Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Questions Answered: Eating Cheap

 Breakfast in Norway
"Speaking of money, I'm living alone this summer and I'm on a quest to save as much money on food as I can. Do you have any tips for eating inexpensively (and well, if possible?) Bulk foods that serve you well? Dishes you like? I am already subsisting largely on rice and beans, so let me know what else I can do. I am open to dumpster diving."


Hoorah! Saving money on food and well!

Before you start planning, choose really what you want your focus to be. At this point, how well do you know your body? How much do you value what you put in? For me, I find I'm happiest on just vegetables, buckwheat/rice, fruits, nuts, seeds, and oils - simple as that. But, you'll know your body. If you haven't taken time to really listen to how your body feels with different foods, now is the time to do that. Do you care about organic? Most of these are a given, but I'm writing them down anyways...

Tip 1. Do you really positively want to save money?

Never. Never. Never eat out. Don't do it. Always pack a lunch which will be fractional of the price. I carry an emergency supply of a few Wasa crackers in my pack, normally, if I really get hungry sometime and tempted. Those things will last forever in there. If you really want to save dollars, just eat those for lunch.

What if your friends are going out?
Pack a lunch. Eat it before you enter the restaurant. When you get inside, just get something small like a soup.

This is if you really want to save money.

A restaurant will zap your dollars fast, man. Just $10 is easy to throw away which is beyond what your your daily food budget need be (which comes to $70 a week for food which is insane!).

Friends might look at you odd in your frugality (don't appear stingy). You can pull it off, though, without them realizing it. If friends suggest going out to eat, suggest they come over and eat those rice and beans with you (like you did when I was with you! you already know what you're doing). Pick times to meet up with friends that are blatantly not "going out to eat" times.

Also, bring your own take-out container. If people don't take their left-overs - grab 'em! I once got three giant containers worth of thai-food for free. Some restaurants will even let you take the left-overs of people you don't know - but I'm not sure if you're up for that.

Tip 2. Food budget? Get one if you have issues with spending. For me, I don't really budget any-more because I say, "Hey - you can buy rice, beans, buckwheat, and alllll the vegetables you want."

Tip 3. Don't spend money on crappy food... ever.

If it's not good for your body, don't buy it. That's something that will kick out a lot of foods.

Tip 4. Coffee is taking a lot of your money. There's gotta be free ways to get coffee (free samples at the World Market). It might not be the best, but free coffee is everywhere - even in banks. Or tea! Tea is fractional the coffee price at some $0.15 a cup which, if you rebrew, comes to $0.08 a cup.

Say your Starbucks drink costs you $2.50 a cup (although, after tips, better be more). For that, you could drink 31 cups of tea. At 3 cups of tea a day -- that's 10 days worth of tea for the price of one cup of coffee.  Likewise, if you drank two cups of coffee a day for ten days, that would cost you $50!

If you want to justify the coffee habit with quoting health statistics, remember, it's your dollars.

Tip 5. Big pots of soup are gold. Find a good recipe and a pot. Eat for a week.

Also nice to make a huge salad. I like cabbage + sprouts + carrots + broccoli + bell pepper + lemon juice.

Tip 6. I also think oatmeal is a rad start to a morning. Per serving, that can come to $0.16 a bowl for some quality oats. Don't get instant oats, though. Your body will burn right through those.

This is one of the best, best bulk foods to buy!

I always laugh when I see how cheap it is at the co-op. Don't forget to bring your own jar to take the oats home in if you want to feel legit. Tare first.

Tip 7. Bulk foods...

Yeah, you nailed it already - rice and beans. Vary up the beans (always get 'em dried -- otherwise they're super-sodiumized and you're paying for the weight of the nasty goo they come in) because there's more in this world than black and pinto.

Also, take a look at buckwheat! Buckwheat is amazing! See dem exclamation marks flying?
Look it up. Quinoa is a favourite of a lot of folks. I know it's amazing, but, for me, I'm just more of  a buckwheat girl.

Don't bother with their trail mix. Always overpriced. Make your own. My favourite blend is dried mulberries, raisins, dark chocolate, and some sort of seed or nut. Go find mulberries. They have 'em in Toronto. Ok, maybe not mulberries...

I'm not sure how people manage pasta, either. If you do get it, whole wheat or something "not white."

Tip 8. Don't deprive yourself of food. If you have cravings, acknowledge them find ways to satisfy them (but first try just drinking a glass of water).

