How to do Your First Pantry Challenge

I know.  It was just Christmas.  But, this pantry challenge is coming and I want you to have this in the back of your mind as you go through the holiday season.

One of the big things about living an Enriched Life, is being able to feed my family healthy, delicious meals and keep costs low.

Soooooo…. It’s nearly Pantry challenge time, baby!  Round 3, we are just getting bettah & bettah!

Pantry Challenge 3
Pantry Challenge 3

January is right there.  Can you believe it?

As we’ve been on our financial journey, I’ve learned that a great way to make money work for us is how we do with the groceries.

Because you decide.

Because you can make a little protein go for 3 healthy meals.  All different meals.  All delicious meals.

But, ahem, the holiday season we’ve been a little more…frivolous, no, fancy, no, lazy, that’s not it either… we’ve just been more spendy on the groceries.

Spendy.  It’s a word.  Okay, not really, but you know that feeling.

We have been wasting food.  It makes me angry at myself.  And ashamed.

GoodCheapEats, one of my favorite blogs for healthy, budget-friendly meals walked me through a pantry challenge years ago.

Oh?  A pantry challenge?  Sounds a little weird at first.  I attempted my first pantry challenge two years ago and it was a real win for our family!  Last year was when more people got really excited about saving money on the groceries, paying off big bills, and really making some great financial strides.

Know what else?  A pantry challenge is seriously…FUN.  It’s like food Tetris.  Seriously.

You know you’ve got to make it work through the 31 days and spend as little as possible but still make sure your family is eating healthy, delicious meals.  I love the challenge part of it all!

A pantry challenge is:

  • a chance to clean out your kitchen,  make sure you eat the food you’ve already purchased to avoid waste
  • time to take inventory of what your family eats regularly to ensure they are getting healthy meals
  • one month (or the time frame that’s best for your family) to minimize the food budget and give your debt payments a nice boost
  • a chance to look at the small appliances in the house and eliminate them (giving you some prime counter space)
  • a pause to reflect on grocery shopping habits
  • a creative break to try new food combinations as you “shop your pantry”

A great way to clean out the kitchen, avoid waste, take inventory, and shop smarter AND can also help the family save some money?

Sounds like a perfect January project.  There’s something so refreshing about starting the year this way!

And, like seasons of the year, you’ll come to expect a good pantry challenge in your life.

Last year, my friend Amy,  sent me a message saying, “I think it’s time for a pantry challenge.”

My husband mentioned during December, “You know, hon, we should do another pantry challenge to start the year off…”

Uh, yes please.  I love it when the people around you are working together, setting goals and building each other up like a power team.  It’s so amazing!

Let’s make those dollars s-t-r-e-t-c-h.  So, those few days after Christmas, is the perfect time to look through your pantry and plan for a healthy January pantry challenge.

My Pantry Challenge Goal

Our usual monthly grocery budget is $300 per month.

My personal goal: Spend half of that and make sure that we eat well.

Half?!  Like $150 for the entire month?

We did it once.  I’m hoping we stay well below the 150 mark for the month.

How to Get Ready for your First Pantry Challenge

I know.  It feels weird thinking that you are going to feed your family healthy meals on half your normal budget.

But, you can do this.  And you won’t starve.  And you’ll be amazed at all the yummy things you can come up with to feed your family.  They will be amazed.

You’re nervous about this, I know.  I’ve got ya covered, girl.

I’ve created your Pantry Challenge Guide and I’ll send you my own insights.  Like, how to prepare for a month; food combos that have worked for us; and my best kept secrets.

Fill out the form and I’ll send you the Guide to help you through the month.  Print it out, keep it by your recipes, or in your phone.  We’ll be going through this together!

Get Your Pantry Challenge Guide

Pantry challenge 3

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March challenge: Simplify home

Editor’s note:  I know that we are starting this on the 2nd of the month, with travel and family time, I am just getting started on this challenge.  Better late that never and I am getting started!

Simplify Your Home
March Challenge: Simplify your Home

So, this is a big one.  We are making some changes.  We have lived in our rental home for the past three years.  My husband didn’t want us to move here initially as he was concerned that I would fall in love with the space and when it would be time to leave that we would be unable to find something similar in our price range.

Boy, have we changed.  After our time here, research, and this incredible financial journey, we have realized that this is not what we want in our life right now.  So, to help us focus on our financial situation, to give us the space we need and not just what we want, and to help us minimize excessive spending, we are ready to downsize.  Here’s the challenge for March.

The March Challenge

Primary goal:  move from a 4-bedroom, 3 bath, 2 car garage, 3,000 square foot home to an apartment from 1,000 – 1500 square feet.  That’s a downsize.

