Family Meal Planning on a Budget

Beside the cost of housing, food, literally, eats up one of the largest percentages of the average family budget. If we’re not careful, we could easily end up spending way more than we can afford on dining out and groceries. Our family rarely eats out, although, we do budget a small sum each month “just in case” we need to eat on the go. Instead, we try to plan and shop smart, for meals at home.

I haven’t done a budget grocery post since 2015’s Pantry Staples on a Frugal Budget, when I was unmarried, and without a child; and I thought now would be a good time to do so. Back then, I wasn’t cooking or eating (as a nursing mom) nearly as much as now, and cooking for 1 is much different than cooking for 2 adults and a choosy toddler. Furthermore, since I’m a stay-at-home momma (SAHM), I’m making food and snacks for myself and Cookie Girl throughout the day. So, my $30 a week budget from 3 years ago, definitely wouldn’t fly today. Now, we have about a $100 weekly budget. Some weeks we spend a little more and others a little less, but since we create a monthly budget (using the Every Dollar app), as long as we stay within what we’ve budgeted for groceries for the month, we’re good to go.

I’m gonna be honest, I struggled with meal prep and budgeting, for a while after baby was born. The hubbs did a lot of the cooking and grocery shopping, and while he’s a great cook (thank you, Lord), he doesn’t care much for sticking to a budget. When I did begin cooking again, it was a challenge because our family needs had changed. When we both worked outside the home, I would batch cook on the weekends so we’d have frozen/leftover meals for lunch and make simple stuff for dinner during the week. However, I’m no longer working outside the home, and we now live 30 minutes away from town; so we need meals that require little time for preparation, or we’ll end up eating fast food. Now that I’m a home during the day (for the most part), I have a little more freedom to make a variety of delicious, but simple home-cooked meals.

So, how are we doing it? Well, we’re still following those simple tips from that 2015 post, but we’re also incorporating the following…

  1. Monday morning I plan my week. That way I know what’s happening during the week.20180910_120555.jpg
  2. Then I plan my meals around what we’ll be doing during the week. We usually have leftovers on the days I won’t have time to cook, use the slow cooker, or pull out a freezer meal. (We’ve been testing recipes from the “Seriously Good Freezer Meals” cookbook; so far, I love it.)
  3. I plan 4 meals for the next week, so I can go grocery shopping the week before. That means, I have all the groceries I need this week, because I picked them up last week.
  4. I do most of our shopping at Aldi. We buy practically everything at Aldi because you just can’t beat their prices. Yes, it’s further away for me–we have a grocery store much closer to home–but the prices are nowhere near the prices we can get at Aldi. If there’s something I can’t find there, then I’ll go to another grocery store. (Note: Target is not a grocery store! Grocery prices tend to be much higher there.)
  5. We only go to Costco twice a month. I’ve found that if I made weekly trips to Costco I would over-spend every time and always end up busting our budget. When I do go, we only pick up pantry items, or items we can freeze, like meat, fish, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, bread, or rice; items that won’t spoil before we can eat it all and that will last us for a long time. There’s no point in purchasing groceries at a good price only to have them spoil. Additionally, Costco’s prices aren’t always the best deals you can find; I hardly ever buy fresh produce there, because the prices are too high. Always compare the cost per unit/lb/oz before purchasing.

As you can see, that takes care of dinner. As far as breakfast and lunch go, there are always items we keep on hand.

  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Milk (Almond milk in our house)
  • Rice
  • Lunch meat & sliced cheese
  • Peanut butter & jelly (The hubby’s go-to are PB & J sandwiches.)
  • Kodiak cakes (pancake mix)
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar/Stevia
  • Pasta
  • Cheese (blocks)
  • Frozen fruit & vegetables
  • Cheerios
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt
  • Tomato Sauce & paste
  • Crushed Tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Coffee & creamer
  • Fruit & veggie pouches
  • Fresh fruit
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Garlic (fresh or minced)
  • Vegetable/olive oil
  • Butter
  • Chicken/Beef Bouillon, powder, or stock
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, chili powder, oregano, etc. (we have a pretty big collection)

Some of these we only keep on hand because we have a 13-month-old in the house, the fruit & veggie pouches, and Cheerios, for instance.

