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Posts tagged ‘frugal’

Meal Planning — Spending Less

menu planAs part of my concentrated effort to pay off my car, my dear husband and I are going back to basics of saving at the grocery store.  The first thing we did was go through the freezer and make sure our freezer inventory was up to date.  There a several ways to keep track of your inventory.  The easiest is probably to just keep it in a handwritten notebook and update as you use up the contents.  This gives us a starting place.

With the inventory in place, I now begin the week’s plan.  Normally on Sunday, we will have a larger piece of meat.  We will then take the leftovers of this and reuse in a different meal later in the week.  In this way, we don’t waste the leftovers and it doesn’t feel like we are eating leftovers every other day.

For instance, this week I am going to make roasted chicken and vegetables for Sunday’s dinner.  On Tuesday, we will take the leftovers of the chicken and make a chicken vegetable soup.  Roasted chicken is one of my favorite leftovers as there are so many ways to reuse.   This week we are making chicken vegetable soup, but we could have also used the leftovers to make enchiladas, grilled chicken for salad, chicken tacos.  The chicken I choose is a six pounder, so we will likely have enough to freeze even after we make the soup.  Any leftovers of the soup will also be frozen and I will take them in my lunch in the next 6 to 8 weeks.  Because it is still cold, we will also have chili this week.  When we make chili we make a huge pot.  My dear husband shares with friends and relatives, we will eat leftovers and we will freeze some for later.

At our home, we plan the menu together and make our grocery list based on the plan.  We also keep a list on the fridge of staples we are low on so we don’t forget, or worse get to the grocery and say “do we need _____” and end up overspending buying stuff we don’t need.  If there is a really good deal on a staple we love, we will stock up a bit.  However, we try not to have too much more than we will use in a month’s time.  We like to shop together, as this makes us more accountable.  We never ever go hungry — we always overspend when we are hungry.

During the week my dear husband does all of the cooking, following the plan. Using a dry/erase marker, I put the menu on the fridge for him.

I made a magnetic border for the fridge using duct tape and magnetic strips.  I don’t think it is Pinterest quality, but it does the job.

tools for menu board

border

The Power of Cash

cash

Three years ago, I started a journey to get debt-free.  All of my adult life, I have had some sort of debt.  It was the “normal” debt (credit cards, auto, mortgage).  When I began my journey as a newly single lady, I knew I had to get more control.  What I have found on this journey is that many of us seem to live just a little above our income.  This puts us in a vicious circle of paying one thing, creating new debt, paying it down and on and on.  When I met my dear husband, I found there is a better way to live.  So for the past three years, not only have I been living below my income level — I have been dumping debt.  I am now to the point I will be debt free in three months.

When I started the journey, the first thing I did was sit down and see exactly how much debt I had.  I was shocked when I saw the real numbers.  Although I had always knew about what my bills were, I really wasn’t doing much to get out of debt.  Debt is normal and everyone has it, right???  The number scared me — I didn’t even have any mortgage debt and I was almost $40,000 in debt.  A large part of this was my car which I had just purchased — brand new.  I also had multiple credit cards I had used throughout my divorce.  This turned out to be about $10,000.  It was time to get serious.

The first big change I made is I started using cash for most purchases. What I found is I didn’t spend nearly as much money when I really saw what things cost.  The other thing we do each month is put our budget in writing.  As a part of this budget process, I notate the cash line items.  I get paid twice a month, so I break our budget into two parts.

Before beginning my debt-free journey, I used to eat out every day.  Most days, this was at a “sit-down” restaurant.  I was averaging $15 a day for lunch.  This is more than $300 a month — just for eating out at lunch.  Once I realized this, I stopped doing this immediately.  I still occasionally eat out, but it comes out of my “personal” budget.  This is the same budget I use for hair care and any other pampering.  I on purpose made this dollar amount as small as possible to make me think before I do.  This extra money went directly to paying down the debt.

Groceries were another weak area for me and frankly my dear husband, who is more frugal by nature than I am.  We both felt we were a little out of control on grocery spending, so we came up with a monthly dollar amount comfortable for both of us, but less than we were spending.  I divided this number two and it is the amount of cash I withdraw each month for this category.  For both of us, our grocery spending went way down because we had a finite amount of cash.  Again this “extra” money goes toward debt.

As you all know, not every month is the same and there are some months where you know you are going to spend more.  How we managed this is any cash leftover at the end of the month stays in the envelope.  We then use the extra cash on months we have bigger grocery expenditures.  In our case, we had a nice little amount built up as we went into the holidays.  We also budgeted a little bit extra in December for all of the holiday gatherings and parties.

We do still use a card for gas purchases.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, when you go to get gas, it is so much easier to pay at the pump.  The other reason is we really track our gas purchases and adjust our budget on a monthly basis.  I have a very long commute to my full time job and it is important to stay on track.

