth of organic chicken for our family of 4. And about a gallon of a substance so precious, you can’t even get it in the store. Use bone broth for soup, sautéing veggies, cooking pasta, or drink it straight (add a good amount of real salt). Since drinking bone broth everyday, my husband has started healing from his ailments…but that’s a post for another day as well.

Also, you use the whole chicken. Nothing goes to waste.

If you buy separate chicken breasts for the same amount of meals, you’d have to purchase about 1-2 pckgs of two breasts each, and you definetly don’t get the bone broth. If you buy plain old broth separately (organic), its about $5 per box.  That’s $8-16 of chicken breast and $10 of plain old broth (2 pckgs to equal how much bone broth you can make from home).

$15 vs $18-26 per week. $780 over a year vs. $936-$1352. Adds up doesn’t it? Organic food is expensive. You have to believe it’s worth it. You have to believe that homemade bone broth is essential for your health and worth making.

If you are like me and my family, and you believe that, then here is a way to save a little.

Now, you could raise your own chickens and eggs…but that’s another post.

 

 

On Cloth Diapering

image.jpgI’ve had the best of intentions to utilize cloth diapers. I love the idea.

It just hasn’t ever actually happened…

Start-up costs are high. I know it can really pay off in the end, over time. But if you don’t have the start-up dough, doesn’t really matter!

A parent could get lost in the maze of information regarding cloth diapers. There is a whole ” cloth diaper world” that can really make one feel overwhelmed as far as which kind should be chosen to use. I think it helps to do some basic research, then just choose one and go with it. You have to start somewhere, and basic research can lead you to the best starting point.

Then there is the care and cleaning of these cloth diapers. I’ve read “how-to’s” that are so detailed and intricate that I was defeated before I ever purchased a single diaper. Again, I think basic research helps a lot with this. You can make it as detailed as you want, or you can keep things pretty simple. Buy cloth diapers that don’t call for a complicated cleaning regimen, if that’s what you need.

I’d love to decrease the amount of trash I’m adding to this world. Imagine the millions of diapers that litter landfills.

It can be daunting to think of switching to and just using cloth diapers. It’s cloth or disposable right?

Wrong.

Not sure why it took so long to get this into my head. But you can do both. A very dear friend of mine gave me 6 cloth diapers in great condition. That’s 6 disposable diapers every 1-2 days that I’m not using. Right now I’m buying a package with 36 diapers per bag. Every week or so, we need another package if only using disposable. I’m using roughly 1-4 disposable diapers a day in addition to the cloth diapers (it depends a lot on if it’s a heavy poo day or if we are out and about for most of the day, etc). Let’s go with 3 disposables a day for calculation purposes. At 3/day, I could possibly stretch that package of diapers an extra week. Now I’m only buying diapers every 2 weeks. We do buy non-chlorinated “hoity toity” diapers that are about $12/package. SO, instead of $48/month and $576/year, I’m down to $24/month and $288/year. And all those diapers that aren’t going in the trash and to landfills makes me happy. Yes, you could argue that I’m using more water to wash these cloth diapers. There is truth to that. I’m not going to try to add that in to my calculations. Personally for me, it hasn’t added too much extra laundry. We do a lot of laundry, which is a whole different problem.

Imagine if you could start there. Then slowly increase you collection to where you weren’t buying disposables at all…or maybe just for those special emergencies. You wouldn’t have to do extra loads of laundry because you would have enough to make it until laundry day. You might have an extra load of laundry to wash…but that’s not going to break the bank. And you are doing so much for this world we all live in and must be good stewards of.

Thats the direction I’d like to go in. But going completely to clothe seemed like a daunting task that intimidated me. So I never even tried.

Small steps in the right direction are better then no steps at all.

 

The Garden

 

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Yes, that’s a big pink Lego giving my egg carton seed-starter some extra support on our window sill.

Our family tries to buy organic food when possible. We simply believe it’s better for our bodies, and the earth. If we can score organic AND local, boy howdy that’s the best.

BUT, it’s so darn expensive! The struggle is real! We cannot afford organic all the time. We do not buy 100% organic groceries. We can’t spend over $200 a week on the food we eat! I have tried everything I can think of to try, I have researched and researched. I have a few small tricks up my sleeve to stretching organic food. How many organic coupons do you normally come across? Yeah, I know they’re out there. But for the most part, it’s tough.

What do you do?

I’m convinced that if you want to save money on organic food, you must grow it yourself. Wise words from the blog Nourishing Days: basically if we are eating it, we should be able to grow it (eventually).

Have I ever grown a garden on my own before? No!

