Pantry Challenge: Finale

The end of the month is upon us and all good things must come to an end.  This includes the Pantry Challenge and, I hate to say it, the family is quite happy about this ending.  My littlest had began counting it down when we had 3 days left. I’m sure many felt the same way when the end of the challenge was in sight.  I did have to go to the store on 8 separate occasions, each visit the amount steadily increased as we ran out of essentials. Aside from a bottle of greek vinaigrette and a partial bag of self-rising flour, the pantry was emptied.  I say the challenge was a success and that we were able to recoup some of the money spent on Christmas presents and festivities.

As previously state in New Year’s RESET: Pantry Challenge, we spent approximately $500 on Christmas expenditures for  family and friends. This included food, presents, and miscellaneous accessories which arose throughout the season. It’s also important to note, that as a household of five with three growing boys, two of which are in their final growth spurts, we spend anywhere from $150 to $200 a week in groceries.  This adds up to about $700 a month if we take an average. According to the USDA, in 2013 the average cost of groceries for feeding a family of four was $146 to $289, this allows a better perspective of the amount a family spends on food, excluding the occasional eating out. The lower end is also the amount that is used for SNAP benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, just for information’s sake and for later use in future posts.  

So, how much did we recoup from the pantry challenge?

The receipts steadily grew in cost as the weeks progressed.  The first receipt was $10.31 and the final receipt was $77.15.  The final purchases occurred with 2 days left in the challenge and are the final grocery visit until February.  The Grand Total spent to replenish our food came in at: $257.37. This worked out to a total savings of $242.63. We didn’t save all the money we spent in December but we did save almost half.  We also were able to clear out any additional items close to going out of date and expiring, we created new and inventive dishes, and we were able clear out the more unhealthy food items, leaving room to incorporate more nutritionally dense foods and re-evaluate our family eating habits. All in all, I would say it was a success and something I look forward to incorporating into our yearly routine or maybe even bi-annually.  It was fun to see all the interesting dishes I could come up with. I made rice pudding for the first time, created new varieties of smoothies, and quick dishes that were delicious. I look forward to seeing how others did on the challenge and remember, this can be done at any time of the year and for any length of time. It was quite liberating to try combinations of foods which I would not ordinarily put together and see the results and the surprise when it was quite delicious.

One of my dishes which turned out quite well:

  • 1 bag of boil in a bag brown rice
  • 1lb 80/20 ground beef
  • 1 can of sweet corn
  • 1 frozen bag of English peas
  • 2 packets of Taco Bell Fire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 tbsp. Smart Balance Margarine

Add ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper to skillet. Next cook the brown rice according to instructions. In another skillet add peas corn, margarine, and a little pepper. Combine all ingredients once cooked into a container and mix all ingredients together. Add any additional salt or pepper for taste. Add Fire sauce to taste.

This was surprising good and easy to make. Other spices can be added to enhance the flavor of the dish.

References:


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Libraries: The Free Entertainment Source and More

Libraries offer an abundance of entertainment options for every member in your household.  They also come with the added bonus of being free to the public. You will need to sign up for  a library card, which should take very little time. The local library is stocked with books from almost every genre and for all age groups.  Romance, Science Fiction, Mystery, and educational, if you can think of a topic the library will have something covering that topic, and if they don’t have it they will definitely know where to get it.  A quick perusal of the catalogue will allow you to see what is available and where the book is located within the library. If the book you are looking to check out is not within your local library, the library can request the book from a library which has the physical copy.  In situations such as this, I usually request the whole series be brought to my local library. Most libraries are willing to accomodate the request, unless there is a large queue for the requested book or series. At this point, you will need to wait until it is your turn. The library also offers a wide selection of audiobooks in a number of formats, for those who are interested.  These make wonderful additions especially when driving to and from work, on family vacations, or if you have a job which requires you to log a substantial amount of miles on the road. Audiobooks can be real boredom busters on the road, especially when traveling in areas where the radio doesn’t pick up any stations.

In addition, libraries are entering the modern era and many libraries now offer digital check out of ebooks and eaudiobooks.  This has eliminated the need to wait for a physical copy of the book to arrive in many instances and is making the library more accessible and efficient for the more technologically advanced person.  One can check out the book through apps and online, negating the necessity to travel to the library. This is wonderful for individuals that are not able to make the trip to the library due to illness, lack of transportation, or any other number of reasons, including convenience.  

