Emergency meal planning…

I’ve mentioned before that my family recently suffered a 35% pay cut.  We had no notice and a tiny bit of severance, and this all started during the holidays and just a couple months after we closed on our home.  We had some legal issues related to the home we were leasing and we’d just plunked down the bulk of the remainder of our emergency fund to retain legal help.  We had to drop the case after the lay-off.  The timing of everything just really was all wrong.

I recently started a new business doing custom vinyl graphics and lettering.  I started it mostly for fun and now I’m doing it out of necessity, hoping to grow it into a supplemental income that will actually help our family.  I’m OK with this, because I LOVE IT and I’ve expanded into a Sign Shop rather than “just” a sticker shop!  I’m doing OK, but still really stuck at that stage where everything I make gets reinvested, plus a little more at times.  I’m still buying necessary supplies and already find myself in need of a larger cutting machine and a wide format color printer, which is another chunk of money.

We’re OK…the mortgage is paid…but I find myself in the uncomfortable position of doing some juggling to keep the other bills paid.  We’re expecting a bonus that should allow us to get caught up but in the meantime, I’ve been examining our spending to figure out what else we can cut.

I discovered that our largest expenditure monthly is still food.  We definitely are still spending way too much money eating out and way too much at the grocery store.  It’s amazing how $5 here and $15 there can REALLY add up in a month’s time.  I estimated we were spending $200 per month on fast food and in reality it was more like $400-500 per month if I count the times my hubby eats lunch out for work.  Add in actual sit-down restaurants and OUCH!

As far as groceries go, I’ve been experimenting shopping different places to see how much less I can spend and I’ve determined that Sam’s and Costco really are my best bet for the things I can buy at those stores, as long as we don’t waste any of what we buy.  (That’s a big IF…it’s really hard to use up the fresh produce even though I’m trying!)  I’ve given up most organics 🙁 but I have gone back to organic milk, although when I am at Sam’s I *will* buy their regular milk since it’s hormone/antibiotic-free.  The regular milk at my local grocery choices (Super Target and Super Walmart usually) just is not fresh enough for me and often tastes as though it’s already “turned” when we open it.  But enough about my snobby milk tastes and back to “How can I spend very little on food over the next couple months?”

There are great “emergency” meal plans online, but they either assume you have ingredients on hand that I don’t already have, or they are set up for you to shop for everything you need, which for me isn’t quite what I need, because I have a LOT in my pantry.  I just am not sure of how to put it together!  If my pantry and fridge were completely bare, I’d follow Hillbilly Housewife’s plan but thankfully for us, we’ve got stuff sitting around that we can use if we can figure out how to use it!

While I’m not a stockpiler, I am very guilty of buying certain foods and letting them languish in my pantry till they’re too old to use or I give up and give them away in a purge because I can’t think of a way to use them.  I have a big sack of lentils purchased online that are doing that VERY thing!

Since I’m visual and tactile, my plan of attack involved taking those things that I want to use OUT of my pantry and setting them out on the kitchen table.  From there I was able to create a meal plan based on what I saw and then put the items back, but only after I wrote down what I had, so I could remember to actually USE those things.

The really nice part is that everything I use from the pantry or freezer is basically FREE to me at this point!  (Yes, I know I once bought the stuff but most of it has been there at least 6 months and will feed us without taking any $$ out of our current budget.)

My other money-saving food idea is to give in and buy some of the convenience foods I’d long ago given up.  I’ve got two teenagers (and a husband) to feed and they are perfectly happy to chow down on canned raviolis, frozen pizzas, boxed cereal or Kraft mac and cheese when they are hungry and in a hurry.  As great as meal-planning and slow cookers are, I just can’t ALWAYS have something perfectly wholesome and healthful ready to grab at just the right moment.  All the time.  If I were anywhere near perfect, I probably could figure it out, but I’m not.  I am still struggling.

Hungry kids on the run lead to fast food visits that aren’t planned; packaged and convenience foods are cheaper, plain and simple.  I try to limit these, of course, and I keep some healthy and quick (good quality protein bars, nuts, trail mix, fruit, cut up veggies) on hand also.  I just would rather the kids eat a few $1 cans of raviolis than get find myself talked into am unplanned $28 Chik-Fil-A visit on the nights were in the car running from dance to music to whatever.

I did really well for about a week but I’ve caved quite a few times in the last several days.  We did Chik-Fil-A (times 2), Rubios (times 3) and Taco Bell (times 3).  Well, it’s only the 6th of the month, so if I’m “good” from now on, I can forgive myself.

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