Saving time during the holiday season doesn’t always seem to be a priority for some – it’s a lot of “rush rush rush” and “oooh I can’t wait for (this day)!!”
What we need to remember, though, is that saving time during the holiday season is of the utmost importance, as our hours should be spent relaxing with family, not sweating in a kitchen or stressing over entertaining house guests.
Disclosure: The links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.
One of the very first posts I wrote for this site was on Thanksgiving Day Time Savers and today I present you with fifteen more tips on how to save yourself time during the holiday season –
Holiday Time Saver #1: Invest in Coffee Carafes
This is one I’ve talked about before in a post on Weird Ways to Save Money as it’s something we actually do on a regular basis, not just the holidays!
Coffee (or hot chocolate, cider, etc) are great for chilly winter gatherings, but the need for heat can be tricky – you either have to leave something plugged in and turned on, or use the microwave to reheat each time someone wants a cup. A good coffee carafe is relatively inexpensive and will save you time by allowing you to make big batches of your favorite warm drink in advance and store it hot for hours.
You can also make use of leftover coffee this way. By pouring what you don’t use into the carafe, you can keep it warm for the next day without wasting half a pot (like we used to in my house). Since it never cools completely, you don’t get that stale, microwaved coffee taste and you’ll be surprised at how much money you save by not tossing leftover coffee!
Holiday Time Saver #2: Make Your Cookie Dough Ahead of Time
If you love the smell of freshly baked cookies but simply don’t expect to have the time on the day of your party, mix up a big batch of cookie dough and roll it into a tube on wax paper. Cover it up and place it in your fridge, and then on the morning of, slice and bake! Homemade yumminess without the stress!
Holiday Time Saver #3: Label Your Serving Platters
Take the time a few days before the dinner to sort out your serving platters and put a post-it or some other label on each, corresponding to the food that will be on them. This way you know where everything is going to sit when you serve it and you don’t run the risk of scrambling at the last minute to find “one more” serving dish.
Holiday Time Saver #4: Chill Your Impromptu Wines in No Time
Wine chiller..or sonic screwdriver?
When guests bring their favorite wines to the party, often waiting for a delicious white to cool to a palatable temperature can be a long time investment. Rather, get a metal skewer that would fit inside of a wine bottle and keep it in your freezer (or invest in one purposefully meant for chilling wine!). When you pop the cork on the fresh bottle, put the skewer in the bottom and put the cork back. It will help chill the wine much faster than simply popping it in the fridge.
Holiday Time Saver #5: Measure Once, Cook Once
Prior to the big day, get your recipes together and measure out, store, and label dry ingredients, cut vegetables and meat, and prepare dough for rolls, sweets, and crusts. Doing all of this ahead of time will make a HUGE difference in time spent on the actual day of cooking (plus you can pretend you’re on a cooking show, where everything is already magically set for you! Surely I’m not the only one who does this…right?)
Holiday Time Saver #6: Prepare Crockpot Meals (Way) In Advance
Depending on what you’re making, certain crockpot recipes are great to measure, cut, and store in the freezer until the day-of. I make a delicious fall squash soup, for instance, that is a simple matter of dicing, slicing, and freezing, until it’s time to dump it all in the slow cooker to set and forget.
Holiday Time Saver #7: Never Fear Warm Beer
If your guests are more the beer-drinking types, use an old bartender trick to ensure any beer is chilled when served. Spray down your beer glasses with water and then toss them in the freezer. The thin layer of water will quickly freeze, creating frosty receptacles for your bubbly brewed beverages.
Holiday Time Saver #8: De-stuff The Bird
I know it seems like stuffing in the bird is a holiday staple, but it increases the cooking time of the turkey, which increases the risk of food-borne illness and runs the potential of drying out the meat. Opt instead to make the stuffing outside in a separate container; you’ll be glad you did (and so will any vegetarian friends who stop by!)
Holiday Time Saver #9: Use An Ironing Board For Extra Counter Space!
Just like it sounds, an ironing board makes a great temporary island if your house is short on counter space.
Holiday Time Saver #10: Don’t Turn Down Help
If someone asks if you need anything, don’t be afraid to say YESSSS!! Ask them to bring a dish you know will be easy for them to prep, preferably in a disposable container you won’t have to remember to return.
Holiday Time Saver #11: Write Out A Schedule
We’re not talking a simple “to-do” list here; in advance, write up a very specific schedule for prepping, storing, plating, serving, and cleaning-up. It will help keep your wasted time down to a minimum and it can also aid in directing any extra help you’ll have to where they’re needed most.
Holiday Time Saver #12: Invest In An Extra Folding Table
Versatile and useful outside of holiday situations, an extra folding table can help you prepare for unexpected guests, or to set up a buffet for your meal, rather than serving everything in courses. These are also nice to have on hand if you want to hold a successful garage sale in the summer!