Libraries also carry magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, and a variety of other printed materials for the curious explorer of random topics, current events, or how to skills.  These are often offer in a digital format as well. The local library here in Brazos County, Texas, has you register and then download the app to begin reading. Simple, easy, and convenient.  There really is no reason to spend money on such items any longer and this means more money not spent. Translaton: Money Saved.

Most often people think of libraries as a place of books, which does them a disservice as libraries are so much more.  Libraries also carry music and videos ranging from concerts and documentaries, to albums and popular movies. Some local libraries offer movie night and fun get togethers for families and young children.  They offer a variety of classes, computer access, genealogical research, and sometimes language classes for the community. Each library caters to their community and it would be wise to check out all the fun activities and services offered at your local library.  There is truly a large plethora of books, music, videos, and a multitude of services which are offered at the local library. The library is a great place to venture to when looking for entertainment and personal enrichment. To make this whole experience even more fantastic, is the fact that the library is FREE, not a penny is needed to use the service.  That’s win when looking at budgeting and savings. Keep in mind:

“Why buy a book when you can join a library”
  ~Ricky Gervais

  Photo created in Canva

Good Health is Money Saved and Money Earned

As the new year begins, one overlooked aspect of saving money is being in good health.  This includes eating healthier foods, having an annual check up by a physician, oral care, vision care, and mental health.  When any one of these aspects are neglected there can be negative consequences. This means a hefty out of pocket expense to fix the neglected problem which may include lost days of work, lost productivity,or costly medications.  Any one of these outcomes could spell disaster to your ability to make money and to keep the money you have saved. The best way to prevent this added and often unexpected cost is to stay healthy.

This is the perfect time to schedule all the necessary doctor’s appointments to ensure a healthy year, or as healthy as possible since it is flu and cold season.  There are a few options that I have used in the past since my husband and I often did not have health insurance. The following suggestions are things that we have utilized in the past until we were able to establish ourselves more successfully through employment insurance options.  These are not intended to replace a family physician, pharmacist, optometrist, or opthamologist, or any other health care provider. These are merely options to utilize when a more stable health care plan is unavailable.

The first and often cheapest place to go is the local health department.  They have services ranging from mental health and substance abuse to general practitioners.  They often provide a sliding scale for payment or provide certain services free of charge. I usually call the health department, especially when in a new area, ask what services they provide, how much the services will cost, and then weigh my options or schedule an appointment.  There are often long wait times, so starting this at the beginning of the year is a smart choice. It can take days, weeks, or even a couple months for the appointment. Another added benefit of calling the health department is they often provide information for other providers in the area which help people who are uninsured and lack available funds or very limited funds.

In addition, most metropolitan or larger cities have free or reduced clinics.  These usually offer general care and women’s health but there are free or reduced vision, dental, and mental health care clinic options in some locations.  There are often stipulations or qualifications to meet to receive care. I have gone to clinic’s which do not have any income or work requirement and are completely free of charge but do ask for donations, I have also gone to a clinic which had a work requirement and then charged based on a sliding scale which was determined at the initial appointment.  I had to provide my recent W-2 and one month of pay verification, as a means to meet the income and work requirement so be prepared and have the documents handy in case they are needed. These clinics are often intended for the working poor and not for the unemployed or the those above a set income level.

Another option is to talk to the local hospital servicing the area.  They often provide reduced cost care with similar verification of income system as the clinics and often collaborate and have partnerships with local clinics for services provided.  They often offer payment plans which can be spread out over a length of time which can take the sting out of having to pay all up front. Hospitals frequently have pharmacies within their system and can provide reduced cost medications as an additional benefit.  The great aspect of being able to join a low income hospital service is the availability of a much wider range of services than a clinic can provide if there is a more serious health problem which arrives.

These are some of the options I and my family have used in the past when money was extra scarce and we just couldn’t afford to become sick.  I have found all of these places to be staffed with caring individuals who are in it for the people and not the money. This is where I begin my search when money is tight. As the new year is upon I am currently setting up my families yearly physicals and would encourage any readers to do the same.  Stay Healthy, Stay Strong.

