The Grocery Budget Makeover

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on May 17, 2010

SOS!  It’s a cry for help and she needs your input!

Shandra from Tennessee writes,

I need to come up with a way to fed my family for $75 a week. My kids are 13, 12 and 8 years old.  I clip coupons and I make many of the $5 Dinners…but I still spend $200 almost every week.  Can you help me? What suggestions do you have that will help?

More information about Sandra’s situation:

Currently spends: $200/week

Needs to spend: $75/week

Grocery Stores: Kroger and Walmart

Normally buys: milk, eggs, butter, bread, chicken nuggets and chicken breasts, bananas, apples, tea, sugar, koolaid, chips, fruit drinks, lettuce, shredded cheese, cereal, sausage, salad dressing, tomatoes, crackers, ramen noodles, tissue paper.

Buys when needed: I buy soap, shampoo, paper towels, deodorant, makeup, plus the ingredients for the meals I have planned.

Lunches: My son packs his lunch: chips, chicken nuggets and a juice (he has something wrong with his taste buds and is limited to what he eats), the girls eat at school, my husband has a salad every day for lunch if he is in the office.

Breakfasts: I usually do without breakfast, the girls have pop-tarts, husband eats cereal and my son eats pancakes or sausage.

______________________________________________________

Three Tips from Me

  1. Get coupon match-ups from Southern Savers or Coupon Katie for the stores in your area. Check the Frugal Map to find the coupon match ups for the stores in your area.
  2. Don’t buy shampoo, etc when you need it. Buy it BEFORE you need it. Get it when it’s on sale with a coupon, paying little to nothing for it. Then you have it on hand and don’t have to pay full price the week you need it.
  3. Encourage more variety in the kids’ diets. If you can make more of a variety of meals and send different lunches around what is on sale each week, you’ll be able to save even more.

What suggestions do you have? Any tips or tricks you would like to share that could help her spend less at the store?

Will you help Sandra makeover her grocery budget?!?

If you are in need of a Grocery Budget Makeover, send me an email and we’ll do what we can to help!

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel May 17, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I used to shop at Kroger when I lived in Columbus, OH, and loved the sales they had. I’ve had to adjust how I shop now that my husband and family and I have moved to Missouri. I would suggest leaving out the koolaid and fruit drinks. Only buy 100% juice (on sale of course). Plus, it’s healthier. Koolaid and fruit drinks are just artificially flavored sugar water. I also second making things from scratch. That has saved us a lot.

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Jenny May 17, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I didn’t read each and every comment, but one thing you can cut is Paper Towels. i don’t use them (except if we are having company/etc). Just buy some good dish towels and wash them.

cut the koolaid, chips and fruit drinks. Save for treats only.

And remember, WAIT FOR THE SALE! Most things you use will go on sale, just wait to buy them. Remember, You are the Mom…not those kids ;) so when they start complaining about the changes, just tell them to start saving their own money if they want to buy poptarts and potato chips. :) LOL

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cassie May 17, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Cut out the chips unless you have a coupon or they are on sale. Then ration them!! LOL!! This is a hard battle to win in my household of chip loving men!

And cut the pre-shredded cheese. Buy it by the block and shred as you need it.

Cut out the fruit drinks again unless they are on sale. Make them a treat instead of a necessity.

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Olivia May 18, 2010 at 1:08 am

I assume you’re including non food items in your “food budget” of $200 a week. You’re asking for a drastic shift. You may want to look at “Hillbilly Housewife” for a really tight weekly food budget and work from that point, adding to it as you can.

