The Grocery Budget Challenge – A Family of 5 for Under $300

20151101_163354

^These here freezer meals are what this post is all about, dearest readers! Look how pretty! And organized! Each with their little recipe cards stapled to the top (Above the seal. Don’t make the mistake of stapling stuff to a bag full of liquid. Trust me.) All ready to just thaw, heat and eat! I will spend less than 20 minutes per evening preparing my family meals for the next month and a half. WHAT WILL I DO WITH ALL OF THAT EXTRA TIME?!?! Perhaps I’ll take up knitting! Or the trombone! Or recreationally singing show tunes! I CAN DO ANYTHING!

I’ve set myself a challenge this month to spend $300 or less in groceries for my family of 5.  I’m a frugal maven, and even with my couponing and sale watching, our grocery budget has creeped to between $500 and $550 a month. INCONCEIVABLE! However, as well all well know, grocery costs are on the rise, and even with my coupons, that’s crushed my budget. So, I need a new plan. Then, my Tastefully Simple rep messaged me about their 30-meals plan, and I perused and though, hmmmmmmm….Mayhaps this is a good idea. It’s $200 for 30 freezer ready meals. It comes with a recipe plan, all of the spices/sauces you need, and a premade grocery list. Every single one can be premade and popped into the freezer for quick preparation. I have 6479 jobs, plus my husband works full time, we’re a sports/dance family, and we have a son with special needs, so we’re at therapy appointments for forever and ever. This means, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!

For this new plan to work, I need it to do 3 things:

  1. Be inexpensive ($300 a month)
  2. Be convenient (less than 30 minutes in the kitchen per evening)
  3. Taste good and be healthy (I KNOW THAT TECHNICALLY IS 2, BUT A LIST OF 3 IS TIDIER THAN A LIST OF 4, CRETINS!)

First, let us math. Thirty meals for my family will last a month and a half, as we will almost always have leftovers, plus Thanksgiving where we’ll be eating elsewhere. The Little Man is only here on weekends, and the Bot is 3 and doesn’t eat much, though the Big Man does kinda cancel that out because he eats more than all of us combined. WE CAN’T AFFORD A TEENAGER, AND HE’S ONLY 11!  Anyway, these meals will last us around a month and a half.  Since I want the budget to be $300 a month, then a month and a half gives me a budget of $450 to make all 30 of the mealy meals.

The 30 meals from Tastefully Simple is $200, but my rep had a code for $40 off, and it happened to be an old code that actually took $50 off, so we’re off to a great start (my consultants have more of these $40 off codes, too, so if you want them, let me know!) With shipping, my 30-meal plan was only $188 roughly, so I’ve got $262 left in my budget to shop my pantry and freezer, plus the grocery, to finish these meals in $450. This will also give us all of our dinners for Nov/part of Dec, so NO EATING OUT! That will save us a ton, AND some of the leftovers can go with us for lunches, so no eating out while at work, either. CHA-CHING!

I chose Tastefully Simple because I’ve been buying their sauces and seasonings for a long time and using the recipes on their website, and they’ve never let me down on taste. I don’t sell Tastefully Simple, and I’m not being paid or anything to promote them. There are a lot of companies out there that do freezer meals. I just chose TS because I liked the price tag and because they’ve proven delicious.

I will say, if you have read my other money saving tips, you know I’m a couponer and a food storage type person. My pantry and freezer are pretty stocked, so if you’re looking to try this, you may need to invest at first to get a food store up. My food store has taken me a while to get, though it is a little depleted due to financial emergencies that we’ve had come up, so I skipped the market and used our storage for 2 months (that’s what it’s for!) Anyway, how I get my food store up is to STOCK UP when stuff is .25 or less at the store, plus the Mormon storehouse to get rice, sugar, flour, etc. in bulk, plus I buy up any Manager’s Special meat and bread I can find in the store and immediately freeze it. The cost would go up A LOT if I had to purchase all of the meats and dry goods that these meals take. As it is, I had over half of the stuff in my freezer and pantry already, and that will now all need to be replaced slowly as the stuff comes cheap.

LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!

Wednesday 10-28, my Tastefully Simple order comes in! YAY! This was $188 of my $450 budget. I am way too excited to get started! You get all of this!

20151030_115144

Can you see that (click on it to make it bigger if you can’t, but it really was a rhetorical question)? It’s a TON of stuff! In fact, it’s MORE stuff than you need! Ok, so let’s take this step by step.

STEP 1: Take inventory! The order also came with this:

20151030_111449

That’s 3 recipe booklets, a meal-planning sheet and that white one on the bottom left is the grocery list, split up into 6 pages of 5 meals each. That’s where I’m starting. It’s got check boxes, and who doesn’t love a good check list? CRAZY PEOPLE, THAT’S WHO! So, I’ll go into my fridge and pantry and freezer and check off all of the stuff I’ve already got. I’m going to be cooking everything on Sunday (today is Friday), so I went ahead and set the meat to thawing in the fridge over the next 2 days. Side note: I just dropped a 9.5 lb frozen pork loin on my foot. I don’t recommend this step, as the doctor bill from a broken foot completely negates the money you’re trying to save. Also, oooowwwwwwww. This step took me 10 minutes (inventory, not dropping a pig on my foot), so it’s good on the convenience level. If my freezers were both on the same floor of the house, it would have taken even shorter (and been less painful re: foot). Rad.

