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A New Budget + Stretching Food Budget


Hi all! Hope your Friday is off to a good start! We’ve been battling colds over here (again!!! I swear, this cold/flu season has been the worst!!!!!) but we’re all finally on the mend, the girls are back in preschool (after being home sick on Wednesday), and life is good! ; )

I’ve already mentioned that I overspent January’s budget (particularly in our grocery budget). I’ll give you all the details on Monday with my January budget update post, but today I wanted to tell you a little bit about how I’m making our food dollars stretch to try to spend a lot less on groceries this month.

First, I’ve been really trying to eat from our pantry and freezer. Second, I’ve been trying to repurpose meals by making leftovers into a second (or even third) meal so that every single bite of food is eaten and not wasted. I HATE wasting money and food waste is always one of the biggest culprits! Whenever I have to throw away old lettuce or meat or whatever, I see dollar signs being tossed in the trash. It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine! So I’ve really tried to re-focus on making sure all food gets eaten before it goes bad. Here’s a list of the things we’ve eaten lately, and how I’ve tried to re-purpose leftovers so meal time doesn’t get stale:

  • Sausage wraps with broccoli & shells with cheese (sausage from freezer, broccoli was on hand, and shells & cheese and tortillas were in the pantry).
  • Ham and potato cheese soup (ham chunks from freezer leftover from last time we ate ham, potatoes from pantry, cheese from fridge, homemade rolls on the side). Also ate leftover soup throughout the week for lunches!
  • Cheeseburgers with home fries (meat from freezer, sliced and baked fries from potatoes we had in pantry, cheese on hand in the fridge, and leftover homemade rolls for the buns).
  • BBQ chicken, corn, and shells & cheese (chicken from freezer, canned corn from pantry, leftover shells & cheese from a previous dinner).
  • Spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread (crumbled leftover burgers for meat, used sauce and noodles from pantry, sliced up leftover rolls that I buttered and sprinkled with garlic before broiling for the garlic bread)
  • BBQ chicken “pizzas” and corn (leftover BBQ chicken that I shredded, cheese from fridge, made on top of tortillas instead of traditional pizza crust; leftover corn…doesn’t really go with pizza, but it worked).

It takes a little forethought to make sure I can reuse and/or repurpose leftovers, but I’ve already noticed such a huge difference in my grocery spending. Not only does it cost less money this way (i.e., re-using leftovers in future meals), but its actually easier, too! It’s the whole “cook once, eat twice” mentality (not sure where I’ve heard that, so can’t credit a source but I think it’s a pretty well known phrase). It’s so, so much easier when parts of the meal are already cooked (especially when the meat is already done, as with the spaghetti and meat sauce and the bbq chicken pizzas). When the main protein is already pre-cooked all I have to do is just assemble, heat, and serve! Score!

So I’m really making an effort to try to get my spending back on track and, so far, I think I’ve been doing pretty well. Toward this end, I’ve also made the decision to do a new budget. Not just a new budget, but a  new budget software, too! Remember back when I’d tried to do YNAB (you need a budget), but I’d bailed less than a week into the month? I wasn’t ready at the time. But I gave it another shot a few weeks ago and have fallen for it hard. Once you get a hang of it, it’s really so superior to my old Excel spreadsheet. If there’s any interest I’d be happy to write a full review at some point.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in purchasing the YNAB software, usually $60, I’ve got a link I can share that will get you a 10% savings. Note that if you purchase through this link, you get $6 off the price and I get a $6 referral credit. A win-win (plus you can share your personal link with friends to earn credits, too). Just wanted to be transparent on that (you can also try a free month-long trial by going to their website, too).

What are your favorite rollover meals or cheap meal ideas? 


  • Reply Jodi |

    I started using YNAB shortly after you mentioned it. I hadn’t heard of it before, so thanks!! I LOVE it! Completely changed the way I view and deal with our finances. We sailed through Christmas without a credit card bill which was awesome.????

    I honestly can’t imagine ever NOT using it now, and recommend it to all my family & friends.

