House Mix

White bedroom turned colorful

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I was walking through Ross and I saw this Desert Santa Maria bedspread for $35. I walked past it at first and then did a U-turn, went back and put it in my cart. I really love my all white, tranquil bedroom, but for such a steal I had to give it a try.

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What’s the difference between and bedspread and a duvet and a comforter? I had to google it to make sure I was using the right term in this little article. Turns out:

  • A bedspread is usually thin and quilted and used as the top blanket.
  • A comforter is filled with batting or down, made for warmth.
  • A duvet is a fabric bag or cover for a comforter to go inside.

So with this information, I’m going to go ahead and use “bedspread” if that works for you. By having a super neutral bedroom I’m realizing that I can change the “bedspread” easily, maybe even seasonally if I want to. That makes me happier than it should.

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I bought new nightstands a few months ago, styled here by my mom! They’re Sarah double-wide nightstands from World Market. Nightstands are such a racket. These were listed for $199, so I kept my eye on them until they went down to $119 with free shipping. They’re a tobacco blue, which is hard to see in my pictures. I wasn’t sure that was the color I wanted, but there are not many affordable wide nightstands out there, so I went with it. Fortunately the blue is subtle and adds dimension. It’s a win!

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I also love the shelf underneath for books. I’m always reading a few books simultaneously — but at a glacial pace — so there’s always a weird pile of propped open books happening beside my bed (which my mom made look much nicer).

I tend to read non-fiction, explain-the-world-to-me books. That’s a new category. Nighttime can be a trap for anxiety and overthinking. I don’t do it every night, but I like to go to sleep thinking of something profound rather than my usual nonsense.

Here are a few of those books that you’re never really done reading. You can go back to them over and over again. They’re just a few of my favorites right now:

nightstand-reading-list-go-to-books

Jesus Calling

A short daily devotional, written by Sarah Young, as if Jesus himself were speaking to you. It speaks uncannily to everyday stresses and makes it seem as if were written just for you, just for that particular day. This is an excerpt from today’s devotional.

Do not be afraid to be different from other people. The path I have called you to travel is exquisitely right for you. To follow Me wholeheartedly, you must relinquish your desire to please other people. However, your closeness to Me will bless others by enabling you to shine brightly in this dark world.”

Prayer: Does it Make a Difference?

Prayer, it seems, is a mystery to all of us. Philip Yancey takes a journalistic approach to investigating this powerful tool and weapon. He explores questions like: Is God listening? If God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer? Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent? And by the way, this is the first book in which I’ve ever looked forward to footnotes!

Some see God’s omniscience as a disincentive to prayer: Why pray if God already knows? In contrast, Jesus treated God’s knowledge not as a deterrent but as a positive motivation to pray. We do not have to work to gain God’s attention through long words and ostentatious displays. We don’t have to convince God of our sincerity or our needs. We already have the Father’s ear, as it were. God knows everything about us and still listens. We can get straight to the point.”

The Power of the Praying Wife

Stomie Omartian’s book is life-changing if you’re not accustomed to regularly praying for your husband. I was startlingly blind to this area of my prayer life. What she says in this book, you will never hear from the world.

A wife’s prayers for her husband have a far greater effect on him than anyone else’s, even his mother’s. … They are a team, one unit, unified in spirit. The strength of a man and wife joined together in God’s sight is far greater than the sum of the strengths of each of the two individuals. That’s because the Holy Spirit unites them and gives them added power to their prayers.”

Heaven

I first bought this book when my best friend’s husband went to heaven. Ashby wanted to know what he was doing, what it was like where is was. Through her experience, I too am fascinated with heaven. Please read in a very un-suicidal way: I can’t wait to go there!

Randy Alcorn has dedicated his life to studying what the scripture has to say about heaven, and what he has done in this book is remarkable. Will we have bodies? What will our relationships be like? Will there be animals? What will we do in heaven? (Hint: We won’t be sitting on clouds, playing harps all day. There is adventure to be had!)

The present Heaven is normally invisible to those living on Earth. For those who have trouble accepting the reality of an unseen realm, consider the perspective of cutting-edge researchers who embrace string theory. Scientists at Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, among others, postulate that there are ten unobservable dimensions and likely an infinite number of imperceptible universes. If this is what leading scientists believe, why should anyone feel self-conscious about believing in one unobservable dimension, a realm containing angels and Heaven and Hell?

There I go, this was supposed to be about a bedroom and I’ve turned it into a book review! I guess I can’t separate bed and books. Do you have any of these never-done-reading books? What are your favorites?

