Calling all wise ones…

I have questions, and you’re smart.

1. My food budget is not working for me right now.  Before every paycheck, we run out of grocery money.  And food.  I’m either a foolish grocery shopper or my food budget is simply not realistic.  Do you mind divulging what amount you budget for food and how many people are in your family?  (For example:  $400 a month for 5 people)

2.  How do you get boogers off the wall without taking off the paint?  As much as I’d like to pretend I wrote this question for comedic effect, I didn’t. *shaking head in disbelief*

3.  Has anyone ever used those silicone muffin tins or bread pans?  Do they work or are they more trouble than help?

4.  Natalie’s having a Rapunzel tea party for her birthday on Thursday.  I’m making these wig things for the girls to wear and they’re going to decorate each other’s braids with little flowers.  Then I was going to show the movie clip from Tangled where she dances at the festival.  I figured they could all dance around for a while.  I’ll have a cake (heaven help me, I’m trying to make a tower out of cupcakes) and “tea” (cream soda), but I don’t have anything else planned.  Anybody out there have any ideas for something really simple I could do to fill up the rest of two hours?  The wigs and tower cake have pretty much maxed out my creative threshold.

5.  I’d love to hear some of your best, inexpensive, and simple ideas for homemade Christmas presents.  Do you have a favorite go-to craft or treat for neighbors, teachers, extended family, etc.? Keywords:  cheap.  And did I already say simple?  Please don’t overestimate me.  🙂

So we all have different strengths and weaknesses, right?  I’m counting on you to fill in the gaping holes where my own talents fall short.  I can teach a mean gospel doctrine lesson, but all this crafty, homemaking stuff is given me a headache.

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51 thoughts on “Calling all wise ones…

  1. 1. Grocery budget…no suggestions here..I am terrible.
    2. Magic eraser
    3.Never used them
    4. Just had a princess party for my daughter, we made foam crowns (dollar store), we painted finger and toenails and go to pinterest for ideas for princess parties or google it
    5.I don’t do homemade unless it’s cookies or sweet rolls.

  2. #1 – 5 people $500 for everything but this only works if you have a stocked pantry and plan your meals at least 2 weeks at a time…
    #4 – just did a Barbie party my life saver was balloons. They can entertain anyone!!

  3. Grocery budget: $600.00 a month for 8 people ($150.00 per week).
    I use silicone muffin tins – love them. Just pop on a cookie sheet for stability and bake as usual.
    Tangled party – she loved painting and art (remember her tower room?) so pull out the paints and let the kids get creative. Also what about musical chairs or other traditional games? And pin the tail on the chameleon or the braid on Rapunzel.

  4. 1. Eat more beans and brown rice. I have tons of recipes for delicious peasant food. Email me and I’ll send you some. This is how I fed 7 on a dime years ago.

    2. Paint over them.

    3. No, I only cook with stainless steel.

    4. Pin the crown on the princess (blindfolded like pin the tail on the donkey). Princess posture-walk with books on heads. Jewel drop (drop plastic jewels into a narrow neck bottle, while standing on a stool. Princess Pond (fishing pond with paper fish wearing crowns, magnet hook, and paper clips. funny riddles on the back of fish) Frog toss (bean bags tossed through frog board with holes) coloring castles or princesses (look for coloring pages online) make crowns from cardstock and jewels left over from jewel drop

    5. Homemade salsa and a bag of baked chips-everyone loves this

  5. Food budget: $400/month for six people, plus three free-ranging stray teenagers. 🙂 The ONLY way I can make it work is to meal-plan, and use very, very little in the way of packaged foods. The bulk of everything comes from basic ingredients, and I shop at a store that has overall good prices, plus a bulk foods section. (WinCo, for PacNW readers.) The meal planning is what does it. I do best when I batch cook, and meat is a side-dish, not the main show. We do a LOT of stretching by shredding meats and putting them IN a dish, rather than serving meat portions.

    For instance, Husband got a great price on a 2 pound roast. I shredded and gravified that (about six cups of gravy from bouillon cubes and added herbs, because I’m out of freezer beef stock), and made a 9×13 pan of roasted potatoes/onions (free, gleaned), 9×13 pan of roasted carrots (bought bulk at 44c/pound), 8×8 pan of roasted parsnips (60c/pound), canned peaches with nutmeg/cinnamon, and spinach salad (just spinach and a raspberry vinaigrette.) It fed two small girls, two adult-portion women, and FIVE adult-portion men/boys, with one serving of parsnips left over, two servings of potatoes/onions, enough meat/gravy for DH’s breakfast the next day… total cost on the meal was right around $12 to feed eight.

    So: menu plan with basic basics, meat as the side/flavor only, 1-2 meat-free nights per weeks, and tons of veggies bought in bulk. 🙂

    Silicone pans… don’t use ’em yet. My non-stick pans are sticky enough.

    Boogers: make the offender stand there with a damp sponge until it softens and they can remove it.

    Painting and coloring for the party! If you print out a simple “window” coloring frame, they could really get into drawing their own mural. Or, if your walls are smooth (mine are not), what about hanging paper from the walls and letting them draw? (could be dangerous.) We’ve gotten a LOT of mileage with setting out scissors, glue sticks, colored paper, and letting them go nutting with Princess Collage. 🙂

    We don’t do a lot of gift exchanging with neighbors, etc, but my go-to is often something treat-y for the freezer, like homemade cookie dough balls, meatballs, spinach-artichoke dip in mini-pans, or a bread loaf. I really get a giggle when several of us swap loaves of bread, because we all use different recipes, and they’re all awesome.

