How to Save on Groceries: Meal Planning

Well, we left off last week with a little bit of homework: make a monthly budget for groceries. If you were surprised at how much you’ve been spending on groceries, it’s okay. Through this series we will learn how to reduce that monthly amount. Some of you may even cut it in half! Now that you have a number to work with, let’s talk about practical ways we can lower that number. The first place to start is meal planning.

Meal planning sounds scary. When I say “meal planning,” what comes to mind? Does it sound a little scary? Time consuming? What if I said that meal planning could save you tons of time and money? Not only could it save you, it will. How often each week are you running to the grocery store to grab ingredients for dinner? How often do you give up on dinner because you didn’t have time to cook/plan and grab fast food or take out? With a little planning, you could save numerous trips to the store and take the stress out of meal time.

What is meal planning? Meal planning is simply sitting down at the beginning of the week/every other week/month (depends on how often you would like to go shopping) with your calendar and recipes and making a plan. In our family, I know that I have a set amount of cash for the month. When it’s gone, it’s gone. We divide the cash in half, and refill our money envelops on the 1st and 15th each month, so I plan on two main grocery trips per month (each time the envelops are refilled). I sit down with our family calendar (so I know when a family member will be gone and can plan accordingly) and recipes and a notepad. I plan every meal (three meals a day for two weeks…even plan nights for eating out or eating leftovers…it’s better to plan than not to plan). I make the grocery list from the recipes I planned. Then I go through the list to see what I already have on hand and cross that off the list. Then, I’m ready to shop!

What if our plans change? A meal plan should be flexible! If you planned to cook spaghetti tonight, and your husband calls and asks if the family can go to the in-laws to eat dinner, go! Put your spaghetti in the freezer and save it for another time (that’s one less meal that you have to plan in the future).

Do I really have to plan every single meal? Yes. Planning everything ensures that all of the ingredients for every meal are purchased. Even if you plan to have cereal every single morning for two weeks, if you plan for it, you know it will be there and won’t run out. I plan cereal for breakfast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every single week.

Can you give me an example? Yep. I love examples. Here’s our meal plan for this week…

  • Monday: B- cereal and fruit, L-PB&J, D- @parents because husband was working
  • Tuesday: B- bagels and fruit, L- Salad/chicken nuggets, D- date night out
  • Wednesday: B- cereal and fruit, L- PB&J, D- Burrito bowls with chips and salsa
  • Thursday: B- bagels and fruit, L- out, D- I have bookclub, so the family is eating frozen pizza while I’m gone.
  • Friday: B- cereal and fruit, L- deli sandwich, D- out
  • Saturday: B- pancakes, L- salad/chicken nuggets, D- Swedish Meatballs and veggies
  • Sunday: B- bagels and fruit, L- leftovers, D- Grilled pork chops and baked potatoes

Are there any tools that can simplify the process? Yes! I have used two tools that I particularly love. The first one is called Emeals. I discovered Emeals after I have my second daughter and was in the newborn-no-sleep-phase. Emeals made meal planning so easy. Basically, you pick one of their numerous plans (i.e. family plan for Aldi/Kroger/Wal-Mart or plan for 2 people) and they generate a meal plan and grocery list for you every week. The plans are super affordable (around $5/month) and it will save you so much time and money. The recipes are very family friendly (for those of you that cater to picky eaters). I used Emeals for about a year, and then missed some of my favorite recipes that I hadn’t made in a while. So I switched to Plan to Eat. To use Plan to Eat (also $5/month), you load in all of your favorite recipes, or clip them from websites (so convenient!), and simply drag them into your meal plan (calendar). Plan to Eat automatically generates your grocery list. You can visit these sites to learn more about them, but I have used them both and they are both fantastic and well worth the $5/month.

Convinced yet? Do you think that meal planning could save you a little time, money and sanity? Please, leave comments with any questions you may have! For next week, try meal planning! See how you like it. I’ll meet you back here next week to talk about more ways to save on groceries.

