Our limit is AU$100 a week for all food, toiletries, public transport, treats, basically anyhting that isn't a regular monthly bill. Thats about US$80 depending on the exchange rate.
This is how I (sort of) manage:
1. Use Vinegar for cleaning.
If you don't like the smell, (you prefer the way bleach smells?? :)) you can add a few drops of whatever essential oil you like. I use Tea tree oil for the bathroom. Put some bicarbonate of soda on a scrubbing brush and let the kids go for it, its that safe. then you spray a bit of vinegar on. The young ones will love the "fizzy". Maybe you can squeeze in a bit of acid and alkali science in there at the same time, lol.
I also use vinegar instead of fabric softener. Vinegar is an odor neutraliser, essential for teenage boys, as well as neutralising alkaline soap residue, for sensitive skins. Some fabric softeners actually work by coating fibres in a synthetic waxy substance, and if the item is smelly, then the smell gets locked in, only to be released as soon as the item gets warm/damp. For really smelly stuff soak first in a bucket of water with 1/4 cup of lectric soda crystals (aka: washing soda/sodium carbonate/soda ash).
2. Make your own Laundry soap.
The reason I started making my own laundry soap (recipe here) was because commercial ones all smell so strongly, and when I'm grouchy and headachy strong smells make it worse. I also noticed that whenever I folded my clean washing I would start sneezing uncontrollably. The cost cutting was just an added bonus at the time, now it's essential.
3. Cook from scratch.
I think if you have kids use them, lol. Free labour, in the guise of character building, and learning to serve. Older kids need to understand that what you do for the least of your brothers, you do for Him. (I'm still learning this myself). And littlies just long to be included. When you take the time to teach them now, it might take 3 hours to make dinner, but in a few years time, they can be left to do it themselves. Sacrifice some time now, and it will be made up later (i'm hoping, :D). Also if the kids are really stubborn to help in the kitchen, you might have to start with junky, exciting food, like pancakes, or cupcakes. And someone will have to eat all those wobbly practice efforts, so Dad should be happy.
4. Set aside a "baking day" ala Little House on the Prairie.
Bake a dozen loaves and freeze them, but make sure you slice them first.
Mother Earth News has a recipe for Artisan Bread in 5 minutes for free, its not the whole book, but it's what I've been using. That way you can try it out and decide if you want to buy the book.
5. Slowly cut down on the amount of bread you serve.
Eat porridge for breakfast, make it a treat, with a spoonful of honey or brown sugar, and milk, or some stewed fruit.
Dad might still need his sandwiches for lunch, but try and sneak a container of pasta, or casserole and rice, if he has access to a microwave.
Always make it a treat, never a sacrifice, don't give him "leftovers" but a "specially saved serve of your favourite because you mentioned how much you liked it last night" lol.
6. Eat less meat.
My family has gradually gone from having meat as a staple, to a treat. I don't eat it at all. One meat dish a week can last a few meals. (This is how one amazing woman does it)
I cook a batch of mince, chilli or spaghetti, and i use a ratio of 1:2 lentils to meat, plus some grated carrots, to give double my normal recipe for the same amount of meat. The kid thinks that is normal, guests either like it or are too polite to complain, lol.
Leftovers of nearly anything can be made into pasties. Cut a sheet of prepackaged (gasp) puff pastry into 4 squares (quarters) put a spoonfull of mince slightly to the left and bottom of the center of each square, moisten the edges with water, milk or egg. Fold each top right corner to the bottom left one to make triangles, press the edges together with a fork, poke a few holes in them. bake on baking tray until golden and puffy, the filling is already cooked.
7. Chickens, sigh I wish.
If one of your kids is animal orientated, and you have a yard, buy them a "present" of a few chickens (minimum 2, they need friends). 100 - 200 eggs per chicken, per year, for about 5? years. Here organic, barn laid eggs are AU$10 a dozen, free range is even more, so that's at least AU$160 (about US$130) a year worth of eggs. And you can't put a price on watching fluffy clucky bottoms bob and scratch around, or the life lessons being a responsible steward of G-d's creatures provides. Also your eggs with be totally salmonella free. Definitely worth the original outlay, and ongoing feed costs.
Once you have a steady supply of eggs, you can make fresh custard, home made ice cream, quiches, fritattas, pavlovas, meringues, egg nogg, all sorts of things that before would have cost too much to make. Ever wondered why some of Grandma's recipes call for 8 eggs!? She had to think of ways to use up a summer glut, eggs were practically free for her!
8. Cut Back on toiletries
Try using the "No Poo" method of hair care, it's not for everyone. My Boy doesn't use shampoo or conditioner, I haven't noticed a difference in smell. He uses normal soap if its needed. Us girls still use shampoo, I think long hair needs a bit more care.
9. Grow your own.
Try and fit growing vegies and fruit into your lifestyle. I struggle with this one. I know in my head that a few tomato and lettuce seedlings will grow up into hundreds of dollars worth of salads. I just don't look after the garden enough. Maybe one of your older kids needs an income? Offer to "rent" them a patch of yard, to grow seedlings and veg on. The rent being, say 10% of what they produce and then the rest they could try and sell to nieghbours. It could work, it definitely couldn't hurt.
Planting roses with the vegies
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