The $21 Challenge: The Parts That Sucked

CaptureSo it’s been a few weeks now since we (successfully) completed the $21 ChallengeThe final verdict, if you recall, is that it wasn’t all that difficult, really. Thanks to my tendency to food hoard stock up when things are on sale, we had a pretty good stash of food items that we were able to rely on to get us through the week.

To be honest, though, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There were some parts about the $21 Challenge that kind of sucked.

  • We ate fewer vegetables than usual. Veggies – especially fresh veggies – aren’t always budget-friendly. I lucked in and was able to get some things on sale (i.e. super cheap broccoli) but normally in the course of a week, we eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than we did during the challenge. We also try to do a fair bit of shopping at the Farmer’s Market, which our plan also didn’t allow for.
  • It was time consuming.  Participating in this challenge meant spending more time than usual hunting through the flyers for sale items, digging through our freezer and pantry to assess what we had on hand, and carefully meal planning. Running around to several different stores to get only the best deals. I also lost most of a Sunday on food prep – making pizza, soup, cookies, baking rolls, etc. for the week ahead.
  • Being forced to stick to the meal plan. Now, I’m normally a meal plan kind of gal anyhow, but there are times when I just don’t feel like preparing (or eating) something that’s scheduled for a particular day. When days like that do happen to pop up, it’s not an issue, I either make something different, or pick up something else from the grocery store. Staying on a strict budget doesn’t leave room for that. Of course, we did end up cheating while doing the challenge, on the night we decided to throw the plan out the window and have ice cream for dinner.
  • It didn’t allow room for a lot of fun. I’ll admit it – I like cake and cookies and ice cream and potato chips as much as the next person. I try not to indulge in those kinds of things very often if I can help it, but there’s something about being told that I “can’t” have these things that makes me want them even more. I may have spent more time thinking about Doritos over the course of the $21 Challenge week than I would have ordinarily.

So yeah…the $21 Challenge wasn’t perfect. But…and a very big ‘but’ – is that it ultimately saved us a lot of money. Sure, we ate fewer vegetables and it took a lot of additional time and effort, but I daresay that it was worth it. Especially considering the fact that this obviously isn’t meant to be an every single week thing. As a once-in-a-while thing, I’d say that it was definitely manageable. Manageable enough than in another month or two, after we’ve re-built our pantry and freezer, I think I’ll do it again.

…though next time I won’t blog about it nearly as much. Promise. 😉

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

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The $21 Challenge: The Final Verdict

So, the $21 shopping challenge is now over.  Maaaan….a week just flies by, doesn’t it?

Now that’s over, let me sum it all up in one single sentence: It wasn’t that tough.

A bit of a letdown, right? I know. I kind of feel the same way.

I have some important takeaways from the week, though.

  1. We have WAY too much food in the house at any given time.  I was honestly looking forward to getting rid of a lot of food that we seem to have, particularly in our pantry cupboard and upstairs freezer. While our larger freezer downstairs took a definite hit, the rest of the house still seems bursting with food.
  2. The food that I do “stockpile”, however, has almost all been acquired on sale or marked down. When I was going through all the stuff in my freezer and pantry, I realized that most things I rarely pay full price for. So perhaps having a bit of a stockpile isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  3. Sticking to a strict food plan is great it theory, but not always practical. I carefully planned out our meals for the week for the purposes of shopping, but we ended up straying from the plan a bit, and didn’t use everything that I bought this week, surprisingly enough.
  4. Sometimes adulting means having ice cream for dinner. So here’s where we ‘fess up. We did actually cheat over the course of the week, just once. Tuesday was kind of a crap day for  me and I came home that night, really not feeling like making dinner, even the simple one that I’d had planned. What I really wanted was some comfort food. So off to the grocery store we went…and picked up ice cream. Yes…we had ice cream for dinner. Because some nights it’s necessary. The good news is that we got it on sale at least. I gladly paid for it out of my own personal spending money.
  5. We actually need less food than I think. I spent Sunday baking and cooking up a storm in preparation for the week ahead. Now that the week is over, I’m looking around and still seeing a fair bit of leftovers. The baked goods can be tossed in the freezer no problem, but the rest of it we’ll have to make sure we eat in the next day or two.

All in all, I would call the experiment a rousing success. My biggest concern was that I would bounce back the next week and buy all the food when I hit the grocery store again. I did another meal plan for the week based on what we still have in the house, and made a careful list. We went shopping last night for next week and I’m happy to report that we spent a mere 50-ish dollars. That means that we spent just a bit over $70 for two weeks’ worth of groceries, when normally we would spend close to $300 for that same time period.

