Saturday, January 14, 2017
Once upon a time, I started this blog as a response to so many people asking HOW I could possibly keep our grocery bill so low, how I used coupons to pay just pennies on the dollar, and how I fed our family with so little. At the time, our finances were so tight that I kept our entire grocery and consumables budget (i.e. food as well as toilet paper, shampoo, dog food, etc.) to just $400/month. We had three small children at the time. Organic went out the window in favor of just simply feeding my family. I had mastered the use of coupons, and would often walk out with bags of groceries from Target for just a few dollars. People wanted to know how to do it, and so this blog started as a response to those questions.
Fast forward four or so years, and our finances are drastically different. We've been able to go back to eating mostly organic and natural foods, which has always been a priority for me. But now I have four bigger kids, one of whom eats more than I do already at the age of 5. And it's become increasingly more and more difficult to keep our budget in check.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, a family of our make up (6 total people, with children ages 3, 5, 7, and 9) in the "moderate cost plan" spends an average of $300/week. Even under the "thrifty plan", the average family my size spends $185/week on groceries. This chart does not factor in non-food consumables like I do, however. My current weekly grocery budget is a whopping $200/week, but it does include things like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toilet paper, medicines, dog and chicken food, etc. Some months our budget does go as high as $1000 for the month. So....now that I'm feeling sufficiently better about my (crazy high) food costs in comparison to the rest of the U.S. families like mine, here are my tips for keeping costs down while eating as naturally as possible...
1. Shop in bulk. There are several parts to this one point. It is by far the most helpful tip for saving money, but there are many ways to do it.
*Shop bulk bins. Depending on where you live, you may have a store like Winco that offers a bulk bin section. You fill your own bags with exactly what you need, and can truly save a tone of money. I have found the most incredible savings when doing this for spices. Winco does offer some of their bulk bins as organic, but most of them are not. Still, this is a great way for you to buy your raw ingredients for making food at home at a huge discount. Winco also offers some big-bag bulk purchases like Costco. We buy our oats in a 25 pound bag here and save a bunch of money (they do sell organic oats).
*Buy full cases at places like Whole Foods and receive a case lot discount. Often times, natural foods stores offer something like a 20% discount when you buy a full case of an item. If you know you'll use all of an item before it goes bad (think shelf stable items or items that everyone will eat through quickly), spring for it all at once and get the discount.
*Costco is great for bulk shopping, and they now carry a surprising assortment of organic products. We regularly purchase lettuce, spinach, rice, bell peppers, bananas, and more from Costco, all at great prices, and almost all organic. If you have a big family, bulk produce doesn't even stand a chance to go bad. So 6 heads of organic romaine lettuce for just $3-4 is a steal!
*Buy items in larger sizes with lower prices per ounce. Instead of buying 4 regular sized bottle of kombucha, spring for the giant sized bottle with a lower price/ounce cost. You can always portion it out or pour it into your own jars if you need to take it somewhere besides your home.
2. Shop local. This one can actually go with the shop in bulk tip, as well, but I thought it needed it's own space because it's so awesome. We purchase our local honey from local farmers by the gallon for a huge savings. We also purchase a naturally fed and raised cow, usually in increments of 100 pounds at a time which truly saves us a lot of money. When averaged out among all the steaks, ground beef, tri tips, roasts, etc., the cost is currently only $4/pound!!! For reals! And it's good quality beef, which is super important to us. We also do this with local pigs for all our pork. Just make sure you have a freezer big enough to handle all of your meat!
3. Shop around. It may go without saying, but every store sells items for different prices. Between Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, and Trader Joe's, some items can fluctuate by as much as several dollars depending on the store. Pay attention the prices and make a mental note of which stores to shop at for which items.
4. Plan ahead. Planning ahead is a life saver when it comes to saving money on groceries. If you don't think about dinner until 5:00 at night, there's a good chance you'll be running out to the store for ingredients. All those little trips for "just one more thing" usually yield many more things, raising your budget significantly over time. If you want to be able to eat organically, keeping the unnecessary purchases at bay will help leave you with the budget to do so. Know what is on your menu for the week, and stick to it. Have a plan!
