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Planning a Weekly Menu

by Maxine
Posted August 3 2010 10:49pm
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Being prepared is the key when it comes to controlling your family’s expenses, but how do you manage that? One great idea is to plan your meals a week in advance, then use the set menus to prepare your weekly grocery list.

You can find free menu planning tools on the internet – some even create your weekly shopping list automatically. If that sounds easier for you, go for it! But if you’d rather keep to pen and paper you can download our easy Weekly Menu Planner sheet below. Use it to write down what you’ll be feeding your family this week and then take it with you to the grocery store to keep you on track while you shop.

Spending five minutes planning meals can help you cut down on impulse and last-minute shopping – saving your family money and helping to ensure that you eat nutritious meals.

Download the Weekly Menu Worksheet (PDF)

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Eating on a Dime

by Maxine
Posted August 3 2010 10:57pm
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Convenience foods may seem convenient, but they cost your wallet – and your waistline – in the long run. Eating well doesn’t have to break you wallet, sometimes just a little planning can save you financially and help improve your family’s health.

You’re running late and just need to pick up a few items at the grocery store – you rush in, strap your toddler into the cart and swoop through the aisles tossing in this and that. You need things for dinner tonight, snacks for preschool, lunch fixings for your older child and something to feed your partner and yourself too… Before you know it, your cart is full and you’re on your way, grabbing some pre-made sushi from the ‘to go’ kiosk as you swing by. You and your partner can eat that tonight – it’s too late to start making a big dinner anyway.

Most supermarkets are full of pre-made meals these days and with lots of busy working parents they can seem like just the thing when time is short and demand for dinner high. It’s easy to spend way beyond your means when it comes to groceries and many families do – the average Canadian household spends $6,910 a year, or about 11% of its income, on groceries.

Convenience foods may seem convenient, but they cost your wallet – and your waistline – in the long run. Eating well doesn’t have to break you wallet, sometimes just a little planning can save you financially and help improve your family’s health.

Planning Ahead

Plan ahead. It can be tough, but make a list of what you need before you shop. Then remember to bring it with you when you head out to the store. This is a key step to eating well on a budget. 

Our experts have put together the following strategies to help you plan your menu ahead of time.

  • Set a 15-minute pocket of time each week in which to plan your meals. It will help you avoid unforeseen expenses for last minute items. Remember to save your menus! Soon you'll have a wide variety to choose from each week.
  • Make meals from fresh ingredients whenever possible. They're healthier, less costly and the food you cook will have less salt and fat than packaged foods.
  • Check to see what ingredients you already have and what you'll need to pick up before hitting the food aisles. This will help you avoid doubling up on ingredients.
  • Post your weekly menu on your fridge. This will serve as a handy reminder to defrost or marinate any dinner ingredients ahead of time. You'll also satisfy everyone's curiosity about what's for dinner.

Shop Smart

When shopping for groceries, it's possible to be penny wise and health conscious. Use these tips to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your grocery dollar even further.

  • Take a moment to choose the store where you'll do your shopping. Not all pricing is equal. A quick comparison of grocery store flyer specials can help you find the best deals. You can start to save before you begin to shop.
  • Have a snack before you shop. A full stomach can help you control many urges to shop outside of your list.
  • Resist the impulse buys of attractively displayed convenience foods.
  • Practice perimeter shopping. Start with a quick trip around the outer aisles of your supermarket. This is where you'll find plenty of fresh greens, fish, meat and dairy selections.
  • Choose locally grown seasonal produce. These items are grown close by, so they're usually more affordable and they haven't lost as many nutrients. Buying locally grown seasonal produce is also better for the environment.
  • Remember to get everything you need for the week. Many convenience stores make you pay for their convenience with higher prices. So stock up and avoid those extra mid-week shopping trips for milk, eggs and other staples. This also gives you more time with your family and reduces your daily stress.
  • Take the challenge! Any attempt to add a new routine to an already packed day can be a trial. But with a little bit of planning and savvy shopping, you'll soon reap the benefits in your wallet and in your health.

How does your family save at the grocery store? Do you have any tips to share with other parents? Leave a comment below and let us know the ways you save!

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Not Returning to Work

by Maxine
Posted September 5 2011 01:49pm
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When parents make the decision not to return to work after having their baby, they are often met with critical comments and questions from friends or family. Men, in particular, might find their decision to be a stay-at-home parent criticized. But with more and more men choosing to take parental leave, and even stay at home with the kids longer than the initial year, that’s beginning to change.

What influences parents to make the decision not to return to work? According to our experts it can be for a number of reasons, but the most common are:

  • Financial security
  • Belief that a parent at home benefits the baby
  • Less stress at home than at work
  • Support from your partner in this decision
  • Comfort and security in being an "at home" parent

Having only one parent working can be tough economically, especially if you were bringing in two incomes before the baby. The baby brings an added expense and during a maternity or paternity leave the stay-at-home parent will often be bringing in less than half of their previous salary. If that parent chooses to stay home after the one-year Canadian parents receive maternity leave benefits your income will shrink even more.

It’s important that parents discuss the financial realities that having one parent stay home brings. Talk to your partner about what you would like to do and then work together to create a budget. Be realistic about how much income you will be bringing in and how much you need to live comfortably. Maybe one parent will work full-time and the other will work part-time, or maybe you can afford to have a stay-at-home parent if you trim your spending on extras. Look at the numbers together and talk it through.

Once you have made your decision be confident and support each other. This transition can be a difficult one, especially at first, so be sure to communicate and keep talking throughout.

All families should review their budget regularly to make sure that their financial situation is working, but it is especially important as you transition to having one stay-at-home parent. You want to ensure that your original budget was realistic and to make any needed changes.

In some communities there is a lack of social support for parents who choose not to return to work, but if there are programs in your area be sure to take advantage of them.

Did you decide to stay home after having your baby? How did you manage the change in income? What advice would you give to others considering this option? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Returning to Work Early

by Maxine
Posted September 5 2011 02:20pm
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In Canada, one parent can take up to one year in paid maternity leave, but sometimes parents decide to return to work earlier than planned. Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you planned them and if the drop in income that comes with being on maternity leave is too much for the family to manage or if circumstances change unexpectedly, parents can find themselves making the decision to return early.

This sometimes leads to feelings of guilt and fear. They fear that they may not be able to make it financially. The guilt comes from leaving their baby while he's still so young.Parents return to work early for many reasons. Our experts have created this list of the most common reasons:

  • Financial stress and a need for the additional income
  • Feeling of isolation and/or lack of fulfillment
  • Struggle with the monotony that being at home can produce
  • Longing for the contact with other people
  • Need for the stimulation that work can provide

When you are struggling with this decision it’s a good idea to monitor your budget and expenditures more than ever. Cutting your expenses by just $50 a week can save you $2500 over a year. This may give you the relief you need, allowing you to stay home with your baby.

Once you’ve made the decision to return to work you should plan for your childcare arrangements as early as possible and have backup plans. Quality care is very important to your child's development and it is not always easy to find. Some cities have long waiting lists, so be sure to look into this well in advance, if possible.

It can be hard not to feel guilty about leaving your baby to return to work, but remember that this is a decision many parents make and with high quality childcare arrangements, your baby will be able to grow and develop just fine.

And there might also be an opportunity to transition slowly back to work. Your employer may support your slow entry back into the workplace, starting with part time at first leading to full time. Discuss the options and see if you can find a solution that works for both of you.

Did you take your full maternity leave or did you return to work early? What factors contributed to your decision? How did you feel about it? Leave a comment and share your story with parents just like you!

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