If you’re like me, your grandparents had at least one chest or deep freezer or a spare fridge/freezer combo in their basement. My grandparents had both – a 30 year old fridge/freezer and a newer chest freezer and they were both stocked ALL the time. I believe it’s a byproduct of growing up in the Depression and not knowing if you’d have food at a later date, but in any case it was good economy to keep these simple appliances on hand.
My grandfather grew two extensive gardens (probably 1/8th acre altogether which was impressive for city living) and my grandmother was a master grocery-shopper and canner. With their powers combined, there was always canning, harvesting, freezing, and meal-smithing going on in their household, and I reaped the benefits: fresh produce all summer and fall, and delicious pickled and canned foods in the winter. Because of this, their freezers were always full of veggies, fruit, and meat – all homegrown or bought when it was on sale. This saved immense amounts of money in the long run because they planned meals on what was handy and on sale, not based on what sounded good at that exact moment.
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To Freeze or Not to Freeze
If you don’t already have a chest freezer, the first step is getting one of course. I can’t speak to the most efficient new models, but what I CAN suggest is looking on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or garage sales and finding one that way. Chest freezers ideally should be incredibly simple – a rectangular, insulated box with a compressor to keep food frozen. That’s it – it doesn’t need dials, buttons or whistles to work. A decent freezer might run between $150-$500 new, but a good used one will cost a fraction of that. I’ve seen them going for $50-100 in some cases, and at those prices it would be a steal. So once you’ve found a freezer, the next thing is to learn how best to utilize it.
Farmer’s Market Finds
Depending on where you are in the country, your local farmer’s market or co-op is probably winding down its offerings, coming into fall crops like squash, corn, apples, etc. It’s at this point that, as peak season for a lot of summer offerings is waning, that you can find drastically reduced produce that is nearing the end of its optimal eating period. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth picking up, though! Pretty much any vegetation, save for maybe lettuce, is freezable without reducing quality or nutrition to any significant degree. Chop up fruit into bite-size pieces and freeze in freezer bags and they should be good for up to 9 months. Berries are great because you don’t need to do anything really, and frozen berries are absolutely perfect for smoothies, straight from your chest freezer. Hit up the farmer’s market and pick up everything you can think you’d eat and cool it down!
You can almost always find great deals on meat and produce at the grocery store. I already love Aldi (and have written about it on several occasions) and one main reason is, as meat gets close to its “sell by” date, they mark it down drastically. It’s not uncommon to see meat, at their already very low prices, marked $1, $2, or even more off the marked price. Taking it home and freezing it immediately (or after some minor prep work) will save a tremendous amount of money in the future. Most meat is still great up to about 6 months.
Fruits and vegetables are the same way – an excessive influx of produce or reduced sales one week might mean deep discounts the next. Get in there and reap the benefit! You can peel and freeze nearly overripe bananas and use them in smoothies or as a base for healthy ice cream.
You can even freeze eggs and butter, if you’re so inclined. Butter freezes very well because of its low water content, and eggs can be cracked into ice cube trays to freeze them for up to 6 months.
Keeping your eye out for cheap meat and produce, as well as some great sales on pasta or other staples can actually aid in another money-and-time-saving technique I love: meal prep!
I have a friend who bought a tremendous amount of green peppers for essentially .25c a pepper, and then ground beef in bulk. Coupled with rice she had on hand and some cheap tomato sauce, she prepped up dozens of stuffed peppers and froze them in her chest freezer. Prepped meals like this keep great for generally at least 3 months, and can be popped out of the freezer on a busy night or for a quick lunch in the microwave. Saving time and money? Absolutely, sign me up!
Hurry Up and Freeze!
With a bit of preparation and some investigation, and a little patience, you can find a cheap deep freezer and put it to good use. Whether you’ve got a bumper crop from your garden, a healthy CSA (community supported agriculture/co-op) or a neighbor who likes to give you all their extra tomatoes and zucchini, you can find use for all of it. Being able to meal prep, store, and save money all at the same time makes a chest freezer a brilliant investment that is cheap to maintain and fix, making it an incredible tool in your money-saving arsenal!
