Blessed Little Planner

A while back I got frustrated with my homeschool planner, tossed it in the trash, and sat down at my computer to come up with something that fit our day (or week in our case) a little better. Eclectic homeschooling opens up a world of possibilities for us but, MAN, is it ever hard to plan sometimes! We’re a little Charlotte Mason, a little unschooled, a little unit study focused, a little classical. Really, we’re just a hot mess of living books and crafts and nature journals over here, with a sprinkling of worksheets here and there. So, I needed a way to capture all of that in a “Week at a Glance” page. I’ve given up on daily planning. I plan for the week now and it has taken so much stress off of our homeschool day. We know what we need to finish by week’s end but we are free to sculpt our days how we see fit and according to weather, moods, and workload.

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Ambleside Week at a Glance – Year One

After much prompting (sorry Instagram buddies for dragging my feet on this one) I’ve made our planner available for download and printing for FREE for a limited time. I’d love your feedback on how you used it, what might need tweaking, and to see photos of it in action. You guys know by now that I’m an Instagram girl all the way and love, love, love hashtags. I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned most of the homeschooling ropes via hashtags. So, if you’re on Instagram and you download this freebie, take a photo of it in action and tag it with #blessedlittleplanner. I can’t wait to see it all marked up and made useful!

**Printing tips: Saving the document to your computer before printing should result in the proper printing size. If you print straight from your web browser you might have to scale the document down to fit to the printable area of the paper.**


“I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, that I might be master at last of a small house and large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life only to the culture of them and the study of nature.” 

~Abraham Cowley


Some days it seems like forever until we’ll be able to buy a place of our own again. But the other day, chalk it up to the recent fall-like mornings putting me in a good mood or four consecutive days of feeling better, I felt like that time was just around the corner. It was a weird feeling. Because I know, barring any divine intervention to the contrary, the actual amount of time between now and that possibility hasn’t changed. My perspective just shifted a little for a brief moment. I think these are the moments God gives me when I need a little encouragement to be a little more patient.

As Mr. Thistle and I lay in bed the other night I told him that I felt like I had stumbled upon something. It hit me that being “stuck” in the apartment has come at a time when I needed it the most. It looks nothing like my dream for our family and it feels like going backwards most of the time, yes. But the hard reality is that, even if I could force that dream to be a reality right at this moment, it simply would not be what is best for our family or for my own health. I’ve had such a rough pregnancy. Basic needs have been met around here but we’re all pretty much in survival mode until the endocrinologist can straighten out a thyroid issue and the cardiologist can figure out a heart issue. Most days are spent just trying to get through the day with everyone fed at regular meal times and bathed every now and then. There have been no fun school projects and truthfully, some days, no formal school. If we had a farm I would likely take any good days I had to catch up on farm chores instead of homeschool. We would have a responsibility to animals who couldn’t do for themselves. On a farm there are daily projects. You’re never “caught up” on fixing things that need repairing or maintaining what isn’t broken so that it remains in proper working order. There are no significant periods of rest in farming. An extended period of illness can force a farmer to close up shop. What we have right now is certainly not ideal but thank goodness someone had the foresight to see ahead of my own vision for my life and know that I would need a situation that forced me to rest, forced me to use my good days to dote on my children rather than other responsibilities, and forced me to see the big picture. Thank goodness I didn’t have much say in the matter. Because, even after all these years of seeing and knowing that God’s plan always comes out better than mine, I still would’ve picked my plan. It would’ve been hard not to.  And I’d probably be in a pickle right now.

So, today I’m thankful for housing situations that give me the opportunity to rest and a fresh perspective that the end of this season is only around the corner. And the ever-familiar reminder that God knows better than I do.

September’s Grocery Bill

**So, “tomorrow’s” post turned into a “one week later” post. I had some pretty awful days right after the last post went live and I barely got off the couch some days. I’m currently wearing a heart monitor but I’m on day 3 of NOT feeling terrible so keep your fingers crossed that the feel-good days keep coming!**

**Also, we’ve spent more than we had planned on restaurants and eating on-the-go but it is still drastically less than last month so we’re not beating ourselves up too much. And most of the instances were a “mommy’s too sick to cook, we didn’t buy convenience foods during our grocery trip, and daddy is working” meals. So, I’m still calling it a win so far.**

I’ll update this at the end of the month with the total amount we spent for September. But, for now I wanted to go ahead and show you what our grocery shopping has looked like so far.

