Double Grocery Week and Freezer Meals

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So imagine my surprise last week when I was updating the total I’d spent from the grocery budget, thinking I was pretty slick and going to come in way under for the month, only to realize that since the last trip of last month came AFTER we did March’s bills and the last trip of April will come BEFORE we do the bills, meaning I had 5 trips to divide the $550 budget into instead of the usual 4.

Awesome.

So right away I started trying to come up with ways to stretch my $134 balance to the ultimate limit and feed 5 people for 2 weeks, including diapers and school lunches and house stuff etc.

Luckily, I remembered we had $200 in gift cards to Walmart that my husband received as his quarterly (or whatever) recognition points. He receives points whenever he gets a perfect review from a coworker eps helped, and then you cash them in every so often and can get gift cards. We always picked Walmart because we know we’d use it. And good thing because its totally saved us this time.

So to be totally honest and transparent (because its pointless documenting what I spend on everything else, and saying that I want to show how we pay off debt and survive on a tight budget without showing real numbers), I spent $90.66 on everything in my Aldi Haul picture that I posted on Instagram, and thats for this week, leaving me with $46 in the grocery budget for me month of April.
And then (for next week and beyond) I also spent $122.61 at Walmart on some things unpictured in that post, which include stuff to make freezer meals for next week, and then some things I chose to stock up on because we never get this golden “free money” opportunity and I wanted to be a good steward of it. This leaves about $77 on the gift cards that I can use to pick up a few things for next week that I forgot, like French vanilla coffee for me and toilet paper.

My “stock up” purchases were a big case of diapers, the big coffee canister that will last IMG_8413Jeff weeks to 2 months of more, trash bags that we didn’t need yet but we will, a 5lb bag of rice, macaroni and cheese boxes for easy lunches, and one of those big cereal bags that I filled my canister with and have enough to fill it entirely at least one more time. I also got a bottle of sesame sauce for when I make Bang Bang chicken and lo mean, and a small bottle of white cooking wine; two things I wanted to use before but always filed under “can do without.” I also ran out of makeup, so I got myself a bottle of foundation and a new sponge.

So with the $90.66 and everything I got at Aldi that I showed in my post, these are the meals I’m making this week:

Veggie Loaded Avocado Quesadillas– Keeping some days meatless is a good way I like to save money and add some healthy meals with lots of veggies to fill us up.
Shake and Bake- baked breaded chicken since I have bread crumbs left over, to be served with frozen vegetables that I also have.
Bang-Bang Chicken- A new family favorite with lots of veggies. This will use half of the chicken tenders I got for the baked chicken, and also LEAVES me a half a box of spaghetti to use for something else.
Veggie Lo Mein This is a new meatless meal Im trying out for the first time this week. Im going to make a double portion and use the second half as a freezer meal for next week also.
Broccoli and Cheddar Baked Potatoes– I got an instant pot for my birthday and Im a little intimidated to use it, so I think baked potatoes is a nice safe feeling place to start.
Pizza- Every week, something easy for when I get home from work.
Leftovers- Also every week, clean out the cupboards. Waste not, want not.

Freezer meals are another good way to cut grocery costs, and will save you time later when you can just pop a home cooked meal in the oven and heat it. I’ve done this before when I was pregnant and knew I wasn’t going to want to shop and cook after a baby is born. So for next week, after a marathon cooking session this afternoon, I have:

Garlic Chicken Cheddar Bake- Made right in the disposable pan.
Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese
Meatball Subs- 
I made the meatballs and froze them uncooked (lay out on a lined sheet pan for 2 hours to freeze and then put in a gallon zip top bag). I also got a 6-pack of day old bakery rolls for $.84 that I froze as well.
Veggie Lo Mein- Half of what Im making for this week Ill freeze for next week because Im so tired from cooking right now.
Breakfasts- I also have some donuts frozen from last week, and after buying cinnamon today I have ingredients to make more. I also bought pancake mix and am making waffles in my waffle iron to bag up and freeze. Ive done this before and it works great.

So you see there are a few things Ill need to go get since I only have 4 suppers here. Saturday is my birthday so I think we’ll go out as by brother is the gift card king and usually gets me a restaurant card, and then theres leftover day so that takes care of two nights, but Ill need at least 1 more night.
Also, looking over it this isn’t the healthiest meal plan Ive ever created, which is kind of bumming me out because Ive really been working on making healthier meals lately. So I think Ill serve them with steamed veggies, especially the cheddar chicken bake and the mac and cheese, and keep the rest of the meals those days light with fresh fruits and veggies.