Do you own an extra fridge or deep freezer?
What’s your favorite thing to freeze and save up on?
Creating a healthy meal plan on a budget can be tricky. We so often have the best of intentions: we develop a meal plan(ish), buy our groceries, fist pump when we’re $16 under budget, and then suddenly your two year old is screaming, the baby has a rash, and making that Pinterest-worthy quiche for dinner is the last thing on your mind because McDonalds here we come!!
The guilt of feeding your toddler a Go-Gurt and cheeseburger for dinner doesn’t weigh as heavy as your eyelids from not having slept all week, so you brush it off and pray you get to bed before midnight tonight. You tell yourself you’ll do better next week. You’ll create a better meal plan that is healthy but that allows for some flexibility. This week was just a rough week. Next week will be better…hopefully…
But then next week comes and your budget is all out of whack because you went over your food allowance thanks to one too many “happy” meals and the produce you bought last week is now squirrel food and and AND….
Take a breath. I’ve been there.
Creating (and sticking to) a healthy meal plan can be tough when we’re constantly pulled in a thousand different directions and there’s only so many minutes in the evening to get things done. Fortunately I can help.
A few simple steps can be the key to keeping your family fed and healthy, and your wallet fat and happy.
(Please note this article contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission should you click through. This in no way impacts my recommendation of any products/services.)
How to Meal Plan on a Budget
Take Your Time Meal Planning
“Step 1: My TIME? Did you miss the memo about my lack of time??! Thanks, Amber…”
Stick with me, dear reader. If you’re creating a meal plan just before you go grocery shopping, you’re going to create a panicked, rushed menu that might be short-sighted or be missing key ingredients; suddenly it’s Wednesday, you’re supposed to have lasagna, and you don’t have marinara sauce or noodles.
One of the best ways to start your meal plan is to flip through your local grocery ads. This way you can craft your menu around the great deals being offered on produce or meat that week.
You should also take the time to consider what your kids will actually eat, what’s in season, and what day of the week your grocer creates sale prices. Often you can find meat or produce drastically marked down on a specific day of the week because it’s nearing the end of its shelf-life. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just that it’s nearing the time in which it can still be sold.
It’s especially important to keep an eye out for great deals on meat, because that can be frozen and used at a later date, and still picked up for half the cost of what it was just one day before.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Cooking enough for your family is a given, but if you take five minutes to cook extra of the base ingredients, you can save yourself thirty minutes in the long run.
If you’re cooking a grain like rice or quinoa, or a big pot of pasta, it takes hardly any extra effort at all to toss some extra in and store it individually for a future meal. In fact, to get the most mileage out of the time spent cooking, you’re shortchanging yourself if you’re not getting at least dinner and a lunch out of your efforts.
In addition, cooking a large batch of a grain or pasta on a Sunday will leave you with a base from which to work later in the week for the meals on your plan. This cuts down significantly on the prep work for the weeknights, time far better spent relaxing with your family.
Put Your Leftovers to Work
Beyond simply increasing your portions for future meals, a good meal plan flows together as the week goes on.
Cooking a protein on Monday can mean that Tuesday’s dinner is already prepped. For instance, you can roast a chicken on Monday night then shred the leftovers, toss in some seasonings, and have chicken tacos on Tuesday!
This is a great way to make the most of the leftovers you have, even if reheating leftovers isn’t necessarily your thing.
A dinner meal plan that flows might look like this:
You also want to take into consideration what produce you can cut up ahead of time for multiple meals. For example, we make a vegan bolognese that incorporates a lot of the same veggies that go into korma so I often try to make those meals close together.
Cut once, cook twice!
