Thursday, March 26, 2015

Six Easy Steps to Cut Your Grocery Bill by at least Half!

With my hubby in full time school and myself on an educators salary, our family has had to make a major adjustment  overhaul to our spending habits.

Back in the day we were those lucky people who pretty much didn't even check our paychecks to make sure they paid us appropriately (ok…Phil probably did, but I did not). I always just knew we had enough. It didn't really concern me how we spent our money. We were frugal (or so I thought!). It's not like we got Starbucks every day or ate out every night. We used sites like Groupon to save money. We paid attention to sales. We also spent upwards of about $120-150 on groceries each week and about the same amount on restaurant bills each week.

Well, there is spending with the idea that you are saving money and then there is actually saving money. We managed to take our $120-$150 weekly grocery bill ($300 if you add in restaurant bills) and slashed our costs to around $60 of weekly grocery costs (with under $50 a month in restaurant bills)!!! That's an over 50% reduction in weekly food costs! Here are just a handful of manageable ways that we reduced the grocery bill. You might be thinking there is no way that you can modify your current eating habits, yet these steps are so simple, you will be slapping your forehead in disbelief that you didn't start doing these earlier. We sure wish we had! We could have saved sooo much money!

1) Make a weekly menu plan and shop only once a week.

In the beginning, I attempted to do this on pre-printed fancy menu planning paper. I attempted to keep separate menu plans and grocery lists. I attempted to rewrite the menu on a little white board in our kitchen for display purposes. Then reality caught up with me and we just grabbed whatever piece of paper was around, jotted down the name of the recipe (and page if it came from a cookbook), along with all the necessary ingredients that we had to shop for. All in one spot. Then we just grab a magnet and stick it on the fancy display white board instead of going through all those extra steps. Sometimes I guess when people have less money they seem to have more time, but that's not us. We keep it real y'all! It's just a matter of making menu planning a priority. Once I decided I HAD to do it, I do it. Every Sunday morning, I create the plan and then go shopping that same morning.

2) Shop once a month in bulk (we shop Costco).

Costco truly saves us. I tried to cut out expensive cereal, yet we still really really like to eat cereal in the morning. My compromise has been buying one of the bulk cereal boxes at Costco each month and when we are through we are through. Costco keeps Phil's coffee addiction and my Chai Tea addiction going on the cheap. Instead of spending between $20-$30+ each week at Starbucks, we spend about $15 for the whole month. We grab one go to freezer meal for those nights you just really can't get to the menu planned meal. Our frozen meal of choice is spinach ravioli. We buy nuts, crackers, string cheese, and tortilla chips in bulk to tied us over with snack food. We stock up on canned goods. Amazingly we don't only eat rice and beans, but we certainly stock up on various beans, corn, and tomatoes to add to our super yummy vegetarian meals.

3) Cut out meat from your diet (or at least scale back to once a week).

This one may seem a little counter intuitive, yet we happen to be quiet snobby about our meat. We do like it, but we can't bring ourselves to eat industrialized meat. Eating local, grass fed, sustainably raised meats had really brought our grocery bill up to a whole other level. Hence we backed off and really only buy it once or twice a month. In the mean time we have a variety of vegetarian cook books and vegetarian recipes found on pinterest. We are currently cooking our way through Martha Stewarts Meatless and haven't found a bad recipe yet!

4) Only order out or eat out once or twice a month.

We used to go out A LOT. Not like every night a lot, but a lot. At least three times a week. That's not including all the weekend adventuring coffee, pastry, lunch, snacks purchased. Now we eat out once or twice a month. We truly stick with our menu plan. Sometimes we arrange which meals go on which day, but we don't let ourselves get convinced that eating out isn't that expensive, because it is. And do you know what we usually do when we go out or decide to order in? Pizza! Yes we miss a lot of restaurants, but our jam is just plain old fancy Zeeks, Zaw, or Papa Murphy's pizza!

a homemade butternut squash pasta instead of eating out

5) Make your own easy foods! (granola and hummus couldn't be easier!)

Because we have cut back on spending, our weekends have become a lot more low key and local. Thus we do have a bit of extra time for cooking ahead of time. Our go to, make at home, recipes have been hummus and granola. Each one you can customize to have a little different spin, yet they are so easy to make and end up tasting way better than store bought anyway. They are probably way healthier this way too as they contain no preservatives! If you want our go to recipes, check out my pinterest boards to find a few we've tried!

