I went a month without grocery shopping, then spent $165 the following month

It might not seem possible these days to not spend $300+ per month on groceries. But it is. I don't walk out of the store spending more than $100 these days, and certainly not over $200 for the month. For the past two years, I've been determined to cut down on groceries. It didn't seem right that I had to spend so much money on feeding my family well.

I find myself increasingly overwhelmed when it comes to shopping these days. Determined to go on bigger family trips, cut back on consumerism, and cut out debt, I really want to make our purchases worth it. It started with purging foods completely out of our diet that we just didn't need anymore. Then I went to our regular shopping habits and determined if we actually need the things we're buying. Fast forward to our grocery bill and a strong desire to eat healthy and teach my children good food habits, and I'd say our success is near!

Two summers ago, I started my first vegetable garden. This past summer, I included a greenhouse. I don't provide enough to sustain our family yet, but I do cut out some things when the harvest is good. I have a really small yard and very little experience, so don't be discouraged, it's possible and it helps drastically.

Before I get into how I've made these changes, let me assure you that you truly have to be determined to make these changes. It takes time set aside, getting through the adjustments, and being mentally and physically strong, but it also takes a lot of grace. For example, if you aren't someone who drinks water, it is really hard to give up the sugary and caffeinated beverages you usually have. In fact, water tastes utterly bland and boring. Your body needs it more than anything else. While I don't cut out everything, I allow myself to indulge from time to time, but it's not frequent and it's not going to affect my spending habits overall. You just have to give yourself and your body the time to adapt.

The first major cut on our food bill was NO fast food. Eating out can be a treat, so make it one. We used to eat out once a week, maybe two. Now, we maybe eat out once a month. So, here are a few of our most valuable tips and lessons we've learned.

  • You can grow many fruits and vegetables year round, you can grow many of those in containers right on your porch or in a sunny window spot. Money saver!
  • It is all in your mind. Set aside time to prepare fresh snacks (cut up fruits and veggies, cheese and meat, etc). If you don't have the time, there is no other option (this is one of the hardest thing to teach yourself).
  • One of my big problems while grocery shopping, were impulse purchases. If you can't justify a purchase, don't buy it. If it's easier to make yourself, do it. I am in constant debate with myself, but it's gotten so much easier.
  • My husband loves to roam aisles. If you don't need to go down an aisle, don't. Simple enough, right? I typically shop the outside of the store (produce + meat), except for flour and a few spices.
  • Sometimes we plan meals for the week, other times we don't. It really helps though, because it gives you time to be prepared. Being prepared is the key to eating healthy and spending less.
  • Eat what you have, not just what you want. Meal prep helps here. I heard someone recently say this is their biggest problem with using up what they already have and spending. Well, last month when I decided not to purchase anymore groceries, I would creatively come up with new meals based solely on what was on hand. When I couldn't think of anything, I'd type in a few items I did have into google and found new recipes to try! Win!
  • The biggest decision we made as parents is to feed our kids what we eat. There are no special kid-friendly dishes. We will leave our the extra spices and only add them to ours if it might make their meal too spicy, but that's about it. There is one exception - when you have small kids, they favor easy, finger foods. In this case, I cut up small pieces of what I'm preparing and make a plate for them that way.
  • When my kids ask for something at the store, our rule is that they have to be able to pronounce everything on the label. They also love picking a new fruit or vegetable we haven't tried or had in awhile.
  • I try to make lists, and usually stick to them, but I'm not the best at always remembering the list, or sticking to it. Either way, no impulses. 
  • This might be the biggest and most important part of eating healthy and saving money on groceries: STOP buying pre-packaged foods
    • For example: A box of prepackaged applesauce snacks range from $10-$30. A 20 lb box of apples from the produce market is $10-20. I can make over 10 jars of applesauce and apple butter with those. Then, I make cinnamon apples for a snack, oatmeal and muffins, and have plenty of apples left over for easy snacks. You're paying for convenience here and while it's nice to have, it's really not necessary.
    • Example 2: A package of decent granola bars are about $5. I can buy an entire container of oatmeal for about $2-3 and spend 10 minutes adding honey and raisins, chocolate, nuts, fruit, etc... and have an entire pan of granola bars. I could probably make 20 pans with the box of oats.
    • Don't have time to make those things? Sure you do, schedule time when you'll be home. It's an easy project to include your kids on and do together. You'll be amazed what your kids will like to make, mine love to make their own bread.
  • I go to the farmer's market when they're in season and a local produce stand for all fruits and veggies. And once a month, or every other, I'll buy meats and pantry staples.
  • When seasonally available, I purchase big boxes of fruits and veggies to prepare and can or freeze. If you don't can, that's ok. You can freeze things instead.
  • We cut our meat intake in half. One day, I realized that we didn't need to consume nearly as much as we were, especially because the cost of meat is pretty hefty these days. Start cutting up your chicken breasts and split that among your family (whether butterflying meat, shredding, or dicing). I can use 2 instead of 4 that way. 
  • Fresh herbs are way better. At the produce stand, I purchased 2 bundles of cilantro for $1. To get a good jar at the store would've cost around $5. Know what else, it's super easy to dry and store yourself. Better yet, growing your own herbs is super easy and fun!
  • Just over a year ago, I developed an intolerance to dairy. Sad, sad day. I kept buying the usual things for my family, because they were just fine with dairy. But over time, I kind of forgot. Guess what though? We only purchase one gallon of milk a week, some yogurt, and minimal cheese these days. None of us really miss it anymore either. Not only are you cutting back those extra calories, but tons of $ too! Side note: Calcium and Vitamin D are found in many vegetables!
  • We love our condiments, and they'll last a good amount of time, but there were many that we didn't need in our diet anymore. Ranch and Blue Cheese are the biggest ones for us. My husband wasn't thrilled with this, but I did come up with a dairy free ranch recipe (using things I have on hand) that even the biggest skeptics seem to love and it's a huge treat to have. Otherwise, it's been manageable to give up. Making your own salad dressing is super simple.
  • No more fruit juices or other flavored drinks. Water is easily flavored (with lemon, lime, mint, or fruit) and all your body needs! Milk, water, tea, and coffee - that's it! Calories cut, money saved!
  • It's an adjustment, be patient. My entire family didn't wake up and excitedly get on board with me on all these things. In fact, it was a labor of love, because I was determined. While I do most of the cooking, my husband can prepare good meals for us when I can't. He's learned just like I have. My husband and kids make their own lunches for work and school as well, and they know to look for leftovers (I always make an extra 2 or more servings per meal) or fresh foods to pack. 