I do have a few nitty gritty details to get out of the way before we get to the list though.

I sprang for the Sam’s Club Membership. It’s the closest buying club in our area that doesn’t require me to take an extra pepper spray with me and I choose life over deals on groceries. Real life, y’all.

I did a lot of research and decided that there were actually a lot of products there that could save us enough money to make it worth the investment and time. However, I did land a LivingSocial deal that allowed me to purchase the $100 membership for only $45, plus gave me a $20 gift card to use at Sam’s or Wal-Mart, along with free deli ham, hoagie rolls, hummus, and $3 off organic carrots. The $100 membership (as opposed to the regular $45 membership) rewards me with $10 cash back for every $500 I spend. On our budget we will meet that $500 every two shopping trips. It’s not much, but for what I paid for the membership it’s just money in the bank….or in this case the grocery budget. Since I got my membership for a song I won’t be including it in my grocery budget costs for the month of September. I simply categorized it as “spending money” in our You Need a Budget program.

I won’t be hitting up any stores not in my immediate area unless I am a.) in the area of the store already and know of a deal ahead of time that makes it worth my time and effort or b.) the deal is so great that it offsets the fuel costs associated with making the trip.

I am fundamentally opposed to driving all over creation with two kids in tow to save a few pennies. Not going to happen. I fully support everyone else who does it. But I know my limits. I won’t keep up with the real costs involved (time, fuel, impulse buys as a result of being in a different store for a SINGLE item — read: kids in tow) and I won’t know where my money is really going. I’ve tried multi-store deal shopping in the past and it just doesn’t work for us. So, while Aldi or Kroger might be cheaper in your case, there isn’t one close enough to me to make it worth my while. Got toilet paper super cheap at CVS? Drug stores just aren’t my jam. So here’s what I’m currently working with: Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Publix, occasionally Ingles, and online. However, my advice is that you do some research and use what is best for your situation. When we lived in Tennessee our options were very different…and limited. We were very remotely located and it was a hike to any grocery store, much less the cheapest one. If I was sticking to the same budget there I would likely utilize as much online shopping as possible. And instead of a Sam’s membership I would’ve sprung for an Amazon Prime membership. I’ve read several blogs that tell you how to save the most at Costco or Aldi. But none of that matters if it’s a 40 mile hike to the nearest one. Because, don’t forget time. Time is worth a lot, too. If I’m spending so much time trying to meal plan and clip coupons and drive around to 1,000 stores because Betty Sue “saved a fortune at the Save-a-Lot on bananas and at the CVS on deodorant” I’m more likely to burn out and hit the gas station for a snack on the way home and eat up all my savings! Plus I’ll be spending my time in places I don’t want to be and I believe I should budget my time like I budget my money. But seriously, I’m not going to make it so hard on myself that I end up giving up. I’ll do a little research but I won’t kill myself trying to save every last penny the first month. It takes practice and time and it’ll get better each time. I just know it.

We’re also adopting a “use it up” mentality with our groceries. One piece of fish left in the fridge? I’m not going to let it just sit there forever (well, I have been, but I’m not anymore). Fish tacos with more beans and veggies than fish will be on the menu one night. We’re going to get creative and stop wasting food as our first line of defense towards saving money. Whether it be planning ahead for eating leftovers or using up that last piece of fish before it gets freezer burn, we’re going to be smarter with the food we already have before going out to buy more.

What we’ve spent so far on grocery shopping in the month of September: $288.66

The shopping trips

Sam’s Club:

  • red potatoes
  • diced tomatoes
  • sweet onions
  • canola oil
  • grape juice
  • organic ketchup
  • maple syrup
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • penne
  • choc chips
  • fresh mozzarella balls
  • froot loops
  • real lemon juice
  • butter
  • black pepper
  • green grapes
  • oxtails
  • bacon
  • 2 whole chickens
  • 25 lb sugar
  • brown sugar
  • 25 lb flour
  • dishwasher tablets
  • 4 loaves white bread
  • bananas
  • shredded parmesan
  • fresh peaches
  • breakfast sausage
  • boneless skinless chicken breast

As part of our initial membership deal with Living Social we also got a few free items and discounted items at Sam’s:


  • shaved black forest deli ham
  • hummus
  • hoagie rolls


  • baby carrots (42 cents!!)


