Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My monthly menu board

For those who are curious what my monthly menu looks like, here it is. This is the product of me taking inventory of what is in the house, looking at our past menu items, and planning it out for the month. It is just a dollar store frame with the cardboard removed and a sheet of scrapbook paper inserted.

This will be our menu from December 10-January 12. Each time we eat something, I just wipe it off so I know what is left. I try to stay pretty true to the order, but there are always times when I've forgotten to thaw a meat or something else comes up. Doing the menu on a dry erase board keeps me from having to rewrite the whole menu if things get juggled around a bit.

I always keep frozen chicken breasts and we have a handful of chicken recipes that get rotated through. As you can see I try to use big and either inexpensive or on sale cuts of meat for several meals, saving both time and money. This month, it's pork shoulder and a spiral sliced ham that was on sale for the holidays. As per usual, beans make a few appearances monthly, as do breakfast foods. Leftover nights are planned in and I try to have a dessert on those nights as an incentive to clear out the fridge.

We pick up take and bake pizza (using a coupon) nearly every Sunday, so those days aren't included on the menu. We will also have Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas dinner with Anthony's mom, so I don't have to worry about those days, either.

This is just what I have found has worked for me over the years. This is not the first "system" I've used, but it seems to be the most practical and the easiest.  It also helps to keep our grocery budget low, because I use what I already have, know what I'll be cooking from night to night, and uses up leftover food before it has a chance to go bad.

In case  you were wondering, yes, that is a tub of Lincoln Logs and an IKEA kiddie stool in the picture. I cropped out the Animals of the World encyclopedia and A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass, as well as a stack of coupons waiting for me to clip them. It's pretty real over here guys!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eat What You Have Days 28-49

OK, so I've waited so long to post what we've been having that I've forgtten what we even had for a few days. Boo.

Day 28- Leftovers
Day 29- Dinner at a friend's
Day 30- Burritos
Day 31-?
Day 32-?
Day 33- Pizza
Day 34- ?
Day 35- Spaghetti
Day 36- Thanksgiving with my family
Day 37- Thanksgiving with his family
Day 38- Chili Friday
Day 39- Leftovers
Day 40- Pizza
Day 41- Parpadelle with carmelized onions
Day 42- Salsa chicken with beans and rice
Day 43- Pizza (Mama was sick)
Day 44- Breakfast
Day 45- Turkey and sides
Day 46- Leftovers
Day 47- Birthday dinner for the twins at Nana's
Day 48- Turkey and dumplings
Day 49- Turkey burgers

So, I finally went for a grocery trip after 49 days. I still have about 10 meals in the house, though, in the effort of warding off a mutiny, I gave in. Gotta keep the family happy. Usually, after my annual Eat What You Have Challenge, I end up spending $100 or so more than I usually do. This year, I was actually $50 UNDER my monthly budget of $400! It can only help that I was able to make a stop at Aldi's.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Easy jambalaya

This is recipe that comes togther quickly and is cheap and tasty. Confession: I usually make this on a day when I haven't thought ahead and thawed some meat. I just boil the chicken from frozen and pop the sausage in the microwave for a minute and it's ready to go. Add more or less seasoning depending on how hot you like your Cajun food. This is one recipe where I don't mix my own seasonings, though I've shown what you would need to do so. We use Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning instead. This is also another recipe where I use rice that I've cooked and frozen ahead of time as a time saver.


2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1lb chicken breast
1pkg smoked sausage, cut into ½ inch rounds
1 ½c rice, cooked according to package directions
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning -
     1tsp ground red pepper
     ½tsp salt
     ½tsp chili powder
     ¼tsp garlic powder
     ¼tsp onion powder
     ¼tsp black pepper
     ¼tsp oregano

  • Place the chicken in a small saucepan, cover with salted water, boil until cooked through, coarsely chop; reserve cooking liquid.
  • Heat the oil in a pot over medium high heat; add onion, pepper, and garlic, cook until slightly softened; add chicken, sausage, and 1-2 cups of reserved liquid; add seasoning, cook until warmed through.
  • Add rice to meat & vegetables, stir to combine; serve hot with extra Cajun seasoning.
Price breakdown
Oil - 30¢
Onion - 35¢
Green pepper - 50¢
Garlic - 10¢
Chicken - $1.79
Sausage - $2
Rice - 15¢
Seasoning - 5¢
TOTAL - $4.24
Price per serving (6 servings) - 71¢

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Task 8 - Shop "alternative" stores

Another great way to save money is to look to stores that you wouldn't normally shop. A great store to save you tons of money is Aldi. If you have one near you, I would encourage you to add it into your regular shopping routine. The closest one to me is quite out of the way, but it is on the way to my mother-in-law's, so I plan my trip accordingly. There are tons of Aldi shopping tutorials out on the web. Their best prices for me are on oats, spices, all dairy - including eggs, bottled water, canned goods, tortillas, and cheese.

If you use a lot of spices, like we do by cooking Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican dishes, you should look in your area for an Indo-Paki grocery. I buy spices in bulk usually at a 70% or more savings over a traditional grocery store. That can really add up over time. If you think you won't be able to use a larger amount, split the difference with a friend.

Meat is one of the biggest grocery expenses. Look for alternatives here, as well. I, personally, look to small independently run stores in more rural areas. For you locals, I stop by Country Mart in Taylorsville monthly or bi-monthly. They have cheaper meat prices overall and have a 10lb. meat sale monthly. You can also look at more rural butchers and Mexican groceries and/or butchers, as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

I LOVE cabbage rolls! I had never eaten a cabbage roll in my life, or even heard of them for that matter, until I married my husband. His Slavic mother made these for a family dinner and that's where the love story began. I must have oohed and ahhed over them just enough, because she makes them for me every year for my birthday.
I asked for the recipe. It was so involved that I've never attempted them myself. Then I began to see recipes for deconstructed this or that. I decided to try it. The result is below. Now, I would never claim that it is as good as my mother-in-law's cabbage rolls. It's not. However for a quick, inexpensive, one skillet meal, it's pretty darn good!