I also freeze PB&J sandwiches for lunches and school lunch (that I’ve talked about before in Instagram). Already in my freezer is frozen salmon that Ill probably make for myself but no one else eats.

As usual the recipes I used for all of this are pined in my Baileys on a Budget Pinterest account.

 

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My Best Grocery Budgeting Tips

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I’ve written before about how I Survive the Grocery Stores, but I’m always tweaking my method because our food budget is one of our top priorities AND the thing that I have the most control over within the monthly budget.

So here is a current run down of all my best ideas when I do my grocery shopping. Hope its helpful!

  1. Meal Plan- If you fail to plan then plan to fail. In the years I did the absolute WORST with spending food, I never had a meal plan. Now I’ve been making a meal plan every week for over a year and the difference is night and day. Read my post about Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It for more details.
  2. Make a List- I never had a list in the bad years either. I always thought “I know what we need!” Well, I might have, but I’m pretty sure stores are designed to completely wipe your memory the second you walk in the door.
    I recommend doing an inventory in your kitchen, seeing what you need to have in the house every week, and making that into a list that you put into an editable word document. I have mine in the Surviving the Grocery Stores post. I actually stole this idea from the med dispensing machines at work. The pharmacy knows what to bring because theres a big master list of everything we need in the box at all times. Its incredibly efficient, and I’m all for using other people’s good ideas to my own benefit.
    I print mine out 10 at a time and have one always hanging on the side of my fridge in the “Family Command Center,” so if we run out of something, I can just high light it on the list and not have forgotten come shopping day.
  3. Shop Your Pantry- Even if I feel like I’m totally out of food, theres always something. Even if its just bread crumbs or some left over produce. Eat up your leftovers or transform them into something new (like making left over chicken breast and odd vegetables into a soup). I actually make my meal plan AFTER I’ve taken a quick inventory of what I have in my fridge and pantry. Have some frozen meat you didn’t get to? Search for a new way to prepare it and get inspired.
  4. Shop Your List- I always shop my shopping list to squeeze every penny out that I can. For example, this week I was making Bang-Bang Chicken, so I had a package of chicken tenders on my list. I only ever use a half a package of the tenders in anything I make, leaving a half package left over for another meal. So shopping my list, I knew I needed another chicken meal for the week. Then I remembered I saw a jar of sun ripened dried tomatoes when I was shopping the pantry, and picked Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken. I also was buying a bag of onions for the Bang-Bang, so I picked another recipe that called for onions for another day.
    Its basically like a game where the object is to use up everything you possibly can, so that you can buy the least amount of things at the store and still make great meals for your family. It takes some time, but personally I think its kinda fun.
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  5. Tally it Up!- Its helpful to keep track of what you’re spending as you go. It prevents any surprises at the register and wards off little off budget items that jump into the cart as you’re going along. I used to try to keep track in my head or in the calculator app in my phone, but its kind of a pain when you’re also juggling 2-3 kids, a list, a pen, etc.
    So a few months ago I saw someone on IG using a golf tally as they were shopping and it looked like a great idea. So far Ive shaved $10-30 MORE off my shopping trips on average.
    This is the one I use (*its an affiliate link*). Not that I’m ever wanting to tempt someone into spending money on things they 1. wont use or 2. haven’t budgeted for. I’m just saying this little gadget certainly has helped me.
  6. Shop the Circulars- The first time I read “shop the circulars” I had it backwards. I thought it meant to make my list and then flip though the circulars to find the best price on what I needed. Instead, I look through the circulars and see what the good deals are and then build my meal plan and list from that. My favorite deal lately was buy one get two free ravioli from Price Chopper. This technique helps inspire the meal plan too. Sometimes I feel like Im making the same things over and over. Its hard to think up new meals, and if you eat at home every night, you need some variety. Basing one meal off of what a store puts on sale vs falling back on your usual go-to’s might broaden your horizons a little bit.
  7. Bonus Tip! This one might be a little hardcore, and certainly not for everyone. My kids drink milk and water, but they also like this specific juice thats basically like Aldi’s version of V8 Splash. But I feel like I buy it every week, and two days later its gone! So I’ve come up with a way to stretch my juice buck:
    I kept two empty juice bottles, and now when I bring home new juice, I pour half in the empty bottle and fill them all the rest of the way up with water from our filter. Thus making two juices into four.
    Don’t think I’m awful, juice isn’t a necessity and water is good for you. And now none of us even know the difference. So it works for us?

So theres my list of best tips when I’m trying to keep my grocery budget in check. Im sure I’ll be writing about this again since my methods are ever evolving.

