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Frugal Potluck Recipes

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Hi Friends!

I hope your weeks are going well!

I wanted to pop in today to crowd-source some frugal/budget-friendly potluck recipes! At our kids’ school, they’re having a teacher appreciation luncheon next week and I signed up to bring a dessert item. And in a couple weeks we have a family-friend’s BBQ that we’ll be attending. The friends are providing the main dish, but everyone is asked to bring a side or dessert.

In thinking about my normal “crowd favorites”, I realized that they all seem to have one thing in common…they’re not very frugal! They may be tasty and, in some cases, extremely easy to put together (I have a layered dip people rave about that is SO EASY!). BUT, there are so many different ingredients and/or the ingredients are expensive enough that I find a single dish to run upwards of $10-15. In looking at our new grocery budget ($150/week max, but I’m trying to stick to closer to $100/week), I really cannot justify spending up to $15 on a single dessert or side item. At home, I could scrape up an entire meal for our family of 4 on that amount! Why on earth would I spend that much on a single side dish?

So I thought I’d consult with the experts….YOU!!!

Do you have any frugal potluck recipes that you’d be willing to share in the comments (or link to recipes online)?

Just for fun, I want to share a link for a dessert people go crazy over! Part of it could be homemade instead of store-bought (e.g., dough), but if all store-bought, it tends to run me about $10 or so. It’s always a favorite, but not necessarily a very frugal one! (Picture credit from this website).


Cash Envelope System

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As you all know by now, one area where our spending has gotten out-of-control is in the realm of food (groceries and eating out). To try to combat the ever-increasing line item in our monthly budget, I decided to return to the cash envelope system. It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve done cash envelopes. But they helped me once, I know they can help me again.

To start, I’m using envelopes for eating out ($200/month) and groceries ($600/month). This represents a HUGE decrease compared to what we have been spending the past few months. Our groceries, for instance, have trended over $1,000/month the past several months. And our eating out/restaurant budget has trended in the $350-$500ish range. Just a disgusting amount of money spent on FOOD!

Reducing down to $800/month for all food (restaurants + eating out) is a big savings for us!

Here’s how I’ve figured it:

$600month/4 weeks = $150/week. Because I want to save a little money for mid-week perishables (we always run out of milk and fresh produce), my goal is to stick to $110-120ish for my big/initial grocery trip. That saves about $30ish for a smaller mid-week grocery run (and/or leaves some wiggle room for the last half week of the month).

I’ve been doing the cash envelope system for a month now (I started at the beginning of September) and so far, so good. My only “wrench” this month is that I really need to hit Costco to stock up on some bulk items. Does anyone else find it impossible to get out of Costco for under $100?!

 

Source

Because of our need for some bulk items, I’m actually going to try to limit our grocery store budget to closer to $100-110/week so I can save the excess for two weeks to have a solid $80-ish bucks or so for a Costco trip. This way, I’ll be able to get my bulk stuff but still be sticking to our overall grocery budget!

Do you have a Costco (or Sam’s Club) membership? How do you manage to save while buying in bulk?


October – No Spend Month

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Ashley and I must be in sync. While she did an impromptu “No Spend Week,” the kids and I have been planning for a No Spend Month. The idea has actually been noodling around in my head for a while, but the push came with the loss of our second car last week.

The first blog I ever followed, was actually a young SAHM mom, who did no spend months quite regularly. She eventually shut down her blog, but I so admired her. Another thing that has kind of pushed me in this direction is my kids. Some of them are really struggling with shame and envy. Ok, I struggle with it myself. While I know exactly why we are where we are, they are having a harder time with it. Specifically they are struggling with seeing how other’s live and then looking at their own lives. My mom heart hurts.

I know in my head we are in the right place and I am doing my best. But as you can see from our budget, spending has ballooned since my income skyrocketed (especially compared to being practically homeless and jobless.) So we are going cutting back to the bone for one month.

