Author Archives for simplifiedbystacie

Budgeting with meal planning…keeping it simple!

Oh goodness gracious did I just combine planning and budgeting and simplified all in one phrase? Yep, I did it and I’m soooo going there. Tag along with me and maybe you will end up agreeing that budgeting and meal planning can be done simply while saving you time and money to boot!

We are going to start easy here..have you started meal planning? If you haven’t (or if you have but haven’t read my tips on how to keep it as painless as possible), please check out my last post titled Meal Planning, Simplified! I am a huge advocate of meal planning mostly out of necessity…all the roles that make up my life (mom, wife, team supervisor, etc) take up enough of my time and add plenty of stress along with it so I have found ways to make meals as stress-less as possible. I enjoy cooking and really enjoy knowing my family is eating well. Growing up, almost all the meals our family ate were home cooked. As I have gotten older, I realize that wasn’t just due to the lack of restaurants in the teeny tiny speck on the map of a town where I grew up. I realized that was mostly the case because my family is made up of fantastic cooks who enjoy creating delicious meals and (full disclosure) I was one of 5 kids so my self employed parents had to figure out the least expensive ways possible to keep all of us fed and happy.

I realize that budgeting of any sort is a daunting task but today we are just going to focus on what you have been spending on groceries, how you can save on them by meal planning in general, and how you can adjust your meal planning techniques to save even more. Get ready to save some dolla dolla bills ya’ll 😉

How much are you spending on groceries now?

  • The easiest way to figure this out (in my experience) is to look through your back account records and highlight all the charges over the past couple months that came through from the grocery store(s) you shop at. You can use your bank’s app but I would recommend going to their website and pulling up the past couple account statements so you can print and highlight then add them up by the month.
  • Figure out the average you are spending monthly by comparing the added up totals from the bank account statements you printed out and dividing that overall total number by the number of bank account statements you went through. For example: in November we spent $440 total on groceries, in December we spent $475, and in January only $410 so our grand total over 3 months is $1325 which I divided by 3 to get our monthly average spend on groceries as $441.67. I know that I get groceries each week so if I wanted to divide that average by 4 I would know I spend on average $110.42 for groceries each trip.
  • I would recommend doing this at the start of your meal planning journey and again after a couple months in. It’s so gratifying to see that your efforts are paying off (literally!). I would also recommend setting a goal for your grocery budget to try and lower your average spend as a means of saving money each month. After year of meal planning, my budget is insanely lower than $110.42/week and I’m still loving seeing the savings each and every week I shop!

How can you save on groceries and save time just by meal planning?

  • Did I mention you should have read my last post? Because if you haven’t, please do so now or the rest of this may sound like gibberish and that’s the last thing anyone wants! You remember that awesome meal recipe master list that you organized into you different meal plan food categories? Time to take that up a notch! We are now going to go through that same list and organize the food categories into sub categories of proteins and then list the meal recipe options. Example: Mexican food category (staple of my family’s weekly meal planning): chicken recipes-chicken enchiladas, chicken quesadillas, chicken fajitas; beef recipes-tacos, crunchwraps, beef enchiladas; seafood recipes-fish tacos, shrimp fajitas, white fish taco salads. Make sense? The great part about this is that you can add on to your existing recipes by adding variations of them using different proteins.

  • You are probably asking yourself why we are doing this. Proteins are the most expensive ingredient for grocery shopping each week so, by grouping major food categories into protein sections, you can now easily pick two or more meal plans each week from multiple food categories just by choosing recipe ideas you already had listed! Bonus perk is that you can meal plan after scoping out the best sales on meat and plan your week around that to get
  • If you have been meal planning for a while now you’ve probably learned the hard way (like I did) that fewer ingredients doesn’t have to mean fewer meals. Say you have a big craving for chicken enchiladas this week but you know chicken is way cheaper if you buy a bigger package. You don’t want to buy a bigger package and waste it though so you need to look at your other food categories and pick another recipe totally different than enchiladas. What if you used that same chicken for chicken noodle soup and made a quick lunch with shredded chicken on a Thai crunch salad? Using chicken three times in a week and justifying that bulk purchase didn’t make sense before but, suddenly, not sounding too bad. Wanna know the best part? You could meal prep suuuuuper simply by cooking all that chicken at once in the crockpot and shred some for the salads, shred extra but make the chicken enchilada filling in advance and keep the remaining chicken and broth for the soup. Interested in more tips about simplifying meal prep? Stay tuned for another post filled with tips and more examples like the chicken one!

How do I overcome meal planning budget/time problems?