1 medium onion, chopped
2lbs ground beef
1c uncooked rice
4c crushed tomatoes
1lb cabbage, chopped
1 can sauerkraut
1c water
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Place onion and beef in a large skillet over medium high, cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until meat is no longer pink and the onions have softened
  • Add rice, tomatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, and water to skillet, stir to combine. Bring to a boil; cover and cook 30 minutes, until rice is cooked and cabbage has softened.
Price Breakdown
Onion - 35¢
Beef - $5
Rice - 10¢
Tomatoes 75¢
Cabbage 60¢
Sauerkraut 50¢
TOTAL $7.30
Price per serving (6 servings) $1.22

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turkey Time!

I have broken my no spend streak. Our local Meijer had frozen turkeys on sale this week for 54¢/lb. with an additional $10 purchase. I priced matched that at Wal-Mart.
The cashier must not have known who he was up against when he explained to me that their turkeys are priced by unit, not per pound and that he couldn't honor the Meijer price. I explained that he absolutely could, that's why the sign over their turkeys read 88¢/lb. I even walked him through which keys he would need to push on his register to make that happen. Nope. It is just not their policy. I paid for the rest of my purchases and marched my penny-pinching tush right down to customer service. I explained. She rolled her eyes, guessed which cashier, and said she'd send the Customer Service Manager right down. Much to his embarrassment, she told him to do it exactly like I had. Kid just thought I'd give up that easily. Tsk. Tsk.
Anyway, while I was there, I noticed that their celery was only 74¢. Now, I can never get through a complete bunch of celery before it works. I know there are tricks to keep it crisp, but, truth be told, I only ever use celery in soups, stews, and pot pies anyway. So, I'm going to chop it up and freeze it in a Ziploc bag.
They also had sweet potatoes for 38¢/lb. We have eaten all of the sweet potatoes from our garden, so this was definitely stock up price! The great thing about sweet potatoes is that you can store them in a cardboard box in a cool, dry area - your basement or garage for several months. Eat any With scratches or bruises first. You can also boil, mash, and cool them, and freeze them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Make it yourself - Marinara

I believe that, for the most part, decisions regarding frugality usually come down to saving time or money. This is one of those situations where I do not believe you are saving enough time to justify spending the extra money. Spaghetti sauce - #1 the jarred stuff doesn't taste better & and it's loaded with chemical preservatives and #2 it can not save you more than 2-3 minutes over making your own. This is one of those items you should be making. I usually double the batch & use it for another meal or freeze it.
I buy the huge 6 pound, 6 ounce can of crushed tomatoes at Sam's for less than three dollars. It makes 12 one cup servings. I halved it in the recipe below. Boil a pound of pasta and you've got a meal for 6 for under $2.50! You can't beat that! When I made mine tonight I topped it with homemade mozzarella to the tune of $1.50, bringing the price of our meal to $4.23. I doubled my sauce recipe and will likely have baked pasta or meatball subs later in the week.


2-3 Tbsp Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried basil
6 cups crushed tomatoes
Salt & pepper to taste

  • Heat oil in a pot over medium-high; Add garlic, cook until garlic is light golden brown, stirring; Add basil.
  • Add tomatoes to the pot; Stir to combine; Heat through, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes. Serve over hot, cooked pasta.

Olive oil - 15¢
Garlic - 10¢
Basil - 5¢
Crushed tomatoes - $1.43

TOTAL - $1.73
Price per serving (6 servings) - 29¢

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Eat What You Have - days 25-37

I promise I'm still here and my Eat What You Have challenge is chugging right along over here! I have bought more milk and bananas. I also bought my husband a $6 pack of deli meat today. He has been such a champ about playing along as the cabinets, fridge, and freezer empty. It's the least I can do.
Here is what we have been eating:
Day 25 - Roasted pork chops with Apple's and sweet potatoes
Day 26 - Beef & bean nachos
Day 27 - Leftovers
Day 28 - Sunday Pizza
Day 29 - Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
Day 30 - Date night...We ate cereal...
Day 31 - Spicy potatoes with peas and chicken
Day 32 - Spaghetti
Day 33 - Dinner at a friend's (yummy French toast)
Day 34 - Beer braised sausages and mashed potatoes
Day 35 - Sunday Pizza
Day 36 - Zupa di Fagioli
Day 37 - Leftovers

Monday, November 10, 2014

Biscuit Topped Chicken Pot Pie

Here is my kitchen confession: I am terrible at pie crusts. I've tried. I've come close, but it usually ends with me a pie crust...hardly worth it. I usually either buy my pie crusts, which I hate doing or come up with an alternative. That is the case with this recipe. It's basically a chicken pot pie with no yelling at the dough.


1 - 1 ½lbs chicken breast cut into ½ inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1½ Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ Tbsp butter
¼c flour
1 ½c milk
1lb bag frozen mixed vegetables
Salt & pepper to taste

For biscuits:
½c butter (1 stick)
2c flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
¾c buttermilk

  • Preheat oven to 425°
  • Melt the oil and butter in a large skillet; add onion, cooking until they begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken, salt & pepper, cook until cooked through.
  • Sprinkle flour over the onion & oil, stir to coat. Add milk. Cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbly. Add frozen vegetables, stir to combine, cook until softened.
  • For biscuits, cut the cold butter into pats in a large bowl. Add the next three ingredients; cut with a biscuit cutter or two forks until the mixture resembles a coarse crumble. Add the buttermilk, stir to until a dough forms. Knead several times. Divide into 8 flattened biscuits.
Full disclosure here. I don't buy buttermilk. Anytime a recipe calls for buttermilk, I use slightly less milk and add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount of milk) of lemon juice, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then add it to the recipe.
  • Pour the chicken and vegetable mixture into a greased 8½ x 11 pan. Top with biscuits. Bake at 425° for 25-30 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown.