No Spend Week Rules

These are the changes we are making for our “No Spend Month:”

  • I am only going to pay the minimum due on all my bills. (You will see the weekly payouts in my Friday posts.)
  • We are cutting our grocery budget to $25 a week for milk and fresh fruit and veggies and eating through our freezer and pantry which is VERY well stocked. We are looking forward to being creative with our pantry, at least for the first couple of weeks.
  • I am going to continue to give the kids allowance, but we will NOT use $200 “spending” money this month.
  • We have one exception to our minimized budget, we are going to move forward with the “clothes” money this month because frankly, the kids all NEED clothes. Because we do it in one fell swoop, we did agree that we have permission to eat out the two days we will be shopping. (Because we are down to one car, I have to take all three kids shopping, and because we live in a tiny town, the closest shopping other than Wal-Mart is an hour away.) We are going to shop this coming Friday and Saturday.

Wish us luck. I think we are prepared. We have prepped with laundry detergent and toiletries and I am confident this month will be a great learning and bonding experience for all of us. The kids have bought in. We are going to use the experience to have weekly talks about money management and making wise choices and even sacrifice.  I’m just grateful we get to choose our sacrifices this time rather than having them forced on us by job and hoe loss as we have experience in the last couple of years.

Have you helped your child deal with envy or shame regarding circumstances beyond their and sometimes your control? I would love some guidance.


Working Smarter, Not Harder

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Since my kids have started back to school this Fall, I’ve really been working to try to streamline our mornings. Their start time is earlier than last year which is good for me, but makes our mornings hectic. I know I should’ve been doing this all along, but I’ve recently started preparing school lunches the night before. Back when I was working full-time + part-time, I’d be busy working in the evening for my part-time job so I rarely made lunches until in the morning before school. With our earlier mornings, now, we don’t have that same luxury of extra time for food prep so I’ve been trying to find ways to save time by preparing things ahead of time as much as possible.

One example is that I’ve made a whole Snack Bin in our pantry. I like to buy things in bulk-size since it’s cheaper (e.g., pretzels, veggie sticks, and Cheese-It’s are all things I’ve bought in huge-sized packaging from Costco). But since we need individual-sized portions, I’ll open the bag and divvy it up into smaller-sized packages. I have a plethora of Glad-ware, so I try to use those as much as possible since they’re washable and re-usable. I also use ziplock snack-size bags sometimes as well. I take a few moments once per week to pre-portion our snacks and throw them in our Snack Bin so they’re easy to grab and add to a lunch box and/or be used as part of the kids’ morning snack.

Another example I borrowed (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes?) from another blogger. I recently saw a youtube video (and then a blog post < linked here for credit) from fellow-blogger, Jordan. She talked about making her own meat-and-cheese sandwiches in bulk and then freezing them for school lunches. Genius, right? She swears the kids love them and since it’s just meat-and-cheese it freezes and thaws out perfectly. No weirdness like you might get with lettuce or other additional ingredients.

Well, I had some lunch meat on its last leg anyway, so it either needed to be used or tossed out. What better use for it than to try Jordan’s idea of make-ahead meat-and-cheese sandwiches?

I used a couple different bread options:  I already had some homemade rolls that also needed to be eaten or tossed (winning! I love that these “last leg” food items weren’t wasted!), and I’d recently bought a long baguette from our grocery store that was only partially-used with dinner so lots leftover of it, too. I sliced everything up and added 2 thin slices of turkey lunchmeat and one slice of cheese (cut in half to fit).

After the assembly line, I put everything into big gallon-sized ziplocks and put straight into the freezer. I’m crossing my fingers that this works out. I just barely made the sandwiches so we haven’t tasted them yet. My kids can be picky, but I think they’ll enjoy having a meat and cheese sandwich on some “fun” bread (instead of boring old “normal” sandwich bread). I always pack a variety of other things as well (e.g., fruit, veggie, a juice box or “treat” of some kind, etc.), so hopefully the frozen sandwiches will be a part of a well-balanced school lunch! Woohoo!!

If you’ve got kiddos, what do you do to streamline your mornings? Have you ever tried making lunches in bulk and freezing for later? Any other “Work Smarter, Not Harder” type of tips?


