How to Meal Prep for a Week

How to meal prep for a week

Preparing meals ahead of time can be a big time and money saver. You’re doing all of your cooking on one day, and will be saving money because you’re only buying the ingredients you know you need.

Cooking all your breakfasts, lunches and dinners for a week, in one day, may seem daunting, but with these tips you’ll be able to meal prep for a week and not have to wonder, “What’s for dinner?” anymore!

Find your recipes. Before even starting the process, you should print out the recipes you will be using for the week. This means printing or writing down recipes for all meals for 7 days. If you will be making snacks, like homemade granola bars or protein bars, print those recipes as well. Now you have a master list of all the ingredients you will need.

Divide up your grocery store list. Go through each recipe and categorize each item. Your grocery list should have sections broken down into protein, carbs, vegetables, fruits, spices, and other. Doing this will make it much easier (and quicker) to find the things you need when you’re at the grocery store.

Buy the right containers. If this is something you will be doing on a regular basis, you want to make sure you have durable containers that are made to last. Don’t skimp out on this.

Cut your vegetables and fruits. Once you’re back from the grocery store, start by chopping up your vegetables and fruits. Organize them by whether you’re using them as a snack or will be using them as ingredients in a meal.

Use the oven. The oven is great for baking meats, potatoes, vegetables and more. Make a list of every item that needs to go in the oven and put it all in. If your oven is going to be on, you might as well cook everything at once!

Use your slow cooker. Many people who meal prep like to make freezer meals. This can be preparing something, like meatballs, and freezing them to cook at a later date, or preparing an entire meal which will then be thawed and cooked. If you have a slow cooker, doing this is especially easy. Take a look at my post 9 Slow Cooker Freezer Meals or you could Google slow cooker freezer meals to find recipes. Even if you don’t want to freeze your meals, you can still prepare all of the ingredients you’ll need and use your slow cooker to cook the meal. It will save you time all week!

Use different seasonings. One can only eat so much plain chicken. When you go grocery shopping, make sure to pick up different seasonings for each meal. Get creative with how you season or marinate your protein options.

Make one huge dish. If you don’t want to prepare 5 different dinner options, you can make enough of one recipe that will last you a few days. Find one you really like and cook it in bulk. If you have meals or items that will last longer than 3 days, put the leftovers in the freezer and cook it when you’re ready.

Make grab and go meals. The last step is to just divide everything up into your containers. Take each meal and put it in a container so it is ready to go for each day of the week.

Meal prep can be a great way to save time throughout the week. Although it may take a full day on the weekend, once you know what meals you’re making and what ingredients you’ll need, you’ll become more efficient at it. No more worrying about what’s for lunch or dinner!

Do you do any sort of meal prep at your home?  What does your current system look like?

Reader Testimonial – How I Stopped Living Paycheque to Paycheque

pay cheque

The following is a Financial success testimonial from Alison!  Enjoy!

This year I had a goal of depositing two full paycheques directly into my savings account on top of my regular monthly 10% savings. I was discussing my budgeting and savings plans with a credit counselor and she told me she had never known someone to be successful at what I was planning…challenge accepted! This past month I was able to successfully do this and wanted to share with other frugal minded individuals how I did it so you can too.

My employer pays me bi-weekly, which means I receive two paycheques every month except for two wonderful months of the year when I receive three paycheques.  At first this provided an interesting budgeting challenge because there are a few ways to calculate a monthly salary:

1.   Take the overall yearly salary and divide it by 12 months.
For example, if I made $39,000 per year and divided that by 12 months, I would get a monthly salary of $3,250. This number is valuable for certain financial situations, but unrealistic for my monthly budgeting.

2.   Add up the paycheques received in a month.
In this scenario, if I made $39,000/year, 10 months of the year I would be paid $3,000 and the other two months of the year I would be paid $4,500.

