Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Art of the Cheap Dinner

Crunchy, tasty, hot and ready- the family dinner has become in our culture the centerpiece of our day, and rightly so. It is a time when most families can sit down together if for only a few minutes and be together. If the television isn’t playing in the background, there might even be a little room for conversation. The problem is that dinner isn’t cheap. A nice, tasty pot roast with all the trimmings might be just the ticket to get your taste buds in a tizzy, but with meat prices soaring, and prices for heat-and-eat items not far behind, that pot roast might have to be a once per week thing, while you eat cereal the rest of the week. Or do you?

Eating on the cheap isn’t easy, but it can be accomplished with a little patience and a willingness to look beyond your normal meal routine. Think you can’t feed a family of four for less than $100 per week? Think again. Plenty of budget-conscious families do it every week, while at the same time keeping their hungry mouths happy.

The first thing you need to do is get over the concept of prepared foods. Remember when grocery stores were relatively small affairs? A typical grocery store might be no bigger than a typical drug store is today. The reason for this upsizing is the trend toward eating prepared foods. Where once a grocery store might have a selection of cheeses, flour, grains like oats, rice and barley, as well as milk, eggs and spices, today’s grocery stores usually have an entire aisle dedicated to bread, and its price? Usually between $2.50 and $5 for the reasonably healthy, good-tasting varieties.

Sure, today’s families have little, if any time to dedicate to pounding out a loaf of fresh bread every day, but you get the point. Life was cheaper when things were simpler, so simplifying your meals a little could be just the ticket to shaving those few extra dollars out of the budget that you thought you’d never be able to trim.

The first thing you’re going to need to buy is a good cookbook. Make sure it’s got all the essentials in it like biscuits and quick breads, meats, veggies and desserts. A good example is the “Joy of Cooking” cookbook. It’s a 1,000+ page tome to eating well and learning the basics. Did you know that those biscuits that you make from a tube take the same amount of time to prepare from scratch? It is the perception of ease that makes them attractive, but while the tube variety might cost you as much as $2.00 or more, you can easily make biscuits with flour, shortening and baking powder for less than $.30! What’s that extra five minutes worth to you? Let’s play with the math for a second. The difference in price is $1.70 for five minutes’ worth of work. Let’s say you have a job that pays you $1.70 per five minutes of work. Over the course of a week, you’d make $816 per week, or $42,432 per year!

Okay, you’re not going to be replacing your income by prepping foods at home, but you get the point -- Why waste money paying for someone else’s time when you can pay yourself for your own? Sure, time might be a little tight, but your mom made time for you, didn’t she?

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