Price Breakdown

Chicken $1.79
Oil/butter 65¢
Onion 35¢
Flour 55¢
Milk 45¢
Mixed vegetables $1
Spices/baking powder 10¢

Total $4.89
Price per serving (8 servings) 62¢

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Eat What You Have days 11-24

I just realized I haven't been keeping you posted on our Eat What You Have challenge. I haven't updated in a couple of weeks. In those 2 weeks we've had my birthday, Halloween, and our annual Reformation Feast at our church. I'll admit, we ate out TWICE for my birthday - the night before and the day of. Of course, and I should have specified this up front, Sunday is always our feasting day. We typically pick up take-and-bake pizza (using a coupon), pile up on the couch, watch a movie, and eat pizza. We also had one night where our dear neighbor brought me a pot of soup as a birthday gift. So sweet and so welcome, as I had a cold! So far, I have only had to go buy milk. So, here is our list of meals for the past two weeks.

Day 11- Biscuit topped chicken pot pie
Day 12- Jambalaya
Day 13- Mexican take-out
Day 14- Pizza
Day 15- Leftovers
Day 16- Chicken Curry
Day 17- Sausage Strata
Day 18- Zombie meatloaf
Day 19- Leftovers
Day 20- Feast
Day 21- Feast
Day 22- Chicken vegetable soup
Day 23- Kebabs
Day 24- Roasted sausage and potatoes

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Task 7 - Make your own cleaners

When I first began really evaluating our grocery budget, cleaners were one of those things that were either taking way too big a chunk of the pie or I felt like we're only affordable if I were chasing coupons and playing the drug store "game". I decided to start looking into homemade cleaners. Pinterest has made this SO much easier! I now make all of my own cleaners except dish soap and dishwasher tabs. I just have yet to come a across recipes for those that I'm satisfied with.
Another huge bonus to making your own cleaners, as if saving lots of money weren't enough, is that you are eliminating so many harmful chemicals from your home. Win, win!
Below are the links to my favorite cleaner recipes. Enjoy!

All-purpose cleaner - I use this one all the time, even on my hardwood floors!

Cleaning wipes

Shower & tub cleaner - Shameless, I know, to link to my own blog on a blog post, but I have yet to see anyone else use anything but the original recipe with only Dawn detergent. That just seems wasteful to me.

Citrus cleaner - This one not only uses up kitchen scraps that would otherwise end up in the trash, it works wonders on grease!

Glass cleaner

Laundry detergent - I often substitute the less expensive Sun Oxy powder in this one. Putting the bar soap in the microwave revolutionized my detergent making! Just be prepared to give the microwave a once over with some vinegar or it will smell like soap for a week!

You can save literally hundreds of dollars annually by making your own cleaners. Try some out and watch your grocery bill dwindle!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Make it yourself - granola

I've had a few requests for a good granola recipe. Honestly, granola is way easier than it should be for how good it tastes! I like that my family isn't eating all of the junk in boxed cereals. I can tweak it to our tastes. We all love to eat it as a snack, as well! I just have to ignore its association with the word "crunchy" as a description of neo-hippies.

Here is the basic recipe:
4 ½c rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup chopped nuts
1/3c melted fat or oil
1/3c honey
¼c light brown sugar
½tsp salt
1-3tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon or other spice
½c dried fruit

Mix all ingredients, except fruit, together. Spread on a lined jelly roll pan or baking sheet. Bake at 325° for 15 minutes; stir; bake for 10-15 minutes more. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

My favorite variation on this recipe uses slivered almonds, and lots of cinnamon & vanilla. For my fat, I use melted coconut oil. I don't use fruit in this one.

Now, if you want my indulgent variation, hold onto your hats and try the following variation. Add ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¼ cup of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, and dried cranberries or raspberries. Yum!

Seriously, you could make granola a thousand different ways! It's healthy, inexpensive, and tasty - a great combination!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pinto beans and rice

This is our "how low can you go?" meal. It is the cheapest meal we eat here at our house and we try to make it a few times a month. I try to intersperse it with more expensive meals throughout the month, rather than having beans three times the last week of the month - that's when morale heads south! This recipe really is tasty. Each of my kids mentioned it in our "what I was thankful for today" rounds tonight at bedtime!


1 lb dried pinto beans, soaked
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cumin
2 cups white rice
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Cheese, avocado, tomatoes, onion to serve

  • Place the beans and garlic in a large pot, cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour.
I save time on this step by making double batches (2lbs) of dried beans a couple of times a month. We eat one batch for dinner and I freeze the other. When I make this recipe, I simply place the frozen beans in the pot, cover with water and boil around 20 minutes

  • As the beans begin to soften, mash them with a potato masher or the back of a spatula until desired consistency is reached
  • Set a pot of water to boil and cook rice according to package directions
I often save myself time here, as well by planning two meals a few days apart that require rice. I put half of the rice in a large zip top bag in the fridge for the next meal
  • Heat the olive oil in a small skillet, add onion, cooking over medium high heat, until onions soften and have brown, crisp edges. Add to the pot of rice. Stir to combine.
  • Serve beans over rice, and with toppings, if desired

Beans $1
Garlic 20¢
Rice 50¢
Onion 35¢
Spices 10¢
TOTAL - $2.15

Price per serving (6 servings) 36¢

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm not sure if I've ever recommended a blog here on mine. If not, here's a first! Go over and check out all that Tiffany has to say on her blog dontwastethecrumbs
She has some great tips on budgeting & grocery shopping (her budget for a family of four, including toiletries and paper products, is $330/month), recipes, eating real food, making things yourself (Apple cider vinegar from cores & peels?! Yes, please!) and healthy living.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eat What You Have - days 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10

I feel like I have been cheating on this challenge. I certainly didn't take into account how many days I wouldn't even be home to cook! That's ok, though, those days will just be tacked onto the end of the challenge and the whole thing will last longer than I expected.

