The 2011 Grocery Challenge – Part 1

Since May of 2009, we have been on a real frugal kick around the house, thanks to Dave Ramsey.  We were going along really well…and then sometime last summer, I spent way more than I should have and took a few steps back.  So, after reviewing my spending trends with my Mint.com account, I decided to super-amp up my frugality for 2011.  First place to cut spending?  The grocery bill.

Now, outside of home expenses, the second largest amount we typically spend our money on is food.  If you’ve never done so, for a single month save every receipt.  Every single one, even if it’s a stick of gum.  At the end of the month, whip out a calculator and categorize all of your purchases.  I can almost guarantee you that what you spend by eating out alone will make you sick!  For a while, I couldn’t figure out why we were always broke by the end of the month.  Once you track your money (and I’d highly recommend Mint.com if you use a debit card), it’s easy to see where all the ‘leaks’ in your budget are. Here’s a pretty good budget worksheet, based on a ‘zer0-based’ budget.  That is, you will allot all of your paycheck/income to a category, so you have ‘nothing left’ by the end of the month.  (of course, this can include funding your savings/retirement…you’re not going to spend all of the money except on paper)

Anyway, one of our own major ‘leaks’ was in the food category.  Number one offender was eating out and number two was overspending on groceries.  So, in May of 2009 we decided to make a change…and we have!  We started the gardens so we are now able to grow a lot of our own fruits and veggies, I bake our bread now, and the chickens give us plenty of eggs. We try not to eat out often, though Jason and I do have a date night every other weekend, and yes, we usually do go out to eat.  However, getting water to drink (drinks are up to 2.19 each around here) and splitting a meal helps a LOT.   I was being a lot more careful about grocery spending, but I kinda ‘fell off of the wagon’ so to speak.  Some months I’d spend up to 450 to 500 a month on groceries…and a typical month for us beforehand was between 250-350 dollars.  Now, even that may sound low to some of you, but we don’t buy a lot of convenience food.  If I can make it, I’ll usually not buy it.  So, I make our own rolls, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, sandwich bread, jams and jellies, pickles, canned tomatoes, and now I even have a pasta maker!  Lol.  Watch out, world!

Now that I’m back on track for 2011 and all fired up about becoming debt-free, I am issuing a challenge to you all.  Let’s see how much we can save on our grocery bill.  Now that that has been said, you’ll have to know how much you spend in a normal month, right?  So for the month of February, let’s do Part one and track your spending expenses.  If you want to go all out, categorize ALL your expenses, but for the sake of the challenge just track what you spend on food. Save all of your food receipts for the month of February.  I used to stash mine all in an envelope.  At the end of February add up your grocery expenses, and then add up your dining out expenses separately.  Meet me back here at the end of February, and let’s compare notes.  Then for March we’ll see how much money we can save and re-post what we spent.  Sound like fun?

Here are the results of my own personal challenge.  In December, I spent $458 on groceries.  This month, so far, I have spent $147.  Now, we did spend about $185 on groceries a few days before the end of the year.  We hadn’t gone to the grocery in about 3 weeks and went a little crazy! Of course, that food lasted for a few weeks, so I expect February to be a little higher.

Just a little about the food that I do buy:  There are some foods that I won’t compromise on, for example,  organic milk.  I refuse to buy the regular stuff.  It tastes plain nasty to me and I really do care what’s in my food.  Yes, I pay seven dollars a gallon for milk!  I also read ingredient lists. I don’t buy things with TBHQ (bye,bye Ritz crackers and chicken McNuggets ) and I also try to avoid things like partially hydrogenated oils and soybean oil (most soybeans nowadays are GMOs…no thanks).  I also try to buy food grown in the state, if possible and I don’t buy out-of-season produce (like tomatoes).  Rather than buy California citrus, why not buy Texas citrus?  Grown right here in the Valley and it’s delicious stuff.  Of course, that’s just my personal choice.  The point is, is that it’s very possible to buy good nutritious food and not spend an arm and leg.  BUT, you do have to cook and you do have to know what store has the best price on what.  That in itself will save you a ton.

If you are local to East Texas, I would recommend the following:

Sav-A-Lot (Jacksonville): Kind of like a mini-Aldi’s.  Great pricing on canned goods, boxed goods, and some frozen items.  Fruit/veggies are usually well priced.  Also, they carry dairy and meat. Most items are not name brand, but I have found that quality is still great.

Break N’ Bread (Jacksonville):  My favorite place to get the organic milk.  At 3.49 for a half gallon, it even beats WalMart’s price. I also get my spices here, since you can buy as little or as much as you need, and they are the BEST.

