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Ondine

What wouldn't you do to save a buck?

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Hello everyone! (*waves at all of you*)

Due to a bunch of unfortunate circumstances that involve a notoriously underpaid industry and the stark need to buy a new car, I am finding myself in rather tighter financial straits than I'm used to. I'm cutting down on eating out, even the daily coffee is now to be frowned on, and I'm trying to watch for specials at the supermarket - no more going to the organic produce store for me. :hmmm:

As you can imagine, this is not terribly fun to do or contemplate for someone who is used to spending about two thirds of their disposable income on food and eating, and has two whole shelves devoted to condiment creep! :biggrin:

As a shift worker I used to cook large pots of a staple during the week for my Housemate and myself - a stew, a mild curry, a braised meat dish or the like - and found there was a certain element of waste from either tastebud fatigue or spoilage (one's fridge is never quite as good as needed, sometimes). So I'm learning to control that. And Housemate is a bit of a meat-and-potatoes fan, tending to look on legumes/pulses and spicy food with a dubious eye. I'm trying to balance all these factors in keeping costs down, and dealing with wastage. I've tried planting a few vegetables and herbs in the garden, though with rather minimal success - my neighbour wants me to keep growing fennel as it seems to suck all the aphids off his roses! :biggrin: I've also wrangled a part time job, so I'll be working six days a week. Oh boy. :blink:

I was wondering if any of you out there could suggest some tips to help with making my new financial straits a little more bearable. Everyone, I'm sure, has at one time or another needed to balance a household food budget - any tips or hints or funny stories, perhaps? The Great Internet is full of household economy sites, but very few of them would have any real emphasis on quality and savour of food, unlike here on eGullet. Which is why I've decided to ask here. Even though I have no real idea where to begin (*sheepish grin*). :wink:

I'd love any and all advice! :smile:

And I read somewhere that everyone has a line that they aren't willing to cross in the name of scrimping and saving. I for one won't let myself resort to cheap iodised supermarket salt - I will always buy sea salt, given the choice. What's your line?


" ..Is simplicity the best

Or simply the easiest

The narrowest path

Is always the holiest.. "

--Depeche Mode - Judas

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I will start with ...instead of stews make roasted chickens...then you can turn the extras into new dishes that arent leftovers.

tracey


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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I would look at the options of where to shop. Ethnic grocery stores often have much lower overhead so the prices are lower - especially on produce. I shop at a large local "Farmer's Market" which is really more of a Mexican and Asian grocery store with the emphasis on produce. The produce is not of true farmer's market quality, to be sure, but as long as I am careful about not over-buying and use what I buy, I get great deals. Plus I have both my regular produce and all the harder to find items all in one place.

I also make all my own pasta sauce & pesto (both freeze great), buy larger packages of meat & cheaper cuts like chicken thighs & freeze those in indiv. portions. Mainly, I try and stay away from processed, pre-packaged foods.

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Hello Fellow Aussie! :smile:

Funny you should post this. After leaving my full time office job back in February and buying a cafe with a unfortunate delayed settlement (which takes place this Wednesday!!! Finally!), I found myself having to be very strict with our food budget. I never used to worry too much about how much our grocery bill used to be, but since we have had to watch our money, I ended up getting it down to about $60 per week for the two of us.

How did I do it and what did I sacrifice?

My sacrifice was meat. Compared to fruit and veg from the markets, meat is very expensive and does not go as far. So we have been relying on a lot of veg and cheap carbs with a tiny bit of protein in order to get by. This means heaps of vegetables, a good serving of rice/pasta/grains/beans and a little dairy/meat/nuts/eggs/ Stir frys, soups, chilies/stews, risottos, salads, etc. I also found that I stopped buying condiments altogether apart from the basics such as sea salt (the cheapest available), EVOO (again the cheapest), tomato paste (homebrand), and butter (whatever was on special). Also, I found the cheaper cuts with half of the amount I used to eat ensured we have a little in each dish. 1 rasher of bacon chopped up in a salad actually goes a long way. Simple foods are actually quite tasty and good produce from markets really stand up on their own!

We also made a lot of baked goods from plain flour such as muffins, pancakes, pizzas, bread, cakes, etc. This helped when I felt like a treat and was very economical. Remember, that making things from scratch is always cheaper.

While it has been really hard being so consertative with the budget, I did find enjoyment out of finding the specials and getting the best deal....I even bartered with the market guy for my produce and got a discount. Maybe you could try this too!!

