Meals Plans, Grocery Shopping, and Other Adulty Things

Let’s talk about meal planning for a minute, shall we? I know, I know, super adulty, blah blah blah. Imma talk about it anyway because figuring out a system that works has been REVOLUTIONARY for my health, my wallet, my evening time management, and my sanity/anxiety about all three of those things.

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Once a week I make a meal plan and corresponding grocery list and then 100% stick to both. My super fancy format? I have a legal pad that is stuck to the side of the fridge with a couple of heavy duty magnets. I tried keeping notes on my phone/Google drive in various methods, but ultimately a legal pad with an attached pen has worked the best for me.The top page of my legal pad is a fairly detailed list of what is happening for meal time at my house for the next week. The second page of my meal planning notepad is always a running grocery list, so when I run out of sour cream or am getting low on quinoa or toilet paper I write it down and then pick it up on my next trip. When it’s time to go to the grocery store I have a list started and I never run out of toilet paper. Win-win. The third page is probably my best secret, honestly. It’s another meal plan for another week, Monday thru Sunday, which I fill out as I get inspired or as I have leftovers I know I need to use up, adding ingredients to the grocery list as I go.

Easy peasy. Well, kind of. It took me months to figure out my system and then train myself to stick to it. Lucky you, I’ve typed it all out here. I know. You didn’t realize Thursday could be so good, did you.

The first time you do this you’ll want to make a meal plan and grocery list at the same time so you know that you’ll have everything you need for dinner (and/or lunch and breakfast). On each week’s meal plan I make notes about what days we have Blue Eyes’ kids, and any commitments that may alter dinner plans. I also block out date night, and write down any work responsibilities or meetings that will preclude the need for leftover lunches. I also make little notes of day-before tasks like thawing meat or prepping something in advance; for example, if we are having taco salad on Tuesday there is a note on Monday to take the ground turkey out of the freezer to thaw overnight. When I get home from work and it’s time to make dinner I always know what I am making, I know the meat is ready to go, and I know that all the other ingredients are in the fridge/pantry. You’ve written out a meal plan and your grocery list, you take the list to the store and stick the meal plan to the fridge.

Viola! Adulty meal plan complete!

As the week goes on you start working on next week’s grocery list on page two; you are almost out of cumin, the bottle of salsa is running low, and the string cheese has been inhaled or abducted by mysterious fridge elves. You also decide you really want steak and asparagus next week, or you want to use up that ziploc in the freezer full of pesto you made last summer, or you are craving breakfast for dinner because omelets on Friday night is always a good idea. Write down these ideas as you get them throughout the week and page three starts shaping up nicely. The week goes on, your grocery list and next week’s meal plan are fleshed out. At the end of the week take a few minutes to finalize everything; rip off the first page (last week’s now complete plan) of your notepad, finish filling in next week’s meal plan and your grocery list, rip out the grocery list page and head to the store. And now, your new top page is your current meal plan and you can start all over again with grocery lists (page two) and next week’s plan (page three).

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Taaa-daaah! You did it! Not so hard, right!? The peace of mind that comes from knowing exactly what I need to do when I get home from work in order to get dinner on the table is glorious. Knowing I have everything I need to make that has been a game changer. And being able to plan out in advance for healthy meals made at home has really helped keep my grocery spending in check (another post for another day) and stick to my health goals (more veggies, less sugar, plenty of cheese).





P.S. I keep a list on the very last page of my legal pad with a bunch of our favorite meals that I can make without even thinking about it, so if I am struggling to finalize a meal plan I just flip to the back page and pick one or two of those to fill in any remaining gaps so I can finish my grocery list and just go to the store already.

P.P.S. A note on grocery lists: I write mine in the order I go through the grocery store; all the produce is together, all the meat is together, so are all non-food necessities like shampoo and soap and ziploc bags. When I go to the grocery I always follow the same route which conveniently mirrors my grocery list.

Financial Detox: January Wrap Up and Report

I really like taking the month of January to reassess my spending patterns and remind myself of what I need vs what I want.  I think this will probably become an annual tradition, and I am a-okay with that. Ok, so what I promised to do: spend money only on bills, groceries, and gas. No browsing Amazon, Etsy, or Target; no unnecessary beauty purchases (nail polish, fun eyeliner, etc); no breakfast burritos on Fridays (sob!); bulk up my savings account.

Last January when I tried this I had just moved to Arizona, which is a terrible time to banish any house spending. I kind of failed. This time, however, I did really really well! I didn’t buy any new books, I used the library and Overdrive; I didn’t spend money to go do things, I went to the gym, rode my (darling!) bike, and worked on some projects at home that I already had all the supplies for. Except for one “forgot my lunch” situation, I didn’t eat out this month either. Prior to deciding I was going to go on a financial freeze this month I had made plans for two events that would necessitate spending a few dollars, I am thrilled to announce that I spent less than I’d set aside cash for, and the total for both things was only $30 anyway, which seems extra super reasonable anyway.

