Aldi: What Have You Got to Save?

Disclaimer: Aldi does not sponsor this content, but this will not stop me from proclaiming my love for them from every mountain-top.

L and I love Aldi. Like a lot. For the last year or so we’ve almost exclusively gotten our groceries at Aldi. At first, we started going just due to the convenience factor. It was the easiest grocery store to get to from L’s work, so that’s where we decided to go.

There is no lack of grocery stores in our area. Cub foods, Whole Foods and Lunds are all practically within walking distance. We sometimes end up going to these other stores, but this weekend I got to thinking about what really sets them apart.

The Aldi Effect

Sunday. We’re out of meat. We spent the whole day working on projects, cleaning and blogging, so we’re itching for some food around 3 pm. We have so many leftover veggies from last week, a stir-fry sounds like just the ticket to use it all up.

It’s a beautiful, Spring day in Minneapolis, so we walk down to Lunds to pick up some kind of meat to go in the stir fry. That’s when the ‘normal’ price of chicken hit me square in the face. The sticker shock was too much. I couldn’t, in good conscience, lay down six George Washingtons, when the same amount would get me twice the chicken at Aldi.

But this got me thinking. I know Aldi is usually cheaper than Lunds, but does that extend over all the most common things we buy?

The Comparison

Short answer: Yes.  Buying the items we bought on Week 1 of our $40 weekly budget resulted $47.80 at Lunds (budget busted) vs. $28.26 at Aldi! That’s a savings of %40!

The only item which Lunds came out ahead on was vegetable stock, which Aldi listed for ~ 30% more.

A few details, I did not consider tax on either price list. Also, I could not find a suitable comparison for Aldi’s frozen salmon, so I left that out of the study.

The only thing I’d add before you go too crazy (like me) about Aldi, is that part of the savings comes at the cost of selection. For example, the variety of meats and organic offerings is much greater at Lunds. However, if you’re OK with this weakness and plan around it, Aldi can help you dominate your grocery budget!

Aldi-Lunds Comparison

ItemQuantityLunds Price ($)Aldi Price ($)
Raisin Bran (18.7 oz)14.091.79
MultiGrain Cheerios (12 oz)14.491.79
Cabbage (2 lbs)11.581.39
Spinach (5 oz)11.991.49
Red Onion (2 lbs)12.581.69
Large Eggs (Dozen)11.891.09
Wyman's Frozen Mango (15 oz)14.992.09
Lunds 2% Milk13.292.15
New York Pita Chips (8 oz)13.691.99
Sabra Classic Hummus (8 oz)13.991.99
Gold'n Plump Chicken Breast (1 lb)211.845.38
Kitchen Basics Vegetable Stock (8.25 oz)22.583.78
Bananas (1 lb)2.551.501.25
Spring Mix (5 oz)13.291.99
Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts (16 oz)14.591.99
Lunds: $47.80 Aldi: $28.06
Related Posts

Check out our $40 weekly meal plan for 2!

4 Easy Steps for Meal Planning on a Budget

Let us know about your Aldi experience below. Are you as in love as we are?

– A

$40 a Week – Meal Plan for 2! Week 5

Meal Plan Week 5

In Review

Bit of a strange week this week. We had quite a few meals provided with the extensive Easter weekend family events between the two families. This resulted in lower than normal expenses. We even received a whole ton of protein bars for me to use as snacks at work for the next…million years or so! My mother tries a lot of different protein bars, ha ha!

The meals last week ended up being great for lunches, and providing some non-dairy food over the weekend for L. I especially liked the elegantly simple BBQ pulled chicken meal. It took less than an hour to make in the pressure cooker and was easy to make into a tasty sandwich for lunch!

