Monday, March 3, 2014

An Interesting Challenge for March

Last Saturday, I was cleaning out, organizing, and taking inventory of our freezers. I had been meaning for some time to do a so-called "pantry challenge" - seeing how long I could go using almost exclusively foods I already have in my pantry, fridges, and freezers. 

Because we buy most all of our foods in bulk or by the case, we have more food in the house than the average family. Of course, we go through tons of food each month, but it's a revolving inventory that never gets depleted. 

I was inspired to do a "pantry challenge" partly because it would force me to use up random odds and ends that have accumulated over time, and partly because it can never hurt to save some money (even if it is more of a "cashing out" of our items in stock, rather than reducing our overall consumption). We would really like to pay off the medical bills that we are still making payments on before the cards they have been charged to start accruing interest. Thanks in no small part to the many who have so generously donated to our medical fund (honestly, thank you SO MUCH, we truly appreciate every single donation!), we have been able to knock out one bill after the other. Just this month, we were able to pay off one of the two remaining massive hospital bills. By reducing our spending this month, we could increase our financial wiggle room again, since it was pretty much wiped out by paying such a large sum at once. 

As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that I would like to try and cut out just about ALL spending this month. There are no holidays, no birthdays, or other major events that would really suffer if I implemented a "zero spending" policy for myself. We are well stocked on food, and most basics like toiletries. Not spending any money on clothes, entertainment, hobbies, books, dining out, field trips, etc. will likely be painful at times, but we certainly don't NEED to have any of those things this month.

Later that same day, I was thrilled to find that one of my friends on Pinterest had just pinned something along these lines - what a wonderful resource to stumble across! Plus, it really validated my idea as something that was possible, and had successfully been done before by many others. 

This no-spend challenge is called "31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero," and is hosted on the popular "Living Well, Spending Less" web site.

I was so excited to find this just in time, and to get started right away! Saturday happened to be March 1st, so I jumped into Day 1, "The Ground Rules" Obviously, like most people, we have monthly bills for mortgage, utilities, etc. that we will still have to pay. In addition, there are other exceptions that everyone needs to decide for themselves what they will still need to spend money on.

Below are my ground rules, complete with exceptions:


Grocery and other items I may buy this month:

- milk, cream, cheese (and possibly other essential dairy products): these are items that have a short shelf life, so we do not keep more than a week's worth in stock. Being pregnant and having lots of kids at home, I do not feel it would be beneficial to our health to cut these out for the remainder of the month once we run out. However, I should be able to make most of our dairy products like kefir and yogurt myself from the milk and cream. I will try to reduce spending even on these items by not buying more until what we currently have in stock has been used up completely. We have chickens for fresh eggs, and plenty of butter already in stock.

- produce: Like fresh dairy, this only keeps so long. Poor baby Stephen can't go for weeks without his daily allotment of bananas! However, I will again try to reduce spending on this category by using up the abundance of frozen and home-canned goods we have in stock, as well as taking advantage of any free produce that comes my way. Some of my friends share the abundance from their gardens with me, and free citrus is everywhere this time of year in Arizona. 

- animal feed: I only ever keep one month's worth of feed or less in stock, so we will need to buy some more before the month is over. 

- essential toiletries: while we do have a generous stock of most items, those that are bulky we keep in smaller quantities. I may still buy: TP, tissues, diapers (I would use cloth, but don't have any in Stephen's current size), wipes, laundry soap, and whatever other essential staple we may run out of.

- any medically indicated expenses: really, the only thing I could think of would be an unexpected doctor visit. We already have plenty of supplements and a well-stocked (natural) medicine cabinet.

- gas, vehicle repairs: We are down to one vehicle for our family, but to think we can go an entire month on what is left in my tank is not realistic. However, I will again try to reduce spending in this area. Not going shopping should help with that! :) Seeing as our van is still very new and under warranty, I don't expect there to be any repair expenses. I do need to take it for an oil change this month, but we still have a free one from the dealership left.

Things we have already committed to paying for this month:

Just our mortgage and regular monthly bills for utilities, phones, my insurance, etc.

Things I may absolutely NOT spend money on this month:

- groceries beside exceptions listed above

- toys, clothes, dining out, books, entertainment, hobbies, any household items or furniture, gifts, field trips (unless they are free), convenience items such as paper plates (ouch), etc.

- services such as hair cutting, car wash (not even the $5 self service we always use), etc.

