Thursday, January 30, 2014

Choices Must Be Made to Eat Cheap

Everyone wants to know how to save on groceries. It is an expense that really bothers people. While I am not thrilled at the price of ground beef, I am glad that we have regulatory practices that keep our food safe. And, as the mom of truckers, I'm glad everyone who gets me my food gets a fair wage to do that. I really am glad I don't have to hunt, kill, carry home, clean, and store and cook.

What really gets me is the people who beg me to teach them how I fed a family of five on less than $300 a month, including non food items, but don't want to give up expensive choices. When I say things like, "Buy the off brand" or "You don't really have to buy $4 packages of cookies and expensive mini juice boxes", the battle cry starts. "Oh I can't stand XYZ jelly. I have to have ABC." "My kids love their fake fruity sugar water, I can't say no." Or, my personal favorite, "There has to be a way that I can have what I want and not clip coupons."

Welcome to America, Land of have your cake and eat it too.

How did I, and do I, keep my food budget tight? I checked unit pricing. I bought off brand.I tried to find a way to make my own. I planned carefully and I clipped coupons. I used left overs. I followed portion suggestions.

Unit pricing. I was shocked when I discovered that two small cans of tuna cost less than on large can. Ounce for ounce. Check the unit price.

Quality. Ask yourself how important it really is that this item be the end all. I knew a woman who bought the cheap jelly and poured it into the name brand jar so her husband would eat it. In the four years I knew them he never knew. Really, will your entire day really be ruined if your jelly isn't perfect? Expensive steak is better than cheap steak, but cheap steak can be really good, if it's prepared well.

Home made. Being a fair cook is important. There are lots of web sites to help a frugal cook. It goes back to unit pricing. An already prepared chicken costs the same as a raw chicken, not exactly. The cooked chickens tend to be two pounds, where as the raw is four. Put that chicken is a roaster with some salt, pepper and garlic powder. Easy. The prepared meatloaf cost comparison is the same, however, preparing a meatloaf requires more time. The way to save there is to make two and freeze one for days when you're running late.

Menu planning. I did this loosely. I wrote a list of meals for the time between paydays. I counted the use of leftovers. And shopped for the list. Then I would pick one to make each night. So there was planning with flexibility.

Coupons. There was a time when I was a super couponer. I had a register tape that had as many coupons as items. It is a job. If you have the time, which can include clipping while watching t.v., it can be very beneficial.

Leftovers. If you have to throw away more than two items a week because they went bad in the fridge, you're doing it wrong. If you always have two pork chops left over and you throw them out because they got stale. Cook fewer pork chops. If you have a bunch of vegies, make stew or hash.

Portion. We eat portions that are way too big. Granted, there are some people who need more. For the most part, we could all use to stick to the recommended portion size. Fill up on vegetables with proteins in a salad. Garbonzo beans or nuts are good choices. It may take a little while to get used to, but your body will figure out that you are not starving.

Snacks. Be creative. Quesadillas made with inexpensive tortillas and cheap cheese are a nice treat. Graham crackers with peanut butter. Pretzels. Stay away from anything in individual packaging, unless it's a big sale.

Juice boxes. I get it. I really do. But thermos' don't shatter anymore and it only takes a minute to fill. And learning to enjoy flavored water is so good. A slice of lemon or orange will make it very flavorful by lunch time. Better for teeth, better for the environment, better for the budget.

Nothing really new there. You have to ready to commit to the challenge. Interestingly, it is becoming more affordable to buy fresh from local farms. So don't discount that. And be thinking of ways to barter with that gardening neighbor.

Please, please do not cry about the price of groceries if you're (1) not willing to give something up and (2) if you have a $6 coffee in your hand. I have nothing against $6 coffees, but you need to look at the bigger picture first. If you can't give things up, you must give up more time to work to afford things.

Eat, drink and be debt free!

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