10 Tips to Stay on Budget for Groceries

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I frequently get skeptical looks, the side eye, or people thinking I’m starving my kids when I tell them that our grocery budget is $80/week.

It takes a lot of work, but it is doable. I cook a lot from scratch- it’s healthy, cheap, and I can control what goes into each dish (hidden veggies, fruit, less sugar, etc.). I can make a cheese pizza at home for less than $4, and that is enough pizza for the kids for two meals!

Here are a few of our family tactics to stay on budget:

  1. CASH! Go to the bank/ATM and get your grocery money out of the bank every week. This is a great way to start. I get $80 out of the ATM each Saturday for the upcoming weeks’ groceries.
  2. Inventory your Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry. Bonus- You’ll also find stuff that needs to be thrown out or donated. If you are looking for kitchen inventory printables, I like the kitchen inventories here. They are great printables.
  3. Menu Plan. Start by using what you’ve got on-hand. Eat food that’s on sale or in season. We eat a lot of strawberries in the summer because they are cheap!
  4. Make a grocery list. Stick to the list Don’t be afraid to substitute brands, or make changes based on what is on sale, or any in-store markdowns you find.
  5. Don’t be afraid to go to more than one store. I’m not saying run all over town, but going to two stores is OK. In our area, there are a 99 Cents Only store and a Grocery Outlet in the same shopping Center. I hit up both each week. Then, on the way home, I stop at Food4Less and buy milk (cheapest in town!), eggs, and bread (if 99 Cents Only doesn’t have the high protein bread we like).
  6. Eat Less Meat. Not only does it save money, but it’s better for the environment.
  7. Take advantage of local resources. There are a few food co-ops in our area. Additionally, there are free produce distributions too. A couple of my friends and I split a co-op lot twice a month. It comes out to less than $20 per person, and we get all kinds of cool stuff. A quick google search can help you find both in your area.  In the summer, we take advantage of Kid’s free lunches too.
  8. Coupon and/or use money-saving apps.  My complete list of apps can be found here. Right now my favorite apps are Fetch Rewards and Ibotta.  I love that I can use Fetch at any store. It helps because I shop a lot of Grocery Outlet and 99 Cents Only.
  9. Speaking of which… Don’t forget to check out stores like 99 Cents Only. There are all kinds of great bargains. Here is my list of 10 Great Buys at 99 Cents Only!
  10. Be Flexible. Some weeks you will go over budget. It happens. Sometimes you need to stock up on staples, or your family wants to eat something that isn’t on sale. Sometimes you really want to order a pizza and wings. That’s OK! Frugality is a journey, it’s not a punishment or a life of austerity and suffering. You can still live a fun, full life while being frugal.

Talk Back: Share a few of your families tips for staying on budget?

6/24/19 Weekly Meal Plan!

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Big Kid started Summer school this morning, so he’s enjoying a few hours of learning and play away from his little sister (which I’m sure they will both enjoy- They’ve been at each other for the past few days). I stocked up on snacks and treats Saturday night at Grocery Outlet, so the kids will have yummy food to get them through the week.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

I’ve gotten a pretty good inventory of the pantry, freezer, and fridge done, so I’m able to plan meals and use up what we’ve got with little waste. If you are looking for kitchen inventory printable, I like the kitchen inventories here. They are great printables.

You may notice a lot of plant-based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids (they love the Kodiak Cakes Mix).  I also keep sandwich Ziploc bags of other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me. The kids will be enjoying free lunches all over the county with free activities and play time before or after lunch.

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot (I am picking up my new crockpot this week) in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Tortellini soup- Recipe forthcoming this week!
  • Tuesday: Homemade Pizza Night (I’m prepping the crusts today and stashing the dough in the fridge overnight to proof)
  • Wednesday:  Pasta Free Lasagna 
  • Thursday: Frittata– I’ve got a lot of veggies that need to get eaten, and some bacon in the freezer!
  • Friday:  Date Night- I’m hoping for Ramen!
  • Saturday:  Chicken Korma and Cauliflower Rice
  • Sunday: Leftover Night

Talk Back: What are you planning to cook this week?

Stretch your Grocery Budget with Free Produce Distributions!

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This list is only central, south bay, and east county locations. North County locations can be found on the Neighborhood Distribution Program website.

It’s a pretty common complaint that kids eat A LOT during the summer. There are lots of causes: Increased activity, change in schedules, and let’s face it- kids just eat a lot. This can increase a families grocery budget at a time when they are already spending extra money on activities for their kiddos.

I have a possible solution! Check out the San Diego and North County Food Bank Neighborhood Distribution Program! From their website, “The Neighborhood Distribution Program distributes food to thousands of individuals and families once a month at more than 20 different sites throughout San Diego County.

Distributions take place in our nonprofit partners’ parking lots. The majority of the food distributed consists of fresh fruits and vegetables which is part of the Food Bank’s Nutrition Initiative to provide healthy, nutrient-rich food to our clients.

Neighborhood Distribution Program sites welcome anyone in need of food assistance. I.D. and documentation ARE NOT required, and there are no income or asset restrictions for this program.”

