Meal: Planned – An alternative to weekly meal plans

I hate meal planning. Okay, I love meal planning. I mean… There are a ton of benefits to meal planning, but it’s such a drag every week. I’m not sure why, but I tend to get a mental block when it comes to decision-making. That’s why I always planned two weeks at a time! But even that process felt downright painful some weeks. I mentioned the agony on Facebook and a friend said she had two weeks of meals planned out each season and she would just recycle it each week… Sounds great on the surface, but I’m pretty sure my family would die if we had to eat the same 14 meals over and over. Or at least I would. I need some variety in my life! But I couldn’t get past the amazing idea of never planning my meals again. Once, for all?! Yes, please!! So I wrote our favorite meals down, with some variations for summer/winter meals, and planned out four weeks of meals. 28 meals in repetition I can handle! Maybe. But just to be safe, I added two weeks. There’s no way I’ll get bored with 42 meals to cycle through.

pmpAnd with that, I bring you my Perpetual Meal Plan. My I-never-have-to-sit-down-and-do-this-again plan. My I-get-my-Sunday-nights-back plan. Ahhh. It makes me want to kick back with a glass of lemonade just thinking about it 😀

Dinners

And because my family insists on eating more than one meal per day, I made one for lunches, too. With fewer weeks, because repeats at lunch don’t seem to bother me as much.

lunches

Everybody’s on their own for breakfast. Because, if I’m honest, I’m lucky if I get to eat breakfast at all most days 😉

Tuesdays and Thursdays are busy days for us, and peanut-free in the afternoons for Mother’s Day Out, so I included those details in my plans. I also repeated my husband’s absolute favorites because he begged me to! I can’t wait! Download your own copy here: Perpetual Meal Plan

How do you plan your meals? Have you ever considered a ‘Perpetual Meal Plan’ for yourself? Sound off below!

Tips for Searching the Grocery Ads

Grocery shopping is simple, but when you’re trying to save every penny, it can feel overwhelming. I remember wandering the store in the beginning of my marriage on a near-nightly basis buying each ingredient for the meal I’d be making that night. It wasn’t until after my couponing journey that I realized how much I was probably overpaying for my groceries. Not only was I buying processed junk that is way more expensive than making things yourself (not to mention full of random, unnecessary ingredients), I paid no mind to how much things cost from day to day – I just paid what the shelf said. Since beginning my grocery stewardship journey, I’ve discovered that you could be paying double from one day to the next!

GroceryAdslong

So, in an effort to help you save as I’m learning to do, I’ve put together a few tips for getting the most of your time spent hunting through the ads. Now, you can use this to price match at Walmart, or you can use it to make several trips to local stores. I do both, regularly! Though, I typically try to buy my meat and produce at Kroger or Market Street where it tends to be fresher and higher quality – but I’ve also bought meat at Walmart more times than I can count and it’s great, too!

Tip #1 – Know Your Local Stores

In my area, we have three major grocery chains where people do their shopping – Kroger, Tom Thumb, and Albertson’s. We also have our big box stores (Walmart and Target), and the discount stores (Family Dollar, Dollar General), Health Food Stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s) and pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens). All of  these places sell groceries. You should also be aware of the smaller stores in your area, though. Just a little bit of driving (sometimes just a street over from where I’m already traveling on a daily basis), and I am not far from an Aldi, an Elrod’s, a Carnival, a Sack N Save, and a Fiesta. These would probably never become my main store, but for a good enough deal, I would definitely make the trip – so I don’t feel bad price matching these stores. Not to mention, they run some amazing sales on name brand groceries. It’s definitely worth a little extra searching to find out what your local stores are, and what their sales are for a given week!

Tip #2 – Know Your Pantry

Every family has different ‘staples’ – things they use for almost everything. This is something that was brought to my attention during the year we stayed at my in-laws’ house. I would search high and low for beans, corn, and tomato sauce and find myself faced with cans of soup, spinach, and boxed potatoes. All fine foods, but not the stuff I was used to cooking with! It was a great lesson to learn, though, because I was trying to learn what our family’s staple foods were, and this definitely brought it to light. What your family regularly uses will likely be different from what my family uses, but shopping and ad-browsing will be infinitely easier as you gain an idea of what that is.
Another way in which you need to ‘know your pantry’ is to have a pretty good idea of how much of a given thing you have, and how much you’ll probably need in a month’s time. A whole month? Yes. That brings me to tip 3!

