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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?


Hope’s Monthly Budget – Fall and Winter, 2017

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This is my current monthly budget. A debt update is coming up next. I think most of this is self-explanatory, but I’ve added a few notes below.

Budget

Personal Expenses Business Expenses Summary
Allowance 400 Adobe 30 Total Personal 3634
Auto – Gas/Main 250 Cell Phones 286 Total Business 509
Auto/Rent Ins 315 Dropbox (annual – Oct) 8 Total Debt Payment 1920
Clothing (bi-annual) 150 Internet 77 Total Monthly Costs 6063
Electric 150 Microsoft (annual – Jan) 8
Groceries/Eating Out 600 Misc 100 Income
Gymnastics 350 Total Business 509 1099 3200
Health Ins 305 W-2 3462
Life Ins (annual – Dec) 21 Debt Payments
Rent 650 Car Payment 400 Total Income 6662
Spending 200 CC 100
Water/Gas/Trash 75 Computer Equipment 85 Savings Goals
Spanish 160 Other 500 Emergency Savings Goal 700
Amazon Prime (annual) 8 Self Lender (Christmas) 97 Couch
Student Loan 307
Summer Camp/Activities 375
Universal 56 Total Savings Goals 700
Total Personal 3634 Total Debt Payment 1920 Total Extra Income -101.0

Details

Monthly Expenses – These are our day to day living expenses. Many have some flex money built in, specifically gymnastics which typically runs $240 per month. I added the extra money to cover the competition costs that must be paid during competition season (Nov-Apr.) I don’t know how much they will be with our new gym, last year I paid $600 in meet fees. Spanish is new. I’ve hired a online tutor to work Princess and Gymnast 1 hour a week, this was our first week.

Business Expenses – I’ve added my regular business expenses including our cell phones, internet and so on because I thought my budget would look funny with out these important expenses. (These are associated with my contract work.)

Debt Payments – I have another post on this category coming this week. I am grateful that a lot of this debt is chosen – summer camps and activities, Universal and a Self Lender loan (a chosen debt in an attempt to help repair my credit) versus stupid decisions or debt hoisted upon me by other’s decisions.

Income – I continue to work three jobs regularly, and have recently picked up a couple of new smaller contracts so we will see how they work out. The kids are starting to ask when I will cut down on my work hours. But I am not there yet.

Savings Goals – My emergency savings is still my #1 goal. But I am starting to think of other “things” I would like, specifically a couch. I’ve put it on the budget as a holding place, but I am not actively pursuing it at this time. In my head, I’m thinking next summer for a couch.

Summary

I am in the negative as far as this budget goes. Reality is that I spend quite a bit less than this on a regular basis, but there are certainly months where it is more. I feel like this is a true representation of where my money goes on a monthly basis.

My FSA, vision and dental insurance and 401K deductions all come out of W-2 income. I have consulted with an accountant and for this year, I am in a good place tax wise due to the Adoption Tax Credit. I will have to adjust my tax rate for next year.


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.)


Hope’s Weekly Budget – Week of October 1

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This is my budget for next week. While most are common, monthly line items, there are some unique items this week. See an explanation below.

Rent 29-Sep-17 -650
Electricity 1-Oct-17 -125
Groceries 1-Oct-17 -400
Summer Camp 1-Oct-17 -500
Auto-Gas 4-Oct-17 -35
Water/Sewer 4-Oct-17 -75
Amazon 5-Oct-17 -400
W2 Income 6-Oct-17 1732
Allowance 6-Oct-17 -80
Debt Pymt 6-Oct-17 -100
Savings 6-Oct-17 -150
Universal 7-Oct-17 -56
Gymnastics 7-Oct-17 -240
Clothing Allow 7-Oct-17 -900

Groceries – This is my monthly grocery budget, not just the week. If you have been following me long, you know it is typically $600 per month. I am 1) trying to cut back some and 2) have re-allocated some of this money to more “free” spending to allow for when we are out of town at gymnastics and grab a quick bite.
Summer Camp – Summer camp for next year for both Princess and Gymnast. I am paying monthly now to 1) lock in last year’s rates and 2) not have it come up on me at the end of the year. This is a monthly payment until the total is paid off. It will cover 6 weeks of camp.
Amazon – This is my Amazon account and is a guesstimate of the balance based on the previous month’s purchases. I use Amazon home delivery for most of our toiletry needs and a variety of other expenses. Most months this is around $100, I’ll explain why it’s more in another post.
Universal – I am taking the kids to Universal over Thanksgiving. I have been saving this amount every month towards our November trip (just to cover the cost of the park tickets.)
Gymnastics – This is the monthly charge for Gymnast training, 4 days per week.
Clothing Allowance – This is a twice yearly budget item where I provide the kids with a specific amount of money for them to purchase clothes for the coming season. The monies are not necessarily split equally, I divide it based on needs and wants. The kids have spent the month of September creating lists of needs and wants for the coming cooler season. This is our version of the “wait 30 days” before spending.

I think doing this every Friday will help keep me more accountable, and give you all a better way of guiding me in my day to day spending habits.

What do you think so far?