So, coming off of a dinner out for my mother-in-law's birthday and a lovely meal with friends on days 4 & 5, I went to Georgetown on Saturday to watch the game (they won 42-13!). We took our hungry college lineman out for Mexican food. A good break for him from cafeteria food! 

The younger boys and I headed out to Great Wolf Lodge on Sunday. Of course we had pizza. After a hard day at the water park on Monday, we picked up sandwiches and fries on our way back to Georgetown again to watch Big Brother play football (won again!). Seriously, I promise I usually cook at home most nights!

So, we got back to some normalcy on Tuesday, day 9. I made roasted acorn squash with brown sugar and house made pork brats from Lucky's. If you haven't tried the sausages from Lucky's, you need to! Delicious! I always buy enough for a couple of meals when they go on sale for $2.49/lb.

Tonight we went with our cheap-o meal of pinto beans and rice. It's one of my favorites, not only because it is so cheap that it keeps the budget in check, but because it is tasty. I'll share the recipe soon enough.

How's your challenge going?

Task #6 - Buy in Bulk

We have made our way up to task six in saving money on groceries - buying in bulk. This one can be a bit tricky, but, hopefully, I can clear a few concerns here.

I recommend that you only buy items in bulk that you will be able to completely use before the expiration or 'use by' date. I do lots of baking, cook lots of international dishes, and am feeding four males and myself, so this isn't usually an issue for us, though I think you'll be surprised at how long many items last when stored properly. You may need to track what quantities you use of certain items before buying, say, a 25 pound bag of it!

Here are the items I buy in bulk: Flour, sugar, rice, paper products, meat, oil, pasta, dry beans, and spices. I store many of the items like flour, sugar, and rice in food grade 5 gallon buckets with lids in the basement. The meat is bought in large packages and split into individual freezer bags in quantities I usually use for our recipes. Spices are poured into small airtight jars. Any that won't fit, I store in zip top bags.

Here is a list of how long each of these items should be expected to last.

All Purpose Flour - up to one year
Granulated Sugar - indefinitely
White Rice - indefinitely
Meats (frozen) - 6-9 months
Oils - 1 year+
Pasta - 3 years
Dried beans - 1 year
Spices - 3-4 years

When in doubt check this website.

Around the holidays are a great time to stock up on many of these items, so keep your eyes peeled for great sales and buy as much as you will use in the year if you have a place to properly store it. This can save you lots of money on your monthly budget.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Eat What You Have - days 3, 4, & 5

Y'all, there gonna get spoiled over here! It is a rare day that we have what most Americans picture as a "square meal" - piece of meat, vegetable, and starch. We just don't tend to eat that way, because, frankly meat is too expensive. I try to cook in ways that minimize our meat purchases. Tonight was an exception for us. I found center cut pork chops for $1.99 a pound a couple of weeks ago. I also had a cabbage from a month or so ago (cabbages keep for a LONG time in proper conditions) that I picked up for 39¢/lb., pair that with some garlic mashed potatoes and you've got quite the hearty meal. It cost about $7 for 5 servings.

I also went ahead a splurged. I bought the Provential Belgian-style ale from Trader Joe's to go with this one. Did you know that Unibroue makes some beers for Trader Joe's? This happens to be one of them and it is delicious! Beer lovers, try it out!

Now, I will go ahead and let you know what will be on our menu for the next two days. We will be going out to celebrate my mother-in-law's 70th birthday tomorrow. On Friday, we have been invited to have a meal with some dear friends. This will just extend my challenge for two more days!

How is your challenge going?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eat What You Have days 1 & 2

We had sort of a lackluster start over here with Eat What You Have. I was making pear butter, which took way longer than it should have. The boys had Tae Kwon Do. Everything on the menu required baking and it was in the upper 70s. We ended up having a big salad. I had leaf lettuce, bought from Lucky's for 99¢. I topped it with some chicken, some of our hen' s eggs and a bit of cheese.
Tonight, we are having honey mustard chicken drumsticks with sweet potatoes from our garden. And since it's National Dessert Day(aren't you so glad I told you?), I'll be making brownies and topping them with vanilla ice cream.
What are you having tonight?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Let the fun begin!

Anyone who has known me any length of time knows that November is like a game for me. It is the month I set aside to eat only what I have in the house. With all of the stocking up I do throughout the year, I have found that I usually have enough to last us about 6 weeks without doing a major grocery trip. My only exceptions are to buy two turkeys around Thanksgiving when they can be had for around 50 to 60 cents per pound. I also usually head back one time for milk and possibly fresh fruit.

I started taking stock of our fridge, freezer, pantry, and deep freeze last week and realized that we have enough to start tomorrow, so that's what I'll be doing. I'm amped!
I would also like to challenge you guys to do the same. It takes some planning, though. Take these next few weeks to first, take stock of what foods you have in your house. The next thing you'll need to do is to plan a menu. Think of meals you can make with what you have and make a list of these meals. If you need to make a small trip to the store for a couple of key ingredients, that's ok, but doing a full-blown monthly shopping trip just before next month is cheating.

