How We Eat On $300.00/month- My Meal Planning Guide

I’m surprised by how many comments and e-mails I’ve received about how, and what, I eat for $300.00 a month. I’ve always loved cooking and finding recipies that can make inexpensive foods taste great so I will start posting some budget friendly recipes for anyone who is interested.  For now I will give an example of our meal plan/grocery trip.

I don’t worry about breakfast or lunch too much. We eat basic cereal or toast/bacon for breakfast and usually a sandwich/yogurt/fruit for lunch, I only worry about dinners.

I use a list very similar to this meal planner made by Life in Yellow (which you can download for free! so head on over to her site!)



If I have meat in the freezer I will usually try and cook around that first. I had some pork loin chops left this week so one meal will include pork. Once I look through the freezer, I go to the weekly sales and see what meat is on sale. This week boneless/skinless chicken was on sale, as was oven roast so this will act as our starting point for meals. I always have ‘side staples’ on hand and buy as we run out  (long grain rice, potatoes (my favorite!), salad ingredients and frozen corn or broccoli). I only buy what I need for the week so if I’m out of rice but don’t include rice as a side for any of my dinners I won’t waste the $4.00 buying it this week if I’m not eating it until next. I don’t like to have money tied up in food.

In terms of chicken specifically, hubby and I share a chicken breast when cooking. I don’t know about where you live, but the size of the chicken breasts(and almost all meat for that matter) at our grocer are more than twice the recommended portion size for meat so 90% of the time I cut it it half. The exception being if we BBQ the breast then we tend to have our ‘own’ although we never finish them and the meat usually ends up in a salad for a lunch next day.

I plan meals and after looking through the cupboards and my recipe book, I only write down what we need (down to every tiny spice), if it’s not on my list I have it at home.

Meal 1: Sweet and Sour Pork Chops (with rice)

Need: 1 can of pineapple tidbits, cornstarch, 1 can of chicken stock 

Meal 2: Spicy Grilled Chicken Sandwiches (with fries)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, 2 buns, fries 

Meal 3: Grilled chicken salad (with garlic bread)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, salad kit, loaf of french bread

Meal 4: Dinner out with family-separate budget from grocery funds.

Meal 5: Greek Chicken Wraps (with my roasted potato)

Need: 1 Chicken breast, tortilla wraps, garlic/sea salt spice grinder

Meal 6: Chicken Divan (with rice)

Need: 2 Chicken breasts, broccoli 

Meal 7: Slow Cooker Roast  (with corn and mashed potato)

Need: Roast, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, bag of frozen corn.

Next I make my list adding the other necessities I need like milk. I also try and estimate the prices so I have a general idea before I go what I expect to spend at each store (I shop multiple stores chasing sales), so my grocery list will look like this:

Store #1:

-1 package B/S chicken (~$10.00)

-Milk ($3.50)

-Cereal ($2.50)

-Bread ($2.50)

-Salad Kit ($2.00)

-Tortilla Wraps ($2.00)

-Buns ($2.00)

-1 box of Kraft Dinner (Canadian staple, I love it!) (.65)

Total: appox $23.00

Store #2:

-3lb Oven Roast ($6.00)

-2 cans of soup ($2.50)

-pineapple ($1.50)

-Box of cornstarch ($3.00)

-French Bread ($1.50)

– Bag of frozen broccoli and corn ($2.00/each)

-Spice grinder($4.00)

-Fries ($3.00)

-Nutella (my weakness so only buy on sale) ($3.00)

-Chips ($2.50)

Total: approx $31.00

Store #3:

-Diet pop ($5.00+bottle depo $1.20)

-5lb bag of apple ($4.00)

-Bananas ($2.00)

-2x Granola bars ($2.00/box)

-Yogurt {This week a local grocer had a huge overstock of yogurt and was selling it for 0.25cents/4pack, Score!}

-Eggos ($2.00)

-Eggs ($2.00)

-Bacon ($4.00)

-Ketchup ($3.00)

Total: approx $22.00

Weekly Total: $83.00

Not included in my grocery money is cat food and cleaning supplies/TP. We budget for the cat food separately and I started setting aside a few dollars each week for TP and cleaning supplies since they’re so sporadic.