Holiday Time Saver #13: Keep The Kids Occupied By Having Them Design Placemats
Little ones always want to help but it’s not always helpful. Give them a fun activity that requires minimal supervision/clean-up, like asking them to design the place mats for each guest. This way you’re keeping them out of the way but still making sure they know they’re an important part of the gathering.
Holiday Time Saver #14: Sharpen Your Cutlery Ahead Of Time
Whether you have them professionally sharpened or simply do it yourself, make sure all of your knives are ready to go for the day of the dinner. Not only do sharpened knives better ensure less frustration as you try to slice and dice, but dull knives can result in you slicing and dicing a finger. Let’s avoid injuries this year, mkay, Uncle John?
Holiday Time Saver #15: Prepare For Optimal Storage
Carving the turkey up at the table is a tradition for some, but if you slice it up ahead of time, your hungry guests likely won’t complain, and this will save you time when you go to put it away after the meal (and you can always utilize tip #7 from my original Turkey Day Time Savers article). In addition, having planned storage containers out and ready to go when you’re done eating is a good way to ensure everything has a place and that putting food away takes minimal time.
The key here is to remember that the holidays should be a time to savor a wonderful meal with the people you care about most, not an event to leave you stressed over entertaining guests; the more time you save in preparation/clean-up, the more time you get to actually enjoy with them!
Will you be entertaining this holiday season? Comment below with YOUR best tip!
Halloween is one of the best times of the year. The smells, the cooler air, and all of the decorations just put you into a fantastic mood. Being parents, however, sometimes you spend so much time on your kids’ costumes that you don’t have enough time to put something together for yourself. And maybe you’re thinking, “But, Amber, I’m an adult! I don’t need a costume!!”
Uh, yes. Yes you do. 😉
If you’ve read my frugal halloween party post, you may already know this but we take Halloween VERY seriously in our household – family costumes and all:
Fear not though because we have a list of ten cheap, clever, and best of all punny costumes. Some can be assembled with very little notice, and some take a bit more effort, but they’re all sure to have your friends laughing (and probably groaning).
Punny Halloween Costume Ideas
Static Cling (Wo)man
What you’ll need: Sweatpants and a sweatshirt, ideally the same color, a needle and thread, and a handful of mismatched socks, wash cloths, and underwear.
Execution: It’s pretty simple – a couple of stitches will fasten the various articles of laundry all over your clothes. Suddenly you’ve become a superhero but without all of the responsibility of a useful super power!
Pig in a blanket
What you’ll need: Pig hat, blanket, method of tying the blanket
Execution: Put the pig hat on (we used this one from the Amazon), and either tie the blanket ends together like a cap, or you can use a safety pin. The extra bonus here is that you get a cool pig hat, for all those occasions where you might need a pig hat!
What you’ll need: A sturdy leaf, a hat, and a piece of tape. Also the ability to exhale from the lips.
Execution: Put the hat on, tape the leaf to the hat. When someone asks what you are, just blow air out of your mouth at the leaf. If they get it, they’ll probably smile. If they don’t, then it’s their loss!
Sugar Daddy (or Mama)
What you’ll need: A car seat, Baby Bjorn, some other kind of swaddler, or just a infant blanket and a bag of sugar
Execution: Swaddle the bag of sugar, or carry it in the car seat/Baby Bjorn. The best part of this costume is making cupcakes out of your baby afterwards.
What you’ll need: A light-colored slip and a marker
Execution: Simply write some basic, easily identifiable Freud-related psychology terms all over the slip, i.e. id, ego, superego, oedipal complex, fixation, etc. This is a cool way to look drunk and smart at the same time, just like Freud!
Green with Envy
What you’ll need: One partner will need a green shirt, green pants/skirt, green accessories and the other partner really only needs some kind of label with the word “Envy” written on it.
Execution: Well, one partner dresses all in green and the other is “Envy”. It’s a cute costume for couples, and if you’re a lonely person, you can dress all in green and bring a stuffed animal or something and label it “Envy”. Bonus to this approach is that you already have a stuffed animal to cry into later when you’re still all alone!
When Life hands you lemons
What you’ll need: Quite a few lemons, and a shirt you can write “Life” across. Conversely you can spring for an actual Game of Life t-shirt, but this is about frugality.
Execution: Write “Life” across the t-shirt, wear it, and hand out lemons to everyone at the party. In a perfect universe, you can hook up with a person wearing the Sugar Mama/Daddy costume and make some awesome lemonade.
What you’ll need: A box, with some string or yarn to hold it up, and a “hello my name is Jack” sticker on it. You can also simply write “Jack” on the box, or wear a name tag with “Jack” on it.
Execution: Remove the top and bottom of the box and use a hole punch or scissors to put two holes in the front and two in the back. Run the string through both sides to create a sort of makeshift pair of suspenders. Wear the box like a sandwich board and get used to responding to “Hey Jack” the rest of the night, cause that’s your new name.
What you’ll need: A suit or some other very formal attire, and a name tag.
