A while ago I mentioned that we have been using a budgeting system (five months and running and thus far it is working well). I also mentioned that since implementing a monthly budget our need for weekly meal planning has become a must. Naturally. Some of you were curious about how we approach budgeting and meal planning, so I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to share what we do.
First things first, I need to say that I'm a fairly organized and regimented person. I feel much more relaxed when I have a to-do list and a plan. Always have. However, budgets have always freaked me out. I used to think of them as way too rigid and, well, kinda square. In the beginning I didn't know how it would turn out, but pretty much right away I discovered I actually kinda enjoy following a budget. Surprisingly, it feels the opposite of rigid -- I feel like budgeting give me more freedom -- and I also appreciate knowing what I'm working with as opposed to rolling along only to have my eyes POP at the end of each month. We all have our issues and now is probably a good time to admit: My name is Leya and I have (used to have?) a problem with spending too much money at the grocery store. For some people it's shoes, for me it's cheese or caramels or whatever else strikes my fancy.
After looking around at various options, we decided to try Dave Ramsey's budgeting method. Before you think anything I need to tell you that although I follow that guy's budget guidelines and have read his book, I am certainly not a super fan of ol' Dave himself. I don't care for all of his debt-equals-moral-failing garbage.Blah, blah, blah. But...I do like his super simple guide to saving money and the hyper-organized me loves the monthly budget forms. I REALLY like those forms. And even though the cash-on-hand system (you pull out the cash you intend to spend on food/entertainment/etc. each month and keep it separate) took a little getting used to, we think it really works well for us. If you're interested in learning more, please check his book out from your local library and see what you think.
As for meal planning, I sit down most weekends and try to make a plan for the upcoming week. One thing that really works well for me is keeping a binder loaded with those clear binder sheets that I can tuck recipes into. My binder is organized by the meal time and also has separate sections for snacks and drinks. I tend to read lots of food magazines (they relax and inspire me!), and when I see something I like, I tear the page out and put it in my binder. We also have a running list of some of our favorite meals to we pull from. Keeps things pretty simple. And organized.
In addition to meal planning, I've been able to stick to our food budget (pretty well) and reform my old grocery shopping habits by doing the following:
- making homemade yogurt, and in the warmer months, yogurt pops.
- making homemade vegetable and bone broth -- I keep all the scraps left over from our veggies in the freezer in a big freezer bag. Once the bag is full, I put everything in my slow cooker, adding water up to the rim, and I leave it on low for about twelve hours. I do the very same thing with left over chicken bones.
- making homemade crackers like these and these.
- preparing extra or double portions of meals so we always have left0vers for lunch the next day (and sometimes for a couple of days)
- working hard to use EVERYTHING we have on hand (i.e. cherry tomatoes going south, I roast them for salads and pasta.)
- using cash instead of credit when food shopping. That trick alone keeps the impulse buys down to a minimum. It's hard to hand over cash without really considering what it's being used for. Or at least it is for me.
So that's the skinny on our budgeting/meal planning method.