Time to Plan: Keeping an Online Purchases Journal

I love that the Internet exists so that I can take time to research products, find great deals and even find products that I would never be able to find locally. But we definitely need to be careful when shopping online as it can be very easy to spend too much too fast on items that we may not really need. The fact that we can just buy something with a few clicks of a button can sometimes lead to some impulse buys.

While I try to be careful about what I buy online, I decided to keep an online purchases journal this year. If you are starting to learn how I am, then you know that I kept it very simple! My first plan was to keep a notebook by my computer but I feared I would lose it. So I created a very simple Excel spreadsheet instead. I can easily update it and sum it up to keep track of how much I am spending. I also created a separate email folder for all of my order confirmations.

I gave my spreadsheet simple headers of “$ Spent, Where Purchased?, What Did I Buy, How I Paid and Where the $ comes out of our budget.” Anything that I’ve allocated as “my allowance,” I also put in a separate area so I can keep track of what I spend. I make sure I don’t go over the money I have on-hand to “pay back” our funds for anything I buy online. I added the “How I Paid” category so I can check my Paypal or Bank Account to make sure the purchases were charged correctly.

I’ve been doing this for about 3 weeks now and I truly wish I had started it sooner! What I love about it is that every time I log a purchase, it’s a trigger that I’m tallying more money being spent. There was one purchase I made this year that after I tallied it, I decided that it truly wasn’t a need and ended up canceling my online order right away. I don’t recommend making a habit of continually canceling orders but when you truly feel a change of heart, definitely do it if you can!

My plan is to take a few minutes each month and look through all my online purchases and review what I bought and ask myself, “Was that a smart purchase?” I’m hoping that by keeping track of my purchases, it will make me an even better online shopping that doesn’t have any unnecessary impulse buys.

Overall, I do my best to buy our things locally, as I like to support my community but there are certain items that I can’t buy locally or truly can find a higher rate of savings online–such as some Organic Products. Our area has such skyrocketing prices on some Organic products and I do buy some of them online so I can continue to feed my family those great products. I might not be able to fit them into our budget, otherwise. I am seeing more stores offering a larger range of Organic products and that is very exciting! (If your stores don’t offer them, make sure you email them and let them know you’d be interested or tell your store’s manager.)

I’m hoping that if you do a lot–or even some!–online shopping that you take a little Time to Plan and make an Online Purchases Journal so you can make sure you are sticking within your budget and making smart purchases.

If you do shop online, I highly recommend signing up for an online portal, such as Ebates, that awards Cashback for going through their links for your purchases. They have over 1,200 stores listed, including most of the major ones where you may shop. It’s free to join, if you haven’t already.

What are some of the items that you regularly buy online? Where have you been able to find the best online deals?

Time to Plan: Master Meal Plan

I’ve mentioned several times that a great way to save money, without even using coupons, is to make a Weekly Menu Plan. Well, it seems like every time I go to sit down to make my menu plans for the week, my mind goes blank on the meals I know how to make. LOL. It seems my mind is too busy whirling with matching up coupons with sales with what I have on hand and coming up with recipes takes longer.

So I took some time this week to stop and make a “Master Meal Plan.” I just took a blank sheet of paper and started jotting down every single meal that I could think of that we eat on a regular basis. When I couldn’t think of any more, I took a “tour” of my fridge and pantry hoping that some items I had on hand would spark a recipe that I might have missed.

When I was all done, I decided I would organize them by a few categories and create an Excel Spreadsheet so I could update the Master Meal Plan whenever I made a recipe that I thought would become a long-time favorite. These are the categories I used for my sheet:

Main Meals
Side Dishes

I didn’t add any one-time recipes that we might use. I’ll probably add them as separate column later if I feel that I need them. For now, I wanted to keep it fairly simple. It seems like when I complicate things or clutter it up too much, that I don’t end up using them.

So next time I sit down to make my Weekly Menu Plan, I can just pull out my Master Meal Plan sheet for ideas of some meals I can make with what I have on hand. I’m hoping it will streamline the process even more and possibly even keep me from repeating meals too much.

