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!

Meal Planning Ideas

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Keeping the grocery shopping and out to eat budgets under control is such a huge part of keeping our whole budget.

Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It

Ive really gotten into the swing and habit of meal planning lately and thats really helped, but sometimes its a challenge to keep it fresh.

I really want to do more posts like this, so here’s the first meal planning post of 2018! These are a few meals I’ve tried lately that we really like and aren’t outrageously expensive.

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Personal Pot Pies or “pot pie guts.” This one is super easy. I put half a package of chicken tenderloins in the crock put with salt and pepper, about 1c. chicken broth and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and leave it there for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.

Then I drain the broth out, and stir in a jar of chicken or turkey gravy and let it sit on warm for like a half an hour.

Put into bowls and top with a biscuit! Done.

 

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Bang Bang Chicken This one is new to the meal plan and is SOOO good.

I found it on Pinterest here.

I might have cheated out a little bit and not gotten the sweet chili sauce or the fresh chopped parsley, but it was still good with just using things I already had or could find easily.

It also stores well and makes for great leftovers.

 

IMG_7329Garlic Cheddar Chicken Bake This one I found on the Pillsbury website when I was randomly searching for “easy family dinners.”

It only has a couple of ingredients, five of them are probably in your pantry right now.

Everyone loves it and I make it weekly (for now) with mashed potatoes as a side.

This is another one that stores perfectly and is a hit again on leftover night.

 

I hope maybe one of these piqued your fancy and made this weeks meal plan a little easier. I have another one of these posts planned. And I definitely have to get a new bulb for my dining room light because I hate the yucky yellow color it gives everything.

Bon appetit!

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!

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.