Taking Inventory

Some time ago, a friend came to me and wanted help with her grocery spending. I came up with a few questions for her to answer that would help me understand where she was in her desire to spend less. I thought I would share them with you here so that you, too, can take inventory of your own situation if you are interested in making changes of your own.

For the record, I find it beneficial to ask these questions periodically on my own Eat Cheap! journey.

1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how crucial is it that you cut grocery costs? (Not interested=1, Emergency!!!=10)

2. Which grocery department requires the bulk of your money? (dairy, meet, deli, canned goods, snack foods, produce, frozen foods, etc.)

3. Are eating out/drive-thru/carry-out expenses included in your grocery spending total? (If not, they should be.)

4. Are you cooking from scratch or are you relying on prepared (or semi-prepared) food items for your meals? (deli items, boxed/frozen foods, canned sauces, pre-cut produce, etc.)

5. In which section of the grocery store do you consistently spend the most unplanned money?

6. In which grocery-type store do you consistently over-spend?

7. How many times each week do you walk into a grocery store?

8. Where could you cut back just a little bit more to save money? (sugary drinks, snack foods, paper products, deli foods, frozen entrees, etc.)

If you fail to see the relevance of any of these questions, I would be happy to share my thoughts.

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Tip of the Day: Extend Some Grace

Americans are a hard lot to please sometimes. Do the best you can with what you have. When you mess up, extend yourself some grace with the knowledge that you are trying.

When the food someone else has prepared for you does not meet the expectation you have in your mind, perhaps you can extend some grace to your cook by looking them in the eye, thanking them for their efforts, and eating it anyway. I don’t know how many times my husband has done this for me, but I love him for every single time. He has set an example of gratitude for our kids AND he has made me want to go out of my way to show my gratitude for the way he has served me.

Tip of the Day: Get Cooking Together!

When my kids were little, it was incredibly overwhelming for me to have all three of them in the kitchen with me at once. Because of this, I sometimes avoided having any of them in to help. I do not like chaos, I do not like mess, and (to be brutally honest) I didn’t want the kids underfoot; it was easier without them.

My friend, Ellen, gently but firmly challenged me on this point by reminding me that I needed to “get over that”. She was right. As a momma, my job is to prepare my kiddos for life. Most likely, life will involve some sort of cooking, cleaning and training for them, too. I might as well set the example for them now.

People often tell me that their kids have no interest in helping in the kitchen. My guess is that their children have had no interest in brushing their teeth, eating their vegetables or sharing their toys…but these are still worthwhile disciplines to teach when it comes to being equipped for life.

Tip of the Day: Think!

I run across women all of the time who tell me they simply cannot cook. Usually, they have not come to this conclusion all by themselves. Someone has reinforced this thought in their minds by complaining about or poking fun at their culinary efforts. If the cooking-challenged girl is not completely committed to preparing meals for her household, what usually ends up happening is that she just kind of gives up for fear of failure. The funny (or not so funny) thing is that she often winds up taking heat for ordering carry-out or spending too much money on convenience foods, too. She’s in a no-win situation. (Obviously, this dynamic isn’t strictly limited to women, but they are the majority of whom I see in my classes.)

If you have been guilty of verbally biting the hand that feeds you, perhaps it’s time to make some changes…after making an apology, of course. Think before you speak, and remember that you will almost always catch more flies with honey. Oh, and don’t expect things to change overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.

Tip of the Day: Be Content.

For some reason, Americans feel the need to eat only what they’re hungry for. What a beautiful luxury we have in this regard! Unfortunately, this compulsion is often what sends us to the store or into a restaurant to satisfy our “hankerin'”. If we can use a little self-control in this regard and eat what we’ve already got on-hand, we will most certainly cut our grocery spending. Most of us could be fed quite well for a number of weeks on what we already have sitting in our freezers, refrigerators and pantries.