These are things we do. Our budget is $82 a week for 4, two oldsters (us) a 22 male and a 14 year old male. This includes all cleaning and personal care items The younger guys can really put it away. We cut our milk with reconstituted non fat dry. I started gradually and kept adding a bit more non fat until it reached 50/50. We have a son with sensory issues and even though the taste difference bugged him at first he got used to it. We have a small garden. If you can keep the rabbits out lettuce is pretty easy to grow. In addition to the paper towel replacement suggestion, keep a rag bucket for spills and such made from old t shirts and worn towels. We just throw ours in with the bleached whites when doing regular laundry. We also use homemade cloth napkins. For other things, I’d take up a pantry mentality. Instead of buying when needed, (shampoo, soap, makeup…) buy the items you will need when they are at the lowest possible price (sale and coupon and rebate if you can) and stock up. Don’t be brand specific, find the least expensive product that does the job. I’d also cut out cold cereal and make granola from bulk purchased oatmeal instead. Serve hot cereal for breakfasts with a little brown sugar and butter on top, or with chopped apple and cinammon, make scratch biscuits instead of poptarts, or scratch pancakes if your kids are really into sweets. (Serve with homemade syrup.) I try to make double batches of pancakes put them in a ziplock bag in the fridge and the kids can help themselves. Breakfast sausage is way overpriced, if that’s what you’re getting, but bulk sausage that you form into patties works just as well for breakfasts. I’d stick with ingredients I had on hand instead of buying what I need for a particular meal. Use basic spices and mix them up for different combos. Stock basics like garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, basil, oregano, etc, what ever your family really likes. Condiments and spices can really add up. Look for coupons and sales. You don’t need to have name brands, just fresh tasting flavors. Start a small herb garden on your window sill even. We don’t always have meats with supper. Bean soup, grilled cheese sandwiches with homemade tomato soup, quiche with veggies and cheese are some of them. Also, it’s simple enough to make chicken nuggets, just cut pieces of chicken and roll them in herbed bread crumbs (make with leftover dried bread, a little salt or parmesan, and herbs whirrled in a blender), spray a pan with non stick spray lay the nuggets on it and spray the nuggets and bake. 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. If you like certain things find out if they are cheaper per serving in larger quantities, repackage in meal sized portions and freeze. Plan your meals around what you’ve gotten on sale. If your son packs individual juices or chips for his lunches consider mixing your own juice from a concentrate and setting up smaller containers, the same with the chips, if he really must have them. But things like pretzels tend to be cheaper in large bags and have far less fat. Or make homemade popcorn and bag that up. These kinds of changes don’t go over well all at once, so introduce them a bit at a time if you can, and determine, if money is that tight, they will be part of your life from that point on. You do what you have to. If your husband is on board, the kids will adjust.

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Shannon May 19, 2010 at 6:20 pm

@Olivia,
What great advise!! I’ll take all that input too. :)

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Beth May 18, 2010 at 5:09 am

If you hate to give up the Koolade etc. Try the Dollar Tree. I’ve found the same Koolade there and it is only a dollar.
Shred your own cheese. And if you’ve seen how chicken nuggets are made (Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution), if time allows, make fresh ones over the weekend and freeze them for individual use. You are spending a fortune on those nasty nuggets.
Use coupons for everything you can. I have a single neighbor, and she gives me her coupons every week.
Good luck.

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Jennifer May 18, 2010 at 7:04 am

I should preface this comment by saying that you have to be willing to spend a little extra time to save money a lot of times, but if you start doing some extra little things they just become habit and are easily worked into your life. Here are some suggestions I have:

– Flavored drinks can get really expensive, and they are the easiest thing to cut down on because they aren’t really essential to your diet, try serving water more often instead of those, and if you really miss flavored drinks, maybe try some homemade iced tea or homemade lemonade. Both of those options cost 5-10 cents a cup and are healthier than most “fruit juice” drinks
– Dry milk is often cheaper than fresh milk, so check the prices at your grocery stores and if it is cheaper, use it in baking and cooking where people won’t notice the taste difference
– I buy bone-in chicken breasts, slice the chicken off the bone, and use it like boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Then I make stock with the bones. Bone-in chicken breast is usually substantially cheaper than boneless, and the stock is essentially free because bones are usually thrown away.
– Produce can be expensive, so the best way I have found to save on produce is to buy seasonally. Learn what is in season during the different times of the year in your area and use those fruits and vegetables in your cooking. Even better if you buy locally because locally grown fruits and vegetables have a lot more nutrition than those that have been shipped across the country.
– Also, I would advocate stocking up on items you normally buy when they go on sale. The freezer is wonderful for that. I freeze chicken, beef, shrimp, shredded cheese, and many other items.

