It's no secret, my house is on a budget. Not just any budget, but a fairly tight budget. For us, it's a choice. I chose to quit my job to be home with my kids. It took some time for us to adjust to our new budget. Some things were easy to change, like eating most of our meals at home. When I worked outside the home, there were more nights than I want to admit that I didn't feel like cooking because I was tired. We all know how those trips add up over time. Since I was home, it was easier for me to prep and cook our meals. I've developed a process for my meal planning and continue to update and improve my methods. If you haven't already read Mae's meal planning posts to help you with your own planning, check out posts 1 and 2.
I've also learned how to coupon. We're not talking about the crazy folks you see on "Extreme Couponing." That's simply not realistic in our area. But I have learned how to save hundreds (yes, hundreds) of dollars in our budget through couponing. There are lots of blogs dedicated to couponing and I recommend you check them out if you're interested in starting to coupon. You can always comment or message me on my facebook page if you'd like some one-on-one hints.
Meal planning and couponing have been great for us, but I want to share with you three other easy ways you can help stretch your budget (and save you time). Here's the good part, folks. If you've read my recipe posts, you know that when I can, I make double batches of dinners and freeze half. The additional cost is usually cents on the dollar, the effort is rarely more, but it is nice to have meals ready to go in the freezer for those nights that are busy or you've had a crazy or stressful day and want to have something healthy for your family without a lot of effort. Right now, I have 4 meals in my freezer that simply need heating and they're ready to go. I try to have at least 2-3 meals in my freezer at all times.
In addition to freezing meals, I also freeze fruits and veggies to minimize waste. I have been getting 90% of my produce through Bountiful Baskets (which I highly recommend for those who have it in their area. It's an amazing food co-op and the value far exceeds what you contribute. Perfect for budgeting families to get fresh fruit and vegetables!) We will go through most of a basket in a week, but sometimes there are veggies we don't eat often or we don't have meals planned to use what was in our basket. Unfortunately, I don't have canning supplies, so I have to rely on freezing (and the internet to educate me on the best way to preserve). I have herbs, fruits and vegetables in appropriate serving sizes in my freezer. Again, having produce basically ready to go is a big time and money saver. Plus it helps me in my meal planning because I have more variety already at home and less money being spent at the store! Whether you can take advantage of Bountiful Baskets in your area, or simply stock up when the supermarket has produce on sale, buying in bulk can save money if you can use or freeze while the produce is still good. This picture shows my basket one week. Only $30 for all this produce!!
The third thing I do to help stretch my budget is to make homemade basics and store or freeze them. Mae mentioned she makes her own bread and pitas. One of my favorite things to make at home is marinara sauce. I use lots of the fresh veggies and herbs from our baskets and make up at least a half gallon of sauce per batch. The recipe varies from batch to batch based on which veggies I have on hand, but the result is always delicious! I usually brown up some sausage and freeze some sauce with meat and keep some vegetarian. I like knowing exactly what is in the sauces my family is eating and it doesn't take very long to make up a batch and let it simmer. I have 5 pints in my freezer right now!
I've also found a great homemade taco seasoning recipe on Pinterest. It is very inexpensive to make (we're talking about $0.10 to season a pound of burger) and the flavor is amazing. I recently discovered a basic cream soup recipe that you can mix up, store powdered and just add water and veggies (if desired). The canned cream soup price continues to rise and there is so much sodium and preservatives, I love having an alternative. You'll notice I recycle empty containers to hold my homemade mixes. :)
I also made up a few pints of homemade strawberry jam. I purchased 8 pounds of strawberries in my basket last week. My oldest wanted to bring fruit kabobs to preschool to celebrate her birthday. I still had 6 pounds of strawberries left, I thought I'd make up some jam. I just make a freezer jam, so it's simple and quick, but it tastes so good! It's another instance of feeling good about what I'm feeding my family. Now we have both strawberry and raspberry jam in our freezer!
There are lots of things you can make at home for a fraction of the cost and very little time. I admit, some things will be more of a time investment and it's important to weigh the value of your time to the convenience of buying store bought. If you want to give it a shot, I suggest taking an afternoon on a weekend (how about when your kids are napping?) and see what you can make in a few hours. I have a friend who works 12 hour shifts and is the mom of a teenage boy and a loving wife and she can make up nutritious meals for all week in a Sunday afternoon. You'll be amazed how much you can accomplish!
Freeze your way to more money in your wallet and time on your hands.
- Make a double batch of a meal and freeze half for another day
- Buy your vegetables and fruit in bulk or on sale and freeze to preserve.
- Make homemade sauces, jams, breads and sauce mixes for economy and quality.