When creating a budget, what was I supposed to do with these three different amounts: $3250, $3000, and $4500? I started by making a decision:  I do not want to live paycheque to paycheque.  I wanted to create a system that always had me ahead of the game.  I also decided to live off the amount of money I am paid for those 10 months of the year involving two paycheques and was determined to put those additional two paycheques, in their entirety, directly into my savings account.  Saving 10% of my regular monthly salary is great, but I wanted a better security net.

Here’s what I did:

  • Took my lowest monthly income number to create a realistic budget.
  • Used helpful tools such as “Budgeting Basics – How to Get Started” found on Simply Frugal and tracked my expenses to determine what was sustainable.
  • Created an overall budget that allotted every dollar of my two paycheques per month.
  • Determined what money I would need as cash on hand during a month and what I could leave in a separate bank account. For example, grocery money is cash I need to take out of the bank. Gift purchases or dental appointments, while budgeted for, are not necessarily money spent every month. I’ll call these my “planning ahead expenses.”
  • Once the budget was nailed down, I totalled all my “planning ahead expenses” and my savings, then divided those numbers in half. This is what I transfer out of my main chequing account every paycheque into sub-accounts. For example, $20 per month is budgeted for gifts, of which $10 is transferred every paycheque to a “Gifts Account.”
  • Leave the rest of the money needed for cash on hand or for bills directly debited out of my chequing account to build up my monthly float. My monthly float is every dollar that I will spend during the next month.

Through the month as I deposit each paycheque, I transfer out all of my “planning ahead expenses” and let the rest remain to build up for the next month. Because each paycheque that I deposit into my account is not needed for any immediate expenses, I am released from my dependence on it. When I deposit a paycheque, I have no thought of spending it because I know I do not need it for the current month. This freedom is essential because when one of those three paycheque months comes along, I treat the first two cheques just like any other normal month by transferring out my “plan aheads” and building up my float. Those two cheques set me up for the next month and that third one can go straight into my savings account without a second thought.

Using this system of building up a float is how I stay away from living paycheque to paycheque. I did sacrifice a bit of savings to set myself up in this way, but the benefits are worth it:

  • Eliminated the stress of relying on my next immediate paycheque.
  • An extra month’s cushion of money if I lost my job, in addition to my emergency fund.
  • At the end of every month, I have exactly the amount of money I need in my account to pay my bills and variable expenses for the coming month.

Sticking to this takes planning and discipline, but it is worth it when I see the big jump in savings a couple times a year! It is also worth it to know that being frugal and wise with my money allows me to do something that someone in the financial world thought wasn’t possible.

About Alison:  I am a lover of coupons and good deals; I believe in saving money where I can so I can spend it on what really matters. I am currently exploring my childhood dream of being a writer through internet ramblings on my blog: http://theconvertedagnostic.wordpress.com

Do you have a financial success story you’d love to share to help inspire others?  Send your stories to me here.

How to Get Stuff for Free

 How to get free stuff

I love free stuff.  You love free stuff.  Everyone loves free stuff!  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that claims to dislike getting stuff for free.  Everything we want can be bought with a price tag, but before you head to the store to purchase an item, read my tips for acquiring the things you need for free.

Here are my 6 favourite ways to get stuff for free:

Borrow

Borrowing could be ideal if you need a particular item only for a short time.  I do this all the time with friends and family.  Especially with serving ware used for big gatherings that I don’t have room to store. :)

Check Freecycle

Freecycle.org is an online network found in most communities around Canada that provides you with a way to acquire something you need for free.  It’s also a great way to unload items you don’t have a use for any more!  You simply create a post stating what you’re looking for, then someone will reply to you via email if they can fulfill your request!

Exchange Services

Say you would like a room in your house painted, but you’re terrible at paint brush control.  You do, however, know how to build a very sturdy shelf that a friend of yours has been hunting for.  Why not suggest exchanging services?  You’ll get a painted room and your friend will get a nice shelf in exchange for a few hours of work.  Win win!

