Spin Cycle: Turning Dollars into Sense

ingredientsOkay, I nicked the title – so shoot me.

At any rate, this week’s Spin Cycle is a subject I know quite a bit about, actually.  When my older kids, now 25 and 22, were growing up, to say I was on a fixed budget is something of an understatement; I was the Queen of the Penny Pinchers.  We didn’t have a car until Darling Daughter was a freshman in high school and either walked or took public transportation everywhere (oh, to have the figure now that I had then…).  When The Young One was a baby, his father and I worked different shifts to save on daycare costs.  And to be perfectly frank, the house I live in now is the first house I’ve ever actually owned.  We did a lot of “hand to mouth” existing, for a lot of years, and without government assistance.

So I can give you a lot of advice, not on how to save money (because I never saved a red cent until the last 10 years or so), but how not to spend it (simply because I didn’t have it to spend).  I could quote you line and verse about swallowing your pride and shopping thrift stores, taking public transportation when and where you can, clipping coupons (although I was never much of a coupon-clipper, for reasons I’ll go into in a moment), shopping sales, etc. but there’s already plenty of advice out there already for that.  Besides, this is my blog – what else do you expect me to talk about?

After housing, a family’s largest expense is often food.  It is estimated that the average family spends approximately 15% – 20% of it’s income on food – that’s really mind-boggling when you think about it.  So while you may not be able to do much about your mortgage or car payments, you can do something about the amount of money you spend to feed your family.

Tip #1 – Probably the most important tip I can give you:  STOP EATING OUT.  Even today, when I have more discretionary income than I’ve ever had in my life, we eat out on the average of once a month.  Yes – once a month.  This has never been hard for me, for we never ate out when I was growing up or raising my older kids; we simply couldn’t afford it.  But a lot of Americans eat out several times a week, simply out of convenience, and did you know that it is cheaper to make your own cheeseburger than to eat a 99-cent take-out burger?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?  Don’t eat out, and don’t eat at fast food restaurants at all (your arteries will thank you, if nothing else).  Save restaurants for special occasions.  Not only will you save money, you’ll find you enjoy it more.

Tip #2 – Probably the second most important tip I can give you:  LEARN TO COOK.  You don’t have to be Julia Childs, or even Bobby Flay, just learn the basics.  I know it’s easy for me to proselytize about this because I know how to cook and enjoy it, but you truly don’t have to be a gourmet to cook great meals for your family.  In all honesty, the dishes our grown kids love the most are the simple ones that can be prepared on a tight budget.  You’d be better off investing in a crock pot, a food processor and a couple of cook books than eating out 3 or 4 times a week.

Tip #3CONVENIENCE FOODS ARE NOT NECESSARILY YOUR FRIEND.  Until my first husband and I had our first apartment, I’d never eaten potatoes or rice that weren’t “instant” – my mother considered them miracle foods.  When I had a family of my own, however, I quickly realized that I could get as much as 4 – 6 times  the amount of servings out of “raw” foods (i.e. raw potatoes and slow cooking rice) for the same price as 1 serving of the “instant” or “convenience” and that the time savings was NOT worth the extra cost.  For example, I can make four servings of plain white steamed rice that will take 15 mintes, for the cost of 1 serving of Minute Rice at 5 minutes.  Think about that for a minute – is the world going to end if you serve dinner at 7:15 as oppsed to 7?

Tip #4STORE BRANDS ARE YOUR FRIENDS.  Is your 6-year-old going to be able to tell the difference between Lucky Charms and the store brand of marshmallow cereal?  There can be as much as a $2 – $3 per package difference, and that can add up.  For that matter, can you tell the difference between a can of Green Giant green beans and a can of Top Choice?

It ALL adds up – buy the store brand.  Which brings me to my next point…

Tip #5MAKE SURE YOUR COUPONS ARE A REAL VALUE.  The vast majority of coupons you find in the Sunday paper or the weekly circular are for items that are really expensive – a lot of the time  you can purchase the store brand less expensively than you can the name brand, even with a coupon.  Even then, make sure it is something you really need and can’t make from scratch more cheaply, no matter what the brand is.

