Category Archives: Frugal Living

Monthly Menu Planning – How I Make It Work For Me

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I have known for a long time that menu planning is one of the most important things I can do to help me stay sane. In my opinion there is nothing worse than trying to decide at 5 p.m. what to cook for supper.  You know, when the kids are whining, your hubby comes home from work hungry and all you want to do is pull your hair out and hit the closest drive thru.  I’m sure we’ve all been there.  Menu planning is a key component to help me keep the day running smoothly.

On the flip side, I also like some “wiggle room”. I like to be spontaneous at times. Sometimes I want the freedom to cook whatever it is that I’m craving. Sometimes I find a really good deal on chicken at the grocery store and need to cook it right away.

What’s a girl to do?

I tried weekly menu planning. I tried really hard. But the days seem so short when I do that and it seemed like I was always planning my menu. Then I would forget that I needed to make another plan and a day would slip by with no plan. Or two. Or a week.

Ahem.  Let’s just say that it didn’t work for me.

So I went about trying to figure out what would work for me.  And what I finally came up with was a modified version of monthly menu planning.

Since I wanted it to be flexible I decided to leave one day a week free (Thursdays) because I generally go grocery shopping on Wednesday or Thursday.  Then if I find a great deal on pork/beef/chicken/whatever I can cook whatever I want without “messing up” my menu plan.  {I am under the misconception that because it’s written down that means it is set in stone.} Having a free day also helps if I have leftovers that need to be eaten or we decide to go out to eat one night (it is very seldom, but it does happen).  And if I don’t find a good sale or we don’t have leftovers I know I always have something in the freezer or pantry that I can throw together for a quick meal.  Breakfast for supper, anyone?

Sorry, I have to get off on a side rant here.  I’m sure there is some chemical or psychological imbalance in me that demands a calendar to be perfect at all times.  I detest marking things out or not completing an item.  A missed appointment haunts me all month.  A changed menu item bugs me for days.  Does anyone else feel this way? No?  Well, ok then.  Carry on.

Anyway, my point is that for too long I used this as an excuse not to meal plan.  When you don’t want to do something it’s really hard to get motivated enough to do it, no matter how much it may benefit you.

So I changed the way I did things.  Instead of writing down my menu on my calendar I started writing each meal on a small sticky note.

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Simple solution to a problem that had been plaguing me for months.

I have a monthly menu that can easily be changed to fit my circumstances.  If I decide on Wednesday that I’m not in the mood for baked cod I can just switch it with another meal.  Added bonus:  I don’t have to rewrite them.  When I’ve used that meal I can just take it off the calendar and stick it to the wall to be used again later.  Or stick it directly on the calendar several weeks in advance.  I save paper and time.

At the moment I am just planning for supper meals.  My husband is gone during breakfast and lunch on the weekdays.  The kids and I generally eat the same things for breakfast (although I’m thinking about expanding on that soon).  Lunch is usually either leftovers or something simple.  As the kids get older (read: eat more) this may change again… I might need a dedicated calendar just for menu planning.  But for now, this is working well for me.

And for the record, yes, I have tried to write my menu plan down elsewhere.  I lose it or forget about it.  I check my calendar all the time so that’s the most logical place for me to put it.   And I’m sure some of you are wondering why I don’t just write in pencil.  Good question.  Simple answer is: I don’t like them.  And yes, I know I have issues. 🙂

I hope this helps someone who may be dealing with the same what’s-for-supper woes.  Even if you try this method and it doesn’t work for you, keep trying until you find something that does.  Tweak things here and there and make it your own.  If it works for you that’s all that matters!

This post is linked up at:

   Thriving-Thursdays1   LivingWellraising arrows

My Coupon Binder

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So you’ve decided to save your family money by using coupons.  And you’ve studied the methods used by those I-bought-100-things-for-only-$5! kind of websites (or tv shows).  And while those are entertaining and do probably give good pointers here and there, they are not realistic.  Sorry to break it to you like that, but they’re just not real.

Sure, you can probably have a shopping trip where you save 90%.  But will they happen every time?  Sorry, not happenin’.  Not even every other time.  But don’t be discouraged.  You can still save your family money by using coupons, especially if you follow the rules I talked about in my previous couponing post.

Once you get started couponing it won’t take you long to figure out you’re going to need some kind of storage system for your coupons.  You may find that the big binders with baseball card holders etc, etc is the way to go for you.  It didn’t work for me.  For one thing it’s too big and bulky.   When I’ve got a toddler, an infant in a carseat, diaper bag, wallet, and shopping bags the LAST thing I want to lug around is a big old three ring binder.  It’s just too much.

