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4 Mar 2010   ·   56
Money Saving Mom

Free Pack of 11 Different Printable Menu Planning Forms

I don’t know about you, but menu-planning is a whole lot more enjoyable when you have a pretty and organized page to write on. So I asked Joy from FiveJs if she could whip up a few downloadable pages I could offer on my blog.

Well, after it was all said and done, she ended up doing 11 different menu-planning forms! There’s a one-week, two-week, and four-week form and different variations of each.

Download the free Menu Planning Forms Pack here and choose which form works best for you–or try them all!

2 Mar 2010   ·   114

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Yes, You Need a Budget

“A budget??”

I can hear the groans right now. You were all pumped about these great new money-saving ideas you were going to learn and implement from this series; the last thing you wanted to hear about was a boring topic like budgets.

Remember how you promised me yesterday that you were going to stop making excuses and commit to change? Well, setting up a budget is your first opportunity!

Why You Need a Budget

Without a budget in place, all the money you save is pretty superficial. I’d go so far as to say that without a budget in place, bargain-shopping, coupon-clipping and deal-hunting are likely not going to save you any money. In fact, you might be spending more money in an effort to save money–which totally negates the savings, right?

A budget gives you the ability to track your spending and saving–and hopefully to see an increase in savings and a decrease in spending. Without a budget in place, your money will just be running through your fingers with no set objectives. A budget gives you parameters and purpose, it gives you boundaries and it gives you freedom to live creatively within those boundaries.

How to Set Up a Workable Grocery Budget

1) Average Your Grocery Spending From the Last 4-8 Weeks

How much have you spent at the grocery store over the last 4-8 weeks? Average that amount out and use it as a basis for your initial grocery budget. Ultimately, you’re likely going to want to whittle it down quite a bit–since saving money is one of the big purposes of having a grocery budget!–but now is not the time to worry about that. It’s a huge step just to start with a concrete budget in place.

2) Be Realistic

Don’t put undo pressure on yourself to come up with some crazily-low and impossible-to-stick-with figure for your grocery budget. This is not a contest or a competition and if you want to persevere and see long-lasting benefits, you’ll want to give yourself some breathing room.

3) Challenge Yourself to Slowly Lower Your Budget

Over time and with practice, you’ll likely be able to reduce your original grocery budget figure fairly significantly. But just remember: it takes time. You’re not going to cut your grocery bill in half this month. However, if you slowly shave off 5% here and 5% there, within 6-10 months, it’s very possible you can have it lowered by 30-50% or even more.

Always give yourself grace, though. If you’re ever feeling frustrated or stressed about it, step back and remind yourself that it’s just a grocery budget. The world’s not going to come to an end if it’s $5 or $10–or even $30 or $50!–more than you’d like it to be.

What benefits have you found from sticking with a grocery budget? What advice would you have for someone who is brand-new to the idea of budgeting? Tell us in the comments!

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2 Mar 2010   ·   63
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: The Final Tally

After about four hours of work, here’s what my sister and I had to show for our efforts:

FishMama’s Lasagna x 4

Brown Bag Burritos x 2

Cheeseburger Meatloaf x 3

Chicken and Red Bean Burritos (recipe from The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook)

Lemon Chicken x 3 (recipe from The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook)

White Bean and Chicken Chili (recipe from Eat Well, Save Big Cookbook)

Taco Meat

Make Ahead Butterhorns x 2

Blueberry Pancakes

Chopped onions

2 bags of cooked brown rice

1 bag of cooked Great Northern beans

All totaled, the above should make enough for about 25 dinners for our family–plus some breakfasts and lots of Butterhorns! I sent 8 of the meals home with my sister as a thank you for all her help.

The rest of the meals should last us almost an entire month since we eat an average of 16-20 home-cooked dinners per month. (We go out to eat once a week and usually have dinner at our parents’ homes 1-2 times per week, plus we also eat leftovers or a really simple dinner of sandwiches or cereal a few times a month, too!)

It feels so nice to have the freezer all stocked up again!

Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blo g post. I’d love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I’m guessing many others would be inspired as well.

2 Mar 2010   ·   64
Money Saving Mom

How I Freeze Onions

While the thought of making up casseroles and freezing them might not be appealing to your family, there are many ways that you can use your freezer to speed up cooking preparations. Here’s one example:

I really do not enjoy chopping up onions (does anyone?), but I do love how they taste in recipes, so I’ve found that my best options are to buy bags of frozen already-chopped onions at the store (which I have done when I’ve found a good sale on them!) or to chop them in bulk and freeze them. I usually opt for the latter since it just seems fresher to me, for some reason.

