It’s been a while since I wrote about budget saving ideas (check out my ‘Budget lunches you can take to work’ and the ‘Mix and match salads’ ideas) but the last few weeks I’ve been trying to focus on using what I have so I thought it was timely to write about budget foods again. It’s also winter and a great time to make big meals and freeze them or to use up the bits and pieces you’ve got hanging around at the back of the cupboard.
As I explained last year in my ‘Wonderful World of Budget Cooking’ post, budget cooking doesn’t have to have the connotation of boring meals and crappy ingredients. I prefer to think of budget cooking as making the most of the entire ingredient, or making the most of the ingredients you have on hand.
Take a look at the picture of my fridge above. It might seem shocking at first to have what most people would consider ‘nothing’ in their fridge, but instead I’m actually being conscious of:
- What I eat.
- How much I eat.
- How much I’m throwing away (see my post ‘$612 a year’ on this).
- How much I’m spending on groceries.
So it’s not that I need to go grocery shopping and I’ve shown you the photos of my fridge at the end of a week, it’s that I’ve got enough food for what I need for this week’s menu plan. The crisper is usually full of vegetables or I’ve got some frozen ones hiding at the back of the freezer too.
It was hard at first, to be so budget conscious, but it was something that I knew I had to do for myself and for my husband. There is always something you feel like you’re giving up on and the feelings of missing out can be hard to challenge at first. It’s really hard to fill that void when you think all you’re doing is losing things but not gaining anything. You think your life should be better and that you deserve certain things and these fears tend to come out in things like packets of chocolate and other prepared foods. You feel like full cupboards and a full fridge and freezer are a part of the whole status of who you are and it can be hard to mentally take those first few steps.
But it’s not really like that at all, and it’s not as hard as you might imagine to change to having a more budget conscious kitchen. When you’re forced into spending less, eating differently for medical reasons or something like that when you have to make a change, it can seem a bit easier because you know you don’t have a choice. But if you just want to do that for yourself you can find it a lot more challenging as motivation can wane pretty quickly. A few tips and tricks can make it easier, and seeing some of the numbers helps a lot!
When I first started budget shopping I didn’t have a plan. I just made 2 small changes at first as that was all I was prepared to do. My fridge and freezer were still packed full and I felt okay making these changes because they were hardly consequential when I still had all the rest.
I realised I was buying a block of cheese, sliced cheese and grated cheese each fortnight when we did the groceries. I used them all, but I will admit that the block was least used because I was lazy and didn’t want to cut it up. I realised that if I bought a single block of cheese I could also make slices and grated cheese from the same block. Yes I’d been lazy but I already had a cheese slicer and a cheese grater in the cupboard and a husband nearby who could grate or slice for me if I needed some cheese in a hurry when I was in the middle of a recipe. It took me a couple of goes to convince my husband that this was the best way to go but once we both saw that it was now only costing us $6 for the block of cheese instead of $18 for all three, we were convinced almost straight away. Doesn’t sound like much but $12 a fortnight over a year means you’ve saved $312 a year already! I can do a lot of other things with $300 and I’m still getting my cheese fix when I want it.
The other change I made was with the pasta sauce. I used to buy a bottle of pasta sauce for $3 each fortnight, and I would only use a quarter of the jar for pasta on a lazy night before I inevitably found it mouldy in the back of the fridge a week or so later cause I’d forgotten about it. I’m ashamed to say that once I found 6 bottle all in this same condition and I had to throw them all out. Eeeewww! However, for 60c I realised I could buy a tin of diced tomatoes that I can whiz in the food processor or with my barmix into a purée. I could also just leave it chunky depending on my preference when I wa cooking. I’ve already got garlic and herbs at home so it means I’m saving $2.40 per bottle. If I used to buy one bottle a fortnight, I’m now saving another $60 a year!
Your turn: By only making 2 small changes I’m up almost $400 a year! I can do so many other things with that money, rather than just over buy or overeat. Did you know, that that’s the equivalent of 100 takeaway coffees (that’s almost 2 coffees a week for a year) or I could go and see 22 movies by myself, or 11 if I went with my hubby. Of course it could also mean a couple of awesome new pairs of heels or a really great dress for our anniversary night date.
Imagine how much you can save by making other really tiny changes as well. My husband estimates we are now saving between $20,000 and $30,000 a year from all the changes we have made! That figure blew me away, and it’s the reason why we’re going on a holiday later in the year. It’s taken some hard work along the way, but really, it’s all about the small changes. I use my leftovers, I utilize my freezer, I cook from scratch and I make about half of our bread myself (see my bread posts here and here).
I’ve listed a few other things you might like to try to start saving some cash for yourself, your family or for that elusive holiday. Thing is, whatever you want, it’s really achievable when you just get smart about what you’re doing, and then its easy.
- Freeze leftover wine from half empty bottles into ice cubes so you can add that splash of wine to meals like risottos. That way you don’t have to buy and open a whole bottle for a few splashes. Saves you $5-25 per bottle.
- Freeze leftover fresh herbs in ice cubes for later cooking. The water will evaporate but the herbs will be there to add flavour to your meal. Try this for pasta dishes and casseroles. Saves you $5 each time you need fresh herbs.
- Grate Parmesan and freeze into ziplock bags so you can use a sprinkle here and there for a recipe, over pasta or salad or try it sprinkled over asparagus with a splash of lemon juice. Yum! Saves you $10 or more each time you need a block of parmesan.
- Chop and freeze capsicum and onion ahead, or any other vegetables you have. My tip though – don’t freeze raw pumpkin as it wasn’t great to eat when defrosted. Saves you $$$ on your fresh produce and saves you time during the week as your vegies are already prepared.
- Use aged fruit for muffins or cakes and freeze individual serves for easy work snacks or quick desserts on a cold night (warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds and they are delish!). Saves you $4-5 per bought muffin and $$$ on your fresh produce by using everything and wasting nothing.
- Ageing fruit, especially tropical fruits and berries, can be frozen in chunks and then whizzed with a splash or two of fruit juice for instant ice cream. Saves you $5-10 on bought ice cream and saves you $$$ on your fresh produce.