Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Update on "Zero Spending" March Challenge

A week and a half into my "spending zero in March" challenge, I must report things are going exceptionally well. If you remember, my only exceptions to the "zero spending" rule were:

milk, cream, cheese
animal feed
essential toiletries
any medically indicated expenses
gas, vehicle repairs
To be honest, it has been so easy that I have hardly even noticed any difference yet. As far as groceries, dairy and produce is all I have bought so far this month: milk, some bananas and ginger from the store, plus my weekly produce co-op I organize. 

2 bunches of chard, 2 pink grapefruit, 10 Granny Smith apples (about 3 lbs), 1 bunch asparagus, 9 avocados, 3 heirloom tomatoes (about 1 1/4 lbs), 2 pints miniature heirloom tomatoes, 10 oranges (about 3 lbs),4 mangoes, about 4.5 lbs mild Hungarian peppers - all certified organic

Can you believe all that came to only $23/share?? The avocados were beautiful and just perfectly ripe. We had 4 of them with guacamole and homemade corn chips for an appetizer that night. The rest, I pureed, mixed with lemon juice, and froze to have on hand for whipping up guacamole in the future.

In other exciting produce news, the warehouse had sweet Hungarian peppers last week. This may not mean much to anyone but me, but this is a very, very rare treat, and even more so in organic. In all my years of living in the US, I have only found these Hungarian peppers less than a half dozen of times, and only for the second time in organic (peppers tend to be sprayed heavily, so it's definitely worth it). They made me equally homesick and happy. Nothing brings tears to the eyes of an expat like smelling Hungarian peppers! You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. 

Since my freezer stash of these peppers from last year was virtually gone, I sprang for an entire bushel of them, for an extra $17. John helped me wash, seed, core, and slice the peppers. In all, we ended up with 5 gallon-size freezer bags, plus left some fresh for eating right away. The kids kept snacking on them all morning while we were working with these.

In addition to getting a great deal on the produce basket, I scored a killer deal on some organic raspberries and blueberries by the case. I bought one of each, and the kids ate most of them (that's 12-6 oz clam shells of each) fresh, though I was able to get some of the raspberries in the freezer.

Plus, I have been gifted this week with homegrown turnips, carrots, beets, mustard greens, oranges, French baguettes (made by a real French person!), and extra raw milk and cream from a friend I don't ever even get our milk from. I have been busy making my own kefir, yogurt, sour cream, and quark from the extra milk. Later this week, I may try my hand at making fresh mozzarella - something I have been wanting to do for a while now.

In all, I have spent less than $140 so far this month on food, and neither our pantry, nor the fridges or freezers are even any leaner than they were last week, all while we have been eating just as well and as much as ever. At this rate, I will be able to keep this challenge going for a whole lot longer than a month - at least in the grocery category, which is our biggest expense each month.

Tonight, as I was putting in my (very minimal this time) order from Azure Standard for the aforementioned items that are excepted from this challenge, I learned that they started a program several months ago where they give their drop point managers a certain percentage of their drop point total in purchase credit. Talk about a pleasant surprise! Since I didn't know this credit had been building up for the last several months, I have enough to mostly, if not fully, cover whatever little I was going to order to keep me going until the May delivery.

My spending on things besides food has been minimal. I have gotten gas once, and also bought dog food. While I never recruited my husband to participate in this challenge, he has been mindful of how to help me with my goal of spending near-zero. For example, our kids typically participate in a weekly P.E. class for homeschooled kids. In March, there were only going to be 3 classes instead of the typical 4 because of spring break, and we missed one of those last week because of a different field trip we were going on. Not wanting to spend a full month's tuition for half as many classes as usual, we decided to skip the P.E. classes this month. Instead, he took all 7 kids on a bike ride this morning to make sure the kids still go their exercise, and I got my much-anticipated weekly break. Cost: free, and the kids had a blast.

God has really been blessing this challenge in exceptional and unlikely ways! If nothing else, it has been exciting and fun, but I am also very happy about the money we are saving. In addition, I am learning how to make some new things I have been wanting to try. For entertainment, we are pulling out crafts and projects that we already have in the house, or participating in free activities and field trips. My husband and I had an "at home" date night on Sunday night complete with a candlelit 3-course steak dinner.