I did a big batch of onions on Freezer Cooking Day and thought I’d share what works for me:

1) Cut off the ends, peel, and cut in fourths.

2) Stick in the food processor and chop. If you don’t have a food processor, you can also use a blender, though it will chop the onion pretty fine.

3) Measure 1/2 cup of chopped onions into small sandwich baggies and then stick these into a freezer bag (as shown above). Freeze.

You can then just pull out a bag of chopped onions and use them in recipes whenever they call for chopped onion. Doing them in bulk like this saves a lot of time and effort–and tears! However, if I had followed the advice from Meal Planning Mommies here, I wouldn’t have had to worry about the tears!

1 Mar 2010   ·   113

31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Stop Making Excuses and Commit to Change

“You can’t change anything when your ‘want-to’ is broken.” -Kevin Catalyst

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received emails which say something like, “I really wish we could lower our grocery budget, but…”

You know what? If you start with that attitude, you’ll likely never succeed at having a better grocery budget. Sure, you might not be able to get your grocery budget down as low as someone else–maybe your family eats gluten-free, or maybe you eat all organic, or maybe you live in a rural area with only one over-priced store–but the truth is: you can lower your grocery budget.

But it will never happen until you stop making excuses and commit to change.

So I’m starting out this series by challenging you to set aside the negativity and commit to wholehearted willingness to change your mindset, your shopping habits, and quite possibly even your life.

Your grocery budget is likely never going to change until you are also willing to.

Has changing the way you think or shop changed your grocery bill? Tell us about it!

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1 Mar 2010   ·   76

Make-Ahead Butterhorn Rolls

These are pretty much hands-down the most-delicious dinner rolls you’ll ever eat. And best of all? You can make up a batch or a double-batch ahead of time and then just pull out, thaw, and bake as many as you need for dinner. (They can be baked right away too if you prefer!) This is one of our family’s very favorite recipes and these are served at least a few times per month at our family gatherings.

1 Mar 2010   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Taco Meat, Lasagna, Lemon Chicken, and White Bean Chili

Gretchen added spices and onions to the already-browned ground beef for Taco Meat and then she took on that task of making all the Butterhorn rolls (a rather tedious task that I was completely happy having her volunteer for!).

While she was busy with that, I put together four pans of FishMama’s Lasagna, the marinade for the lemon chicken (I took this recipe times three and divided frozen chicken breasts into three bags and poured a third of the marinade into each), and the White Bean and Chicken Chili.

Whew! What a great feeling to be done–and it was only 1:15 p.m.! I’m so very, very glad my sister said she’d help. Without her, I would still be back on the second recipe, I’m pretty sure. But instead, in four hours, we whipped out 25 dinners plus 64 Butterhorns and a batch of Blueberry Pancakes! Plus, we had leftover cooked brown rice and beans to freeze and chopped onions, too.

Our little kitchen “helper” (ahem, he enjoyed pulling out all the contents from under the kitchen sink!)

And the girls–with make-up on! (Auntie Gretchen had fun playing “beauty shop” with them while she was here!)

Stay tuned tomorrow for the final picture of everything we made ready to go in the freezer. I’ll post a link-up post at 12 p.m. CST for you to come and share your Freezer Cooking Day accomplishments, too. I can’t wait to see what you made!

1 Mar 2010   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Oven-Baked Chicken and Burritos coming out our ears!

Someone had left a tip on a recent Freezer Cooking Day suggesting that I try baking the chicken instead of boiling it. I’m not sure who left that tip, but it’s a good one. I just stuck the frozen chicken breasts straight onto a baking sheet and cooked them at 350 degrees for around 45 minutes, turning them once while they were cooking (not exactly sure on how long I ended up cooking them because I just checked them every 10 minutes or so to see if they were done).

Wow! The chicken breasts came out so much more tender and juicy than they do when I boil them. Plus, it freed up some stove-top space, too! So a big thanks to whomever suggested that (I couldn’t seem to find the original comment to specifically thank the individual!).