Do you have certain recipes that you love but aren’t budget friendly because they require so many different ingredients or things that you don’t usually have on hand? Yeah, me too. Le sigh. But, have no fear, simple budgeting and meal planning are here to save those meals! Take that delicious budget killing meal and figure out what ingredients are the issue. Is it fresh produce you have to go out of your way for? Is it a protein that is NEVER on sale? Is it a meal that is so time consuming it’s too big of cost of time to attempt? Don’t stress, think outside the box!

  • Go out of your way for fresh produce once in a while but make sure to add a food category that week to also try something new and find another recipe that uses some of those save ingredients. I also recommend buying extra fresh produce and freezing whatever possible (fresh herbs in olive oil, lightly sautéed veggies frozen so they can be reheated and cooked at once, etc). That way you won’t have to go out of your way the next time you crave that special meal.
  • Same goes with that expensive in bulk and freeze the other portion when you have extra cash (probably from all that smart meal planning you have been doing!). Or price match your little heart away and/or venture out from your go-to grocery store to save some moolah. It’s worth it to treat yourself once in a while and the meal will taste even better if you know you didn’t break the bank to make it.
  • Speaking of treating yourself, why not plan that time consuming meal but make it a point to do those sporadically instead of every week? That way you won’t dread the longer cooking time and you could make it fun by involving others. When I plan those kinds of meals the rest of the week consists of “cheat meals” like things I had made earlier and just pulled out of the freezer. I also like to have my hubby and kid pitch in or invite friends/family over. Its barely any more work to make a bigger quantity of food but the extra helping hands can make the prepping less stressful for you.
  • The more you think about ingredients the easier it is to use them effectively, waste less, and save more! Some items aren’t expensive but you end up buying them regularly and only use in one meal then toss the rest. Don’t think you do? When was the last time you used the whole package of celery or bag of potatoes? Yeah that’s what I thought. It’s not that much money to buy more so we don’t think twice about wasting it. I’m challenging you to think twice about how to waste less. Use the remaining celery and leftover onions with some garlic to start a chicken soup broth. That freezes easily and is so nice to have on hand. Use potatoes twice in back to back meal plans but spread them out because they last longer. Use some for scalloped potatoes and ham, some for potato soup, some for mashed potatoes as a side, some for a veggie breakfast hash, or some for a loaded baked potato bar. So many different options and all totally different but same main ingredient. While we are on that combo think about the fact that you could also use ham and green onions and cheddar cheese for any of those so those are more ingredients that are being stretched and cutting your ingredient (AKA grocery) list down which saves you money! Finally, don’t forget the ever present option of doubling what you are making and freezing the extra meal! Saves waste now while saving time and money later.

I hope by now your brain is in overdrive (in a good way) and some of these food ideas have maybe made it onto your meal lists and/or sparked more of your own ideas. I also really hope you understand the mindset that helps you learn to think about ingredients smartly so you can save simply by buying less and using more. I would love to hear how these tips help you and if you have any more to add! Thanks for listening to more of my ramblings and I’m excited to share more of my simplifying secrets with you soon!!

Meal prepping…simplified!

Do you ever get really ambitious when meal planning for the week and not stop to think about how much time each of those meals will take you in really life? I’ve always thought recipes should include total time to make along with real life time to make. Because who starts cooking without remembering they need to switch the laundry right after getting the ingredients out? Then decides if they are really going to chop that many veggies they are going to need the right music streaming to get motivated? Or who doesn’t have a kid who uses their supersonic hearing and comes running to the kitchen the second you open the pantry doors? Hence, total time to make a recipe is 30 minutes but real life time is at least 50 minutes because who are we kidding, right? As a multi tasking mom who is constantly behind on laundry (may as well be honest, behind on anything cleaning related), I have figured out some tips to simplify meal prepping. I would love to share with all you out there who understood what I meant by needing the real life recipe time 😉 Ready to dive in and learn how you can use meal prepping to save your time and sanity each week? Here we go!

Common sense advice: be realistic!!!

That’s right, I just said that in my mom voice so you know I meant it! We all know Pinterest has some BOMB looking recipes that have “total cooking times” that aren’t realistic for those of us without sous chefs, precision knife skills, and approximately 500 square feet of countertop prepping space. When looking at those recipes and planning your meals for the week, consider your skill and comfort levels with cooking along with your real life time constraints before adding them to your meal plan.

