Going out to a restaurant or buying pre-cooked food is fun and easy, but it’s also much, much more expensive and typically much less healthy than preparing your own meals at home. Also, by cooking your own meals, you gain a strong sense of independence and satisfaction that comes from knowing that you can meet your own needs.
Shopping for groceries certainly requires more planning than picking up some fast food, but it’s well worth the effort and it gets easier as you get more experienced. Before you step out of your front door, you should have a meal plan, a shopping list, and a budget.
A meal plan is very simple. Think of it as a high-level strategic plan, free of detail or technical specifications. All you have to do is figure out what you want to eat for each meal of the day for however many days you plan to shop for. Typically, this is a week’s worth of meals, but it can be any number of days to suit your life.
Detailed Meal Plan
Once you’ve worked up your high-level meal plan, it’s time to break it down into more detail. Go through each meal and choose a main, a side, and a drink. For example, my detailed meal plan for Monday looks like this:
Once you have your detailed meal plan all worked up, you just need to go through it and make a list of all the main, side and drink item(s).
Before taking your list to the store, you should go through your fridge and cupboards to check off anything that you have left over from last week. Chicken breasts typically come in a bag of 5 or 6 so you don’t have to buy a new bag every week.
It’s really embarrassing to be standing in the checkout line with a shopping cart full of groceries and not enough money to pay for them. You can avoid this situation by knowing in advance about how much money you need to spend to buy the things on your list and how much money you have available.
Remember that unless you’re starting with an empty fridge and cupboards, you won’t be buying everything on the list every time you go to the store.
Go through your list and guess at about how much each item costs. Guess high. As you get experience, this will become an easier task and your estimates will become more accurate. You’ll begin to learn the rhythm of what you need and when and you’ll come to depend less and less on this process.
Also, it’s a good idea to add fun money into your shopping budget. This gives you permission and a limit to make impulse purchases.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your shopping list to just the things you need to buy to replace the things that you’ve eaten over the last week, it’s time to go shopping.
At first, it’s best to just go to one store, but as you gain confidence, you might try branching out to other stores. You’ll likely find that different stores offer better quality and prices on different items. For example, you might be able to buy your meats at a butcher and your soups at a warehouse store.
Most stores offer many different types and brands of the same item. Milk, for example, comes in whole, 2%, 1%, fat free, almond, soy, chocolate. There are also likely several brands of milk from local, regional and in-house brands. If you don’t have a preference for which type or brand of an item you want, you can let the price decide for you.
In addition to the item’s price, most price tags have a small, standardized per unit price listed somewhere. If your store offers Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs in different sized bags, find the per ounce cost for each. Typically the larger bags or boxes cost less per unit. This allows you to stretch your budget and saves you time since you’ll have more of the item available.
Check for Sales
It’s easy to get in a routine of always buying Brand X butter, but maybe this week the store is having a sale on Brand Y. Make sure to avoid tunnel vision and check to see if the box next to the one you always grab actually costs less this time.
Don’t Shop Hungry
If you shop when you’re hungry, then everything you see will sound like a good idea. Eat a small snack before you go shopping to ward off this temptation and stick to your budget.
Be Smart About Your List
It’s tempting to buy things that you might need or are on sale this week even though you’ve already got two at home. Keep in mind that canned soup will last a long, long time. If the store is having a blow-out sale on canned soup and you’ve got room in your budget, go ahead and grab a few extra.
If, however, the store is selling salads at half-price and you’ve already got your meal covered, you might want to hold off as the shelf-life of salad is pretty short and by the time the next salad meal rolls around your leafy greens may be wilted.
The most common way to identify that a sink drain is clogged is by the water that backs up into the sink instead of running down the drain like it usually does. When you see that a sink isn’t draining, it’s time to start going through the steps necessary to clear the pipe.
Many kitchen sinks are equipped with an erator that grinds up food that would otherwise clog your drain. If your sink is backing up and you have an erator, try simply activating it to clear the clog.
Use the Plunger
If your sink doesn’t have an erator or if it doesn’t clear the clog, the next step is to use the plunger
Clear the Trap
If plunging doesn’t clear the clog, it’s time to remove and clear the trap.
Put it Back and Test
Once you’ve cleared the clog, it’s time to re-attach the trap and test your work.
