My little groceries experiment

Pictures taken before Easter, hence hot cross buns ๐Ÿ™‚

I wrote last month about how I wanted to analyse our grocery spend as we hadn’t done this for at least four years.

Interestingly, my husband was far less concerned about the spend than I was and it turned out that his instincts were correct.

  1. We are well within what we budget for food which, I’m learning from these posts on the blog and on Instagram, is far below what many similar-sized families spend.
  2. We shop at Pick and Pay every week and about once every 2 – 3 weeks we do a Checkers run to top up on small fruits (for the kids’ lunchboxes) and buy chicken (I know, but there’s a certain chicken my local P&P doesn’t stock so we just go get that at Checkers).
  3. I still feel like we buy too many snacks (chips, nuts, chocolates, biltong) but as my husband reminded me, it’s really our only vice as we don’t drink alcohol or smoke or eat out a lot, and… we still keep well within the budget. Fair enough.
  4. Some things I found shocking from actually looking at the receipts is the price of cottage cheese (R30 a tub; 4 years ago R18,99), tissue refills (80 sheets for R15; 200 sheets for R22) and cereals (R40 a box!). A reminder to me that just because one option was better at one time doesn’t mean it’s still the better option – we will now be buying the full box of tissues.
  5. I used to shop the pantry and eat from the freezer in a fairly disciplined way but it slipped a bit over the years. Now I inventory the freezer before making my menu plan for the week and most meals are designed around using up bits of food so it won’t go to waste.ย  If you’re not intentional, you can keep buying without actually using the food already in your house.

I don’t purport to know your situation but if you’re looking for 3 quick takeaways, here you go:

Make a realistic menu plan. Don’t plan to cook 7 days if you’ve only cooked 3 meals a week for the last year. Maybe set a goal to cook those same 3 meals, but a double batch. And obviously don’t buy more food than you actually are going to cook. Maybe you’re being a fantasy cook?

Watch your food wastage. Be realistic about what you will, and not just intend, to use. I caught myself doing exactly this the other week when I thought about all the lovely winter veggies I wanted to buy. When I looked at the actual menu plan, we only needed two veggies and not four like I wanted to buy. I literally count the potatoes and buy exactly what we need (6 medium potatoes or 4 large potatoes). This goes without saying but shop with a list, on a full stomach.

Plan for easy nights. My goal is that we eat a cooked meal only 4 of the 7 nights. Fridays are eggs/ soup/ toasted sandwiches. One night is leftovers from everything before…. and the last night is usually beef burgers or fish fingers on a roll with lettuce/ tomato, and oven chips. Mondays are my longest days so that is always a freezer meal defrosted. When you only plan to buy what you realistically will cook and eat, you’ll automatically save money.

How has your grocery spending been in April? Is there a specific category (cleaning materials is usually a hot topic, or school lunches…) you’d like me to go into more detail on?

If you’d like individual help on managing your finances better, please contact me. Due to the personal nature of each person’s finances, I can’t hold a workshop where these things are discussed but I do individual or couples’ financial coaching.

Why you should have an essentials-only budget

ย  Now and again, I like to do a little financial experiment, which I call an essentials-only budget.

Usually I have a zero-based budget which means that every R is accounted for, whether to an actual expense like groceries or to a savings account.

Because of this zero-based budget, there is never any money left over at the end of the month and, in fact, I also have a little quirk where if there is some spending money left, I transfer it out of my account to my savings account so that there’s no “old money” left before payday.

Now let’s talk about an essentials-only budget.

If, for some reason, you or your spouse/ partner lost your job, your budget would look very different. Some expenses would fall away and you’d get back to basics, or essentials.

This is the essentials-only budget.

When I took a sabbatical from work four years ago, I worked off my EO budget. I stopped adding to my savings account because I was drawing down from my savings instead. I wasn’t tithing because I had no income except for a tiny bit from my online courses and interest on my savings accounts.

Our petrol usage reduced, groceries stayed about the same but because I had a closer eye on things, we weren’t buying a lot of junk, and I also reduced my personal care & clothes spending. The house and both cars were paid off, but we still had expenses like gym, insurance, school fees, and so on.

In short, my essentials budget ended up being about 35% of my actual budget.

So why would you want to do a budget like this while you’re employed?