I’d call this a definite win. Woo!

I still plan to write about exactly what we ate over the course of the week, so keep your eyes open for future posts. Did we eat Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles all week? Tune in and find out…

Until next time,

~Kelly

The $21 Challenge: Our Shopping Adventure

So $21 isn’t a whole lot. Particularly when you consider the challenges that are facing us.

For starters, I am a gluten-free girl. And if you’ve never taken a look a the price of things like gluten-free bread and pasta, you’ll be in for a shock. I normally spend more than $21 per week on things like gluten free bread, English muffins, pasta and muffin mixes.  So from that perspective alone, this is going to be a challenge.

We do, however, have several things working on our side. Because of my 50/50 custody schedule with my ex, this particular week we only have my girls with us on Monday and Wednesday nights, meaning that there are only two days’ worth of school lunches we’ll have to provide. It always seems like school lunches cost a lot more than eating at home for some reason. Of course, I do get caught in the trap of picking up convenience items for their lunches like granola bars, which aren’t cheap. None of that this week, however.

Also, we have the ability to do our shopping in several different locations. Now, I know what you’re thinking — if we’re running around getting only the best deals from a number of places, are we really saving money? I’m going to answer a big ole ‘yes’ on this one, since this is something that we do normally anyhow. So we’ll be spending the same on driving to these places, but saving big time on the food we won’t be buying, and getting the best deals on the little food that we do buy.

Another big advantage is that I’m a pretty decent cook. Not to toot my own horn too much here, but I’ve got kitchen skillz. This definitely helps in terms of keeping food costs low if I’m able to make things myself from scratch.

I looked through our pantry, fridge and freezer, scoured the weekly fliers and came up with a meal plan. Then, on Saturday morning, with my careful list in hand and Todd and I headed out to pickup our $21 worth of food.

We went to 3 different places and this is what we scored:

  • 1 dozen eggs ($1.99 on sale)
  • White vinegar ($1.49)
  • Vegetable Thin crackers ($1.44)
  • 2l milk ($3.69)
  • 2 heads of broccoli (scored an amazing deal – 0.99 each! – $1.98)
  • 2 big bunches of bananas (also another great deal at 0.27/lb – $1.15)
  • Bag of oranges ($3.97)
  • 1 English cucumber ($1.47)
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce (0.97)
  • Fresh garlic (0.89)
  • 3 avocados (from the discount shelf – 0.99)

Grand total – $20.03. Well…$20.05 after it gets rounded. Leaving us with 95 cents left.

Food

This is what $20.05 worth of food looks like, if you’re able to score some really good deals.

Then, I made the very conscious decision to cheat. Full disclosure, right? I made up my mind to pick up a bag of chocolate chips. Not exactly a necessity, but I figured that if we got desperate later in the week, I could at least whip up a batch of cookies for a treat. I went into the store, picked up the chocolate chips and saw that they were on sale! $1.94. I figured that going only one measly dollar over budget was no big deal.

And then…the grocery store gods smiled upon me. I rang the chocolate chips through the self-scanner and realized that they came up as $2.99. I flagged down the cashier and pointed this out to her. She confirmed this was the case and guess what that means? I got the chocolate chips for free. Y’see, according to the scanning code of practice here in Canada, any item under $10 that scans at the incorrect price will be given to you for free.

freeSo…though my intent was to cheat on the challenge…just a little bit…I still have that .95 cents in my wallet. Sweet!

All in all, I would say that the biggest challenge when shopping was steering clear of those great deals on things that didn’t need for this upcoming week.  Temptations were everywhere, but I managed to stay strong.

Later on in the week I’ll be sharing our meal plan and maybe even a recipe or two.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

The $21 Challenge: The Rules

So here are the rules behind The $21 Challenge:

  1. The week starts on Friday, and runs until end of day on the following Thursday.
  2. The $21 is to cover all meals during that time period (i.e. no eating out to “save” our grocery budget).
  3. Anything other than food falls outside of the $21 Challenge and will not be counted. For example, we need laundry detergent this week, and conditioner. No way that I’d be able to work that into such a meager food budget.
  4. No “stocking up” on the day before the challenge starts. Though believe me — the thought did cross my mind. heh.
  5. There will be full disclosure here on the blog to keep me accountable.