    Dang, I’m chatty. 🙂

  6. So the groceries have been killing us, too. My mom was up to visit last month and she said our prices are much higher than in Utah, which made me feel better about my inability to stick to our budget of late and worse about grocery shopping in general.

    That said, we have started being more diligent about shopping from the ads. You are lucky to have more options of stores, but I’d just stick to the one closest to you so it’s easier. That’s the thing that makes it hard for me: feeling like you have to shop ALL the deals at every store. I only use coupons that are found online, and even then I forget half the time. But, planning meals from the ads and also building up a stock pile from the ads has really helped.

    Also, we have been trying to do a leftover night once or sometimes twice a week. This saves quite a bit, because we are horrible about using our leftovers otherwise.

    We budget $125 a week for the 5 of us, but that includes paper products and toiletries and laundry stuff. We haven’t been able to stick to it for several months, but the last few weeks have been really good because of all of the Thanksgiving deals at the grocery store. Keeping an updated price book (what you would normally pay for an item–and make sure to keep up with price increases and [ha!] decreases) is extremely helpful while you are combing the ads. I only put in stuff I buy on a regular basis, but especially knowing meat prices per lb is helpful because who can keep all of that straight?

    I think you have good ideas for your party, but google is always my friend for birthday parties! I think the art sounds good.

    I make 5-minute fudge every Christmas. It’s relatively inexpensive (especially if you look for the stuff in the grocery ad!). I linked the recipe here:

    http://lalakme.blogspot.com/2008/12/on-ninth-day-of-christmas-tradition.html

  7. Budget: $160 a week for 6 people (two of which are bottomless pits).

    Boogers: wet rags and lots and lots and lots of elbow grease. Then again, when I discovered the booger deposits on my walls, it was only because we were preparing to repaint, so we sandpapered all the dried snot off the walls and repainted.

    I am so glad to be past the kid birthday party phase of my life and have no suggestions for you. I do like the suggestions given by other commenters though.

    I don’t give gifts to most people for Christmas. We just stick with giving gifts to our own kids. Yes, I may be a wee bit of a Scrooge.

  8. Grocery budget… okay, first off, I live in a small mountain town that does not have a super walmart, so our groceries are more expensive than anywhere else. No competition to drive down prices, just two grocery stores, that both like to charge a lot. Having said that, I waffle between 650 and 750 bucks a month, for 7, soon to be 8 people. That includes all grocery like items… diapers, wipes, shampoo, garbage bag type stuff, and food. Sometimes it’s more when I’m stocking up my freezer and food storage, and sometimes it’s less when I’m using up my freezer and food storage. I don’t really coupon though, even though I know I should. And I buy tons and tons and tons of fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Magic erasers have worked to remove boogers at my house. They didn’t work on the poop that was dried onto the trim in my hall bathroom. I had to chip the paint off to get rid of that.

    I have a silicone muffin tin. It’s nice because stuff doesn’t stick, but annoying because it’s floppy and harder to handle. So when I use it, I put it inside a regular muffin tin, thus getting the best of both worlds. That very well might interfere with the efficient way silicone is supposed to cook stuff, and probably defeats the purpose of having one in the first place. So maybe my answer should just be no?

    I am not a party person. Can’t plan them. Can’t execute them. Don’t really ever have them. I know. Poor poor kids that live in my house.

    I make toffee for friends and family at Christmas time. It’s pretty easy as far as candy recipes go, as long as you have a candy thermometer, and holy cow, it’s delicious. And, it seems way fancier than it really is. I’ll email you the recipe if you want it.

  9. 3.Soak the offending boogers with a wet towel long enough to reconstitute them (I can’t believe I just said that) and see if they wipe away? You’ve probably already tried that.
    4. We just had a Rapunzel party in October. We made Pascal from Party blowers, played pin the frying pan on Flynn Rider, Snuggly duck, Snuggly Duck, Flynn (like duck, duck goose) and decorated and released balloons like lanterns. Then our party favors were watercolor paints. I stole most of my ideas from this blog-http://www.supermommoments.com/2011/01/tangled-party-games-activities/. The tower cake isn’t too bad, either. There’s lots of blogs with good instructions for that. Oh, we also had a punch bowl with dry ice along with the cake and said it was Mother Gothel’s brew. Even though it didn’t really go along with the movie I think that was their favorite part. Have fun!
    5.This isn’t homemade for a neighbor gift, but pretty cheap–give out those instant single use hand warmers that you can put in your gloves and say something about warm hearts and hands this Christmas.

  10. 1- We budget about $125 a week for a family of 6. That doesn’t include diapers, which we buy off of Amazon, or our weekly Bountiful Basket. We rarely come in under budget. It’s something we really are trying to work on.
    4- My best ideas for neighbor gifts revolve around a bottle of Joy brand dishwashing soap and a note that says “wishing you a holiday filled with Joy” or a bottle of hand soap with a sign that says “wishing you a holiday full of peace, love and hope” then cross out hope and write soap. That’s all I got. Glad to hear others are craft impaired as well.

  11. 4. Have an elegant visitor show up ( a little girl dressed with tons of things: beads, hat with a feather, rings, apron, shawl, bows, etc. ) after she leaves test who can come up with the longer list of what she wore. The little girl will love it!

