Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mommy Guilt

First of all, I hope that everyone reading this knows that I am not being gender-biased when I use the term "mommy guilt". It can and does affect men as well as women. Actually, my husband was feeling pretty bad about himself Monday night, and that's what originally caught my attention regarding this topic.

We've all felt it at some point in our lives as parents. That awful feeling in the back of your head saying, "Am I screwing this all up?" The answer, my friends, is "Yes, you are."

The question should not be whether or not we are screwing up as parents, but we are doing to prevent the screw up the next time. We are all imperfect people in an imperfect world with (extremely?) imperfect children. So in those moments, when you've just yelled at your 2-year old for doing something completely normal for a 2-year old to do, or when you're frustrated with your 4-year old because of something you're trying to deal with on a phone call and he's just trying to get on his bike and ride around the corner, the mommy guilt starts to creep in.

I'm sure from my examples, you can tell that I'm talking about other people's children, right? Certainly not my own...

So what do you do with that guilt?

First, recognize that everyone messes up. The messing up is NOT what you should feel guilty about. Guilt is not a positive emotion. I'm not saying to ignore, but what I am saying is learn from it. If you have realized your mistake, and all you feel is guilt, then you need to take a few more steps down the road. You are imperfect, you have made a mistake, so what are you going to do about it?

Second, empathize with the person you've wronged. Maybe the person who's most wronged was a child, or maybe a neighbor, possibly even your husband (gasp!). So empathize with them first. Empathy is different than sympathy. You don't even have to be in the same room as the person you've wronged (yay for the introverts!). All you have to do is think about it from their perspective. Did my neighbor think I was being a jerk when I posted something on Facebook about my parenting style and totally lambasted their parenting style? Did my husband feel emasculated with I called him out in front of our kids or neighbors? Did my kids feel scared when I got a little out of control over a very 4-year old sized mess?

Empathy is not the same as guilt. What you really want to do is think about exactly what they are feeling and why. Especially with our children, they may not have the words to put to their emotions (my 4 year old has just started saying that "it hurts his feelings" when he's in trouble). So think about what it truly meant for this person that is so big in their lives to have a melt down over something they can't understand.

Next, consider your next steps. Sometimes, it may be better not to apologize (especially if the neighbor may not have even read your Facebook post). Are there ways to prevent the situation from happening in the future? Is there a trigger such as a phone call or not eating breakfast, or over scheduling your days? And if you did hurt your kids, please do apologize. When talking with someone about this situation, they told me it was the same thing that their father had reacted to them in that situation, only they never got an apology for it. Your kids will remember that apology (or lack thereof).

There are many steps you can take to prevent behavior, but try to come up with just one at a time. Once you've reached your conclusion, take action. Make the apology (if necessary), eat something (if you're just hangry), put the phone away, clear the calendar, and do whatever you need to do.

One final note, the best prevention for those mommy guilt situations, in my opinion, is to have reasonable expectations. If I know that Mondays are tough, then I can try to expect that beforehand, and not get overwrought at my children's poor behavior. If I know late naps make then cranky, I can plan around their nap schedule or wake them up earlier or later. If I know the weather will be bad, I can try to plan our schedule around it as much as possible.

And finally, give someone a hug or a friendly compliment. You never know what someone else is going through. Rather than judging that stranger at the park, ask them if you can help. Rather than posting on Facebook about something, tell your neighbor that you admire their differences. Rather than yelling at your kids, start the day with some snuggles and reading a good book. It won't be long before they don't want to snuggle anymore (or so I've heard).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spring Break

I have been somewhat concerned about my ability to homeschool my oldest when he is driving me crazy. However, I think as long as the weather is nice, he should be fine. He has been so busy playing outside 3-5 hours a day and riding bikes around the culdesac, that he is exhausted. He took a 2 hour nap yesterday and went to bed without much of an argument.

Getting him to focus and participate for the hour and a half or so that school will take is my main concern, in addition to making sure he has enough social activities. The curriculum I've chosen would be perfect with 2-3 other kids, but I hesitate to take that upon myself when I don't know for sure if I'll continue homeschooling or how my youngest will handle "school time".

