How can I save money on food when I’m never home?


Do you have any tips for saving money on food when you’re never home? I’m spending too much on food while I’m out! -a reader

I was asked the above question on Twitter recently and I thought it was an excellent question — and there was no way I could respond to it in 140 characters. So I promised the reader I’d respond in a post.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1) Evaluate Why You Are Never Home

This might seem like an unnecessary step, but I think it’s very important to consider. Are you always gone because you have to be (i.e. you have a very demanding job or multiple jobs that you need to have in order to pay the bills) or are you always gone because you choose to be (you’ve accepted a lot of extra commitments and responsibilities you don’t have to do, but you want to do or you feel like you have to do out of a sense of obligation or guilt)?

These are vital questions to ask ourselves. Do you love your life? If not, what small steps can you take to start changing it so you have more breathing room, more down time, and more time to be at home?

Could you downsize your home and lifestyle and work hard to pay off all your debt so that you could lower your expenses and take a less demanding job? Could you cut out a few of your extra commitments or scale back in some other way?

In most cases, we have more control over our situation than we realize. But we have to be willing to say no, to make sacrifices, and to set clear boundaries. And then we have to abide by these things, even when it’s tough. In the long run, it will be worth it!

2) Take 15 Minutes Each Day to Plan Ahead

It would be fantastic if you could plan a weekly menu at the beginning of each week, but if your schedule is constantly changing and you’re not sure how the week will pan out, get into the habit of making a daily menu plan instead.

At the start of each day, look at your calendar and to-do list and make a simple plan for what you’re going to eat that day. Then, while you eat breakfast or before you leave for the day, take a few minutes to gather up a few snack items to take with you on the road, make a cup of coffee for yourself for the road, make a sandwich or two for your lunch and dinner, and fill up a big bottle with ice water or iced tea.

Taking 10-15 minutes to put together a plan and then putting together some food and drink items could easily save you $10 to $20 or more each day… and I think that’s well worth the 10 or 15 minutes of time it will take! As an added benefit, you’ll probably end up eating a little healthier, too.


3) Make Homemade On-The-Go Meals/Snacks

On the weekends or any time during the week when you have an extra 30 minutes, invest that time into making some on-the-go meals and snacks. Here are a few ideas, most that can be prepped ahead of time:

4) Think Outside of the Drive-Thru Lane

The drive-thru lane is quick, easy, and expensive. It’s also usually not  a very healthful option.

If you’re out and about and you really need something to eat and didn’t have a chance to plan ahead, consider going to the grocery store instead. If you have access to a refrigerator and kitchen at your workplace, you could buy a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly or buy a bag of salad greens and a rotisserie chicken from the deli.

Buying groceries might cost you a little more than it would cost you to go through the drive-thru lane once, but they’d give you enough food for lunch for at least 3-4 days. Just store the leftovers in the fridge at work and you’ll have lunch for the next few days.

I also encourage you to plan ahead: buy some items you can keep in your desk drawer or fridge at work. Stock your purse and glove compartment of your car with snacks. Keep a cooler with some snack foods in the fridge at home that you can just grab on your way out the door if you end up needing to run out unexpectedly for a few hours.

It takes a little bit of time to plan ahead like this, but when you calculate how much you’ll save in dollars and calories, it will make that little bit of time investment every bit worth it!

Readers: what are your tips and suggestions for this reader? How do those of you who aren’t home a lot save money on food? I’d love to hear!

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Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls (photos by Silas)

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Silas (just turned 5) asked if he could “be my cameraman” while I made Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls yesterday.

His photos turned out so well, that I had to share them here. I loved seeing this progression through his camera lens.

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

After we pulled the Cinnamon Rolls out of the oven, Silas helped me make the glaze to go on the Cinnamon Rolls. We didn’t have any more butter, so I just made a glaze with milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla.

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

I LOVE using this homemade vanilla that my Kansas friend, Angie, made for us! Someday, I’m hoping to try making my own homemade vanilla.

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Making Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

The finished result: SO delicious!

If you haven’t made Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls yet, do yourself a favor and put this recipe high on your priority list. You can thank me later. :)

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How do you keep hope alive when everything goes wrong?

What do you do when you want to give up hope?

We’ve recently moved cross-country for a new job for my husband, but are now facing unemployment. We have a small baby, and all our family and friends are on the other side of the country. How did you keep going and keep hope alive during your hard times? -Heather

Oh, Heather! I read your email and my heart went out to you.

You see, we were in a very similar situation about 7 years ago when our second daughter (Kaitlynn) was born. We’d move to Kansas City for a job for my husband and then that job situation ended up not panning out at all like we expected. Soon after Kaitlynn was born, we found ourselves in a city where we knew very few people, without a job, and with very little money.

We were committed to stay out of debt, but as the weeks wore on and no job turned up and our savings began to dwindle, it was hard to hang onto hope. And to be honest, there were many days when I felt completely overwhelmed and stressed.

But looking back, here’s the advice I would give to myself based on things I’ve learned over the last 7 years. I hope some of these ideas can be encouraging to you.

1. Practice Gratitude

You are in the middle of very difficult circumstances. Many of them are not circumstances you would have chosen for yourself.

Life feels difficult, overwhelming, and maybe just downright exhausting. But that doesn’t meant there aren’t at least a few things you can be grateful for right now.

Focus on the good things in your life — whether that’s your baby’s smile, sunshine outside, a kind word from your husband, or the smell of bread baking. If you focus on your problems, you’ll naturally feel discouraged. When you choose to look for the blessings instead, you’ll begin to notice many things to be thankful for all around you!