After the Cheeseburger Meatloaf was in the oven and the Blueberry Pancakes were cooking, we moved on to the burritos. Gretchen made the Brown Bag Burritos and I made the Chicken and Red Bean Burrito recipe. We love Brown Bag Burritos–especially the guys in our family. I’m so thankful to Amy for sharing this winner recipe. We doubled it and should have enough burritos to keep our husbands happy for the next few weeks!

I wasn’t thrilled with how the Chicken and Red Bean Burritos turned out and ended up adding some salt to the recipe as I thought the filling seemed a little bland. That seemed to do the trick.

Next up: Taco Meat, Lasagna, Lemon Chicken, & White Bean Chili

1 Mar 2010   ·   43
Money Saving Mom

Cheeseburger Meatloaf Recipe

1 Mar 2010   ·   36
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Prep Work, Blueberry Pancakes, and oops, we ran out of bowls!

How’s the Freezer Cooking Day going at your house? My sister Gretchen, came to help me and we began our cooking around 9:15 a.m.

(After I made out my plan, I started panicking a little because I wasn’t sure how I could pull off making 25 meals in five hours with three little children underfoot. So I “bribed” my sister to come by telling her I’d send some of the food home with her so she wouldn’t have to cook as much in March! I’m sure she would have come without the bribe–because she’s nice like that–but I’m sure the bribe didn’t hurt anything!)

I got started on the Prep Work list while Gretchen started in on making the Butterhorns since those are a little more time-intensive.

We decided to double the Butterhorn recipe, which probably wasn’t the best idea seeing as it made a massive amount of dough and was a little hard to knead and work with. But she managed to pull it off.

While the dough was rising, Gretchen finished mixing up the Blueberry Pancakes. I already had the dry ingredients mixed up for her, so she just had to add in the wet ingredients. I told her to let me know how many eggs the recipe took since we were running short on eggs and I wanted to make sure we had enough to go around. That’s when we both realized the recipe didn’t list eggs as one of the ingredients (Do you see eggs listed here? Are we going blind?)

I finished up all the Prep Work and then got ready to make the Cheeseburger Meatloaf. Only there was one big problem: we realized that my two big bowls were up on top of the refrigerator with dough rising in them. So there was nothing for me to mix up the meatloaf in. Oops. I guess that I’m not really set up for this two-people-working-in-the-kitchen thing. Maybe I should look for some more big bowls the next time I’m at the thrift store?

Since I couldn’t sit around and wait for the dough to finish rising, I finally opted to mix up the meatloaf in a 9×13 pan. It worked, albeit not quite as great as a bowl would.

Next up: Brown-Bag Burritos and Chicken and Red Bean Burritos

1 Mar 2010   ·   21
Money Saving Mom

Freezer Cooking Day: Grocery Shopping

I’m so excited about Freezer Cooking Day! I’m ready to fill up our getting-close-to-empty freezer again!

To start things off, here’s a picture of all the groceries we bought for Freezer Cooking Day. All totaled, we spent $64.61. It seems a little high but considering about $20 of that was spent on meat and $12 on tortillas, I’m happy with it. And I felt even better when I realized that all of that coupled with the food we already have on hand should make about 25 dinners for our family.

However, next time around, I’m going to try and do a better job of buying more groceries ahead of time because I hated paying full price for a few of these items that I know I can often get for pennies on the dollar if I plan ahead. I haven’t done a good enough job recently of following my own advice to Buy Ahead, I guess!

I’ll be back later with an update on our progress.

27 Feb 2010   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday

We didn’t do much shopping at all this week aside from a quick trip to the store for milk and ice cream (the essentials, you know!). Some friends of ours made a trip to a nearby town’s bulk foods store and picked up some unbleached flour, sucanat, and turbinado for us as well. And that was the extent of our shopping.

So all totaled, we spent less than $20 on groceries this week bringing our total spent for the month a little shy of  $160.

We’ll be doing a big stock-up trip for our Freezer Cooking Day and I’ll post about that on Monday, along with our Freezer Cooking Day play-by-play.


Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

26 Feb 2010   ·   14
Money Saving Mom

My Freezer Cooking Master Plan (and come link up yours, too!)

Are you ready for another Freezer Cooking Day? Since I only did a smaller Freezer Cooking Day last time around, our freezer is especially empty right now. So I’m very excited to get it filled up again!

