In May I fed my family of three for $129.99. I kept this diary during the month to write my article “Real Life Hunger Games,” which was published on xoJane in June. Here’s a more day-to-day look at how I pulled it off.
Goal for this week is to not spend any money at all.
We went shopping three days ago and spent $35. Breakfast: banana with p.b. Lunch: leftovers. Dinner: I made spaghetti sauce with tomatoes I bought last Saturday. One pint left. Not cheaper than buying a jar. Three pounds of tomatoes, $3. Oh well. Delicious. Running out of milk.
Andy says (seriously) he wishes there had been kale or cabbage in the sauce. He says it really adds a lot of “body” to a meal. Vow to buy Andy a cabbage at next shopping trip.
Audrey eats a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, p.b. sandwich and apple for lunch, Cheez-its for snack, spaghetti for dinner.
The food cupboard: Before
Buy non-organic milk for $1.79 at TJs. Ask Facebook if they would use a can of sweetened condensed milk marked “best before September 2005.”
I made “recycled cookies” out of instant oatmeal, millet puffs, cheerios, crumbled Ritz crackers, two sample boxes of cereal, coconut flakes, butter, the old sweetened condensed milk. They were delicious! Saved some for future book club.
On May 4 I made lentil & sweet potato stew with French lentils I found in the cupboard. I also made a Russian apple charlotte using two old frozen raisin or blueberry bagels, saved up apple slices, dehydrated milk, remnants of two jars of jam.
Andy buys $7 of salad greens and feta cheese for his lunches.
Yesterday we bought $1.79 candy and popped popcorn at home, brought it to see Secret World of Arrietty. Made buttermilk caramel flan and took it to Gina’s for cinco de mayo dinner—chile rellenos. Audrey ate beans, rice, chips, and salsa.
Tonight we ate leftover lentil & sweet potato stew. I made chocolate chip cookies. I’ll freeze some and bring to a book group.
Up three pounds! The experiment has not even been going on a week. Gaining weight is not part of the plan; I wanted to maintain. Maybe I shouldn’t have made a bagel bread pudding, buttermilk flan, two batches of cookies in six days.
Breakfast: oatmeal with rice protein powder I’ve had sitting in the cupboards since 2006.
Cooked old dried garbanzo beans. Accidentally let cook way too long! Still taste good. Hope Audrey will eat them.
Veggie box arrived today! $33. So week one: $47. Last night Andy stocked up on kale and spinach. Today ate spinach, radish, carrot, pickled onion, garbanzo bean salad. Try not to spend anything in week 2.
I have way more food tucked away in my freezer and cupboards than I imagined. I guess because I wasn’t viewing most of it as food anymore. Not actively searching for a way to eat up crushed Ritz crackers and frozen jar of pinto beans, but not wanting to throw anything out, either. Eventually they’d go bad and I would then feel okay tossing them. This represents a lot of money from the grocery store, taking up kitchen real estate, into the compost bin (or landfill!).
For breakfast: oatmeal with rice protein powder. Last of the slivered almonds. No dried fruit because I’m out. Maybe I’ll buy raisins.
Lunch: Leftover spaghetti, mac and cheese, parsley. Not very filling. Ate four chocolate chip cookies, polishing them off.
I am packing Audrey’s lunch lighter. She never ate all of it, so I’d throw away half-eaten but unsalvageable sandwiches and apple slices. Now she eats all of the smaller lunch and feels proud of herself. She’s maybe even eating more than before. The “large” lunches proved too daunting.
Tonight I will make pinto bean-chard-leftover salsa and spaghetti sauce chili with crushed tortilla chips and the remnant of frozen shredded cheddar. I think it will be better than it sounds. Okay, I made it. I used leftover spaghetti sauce, remains of two different things of salsa, Audrey’s leftover carrot sticks, defrosted pinto beans, chard, onion, spices. Served with corn bread. Made at least four servings, I think.
Audrey finished off a Trader Joe’s popsicle that had been in the freezer since last summer. First ate off the stick. Then I made it into a slushie. Made the slushie into lemonade by adding water. She enjoyed the progression and asked me to let her eat popsicles like that again.
Foraging! Ride the bus to Heather’s. Walk a mile to Reed College, lush and green. We snip the tips off of stinging nettles with scissors. Doesn’t damage the plant. Heather shows me other edibles. We find dandelion greens, mustard flowers, salsify, mint, wild onions, bay leaves, and rosemary.