Tip #3 – Sales are cyclical, so you’ll usually get the best price on your groceries by buying a bunch at once, then waiting and buying again when they are cheap. There are four types of prices for any product – an ‘everyday’ price, a ‘good’ price, a ‘bad’ price, and a ‘stock up’ price. There’s a standard or everyday price for just about everything you buy, and you want to try to buy it for less than that. So, a good price is less than everyday, and a ‘stock up’ price is when the price is considerably less than everyday.

Tip #4 – Just because the product is listed in the ad at a certain price does not mean that it is a good price. This kind of goes along with knowing the prices on products, but I’ve seen so many ads with a huge photo of an item advertised for up to $1 more than the everyday price. I can’t overstate the importance of being generally aware of prices for things (the Cheapster app is great for this, and it’s the most intuitive and inclusive app I’ve found! If you find something better, let me know!). At least be aware of what you pay for your staples. Know that the going price for milk is $2, and eggs are .10/ea, and a family size box of cereal should never be more than $3. (The prices are different for different areas, but this is basically true for my area.) It will make everything easier!

Tip #5 – Check Online Ads

I used to receive the paper and I thought that was the only way to get the weekly grocery ads. Then, I decided to check online – and I’m so glad I did! For one, I can sit down and look at everything in one sitting. I also don’t have to try to juggle a piece of paper that’s 3x the width of me just to see how much meat costs. I have a list of the links to local ads, and I just click through. As an added bonus, I can click on most ads and have it email me my list with prices! Then I can just compile the lists together and put them in whatever medium I’m using that week for my list (though I’ve been enjoying the use of Reminders for this, because it’s shared with my husband and we can both shop that way.) Another great thing about online ads is that I can see what prices are at multiple stores! I walked into the Albertson’s near my daughter’s school once and found the ground beef there to be on a better sale than at the Albertson’s near my house where I had seen the paper ad! It’s usually pretty similar, but it can’t hurt to look.

Tip #6 – Know when to shop

In my area, Grocery store ads for most stores go Wednesday-Tuesday. Big Box stores, Pharmacies, etc. run their ads are good Sunday-Saturday. This is important to know, because the ground beef might be $4.19/lb. today, and $1.97/lb. tomorrow! If we ‘need’ something and it’s a Tuesday and there are no good prices on it – I’ll wait it out a day and see what changes. That’s my personal preference – we’re pretty good at throwing together a meal out of what’s in the pantry in a pinch… even if that means breakfast for dinner AGAIN (which is super cheap and the kids absolutely love, anyway.) So, there isn’t a specific day to shop, but being aware of the timelines of ads in your area is certainly helpful.

Tip #7 – Some weeks are duds

Sometimes you’ll look through all the ads and there won’t be good prices on anything. Other weeks, you’ll have a page-long list at every store. I’m sure there’s some marketing ploy here, but the point is – don’t worry about it. It’s still worth the look. Some grocery stores are typically more expensive than others, but it’s still worth a peek at the ad because there are occasional surprises. I had nearly written off one store because their advertised prices are always higher than everyone else’s – till one week all their produce was $1/lb. less than the other major stores!

Tip #8 – Be like Santa. {{Make a List & Check it Twice!}}

Lists are your friends. Make a list of what you need and a list of what’s on sale. If you see that potatoes are extra crazy cheap this week, it might be worth adjusting your meal plan to take advantage of that! If you absolutely need ground beef this week and no one has it on a good sale, still put it on the list – just don’t buy more than you need. Compile the needs and the sale lists – with prices and quantities – into one list before you go to the store. I made one that fit my needs and laminated it to take to the store with me each week. Just like my meal plan, I fill it out with a wet erase marker and reuse!

