Shopping Consciously as a Minimalist

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Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

While minimalism is already widely accepted as an eco-friendly way of living, there are still ways you can continue to do your part if you’ve adopted a “less is more” lifestyle. Shopping consciously is one of the easiest and most effective ways to embrace minimalism, while also putting our planet first. As you embrace the minimalist way of life, here are just a few ways you can shop more consciously along the way.

Take Inventory

Before you set out on any sort of shopping excursion, it’s always important to create a home inventory. By definition, minimalists seek to live with the items they need, as opposed to what they might want. This means you should strive to not have a significant amount of duplicate items in your household. While stocking up on canned goods or owning several sets of sneakers might not feel like a big deal in the beginning, buying excess quantities of items you already own can create more waste in the long run due to forgetting what you already have, food expiring before you can eat it, etc. Taking the time to write down a clear and concise inventory of the things you already have is a sure fire way to keep you from buying items you don’t need. 

It’s important to note, though, that not everyone can afford to replace things if they don’t have duplicates. Don’t feel pressured to pare down to the barest of minimums, and it’s ok to keep a backup of something stored in case of emergencies. Instead of focusing on a numerical limit, consider your space the limit. Only keep as many of something you can reasonably fit on the shelf, in the bin, or in your dresser.

Practice Mindful Grocery Shopping

A great way to keep yourself conscious as you shop is by being as mindful as possible as you purchase your groceries. Whether you like to buy your ingredients on a weekly or biweekly basis, be sure to have a plan of action when you enter the store. Having a list helps keep you on track and inspires less shopping spontaneity. Don’t shop on an empty stomach as this can cause you to purchase more than you need.

Consider changing up your diet slightly by adapting to a more environmentally friendly way of eating. Try your hand at practicing recipes that incorporate little to no meat, as the meat market’s carbon footprint is a steadily growing problem. Planning out your meals well in advance will keep you from making unnecessary purchases and it will keep your pantry more organized over time. 

Shopping at local farmers’ markets can also help reduce the carbon footprint of importing food from far away and helps boost the local economy and support small business.

Donate As Much As You Buy

This is essentially the “one in, one out” rule.

Try to make a mental note to donate items from your home just as often as you add new items. If you’re debating buying a new chair or sofa for your living room, first assess which current piece of furniture you know you could do without, unless you are shopping for a space that needs a change in functionality to seat more people or add a guest bed, etc. 

This goes for your clothing as well. For each new item you add to your wardrobe, choose one to get rid of, if your closet is already at capacity. Smaller possessions such as clothes are easy to accidentally stock up on if you aren’t careful to clean out their hiding places regularly. The next time you feel yourself in need of some wardrobe retail therapy, look online for a closet clean out option to help you keep your closet from becoming overwhelming. Donating will help ensure that all of your shopping is a circular process, helping you maintain a minimal life the eco-friendly way. 

Invest in Reusable Products

If you are able to invest in reusable products, it can reduce your overall home inventory as well as your waste. The best place to start when looking to buy more reusable items is with the things you find yourself using and needing most on a day to day basis. From zip lock bags to plastic water bottles, we tend to create the majority of our waste in the kitchen.

If you haven’t already, try reducing your plastic waste by buying a quality reusable water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Instead of having to continually purchase zip lock bags for your leftovers, look for alternative ways to keep them fresh, like with beeswax wrap. Take the time to consider washable, reusable alternatives the next time you’re hoping to shop more consciously. 

Checking Your Minimalist Privilege

It is extremely important to note that not everyone has the financial means or the ability to follow these recommendations. Sometimes you have to buy in bulk to save your pennies, and the one-in-one-out rule does not apply when you are starting from a point of having less than you truly need in the first place.

Minimalism is a way of life to prioritize the important things over living to excess — and that is whatever you make it.