This next step is totally optional, but I find that it saves my neck toward the end of our 'Eat From Your Pantry' month. Put the list into some sort of order. What I mean is this - if you have enough chicken to make 6 meals, plan a meal with chicken about every 5 days. Plan in a vegetarian meal about every 5-6 days. Plan in a leftover day around every 5 days. I list these out on a menu board in order, so I know what we will be having every day. If I skip this step, I tend to skip over the meals of say, beans more often than beef. In doing so, I doom my family to rice and beans for 5 days straight at the end of the month, because that is what we have left on the menu. That, my friends, is a recipe for mutiny!

This really can be fun. It is also a great way to clear out some older items in your stock. And it allows the monthly grocery budget to be $0. I usually use the  money for Christmas gifts. I would suggest that if you have any debt, you apply this "bonus" money straight toward that. You could also divide it by 11 (since you'll be eating from your pantry one month a year) and apply that to your monthly grocery budget to further reduce your food costs for next year. Keep me posted from time to time on how you're doing with the challenge.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Confession time: I was a terrible cook when I first got married. I could bake. I could cook breakfast and that's about the extent of it. My poor husband did a lot of the cooking and tried to be kind when I cooked. Then I decided to try my hand at chili.
Growing up, the chili in our house was more of a soup. We crunched saltines into it to thicken it a bit. It was never really my favorite. I decided I would try to make a chili like I would prefer it. I traded in the tomato juice for tomato sauce & diced tomatoes. I used more beef and beans. I added fresh bell peppers and onions.
However, I kept the Brooks chili beans. I have tried others. They just aren't the same. I also kept the Bloemer's chili powder and the pasta. As an aside, there are 50 different ways to cook chili and everyone has an opinion on which one is the best. This just happens to be the one I prefer. But seriously, it's the best. Serve it over cooked spaghetti. Top it with cheese and sour cream. Perfect for a Fall meal!

Here's the super secret recipe:

1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp Olive oil
2 lbs ground beef
Salt & pepper to taste
1 Large can Brooks chili hot beans
1 26oz can diced tomatoes
1 26oz can tomato sauce
3 packs Bloemer's chili powder

Sautee the onion and bell pepper in olive oil until soft. Add ground beef. Cook, breaking apart until no longer pink. Drain off excess fat. Add beans, tomatoes, and chili powder. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Serve over cooked spaghetti (if you want to do it right). Top with shredded cheddar and sour cream.

Price breakdown:
Bell pepper 50¢ or free from your garden
Onion - 25¢
Olive oil - 25¢
Ground beef - $5
Beans - $2.25
Tomatoes - 50¢
Tomato sauce - 50¢
Chili powder - $1
TOTAL - $10.25

Price per serving (10 servings) - $1.03

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Make it yourself - hummus

For taste, cost, and nutrition, you can't beat beans. I am a big fan of chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans. I am especially fond of hummus. It is wonderful with pita chips, vegetables, or as a wrap spread. Now, if you've only ever eaten store bought hummus, you are missing out! Try this homemade hummus and you'll never look back!
Now, I will admit that #1 - I totally eyeball this when I make it, so , again, play around with this recipe to suit your tastes; #2 - We LOVE garlic around here, like the white hot love of a thousand suns love, adjust the garlic as needed!

1/2 lb chickpeas, soaked and cooked according to package directions.
1/4-1/2c olive oil
1/4c lemon juice
3 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp tahini (sour cream is an acceptable substitute)
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt to taste

Place half of the beans, and all of the oil and lemon juice into a blender.(A food processor would work better here, bit I don't have one, so blender it is!) Process on the 'chop' setting until smooth. Add the rest of the beans and the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. (You may need to add a little water to truly get it smooth) Enjoy!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Individual meatloaves

This is a huge family favorite in our house. Now, admittedly, it's probably partially due to the fact that getting your own piece of meat is a rarity around here, but it also doesn't hurt that it's delicious! It's a variation on a Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe. I highly recommend looking on the site. The Everyday Food recipes are great for weeknight meals. We just happen to really like garlic and prefer a traditional sauce.
The easiest way to make at least one side for this meal is to roast it alongside the meat, especially potatoes. You have the oven on anyway! Since the meat costs close to my upper limit on a meal, I tend to chose less expensive sides - pasta, potatoes, or grits with canned or homegrown vegetables.


1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 c bread crumbs
1 egg
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack & Cheddar, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c ketchup
2 Tbsp prepared mustard

  • Heat oven to 450°. In a small bowl, combine sugar, ketchup, and mustard and set aside.
  • Place beef, garlic, bread crumbs, egg, 1/2 cup shredded cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and combine until consistent throughout; Place in a lined baking dish.
  • Top each meatloaf with a tablespoon of the ketchup mixture, top with remaining cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes.


Ground beef - $3.70
Garlic - 5¢
Bread crumbs - 5¢
Egg - 10¢
Cheese - $1.00
Sauce - 20¢
TOTAL - $5.10
Price per serving (6 servings) - 85¢

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Task #5 - Buy a freezer

This task is a pretty big one. It is also pretty expensive. However, if you've followed the other tasks, your freezer is probably filling up pretty quickly. This becomes very important around holidays, when you'll be buying extra meat and once you've put in and are harvesting a steady amount of produce from a garden.
We have a 5.2 cubic foot freezer for the 6 of us and it meets our needs. This size runs around $150, however new models for freezers come out in September and October,and last year's models need to be cleared out, so now is the optimal time to invest in one at a deeply discounted price. While the selection may be a bit slim, the end of the month is the best time to go, as salespeople will be scrambling to meet their commission quotas and are much more likely to cut you a deal. Don't forget to look at your local warehouse club, as well.
You may also be able to find free or cheap freezers on Craigslist or you may know someone who owns a freezer that they rarely use and they are willing to allow you to use it. You never know until you ask!
Having a freezer will make it more feasible to truly stock up when prices are at their lowest and use that buy ahead principle. What you've bought this month below cost, makes each subsequent month's grocery bill cheaper.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Make it yourself - a garden spot

