Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: July Recap

This month we spent a total of $298.89 on groceries.  Reasonable for these parts (the average monthly spend for a household of 4 in Ontario is $700).

What did we spend it on?
Beverages - $2.97
Bread - $22.29
Dairy - $104.57
Frozen Foods - $5.94
Meat - $16.99
Pantry - $26.08
Prepared Food - $27.00
Produce - $73.56

We spent more on Prepared Foods than normal this month because we were without a kitchen for a period of time and I had to buy some prepared foods.

As usual, dairy and produce top our list of expenses.  If you live in Canada, you know why.  If we found ourselves in dire financial straits I would have to give up a cheese and milk.  At the moment I do not need to do that, and I am not willing to do that.  You may be surprised to hear that while I am on maternity leave and my income is reduced by over 50% I am actually spending less on dairy than we typically do.  My husband and I both come from European/francophone backgrounds and well...CHEESE.  We eat a lot of it - brie, swiss, goat's cheese, etc.  It is a huge cultural thing for us - and also the main reason why we keep our Costco membership (these cheese are significantly cheaper at Costco than at other stores).  We have not been buying very much of these cheese this year.  I remember when we first moved back to Canada from Europe and we were going to a party - I volunteered to bring a cheese tray.  HOLY SMOKES!!!  I had completely forgotten the price of cheese here versus Europe.  What would have cost us about 10-15GBP in the UK cost us over $60.00.  I digress...

I did stock up on some produce stuff that I froze this month (mainly grapes when they were on sale for Canada Day).  In August, I plan to buy and freeze blueberries (my favourite).  I cannot get enough blueberries.

Next month will mark the end of my first year of tracking every single penny of the grocery spending.  I've always had a food budget - but I have never really tracked exactly what and where it has been spent.  So you can brace yourselves for some super detailed analytics coming up at the end of August.  Is summer almost over?  Say it isn't so...

What did we do to save money this month?

If you missed my mid-way update you can catch up here.


1.  Rebate - I got a rebate cheque for $40.00 which I had sent in for when I purchased contacts a few months ago.  Hurray!

2.  Ebates - I had to make a few small online purchases - I used Ebates for all of them to earn cashback.

3.  Price Match and Flyers - I am still price matching at No Frills and finding it is definitely saving money every month.

4.  Not driving around to a bunch of stores -  I just pick one store for my shop every week and if I can't get it there - too bad.  It would have to be a crazy good deal for me to make an extra trip for something.

5.  Not spending.  The wardrobe is getting pretty sketchy - but summer is almost over and I know that when the fall weather comes I will have more clothes I can fit back into.  I have been wearing my US Army shirt....well....a lot......

6.  Asking the Key Questions  - We have been doing a major renovation on our house for almost one year now.  I am happy to say it is pretty much done and will get its own post shortly.  Every time we have done something I have asked - is there a way we can do this for less money that will still have the desired result without compromising value?  Well - once again last week this type of questioning saved us several thousand dollars.  Sort of.  We didn't have the several thousand to spend - so we were looking into other options and found something that only cost about $150.00.  Winning!

7.  Packing a lunch and snacks - We have been using out Tupperware and Rubbermaid water bottles like crazy.  I am packing picnics every day I leave the house with my kids.  It usually isn't anything fancy - just fruit and peanut butter wraps (typically).  Sometimes I make cookies to bring.  But this totally stops me from getting stuck without food and spending money.  Instead, I have been able to treat my oldest son to a snack size smoothie from McDonald's and he loves it.  It is a fun and enjoyable little treat.

8.  Outdoor play -  Getting my kids outside for hours every day is helpful for us in so many ways.  As long as weather permits we get out in the morning for a few hours.  We go to the park, visit animal farms (FREE ones), bike on a little path, play with the rocks in our backyard, and hit the splash pad.  If the weather is not cooperating (too hot or storming) we go to the mall (but not to shop!) and visit the activity time at The Disney Store, walk around, look at the window displays.  There are also a few great (FREE) indoor playgrounds in our area that we visit.  I especially love these because my youngest son is not walking yet but is very mobile and he loves crawling around on the indoor gym mats.

9.  Arts and Crafts and DIY Gifts -My oldest enjoys colouring, painting, and making stuff.  I always stock up on school supplies (crayons, pencil crayons, markers, glue, construction paper) in August and September and I have a little craft drawer in our house.  I have been tapping into this drawer quite a bit lately and my son has been "drawing" on his sketch pad during hot afternoons and rainy periods.  I also picked up a few things for myself (for DIY gifts) and I am going to be experimenting over the coming weeks with some project ideas I have for Christmas gifts.

