Getting Thrifty: Reader Tips and Tricks

It's pretty hard not to notice that the cost of food is all jacked up, and the prices are climbing faster than a cockroach fleeing for safety. Between February 2007 and February 2008, the Consumer Price Index for all food increased by 4.6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture' s Economic Research Service. The price increases are even higher for specific food items; cereal is up by 6.6 percent, milk is up by 16.8 percent and eggs are 25 percent more expensive than one year ago.

The bean counters at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the ongoing consumer price indices, have reported that the food index for the first quarter of 2008 jumped at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.3 percent, already higher than the 4.9 percent increase for all of 2007.

As harsh as the sticker shock may feel in your neck of the woods, it's nothing compared to what's going on in the developing world, where food costs have exceeded wages and have been the cause of recent riots in Haiti and Bangladesh.

Needless to say, it's tough all over, and we're feeling the squeeze big time both at the supermarket and at the stove. In light of the current crunch, I asked What's Cooking readers last week what they are doing to stretch their food budgets. Below, a sampler of their tips, tricks and techniques for cutting costs while still eating well.

Vanessa, a self-described "wife of a Ph.D candidate" in Denton, Tex., ("at the northern end of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex") shares her love for the egg, despite its continual rise in price.

"My top candidates are egg-based dishes," she writes. "Even with the climb in the price of eggs, you can still buy 18 for $3-$4, and that is enough for three souffles."

At her local supermarket, "a spinach and parmesan souffle made with a ten-ounce package of frozen spinach, regular grated parmesan, milk, butter, flour and eggs comes in at about $4 and serves 3 to 4, for about $1 per serving," she reports.

One of Vanessa's brunch favorites is "a skillet classic I call 'A Glorious Mess.' It contains eggs, a little milk, cheddar cheese, sauteed onion, potatoes, and a little canola oil. A nice addition is diced ham or crumbled bacon, although that raises the cost. Without the meat, it's about $1.25-1.50/serving."

Amanda, who writes from Arlington, Va., where she shares an apartment with her husband, reports that her weekly budget is based on "what's on sale that week, what I already have in the house, and what I can purchase for a good price at Costco."

"I stock up on pantry items when they go on sale (cans of beans and crushed tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, spaghetti sauce, etc.)," she writes. "I also buy some items frozen as they are cheaper than fresh (fish fillets and chicken breasts in big frozen bags at Costco, and frozen veggies when they go on sale at the supermarket). I also stock up on bags of shredded cheese when they go on sale and keep a few in the freezer."

But before closing her note, she throws in a rant: "I know you advocate shopping at farmers markets, and the big bags of frozen items I mentioned are probably making you shudder! I will say, the stuff we eat tastes good. I know it's not enviro-friendly, but it's really expensive to shop at farmers markets or places like Whole Foods or to buy products labeled organic. If the enviro advocates really want us to start eating in a more enviro-friendly manner, they've got to work with the producers of these products or the government or both to find a way to make it more affordable!"

Nina, of Columbia, Md., who describes herself as
"the Queen of thrifty meals," shares her tips for feeding her family of three, plus a "90-pound canine who often eats human food."
Unlike Amanda, Nina says that the majority of her food is organic, but working under the following set of rules:

1. "Waste nothing. Extra tomato sauce gets re-used into another dish (often pizza, which can use up other random pieces of meats and veggies as toppings.) "

2. "Eat in season. Farmer's markets are just opening up. But if you eat with the seasons, you pay very, very little for your food. "

3. "Beans! Especially dried - I love MOMs (My Organic Market) bulk section. Black-eyed peas are a family favorite. In a time pinch, I go for canned."

4. "The everything soup. No real recipe, but you basically take something tomato-ish or something mushroom-ish and go from there. Choose your base (I'm a mushroom girl myself, though my family prefers tomato), add veggies, beans/pulses if you like, simmer away, add grains or pasta (I try to use as little pasta as possible, for health reasons). Crock pots are great."

5. "Frozen fish. Saves me a ton!"

Ed in Rockville, Md., who's got a family of three to feed, swears by a food saver vacuum seal.

"While the initial outlay of many may not be thrifty," he writes, "it will pay for itself before you know it. A few examples: I buy skinless chicken breast from Giant. They are normally $3.99 per pound, but about once every six weeks they put it on sale for $1.79, when I buy enough for a month and freeze it. The money I have saved just on chicken breast alone has more than paid for the machine."

