February Mortgage Update: And February is Challenge Month!

This month (January):
Balance: $65,769.13
Years left: 5.16666667
P =$945.68, I = $268.72, Escrow = 613.58

This month (February):
Balance: $63,643.06
Years left:4.916666667
P =$954.07, I = $260.34, Escrow = 613.58

One month’s prepayment savings: $4.64

Forget January New Years Resolutions.  February is the best month for challenges because it is the shortest month!

#1 is doing a Cheap Eats Challenge.  She was going to do it because it would have given her more wiggle room in her budget, but now that DH is re-employed, she’s just going to do it for fun.  Because she can.  And because she’d already done half the planning.  So each Monday this month we’re going to have food-related money posts.

For simplicity’s sake, any menu planning is going to be for dinners only.  Breakfasts you can assume are rolled oats, heated in the microwave with raisins or whatever other fruit bits we have available.  Snacks will be pieces of fruit (not cheap, but also not too expensive, particularly the banana portion).  Lunches will either be dinner the night before or you can pretend it will be a sandwich (which it would have been if I weren’t off the wheat thing… perhaps something tortilla-based instead).

Exceptions to the cheap eats rule:  If we go into the city, we can eat out.  If my colleagues are doing a working lunch out, I can eat out.  If there’s catering for an event, I’m totally going to eat that.  This is an intellectual challenge, not a necessary or moral challenge.  No deprivation, just thinking about which meals we eat are healthy but less expensive than others and what makes meals healthy and cheap.  Playing at frugality.

You will also see some wheat-based meals that I will only be partaking in slightly and DC2 won’t be eating at all.  For those, you can assume we’re having leftovers from a previous meal or something corn-based or quinoa-based instead.  If we do a direct substitution, I’ll make a note of it and the additional costs to make it less wheaty.  If I don’t, you can assume we ate something else.  (We won’t be completely gluten-free because DC2 has a mild wheat allergy and can totally handle the wheat in say, Worcestershire sauce, whereas someone with celiac wouldn’t necessarily be able to.)

Split pea soup.  One package of peas ~$1.50, give or take.  You can add carrots, onions, or leftover veggies, and ham or poultry bits, and spices, which will increase the price.  But one package of peas still makes a meal for an entire family of four.  Whenever I’m feeling broke, I buy a bag of split peas and feel virtuous after making it.  (It’s also a comfort food for me, as are black bean soup and mac and cheese.)

Macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas.  Mac and cheese comes in various prices.  If you shop sales you can get a box for under 50 cents.  The gluten-free variety comes in somewhere around $2.00 for a package.  Cans of tuna vary, around $2.00.  A bag of frozen peas, $1.50, double that if organic.  You will use only a portion of the peas, and one or two boxes of macaroni, depending on your family composition.  Cheapest:  50 + 200 + 75 = $3.25.  Fanciest:  $4 + 2 + 1.50 = $7.50.  Organic and gluten free can get expensive!  (Fortunately we’re still in the one box family size.)

Meat Chili.  We’ll have veggie chili later.  Ground beef prices vary, but it’s pretty cheap where we live.  Let’s say $2 for regular and $6 for organic.  I’ll take a pound.  Beans also vary quite a bit in price.  You can get a bag of dried beans for under $1, or a couple of cans of cooked beans for under $2.  You’ll also need a can or two of tomatoes, and these are a little over a dollar each.  And then there’s spices.  Spices can get expensive, but you usually buy a package and only use a small portion.  It’s hard to know how to price it.  We use Penzy’s, which looks like it is going for $4/oz for its smallest size.  But we don’t use an oz when making chili and we buy bigger bags.  Let’s round up and say we use $1 of chili powder when making chili.  Onions are optional, let’s put a big one in for ~$1.  So cheap version:  $2 + 1 + 1 + 1 =$5.  Expensive:  $6 + 2 + 2 + 1 +1 = $12.