10.  Revisting Old Recipes  - There is a cookbook I love Qu'est-ce qu'on mange?  It is part of a series put out by a women's farming association in Québec.  Somehow in one of our moves the book got lost.  I can't tell you how many times I have thought about recipes from this book and wanted to make them.  A few months ago my aunt emailed me out of the blue, also asking for a recipe from this book that I used to make (Crab Bisque - SO GOOD).  What I love about this book is that the recipes are delicious, easy to follow, and most of them are very economical.  Food is such a major part of French Canadian culture, and with long harsh winters and a short growing season les Québécoises are experts at making incredible meals with few supplies or on a budget.  To make a long story sort of short - I ordered a new copy of this book a few months ago.  Like most thing from Québec (sorry, Québec you know I love you and I miss living there so I am just going to say this), the ordering system was about 25 years behind and so I had to literally post a cheque with my order number on it and wait patiently for my book to arrive.  The book is here!!   I am so excited about this because I am rediscovering so many fantastic recipes (for example a salmon oatmeal loaf) that are healthy, budget friendly, and delicious.  I am so looking forward to making and enjoying these dishes again.

I hope that all of you had a wonderful July - and that your August is filled with good reading, good food, and wonderful times with family and friends.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Go Ahead: Hold your baby!!!

OK. I am just putting this out there for any new moms who might be feeling mom guilt (it's everywhere!).

Before I had my first son I didn't think too much about the snuggles. After he was born, he needed lots of snuggles. And I wanted to hold him and snuggle and bond as much as possible. I felt guilty about this. People made me feel guilty about this (he is almost 4 now and he had no troubles adjusting to full time daycare or daycare naps at 13 months). 

When I had my second son I felt physically and mentally compelled to continue the snuggles, although it is a bit different as all babies have their own needs. Again, I was feeling like this must be a problem. 

Then, I had an epiphany. I was being so foolish. If I am lucky, I might live to see my babies reach 55 or 60. Of those 60 years, there will only be one....ONE where I can cuddle and snuggle my babies as much as I want to and as much as they want to. Why would I feel like I am doing something wrong by spending this special time with my baby? Have I ever said to myself, "gee, I wish I had alphabetized my cookbooks when Boy #1 was a baby instead of cuddling him". No!! Have I ever thought "wow I really hugged Boy #1 too much as an infant "?  NO!!!

More and more research is showing the benefits of lots of physical touch for infants.  You cannot spoil an infant!!! (Although you can spoil a child - but not from cuddles!).  I never wore either of my kids, but I feel like I sort of did for the first three months just from holding and cuddling them.  It is hard to explain how I felt compelled to be close to them.  It wasn't a philosophy I adopted - it just felt like it was what I needed and what they needed.  I also - brace yourselves - rocked Boy #1 to sleep every night until he was just over a year old.  He needed it.  Boy #2 has not been rocked to sleep one single time.  It's not his thing.

It is sad that everyone tries to tell other moms what to do.  New moms should feel confident.  If it is working for you and your baby - embrace it!  Love it!  Don't listen to the sanctimommies.  
Babies need our love and every mom(and dad) has their own way of bonding and communicating with their child. All that to say - new moms do not feel guilty about snuggling your wee ones. This opportunity will not come again.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: Mid July Update

Well, here we are in mid-July already.  So far this month I have spent $190.00 on groceries.  I do not plan on spending too much more, as I am fully stocked and just did a big shop for the coming weeks (except for milk and cheese).  I still have a frozen turkey on hand, some cooked frozen meat in the freezer, ground beef in the freezer, some frozen fish, and lots of beans.

The Great Grocery Project started one year ago in September - so after next month I will be doing a monster recap and breakdown of our yearly spend.  Of course, I plan to continue this project for a second year.  Since I have been off work for almost the entire year I was tracking (first on medical leave after complication during pregnancy, then on maternity leave) I need to continue for a second year and see how being back at work impacts the numbers and where we can make improvements.

I tried a new product this month that I am really enjoying.  Oikos Super Grain Greek Yogurts (available in Canada).  I am very fussy about my yogurts.  I really enjoy these - especially the Peach Super Grains and the Berry Super Grains.  I will be watching for sales on this product.