So when WalMart had it’s Back To School stuff on sale last year I found a small accordian type folder that really works for me.

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It has 12 dividers with tabs and also came with 12 inserts for the tabs.  They were labeled Jan – Dec but I turned them over and wrote on the back.  (Aren’t I clever? lol)  Of course you could be fancy-dancy and design something on the computer or with a label maker.  Whatever floats your boat.  I love to be creative too, but at the time I did this there was no time for creativity, only function.

I took the layout of the store I most often frequent (in my case it’s WalMart) and divided the store up into sections.  Then I labeled each tab to reflect the divisions of the store, in order, so that it’s really easy for me to find the coupon I am looking for.  For example, I always, always start on the right hand side of the store (health and beauty aids) and work my way around counter clockwise so I’ll end up in the freezer section and produce (I don’t want my produce squished under everything else — including the toddler).  So my second tab says “Health and Beauty Aids”.  It has all of my coupons for things you’d find in that department: shampoo, soap, razors, vitamins, feminine products… you get the idea.

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You’ll notice I said that I started with my second tab.  My first tab says “Current Use”.  That’s where I put the coupons that I’m using on my current shopping trip only so it saves time at the register.  We’ve all been behind the person in the check out lane who has 400 coupons and at least half of them don’t work.  So frustrating (for you, the cashier, and the couponer).  You know why they don’t work?  That couponer doesn’t have a good system in place.  She probably hasn’t read the coupon carefully to check for expiration date or if the coupon calls for a specific type, weight, or other exclusion.

I vowed before I started couponing to never be that couponer.  The kind that gives the rest of us a bad name.  That I would be kind to the people around me (and to myself).  To have my stuff together before I get to the checkout lane.

So that is why I have the “Current Use” tab.  Once I locate the coupon I want to use and put that product in my grocery cart (after double checking to make sure I have the correct item for that coupon) I immediately file the coupon behind that first tab.  So simple and saves so much time later when I’m trying to corral cranky kids, throw my groceries on the checkout table/belt, find my wallet, and use those coupons.   Right then is not the time to try and remember which products I put in my cart so I can try and find the corresponding coupon.  Right then I’m ready to get my groceries and get out.of.that.store before my child becomes unglued…. or I do.

Aaaaanyway, let me get back to the point.  🙂

You might find that you want to tweak things just a bit after a few weeks of using your couponing system.  I moved a few of my tabs around because the flow wasn’t quite right.  (Because I tried to remember every aisle from memory when I completed my couponing folder… and my memory isn’t too great.)  Just find something that works for YOU!

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{Pardon the crumbs on my placemat.  My daughter was eating lunch as I took these pictures. :)}

How do you organize your coupons behind each tab?

I’m so glad you asked!  At first I debated about grouping all of the toothpaste coupons together, then the shampoo coupons, etc, etc.  But then I realized that would be a lot of hassle and I’d probably forget something.

I decided on the obvious choice: organizing by expiration date, with the closest expiration date first.

That really works for me.  I usually do a quick glance in each tab to see which coupons are about to expire.  If it’s something I need (or will need before I think I’ll have another coupon for it) I’ll buy it then instead of waiting for the item to go on sale.  I’d rather use up the coupon without a sale than pay full price for something I need because I waited too long and the coupon expired.

How do you maintain your couponing folder?

Every Sunday night or Monday morning when I’m clipping coupons I use that time to cull through my folder and see if there are any coupons that have expired.  Since I don’t have hundreds of coupons anyway (because I only clip them for products I use or want to try) that process really doesn’t take long at all.  I also take that time to remind myself of the coupons I have so if I see it on sale I can snag it.

How much money do you save each week?

This is tough to say, actually.  Some shopping trips I save $20 in coupons alone and some trips it’s $2.  I also save in other ways.  I bake my own bread.  I usually buy store brands (unless name brands are cheaper with a coupon than their store brand counterpart).  We rarely use paper towels (preferring these purple rags instead) or store bought cleaners.  We don’t (usually) drink carbonated beverages.  I do “splurge” on disposable diapers for both children — I haven’t gotten into the cloth diapering thing — but I do plan to make my own baby food when he’s old enough.

I routinely save 40% – 50% each time I go to Brookshires.  But because Brookshires has generally higher prices than WalMart I tend to only buy the things on sale.  So even though my receipt says I saved 48% it’s probably only about a 10% – 20% savings from WalMart’s everyday lower prices on those items.  {But when you can catch things on sale, use store coupons AND manufacturer coupons… now that’s saving money, buddy.  I recently found Pull-Ups on sale there for $9.48 (usually $9.98).  Rewards members scored an additional $0.50 off the discounted price.  I had been online and loaded a store coupon to my rewards card to take $2 off that price.  AND I had a manufacturer coupon for $2 as well.  Those Pull-Ups cost me less than $5.  Score!}

All in all my family of four (that being two adults, a 2.5 year old and an infant) spend about $100 a week on groceries, toiletries, baby items, etc.  Whatever you can buy from Brookshires or WalMart (the only two places I shop) is accounted in that figure.