Execution: Dress to impress, then slap the name tag on with the words “I’m Sorry” written on it. Best part is you can go out and pretend to be important after whatever Halloween function you’re at, and not miss a beat! Do remember to take the name tag first, though!
What you’ll need: A pair of scrubs and a stethoscope, and like all good things, a name tag.
Execution: This one is easy; wear the scrubs, put “Pepper, M.D.” on the name tag, and wear the stethoscope around your neck. This is a much better costume than a Mr. Pibb costume because this at least shows you’ve had enough discipline to get your degree.
It’s probably likely that you have the materials necessary for at least one of these at home right now and it doesn’t get much easier than that. Fun fact: you get bonus Halloween Points if you embarrass your family/friends with these costumes!
Can you guess my punny Halloween costume from last year (hint: my daughter was a flower):
When it comes to saving time and money, everyone has their own little rituals and tricks that work for them. Whether you clip coupons to save money or pre-pack your gym bag and keep it by the door to save time, you’ve surely got a couple of these rituals yourself. Surely everyone shares some of these habits – they’re pretty commonplace.
What about the more fringe time or money savers, though? I’m not talking about re-using paper towels or renting your dog out as a clown (talk about frugal horror stories!), but what about never buying kids’ clothing from department stores? Ever considered raising worms to recycle your produce and make some top-quality fertilizer? Does it get weirder? Read on to find out some of our best-kept secrets for saving time and money and please note that the links below may be affiliate links, which means I could earn commission should you click through to make a purchase.
Unique and Interesting Ways to Save Your Family Money
Create an easy meal plan
Creating a meal plan is of course one the best ways to save time and money, but you can take it one step further by stacking the meals together so that one rolls into another. Monday evening roast a whole chicken with potatoes and onions, maybe some carrots and then use the leftovers. How, you might ask? Simple! Prep the leftover meat for enchiladas or fajitas the next day, and then take the leftovers and make bone broth. With a little pasta and some veggies, that’s 3 meals from one chicken.
Meal plan stacking is taking one great meal that has leftovers and making another great meal from them. Did you have shrimp tacos for dinner Tuesday? Make gumbo on Wednesday. Big pot roast with tons of leftovers? Toss it into the crock pot with some adobe seasoning and peppers, and have carnitas the next night. It will save you money and time AND be delicious!
Vinegar has literally dozens of household uses, and at about $2/gallon, it is one of the best investments you can keep under your sink.
Of course you can use vinegar in cooking but if you take an empty spray bottle and fill it with 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water and add some citrus peel or tea tree oil, you’ll have a cheap, incredibly effective cleaner and disinfectant. Most of what you’d buy in the store is about 5% acetic acid (white vinegar), which will kill most germs, but if you really want to be sure, you can look for something a bit more powerful. Health food and green living stores will often sell stronger vinegar.
Cleaning fruit with vinegar is also a great way to remove the waxy grossness from apples and a lot of the pesticide residue from both apples and strawberries. Considering both the aforementioned fruits routinely make it on the dirty dozen list for most contaminated foods, giving them a quick wash in a 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar solution can really decrease the pesticides your family ingests. Vinegar will also help your strawberries stay fresh longer!
Invest in a Water Cooler
We bought a water cooler when we had our son because we wanted an easy source of distilled water. Flash forward four years and we’re still using it daily.
We did the math and the water cooler was cheaper over the expected two years of needing bottles than filters for a faucet-mounted system. The trick is after using the jugs (we bought them at Lowes), instead of swapping them out for new filled ones ( at $6.99/apiece!) we disinfect them with vinegar and refill them at about .25c/gallon at a local grocery store.
The cooler we bought also has a tap for hot water, which makes it great when I’m in need of my daily matcha tea fix or just a nice cup of chamomile before bed!
Make Notes on Your Food
This one sounds ridiculous, but consider the number of times you look at something in the fridge and simply can’t remember when you cooked/opened/bought it. We realized we were throwing out stuff that might still be good, so we bought a Sharpie specifically for the kitchen. We glued a magnet to it so it sticks to the fridge and whenever we have leftovers or open a container, we date it. This makes sure we know when things are still good and when we should actually toss them.
Because my husband follows a keto diet, we also tend to have at least three containers of heavy cream in our fridge at any given time. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to open two containers only to realize its the third one that’s already open. It’s a simple thing, but marking the cap with an “O” really helps save time each and every day!
Vermiculture – Yes, We’re Talking Worm Farming!
If you’re unfamiliar with vermiculture, you’re likely not alone. It’s a fancy word for “worm farming” and it’s a really interesting way to reduce your food waste. It’s surprisingly simple to raise worms, and though they’re not cute and cuddly, they DO provide some fantastic benefits for growing your own garden.
Essentially the worms break down organic waste like apple cores, vegetable scraps, etc. into nutrient-rich castings which you can use as a fertilizer. They also produce a sort of waste fluid called “worm tea” that is a wonderful addition to plants, making them healthier and more vibrant.
