Saving Money in the Kitchen

2012_05 - various 025Before I talk about January and debt diets, I have a confession to make.  I’m one of those (probably quite annoying) people who has a good relationship with money, even though I have less of it than most of my peers.  This is the result of a bunch of things, including a book called Your Money or Your Life:  Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (there’s a more recent edition, but this is the one I read).  Through a series of exercises, it helps you to evaluate what you really think about money, and how to save and spend it according to your personal values.  You don’t have to implement the full program to benefit from it (I didn’t); but it really has the potential for transformative, lasting change.

If you are not, for whatever reason, quite up for this, a debt diet for January could be in order.  I’m not averse to a temporary change to nudge oneself in the direction one wants to go as it can be helpful to spur on greater changes.  And for this, as with most things, I like to start in the kitchen.  Here are my favourite tips:

1.  Eat from the pantry.  If, like almost everyone I know, you are blessed to have a stuffed full pantry and freezer, eat into this food cache and use up your supplies.  You will find food you didn’t know you have and save the rest from expiry or freezer-burn.  You’ll also de-clutter your food storage spaces.

2.  Stop buying junk food.  Tying in with Nathalie’s new mantra of avoiding unnecessary spending, it must be said that all junk food is unnecessary spending.  Chips, candy, ice cream, pop, and packaged snacks rack up the bill without corresponding value.  If you can’t cut it all out, pick carefully how spend your “crap quotient” (as coined by my husband) and cut the rest.  It’s called junk for a reason, so try not to put it in your body.

3.  Don’t waste food.  It’s easy to fret about the cost of food (especially higher quality or organic foods) at the cashier, but most of us waste an astonishing amount of it (this Globe and Mail article  research says about 40%).  Try to remember that throwing out half of an item means you’ve paid double for the amount you used (a price you’d have balked at in the store).  Survey what you have in your fridge and cupboards before buying more.  Take the time to put smaller amounts of food on the plates (especially with kids, whose foods needs and intake fluctuates often) and serve extra helpings rather than throwing out uneaten food.  Eat leftovers for lunch and read a book or talk to a friend with the time saved from not having to cook the meal.

4.  Cook.  So much opportunity for multi-tasking here:  cook for the fun of it, for the health of it, for the economy of it – even with organic ingredients, you’ll spend less for a good family meal than taking the family to a fast food joint.  Put on some music, involve your kids, make food you love eating – anything that inspires you to make cooking a pleasure, because it really can be.

5.  Don’t cook, but have a back-up plan.  Not in conflict with point 4, at least not to me.  Keep on hand and in your mind a back-up plan for the days when you can’t face the stove but still need to feed yourself or a family.  Take-out is a disappointing way to eat (usually mediocre, lukewarm food in disposable containers) and can really blow the budget.  It’s a lot easier to avoid spending $40 on pizza and wings than to trim it from the weekly groceries.  Simple spaghetti (boiling pasta and opening a jar of sauce), sandwiches, scrambled eggs, or cereal and fruit are probably more nutritious than most take-out and aren’t much (if any) more work.  It’s just one meal, and if it’s going to be forgettable, at least it’s not expensive.

What do you do in the kitchen that helps keep you on financial track?  

10 thoughts on “Saving Money in the Kitchen

  1. Maybe not the greatest tip, but I only do grocery shopping once a week. If I run out of anything between shops, we just have to do without until the next shopping day. It makes budgeting easier because I can easily see exactly what I’ve spent. Sometimes I have to get a bit creative! And, we do get milk delivered.

    • It is a good tip! I’ve been doing something similar lately, where I delay food shopping for a day or five after the first impulse strikes, and it reduces food waste for sure – implementing the famous motto of make do, use it up, or go without (is that the motto? something like that!).

  2. Love Your Money or Your Life has been a guide to our financial priorities for years.

    As for tips…When I make soup, I always double the recipe. That way, I have a heat and serve meal in the freezer when I need it on a busy night. Being honest about time is also important. I remember when I finally realized that mixing yeast water and flour in my mixer and allowing it to rise for 15 minutes was actually faster than driving to the store to buy pizza dough. Time is a precious commodity, so money saving strategies that also save time are especially compelling for me. For example, fixing a cheap and easy meal (box tomato soup with grilled cheese and salad) at home on a busy night is far faster than driving to a restaurant to order dinner. And it’s not really a decrease in quality for the kids since they are going to order mac & cheese at the restaurant anyway.

    • I have soup in my freezer too! And I couldn’t agree more about your comments on time… often when I think I don’t have time for cooking, I just get on with it and put something on the stove, as it’s often my indecision about what to do that eats up the most time.

      Btw Kristina, you have a spectacular blog.

  3. I love the challenge of shopping from the pantry or freezer. We were surprised by dinner guests one night, and I happened to have some smoked salmon in the freezer. I made the most delicious pasta with cream and salmon sauce. It’s just FUN to challenge yourself that way. I also double and freeze my soups, Kristina. They make a great gift for busy friends and family, too.

    • Sharing food is the nicest thing about cooking… love your stories on that, the victorious salmon and the food gifts for friends, which I still remember receiving.

  4. My husband and I are usually very good with money, but we always always ALWAYS used to spend way too much money when it came to grocery shopping. Our main problem was throwing away so much food every week that we would be out of food much quicker than anticipated. As a solution, I have been making bigger meals… I know that sounds counterproductive, but stay with me… and eating them two days in a row and then freezing anything that’s left (usually enough for one more meal!) That means that whenever I sit down to plan my menu for the week, and subsequent shopping list, I only have to plan around 3 meals instead of 6 or 7, and I don’t have to plan ANY meals for the next week because we eat all the leftovers. That’s one week of fresh food and one whole week of leftovers. Since my husband and I both teach, coach, and are busy raising our 2 year old, this saves us SO much time and effort that we can put towards other endeavors and we are simply amazed by how much money it has saved us. (All of that saved money is now going towards my husband’s grad school and a family trip out to Colorado this summer- yay!)

  5. I agree, we can save money on just about anything that we do, including when we are cooking in the kitchen. Because basically saving behavior is a matter of habit, so we can do anywhere. Thanks for the tips.

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