You may be wondering, “But what do you get?” Well, one of the distribution points, Faith Chapel in Spring Valley posts photos on their  Meet the Need Ministry Instagram page!

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White onions, red potatoes, watermelons, honeydew melons, oranges and Washington apples were available today. And it’s not just a few of each. Each person who came through got a bag of white onion, a bag of red potatoes, 1 large watermelon, as many honeydew melons as they wanted, a bag of oranges, and a dozen apples.

This produce is often “ugly” or considered an “allowable second” (a production term used in several industries for an item that is functional but may not be perfect looking), but it’s always tasty and nutritious.

If you’ve got hungry faces that need food this summer, I recommend stopping by your local distribution at least once this summer. If you aren’t in the San Diego County area, check with your local food bank for Neighborhood Distribution Program.

Don’t forget that there are tons of free summer lunch locations all over the state of CA (for more info on San Diego locations, check out this post). Text FOOD  (Or COMIDA for a list in Spanish) to 877-877, or call 211 and you can find a list of free summer lunch locations near you.

And if you need further help, here is a post with food resources in San Diego County. If you are outside San Diego County, Feeding America has a really great Food Bank Locator.

 

Talk Back: What is your kids favorite summer snack?

Weekly Meal Plan!

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This week, again, we’re focusing on what we’ve got on hand. Last week I went over budget on groceries by about $20- I needed to stock up on some essentials that we had run out of, so I’m hoping we can keep the grocery budget really down this week.

For those of you that are new to meal planning, I’ve got an easy 101 style post here with super easy tips and steps. After you get that down, here is info about batch or freezer cooking.

You may notice a lot of plant-based meals- We are not vegetarian, but I am trying to get more veggies into our diet. I do a lot of cooking from scratch- I find it easier to get veggies and fruit into recipes that I can have 100% control over.

I only post our dinner plans for the week, because our other meals are usually the same each day:

Breakfast: Coffee with heavy cream for me, and pancakes or something along those lines for the kids.  I also keep sandwich ziploc bags of other frozen fruit on hand to make the kids smoothies when they request them (a few times per week). Berries, peaches, and mangos are pretty popular.

Lunches are leftovers, salads, or soups for me and the Little Bit, and The Big Kid has a specially packed lunch of whatever he’s into at the time (which changes frequently).

For dinner, when we’ve got busy days (like Mondays), I’ll try and put something in the crockpot in the morning, or pull something I’ve already prepped out that can be quickly cooked.

  • Monday: Chicken soup- Made from scratch. I made bone broth in the crockpot over the weekend.
  • Tuesday: Pizza from scratch. The children have been begging for “big pizza”. I make it on a cookie sheet.
  • Wednesday: Pulled pork in the crockpot.
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday:  Dinner out- We’re going to see Endgame!!
  • Saturday: Cheese enchiladas. We have tons of cheese sticks that the kids don’t seem interested in eating.
  • Sunday: Chicken Chicken Schwarma, Rice, and steamed veggies.

 

Talk Back: What will you be cooking this week?

6 Tips for Getting Ready for Back to School!

back-to-school.jpgIt’s coming… For some of us, back to school is NEXT WEEK! For others it’s later in August, and some lucky folks, have until Labor Day in September. Regardless of when your kids go back, it’s nice to be prepared and save money.

 

Here are a few ideas to help you prepare and stay on budget!

Packing an Awesome School Lunch.

Shop Online to Save Big-  I love shopping online, especially at JCPenney and Kohls. Lots of great deals to be had, coupons, and ship to store to save even more!

There is a backpack and school supply giveaway in Santee on August 19th. More info here.  If you need school supplies sooner, Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber is sponsoring a Back to School Kick off and Community Health Fair on 8/11/18.

If you are worried about being able to provide a nutritious, healthy lunch for your kiddos, The San Diego Food Bank sponsors Neighborhood Distributions throughout the month all over the county. You can go and get free, fresh produce- usually between 10-30 lbs. per family.  No proof of need- Just grab your reusable shopping bags and go!

a72904da152a0795ba05aaecba3a28bc.jpgAdjusting back to the school-year schedule can be a little tough- That’s why we start to get the kids back to bed at their regular time starting the beginning of August. For our kiddos, keeping them busy and active all day, really helps. Trips to the playground, beach, zoo, and pool really help.

We’ll be hitting up the night time zoo this week!

And one last back to school tip: Let your kids play and hang out with friends as much as possible before they go back, especially if they aren’t able to see some of their friends at school. We’re hosting a K’Nex Play Time Party with Tryazon this Wednesday at Shadow Hill Park in Santee! If you and your gang will be in the area, please stop by! There will bea chance to win prizes, yummy snacks, and cool toys!

 

How to save money without coupons: Part Two- Produce!

Yesterday I talked about how to save money without coupons when buying meat. Today I’m going to talk about fruits and vegetables!

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There are seldom coupons for fresh fruit or vegetables.

Usually when you find coupons for either, they are lower in value or you must purchase another item (like cereal, croutons, something not super healthy or inexpensive).

Here are some ways you can incorporate fruits and vegetables into your grocery budget and diet without breaking the bank!

