Tips to Reign In An Out Of Control Family Budget: Let’s Start in the Kitchen!

707538835876fc5c438018d57701bc2f.jpgUntil the end of the year, I’ll be posting some articles with realistic tips and methods to save money and reign in spending. None of these are going to the same old “Clip coupons, grow your own garden, etc.” that’s all over the internet- and honestly, here in Southern California, the old, standby advice isn’t going to help you. Grow a garden to save money? Water is so expensive here!

Clipping coupons and shopping grocery store sales/circulars will save you a fraction of the amount that it used to. In years past, I was saving 60-80% with coupons and store sales. Now, I’m lucky to save 50%.  With all of the restrictions on coupons (example: limit one like coupon per day- LAME), stockpiling to save money isn’t always possible without a lot of work/trips to different stores (and that’s not saving time). We’re moving past that, and delving into other ways to save money and take advantage of opportunities that are out there.

Today we are going to start with my pet project: Saving in the kitchen! If you feel like you’re spending too much money on food and groceries, here are my recommendations for getting the grocery spending under control:

  1. Go through your refrigerator/freezer and pantry. Make a note of the food that you have on hand. I like using the kitchen inventories here. This will also give you an opportunity to clean out food from the kitchen that has expired or that you won’t eat. Unexpired food that you won’t eat, can be donated to a local charity.
  2. Now that you have a handle on what you have in your kitchen, take a look at the list and come up with some recipes or meals that can be created with what you have on hand. You’d be surprised by how many meals you have in your kitchen! Make a list of the meals that you can make with what you have. And plan on having one or two of those per week. This will help keep grocery spending down. Make a list of meals that you can make but require one or two ingredients (like fresh vegetables), and add those ingredients to your next few shopping lists. By relying on what you already have in your home, you will be keeping your out of pocket down.
  3. Before you head to the store, take a look at the sale flyer which is available online, and see what is on sale. Plan meals around food that is in season and on sale. Continue to use coupons, but don’t go out of your way to subscribe to multiple newspapers per week to get a hold of lots of the same coupons.  Don’t forget rebate apps! Use of these apps gets us $10-$20/month cashback, sometimes double that, depending on what bonus offers are available- Fetch Rewards and Ibotta often have Bonus offers.
  4. Track your spending over a few weeks to see how much you are spending, and what you are buying. If you still find that you’re spending a lot of money on food, I would try shopping at a different store. I find that even with club card sales, and rebate apps like Fetch Rewards, some grocery stores (like Vons) are just too expensive to do my weekly shopping. I love starting my shopping at $.99 only. I am able to get a lot of snacks, name-brand treats, and fresh fruits and veggies there, and I am still able to stay on budget. Another fun place where I save money is Grocery Outlet. They have great prices on cheese, fruit juice, coffee, and frozen meat. They also have an interesting selection that changes weekly: snack food, protein bars/cookies, and cereal. If you are in the military, a military family, or a veteran, consider shopping at the commissary. Here is my article about saving money at the commissary. 
  5. Consider cooking more from scratch. It is healthier, and pantry stables are generally pretty cheap (the ingredients for a batch of chocolate chip cookies runs about $3.00 and yields 4-5 dozen cookies, while a package of chocolate chip cookies from the grocery store is about $4.00+ and is usually 3 dozen or so).  I buy fruits and veggies whole and break them down and pack them into serving size bags. You can learn more about that and Batch Cooking here.

If you are still having a hard time keeping your grocery budget in check, or if you are finding that the ends don’t meet, consider the San Diego Food Bank Neighborhood Distribution Program. No documentation is needed to receive food assistance from a
Neighborhood Distribution site where people can receive fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread, based on availability. Families are encouraged to bring reusable bags or
a cart with them to carry the food items.

There are programs out there to help those struggling to feed their families here in San Diego County. Here is my list of San Diego County Food Resources.

I work very hard to keep my family on a budget, I work very hard to make sure that we are saving money and taking advantage of as many deals and opportunities that present themself. I know that this is not something that everyone wants to do or something that everyone can do. There are so many programs and discounts out there available for various groups of individuals.

Tomorrow, we’re tackling saving money on the entertainment budget.

Earn Cash Back with Groupon+!

Screen Shot 2019-08-31 at 4.44.48 PM.png The other day I wrote about Mogl, which is an appt that helps you earn cash back at restaurants. Today I’m going to tell you about another Awesome way to earn cash back when you eat out: Groupon+!

It’s as easy as 1, 2,3!

  1. Sign up for free to get cash back at participating restaurants.
  2. Nothing to print our or bring in!
  3. Get automatic cash back on your credit card statement. (You can also use debit cards too, and the money will be credited to the account)

Cash back amounts vary from 5% all the way to 30%! And here in San Diego, there are some pretty awesome choices:

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And these are just two of the great deals. There are tons of choices in various cuisines and locations!

And you can load multiple cards to Groupon+! I loaded all of our debit and credit cards, so regardless of what method we may with, we’ll be covered! And I know my data is secure because it’s Groupon and I’ve used their site to buy all kinds of deals in the past.

Earn Money When You Eat Out with Mogl!


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Mogl is an awesome App/website that I have forgotten about until recently. In 3 easy steps, you could be earning rewards at restaurants without having to clip coupons or carry loyalty cards. 

  1. Sign up for an account and link your cards. Sign up for free I have all of our credit cards and debit cards linked.
  2. Explore and add offers– their app shows you real-time offers for restaurants near you.
  3. Enjoy your meal- Pay with a linked card and you’ll instantly earn rewards. The amount varies by restaurant, but it’s usually between 3-10%.

Once you reach $10 in your Mogl account. I have the money credited to my debit card, so the money goes into my checking account.

