Happy 2013! There’s nothing quite like the start of a new year to give you a renewed sense of hope, purpose and motivation to accomplish just about anything. Tap into the power of this season and get your family budget in shape for the new year. A little effort now could really pay off by the time we’re saying hello to 2014.
Food generally makes up a large chunk of the household budget, so it is a good target when looking to save money. I have found that I am able to feed my family for a lot less when I create a weekly meal plan.
When I know what I’m going to be making for dinner it is so much easier for me to get something healthy on the table at a reasonable hour. Takeout is far less tempting and I avoid a rushed trip to the grocery store at its busiest time of day with a young, tired and hungry child in tow.
There is no one “right way” to make a meal plan – some people find once a month is easier than once a week, some find it’s helpful to do a lot of the prep for weekday dinners on the weekend, but I will tell you what I have found (through much trial and lots of error!) works best for me.
At some point during the weekend I sit down and make a list of four to five dinners to have during the week from Sunday to Saturday. This leaves room for a few nights of leftovers or eating out. If I plan seven big dinners inevitably something goes to waste as there will always be a night when we won’t eat at home due to an event, an invitation from a friend or just because we’re all craving pizza.
To make the meal plan, I start by looking in the freezer, fridge and pantry for items we already have and create dishes around as many of them as possible. Then I pull out the binder where I keep all my favorite old recipes and new ones I have clipped from magazines or found online. I might also browse through my unreasonably large cookbook collection for some new things to try.
I feel like I have to mention that this part is really fun for me. I love to cook, test out new recipes and experiment with different ingredients and cuisines. I get way too many cooking magazines and read cookbooks like novels. If this isn’t your thing, there is no reason that your meal plan has to be filled with complicated multi-course dinners. Most online recipe collections have a “quick and easy” section. Seek out meals you can make in a slow cooker with just a few minutes of preparation the morning. Use convenience items from the grocery store such as frozen veggies, side dishes that steam right in the bag they come in, cooked rotisserie chicken, pre-washed lettuce and frozen entrees.
Once I have my list of dinners for the week (which goes up on the fridge) I make the list of ingredients I’ll need to make them (along with what we’ll need for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks) and head to the store. I try to find ingredients that will do double duty so nothing goes to waste. If I know I’ll need half an onion for one dish I’ll plan to toss the rest in the tacos I’m making a few days later. Other good ways to use bits of produce, meats, and cheeses: mix them into scrambled eggs, top a salad with them or make a wrap in a tortilla for lunch.
Each day when I get home from work I know I have a few options of things to cook with all the ingredients ready and waiting for me. I tend not to assign specific meals to each day and instead just choose from the list based on what everyone feels like having and how much time we have. I try to plan a couple of quick meals for crazy days and a few that are more involved for those evenings when I have a little time to breathe.
So – what do you think? Could this work for you? Do you have your own meal plan routine that helps you save time and money? And what’s your favorite thing to cook when you need to get dinner on the table in a hurry?
Anna Platz writes for the popular personal finance blog, Good Cents Savings, which focuses on helping you save money, stick to a budget, and live well on less. She is also the mother of a four year old daughter who is worth every penny!
Cute onesies. Fashion-forward diaper covers. Size 3 skinny jeans (3T that is). If your fashion focus has been primarily on your kids, who can blame you? They are so stinking cute and dressing them can be really fun. Plus, it’s something lots of us started practicing for as little girls when we played dress-up with our baby dolls. But it’s important not to forget that you deserve to look and feel great too!
Even if growth spurts and changing seasons mean that there’s little room in the budget for Mom’s wardrobe after outfitting the little ones it is possible to update your look without breaking the bank. Here are a few super low cost ideas to try:
- Update with accessories. Add a few in-the-moment accessories to a classic outfit that’s already in your closet, whether it’s for the park, a play date, work or a night out. Don’t spend a lot on these trendy items which aren’t likely to last season after season – check stores such as Target, Claire’s Boutique, H&M, Walmart or low cost local boutiques. Current trends to consider include aviator sunglasses, large sparkly cocktail rings, statement necklaces, scarves and lots of bracelets – they can be bangles, beaded, cuffs, woven or wooden but wear several at a time on one wrist.
- Buy one great item you’ll wear all the time. Do you live in jeans? Wear a black blazer to work at least a couple of times a week? Incorporate a classic white tee into almost every outfit? Whether it’s a bag, pair of shoes, article of clothing or accessory, if there is something you reach for again and again you might want to update your look by replacing that item with one that fits, looks, and feels amazing. And “great” doesn’t have to mean pricey – just try to carve out a little time to find the one that is right for you. Jeans in particular can be notoriously tough to buy but if you grab a bunch of styles, washes and fits and attack that three-way mirror with a vengeance, you’ll be rewarded every time you pull on that pair you love.
- Shop your friends’ closets with a clothes swap. Chances are there is more than one item in your closet that is fashionable and in good shape but that you never, ever wear. Get your friends together for a fun “Mom’s Night Out” and have them all bring a bag of clothes they’re ready to part with. Lay everything out or toss it all in a pile and let everyone dig in and you should each end the night with a few new items to update your wardrobe. It’s so true that one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure! Donate any items left over to a local charity.
Unless you’re either one of those super women who don’t need to sleep or have a staff of 12 around to help out, perfect hair and makeup is probably saved for special occasions. These days “blowout” is more likely to refer to an unfortunate diaper incident than shiny hair! Still , you can feel a little more polished and pulled together with these quick beauty tips:
- Add some style to that low maintenance pony tail by doing a quick braid from a side part to a little past your ear on one side. You can also just twist the hair before tucking it into the pony tail for an even faster look – you don’t even need a mirror.
- If you know that nail polish will get chipped before you can redo it, just skip it! Instead, after trimming your nails short, file the edges to a slightly rounded square and then buff the surface, which will make your nails shiny. The result is a classic and natural look.
- If you skip everything else, remember the sunscreen and moisturizer. Moisturizing lotion will help your skin look and feel fresh and youthful and sunscreen will help keep it looking that way for years to come. Mix them together to just apply once and save time or find a lotion you like with an SPF of 30 or higher, especially for your face.
Do you have any budget-friendly fashion tips of your own? I’d love to hear them!
Anna Platz writes for the popular personal finance blog, Good Cents Savings, which focuses on helping you to save money, stick to a budget, and live well on less. She is also the mother of a four year old daughter who is worth every penny!