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We put this couch in the master bedroom because there was really no place else for it to go when we moved in. Marcello thought it was a silly place to put a couch. Shows what he knows! He and and I sit there most nights and watch TV.

Several months ago I took the Roku from the TV in the living room and put it in our room. Now the boys only watch DVDs. It’s a post for another time, but basically some things were popping up I didn’t want them to watch and they started learning how to use the remote. Anyway, now this cozy little corner has turned into our own little evening oasis — with no kids or kid stuff! We can’t even hear them wrestling and carrying on, not going to sleep. Score.

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What’s going on behind my lamp that as of last week doesn’t work. I can’t even remember who broke this one. Probably for the best.

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P.S. (Because this needs to be longer.) I used a little trick with thumb tacks to keep the lamp cord from hanging down the back of the table.

This post contains affiliate links.

Kids chore chart to earn money

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My five year old is starting to learn the value of a dollar. Ok, he doesn’t realize the value, but he has figured out that it can buy him things! I’ve known this time was coming and my wheels have been turning on how to allow him to earn money, but stay clear that some chores we do just because we are a member of the family.

I have wanted to design a chart for him for quite awhile, but of course 50 other things always seem more important on a day-to-day basis. But last week he picked his sister up out of bed and then held out his hand toward me for a payout! Whoa, son. That’s not quite how it works. So I promised him I would make him a chart that would clear things up and send him on his way to buying his next Star Wars Lego set.

So here we go, these are my kids and money strategies:

No allowance

We won’t be handing out a set amount of money per week. I explain to the kids that money doesn’t grow on trees, I might as well show them too. My hope is that they learn to work for what they want at an early age. Things won’t be handed to you in life, you’ve got to make it happen!

Shared boys bedroom with twin beds

Family chores are not paid

As a member of the family, the kids have certain responsibilities that don’t earn money. Because we’re a team in this family, we each have to do our part. That means:

  • pick up your room
  • make your bed
  • pick up the toys
  • help with your own laundry
  • clean up the kids bathroom

Of course I don’t expect perfection here, but a good effort. Once this becomes habit, it should only take a matter of minutes. Let me explain.

Laundry: I only do laundry once a week, so that’s not an everyday task they need to help with. They each have their own basket and we dump the whole thing in and wash it in cold! More on cleaning in this post. I only expect them to put the clothes in the washer (they like to help me add the soap and press the buttons), transfer them to the dryer and put them back in their respective baskets. I’ll add folding in later, but at ages four and five this gets us started in the right direction.

White and blue kids bathroom

Bathroom: I clean their bathroom once a week (ok, ish), so all they need to do is make sure no towels are on the floor, wipe down the sink an on occasion slap on some gloves and wipe down that toilet! That’s right, asking boys to wipe up/clean their own bathroom is tactical on my part. Boys miss a lot, if you know what I mean. Maybe they’ll start hitting the target more if they have to clean it up!

Messy playroom

Toys: It’s important to note here that if you expect your kids to keep their toys picked up, then you have to make it possible for them to achieve it. If they have a million and one toys and there is not a designated spot for each of them, it will be impossible and unfair. I’m a strong believer in less toys and more experiences, but that’s a post for another day. See how I organized and simplified my house here.

By expecting them to do these things without payment, I’m trying to teach them to be independent individuals who will flourish on their own as adults. Doing everything for your kids, even if it out of pure love, can hold them back as they grow older. They won’t see it as love straight from a mother’s heart, they will simply see it as your responsibility.  

kids printable chore chart to earn money

Family chores before paid chores

Kids don’t get the chance to earn money until their family chores have been completed. Is the bed made? Toys picked up? Bathroom in good shape? Now we’re talking. Let’s check out that list and see what you can earn!

Dave Ramsey recommends paying your child right after they finish the chore so they can see the reward. He also suggests using a clear jar they can see through. I like this, but our money-holding objects shift so much, we can’t seem to make one stick yet— sandwich bag, wallet, piggy bank … I’m not picky about this. When they are earning it, loosing it isn’t much of an issue.

Kids have everyday responsibilities as a member of the family and separate chores they get paid for

How much to pay kids for chores

To keep things simple, I give either $.50 or $1 for each chore.

I’ve assigned a dollar amount in advance to avoid making rules up on the fly. My oldest catches on when I’m making rules up as I go and would love to start a campaign on why he should earn more. He’ll be running for office in 40 years.

Teaching kids to give

Marcello and I tithe 10 percent of our income. I talk about why in this money post, but it’s the best monetary decision we’ve ever made. We want to teach our kids to give to God’s kingdom as well.