Nadia, in Rockville, Md., who's cooking for four, swears by the thrifty tricks she learned growing up in Trinidad. "We ate a lot of rice and beans or lentils accompanied by local vegetables or salad," she writes. "I have a pressure cooker and buy dried beans which are cheaper. When I buy meat, I buy a whole chicken or stew beef or goat and make curries and stews with vegetables to bulk up the dish."

She also mentions going the DYI route to save money on family staples. "I make my own yogurt (I got a quart size yogurt maker on for $12.99 on sale). I also make most of my own bread (bread prices for whole-grain loaves especially are outrageous). This takes time but it is cheaper and tastes better. "

Over in Baltimore, Md., Melissa shares her love for farro, an ancient variety of wheat also known as emmer, which I'm having a hard time getting my hands on, so I may need to hightail it up the highway!

"I get it at Mastellone's here in Baltimore," she writes. "It is cheap, nutritious and lends itself well to all sort of additions from zucchini to green beans to feta cheese to almonds (we get 'em in bulk from the Punjab market). A little pomegranate molasses and olive oil makes a great dressing for the grains too."

She and her husband have also come to appreciate the lesser-traveled parts of the animal - at least in this country. "We're eating more offal," she writes. "My husband made a stew of lamb's tongues from Fergus Henderson's "Nose to Tail Eating." We got a duck from Wegman's which was roasted for dinner #1, then the kidneys and liver were sauteed and served over greens for dinner #2, and finally the carcass was made into soup for dinner #3. We've gotten to like lamb breast and other cuts that are less popular and less expensive."

Are you as thrifty as this group of six? Show us what kind of thriftiness you've got cooking in the comments area below.

And while you're putting those saved pennies in the piggy bank, check out Bonnie Benwick's Food story about local chef Peter Smith, who pulls off a very thrifty challenge: dinner for four for $11.22.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 22, 2008; 10:26 PM ET Cooking on a Budget
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Below is a link to the most recent edition of the Better Times Almanac of Useful Information, which alas is now out of print but lives on in cyberspace. It has a lot of practical advice for "Champagne living on a beer budget".

As we say in Oklahoma, "Y'all bon apettit, you hear?"

Posted by: Bob Waldrop | April 23, 2008 8:52 AM

Amanda, food gets cheaper in two ways. 1) Government subsidies. You pay for that. 2) demand goes up, more people are buying, thus is is more cost-effective for farmers to grow it and the price can come down. I imagine if you counted up all you spend on other items that are not necessary, you'd find you have ore money than you think. Also, long term, you are helping your own health and the planet's if you don't buy things that were grown with hormones and chemmicals. Do you really want to be drinking water that has bovine hormones and anntibiotics in it? We are now because of farming done the wrong way. Pesticides used on produce wash into the groundwater. Then there is the simple kindness issue: chicken in bulk might be cheaper, but visit a chicken farm some day and look at the absolutely devastating conditions both the animals and the workers are subjected to. Saving a few dollars seems less important when you see people working for minimum wage in the freezing cold and suffering from repetitive stress injuries that are not compensated. Life is trade offs. Spending a bit more is worth it when you consider how much you are positively affecting by doing so.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 9:00 AM

I will be airborne for much of the day, but will check in with your comments once I reach the left coast early this evening. Keep the comments coming!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 23, 2008 9:08 AM

one real easy way to be thrify: go vegetarian.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 9:33 AM

I have to agree with the second commenter. Meat especially should NOT be cheap. I shudder to think at the conditions the chickens must have endured if they can be sold for $1.79/lb. Whenever I go to the farmer's market in the height of summer, I'm always amazed by how cheap everything is. Eggplants for $1! Zucchini for 50 cents! Seriously, if you eat vegetarian several days a week and eat with the seasons, it's pretty cheap. Save the (humanely raised) chicken for a special Sunday dinner and explore rice and beans, lentils, and in-season produce, if you really need to scrimp during the rest of the week. Personally, I don't worry about the cost of food. I live in a tiny apartment, don't own a car, don't buy a lot of clothes or toys, so I spend whatever I need to on food. It's all about priorities.

Posted by: Phoebe | April 23, 2008 9:36 AM

Amen, Phoebe.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 9:47 AM

re: eat vegetarian That's an overly simplistic response. Especially when buying fresh, the number of calories from veggies can cost substantially more than the number of calories from meat or other types of food. Think about how many carrots you would need to eat to match the number of calories in a cheeseburger! Sure, you can get bulky protein from non-animal sources, but it takes a real shift in planning and in tastebuds to get all jazzed about some beans or tofu (and that's if you can figure out how to cook those foods to make them edible anyway, I know I still haven't figured that out!).

