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$40 Menu Q&A: Aldi, menu-planning, recipes, and our budget

Since there were a number of questions on this week's $40 shopping trip and menu post, I decided to answer them in a separate post for those interested.

Do you know of anyone who blogs
about sales at Aldis? Aldis moved my city recently, but the closest one
is about 15 minutes from my house (I have 3 other grocery stores within 5 minutes of my house.) So I don't plan to go to Aldis often, but
would like to know when they have specials. Any tips or ideas for
shopping there?

Aldi doesn't really run many sales but their staple prices are often much lower than grocery store prices. I'd recommend you make a trip or two to Aldi in the next few weeks to familiarize yourself with the store and compare prices.

You might find that a trip there once a month to stock up on staple items will help you to lower your grocery budget. Or you may find that you can usually beat their prices with store sales and coupons. Either way, it will be good to know.

For more advice on shopping at Aldi, check out this article.

I have a question about your meal
plan, shopping lists and recipes – how long does it take you to do this
every week? I'm in desperate need of guidance in this area – we spend
$300 – $500 dollars A WEEK on groceries and other household supplies,
yet we never have anything to put together balanced meals! I'm looking
for a place to start so any advice you could offer would be greatly

First off, remember that I didn't start menu planning and feeding my family on $40 a week last week or even last year. I've been at this for years and the practice really does make a difference.

As for how long it takes me, well, that really depends upon how good the sales are. On dismal sale weeks, I usually try to use what we already have on hand and then hit Aldi for the rest. So the whole menu-planning and grocery-list-writing process might take me 20 minutes or so.

On good sale weeks, I take more time to scour the ad, match-up coupons, find printable coupons, and then make our menu and grocery list. All told, it might take me 45 minutes to an hour. I rarely ever spend longer than that.

My advice for you would be to start our slowly. If planning a week's worth of meals seems daunting, try to just plan a week's worth of simple dinners. Go through your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer and make sure you have everything on hand to make all the recipes you've chose. Plan side dishes, too. And then force yourself to stick with it! Sometimes the determination to see it through is half the battle.

Also, your family needs to be on board with you. If Mom's determined to shop once per week and stick with a menu but everyone else complains and whines and refuses to go along, chances are you likely won't be able to make it work.

Have a family meeting, let your family members give input on meals and snacks, and work out a plan. And then work the plan! Don't expect changes to happen overnight, but be encouraged as you start heading in a more organized and cost effective direction. You can do it!

Do you add up your price (net of
coupons) on your calculator each time you add an item to your cart? I
know I would forget something and never quite get my total right! How
do you stay so perfectly within budget?

Yes. My biggest help is that I only bring $40 cash to the store. No credit card (we don't have those–thanks, Dave!), no debit cards, no nothing else besides the cash. Believe me, when you know you only have your allotted amount to spend, you usually are pretty determined to stick within the budget!

I usually try to leave a few dollars extra wiggle room and have mentally picked out a few items in my cart that I can always take off my order if I end up being overbudget. That has happened a few times and I want to be prepared.

Ok…spill your recipe for peanut butter smoothies. I bet my kids would love them!

Here you are:

Yummy Banana Peanut Butter Smoothies

3/4 to 1 cup sliced frozen bananas (like this)
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon peanut butter

Blend in the blender until smooth. The above makes about 13-15 oz. I can drink all of that  for breakfast but I'm also pregnant and nursing.

Word to the wise: Do not give these smoothies to young children who like to make messes. Otherwise, in the process of eating it, they will spill it all over themselves and your kitchen and you'll have sticky banana goo to clean up. Ask me how I know. 🙂

What is crockpot ragout? Could you share a description or recipe? I love using the crockpot.

Here's the recipe. This is my first week to try it so I can't say whether it'll become a regular at our house or not.

do you have a recipe site? i have
wanted 2 of your dishes now…enchilada casserole and another taco dish
you made. please share!

No, I don't have a recipe site and I'm afraid I'd not be a very good candidate for a recipe blogger. You see, I'm not one to use recipes very often. After years of tinkering in the kitchen, I've found I prefer to use recipes as a guideline or launching pad rather than a strict standard to be followed.

For instance, the enchilada casserole will be based upon a recipe but then highly modified based upon the mood I'm in, our taste preferences, and the ingredients we have. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but my hubby loves most everything I cook and I do, too. Plus, the creativity in the kitchen helps us to use what we have on hand and spend less at the store. So I guess you could say it's a good problem that I don't like to follow recipes very carefully. 🙂

Would you consider doing a post
about your ENTIRE budget? I would love to see a real world example of a
real family's entire budget.

Here's a link to a post on my old blog which has both our bare-bones $1000/month law school budget and our current budget. We've modified it a bit since that post was written, but it's very similar. Feel free to ask if you have any questions. I can't promise I have great answers, but I'll try to answer as best as I can!

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  • Kim F. says:

    I just became a big fan of Aldi. A new one just opened in Orlando, and I go out of my way to visit it, because I really like it for staples (like you said).

    Here’s the prices of the things I regularly get there:
    Milk: $2.79/gallon – WalMart is $3.58
    Eggs: $1.19/dozen – WalMart is $1.39
    Frozen Chicken (6-7 breasts): $5.99/bag – Walmart is $7.49
    Frozen Tilapia (6-7 filets): $4.99/bag
    Tortilla Chips: $0.79/bag (and they are just like an authentic mexican restaurant)
    Canned Veggies: most are $0.49/can
    Plain Cheerios: $1.59/14 oz. box

    Sometimes I can wait for ads and beat the prices on some of these things…but rarely. For the person who wanted to know about Aldi, I first went to check it out and was very excited about how it could reduce my weekly budget. Hope you like it too!!!