We set up our worm farm using a couple totes, but you can also buy relatively inexpensive ones online if you don’t have the desire to DIY.
Vermiculture is great because it helps you reduce your food waste while also making your garden significantly healthier, and if you don’t already garden, it’s a nice extra bit of encouragement.
Toilet Paper Tube Projects
Got some kids stuck in the house all day with nothing to do? Toss some art supplies at them and give them toilet paper tubes!
Ok, maybe that alone won’t help, but toilet paper tubes are very versatile pieces of cardboard. Some ideas include:
Poke two holes in the top (opposite each other) and run a string or piece of yarn through them. Smear peanut butter around the outside of the tube and then roll them in birdseed, and voila! You have a quick, simple bird feeder that will absolutely attract some feathered friends to your yard.
Decorate the outside of one by gluing on a strip of leftover fabric and use it to hold your excess extension cords, or when you store them!
Fold the undersides in at one end and fill them with soil, and use them as seed starters in the late winter to get a jump start on that garden!
Stuff them with dryer lint to use as campfire starters!
Use your imagination for a variety of artistic endeavors – their shape lends itself well to making candle holders, for instance. With some interesting decorations you can have a spooky candle holder for Halloween, a cheery one for Christmas, or a turkey for Thanksgiving. Of course use battery operated candles!
Encourage your children to use their imaginations and you’ll be surprised at what they’ll come up with. My kids love to create monsters with lots of googly eyes, of course!
As long as we’ve had kids, we have been very intentional about buying presents and clothing ahead of time. Every time we’re at a garage sale, if we see something that will fit them, we typically pick it up if the price is right. I’m honestly not sure if our kids have ever had brand-new shoes, and that’s 100% fine with us.
If you have kids, trust me – you will WANT to sell all the clothes you get, and you’ll feel WAY less bad about selling them for .50c apiece if you bought them for .50c apiece.
The “Present Tote”
Another way we make use of garage sales though is by taking a look at what toys and games our kids might eventually like. When they’re really little this is especially easy, but basically just buy up any cool toys or games you see that are super cheap, and store them in a “future presents tote“. For instance, we found about $50 of Play-doh toys and accessories for $5 a garage sale, and it happens that our kids love the stuff. Boom, big Christmas gift, bought and paid-for.
While you shouldn’t just buy anything all the time “because it’s on sale”, if you get a really good bargain on something you know your children will love, it will save you money in the long run.
The single biggest time saver (and mind saver) you can invest your energy in is to avoid multitasking. Multitasking simply doesn’t work! There may be a few exceptions to the rule, but we’re essentially single-core processing units; undivided attention to a single task proves much better results than trying to do multiple things at once. Not only will you have better results, you’ll also get it done faster and more accurately, and then you can move onto the next task with undivided attention!
Make Use of In-Store Pick-Up
This one is two-fold — first of all, using in-store pick-up will help you avoid impulse purchases while also better ensuring you don’t forget something on your list because you’re too busy minding the kids to remember you need dish soap. It’s also a huge time saver, but did you know it can also save you money? Whenever you do in-store pick-up, check with Ebates first and you may very well earn a percentage back on your purchases (meaning FREE money!!)
Using Gift Cards through Ebates
Speaking of Ebates, this is a great way to stack up your savings.
If you know ahead of time that you’ll be shopping at a certain retailer, be on the lookout for discounted gift cards through sites like Raise.com. Even if you don’t do a lot of online shopping, be sure to check out Raise.com – if you know you spend money on a regular basis somewhere (like a certain gas station!), why not buy gift cards for yourself and save even more?
For example, I recently purchased a $50 Sears Gift Card for $41.90. Then I made a purchase through Ebates for $53, using mainly that gift card and earning myself a nice $4.24 back. So instead of spending the full $53, I’m actually only looking at a total deficit of $37.66 – a savings of nearly 30% and that’s just on one purchase!
Sign up via my referral link for Ebates and you’ll earn an extra $10 back on your first purchase! Worried about a catch? There is NONE! Check out my Ebates review to learn more.
Use Bubble Wrap on Windows
Seems silly, yeah? Heh or maybe you’re like me and think it just seems fun! When I first heard about this trick, I was skeptical. I’m a fan of using shrinkwrap packs to insulate my home against the winter cold, but when you have bubblewrap for free thanks to holiday packages, I figured I’d give it a shot…and it worked! Click to learn more about how to use bubblewrap on your windows as insulation.
Winterize Your Home: The Bubblewrap Method
No Inside-Out Clothing!
This one might seem a little neurotic but I consistently demand that no one throw inside out clothing into the wash. While it might only take two seconds to flip the clothing right-side out, those seconds certainly add up when you have to do it as you’re folding an entire load. Make laundry easier by asking your family to right their clothing before it goes into the wash.
Click to read more laundry hacks!