I'm no expert here, but this is simply what I've learned over the past few years as I dedicated this part of my life and my family to eating well, developing good habits, and spending less. It takes time, I can't stress that enough. I give in to cravings when I have them, allow my kids treats sometimes. And I don't put extra stress on myself when I can't make everything I want from scratch. If anything, I've learned that it's ok to still purchase some items that simply make my life easier, but again, I always look at the label! Best of luck, friends!

Get started with an easy perennial garden

I've been gardening a few years now. It's not much time, considering, but I've learned a lot in that amount of time. I had no idea gardening would be something that I would get into, but it's become one of my biggest passions. Personally, I love the quiet time to focus and care for what will provide me with so much beauty, but I also love to share that time with my kids and teach them too.

I focus on perennials plants with low maintenance. I also maintain a few raised garden beds from seed, with herbs, vegetables and fruit. I live in the city with a small yard, so I have to be very cognizant of what and where I place things. I am also very frugal when it comes to what and how much I spend, because it can become very costly very quickly.

Here are a few tips I have found to be the most useful and important in my perennial gardens. I hope you find some useful tips!

Decide what you want to plant
Some people like only flowers, green plants, evergreens, trees, etc.. Personally, I am not particularly biased, but I do avoid annual plants. Do you like the maintenance? Want fragrance, flowers, evergreens? I love visiting a local nursery, getting to know them, and asking all the questions I can think of. This is what helped me learn what I wanted in my garden.

Annual vs. perennial
Annual plants need to be planted every year (although some drop seeds and new plants will grow from that). Perennial plants will come back every year. Also, try to find local nurseries to find native plants that already thrive in your area.

Sun or shade
Some plants require full sun, others need partial sun, and then there are shade plants. There is often some room to mix it up a little, but the table typically knows what's best. However, for example, lilacs can be in full sun and also partial. Some partial sun plants can be in shade.

Watch your pets
If you have dogs, especially, you have to keep them away from your plants as much as possible. Cats aren't as bothersome or as brutal to gardens, but all the same, you want to ensure your plants can at least become established before allowing pets around. We go outside with our two large dogs and direct them where to go and where not to go.

Keep it simple
There are a million products and fancy things to add to your gardens to better help grow your plants. The thing is though, while some things do help, most of it isn't necessary. I do fertilize sometimes, but not often. Good pruning sheers are essential, just cut off the bad stuff if and when you see it. Gloves are nice sometimes, grab a watering can, and you're set to get started!

Make sure nothing stays too dry, but don't over-water. This is often where problems begin. Watering every morning or evening during the summer is helpful, but I can go a week during the summer without. In the PNW, I don't water in the winter or spring. You'll see your plants wilting or drying out, they're letting you know what is wrong and what is needed.

At the end of a plant's season (like tulips in April), cut them back after they've wilted. In the fall, most everything needs to be cut back to help and prepare for winter, then spring. It's quick and easy, so try not to neglect it. Ensure to pull weeds as they grow, it's so much easier than letting it become overgrown. Feel free to mulch around your plants, it helps keep weeds away, but it isn't completely necessary.

Give yourself grace + be patient
Many things you plant won't make it. Gardening is a learning curve, and there is so much information. I simply do research online or ask my local nursery for my specific needs when necessary, but just watching my plants from time to time and figuring out what is working and what isn't is most helpful. It takes time for plants to recover from a transplanting, to become established, to bloom and grow - be patient and you'll reap heavy rewards!

Find the clearance! Share with friends.
This is how I keep my gardens budget friendly. I always go right to the clearance racks, in fact, I will wait until the end of a season to score big on clearance plants. They may not look all that great, but they're just needing some TLC. Especially if you're looking at evergreen or deciduous, it will grow again all on its own. Don't throw that out!