Going Forward

This week feels a little rushed and thrown together. I made up a grocery list on the fly and ended up using our excess budget from last week. That’s what I get for not having a good plan. The plus side is that we have a lot of great ingredients to choose from when making our meal plan for the week! Ch-ch-check it out!

www.bidentateonabudget.com
Week 5 Meal Plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.bidentateonabudget.com
Grocery Haul-Week 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you may know if you’ve seen our other meal plans, I like recipes, but I rarely actually follow a recipe. The scientist in me is boggled by this fact. In truth, I often look through several similar recipes and pick out what sounds best to me and depending on what I have on hand. Below I have links to several inspiration recipes for the week. If you want more inspiration, check out our Pinterest!

This weeks Recipes

Crack Slaw

Make your own Taco Seasoning! So much cheaper and you can make it extra spicy! Or less if that suits you!

Yellow Thai Curry from Rachel Cooks Thai

Check out our other Weekly Meal Plans!
We will see you all next week!
Let us know your meal planning and grocery budgeting tips and trick in the comments
– A + L

Married Filing Bidentate: Is Marriage Really at Tax Benefit? Part 2

The April 18th tax deadline has me thinking even more about taxes than usual, massive tax nerd that I am. I did a post earlier looking into how my taxes would change after marriage, and the conclusion was not much. However, I have to add a little caveat to that, as totally overlooked two aspects which CAN actually change things! Exciting, right?

Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)

The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit is a way for low income brackets to get reduced taxes for contributing towards an IRA or a Roth IRA.

When tax brackets double from filing singly to jointly there is usually going to be a benefit if one spouse has a lower income than the other. As you can see below, the Saver’s credit nicely doubles, which prevents any pesky marriage penalties from showing up.

www.bidentateonabudget.com
2016 Saver’s Credit1

Unlike income tax brackets, the Saver’s credit is based on your adjusted gross income (AGI). The AGI is your wages, salaries and tips, including taxable dividends and stuff, minus deductions.

That’s as much as $ 2750 in tax credit for the below $ 18,500 bracket! All the more powerful considering you get that same benefit for a Roth, which, by definition, does not usually reduce your taxes like a normal IRA!

I had totally written the Saver’s Credit off (tax puns!) until recently. As a student, I fail one of the three requirements to get the credit,

  1. Age 18 or older;
  2. Not a full-time student; and
  3. Not claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.My soon-to-be wife withheld (I’m on fire!) looking into the saver’s credit because her income was juuuuuust a little too high.

Filing jointly though, my super-low grad-student salary comes swooping in to the rescue! Our incomes together actually come in under the filing jointly limit. This means we can take a 10% off her Roth IRA contributions! That’s $550 if she maxes it out. Alright, these must be the marriage benefits I’ve been hearing about!

Minnesota Marriage Tax Credit

This one is a little specific to our Land of 10,000 Lakes, but we have something here called the Marriage Tax Credit. The Marriage Tax Credit is meant to tackle those cases of marriage penalties like I talked about in my 1st tax post. The credit gets larger for cases of spouses making very similar, large incomes.

The qualifying stipulations are,

  1. You are married and filing a joint return.
  2. Each spouse has taxable earned income, taxable pension or taxable Social Security income.
  3. Your joint taxable income is at least $37,000.
  4. The income of the lesser-earning spouse is at least $23,000.

The first two are pretty obvious off the bat, but 3 and 4 demand some looking into to see if you qualify.

The limits are based on taxable income, so that’s basically going to be your AGI minus exemptions and your standard deduction, if you’re not itemizing.

Boom! Turns out we qualify in all areas! We actually have just barely enough taxable income to qualify. So as long as our incomes don’t change drastically this year we can look forward to $68! Not bad!

In Summary

So, contrary to the first tax post, marriage is actually going to be a definite tax benefit for us. We’ll pay about $618 less in taxes than if we had not been married and filed singly. 

Has this given you any ideas about your tax situation? Are there tax reasons why you want to DEFER marriage? (Somebody stop me!)

-A

References
  1. Retirement Savings Contributions Credit

$40 a Week – Meal Plan for 2! Week 4

Meal Plan Week 4

Welcome to anyone who is just joining our Weekly Meal Planning series and welcome back if you’re returning!