Can we talk a little bit about what I did spend money on? Besides the aforementioned activities? In the 10 days since the Cheeto in Chief took office I have donated to a number of organizations, and I have ZERO guilt about that. I’ve set up monthly donations, given one-time chunks of cash, and tried to do what I can to counteract the heinous activity coming from the White House with as many dollars and cents as I can spare. Luckily, this particular month, I had more to spare than usual. Silver linings, folks.

I think I’ll do another detox this spring to help keep me in check. The thing that surprised me the most this time around was how…not hard it was. I mean, inconvenient at times, sure. But it wasn’t nearly the struggle as it has been in previous iterations. Which is a GOOD THING! That means that my day-to-day and month-to-month spending habits and patterns are becoming more in-line with my needs instead of my wants. Hooray! Adulting!


Financial Detox: January Spending Freeze

Last January I decided to go on a spending freeze, not realizing that the first month you move into a new house is a TERRIBLE time for a spending freeze. Terrible. I big fat failed it. So, I’m trying it again. My rules are that I can buy groceries and gasoline and pay all my bills, of course, but that there is no “fun” spending, no unnecessary spending, no “I’m bored and This Thing will make me un-bored!” spending, nothing. I’m still finalizing my 2017 Resolutions, but I know this will help kick-start at least two of them, one about eating healthier (and bringing those healthy things to work for lunch), and one about saving more dollars now that I’m officially debt free.

I have two events in January that will necessitate spending a little money, and my work-around is that I have already set aside the dollars for that in cash. But, for the rest of the month, my focus will be on using what I have, tucking away all the little extra dollars into a savings account, and finding ways to entertain myself that don’t cost money. The gym (ahem, resolutions), some hiking, painting, and riding my bike will be figuring in heavily, especially while the Arizona weather is so nice. I won’t be popping over to Target to “see what they have” or ignoring my healthy lunch in the fridge in favor of something else in the cafe at my office building. Mr. Blue Eyes and I are saving up for something really fabulous this spring, and hopefully that will help me keep my eye on the ball. Christmas just happened, I got spoiled a little with some lovely gifts (a shiny new bike! new books! a wonderful tote bag for work!) and I would like to enjoy those thoroughly.

How do you budget and save money? Have you ever done a financial freeze? Want to join me?



Money, money, money

You guys!

It’s official.

I am personally completely debt free.

No more credit cards.

No more student loans.

No more payments towards whatever-the-hell-that-huge-mistake-was-from-2009.

Nada. I officially have zero debt in my name.

The recession hit me particularly hard in 2008 (long sob story for another day and another post) (or maybe just let sleeping dogs lie) and it has taken years to get myself out of that hole. YEARS!! A few weeks ago the last payment went through and…and I hardly know what to do with myself! I mean, logic says I should take myself on an month-long international adventures, obviously. But boring adult responsibility and long-term planning says I should just keep living how I have been and start socking away dollars for a rainy day, or retirement, or whatever.

“How did you do it, Harriet!?”

Well…the long, hard, painfully slow way. Buy too many things on credit, hit a financial crisis (looking at you, Recession), don’t stop buying things, then get completely buried in payments you can no longer afford, so pretend the payments don’t exist. That’s how you get into the mess; getting out is harder. But finally you have to admit your problems about 37 different ways to people to whom you never planned on detailing your financial woes. Then you set up a payment plan, and you stick to it. It’s easier if you have payments automatically deducted from your paycheck so you don’t risk making a late payment or skipping it, so you truly learn how to live on less. Considerably less. Maybe you’re the kind of person who always had good financial sense and you can remember to make each payment on its due date…I used to be like that, but when I started digging myself out of this mess I didn’t trust myself not to fall into my other habits. So, direct from paychecks it was. For years.

I got my first no-payment-deduction paycheck last week, and my eyes nearly boggled out of my head. I mean, technically I knew how big my paychecks were supposed to be, but seeing it all at once in my bank account? Uh, it was kind of surreal. And awesome. And, again, made me want to go buy a plane ticket to somewhere far, far away. Just because I could. See? For now it’s probably best that I keep those dollars in a savings account until I can come up with a more responsible way of spending them.

BUT! I am debt free. I AM DEBT FREE!

Nope, it still hasn’t sunk in yet.


