But if your time and energy are limited, two simple rules will save you money every time:
More is Less. Less is More.
More is Less: The operative word here is S-T-R-E-T-C-H. Add an extra cup or two of chopped vegetables, and that stew or casserole suddenly grows to another serving, with no trouble. If you really need to stretch it, serve the original meal over rice or noodles – beef stew is surprisingly good this way. It also means you’ll have plenty for supper, with enough for lunch the next day – at minimum extra cost.
My grandma used to say to unexpected guests, “No worries – we’ll just add some water to the soup!” She was right. A few cups of water, milk or broth make soups go further – even ‘ready-to-eat’ soups easily accommodate a cup of water or milk. (Not to mention you’ll get every drop out of that can by rinsing it.)
Drinks benefit from this rule, as well. Milk prices are often the same, whether you buy 2%, skim or whole milk. Why not take advantage of this, and buy whole milk instead? Dilute it with up to four cups of water, and you’ve got “skim” milk that tastes more substantial, yet saves money and cuts down on fat. Lemonade and other powdered drinks can also be thinned out, as well as juices. Sure, you’re economizing painlessly – but you and your family are also drinking less sugar, fructose and empty calories. So adding more gives you more – but you spend less.
The second principle, Less is More, is straightforward: use less of the most expensive ingredients on your list. Steak, for example. It’s delicious any number of ways – and its price has been steadily climbing for the past few years. But even on a budget, you can still afford steak as long as you’re willing to eat less. A good t-bone right now can easily cost $8.00 or more a pound; in other words, at least 50+ cents an ounce. Buy a 12-ounce cut, instead of a full pound, and you’ve automatically saved $2.00 or more. If you’re a bit overweight, those extra savings will also add up to fewer calories consumed – and pounds lost!
The same principle works for any number of more costly items: a few less jumbo shrimp, a couple ounces less of pork loin. One thin slice of cheese, instead of two, on your sandwich. A half-pound of crab legs, instead of a full pound. (Or cook the full pound, eat half, and you’ll have enough extra crab to mix with pasta for your next dinner.) A thinner piece of chocolate cake means the cake goes further; cutting the cheesecake into 16 slices, instead of 12, means it’s available for a few more midnight snacks. Even cutting just an ounce or two adds up in the long run.
It’s also a good rule to use when dining out. Smaller cuts cost less on the restaurant menu – or order a bigger cut, or the more expensive entree, and split it with a friend. Doing the same thing with appetizers and desserts saves money and calories, but doesn’t take away from the experience. Even when you can’t economize this way, try asking for a ‘doggie bag’ up front, then stash enough of the meat or seafood item for a sandwich or snack later on. So taking away some gives you less – but you still save more. You and your food budget benefit. Now that’s a winning combination.
Read about more money saving tips on food.
Cindy Brick is a personal property appraiser, judge and national teacher who loves to write about frugality and other personal finance topics. She has written six books and hundreds of articles, but often focuses on quilting, her teaching specialty. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two golden labs and a flock of very suspicious chickens. Find out more at Brickworks, http://www.cindybrick.com, or visit her personal blog: http://www.cindybrick.blogspot.com