Financial Organization

In addition to organizing my pantry, I have also been inspired to organize all of our financial information before the end of the year. It is so easy to put off many of these changes until later, but I've found that if you wait for later, it never gets done. Take care of some of these things now!

Budgeting System

I am so excited to let you know that I think we have finally found a budgeting and expense tracking system that works for us. If finding a pantry system that works for you is important, finding a budgeting and tracking system is even more important. Everyone operates differently with money and needs their own way of organizing systems related to money. We tried several approaches before we've finally settled on one that works for us right now. That has really helped me prepare for the end of the year.

I budget and track our expenses on a monthly and annually basis using an Excel spreadsheet I downloaded for free from vertex42. If you really enjoy organizing things and using spreadsheets (ie: if you are a nerd like me), I highly recommend you browse the vertex42 site. They provide unbelievably smart, clean, and easy to use spreadsheets, all for free. I have been using their Money Management Template to track our finances this year, and it has been a great system for us. You will definitely need to have a working knowledge of Excel or a friend who will teach you if you want to use this. It shouldn't take you more than a few hours to set up and a few hours each month to input your expenses.

Annual Budget and Expenses

I've spend some time this month making sure I've put in all of ourexpenses for this year and printed out each month's record. As soon as December is over, I will be able to print out December's record of expenses as well as an annual record. We will go over this as a family and take note of any spending habits we would like to change for 2011. Going into the new year with knowledge about spending habits and goals for what you would like to change is very empowering. Even if you didn't track your spending over 2010, I would still recommend you take a few minutes with your spouse or family members and set some goals for spending in the new year. One thing I have learned over the past few years is that if you don't tell your money where to go before you get it, you'll overspend and have no idea what you spent it on.  If you haven't set a budget and tracked your expenses before now, the new year is a perfect time to start!

Retirement Plans

I haven't spent a lot of time on our retirement plans, but I have tidied up several things. This is the time to make sure you've contributed as much as you planned to your retirement plans. We ended up having to bump up our Roth IRA contributions this month to make sure were were going to put in as much as we were allowed to contribute. Even though you can contribute to your Roth for 2010 until April, it is such a good feeling to have that completed so that we can actually focus on 2011's contributions in the new year. This is a good time to review your accounts and make any necessary changes.

Bank Accounts

This is a great time to check up with your bank account and make any necessary changes. We'd been receiving an unauthorized $5.95 charge on our account every month since the summer, and although I had been following up with the bank to get it removed, it wasn't until I was really in the swing of getting everything tied up at the end of the year that I actually got it removed. Look over your account statements and make sure everything is in place. We are considering switching some of our checking and savings accounts into an online bank account – this is a good time to research different bank options and get yourself to actually make the changes.

Net Worth

It is a great practice to calculate your net worth at the end of each year. It is encouraging to track, and hopefully you will see it growing! The Evenutal Millionaire offers a great post on tracking your net worth with easy to use spreadsheets or pdf files that you can download for free. I like using the net worth excel spreadsheet because it calculates everything for you. If you've never calculated your net worth, this is a great time to start.


*Please remember that I am not a finanical advisor. This post is based solely on things that have worked for me and should not be construed as financial advice.

Pantry Organization

I've been inspired by The Simple Dollar's "Out With The Old, In With The New" series this month. It is focused on "specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011." If you haven't been following this series, I would definitely recommend it. While I haven't fully embraced all of Trent's suggestions, I did draw inspiration from his posts to do two specific things before the end of the year – clean out our pantry and get our finances in order. 

Today I'll share a little bit about the pantry clean out, and I'll save the financial clean up for tomorrow. 

Let me start by telling you that I believe in having an organized pantry. We try to do a lot of cooking at home in order to save money on food, and I've found that if things are too hard to find in the pantry, I'm just not going to cook. I've also learned that you have to organize your pantry the way that it makes sense to you. If it doesn't make sense to you, you won't keep it organized. While I may keep oils in three different places, it makes sense to me that each one be in that place because of the way that I use it. 

I've also learned that if you're not really feeling like cleaning out your pantry, don't do it. Wait for a day that you feel inspired and motivated. Otherwise you'll start, run out of gumption, and end up with food strewn all over you kitchen. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. 

I had been living in this house for about 2 years before I realized my pantry system wasn't working. There is probably a reason why it wasn't working, because my version of "pantry system" at the time meant "throw everything in." Our house was built in the 1940s, and unfortunately, it has very little storage space. The pantry area is actually the underside of the staircase. Since there isn't a light and its in the hallway, it was often too dark to find what I was looking for.  A few years ago we painted it white, and that helped open it up tremendously. I also got a label maker for Christmas around that same time and inevitably ended up making labels for everything I owned. I found that I appreciated being able to see into containers to know how much of something I had, so I made the switch to tupperware and mason jars. I absolutely love using mason jars for everything from beans to nuts to spices. 

So, if you've decided you're ready – start by pulling it all out. Everything.

DSCN9447Don't be afraid to make a mess. 

Thankfully, there wasn't much that had expired or that we didn't use, so I didn't have a whole lot to get rid of. However, I will say that the first time I did a "pantry clean-out" I got rid of a lot of stuff that we didn't actually use. There is no sense keeping it if you aren't going to use it. Now when I am at the grocery store, I think carefully about whether it is something we'll actually use.

I wiped down all containers, filled containers that were getting low, and make a list of things I was out of. Before putting things back in the pantry, I gave it a really good wipe down.

DSCN9451One nice things about our pantry situation is that I have a cool, dark area to store our canned goods. This is the first year I've canned anything, and I'm so proud of my colorful little jars!

DSCN9465_editOn the bottom shelf I keep all of the canned goods, miscellaneous baking supplies, and any random items. These are things that I don't use on a daily basis, so it works well for them to be on the lowest shelf. 

DSCN9463_editThe next shelf up contains all of the flours and sugars. I keep the things I use most frequently in the containers, with refills and things used less frequently behind the containers. I always keep at least one refill of flour on hand so that I have no excuse for not making that pizza or bread.

DSCN9461_EditNext up are the store bought canned goods, grains and beans. We go through diced tomatoes at an unbelievable rate, and although I canned quite a few quarts this year, they're already gone. Anytime I'm at the store and see some on sale, I try to pick them up. I love having the grains and beans in mason jars. It makes it so easy to find what I'm looking for or draw inspiration for a new meal. We buy most of this in the bulk section, so I can get as much or little as I want. I've found that doing it this way keeps the food more fresh. We also keep the granola on this shelf. We love eating granola for breakfast, and I'm made some yummy additions since I last posted the recipe

DSCN9459The top two shelves house the nuts, rice, noodles, and miscellaneous baking items. 

This is a system that we've developed, based on our unique needs, over the past few years. I encourage you to take the time to clean our your pantry and find a system that works for you. I can almost guarantee it will make cooking that much more delightful!

*Update: I had several people ask about the white lids I use on my jars. They are made by Ball and are called plastic storage caps. They can be used in the freezer or just for storage. I have found mine at several stores in the late summer/early fall during canning season, but they are usually available online during the rest of the year. You can purchase them from Canning Pantry – make sure to note that they sell both wide and regular mouth styles.