Of course, we just moved into the neighborhood too, so it will be an interesting summer as I (hopefully) meet more families with young kids once the pool opens. It is fascinating that we have so many kids the same age as my oldest in the neighborhood. I know of at least four or five kids that are within 6-8 months or so of each other.

Either way, we aren't doing much "school" right now. We had a fascinating nature study of a large ant or wasp that was being attacked by tiny black ants who were literally pulling the larger bug apart with their massive strength. We also had some great discussions about dragonflies and bees. We definitely get our physical activity in every day now that the weather is nice (as long as it's not too muddy). The garden is going strong, and the house is starting to come together.

Instead of doing "reading lessons", we've progressed to the point of reading level 1 or 2 Early Readers or the Bible stories in his children's Bible, and discussing any unfamiliar words. He's very excited to be "Reading on his own" and loves to visit the library.

I'm definitely enjoying being home with them more than I did over the winter, and glad to be in a spot where they have friends their age.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

One Person Emergency Food Budget

So, a one-person emergency food budget will be a bit more difficult at $29 per week. First, you will either need a few extra dollars the first week, a good friend who is also looking to eat cheaply for a week, some basic items in your pantry, or the willingness to go without for a month or more. It is really not possible (unless you come across some great sales) to find the basics you need without having something on hand first.

That being said, I came up with a plan for one person for $29 a week. Most people do get paid bi-weekly, but I'm sticking with the $29 each week for those that are limited in start-up funds.

This is a 4-week plan, because it will take that long to get enough food and basics in your rotation so that you aren't eating ramen and hot dogs every week (as I have heard some people complaining). If you have the benefit of a "head start" on pantry items, you can consider skipping down to week 4.

Week One food list

Week Two food list

Week Three food list

Week Four food list

Special tips for one person:

  • It will help if you have a little bit of oil to start out with (otherwise it is included on the list for week 3). You can make do without, but most recipes will work better with some oil in a pan. If you don't have someone who can loan or sell you just a quarter cup or so of oil, hopefully you either have a non stick pan (use just a bit of water to make sure it doesn't stick) or don't mind a little burned on food.
  • Bring a friend with you and split meat purchases. Some meat purchases can only be bought in "family size" packs. Let's say the smallest pack available is a 4-5 pound pack of meat. So if you are in weeks 1-3 and want to buy more than one kind of meat, you may not be able to. If you have a friend with you, many full service grocery stores will cut the meat for you and repackage it. So, if the only way to get pork (for example) for $1.99 per pound is to buy a 4.5 pound loin, you can ask the butcher to cut it up into pork chops and split it into 2 packages. Call the store first to check if this is something they will do. If the butcher won't do it, you can always share the grocery store purchases with a friend and split the packages later at your home (or theirs).
  • Splitting purchases can also work for other items, including non-food items. For example, many of the large packs of toilet paper can be found for $10 and can be split into 4 individually wrapped packages without much work. If a 10 pound bag of potatoes is on sale for $2.50, you can split that using paper bags after purchasing.
  • You can even split meals! If you want to cook a large meal and share the work, you can make a chili, soup, or casserole and either freeze the leftovers or share with another single friend.\
  • You must use all your leftovers. If you don't need to buy more lettuce on your "shopping day" try to make it until the next week and rearrange your meal list so you use the lettuce up first. If you have leftovers of anything and it's not on the meal list, it is expected to be frozen before it goes bad (i.e. if the hot dogs have been open for 7 days, then put any extra in the freezer). It can help to write on each package when it was opened.
  • If you truly have nothing in your pantry, living on this budget will require discipline. However, you may find, once you get going, that you are used to buying certain items and can recognize a good price if you see something on clearance or sale. For instance, if you see boneless, skinless chicken on sale for $1.79, you can buy that instead of the whole chicken from week 2 and use the week 4 meal list. Or change the meal list as needed to reflect actual sale prices in your area.
  • Also, if you are truly in need, please use a food bank in your area to get started. Once you've built up a pantry of items, you can gradually return items to the food bank as you have room in your budget. 
  • If you have used all your local resources and still can't make this budget work, or are concerned about your finances in general, you can seek assistance from a counselor. Churches may provide no or low-cost counseling, many colleges have counseling centers, or if you need primarily financial counseling you can contact a local non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Agency in your area (check your credit card statement for a phone number to call). Also, if you ever feel panicky, depressed, or unmotivated about your situation, please contact a crisis hotline (such as 1-800-273-TALK) immediately, Mental health can be just as important as financial health in keeping on track with your life. I have found that many people who are struggling financially, or in other ways, need to address something within their own mind before they can move forward.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Doing It All Myself

