How An Irresponsible Purchase Taught Me I’m One the Luckiest Moms in the World

This month I have embarked on a #MealsOnABudget project. Yesterday morning, with $77 left in my $400 budget, I headed off to WalMart to pick up a few essentials. In the bread aisle I was looking for the cheapest and healthiest option when I saw them –  the densest yet softest bread product of all: bagels. As soon as my eyes met them, all I could imagine was a beautiful toasted bagel, crispy on the outside and warm on the inside. I knew they had to be mine. I didn’t even bother making mental justifications for buying them before they were in my cart and I was in the dairy section for cream cheese. 

It was an irresponsible purchase in light of my current project. I could have bought a whole loaf of bread for the cost of the bagels and it would have been more practical. But I wanted the bagels, dammit. 

So, I got the bagels. 

And then this whole #MealsOnABudget project came into a very new perspective for me. 

This project is a decadent hobby for a new Stay At Home Mom who is used to the stimulations of a traditional work day. If I surpass my $400 budget this month, so what? We won’t go without food. We won’t even resort to eating white bread to make ends meet. I’ll enjoy my bagels and I’ll enjoy blogging about my groceries and I’ll enjoy my life. 

For some, this is a fantasy but for me it’s real life and I am thankful for it every day. It’s pathetic that “splurging” on bagels is what it took for me to realize that there are moms out there who actually have to choose between a loaf of bread and a doctor’s visit. There are moms who have grocery budgets a lot lower than $400/month and far worse consequences if they overspend. 

Moms everywhere are doing it though. They’re doing it on a budget. They’re doing it alone. They’re doing it with unsupportive partners. They’re doing it with sick children. They’re doing it in every different type of circumstance we can imagine.

I’m going to keep posting my #MealsOnABudget series and I probably will meet my goal. But each meal will be even tastier now that my irresponsible purchase has taught me I’m one of the luckiest moms in the world. #MelHal

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Another thing that makes my life easier…

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I love having something sweet after a meal. If there’s nothing handy, I get a little nervous! That’s why I like having cookie dough in the freezer to heat up while the oven is still hot from making supper. It feels like warm, fresh cookies with my evening coffee! Freeze the dough in cookie-sized balls so they take the least amount of time and effort possible,

These molasses-raisin cookies sure do taste good after #MealsOnABudget! #MelHal

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#MealsOnABudget – Post 4

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I am really excited about this particular #MealsOnABudget post because the dish was so tasty! While we were eating I said to Tom, “That was good but I don’t think it’s going to be within the $2 budget.” He agreed with me and we just enjoyed the rest of our meal before facing what we thought would be the inevitable over-budget cost. Read on to see if we were right…but by opening with, “I’m really excited…” I have probably given myself away!

Coleslaw (4 servings):

1/3 cabbage ……. $.49

1 carrot ……. $.11

1 stalk of celery ……. $.14

2 tbsp mayonnaise ……. $.12

1 tsp harseradish mayo ……. $.03

1 tsp sugar ……. $.02

1 tbsp vinegar ……. $. 01

1/4 tsp mustard powder ……. $.01

Turnip Side-Dish (3 servings):

1/3 medium turnip ……. $.77

3 green onion ……. .08 x 3 = $.24

1 tbsp butter ……. $.11

Salt and Pepper ……. $.01

So, the cost per plate is:

Chicken ……. $.67

Turnip Dish ……. $.38

Coleslaw ……. $.23

TOTAL ……. $1.28

With a meal coming in a whopping 70 CENTS under budget, I must have more than one lesson to share today, right? Right!

Today’s Lessons:

1.) Embrace the unconventional! I don’t know about you but, in my lifetime, turnip has generally been limited to a mashed form with Sunday dinner. It shouldn’t be! Turnip has a lovely rich and almost creamy taste that can be spruced up in a number of ways! It’s inexpensive and healthy.

2.) Make it yourself! I’m sure I’ll come back to this particular lesson again but it’s worth noting in relation to the coleslaw. I made 4 (heaping and generous!) servings of coleslaw for $.93. I think it is very unlikely that you would find that much ‘slaw for less than $1 at the store and, even if you did, it would probably be loaded with cream sauce and who knows what else!

