Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grocery Buying Thought # 3: Think Like a Food Manufacturer

Food companies understand how to keep costs down, and we can learn a lot from the ways they practice thrift. Thus today's thought, save money by thinking like a food manufacturer. Here are some of the things they do:

1. Understand that good packaging adds to a foods perceived value, but not its actual value. A lot of times when we shop, we are buying art and novelty just as much as we are buying nourishment. Think about what's inside the pretty package? Is it worth it? Check out to see some silly examples. In contrast, the ingredients food manufacturers bring in to make their products come in boring, utilitarian packaging.

2. Use expensive ingredients as garnish and inexpensive ingredients as filler. Ever notice the size and number of chicken pieces in a canned soup or on a frozen pizza? The difference is that when you make it yourself, you can make the inexpensive filler healthy-- brown rice, vegetables, whole grain bread, etc.

3. Remember small savings add up. I read once about an airline that saved over a million dollars by putting one less olive on people's salads. When searching for good deals on food, it is most important to consistently spend less on the foods you eat most often. For example, if you spend $1 less on the milk you buy every week, you will save $52 in a year. If you spend $5 less on the big bottle of vanilla you buy once a year, you will save $5 in a year. Of course it good to save money on big purchases too, but sometimes we forget how little savings add up.

4. Buy in bulk, but don't get distracted. Manufacturers buy directly from suppliers, in huge quantities. For basic items, don't be afraid to buy a lot at once. Just make sure you really need it. Watch out for the luxury foods sold at warehouse stores. It may be cheaper than you can get it elsewhere, but you probably wouldn't buy that much elsewhere. Sometimes it is better to buy a smaller amount at higher relative cost. And sometimes you should just skip it.

5. Cook a lot at once. Food manufacturers do it for efficiency. You can do it for convenience. Freeze it, or eat it again tomorrow with cheese on top.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Swiss Oats

Breakfast cereal can be expensive. The price per pound is often $3 or more. Compare that to less than $1 for rolled oats, flours, and whole grains. This huge difference in cost means you can save a lot of money each week, just by rethinking breakfast. Consider making waffles from scratch. They are super-cheap, and you can freeze and toast them later. You could also start an oatmeal habit. Skip the packets, though. Old fashioned oats are easy to cook in the microwave (microwave in a wide bowl, with a bit of butter to prevent overflows).

If you are looking for something you can prepare ahead of time, or if you want a cooler breakfast for summer, try Swiss Oats. Here is my recipe:

Swiss Oats

2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups milk

fruit, fresh or dried
chopped nuts

Combine oats, salt, cinnamon, honey and milk in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve with fruit and nuts for individuals to mix in as desired.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Recipe for Tuna Rolls

Make these instead of tuna boxed dinner! They are cheaper, faster, and just as handy. Jeremy remembered them from his childhood, and I made up my own version. Try them, they're tasty.

Tuna Rolls with Special Sauce

1 batch of biscuit dough (use your own, or see 60 Second Biscuits post)
1 can of tuna
2 tablespoons mustard
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup relish, chopped pickled banana peppers (yummy!), or finely chopped onions

Preheat the oven to 400°. Make the biscuit dough. Roll out dough to form a rectangle, approximately 8 inches by 12 inches. Open and drain tuna. Spread tuna evenly over biscuit dough. Roll up dough with tuna inside to form a log 12 inches long. Use string to cut dough into 3/4 inch thick rolls by wrapping string around the log and pulling it tight. Place tuna rolls on a cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake until light golden brown on top, about 12 minutes.

While rolls are in the oven, combine mayonnaise, mustard, and relish to make the sauce.

Eat the rolls warm, topped with sauce if desired.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grocery Buying Thought #2: Make a Plan

Grocery Buying Plan
Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
D&C 88: 119

It took me a while to warm up to the idea of writing a menu for our family's meals. It just didn't fit my personality to be that organized. Besides, I was busy and I figured I wouldn't always have time to cook what was on the menu anyway. I never really bought expensive food. I watched for sale prices and stocked up on good deals. I regularly bought fruits, vegetables, and other healthy items.

Things worked alright, but there were a few problems with my grocery-buying strategy. First, our diet was relatively boring. Since I had no real plans for what to cook, I would usually cook what was easiest, like frozen pizza, microwaved potatoes, or spaghetti. And there was a lot of repetition. Second, I had to do more grocery runs, because I hadn't realized I would need marjoram, cream cheese, or whatever else that week. Third, I wasted more food. I bought items that sounded good or were on sale, but often I never got around to using them.

I am still not as organized as I could be. My mother-in-law plans two meals for each day of the coming week. One woman I know writes out a dinner menu for the entire month. Both these systems are great, but you can get a lot of the same benefits by making a simpler plan (and this is the only way I have been able to make it work for me.

On a good week, here is what I do. Quickly, I check out what I have in my cupboard and fridge. I figure out what supplies I already have and, more importantly, which foods I need to use up soon. Next, I look at the weekly ads. What is on a good sale that I can use? With all of that information in mind, I write out a list of five or six things I want to cook that week. Then I write a grocery list with the things I need to buy, including items for each recipe. When I am preparing to make dinner each day, I choose something from the list and make it. I save money by wasting less, cooking what is on sale, and making fewer trips to the grocery store.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Prosperity Preaching

The New York Times had an article I'd been meaning to post about one of the groups that does "Prosperity Preaching" - teaching that righteousness leads inevitably to financial success. In this case, righteousness means donating to the prosperity preachers themselves.

Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich

It's easy to believe this sort of fallacy - that righteousness in one area will make up for laziness in another area, or will make the rest of our life easy. Paying tithing doesn't mean that your credit card debts will magically fix themselves, and serving well in your calling doesn't mean you'll be able to afford that subprime mortgage.

I thought of this because of a post at Mormon Finance Deceitful Theology: The Theology of Prosperity. It reminded me I hadn't posted these two interesting articles.

Edit: Here's a neat post that refers to this: Not All Deviance is Quixotism

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Using Sales to Increase Food Storage

An article in September's Ensign points out a simple method for increasing our amount of food storage cheaply. Grocery stores will often have very large sales on some items of food (sometimes they are sold for less than they cost the store), in an attempt to attract more shoppers, who will hopefully buy many of the more expensive items too. When these items are non-perishable, they can be bought in large quantities, with most set aside for food storage. Over time, it should be easy to get quite a variety of food this way.

The article also addresses storing food in a small apartment - something very important to us, since our current apartment is quite a bit smaller than our previous one. Our primary problem now is that our kids enjoy climbing on the food storage...

Reading the News

After going without Internet news for a while now, as part of this experiment, I've learned a few things:
  • It's harder to update a blog without news stories and blog entries to get ideas going.
  • Most news is very, very unimportant. I have Julianne tell me what's going on each day, and usually there is very little of actual importance - at least among the more prominent articles.
  • I'd like some way to get a list each morning of the 30 or 40 articles that I'd be most interested in. I'm going to have to work on setting up some Yahoo Pipes filters.
  • It's very refreshing not to be reading about politics! I think I needed a break after the multi-year presidential campaign and recession brought on so many political articles.
I definitely plan to try to find ways to better focus my news and blog reading to filter out the garbage.