Highs & Lows – Week of February 20th

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This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission (~4%) if you make a purchase using the links to any of the products mentioned below.


Morning!

I can’t believe it’s time for another installment of Friday Highs and Lows. If you want to read the previous weeks you can go here and here.

Highs

Building up my consignment store cash flow! With the weather warming up I realized that it was time to top up our consignment cash flow so I could start working on creating a spring and summer wardrobe for Margs. So, I spent a few days sorting through Margs’ winter clothes and toys and ended up dropping off a bunch of things that will help cover the cost of buying her enough outfits to last us through the summer. In this haul, I brought over her Infant Car Seat (Graco Click Connect 35 if you’re curious), a V-Tech Sit to Stand Walker, a fisher price ride on toy, and 2 boxes of clothing she’s outgrown.

We found a new groomer for our pup. Our dog is the anxious type and we’ve been struggling to find a groomer that would be patient with her. After trying a few different ones we finally found a lovely lady who grooms pups from her home. Puppy had an amazing experience and didn’t want to come home! Here she is with her new “summer” haircut!

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Absolutely gorgeous weather! It’s been sunny and well above freezing all week and it’s unbelievable how a little sunshine can improve my mood and energy levels. Margs and I have been taking advantage and getting out for walks. The sun is setting later (around 5 pm) which makes the days longer and so much more cheerful. Spring is on the horizon and I couldn’t be happier! Sunday is supposed to climb up to 14 degrees!

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Lows

Margs ate laundry soap at the end of last week. My mum was here visiting and we got caught up in a conversation and the next thing we knew Margs had powdered laundry soap all over her hands, face and inside her mouth. I washed her mouth out and promptly gave her a bottle of milk. I then spent the next 45 minutes trying to get through to Poison Control and then a local emergency health line in our area. Both agreed that an ER visit wasn’t necessary and that it was unlikely she ingested enough to cause issue. I was told to watch her for any unusual symptoms but that she should be just fine. Thankfully, Margs experienced no side effects. We’re now in the process of child proofing this place – she’s so mobile and fast that we’re not taking any chances.

Basement reno costs are getting a little higher than we anticipated. I haven’t discussed much about what’s going on within this TTBH have I? When we bought this home, we knew we were going to transform the basement into a small 1 bedroom apartment for my mum. Her lease is up at the end of April and she’ll be moving in with us. Work on the basement has been slow because we have an arrangement with a contractor where we are saving on labor costs (FYI we bartered a hot tub for the labor costs of finishing our basement. Said tub came with the house and we did not want to keep it). But, because of this the process has been long and drawn out. We’re nearing the end which is wonderful but I was calculating the costs of materials and my heart sank a little. We’re about 3000$ over budget but considering we aren’t paying anything for the labor I suppose it’s still an awesome deal.

We’ve reverted to co-sleeping. I hate hate hate that we’re back here. We had made so much progress with Margs and then one night she just would not have it and exhaustion on our part took over and we put her right back into our bed. Since then, she’s refused to sleep anywhere but our bed. We’re going to keep trying but this week she’s slept in our bed more often than not. This kid seems to have some sort of sensor – the moment you try to put her down in her cot she freaks out.

What are your highs and lows for this fine week of February 20th?

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A few of our favorite frugal, family friendly recipes

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Say that 5 times, fast! ha!

Eating good quality, tasty, healthyish and budget friendly food is such an important part of our lifestyle here at This Tiny Blue House. Mer has a big appetite – he’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy while although I enjoy my meat and potatoes I tend to prefer more savory combinations of protein and vegetables. Our meal plans are often a mix of both and after some trial and error we’ve settled on a few recipes that satisfy both our palettes and make repeat appearances week after week.

I don’t create recipes – I modify them. So, I take absolutely zero credit for the base recipes I’m providing below. What I am offering is a few frugal hacks to reduce the cost of each dish without sacrificing the quality and taste.

I generally prepare and cook all these dishes on Sundays. I then store them in our fridge and pop them into the oven to reheat as we need them throughout the week. I cannot tell you how much easier this makes life – not only is dinner prepared but there is virtually no clean up.