We are having so much fun writing these posts and I hope that they are of some use to you! As we are getting further into this adventure I’ve been thinking about how to make these posts more useful. If there’s something different you would like to see, leave a comment below, we’d love to have your input!

In Review

Week 4 of the meal plan and our budget is still going strong! Last week our grocery list was short. As in $10 under budget short and so I threw into the cart some of the staples that we keep in the freezer and pantry to get us up to $40.

This includes fruit for smoothies (I can feel summer coming and I’m ready to welcome it with open arms!), cans of tuna, chickpeas, and tomatoes, vegetable or chicken broth.

BidentateOnABudget.com
Our pantry

Keeping a stocked pantry is so important to use because on a lot of our meal plans we leave Saturday and Sunday open for leftovers. A big reason for this is that we are often not home during the weekend.

Sometimes there’s not enough leftovers to go around and that’s when we turn to the pantry. One of my favorite recipes lately is this Spicy Baked Eggs from POPSUGAR.

Today (Sunday) we ran out of leftovers, turned to the pantry and and the internet and came up with these Tuna and Sweet Potato Patties. I also made some homemade aoli to go with it (and to cover up the tuna, which I don’t particularly like). Aaron loved it!

Meal planning is great, but some of our best meals come from when we have to use what we have on hand!

BidentateOnABudget.com
Tuna patty
BidentateOnABudget.com
Homemade aoli! From top left to right: lemon sriracha, lime cilantro, garlic lemon, and ginger. Yum!
Going Forward

Things are pretty bare in the fridge this week, you’ll see on the Have column below. Excited to try out some new recipes. It’s Easter weekend, so we’ll be spending a lot of time with family and not in charge of cooking, which will be interesting. We will still be bringing some food because my gluten free, dairy free does not line up with A’s mom’s Keto diet (read: ALL of the dairy).

BidentateOnABudget.com
Meal Plan – Week 4
BidentateOnABudget.com
Grocery List – Week 4
Confession

I like recipes. No really, I love them. But I rarely actually follow a recipe. The scientist in me is boggled by this fact. In truth, I often look through several similar recipes and pick out what sounds best to me and depending on what I have on hand. Below I have links to several inspiration recipes for the week. If you want more inspiration, check out our Pinterest!

This weeks Recipes

Pressure Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Check out our other Weekly Meal Plans!
We will see you all next week!
Let us know your meal planning and grocery budgeting tips and trick in the comments
– L

$40 a Week – Meal Plan for 2! Week 3

Meal Plan Week 3

In Review

Week 3 of the meal plan and our budget is still going strong! Again, I’m happy to say last week’s groceries stayed under budget by dollars. Probably my favorite meal last week was an improvised salad we made.

Meal Plan Week 3-bidentateonabudget.com
Apple-Chicken Balsalmic Salad

 

It’s representative of the type of meal we especially like to make. In this case we were inspired by things going bad in the fridge!

In this way it was very cost-effective, because we used the last of the green from last week, which were still not quite wilted, as well as some apples which were on their last legs. Beyond that, we simply combined things we had on hand that sounded tasty, like crushed walnuts, cooked chicken and raisins. Whenever we make salad we make our own simple dressings. This time we combined olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little salt to make an acidic flavor to go with the apples.

L and I are very passionate about reducing waste and try our best to set up these meals to use our unexpected surplus from one week to the next. We strive to reduce waste not only for the budget, but also to reduce our impact on the environment! Planning meals in this way goes a long way to reducing our personal food waste. Not only that, but it helps give you ideas about what meals to do in the planning phase! Win-win!

