If you don’t know this about me already, I am slightly obsessed with cleaning and organizing my home – or anyone else’s home for that matter. I started looking into it via Pinterest a little over a year ago and it’s actually amazing how much my life has improved since then. Notably, I’m talking finances. Getting organized helped me get things done, and getting things done helped me save a ton of money.
- Meal planning
- Stock piling
- Couponing/Points Cards (including coupon apps!)
- Waste reduction
By implementing good habits as listed above, I was able to not only save money, but to feel good about it because I knew that it was my hard work and dedication that helped me achieve my goals. Dedication is really a key aspect when taking on any challenge, and when it’s combined with consistency, you begin to see change.
I want to take the time to underline again that I LOVE doing this kind of stuff, which makes it easier to motivate myself to keep doing it every day. It’s a lot trickier when you want to be able to get organized, but you don’t like doing it therefor it feels like a chore you need to keep doing, over and over again. Don’t get discouraged even if this may be the case; you can always make changes that are adapted to your lifestyle and find a way to make it work under your terms.
The first topic of home organization that I was interested in was meal planning. I lead such a busy life, always getting involved with events, volunteer work, gigs, work, projects, etc., and I was tired of – and broke from – going to the restaurant all the time and buying groceries every other day because I never had all the ingredients I wanted to make the meals I wanted. So I did some research on meal planning, just to see what I could find. Unfortunately, one of the biggest fads was “Freezer Meals”, most of which contain meat. The problem being: I’m a vegetarian. There were also tons and tons of meal ideas for monthly meal plans, but again, they were all easy go-to meat-based recipes that I had absolutely no interest in making. The solution: I needed to buy myself a good vegetarian cook book. I actually owned one, not that I had ever really used it. My dad bought it for me when I decided to become a vegetarian when I turned 16. The only meal I had ever tried to make was a vegetable lasagna – YUM – but it always took so much time and effort that I only ever made it twice, and the second time was for a fundraiser and I wasn’t even the one cooking.
I’ve never thought of myself as a fussy person, but just by browsing through the veggie cook books at Chapters, I realized how limited I had made my diet. I suppose it was due to habits; I ate what my parents ate. So I took a leap of faith and bought a book with a wide variety of vegetarian meals, and decided I would start a 30 Day Home-cooked Meal challenge to try a new recipe every day. (See: Cooking With Gary the Giraffe)
Next up was to find a meal planner. Did I want to use an app or a print out sheet? I couldn’t decide so I decided to try both. I downloaded the Pepperplate app on my phone and iPad, and printed out some free sheets from Pinterest searches that I thought looked good. At first, I tried doing a weekly meal plans, so that meant picking 7 meals, writing down all the ingredients I needed for them, and only shopping for those items – and snacks, of course. It worked pretty well, although sometimes I would switch them if I wasn’t in the mood for a certain meal on a certain weekday. I tried to make sure my time was well managed around making the meals. What I mean by that is that I used to have choir practice every Monday night at 7pm, and since I work until 4:30pm, that means I only have a little over 2 hours to cook the entire meal, sit down to eat, and clean up. In that case, I would always make sure that Monday meals were quick and easy to make so that I could have some extra time to take a shower, watch some TV, or catch up on my e-mails.
After finishing the 30 Day Challenge, I realized that weekly meal plans felt limited, so I printed out new monthly meal planning sheets – I still use these today. My new plan was to pick out enough meals for the entire month and post that on the fridge. Then I would also use the weekly meal planner to make sure I was only going to do groceries once a week. I also clicked in that it would be more efficient to make sure I used some of the same ingredients for more than one meal in the same week. For example, if I buy spinach for just one meal this week, it is most likely going to go bad because I haven’t planned a second meal that contains spinach to use it up before the expiration date. I worked this into the planning and it helped reduce the amount of food I was throwing into the garbage – make that compost, now.
The whole meal planning did save me money, just like that, without even doing anything else. But to me, it was like taking the first bite of a delicious chocolate cake that just melts in your mouth, and I wanted more. Next up was a combination of stock piling and budgeting. (Side note: the coupons were a part of it, but I wasn’t fully immersed into couponing until just now.)