To be honest, last night when I was having a look over everything that’s in our fridge, freezer and pantry cupboard I’m wondering how much of a challenge this is really going to be for us. Apparently I have a bit of a food hoarding problem. Well…..maybe hoarding is the wrong word. Let’s call it “stocking up” instead. In some ways I think the biggest challenge for me will be to pass up on all the great deals I see while we’re spending our $21 food allowance because they won’t fit into our budget. 😉

As Friday draws closer and I plan out our meals for the week, I have to admit, I’m actually getting a wee bit excited about this challenge. I’m nerding out on being thrifty! You may have send help. 😉

Until next time,

~Kelly

The $21 Challenge

CaptureMonths ago I came across a book while I was browsing at the library called “The $21 Challenge”. The idea is that for one week, you challenge yourself to spend only $21 on groceries for your family. The idea is to rely on the food that you already have in your home to come up with meals for the family. The goal is to save money and to challenge yourself in the process. Of course, the idea isn’t to do this every single week, but rather, every once in a while.

Full disclosure: we spend a lot of money on food at our house. Despite the fact that my daughters are only with us 50% of the time, our regular grocery budget is a whopping $640 per month. Now, I will add that this grocery budget also includes toiletries – soap, shampoo and the like, as well as extras like cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. Also, we almost never eat out or order in. Still. This seems excessive.

So I read through the book and was intrigued by the idea. Could it really be possible to feed my family on just $21 for one week? I put some serious thought into giving it a try, more than once, and then honestly, I kind of chickened out. I thought about the amount of effort required behind this kind of experiment and I honestly just wasn’t feeling up to it. And to be honest, I like eating well. So while I may toss an inexpensive meal into our regular rotation now and then, for the most part I prefer to eat better than that.

Now, with the financial curveball life has thrown our way, it feels like the perfect time to finally give the $21 Challenge a try. I checked the book out of the library again, and this week, I’m going to tackle this challenge head on. And of course, I’ll be writing all about it. Is it possible for our family to survive the week on just $21 worth of grocery money? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I would love to hear if anyone has any special tips and tricks for cutting their grocery budget. Sure, this $21 Challenge might save us money in the short term, but I’d love to hear some more long-term solutions.

Until next time,

~Kelly

The Day We Blew The Budget to Smithereens

untitled So, since planning and implementing our budget late last year, I’ve got to say that Todd and I have done a pretty dang good job of sticking within that budget. We stick to the budget that we have set for ourselves, and we even plan ahead for things coming up down the road (like birthdays, etc). So all in all, we’ve been feeling pretty good about things.

And with those good feelings, came a bit of complacency, methinks.

This past Saturday we did our usual grocery shopping. We split it up over several different locations, in order to ensure that we get the best deals going. We make stops at a local place called Gateway Meat Market (that always has at least one or two crazy insane cheap items — like this past week, broccoli for 17 cents per head!), sometimes Walmart, Costco, depending on what we need, with our last stop always being the actual grocery store itself.

This weekend we made stops at Gateway, Costco, and finally the grocery store. As we were at our last stop, pulling up to the cash register it hit me: we weren’t going to meet our budget this time.

And boy, was I ever right on that. In fact, not only did we end up being over, but we ended up being WAY over. So much over that we spent all of this week’s allotted grocery amount, and almost all of next week’s, too.

So how it in the blue hell did THAT happen?

Looking back there were lots of reasons for it. Many of these things could have been prevented, but again, my complacency led me down the wrong road.

1. This week is an irregular week.

Our youngest daughter turned 10 on Sunday and so this week we’re having a big birthday feast to celebrate. Our family tradition is that the birthday person gets to choose any meal they want. This year, Mo chose home made sushi. This is something we only usually make a couple of times year, just because it’s one of the more expensive meals when you consider all the extra things (like seafood) that need to be purchased. Still…it’s her once a year birthday request, so who am I to say she can’t have it?

2. I didn’t do a pre-shop inventory.
Usually, in order to stay on budget, I create a meal plan, which involves first taking stock of what we already have in the house. Last week was insanely busy at work, and I just didn’t have the time (or the energy) to go through my freezer and cupboards like I normally do. I went by memory, which means that — whoops! — I wasn’t sure what we did and didn’t have in the house already. This resulted in buying a lot of things we didn’t really need this week — rice vinegar, sushi rice, coffee cream…after I started putting things away at home, I realized that we’d bought a number of things that we didn’t really need to buy at all. Let’s just say we’ll be eating a whole lot of apples for the next little while. Sigh.

3. I strayed from my list.

One of the cardinal rules for staying on budget when grocery shopping is to make a list and stick to it. These past few months I’ve been pretty good with doing exactly that. But this week, I’ll admit, I fell into the trap of making a few extra purchases. “Oooooh! Look! Pork is on sale. I should pick up a couple of packages.” (Not on the list). “Wow! This giant package of Naan at Costco is a great deal!” (Also not on the list). “Let’s pick up some extra seafood for that chowder to make it extra delicious.” (Again, not an item that had been planned for). While unpacking all of our groceries I was able to see just how many extras we’d picked up. There were quite a few of them.

