Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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Save on Food Costs

Higher grocery bills now and are expected in the future
A weak economy and high inflation is already costing consumers a larger portion of their paychecks for basic needs such as fuel and food. Grocery prices have risen over 5% from January to June in 2008, and they're expected to go up by another 15% in the near future.

Times like these leaves many of us looking for ways to save money on our food bill. But it doesn't mean we have to learn to survive on beans and rice, though these types of lower-cost dry goods can play an important part in our menu. With a little pre-planning, we can still eat well, have ready-to-go meals in the freezer, and still have money leftover for some fun stuff.

I like to view the bright side of any situation, and this is an opportunity for consumers to take a hard look at what they're spending their grocery dollars on. Making the best of these difficult economic times may require consumers to brush up on their cooking skills, but it gives the family chef a chance to make healthier meals and snacks, while saving on the grocery bill.

Go back to basics
Convenience foods are quick and easy, but they're expensive, and you can easily make them yourself. Prepackaged pasta, rice, and potato dishes cost more because they include the seasonings in the family-meal sized box. Buy the bulk size, and season them yourself. Though you can get by with standard salt and pepper, browse the spice aisle and see what inspires you.

Macaroni and cheese, Au gratin potatoes, and Spanish rice are simple dishes that can be made in about the same amount of time as the prepackaged type, and save money while you do it. Add some cooked ground beef or turkey, sliced ham, leftover chicken, and/or vegetables, and you can have a one-pot meal with little extra effort and lower cost than a boxed meal.

Serve smaller portions of meat
Meat adds a significant amount to the typical grocery bill. And while getting enough protein is vital for health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says many Americans actually eat more meat than we need to stay healthy. Keeping in mind the protein received from dairy, eggs, and legumes, many of us could easily fore go meat at least one meal a day.

The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI), formerly known as the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), for healthy adults and children over 4, is 65 grams of protein for someone on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Eight ounces of most meats contains about 65 grams of protein, and big meat-eaters can easily get that in one meal. Young children, pregnant and nursing women, and those with certain health conditions have different protein needs; check with your doctor before changing your diet.

Stock up when items are on sale
Use your favorite grocer's discount card, and buy your groceries at a discount. They'll never offer everything you need on sale in the same week, so you may have to do your grocery planning for about a month at a time, but shop each week. You're likely to have to replace perishables each week and pay the current price, but many types of items can be bought long in advance when the prices are good.

I do this and limit my purchases to stocking up on sale items, and non-sale items that are absolute necessities for the week; it's great when I get a receipt that says I've saved 20-25% on my total grocery bill by using the store's discount card.

One week, you may be able to stock up on blocks of cheese; check the expiration date, but many hard cheeses last for six to nine months if they aren't opened. The next week you may find meat on sale to throw in the freezer; use a vacuum sealer to repackage them if they are not already vacuum-sealed, to eliminate waste due to freezer-burn.

Canned goods are considered non-perishable, but they are better if used by the date on the can, so rotate your pantry to use oldest product first. Frozen items, and dried rice, beans, and pasta also have a long shelf life, and are good items to stock up on when on sale. Personal care products are also items where you can save big by stocking up.

Planning ahead can save money and time
Leftovers are a waste, unless somebody actually eats them. I don't know about your family, but no one in my house will touch the same meal they raved about the night before, if it's in a resealable container in the fridge. If that sounds like your situation, learn to make the previous meal's food items into a new dish.

Leftover meats can be turned into sandwiches, quesadillas, fired rice or stir-frys the next day, and leftover vegetables can make a nice addition to soups, quiches, and casseroles. If you plan the week's menu in advance, you can use many foods in several ways, saving prep and cooking time, and eliminate waste. Start with your favorite meals you already know how to make, and find a good cookbook for ideas on how to turn cooked foods into something new.

A large pot roast made in the slow-cooker or oven, with plenty of vegetables, can supply a family of four with dinner for days. The roast, stock, and veggies can later be used to make beef and potato burritos, beef manhattans, barbecue beef sandwiches, or enchiladas, and vegetable beef soup. Learning to plan your meals this way allows you to save money buy buying larger packages when they're on sale, and also saves you time on preparing your next meal.

Freeze some home-made soups and stews for a quick meal anytime
Soups and stews can make a hearty meal for relatively little cost. A slow-cooker or stew pot provide an easy way to make large amounts, often too large for the average family to eat in one meal. Use this to your advantage and make plenty extra to put in the freezer. I used to think putting food away was time consuming; I remember my grandmother spending all day to can vegetables. But freezing is much easier than canning, and requires very little additional effort if you just make extra to freeze when you make a regular meal.

Make either family-size portions or individual portions. I use these healthy soups to replace the convenience foods I used to buy, so individual portions work for my family. You can buy hard plastic freezer containers, glass can-or-freeze jars, or zip-seal freezer bags. I like the quart-sized freezer bags, because it's easy to get all the extra air out of them to prevent freezer-burn, they lay flat in the freezer and take up almost no space, and they freeze and thaw quickly due to their flat, thin shape.

Thaw them in the fridge ahead of time, or under warm water if you're in a hurry. Then pour the contents into a bowl for the microwave or reheat in a pot. Alone, it makes a great snack, or a complete meal with a sandwich or salad. They are healthier and less expensive than the store-bought canned variety. They also taste much fresher too, as long as they are sealed and stored properly.

This is one of the most effective methods of saving money on groceries in my house. The need for expensive convenience foods has gone down dramatically, since these soups take less time to reheat as it does for a box of frozen snacks. I make a new type of soup or stew each week, so there's always a variety to choose from, like vegetable soup, broccoli cheddar, beef stew, ham and bean, potato cheddar, chili, or chicken noodle. Saving money andbeing healthier.
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Tuesday, 05 March 2024

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