It hit me late in the sermon Sunday morning. Every time I've heard the call to give all of yourself, I specifically hold part of me back. Which part do I hold back? Generally it's the part of me that wants to do it myself. It's the old fallacy of "at least I'm better than so and so" or as my pastor put it, thinking that true repentance is just a morality tune up (as in, well I've been pretty bad at treating my kids with love lately, so I'll commit to doing better). We think that what we've achieved morally on our own is somehow comparable in the eyes of God. Yet, we dare to tell the Creator of the Universe that we can do okay on our own?

I remind myself of my just turned 2 year old. If you have kids, you know they go through stages of "I do it myself". This is a natural and healthy part of child psychology, however frustrating it may be for the parents. When I try to help him into his car seat he screams, so he tries on his own and slips and falls. When I try to help him click in the safety belt, he screams, so I let him fumble with it for a few minutes before doing the parts he really can't do himself. The last clip, which he can do, he proudly hollers "My part" before doing it himself.

In America, we've been brought up on a steady diet of "my part". We encourage individual excellence, individual academia, individual finances, individual success.

We are proud of our accomplishments, and rightly so. But we still can't save ourselves. We are inherently broken, inherently sinners, inherently prideful. That part of me that I've been holding on to so dearly, I wanted to give it up to God through my own power. But I can't even do that. I have to rely on the grace and patience and perfect holiness of a God that is a much more patient parent than I am. So after resting and thinking most of the day Sunday, I realized that it is harder than a camel to go through the eye of a needle, because it's impossible for us to do ourselves. But we have a God who can raise the dead and create a world as beautiful as this. I think I can trust him to finish what He's started in me.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Thoughts for the Weekend

This weekend is somewhat busy, next weekend even more so. As I write this on Friday, I'm thinking about everything that I have to do. In reality, I need to be thanking God for the opportunities I have been given.

My father-in-law is turning 65, and we live 5 minutes away. We are incredibly grateful to have moved back closer to family after being 8-9+ hours away for the past 7 years. After living in our new area for only 3 months, and our new house for only 3 weeks, I am volunteer coaching my first soccer game this weekend. I have brand new friends, a church home, and family events nearby, and my cup is full to the brim.

As a reserved extrovert, I have often had trouble making and keeping friends and finding community. I've been told by people that I can seem "stand-offish", but I have been working towards being more open to opportunities lately. I realized that for next weekend, my plate is already pretty full. I never would have thought that 3 weeks after moving to a new house in a new town, I would have such community. I may actually have to start saying "No" to invitations pretty soon!

So, rather than worry about how I will get it all done and which event comes first, second and third (or twoth as my 4 year old says sometimes) I will try to just enjoy each experience. Rather than stress about whether I will be the best witness for the Christian soccer program I'm coaching, I can focus on enjoying the sight of a bunch of Kindergartners chasing a ball across the field, and trying to herd them in the right direction. Rather than wondering when my father-in-law wants to celebrate his birthday, I can have the kids help make him a birthday card today, and they can give it to him in person anytime this weekend. Rather than worry about my scheduled hours as a "work from home" job as on online tutor, I can be grateful that I've gone from 4 part-time jobs to 1, and that my husband now makes enough money that we don't really have to worry about our budget as much as we used to, even with a house payment that's twice as big as it was.