I don’t claim to have the perfect method of teaching kids to tithe, but we’re moving in a good direction. Right now the strategy is for the child to give $1 for every $10 that he makes. He can choose where to give it, but it has to be in the name of the Lord. In other words, to church, a Christian organization or simply given to a someone in need with the expression that it is from God.

I want to teach the kids that God gives us so much — everything, in fact — and only asks for a small amount back. Talk about it before they even earn their first dollar so they know what to expect. Melinda Means has some wonderful, practical ways to teach children about tithing, including ideas like baking 10 biscuits and showing them that God only asks for one. Her article is worth the read.

Kid chore ideas and printable chore chart

Chore ideas

  • spray and wipe down dining room table
  • set the table
  • clear the table
  • clean windows
  • wipe down kitchen cabinets and front of refrigerator
  • help empty/load the dishwasher
  • Swiffer the floor
  • sweep rugs (I have a little cordless sweeper they use for now — affiliate link)
  • water plants
  • dust (and I don’t mean with a feather duster)
  • organize kids book shelf
  • organize playroom toys (this is more detailed than the everyday pick up of toys)
  • weed the yard
  • rake leaves
  • sweep walkway
  • take out the trash
  • wash the car
  • clean out the car
  • babysit (even if it is keeping baby occupied for 30 minutes while you are right there)
  • carry in groceries and put them away

I just use water and vinegar for the cleaner because I just know that somehow these boys will manage to A) spray each other or B) somehow get it to end up in their mouth or lick something. Plus, they spray a ton.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s ok if two kids do the same chore. It’s not worth a fight or negotiation. I’ve got two random spray bottles filled with water and vinegar for just that reason.

Printable paid chore list

Printable chore chart also with unpaid family chores

Chore idea list, printable chore chart, teaching kids to give and chores that are unpaid

I made a printable checklist to hang on the fridge. It didn’t have to be this detailed, but what can I say? That’s what graphic designers do, design things. I laminated two of them, one for each boy, and hung them on the fridge. That way I can use a dry erase marker, but stickers or crayons will work too!

Kids chore chart with paid chores and unpaid family chores

Click image to download high-resolution version.

It’s probably impossible to create a chore chart that will work for two different families, but if you’d like a copy of what I’m doing, here it is! My kids can’t read yet so I included icons by the text so they can remember.

Family chores and paid chore chart - blank

Click image to download high-resolution version.

And here’s a blank chart in case that helps someone. But you better send me a picture of your hand drawn icons if you use it.

A few things

Get on the same page as your spouse. Talk about your plan and how you will implement it.

Don’t be tempted to offer them $.25 to be quiet or something silly. I only mention this because Marcello and I both caught ourselves wanting to do it! We give money for chores only, not behavior.

Also, I don’t take it away from them for misbehaving. At four and five years old, discipline is usually timeouts (one minute per age with a timer), taking toys away (when they can’t get along) or running laps (when too much little boy energy is involved!).

And finally, I really only buy toys at Christmas and birthdays. Want your own junk from the dollar store? You’ve got to pony up, kid. Dying to waste money on that $5 Lego guy at the Target checkout? Go ahead, but from your own wallet. Chore money is a game changer for the I-wants.

How to pay kids for chores

Talk about money with kids

Identify things that cost money. Talk about saving for family trips or outings. In other words, talk about money with your kids. If your going through hardship, don’t scare them, burden them or make them feel guilty, but explain that Mom and Dad have a certain amount of money and have to figure out how to pay all the bills with it. This means some things might not fit in that did before.

We don’t just become adults who understand how to spend, save and give automatically. We have to learn. While my method might seem strict, I’m doing it with my kids’ best interest in mind, in hopes that they’ll be high-functioning, independent adults one day.

* * *

We’ve only just begun this venture, so I’ll be sure to post an update after we’ve been at it awhile. How about you? Do you talk to your kids about money? Do you have a chore system? How does it work for you?

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Grocery shopping and feeding a family on a tight budget

Grocery shopping and feeding a family on a tight budget - How to budget, shop sales, plan a menu and stockpile

I’ve been experimenting, studying and learning how to lower our grocery budget and it’s working! My monthly budget is at least $200 less than I was spending two years ago, and even with one more kid, our pantry is fuller and we eat healthier.

I’ve covered some of what I do in How I Save Money to be a SAHM and Shopping Choices That Save $2,500 a year, but in this post I’ll combine that info and add a ton more secrets and tips!

To keep a lower budget on track, you have to get down to the nitty gritty. I mean making a menu, shopping sales and making the groceries stretch. It’s not as hard as it seems and is even rewarding. Yes, seriously! Let’s get started.

