No Spend September – Meal Planning

Hey, so my wife and I are doing this thing called No Spend September. Is it really a thing beyond our house? I have no idea. Doesn’t matter. This is the gist of what is going on. We had an expensive summer. I went on wild tech buying sprees (buying WordPress themes and plugins, buying tech, buying kitchen gadgets), we took a trip to Montana where I finally was able to buy my wife a Yogo sapphire ring – something I wanted to do for our wedding but finally accomplished for our 2 year anniversary. Not a cheap thing.

I got hacked in April and had $2000 stolen from my bank account which I tried fighting but Chase does not make it easy and it was hard to prove (other than money going to an email address that was never before listed, all notifications for the transfer were turned off so I received no alerts, and those notifications where then deleted so there was no evidence other than the missing money). I digress into bitterness. It happens. Shit happens. I move on (I don’t, I dwell on crap like this FOREVER. I don’t forgive, I don’t forget.)

The point is, we had a summer that was more expensive than we originally planned. Then the building we lease our apartment from got sold. It was a sign, it was time to take the next bold step in our lives — buy a house.

The problem is, our reserves were depleted and we don’t have the kind of down payment we want for our first house. I’m old, I don’t want a fixer-upper because when I get home from work, I just want to not perform another three hours of manual labor.

So my wife decided we’d do No Spend September. The idea is to essentially Marie Kondo your finances. We are doing everything to not spend money on idle crap. Make sure we are only spending money on the things we need that actually improve our lives.

Part of that is doing away from spending money on GrubHub, on lunches at places that charge over $10, on wasting food, on other general crap. This is not a frugal thing… I buy expensive soap and I’m not giving that up. It makes me happy.

I’ll go into more detail in other posts, but right now we are on Day 3 of our first week of meal planning. Meal planning is an important component of No Spend September because we waste a lot of money on food and food waste.

Milk-Can Supper

Milk Can Supper

This rustic recipe, and most of the recipes this week, come from America’s Test Kitchen. I bought a magazine awhile back. I love their stuff, their scientific method to cooking, so they had a magazine of One Pan Recipes. That appeals to me since I hate doing dishes.

I won’t give the recipes, they are easy to find online. This is more about Cost/Value analysis.

The Milk-Can Supper is a soft sausage (bratwurst) meal with potatoes, corn, onion, and cabbage. It is a boiled dinner, super simple to make, and meant to feed a lot of people.

The brats were the most expensive component at $6.00. Cabbage, carrots, onions, green peppers, etc. were really nominal and most are just part of our standard pantry. I calculate that the meal topped out at $10.00. We got 6 servings out of it, easily (2 dinners, 2 lunches, 2 servings frozen for later).

Teriyaki Beef and Broccoli

Teriyaki Beef and Broccoli

A more expensive venture since the price of the flank steak for the recipe was a bit more than I expected to spend. I could have done better if I would have spoken to the butcher directly, but you know me… I don’t talk to strangers and that comes at a cost.

While this was an American’s Test Kitchen recipe, it originally was Teriyaki Beef and Green Beans. I altered to include broccoli since that is what my wife and I enjoy more. I made a few other alterations like using Thai noodles instead of rice. I get bored of cooking rice quickly. I don’t own a rice cooker and our kitchen is too small for such a frivolous device.

This meal cost us over $12 and we got kind of 4 servings (2 dinners, 2 lunches) out of it. Not the best value, but this was so tasty. It is a splurge. I think finding flank steak on sale is the key to making this meal more affordable.

Chicken and Rice with Peas and Carrots

Chicken and Rice with Peas and Carrots - partially cooked

This is a super simple, kind of rustic meal. It relies on a lot of rice and good chicken. American’s Test Kitchen says to use chicken breasts and since I buy chicken breasts at Costco, it seems like a no-brainer. But honestly, I think this is a perfect chicken thigh recipe. Chicken thighs have more flavor and while this is a perfectly good dish with chicken, chicken stock, onions, garlic, peas, and carrots, it is missing something. A texture is missing.

We got 4 really good servings out of this dish (2 dinners, 2 lunches).

What is on the schedule?

Tomorrow is a reprieve from cooking. We are having spaghetti with meat sauce. I buy hamburger in bulk, divide it up into 1 pound bags and freeze it, so that is about $2.00 of burger, $2.50 of store bought sauce, and $1.00 of pasta. $6.50 will give us 3 servings (I eat a lot).

Thursdays are when we normally order a pizza. That is a no-no for No Spend September. So on Sunday I made pizza dough which I am keeping in the fridge. Thursday I’ll roll it out and used store bought pizza sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni to make a 12 inch pizza.

The calculation for this meal is a bit more complex, but I am calculating it to be roughly $5.00 and expect just 2 servings out of it. We may not be satisfied after the meal and we won’t have any leftovers for lunch. We do have two frozen dinners for lunch if needed, so no worries there.

Friday has always been a crap shoot for us in terms of menus and usually when we order something from Grubhub and then not enjoy it because most restaurant food is not meant to be cooked and sit 20 minutes in someone’s car before being eaten. Fridays on our menu planning are when we ‘clean the pantry’ and use up whatever needs to be used up. I have leftover broccoli, potatoes, onions, pasta, etc. so it may be an eclectic meal but it will suffice. Worst case scenario, I’ll thaw out the Milk-Can Supper I made earlier in the week.

Published by Sean D. Francis

Sean D. Francis is a technologist, writer, and geek. He podcasts, makes video, and dabbles in all the geeky genres including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.