 

from the archives

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Creating a Budget on an Irregular Income

Maybe you are someone that works on commission, or maybe your work is seasonal. Whatever the case may be, you’re income is irregular. When I say irregular, I mean that monthly, the amount varies as opposed to a salaried employee where income is generally divided evenly over the course of a year. Irregular income can make budgeting tricky. Budgeting is still of vital importance, because if you do not have a plan for the money you bring in, it is more likely to be spent in other ways. One of the biggest temptations for people on variable budgets is to overspend in prosperous months. A little bit of planning can help you prepare for the times of plenty and the lean times.

The first step to creating a budget on an irregular income is to list all of the expenses required for you to live each month (i.e. mortgage, food, clothing, utilities, gas, insurance, etc.).

Next, go through each category you listed and rank them in order of importance. Typically, the four most important expenses are food, housing, clothing and transportation. After everything is ranked, you have a working budget.

When you receive a paycheck, simply pay from the top down of your budget. If not everything is covered in one check, just pick up where you left off with the next paycheck. It can be tricky, and take some time to keep track of, but managing your money, no matter how irregular, is a sure way to build financial health.

Here are some other helpful articles for budgeting on an irregular income:

School/Work Lunch Ideas

One of the easiest ways to save money is to pack lunches. Say, you eat out everyday with co-workers and you spend $10 each day, that adds up to about $200 per month or $2400 per year! That’s huge! That’s $2400 that could have been invested in a retirement account, or paid off debt. Instead of going out to lunch everyday, why not spend a little time the night before and pack your lunch. It will save you money and calories! Here are some easy ideas for school lunches for the kiddos, or for yourself!

  • Classic: Peanut butter and jelly. Who doesn’t love a good ole PB&J? If you’ve tired of this timeless combination, try some variations like peanut butter and banana (my personal favorite), or peanut butter and honey. Branch out and try different nut butters like almond butter or hazelnut spread.
  • Chicken salad: Mix chopped chicken (canned or rotisserie), light mayo, nuts, apples, grapes and a little cayenne pepper and you can have great chicken salad to spread on bread, wrap in a tortilla or eat with crackers.
  • Salad: In a large container, mix your favorite greens (my favorite is spinach and romaine) with some veggies, nuts, a little cheese and the dressing on the side. When you’re ready to eat, pour in the dressing, put on the top and shake to toss.
  • Leftovers: Don’t throw out the leftovers from dinner the night before! Pop them in a container and it will be easy to grab and go in the morning.

Hope that gives you a few ideas to get you started saving!

How to Save on Groceries: Meal Planning

Well, we left off last week with a little bit of homework: make a monthly budget for groceries. If you were surprised at how much you’ve been spending on groceries, it’s okay. Through this series we will learn how to reduce that monthly amount. Some of you may even cut it in half! Now that you have a number to work with, let’s talk about practical ways we can lower that number. The first place to start is meal planning.

Meal planning sounds scary. When I say “meal planning,” what comes to mind? Does it sound a little scary? Time consuming? What if I said that meal planning could save you tons of time and money? Not only could it save you, it will. How often each week are you running to the grocery store to grab ingredients for dinner? How often do you give up on dinner because you didn’t have time to cook/plan and grab fast food or take out? With a little planning, you could save numerous trips to the store and take the stress out of meal time.

What is meal planning? Meal planning is simply sitting down at the beginning of the week/every other week/month (depends on how often you would like to go shopping) with your calendar and recipes and making a plan. In our family, I know that I have a set amount of cash for the month. When it’s gone, it’s gone. We divide the cash in half, and refill our money envelops on the 1st and 15th each month, so I plan on two main grocery trips per month (each time the envelops are refilled). I sit down with our family calendar (so I know when a family member will be gone and can plan accordingly) and recipes and a notepad. I plan every meal (three meals a day for two weeks…even plan nights for eating out or eating leftovers…it’s better to plan than not to plan). I make the grocery list from the recipes I planned. Then I go through the list to see what I already have on hand and cross that off the list. Then, I’m ready to shop!

What if our plans change? A meal plan should be flexible! If you planned to cook spaghetti tonight, and your husband calls and asks if the family can go to the in-laws to eat dinner, go! Put your spaghetti in the freezer and save it for another time (that’s one less meal that you have to plan in the future).