Just by realizing what I was really spending and changing it to a cash mentality, I was able to add this “extra” money to my debt.  As the months turn into Spring, I will talk more about how I dumped all my debt and got to where I am today.  I hope you enjoy my journey.

Don’t Be Suprised in 2015

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As we are all putting our houses back in order from the 2014 Holiday, this is a good time to begin thinking about 2015.  There is one thing for certain in life — birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations comes at the same time every year.  As we were doing our goal setting for 2015, we set aside a budget category for gifts and vacations.  We started with birthdays.  We wrote down everyone we give a gift to on their birthday and wrote down the amounts.  We then looked at Christmas.  We set the amount we were going to spend on each person on our list and then added it up, this became our gift budget.

Next we looked at vacation.  We know how many vacations we plan on taking in 2015 and set out budget amount for each of these vacations.  After this was completed.  We took the total amount and divided it by 12.  This is the amount we need to set aside each month.  By doing it this way, we always have money available for birthdays or other celebrations.  This makes the holidays and vacations much more stress free.

The reason we combine these categories is two-fold.  First, we try to not make our budget too complicated.  We feel by having more general categories it gives us more flexibility.  The reason it make sense to combine these two categories is this is the first area we would cut if we needed to tighten our budget in any way.

The New Year — Setting Goals

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I have heard goals not acted upon are really just wishes. On New Year’s Day, we sat down and set our goals for 2015. When we set goals, we use the S.M.A.R.T. approach. The first part of this is setting a specific goal. An example of a specific goal would be “I want to pay off $1,000 in debt in six months.” A vague goal (dream) would be “I want to pay down debt.”

By setting a specific goal, you now have a measurable goal. For instance, if you are trying to pay off debt and you set the goal of paying off $1,000 in six months, you now know how much you need to pay over the next six months to reach your goal. So your goal of paying off $1,000 in six months is really paying $167 a month. By breaking it down in smaller increments, it now becomes achievable.

If a goal is not realistically achievable, it is also really just a dream.  I have found in all areas of my life if I break something down into smaller increments, it is easier to achieve.  If you make smaller goals out of your larger goals, you will reach your destination.  In addition to being achievable, your goal needs to be results-focused.  By breaking down your goal of paying down $1,000 to a monthly amount, you can see each month the $1,000 becoming a more attainable number.  In our example, your $1,000 is $833 after one month, $666 after two months, $499 after three months, $332 after four months, $165 after five months and $0 after six months.  Each month, you see the results of your hard work and this helps you keep your focus on your final goal.  There are many tips to help you visualize your steps along the way.

The final step in SMART goal setting is putting a set time on achieving your goal.  In our example, our time is six months.

For us, a real life example of this is paying off my car (our last debt) by the end of March.  This goal is a stretch for us, but because we know the dollar amount (specific), the amount needed each month (measurable), we know with a stretch we can do this (achievable).  We know we will see results each month and by setting a date of March 15, it is time bound.

Happy Goal Setting!!!

Money Talks

No one likes to discuss money, no one…  Because we are newly married, we are just now combining our finances.  On our past car trip, I thought this would be a good time to broach the subject of a new combined budget with my dear husband.  We have enough money for our expenses, we just sometimes do not know where it is all going.

I have found if you set a budget and allocate where every dollar should go, not only do you have more money — there is a lot less stress about paying the big items. Budgeting is not hard, it is just a different mind-set.

The first budget will be the hardest.  When I first really started getting control of my money, I wrote down everything I spent.  This gave me a better idea of where my money was going.  I kept mine relatively simple so as not to overcomplicate things.  Because I get paid twice a month, I broke my budget into the beginning and end of the month and set out what payments would come out of each check.

I had kept mine relatively simple.  I keep groceries and eating out in the same category as “food”.  I did line item the specific things auto-drawn from my account, like Planet Fitness. I then went to a cash-based system for many items.  For instance, I do cash for restaurants, groceries, some charity, and the hair salon. I don’t do cash for gas, because it is much easier to pay the pump.  I use my debit card as a credit card for gas.  When I lived alone, I also had utilities and rent.

Since we had started living together, my way of thinking has gone a little by the wayside and our dollars seem to be just flitting away, not really sure where they are going. So with a lot of discussion, here is what we are going to do going forward.