One counter intuitive thing that helps me save money is to buy smaller or single serving portions. I was raised that bulk is better, you save so much! But now I live alone and if I just bought the smallest size for a $1 rather than the bulk size for $3 (which I'll never use all of before it goes bad), I just saved myself $2.

I think being realistic about your eating habits is a huge part of saving money. "Oh, this perishable item is on sale, I better stock up now!" and then it goes bad in my fridge. Lots of times people say going to the grocery store frequently makes you spend more, but since I am not disciplined enough to stick to a pre determined menu, buying what I need every few days really helps me cut down on buying all sorts of stuff I'll just never use.

Posted by: spendy veggie | April 23, 2008 10:42 AM

The thriftest thing I ever did for groceries was to start meal planning and making grocery lists. It sounds so simple but this was actually a big step for me. We were more like the "what do you feel like tonight" couple. It has made a big difference. I plan so that I use leftovers or excess ingredients from one dinner in the next night's. We're only a family of two, so sometimes ingredients don't come in quantities small enough for just one dinner. By making a list, I am less likely to impulse buy things we didn't need and I reduce multiple weekday trips to the grocery store. Along with that, I frequently take my motorcycle to the grocery store. I can only hold groceries that fit into 1 heaping basket + 1 bulky item, so that prohibts me from picking up something I don't need.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | April 23, 2008 10:43 AM

We eat a lot of homemade soups for lunch which makes for rather thrifty, filling and hearty dining. A clever way of making hmoemade broth is that we save all the parings from veggies (and stems of herbs and veggies about to turn) in a ziploc bag in the freezer, when the bag is full, we make homemade veggie broth, or chicken broth if we have a carcass to use as our soup base. Extra broth is frozen to serve as the base for future soups. Once the veggies are spent, we compost them.

I know it has been said before, but packing up leftovers from dinner for lunch (or freezing them in individual portions) really saves us a lot of money. The average lunch out seems to be about $10 and that adds up fast if you have a hectic week.

We do shop around. I pass four different grocery stores in 3 miles on my way home from work, not counting the small ethnic markets. We're mindful of who has the best prices on produce (our number one food budget item) and shop accordingly. We generally only visit mainline grocery stores for loss leaders and staples and use Costco to stock up on things that make sense to buy in bulk.

For our family of two we spend about $40-$50 a week on food purchases. Every other week we splurge on something nice on sale like shrimp or a nice steak to make dining feel celebratory and special.

Posted by: Falls Church, VA | April 23, 2008 11:22 AM

The secret to saving money at the grocery store is to ONLY shop sales and to pair those sales with coupons. With a 2-person household, we only spend about $50 a month, and that includes meat purchases. We will make a trip to the grocery store just to buy one thing and one thing only, and will go to multiple stores in one week to take advantage of sales. Every once in a while we'll buy a bunch of steaks, but we vacuum seal and freeze them for up to a year. We keep careful track of food prices, and know when a there is a good sale, and take advantage. That is really important---just because something is advertised on sale, doesn't mean that it's being sold at a good price, and the best prices are not always on the front page of the add. An educated shopper is the best weapon against rising food prices.

We also rarely shop at Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and every so often we'll go to Wegemans, and I wonder what is going to happen to these overpriced "luxury" grocers (except Wegemans who seem to have hit the jackpot with their prepared foods) when people realize they cannot afford weekly $100 grocery bills.

Posted by: Tom | April 23, 2008 1:23 PM

are there any other tips for eating more frugally besides beans? i would love to go that route, but all my children are allergic to all members of the legume family. so stuff that i grew up on when money was tight is not an option for me now. no more beans and franks, or p.b.j. sandwiches here. and its kind of hard to have a meatless night when there are few suitable replacements that won't harm your kids or cost an arm and a leg.

Posted by: leah | April 23, 2008 1:40 PM

Risotto is my favorite econo-meal. I make stock exactly as Falls Church describes, and to stretch the arborio rice I mix it half and half with pearl barley. Then I make a basic risotto, adding whatever vegetables are on hand and/or about to turn.

Posted by: Matt | April 23, 2008 1:44 PM

The person who suggested going veggie as a way of saving money is absolutely right. The money saved by not buying meat more than makes up for the cost of fresh vegetables -- if that's the way you want to go. And, despite what another commenter seems to think, it IS easy to get "jazzed" about beans and tofu if you take the time to learn how to cook them. Dried beans are REALLY cheap and, with the right herbs, veggies, and spices, they're delicious. (Indian dal, anyone?) I recently picked up a 10-pound bag of organic brown basmati rice at Costco. Served with the dal, you've got yourself a delicious, really nutritious, and CHEAP meal!

