We've had a lot of fast-moving changes in our life lately. My husband recently left his job of 10 years, we bought a house which moved us about 20 minutes from EVERYTHING, summer ended and school started back, we became a 1 car family, and our oldest son, Henry, started playing football. Time, organization, resources... they've all seen better days than these. But I will not be discouraged... I will be inventive.
When your time is crunched and your pennies are pinched you might feel tempted to resort to boxed dinners for their ease of use and low cost appeal. I'm here to tell you that you can cut those same corners while still feeding your family nourishing foods and using less time than it takes to buy a prepackaged dinner. Here are some time and money-saving tips that I have employed.
- Utilize your freezer - When I chop veggies I chop a big batch. Once you get in the groove of chopping that onion, it only takes a few extra seconds to cut through another 1 or 2. Take the extras, portion them out, and freeze. Voila! Chopped veggies at the ready, perfect for putting into soups, pastas, sauces, omelets, casseroles... anything you can think of. Onions, bell peppers, celery, carrots, and garlic all work well. Grating a block of cheese? Grate the whole thing and store the remainder in the fridge if you will be using it soon, or in freezer for more longevity.
- Cook once, eat twice... or thrice - When you're making a batch of pasta sauce, how hard is it to double or triple that recipe? Not very. Soup? Same deal. When I cook rice I cook 2 or 3 times the amount I need and freeze the extra. Casseroles again work the same. It takes no more time to assemble double or triple the ingredients. Put them in a ziploc bag, lay them flat for quicker defrost time, and you will soon have a freezer bursting with no-fuss, healthy, homemade meals!
- Learn to love your crockpot - The most satisfying meals for me are the ones that are a product of my crock-pot. I get giddy when I'm prepping, layering, and seasoning food to be slow-cooked. I know that with a few minutes of effort I will have a hot meal, with the most tender and flavorful meats and veggies I am capable of producing. It also allows you to use less expensive ingredients like dried beans, and rather than tending a pot on the stove all day, you just season, cover, and come home to perfectly cooked (perfectly freezable!) beans. Crock-pots are a great tool for working moms, sports moms... heck, any mom! It saves time, energy, and dishes. Especially if you use crock-pot liners!
- Let your pots and pans work double duty - Rather than cooking pasta in boiling water and then draining that still perfectly usable water and refilling to steam your broccoli, utilize the steam you're already making from boiling, to steam your veggies. Anytime you're boiling, be it chicken, corn, pasta, rice you're creating steam that you can use to cook almost any vegetable. You're saving energy (yours and your power bill's), time, money, water, and, again, the all important dishes!
- Make your own convenience food - By carving out small bits of time to package up your own oatmeal, bake some granola bars, or put together a homemade all-purpose mix you really will be saving yourself time and money in the long run. Plus you can make this fun. My boys love putting together oatmeal packets with me, and it gives them a confidence boost that they can help and cook!
While I do make my own cleaners, I am far from an expert on cleaning. It's a huge time suck that, coincidentally, I hate. Yes, I hate cleaning. It absolutely makes me bonkers that I just washed that dish and now it needs to be washed again. Or that the baby wore those pants for 5 minutes, and they already have oatmeal on them. There are a few cleaning rules that I've set recently to hopefully save myself some time and stress.
- Don't let clean clothes leave your laundry room/area without being folder or on a hanger. This is pretty self explanatory, but I haven't been doing this for long. It had been recommended to me before, but how lame is that to actually fold your laundry as soon as it's done drying. Super lame. Which is why I do it now. I'm approaching 30 and becoming super lame.
- Make your kids do it (aka: let your kids help) - Yes, I know it
might seem like ittakes longer, but I've started letting them help when they offer and inevitably they do accomplish at least part of the task. Example: My 7 year old says he wants to vacuum the living-room for me. I say ok, hand it over, and go clean the toilet while he vacuums. Does he miss a spot? Or several. Sure. But he's helping, he's learning, and I'm left with much less floor to vacuum and I've already cleaned the toilet! My two year old even helps me to unload the dishwasher. I give him the spoons and baby silverware to put in the drawer along with the sippy cup tops and valves and he loves it! And I love that he just saved me a minute or two. And he's so cute when he's feeling all accomplished and proud.