  • It gives you a clear and accurate idea of what you actually need to bring in to live on
  • It also shows you how much you could do without
  • It gives you peace of mind – I’ve done this exercise every couple of years for about 10 years, and each time the amount is far less than I anticipate
  • If you’re planning an emergency fund (I highly recommend it, and it’s the reason I took the sabbatical in the first place because I had money saved), you have an actual amount of savings to work towards. The financial experts recommend 3 – 6 months; I recommend about 2 months longer than a recruitment agent thinks it would take for you to be placed ๐Ÿ™‚

I recently did my essentials-only budget and this time, it’s 51% of my actual budget. That’s mostly due to the new house!

It’s still a very useful exercise to do, if nothing else but to set your mind at ease.

Over to you.

Do you budget? Do you do zero-based budgeting? Have you ever done an essentials-only budget?

Where are your yellow flags showing up?

One Sunday morning a few years ago I was enjoying a mug of tea while reading blogs.

I happened upon a friend’s blog where she mentioned her hard drive crashed and she lost everything. Fortunately for her, her husband backs up weekly.

Right there and then (I didn’t even finish reading her post!), I got up, fetched my external hard drive and backed up my computer.

You see, my computer had been running a bit slow and that, for me, is a yellow flag.

The next thing that would happen is that programmes would stop responding and one day Iโ€™d find a blue screen or something similarly scary.

I’d be kicking myself then because when my computer completely stops working, that’s my red flag.

We all have yellow flags in our lives.

They’re usually about much bigger things than just a computer (although that’s big in my life – the thought of losing all my lovely photos makes me feel physically sick).

Things like our health, our relationships, our work, our finances.

Let’s talk about health.

Yellow flags are constant feelings of being stressed, headaches, pain, anxiety, etc.

They are indicators that we need to deal with something in our lives.

I was recently in a job that was very stressful for me. I knew I was feeling stress but a yellow flag for me was when my doctor picked up something in my bloodwork indicating the stress.

I tried to manage the stress as best as I could but when nothing had changed for me physiologically 6 months later, I knew I had to make a drastic change, so I left.

As a friend said to me, โ€œyou can always get another job โ€“ youโ€™re smart and talented โ€“ but you canโ€™t always get your health backโ€. Too true.

If you ignore these yellow flags, they could lead to a red flag where you’re forced to stop and take note of things, like a serious disease, an operation, and so on.

So have a think.

If you’re honest with yourself, are there any yellow flags in your life you need to deal with?

1. Constant feelings of stress and overwhelm?
2. An odd noise in your car
3. A relationship that needs tending
4. Finances that need to be looked at
5. Boundaries that need to be discussed

Can you identify any yellow flags in your life? How can you take a step or two to deal with it?

Let’s talk about groceries and spending

One of the 18 in 2018 items on my list is to analyse our grocery spend because it feels like it’s out of hand.

Notice I said “feels” because I don’t know for sure.

I’m hearing lots around these days about grocery spend, money stuff, and so on, and so I decided to use the impetus on the internet to get this exercise done for us, and cross off that item.

A few bits of background:

  • We are a household of 4 – Dion, me, and our nearly 9-year-old twins. Most days, Connor now eats more than I do!
  • Our nanny is here every weekday and eats what we do for lunches (sandwiches and a piece of fruit) and the gardener is here one day but he doesn’t eat sandwiches so brings his own lunch.
  • The children grab a muffin or have a quick breakfast before school, take their school lunch with them, return home, have a small lunch/ snack and then supper.
  • I pack breakfast and lunch to take to work, and have supper at home.
  • D has breakfast at home, packs lunch for work and has supper at home too.
  • So we eat almost everything at home. All of that is considered grocery spend.
  • Cleaning products is also all “grocery” money as is toiletries for the kids. Specialised toiletries for the parents are for our own account, e.g. my shampoo, moisturizer, vitamins, etc.
  • We eat a lunch out on the weekends every second Sunday, and Dion and I have date afternoon once a month, but eating out comes out of its own budget. I don’t believe in takeaways so we never get food to eat at home unless for a very special occasion (Valentine’s Day).
  • I never waste food; I pack leftovers away and once a week we eat whatever’s there. No one is fussy in my house because the rule is “you cook for yourself if you get fussy”. I guess they hate cooking more ๐Ÿ™‚
  • We shop weekly at Pick and Pay. I love the quality and I can get 98% of what I need. I have a tiny pantry. It’s smaller than at the previous house and I now consider it a game to use up all that food before buying more.