Posted by: Rebecca | April 23, 2008 1:46 PM

I guess, one thing the folks are foregetting is that shopping around also results in significant driving depending on the location. With the gas prices marching towards $4 per gallon, is it worth doing this when you need to shop for couple of items. More over is it going to be environmentally friendly approach?

Posted by: Chetan | April 23, 2008 1:58 PM

for the non-bean frugal searcher, check out the recipe finder here. There are a ton of wonderful ones that meat eaters will love, too (and person who thinks beans are no good, why don't you look, too?)

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 3:03 PM

As a college student 30 years ago, I gave up meat and poultry to save money. I felt so good physically, that I just stuck with it - still don't eat it. If you eat healthy otherwise, you don't need to have a "replacement" for the meat.

My husband drinks milk, I don't. We buy powdered so that he uses it as needed (cereal) and it doesn't go to waste.

Soups - we love soups. Made bean veggie soup last week, cost less than 20 cents per bowl.

We have only one sunny part in our yard, behind the garage, about 13 x 15. I grow our tomatoes, bush beans, and frying peppers. The jalapenos, herbs, and swiss chard grow in pots to be moved around into sunny spots. The cucumbers grow on the fence. I've let the onions grow wild in the back. There's a garden in the foreclosed home behind me; last year I got 6 pounds of strawberries from the garden.

When buying veggies for soup, it doesn't matter if they don't "look" good or are starting to get dried or iffy-looking. They're cheaper.

We're fortunate that we "don't have to" worry about our food costs. However, I feel more conscientious doing so, and it makes it o.k. to go out to dinner now and then, and makes it affordable to buy organic on occasion. (Mostly potatoes and fruit.)

Posted by: detroit dog | April 23, 2008 3:13 PM

The easiest way to keep eating meat but save money and calories is simply to cut it up. For example, most recipes for 4 servings will call for 4 chicken breasts. If you take one chicken breast and cut it up into bite-sized pieces, and otherwise continue the recipe as it is printed, no one will notice the difference -- and it's ready for the kids, no need to cut up the meat at the table.

Posted by: Danielle | April 23, 2008 3:15 PM

Danielle, yes, most Americans eat portions that are waaaay more than the 3-4 oz recommended. If you eat it as part of a stir fry or stew, you can eat even less.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 3:20 PM

As a part-time vegetarian, I agree with the vegetarian posters. It is cheaper! Dried beans are one of the most economical and healthy foods out there.

I also belong to a CSA. While the cost is higher upfront, for our family of 2, it is the same price I would pay for grocery store produce for the 22 week growing season.

I also save money by doing most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. They're way cheaper than Whole Foods for many of the same products. I find that they're 30 cents to a dollar cheaper on most things than my neighborhood grocery store. And, they have an excellent frozen foods section if that's what floats your boat.

Posted by: Dawn | April 23, 2008 4:02 PM

Waste nothing! Learn what flavors you like and feel your way through cooking what you have. Beans add bulk to lots of dishes - or a handful of lentils or a handful of rice. Keep those chopped veg ends to make a stock and freeze it. And run what's in season through an internet recipe search to figure out which options you like best. Yum!

Posted by: lauren o | April 23, 2008 4:07 PM

buying nicer tuna at the supermarket and a gorgeous rye bread at the polish bakery still is cheaper than buying a single sandwich out a week, and four cans of tuna made into tuna salad lasts the whole week. packing lunch is the way to go!

Posted by: jb | April 23, 2008 4:10 PM

I haven't eaten meat for so long that I've never bought it for myself. But I think it's important to note that going vegetarian is not some money-saving panacea. Fresh veggies are expensive, just like meat is expensive. Beans and tofu are great, economical ways to get protein, but it's taken a long time for me to get over bean-phobia and I still haven't found tofu main dish recipes that are not disasters (and yeah, I have several veggie cook books, maybe I just always try the toughest recipes, I don't know).

It's great to advocate vegetarianism or potential cost savings, but like I said, I think it's important to be realistic. If you love meat and constantly buy fake stir fry kits, you may not be saving a ton. I really liked that veggie stock freezer bag idea though, no change in palate or routine necessary--brilliant!

Posted by: spendy veggie | April 23, 2008 4:34 PM

Keeping waste to a minimum and planning... bottom line for us. If I'm sick of eating something and still have some left, I throw it in the freezer (this is when an extra freezer comes in handy). I keep a dry erase board in the kitchen to help keep track of what we need at the store, what needs to be used up from the freezer or pantry, and what meals I have planned.