  12. My budget is $400/month for 5, including diapers and pull-ups and shampoo and dr. co-pays and clothes on clearance for next season………….it’s never enough. Even without out the clothes and co-pays. It is never enough and it’s something that my husband and I need to discuss. Online coupons + savvyshopperdeals.com + meal planning = help.

    I like the foam crown idea. I’ve seen them cheap at Walmart, too.

    And at least your kids aren’t eating their boogers. =D

    A thought that just came to me for homemade gifts: coupon books for your kids. Oh, wait. this is for neighbors and teachers. Uh……I got nothin’.

  13. I love my wiggle muffin pan. With a cookie sheet underneath we are SO good to go! (I haven’t paid for little muffin papers for ages… and I make muffins a few times a week) I do PAM it though…

    Grocery budget is 500 for a family of 5 but that does NOT include any toiletries or paper goods. (different category in the budget) We shoot for less meat in each recipe and at least one no-meat meal each week. Sorry to hear about the boogers!

  14. About the part, you can get the game called, “pretty pretty princess”, my girls loved that one when they were little. You can also get some flowers and have them make their own barrettes for their hair. It is amazing what hot glue and flower petals can do for little girls. We did that for the girls when they were younger. We also made hula hoops for everyone. I don’t know how many girls you are having at the party, but I would be happy to give you the directions for the hula hoops. It is not hard, but you will need a few other adults to help out. We did it this summer and I wrote about it on my blog. Not only did my girls love it, but so did all the neighbors and I figured out that hula hoops cost about $2.50 each. It was great fun.
    Our budget is about 600 for the month for five of us, but the girls are teens now, and eat much more than they used to. I love magic erasers to get rid of most things. You can even find the generic ones if you look hard enough.

  15. K, so I have never tried silicone, I don’t know what I am doing for neighbor gifts this year, and the ideas already given for the party sound good and the boogers good luck. 🙂

    Now for the budget. I guess we are cheap, cheap but our kids are young (4 year old and 2 year old), . Our budget is 260 for 4 that includes diapers and other toiletries. I did coupon for a while with Sunday newspapers and all so we have a little bit of a stock pile on some things but not as much anymore. We eat breakfast for dinner a few times a month, not a ton of meat (usually shredded when we do), and we shop using cash so we don’t go over. I do usually get my next months cash during the end of the month so I can start getting things stocked for the first weeks meals of the next month. I shop using the ads and I do price match sometimes at Walmart. Savvyshopperdeals.com tells you all of the best deals at many Utah stores each week. I am not perfect and some months I goof up a little but for the most part it works. I usually stash a twenty dollar bill aside from the rest the cash to make sure I have money for those last minute fresh, basics like milk, eggs, produce, etc.

    Like I said I don’t do awesome but if you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them. 😉

  16. 1. I must say that I am impressed with the food budgets described here. One thing that I have learned is that in order to reduce the amount of money I spend, I have to be willing and able to increase the amount of time I spend planning and preparing meals. I pay an obscene amount of money for my food, but I eat healthy food that tastes good and its prep time fits in my schedule.

    2. Buy really cheap wallpaper and change it frequently. (Just kidding. Kind of.)

    3. My mom loves her silicone bakeware, but I have never used it. See #1.

    4. Do your planned activities and then sit them in front of the TV to watch the rest of the movie. (Reason #753 that it’s a good thing I don’t have children.)

    5. My mom used to make hot chocolate mix. Then you put it in a canning jar and cut a circle of fabric that you tie on top with a pretty ribbon. Super cheap, but still says that you care. I just found a book with other “jar gifts”. I’ve seen the cookie mixes, but this had some interesting soups and salad dressing mixes too. We’ll see if I get around to making anything.

  17. First, just have to say that I love your post. Since I sat down at my computer feeling very inadequate tonight, I just could really, really relate. So, I have no great advice on any of these points, but I do have a few suggestions of people that might. (Basically, what you will learn from my comments is I spend WAY too much time on the internet reading blogs.)

    #1: Food Budget
    Go to http://bluechateauinteriors.blogspot.com/
    Written by a woman whose husband got a 90% pay cut a few years ago and she has blogged about how she cut corners to make her budget go down by 90%. She also introduced me to Depression cooking. (Google depression cooking) There is a woman named Clara who shares the recipes that she grew up eating during the Depression on youtube. One of my husband’s favorite dinners is a depression era recipe from his family actually.

    (Disclaimer: I am a horrible budgeter. I can’t actually tell you what we spend on groceries per month – I’m really embarrassed to admit that I don’t know. I know that I don’t spend more money than I have, I’m pretty good at cooking cheap and buying things on sale. But I can’t seem to function on a budget. There are some mitigating reasons for that — not that I shouldn’t still be on a budget — but I won’t bore you with the details.)

    #2 Boogers on walls
    Baby Wipes
    I haven’t ever used them to get boogers off walls, but I have used them to take pen off walls (blue walls, even!), marker off the tub, and permanent marker off of skin.

    #3 Silicone pans
    never used them, no idea

    #4 Rapunzel party
    I have no ideas, but I can pinterest. Seriously, I searched Tangled and a ton of parties popped up like this one:
    http://www.fleetingthing.com/handmade/parties/Tangled-Rapunzel-birthday-party/&2_22_128
    and this one: http://www.pinkskyphoto.net/tangled-personal/

    BTW, how old is your daughter? One of my links was for little kids 2-5, the other was for older kids. I wasn’t sure how old your daughter is.