A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick. P.T. Barnum

New Year’s RESET: The Pantry Challenge

At the beginning of the New Year resolutions are made to create a better year than the previous year, to quit old habits, develop new habits, and make improvements.  There is also the burden of paying down the credit card debt, rebuilding a savings account, or a checking account used for Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, or any number of holidays during the winter.  According to Investopedia, 55% of Americans were expected to spend between $500 and at least $1,000, 32% expected to spend at least $100 to $499 on Christmas. Sometimes the recovery from such spending can be quite daunting. Another aspect that must be handled is all the food left in the refrigerator or pantry, not to mention all the food stores you’ve accumulated throughout the year, languishing in disuse.

Since we’re dirt poor and can’t afford to be extravagant during the holiday season, I will try to recoup the $499 through a Pantry Challenge.  The concept is quite easy and it also helps with decluttering the kitchen and removing any products which may be close to expiring or have expired and I didn’t notice. The challenge forces me to look at the items in my refrigerator, cabinets, and pantry. I then have to come up with creative ways to use the food.  The Pantry Challenge is a sort of spring cleaning, but with food. An added bonus of the challenge is that it allows me to reset for the year.

The Pantry Challenge is where I use all of the food and beverage product in my freezer, refrigerator, cabinets, and pantry before purchasing new food.  This can be really fun, especially after the first week when the food starts to dwindle down, because now you can get really inventive and create or discover new recipes which can be used later.  The downside is that you can also create a recipe which can be stored in your memory as something to never try again, except in an end of the world scenario because it is so horrible and why would you subject yourself to that form of torture again.

There are exceptions to the no purchasing of more food rule.  There are items which will need to be purchased because they are a necessity.  Vegetables, milk, and other such items would be examples of necessities. We need variety in eating to stay healthy so, don’t live the last week of the challenge on macaroni noodles and hot sauce, it isn’t healthy and will make the last week quite difficult.  I have children and this requires me to have milk and other foods so they remain healthy and strong. What I do in those instances is wait until I run out of alternatives to what they eat then purchase the food. Each household is different and the necessities will be different depending on each household’s particular needs.   I recommend not being completely rigid in the challenge. Keep the challenge fun and creative, make it a family event or have days when friends will come over and participate in trying something new. The goal is to force ourselves to evaluate the quality of food we have, the amount of food which we waste, and to explore new recipes and ideas on how to create wholesome meals for ourselves, our families, and our friends, with the added of bonus of saving money.   

When the challenge ends I will post how much I spent for the month and areas where I felt I could have improved, lessons learned, and some of the new recipes I created. So have fun as you dive into the adventure and let’s all see what we can do.

Disclaimer: If anyone has a medical condition, children in the home, elderly, or any other condition which would make this challenge harmful to your health or those within the household then do not participate. For all others do the best you can but stay healthy.  Participate as best you can with your household needs and never risk your health for the challenge.

Reference: https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1112/average-cost-of-an-american-christmas.aspx

Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Well_stocked_pantry_(13267809744).jpg

Where We Begin and Where We Are Going

This blog came about from a debate with a friend about finances and the ability to live a full and adventurous life without having access to a large sum of money. I realized towards the end of the discussion that she believed I was making far more money than I did. A small lightbulb went off in my head and I began to look at the life I was leading and the many things I had accomplished while earning a rather small annual household income. I realized at this point, that I, my love, and our 3 boys were living a nice lifestyle. We had cars, owned a home, had a little land, vacationed regularly, and didn’t have to struggle too much. All in all, it’s been a good life. Needless to say, I felt I had information and money-saving strategies which others might find valuable and thus, I sat down to begin this blog.

Dirt Poor Living will discuss ways to save money, live healthy, and take adventures with what little income is earned. The money-saving strategies discussed can be used for a family, couples, or single people in the community and all are welcome to participate in the comment section. We all have money saving advise which can be relevant to our community so I encourage everyone to share. And remember, just because someone isn’t earning as much as the neighbor down the road doesn’t mean they have to live like they’re poor. Each of us deserve a little luxury and a little adventure without the worry of missing meals not being able to pay next month’s bills. With a little tweaking to our current life we can accomplish great things and reach higher than we thought possible. When we all come together and share our tips, strategies, and life experiences, we can dare to dream again.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. –Thomas Edison I

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com