I also love the tip about keeping vegetable parings in the freezer for veggies broth. I already do that with chicken bones/skin/etc to make chicken broth. What a no-brainer!

Posted by: LittleFoot | April 23, 2008 5:00 PM

I second (or third) the stock idea; it's so easy to throw onion ends into a freezer bag, and homemade stock is fantastic. My only other money-saving tip is to be flexible and buy what looks good/is on sale that day, rather than insisting on chicken on Tuesdays and beef on Wednesdays, or whatever. Oh, and my boyfriend loves country bacon and other fatty pig parts, and we save the drippings to cook other things in or to make biscuits the old-fashioned way.

Just starting to get into baking our own bread, too, but I think we need a little more practice before we can kiss the bakery goodbye.

Posted by: Rachel | April 23, 2008 5:44 PM

Inexpensive healthy breakfast: Every 5 or 6 days I make a big pot of steel-cut oats (2 cups steel cut oats, 2 cups milk, 5 cups water, 5 tablespoons almond butter, a little salt, 30 minutes to cook). I keep it in the fridge and microwave a serving each morning.

Posted by: Laura | April 23, 2008 6:20 PM

Anyone buying groceries @ Walmart vs. supermarket?

Posted by: ED | April 23, 2008 7:39 PM

Root vegetable peelings have pesticides. Not good for soup.

Posted by: Dave | April 23, 2008 7:57 PM

Dave is right - be careful about those peelings. Buy organic and/or from the farmer's market where you can ask the farmer whether or not pesticides are used on their fields.

And to the starting bread-makers: I know that this will sound like cheating, but I employ my bread machine to make bread doughs for me. I have a few basic bread recipes (whole wheat, white, multi-grain, pizza) that I throw in to my machine, set it on "dough" and then I walk away for 2+ hours. When done, I turn out the bread, roll it out and add any additional ingredients, shape it, and put it into loaf pans. Then I do one more 45-60 minute rise before putting it into the oven.

I'm chasing (almost) three kids around, so it's nice to let the machine do most of the work. Also, by using my own bread pans in lieu of just using the bread machine to bake the bread, I end up with two loaves per batch that are proportionally more akin to sandwich bread-size than the giganto-bread that the machine bread pan makes. Rolling and shaping the dough for my bread pans also improves the bread texture and makes it easier to slice uniform pieces. Hubby packs a sandwich everyday to work.

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | April 24, 2008 8:19 AM

Sometimes, you get what you pay for. Yes, Whole Foods is more expensive than Wal Mart, but look at the quality difference.

And if you're scrimping and saving to feed your family, get rid of the dog! Really, if you can't afford your children, you shouldn't have a pet!

Posted by: Cheap not always good | April 24, 2008 9:43 AM

I will not shop at WalMart for countless ethical reasons, just one of which is that they treat their workers like something on the bottom of their shoe (no unions, no health insurance, etc). Further, they won't sell several forms of contraception and the Morning After Pill from their pharmacies. In this world where WalMart is sometimes the only option in small communities, that is grossly irreposible and imposes a moral judgment on the women of those communities who would like to exercise their reproductive rights. To me, saving a bit of money for items trucked thousands of miles and that are cheap because of abuse of those who produced the items (WalMart is not buying from farms that treat their workers well) and those who work for WalMart, is just not an option. I gladly spend more because I know my actions have a an effect far greater than the mere purchase. It is just a choice that is worth it to me.

On another note, besides Trader Joe's, My Organic Market actually is quite inexpensive for many things.

And vegetable peelings do not have pesticide if you buy organic, which is not that much more costly and think of the pesticides you are avoiding putting into your body and the ground water.

Posted by: Jo | April 24, 2008 10:22 AM

spendy veggie, this is the recipe that finally got me to like home-prepared tofu:

For food thrift, I have a "use it up" night every week. The night before I go grocery shopping, I make an effort to use up all those bits that won't make it to next week or pantry goods or condiments that have been around too long. This week it's time to make something with those adzuki beans that I bought on a whim.

Posted by: mollyjade | April 24, 2008 11:25 AM

Michael Pollan points out that Americans in the last decade have found room in their budgets for broad-band computer connections, cable TV, Tivo consoles, cell phones that are regularly upgraded, Wii and XBox entertainment units, giant TV screens to go with the cable, satellite and video game sets, and innumerable other dubious luxuries, and yet whine mightily about how much more expensive food is at farmers' markets, grown and raised by your neighbors, on relatively nearby land, usually by methods that are ecologically more responsible than those used by corporate farms. At farmers' markets, the total price of the food goes to the people who raise it, not to the inflated salaries of corporate managers, or advertising agencies. We have grown used to very cheap food, which underwrites our indulgences. I have started indulging instead in good food grown by people I talk to about what they grow. Doing so is interesting, the food tastes good, and I feel I am empowering local people with my food money.

