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10 Ways to Reform Your Grocery Budget

10 Ways to Reform Your Grocery Budget

Good afternoon… I hope everyone is having a good one!  I recently discussed 15 Things to Evaluate Before Making a Budget on the blog (if you haven’t read it yet you should go check it out!) and it is the first step to take before beginning budgeting.  Today, I wanted to dive in even deeper in the budgeting world and discuss 10 Tips to Reform Your Grocery Budget.  I seriously hate spending money on food, but apparently you have to in order to survive.

Prior to starting this budgeting journey, we generally ran to the store and grabbed whatever we needed plus a ton of stuff we didn’t.  I don’t even want to talk about how much food we wasted, because we didn’t have a plan and would randomly shop and then forget it was in the fridge, thus letting it expire.  I never really saw this as an area that needed to be improved, until my husband brought it to my attention.

A few months ago, my husband randomly got our grocery store rewards and looked at the credit we received for shopping there the last three months.  He was shocked that we had spent over $1,400 per month on groceries given we are a family of four, two of which are toddlers and don’t eat that much.  This amount also does not include our household supplies (toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc.) nor our trips to get coffee or dining out.  I seriously almost had a heart attack when he said that number… there was no way that was correct!  So, we sat down together and went through our bank account and to my complete and horrid shock… he was correct.  I almost cried (partly because he was right and the other part for spending that much on food)!!!  Seriously though, if I’m going to blow the budget… I would rather blow it on something fun like a vacation or CRAFT SUPPLIES for blogging!!!!

Since that horrifying day, we have reformed our grocery budget to $550 a month and that includes our household supplies, coffee runs, and dining out.  That is a monthly savings of $850 to put towards something else!  How insane is that?!  I will admit when we first started this venture, I wasn’t sure if it was truly possible.  Then after the first successful week, I knew it was more than possible and I was hooked on the challenge of making sure it happened!!!  Please understand that I am not an extreme budgeter that uses tons of coupons, only shops generics, and eats mac n’ cheese every night.  I am a realist when it comes to budgeting and I am not willing to give up things I love just to save a penny.  However, I am willing to reduce purchasing things, meal plan, get organized, and cut corners here and there to save hard earned money.

So, if you are interested in tightening your grocery budget and figuring out how to spend less money while still enjoying life… keep reading!

  1. Set a Grocery Budget & Make a List

I know a lot of people suggest figuring out what you need to spend and setting that as your budget.  I disagree, I decided on how much I wanted to spend each week on groceries and then built my menu around that number.  Be sure to make a detailed list of what you need so you don’t forget anything while you are shopping.  If you forget something, then you waste extra time and money on additional trips to the store.

  1. Make a Menu & Check Your Pantry

If you are new to menu planning… KEEP IT SIMPLE until you get the hang of it!  I began by just planning dinners and then having a few things to eat for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.  I planned one dinner without meat (because meat is expensive), I had one meal that was breakfast, and then one meal that was saved for dining out.  The rest of the week’s meals I tried to make sure they were easy and stuff I had made in the past.  I know this sounds boring, but I did this the first few weeks until I got better at menu planning.  Then I started evolving my menu, while keeping with my set budget.  Be sure to check your pantry and cupboards before you go grocery shopping.  Also try to stick to meals that have ingredients that you will regularly use.

  1. Set a budget for Dining Out and Coffee

Set the budget and stick to it!  No excuses!  I highly suggest using the cash system for these.  That way when the cash is gone, there is no more eating out or coffee runs until next week’s allowance.

  1. Buy in bulk

I have found that some items that our family regularly eats are cheaper if you buy them in bulk.  Make sure you have the area to store the extra and be sure to watch the experiation date… you want to make sure you consume it all before it expires.

  1. Sales, Store Rewards & Coupons

I have never been a sale shopper, but now that I have a budget I try to find items that are on sale.  If the budget allows, I may buy extra if it’s a good deal.  I am not a huge fan of coupons, however; I do suggest utilizing the coupons you get when you check out at a store.  Generally, those coupons are based on what you regularly shop for so you know you will use them.  I stick them into my wallet so I don’t lose them and can easily pull them out when I go to pay the next time I am at the store.  Remember… coupons are only beneficial if you are buying stuff you normally buy.  If you are using a coupon to buy something you normally wouldn’t buy… then you’re not saving any money.