    #5 Christmas Gift Ideas
    *Hand soaps. Cheap, fairly easy, and I loved it when I got it as a gift.
    http://www.hollyscorner.com/blog/wp-content/files/Personalized%20Hand%20Soap%20Dispensers.pdf
    *What I’m doing for some of the people in our ward (y’know, the ones we serve with, my kids primary teachers) is one of the spiral bound Gospel Art Picture Kits. They are only $1.50 if you buy a box of 20. My kids love them, they are great for FHE and stuff. Cheap and easy… can’t beat that!

    Good luck!

  18. HAVE i GOT A BOOGER CURE FOR YOU!!!!!

    And yes, I’ve used it all too many times. Take a clump of facial tissue, wet it and squeeze water out, cover said booger and leave wet tissue on wall (think giant spit wad), leave it there about 5-10 minutes, and then wipe away! It rehydrates them (for lack of a grosser image…) and you can easily clean them off with the giant spit wad. Toss wet facial tissue and feel that frustration of finding the surprise, crusty booger just melt away!!

    Cheap gifts for neighbors? My stand-by is a bottle of Martinelli’s for New Years. I buy a bunch on sale for $2 or at the dollar store when I can find them, attach a festive tag, wrap the top with that foil garland with the stars, or wire ribbon, curl the garland with a fat highlighter, and drop them off at my neighbors or friends with a “Happy New Year!!” I can’t get it together before Christmas anyway, so I’ve stopped trying. This year I aimed for Halloween and made round sugar cookies with white frosting, put a gummy lifesaver in the middle, and drew red veins with decorating gel, from the lfesaver out, to make big eyeball cookies. Neighborhood kids think we are very cool now.

    For family members that would appreciate it, we’ve had our kids draw picture on skinny white cardstock for bookmarks, mounted it on scrapbook paper and colored cardstock, and they are handmade bookmarks for Grandparents and Aunts. That has gone over well.

  19. 1. For years our food budget has been $500 a month. (Food only, not toiletries or cleaning products or “date night” restaurants, etc.) It was that amount when we had all 6 kids at home and we haven’t changed it even with just one daughter at home. So, now, we get more shrimp and steak and Subway. The way I made it work when the boys were home (and admittedly sometimes we did go over) was to use lots of casseroles and make our own cookies/snacks. Expensive “treats” were really a treat (think soda, candy, cold cereal, Ding Dongs, frozen dinners/pizza, out of season fruit, etc.). We took advantage of Costco, case lot sales, and summer canning.

    2. Way past that stage (fortunately!) so can’t help you with this. Sorry.

    3. Haven’t used them, so appreciated others’ responses.

    4. Rapunzel sounds like a fun party theme and you have some great ideas here. I found that kids are fine with unstructured time and will figure out how to have fun all on their own.

    5. Our go-to gift to neighbors and friends is a little (note that word!) plate of homemade cookies, candy and/or mini nut bread. If I’m feeling fancy, we’ll add a candy cane to the top. Our favorite, and traditional, recipe is Rocky Road. Melt 1 pound of milk chocolate (chocolate chips work fine), stir in 3 cups of mini marshmallows and 3/4 cup chopped nuts. Pour into a buttered 9×9″ pan and let harden. Rather than cutting it into tiny pieces, I usually cut it into 4-6 “blocks”; those can be given in little treat bags just by themselves. We also do the 5-minute fudge and discovered that adding chopped Oreos makes it even better than adding nuts. I saw an idea once of giving batteries with the tag “Gift Not Included” attached which I thought was brilliant. Oh, and since you love preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons, how about just sharing some of your favorite quotes, scriptures, or tips. One year I put together Family Home Evening kits (story idea with mini puppets, a little object lesson and game along with something for refreshments) that were well received.

  20. 1. This has always been hard for me. First I should mention that every time gas prices rise, food prices rise about the same percentage. So if you feel like you can’t do what you did last year for the same price, you are right. Here is a good example: a 5lb bag of cheese I bought at Costco a year ago was around $13. Now it goes between $15 and $17. The average rise in price for the cheese is $3, which is about a 23% increase. Gas seemed to go up between $.50 and $1.00/ gallon. The average rise in price of gas is $.75, where gas was around $3.00 / gallon, so that is a 25% increase. Second, as your kids and especially boys grow, they will eat more. So if you are finding that you are spending about 25% more than you did last year, you are probably doing just fine. We were having the run out of money by the end of the month and needing to buy milk problem too. So I switched from shopping once a month except for milk to shopping once a week. It was a hard switch at first, I had to really go through my fridge and pantry and make decisions about what I needed for just one week, while still making sure I was stocking my pantry. But we are making it now. We have a family of 10, and I try to stay below $250/week total for groceries and all other items except gas and birthday presents. About changing your menu to beans and brown rice, I will give you one caution: If you go from eating a lot processed foods or meat and potatoes to beans and brown rice and your own ground wheat etc., that can cause groat (spelling?) so you have to go about these changes slowly.

    2. soap and water, it will probably dissolve.

    3. haven’t tried them, but I am curious too.

    4. pinterest: do a cheap craft. Make your older kids do game stations like princess fishing for fake jewelry.

    5. I am not crafty, but every Christmas I give the sisters I visit teach a jug of simply orange juice with a pretty cloth bow. I can tie bows, and at a time when everyone is giving cookies, I think the orange juice is a yummy healthier snack.

    • Thanks for this comment…I do find that my grocery bill has gone up around 25% or even a little more than that. But, that is a LOT, considering our salary hasn’t gone up at all, and groceries and gas aren’t the only costs rising. Yet groceries are the only thing that we can maybe cut in many cases….especially when we’ve cut most frills like cable, etc.