Going Forward

Still have some greens leftover from this last week. There were a few days we had planned to make salads and did not, for a reason or another. We will be making more salads like that featured above, because it was amazing. As always, I will post the grocery haul on Monday with the receipt for those keeping score.

bidentateonabudget.com
Week 3_Meals
Grocery List-Week 3

 

Check out our other Weekly Meal Plans!
We will see you all next week!
Let us know your meal planning and grocery budgeting tips and trick in the comments
– A

$40 a Week – Meal Plan for 2! Week 2

Week 2

In Review

The last week’s meal plan remained under-budget by $5, so week two is already off to a good start! We’re feeling quite accomplished after actually using an entire bag of spinach before it went bad! The other bag of greens is a little wilted…but there’s always room for improvement! The peanut stew was particularly delicious.

Going Forward

We’ve resolved to eat more leafy greens with each meal, so more salads are on the docket this week. More salads will involve making our own dressing, so we’ll post what we decide later this week. Aldi, here we come! I’m particularly looking forward to the Thai Salad we didn’t make it to last week. Other than that, most dinner recipes are very simple this week.

Peanut-Sesame Slaw with Soba Noodles – Cookie & Kate

Week 2 Meal Plan
Meal Plan Week 2-bidentateonabudget.com
Week 2 Meal Plan
Meal Plan Week 2-bidentateonabudget.com
Grocery List-Meal Plan Week 2

 

Update

We made it under budget so far again! So far we’re at $72.87, for those keeping score! I can’t wait to share the delicious things we’ve already made and help you stick on a meal plan budget!

bidentateonabudget.com
Week 2 Grocery Haul!
We will see you all next week!
Let us know your meal planning and grocery budgeting tips and trick in the comments

 

4 Easy Steps for Meal Planning on a Budget

Welcome to another post about meal planning. If you’re new, I’m Lauren and he’s Aaron and we are working on simplifying our lives and living frugally. You can check out our About Us page to learn more!

When we moved in together we went from spending $120 and $160 a month on groceries to $160 together! HUGE SAVINGS! We’re making this blog post to tell you about how we go about meal planning to save money on groceries.

  1. Make a list of what you already have in the fridge and/or pantry

    If you have any food leftover from last week, especially produce, it is important that you incorporate this into next weeks meal plan. The earlier in the week, the better! We sometimes have leftover produce when we do surprise date nights (what fun!).

I like to write my list on the back of last weeks’ menu. Reuse, reduce, recycle! Here’s an example

GroceryList1 bidentateonabudget.com
Use the back of last weeks meal plan to write this weeks grocery list
GroceryList2 bidenateonabudget.com
Write down all of the food you have on hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Look for fun, simple, delicious recipes

They may be old favorites, grandma’s recipe. They may be new favorites. Check out our meal plans for some inspiration! For me, this is a constant! I have an enormous folder in my Dropbox devoted to recipes. I shared it with Aaron, but he said that it was taking up too much of his limited Dropbox space.

TIP: Choose recipes with 5 ingredients or less, often healthier for your body and your wallet!

3. Write down what you are planning to eat for each meal of the week

Write out your plan! We created this sheet for our planning. Download it for free here! For breakfast and lunch we don’t usually eat together, so I split these columns in half and label one side A and the other L, to plan for each of us.

$40 a Week Meal Plan Week 1 bidentateonabudget.com
$40 a Week Meal Plan Week 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my work we do lunch family style, each taking turns to bring in lunch once a week, that is why you see NA on many of my lunches.

4. Create a list of the items you need based on the meals you have listed

To finish your planning take the list of what you already have, recipes you are going to make and you meal plan and make a list of the groceries you need for the week.

Meal Planning Step 4 bidentateonabudget.com
Write out the food you need based on your meal planning

When we are done with these 4 steps the grocery list goes in my purse and the meal plan goes on the fridge! Then we post our meal plan for all of you lovely people!

Meal Plan Fridge bidentateonabudget.com
Meal plan on the fridge along with our Elf craft project (which have seen better days)!

We hope these steps and tips are useful for you!

Share your meal planning tricks with us in the comments!

– L

 

 

Married Filing Bidentate: Is Marriage Really a Tax Benefit?