4. I shopped while I was hungry.

I know…I know. It’s one of those things that everyone knows, right? Never grocery shop when you’re hungry. Todd and I had been out running around all day, doing a ton of errands and other than some coffee and a gluten free muffin from the Farmer’s Market, I hadn’t eaten anything else all day. Big mistake. Shopping hungry likely had a lot to do with all those extras I slid into the cart (“Yum! Sweet potatoes!” “A little extra bacon won’t hurt…” “Gluten free cookies! Just what I need!”) So yeah. I can confirm that there’s a reason why “they” say don’t go shopping hungry.

So all of these factors worked together against me to result in a whopping grocery bill when all was said and done. Now, in the past, I would have simply shrugged, chalked it up to “life” and shopped again as usual the following week. Likely putting it on the credit card.

Well…not this time.

After a quick conversation, Todd and I decided how to handle this overage. Since we basically spent all of next week’s grocery money, the only thing we can do is not spend any more until next payday (March 13th). Of course, there’s still $13-ish left in our grocery budget (which is good, considering I forgot to pick up dish detergent — whoops!), which we are free to spend, but if there are any food purchases that are required over and above that amount, we are left with two choices:

1. Suck it up and make do; or

2. Find the money somewhere else (and by somewhere else, I mean not credit cards or our savings account).

So that’s the plan. The good news is that our house is basically crammed to almost overflowing with good food, so making it through the next couple of weeks theoretically shouldn’t be that challenging. Of course, I’m saying that two days after buying food.

I could be singing a whole other tune come March 11th or 12th.

Time will tell, I guess.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

Meal Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide

Handwritten Shopping ListI think I wrote before that after our housing costs, our next biggest household expense is food. Food is an important thing to me; I’m a big believer in healthy, home made food. It’s one of those things that I actually don’t mind spending more money on, but obviously if I CAN save money, I definitely want to.

In the past, while I always set a “food budget” for myself, it was really only a rough guide. I routinely went over budget and spent more than I’d planned on, justifying it by telling myself that “It was on sale” or “I had a craving” or “It looked really good.” Um…yeah. While this meant that we always had plenty of delicious food around, it also led to a lot of unnecessary food waste, which is really like just flushing money down the toilet.

In any case, when our food budget got tightened up with all the other changes that we made, I knew it would become more important than ever for me to have a solid meal planning process in place. I’ve used this plan for a while now (despite straying from it whenever it fancied my interest). For those of you who have never written a meal plan and have no idea where to start, I thought I would share my own step-by-step process with you.

Step One: Take Inventory

Before I begin making my meal plan, I have a look at what I have sitting in my freezer and pantry for meal making. I often pick up extra things on sale (when my budget allows). So before I start planning, I see what I currently have to work with. I often have meat for a meal or two as well as frozen vegetables in the freezer, and things like pasta sauce, rice and pasta in the pantry. Makes sense to start with what I’ve already got before I buy more.

Step Two: Check the sales flyers.

My next step is to check what’s on sale this week and try to incorporate those foods into my meal plan. A sale on something like ground beef or chicken means that I’ll be incorporating those foods into the meal plan. Same goes with vegetables that are on sale as well.

Step Three: Look at the week (s) ahead.

I tend to meal plan for a two-week time period, and so the next step in the process is to look ahead at what’s going to be happening for the next couple of weeks to determine if that’s going to affect my meal plan at all. Things like dinner out, having friends over, or evening activities that might require us to have a quick meal before we have to head out. Knowing what nights these things are happening help with the plan.

Step Four: Assign a meal to every night of the week.

I then write out a list of meals for the next two-week time period. As I do this, I consult my list of foods that I already have, as well as what is on sale. As I do this, I add items to my shopping list. As part of the meal plan, I always have a night or two in there that I leave open. This allows me to take advantage of “flash sales” at the grocery store that I just happen to see when we’re out there, or nights when we eat leftovers or just grab something quick and easy like scrambled eggs on toast because I’m too pooped out at the end of the day to cook anything.

Step Five: Finish filling in the grocery list.

One I’ve made my meal plan and written what I need to make those meals on my grocery list, I then continue to finish my list, with things like food for breakfasts and lunches, snacks, and any staples that we might have recently run out of. And then I always re-write my grocery list and group like things together to avoid confusion in the grocery store and having to double-back more than once because I missed things on my list the first time.

And…voila! That’s how the magic happens in terms of meal planning at our house. Do you make a meal plan? Does your method differ from mine any way?

Until next time,

~Kelly