  21. Steph, I haven’t read any of the other comments so if I repeat something, sorry.

    Grocery budget: we spend about $600 a month for a family of 6 (I would like to mention that this budget includes all groceries, not just food AND my oldest son is almost 14 — between him and my 10 year old daughter they count for at least one more person in the amount of food they eat.)

    $600 is a very generous amount for us right now and I’m trying to make the most of it. Because of prior circumstances, I would say Im pretty good when it comes to a grocery budget. If needed, we can get by in $400 a month. I think the biggest key is to only buy what you absolutely need. That sounds obvious, but I learned I could stretch each dollar in ways I never thought possible. So if you’re on a really strict budget, in the short
    run, it makes more sense to buy smaller oackages of things like toilet paper and laundry soap, cheese, etc. I KNOW this isn’t cost-effective to not get the most for your money, but my problem at the end of the check would be that I’d have a 96 roll toilet paper case in the closet and not one cent left for milk and bread…. Doesn’t work.

    It also takes more time to live on a strict grocery budget, a few more trips to the store to get the week’s essentials with my last $20. But it’s worth it!! When things are right I also try not to buy any goodies and this is hard — our family thrives on goodies. Again, people will say, just use coupons, but do you NEED fruit snacks or chips? I try to bake more — simple and cheap treats like cookies or banana bread.

    There’s an added bonus living on such a strict grocery budget — my kids appreciate so much more, even when it’s something small like ice cream cones from Macey’s!

    Be careful with coupons…. I find most coupons are for already over-priced junk food. You’re not really saving if you have a pantry full of boxes of granola bars, but no money left for shampoo or something.

    Also I cut back

  22. Oops, I posted before I was done…

    Earlier I had a few typos, sorry — I meant when things are Tight I don’t buy goodies.

    Anyway, cut back on breakfast cereals and already prepared stuff. A big pot of homemade oatmeal is really cheap as well as eggs.

    Also, I am a total store-brand person. There are a few things we just won’t eat, but most stuff is just fine. It saves LOTS!!

    I’m sure I can think of more things — I’ll email you as they come to me, but lastly and maybe most importantly, I ask Heavenly Father to please help me with my grocery budget and thIngs always work out. I’ve had hundreds of mini-miracles and tender mercies in this area and I know He will help us if we just ask Him.

    Now, for a much less warm fuzzy subject. Boogers! I heat up a pan of 3 parts vinegar and 1 part water, dip a rag in it and steam the area on the wall, hold it there for awhile (5 minute or more sometimes) until you can gently wipe it away… They are nasty stubborn little things… Ew!!!!

    I’ve never used the silicone baking pans.

    I am ultra simple when it comes to parties, maybe you could have them paint with washable watercolors ( rapunzel likes to paint) — get some at the dollar store and they could each keep their paint? My kids always like cupcake walks — you could play the Tangled music while they walked? I don’t know.

    For the Christmas gifts, I actually have a paper i got from church with a big list of cheap stuff. I’ll scan it in my computer and email it to you and maybe even post it on my blog.

    You are so wonderful, Steph!!! Sorry Ive been so behind on blogs… Our home computer is very temperamental right now, so I mainly use my Phone.

    Good luck, I really believe the budget can be done. “Our success in this life depends on our ability to discipline ourselves.” I can’t remember who said it, but I like it.

    Also, call your grocery stores, some of them have cheap meat if you go in early ( 6am) on Saturday mornings. Maceys often has groundbeef for $1.50 a pound, but it goes FAST!

  23. I have the same struggles with the grocery budget and boogers. Never tried a silicone pan. As for birthday party ideas, I go to http://www.birthdaypartyideas.com. They have ideas for virtually any theme you can think of. Many of the ideas are WAY over the top, but you can sort through and find what works for you.
    Neighbor gifts used to stress me out every year as the list grew longer and longer, and the joy of preparing the gifts got smaller and smaller (along with my budget). Then we moved to a new development and were able to try out a new tradition. One night in December the whole neighborhood meets at the park for the annual “Freeze Off.” Each family brings ONE plate of goodies to share and a food or money donation for the Utah food bank. We basically take the money we would have spent on dozens of neighbor gifts and donate it. We get a sign up list going around (through email) for people to bring hot chocolate, paper goods, portable fire pits, marshmallows, roasting sticks, lanterns, etc. Someone makes a flyer and we divide up the neighborhood to get the word out. The kids bring sleds and play in the snow while the adults visit and eat. It is a fun night and has put the joy back into the neighbor gift thing for me. Truth be told, we’ve only done this once so far. Last year it worked well, and we’re crossing our fingers for this year.

  24. 1. My hubby say’s I have OCD when it comes to budgeting! I have my budget on a MS Excel Spreadsheet and the OCD part is that I have the budget done until the end of 2012. I tell him that is how my Mom does it and so that’s how I do it. Anyways, I budget $600/month on groceries for a family of 4 and 1 puppy. I don’t always spend the full amount and do my best to come in under budget so I can put the extra $$ into something else that is needed or wanted.

    I used to run around from store to store finding the best deals, now though I just drive the hour and a bit to the big city and shop at Costco. And I find that way I get everything all in ONE place and spend less time and less money. And I also pay attention to what is on sale at Costco. I also freeze a lot, bread, soft tortilla shells, meat, veggies, basically if you can freeze it into family meal sized portions it saves time & money.

