Three things that, in combination, make my life stressful and complicated. Admittedly, school and budgeting would probably be stressful on their own but it is incredibly difficult for me to manage all three at the same time.
I am in school from 6pm to 10pm two nights a week. Because we are budgeting and working towards getting out of debt I try to make large meals that have multiple servings so the hubs and I can take our lunch and not eat out. On the nights I have school I take two servings, one to eat for lunch and one to eat for dinner before class. This requires making two meals on Sunday night so there are plenty of leftovers since I am not home to cook two nights. The hubs eats leftovers or makes pasta or omelets when I am in school.
That all sounds easy enough, there are only two of us, but I have a hard time making it work. When it comes to planning meals to make bulk portions, there are only a few that we really like and I get burnt out quickly on repeat meals. Pasta is the best option for bulk, and even though there are a lot of pasta options, it gets old. Planning what to cook when to ensure we have enough to last is not easy either. Not planning the meals right means not enough to get through the week for lunch or dinner and eating out.
A few weeks back, I discovered a blog post by Molly Cookie on weekly meal plans and shopping lists. This little trick has really helped our budget and my stress level. On Saturday or Sunday I sit down and plan out the meals for the whole week. This part is stressful because of our limited options for large meals, but spending one hour doing it saves me stress every week night when I don’t know what to do for dinner or I worry about spending money on fast food on my way to class. I try to plan meals that use similar ingredients so we have less waste. And it gives me the opportunity to look through the pantry and fridge to determine what items we already have that can be used. It is really amazing how much food just sits around and never gets eaten. We throw out expired food all the time. It makes me feel bad that we are wasting our money and food that someone else desperately needs just gets tossed out.
The meal plan also comes with a shopping list categorized by section of the store. Using this grocery list alone has saved us tons of time and money. Before, even when we had a list, we would circle the store at least twice because we missed something in a certain section and had to go back. And the more you circle the grocery store, the more food ends up in your cart. I’m not sure how this happens, but inevitably the third time you pass by something that looks slightly good, you’ve decided you will die if you do not have it at your house (because what if you start craving it a week from Thursday) and you buy it. Now, we know exactly what we need in each area and we have a routine for how we shop. We can get in and out with a week’s worth of groceries in 30 minutes, often for less than $70 dollars. Our average over the past 5 weeks has been about $65 a week. Only once or twice have I had to go back to the store later in the week for more food. And it was more about not wanting what we had, not about not having enough.
I used to go to the grocery store every two to three days, with no plan and spend $30 to $40 every trip. Two to three times a month we would make a ‘big’ trip to the store to ‘stock up’ and spend around $100. It is a little ridiculous when you add up everything you spend and everything you throw out. We were super wasters for sure.
Trying to budget, cook and go to school is still incredibly hard and difficult to manage, but having a meal plan makes a big difference. I cannot wait for the day when I am out of school and we can eat like normal people again. There are so many recipes I want to try, but they are hard to fit in our schedule. In the meantime, I continue to search for yummy bulk recipes and do my best at planning and coordinating.
Note: www.e-mealz.com is a site endorsed by Dave Ramsey that provides weekly meal plans with the recipes and shopping lists filled out for you. It costs $15 a quarter and there are a number of different plans to choose from (low carb, low fat, etc). I know a couple of people who have tried it and really like it a lot. We have not done it because I am afraid with our need for bulk recipes it would not work well for us. If you do try it, please let me know what you think.