So, whether your weekend is busy or too quiet, enjoy what you've been given rather than worrying about it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What Happens When We Think Too Highly of Ourselves

So, here's the thing. I've been so proud of myself for having such a low grocery budget and doing so well. So, we decided to eat out a few extra times, stock up on some good deals at the grocery store, and generally ignore keeping track of the budget. Needless to say, when I did catch up on budgeting, we only have $80 left in our food budget. Now, that's not necessarily a problem, because we just stocked up at our last trip and have all the meat we possibly need for the next few weeks, however, when I looked at the calendar next month has five Saturdays (our normal shopping day), and our budget for food and household supplies is a monthly amount of $415.

What does this mean? Well, for the next 6 weeks, our grocery budget is actually going to be an average of $80-$83 per week. Since I usually spend at least $10 at Aldi's on produce, that leaves us only $70 or so for the rest of our food (including any fast food), paper products, cleaning supplies, and basic toiletries. Maybe I'll have to post receipts and meal plans for our weekly spending for the next few weeks to help keep myself on track. And I definitely have to watch those "extra" expenses. Fortunately, we should be good on paper products and meat, but we'll definitely have to plan on eating out of our pantry and freezer and stick to the plan!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cottage School

So, if you're in the homeschool world, you probably already know that there is one "homeschool group that is trying to take over the world". You may not call it that, but it has the word Classical in it. I think the reason it is so successful is that it's a great business model, although I disagree with the whole learning philosophy in general. So I figured I'd come up with a "business model" for a cottage school to go along with my general Charlotte Mason Philosophy.

When: 3 days a week, 9am-12pm.
Where: An open, bright environment with large rooms, various seating arrangements, lots of hands on learning tools, and easy access to the outdoors. Ideal environments could also include several homes within the same neighborhood broken up by age group. For example, babies through preschoolers at Jones house with 3 parents, kindergarten through 3rd at Smith house with 2 parents, etc.
Who: Everyone! Ages 1-high school (parents of infants should get a maternity leave if they are in a co-op in my opinion). Based on ages and number of participants, general groups could include babies and toddlers, preschool, Kindergarten through 1st, 2-3rd grade, etcetera (not age based). Student teacher ratios vary, but should never be more than 7 kids per teacher and 12 kids per group.
What: For those homeschoolers who feel unprepared to handle a certain age or ability level or for those whose children work best in a group environment. Follow a pre-planned curriculum that all parents/teachers can agree on (some suggestions include Heart of Dakota, My Father's World, Five in a Row). Include math and language arts, but mainly as group activities or hands on learning. Include daily outdoor time with nature journals, group read aloud time, hands on activities, music and art.
Cost: Almost free! Materials would average about $100-$150 per child per year depending on curriculum and materials chosen. If it's set up as a co-op (Every parent participates as a teacher or facilitator for an equal amount of time relative to the number of kids they have) then there would be no "teacher cost". If you want to pay teachers, it would be about $160 per student per month with at least a 5 student per teacher average. So the approximately 40-50 hours per month a teacher would spend teaching and preparing would be covered at about $15 per hour.
What do parents have to do: Parents would still be homeschooling their children. The other two days a week could be filled with more individual work (math, language arts), field trips, science experiments, gardening, nature walks, unit studies, and more.
Why: I believe that so many more parents would be homeschooling parents if they had the support of a truly well-run group environment. The reason the classical co-op I'm talking about is so popular (we can call it CC if you want) is that families are looking for that extra help. However, CC's model is really only part of the equation. Once a week is not really enough for more than a very brief break, and by the time you get there and back you've wasted a whole day for maybe 2 hours of sitting in a classroom and 1 hour of fun stuff. With a schedule full of active learning kids can get on task more quickly, and because of the larger time commitment weekly, they will fall more quickly into routines rather than covering those all over again every week.

Just my opinion really, and not an official business model, but I thought I'd put it out there if anyone is looking for a new adventure in homeschooling, but just needs a little bit of community. I've actually considered starting something similar in my area, but I don't feel like I'm quite at a place in my homeschooling experience. For now, we're planning on joining a very laid-back co-op, but we shall see how this next school year goes for us.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Raising Boys and the Value of Play

I haven't been able to listen to the whole sermon yet from last Sunday because I was in the nursery. We did have the sound from the service through a set of speakers, but it wasn't turned up high enough and I didn't want to be distracted from my baby-holding duties. However, one thing I do remember hearing, was that we should be glad when we are feeling tempted because it means we're doing something the devil really doesn't want us to do.