 

L and I are getting married soon, so I figured I’d go in and see what our tax situation would have been like if we had been married all through 2016. I’d always heard that getting married allows for major tax savings, but I’ve also heard of the so-called ‘Marriage Penalty’, where you pay more taxes than you otherwise would, so I wanted to test this out.

Our finances are simple, and representative of many in the 20’s-30’s age group. We have relatively small incomes ($<35k), do not own a home, no children, do not itemize deductions, and we only deduct student loan interest. All things told, with a combined income of $~54k, the total change in both state and federal taxes was…$ 0. Dang, I was really hoping for SOME kind of change.

After some more research into the topic, I found the typical causes for these tax benefits/penalties you have to look out for. My analysis here is limited to couples making less than $ 110k or so, because I can’t imagine making more than that right now! We’ll deal with those complications when I’m making more than a grad student.

Penalties: Think of the Children!

Above the 15 % tax bracket ($9,275 -$37,650 for single, $18,550 -$75,300 jointly for 2016), penalties happen if similar-income parents go above the child tax credit threshold of  gross adjusted income $110,000. This is because the child tax credit for couples is less than twice what it is for single filers, $75,000. On the low income side, 15% and below, the ability to take the Earned Income Tax credit usually determines the penalty. Again, the issue is that the EITC thresholds do not double when going from single to joint filing. This can disqualify some low-income parents from taking the EITC.

Earned Income Tax Credit Table Bidentateonabudget.com
Earned Income Tax Credit Levels (IRS.gov, 2016)

So, it sounds like we don’t have to worry about those issues as long as we have no children! Thank goodness!

Tax Bracket Widths and Income Differences

Not all tax brackets simply double from single to filing jointly.  The 10 and 15 % brackets double, but subsequent levels are less than twice as big from single to jointly. This structure generally favors one spouse making more than the other. For example, if one spouse makes $ 100k and the other makes $ 30k, the higher-earning spouse would save money by effectively being taken down a bracket. This works both ways, however. If the low-income spouse’s income were to double, that bonus would disappear.

So is marriage really a tax benefit? Like all things related to taxes….it’s complicated. I always advocate going into your taxes to see if big life changes would have an influence on your return!

The Tax Policy Center has a calculator tool to make a quick estimate of how your taxes change after marriage.  Check it out if you’re getting married soon!

Marriage Penalty/Bonus Calculator

$40 a Week – Meal Plan for 2! Week 1

Welcome to our first meal plan post!

We are so excited to share this with you because we know first hand how easy it is to overspend on groceries. Before we moved in together Aaron spent about $160 a month on groceries and I spent around $120. Now we spend $160 for the both of us together!

That’s over a 40% savings! We both couldn’t believe what a difference it made to make a plan and stick to it.  That frees up some money in the budget for savings goals and paying down debt. Who couldn’t use a little extra wiggle room in their budget?

Each Sunday we will (hopefully) bring you our meal plan and grocery list for the week. The is that this will give you some good ideas and inspire you to make your own budget friendly meal plans. It is also to help keep us accountable. No one is perfect, we too sometimes miss our goal of planning every weekend.

Tell us about your experience meal planning in the comments!

Disclaimer: I am gluten and dairy free for health reasons. But if you ask Aaron, he will tell you that our meals have become no less delicious since we made the switch. He’s nodding at me.

Week 1 Meal Plan

Here is our meal plan and grocery list for the week of March 19 – 25

$40 a Week Meal Plan Week 1 bidentateonabudget.com
$40 a Week Meal Plan Week 1
$40 a Week Grocery List bidentateonabudget.com
Week 1 Grocery List
Confession

I like recipes. No really, I love them. But I rarely actually follow a recipe. The scientist in me is boggled by this fact. In truth, I often look through several similar recipes and pick out what sounds best to me and depending on what I have on hand. Below I have links to several inspiration recipes for the week.