These are questions I’m asking of our household…

  1. what is our snacks vs real food ratio?
  2. are we shopping at too many stores? many people swear by this but that is precisely why the spend is astronomical, unless you are exceptionally self-disciplined and walk out with exactly what you wanted, and no more in quantity than you need. We have got into a habit of doing an “after church” stop at Checkers which is, on average, R300 a week. Thankfully we don’t go every week.
  3. have we used up all our food before buying more? Or are we lazy to get creative so we just keep buying?
  4. do I need to bring back a focused eat out of the freezer and pantry week every month?

What do you want me to talk about next in this series?ย 

Questions for you:

do you know what you spend on groceries? do you question whether it’s excessive or not? do you want to save money in this area or doesn’t it bother you?

PS The Frugal Girl writes a post every week on what we ate, what I spent. I love her blog – it’s mindful of money without being crazy over the top.

Switching up what’s not working for you

I’ve had a goal on my list since the beginning of the year, and that was to increase the amount of exercise I get in a week, in particular, to strengthen my core.

This was not happening despite wishing it were so. Imagine that.

Then my usual Zumba instructor had an operation and she was off for 6 Saturdays. One of those Saturdays we had a visiting lady do a Pound class.

A post shared by Marcia Francois (@marcia0608) on

That pound class opened my mind to new possibilities and reminded me that I had a fitness goal I’d made exactly 0% progress in.

Another gym in my neighbourhood opened earlier this year, still in the same network. So I checked their classes and phoned them to see if I could try out a Barre180 class.

I tried the class, loved it and have been going ever since.

But that’s not the end of the story.

You see, I’ve been in a habit where we, as a family, go to the gym together every Saturday morning for years and years. I love the time together, that we’re prioritising fitness and health, and I still (two months in) miss going to gym with them. It’s complicated, but basically, there is no kids’ programme at the new gym and in order for me to go with them on a Sat and still go to my new one during the week would cost me a lot of money, which I just can’t justify.

I’m trying not to focus on the missing part too much, and I’m going for more walks with the kids ๐Ÿ™‚

And the best thing is… two of my jackets can now close and my flexibility has increased such that I can easily touch the floor again. Yay.

Over to you.

Think back to the goals you wrote down at the start of the year. Are there any you’re completely stuck on? Do you need to shake things up?

Do you need a goals re-set? There’s still time to make inroads into a couple of your goals. If you need a goals brainstorm and strategy session, email me and let’s set that up on Skype or Facetime.

How I do menu planning, and what I cook for my freezer

Have you read my post on why you should consider menu planning?

 

I do my menu planning weekly but if you’re more of an all or nothing person, you might want to just plan a month’s worth of meals and get it all over and done with at one time.

Weekly or monthly menu planning for you?

I feel like I’m doing that thing with my kids where I say “cucumber or tomatoes?”

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A couple of ideas on ways to approach menu planning:

  • have a theme for each day: mince on Mondays/ chicken on Tuesdays/ vegetarian on Wednesdays/ fish on Thursday/ easy Friday (pizza/ eggs/ soup)
  • cook a certain number of nights and use freezer dishes for the rest
  • delegate certain nights to your spouse

How I do it

1. Generally, D does supper on Tuesdays and Sundays. The trick when you delegate is you are not allowed to say a single thing except “thank you for the lovely supper”. They will stop if you nag about anything. Tell yourself the kids will be fine without vegetables for 1 – 2 nights. I don’t write anything on my menu plan except “D”.

Sundays is usually toast with peanut butter, cheese, etc. and this is (sadly) the kids’ favourite meal of the week.

2. According to my daughter, we always have rice on a Monday (I checked my menu plans and turns out, she’s right ๐Ÿ™‚ I haven’t intentionally planned it like that, but I do like rice/ pasta/ rice/ potatoes/ bread-based within my 5 meals.

3. We very rarely go out for supper because 1) I can whip up a pasta quicker than us getting ourselves sorted and to the nearest place and waiting for our meal 2) we prefer lunches out

4. I cook a lot on the weekends. Not every weekend, but about one or two weekends in a 5-week period. That feels about right to me. I may make 3 meals but I cook double so that’s 6 nights’ suppers sorted.

5. Leftovers. Don’t discount the leftovers. Those meals I cook on the weekends last longer than I anticipate because often we don’t have to have the 5th meal of the week because there is enough leftovers. Sometimes I’ve had supper out, sometimes D only wants half of his supper because he’s home later, and so on.