How to Make Any Boxed Cake Mix Amazing

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I feel like I’m always making cakes or cupcakes of some type between birthdays, class parties, holidays, even National Firefighter Appreciation Day.  I’ve really taken a liking to it, and baking my own always is less expensive than buying from a bakery.

So in light of Ben’s birthday party this Saturday, I thought I’d collect all my favorite baking tips, tricks, and easy switcheroos on how to take any $.83 boxed mix and make it taste like its from a bakery.

Ben’s 1st Birthday; and How to Save on Kids’ Parties

Egg Whites– Remove the yolks from the eggs recommended on the back and use just the IMG_6927whites. Then replace each yolk removed with 1 tbs of melted butter. This makes the cake lighter and fluffier and also lightens the color of white cake mix.

Extra Eggs– For a richer denser cake, add one or two extra eggs.

Trade Oil for Butter– Butter obviously makes everything better, but its even more obvious with cake, and it improves the texture.

Instant Pudding– Add a package of instant pudding to the cake mix. This is where I sometimes get creative too. Have a white cake mix? Add a package of strawberry pudding mix. Play around with flavors a little bit and you might discover something you really like.

Switch Out Water for Whole Milk- This makes the cake taste denser like you would get from a bakery.

Switch Out Water for Brewed Coffee- To bring out the flavor in chocolate cake. Ive actually never tried this one before but I’m going to this weekend when I make Ben’s chocolate construction site cake. If you’re not into brewing coffee…

Use Hot Water- For chocolate cakes in the same amount recommended in the box directions. This will bring out the flavor.

Sour Cream- Adding 1/2c of sour cream adds richness.

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People also rave about home made frosting, but personally I’ve never done it. Here’s a quick one from good old Betty Crocker.

For more boxed cake mix tips, here are some links:

All Things Mama

Rachel Ray

Happy Baking!

Last Minute Thanksgiving Pie

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Need a quick dessert last minute? Or need one on the cheap?

I found this quick, cheap, and easy no-bake recipe on Meatloaf and Melodrama thats perfect for the holidays. It takes about 10 minutes to make, and all you need is a hand beater and a fridge.

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The best part is you can make it on the cheap because it only has 5 ingredients, and one doesn’t even count because everyone has nutmeg (or even cinnamon in a pinch) in the cabinet.

I got everything at Walmart, which I usually don’t go to because I feel like its over priced. But all together I spent $.98 each on the prepared graham cracker crust, the pudding package and the generic cool whip. The eggnog what the priciest at $5.50, but I bought the half gallon because I’m making a punch with it later.

Make it even cheaper: You only need 1 1/2 cups of eggnog for the recipe, so get the single serve containers for $1 each, bringing your total cost to $4.94.

If you can’t stand the thought of a grocery store the day before a holiday, I’ve got great news. You can get the pudding mix, eggnog single serves and the CoolWhip at any convenience store. The one I worked at sold the pre-made crusts too, but if yours doesn’t, heres a link to a YouTube video on how to make a piecrust out of Graham Crackers.

I actually used white chocolate flavored pudding. I shopped yesterday, and was noticing that the regular eggnog was pretty much gone, but with this recipe, you can use light eggnog, or any of the flavored versions and it would still turn out great.

Also did I mention its only 80 calories per serving?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Painting on a Budget

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When we bought our fixer upper house, we knew we had a fair pile of projects ahead of us. Pretty quickly after that, we realized that to get all of these projects done, we would have to figure out how to do them all for cheap.

One of the most expensive projects is painting rooms. Painting requires a lot of disposable supplies and paint itself can be pretty pricey. So this is what I know so far about how to paint on a budget.

Do it yourself. Duh. This is the one thing that will probably save you the most. Painting is a pain in the butt, sure. You have to clean out the room and put your drapes down and tape everything off; it’s the worst. But its really not the hardest thing ever and there are some really good tutorials on YouTube that show you exactly what you need to do to get that not-so-DIY look.

Use free color matching service to get a designer look without designer prices. Lowe’s home improvement store will match paint to anything you bring in, whether its a pillow or a swatch of fabric to an old sample. This lets you get your high end designer color into more affordable paint, and on to your walls without tanking your budget.

Shop discards in the paint section. Every store’s paint section has a shelf or an end cap with already made colors that people have either returned, changed their minds about or never picked up in the first place. These gallons are deeply discounted because the store wants them gone and off the shelf, and you never know what color you might find. Take a quick walk through and you might just score.

