A few weeks ago I mentioned my intentions to reign in the grocery budget. I’m already a pretty frugal shopper. I make a TON of things myself (granola, crackers, dip, bread, yogurt…) and I try to watch the sales and use a coupon here and there. (Though there never really are too many coupons when you’ve got a cart of produce, dairy and protein.)
So where do you look to save when you’re already trying to be diligent? This is where a price book comes to the rescue. If you’ve never heard of one or tried it before, it’s really simple. A price book is simply a little place to keep a list of the things you buy regularly, and how much they usually cost. Or the rock bottom price you’ve ever seen on that item.
I can think of three reasons why this can really help you out.
Most folks who care a lick about prices shop at more than one store. And we all know prices are never the same. For that matter, brands and packaging are never the same. If you’re looking for the lowest price on chicken or apples or milk, it helps to keep a list of that handy. If I know that milk at Aldi usually costs me $2.79, and it’s more like $2.99 at Kroger–then I have something to compare prices to. (Cause last week the milk I buy at Aldi was $3.19 for no apparent reason.)
So unless you have a perfect memory of prices at ALL the places you shop, a price book is going to help keep you on track. And when one of your favorite stores, or one off the beaten track advertises some fantastic sale, you’ll know if it really beats the lowest price.
Know When Bulk Buying Is Cheaper (Or know the unit price)
One of the stores I visit is my local Sam’s Club. (I SO wish we had a Costco.) But when you’re talking 20 lb. bags of rice and 2 lbs. of coffee and 5 lbs. of cheese, it’s rather tough to compare prices to those little packages at the regular store.
What you have to figure out is the unit price of that item. How much does it cost by ounce or pound or cup? (Or if you’re a metric fan–gram and milliliter.) Take for instance the mozzarella cheese I buy for pizza making. Aldi had the lowest price for those little 8 oz. blocks. (We’re not even going to factor pre-shredded in here. It’s always more expensive, and is often coated with a food grade plastic powder. Yum.) At Aldi it’s usually either $1.79 or $1.99 a block. That works out to $3.58 to $3.98 per pound.
At Sam’s I will pay $12.36 for a 5 lb. block of mozzarella. Ick! Who wants to say they paid $12 for cheese? But wait, is it a better deal? If I divide the price by the number of pounds (lots of useful math to teach your kids here) I get $2.47 a pound for the Sam’s cheese. That’s a serious savings. So every few weeks, I lug the giant brick of cheese home and put my oldest to work shredding it in the food processor and freezing it in bags. Easy peasy.
Because Prices Change
Honestly, until the last few weeks, it had been a rather long time since I’d kept any sort of price book. I thought at that point, I had a pretty good bead on prices in my area. But prices have changed. Mostly they’ve gone up. Was my usual buy still the best deal? It definitely wasn’t where olive oil was concerned. I had to switch up my shopping a bit.
Prices will always fluctuate. But keeping track of them will keep you from over paying.
My Low Tech Price Book
A price book in it’s simplest form is really just a list. A list of things you buy all the time, and what they cost per package and then per unit. You can list prices at ALL the stores in your area. Or you can just list the lowest price you’ve ever seen. Be sure to note any important specifics like brand name, quantity or volume, or if you’ve noticed a cycle with a sale price.
My little list couldn’t be more low tech. Right now, it’s just the back few pages of the little notebook I carry around that holds my shopping lists.
But, for you more techy people out there, I did a google search and found a few fancier resources. (I don’t know how well these work, or whether they’d suit your needs. So do your own research, too.)
- A free price book printable at Organized Home (this site also has additional info about price books)
- Some info and links for a pricebook app for iPhone
- Amazon has a cheap little app for Android platforms (affiliate link) This doesn’t seem to be getting the best reviews, however. But it’s .99–so I suppose you can’t be that picky.
Keep in mind, my phone is neither smart nor techy, so I’m a little clueless in that department. Nope. Give good old paper and pencil (and a calculator) and I’m fine.
If making a list of EVERYTHING you buy seems intimidating, don’t fret. I don’t have it all listed right now, either. Just start small. Make a list of items you’re curious about. And as you shop, write down the price. Or check your receipts when you get home and make a note. Little by little, you’ll build a great money saving resource.
