Friday, October 29, 2010

The Way I Shop

My grocery strategy
Part 1

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with efficiency.
For years, I'd look at the grocery flyers, make a list and head out. I was always worried that I'd forgotten to write something down, so I'd go up and down every isle of the grocery store hoping to jog my memory. Too often I'd get home and realise that some important ingredient for a meal was missing; causing a return trip.
So not efficient. Or cost effective. Do you know how much money I was wasting by buying whatever it was we were out of each week plus the ingredients for whatever I planned to serve? Lots!
But so many people shop this way. Little by little, I started to change my ways and now keep my grocery budget between $4-500 each month. Sounds a little high, doesn't it? This is supposed to be a post about saving time and money on groceries, after all.

Well that approx. $100/week for a family of 6 includes all household products (tissues, paper towels, cleaning products, laundry soap) and things like diapers as well. Jason was a big meat eater and so about 90% of our meals included either chicken, pork or beef. We also don't have a vegetable garden, so there's no savings there. And to top it all off, we live in Canada, on an island. Things aren't cheap.
To give you a perspective, my mother would spend around $200-$250 each week on groceries when I was growing up. This was for a family of 7.
So after such a long introduction, how do I keep my grocery budget so low?
It's not coupons (though I use those occasionally).
It's not by growing our own produce.
It's not by cutting back on meats and convenience items.
It's simply by watching the sales.
I started to notice a cycle effect on the sales that our local grocery stores would put out each week. Usually somewhere between every 4-8 weeks the same item would come on sale again and again.
So by watching my family's eating habits I was able to determine approximately how much of something we would consume every month or two (depending on the item) and I was able to buy each thing only when it came on sale.
A recent example will illustrate the possible savings with this strategy: A certain higher end brand of boxed chicken nuggets, fingers and burgers can be bought at a local grocery store for a regular price of around $11/box. By watching the sales, I was able to purchase these for $5/box. That's a savings of $6 for every box! That week I was able to stock up on such items buying 5 boxes at $25 (lasting probably 4-5 months, as we don't eat a lot of these) instead of the regular prices of $55.
Boxed chicken burgers may not be something that I would have bought 5 boxes of over those 4-5 months, but by using this strategy we get to vary our meals so no one gets bored. They make a great quick meal when the kids have swimming lessons and Im not tempted to run through a drive through for nuggets when I can feed my whole family for $2.50 (half a box), plus sides. That's not even the price of one happy meal. This week frozen pizzas are on sale and if I stock up on those, then we have two convenience meals that we can choose from.
This strategy works for so many items:
Each season sees different meats on sale. During the summer, grilling steaks and pork chops were especially cheap. Those might be on sale now as well, but maybe a dollar per pound more than they were just a couple months ago, even though the store still calls it a sale. Grilling steaks don't work so well for us to stock up on because it's already almost at the freezing mark here. But pork chops work really well. I bought 7 or 8 packs of boneless pork chops at a buy one get one free sale at the end of summer. Those will last a good couple of months in the deep freeze and Im not forced to buy them at the (nearly double) regular price.
Fall is a good time to stock up on whole chickens and sometimes about a month before the holidays you can buy a cheaper, frozen turkey. It's all about knowing the cycles and watching the prices.
All of our produce is determined by what's on sale. We may eat broccoli this week, spinach next and fresh corn after that. When something is in season, it tends to be a better deal than when it has to be shipped from further away. I make sure my kids get lots of fruits in their diet (not so much on the veggies simply because they don't eat them) and to do so on a budget can be tricky. By buying only what's on sale, I can get two or three different fruits for the week for only a little more than if I were buying a single not-on-sale favorite.
For the last couple of weeks, seedless grapes have been on sale for around $1.37/lb. Normally they would be around $3. If I buy them every week, the kids will get sick of them, but if I buy them only when they're on sale, they can go through a bag in an hour. I bought probably about 6lbs. Im also less likely to restrict their consumption when I know it didn't cost a lot.
I know that since I bought grapes two weeks ago on sale and they were also on sale last week, it will be another week or two before they're on sale again. By then, my kids will want them again. So not only does this strategy cut my grocery bill in half, it also allows for a greater variety of flavours.
Cheese is probably the most predictable of the dairy products. It goes on sale usually every month. The regular price for a 500g block of cheddar cheese is about $8. When it goes on sale it can be either $3.99 or $4.99. When I see it for $3.99, I stock up big time. It was this price two or three weeks ago and I bought five or six blocks. There's still two in the fridge and cheese should be on sale again next week, or possibly the week after. I never have to buy it at the outrageous price of $8, even though my family loves cheese.
Milk never goes on sale here. It's just one of those things. I think the grocery store price is $3.77 for 2L of milk (insane, I know!) but at a local convenience store, I can get it for $6.45/4L. Not a huge savings, so I don't go out of my way, but enough that I stop there whenever I think of it.
This strategy can be useful for almost every product. I can't think of anything at the moment (other than milk) that doesn't go on sale, at least occasionally. By keeping track of each item's cycle (even a general idea) you can cut your grocery bill in half, without the fuss of coupons or the time of growing your own produce.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saying Goodbye