So there ya have it, an example of my weekly spending on food. Some weeks are more expensive when I run out of all ”basic” cooking stuff (always at the same time) but that’s usually only once every few weeks for stock ups. I try and keep my weekly spending between $65.00-$85.00.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Canadian Budget Binder but if you’re not, check out his weekly grocery store challenge to see how other bloggers stick to their budgets!


How Losing $1500 in Monthly Income Changed Us For The Better

I’m currently on maternity leave. In Canada, through the Employment Insurance program (EI), you’re entitled to maternity and parental leave for a combined 52 weeks at the rate of 55% of your gross income to a maximum of $457.00/week. Some employers then give you top-up bringing you to 75-100% of your income, so for some, being on mat leave has little to no financial change. Not so much for us.

I work as a Dental Hygienist for a family practice. The dentist doesn’t provide top-up, one of the downsides of private industry. There are only a few employees and he needs to pay someone to fill my position while I’m off.

On EI I’m receiving $838.00 every two weeks. Pre-baby my net bi-weekly income was around $1500-1600 every 2 weeks (I’m paid hourly so it varies a little depending on my patients). That’s about $1500 a month in lost income. My question is, how the eff did we ever have money problems?

I’m so mad at myself when I think about how much money we were wasting rather than getting serious about our debt. It took us having a baby to really get serious about our budget and paying debt off. We always paid the minimum requirements but when I think about, what I now know we’re capable of, it sickens me.

Where the money was going…

-In all honesty we were probably spending $500/month in groceries throwing anything and everything in the cart when we went…for two people! Now we spend about $300/month and don’t want for much, we’re just much better at planning.

-Bank Fees we were spending between $30-50/month on bank fees. Since switching to PC we pay nothing. It’s great and we’re super happy with them.

-Eating out. This was huge…between hubby and I we were probably spending $300/month in lunch and dinners out. Mostly lunches when we, again, didn’t plan and would end up eating out at work. I’ve always cooked most all our dinners, we’d usually just have one dinner out-usually pizza or something when I didn’t feel like cooking Friday night after an exhausting week of work and long commutes. Now we budget for one meal out per week and we’ve been pretty good about sticking with it.

-Hobbies/Life/House. We have never been big shoppers/spenders on ourselves for clothes etc but I’d go to Michaels/Home Depot and drop some cash for my newest craft/DIY project. Hubby and I both love tinkering with house stuff and playing with tools. Not that I would consider this money wasted per se, we just cut it out entirely when I went off work.

How we’re managing…

-Given our huge debt load losing the $1500/month was really hurting us. Our minimum monthly debt payments alone were about $1500. A huge help was hubby getting a very generous and much needed raise, it was great timing.

-Starting the DMP and getting serious about budgeting and honestly, growing up when it comes to our spending habits. We now think about every dollar we spend. We were never really crazy racking up credit cards or spending beyond our means we just didn’t allocate the funds properly or responsibly.

-Paying interest only for my student loans. Of my debt, most of it is in the form of student lines of credit which offer no relief should you lose your job/mat leave etc. For government issued student loans, in Canada at least, you can apply for interest relief where the government makes payments on your behalf for a period of time, I didn’t qualify for this because I made too much money last year and they don’t take current financial situation (me being on mat leave) into consideration. I am however making interest only payments for the current time saving me about $180/month.

When I go back to work…

I will be working four instead of five days a week so I can be home with baby an extra day. I’d love to say me being home would save us money with the cost of childcare but it won’t. Daycare shouldn’t cost us more than $30-35/day and after taxes etc I bring home just over $160.00/day. Not to mention we simply couldn’t live off hubby’s income alone. I love my job and can’t wait to get back to seeing my patients and the routine work gives me but I also hate the idea of her being in daycare without me. We’re hoping hubby can work from home one day/week so she really only needs daycare 3days/week. Finding part-time care is a challenge though…

On top of the childcare expense we need to start buying bus passes for me which set us back about $80.00/month we only have the one vehicle and can’t justify the money for a second one when it would only be for me to drive to and from work which would cost probably $200/month in gas and another $200/month to park the stupid thing for the 8 hours I’m at work, no thanks. Public transportation is fine for me.

