shop around.

So far budgeting has been the hardest thing for us to sit down and do. I was a very meticulous budgeter before I got married. It's our goal this week to sit down and punch out a budget with short-term and long-term goals so we can start September on the right track. I've discovered mint.com which will be a great resource (and they have an Android app so I can track our finances on my phone).

The worst part of the budget for me is groceries. Things like insurance payments and utilities are pretty predictable. We know how much income we'll have. And saying something like "We'll spend $200 on groceries this month" isn't hard; sticking to that is hard. When I lived alone (and ate cereal for most meals) I could easily get by on $60-$80/month. Lord help us if we have sons because we eat a lot more now. I'm buying meat and Nate will not sit by and let me munch on popcorn for dinner.

Another part of budgeting for food that's hard is that I don't want to send Nate to work with peanut butter and jelly for lunch. I also don't want to send him with nothing because lunch at Chipotle is at least $8. (Do you know how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you could make for $8?) I feel like I have sort of a grip on dinners (meat + veggies + side) but we have been slacking on breakfast and lunch which has meant eating out too much.

The other day I used my free birthday lunch at work (even though my birthday is in February) and got a turkey wrap, Sun Chips, diet soda, and candy bar. If I had chosen fruit instead of the candy bar, it would be the ideal lunch. (I'm trying to cut back on diet soda but after a hard morning at work it just makes everything better.) So I'm thinking, Why couldn't I have the things to make a wrap, baggie of chips, apple/banana/orange, and maybe a mini size candy bar for lunch every day? I could make that at home for less than it costs to buy at the cafe. I used to make rice and bean burritos and freeze them and they'd thaw by lunchtime and be very filling. For Nate we'll add chicken and get it as close to a Chipotle burrito as possible, but frozen is the way to go because I don't usually feel like preparing a meal after dinner and things tend to go bad in our fridge rather regularly.

We have a Sam's Club card and that sparked my idea of buying bulk. (We haven't yet considered where we will store it. First things first.) We are really big on snacks around here, especially with Nate being in class all day twice a week. Snacks are great. So I made a list of possible things available at Sam's Club for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. I almost went to Sam's Club today, but it got me thinking ... What does this cost at Aldi and Kroger? I know buying bulk always sounds best but I've heard it's not always best. So I was a nerd and went to Aldi and Kroger to pick up a few things and do a little research.
Of course Aldi doesn't carry name brand and you occasionally would sacrifice quality for price, but Aldi does have some surprisingly great deals. Some of the items are very comparable, taste included. You can buy 2 lbs. of red grapes at Aldi for $1.98. Just 1 lb. at Kroger costs $2.59. Aldi has great produce. Baby carrots at Aldi are 99 cents for 2 lbs. If you bought 2 lbs. at Sam's Club, it would cost you $2.66.

Kroger generally comes up with the highest prices, especially for produce. I even used the cheapest prices I could find, store brands. 32 cans of diet Coke at Kroger cost $13.44. The same 32 cans at Sam's Club cost $9.92. A lot of the differences in prices are just cents, but when you're budgeting, everything adds up.

Nate relieved me today when he said, "I don't mind the occasional hot pocket or Healthy Choice frozen meal. You don't have to make everything from scratch." "Thank you!" I want to feed Nate healthy food, so all this time I felt like cutting corners would make me a bad wife.

What are your tips for saving money on meals? What do you eat for lunch? How often do you eat out? If you don't have kids, how much do you spend on food each month? How often do you go to the store? Help a girl out! Leave a comment. :-)


  1. We keep fruit, bread, lunch meat, and cheese on hand so we can throw together lunch on the fly in the mornings as needed (Ian wants more than pb&j too). But we try to just cook extra for dinner and then take the leftovers (especially since we have a microwave at work). I've learned if we just start dishing up dinner, we'll end up going back for seconds and not have enough left over for both of us for lunch. But if we portion it out into our lunch containers at the same time as we dish up, we eat less (the portion size we should actually be eating) and we save enough for lunch. If we're still hungry, we can always snack on the aforementioned fruit, or eat more salad, which we try to keep on hand (stored in a salad spinner in the fridge to increase shelf life).