But these are pretty much staple items that we try to always keep on hand in our house. From here, we can fill in the gaps for specific recipes we put on the menu. Usually, that would include meat or fish, fresh herbs or veggies, or milk or heavy cream. Planning our weekly meals, grocery shopping with a written list, and on a full stomach are just some of the things that we do to prevent us from overspending on our groceries each month (which is very easy to do). What are some of the ways you save on groceries?

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Spending Less this Summer: 2016

My husband and I are currently working on paying off our combined debt; however, while we are on a budget, we also enjoy our weekend activities. Therefore, we’re always on the lookout for ways to spend time together outside our home, without spending a ton of money.

Since we only got married in May, the past 2 months we’ve just been learning how to live together, so we spend a lot of time grocery shopping together, cooking, or taking care of other household chores. Before we got married we used to eat out a lot, but we have tried to cut back on those expenses, now we try to meal prep and cook more at home. (It’s like playing tetris when we try to put our prepped items in the freezer, lol.)

Speaking of cooking…about a month into our wedding someone at work asked me if I was pregnant, lol. (That’s what happens when you have a husband that enjoys cooking and likes to feed you!) So, that same day I messaged my hubby to let him know I was ready to start working out. He’d been trying (unsuccessfully) to get me to go running with him, previously, so he was happy about my decision to join him. One way we save in this area, is by using the gym in our apartment complex instead of paying for a gym membership. We’re already paying for the amenity with our rent, so we might as well use it. It’s pretty basic–some treadmills, a stationary bike, ellipticals, free-weights, and a few machines. Yet, while it may not have all the fancy equipment found at a bigger gym, Pinterest, as we all know, is full of home workouts that we can ad to our routines. We’ve also walked/run along a 3-mile path that goes around our local city and along the river.

Earlier this summer, we also attended a free, local event along the river called “Rock the River FBXB.” There were local vendors, foods trucks, musicians, a beer garden, boat races, hikes, bike rides, foot races, and plenty of children’s activities. We spent most of our time chatting with friends, but the weather was great, dogs abounded, and the music was loud. We had fun! In our area, there are numerous free or low-cost summer concerts: First Friday concerts in downtown Market Square, Stafford Songfest Sundays at John Lee Pratt Memorial Park, and Celebrate Virginia Afterhours are just a few. We’ve been meaning to check out the concerts at Pratt Memorial Park and take along a picnic basket with us, but we haven’t had the opportunity, yet. Be sure to check your local area for similar events.

Independence Day weekend we went camping with my family in Shenandoah National Park. While we did have to pick up some new camping gear–a tent & sleeping bag, for two–the campsites were decently priced! If you already have the gear, or can find a really good deal on equipment, tenting is always an option for a weekend getaway.IMG_3650

Lastly, one of the activities we’ve been attempting to participate in each month (since January 2016, actually) is what we call our First Friday Karoake Night. Every Friday night, beginning around 9:30-10, our local Applebees hosts a karaoke night. They also have half-priced appitizers afer 9, so that doesn’t hurt, either. 😉 We usually text all our friends to join us on the first Friday of each month, but whether it’s just the two of us, or a crowd, we usually enjoy ourselves. Check to see if any of your local restaurants host karaoke nights, if this is something your interested in.

Well, that’s it for this year’s low-budget summer activity list! Let me know below how you’ve been filling up your summer, or what upcoming plans you already have.

Pantry Staples on a Frugal Budget

Living on a budget isn’t always easy. I don’t make much money and I’m still trying to pay off my student loan, so as a single, working woman my grocery budget is only $60 for every two weeks. As such, there are a few things I’ve learned about grocery budgeting and shopping.

  1. Always plan your meals. I always try to plan my meals in advance so that I can create a proper grocery list, which brings me to point number 2…
  2. Always go shopping with a written grocery list. Going without a list means that you’ll forget things you may need and probably pick up things you don’t.
  3. Use cash! Using cash prevents you from overspending. I know people prefer debit cards these days, but every time I use my debit card I end up spending more than I budgeted.
  4. Bring a calculator. As you pick up the items you need, add up the cost, rounding up to account for taxes; and if you go over budget, put something back! A budget is worthless if you don’t stick to it.
  5. Last, but not least…Eat something! I probably don’t have to tell you this, but I’m going to anyways…NEVER go grocery shopping while hungry. Please eat something before you go, otherwise you’re sure to just start throwing anything and everything in your cart.