I will be the first to stand up and tell you that I am, by no means, a gardening expert. We always had a garden when I was a kid, but it wasn't my thing. I wish I had paid closer attention! However, I believe that growing your own food is like printing your own money. For the cost of some seeds, water, and effort, you can feed yourself and your family year-round if you do it just right.
I'm posting this now, because I love raised beds and lasagna gardening, one of the reasons being that you get more food from less space, if properly cared for. And now is the time to start thinking about Spring and getting your soil ready. Here is how to do it. Choose a spot in your yard that receives LOTS of sun. Choose a size for your garden. I keep mine 4-feet wide, so that I can reach the center from either side. This is important, as you will never set foot in the soil of a raised bed. The length is up to you, though I'd encourage you to start small at first.
Now, put down a layer of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper on the garden spot to kill off any grass and weeds underneath. Wet it down and put rocks or bricks on the edges to hold it down. All Fall and Winter long, add your kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, leaves, and other plant materials on top of the kill layer. Add anything that you would normally put into a compost pile. As the "green" materials pile up, add another layer of cardboard or newspaper, then top that with a compost layer. You see how lasagna gardening got its name? In the Spring, you should have a great spot to start your garden that the worms have already worked over for you!
There are TONS of great books on this type of gardening out there that can do it way more justice than I am able. Two of my favorites are Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza and The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Spicy stir fry

This recipe is a great way to cut back on meat, bulk up on veggies, and use up any produce that may be on its way out. I'm sure there is a name for this dish, but I don't know what it is. I play around a lot with stir frys. I switch up items I put in the sauce. This sauce is spicy because of the Thai sweet chili sauce. I toggle between rice and noodles, and use whatever vegetables I have on hand. This time, I didn't happen to have any vegetables that needed used up, so I used a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. They are always nice to have on hand for stir fry, soups, pot pies, and the like. Have fun playing around with this recipe.


1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken breast
2-3 TBSP Olive oil
1/4c soy sauce
1/4c water
2 TBSP Rice wine vinegar
2 TBSP Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp ground ginger
3 TBSP Corn starch
1lb frozen vegetables
1 TBSP Sesame oil
2c rice, cooked

  • Place the oil and onion in a large pan on high heat. Cook until slightly translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken to the pan and cooked until browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan, cut into bite-size pieces, and return to the pan, along with any juices. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until cooked through. Sprinkle the corn starch over the chicken and stir to coat.
  • In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, water, rice wine vinegar, Thai sweet chili sauce, and ground ginger. Stir the combine. Pour over the chicken and stir. 
  • Add the vegetables and stir, cooking until the vegetables are crisp-tender and the sauce is slightly thickened.
  • Pour sesame oil over the chicken and vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Serve over rice.

Onion - 30¢
Chicken $2.40
Olive oil 30¢
Soy sauce 20¢
Rice wine vinegar 10¢
Thai sweet chili sauce 30¢
Ginger 5¢
Corn starch 5¢
Vegetables $1
Sesame oil 30¢
Rice 25¢

TOTAL $5.25 for 6 servings
89¢ per serving

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Task #4 - Stock up when items are on sale

We have made it all the way to task #4. Hopefully, you are already seeing big savings in your grocery budget. Task #4 is stocking up on items when they are on sale.  It may take you a bit longer to see your savings with this task, which is why I think people tend to skip it, but in the long run, it can save you lots of money!
The first item of business is coming up with a "buy price" list. This is the cost at which you stock up on items you normally use. You can do this several ways. For maximum savings, get a notebook and, for several months, jot down how much you spend per ounce on frequently purchased items. This will give you a good sense of when items can be bought at a big savings. The quick and easy way is to find a buy price list online. They are relatively accurate, but you may need to do a little tweaking here and there. I found a pretty good one over at Passion for Savings. She does break her prices down into "buy price" and "stockpile price" which may be a bit more helpful.
Once you have your list, as you look over the weekly ads, plan meals around add items to your shopping list that are at your buy price. If it's a really great deal, buy lots. This becomes easier as you continue to save on groceries and have an excess in your grocery budget.
Here's a great example. Store brand canned vegetables usually run around 70¢ per can. This week, Meijer had their canned corn, beans, and peas 3/$1. I stocked up. It was an item I would be buying anyway. The price was over half off the regular price. The cans will keep for over a year and I will likely not have to buy canned vegetables for months. This savings will reflect in my monthly grocery budget for months to come.
Now, some words of caution. First, if it isn't an item you are likely to use, don't buy it just because it is a great price. If it doesn't get used, you saved nothing. Second, be sure you only buy as much as you can use before it goes bad or expires. Buying 15 boxes of Raisin Bran at $1.25 a box only saves you money if you can eat that many boxes before it expires or your family becomes breakfast mutineers!
Good luck!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Additional price matching

As Christmas shopping presses in on us (only 95 more days, y'all!), I want to share with you an additional opportunity to price match that may save you some time and money. Remember from my previous post, that Wal-Mart will price match any item in the store from a competitor's ad, not just groceries. That's a great way to save on your Christmas shopping.
ToysRUs also has a price match guarantee. They will match prices from a competitor's ad (unlike Wal-Mart, you will have to bring the ad with you) or from selected retailer's websites. That could save you some serious cash this holiday season. Happy shopping!

[UPDATE: For even more savings, Best Buy price matches, as well, including warehouse club prices and online retailers! Check out their policy here.]

