Category Archives: Food and Grocery

Stretch your Grocery Budget by Buying in Bulk

Fighting overspending at the grocery store is always tough, but with Thanksgiving around the corner, the little piggy turkey on my shoulder is working overtime to convince me to ditch my regular grocery budget and fill my grocery cart to the brim with rolls, canned pumpkin, and cheese, cheese, cheese!

“Gobble, gobble!” Says the turkey, “Throw your grocery budget out the window! Gobble gobble!”

“Gobble, gobble!” Says the turkey, “Throw your grocery budget out the window! Gobble gobble!”

Part of me wants to join in the gobbling and forget my grocery budget exists because I know that prepping for the holidays is a special circumstance; however, within the deepest depths of my stuffing-loving soul, I know that I can use the same strategies I use at the grocery store all year long to make my dollar go far this Thanksgiving.

Seeing as Thanksgiving is a feast, and a feast entails more food than your average dinner, I thought it was fitting to share my strategies for buying groceries in bulk in order to stay within (or just slightly above as opposed to majorly above) your typical grocery budget this holiday season. Despite the timing of this post, these bulk-buying strategies help me stay within my grocery budget year round while keeping my pantry full, so don’t toss them out with the turkey!

Groceries in Bulk

1. Respect Shelf Life

Before throwing that grocery item in your cart, ask yourself these three questions:

 Can it stay fresh in your fridge or on your kitchen counter for more than one week?

Can you freeze it?

Will it survive on a pantry shelf for an extended period of time?

If you can answer “yes” to any of the three questions above, then give yourself the go-ahead on the bulk grocery purchase you are contemplating. One of the key components of a good bulk purchase is that your items don’t expire before you have a chance to use them (and no this does not mean buying milk in bulk and then drinking 8 glasses of milk a day to “get your money’s worth”). If you buy something that expires before you have a chance to happily consume it, you aren’t getting a good deal—you are wasting money.

My favorite bulk grocery items that can hang tight in the pantry/refrigerator/freezer until I need them: peanut butter, bananas, spinach, frozen stir fry veggies, chicken/vegetable stock, canned veggies, almond milk, bacon, chocolate chips, sugar, marinara sauce, flour, nuts, pastas, and oatmeal.

2. Pace Yourself

You can buy it all but when purchasing in bulk, you cannot buy it all at once. Respect your own grocery budget, and don’t splurge on multiple bulk items if the cost will surpass your set grocery spending.  Would it be nice to buy bacon and canned green beans today—Yes. Is it necessary—No.

3. Avoid Addictive Items

If I love something so much that it will disappear at an abnormal rate (I’m looking at you candy corn), then buying it in bulk is not going to save me any money because once it’s gone and my addiction has been raging forward full speed ahead, you know I’m taking that train right back to the store to buy more.  Most of the things people end up binging on are junk food anyway, so it will help your grocery budget and your overall health to keep them off the bulk list—even if that item meets the previously listed criterion of a good grocery bulk purchase. Just say no, kids…just say no.

4. Consider Versatility

If you open something large, can you use it many different ways before it expires? When buying groceries in bulk, versatility is important—especially if you are not a fan of leftovers.

My favorite versatile bulk grocery items: fresh spinach, beans, plain Greek yogurt, cheese, chicken/veggie stock, canned stewed tomatoes, bacon.

I am really excited to host a small (teeny tiny) group of family for Thanksgiving this year–God bless them 😉 What grocery shopping strategies do you use to stay as close as possible to your grocery budget? Do you buy in bulk to save money?

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 Brittany

Healthy Staples for Less than $25 a Week

On Sunday, I went to grocery store and spent just under $25 on all of this, which is enough to feed my fiance and I for a week. Read on to see how you can spend about between $25 and $50 per week to keep your healthy habits a priority without wasting money.

On Sunday, I went to grocery store and spent just under $25 for all of this, which combined with our stocked staples, is enough to feed my fiance and I for a week. Read on to see how you can spend between $25 and $50 per week to keep your healthy habits a priority without wasting money (or food)

Through trial and error I have learned that there are THREE cardinal rules when it comes to consistently keeping healthy meals on the table without upping your grocery spending.  I am SO happy to share these rules because they also debunk one of the biggest myths out there regarding healthy eating (which also happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves). The next time you hear someone say, “I want to eat healthy, but it’s just too expensive,” you can flick them on the forehead, and then refer them to this website because they are wrong. Sometimes keeping healthy foods in your diet is more time consuming or more laborious—yes, making a smoothie with fresh ingredients is more time consuming than cruising through a drive through and picking one up—but labeling healthy eating as “too expensive” is a farce. Here are three steps you can take to make sure $25 affords you the healthy essentials you need to get through the workweek.