- Pretty much anything not listed in the exceptions above

Unlike just doing a "pantry challenge," cutting all spending on the above actually WILL reduce our overall spending, as these are not items that will need to be replaced or made up for at a later time (unlike an empty fridge). Only three days into the month, and I have already turned down two books I really wanted, as well as a great clearance deal on some maternity items I would like, but definitely don't need. Tomorrow, we are going on a field trip (tickets for which were purchased last month, whew!), and I will be extra careful to pack a very generous sack lunch for us all, as we will not be buying food out if I don't bring enough.

Other Rules:

- This challenge applies only to me, not my husband. He is not a big spender anyway - I buy most everything we use in our home. 

- I will not send my husband to the store to have him shop for me "by proxy" to get around my zero-spending policy.

- I will track all spending through an app on my phone.

- In mid-March, I may order from Azure Standard whatever I will need for April 1-14. Their delivery in April is not coming until the 14th, so if I skip the March order and delivery, I would have to keep the challenge going for 6 weeks. I will limit myself to absolute must-haves that cannot wait until the delivery in mid-April. 


These are just my ground rules - what works for me may not work for someone else. The idea is just to have a frame work of what is and is not allowed, when the temptation to buy something is strong.

The challenge for Day 2 was to organize my pantry. I had already organized the freezers the day before, and since my pantry gets organized every month when Azure delivers, that was all that was necessary. 

Today's goal was to come up with meal ideas. While our regular dinners won't need much tweaking (yet?), I figured since I am already on a "reduced spending" and "simplify life" kick, I need to tackle our breakfasts while I am at it. 

Typically, our family eats a cooked breakfast and a cooked dinner each day. Lunch is leftovers from the previous night's dinner (I always cook a double batch for dinner to make sure there are enough leftovers). As much as I love a good breakfast, they can be time-consuming and expensive. For the month of March, there are only two options available for breakfast each day: oatmeal, or eggs. Both are cheap and nutritious, and can be prepared in a variety of ways to mix things up a bit. I may make an exception on the weekends and make a special breakfast if there is time, but if there isn't, that's okay, too.

For lunch, to cut costs, I will only serve dinner leftovers from the night before if we had a relatively inexpensive meal, such as soup or a casserole. If, on the other hand, I served something that was very heavy on the meat side, I will only make enough for that night's dinner, and then serve one of the following simple, inexpensive, yet nutritious lunch options that can be prepared by one of the kids if I am short on time: sandwiches/wraps, salad, Mexican food bean burritos or quesadillas, etc. Again, there is much room for variety here. Some sandwich ideas are: PB&J, tuna, cheese (grilled or not), ham or turkey, egg, cucumber, etc. Since I am not buying bread, this means I will need to stay on top of baking bread each week from grain I already have in stock.

Soooo... three days down, 28 to go! Have you ever done a challenge like this? If so, do you have any advice or insight to share? If not - do you want to join me in this challenge for the rest of March???!? Please chime in below!


  1. I see you have laundry soap listed as an item you can buy. Do you ever make your own? It is so cheap and easy to make. You can make a 5 gallon bucket and just refill your old soap containers. The cost is next to nothing

    1. Great point! I have tried to make my own a couple of times, but it never worked well at getting our laundry clean. As it stands, I have tried a half dozen of laundry detergents before finding one that works well. (I'm talking about all natural kinds, the ones like Tide and such work universally because of their harsher ingredients). From what I have read, this is in large part due to the extremely hard water we have here. If we ever get a whole house water softener/filter installed, I will try my own laundry soap again.

  2. Pfft... I can't decide whether this new plan is because you can't do anything the easy way and need to create more work for yourself than necessary in order to play the martyr, or because you've realised just how financially screwed you are because of your idiotic view of health insurance, and rather than admitting fault, will now make your children suffer by restricting their diet and education as you desperately grasp at straws to make ends meet.

    Either way, it's not some awesome housewifely challenge or proof of your organisational skills. You're lying in order to seem both more amazing and more pitiful at once and hoping those donations will keep rolling in. Your vanity, deceit and greed absolutely sickens me.

    1. Wow, is there a reason you are being so mean? Don't you have anything better to do with your time?

    2. Oh my - I only published your comment to put your fears to rest. I'd hate to keep you up at night worrying about us.

      We are not at all financially screwed up. In fact, unlike most, we never carry a balance on any of our credit cards. We would do so now if we had to in order to pay for the medical bills, but that has not been necessary. The final remaining hospital bill is financed, interest free, and even though we are only required to pay ANY amount each month, we are sending enough each month to pay it off within one year. We have a home mortgage, but were paying extra on that for years in order to pay it off sooner.

