Grocery Challenge: week 2

In some ways, week 2 was a lot easier than week 1. I only bought what I needed, but it seemed that I needed more than $25 worth of stuff a week. You’re probably all thinking “I knew she couldn’t do it!”. I’m still going to try. :-) The thing that’s the killer is the fresh stuff — fruit, vegetables and milk. And I’m not really willing to cut that out of our diet for the sake of an experiment! At the same time, I’m going to try to use some meals I have in the freezer already over the next 2 weeks to see if I can still reach this $100 goal.

I’m getting into the swing of this buying-only-what-I-need business. That’s not to say I’m not longingly looking at the pack of cookies on sale for only 2 bucks! (even though I have however many other packs at home), but I’m starting to reason with myself in a more sane way, I hope.

I’m also happy to report that when you buy less, you waste less. I’ve had no rotten food or produce that’s needed to go in the rubbish. Yay for that!

Here’s what I spent during the second week of the challenge:

fresh fruit and vegies — $17.40
gallon of milk — $3.39
raisins — $2.59
frozen vegies — $2.19
dozen eggs — $0.99
apple sauce for Esther — $2.69
fish — $2.15
1/2 gallon milk — $1.99
yoghurt — $2.00
peanut butter — $1.99

Total: $36.39.

Oh dear. That leaves $29.71 for the next 2 weeks. I’m positive that it will mostly be spent on fruit, veg and milk!

Here’s what we’re eating for week 3 of the challenge:


Spicy Kumera soup with toasties


Home made pizza with salad


Chicken pasta bake and green salad


5-Minute South-west Layered Salad


Spaghetti Bolognaise with garlic bread and salad


Chinese take-out. Yay!


Sandwiches or left-overs for dinner.

Cereal box fun

Last week we were all a bit under the weather, but of course when kids are sick they are still full of ideas and energy. So one morning after finishing off a box of cereal, I remembered doing crafts with cereal boxes as a kid and looked online for something to do with the cereal box. We got an idea here, and so Glitter Girl was born.

You start with an empty cereal box.

Open it up.

And put it back together. At first I thought we’d make some sort of animal with ears, but that idea didn’t last very long. :-) Though the ‘ears’ gave us something to attach the hat to later!

Marica loved cutting out things like the arms, eyes, nose and mouth.

An eye in progress.

Glue for the hat.

The finished product! Being girls, we could of course not resist putting copious amounts of glitter on her!

(Yes, in our pyjamas because we were having a sick day, remember!)

October grocery challenge: week 1

I had a very interesting moment on the first day of the challenge. I had hopped over to Tim Challies’ blog and read an article about The Heart of Frugality. I almost immediately wanted to forget about this challenge. The article was thought-provoking and pointed a few things out to me that I would benefit to work on. I thought it over and thought about my motives for doing the challenge. I’m not doing this challenge to show off what an awesome frugal shopper I am. In fact, I admit to being the opposite. I love finding ‘good deals’ but my problem is that I find too many of them, usually at the supermarket, and can never stick to my grocery budget! Like my dad always says: “You don’t save money at a sale, you spend it.” So the challenge this month is to sort of be an exercise for me to prove to myself that with a bit of creativity and actually using the stuff in my cupboards instead of always just buying more stuff to put in them, I can stick to a budget. And I chose a very low budget for this month so that everything in the future will seem easy to stick to! :-)

I’ve already seen a change of thinking when I go to the supermarket. I only buy what I need, not all the ‘good specials’ for the sake of it. Now, I realise that sometimes you have to spend money to save money (buying in bulk, for example), but I’ll get to learn those lessons later. :-)

I thought I’d give you a run-down of what I bought, for interest’s sake. Here’s what I spent the first week of the challenge:

baby rice — $2.69
gallon of milk — $3.69
chicken stock cubes — $1.99
beef mince — $4.31
sour cream — $1.99
fresh fruit & veggies — $16.94
cheese — $2.29

Total: $33.90

Hmmm. That means that I have $66.10 left for the next 3 weeks of October, but a number of things I bought last week we’ll keep using into this week or longer.

I’ve realised that I will have to adjust our menu plans a bit. First of all, a number of recipes I made last week (nachos, chicken and dumplings, and mac ‘n cheese) were enough for 2 meals or more, so I bumped a few dishes and we had mac ‘n cheese twice and chicken and dumplings twice and I froze a meal’s worth of nacho sauce for another time. (Keep in mind too that I was sick and didn’t feel like cooking new stuff when we had left-overs!) I also realised that I was probably a bit ambitious in the amount of meat I put on the menu. :-)

So, learning from the first week, here’s the proposed menu plan for week 2:


Mexican soup with cornbread muffins


Asian Glazed Tilapia with brown rice and sugar snap pea salad


Spanish Rice with mixed salad


Quiche and green salad.

Friday (we’re having the guests we cancelled on last week because of illness):

Roast chicken, potatoes and other roast vegetables, salad.


Chicken-Broccoli casserole with garlic bread and salad


Sandwiches or left-overs for dinner.


My October grocery challenge

Sometimes I feel like challenging myself in areas I’m not very good at. Like spending a small amount of money on groceries. Which is why it is a challenge! Here’s what I’m doing:

I’ve decided to try to reach the end of October and spend no more than $100 on groceries.

I can only do this because I have some food in the cupboards already. But it’s going to be difficult. Food here in NYC is more expensive than I’ve seen anywhere! But I think it’s do-able. If it’s not, we’ll certainly find out! :-) There are 4 weeks until the end of the month, which gives me $25 per week. Crazy, eh? Every Monday from now on, I’ll give an update of how I’m going, what I’ve spent money on and what we’ll be eating that week.

Note: We are not experiencing financial difficulty. I’m purely doing this to prove to myself that I can do this and eat well too. I’m doing this on the blog, because then I can’t cop out!

I would welcome everyone’s favourite frugal recipes. And if anyone is interested in joining me for the challenge, let me know!

Disclaimer: The challenge only includes food. If I had to include toiletries and cleaning chemicals and the like in that amount, we wouldn’t be eating for the last week of October! It also does not include meals that we eat out or get take-out, which is usually no more than once a week.

I’m only showing my dinner menu plan because breakfasts and lunches are all pretty much the same. Breakfast usually consists of cereal or porridge to which we sometimes add yoghurt and/or fruit. Lunches are usually left-overs or sandwiches that we top with things like tinned fish or meat and cheese or pb&j, or if it is fresh out of the oven just butter with honey.

So, here’s my dinner menu plan for the first week:

Monday (last night):

Potato and leek soup with Italian toasties


Chicken & dumplings with carrots and salad


Nacho sauce over corn chips with salad


Mac ‘n Cheese and salad.

Friday (we’re having guests):

Roast chicken, potatoes and other roast vegetables, salad. Dessert: Spicy apple dessert with ice cream.


Chicken-Broccoli casserole with garlic bread and salad


Sandwiches or left-overs for dinner.

Your comments, preschool and a jewelery hanger

Some people have told us that they enjoy our blog. Thanks, that’s cool! :-) However, I would encourage you to add your comments — having a blog is a bit like us having a conversation with everyone who reads it, and your comments help this conversation feel a little less one-sided. So feel free to comment!

Some of you asked how Marica’s doing at preschool. The first day she cried a fair bit when I left, but then mellowed and relaxed a bit. The second day there was no crying and she seemed a lot more comfortable. Now she keeps asking when she can go to preschool again (she’ll be going on Tuesdays and Thursdays): “Mummy, is it just one more sleep till preschool?”

A number of you told me that you enjoyed seeing how I made the stools and artsy squares, so I thought I’d share with you another little thing I made. For the last 3 months, my necklaces and pretty things have just lived in a great big knot in a ziplock bag, which is most definitely a dire dilemma. I was tempted to go buy one of those pretty necklace stands, but thought the better of it and decided to make something instead. A free photo frame and some nails later, and my bracelets and necklaces have a place to call home. (You pick up all sorts of free things on the side of the road here in NYC — if people don’t want something, they’ll leave it on the stairs to their house and you can help yourself. I love it!)

My real ‘jools’ (as Ben calls them) — the ones that are actually worth something — live in an egg carton (that’s my mum’s clever idea) in a little decorative little briefcase that I got at Goodwill for $2.99.

They live there with a small amount of make-up, hair clips and a pair of blue ear plugs. One day I’ll still line the egg carton with some felt, but for now I think they’re just thankful to be out of the ziplock.