I do struggle slightly with giving up my one day/week. I desperately want to be home with baby girl. My mom worked so much when we were kids I hardly saw her and I knew when I had a family I would be home more and involved in her life more. A huge reason behind my career choice is that dentistry is usually a M-F, 9-5 type of job, important when it comes to family life. When I think about the extra debt I could pay off with me working that day though it kills me a little. In the end though I think she’ll only be young once and our parental influence is probably most important now. Once she’s in school full time and not care so much about her parents maybe I’ll go back 5 days…we’ll see!

When I started my mat leave and realized just how tough things were going to be we were panicked but in the end it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to us. It was the kick in the ass we really needed.

Saving While In Debt

This is something I struggle with. There’s something almost oxymoronic about having money in a bank account when you owe so much money.

Our savings account is currently at $0.03, I kid you not. We’re just starting everything and have yet to make a deposit. September is our catch-up month before starting fresh in October with the debt management program. We will be contributing to savings but when our (minimum payment) debt load is about 23% of our monthly income I cannot justify the suggested 10% savings. It is simply not going to happen.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

5% I can do, but not monthly. Hubby and I are paid bi-weekly I will be using our ‘extra pay months’ to top up our menial monthly savings to an annual total of 5%. The ‘leftover’ money from the extra pays will be put into savings as well for irregular ‘life stuff’ such as oil changes, home repairs, vet appointments etc. Again, I have a hard time savings, say $50/month for ‘home repairs’ when I might only need $200 a year.  I would much rather just set money into a ‘life savings’ account to be used only when needed, if needed at all.

Which brings me to my second point, since this is money that will only be used, if needed, do I really need to distinguish between the 5% annual savings for rainy day/emergencies or just have one account for everything? I mean we’re not using the money unless needed so do I really need to separate the two? Should I take the 5% and invest it?

I’m having a hard time defining how I should be saving and where the money should go (TFSA? RRSP? Sav acct?) I just feel like, for now, we should work up to a few thousand in an account incase we have an emergency but maybe not commit the money into a RRSP/TFSA until we’re done with the DMP, at which point we will have more freedom in the budget to allocate to ‘proper savings’ (RRSP’s etc).

Any insight or tips about what works for you would be fantastic!

How I Saved Hundreds On Diapers

Easily put, I had a party.


Hubby and are fairly nontraditional people in certain ways (we had a BBQ wedding for example) so when it came time for a baby shower we knew we both wanted to be there, why is it just for the ladies?

The party was held at the in-laws where all our friends and family (male and female) came over for an afternoon hangout. The ladies partook in a more traditional shower while the men hung out, drank beer and had a diaper party.

Basically the guys showed up and ‘showered’ hubby with a boatload of diapers in various sizes instead of baby gifts. Our daughter is 14 weeks (tomorrow!) and the only reason we’ve had to buy any diapers was because she was in the newborn size a lot longer than I thought (tiny little thing).

According to my calculation, we received over $500.00 in diapers that will take her, in my estimation, up to probably 9 months old, just a few weeks short of when I go back to work. HUGE financial help! I’ll take boxes of diapers over another toy any day!

Honesty: Why Most Budgets Fail

This week was a good reminder about being honest with myself when doing up our budget. While I’m all ”gung-ho” about paying our debt off, I have to be realistic about our spending habits and life needs before throwing all our money at bills and debt.

When I started budgeting I went a little cutback crazy in order to find as much money as possible for debt repayment. I was happy with some savings we made by cutting back in necessary areas but then I started lying to myself by saying we wouldn’t need to budget for things like eating out because I saw it as an unnecessary expense. With me being on maternity leave (and subsequently losing about 55% of my take home pay) I’m as frugal as ever.