      And if I thought health insurance would be a smart financial decision that saves money, I would have bought it for the entire family, not just myself. We have saved tens of thousands of dollars over the last decade by NOT having insurance but rather paying cash the few times we have needed a doctor. Even all the expenses this time around have not negated those savings. I signed on for insurance in case there was a need for an extended hospital or NICU stay, which is looking more and more unlikely at this point.

      Clearly, you do not know that we have two fridge/freezers, plus two deep freezers (for a total of four freezers, and two fridges) that are filled to the gills, as well as a pantry with 3 commercial, floor to ceiling commercial shelving units each holding enough food to easily feed us for well more than one month. So nobody's diet is suffering - that would be people who have to eat out, at school cafeterias or fast food venues.

      And their education, suffering? I hate to break it to you, but I NEVER buy curriculum this time of year. As it stands, there have been two field trips planned and paid for for this month. I may decide to come up with a couple of free ones in addition to those (by using a membership, going on a day free to the public, or doing something like hiking or a bike ride), or I may (GASP!) do only those two field trips this month, which is still much more than most kids in school go on.

      I am neither lying, nor trying to look pitiful, or solicit any donations. I am certain that my readers are discerning enough to decide if or how they want to help us. Praying for the health of our surviving baby is free, and is the most important help anyone could offer. Nor am I a martyr - I think saving money is fun, and this just seems like an interesting challenge to me. It's really not at all uncommon.

      I am sharing this challenge as a way to keep myself accountable, and maybe inspire others to try something similar. Clearly, you are not interested - more power to you.

    3. That woman is from Freejinger, you have once scorned her. Her son died at age 31 and she seeks every venues possible to vent. She, as a liberal, pro-abortionist once tried to look for some sympathy on one of her pity-scavenger hunts but you told her off. You have scorned her so much - though I don't know what that stupid old loner was expecting to find here - that ever since the beginning of your crisis, she gets her daily doses of the only form of joy she can find in her lonely life - schadenfreude. She keeps buzzing around in the topics about your tragedy and she is filled with satisfaction, and she keeps on prying for more pity and attention. She harvests all that she can and she is stomping around over your belly that carries your deceased baby. Ever since you have told her off, since you obviously don't mingle with pro choicers, she's been waiting for something horrible to happen to you. She is a disgusting, bitter, evil witch with a capital B, and you should - or rather not - see the bonfires of word vomit she has left all ofer FJ, they reek up to high heavens. Do not mind her, she'll always be stalking you, she'll be always in the shadows, like a retired gossip ninja. You are the one she's taking out her misery on.

  3. I think this is a great idea! I have been thinking of doing something similar, but I am currently expecting my first baby, so I'm afraid any freezing on spending will just make me frantic when I go to prepare later. But I think I will definitely try to do this after the baby is born. It's such a good idea, because we all have those things we pass over in the nether regions of our pantries. I'm looking forward to updates

  4. I am excited about reading updates as you go along on this challenge. It is a great idea!

  5. Love this type of idea! Really now though... do you think that you are nesting ;-) Doesn't organizing like this feels so good? Buying in bulk is the way to go! I find it interesting to see how moms in different areas/countries gather nutritious foods and plan to feed their families. I did something similar this past year too. On the food end of it I had a goal to get the freezers, and pantry super stocked in hopes of knocking out buying food until this summer. A few exceptions being bananas, greens, avocados, the odd spice, our milk and eggs. We don't have access to much in the line of Azure type companies here :( In fact if you just looked around and didn't know any local farmers you would be pretty discouraged at our grocery stores. After all, getting quality food nowadays can be a challenge. We have a small Amish community here, and some other local farmers that produces largely organic sold at road side stands off the beaten path. If you buy their product by the hamper it is rock bottom prices. They often give hampers of seconds away too. We gleaned a pile of squash this year! So, we spend the summer freezing and canning lots of veggies. We also pick no spray blueberries and strawberries to freeze for our fruit. Each week in the spring and summer I process 5-10 gallons of milk (and we drink another 10!) and 6 litres of cream into cheese and butter to freeze and to eat fresh. Get grain by the sacks and hope we don't get a moth in there! Have lentils and beans on hand. We buy a half a cow and pig, some chickens and turkeys from the Amish. Get every scrap of fat and bone to render lard and make soup. Lots of sugar and tea for the kumbucha too. Everything bulk if possible. So from June to September it is go go go to get all this done. From October to May it is consume it all. When I go to the freezers in the basement I joke with my husband that I am just going grocery shopping and I'll be right back. It really is a big savings to do it this way, especially if you were going to a place like wholefoods weekly to feed a larger family, who could do that really? Anyhow, I think you are doing an amazing job. Always, thanks for sharing on your blog. So glad things are going well with your pregnancy.

