Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dining on a Shoestring

I never was sure where the idea of a shoestring budget came from...Oh well, it's really not that interesting. Instead, I'll share my thoughts on how we cut back on food expenses without cutting back on eating well.

Budget, meet Freezer.  Freezer, meet Budget.
Sometimes in our fanaticism for fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, we forget that our freezers are perfectly reasonable places to locate ingredients, particularly in the winter. I use frozen vegetables all the time, and I love to buy quality organic meats to freeze for later use. Wegmans is a great resource for frozen goodies, even seafood (Trader Joe’s too, if you choose wisely). Check out this Cioppino I recently whipped up:

Canned San Marzano tomatoes, frozen shrimp, tilapia, and scallops, dried herbs, served with some freshly diced zucchini and a baguette from the grocery store. For roughly $15, we had a meal worthy of a much higher restaurant price tag. It’s really not hard to make these things happen (okay, maybe I did have a little help in the process), and we don’t always need the most premium ingredients to accomplish these feats.

Meal Plan Mondays
(This is an idea I got from the Amanda’s Cookin’ blog, though our meal plan is a slightly lower level - I think Amanda prepares much more involved daily fare for her family than I do for mine. But, I also think Amanda works in her home. So, I’ll give myself a pass when it’s stir-fry instead of roasted chicken.)

I don’t know about you, but after a long day at work and a few hours of running with and cleaning up after a toddler and dog, I can be easily persuaded into ordering takeout. But the price of doing such adds up after a while. So, instead, on Sunday nights, I make a meal plan for the week. Taking an inventory of the crisper drawer, looking up recently tagged recipe ideas, and ultimately making a plan is a big help to get through the week without throwing extra cash around, either for last-minute ingredient needs (the Bodega down the street tends to price at a premium) or to replace items that have gone bad. It also helps me avoid excuses like, “I forgot to take the meat out of freezer to thaw”, and also, to identify the nights when it’s either going to be leftovers or take-out, so as to make sure I acknowledge that the other evenings are going to have to pick up the slack. (More to come on the merits of writing things down).

Planned Fun

Here’s another non-secret….this approach does not fit everyone’s lifestyle. For instance, we find it almost impossible to take advantage of Groupons or Living Social deals (not so much spontaneity in our plans). Instead, it means....yup, you guessed it, we have to find other ways to save. Like making pizza at home for instance (and by the by, you also get to choose exactly how to go halfsies; WIN!)...

Tough Decisions
The real theme is here is that none of the aforementioned ideas are particularly earth-shattering. They simply involve choices to make the effort to save money. They involve making the tough decisions.

There was a really long rant in all of this, but after I typed it out, I realized it was more of an exhalation and I feel better now that it escaped from my fingers. I don't need to bore you with the specifics of my thoughts on economic and tax policy. Others have it covered. I'll just share with you some much more enjoyable tidbits.

VOCAB WORDS: Whee, Go, Huh?, Okay, Ahhh (***refreshed*** lip smack/exhale after gulping water from his cup)

Annndddd....we have four new teeth, three new sets of shorts from Old Navy, a newly acquired affinity for dunking in swim class, a forehead almost covered with hair (we've been sporting a unfortunate hair line/mullet combo for some time now), and mommy has a new camera to show me off.

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