Manageable Resolution

Seems like everyone by Valentine’s Day is either sick of their resolution(s) or at least we’ve moved on from talking about them or making them.  I’m slow.

I usually make a resolution.  Mine are typically general, vague, and mostly immeasurable, and that works for me.  Last year my resolution was to make more of an effort in putting myself together.  Mostly that meant to shower and get dressed for the day every morning.  Wear jewelry most days.  Very reachable and enjoyable.

I think the year before I made the goal to only eat what was delicious.  That was a fun goal.  I gave myself permission to not finish something if I didn’t like how it tasted.  I don’t think I stuck to that one.  I still like to clean my plate.

This year, my goal is simply put and hard to complete: be more content.

Contentment.  Satisfaction with where I am, what I have, and what I’m doing.  This isn’t lazy; this is hard work.  If I’m content, that means I’m going to take better care of what I have because I’m not giving myself permission to buy something new just because I want it.  So I’m washing my slipcovers so my furniture looks really nice even though it is all the cheap stuff from IKEA.  I’m going to dye my jeans that are fading, making them black again because a bottle of black dye is $2 and new jeans are… a lot more.   I’m not even going to price them out because I don’t need new jeans.  I’m not going to complain about the weather where I live, longing for anywhere but here, but I’m going to enjoy the seasons as they come.  I’m going to have more margin and not pack my day so full my peace spills out and over the edge of a glass too filled.

content mary poppins

There’s a lot of “being present” that seems to be a side-effect of striving to live content.

How about you?  What are your contentment killers?  What helps you feel a sense of contentment?


Putting it Off continued…

I didn’t make it to Wednesday. Running out of milk and stuff for making lunch won the day, but I only bought what I had to buy. You know, a house without chocolate chips is a house that can’t make chocolate chip pancakes. Sunday night I made a very quick Aldi run and spent less than $12 to stretch us hopefully to September first.

How is your grocery dare making it?

Putting Off ‘Til Tomorrow…

Keeping track of the grocery list as I run out of things is helpful. As soon as I use the last of the olive oil, it’s on my list. The Parchment paper, the Parmesan, the milk, the pickles (my kids can eat a jar every couple of days). Staples really.

But, today I’m putting off the list. I am daring myself to go as long as possible without going to the store. We are out of eggs, but I’ve got lots of frozen egg whites (I make frozen custard) that will do for many recipes. I bought a family size amount of ground beef that I portioned and froze in 8 oz, so we should be fine. Milk may be a problem, but we’ll see. I last went to the store on Monday, I’m trying to make it to next Wednesday or beyond.

How about you? Want to dare yourself to go as long as possible to make what you have before eating out or grocery shopping?

Being Old Mother Hubbard

I have this idea for a new Food Network show.  I like Chopped because they use weird ingredients and somehow make it all work, but I thought why not do the same thing but in a person’s kitchen using only what they have on hand.  Then bring in a chef and have them make a three course dinner for the family with whatever is in their fridge and pantry and that’s it!  I can’t come up with a good name for it.  The only thing I can think is, “Chef in my Kitchen” or “Make What You Have.”  (I’ve heard Rachel Ray does a “Fridge Raiders” segment.  I’ve not seen it.  Is it similar?)

I like this idea because it’s what I do now.  Over the years I have meal planned in different ways.  Starting out, there was no plan.  We went to the grocery store daily and got what we needed for dinner.  I ended up with a good amount of stuff that didn’t get used all the way.   Then I started planning for a month at a time… on Excel of course.  I printed out a calendar and put it on the fridge and I had lunch and dinner planned for a month.  The only problem was life happened and stuff needed to get moved around and I would end up with half the ingredients for a meal and too many leftovers in the fridge.  Waste happened with no plan and a strict plan.

IMG_2568Now my meal planning is more fluid and I hold it loosely.  I keep it on my phone in my Notes app.  I plan only one week ahead.  As soon as I know what I’m cooking today I erase and start planning next week’s meal for that day of the week.   I also keep my Calendar app open and add appointments and weekly meetings right on to the menu because we have to plan a quicker meal if we’ve got something going on.  I even write what meals we’re eating leftovers in order to use up everything.

IMG_2567I’ve got my “go-to” meals now that use stuff up.  Pasta primavera or stir fry is ideal for using up vegetables.  (Mom taught me a trick of adding a little crunchy peanut butter to stir fry to make it a little heartier tasting.  You’ve got to try it!)  A bag of cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots) can last several meals for us.  I can do cole slaw, vegetable and bean tostadas, Bierox, egg rolls, all sorts of fun stuff with that bag.