Secondary goal:  eliminate all the junk in our home by 40-50%.  Room by room. Closet by closet.  Shelf by shelf.  

This is no joke. It’s time to roll up the sleeves, and get to work.  Are you with me?

And while I’ve never been a minimalist, nor am I trying to be a minimalist at this time.  I am certainly working to simplify our home during the month of March.

Here are the rules.  (And please, just know that these are the rules I’m using to get my home in order.  Please adjust as you deem necessary.)

  1.  Focus on one room at a time.  This is where I have gotten off track in the past.  You know, take this sippy cup into the kitchen, spend five minutes sorting mail while I’m there, then off to do laundry and… somewhere in there I lost a complete hour of good working time.  I plan to use the Pomodoro timer app to keep me in the area, focused, and working on just the section I need to be working on to finish.
  2.  Cupboard by cupboard, closet by closet, item by item. I plan to do it like this to make the right decisions that will keep the home in order for a good, long time.
  3.  Eliminate 30-40% of stuff.  Okay, everything I’ve read leads me to the 80/20 rule.  But getting rid of 80% of our stuff?  That’s huge.  HUGE.  I plan to start with 40-50% and see how it goes from there.
  4. Week by week through different areas of the home.  I’ll take a portion on the house, usually certain rooms and make the decisions of the day.

And, just arriving back home from our travel to my sweet Grandma’s funeral, I’m looking at the house with fresh eyes.  Part of learning to live an enriched life means living below our means.  For most of our marriage, we have tried to live “Right at our level of means,” or worse, “Just a smidgen above our means.”

Part of me dreams of being just a little OCD, so our home is stunningly clean and gorgeous at all times, in all seasons, and no matter who pops in for a visit.  But, let’s be real about this.  With all this, dare I call it, crap in the house we are never going to achieve that!

This is part a de-clutter, part a spring cleaning, and part purge of the junk.  So, what would be the perfectly- appropriate-upbeat-title for that?

Spring Simplifying?  Too vague.

Primavera purge?  Sounds like a bad trip to Olive Garden.

Tidy up for the Tiny House?  Who am I Stuart Little?

Ahem.  I digress.

Even though we are without a catchy title, let’s get going on this challenge.  (Side note:  if you think of a name for it, please send it over.  You’ll get all the credit, for sure!)

DeCluttering Calendar

March Challenge: Wk 1 Bedroom
March Challenge: Wk 1 Bedrooms

Week 1:  Bedrooms.  I plan to go through each closet, each drawer, each pair of shoes and make thooooose decisions.  I just have stuff around the house right now that we don’t need, and probably won’t use for a very, very long time.  I plan to ask questions like, “Have I even worn this in the past year?”  “Will I need this in the next six months?”  “Is there someone I know who could use this?”

You’ve seen those shows.  The kind where the person who is a collector of waaaay too much stuff calls in a professional organizer and gets things in order.  I plan to do that on a much smaller basis.  I’ll have 2 bins set up:  one for donations to Goodwill, the other for someone else to decide.  (For example, if my husband needs to decide on clothes or if one of my daughter’s friends could use clothes she’s outgrown.)  Other than that, it will go back in its place, nicely organized for a simpler, cleaner, clearer home and lots of organized future use.

Week 2:  Bathrooms. This will include going through the medicine cabinets, checking expiration dates, chucking those half-used bottles of shampoo, the stuff that just seems to clutter up the bathroom counter and get us back on track.

Week 3:  Storage Spaces.  We have a study that is more like the “stuff and study.”  We have an extra room that has been the place of  “stuff we will need in a couple months,” that has been in there for 3 years.  It’s embarrassing to say that aloud, but it is time to come clean and purge nearly all of that!  I’m sure there’s a couple things that we might be able to sell, but we will get there.

Week 4:  Kitchen, Living Room, and Playroom:  You knew that was coming, didn’t you?  Our kitchen is pretty organized.  That’s where most of my OCD tendencies come in to play.  The living room is pretty simple, and I want my little girl to see that we are donating a lot of stuff and are still okay, in fact, we are better so that she gets excited about donating more of her stuff.  She’s done a round of donating items before, I think we will have much more success in the future.

This is one of those months where I’m going to share with you the stuff of my life.  You know, the messy, ugly and all those nooks and crannies that just need to be cleaned up.  In complete hope that it will be organized and I’ll have it documented here to never have it get this bad again.

Care to join me?  What are you going to clean, de-clutter, and organize this month? Comment below and let me know.  I’m delighted to hear about it and even more excited to cheer you on to your success in simplifying!

