According to James Poterba, Head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, we are officially in a recession, so it’s more critical than ever to start cutting expenses wherever possible.
One of the biggest areas in which you can reduce spending — especially in households with children — is right in your own kitchen. Here are some helpful tips for meal planning, food preparation, and grocery shopping that will reduce the strain on your wallet while offering some significant health benefits to boot.
Put on your Planning Cap
Planning your meals at least a week ahead will drastically reduce waste, and keep you from the trap of randomly tossing items into your grocery cart. Figure out what your menu will be and buy only those key items. And be sure to stock up on non-perishable goods that have longer a shelf life so that you’re armed with the right ingredients for each meal — dry and canned foods (rice, pasta, tomatoes) and powdered milk.
Just Say ‘No’ to Prepared Foods
With everyone’s time constrained schedules, prepared meals always seem like the better, easier choice but the ready-made options are typically higher in sodium, fat, sugar and preservatives and lead to much more garbage waste than anything you could cook yourself. You also pay significantly more per serving than homemade meals. So, once you start planning your menu in advance, you’ll save money and produce healthier alternatives for your family.
Without question, meat is the most expensive item in your grocery cart, and now with the vast array of other protein sources, you can ditch the high-priced comestibles in favor of hearty veggies like portobello mushrooms and eggplant. Plus, there’s a variety of meat alternatives available (tofu, seitan, etc.) made from soybeans, which are excellent sources of protein, iron and B vitamins. Meat alternatives are also sometimes fortified with other nutrients, such as vitamin B12, and are definitely cheaper than their beefy alter egos.
Give Me Meat or Give Me Death
If you’re really averse to going meatless, you can still save money by selecting cheaper cuts. There are many wonderful cuts of beef and pork that lend themselves well to braised preparation and stews. Ever wonder why there are so many recipes called ‘The Great Depression Stew,’ or ‘Graveyard Stew?’ It’s because people had to feed a family on little money and stews were excellent options, not only for creating large meals on a tight budget, but also because of the heat generated from slow-cooked meals. So, break out the crock pot on a cold, wintry day and you may even benefit from a less expensive heating bill!
Love Your Leftovers
Since you’re going to be preparing meals at home, you’re likely going to accumulate leftovers. Rather than throw them out, why not expand your food repertoire with crafty recipes for incorporating them into tasty dishes? Leftovers offer endless options for soup, stews and stir fry. You can also bring them in lunches to save on the costs of dining out when you go to work. Be creative, and see what inventive concoctions you can cook up.
The Freeze Factor
If the contents of your freezer consist of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, vodka and ice, you might want to make friends with your trusty, frozen pal who can give longevity to more than just your libations. Once again, planning ahead offers unlimited benefits by choosing meals that can stretch over time. If you’re going to make spaghetti for example, make twice as much sauce and freeze the rest. Same goes for lasagna or any baked dish that you can re-introduce another day, saving you money, waste and precious time.
Keep it Local
Forgo the more exotic — and expensive — tropical fare like pineapples and kiwis in favor of buying local fruits and vegetables, in season, at your neighborhood farmer’s market. This will help support your local farm economy and promote a thriving marketplace.
Filter Out the Impurities
Purifying your water also saves pennies so rather than stocking up on high-priced store-bought spring water, invest in a good filtering system for your kitchen faucet. In addition to saving considerable dollars on bottled options, filters offer the added advantage of water softening so you can save on detergents as well. Plus, with a good purifying system, you can also experience health benefits resulting from the filter leaving in important minerals like calcium.
Rags to Riches
Replace your kitchen paper products like napkins and paper towels with rags. The best part is that they’re free and re-usable and you can retire old clothes and long forgotten trends and accessories from your wardrobe, giving you a surplus of rags for ongoing use. You can even use old cloth diapers that your child has now outgrown as absorbant, top-quality rags. And cloth napkins are a stylish alternative to wasteful paper versions; you can even create your own with colorful prints to hide stains.
Chores No More
Your kids will probably be happy about this one. Daily dishwashing is unnecessary and uses excessive amounts of water so consider running your dishwasher only 2-3 times per week instead of everyday. You’ll notice sizable savings on your water and energy bills, including having to buy less soap and dishwashing liquids. And always use the air dry intstead of heated dry setting to experience even greater savings by cutting back on costly electricity usage.
Following this recession-ready plan, plus common sense solutions such as taking advantage your grocer’s savings card, using coupons and buying only the necessities will help make the heart of your home the hub of your savings, and give you some wallet-friendly fodder for well after the economy rebounds.