  1. Brand vs. Generic

I will admit that with certain items I am not willing to buy generic because I can taste a difference.  Certain items, however, I am more than willing to buy generic to save money.  It is important for you to review your grocery list and see what you’re willing to buy generic and what you’re not willing to buy generic.  Though it is usually cheaper to buy generic, I have found certain items not worth the savings.  Pay attention and be willing to experiment.

  1. Convenience vs. Cost & Don’t Forget Gas

As a mom that has two toddlers very close in age, convenience always wins.  If there are enough good deals to make it worth the gas to go to multiple stores, then I make sure to have a list and a plan.  For added convenience, I try to shop without the kiddos, but if that is not an option then I make sure both kiddos are not hungry, I have snacks with me (just in case), and they have already had naps.  Occasionally, it still doesn’t work out, but I definitely get an A for effort!

  1. Organic vs. Non-organic

We shop organic, which is why it is hard to reduce our budget much more than it already is.  If you are also into shopping for organics, I suggest trying your local farmer’s market or self-pick farms to get better deals.  Another place to check out is Costco… they have increased their organic selection stock and the prices are usually pretty great.

  1. Freezer Meals/Crockpot Meals

To save money, we have started making our own freezer meals for those nights when we just don’t want to cook.  I have found that it is cheaper than buying a freezer meal and, in my opinion, it tastes a lot better too!  Crockpot meals fall under this same category.  They are quick and easy and you can find a ton of wonderful recipes out there.  Here are some of my favorite places… go check them out!

  1. Pack Your Lunch and Bring Your Own Snacks

I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation;)!

I hope this article motivates you to start watching your grocery budget!  Just remember, any money saved can be invested in your future or you can have extra money to use for vacations, paying off debt, or whatever you see fit.  If you are looking for a more in-depth look at budgeting, you should check out Rosemarie at the Busy Budgeter.  And if you are looking for more great ways to save, check out Crystal at Money Saving Mom.  Have a happy day!

Cheers,
Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

15 Things to Evaluate Before Creating a Budget

15 Things to Evaluate Before Creating a Budget

15 Things to Evaluate BEFORE Creating a Budget… boy, typing these words makes me realize I am finally adulting and doing it well!  Before we jump into this post head first, I want to discuss a few things.  Budgeting has never been my strong suit nor has it ever been something I have strived to do.  I always thought budgeting put restraints on your lifestyle, and that was something I was not a big fan of.

Since we had always been a two-income household, budgeting was never a huge focus.  Then, right before our lil’ Moose was born, I lost my job.  Talk about panic time!  Thankfully, after some research, getting organized, and revamping our financials, we realized we could still live the lifestyle we wanted and flourish with one income.

With the success I have had with implementing my budgeting strategies and getting organized, I decided I really wanted to share them with my readers.  I will admit, this post is not for the frugal person that wants to live a minimalist lifestyle, in a tiny home, and only eat bean and cheese burritos.  I’m all about cutting costs and figuring out how to save a penny here and there, but we still do splurge   and go to Starbucks, dine out more than we should, and buy toys that our children do not need but want.  These tips are really for the person that wants to find ways to save a little extra, waste less, and know and be accountable for where their money is spent.

