Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spend Less/Get More

I thought it was time for the old “Cheap Bastid” to come through with some thoughts on saving money that might be useful seeing as how the economy is in the toilet and money is tighter. And, if you’ve got a family, you can end up with more family time than you had before.

It’s not hard to reduce grocery bills and at the same time incorporate flavor and creativity into meals. You can go to a bit of an extreme like I used to when the kids were growing up. Then, my goal was a family meal every conceivably possible night which was inexpensive, good tasting, balanced and could be prepared in a half hour or less.

Grocery shopping was done on Saturday morning. The first step in the process was to come up with a day by day menu for the coming week’s suppers. A lot of the meals weren’t elaborate—we’d have “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) usually once every two weeks if not more often. I mean, how pricey and how hard to cook are scrambled eggs or pancakes? Anyway, I’d do menus oftentimes letting each of the 2 kids pick one dinner they’d like. The next step was inventory. What ingredients for those meals did I have on hand and what did I need to get in order to do it?

From there the inventory also considered staples, beverages, snacks and dessert. Now I didn’t go nuts on any of those—one big bag of chips was expected to last the week; when they were gone that was it. Then I would take a look at coupons and specials—both for stocking up and for the week’s supplies sometimes substituting in order to get a better price. Last, I would compile the final list. I always used the same grocery store so my list was written in the order in which the item would appear in the store (that saves both time and money by the way).

I will guarantee you that if you take an approach like this that you’ll save 10-15%--minimum—without shortchanging yourself. You’ll do fewer impulse buys and will use what you buy.

But, there’s other things you can do too. For example, buy store brand cereal rather than name brand (it’s a cardboard box, some grain and sugar for crying out loud—you just don’t need to pay for the national merchandising). And by the way, if the kids resist, that’s too bad. Let them buy it themselves or go without. Either way it’s no sweat off your nose and no harm will come to the kids.

Buy your meat when it’s on special—then stock up. I buy the big packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts for under $2 a pound when it’s on special. Then when I get home I break it down and put 1 or 2 breasts in plastic bags (I also sanitize and re-use plastic bags too!). I do the same thing with ground beef. I buy “London Broil” on special at less than $2 a pound too and keep a couple on hand. One of these days I’ll write a piece on using that cut of meat several different ways to make inexpensive, taste like a million bucks multiple meals.

If you’re trying to use the excuse that you’re too busy—well, you’re too busy not to. It just makes sense. There’s an ad on the back of this week’s Newsweek for Ragu about how you can buy Ragu and make spaghetti for $2 a serving. That’s a lot less than it’ll cost you at Buca de Beppo or Olive Garden but I can still make it for less than $1 a serving, including garlic toast and salad. In the first place I don’t buy jarred sauce—for 3 reasons. One, the glass jar itself adds to the price. Two, there’s way too much sugar in any of the jarred sauces used to cut the acid of the tomatoes. And three, the jarred sauce costs typically at least $3. I buy the big can of sauce for less than a buck with less sugar. I have a full spice cabinet and I’m going to make it taste even better when I heat it and if it’s too acidic, I can add a bit of honey or sugar. See, I just saved you money again.

And why order out pizza for anywhere from $15 to $20. The ingredients in a pizza crust cost less than $1 (and most of that is for the packet of yeast) and it takes less than 10 minutes to make a crust—do a Google search for making pizza crust). Sauce is easy to make and you can easily brown up some hamburger or sausage or have some pepperoni on hand. For about $4 you can make your own 12” pizza. It’ll take a couple of times to get the hang of making the crust and you have about an extra 2 minutes of clean-up while the pizza is baking but so what. And any or all of this can be done with the kids helping prep and clean. Then you sit down together for 15 or 20 minutes, eat, talk and be a family.

So we’re saving money while at the same time building family. And like the MasterCard commercial says—that’s priceless.

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