And then we journeyed . . . into the wild.
Tonight I make a quiche. Time intensive. Blanch the stinging nettles. Crust from scratch. Sautee mushrooms, onions, dandelions, mustard flowers. Dandelion greens are bitter and terrible. Take most of them out. Fingers crossed I didn’t just waste six eggs and a stick of butter, not to mention all day foraging and washing greens.
Interesting how much work it takes to get a bit of food. Lucky we can buy it. Someone grew it, picked it, took to the store for us. So to waste it . . . terrible.
Bought a gallon of milk for $2.59. A half-gallon is $1.89. I realized I stuck with half-gallons because I didn’t like carrying them (too heavy!) & I was worried about using them up before they went sour. With all this baking, I’m sure I’ll use it up.
I made oatmeal muffins yesterday. Got to stop baking! They’re in the freezer; I can eat them instead of cookies. This morning I had one for breakfast with peanut butter. This afternoon I had edamame for a snack. It was in the freezer for I don’t know how long. Maybe a couple years? Crusted over with frost.
Edamame looks bad but tastes fine! Good snack. However, I usually don’t crave edamame.
Audrey wanted a hot dog for dinner and I happened to have two old frostbitten veggie dogs in the freezer. Made a bun out of a bread heal.
Tonight I’m going to make “fake-out noodles.” Asian stir fry with lasagna noodles. Broccoli, scallions from the veggie bin. Not the best experiment ever.
Halfway through today! $59.51 left. Less than half.
Last weekend I made a “main course tabouleh” salad that ended up making 7 servings. Used more veggies than recipe—stretches it out and makes it less starchy. Very good garnished with feta and toasted walnuts.
We had Gina over for happy hour on Saturday. Served roasted chick peas, carrots, radishes, celery. Old wine.
Made chocolate ice cream with seven year old cocoa powder. Tucked away, since I have other, newer cocoa powder I’ve been using. Audrey said it was the best ice cream she’d ever eaten.
We spent the most we had on groceries on Saturday: $15. That got us a cabbage, the ingredients for tabouleh, cheese, cream for ice cream. Cheaper to take her to Wendy’s & also we wouldn’t have a bunch of ice cream to finish up . . . but there are worse problems!
Pancakes for breakfast! New recipe, not as good.
Bulgur salad for lunch. Still some left! 7 servings!
Book group—crudités jar. Getting tired of baking cookies!
Audrey ate 6 pancakes!
Brought ½ bag edamame to group–$1.69/2 = $.85
Today I finished off the fried rice, though I thought there were 2 more servings in there. Ended up getting 6 servings.
Milk I bought May 9th is gone after 13 days. Used it up—hot chocolate, ice cream, in baking. May go back to ½ gallons.
Veggie box yesterday includes dandelion greens. Ugh! More greens for Andy’s lunches. Last night ate the rest of that quinoa-garbanzo-green bean salad. That made at least 7 servings.
Running out of tea. Use up old stuff I’ve been avoiding. Might have money to buy more?
Still have oatmeal muffins left. Audrey finished off pancakes. Lunch: leftover mac and cheese + bean salad. Dinner: same. Andy ate a salad. We bought more popcorn and oil. Down to $14 for the rest of the month! Delivery tomorrow.
Stuff left to eat: jars of pinto beans (could go in Mexican salad), carrots, beets?, two fruity bagels (maybe Audrey will eat them?), a little frozen pizza.
Yesterday I rooted through the cupboards and found two old boxes of mac and cheese, relegated to the back because my daughter prefers TJ’s organic shells & these were Annie’s. She will eat them, though. And I found a jar of hazelnuts! Score! Running low on nuts and getting nervous . . . will borrow nutcracker from Sarah.
Last night made pasta primavera with two different pastas, sunflower seeds and almonds (out of walnuts), sundried tomatoes left over from 1995, olives didn’t know I had, onion, asparagus, carrot. Eating old food hasn’t killed me yet! Must buy some macaroni or something. Could make a huge dish out of odds and ends in fridge, hazelnuts. Get us to the finish line. One week left!
Counting down the days now. Wish I could buy a few things: good tea, more popcorn, puffs.
