Wednesday, December 5, 2012

6 simple, easy ways to save during the holidays

No matter how well you might plan from year to year, it always seems that there are surprise expenses one incurs around the holidays. Maybe it's the airline tickets you didn't know would be so expensive, or the cost of fuel, or perhaps those holiday gifts aren't just adding up to the right number like how you thought they would.  Hopefully, you take time to budget for these things, so you can feel more in control of your finances throughout the holiday season.  This month, Greg & I made a commitment to eat out less as a way to save money.  That, in turn means that we are eating in more! Funny how that works, huh?  Well, here are a few simple tips to help you curb the temptation to eat out during such a busy season.

1. Meal plan.  Meal planning is both my nemesis and my best friend. When we are at odds, it's because I lack inspiration and am tired of the same ol' same ol'. When we are best friends, it's because I feel I've found my stride, do not lack many ingredients, and perhaps I just read someone's yummy post, say over at Nourished & Nurtured.  However, when I sit down and take the time to do it, which often requires looking back at my calendar for meal plans of the past, opening up my recipe binder, and scanning my pantry & fridge, I'm usually able to come up with at least 3 meals.  Ideally 5-7 is best for me just to get me going.  Need inspiration? There are many meal plan websites out there, but I really appreciate Stephanie of Keeper of the Home's 4 week meal plan for whole food based ideas.

2. Make double batches of meals.  Let's say you can only come up with 3 meals, but you need food for 6 out of 7 nights of the week.  Double up on your 3 meals and you have food to feed you the other 3 nights!  I know that's not a totally brill idea, but it's really easy.  Just try to choose meals your family will really enjoy, so you don't get the stank eye when you place ratatouille on the table for the 2nd time in a week.  No one likes the stank eye.  (But a select few might like ratatouille.)  Making a quiche? Make 2. You can freeze the liquid quiche mixture if you need to, and then thaw it overnight for use the next day.  You can freeze the shredded cheese as well.

3.  Use your crockpot.  I tend to be more successful at getting dinner on the table if it's already been assembled for me, by me, earlier in the day. This means getting things into my crockpot at least 4-8 hours in advance (the earlier the better in most cases to let meats completely thaw and slow-roast).  There are tons of crockpot recipes out there as well as ebooks. I recently purchased Mama & Baby Love's ecookbook "From Your Freezer to Your Family" for $5 over Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend (it was only $5 and had SO many whole-foods based recipes)!  I've already made a few of the recipes and plan on making more.  The great thing is the recipes are already doubled, so you make it once for two meals (and freeze them both).  Or in my case, I was impatient, and made them right away.  There are many other ebooks like "Crock On" from Stacy Makes Cents.  Tons of other crockpot recipes exist on Pinterest.  Go Buck Wild.

4. Run errands during a non-mealtime timeslot.  I wanted to say "during a non-mealtime time," but I was afraid it'd look like I didn't know how to speak English.  Yo hablo ingles, ok??  It's very tempting, in my stage of life, to run errands during a mealtime (particularly lunch because of my kids' nap schedules), so that I can run through the drive-through at my favorite chicken place that also has amazing waffle fries and under-3 board books.  They might have the initials of C, F, and A.  You might know what I'm talking about.  And even though they send me really great coupons in the mail, I don't have to use them.  (This is a self-pep-talk here.  Megan, you don't have to use them.  You may repeat this to yourself and replace it with your name.)
Back to the story. By opting not to run errands during a mealtime, I'm less likely to get the starving, hankering feeling in my stomach that ImusteatnoworIshallperish!! and I'm more likely to avoid whining from my kids. Let's face it, kids get hungry too.  So, sometimes we eat lunches early, like, before 12o'clock (!!!). I might start pulling out the lunch food at 11:15 to get it going, so that when Gabe wakes up from his nap, his lunch is ready to be served, and Mia & I are already eating.  Then we can run errands without feeling the honing signal from you-name-it.  And save dolla bills, y'all.

5. Eat your leftovers.  The worst part of creating a meal plan, preparing your food and baking or cooking it, is when you have amazing leftovers that are not eaten because the food is deemed not as fresh, or you hear the infamous quote, "I ate that yesterday."  Well, you probably ate an apple, or cheese, or the same kind of breakfast yesterday but I don't see you throwing a fit about that repetition, so why do we get all up in arms when it comes down to leftovers for lunch or dinner? For a second, lay aside your foodie dreams and just eat the leftovers.  Prep 'em in a new way, or throw in a new side, or add some dressing, salsa or some chicken broth to liven up the old meat, yum, dinner's in YOUR TUM.  No more whining. Eat your leftovers.  (Pro tip: I like to reheat my food on the stove or in the oven. Nothing's worse than reheating leftovers in the microwave only to have it pipin' hot on one side and cold as ice on the other.  Plus, you'll retain more nutrients by old-school heating methods.  Truth.)

6. Play the "Clear-Out-The-Pantry-Game."  I have to confess, I'm not the best at this, but some situations call for dire measures, and sometimes you just gotta eat the random junk you still haven't touched in your pantry or freezer or fridge (provided it's not expired).  Crackers, cheese and grapes might not be enough to fill up the beefy men in your life, but you'd be surprised at how well it might quench the appetite of a young lady.  Just use your best judgment in choosing pantry items free of additives, MSG or other hidden toxins (hopefully they're not there in the first place)!

There are many more ideas, to be sure, but this is just a simple list to get you going.  I didn't even discuss soaking dry beans!

How do you save money during high-expense periods (like the holidays?)

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