Frugality: Why Food? Money-Saving Food Ideas

The three strategies I use to save money are:

  1. Finding a cheaper substitute.
  2. Paying less for the same product.
  3. Doing without.

Any or all of these will save you $. Frequently, when faced with economic stress, people do what I’ve been doing: concentrate on their food expense.

It’s one of the few areas left where the consumer controls everything they spend. You can’t suddenly decide to pay less for your mortgage, you can decide to give the bank less, but the amount you owe hasn’t changed. Also fuel for heat/cooking, insurance and most other regular expenses have costs set by others. But you CAN decide you’ll have mac & cheese for dinner, or soup, instead of going out or eating steak.

The only real problem is that food is 10% of an average American’s paycheck. If you cut it in 1/2, no mean feat, you’re still only saving 5%. The trick is to use that small saving to pay down debt or other set expenses, so the available cash/savings grows. That isn’t easy to do when it feels like you’re saving pennies instead of dollars!

The easiest way to reduce that 10%? Stop wasting food. Americans, on average, waste 40% of their food dollar. If you spend $10 a week and want to spend $5 instead? Stop throwing out food and you’ll save $4!

To this end, for some time, I’ve had a “flow” when I cook. Most of it is dealing with left over food in a way that resembles but is not exactly the same as the original. Also, much of it adds other foods for the second meal.

  • Cut bigger pieces down: cut meat from a cooked roast/bird and use it in another meal. Same with rough cut veggies: carrots, parsnips, onion, celery, etc.
  • Put previously cooked food in a thick sauce. This is what stew is, right? Also anything served with gravy over it. Make this a fairly bland dish. Make crepes and use this as a filling.
  • Dilute a thick sauce/gravy with water or stock — make soup or ? Transform whatever with gravy into something with a thin sauceĀ  or soup. Make this more pungent.
  • The old trick of serving whatever with a starch: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, grains or bread. Things with gravy can be served atop a starch or with the starch in them (like stew with potatoes).
  • Use the bits & pieces to make soup or stock: this reduces waste and the cost, while it increases nutritional value.

Using these ideas, I turn 1 lb of chicken thighs into 4 meals. The protein costs $2.49/lb. That’s about .62 per meal! I have a great source for chicken. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in 1 lb containers. Depending on what I’m cooking I may or may not serve 2 thighs as dinner, then salvage the scraps/bones and make stock with the 3rd thigh for the next meal.

The last time I did this, I made oven-roasted chicken: we ate 2 thighs, the next day I made stir fry, heavy on the garlic. One portion is left over, it’s in the freezer; someone will eat it for lunch, or it will get added to soup. That’s 5 meals from $2.49 worth of meat, or .50 each meal for the protein.

If you do the math, the extreme frugality menus I linked to last time are about .25 per meal, protein and all. I thought what I was doing was pretty extreme, obviously, I still need to work on it!

So, how much should you spend? Figure 6% of your take home pay, if you aren’t wasting food or 10% when you do. If you’re spending more than that? You’re probably stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over and at least when I do that, I throw out a lot!

I’ll have to see what I can do to cut my costs!

What comes to mind —

  • Making schmaltz and using it instead of bottled cooking oils, (Using less, #2 above).
  • Making yogurt. (Finding a cheaper substitute, #1 above).
  • Baking bread. (Also #1.) We’d found a cheap, acceptable bread, $2.99 a loaf, so we’ve been buying bread rather than baking. The market has hiked this brand up to $3.99 a loaf again. DH still makes biscuits and pancakes when needed. I make crepes.
  • Stop having dessert. (Doing without, #3.) We will have a piece of fruit or maybe ice cream, but we haven’t had dessert as a planned part of a meal for some time.
  • Get rid of more junk food. We don’t eat these all the time, but yes, we do eat some: crackers and chips mostly. (Do without #3.)
  • Find high-priced items we still use and use any of the three strategies to reduce costs!

The best other discussion I’ve found about how to save money on groceries is this one.

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