How Minimalism Can Help You Spend Less

Live more and spend less — that’s the simple idea. It’s no secret that today’s society places value on piling up the possessions and spending more than we need. Ultimately, this can clutter our lives and weigh us down. Minimalism encourages you to make conscious efforts to live simpler and value the things that are a part of your life. 

How it helps your wallet

Naturally, if you are spending less on material goods then your savings will definitely feel the benefits. However, it’s important to note that minimalism isn’t about restricting your budget so much that you feel trapped. It’s about spending your time, money, and energy on things that are important to you. If this means taking a vacation or getting your nails done, then invest your money in experiences that make you happy.

How to make it work 

Minimalist living can help you feel freed from the things holding you back. Start with small things and work your way up to living with less. Take inventory of the stuff you have and start decluttering, donating, or selling things you don’t need. 

For more inspiration on how to start a minimalist lifestyle, check out these 10 TED Talks on minimalism to help you spend less (from Mint.)

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21 New Years Resolutions for Minimalists

Happy New Year!

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At a time when most of us are plotting the course to become a Totally New Me, I’d like to remind you all that you are doing great already. You’re enough, just as you are, and you don’t need to lose 50 pounds or get a boyfriend or achieve a certain level of income to be loved or worthy or enough. That said, New Years Resolutions don’t have to be about absolute life changes. You might find that if you focus on small lifestyle focus areas, you’ll reap large-scale rewards. I’ve put together a list of minimalist resolutions to help you simplify your life and focus on what matters most to you.

A look back

Take a moment to reflect on the year behind you. I can say for certain that when I was approaching 2018, I could not have predicted anything that was about to change for me. In 2018, I realized I was living half a life in an abusive marriage, so I left. In 2018, I lost my stepdad. In 2018, I cut contact with loved ones who damaged my mental health. In 2018, I socialized and made new friends and developed two healthy and loving romantic relationships. In 2018, I discovered a new favorite restaurant. In 2018, I accepted a book deal and wrote a book. It was a BIG. YEAR.

Related: MarketWatch – What to do when your best year at work is your worst year at home

Self reflection and goal setting

To help you reflect on your year in review and find the areas you want to work on for the next year, I recommend finding a few minutes to focus and reflect. This guide can help you out with guided questions and printable sheets to brainstorm.

First, reflect:

  • Did you achieve your resolutions and goals in 2018?
  • Do you have unfinished 2018 projects? Why?
  • Did you take time in 2018 to make a plan for your goals? Did you give yourself the time and resources needed to accomplish your goals?

Then, prepare:

  • Set clear, definable goals with measurable progress and success
  • Think about how you’ll react if you don’t achieve your goals
  • Decide how you’ll motivate yourself to reach your goals

Decide on the areas you want to improve, and then focus your goals on those key areas. The smallest consistent actions can create big improvements.

On to the resolutions

Depending on your areas of focus, here are some resolutions you may be able to adjust to your needs for 2019!

Career

  • Get in early. Resolve to arrive at your desk 15 minutes early this year. Having a few minutes to slowly get your mind into work-mode will leave you feeling more productive and less rushed. This doesn’t mean spend an extra 15 minutes working! Spend this time to close your eyes, set an intention for your work day, and get ready to work.
  • Update your resume. The simple act of updating your resume and polishing your personal brand can help remind you of your skills and make you feel more confident. You don’t even have to look for a new job if you don’t want to – just looking at your credentials and experience on paper is a great reminder of how you’re doing in your career.
  • Learn more. Resolve to read a book or take a webinar or workshop related to your career on a regular basis this year. Check out resources like Lynda, which may be available for free through your local library. Lynda has courses about almost everything.

Physical Health

  • Go to bed. You need more sleep than you are getting, if you’re like most Americans. More rest means better health, regardless of how much you’re hitting the gym. Working out while your body is exhausted can set you up for injury and burnout, so prioritize getting your ZZZs. Try to keep a consistent bedtime and wake time to teach your body your new habits and rhythms.
  • Stretch daily. Rather than commit to a year-long weight loss goal that so few people achieve without a heap of negative self-talk, choose a simpler resolution. Wake five minutes earlier so that you can stretch before you start your morning routine, and perhaps you’ll see that just a small amount of movement can help naturally inspire more.
  • Hydrate. Resolve to drink enough water on a daily basis – this will have a huge and lasting impact on your health. You’ll have healthier digestion when your body is properly hydrated, and you’ll also notice healthier skin.