Meals that freeze well

Some people think potato or pasta doesn’t freeze well. I have done both and the meals are still perfectly fine. I think the trick is to not let it thaw forever out on the counter because your food will get watery (yuck!). I put it in the microwave to defrost it a bit for about 6 minutes (that’s two presses of the quick defrost button on my microwave) and then straight into the oven to crisp up.

  1. Cottage pie
  2. Baked pasta dishes. When you cook one dish to have “fresh” on the night, do another dish for the freezer. Put it in the casserole dish, put some cling wrap (Saran wrap) on the top, and into the freezer.
  3. Rice
  4. Curries
  5. Bolognaise
  6. Chicken a la King
  7. Taco mince
  8. Chilli con carne
  9. Chicken and broccoli casserole
  10. Soup and the rolls ๐Ÿ™‚

and so on (share your ideas in the comments please)

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Do you menu plan? Weekly or monthly?

Do you cook freezer meals? Which ones are your favourites?

Why you should menu plan

I was chatting to a friend a few weeks ago and I told her that when things feel like they’re going off track, there’s one thing that I need to do: make a menu plan.

Today, let’s talk about why I do menu planning (I’ve been menu planning for 11 years now), and why you should consider doing so too.

Do you menu plan?

Good reasons to menu plan

  • it saves you daily decision time
  • saves you money when you use up all the food in the freezer and pantry, and stops you buying foods you don’t need
  • no stress about what to cook every night as even if you don’t feel like eating what you put on your menu, you know there’s at least 4 other options to choose from

I play a little game with myself and aim for sticking to the menu plan 4 out of 5 nights. Remember I’m not a perfectionist. Good enough is better than perfect.

How do you start menu planning

Note – please do this before you go to the shops to do your grocery shopping ๐Ÿ˜‰

1. Go to your freezer and cupboards to see what food you have that you need to use up, and make a list.
2. Write out a menu plan for a week (if you do weekly shopping) or longer, using recipes to use up that food. Get creative.
3. Add any items that you need to your weekly shopping list and do your shopping. You may have some pasta and cans of tuna so in order to use them up, you might need a few cans of tomato.
4. Stick the menu plan to your fridge.

Now you don’t have to rack your brain every night wondering what to cook because you have a plan.

Another tip that will save you lots of time is to cook something on a Sunday afternoon. This meal is not for eating that day, but for freezing. I heard a podcast recently (I don’t know how she does it – an Aussie podcast) where the lady said she makes all the lunches for the week on a Sunday afternoon and while she’s doing that, she bakes muffins or bread. Brilliant!

When you have a busy day itโ€™s easy to just defrost the meal and have a healthy supper on the table in minutes.

We went through a stage where we didn’t buy any meat for two months while we finished everything in the freezer and started on the cupboards. You see, we all get into a habit of buying the same groceries every week without checking if we really need it.

If youโ€™re not already menu planning, I’d like to encourage you to at least start. Do so for at least a month, give it a good go and see if it doesn’t save you time and money.

And if you already do menu planning, then your challenge for this week is to only buy perishables and eat from your freezer and cupboards.

Are you menu planning?

Is there anything you’d like to change about your process? Do you have any special tips?

PS Look out on Thursday for how I do my menu planning and some freezer meal ideas

Your silent to-do list

I like to think of tolerations as silent to-dos.

What are tolerations?

They’re those things that are not glaringly obvious but annoy you a little bit every time you see them or think about them.

And they definitely drain your energy. They also make you feel guilty (I really should change that lightbulb/ clear off that end table/ take that donate pile to the car) or resentful (why doesn’t person X/ Y or Z see this thing that needs to be done?!)

I’ve written about tolerations before and how lovely they were once they were taken care of. Interestingly, one of those tolerations has reared its head again. Grrr.

A toleration for you might not be one for me, and vice versa.

I can’t stand broken things or things out of place or things that have run out and not been replaced (toilet roll, roller towel, soap, etc.) so those kinds of things are my hot buttons. A photo frame or canvas that’s skew doesn’t phase me in the least unless it’s really bad.

Notice your tolerations and how they show up in your life.

  • Do you literally groan out loud when you see a toleration?
  • Does a part of your body tense up ?
  • Do you sigh? Do you frown?

Notice the physical and emotional signs that show up for you.

Now what?

Write these things down on a master to-do list or on my Get it done day list. This is a separate list aside from your House to-do list. The reason is you can knock off a whole lot of these quick things in a short time, and they’re usually really low cost.