Grandma’s Legacy

My sweet Grandma passed away this morning.  The memories, thoughts, and special moments are swimming in my mind and I need to get them written down.  This blog is dedicated to living a life enriched by making wise choices, doing good, and serving others, I would be amiss to not pay tribute to her impact on my life.

Grandma's Legacy
Grandma’s Legacy

Today, while going through my regular activities, I mentioned to my husband that this hurts more than I would have expected.  Grandma hasn’t been a part of our daily lives the past few years, living so far away.  His response and wisdom was, “She was a big part of the bedrock of your life.  She is one of a few people who made significant impact on who you have become as a person.”

He’s right.

Grandma, who signed every card as G.Dart, was the foundation for our family.  GDart sounds so gangsta.  So ahead of her time.

Not only am I so grateful for my loving grandma.  I am reminded again how much love there is in family.  Sometimes, we get busy with life and forget all of the love we have. Cousins, brothers, sisters,  & loved ones are making plans from all parts of the country to be together to pay tribute to her life, her sacrifice, and her love for all of us.  Through phone calls, texts, messages, and other support I am in awe of all the love that abounds in this family.

Talking to my sister/cousin (you know, the kind where she’s the best of both worlds), reminded me that “Family is there to celebrate the very good times with each other and lift each other through the toughest times.”

Family makes the difference. Family knows where you come from.  Family understands that you have potential and can make a difference.  Then family pushes you to do even more than you thought you could.

Her progeny includes attorneys, teachers, scientists, counselors, innovators, and most importantly, some really good people.  The kind you want on your side. It’s incredible to see what they’ve all achieved.

If I had to say, her legacy is easily summed up in: tradition, love, and a lot of work.

Thank you Grandma for the Traditions

My cousin Blaine taught us that “Dart backwards is Trad.”  Grandma was the queen of traditions.

Dart Backwards is Trad
Dart Backwards is Trad

Ask Grandma how she was doing, and her response was always, “Pretty and good.”  Then a wink and a smile.  This girl’s got swagger.

Halloween meant going to Grandma’s house and getting my first real popcorn ball.  If you ate it on the holiday is was nice, chewy and delicious.  If you waited a couple of days it got harder, and harder.  You would have to bite off a chunk and let it warm up in your mouth for a good 20-minutes before you could chew it down.  But it still was delicious.

Grandma always made sure that every child, son-in-law/ daughter-in-law, grandchild, stepchild, step grandchild, step-great-step-something-cousin’s-child knew we were expected to be together on every holiday.  She made that the number one priority, and that whoever was with us was not only welcome, but wanted.

I remember sitting at Thanksgiving tables full of people I’ve never seen before, or since, and she served them with love and that glint in her eye with a smile.  She made pies and pies.  Usually 30 or more every holiday so that everyone would be able to enjoy a nice slice of Thanksgiving pie and still have an entire pie to take home.  That shows her generosity.

Every Christmas Santa came to our family party.  I never knew that it had been arranged months and months in advance with the background info on nearly every child there to make us know that the Santa at Grandma’s party, was the real one.  He would have someone stand in the jingle bells and dance while we sang a couple of carols.  My little girl never got to be part of that tradition.  We’ll have to make it happen.

The first time I ever went “Black Friday Shopping” was with Grandma and the DoFADS (Daughters of Frank and Arlene Dart)  they have cards and everything.  I’m a proud D0D0FAD (Daughter of the Daughter of Frank and Arlene Dart) just haven’t had my card as a proud member of the organization.

Grandma pulled my first tooth.  She was far more gentle that my Mama.  She would look at it and smile and “get that puppy outtathere.”

My love for the mountains started from times at Grandma’s Cabin.  A little slice of heaven near Strawberry Reservoir, some of the best moments of life and family time happened in that little corner of the mountain. She taught us how to spot elk & deer in the mountain, build a fire, burn a marshmallow, and make some slammin’ fried eggs in the morning over an old fashioned fire burning stove.  I can see her sitting on the patio in her t-shirt and an opened flannel shirt sitting and taking in all the beauty and grandeur of nature.  That is when she was in her element.

I remember running around her yard in the irrigation water as she was watering the massive garden.  It was like our own private waterpark.  So cold on my feet in the hot summer sun.  It was like mmmmmagic.

She taught us all about scouting. Sold cookies.  Did service projects.  Did more service projects.  Cooked for 10, 20, 50, or 100 scouts.  She knew how to master the unit box and keep them kids in line.   Generations of scouts learned from G.Dart.  A legend in her own time.