Yesterday I helped my sister weed her garden in exchange for the thinnings. Felt like a character in the Boxcar Children. Brought home 1 lb, 12 oz. various greens. Gave some to Andy for his salads to keep him from another kale bender. The rest I’ll throw into some pasta dish or something.
Make carrot cupcakes for Abby’s b-day. Happened to have all the ingredients but walnuts around. Unopened thing of cream cheese we hadn’t used because we had run out of bagels. Made applesauce out of Audrey’s rejected apple slices I’d been saving.
Carrot cupcake: Not the best food photography.
The food cupboard, after
Just two more days! Yesterday I organized my spices. I think I’ll make a loaf of bread today. Maybe cookies. Baking is out of control.
Yesterday went foraging in Sarah’s garden. Have enough greens to tide Andy through.
Today I might make fried rice again.
The good news is that prices on organic crib mattresses have gone down in the last few years and there are now several inexpensive organic crib mattresses available for less than two hundred dollars. But what if you end up co-sleeping most of the time? Or what if your child shifts to a bigger bed early and spends just a short time on that organic crib mattress? Should you just bypass the organic crib mattress and invest in a twin or queen organic mattress from the beginning?
The cost of any organic mattress makes this a very valid question. The strong>Natura World Organic Foundation Twin Mattress is one of the most economical, and it costs about $575. strong>Naturepedic’s 2 in 1 Organic Twin Mattress comes in at about $700. Still, if you think about your child using the mattress for fifteen years, the cost per year is far less than buying an organic crib mattress that they would use for a fraction of that time.
You might be surprised to learn that you could buy a strong>Keetsa Eco-Friendly Memory Foam Queen Mattress for just $681, which is less than some organic twin mattresses! If you go with a natural latex product like the strong>Ultimate Dreams Latex Queen Mattress, it will cost you $600, but it won’t be certified organic. On the other extreme strong>Naturepedic’s Organic Cotton Queen Mattress costs nearly double that at about $1200.
We have had a few readers share that they’ve spent a large chunk of cash on an organic or latex queen mattress and been disappointed by its durability or comfort. Have you found a larger sized organic mattress that was worth the investment? Since we spend at least a third of our lives sleeping, it seems worth the money to purchase an high quality, organic product, but what is the best value? Is it worth it to just go for a larger mattress and skip the organic crib mattress? Or just to buy an organic crib mattress pad? Please share your experiences!
Mine was. I once became trapped inside my Baby Bjorn Carrier with my snoozing infant snuggled on my chest. I was desperate for sleep and wanted to lay my baby down so that I wouldn’t roll on top of him, carrier and all, but I was utterly unable to figure out how to get it off. Instead I sat on the couch and cried until my husband got home. Was sleep deprivation a factor? Absolutely! But this was my least favorite baby carrier. Did other moms have this experience with complicated slings or baby carriers?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved wearing my baby. Slings and carriers calmed colic, allowed me to cook dinner with two hands, and put my babes to sleep like nothing else. But some were just so much simpler to use than others. Luckily I borrowed almost all of the slings and carriers we had and the ones we bought were purchased used. It was nice to experiment with so many slings without having to shell out heaps of cash.
Carriers like the Moby Wrap look really cool in theory, but seem to require an advanced degree in fabric wrapping. Still, many moms swear that the Moby Wrap holds their babies more snugly and comfortably than other carriers. Just looking at the directions makes me feel the need to nap.
I even managed to wear the Maya Wrap incorrectly at times, which is one of the easiest slings to use! At first I would always put it on in the wrong direction and my baby would slowly sag down until he was hanging near my hip. To be fair, once I watched the instructional video that comes with the Maya Wrap, I was far more successful!
Our favorite sling, simply because it required no adjustment whatsoever, was the Kangaroo Korner Pouch Sling. We had one in fleece that we used with our first and bought a cotton one for our second. Sadly, I think that company has now gone out of business. Am I right? I guess the Peanut Shell Adjustable Sling or the Dr. Sears Adjustable Sling are somewhat similar, but don’t have snaps to change the sizing. Apparently they have a flexible elastic that allows the sling to carry a growing baby without buckles or straps. Has anyone tried them?
If I had to recommend any other carriers to new moms, I would say that the Ergo Carrier was pretty fantastic and far more comfortable than the slings we used. It works for infants as a front carrier and older tots as a back carrier. I could breastfeed my infant in the Ergo while grocery shopping without anyone ever knowing and loved that it came with a zip pockets for keys or a wallet. The downside was that I never figured out how to strap my son on my back with the Ergo carrier without help. I have seen other mothers perform this miracle in supermarket parking lots and been amazed, but my son was far too wiggly for me to successfully accomplish this acrobatic feat on my own.
