Tradeoffs and Saving Money on Food, Part II

Writing about financial issues is fraught with difficulties. So before I finish with the last shopping strategies, here goes with a couple of disclaimers, caveats, or whatever.

All of us continually balance time, money, energy, health needs, and other factors. Most of the time decisions about food purchases involve trade-offs in at least two of these areas, and we have to consider what makes the most sense for us at a given time. To gain time, we often need to spend more money. When we have more time, we are able to do things that don't make sense at a more busy stage of life. For example, I wrote how convenience foods are more costly than cooking from scratch. Does that mean I have forsaken all convenience items? By no means. I still purchase such things as frozen pizza and canned soups for lunch, flavored yogurts, and even prepackaged oatmeal. Yes, we could lower our expenses more if I made everything from basic ingredients, but I've decided that these items, on sale, are cheap enough to make them worth the time savings gained. On the other hand, it doesn't make sense for me to buy muffin mixes or pancake mix, which I can whip up in bulk for less than half the price of store-bought.  But – here's the important part – the choices that make sense for me are not necessarily the ones that make sense for you! Each of us has a unique life situation that affects our choices.

So, some of the things I do might sound wacko to you, and that's OK! (I'll try just about anything once. Homemade soft soap – thumbs up. Homemade laundry detergent – the jury is still out. Homemade shampoo [tried this years ago] – both thumbs down!) There are other things that I do buy ready-made that others would never purchase. And that's OK, too.  When I write about strategies that we have found helpful in taming the grocery monster, it is not so you can be impressed. I'm sure not. I can see all kinds of things we could do better if we were willing to make more changes. Nor is it because you might want to make the exact same choices, but rather to provide some ideas for directions to go to figure out your own ways to eliminate unnecessary costs so you can better care for your family.

OK, that said, here are a few more strategies. Just pick and choose anything helpful, and toss the rest.

7. Minimize waste:
Use up what you have. If leftovers are something you regularly have (my locusts eat most of our food at meals, so leftovers are rare), plan ways to use them well. Maybe once a week will be "Choice Night" or "Clean Out the Refrigerator Day" as I've heard leftover dinners called.  Keep an eye on your produce, working it into your meals before it spoils. Keep a bag in your freezer for odds and ends that will work for soup. Blending your soup can disguise weird things. Keep a bag in your freezer for odds and ends of bread. When you have time, make croutons, stuffing, or bread crumbs.

8. Garden: But grow those things that will give you that proverbial bang for your buck.
Because our gardens are small, I grow veggies that are more pricey to buy or ones that have a superior homegrown taste. My choices are broccoli, spinach and various lettuces, pea pods, leeks, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, and herbs. We don't grow onions, carrots or corn because they either take too much space or the product is not that different from what we can buy. (Breaking this rule, we are going to grow potatoes this year, trying out a trench technique of growing the spuds in layers of straw.) If gardening is not an option, you might look into joining a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. My understanding is that you buy a share and each week you get a box of produce from a local farmer. It sounds like great fun to get a mystery box of vegetables, and the prices I have seen are reasonable.

9. Eat out rarely
I read recently that the average restaurant meal costs four times as much as the same meal prepared at home. Make eating out a treat and not a fallback answer to that nagging question, "What's for dinner?" Working to minimize lunches out for my husband makes a big difference in our budget, and this is more difficult for me than the evening meals.

10. Drink more water.
Again, this is one I need to heed more! My bane is non-caffenated diet colas (I know - what's the point?), though for others it might be coffee or tea. Rather than quit cold turkey, I've been cutting my consumption in half.

11. Kiss coupons good-bye
If you don't agree with me on this, that is fine. :) Some people love to play the coupon game and reap some real deals when they combine manufacturers'  coupons (doubled or tripled) with store sales. For me coupons are just not worth the trouble, mostly because they are usually on items that I never buy anyway like highly processed, convenience foods and expensive name brands. Exception: store coupons mailed to you that are based on items you regularly purchase. Kroger sends some nice ones out in our area every few months.

12. Don't coddle picky eaters
Helping your children learn to cheerfully eat all kinds of foods will serve them well in many situations throughout life whether it is eating dinner at another family's home, not complaining about dinner in yours, or being willing to swallow fried caterpillars in some distant land. I grew up as a world class picky eater, so I know something of the limitations this brings.

13. Make friends with beans.
When Tim and I were first married we sometimes fought over beans. He loved them and I didn't. (See above.) It has taken me years to learn the merits of beans. Of course they are cheap, but they are also extremely versatile and can be used to make some pretty interesting dishes or to stretch others. Since more can be said in praise of beans (and how to cook them), I'll return to this topic at some later point.


Anonymous said…
Thanks so much for taking the time to share these tips with us, Anne. It's fun to get some new ideas and helpful to be reminded of things that I've not been doing recently.

I really wanted to make it to your talk a few weeks ago on meal planning, but was very much still in the new baby adjustment period. :) Several ladies have told me how helpful it was... Do you happen to have notes or a hand out that you could email me? I'd love to know your "strategies"!

Looking forward to your next post!

-Kyla (
Thanks for the money saving tips.

Making your own homemade shampoo is a bit of a black art, and my first few attempts didn't work out as expected either. But when you get it right, it's much better for your hair (and the environment).
Cornelia said…
Hi Anne! I just read this post, and I smiled on your statement "Don't coddle picky eaters." My mom definitely did not do that. The rule was: Eat dinner -- or else it turns into breakfast. Also: Don't say "I hate ___." Say "it's not my favorite." The training definitely has benefits now that I'm grown. :)
Anne said…
Hi Cornelia!

We've done EXACTLY the same with our children as your parents did! (Uneaten dinner becomes breakfast, and you can say something is not your favorite but not that you hate it.) I knew from just meeting your mom briefly that we shared a kinship. :)

I miss you and hope things are going well for you in SF!
Anonymous said…
You can call leftover night "Yo-yo's" ... "You're on your own"
It's more exciting than "clean out the fridge night."


(I have been enjoying your blog after hearing you at Bloomingmoms.)

Kimberly Locke :)

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