Posted by: Ron Mikulak | April 24, 2008 11:31 AM

Amen, Ron. I see people talking for entire Metro rides on the cell phones (or plugged into iPods, isolated from everyone else) and wonder how much of those calls are necessary and whether they could save money and have a nicer time actually sitting down with that person and communicating one-on-one.

And the food in WalMart and other stores is cheap because it is subsidized by the US Gov't and produced and sold in terrible conditions for workers and animals. Another reason to choose MOM's, farmer's markets, Whole Foods, etc.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 24, 2008 11:35 AM

We buy fresh, local vegetables in season and meats in bulk, which we divide up in zip lock bags and freeze for meals later. We eat very little beef, which tends to be more expensive than chicken, which we consume most of the time. We also have several vegetarian meals every week. When there are leftovers, we recycle them into flavorful, nutritious soup. My husband grew up in Europe; when he was a boy, meat was considered a treat and reserved for Sunday, and then mostly for flavoring and not as the centerpiece of the meal--so veggies and soups go over very well with him. I grow all of my own herbs, sprouts, and some vegetables, which are so much less costly than purchasing at the grocery. There's nothing quite like harvesting your own fresh tomatoes right off the plant! We also have leftover night each week, so there is very little, if any waste of food (when I was a child, my thrifty grandfather, our family's primary cook, pushed the "waste not, want not" philosophy, right down to cooking fish bones and heads for soup stock). He was my first recycling mentor and a good one! We also take note, on a clipboard hung on the side of the fridge, of foods and other items we need to buy, to lessen impulse purchases.
Hope you have a great time in CA--I'm a California native and try to get back every other year! Love the desert!!

Posted by: Rebecca in VA. | April 24, 2008 12:07 PM

My only problem with farmers markets is that the ones that I can easily get to are only open on Saturday and Sunday mornings (closed by noon). I work nights and sleep through the mornings--it is rare for me to be up before noon. I get home around 5 am so they aren't even open for me to go to on my way home.

Posted by: Dublin Traveler | April 24, 2008 12:27 PM

Dublin Traveler: Alexandria's opens at 5 am

Posted by: Anonymous | April 24, 2008 1:04 PM

I'm a bit shocked at some of these suggestions like stop eating meat and get rid of your pet! Those are deeply personal choices and I think the spirit of this blog is to help each other make incremental changes without suffering inordinately in quality of life.

My partner and I typically spend up to $300/week for the two of us (!), which includes groceries delivered by Peapod and trips to the farmers market and/or Whole Foods. This is born of the fact that I LOVE TO COOK (it's really almost an obsession), and we both exercise daily so we're just fueling our bodies. With Peapod, I also love the convenience of having most of my groceries delivered in a two hour window. I am still mindful of spending and try to buy on sale, but we're fortunate that it's just the two of us and we can afford it. We don't have cable or TIVO either so there's a trade off.

That being said, I'm intrigued by the vegetarian suggestion. I've always thought that if I were ever to explore vegetarianism, I would go ethnic. I have a couple of really good veggie cookbooks like Moosewood, Flexitarian Table, and a superior one by Kitty Morse featuring North African cooking. I know Kim is a fan of Madhur Jaffrey (despite the roti debacle) so tonight I will discuss with my partner the possibility of going vegetarian one or two nights a week. Opens up a whole world of cooking and we LOVE beans and tofu!

Posted by: Sean | April 24, 2008 1:09 PM

For us, getting our milk delivered has actually saved a bunch of money. Even though the milk is more expensive, we can buy enough to last all week (it stays fresh all week much better than the grocery store milk) so we aren't having to make extra trip to stock up. And every time we go into the grocery store, we seem to come home with several things we probably don't need.

Posted by: va | April 24, 2008 2:42 PM

I, too, am shocked at the suggestion of getting rid of your pet. Just because the cost of daily living necessities continues to skyrocket does not mean that animals are disposable.

Posted by: melkell2 | April 24, 2008 3:24 PM

To Sean: If you want to explore vegetarian meals and also really love to cook (I do too), I highly suggest Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Suppers". Most of the recipes are fairly complex (not hard, but lots of pots and pans and bowls will be dirtied for multiple steps), which should satisfy your love of cooking and eating great food, while being a little lighter on the planet and your wallet. I don't think that most people here are saying you have to go 100% vegetarian, but just that you don't have to be 100% carnivore either. Personally, I get bored eating meat every night.