These are just a few things that have worked for me, I hope they are helpful!

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sarah May 18, 2010 at 8:03 am

I have 4 kiddos, ages 13-9 and they all pack lunch everyday, plus I shop almost always at Kroger and Walmart, sometimes Food Lion too. I spend roughly $100 a week for grocery and no grocery items. Biggest changes we made, shop Kroger’s weekly circular and match with coupons where you can. Buy the block cheese as many have said and shred your own. Do your children eat eggs? My sons eat breakfast egg/sausage cups that can be frozen and reheated easily in the microwave. Instead of pop tarts, would your gilrs eat crepes with fruit filling? You can make these ahead and freeze too. Also, for koolaid, we use the kind you add your own sugar to. Do you print any coupons off coupons.com? I had to change the way I shopped from “planning” my meals to based off of what we wanted to eat vs. “letting the deals come to me from the weekly specials” and shop only the deals…it took about 6weeks for me to have my family on board and really begin to see a difference in this way of shopping. Also, do you CVS or use Walgreens? This made a huge difference in non grocery items. You can do it and your family will be supporive! Good luck!

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Kristine May 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm

@sarah, do you mind sharing your recipe for the egg/sausage cups? i’m always looking for something quick and easy in the mornings. we usually just eat frozen waffles. thanks!

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sarah May 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm

@Kristine,

Hey, it’s not really my recipe since I got if off a website, but I will tell you the modifications that I made for our family. They are really good and are simple.

go to http://www.stolenmomentscooking.com and search under her breakfast category for egg, bacon, and cheese biscuit cups
so, obviously you can tell we switched bacon for sausage…I have made them both, my boys prefer sausage. she makes her own bisuit dough, I have made this too, it was time consuming. I have also used store biscuits, this works well too, I bought the grand jr. my favorite way and easiest is to forgo the biscuit part and just use the egg/sausage/cheese mixture or any other ingred. that your family may like.
they freeze great and microwave so easily! sometimes my kids put this between a mini bagel too. good luck!

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Gloria Fox May 18, 2010 at 9:03 am

Shandra,

I’m a single mom of 3 teenagers (19, 17, 16) who eat A LOT, especially the boys. I’ve had to do the same thing as you are trying to do and I never thought I could do it, but I did. Here are a few things I have done:

1. Don’t buy anything unless its on sale. Buy when its on sale not when you need it. This takes a little time to do completely, but it really does help. Stock up when things are on sale that you can freeze or just put in the pantry.

2. Shop for shampoo, detergent, razors, makeup, paper products and even some groceries at CVS or Walgreens. I NEVER thought that I could get these things cheaper at these drugstores than at Wal-Mart. Now I get them all for free or very little. Watch their sale paper and use their Extra Care Bucks (CVS) or register rewards (Walgreens). Believe it or not, I recently got 5 boxes of cereal, 2 family size shampoos, 2 deodorants, razors, and the Avatar movie, and a few other things I can’t remember right now for $30 (Saved like $70) just in one trip! It does work!

3. Just like the others have said…cut out chips, juices, and sodas and make them a treat. This was hard for us, but the kids really don’t need them and they cost a lot. Buy them when they are on sale and/or you have a coupon only.

4. Of course, follow this blog, and others out there like SouthernSavers.com that will do a lot of the work for you buy matching up coupons to the current sales. If you are on Facebook (if you aren’t…DO) become a fan of these same kinds of sites and even manufacturers (like Nabisco, Oscar Meyer, etc.) that will give you daily updates on sales, coupons, etc.