Use coupons

If would be silly to not mention using coupons as a way to get things for free.  While getting stuff for completely free is not possible (you still have to pay taxes), it’s a fantastic way to get stuff you need for pennies.  If you follow my weekly Coupon Match Ups that get posted on Thursday’s, quite often you’ll find items on the list that are free when you match a coupon to a sale price.  Many companies are also offering FPC’s (Full Price Coupons) these days, most often through their Facebook pages.  See also the How to Coupon in Canada series for more coupon details.

Swagbucks

For the past several years, I’ve been collecting Swag Bucks through their search engine (and other options), then redeeming them for free Starbucks, Amazon and PayPal gift cards!   They offer a ton of different products in their Rewards store, but those three are my favourite.  Here’s a post I wrote featuring 6 Ways to Earn More Swag Bucks that may help answer some questions.

Sign up for Freebies

At least a few times a week, I’ll post a great freebie offer that a company is offering.  The offers range anywhere from sample size body lotions and shampoos to full size products, like bacon!  There are also frequent Mail in Rabate offers that will pop up from time to time good for a free box of dish detergent or stain remover, for example.  While you do have to pay out of pocket initially for mail in rebate items, you will be reimbursed if you fill in all the paperwork correctly.

There you have it, 6 of my tried and true methods to get stuff for free!  Have you tried any of these methods?  What are your tips for getting stuff for free?

No Spend Challenge – Free Family Activities

Free family activities

Family fun doesn’t always have to cost money.  There are plenty of activities you can try together that are just as fun, or even more fun, then activities that require cash.

Here are some free family activity ideas that are sure to please!

  • Have a picnic, inside or outside depending on the weather
  • Have another family over for dinner – this is way cheaper then eating out!
  • Movie night – grab a movie off the shelf that you haven’t watched in a while and make some homemade microwave popcorn!
  • Have a theme night/day – Mexican, Italian, pirate…the list goes on. Plan dinners and activities around your theme!
  • Have a craft night – paint, sew (here are some simple felt sewing ideas), draw…etc!
  • Head to your local library – stock up on reading material or even sit in on story time!
  • Have a game night – pull out those board games and cards!
  • Unplug – Turn off the cell phone, TV, computer and just reconnect with your wonderful family!
  • Go bird watching – see how many different types of birds you can spot. Maybe bring along a bird book from the library.
  • Build an indoor fort – camp out in it or have a picnic in it!
  • Check out the free community events offered in your area
  • Make a list of activities you want to do during the Summer
  • Go for a walk
  • Have a yard sale and set up a lemonade stand that the kids can man.
  • Clip and organize coupons.  Make it a game for the kids.
  • Help an elderly neighbour or friend
  • Visit a playground and actually play together

Many of these ideas can be adapted to every season, but the important thing is that you get out there and have fun together as a family!  Enjoy each other!

What other free or cheap activities can you suggest?

Air Miles, Not Just for Travel

air miles

Have you checked your Air Miles balance lately?

You may collect them, but never use them because you may think they’re only for travel. (And when you use it for travel, there are
administration fees.)  There are all sorts of things you can get with Air Miles – including Dyson vacuums, laptops, cameras and much much more. It’s a great way to save money on items you need, and use up the otherwise wasted Air Miles!

Click here to visit the Air Miles website.

What have you redeemed your Air Miles for?  Do you collect Air Miles?

Thanks Ilean!

10 Things to Do Instead of Spending Money

things to do instead of spending money

things to do instead of spending money

Quite often, when we think about cutting back on spending we also think that boredom is inevitable. That doesn’t have to be the case at all!  Here are 10 things to do instead of spending money and to help you have fun while you keep your budget in check!

Learn New Games

Learn a game you’ve always wanted to learn or make up your own game!

Read a Book

Getting lost in a story and losing track of the time is wonderful once in a while!

Try New Food Combinations

Pretend you’re on a cooking show and see what kind of meals you can come up with while only using random items from your cupboards.

Make some Money

Rather than spending money, why not try making some money?  Have a garage sale or try selling some items on Kijiji or Craigslist.

Cross things off your To-Do List

Take some time while you’re not spending any money to knock of some nagging things from your to-do list.  Return those phone calls and emails or maybe book those appointments you’ve been meaning to do.