Super Gallo (Jacksonville): Big produce section, homemade tortillas, and an awesome meat department with a real butcher.  Not that we have steaks but once in a blue moon, but the ribeyes and T-bones looked awesome.  I went away with a pound of ground and it was great stuff.  Though it was labeled as 80/20, there just wasn’t that much fat in it.

So, dust off those CrockPots and recipes in preparation for March and let’s begin the challenge!

This vacuum sucks! (well, it should anyway)

I love my vacuum cleaners.  If I had to name the top invention of the 20th century, the electric vacuum cleaner would easily make my top 3 list. I run a vacuum daily around here.  It never ceases to amaze me how much dirt gets in a rug in a single day.  Ever.

Our house is 2 story, and hauling a vacuum up and down a flight of stairs is frankly a pain in the butt.  Plus, I have this vision of myself tripping over the cord while lugging it up the stairs, falling headfirst down the whole flight and getting skewered by the crevice tool.  I don’t really want ‘vacuum cleaner’ listed as my cause of death, so I have been on the hunt for another one.  Since I am still on my debt diet, if you will, it had to be cheap but reliable.

The other day, I was looking around at our local salvation army store and I saw a vacuum.  EIGHT DOLLARS.  I thought surely the thing was broken or something.  Oddly enough, it was a model I was very familiar with because I have the upgraded version of this very model.  I took off the dirt canister and it became immediately obvious why this vacuum had been discarded.  The filters had never, and I mean EVER been cleaned.  This is a major pet peeve of mine.  Maybe it’s because I took auto mechanics in high school.  Maybe it’s because my husband is a hydraulic repair specialist and the name of the game is filtration…I don’t know, but keeping clean filters is just something I’m weird about.

When filters aren’t clean, the vacuum loses suction.  Judging by these filters (and there are 3 total), I’d say this machine couldn’t have sucked up a feather if it tried its best. Another dangerous consequence is that the motor will overheat and it will eventually ruin the vacuum.

I rolled it up to the counter and asked if I could plug it in.  The lady said ‘sure’, so I plugged it in and turned on the switch.  A smoke bomb couldn’t have possibly made more fog than this vacuum did.  Choking on dust, I screamed, “Oh my God!” and switched it off.  The woman, with dusty tears in her eyes, clothes and counter, was probably really glad to see me fork out the eight bucks and leave.

Here are some pics I took:

Another pet peeve of mine is leaving on the stickers.  I had to immediately rip them off.  So here’s the vacuum.  Probably about a 90 dollar model.  Not top notch, but it was eight bucks, so who cares? Next:  Good grief, just look at this mess.  The dust had to be no less than a quarter of an inch thick. Yes, I am touching a stranger’s dust.  Yes, I found this gross and odd after I took these pictures.  I was happy, however to not find pet hair and cigarette smell in the vacuum.  Now how was air to EVER pass through this?

Now, here is the primary, or first, filter. Gag.  I admit that I did not even know the primary filter existed (shame on me for not reading my Owner’s Manual) on my machine.  One day, after about a year of owning it, I noticed that it wasn’t picking up dirt very well.  You can only imagine what it looked like when I re-read the manual to discover there was a primary filter.  Probably something like this:

Finally, here is the final HEPA filter.  GROSS.  This thing was white at one time.  The filters above are both actually black.  Anyway, I haven’t ever seen a HEPA filter so nasty. And air was supposed to pass through this!

So, how did I clean it?  First of all, obviously, it wasn’t plugged in and you MUST do this outside. Unless you want ‘stranger dust’ all up in your house.  Ew.  I removed all of the normally removable parts such as the dirt canister and all of the filters and their housing.

To clean filters, I got a washtub with some dishwashing soap and I DID use rubber gloves here.  I rinsed and rinsed until the water came out clear.  Once the filters were clean, I rolled them up in a clean towel and pressed out as much water as I could.  This can only be done with washable filters in good condition.  Some filters, such as HEPA filters, have to be tossed and replaced. Anyway, I put a drop or two of an essential oil on my filters so that when I vacuum, it fills the house with a nice smell.  Is it recommended? Probably not.  Who knows what EO’s will do to a filter anyway.  If they get really oily, they won’t work.  Maybe the oil will degrade the material somehow.  BUT, since I regularly wash my filters, I take the risk.  So, I am not telling you to do this at the risk of ruining your filters…but I love how it smells.  Anyway…

THEN, I took the vacuum itself and blew it out with a leaf blower.  Good grief, it looked like a dust storm.  Then I blew it out with an air chuck on the air compressor we have.  It was so gross, there are no words.  After an hour, I had it all back together again.  While the filters were not 100% dry (and they really should be), I went ahead and ran it.  It squealed like a banshee and I flipped off the switch. Jason told me to just leave it running to try and just ‘blow out’ the obstruction.  I could just see this eight dollar vacuum erupting into a fiery inferno spewing flames and catching my deck and house on fire.  But, I did what he said and sure enough the second time I turned it on the banshee squeal died and all was normal.

