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Category: Earning & Managing Money

How to keep meat from breaking your budget

Meat
can be a budget-breaker, can’t it? Because we’ve only budgeted $40/week
for groceries, I’ve learned to get really creative when it comes to
meat. There are many things we do to help stretch this, here are a few of my favorites:

1) Don’t serve meat as the main thing at a meal.
When we serve meat for dinner, unless I got some incredible sale on it,
it is not a stand-alone thing. I have come up with lots of recipes
which are hearty and delicious, but that don’t require using $8-$15
worth of meat to pull off for our little family. We do eat soup and we
do eat casserole, but I try to be creative and use lots of variety.

I
also try to make sure that dinners are a hearty affair around here. My
husband might be thin, but he can eat like you wouldn’t believe (As an
aside, how come guys can eat so much and never gain a pound?!)! If we
have chili or a similar bean type of soup, we’ll serve it over steamed
brown rice and sprinkle cheese on top. If we have chicken noodle soup,
we often serve it over mashed potatoes (I know, talk about a carb-rich
meal! But it’s delicious!).

Start thinking outside the box when it comes to the dinners you serve and have fun being creative. If it flops and doesn’t go over well, you don’t have to make it again.

2) Have at least 1-2 meatless meals per week.
Yes, I know, a lot of people turn up their noses at the thought of
going vegetarian a few times a week but if you get creative, you can
come up with quite a few hearty meatless meals. Try making spaghetti
casserole or lasagna without meat in it (I put extra chunky sauce with
lots of onions and diced tomatoes in it and double the cheese and we never
even miss the meat). Or try serving breakfast for dinner sometime.

3) Never buy meat unless it is marked-down or on sale.
I usually always get meat on sale or marked down and will not pay
anymore than $2/meal for meat. Watch for the sales and mark downs and
stock up! Ask your grocery stores when they mark meat down and make
sure you shop at those times.

4) Make the main dish go further by starting out dinner with soup and bread or salad and bread.
If you’re already somewhat filled up before the main course hits, you
are bound to eat less! Plus, starting out with a nice big salad and
fresh bread will add so much to the meal!

5) When you buy meat, cook it up ahead of time and freeze it in meal-size portions.
I’ve found when I divvy the meat up ahead of time, it somehow stretches a lot father. If the thought of going meatless is too much for you
right now, consider cutting back on some of the meat in some
of your meals. You might be surprised at how little you miss it.

6) Get creative with leftovers.
My goal is to never throw food out. Every once in a while it
does happen, but it is a rare occurrence. Constantly be looking for
ways to remake meals to stretch them farther and eliminate waste.

How do you keep meat from breaking your budget? What are some of your favorite meatless meals?

Reader Tip: Save time and money by starting your own cooking club

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Yesterday, I posted a review for Social Suppers and wanted to share a tip Amanda had recently emailed in which might be a more-suitable option for many of you who are on tight budgets. Amanda wrote:

I wanted to tell you about a cooking club that I am a member of.  It saves me time and money because I am less likely to eat out and more likely to plan ahead and try and match my dish to coupons or sales.  Also, it gives my family a chance to try foods and recipes that we might not otherwise try.

We have 8 busy moms who are members of our cooking club.  Each month they have the option to participate or not. Each member makes a main dish for all the other participating families and freezes it (and usually keeps one for her family).   We meet in someone’s garage to swap and go home with fully-stocked freezers of ready to thaw and reheat meals that are great for those super busy days.

We also did a side dish exchange this month, too. I made beans and received a dozen fresh ears of corn (a member’s family owns a local farm), cheesy potatoes, and twice baked potatoes. We have done soup groups, brunch groups (so we all have non-burnt toast on Mother’s Day!), sweet groups (for entertaining around the holidays) and appetizer groups (for New Years or Super Bowl time).

I love this idea and would totally join a group like this (anyone in this area interested?)! Does anyone else do something similar? If so, tell us about it!

Input needed: I’m buying a laptop tonight

After a series of unfortunate events, I am buying a new laptop. And, because we’re leaving on vacation tomorrow and I need to have it in hand as soon as we arrive home, I’m buying it tonight.

I knew this purchase was inevitable as the problems with my laptop have continued to increase and the 3-year warranty is almost expired. The plan was to buy one before the end of the year and I have had the money set aside for it for a number of months.

Being the frugal person I am, though, I held out for as long as possible but the time has come to hold out no longer since my laptop is completely shot. (I’ll spare you the extensive run-down of problems it’s experiencing, the biggest of which is that you cannot get on the internet and it randomly freezes up after around 2-3 minutes of use.)

So, Jesse and I will be ordering a new laptop online tonight and I thought I’d ask all of you bargain-shoppers here for some input on how I could snag the best deal. I’m really great at scoring grocery deals, but electronics are a bit out of my league.

