Menu Planning for Dummies

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This was originally posted on Money Saving Mom.


Not too many months ago, I was spending $80 to $100 a week on groceries. For two people. I knew it wasn’t quite right, that I didn’t need to spend so much; yet, how would I get to cook the things I wanted if I tried to pennypinch? Wouldn’t we end up eating macaroni and cheese and cereal for every meal?

I read many blogs on saving money and using coupons, but I could not get it to click in my head very well. I thrived on trying new recipes, exciting and exotic meals from the pages of Cooking Light and Southern Living. I planned my meals, made out a list of ingredients I needed, and zipped off to the store each week.

 

Then, in October 2008, I had my first child. Suddenly the cost of daycare, pediatrician visits, diapers, wipes, and other baby paraphernalia was eating at our loosely planned budget. In January, once I was back at work and more in the swing of things, I decided it was time to tackle my grocery spending. I thought surely the two of us could eat for $40 a week if I were more careful.

 

It’s not been nearly as difficult as I imagined. Mostly I just flipped around my way of doing things: instead of choosing meals and then making my list, I make the list and then choose meals. First, I cut out the coupons from that week’s circular that I might use at some point. I flip back through my coupon box to remind myself what I have. Then, I scour the ads of my two local grocery stores to find the great deals for the week, and match up items for which I have coupons. [Now I often use Southern Savers to point me to great Publix deals and online coupon match-ups as well.]

 

After that, I use my list of items I can get for a steal to plan my menu. I’ve found that doing it this way, I can still make many meals from those magazines I love. Some of my recent favorites have been Gnocchi with Italian Sausage and Swiss Chard, Pork Tenderloin with Shallot-Cider Sauce, and Grilled Chicken Burritos with Jalapeno Sauce. I use healthy, whole ingredients to make our dinners—with an occasional side of frozen veggies or Rice-a-Roni.

 

I never thought I would be the kind of person to go through the grocery store with a calculator, but I do now, every week. I get everything on my list, then use any extra money I have for the week for unadvertised deals, manager’s specials, or treats for my husband.

 

Some weeks I still groan at the idea of laboring through the coupons and ads; but truly, it is just an hour of my time each Sunday while the baby naps, and it saves a great deal of money. Some day I would like to stay home with my daughter, and having these habits now is great practice for the future, when I might be on an ever tighter budget!

 

Right now my $40 budget is just for the week’s groceries, but I hope as I get more and more used to it I’ll be able to squeeze my household items in there as well.

Great Resources for Online Savings:

MoneySavingMom.com

Southern Savers

Cellfire

P&G E-Saver

Upromise

Coupons.com

SmartSource.com

What’s your menu planning method? Do you have a grocery budget? A favorite budget-friendly meal? I’d love to know!

Frugal Fashionista Style

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I know I have my own carnival going on, but I’ve been waiting MONTHS to share some frugal style with you via Jen‘s “fashion show”!

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This was my go-to summer outfit that I wore everywhere. I just LOVED the skirt. Although it was one size too big, wearing a longer top you couldn’t tell at all. The skirt was $2 at Goodwill on half-price day! My Ralph Lauren tank top was also $2 the same day. My cardigan was on clearance at Lane Bryant and I picked it up for $5 brand-new! And although my shoes were not as inexpensive, I wore them and one other pair throughout my entire pregnancy and am still getting good wear out of them. That makes them a deal in my book! (And they were from Payless in the first place…)

(sorry the picture is so blurry)

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When we were visiting the new house in Chattanooga for the first time, I eyed a small consignment store that looked promising. Not only did I find my $7 Vigoss jeans there, I got this lovely suede jacket for $5. (As well as some great gray work pants.)

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Probably 75% of Libbie’s clothes come from either thrift stores, consignment sales, or are hand-me-downs. This pink Liz Claiborne dress came with matching bloomers and was 75 cents at a small local thrift store. More frugalista baby fashion here.

Right now pretty much all of my clothes are from thrift stores, as I’m still carrying baby weight and my body is just different than it was pre-pregnancy. If you look hard enough, you can find some GREAT pieces. My #1 tip is search out thrift stores in upscale areas. Our local Franklin Goodwill is a goldmine, even for plus-sized girls like me!

Visiting Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for great frugal tips on all aspects of life!

A Working Parent Tip

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These days, we’re REALLY trying to save money due to the abysmal selling-our-house situation. So I try to take my lunch to work most every day.

In the mornings, however, I’m not only trying to get myself ready for work, but also getting my baby girl up, changed, dressed, fed, and packing her diaper bag for the day. She eats a LOT of little things so it takes me time to prepare all of those each day. In addition, she wears cloth diapers so if they aren’t already folded and stuffed, it’s another task I add to the morning routine.

(This single parenting during the week stinks! Not only do I have to get all our stuff ready, I have to make sure she’s not trying to swim in the toilet or falling down the stairs.)

If there is not something I can easily grab for breakfast or lunch, I often give up and end up eating out for lunch at work.

So my number one solution to this has been to divide up leftovers in individual portions right after dinner. That way, I can easily grab a tupperware container on my way out the door in the morning and have a delicious lunch.

I keep them stacked at eye level in the refrigerator so I can see my selections and make a quick choice.

This tip helps me save money, eat healthier, and it works for me!
___

If you’re visiting from Works for Me Wednesday, I have a fun little carnival going on called The 12 Days of Libbie. I’d love it if you’d link up a post you’ve written that loves on your kid(s)!

