My credit card company sends me an itemized report at the end of the year listing where my money has gone. Turns out, most of what I buy goes straight from the car into the money pit of my kitchen. How about you?
This is inevitable. The heart of the home may always consume a large portion of the family budget, but here are five small strategies that add up to big savings in the kitchen.
1 Make a list
You already know that shopping with a list means less impulse buying and wasted food. Meal planning does not have to be difficult or complicated. Never mind the fantasy home-making guru bloggers. Just grab a pencil. Menu planning is as simple as scratching out a plan on the back of a take-out flyer. Mine goes like this: M, T, W, R, F, followed by a dinner entree I know my family will eat. (Unless I'm in a mood, in which case I write "Mushroom Bisque" five times.) Start with what you know and build your list of palatable meals over time. It helps to start a three-ring binder to collect the recipes. That way you can simply flip through to create your weekly list.
2 Double up
Groceries are expensive, but they're nothing compared to the cost of eating out. (Because you're not hitting that dollar menu, right? No, me neither. Never.) There are simply times when I am so mentally or physically exhausted that the thought of cooking makes me want to hurl the rice cooker out the window. Instead of dialing for pizza or driving through the nearest drive-thru, it's nice to have something in the freezer. That's why, whenever I make a casserole or any kind of pasta sauce, I always double the recipe. It doesn't take any more time or effort today for double the results tomorrow. On some future Tuesday night, I'm going to really appreciate my earlier efforts.
3 Cook from scratch, sometimes
In general I'm a fan of whole foods and home cooking, but let's be real. You can't cook a good meal every day-certainly not three times a day. However, to save money while still living well, learning to cook is time well spent. In addition to saving money, cooking from scratch allows you to cut back on nasty processed food ingredients. Getting friendly with a crock pot puts cooking on auto-pilot. When you can put some meat, vegetables and seasonings into a pot, turn it on and go about your day, there is little excuse to open a can of pre-made stew.
4 Learn to cook all kinds of meat
Buying discounted meat can save hundreds over the course of a year. Less popular cuts of meat (think anything on a bone) get marked down more often, so learning to cook them really pays off. Stock up on bargain meat without regard to your list. Put it in the freezer and use that inventory for planning future weekly menus. Even if you love boneless skinless chicken, you can find deals. I recently bought the entire marked down stock of organic free-range chicken tenderloins-10 pounds of it-at less than $3 a pound. The more types of meat you know how to cook, the more often you can take advantage of sales.
5 Make your own dishwasher soap
This might sound a bit house-on-the-prairie-esque, but stick with me. I am far from an all-natural mother, but simple easy-to-make dishwasher soap saves a lot of bucks a year. It's worth the bit of effort. A simple mix of 1 cup Borax, 1 cup washing soda and ¼ cup kosher salt works wonders. And rinse agent? Hello, vinegar! Every time you fill the soap holder you'll pat yourself on the back for all the money you've saved.
See more of Lela's stories here.