  • deodorant
  • kids toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • drinking straws
  • handsoap
  • coffee
  • hot dog buns
  • peanut butter
  • half and half
  • 4 gallons of water


  • deli croissant rolls
  • 1 gallon of water
  • potato chips
  • white chocolate chips
  • green onions
  • sour cream

I didn’t do a great job of keeping up with quantities this month. I was more concerned with the dollar amount. I’m going to try to do better with that next month so I can start to gauge how long the big items (like 25 lbs of flour) are lasting. But, you can obviously assume that the items from Sam’s Club were bulk in nature.

Pairing these items with the items we already had on hand in our pantry and freezer (items like rice or half bags of frozen vegetables….and of course that one lonesome piece of fish) we’ve eaten pretty well. There have been a few dishes that were thrown together from random pantry items that won’t make the cut again. It doesn’t matter what you call it or what’s in it, I’m just not a casserole girl. Never will be. But in general, we’ve made the most of the meals we’ve prepared. We’ve eaten up leftovers until they’re gone and I’ve replenished my freezer with lots of nutritious broth from veggie scraps, chicken carcasses, and leftover bones from stews.  I’ve skimmed the fat off of soups and stews and broths and saved it for future use. And I’ve learned to dress up items a bit more with cheaper ingredients and make the nicer ingredients last longer (i.e. a little fresh mozzarella goes a long way).

We’ve still got a little over two weeks left in the month but we’ve got a decent amount of items left in the larder and $61 left in the grocery budget.

Hopefully I won’t have many more bad days ahead of me in this pregnancy and I can keep up with all of this a little better. I’d like to keep a better list of the meals we made and the quantities purchased at the store. And maybe even take note of some things I never buy to give you an idea of the items we go without on a regular basis. I’m proud of our first few weeks though. We’ve already seen some improvement in our habits and that’s the first (and hardest in my opinion) step to getting where you want to be. I’ll update our final tally at the end of the month.






Feeding a family of four on $350 month

Mr. Thistle and I reworked our budget this month. If you follow me on instagram you might’ve seen that we were hit with an unexpected bill from my OB office. We have insurance but because of our deductible and some rather strict policies set by the OB we must pay for our delivery in full by the 24th week of pregnancy. Unfortunately my insurance company dragged their feet and the office only informed me of it in my 14th week of pregnancy. I’ll save you all the complicated legalese. We had 10 weeks to come up with $3000. That was 3 weeks ago.

So, a major budget adjustment was the obvious move. I’ve had plans to craft my way through my hoarder-worthy craft supplies in an attempt to make enough handmade goods to offset some of the costs in an instagram campaign I’m calling #projectpayforbaby or #mrsthistlecraftsadelivery. But I’ve been plagued with some heavy pregnancy-induced thyroid drama and most days I can’t even muster the strength to brush my teeth, let alone craft $3000 worth of handmade goods.


So, we sat down and reworked the budget. The problem is we already operate on a rather trim budget. We do not have satellite or cable TV (basic netflix and whatever comes through the airwaves only), a home phone (cell phones only),  or car payments (we’ve been driving clunkers for some time now… in fact, mine is my high school graduation present). We rarely shop for clothing or shoes. I have some clothes I’ve been wearing since high school. If we do, we hit Goodwill. Most of the kids’ clothes are supplied by the grandparents (praise the Lord).

To be completely candid, our expenses look like this:

  • Rent
  • Water
  • Electricity
  • Cell Phone
  • Internet
  • Netflix
  • Car Insurance
  • Kid Insurance
  • Student Loans
  • Groceries
  • Fuel
  • Credit Card
  • Baby Bill

(We haven’t had a credit card in a while so this expense is new again to us. And only came about as a result of the move and some other unexpected expenses associated with that time in our lives. We were paying it off completely every month until we found out about the baby bill. We made an executive decision to pay only the minimum until the baby bill is paid in full since it is now top priority. I don’t want to have this baby in this apartment. Know what I mean?)