Mediterranean Chicken from The Clever Carrot

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[Source: 1]

First, we omit the bocconcini altogether. I’m not a fan of melted bocconcini and quite honestly this dish is incredibly tasty and satisfying without it. We then substitute 1 can of artichokes for a can of marinated artichokes (price difference is roughly 2$), using our own oil and spices to marinate the chicken. Chicken thighs are weirdly more expensive than chicken breast in this area so to save a couple of bucks we use breast. Finally, we use frozen herbs from our summer garden instead of fresh.

It produces approx 6 servings so plenty for dinner and leftovers for lunches. It’s Margs approved too. Frugal math tells me that it comes our to roughly 3$ per serving.

Cottage Pie from BBC Good Food

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[Source 2]

This is probably our current favorite since it’s so savory and has such great depth of flavor. I actually found this recipe by accident, decided to give it a try and have continued to make it ever since. To save a a couple of bucks I buy the economy size container of ground beef so I can make two pies at the same time. I also use frozen mixed veggies instead of fresh and sometimes omit the cheese in the potato mash altogether. Frugal math tells me this runs about 2.20$ per serving.

Unstuffed Cabbage Role Casserole from Give Recipe

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[Source: 3]

This is a great recipe that can be eaten as a side dish with a meat protein or by itself. I usually make this once a week and we use it many different ways during the week. It’s great for a quick lunch or to go along side roast chicken for dinner. To frugalize the recipe we often omit the beef altogether and add frozen white beans from our garden instead. Frugal math tells me this runs around 1.00 per serving. Also, we omit the mint because we just don’t do mint in this house.

Pasta e fagioli con Proscuito– due amiche in cucina

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[Source:4]

I actually grew up eating this at least once per week and until very recently I hated it. With the cold weather and lack of time to prepare more complex meals during the week Mer and I have really started to appreciate a hearty bowl of pasta and bean soup. To save some cash we use bacon instead of prosciutto – honestly, prosciutto just tastes funky when cooked so we prefer the bacon. We use frozen garden beans and our own homemade tomato sauce. This recipe essentially costs us a half bag of pasta and a few strips of bacon. Frugal math tells me this sets us back roughly 0.60 cents per serving.

What are some of your go to favorite meals? I love trying new recipes so I would greatly appreciate any that you have to share!


Giving credit where credit is due
[1] http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2013/05/dinner-tonight-mediterranean-baked-chicken/
[2] http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/775643/cottage-pie
[3] http://www.giverecipe.com/unstuffed-cabbage-casserole
[4] http://www.dueamicheincucina.ifood.it/2015/04/pasta-e-fagioli-con-prosciutto-di-parma-e-croste-di-parmigiano-reggiano.html

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Our Pipe Dream; savouring the nostalgia

As a child, I spent nearly every weekend in the beautiful tiny city of St-Donat Quebec some 3 hours north east of my home. In the winter I learned to ski and snowmobile while in the summer I spent lazy days with my father on the lake learning to fish and admiring the peaceful beauty of the woods that surrounded us.

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Icy back road heading to the lake

With a population of just over 4 thousand most of which are seasonal residents, St-Donat has that small town feel where you’re guaranteed to see a familiar face when strolling through their small city center.

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St-Donat city Center with views of the mountain.

Early in our relationship Mer and I went up there on a drive date to pick up a pie. St-Donat has this tiny convenience store hidden behind thick brush off the auto-route that sells the most delicious blueberry pie I’ve ever eaten. It’s one of these places that you’d likely never stop to visit let alone believe could bake such decadent pies out of wild blueberries harvested from the surrounding area. As a child, we’d pick one up every Friday evening as we cruised up the winding auto route to our cottage and enjoy our special treat throughout our 2 day stay in the woods – this is probably one of my all time favorite childhood memories.

After my parents divorce, the cottage was sold and I didn’t get the pleasure to visit  again until that day Mer and I made our way up for pie.

I’d spent weeks speaking so highly of the area and was actually quite nervous that Mer would think I was nuts when he laid eyes on this tiny snowy town. Would he also fall in love with the place that was responsible for creating some of my best childhood memories?

