Just recently we decided it was time to get serious again about following a budget (translation: stop overspending through impulse purchases). When Zack & I were living in Detroit and unemployed we followed Dave Ramsey’s cash envelope system. We didn’t overspend our already too-tight budget — I can’t believe that was almost seven years ago now! — and it was wildly successful for our family. Since then, our discipline for budgeting and controlling our spending has dwindled despite knowing these principles. We’re both turning thirty this year and we’re ready to change the financial forecast of our future. This is an exciting time!
There are two areas we usually overspend (and I bet they’re the same for you): groceries and entertainment. With Zack’s work schedule, we would often attempt to make up our lost family time by going out to eat. And my goodness that is such a bad decision. Going out to eat with young children is rarely relaxing ;) – we were rushing to eat a $50 meal and failing to realize how little it was actually helping our family. #lessonlearned
So in December we made the family decision to get back on a budget. Not so much because we were having trouble making our dollar stretch but more so because we want our money to work hard for us, not the other way around.
The first category where we knew we could make a big impact was with grocery shopping and meal planning. When you’re trying to free up money to get ahead, Dave says to “eat beans and rice, rice and beans”. While we are getting serious about eating efficiently and inexpensively, we do like to get creative and jazz it up a bit.
I know. I used to roll my eyes at the words “meal planning” but now I see it as a fun challenge to stop wasting: food, time, and our money.
How meal planning has blessed our family far beyond any amount of saved money:
– by removing any stress when we’d sit down to outline our monthly income and expenses
– by providing more family time at home (something I highly value)
– by increasing our communication (Zack may not see that as a blessing? Kidding…)
– by helping me to feel more organized (no more “what’s for dinner?!” scramble at 6pm)
– by stopping me from over-purchasing. We live in a small space and while our pantry should be well-stocked it doesn’t need to be over-stocked. I’m learning there’s a difference.
– by encouraging me to bake more. Homemade chocolate chip cookies will always win over a package of Oreos :) Let’s just say we’re all happier about this one.
My husband is a post-production Producer. I spend most of my day “doing”: playing, creating, singing, cuddling, reading. We have two littles at home under 2 years of age. We also share a family vehicle. All of these things provide happy “challenges”; meal planning is a huge part of our family having successful, happy days.
Meal planning can be a simple task! Here are my best tips:
1. use your crock-pot: cook your meat, make apple sauce, create “one pot meals”, and more!
2. plan your weekly recipes around a theme: soup / salad / sammies, Italian dishes, Tex-Mex dishes, etc. Unique but similar dishes share many ingredients, making your dollar stretch further
3. divide leftovers into individual containers for easy reheating/packing a lunch
4. keep a stock of the ingredients for your favorite quickie lunch. Mine is Chicken Salad: mix a combination of onion, celery, mayonnaise, cooked shredded chicken, cranberries, apples, pears, candied walnuts, and salt & pepper. This can be served over lettuce, with crackers, on bread or eaten plain. So yum!
5. having food that’s ready-to-serve makes lunchtime (and naptime) a breeze! I usually prep a few things over the weekend, like Chicken Salad or Pasta Salad
6. using Pinterest can help you serve delicious & affordable meals — here’s my recipe board if you want to see what I’ve been making. I look for recipes with a reasonable number of ingredients, things I know I’ll use until it’s completely gone. It can be easy for certain ingredients to spoil before they’re used up (like celery, sour cream, or salad dressing), so this is where tip #2 is helpful!
7. double the vegetables and grains in a recipe but stick to the original quantity of meat (this keeps your family full without doubling your grocery costs).
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The first part of meal planning is knowing (and believing) why you’re following a plan each week/month. When you’re aware of your budget you can serve your family nourishing meals without over-spending. Plan out your monthly budget and be encouraged knowing you’re meeting your financial goals.
The second part to meal planning is learning how to put the plan into action. What exactly do you buy? What kind of meals can you make? How do you stop from over-spending? Stay tuned…