Meal Planning

I’m going to be up front and honest, I hate meal planning. It is so laborious. I am not the type A person, I can be to some extent, but I love to have the freedom to go with the flow. The freedom to give in to the whims of my cravings. When those cravings come a knockin’ it’s hard for me to ignore. This has been one of those weeks, nothing has sounded good. I’ve slugged my way through the week, and to be honest I have slipped up big time this week. Oh well, today is a new day to start fresh.

So when I do meal plan I give myself grace, I think that is where I failed this week. Having a few ready to go meals (preferably homemade, so much cheaper!) stocked in the freezer or pantry help when the day gets away from you or your original meal no longer sounds tasty.

I use a method which is referred to as reverse meal planning, when I am not on a kick to clean out the freezer and pantry (more on how I adjust for that). I use to meal plan by picking all these fabulous meals, that would call for gobs of ingredients I didn’t have on hand (thanks pinterest!). I would dutifully write out my grocery list, filled with items that I would only use a fraction of (spices, exotic veggies/ fruits anyone?) Then after a week or so these moldy odds and ends would get pitched or the spices shoved in the back of my spice drawer to be forgotten. My grocery bill was crazy! So I tried a new plan.

On Sundays I get the circulars of the local grocery stores delivered (free!) to my house. After church I take a few quiet minutes to peruse them. I jot down all the food that we like that is on sale and at what store. Now for those of you that hate shopping at multiple stores, I don’t blame you, but sometimes (when your budget is tight) you have to. Thankfully I can typically go to 1 store and get everything I need. Once I find the sales, I look at what I currently have to see what I can make based on what I have and what is on sale. I make a meal plan based on this. I do take to pinterest if my creative juices get clogged (I guess you redeemed yourself here pinterest!)

That is it! So basically unless an item is an absolute staple (i.e. milk, butter, eggs, etc.) I will not purchase it if it isn’t on sale. For example: I hardly ever pay more than $1.99/ lb for chicken breasts. In fact I know that if I am patient enough I can get chicken breasts at my favorite store for $1.77/lb. When they run that sale, I stock up baby! I love grassfed beef, but it is so EXPENSIVE! Again at the same store they will run it on sale for $3.99/lb (everywhere else sells it for $6/lb), I even was able to get it for $2.99/lb once 😀 I won’t pay more than $2.99/lb for roasts (beef), but I live for when they put it on sale for $1.99/lb.

This is where knowing what items typically cost when not on sale, and what the typical sales are, comes in handy. Again I am not a type A personality. I love lists, lists do not love me. In fact they typically run away from me….er get lost…or thrown away or destroyed by the fruits. So if you are like me and you are blessed to have a smart phone, take a picture. Sounds nerdy I know, but it works. Someone recently asked me if the organic maple syrup at Costco was cheaper than the regular maple syrup at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t know! I hadn’t looked at their maple syrup in a while, in fact I hadn’t been to Trader Joe’s in a few months. As fate would have it I need to go to TJ’s a few weeks later. I took a picture of the maple syrup with the price listed below. Then on my next trip to Costco I compared the price. Costco was $2-$3 cheaper! I was so glad that I took that picture because I had run out of maple syrup that week.

So what do you do when your money is really strained or you just need to come up with a little extra cash? Cut the groceries of course! Typically you have to cut money some where (or make more income) and groceries (when you are already on a bare necessities budget) is what gets cut. I sat down and meal planned 4 weeks worth of meals based on my freezer and pantry, then allotted myself $50/ week. It is similar to the above, but the emphasis is on using what you have 1st before buying the sale items. Typically I have my meal plan already written out based on what I have before I even look at the sales. So my grocery list is mainly staples (milk, eggs, etc.) and then only fruits and veggies that are on a great sale. As a sample here is what I purchased this past week:

12 lbs chicken breasts ($1.77/lb!), asparagus, peppers, lettuce, peaches, 2 pineapples, bananas, onions,  3 boxes of pasta, 1 rotisserie chicken, soda (yeah bad habit that needs kicking), and baby food.

My total was $60 for this week, I allowed myself to go over because of the sale on chicken breasts. I only had enough food to get through the 4 weeks on $50, but I really needed to get through 6 weeks. Purchasing the extra chicken will allow me to do that, thankfully my wallet also had the room to allow it. Wait! No milk?  I have cut down on the amount of milk that I serve my children per day, so now I can make a gallon of milk last longer than a week. They each get one small cup a day and we might have to skip a day of milk, but they will live! They still get plenty of calcium from cheese and yogurt that they eat throughout the week. Again cheese is bought in bulk from Costco, so I only need to purchase 1x a month and the yogurt is every other week deal.

I think that about covers it! How do you do grocery budgeting? Do you meal plan?

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Reflections of 2011, Goals for 2012

Looking back at this past year we have made some great strides. We doubled the size of our garden, and the produce picked at the peak of freshness has been carrying us through the fall and winter months. We purchased a large deep freeze for this purpose and to put our purchase of a 1/8 of a cow to good use. We have started purging items we don’t need, selling them to make some extra $$ and organizing the rest. We were blessed to be able to purchase a mini van in great condition for cash, so no car payments!! Praise God!