A delicious homemade meal, way under budget. Try it! #MelHal

#MealsOnABudget – Post 3

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I’d like to open this #MealsOnABudget post with Today’s Lesson!

Today’s Lesson for Staying On Budget

SOUP!

Oh my goodness – a thousand times, “SOUP!”

And here’s why!

I find ‘lunch’ to be the trickiest meal of the day. Unless there are leftovers in the fridge, I’m at a loss. I typically can’t do a sandwich because I love toast for breakfast and I can’t do bread at breakfast and lunch or else I’ll explode from carb overload (at least this is what I’ve been led to believe). I find that organizing a salad is more time consuming than it’s worth so more often than not my lunch consists of cheese and crackers in some form or another. But not anymore (!) because I have discovered soup! Soup will now be my go-to, nutritious, on-budget lunch!

To recap, with our current grocery budget ($400 for the month divided into $300 for meals and $100 for snacks!), we have allotted $1.48 for lunch. Let me walk you through my soup that contains 8 different vegetables and find out where we fall within that amount!

2 carrots … $0.22

1 celery stalk … $0.14

1 onion … $0.22

3 potatoes … $0.51

1/3 medium turnip (about 1 cup) … $0.67

1/4 green pepper (1/2 cup) … $0.11

2/3 bag corn (12 oz) … $0.65

20 oz chopped frozen spinach … $1.98

2 tbsp butter … $0.22

(Plus another $0.10 worth of spices)

TOTAL … $4.82 for TWELVE (yep, 12!) servings of soup! That means that per bowl, this soup only costs 40cents and it’s full of vegetables and flavour! (This leaves basically $1 of your daily food budget unaccounted for! Spend it foolishly, my friends! Have a fun and fizzy drink with supper! Eat fresh strawberries for breakfast tomorrow! Knowing what we now do about meal planning, $1 can go a very long way!)

It took me about an hour and a half start-to-finish to chop, boil, separate and store this soup but I am happy to say that I will not have to spend any time dwelling over at least 12 lunches in the near future!

A few tips on freezing soup (taken from Jamie Oliver’s “Save with Jamie” cookbook!): Divide your soup into small portions so it cools more quickly and get it into the freezer as soon as possible! This helps you to lock in more nutrients so they’re there to be retrieved when you decide to eat the soup! And, like when freezing anything else, don’t fill your containers too high. You need to allow some room for expansion.

Hope these posts are helpful! Let me know if you have any tips/challenges for me! #MelHal

#MealsOnABudget – Post 2!

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Here’s a very simple weeknight meal that is still nutritious and, perhaps best of all, on budget! (Reminder: The budget for suppertime is $2.00 per person.) Here’s the breakdown:

Chicken … $0.66
Sweet Potato … $0.43
Broccoli … $0.48
Cheese sauce … $0.38
TOTAL … $1.95

Here’s a breakdown of the cheese sauce, in case you’re ever tempted by the Whiz:

Cheese Sauce (5ish Servings)
Flour ($0.02)
Butter ($0.22)
Salt’n’Pepper ($0.02)
Cheddar Cheese ($1.20)
Milk ($.47)
TOTAL: $1.93

Another tasty, healthy meal on budget thanks to frozen broccoli. And that brings us to today’s lesson!

Today’s Lesson
I used to assume that frozen veg was limp and lifeless, bereft of any nutritional redemption. My dear Jamie Oliver taught me otherwise. He says that vegetables are flash frozen at their peak freshness and in most cases would contain more original nutrients that the raw versions you’d buy in the produce department. Unless you are eating the veg raw (as in, not stir frying, casserolling, steaming, etc.), your best bet for nutritional and financial value is frozen! (I buy a massive bag off frozen broccoli for about $6.00 that makes the price per floret about $0.04!)