Have you ever kept a price book?
Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of the Lenten season. In recent years I’ve been considering this time, using it to prepare myself and my family for Good Friday and Easter. Sort of like the Advent season for Christmas.
I mentioned in my first post on Lent, last year, that this is all still rather new for us. We did not grow up in a tradition that observed Lent. But I’m finding in some of those traditions of the earlier church great meaning and depth–giving roots to my faith with the generations of those who came before me.
That said, I suppose we don’t really take the mainstream route with this season, either. Most see Lent as a time to give up something. A time of fasting. Some dedicate this fasting as a time of prayer, confession and a renewal to living for God. No doubt a Biblical approach to fasting. Some just do it because it’s what they’ve always done.
It’s all what you put into it. A reap what you sow kind of thing.
For us, and many at our church, it’s about preparing our hearts. Repentance. Drawing near to God. Remembering the Cross.
Whether you’ve committed to fast, or have committed to read through all the gospels, the point is preparation. Because we dare not lightly cross off the days of the calendar and stare down Good Friday without giving thought to what it means.
One of the side benefits of being a worship leader is that it gets me thinking and planning for Easter months ahead of time. I’m grateful for it. I think I needed my focus redirected this year. So over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a peek into my thoughts and what God has been reminding me this Lent. I encourage you to share your journey, too. Together we can approach this Easter season with our hearts and minds firmly fixed on Jesus.
Does your family observe Lent?
Last year’s posts on Lent…
- A Newbie’s Thoughts On Lent
- What I Want to Memorize for Lent
- Lent is for Confession
- What to Have More of For Lent
- Lent is For Surrender
- A Lent Sacrifice That Gives
- Lent is For Humility
Stew meat is one of those great, economical cuts of meat. We usually end up with quite a bit after hunting season. Whether yours is beef or venison, the long braise in lots of flavor filled liquid gives you tender, moist, meaty goodness.
We’re big fans of the traditional “beef stew” with a gravy like broth and loads of carrots and potatoes. But sometimes you want a little variety. So we came up with this. Sort of a chili, or Mexican inspired stew. All that acid in the tomatoes tenderizes the meat beautifully.
We like to make a big pot of it and serve it along side Spanish rice, refried beans and fresh, warm tortillas for a Mexican feast!
Mexican Beef Stew
- 1 to 2 lbs. of stew meat (beef or venison)
- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 3 cups beef stock
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 medium onion, 1 bell pepper, 3 cloves garlic–chopped
- 3 – 4 rounded tablespoons of flour
- 2 TB chili powder
- TB cumin
- TB dried oregano
- couple shakes of crushed red pepper (or to taste)
- Salt to taste (I start with 1/2 tsp. It depends on how salty your stock or tomatoes are.)
- 2 bay leaves
- fat for browning meat (olive oil, palm shortening, meat drippings)
- Other optional add ins like corn or black beans
- In a large heavy bottomed stock pot or dutch oven, melt or heat the fat/oil over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the stew meat to the pan. Sprinkle with a little salt. (You might have to brown it in a couple of batches. If you over crowd the pan, the meat will just boil instead of searing.) Stir it once or twice so it gets mostly brown, but don’t fiddle with it too much.
- Remove the seared meat to a bowl. (It won’t be cooked all the way through, that’s okay.) Add a little extra fat if needed and add the onions and pepper to the pot. Sprinkle with a little salt. Sauté for a couple of minutes, until they start to soften, and then add in the garlic.
- After a couple more minutes, sprinkle in the flour and stir to distribute evenly. Add a little more fat to the pan if it seems dry. Stir and cook the flour/veggie mixture for just a couple more minutes.
- Add in the seasonings and tomato paste and stir. (A note: I use rather inexpensive spices. You might not need quite so much, especially if your chili powder is rather spicy. You could start with about half as much if you’re using high quality spices and add more depending on how you like it.)
- Slowly stir in the stock. Use a wooden spoon to work the lumps out of the broth and scrap the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. You could also use a whisk here to keep the flour from lumping up. But if you keep it moving and pour the broth in batches, working it smooth until you add more, it should be fine. (This is a good place to taste the broth–before you add undercooked meat back in–and adjust your salt level.)