It’s not secret that we love Aldi, and one of the things we love is that they drastically mark down their meat when it’s close to the “sell-by” date. Without getting into food waste politics and such, I will say that food doesn’t magically become inedible when it’s passed it’s “sell-by” date.
When you see great prices on food at your grocer, pick it up and freeze it, or work it into your current meal plan. Obviously use common sense when it comes to food, but don’t consider food automatically spoiled just because it’s 12 hours past the sell-by date.
Invest in Amazon Prime
One of the best ways to save time and money is to shop online. I do believe in shopping local whenever possible (particularly at our Farmer’s Markets) but I’m a work-at-home mom with two very young children – I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair every day, let alone have the stamina to leave the house. Amazon’s reach is wide, and it makes getting what we need fast and affordable. Prime does that to the next level – offering free 2-day shipping on almost anything you buy from Amazon is a huge deal. The price is $99/year if you elect to enroll annually, or $12.99/month, and while that might seem steep, it does offer a great amount of discounts, including the free 2-day shipping which will pay for itself. You can check it out for yourself with this free 30-day trial!
What are some weird ways YOU save time and/or money?
Is it possible to stop multitasking and get more done? Well, as a work-at-home mom with two preschoolers, this may come as a shock to you but —
I don’t believe in multitasking!
Insanity, right? But as a mom and as an efficiency strategist, I want to share with you why I think we need to stop seeing “ability to multitask” as a strength, because frankly…
Multitasking is impossible.
When you think of multitasking as more than just “chewing gum and walking at the same time”, you’ll quickly realize it’s not actually multitasking at all, but task-switching. And when you’re asking your brain to CONSTANTLY switch gears, it’s no wonder you’re exhausted all the time and feel like you’re getting nothing accomplished.
There are certainly times in which you can do two tasks at one time – checking e-mail while jogging on the treadmill, for example – but even that only goes so far. If you had an important e-mail to write out, you’d almost certainly wait until you were done exercising. It’s the same reason you turn down your radio when you’re driving and think you may be lost; your brain can only stretch so far when attempting to do more than one thing at a time.
Multitasking is not efficient.
It’s also important to note that multitasking is also incredibly inefficient; the more you try to “multitask”, the more apt you are to make mistakes.
How many times have you accidentally used baking powder instead of baking soda because you were trying to make muffins while checking your child’s homework and also writing out a grocery list? Or how many times have you misplaced your keys because as you come into the house you’ve suddenly got three people wanting ten different things? It’s not just the stress that makes you feel frazzled, but it’s your inability to break the multitasking habit.
Speaking of stress, though…
Multitasking is stressful!
Multitasking stresses you out, not just from the mistakes you made, but also going back to one of my original points: you’re exhausting yourself and your brain.
When you try to multitask, you use up what’s called your “working memory”, your auditory and visual-spatial memory. Because of this, you’re basically bottlenecking your thought processes, but rather than filtering them through one at a time, you’re trying to jam them through all at once – hence the stress.
Along those same lines, just as you’re more apt to make mistakes, you’re more apt to inadvertently ignore other things going around you when you try to multitask.
For example, I originally fleshed out this idea of banning multitasking while on a walk with my son. Do you remember the viral video a few years ago about counting basketballs and in the middle of it, a gorilla walked by and almost all of us missed it? It’s because our brains were so focused on the basketballs that we missed the “beauty” of the gorilla.
So likewise, when you’re looking down at your phone while waiting for a bus, you may miss the love of your life walk by. Or maybe you’re watching TV while reading this post, and you’re losing out not only on some productivity tips, but you’re wasting your time by even trying to process what it is I’ve written.
Should we stop multitasking altogether?
Despite everything I’ve said, I don’t mean that you should stop multitasking all together, because let’s face it – there are times when multitasking is a MUST (whether we like or not!)
Take this morning, for example:
Kids woke up when I did at 7am and I offered them 30 minutes of “tablet time” in exchange for the freedom to knock out a few e-mails to my clients.
They agreed to it…until 7:10am when I heard “MOMMMMM! I’m STARRRRRVING!” (This comes from my oh-so-dramatic 4 year old son.)
“Okay, bud,” I responded, “Do you want some cereal?”
“Hmmmmmm….how about french toast?” he said with his signature charming smile.
“No,” the 3 year old piped in, “Pancakes!”
So now instead of writing that email, I had to settle a debate between the children regarding which kind of breakfast bread they wished to consume.
(Spoiler: We settled on french toast with the promise of pancakes tomorrow.)
My daughter doesn’t take my multitasking advice; she prefers a bit of light reading with her breakfast…
And of course as I started to make french toast, I realized I should also feed the dog and the cat. Oh and finish up some dishes. Oh and see if dinner requires any early prep work today. Oh and….
So rather than trying to juggle it all at once, I took a breath, grabbed my headphones, and used voice-to-text to map them out while the smell of butter and cinnamon filled the early morning air.