The bigs will be saying goodbye to their classmates tomorrow for the last time. On Monday they begin at a new school, one that's only 2km away instead of the next city over.

Understandably, they're upset, nervous, anxious, excited and nonchalant about the whole thing. It varies.

We moved to our current house over a year ago and have been driving about 35-40 minutes in both the morning and afternoon to get to/from school. Thankfully spaces have opened up for both boys in their grades and in the French Immersion programs at the closer school at a perfect time.

As of Monday, we wont have a vehicle so school would have been impossible otherwise.

So we're embracing the change and hoping for the best. To say goodbye and because their last day lands on the same day as their Halloween parties, we're sending these cute little pumpkin goodbyes.

The goodbye notes weren't printed when I took these pictures but I'll probably tie a ribbon to secure the notes to the suckers. Use your imagination.

The idea came from here, although I didn't use the same supplies. I didn't want to spend too much after having to already buy the suckers, so I used what was around the house.

First, to make the tissue paper stick and not rip off the suckers right away, I cut small pieces of tape and punctured holes for the sticks to slide through. The sticky part is on the outside.

Then I slid small circles of tissue paper up and over each sucker.

*I just caught my 2 year old on his way up the stairs with a package of hot dogs saying "I want mutturd!" *

Wrapped a small piece of tape around the top...

Followed by a piece if green tissue for the stem. I found it easier to roll a tiny piece of tape first and stick it to one end before wrapping to keep the stem in place. Then when it was wrapped, it had something to stick to.

The boys put faces on them...

And we ended up with these...

Monday, October 25, 2010


It's been a busy week around here. My goal of posting three times a week is going to be seriously compromised if like this week, I don't get around to posting about the weekend until Wednesday.

With Jason moving out, the budget has taken a major hit. We're still alright, but I just really have to watch additional spending. This weekend though, there were events all over town and so I caved a bit and brought the three older kids to the local farm for Pumpkin Fest.

We live about 5 minutes from this farm so we visit it often, but once every fall they add all sorts of fun family activities.

This spider is around every year...creepy!

This is a new one and probably my fave

The witch

Noah at the 'Gourd Toss'

The view from our hay ride of the other group.
Reminds me of growing up in Ontario.
The province we now live in is nicknamed the 'Rock'

Scooby! The poor kids were freezing!

Eating lunch while waiting for the other passengers on the hay ride

This was inside a haunted maze.
I seriously couldn't even see the kids when I took this picture.
Just had to point the camera and hope for the best. Poor Micah is beyond froze.