  • re: the Aldi’s question, try this site: It’s has more about recipes using Aldi’s food but it might get someone started.

    Also, Aldi’s site has their weekly specials online if you don’t get their insert in the Sunday paper. This week’s is here:

    And, next week’s:

  • Jules says:

    Could you post some thoughts and suggestions about renting especially houses vs. apartments. We’ll be looking for something in the next 6 months and would love the thoughts of someone who has actual experience.


  • Lisa says:

    Thank you so much for this post and responding with an answer to my question about the overall budget. You really do listen to readers!

  • Denise says:

    This isn’t my blog, but I thought this post about Aldi’s was right on target for me & might help the reader who asked about Aldis. 🙂

  • The other night I grabbed my box of coupons and sat down with the grocery ads. It took about 1/2 hr. of work to write a list, but I was able to buy a number of basis for $35 – saving $55 in the process. (True, I probably wouldn’t have bought a candle otherwise…)

    I can tell you I don’t make that as an hourly rate!

  • Kathy says:

    Hi Cyrstal,
    We are a family of 10. Our budget is very tight right now and we do most of our shopping at Aldis. As you stated if there is a good sale at the local grocery store I will stop to pick up those items only but the majority of our food is purchased at Aldis. The closet Aldis to us is about 15 mins also but worth the extra time to get there. We spend around $100.00 a week and planning a menu has been a great help. Thank you for your blog.
    God Bless, Kathy

  • Chris from St. Mary's says:

    I know your life has been crazy for a few months, but that old post about your budget reminded me that I’ve missed your Financial Shape: Monthly Checkup posts. The picture of the Benjamins reminded me.

  • Katie says:

    I typically post a weekly sale list for Aldi, highlighting their best deals for the week. Their staple items are always a great deal, but their extra weekly sales make the trip especially worthwhile.

  • Valerie says:

    Love the recipe for peanut butter banana smoothie! Thanks!!

  • Laura says:

    Aldi has a website – you could bookmark it and check weekly for specials.

    -Laura, who lives nowhere near an Aldi, but wishes they were here! 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    Our biggest budget problem is housing. Everything is so expensive where we live, and we are an hour away from my husbands work just so we can afford a place to rent. We have tried and tried to find something cheaper, but the only things cheaper are homes in very shabby neighborhoods. I atleast want safety! I know the recommended housing costs is supposed to be 25-30% of your budget, but for us it is almost 50%. I would love some suggestions for budgeting with this high housing cost. I have thought of moving midwest, but hubby is not up for that 🙂

  • Shannon says:

    For the Aldi question: Every Wednesday I compare the Aldi price to our local store prices. I often post the Aldi price next to the item. Come check it out!

  • Rebecca says:

    I LOVE Aldi…..and now my husband does too.
    One thing that I have noticed about Aldi though is that they have wonderful sales BUT they don’t always list some of their deals. I went to Aldi this past Sunday and about fainted when I saw there milk was priced at $2.30. I ahven’t see a gallon of milk priced that low in such a long time. We go through ALOT of milk…we are a family of six. My oldest is 13 and our ‘baby’ is 10 years old. I left the store turning cart wheels…well not really but you know what I mean:)

  • Tina says:

    Aldi’s has a weekly newletter with there specials that you can sign up for. website

  • cris says:

    Thank you for sharing the Banana-PB smoothie recipe. I usually use Ice…However, LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of frozen bananas!!! Thank you so much!!!! Can’t wait to try it!

  • I have a cooking blog if anyone is interested. I try to make frugal and healthy recipes but like to keep them simple as I’m a homeschooling pastor’s wife. I have a hard time sticking to a recipe as well, like Crystal, but I write down what I put in and if it came out good, I post it. I also have several crock-pot dishes on there and also a list of crock-pot meals that work well for Sundays while you are at church so that it’s ready when you get home from church.

  • I just wrote an article comparing Aldi’s and Price Chopper with actual prices of staples. I live in Blue Springs, Missouri and these prices are as of November 9, 2008

  • TRACY says:

    I shop at Aldi to for the staples. Milk is much cheaper there, unlesss I have a coupon as well as the eggs. I am not a big fan of their bread, but again, that personal preference. Between shopping there and using coupons when I shop at my local Publix, our food budget looks a lot better than it used to!! Apparently everyone else has figured this out, too, in my neighborhood, because Aldi has now limited the # of gallons of milk per person to six.

  • Sarah says:

    My Aldi store is just as close as my other grocery stores (we live in the country) but I make about 1-2 trips there a month to stock my pantry. I spend quite a bit less than when I used to just go to Wal-Mart Supercenter for everything. I have three kids 3 and under. And I do CVS for most toiletries, so major savings there, too. Aldi is even starting to get more healthy options, like brown rice and natural peanut butter (things I was still going to WM for).

  • We have 2 Aldi’s close by us and I have to say I love them. The store is small and very friendly. Though they do not always post their sales. LAst night banansa were b1g1 free. Lotsof times they will do this with things that they are trying to phase out of or that are getting close to expiration date. I don’t mind off brand things and they really will take things back without question if you don’t like it.

  • Jen Bryant says:

    Hi Crystal,
    Love your blog, and am constantly learning something new from you!
    A while back you posted about the water filtration system you and your family use. Could you please remind me what that was. I am needing to switch from using plastic bottles, etc. due to chemical concerns. Thanks so much for all you do.

  • Sadie Schmidt says:

    I love shopping at Aldis food. My husband and I got married 9 months ago, and I am now 5 months pregnant. We are trying to save our money for the future and preparing to buy a house one day. Aldi has saved us alot on groceries. Hey the cheaper the better! It has been a help!

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