Meal Planning Monday ~ Save Big, But Still Impress, at Your Summer BBQ!

Today’s Post is By Natalie Marusi of

Summer, once again, seems to be flying by, and already the Fourth of July is knocking on my door. Yep, it’s definitely time to start planning a barbeque for my friends and family. Trouble is, hosting a bash can be expensive, and, although I’d love to, I can’t spend a whole week’s pay on my patriotic party.

Thankfully, little tips here and there can end up being a great help when it comes to saving money and keeping my financial independence intact. So, in the spirit of my love of finding a great deal – and celebrating the U.S. of A., of course, here are three ways to save on summer barbeques this summer. Happy Fourth of July!

Plan ahead. Seriously.

I know, I know, it sounds simple and you’ve heard it before, but, tell the truth, now: How many times have you ended up with way too much food at your summer gathering? Or had to race to the nearest (and often pricy) corner market because you forgot something? Planning ahead, keeping track of the number of guests you will host and knowing how much food you’ll need really will amount to big savings. So, yes, you must make a list and stick to it. Heading into the grocery store with a game plan is one of the easiest ways to spend less for a party. And if, like me, you’re not a pen and paper person, a grocery list app for your smartphone or tablet can be an awesome way to stay organized at the store.

Also, check out the new grocery page,  full of user-friendly features – like the ability to digitally clip coupons to store in your account for printing later and easy item-based searching.

Keep calm and stay simple.

Just check your Martha envy at the door right now, OK? In my heart of hearts, I’d love to throw an elaborate barbeque soirée fully equipped with domestic goddess-worthy cocktails, canapés and gourmet desserts galore. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time – or, let’s be honest, the cash – to put Stewart to shame. However, you don’t have to break the bank to make the occasion special. Choosing one signature cocktail that’s fast and easy to whip up can be the perfect way to impress your guests when you’re on a budget. I can’t wait to try this White Wine Berry Sangria, by Karen from the blog Tasty-Trials . This prepare-in-bulk cocktail has just a few ingredients and combines into a festive Fourth of July libation. And with the potential of some left over chopped fruit, I could add the extra ingredients from the Sangria into a side salad. Simple, festive and multi-use? Done, done and done.

DIY, and SWB (Save Way Big).

Another great way to save on your summer barbeque is by making certain items yourself. Having grilled chicken or ribs? Combine ketchup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and other spices to create your own barbeque sauce. I love this barbeque sauce recipe from Food Network.  Instead of buying a pricy pasta or potato salad at the store, try making it at home – and ahead of time – to save both time and money. Don’t splurge on a cake from the bakery. Delicious? Yes? Expensive? For sure. Rather, choose your favorite cookie recipe to save money and still satisfy your guests’ need for sweets. Another option? Popsicles or otter pops. Buy them in bulk and chuck ’em in the cooler for a treat that’s yummy, nostalgic and, best of all, affordable. Seconds totally allowed.

Natalie Marusin writes for the Online Shopping Report at

Photo credit: A big batch of red, white and blue berry Sangria, like this one from Tasty-Trials, is festive and affordable. (Photo permission granted)


Meal Planning Monday ~ Party Time!

This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

            Let’s talk party food this week!  I love this time of year, not only is it warm but there’s also a lot of different parties and get-togethers going on – Cinco de Mayo, Derby parties, graduations, and baby showers to name a few.  Personally, I love a good grill out…  Hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad – just the thought makes me hungry!  Most of us have our go-to party food we like to make.  For me, it’s Dill Potato Salad and Buffalo Chicken Dip, because both are easy to make and delicious. I thought I’d share some other ideas for party food.  Here’s what I made this past weekend for a girls’ gathering at my house.

Caprese Kabobs ~ These not only are super easy to make, but also delicious.  Fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, skewered on a toothpick. 

Chocolate Fondue ~ Scentsy is coming out with a new fondue line and we were lucky enough to preview it.  We tried the dark chocolate with brownie bites, Rice Krispy treats, and angel food cake pieces for dipping. 

Buffalo Chicken Dip ~ Frank’s Red Hot Sauce has a great recipe for this dip.

Beer Bread with Garlic – Garlic dip and Herb dip ~ This was my first time trying anything from Tastefully Simple and it was great!

Veggie Tray with Peppers, Carrots, and Cucumbers ~ Veggie trays are so simple and great especially on a hot summer day. 

Strawberry Basil Sangria ~ I almost didn’t want to share this with my guests it was so good! 


Strawberry Basil Sangria  (From 


  • ½ lb. of fresh strawberries
  • 1 apple
  • 1 ounce of fresh whole basil leaves
  • 1 bottle of Cline Cellar’s Cool Climate Chardonnay
  • ½ cup organic sugar
  • 1 cup of club soda
  • 1 cup of white grape juice


1. Trim and thinly slice the strawberries.

2. Slice and dice the apple into very small bits.

3. Score the basil leaves with a fork.  (I did this instead of cutting the leaves into strips as I did not want my guests choking on basil while trying to enjoy this drink). Simply just rub the basil leaves gently with a fork in order to release their flavor in the sangria.

4. Layer the fruit, sugar and basil in a large pitcher and let sit for about 10 minutes. This is just to let the sugar absorb the juices from the basil and the fruit. You’ll see it turn a bit red.

5. Add the club soda first and then the remaining liquids.  Stir well and serve.

I used 2 cups of dry champagne instead of the club soda and white grape juice.  You could also use sparkling white grape juice to replace the Chardonnay for a great non-alcoholic treat!