Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monthly food budget

Looking for a way to cut your budget a little? Often food is the area where there's the most room to cut. Generally, if you aren't desperate, it's best to cut back slowly and in small steps so you don't feel deprived, and your family doesn't rebel. So, look at what you would normally make for dinners for a week, and pick two nights to cut costs. If you normally go out a couple of nights a week, cut one of those out and make a modest dinner at home instead.

Keep in mind the idea of perception. If you tell your family that you're making cheap meals to save money, they're going to think of it that way, and feel deprived. If you don't tell them anything except you've found a fun new recipe you want to try, they won't (though it also depends on how picky your eaters are.)

So, one night when you would normally have, for instance, a family-style frozen lasagne, costing about $6 with a $3 salad out of a bag, make a big pot of the bean soup I mentioned a day or so ago with a little ham added, and serve it with toast and a salad you make yourself from a head of lettuce. You should be able to make the soup for 4 for under $1.50, the toast shouldn't be more than $.75, and the lettuce shouldn't be more than $1. So, you have a "comfort" food meal for about $3.25 in place of one that would cost $9, saving $5.75. And the actual work invested is only about 5 minutes. Not a bad profit.

On the night you normally go out to eat or get take out, make homemade cheese pizza. It's actually much easier than you might think (I'll try to post a dough recipe sometime soon), and kids can get really excited about helping make it. It's also a time when you can toss on some vegetables that they might eat (or put them on your half of the pizza). You should be able to make enough for four people for under $5, depending on the price of cheese in your area. So, instead of $5 by 4 people for even the cheapest of meals out, you only spend $5 and the family has a lot of fun while you save another $15. BTW, we made this once for a young teen sleepover, and they not only ate enormous amounts, they raved about it and loved watching it being made. I hate to think what it would have cost to feed them take-out pizza.

Now, you've saved a bit more than $20 over the week. Do NOT turn around and reward yourself by spending that money on a treat. That defeats the whole purpose, and most people end up spending twice what they really saved. Tuck that money away into savings or to use for bulk buying. If you use some discipline, you can save $80 in the first month (assuming you normally spend what I'm projecting here). While $20 doesn't sound like a lot, if you save the full $20.75 every week, at the end of a year, you'll have $1079 plus interest. Now THAT sounds more like it.

And once you've introduced these changes and gotten several recipes worked out that everyone likes, take another night and start substituting lower cost meals for that night. But, unless you're desperate, don't eliminate expensive favorites entirely. You might decide to have steak or chicken cordon bleu only once every 2 or 3 weeks instead of weekly, but if favorites vanish entirely, people notice. And get grouchy.

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