The Baby K’tan Baby Carrier looks like a nice fusion of sling and carrier and seems to distribute baby’s weight more easily since baby it is carried on both shoulders. It offers over six positions to carry baby from newborns to 35 pounds, but it’s hard to tell from the information on Amazon if it’s easy to use. Has anyone tried it?
Have you discovered any new carriers that surpass the ones I’ve mentioned? Do you have a baby, like Rebecca’s, who is utterly unwilling to ride in any sort of carrier or sling? Please share your discoveries with our readers!
When we first began writing our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, organic crib mattresses were available only to families who were able to shell out several hundred bucks. How thrilling then to see that by the time the book was published, the market demand really had driven down the price of organic crib mattresses! Check out some of the organic options available to families now!
The Sealy Naturalis Crib Mattress with Organic Cotton is just $95! It’s not completely organic, but for families on a budget at least it’s a more organic option than a standard mattress.
The LA Baby Organic 2 in One Orthopedic Crib Mattress is currently about sixty dollars off, coming in at just $107 on amazon. That’s more than 30% off!
The Willow Natural Coconut Palm Crib Mattress by DaVinci is not organic, but it’s made of latex-free foam derived from natural coconut palm fiber. You have to consider the eco-footprint of shipping products to create a coconut based foam–and the fact that it isn’t organic, but at least manufacturers are considering different options than petroleum based foam. The crib comes with a 10 year limited manufacturer warranty and is a bit more expensive at about $165.
The Colgate Eco Classica I Crib Mattress is the highest priced option we’re featuring, coming in at nearly $190. You have to wonder if it’s worth the extra expense considering that it isn’t certified organic. It does pass the Greenguard standard for indoor air quality and has foam made of plant oils, but it runs quite a bit more than other comparable crib mattresses.
For those of you who can’t bear to toss the crib mattress you already have, or can’t afford even the least expensive organic crib mattresses, American Baby’s Organic Waterproof Quilted Mattress Pad comes in at just over 30 dollars. Not a bad option!
Have you splurged on an organic crib mattress or found another solution? An all cotton futon crib mattress maybe? Or a drawer lined with an organic blanket?
Do you pass it onto friends? Do you sell it on craigslist? Do you host a garage sale?
It seems I spend the majority of my life buying, cleaning, storing, and eliminating stuff. Toys and gizmos flow into our home from birthday party goodie bags, garage sales, and grandparents. But how much of my life do I spend picking up tiny lego figures (or their tinier baseball caps) and plastic tea cups off of the living room floor?
Last night I reached a breaking point and snuck into my children’s bedrooms while they slept. I mercilessly tossed stuffed tigers and worn t-shirts into giant black garbage bags and felt the utter thrill of having less stuff to manage. Today I drove through our local Goodwill drop off site and happily said goodbye to heaps of belongings.
Because we get virtually all clothes and toys used, I don’t feel so motivated to get money back on gear and love sending it off to thrift stores. I love going to garage sales, but the thought of giving up a Saturday to host our own yard sale seems too much to bear. How do you get rid of used stuff?
I don’t remember a whole lot from my first pregnancy, other than the strong feeling that if I read every parenting book and somehow finished every household project, it would be a smooth transition to motherhood. Ha! That was the beginning of the humbling process of parenting that continues to this day. Here are just a few tidbits of wisdom I wish I could send back to myself when I was pregnant with my first child.
1. Progress not perfection. There will be days when your greatest achievement will be a shower. In those first few weeks of parenthood you will give up all things you have been really good at like sleeping, cooking, napping, and doing whatever you please. It’s o.k. It will get easier. In the meantime, give up trying to excel. Let the laundry pile up, let the garden sprout a few weeds, and let yourself do the best you can. Survival will do just fine for now.
2. This stage will end. Fast. Believe it or not, you will sleep again. When you do, the colors will regain their vibrance and the world will seem a far better place. You will get beyond diapers, breastfeeding, and pureed peas. Someday you will leave the house without the diaper bag. In the meantime, try to savor this fleeting (but sometimes brutal) time. Before you know it, you won’t even remember the size of those tiny fingers or exactly how the top of your baby’s head smells. (People actually did tell me this and I didn’t quite believe them. I was utterly mistaken.)
