Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spending ~ to aid the children...

Yeah, I can justify $70 spent at the school fete. It's the other spending which is getting a bit ridiculous...

After twelve months of penny-pinching and stretching everything as far as possible (plus a little bit more), our move has resulted in an extra $100 a week available in our budget. And we've been using it on silly things, like $10+ bubbles, chocolate, new books (as in full price, not op shop) and take away coffee to the tune of $50 a week. Ridiculous and frivolous and not really within our spending/income capacity.

We knew upon arrival we would have some outstanding bills regarding the tenants and the need to restock the pantry ~ arriving with nothing food-wise meant a few hundred dollars would be required.

I think we are now at the point we can reign in the spending, return to a weekly budget of about $250 and use the rest to pay down the debts. Time to head back into the Simple Savings Vault and refresh ourselves on some of the great ways to make do without missing out. It's definitely time to get back into baking and making our own repairs on clothes. Most importantly, its time to get back on track with menu planning and grocery shops.
Our principal ~ the queue for this was enormous! 
(as for the $70 at the fete, no ~ I can't really justify $70. Had it stayed at the planned $30 it would have been reasonable, or if we'd won something in one of the raffles maybe, but as neither happened I guess I have to put it down to a 'we've never been able to do that before' experience and never do it again...)

Menu planning miracles 

I have been menu planning now for well over a year although I must admit to being a little lax over the last month while settling in often changing our minds on a whim, or even worse taking the lazy way and getting take-away. So its time to get back to the way I was before we left Victoria!

Meal planning has transformed the kitchen into an organised place where all kinds of delicious aromas float about and mouth-watering meals appear with minimum stress, fuss or panic. No 'its six o'clock and I have no idea what we are having for dinner' in this house.  Even better, they arrive on the table with little or no impact to the bank balance. I can't believe how much I can save on our food bill while our family get to eat better than some of the local restaurants and hotels. All it takes is a piece of paper stuck to my fridge!

I never thought I would be the kind of person to follow a meal regime having been an ad hoc dinner preparer for decades, but the results are so startling that I am a total convert. I've always enjoyed cooking; I just saw it as something I never had enough time to do for every meal, every day, especially when we all worked or studied full time. My collection of recipe books had been neglected, even those I picked up at the OpShop with good intentions of picking one new recipe to try every week. Tipping that goes for a lot of people :D

After stopping work and waiting for spinal surgery (and more so when back on my feet), there had to be a way to ensure good meals would be made, especially if I was to run out of oomfph and Hubby was picking up the slack. I reviewed what was on hand, had a look through my good old 'Cookery the Australian Way' school book and other simple meal type recipe books, drew up a menu plan and straight away couldn't believe how quick and easy it was to jot a menu plan to paper. Here's how I do it:

Step 1: Food on hand:
Have a look through the fridge, freezer and pantry. What staples are there? What meats are in the freezer? What vegetables have I got in the crisper (or garden) to use? Do these form an entire meal or what extras do I need to make the meal? Is there something here (say with mince, or chicken) that I can base a new/untried recipe around? Is there a recipe I have been wanting to try? Can you make one meal stretch out into two? Pies are our usual stretch meal ~ making the Sunday roast return later in the week. Or if there is only a little left over, its a pasta sauce or weekend toasties.

Step 2: Choose some recipes:
Check recipe books, go online, ask a friend for that delicious meal. No doubt you'll have your stock standards and your favourite weekly/fortnightly recipes, and a couple of bulk recipes that get made every few weeks to stock up ready for quick meals or lazy brain days (also known as 'ooops - forgot to take the meal out of the freezer' days).
When you find a recipe you'd like to add to the week's dinner repertoire, pick a day on your menu planner and write it down. I write the name of recipe book and page number, or the website address and recipe name on the menu plan. As well as making it easier to re-find when the time comes to cook, it ensures that Husband knows where to look in case I am having a 'medication' day, or muscle spasms and finding it hard to manage on the day.

Step 3: Check your schedule:
You do need to bear in mind what your commitments are for the week - if Tuesday night is training night meaning you're home later than usual, that is not the best night to schedule making roast pork marinaded in an orange and ginger demi-glaze, with perfectly crispy crackling for the first time! But its the perfect night to schedule the slow cooker meal this night, or use a portion of bulk cooked bolognese and simply prepare the pasta.

