Meal Planning For The Busy Family

 

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I’d like to introduce a guest on the blog today–Liz Hayes.  Liz is my Mother-In-Law and friend.  She has many talents, like quilting and swinging a nine-iron, but where I have learned the most from Liz is in the kitchen.  Liz is who I call if I have a question about the best way to make gravy for a Thanksgiving meal, or if a food item can be frozen and still resemble its former self when thawed.  Which is why I do not hesitate to have her share some of her wisdom with all of us here on GracefullHome.  Here she teaches what she did for meal planning as a busy working mom of two:

 
My daughter-in-law, Amy, has graciously invited me to share some space in her blog.  I really enjoyed her recent blog dealing with chores and budgets.  I have been trying to figure out how the chore system might work with my husband.  I can probably guess what his “payment” might entail!
I do want to fully endorse using a budget system.  We embraced the cash envelope/allotment sheet budget 35+ years ago.  At that time we had credit cards with Sears, Penney’s, gas companies and Master Card – all with revolving balances.  We eventually paid them all off and have kept it that way.  Now we use Visa 99% of the time and pay it off every month – no exceptions!  We are retired and entered retirement with two fairly new cars paid for and no debt other than our mortgage.  We actually have a tighter budget in retirement, but we still travel and entertain quite a lot.  Things still happen that upset balances, liked having to replace the house A/C last summer, but the framework holds.

I know that many of you are in the midst of raising a family.  Some of you may also be working full time as well.  Life is hectic with all the different schedules and energy is often lacking.  Laundry, grocery shopping and meal planning and preparation never seems to end!  I understand, I was there once too, and you could have written the grocery list in the dust on just about any surface in my house.  I would like to share a stress reliever in meal planning I utilized at that time.  I still use it today when I am expecting houseguests.

1. Every other Sunday afternoon I would plan the meals for two weeks.  I would plan 10-12 meals since there would be the inevitable crazy night of grabbing fast food or a pizza.  A few of those meals might be assigned to a particular day but mostly they were free flowing and the list was posted on the side of the refrigerator so I could just wake up and pick a meal for dinner that evening.

2.  I would do the major shopping once every two weeks only returning to the store for milk, bread and produce.  This meant if the kids consumed all the granola bars the first week, I didn’t replace them until it was time to go shopping again.  Since I made my list on Sunday, I would typically grocery shop on Monday after work.

3,  In the morning, before I left for work, I would take a look at the list and then take the necessary ingredient(s) out of the freezer and leave them to thaw in the sink.   (I know – so unhealthy – but we all survived!)  An hour of planning twice a month took away the daily stress!

You know what meals your family likes and what you typically prepare and serve.  Start making a list and keeping it on your phone or computer.  Use categories like, meals, desserts, salads, appetizers etc.  When planning, look at the list and make choices or simply keep the same rotation.

Make everyone in the family share the responsibility for adding items to the shopping list.  When they use the end of something or run out of their shampoo, it is their responsibility to add it to the list.  I highly recommend the Apple app Grocery IQ, it can be synced to everyone’s phone and you can make separate lists for Costco, King Soopers, Home Depot etc.

Below is the list I used so many years ago.  I’m sure Jonathan and Jennifer will recognize many of these menus.

 

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In case you can’t read this, here are a few on the list:

Hawaiian Chicken, Hamburgers, Lasagna, Spaghetti, Meatloaf, Chicken Divan, Beef and Rice, Mac and Cheese

Ask your family what their favorites are and make your own list!

The Year Of “The No” For Our Family

BLOG chalkboard--Year of No

While on an “extra” vacation a month or so ago, Jonathan and I decided that we needed to create some serious new money habits in 2015 (similar to the “serious” new habits we said we would do last year, except that we would actually do them).  Habits might be too permanent of a word–we will see how this year goes.  This new mindset needed a name, something to make it feel big and real.  “The Year Of The No” was born and given a title, and will possibly be put up for adoption in a couple of months depending on our fortitude.

In general, we do try to live financially wisely.  We carefully consider our spending, and every dollar that leaves our wallets matters.  I work very hard as a mom to compare grocery store prices, shop the clothing sales, and even try to be conscious about accelerating slowly in my SUV to save on gas.   I have been coloring my own hair for years and since he will never realize what he is missing with the ears and the tail and the bows, I groom my own dog.  If there is something I can do myself, why pay? (This mentality causes me to have to steer visitors eyes away from the paint on the ceiling and explain my orangey looking locks on occasion).

However, as our kids get older the expenses seem to climb higher.  And, while I am great at saving in many areas, I will throw the budget out the window for a great date night dinner out or an opportunity to travel.  And, while we are thankful to have enough money for our monthly budget, there are often unforeseen costs that sneak into our life (an several hundred dollar ACT prep course for our junior, two cars breaking down in a matter of a week, a medical insurance deductible that needs to be met, oh and quite a few vet bills lately), making our expenses outweigh our paycheck more often than we like.  Anyone relate?