Staying Organized

People occasionally ask me how I stay so organized. Well, I’m not always organized, and I’m certainly not organized in every area of my life. I am also predisposed to abhor chaos; it is painful to my spirit. (Seriously.) And, the truth of the matter is that my organization stems from a very simple strategy:

Sleep 10 hours a night if at all possible. (I am mean and lazy when I’m tired.)

Limit my time in front of a “screen”. (I have long avoided Pinterest for the sole reason that it could very easily be the Black Hole of my time. Plus, less screen time definitely allows more time to sleep.)

Enlist the help of my children in some things. (From the time they were itty bitty, the kids have been required to put one toy up before getting out another. They are also assigned daily and weekly household/yard/animal chores that don’t take much time to do but that really help keep things in decent shape. My job as their momma is to prepare them for life. Like it or not, life involves being responsible for keeping your space tidy.)

Prioritize my days with manageable lists if necessary. (Lists keep me focused on the task at-hand, and I look forward to checking things off so that the kids and I can do something fun, like read, go for a walk, play games or watch a movie.)

Intentionally stay home. (It’s difficult for me to do what I need to do in my own home if I’m constantly on the run.)

Put stuff up. (I remember reading that it takes an average of 7 seconds to put something back where it goes. I found this immeasurably helpful, because I can almost always spare 7 seconds. Plus, I just operate better when I’m not constantly wading through clutter. My biggest weakness in this regard is my desk/work space. I haven’t completely conquered it yet.)

Invite people over regularly. (This keeps my housework caught up. I don’t want to be so embarrassed/discouraged by my housekeeping that I fail to offer hospitality. And, I don’t want to have to completely excavate my home just to make it a comfortable place for friends.)

Tip of the Day: $10 Gift Ideas

One of my favorite ways to save money on gifts is to invest a little bit of time to make up for my lack of funds. People often say that time is money, but I don’t buy that. Time is a GIFT. And, when we give the gift of our time to someone else, we can really show how much we value them. I am a firm believer that baubles and trinkets often wind up stashed in drawers or on rummage sale tables, but precious memories made and services rendered live in our hearts for a lifetime.

These are $10 and under gift ideas that require a little bit of that beautiful gift of time. These are in no specific order, and this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to add your own ideas below.

homemade rolls or granola (or whatever) and handwritten recipe card

thrift store casserole dish with a casserole in it ready for the freezer

cookie jar mixes (I will be posting some of these next week on my website!)

coffee mug and coupon for monthly or quarterly coffee date

pretty pie plate with a pie in it

monthly supper invitation for the first quarter of the New Year

handyman-for-a-day coupon in which you show up a change lightbulbs, clean gutters, pick up brush, shovel snow, tighten cabinet doors or whatever else needs done that is within your ability

maid-for-a-day coupon in which you show up to knock down cobwebs, dust shelves, wash curtains, clean the fridge or whatever else needs done within your ability

gardener-for-a-day coupon in which you divide bulbs, transplant flowers, till the soil, cut back growth, burn leaves or whatever else needs done within your ability

babysitter-for-a-day in which you watch the kids and the parents get to do whatever they want to do (People occasionally did this for me when I was a young momma with three little ones, and it was invaluable. I didn’t have family nearby, and time to myself—or time alone with my husband–was so rare and precious. I will be forever devoted to those folks who ministered to my heart, soul and mind in this way!)

jigsaw puzzle and a date to work on it together

card game and a date to play together

DVD and a date for a movie night

pretty platter with homemade cookies

sampler of dry rubs for a variety of meats

homemade laundry detergent in a pretty jar

loaf of homemade bread and jar of jam

homemade pasta sauce, box of pasta and some garlic bread

service coupons from kids for hand car wash, laundry folding, dish wash, porch sweeping, meal preparation, furniture dusting, etc. (My kids LOVE to give these!)

hand-crocheted scarf or doily

sewing/cooking/canning/knitting lessons (basically sharing your strengths with someone who wants to learn them)

box of home-canned goods (“Summer in December”)