6) Don't buy alcohol.

This one is our toughest! Luckily we still have all three of our loving parents to continue to feed our love of wine and beer now and then, yet we have really cut back on purchasing alcohol each week. Now we will pick up a six pack or a bottle of wine for a special occasion with friends or family, but we cut back on our one drink most nights habit big time!

7) If it's not on the list….don't buy it!

This is so self explanatory, but probably the hardest one. Gone are the days of occasionally grabbing a magazine or even a candy bar in the check out line. We make it a point to shop when we are not going to be hungry, since being hungry does not help fight the urge to impulse buy!

If I haven't convinced you yet that you too can drop your grocery bill by at least half, let me remind you that we used to spend upwards of about $120-150 on groceries each week alone (not including restaurant bills) and now we are at a weekly grocery bill of around $60 a week (and minimal to no restaurant bills!).

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Happy (very belated) 2015!

It's probably about time to share the awesomeness that is Abeille Photography and more specifically, my friend, Dannie. We had initially hired Dannie to do our family photos in time for holiday cards, but then Micah was sick and Phil and I were super busy with school and work, so we rescheduled for after the holiday vacation. 

In January, we headed out to Jack Block Park which was fun because Micah had never been there, and it brought back a few memories for Phil and I from our first year living here, down on Alki. It's the perfect setting for tossing rocks, spotting wildlife, and watching all the activity down at the shipyards and rail yard too. All of that with the prettiest city skyline view just across Elliot Bay. Living so close to the Puget Sound never gets old. It is the best on a bright sunny and warm day, yet it doesn't disappoint on a cloudy, overcast day either. 

Even though it was a bit chilly, Micah totally loved the setting and shouted out once or twice, "There's the SPACE NEEDLE!!!" for the camera. Dannie took so many awesome shots, it was hard to choose a few for a holiday card. And yes, even though I was almost three months late, I went with the "better late than never" attitude and still created a New Year's card! So, Happy 2015 y'all! 

Which photo was your favorite? I've saved a few of mine for an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

29 Months: "I don't want to, Don't say that"

Can't get enough of this kiddo!

Almost Two and a Half years old!
This month Micah:
  • has entered a super willful toddler phase.The most common phrases in our household the past few weeks have been, "I don't want to." and "Don't say that". 
finally enjoys riding his balance bike!

  • has been using the pronoun "I" instead of his name, so using first person instead of third person. It is amazing how much that alone changes how old he seems. 
becoming super creative

loves tortillas!

  • has fought me several days for hours each time to not wear pants. On one occasion I gave in and we made our rounds to two grocery stores with pants on his head. On a second occasion we ran two errands with no pants on at all (socks, shoes, shirt, and sweatshirt...just no pants!). On these occasions my parenting skills and patience were fully tested and although I couldn't help feeling a bit of embarrassment, overall I just had to swallow my pride and look to the long term when we could laugh over each occasion.
Let's just call this one a super toddler moment
  • has been loving puzzles. He has been completing a lot of his large piece puzzles all on his own. 
problem solver in training
  • has been showing some signs that he will be ready to potty train soon, like requesting the potty as soon as he has finished going in his diaper and trying to take off his diaper himself immediately after going. I still think we have a ways to go before really hopping on the potty train, but at least we are starting to see signs.
  • got time with his Nana and Mommy in a staycation by the stadiums going to the Flower and Garden Show, the Home Show, on a ferry to Bainbridge Island and their children's museum with his friend Isaac and my friend Krista, and swam in the hotel pool with me!

Stay cations are cool

Loves time with Nana, especially when she brings fun new toys like binoculars 


social butterfly?

Fun at the Flower Show
  • continued to randomly count and talk about letters and read himself stories and fill in the pauses when being read to.
  • loved rhyming. Phil and Micah do lots of rhyming like "frog, log, sog, bog..." and Micah likes to randomly make up his own rhyming strings too with lots of nonsense words and some real. 
Avid reader already!
  • went to his friend Kaiden's 3rd birthday party at the Everett Children's Museum (which is the best one in the area by far!).
  • played with his friend Abby at a coffee house while her mom and I chatted. He also got to play with his friends Brooks and Maeava when our families went out to dinner together.

these two!
  • Decorated cookies and played with friends at the Kiddush Club Havdalah Happens on Valentines Day.
cookie face!

