Monday, July 29, 2013

Grocery Lists, Meal Planning and Fun Recipe Books

I used to be one of those extreme coupon people, only not nearly as extreme as the ones on TV.  One day I realized that I was getting great bargains and that made me happy.  However, I was getting great bargains on things I didn’t really need or want.  I was coming home with lots of granola bars and paper towels, but not much that I could make a good dinner with.  Also, a lot of the bargains were for unhealthy foods like cookies and fruit gummies.  I’m not against unhealthy foods.  I generally cook with love, rather than low fat or non-fat ingredients.  But in my couponing days, in the name of a good deal, most of the things that came home with me were sugary snacks that most people would not feed their families for dinner.  So, I decided to stop the coupon craze, and I started meal planning instead.  It sounds simple, and now that I’ve been doing it for years, it is simple.  But it was harder in the beginning than I thought it would be.  Keep reading to see how my “system” came to be.

I started by pre-planning meals by the month.  So, for instance, below is an example of next month’s calendar with the meals I am planning on cooking for dinner.  Also pictured below is the food list I print out for grocery shopping (I included July’s food list because I haven’t completed August yet). I split the food shopping list in half based on when I receive my paychecks.  So, I grocery shop for the top half of the sheet with my end of the month check, and I grocery shop for the bottom half with my middle of the month check.

Calendar with meals

Food shopping list

Because I already know what I am cooking, grocery shopping becomes very simple.  I only buy what I need to make the meals that I’ve planned, as well as any necessities such as milk, toothpaste or juice.  And yes, sticking to the list in the beginning was difficult.  But my food bill literally shrunk in half (and I didn’t use coupons), so it was worth the effort that meal planning requires.

Here are some tips on meal planning:
  1. It is okay to repeat meals more than once a month.  I repeat vegetables a lot because my children will only eat a few different types of veggies.  However, I challenge myself to try not to repeat too much in one month’s time because I like variety and I think it’s good for my children to eat different things.
  2. If you have kids, plan the meals based on your schedules.  If your kids are into sports or clubs, time is probably crucial during the week, so I would suggest planning the quickest meals for your busiest days.
  3.  Meal planning doesn’t always work out.  Some days, we have way too much food leftover, so we have spontaneous “leftover” days.  Or sometimes, we decide to go out to eat.  So, plans change and it’s okay.  When this happens, I just shuffle the meals around to the next day, week or even to the next month. 
  4. Don’t stop experimenting.  Once I had enough food to fill a month without any repeats, I stopped looking for new recipes.  Big mistake!  Keep looking for foods that interest you and your family!
  5. Create a recipe book with your kids (see the picture of ours below).  When I first had the meal planning idea, I was basically cooking the same things week after week.  So, I decided to go to the library and take home some cookbooks (with pictures).  My kids and I flipped through the cookbooks and tagged all of the meals that we thought looked good.  Then, we started making them, one night at a time.  We created our own recipe book with a ratings system (3 stars means we love it; 2 stars means it was decent and that we’d try it again; 1 star means we hated it).  Not only did this add new meals to our rotation, it included the kids and got them excited about dinner.  We also have a dessert recipe book.  The kids seem to like that one a little bit more than the dinner book.  J

So, that’s my meal planning system in a nutshell!  Happy planning!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Christmas Shopping Year-round

So, we recently got through the Christmas in July sales, and I believe I even saw some summer “Black Friday” marketing attempts by a retailer that rhymes with Farget.  Is this crazy?  Yes…and no.  Although I am not alone in being someone who shops for Christmas gifts all year long, I know that folks who join me in this madness are few and far between.  Most of the time, I get comments like “You’re crazy” when I tell people about my early Christmas shopping habit.  However, if you’ve read my blog about grocery shopping and dinner lists, you can probably understand a little bit more that budgeting is something I do on a regular basis.  And no, I am not a cheapskate.  I budget so that I can overindulge on things that really matter to me.  

Christmas shopping throughout the year is just another form of managing my budget.  I know most people start buying gifts in November and December.  This is considered normal.  But what I find abnormal is spending a large chunk of money in a very short period of time(unless you have a specific savings account stored away for the holidays) during a time of year when everything is bound to be more expensive, even with the “sale” pricing available during the Christmas season.  Last year, I added a specific toy to my Amazon Wish List at the beginning of the year and made a note of the price when I added it.  The toy was least expensive in the month of June (not really sure why).  As the months progressed, the price increased.  By the time the real Black Friday rolled around, that particular toy was $5 more than it was when I originally added it earlier in the year.  I know this doesn’t work with everything, but sometimes it helps to pay attention to the month to month pricing of something that grabs your eye.  

Buying a few gifts every month, starting in January or February, doesn’t leave a big dent in your wallet come Christmas time, and it also offers you a less stressful shopping experience when the official holiday shopping time arrives.  While everyone else is punching each other in the face and crawling over each other in the aisles on Black Friday, you can just sit back and relax.  

Another benefit to early Christmas shopping is keeping the people you love in mind all year, rather than just during the holiday season.  I live in Florida and most of my family members live up North, so shopping for them throughout the year keeps me connected to them without using social media. While shopping, I think about them and what they may be interested in or what they may find useful.  Sometimes, I’ll shop without any intention of buying anything, and then I’ll see something that is just the perfect gift for someone I love!  Shopping earlier in the year with thoughts of them in my mind is peaceful.  I know that if I left my shopping until the end of the year, it would be a much more nerve -wracking experience, and my family would probably wind up with gifts that aren’t nearly as heartfelt. 

I know early shopping isn’t for everyone, but I urge you to try it at least once.  I promise you that it will be worth it, both financially and mentally!