Better than Chipotle Bowl – Eat Yourself Skinny
Spicy Mango & Avocado Rice Bowl – Love & Lemons
Chicken Veggie Quinoa Bowl with Spicy Peanut Sauce – Wendy Polisi
Peanut-Sesame Slaw with Soba Noodles – Cookie & Kate
Roasted Brussels Sprout and Cashew Quinoa Salad – The Healthy Apple
Crispy Garlic Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Aoli – Minimalist Baker

Here is our grocery haul! Everything on our list besides the bread because my parents gave us some beautiful homemade bread using spent grains from my dad’s beer making. This weeks’ grocery total was $35 even. That gives us a little wiggle room in case something else comes up that we need later in the week.

Week 1 grocery haul bidentateonabudget.com
Week 1 grocery haul
Week 1 Groceries bidentateonabudget.com
Week 1 Groceries
We will see you all next week! Let us know your meal
planning and grocery budgeting tips and trick in the comments

– L

3 Ways to add $ 25 to Your Amazon Gift Card Balance This Month

Free Amazon gift card balance for the taking!I love Amazon gift cards. The best part is that it’s basically cash, because Amazon has almost everything imaginable. While I try to limit what I buy strictly due to space (500 sq ft fills up fast!), it’s great for taking care of my monthly gift budget for  friends and family and freeing up that money for things like savings and investing. I have three ways I add up to $25 a month on my Amazon gift card balance, and the best part is they’re all almost zero-effort!

  1. Microsoft Rewards (www.bing.com)

Formerly Bing rewards, Microsoft rewards gives you points for using their Bing.com search engine. A $5 Amazon gift card costs 5,250 pts. Each search gives you 5 pts, up to 150 pts/day on a desktop/laptop computer, and up to 100 pts/day on a phone, plus an average of 50 pts/ day by clicking through quizzes and other things. Just sign onto Microsoft with an outlook or hotmail email account and click around on the featured news stories on Bing.com to build up your searches. This means you get about 300 pts/day, so over a month, that works out to 1.7 $5 gift cards, or $8.57 in gift card balance!

2. Swagbucks (www.Swagbucks.com)

For a little higher earning potential, Swagbucks is a great option, but not all of it is zero effort (gasp!). Thankfully, I’m just going to be talking about the things that DO take zero effort. On SB, gift cards are exchanged for ‘Swag Points’, which are earned in a number of different ways, including watching videos, buying things and answering surveys. Simply put, one point here is worth $0.01.

The path of least resistance to earning  points is to watch videos. SB has five video apps which you can download (SBTV, Indymusic.tv, Entertainow, Sportly.tv andLifestylz.tv). Running each on the ‘short clips’ section takes about an hour. Besides clicking an ‘X’ when the screen periodically goes black it’s entirely passive. This works especially well if you’re at a desk for most of the day. Each has a limit of 10 pts/day, making 50 pts/day total. Over a month, this makes 1500 points, which can purchase $15 in gift card balance! You can earn a few more points by actually going to the website and answering surveys but….that almost feels like work, so I’ll maybe do that never. 

Also, you can get a starting bonus if you sign up with this link below!

(http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/swaguser90377068)

3. Amazon Mechanical Turk (https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome)

Mechanical Turk is a service by Amazon for companies to effectively crowdsource menial, data-entry type labor. This includes transcribing text from audio and handwritten forms and image recognition, to filling out surveys and consulting. Most tasks pay less than a dollar, but only take a few a minutes to a few seconds to complete. While it comes the closest to actual work, using it for less than an hour can get you up above the $ 25/month Amazon gift card target!

The best way I’ve found to get optimal cash out is to install the turkopticon Google Chrome plugin and only do tasks for which the employer is highly rated (on an out of 5 scale), to be sure I’m not wasting my time. Then, try to find some short surveys and try a couple! The employers are very honest when estimating time to completion of surveys. I’ve never been denied compensation after I’ve honestly completed a survey, unlike some services I know *cough*Swagbucks*cough*, so I know I’m not wasting my time.

Have you tried these methods? How do you earn free Amazon gift card credit? Let us know in the comments!

-A