THE CHEAPSKATE COOK
Eating on a budget can be hard. Feeding a large family on a budget can be even harder. But a large family eating healthy on a budget? Impossible, right? The Cheapskate Cook shows you that healthy, frugal eating IS possible even on a tight budget, for families of all sizes.
FROM BLOG POST TITLED “FILTHY RICH”
You are wealthy.
I would venture to say that if you are reading this blog, you are probably much wealthier than you realize. And I am too, so don’t think I’m pointing fingers at only you. There are a few reasons I came to this conclusion:
- If you reading this blog, you actually have computer access
- Your computer, whether or not your own, has a somewhat reliable internet connection
- You have the time and resources to navigate the web long enough to know what a blog is and to take an active interest in it
- You’re trying to find ways to cut down on your expenses
- …which means you had access to spending more money than you think is necessary
- …which means you actually have money to eat
So you and I, my friend, are much wealthier than a huge percentage of the world.
And I know it doesn’t always feel that way.
It’s hard to remember that we’re wealthy compared to much of the world. You don’t feel rich when debt collectors are calling you. You don’t feel rich when you’re pinching every penny, clipping coupons, eating at home every night, and still struggling to make ends meet. You don’t feel rich when you’re reading blogs called, “The Cheapskate Cook”. You don’t always feel rich, but you are. And that’s something to remember and be thankful for.
The fact that you’re reading blogs like The Cheapskate Cook shows that you are actively engaged in what’s happening with your money, and you’re trying to make it better. That’s something your kids will thank you for. Because you’re managing your money, your kids will see it and will learn. If you’re single, your future will thank you, because you won’t be forever shackled to this monster called debt.
If you’ve started tackling this thing called common sense for your finances, you know the best method for success is to have a plan. That plan involves steps (some of you Dave Ramsey fans – myself included – know these as The Baby Steps). The steps are a list of focused goals that you can tackle one at a time, and as you may have guessed, I’m going to tie them into managing your grocery budget.
There are a few basic baby steps to cutting grocery costs, and you can probably find them on 47 other sites after 3 seconds of searching on Google. So I won’t go into great detail with them here. But I will list and elaborate on them a little bit. Think of these steps as Phase 1 of cutting down grocery expenses.
Then I will give you some of my suggestions. These are baby steps that have helped me and Chris survive our $25/week grocery budget days, and they have remained faithful companions as our budget (and family) has grown little bigger and our stomachs have happily stayed a little fuller.
They are also steps that focus on giving you more nutritional bag for your buck. We didn’t have many ramen noodle days because I’m a passionate, obstinate whole-foodie who could hardly stomach letting the ingredients listed on the ramen noodle package enter my body.
So these steps aren’t going to keep your grocery budget the absolute cheapest (although I can certainly compile another list like that – sometimes things are just that tight), but I believe they are important steps to decreasing your grocery bill and increasing your nutrients.
1. Create a Grocery Envelope
It doesn’t have to be a physical envelope, but you do need to choose how much you will spend on food every week – and you need to stick to it. To help us keep within our grocery limit, Chris and I actually take a certain amount of money and put it in an envelope labeled “Grocery.” When the envelope is empty, I am done grocery shopping until the next pay period, when we fill the envelope again.
3. Cook from Scratch
If you don’t have a lot of time to cook dinner, consider making 2-3 freezer-friendly meals on the weekends, then using them that week.
4. Make Meat a Side Dish, Not a Main Dish
Whether you serve it over rice, a salad, or simply decrease the meat dish and increase the side dishes, this is a classic frugal go-to.
1. Make Homemade Soup
Homemade soup, if done right, will serve as a huge source of nutrients for a very small price. Because I make broth for just about free and store it in my freezer, homemade soup becomes an even faster meal. Simply lay the freezer bag on a cookie sheet until it thaws, dump it in a large dutch oven or crock pot, and follow (or improvise with) one of your favorite recipes.
2. Invest in Better Eggs
Paying a few extra dollars for good eggs is a very frugal way to increase the quality of your protein. $2-$3 more for a dozen eggs will go a lot further than $4-$6 dollars more for a pound of meat. I prefer finding one of those friend-of-a-friend sources to purchase eggs from their free range, pasture fed chickens in their back yard.
3. Bake from Scratch
Start out small, but try making a few baked goods from scratch instead of buying them pre-made or frozen. If you’re strapped for time, you can bake large quantities and freeze some so that you don’t need to whip out the apron every time someone starts craving chocolate chip cookies. Don’t forget to start filling them with goodness. Experiment with adding various quantities of the following:
- Freshly ground whole wheat flour
- Wheat germ
- Wheat/oat bran
- Ground flax seed (add a few tablespoons, or use it to replace some of the butter in a 3:1 ratio. For example, replace 1/4 cup of butter with 3/4 cups of ground flax seed. I’ve never actually tried this, but have heard that it works)
- Finely ground nuts
- Those good eggs you purchased
4. Think Outside the Cereal Box
Cold cereal does not have to be part of this complete breakfast. Nor does that mean breakfast has to become an elaborate, time-consuming affair. There are tons of quick, healthier, frugal breakfast options that you can keep on hand so that boxed cereal becomes an occasion, not a staple.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Homemade granola with milk or yogurt
- Fruit, a glass of milk, and toast with all-natural peanut butter
- Homemade instant oatmeal packets
- Make-ahead breakfast quiche
- Frozen pancakes, popped in the toaster
I first saw this method used with kids when I visited my husband’s family for the first time. He still had younger siblings living at home, and instead of burning through those boxes of cereal, they were expected to simply make whatever they wanted for breakfast and clean up after themselves. Sometimes this included breakfast-y foods, like I mentioned above, and sometimes this meant a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But they chose it, so they didn’t complain.
5. Make Some of Your Own Salad Dressing
Have you ever read the ingredients on the back of your salad dressing bottle? Making a few of your own salad dressings – especially the kind that keep for a long time anyway – is a fast, frugal way to control exactly what gets poured on your salad. So far my favorite homemade staples include caesar and Italian.
These steps can serve as ideas to get you started. They’ve worked for me, and I still use most of them almost every day.
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