Nachos.  These use leftover chili from the night before.  With store-brand shredded cheese from bulk shredded cheese over chips.  Cheap chips are $1/bag.  Expensive ones are $3.49.  Cheese will depend a lot on how much you use and what brand you get and how much you buy.  We get the big bags and stick it in the freezer and only use what we need.  But let’s say you use a dollar of cheese.  If you already have the chili leftover, then we’re talking a $2 meal, give or take.

Stirfry sweet and sour chicken with veggies and rice.  This will be more expensive and the prices will vary tremendously.  A simple sweet and sour sauce is just sugar and vinegar.  Let’s go with $3 for chicken, $1 for the sauce, $2 for veggies (frozen mixed is about that), and $1 for rice (more if using fancy brown rice).  ~$7.

Omelete.  Eggs and frozen veggies.  We’re talking $2, depending on what you put in.

What are your favorite cheap meals?  Anything you recommend that we try?


39 Responses to “February Mortgage Update: And February is Challenge Month!”

  1. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    I made split pea and veggie soup this weekend. My sister brought over this celery root thingy that her fancy organic vegetable delivery service dumped on her. I had no idea what it was so I just chopped it up and put it in a pot with split peas, carrot, zucchini, onion, vegetable broth, basil, thyme, and coriander!

  2. Leah Says:

    I seriously love watching your mortgage go down. Best kind of vicarious living.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s a lot more exciting now that we’re nearing the end and the prepayment is bigger than it had been. You can see real progress.

      Though prepayments at the beginning are actually a lot more meaningful in terms of savings than at the end.

  3. gwinne Says:

    Not an answer to your direct question: I did want to say that I’m finding it much easier to go wheat-free now that I’ve found actually decent substitutes for bread (Udi’s) and pasta (jovial). I was really missing sandwiches.

  4. Linda Says:

    I love split pea soup, but my partner does not. So, when I indulge in a pot I know it’s going to be just me eating it. I usually put several bowls worth in the freezer, which makes me feel all virtuous and homey since I’ll have a quick and easy lunch or dinner. I think most bean soups (including split pea) are improved with the addition of turnips, so I always try to add some. They are cheap, too, so they fit your criteria.

    Lately I’ve been crazy for baked potatoes. I top them with whatever I have on hand: leftover chili, leftover chicken mixed with BBQ sauce + veggies, canned baked beans, or even just plain butter. They are filling, cheap, and healthy.

    I’ve been trying to eat more fish with healthy fats that are also not expensive. I’m trying to avoid farm-raised Atlantic salmon which is ubiquitous and fairly cheap, but not very good for me or the planet. And while I love tuna, I also have concerns about over-fishing. Then there’s that mercury issue with so many larger, fatty fish…So that means I’m being more adventurous with sardines these days. I love smooshing them into a salad (like you do with tuna) with lemon juice, chopped red onion and chopped parsley and eating it on crackers or bread. Sardines are also pretty good with pasta and as a topper for salad. I’m going to experiment with the tinned mackerel I found at the international market soon. I found a curry recipe to use it in.
    All varieties of canned fish are fairly cheap!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I used to love sardines (not anymore, or really any strong-flavored fish), and DC1 still loves them and often has them as a snack. DC2 tried some last night and immediately spit them out. I don’t know what ze was expecting, but it was definitely not sardines.

  5. plantingourpennies Says:

    I second the baked potatoes. For this week’s cheap eats I have baked potatoes, leftover TVP chili, eggs & guac, and the most amazing garbanzo bean soup ever. (2 cans garbanzo beans, 1 onion, 1 tsp garlic, 1 T olive oil, 1 lemon and water.). Makes 4 lunch sized servings or 7-8 starter sized servings. (Sue me… I eat a lot.).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      Yeah, I ate a lot of baked potatoes when I was feeding just me in college. They’re very easy to microwave and cheap, but they’re really not gylcemically balanced in the slightest.

  6. Cloud Says:

    Hmmm. I know I have some cheap meals but I’m drawing a blank right now. Maybe our cheapest is waffles and smoothies? I don’t know. Back in grad school, I used to make red sauce in bulk and portion it out into jars. I used canned tomatoes, so that was a very cheap meal.

  7. Dr. Koshary Says:

    LENTILS. Red. Spicy. Over rice.