Well, I guess that applies to my Monday. First of all, it was a Monday. Secondly, it had been raining off and on for a couple days and my two boys were driving me crazy. From the moment they woke up until they went to bed they were disobeying, not listening, tearing things apart, and non-stop fighting. It all culminated with an event (during what was supposed to be rest/nap time) involving a box of tissues, lotion, my glasses case, and a lamp.

Needless to say, I was frustrated. My oldest, at four and a half, had decided time out was just hilarious and wanted my attention anyway he could get it. I sincerely regretted all my bragging and boasting about how I was sure homeschooling would be a breeze. I felt like a terrible mom all Monday evening and after cooking dinner, I just tried to de-stress as much as possible. A decent night's sleep put it into perspective for me, though. The next morning I woke up with a different plan.

Whether or not my children's behavior was good or bad, I had a few things that could affect the overall attitude for our day and I pulled out my arsenal.

  1. Prioritize active play with my kids - This may seem counter intuitive, but to head off a really miserable day where you spend all your time disciplining your kids, spend some in-depth time in the morning playing actively with them (not just being in the same room as them). Some of the games we played Tuesday morning included reading books, yoga, jumping over pillows, and a pillow fight. At first, when the pillow fight was getting out of hand and needed to be over, I was worried we were going to get off on a bad foot again, but by substituting another game, it ended up being an example of positive behavior reinforcement rather than negative and actually that small conflict set a better tone for the day.
  2. Keep my attitude calm while disciplining - When things did start to go bad on Tuesday, I was able to calm myself down and rather than reacting to the situation, I gave calm, clear choices. For example, after the pillow fight I told my son, "We can't hit so hard with these pillows because your brother will get hurt. We can either put the pillows on the floor and play 'hippity-hop' or we can go upstairs and play in your room. 
  3. Positive reinforcement over negative - I knew that I had hurt my child's psyche a bit Monday with comments I made from my own bad attitude (telling him bad idea, he knows better, etc.). So I tried to focus on catching him being good. "Thank you so much for responding right away when I asked you to take that toy back upstairs." and "Thank you for watching out for your brother, if you bumped into him, he could really get hurt." Those types of positive reinforcement need to outweigh negative discipline (i.e. don't hit him, stop it, put that away). If not, the unwanted behavior will actually increase. Negative attention is still attention, and if they aren't getting attention from doing any of the right things, they will keep doing the wrong things.
  4. Pray for better weather - Okay, so this may not be something I can directly control. However, the weather Tuesday was amazing (I actually got sunburned on the top of my shoulders). We ended up spending almost 3 hours outside. Boys are very active creatures, and if they don't get to "shake the wiggles out" outside, they will tear your house apart. I'm assuming that certain girls can be the same way, but my boys will get wild. They love to read and watch TV, but otherwise they have to be moving. They will literally run back and forth in the living room for hours if we are stuck inside. Needless to say, another benefit of playing hard outside is that they both took a great nap! So I was actually able to get more done during the day than I did on Monday, despite the direct investment of time in my kids with active play and outdoor supervision.
On a side note, while I was tempted on Monday to send my oldest to school next year rather than homeschool, Tuesday showed me that I was actually wrong. If they were stuck in school for 6 or 7 hours a day (or more) and then had homework and after school activities, all I would get would be the negative (do your homework, calm down, eat your dinner) because they wouldn't have gotten what they needed at school. I'm never going to tell someone that they should or shouldn't go back to work or be with their kids (I've seen plenty of "at home" parents whose kids would have been better off emotionally if they were in daycare full-time) but it does make me sad when I hear of kids who never get to go outside or spend that quality time with a parent rather than just a caregiver. So, whether you spend 1 hour or 12 hours a day with your kids, try to invest a portion of that time in preventing bad behavior rather than just reacting to it. There will be days that are out of your control, but remember to look for the silver lining even in the hard days. And if you can't see a silver lining, think back to the days when you were just praying and waiting and hoping to see what your child would turn out to be before they arrived (but remember you can't send them back where they came from).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why I agree and disagree with everyone

OK, so maybe I’m going to sound a bit like Paul here again (becoming everything to everyone, but hopefully not in a bad way). Obviously, I’m not Paul, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

My husband asked me yesterday whether I thought a law that put LGBT into a protected class would be a loving, Christian thing to do. I said that I did think it would be the loving Christian thing, because Christians should be loving and protecting every class of people from discrimination (Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes).