Sweet tooth? Fruit! Bananas. Apples. I sometimes get $0.30 worth of dates in bulk for a dessert which are delicious. Every once in a while I get a bar of chocolate (raw raw raw) from Stirs the Soul. It's not cheap, by any means, but it's my special treat.

I also spend money on raw honey because it's also crazy good for you.

Tip 9. Grocery Outlet! Don't just buy because something is cheap, though. Stick with a policy of only buying things that will make you feel good and that you need and can use.

Tip 10. When shopping, if something looks gross - go for that and ask if you can get a super-discount.

At my old store in Alaska, I would find things like giant expired bags of whole wheat flour. For less than the price of a loaf of pre-made bread, I could make Andrew and I fresh bread for weeks.

Another time at a different shop, they had these funky beets that were getting moldy. We asked if we could have them and they said they normally gave 'em to chickens. So I asked if I could still have them and they said, "Sure." I got some 10 beets for free and they tasted just fine! Gold!

Tip 11. Make your own bread. You will feel good about it. Don't make white-flour bread.

Tip 12. Make a list for when you shop. You know this one -- but, seriously, a list will save your dollars. If you see something you really want, write it down and add it to the list next time. If you especially want to be saving money, stop using your debit card and only pay in cash. Limit how much cash you bring out with you. If you don't have enough, you can't buy. Simple.

Tip 13. You've only got a few meals to get yourself through each day.

For me, an easy, typical day (when I'm feeding myself) might look like this:

-- Breakfast: oats + vegetable + chia seeds OR eggs + vegetables
-- Lunch: rice & beans + a fruit
-- Dinner: vegetables

Vegetables for dinner? Roast some sweet potatoes or stir fry broccoli and the works in Braggs Amino Acids.

Tip 14. Things will get mixed up on their own as you go to events and they feed you.

Tip 15. There are a couple of staples you get to go all out on. I always like to have on hand (I mentioned all of these before) herbs and spices, Braggs amino acids (oi), olive oil, coconut oil, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, hummus, and tortillas. Tortillas are cool.

Tip 14. Drink water alllllll the time. I think you do this already...

Don't waste money on anything liquid but tea.

Tip 15. For dumpster diving (very much worth a time investment) -- I would recommend Googling up on that one for a good guide to the neighbourhood you're in. Trader Joe's is normally good on letting you into their dumpsters. I'm not too much the expert on this one because food keeps falling into my lap...

You've also seen how I get food out of garbage cans (especially at festivals). Trust me, free food pretty much always tastes more incredible than anything you would buy. I have yet to get sick or herpes from eating stranger food.

Tip 16. Know the foods you're buying. Know what it does for your body and the health benefits it brings. Does it have a lot of fibre? Is it your protein source for the day? A healthy fat for your brain? If there isn't a reason, just skip it.

Tip 17. I did this when I first moved to Alaska. Go to different stores with a notepad and write down the prices of the different foods you normally buy. Compare prices. Decide what is worth spending more for you. I'm willing to fork over the extra cash, for example, to get something from the farmer themselves at the market. Also, know what day is your discount day at the local co-op. Every co-op I've encountered will give you a free membership if you tell 'em you can't pay and are a student.

Tip 18. Plant a garden. Seeds are cheap and the benefits could fill yet another few blog posts.

I guess that just about sums it.

For me, I tend to go to the co-op to get my food whenever possible. It's not the cheapest, but if you are eating well, your body doesn't need so much, and when you're not eating crappy stuff and eating simply, it can fit in the budget.

One of my favourite meals and meal-staples is one I call Hannah because Hannah always makes it for me. It's called Mujadarrah. The ingredients are lentils, brown rice, and caramelized onions. If you just Google the ingredients, you'll get 100s of recipes.

What I like to do with this is make a big batch of it (so delicious) and season it abundantly. I put it in a whole wheat or sprouted grain tortilla with greens, sprouts, bell pepper spears, and hummus. That taste never gets old and everyone I've made it for has enjoyed it. In the morning you can mix it with eggs.

Oh yeah! Eggs are great too! Lately, every morning for the past two weeks I've had two eggs for breakfast plus a cabbage-cucumber salad. Lasts for a while.

You're already a champ since you're eating the rice and beans. Not sure if any of this was much help or stuff you're already doing. These were the main ideas, though, that stuck out to me on eating cheap.


Your words make me grin.

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