3. Support sustains. In order to be able to be a good parent, let alone a green parent, you need help. Seek out friendships, family and networks of support to get you through this challenging time. It may provide you with a nap here and there, or a reality check with others who are surviving the same challenges, but the support you receive will ultimately benefit your baby. One of the highest compliments you can give a friend is to ask for help.
What sage advice would you give to yourself or other mothers on the brink of welcoming their babies? What have you learned from early parenting? Thanks for sharing!
In the last six years of our lives, our family has camped once with an infant. Sort of. We rented a yurt in a car campground. Does that even qualify as camping?
What do I remember about that outing? How desperately I had longed for the smell of woodsmoke during those previous years that we hadn’t camped. That my three-year-old son found a snail on the paved path the bathroom and reveled in the discovery for about twenty minutes, and that spaghetti cooked outside on a camp stove tastes infinitely better.
I also remember that the night was horrid. My daughter fussed and nursed all night and just when we settled to sleep at dawn, a flock of crows alighted on our yurt roof and loudly cawed us back into consciousness.
Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Two weeks ago we headed out again. We had just scored a six person tent for ten bucks at a garage sale and were ready to give it a whirl. This time we went to a forest service campground with another family who have children the same ages as ours, six and three. What a difference! The herd of kids played all day while the adults sat around the campfire and shared stories. We packed far too much and found that getting ready and cleaning up were horrible chores, but while we were there, what a delight! If I would have known what I know now, I would always camp with another family.
Have you taken your infant or toddler camping yet? Are you worried about screams in the middle of the night in a packed campground?
We’ve been zipping along in our two carseat-laden sedans for the last five years. But we’ve secretly yearned for a minivan. I know some adults cannot imagine being seen in a minivan, let alone owning one, but my husband and I are deeply practical souls.
We want to be able to carpool kids to and from school and soccer practice, haul mulch in the back, and go on long trips without having the luggage pile up around our feet. We’d use a sedan most of the time to maximize gas mileage, but it would be nice to have the van available as well.
So what is the minivan of our dreams? It would be fuel efficient, seat at least seven, be incredibly reliable, and be affordable. Really, we wish that many of the European micro-vans would hit the U.S. market. Why can’t we have smaller, more fuel efficient minivans? Why isn’t there a hybrid minivan?
Our policy is to save money and pay cash for our vehicles so we usually get something that’s used with low miles. We’re about a year away from making a purchase. Do you have any recommendations?
A mom I know wanted to supplement a bit with formula during her first days of breastfeeding. Our local hospital informed her that they will provide pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank, but won’t give families formula. She was a bit shocked and horrified by the thought of feeding her newborn breast milk from other women. We live in a pretty breastfeeding friendly town, so it didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but I wasn’t ever in that position. Does breast milk from a milk bank make you feel uncomfortable?
I think for me it would have been a huge relief! My milk supply dropped suddenly when I went back to work, but I didn’t want to use formula. I was exhausted from the effort and stress of pumping multiple times each day. A small amount of breast milk from a bank would have probably helped me just relax and move through the transition more easily.
Have you used breast milk from a bank? Would you be hesitant to use it? Are there barriers to obtaining breast milk from a bank that you found difficult to overcome? Have you ever donated to a breast milk bank?
Our first experience with a community supported agriculture group was mostly positive, but it pained me to take a big wilted pile of organic produce to the compost heap each week. (In case you don’t know what a CSA is, check out this post.) When we first subscribed, I was six months pregnant and working nearly full time while caring for a two year old. Our CSA membership seemed to compound my exhaustion since we received very small amounts of a wide variety of veggies every week. Faced with two rutabagas, one beet, two dozen green beans, six garlic whistles, a half cup of strawberries, and two fingering potatoes I felt utterly overwhelmed. We paid nearly $150 a month for our weekly bags of produce, but I couldn’t seem to keep up with the prep and eventually gave up.
Our new CSA costs $65 per month and gives us larger amounts of fewer vegetables. I love it! It’s much easier to handle a good quantity of four or five foods rather than to find meals to accommodate small amounts of random veggies. And the quality and taste of fresh organic produce is unbelievable!
How much do CSAs cost in your area? Have you had a chance to try more than one?