Let’s talk money. I know, I know money is a subject that many of us do not like to discuss. But as we enter the holiday season I know that I am aware that the little trickle that has started will soon turn into a torrent of cash leaving our bank account. We are pretty frugal about the holidays, but with an inter-faith marriage with lots of loved ones, even small gifts add up quickly. And let’s not even get started on the travel costs (yeesh!).
So a practice my husband and I have tried to take on each year is to watch our everyday spending to try to cut back a bit more at this time of year in an attempt to give us a little bit more wiggle room. It can be a challenge, but we honestly have felt like it is worth it and it has decreased the stress a bit. So while I may not be able to give you a list of super-amazing-gorgeous-so-simple-a-child-could-do-it-homemade gift ideas for everyone in your family, I do have a list of tips for saving money when it comes to everyday food. This list, honestly, can be helpful throughout the year, but maybe it will help to take the edge off a bit in this financially stressful season.
Top 7 Money Saving Tips:
- Eat at home. I know this is one that we all know to be true, but a reminder can be helpful, especially at this time of year. Let’s be honest, after an afternoon of shopping or a day full of social events, the last thing we want to do is cook. So if you can plan ahead a bit and have something ready to go on those super busy days, do it! Just think, if you order pizza or get Chipotle for a family of four, that is at least $25. If you made dinner at home, you’ll probably spend $10. You’ll be getting better, healthier food and you’ll be saving money. Do that four times in the month and you’ve saved yourself $60. That’s enough for a present!
- Crockpot, crockpot, crockpot. It is getting colder. It is getting darker. It is the time of year when those warm comfort foods really sustain us. Take advantage of that and use your crockpot. Set it up in the morning, before the crazy day begins, and when you come home you’ve got a warm, delicious, healthy meal waiting for you. What could be more comforting than that? Here are some good recipes to get you started: veggie stew, veggie lasagna, tomato soup, roast chicken.
- Be a cheapskate. This is the time to take advantage of cheaper ingredients. By cheap I don’t mean low-quality ingredients, I mean the lower-cost ones. Legumes (beans, chickpeas, etc.), whole grains, sweet potatoes, winter squashes. These low-cost foods pack a punch, sustain you for the long-haul, and are delicious. If you are a meat eater, you can use less meat to add a meat flavor to these ingredients. Make a big batch of chili and freeze the extras for another night, cook up some black beans and have a burrito night at home, make a chickpea and vegetable stew, the possibilities are endless!
- Cook for an army. One way to save time and money is to cook in big batches. When you find the time to cook, cook a lot. Make a double batch of pasta sauce and freeze extra for other nights. Stews, soups, chilis, veggie burgers, quiches, many, many things freeze surprisingly well and will save you time and money later when you don’t eat out!
- Don’t waste food. Make it a priority to eat the food in your fridge. Bring it to work for lunch the next day (then you don’t have to buy lunch!) or have a “leftovers night” when everyone gets to pick a leftover they want to enjoy and you don’t have to cook again! For those of you who can’t stand leftovers, then turn them into something new. That roast chicken can become chicken quesadillas, a chicken pasta, and stock for soup. That leftover veggie stew can be turned into the filling for a pot-pie or turnovers.
- Pack your lunch. This is another one that may be a no-brainer for some, but is a challenge for many. Think about it, every time you buy your lunch at work it is $8-10. If you brought leftovers or a sandwich and snacks, you could save yourself probably $30 a week (to be conservative). That’s $120 a month! That’s 1, 2, 3, or even 4 presents! So while you’re packing your kid’s lunch in the morning, why not just throw together a third one just like it (alright, maybe a bit bigger) for you.
- Plan ahead. Here it is. The dreaded meal-plan suggestion. I know this is challenging. To be honest, this is the one I often struggle with myself. But it really is true—if you can plan your meals for the week you will save money. Here’s why: 1) you will be less likely to eat out—maybe out of guilt, maybe because you actually have the food in the house, but you really will eat out less; 2) you can strategically buy ingredients. If you can envision your week’s meals, then you can plan strategically—that grated cheese can be for homemade pizza one night and in an omelet the next, or that broccoli can be roasted one night and then the leftovers can be used in a quiche the next; and 3) you are less likely to make impulse purchases. Yes, that pre-made meal may look really appetizing, but if you already have a plan, you are less likely to want to mess that plan up.
So what do you think? Do you already do any or all of these? Which seem doable and which are totally intimidating?