Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: Mid-November Update

Well, this month I have had no income but lots of outflow.  So far we have spent $269 on groceries - which is totally reasonable.  The grocery shopping has been going well - but I am not thrilled with spending in other areas.

Nonetheless, I am going back to work in one week so busy times are ahead.

This month I have mainly been focusing on getting ready for Christmas.

What have I done to save money this month?

1.  I used a coupon to make purchases at the Salvation Army.

2.  I made Lavender bath salts to put in with Christmas gifts.

3.  Using money I had set aside, I ordered handmade cold pressed soaps from my cousin (she has her own business) that I will include with the bath salts as gifts.

4.  Instead of spending money eating out or buying expensive pre-made foods, I made a birthday cake and appetizers from scratch which we brought to a birthday dinner for my mother in law.

RECIPE SHARE:  This is the Marble Bundt Cake with Chocolate Ganache from Ricardo.  Sooo good.

5.  I said "NO!!!" to many great deal on Black Friday.

6.  I took advantage of one great deal on Black Friday - I bought an Instant Pot.  Although I bought it now, I will be using money from a Christmas gift that I know someone is giving to me to pay for this.  I have been wanting one for a long time and I think it will help with some changes to my food plan that I want to make.  I already have two Crock-Pots (yes two, I use them ALL the time often simultaneously) but there are some things Instant Pot does that Crock-Pot does not.  We will see how this goes...

Birthday Art
7.  My oldest turned 4.  We kept his birthday simple.  He had a friend over and they played, ate grilled cheese and cake, and they each painted their own canvas art using supplies I had on hand.  I gave his friend an easel (from Dollarama) that he could display his canvas on at home. 

8.  I did a superspend of points at Shoppers Drug Mart (I had $170 worth of points to use - and the Black Friday special was that you could use $170 worth of points but get $40 worth of points put back on your card).  I used it to purchase grocery and household items as well as Lipikar Baume AP+ which both my sons use to help with severe dry skin in the winter.

9.  I went on a date with my husband (our first dinner out alone in three years).  We went out for breakfast and used the time to crunch a bunch of numbers for our year ahead and analyze some different options for decision we need to make in the year ahead.  It was time well spent.  After, we went to Shopper's Drug Mart for free flu shots.  How romantic.  I know.  Stop.

10.  I made someone else's life frugal by giving them partially used cans of primer we had leftover from our renovations.  Sharing the frugal is fun!!

More to come after the month is officially over...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

DIY Gifts: Lavender Bath Salts

Working through my list of gifts to make, I arrived at the "bath salts" component.  This is the Relax part of my Read, Write, & Relax Christmas gift theme.  There are hundreds of bath salts recipes online, and they are all different.  I searched up and down and read and read, but I could not find a consistent formula - so in the end - the bath salts I made were made based on the formulas I preferred.  A good place to start, if you are looking for a bath salts recipe, is this one provided by Martha Stewart.  Martha's recipe uses a lot more Sea Salt than Epsom salts, but I did the opposite - I used more Epsom Salts and fewer sea salts.

My original plan was to make three different kinds of bath salts for gifts: a lavender (relaxing) bath salt, a Eucalyptus (de-congesting) bath salt, and a citrus (energizing) bath salt.  In the end, I just made a whole bunch (and I mean a whole bunch)  of Lavender Bath Salts.  Due to other unrelated expenses, I just did not want to spend the money buying more oils so I only purchased Lavender Oil to make the lavender salts.

Sidenote:  I love the idea of bath salts - but not everyone takes baths.  I don't.  So I had to do some sleuthing to make sure the people I want to give these gifts to actually take baths and are not shower only folks like myself.

Bath Salts are not difficult to make, and they make a beautiful gift.

-Epsom Salts (I got 2 5.5kg containers from Costco)
-Sea Salts (they sell these in three packs at Costco - I used 5 of the 750g containers)
-Baking Soda (I used almost an entire box)
-Lavender Oil (purchase a quality oil - I bought mine directly from La Maison Lavande in Québec)
-Lavender buds (completely optional - I purchased these at La Maison Lavande as well

You will need airtight containers.  I used Mason jars (with rims and lids).
You may also want material to make tags and ribbon to attach them to the jars.