Mental Health

  • Go to therapy. If your medical insurance covers therapy, find a therapist! Even if you don’t feel like you need one. It can be extremely helpful to have someone to talk to who isn’t knee deep in your personal life. They’re a neutral third party and can help you find other areas of your life to work on.
  • Try mindfulness. Many apps are available to help guide a quick meditation during your day, or you could try keeping a daily journal to jot down some affirmations, intentions, and gratitude.
  • Add plants. Houseplants are one way to improve your mood and mental health. While they’re obviously no replacement for therapy or medication, being around plants and natural microbes found in soil can help boost the immune system as well as inspire joy and decrease symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Social Life

  • Say no. Minimalism is about what to exclude from your life moreso than it’s about what to include, including your schedule. Learn to say no to some social plans so that you can say yes to the ones you really want to attend, without burning yourself out or overscheduling.
  • Try a new place. If you’re a homebody who wants to try going out more, set yourself an easy goal like trying one new place or route per month.This could be going to a new cafe to read a book, visiting a different branch of your local library system, or even taking a different route on an afternoon walk. Just try something different.
  • Give compliments. I used to be pretty quiet in public places, always staying in the shadows while my sister rained rainbow sparkles of joy on everyone she crossed paths with. “Love your earrings!” “That dress looks great,” “Your hair is awesome,” etc. etc. etc. After I went on medication for depression and anxiety, I was less scared of being seen as weird in public by engaging with people I didn’t know. Now I love to tell a server that I love their eyeliner, or give props to a coworker for a job well done in our weekly meeting. Resolve to say something nice every day. It will change your whole outlook on life.

Generosity

  • Leave bigger tips. If you normally tip 20%, resolve to tip 25% at minimum in 2019. This is a great way to be generous and make a big impact with a small change to your current habits.
  • Support marginalized artists on Patreon. Find someone on Patreon who is marginalized in an area of life where you have privilege. Donate to them monthly for the entire year. (For example, if you’re a cisgender white person, donate to a transgender person of color).
  • Declutter for a cause. When you’re decluttering and minimizing in 2019, donate linens, business casual wear, formal dresses, unopened toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc. to local agencies, women’s shelters, and other charities that help people. Even stained or torn towels and linens can be donated to most animal shelters to be used as bedding or cleaning rags.

Finances

  • Minimize your budget. Go over your past few months of bank statements and see what you’re spending money on that you forgot about, don’t really use, or are not seeing a good return on. For me, this meant finally canceling my Beachbody Coach account. I kept it active long after I stopped selling workouts and shakes, because I got an occasional commission and felt like “passive income” was a good reason to keep it up. But I hated the clutter of my monthly budget, so I canceled it and freed up a whole segment of my budget that I no longer had to think about.
  • Go “No Spend.” Resolve to have a no-spend week or month a few times a year. During this time, use up items in your freezer and pantry, learn to do without online shopping for the period in question, and give homemade or pre-owned gifts to people if an occasion falls during your no-spend challenge.
  • Live on half. If at all possible, challenge yourself to live on half of what you make in order to achieve your savings or debt payoff goals as fast as possible. If you can’t live on half of what you make, challenge yourself to spend half as much as usual on something in your budget for a month.

