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Frugal Living: $150 Monthly Grocery* Challenge Wrap Up

31 days ago, I gave myself a challenge to feed my family of three on a grocery and dining out budget of $150. That works out to $50 per person per month, or about $1.61 per person per day.

Going into the challenge, we were spending roughly $400 a month on grocery and dining out; the latter is minimal as we rarely eat out these days. With this challenge, I had to slash my grocery budget by 62.5% which is not an easy feat.

After all was said and done, I was able to meet most of my goals as I had:
  • used up food from my pantry and freezer
  • tracked receipts in a mason jar
  • prepared make ahead meals for busier nights (ie. homemade frozen Hawaiian pizza)
  • reduced my trips to Costco for only the bare necessities
  • posted my weekly receipts every week
  • searched for loss leaders, shopped at neighbourhood stores and clipped coupons

How Much I Spent This Week

As of March 22nd, I had only $7.14 remaining. This week, I ran out of milk for both my husband and little man. We decided to only purchase milk for my little man since we had limited funds. I also purchased two cartons of large eggs as I had a coupon for Buy 2 Get $1 off and the eggs were a loss leader sale item. This resulted in purchasing eggs for 50% of what I normally pay.

Then I discovered Sunrise Market (will post more about this place later). I managed to find unbelievably cheap produce. I wish I had discovered them earlier this month. I spent $12.53 for 4 large bags of produce (see the picture below). Had I shopped at my regular grocery stores for the same items, I would have likely spent at least double if not triple the price.

For this last week in March, I spent $20.20 on groceries. Here's a breakdown:

Produce: $12.55*
Grocery: $2.76
Milk: $4.89

* Canada eliminated the penny in 2013. As a result, any cash purchases are rounded up/down to the nearest nickle (5 cents). Thus, my $12.53 purchase was rounded up to $12.55 (what I paid in cash).


And the Grand Total is...

In March, I spent $163.06 for groceries and dining out. I went over my $150 budget by $13.06. The pessimist in me is screaming "Failed Failed!", but the realist (accountants are rarely optimistic) in me is telling me that I did not fail.

Here's why.

The produce I bought from Sunrise Market will last me at least a week and save me money next week. The same goes for the milk and the eggs I purchased.

I could have easily came under budget by buying a smaller carton of milk that will last my little man until April rolled around, or held off buying the eggs and produce. Had I deferred my purchases, I would have pay twice the price for eggs, milk and produce this coming week. By choosing to take advantage of sales, I was saving money.

More over, I learned a lot about having a grocery budget.

What I Learned From This Challenge


1. Communication

The most important thing I learned was communicating with my husband on our $150 grocery budget. At the beginning of the challenge, I did not communicate with him how much was remaining in our monthly grocery budget. This led to some awkward discussions in the middle of the grocery store as my husband would insist on buying certain items and I would wind up having to put things back.


2. Allocate Money For Sale Items

Another thing I learned was to allocate a portion of the monthly budget for stockpiling sale items. Sometimes you come across deals that are too good to miss. For example, the eggs I purchased at half price saved me $2.76. And of course, the produce I bought from Sunrise saved me at least $15: zucchini for $0.29/lb, tomatoes for $0.49/lb, 1 lb of strawberries for $1, small honeydew melon for $1. The next best prices I have seen lately is $1.29/lb for zucchini and tomatoes; a pound of strawberries costs $2 and honeydew melons cost $1.99/lb.


3) Allocate a Weekly Grocery Budget

In my first week, I spent 40% of my budget. That was not a very smart move. What I should have done is allocate a budgeted amount to each week; taking into account any events that may affect the grocery purchase for that week and using the remaining amount to stockpiling sale items. Lesson learned.


4) Shop Beyond the Big Box Stores

Big box stores are convenient and offers one stop shopping. There is a price to be paid for convenience and ambiance. Personally, I love shopping browsing at WholePaycheckFoods and roaming the aisles makes me feel so inspired to cook. However, the frugal side of me can never bring myself to purchase anything from WholePaycheckFoods unless it is a steal of a deal. My usual places to shop have been mostly Costco (I am easily seduced by samples!!) and Superstore (a no-frills grocery store). However, after discovering Sunrise Market, I realized how much I was overpaying for produce at conventional stores.

Though a weekly trip to Sunrise Market is too far from where I live, it has inspired me to search out alternative stores. And also visit Sunrise Market at least once a month when I'm in that neighbourhood.