No Spend Week Final Wrap-Up

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Success! Today is pay day! We made it to the end of our No Spend Week, only spending the $13 I had planned for fresh produce and milk (though we ended up just making do and didn’t buy additional milk, the money got spent on produce, juice, and children’s medicine).

Thankfully, the girls were well enough to go to school today. It’s so odd because I was pretty worried about them on Wednesday afternoon/evening (they’d been sent home from school on Wednesday). They each had fevers of just over 102 degrees F!!! Super high! So I was quite surprised when they woke up Thursday morning acting totally normally! I had to keep them home because the rule is they must stay home until they are fever-free for 24-hours. But by lunchtime on Thursday they were running around acting totally wild. I was glad they weren’t feeling icky, but it made for an interesting day since I was trying to force them to rest and they were just bouncing off the walls with endless energy. Wish I could bottle up their energy and insert it into myself! Ha! I guess that’s what my homemade pumpkin spice latte is for, lol.

Anyway, I did get paid today (so I’ve got money!!!!) and that was my original goal of the No Spend Week – just make it until payday! But I’m going to try to make it a couple more days. I don’t want to spend any more money on groceries this month, so I’m going to wait until Sunday (October 1st) to do the weekly grocery trip. We still have plenty of food in our pantries and freezer and with hubs out of town and each child only eating the equivalent of ½ an adult portion (less food, overall), I think we’ll be able to make it just fine. I must admit I’d like to eat out just for convenience’s sake, but I’ll put on my big girl panties and hold out 2 more days until the new month begins.

I know I still haven’t really addressed the big elephant in the room: what caused us to take on more debt and put us in this situation to begin with. To that, I just ask you to be patient with me. I applaud Hope for putting herself out there, talking about the car (and the wreck!), etc. It’s tough to put yourself out there like that to the entire blog-world, especially when you know you’ve messed up (or instead of using the general “you” I’ll take ownership and say I. I have messed up.). I do have a post in the works with more information about all our over-spending, but I’m not ready to share it all yet. Bear with me. I promise I’ll share soon – when I’m ready.

In the meantime, I’ve been zeroing in on some areas where our spending has really become inflated. One big one is with FOOD! This week was such an eye-opener for me. Being able to get by just on food we already had on-hand (especially given that the no-spend-week was totally spontaneous and unplanned!). It’s been tough in terms of commitment. I have so many excuses (I’m tired, I don’t want to cook, The dinner I planned doesn’t sound good, etc. etc. etc.), but ultimately, when faced with the reality that WE HAVE NO MONEY, there’s really nothing to do other than zip my lip and figure it out. And it was surprisingly much easier than I’d expected.

I mentioned before I’ve started doing the cash envelope system again. I’ll write a whole post dedicated to that. I know my posts this week have been very food-heavy (given that it was all about what we’ve eaten during our No Spend Week). I’ll try to have more balance but I think there are probably a LOT of families out there like mine. Spending WAY too much money on food. Like…..over a thousand a month!!! EEEK!!! Can you imagine?! (< that figure was just from groceries, too – it doesn’t even include eating out!). The month of September I was determined to slash that number and I’ve done quite well with it so I’m proud. With any luck, next month will be just as successful!

 

How much do you budget for groceries in your family (and how many people do you feed)? When I first started blogging we were able to get our grocery bill to $100/week (but our kids were young toddlers, so the $100/week was really only feeding 2 adults). Now I’m aiming for $150/week, which is a HUGE decrease from our previous level of spending over the last year-ish. The $150/week is for 2 adults and 2 school-age children, and includes everything from the grocery store including non-food items (e.g., toilet paper, over the counter medicine, face cream/cosmetics, etc.)


Day #2: No Spend Week Diary

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Today is Day #2 of our No Spend Week challenge. So far, so good. We’re out of milk now, but have managed to not go by the grocery store yet. I’m trying to hold off until at least Wednesday to spend our $13 on milk and fresh produce. I do have some almond milk (that’s what I use for my coffee), and the kids will use it with cereal when in a pinch, though it’s not their favorite. We’re soldiering on for now. 🙂

Day #2  Notes:

I made PB&J sandwiches for the girls’ lunches; only 2 slices of bread left after today’s sandwiches.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:   nectarines, 4 strawberries, couple chopped pieces of celery (for dipping in PB as snack tomorrow), half spinach bunch, couple of carrots. Supplies are definitely dwindling!