PantryShopping began getting easier as I chose to stick to these rules. Additionally, I realized a few things would no longer be purchased due to my slimmer budget. Prepackaged foods ate up my money, as did meat, so I began making more from scratch and eating more vegetarian meals. I didn’t completely give up meat, but I don’t have to eat it with every meal. Since I work during the week, I batch cook on the weekend and freeze meals for lunch, and then I make simple things for myself at home for dinner (ahh…the unmarried life, lol).

In conclusion, below is a list of budget-friendly items that I try to always keep on hand.

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Steel-cut oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Tortillas
  • Cereal (Yes, I have a problem, lol.)
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • All beef or Kosher Hot Dogs
  • Almond milk
  • Cheese
  • Coffee/Tea
  • Creamer
  • Sugar/Honey
  • Spinach
  • Baby carrots
  • Apples
  • Strawberry jam
  • Vinegar & oil salad dressing
  • Seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, lemon pepper, etc.)

Depending upon what’s on sale or what I plan on making for lunch for the next two weeks I might pick up one package of ground beef, chicken, pork, or salmon. There are other items I pick up as needed, but these are the basic items I try to always keep at home.

Spending Less this Summer: 2015

Since I’ve been trying to pay down my debt as quickly as possible and no longer have a credit card, this summer I’ve been forced to be a little more frugal when making my summer plans. Last summer my boyfriend and I purchased season passes for Kings Dominion and we spent many a weekend there. We weren’t sure if we were going to do the same this year, but we have, although, we’ve only been once, so far. If you have an amusement park nearby with reasonably priced season tickets this is a great option. Pack a cooler with some food and forgo the amusement park prices of food and remember your season ticket often provides discounts in some park eateries, as well.

Another thing we’ve done this summer is attend an outdoor movie event. Once a month this summer a local winery has been playing outdoor movies. Advanced tickets cost $10 per person and we brought a picnic basket/cooler, blanket, and a beach chair. The winery also provided, at additional cost, wine (of course), popcorn, and chocolate covered pretzels. Check your area for low-budget or free opportunities such as this and bring a sweater if you get the chills at night, like me!

I work Monday through Friday, but for those of you who have a more flexible schedule don’t forget to check out the weekday promotions at your local bowling alley or Movie Theater. For instance, AMF Bowling in my area has $2 Tuesdays; and Paragon theater shows free movies Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for children at 10 a.m. Check out the web sites! I just found out that for $40 I could purchase a summer pass (for a family of 4) for AMF Bowling and bowl up to 3 games every day if I wanted to. (I’ll keep that in mind for next year!)

My boyfriend had a birthday a few weeks ago. Rather than go out to eat, I’d planned to cook him a little birthday dinner and bought a couple cupcakes from our favorite dessert shop. He ended up inviting three other couples to join us and we spent the night eating, talking, and playing Apples to Apples. It was a great, yet inexpensive way to celebrate a birthday and spend the evening with our closest friends.

National Postal Museum, 2015

National Postal Museum, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I love a good museum and living about 45 minutes south of Washington, D.C. means that we have a slew of free museums associated with the Smithsonian Institute for our choosing. We haven’t gone to D.C. yet this summer but earlier in the summer we did spend a day in old town Alexandria, VA. We arrived a little late, so the Old Town Farmers Market was closing up as we arrived, but that didn’t prevent my boyfriend from picking up some fresh bread. We did, however, end up spending hours at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, where we found a collection of working artist studios open to the public for viewing and purchase. There were even artists available to discuss their work! You may not be as close to D.C. as we are but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any free museums or art centers in your area.

Well, I hope this short list gave you some fun ideas for your summer endeavors. It’s not all inclusive and even now I can still think of a few others that I’ve yet had the opportunity to do. Being on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! There are free and low-budget opportunities everywhere! Be sure to take advantage of them.