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.

 

 

Debt journey …

Its been a long while once I wrote about our debt journey. We have still been working on it but have been having various amounts of success and setbacks.

As I’d previously said in November we very stupidly booked to go to Florida again which we did in June. This cost us a lot of money and we did put money on a credit card while out there so that was the biggest setback…we have made good inroads since coming back though and we’re really determined to still get this done by the start of next year. 

Our debt as it stands is a loan for £6695 and the credit card with £1135 so combined debt total of £7830 excluding our mortgage. 

We sat down and did a paper budget this month. As we’ve been decorating then the computer is dismantled so no spreadsheets! It was actually good to sit and write everything down although it is slightly depressing to realise that currently i work purely to pay our debt. However that won’t change till we get rid of it! Since we came back from holiday mid June we have so far managed to pay £1210 back off the debt. If we could continue this then we would make our final debt payment in February 2018. That’s against a final payment projection of September 2020 if we had continued with just our standard payments. So really it is good but its not good enough! My absolute ideal is to make our final payment in December of this year but unless one of us has an unexpected pay increase or bonus then I don’t think that’s realistic.

I get paid this week so we still have one final overpayment to make. It should be for £243 if I get paid what I expect too. Then based on our predicted monies for next month we should pay another £1100 to debt which would put us to just over £6700 left to pay. The figures are definitely going in the right direction.

I am also in the mood to sell everything (or a lot of things anyway) to try and make December a more feasible target for clearing debt. I’m currently just trying to figure out the best way to do it. I’m using marketplace and shpock app because they’re free to list but not having much success yet. So the next option is car boot sales I think, looking around for the best value ones to go to. I have also tried ebay but again nothing seems to be selling yet. 

That’s where we are just now, we both need to try and use our other skills to get it cleared faster and stay focused!

Debt update- January/ February 

Its payday for me today which means that we had our budget meeting last night. I thought I’d write down all the things that have happened in the last few months with our money to try and see the progress! 
First up confession time… In a time of weakness near the end of last year we booked to go to Florida on holiday. I was fed up with trying to clear our debt and getting nowhere, we’d also been trying unsuccessfully to start a family for a while and just wanted a break. So the long and the short is we agreed to go on this very expensive holiday. Since that point its caused some stress because we don’t have all the money to pay for it and we actually don’t want to increase our credit card or loan debt.

So we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do about it all. At the moment we pay £300 a month to our loan. The idea has always to make overpayments but this never seems to happen. We also had around £200 on a credit card. This was the sum of our debt excluding our mortgage as we said in our original post at the start of January: 12.5k 

After much discussion we’ve reassessed the moneys we hold and where best to use it. I think we have it in our heads that we want to have savings which is all well and good but why have all this debt and savings?! So we’ve decided to wipe out pretty much everything cash wise apart from our emergency and sinking funds. There are still some areas we’re contributing and keeping money in. Both of us have pensions with our companies and we’re continuing with those. Husband also has sharesaves with his company that we put money too every month. This means we still have some long term security. What we’re ‘cashing in’ is my shares options and extra money that we had put in our emergency fund. 

By doing all that it amounted to us having the 2.5k we needed to pay for the rest of our holiday, we were also able to make a January overpayment to the loan of £1600. Now at the end of February we’ve been able to make another overpayment of £350. Including our regular payments that means we’ve paid just over 2.5k to debt and takes us to £9913 left to go. Assuming that we never pay another overpayment them that makes our debt free date December 2019. Far too long away for my liking! 

Now we have been blessed with a few things that make it more and more likely we can make overpayments each month. The first great thing about February and March every year is we don’t pay council tax. That immediately means we have almost £400 that should go straight to debt. The second thing is I’ve been able to increase my hours at work. So instead of 20 hrs per week I now get 32 hrs per week which is amazing. The last thing came happily just a couple of days after NY contract increase and that was a pay increase starting in April. This means that taking my extra hours and extra pay into account that we should be £400 better off each month. Now not all of that can go to debt- we weren’t making enough with me on 20 hrs to really cover everything- but we should be able to pay at least a couple of hundred pounds over each month. 

Last thing (sorry this is such a mammoth post!) is I’ve changed what supermarket we use, altered our meal plan to a healthier one and gone back to making meticulous shopping lists. This meant that I actually stuck to our food budget this month for the first time in a long time.