STEP 2: Make the grocery list! This one’s a big step for me, though it is made a ton easier by the premade list TS sent me. I just put all of the stuff that doesn’t have a check mark on the list and do my normal sale/coupon matching from Bargains to Bounty. This step took me about 30 minutes, which HOLY COW. I usually take an hour to make my stupid grocery list. I HATE grocery list time. Though, both fortunately and unfortunately, I suppose, a lot of the items are fresh produce and meat (yay) so no coupons for them (boo). I think I ended up with $1.50 in coupons and $1.00 in Ibotta rebates when all was said and done (plus, there were 150 Shopkicks at Kroger today). Gonna have to rely on produce/meat sales for this bad boy.

STEP 3: Hit up the grocery store. It’s D-day time. How much of my $262 budget did I spend? Time to find out.

20151031_231857

BAM! $156! Shattered that budget. I even bought a few snacks and drinks and some coffee coffee coffeeeeee. I’m estimating that I’ll be spending another $50-75 or so when we run out of things like bananas and milk and lunch meat, etc. So, that’s a grand total of $419! I still have $30 to play with! I could buy Hot Wheels!

STEP 4: Cook it all! This step took me 6 hours, and some improvements could have been made for sure, and as it went, I saw where I could also improve the budget. I’ll put those down there in the tipsies. Most of these meals were “put stuff in a bag, label it, freeze it”. It was awesome, but I quickly realized that I did NOT have enough bags. You need lots and lots of gallon and quart-sized bags.

20151101_110416

Whew. Halfway done.

STEP 5: Eaaaaat! Our first meal was the Chicken and Black Bean Salsa slow cooker meal. Basically, put chicken, half a jar of TS Corn and Black Bean Salsa and a can of cream of chicken soup in the crock pot for 6 hours. Conclusion? Tastefully Simple delivered again! Even the 3-year-old cleared her plate, and the husbandito needed a spoon to finish the sauce off of the plate once he had run out of chicken and potato. Next time, I’ll make rice with it and soak the rice in the salsa gravy.

20151101_181533

Overall, GREAT SUCCESS! It met all 3 of my criteria. This is the first we’ve eaten of them. I”ll continue to review the meals and share the ones we’ve made. The plan is to review the week’s meals on Sundays, but…I’m forgetful and busy, so I’m not promising things.

TIPSIES: There are some improvements I could have made, though. This was my first try, and…mistakes were made. Even more besides dropping a heavy piece of meat on my foot. There was this fiasco:

20151101_125811

TIP 1: Note to self (and readers): 45 seconds is too long for a stick of butter to melt in the microwave. Second, I grabbed the wrong seasoning packet at one point, so my pot roast did not get a packet of garlic and herb cheeseball mix 😦 I went ahead and seasoned it with stuff from my pantry. I accidentally grabbed that garlic mix instead of the sriracha ranch mix for some cheese-stuffed pork burgers, which is OK, because garlic tastes just fine in burgers. So, more careful next time. That was around hour 5. Soooooooo tired.

TIP 2: That brings me to my next tip. Take 2 days to cook. I hung the recipes up on my whiteboard and made them one at a time. That meant that I was making 2 cups of chicken broth for one recipe and then another 4 cups for another, but not at the same time. Next time, I’ll spend some time consolidating the ingredients list and spend the first day browning all of the pounds of meat, shredding cooked chicken, cutting chicken into pieces, and making lots and lots of broth. Anything that needs heated. I spent a LOT of time today waiting for stuff to cool.

TIP 3: Wait for everything to cool off before freezing. I learned this last time I did freezer meals. If you seal up and freeze a hot dish, it will steam up and create water in the freezer bag, and then when you cook it, it will taste bland and watered down. So, if I cook everything that needs heated the day before, it will be cooled and able to be frozen the next day when adding the other ingredients.

TIP 4: I wasted money, you guys! I HATE wasting money! It was due to poor planning. I went ahead and bought EVERYTHING for the 30 meals that was on the grocery list, and it turned out that I didn’t need a lot of it, yet, until the day we eat. Like lettuce for the lettuce wraps, sour cream and cream cheese, etc. Things that don’t get frozen or garnishes. I could have waited to watch for better sales and coupons for that stuff and saved a little cash. I go to the store every 2 weeks for milk and stuff we run out of, and that stuff could have waited. I ended up having to re-arrange the meal plan to eat stuff before I had planned so that the fresh produce that it needs doesn’t go bad. So, I’ll plan better next time, and I think I’ll get the number even lower!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with this plan. There was one negative. Tastefully Simple sent me WAYYYYYYY more mixes, spices and sauces than I used, including desserts. I don’t make desserts every day, so I would have liked a plan that was cheaper and only included the meals I was making. I don’t think there’s an option to buy the meal cards, planner, grocery list, etc. without buying the 30 Meals and More plan, so I didn’t know that I was getting a ton of extras, some of which I likely won’t use.

Though, another big positive is that there ARE extras of the seasonings, etc. I could easily make MORE of these meals because I still have a ton of the seasonings and some of the sauces left, so all I need for those is the meats. More money savers! Next month, I can save by buying the 10 Meals and More plan instead of the 30! I think this has been an incredible investment for our grocery budget.

The last big positive is that my consultants are AAAAAAAH-MAZING! I’ve been purchasing TS for a while. I have 2 consultants because I’m a jerk and not loyal. I alternate back and forth between the two, and I’ve never been disappointed. If you don’t have a TS consultant, and you wanna try this for yourself, please use the links below. I hope you enjoyed the new novel! Please share!

Kelly’s Tastefully Simple

Amy’s Tastefully Simple