My favorite way to plan ahead is to crock pot freezer cook. Essentially, you spend a chunk of time one day to prep a bunch of meals for your freezer. Each day, you just pull one out, pop it in the crock pot, and have a hot dinner at night when you come home.
5. Reuse and recycle. We made the switch to alkaline water within the past couple months. I would buy it by the gallon from the store, which would run me about $3-4/gallon, meaning I really couldn't afford to do it all the time. We ended up shopping around (tip #3) and found a great local place where we could bring our bottles in (reuse and recycle) and fill them up with alkaline water for just $1.50/gallon. By not needing to buy a new bottle every time, I'm saving a ton of money. Plus, I get to support a local family in the process.
Another way to save by reusing is to bring in your own bags when you shop. Some stores offer a monetary discount (usually only 5 cents or so) for each bag you reuse. It's small, but it adds up.
6. Share with a friend. Sometimes when we need more meat but don't have enough saved up for a full pig or portion of cow, we will go in with a friend, splitting the cost and the meat. We still get the great price for purchasing in bulk from the farmer, but our out of pocket expense in the "now" is much lower. Find a friend who also wants to buy good quality meats and make the purchase together!
In the end, if you want to eat organic and natural foods, you will have to pay more money than conventional foods. But if it's a priority to do so, try some of these tips to help reduce your overall costs so that more of your budget is freed up for the types of foods that you want to feed your family.
Friday, January 13, 2017
The older I get the more I realize the need to invest in and take care of myself. I'm super high energy and can multitask like you wouldn't believe, so I've always had a million things going at once. I had four children while in my 20's, which meant by necessity, I was always fast-moving and on the go simply because they were. It was easy to forget about taking care of my needs because I was constantly caring for four small people who needed me to do everything for them. Life could sometimes be crazy, and my personal health and development often took a backseat. But now that I'm 30 (gasp! I know, still not really that old, but some days it feels like it), I am realizing how being intentional about caring for myself is SO important.
And so this past year, I really worked at taking care of myself. I am shocked at how much better I feel now that I take care of myself as a priority, not just an afterthought.
Here are the three best things I did for myself this past year:
1. I "Hired" a concierge doctor. When you straight from your pediatrician at age 18 to an OBGYN at 21 (never had a doctor in between), and then have babies and nurse for seven years straight, you tend to forget that you need a regular doctor. When things would pop up, I'd hit up the good ol' internet to let me know if I was dying. If not, I'd ride it out. At some point it dawned on me that I really should have a regular doctor who is looking after my healthcare needs...I do after all have small children and I'd like to be around for them for a long time! And so I bit the bullet and got myself the most amazing concierge doctor EVER. Seriously. I tell everyone about him. He knows all about my health, is available by text (usually within minutes), and is great about informing me that many things are not a huge deal, and that I'm not in fact dying. Knowing I have someone who is keeping up on my health, regular tests, issues, etc. has given me great peace of mind.
2. I found a new sport. I have had a gym membership for a long time, but it was awfully boring. I loved swimming but hated that I couldn't multitask, so I usually ended up on the treadmill so I could read books at the same time. Still, it was boring, so I didn't make much progress. BUT, then I discovered a new love in martial arts. I fell in love with learning something new, have been developing these super cool things called muscles, and even lost about 14 pounds when I first started. I am slightly obsessive when it comes to things like this, so I go often and try to soak up every possible thing that I can while there. This is totally for me, though again, it does have an affect on my children. A by product has been new friends-and we all know us extroverts are always looking for more friends!
3. I learned Konmari and allowed myself to be a minimalist. For years I struggled with feeling bad for getting rid of stuff or for not feeling sentimental over getting rid of things others would save or for not having lots of clothing in my wardrobe. And then I discovered Konmari, which led to me discovering how freeing it is to just let things go and keep my house as clutter free as possible. It also led to me finally figuring out that I actually LIKE having a small, super simple wardrobe, and that this was perfectly fine for me. Truly, reading this book changed my life. I now Konmari areas of our home quite frequently (where the heck does all this stuff come from? I'm constantly dropping off donation bags), and I stick to a capsule wardrobe of just basic pieces that I love and can mix and match. It's simple and I love it.