2. Take Care of Your Health

The last thing you should do right now is let your health slide. But when life is filled with setbacks and burdens, it’s easy to let those hard things affect our ability to make our health a priority.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, going to bed early (if possible), drinking enough water, eating well, and getting fresh air and sunshine. Investing just a little bit of time everyday in your health can give you more energy and passion for life — which will, in turn, help fuel your hope.

On the flip side, if you let your health slide — eating junk food, not exercising, staying up too late, and so forth — it will invariably affect your ability to be at the top of your game mentally and emotionally. The result will likely be that you feel discouraged and lethargic.

Related: Read my series on 15 Ways to Have More Energy.

What to do when you want to lose hope!

3. Have a Daily Routine

I’ve found that if you don’t have a plan for your days, they can feel chaotic and overwhelming. But creating a simple plan will give you momentum for getting up — even during the difficult time periods.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew when it comes to a routine. Even planning just 6-10 things you’ll do in the same order every day can give you a sense of structure and peace. Plus, I find I have more energy and get more done when we have a routine!

For help with setting up a routine, check out my series on How to Develop a Routine That Works — and Stick With It!

4. Set Small Goals

You need a reason for getting up every morning. A simple routine give you some purpose for your days, but I encourage you to take it a step further and set a few small goals. This will fuel your drive and help you see some forward momentum instead of just feeling like you’re stuck in a black hole.

You can set goals for how many Swagbucks you hope to earn each day, or a cleaning project you want to tackle, or for specific steps you’re going to take to look for a part-time job. Break your big goal down into bite-sized pieces and tackle a little bit every day.

If possible, find an accountability partner/cheerleader for your goal-setting. This could be someone local, or one of your friends or family members who live miles away. Knowing you have to report to someone on your daily or weekly progress will also help you stay motivated.

5. Cultivate Beauty and Creativity

It’s amazing how refreshing beauty and creativity can be for our souls, even during dark times. Listen to music online that uplifts you, keep your home neat and organized, pick a wildflower bouquet, find a new recipe to bake on Pinterest, work on a handwork project, or learn a new skill.

Figure out what refreshes you and make that a part of your life — even if it requires a little time and effort. Seeing that drawer you organized or that bread you baked or that handwork project you finished will life your spirits.

6. Plug Into Your Community

As much as is possible, plug into your local community. See if there’s a Bible study at a local church you can join, or a mom’s group you can connect with. Go to the park and strike up a conversation with another mom there. Check your local library for possible activities they offer or for a book club you could participate in.

Keep your eyes and ears open for anyone who might be open to come over for coffee or have a play date with you. Invite your neighbors over to hang out in your backyard. Look for that woman who is all by herself at Bible study and go sit by her and ask her about herself. Be hospitable, pretend you’re an extrovert (even if you’re not!), and look for any possibility of friendship.

You don’t need to load up your schedule with dozens of social engagements, but when you are first trying to find friendship and community, you often have to be pretty proactive to make it happen. Keep at it, don’t give up if the first few invites don’t turn into lasting friendship, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll eventually find at least a few good friendships where you’re at. It will take work and effort, but it will be worth it!

For more encouragement, read my posts on 16 Ways to Become More Content and Lessons From Our Little Basement Apartment.

What advice and counsel do the rest of you have for Heather?

Focus On Your Blessings

photo credit; photo credit

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5 Ways to Make Your Kids’ Toys Interesting Again

kids toys

Guest post from Katie of Embracing a Simpler Life

It’s the same old story; a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.

My kids, and most kids I presume, have an over-abundance of toys. Nonetheless, they eventually lose interest. There they stand, bored, surrounded by a room full of delights. We’re left wondering what else we could buy to keep them entertained.

Over the years, I’ve resisted this temptation out of both necessity and principle. Instead, I’ve experimented with how to re-interest them in their toys.

Here is what I’ve found helpful:

1. Give toys a sabbatical.

This tried and true method is one of the best I’ve found. Box up toys and stick them in closet. After a few months, trade them out for others. This takes only a small effort and works wonders in reestablishing interest.

2. Pretend play with your children.

Kids need new ideas for old toys, not new toys for old ideas. Fifteen minutes of fully engaged, imaginative play on your part will likely produce hours of new material for your kids.

They never imagined that basket as an oven or those blocks as cake. They never saw the afghan as a picnic blanket or the stacking cups as teacups. Open their eyes to new possibilities through pretend play.

3. Assign toys to various different spots around the house.

Restricting toys to certain areas allows children to change environments throughout the day. My daughter plays dress up in her room, cars in her brother’s room, puzzles in the family room, coloring and stickers in the kitchen, etc.

Also, feel free to switch toys from room to room every so often. Seeing them in a new environment gives toys new life.

4. Reinvent them.

Figure out which toys would work in the bathtub, even if that’s not their original purpose. Which would work with play dough? Allow children to explore new applications of their existing toys.

5. Make accessories for toys together.

One of my fondest memories of my grandmother was when she and I made a baby doll bed from an empty oatmeal canister. This was a special memory, totally free, and it piqued my interest in baby dolls for months to come.

My dad tells stories of taping cardboard boxes to his Radio Flyer wagon and decorating them to look like race cars. Simple paper and cardboard accessories can be a great way to expand the use of toys without buying new ones.

How do you build your kids’ interest in old toys?

Hi! I’m Katie. I’m a young-ish, stay-at-home mom of two adorably-fun little ones, and I live a life devoted to Jesus. I love to write, and I focus my energy on living simply and well. My husband works for our church as a tech guy, I blog at Embracing a Simpler Life, and together we have a photography business. 

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