And menu planning is not just the dinner schedule, think about some baking to cut the cost of store bought snacks or work day muffins. I've got into the habit of adding one biscuit recipe and one cake, slice or muffin recipe to make per week and this gives us enough for the week's lunches and afternoon teas. Home baking alone has saved a small fortune on snacks and lunchtime treats.

Step 4: Write the shopping list.
While you're filling in your planner, write down any of the recipe ingredients you don't have or need to check the cupboards to see if you've got enough. While finalising your meal plan, you get to start your shopping list for the week. I try to have planned my menu on Sunday, buy everything on my shopping list on Monday or Tuesday when mark downs seem to more available and I'm done. Being prepared with the shopping means I don't end up popping back for 'one more thing' and walk out with 10 or so 'great buys'. It's not a great buy if it blows the shopping budget, is it?

Step 5: Put it up!
My planner is on the freezer or fridge where everyone can see it every time they go to the big white box in the kitchen. I look at it each morning and go straight to the freezer to take out any meat that needs defrosting and I am half way there to being ready. Hubby and I know exactly what is on for dinner and how long it will take. It really is that easy!

We eat consistently on time at a suitably appropriate hour because I'm not fluffing around trying to think what to cook. Being organised is much better than throwing any old thing together for the sake of a meal - dinner is a great time to sit talk, enjoy a meal and wind down after a busy day.

I'm enjoying cooking new things and the family is enjoying eating them. Because the meals are balanced, it's much easier to adapt them to suit everyone's preferences or tweak to work in with what we have on hand. It has also helping me to restock our pantry from scratch without the need to spend $100s immediately on all the herbs, spices, oils, flours, sugars and tinned items like tomatoes and tuna I had accumulated over the years for daily, weekly and occasional use. Meal planning ensures I know what is in the cupboards and I can get new, fresh goods as the need becomes apparent.

Use any recipes you like for your menu planner - you know what your family will eat! Our meals look as if you have spent ages preparing them but they are so quick! The meals look as good as those we've had at restaurants, often taste better and certainly cost a heck of a lot less.  With the majority of ingredients used being items you already have in the pantry,  primarily Home Brand and generic ingredients, I can usually have the evening meal budget come in around $2per head. It's sitting around $2.50 at the moment as we find all the bargain spots and wait for our first veggies to grow ~ but it means a weekly shop of $50 is not unrealistic and the odd bottle of bubbles can make it into the trolley. *grins*

This weeks menu is/was:

Sunday: Roast Chicken (Tandoori) and veg
Monday: BBQ T-Bone steak and salad
Tuesday: Veal Tortellini with tomato and basil sauce
Wednesday: Tandoori chicken and veg pie
Thursday: Roasted pumpkin soup with Turkish pida bread
Friday: Fish patties and chips
Saturday: Baked beans, Bacon and eggs on toasted grainy bread
Sunday: Roast something - probably lamb or chicken (in the freezer)

The tortellini was one of those fresh deli packs, servings for four, marked down to $3.03 from $5,90; bought 2 and froze them. I am making the soup this afternoon, using the remaining pumpkin bought for $2 from the Shalom Market trip 3-4 weeks ago, and will share the recipe on FaceBook. The fish patties will use up the left over rice frozen from last week's stir fry and a tin of homebrand tuna.

If you are interested in seeing and using the menu plan, or my shopping list / pantry stock take sheet ~ leave a comment and I'll work out how this can be made available for followers to use. I've used google docs previously, however any suggestions would be welcome.

Time to get ready for the school walk ~ hope to catch up with you all during the day and I'll get that pumpkin soup made and the recipe posted on FaceBook.  Enjoy your day and let's lower that debt and increase those savings together.


  1. hey mands, happy to hear that things are settling in up north, we re settling in here. miss you mands, evefrytime I driveby I'm still in the habit of checkin out your house, looks like the tenant have settled in. take care, kim

  2. Hi Mands,

    I have come via Danimezza's review of the Melbourne Hello Events meet up. I have decided to visit the blogs of everyone in the photo and do a mini write up/review of each blog.

    I have just mentioned your blog & I thought you might like to know.

    Great to meet you!


  3. Hey Kim ~ hope your move went smoothly. And stop buying things! Yes, I've seen you on Buy, Swap & Sell *grins* Mind you ~ there have been some good scores love!

    Thanks for visitng Ashwee ~ I'm off to read what you have written and I do hope you'll visit again :D