Every President’s Day the DoFADS would go with Grandma for lunch.  It was just one little thing but became a family tradition.  It was about getting together to celebrate and laugh as you would appreciate the loved ones in your life.   That luncheon has gone on every year for 40 years.

On Easter the family would get together for a fun barbecue, they would pull all the kids in the house, close the windows, as my Aunt Linda would make up some excuse to just “get us all together for a few minutes” as the other adults would “hide” all the candy and easter eggs.  The Bit-O-Honeys were never the hot ticket and I still think of my family easter holidays every time I see that stinkin’ candy.

One Easter or Mother’s Day, I remember the hopscotch tournaments starting.  Large women, playing hopscotch, everyone laughing until tears.  You don’t forget something like that.

I saw G.Dart every Tuesday when she would come to my Mama’s beauty shop, in our basement, and get her hair done.  She always came with a bag of ice from her fancy ice maker in the fridge and a loaf of banana bread.

My favorite was watching my aunts, the DoFADS, get together, tell jokes and stories and laugh themselves silly. Grandma would laugh until the tears would fall. They all would.  The stories of raising chinchillas in the basement, traveling in Frank Dart’s car, and countless stories of family get togethers came alive just listening to them. I get that happy vibe inside just thinking about it.

So much love shown

Of all the things I’ve learned from my Gran, these stand out:

  • She had little, but always had something to share.
  • G.Dart showed love by being able to cook, provide for her children and their friends, and grandkids, and friends and continue to give.
  • Grandma was frugal before we knew what it was to be frugal.  My Mom used to complain about all the delicious homemade bread and would ask to buy store bought bread because it tasted better.  For shame.
  • She would can, preserve, and make the garden of vegetables feed her family through the tough winters.  We have forgotten how to do that. I tried to help her once.  Mostly, I was in the way and just hung out with Gram, telling stories and asking more about her life.
  • She had 8 children, and buried 4 of them.  I can only imagine the reunion of all of them together.
  • Every year for my birthday she sends me a card with a crisp $2 bill.  Oh, she does this for her other 21 grandkids, plus their 11 spouses, plus her 26 great grandkids,  too.   It feels like magic.  I have several pristine $2 bills saved up in a drawer that I will not spend.  The crispiness makes it too special.  I’d love to see how many $2 bills she gave away.
  • Every year for her friend’s birthdays, she sends a card with some small gift.  I had no idea she did that for her friends, too.
  • Gram took just the girl cousins to the cabin for our special weekend.  We played games, told jokes, made so much noise and she seemed to love it all.  Until she didn’t.  Then you better shape up quick.  She also took the boy cousins.  I’m sure they didn’t have nearly as much fun.
  • She is a master gardner.  She has a big, beautiful, bloomin’ garden and always shares her bounty.  I tried a garden.  Uh, no dice. I’m going to try again.
  • Nearly every New Year’s Eve all the cousins had a sleep over at Grandma’s house.  It was the first time I remember watching Dick Clark and the countdown, seeing my cousin doing the Safety Dance, and having the most amazing time.
  • She made holidays special. She still has an ornament or gift for every one of us.

She worked through her entire life

Grandma's Legacy of Work
Grandma’s Legacy of Work
  • She had a “spud pit.” Still.  What’s a spud pit?  Some call it a potato cellar, and it’s an underground cellar to hold food storage.  When times were tight, my Grandpa would buy a ton of potatoes (literally, One Ton.  2000 pounds.) of potatoes to feed the family of seven kids through out the winter.  Who does that anymore?  Do they still make them?
  • My Grandma made all her food from scratch.  Since she had a ton of potatoes every winter, (like a ton of potatoes) she had to peel them daily to feed the family.
  • She never fed her kids processed foods.  As I am going through the process of learning to use what’s in my pantry, I can see the value in this (did I mention a ton of potatoes?  I still can’t get my mind around this.) She was not just saving money, she was feeding her children the healthiest choice.
  • She showed her love with food.  She cooks like a master, taking just a few ingredients and whipping up something spectacular to eat.
  • She created meals from seemingly nothing.  Cow syrup, hopscotch, Goulash, Banana Bread, Chinese Casserole, Homemade noodles, and oh!  Thanksgiving.

The five most powerful lessons from Gram:

  • She is tough as nails.  It’s been said she can “Knock you on yer butt with just a look.”
  • Stubborn, bull-headed and loving to a fault.
  • Don’t worry, “She’ll love you back up when it’s time.”
  • We share the same first initial.  One time I saw a beautiful gold “A” on a chain she was wearing. When I mentioned that’s my letter, too, she took it off and gave it to me.  She absolutely refused to have it back.  I was stunned and oh, so shocked at her unbelievable kindness.
  • She was widowed young.  With 5 kids still at home.  With no degree, her tenacity and grit pulled them through.  One day I may understand how she did that.  But I can only imagine.
  • She pulled out almost every one of my teeth when it was time.  I didn’t trust my Mama to do it.  Gram knew how to do it nicely.
  • She waited for her military man.  I know a little about that.  But she waited without the internet.  And that’s a totally different ball game.
  • She fully expects your best.  Every day.  And every family member, grand kid, and friend knows that.
  • She made family come first.  No matter what.

