I have six weeks and four tests left in this semester (but who's counting, right?!) and one of the things I am looking forward to once I get off this crazy schedule of class and studying is to get more serious about meal planning and preparation.
One of the places we've realized that we either spend or save a ton of money is with food. When we first started evaluating our expenses and setting a budget, we quickly realized that we were spending a ton of money on both groceries and eating out. We've managed to cut back significantly overall, but there is still more work to be done and lately things have been out of hand. Those little purchases here and there really add up!
I was a bit bummed because we had some food go bad this month. Part of this was the fault of the stuff (we had to return a couple of items because they were pretty much spoiled or borderline when we got home from the store) but part of it was that we just bought a few more vegetables and other fresh food items than we had time to really cook and eat.
I didn't take the time to really come up with a solid comprehensive meal plan and ingredient list before we went shopping, and I violated the cardinal rule and took my husband and both kids to Costco! We ended up buying a few too many things on impulse, and that really added up with three of us seeing things that we wanted.
Once, maybe a couple of years ago, I was watching TV and there was a segment which promised that the Economides, "America's cheapest family", would show how to save money on groceries. Some of the tips seemed like they wouldn't really be a fit for our family, but the thing that really grabbed me was that the mother very clearly stated that getting a babysitter in order to go grocery shopping was something that would easily pay for itself in grocery savings. I think she is onto something there--even if I only relent on an item or two, I do notice that I always end up spending a bit more by buying items that she wants.
Also, it's harder to read labels, compare items, and evaluate prices when you are busy trying to manage and keep tabs on a child or two. I learned this myself the hard way a couple of months ago when I went shopping by myself with both kids at Costco. The older one was excited and running amok and talking incessantly and needing to go potty at inopportune times. The younger one alternated between being in the cart and in a carrier on my back, and she required her own mid-store run to the bathroom for a diaper change. The whole trip took longer than I anticipated, I was a bit overwhelmed by the unfamiliar store, and I had a birthday party to get DD to in a short time. I ended up so frazzled by the end of the trip that I ended up accidentally grabbing a box of cans of tuna, thinking that this was the unit of sale. In fact, the price was for three cans of tuna--and I ended up getting home and realizing that I'd accidentally bought $46 worth of tuna!
Next time I shop, I'll be doing it by myself, or perhaps letting DD take a few dollars from her savings and letting her do a little shopping of her own if she wants to get a treat or two--that will keep her busy, help her with the concept of having a certain amount of money to spend and working within those constraints, and she'll enjoy having some independence too. DH also tends to overbuy a bit--he has noticed that I tend to spend less when I do the grocery shopping than when he does. We talked about it today, and decided that once I get past this class, we're putting me in charge of the money and of putting the brakes on our spending!
One of the things that I have realized though is that there is no one perfect way to do things. In the realm of money, that's why it's called 'personal' finance! :-) What works for one may not work for all, and even what works at one point in life doesn't always work at another time. I think that being realistic is really key--for example, right now I'm really struggling to keep up at times. Being in school is turning out to be a bigger change in my lifestyle than I'd anticipated, and having a new toddler who is waking up to all there is to explore and discover in the house is keeping me on my toes. I need to just accept that I can't do everything at once, and that when my time is freed up a little bit more I'll be able to go back to cooking and prepare more food from scratch.
Until then, I have to make a few compromises. Buying precut and prewashed veggies is more expensive than washing and cutting your own, but if the precut veggies make the difference between cooking and eating out, you're saving money in the end by buying the more expensive grocery item. Or, if you really don't have time to cook the veggies, then just getting real about that, not buying them and planning on eating out is still less expensive than wasting the veggies AND eating out!
I'll be posting more on all of this as I get it worked out! Anybody up for joining me in a meal planning or pantry challenge???