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Three Fresh Tips for to Trim and Green Your Food Budget

Clip coupons.  Shop sales.  Stock up.  While everyone seeks ways to save on food costs in today’s economy, most of the “tips” offered are sounding like a stale rerun, repeating the same conventional basics over and over.

Maybe what we really need is a time of crisis is to rewrite some of the old rulebook.  Maybe we need a dose of frugality innovation.
With that in mind, here are some fresh perspectives on saving a dime while saving the planet.  For those in the Madison, Wisconsin area, come join me for my workshop on this topic of cutting costs while eating well at the upcoming Isthmus Green Day on April 25 at the Monona Terrace.

1.  Use it Up
Every year around early spring, my family and I go on our annual “food buying detox diet” where we literally go cold turkey as best we can on buying food.  This isn’t as depriving as it sounds as we focus on eating through the pantry, using up all those items we already invested in that are often lingering near expiration dates.

Sure, we might need some fresh items such as eggs, but our costs go significantly down when we force ourselves to use up that quinoa we bought on a impulse food purchase eight months ago.  Often interesting new favorite recipes result from such creative frugality, such as our Peppermint Biscotti recipe, inspired by a bag of accumulated restaurant mints.  Admittedly, peppermints aren’t exactly the highest quality of nutrition, but from a planetary perspective it makes sense to bottom line use what you already have.

With the average American household now throwing out over one pound of food a day that adds up to over 450 pounds of food a year (note these numbers do not include compost/peel scraps), we’re loosing valuable cash and resources by simply not using up what already exists.

2.  Restaurants Equal Treats
I recently helped my senior father start scanning all our family albums.  Traveling down memory lane of my only-child upbringing, I quickly realized the majority of our family photos consisted of a picture of me and my parents, taken when we were all dressed up and about to go out to dinner for a celebratory birthday or holiday meal.

Can you remember the last time you took a picture because you were about to go out for a special meal?  Back thirty years ago, restaurants meals ranked special, savored occasions, not just a quick meal.  Not only did this save money, but it’s a classic case of  “more through less.”  I still have warm visions of some of these early restaurant outings with my parents, whereas today we eat out so often relatively that memories blur.

I rekindled this concept yesterday, which happened to be my birthday when, being a family that obviously loves food, my parents wanted to take my family and I out to eat.  I did a bit more research this time, aiming to find a restaurant that would provide a unique, memorable special experience.  We ended up having a fabulous Cuban meal at Cafe La Guardia the in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.  A recommended spot, the meal and whole experience was superb, definitely out of our normal eating scene, and I bet that memory will linger.

3.  Travel
What does travel have to do with your food budget?  The next time you’re on the road, most significantly if you’re in another country, try keenly observing how another culture approaches food and meal choices.  In many cases, what comes as second nature to other cultures can be a totally novel, but cost saving, concept to us Americans.

For example, we were traveling in Scotland and visiting our friends who lived there, Donald and Rene a few years back.  Understandably, folks in Scotland love their tea and drink a fair amount, but I never saw these friends throw out a tea bag after a cup of tea.  Donald and Rene always used each tea bag at least twice.  Once we opened our perspective, we observed lots of Brits doing the same thing.  A simple measure, but one that quickly adds up to cost savings; using a tea bag twice is literal the same as if the tea was on sale for half off.  Packaging and all the resources needed to make and ship the tea also get sliced in half.

The key theme here is one that we need to serve up in all aspects of our lives to get us positively through this economic crisis:  Rethinking the same old, same old.  A dash of innovation, a fresh perspective on old habits, can go a long way in building up that triple bottom line in anyone’s
household budget.

Photo credit: Lisa Kivirist

2 comments
  1. tiffany

    Hello.

    My husband just sent me a link to your blog (probably shouldn’t be on it at work, but i had to check it out!). Glad to get plugged in to your posts; i am very interested in your subject content…and i am looking forward to checking out some of your other stuff (during my next break at work!!).

    In regards to your post, I really enjoyed the simple facts that you shared. It is so easy to get caught up with “going grocery shopping” that i forget about all of the great stuff that still needs to go that is lingering in the cabinets! My husband, prayeramedic, and i go out to eat often. I believe that it is the product of where we live (in the middle of restaurant city!). i would love to get back to “memory lane” and only go out to eat for the novelty and not for the convienence of life!

    I went to Europe a couple times about a decade ago and I was amazed as a teenager to see how another culture shops. I always thought that it would be difficult to do this, but it would be more cost-efficient, despite what many say about the expense of “good-for-you” foods, because of the decrease in annual waste from foods that go bad (I despise throwing out food!). i believe that the extra weight that i would like to shed would be easier in coming off if we said “no” to going out to eat the way we do! Thanks again for your post…look forward to check out your blog soon!

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