(Runners up would be that I said "no" to a ton of homeschool things this year...whoever thinks that homeschoolers are not "socialized" is sorely mistaken. We often do WAY too many social type things, that I spent time upgrading my home (this is something Ben & I both love and do together), and that I went on way more dates with my husband.)
Between these three things, I feel like a new person. These three things have helped me better care for my over all health, given me something new to strive for and learn, and saved my mental sanity. I am learning to better care for myself and make me a priority.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
I think I grew up in the first generation to really be a part of the mass distribution of "participation awards".
I was a soccer player from the time I was 4 1/2 until the time I graduated high school. I have a distinct memory of sitting on the front walkway of these apartments where we lived when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, and lining up my soccer trophies so that anyone who walked by could see them. And you know what? I was SO proud of them. I really was. When I first started playing soccer, I was a hysterical, crying mess. But my parents kept taking me and I eventually fell in love with the sport. And each and every year, I received another trophy. They were cool, but I stopped caring so much about them over time.
By high school, soccer trophies just for showing up had ceased, but I now had shelves full of look-alike trophies from my younger years. They began to lose their awesomeness, and I cared about them less and less. Medals began to show up now, which we only received when we placed well in tournaments. These were special to me. High school soccer seasons ended with awards for "top scorer" or "most inspirational" or "best whatever", none of which ever seemed to grace my hands. But that was okay, and it didn't disappoint me, and I had learned to be sincerely happy for those who did receive them.
When I finished high school and got married, I left my trophies behind for my parents to deal with. I'm sure they got rid of them, and I certainly don't care that they did. I hung onto a couple paper awards that I was especially fond of from academic achievements, but otherwise, I let it all go (it's important to note that I'm totally a minimalist and in no way, shape, or form am I sentimental).
Fast forward to having kids of my own. As a new mom who knew every thing about parenting (ha!), not letting my kids have participation awards was up there with never homeschooling (we all know how that turned out). Buuuuut.....I found that for my little 5 year olds trying out a new sport for the first time, a trophy or medal at the end of the season made their little hearts so dang happy. And there was no way in hell that I'd ever tell them it didn't mean anything other than they showed up and played soccer for a full season. Heck-they rocked it. Tried something new. Got over their fears. Got hit in the face with a ball. They totally needed that cheap little trophy at the end of the season.
But now I have a child who is actually competing in a sport. Ellie is 9 and just finished her second gymnastics meet. I find myself back at the "don't give my kid a medal just for showing up" place once again. This is not a recreational gig, this is a competition. We greatly focus in our home on just doing your best. Whether you "win" or "lose", you do your best. Beat you score from last time. Nail something that you were unsteady on last time. Cheer on your teammates, and smile even if you don't get called up for an award.
|Competition #1- She did it!|
But she knew. She even mentioned it to us after a few days. And I wondered if her medals were worth slightly less in her mind now that she figured out that everyone got one no matter what. But of course I didn't ask her about it.
|4th place on bars|
Ellie mentioned how these medals were cooler because she earned them. She totally gets what's going on.
So don't give my kid that medal. If she earns it, go for it. But if it's for last place, please don't. She'll be fine even if she doesn't get one. Because in her words, "I'm proud of myself because I overcame my anxiety and fears about competing and I did it...even though I got last place in that event!"
Friday, January 6, 2017
I've never been much of a New Years Resolutions kinda person. I have occasionally set a goal or two, but rarely have I kept up with them. I think that far too often our goals are too big or too boring or too far outside our normal, current lifestyle, that we just can't keep up with them.
But those of you who know me personally know that I am a planner. And I do love goals. And Excel spreadsheets. And notebooks. And journals. And Kanban goal flow boards. And sticky notes. And, and, and.....