Tip #9 – Don’t Stress

This all might sound like it’s going to take forever – and it might, the first week or two (if forever is like, an hour.) But as you get used to it, it will take less and less time. I used to get headaches looking at the ads and feeling ignorant of what I was looking for and I don’t want that to happen to you. Just look at them. Absorb what you can. It’s a process, and it is worth it, so just breathe through it and you’ll get there. (Gosh, I could be describing parenting, labor, marriage – basically anything there…)

Tip #10 – Use Whatever Resources Work for You

I have read countless blogs and articles telling you what you must use to be effective – and that’s just plain silly. The reason my tips are fairly general is because this is something I think is best figured out on your own to an extent. I can tell you what I use and love, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. If you hate technology, you probably aren’t downloading an app. If you hate paper, you’ll probably never pick up a physical ad. Make the process bend to you. There is no exact science – and the more you adapt it to fit your needs, the more stress-free your money-saving efforts will be 🙂

Happy Shopping!

Do you have a certain strategy when you hunt through the ads?

Costing Meals

CostingMeals

My husband and I love to watch reality TV shows about entrepreneurship. It’s silly, but it’s our thing! One of our favorite shows is Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes into these small (failing) mom-and-pop restaurants and helps them turn the business around. Sometimes their food is awful, sometimes they just need more presence, but fairly often it comes down to messy finances. The #1 mistake these failing restaurants make is that they don’t cost out the prices of their meals. That is to say, they have no idea what it costs them to make that burger and fries they’re putting in front of you. Without this, there is no starting point for how to make food into a business.

Since kitchen stewardship is one of my main ‘job functions’ in my home, I took this principle and applied it to my family’s meals. I’m not trying to turn a profit, though, so I worked backwards. I looked at our monthly food budget, then divided that by the number of days in a month, and the number of mouths I had to feed. At the time, this gave me $2/day per person. I split it up into 3 meals and decided to start watching closely how much we spent for each meal I prepared. (If you apply this to every aspect in your life, it might drive you crazy, so I don’t recommend it – but it is a definite help in the kitchen!) This has been a really good way to ensure that I know exactly what I am spending on certain meals. It means we eat some meals less often (bye bye, steak) and some meals more often (mmm, beefy potatoes w/ eggs!). It enables me to be sure my family will be well-fed, even when the alternator goes out and our household budgets all shrink a little. I think the thing it has done more than anything is to put a major amount of perspective on a dollar. (IE: I can feed my whole family for a day for less than I can get lunch at Panera. Cry.)

Here’s how it works. I look at what I spend on an item, and what I use in a recipe. Then I add up the costs of those items, and divide it by the number of people I know it will feed. I’ll show how I ‘costed’ lastnight’s dinner (the afore-mentioned beefy potatoes w/ eggs):

Potatoes: $1.29/10 lb bag (Crazy deal, right?!) = .129/lb.
Eggs: $1.80/18 = .10/ea.
Ground beef: 2.095/lb.

We used 1 1/4 lb. ground beef ($2.62), 7 eggs (.70), and about 2 lbs. of potatoes (.26).

So, the total spent on this meal was $2.62+.70+.26 = $3.58. My husband and I and our three children all ate and were full, so not including leftovers, this meal cost 71.6 cents/person.
(I don’t cost out spices, which may be erroneous, but we buy them so infrequently that it isn’t practical to do so. We spend maybe $10 a year on new spices? So it seems like unnecessary work, IMO.)

If this all seems a little bizarre, I totally understand. I will post some recipes, along with the cost per serving, as time allows me to do so. In the meantime, budget bytes is a great source for pre-costed recipes.

Do you have goals for food spending? Have you ever worked out the precise cost of your meals? Weigh in below!

Simple Stewardship – Grocery Budgeting pt. 2

How to Save Money on Groceries

The other day I shared tips on ways to save on your groceries. These are things my family has done that have really slashed our grocery budget. Every family is different, and many of these tips are very basic — but when I started, each of these shocked me with the amount of money I was able to save! If you missed last week’s post, check it out here. Then move on to the next 5 tips!

6. Ditching cans and boxes can save TONS of money. This isn’t one everyone has time for, and I totally understand that. However, if you’re like I was and you have a little more time than you do money, this is most definitely worth it. One of the biggest things I stopped buying was Creamed Soups. I have seen countless pins where people tear down the canned soup because of the unpronounceable ingredients in it – and I get that, too – but that wasn’t our family’s reasoning. For us, it was just crazy how much we could save. In recent weeks, I’ve seen name brand cream soups for sale for as little as 50 cents! Yes, I bought some for when we’re in a time crunch. For the most part, though, I can make these for less than 5 cents. Butter, flour, milk, and 2 minutes of your time is all it takes to have a much yummier, much cheaper substitute! Many things are this way. We no longer buy bread crumbs – we save the heels from our bread loaves and freeze them. When we need bread crumbs I either hand them to a kid to crumble, or I pop them in the food processor, then I season them however I want. Way better than spending $2 on a tube of them. Other products that are better made than bought are chicken broth, shredded chicken, pizzas, and lunchables. One day I’ll try pasta, as well, but I’m not quite there yet!