    Hope you have success with it this time around!!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Thanks, I definitely agree that it’s changed the way I look at our budget and deal with finances! I’ll be talking more about this in an upcoming post, too : )

  • Reply C@thesingledollar |

    I’ve really liked YNAB — I wouldn’t say it’s totally changed my life, but it’s made my budgeting life easier and more effective and I hope to use it for a long time to come.

    I’m on a personal crusade against food waste myself this year; I’m trying not to waste *anything* (and blogging about it every Wednesday — so far so good.) It makes me feel really good to get through another week without overspending, overbuying, or tossing stuff that used to be perfectly edible.

  • Reply VickieTori |

    Hi Ashley! I just recently found this blog a few weeks ago so I’m a fairly new follower. I just wanted to comment about YNAB. I’ve had it for many, many years (4-6?) but it took many, many starts/stops/start over new before it actually “clicked”. So I understand why you quit using it the first time. In reading that post I notice that you mentioned you thought YNAB would be more useful once you had the full month’s “buffer” in place. Just to let you know – I STILL don’t have my full month’s buffer in place and won’t for several more years since I’m in Debt Payoff mode and need to get out of debt first. In order to make YNAB work for me in that case I just go in and enter my checks as I get them and then I “Budget” / put dollar amounts in the categories as to where I need that money to go for that paycheck depending on what bills are due. Once I got my mind wrapped around the fact that the budget categories are like “envelopes” without having to work with actual dollars and coins, it really helped it “click” for me. Sorry to ramble on – I hope this helps! I look forward to reading your progress.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Thanks for the tip, Vickie! And thanks for reading! I definitely think its a good idea to think of the categories like envelopes – that’s a great way of putting it!

  • Reply Claire |

    Hi Ashley
    I made meatballs and spaghetti in gravy for dinner last night which cost 58p and made 6 portions so 10p a portion. Tonight myself and my middle son will be eating leftovers from last night. I think this falls into the cook once eat twice theory 🙂
    I use a lot of yellow sticker foods to make cheap meals. I don’t know if you get that over in America ? It’s when the supermarket sell off their food at the end of the day for pennies. This enables me to feed my family super cheaply.
    Much Love Claire from frugal living xxx

    • Reply Ashley |

      Great tip! We don’t have food sold cheap at the end of the day, but we do have it sold cheap when it’s close to a “sell by” date (e.g., milk, eggs, meat, etc.). I’ll often buy those foods because we go through a LOT of milk, so the sell by date may be 4 days away, but we’ll for sure finish up the gallon by then. And with meat, I’ll just buy it and either cook or freeze right away. Tastes exactly the same!

      • Reply sheila |

        did you know you can freeze milk as well. So if you buy it 4 days before the use date, freeze it and when you unthaw you still have 4 days to use.

        • Reply Ashley |

          I did know that because my Mom always froze milk (and juice) growing up. My main problem is that we don’t have a deep freezer so we really don’t have ROOM in our freezer for full gallons of milk. That freezer space is definitely prime real estate!

  • Reply Mel |

    My grocery store discounts meat on its sell-by date. That’s when I buy ground beef in big packs. Rather than freezing right away (in whole or in chunks), I cook it first, then freeze in 1-lb containers. SO EASY to make dinner when the meat is pre-done…sloppy joes, spaghetti, tacos, etc all can be made in a flash!

  • Reply Sandra |

    Ashley, as a side note to this and about your twins bouts with colds, they probably are just the inevitable result of their spending time in childcare. However, have you checked out the website “100 Days of Real Food”? The site is that of a young Charlotte, NC mother who tells how her family transitioned to REAL food and away from processed food. She has mentioned several times how her family’s health improved after the changes they made. I believe you might enjoy this site by another mother of two little girls.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I know I’ve heard of the site but haven’t checked it out before. That’s funny that you bring this up, though. I do try to have mostly real food (really try to avoid processed kid snacks, etc.), but I still buy mostly conventional foods and was just chatting with my hubs about maybe increasing our grocery budget just a smidge so I could start buying more organic foods. We’ve already been sprinkling them in here & there but I’d like to make a more concerted effort to have organic be a larger part of our diet. It’s hard to find the right balance between saving money & eating right, especially when organic is much more costly and tends to go bad faster, too. But it’s something I’ve been thinking lots about lately.

