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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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!

Week of Budget Dinners

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Last week on my Instagram account I did quick posts about what I made each night for dinner, along with how much I spent total and then broke it down to the per person costs (for our 5 person family).

I wanted to put them up on here as well so I could post links and more information and so they would be more permanent. I also hope to do this more and more.

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  1. Honey-Apple DrumsticksI found this recipe here, on the Food Network website a few weeks ago searching for easy, healthy dinner ideas. The first night, it got rave reviews, and the second time were even better because I had more practice making the glaze. Even Sam ate two drumsticks after six years of refusing to touch any food with a sauce on it. I was intimidated at first because I had no idea how to make a glaze, but it’s seriously so easy, and I feel like a more experienced cook now. Doesn’t take much I guess.
    Served with two dry packaged Spanish rice bags.
    Cost: $4.88 total, .89/person.

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2. Spiced-Apple-Stuffed French Toast Casserole

After taking two months of the summer off, I restarted Weight Watchers last week (and lost 5.4 lbs!).  So when I was looking for dinner ideas, I knew I should check out some WW ones just to make my life easier. I found this crockpot recipe here, on the Weight Watchers website. I like having breakfast stuff for an easy dinner, and this was just filling enough. The apples and spices in it made it taste like fall, so I’m sure in a few weeks it’ll be a new favorite.
Cost: $4.10 total or .82/person

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3. Soup and Paninis

This is on the meal plan every week. Another easy, fast dinner, and everyone can have just what they want (read: no whining). Conveniently this was for dinner the first night I started feeling really sick with what I now think is Lyme disease after visiting my doctor and starting treatment the other day.
Don’t have a panini maker? No problem. You can also use a waffle iron, a non-stick-sprayed pan (as if you were making grilled cheese), or toast both pieces of bread before assembling the sandwich and microwaving it for a few seconds.
Cost: $4.23 total, or .85/person.

4. Pizza Night

Ok I was feeling pretty cruddy by this point AND I worked until after we usually have dinner, so there’s no picture for pizza night. Anyways, this is another thing that stays on my meal plan. I love pizza. We used to order delivery several times a month; sometimes ever more than once per week. This was obviously ridiculously expensive, and after we added drinks and sides, we could top $40-50 easy, for one dinner. Not wanting to give it up, I have a frozen pizza night weekly. Aldi has a million different varieties that go from classic cheese and pepperoni to roasted veggie bistro style to (my latest favorite) taco and gyro pizza. I get two so little people have options and we usually have left overs for lunch the next day. Sometimes we even do make-your-own, and pick out our own toppings and have a little mini-cheffing.

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5. Honey Mustard Pork Chops

This one was from my Weight Watchers cookbook, but I also found it here, on food.com, except I go with boneless chops. I must be on this week because all the kids ate this one too. Pork chops are so cheap, and after they’re left to marinade, they cook on broil in like 12 minutes.
Served with mashed potatoes (red russet because you don’t have to peel them). You could also add a bag of frozen veggies for under $1.
Cost: $3.60 total or .72/person.

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6. Skinnytaste Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

From my Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook, but you can also find the recipe here. So I couldn’t fine heirloom carrots and I wasn’t interested in driving all over creation to find them, and I used goat cheese crumbles instead of feta because my Aldi was out this particular day. Anyway, it turned out delicious and we ate every bite. Definitely going on the plan for next week.
Cost: $6.45 total or $1.29/person

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7. Leftovers/ Poverty Meal

I really have to say, when I posted about pasta with butter on my Instagram, I never ever thought it would get such a response. So many people (considering my small amount of followers) either said they had something similar or wanted to know how to make it. Something borne in my childhood when we had no food in the cabinets, and no money to get anything more, this still goes on my meal plan for Wednesday nights to supplement the week’s leftovers. Its cheap, easy and for some reason, everyone seems to like it.
For those of you looking for the recipe: 
Boil 1lb pasta (any type) and drain.
Add 1 stick of butter and mix until butter is melted and pasta is coated.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan/Romano cheese.
Add salt and basil to taste.
Cost: $1.61 total or .32/person

I really like the idea of the budget meals posts. I’m definitely going to try to post more on here as I discover and try some more out so stay tuned!

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.”

 

Take Out Night on a Budget: Chinese

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It’s take out night with Aldi!

I love Chinese food so much. I could eat crab rangoon until I’m sick, and if I’m being honest. I probably have.

We used to spend upwards of $70 on one night of Chinese take out. That’s insane. I knew that’s way too much, but I was’t sure I could give up Chinese food for good. Not to mention that I’ve been on a mission to lose some baby weight, and gorging myself on Szechuan chicken isn’t in the plan.

IMG_2196That’s why I was so excited when I could the Fusia line at Aldi. We’ve tried other at home Asian foods from other stores and they (somehow) were both expensive and kind of ‘meh’ in taste.

This is a shot of the Fusia products at Aldi. I’ve tried the chicken lo mein, General Tso chicken and Szechuan vegetable stir fry. I also keep a bottle of Duck sauce in the fridge.

IMG_2262For our “home Chinese night,” I usually make Earthly Grains white rice, ($1.99) with vegetable stir fry ($2.69) and either chicken lo mein ($3.99) or General Tso’s ($3.99). A bottle of duck sauce is $1.99, and considering the 2lb bag of white rice lasts forever, our whole night of take-in is less than one entree used to cost when we had it delivered.

And I don’t even charge a delivery fee 😉