Shopaholic Cheapskate

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The theme of this week seems to be: I have a confession.

Confession 1: I am on the verge of giving up breastfeeding.
Confession 2: I make my Christmas list all year round.
And coming tomorrow … I hate tomatoes.

But for now, Christmas.

I am pretty cheap. I’m no Money Saving Mom, but I’ve whittled down my grocery bill this year, buy almost all secondhand clothes at Goodwill and consignment sales, and try to keep the random purchases to a minimum. This is totally learned behavior, but I’m getting more skilled. And more patient! (And can I say, I TOTALLY love my Vigoss jeans I bought for $7 at a thrift store in Chattanooga! Best fitting jeans I’ve ever found. They’re these…but not size 1!!)

And so, I shop by wish list. I’ve used both Amazon wish list and Kaboodle, but I prefer Amazon, especially now that they have universal wishlist–where you can add anything from anywhere on the Internet. There’s not much you can’t find listed on Amazon, but for clothes especially, the universal list is awesome.

It’s nice to be able to add year-round when I think of something I might actually really want or need, as opposed to sitting there on Thanksgiving Day, a pen forced into my hand, trying to rack my brain for something. I definitely don’t expect to get gifts only off a list, but I know I enjoy having a list for others and I hope they feel the same way for me. (And my mother-in-law refuses to shop except off a list.)

I go through periods, though, where I obsess over it. (Surprise, surprise. What can I NOT obsess over?) I’ve been on a bit of a wishlist kick lately–especially after seeing the adorable things at the Dayspring/(in)courage store. Current desires are Department 56 Christmas village items, Broadway soundtracks (always!), and cookbooks from my fellow bloggers!

Usually I have most of my own Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving. I haven’t even given it a thought until today, though. Guess it’s time to get the wheels turning.

Have you thought at all about Christmas? What’s one fun item you’d put on your wishlist (or is on it already)?

Kaboodle
Amazon wishlists

Should Entertaining Be Part of a Grocery Budget?

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The place where I really struggle in sticking to my grocery budget of $40 a week is with entertaining and taking meals to people. Both of those are things I enjoy, ministries even.

Through Sunday School, I am often called upon to take a meal to a family with a new baby or someone who is sick. I like to bring food into work and be able to help out co-workers who have had surgery or are down for the count. My work team is close-knit and visited me several times when I was on maternity leave (once bringing me a Subway cold cut combo–the pregnancy “don’t” that I craved).

Mr. V and I also love to have people over, despite my abysmal housekeeping. I like to think the meals make up for the state of the house. And when I have people over, I feel compelled to serve salad, main course, sides, dessert–an actual meal, as opposed to what Mr. V and I usually eat (a casserole; a meat and a veggie; grilled cheese). And don’t get me wrong–I LOVE it. I love to feed people and it blesses me to have other enjoy my food.

But usually we do things on the spur of the moment. I don’t take into account a meal for company when I plan our menus, because who knows if we will have people over that week. And so, quite often, I end up spending another $20 here and there at the store buying ingredients for these meals. And then I feel that I’ve gone over my grocery budget–time and again.

What do you do? Do you always have the fixings for a company meal on hand? Or a casserole you can make up in a flash to take to a sick friend? Do you have a separate budget for it? I would love your input on this.

Super Savings Saturday

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Some days, couponing just makes me annoyed. I hate doing it, but I make myself.

And then today, I was gleeful. I had the time to do it; I did my homework on Southern Savers and printed out the right coupons. I zoomed around Publix, getting only what I planned on, and saving a ton of money. Kroger was not quite as easy, and I ended up going a tiny tiny bit over what I wanted to spend. I should have put something back, but it was such a small amount and I still struggle with being embarassed over that.

At Publix, I bought blueberries, one plum tomato, Huggies baby wash, Granny Smith apples, Muir Glen tomato paste, Publix redskin potato salad, 2 Tai Pei frozen dinners, A-1 marinade, and Blue Diamond almonds. With my coupons, the Huggies wash was 14 cents, the marinade I got a 55 cent overage, the potato salad was 45 cents with a Baby Club coupon, the almonds were 59 cents, the tomato paste was 9 cents, and the Tai Pei dinners were 99 cents each. I spent $7.54 before tax.

At Kroger, I bought Marzetti veggie dip (on clearance), salsa, shredded cheese, cheese slices, frozen cornish game hen halves (.99 with $1 off catalina coupon), bakery buns, Dole salad (.71 on clearance), a Betty Crocker warm delight (.49 with cellfire and doubled manufacturer coupon), ground turkey, cherries, peaches, 6 yoplait cups (1.80 for with cellfire and doubled mfg Q), tortilla chips, lunchmeat ham, Santa Cruz strawberry lemonade (.74 with coupon), refried beans, natural peanut butter, granola bars, and a salmon fillet (1.98 on clearance). I spent $29.93 before tax.

Altogether, about $38 before tax, but more than $40 after tax. I’m trying to not spend over $40 total. But still, a very successful trip! I’m trying to do more shopping for what I can get really, really cheap and making what I can with those ingredients. So for this next week, I have 2 rolls of lean ground beef I got for about $1.50 each and some shrimp I got for $4, as well as a freezer meal.

I found all my deals for this week on Southern Savers. I’m also linking this up with Super Saver Saturday at Money Saving Mom.