But here is where it begins. I will learn. I will fail, and learn from my mistakes. I will gain experience.

I’m starting small. We are renting a house, and the backyard is like a wild prairie I’d rather not put money into. Therefore I bought a Big Bag Bed from Gardeners Supply Company that is 4′ in diameter. I planned to grow tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, garlic, broccoli, carrots, spinach and potatoes…but I reconsidered. My skill level is “beginner”. I’m barely an amateur. So I’m sticking to tomatoes and bell pepper and onion. Hopefully I can grow many of each. So far I have 22 tomato seeds planted, 14 bell peppers, and 8 onions. God willing I could make a few jars of tomato sauce and salsa to use over the winter (giving me the chance to use my pressure canner), and use my dehydrator to dry some veggies as well. If I could do that this whole garden thing would be a huge success!

Im also growing herbs.

image.jpgAfrican basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Cuban Oregano and Cilantro. They are doing quite well so far.

We have no windowsill space so all these seeds with the exception of two egg cartons are on our kitchen table until Colorado approaches warmer weather.

Small steps my friends.

That One Time We Had Chickens…

image.jpgMy dream? It includes owning a bit of land, spending more time with my family outside the rat race, growing some of my own food, being more self-reliant, living in a close community, and maybe raising some chickens.

I don’t feel like we are anywhere near that dream. Instead of allowing feelings of despair to drag me down, I started looking for ways that I could start implementing some of these ideas wherever I was…whether it be a homestead or rental house in the middle of town.

I didn’t actively seek out getting chickens though.

I’m a pediatric physical therapist. I go into people’s homes and work with their kiddos to help restore or maximize function, essentially. At one apartment I visited 3 days a week, the mother had decided to raise and sell chickens. Yes, I’m pretty sure this would fall under the things one isn’t allowed to do in an apartment complex. This one bedroom apartment was quickly filled with the…pungent…aroma of a whole bunch of chicks. Oh, and quail. I loved that little girl I worked with and I knew her family was struggling to get by. The birds weren’t mistreated…trust me I checked on them every time I came by. I could have told on her, but I knew what that would have meant for the family, and so I didn’t.

I bought two chicks instead.

First I convinced my husband, God bless him, and our landlord. I’m still surprised our landlord ever said “yes”. Then we bought everything they would need. Actually, I should say that I “first” did TONS of research, because let’s face it, I was completely clueless.

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Lola Mae and Henrietta lived in style. They wanted for absolutely nothing. They had organic food and meal worm treats. They had the run of our backyard by day and this spacious, cozy little cottage at night.

They were a joy to have. They were curious, hilarious, and had attitude. They wouldn’t ever warm up enough to us to let us hold them, but would sometimes take food from my hand. Our daughter was 1 or 2 at the time, and was scared of them. They would run at her thinking she had food for them. You could say this was pretty terrifying from a 2 year olds perspective, having creatures 1/2 your size running full speed toward you. But she got braver, and I loved that she was getting a chance to experience these ladies. She helped me feed them and give them water. She learned to play in the backyard with chickens scampering about.

Our neighbors didn’t seem to mind. One came over to us while we were out in the front yard and said, ” are those CHICKENS in your backyard?” I smiled and nodded. He said “huh.” And walked away.

Despite free-ranging in our backyard, they seemed to love our covered patio, and our folding camper chairs. The poop covering both was evidence enough. They also loved to dig holes in the yard for dirt baths. (Our lease agreement had a section about keeping the backyard lawn in good, green condition). We weren’t super excited about our daughter running barefoot in the backyard and stepping in chicken poo. Oh yeah, and they never did lay eggs.

Anyone we shared these challenges with just laughed as if to say “duh you silly kids, they’re chickens!!”

In the end, we decided that it wasn’t best to keep them while in our rental house. We needed a big, enclosed area to keep them in, which we didn’t have and couldn’t get. We had learned a lot (and not at the chickens expense either). But we had a whole lot more to learn, and decided we needed to wait a little longer to gain more experience in raising chickens.

We gave them to our friends who already had 5. There was no way I was going to give my little ladies to a stranger. Our friends treated their chickens like pampered pets, so I knew the girls would be in good hands…

After a couple weeks they were laying eggs. They were also letting our friends hold them. I’d like to believe it was the other chickens that showed them this friendly egg-laying behavior, and not me being a chicken failure.

Our friends gave us some of their eggs. Best we ever tasted.

Legally, there are many cities that allow backyard chickens. If you do your research, they are very fun and rewarding to have.

We will have chickens again. It’s just a matter of when.