How have we saved money so far this month?

By not doing anything!!! We have been enjoying simple days at the park, the splash pad, on the bike trails, and around our house.  I picked up some "treats" on clearance at Walmart - sidewalk chalk and 1L of bubbles on clearance for $1.00 each.  A $5.00 spend will provide us with hours of fun.  I also allowed my son to pick out one thing at Walmart (within reason).  He picked a box of Crayola pencil crayons on sale for $2.77.  He has spent literally hours playing with them and drawing sweet nothings in his book.  Did you know that pencil crayons can also double as Superheroes and Super Villains?  Heroes in the right hand and villains in the left.  One apparently can colour over the other with green goo (also known as Green Pencil Crayon).

I bought some cardstock on clearance at Walmart for $4.00.  I plan to use it as I try to start making some of my DIY Christmas gifts.  I am hoping to start working on these in August.

Someone handed down a box full of books and Brain Quest cards to us.  Again, hours and hours of entertainment.  We have read Curious George Gets a Pizza about ten times a day for the past week.

I ordered a 1L Tupperware water bottle for my husband as his bottle needed replacing.  I also got a little treat for my son's Christmas or birthday gift (have not decided yet).  A Donald Duck water bottle.  It was on clearance for over 50% off.

This month I have done lots of reading (I am a prolific reader but find it hard to do with an infant).  I have been "napping" with my son so we can snuggle before I have to return to work.  Typically while he naps I am reading.  I have read several books that I received as gifts, but I do lots of reading online.  I love reading The Prudent Homemaker and Tablet Magazine.

Books I have read recently include:
The Undoing Project

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Wearing the Green Beret

The Nazis Next Door


All of these books were excellent reads (if you're wondering) and they all express many different viewpoints and life experiences.  I didn't really care for some of the political slant to The Undoing Project (just didn't agree with it - but I still enjoyed reading the book) and my eyes kind of glazed over at some of the math stuff - but it is a fascinating biography and absolutely worth reading.  It is by the same author who wrote Moneyball, Michael Lewis.

I have a pile of books just waiting for me to read them - but I am not sure when I will get to them next.

Well we will leave it at that for now.  It is naptime, ie....reading time.   Have a wonderful week!!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Popular Posts Round-Up

Are you new to Life Freedom Family?  Welcome, and thank you for stopping by.  We appreciate our readers and love to hear from you.

Maybe you are sitting around on a rainy summer day and looking for some inspiration...
here is a sampling of our most popular posts for your browsing pleasure:

Chocolate Cream Pie

Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum vs. Costco Executive Membership

An Affordable, DIY Guest Bedroom

Total (Affordable) Closet Overhaul

The Friday Night Dinner Project, Midway Point

The Easiest DIY Headboard (For Real)

Entertainment Unit Upcycle

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

A Note for the Husband of a Breastfeeding Mom

Rosh Hashanah Dinner Menu (Friday Night Dinner Project)

So fix yourself a glass of Rhubarb Lemonade and enjoy these posts!  Feel free to share them with a friend....
Thank you for stopping by!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fantastic Advice from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts

I have sat through many, many graduations and heard a lot of boring speeches.  This one, given by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts at his son's graduation is worth reading.  I especially love this part:

Once a week, you should write a note to someone. Not an email. A note on a piece of paper. It will take you exactly 10 minutes. Talk to an adult, let them tell you what a stamp is. You can put the stamp on the envelope. Again, 10 minutes, once a week. I will help you, right now. I will dictate to you the first note you should write. It will say, ‘Dear [fill in the name of a teacher at Cardigan Mountain School].’ Say: ‘I have started at this new school. We are reading [blank] in English. Football or soccer practice is hard, but I’m enjoying it. Thank you for teaching me.’ Put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and send it. It will mean a great deal to people who — for reasons most of us cannot contemplate — have dedicated themselves to teaching middle school boys. As I said, that will take you exactly 10 minutes a week. By the end of the school year, you will have sent notes to 40 people. Forty people will feel a little more special because you did, and they will think you are very special because of what you did. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: June Update

This month I spend a whopping $482.36 on groceries.  Wow.  That is a lot (but still less than the average $750/month that the Canadian household of 4 people spends).  Why so much?  Well, typically my biggest spend months of the year are June, July and October.  Why?  In the summer I am stocking up on Ontario grown produce for freezing and canning, and in October a lot of pantry and baking supplies are on sale.  There are two main reasons for the big spike this month:

1.  Produce - I spent $90.00 buying 3 flats of strawberries.  This works out to about $2.50 a pound if you are wondering.  I read about people getting strawberries for .99/lb in the States, but that just does not happen here.  Even the Pick Your Own in the GTA is typically $2.25lb.  We ate a great deal of fresh berries, but I also froze many to use in smoothies and baking.  You can also use frozen berries to make jam at a later date.  I am not sure how much canning I am going to do this year, although I typically do quite a bit.

