August 28, 2012

August Meal Planning: Results!

Hellloooooo friends!

Welcome back to the ‘burb.  We’ve had a busy weekend, with Avery’s first plane ride traveling to an out of state wedding.  She did GREAT on the airplane!  The wedding was fun, too – but we all have a bit of a bug now.  Poor baby has a runny nose and seems to generally not feel that great.  Hubby has a sore throat and the sneezes.  I had a day and a half of miserable aches and chills (but then felt fine the next day).

Meanwhile, every spare chance I get, I’m down in the garage working on the hutch.  Remember the buffet?  I’m finally getting around to refinishing the hutch to match, and I need half the garage for a workspace.  It’s not a hard task, but it’s a lot of steps with drying time in between, so it takes a while.  I’m scrambling to get it done as soon as I can so Nick can park his car back in the garage.  I think it’s safe to say I’ve passed the halfway point.  Tomorrow I’ll do the first of 3 clear coats on the painted sections.  Once the clear coats are done, I can get to staining and sealing the wood sections. 

So, since there’s not a whole lot to report yet, I figured you should get a final tally on how my meal planning effort turned out.  Are you ready to get real?  Like, really real?

Normally, I don’t like to discuss actual dollar amounts.  But…I feel strongly enough about budgets and tracking expenses that I’m going to lay it bare. 

Here’s how it all worked out:

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Obviously, I really overestimated the total meals I’d need because leftovers lasted longer than I thought, and I forgot (duh) about being out of town for two weekends.  I failed on two of the planned meals due to forgotten ingredients.  We also felt like we were short on sweet snackies/desserts/munchies (aka “sweets” in general – we don’t really snack on salty stuff). 

And here’s how the dollars fell:

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In my little world, I consider this a huge victory!!!  I *heart* seeing our spending come in lower than we hoped, and this was exactly what I was aiming for with the meal planning. 

I’m totally fired up. We saved money on our groceries, and it was fantastic knowing exactly what we’d be doing for dinner each night. (Want to know a little dirty secret? August is the FIRST month this YEAR we’ve come in under budget on our grocery bill. SHUDDER. We needed to rein it in in a big way, and meal planning was my take-no-prisoners first attempt.)

For September, I’m doing it again.  I’m planning for 16 dinners for September, plus 6 sweets.  I also need to buy more snack foods and baby finger foods (block cheese, crackers, extra fruit etc).  A few household items are also on my list for next month, like TP and paper towels – two big ticket items.  I’m hoping the savings in food from having already shopped for many of the meals on my September menu will be enough to cover the paper products.

With that said, September’s menu is already made, the grocery list is ready to go, and I’m looking forward to the big shopping day.  Anything not on sale that first trip will be picked up on later trips. I’m aiming for no more than 1 grocery stop per week. 

And now if we can just get the toilet paper to last until Saturday…. we’ll be in hog heaven!

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August 21, 2012

SAHM I Am!

Helloooo!  How’s your week going?

Ours is humming along.  Lots going on, plus we’re getting ready for Avery’s first plane ride.

I might be a little nervous about that.  Avery really likes to cruise and crawl around, and I’m not sure how she’ll do sitting on one of our laps the whole trip.  Luckily, it’s a short trip, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.  She also loves to point these days and has no trouble assertively and dramatically using her entire chubby arm and finger to point directly at a perfect stranger.  Like when she pointed and held her stare at an unsuspecting churchgoer in the pew behind us one day.  Or when she randomly picked out an old man passing us in the aisle at Home Depot and pointed him down.

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Most people roll with it, chuckle, and point back at her.  But you never know when you’ll run into a grouch.  Especially in close quarters on an airplane. 

But enough of that.  It’ll be okay.  (Right?)

I have some BIG news finally!!  I’m *officially* a stay-at-home-mom now!  My job was pretty unique in that I worked from home even when I worked full-time, so it’s not such a huge change.  But NOW…it’s AWESOME having time to just sit on the floor and play with Avery, or actually run errands or do fun things without needing to be accessible!  No more spinning my head back and forth between my computer and my baby. 

