Good morning everyone! :) A couple weeks ago I emailed Jo from Simply Being Mum and asked her if she'd mind my asking her a few (ok, a lot!) of questions about her journey to simplicity. Jo inspires me to no end with her no food waste weeks, always spotless clean fridge, menu planning, homestyle healthy recipes, & so much more!! I think she will inspire you as well! So please read on to learn more about my lovely friend Jo and please leave a warm comment for her!!
Ok, here we go!!! :)
A peek into Jo's always clean & organized fridge!! Anyone else envious?! lol!!
First, tell us a bit about yourself & how you came to simplify your life?
In 2009 I was taking my second-born 9-month old Son for a walk to the local library. I stumbled across a book that set me on a different path. There is a saying ‘seek and ye shall find’. I’d been feeling rather low, we’d lost a dear family member a few months before and there was a general feeling of being discontented and overwhelmed. It was a lightbulb moment. All of a sudden I wondered if by doing less, having less and wanting less, my life could be so much more. It appears the answer is ‘yes’.
What is your weekly grocery budget, how many are in your family, & why did you choose your grocery at £50? ($77'ish US/Cdn)
It’s now £50 a week (although I would say that I probably spend up to 10% more on extra milk from time to time). We are a family of 4, and that amount covers the groceries we consume within 7 days. Occasionally (not always once a week) we have takeout food. But even with this we have reduced the volume/portion size we would buy. One portion of fish and chips is shared between 2 adults and 1 child.
Do you ever go "over" your budgeted amount & decide to just throw caution to the wind?
There are times when I go over budget. However what has happened is my spend has become a habit, I somehow know what to buy to hit target without tallying it up – my shop always comes in around £50 give or take a few pence. For example a week or so ago I spent nearly £57 – I purchased some extra beers as we have a big soccer tournament in Europe. I knew that we’d watch a few matches and make an occasion of it. That’s okay, but I wouldn’t want my grocery spend creeping up each week. What I found when I really looked at my spending patterns was that luxuries soon became comfortable within our grocery shop, and became a staple item. This has stopped.
What are the top 3 ways you would suggest cutting down a grocery budget?
My top tip is to meal plan. This is fundamental to keeping to a budget. Plan for 6 days worth of meals (as life always throws you a curveball). Then write a list and stick to it. Finally eat what you have, use up any potential waste and accept that when it’s gone it gone. No emergency dashes to the store.
Can you walk us through the process of how you menu plan & shop in any given week?
Simply –Diaries out and know what everyone’s plans are in advance.
Then check Fridge – plan what is to be used up and by when. Meal plan for the forthcoming week – just 6 days (leaving a contingency day). Immediately do the shop sticking to the list. Write the meal plan on board so everyone knows what to expect.
My 2012 routine can be found on my blog, as it’s too involved to outline here. (Link to Jo's "friday" post!)
Do you have any "not so frugal" splurges?
Holidays (vacations) are our main splurge. This has always been the case even before I consciously began to watch our spending. We are just back from an UK east-coast beach trip, and so far this year we have been to Disneyland Paris and a 5-day break in Wales. We have another 2 mini-breaks
in mind, a week away in the UK and an overseas holiday planned for December.
I don’t mind spending money, but I hate wasting money. It’s easy to fritter away a few pounds here and there on irrelevant things, but by not doing this we can spend on what is important to us as a family.
Do you "coupon"? Why or why not?
No I don’t coupon. Ever. It doesn’t make sense due to the way I shop. I meal-plan based on what is to be used up and what our plans are for the week coming. I only buy for 7 days at a time and rarely bulk buy a product. My trained profession is marketing, and maybe I’ve become cynical, but I feel
special deals and couponing drive you to unnecessary purchases through cheap prices. Multi-buy deals aren’t for me either as I believe the more you buy the less discretion you use it with. Scarcity can be a good thing.
Can you suggest any inspiring books, websites, blogs that started you on your journey to "simpler" living?
I mentioned earlier that it was a book that set me on my current path. It was ‘Simplify Your Life’ by Naomi Saunders (UK author and professional organiser). This book led me to Zen Habits, and from there I found a couple of start-up blogs ‘The Minimalist Path’ and ‘Far Beyond The Stars’.
These blogs are very different today to what they were when I read them. These were my main ‘minimalism’ references at that time. However the blogs that probably reflected more how I longed to live were initially Non-Consumer Advocate, and a little later on ‘The Frugal Girl’. Kristen’s blog is my number 1 blog to read.
When I started blogging I met many great bloggers (yourself included Carla!), but the first fellow blogger I met and have remained in contact with is The Minimalist Mom. Rachel has since moved to the UK from Canada, and I hope to meet her in person this summer.
Every Friday you do a full fridge clean out & take inventory of your food Items. Do you consider this a "must" in your quest to keep your budget under control & avoid
Absolutely. This is the anchor that everything else is based around. Friday is food day here. The meal plan and shop gets done that day, then the remainder of the week I can focus on other things.
Please tell us 10 "must haves" in your pantry, fridge & freezer.
Dry Pasta, frozen fruit & veggies, flour, eggs, sugar, milk, cheese, yeast and
I think it's safe to assume that you don't have a deep freezer? Did you ever own one? If so, what did you do with it?