And as I was talking out my e-mails over the sound of egg-battered bread hitting the skillet, I found myself smiling. Because even though life is often a bit chaotic, it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted.
If you’re like I was a few months ago, maybe the thought of not multitasking has never even crossed your mind. Or maybe you read this post and thought “DON’T multitask? HA! Yeah right…” But why not give it a shot?
I challenge you to try going just ONE day — it’s only 24 hours! — without multitasking. Meaning no podcast playing while you drive to work. No Facebook scrolling in the bathroom (gross). No folding laundry while watching TV. Only single-tasking allowed!
I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how difficult it is. Our brains have been trained to want to multitask, no matter how harmful it may be to do so. It’s like when you try to quit sugar – you don’t realize just how addicted you are to it until you try to stop.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a toddler eager to serve me some play-doh cupcakes. 😉
Oh but before I go – what do you think…
Will you try to quit multitasking for a day? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Creating a healthy meal plan on a budget can be tricky. We so often have the best of intentions: we develop a meal plan(ish), buy our groceries, fist pump when we’re $16 under budget, and then suddenly your two year old is screaming, the baby has a rash, and making that Pinterest-worthy quiche for dinner is the last thing on your mind because McDonalds here we come!!
The guilt of feeding your toddler a Go-Gurt and cheeseburger for dinner doesn’t weigh as heavy as your eyelids from not having slept all week, so you brush it off and pray you get to bed before midnight tonight. You tell yourself you’ll do better next week. You’ll create a better meal plan that is healthy but that allows for some flexibility. This week was just a rough week. Next week will be better…hopefully…
But then next week comes and your budget is all out of whack because you went over your food allowance thanks to one too many “happy” meals and the produce you bought last week is now squirrel food and and AND….
Take a breath. I’ve been there.
Creating (and sticking to) a healthy meal plan can be tough when we’re constantly pulled in a thousand different directions and there’s only so many minutes in the evening to get things done. Fortunately I can help.
A few simple steps can be the key to keeping your family fed and healthy, and your wallet fat and happy.
(Please note this article contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission should you click through. This in no way impacts my recommendation of any products/services.)
How to Meal Plan on a Budget
Take Your Time Meal Planning
“Step 1: My TIME? Did you miss the memo about my lack of time??! Thanks, Amber…”
Stick with me, dear reader. If you’re creating a meal plan just before you go grocery shopping, you’re going to create a panicked, rushed menu that might be short-sighted or be missing key ingredients; suddenly it’s Wednesday, you’re supposed to have lasagna, and you don’t have marinara sauce or noodles.
One of the best ways to start your meal plan is to flip through your local grocery ads. This way you can craft your menu around the great deals being offered on produce or meat that week.
You should also take the time to consider what your kids will actually eat, what’s in season, and what day of the week your grocer creates sale prices. Often you can find meat or produce drastically marked down on a specific day of the week because it’s nearing the end of its shelf-life. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just that it’s nearing the time in which it can still be sold.
It’s especially important to keep an eye out for great deals on meat, because that can be frozen and used at a later date, and still picked up for half the cost of what it was just one day before.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Cooking enough for your family is a given, but if you take five minutes to cook extra of the base ingredients, you can save yourself thirty minutes in the long run.
If you’re cooking a grain like rice or quinoa, or a big pot of pasta, it takes hardly any extra effort at all to toss some extra in and store it individually for a future meal. In fact, to get the most mileage out of the time spent cooking, you’re shortchanging yourself if you’re not getting at least dinner and a lunch out of your efforts.
In addition, cooking a large batch of a grain or pasta on a Sunday will leave you with a base from which to work later in the week for the meals on your plan. This cuts down significantly on the prep work for the weeknights, time far better spent relaxing with your family.
Put Your Leftovers to Work
Beyond simply increasing your portions for future meals, a good meal plan flows together as the week goes on.
Cooking a protein on Monday can mean that Tuesday’s dinner is already prepped. For instance, you can roast a chicken on Monday night then shred the leftovers, toss in some seasonings, and have chicken tacos on Tuesday!
This is a great way to make the most of the leftovers you have, even if reheating leftovers isn’t necessarily your thing.
A dinner meal plan that flows might look like this:
You also want to take into consideration what produce you can cut up ahead of time for multiple meals. For example, we make a vegan bolognese that incorporates a lot of the same veggies that go into korma so I often try to make those meals close together.
Cut once, cook twice!
Shop Locally, Shop Seasonally
I went looking for eggplant the other day and when I finally found it at the local HyVee, it was exceptionally expensive. I swear I just bought one for like $1 the other da….oh, nope, that was three months ago. Heh. Oops.
When I last bought eggplant, it was from the Farmer’s Market when they were at their peak and everyone had dozens of them for sale. When fruits and vegetables are in season, there’s an abundance, and what’s more you can get them from local farmers that are concerned about how they manage their produce. Normally you can count on food that’s not doused in pesticide, or eggs that are free range and fed normal feed instead of industrialized garbage.