First thing I did was put the dollar amount of all of our income after taxes at the top line.  Our health insurance, my parking at work, and my retirement come out of our checks, so I don’t account for them in the budget.  I only account for the dollars we actually have coming in.  Next I listed out all of our bills.  If you are struggling right now, the first priority is making sure you have food and a place to live with utilities. Here is how we plan to do it with our May budget:

  • Groceries and eating out have a set amount.  We are going to put this amount in cash and put it in an envelope, a jar, wherever for safekeeping.  Now when we go to the grocery or dinner, the cash will come out.  When we run out of cash, we can’t buy anything else.
  • Utilities will be what we expect for the next month.  Some months the gas is high because of heat, some months the electric is high because of air conditioning.  If the swings are too great, you may want to check with your local utility company.  Many offer budget billing.  This is where the bill for the past 12 months is averaged to one set amount each month.
  • We will continue to pay for gas using the debit card.  I have a big commute and the price of gas see-saws so much, so I do try to over-budget (within $50 for this).
  • We set aside a certain amount each month for giving.  I keep some in cash and some in the checking account.
  • I am going to go back to putting my hair/beauty in an envelope — pulling it out as a I need.  As a Princess this keeps me under control.
  • There will still be specific recurring monthly line items, such as Planet Fitness, car payment.
  • Our individual spending money will be in cash.  Once it is gone, same as groceries — it’s gone. Big spending items need to be discussed ahead of time and planned for.  Both of us have had full control of our own money for a long time, so this will probably be the hardest adjustment.
  • The next thing I am going to do is to start setting aside a monthly amount for larger items such as car and homeowners insurance, yearly taxes and car maintenance.  I also set aide gift money for my kids this way.  Christmas should not be a surprise, it does come the same time every year.
  • Now with whatever money we have left over, we are going to put towards our car debt.  Over the last year, I have paid off all other debt I had and this is my last one.

I have a checking account that allows you to have “reserve” money.  It is really nice because you can set the total amount you will need and each month as you put money aside for it, you can put it in this category.  Mine puts it in a reserve, so although it is part of my checking account it takes it out of my checking account balance so I am not tempted to spend it.  If you don’t have this type of account, you can also track these items on a spreadsheet.  Now when it comes time for that big bill, I can just reallocate it back to my checking account and pay the bill.  No more worries about how to come up with that big line item.

To make this really work, if you have a spouse — you need them on board.  Right now, I am going to put the budget together.  We are going to meet, agree on what is in the budget.  At first, we will likely have a budget meeting once a week until we get this right.  I expect in a month or two, our meetings will go to twice a month.  Good luck!

 

What’s for Dinner Sweetie?

How often do you hear “what’s for dinner sweetie”?  Over the last few months, we have begun meal planning.  We were looking for a way to save on our grocery bill, as it seemed like were spending a lot on groceries and not really getting much bang for our buck.  Not only do we always know “what’s for dinner,” we are saving lots of money. 

The first thing we did was do an inventory of our freezer.  Because I’m a bit of a nerd, I put it in a spreadsheet to keep better track.  You don’t really need to go that far, just putting it on paper and marking out as you use it will work just fine. This will be your best friend for your meal planning. I am planning on inventorying the pantry next. 

The first month we did this, we only spent about $100 for groceries for two people.  Now, each Saturday we sit down and plan out our meals for the whole week.  We incorporate any fresh food we have, as well as meat and other food already in our freezer.  We really try to cook as much from scratch as possible. There are many things you can cook in under 30 minutes with good planning. 

Because it is just the two of us, we end up with leftovers.  For chili, soups and stew, we freeze leftovers into single-serving containers and one-meal sized containers.  We can then pull these out of the freezer and pack in my lunch, or have a quick meal.  Today for instance, Larry worked away from the house.  At 5:00, we decided we would have chili and sandwiches.  Because we had it in the freezer, dinner was ready in about 30 minutes with no mess. 

We do buy fresh fruits and vegetables and incorporate them in our cooking.  Depending on your area, and the types of fruits and vegetables you buy, going to grocery once a week is probably enough.  When you go to the grocery, make sure you have a list and just enough cash for what you need so you don’t buy extra.  We are trying to buy less “junk” food which is not only bad for you, but can be expensive.

Look forward to sharing some of our delicious meals soon.

Spring Has Sprung

The first day of Spring brings to mind many ways to save money and have lots of fun at the same time.  It is also the beginning of working in the yard and creating the garden.  One great way to save money is to plant your vegetables and flowers from seed.  At first this can seem overwhelming; however, it really is easy.  Because it is so cost effective, even if you do make a mistake your investment of actual dollars is not much.  One way to save money on the planting is to recycle old pots and think of creative uses for other materials.  Also, this time of year, you can find great sales at many of the home improvement stores.  You should also be able to find sales on seeds and soil.  This year, we are starting tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, herbs and flowers inside.  There are many other seeds you can sow directly in the earth.  As soon as we get a few warm days and the ground has thawed enough to run the tiller, we will be planting our early garden outside.  We plant onions, lettuce and radishes near the end of March or early April, depending on how much the ground has warmed.  This year has been particularly bitter cold in the mid-west and it looks like we are going to get a late start to Spring.  Last year was my first real year wanting to garden.  I found it is fun and has a great deal of satisfaction. Nothing tastes better than a tomato from your own garden.

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