March Finance Chat

Money money money mooooney, MONEY! It’s that time of the month again, so lets talk finances. Side note: Is anyone else absolutely horrified that it’s already the middle of March? I know I am. It means that our overseas trip is growing closer and closer, and our budget doesn’t really seem to be growing as much as I want it to. Which means it’s time to knuckle down, a time that always seems to coincide with me feeling spendy. Here’s how I went with my goals for February –

– Cut back on unecessary day-to-day spending
– Continue to use my monthly budget book to track finances
– Change my mindset to be all about saving
– Cut back on entertainment costs

I fell a bit behind on my monthly budgeting, which is due in most part to me not tracking my finances daily. And also me not having the time (sorry, making the time) to sit down and write down an entire month’s worth of spending. I’m going to work on this though, because the budget book will come in handy moving forward. Here are my financial goals for March –

– Continue to cut back on entertainment costs
– Start using up the coins in the coin jar
– Start catching the train into work again
– Track daily spending in my Erin Condren day planner

What are your financial goals for March?

Meal Planning/Grocery Shopping

Buckle up guys, because this is going to be a long one. I decided that 2015 would be the year of monthly meal planning. I have always planned our meals, but last year I did mostly weekly planning which did work fine for me, but I want to give monthly planning a try to see how it went. The benefit for me when it comes to monthly meal planning is mostly that I can bulk-order groceries from Coles and actually have the delivery fee be worthwhile. Last year we resorted to going in-store because we couldn’t justify the $11 Woolworths delivery fee each week for the small amount of groceries we were ordering. To be honest, I don’t mind grocery shopping, but having to try and fit it in on a Saturday morning just doesn’t work for me. I usually write up a plan the week before the new month, so on January 27th I will be planning for February’s meals. Here is a step-by-step run down of how I do it.

Step 1 – Set up the monthly plan: I keep my meal plan in an email format, and at the end of each month I write in the dates for each day for the following month. I’m sure there is a more convenient way of doing this, but this works for me because I can work on the plan during any free moments that I get at work. Once I’ve written in the dates, I go through and add in the ‘staple’ meals that we have every week/month. For example, we have steak and salad (or vegetables) once a week. Sebastian is a huge fan of steak, so I like to include this meal weekly because I know it’s something he enjoys. We have a roast every second Sunday, so that goes straight into the planner without any further thought.

Step 2 – Check the specials: I shop at Coles (I was a Woolworths girl for many years but the quality, price, and service that I’ve received from Coles lately was enough to convince me to make the change), so the week of my meal-planning I’ll hop onto their website and take a look through the current specials catalogue. I find this is a great way to save money, and can also be a prompt for meal ideas if you’re feeling stuck. For example, in the current catalogue soft taco kits have been reduced by $3.13 each. If I work soft tacos into our meal plan, say once a week, I can save $12.52 for the month. Which in the long run could work out to be a saving of $150 a year. If I can get a saving like this for 4 kinds of meals for the month, I can reduce my monthly food bill by $50. It all adds up, and I try to get as many items on sale as I can. For the most part we eat a lot of basic meals without too many processed additions, but if we’re going to have things like pasta or these kind of pre-made meals, I’m definitely going to get them on sale.

Step 3 – Fill in the blanks: As I notice things that are on sale that we could work into our weekly meals, I start to add them into the meal plan. As a general rule, I plan two full weeks of meals and just repeat them all again for the following fortnight. If you’re feeding fussy eaters, this will work out pretty well because you’ll have less options to choose from, and are probably used to repeating meals from week to week. I like to mix it up every month to keep things “interesting”. Here is an example of two weeks worth of meals for us –

Monday 2nd February – Steak & Veggies/Salad
Tuesday 3rd February – Chicken Enchiladas
Wednesday 4th February – Southern Fried Chicken & Salad
Thursday 5th February – Lamb Steaks & Cous Cous Salad
Friday 6th February – Oven Baked Fish, Chips & Salad
Saturday 7th February – Pulled Pork Rolls
Sunday 8th February – Beef Roast w. Veggies

Monday 9th February – Steak & Veggies/Salad
Tuesday 10th February – Burritos
Wednesday 11th February – Portuguese Chicken Bowls w. spanish rice
Thursday 12th February – Greek Lamb Wraps
Friday 13th February – Take Away!
Saturday 14th February – Chilli Con Carne
Sunday 15th February – Homemade Burgers

Step 4 – Grocery lists: Writing a grocery list for me (with this meal plan in place) is a breeze. I buy all of our meat and other basic grocery items from Coles online, and do a weekly shop at our local market for fruit and vegetables. With the meat that I order (mainly because we have a small freezer space available, and also I don’t like keeping meat frozen for too long), I only order 2 weeks worth. I will either pick up the remaining meat from the local market at the end of the second week of the month, or I’ll pop into Coles and do a very quick meat-only shop. (This is a lot less hassle than having to do a full grocery shop every week, let me tell you!) I start out by writing in any of the essentials that we’re run out on (we keep track of these on a running list on the side of the fridge) – which I will buy on sale wherever possible. I then go through and add in the food that we get for Breakfast/Lunch/Snacks. We’re creatures of habit, so these remain the same for the most part and I don’t have to think about them at all (eg: Milk, wholemeal saladas, soy yogurt tubs etc). I then go through the meal plan for the month and write down what’s required for our dinners for the month. Eg: Beef Steak x 2, Chicken x 3, Lamb Steaks x 2, Burrito Kit x 2. I write two separate lists – one for Coles, and one for the market (I do this part one week at a time).

Step 5 – Shopping (the fun bit): There is always a way to make money by spending money. If you regularly shop at a large supermarket chain and haven’t opted in for the available extras, now is the time. I have both an Everyday Rewards card (which is linked to my Qantas frequent flyer account), and a Flybuys card. I always log in to FlyBuys before placing a grocery order to activate any offers that are available. EG: right now I can get double points for any order that I place online, OR I could opt-in for free delivery if I place an order over $100 (plus $2000 bonus points). Which I will do, as I am placing a month’s worth of groceries (more proof that shopping monthly is a better option). These kind of points systems come in handy, if you’re really keeping an eye on your budget. Right now I have enough points to earn 2 free movie tickets. Movie tickets are $20 each, and getting two for free would impact our entertainment budget for the month. Making money by spending money. I highly recommend it. The act of online shopping for the groceries is pretty straight forward. I make my way down my list, and add things to the cart as I go. For any items that I wasn’t able to spot in the specials catalogue, I’ll search for them – sort by price, and choose the cheapest/most appropriate option available.

How I reduced my grocery bill: The first thing that made a major difference for me was of course having this meal plan in place. Having a set menu is great because it means you’re not ducking to the shop every few days to buy ingredients (which can lead to spending extra money on yummy things you spot in-store), and you can make the most of the ingredients you do have by not buying an excess of various condiments/sauces/seasonings etc that never get finished up. Having a plan in place also means that you resort to take away/going out for food FAR less often (at least in my experience). Another thing that’s made a big impact on how much I’m spending is buying items on sale where possible. It takes a little bit more time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run. I also buy home-branded products where possible, but this is an ongoing experiment with what can/can’t be skimped on (word of warning: do NOT buy homebrand minced garlic). Having a clearly organised and well-stocked fridge/freezer/pantry makes a huge difference. Knowing what you already have is a great way to stop yourself buying more than what you actually need. I’ve also found that eating smaller portions has made a bit of a difference. Because we’ve reduced how much food we’re eating at dinner time, there are nearly always leftovers available for lunch the following day. This has stopped me spending money buying my lunch on the way to work. Sounds silly, but it’s made a big difference. Also, eating less processed foods. The majority of what we eat will be meat/vegetable based dishes. Cutting back on “extras” = cutting back on $. The most expensive items in any grocery shop for me used to be cleaning/personal products. I now buy these in bulk every year (household cleaning) or every few months (personal products). I buy all of our personal kinds of products (soap/deodorant/toothpaste etc) from Chemist Warehouse, because everything is always on sale. If you spend over $99 delivery is free, which is why buy in “bulk” every few months. Household cleaning products (washing powder/pine-o-clean etc) are purchased in Catch of the Day sales once a year or so (I’m now at the point where I have a nice little stash in the laundry, and will re-fill what is needed when I place my annual order this year). Honestly, the biggest and best tip I can offer is to be as organised as you can. It comes naturally to be on top of stuff like this, purely because it makes my life a lot easier and less stressful when I know it’s all under control -but I know that isn’t the same for everyone.

I hope this has been of some use to some of you out there. I love stuff like this, but I know it’s not for everyone. I’d love to hear how you all plan your weekly/fortnightly/monthly meals and if you have any tips for me on saving even MORE money than I already am!

January Finance Chat

And we’re BACK for another year of finance chats and just generally being financially responsible! Who’s excited? I know I am! I always seem to have a renewed sense of purpose with budgeting when a new year rolls around. Fresh start, clean slate, etc. December is nearly always an absolute blow out when it comes to the budget, so being extra strict in January is a great way for me to get myself back on track. Let’s check in with how I went with my December finance goals, and then make set some new ones for January.

December Goals
I think I did a good job of being ‘reasonable’ when it came to buying Christmas presents. I didn’t buy anything too extravagant, and stuck to the budget for the most part. I’d say I went over slightly, but nothing too crazy. I’ve reduced unnecessary spending, and haven’t really bought much at all for myself over the last couple of months. I did buy some more planner stickers though, but I had the urge and I had to roll with it. Everything else I’ve purchased lately has been via other people’s money in the form of birthday and christmas gift vouchers. I have not cut back on coffee, and really now that I think about it that was a stupid, unreasonable goal. Coffee is a necessity in my daily morning routine and I just have to live with it.

January Goals
– start using my monthly budget book (pictured above) to track finances for the month
– continue to put money into my travel fund, and only remove what is absolutely necessary for our trip down south at the end of January
– cut back on unnecessary day-to-day spending
– keep track of everything I spend for the whole month

And that’s it for January! What are your financial goals for this month/year?

November Finance Chat

Fun fact: I was tempted to buy return flights to Bali at the end of November. Am I crazy? Possibly. BUT they were on sale, so I guess I can sort of justify my momentary madness. Also, I have massive wanderlust at the moment and am craving some sort of extended holiday. Alas, money. It’s hard to think of long term goals when short term satisfaction is at hand. Nevertheless I resisted the sale, and have refocused my attention on our the US trip at the end of 2015. Onwards and upwards. Also, I have a new addiction to scratchies.

November Goals
I did a decent job of not dipping into my travel fund (except for travel costs), so that’s a good step forward. I’m hoping to not touch that fund at all over the next few months, and I’m hoping it will GROW GROW GROW into something substantial soon. I’ve also managed to keep our grocery bill way down from what it used to be, although I haven’t quite reached the goal of keeping it under $100 every week. We’ve also not implemented ‘noodle night’ just yet, but I’m hoping we can make an effort to work this into our schedule during December.

December Goals
I think my biggest goal in December, finance wise, is to be reasonable when it comes to buying Christmas presents. I can’t help myself, every year I seem to go a bit over the top when it comes to how much I spend on presents. This year I’ve set a stricter budget, and I’m going to do my absolute best to stick to it. I also want to reduce unnecessary spending (as in, did I really need the two pairs of jeans I just ordered online? no. unnecessary), and stop shopping for myself for a while. I really don’t need anything, so why waste the money on extra STUFF? I also want to cut back on the coffee I’ve been buying on my way in to work in the mornings. This will be exceptionally hard, as I’m acting in a role that requires me to be ALERT (read: caffeinated), all day every day. Green tea don’t fail me now.

October Finance Chat

I’ve had a few requests to write some more posts about money, budgeting, and how I sort out my personal finances. I thought about it a little bit and decided that the easiest way for me to do this is to include a monthly ‘finance chat’, where I’ll give a general overview of where I’m at with my finances and what my goals for the following month are. I recently wrote up a savings plan for our trip the US next year, and it was a bit of an eye-opener for us. We are not the most careful people when it comes to spending money, but it was a wake up call that we need to start taking better care and stop being so frivolous when it comes to our finances.

November Goals
My goals for this month are mostly to assist me in working towards bulking up my travel savings fund. I have a specific savings account set up that accrues more interest than a regular account, and you’re charged for taking money out of the account. Works for me. My first goal is to NOT dip into my travel savings account for money to use elsewhere. This is to be for travel only, and the total should not go down at any point. I also want to try and cut down our weekly grocery shop (excluding fresh fruit and vegetables) to below $100. Currently we fluctuate anywhere between $150-$250 a week, which is just ridiculous. We can definitely do better in this regard. I’ve also implemented a ‘noodle night’ once a week, where we eat something out of the pantry that otherwise wouldn’t be set aside for dinner (ie: noodles). This is an easy way to save money, and also helps us work through the food in the pantry that can sometimes get overlooked and sit there for months on end.

I’ll be sure to check in again at the end of November and let you all know how I’m doing. I’d love to hear any of your goals for the month, and if you decide to include something similar on your blog please let me know!