Do I really have to plan every single meal? Yes. Planning everything ensures that all of the ingredients for every meal are purchased. Even if you plan to have cereal every single morning for two weeks, if you plan for it, you know it will be there and won’t run out. I plan cereal for breakfast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every single week.

Can you give me an example? Yep. I love examples. Here’s our meal plan for this week…

  • Monday: B- cereal and fruit, L-PB&J, D- @parents because husband was working
  • Tuesday: B- bagels and fruit, L- Salad/chicken nuggets, D- date night out
  • Wednesday: B- cereal and fruit, L- PB&J, D- Burrito bowls with chips and salsa
  • Thursday: B- bagels and fruit, L- out, D- I have bookclub, so the family is eating frozen pizza while I’m gone.
  • Friday: B- cereal and fruit, L- deli sandwich, D- out
  • Saturday: B- pancakes, L- salad/chicken nuggets, D- Swedish Meatballs and veggies
  • Sunday: B- bagels and fruit, L- leftovers, D- Grilled pork chops and baked potatoes

Are there any tools that can simplify the process? Yes! I have used two tools that I particularly love. The first one is called Emeals. I discovered Emeals after I have my second daughter and was in the newborn-no-sleep-phase. Emeals made meal planning so easy. Basically, you pick one of their numerous plans (i.e. family plan for Aldi/Kroger/Wal-Mart or plan for 2 people) and they generate a meal plan and grocery list for you every week. The plans are super affordable (around $5/month) and it will save you so much time and money. The recipes are very family friendly (for those of you that cater to picky eaters). I used Emeals for about a year, and then missed some of my favorite recipes that I hadn’t made in a while. So I switched to Plan to Eat. To use Plan to Eat (also $5/month), you load in all of your favorite recipes, or clip them from websites (so convenient!), and simply drag them into your meal plan (calendar). Plan to Eat automatically generates your grocery list. You can visit these sites to learn more about them, but I have used them both and they are both fantastic and well worth the $5/month.

Convinced yet? Do you think that meal planning could save you a little time, money and sanity? Please, leave comments with any questions you may have! For next week, try meal planning! See how you like it. I’ll meet you back here next week to talk about more ways to save on groceries.

How to Save on Groceries

Let’s face it, we all have to eat. It’s a fact of life. If we want to live, we must feed ourselves.

Luckily for us, we have a great deal of options when it comes to food. We can decide where to get our food, how much we want to spend on food, what types of food we want to eat, etc. When it comes to budgeting, food is something that must be considered and included into any good monthly budget. With a little thought and planning, we could drastically decrease the amount we spend each month on food. For the next few weeks, we will be talking about different things we can do to make savings happen.

First things first, you must make a budget. If you do not have a budget, read the small series on budgeting, then meet me back here. To come up with the number to budget for groceries/eating out, look back at the past few months and start there. Chances are, over the next few months you will be able to shave that number down, but start where you are now.

Once you have a fixed amount to spend on groceries for the month, I recommend getting the money out of the bank at the beginning of the month. If you see how much money you have to spend, you are less likely to overspend. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You will be force to plan and allocate accordingly to stretch your money for the month.

After a few months of using cash, it becomes fun! It’s a game to see if you can make it to the end of the month (the first month you might eat Ramen Noodles for the last week!), or even have money left over!

Next week, we will talk about something that I love to do and have been doing for about six years now…meal planning! Your homework for this week is to come up with a realistic, workable grocery budget. Have a great week!

 

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

It’s that time of year again! Christmas decorations are popping up everywhere, there’s a chill in the air, and you can already imagine your credit card balance increasing over the next few weeks. With the busiest shopping day of the year quickly approaching, you can keep your gift spending under control with a little planning. Ideally, setting aside a set amount monthly throughout the year is the best way to provide a stress-free gift shopping experience, but if you didn’t think that far ahead (like me), here are some tips to help your shopping not to get out of hand.

