Having two kiddies in daycare is, among other things, not cheap. In fact, I write a $375 check every single week. Feel sorry for me. Feel very, very sorry for me. I know my checking account does.
But just like we did with Bean, we’re somehow finding a way to make it work. It’s not easy and we have to go without a lot of things (goodbye wonderful hair stylist I just found who I can’t afford to ever see again…), but we’re doing it. Our bills are paid, we’re all healthy, we’re all (mostly) happy. What more can I ask for?
To help with the costs around our house, one of the things I’ve started doing again is meal planning. I used to do it many moons ago when we first had Bean and I was, ironically enough, flipping out over how we would ever afford ONE child in daycare. But after a few months, I realized we weren’t going to be living in a cardboard box and so I got lazy and stopped. When we moved into our new house and the kids started daycare, though, I decided it was probably time to get back to the ol’ recipe book and shopping list thing so that I could scrimp and save as many pennies as I could.
For me, meal planning begins with a menu. I know some people who start with coupons and whatever is on sale, but to be honest, I don’t really have time (or the patience) to be that strategic. With a good menu, a few coupons, and a shopping list, I get our grocery bill down low enough. On Saturday mornings, I sit down at our kitchen table with a few tools. My church’s cookbook, all of my Gooseberry cookbooks (if you don’t have any of these – get one, get many of them…), my Betty Crocker cookbook, a notepad, and my envelope of coupons.
First, I begin by flipping through the cookbooks for meal ideas. Because I work and don’t get home until around 5:00, I look for quick, simple, filling, healthy meals. We do a lot of grilled meats (chicken, ribs, porkchops), a veggie, and a starch. But lately, I’ve found that I can cook a little more substantial meals and then use leftovers to make a second meal the next night. For example, last week, I put a whole chicken, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic into the crock pot before work. That night, we had chicken and veggies with a big salad. The next night, I took what was left of the chicken and put it into a chicken, rice, and broccoli casserole. And the next day for lunch, Chris and I were able to take leftover casserole. That was three meals for two people out of that one chicken, and we probably could have stretched it one more dinner or lunch, but Chris was over chicken at that point.
When I’m hunting for recipes, I look for things that cook large quantities at one time – like that whole chicken, or I’ll make a couple pounds of ground beef for one meal and then reserve the beef for the next night. That saves me time and it enables me to cook bigger meals for our family without wasting any food.
Here is my menu this week:
Sunday night: Low Country Boil (a Louisiana classic: shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and sausage all boiled together with Old Bay seasoning) and french bread
Monday night: Sante Fe chicken (in a crock pot with black beans, corn, and salsa), Mexican rice, and a salad
Tuesday night: Flank steak (marinated in V-8 juice, Worcestershire, and hot sauce), leftover Mexican rice and black beans, and watermelon
Wednesday night: BBQ ribs, homemade french fries (baked, not fried), and lima beans
Thursday night: Leftover chicken on homemade pizza and fruit salad
Friday night: Leftover night
With my recipes chosen, I make my grocery list based off of what I need for my recipes (less anything I already have). I also add fresh fruits and veggies, bread, milk, and a few other staples, like Cheerios for Bean and Chris’s breakfast. Usually, if I stick to my recipe lists, I don’t actually end up having to buy a lot at one time. I keep my panty well stocked with things like chicken broth, canned veggies, and pasta by buying it in bulk when it’s on sale. Really, the only things I end up buying on my weekly shopping trip are the necessities for dinner that week, replenishing my lunch supply, and fresh produce.
With my shopping list prepared, I go through my coupons. I’m not a big couponer, but I do keep a giant envelope on the side of my fridge and I toss in whatever coupons I find throughout the week. We don’t get the paper, but I get a lot of stuff in the mail and so I stick the whole ad down in my envelope and on Saturday mornings I clip out all the coupons. That way I’m not wasting time through the week clipping and snipping. Saturday morning, I clip all my coupons from my envelope and pull out any that are for products on my list.
Then, with my list and coupons in hand, I head off to the grocery store – ALONE. In the past couple months I have learned two valuable lessons about grocery shopping:
1. Never take your kids.
2. Never take your husband.
I leave all of them at home and go by myself. For one thing, I don’t like having to stop and explain to Chris everything I’m buying or listen to him complain about how he doesn’t like sour cream when I’ve been putting sour cream in our food for years and he’s never noticed. But for another, it takes a fair amount of concentration to save money at the grocery store. And when my babies are all over the place and my husband is throwing things like bags of Coco Puffs and four tubs of ice cream into the buggy, I’m not trying to save anything but my sanity.
On average, we spend a little less than $100 a week on groceries, but with meal planning, I’m seeing that number get smaller and smaller each week.
What about you? How do you save a few pennies in your family?