7. You don’t have to use every teeny thing the recipe calls for. When I began meal planning, I bought a thing of capers because a recipe called for it – even though I didn’t know what they were!. When it came time to make that meal, we were busy and did something else instead. I still have those capers. I’ve since learned that cooking is much less of a science than baking. (Casseroles count as cooking in this comparison, btw.) If I’m cooking, and I need buttermilk or sour cream, I use lemon juice and milk. It bakes just fine, every time, and always tastes just as good – if not better. Don’t spend money on ingredients you don’t use regularly, and don’t run to the store in the middle of dinner prep before you’ve made sure there is absolutely no substitute already sitting in your kitchen. Oftentimes now, if I’m not making several meals in a week that need a specific ingredient, I won’t even put it on the list. I can’t even calculate how many tubs of sour cream and cartons of buttermilk I would have thrown away if I hadn’t learned this trick. (It applies to many other things, as well! If you’re looking to substitute something in a recipe, Google is your friend!)

8. Planning ahead of time will save you money every time. There are a crazy number of benefits to meal planning, which I’ve outlined in this post, but in brief? Plan ahead. When it’s 5 o clock and afternoon fatigue hits and you just want dinner to be on the table already, you’re in no shape to think up and put together a meal. You’ll end up with chicken nuggets and tater tots for dinner – and not only is that not the best nutritional option (though better than AIR in a pinch!), it’s also way more expensive than a wholesome, mom-cooked meal. Take the time once a week, or twice a month, or once a month to sit down and write out what you’ll feed your family. There are subscription services for this, as well as bloggers who share their meal plans for free, but I prefer to do the planning myself – mainly because I know what my family will likes to eat. And while you’re at it, make a list of groceries you need. Not only will this save you from having to stop and grab groceries during the day or cancelling a meal, it’ll cut down on those wasted moments in the grocery store wondering if you have enough potatoes to make tonight’s casserole.

9. Buy when it’s cheap – and buy a lot. This is another one that not everyone can do because it requires space, but I made it work with my family of 4 1/2 in a 1K square foot apartment, so it’s possible if you make it. The biggest challenge was meat – it was also the biggest money-saver. For a season, we had NO frozen convenience foods or ice cream. We bought a ton of chicken when it was $1.49/lb and a ton of beef when it was $1.98/lb and we saved at least $1/lb for meat every single time we ate. It was well worth the sacrifice, especially since, for my meat-eating family, meatless meals are really not much of an option! We apply this with most of our non-perishables, as well. Pasta, canned veggies, tomato sauce, canned soups (for a slightly quicker, less inexpensive dinner in a pinch), breakfast cereal, oatmeal, beans, etc. It also works for some refrigerated foods – especially if they freeze well, like cheese.

10. Ad hunting and price matching are worth the effort. Last week my husband did the grocery shopping – with three kids in tow. He went to Walmart, bought the items on my list, and matched the prices for nearly every item he purchased. I bragged on him a bit on Facebook and a friend remarked that they ‘never do that.’ Let me tell you, even with the stress of doing it in that environment, it was well worth it. We saved a LOT of money. Here’s how I do it each week. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time (it’s way less time-consuming than couponing!), and it isn’t stressful at all. I encourage you to look at the ads for your area – armed with your list of standard prices (even if it’s a mental list!), and begin bulk-buying your foods to save money.

A few bonus notes:

– The prices in the ads aren’t always good prices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an advertised price that was significantly higher than the standard/average price for that item!
– Don’t let this process stress you out. It’s best to do one or two or three things at a time, and add on as you can. If it makes your chest get all tight, scale back. Saving money will relieve stress long-term, but learning how to do it does take work.
– Don’t beat yourself up every time you spend an excess penny. I totally did this when I started (still do now and then), and it led me to tip two regularly!