How to budget for groceries

How to grocery shop on a budget

I keep these sizable, reusable bags in my backseat. They work at the grocery, Costco and for organization in general. (And my husband likes them because they don’t have flowers on them like my last bags!)

Of course, the first step in keeping costs low is to determine a budget — and then stick to it.

Right now we try to keep our grocery budget around $550 a month for a family of five. This includes a weekly trip to the grocery store with $90 budgeted, and a monthly trip to Costco with $190 budgeted.

Maybe you’re thinking that number is enormously high and I shouldn’t be writing this article. Or maybe you’re thinking I must certainly be malnourishing my family with this limited budget. The spectrum is so great with food budgets from family to family. Online I see some moms spend $200 a month for their families. Amazing! And then I know some moms who spend $900 or more a month on groceries. That’s what works for them.

Our kids are young and our corner of southwest Florida has a high cost of living. (We just took a trip to visit family in Indiana and my eyes were bugging out of my head as I walked around the grocery store. Milk on sale for $1.88?! Ground beef on sale for $1.99?! This just does not happen where we live. Ever.) Still, I hope we’ll continue to meet this budget for awhile. We don’t have an Aldi yet (where I see mamas get some amazing deals!) and I can’t shop around different places with three small kids. For us, it’s just our local grocery store and Costco, and this is the number that keeps us in check yet still affords us some splurges.

If you need help deciding what your food budget should be, Crown Financial suggests 11 percent for a family of four (with an income of $45,000 or greater — 12 percent if under).

Included in my grocery budget are:

  • all groceries and snacks
  • toilet paper
  • paper towels, paper plates, napkins
  • cleaning supplies
  • dish soap and dishwasher detergent
  • laundry detergent
  • diapers and wipes
  • vitamins

Not included in my grocery budget are:

  • eating out
  • personal care products (lotion, razors, makeup, hair care, etc.)

The secret to saving at the grocery store

The secret to saving at the grocery store

Once you know how much you want to spend, it’s important to make it go as far as it can! That means shopping the sales and learning prices. My goal is to only put sale items in my cart, but it actually ends up being about 80-90 percent.

When I’m making my weekly list, first I check the store’s circular online to see what is on sale. I add things to their online shopping list as I browse and get ideas for what meals I will make. The key is to plan your menu around sales. Letting the sales dictate your menu means eating fruits and veggies that are in season, cooking the cut of meat that’s on sale and getting creative with new combinations that you find at a discount. It also means learning prices.

You can take it slow and simply start paying attention to prices so you can remember, or you can keep a notebook and write them down. It takes some time, but it’s worth it to know what a good sale price really is.

I spend about 45 minutes to an hour a week to make my menu and grocery list. Maybe you’re thinking that’s too long and you don’t have that time to waste. Let me ask you if you’d be willing to do it if I paid you $50? Wait, that sounded a little pyramid-schemey! What I mean is that I believe that shopping the sales combined with creating a menu will save you at least that much a week.

And I don’t really coupon. I might check a site here or there for a printable coupon or save something off a package, but I only use them if it’s for something I am buying anyway.

What to buy at Costco

What to buy and how to shop at Costco

Now a word about buying in bulk. I have spent a lot of time comparing prices between our grocery store and Costco. Costco wins out a lot, but not on everything. For example, things like condiments, pasta sauce and non-organic meat you’re better off buying on sale at the grocery store.

When shopping in the warehouse, it’s important to remember that:

  1. Not everything saves money buying in bulk.
    Sometimes it’s the same cost at the supermarket and you don’t have to devote your pantry to storage.
  2. And not everything is worth buying in bulk.
    Some things will go bad before you can use it all.
  3. A list is imperative.
    When very few items cost less than $10, a couple extra additions to the cart will blow your budget.

I keep a list of items we regularly buy at Costco and their prices, so I know how much we will spend before we go. I debated whether to include prices here, but went ahead in case it helps someone.