I’m exceptionally happy that we’re now under 10k debt, it does finally feel like we’re making progress. If everything goes to plan then we should actually be able to hit under 9k debt by this time next month..  We’ll see if that actually pans out though as we’ve been here before and always ended up with more debt…fingers crossed! 

Kimmy x

Sourdough and Mushrooms!

Its been an exciting week – our seeds have arrived for this seasons growing!! I am also off work this weekend so will have time to plan out where we’re going to plant everything. I want to start most of our seedlings at the start of February. The other new thing we’ve begun this week is our first ever sourdough starter.

This is definitely a year of firsts for us and trying new things in terms of growing and self sufficiency. I’m sure most other people have tried a starter at some point in their life but we hadn’t. This naturally means that I’m like a new proud parent and have been taking photos of it each day! 

Day 1- we started with a wholemeal flour and if it works I’d like to keep a wholemeal and all purpose flour starter going. 

Day 4- this is what it looks like today! I haven’t ever been so pleased to see bubbles in my life. The mixture is bubbling away nicely and has taken on that tangy scent since last night. 

I wasn’t confident that our starter would actually take off so I haven’t spent much time looking into what to do with it.. Until today. I have so far seen recipes for crisps, Pitta’s, waffles and pancakes. I want to try a foolproof recipe first though so will probably just start with a bread.

The other thing we received this week was our mushroom growing kits. We go through a ton of mushrooms in a year. I rarely cook a meal without them. They do however seem to be a bit fickle to grow. So for this first attempt we ordered some mushroom kits. They arrived on Friday and are currently progressing nicely through the first stages. Tomorrow should see the next step for growing them as we’ll cover the spores.

I’m excited to see if these will work however, unless they give an amazing harvest, it wouldn’t be financially worth it to grow them from scratch this way. Does anyone else grow mushrooms? Or have any tips for foraging them? I would love to be able to forage for mushrooms but I am terrified I will poison us! I’ve read a lot of articles and books on it but I still get worried when it comes to going out and getting them. This will maybe be the year to try it.

Anyway that’s what the adventures that the Arnolds have had this week =) its just going to keep getting busier we hope! X

My 5 things- trying to minimise!

This year husband has set me a challenge- to choose five things per day that I can give away or get rid off. Both of us have hoarding tendencies so its one of the hardest things he could ask me to do. Its also one of the best! I’ve agreed on the proviso that he do it as well.

We had a bit of a false start with him trying to convince me that a half empty water bottle counted as one of his five… There was also the simple fact of starting, its one thing to say you’ll do it and another thing to actually do it. 

It’s a simple fact for me that, much like a child, my possessions have never looked so appealing as when I’m contemplating giving them away. I have items that have been in a box since we moved into our house three years ago. When I take them out though all of a sudden they’re the most interesting thing I own. This means I’m spending a lot of time putting things in the charity box just to take them back out again. 

I’ve started asking myself these three questions: 

1- Have I used it recently?

2- Do I need it?

3- Would I want to pack it and take it to our homestead? (when we get it!)

Its the last one that’s the real driving force. I need to get away from being materialistic. All that will happen if I keep it up is we’ll spend our money on things and never pay off the debt. So I figure if I get better at giving my possessions away then I won’t want to replace them. 

Here’s a selection of what I’ve picked out so far. I’m currently part of a bartering group so for a lot of the stuff I’ve put it on there to see if anyone else can make use of it. In return I’m asking for goodies for my store cupboard- beans, tomatoes, puree etc. Its marginally easier for me to give things away if I can see they’re going somewhere they’re appreciated and useful! 

The hardest thing for me to even attempt to give away is books. I love books. I also own quite a few of them. Some I haven’t even read but I can’t bring myself to give them away. I would adore having my own library and want to include a reading nook/room when we get round to building . A lot of the books I now own are digital which has helped but you can’t beat having a real book in your hands. The books in the picture above are the only ones I’ve been able to give away so far.

As the days go on its getting both harder and easier to do. Its therapeutic once you start to give things away. I have found myself looking in drawers and cupboards that have been untouched for other items I can put in my pile. Its getting harder though because obviously the longer we go on, the more attached I am to the possessions I’m looking at. I gave up all the ‘easy’ things in the first few days so now I am onto the ‘what can I live without’. A very different question to what I actually need to live…

I think I’ve made a good start but my pace is slowing, I’ve exhausted nooks and crannies and I have to start giving up items I want!

Any tips on not being such a hoarder?! How did downsizing go for everyone else?