STEP ONE: Know What You Have

Before hitting the store I take inventory of the staples we have in our pantry and refrigerator so I know what we can use as the basic backbones of our meals and if there is any item we need to replace during a particular week. I try to only pick up 1-3 of these items per grocery trip because they are usually pricier.

Backbones

STEP TWO: Know what’s about to go Bad

 Before hitting the store I also take inventory on all fresh produce and leftover meat that needs to be used soon in order to avoid the garbage disposal. I do this for two reasonsFirst, I will either need to buy more, and second, I might need to grab other items from the store to compliment the needs-to-be-consumed-sooner-rather-than-later items that are already sitting in our fridge.

Here is an example of my need-to-use-soon inventory from this past weekend’s grocery trip

Here is an example of my need-to-use-soon inventory from this past weekend’s grocery trip

STEP THREE: Create a Specific List of what you Need to Buy and a Rough Weekly Meal Plan

Once I know what basic backbone foods we have and what food items are about to go bad or have completely vanished from our refrigerator since our last trip to the store, I sit down and simultaneously create a ROUGH meal plan and grocery list for the week. I say “rough” because we never exactly stick to it, but it does help us save money by wisely using leftovers to create different meals that don’t leave my fiance completely bored and begging for “something different”. For example, if we have grilled chicken and baked potatoes on Monday, it makes perfect sense to shred the leftover chicken to make some delicious oven fajitas on Tuesday.

A sample of how we take our meals day by day to get the most out of our budget and our grocery items.

A sample of how we take our meals day by day to get the most out of our budget and our grocery items.

Based on the two lists from Step 1 and Step 2 and the food items I purchased for less than $25 (pictured at the very top of the post), I created the above meal plan above to get us through the work week! Easy as 1-2-3 and less expensive than one night of ordering pizza and garlic bread :)

Healthy eating myth debunked!!

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 Brittany

5 Ways to Shop on a Budget

When you’re on a budget and you’re trying your best to stick to it, it can be difficult to find enough shopping money to fulfill your fashion needs. With the changing seasons, I find myself in need for some new spring/summer clothes, but I don’t see a spot for it in my budget. Below are a few options to build your summer wardrobe without breaking your budget.

1. Make a separate “clothing” fund in your budget. Just add it to your list of monthly expenses. The good thing about this is that you’ll always have money to buy clothes, if that’s what you feel like you need. The bad thing about this is that it takes away a chunk of money from your monthly debt payoff.

2. Save up some of your weekly spending money. Take out a specified amount of money per pay period from your typical spending money and put it toward a ‘clothing money’ fund. This way, you’ll be able to stay within your original budget.

IMG_0761

3. Be strategic. Brittany and I both use credit cards (but ALWAYS pay them off in full monthly) to take advantage of the rewards. A good time to buy clothes with be a month when you don’t have extra expenses like a flight, hair appointment, vet, etc.

Fashion Dad and Al

4. Just do it. If you can make it work, use one month of some of your ‘debt payoff’ money toward clothes, then immediately get back on track the next month.

5. Take it slow. Buy one article of clothing each pay period over a certain amount of weeks and before you know it, you’ll have a whole new closet full of clothes without messing with your debt payoff plan!

ShoppingonaBudgetMy decision: I’ve decided to buy one article of clothing each pay period and build my wardrobe over time. Somehow I feel like it hurts less that way AND I can go shopping more!

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What are you packing…in that lunch box?

Photo Credit: Visa http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/resources/pdfs/Visa_LUNCH_SPENDING_RESEARCH_0913.pdf

Photo Credit: Visa http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/resources/pdfs/Visa_LUNCH_SPENDING_RESEARCH_0913.pdf

A study done by VISA in 2013, found that on average Americans are going out for lunch two times each week and spending about $10 per meal. At first glance, that doesn’t seem like a hefty expense, but if you do some quick math, you’ll see that dropping $20 a week on Chipotle or Jimmy Johns will end up costing Mister Average-American just over $1,000 a year! Simply bringing your own lunch from home consistently throughout the year could help you save enough money to fund a vacation, pay a month’s worth of rent, or buy a new piece of furniture. Over multiple years, your lunch-packing habit could help you save enough money to contribute a significant amount of cash into a savings account for a home, car, or college without making any other income or lifestyle changes.  So if packing your lunch and carrying it to work every day is so awesome, why isn’t everyone doing it?