  6. I follow this type of plan on a modified basis, zero spending one week out of every six rather than 30 days in a row. I have found that it actually makes my life easier - almost like a cleanse for my home.

    You will be surprised at how much room you have in your pantry/freezer at the end of this exercise and I am always surprised at how much food remains. It has helped me tremendously in gauging what I should be buying in bulk and how often. For example, I can buy frozen vegetables in bulk at every trip, but likely only need to purchase chicken every other big shopping trip.

    1. Aggie, I love your idea of one week out of every six. That is much more doable for my family. Thank you for sharing. Tiffany F

  7. What an awesome challenge. I would love to do something like this, but I have a very limited food stockpile. So, by week 2, maybe 3, we would be eating a sad, strange diet. I do I have a good stock of toothpaste and shampoo, however. We would have fresh breath and clean hair for the month. Good luck with your challenge. And, of course, continued prayers for you and your family. Tiffany F

  8. I love your blog. Would love to follow you on Pintrest too- but I cant find you.. What name are you under?

  9. I'm Woundering if pastor Anderson can do Job chapter 4 I'm really wanting to study this book with my kids and husband

  10. I think your a great roll model for me and I like this idea I eat out far to much and could use The money the Lord Give far better thank you for taking the time to share this.

  11. I made breakfast for dinner last night and family liked

  12. THANK You I'm so excited you posted my comment. I aculy did it. I have never ever sent a message like this before cause I just don't know how to use computer very well but I listen to pastor Anderson with my mom and husband and kids almost daily. We all got saved 2 1/2 years ago and I'm just so excited the more I learn. I wish I had known God sooner in life. But I know him now. I have 6 kids and they are all getting to know and love the Lord. I know this has nothing to do with your blog but I just want you to know your in my prayers and if it wasn't for me finding pastor Anderson's u tube teaching on revalation I would still be so confused. My pastor does not know that there is no pretrib rapture. I belong to a baptist church in Columbia city Oregon

  13. I think it looks great! You may wish to make an exception when it comes to your vehicle. I believe keeping my vehicle clean and in good working order is a way of being a good steward of my family's blessings. In a month, I'd run your van through the self-clean at least once...a hose in the front yard, soap, bucket, and precious time would cost you $5.00 anyway, so use the self-clean/autowash!

  14. I saw your pin on Pinterest and was intrigued. I work at cleaning out the pantry and freezer every month, but I am inspired to get more creative and spend less. And to use more of the things I have already. Thanks for posting :)

  15. *Breakfast for dinner is one of my fave things. Eggs are so nutritious and have protein, yet I can make something fast. Perfect for days that I am short on time or didn't plan something else or just wanted something simple so I can spend the evening doing other things.
    *Another inexpensive meal is bean burritos, but I believe you mentioned that one. I have bulk organic dry beans on hand from Azure all the time. As long as I can manage to remember to put them in a pot of water to soak over night, then we have a nice pot of beans that makes many burritos or dip or beans to use for chili, etc. Affordable and nutritious. Speaking of burritos, don't know if you're into breakfast type, but we like potato and egg (also with cheese). But this comes from my husband's influence, due to his Hispanic ethnicity. So I have learned a habit of serving tortillas with things like breakfast skillet type food or even meat from the crock pot. And speaking of chili... and tortillas....That reminds me of some of my favorite ways to use our meat so it goes farther.
    *Meals like chili and spaghetti are "go to" meals for me, because I work them up fast even though they're from scratch. And they're the best meals to hide veggies in that the kids won't eat. Just puree or liquefy undesirables in blender, add to pot, and it may turn an odd color temporarily. But once it cooks in, the red color takes over again. But the relevant point with these is that the amount of meat is adjustable. They can be loaded with meat or more skimpy depending on your needs for that particular meal. And what you skimp on meat, you can make up with beans in chili. And chili is cool, because when there's not enough left to serve bowls to everyone, it can be served in smaller portions with corn chips or baked potatoes or oven fries, etc.
    *Sometimes I will chop meat finer during browning, so it can spread father in thedish. I often brown and season more meat than necessary, so I can freeze the rest of the browned meat for another meal. Then, it's super quick to just pull that meat out and add it to whatever.
    *Tortillas are a key for helping me create a meal out of leftover meat that wouldn't normally be enough. Like when I cook a roast or any meat in the crock pot, and it gets down to the little bits that won't even make enough sandwiches for everyone. I make quesadillas. Sometimes I'm surprised at how many I can make. That's my favorite way to make dove when my husband hunts. It really stretches those little birds into a decent snack. *Also, another cheap meal or snack is split peas. I don't do the whole ham bone flavor thing all the time. My kids like it just fine seasoned with garlic and onion and salt. I make it a consistency that it's appropriate for spoons like soup, but not too watery. Thick enough for them to dip things like corn chips in it, as some kids prefer that. Again, nutritious and cheap. And those don't require soaking. And it's a baby friendly food as well! I just made this a few days ago, and I'm thinking a measly pound fed the 5 kids and I at least a couple of meals.