Very straightforward - combine your ingredients (based on the formula you choose) in a large bowl and then place in airtight containers.  I made some that did not include lavender buds, some with buds mixed in throughout, and some where the buds were placed on the very top of the jar.

It really is that simple.  You do not need very much oil - so a tiny jar of oil will go a long way - consider joining forces with a friend who might also want to make their own salts.  This will help ease the cost of the oil.  

How much did this make?  With the ingredients listed above, I was able to make:
8 x 1 L jars
15 x 500 ml jars
2 x 250 ml jars

My favourite part of this project (aside from the super - relaxing smell) is that I had some green Bernardin jars just waiting for something special to be funneled into them.  I put the plain (no buds) salts in these jars.  In addition, I had some purple lids and rims on hand, which paired beautifully with plain jars and the lavender salts.  My cousin has her own cold pressed soap business, so I will be putting a little half bar of beautiful soap along with the large jars of bath salts.  I am really looking forward to sharing these gifts with friends and family over the holidays.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: October Recap

This post is coming a bit late because I needed to regroup after losing our freezer.

Yes, we lost everything (over $1000.00 worth of food) that was in our upright freezer - packed full of a year's worth of fruit, meat, pastry, and other food supplies.  How did this happen?  We had a contractor doing work on our house.  I specifically told them to make sure the freezer was plugged in before they left.  When I came home, I put my hand on the freezer to make sure it was cold (it was, but obviously just still from when it had been plugged in).  I looked at the outlet, it *looked* like it was plugged in.  A week later I went to get something out of the freezer, when I opened the door.....everything was ruined.  Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the plug had not been shoved all the way into the outlet.  I was very upset (obviously).  My call to the contractor has not been returned and we will obviously never be using them again.  Lesson learned (several actually).

This was a huge blow for us both time wise and financially.  Nonetheless, we soldier in.  There are far worse things that could happen.  As a result, I am making a change to my Great Grocery Project.  I am not going to be tracking my per category spending this year.  It is just going to be so far off the norm and our menu is being significantly reworked in an effort to minimize the financial impact of losing the freezer.  I am unsure about whether or not we are going to work towards refilling it at this time since we might be moving in the coming year.

So, moving on - in October we spent $497.68 on groceries - much more than I wanted to spend but such is life.  A large portion of this was spent replacing a few things that were ruined, but also on a birthday party open house we had for both our sons (very fun!).  We actually had a very economical celebration, but I also bought pickles and olives and specialty cheese for the party which adds up quite quickly.

I like to keep kids events as simple as possible and I also wanted to serve one of my son's favourite foods.  Our menu was simple but delicious:
A grilled cheese buffet (brie, cheddar, etc., caramelized onions, apples, various condiments)
Crudités and dip (the classic French Onion Soup mixed with Sour Cream)
Pickles and Olives (wide assortment)

For dessert, my son and I made a Rainbow Bit Cake the morning of the party - he loves cooking.  We also made Molasses Ginger Cookies.  In the weeks prior to the party, I made over a dozen miniature cheesecakes (in 250ml Mason jars) and froze them (in the freezer that was not ruined).  On the day of they were served with optional toppings like crumbled Oreo, Strawberry Maple Sauce, Peach Rum Sauce, and some fresh fruit.
You can find the recipe for these individual cheesecakes here.  (Very simple to make!!!)
Individual Cheesecakes without topping
The birthday party was great and simple.  My mother in law brought her coffee maker and coffee since we do not have one (neither of us drink coffee).  Everyone commented on what a nice, relaxing party it was and how much they enjoyed the food so that made this hostess very happy.  I do love a theme party, but I really felt my kids do not need that yet.  I would like to do this when they can be more involved in the planning.  Somebody asked me "well don't you have a theme for the party?"  "Yes," I replied, "the theme is BIRTHDAY."

Recipe Share:
Since I have been reworking the food plan and adjusting everything accordingly, I have been lining up and trying loads of new recipes.  Not all recipes are good.  It has to be really good for me to make something twice.  Twice this week I actually had to throw out some new snack recipes I tried (they were very bad!!!).  However, there are a few fantastic recipes I tried this month that I want to share.

1.  Our Best Blueberry Muffin Recipe
This recipe is from Crosby's molasses.  It is fantastic (truly) and there are many variations of it that you can make.  I used the lower sugar amount every time and they are fantastic.  I love having a muffin, some cheese, and some fruit for breakfast most days so this recipe will definitely be going in the rotation.