These are what I use as my guide when I’m making my list. Obviously they change over time and vary by area. Keep in mind that these prices are for a larger quantity than you buy in the grocery store. This is what we alternate buying at Costco:

  • honey $14
  • syrup $11
  • strawberry jam $7
  • applesauce (2)  $7
  • organic eggs $7
  • coffee $9
  • milk $2.59
  • organic butter $8
  • Greek yogurt (2) $7
  • colby jack cheese block $5
  • shredded cheese $6.99
  • string cheese $10.29
  • olive oil $20.19
  • vegetable oil
  • fresh salmon $23
  • organic chicken breasts $22
  • organic ground beef $22
  • bacon $10
  • rotisserie chicken $5
  • guacamole $10
  • dried fruit $10
  • watermelon $4
  • organic strawberries $6, $4 sale
  • grapes $8
  • clementines (5 lbs) $6
  • raspberries $4
  • cherry tomatoes $5
  • organic spinach leaves $5
  • organic frozen fruits $10.89
  • organic frozen veggies
  • frozen fish filets
  • English muffins $5.49
  • bread (2 loaves) $4.29
  • hamburger buns $3.89
  • kids vitamins $12 $8 sale
  • melatonin $12 $8 sale
  • fish oil $9.49
  • Huggies wipes $25, $20 sale
  • pullups $35, $28 sale
  • Kirkland diapers $40, $36 sale — I should have tried these before kid #3! 
  • paper towels $20, $16 sale — can be cheaper at the grocery if you watch sales
  • toilet paper $22, $18 sale — can be cheaper at the grocery if you watch sales
  • dish soap $8.99
  • dishwasher detergent $12.49
  • Eco laundry detergent $13
  • Swiffer cloths $15.49, $13.49 sale

Be sure to check Costco sales online too before you make that list! I make a point to wait for the nonperishables to go on sale and then stock up.

How to plan a menu

Printables for menu planning

So now that you know what’s on sale and the potential ingredients for meals, you can plan your menu.

When I first started planning a menu, I just pulled things out of the air — whatever sounded good to us in the moment. I also didn’t take into account our scheduled events during the week. So not only did I miss out on a lot of savings, I wasted food on those nights Marcello wasn’t home with us for dinner.

Now I plan like this:

  1. Consult the calendar, and write down any upcoming events on the menu.
  2. Glance in the refrigerator for food to use up. Also check the freezer and pantry for possible ingredients. Might as well use what you have first!
  3. Look back to the food on sale and pencil in dinners first. I like to reference a dinner idea sheet, my binder of recipes and Pinterest for ideas.
  4. If you choose to plan breakfast and/or lunch as well, pencil those in.

It helps to buy ingredients that will fit multiple meals. If cream cheese is on sale, it can go on bagels and in enchiladas. Tortillas can be used for the enchiladas and serve as a sandwich wrap. If meatballs are BOGO, they can go in spaghetti and in a meatball sub. See what I mean? More meals with fewer ingredients.

Making a grocery list on a budget

Making-a-grocery-list on a budget

Make your list based on your menu, and try to rough out the cost. Subtract things until you’ve reached your weekly amount. If you’re under, you can use that money to stock up on staples and slowly grow your stockpile.

When you’re getting started sticking to a budget, it helps to make a list of those things you by each week (milk, eggs, bread, bananas …) and the current price at your store until you get familiar with them. Then you can use the prices listed in the circular to calculate your sale items. It’s important to know how much you will be spending before you go.

The trip to the store

Experts agree, you should only make one trip a week to save money. Multiple trips equal more impulse buys and more money. 

I like to go by myself to the store, but of course that’s not always possible. When I do take the kids, they are not allowed to add to the cart. If it’s not on the list, we don’t buy it. We’ve never even had any memorable arguments about it because that’s just the way it is. Do not stray from the list.

When I am flying solo, I like to take the time to dissect those tricky 2 for $5 deals or if that BOGO taco dinner kit is worth the money before I stock up.

Grocery shopping tips to save money

  • Don’t be loyal to one brand. Shift with the sales. Buy the store brand, especially if it’s on sale.
  • Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s the best deal. Look at the other products and prices even if they’re not discounted to compare.
  • Use the price-per-ounce printed on the shelf tag to find the better deal.
  • Look on the lower shelves for the best deal, because they put the pricier items at eye level.
  • In our grocery store, the spices in the Latino section are about half the price of the ones in the spice aisle.
  • You probably don’t have to buy two to get the “two for a dollar” deal. If you need one, just buy one for 50 cents.
  • “Surprisingly low price” does not mean sale.

Organic

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I buy some things organic. Honestly, I go through phases when I’m buying almost everything organic because I’ve read something about pesticides or hormones, and then a couple weeks later I’ll turn around and start buying non-organic because I want to save money. If the price difference is minimal, I buy organic, focusing on the dirty dozen list.

This year’s dirty dozen list

  • strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

These items (in order) have shown greater measurements of pesticides than other produce.