Good luck! I know you can do it. It does take some adjustment for the kids, but do like I do…remind them that because we are saving money on groceries and other necessities, we can do other things, like going to the movies occasionally, and plan for a nicer vacation. They have even started asking me…”How much did you save this time?”

Gloria

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Jenn - sahMOM May 18, 2010 at 3:15 pm

So, I’ve only got 3 kids, but all 3 are in diapers and 2 on formula. I have $200 for 2 weeks, and that has to cover everything. I am new to the drug store shopping, but am quickly seeing how cheap it is, and now am working those sales for a lot of things. I also shop at Kroger, Wal-mart and Dollar General Market. Here’s how I’ve been managing:
1. Buy large cuts of meat. Instead of a 3lb roast, get a 5 or 6lb. Throw it in the crock pot, then divide the leftovers from that meal later in the week. Then make soup, a casserole or pasta, etc. Typically, you can make that one initial meal really stretch through the week – for my crew I usually can make about 4 additional meals. My husband doesn’t like to eat the same things through the week, so I usually freeze them.

2. Don’t buy block cheese – buy the really large bags of shredded cheese. Today at Kroger a 6 cup bag of cheese was 3.99. The 2 cup bags were 2/$5 as well as the blocks of the same. So I saved $3.50 just by buying the large size.

3. Plant as much as possible. I have 4 different garden plots at my house, and green beans, lettuce, peppers, collards, herbs, and squash growing in my front flower bed just for the heck of it. When I lived in an apartment, I would do all of it on my balcony in pots. Then, try to plan your meals around what you can pick.

4. Buy chicken on the bone and roast it at 400 for 30 minutes, then pick off the meat. At Kroger you can do this easily for around $1.50/lb for even the breasts.

Good luck to you!!!

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Frummy December 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Formula is the MOST expensive way to feed your infants. Formula costs an average of $1,200 to $2,500 per YEAR. Then add the bottles and nipples and brushes and, *oh gosh* just ALL that work.

Breastmilk costs $600 in extra food for Mom per year. Breastfeed and pump if you are a working Mom. Some states will even give you the pump for free.

Not to mention it’s better for your kids IQ (+20 points), weight and immunity. Contact your local LLL for more information – they even have some women with experience re-lactating, who gave up and then started it again after months. (LLL.org)

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Katy May 19, 2010 at 7:32 am

I’m sure that I’m echoing the comments of past posters, but I’ll do it anyway.

1 – Water. Fruit drinks and kool-aide just add unnecessary cost, sugar and other unhealthy ingredients to the diet.
2 – Oatmeal. It is very healthy and much cheaper than almost any other breakfast cereal. If your family doesn’t like it plain, add a little sugar and cinnamon or some chopped apples to it. It is still cheaper than cold cereal and will most likely still have less sugar.
3 – Cook from scratch, not just main meals but also things like bread, and snacks. Check out Hillybillyhousewife.com for some god ideas.
4 – Find other alternatives to chips, which tend to be pricey and unhealthy. If you MUST have them, make your own. Just slice a potatoe ultra thin and microwave in a single layer until dry in 30 second increments. You get to gontrol the salt and oil too!
5 – Theone thing that helps me save more on my grocery bill than anything other thing is to shop Aldi. If there is one within 20 mile of you it is probably cost effective. The really great this about Aldi is not just that they really do have much lower prices – although that is certainly a big plus – but also that their selection is very limited. That might not sound like a good thing, but it severely limits impulse shopping and wandering through the aisles and adding to your bill. I went from spending about 80 per week for my husband and I to spending about 30 per week instead. If there is something I really really really have to have that Aldi doesn’t carry, I stop at Walmart for that item ONLY.

Hope that helps.