Learning to find out what produce is in season is a great way to train your body to enjoying a wealth of different foods, not to mention how much better they taste than the tiny, off-season offerings we have at the stores now. If you’ve shopped for zucchini in the last few months, you know what I’m talking about – they’re tiny! I’ll wait until summer when they’re the size of small dogs and bursting with flavor, not to mention cheaper.
How Big is Your Chest?
Being able to freeze leftovers, extra meat you purchased on sale, or in-season produce can make all the difference when it comes to eating healthy on a budget. Not having enough freezer space can be quite costly, so consider investing in a chest freezer.
If you have the time, canning is considerable work with a wonderful payout, but again, there’s that catch – if you have the time. If you don’t, freezing can be a viable substitute for in-season fruits and vegetables that are plentiful and cheap. Buying in bulk, divvying up into containers or baggies, and then freezing produce is a great way to stretch those dollars.
Similarly, you can buy a lot of meat in bulk from local farmers (we’re talking a quarter of a cow!) for a great price and then freeze it all, using as you need it.
If you’re patient, you can usually find someone on Craigslist or a Facebook resale page selling an old deep freeze for cheap. It doesn’t need bells and whistles; it just needs to get and stay cold.
As I often recommend for many of those who have a harder time sticking to a budget, use cash. Figure out how much you’re going to spend on groceries per week and get to the ATM.
This allows for two things:
1. You can see exactly where your money is going in a way that using a debit or credit card doesn’t allow for.
2. It discourages impulse spending.
Keep a tally as you shop so you know whether or not you can actually afford that sweet treat or a six-pack (no, sadly, I do not count that as an essential!)
Know Where to Cut Back
We used to have a pretty insane food budget per week – $200 for our family of three (at the time). And we’d go over it sometimes! That’s pretty much the definition of insane idiocy!
Knowing we had to cut back (and quick!) we started first by developing a meal plan and tracking where our biggest expenditures were coming from.
Once we had a good grasp on how much we were spending and where we were spending it, we began by cutting it down a bit each week, and as of the time of publishing, we’ve cut it in half.
$75 for (now four) of us is much more palatable. There are still days we go over a bit, because having two little ones is nothing if not busy. That’s ok, though! At least the days of going over $200/week are done and gone.
Here’s how we cut back:
– We started off only cutting $20/week and saw how we had to adjust and what we were comfortable with/without.
– We changed the stores where we bought most of our food. Schnucks became Aldi and believe me when I say we’ve never looked back.
– We improved the quality of the food we eat, and by that I mean we cut out a great deal of the processed foods and replaced them with whole, natural produce, meat, eggs, and dairy that actually left us sated.
– We cut out impulse buys significantly by only using cash to make our purchases. Aldi is a two-fold boon here, because they only take cash or debit cards. It helps with this strategy.
As I mentioned above, we often buy a lot of our dry goods online, such as pasta, flour, and sugar. While your grocer probably has a lot of what you’re looking for, chances are it’s going to be more expensive than you need to pay.
An example of this would be quinoa – we use a lot in our household because it’s incredibly healthy, very versatile, and can be used in a huge variety of applications from savory to sweet, breakfast to dinner. Local stores, if they even have it, usually charge $5/lb+, but on Amazon, I recently bought a 10lb bulk bag for a little over $2.50/lb, and that includes shipping.
Of course you want to see your meat and veggies up close and it’s unlikely you could get those things online at a good price anyway, but buying bulk pantry items from Amazon.com is a fantastic way to stock up without burning a hole in your wallet. Plus they deliver straight to your door! Oh, how I love online shopping…(Don’t forget to use Rakuten and Ibotta to save even more!!)
Trying to cook elaborate meals when you have an infant and a toddler is like trying to catch a bunch of flies when you’re surrounded by bullfrogs; it doesn’t make sense. Your kids likely don’t care what they’re eating, if they’re eating at all, and your spouse is too busy going from odd stain to odd stain, deciphering if they’re spills or spit-ups, to care if your dinner looked amazing on Pinterest.
If you need to make a meal of jarred alfredo and rigatoni, with some frozen broccoli tossed in, then do it. It would only cost about $4 and would easily feed a family of four!
Sometimes you simply want a big salad for dinner, and you know what, that’s great! Salad comes together in minutes, can be full of healthy proteins, fats, and veggies, and can be incredibly cost effective.
My point is that homemade dinners don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Like ever. Don’t stress about it.
Starting a new week with five new meal ideas, even if they’re simple, is a recipe (haha) for disaster. I’m not suggesting you never branch out to try new foods, but you should always have a good amount of solid, well-liked recipes in your repertoire so that you can pull an old standby out in a pinch. Remember how your older relatives always had actual physical recipe boxes? Use those!!
This also helps you easily gauge what you’ll need for leftovers or a flowing meal plan since you’re already exceptionally familiar with the ingredients and cooking involved.