I wish you good luck and hope your financial situation gets better very soon. Happy cooking!! :)


Melbourne, Australia

'One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.' ~Virginia Woolf

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I try to buy things like nuts, oatmeal, rice, spices from bulk food bins. It's usually cheaper than pre-packaged ones and you can control exactly how much you need so there's less wastage.

I also buy store-brand foods rather than name brands. Some store-brand products are as good as name brands (sometimes better!) and quite a bit more economical. I personally can't taste much of a difference between Safeway bran flakes and Kelloggs.

Bring your own lunch to work as often as you can. Saves big bucks and usually healthier for you too!

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Rooftop1000, I try to do that as often as I can whenever I cook chickens; it's a great tip! I find I can do that with braises as well, though the last stage of chicken soup gets a little thin sometimes. :biggrin:

LizD518 and Beebs, I do try to buy drygoods in bulk and shop in ethnic stores too. Isn't it amazing how much cheaper things like vegetables are in places like that? My pantry is full of bayleaves to keep grain moths away, and so far it seems to be working. I've been trying to freeze poached chicken pieces as well, to help save that little bit of time too. Great for a really quick salad. :wink: I tend to bring fruit and crackers to work with me for lunch too, as that way I get the energy boost without getting sleepy just as the early afternoon workload comes into the lab.

Thanks for all the tips, Sherrid! I do hope that things go well for you and your cafe. I guess the making of muffins and cakes would count as business research, no? Maybe even tax deductible! :biggrin: Seriously though, I'm considering all that too, with a little judiciousness due to a moderate yeast intolerance. I have just found a great scratch-flatbread recipe I'm dying to try this week. That is, once I get back from work. :wink:

Chufi, thanks for the link! Would you believe I tried to do a search on preexisting threads, and simply did not find that one? I just knew that there had to be something similar... :rolleyes:


" ..Is simplicity the best

Or simply the easiest

The narrowest path

Is always the holiest.. "

--Depeche Mode - Judas

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Don't buy anything that isn't on sale, except for staples like eggs and milk. If spinach is on sale, eat spinach. If pork chops are on sale, it's the week to try some new pork chop recipes. If Parmesan is on sale, buy a big chunk to tide you over the weeks when it's mad expensive.

And try to buy your food at stores where most of the clientele doesn't speak English.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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A lot of these tips are ones that I was going to give.

Shopping at ethnic places and farmers markets is a great one.

Also, cutting down on meat and replacing it with healthier beans and legumes as your main protein will save huge $$$! Especially if you buy dried beans.

Cheese is another one that is sooo expensive, so using less is a healthier, cheaper option.

Read flyers and shop around.

It's tough, but it'll give you a chance to be creative!

Just remember, it won't be forever!

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Well, I moved from Hanoi to Tokyo last fall, and boy did I feel the sticker shock when it came to food shopping. Cooking seasonally has helped a little, as has raiding the bruised/damaged produce shelf when the fruit and vegetables have been changed over.

I usually make a plan for the week based on how many meals need to be cooked versus eaten out. I make a list of potential dishes, and then see what's on sale at the supermarket and work within that framework. Some things are always pretty cheap, though, like eggs and pasta, so dishes featuring those are worked in once or twice a week. Then I look for ways that dinner can be stretched into a packed lunch the next day. I usually pack a Japanese-style bento, so cooking a little extra rice and saving a few pieces of meat from the main dish makes a meal out of nothing, instead of having to buy separate special ingredients for a different meal at lunch. I usually set them aside before dishing out dinner. I've lost several kilo this way, too since I'm no longer tempted to finish up the little bit left in the pan - instead I know I'll get it for lunch later. My husband and I now split chicken cutlet between us, instead of having one each, and supplement with extra vegetables, which are cheaper anyway.

Another tip I picked up on these boards, I think from Shalmanese, is that if I want to get exotic ingredients, for example for me - avocado, cilantro, lime...then I plan several different dishes over a couple of days from this set, so the ingredients don't get wasted. So I might make cheese quesadillas with guacamole for dinner the night before, then make a cucumber salad with the remainder of the cilantro and lime, stir-fry some eggplant with garlic and have some grilled pork for a Vietnamese style lunch the next day. Or if I have summer rolls for dinner, I take anything leftover from the fillings platter, like shreds of mint, rice noodles, handfuls of shredded carrot or cucumber and the remains of the nuoc cham, and toss it together for a quick lunch salad.