Valentines day surprises!
  • had to deal with his Mama being gone on two work trips, one to New York and one to Southern California. Definitely harder on mom than Micah, but I could tell he did miss me. 
  • went to preschool and allowed Mama to join him one week! He really is so comfortable there and has great teachers and great kids and parents. When I was there, he played with play dough a lot, played "vet" with the doctor kit and stuffed animals and played with the trains and cars a bit. He was really concerned that I wouldn't know "the popcorn song" and was pleasantly surprised when I was able to keep up. :-)
  • has gotten the most horrible cold he's had so far with a super horrible cough and a double ear infection! It was the first sickness that truly took him out of commission, put him in a lethargic-lay on the couch and just want hugs and snuggles all day for five days-state. We are just rounding the corner now.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Let it Go New Mom: How to Appreciate the Self You Were Before, You Are Now, and That You Will Become

Photo Credit

New moms, listen up. It is time to put on that little black dress again. Only this time you're not going dancing and drinking all night. You're not going to happy hour with your strappy heals and that hot man of yours. This time you are attending a funeral. This funeral is definitely sad, but no blood was lost. There will be tears, but there will be smiles and laughter too. This funeral is to mourn the loss of your prior self. That self with the big unstretched boobs and no C-section scar. That self that had time to worry about who to meet up with or who to call to catch up with each day. The self that only got wet when you were either turned on or working out (yeah...remember that?! Hopefully you're one of the lucky ones that has an insane ability to push through tough times and kept doing cross fit or whatever even while puking in your first trimester. I was not one of you people). Mourn the self that went to the gym, that went out for dinner, that traveled the world. Heck, let's mourn the self that went to the grocery store alone or maybe went to the grocery store romantically dancing with your man flirtatiously in the aisles to the piped in cheesy tunes. Hell, let's mourn the margaritas with friends, the laundry for one or two only, the long steamy and peaceful showers, the days where you knew parenthood was a hard job, but you just really didn't get it. Let's mourn our ignorance, our naivety. Please, new mom, go find a big ass candle right now and a blowtorch in memory of the person you once were. 
Photo Credit
Now, right now, you can go back and add those chew beads and burp clothes to your little black dress. Go light a new candle with a match you probably got at one of those clubs or happy hours in your prior life to recognize the journey you are now on. Let this candle recognize your new self; the one that is soaking in spit up, bowl movements, and breast milk. Maybe you're lucky and aren't that moist all the time (or are where it matters most if you know what I'm talkin 'bout ��). But, even you sweetheart, have changed. Even you who is already back to work and/or using babysitters or nannys already. Even you who has already weaned your baby from the breast whether you wanted to or not. You have changed. You are no longer just you. You are an us, a we, a MOM with all caps. You feel guilty when you wish you could be a working mom. You feel guilty if you wish you were a stay at home mom. You feel guilty if you are not feeling guilty… You feel guilty with being content as a working mom or content as a stay at home mom. Let it all go mama! Stop the guilt. This is you.
Photo Credit

You are doing your best to grow your baby. It's damn hard, but you can do it. Some days we all need pep talks to suck it up and deal, and suck it up we do. Right now mom, every minute might feel like eternity, but you've gotta keep the big picture in mind. You've gotta remember that by 12 or 18 months you might just be missing the snuggles and the less independent days. Or maybe you won't and that's ok too. You are a mom now and the best thing you can do is trust your motherly instincts. You've got good ones. You know what will work for you and you're family better than anyone. Better than any teacher or coach or parenting book author or blogger like myself. You most definitely know what's best for you, so please take all that I say with a grain of salt. This is a letter towards you, mama, so don't worry that I didn't write to your wonderful partner or extended family and friends just now. Right now we aren't mourning their prior lives and recognizing their current lives. Don't get me wrong, they are awesome and important and probably have changed a lot too, but right now we are talking about Y-O-U. You: hard working, sometimes scared, worried, nervous, anxious, guilt ridden and stressed. You: sometimes happy, calm, joyful and blessed self. You: who sometimes has all of those emotions in a matter of minutes. You: who is likely still hormonally imbalanced (no offense!). Look hard at that candle in front of the you right in this moment.
Photo Credit
Now get out another ceremonial match and an even bigger more beautiful candle to commemorate the self you are about to become. The mom that will grow more and more independent again. The mom that lets go of all the internal pressures (because lets be honest, we are our own worst enemy and no one pressures us like ourself). The mom that gives up the guilt or at least recognizes that crap for what it is and moves on. This candle is seriously a shining light of hope. On your darkest mom moments. On your darkest mom days. When you feel like you would rather be doing anything else than changing diapers and rocking an overtired screaming baby, when you feel like you can't cry anymore, remember to have hope.