    And a little note, living in Canada our food prices are often quite a bit higher than in the USA.

    2. Soap & Water, magic eraser, Multi purpose cleaner, a rag and some elbow grease.

    3. I’ve used silicone bakeware once and really I am not a fan.

    4. I am actually amazed how much time you can fill when you get together a whole bunch of girls! I would plan some party games too, but don’t be too disappointed if you run out of time.

    5. Homemade sugar cookies or snickerdoodles, I make a whole ton of them and the kid’s help me bag them for our friends & neighbors. Typically for my parents and my in laws we do up crafty gifts, like homemade ornaments or picture frames, something that won’t take up too much space so we can easily send it to them on the bus. As for family they get a Christmas Card w/family photo, it just ends up being too expensive to buy/make gifts. Because really Christmas isn’t about the gifts we give each other.

    Good luck! You are not the only mom who isn’t very crafty! Some of us just fake it better than others!

  25. I finally got my computer up and running and was able to read all the wonderful comments — I TOTALLY agree with meal planning, I plan for 2 or 3 months in advance– it’s really easy to do if you keep a master list of meals your family likes.
    — AND we have totally moved meat as a side dish and not a main dish as well. We tell our kids they have to eat more of the “filler foods” like rice, bread, and potatoes and a bit of meat to go with it. I hate to say it, but I LOVE meat and this has been hard for me, but we do save lots of money this way. I’ve also found several yummy recipes (really, I’m not a health food type person and I like them) that have lentils, black beans, and garbanzo beans in them, let me know and I can email them to you.
    –I used to go from store to store to store ALL over town for 3 days finding the best deals and getting everything at the lowest prices, it was so exhausting and time consuming, in the end, I honestly don’t think it’s worth it. I only shop at Smith’s right now and using their shopper rewards program I feel like I save a lot of money and they also give you discounts on gasoline. They also send you specific coupons that you use based on your receipts — weird/cool coupons like $5 off every $10 of produce purchased and coupons for store-brand items I frequently buy — who does that?! I personally LOVE Smith’s Marketplace.
    –I’ve also switched MOST of my basic cleaning supplies to simple more organic stuff: hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and baking soda, and just plain bleach. So much cheaper! The only things I buy already made are laundry soap and dish soap.
    — also, after every meal, if there are a lot of leftovers (like soup or something) I put it in the freezer and serve it for another dinner a week later or something. My family is much more likely to eat up the leftovers (and not complain so much) if I serve them awhile later, not the very next day. (sometimes they don’t even know….. shhh!)
    — I also wanted to say our grocery budget includes 2 cats 🙂 and for the record, they are worth every penny!

  26. Well, on the budget…
    I think I spend between $400 & $500 a month (less in the summer when we have our garden & more in the winter), and there are three of us.
    That said, I buy almost exclusively organic and need to cook 8 servings for dinner to have enough food to satisfy my 8 year old (crazy).
    I order bulk grains, beans, etc. from Azure standard, check the ads, use minimal coupons because most of them are for processed foods, and cook from scratch almost exclusively.
    And meat and dairy are very seldom purchased. Maybe a few times a year.
    Grocery prices have increased exponentially in the last 8 years between that and my son’s appetite we went from spending just over $100 a month to where we are now.

  27. We’re having a Tangled party on Saturday! Those wigs are amazing. Wow! I’m only making little braids that we’ll attach with clips and that’s taking me forever to make. I found some easy crafts that we’ll do. This link http://www.supermommoments.com/2011/01/tangled-party-games-activities/ has some easy things from the Disney site. We’re doing the pascal blowers. Also paper lanterns. I bought a flower and we’ll hide it and play a hide and seek type game. We might make shrink charms if I can find shrink paper (also found on Disney site), color pascal in 3d (also on site), and some coloring pages. Let me know if you want specific site’s and I’ll send what I have.
    Sorry if this is all repeated above. I don’t have time now to read all the comments, but will later.

  28. Hello Steph

    1. budget I take out $100 each week, otherwise, I run out half way thru the month. i totally recommend bountiful basket and find great ways to use all the veggies. i coupon often (fabulesslyfrugal.com is a great website) and they usually have winco prices listed every week with the sales and coupon match ups. I try to not use much meat. The word of wisdom says to use meat sparingly and are bodies are not meant to eat it very often, which is great because meat costs a lot. i make green smoothies for breakfast with a big bag of spinach from costco and frozen berries, bananas, apple, and water blended, yum. i love greek yogurt also and it’s healthy.

    2. wet rag

    3 never used it

    4.call cynthia she has beautiful flowing hair 😉

    5. i make homemade bread several times a week using this blog, love it! I am planning to give a loaf of bread to each neighbor, friend, vt, and ht people.

    get on youtube.com and search healthy bread in 5 minute a day and you will see jeff and zoe demonstrate their dough recipe it is fabulous and cheap.

    may the force be with you, always 🙂

  29. We set aside $560 for 5 of us — but that includes a little for gifts for other people (b-day parties, weddings, etc. $35) as well as home stuff (sprinkler parts, dish towels, etc, $50) — although, I think about all of goes to food items nowadays. I think it’s high, but lately I spend all of it. I hate couponing, so that just isn’t going to work for me. Plus we don’t eat most of the stuff that the coupons are for. Guess I should just garden and can more.

    Here’s what I thought about those muffin things in the microwave. I guess I like them: http://bakingbarkers.blogspot.com/2011/01/microwave-muffins-in-minutes.html.

