Readers' Tips

Tips for Mastering Meal Planning

There are several ways to start with meal planning depending on your priorities.

If your priority is variety, then you might want to start by planning based on your protein. You may plan one beef, one pork, one chicken, one fish, and one vegetarian meal for each week or some variation that works for your dietary needs. Make one of those meals a roast or a large quantity meal so that it can be spread out to use leftovers for a sixth meal. If you usually eat out once a week, then this will be fine. If you never eat out, then you may want to plan an additional meal that uses a type of ground meat for example. Step two would be to decide on what kind of dishes to make for each of those categories, which one will be your roast meal, and what you want to make with the leftovers. Because variety is key, you should use the internet and your cookbooks or magazines to try new recipes or variations each week. Keep track of which ones the family likes, so you can use them again. Once the recipes are chosen, decide which day to make each based on your family's schedule versus the time commitment needed or simply assign one night to each protein and repeat from week to week in the same order.

If budget is your main concern, a second type of planning is to use your flyers to see what meats are on sale and then plan meals around each of those. In this case, if your family is okay with it, you may want to plan for two vegetarian meals because vegetarian meals are quite often cheaper than meat based meals and two meals with the cheapest meat you can get that week. You can either use old favorite recipes or search out new options on the internet.

A tip for making meal planning easier over time is that once you have determined a recipe to be a favorite, put it on a special sheet somewhere that you can access when planning meals so you can use it to choose recipes in the future. Eventually your goal would be to have a month of recipes you know everyone likes and can use that to help pick things and make the planning side easier.

editor's note: Visit here for more tips for mastering meal planning.

Stove Top Cleaning

Spray-on oven cleaner works great on the outside of the stove. I use it on the stove top every two weeks. After spraying it on, I wait a few minutes and then wipe it off. Now I have the cleanest stove in town!

Before You Buy Anything

I've found that readers' product reviews are a great way to check out something before I buy it. This is great not just for big things like a TV, but also for smaller electronics and even new foods. Some companies manage to get in some paid fake reviews, so I check the bad reviews. I read them to see if there are complaints about things that would bother me. I've avoided a bunch of bad buys this way.

Additional TDS Resource: How to resolve online consumer complaints

My Weekly Cash Call

My wife and I both work and need to buy lunches and snacks during the week. We try to bring our lunch as often as we can, but some days that's not practical. Therefore, we're trying out a new system. We read that our brains resist spending bigger bills. Each week, both of us go to the ATM and take out two $10 bills. We also have a $20 in our wallet from the previous week. Our goal is to get through the week without touching the $20 bill. Most weeks, we're successful. It probably doesn't make a huge difference in what we spend, but every little bit helps.

Additional TDS Resource: Do I have a debt problem?

Creative Date Nights

Our kids are mostly grown (meaning our day isn't dominated by their activities), but my husband and I still seem to be constantly busy. We decided to start up our date nights again. Instead of doing the typical dinner/movie thing, we went another way. We started with a couple of adult coloring books! It seems silly, but it was a lot of fun and opened us up to some fresh ideas. Next I think that we'll take on a craft project to see how that goes. After that, perhaps we will refinish a piece of furniture. It's brought us together in a way that we thought we'd lost years ago.

Additional TDS Resource: 10 free or cheap date night ideas

Maximizing Your Retirement Plan

We usually get an annual pay increase at my job, usually 2% to 4%. When my annual evaluation rolls around, I find out what the increase will be and then I go to our HR department and have the additional percentage added to what they deduct for my 401k plan. I add more to retirement savings and never miss the additional money.

Additional TDS Resource: How to maximize your 401k retirement plan

Just Checking...

One advantage of being retired is that I can spend a few minutes checking my bills for errors. Just this month I noticed that my auto insurance didn't include the 55+ discount. I called my agent. He said that it was just a mistake, and they'd put the credit back on my account. Last spring, I found an error on my phone bill. They added a monthly fee for a service that I didn't order. It was only $8.95 a month, but I am not sure how long it was there before I caught it. Even if you are not retired and don't have much time, it's still worthwhile to check your bills to make sure you're not being cheated!

Additional TDS Resource: Visit our library section on "Correcting Credit Score Errors"

Saving on Pet Healthcare

Become a "client" of every vet near you and then call to price check procedures. In my area, two vets wanted $200 for an extraction of one tooth. A third wanted $50, and a fourth wanted only $25. However, when our cat passed away, it was less expensive to cremate our cat at the first vet.
Donald via Facebook

Additional TDS Resource: Visit our library section on "Doggie Savings"

Inexpensive Bridal Shower Gift Idea

Here is a tip for bridal shower gifts. My mother-in-law is a genius! She buys everything at a dollar store for her gifts. She fills a small cleaning bucket with bathroom cleaning supplies and then bundles it in pretty clear wrapping. She does the same with a tall kitchen trash can and fills it with dish soap, scrub sponges, paper towels, pot holders, a tea towel set, etc. She's never had a disappointed bride-to-be yet!
Kimberly via Facebook

Additional TDS Resource: More wedding shower ideas

Small Christmas Gifts

Recently I was buying a necessity on Amazon and only needed to spend one more dollar for free shipping. Did you know that when this happens on Amazon, you can do a search of items that cost less than $1? I looked and found cute little coin purses for $.59 each, so I ordered nine of them to give to the members of my book club. We usually exchange little gifts, and these are perfect. Not only did I save on shipping, but also I got nine Christmas gifts for less than $6. I can now check these off on my Christmas shopping list!

Homemade Finger Paints

I created my own finger paints by mixing a few drops of food coloring into a spoonful of vanilla yogurt. I can create almost any color I want, and it only costs pennies. It is also non-toxic and safe for my kids. The best part is whatever yogurt is left in the container makes a good snack for the artists!

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