  8. kt Says:

    Kale & potato soup. Even if kale is $3 a bunch, potatoes are cheap and it’s filling. Leek & potato soup is even tastier.

    Another source of ideas: http://paleoonabudget.com/

  9. Donna Freedman Says:

    Lentils and diced veggies (whatever’s on hand) marinated in sweet pickle vinegar or, if I’m lucky, in the brine left from our homemade pickled red cabbage. Sometimes with a hard-cooked egg chopped up on top. That’s what I’m having for lunch, in fact, given that we finished another pint of cabbage recently.
    Pinto beans cooked with a ham bone and a black iron skillet of cornbread.
    Garbage soup:

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sweet and sour red cabbage is on the list!

      • Donna Freedman Says:

        I never liked that kind of food as a kid but as an adult I find it delicious. It’s tangy, sweet and spicy all at the same time. Very refreshing, especially during the dark days of winter.
        This recipe was what my partner called “bonehead simple.” I think it had four ingredients, including the salt you put on overnight; the others were sugar, vinegar and some mixed pickling spices. Five minutes in the water bath and we were done.
        This year we’re putting in at least five heads of the red cabbage so we can do quarts instead of pints.

  10. Liz Says:

    Any homemade soup and sandwich combo can’t really be wrong… Tomato soup from canned tomatoes, with grilled cheese on the side. Or a blended veggie soup (like broccoli-cheese) with a fried egg sandwich. Dutch pancakes (crepes) with cheese, or chicken and mushroom filling, or my favorite: brie, walnut, apple. Deviled eggs, hashbrowns with cheese, frozen veggies. Pot pies using up leftover veggies and meat bits and bobs. Homemade pizza!

    Nom – I’ve been planning out 15 meals and following that as my rough menu guide (for a single girl) for a month, and a surprising side benefit is that I’ve been well under budget (set at $300/month) even while increasing meat purchases.

  11. Rented life Says:

    I make my own mac and cheese and have no idea the cost. We always have pasta, milk, butter, so all I need to get is the cheese and broccoli. Haven’t had it since having the baby as my lactose problems returned after birth so I have to limit my dairy.

    Goolosh, chili, soup are our cheaper meals. Or husband bringing home food from his work–free! Our grocery bill has gone up but I’m trying to eat better and not snack on crap or skip meals.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Man, what is it with babies and allergies? It’s a good thing they’re cute.

    • Linda Says:

      If you would prefer to be able to eat some dairy products, you could give goat or sheep milk products (cheeses and fluid milk) a try to see if they are a problem. I thought for years that I had lactose intolerance, but it was really an issue with the particular proteins in cow dairy products. There are many choices of cheeses — cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, etc. — available now with a goat milk base if you go to the right stores. These are all good for cooking. And, of course, there are the traditional “snacking” cheeses that have always been made with goat or sheep milk such as manchego and chevre.

  12. Tree of Knowledge Says:

    We’re vegetarian, so we make our Mac and Peas with crumbles (fake ground beef). Sometimes, we get fancy and have it with fake chicken and broccoli.

    Black beans and rice (or pinto beans and cornbread) is also a very cheap meal. Sometimes it’s just beans and rice with fresh peppers and cheese. Sometimes we add a can of tomatoes or Rotel or salsa to the beans. It’s our go-to meal.

  13. oil_garlic Says:

    My go-to cheap meals are stir-fry, fajitas, and and pasta. I also count frozen pizza, nachos, and vegetarian meals like roasted veggies & rice, various salads, etc…

    I just think most of our cooking at home is cheaper (except for steak nights or seafood nights).

    I recommend pasta which you can get cheap on sale, and mix with a variety of ‘sauces’. I often use tuna with olive oil, salt and pepper. Sometimes I just use garlic and a spicy chili (olive oil). There’s the “classic” red sauce which I prefer to make meatless, with either a red bell pepper-based sauce or plain (peeled tomatoes, olive oil, onions/carrots, basil, salt).

    Baked potatoes are a good idea too!