I do have a freezer but it’s not a chest or deep freeze, it’s quite small - just 3 draws. In it I keep frozen berries and fruit for making whey protein and fruit smoothies. I also keep in a variety of frozen vegetables so they are always to hand. These are the must haves. I also keep bread in there as well as homemade ice-lollies (Popsicles?). Freezers are great for reducing food waste. I make a
lot of homemade soup in my slow-cooker and freeze it for lunches, I also make pasta sauce. Meat occasionally gets frozen if it won’t be used as planned – but currently I have no meat or fish in there. Finally it’s great for freezing scraps of vegetables that can be used to make stock. Proceed with caution with freezers! It’s very easy to keep stocking them up, and to forget what you have.
Mine works on the same principle as my refrigerator. I need to be able to see all items clearly and know exactly what’s in there and what it will be used for.
How do you keep within your budget when entertaining and/or hosting holiday events?
I don’t is the simple answer. Holidays and celebrations, there is going to be extra spend. But nowadays it’s much less than it was before. All the habits I’ve picked up are hard to break! My Son’s birthday tea-party for close family was held a fortnight ago – we had an unexpected guest, and I stretched what I had. You’d be surprised how little you really need for such occasions – I reduce
variety not quality. Then most things get eaten rather than packed away in the fridge to be used up later.
What is your favourite cheapest, healthy, "go to" meal?
There are 3 meals that work well for us. Soup (I make my own vegetarian soups and freeze them – very healthy and frugal!). Pasta (with tomato puree and a sprinkling of cheese is surprisingly tasty!). And eggs – an amazingly versatile and nutritious food if you can eat them.
Does hubby or dd ever complain that "there's nothing to eat?" ;)
No. That’s because there always is. The meal plan goes on a chalkboard, so everyone knows what’s for dinner. I bake a lot of cakes, muffins and treats. Because this is an activity rather than a chore there tends to be something nice to hand. As for snacks, if hungry we always have cheese and
crackers around and fruit. Our meals are quite structured, there’s always something planned for breakfast, lunch and evening meal. No-one goes hungry.
What is your biggest hurdle when trying to stay under your grocery budget? Time? Rising food costs? Lack of healthy affordable food? Something else?
It’s the decision on where to shop, and whether it compromises my values or not. This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately. But in saying that, high price doesn’t necessarily mean high quality. Since reducing my budget about 9 months or so ago, I’ve adapted how I’ve shopped and seem to have identified how it can work for me. I’m looking at it once more to ensure that I am buying the
‘best’ food I can. I tend to buy basic ingredients, and this reduces cost naturally as I don’t pay for convenience.
Where do you do most of your food shopping? Do you try to support "local" food suppliers? (ie: local farmers, etc...)
As with above answer, this is something I am working on at the moment. One internal dilemma I have is whether I am buying ethically. I’m a big supporter of independent business, but it’s that age-old quandary of cost versus ethics. An imminent blog post is about how I’m adapting my shopping habits for hopefully an even better fit with my values. My main grocery shop is Aldi at the moment,
because the price for the quality is outstanding, my main concern is the amount of packaging, particularly on fruit and vegetables that I am bringing home. But as I said, I’m looking at what I can do about that.
Do you garden? Grow any of your own
herbs, veggies, etc?
This is high on my ‘to-learn’ list but I’m wondering if I’m just not designed to garden. This is ironic as my Mom is a superb gardener. We grew some potatoes last year, and some tomatoes. I’m attempting more herbs and butternut squash – fingers crossed!
Seriously, I’d love to be more self-sufficient in this area. You’re never too old to learn – are you?
Are there any products that you absolutely refuse to buy?
As I’m getting older and as I cook more and more from scratch, I’m finding ready made and processed goods harder to buy. Even in an emergency. On the way back from our beach break last night I grabbed a ready made frozen pizza for the kids to pop in the oven but it didn’t feel right. There’s such a long list of things I don’t buy that I couldn’t list them here. It’s personal preference, there’s no right or wrong, just what you are happy with and not.
Do you have a suggested budget "per person" or "family size" to aim for that you would suggest to a family that's struggling to keep their grocery budget down?
This may sound odd, but I don’t start with the money – I never do for anything. I always start with the ‘need’. So, what does each family member need to eat? I plan that and then I work on the ‘nice to haves’. So when I shop my list is based on my meal plan, which is the required food. When I first started if I had budget left I’d pop in the nice to haves (within reason). Now I just kind of know what to buy and the amount. Something that we’ve noticed is that without real thought or sacrifice, our portion size has reduced. This has had more benefits than just saving money. I never have to calorie count to lose a few pounds anymore!
Do you have a favourite quote or saying in life that keeps you focused & inspired?
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go-so long as you do not stop.”-Confucius
It took me a long time to realise there are no short-cuts or quick-fixes in life and you most certainly can’t ‘buy’ a solution. Slow and steady is the way to go, stick at it, create habits, build momentum and you will see the benefits long-term
Thanks so much, Jo for letting me 'pick your brain'! ;) I'm sure many of my readers will find your outlook on life inspirational & your tips as helpful as I do!! I plan on setting up a "clean the fridge/menu planning" routine and will post more soon! :)
How about everyone else? Do you have a "fridge cleaning/menu planning/grocery shopping" routine? What suggestions of Jo's did you find the most helpful?