Shop Locally, Shop Seasonally
I went looking for eggplant the other day and when I finally found it at the local HyVee, it was exceptionally expensive. I swear I just bought one for like $1 the other da….oh, nope, that was three months ago. Heh. Oops.
When I last bought eggplant, it was from the Farmer’s Market when they were at their peak and everyone had dozens of them for sale. When fruits and vegetables are in season, there’s an abundance, and what’s more you can get them from local farmers that are concerned about how they manage their produce. Normally you can count on food that’s not doused in pesticide, or eggs that are free range and fed normal feed instead of industrialized garbage.
Learning to find out what produce is in season is a great way to train your body to enjoying a wealth of different foods, not to mention how much better they taste than the tiny, off-season offerings we have at the stores now. If you’ve shopped for zucchini in the last few months, you know what I’m talking about – they’re tiny! I’ll wait until summer when they’re the size of small dogs and bursting with flavor, not to mention cheaper.
How Big is Your Chest?
Being able to freeze leftovers, extra meat you purchased on sale, or in-season produce can make all the difference when it comes to eating healthy on a budget. Not having enough freezer space can be quite costly, so consider investing in a chest freezer.
If you have the time, canning is considerable work with a wonderful payout, but again, there’s that catch – if you have the time. If you don’t, freezing can be a viable substitute for in-season fruits and vegetables that are plentiful and cheap. Buying in bulk, divvying up into containers or baggies, and then freezing produce is a great way to stretch those dollars.
Similarly, you can buy a lot of meat in bulk from local farmers (we’re talking a quarter of a cow!) for a great price and then freeze it all, using as you need it.
If you’re patient, you can usually find someone on Craigslist or a Facebook resale page selling an old deep freeze for cheap. It doesn’t need bells and whistles; it just needs to get and stay cold.
As I often recommend for many of those who have a harder time sticking to a budget, use cash. Figure out how much you’re going to spend on groceries per week and get to the ATM.
This allows for two things:
1. You can see exactly where your money is going in a way that using a debit or credit card doesn’t allow for.
2. It discourages impulse spending.
Keep a tally as you shop so you know whether or not you can actually afford that sweet treat or a six-pack (no, sadly, I do not count that as an essential!)
Know Where to Cut Back
We used to have a pretty insane food budget per week – $200 for our family of three (at the time). And we’d go over it sometimes! That’s pretty much the definition of insane idiocy!
Knowing we had to cut back (and quick!) we started first by developing a meal plan and tracking where our biggest expenditures were coming from.
Once we had a good grasp on how much we were spending and where we were spending it, we began by cutting it down a bit each week, and as of the time of publishing, we’ve cut it in half.
$75 for (now four) of us is much more palatable. There are still days we go over a bit, because having two little ones is nothing if not busy. That’s ok, though! At least the days of going over $200/week are done and gone.
Here’s how we cut back:
– We started off only cutting $20/week and saw how we had to adjust and what we were comfortable with/without.
– We changed the stores where we bought most of our food. Schnucks became Aldi and believe me when I say we’ve never looked back.
– We improved the quality of the food we eat, and by that I mean we cut out a great deal of the processed foods and replaced them with whole, natural produce, meat, eggs, and dairy that actually left us sated.
– We cut out impulse buys significantly by only using cash to make our purchases. Aldi is a two-fold boon here, because they only take cash or debit cards. It helps with this strategy.
As I mentioned above, we often buy a lot of our dry goods online, such as pasta, flour, and sugar. While your grocer probably has a lot of what you’re looking for, chances are it’s going to be more expensive than you need to pay.
An example of this would be quinoa – we use a lot in our household because it’s incredibly healthy, very versatile, and can be used in a huge variety of applications from savory to sweet, breakfast to dinner. Local stores, if they even have it, usually charge $5/lb+, but on Amazon, I recently bought a 10lb bulk bag for a little over $2.50/lb, and that includes shipping.