Rainy day fun

When I realised that we have rain forecast for most of this past week, I wondered how on earth I was going to entertain two busy little people indoors? But then I just googled ‘rainy day activities with preschoolers’ and it comes up with a list of stuff to do that will keep you occupied almost all winter. Unless you have a winter like the Christchurch folks have just been through (and are still in)… then you might run out of things to do.

I thought I’d do a photo post of some of the things we’ve been up to, and if you’re stuck for ideas (and you’re stuck in a rainy patch), it might wake up your ideas again. This is, naturally, pre-school age oriented because of where we’re at in life! If you couldn’t care less about rainy day activities with preschoolers, you can still enjoy the pictures. :-)

Marica was quite happy about the rain, because the rain gear we ordered for her online had just turned up (talk about perfect timing):

So of course, she had to go outside in the rain and play!

Building puzzles (I found this one brand new with the plastic wrapping still on at Goodwill for 2 bucks):

Reading books. Marica brings me a pile and we’ll read them. The stage Esther is at makes her love touching the books and turning the pages, and she likes the rhythms of rhymes so much she’ll pretty much dance to it!

Talking about dancing, put on some music and give the kids some ribbons to dance with. It will also help burn some energy that they can’t go burn outside.

Another fun thing is to build forts. Then go have a picnic with them inside. (Sorry, no photos of these last 2 ideas!)

Playing with play dough and painting:

Pretend playing. The ideas are endless on this one. Doctor-doctor is a favourite around here. One time we played Mummies and Babies. And of course, Marica was the mummy and I was the baby. Marica took this photo!

Here we were playing weddings (Marica’s idea). “Mamma, jy’s die dominee. En Esther is die man, want sy het kort hare.” (“Mum, you’re the minister. And Esther’s the man because she has short hair.”) And later: “Mum! My husband wants to be a woman!” uh…

Kneeling for the blessing:

Tip out the toy box and let the kids remember what’s at the bottom:

Give your camera to your kids. You’ll realise that you have important things in your house that you never realised were photo-worthy! Marica loved going around the house taking pictures of everything (quite cool to see her perspective) and she loved looking at the pictures on the computer afterwards. The Heater:

Long baths can be quite fun too! Esther is now old enough to bath with Marica and is just loving it.

And of course, no rainy day is complete without some baking. I’ve taken to baking our own bread as I just can’t stand the sweet vinegary taste of the bread here. It tastes so strong that it overpowers anything you put on your bread. Blech. Home-made bread is cheap, remarkably easy, and kids love helping with it. If you want to try baking your own bread and need some good recipes, check out the link on our blogroll for The Frugal Girl and find some of her ‘Wednesday baking’ recipes. I haven’t come across a bad one yet!

Then, as you enjoy your warm home baking, don’t forget to have a cup of hot chocolate too! Or maybe do the hot chocolate while reading a book, just don’t forget the hot chocolate. :-)

From old to new

Last week I had fun being a bit creative using stuff that was left here from the previous tenant and sprucing them up a bit. The whole Reduce, Recycle and Reuse slogan comes to mind, but also making things pretty for cheap really appeals to me. So let me show you what I did.

There were 4 wall squares just outside the back door. They were peeling and not quite my thing, so I gave them a scrub:

and then proceeded to spray paint them a beige sort of colour.

Then Marica and I had some great fun splattering blue…

then yellow…

and then pink paint on them.

Who’s this pretty girl painting with me?

The end result is much chirpier in my opinion, and I had fun doing something creative with Marica! (Note that nowhere have I called this art.)

Total cost: $13

Now let me show you the stools that were out in the back yard. Our place here is a bit short on things to sit on, so I wanted to make these useable without getting splinters in your behind whenever you sat on them. There also happened to be far too much shower curtain in our bathroom…

This is what I started with:

Then I scrubbed the metal legs and spray painted them beige (same colour as the wall squares). I don’t think I took a photo of this step. The next day I went on the hottest walk in the universe with the kids to the nearest fabric store to buy some foam, which I cut up into the appropriate size when I got home. The shower curtains (one plain and one patterned) got chopped as well.

I asked the guy at the hardware store if I could rent his staple gun ($5 for a couple of hours is way better than buying it for $20 if I’m never going to use it again) and proceeded to assemble the ingredients with a bit of help from Ben (you sometimes needed an extra hand with pulling the plastic tight and using the staple gun!).


Total cost: $15

The satisfaction of turning something ugly into something chirpy and useful: priceless.