My number one money saving tip when it comes to produce is: Eat fruit and vegetables when they are in season. Food in season is cheaper because there is a surplus of it. 

Living in So. Cal, I’m kind of spoiled in that we can grow and eat most fruits and veggies year round. But if you live some place where it snows or has cold winters, eat produce when it’s readily available.

If you aren’t sure when certain fruits and veggies are in season, check out the Produce for Better Health Foundation website here. They have lists based on season.

Tip Number Two: If you gotta eat fruit out of season (sometimes in December, you just gotta have strawberries), buy frozen fruit. Frozen berries are so juicy and flavorful. Frozen fruit is the fruit that is too ripe to sell in stores fresh, so it’s cut up and flash frozen. It contains all of the nutrients that are found in fresh fruit.

Tip Number  Three: If you grow your own fruits, veggies or herbs: Freeze, dry, or can/preserve whatever you won’t eat right away. That way you’ll have some when the weather turns.

I love to make jam and pickles. It’s really easy and you don’t need any special equipment. We don’t grow enough tomatoes to can our own, so I pick up fruits and veggies when they are really cheap and in peak season and make jam or pickles then. And you can definitely can more than just Cucumbers!

If it is something that interests you, here are a few books that I like:

If you want to get the canning gadgets that make canning a little easier, here is the kit that I bought years ago: Back to Basics 286 5-Piece Home Canning Kit I love the funnel!

Tip Number  Four: When fruit or veggies are on sale, stock up. That may sound weird, but most produce can be frozen. With the exception of raw potatoes and lettuce I think you can clean, chop, and store pretty much any fruit or veggie in the freezer. Speaking of frozen….

Fresh produce is always the best, but a close second is frozen. Occasionally frozen veggies are on sale. If they are types/varieties you like, stock up!

Canned fruit/veggies are my last resort. Why? Because, for the most part, they are canned in syrup or juice (fruit) or salt-laden water (veggies) and they are usually cooked and some of the nutrients leech out into the liquid they are cooked/canned in, and most of the time that liquid is discarded.

HOWEVER- I love salt-free canned tomatoes in recipes for all kinds of stuff, and Lil’ Man loves him some salt-free canned green beans.  Sometimes you can find low/no salt added canned vegetables.

I have found that when I calculate price per unit (more info here), blueberries and some other fruit is cheaper at Costco! So don’t overlook your large club stores.

Tip Number Five: Check outyour local 99 Cent Store (like 99 Cents Only), produce stands, and the markdown section of your supermarket. All three usually have inexpensive produce that is good quality. It may not be the prettiest produce, but that’s ok!

How do you save money on your produce?

Cutting down on food waste in 30 minutes!

One of the ways that we save money is to cut down on food waste. For me that means once we are home from the store and all of the perishables are put away, I pull out the cutting board, a sharp knife, the spiralizer, some zip top bags, and reusable storage containers.

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This was last weeks fresh fruit and veggies (plus 3 bags of baby carrots and a cantaloupe- not pictured).

I set to work, chopping, packaging, and spiralizing.  In less than 30 minutes I had all of the fresh fruits and veggies prepped and measured into small bags to be dropped into lunches, or packed into plastic containers.

This of course is only for the fruits and veggies that require prep. The oranges, apples, and bananas require no prep to eat, so they just go into the fruit bowl.

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Fruits and veggies all ready for a week of healthy lunches!
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Cantaloupe chopped up and ready for my belly!! The bottom container has 3 spiralized Italian zucchini squash, ready to be made into “pasta” salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By spending a little time each week getting veggies and fruit ready to eat, you’ll cut down on food waste, because the food is all ready to eat. No scrambling to cut up cucumbers for lunch early in the morning, no putting off eating something because you are short on time in the evening.

You will also be saving money over purchasing pre-chopped and pre-packed vegetables and fruit. All of this produce was purchased at 99 Cents only for less than $12.00. So you can eat well (and healthy) on a budget!!

And if it turns out atthe end of the week that you aren’t able to eat all of your veggies and fruit and they can be frozen (pretty much anything except melons), toss the bags in the freezer and you now have veggies for a casserole, or fruit for a smoothie!

The average American family of four throws away $25.00 in food a WEEK!  Here are a few more tips to help your family curtail food waste!

Eat your leftovers:  this seems like a no brainer. When you divvy out your portions for dinner, make yourself your lunch for the next day.  If you won’t eat it right away, pop it into the freezer- label it, so you don’t forget what it is.

When it looks like your fruit is about to go south, freeze it
. This includes bananas!  You can use defrosted bananas in banana bread or frozen bananas are great in smoothies.  Other frozen fruit can also be used in smoothies.
Citrus fruits can be juiced and frozen or the juice can be consumed for breakfast or put in smoothies.   Apples can be peeled cooked into applesauce or made into apple butter.

When I buy fresh tomatoes and they get just a little too ripe- I freeze them whole, then I bake them with chicken breasts and herbs and top with fresh parm- Yummy!

Buy less. I know it seems like a strange concept, especially with all of the really great deals you will be finding, but, the one proven way to waste less is to bring less home to waste.