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: e-mealz.com.
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.