Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Keeping Short Accounts

I thought my life was pretty full: a husband, two active little boys, church involvement, playdates, etc.Now some changes have happened in our family and I'm finding myself caregiving for family beyond those who live under the same roof.

Life can change in the blink of an eye. Or at least an ambulance ride.

This experience caused an important thought to resurface in my mind: it's so important to keep short accounts.

Don't put off making that phone call to say "I Love You" or "I'm Sorry" or whatever you want to share. Put a date on the calendar to get together with friends. Even if you have to reschedule later, commit to being present with those you care about.

Along the same lines, but in a more nuts-and-bolts application, I really try not to put off until tomorrow the things I can quickly do today. I'm in the middle of reading Getting More Done: 10 Steps for Outperforming Busy People by Chris Crouch. He suggests that you immediately address anything which can be done in under two minutes. He also has a great quote about maintaining white space in your mail program:

"Most problems related to email center around one issue: how long you typically allow an email to sit in your inbox."   --Chris Crouch
I pay my bills when they come in. I read the mail every day. I return voicemails as soon as possible. Not only does it keep the clutter down, I exert less mental energy remembering it for another time.

When I worked, I often looked through my files and papers making sure that someone else could easily find stuff if one day I didn't come back (due to going into labor or winning the lottery, of course... :)

I guess it boils down to this: If you've got "to-do" items that will affect others if they go undone, it's time to make them a priority. We never know what tomorrow holds.

The dusting, eh, not so much...

Disclaimer: I downloaded Chris Crouch's book on my own, with no financial incentive. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

For a Smile

A quote from the famous Erma Bombeck:

"My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator, let it be."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 7)

Well, I've decided to spare you the rundown this week on my grocery purchases and menu, largely because of some family matters that made for helter-skelter meals. I'm not sure I have the mental clarity to recall what all we ate.

I've been waiting to talk about couponing. I've been so tempted to reference it in previous posts, but have restrained myself. There is so much talk about extreme couponing and the drugstore game (just Google those if you need more info; you'll be overwhelmed), and then there are just a bunch of plain Janes like me who clip coupons to save a few bucks here and there.

As an aside, I saw the aftermath of a little extreme couponing gone wrong this spring. I was out at yard sales and saw at least 30 cans of air freshener on one table. Really? I can get on my soapbox and rant about non-chemical ways to conceal unpleasant smells, but perhaps we should just move along.

So, here's how couponing works for me.
(Disclaimer: It may not work for you. It may infuriate you. I am not you. It's okay.)

Using only "free" coupons. This means coupons that arrive in my mailbox, or those which can be printed online. I've chosen to cancel my newspaper subscription because as much as I love the idea of sprawling on the bed or couch and reading the paper, it's not my stage of life. And while I love the funny pages, magazine and coupons, I'm not saving as much as I am paying for the Sunday edition.

Clipping/printing coupons just for things I already use AND know I'll be purchasing again soon. This is really important when it comes to keeping costs down. There is a reason companies issue coupons: they want you to buy their product. They want you to be brand loyal. Okay, that's all well and good, but just because I use an item doesn't mean I must clip every coupon for it. So, even if I save $1.00 on each jar, I simply don't need to buy a jar of mayonnaise each month.

Resist the temptation to use every coupon clipped. Why is this so hard for me to do? I look at that pile of coupons like a "to-do" list. Must. Redeem. Every. Coupon. Not a good choice. That food item must fit into a menu or realistically be usable within a few months.

Stack the savings. If, like me, you buy a lot of groceries at Target, you need to stack coupons by matching Target coupons and manufacturer's coupons. I'm sure other stores do this as well. (Do tell, if you know about it.)

Abandoning the coupon when the house brand is cheaper. It always pays to do the math. So often, the generic brand is cheaper than the name brand even with a double coupon.

Consider what you are buying. There just aren't many coupons for produce, fresh meat or nutritious cereals. There are, however, a LOT of coupons for junk food, personal care products and other "non-necessities." Just consider that a deal isn't really a deal unless you will use and benefit from the product, in addition to saving money.

So, there you have it. My musings on how to cut the grocery bill in seven installments.

On a personal note, let me say that this experiment has made me more accountable and conscious of my food purchasing and disposing. At the same time, it's not worth stressing yourself out as you strive to pinch every penny. Life must go on and it's okay to have takeout or buy a frozen pizza at full price every now and again. Time is money, too.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Make the Most of Your Meals (Part 6)

Hi again! Hopefully you are still hanging in with me and finding some ways to reduce your grocery spending and/or food waste.

One of the things I've really been "chewing on" (in the mental sense) is eating less. One almost-too-obvious way to cut down your grocery spending is to eat less food. And let's be honest: there are very few Americans who struggle to achieve a minimum weight.

Perhaps it's the back-to-school season that brings this subject to the forefront, but in the past weeks, I've read half a dozen articles that reference the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast. I remember skipping breakfasts back in my junior high days, but I could never do that now. I love breakfast!

Have you ever heard this proverb?

Eat breakfast like a king,
Eat lunch like a queen, and
Eat dinner like a pauper.

(As an aside, I also read a reference to a study which found that people who had cake with breakfast lost more weight than those who had cake after dinner. With as much as I love a good coffee cake, shoo fly pie or funny cake*, that did my heart good!)

Anyway, weren't we talking about eating less?

I realize that my son has a better day when he has some protein with breakfast. He also needs crunchy food sometime during the day, and I can't say what that does, but I find myself feeling fuller (more full?) when I have to chew more. There is something satisfying about dense foods, be it granola, baby carrots, steak, oatmeal, etc. Those certainly fill you up more than a bag of chips, wouldn't you say?

My menu this week was as follows:

Monday: Skillet Chicken Fried Rice and green beans
Tuesday: Broiled Salmon with cranberry-almond salad
Wednesday: Ham and Broccoli Ring and side salad
Thursday: Dinner out with family using a Groupon deal
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Dinner with friends

I imagine you find the idea of leftovers on Friday to be a very tantalizing idea! Especially when a lot of families have pizza on Fridays.

Well, it may seem be exciting, but leftovers are a must if you are trying to save money and reduce food waste. Repurposing your food for a second round is possible, especially since some cookbooks are dedicated to a "cook once, serve twice" technique.

At our house, most recipes make a little more than we need for two adults, a preschooler and an infant just getting into solid foods. It's a natural choice to heat leftovers for lunches. We also usually have another noon or evening meal sometime during the week for a "leftover smorgasbord" where I pull out all the containers and we assemble our plates from the "buffet"!

Finally, if your freezer isn't as stuffed as mine, consider making a double batch of your next casserole, soup, or pasta dish and freezing it for a future meal. This really saves time.

Next week we conclude with my thoughts on couponing.

*I love that even wikipedia doesn't have funny cake. Maybe I'll write that in my spare time! This is a local treat that consists of a pie crust topped with chocolate syrup and a white cake-like batter. Some recipes call for the chocolate syrup on top, but it sinks as it bakes. Really no one outside the area thinks it's any good! Learn more crazy stuff here.