Andrew learned to walk, climb, and get into almost everything! His vocabulary is expanding and he is speaking in short sentences. Vivian is now reading and has completed level 1 of Hooked on Phonics. She also can count to 100, count by 10’s, and do basic addition. Her handwriting is improving tremendously, and is using her memory verses as copy work. I am so proud of both my children, growing and learning new things! I feel so blessed that I am able to stay at home and watch them grow in knowledge and stature.

Dan started working at a new job around the time Andrew turned one. I feel so happy and blessed that my husband is working in a new job that he loves. He works fairly regular hours compared to his previous job, and the new one has a lot less stress involved. If any one has been in that situation where you or your spouse were in a stressful job situation you understand how much of a relief it is to get out from under it! God has been faithful every step of the way and we are trusting in Him. We aren’t perfect and still stress out about things, but I hope at least that we are getting better. There are still times that we look back where we didn’t see Him in the situation, but once we were through His hands were visible all over it. Thank You Lord for being so good, faithful, and true!!!

Of course the biggest change that happened this year, and will carry over to the next, is we are expecting a new baby! I am currently 17.5 weeks as I am typing this 🙂 I have been starting to feel kicks and twists a little more frequently as the days go by. It is such a blessing to feel the new little one moving inside me! The recent urge to purge and organize has started with this little one. It seems that I go through this with every baby I have sometime in the 2nd trimester. That way I can focus on cleaning, cooking, and last-minute details in the 3rd. This week we have been organizing and packing up the kids old clothes.

We have purged our least favorite outfits, and ones that are stained. The worst will be turned into rags, and then we will donate or sell the rest. Since Vivian is so much older than this baby we are only saving our favorites and classic style clothes. If this baby turns out to be a girl, a lot of the clothes will not be in style when she is old enough to wear them. In my defense we do try to buy mainly classic clothes for this very purpose, but I won’t deny her a few trendy items. Thankfully with boys their clothes don’t go out of style very quickly so we have saved the majority of those. We are very blessed to have the space to store these items because in the long run it will save us money! Soon we will be focusing on purging and organizing toys.

Dan and I have started on our goals for this new year. Not surprisingly it mainly has to do with the baby and saving money. Dan wants to make an effort to not eat out as much, and to cut back on his junk food. I am very proud of my husband for making this a priority! We are also discussing how to more efficiently plant our garden for optimal use. I won’t have as much time this summer with a newborn, but I don’t want the land to lie unused. Even with the baby coming we need the produce that Lord can provide to help with groceries! We are cutting out the pumpkins and squash this year. They take up a lot of room, and we didn’t use them as much as we thought. In their place we will try fruit: strawberries, honeydew melon, and possibly huckleberries.

On the baby front, we are investing in more cloth diapers, so that I can cloth diaper exclusively. That will save us hundreds, even thousands of dollars over the course of this baby’s life (until they are potty trained). In addition I will be trying to line dry our clothes to save on energy. It’s also better for the diapers to be in the sun! I’ve been busy sewing cloth wipes, and as soon as I know the sex I will start on burp rags and receiving blankets. We have been blessed to receive the money to purchase a new infant car seat (ours expired), replace the play gym that was ruined, and purchase a bouncy seat! The bouncy seat was the only used item, and the family before hardly used it, so it is like new! We are trusting in God to provide the finances for the double stroller, cloth diapers, high chair, etc. that we still need. He has provided thus far, so I will continue to trust!

I am praying for another good nurser, so that we won’t have to use formula. I know that some people aren’t able to nurse even if they want to. I had this problem with Vivian, no matter what I did, it was too difficult. Even trying to pump I couldn’t get enough milk, and she would take 30 minutes to drink 4 ozs out of a bottle!!! So believe me if you are in that boat, or have been, I understand!! I am so thankful that God answered my prayers with Andrew and we had minimal problems on that front. I am praying and believing for the same for this little one. Not only will it save us a lot of money, but it helps create a special bond between mother and baby.

In addition we have decided to scale down on birthday parties this year. Just cupcakes and ice cream with the family. Each child will get 1 small toy, the rest will be either clothes, books, or handmade items. Some of those things will not be necessarily new, but new to them. My daughter wants baby blankets, cloth wipes, and cloth diapers for her baby doll. So I will be making those for her. Also she has saved up her money from chores and presents to purchase an American girl doll. I am very proud of her because 1/2 that money she actually worked for and the other 1/2 was gifts. So I will test my skills to see if I can make some outfits for it. She needs a few new dresses as she has outgrown the ones she has. As for Andrew and the other people in our life that we love, I will be busy praying about hand-made/ home-made items to give them as well. We are attempting to scale down as much as possible. As Dave Ramsey says, live like you don’t have money! Oh and my other favorite…beans and rice!!

My personal goals is to become more crafty, expand my sewing skills, be more frugal in the kitchen/ home, be organized, and to make an effort to post more to share!!! Hopefully that will start this week, I would like to share our experience in purging/ organizing clothes & toys. The importance behind it and why it will make your life easier! Then my new project will be menu planning to make the best use of my pantry and freezer. God willing I will do better managing my home for Him this year, and I will be able to share my journey!