- Add in the canned tomatoes and bay leaves and the stew meat. Stir to combine.
- Bring it to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low for 1 hour or more, stirring occasionally. (Or, if you’re pot is oven proof, you could put it into the oven on 325. Another option is to transfer the whole thing to the crockpot on low if you’re going to be out for a while.)
Make plenty of tortillas and rice to sop up all the rich, spicy broth. ENJOY!
It’s not uncommon, these days, to meet a family with different dietary needs all under one roof. A child with a dairy allergy. Another who’s sensitive to wheat. An adult who has to follow the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) because of other issues. Everybody has different (legitimate) needs.
For the cook/meal planner of the household, it can be confusing, expensive and exhausting to meet these needs. But it doesn’t have to.
For about 7 years now, I have been on that road–finding the root of different allergy and skin conditions for my youngest. First we were told no wheat (or any gluten grains), dairy or peanuts. I dove into about every source I could find for gluten and allergy free baking. The peanuts were fairly easy to avoid.
Fast forward a few years and she also went through an especially ill period where she tested allergic to oats (which I had been using like crazy as a substitute for wheat flour), corn (in EVERYTHING) and all the old culprits as well. Time to revamp her foods…again.
In that time, I’ve done a few other elimination type diets either on my own for different health reasons, or with my daughter so she doesn’t feel all alone. Meanwhile, the three other members of the family are sitting there with their loaf of bread, block ‘o cheese and peanut butter–ready to eat whatever, whenever.
So what do you do to keep your sanity in tact and budget under control? These are some strategies I’ve developed for us.
Make dinners friendly for everyone
For the most part, our dinners are what we call “Ella friendly.” That means, when I plan our weekly menu, most of our dinners are wheat, corn and dairy free. We can all enjoy beef stew, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, chicken fried rice, salmon patties, and a ton of other dishes with no trace of the foods that set her off.
The key is to focus on what everyone can have, instead of lamenting what you might be missing.
Keep some meal parts in the freezer and pantry
For the meals where this strategy won’t work, like pizza night, I keep the allergy free components on hand, in the freezer. I’ll make a batch of gf pizza dough, slice it up, and put it in a freezer bag. That way, all I have to do is pull out a few pieces, top and bake. I do this with her biscuits, too.
In the pantry, I keep some rice pasta for spaghetti nights. It’s not too much trouble to have two pots of pasta boiling at once.
Sometimes, everyone can eat allergy free
I know I just said that I’ll keep different meal parts handy so Ella can enjoy pizza night or pasta night, too. But sometimes, it’s just easier if everyone eats the same thing. For instance, we all eat the gf banana muffins for breakfast. When I make graham crackers for everyone, then everyone is eating allergy free. And I’ve found a gf buckwheat pancake recipe that we all love.
As a bonus, the entire family is reaping the benefits of varying our grains, getting a wider variety of vitamins and minerals. And the coconut oil I so often bake with (to be dairy free) is full of health benefits for all of us.
It’s a matter of balance. Yes, it costs more if we all eat allergy free. Gluten free flours and coconut milk are always going to cost more than wheat flour and dairy. So sometimes, to save money, I save the gf pasta for her. Or I’ll make a separate batch of crackers.
But it’s a trade off on my time and sanity as well. I CAN’T make two of everything. I just don’t have that kind of time. The thing to do is decide for yourself. What is your time worth and what do you have in your grocery budget? I think we land somewhere in the middle.
It can be daunting to suddenly have to cook for those with special food needs. Some choose to overhaul the entire kitchen and the whole family’s diet. Some serve those special foods only to the one individual. I don’t think there’s one RIGHT way to handle it. Do what you need to in order to keep your family safe (where deadly allergies are concerned) and keep it balanced.
At the moment, since my daughter’s health has improved, we’re hoping to try out some spelt and sourdough wheat to see how she does. But I fear we’ll always have to avoid the dairy and peanuts.
Ever had to cook for different diets? How do you handle it?
We LOVE cereal. A little too much. Especially as an evening snack. But the extruded, sugar loaded, cardboard packaged stuff isn’t really that great for you. So to pacify the cereal monster in all of us, I make homemade granola. It’s really easy and after just a few minutes, you’ll have fast breakfasts (or snacks) for a few days. We especially love it on yogurt!