Even if money wasn’t an issue, hubby and I were never big spenders on clothes/beauty stuff/toys etc but before baby we did love to eat out/order in. While we have cut back significantly, me not budgeting any money is setting us up for budgeting failure. If I’m being honest, we will probably eat out once a week, whether it be grabbing a quick lunch while running errands with baby, picking up a pizza on the way home or *gasp* actually going out for dinner, there is a 99% chance one meal/week will not be cooked by me.

This week made me realize that if I’m not honest about how our money will actually get spent; at the end of the day/week/month I will be scrambling for changes in the budget to accommodate this little white lie.

To keep me honest, here is a list of things that despite what I may think, I know will spend money on eventually:

  • Eating out once/week.
  • Haircuts every 2 months.
  • Clothes. We both need them before I go back to work in a few months, there is no realistic way to avoid this.
  • Razor Blade. It may seem like a small item but it KILLS MY SOUL to fork out almost $20.00 for blades. I’ve used crappy ones but I can’t do it anymore. Having said this, I use every blade like it’s my last one-I haven’t changed it in like 3 months haha.
  • Diet Pop. It’s mine and hubby’s weakness. I gave it up while pregnant and very much limit my consumption while breastfeeding but we have a serious love for diet Pepsi (me)/diet coke (him).
  • Birthday present/Christmas presents for each other. In the past for Christmas hubby and I usually didn’t buy anything much for each other, rather buy something for the house or money towards a trip if applicable plus maybe do up a small sock. The fact remains if I don’t budget anything for us (to buy for each other) I know we will end up spending a few bucks on something for the other person; we do every year despite our intentions. Same with bday gifts, I can tell hubby a million times not to buy me anything but I know he will (as would I for him). It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive but every dollar needs to get accounted for.

I know there are probably more things I need to think about in terms of how my spending habits are then and re-account for them but these are some of my budget lies. I think I just need to budget in a weekly allowance for ourselves to account for stuff like the above mentioned (minus Christmas as we will be budgeting for annual gifts/Christmas separately).

How do you deal with keeping your budget on tract and honest?

Why Credit Counselling Works For Us

Next month marks our first month in credit counselling (CCS). While not for every situation, it was our only real option. We chose to go with a local not-for profit agency and couldn’t be happier.

As I explained, we have a huge amount of credit card debt primarily because of my school (tuition etc), not that it matters how we ended up there, the fact remains we have about $23,000 in unsecured debt (not including my student loans, LOC’s or mortgage).

Here’s a breakdown of the debt we will be consolidating:
































$622.00/ month in MINIMUM payments. Going NO WHERE.

Other student loan and LOC payments being about $660.00/month

Then we have mortgage,car loan, insurances, living expenses etc etc…

Needless to say with minimum payments at $622.00/month, an additional $660.00 in student debt payments/month, a $1300 mortgage payment every month…we have very little money at the end of the month to put towards actually paying the debt down. I will break our monthly budget down later but the fact is, we were bound to be in credit card debt for like 50 years.

We approached two banks about consolidation loans but were denied. We have too much credit in our names. They both came back and said we were doing well under our current financial situation (not missing payments etc) but that they couldn’t offer us  the loan. This does not make sense to me, well it does but com’on banks! We’re not asking for MORE credit we’re asking that you transfer and closeout the above mentioned creditors for your lower interest consolidation loan so we can actually get somewhere with payments!

Excuse the language but it pisses me off. Banks have no problem offering you the money in the first place but want nothing to do with you if you need help from them down the road.

In comes credit counselling. The$415.00/month goes directly on our principle balances. No more interest payments and the CCS takes care of everything for us. We give them our money and  they deal with all the creditors, huge relief.

We’re now on the right path. This works for us. The estimated repayment is 55 months but our goal is no longer than 36months. We’re planning to contribute more than required every month+income tax returns+extra pay months (we’re paid biweekly). I have it mapped out in my head but need to get it on paper to confirm we can do this but I think it’s possible.

With credit counselling our credit is tarnished (but not to the extent of bankruptcy). CCS is time in the program/repayment+2 years, so the faster we pay it off the faster those 2 lingering years can start then we’re all fresh and have restarted our credit rating.