Paint DOES go on sale. Sales aren’t just for holiday decorations and school clothes. Big box home stores put paint on sale during summer holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Paint companies like Sherwin Williams offer coupons throughout the year, and there are frequently big discounts and Buy 2 Get 1 Free sales at home improvement stores around the holidays when people are likely to fix up their homes for guests.

Hang on to your disposable stuff and left over paint. Clean your brushes thoroughly, rinse out your paint pans, fold up your plastic drapes and drop cloths. A little effort after a project will save you money next time. Also hang on to your extra paint. Instead of tossing it and then having to buy a new gallon to touch up dents and scratches, you’ll already have everything that you need for free. Unopened paint kept indoors can be used up to TEN years after purchase. Opened cans of left over paint keep for around two years.
We had our dining room painted a grayish blue that I loved for years. Now I’m over it. The color that I picked to repaint was so close to the color we had painted our entryway, I decided to just use that old paint in the dining room and spent $0 on the new project.

Don’t forget to ask for your discounts. Lowe’s has a 10% off military discounts. Seniors, police, fire and students are also often offered percent discounts at check out. Also check out sites like RetailMeNot.com and AAA (if you’re a member) for offers like free shipping and percents off a regular price order. If you’re not sure if you qualify, ask the cashier “what discounts are available today?” The worst that can happen is they say “None.”

 

Spring at the Bailey’s

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Spring is in full swing here at the Bailey’s! There is so much going on here I haven’t had a lot of time here to post much at all, and I’ve been mostly using Instagram, but I’m trying to get better with that.

IMG_3353Preschool and kindergarten are winding down and we’re getting dates for move up ceremonies and back packs full of completed workbooks and projects. Abby will be in pre-kindergarten next year (basically the same thing as preschool) because of her December birthday, and I can’t believe it but Sam will be in first grade. When he started preschool I was a “My Baby is Growing Up” mess. Kindergarten I was ok. Now he’s a “grader” and I’m a mess again.

The weather here has been on and off hot and sunny followed by cold and rainy. We’ve been having so much fun doing outside things on the hot days. The other day I bought an 8 foot kiddie pool (not a budget friendly purchase but one that will definitely get lots of use). We’ve also done mini golf, IMG_3335lunches at the lake since there’s no charge for admittance for another few weeks, and visited the playground near our house that no one is ever at.

The rainy days have been for spring decluttering and working my side hobbies like crochet and Poshmark. Poshmark has been pretty dead this month but crochet actually picked up a bit so that’s nice. As far as decluttering, I’ve tackled our bedroom closet and the kid’s playroom (again). Jeff is working on a beautiful shelving unit for the playroom complete with reading bench that I can’t wait to install.

IMG_3422We’ve been participating in a No Spend May challenge with intermittent success. We have a couple of events that call for gift giving this month. Especially Mother’s Day and my sister’s High School Graduation, and of course some (not really) mandatory summer purchases like a float vest for Ben for when my mom opens her pool, summer shoes for all three kids after striking out at the consignment shop, the kiddie pool, and a dress for myself for the grad parties we have this month, which I actually got on sale for $9.99.

We’ve faltered a few times with our spending ban, but earlier this month I was still ableimg_3428.jpg to pay off my Mohela student loans and making some awesome progress with my next debt, a different student loan through Navient. At the beginning of the month it was at $3,220 and 7.25% interest, which is 2% higher than my next highest student loan. As we sit it’s at $2,800, and Jeff got some travel reimbursement through work, and all of that $245 is going right towards this loan. I’m really hoping to be able to pay this off by the end of the summer, and then I’ll be down to ONE student loan! I can’t believe it.

Last but definitely not least, the most exciting news for the season is that we’ve decided to have a family vacation next year! I’ve written about a previous family vacation before here. Other than over nights and day trips, we’ve never had a family vacation. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that growing up, I was used to week long camping trips and trips to the beach every summer. We had a camper and then bought a bigger one, went to amusement parks, ate out and did whatever we wanted. My parents were also drowning in credit card debt that they remortgaged the house three times to cover, became upside down on their mortgage, eventually divorced and last I checked, there are foreclosure proceedings beginning for my childhood home (my dad still lives there and we haven’t spoken since 2011 due to his alcoholism and other poor choices that I won’t go into).

IMG_3321Anyway, we were sitting looking at adorable lake cabins on the computer the other night, talking about how great it would be to take a real family vacation. We’d have our own place to stay and not worry about noisy neighbors or finding an affordable place to eat. A nice calm lake with no waves and a private beach is perfect for someone like me that is constantly worried about big waves knocking little people over and who’s running in which direction. We could cook our own food and grill out and take the kids out in a canoe. Then we looked at each other and said, you know what? Let’s do it! We’re thinking my loans will be paid off by then, leaving only Jeff’s student loans and the mortgage for debts, and the kids are only little for so long, its time to make some memories! We created a separate savings account, created a ballpark budget and figured out how much per month we would need to save up over 12 months to make it, adjusted our current budget and away we go!

