Meal planning and budget

Its the end of the month for us and so the budget has been done ready to go into August. This means that there’s one big thing left for me to do- our meal planning!

I am trying to be a lot stricter with this in terms of budget and also look for more ways to save. Roughly a year ago I did a big over haul of our eating and food spending habits. At that point I cut down our monthly food budget from around £210 per month to on average £130 (that’s for 2 adults, 3 meals a day). After that initial cut I feel I’ve plateaued, the saving was great but I still feel like there has to be so many other ways I can cut the budget even more. So that’s what I’m trying to plan for and do!

My mantra for this year is definitely ‘can I make it myself’. Therefore every meal we make, if we’ve had to buy any ready made ingredients, I want to know if I can do it instead.

The first thing to go was shop bought pasta sauces- this one for me was purely a laziness factor. It initially felt a lot easier to just open a jar than to make one up. I have now stopped being lazy though and started making my own (FYI it takes roughly 1 minute more to make my own basic tomato sauce). This has saved me from spending up to £2 on jarred sauce and instead only costs me 60p for my home sauce ingredients. The eventual dream is that I’ll get good at growing tomatoes and be able to make my own passata base as well.  The next thing that has saved us some money is that I am now mainly vegetarian – much to husbands disgust! It means that our meat order goes twice as far because its just husband eating the meat and I use pulses or meat substitutes instead which are a lot cheaper.

The other area where we’ve saved a lot of money is by me getting a good pizza base recipe. We committed in June that we would stop getting takeout. It was our Saturday night treat to order in pizza. A treat for me that I didn’t have to Cook and a treat for husband cause he loves pizza. However, because he dislikes sharing pizza, it was costing us around £60/£70 per month just on 4 meals. That 50% of our entire months food budget. An absolutely ridiculous waste of money when we’re trying to clear debt. So instead I’ve been making the bases and we’re having delicious cheesy pizza for pennies instead.

Aside from this we also chose a cheaper supermarket to shop in which has helped as well. Although due to the nature of that shop it doesn’t always have everything we need so we do still go to another store once a month for bits and pieces!

How I actually meal plan is simple. I take an inventory of the freezer and pantry first of all. I have a good rough idea so its really just firming up that I have what I think I have. Then I print out a blank monthly calendar and write in all my shifts that I know. That then just leaves me to match food to days. We have a basic ‘bank’ of meals that we eat with the occasional experiment meal thrown in so I try to cycle through them as I go. I usually start with the nights I won’t be in for dinner as these have to be meals husband can make himself which limits the possibilities. Then I choose what days I want lazy meals so ones I can quickly prep or shove in the oven. That just leaves my days off when I have time to make more elaborate meals so they go in as well. That gives me my full months dinners and I make my shopping list on a weekly basis for the fill in ingredients from the planner. The calendar gets stuck up on the fridge and that’s it all done =)

TOP TIPS

– don’t be swayed by brands: own brand is normally just as good. There’s only one or two things we still prefer branded.

– plan round how tired you think you’ll be: I used to be terrible for not taking into account what I was working. I would plan in a meal that took time to prepare and then be to tired and hangry to cook. When that happened we would end up buying takeaway…

– always label the extra portions that go into the freezer. I have too many mystery boxes in the freezer that I was convinced at the time I’d remember what they were.

– weigh your ingredients. I weigh out our pasta and rice portions and cheese etc. Its good for a not being fat point of view but also saves on waste.

– make use of your freezer. I buy frozen instead of fresh for what I don’t grow generally. For mushrooms and peppers I buy, chop and freeze on the day.  For our big meat order I spend a couple of hours on delivery day portioning and wrapping it and then put it in the freezer.

– plan in advance to use any leftovers from dinner and change them into something for lunch the next day.

 

 

Old skills, new skills, lost skills…

This year I’ve been dwelling on skills that I would like to have that I don’t. Now that encompasses a very wide array- from metal working to speaking another language- there’s loads of things I would like to be able to do. My problem is always just picking one thing. When I get in the mood to learn something new then I start trying to do it all! As you can imagine this very quickly descends into me learning nothing.