And I’m constantly looking for more ways to save.  What’s your best money saving secret?  I’d love to hear!

Frugal Living: Baking Your Own Bread

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It’s no secret that homemade bread is better than store bought.  It’s better for you — you know what you’re putting into the homemade bread.  It definitely smells better.  There’s nothing like walking into the house to the smell of homemade bread baking in the breadmaker (or oven).  The thought of it is making me hungry right now!

It does take a little more time to bake bread than to pick it up while you’re at the store… but if you have a breadmaker the time difference really isn’t noticable.

Plus who doesn’t like to eat a piece of still-warm-from-the-oven buttered homemade bread?  Yummmm….

With that in mind I set out to find the perfect whole wheat bread recipe. After a few failures I coincidentally happened upon this blog today.  She lists eight bread recipes (and I can’t wait to try them all).  The one that caught my interest though was the first one:  My Favorite Homemade Bread Recipe.  And although I don’t have a grain mill I do have the store bought stuff which will have to work til I’m able to buy a mill. 🙂

After I read all of the ingredients I was on my way to the kitchen to get out the breadmaker.  I used the breadmaker to bake the bread instead of putting it in the oven, mainly because I do not own a bread pan.  (Yes, I know you’re shaking your head in amazement right now.  And yes, I am ashamed of myself.  And yes, I am going to buy one.  It’s on the list to buy next time I’m at the store.)  I set it on the whole wheat setting for a 1.5 pound loaf.  And a light crust of course.  But I still don’t like how hard the crust gets while baking in the breadmaker so I tend to turn it off about 15 minutes before the timer says it’s done.  That seems to work beautifully!

And now you’re probably wondering if this is the perfect whole wheat bread recipe that I’ve been searching for.  And you’re probably wondering why I haven’t included any pictures of my loaf of bread.  The bread was so good that between the three of us old enough to eat solids there isn’t any left.  Well, there may be a crust.  And it was all gone before I remembered to take any pictures.  Guess I’ll have to make some more very soon.

I think I’m going to challenge myself to make my own bread instead of buying store bought from now on.  I’m all about being frugal — especially when we are talking about yummy, buttery, fresh homemade bread.  Although I might have to start exercising more to counter the extra carbs I’m ingesting!

The Way I Coupon

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I love to use coupons. Really. I enjoy getting a good deal on anything I buy. If I didn’t have to budget and could spend whatever I wanted, I would still coupon and look for good deals. I think I enjoy the challenge. (Hey, it’s the little things, right?)

That being said, I am NOT one of those crazy coupon enthusiasts who use hundreds of coupons every week. I only clip coupons if they match these criteria:

  • it’s for an item I use
  • it’s for an item I’ve been wanting to try
  • it’s for an item that I can donate

 That’s all. I do not have a huge binder with the baseball card holders stuffed full of coupons, although I did start out like that. I would clip every coupon and try my best to match and double and all that other stuff… but then I realized that I was spending MORE on stuff that I didn’t really need anyway. Who cares if you got a good deal on it if you’re not going to use it?

So once I really figured out what worked for me I retired the binder and bought a small plastic accordian style thingie (I’m sure that’s the techical term) and labeled the dividers according to the different areas of the store I most frequent. (I’ll add another blog soon to show you my system.)

I usually only get my coupons from two different sources:

Occasionally I’ll find a good coupon on the manufacturer’s webpage (i.e. a coupon for Malt-A-Meal cereal on their website, which I did recently) but usually I just use the newspaper or Swagbucks.

I spend a few minutes on Sunday night or Monday morning clipping and organizing coupons, then I base my weekly meal plan around the sales and what I have in the freezer. (PS. I LOVE making freezer meals!) Then Monday morning after breakfast I load up the kiddos and off we go! My two year old even wants in on it. But I don’t share my coupons with just anyone. 🙂

But that’s it. It doesn’t really take that much more time. It saves me money. And it helps give me a bit of a challenge to find the best deals… and we all know that a stay at home mom needs a bit of mental stimulation sometimes.

But that’s a whole other subject.

* Please note that if you sign up for Swagbucks using the above link I can receive Swagbucks on your referral. I mean, it’d be great if you would, but I did want to let you know that you don’t have to.