Last year, I picked up a Dry Erase Calendar that has magnets for hanging it on the fridge. This comes in handy for making the Weekly Meal Plans, too. I usually write the upcoming events on there so I can plan my meals around them. I picked mine up at Michaels with one of their 50% Off coupons. It might be a place to look for it if you are interested in getting one. I like that it’s dry-erase so I can easily switch things around if I need to. I hung my Master Meal Plan right next to my board and I’m all ready to fill in my calendar for the rest of the month.

For now, my sheet is just hung up with a magnetic clip but I’ll probably pick up a report cover to keep it from getting ruined. What I like about creating the sheet in Excel is that I can easily update the sheet later and re-print the new one. For now, I’ll just keep the sheet handy and pencil in any meals I may have forgot.

I’m hoping that this may help you in streamlining your process for creating a Weekly Menu Plan, too. Taking a little “Time to Plan” now can help to save yourself a lot of time later!

Time to Plan: Morning and Nighttime Routines

I am always amazed how much smoother my day goes by simply just taking 5-10 minutes the night before to lay out the clothes for the kids and myself. It seems like when I skip this small task, I spend the beginning of my morning running around in circles and stressing myself out before I even really start my day.

So I’ve been working on carving out my morning and nighttime routines over the last two days. Like everything else I do, I’m trying to keep it real simple and basic so I don’t overwhelm myself and quit before I even start. I’m hoping that by simply taking a little time when I wake up and before I go to bed to plan out my day and tie up any loose ends from the current day that I can save myself a lot of time and stress in the long-run.

Even little things as simple as checking to make sure there aren’t any clothes left in the washer/dryer or that I remembered to start the dishwasher can lead to an overall difference in how my next day starts. I find that when I start my day off trying to catch up from the one before, that I never truly catch up.

So here’s a tiny peek into what I’m going to try over the next week or two to see how it works:

Morning Routine
1) Rise and Shine and Make the Bed
2) Get ready right away so I don’t have to squeeze in a shower midday. (yes, sometimes that happens!)
3) Start a load of laundry. This way, it’s done by the time breakfast is over!
4) Unload the dishwasher, if need be.
5) Make myself a cup of hot tea and review my to-do list for the day before the kids wake up.
6) Enjoy breakfast with the kids before I start my work day.
7) Check my emails and begin whatever I have planned for that day.

Nighttime Routine
1) Lay out clothes for myself and the kids for the next day.
2) Check to see events for the following day and put any items I need by my purse/coat so I don’t forget them.
3) Take time out with the kids to read books and get them tucked in for the night.
4) Check washer/dryer and finish up anything left.
5) Wrap up loose ends in the kitchen–washing up countertops, putting away dishes, etc.
6) Do a quick walk-through of the house and put away anything that’s not where it should be.
7) Make a to-do list for the following day.
8 ) Check my meal plan for the following day and take out any frozen items that need to thaw.
9) Take time to wrap up any website loose ends or take time for myself or with my hubby.
10) Check my email one last time for the night and get to bed at a reasonable time!

I’m hoping that by getting in a little routine that my day will go a little smoother, save me time, stress and possibly money. I’ve found that when my house is in order, I have more free time to get myself organized so I can stay on top of my menu plans, coupon clipping and other ways that help us save money.

Do any of you currently have morning/nighttime routines set in place yet? I’d love to hear how yours looks!

Time to Plan: Creating a 2012 Budget

While I can find and post so many great deals, coupons, freebies, etc for you, overall the best way I can help you all save money throughout the year is to encourage you to create a 2012 Budget and do your best to stick to it.

I know, the thought of making a budget does not sound like a lot of fun but it the long-run, it can help make life a little easier if you have a plan set in place to help you meet your financial goals.

Each year in January, I create a simple budget for us and then modify it, as need be, throughout the year. Budgets do not have to be elaborate. My personal preference is to actually keep them fairly simple as I am more likely to stick with it. A budget is simply a formula of Income minus Expenses. I like to break my expenses down by “fixed” and “variable.” Fixed would be the items that occur each month and normally cost the same amount, such as your mortgage, any car payments or loans, etc that you have. Variable expenses are those that fluctuate monthly. I like to set aside money each month for birthday/special events. Some months they are higher or lower so I break them out into a separate category.