I also bought about $15.00 worth of grapes to freeze because they were on sale for 0.88lb.  That is the lowest price I have seen on grapes in years.  It was a Canada Day special.  Frozen grapes are great for smoothies, but they also make a nice snack on their own.

2.  Essentials Stock up - I was just out of many things this month like flour, sugar, brown sugar, cheese, eggs, butter, milk, cream, etc.  Those things add up pretty quickly.

What did we spend all that money on?

Produce - $205.91  See note #1 above regarding the produce.  After tracking every penny of our grocery spend for 10 months now, the emerging pattern is that produce and dairy are typically the biggest expenses.  We are slowing expanding our garden in hopes of reducing this expense a bit more.  We definitely do not live in a climate where we can produce year round produce at our house.  

Dairy - $103.19 We were out of everything this month - cheese, milk, cream, eggs, butter.  If you are reading this from another country and wondering why we spend so much on dairy here is an idea of what things cost in Ontario:
Milk - Typically $4.97 is a good price for 4 Liters of milk.  You used to be able to get milk many places for $3.97 for 3 liters but this is less common now, and not possible at all if you purchase fine filtered milk.
Butter - The regular retail price of butter here is about $6.99/lb.  I never pay this.  Costco used to sell butter for $2.85/lb but I have not seen this price since before Christmas.  Even at Costco butter is now $3.99/lb.  Metro had butter on sale this week for $3.33/lb so I went to pick some up and it was completely sold out.  Not a single pound of butter left in the store.
Eggs - Shoppers Drug Mart used to regularly sell eggs for $1.88 or $1.77/dozen as a loss leader.  The cheapest they sell them in our area now is $1.99/dozen.  Sometimes I am able to get cartons of 18 eggs 2 for $5.00.  That is a good price for eggs here.
Cheese - A good sale price for cheese here is $3.97 or $4.44 for a 450g block.  Any type of specialty cheese here is expensive.

We could lower our grocery bill by cutting dairy, but it is not something I am willing to do.  We drink milk and I cook everything from scratch so we keep a lot of these dairy staples in stock.  This is just the cost of living in Canada where the dairy industry (and poultry, and other agricultural staples) is controlled by a quota system which makes the prices significantly higher.

Pantry - $91.64  This was just a restock of many baking essentials like flour, sugar, brown sugar, etc.

Beverages - $22.35  This is more than my usual almost zero spend.  The reason for this is I attended several social events where I was bringing the beverages.  The good news is I was able to price match on Orange Juice for several brunches, saving about $15.00.

Prepared Foods - $16.90

Dips - $5.99  Sabra Hummous.  I just have not found a hummous recipe that I like as much as this.

Frozen Foods - $5.98

Going forward:
Over the past few months, I have been collecting recipes for various bread items such as naan bread, croissants, specialty breads, etc.  As time permits, I am going to start working through these recipes to see if we will be reducing any of our bread costs.

I have lots of food on hand as we start the month of July, so I am not expecting our spend this month to be even close to what I spent in June.

I continue to cook almost everything we eat from scratch (as always).

Some of the recipes we made this month included:

Gourmet Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies from an old Cooking With Mickey cookbook.  This is a delicious cookie recipe.  The next time I make it I am going to sub in Herhey's Carmael Sea Salt Chipits for some of the chocolate chunks.

Slow Cooker Refried Beans from The Pioneer Woman.  I have been trying various Refried Bean recipes in my CrockPot, and I really like this one.  Refried beans are healthy and great to use for various meals - I served these to make Bean Burritos, Beans and Rice, and then as a side dish (dabbed with BBQ sauce) with Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes (see below) and mixed vegetables

Museum Pasta Salad from The Prudent Homemaker.  This is a refreshing salad for a hot day and it easily made with turkey.  I did not have rice vinegar or sugar snap peas on hand - I substituted apple cider vinegar with a bit of sugar and frozen peas.

Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes from Ricardo.  Creamy and delicious - hands down the easiest scalloped potatoes recipe you will find anywhere.  When I do not have evaporated milk on hand I just use Half and Half Cream instead.

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars - from The Pioneer Woman.  You could make these to use up any type of jam.  I used blueberry.  They were quick, easy, and yummy.

Naked Strawberries and Cream Cake - You need to purchase the current issue of Ricardo to get this recipe - you can find a similar one here - but it is not the same recipe

I also made a Curried Pumpkin Apple Maple Soup - I could not find the exact recipe online and do not want to reprint without permission, but if you search it you will find many similar recipes.

What did we do to save money this month?

1.  Price Match - I price match when I shop at No Frills.  It is simple and easy and saves me money relatively often.  I also buy a lot of discounted bread (50% off) and throw it in the freezer as soon I get home.

2.  Ebates Cheque - I got an Ebates cheque.  I used half of it to buy groceries, and the other half to contribute towards a retirement gift for a colleague.

3.  Snowsuit Purchase - My eldest son has been wearing his snowsuit for a few years.  I stretch at the use as long as possible - but he is a preschooler - they grow!!  At the end of the season I looked everywhere trying to find the same snowsuit on end of season clearance but with no luck.  I was even phoning the outlets to see if it was coming in or if they had it in his size.  No luck.  I had almost given up, but then I had to travel to Vaughan to pick up something so I stopped in at Vaughan Mills.  In June.  Wouldn't you know they had just received a large shipment of the desired winter parka and snowpants in my son's size.  This saved me about $170.00 before tax on both items and the snowsuit will hopefully last at least 2 seasons.  Then, they get handed down to the next son.  My tip is to get the downfilled snowsuits if you live in a very cold climate.  They do cost more, but I find I can make them last for more seasons because they are not as bulky as other ones and allow extra room for layering when they are a bit big, but then are warm enough that you don't need the layers and they start to get a bit snug.

4.  Careful Research - There were a few items I had to buy this month (which never feels like you're saving money), and I was able to save a few dollars by carefully researching my purchases.  We had to buy a new carseat for my youngest son.  Son #1 lasted in his bucket seat until 13 months.  Son #2 is growing like a weed and only lasted 6 1/2 months in the bucket seat.  Bummer.  Carseats generally don't go on crazy sales because it is such a necessity that retailers don't need to steeply discount them.  They are generally the same price everywhere.  After carefully researching, I was able to find the seat we wanted (Diono Radian RXT) for $40.00 less on Amazon than anywhere else.
We also had to get a mirror for our renovations.  I checked some second hand places but could not find what I was looking for.  We are on a deadline so I set myself a budget of $50.00.  This is very little to buy a brand new, large, hanging mirror.  I just kept looking until I found one.  I finally found a mirror on clearance at The Bay (online).  It was reduced by over 50% to $54.99.  In addition to this, I had a coupon code for an extra 15% off (essentially no tax if you live in Canada), and it was 5% cashback from Ebates.  Every little bit of savings helps.

5.  Just say no!  I really want to buy some clothes.  I have been pregnant or breastfeeding, or both, for 4 years+ at this point.  With both pregnancies I gained over 60lbs.  I lost all the weight after my first pregnancy, and have about 10 pounds left to lose from pregnancy #2.  Throughout all this I have purchased very few clothes because....weight up....weight down......massive swelling.......shoe size has changed......I'm a human marshmallow and then I am not.  My face however seems to always look like marshmallow....I really hope this goes away once I stop breastfeeding and childbearing for good.  Anyway - the end result is that I literally have not one single pair of summer shorts left that are not athletic wear.  All my shirts are stretched out.  I have some really cute sundresses I could wear - but they do not work while breastfeeding.  I cannot bring myself to buy any new clothes when I know that in a few months I will be in a totally different size again.  It is very tempting though.  In the end, I bought myself a really cute, plain, versatile shirt dress from Old Navy for $15.00.  Every time I have to go somewhere this summer I have worn this dress over a pair of capri leggings so that I can lift it up a bit to breastfeed without flashing everyone.  It will work until the weather will accommodate me wearing jeans, which I do have several pairs that sort of fit.  Anyway, I have decided that it is my priority to get a good haircut this summer (I have not had a good haircut for one year now) so I will be putting my money towards that.

And that is our little roundup for June.  It was a busy, productive month with loads of rain.

I am looking forward to enjoying amazing Ontario fresh food during the month of July.