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A lot of what I'd suggest has already been said--shopping the ethnic markets, thinking of meat more as a condiment/flavoring agent for vegetables and starches rather than always the main event, getting lots of mileage out of every chicken and other trimmings ...

Re: your housemate's preference for meat and potatoes and against legumes: that's actually not a bad thrifty-meal strategy, especially when it's a little meat flavoring a bunch of potatoes (and other vegetables). Also, you might be able to make legumes more appealing to your housemate with a bit of meat seasoning--I'm especially fond of high flavor meats like smoked ham hocks to give beans a boost.

Which reminds me: offal/variety meats are the thrifty cook's friend. Maybe not quite the bargains they used to be, but especially in ethnic markets they can be amazingly cheap.

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There are also some great ideas in this thread: "Easting on the cheap!"

As others have mentioned, one crucial tip is to move away from building meals around meat. You can work wonders with fresh/roasted/grilled vegetables + beans (sauteed, marinated for salad, whizzed into a dip) + rice/pasta/bread/bruschetta.... Lots of little dishes to choose from also do a good job of tricking your mind into thinking that there's more bounty than there really is.

This way, without spending a fortune on meat, there's usually money in the budget left over to spread around outside the main dishes--some starters (even if it's just crudites and dip), wine for the week, and some kind of dessert (even nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit); that way, you still feel like you're eating well. :smile:


Edited by Rehovot (log)

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first of all my empathy for your situation!

I am not sure but I think you were asking what we would not sacrifice? not so much what we would do to cut corners and save money?

I would not sacrifice salt like you said..for sure not buy "table" salt

giving up fresh fruit and vegetables would not happen for me ... you can always find something on sale, in season or even pick it in the wild depending on where you live..it is amazing what you can do with one big carrot ..a nice onion or a head of cabbage.....and a person can grow a little something ... even if you live in a small apartment all you need is a sunny spot or a grow light you can grow some greens.a few herbs ..if you have a porch or deck you can grow things in 3 gallon food grade buckets with holes cut in the bottom ..tomatoes, peas, carrots whatever ...I would find a way and not give up fresh fruits and vegetables

second ..good cheese ..I would rather buy a very small amt of wonderful cheese and just eat less than buy cheaper lower quality cheeses

I do not usually buy expensive food and if I do it is always used in small quantities

you can still have what you love on a budget just in smaller amounts

it is fun to figure food out and make great things on little money

I think so anyway :smile:

best wishes to you and please let us know how you do it and make it work for yourself


why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Yes, I forgot to reply to that aspect of your post. I draw the line at compromising on proper coffee, beer, wine, and chocolate. So I eat less of the good stuff - for example, I have a bag of Belgian chocolate pastilles I've been working on for a week - just a few after dinner is nice. I buy nice coffee and make it by the cup, not the pot. If there's any left over, I pop it in the fridge to make iced coffee later, or freeze it into cubes for iced coffee. Cheese is expensive here as well, so I buy parmesan - a little grated goes a long way. I like to look at my scraps and think about how they can be repurposed into a side dish. The main thing I do to keep quality high, though, is add labour. I almost never buy any pre-made sauces, pre-washed/chopped vegetables, or pre-made meat dishes.

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OH COFFEE of course I would not give up good coffee and thanks to Egullet and a friend on this board I am now roasting my own! it is half the price to get the better beans and I had a stovetop popcorn popper already

this board has a ton of ideas on how to do things from bare bones ..literally I have saved tons of money by learning how to do more things from scratch here


why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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I would never give up butter to save a buck.

Gosh, me neither, and it's killing me right now in Japan. There's a shortage of butter, and 200g of domestic butter, when you can find it, is around $6. We haven't given it up yet, but let me tell you, it's getting spread preeetttyy thinly on the bread right now. :biggrin:

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I wouldn't give up butter or good olive oil. I wouldn't give up beer, or milk (it's getting ridiculous, here, though seems to go up directly related to gas prices...) even if I have to get a cow. I wonder what our town codes say about owning a cow...

All these suggestions are great, I mirror them. Also, like Hummingbirdkiss said, start making like, everything from scratch. You can make your own yogurt (and from yogurt, yogurt cheese...you can use it as a stand in for creme fraiche, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt cheese in for cream cheese, all depending on the recipe...this is a very underappreciated staple!) bread, stocks, sauces, tofu. So many choices, and on the cheap.

