"Whatever you've forgotten, you can buy at Target." This was the advice of a good friend as I frantically tried to pack five people to travel back to the US to visit family. While it did give me a good perspective, and decreased the level of stress in my life immensely, it was representative of what I call the "throw money at the problem" problem. For our sanity, I'll call it TMP.
When my husband and I were first married, and we were broke, and we didn't have kids, there was no TMP in our lives. Every penny was budgeted, and we planned ahead to make sure that we were prepared for most situations. Only a few times did we run into trouble, like the time our car broke down several hundred miles from home, or the time we went away for the weekend and I forgot my suitcase. (Hello, thrift store!)
As our lives became more complicated, the TMP started sneaking it's way into our lives. Haven't organized dinner? Oh, we can probably afford some take out. Baby destroy every outfit in the diaper bag? Surely we can find something on the clearance rack at the exchange. As the number of children grew, and the amount of chaos grew, the TMP grew, too. Failed to get a bargain present for the birthday party this afternoon? There's sure to be a store on the way. No matter that we'll spend three times as much - at least we got a present.
Thankfully, our financial stability was improving along the way, or all this TMP would have put us under. This last year, however, it seems like things have really gotten out of hand. There have been way too many snacks purchased on the run, too many purchases to make last minute fixes, and generally too many expensive solutions to inexpensive problems.
There are lots of ways to keep the TMP under control. There are five that usually work for me, if I do them.
- Have a calendar for the whole family, and really use it. You'll see your needs ahead of time, and be able to take care of needs in the most efficient and inexpensive way. You'll figure out trouble spots ahead of time and be able to plan solutions. You will be prepared for school concerts with the right clothes. You will have planned travel reservations more than a week before the trip. You will know what days are going to require that dinner be waiting in the slow cooker. This brings me to the next thing that helps:
- Make menus. Take into consideration your family's schedule, budget, and tastes. Be aware of what days are going to be really busy and brainstorm meal solutions for those days. Even a frozen lasagna and bagged salad will be less expensive than stopping for take out. (Don't forget, though, that a frozen lasagna can take over an hour to cook.) Use your slow-cooker. Be prepared with the right ingredients to whip up a quick meal. And that is a great seque to my next item:
- Use grocery lists! Really, it makes a huge difference. I like to use a perpetual grocery list to keep me on track, and I know that if I use the list, I will never discover that I am out of the one ingredient to make a meal. I'm sure you know what happens when you are missing just one ingredient - you either come up with some expensive emergency solution, like pizza, or you run to the store and come home with $100 worth of stuff you didn't need.
- Keep lists, and refer to them. I know that when I use my day planner, I save time, I accomplish more, and I save money, too. Why? Because I know what I will need in advance, and I can buy the right priced item when I am already at the store for something else.
- Declutter your life. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but clutter make it hard to be prepared or organized. Being unprepared or disorganized is expensive.