    I made Family Home Evening kits one year for Christmas presents — just adapted the Christmas lesson out of the FHE book. I thought it went well, I could send it to you if you want to see it.

  30. …lots said here (didn’t read it all :o). Just one thought to add… I have a schedule that I follow to help me keep the economical basics rotated regularly (otherwise we forget to eat things like oatmeal, probably because we once LIVED on it; now we try to eat it once each week). Basically, we have a “potato” night, and a “bean” night etc… We have a “rice” night etc… Now, that doesn’t mean “rice” night is the only time I use rice. I may make a soup with one cup of rice for the family of 6 another night, or add rice to the 7 layer burritos another night. But it means that on “rice” night, rice is the STAPLE. So that night we might have Spanish Rice, or some other main dish of rice. I do this rotation thing with lunch meals as well. And on Friday nights we have what I call “creative option” (keeping options open for fun and easy Movie night foods like …pizza :o). Doing this helps to insure variety, and I’m amazed at how much it helps me to keep the nutritious and economical foods in the diet in greater supply! It also helps me to think of what to make for dinner more quickly, since options are much more limited once I narrow them down to a specific food category.
    I hope this helps! 🙂
    Corine 😀

    • I love that idea! I want to integrate more healthy staple foods into my kids’ diets, since we’re past the toddler-finger-food phase. I am going to start trying a rice night and a potato night.

  31. I have been to a little girl’s Rapunzel birthday party. They played pin the lock of hair on Rapunzel, tug of war with a yellow braided rope (Rapunzel’s hair), and the most fun of all was that they had made a pinata of Flynn Rider’s head, and used a frying pan to break open the pinata. Hilarious!

  32. The grocery budget issue is so familiar to me. It seems like for us regardless of how much I spend each month all of the food gets devoured before I had planned to go and buy more. It is a never ending thing. I wish I could offer some advice. Because of where we live I think that everything is more expensive than in Utah so if I gave you our number not only would your jaw hit the floor it wouldn’t even help for why you asked. I know that there is a Co op in I think Draper that generally only deals with organic produce. They sell other items also here and there depending on how good of a deal they can get. So some weeks they’ll have other products available but I don’t think those are things you can always get there. They have a family sized vegetable pack that is about 26.50 per week and the retail is around 100.00 so you save a lot! They usually theme the weekly vegetable basket, so you’ll get Asian themed veggies one week, or German, etc. Its fun also as you can try out different recipes. I know your kids are young and that might not go over well that just occured to me. Anyway you should check it out. It is a non profit and to my knowledge there is no fee to participate. The whole point is to make organic healthy produce more accessible to everyone and also to buy local as often as possible so a lot of what you get is from local organic farms! They has a special where you could order a turkey for Thanksgiving at a really great price so I’m not sure if that is a one time thing or if they are expanding. Worth investigating if your struggling with the grocery budget. Depending on what you spend on fruits and veggies every week it might make a huge difference or maybe not much at all.

  33. So, apparently I spend way more than the usual folk. Like $1000 a month. (6 people.) Hmm. But the amount we budget for groceries is often used for… well, whatever it happens to get spent on: toiletries, diapers, things we’ve run out of, things we need that aren’t food. It becomes our miscellaneous fund sometimes.

    But what I do with that money is to plan all my meals for a whole pay period, and go on one big shopping trip with cash. I generally spend way less at the grocery store than I have budgeted; the money gets spent on other things after the food is purchased. So when the days are ticking down until the next check, even though I know I’m out of money, I know I have food in the house. All the food I’ll need until the pay day fairy comes again.

    • That’s closer to what I spend, and for six people as well. No diaper expenses here but the usual other needs. I still always run out of food though, four teens eat a lot. I plan meals ahead and when we completely run out before I’ve gotten funds replenished by the paycheck fairy-lol- is order a pizza. I do that probably twice a month and I always use papa johns because you can accumulate points. They give double points on weekends so for us it works out that after two orders our next one is free because of points. So I suppose that factors into the food budget, but it is definately something that we could go without. I’m trying to put together a family cook book where I am collecting recipes from a bunch of family members. Many of them have large families so they probably have some good ideas for recipes that help stretch things and feed armies! So if I get anything that I think would be helpful I will share it with everyone. 🙂

  34. One year a friend had a great idea: she made cookie dough and rolled it into a cylinder using wax paper, then foil, and attached a cute ribbon and note with baking instructions. That way you can give cookies, but no one getting them smacks their forehead over “another plate of cookies!!!”

    • Cookie dough now that’s a good idea for neighbor gifts. My Sister in law told me that she has a recipe for 250 peanut butter cookies. It was given to her several years ago by someone and she and her family actually tried making it once. She said when it says 250 cookies they really mean it. She said they had cookies for months and gave away cookie dough to all of their neighbors. Now that it is a few years later she is just happy about the memories and glad that she took pictures of her daughters stirring cookie dough in buckets. Anyway it would be a good recipe to use if anyone is planning on doing something like that for neighbor gifts. If anyone wants it I will get it from her and pass it along.

  35. Pingback: I knew it. | Diapers and Divinity

  36. Another few ideas on making sure the foods are saved for when you need them eaten:

    1: Have a list of Always Foods… raw carrots, homemade bread, oatmeal cereal, popcorn (non-microwave), which are “always” available for noshing.

    2: Do bulk cooking so the ingredients are “used up” already, and in the freezer/canned for future use. Bulk-cook treats, too, like inexpensive homemade cookie dough (oatmeal raisin!), so there are planned bits of happiness.