What to stockpile

what-to-stockpile-in-your-pantry-dollar-store-baskets-used-to-organize-pantry

Before you roll your eyes at the word stockpile, I am not suggesting that you fill your guest bathroom with White Rain shampoo and SpaghettiOs! No, the idea is not to have excess, it’s to buy the amount you will actually use while it’s on sale. Here’s a breakdown of what I do:

Refrigerator

I do not stockpile my refrigerator. If you peek into my refrigerator, you will probably find it half full at the beginning of the week and almost empty toward the end of it. That is because I only buy produce and perishables for the meals on our menu and a few snacks. The goal is for nothing to go to waste.

I like to keep leftovers on one specific shelf so we eat those first and they don’t get shoved to the back and forgotten.

Freezer

I do stockpile my freezer, but not to the brim. I don’t love a packed freezer. Florida weather is unpredictable with severe thunderstorms and possible tropical storms, especially in the summer. Our power can be kicked off without notice and we risk wasting everything.

I have friends in Indiana who freeze corn, in-season fruit, and even half a cow. They have a couple freezers worth of food stocked up in the garage. I would probably do the same if we had cooler weather most of the year.

But here in the south, I keep a variety of meat and fish, along with frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer. When I discover a great deal on bread, buns, English muffins or bagels I stock up on those too. I’ve found the best way to thaw bread is to just set it out in room temperature. You probably can’t even tell it had been frozen! Avoid the refrigerator with bread altogether, though, it dries it out.

If I see that something sitting in the fridge isn’t getting used, I’ll throw it in the freezer before it goes bad. I also freeze leftovers that won’t get eaten or half bananas for future smoothies. You’ll also find things like sliced green onions, herbs, spinach, lemon slices and pizzas in my freezer as well.

Pantry

The place to stock the most is in the pantry with non-perishables. Things such as paper plates, napkins and cups don’t expire. Cans can last up to five years (except tomatoes and citrus, which are good for about a year and a half). Things like spices, dry pasta, cake mix, cereal and peanut butter are good for about a year, unopened, so it gives you plenty of time to use them up.

The idea is to buy all these things on sale at the right times so you never have to pay full price. You can shop your own pantry instead. This saves SO much money.

Grocery sale cycles by month

Dollar store containers for baking supplies

Dollar store containers organize baking supplies and rice on the cheap. The baskets in the pantry picture above are also from the Dollar Tree.

It makes me nuts to pay full price when I’m stocking my pantry! It’ impossible to know what will go on sale week to week, but you can predict some things by the holiday or season. Here is what you can typically find on sale by month:

January

  • Diet foods: oatmeal, granola bars, diet frozen meals, diet cereals, yogurts, diet sodas and drinks
  • Upcoming Super Bowl: chips, crackers, snacks, frozen appetizers, frozen pizzas, soda
  • Flu season: vitamins, fish oils, cold remedies, chapstick

February

  • Canned goods: soups, canned vegetables and fruits, canned pie fillings, canned meats and seafood
  • Hot breakfast food: oatmeal, waffles, syrup
  • Chinese New Year: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, noodles, canned water chestnuts, Asian cooking oils

March

  • Frozen food: vegetables, meats, meals, waffles, pizza
  • Spring cleaning: paper towels, cleaning supplies, cloths, garbage bags, gloves

April

  • Baking supplies: spices, sugar, flour, cake mixes, brownie mixes, marshmallows, chocolate chips, sprinkles, candy

May

  • Cinco de Mayo: salsa, tortilla chips, tortillas, beans, sauce
  • Memorial Day: BBQ, condiments, charcoal, salad dressings, chips, aluminum foil, paper plates, utensils

June

  • Summer: BBQ, condiments, charcoal, salad dressings, chips, aluminum foil, paper plates, utensils

July

  • Fourth of July: BBQ, condiments, charcoal, salad dressings, chips, aluminum foil, paper plates, utensils

August

  • Back to school: school supplies, sandwich baggies, cereals, pudding cups, tissues, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit

September

  • diabetes products and baby items

October

  • candy, canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, pasta products, frozen pizzas, pet food

November

  • Thanksgiving: stuffing, soup, broth, canned yams and vegetables, canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, gravy mixes
  • Baking supplies: flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, cake mixes, frosting, evaporated milk, marshmallows, chocolate chips, Jell-O, pudding
  • Hot drinks: hot cocoa, coffee, tea

December

  • Christmas: instant potatoes, gravy mixes, soup, broth, pasta sauce, canned vegetables and fruit, broth, gravy mixes
  • Baking supplies: flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, cake mixes, muffin mix, evaporated milk, marshmallows, Jell-O, pudding, hot cocoa, disposable containers, plastic wrap

stocking the pantry list

Click image for high-res printable.