Financial Detox: August Wrap Up and Report

At the beginning of August I set out to go an entire month without any additional spending, hoping to reset my spending habits and kick start a financial detox. Now, I tried this in January as well with pretty mixed results (free tip: don’t try this kind of budget experiment two weeks after moving into a new house), I was hoping for a better grade this time around. I still bought groceries, including lots of fresh produce, and I still bought gas for my car and paid my bills, I wanted to reduce frivolous impulse buys and curb unnecessary, spontaneous spending. Here’s the somewhat ambitious plan I committed to:

For the month of August I will not buy new, unnecessary incidentals. I won’t buy any house things, no matter how perfect that side stool or storage bin would be for that one little spot. It will wait. I won’t buy nail polish, heaven knows I have more than I could use in half my lifetime. I won’t buy any books and I won’t do any online shopping. No clothes, no shoes, no office supplies, nothing.

Ok, so, how did I do? Well, overall, I think pretty well.

I started a new job mid-August and that necessitated some very minor office supply purchases, specifically, a little desk fan because my new office just does not have very good air circulation and I was battling major claustrophobia without the relief of a little cross-breeze (turns out, circulating air is essential for my sanity). Even with the major transition from working from home to working in an office, I still did not take myself out to lunch; I brought lunch every day my first two weeks…and that was sometimes a lot more difficult task than I really wanted to think about at 7:00 in the morning trying to get out the door. HOWEVER! I did it.

I did not buy any books, I actually have been utilizing the library more in the last month than I have in, probably, the rest of my life combined. Now, most of that utilization has been for audiobooks which I listen to on my commute, but I feel it very important to point out that before this little financial detox I was *buying* audiobooks via iTunes, not borrowing them for free from the library or using (and LOVING!) Overdrive. Definitely a big step in the right direction for me.

I didn’t buy clothes or shoes or new running socks or nail polish or replace slightly dried up makeup or used up perfume or anything! In the spirit of full disclosure, I did buy a tiny silver mountain-y necklace….and I know I should feel some sense of, I don’t know, remorse? guilt? failing student-itis? because a delicate mountain silhouette to hang around my neck was NOT part of my financial detox plan; but I’ve worn it every day since it arrived and it reminds me so much of the mountains that hold my heart. Saying goodbye to my Salt Lake-based job and that direct and consistent link to my Utah roots necessitated a mountain charm to wear next to my heart. Zero regrets. Zero apologies.

Also, in the spirit of full disclosure…I bought a rug. A big one. One that I have been looking at and lusting after for months and months and months. Now, pay attention because this is very important: it was suddenly on sale for 90% off. NINETY PERCENT OFF! It’s huge, a 9 x 11 footer, and made of 100% wool, and NINETY PERCENT OFF!! They were practically GIVING it away! I had the money for a rug set aside for months, waiting to find one in the right price range that I loved, this one was a perfect pattern/color/size, but I’d only ever seen it 30% off, and I couldn’t afford it at that price. But, at NINETY PERCENT OFF! I pounced on that thing and plunked down my debit card (ok, my Paypal password) before even thinking that “oh, hey, no giant rugs this month! Hope it’s still on sale in 3.5 weeks!” (It’s not; it’s sold out completely.) I couldn’t NOT buy that rug. It is huge and soft and covers up so much of the not-my-favorite beige-y tile in the dining room. And, again, NINETY PERCENT OFF!!! With free shipping! Yes, that rug was practically free. And practically free is mostly in-line with a month of no spending…right? Right. Ahem.

Ok, so let’s recap: one tiny office fan (aqua! so cute!); one sentimental-but-inexpensive necklace; one practically free rug. I’d give myself a solid A- grade, all things considered.

Want to know something else that made this whole financial detox particularly difficult and the timing especially poignant? When I switched jobs I got paid out for all my unused vacation time from my Utah company…and it was a significant payout, I had more than two full weeks of unused vacation time accrued. Having all those extra dollars sitting in my bank account, mocking me and daring me to go on a little shopping spree…it was rough, yo. To be completely honest, had I not been in this self-imposed financial detox I absolutely would have splurged on a few fun things for myself. Or maybe more than a few fun things. Instead, I forced myself to hold off on any purchases and see this financial detox thing through, and I transferred those dollars in my savings account. I do have a few little things that I will most likely buy in the next week, things I’d been “saving” for the end of this detox (running socks, and I really want to replace my empty perfume bottle), but it’s a lot less of a list than what I would have spent had I not forced myself to hold off. And that little experience, all by itself, has been a really great lesson for me, a way to identify my “natural” spending habits vs what I’d like them to be. If I can wait two weeks I will either a) no longer be interested in x, y, or z item; or b) be absolutely positive that it will be a necessary and welcome addition to my life.

Have you ever done a month of no spending? How did it go? If you were to try it, what kind of rules or parameters would you set? Do you like your current budgeting style? Do you stick to it? Do you know where all your money goes, down to the pennies? Or is it all vaguely loosey-goosey?

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