Seek out Free Activities

I think every town in Canada offers some sort of free community activity.  Seek them out for some free fun!

Try out a New Hairstyle

Spend some time at home trying out new hair styles.  Maybe you’ve been meaning to master that up-do?  Pinterest is a great place to get hair style inspiration.

Go for a Walk

Take a walk around your neighborhood, but really take in the details this time!

Take a Nap

Maybe the best option on the list?  Naps are pretty fantastic aren’t they? :)

House Hunt

Take a look on Realtor.ca and daydream about living in all the big, fancy houses is pretty fun!

What are some other things to do instead of spending money?

The Best Way to Save Money and a Challenge

Stop Spending

Are you looking for a way to save money?  I’ve got a technique that is guaranteed to work.  I’ve used it in my own life so I can vouch for it’s effectiveness :)

It’s simple really.  Just stop spending it!

While we need to spend money on life’s necessities, such as food, clothing and a roof over our head, our culture is constantly telling us we need this or we need that in order to survive.  Sure, many things would make life more comfortable, but the truth is, there’s very little we actually need.

Constantly buying more stuff may give you short term enjoyment, but it will never satisfy you for the long term.  Why not stop spending unnecessarily and start focusing on enjoying what you already have?

A Challenge:

On that note, I have a challenge to present to you. :)  Because there was much interest when I quizzed the Simply Frugal Facebook group, starting April 1, 2013, we’ll be starting a month-long No Spend Challenge!  In all honesty, I wavered back and forth between doing it and not doing it, but the response from you guys was quite overwhelmingly in favour!

I realize that it’s only the middle of March, but I thought it was important to let you all know well in advance.  Not only to “prepare” you but because calendars can fill up pretty quickly with activities that may require some spending.  In a post later this week I’ll be detailing my ideas, or my heart, behind this challenge, so you can rest assured that a No Spend Challenge does not mean cancelling all the fun.  ;)

Who’s on board?  Sign up for the No Spend Challenge email list and you’ll start receiving a few emails in March, and then almost daily emails in April with inspiring quotes and articles.

I’m also looking for a few people that would be willing to share a weekly update on how the challenge is going. (your struggles, victories and how you’re passing time, for example)  Contact me here, if you’d be interested in providing this!

10 Things to Buy from the Dollar Store

dollar store deals

While there are many things that are best to avoid purchasing from the dollar store, there are still quite a few items worth purchasing!  Here are 10 items that I think will help you keep more of your cash in your pocket if they’re purchased at a dollar store:

Party supplies – Napkins, paper plates, plastic cutlery and party decorations are all great things to buy from a dollar store. Especially since these items are meant to be used once.

Mailing supplies – The dollar store is where I always pick up our mailing envelopes.  Can’t beat the price and they even have the peel & seal envelopes to avoid the licking!

Pregnancy tests – Pregnancy tests can cost a small fortune if purchased from a drugstore, but if you get them at the dollar store, you’ll be saving big money!  I personally have had very “positive” (ha, get it?) experiences with these tests.  Apparently they’re the same as the ones that get used in the doctor’s office.

Greeting cards – My husband says that if I have to get him a greeting card for a special occasion, he’d appreciate it if I got it from the dollar store.  :)  The selection is usually pretty great too!

Craft supplies – Felt, beads, acrylic paint, embellishments and double sided tape for card making are all items I’ve purchased from the dollar store.  Our a few of our local stores have a pretty good and unique selection of craft supplies and I’m sure yours do as well!

Wrapping paper – Why pay for expensive wrapping paper when it’s just going to be ripped to pieces anyways?

Gift bags – Again, they have a great selection and you can’t beat the price!

Organizing products – I’ve purchased numerous bins, containers, and buckets from the dollar store.  My most recent purchase was some white plastic bins to organize the closet in the bathroom.  They hold things just as well as fancy bins, I’d say!

Foil pans – Doing some freezer cooking?  Pick up your foil pans from the dollar store.