It always cracks me up to see what blog posts of mine people will go all crazy over. Well, the March Challenge was definitely an unlikely candidate, but boy, did it draw some hateful comments! I guess saving money and using what one already has is a little-regarded skill these days. Some were suggesting my husband get a second job instead. Every economist will tell you that saving money is much, much more effective than earing more, because the latter always leads to people spending more, and having a bigger overhead in general. Others were accusing me of working too hard, when in reality I saved myself major time and trouble by hardly going to any stores all week. Making bread at home is a snap, and something I do all the time, not just this month. The kids are benefiting from the less-than-usual running around (on errands), and so is the house because I am here all day making sure boisterous little kids don't trash the place while I am at the store.

I am hoping to give you another update on this challenge in a week or so.

Honestly, it has been a great experience all around so far. There are definitely some changes I will keep incorporating even when this month is over, and I may keep the "eat your pantry" part going well beyond March since our stores are not even running any lower yet, at all.


  1. I know you are from Hungary and I was wondering if you knew of a place that sells authentic Hungarian paprika. When I was in Hungary in 2002, I had this AMAZING goulash that was even better than the goulash my grandmother made (which says a lot since my grandma was an excellent cook. Also, to my knowledge, my family is not Hungarian. They are Czech, Polish and Russian. Still working on a more complete lineage though). I've been told that Hungarian paprika is nothing like the paprika you find in most grocery stores here in the states. If you know of a place online that sells it, let me know. Thanks:-)

    Also, congrats on staying with your goals for the month. I'm sure it's not easy but you seem to be having fun with it. I don't think I could do it. lol

    Continued well wishes on your pregnancy too. I'm sure your family is anxiously awaiting his arrival!

  2. I really enjoyed your pantry challenge. :) I would like to try something like that sometime. I enjoy seeing how others save money. I thought it was fun seeing what you were able to get for fresh ingredients as well. Thanks for sharing. Would you mind sharing your guacamole recipe sometime??

  3. Great update! I would love if you could post some of your recipes in the future. Unfortunately, even things like homemade bread are not common knowledge anymore, and I'd love to learn how to make Kefir (my husband is a big fan, and organic kefir is not cheap!). I would love to learn more about how to cook from scratch, but it seems to be a bit of a lost art.

  4. I am curious about the sweet Hungarian peppers. Are they similar to bell peppers in flavor? Or more mild? Do you like to cook with them or are they better raw? They are lovely!

  5. I am in awe of your beautiful CSA delivery! We are still in root vegetable season in my town - AZ's weather must be very conducive to an early harvest.

    With such lovely produce, you may be able to stretch this experiment out to 3-4 months!

  6. Why are people so hateful? We have 3 children and a limited budget. We save and stretch every dime we can because I would rather live frugally than have my poor husband work nonstop.

  7. I gave my kids cake for breakfast and I don't see why people get so worked up about it they say what kind of mother are you??!! I'm the kind of mother that feeds their kids cake once in a while. SOO WHAT!!!!! Its ok to buy dounutes for your kids but they are worst then cake. Some people just bug me and buy the way I don't give it to them very often. And even pancakes or waffles with all that syrup drizzled on top is no better. And i cook very healthy meals most the time but sometimes I don't feel like eating health food.

    1. Agreed! My parents made sure we all ate healthy most of the time too but for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas they would let us have things like cake or cookies for breakfast. As an adult, I still enjoy it from time to time. :-)

      I see nothing wrong with doing it occasionally. Cake probably has the same amount of sugar and stuff as doughnuts. People eat them all the time for breakfast too. All in moderation!

  8. People can be hateful, and tell you how to live your life. At the end of the day, regardless of whether you agree with someone's religious beliefs, or the way they raise their children, surely you are blogging your life, so anything different would be pretty silly.
    I am going to try this for April, I never think it hurts to be mindful of all thr blessings you have in life, and going no spend makes you realise what you have already, and that you probably dont need all you buy.
    good luck with your upcoming labour and delivery, I am sure it will be both joyous and hard for your family, blessings to you all

  9. The silly thing about the hateful comments is that you never said you were doing the challenge because you couldn't pay your bills! It's no different than the "plank challenge" or the "push-up challenge" you see, it's just that, a challenge to see what you can do. People need to get a life...

  10. Hi, I was just looking at your freezer meals!! I love pulling out a meal on a busy day!!!
    Do you bake the quiche at all before freezing?
    Thanks a lot,


Your KINDLY WORDED, constructive comments are welcome, whether or not they express a differing opinion. All others will be deleted without second thought.