Of course you want to see your meat and veggies up close and it’s unlikely you could get those things online at a good price anyway, but buying bulk pantry items from Amazon.com is a fantastic way to stock up without burning a hole in your wallet. Plus they deliver straight to your door! Oh, how I love online shopping…(Don’t forget to use Rakuten and Ibotta to save even more!!)
Trying to cook elaborate meals when you have an infant and a toddler is like trying to catch a bunch of flies when you’re surrounded by bullfrogs; it doesn’t make sense. Your kids likely don’t care what they’re eating, if they’re eating at all, and your spouse is too busy going from odd stain to odd stain, deciphering if they’re spills or spit-ups, to care if your dinner looked amazing on Pinterest.
If you need to make a meal of jarred alfredo and rigatoni, with some frozen broccoli tossed in, then do it. It would only cost about $4 and would easily feed a family of four!
Sometimes you simply want a big salad for dinner, and you know what, that’s great! Salad comes together in minutes, can be full of healthy proteins, fats, and veggies, and can be incredibly cost effective.
My point is that homemade dinners don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Like ever. Don’t stress about it.
Starting a new week with five new meal ideas, even if they’re simple, is a recipe (haha) for disaster. I’m not suggesting you never branch out to try new foods, but you should always have a good amount of solid, well-liked recipes in your repertoire so that you can pull an old standby out in a pinch. Remember how your older relatives always had actual physical recipe boxes? Use those!!
This also helps you easily gauge what you’ll need for leftovers or a flowing meal plan since you’re already exceptionally familiar with the ingredients and cooking involved.
Visualize Your Plan
Buy a magnetic white board, some wet erase markers, and stick it to your fridge where you’ll see it daily. From there, write down your meal plan so that everyone can see it, you are constantly aware of it, and there’s no surprises.
An added benefit to having it on a white board is being able to erase and adjust as needed. Just like having cash at hand when you go to buy groceries, awareness helps inform every decision you make, from purchase to plate.
This will go a long way to creating savings and efficiency in later meal plans.
Now go meal plan
This post isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a great place to start if you want to cut your expenses and still eat healthy food.
If you focus on eating the majority of your meals at home, meals comprised of whole foods and minimal waste, you can improve your health and the health of your finances.
Remember, we’re not just trying to save money, we’re trying to save time so we can improve the quality of our lives.
It’s time to toss off the blankets, shake off the dust, and throw open those windows – SPRING IS HERE!! And with Spring comes the spring cleaning tradition. Spring cleaning, though, doesn’t have to be an arduous chore that you dread. Oh no! Spring cleaning can in fact be fun and DOESN’T have to take all day!
Save time with your spring cleaning fun by…
For many people, the thought of spring cleaning sounds daunting. Because it seems like so much to handle, many people prefer to take the position of a frantic person who tackles the entire house at once. Truthfully, this is a very hard feat to accomplish. As you begin the task of spring cleaning, it’s best to make a list and figure out what tasks you’ll need to accomplish and in what order. Then, take it one room at a time.
Take It By Room
Some people take the method of doing one step for each room in the house. For example, some people might think it’s wise to dust the entire house at one time and vacuum the entire house at one time. When it comes to spring cleaning, it’s best to take it room by room. When you focus on one room and complete it, it’ll give you more motivation to continue on the other rooms. Once you focus, it’s also easier to get the job done in a shorter period of time. It’s also good to take the size of your home into consideration.
Use All-Purpose Items
Using all-purpose items will help you focus on covering more area at a quicker pace. And when I say “all-purpose”, I don’t mean you have to go the chemical route! There are many DIY ideas to make spring cleaning easier. Personally, I mix a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar:water with the juice from half a lemon and a few drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle and go to town. Just make sure you spot test your surfaces first!
There are many uses for vinegar, but my favorite is definitely the way you can clean with it.