(I’ve linked some of these ingredients to sources I typically order from. They’re affiliate links, so I’ll receive a small commission if you place an order. But you still get the same great price! Thanks!)
Maple Vanilla Crunch Granola
- 4 cups rolled oats (look for certified gluten free if you’re really sensitive)
- 2 cups puffed rice or millet cereal
- 1 cup chopped or slivered almonds (or nut of choice)
- ½ cup flax meal
- ½ cup shredded coconut
- ¼ cup flour (wheat, buckwheat or rice will work)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup total of raisins and chopped dates (or dried fruit of choice)
- ½ cup coconut oil (If you’re not dairy free, you can use melted butter. But the coconut oil adds a little extra sweetness, so you may want to up the sweetener just a bit.)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup maple syrup (Grade B will give you the most maple-y flavor!)
- ¼ cup water
- 1 TB vanilla
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients except the dried fruit. (It will be added as a very last step.)
In a small saucepan, melt coconut oil. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining wet ingredients.
Pour the wet over the dry and mix THOROUGHLY until all the liquids are distributed and the dry is uniformly wet. Spread the granola onto two large sheet pans lined with parchment or a silicon mat. Use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly and pat down a bit. This will help produce crunchy clusters of different sizes.
Bake in a 325 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. You’ll probably want to rotate the pans a couple times to ensure even baking/browning. Turn the oven off and allow to sit in the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes to continue crisping up the granola. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. This is the point where you add the dried fruit. I just sprinkle it on top of the pans.
Store in an airtight container. Sometimes, if the oatmeal canister is empty, I just put the granola in there. Try not to break it up too much when you transfer it so you won’t lose some of those larger clusters.
Options and Notes
Add-ins: Feel free to switch up the add-ins to your heart’s content. Don’t like coconut? Leave it out. Prefer pumpkin seeds or pecans in your granola? Switch out the almonds. Same goes for the dried fruit.
Why flax meal? Well, it has some great health benefits like omega 3 fatty acids. But honestly, I added the flax in for its stickiness. When the flax mixes with the liquids, it gets a little gelatinous and sticky, which helps make those crunch clusters we all love so much. But that said, if you don’t have flax meal on hand, the granola will still taste great without it.
Puffed rice and millet? The addition of the puffed cereal gives a certain kind of crunch that you’ll find in most boxed granola. But if you prefer to avoid that, you could definitely use all oatmeal instead—6 cups in that case. But if you’d like to give the puffed cereal a try, I really like Arrowhead Mills. It’s fairly inexpensive and doesn’t have any other added weird ingredients.
This granola is great on yogurt, with milk, as an add in to your homemade trail mix and straight out of the container! Plus you get a TON more than you do buying those expensive little cardboard boxes.
I’m guessing that no matter where you live (in the US), you’ve had your share of crazy winter weather. It seems like no one has been immune to it. (If, in fact, you live in Sunnyland, USA then we’re all happy for you. Don’t rub it in.)
It’s been frigid. We’ve been buried in snow. Half of our activities have been cancelled and we even had to cancel church one Sunday. And by the end of this week, my little backyard creek will probably look like the Mississippi.
In an effort to see the glass half full (and stop whining about the weather) I thought I’d find something or other to appreciate in all this. So here goes.
Extra Family Time
In our area, it’s been so bad that my husband couldn’t get to work a few times. Now, that’s not good for anyone’s business. But we did enjoy a little extra family time. Always a bonus!
Oh, we have spent a shameful number of days in our pajamas this winter. Cozy, comfy and snug. Come on, admit it. You did too.
Conquering Indoor Projects
Winter is always the perfect time to focus on things that need some work inside. Our biggest victory was to get the downstairs bathroom redone. Wallpaper removed, painted, new fixtures and lighting. Definitely a pick-me-up!
Also in there my husband replaced a couple of light fixtures, hung a few bulletin boards and such and we made our final plans for repairing/painting the rest of the downstairs.