You know what they say about excuses….

“I don’t have time to pack a lunch.” I can speak based on first-hand crazy, hectic, shouldn’t-have-hit-snooze-twice-and-changed-my-shirt-ten-times experience that it does not take much time to pack a lunch. In fact, it takes less than 5 minutes to make a sandwich; less than 3 minutes to pack last night’s leftovers in to-go containers; less than 30 seconds to grab a yogurt, bag of almonds, and piece of fruit from your refrigerator; and less than 10 seconds to grab a meal out of your freezer.  We have all experienced hectic mornings and used these as excuses to skip packing lunch and head out to eat over the noon hour, but simply setting aside 5 minutes each night before you go to bed or setting your alarm clock for 5 minutes earlier will completely eliminate this excuse—ahem, I mean problem.

I would actually be willing to bet that, unless you are eating lunch at a restaurant or cafeteria that is located in your office building, going out to lunch is actually MORE time-consuming from start to finish when you consider travel time, ordering, and waiting for your food.

I always make sure I have these items handy, so I have "time" to pull together a lunch on hectic mornings.

I always make sure I have these items handy, so I have “time” to pull together a lunch on hectic mornings.

“Going out to eat tastes better”  Well, having someone else wash and style my hair for me is better than doing it myself, but does that mean I’m going to indulge myself every day? I would have to agree that many restaurants serve foods that taste better than the stuff that comes out of my kitchen, but is lunch really the time to treat your palate to five star delicacies? For me, the answer is not so much. I am willing to sacrifice the experience of an extraordinary workday lunch to save that money for a more enjoyable and extraordinary dinner with friends or family. And remember that just because it’s not AWESOME doesn’t mean it has to be awful. I DO like everything that I put in my lunchbox—that is how I choose what I buy it at the grocery store.

 

5 lunches that taste good, keep you full, are easy to pack, and save you money. These examples can be altered in a variety of ways to create many different lunch options. Packing lunch and taking it to work does not mean you have to eat the same thing every day.

5 lunches that taste good, keep you full, are easy to pack, and save you money. These examples can be altered in a variety of ways to create many different lunch options. Packing lunch and taking it to work does not mean you have to eat the same thing every day.

“I need a mental break from work” Of all the anti-lunch packing excuses, this is the one that I identify with most. It does feel pretty darn good to give yourself a mental break away from your desk near the midpoint of your workday, buuuuut there are other ways to achieve this goal without dropping 10 bucks on a meal. I used to work with a girl who would follow eating the healthy lunch she packed for herself with a 15 minute walk every single day— pure genius! Getting back to the grind is always more difficult once your belly is full, so that is all the more reason to find a BETTER way to mental break. Pick up a healthy habit that helps you gain some sanity without spending money!  Instead of going out for lunch, I keep myself mentally intact (and more productive at work) by taking short walks to get away from the computer screen and consulting with colleagues in more enjoyable places/situations (um, yes the playground is still more fun than the classroom).

What are your tips and tricks to saving money over the noon hour and packing a lunch without complicating your life?

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 Brittany

6 simple ways to cut your happy hour spending in half

Happy Hour can be an excellent time to catch up with your friends or network with your colleagues, but despite lower prices on select food and drink items, many of us fail to actually spend less when we are drinking and eating between the hours of 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM.  The whole idea of “getting a deal” at Happy Hour can easily lure us into spending—as well as eating and drinking—more than we typically would.  Buuuuuut…..Happy Hour IS FUN! So Sam and I have developed some Happy Hour guidelines that allow us to have a good time while resisting the urge to throw cash at every good deal the Happy Hour menu has to offer.

Mr. T

Look at Menus Online Before you Hit the Restaurant: If you know that you are going to want to try multiple food items but are not familiar with the restaurant you are going to, looking up the options and prices before you set foot in the restaurant is a good way to stay on track with your spending goals while avoiding the social stigma of doing a math problem to decide if you are going to get the sliders or soft pretzel to go with your sweet potatoes fries.

Go Full: Who says you HAVE to order food?!?! No one, that’s who! Go to Happy Hour on a full stomach, and just enjoy the conversation and drinks! :)

happy hour3

Limit your Alcohol Intake: There is no drink minimum at Happy Hour, and you can have as few as ZERO drinks while you are there.  Don’t let the cheaper prices coax you into buying a couple drinks at the discounted price and then another at full price once Happy Hour ends…and then another…and another…and wait! What?! Last Call??