My favorite part of Mogl is that most Jack in the Box’s are part of the program and when I am jonesing for their tacos (Don’t Judge!!) or a large ice tea, I get rewarded!

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?

My Favorite Things- Spring/Summer Edition

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It’s Springtime! Time for renewal, getting outdoors, and fun adventures. Here are a few of the things that have been making life easier for me as of late…

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 3.54.00 PM.pngThis cute 5×8 Notebook from Shutterfly.  Mine says, “Plots, Schemes, & Misc. Shenanigans”.  It fits into my purse and It’s big enough to where I can actually write and sketch. It’s got lined paper, which is great since I usually draw patterns for upcoming projects.

And what good is a notebook without a pen? This Click Six Gel Pen from Ooly is my favorite pen, and have been for a while. I scored one at Influential Summit in Carlsbad back in February.

Most of ya’ll know that I’m a frugal dame, and that means using tech until it reaches the end of it’s useful life. For me, that means I’m rocking an Apple iPhone 5S. Yeah, yeah, stop laughing. Anyway, one of the things that happens when smartphones get old is that battery life goes poof. To make up for that, I keep a zipper pouch in my purse with a plug (like this), charging cables (including one that is 6 foot long), and a couple external batteries/chargers.  It sounds like a lot, but it’s not.

And the Pouch? It’s one of these cute ZipIt pouches. the best part is that it’s 100% zipper and it unzips into one, long zipper.

Ok, getting out of my purse, and getting back to the house, a few things that I’m digging to help me stay organized at home include:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 4.20.30 PM.pngThis rad Meal Planner! It comes in a 5×7 pad, I just peel one off, fill it out, and stick it on the fridge (using one of the many free fridge magnets from Shutterfly- seriously, they have free codes all the time!).

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.

And it’s now a lot easier to get the kids to do their chores with this cool chore/reward chart.

I got it from Wal-mart.com, but Amazon sells it too (and it was cheaper). You choose which chores are appropriate for your kids. I don’t use the little round magnets with stars, I just mark them off with a whiteboard marker.

And personal health-wise, I’ve been digging a few new products:

Diva Cup– Scored it at MommyCon last fall. It is easy to use and clean. I will warn you ladies, it’s not for those of you who are squeamish. But, most moms have seen some shit (literally and figuratively), so it’s no problem.

Hot Sticks– I’ve had these things for YEARS, but only recently have I truly appreciated how awesome they are. I have a lot of very fine hair, so a curling iron doesn’t work- my hair doesn’t stay curly, but hot sticks stay in your hair for 45 minutes to an hour. That amount of time with the heat really locks the curl into my hair. and even without mousse or hairspray, my hair will stay curly for a whole day. I have two sets. I’m wearing them as I type.

Talk Back: So I wanna hear from you… What are some of your favorite things?

 

 

Eating Healthy on a Budget: It Can Be Done!

f40fab9210aee93a83df63133f5de09bSunday Night I went to the grocery store to pick up milk, bread, and a few other things.

I spent $42 and it was not all that much stuff. While I was waiting in line, the lady behind me in line was going through her coupons, and her grocery list. We got to talking, I showed her the store app, where she was able to find a few more coupons. We started talking about how expensive it was to eat healthy, and I confessed to her that this was not my weekly shopping trip, I was just picking up stuff that I only buy at Food4Less:

  • Milk (it’s cheapest at FFL),
  • A specific kind of higher protein bread (it’s the cheapest place to buy this type of bread and has no High Fructose Syrup),
  • A specific kind of popscicles
  • 5 lb bag of bananas (cheapest place to buy that many bananas)
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This doesn’t have to cost a fortune!

And I picked up a few other misc. things that we needed and were on sale (cheese, oranges, and a 5 lb. bag of Gala apples), and a 2 liter of diet Cherry Pepsi and a jar of maraschino cherries (Mama needs a cocktail sometimes, OK?).

She asked about my grocery budget and where I shop the rest of the time. I told her my shopping strategy, after I make my grocery list:

My Top Ten Deals at 99 Cents Only– Start there for fresh produce. Salad, carrots, celery, berries, pineapples, zucchini, squash (all kinds), onions, potatoes are all types of produce that are regularly stocked. They usually have other interesting seasonally available produce too. They also have great sauces, condiments, herbs and spice blends.

Keep a Price Book- I know the best place to buy Milk, cheese, bread, and butter. I keep my price book in my phone now, but I used to use a little spiral bound notebook that lived in my purse.

Stock up on food that you will eat frequently when it does on sale. I’m not talking about fresh produce that can’t be kept (like lettuce), but if you find a good deal on strawberries, for example, chop and freeze some for smoothies or baking, make fruit leather, or dry some (they are really tasty dehydrated). Bread can be frozen, so can butter! Canned goods, shelf stable foods are perfect for stocking up. I also like stocking up on chicken when it’s on sale. I can butcher a whole chicken in a few minutes, and I frequently will break up large packages of chicken breasts into meal sized portions, season them, and put them into the freezer. Learn more about meal prep here.

For our family, meal prep and meal planning saves us a lot of time and money. There are always multiple choices for each meal at our finger tips, so the allure of getting food from take-away is gone. I always have a batch of pizza dough in the freezer too! I make two batches once a week- one for the freezer, and one to go in the fridge that gets used within 1-2 days of making.

Use Cashback/Couponing Apps. Here is the list I use frequently.

Here is an article I wrote a few years ago that has more tips on how to get “Extreme” savings without being an “Extreme Couponer” (which by the way isn’t even possible anymore thanks to that stupid TLC show and coupon abuse).

It doesn’t matter what your food budget is, you can still eat well! It may take a little prep work each week, but the health of your family is worth it, right?

If you are on a very tight budget or are facing food insecurity, here is a list of San Diego based food resources that offer healthy food.