Helium balloons – Although I have never purchased helium balloons before, I’ve heard that dollar stores are a great place to get them!  I’ll find out for sure at the end of the month when I get some for Sienna’s birthday. :)

What items do you like to buy at the dollar store?

How to Save Money When You Don’t have Much to Save

How to save Money

The following is a guest post by Cassie of MrsJanuary.com.  Enjoy!

When it comes to budgeting, the common excuse I hear from people is that they don’t have the extra money to set aside. Once they get paid, and take care of all of their important bills, there is simply nothing left for them to put into savings. Does this sound like you?

If so, I have a few suggestions for you that will get you saving in no time.

Tip #1 – Always pay yourself first

What do you consider to be an “important bill”? Your mortgage/rent? Your car payment? Insurance? Of course, these are all bills that absolutely must be paid each and every month, but what about the bill of YOU? Aren’t you important?

Growing your savings is so very important for your financial future and you need to make this a priority. Do so by treating your savings as one of those “important bills” that absolutely must be paid each month. Ideally, it should be the very first “bill” you pay so that your brain knows that this bill is important. To make it easy on yourself, set up an automatic withdrawal from your chequing account each month (or week), so that a pre-determined amount of cash goes into your savings account without you having to lift a finger.

Tip #2 – It doesn’t matter how much you save (in the beginning)

The hardest part about saving money is simply getting started. How much should you save will depend greatly on your life goals, but also, on your current financial situation. If you are only working part time, or you are a one-income family, you may not have very much money to save each month. Don’t get discouraged and whatever you do, do NOT say you will “start saving when I make more money”. Save money right now, regardless of how much you make.

Even if you are only saving $5 each week, that’s still $240 a year that normally would have just slipped through your fingers. As you start to bring in more money, you can increase your savings amount, but in the beginning, start small if you have to. Don’t dismiss saving money just because you have a low income.

Tip #3 – Eliminate all unnecessary expenses

This is obvious, but I feel I should mention it anyway, because I know so many people who complain about having no money to save, yet they go out to the movies every weekend, buy new clothes with each paycheque and have a $300 monthly cable bill when they rarely even watch television.

Stop paying for things that are not necessary and save that money instead. Don’t buy new clothes if you already have a closet that is bursting at the seams. You don’t need to completely eliminate cable (unless you want to), but at least scale back on the cable package that you have – why pay for something you’re not using? As for entertainment, stop over-spending. Consider frugal entertainment ideas instead (or in combination), or commit to only going out once or twice per month.

Tip #4 – Make more money

Again, this is obvious, but if you really want to start saving money, you need to seriously consider if it’s worth it for you to start bringing more money home. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take on a second job (although that will help, of course), though.

There are many ways that you can make extra money. If you’re looking for a few ideas, check out this article that Taya wrote recently: 6 Ways to Earn More Money.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money, doesn’t mean that savings is something you should ignore. You need to start saving money as soon as you start earning it (however young that may be when you start working!). The golden rule is to save a minimum of 10% of your gross income every month, but like I said in tip #2, you don’t have to start saving this much initially.

Start saving whatever you can and gradually increase the amount. The key is to never give up. Never stop saving, no matter what your circumstances may be.

Cassie Howard is a work-at-home mom living in Vaughan, Ontario. She writes daily on her personal finance blog, MrsJanuary.com – a website dedicated to frugal living. She’s what many would call an extreme couponer and saves a minimum of 50% off her grocery bill every week by using coupons. You can connect with Cassie on Facebook and Twitter.

Budget Tip – Use Cash

use cash to save your budget

Today’s budget tip:  Use cash!

One of the best ways to not overspend is to carry cash whenever possible  Out to dinner or to the grocery store, if you take exactly what you have allotted for that outing, you won’t be splurging on unnecessary things because you won’t have any more money to use.  Once you’re out of cash, you’re done spending!

Using cash is an easy way to keep yourself on track and not splurge in the moment.

Do you use cash on a regular basis?  If you don’t, do you find yourself spending unnecessarily?