We have realized we just don’t have a comfortable “margin” in our finances.  And the only way to increase those borders is to create some tough but good new spending patterns.

Jonathan and I went through our budget with a fine tooth comb–if you want a great sheet for budgeting, click here (and scroll down to budget worksheet).

This is the list that we created for our family:

BLOG chalkboard--Year of No

1.  NO EXTRA VACATIONS  Our family has one traditional vacation that is the memory making, family strengthening, familiar like a pair of worn but extremely comfortable shoes vacation to our family cabin in northern Minnesota each summer.  We save for this trip all year so this is remaining on the table.  All the other traveling we do during the year, however, is going to come under careful scrutiny.  One trip that is very difficult for us to give up is an annual trip that Jonathan and I take to Mexico together.  It is incredible for our marriage and our own memories.  That is not going to happen this year, and instead we are going to be intentional about date nights and finding quality time together.

We had also planned a family trip somewhere warm this winter which we have told the kids would not happen.  Instead we are putting $200/month in savings for a big trip next year when our oldest is a senior.

Because our family can fly for free, it makes it so easy for us to say “YES!!” to travel opportunities.  So we will carefully evaluate the importance of our vacations–spending time with extended family? Important. A last-minute get away with another couple?  Probably not this year.

This category is a tough one for me personally, since I value traveling and spending time together so highly.  I am trusting God for other opportunities for our family that accomplish the same goal without the expense.

2. NEEDS NOT WANTS 

For every purchase, from socks to a new ski jacket for our kids, we are asking,

“Is this an absolute need this year?”

“Can we wait a year to buy it?”  (socks might be a challenge, but what if took the time to hunt down all the missing socks in drawer corners, under beds, etc?)

I remind myself, we already have more than enough.

3. CASH BUDGET

I have attempted this a few times over the past 20 years, but I fizzle out after a few months in–the envelopes, getting to the bank for cash, keeping track of which categories I had to “borrow” from–it’s all a pain.  But, we know that when our credit cards are tucked away in a drawer there is a much smaller chance of going over budget.

4. CREATIVELY EAT

This category represents all food–in the pantry and going out.  I am working hard at using all the food we have in the house to make creative meals.  All I have to say is this will be interesting.

Our out to eat budget is fairly small, so we will need to hit the happy hour specials!

5. ZERO DEBT GOAL

This is important, not only as a good steward of the money God has provided us, but to be content living within our means.  Often unexpected things come up, however, and that circles back to why we are creating more margin in the first place.

6. RECYCLED CLOTHING

I’m not talking about hand-me-downs (although those are great), but shopping only at consignment stores for the year.  There are some great finds to be found! I have already begun to prepare my kids for this as spring/summer approaches.  We will try diligently to find what we need at these stores first, and as a last resort try retail.  I want us all to learn to simplify, reduce and reuse through this concept.

7. PLEASE THE BANK ACCOUNT FIRST

Of all the money habits shared, this may be the toughest for me.  Along with eating out and vacations, my biggest budget buster is wanting to please others!  I don’t ever want to spoil anyone’s hope for fun that includes us by saying no.

I also want to please my children, which is why shopping with my two girls does me in.  Not that I cave to everything they want, but I tend to feel the need to check into a mental institution after a big Kohl’s trip.  My psyche goes through an incredible tug-0f-war of wanting to say yes to the 5 pairs of jeans, 6 shirts, 3 sweaters and some new underwear, yet having to say no to half of everything (feel like a mean mom), then being convinced of yes to 3 more, oh and we forgot shoes, and then repeat about eight times, mix in strong attorney-like negotiation from my twelve year old, a worn and increasingly crabby mom, and a sudden desire to drive to New Mexico by myself.   I am not exaggerating.

This is all due to the fact that I am a pleaser.  So, I am going to continue to please…just the bank account instead of everyone else in my life.  I can rest in the fact that our bank account totally loves me.

8. LIBRARY MENTALITY

This final new habit is new for me.  I like new things–that new card table at Costco that would be so handy, new kitchen utensils that I only use once year, even new tools for our yard.  Why?  Because I don’t like borrowing.  This is related to my people-pleasing.  I don’t want to bother anyone, and it’s inconvenient to borrow and return.

Yet, if I had more of a library mentality, that we can all share and re-use items that we have, it would be so much better for our pocketbook and the environment.  I never mind if someone wants to borrow something from me, and instead of caving to my child wanting new ski jacket this year, what if I asked around if a friend had one waiting to go to Good Will?

 

So, there is the list.  Hopefully if you run into me at Target buying new socks you won’t secretly judge me for not crawling under my 14 year-old’s bed that morning to find more socks (ewww), but know I am sincerely trying to incorporate these habits as much as possible into our family’s life.  Here goes!

Have a great week and if this was helpful please share on Facebook or through email! Thank you.

~Amy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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