  • Reply Mary |

    Great job on the cook once, eat twice meals. I agree that wasting food is like throwing money away. I do something simple-I just buy almost exactly what we need for a week. So at the beginning of the week, the refrigerator is full and the end of the week, it’s empty. It’s easier to clean, there is no waste and there isn’t any eating from the pantry because we have what we need.

    Other ways I’ve saved money on groceries this month is trying new things. I tried Checkout 51 (marginal savings but even $4 a month is $48 a year) and Peapod. Peapod gives you $20 off your first order and free delivery. They take manufacturer’s coupons and they give you free delivery for 60 days. Prices were surprisingly competitive and I just got another coupon in the mail for $5 off this week’s groceries. I tried them years ago but they were too high and since then, they were sold and are now pretty competitive price wise.

    So far this year, one of the biggest surprises in terms of saving money is ebates.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I’ve never even heard of peapod! I’ll have to check out if they’re in my area! And, I agree that ebates can be a surprise gold-mine (well, maybe not “gold”….but you get my point) ; )

  • Reply Jessica |

    We have been fighting the food waste battle, as well! We are doing a pantry/freezer clean-out as we have gone way over in our food budget since the beginning of this year. My husband and I have credit card debt and student loans that we are currently paying off so I’ve been trying to cut back where possible! I would absolutely love to hear more about your success with YNAB. I’ve read about it and I did the free trial, but also bailed about a week in to it. Kudos to all of your hard work and success thus far; I really enjoy reading about your journey!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Thanks, Jessica! I’ll probably use YNAB another couple weeks to really get a good solid feel of it, but then I’d be happy to write up a review with my thoughts!

  • Reply Jenny |

    One of my favorite leftover meals is shepherd’s pie. When I make mashed potatoes and gravy, I make extra. Then I take ground beef (like Mel, I precook big batches and keep it in the freezer) add leftover veggies, frozen ones, or steam some in the microwave and stir them with the beef and gravy. Then I put them in a baking dish and spread the mashed potatoes on top, and sometimes top with cheese. You can also assemble this early in the day then put in the oven to heat through and brown the top just before serving. I usually use frozen peas, corn, carrots, and green beans, and steam carrots and celery. To steam them, I just cut them up and put in a small bowl, add a small splash of water to the bottom, and microwave for a minute or two until they are as soft as you want.

    • Reply Ashley |

      DOING THIS!!! I have leftover homemade mashed potatoes from this weekend, so this meal is PERFECT. Just been added to my dinner list for the week! : )

  • Reply Emily N. |

    Good job on the food! It sounds like you’ve been making some really great meals.

    My husband and I have been using YNAB since August and really love it! We’re almost at the point where we’re living on last month’s income (paychecks received yesterday made February completely covered and started on March). And this is with Christmas, $800/month towards debt, and $500/month for car replacement savings. It’s made such a difference in our finances–I can’t praise it enough.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow, that’s awesome! Congrats on being so close to living on last month’s income!!!

  • Reply hannah |

    Ashley, huge congrats on clamping down on food waste! This is my biggest problem area, and I hate seeing those $ bills going into the trash can also.
    The savings are significant, and I applaud you for working hard on it.

  • Reply emmi |

    We have this weekly egg dish (frittata) which is everything that needs to get eaten from the fridge chopped and fried up with potato chunks and then egg mixture gets poured over it and it gets baked.

    (then we have to make sure we eat THAT as leftovers too, because it’s usually really big)

    • Reply Ashley |

      I do this sometimes, too. I’m super weird, though, in that I don’t like eggs (I know, craziness)! But hubs and the kids all like frittatas and quiches, so I’ll sometimes do them for breakfasts and make myself some toast or something else small. It’s a good idea to try that for dinner once in awhile. I don’t mind eating a peanut butter sandwich for dinner so I’d be totally fine with that!

So, what do you think ?