To sum up staples and stockpiling, I made this checklist. Of course, I couldn’t fit everything on it, so I tried to cover the basics and leave a few blanks for you to fill in.

If you really want to make sure you never pay full price for pantry items, you can try using the spaces on the left of the chart. Here I put an estimate for how many we will use in a year. So if I think we will use 15 cans of beans, I’ll buy that many when the amount gets around $.50. It works the other way around too. We only use about two bottles of ketchup a year, so it would be a waste if I bought six. You just have to be absolutely sure you like it and will not get sick of it before you buy too many multiples!

When to stockpile the sales

Here are a few things I’ve stockpiled on sale in our garage.

It’s important to mention it takes time to build your stockpile. You go with the sales and how much money you have left in your weekly budget to devote to these extra items. I’ll never have a completed stockpile this way, but that’s not really my goal.

Example shopping trips

Sample grocery trip for stockpiling

This week I spent $71 at the grocery store. The sales were not spectacular, so I plan to spend the other $19 during my Costco trip. Everything was on sale except bananas and cream cheese.

How to grocery shop to stockpile

On another recent grocery store trip I spent $87 and saved $50. I bought everything on sale except some pastries ($5) for a Bible study and doughnuts ($3) for me! I know, not a “perfect” list to put on this post, but that’s real life, right? I didn’t want to bake anything and doughnuts just sounded good!

Also, as you look at this picture, you might wonder what in the world we ate for dinner. Peanut butter and plain yogurt? Delicious. That’s where stockpiling sales comes in. (I’ve been waiting for peanut butter to go on sale for forever and yogurt was less than the Costco price this week.) In the freezer I have meat and vegetables, and in the pantry I have pasta and sauce. My list was focused on the back to school prices and stocking up for school lunches, so I’m relying on my stockpile to carry us though this week.

Also, I usually only use vinegar and baking soda for my everyday cleaning needs. It saves a lot of money and avoids chemicals, but I need something stronger for our stubborn shower and these were buy one, get one.

My point in showing you this is to demonstrate that your lists might not make sense when you only shop the sales. It might seem like madness, but this is what it looks like to fill your pantry at half price.

P.S. Did you know you can sub plain yogurt for sour cream? It works great in recipes and as a topping. (Said the girl who ate all but two of the doughnuts herself.)

How to make groceries stretch

We are a family of five and we like to have people over. Here is how we stretch the bugdet.

We are a family of five and we like to have people over. I’d say we have company for dinner at least once every week. My best friend, Ashby, and I have a standing playdate one day a week, which usually turns into dinner. Then a lot of weekends we invite another family over. We frequently have family in town, as well. So that means making food stretch if we want to stay on budget.

Above is an inexpensive dinner Marcello made when we had friends over for dinner a few weeks ago. He got creative and made a zucchini and cheese pasta dish with in-season veggies and pasta that was BOGO. And of course always buy the whole watermelon in season and cut it yourself to save money. (That said, Ashby will tell you that I’m “weird” about watermelons. I hate cutting them, but yes, it’s worth the savings.)

Here are my best tricks to make the food stretch:

Healthy applesauce waffles to freeze

  • Make your own frozen waffles. They’re healthier, cheaper and taste way better! Here is my recipe for healthy applesauce waffles and how to freeze them. It’s so easy.
  • Oatmeal is healthy and filling. I make it with water (instead of milk), add cinnamon and maple syrup, and throw in some frozen blueberries to cool it off. And you can serve it for other meals than just breakfast!
  • Ground turkey is sometimes cheaper than ground beef and is arguably a healthier option. To make it go farther in things like tacos or enchiladas, I add black beans, onion and rice. This more than doubles the quantity and tastes more flavorful. We have a Mexican-inspired meal once a week.
  • Use more potatoes. The possibilities are endless with a bag of potatoes — diced for breakfast potatoes or chicken pot pie, baked potatoes, mashed, fries, scalloped …
  • Rice. I bought a rice maker that makes 20 cups of cooked rice at one time! You can add rice as filler in all kinds of meals, especially Asian and Mexican. I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of recipes with rice — crockpot fajitas, chicken fried rice, casseroles, stir fry …
  • We have started eating less meat, but when we do eat it, we usually shred or chop the meat and use it in recipes instead of serving it as the main course. When I find chicken breasts on sale, I season them with Mrs. Dash and cook them on high for four hours in chicken broth. Then I shred it easily with forks and freeze it in baggies. Steak can be cooked and cut into thin pieces for stir fry, fajitas, salads … Make the meat go farther.