We drove with a steaming pie in his backseat to see my childhood cottage. It wasn’t fancy, a wooden Canadiana with red shutters that sat on an awkwardly shaped plot of land and surrounded by thick woods. By that time the home was really starting to show its age but I couldn’t help but be transported back in time;  I saw past the discolored siding and unglued shingles, in my eyes it hadn’t really changed at all. I’m sure he didn’t get it – but the nostalgia I felt filled me with so much happiness.

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A Canadiana with its sloped roof thanks to getty images.

I told him then and there that one day I’d love to return to my beloved St-Donat and let my children experience the same joy I did. Little did I know that that  journey would be far more difficult than I ever imagined and that nearly 15 years later I’d be married to the man who ate pie with me that day on the side of snowy highway with a plastic spoon.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to perusing real estate listing in the area. Mer and I have oohed and awed at the beauty of some of these homes and imagine what it might be like to own one of these beautiful properties ourselves one day.

This is absolutely a pipe dream since we’re in no financial position to take on a second property but through our perusing we’ve fallen in love with a second blue house. This property really pulls at our heart strings and I’ve caught myself checking in on it daily for the last week or so.

Isn’t she a beaut?

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The listing says she was built in 1975. She’s a 5 bedroom, 1 bath lakefront property sitting on just over 15 000 square feet of land. Her interior is quaint – featuring a wood stove, large windows that let in tons of sunlight, sloped ceilings and gorgeous wood detailing. And, the view. Oh my gosh, that view!

If you’re interested in viewing the listing – it’s available here. (There are quite a few photos of the interior if you’re curious)

I can just imagine Margs growing up spending her summers and winters there-playing on the grass and swimming in the lake just like I did some 25 years ago. At a whopping $499 000 this is clearly not something we could realistically afford  but it is nice to dream.

Mer and I both agreed that at some point we’d like to invest in a second property. Most likely a second property would be an investment property with rental units because we feel it’s the wisest investment of our money. I can’t help but wonder though if owning a beautiful property like the one above could one day become a reality if we create a plan to invest in revenue property here and then in 10-15 or even 20 years use our earnings to purchase a lake house. My gears have been turning non stop since we starting playing with the idea, I’ve been calculating and recalcalculating to get an idea of what exactly we’d need to do to get us to this goal and although my estimates are extremely rudimentary I think one day it could be possible. Margs might not be the one able to spend her childhood there but perhaps her children could.

For now though we’ll make it a point to bring our daughter up there yearly. We’ve been heading back for day trips and picnics on the beach in the summer since that snowy day we ate pie. Last year we skipped our yearly trip because we’d just moved and had a tiny Margs who didn’t do well with long drives. This year we’re planning to continue on with our tradition with our toddler in tow – I’m so incredibly grateful I’ll have the opportunity to show Margs a place that holds such a special place in my heart.

We may not be able to purchase that property but it’s so nice to get lost in our dreams sometimes isn’t it?

What are some of your pipe dreams? Do share!

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A few more things we do to save money – toddler edition

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using the links to any of the products mentioned below.

Morning! How was your weekend?

Ours was quiet but we did manage to get outside and enjoy some fresh air despite this terrible cold snap we’re under. Late Friday I ended up running to my dentist because I broke a premolar almost to the gum line . Talk about karma. I’d just posted about having an emergency fund and issues popping up when you least expect it and then bam the tooth broke and I found myself sitting in the big chair getting prepped for a crown. There goes our January budget (FYI, Mer’s insurance covers 80% of preventative dental but anything restorative is at 50%. So, I’m looking at approximately 1000$ out of pocket to fix my tooth). To be fair, I knew this day would come because I’d had a temporary fix done to this tooth last March when it broke the first time. I was told it should only last approximately one month but I was able to stretch it to 8. I’ll be heading back to have a permanent crown placed at the end of January and hopefully apart from my routine cleaning (approximately 36$ after 80% insurance coverage) I wont be spending any more money at the dentist in 2017.

