As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Follow these tips and provided you don’t end up buying twice as much, you really will see your food costs plummet.
GO WITH CASH ONLY. Shopping with cash—only cash—is one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work. If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, take cash out of the ATM and don’t let yourself spend a penny more. If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, and so what? It won’t kill you.
PLAN IT OUT. Find recipes that fit your budget—recipes, as in cooking and preparing meals from ingredients. With very little cooking background, anyone can learn to make great soups and casseroles. Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become your financial lifesaver.
SKIP PACKAGED ITEMS. You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, pre-sliced produce, chips or vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be rewarded well for the effort. And you’ll end up with a fresher, tastier result.
If there’s one thing we should be thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s this: Turkey is cheap! And the rest of the Thanksgiving dinner can be, too.
The secret to enjoying a traditional feast without overspending is to know a few tricks. I sat down with two highly respected professionals—a butcher and a personal chef. What I learned from John Smith, professional butcher and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$ and personal chef, Liz Tarditi, pretty much blew a hole in everything I thought I knew about buying, thawing and preparing a turkey.
TRICK #1: GET THE BEST TURKEY
Choosing the best turkey is easier said than done unless you fully understand the difference between a store brand or name brand bird. Just because a turkey is more expensive does not make it any better, says John. All that means is that it has a lot of advertising built into its price.
What customers don’t know is that one turkey processor will slap many different labels on his crop of birds. The turkeys are all the same, only the labels are different. This is a rule you can count on, according to John the Butcher: “Always go with the cheapest turkey and you’ll never go wrong. I’ve sold tens of thousands of store brand turkeys to very happy customers.”
EC: Fresh or frozen?
JS: First, let me define a “fresh” turkey. According to the people who make the laws, turkeys can be called “fresh” even though the moisture in the bird is frozen! If you press very firmly on the bird the meat is not frozen. The turkey processors have it down to a science. They bring the temperature of the “fresh” birds down to the very legal limit before sending them off to the store two weeks before Thanksgiving.
Frozen turkeys, on the other hand, are quick-frozen immediately upon butchering. So the freshest turkey is really a frozen turkey. The freezing process has no noticeable effect on the quality of the bird.
Whether you are invited or doing the inviting this holiday season, throwing a potluck can relieve a lot of stress. When everybody brings something it takes a great deal of pressure off the host and offers guests the joy of contributing to the festivities.
If you’re hosting you need to …
- Provide the main course (ham, turkey, roast beef for example).
- Assign each guest a dish to bring like appetizer, side dish or dessert. You can even provide the exact recipe if you have a particular menu in mind.
- Plan for seating, table settings, tasteful decorations and background music.
- Clear space in refrigerator for cold dishes and schedule for arriving dishes that will require oven time.
- Gather plenty of utensils and serving dishes. Buy small containers so guests can take home leftovers, if any.
If you’ve read my book, 7 Money Rules for Life, you know that Rule #1 is so simple it would be easy to overlook it as being too elementary. Here it is: Spend less than you earn.
Now think about it … “spend less than you earn” is not the same as “don’t spend more than you earn.” That implies it would be okay to spend all that you earn, but no. The operative word is “less.” You need a gap between what you earn and how much of it you spend. That is the fundamental secret for living below your means.
It’s in that gap that financial freedom can grow. You really need to read the rest of the book, but for now let’s just say that growing the gap is the challenge.
Here’s an easy way to increase your gap this week—even if only by a few dollars, because it all adds up: Make your own bread. Wait! Hear me out. I have a recipe for you that is so amazing, so simple and so foolproof you’ll be tempted to call it Einstein Bread because it’s going to make you feel like a genius.
Years ago I made a terrible mistake. I froze ten pounds ground beef. That big block of frozen hamburger languished in my freezer for years. What was I thinking? I should have browned it first then frozen it in usable portions. But browning beef in a skillet can be so messy!
A few weeks ago I came upon another cheap ground beef opportunity. The expiration date was nearing and my supermarket needed to get rid of—you guessed it—ground beef. Ten pounds. I almost walked by. Then I decided to try something different, albeit a little weird.
I put the entire ten pounds of raw ground beef into my big stock pot, added enough water to cover and set it over high heat to come to a boil, no cover, no salt. After about 5 minutes I gave it a stir to break up the big clumps, which were few. The hot water was doing all of my work for me—no splatters, no mess. When all of the pink color disappeared I knew it was done, even though it had not started to boil.
If the high cost of restaurant meals is eating up your cash, here are some great ways to keep your tab lean!
DISCOUNTS. Many restaurants offer a reduced-price menu for seniors and children. If you or someone in your party qualifies be sure to inquire if this doesn’t show up on the regular menu. Typically these discounted menus offer smaller portions at significantly reduced prices.
SKIP THE SODAS. Skip the pricey drinks and dubious “free refills” altogether and you’ll save at least $2 a person. Lisa B. rewards herself whenever she opts for water by stuffing two bucks into her savings account.
SHARE. Splitting a meal these days is socially acceptable and economically savvy. While some restaurants charge a minimal charge for splitting, most are very accommodating. Even if you have to pay a buck or two to split, it’s still better than paying for two meals you cannot eat completely. If you’re embarrassed about sharing, don’t be. If you must explain, say you are a light eater or that you’re doing your duty to the earth by not over-consuming. Many restaurants are so accommodating they’ll split the meal in the kitchen rather than handing you an extra plate.
School time means new shoes and an unspoiled 64-pak of crayons. It also means getting back to a morning routine. This year, make breakfast a required subject in your house. All you need is fifteen minutes and tips, tricks and hurry-up secrets.
FRUIT SHAKES. Start with the basic recipe and then customize with what’s in the refrigerator: Pour 1 cup juice, 1 cup water, 1 egg (optional), 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 cup crushed ice in the blender and blend until smooth. Customize your smoothies by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, protein powder, leftover pudding, applesauce—even left-over Jell-O.
FROZEN BANANA SLICES. Keep peeled banana slices in plastic bags in the freezer. Add them to any fruit shake or just plain milk.
Eggs. They’re nutritious, delicious and cheap! Cooking them properly is quite simple, provided you know the secrets.
A perfectly boiled egg has a yolk that is set all the way to the center and it is clean, a beautiful yellow color with no hint of ugly green where the yolk and white meet. A perfectly boiled egg slides smoothly away from the cracked shell.
Prick the shell. Us a push-pin or needle, push it right into the large end of the uncooked egg, in about 1/4 inch, and into the egg itself. This will pierce the tiny air bubble (present in every egg) that in an un-pricked egg expands as the egg is heated and cracks the shell. This tiny hole allows an escape route for the air.