What is stock piling, exactly? Well, basically it consists of buying a LOT of non-perishables when they’re selling at their best price. How do you do this? Flyers. All of the flyers. It’s a process too, because you need to visit every store that sells the items that you use – oh yeah, good tip: only buy stuff you know that you use! – and compare the regular prices to the sale prices. Sometimes Sobeys will have an item on sale, but the regular price is still cheaper at Superstore, so obviously, I’m going to buy it at Superstore. The smartest way to do stock piling, is to ONLY buy sale items, when they are at their cheapest. This makes it a bit more difficult because at the beginning, you don’t necessarily have a lot to work with. The first time I started stock piling, I bought non sale items as well, but made sure to stay on or under budget.
As for the budget itself, I’ve tried a lot of different things. I did print out sheets to keep track of what I was using. I tried spreadsheets to keep track of all my finances. And then finally I found what worked best for me (at the time): cash. What that means it that I budgeted my money by only shopping with cash, that way I could never overspend – not that I usually do anyway, I’ve been frugal my whole life. I bought a coupon organizer and put a set amount in there with the coupons every week I went to do my groceries. I also kept track of the money I was spending on cue cards. Each cue card represented a month, and for each week of spending, I would write down the total spent, and the total savings. Then at the end of the month, I wrote down the grand total which would indicate if I went into the positive or into the negative. The reason I even mention going over budget in this scenario is because the stock piling can cause the budget to be a little unbalanced the first week of every month, and I would allow that because I knew I would still end up saving money at the end of the month. And I did. In only 6 months, I saved over $250! Imagine how much you could save every year!
Unfortunately, I moved after 6 months or so, which meant I would have to start over. This is when I started implementing waste reduction and decluttering – it’s pretty much necessary to get rid of clutter when you move anyway so it’s a win-win. As for waste reduction, I’ve always been eco-friendly, very aware of my environmental impact and my ecological footprint, but I hadn’t really gotten into good habits concerning waste management at home. I had just moved into a nice spacious house with only one roommate, so I knew I had more flexibility when it came to deciding I wanted to compost more frequently. Another important thing – that I’m not very good at – is to portion foods so that it doesn’t go to waste, in other words, always finish off your plate. Luckily, I have an amazing brother who will eat anything I can’t finish, and then I got a wonderful boyfriend who could do the same. So although I am relying on others, I can say that I’ve got that accomplished. But in all seriousness, I do serve myself smaller portions and I take home any leftovers if/when we go out to restaurants.
And then I moved again! I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to cope well, despite the instability of living arrangements in the past 6 months. But it also meant starting over, again. Not to worry, given the fact that I was – and still am – unemployed, it gave me plenty of time to get everything in order to have a budgeted, organized and eco-friendly home. With all this free time, I decided it was time to get into couponing and get my points-card game on! I found a printer on Kijiji for $10 – booya! – and got right to printing coupons. I already had three coupon apps on my phone, but I figured there must be others I haven’t heard of, so I did some research and ended up with these:
- Checkout 51 (My all time favourite)
- Zweet (Pretty good app, but fewer options)
- Snap by Groupon (Often the same options and you can only use them once each)
- Cartsmart (Just downloaded it. Seems to have a decent variety, but not a huge selection)
- Coupgon (Just downloaded it. Very limited because it’s based on specific stores and it only recognizes one store in my area)
*Bonus app: Flipp! Absolutely amazing app that gives you coupons and shows you all the weekly flyers for the stores around you. Win-win!
And then of course there are the points cards:
- Air Miles (not a huge fan, and there’s no Sobeys or IGA in my area right now)
- PC Plus Points (LOVE this one! You can redeem $20 with just 20 000 points. I’ve already redeemed $140 since I got it a year ago. Can be used at Superstore and No Frills)
- More Rewards (This one is for Save On Foods. Seems hard to accumulate points fast)
- Optimum (A lot of people are familiar with the Shoppers Drugmart points card. I only recently became more aware of the points system and got $30 of free groceries last week!)
- Smart Shoppers Cards (These can be used at Freson Bros by collecting stamps and filling out cards to redeem free or reduced price groceries. Love it, but the food at this store is expensive so you have to spend a lot of money to acquire enough stamps for free food.)
And that’s where I’m at right now. I just started my new stock pile so I’m pushing the budget quite a bit and will continue to do so for a maximum of 2 more weeks. After that, it should be smooth sailing with savings a plenty!