2.  Broccoli Cheese Soup
Via The Pioneer Woman, this recipe is a fantastic base for creamy soups.  Having tried many of these soup recipes over the years, this one is a favourite because it requires no broth (unless you want to thing the soup - but I did this using broth one day, and water another), instead relying on milk (which I always have on hand).  The first time I followed the recipe exactly - it was great.  The second time, I used cauliflower and red pepper instead of broccoli, I omitted the cheese and only added it as the soup was served.  It was still fantastic.  This soup recipe will be used over and over in our house.

What did we do to save money this month?

Besides the usual (making everything from scratch, etc.), we focused on simplifying whenever possible. 

1.  Christmas Gifts - I finished wrapping all the gifts for children (we buy for quite a few) and made note of any missing items.  This ensures that no unnecessary extras are purchased and allows me to keep careful track of who is getting what.   There was one additional thing I needed to purchase for a child, and I did so this past weekend so I can cross all the kids off my list and know that their gifts are packed and ready for action.

2.  DIY Gifts - I finished up some gifts, and gathered the final materials needed for the remaining gifts that I need to make.

3.  The Charity Shop - A visit to The Salvation Army was very productive and I was able to get several needed items.  I wrote about some of them here.

4.  Optimum Coupon  - I got something in the mail from Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum Rewards.  I love free things I can actually use - and this little gift included a 20X the Points coupon, a notebook, some pencils and an eyebrow brush.  Everything was put to good use.
Optimum Gift Package

This Christmas canvas has been mailed.  I was sad to see it go.

A gift basket that was made (by me) for a friend - Italian Themed

6.  Photo Gifts - As part of Christmas gifts for my mother and mother in law, I making photo albums of family photos.  This is a gift they will love (who doesn't want photos of their grandchildren?) and it is economical.  I was able to get one photo album 50% off at Michael's, and I found the photo album below brand new and still in its packaging at The Salvation Army.

7.  Enjoying the outdoors  - I took my kids to as many outdoor farms and activities (all free) as possible in October.  There were lots of great events on for Halloween and we took advantage of as many as possible.  I love visiting local farms where our kids can play outside and then picking up a healthy snack (usually fruit) while we are there.  I also went hiking a few times with my youngest - which is a bit of a nightmare because he wants to be able to go on his own all the time - but it is so worth it.  

A walk in the woods cures many ills

8.  Swimming lessons  - I wanted to sign my son up for private swimming lessons but they are very expensive and I could not justify the expense at this time.  I decided to sign him up for lessons during the day, knowing that these classes are usually smaller in size (and literally 25% of the price of private lessons).  Well, I got very, very lucky.  Only one other person signed up for my son's class, and they have not shown up for a single lesson.  So, my son (who I feel really needed private lessons at this stage for his own emotional well being) is getting private lessons for the not private lesson cost.  I am just thrilled that he is going in the pool with his teacher.  That would be enough for me - but he is actually developing his water skills as well.  This has been a total blessing.

9.  Pickle Jar - I saved a Gherkin pickle jar to use as a pencil/pen holder.  I really liked this shape of it and I love keeping pens and pencils in clear glass jars where they can be on display at all times.  These are the things a person who loves the written word gets excited about.

10.  Halloween Candy  - We do not get many kids, and I did not want to end up with a bunch of leftover junk food that we do not need to eat.  I bought the large boxes of chips at Costco (not the Halloween ones but the regular individual bag ones) when they were on sale.  This way, any leftovers could be used for a little treat on days I take sandwiches to work. 

Going forward...
November is the final month that I will be off work.  My baby is easing into full days at daycare.  My older son is already going 4 days a week.  I am prepping for going back to work.  The stress is mounting, but so is the excitement.  I will be spending as little as possible on groceries this month.  I know it is going to fly by.  We have my son turning 4, my mother in law's birthday, my mother's birthday shortly after, American Thanksgiving, loads of appointments that I am trying to get out of the way before going back to work, and general life busy - ness.  Or business.  I will be making my final Christmas gifts (yes, I will share when they are done).  I am also trying to exercise more this month.  Wish me luck.

Have a wonderful week everyone.  Thank as always for stopping by...