My meals:

Breakfast:  Coffee (meant to make another smoothie since we still have frozen fruit, but ran out of time getting to work!

Lunch:  Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice. Getting pretty old by now, the 3rd day in-a-row. Still have more chicken to eat up (that was a big chicken!), but the green beans are now gone.

Dinner (cooking now):  Pork roast (from freezer) with carrots cooked in crockpot (win!); canned corn on the side from pantry. I’m mad at myself for forgetting to pull dough out of the freezer before leaving for work. I’d intended to have rolls on the side but by the time I get home, dinner will be ready (thank you, crockpot!) and we won’t have time to let the dough rise. I’ll have to remember to do that for later this week, because I’d been looking forward to some yummy, doughy goodness! (I love breads and cheeses, what can I say?) 😉

 

I still have plenty of ideas for dinners we can make from foods we’ve got on-hand. Our freezer still includes a lot of meat (different cuts of beef, boneless chicken breasts) and bagged stuff that’s easy to throw in the oven (from Costco we have packages of Orange Chicken, Fish Sticks, and Coconut Butterflied Shrimp). Lots of possibilities for the rest of the week! Other than being bored with my chicken-and-rice leftovers, we’re doing good! I’m confident we’ll make it through the week no problem!

 

Whats on the menu at your house tonight? If you’re participating in the No Spend Week challenge, what types of meals have you planned out from food in your pantry and fridge/freezer?


No Spend Week Diary – Day 1

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Today marks Day #1 of our No Spend Week challenge (see here for why we’re doing an unplanned No Spend Week). I wanted to give a bit of baseline for where we’re at and what we have planned in terms of meals. I started by taking a good inventory of our fridge/freezer and pantry. We have plenty of meat, lots of boxed/jarred/canned goods, and a little bit of fresh produce, milk, etc. I came up with a whole list of possible meal ideas based around foods that we already have! I’m more excited about some than others, but I’m confident we’ll have plenty of food to get us through the week, especially if I get a little creative in the kitchen. 🙂

It’s still early in the day here in Tucson (we’re currently on Pacific time zone), but I brought my lunch with me to work today so I know breakfast and lunch and I’ve already got dinner planned as well.

Day #1 Notes:

I used the last of milk for girls’ with breakfast. <yikes! That will have to be replaced likely tomorrow or Wednesday, coming out of my $13 cash that I’ve still got in my wallet!

Husband ate the last of our homemade Instant Pot yogurt and an apple as his breakfast. No more yogurt is going to be a bummer, and it’s not likely to be something we replace mid-week. I’m going to save the $13 for milk and fresh fruits & veggies, as needed.

Fresh fruit and vegetable supply count:  2 nectarines, 10-12 strawberries, half a celery stock, half spinach bunch, plenty of carrots

 

My meals:

Protein smoothie with frozen fruit, protein powder, & spinach

Chicken & green beans (Sunday leftovers) with white rice <I made a big batch of white rice so I can use it throughout the week. Saves time and money!

Chicken (Sunday leftovers) with cooked pasta and jarred pasta sauce from pantry. < this is one of my favorite ways to “make over” a previous meal! I’ll take leftover cooked protein (usually either chicken or ground beef) and add some type of pasta sauce (e.g., Alfredo or creamy sun-dried tomato with chicken; usually a marinara/tomato-based sauce with beef). I boil up some noodles since we always have plenty of boxes of noodles on hand. BAM! A leftover/made-over meal in 15 minutes or less! Not too shabby for a manic Monday night! 😉

 

For those of you joining along, tell me whats on the menu at your house today! What are some meals you’ve got planned for the week? I did a big rotisserie chicken over the weekend, so we’ll likely be having it a couple of different ways in the coming days as we try to eat it up and conserve our money!!!


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