My heart is full of love, gratitude, and a sense of pride to call her my family.  She worked through the struggles, she served others when she could have easily felt sorry for herself, she whined to herself and lifted others.

Tell me now, how has your Grandma enriched your life?

Pantry Challenge Report

Pantry Challenge 2016 Report
Pantry Challenge 2016 Report

We are one week into  2016, how are you doing with your resolutions?

I’m finding that when I make my goals and projects that working on come first in the day- the other stuff seems to happen automatically… but, if I try to do the other stuff and squeeze in the goals somewhere…it just doesn’t happen. Know what I’m talkin’ about?  

If you are just catching up on this month’s challenge, go ahead and read how to get started and, please, join us!  You are very much welcome to share your successes or ask questions here on the blog or in the CREW.

Throughout this pantry challenge, I’ll  be reporting our meals, how much we’re spending, and most importantly, what we are learning about our eating habits and shopping habits to make sure that we are making progress.

I’m working on learning to love spreadsheets.  Right now, spreadsheets and I are like, to-o-o-o-o-tally, in a bad high school relationship… Like, we start out all clean and pretty, things are organized and look pristine, and then like, he goes all psycho on me and what I added up isn’t coming in correctly. It’s like, he’s not even listening to me. Jerk.   And so, like, this girl starts saying things she’ll probably regret later but feel, like,  really good to say in the moment.


Because, really, that’s what all this is about:  Progress.  If we’re not improving, what are we doing?  And if we don’t keep track of where the money is going then how on earth are we going to know where to make changes?

And sadly, there are so many people in life living like that.  Stuck in autopilot mode.  They don’t even think about it.  I know this simply because we were there.

Receipt 1, Pantry Challenge
Receipt 1, Pantry Challenge

Monday I went to the store and purchased fresh vegetables for dinners & snacks, MiO (my husband loves that stuff, I like the Crystal Light packets and stock up on those when they are on sale at Target) and some bread.   You can see the receipt here total spent was $34.67.  We had some steak meat leftover from New Year’s Eve, and we have still been able to use it until last night.

We have made that into steak fajitas one night, and fajita quesadillas the next.  Side note:  this was an excellent time saver for us, too.  Coming home from swim lessons means that we come home hungry.  Quick, easy meals are becoming a big, big bonus.

Here is the beginning of my new attitude on spreadsheets.  I’ll be keeping a running total of where we are for the month with the goal of staying under $150.  And, in case we don’t make that number, we still have funds in the budget to keep us going.  This is a personal challenge. That’s all.  Which should be the reminder for all of us.  This is a chance to really cut back spending at the store and use what you have in house.  If you decide to do a pantry challenge for a couple of months and re-stock again with fresher ingredients all around.  Cool.

Pantry Challenge Balance 1
Pantry Challenge Balance 1

But here’s the thing.

Receipt 2, Pantry Challenge
Receipt 2, Pantry Challenge

I had to go back to the store for orange juice and milk on Wednesday.  Dangit!  If I would have planned and bought those ahead of time we wouldn’t have had to turn around and go back.  After discussing with my husband, we will be a 2-gallon purchasing family from now on.  That’s kind of a big step.  Practically another level of commitment here.

So here’s the spreadsheet.  Again.

Pantry Challenge Balance 2
Pantry Challenge Balance 2

The goal, for us, is to spend $150 for the month.  That should be about $37.50 per week.  Total spent is $40.73.  We are pretty close to staying on track.  I can see how we have the components for meals and I need to start cooking a bit more.

My friend, Claudia, from Two Cup House, has a really inspiring blog and has been cheering us along in our journey.  She mentioned she’s made “Cupboard Stew.”  That is definitely on the books for us.  What’s cupboard stew?  You load up everything from the cupboard that seems like it would be deelish and see how it comes out!  My husband loves that kind of cooking. I’ve always been more of the “Stick to the recipe for maximum flavor…” but I think it’s time to get crazy!

How about you?  How is the pantry challenge going? What are some cool results I must hear about?  What kinds of new food combinations are you coming up with?  I’m delighted to hear all about it!  Tell me now, friend, I want to cheer you on!