5) Habits Add Up

I gave up my Starbucks gold card in March. Each year, to fulfill the 30 stars, I was spending about $60 to $70 trying to score a few free drinks. I decided that to coincide with my $150 monthly grocery challenge, I would give up my Starbucks habit and make coffee at home for a fraction of the price.

6) Check Before You Shop

With a limited budget, I always checked my fridge, pantry and freezer to make sure I was not buying something I already had at home.


Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

My in-laws were flying out of Vancouver for a trip on an early morning red eye. Since their flight is super early in the morning and they don't live in town, they decided to spend the night at the Vancouver Airport. Despite numerous attempts asking them to stay with us, they did not want to inconvenience us.

In the end, we came to a compromise and my husband drove out to pick them up from the ferry terminal and dropped them off at the airport. As my husband and I have flown out of Vancouver Airport on a few morning red eyes, we knew most fast food places are not open that early. So I decided to send a little care package for them on their flight out.

I wanted to make them something that is healthy, tasty and did not need to be refrigerated. So I made them these blueberry oatmeal muffins.

Of course, before the muffins left my house, we did a little quality control testing. Apparently it was a little too good as we each ate a muffin. The little man kept asking for "maaf-maaf". It's a good thing I made a dozen of these "maaf"fins!

Delicious blueberry oatmeal muffins

1-1/4 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.

3. In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

4. Mix milk, egg and oil in another bowl.

5. Pour the liquid mixture to the dry and stir until it is just combined. Do not overmix.

6. With two spoons or a large cookie scoop, add in a tablespoon and half of batter to each muffin cup. Evenly divide the blueberries between each muffin cup and fill with the remaining batter. Lightly tap the muffin tin on the counter to settle the batter.

7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Note: If you are using frozen blueberries, you may need to bake it for a little longer.)

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes


Baked Ham and Cheese Melts

One of my favorite sandwiches is ham and cheese. At the heart of it, it is one of the simplest sandwiches you can make. With a little more effort, you can transform the basic ham and cheese into something magical.

For this recipe, I used the leftovers from my Honey Mustard Glazed Ham and baked these amazing Bakery Style Buns (which only takes 75 minutes). This would be a perfect recipe for Easter brunch that is sure to satisfy a hungry crowd.

1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried minced onion
8 small sandwich buns, sliced in half (try this 75 minute recipe)
1/2 pound thinly sliced ham
1/2 pound thinly sliced cheese (I used cheddar)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Lightly grease a baking dish just big enough to fit 8 buns.

3. In a small pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and dried onion.

4. Separate the tops and bottoms of the buns. Place the bottoms in the greased baking dish. Divide the ham evenly between the buns. Then layer cheese on top of the ham.

5. Brush the mustard mixture over the top of the buns.

6. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until the buns are lightly browned and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes


Bacon and Egg Potato Salad

I love potato salads. I cannot resist eating potato salads at parties, buffets or restaurants. With that love of potato salads, I have tried my fair share: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But my favorite potato salad is this recipe I came up with on my own. It is lightly dressed with mayonnaise, loaded with crispy bacon, creamy egg, crunchy celery, and tangy pickles. This is the best potato salad I have ever had and made. It is so addictive that both my husband and I went back for second helpings. And maybe a third helping too.

10 medium red skinned potatoes, washed and cut into bite sized pieces
5 hard boiled eggs, chopped
3 slices of cooked bacon strips, cut into strips
3 dill pickles, small dice
3 celery stalks, small dice
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a large pot over high heat, add potatoes and cover with at least 1 inch of cold water. Once the pot comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain, and allow the potatoes to cool slightly. Do not overcook.

2. Mix potatoes, hard boiled eggs, dill pickles, celery, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and black pepper in a large bowl or container.

3. Top with bacon strips. Serve immediately or chilled.

Source: Frugal Allergy Mom


Oven Baked Honey Garlic Wings and Classic Hot Wings

One of our favorite things to do when we were DINKs (Double Income No Kids) was to go to local pubs for $0.25 wings on Wing Wednesdays. After gorging on several dozen of wings, we would swear off wings for a while but only to go back a few weeks later.

We realized that the wings we ate at pubs were deep fried, so we searched for a slightly healthier option. Baking the wings in the oven achieved similar crispiness of deep frying without all the fat and greasiness.

Over the years, we would often try to bake our own wings at home when the craving hit when it was not Wednesday. Quick, easy and delicious, there's no real reason to hit a pub, unless it is Wings Wednesday.

48 chicken wings (drumettes and flats), patted dry with a paper towel

Homemade Honey Garlic Sauce

Classic Hot Sauce
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. On a baking sheet lined with aluminium foil, place chicken wings in a single layer, leaving room between each wing. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.