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We get to go to “storytime” at the library now twice a week, where she just loves seeing all the other kiddos.  Plus, I have time to play with her, read to her, get laundry done, keep the house somewhat clean, plan and cook meals, keep homemade sweets under the cake dome, and go on walks to the park every day.  I’m even working on joining a mom’s group I heard about.  It’s pretty slow communication with the organizing ladies, but I’m optimistic it’ll happen eventually.

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I’m so thrilled to be out and about with Avery during the day, but I’ve noticed the other moms I come across aren’t as friendly as I expected.  Smiles are hard to come by, and conversations are even harder.  I guess I expected all our cutie pie babies would be an immediate commonality for easy chit chats, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. 

Have other moms experienced this?  I’d love to meet some friendly moms to hang out with and babies for Avery to play with.  Maybe I have “BE MY FRIEND!” written on my forehead a little too boldly?  Maybe green magic marker would be less intimidating than the red?  Or maybe I’m that annoyingly cheerful mom who hasn’t been around long enough to get it?

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Anyway, we’re still having a fantastic time, friends or not.  Avery hardly knows what to do with other kids and babies other than crawl right up to them and stare at them, so we’re probably ok for a while. 

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We have a great time getting stuff done around the house, playing with toys, dancing to the Kid Tunes cable channel, and finding new things to do outside of the house. 

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Being able to spend my days with her is such a huge, huge blessing, and I’m so grateful for it.  Plus, it still feels exciting to be at the grocery store….with my baby….at 2 in the afternoon!  Wheeeeeee!

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August 18, 2012

Meal Planning: August Progress

Hello hello!

A lovely comment left on my last post reminded me that I need to update all y’all on my meal planning (and hopefully money saving) progress!  Warning: this post might be a tad short on pictures Smile

In a nutshell:  I think I’m doing pretty well.  BUT, I think September’s strategy will include multiple trips.  Because I’m watching prices on certain things like chicken, burger, and cheese, I’ll stock up when the prices dip.  Since it’s pretty much guaranteed that the low prices won’t all be active in the same week…I’ll need to make more than one trip.  A little discipline combined with a couple strategic grocery trips per month should still help keep the food budget under control.

We’re halfway through the month, and Week 1 was my big grocery trip and the start of a mini price-book so I’ll know what the low prices are on a few select items and when the sales cycles are.  I spent $200 on that trip.  The plan was to be SUPER organized and only go to the store that one time for this month……but then I realized a) I wasn’t quite organized enough for one trip (aka I forgot stuff) and b) I’m too stubborn to buy certain things at their high points just because it’s my “one” shopping week.  So, Week 2 was for picking up the few things I’d forgotten or that hadn’t been on sale (chicken) the first time around.  I also recorded that week’s prices on my price list, and I spent around $50. 

Then, this past week was Week 3, and I went to the store again. I updated my price book and spent $9. This is a good example of why one monthly shopping trip probably won’t always be practical for me. When a sale hits, it makes sense to stock up. Like this week: 16 oz pasta was on sale for .49 each, if you bought 10. 10 packages of spaghetti for .49 each is fine by me – it lasts and it’s easy to use up.  I also had to get some eggs, a card, and I succumbed to an impulse buy of a .99 cake mix.  I realized when I got home that I really didn’t need it.  Learning curve?

But other than those 3 trips, we’ve been successful at avoiding spur of the moment trips so far.  Because I’ve planned our dinners, I’ve had everything I need and we don’t do the “what do you feel like for dinner” dance in the evenings.  I really dread nights like those, and we used to do them a lot.  Nothing sounds good.  Don’t feel like cooking what does sound good, don’t have what you need…yada yada.  You know the drill.

Besides the grocery, I’ve also made one trip to the drugstore each of the past 3 weeks as well, usually for 1-3 items on sale in that week’s ad, and usually at a cost of around $10 total.  Example: Nick needed deodorant last week, and he likes a certain brand.  At the grocery store, it was $4.37.  At the drugstore, it was $4.99, but this week it was “Buy 1 Get 1 50%”.  Plus, I had a $1 coupon.  So I spent $4.99 + $2.50 – $1 = $6.50 for two deodorants.  $3.25 apiece is way better than $4.37 and totally worth it to me to make a quick trip, as long as I stick to exactly my list.