Photo Credit
This is a candle to also represent perspective. Remember the long term. Remember that one day soon your baby will be a toddler, then a kindergartener then an 8th grader, then perhaps graduating college or having their own babies. Remember that you'll hear other parents tell you that preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school is the worst phase. Remember that you can listen to them and get worked up about it and dread that particular phase. Or you can choose to let it go in one ear and out the other, choosing to trust your mama instincts throughout each phase. You can choose to trust that no matter what phase your child is in, it may be hard, but that you both can and will get through it. 
Photo Credit
Good job mom. Good job for recognizing and celebrating the you that once was, the you that now is, and the you that you can be. Go ahead and let those candles glow and burn long and low as you hop back into those yoga pants and sweatshirt (the ones that actually make you look way better than they currently make you feel), and go hang out with other moms. Moms that have kids your child's age or moms that have kids a bit older than your child. Both are great to realize that #1: you actually do have it pretty good,  #2: you may just be in a tough phase,  #3: it's going to get easier more often soon enough, #4: you are doing an awesome job and finally #5: being in the presence of others who have similar thoughts and happenings is really freaking good for you. 
Photo Credit
Way to go mom. We tip our hats to the new you, the old you, and the you of the future because bottom line is…they all rock! Feel free to share with me other ways that you've found help to commemorate, celebrate the most significant change in your life. Please share here with our readers what you do to cope on your hardest moments. Maybe your kids have grown up and you had almost forgotten the most challenging times. Share that here to provide hope to our moms having a rough day gaining perspective. What else did this remind you of or make you think of? Maybe you've experienced a father who needs similar encouraging words. Share, share, share since we know sharing is caring and caring builds community. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Christmas Traditions with a Toddler (plus free Christmas Bucket List printable)

Candy canes, teddy bears, gingerbread houses, oh my! Santa, Christmas Carols, cookies, oh my! Fabric the elf, Christmas books, snowflakes oh my! Wish list, hot chocolate, presents oh my! Cousins, cousins, and more cousins oh my! Scroll to the bottom of the page for our Christmas Bucket List free printable!
Fun with friends downtown Seattle to see the Teddy Bear Suite and the Gingerbread Houses
Just like with our eight not so crazy nights of Hanukkah, we started getting in the Christmas mood right after Thanksgiving. Our family tradition is to kick off the holiday season by venturing downtown Seattle to see the Gingerbread Houses and the Teddy Bears. This year we added a few traditions in our own West Seattle. We went to the tree lighting ceremony where Micah had his first hot chocolate and I took Micah to meet Santa and sit on his lap at one of the stores in the Junction (that Santa happens to know my friend Heather's dad really well ;-) so it was extra fun talking with him). Micah was just in awe and pretty speechless upon meeting the jolly old elf. We didn't go full out on our own house lights this year since we'd be gone, so we just strung up a pretty pathetic little display on the porch, but it seemed to add to the holiday cheer a bit and of course Micah liked them.
Adventures of Fabric the Elf
First Candy Cane!

First "gingerbread" house!

First time meeting Santa

Snowflake fun

This year it felt like Christmas was one big extended holiday as we celebrated first with Phil's family on Monday, with my extended family in Turlock for Christmas Eve, and of course with my mom's side of the family at my parents house on Christmas Day. Yes there were lots of gifts that were very much appreciated, yet as cliche as it sounds, the absolute best part was spending time with so much of our family! We couldn't ask for a better one!

Thomson Family Early Xmas

Turlock Laffin Family Xmas Eve (the cousins…sorry other generations…next year we need everyone!)

Christmas morning surprise!

Christmas Day entertainment: Thomas' dance show!

Christmas Day 2nd cousins!

Thompson Family Christmas

this one is too classic to leave out! Cousins chaos on Eucalyptus St.
And for my first time ever, I bring you a free printable! Just click the link below and the image below is all yours!