Honey Garlic
1. Once the wings are cooked, toss wings in honey garlic sauce or pour sauce over the wings.

2. Place the chicken wings back on the baking sheet and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes until it is caramelized.

Classic Hot Sauce
1. In a small pot over medium heat, melt butter. Once the butter has melted, mix in Frank's Red Hot and heat until it bubbles. Set aside.

2. Toss the baked wings in hot sauce until it is evenly coated.

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes


The Stolen Vest

My little man and I go to StrongStart (a free program for children 0 to 5 years old at local elementary schools in British Columbia) twice a week. We have been going to the same school since October and absolutely adore the teacher, love the school and like the parents/caregivers and kids who go there.

As usual, we went to StrongStart today and had a great time. When it was time to leave, I went to the coat area to grab my little man's red OshKosh vest and blue hoodie and noticed the OshKosh vest was missing. Frantically, I looked all over for it and could not find it anywhere in the classroom. Since we were the last ones to leave, I informed the teacher that someone had taken my little man's vest.

The red OshKosh vest

For me, this came as a shock as I was surprised people would deliberately steal a child's vest, in a classroom no less. This type of dishonesty may happen elsewhere but I felt that at our StrongStart, it would be immune to this type of dishonest behaviour. Sadly, it happened.

This vest had a lot of sentimental value as I had purchased it 7 years ago for my nephew. I remember going to OshKosh with my friend A and fell in love with this vest. It cost a pretty penny but my nephew was worth the splurge. Not to mention he looked so adorable wearing it!

When the box of gently worn hand-me-downs were passed along from my brother-in-law to us, I was so happy to see the red OshKosh vest. We wore the vest out frequently and it has kept my little man warm all Spring. This vest is a family favorite and we have had many great memories of both our nephew and little man wearing it.

The loss of this vest was a wake up call that theft happens in the most unexpected places, when we least expect it. It is a sad day when a parent cannot hang up a child's vest in a classroom without someone stealing it. What made this act even more despicable was the person deliberately took the blue hoodie off to steal the vest; while I was in the same room playing with my little man. And this person is likely one that I have had many face to face encounters with.

To the person who stole my little man's vest, enjoy your dishonest act. While you may think you are getting away with stealing my son's vest, know that the child you are bringing to StrongStart is learning from your dishonest behaviour. The consequences you will have to deal with in the future will cost you more than the $40 I spent on the red OshKosh vest.


Homemade Honey Garlic Sauce

Honey garlic sauce is very versatile. You can use it as a marinade or sauce for chicken (oven baked wings), ribs, deep fried pork, meatballs, the possibilities are endless.

A jar of honey garlic sauce purchased from the store can set you back a pretty penny. Here's a recipe to make it from scratch with ingredients you already have in your pantry. And it takes very little effort as well: throw everything together and let it boil. It can't get easier than that!

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger root, minced
2-1/2 cups water
5 tbsp honey
1/4 cup soy sauce

Cornstarch Slurry
3 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup water

1. In a saucepan over medium high heat, mix together brown sugar, garlic, ginger, water, honey and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil.

2. Whisk together cornstarch and water a small bowl, and add it to the sauce mixture. Boil until the sauce is thickened.

Source: Allrecipes


Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs (Easy to Peel)

One of the most basic cooking skills everyone should know is how to make hard boiled eggs. Though it is a common skill, it can be difficult to cook perfect hard boiled eggs without the dreaded green ring around the egg yolk.

This is by far the easiest and most fool-proof way to cook perfect hard boiled eggs; a handy skill to have whether you are just learning to cook or a pro in the kitchen.

5 Eggs
A tray of ice cubes

1. Place eggs in a small pot. Fill with enough water to cover the eggs by an inch. Bring to a boil uncovered over high heat.

2. Once it reaches a boil, remove the pot from heat and cover with a lid. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

3. After 15 minutes is up, place the eggs in a bowl of cold water filled with ice cubes. Let the eggs sit in the cold water for 5 minutes.

4. Add one egg and a little bit of water to a cup. Cover the cup with one hand and tilt the cup on its side, and shake the cup in an up and down motion (highly recommended doing this over a sink). Shake for 10 to 15 seconds.

5. Take the egg out of the cup and peel. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Source: Adapted from America's Test Kitchen and Pinterest


Chinese Long Life Noodles (E-Fu Noodles)

Growing up, my mom and grandmother would prepare long life noodles (also called E-Fu noodles or Yee Mein) for my birthday each year. It is a Chinese tradition to eat noodles on your birthday to wish for longevity. These noodles are sometimes called "Birthday Noodles".