This week, I’ll make another trip to the grocery store.  Currently, there’s nothing we “need” and unless some fantastic sale shows up in the paper, I’ll go just to update my price list.  I can’t think of anything we “need” from the drugstore either, so I’ll probably skip that one this week.  So far, and assuming I don’t spend anything on our “household” expenses this week, my total “household” expense for this month is $284 for two adults and one baby.  Not great.  I know I can do better.

I’ve learned a few things so far. 

  1. My plan for 20 dinners was way too much.  So far this month, I’ve cooked 7 dinners, we’ve eaten out twice, and leftovers have filled in the gaps.  Next month I’ll plan for fewer dinners and keep working my way through the recipe list that I’ve already shopped for, and the grocery bill should go down. 
  2. I definitely planned too few sweets/desserts (4 – one per week).  Luckily, one of my recipes used a cake mix, and it made two batches.  But (SIGH), we’re still short on sweets until Monday when I make another dessert.
  3. I need to buy twice as many chocolate chips.  I have a little habit of eating handfuls of chocolate chips now and then….and I’ve sort of depleted the stash.  I can’t help it.  That’s what happens when there aren’t any cookies or bars or slices of cake at my beck and call. 
  4. Nick has been eating eggs for breakfast, which I hadn’t planned on.  Until I used my “free eggs” coupon last week (which I was planning to use in September), the 18 eggs I bought for this month were down to 2.  If he keeps this up, I’ll probably need to buy twice as many eggs as I  think I’ll need.
  5. So far I’ve seen that $1.99/lb is my current goal price for boneless skinless chicken anything (breasts or thighs), and $3.49/lb is the best price I’ve seen for 85/15 hamburger.  $3.34 is the best I’ve seen for 16 oz of shredded cheese, but I’ll start paying attention to blocks of cheese and maybe shred it myself.
  6. I need to slice and freeze bell peppers right away (I’ve had to throw one away – GRRR). 

I’ll also post the best recipes I made in August, but I think I’ll do it all at once at the end of the month Smile  One huge hit was a variation on the “cake mix brownies” I keep seeing all over Pinterest.  After a little tweaking, it was gone-in-24-hours amazing.

This whole meal-planning thing is definitely a work in progress.  I’ll do another update at the end of the month with the official verdict of how it worked out.

Meanwhile – I’ve got a few posts to catch up on!  I’ve started refinishing the hutch to go on the buffet, and the old guest room headboard is in the process of being repurposed.  I also need to start thinking about dividing some plants (the cheapest way to garden!) AND fall d├ęcor is definitely creeping onto my radar.

Stay tuned!

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August 6, 2012

Monthly Meal Planning–Take 1!

Hi friends!  Guess what I did this month? 

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You already know? (Because I already told you? Because it’s in the title? Because your genius and my genius are likethis?)

Right-o.  Well, I’ll tell you all again, because I’m just so tickled at my little accomplishment: I jumped in with both feet and made a meal plan for August, and did one major shopping trip for the month! 

I wanted to see how much money I spent buying enough food for the whole month all at once.  I also wanted to know how it compared to what I *have* been spending on groceries the last few months.

I wanted to see how much stuff I forgot.

I wanted to scope out some prices and get a price list started so I’ll know in the future when a few select items will be on sale.

And I did it.  I wasn’t totally successful….but I think it was a great start for someone who’s never done this before and who went to the store 11 times last month (<gasp> I know.)

First, I made a list of meals. 

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I figured I’d need 20 “good” dinners, some essential lunch and breakfast fixings, and leftovers would fill in the blanks.  I included 7 vegetarian dishes, and I included new recipes as well as old standbys.  I also planned for 4 homemade desserts.

I tallied up what I needed from the store and headed out.

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Grand total spent?  Exactly $200.

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But…

Here’s where my inexperience got me.  First, I already I know I’ll  have to go back for a couple things, so my $200 total will be a little low:

   1) boneless/skinless chicken breasts weren’t on sale and I know they’ll go on sale soon

   2) Tuna Helper.  <facepalm>  I just couldn’t find it. 

   3) fresh fruit, which I spaced 

   4) coffee.  Apparently, we needed some. 

Sooo I’ll make another trip this week to get those items, and I’ll use the opportunity to fill in the prices on my little price list.  I want to keep track of when certain things go on sale so I’ll know how many weeks are between their sales cycles.  Stuff like chicken, burger, pop, coffee, Rhodes cinnamon rolls which we love but only buy when they’re on sale, and a few other things I want to keep tabs on.