15 Things to do BEFORE Creating a Budget:

  1. What are your mandatory costs?
    These items are things that cannot be avoided and must be paid each month.  For example, a mortgage or rent payment is a necessary cost to avoid having to move.  However, spa appointments or carwashes are not necessary costs.
  2. When is each bill due?
    It is important to know exactly when each bill is due and how much is due at that time.  Also, are there penalties to being late?  If so, what are they?  If the due dates don’t fit well within your pay dates, be sure to contact the source and see if you can move the due date.
  3. Income
    How much do you make each month?  When are your pay dates?  Does your income fluxuate from each paycheck or are you salaried?
  4. Pay Dates
    When do you get paid?  How often do you get paid?  Are taxes taken out or are you responsible for saving for income taxes?  Does your pay fluctuate?  Are there times or seasons you must worry about down time?  If so, this would be a great time to map this out and plan your budget accordingly.
  5. Extra Income
    Do you have extra income from another source (Etsy, garage sales, craft fairs, child care, etc.)?  Are these streams of extra income more consistent during certain seasons?  If you can, map this out as well.
  6. Consider Events, Holidays, Birthdays, and Vacations
    Unfortunately, attending events, celebrating holidays, birthday ventures and vacations all take money!  It is imperative to plan for these events.  By planning and including them in your budget each month, you are much more likely to stay within your budget.  It will also help prevent unnecessary splurges that don’t fit within your budget.
  7. Cut Costs
    Of your mandatory costs, what can you reduce?  I suggest calling each place and discussing if there is a way to reduce your monthly bill.  A great place to start is insurance… just be sure that you don’t also reduce necessary coverage.  You want to save money, but not play Russian Roulette.
  8. What comprises your debt?
    As painful as this might seem, you need to write down every penny of debt you, your partner, and your family has.  Write down interest rates, due dates, and anything else that is imperative to know to pay off your debt.
  9. Record Your Spending
    This was groundbreaking for me and my husband!  To say the least, we had no idea how much money we were wasting.  After recording our spending for less than a month, I found so many ways that we could easily save without changing our lifestyle that much.  It was very enlightening.
  10. Make a Menu… and STICK TO IT!
    Cooking, grocery shopping, and saving money had never been spoken or typed in the same sentence prior to starting a budget.  However, when I realized we were spending over $1,000.00 per month on groceries (we are a family of four with two toddlers) and this did not include our dining out, my husband’s lunches, or Starbucks runs, I nearly fainted!  Make a menu and stick to it… even if it doesn’t sound good.  I do recommend having a flexible menu if you are new to menu planning.  Try to keep your menu simple and easy to make, so that sticking to it is easy in the beginning.  Leave trying new recipes and complicated ventures for later when you’ve perfected your menu planning skills.  Here is an example menu from when I first got started:Sunday – Cheesy Enchiladas, Mexican rice, and corn
    Monday – Spaghetti, green salad, green beans, and garlic bread
    Tuesday – Tacos or taco salads
    Wednesday – Breakfast foods
    Thursday – Baked chicken, broccoli and cheese rice, and steamed carrots
    Friday – Shish Kebabs, steamed rice, and grilled veggies
    Saturday – Dine outIn the beginning of my menu planning days, I only planned on dinner and then I just made sure to have items for breakfast, lunches, and snacks.  As menu planning got easier and I became more efficient, I started planning more meals and snacks.
  11. Make a Grocery List
    Make a grocery list of items you need to make your meals, but be sure to check your pantry before making your list.  There is nothing more irritating than realizing I wasted money on duplicate items.  Do not shop while you are hungry, the store is super busy, or if you have cranky children with you.  Also, be sure to have coupons ready to go (check expiration dates and any requirements for the coupons), use ibotta, and consider buying generic.
  12. How often are you going to the store?
    I recommend trying to reduce the number of times you go to the store.  It will save you transportation costs and reduce the opportunity to buy items that are not necessary.
  13. Get Organized!
    Being organized and budgeting go hand in hand.  It is hard to not to buy duplicate items if you can’t find anything in your pantry, or if you don’t know how much you spent yesterday before you lost your spending log.  Take the time to get organized and budgeting will be easier.
  14. Make sure everyone has the same goal and is on board the budget train!
    It is great you are ready to budget like a champ, but if your partner isn’t, the budgeting journey is probably going to be bumpy.  Like anything else in a relationship, you have a to be on the same page to make it successful.  If your partner isn’t there yet, maybe start chatting about wanting to start budgeting and all the positive reasons why it’s great for your family.  You could even start with just one thing… kind of get their feet wet before diving in head first.
  15. Execute, and Be Accountable and Consistent!
    If you are anything like me, this one is probably the hardest!  I am amazing at making lists, plans, and even having a process, but I am not always great at executing.  Be sure to have check points and if you have a partner that you are doing this with, have weekly meetings to make sure you are both staying on track.   

Phew… made it through the list!  I really hope you find these tips useful and that they help you save a few extra dollars each month.

Cheers to a penny save!
Lisa

 

 

15 Things to Evaluate Before Creating a Budget
Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants - Dreams and Caffeine

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants

Oh man… spring is in the air and Mother’s Day is just around the corner.  If you are like our family, we are gearing up for a fun-filled day that includes a delicious brunch and yummy desserts.  One of our family’s favorite things on the brunch menu are croissants!  Seriously… the buttery goodness, can it get any better?  Well, unfortunately for your waistline, it can!  Enter… Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants!  Doesn’t the name just make your mouth water?!