So there is the story of my bargain of the day and also how to keep your vacuum clean and happy.

2010 Christmas craft

Well, I always get a little crafty around Christmas…especially when it comes to repurposing things around the house.  I’m one of those people who hates to throw out things because, God forbid,  one day I will discover its alternate ‘purpose’.

Jason (my DLSH*): Can I throw away this broken toothbrush?

Me: Oh, nooooo!  I’m hanging onto to that.  I think I can use it for a craft or something.

Jason (rolling eyes): Amanda, it’s missing all of its bristles and the handle broke in half.

Me (avoiding eye contact): I know, I know, but one day it’ll come to me what to do with it.

And so, he will set it on a high shelf, sighing heavily.  19 months later, as he’s cleaning out the barn, he’ll slyly throw it in the trash, burying it deep.  Within 12 to 24 hours of it being tossed (and that is the honest-to-God truth), I will have a crafty vision involving the broken toothbrush…a perfect use sent straight from the God of Crafts, Hobbies, and Repurposing.  I go look for said toothbrush and can’t find it.

Me:  Hey, where’s that broken toothbrush that was on this shelf?

Jason: You’re freakin’ kidding me.  Are you serious?

Me: Yes!  I just discovered this PERFECT thing I can use it for. You didn’t throw it away, did you?

Jason (sighing so heavily he almost faints): (digs in trash can, hands it to me silently)

Me: I can’t believe you’d throw that away!  See? I TOLD you I’d find a use for it!

*Dear Long Suffering Husband

I literally can’t tell you how many times this has happened.  Like the patio umbrella cover.  The umbrella part died, but the cover remained.  We found the thing out in the woods about 2 years ago.  Last spring I found that my DH had thrown it in the trash, when suddenly it occured to me that it would make a GREAT cover over my mobile chicken brooder.  See?  Keeps out the wind and rain and it was totally free.

So anyway, going along that repurposing vein, I have some old Coke metal trays.  They’re from the 60s and they are UGLY.  I mean, who would have ever thought that a picture of a big buffet of food, a chafing dish, and a couple of poorly placed Cokes would ever have been attractive? So, I decided to cover up the hideous picture with some vintage Santa wrapping paper.  I covered it on both sides with clear matte Contact paper to make it wetproof and durable.  Then I thought; hey, it’s a metal tray, so why not make it a magnetic note center?

 

Phase One:  Cutting out a piece of the vintage wrapping paper.  If you could see the tag, it is addressed to my grandparents from my uncle and aunt.  Probably from the 1970s.  (Mom…cover your eyes.  Yes, I used the Gingher scissors to cut the paper.  Please don’t freak out)

Phase Two: After carefully cutting out the shape of the inside of the tray, I cover the top of the paper with Contact paper, and gently ease out the bubbles.

Phase Three: Now I have covered the back of the paper and now it’s time to trim off the excess Contact paper.  I left about 1/8″ around the edge so that it stayed sealed.

And here we are! I put on some magnetic bulldog clips to hold the paper in place, since I did not want the Santa paper to be permanently attached to the tray…and I was too lazy to grab the double sided tape!  I used it to display Christmas cards.  Very cute.  I thought about spray painting the tray, but I liked the decorative edge.  I spray paint EVERYTHING, so it’s strange that this escaped my Krylon fixation.

Sorry about the terrible quality of the pictures.  I forgot that I don’t have an editing program on this new computer yet.  :0(

Enjoy!

2010 in review

To my readers:  Thank YOU for making 2010 my most popular year to date!  I have many blogs already churning in my head for 2011, so I hope you’ll stop back by to see what’s going on.  Here is some statistics that WordPress emailed me.  My favorite search that pulled up my blog?  “Cat boogers”. That just says it all, doesn’t it?:

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2010. That’s about 9 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 45 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 88 posts. There were 134 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 86mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was June 22nd with 83 views. The most popular post that day was About Me.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were maryjanesfarm.org, google.com, facebook.com, backyardchickens.com, and mail.yahoo.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for my little country, fertile chicken egg, cat boogers, peaches, and animal eggs.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

About Me December 2008
6 comments

2

I LOVE EGGS (and chickens, too)! April 2010
11 comments

3

Where’s Wayward? May 2010
1 comment

4

The Country Pantry February 2010
1 comment

5

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished June 2010
1 comment