Friday, October 07, 2011

Sanity savers

As usual, the first few weeks of school have been a whirlwind of craziness.

But they could have been so much worse. I decided before school started that I needed to change the way we do some things around here.

The first thing I decided was that I needed cleaning help. The big kids are busy, I'm working, our evenings are precious, and our Saturdays are usually full. Everyone keeps their stuff somewhat contained...but the filth! The last thing I want to do on Sunday afternoon is mop my kitchen floor.

But how to pay for it - you know, guilt free?

This line of thinking got me started on a budget-cutting frenzy. Last spring discovered my new budget love, YNAB ("You Need a Budget"), or what I call Budgeting for The Rest of Us.

Yes, I have used all the fancy money management programs at one point or another over the years, most of which are for people with MBAs, a personal accountant and/or nothing but time. I'd get to about April, get discouraged at the upkeep, and give up. With YNAB, I can download my bank statement and know exactly how much I can spend at any given moment. Did I mention I LOVE THIS PROGRAM? Total sanity saver.

We had already cut almost everything remotely frivolous during our Austerity Year. But our biggest line item for a family of seven remains, aside from our house payment, no surprise: our grocery bill.

I started googling, and was very frustrated. I read about people who feed their large families on $300 a month, but I just don't see how this is possible, unless you (1) eat beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner; (2)spend every waking moment cutting coupons; or (3)make daily runs to sales at stores which are not available here in Small Town.

I eventually ended up at my Got-to-Get-Frugal go-to guy, Dave Ramsey. I was not looking for it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a link to what became my second sanity saver:

In less complicated times in my life, I had a brain cell left at the end of the day to make a menu plan for the week, and maybe even manage to come up with dinner. But lately I could not even pull it together to put Ragu over the noodles. I. am. not. kidding.

We've been using e-mealz for almost 3 months now. Each week I download my family's menu and the complete grocery list. Even side dishes. Each week's menu includes seven dinners - we usually pick 4-6 that sound good. Then, my wonderful husband goes to the store and buys everything on the list.

Then, at dinnertime, I cook. I do not think. I do not argue with those who do not want to eat what's on the menu. I follow the plan. I do not deviate. At all.

Not only has it saved us money (I'm not throwing away food that rotted because I didn't have a plan for what to do with it), did you catch that? I cook!

We're eating better - fewer snacks made by older, impatient kids, because they know Mom is going to make something amazing like Pork Chops Marsala (last night), a feat I would never have attempted - especially not on a weeknight - if I had to come up with it on my own.

We're trying new things. We're eating out less.

And, well, if you ever wonder if the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach, let me assure you: it is.

So...Monday I finally got my wish: Professional house cleaners came and cleaned my house from top to bottom. They will be coming regularly.

I don't think we will ever get to a $300/month grocery bill. But I've saved enough to make room in the budget for some sanity.

And I don't feel guilty at all.


Emily said...

Lovely blog aunt!!! I looovveeee it when you update :-).

For Mother's Day this year we got my mom the house cleaned professionally and she was ECSTATIC. I felt like it was kind of a lame present but she was so excited. :-)

I'm in Oregon doing grad school in clinical psych!! So fun. I'd still love to convince your oldest to go to Wheaton though... :) said...

yes...we love emealz too!

Joyfulness said...

Excellent! Thanks for sharing all the great things that are working for you.

Hope said...

Hi Katherine,

This is your school nurse friend from Roanoke, VA!! I think of you often;) How are you surviving?? Since I've begun work, I have tried to schedule grocery shopping once every 2 weeks. I plan out the meals and maybe will have to go back to the store for a couple of things once or twice. But I will use a free FRI/SAT/SUN evening as prep time for the two weeks to take time to plan ahead starters for the meals. My crock pot is a life saver!! I use it all the time by placing all the ingredients in, in the morning and wha-la when I get home, supper is 3/4 done!! Today I did beef stew-a fam favorite and it was a long day. I just fixed mashed potatoes to go with it. This past Sat morning-I put a pork shoulder roast in my crock pot. (I went shopping on Frid evening). I ran shopping/errands on Sat and when I had time Sat afternoon, I drained off all the juice from the pork roast and then skimmed off the fat/bone and then shredded the pork and put in 2 bottles of BBQ sauce--mixed well. Let this come to room temp. and then place 3 good portions in quart sized freezer zip-lock bags--2 for the freezer and one for a quick meal for supper one night. I'll add coleslaw to the side for a quick meal. I also made 12 turkey sausage biscuits(the kind you buy frozen and just cook)and wrapped them in the press n seal wrap and then placed in a big gallon zip lock bag. This will make for quick breakfasts. You can make many diff options such as chicken, or egg/sausage, or bacon and egg and freeze. This is a little cheaper than buying ones already made. Then before bed I threw a chicken in the crock pot. The next morning, I (save the broth) put the chicken in a bowl and refrig. Let the broth come to room temp. Then later in afternoon I shredded the chicken and put into two zip lock bags. The chicken I will use for chicken pot pie, or enchiladas, or chicken noodle soup. I save/freeze my broth to use with soups. Often I will make a double batch of homemade yeast rolls/or a good bread to go with soups for the winter. I have found a ice/cold method for getting bread started that is so much easier than spending time in the kitchen kneading, etc. I often will go ahead and bake the bread and freeze it. This makes cooking so much easier, especially after a long day in the clinic!! It sounds like a lot of work--but I am amazed at how little nuggets of time can help me save time during the week. Let me know if you would like the recipes I've mentioned above. I am surviving and it is actually going quite well. No two days are alike that's for sure! TTYL:)

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Leslie said...

I love that Emily calls you her "blog aunt," and that she has just as much enthusiasm as always. (I bet my enthusiasm in convincing Allie to attend Grove City over Wheaton could rival Emily's, though.)

I re-entered the blogging world this week (left leslitab behind for a new home) and, of course, your blog was my first stop. Things sound busy but good. It was good to catch up on your life, Katherine. Hope you're well!

Sarah Marie said...

I really appreciate your recommendations...loving emealz! So is my family...after too many nights of toast or cereal for dinner.

kelly said...

What a fantastic idea :-)... I have 5 children also and always cringe when I look at my grocery bill.... It would be so nice to know what I'm cooking for dinner every night of the week.
From Kelly in Australia :-)

Jill K said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rachel said...

Miss you! Hope the kids and all are doing well!

Anonymous said...

Ijust stumbled onto your blog. I beleive it was a God send. I have five children and have been feeling incrediably overwhelmed. I am looking for support from anyone that will give it to me. I am anxious to look at your past blogs and read your future ones. How do you raise five kids in todays economy without going crazy? One of them is always wanting something and I am naturally a people pleaser. This causes so much stress in our house that it is becoming unbearable! Any advice???