It was cold and gray with light rain but I couldn't get a decent picture of this guy

Petting the pumpkin dinosaur

We had fun and our total for the day with admission, lunch, games, free hot chocolate and treats was only $21. And that Works for Me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Halloween "Boo"

Nothing has been decided regarding Micah's costume issue. Im still hoping he'll figure it out himself in the next week or so. Jamie however came home from Grandma's yesterday with three more costumes. He already had three (hand-me-down) to choose from! Maybe I should create a costume box in the little's room for year-round dress up?


Have you heard of a "Halloween Boo?"

Linda talked about it last year and I sooo wanted to do it, but for one reason or another it didn't happen. So when she posted last week about this years' boo, I went for it.

After school on Thursday, we stopped by the dollar store to pick up a few things. I found that spider web paper and printed the poem, instructions and 'boo' sign on it. Other things that were included: chocolate, candies, chips, sitckers, halloween mug with individual hot chocolate, decorations and a few spiders and bugs thrown in for good measure.

Then Micah and his friend Lucas (in the front)* waited for dark to deliver them. We specifically chose two families that have lots of children and that we don't know very well. The third went to our 10 year old neighbour who loves Halloween.

Our neighbour caught them but the other two houses probably have no idea who sent them their 'Boo's! I chose the houses I did in hopes that they would carry on the fun and deliver more 'Boo's to the rest of the street. Jason was skeptical. He doesn't think a lot of parents would go through the effort. I hope he's wrong.

This morning while driving the kids to school, I got my first indicator that this might actually work: All three houses had their 'Boo' signs taped to their doors! That's step one! I can only hope that they're planning the who and the what for their own night-time game.

*Why is Lucas in so many of our pictures? I've probably posted three or four of this kid so far on this blog!

Friday, October 15, 2010


I've always been aware of the differing attitudes towards Halloween.

Growing up, some of my friends didn't participate.

My family always did but in talking with my mom years later, she shared her desire to make the day about "fun" not "scary." As a child, I never noticed. That's how good she was.

If I had realised that she was keeping us away from something or not allowing us to do something, I would have totally caused a fuss! Looking back though, I cant remember a single instance of my mother not allowing me to do something for Halloween.

My own experience as a mother is turning out quite different. Micah who only recently turned 9, has decided that he would rather not go out for Halloween then buy a suitable costume. He wants to be "death" or some other creepy thing, which I will just not allow. I caved last year and let him wear a skeleton mask with his ninja costume, but that's the farthest I've allowed it.

I understand that he's getting older and wants the costumes that his friends will think are "cool" but I just don't want to invite those kinds of things into my home. I don't mind my children dressing up in fun costumes and going around collecting candy. To me, there's no harm in that. But when they start bringing in the decorations, costumes and even pranks that are designed just to scare people, well I don't like that.

So what do I do? I won't allow him to manipulate me with his refusal to participate, but I also don't want him to miss out when at the last minute he decides that he really does want to go out. I've thought about just buying him some costume that I think he'd like and putting it away in case he changes his mind. But is that the right choice? Am I encouraging the behaviour, or rescuing him from feeling the consequences? Advice?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

lets move that other post down a bit...

Wow. Life changes so fast. This year has gone by in seconds, even with it's ups and downs. Or maybe because of them.

As I mentioned, Jason has continued to live here for the last 8 months because of financial reasons. We both knew that the time was getting close and that he would soon find a place so we've been preparing. The other night we sat down together and looked through online ads for apartments. For the last couple of years in our area, there's been a housing shortage so prices are steep and Jason gets intimidated easily. So in the interest of keeping my sanity, I helped him contact the agents and set up appointments. As of yesterday afternoon, he finally has a new apartment.

It's bittersweet. Not because there's any sort of emotional attachment left, but because we've stayed very intertwined through all of this. I no longer have a car so we've been sharing his santa fe. He is practically allergic to grocery stores, so I do all the shopping. This is coming to an end.

We have to find new ways of doing things. I can no longer ask him to look after all the things around the house that I need done or get him to clean the cat boxes. Nor can I rely on him to watch the kids while I go to class or bring them to their lessons. It's going to be different.