    3: Post a menu list, and put dot stickers on foods to mark them as “don’t eat it, because it’s needed for other things”. When my family knows what night we’ll be eating which things, they stay out of it. 🙂

    4: Overestimate on some of the popular things. We do homemade tamales, pot-stickers, and sandwich pockets (pizza, cheeseburger, ham/cheese/broc), and make about 25% more than we’d normally use for supper meals, to account for lunches and snacks.

    5: Beat them with sticks. Sticks soaked in Tabasco sauce. 🙂 (Seriously, I know my mom had to train us, and we’ve had to train our kids, that *asking* before devouring is vitally important.)

  37. Great ideas! I mean no offense but what did you mean with #5? Sticks of what soaked in tabasco sauce? Like toothpicks? Meant as a punishment? I’m honestly just curious.

  38. 1. My food budget doesn’t count because A) we have young kids who don’t eat that much and B) we’re on WIC, so $300/mo for 5 might be out of the question for most people –but I’m thankful for the advice of others cause now I know what I have to look forward to (especially since we have all boys). Still, I love Winco and can’t wait to do bountiful baskets when my kids are old enough to make it worth it.

    2. Soak em. But that’s been said already.

    3. I have the silicone cupcake cups –they’re separate like the paper liners, but you can put them by themselves on a cookie sheet, and they take up a lot less space than muffin pans –which was our main goal since we move a lot. HOWEVER, they do not make things crispy (which is how I like my muffins), it’s hard/messy to get the cupcakes/muffins out of sometimes, and you can’t send extras home with anyone. As far as the other silicone pans and such go, I don’t know.

    4. Google is awesome –it’s too late now, but for the future, anything can be googled. (I loved the pinata idea, although I’d be afraid to arm a couple of 5 year olds with a frying pan)

    5. I’ve done pancake mix in a jar and homemade apple cinnamon syrup, homemade caramels, small bread loaves –you know, the stuff that’s really more like cake, but I think the one that people enjoyed most was a quart of warm Wassail (pineapple juice, orange juice, sugar and spices. If you want the recipe just let me know) plus you can sing the song as you take it to your neighbors! 🙂 This year, I’m giving nearby family members half pint jars of the pear butter we canned earlier this fall when I got pears on sale at the cannery for 14 cents a lb.! Yes, I was thinking ahead and bought them specifically for that, but now my husband doesn’t want to part with them (–he’s already reduced my supply significantly).
    Good luck and do share what you end up doing.

  39. My heart goes out to you, because I posed this exact same question, in different words, to a bunch of women whose husbands also work at a wonderful unnamed university, and their answer: “I work.” (In other words, none of them could afford to feed their families on that salary without supplementing the income themselves.) I found that fascinating.

    Grocery budget: When desperate I can feed the four of us for just over $200 a month. This implies ample food storage and a well-stocked pantry. And way too much pasta. 🙂 A more typical budget for us is $100-125 a week ($400-$500/month).

    Some ways that have helped in the past: The Grocery Game (grocerygame.com). You can purchase lists of sale items and coupons, and by combining the two can occasionally purchase cereal for 83¢ a box, tylenol for free, etc. You can save a lot by buying 12-week’s worth of sale items (everything goes back on sale in 12-week cycles). The downside: It takes WAY too much time, and sometimes you buy things you don’t need or don’t ordinarily use.

    What works way better for us (and this will sound completely counter-intuitive): Have milk and other dairy products, plus a weekly produce box and other staples delivered directly from Winder Farms to your doorstep. We have a standing order with them that we adjust online as needed. Delivery in our area is every Monday, so we use up everything by Sunday night, and then Monday morning a new grocery order just magically appears on our back porch. The best part? Their milk products are truly superior. Our kids can’t stand drinking other people’s milk any more. Everything is farm-fresh and mostly local. The produce box helps you focus on what’s in season and eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. I try to keep my order there under $50/week (sometimes as low as $35). This minimizes runs to the grocery store, saving gas and headaches, and eliminating impulse purchases. I do supplement with grocery runs, but not as often. It’s weird, because the products at Winder are more expensive, but you end up saving in the long run.

    If you DO need to run to the store, and you have time to go to Sunflower Market, their prices are amazing, and their food is excellent.

    Finally, I make everything from scratch. We hardly buy anything packaged. I think this goes a long way in providing healthier, yummier food and also costs much less.

    On the silicone muffin pans: I own them. I use them. They work, but they’re not magic. Here’s what I prefer: Buy a really good quality stainless muffin tin (I bought mine from Williams Sonoma, I think, or some other high-end kitchen store.) Coat each muffin cup with a quick spray of BakKlean (also from Williams Sonoma). Every muffin bakes and browns perfectly, releases perfectly, and clean-up is minimal. As for silicone, the way to go is the silicone baking sheet liners. Every cookie bakes beautifully and releases easily, and you don’t have to wash the cookie sheet, just use and reuse, then rinse off the silicone with warm soapy water and let it drip dry.

    Okay, I’ve said way too much, and am starting to sound bossy. But it’s all for love! XO

    • For cookies I love to use the precut parchment sheets that come in packs of 100 for about $5.50. You can get them at Gygi in Salt Lake or at the Bosch store in Orem (and probably other places as well). I just throw them away after use and don’t have to wash my cookie sheets.

      Stephanie, thanks for asking the questions you asked–I gleaned a lot of great advice from this thread. What impressive women.

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