    We're not great at meal planning, but that's another thing that helps us stay on budget (then you buy only what you mean to, and waste less ingredients). We also are willing to get more interesting ingredients (even if it is a little more expensive, within reason) like a nice cheese or good cut of beef. If home food is boring, it's more tempting to go out. Which is more expensive than even that juicy steak in the meat section. I'm willing to up our grocery budget in exchange for a smaller eating out budget.

    And as Ian and I learned in FPU, budget doesn't mean being a miser at everything (spenders like Ian help savers like me enjoy life!). It means telling your money where to go. Often I want to get the cheapest ingredients and make the simplest meals, to keep our grocery spending amount as small as possible. But if we agree to spend $250 on groceries for the month, then it's okay if we spend $250 on groceries. We enjoy dinner a lot more when we throw in those more expensive options every so often. :)

  2. P.S. In terms of our budget number, keep in mind New England cost of living is noticably higher than the Midwest. And we adjust our budget from month to month as needed. For groceries, this is because we spend more during months we host weekly community group and make dinner for everyone. As long as we're saving toward our goals and we agree on the amounts, it's okay to spend (as a saver, this is a lesson I continue to learn).

  3. Here's my advice....to save money and eat quality year round. Stock up now on quality fruits and veggies that are in season! Go to your farmers' market and stock up on the goods. Even if you've never preserved anything, it's super easy to freeze stuff. That's how I save money during the winter and still eat good, I live off of preserved tomatoes, corn, beans, greens, etc.

    Additionally, I eat eggs almost everyday. They are super cheap good source of protein. I usually saute them with veggies or potatoes.

    For breakfast, I'm hooked on swiss oats. Combine oats with yogurt and fruit, nuts. Let it sit for just a bit or put it together the night before in the fridge. So yummy and easy and more filling than plain cereal. Also cheaper than cereal!

  4. I freezer cook and only have to cook about once a month. Frozen baked oatmeal(frozen in small amounts) and sausage cheese balls, frozen meatballs to make spaghetti some nights. Cups of frozen mac and cheese. Frozen paninis cooked by me and then frozen individually(can thaw out in lunch and be microwaved to eat). I cook a couple of whole chickens each week and hubby takes the shredded chicken for lunch on a sandwich often(he can eat the same thing day after day after day). Make frozen hamburgers from scratch, so you can pull out a couple and cook them whenever you want. Homemade instant oatmeal packets. Homemade laundry detergent(super cheap to make and lasts forever!) is a great money saver. My initial investment is about 15 dollars for all the supplies and then the next year when I run out, I have everything except the bar of soap(so only about 1.00 for another year's worth of detergent). That was a little off topic, but, it definitely helps the budget. One batch of it would probably last you and Nate two years. If you look up freezer cooking or once a month cooking, you can get a ton of ideas!

  5. We usually have time to eat 2-3 meals at home either in the evenings or on the weekends. Then all of the leftovers are divided in to 2-serving containers and frozen. Since we eat lunch together, we'll just grab one container out of the freezer in the morning and bring it for lunch. Examples of this would be lasagna, tacos, meatballs, chicken alfredo, grilled hamburgers, enchiladas, fajitas...We also have a deep freeze and I shoot a couple of deer each year. The only meat that we have to buy are chicken breasts and some beef once in a while. We get the beef from a local meat locker and not a regular store. Deer is also very healthy for red meat as it contains very little fat. I also try to fish as much as possible and freeze what we won't be cooking right away.

  6. Why do you do all the cooking? Can't Nate cook sometimes?

  7. I cook, he cleans. I hate cleaning!

  8. Well, we are not even in the same league of saving money as you! Reading your blog makes me want to try harder!
    We are currently saving to build a house. We save money by hardly ever eating out. I find it so hard, but my guy just prefers to stay home and cook. We are huge meat and potatoes people. We recently found that Sam's is a great place to buy beef. We can get a ribeye roast for about $100, which cuts into about 20 steaks = $5/ribeye. Awesome!
    We don't have any kids, but it's usually about (hold your breath) $200+ every time we go to the grocery store. That's sometimes every week, sometimes every two. Imagine how much we could save if we could get on your budget!


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