Even with your limited time, you can select one Sunday project to research and create, freezing or storing it for the upcoming week. The way I look at it: It's cheaper than going out!


Edited by Lilija (log)

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I make this one dish every time a certain friend of mine visits us... he adores it to no end, and he swears that he hates beans, so we always shout to each other "Lentils are NOT beans!" when we plan for his visits. It is m'jeddra, lentils and rice. Yup, pottage, that simple food.

The reason that I believe my non bean eating friend loves m'jeddra is that it is made with lots of very well fried onions, including a side bowl of cripy fried onions to add to your own serving, and that it is accompanied by buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. He salts his serving and mixes the dairy into it, and usually consumes a good bit of the crispy onions... and I have never met anyone who didn't like this simple and really inexpensive dish.

Personally, I like to fry an egg and serve it atop a leftover bowl of m'jeddra, with buttermilk and hot sauce on top.

My neighbor comes over and puts barbecue sauce on his, but he's weird. :raz:

Oh, yeah, you can spice it up and then mold leftover m'jeddra into balls and fry them, or if you can afford salad, you can mix m'jeddra into salad, yum.

The one thing I will never skimp on is my daughter's ketchup and her balsamic vinegar- she adores certain kinds and that is THAT. She's worth it and I just keep my blinders on when I need to buy those items.


Edited by Rebecca263 (log)

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:laugh: You mean me? For m'jeddra? Um, OK. (Sheesh, has no one warned these people about my 'recipes' as yet?)

6 onions, or more, if you like

3 spoons of olive oil

1 cup of any long grain rice, brown or white

1 cup of lentils- not orange, they get too mushy- also, don't forget to pick over the lentils, there could be rocks!

salt to taste

accompaniments as you wish.

You chop up at LEAST 6 onions.

You brown them in a big skillet with lots of olive oil and some salt, not a lot, just a couple of pinches. Really, you are going to brown them!

Pull out about 1/2 when they are light brown(not gold, brown!) but not yet crispy, then fry the rest until they crisp.

While the 1/2 of the onions are crisping, you put about a cup of lentils into a pot with, hold on, I'm going to the kitchen to measure, OK, I'm back- about 3 1/2 cups of water, and you cover the pot, bring it to a boil and then simmer that for about 15 minutes. COVERED, did I say that? Good, I sometimes forget to tell that part.

THEN, you add a cup of rice to the pot and the just limply browned onions(yes, you DO!), stir things up and cover the pot and simmer THAT for about 20 minutes longer. Don't worry if you overcook by a few minutes at any step, this isn't baking, we're all good.

OK! NOW you mix a couple of spoonfuls of the crispy onions into the pottage of lentils and rice, and you serve it!

The more crispy onions you make to serve alongside, the more people will eat, some people are positively ogres about those crispy onions, so you may want to be prepared, I've made as much as ten onions and had them all get eaten.

Gee, even I get a headache thinking of someone trying to follow my thought process!

It might seem hard, but honestly, a 6 year old can make this, IF you cut the onions for them!


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Rebecca, I've made m'jeddra a couple of times in the last month. Once for a dinner party with people we traveled to Israel with last year. My aunts commented on how that was the cheapest thing you could serve :rolleyes: but oh is it good. Onions are the most expensive part (not so cheap any more) of the dish and like you I brown a boat load of onions. What I've been doing is frying the rice in the oil from the onions along with a lot of caramelized onions before dumping the cooked lentils and water into the rice. The flavor of the onions and the onion oil is the best. Those fried ones for the top are heaven as well.

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I knew that my stepmother really thought of me as family the day that she finally served m'jeddra for lunch when I was at her home. We DO tend to think of m'jeddra as a secret food, sort of, don't we? We all eat it, but don't serve it to company. I suppose that I'm just a rebel about things like that, haha!


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Join the DarkSide---------------------------> DarkSide Member #006-03-09-06

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I have never heard of m"jeddra.......where have I been? Your recipe sounds like the way I cook. Husband has learned to like red lentil soup ( a bit of ham helps) but I never cook the other colored ones. What kind do you suggest? I think I would love the fried onions. I sometimes buy the French's fried onions at the big box place, or the asian ones at an asian market. Both OK in their own way, but the fresh ones will be great.

Thanks for sharing!!!

J

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The more correct spelling is Mu'jedarra if you look it up for a recipe

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