I’d also like to apologize to anyone subscribed to my blog who has been getting spammed by weird zero content posts. I was playing around with the theme last week and it looks like my blog somehow was sending out “temporary posts for theme detection”. I’m so sorry if your reader or inbox got spammed as a result of my indecisiveness. I’m pretty new to all this so I had no idea that you’d get alerted to all the changes I was making. Thank you to a dear reader who alerted me to the problem last Thursday! I think I’ve finally settled on a theme that works (I don’t love it but also refuse to pay money to buy a theme when there are so many perfectly acceptable free options).

So, let’s talk about saving money

If you missed my first post about how we save a couple of bucks in TTBH you can find it right here. In a nutshell, I told you guys that we buy used whenever we can, sell whatever we don’t need/use anymore, stockpile essentials, clip coupons and grow our own produce to lower our monthly and yearly costs. All these things helped us pay off $21000 in credit card debt and build up a sizeable down payment to buy our first home.

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Margs new pre-loved shoes. Shes still wears them daily.

Today, I wanted to share the methods we use to keep tabs on our spending when it comes to providing for Margs. Kids are expensive – more expensive than we ever imagined and so we took to finding frugal ways to provide for her pretty early on. Above and beyond the immediate necessities: diapers, food, clothing and medical/dental care we had to think ahead about how we’d eventually help fund her education so saving money right now is a huge priority for us. The following list is a few things that we’ve come up with that work for us and help us add to her education fund regularly without necessarily compromising her day to day life. We don’t feel that being frugal with regards to baby care is about deprivation – instead, we strongly believe that we can still provide a great lifestyle for our kiddo without spending a fortune.

Making Baby Food

You can save a ton by making your own baby food. In the early days when we were first starting experimenting with solids I’d make large batches of things like squash, sweet potato, carrots, fruit compotes and soups and blend them in a baby bullet. A blender or food processor would probably work just as well though. This Magic Bullet Baby Bullet Baby Care System was on sale last spring and I had a coupon so I couldn’t pass up the deal. Best decision ever because I made all of Margs’ food myself and ended up saving a ton.

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My lovely bullet which I ended up selling for 20$ when we no longer needed it.

My only qualm about the bullet is the lack of freezer storage options that comes with the system. The set I bought included one silicone freezer tray which simply was not enough to freeze the food I’d make. When I’d make baby food I’d make sure to make enough to last me at least a month and unfortunately the tray only accommodates 6 freezer portions at a time. At first I’d freeze, pop them out, freeze another batch and so on and so on until all the food was frozen but this became really annoying and time consuming and some batches ended up taking about 3 days to freeze. I got really lucky in early summer when I managed to stumble across 2 more silicone trays for 50 cents each at a garage sale. A Baby Bullet Storage Completer Kit is available through Amazon if you can’t score them second hand. I was beyond excited because freezing 18 at a time was going to make things far more efficient in my kitchen. Sadly 18 wasn’t even  enough and eventually I stopped using them altogether and turned to muffin tins instead. It made freezing portions far easier and it also allowed me to control each portion size as her appetite grew.

Not all diapers are priced or made equally

.. and we use this to our advantage.

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When Margs’ was first born we experimented with different diaper brands to try and find one that provided enough absorbancy at a fair price.

We figured out pretty quickly that our best bet was to go with a combo of Parent’s Choice (Walmart store brand) and Huggies Little Movers

On average, I change about 10 dirty diapers a day. Of those 10 diapers we use Parents Choice brand during the day (9ish diapers) because although far less absorbent than big brands like Huggies they do the job perfectly well. I change her so often that a day time diaper is rarely soaked and so I can hardly tell the difference that she’s not wearing a designer diaper.

Nighttime is a completely different story. In the early days, Margs would wake once or twice throughout the night for a feed which included a diaper change so using the cheaper diapers worked just fine. As she got older and started sleeping through the night and drinking more throughout the day she started producing more urine and the cheaper diapers started to fail us. We’d have blow outs and pee stained sheets night after night. That’s when we decided to buy more absorbent diapers by Huggies and use one as a night time diaper. So far, it’s working out quite well and we’ve been blow out free since making the switch.