Remember that it isn’t yours to start with. God is providing you with whatever money you have, and stewarding it is an act of worship. Enjoy the process just as you would any other!

Are there other grocery budgeting tips you have used? Share below!

Simple Stewardship – Grocery Budgeting

Grocery Budgeting - part 1

When I began shopping and cooking for my small family, I had no idea how to ‘save money’ doing it. I thought the only way was to skimp on brands, and I really thought food just cost what it cost and that was it. A few years ago when the ‘extreme couponing’ fad began to really explode, I bought into it… for about a month. I found it time-consuming (and expensive, considering it was supposed to be a money-saver!), and I quickly grew tired of it. The greatest thing I did learn from that short season, though, was how to get the most of my budget – my time budget, and my food budget! If you’re just starting out buying groceries for your family, or just looking for ways to save doing it, here are some helpful tips to get you started.

1. Grocery prices fluctuate – weekly! In general, anyway. There are rather standard prices for things, and if possible you always want to spend equal to or less than those prices. For example, the standard price on a box of 4 sleeves of Saltines (in my area) is $2.50. This means, when I see in an ad or on the shelf that they are $2.54, I’m not buying. If they’re listed for $2.00, however, I’ll probably buy a couple of boxes (as this is something my family goes through pretty quickly.) These standards vary pretty widely depending on where you are, but I will make a list of the ‘standard’ prices for my area (on things that I buy) and post that for reference. In the meantime, just keep in mind that just by being aware of what your groceries usually cost, you can begin saving on them.

2. You don’t always have to sacrifice on brands to save. There are some products that we will only use the real thing. Nilla Wafers are one product that my husband will not budge on. And I remember telling someone once how much we were willing to spend on toilet paper and getting the retort, “That is ONE thing I will NOT scrimp on.” Well, me neither. But by simply keeping an eye on the ads, my family hasn’t spent more than 50 cents per double roll of Charmin Ultra in probably two years. It’s completely okay to have brand preferences – and completely possible to still save lots of money when buying your preferred brands. In fact, sometimes when price-matching, it saves WAY more than buying store brand!

3. Store brands aren’t all bad. This sounds like I’m backtracking on the last point, but I’m really not. We buy a great many things without looking at the brand. Butter is one item that we buy regularly and don’t ever look at the brand (Though, you do want to ensure you’re getting butter and not margarine. Margarine is not the same thing and it is not good for you… but that’s for another time.) Another is bread. We try not to spend over $1 on any form of bread – buns, sandwich, french. I don’t care if it’s Mrs. Bairds or Market Pantry or Open Hearth. It’s bread, and it will likely be covered in any number of toppings when we eat it. I will note that you will get used to what certain brands do – for hamburger buns, Great Value usually get hard if you don’t use them the day you buy them, and Market Pantry’s hot dog buns always separate (not sure why, that’s just been our experience). Keep these things in mind when you shop to be sure you don’t waste your money or end up throwing things out.

4. Buying in bulk is usually a great way to save – but not always! We were gifted with a Sam’s Club membership this year, and I have been excited to save on many items by buying a large quantity at once. I noticed, however, that not everything was cheaper there than my usual price. The same goes for your normal store. In general, the 5 lb. bag of flour is going to be more cost-effective than the 2 lb. bag – but the only way to know this is to work out the cost-per-pound. Some stores have this on their tags for you, sometimes you have to whip out a calculator. I wanted to keep track of what I was spending on various items, and found an app to help me do just that. Now I pull that out when grocery shopping and I can easily see whether or not I am getting the best price, or if I should hold out. This app also allows you to enter as many different prices at as many different stores as you want, and it breaks down what you’re paying per ounce/pound/item as well. For me, this is a huge asset. If you’re not interested in that much detail, it’s simple enough to make the calculations on your own! (Item price divided by item quantity = price per qty.) I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it is probably the most effective way to ensure you’re saving the most money on your groceries. (And I promise you no one will stare. They’re probably doing it, too.)