Here’s the Master List of recipes I plan to make:

–FishMama’s Lasagna

–Blueberry Pancakes

Brown Bag Burritos

–Cheeseburger Meatloaf (recipe from Busy Moms Weeknight Favoritescookbook)

–Chicken and Red Bean Burritos (recipe from The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook)

–Lemon Chicken (recipe from The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook)

–White Bean and Chicken Chili (recipe from Eat Well, Save Big Cookbook)

–Taco Meat

–Make Ahead Butterhorns

I found some extra recipe inspiration from a few new cookbooks I’ve received in the mail recently. But not all the recipes are completely new to us, in fact, the Make-Ahead Butterhorns are one of our family’s favorite rolls ever. The recipe is a little time-consuming, but SO worth it. I’ll share it on Monday along with pictures and details on how our cooking day goes. And don’t forget to come back on Tuesday to link-up your post(s) about your cooking accomplishments.

If you’re new to Freezer Cooking, be sure to check out my post on How to Plan a Freezer Cooking Day and FishMama’s post on Making Freezer Cooking Work for You.

Are you participating in March Freezer Cooking Days? If so, post about your cooking plan on your blog and then come back here and leave your direct link below so we can all be inspired! Please note: links which do not link directly to your freezer cooking post or which do not contain your freezer cooking plan will be deleted.

26 Feb 2010   ·   24
Money Saving Mom

Make Freezer Cooking Work for You Even if You Don’t Like Casseroles

Guest Post by Jessica from LifeAsMom

Freezer cooking has been touted as a great way to save money, time, and energy. Also known as Once-A-Month Cooking (OAMC), it offers the home cook a respite from daily kitchen tasks as the freezer is stocked with an assortment of pre-made frozen meals. Since freezer cooking involves one large grocery shopping trip, often buying items in bulk at a reduced rate and then cooking the meals all at one time, this method of meal planning can produce great savings in the pocket book and on the schedule.

Typically when people think of frozen meals, images of stacks and stacks of casseroles come to mind. But, what if you don’t like casseroles? Or what about that small freezer of yours? Thirty meals are not going to fit. Maybe you just like having some flexibility at dinnertime and don’t want to commit to a 30-day meal plan. You might think that freezer cooking’s just not for you.

Au contraire!

You can still reap the benefits of bulk buying and bulk cooking without having to eat Lentil Sausage Surprise for the next month or having to buy a deep freeze. You can have your freezer meals and be creative, too.

Freezer cooking is ultimately making your own convenience foods, tailored to your family’s budget, size, and tastes.

You can easily adapt the standard “OAMC” methods to your own preferences. Think about the meals you regularly prepare and then consider how to make part of that meal ahead of time.

Prepare “dinner kits” for easy to assemble meals such as tacos, burritos, or pizza. Cook and season the meat. Portion the cheese. Cook and season dry beans. Cook up a pot of rice. You can even mix up the pizza dough. Package each of these components in meal-size portions and place all the bags for a certain meal in a larger bag. Be sure to include tortillas. Label and freeze. The work is practically done for you come dinner time. You can easily make kits for sloppy joes, hamburgers, or chili dogs. Just prepare all the components and stash them in the freezer.

If you’re pressed for space in the freezer, you may not have room to bundle each component. Instead, store the items in the best space-saving way and keep track of what you have.

Love to cook outside? Is your family a bunch of meat eaters? No problem. Trim your cuts of meat, season or marinade and seal in a ziptop bag. Label and freeze. On the day of serving, dump the roast in the crockpot, arrange the chicken in a baking pan, or throw the steaks on the grill. Your dinner prep is half done! Add a side dish and a vegetable and you’re good to go.

Assemble baking mixes for pancakes, muffins, scones, biscuits, brownies, or quick breads. Label a ziptop bag with the recipe name, list the wet ingredients to add later as well as the baking instructions. Measure out the “dry” team into the bag, seal it, and store in the pantry for later use. You’re halfway to homebaked goodies which will be tastier and less expensive than store bought mixes.

Freezer cooking is very adaptable to however you like to feed your family. With a little creative thinking, you can most definitely make freezer cooking work for you. Ready to get started? Check out this step-by-step freezer cooking tutorial.

What is the biggest challenge for you in making freezer cooking serve you best at dinnertime?

— Jessica Fisher, also known as FishMama, regularly feeds her freezer so that she can feed the hungry masses who call her “Mom.” She posts daily about life’s joys and challenges at LifeasMOM and shares delicious ways to act your wage at Good Cheap Eats.