Posted by: Phoebe | April 24, 2008 4:24 PM

Jo--Sorry to correct you, but you might try reading the link.

Posted by: Dave | April 24, 2008 5:28 PM

Dave, just proof that pesticides are so inherent in our ground and water because we use them far too much in agriculture. People should take every opporunity to buy products that were farmed without chemicals. Honestly, where do people think these chemicals go? Do we need another Love Canal to make it bindingly obvious that letting toxic chemicals run off into our surroundings doesn't make them go away?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 8:58 AM


Thanks so much for the suggestion. I will check out Deborah Madison's cookbook next time I'm at a bookstore or library. My partner and I discussed the idea and we're going to eat vegetarian one night a week going forward. What that will mean is two vegetarian meals a week, because I always cook enough for dinner so that the leftovers become the next day's lunch, which is another money saver. I can't remember the last time I had to buy lunch!

Posted by: Sean | April 25, 2008 1:16 PM

Sean, Crescent Dragonwagon's (not kidding on the name--look it up on Amazon) cookbooks are fabulous, too, as is Vegetarian Times. Seriously worth a subscription even if you plan on continuing to eat meat (it is a magazine for people who love to cook, too).

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 3:15 PM

For those interested in going vegetarian, you can't go wrong with any of Jeanne Lemlin's vegetarian cookbooks. The recipes are easy, nutritious, use ingredients you can find anywhere, and taste great. Quick Vegetarian Pleasures is a long-time favorite of mine.

It's not expensive to be a vegetarian at all--probably the most expensive items for me are tofu and tempeh, and even then they cost a lot less per meal (usually 8-12 oz., uncooked, serves 2) than meat. Other inexpensive protein alternatives are seitan (which you can make yourself) and TVP, which comes dry. And of course there's my staple, beans.

Fresh veggies are very economical, especially if you can grow some of them yourself.

Posted by: kroshka | April 26, 2008 2:03 AM

Thrifty, yet a good source of quality meat: A rabbit hutch in the backyard. Rabbit manure makes vegetable grow like mad. You feed the carrot tops and such to the rabbits; throttle the occasional rabbit; and you have a self-sustaining high-quality meat and vegetable system. The rabbits also make for great bartering.

Get over it! The rabbits will have led a much better life then that of the piece of meat that's currently in your fridge.

Posted by: Ceres | April 26, 2008 2:14 PM

Here's another really great thing to do. You buy two whole chickens. Cut them into their respective pieces. Separate the breast meat from the breast bone. Put it on a cutting board with plastic wrap on it; and pound it into equal thinness. Dredge with seasoned flour and fry in oil, olive oil, or butter about 3 minutes per side. Or you could do the flour. beaten egg, bread crumb thing for a delicious chicken schnitzle. Meanwhile, put those breast bones in a pan with the gizzards, neck, heart and wing tips--you can even throw in the chicken backs; but I really like them so I don't-- (discard the liver, unless you like it; in that case fry it, eat it, and ruin your appetite). Add whatever you have, an onion, some celery, couple carrots. So you've got your stock going. You can take all of the other chicken parts and put them in plastic bags for the freezer. Or you can dredge them in flour to which you've added salt, pepper, paprika--whatever else floats your boat. I like to brown the pieces on the stove in oil and then put them on wire racks like on a pizza pan or something. Bake in a 350 oven for an hour. Yum.

Posted by: Ceres | April 26, 2008 5:07 PM

There's some interesting suggestions in the commentary, along with the obligatory unconstructive comments. [Get rid of your dog? I'd love to see what my condo association thinks about me putting in a rabbit hutch.]

We have a relatively inexpensive market near us (Magruder's). I'm a big fan of red bell peppers. They vary a lot in price, so when prices dip, I pounce. I slice off the ends and save them for stir fries and roast the center sections (soups and sauces). The big Asian markets in the NoVa region are also good. Farmer's markets are nice, especially for fresh greens. I like the Del Ray market (though probably blow more money than I should at Cheesetique nearby).

I'm a HUGE risotto fan. Here's a suggestion if you want to save some money. Use sushi rice (California koshihikara). It's much cheaper than arborio rice and a good stand-in.

Fresh veggies are a good way to save on food costs, but do require discipline. I'm not perfect, but have cut down on my old impulse buying (followed by guilt over rotting food). Frozen veggies from Trader Joe's are tasty and economical. I love combining chevre and spinach for a tasty risotto.