Physical Environment

  • Donate once a month. Make a resolution to take (at least) one full box to the local donation center each month. This is a low-stress way to declutter and minimize all year long.
  • Try Project 333. This capsule wardrobe project challenges you to go three months with only 33 pieces of clothing and jewelry (undies and workout clothes excluded). This experiment can help inspire a closet makeover in your home and help reduce future spending on clothes, once you realize you don’t even wear most of what you have.
  • Commit to one area. Resolve to keep one small part of your home as minimal and simple as possible. Your minimalist save point. It could be a whole room, or it could be as simple as your desk or one nightstand in your bedroom. Just find one spot that you’ll keep to your minimalist standards on a daily basis all year. The joy of seeing it so nice will likely inspire a similar commitment to other areas of the home.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

How to Set Realistic Financial Goals for 2017

The most effective way to achieve your goals is to set 90-day objectives instead of looking at a looming annual goal or even a 5-year plan. You need to take small action steps so you don’t get overwhelmed and lose your motivation. This applies to anything from losing weight to planting a garden to renovating your bathroom to planning your finances.

I’m a huge proponent of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps program, which includes saving for emergencies (steps 1 and 3), paying off your debt (step 2), investing for retirement (step 4) and kids’ college funds (step 5), and paying off your home early (step 6). The reason this program works is that it breaks things down into small steps. You need to focus your energy – and money – on one goal at a time. People have their consumer debt paid off in an average of two years using the snowball method, which frees up their income to save and invest more freely rather than trying to win by nickel and diming every aspect of their financials.

I’ve been working on my first quarter goals for 2017 and even though it’s already March, I want to reach out and share some financial goal-setting advice you can use as you plan your 2017 financials.

It’s important to understand your finances no matter what you’re doing. There are the basic things you should know: how much money you make, how much you have in savings and checking, your monthly budget, etc. Then there are bigger-picture items like investments and debt payoff goals. As you’re evaluating your financial goals, this Money Saving Challenge infographic from Earnest can help you make a useful goal for each month of the year. Earnest is a company that offers refinancing of student loans, which can be useful if their rates will save you money over the remaining life of your loan (assuming you pay it off early using the baby steps). Every penny counts!

I added a minimalist twist on a few of the included months. In March, you’ll see a recommendation to declutter your home and host a yard sale, which helps you minimize the amount of “stuff” in your house and can also help you make a few bucks. In June, I recommend evaluating your subscriptions and services to once again reduce your commitments and add money back to your bottom line.

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Which of these financial tips are you already working toward, and what new ideas can you add to your goals for the next 90 days?

Your Mission Statement, Should You Choose To Accept It

I’ve been working on some budgeting and financial planning resources for a personal finance group I help run on Facebook. In the guide, I made a brief activity for participants to create their own financial mission statement. The big “WHY” that can remind them of their long term goals when they want a short term pleasure. I’m all for building in a steam valve so you don’t get money stress ulcers, but that’s why budgeting is important. You need to know your limit on how much steam you can blow off, before your whole long-term plan goes up in a sea of cute shoes that were on sale, soy lattes, and even Redbox rentals. Don’t nickel and dime yourself out of a secure financial future.

The mission statement approach can also help you stay mindful and in the moment when you’re having anxiety or stress about something. If you’re not happy at your job, think about your long-term mission. Put today’s annoyance on a scale against the long-term achievements and goals associated with more tenure in your position. Is today’s gripe going to ring a bell in a year? If you’re really miserable, start looking for new work that is more in line with your mission. (Your career mission can be “to have a job I really love,” which makes job shopping not only an option but a responsibility to your goals!)

Mission statements can be for the long term or they can be a short term mission. A mission for one hour, or one day. A to-do list is sort of a mission statement of how you plan to spend your day. I’ve started making my to-do lists in three-item chunks. The top three priorities of my day (usually more difficult or grudging tasks), followed by a quick and easy list of 3 things I can accomplish in a few minutes. By the time I’m done with those 3 big tasks and 3 little tasks, I’ve gotten a lot done and can either rest or make a new mission of 3 top priorities.

By making a really specific mission statement for my day, I’m able to reduce my anxiety. A giant to-do list of all the things I’d like to accomplish on a Saturday is overwhelming and I tend to get so caught up in not knowing where to start that I just procrastinate or do things that are “sort of productive” but not actually things that need to be done that day.

