Chapter 3 - Food

Food is fundamental to life. If there's one thing even the chintziest person can't cut out of their budget, it's food. But your attitude toward food and drink isn't immune to being transformed through frugal living.

While the idea of being frugal at the supermarket may bring to mind images of poor-quality, dirt-cheap junk food, we actually don't have to go through life eating unhealthy just to save quid. We do, however, need to change the way we think about cooking and we need to simplify our diets.

As you may recall from the previous chapter, an uncommon bit of savings advice is don't just buy whatever's cheapest. The wiser (and more frugal) way to spend is to consider how long something will last and decide if it is worth the price.

Carrying this idea into the realm of diet, if you feed yourself junk food or only certain food groups, simply because they're the cheapest items on the shelf, you won't be able to sustain your bodily health over time. (Plus, it will probably end up being a more expensive choice later on, what with your medical bills and all.) Rather than going for what's cheap, an alternative approach for frugal cooking is to
reduce the number of ingredients you use.

Reducing ingredients simply means you follow recipes that require… you guessed it… fewer ingredients. This translates into fewer foods to put on your grocery list and fewer foods to potentially go bad in the fridge when they don't get used up. In practice, this is the difference between an eight-vegetable stir-fry that calls for half of every veggie, and a four-vegetable dish that uses up all the vegetables. In addition to eliminating waste, you can really savour the flavours you're getting out of each ingredient when you don't bury them in a heavy mixture.

So how do you get this new lifestyle off the ground? invest in a five-ingredient cookbook or something similar. Next time you have a hankering for a grandiose gourmet meal, consider what flavours you're really yearning for and prepare a dish that highlights only those foods. Savour it. Don't cover it up.

When you dine out, minimise the bill by using vouchers and coupons from sites like Groupon. If possible, patronise restaurants that have Kids Eat Free deals.

49% of shoppers control their grocery spend with top-up shopping. They shop three or more times a week, but only buy a few items on each trip.1

Alcohol is the #1 item men typically spend their money on, while meals out is #4 on the list.2

March challenge: Pay it Off

We started off the year taking a step back to reconsider each impulse buy. Later, we experimented with trimming expenses, even if we weren't sure we could do without them. Now that March has arrived, you should have a pretty good idea of where your money is going and where your worst budgeting blunders lie. It's time to put your savings to maximum benefit and begin paying off your debt.

Which debts should you pay off first? The ones racking up the most interest. If your savings account pays 1% interest and your debts are accruing 3% interest, your money is better off with the bills than in the bank. But don't drain your account completely - it's good to have a small fund set aside for emergencies.

If possible, you can also consolidate your debt to the lowest interest rate, and then begin paying it off. Review your interest rates and consider which is the best option to minimise interest payment later on.

Don't forget to keep track of how much money you're saving at the supermarket! You can put that extra cash toward paying down your debt.

Squash Casserole

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 kg yellow squash, cut into cubes
  • 250g mayonnaise
  • 1 ½ cups grated cheese
  • 1 ¼ cups crushed butter crackers, divided salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Cook onions with a bit of water until lightly brown. Add squash and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the mayonnaise, 1 cup of cheese and 1 cup of the crumbled crackers. Pour into a casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese and crumbs on top. Bake until bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Grilled corn slaw

  • 4 corn on the cob, shucked
  • ½ red cabbage, sliced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 125g fromage frais handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped salt and pepper

Grill the corn, turning periodically, until grill marks appear on all sides. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, toss cabbage with lime juice and season with salt and pepper. When the corn has cooled, cut off the kernels and add to the cabbage. Add fromage frais and cilantro. Stir and serve as a side dish.

Simplified cooking is one technique for frugal living. Another is planning ahead.

Everything discussed in the previous two chapters - about making budgets and making things at home - still holds true for cooking and grocery shopping. Before we dig in to our food, we need to make a plan and create a budget ahead of time for our grocery spend.

The key to building a better food budget is to 1) cook at home as often as possible, 2) plan meals around the foods on offer that week and 3) use up ingredients you already have before buying something new.

Here's what this would look like in real life: Perhaps you want to try a recipe that uses turkey mince, which you don't have, but you notice there's some beef mince already in your fridge. Instead of making a special trip to buy turkey mince, you'd use what you already have on-hand. Similarly, if you have a recipe for an expensive cut of meat, you can substitute a cheaper cut, and often it will produce similar results.

If you'd like even more ideas on how to become a money-savvy shopper, read tips from the grocery series at Quid Corner!