And I'm still going to buy the occasional fresh fish (halibut at the moment, can't wait for king salmon to be in season). Beef tenderloin is a splurge, but you can make a week's worth of meals out of one. Expensive--yes. But you'd spend that much at a good restaurant.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | April 28, 2008 8:01 PM

Dandelions and grubs.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 9:25 PM

Hey! That reminds me--when I was homeless I used to eat dandelions and grubs. Getcher self a little fire going. You want to toast the grubs, big white ones from under a big old log, jest a little bit til the outside has a little crunch. Use a little stick. Actually pretty tasty. Gotcher dandelions. I like to have one of those little Paul Newman dressing packs, everything else is icing. Me an Al Fresca would have that all the time.

Posted by: Clem | April 28, 2008 10:51 PM

My friends and I made dinner from what we already had on hand instead of going to the grocery store. And the results were suprisingly great! Read more here:

Posted by: Olga | April 29, 2008 1:11 PM

For the meat eaters: Share a cow, pig, or lamb. I have a 10% share of a locally raised, pastured, grass-fed cow. It cost me $3/pound across the board for everything from fillet to ground beef and italian sausage. Freezer space is key.

Posted by: Flexitarian, DC | May 1, 2008 4:40 PM

Now that food is becoming more expensive it might be a good time for some people to start living off of their fat stores. I am not kidding! This would be a great time to go on a diet. Feast and famine. That is what fat is for! It can be done as simply as cutting back on sodas, chips, cookies or other uncessary and unhealthy products. Even better would be to increase your vegetable intake and decrease the meat in the diet. Dollar wise the exchange of veggie for meat may only break even because they both can be expensive.

My favorite cheap meal is chili - beans and meat can be adjusted to taste. And the meal can be stretched forever.

If you stock up when food, especially meat, is on sale, it really is the best way to save money.

Most of all this is a great time for people to consider what food is really important to thier body and in their life and eat accordingly.

Posted by: Sunshine | May 1, 2008 6:24 PM

I have 2 of 4 kids left at home. The hubby will not go vegetarian so I buy reduced meats, meats on sale, and try to limit just how much I use in each meal. I am also a couponoholic. I use coupons for everything I possibly can. It is not unusual for me to save over $75.00 per shopping trip. I buy items in bulk as much as possible. With my price book in hand (takes about an hour each weekend to go through sales flyers/coupons etc to get prepared to go shopping) I make a plan as to which store (there are 3 within 5 miles of my house) has the best deals that week and shop there first. If there is an unbeatable deal at one of the other two stores I will stop there for that item only. I recently bought Colgate toothpaste for .50 cents per tube! I bought 20 with the coupons I had. I won't buy toothpaste for at least a year now. I also shop at discount grocery stores. I watch the dates on the packages and don't buy the severly dented/damaged ones. I just got Vidalia onions for .69 a lb and froze over half of what I bought to use in recipes. I also found asparagus for 1.79 a bunch instead of 2.99 a lb in the grocery store. Blanched and froze that too. Keeping your grocery costs down can be time consuming and take up room in your house (stocking up really helps) but we average about 40-50 a week for a family of 4 with 3 cats.
I buy the Sunday papers, have people who don't use coupons give me theirs, have gotten coupons on Ebay (allowing me to get the toothpaste for approximately .57 after cost of shipping etc), and printed coupons online.

Posted by: panagirl69 | May 2, 2008 10:36 AM

When Mao took over China he made everyone get rid of their pets.
Listen to the way we're posting. It's like we're headed for some kind of depression. But people will still be using cell phones. A Depression for the 21st Century!

Posted by: Patti | May 2, 2008 8:29 PM

i havent seen any posts of using all ur sale papers at walmart they match prices in sale papers
also have a garden and put up veggies in freezer u can pick berries and plums in season and make ur own jelly also i grow tomatoes and make my own tomato sauce and ketchup clip coupons and use when the item is on sale

Posted by: myst1111 | May 3, 2008 11:53 PM

Asian grocery stores (like HMart in VA or MD, Grand Mart, or Great Wall) have considerably cheaper prices, especially on produce. HMart is as big as any regular grocery store, and they carry a variety of items. It's made so you can do all your shopping in one stop, so they carry all your regular items like canned foods, milk and eggs, etc. (these items won't be as cheap as when they're on sale at a regular store, but even at regular price they are comparable). They also have relatively fresh seafood and meats at lower prices. Plus, go on a weekend, and HMart has tons of samples (you could even have a light lunch there).

Posted by: Julie | May 6, 2008 8:14 AM

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