Some people think meal planning is for the anal, controlling, Type A mom. As a slacker mom, my goal is always to spend less time on the things I must do (cleaning the house, feeding the kids, doing the laundry) and more time on the things I want to do (reading with the kids, scrapbooking by myself, girls’ nights out). So for me, meal planning is about making more time for me, not being some bionic super mom.
Even when I meal plan, I still slack off.
There are many different ways to be a militant meal planner. You can buy Sandi Richard’s Cooking for the Rushed series of cookbooks, which feature weekly shopping lists tied to the daily menu. You can download menus, recipes and shopping lists from Once a Month Mom and create a month’s worth of freezer meals, or pick up a copy of The Big Cook and do a big day of cooking for a week or more of meals. For tips on doing a group freezer cooking day, see this blog post.
The thing is, I just can’t get into the strict, ultra-organized methods suggested above. Once I realized it wasn’t all or nothing, I enjoyed meal planning more. So how does a slacker mom utilize the tenets of meal planning? Here’s how I do it.
Each week I sit down with the grocery store flyers to prepare our plan for the week, our family activity calendar is close by to accommodate for nights we’ll be eating elsewhere. If I see a day with some extra time, I’ll note it as a cooking day, when I’ll spend two to three hours making freezer meals from ingredients on sale (shepherd’s pie, meatloaf, Chicken Stuffing Bake, etc.). I’ll cross check the plan with ingredients on hand, and mark when we’ll use freezer meals prepared on previous make-ahead days.
I make a shopping list based on the meal plan, and use a day of the week whiteboard on the fridge to note when we’re having each meal (and a reminder the day before to take ingredients out to thaw in the fridge if necessary).
And that’s it! My slacker mom's guide to meal planning.
As I haul out my cheque book for another year of school fees, I’ve reflected on the ways I saved money last year, and what I wish I had passed on buying for my daughter.
I ignored the recommended brands on the school supply list last year, and the teacher didn’t mention it, so this year I stuck to the Staples discount brand products as well. I saved over $25 on supplies ($8 on the markers alone) by purchasing what was on sale rather than the exact brand the teacher specified.
My daughter’s school photo looked, well, cheesy. So I stuck the little sample photo they included into her school year book and threw out the order form. I much prefer the individual photo of her our photographer took when we did our annual photos anyway, and I saved myself $25 on the least expensive package.
Why did I buy sneakers with laces for a six-year-old? I optimistically believed she’d master the skill before she started school – a year later and the shoes and too small, and have never been worn.
Instead of buying $16 backpacks from department stores that rip or break before the year is out, this year we’ve bought a $16 pack from Mountain Equipment Co-op. Their lifetime guarantee means it’ll hold up for many years and many kids (I still have my MEC backpack purchased in 1991!).
What school related expenses have you shelled out for that you wished you hadn’t? What savvy school spending tips do you have to share?
It's back to school time, so you're probably starting to think about what that will mean when your kids are much, much older. As in, tuition time!
You may have seen advertisements encouraging you to enter to win a $1,000 contribution towards your child’s RESP, or been accosted at a parenting trade show by eager salespeople asking you if you want to win $500 towards your child’s future education. Fill out the form and you’re sure to have an education savings plan sales representative calling you day and night to set up an appointment to open an RESP for your child. That’s because the salespeople work on commission, and often receive incentives for selling a certain number of plan units. A scholarship trust fund is a "pooled" or "group" plan. Your money is pooled with that of other parents and used to purchase plan units. When you are ready to withdraw money, you share in the pooled earnings of investors with children the same age as yours.
Pooled group plans have a spotty reputation. Generally, if you cancel your plan, need to change your contribution schedule, or your child does not go to school you could forfeit the plan earnings, the CESG and the fees. Combined with the fact that scholarship plans are often limited to investing in low risk, low return investments, it’s entirely possible that after 20 years of contributions you’ll receive less than what you contributed, not more. Group plans do not offer the same payout flexibility as self-directed plans. Pay-outs may be made annually or semi-annually until the schooling is completed.
Need a few more downsides? The fees might be ridiculously high, and not well publicized. There are enrolment fees, administration fees, investment management fees, depository fees, trustee fees and more. These fees are paid up front from your contributions. Plus, pooled group plans are riskier than individual plans because you have less flexibility in the way you make your payments. If you miss a contribution and your account goes into default, you could lose your earnings. Some plans impose far more restrictive regulations regarding what schools or types of post-secondary program actually qualify for pay-outs than you will experience with a basic RESP established by either your financial planner or financial institution.
When considering a group plan, remember that whether you choose a self-directed plan or a group plan, all RESP contributions are eligible for the Canada Education Savings Grant. The group plan funds have been the target of many formal consumer complaints. Some salespeople will go so far as to insinuate that the government-matching portion is only eligible to parents in their plan – not true! Any parent investing in a properly registered plan, including those organized through the bank, will receive the grant.
I strongly encourage you to do your own research and speak with your personal banker before signing any contract with a group fund. Most Canadian banks offer a flexible RESP, one where you can establish a regular contribution, but which can be changed if your financial situation changes, and one where you can make lump sum payments whenever you have them.
We chose to set up a family RESP with non-scheduled contributions through our bank. All three children are named in one plan, so if one or more of the kids chooses not to pursue a qualified program, we don’t have to worry about closing their individual RESP – the benefits are simply shared by the children that do qualify. Being self-employed, I like not being tied to a specific contribution each month and instead having the flexibility to contribute lump sums when our finances allow it.