Buy One Food Item yourself and Split Dishes with a few Friends who do the Same: I think of this as the “Taste-Everything-but-Pay-for-One-Thing” strategy. If you and a handful of friends each buy something different and share with one another, you can satisfy all of your cravings without paying for them—and so can they!

happy hour2

Don’t forget your Primary Reason for being at Happy Hour: Sometimes it is hard to pass on a “good deal,” even when we aren’t all that interested in the product. When tortuous thoughts of wasting opportunities to make unwanted (but discounted!) purchases begin to cloud your better judgment, remind yourself of the number one reason you came to Happy Hour—to see your friends! The best things in life really are free—I’m laying the cheese on thick today 😉

Don’t get Happy Hour Tunnel Vision: It’s easy to put blinders on and forget that there is still a regular menu that you can choose items from, and some of those items—like a cup of soup or a side salad–might actually cost less than food items found on the Happy Hour menu. You can also get drinks at Happy Hour prices and split a regular priced appetizer or entrée with a friend or date for less than some “discounted” food options.

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 Brittany

Dinner Club Done Differently

One of the biggest possible downfalls of pulling your purse strings tight is that you may miss out on social events with all of your favorite people.  It may take a little creative thinking to find new ways to spend time (instead of money) with those closest to you, but if you truly value your friendships, the brainstorming sessions will be well worth it. For me, eliminating face time with my best friends has never been an option. This is one of the reasons I became a founding mother of a Dinner Club that allows me and my friends to see each other on a regular basis while still letting me adhere the financial goals I have set for myself.

Dinner club is not an original concept, and I am certainly aware of the fact that I am not the first person to decide that meeting your girlfriends once a month to eat delicious food (and drink a questionable about of wine) is an amazing idea. However, I do like to believe that the way my friends and I have done it over the past year (they are still doing it without me—pausing to wipe tears off my keyboard now—since I moved over 2,000 miles away from them) is one of the most enjoyable and affordable styles out there.  If you are looking for a comfortable, inexpensive, and hilarious night out with your girls, clubbin’ at the dinner table might be an excellent option for you!

dinner clubbin details

Who Attends: A small group of your closest friends—the people you are always excited to see and never feel like you get to spend enough time with are the ones you should be eating dinner with. At our dinner club no one cares if you show up to dinner club wearing no make-up, sweatpants, and maybe even a hint of B.O. from your just-completed work out. Your time is valuable, and you don’t want dinner club or its attendants to bring any stress or wasted time into your life. If you are going to go clubbin’ do it with the right crew who you feel 110% comfortable with and 120% happy around.

Blog Motivation Pic

Pick your favorite people to start your own regular at home dinner club with!

Where do you Meet and Eat: This is where the money is saved and the stress is alleviated—the metaphorical meat and potatoes of dinner club! Dinner clubbing expenses decrease dramatically when the festivities occur in someone’s home instead of a restaurant. A glass of wine at a restaurant will cost as much as a bottle (or box) from the grocery store.  Food markups at restaurants are also OUTRAGEOUS. Most restaurants have dishes in which the menu items are 100-200% more expensive than their original purchase price. And remember, if you are eating in public, you might need to brush your hair…

Our Dinner Club Secret Weapon:  The secret to saving even MORE money is that we all take turns being the hostess with the mostest. Because we are not attending dinner club at an actual restaurant, we rotate through our list of “members” and take turns not only hosting—but cooking. This has actually turned out to be a pretty great method because depending on the size and occurrence of meetings within your dinner club, you will only have to cook one to two times a year. Spending $50-$75 on dinner supplies once or twice a year to feed all of your friends is going to be cheaper than spending $20-$30 once a month to dine at a restaurant with them.

Another great part of having one person responsible for cooking each time you meet for dinner club is that the meal will be cohesive and well planned without the extra stress of coordinating or calling dibs on dishes that often occurs when potlucks are the method of supplying food.  Again you only have to be in charge of planning, buying, and prepping once or twice a year—the rest of the time, you are nothing but a guest and friend. Why would you do it any other way!?!?

Really, REALLY awesome hostesses will send you off from your final dinner club with a Harry Potter ice cream cake!! Also, note the "informal" dress code

Really, REALLY awesome hostesses will send you off from your final dinner club with a Harry Potter ice cream cake!! Also, note the “informal” dress code

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What are some of your favorite recipes and/or inexpensive ways to stay connected with your friends?