How to get 6 cups of shredded chicken and 8 cans of chicken stock from a $5 rotisserie

  • Once a month or so I like to buy a $5 rotisserie chicken from Costco, shred it and freeze in baggies. Then I make my own chicken stock from the bones, which is like getting 6 cans of stock for free — and the flavor is so much fuller than store-bought broth. By the way, stock is made with the bones and broth is not. They can be used interchangeably in recipes. I’ve read that making stock with the bones adds protein and minerals, and helps joints and immune systems. It even said something about the collagen released helping cellulite. Hey! See recipe in this post.
  • And don’t forget about breakfast for dinner. Make an inexpensive dinner with eggs, pancakes, hash browns or the like. Try an omelette with chopped leftover veggies.
  • We usually only serve the boys milk in the morning, so now they see milk as more of a breakfast drink.
  • Make your own iced tea. I like to add peach slices to mine!
  • Get in the habit of drinking water instead of juice or soda. And when the kids do have juice, water it down. It makes it go farther and gives them less sugar.

Pantry week

One thing Marcello and I do about every other month is have a pantry week. We buy something like milk, apples and bananas and then only use what is in our pantry and freezer for a whole week. It’s amazing what you can find in there! This forces you to use up what you have and saves a chunk of change. I would still suggest planning out your menu or else you might be tempted to make a run through the drive through.

Ideas for feeding a crowd inexpensively

  • burritos
  • fajitas
  • baked ziti
  • chili
  • BBQ chicken or pulled pork sandwiches

Cheap, healthy snack ideas

When the kids are home from school I typically give them three meals and two snacks a day. After bringing home our third baby, I was sick of limitless snacks and all the dishes they create. I couldn’t keep up! By trying to limit them to two a day, I discovered I have less dishes, the kids eat more at meals and I am saving money. See this post for more on going from two kids to three.

I even have a sort of schedule so they know what to expect — one snack midmorning and one snack around two or three in the afternoon. They’re somewhat hearty snacks because they are so few. I didn’t plan on being a snack nazi, but here I am.

Cheap easy healthy snacks - airpopped popcorn

Buy a popcorn machine. We have this one. It uses air to pop the kernels and I give it to the kids plain. I like olive oil and natural white cheddar powder sprinkled on top, and don’t even get me started on coconut oil with a little sea salt and sugar. I’d eat it every day.

No scary chemicals and the kids love to watch it pop! Making your own popcorn is cheaper and better for you. After the initial investment in the machine, the cost is about $.23 a serving!

Make a loaf of frozen PBJs for quick grabbing for school lunch or a snack on the go

When I read that there are mamas who make a whole loaf of PBJs at once and freeze them I about fell off my seat. Yes. This is amazing. I started telling everyone I know. Moms at the park were like I don’t care. But I was like you need to know!

For the past several months, I’ve been freezing whole loaves of PBJs and I’ll never look back. I was freezing them individually in baggies, which works great for school lunches or when you’re on the go, but my Mom asked what would happen if I just stuck them back in the bread bag after I made them. And I did. And it works!

Cheap easy healthy snacks - DIY trail mix

Make your own trail mix. Again, it’s cheaper and healthier. I mix whatever I have on hand. In this case there’s pretzels, popcorn, cheerios, peanuts and I chopped up some cheesy puffs to keep their interest. It’s best if you you put at least four things in it and stick one treat in the mix to get them excited about it.

Another mix I like is nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit and some form of chocolate (chocolate chips or M&Ms). But don’t use too many plain Cheerios because they’ll get angry. Trust me.

Cheap and healthy snack ideas

Another trick I like is taking a divided party dish and just putting random things from the fridge and pantry in it to make a snack everyone can pick at. A block of cheese that’s almost gone, crackers, any fruit that almost used up, lots of little things. You use up all those little leftovers and I guarantee your guests will comment on what a nice spread it is!

If you or the kids have a sweet tooth, try …

  • banana with honey drizzled on top
  • peanut butter on a spoon and a few chocolate chips on top
  • applesauce or smoothie popsicles

* * *

ALL that said — and that was a lot! — sometimes we go over budget. Sometimes my foodie husband wants to buy expensive ingredients. Sometimes I get in a rut and buy convenience food. Things happen, but overall, when we stick to this plan we save money and I am not left wondering what we’ll have for dinner.

What are your grocery shopping secrets? Pretty please share in the comments.

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Grocery and meal planning printables

stocking the pantry list Weekly menu printable - lunch and dinner Dinner idea list - Italian, casserole, meat, fish, mexican, asian, sandwiches, soup, sandwich, soup, salad meals Healthy pregnancy snack list