Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Organizing Goals 2012 - #5 Organize Food and Finances

Each day for the next week or so, I am introducing my storage/organization/cleaning goals, plans, and progress for 2012. The first post in the series can be found here.

5. Organize Food and Finances: There is a reason my daughter once asked me if budget is a bad word. No, we don't have problem overspending in our house. We live well within our means. But constant debit-card purchases (even on necessary expenses) were adding stress in our lives.  Seeing that long banking statement with several purchases a day was like watching money fall out of our pockets.  My husband has long asked me for a household budget with the purpose of figuring out exactly where our money goes. This year I've finally created a budget, and we are working toward a more cash-based system for handling expenses. I think there may be a few kinks to figure out, but progress is being made. We were both amazed when we checked our bank statement and there hadn't been a purchase in 5 days.

The new budget has led me to organize my food purchases and menu planning.  Before all this, I had a general idea of what we had on hand and what we tend to eat, and I would make a very general list, forgetting things, including things we didn't need, etc. Then my husband would make the trip to Aldi to stock our pantry and would end up buying 36 cans of soup (the kind my daughters refuse to eat), of which I might eat two in the next four months. You get the idea.

First, I looked for an app that included the following:
1. pantry inventory--I need to know what we already have on hand before I know what we need to buy.
2. long-term menu planning--I need to know what I plan to cook so I know what I need to buy for our 4-month supply.
3. shopping list--My husband tends to make the Aldi shopping trip, so it's important that I can provide him with a very detailed shopping list--I learned that yesterday when he interpreted an arrow I drew as a 5 and came home with 5 containers of sour cream. He also called to confirm that we needed 40 cans of black beans. No, that was actually a 4 with another number crossed out.

Unfortunately, I haven't found the magic app yet.  But I did find a pretty amazing 3 Month Food Supply spreadsheet from Food Storage Made Easy.* The spreadsheet includes a column for ingredients on the left, and spanning the table to the right at the top of the page are meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for 30 days. The girls have included a "Have on hand" column, where you can enter the number of each ingredient you have on hand. You then fill out your meals for the month, and under each meal you mark the number of each ingredient needed. The beauty of this spreadsheet is that it will then give you a 3 month total, as well as the number you need to buy (figuring what you have on hand) to make that 3 month total.

Clearly start-up is time-consuming. I first did a food inventory, which with my daughter's "help" took me about 45 minutes. Then, I planned my meals for the month. This was surprisingly easy. I picked a homemade soup for one day each week, and I had a day for leftovers, which left me with only 5 days to fill each week.  Next, I started filling in the ingredients. I first copied and pasted the Common Food Items list found on another page of the spreadsheet. I did it that way so the ingredients would be organized by category and in alphabetical order. Then I added and removed items based on my food inventory. And finally, I went meal by meal marking the number of items needed to prepare each meal.

So I now have a 3-month shopping list.  This is great, But unfortunately I need a 4-month list. So I still need to tweak the spreadsheet. For the trip yesterday, I wrote out the list and added a month's worth of ingredients to each 3-month total.  It did feel pretty great to have my husband come home from Aldi knowing he got things we will actually use (aside from the 5 containers of sour cream). I am still trying  to figure out the best way to keep the food inventory updated.

I love it when a working toward a goal has some unexpected benefit. I've been meal planning for a couple of weeks already, and let me just shout it out: I LOVE IT! Never would I have imagined that having a meal plan would be so...freeing? You know that gnawing in the back of your mind every day that starts at about 4:00 when you realize you have no idea what to make for dinner, and then you start to ask yourself why you have to be the one to figure this crap out every day.  And then you start to resent the fact that you have to cook anything at all.  And then you say Screw it! and order a pizza? No? I guess it's just me.

Things are totally different now. I actually look forward to checking the menu plan throughout the week.
Oooh, fajitas! Great idea.

Yum, I can't wait for Friday when we have that roast.

Better thaw out that ham today.
It feels like 50% of the burden of cooking has been lifted.  Knowing what we're having and being confident that I actually have the ingredients on hand to make the food is a huge relief.  And I'm being more creative with my meals rather than falling back on my last-minute standby dishes. I also like that I feel free to switch meals around within the week to better fit our schedule. 

I still have some figuring to do with our food budget.  Between the three annual Aldi trips and the fact that we order a quarter of beef a couple times a year, figuring out a monthly total gets complicated. But, I am working on it. So that is progress toward my goal.

Do you meal plan? How detailed do you get? Do you use a food inventory? Do you use technology to meal plan?

*Wow, I did not realize that there is a whole food storage culture out there. Who knew? I am not part of the food storage culture. I am just lazy and like to spend a little time as possible grocery shopping.  In addition to Aldi, we stock perishables from the local grocery store throughout the month and buy meat from a local butcher.


  1. This sounds very interesting! I am awful, I'm at Target or the grocery store probably 3-4 times a week. Planning ahead might help me with making sure I make meals that use up all of, say, the fresh parsley I buy for one meal and then end up wasting 9/10 of the bunch.

    (Laughing about the 5 containers of sour cream!)

    Do you have a big freezer?

  2. This past year I kicked my Target habit, and now I've got it down to roughly once a month:) I go to the grocery store for fresh stuff every two weeks or so. My problem before was that I'd get too lazy if I didn't have the right stuff, and I'd fall back on making the same boring stuff. Cooking would feel like even more of a burden because I wasn't excited to eat what I was making. We do have a large freezer in our basement. I love it!