Tip #6UTILIZE YOUR LEFTOVERS.  You can eat leftovers for pennies on the dollar when compared to eating even a fast food value meal.  If you find a roast for half price at the grocery store, you can make it for dinner in the crock pot on Monday night, have chopped beef sandwiches for lunch on Tuesday, then make a stroganoff casserole with what’s left using cheap noodles, cream of mushroom soup and milk for dinner on Thursday night.  Even if you pay $4 a pound for a 3-pound roast, that’s a pretty damn good deal – 3 meals for 3 -4 people for $12?  You can’t beat that with a stick.  All it takes is a little forethought.

So there you have it – 6 tried and true tips for saving money on your grocery bills.  Research on the interent will render even more help; all you have to do is look.  And check back here every now and then – I have money saving yet tasty recipes out the wazoo…even if they do require more than four ingredients.  😛

12 thoughts on “Spin Cycle: Turning Dollars into Sense”

  1. Great post with great tips. Everything you listed is what we do also and honestly, we are happy, and it’s such a way of life for us that it doesn’t feel like we are scrimping.

    Loris last blog post..Against All Odds

  2. Common sense tips, and great ones at that!
    Jan did you know you can DRIVE to Chicago?
    Briefcase told me he MIGHT have enough miles for a free flight for me.
    He’s got to check with the airlines!

  3. Great post! We quit eating out about a month ago and I love to cook so it is no biggie to me. Now, if I could just get my son’s girlfriend to realize that you can eat at home or eat a sandwich instead of eating lunch at o’charleys then maybe we will save him some money!

  4. Awesome Spin! I used to buy lunch on Fridays, my own convenience day where I would buy a 10 dollar salad. About 3 months ago, I quit that and it really does add up. I’m also collecting more crockpot recipes (although it’s a bit harder finding those are not too high in carbs) so we can turn out more meals on less money.
    Thanks so much for these great tips and you’re linked!

    Sprite’s Keepers last blog post..Steering the Course

  5. We don’t eat out a lot because we live in the middle of nowhere and it’s a pain to load up and drive to town and besides, I love leftovers and/or could eat a sandwich every day of the week and I’d be happy. Did you know sandwiches sometimes have more than 4 ingredients. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr…

    Midlife Slicess last blog post..Taken Aback

  6. I love a great sandwich!! And the crockpot, i think i may finally break down and buy one, just a little one cos of space and waste/waist issues. Stripping down and going back to foods in their raw forms is the way to go, and so much better for you than the pepared ones.

    Awesome! I may print this off and give it to clients when we are having ‘the budget’ talk…

    thistles last blog post..Thistle’s spin on how to be cheap scottish frugal…

  7. So much to say about this one!

    1) This describes our lifestyle/dining experience for the last week – I kid you not.

    2) I eat out a LOT because I have no choice – business travel. Not even the finest dining establishment is as good as Jan’s “hurl it in the pan and pray” home cooked meal.

    3) I LOVE leftovers. I’m cheap!

    4) Coupons ARE a marketing rip off!

    5) Yes – eating out is ENTERTAINMENT, not a lifestyle. Chain food is GAWDAWFUL! Our average eating out bill is a hell of a lot more than breaking a Lincoln on the dollar menu! But it isn’t ledgered as food – it’s entertainment. More retailers need to understand that they are selling ENTERTAINMENT, not product. After all, PRODUCT is just a click away!

    6) 7:15???? Who are you kidding! Oh, sorry – thought you were on Eastern Time! 😛

    7) My wife is a GREAT CHEF! While I certainly take CONSTANT advantage of the fact that she really enjoys cooking, and also recognize that even if you love something, doing it EVERY DAY – day after day, is still a “chore”, this is not something anyone should be afraid of. The simple meals are often the best! She still doesn’t believe me when my response to her weekly question about what to have for the weekend is “anything easy”.

    8) Though I might not object to the extra $.25 for minute rice over slow cooked rice, from scratch is JUST PLAIN BETTER! The time this woman spends each week making home made bread (kneading dough with arthritic hands instead of my hamstrings) is not worth the $1.50 we save, the bread is dang near Better than SEX!

    Am I the luckiest guy in the world or what? Hot, cheap, and delicious!

  8. Love the advice-we’re cutting out fast food, just being prepared, like you said, saves so much money. Luckily my hubby and I love to cook, though we need to plan out leftovers better: your roast example helped me to see and consider the possibilites! Thanks for the great spin!

    Shangrilas last blog post..Spin Cycle-Money Matters

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