However, he then asked if I would vote for legislation that created a protected class, and I said that I would not.

Why not? Well, the problem is that if we keep creating protected classes (people we cannot discriminate against for any reason) we are going to create conflicts within those classes, and then ask the government to legislate the gray areas. This is not what anyone wants (what everyone wants is just never to be “discriminated against” for any reason, which is just not going to happen because we are all human and sinners).

For example, while I would bake a cake or cater a wedding for a gay marriage as an example of Christian love to non-believers, I don’t think I would say they can’t be discriminated against, because if they are fellow believers, we also need to be able to stand up and say that what they are doing is wrong. No class of people should be discriminated against, however, I should have the right as a business owner and Christian to say that I don’t feel comfortable supporting a marriage that is not based on God’s word among people who claim to be Christians. Showing support in that way is similar to telling an unmarried Christian couple living together before marriage that it’s okay to keep doing it. At some point, we have to take a stand and call our brothers and sisters to repentance while still showing love first.

It’s not okay to discriminate against anyone, however, we are told to confront our brothers and sisters who are sinning. For example:
  • Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too should be tempted.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (again this applies only to fellow believers)

I feel that government’s role does not include legislating the gray areas of morality. There are many times when there is a clear right or wrong answer, but many other times when half of the people say something is wrong and the other half say “anything goes”. Should the government be the one to determine which half is correct or can we just let a person’s internal compass point them in the right direction, if no one is being hurt in the process (and by hurt I mean injured, not that their feelings are hurt).

Monday, April 20, 2015

$29 a Week Emergency Food Budget

Interested in completing the challenge, or truly need some help? Read on to find out more!

A lot of people have been “trying” to live on $29 per person per week as a special challenge to identify with how difficult people in poverty have it (mind you the $29 is just for food, and does not cost them anything, or include other resources they may receive such as WIC, food banks, etc.) However, I have heard many people claim that they “can’t” follow such a strict food budget (for whatever reason). I was intrigued, because when I ran the numbers for my family, it came out pretty close to what we actually spend on food (although I also include diapers, paper products, toiletries, and cleaning supplies in my food budget). So, I didn't really see this as a "challenge" for me, since it's what I do every week anyway. However, a lot of people had a lot of excuses or concerns when trying this challenge.

I’ll try to address a few excuses before providing a basic food plan for two weeks for a family of four.

Excuse # 1 - I am just one person, I go in to buy peanut butter and jelly and spend $29 just on that.

OK, so realistically you are not “just” buying peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter is $2, jelly is $2 and bread is $2. Even if you buy organic and fancy, peanut butter would be $4, jelly would be $3.50 and bread could be as high as $4 if you buy really fancy bread and pay no attention to sales.

As a caveat, it is much harder to keep a cheap grocery budget when you are one person. You will either have to end up cooking only a few meals at first, or starting with something in your pantry or visiting a food bank and cooking bulk meals and freezing leftovers. I will address this in a later post.

Excuse # 2 - All I would eat on that budget is ramen and hot dogs!

In part, yes. If you are truly starting from nothing (zero food in your house, for example you just left an abusive relationship and have nothing with you) then you will have to make some drastic decisions temporarily. In my sample budget, however, it goes very quickly from pasta and hot dogs to salmon and pork chops. You just have to focus on what’s on sale, especially with produce items. And leave convenience foods behind.

Excuse # 3 - My grocery budget is 3 times that amount!

What else are you including in your grocery budget? Many people include soda, alcohol, toiletries and cleaning supplies, paper products, and diapers. Not all of this is covered in a "food stamp budget", but it is still an area that you can seek to budget for and reduce spending. For people who are on a fixed budget, don’t buy soda or alcohol, buy toiletries in bulk when you have the opportunity, and use fewer paper products. Cleaning supplies should include one or two clean rags and homemade cleaning solutions using baking soda and vinegar (average of $5 per month for 2 people for paper products/cleaning supplies).