♥ Brittany

 

Tailgate this Weekend with No Money Hangover on Monday

football field

Football season has officially begun, and with the onset of football comes the certainty that many people’s weekends will be spent at games or watching games. Any good fan knows that that before you enter the stadium to find your seats, before you sing along and respect ‘Merica during the national anthem, before some know-it-all idiot finds his seat two rows behind you and starts yelling, and before kickoff starts the actual game—you must first participate in what is perhaps one of the most important sports rituals of all. You must tailgate.  Tailgating helps you mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare for the game. You wear your team’s colors (a costume if you are a truly dedicated). You drink. You eat. You throw a bean bag. You drink (not a typo).  You cheer. If you are a lady, you might spend your breaths between eating and drinking talking to your friends about the Pinterest recipe you used to make your delicious dip or getting caught up on what’s happening in each others’ lives. If you are a fella, you probably spend those breaths starting chants or talking game-time strategies—and yes, yours is so much better than the coach’s…

group huskers

If you aren’t careful, tailgating can become a regular weekend money –sucker.  The easiest way to make sure it doesn’t is to watch your favorite team at home by yourself, but this is FUN on a budget, and being a lonely loser is not a good substitute for saving money. You can fully enjoy the tailgate experience without spending an amount of money that hits you as hard as your post game hangover by using the tips and strategies found below, and if you aren’t lucky enough to be cheering your team on from the stadium this weekend, you can still apply a lot of these strategies to watch parties that are happening at a fellow fan’s house.

  • Have a realistic budget, and hold yourself to it. For example, when I tailgate or go to a game, any money I spend beyond the price of the ticket comes out of the $100 of spending money I withdraw for myself every two weeks. This is where prioritizing comes in—maybe you skip dinner on Friday night because the Saturday Tailgate is more important to you. USE CASH before the game, at the game, and after the game. The stadium or bar is a bad place to have your entire checking account at your disposal in the form of a plastic card, and you know it.
  • Use what you already have in your cupboards. I nearly always have the ingredients to make some type of cookie so a batch is one of my go-to contributions. Get creative! Many pantries and refrigerators already have the supplies you need to make a great dip, potato or pasta salad, or sandwiches. You can save anywhere from $5 to $20 doing this. Chances are you will go to the store to get the ingredients for your recipe and end up buying more than just those items.
  • Be the chauffeur every once in awhile. Chances are everyone will appreciate your offer to drive so much that they will let you eat and drink for free without judging you.

sportingkc

  •  It’s important to remember that your contribution doesn’t always have to be the best one at your tailgate. Don’t be “that jerk” that never brings anything, but give yourself a pass to not always be wowing everyone. This might be a shout-out to all my readers that are perfectionists  and competitive…you know who you are
  • Be the owner of some tailgating investment pieces. Food and drinks are not the only important parts of the tailgate experience. Be that guy that has the folding table, grill, coolers, bags, washers, chairs, blankets, etc. Just like the person who brings their car, the person who helps set up the entertainment fortress is likely to be left off the hook in the food and drink department—and rightfully so!
  • Share a classy six pack of your favorite beer, or if you are lucky enough to still be in college, split a case instead of buying one alone.
  • Utilize bulk shopping where it will do you right. Costco is my favorite warehouse store, and it has some tailgating items you can buy quickly for less than $10 when you are in a hurry—or feeling lazy…it’s the weekend, right?.  Trail mix, hummus, Chips, Chex Mix, and Crackers can all be bought for less than 10 bucks!

chiefs

  • Create a cheaper, signature drink. For example, my family and I have started bringing cider to games when the weather turns cold. You can get jugs of apple cider pretty cheap at the grocery store, and if you need an extra kick (to keep you warm, obviously) you can add your liquor of choice—you might even already have that at home!
  • Sometimes less is more. If you are making a dish that will go bad if it gets left out in the sun or hot car, don’t make too much just because everyone might want a full serving (or three). It feels better to have your dish wiped clean by your friends’ forks and spoons before the game than to wiping your spoiled, wasted leftovers into the trash can.  Ever heard of supply and demand? Bring that principal to the parking lot.
  • Partner up! Find the chip to your dip or the turkey to your bread. There is no shame in creating or enhancing your contribution with the help of someone else. Married couples do it, and best buds can do it too!

herbie husker

 

Happy Tailgating!!!

What strategies do you use to make sure tailgating is a good time without emptying your wallet?

Brittany