Now for a little frugal math

Daily diaper usage costs – combination method: (0.14 x 9) + (1 x 0.24) = $1.50 per day = 547.50 yearly

Potential diaper usage costs – designer diapers only: 0.24 x 10 = $2.40 = $876 yearly

Potential savings: 876.00 -547.50 = $328.50

So, if my kiddo is in diapers until the age of 3 that’s a savings of $985.50 which is a heck of a lot of money I’d literally be throwing in the garbage.

*Note: cloth diapering is far more inexpensive and it’s by far the cheapest choice. I was just so overwhelmed with motherhood that washing poop stained diapers just wouldn’t have worked for me. Chapeau to those ladies & gents who do it though!

Clipping/Printing coupons

There are coupons available for just about any and all baby products. When we need to buy diapers, wipes, soap and formula I hunt down a coupon to save a little cash. If you’re feeding your baby any Enfamil formula product they have an awesome program where they periodically send you coupons by mail. The coupons include savings for formula in addition to Fisher Price products. I’ve actually used one of Margs’ coupons to buy a birthday gift for a friends son.

These are the websites I use the most. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a coupon for Parent’s Choice Diapers.

Money savings tip: when I use coupons and rebates I pretend that I’ve paid the original amount. I then transfer however much I’ve saved directly into our savings account. It’s never a huge amount because I’m not an extreme couponer but every little bit helps. Some months I’m able to add about 60$ of padding to our savings just by transferring out “coupon” money.

Bartering baby stuff

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My kiddo loved her jumperoo- boing, boing.

After moving, I joined a local play group where I met a wonderful woman who showed me the ins and outs of frugal motherhood. I will be forever grateful to her for suggesting I find barter buddies. Basically, I’ve found a few other moms with children Margs’ age who barter their toys with me. I met these ladies at a baby playgroup and an afternoon kiddo reading hour hosted for free by our local library. Trading toys helps keep Margs entertained because she’s basically playing with new stuff every few months and this keeps our costs next to nothing. I’ve traded a Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo for a Graco Walker and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve also traded a few toys that she’s outgrown to a mom for a second convertible car seat (she had older children who had outgrown it.).

In addition to having barter buddies who I keep in touch with via email, I also periodically barter through online garage sales in my area or on Craigslist. Not everyone is open to an exchange but asking kindly wont hurt. I’ve been able to trade a few items this way as well. Namely, Margs’ snowsuit was obtained by trading a bunting bag she used as an infant in her carrier – again I was dealing with a mom who had an older child and an infant so the trade was mutually beneficial.

I’ve also bartered at the consignment shop. Sometimes I’ll have an item that Margs no longer needs and head over looking for something specific and ask if a trade would be accepted that day. More often than not, the owner is more than happy to trade with me assuming the exchange is fair. My latest trade was 5 warm winter footie PJs for a diaper genie that we were given but never used. This way I don’t touch my consignment balance and avoid having to wait for my items to sell to earn store credit.

Cycling her toys

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A recent photo of her toys after I'd purged out half.

Margs is easily distracted and she’s also not always easily amused. I keep her toy collection to a minimum and find that she’ll easily get bored if the rotation of toys is always the same. As a result, I cycle out her toys and keep some stashed in her closet where she doesn’t have access to them. Every couple of weeks I trade them out and they are brand new and super exciting again. This kiddo likes to keep things fresh!

I’ve also started planning ahead and bartering and swapping out toys that she no longer plays with to accumulate toys that she’ll enjoy playing with as she grows. I was on the hunt for wooden puzzles for months after seeing how incredibly pricey they were at both Toys R Us, Walmart and online. Luckily a couple weeks back one of the ladies in my barter group had a set of 5 wooden puzzles up for grabs and we came to a mutual agreement. 5 puzzles for a gift basket of Bed Bath and Beyond products I kindly received as a housewarming present from a relative but cannot use because of my sensitive skin.

So there you have it folks. This is what we’re currently doing to save and stash away a little extra cash for our little girl.

What money saving tips do you use in your house?

Ever bartered with someone to get something you needed? If so, tell me about your swap!

