How to Save Time and Money–Plan Prep Time

During a recent Sunday afternoon at Target, I realized that my son had no clean shorts for the next morning and there was no way I’d have enough time (or, frankly, the energy) to do laundry. So I threw three pairs into my cart. While cleaning out the fridge, I unearthed what was once a beautiful pint of strawberries but now was, sadly, anything but.

And how many nights have I walked into my kitchen, the breakfast dishes still on the counter, and detoured from my plans to cook dinner straight to the drawer of take-out menus? Is this how the kitchen looks when Ina Garten happily starts chopping and sautéing? Definitely not. The idea of cleaning the kitchen before messing it up with another meal is just exhausting. 

Now, before you think, “Oh that poor woman, her life is a mess!” I have good news. I figured out a very simple way to stop wasting so much time and money. And it’s a lot easier than you’d think.

I realized that if I added in “prep time” to my mental calendar of everything I needed to get done, I would actually get tasks done more quickly. 

Keep reading for more on how she did it.

For example, the laundry: I now ask the kids (6 and 9) to sort their clothes into two different hampers, one for lights and the other for darks. (And my husband and I do the same.) This way, when I need to do a load I can quickly and easily scoop up an armful, throw it in the washer and move on to the next task. It also makes it easy for my 9-year-old to do the laundry herself. 

I discovered the solution to spoiled produce while at a friend’s home. When I opened her fridge, all the fruits and vegetables were washed, chopped and waiting in plastic containers or zip-top bags. At first, the mere sight irritated me. Who had time to be this prepared? But then I realized that little bit of prep time would make it easy to add veggies to the morning omelet or throw together a salad for dinner. I also watched as her kids happily grabbed for the sliced strawberries when they wanted a snack. 

Now, after unpacking the groceries, I set to work peeling and washing, slicing and dicing. If I notice something will go bad before I can use it, I throw those sliced peppers or washed blueberries in the freezer for use at a later date. That 20 minutes I spend once a week saves me much aggravation, time and energy during the week.

As to the dirty kitchen, I solved this with two methods. First, the night before I put out the cups and plates the kids will use for breakfast. I set up the coffee maker so it’s ready to go. I put all the non-perishables in the lunchboxes. Then, in the morning, I use my saved time to empty the dishwasher and get it filled before everyone dashes out the door.

Dividing household tasks into smaller chunks, and doing what I can in advance, has made my household flow much easier. We’re saving money by eating in more often (and buying fewer pairs of shorts). And we’re eating healthier because no one has to fear whether the produce drawer is holding some ghastly surprises. And best of all, I’m feeling more organized and less overwhelmed.

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