Hope this is helpful! Keep the feedback coming! 🙂 #MelHal

Groceries Here and Groceries There

In an effort to inform this month’s #MealsOnABudget project, MelMar and I brought similar shopping lists to our regular grocery stores in Atlantic Canada and Upstate NY. In cases when we couldn’t find the identical item, we matched size as accurately as possible. (When we couldn’t get similar sizes, the price per pound is indicated.)

This little activity was fun and quite revealing! Special thanks to BigB for his photography skills on the Canadian side of things!

Let me know if you’d like any other items ‘price checked’ on my next trip to the store. 🙂 #MelHal

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#MealsOnABudget – Post Number 1!

Synonymous with Stay-At-Home Mom is Single-Income-Family. I have always had a budget spreadsheet to ensure that the bills are paid and we are tucking a few dollars away each month but I’m beginning to realize that that document was originally created more out of interest than necessity. For now, I need to pay a little closer attention to the figures and I’ve challenged myself with a somewhat tight food budget for the month of March!

I think that groceries is the area of a family budget that can be spent the quickest but also where you have the most control and opportunity to save! I have set myself a $400 grocery budget for the month of March. I have divided this into $300 for meals and $100 for snacks. These amounts are to cover two adults and a very voracious one-year old! 🙂

I try to think of it this way:

$300/31 days in March = $9.68 a day

$9.68 a day/2 adults =$4.84 per day per adult

Let’s assume that the baby eats 1/4 what an adult does, so take 1/8 ($.61) off of each adult’s daily budget. That leaves $4.23 for each adult per day.

When I first saw this number I thought there was no way I could possibly stay on budget but things are going well! (And I’m still learning saving-tricks that I hope I can share with you. Keep reading! There’s one at the end of this post!)

For example, I was surprised to learn I can eat a decent breakfast for about $0.75:

Banana

$0.17

2 slices of multrigrain toast

$0.32

All Natural Peanut Butter

$0.05

Coffee (with milk!)

$0.18

TOTAL

$0.72

(And I’m still getting servings of whole grains, protein and fruit. I’m lacking in dairy, I know, but V and I have yogurt together for snack every day at 10am and that comes under a different budget!)

So, eliminating $0.75 (breakfast) from our daily individual budget of $4.23, we’re left with $3.48. Typically lunch is a lighter meal than supper but we’ll be generous to the mid-day dish and only take $0.25 from its budget to add to supper’s.

That means, each day…

LUNCH

$1.48

SUPPER

$2.00

Before we go any further I will acknowledge that the prices I’m using are in US dollars and that most of our followers are Canadian. I’ve been surprised that prices are rather similar here but to properly address this discrepancy, MelMar and I will be posting a comparative shopping list very soon!

 Let’s cost out a sample meal that I prepared for our family earlier this week. (And I’ll take this opportunity to stress that I am NOT a chef! I like to eat and try to eat as healthily as possible but I make no promises!) This supper was a peppercorn-lemon-dill chicken with creamy-dill mashed potatoes and green salad:

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Chicken (I split one breast between the two of us)

$0.66

One potato’s worth of mash

$0.17

Dollop of Plain Yogurt for creaminess

$0.05

Fresh dill (for potato and chicken)

$0.25

Fresh lemon on chicken

$0.05

Peppercorn on chicken (somewhat negligible)

$0.01

Lettuce

$0.33

Cucumber

$0.15

Tomato

$0.31

Red onion

$0.08

Orange pepper

$0.16

TOTAL

$2.22

BUT! That dish COULD have been $1.97 (ON BUDGET!) and that brings us to today’s lesson!

Today’s Lesson for Staying on Budget

PLANT AN HERB GARDEN!

By planting my own dillweed (which is super easy! It’s an actual weed so it’s insanely simple to cultivate! I feel like a bit of an idiot for not doing it before!) I could have saved $0.25 in this meal alone AND I wouldn’t have had to sacrifice on quality or my love of fresh herbs!

(Alternatively, find someone who has already planted an herb garden and ask for their extra dill! It grows so well that most people have more than they need or want!)

(FYI – Dillweed plants run for about $3.00 at WalMart.)

I hope this is helpful! Let me know if you have any tips or challenges for me and this #MealsOnABudget project! #MelHal