I periodically re-read Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century (affiliate link). I’m not sure when I bought this. It’s a fantastic book about achieving financial independence, understanding the true costs of things and much more.
I’ve never followed all the steps outlined here, yet it has had a tremendous impact even so. The philosophy espoused here is much aligned with my own, about more than just food, although that is the part this web site focuses on. It isn’t “do everything as cheap as possible.” It’s really more about value. Be aware of how much you spend on what. If you absolutely love something and it’s worth the price (and you fully understand the total price) then go for it. Far better that, in my book, than eating some cheap dinner you don’t enjoy at all.
Do you want to buy organic food? Then your food bill will be a bit higher (although your long term health costs may be lower!). If that’s a high value to you, do it. For some of us the option might be to grow (organically) what we can, buy organic and/or local when we can, and deal with the rest as best we can. Others may choose to be more pure and that’s fine. Others still may not have the extra money it takes to buy organic right now. We each need to make our own choices about what’s important in our life and weight those against the available time and money we have on hand. And readjust your priorities as your circumstances change.
My definition of CheapCooking is to spend just enough and no more. I don’t eat beans and rice every day, although, in fact, we all happen happen to love beans! I love the fact that I work at home and so I can put a pot of beans on the stove in the afternoon and we can have them that night at dinner. But we also love a good steak now and then. Still, I buy the marked-down meats fairly often so that I can splurge when it’s important. And I grow food because I enjoy it and I think it’s healthier and cheaper.
At times I’ve been very tight with the budget. It has been a necessity in my life periodically. At this point, I’d rather spend less than more so out of habit I cruise the mark-downs. And sometimes I see something I’ve never cooked before marked down to some absurd price (like the $2.40 cross rib roast with a $2 off coupon affixed to it) and I use that as an inspiration to try something new. But if I’ve got a special dinner planned with a special menu, then I buy what I had planned–unless I see some deal that makes me re-evaluate my whole menu.
Some things start out as a necessary frugal habit and just become ingrained. I rarely buy canned chicken broth, for example. When I was really tight, I learned to make chicken broth out of necessity. I have a bag in the freezer that I add chicken parts to. I have a “stock stuff” container next to it, into which I throw my carrot ends, onion peels, and bits of celery. At some point, they all get thrown into a pot, simmered slowly for a few hours, and voila! Chicken broth! I typically make enough to freeze one 4 -6 cup portion for soup and a few one cup portions for whatever.
So, if you’re here because you’ve got some urgent financial needs and the food bill is the easiest thing to cut, I hope you can find some good ideas and tasty recipes here. If you can take a step back and want to examine a bit more than your food bill, check out the book. Get it from the library. Buy it off Amazon through the link (and throw me a few pennies). Find it in your local used bookstore. I’m going through it again and realize a) how much I got out of it just by reading it and not following all the steps and b) how much MORE I could get out of it if I followed all the steps!