A Successful 2013 Pantry Challenge

By ERIN TURNER

My freezer shelves are visible again and my pantry shelves are manageable.  Here we are in the home stretch of our Annual Pantry Challenge and I’m pleased to report it was successful again this year!  Although, I have a feeling that anytime you focus more on homemade food, spending less and using more of what you have, you’ll always end up being successful.

Did we accomplish what we wanted?  Well, as I look at the pantry and the freezers, I honestly can see that we made a dent in them.   I used up lots of items which were nearing expiration and I’m always happy to utilize those things rather than feed them to the pigs.   We ate a lot healthier because everything was usually homemade and homegrown.  (In fact, I think I even lost a few pounds…wow, another benefit of the Pantry Challenge!).

All of those things are successes in our book but our biggest goal of the Pantry Challenge is saving money.   We made some stops at the grocery store for items which we needed and had no other option.  We needed milk each week but I had some coupons plus I had some Extra Bucks saved up at CVS, so I bought milk with those thus not spending any cash out of my pocket.

Valentines’ Day was a challenge – Fruit Kabobs were a huge hit at the classparty.

Our son’s birthday fell during this month, so we bought ice cream, Oreos and sprinkles.  We were very pleased when he announced he wanted a home-cooked meal for his birthday dinner instead of going out!  He had the option but he choose a meal of mama’s Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, bacon and freshly dug carrots.  A perfect celebration meal for an 8 year old.

Valentines’ day was a challenge for me this year.  One of the boys’ teachers asked me to bring a fruit platter.  Really?  Didn’t she know fresh fruit is the one thing we struggle with when we do our Pantry Challenge?!   We usually rely on frozen or dried fruit. So I did head to the store for some fresh fruit for the class party.  Honestly though I felt so much better bringing a fruit tray rather than a tray of cookies!  And I think the kids felt the same way as well, because all the fruit kebobs were gone at the end of the party!  That’s was well worth the cost of the fruit!  I headed to the dollar store this year for the boys’ Valentines’ which they exchanged at school.  I also made some home-made gifts for the boys. This saved me a heap of cash.

A sourdough starter provided a yummy and healthy alternative to store-boughtbread.

I know, you’re sitting there saying, “C’mon Erin, get to the exciting part!  Tell us how much you spent this month!”  Okay, okay….drum roll please!  So, we spent at total of $94.43 this month on grocery and drug store items!!!  Actually, that total included $20 for cold and cough medicine from Natural Grocers for my husband who ended up catching a cold this last week.  No coupons for these semi-expensive items but these naturopathic remedies work so well we think they are worth the extra money!

So, less than a hundred dollars for a family of five for an entire month and that included cold medicine, Valentines’ for class parties, birthday ice cream and fixings, milk for 3 growing boys and a fruit platter for 20+ kiddos.  Yeah, we think we did pretty well!

Oh, you may be wondering about going out to eat?  Well, we didn’t make it the entire month.  We did go out to Sunday brunch twice, we had a lunch out together (using a gift card we had received) and we attended the Knights of Columbus’ Fish Fry.  We were faced with a few other opportunities to eat dinner out, but stuck with our guns and headed home for our meal.  We weren’t completely successful in not eating out the whole month, but we were pleased with our effort.  Ultimately, our effort saved us $100 in our “Entertainment” budget envelope! (That’s how we classify eating out in our budgeting.)

So, here are a few things we learned over this month:

Menu Planning was an essential ingredient in our Pantry Challengesuccess!

1)      Menu planning is essential to being frugal.  It was the key for us to remain faithful to the challenge.

2)      The Pantry Challenge was the perfect time to use up those gift cards we always seem to forget about!  We actually appreciated them even more this month!

3)      Our family loves sourdough!  At the beginning of the month, I used a package of sourdough starter I had sitting on my shelf.  This starter has to be fed everyday thus I was baking almost everyday.  It’s the only bread we ate plus I made pancakes and waffles with it too.

4)      We really value our special Sunday brunches with friends after church.  We evaluated this weekly expense and decided it was well worth it and wasn’t something we’d give up.  Friendship and family rituals are priceless.

5)      It’s fun to get creative with food and to think outside the box.  We ate some fun and different food.  While the kids didn’t like the stuffed grape leaves, they loved the frozen empanadas (which we traded peppers and eggs for this past summer!).

6)      Keeping the kitchen cleaned and organized every day really helps me want to cook and bake.

7)      Our oldest son hates breaking the rules!  He was mortified the couple of times we went out to eat and was thoroughly disappointed we were “breakin’ the rules”!

It was a great month and we hope to carry on the challenge with less stringency into this next month.  We think we can save enough money from February and March on our groceries to cover the costs of our Spring Break trip in April! So that means I’ll continue to menu plan each week and I’ll keep relying on my shelves and freezers to provide creative, healthy and satisfying meals for my family while saving money!

I hope everyone out there who participated in a Pantry Challenge this month were successful as well!  Tell us how you did!

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Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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