I’m working on a Mid-Year Report type post based on the goals we set on New Year’s, so stay tuned for that! Happy spring!

What I do with Coupons

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Once upon a time there was a girl obsessed with coupons. She had a binder she brought to the stores with her and everything.

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One of my couponing hauls c. 2011.

You see, she had just had a baby and felt like she was floundering at being a parent, and buying trunkfuls of diapers at bargain prices made her feel like a success at something. And she really needed that.

Plus the TV show about extreme couponing made it look so easy to fill a million carts with noodles and soda and only pay 34 cents for the whole thing.

Later, she realized how much time she spent researching, cutting and organizing coupons. This was probably around the same time maternity leave ended.

Surprise! The girl in the story is me! So yeah I went through this big couponing phase when Sam was a brand new baby. I watched the Extreme Couponing show, I studied flyers, I had a binder and a calculator that I brought to the store.

And the honest truth now? I’m not even sure I really saved all that much money. I remember one check out I had paid over $70 in coupons, but I was still paying more per month than I do now. And that’s even considering that I had two less kids at the time.

So what do I do with coupons now? We’re a family on a budget, I must be all over them still right?

Not really.

The big secrets to keeping within our $650/ month food and household supplies budget (including personal care items, diapers, wipes, everything I buy at the grocery store), are 1. Shopping at Aldi and 2. Meal planning. 

Even though I try every week to get the wide majority of the things we need at Aldi, there are a few things I go to another store to get.

Aldi does not accept coupons. Not that you even need them. Most of the brands they carry are house brands, so there aren’t any coupons in existence for them (except some fake ones that circulate around the internet intermittently). There are some national brands there, but leave your coupons home because they won’t be accepted.

Every week in the mail we get sent a P&G flyer. This is the. Best. Mail. Day. I go through it looking for the (very few) brand name items I get still. Then I peruse coupons.com and see if they have anything going on. I will jump brands and styles or whatever if I find a coupon that makes it worth while.

I usually clip 3-4 a week for a couple dollars in savings. I also pick up any dog related ones and mail them to my friend. Last week we found one that was BUY ONE GET ONE FREE 15LB BAG OF DOG FOOD. Win! I was so excited, and I don’t even have a dog.

Coupon Did You Know?: You can help military families stationed over seas by donating your expired coupons? Coupons up to six months old can be mailed to military bases all over the world. Find out how to help by clicking here!

My Coupon Do’s and Don’t’s

DO look at quantities and product size. Take the ones that say “When You Buy 4!” and throw them immediately in the recycle bin UNLESS you honest to goodness, completely and absolutely are going to use all of those items. Also, some coupons specify what size of product they’re applicable for. Pay close attention to this when you’re shopping or you won’t get your discount.

DON’T forget to compare the after-coupon price to the price of the equivalent store brand item. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you’re saving at the register when you still pay more after coupons on the exact same item.

DO know the store’s coupon policy. Some have limits on how many of the same coupon you can use, or if you can stack manufacturer coupons on top of store deals. Don’t wreck your whole budget plan because of some ridiculous rules you didn’t know about. Other stores will double your coupon if they meet certain criteria. Get to know which day is Double Coupon Day and what amount is doubled and save even bigger!

DON’T forget to check expiration dates and get a total bum out at the register.

DO realize that your time is valuable. I got a little obsessed and went down the rabbit hole of coupon-dom the first time. To me, coupons are a tool to nip away at your grocery bill, not a life style. I know that there are people who are coupon scientists, and can leave a store with car loads of free products. And even some who make almost a salary selling their stockpiles, or even donate their haul to women’s shelters and other organizations. These people are amazing and get all the kudos. But other people who don’t have that talent (like me), need to realize its ok to skim the newspaper and save a couple bucks a week, and not really shoot for the carts of free product.

DON’T forget to keep your eyes peeled for peel off and sticker coupons, and discounted produce and meat. When I shopped at another major grocery store chain, I would always  get organic salad boxes for next to nothing because some of the packages were close to date and were up to $2 off per box.

Coupons are also available for non grocery things. Every year we go to the same restaurant for our anniversary and I always bring a 2 for 1 coupon I cut out of the local penny saver. I still love coupons, its just that now, coupons are a small part of my bigger money saving plan, not the whole thing.