As if eating with chopsticks was not challenging enough, you must not break the noodles when you are serving or eating the noodles. Severing the noodles will mean you are "cutting your life short". (Psst, don't be too worried if you break the noodles.)

Long life noodles are also served on Chinese New Year and at wedding banquets. It is always one of the most popular dishes served. So act fast, otherwise you will miss out on some very delicious noodles.

1 package (226 g/8 oz) deep fried noodles (yee mein/E-Fu noodles)
10 medium dried shitake mushrooms
250 ml reserved shitake mushroom soaking water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chicken bouillon (optional)
4 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
200 g bean sprouts

1. Place shitake mushrooms in a large bowl and add enough boiling hot water to cover. Soak the dried shitake mushrooms for an hour. Cover the bowl with a plate.

2. After an hour has passed, reserve the soaking water and wash the shitake mushrooms thoroughly under running water. Squeeze dry. Cut off the stems (optional for a nicer presentation).

3. Line a fine mesh sieve with a coffee filter. Place the sieve over a bowl and pour the mushroom soaking water into the sieve. Reserve liquid and discard coffee filter.

4. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain.

5. In a wok or large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and saute the mushrooms over low heat for 8 minutes until cooked; flipping occasionally.

6. Mix reserved mushroom soaking water, chicken bouillon, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar in a bowl. Pour in the skillet and bring the mixture to a boil.

7. Next add in the noodles and carefully stir until the noodles are coated with the sauce. Add in the bean sprouts.

8. Simmer until most of the sauce has evaporated. Serve immediately.

Source: Slightly adapted from Cuisine Paradise


Frugal Living: $150 Monthly Grocery* Challenge Week 4

This week I had to really watch my spending as I had only $41.77 remaining in my grocery and dining out budget.

While shopping at Superstore, I had to calculate what my total grocery bill would be. This resulted in some items being put back and gratitude that I am fortunate enough to have money to buy food.

My grocery purchases from March 16 to March 22 totalled $33.18 (after $3.20 cash back in PC Plus points) and dining out totalled $1.45 (for the McDonald's ice cream).

Fresh produce for the week and beyond.
The breakdown for my purchases are as follows:

Produce: $16.34
Grocery: $7.66
Milk: $9.18 (we switched to skim milk this week)

Total balance remaining is $7.14 with 9 days to go. I will definitely have to be creative this week!


30 Minute Hawaiian Pizza

When I first moved out on my own, I used to order pizza from pizza parlours. It would take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes for pizza delivery on weeknights. On Fridays and Saturdays, it can take upwards of an hour and half for pizza.

After waiting 90 painful minutes for pizza once, I swore that would be the last time I paid $20 for a large pizza and had to wait 90 minutes. It was then that I started buying frozen pizza.

Frozen pizza costs 1/5 of the price of ordering pizza from a pizza parlour and ready in 25 minutes. The only thing was that the crust does not taste very good, but for $4, I can't really complain.

Ever since I discovered how to make pizza at home (the perks of having a peanut and almond allergic child), eating frozen pizza just doesn't cut it for me anymore. One, I have no idea if it would be safe for my little man to eat. Two, after you make fresh pizza at home and see how easy it is, you will never want to go back to either frozen pizza or order pizza again.

This recipe takes only 30 minutes from start to finish and costs a fraction of the frozen pizzas. I would highly recommend making a double batch and freezing an extra pizza or two for later.

Makes: Two 10 inch pizzas

3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp (0.25 ounce) active dry yeast
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup warm water (approximately 110 degrees F)
1 tbsp Italian seasoning

2 tbsp vegetable oil, separated

1/2 cup pizza sauce (I used spaghetti sauce)
2 cups diced cooked ham
1-1/2 cups pineapple pieces
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Combine flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a stand mixer.

2. With a dough hook, mix in oil and warm water until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

3. Place a cast iron skillet (or baking stone) in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.

5. Divide dough in half. Pat into a round disk. Using your rolling pin, roll the dough out into a round or stretch the dough out by hand to approximately 10 inches.

6. Using an oven mitt, take the cast iron skillet out of the oven. Add one tablespoon of oil to coat the  cast iron skillet.

7. Transfer the pizza crust to the cast iron skillet. Spread 1/4 cup of the pizza sauce evenly all over the pizza crust. Top with 1 cup of ham, 3/4 cup of pineapple and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling. Allow the pizza to cool for a few minutes before eating.

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes