Meal Planning for Two

I’ve started posting on Instagram what I eat each day. I’m learning a lot about myself through this process and I intend to write a post about it soon, because I think it will help me a lot in my quest for balance and understanding.

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I’ve spent a lot of time leaning about how people meal plan for their families, written by parents who work (usually their work is blogging) and raise their kids who are heavily involved in their schools and sports, etc. Two people who work full-time and don’t raise children and don’t play sports have a meal plan that looks really different and so I thought it might help people to see what that looks like.

Why meal plan?

Yeah, I get this question a lot. Especially because there’s just two of us.

What was happening is that I was making our plan for the week on Saturday morning before I went grocery shopping. This resulted in us eating the same 4 meals every week, getting bored, eating out and throwing away what was in the fridge. It was like we were wasting double money because of the cost of eating out and the cost of what we were throwing out.

How I got started

So, I sat down one day and made a google doc of all our meals and sorted them in a way that made sense to me. I didn’t get crazy detailed, I just tried to write down as many thing as I know we like, not including things like Hamburger Helper or frozen lasagna (two of D’s favorites – I promise I’ll tell you why I’m just a second). Then, I grabbed a paper calendar and added five meals for each week.

The reason I only did five is because our life is probably differently spontaneous than the people I was learning to meal plan from. So if our friends called us to go swimming 15 minutes before work let out, then we didn’t end up throwing away a day of planned food by the end of the week. Having two days of wiggle room worked really well for us, and in the summer months I usually only plan four days, rather than five, because we tend to wander to friends houses more or eat a salad or sometimes just have ice cream for dinner.

What do you save?

It’s almost 100% about emotional labor for me. By the end of the work day, I’m so riddled with decision fatigue that I’m like, let’s just eat popsicles because they’re what’s in front of my face. So in addition to not planning well, I didn’t have a ton of mental ability to switch it up when it came time to cook. This way, I make a ton of decisions once a month and only ever take things away – if dinner at a friends gets scheduled, then I take a meal away. That’s it. Sometimes I even make my grocery list while I make the meal plan. When I’m super on my game, I buy all the meat and dry goods in bulk at the start of the month and just buy produce as we go because, again, less thinking.

There’s definitely money being saved. Partly because of the bulk shopping but mostly because we were throwing away about $20 in produce and spending an extra (assuming we’d eat out once a week, pre-COVID) $60 a week. That’s a monthly savings of $320, which is an annual savings of $3,840.

Y’all. That’s so much money.

I also think we eat more vegetables this way (not so much fruit, but I’ve always been a pretty good fruit eater). I feel like I’m more willing to spend money on organic, delicious veggies because I spend a bunch at the start of the month on stuff that isn’t that.

So emotional energy, money & health.

I think it’s true that we don’t need to overthink it. My mom has talked a lot with me about enjoying this age without children and embracing not needing to be hyper organized. I’m 100% with her in that. I think doing this helps me stay calmer because I know what’s coming. So that tense need to fix something means I can just fix dinner.

Do you meal plan? What works for you?

A. Rose (1)

 

 

A Week of No Spending

There’s nothing like trying to find ways to save money when you don’t make money. These budget series posts were created out of the desire to share what I have learned about alleviating some of the soul-crushing stress of living paycheck to paycheck – and the things I’ve learned that have helped me move away from that life. Please note that I am not, in any way, a licensed financial professional. None of these tips are guaranteed to make you money or save you money; they’re simply different ways of thinking about and using money that one person who doesn’t make much has learned over time.


I have recently become moderately addicted to Megan Fox Unlocked. Seriously, y’all. She’s so sweet and genuine. Totally worth checking out.

I watched a video not too long ago where she tracked what she spent in a week. I thought I might put a spin on it and try to go for a week of no spending other than groceries and gas. And to hold myself accountable, I’m going to take a picture of everything I buy that isn’t a grocery or gas.

Sunday

Flooring

I talked a little bit in this post about helping my mom redo the floors in my dad’s office. I spent pretty much all day Sunday working on that (10am – 5pm) so it made it really easy to spend.

That said, it was really challenging to resist the urge to say, “let’s go out for dinner” to D. I had planned to be done with the floors on Saturday, so I had a more complicated dinner planned and the idea of cooking after all that work was like… ugh. It ended up being fine and we cooked, but it definitely was a good reminder that adapting the plan can help save money – ex. I knew I was going to be tired by the end, so I should have pulled a crockpot meal from later in the month and used it on Sunday to avoid the temptation to spend money.

Sunday Total: $0.00

Monday

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My parents cat, Frank, is basically a giant teddy bear.

I knew on Monday that I was going to see my parents after work. I stayed there for about an hour and by the time I got home, made and ate dinner and started thinking about homework it was close to 9pm. So, I did some homework and went to bed, which made it very easy to not spend any money.

Monday Total: $0.00

Tuesday

I got a hardcore chocolate craving around 2pm on Tuesday. I usually keep some dark chocolate in my desk drawer, but I spaced at the grocery store this weekend. There’s a little on-campus convenience store so I walked over there and got some chocolate milk & Reeses Sticks (aka deliciousness) for $3.

I also totally spaced when I planned to do this no spending week because I had scheduled dinner with two of my friends a month ago. I wasn’t about to cancel because our three schedules don’t line up easily, so instead, I got a water and an appetizer for a total of $9.53 + tip.

Tuesday Total: $15.23

Wednesday

On Wednesday night, I knew that we needed to pick up D’s prescription, so I made some delicious pot roast in the crockpot and we went after dinner.

Our grocery store, Meijer, allows you to accrue points towards money off. We had a $6 off coupon so when we decided to pick up a few extra things, we ended up spending $0.67. I don’t think groceries fall into the no spending category, but since we also got a fancy drink, etc., I’m going to count this.

This was also the day that D and I decided that we’re going to do this for the entire month of March.

Wednesday Total: $0.67.

Thursday

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Y’all. I was so tired on Thursday night. D has a standing meeting on Thursdays so I headed to my parents directly from work. I was there until 7pm-ish and did homework until 8:15pm, when I promptly got into bed and zoned out with some Desperate Housewives (I’m newly re-addicted). So, a super-easy way to not spend any money!

Thursday Total: $0.00

Friday

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I didn’t get any good pictures of Friday night because I was too busy enjoying myself. D and I went to Chik-fil-a, which is somewhere we went to when we thought all was good with their donating and since the more recent news, we’ve stopped going. But, from before now, we had reward points, so we went and had a free dinner and then to our friends’ house. We picked up the girl scout cookies we ordered in February and a set for my parents. Delish!

Friday Total: $0.00

Saturday

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On Saturday, I spent the most of the entire week! My bff and I try to get coffee once a month, and this Saturday we went to Biggby for basically the entire morning, 7am – 2pm! Seriously everything my soul needed. I’m not even kidding. We laughed and cried and it was pretty perfect and totally worth the cost of three coffees – $16.82. This was an eye-opener for me, y’all. Because, legit, on Tuesday, I spent almost $5 less to go out to dinner!

So, I’m never going to stop getting coffee with my bestie, but I’m definitely going to think twice before getting the sugary kind.

Saturday Total: $16.82.

Grand Total

$15.23 + $0.67 + $16.82 = $32.72

So, in order to figure out what I saved, I had to figure out what I usually spend on things that aren’t groceries and gas. So I went through five weeks of spending and averaged it. The average for five weeks: $152.83

When I found that number I was horrified. If you multiply that by the 52 weeks that are in a year, you get $7,947.16.

Y’all. That’s a car, a vacation, half a down payment on a house. Holy smokes.

With a grand total of $32.72, I saved $120.11, which if you multiply by 52 weeks you get $6245.72.

So, I definitely will be doing this again hahaha. I don’t know that it’s realistic to do this every week – D and I like to go out to dinner. But I don’t seek why I couldn’t be more intentional about saving.

I think I’ll track this for the month of March and I’ll let y’all know what I come up with at the end! For now, this savings is going straight into my savings account and I am thrilled.

For more posts about budgeting, you can find all the posts here.

A. Rose (1)

 

 

How to Budget When Your Income Fluctuates

There’s nothing like trying to find ways to save money when you don’t make money. These budget series posts were created out of the desire to share what I have learned about alleviating some of the soul-crushing stress of living paycheck to paycheck – and the things I’ve learned that have helped me move away from that life. Please note that I am not, in any way, a licensed financial professional. None of these tips are guaranteed to make you money or save you money; they’re simply different ways of thinking about and using money that one person who doesn’t make much has learned over time. 

Like this topic or just want to know more? You can find the full series here


I’ve been thinking lately about the fitness / wellness posting that I’ve been doing and how it’s easy to think that’s my main priority if you don’t know me. I recently told a friend that one of my primary motivating feelings is safety: I do certain things because I want to feel safe – particularly, because I want to feel financially safe. Even exercising and eating healthy is, in some ways, about that: healthy people spend less money on doctors, etc. As I was explaining this to him, I found myself saying that is the topic that I really want to focus on here.

Changing Income

So, a little background about me: I currently am in, essentially, a salaried job. I get paid hourly, but I have enough and accrue enough PTO throughout the year that I haven’t had to go without full pay since I started working here three and a half years ago. I also work Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm. This is really dreamy, but wasn’t always the case.

For the majority of my adult life I was either worked a shift job as my full-time job, or I was working two jobs and one of them was a shift job. So, for nine of the last 12 years, my income has changed week-to-week. When I wrote this post about budgeting when you don’t make a lot, I think that what I really wanted to talk about was how to budget when your income changes. So, let’s get started.

*Quick note: I am using whole numbers because it’s easier. You’ll want to look at your pay stubs to figure out how much gets taken out for taxes. I typically assume that about 10% is being taken out for taxes and that helps me to always come in under budget.

Figure Out Your Minimum

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Let’s say that I make $10/hour.

Usually, I work eight hours a day, five days a week. So that’s 8 x 5 = 40 hours a week. 40 x $10 = $400.

The key word there is “usually.”

Sometimes, I work as few as 5 hours a day, four days a week. Sometimes, I work as much as 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Track back through the last six months and figure out the week you worked the least amount of hours because that was what you were scheduled for. If you worked zero hours because you were on vacation or sick, that doesn’t count.

In this example, the least I worked was 5 hours a day for 4 days a week. 5 x 4 = 20, so 20 hours a week. I make $10/hour, so 20 x $10 = $200. $200 a week for four weeks, $200 x 4 = $800.

That $800 is what I need to base my budget on.

Fixed rates

From there, I figure out what’s a fixed rate. Usually, rent is a fixed rate, or has a “base rate” if you look at your monthly statement. Some common “fixed” rates are:

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Cable
  • Credit Card payment
  • Insurance(s)

For this example, I’m going to use even numbers because it’s easier to do math that way. Let’s say that your fixed rates look like this:

  • Rent/Mortgage: $200
  • Cable: $50
  • Credit Card payment: $20
  • Car insurance: $60
  • Renters/homeowners insurance: $40

If we add those things together, we get $370. So then, we subtract $370 from $800.

$800 – $370 = $430

Variable Rates

With the remaining $430, we want to overestimate the remaining categories of the budget. Those categories might be things like:

  • Gas
  • Food
  • Fun Money
  • Miscellaneous
  • Savings

For two people, we would divide that up to look something like this:

  • Gas: $150
  • Food: $250
  • Fun Money: $15
  • Miscellaneous: $5
  • Savings: $10

$150 + $250 + $15 + $5 + $10 = $430

Every single dollar is accounted for. That’s really important. When we don’t have things categories, we spend it on stuff we don’t need. I’m sure there’s psychology behind why we do that – and if you know why, I would love to know! I just know that when I don’t have money in a bucket, I spend it, instead of saving it.

I was told that you should pay yourself first, meaning that you should put into savings before you do anything else. I think that’s a great goal to strive toward. I also think  it isn’t always realistic. There have been many times in my life where after gas and food, I had $11 that got swept into savings. I think the important thing is to always put something – even if it’s 50 cents – into savings. This helps create the habit so that when you do have a surplus, it gets put away.

What about when I make more?

Yep. I know. The burning question.

First, it’s important to talk about why it was based on the least amount you made: You have to have a game-plan for those weeks. If you go into a week where you’re working half what you usually work with no game plan, you’re just going to be panicked the whole entire time. But if you’ve got a game plan, you can more forward just a little bit freaked, rather than full-blown panicking. Ya feel?

So, in the example, we said usually, I work eight hours a day, five days a week. So that’s 8 x 5 = 40 hours a week. 40 x $10 = $400. $400 per week for four weeks… $400 x 4 = $1600.

That’s literally double.

What I did that saved my tail is that I doubled up on the things with variable rates (and actually sometimes quadruple the miscellaneous category) and instead of doubling the fixed rate items, I tossed that into savings. Let me show you what the original budget looked like and then I’ll show you what it looks like with double the income.

Original, based on making $800 per month:

  • Rent/Mortgage: $200
  • Cable: $50
  • Credit Card payment: $20
  • Car insurance: $60
  • Renters/homeowners insurance: $40
  • Gas: $150
  • Food: $250
  • Fun Money: $15
  • Miscellaneous: $5
  • Savings: $10

All those things together, $200 + $50 + $20 + $60 + $40 + $150 + $250 + $20 + $15 + $5 = $800.

Doubled, based on making $800 per month:

  • Rent/Mortgage: $200
  • Cable: $50
  • Credit Card payment: $20 + $20 = $40 (I’m assuming $20 is a minimum payment)
  • Car insurance: $60
  • Renters/homeowners insurance: $40
  • Gas: $150
  • Food: $250 + $250 = $500
  • Fun Money: $15 + $15 = $30
  • Miscellaneous: $5 + $15 = $20
  • Savings: $25 + 485 = $510

All those things together, $200 + $50 + $40 + $60 + $40 + $150 + $500 + $30 + $20 + $485= $1600.

So, those may not be super realistic numbers because probably your car insurance is more than $60 per month. And, maybe there’s a month you have three kids birthdays in a row so you need to put less in fun / savings and more into miscellaneous. Also, if you have debt hanging out on your credit score, you may opt to throw money there rather than into savings. Whatever, you do, make sure that money is assigned a name.

Also, I understand that things are not going always be as clean as it just doubling. I recommend adding more money to food first and then adding to the other categories because food lasts the longest (longer than a fun night out, for example).

The trick is to not add too much (so that extra is going into savings) and to spend to your limit.

I know it feels weird to put money into savings when you have a hole in your shoe and haven’t gone out to eat in three months. Your savings account is what keeps you from literally becoming homeless if you get sick, lose your job or your car dies. Your savings account handles the big picture while the rest of your budget is about the day-to-day details.

Hopefully, this process, done enough months in a row will make it so that you don’t have to borrow against the future.

How Can You Possibly Spend that Much on Food?

The answer is: not eating out.

You totally could spend double your budget by eating out, but then when your income suddenly plummets, you and your family will be very hungry.

So, if you all of a sudden have double the amount to spend on food, buy extra of things that go in the freezer – meats and frozen fruits and veggies, not pizza rolls. I also highly recommend that you purchase things like cough syrup and stomach aids when you have extra – those things sneak up on us when we’re sick and so it’s wise to have them in the house. Especially if being sick means you’re not working!

Take stock of your life and figure out what you use often – or what you don’t use often that is a quarter full. Things like salt and spices keep for a really long time, so buy an extra.

Spend ahead as best you can and when you’re maxed out on kitchen space, I also recommend buying for holidays way ahead of time, especially for adults. If you have space, I also encourage you to buy extra shampoo, soap (of all kinds – body, dish, laundry), socks, underwear and even shoes if you have a kind you love. My father buys shirts on sale and saves them until one he’s already wearing has a hole in it. Things like reusable travel containers also help cut down on disposable sandwich bags, etc. The same with washcloths instead of paper towels.

If, at the end of the month, you’ve spent $450 instead of $500, go out to eat if you want. Or put it into savings. Either one is fine – I’m not going to judge you and you shouldn’t either.

This Post Left Me with 1,000 Question

I feel you. I tried to keep this as simple as possible, but I know it’s not easy. I would love to hear questions, feedback and corrections!

You can comment down below, email me at intricatelyimperfect@gmail.com or DM me on Instagram.

I would absolutely LOVE to do an entire post of just your questions about money!

Happy saving, my friends!A. Rose (1)

Budget Tip: Christmas in September

There’s nothing like trying to find ways to save money when you don’t make much money. These budget series posts were created out of the desire to share what I have learned about alleviating some of the soul-crushing stress of living paycheck to paycheck – and the things I’ve learned that have helped me move away from that life. Please note that I am not, in any way, a licensed financial professional. None of these tips are guaranteed to make you money or save you money; they’re simply different ways of thinking about and using money that one person who doesn’t make much has learned over time.


Christmas in September

I love Christmas. I love twinkly lights and freshly baked cookies and laughing with my sisters so hard we cry and giving presents. I want to give all the presents in the world.

Last year, D and I went in 50/50 on presents. With five parents, nine siblings (including brothers-in-law) and six kiddos we adore, 50/50 still added up to a whole bunch really fast.

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We set different price caps based on how our families work, or what parents would prefer for their children. This year, I went the homemade route for my sisters and mom to save some cash. I made them personalized hand towels and hot pads that match their kitchens. I really prefer this, and will be doing it again this year.

 

For everyone else, though, we bought from the store.

So why bother talking about this now? Because I bought my first Christmas present in July.

Yep.

Tip #1: Shop Early & Often

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D and I had certain things we knew we wanted to get for folks – things like a nice set of towels, or classic, wooden toys for specific age ranges. So, every paycheck, we either buy something or set aside money for when we figure it out. That way, it doesn’t feel like we’re suddenly bleeding a ton of money, we don’t have to rush to the stores during the crazy holiday season, and we can spend our time doing things for others, like taking on an extra dish for a family event so our moms don’t have to, or planning a family service trip. Which leads me to my next tip:

Tip #2: Plan it Out

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There’s an (a) and a (b) to this idea.
(a) When it comes to time, start writing down your Holiday events as soon as you find out they exist. You can use an electronic or paper calendar. But make sure you include time for things like getting ready, driving to and from (especially if there’s snow) and rest. For goodness sake, make sure you allow yourself space and time for rest. Write it in now, as you’re reading this even. Maybe I’ll do a post with more details about how I plan this out in the future. Would that be something you’d enjoy?

(b.1) I have been using this holiday gift tracker from IHeart Organizing since it came out a few years ago (six years? Maybe?).

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I print it out at the start of the year and as I think of a gift, I write it down. For example, D and I went to Florida in March and saw something we just know his nephews will love, but it wasn’t Florida-y enough for us to buy as their trip-gift. So I wrote it on here so we wouldn’t forget.
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(b.2) The gift tracker is amazing because it doesn’t let you spend too much. I actually keep the “budget” and “actual” columns filled in as the year goes along. But, I keep a running “presents” lists on Amazon too. This has things like the nursery rhyme book is always get for babies, and things that could work well for a birthday party for a coworkers kid that I don’t really know. I also pop Christmas presents there.
In the case of the Florida gift for D’s nephews, I added it to this list while we were looking at it.

Tip #3: Plan to Wrap Away!

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So, this is going to sound nuts, but I actually bought wrapping paper in August. And March. I love cutesy paper for kiddos and will probably do that forever, but for my family – which doesn’t have younger children – I usually go with some kind of Hallmark swirly, classy, beautiful paper (like the top photo). So when I find a coupon or see a sale, I grab some up.

This goes for bags too. The Christmas themed ones are adorable and I definitely buy them. But I also buy the five-pack of brown gift bags and add embellishments in the same colors as my papers.

I also buy the cutesy paper at the start of the year, usually, when it all goes on sale. I’ve done that paper different ways and always end up needing to buy extra of it, so I just try to account for it in the budget.

One of my sisters wrapped all her presents in butcher paper for many years, and spent her money on ribbons and dried flowers. Her gifts always look gorgeous. I had a year where I bought a bunch of white tissue paper at the dollar store and then hand-made my gift tags with brightly colored construction paper. Thinking outside the box is another helpful way to save.

I write gift wrapping into my planner on the day after I plan to have all my gifts bought and I put on a cheesy Christmas movie or some music and wrap all in one session. It’s like a backwards Christmas surprise when I wake up the next morning to a tree full of presents for other people – exactly the kind of gift I want to give myself!

What kinds of things do you do to save money at the holidays?

A. Rose (1)

How to Budget When You’re (Close to) Broke

Ahhhh… Money. Everyone’s favorite topic, right?

Ugh.

It’s one of my least favorite things to talk about. But as I’ve been writing these posts, I’ve realized how much of my behavior is dictated by trying to save money in these little ways. So I thought it might be helpful to write these things down. Maybe make a little series of it.