Loosen your belt my friend and cut ties with the bathroom scales, because it is a croissant stuffed with chocolate and fresh strawberries.  Then to make your scales scream, there is chocolate drizzled on the outside.  You might be thinking that these are too time consuming or expensive to make, but you are wrong!  They are easy to make, there are very few ingredients, and they are not expensive (I will note that strawberries this time of year are a little ridiculous in price, but that is just me ranting!).

Ingredients for Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants:

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants - Dreams and Caffeine

  • 1 Package of Pillsbury Croissants
  • 16 oz. container of fresh strawberries
  • 12 oz. chocolate chips of your choice (dark, milk, or white)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 13” x 9” baking dish
  • Butter or nonstick spray to grease

Assembly & Baking Instructions for Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants:

Read Entire Recipe Before Starting

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2:  Grease 13” x 9” baking dish and set aside.

Step 3:  Wash and slice strawberries and set aside.  Make sure to cut them small enough so you can fit a few pieces in each croissant.

Step 4:  Gather your chocolate chips and set aside.

Be sure to have a decent sized work area when you go to assemble the Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants. 

Step 5:  Open the croissant package, then take the first one and lay it flat in your work area.

Step 6:  In the middle of the croissant, put a couple pieces of sliced strawberries and a few chocolate chips and then roll the croissant like you normally would.  Repeat with the rest of the croissants.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants Build

Step 7:  Place the raw croissants in the greased baking dish leaving room in between them, since they will get bigger as they bake.

Step 8:  Take the sugar and sprinkle over each of the completed croissants.

Step 9:  Place baking dish in the preheated oven uncovered and bake according to the directions on the package, erring on the side of caution, I checked mine around the 7 minute mark to gauge how much longer they needed to bake… keep a close watch.

Step 10:  Once they have finished baking, remove from the oven and let cool for 3-5 minutes

Step 11:  Take about a cup of chocolate chips and melt them in the microwave.

Step 12: Drizzle the melted chocolate over the tops of the freshly baked croissants.

Step 13:  Grab one along with a glass of much deserved champagne and enjoy… just make sure to leave some for brunch!

There you have it… easy to make, bakery-style, delicious Chocolate Covered Strawberry Croissants!  I hope you give these delectable treats a try, and if you do, leave me a comment below.  If you’re in need of a delicious drink for that special mom in your life, check out this recipe for the Holiday Sparkler, which can be made with or without champagne. I hope everyone enjoys spring and their Mother’s Day weekend!

Cheers,
Lisa

Fiesta Casserole - Dreams and Caffeine

Fiesta Casserole… The Perfect Pantry Meal!

Fiesta Casserole – doesn’t it just sound cheesy and delicious before you even hear the ingredients?!  I am going to share one of my all-time favorite comfort food recipes.  Now, as many of you already know, I am not much of a cook, so if you’re looking for gourmet… you have come to the wrong place!

The Fiesta Casserole is a pantry favorite, and the simplicity is bliss especially after a long and busy day.  This recipe is very flexible and easy to customize, especially if you don’t have something on the ingredients list.  A few other wonderful things about this recipe is that it is cheap to make, the kiddos love it, and it is easy to clean up.  All wins in my world!

Ingredient List

Fiesta Casserol-2-Dreams and Caffeine

  • 1 Bag of Tortilla Chips (I would avoid low fat ones… they will get soggy)
  • 3 Cans of Chili (you can replace this with seasoned and fully cooked ground beef or homemade chili)
  • 1 Bag of Shredded Cheese (shred your own or buy a bag of the Mexican Shredded Cheese)
  • 1 Tomato
  • ½ Cup of Jalapeños (you can use fresh or from a jar)
  • Cilantro
  • Sour Cream
  • Salsa
  • 13X9 Casserole Dish
  • Foil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Layer the bottom of the casserole dish with tortilla chips
  3. Spread 1 1/2 cans of chili over the chips
  4. Cover the layer of chili with shredded cheese… don’t be stingy!
  5. Repeat steps 2 – 4
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes
  7. Take casserole dish out of the oven and remove foil. Check to be sure cheese is almost completely melted.  Stick back into the oven uncovered for an additional 5 minutes
  8. Remove casserole dish from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving
  9. Cut into appropriate (or ginormous… depending on your mood) squares and plate
  10. Garnish with sour cream, salsa, jalapeños, cilantro, and tomatoes
  11. ENJOY!

Fiesta Casserole-1-Dreams and Caffeine

Literally, a nap must follow from the deliciousness of this casserole.  Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find this recipe as yummy as I do!

Cheers,
Lisa