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cheesy Chili Mac

I was looking for a new recipe the other night. Chili sounded good, but I really wanted a comfort food. (It's been a tough week, y'all!) Thus was born Cheesy Chili Mac. Remember the bechamel sauce from earlier this week? We will add some cheese to it for this recipe, making a lovely mornay sauce. Everyone ate it up.

I was sure that by using ground beef, the recipe would work out to more than $1 per serving. However, by mixing the mac & cheese with the meat and beans, it made 8 generous servings. It made a great lunch.

Again, to save time, you could use canned or frozen beans and canned tomatoes, but your cost per serving would be slightly higher. I also use individual spices in lieu of chili powder. I eyeball it and add to taste salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, and coriander.


1lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 c pinto or red beans, soaked and cooked according to package directions
4-5 tsp chili powder
1lb elbow macaroni
Bechamel sauce (recipe link above)
2 cups shredded cheddar

  • Start a large pot of salted water to boil; In a skillet, cook the ground beef and onion on medium heat until the beef is no longer pink, breaking up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add tomatoes, beans, and spices; Stir to combine; Continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Put macaroni into the boiling water. Make the bechamel sauce. Remove from heat and add cheese; Stir until completely combined; Drain macaroni and return it to the pot; Add sauce to the macaroni; Add beef mixture to pot; Stir to combine.
Price breakdown:

Beef $2.47 (on sale)
Beans 30¢
Tomatoes FREE from my garden
Onion 30¢
Spices 10¢
Macaroni $1
Mornay sauce $2.75
TOTAL $6.82

Price per serving 85¢

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Make it Yourself - Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel, basic white sauce, is one of those things I avoided trying myself. It sounded too fancy and fancy means difficult. However, I finally broke when I needed some for homemade Mac and cheese, because #1, that boxed stuff is for fish sticks only, and #2, I could not bring myself to spend the asking price for Velveeta, which isn't even cheese. It is a cheese-food-type product. No thanks.

Now, that said, cheese sauce made from bechamel is delicious, easy, relatively inexpensive to make, and you're gonna need it for a few recipes you'll find here on the blog. PERHAPS you may even need it this week for an amazing new recipe I whipped up...

You only need a few ingredients to make a white sauce, though you can get as fancy as you'd like and throw in some sauteed onion or any number of spices. I hear paprika and nutmeg are great additions.


5 TBSP butter
1/4 c all purpose flour
5 c milk
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the two are combined. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until desired consistency is reached. Salt to taste.

BAM! You just made one of the four "mother" sauces in French cooking. It can be used as is. Kids love it on cooked veggies. However, in my humble opinion, it is best turned into a cheese sauce. Toss a cup or two (why not) of your favorite cheese in there while it's still hot and stir until the cheese is melted. Mmmm...

Task #3 - Price Matching

If you are just now joining us, I have given task 1 and task 2 for saving money when buying groceries. Today we talk about task 3 - price matching. This may seem a bit daunting, but start small and you'll get the hang of it in no time!

Both Wal-Mart and Target with match a competitor's lower advertised price. There are some big differences, though. At Target, you have to pay for the item, take the item, your receipt, and the ad whose price you are matching to the service desk and they will refund your money. None of those are true at Wal-Mart.

Here is Wal-Mart's price matching policy. In a nutshell, you don't have to carry the ads in with you, though you should have a list. The item has to be identical. They do honor:
Buy One for $_______, get one free
Any advertised price
Prices "with card"

This even includes 10/$10 items and you DON'T have to buy ten items to get the advertised price. It applies to any item in the store. This is especially helpful when buying school supplies.

Stores will often have what is called loss leaders. These are items that they take a loss on to get you to come in and spend money at their store. You should stock up on these and only have to make one trip by price matching at Wal-Mart.

Here is how I keep this all organized. I look at the Sunday ads on the week that I am going shopping. I make a list of the items I am going to price match with the store name, the item and quantity required, and the advertised price. I do this on my Cozi calendar on my Kindle so I can add other needed items and also rearrange this list by where I can find it in the store.

I take my list to Wal-Mart, load up the cart and head for the check out. I put all of my non-price match items on the belt first. I leave a gap on the belt and load up my price match items. I warn the cashier where the price match begins. As the cashier scans each item, I tell her the price and store (though this is not required). That is it!

Happy price matching!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Easy Red Beans and Rice

This is my quick and easy cheat on red beans and rice. It is delicious and filling. You could shave off some time by sauteeing your veggies with your sausages and using canned beans and tomatoes, but your cost per serving would be a bit higher.


1lb dried red beans
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 16oz package smoked sausage, cut into coins
2 garlic cloves, minced
Tony Chachere seasoning or hot sauce
2 cups cooked rice, for serving

Soak your beans overnight, according to package directions. Bring the beans to a rolling boil. Add pepper, onion, and tomatoes. Continue to boil until beans are almost tender. Add sausages, garlic, and seasonings. Boil for 10-15 more minutes. Serve over cooked rice.


Beans $1
Pepper 50¢ (on sale)(cents if you garden)
Onion ~25¢
Tomatoes $1 (cents if you garden!)
Smoked Sausage $2 (on sale)
Garlic ~10¢
Seasonings 10¢
Rice 25¢ (bought in bulk)
TOTAL: $5.20
PRICE PER SERVING (six servings): 86¢

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Task #2 - Shopping Less Often

Let's get to it on saving money on groceries. I gave you task #1 here. So, let's move right on forward with task #2. Shop less often. That's it. This task may not seem like such a big deal, but it really is. This has saved our family more money than any other task I'll give you. As a matter of fact, it makes about a $200/month difference for us!

I shop once a month with a trip a couple of weeks in for fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. I started out by shopping every 10 days instead of weekly. Then I eased into every two weeks, and so on, until I was shopping monthly.