A recent list of mine looked like this:

Top 3 Priorities Today

  1. Work out
  2. Grocery shop
  3. Finish freelance project

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Send freelance invoices
  2. Send freelance pricing information
  3. Take laundry to basement

Next 3 Priorities

  1. Write budget guide
  2. Write a blog post (hey, it’s the post you’re reading right now!)
  3. Scoop litter box and clean up in the office

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Clear the living room table
  2. Take out trash and recycling
  3. Put away the clean dishes

If I had just put all these things on a list without prioritizing or putting them in any order, I would have very likely done all the little quick items first, then pretended I had gotten *so* much work done, and sat on my butt, wondering when I would get around to doing the bigger tasks. By arranging them in order like this, I could pull out the top 3 things that MUST GET DONE and make sure I do them before anything else. Doing the dishes would be nice, but not a top priority. Dishes can wait. Work needs to get done.

I am a list person, and I am a goal person. A list of goals is even better. The better to craft my mission statement, my sweet!

Here’s a breakdown of some of my current short- and long-term mission statements. Most of them are financial but one is related to health.

  • My mission is to pay off our next three debts by the end of 2016, at a rate of one debt per month. (This helps me keep my budget on point. I am less likely to find other things we “need right now” to take out of the budget when I’m focusing on something like this. This goal is really big, those debts are between $1600 and $2000 each. And even if I only get two of them done, that’s amazing!)
  • My mission is to weigh between 150-165 pounds and live a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise and a healthful diet without binge eating or obsessive food behavior. (This is a much more long term mission statement that encompasses not only a weight loss goal but also goals related to my mental health and relationship to food. This helps me to not overeat and also to allow myself indulgences without a guilt trip).
  • My mission is to be debt free by the time I am 30. (This is another big goal! That’s only 18 months away, and we have quite a pile of debt. Over $60,000.)
  • My mission is to become debt free so that we can afford for one of us to stay home with our kids when we start a family. (THIS ONE is the overarching mission. The mission driving all other missions. Nothing makes me reconsider buying a pair of leggings or a burrito bowl like imagining how fast I can get out of debt to be a stay-at-home-mom.)

What are YOUR personal mission statements, and how do they help to keep you accountable?

How I cut my family’s grocery budget nearly in half

When I started the “Dave Ramsey thing” and created my first monthly budget, I settled on $300 a month for groceries, including cat food and household stuff like dish soap and toilet paper.

So, when I moved in with my co-human, I just doubled it to a budgeted $600. If $300 worked for one person, $600 would be logical for two. We wound up spending upwards of $700 per month on groceries. Yikes. To top that off, comment threads from favorite Facebook pages asking about budgets were showing me that many people were doing a whole foods budget for more people with less money than we were spending. Obviously something was amiss. I discussed this a bit in an earlier post in March.

What was jacking up the cost?

  • Lack of planning – buying haphazardly without a plan led to a lot of impulse purchases and even some food waste.
  • High standards – I buy only humane animal products and prefer organic foods.
  • Luxury purchases – Co-human was really digging some expensive cheese there for several months. Not saying that was the only thing going on (I was also addicted to almond meal cookies) but we were spending a lot of frivolous luxury dollars at the grocery store.
  • I was being snooty – I didn’t even LOOK at other grocery stores other than Earth Fare. I admit this was a personal flaw.

Bringing the cost down

Not only did I reduce our budget to below $600, I have even gotten it to a solid $400-$450 depending on the month. I think I can even get it down to $350 if I really put my mind to it. Feeding a whole extra person on only $50 more than I used to budget to feed myself… I shudder to think of what I could have been saving when I lived on my own!

