Frugal Family Fun

I’d already begun this post before all the craziness of the last couple weeks happened, so keep that in mind as you read. However, I thought it might be of help to those of you who don’t quite know what to do with your little kids at home.

Right now, my kiddos are really young (2 1/2 and 6 months), and it’s challenging to just get out of the house some days. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy family activities and outings. However, this one-income family is on a budget, so we’re not dropping a ton of money on entertainment.

The biggest challenges for us right now are finding activities that we will ALL enjoy, and working around nap schedules. Because, let’s face it, when the toddler is cranky, nobody is having fun, lol. Both girls are under the age of three, so bonus points for activities that are outside, where they can be as loud as they want, and be free to move and play.

Many people seem to be under the impression that we always have to do BIG things to make memories with our children. Sure they’ll enjoy that trip to Disney, but they also love playing games, coloring, and going to the park with us. And I believe it’s the little, every day ways we play with our children that make the most lasting impressions.

$3 Target find. The Dollar Store usually has some, too.

Some things I do with my toddler (and infant) during the week are…

  1. Go to the library.
  2. Read.
  3. Color, paint, or craft.
  4. Blow bubbles. We love the no-spill Fubbles container we picked up at Walmart last year.
  5. Build/create, using blocks, blankets, playdough, etc.
  6. Go for a walk.
  7. Go to the park.
  8. Play make-believe, using stuff you have around the house: plastic food, blocks, pots/pans, clothes, etc.
  9. Play games/puzzles. We only have two games right now, Think Roll Fun and a Frozen II Matching game, but my toddler will pull them out pretty often; and thanks to my mom, we have a TON of puzzles.
  10. Sing/dance. YouTube is my friend in this instance. My toddler loves to sing–like her momma, lol–so she loves singing along with songs we find online (usually Disney and nursery songs). And we play the Freeze Dance game, as well.
  11. *Bonus* I plan to homeschool in the future, so we’ve been practicing line tracing, lately. You can find some activities on Pinterest, but I also picked up a Preschool workbook, from Aldi’s, a few weeks back. I make copies (since I have 2 littles) and place it in a dry erase pocket I purchased from Target while back-to-school shopping, last year.

It may look like I keep them busy, but I don’t really. They play by themselves (or with each other) and they watch some television, but they mostly watch educational shows (I’ll share a list of our favorites below). If they didn’t watch some TV I’d never get anything done around the house. Other times they follow me around the house as I cook, do laundry, or clean.

We’ve started implementing family movie nights on Friday or Saturday evenings, with pizza, popcorn or hot chocolate, and a Disney/family movie. Our toddler might get to stay up a little later to watch the movie with us; and we’ve only done this a few times, but she’s constantly asking for family movie nights, now.

When dad’s home from work, it’s easier to actually go places with both kiddos. So, we tend to save bigger/longer outings for the weekends. Our favorite place to go, so far, has been Maymont in Richmond, Va. We went a few weeks ago, toting along a picnic lunch. It’s free–supported by donations–and complete with animals, gardens, and lots of walking. Last time we went there were kids (and parents) rolling down a huge hill on the property, near the birds of prey exhibits. We have yet to make it inside the mansion for a tour (which is currently closed due to COVID-19), and the Nature Center–which we have visited previously–was under renovation.

If you’re in the area and looking for a free outdoor activity, we always recommend it. There’s a couple parks in the area, as well, but we haven’t been to them, yet. As my girls get older I can make further recommendations, but these are what currently work for us.

Favorite Toddler Television Shows

  • Daniel Tiger
  • Sesame Street
  • The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That
  • Llama Llama
  • Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
  • Doc McStuffins
  • Word World
  • Curious George
  • Super Why
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Wild Kratts
  • Clifford the Big Red Dog
  • Dora the Explorer
  • Max & Ruby
  • Wallykazam!
  • Dino Dana
  • Superbook
  • Owlegories
  • Veggie Tales

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?