5. Making it yourself is usually a great way to save – but not always! One of the things I began doing to save money when finances got really tight was to begin making things I would normally buy. (Pinterest was a factor, I will admit.) Things like cream soups, pizza doughs, waffles, seasoning mixes, etc. were significantly cheaper if I made them from scratch instead of buying them. This doesn’t apply to all foods, however. The one time my husband and I made our own bacon bits, we were shocked at how little we were left with after cooking an entire package of bacon. The same goes for the time I tried to make homemade tomato sauce (that doesn’t apply if you’re growing your tomatoes, though!) Some things are actually cheaper to buy – and as a bonus, someone else does all the dirty work for you!

These are a few of the things we’ve done to slash our grocery budget! I’ll share some more later.

How do you save on your groceries? Had you heard or used these tips before?

Meal Planning 101

 Meal Planning 101

The first time I heard of meal-planning, I was confused by it. As the benefits were explained to me, I began to be excited by it. In case you don’t already know, here are some of the biggest reasons to plan your family’s meals ahead of time:
No more 5 o’clock rush! If you’re like me, you’re in no condition at 5 o’clock to be making major decisions like what super nutritious but also inexpensive meal to prep for you family. 5 o’clock dinner decisions are usually not only lacking nutritionally, but also rather pricey. (More or less, it’s usually something from a box or from the freezer – and you pay a pretty big premium for those items!)
No more making multiple trips to the grocery store. Did you know studies have shown that the more often you go to the store, the more money you’ll spend? Some of that is due to the ‘convenience’ items at the front of the store, but I think some of it is marketing, as well. The grocery stores set up – and frequently change – their displays to look appealing and draw you in. The less time you spend staring, the less likely you are to buy that item you probably don’t actually need. In my case, usually chocolate.
Your family’s health can be taken into account when planning each meal. Since you’ve eliminated the rush, you can now put real thought into building square meals, trying the whole gluten-free thing, or if you’re really ambitious, you can even plan breakfast, lunch and snacks in addition to dinner – meaning your kiddos are having grapes instead of cheez-its for snack, and you get that gushy ‘good-mom’ feeling.
– You can make your budget stretch more. If you’re writing down at the beginning of the week everything you’ll eat that week, it makes it easier to bulk-buy the things you normally couldn’t buy in bulk! Lasagna, Philly Cheesesteaks, and Salisbury steaks can all go on the same weekly menu, and now you just have to buy one big batch of mushrooms instead of three small ones! You just saved at least a buck and a half. Not a ton of money but trust me – it adds up!
– You can take your schedule into account. I know that Tuesdays and Thursdays are pretty busy for my family due to my bible study groups those mornings. Knowing that ahead of time, I can put a note in my meal plan to put lunches together while waiting for water to boil for Monday night’s spaghetti, or I can pick a crock pot meal to prep in my down time Wednesday that I can just toss in before I leave Thursday morning. It means I won’t be rushing to get dinner done, I can spend more time enjoying my family, and I won’t be tempted to run to the store for overpriced lunches first thing in the morning or pull a pizza out of the freezer because I’m too exhausted to worry about dinner that night.

Meal planning has the potential to save you lots of money AND stress – if you’re willing to do it. Here are some basics of how to get the most from your time spent planning meals for your family.

Find a favorite way to plan

For many, this is in an app. I loved Mealboard for planning my meals. I enter the recipes I like/would like to try into the app using the online form while browsing Pinterest, and save them for later. Then when I’m making my meal plan from my iPhone or iPad, I just choose the meals I want to try, and it makes the list for me. Super easy. But to be honest? Sometimes I just want to plan paper and pen.

If you’re a paper and pen type gal, there are several templates for meal plans available online. I’ve made my own simple one in Excel that I love. I spent a couple dollars having it laminated, and I use a wet erase marker (like Vis a Vis) to write my plan on it each week. This saves me the stress of printing it every week – but you can totally do that if you prefer.

Figure out what you want to eat

The next most important thing is to figure out what meals you want to have. I began by making a list of my husband’s and my favorite meals and listing them in a notepad. You could also do something super fancy like this. I like a little more flexibility than that – I could see myself making a new fancy label every time I found a recipe I liked and stressing until it was perfect. ACK. So I’ll stick to my laminated piece of paper and my notebook (or the app – I use both!) I also hop onto Pinterest and grab the most appetizing-looking meals. I’ll put those in Mealboard, usually, even if I’m not using it to plan that week – so if that blog is down when I’m trying to make dinner I have no stress! Finding recipes you want to eat is paramount to meal-planning success. When you begin getting excited about dinner, the stress of making it completely melts away.