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What we’ve been up to around these parts & getting more dough from your bread machine

First, I’d like to say a big thank you for all your kind words about how we got our butts out of credit card debt. I was a little hesitant to write that post and actually asked Mer if he thought it was a bad idea at one point. He told me to go with it because when we were looking for advice on how to handle our debt we weren’t really able to find any concrete answers because more often than not the true numbers were never discussed.

I guess I didn’t want to be judged for our repeat bad financial choices (I know I shouldn’t care but I do to a certain extent) but more importantly I was a little scared to talk about the numbers because I’ve always been told that it’s in bad taste to talk about your income. But, I value transparency so I felt it was only right to put all the information out there.

So, dear internet reader you now know the intimate details of my financial past!

So back to what’s been going on around here. Bad weather is what’s up!

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View from my living room. We’re getting an unusual amount of precipitation this winter.

Winter has been hitting us exceptionally hard this year. It started to really cool off in early November and by the first days of December we were already seeing significant amounts of snow. The weather has been hovering well below freezing for weeks and we’re getting treated to a good amount of snow and ice on a daily basis. Although beautiful- the icy and snowy conditions make it really difficult to head out with a baby in tow and get stuff done. When we first bought this house we never considered what the winter situation would be since we visited in the spring time and winter weather was the furthest thing from our minds.

Living in this roundabout is awesome because it’s super quiet but on the flip side snow removal and street salting is basically non-existent here which was really common and effective when we lived in the city. Clearly, there’s a reason why all our current neighbors have snow removal contracts with companies (evidenced by the sticks plunged into the ground at the top of each driveway). Basically, you’ve either got a company coming to dig you out or you’re shoveling it yourself (which is what we’re doing because we’re too cheap to pay someone to move our snow).

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Free art from my mother. There are 3 paintings in this collection and they date back to 73′.

Since we’ve basically been housebound since Tuesday I’ve used up my time working on re-framing these awesome paintings my mother kindly gifted me. She knows I wont spend money on art and when she found them laying around she figured she’d check with me to see if I could give them a new home. Done!

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Hung! Crappy photography though.

There are 3 paintings in the collection – each one represents a different season in the Canadian north east and I love how they add a little character to our living room.

I’ve also been baking.  I pulled out our bread machine and got going on a few loaves.

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Freshly baked bread!

Oh bread machine, you’re so sneaky!

This time, I decided to bake the loaves myself because we needed bread and the roads were awful so heading out to the grocer was out of the question (I walk everywhere because we’re a one car family – total distance to the grocer is probably a little over 2 miles). I guess I could have hauled Margs in her sled but after watching 3 neighbors wipe out I decided to keep my clumsy butt home. Mer doesn’t really enjoy bread machine bread – he complains that the crust is too thin so after my friends Mum suggested I bake it myself I figured I’d give it a go. I’m not really a big fan either because I always thought that the cost involved in making it would actually be higher than buying once you factor in the flour, yeast, oil and salt required to make one tiny loaf.

Well, folks, our bread machines are lying to us.

After using the machine on a dough cycle and allowing the dough to rise once I split it in 2 and allowed it to rise for another 2 hours on an oiled pan in my oven with the warmer on. What I found waiting for me in blew my mind.

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Part way through the second rising process! 2 loaves!!

The one tiny loaf I used to get by using the bread machine start to finish was now replaced with two larger loaves. Stretching my use of 4 cups of flour to make 2 loaves instead of 1.

With that in mind I got working on crunching some numbers because 2 loaves is a game changer when you’re talking about cost efficiency of making your bread versus buying it.

Geek alert,  frugal math coming up.

10 kg bag of bread flour – $17.99

10 kg = 80 cups of flour (1 kg ~ 8 cups)

80 cups of flour/4 cups = 20 batches of 2 loafs of bread = 40 loaves.

40 loaves of bread at $2.99 (what we approximately pay at the grocer) = $119.60

Potential Savings $119.60 – $17.99 = $101.61 (minus a couple of bucks for dry yeast, oil, sugar and salt which I didn’t bother calculating when I saw how impressive the savings were)

So tell me, do you use a bread machine? If so, do you let it run a full cycle or bake it yourself?

Also, because I’m curious how much is bread flour in your neck of the woods?