I still shop mainly at higher-end grocery stores like Earth Fare and Heinen’s. I strategize my shopping trips so I only need to go once a week to either of those stores and can supplement if needed at Giant Eagle, which is a mile away and way more convenient. Marc’s has surprisingly come up as another low-budget source – organic sweet potatoes are a downright STEAL at the local Marc’s store.

I still buy whole food ingredients, fresh produce, fresh humane meat, and humane/organic dairy and eggs.

How the heck are you feeding two people your snooty food on only $400?

  • Buy in bulk when possible – Rice, beans, oatmeal, flour, nuts, etc. are almost always cheaper when you buy bulk. Bulk also helps you save on meat! This spring, my dad purchased a portion of a local steer and split it with me. I spent $80 on 30-40ish pounds of beef, some of which is still in the freezer. If you’ve got the freezer space and the up-front cash, this is a way to save some SERIOUS dough. I also buy chickens whole and cook them in the crockpot, which is cheaper than buying just breasts. I buy 2lb rolls of butter, divvy it up into mason jars for storage, and save lots of money over buying it in sticks ($8.99 for a 2 lb roll vs. 5.99+ each for a 1 lb box of comparable butter).
  • Buy on sale and know your price points – Earth Fare is pretty much the only store I trust for meat, because of their humane treatment policy. But I buy on sale. Grass fed beef is usually $8/lb – I stock up when it’s on sale for $4/lb with a coupon. Ground pork is usually $5/lb, so when it’s on sale for $3 or $4/lb, I stock up on that too. I buy chicken breasts or thighs when they are sale priced around the same cost as buying the whole chicken. Other items can be found strategically on sale too, whether you shop specialty stores or your average neighborhood grocery.
  • Compare stores – This requires some preparation and initial time investment. Make a list of EVERYTHING you commonly buy. Then go to several stores and compare the costs. Check online too – sites like Amazon and Vitacost can save you some money on grocery items. I am working on a pretty hefty spreadsheet comparing costs. When you find out which stores have consistently better deals or prices on certain items, strategize your shopping trips to make the most of your dollars.
  • Compare products – You need to be sure you are comparing apples to apples when you compare products in the store. You might opt for a bag of frozen organic berries because it’s only $3.29, but it’s eight ounces. That’s $0.41 per ounce. A pound of fresh organic strawberries at $4.99 is $0.31 per ounce. Ten cents an ounce is a lot of savings to buy fresh! Yes, there’s a little more work involved (you must wash and dry, then eat before they go bad or freeze them yourself) but if you have the five minutes to do the work yourself, you can save a bit of money. Same for lunchmeat – a packet of Applegate turkey is more expensive per ounce than getting it by the pound at the deli counter. It pays to do the math.
  • Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 – Some items are very important to buy organic. These fruits and vegetables have the highest concentration of pesticides on conventional produce. I always make sure to buy root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.), berries, grapes, apples, and greens organic. I buy conventional melons, citrus, onions, mushrooms, bananas, pineapples, avocados, and frozen peas. Here’s a list of 48 fruits and veggies listed from “most pesticides” to “least pesticides.” I also purchase summer squash, zucchini, and corn organic or at least non-GMO, as these are common GMO foods.
  • Keep inventory – Knowing what you have on hand in your kitchen will allow you to plan better. If you have a bunch of broth, make soup. Beans and tomato sauce? Plan for chili. Don’t just keep buying things because you know you might cook with them someday. It can be very beneficial to have a no-spend week or month in which you use up the food in your pantry and freezer instead of buying additional groceries. There’s been a box of veggie burgers in my freezer for over six months… Oops.
  • Meal plan – Plan what you will cook for the week before you do your shopping trip. You can plan for leftovers or low-maintenance nights where you just make a sandwich or soup from a can. I won’t judge you, I do it too. There are “toast for dinner” nights in this house. There are also “cook three things to prep for the rest of the week” nights. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Cook smart – If you are cooking ground beef for spaghetti sauce on Monday night, and you’re having tacos on Wednesday, cook all the ground beef at the same time and set aside the stuff for Wednesday. Ta-da, taco meat is pre-prepped, you just have to heat it back up and add spices. Tonight, I made french toast and bacon for dinner. But I also cooked pasta with Italian sausage for tomorrow night. Or maybe the night after. Because…
  • Be flexible – If you go off the meal plan, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes the weather affects my cooking plans (making the meal that requires an oven on a cooler day, for instance – I hate heating up the house in summer, ugh!), sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking, and sometimes I have a lot of leftovers we need to eat up before I cook something new (I hate wasting). It’s all good. Don’t totally abandon it, but be okay with moving some meals around and re-arranging your plans.
  • Budget – This is the most important thing. To save money on groceries, you have to plan out the money you will spend on groceries. If it helps you to separate meat, dairy, produce, etc. in your budget, do that to keep yourself on task. Otherwise just plan your trip and budget what you will spend for the month total and for each shopping trip. Use CASH instead of a card to keep yourself accountable – when the cash is gone, no more groceries. Spend wisely.

