About eight months ago I took a break from blogging. There were many reasons, the most pressing being a complete utter lack of time while trying to maintain balance with both Mr. Oscoey and I working full-time with small kids. To say it was difficult […]
One Year of Blogging Done! Last weekend was the one year anniversary of Oscoey. I can’t believe how quickly the last year has gone! I have learned a lot about blogging over the past year and gotten to know many fabulous bloggers as well. […]
Meal Planning to Save Time and Money
I have heard of the wonderful idea called meal planning many times over the past few years and every time I read a post about it I love the idea of having all of our meals planned out at the start of the month but quickly come to the realization that we are not that great at planning out our meals. We are very last minute dinner makers and our only “planning” is to decide what meat and vegetables we want during our weekly Costco trip and then cobble together a meal based on what else we have lying around. And let me tell you, that is after years of making a serious effort at not just going to the store the day of to buy whatever we want for dinner. I will confess that we used to go to Costco multiple times during the week, sometimes daily, to pick up one or two items (at least we were good at only getting what we needed right?) and make dinner that night. There was no planning involved. It was all very haphazard and as you can guess we ended up throwing out a bunch of food because we would forget what we actually had at home.
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I went back to work a couple of weeks ago so I thought we would try a little bit of meal planning to reduce the stress of trying to figure dinner out every night. I got a full-time job which I am really excited about but I have not worked full-time since my oldest daughter was a preteen so needless to say it will be a huge adjustment for our family. I worked very part-time before and after our 4 year old was born and quit when she was about a year to stay home and I am really appreciative of my time as a stay at home mom but it is time for me to go back to work. I did not have my act together enough to have all of the meal planning ready for all of April but we are going to try it out for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.
Planning Out Grocery Trips
We have made a genuine effort to cut back on our Costco trips and most of the time we are really good at going once a week now. I am still going to the store more than I would like but we have discovered that certain items are cheapest at a particular store and many of the dairy-free items we buy are not at the same store so it leads to multiple outings. Generally throughout the month I go to Target, Whole Foods, and Fred Meyer once or twice each depending on how much dairy-free milk and cheese we go through. Target has the cheapest price on the milk our kids like, Whole Foods has the best price on their yogurt and cheese and Fred Meyer has the best price on soy milk for the adults, the dairy-free yogurt I like and on Luna bars which have become a great source of protein and calcium for our kids and sometimes the only thing I eat for breakfast. The morning rush out the door for us is no joke and many times I do not have time to eat so I always keep a couple of Luna bars in the car to munch on during my morning drive. They are also great for those morning when the kids sleep in and are too tired to eat before we leave. Hands down the family’s favorite flavor is the Chocolate Peppermint flavor. They go super fast in our house!
Once every few months I make a trip to our local Franz Bakery outlet to purchase massive quantities of bread. This particular run netted me so much bread I had to do quite a bit of rearranging to fit everything in the freezer and it only cost us $19.98. It would have been $10.00 but I bought two loaves of gluten-free raisin bread for my peanut butter toast in the morning and they are sadly $5.00 each but they are way more in the regular grocery store and I was able to get an extra pack of hot dog buns out of it so it saved us an extra couple of dollars that way too. Most of it goes in the freezer as soon as we get home and we slowly work through it over a couple of months. My kids love bagels and sandwiches on hot dog buns and at 4 for $5.00 and a free loaf of bread for every $10.00 you spend it is a bargain you can’t beat. Having a freezer full of bread is also a great way to always have a meal on hand. You just need a few extras stored away and you are set for a week even if you have a week where grocery shopping is not in your budget. For this reason we always have peanut butter, sun butter, jam, frozen hamburger patties and some sort of meat for sandwiches on hand. Bagels can also be made easily into breakfast sandwiches with an egg and a little mayo or of course with cream cheese (we buy this brand for our dairy-free people in the house). Since I have a freezer full of bread I also have no qualms about gifting it when requests for food due to financial stress come up in our Buy Nothing group. Sadly this has become a frequent occurrence in our group and 95% of the cases are a genuine need from families that have come upon rough times with no emergency funds.
Meal Planning Motivation
After participating in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge this past January I was amazed at how we were cooking way too much food on a weekly basis. We still have not adjusted to having one less adult in the house and having our daughter home for an extended Christmas break threw off our cooking schedule. In January we also ate less meat and for some reason we just didn’t need to cook more. Our fridge was emptier but we still had plenty to eat. We only had to cook every few days and we still had extras for lunch.
Then came February and we hit a few bumps in the reducing our food waste bandwagon. We hosted a large group of people, threw a birthday party, attended several friend’s birthdays (free lunch!), had major illness in the family and our oldest daughter was in and out for a couple of weekends and we ended up buying a lot of food we didn’t end up needing (I am looking at you lettuce I found in the back of the fridge). I am not even sure if we made our grocery budget because I have not had a chance to look at it. Needless to say we need to make some changes and make more of an effort to reduce our food waste and stay on track with our budget. Cleaning out the fridge this week and finding tons of little containers with a mouthful of food or two was a huge motivator to be more conscious of the food we are buying.