    I don't always skimp...Sometimes I let the kids have their own tbone steak, since it's grassfed and buying 1/2 beef makes steaks cheaper than the grocery store or even eating fast food garbage. But sometimes I try to stretch it... Like currently as we have a ton of money going out to buy and fix up a property we just bought that we're going to move in to. If ever I needed a limited spending plan, now is the time. Good timing for me, I'll try to jump in and join the fun. I've already been more mindful of trying to limit my spending lately due to our situation...But this just adds to that awareness.

  16. This sounds like a great idea, and I think I will do something similar soon. I know it is quite possible to successfully complete a challenge like this, because several years ago we were on an extremely tight budget, that lasted for seven months. For those seven months our weekly grocery allowance for our family of five was $20.00, yes that's right, twenty dollars a week for 7 months! We did have a garden and I canned a lot of vegetables, so we had plenty to eat even though desserts were no longer an option and many other things we used to think were basic necessities we discovered are luxuries.

    We never applied for assistance, and through this we grew closer as a family, and we were able to see the children's faith grow as they witnessed the wonderful provision of God and how He always cares for His children. One week we missed getting milk and since the twenty dollars had been used we knew it would be a week before we would get to buy milk. Our children ages, 5, 7, and 9 at the time suggested we pray and ask God to send us milk. Half an hour later a neighbor showed up at our door and asked apologetically if we could use some milk. Their family didn't like milk and for some reason she bought some and she hated seeing it go to waste. I thanked her for it and we had a praising celebration for answered prayer.

    Another time when really craving some ice cream, and feeling almost as if it were a little selfish or extravagant asking for ice cream, but still God is our loving heavenly Father, prayers were said asking specifically for ice cream and not money, because any money would have gone for something more important. The next day at our local discount grocery store the manager asked if we'd take some ice cream, that their shipment had been messed up and they had an entire pallet of ice cream they needed to get rid of. The freezer was filled to over flowing, and the entire church got invited to an ice cream party.

    God really answers prayers! Often above and beyond what we ever dreamed.

    As our hospital bills got paid off, our grocery budget expanded, but I really think it would be good for us to have a month not buying groceries, except for the very bare necessities.

  17. I am so sorry for the loss of your twin boy I hope this is ok to ask you but I was woundering what happend to the baby that died is it still inside you and if so how ?


  19. I'm trying for all different kinds of soup and sandwiches this week

  20. I know you home school your kids and I think that is awasome and you seem to be doing very good at it. My kids go to public schools sometimes I absolutely hate it but i love when I here that they are telling others at school about Jesus and my 18 year old wrote a letter to her history teacher and asked him how he can teach something to so many kids that is a lie? And she went on to say how God is our creator of everyone and everything. And that a truly wise person would seek the truth about what they are teaching. And so many kids that my children are telling because they are in the public Schools. So it can be good as long as the kids are able to say no to pressure from other kids and as far as what the teachers teach well my kids understand that lost people just don't know and it's our job to be there light.

  21. Hi Zsuzsanna,

    This is off topic but, I really enjoy your blog and have appreciated all your food/health related posts. The amount of time you use to thoroughly research what you share is noticed, and I thank you for it.

    I have a question. What does your family use for toothpaste? I was reading about using the oil pull method, and wondered if you have any experience with it.

    Mrs. M

  22. We have like 5 things of ice-cream so we are having Ice-cream for dinner I'm sure the kids won't mind :)

  23. Can't even believe you published that one comment. I don't think I could've done it. She's just jealous because your poor children's "restricted" diet will still be far superior to most people... including her. Her bitterness and hatred reveal so much.


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