Gretchen Rubin often talks about a power hour and that is a really good use of that time to knock off some tolerations too.

So, once you have your list, take an hour every weekend (we all have an hour!) and schedule in your get it done time (I used to do a once a month Get it done day and take 4 hours to knock off a ton of things). If you need money to take care of these things, then set aside some money every month to get some things done.

Who’s ready to tackle some tolerations this weekend?

Tag me on Instagram @organisingqueen so I can cheer you on.

My house also has a to-do list

For about 18 months before we moved out of our old house, we finally did all those things on our list that we needed and wanted to do.

I had a to-do list I was working off of, and when we found the current house, I had about 12 small things left on the old list (from about 60).

So then I decided we will no longer leave things and only fix when we’re selling.

Be realistic with time and money

This is not your fantasy life; it’s your real life. You still have to work and rest and do other stuff on the weekends, so do pace yourself.

Things in the house cost money, even if it’s to buy new pillows or a tablecloth, it all costs money. You have to realise you need to keep money for paying off the bond, emergencies, holidays and doing your house to-do list.

Balance big and small things

I’ve shared before about a small change we made in our bathroom. I’m so glad we made this change otherwise I would have been unhappy for years because we can’t afford a bathroom remodel.

You can go even smaller – a new duvet cover or pillow cases do wonders too.

This might not work for you if you’re a maximiser; this is someone who has to have the perfect solution and will happily wait til that can be done.

It’s not about being discontented

I feel like you can be content with where you are in life, but still make a few changes to be happier. The Nester’s blog is a great place to read more about this concept.

A few small changes that have made me super happy in the past – my yellow desk, yellow cushions, a new side plate, my navy blue kitchen, etc.

How do I plan my house to-do list?

I make a gigantic list. I used the 100 things to do page from my shining planner but my master to-do list (it’s in the pack when you sign up to my list) works just as well.

I walk through the house, room by room, and write down everything that I want to change in the next year or two.

I have quick things like get a plant for the landing, and big things like redo kitchen floors, on the list.

And then because I’m looking at this list regularly, about once a month, I have those things in mind so if I see the perfect rug for a child’s bedroom, I can get it.

That’s it really.

Does your house have a to-do list too?

If you’ve never made a master list for your house, why don’t you do that this weekend?

My no-spend-on-books month

I’ve done a no-spend month once before, years and years ago, when I joined Beth for her no-spend month.

That was a really great experience because it broke my Exclusive Books habit of spending hundreds of rands on books every month .

This time, I had an idea that my book-buying habit was getting a bit out of control because I was buying a title from Modern Mrs Darcy‘s list almost daily.

Even $2 – $5 Kindle deals add up… and fast.

Amazon also sends those almost-daily emails with their recommendations based on the titles you’ve viewed.

One day I looked and I had 31 unread titles on my Kindle – real books, not samples. And I’ve been reading on average 10 books a month.

I then decided this book-buying thing was getting out of hand and I decided March would be a no-spend month on books.

What did I do differently?

I unsubscribed from MMD’s list. It’s the same way I don’t ever take a catalogue or brochure from a store – if I don’t see it, I don’t want it. I will subscribe again when I feel more caught up with my current reading and I have told my book club to let me know if Small Great Things goes on sale ๐Ÿ™‚

How did I do?

I’ve been waiting for Alec Baldwin’s memoir, Nevertheless, for over 6 months so the minute that became available on Audible, I pre-ordered it with a credit I had.

I somehow forgot about my no-spend March when I went to shop for the 2017 Library project and I picked up some books. It honestly didn’t even occur to me that I was buying books because in my head I had DIGITAL books as my goal. Aside from the 4 books for the library, I bought 1 for a friend and about 5 for me (!).

So I was successful with Kindle and Audible purchases; not with physical books ๐Ÿ™‚

What now?

I’m back on the no-spend wagon. We have a mini-break coming up and I wanted some books for lazing at the pool so I bought some books on Amazon last week. Coming to an instagram feed near you ๐Ÿ™‚

I do think I’m set for at least another 3 months so let’s see if I can keep up the no-spending challenge for books for at least another 2 months.

How about you?

Have you ever declared a no-spend challenge on buying books? Or make-up? Or clothes?

Speaking of which, I haven’t bought a watch since December 2012 and I now have only 3 working watches left. I’m going to treat myself for my birthday though (4 months away) or sooner if I see something I really want.

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