Be realistic about the time you’ll need to clean
Take an honest look at each of the rooms in your home. Consider the decluttering benefits and then the deep cleaning process. Once you factor all of those things in, create a timeline. If you really want to save time and still get your home clean, you might have to do it all in increments. Those dust bunnies aren’t going to go without a fight!
Your home didn’t become cluttered and messy overnight. Please keep this in mind as you progress through your cleaning adventure and don’t let the length of the process deter you from getting it done! Things piled up in your home during the fall and winter months, it happens to the best of us. It may take a few weeks during the spring season to get everything as clean as you’d really like it to be. Take a look at your schedule and carve out some time to really focus on one room at a time, even if it means only getting one room done every few days! If you just spend twenty minutes each day for seven days, you can fully deep clean at least one room in your house.
Open the windows
When the temperature drops during the cooler months, it makes sense to seal the windows (or use bubblewrap!) When you seal the windows, the heat stays in the home and keeps the cold air from seeping through. During the warmer months, it’s time for fresh air. Your home needs a good amount of circulation on a daily basis. Get into the habit of opening the windows for 15 minutes a day. Not only will this practice allow proper air circulation to happen, it’ll also make the home seem fresher and cleaner without much work.
In a lot of cases, people have more things than they really need. If you were to get rid of all of the things you really don’t use, your home might end up spic and span. A thorough decluttering job can make a major difference. Before you start to dust, mop and sweep — declutter.
Once you declutter each room, you’ll find that you don’t have to spend as much time with the cleaning process. You can give things away to the local thrift store or donate items to charities. You could even get the kids to help declutter!
You could host a garage sale and sell your old, unused items, You might even want to give items away to family members and friends. Otherwise, dump the things you don’t use and give your home some breathing room.
Spring Cleaning Tips
Get the family involved
Many hands make work light. When you have a few people working on one job, things will get done faster. If you have a few children, don’t shy away from getting them involved in some way. They could do something as simple as pulling out the toys they no longer play with.
If your spouse has a ton of clothes, ask them to go through the pile and get clear about what they don’t need anymore. If you live by yourself, consider asking a friend to come over and help you for a the afternoon. Not only will this method help you save time, it’ll also help you save energy. Besides, spring cleaning might be a cool time to create new memories with those you’re cleaning with!
The annual ritual of spring cleaning might feel arduous and long. However, by using these tips, you’ll position yourself to really enjoy the fruit of your labor. Once you start a project, do your best to complete. Your home will be healthier and more beautiful place to live when you clean it well.
Are you ready to dive into spring cleaning?
Comment below and tell me your favorite part about getting it done!
Marie Kondo is about to rock your world and any clutter you may still be hanging onto.
Was decluttering your life a part of your New Year’s resolution? Now is a good time to check in with yourself and see how that’s going!
Review The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Whether you think you’re already fairly organized or you could use a good kick in the rear, I’ve got a GREAT book to recommend. It’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
The opportunity for one lucky reader to win a free copy of this book ended in 2016, but Kondo is still going strong. I truly recommend you check out this book to help you find motivation to declutter your own home!
Benefits of Decluttering
Make the space for your joy to find you. There are so many perks to removing the clutter from your home or office! Overall, though, it all comes down to one thing – granting yourself the freedom to live life on your terms.
Start with one space and grow from there. Whether you focus on your main living space, your bedroom, or your home office, every bit you remove helps.
Clutter can be incredibly overwhelming sometimes, but it’ll help if you focus on the joy you’ll find once it’s done. Trust that the most successful people are not ones to allow for chaos.
And while it can be difficult to declutter when you’re a parent, know that the sooner you do it, the better off your whole family will be. Goodness knows that any time clutter threatens to creep in our house is when our children tend to misbehave the worst – a coincidence? Or is it just what happens when you’re 3′ tall and all that clutter is at eye-level?
There are many benefits to removing the clutter from your home, but whatever your reason, it’ll only get better if you start now. And if you’re struggling to do it, check out Marie Kondo’s book!