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It may come to the point that I shop twice a month so I can hit certain good sales on the more expensive items (like chicken).  We’ll see how those sale prices land.

My $200 shopping trip also included a few household items like dishwasher soap and cat food.  Gotta have dishwasher soap.  And cat food. Smile

Meanwhile, I’ve learned that I probably overcompensated for “good” dinners, and under-compensated for leftovers.  I made some chili-mac the other night, and it’ll last us for at least a few more days of leftovers.  A beef stew also made SO.MUCH that half is already in the freezer for next month.  It’ll be interesting to see how many meals I actually made by the end of the month and it’ll give me a better starting point for planning next month’s shopping trip.

I shopped mostly for dinner ingredients.  I also stocked up on lunch meat and hot dogs for lunches.  We were already well-stocked with cereal and bread for breakfasts. 

Yeah, there’s definitely a learning curve.  But $200 for 20 dinners and random other stuff is less than $10 per dinner, AND it’s much less than what I had gotten used to spending in the last few months.   

I say that’s a great start!

Now for perfecting the madness and whittling down the food bill even more Winking smile

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August 1, 2012

Budgettabouddit! Part 3: Snowballs in August

So I’ve already talked about budgets and the importance of tracking actual expenses in one central location so we can see how much they are, how they’re changing, and how they relate to our budget. But there is one “expense” which deserves its own post entirely.

Debt.

Debt deserves not only its own post, but also a little set of horns.  It makes overspending way, way too easy.  And then it tacks on outrageous interest charges, with a teensy little minimum payment.  You know why that payment is so low?  So you’ll never pay off your debt and so the credit card company can continue to charge you out your ears.

Here are some actual numbers for you.

<hopping on my soapbox>

You buy a TV for $1,500 and charge it.  Your interest rate on the card is 10% (this is probably low).   You make a $33 payment toward your credit card every month.  In five years, that TV will be paid off, at a total cost of $1,893. 

Congratulations!  You now have an obsolete TV which was overpriced by $393.  What else could you do with $393?

<hopping off my soapbox>

Okay, so let’s say you have debt.  Credit card debt, car payments, student loans, whatever. 

What now?  Assuming you’ve set up your budget (by the way, your budget should include all the minimum payments for your debts – those are bills, after all), and you’ve tracked your actual expenses for a couple months and established a consistently positive “left over” balance at the end of each month….. Here’s what you do:

   1.  Gather your statements and list out each debt by name, current balance, interest rate, and minimum payment.

   2.  Identify the highest interest rate debt. 

   3.  Next month, make your minimum payment on this debt PLUS all of your spare cash from last month.  You had $200 leftover at the end of last month?  Send it with your minimum payment.  Make only the minimum payment on all other debts.

   4.  Once that first debt is paid off, move to the next highest interest rate debt.  Make that minimum payment PLUS your savings from last month PLUS the minimum payment you used to make on Debt #1 (which is now paid off!!).

See how the “snowball” forms?  And keeps on rolling!

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Here’s an illustration that assumes a family has $500 extra each month:

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This is very hypothetical, and most likely you wouldn’t have a $400 minimum payment on your credit card, but this scenario totals out at $20,500 of debt.  …Which is completely paid off in 2.1 years.  (I didn’t show that part.) 

If this family had less than $500 (say $200?) available each month, the payoff time changes to 3.7 years.  And then…it’s gone.  And they have $736 a month free from all those minimum payments they don’t have to make anymore. 

That’s almost enough to buy a TV! Open-mouthed smile

This is another template I can give to anyone who wants it.  Since I’m having trouble figuring out how to put these templates in a post, shoot me an email at Katie@burbtales.com, and I’ll email it to you. 

And now I’m done yakking on and on about financial stuff.  I think budgets are the bomb, I’m a fanatic about tracking our expenses and I think you should be too, and debt is my worst enemy. 

I like looking into other people’s financial windows and hearing how they do stuff, and I really hope you guys got a couple good ideas here or there.

More interesting things coming up!  Like my trip to the store today to make my very first attempt at doing *all* our grocery shopping for the whole month.  It was …enlightening.   I’ll be back later with the details Smile

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