Now, this takes planning. You have to go armed with a list made from your menu. Don't go without a list. You'll be throwing items willy nilly in your cart. You'll end up having to figure out how to feed your family on 3 packs of Oreos, some hot dogs, and canned corn for the month. I personally, use a Cozi shopping list on my Kindle. That allows me to make my list and put it in order of where I'll find it in the store. And I am way less likely to lose my Kindle than a paper list.

This is also much easier if you own a small chest freezer. We freeze our bread, meat, and frozen veggies. You can usually purchase one for around $150 if you shop sales. The best months to buy are September and October, when the new models come out and they are trying to move last year's models.

For our next task, we'll talk about price matching!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Easiest Chicken and Dumplings

I love chicken and dumplings, but rarely is there time to cook down a whole chicken. This was requested tonight, so I thought I'd go ahead and share the recipe.


3/4 lb. frozen chicken breast
5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp dried basil
4 c flour
4 tsp baking powder
2/3 c butter, softened (just over a stick and a half)
  • Place 3/4 pound of frozen chicken on a pot and add 6-8 cups of water, carrots, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and 1Tbsp. dried basil; cover & bring to a boil.
You can see this starts like my homemade broth recipe. You don't have to use frozen chicken. I just can't remember to thaw meat for dinner and this seems to work for me. You could shave off some prep time by using chicken and carrots that are already cooked and pre-made broth.

  • While the chicken and carrots are coming to a boil, combine the flour, baking soda, and 2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Add 1 1/3c. of broth from the pot and stir until the dry ingredients are moistened.
You could use shortening instead of butter here, but, personally, I steer clear of the stuff. I recommend getting a pastry cutter, because they are relatively inexpensive and handy to have when cooking from scratch. (Which you are, right?)

  • Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes. Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness; cut the dough into 2 inch squares. Drop the dumplings one at a time into the boiling broth. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

I use my tiny counter or table for this. Don't skip the kneading. It elongates the gluten strands and gives the dumplings a great texture. (I know. Gluten is the new Al Qaida, but what are you gonna do?) This will thicken upon standing. It also freezes great or at least it would...If your family doesn't eat it mine...

Cost break down for 6 servings:
Chicken - $1.35
Carrots - 50¢ (on sale)
Spices - ~5¢
Flour and baking powder- 15¢ (bought in bulk)
Butter - $2.50

TOTAL - $4.55.   PER SERVING - 76¢

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tub and shower magic review -updated


Back in early 2012, I made the Tub & Shower Magic that I found here. I LOVE cleaning with vinegar. I just wasn't sure about all of that Dawn...So, here's what's up. I mixed up the solution with a 13oz of vinegar and a 10.3oz bottle of Dawn. The only reason that I did it this way, instead of equal parts, is because of the size of the bottle of Dawn. As a side note, which will help in making this recipe even cheaper, Walgreen's regularly runs this size of Dawn on sale for 99 cents (I price match at WalMart to save the trip) and you can almost always find a 50 cents off Dawn coupon monthly in the Sunday coupon circulars.

The cleaner worked really well. My tub and shower tiles sparkled. However, it was VERY thick! And, you can imagine, there were quite a lot of suds and I spent a good deal of time rinsing and re-rinsing to get the bubbles down the drain. So, after I'd used it a few times, I added about 4 more ounces vinegar to the bottle. It worked just as well.

After using this cleaner for months, I recommend a solution of closer to 3-5oz. of Dawn or any other dish detergent and the rest vinegar. This is a more cost effective solution while being just as adequate a cleaner without all the suds.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Make it Yourself - Quick, easy chicken broth

Not only do I love saving money, I love saving time, as well. With homeschooling three boys, keeping up with household duties, working part-time, and keeping up with an etsy shop, time is golden!
So, here is my quick cheat for making chicken broth. Chicken broth normally takes over an hour, but once I'm in the kitchen, I don't usually have an hour. I start with frozen chicken breasts, usually about 3/4-1 lb. (I eyeball A LOT). I place it in a pot with about a teaspoon or two of salt, a half teaspoon of pepper, a half teaspoon of dried basil, and two to three crushed garlic cloves and just cover it all with water. I put the lid on the pot and boil it on high for 30 minutes. That's it.
Shred the chicken for another recipe. You can use the broth immediately, keep it in the fridge for up to three days, or freeze it. I tend to never thaw my frozen chicken before hand. I poach it like this, so that I will always have broth when I need it and I don't have to spend money on canned broth.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tortilla Soup

  • So, here is a quick, easy, inexpensive, and tasty recipe. That's a pretty hard combo to find! You can find the original link here. I, personally, use dried and soaked black beans, because they are cheaper. I also make my own broth, because, again, cheaper. If you use dried beans and homemade broth, this whole batch comes in at less than $4! 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) diced  tomatoes in juice
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 cup crushed tortilla chips, plus more for serving (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Cook garlic and chili powder until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes(with juice), beans, broth, corn, and 1 cup water; season with salt and pepper.
  2. Bring soup to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Add tortilla chips; cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lime juice, and season with salt and pepper. Serve soup with lime wedges and, if desired, more chips.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reinventing/Task #1

So, by multiple requests, it appears that the blog will be back up and running. Apparently my penny pinching is worth following! I have not yet thought out exactly what it will look like, but I know it will include menu planning, recipes, and money saving ideas. I am open to all questions and suggestions!

Task #1 - Plan a menu, even if it is only for this week. Think of 5-6 meals you can cook. Look around your fridge and pantry. Start there and try to incorporate what you already have. Try to plan one night meatless. Try to plan for one left over night. Stretch your meat useage by trying a casserole, soup, or stir fry.

If you need help finding recipes, look on to enter in ingredients on hand or do a Pinterest search.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes! Jennifer