Thursday, June 9, 2011

Eating Cheap

 How do you think you would fare on $4 a day? Donna Freedman tried it recently...and did a terrific job. (She actually went under that figure a bit. And here's another article, same basic subject, by Liz Weston.)

Let's see. Four dollars a day equals $28 a week per person -- so that makes $56 weekly for Husband and yours truly, not counting. I was checking grocery bills while doing taxes this year, and we were coming in between $45-50 weekly. I was a little horrified at that figure; I thought we were spending less. But if you count in guests and family visits, plus holidays, that's not doing too bad.

 Donna's food suggestions are sort of close to ours. She likes chicken thighs -- I have always thought them a little greasy. I use whole chicken, instead -- it's cheaper, lets you use a mix of white and dark meat, and the bones make great stock.
    I also rely more on pork: steaks, roasts, sliced loin (I've gotten it as cheap as $1.18/lb around here), pork chops. Bacon (buy it in the 3-lb "ends" form) or sausage (especially bratwurst) are popular around here -- but we eat less of it than you think. A few pieces give other dishes more flavor.
    A surprise winner right now is shrimp -- we can get it for $4 a pound, unlike steak, which wanders around in the $7-11 level. (What are they feeding cattle now -- gold leaf??) Just a quarter-pound of shrimp makes a definite statement in a stirfry or saute, and gives you a feeling of luxury.
    Other things that help:

*Always check the markdown areas. There are four at our local King Soopers: meat, fish, dry/canned goods, milk/dairy products. Vegetables and fruit have been showing up lately on the dry shelf: ten pounds of potatoes for $1, organic bananas for 35 cents a pound. I just got two gallons of milk today for $1.99; the next cheapest was $2.69. (The milk doesn't expire until the 20th; we'll have it gone by then.)
*Bouillon cubes make soups and stews richer and more authoritative, for pennies. One beef cube in chili or beef stew; one chicken for soup...makes all the difference.
*Smoothies mix damaged or on-sale-frozen fruit with on-sale yogurt: delicious.
*Really stretched for cash? Use less meat and more veggies.
*If you're stretched for time and need cooked food NOW, look for marked-down fried chicken or whole chickens in the deli area. 
*Watch your extras -- desserts can add heavy cash quickly. I look for marked-down cookies (or make them), make my own brownies, and keep a gallon of sale ice cream (especially Blue Bell!) in the freezer. 

Young friends are staying with us at present -- Libby, the daughter of our friends in Hungary, lived with us for a summer back when she was in college. I asked her about this question, since she and Adam have had a frugal life ever since they married. "About $60 a month for food," she said, and offered these tips:

*Start with a well-stocked pantry -- that way, you only have to replace the basics occasionally.
*Beans make things go further -- and you don't need as much meat.
*Each person has 1/4 pound of meat per day. Libby relies on ground beef and chicken breasts, sausage or ham, reduced-price meat of any kind. She's especially fond of ham hocks or polish sausage; they can stretch a pot of beans into four meals.
*Don't serve rice very often. It tastes good -- but you get hungry again quickly.
*Only purchase food for breakfast or dinner -- lunch is leftovers.
*Pasta is good. Cabbage is cheap -- and it lasts.

She also relies on milk (a good source of protein and calcium), eggs (a favorite of ours at breakfast, thanks to its protein content) and cheese.

One of her favorite dishes is Ninja Food: one pork steak, browned and cut into cubes. Add 1/4-1/2 cup diced onion, 1 diced jalapeno pepper (or 1/2 diced green pepper); toss in 2 cans of pink, white or pinto beans; season with 1 teaspoon tarragon. Add a chopped carrot, and 1/2 cup frozen peas, then simmer all to taste. (Chopped spinach may be stirred in at the very end, as well.)
   Why the name? "Because it has a surprising kick."

Next post: Saving money on drinks, too.

Flood update: Discouraging. Servpro's machines are still roaring away in our basement, and things are definitely drying better. But the smells are still there, and little piles of slimy fabric are still around. After telling us how to proceed (and actually calling Servpro themselves), Safeco has suddenly decided that our claim should not be honored -- because we have mold forming. (Apparently they think we should have noticed it, and called them sooner. Little matter to them that we actually have a specific clause to cover mold! No matter, also, that it was underneath shelving -- where we never look -- and INSIDE THE DINGDANG WALL. How in the world are we going to notice stuff like that inside the wall?! Sooner - before the basement actually flooded? Sooner - before we had our own indoor waterfall? 
   The other irony: we were told in the beginning that they would cover everything but the plumber's bill to actually fix the pipe. Now the adjuster is saying they'd pay for the plumber, after all. As if we would break down and thank them for their incredible generosity. The plumber's bill was $177. Our deductible is $1000. And I'm supposed to believe they won't take that into account??
    When Husband reiterated firmly that we've been good customers -- we have -- mentioned our problems with all this, and brought up the word "lawyer," the adjuster hastily backed down and said she'd check again with her manager. In the meantime, the machines continue to roar away downstairs, the Servpro guys are chomping at the bit to start...and we wait.

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