Click Here to see my full Weekly Menu

Maintaining the car you own is cheaper than buying a new car.  Doing laundry is cheaper than buying new clothes.  What you have will save you money every time over buying something you don’t have.  Simple logic.  Now I apply this to my meals I make.  I use up everything I can before I go to the grocery store.  This works because I hold my meal plan loosely.  I can move a meal I don’t have everything for a few days later and instead make something I have everything for today.  Now I’m using food so it won’t get wasted and I’m saving time and gas by not heading to the grocery store.

IMG_2569My goal now is an empty fridge.  I want my cupboard bare before I go shopping again.  I do not stock my pantry anymore with canned goods or boxed meals; I only buy what I have planned and no more.

The fringe benefit of this is that I can clean my fridge regularly without having to empty its contents onto a counter or table.  It’s pretty sparse so I can wipe shelves to my heart’s content.

How about you?  How has your meal planning changed over time?  Do you have favorite “use it up” recipes?

The Keystone “Check Out” Line

One of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in the last few years has been The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  He analyzes how we form habits and how we break them.  Fascinating and so fun!  One of the ways we start to break a habit is by implementing a “keystone” habit.  You don’t have to do A B and C, just A.  Like for someone who needs to lose weight, don’t start excercising and dieting.  First just start food journaling.  Write down everything you eat.  That’s a keystone habit.  It’s the same with saving money.  A lot of experts say, first, write down everything you spend money on for a whole month.  Facts are your friends.  Then you can see where you’re spending unnecessarily.

I like budgeting, but I have a harder time sticking to it.  I was going over on my grocery budget regularly and I figured that was the fault of rising food prices and adjusted my budget up.  I’d go to the store and buy what we wanted to eat because, “Hey, it’s groceries and we need to eat.  It’s not like I’m wasting money here.”  Wrong.  The grocery store is a great place to impulse buy.  I needed to use a keystone habit to change my ways.

Grocery Journaling, if you will.

1111I’ve been saving my grocery receipts now since October (though I started making them cuter as I went) thanks to a smart blogger’s suggestion.  Her suggestion was to keep track of them so you know exactly what store had the best price on any item.  I rarely shop comparatively.  That takes a lot of time.  Instead, I use my kept grocery receipts to keep track of how often I’m buying certain items, to figure the cost per serving on my meals, and to split the receipts for budgeting purposes.1112

most often purchased 1First I started a spreadsheet to figure my costs on my most purchased items.  I thought I was being frugal enough (I don’t even buy soda or chips), but then I started to see I was spending the kids’ college fund on Goldfish crackers.  Yikes!  My kids were going through a bag a week.  I cut back.  I started packing bins of Cheerios for snacks instead. most often purchased

It’s also fun for me to see how often we buy toilet paper or detergent.  In almost every area that I keep track I’ve cut back.  The keystone in action!

Next I enjoy seeing just how much we save by eating at home.  It’s pure motivation to go home and eat real food instead of stopping somewhere quick.  I calculate my meals by adding up the exact (use those receipts) or approximate (dividing a bag of onions) cost for each major ingredient and then divide it by how many servings (or more realistically how many of those servings we’ll eat.).  cost per servingI do this on Excel, again.  I format the cells as currency.  For the total I use the formula[ =SUM()].  Then for the cost per serving I divide by using [ = /  ](plugging in the cell with the total as the = and manually putting the number of servings after the /). Does this make sense?

Then to organize the findings I made a database.  (This way I can see my meals in order and by price.  You can do this on Excel too, but Microsoft Access and I are buds.)  So far I’ve not made anything that costs more than $2.73 per serving.  My Taco Bell order is more than that.   recipe cost report

Click here to see the full recipe cost per serving report.

We experimented with a cash system budget for a few months.  It didn’t work for us.  I budget separately for groceries, home supplies (cleaning products, trash bags, toilet paper, etc), baby supplies, and personal care items (shampoo, etc.).   When we used cash envelopes I was the annoying lady in the checkout line asking my checker to separate orders.  Now, I simply use my debit card, keep my receipts, figure the purchase myself with a highlighter and a calculator, then I split the transaction on my budget app (

I love Mint.  I also love tracking things myself… thus my receipts database.  (Sensing a theme?)receipt database

Most people won’t find this necessary, but I’m discovering that I collect data like some people collect teddy bears or Willow Tree figurines.  I like my database report.   It shows the snapshot with a total and details that I want.  I can now compare how I’m doing month to month so easily!

Click here to see the Receipts Report

How about you?  Do you track your grocery line by line or have an easier way?  Mine is about as labor intensive as you can get.  🙂  Where do you impulse buy at the grocery store?