So many plants can be split apart and shared. Take one lily bulb from a friends garden to put in your own, they will multiply and come back every year. Same with crocosmia and forget-me-nots. Roses can be propagated easily, along with many others. A little google search will guide you.

My favorite garden essentials + perennials
Tulips, daffodils, lilac bushes, roses, jasmine (climbing), wisteria (climbing), clematis (climbing), honeysuckle, lilies, crocosmia, etc... I also love to pick up a bag of native wildflower seeds and cover in between spaces and plants. Many of them come back too!

A quiet day

It's hard for me to really sit and take a quiet day. Working from home, it's easy to work constantly. Between school, editing, and emails, I'm in my little office pretty regularly during the week. I got tired of looking at the bare Christmas tree my husband was hoping to find time to get out of the house for us. He works 12+ hours a day, so as I sat staring at it I decided to take it into my own hands. Kate and I scoured through the garage for various tools we could use and after using a random assortment, we got the majority of it cut up small enough to get a fire going in our backyard. City living, I tell ya!

When we have a fire going, Kate thinks camping is involved. So we "camped" and decidedly just had to cook up some hot dogs over the fire. We've never burned an evergreen before, but I see why having bonfires after Christmas is so popular! One of these days, we'll have the space to do that. Until then, we'll have quiet silly days together in comfy clothes and enjoy winter weather that feels like spring.

Thoughts of Christmas

Often times, it's good to remember that our greatest adventures are right at home. It can be hard for me to remember that especially, but with my two - I'm reminded often. They are pretty darn great. I'm learning what it means to step back and let them be who they are and watch them shape into who they will be. It's really amazing to watch!

Presents aren't just things in our home. We ensured that wasn't the case years ago. The gifts we carefully select and place under our tree are thoughtful, needed, and/or offer an experience. Each year we do less and less, and it's been the best really. Ultimately the goal is to include more travel and experiences with our family. We have been explaining to our kids what it means and to teach them how wonderful it feels to not only GIVE, but offer sentiment and love as gifts.

I really loved watching that unfold this year, as we've had opportunities to make memories with family and friends unlike ever before. Even firsts for me with my parents. It's been amazing how simple and thoughtful moments together are, and how little else you need.

When the lights go out in the city

...we are thankful for a gas stove.

In the Northwest, we encounter some pretty rad wind and rain storms come late fall. The last of those beautiful leaves that were clinging to the trees and slowly making their way to the ground, to be thrown by children full of laughter, are pretty much gone. There's no making it real quick anywhere to see them one last time, it's winter's way of telling fall to beat feet. The bitter cold of winter is rearing its ugly head up and forcing us into layers upon layers and the warmest jackets and boots we can find.

With the wind storms also comes power outages. Where we live in, we are fortunate to have never truly lost power for more than a few minutes. Until today that is. We lost power in the morning and didn't get it back until the afternoon. I wasn't quite sure what to do at that point, my editing list was screaming at me. Since we were having a late and lazy Tuesday morning, with no school mind you, the kids asked for pumpkin pancakes. At that point, what other choice did I have? Pumpkin pancakes it is!

I love to let them help me cook in the kitchen. Of course it can be challenging, messy, and a patience tester, but I ensure the project we are working on will be one where those things are okay. Some jobs are just for mom though, ok? So, off to hunt for a good recipe I went, and found THIS ONE. My grandpa used to make me silver dollar pancakes when I was a kid, something about nice and small pancakes makes them a little more enjoyable to eat, especially when you can gobble down three of them!

I was intimidated at this recipe at first, but decided what the heck? I'll go for it! Now, it wouldn't be me if I didn't change the recipe up a bit, and since I wasn't willing to open another can of pumpkin to meet the 2 cups it called for, we used 1 ripe banana in its place with just under 1 1/2 c of pumpkin. We also added a dash of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and pumpkin spice chips. I also didn't have cake flour, so I replaced 2 tbs per cup of all purpose flour with 2 tbs cornstarch per cup for an appropriate substitute*. You'll see there were a few other minor changes, but you can see that below. They were insanely delicious and I don't even care for pancakes usually.

If you're interested, here is the whole recipe:

Banana Pumpkin Pancakes
  • 3 cups Cake Flour*
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
  • 3 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups Canned Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 mashed ripe Banana
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 3 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups Milk (of choice)
  • Dash of Allspice, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Pumpkin Spice chips (or any kind of chocolate chip)
In a large bowl, combine cake flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Stir together and set aside. 
In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, banana, eggs, vanilla, spices, and milk. Slowly drizzle wet ingredients into dry ingredients, stirring gently with a spoon or whisk as you go. Batter should be somewhat smooth and pourable.

Pre-heat large skillet or griddle over medium-low to low heat (not pre-heating your pan will result in flat pancakes). Oil surface of pan and drop tablespoon-sized amounts of batter onto the pan (more if you want larger pancakes), and drop a few chips into each one. Wait a minute or so, then flip to the other side. Pancakes should be golden brown and set in the middle.