But my biggest worry was the kids' school. When we moved from a neighboring city last year, I contacted the local french immersion school but was told there was no room in the program. I had to wait until spots opened up for both of my school aged children. so I waited.

I've talked with the principal and other administrative staff many times over the last 14 months and finally after finding out yesterday that I'll soon be without a vehicle, they suddenly had spots open up in both 1st and 4th grade. God is amazing.

The school is still 2km away, although Im hoping there's some sort of a path that connects some streets in between. We could shave off nearly half of that distance if I can find one. So that'll be my mission for the next couple of weeks. Along with getting Jason to finish up what he can around here, helping him pack and move, getting the kids things settled to switch school in the middle of a term and figuring out my new budget. The loss of Jason's financial contribution will definitely make a difference but wont be devastating. Im still hoping to put a little aside each month towards a car so that by the time winter really hits, the kids wont be walking.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Its hard to write. It's hard to know what to say. Everything I think to write about seems trivial and just not worth the time it would take to write. I feel like if I write about something else, Im lying in a way. Not giving the whole truth.

It's been nagging at me.

My life has changed. I've changed. I shouldn't feel scared to speak freely in a space that I've created for just that reason. Two years ago when I started this blog, I expressed my desire to share without the worry of judgement. How did I share some of my darkest thoughts and shame filled experiences then and yet not be able to do it now? Why is it so hard to say that I've messed up, my life is a mess.

Jason and I broke up 8 months ago. I still occasionally mention him because we still live together. It's hard. If you remember, back in February, my grandfather passed away and I flew to Ontario to attend his funeral. When I returned, things weren't good and within a few days Jason had decided to leave.

At first I didn't want to except it. I cared for him but it was more than that. I didn't want to admit another failure in my life. We moved in together early because it was better for us financially. In the end, I exposed my children to another man who wouldn't be staying in their lives. A man whom they saw pour his energy drink over their mother's head and then hit her in the head with the can.*

Moving Jason in was a horrible decision for a mother to make. Did I do it because I truly believed we would be good? Or did I do it because I was lonely and tired of being the only person responsible for these four tiny beings? In my heart I know which one it was.

So we broke up. I didn't want to. I was scared to face being a single mom again, scared to be alone, scared to be judged. As time went on, Jason stayed. He couldn't afford to move out and pay his share of the expenses while still living here. We didn't get back together, but at times I thought we would. I wanted to.

The incident in with the energy drink happend in May. By then I was praying for God to give me the strength to let Jason leave. To take away any feelings I still had for him. Maybe that was the moment that it happend.

A month later I joined a church. I haven't attended church since I met The Ex, 8 years ago. I was scared of going into something I didn't know anything about anymore. Scared of being judged and treated like I didn't belong. And at times I have felt that way, but overall it's been good.

Years ago when Micah was just a baby, I prayed for a Daddy for him. God responded by telling me that it wasn't time, that I had to work on my relationship with Him before I could ever think of working on one with a man. It wasn't long after that I abandoned God and my faith and replaced Him with a man. Over the years, there have been many men. With each, a possibility of finding that love that I've longed for. Instead, they've hurt me more than I could have ever imagined.

I've been told that I was nothing more than a hole.

There were times that I believed that.

Others may not have said the words but treated me the same.

So I've returned to church, to God, to faith. I've been hurt by men more times then any person should in one life time. I'm working on my relationship with God. Im learning to be the woman I wanted to be 8 years ago; a woman who loves Jesus more than anything else. He wont hurt me or let me down. He'll hold me up and carry me through the tough times. Im still praying for that husband that I've always longed for. But I understand now that I haven't been ready for him. I wouldn't have been the wife that he needed, whoever he is. I know he's out there, I can feel it in my soul. When Im lonely or when I think about all the choices I've made, I think of him and how worth it he will be. One day I'll find my husband (I've even started calling him that) but until then, Ill continue to work towards being the woman God wants me to be.