I actually really enjoy setting goals, but I have found that to be successful with my goals, they need to be bite sized, and typical New Years Resolutions seem to just be big things, without the baby steps. If I want to set a goal to workout 6 days a week, it usually has to start with setting a goal to regularly exercise two days a week, then to bump it up a day, and so on and so forth. If I want to read aloud one new book each month to my children, I start with something like reading aloud for a few minutes twice a week. Bite-sized baby steps to the rescue.
I think my hesitancy to set New Years goals lies in the premise that there is something magical about a certain day or month of the year for starting new things. It communicates that goals are to be made in January, and not March or September. It communicates that if we "fail" at our goal, it's probably not the right time to redo our goal and keep pushing...because it's not the new year. It communicates that we should only specifically look to improve our lifestyle, health, habits, etc. one time a year.
We miss the mark sometimes (okay, a lot of times). Our lofty goals may have been too big or not right for us and we fail. And there is NOTHING wrong with failing; it's how we learn. But if we keep our minds set to only create new goals and try new things once a year, we may let failure end at failure. We may not do anything with our failure, or adjust our goals, or try again.
So no New Years' Resolutions for me. Instead, I'll let you know the goals that I'm currently working on, as well as the goals I'm setting for myself in the near future.
Here are a few of my current goals:
*Work out 5 times per week. I'm crushing this because I found something I love that motivates me to get up and go (see my previous post). Not only do I go five times a week, but a couple of those days I go to both an afternoon and evening class. A mini goal within this is to attend 1 Brazillian Jiu Jitsu class each week (this is newer to me, and not my favorite compared to the Mixed Martial Arts, but still fun and I can learn some great skills here). Considering how six months ago I *maybe* worked out twice per week, and I now work out 5-6 days a week, I have had some awesome success with this goal. I attribute success with this goal to 1) finding something I love and look forward to doing, and 2) great trainers and friends to train with. It's made this goal one in which I don't even have to "try" to accomplish anymore.
*Meal Plan more effectively. Those of you who have followed my blog for a long time would be shocked to find out how poorly I've been doing at meal planning lately. It's especially awful since we are often out late at various martial arts classes or gymnastics classes and then come home to no food. So....I am currently working at being just a little bit better at meal planning. One of these mini goals is to keep things like cooked rice, chopped lettuce, and other quick-meal type stuff my family likes in the fridge. But really, my crock pot misses me. And I miss it. So back to meal planning we go!
*Read two books aloud to the kids each month. Okay, so this one took some major baby stepping. Also, I had to have grace for the times when my kids just really weren't interested in the book at hand. Last month we read Peter Pan and The Little House in the Big Woods, and we are currently almost done with The Three Musketeers. For some odd reason, I have found that I feel especially "accomplished" with our homeschool day if I've spent time reading aloud to the kids. Not sure why. You'd think that finishing Math and English would leave me feeling accomplished, but nope-it's reading aloud. And so, that's why this goal is an important one to me. It's good for the kids but also gives me as a homeschooling mom a sense of accomplishment that I so desperately need sometimes.
*Read more personal enrichments books. Notice how I don't have a set number for this...it's because I've been there, done that, and it never works. So now I just keep on my mind that it's something I value and want to regularly do. I am currently reading through both Rich Dad, Poor Dad and The Millionaire Next Door, both of which I find incredibly eye-opening and interesting. Following these books, I'd like to read Wired to Eat by my new friend Robb Wolf, who is a health expert and author of the New York Times Bestselling book, The Paleo Solution. Also, he is super awesome and is super nice when he kicks my butt at jiu jitsu. We don't eat Paleo in our home, but I'm becoming more aware of food and its affect on my body, and am really wanting to learn more.
So, there they are...a few of my current, "not New Years" goals. They aren't resolutions, and they don't start or end on a certain day. They are things that I believe will enrich and enhance my life. No New Years Resolutions for me! And I'm perfectly happy and fine with that.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
I've been a homeschooling mom for four years now, and I'm pretty convinced that people believe that makes me selfless and amazing and all-consumed with my children all at once. And I won't lie, I'm the first person to tell another homeschool momma that she totally rocks, because frankly, being around your kids all day every day CAN lead to some rough days and it takes a lot of patience. AND, it's true that there is a lot of selflessness in homeschooling-giving up any free time you might have had while the kids are at school in favor of schooling them yourself and having your little ducklings tagging along everywhere you go. It has its hard days. But the good days far outweigh them.