So, as you can see, we don’t have a lot of bills we can slash. Rent, water, and electricity are non-negotiable costs. We have a ridiculously low cell phone and internet bill since we’ve been with AT&T since the beginning of time and we’re practically grandfathered in to a crazy low rate we’ll never get anywhere else. I shopped around for cheaper car insurance when we moved so it’s as low as we can go. Netflix is crazy cheap and yes, we could save the $7.99 a month, but I think even Dave Ramsey would tell you that the $7.99 is better than going stir crazy after trying to stick it out and impulse buying an overpriced movie on iTunes that’s going to cost more in the long run. A $7.99 a month vice is a decent price for a vice if you ask me. Our kids’ insurance is crazy cheap and truly couldn’t get any cheaper. (Seeing a trend here?) We’ve negotiated all we can with our student loans. If you have student loans you understand. We’ve done what we can there and we just have to fork over the ridiculous amount every month whether we like it or not. We’re paying the minimum on the credit cards. Mr. Thistle ONLY drives to work and back. The boys and I aren’t “field tripping” right now so we’re home most of the time and the grocery store is literally seconds from our house. So we’ve slashed fuel costs as much as we can. And, the baby bill is non-negotiable. I guess we could cut that giant cost if I birthed this baby in the apartment without any help. But even a midwife would cost that much and the “cash option” at the hospital was the exact same amount. No thank you. I’ll cough up the 3k and stick with my OBs and midwives I love.

So, long story long, groceries were our only area to cut in the budget. We’ve been using You Need A Budget to track our expenses and income and we discovered that we spent about $600 on groceries last month. The Official USDA Food Plan: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels says that the cost of food for a family of four on the “thrifty” plan is $657.10 for the month. So, we were already spending $57.10 less than what the USDA estimated it should cost for us to shop “thrifty” every month.

At first glance it would look like there are no areas of the budget left to trim, even in the grocery category. But I’ve decided to try to cut the grocery budget by nearly half anyway. Mr. Thistle is on board and we’ve teamed up to try to cut the grocery budget to $350 for the month of September for a family of four.

After chatting with a friend today I’ve decided to blog our way through it. I am certain there will be a steep learning curve and we might go over budget. But every dollar we save under that $600 we spent last month is a victory in my book. And blogging about it will help me see what’s actually happening on paper and maybe it will keep me accountable. Plus it makes it more fun and I’ll feel more challenged to actually make it happen.

I feel like there are some important things to note here:

  1. We won’t be making the healthiest meals on the face of the planet. There won’t be any formal diets during this time. No Whole30, no gluten free, no sugar detoxes, no “organic” and “grass fed” only diets. I will do the best I can with what I’ve been given. But if you’re following along in the hopes that you will find a way to maintain those diets on this budget for this size family, you’ve come to the wrong place. We’ve decided to let a few things fall to the wayside in an attempt to achieve one major goal: cut costs. However, you will find a lot of meals made from scratch, because they’re cheaper. You will find that we will regularly “eat in season” because it’s cheaper. You will find that I’ve done my research on meals and ingredients that will maximize nutrition when possible with what I have at my disposal. That means, I might buy conventional meats but I’ve bought the most nutritious conventional meat I can afford for that week. I’m just not willing to die on that grass fed hill right now. Yes, I’ve seen the documentaries. Yes, they rocked me to my core. Yes, I know the real cost of food and the importance of keeping money in the community and knowing your farmer. Yes, I understand that if I don’t pay for it now in my food I will likely pay for it later in my healthcare costs. No, I cannot afford to live like that right now. This is not a lifestyle we’re adopting, y’all. This is real life for a season.
  2. There won’t be much (or any, really) couponing. One thing we already don’t do much of is purchase boxed/packaged/convenience foods. We did a little before this budget but never enough to warrant the time and energy and minimal savings that went into couponing for those items. And we’ve now vowed to try to cut out even the few convenience items we used to purchase. Much of what we buy doesn’t have a coupon associated with it. We will make those boxed items from scratch or we will do without.
  3. We will give ourselves grace. If we go over budget it’s not the end of the world. If we buy a convenience food it’s not the end of the world. The main goal is to try to stay under that previous $600 mark as much as possible.
  4. We will try, as much as possible, to avoid eating out. Sometimes it just can’t be avoided: birthdays, friends visit from out of town, etc. But eating out during the work day and taking the boys out for lunch because I haven’t planned ahead isn’t going to help us stay under budget. The costs associated with eating out are just crazy when you compare to homemade meals. Our budget will stretch much further if we eliminate eating out as much as possible. And, yes, if we do eat out it will have to come out of the grocery budget. Yikes.
  5. We took a pantry, fridge, and freezer inventory before we went to the grocery store. We will be making meals from what we already had on hand plus the groceries we bought for the month.
  6. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not we could “feed a family of 4 on $300 a month” or “…$350 a month” and I’m just not sure we can do either. They both seem nuts. But on paper I’ve set the budget at $350 and in my head I’m trying to make it $300. We’ll see.

Tomorrow I’ll share our first major shopping trip of the month. I’ll tell you what we bought and how much we spent.


D i s c l o s u r e