Can bubblewrap help insulate your windows? Keeping your gas bill low is always important, especially during the colder months. While there are many ways to prepare your house for the winter, there’s one great way that costs almost nothing and takes no time at all…provided you can keep your inner-child in check…
Bubblewrap Window Insulation
I had seen the “bubblewrap” method posted from time to time on Pinterest or Facebook, but never really bothered to look into whether or not it actually works. Well this year I decided to collect all the bubblewrap that came from online shopping over the holidays and put it to use.
Please note this post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through those links, I may make a commission at no extra cost to you.
To bubblewrap your windows you’ll need:
a spray bottle filled with water
*I only needed the tape for our bathroom windows as the condensation seemed to cause the bubblewrap to lose its grip on the windows. All other windows are still holding nicely with just water!
Cut your bubblewrap to fit, lightly spray the window down with water, and then place the bubblewrap so that the bubble-side is against the window. And you’re done!
An Easy Way to Insulate Your Windows
Crazy easy, right?
I put the bubblewrap up about a month ago and it’s held up nicely, but you can always use a couple pieces of double-sided tape should you have any issues. With just bubblewrap in our bathroom and foyer, I’ve noticed a huge difference in temperature. It’s wonderful!
With Illinois weather being what it is, it is so nice to not be cut off from opening my windows all season long because goodness knows we’ll have a 60-degree day in the middle of February (and we did!)
We bought a heat gun this year and I had to try it out! It makes such a difference. Seriously, if you plan to shrink wrap your windows at all, spend the $20 and get a heat gun instead of using a blow dryer. The time you save is well worth the money (plus you can always use it for other projects, like a DIY Worm Farm!)
I would also recommend using Great Stuff to fill in any gaps or cracks that are letting air in or out. I love this stuff and it’s also great to use outside to make sure no visitors (mice) come your way.
How do you prepare for winter?
Or are you one of the lucky ones who never sees a day below 60?
Does keeping your house clean often feel like a never-ending battle? As if the kids don’t bring in enough dirt, then there’s usually pets (if you have ’em). That’s why you definitely need a cheat sheet when it comes to cleaning!
He’s cute but he sure makes it hard to keep the house clean!
Having toys scattered about in the evenings or mail strewn on the foyer table is one thing, those are picked up quick enough, but I cannot – DO NOT – handle dirt/dust/grime. For one, I have serious dust allergies (something, I fear, I passed down to my children).
Second, if I don’t find the time to tidy up during the week, the cat hair and dog dust threaten to fuse into one giant super beast and frankly I already have enough mouths to feed.
How to Create a Cleaning Cheat Sheet
Make Cleaning Easier
In order to best tackle the “every day” stuff – without getting caught up in trying to do too much at once while accomplishing nothing – I suggest you use either a whiteboard or a laminated sheet like the one below:
Each day has 3-6 tasks to be completed and by using a whiteboard or laminated sheet, you can check off what you’ve done without having to create a new sheet each week.
Saturday and Sunday have a bit more because there’s typically more of an opportunity to get things done on those days, but if your schedule is different, adjust accordingly!
Break Down Your Tasks
By breaking things down into easier-to-handle tasks, you’ll be able to accomplish a lot more without feeling like you’re wasting your evenings or losing sleep trying to keep a tidy house. You’ll also remove the mental stress that comes with not knowing what to do next by having it laid out exactly what you’ll be doing and when.
You might have noticed that “oatmeal jars” is one of my Sunday tasks. If you have yet to discover the joy that is this breakfast beauty, please check out my Quick Breakfastspost. They take all of 20 minutes to prep, they’re healthy, and you’ll be set for breakfasts for the week!
Another great tip is that if it can be done in two minutes or less, do it now. You’ll be surprised at how much easier cleaning will feel if you break things down and tackle the tiny stuff over a week’s time.
What sort of “cheats” do you have to tackle your household chores?
Do you have any tips on how to encourage kids to get involved and help keep things clean?