I have four children. I've spent 36 months worth of carrying and growing humans inside of my body. I've spent an additional 62 months nourishing and nursing and keeping small humans alive through the use of my body (check it-that's 8.2 YEARS of humans relying on me to keep them alive and my body not being my own). Having a baby is an incredibly selfless act. It's hard. You have no space. You get "touched out" from having little people all over you all day. But it's also rewarding and such a blessing.
A few months ago, I decided that with children no longer growing inside of me, being nourished by me, or even needing diapers changed by me, that I was going to be selfish. I was going to do something for ME. I was going to invest in them by investing in myself first. That I was going to give them happier mom by feeding MY soul, and not just focusing on theirs. I fell in love with a mixed martial arts program, and I also do fitness classes at the same place, and Brazillian Jiu Jitsu classes once or twice a week, too. I actually do a lot of classes each week now...all with my kids in tow. They are often there for 2 hours a day with me and another hour for their classes. They generally hang out on the bleachers next to the mats, and depending on the time of day, they'll do their independent school work, a craft that I packed for them to do, eat their lunch, or watch a show/play games on an iPad. The big girls help with Levi (3), and they really do an amazing job all hanging out together.
|My friend Erin and I at our belt test! NEVER thought I'd be doing this as an adult!|
|Belt Test #1: Me, Coach Darien (this guy's amazing), and my inspired little 5 year old ninja|
So, yes, I'm being selfish.
No, I won't stop anytime soon.
Yes, my children are well loved and cared for.
No, our family life doesn't need to revolve solely around them.
My kids' health is important...so is mine. I'm happy to show my kids that I care about my health in the same way that I encourage them to care about their own health. I'm leading by example.
|Belt Test #1: I'm still a baby in this world, but I'm a baby with an orange belt...so there's that.|
Side Note: My husband has always been good at this. And I secretly was always bothered at him for being so "selfish" since I didn't prioritize myself like he did. Now, I get it. I totally get it. And I'm so glad for his sake that he figured it out long ago. Dad's need time for themselves, too. I should've followed his lead sooner!
Saturday, December 17, 2016
We homeschool here at the Locke house, meaning the task of preparing my children for life and the real world falls on my shoulders much of the time. In our home, college is not the end goal. If they want to go to college, great! But if not, that's totally cool, too. I really feel that there are so many things my children could successfully do in life without an ounce of college. Ellie, without a doubt, will be a business owner. And a darn fine one, too, I'd bet. So, since we homeschool, wouldn't it only make sense that I feed her the education that she desires? That if her brain is constantly thinking of business ideas that I should filter her schooling through her interests?
Yes, the answer is yes. I should do that. And so I did.
A couple weeks ago I set Ellie up with a free Wix site, showed her a few of the basics, and she went to town. She was allowed a certain amount of time on the computer each day to work on her site, and she worked meticulously through the entire allotted time. And when she was "done", I posted a link to her site on my Facebook for her.
And the orders rolled in (via her email account which I have control over).
|Ellie's first batch of orders.|
For this particular business venture, I allowed her to use my supplies for a set rate of repayment. She then learned about and calculated her profits (she made over $50 in profit in her first week!). We discussed the importance of saving a portion of her earnings for her next business venture, as the "mom-fronting the supplies" stops at this current business experience. She quickly handed over some of her profits to her savings account, and now has some cash flow for her next ideas.
So while she's enjoying (and having fun) spending her time making a website/business, here's a big list of what she's been learning through the process:
*Website Skills- How to navigate and create a website on her own.
*Math/Financial Literacy- How to calculate profits and expenses.
*Financial Literacy- How to save money to provide cash flow for future business ventures.
*Math Skills- Making play dough requires a specific recipe for it to turn out; doubling a batch = multiplication!