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Shandra May 19, 2010 at 7:56 am

hello ladies,

I just want to say thank you for all your suggestions and tips. I also would like to clear a few things up. To the ones that say that I should make my son eat what we eat and there is nothing wrong with his taste buds, well actually there is. As a toddler he got very ill and the sickness along with his medicines he took, damaged his taste buds as well a his sensors in his mouth. He had oral therapy to try and repair and stimulate them. Nothing worked, so therefore certain things bother him. Thats why I fed him what he wants and I also make him try different things. If he doesn’t like it, he don’t eat it. Then I fix him something else. So please don’t judge others before you get the whole story. Thanks again for everything!
God Bless
Shandra

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kate May 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Well, I for one thought that if it was important enough to mention that there is something wrong with his tastebuds, there probably is!

Stop buying chicken breasts every week. Buy them on sale when they go down to $1.77/lb or cheaper. Buy a lot. Freeze them in twos and fours, or whatever works for you. Make chicken nuggets out of them–there are a lot of mommy blogs that have good nugget recipes. This will cut your costs considerably.

Buy vegetables and fruits in season and learn how to put them by so you can use them all year. Most freeze very well. Don’t buy out of season–it will kill your budget.

Cut WAY back on processed foods, and even on canned foods. Add lots of beans to your diet, and don’t buy them canned. Look up on this blog how $5 Dinner Mom makes and freezes beans. It’s ridiculously easy.

Combine ingredients. If you’re making something with cottage cheese and you know you won’t use the whole container, find another recipe for that week or the next week that also uses cottage cheese.

Buy spices in bulk at Whole Foods or other natural stores. They are so much cheaper–just one example from the other day is cinnamon sticks. They were $6 at the grocery store for the McCormick bottle. I went to the natural food store and got four sticks, which is what I needed for two recipes, and it was .37 cents.

If you don’t have room in your freezer, get a chest freezer. Seriously. They are low energy, fairly inexpensive, and will save you grocery money every week.

Consider cutting shampoo, and all the different kinds of soaps. You don’t need shampoo (google “no poo” or “no shampoo” for more info). In terms of soap and toothpaste, try to get everyone in the family to use the same type. It will be much easier to stock up that way and there will be fewer times that you need to buy something on the fly because someone ran out of their particular kind.

There are only two things my husband and I use paper towels for that we find non-negotiable–bacon grease (we don’t get the newspaper), and dog puke. Everything else gets cleaned with cloth.

Good luck–you can do this! Our budget is $30/week for two adults.

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Mary May 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I have tried this recently, instead of buying individual snacks or chips, I buy the big bag and divide it into servings. I weigh them to the suggested serving size. Then I put these in a basket and we each take turns picking until everything is gone. This really saves on the hassels that we had with running out. Now you have your own and if you run out, that is all you get for the week, too bad for you. It took a few weeks for the kids to accept this, now they want to know when the picking is. I have also started cutting down a little every few weeks on the amount that I buy. They have not even noticed that! Don’t forget to save those baggies for the next week, too.

On the shredding cheese, I just buy a bunch of bags of shredded at the 10 for $10 sale at Kroger and freeze, it does well.

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Michele May 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm

One way I have found to reduce the cost of drinks, is by using one can frozen orange juice and filling a gallon container with water and one cup of sugar. It tastes like Sunny Delight. When I find Old Orchard orange juice on sale for a dollar and have coupons, I stock up! Otherwise I buy the cheapest frozen orange juice in the store. I have almost completely quit buying soda, if I do it is a two liter that is on sale for less than a dollar and when it’s gone they don’t get anymore until the next sale. The only other drink we have in the house is sweet tea and water. This one change has DRAMATICALLY reduced our grocery bill. My husband has had the most difficulty with the transition because he grew up on soda, but as long as I have sweet tea he concedes.