  14. Amanda Says:

    I have to second everyone’s soup ideas. It’s a great way to use up all the leftover produce at the end of the week too :) I love this wild rice and kale soup (http://thegiraffelife.blogspot.com/2013/04/wild-rice-and-vegetable-soup.html), and you could leave the potatoes out or substitute more of one of the other veggies.

    Congrats on your mortgage progress too. To be less than 5 years out is amazing!

  15. chacha1 Says:

    I am really bad at “frugal” cooking because while I can assemble something that’s 90% vegetables and practically free, then I screw it up with cheese and/or meat. :-) My chili has ground bison in it at $8/lb, my cabbage stroganoff has ground grass-fed beef at $7/lb, I’m just no good at choosing cheaper over healthier … now that I can *afford* healthier.

  16. Rosa Says:

    kale has gotten expensive, and in winter chard is worse ( in summer & fall it’s basically free, since we keep cutting it back and it keeps growing again) but collards are still cheap, and our grocery store has been selling washed, cut collards in very large bags for $5. The only thing is, I have to use a whole bag in a week or two before they go bad – they last quite a while, for fresh produce, but not forever.

    So: sauteed collards & onions with peanut sauce, served on rice or wrapped in a flour tortilla (or a mu shu wrapper if we’ve been to the right store). Sauteed collards & tomatos on pasta. Curried ground meat (usually turkey, $3/#), onion & collards, served over mashed sweet potatos.

    I did just fall for yet another crock pot magazine this week. Not frugal – $10! In magazine format! But i’m out of the house til 10 pm one day a week this quarter, so we’re trying the crock pot thing again. Mutton stew w/squash & potatos, this week. Not cheap except I already had the mutton in the freezer.

  17. Leigh Says:

    I did something similar to this in January except it wasn’t exactly cheap eats month, but eat at home month. We spent a lot on groceries, but it was otherwise a success! So much delicious food and so many more possibly delicious recipes to try still!

    I actually almost always make my macaroni and cheese from scratch. It takes the same amount of time as the box since I can usually make the sauce while the pasta is boiling and it tastes SO much better. The sauce is really just some butter, flour, milk, and then cheese, plus seasonings. I always have those items around, so it’s a good catch-all meal! I also buy boxes of elbows when they’re on sale for like $1/box…

  18. Jacq Says:

    Oh my, I’d forgotten how cheap food was in the US (esp. south) compared to here. We’re also having a cheap food month in Feb. due to the annual freezer/pantry purge where the youngest kid was trying to make me stick to only $5/week in grocery purchases! I negotiated up to $20. :-) Milk is almost $5/4L here so kind of impossible to have anything fresh at $5/week.

    I made this last night – quite yummy:
    And this one pot spaghetti the night before:
    I want to try the version with diced tomatoes, not spaghetti sauce.
    I think my chili ends up being about $1/serving – dried beans (I make a big batch in the slow cooker w/onions and homemade chicken stock if I have it, mix them with beaters to break them down a bit and freeze them in one batch portions), lots of canned tomatoes and onions – which are super cheap esp in season – I think your $1/onion is a high estimate. Having said that, I do have the 25 y.o. male in the house so “avg serving” is not a real concept here.
    It really is quite fun to be inventive in the kitchen as a challenge (when you don’t *have* to be all the time).
    Something like 6 week bran muffins are also a good thing to have on hand for non gluten intolerant people. I make a recipe similar to this one but with molasses:
    They can cook while you’re having your morning shower. Easy peasy and very filling.
    Hmm. I like food. And cooking. ;-)

  19. SP Says:

    I like all of the food suggestions here, but I also am feeling really grateful that I don’t really use a grocery budget any more and just cook whatever I want. I know you are doing it just for fun, but there was definitely a time in the not so distant past (ok, 5 years now) where food budget was a serious thing for me, and I assume that is true for you too.

    Some cheap meals I’ve enjoyed: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/easy-masoor-daal/

    And um, cereal / oatmeal? For dinner. Maybe that is easier to justify when you aren’t feeding a family.

    These days I consider it a success if I cook at home most of the time and eat everything I cooked.

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