*Cleaning skills- Each batch made = a fresh new mess to clean up in the kitchen.
*Communication Skills- Professionally responding to emails and communicating kindly and clearly.
*Spelling and Grammar- Websites need to be clear of spelling errors and read well. Emails require the same kind of thought.
*Typing skills- Emails go reallllllly slow if you aren't typing with your fingers in the proper places on the keyboard. Emails give great typing practice.
*Time Management- When you are nine years old and have school and sports, you have to learn to balance those things with the time you need to fulfill orders.
I'm honestly sure there's more that I could add to that list. I love this type of learning, and I know my kids love it too. It's real life. It's not just books. It's fun. It's practical.
I'm not sure what Ellie will be up to next, but I'm really trying to allow her entrepreneurial side shine through, even when it can be frustrating or difficult for me. But for now, it's a website that she's in love with and her first "real" business. Go Ellie!
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Years ago, Ben and I decided that we would invest the extra time with our children now to teach them valuable life skills (such as baking, cooking, sewing, cleaning, laundry, gardening, budgeting, woodworking, etc.) so that SOMEDAY they would be fully capable little people who can help out around the house. Furthermore, when they someday move out on their own, they will have a solid understanding for running a household effectively.
I totally admit that this can be so challenging sometimes...small children can completely slooooowwww things down. A ten minute task can quickly escalate into a half an hour venture. It's frustrating, and honestly, there are times where I just can't do it due to stress levels or time constraints. BUT, we decided that it was something so important to us that we would keep with it whenever possible. We chose to make a conscious decision to "bring our kids along" as we do things around the house.
We're already seeing huge progress from the kids. My kids are now 3 (Levi), 5 (Aaron), 7 (Zoe), and 9 (Ellie). I can give Ellie and Zoe a dessert recipe and they can usually complete it from start to finish on their own. My big three kids all make their own breakfasts in the morning. The girls take turns making lunches. My big three can all safely and properly use power drills. The girls can work a sewing machine. Zoe makes all of our household laundry soap. All four kids can unload, load, and start the dishwasher. Aaron is a seriously amazing gardener (no, really, he rocks at it). And of course, all four kids know how to sweep, vacuum, wash windows/mirrors, and wipe down tables/counters.
It's fun to see now how our time investment of bringing kids along with us as we do routine household chores has made our kids great, responsible, helpers at such a young age. I love to see the excitement in their eyes when the whole family enjoys a dessert that they made on their own, or when they realize that their helpfulness means mom can sit down and do a puzzle with them instead of clean.
As a practical example of how we "bring them along", I took lots of pics of Aaron tonight as he worked in the kitchen. The girls have spent many hours in the kitchen with me, but now that they are fairly capable, and Aaron is a bit older, I've been pulling him in as my helper a lot more lately so he can learn his way around a kitchen, too.
Tonight is one of our rare "home all night" nights. Here's how I bring kids along to teach them home ec skills...
Aaron made biscuits for our freezer tonight. We make them ahead, freeze them, and then defrost/throw them in the oven when we want them for breakfast. SO good! Tonight, Aaron helped me gather ingredients, and then worked on his measuring skills as he mixed everything together.
Mixing his biscuits.
Cutting out the biscuits!
Okay, we do make "actual" food in our house, too. Learning to safely use a knife is SO important. Tonight he was cutting our veggies to prepare them to be steamed.
The rest of the dinner was mom-stuff, but he got everything all set up and going and helped me with the dishes, too. And the whole time, we just talked and had fun together. Win-win!
It really doesn't take too much more effort to include a child. I won't lie-sometimes I still love to try to sneak away to the kitchen to bake something on my own, simply because I love to bake. But really, even if you don't homeschool, you can bring your kiddos along in SO MANY WAYS to help them learn all those practical life skills that they need. Whenever we have anything around the house-we try to include them. This goes for animal chores, backyard clean up, laundry, laying new laminate flooring, woodworking projects, and more. Anything that YOU do, they can do, too....sometimes you just need to modify it a bit for them to be able to help.