This coming year, I'm hoping--like many people--to make better use of my money, and the kitchen is a great place to start saving.
These tips were helpful during 2013, and are still good for 2014:
1. Plan Ahead
Image: Various Brennemans_via Flickr
It's not an exciting piece of advice, but advance planning in the kitchen is one of the first steps in cutting food costs. Planning meals at least a week in advance helps you minimize waste and take advantage of advertised sales.
Not sure where to start? Here are some online resources to help you plan menus that fit your lifestyle and budget:
NEXT: SEASON'S EATINGS -->
2. Eat in season
Image: ecologycenterberkeley via Flickr
Cooking with seasonal fruits and vegetables was second nature to my mother and grandmothers, but most of us, who have grown up with a vast array of produce available year-round, are not always fully familiar with what items are in season.
This interactive map provides a clickable guide to choosing local seasonable items across the United States. (Most Canadians can use the information given for Maine as a guide.)
In my part of the world, the seasonable vegetables available in the winter months are limited to roots like carrots, parsnips and potatoes, and those that store well like cabbages and onions. It can seem a long time before the first spinach greens appear in the spring, but in the meantime there are a lot of creative ways to use cabbage. Here are some suggestions:
If you need more variety, consider using frozen out-of-season vegetables. These are often cheaper, and usually more nutritious than fresh produce that has been shipped extensively.
NEXT: NO COUPONS? -->
3. Don't Use Coupons
Image: Tabbi Cat via Flickr
Don't misunderstand me: If you find a good coupon for a product you like and use regularly, then by all means bring it with you the next time you go shopping. Just don't let coupons determine your purchasing choices.
Remember, coupons are really advertisements. Companies use them as a way to sell their products. Very often, a generic or store brand version of a product is cheaper than the name brand even with the coupon discount.
Coupons can often encourage us to spend money on products or services we wouldn't normally use because we just don't want to turn our backs on a good deal. Buying things we don't want or need isn't really saving money--even though it can feel like it is!
Here is one mom's account of her coupon clipping and whether or not it was really such a money saver:
NEXT: SHOP AROUND -->
4. Create a Price Book
Image: Anthony Albright via Flickr
Know your prices!
It's pretty difficult to find the best prices at one store for everything you need. On the other hand, driving all over town to save a few pennies doesn't make any sense (for the environment or the budget!)
Most savvy shoppers have a few key stores that they frequent for their main items. A price book can help shoppers keep track of which store has the best prices, and also (over time) help identify the sales cycles at those stores. For example, I know that flour goes on sale about every 10-12 weeks at my local grocery store, so I always wait for the sale before I buy it.
Here are some resources to help you create your own price book:
NEXT: PORTION CONTROL -->
5. Eat Less
Image: Zaskoda via Flickr
I'm not suggesting that you sacrifice the health or nutritional needs of your family, but let's face it: A lot of us in North America are in the habit of eating when we don't really need to. Many of us are also so used to the large servings served in restaurants and fast-food joints that we have no idea what an actual portion size is.
This guide provides a visual comparison to help people determine reasonable portion sizes:
Late-night TV snacks and nutrition-less beverages can take a chunk out of the food budget, but they can be a hard habit to break. It can take two weeks before you stop missing those empty treats. Try holding out and see if notice a difference in your budget.
There are lots of ways to save money in the kitchen. For more ideas and inspiration, check out The Dollar Stretcher. It has frugal suggestions for the kitchen and beyond.
I'd love to hear your favorite money-saving tips!
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