I’m also fairly terrible at teaching myself anything. I’m not one of these glorious people who can turn their hand to anything. In fact I’ve yet to find a single thing in my life that I have been able to quickly pick up. Anything I learn is hard won and normally encompasses endless hours of extra practice compared to anyone else and a book or five on the subject to understand the theory of what I’m doing. This means that when I’m trying to pick up something I have to try and find a teacher. For me a YouTube tutorial just won’t cut it, I need someone there to hold my hand.

Now that’s not to say that I’m stupid or that I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing. However in reality I like to be able to ask many many incessant questions and write notes (on paper as well, I don’t do well with typed notes) on the steps I should be taking. As well as being able to watch them do the thing first and then copy it.

This is in complete contrast to the wonderful husband. I have never met someone more hands on and practically minded than he is. Also he is one of these blessedly annoying people who picks everything up quickly and makes it look damn easy doing it! In fact this idea of him is so ingrained in me that I now find it difficult to believe if I ask him to do something practical and he tells me he can’t. (On occasion I do think this is just because he doesn’t want to do what I’m asking…). This is a man who taught himself to wire our house, plumb in our bathroom and heating system, has built garages and kit cars and many other jobs mainly by watching a couple of videos on it and then getting started. It’s a skill I envy and admire and one that I definitely do not have!

I’ve also found that the older I get the more I feel I should have a certain skill level. I can do the basics of life: cook, clean, washing etc but I want to be able to do more.

Based on all that, I wanted to pick a skill for this year to get to grips with. To me, out of my long list, the most useful skill I could acquire was how to use a sewing machine. This is a totally foreign area to me. I was ill for most of my childhood so I didn’t do home economics classes and have never been near a sewing machine in my house either. I do however love the idea of being able to make and alter things. The opportunity to take it up seemed like a good choice when I saw a Singer machine on offer in the local supermarket. So I bought it and went from there.

Now for the teaching part. As I said I can’t teach myself so I needed to rope someone in to teach me the basics. That’s where my mother in law comes in. I’m extremely lucky and I get along really well with my MIL. I’m also lucky that she has all the skills of a perfect 1950’s housewife and is willing to pass them onto me! So we’ve currently started lessons- just basic using my machine, threading it, different stitches, adjusting tension etc. I was duped by her into making a cushion cover as well. (This was stressful as it’s to go in her room, I thought I was working on a practice one with spare material, it turned out that it was the good one- not impressed!). It’s now time for me to try and make an actual legitimate item from start to end though…

Yesterday was a day of shopping. For the first time I bought a pattern and fabric- yay. This was a myriad of complications though that I didn’t know about. For a start I didn’t realise that you look through a pattern book and then take a number up to the counter to actually get the pattern. I had assumed that you would just have all the patterns hanging on a wall and pick from there. That’s not the case I see! Then there’s all the numbers on the pattern- I still don’t know what they mean. Due to my MIL knowledge we seem to have come away with the right pattern but who knows?! I also got far too overexcited in the fabric shop. I’m just making a basic pair of jogging bottoms but that involves boring coloured, plain jersey fabric. Whereas what I actually want to make clothes out off is all the material with tiny pirates, fabric that is super soft and looks like dragon scales or is off a completely lurid pattern involving giant flowers or little stars…  I got dark grey jersey material though as is appropriate for the moment! So now I just have to get on and make it. I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going once I get started.

When I was looking at skills though it did make me think a lot about the potential for skills to be lost. I don’t know many people my age who can use a sewing machine, knit, make jam, make home remedies, grow their own food or re-purpose and re-use what they own. It could be that I just don’t know the right subset of people for this but I do have a broad range of friends. To them I am viewed as a practical person and someone who can do a lot and has a lot of ‘old’ housewife-esque skills. This is blatantly untrue but it’s because they buy everything and would never consider making their own. It makes me even more determined to master what skills I start, I want to help carry these on for new generations. Hopefully that’ll give me enough incentive to learn new things each year.

Are there any skills that are in danger of dying that you know? I’d love to hear about them.

Kimmy x

Sewing Machine