Gather your recipes

The app is great for this. People also use notebooks. A note on your phone with a link to the blog is equally effective, depending on just how organized you like to be. But however you choose, you’ll want to gather the recipes together so you can figure out what to buy, how much of everything you’ll need, what time you’ll need to start dinner each night, etc.

-Write out what each recipe calls for and combine what is combine-able (1 ckn breast + 1.5 ckn breasts = I need at least 2.5 chicken breasts for meals this week).
-Compare what you need to what’s already in your kitchen, and make a grocery list for the rest.
-Make notes on your meal plan for what to set out of the freezer each day, and
-Decide what time you’ll want to start dinner each night. You might set an alarm (the app does this), make a mental note, or even write it down on your meal plan.

Don’t be legalistic

If it’s Tuesday and I’m supposed to be doing tacos that night, but I have a really busy day or tacos just aren’t ringing my bell, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with switching gears and doing a simple cheesy potato casserole that night instead — especially if it was on the plan for later in the week. Now all I do is switch, and Taco Tuesday becomes Taco Thursday. And since I’ve planned ahead for the week, I already have the ingredients on hand, and it’s a super simple switch. As with most things stewardship-related, the key is to allow it to make your life easier, not let it run your life for you!

Simple Stewardship: Tips for beginners

How to Spend Your Money Wisely

One of the most important things we can do as godly women is to be good stewards of our money. Whether you are working or staying home with your family, you have a responsibility to take what God has given you and use it wisely. After many seasons with an itty bitty pocketbook, I’ve learned some valuable lessons on making the most of our little bit. Many of them are about money – some are not! Many are predictable – some are not! Here are a few of the most important tips for women just starting this road to stewardship.

Tithe
This is, in my opinion, the single most important financial tip there is. It isn’t about the law, it’s about grace. It isn’t about giving your church money, it’s about trusting God. It took me a while to get it, and when I did I was a single mom… but I truly saw how God worked when I decided to take that leap. It’s a huge step, but an incredibly important one, both for your faith and for your finances. (If you want some more information about it, here is a fantastic sermon series from my pastor, Robert Morris. He also wrote a fantastic book on it.) The bottom line is that you wouldn’t have even the little bit you do without His grace. Any money you have is His. All of it. And all He asks is that you give him 10% and trust Him to stretch the 90%. And He will. Every time. No other tip I can give you will make your money stretch like this one will.

Budget
It seems simple – the idea of planning your money so you know where it goes – but so many people don’t do it. I have one friend who always said she didn’t budget because she knew there was nothing left after bills, anyway, so it didn’t matter. That’s where I am in this season and let me tell you – budgeting has helped alleviate so. much. stress. Putting your money on paper makes it work for you – and isn’t that the idea? My husband and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University when we got engaged and have benefited greatly from the principles he teaches. We’ve been using the envelope system for a long time and it really does help you manage what you spend and spend it less quickly. No matter how much or how little you have, I promise it will benefit you to budget it.

Pay off debt
For us, this was pivotal. Once I looked at how much money we were wasting on credit card interest, I just about threw up. Each month, we were all but literally flushing hundreds of dollars down the toilet. Your money will go much further once you stop funding the credit card companies with your hard earned money!

Saving
Something that has saved us many times is having money saved. We try to keep an emergency fund of $1000 saved at all times, and that has helped a ton when we’ve had crazy things happen. When the washer rusted through the bottom, we could go out and get a new one. And, of course, as soon as we saved that money back up, the dryer went out — but we had the money for a new one sitting in the bank. We didn’t have to put it on credit and spend twice the original cost on interest, and when my husband’s business struggled, we were never afraid to lose our appliances! Putting some money back means sacrificing, but a few nights of Ramen each month are nothing compared to being without a washer (or a car, or whatever else might break next!)

Stretching
This is the most fun part, to me. There are many ways you can make your money stretch even further than you can imagine. From coupon clipping and deal-finding to repurposing your things rather than throwing them out, a small time investment can make a huge difference in your family’s finances. This is probably my favorite part of stewarding my family’s money: the creativity required to do it well. I plan to post many many things about money-stretching, and I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

How do you save your family money?