I’ll be getting a Dell (sorry, Mac people, it’s impossible to change my mind so don’t even try!) and I need something that can withstand lots of use and abuse and last me for at least a few years.

Where should I look? What should I get? And how can I score the best deal? Any and all feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Ask the readers: Long distance plans?

We had a busy and eventful last few days and I’m taking half a day off from blogging to take care of some things on the home front here. I’ll back this afternoon to share some more great deals. In the mean time, would anyone like to share some input on Amy’s question?

I wondered if you’ve got any good tips/advice/comparisons on long distance calling
plans. Currently, we have unlimited long distance with our home phone
but are considering canceling all of that. Have you researched
whether it’s cheaper to have a cell phone only and use it for
everything, have a calling card and keep a land line with no long
distance, or have you discovered something else? – Amy

What does your family do for long distance calls? What have you found to be the least expensive option? What works best for your family? Tell us in the comments section.

Lower your grocery bill without clipping coupons

I’ve received numerous emails from people recently asking how you can
lower your grocery bill if you don’t live nearby stores which have good
coupon deals or if you don’t have time to clip coupons. While
I’m a big proponent of coupons, I understand that they don’t work for
everyone in every season of life in every area of the country. Here would be a few of my top recommendations for ways to lower your grocery
bill without clipping coupons:

1) Plan a menu and stick to it. Seriously. If this is the only thing you ever do, you’ll greatly reduce your grocery budget.

2) Shop once per week or less. The less you shop invariably means the less you spend. I recommend you have a grocery budget, plan your menu and list with your grocery budget in mind, use a calculator to tally up your running total as you shop, and only bring the allotted amount of grocery money with you in cash.

3) Stick with simple, inexpensive meals. I’m a big believer in simplicity. There’s an occasional time and place for the elaborate, six-course dinners, but for the everyday, keep it simple. We like to have a main dish, homemade bread of some sort, and then fruit or veggies of some sort to round things out. I plan our main dishes around what we already have on hand and what meats and other mainstay ingredients are on sale.

4) If you live nearby a store which does run sales, plan your menu based upon the store sales. The simple step of taking a few extra minutes each week to browse the store fliers and create your menu based upon what is on sale there will greatly enhance your savings. If you have more than one store which runs weekly sales, check both fliers and decide which store to do your shopping at based upon which store has the best sales. 

5) Shop at Aldi. I know every area doesn’t have Aldi stores, but if you do, you should be shopping there. I don’t recommend buying everything at Aldi, but there are many things there which are very comparable to name brands at the store, but which are routinely quite a bit less. Our Aldi standbys include: fruit (especially bananas, apples, oranges, grapefruit, and frozen fruit), tortillas, some veggies, frozen veggies, and staple ingredients. You have to be a bit flexible since Aldi doesn’t always have everything in stock and the produce is sometimes hit and miss, but we’ve saved hundreds of dollars each year by buying 25% or so of our groceries at Aldi.

8) Cook from scratch, as much as possible. It’s a no-brainer, but cooking from scratch with simple, inexpensive ingredients is likely one of the greatest ways to save money on your grocery budget while also eating more healthfully. We enjoy some processed foods as a treat, but I attempt to have the bulk of our diet made up of fresh fruits and veggies and homemade items. With some planning ahead and cooking in bulk and freezing, you can eliminate the need for many processed foods without spending a great deal of time and thought.

One of my best tips to help one be more efficient when it comes to cooking from scratch is just to look for ways you can make extra. If you’re making waffles, make a double batch or triple batch and freeze the leftovers for breakfast later in the week. If you’re making cookies, double the recipe, bake what you’ll eat right away, and freeze the rest of the cookie dough in balls and then pull out how many you’ll need and bake them later.

Another thing which has worked well for me is to try and bake for a few hours one day per week or to take 20 minutes everyday and bake up a triple batch of something and freeze most of it. This guarantees I almost always have a few different things on hand for quick breakfasts or snacks or bread to go along with dinner.

What are your best recommendations for saving money on groceries without clipping coupons?

Frugal Friday: Alyssa vlogs her coupon binder

It’s over on my other blog and all of you frugal zealots will want to go check out the money-saving goodness overflowing from the links left there. I shared a new recipe we tried this week for a yummy breakfast.

on her coupon binder takes the cake. In light of our recent discussion on coupon organization methods, I thought many of you would find it especially helpful. Check it out .

And while I’m sharing links, here are a few more:

Did anyone else get a little chuckle out of ? I found it quite hilarious that we are feeding our family for less than half the amount allotted on food stamps! (Food stamps allow you $117/week for a family of four, we get by quite nicely on $40 for a family of 4. We do go out to eat once or twice a week, but we’re still well under that $117 budget.)

did a great series this week on all things related to cloth diapering. If the subject is remotely interesting to you, you’ll definitely want to