Sample meal plan and shopping list

Here’s my meal plan and shopping list for the week of 6/1/14:

  • Sunday: Italian sausage with pasta
  • Monday: Chicken breast, peas and carrots
  • Tuesday: Burgers and beans
  • Wednesday: Brinner
  • Thursday: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, beans
  • Friday: Chinese?
  • Saturday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes

Shopping list:

  • Produce: Apples (3 lb bag), strawberries (1 lb box)
  • Water gallon refills
  • Dairy: Eggs (3 dozen), milk (1/2 gallon), yogurt (large container), cheese (1 pack)
  • Meat: Bacon (1 lb), chicken breasts (coupon for $2.99/lb)
  • Grocery: Pasta
  • Bakery: Sourdough bread (2 loaves)
  • Giant Eagle: Mushrooms, watermelon

That was my whole plan to cook for the week. We already had ground beef, italian sausage, pasta sauce, and chicken nuggets in the house. But… the chicken breasts were sold out and co-human wanted to try a new brand of cheese slices. We opted for bratwurst instead of chicken, and we got two packs of cheese instead of one. I still came in under-budget for the shopping trip.

What I have actually cooked this week:

  • Sunday: Bratwurst and bean casserole. My onion in the pantry had gone bad (note: Buy onion on Monday).
  • Monday: Bratwurst and bean casserole. Yes, I made it again. It was delicious.
  • Tuesday: Cooked myself french toast and bacon, made the man a sandwich. Cooked pasta and italian sausage for Wednesday.

What I expect to cook later this week:

  • Wednesday: Italian sausage and pasta (already made, just heat!)
  • Thursday: Chicken nuggets, tater tots, beans (weather says a high of 66, so I don’t mind turning on the oven)
  • Friday: Burgers and beans (it’s thawing in the fridge. I am cooking it).
  • Saturday: Brinner

For breakfast, we usually have eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. I like orange juice too, but I make half a gallon last two weeks because I buy expensive juice – organic, fresh pressed, no flavor packets, all that jazz. I have switched to Uncle Matt’s organic brand because it’s a few bucks cheaper than my usual brand and has no flavor packets.

For lunches, I pack my partner a sandwich, fruit (bananas, strawberries, and pineapple are favorites right now, but he also enjoys apples), usually a small square of dark chocolate, and sometimes a bag of chips. He works close to home so sometimes he comes home for lunch and has leftovers. I usually have fruit and yogurt, fridge oats, or leftovers for my lunches. I sometimes get takeout on Fridays with other ladies in the office.

Things that are life-changing and wonderful blessings to meal planning:

  • An eating partner who doesn’t mind eating the same thing multiple times in a week
  • An eating partner who is more thrilled about eggs and bacon for dinner than a complicated recipe that costs $50 to make

Things that I imagine are meal planning wild-cards:

  • Children – their picky days, fussiness, specific cravings, hunger strikes, and endless desire to turn meals into arts and crafts. I imagine that would be stressful.