Saturday, 10 October 2009

Organization and Frugality

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

When I was working full time in the corporate world, I struggled to get organized. Yes I was perfectly able to present at conferences, organize and manage national projects and run a team, but I would come home and just feel like I was in a constant mess. It was not that my home was messy, to the naked eye I seemed to have it all put together - I had a good job, a nice clean flat in central London, career prospects and a great quality of life. Oh how wrong they were. Behind the scenes I was never sure what food would be on the plate come dinner time, what I had in the freezer, what my weekends would look like (for example would I be tucked behind a laptop and unable to do more than a quick 20 minute walk to the shop for a frozen meal to heat up), was so busy that it was easier to buy than mend, I didn't have the time for so much as a quick chat with friends let alone volunteering or enjoying hobbies. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed daily. Looking back, I was spending money purely because I couldn't get organized, I didn't have the time, energy or inclination. Eventually I knew I needed to make some changes, I knew the dream was to give up the corporate world and downshift, but I also knew I shouldn't and couldn't go on living the way I was until I was in the place for big changes. I thought I'd share some easy, small steps that really helped me get organized and become more frugal thereby making the dream of downshifting all the more possible!

1. Budgeting - However much I didn't want to address this, I knew I had to. I set up a realistic budget which allowed me to complete a good grocery shop, have healthy foods ready to eat when I returned from a 14 hour work day and thereby saving me a good $20 a week and giving me more energy. Please note, I started my grocery budget higher than it is now, I knew I needed to make small changes so I would increase my confidence and skills. £30 a week allowed me to buy good food and stop running to the take-away!

2.Meal Planning - I know I'm highly motivated by what I "feel like" and I'd always found that meal planning didn't work for me because I was often home later than anticipated, meaning starting to cook was the last thing on my mind. So I created a menu plan that worked for me - I would simply list 7 main meals that I had the ingredients for, they were a mix of easy meals such as homemade soup with a roll and veggie sticks to more complex meals like homemade kale & potato bake with homemade meatballs and peas. Having a small list of 7 meals to choose from made menu planning work for me.

3. Scheduling exercise - I love to exercise, I would say that it helps me eat healthy, feel less stress and keep a good emotional state. Only I would have all these ideas of hitting the gym, but end up running 4 hours late due to meetings which over-ran and missed trains and the gym would then be closed or I was simply too exhausted. I started by scheduling walking to work 2 mornings a week - the walk took 75 minutes, but I found there was less that could interfere and it was a plan I could work around. I could choose the mornings that fit into my work schedule and within a very short time frame I found it made a difference.

4. Baking & Food Prep Day - I began once a month spending 1/2 a day at the weekend making a few baked goods and several meals which helped, during the busy weekdays, keep my healthy eating on track! I started with small goals; I remember month one I made homemade soup (and froze it into 4 portions), homemade chili (which gave me 6 portions), cut up fruit & veggies to keep in the fridge for healthy snacks and finished off by making homemade biscuits and homemade rolls. Instantly I felt less stressed!

5. I gave myself a "general goals list" each weekend - This motivated me to find some time to learn something new, spend time budgeting, get some exercising in and yet still understanding the limitations in this season of my life! My general weekend list included:

Phone 1 friend to catch up
Get together with a friend for coffee or a drink or meal/walk/cinema
Spend 1 hour doing paperwork or balancing checkbook
Grocery Shop
Plan 7 Meals
Get at least 2 hours exercise
Spend time enjoying a hobby (reading, knitting, photography)
Do something for someone else

This general list allowed me to prioritize things that were important to me, while still understanding that in this season of my life I was often working 5-7 hours each day at the weekend.

I have to say, as soon as I got organized and became more frugal, it gave me the confidence to really turn my life around, the skills to plan and the tools to get out of debt! Together these new found skills got me out of the corporate world and allowed me to really start living my life. I've never felt better and my frugal tools seem to increase daily!

I'd love to hear from you, what easy organizational skills do you use to help you make frugal choices? Have these impacted on your quality of life and lifestyle?