Ok, let’s focus first on the more realistic kind of week that most people (if you are anything like me) can expect to have more often than not. Yes, the ever present and dreaded busy weeks when you aren’t sure how you are going to carve out time to eat let alone cook. Have no fear! You’ve got this! Make your meal plan realistic and choose recipes that won’t overwhelm you when it’s time to meal prep. Let me break that down a bit more..choose recipes with minimal ingredients and/or get multiple recipes for the week that utilize some of the same ingredients. Say you know you will have time to meal prep on Sunday because you will have your groceries by then but won’t have to be rushing after work or before the kid’s lessons that night.

What if you planned bacon, hash browns, omelettes and fruit for brunch that morning. Sounds simple and delicious and nothing too crazy time consuming right? Why not take that time you have and cook up extra ingredients (sauté extra veggies from the omelettes, bake extra bacon, and cook up more hash browns)? You are already washing, dicing, and cooking that stuff anyway and now you will have the makings already prepped for multiple meals later that week if you play your meal planning cards right.

I think I’m following here but maybe I need some details…

With that example let’s say you have leftover fruit. Throw it in your lunchbox with some granola and a container of yogurt and you have a breakfast parfait for when you get to work then next morning. Or if you’re more of a smoothie gal make it up right after brunch and pop it in the freezer than get it out when you wake up and it will be thawed enough to drink on your way to work. One night after work that week you could just cook up some chicken and use the leftover sautéed veggies for a quick stir fry over rice. Easy peasy! Hint: you could cook a little extra chicken at the same time and have the makings for a chicken wrap or some chicken to top an easy salad for a work lunch. Chicken is super crockpot friendly for those of you thinking that cooking chicken on a weeknight might be pushing it. And again, think about the end goal here..setting aside a little time to cook chicken once so you can use it in multiple ways and save yourself time on other nights! Still very basic meal plans for a hectic week but soooo much better than hitting up the drive through or grabbing a pizza on the way home from work (for the third week in a row).

But I digress, let’s get back to our simple example. Now what about the other brunch leftovers/early meal preps…extra hashbrowns, sautéed onion, and bacon – sounds like fixings for a loaded baked potato soup! Or maybe make up and freeze some breakfast burritos for an easy breakfast meal later on. Do you see where I’m going with this example? Besides us all now being hungry and craving brunch of course..double duty meal prep is lifesaving! You are making one meal and halfway done making the next by planning ahead and using your groceries and your time as smart as possible.

On the flip side of the pillow let’s say you have extra time this upcoming week. Those types of weeks are like unicorns in my world because it’s rare I have extra time but they are also my favorite and I usually try to do something new on the meal plan (whether it’s a method of cooking I haven’t tried or an ingredient I’ve never used or one of those never ending ingredient list recipes). Make sure you not only have the extra time that week but also that you pick something to make that you’re excited about so the extra time involved won’t deter you from wanting to cook and conquer that time consuming meal! I still recommend applying the same techniques explained about by using some of that special meal’s ingredient list for other meals that week. Perhaps just as important though, take advantage of the unicorn weeks and make an extra batch of whatever you have planned so you can freeze meals. You will thank yourself later, I promise you!

Holy moly guacamole mac & cheese, I think I’ve got it!

Now that you understand the thought process it’s time to put it into action. Seems daunting to actually follow this through in your real life but training your brain to think ahead is really and truly worth it. I can assure you it will get easier and easier to think this way regularly and you will be a meal prepping extraordinaire before you know it! Please feel free to share any tips you have with meal prepping, there are so many great ideas out there and I would love to hear yours!!!

Simplifying Date Nights!

Let me preface this by saying that I know some of you may be new to the dating scene and others may not have the slightest interest in dating. That being said, this post is geared towards those of you who have been there, done that, and are well into your lives with your significant others. Whether that be your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, significant other, etc I want you to remember to ALWAYS keep dating the one you love. So many of us get so wrapped up in our work lives, our kids lives, or just our daily routines that we forget to pay attention to our love lives. Ok that sounded sappy and cliche but it’s still true!

Why keep dating after marriage/committing?

Better question, why would you ever want to stop? Let’s think about this logically…when dating you try to think of new and different things to do together, you spend time talking (and, more importantly, listening!), and you put effort into how you look and what you plan. Once you have committed to spending your life with the one you love that’s when dating should really start. By then, you know your partner better than anyone and your partner knows you (likely) almost as well as you know yourself.

I want to..I really do..but…

Date nights are soooo easy to excuse away. I won’t lie, it’s not an easy thing to do and especially challenging once kids are in the picture. I beg of you to think that the more challenging it seems then the more likely is is that you NEED it more than anything else. If your schedule is so packed you claim to not have time, if your kids are in too many activities, if you don’t have the money to spare because life gets in the way, those are all challenges and obvious signs that you deserve a date break 😉 Now that you recognize the signs, what are you going to do about it? Make excuses or make it happen?