Meal Planning How-to
The basic idea of meal planning is to sit down at the start of the week or month and write out a plan of what you want to eat every day. Some people get very involved and write out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks so that they know exactly what they will eat for every meal. There are a bunch of different ways to write out your meals and you should probably use which ever one makes the most sense to you. Some people make a spreadsheet, use a printed calendar, use a digital calendar, us a planner or even just write it out on a piece of paper and tape it to the fridge. The important thing is to look ahead and see exactly how much food you need to buy without wasting any. A lot of people do this by buying one item that can be used many different ways. For instance, we buy chicken in bulk from Costco and that is our meat for the week. One day we might have fried chicken, another teriyaki chicken, another “basic chicken” and then we would use leftovers on a salad, in soup or even as chicken salad so that the one jumbo pack of chicken lasts the whole week (or even two if you incorporate vegetarian meals as well).
This past month we did this with a ham we bought. My husband found it at Safeway with a 50% off sign and the entire 20lb ham ended up costing us about $7.50. It was a steal! Mr. Oscoey heated it up with the sous vide so it would not dry out and then sliced a large chunk of it. We then ate it over rice with steamed vegetables, in sandwiches and also cold straight from the bag (our kids’ favorite method of consumption). He also made a delicious ham broth out of the bone and used that to make a lentil soup that also used up some carrots in our fridge. We still have a lot left that we sliced and put into the freezer.
Getting Started with Meal Planning
We are going to start our mini-meal plan adventure next week. This week we have a wonky schedule due to the flu going through our house and nobody is eating their normal meals. Next week is Spring Break but neither my husband or I can take any time off since we were home so much with the kids this past week. On Friday I am going to sit down and finalize a plan for just our dinners for the week. We have sandwich stuff for lunches and I will just need to buy some fresh fruit this weekend and breakfast is usually toast, oatmeal or cereal with eggs. Baby steps are the key to making any change in our household!
Our plan will be something like:
Sunday: chicken, rice, roasted Brussels sprouts
Monday: leftover chicken, steamed peas/salad, rice
Wednesday: chicken nuggets, steamed green beans, carb (Dance Night so we have to eat quickly and early)
Thursday: chicken cooked a new way, Beans, salad/corn
Friday: My husband usually comes home early enough on Fridays to cook dinner so I will have to see what he is thinking but I have a feeling we will be having more chicken
Saturday: Grocery shopping day! We will see what new meat we buy for the week and go from there!
It will be interesting to see how the week plays out and how well we stick to our plan! Have you tried meal planning with any success?
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We have come to the end of our Uber Frugal Month Challenge and we were pretty successful! We kept to our super low grocery budget, were mindful about our purchases and had some great discussions about where we want our life to head and what we need to do to get us there. Even though we had an expensive month with a hot water heater replacement and unexpected car repairs we were still within budget on the expenses we were focusing on.
One of our main focuses this month was our food. I am sure that if you have been following my posts on Instagram and Twitter displaying some of the meals we have eaten that we tend to eat the same thing over and over again. That is one of the ways we save money. We bought a huge chunk of pork from Costco and my husband broke it down and made several things out of it including breakfast sausage, garlic meatballs, and what we call basic cooked pork which is pork cooked in a pan with salt and pepper. Basic cooked pork is very versatile and you can add it to all sorts of dishes such as salads, burritos, over rice, in sandwiches and anything else you could think of. We also ate much healthier this month with many vegetables and more vegetarian meals which I am proud that our meat-loving family was able to do with very little fuss. Our goal was to spend $500 on groceries for January and we ended up spending $430.36! We did this without creating a large deficit in our pantry either and made sure to stock up on our basics as we ran out of them. Too many people fall into the trap of cutting way back on groceries one month and then over spending the next because they run out of basics. We will probably need to buy a few such as rice, flour and more vegetables next month but we are not out of “everything” so we should still be able to keep within our budget. Yay!
One of the things we also did to be Uber Frugal was to cut back on our outings from the house that cost money. This was pretty easy for us since our kids spent most of the first half of January miserable with colds but it did lead to some mischief making due to antsy children. We did purchase a membership to the Pacific Science Center which we will be using regularly and will give us a discount on summer camps but for us the $140.00 over the course of a year was well spent. Sundays there is free parking and we always pack a lunch so the cost per visit if we go only 6 times this year will be less than $25 for our family of four (oldest will have to use free guest passes when she is in town) which comes out to a little over $5 per person which isn’t bad at all. The more we go the better the deal too!
When we were doing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge we noticed that we spent quite a bit of money on clothes last year so part of our focus this month was to reduce that. We were able to score some brand new thick leggings for our daughter and a bunch of clothes for our son in the next size up from our local Buy Nothing group. We also passed on some clothes that our kids have outgrown and other household items that we no longer needed. I am a huge fan of the Buy Nothing Project! We have both given and received some awesome items from the group. Our group has bonded quite a bit and there was even a meetup this month for group members that we missed but I am super excited to make the next one.
