Last week, I announced our intention of adding $1000 to our emergency fund over the next 100 days. Now, for some families, this wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, but for us, trust me when I say that this is going to be a true challenge (especially as we are expecting the hospital bills to arrive any day now from the birth of our son!).
When it comes to saving money, there really is no secret—just these two strategies: You either need to MAKE more money in order to save more money, and/or you need to look for ways you can cut your current expenses and bank the money you save doing that.
While I AM looking for ways to make a little bit of extra money over the next few months (seeking out more opportunities to do more photo shoots as part of my side photography business, selling some stuff we’ve got lying around), the money we’re planning on saving is largely going to come from trimming our current expenses as much as possible.
The first place I almost always look to trim expenses?
Now, we hardly ever go out to eat anyway (so there isn’t much to trim there), but our grocery bill varies widely–sometimes we spend as little as $250 or so (and that includes all our household goods for the month too, like toilet paper and laundry detergent and diapers), and sometimes we spend up to $450 a month (though luckily that doesn’t happen very often). Ideally, I’d like that number to sit right around $300 for the next three months so we can bank that extra money into our savings.
One of the best ways I know to actually STAY within your grocery budget every month is to diligently plan out your meals. Planning what you’re going to eat every day not only saves your sanity come 4:00 or so when you need to start thinking about preparing dinner, but it also saves a bunch of money at the grocery store because it means you’ll be more likely to just pick up what you need, not things that you “might use somehow” or that just sound good in the moment.
One aspect of meal planning that I talked about in my post all about how I meal plan is that the first step should ALWAYS be to assess what you already have and go from there. However, one thing I DIDN’T really address in that post was the idea of really looking into the depths of your freezer and pantry to see what’s been in there forever and which, therefore, you really should finally try and use up already.
I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but sometimes, if I’m not too careful, our freezer can become a veritable dumping ground—the place to put stuff I don’t want to deal with now, but which I can conveniently forget about for, ahem, a very long time indeed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought something like hash browns (which is something I don’t buy frequently) only to discover the three partially-used bags of hash browns already in the freezer.
Since I wanted to keep this month’s grocery budget super low (at just $250) to get us jump started on our goal, it’s required that we definitely look around at what we already have and forced us to get creative.
So I did what I basically only do when we’re moving–
I TOOK EVERYTHING OUT OF THE FREEZER.
Correction: I took everything out of the freezers (plural): we had been wanting a stand-alone freezer ever since moving in to our new house last June, just because the freezer seemed TINY in the refrigerator that came with the house, and we ended up getting one for free from a neighbor several months ago. (Note: Best. Move. EVER. Now the only thing limiting how much ice cream we can fit around here is our wallet (and sometimes the guilt that comes from an expanding waistline).)
Because we just moved into our house last June (and therefore had at least done a freezer cleanout a year ago), I didn’t think we would have all that much I’d forgotten about.
I was wrong.
I managed to unearth several odds and ends that had totally slipped my memory for good, and I immediately started thinking of ways I could use it all up.
Obviously (or maybe it’s not obvious, if you don’t keep much in YOUR freezer), we weren’t going to be able to use up everything from our freezers in one or two weeks (nor did we wish to try). So I pulled out some likely candidates for future meals, making sure to get a good mix of things that had recently been frozen (like the meat I precooked and prepared right at the end of the pregnancy) and things that I’d forgotten we had (like frozen cranberries), and I made a solid plan.
We (mostly) stuck to the plan I made all last week, and you know what?
It was SO GREAT to not only have a solid meal plan that I was able to stick with the whole week, but it was also great to finally be able to see some empty space on our fridge and freezer shelves again (and to also be able to see everything that was still in there!).
Oh, and I also have managed to stick with the original grocery budget thus far, so there’s that. So far this month, I have spent $231 on groceries and all our other household items (which included medicine this month for Raven’s cough that won’t quit, more soap for our bathrooms, and a few makeup products I was out of) and have a solid plan in place so I should be able to only need to spend around $15 for the rest of the month (on more milk, tortillas, and probably bananas or other fresh fruit). By doing all that (and because I earned some extra income last week), we’re all set to bank about $150 for these first two weeks of the challenge into the emergency fund.
Here was the collection I unearthed from the freezer last week:
- Seasoned precooked ground beef
- Chicken (this actually should have been a pic of another package of precooked (unseasoned) ground beef…whoops)
- Corn Tortillas
- Shredded Cheese
- Rump Roast
- Pork Roast
- Tater Tots
- Frozen Corn
- Frozen Broccoli
And here’s what we ate (I’ve included the links to recipes where there is one):
Monday – Tacos (using the precooked and preseasoned meat I’d frozen last month before having the baby) + Corn
Tuesday – Pulled Pork Burritos (using the pork roast)
Wednesday – Creamy Tacos Casserole (which used up the rest of the corn tortillas we had and some more of the precooked ground beef)
Thursday – Sandwiches (no freezer stuff used this night, but we did use up some fresh stuff, like our lettuce, that needed to be used)
Friday – Weekly Grill Night (using up a couple of the frozen hamburger patties + buns)
Saturday – Out of Town with Family
Sunday – Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes, Gravy + Carrots (using up the frozen pot roast)
As you can see, I forgot to use the tater tots (I’d originally intended to do pulled pork sandwiches on hamburger buns for Tuesday but switched recipes at the last minute, and tater tots didn’t really seem to “go” with that meal), the broccoli (forgot to have it with the pot roast and used carrots from our crisper instead) or the grated cheese (which I honestly just forgot I had when I made the Tacos Casserole and accidentally used our fresh grated cheese instead…grrrr…).
And here’s the pic of what I got out for this week (you’ll notice some repeats):
- Chicken Breasts (x 2)
- Tater Tots
- Green Beans
- Hamburger Buns
- Multigrain Bread
- Frozen Meal (Sweet Pork Burritos–last week’s recipe made a whole pan extra)
- Shredded Cheese
And here’s the menu plan for the week:
Monday (today): Pulled Pork Burritos (I hardly got any sleep last night thanks to the baby waking up about every hour to eat, so thank goodness for this premade meal!) + Corn
Tuesday: Sweet Potato + Black Bean Rice Bowls (nothing from the freezer, but it’s using up some of the other produce that we need to use soon!)
Wednesday: Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowls + Broccoli (using up one of the packages of chicken breasts and the frozen broccoli)
Thursday: Open-Face Tuna Sandwiches + Tater Tots (which uses the hamburger buns and possibly some of the bread + the tater tots, obviously)
Friday: Summer Picnic (event we’re going to–out of the house for dinner)
Saturday: Leftovers or Sandwiches
Sunday: Cheesy Chicken and Rice Skillet with Green Beans (using the rest of the chicken + frozen green beans)
(Although I’ve meal planned for years around items already on hand, this more systematic approach to using up food from the freezer was largely inspired by this post/series.)