Visualize Your Plan
Buy a magnetic white board, some wet erase markers, and stick it to your fridge where you’ll see it daily. From there, write down your meal plan so that everyone can see it, you are constantly aware of it, and there’s no surprises.
An added benefit to having it on a white board is being able to erase and adjust as needed. Just like having cash at hand when you go to buy groceries, awareness helps inform every decision you make, from purchase to plate.
This will go a long way to creating savings and efficiency in later meal plans.
Now go meal plan
This post isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a great place to start if you want to cut your expenses and still eat healthy food.
If you focus on eating the majority of your meals at home, meals comprised of whole foods and minimal waste, you can improve your health and the health of your finances.
Remember, we’re not just trying to save money, we’re trying to save time so we can improve the quality of our lives.
Stuff steals your joy and suffocates your life. Do you believe this? I do. I’m on a mission to become weird.
Dave Ramsey says, “Don’t be broke. Be Weird”.
He suggests to look at what everyone else is doing and run the other way. The Joneses want stuff: cars, houses, furnishings, clothes, and the bills that pay for the stuff put a noose around their neck that one hiccup in life–an accident, a car repair, a broken appliance–leaves them “stuffocated”.
Nerdwallet says the average household is $135,924 in debt.
Bloomberg says $16,000 of that is credit card debt.
No. More. Stuff.
More than a year ago my family of four took a vacation and all of our needs fit into two backpacks. If we had taken more stuff we have checked bags and missed flight connections. We each had three or four sets of clothes and washed them in the sink and hung them to dry. We were minimalists and it was an experience that left us thirsting for more–I mean less–stuff.
Over the last eight weeks we have sold so much stuff. At the same time we put our house on the market to sell. Last week we closed on the sale. No one would have said our home was cluttered. Judgments say we lived simply. We didn’t pour additional concrete for the driveway or build a shop, or fill the house with furnishings. Simply to others felt “stuffocated” to us. We leased a 997 square foot 2-bedroom apartment for four people. The girls share a bedroom and we have a dog. No amount of downsizing prepared us for the transition. No matter how small our material goods are there was still too much stuff. We still have a few boxes of stuff to take to Goodwill, and we are 100% debt free. We are FREE! Here’s what we’ve learned.
Less stuff means more life.
Remember that backpacking trip? We can have great experiences like those more often. We can move quickly with less stuff, even be more spontaneous. There’s no house, yard, or anything else to maintain. We can go whenever we want, where ever we want to be. That thought alone leads to a lot less stress. Stuff doesn’t hold us back.
If your income comes from online sources the world becomes your playground. House sit for people around the world and your lodging and utilities are covered. Go have experiences stuff will never let you have.
My mom is a pack-rat. She still has my grade school worksheets. I recently convinced her to shut down a storage unit where she was storing stuff because it has cost her more than $5,000, for stuff that fit in her garage. My husband’s mom is a pack-rat. She doesn’t understand why we want less stuff when stuff can be handed down, passed around, or is generally useful. My Dad wants to know when I am coming to pick up my late Grandma’s china. It’s beautiful and I don’t have room for it. Dad chuckles when we talk about our next move. We get the, “Oh you kids…”. We’re in our 40’s, hardly kids, and this feels better all the time.
Shopping is fun, and what if having extra money leads to helping causes you care about. Start a foundation to touch people and needs with care. Do the work only you are meant to do.
I am not saying you don’t need to buy things. Plenty of people need a house. I think people need a place to live that doesn’t own them. For my family a house is a liability, not an asset. We move often. I wouldn’t call us nomads, but history says we move every 4-5 years. If that means selling a house in a downturned financial cycle then we have a lot to lose. Luckily, we sold our house while the market was high. Now we get to plan next steps. If you enjoy living in a house as part of the American Dream, that’s great. Hopefully the house fits your income. Dave Ramsey suggests no more than 40% of your income be tied to a house on a 15-year term, fixed rate mortgage.
You don’t have to furnish it with big box high priced things. Shop second hand if possible. You don’t have to furnish it with big box high priced things. Shop second hand if possible. Find Furniture sales in your area. Visit a garage sale. A little elbow grease and paint can make furniture or decor something you love with a great story. Tell your story.
Open your mind and be free
On Dave Ramsey’s program he allows people a debt free celebratory scream. “FREEDOM”! It’s based on William Wallace from the movie Braveheart:
Don’t you want freedom from stuff, debt, and clutter?
Tell us how you plan to become free in the comments.
Nicole, owner of WeTalkHealthy, lives a healthy decluttered lifestyle. Her main focus is as a health advocate and mom of 2 who studies food, and general wellness. It’s her mission to help you live a healthier life by learning about the dangers in the food you feed your family. Whether it’s meal prep or creative exercise without setting foot in the gym, you don’t want to miss her tips. Connect on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or the Facebook group. Save