Here’s the thing though: I’m not a financial adviser or banker or accountant. I’m just a young person who has mostly worked in education and has only managed to make over $11 / hour in the last two year years. If you need serious financial counsel, I highly recommend you consult a professional. But if you just want to learn how to not be freaked out about money all the time, these tips might help.

Copy of Christmas in September

There’s a lot out there on how to make a little side money, and things that people will tell you (like turning off lights in the room you’re not in) to pinch pennies and legit – those things are great and I definitely recommend that you do them.

But there’s this other piece that people don’t know about, I think: how to not feel afraid when it’s time to pay the rent; how to purchase groceries in a way to make sense; and how to still be able to go out with your friends everyone once in a while.

d and j

I’ll be real honest: its taken me almost six months to write this because the topic of money stresses me out so much. So we’re in this fear together. Let’s start with the real game-changer: actually making a budget.

What’s a budget?

A budget is a detailed list of expected income / expenses. Your income and expenses should match. Start by listing every expense you can think of. For me this looks something like this:

Rent
Utilities
Cable & Internet
Credit Card
Medical
Gas
Food
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money
Misc.

Note: You always want to have a “misc” category – that’s where things like birthday presents come from.

Then, add in the “fixed” rates. So let’s say we have $1000 to work with (because that’s easier). Fill-in what you know isn’t going to change:

Rent: $400
Utilities
Cable & Internet: $80
Credit Card: $25
Medical
Gas
Food
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money: $10 (I know I’ll need X amount of money each semester, so I set a small amount aside each month)
Misc.

That’s $515, so you have $485 left over. Next, overestimate each of your monthly bills.

Rent: $400
Utilities: $50
Cable & Internet: $80
Credit Card: $25 (minimum payment)
Medical: $50
Gas
Food
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money: $10
Misc.

Notice the things that aren’t bills. Those are the things you can flex and challenge yourself to bring down.

So now, we’re at $615, meaning we have $385 leftover. I typically do gas before food, because gas gets me to the job that lets me buy the food. I also have a lengthy commute. If you don’t, or if you have a family to feed, you might need to do food first. Estimate how much you think you spend each month on those things:

Rent: $400
Utilities: $50
Cable & Internet: $80
Credit Card: $25 (minimum payment)
Medical: $50
Gas: $60
Food: $100
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money: $10
Misc.

So now we’re at $775, meaning we have $225 leftover. So, that looks like a lot of money to have fun with. Except we’ve only listed expenses. We haven’t listed savings. Month-to-month, my Fun, Fun food, and Misc category change.

There are seven birthdays in the first two weeks of August, so July has a pretty big Misc. section, but Fun as like, $10 in it because I spend so much time just being outside (which is free).

You can do this two ways: you can decide you’re going to save a specific amount and the remainder goes to fun, or you can decide you’re going to spend a specific amount and the remainder goes to savings.

Giving you the option is really counter to what literally everyone says about money, including my dad who taught me how to make a budget.

What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that you will never stick to a budget that isn’t honest. For most of my life, my Fun Food category was four times the size of my actual Food category because I hated cooking. It didn’t feel “grown up” to have things arranged that way, but it did keep me in check.

Those are the basics. What do you think? What about this is scary or feels good or is both at the same time?

A. Rose (1)

Planner Inspiration

I basically live my life in my amazing planner.

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This system of putting to do lists over the top of the actual dates isn’t 100% the greatest. It’s been fine this summer, as I’m not taking classes, because I end up using a smaller sticky note and just have one. But the above photo is what my planner pretty much always looked like. #nothelpful

So, I’ve been thinking about making my own. Is that crazypants?

I started searching the internet for ideas.

I know that I mostly use the weekly view to list meetings, appointments and assignment due dates.

I basically don’t use the monthly view for anything, but I do make use of it.

I like the idea of having a little weekly planning page like this one:

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Source

 

And some kind of meal planning page would be good, especially for during the school year:

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Source

Montly meal plan NO logo

Source

I also love this financial challenge spreadsheet:

52-Week-Money-Challenge
Source

And any kind of goal setting is also amazing:

goal planner
Source

 

Phew. That’s a lot. What do you all think? Is it crazy to create my own planner?

A. Rose (1)