If you travel through the mountains or in snowy areas, you’re going to need to put chains on your vehicle at some point. Chains provide your tires with additional bite to get a better grip on the road and keep you safe.
There are many different kinds of chains so be sure to keep the instruction manual that is unique to your particular set of chains. Also, some vehicle manufacturers recommend that you only use chains on two tires rather than all four. Be sure to consult the vehicle owner's manual and follow any specific guidance.
Regardless of specific techniques or requirements, there are some steps that are common to all makes, models, and style of chains that you should be able to perform when it’s time to put chains on your vehicle:
Make sure that you stay safe while you’re putting the chains on the tires.
Wrap and lock the chains on to the tires.
Make sure that the chains are securely attached before driving long distances.
Now that you’re ready, make sure to adjust your driving style to account for the chains and road conditions.
Once you’re clear of the snow and ice, it’s time to take the chains off your vehicle. Driving with chains on bare pavement will damage the road and your vehicle.
When you first start out on your own, creating a budget is an easy thing to do that will set you up for success. Even a simple budget will help keep you on track and focused on whatever priorities you have set for yourself.
A budget only needs to be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. At its most basic level, a budget has two categories, Expense and Income. If all you do is identify how much income you generate per month and what your monthly expenses are, you are already well positioned to be able to start setting realistic goals.
The goal of a budget is to spend less than you earn. If your expenses exceed your income, you’re going to have to make a change and the sooner you make it the more good (or perhaps the least bad) options you’ll have. If you find yourself in this position and delay making a change to correct the deficit, you’ll end up with only bad options.
Once you’re able to get to the point of spending less than you earn, that difference should be accounted for under a Savings category.
The expense category lists everything that is a predictable monthly expenditure of your money. Bills, food, and rent are the most common expenses that you’ll encounter. The goal of this populating this category is to create an understanding of how much money you spend every month. Armed with this knowledge, you are better positioned to make smart choices about your income and savings.
Make a list of your monthly expenses and list the dollar value associated with each. I recommend that you round up to a number that you’re comfortable with to make things easier and to have a higher likelihood of generating savings. For example, if your grocery bill falls on a range between $250 and $275 per month, I might round that up to $300.
It’s helpful to review your bank statements to help identify where your money is going and how much of it is being spent. Often times, looking at your bank statement will reveal things that you had no idea you were doing.
With your list created, add up all the expenses and you’ve created your monthly expenses.
Under the income category, you should include everything that is a predictable source of income. Things like your paycheck, or a deposit from your parents, or a court settlement, or a retirement compensation. Anything that is regularly given to you that you can choose how to spend.
If your monthly income varies depending on your work, that’s ok too. Set a target monthly income for yourself based on your expenses.
Once you have all your regular monthly incomes listed, add them up and compare your income to your expense. If your income exceeds your expense, good job, now it’s time to start setting savings goals. If your expense exceeds your income, it’s time to start looking at ways to correct the deficit.
The items in the savings category are entirely up to you and your priorities. Maybe you want to save up for a trip to the Caribbean, or maybe you want to buy a house? Here is where you get to dream big.
One practical goal for saving is to have an emergency fund. An emergency fund can be in an entirely separate account or just a number on your budget and in your bank account that you’ve decided is only for emergencies. However you go about tracking your emergency fund, having that to fall back on in the event that you find yourself out of work for several months will make dealing with the emergency that much easier.
A good target for your emergency fund should be three times your monthly expenses. This would make it possible for you to live without income for three months and still not go into debt.
If you find yourself in a position where your expenses exceed your income, make a correction as soon as possible. Continuing to spend more than you earn will put you in a position where you have only bad choices.
Correcting the deficit is simple, but not easy. There are two things you can do and you can do both at the same time: spend less and/or earn more.
To spend less, you need to take a hard look at your expenses and find things that you can reduce or eliminate. Reducing visits to restaurants, eating out, coffee, food-carts or fast food is a great way to not only reduce your expenses, but also to improve your health. You’ll likely see an increase in your grocery bill, but the amount of food you get for $1 of groceries far exceeds the amount of food you get for $1 at a restaurant.
Earning more is probably more difficult than spending less. You’ll either have to get another job or negotiate with your employer for a raise. Though it’s tough, it’s far better to have to work hard than to end up dealing with collection agencies.