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Nicole from: For the Love of Food May 21, 2010 at 5:06 am

I know it’s not easy to do a lot of cooking if you are a working parent. I currently don’t work, so I find a lot of time to cook. But, one thing I have always done, work or no work, is only cook once a day for 2 meals. What ever I cook for lunch we eat for dinner warmed up in the microwave, and when I worked it was whatever I cooked for dinner was taken as leftover the next day to work. Growing up that’s how my mom did it and she always sent us to school with leftovers…I do the same thing for my son too.

And, just as some other commentors have said – you are in charge – you get to make the decisions on what your family eats. Your children can make their own decisions on what they want to eat once you feel they are making good healthy decisions or move out on their own. Get them interested in eating healthy by having them participate in meal planning. Set the parameters: meat, 2 vegetables, 1 fruit, 1 starch, etc… and have them come up with meal ideas or do it together by looking online.
Also, sugary foods like cereals and juices are only allowed to be consumed on Sundays in our home (that goes for grown-ups too) – the rest of the week we eat oatmeal (not cooked) poured into a bowl topped with some defrosted-the-night-before raspberries and blueberries and serve with milk – like cereal but MUCH cheaper and WAY healthier. I can get a pound of oatmeal for 38 cents while a 1 pound box of cereal will cost about 4 dollars.

We also LOVE chicken nuggets around here! I have a great recipe on how to make some from scratch here: http://forfood.rezimo.com/?p=432 And, when you have some time you can make a double or triple batch, fry them, and then freeze them. They will be just like the ones you buy except cheaper and healthier.

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glady penalosa May 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm

One thing that I have notice is that your grocery list you’ve stated, I think you just have to think the “need” for the week, not for what you “need and want”. That is what my dilemme too before I did coupons. I read Stephanie Nelsons “Strategic Shopper” and Teri Gault’s “Shop smart, Save more”. The reason I suggested you to read these great books because I really want to know about coupons before I put them to use. I was skeptic at first, but reading them and putting them to test (research!), I succeded. These are the steps I do before I go to the store
1. I make my list- when I say list, I mean the “need” list. I would randomly make a list and study the list and say “Do I really need to buy these or could I wait for next week!”
2. Check the weekly ads and Sunday coupons that arrive- I always match my list to the weekly ads and Sunday coupons. If I received a coupon that I like, I’ll keep it in my binder so that I could use it in th future because I know it will go on sale.
3. I make a budget!- If $75 dollars is what we can, then $75 it is! I have a family of five, husband who loves to cook!, an 8 and 6, and my baby who needs diapers included in that $75 dollar budget. I actually calculate my groceries from the weekly ads, list and coupons I have, then take out that I can wait for next week.
4. My meals based on the weekly ads- I make meals surrounding the weekly ads and coupons for that week and I truly can tell you, that I have saved a lot using these things I’ve learned from those books. Check it out at the library! That is the least you can do, to not spend on those books you can get at the library!

Hope you can check my blog that would help your family! Happy couponing

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glady penalosa May 21, 2010 at 8:09 pm

@glady penalosa,

I forgot to give you my blog
http://www.groceryinbox.blogspot.com
thanks!

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Strawberryparfait June 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I know I’m late to this discussion…but my tips:

1. Portion control
I co lead a youth group with my husband…believe me when I say I know what 13/12 yrs can eat lol. Keep things to a one serving…no seconds.
2. Whole wheat pastas, etc are more filling then ramen noodles.
3. Ironically….eat breakfast. It will help you to eat less at lunch…and healthy snacks (fruits, sliced cucumbers, etc) will help to eat less at dinner
4. Switch from Koolaid…to water and unsweet tea.
5. Be honest. Explain to your family what cutting back on the weekly grocery bill means (less debt, more freedom)
6. This might be a silly idea…but especially with the kids it might be fun. If as a family you can stick to the grocery budget that week…then maybe on Friday night have a celebration dinner…(budgeted of course lol)…but maybe celebrating your success as a family will bring out the fun in it. :)

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