- A place for everything and everything in it’s place – Every object in our lives should have a home. If it doesn’t, find it one. Or donate, recycle, or upcycle it.
As with cleaning, time management is another short-coming of mine. I have been known to not only wait until the morning of school to pull out an outfit for Henry, but I don’t even match the socks ahead of time. It’s ludicrous really, but I have tons of great excuses if you ever want to hear them. However, even I, the organizationally inept, have put to task a few time saving tidbits.
- Buy a calendar and USE it – I know we all have calendar apps on our smartphones, but there is something about a visual that just works for me. Put it somewhere that you look A LOT (mine has a magnet on the back and hangs on my fridge) and if you have a large family it’s worth finding a calendar with a section for each family member.
- Set your clocks ahead 5 minutes – Maybe this tip only works for the perpetually late, maybe not, but for whatever reason it works for me. And especially my husband, since he doesn’t know they’re set ahead. He’s annoyingly punctual.
- Don’t procrastinate – I’ll get to this one later. Just kidding. Seriously though, if you do it now, whatever it may be, it won’t be hanging over your head later. Sort the mail as soon as you bring it in, separate papers brought home by your child as soon as you get in the door, clean up scraps, trash, and dishes as you’re cooking, and hang your purse, put your shoes away, and place your keys in their designated spot immediately.
There have been times in my life when I didn’t have a clue how to curb my spending. I am a therapeutic spender, and while it’s never been frivolous things, exchanging money at the cash register for some goods is a nice pick-me-up. When funds are low and your income slows down, or stops altogether, retail therapy isn’t an option. Aside from wasteful spending, even the areas where you must delegate your dollars need to be reined in, slimmed down, and spent efficiently.
- Meal plan – This could go into time management or cooking, but the truth is that for me meal planning started as a way for me to waste less food, and use everything I had before it went to waste, and subsequently wasted our money. The principal is that you buy in bulk, saving money, use some of the same ingredients through the week, reducing your grocery items, and when you cook one meal you are preparing ingredients for several meals to follow. Example: I roast 2 chickens on Monday. We eat roast chicken with veggies for dinner, I harvest the rest of the meat and use it later in the week for pot pie. I use the bones along with saved veggies scraps to make bone broth that I use later in the week, in conjunction with a bit more leftover chicken to make chicken noodle soup.
- Make it yourself – Instead of buying things like bread, breadcrumbs, taco seasoning, all purpose baking mix, salad dressing, cake& muffin mixes, etc. make them yourself! You can buy the ingredients to make these things for pennies on the dollar, and you are controlling the quality of the ingredients. You can also spend a bit more on better quality ingredients because of the savings benefit of making your own! I will be posting some of these recipes soon, so go ahead and SUBSCRIBE so you don’t miss it!
- Visit your farmer’s market – I know harvest season is winding down, but our local farmer’s market still has a few weeks left. You can often times get better prices on fresh produce, eggs, and occasionally milk at a farmer’s market. And be sure to talk to the farmer’s about their practices. While many can’t afford the official USDA organic label, their practices may go above and beyond what is expected.
- Join a co-op – Whether it is a local food coop like MINE, a CSA, or a group buy put together in your area, you will get better prices, more food, and often times a priceless personal relationship with your local farmers. This will also help to bring down the price of feeding your family organics and fresh produce in general.
- Thrift shop & yard sale – This is the reuse/recycle portion of being green. I found my bread maker that looks like new, is fully functional, and makes baking fresh bread for my family a cinch, for $10 at a yard sale! A lot of my glass containers came from thrift shops. You can find good quality clothes, appliances, furniture, dishes, toys, books, movies, and games for a fraction of the price you would pay at a retail store. And you are helping to give someone else’s “junk” a new home. One man’s trash, and all that jazz.
When the going get’s tough, this mama gets going. The way I look at it I can either be discouraged and start feeling down in the dumps which leads to a quick spiral out of control, or I can accept the circumstances and find a way to make them work for me. It can be so easy to let life run us over, especially when we feel we’ve been blind sided. But I encourage you to stand up, dust yourself off, make a plan, and take control of your life.