  • Make a list. If you are like me, this step sounds really exciting. I love to make a list. On this list, write down every person that you would like to give a gift. After each person is listed, put the gift that you would like to get them by their name.
  • Do your research. After you know what you are looking for, shop around online to price the items at different retailers. Write down the best price you can find by each gift. After you have all of your prices, add them together. This number is your total shopping budget. 
  • Evaluate. If your total budget is more than you wanted to spend, reevaluate the list and make the necessary changes.
  • Shop. Watch newspaper ads and commercials for promotional events. Take advantage of any coupons available. Your goal should be to buy each gift on or below the amount you budgeted.
  • Cash if you can. When shopping, take your budgeted shopping amount in cash. When it’s gone, it’s gone. If you have cash, you are more likely to spend less and plan more. If you are shopping online, try to use a debit card instead of a credit card. Divide your shopping according to your pay schedule so you won’t be tempted to use a credit card. There’s nothing worse than a huge credit card bill in January.
  • Save on wrapping. When you shop, make sure you ask for boxes or any kind of gift wrap they offer complementary. Save money on wrapping paper by using newspaper or a large roll of butcher paper. Let the kids decorate it!

So let’s all get to planning and have a wonderful, stress-free holiday season!

Halloween on a Budget

We are excited about Halloween at our house. The kids had their costumes picked out in August (my oldest will be a princess, youngest will be a ladybug) and can hardly wait to go trick-or-treating. This will be our first year to officially trick-or-treat since my oldest is only three! Our weekend is full of local fall festivals and our candy is ready to hand out. With all the festivities, Halloween can get a little pricey. Here are some tips to stay on budget this Halloween:

  • Make the costumes at home- I remember my grandmother making most of our costumes growing up. She would sew each one, and it probably took her hours to complete. Unfortunately, the sewing gene did not get passed along to me, so here are some easy (most require no sewing at all) and inexpensive homemade costume ideas.
  • Making candy instead of buying candy- A bulk bag of Halloween candy is expensive! If you get enough to feed a neighborhood of kids, you’re looking at about $20! Why not bake some cookies, make some rice krispie treats, or dip some caramel apples instead? You can get the kids involved and individually wrap treats to hand out. You will save money and spend some quality time with the family.
  • Decorate with things around the house- I love the idea of using mason jars or milk jugs to decorate. In the South, who doesn’t have a few extra mason jars?

What kind of Halloween traditions do you have in your family? Do you take the kids trick-or-treating? Decorate the house? Or are you more into hayrides and fall festivals?  

If you have pictures from Halloween we would love to see them!! Simply upload them to our Facebook page at facebook.com/bankoffayettecounty.

Budgeting 102: More Tips

If you are still working out the kinks in your budget, these tips may help…

1) Give yourself some time. After creating your initial list of income and expenses, monitor your spending for at least a few more weeks to catch the things you forgot. Little things really do add up and if they are not taken into account, your budget may not hold up under the pressure.

2) Prioritize your list. Once you do have a complete list of expenses, put them in your own order of importance. You may find that you were not spending in line with your values. If you have a goal of early retirement, or paying for your kids college, it should be reflected in your spending. Are you planning for your goals, or spending it on other stuff…like lattes?

3) Don’t beat yourself up. If you get too hard on yourself for past mistakes, you will fail at creating a new working system. Accept that mistakes happen and try to work up some excitement for creating a new financial future for yourself.

4) Give yourself some fun money.  We all need a little money for the stuff we just want to buy. My husband and I allocate allowance for each of us, and we get it in cash at the beginning of every month. We can spend our money on whatever we want, and can’t comment on how the other spends their allowance. If you don’t have any spending money, you will feel deprived. Completely depriving ourselves can lead to huge splurges in the future that may derail a budget altogether. Do not set yourself up to fail.

5) Remember the “Miscellaneous”. Every budget needs a small amount dedicated to stuff that happens. Tires pop. Kids get sick. Dogs hurt themselves. Stuff just happens. If you don’t have money in your budget set aside for the “darn its”, you’ll find another category taking the hit.

6) Automate as much as possible. I love automating my savings so I don’t even see the money before we squirrel it away. It’s much harder to spend something you never really felt like you had. Why do you think the government takes their cut out before you even see your paycheck? If you automatically fund a Roth IRA or whatever, you’ll be truly surprised how much you can save up with just a little time.

Hope these tips help keep you on track. Good luck!

*Some of these tips are from www.budgetingthefunstuff.com.