These are a few of the things I include in mine: mortgage, utilities, insurance, phones, TV, Internet, Food, Household/Pet Care Expenses, Fuel for Vehicles, Tithe for Church, Savings and our “Allowances.” I try to set aside money in categories for things such as medical/dental/vet bills, car repairs, special events, vacation fund, etc.

There are several resources online for tips on creating a budget. We had great luck reading and following Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover Book as he taught us how to budget down to the very last dollar each month. His book is phenomenal about helping you get motivated to get yourself back on track and pay off your debts.

I’m hoping that if you haven’t already, that you all consider taking a little “Time to Plan” and create a budget this year. You can also start off small and at least create a Grocery Budget for yourself. Here’s what I suggest for that:

1) Start off by keeping your receipts for a month.

2) After you get home from the stores, take your receipts and highlight your items on it like this:
a) Green – items that were on your grocery list that you needed and got a great deal on
b) Yellow – items that were not on your grocery list but were on a great sale and you truly needed them
c) Red – items that were complete impulse buys that you could probably do without

3) Staple all of your receipts together each week. Take a small sheet of paper and make a note to yourself how your week turned out with your purchases. Did your purchases make a lot of good meals for your family? Ideally you want to only buy the items that you can get the best deal on and that provide lots of meals each week. Did you buy a lot of unnecessary impulse items? Are you seeing a lot of yellow, which might suggest that you need to keep track of low inventory items more?

4) At the end of the month, you can add up your receipts and create a budget with your totals. If you over-spent, set your budget lower and work to stay within that amount if you can.

Over time, you will start to be able to see your shopping trends and try to adjust them to squeeze the most out of your shopping trips. A tip I love to share with my readers is to create a shopping list and put any “impulse” items in one area of your shopping cart. Before you check out, take a look at what you added and ask yourself, do I really need them?

Good luck creating your budgets! The time you take to create one can help save you money throughout the year.

2012 New Series: Time to Plan

When I sat down earlier in the month to think about what types of goals I wanted to set for 2012, I started to see a pattern that I could really wrap up all of them into just one goal–Taking Time to Plan! It became clear to me that everything I wanted to accomplish could possibly fall into place if I set aside just a small amount of time each day to plan ahead. And here’s why I think that:

Financial Goals – I can meet my goals by putting into a place a great budget and taking time to plan out my shopping trips and planning ahead for events such as birthdays, holidays, weddings, vacations, etc. I can stick to my budget by keeping track of items we use the most and when they reach a “Low Inventory” so I can make sure I keep watch for a great deal on them.

Cleaning/Organizing Goals – I can meet these goals by taking time to plan time each day for household and website tasks. I can save time asking myself “What’s for Dinner?” by putting a meal plan in place and freezing meals ahead for busy weeks. Also, keeping my coupons organized is another great way to help meet my financial goals.

Fitness Goals – By keeping my household in order, I can possibly carve out time for myself to get in some much needed exercise–and also plan in some fitness time with the kids. I can also plan time for researching healthier recipes and meal options for us.

Self-Help Goals – By taking time to stay organized and financially stable, life might possibly feel less stressful making it easier to just enjoy life a little more.

Family-Time Goals – By making sure to plan time each day for one-on-one quality time with the kids, I can get in some really great outings and make some great memories with them! We can also maybe take them on a small vacation if I plan ahead getting great prices and by keeping on course with my financial goals.

So my biggest goal for 2012 is just set aside 15-30 minutes a day to plan out my day/week/month/year. I’ll be doing my best to share with you what planning I’ve managed to get in each week in hopes that maybe it will help you become a happier and more organized person, as well.

While making New Year’s Resolutions/Goals may seem cliche, I truly believe it is important to set goals for yourself each year. It can lead to a more rewarding and fun year as you might take the time to get in more fun, worry less about things that don’t truly matter and plan for your future.