Excuse # 4 - But you can’t buy organic coconut oil and almond flour on $29 a week!

That is absolutely true, but anyone who argues that you “need” these things is incorrect. There are millions of people living today on $1 a day or less. As a people group, we have survived thousands (or millions depending on your personal philosophy/theories) of years on several very basic food groups (whole grains, produce, meat, dairy, and eggs). Granted, we should not be using as many chemicals in food production as we do, however, if we did not, the entire world would face starvation because of the higher production costs and lower yield per farm worker. A better method would be to control what you can and let cost determine other factors (for example, in season, local produce is generally much cheaper, and better for the environment). You can grow your own vegetables as organically as you want and know that they are not being shipped across the country.

On a side note, there has been no proof that organic fruits, vegetables, meat or dairy are nutritionally different. Other than the pesticide residue on the “dirty dozen” you are not significantly benefiting from the 100% price increase of most organic items. And hormone free milk and Natural products means absolutely nothing (all milk is required to be hormone free and natural is whatever you want it to be).

Caveat: this is not precisely an excuse, but many people live in high cost areas of the country (New York City, Hawaii, Alaska). If that’s the case, the prices and meal plans listed below probably will not apply to you. However, a bus ticket out of town could be a great investment! If you’re not making your budget work in New York City, you would be amazed how much cheaper everything is in the mid-west or south (other than Florida). In the long run, moving would actually benefit the environment as well, because fewer farm products would need to be shipped to those “high cost” areas of the country.

Following are price lists and meal plans for a family of four starting from scratch at $29 or so per person per week. Prices are based on local “regular” prices or frequent “sale” prices common at stores in my area. If you already have a pantry stocked with some basics, or have access to a food bank or WIC, you will be ahead of the game and can skip to week 2 with substantial increases in meat purchases and produce purchases. None of the lists include splurges such as soda, but they do meet basic recommendations for fruit/veggie and dairy/protein servings per day and include lots of whole grains and "real food". If you have specific diet restrictions (gluten free or low carb for example) you may need to adjust your cost. Also, the diet is based on the average family of four, if you have growing teenagers or overeat on a regular basis, that will be something to consider as well. If you eat 2800 calories rather than 1800 per day, that is a 50% price increase in your grocery budget already. America is one of the most overweight nations, so maybe paying attention to your grocery budget can help you in more ways than one!

To follow the budget plans, take the food list and compare it with your 2-3 most convenient local stores. Feel free to substitute if you cannot find a sale on a certain item! Consider one store to become your primary store based on average best sale or store brand prices and clearance selection. Choose another one or two that have great discounts, review the circulars weekly, and purchase only the best-discounted items there.

Week 1 Price List with Recipes

Week 2 Meal Plan

Produce prices vary greatly based on what’s in season, adjust meal plans as necessary. An allocation towards meat costs increases in the second week, if you do not prefer to eat a lot of meat, or find great bargains, you can save your money for more bulk buys or buy organic even if you want to! Avoid processed and convenience foods (for health and budget reasons). Ensure all leftovers will be used before they go bad, or place in freezer. As you grow used to this type of budgeting, you will see that $10 or so of “overage” has been planned. Use this to stock up when you find a great price and place any extra portions in your freezer. Our freezer is always full of clearance meat (usually $2 or less per pound) such as pork chops, ground beef (divide larger packages into portions of ½ pound or 1 pounds), boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs and more! The freezer is also a great place to store bread that is at it’s best buy date, as well as many types of produce. 

If you are still having trouble with the prices listed, keep in mind that I assume that everything is the store or “Store value” brands rather than premium or name brands. I typically buy produce and basics (flour, sugar, oil) at Aldi’s and everything else at Kroger. Your mileage may vary. If something on the list isn't on sale for those prices, substitute! If it's a cheaper price, consider making a "bulk" purchase to save money next week. Still feel like you can't make it happen? Make a comment and I'll do my best to answer your concerns.