Another frugal activity I participated in was walking this month. I have a friend that I walk with pretty regularly but we had gotten out of the groove with the holidays and sick kids. We made an extra effort this month and were able to meet almost weekly for our 2+ mile walk through a nicer neighborhood with plenty of gorgeous views. Fitness is a huge part of being frugal because when you are unhealthy it will cost you more in health expenses. Walking is a great free activity and it also gets you out getting to know your neighborhood.
My biggest takeaway from this month’s challenge was how creative being Uber Frugal made us. We ate some interesting meals and had great fun thinking outside our box with taking the kids for a walk in the rain, reducing our clothing spending and figuring out how to reach our financial goals on paper. We were previously stuck in a spending rut and this month’s challenge was an awesome way for us to get out of it. I am excited for all of our frugalness next month and to see how it will change our spending over the long term.
How did the Uber Frugal Month change your habits?
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Well dear readers, week 2 of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge went off the rails a little bit. We had a busy week with sick kids and another family member was ill so I have not done the last 4 or 5 daily tasks from the UFM challenge. I skimmed the emails, but I did not have time to go through and read all of the articles. My goal this week is to catch back up on the reading and sit down with my husband and talk some more about the challenge and complete our tasks.
We did a decent job at keeping our spending down this week. We ran out of coffee though so I had to make a quick trip to Costco (our favorite place to shop) to pick some up. In an effort to prevent a second trip over the weekend I spent some time looking over our supplies and made a bare bones list. Although it may look like we bought a ton, we were basically out of everything. I bought three bunches of bananas so I can replenish our dried banana chip supply (recipe here), raisins (sometimes the only fruit my picky eater will eat), greens, gluten-free bread, fresh fruit, peanuts (a great protein snack), applesauce pouches for lunches and of course diapers. I also bought some vitamin D since we are almost out and they were on sale. I was hoping to buy some pears to make pear sauce out of in a couple of weeks but they were out. The only “extra” I bought was the broccoli and that was only because my son insisted on buying it and who can say no to a kid that wants broccoli?
We did end up having to stop at the store over the weekend to pick up some vegan cheese for the kids and their milk was on sale so we grabbed a bottle of that as well. Our splurge purchase of the week was a pack of popsicles ($4.00) that we ended up getting for the kids. They have been basically sick for three weeks straight and we have been making popsicles out of the juice we have on hand that they never drink but our kids rebelled and we gave in and bought them “real” popsicles. Sometimes you just have to give in to your kids when they are sick so they will get enough fluids. We ended up spending about $145 on groceries for the week but that included high ticket items such as diapers, vitamins and coffee so we did pretty good. We are still under our grocery budget for the month and we should be able to avoid buying groceries for at least another week (although as I was typing this my husband informed me we are almost out of toilet paper).
I will say that you should make your own applesauce and put it in reusable pouches if you can. It is super easy and homemade applesauce tastes so much better (here is my pear sauce recipe). I usually have a supply of both apple and pear sauce in my freezer as well as some in jars in the pantry but this year was not a good year for apples and my usual source of free apples had none to spare. We were super busy this fall with back to school shenanigans and applesauce making did not happen. Needless to say I am not happy about our applesauce pouch habit but sometimes when life gets hectic you have to find small ways to make it easier and buying applesauce pouches so that my kids will have something in their lunches that they will actually eat is one of the ways I am doing that right now.
We did however this week do an excellent job of eating things out of the pantry and the freezer. We pulled these corn tortillas out of the freezer to make both quesadillas and burritos this week and they were delicious! My husband also made homemade chicken stock and made a baked potato soup out of it that was delicious. We used up some sweet potatoes and the last of the Brussels sprouts, found some real (as in cow milk, not non-dairy) ice cream in the freezer to make Banana’s Foster after the kids went to bed. My husband also made bagels from scratch instead of going to the store to buy them and the kids loved eating them toasted with their non-dairy cream cheese. I think next week will be a challenge for us not to run to the store. I did not buy meat at Costco when I went because we had a bunch of turkey that needed to be eaten so next week’s meals will probably lean towards the vegetarian side. We do have a freezer meal stashed away that could last a couple of meals if we stretch it with rice or something similar. It will be interesting to see what meals we come up with in the next week.
We did have a couple of major expenses come up this week. The first being the leak I discovered in my car. I parked it outside in the rain for the first time in a while and when I got back in water was dripping from the lights over my head. We are still under warranty and I am hoping the repair will be covered but I anticipate being without a car for a while since they will have to dry it out. I can’t get the car in for a couple of weeks though and still get a loaner car so I am parking it indoors as much as possible. The other major expense that came up is our hot water heater needs to be replaced. We knew when we moved in two years ago that it only had 2-3 years of life left before we would need to replace it. It is on our short list of repairs that we will be doing this year and I was planning on having it done sometime in March but when I went to do laundry yesterday we discovered it was leaking all over the laundry room floor. Needless to say we will be taking care of that ASAP. We have the repairman scheduled for this week and luckily since we were planning on replacing it soon we have the money set aside for it.
So far I have really enjoyed the UFM Challenge. It has made us rethink our purchases and we have definitely paused before buying something and thought about whether or not we really need it. One of the things that has stood out to me is how expensive it is to feed our kids. I am looking forward to when our garden is in full production and we will have nearly free fresh produce every day!
How are you being frugal this week?
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