Let’s start by breaking down those common excuses. Schedule is too full and no time to waste on dating? Dating isn’t a waste, it’s time set aside to spend with those you love and it’s necessary to healthy relationships. As for the schedule issue, trust me when I say that I get it, I really do! But are you really so busy that you can’t spare maybe two hours a month? Think about how much time you spend checking emails, Facebook, Pinterest, playing games on your computer at night and on the weekends. Now think about the last time you talked to the most important people in your life and that was your one and only focus. To talk and to listen. Do you maybe think you could find the time now? I bet you can.

This next excuse is geared towards those of you with kids. Let me start this section by saying that, as a mom, there is nothing more important or as special in my life as my child. Now let me continue by being my usual blunt and honest self, kids can consume your life and it’s not always in the best way. I say that with all the love in this entire world for my child! But, there is absolutely nothing wrong with missing a practice here and there. That’s right, I’m officially a bad mom for thinking that let alone saying it and putting it out there like that. But seriously, get a carpool situation figured out and take advantage of that hour and a half to spend quality time with you S.O. and/or your other kid(s). This can be especially beneficial when you get to the stage in life where you have kids in multiple activities. The parents of your kids’ friends are likely wanting to do the same as you so why not work together and alternate driving to and from practices/rehearsals/after school activities? Or take advantage of the grandparents wanting to watch their beloved grandchildren one night or afternoon and take some adult time for yourselves. Believe it or not, the world won’t end and kids survive under the supervision of other adults who are looking out for them.

Speaking of date nights at home, those are the simplest fix to the money challenge. Think you can’t afford regular date nights? Pssssh think again! Redbox movie or anew Netflix flick, favorite snacks, lights out,and snuggling under your favorite blanket together=priceless. Walking around a different part of the city than you are used to and taking candid photos together=free but surprisingly fun. No money to fly to exotic beach destination for a week=no problem! Pack your bags when gas is cheap and get in the car with no destination in mind. Stop where and when you feel like it and spend time talking and listening while you see where you end up! Have a favorite high end restaurant you’ve been dying to try but can’t afford? Put a few dollars aside each month in that date night fund jar and splurge a couple times a year. There’s something about a special meal and high quality food (and/or great drinks) that brings people together and they make memories as well. Notice I’m focusing on one on one dates so far but the possibilities are endless for family date nights too. Set up a tent outside and make s’mores and read stories, have a make your own pizza party at home, get a day pass to a nearby state park and spend the day experiencing what is has to offer, go on a bike ride and bring a picnic lunch or stop for ice cream cones on the way back (way less money than a family meal eating out but so much fun in kids’ eyes), go to the farmers market and walk around then stop at a park on the way back to let the kids burn some energy…you’re getting the picture by now I hope?

How do you keep dating consistently?

Now that you have workarounds to the challenges, take it a step further and make a plan. I’m not talking some unrealistic like date night every Saturday because this is real life and that’s never going to pan out. Look at your schedule, your honey’s schedule, and your kid’s schedule(s) and see if there are any times that are usually free. I’m a huge advocate of family dates and one on one dates with your S.O. Both are important to your dynamics and relationships. Set realistic goals to have one (or both if applicable) kinda of dates on a regular basis and make yourself accountable. Write a sticky note, hang something on the fridge, put a monthly reminder on your phone or email, do something so you are visually reminded and can’t ignore it. Personally, I set monthly reminders on my phone and my work outlook calendar with reminders one week before and the day of. That way I think about it at least twice a month and make myself figure out when it can happen.

Another big tip I recommend is not focusing on it having to be a date night or a set day of the week. It also doesn’t have to be ultra romantic or expensive. It’s 2019 people, dates can be bowling or pool on a Wednesday night for an hour and a half, a brunch at 10am on Sunday morning, a weekend getaway road trip, a goal of trying a new restaurant or making a new meal together once a month, a trip to a new park/playground/soccer field/ice skating rink/shooting range, a visit to a local brewery with the S.O. or trip to an apple orchard or berry/pumpkin patch with the family, go to a concert or local fair, or even take a random class to experience something different together (cooking, self defense, archery, pottery, painting, etc).

Possibilities are endless and restrictions have no place in talks of date plans! Check blogs of people in your city and check local websites to see what people recommend for new ideas. Check Yelp and ask around at work or church or library or the coffee shop to see what restaurants or road trips people suggest. Keep it interesting and you will want to keep it going on a regular basis. Now what are you still doing reading this? Get rid of your excuses, set your (visual) reminders, and start jotting down thoughts and making plans for your soon-to-be date “nights”!