Lots of Reading
But it wasn’t all productivity. I’ve read a ton this winter. Plenty of lazy Sunday afternoons curled up on the couch with a pot of tea, a book and a blanket. I’ve become addicted to a rather un-girly series. I’m reading the Sackett series by Louis L’Amour. Strong characters. A pioneering spirit. Tons of common sense wisdom. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Baking, baking and more baking
When it’s freezing (or well below) outside, you look for any means possible to heat up the house. So we made sourdough bread and homemade crackers, biscuits, casseroles, muffins…Needless to say, the oven has been pulling it’s weight around here. But it warmed up the house and kept our bellies happy.
My husband is the fire master. He has about a billion (give or take) different methods to start a fire. (None of which involve any store bought starters or accelerants–thank you very much.) For the fireplace, we love his homemade fire starters, which I’ll probably post eventually.
We’ve made good use of the fireplace to help alleviate the natural gas bill. Not to mention the homey factor.
Puzzles and Games
At my in-laws house, there is the ever present puzzle table. It’s an especially favorite pastime in the winter. So this winter, we set up our own puzzle table. There have been many evenings and weekends that one or all of us have hovered over the table, working the puzzle little by little. If you haven’t done a puzzle lately, break one out. There’s something therapeutic about it. All the busyness in your head quiets down. Very relaxing.
We also played a bunch of games. My husband is still hoping I’ll break down and agree to a game of Monopoly. But I’m a Scrabble girl, myself.
Steaming Pots of Soups and Stews
I’m kind of a seasonal cook. I don’t really make soups and stews once the weather gets warm. This winter, we’ve enjoyed pot after pot of beef (or venison) stew, vegetable soups, chicken noodle, chili, and a slew of others. As the cook, I love the ease of a one pot meal. And they usually end up as leftovers, too.
Saving Money on Gasoline
There have been weeks when I only left the house once. I don’t really get cabin fever too much. I’m a homebody at heart. And the bonus of being snowed in was that I didn’t have to visit the gas station nearly as often.
Peaceful Winter Walks
When the thermometer crept up above 20 degrees, I’d try to get outside for a walk. All the snow absorbs any extra sound. It’s so still and quiet…and quite beautiful.
Well, now. That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Actually, I think I could think of a few other things. Like sled riding and walking on the frozen pond and lots of snuggling.
Remind me of all this when I lapse back into whining about the weather. Thanks.
Alright. Dig down deep. What have you been thankful for this winter?
There are things that get under my skin. To be more specific, there are three little (or not so little) people that can get under my skin.
Oh, my dear children. How I love them. And how very skilled they are at driving me to the loony bin. Somehow, these dear offspring of mine have clear, laser focus on my hot buttons. They can hit them every time, with seemingly little effort. It’s just a gift, I guess.
Am I alone here? Does no one else’s children send their blood pressure to nuclear meltdown in mere seconds? Maybe you never find yourself saying THE SAME THINGS OVER AND OVER AND OVER…AGAIN. Maybe your children are moving from one maturity milestone to the next with ease and consistency.
Or maybe you’re delusional. I’m just saying.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that lately, I’ve been letting this great parenting roller coaster get to me a bit. I’ll blame it on the gray, cold days of winter. Cause my sense of humor seems to have flown south. Those little arguments or whiny voices or forgotten responsibilities (all a normal part of childhood, I know) are causing my blood to boil. They’re breeding discouragement and weariness. Leading to a very gloomy mommy, indeed.
So that’s why I want to be like a duck. I want to let it roll off my back–never penetrating and taking root. This is the often uphill battle of training character and pulling
kicking and screaming towards maturity.
It’s just part of the job. It is NOT an indication of my self worth, success or failure. I already know I’m not perfect at this. But I can definitely face the daily challenges with a bit more grace. A little more laughter. A little less frustration.
Today, I sent myself to my room. Mom needed a time out. And a minute to pray. My prayers lately have been that God would help me not to take it all so hard. That I would rise above the daily fray and not get discouraged. That I would be full of thanks instead of full of grumbling.
Kind of sounds like some of the same
lecture advice I’ve been dishing out lately. Guess it’s time to listen to the words coming out of my own mouth.
And above all, I gotta smile and laugh and love them fiercely. After all, they put up with me.