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

 

Advertisements

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: 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

Under $20 Date Night: Groupon and Points Programs FTW!

So yesterday Todd and I decided that we would go on our very first under $20 date. I’ll admit I was kind of excited out it, because I’d scored an awesome deal on Groupon the week before.

Now, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Groupon. There are some legitimately great deals on there, but those regular emails are always tempting me to spend money that I shouldn’t on things I don’t really need. It’s not a deal if you’re actually buying something that you don’t need and wouldn’t ordinarily spend money on, know what I mean?

However….frozen yogurt is something I can totally get behind. Seems like these places have sprouted up all over the city in the last few years. We’ve tried at least one other before, and while I’ll admit they’re tasty, they’re not all that cheap. However, I scored a Groupon that was $7.00 for $12.00 worth of frozen yogurt for two. Not bad. Even better? I nabbed it on a 20% off day, and so actually only ended up spending $5.60. Sweet!

Dear Groupon: Today I love you.

Dear Groupon: Today I love you.

We went off to Goji’s to try out their frozen yogurt on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Because honestly? Todd and I can (and do) eat ice cream no matter what the weather. We loaded up our bowls and waited for it to be weighed to find out the verdict. Did we stay within the $12.00 limit?

Turns out we didn’t. Be we were close. It cost us an additional 80 cents. I could live with that.

I'm pretty sure it was all of Todd's Reese's Pieces that put us over the top.

I’m pretty sure it was all of Todd’s Reese’s Pieces that put us over the top.

After our frozen yogurt (it was delicious, btw. Not sure if it was full price delicious, but if we could score another awesome Groupon deal like this one, we’d definitely go back), we decided to wander around downtown a bit. We popped into a few of our favourite shops, having a little poke around, like we sometimes like to do.  Basically we were just killing a bit of time until our movie.

We decided earlier in the weekend after hearing great reviews of the movie ‘Trainwreck’, we really wanted to go see it. Of course, we budget money for ‘date nights’ anyhow, but I’m often hesitant to pay full price to go to a movie…after all, what if it stinks? I’m kind of a cheap-ass when it comes to some things, and one of my big pet peeves is paying full price at the theatre for a movie I ended up not really enjoying.

However, this time, the risk was a little lower…since Todd belongs to a points program with Cineplex, and he saw that he’d collected enough points (from previous movie visits) for a free movie. The total for our two movie tickets ended up being $10.50. Awesome!

Even better, we both ended up really enjoying the movie.

So yesterday’s movie + frozen yogurt date ended up costing us a total of $16.90.

$5.60 +.80 for frozen yogurt (with Groupon)

$10.50 for movie admission for two (by using points program points).

All in all, our first experiment with the $20 date night ended up being a roaring success. I’m already excited about planning our next one.

Until next time,

~Kelly

One For the Ladies

*Let me begin this post by saying that this is NOT a sponsored post. I am receiving no money whatsoever for writing about this product, this is simply something that is near and dear to my heart, which I wanted to pass on to those of you who still might not be aware.

Also: Men, you may want to avert your eyes for this one, as it’s a little bit of a TMI post. Or better yet, just send the link to the women in your life without reading any further. They’ll thank you for it.

We ladies kind of get a raw deal in life in some ways. Not only do we have to deal with getting our periods every month, but we have to pay for the supplies to deal with it on top of everything else. And you know what? Pads and tampons aren’t cheap.

It was almost 10 years ago when someone introduced me to the world of alternative feminine hygiene products. At the time I was mostly in search of something that was more environmentally friendly, because let’s face it, on top of being expensive, pads and tampons are terrible for the environment, from the bleaching process they go through to the amount of garbage they create. The fact that these alternative products save tons of money in the long run was just an added side benefit for me.

Whether its reusable menstrual cups or cloth pads, there are alternatives for women out there besides dishing out tons of money every month to take care of this particular need. I personally use The Diva Cup, which I purchased 9-ish years ago for around $40 or so. At the time it seemed like a big purchase, and it is, when you compare it to what I normally spent on pads and tampons every month. But the thing is…that was it. In the time since then I pay out a little money for pantyliners for those heavier flow days, but in terms of the amount of money spent and the garbage created, it’s next to nothing. It’s one of those things that saves tons of money long term — if I only previously spent $10 every month on feminine hygiene products, then over 9 years that results in a savings of about $1,000 or so dollars.

Ah, if only I’d actually started putting that $10 in savings in the bank every month 9 years ago. Live and learn.

diva cupThe Diva Cup is made from medical grade silicone and works exactly like you might think…it is a cup that does the collecting that only requires emptying a couple of times a day. On top of being great for the environment and saving money, honestly, it makes me forget that I’m even having my period at all. And for me, that’s one of the biggest benefits of all.

And you know…saving money sure doesn’t hurt, either.

Does anyone else out there use alternative menstrual products? I don’t know a lot about any of the other products out there, but I’d love to learn more.

If you want to learn more about The Diva Cup check out their website…or better yet, shoot me an email, I’d be happy to tell you all about this awesome money saving product.

 

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