Things are looking up for us. I’m sort of excited to be embarking on this!

How We Manage our Grocery Budget (No Coupons Involved!)


For many families, the grocery store is an easy way to kill a budget in a matter of minutes. When we decided to get serious about our budget last month I was determined we could live of $75.00/week for groceries. I’m currently on maternity leave so other than tending to baby girl I have no commitments that should interfere with me preparing all our meals. I’ve always enjoyed cooking (although cooking under the stress of a crying baby who wakes mid meal is no fun) so for us it was more a matter of proper meal planning. Before last week, we were bad for deciding an hour before supper what to eat which more often than I’d like, ended up in ‘convenience cooking’ (ie ordering out, cooking an overpriced, pre-made, dinner from the grocery store etc).

Here are my tips for sticking to a grocery budget:

  1. Meal Plan. This is huge. If you meal plan appropriately (down to every last spice that you may need) it will prevent you from running to the store for that ”one item” you forgot and subsequently end up spending $20.00 in crap you didn’t need or intend to buy.
  2. Stick to your list. Don’t let your eyes wander away from it. This requires strength.
  3. Shop the sales. If chicken is on sale this week, look for a few creative ways to cook it.
  4. Shop weekly. We use to shop biweekly when we got paid but realistically planning two weeks worth of meals didn’t work for us (I personally found planning 14+meals difficult) and we would end up at the stores on our ”off week” anyway if there was a great sale, regardless if we had the money for the item in question. The other benefit is that produce is wasted less.
  5. Cook with what you already have. If you have a fresh sauce/meat/produce item that might need to get eaten soon try and plan a meal around that item.
  6. Don’t be a brand snob. I don’t know where I first heard the term brand snob but it makes sense. I mean honestly how many ways can you can tomatoes or make a bottle of ibuprofen, it’s all the same. There are a few exceptions to this rule and everyone will have their own list (I love my Heinz ketchup, Kraft peanut butter and hate cheap razor blades!). The other plus to trying store brand is that store stands behind their product offering money back guaranteed if you’re not satisfied with the product, no questions asked. Doesn’t hurt to try!
  7. Shop around. Unless the cost of gas outweighs the deal(s) it usually pays to go to more than one store for the sales.
  8. Check non-grocery stores for deals. A few ‘discount’ stores (Walmart, Target, Giant Tiger etc) that have grocery sections will often have good food sales.
  9. Use your Farmer’s Market. If applicable, not all cities/towns have one. If you do, chances are the produce selection will be better than your grocer and better prices. Bonus, you’re supporting local farmers.
  10. Grow your own food. I grew a few veggies this year and plan on expanding next summer when I have more time to dedicate to it.
  11. Buy Frozen. I bought a bag of frozen corn for less than $2.00, it can act as a side to more than 10 meals for hubby and I, super yummy and taste better (and cheaper) than canned. Canned is good too.
  12. Don’t buy (too much) bulk or items just because they’re on sale. I use to grocery shop sale items whether or not I needed them right now. Laundry soap might go on sale for a good price and I would buy it even though I had a months worth in my basement. I was tantalized by the sale price. I don’t do this anymore because I see it as tying up my money in items I don’t need right now. Sales always reoccur.
  13. Cook your own food. If something is pre-packaged (ie frozen lasagna/pizza) that means someone else made it. If someone else can make it, so can you. For a whole lot less and a whole lot healthier. Google will become your friend. Use YouTube if you have to. Following recipes is easy.
  14. Cook large batches in slow cooker. If you don’t have a slow cooker or have one and don’t use it. START. You can cook a huge amount of food, for cheap and the best part is no real cooking! I will share some of my favorite slow cooker/budget friendly recipes later as this is my favorite kitchen item (my Kitchenaid mixer is a close second though). Bonus is that most meals can be prepped and frozen ahead of time (you can even prep seasonal stuff for use later in the year) so all you have to do it pop it in when you wake and come home to cooked dinner! It’s a great tool.
  15. Finally, Don’t shop hungry. Goes without saying. You will inevitably buy crap you don’t really want or need.

What are things that help you stick to your budget?