Slice Your Own Darn Cheese

The latest thing to hit the snack food isle is Oscar Meyer’s P3 protein snacks. They are two ounces of protein in a handy portable package. They contain a few cubes of lunch meat, a few almonds and a few cubes of cheese.

On the Safeway website, they run $2.29 per package. That’s more than $18 a pound. You can buy some really nice fish or a fancy steak for that price. What if you cut up your own meat and cheese and bought your almonds in bulk? Here’s what it will cost you.

Cost/PoundCost/P3 Serving
Turkey (pre-cooked)$10.00$0.42
Colby Jack Cheese$11.00$0.46
Almonds (bulk)$3.76$0.16

So, you can essentially have the same thing in your own reusable package for less than half the cost. Convenience foods are expensive. This may not seem like a big deal, and it’s not if you grab one on the go once in a while. But if food like this is a staple on you’re grocery list, it’s an easy place to look for savings.

Here are a few other items where you can find big savings if you do your own slicing and packaging.

Bottled ice tea
6 pack
$9.89Home brewed ice tea
Same volume
Steel cut oatmeal
24 oz package
$3.00Bulk steel cut oats
24 oz
GoGo squeeZ applesauce
12 pack
Same volume
McCormick Ground Cinnamon
2.4 oz
$2.37Bulk cinnamon
2.4 oz
Sliced apples
Five 2 oz multi-packs
10 oz

There are savings from 50 to 90 percent here. Next time you are at the grocery store, see what’s on your list that also comes with less packaging. You’ll find your savings add up quickly.

On the road to meeting your financial goals, it helps if you have a few short cuts. Finding a way to cut expenses without giving up anything is one of those. By doing your own portion sizing and packaging you can save big on your grocery bill. And that is one step closer to everything you want to achieve with your money.

Photo by Thanos Pal on Unsplash

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Big Savings, No Packaging

Last week we had a game night with a few friends. At the last minute we realized we didn’t have any non alcoholic beverages in the house, except for water and milk. I’m not sure what that says about us, but to solve the problem, Jeff went to the store to buy some iced tea. Now we usually buy this stuff when we’re on the road and one at a time, so we know we’re over paying. This must have been the first time we bought a six pack, and we definitely got sticker shock. A six pack of Pure Leaf Tea costs $9.89 at Safeway! A six pack of decent beer costs less.

When we’re at home, we usually make our own iced tea. If you set a pitcher outside in the sun on a warm day with a few bags in it, you get a lovely slow brewed batch. Using this method, we get as much iced tea as you would get with a Pure Leaf six pack for about $1.00. Whence our sticker shock. Now our method is even a little cheaper than you might think, because we buy our tea from the bulk bins. A box of Stash tea with 20 bags costs $3.59, or $0.18 per bag. We buy the same tea without the box for ten cents a bag from the bulk bins. In the case of Pure Leaf, we’re paying $8.89 for packaging, and maybe a little caché, and in the case of Stash tea, we’re paying $1.59 for packaging.

Tea is not the only place where you pay for packaging and/or processing. Recently I went to the store to pick up some Feta cheese and found that to buy it already crumbled was more than double the cost of an uncrumbled block. For that difference, I’m certainly capable of crumbling my own. Steel cut oatmeal, a staple at our house, costs $3.00 for a 24 oz package but less than a dollar for the same amount from the bulk bins. For really big savings, consider buying your spices from the bulk bins. They are a fraction of the cost of the name brand spices, and the best part is you can buy any amount that you want. If you are trying a new recipe with a spice you don’t have on hand, no need to commit money or space to a standard container. You can actually just buy a tablespoon or whatever it is you need.

food spending

American’s spend about ten percent of their disposable income on food, with two thirds of that spending at the grocery store. With the three specific examples I gave, ice tea, tea bags and oatmeal, I saved 75 percent. Actually Jeff saved 75 percent. He does most of the grocery shopping in our house. There are a wide variety of ways to save on groceries without clipping coupons (we never clip coupons), running around to different stores, or giving up your favorite foods. Sometimes, its as simple as looking for less packaging. Take a stroll through the bulk food isle at your favorite grocery store, and see what you can save.


The Power of the List

The latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014) indicates the average household in America spends $6,759 annually on food. For a married couple with kids, food  represents about 13% of all household spending. Of this, about two thirds is spent at the grocery store. Your purchases have been sliced and diced by prominent researchers and marketers for decades, and the conclusion is that as much as 30% of your dollars could be going to things you didn’t plan on buying. If you could reduce your grocery bill by 30%, that would be a savings of  $1,200 per year, or enough to fund a year or more of college for one of your kids if saved every year until your kid reaches age 18. Another startling statistic is that American households throw out between 14% and 25% of the food they buy.

How can you save a year’s worth of college funding and reduce the amount of food you waste at the same time? Make a list before you go to the grocery store. I can hear you now. “But I do make a list!”. OK, the catch is you have to follow it. Here are a few tips to help make sure you have a good list that you can stick with.

Start with your calendar. “I thought we were making a grocery list”, you say. Yes we are. Your calendar shows you what you have on the docket for the coming week, and that will help you know how much time you have for making food. Days where there is soccer practice or a PTA meeting are days when you have less time to prepare meals, and your meal plans need to be simplified. Don’t forget your work schedule. Will someone in the house be traveling, working late or otherwise not at home for meals?

Next, come up with a menu for the week that fits with your calendar. Meals that need more preparation should be saved for days when you have less going on, and simple meals or meals you can prepare ahead are for your busy days. This will also reduce the trips through the fast food drive through. You have a plan for what your family is going to eat, and it fits with the time you have to make it.

Last, make your list. Using your menu, review what you have on hand already, and add missing ingredients to your list. Now you have a list that will ensure you have everything you need for the coming week. Because you created a menu, you won’t be as tempted by off list items. You know exactly what you need and there is no reason to buy something just in case. Because you reviewed your inventory, you won’t have to guess whether you already have something, saving you from double buying. Because your list is thorough, you won’t have to make extra trips to the store to pick up forgotten items where you might be tempted again to buy off list. Finally, because you have a known purpose for everything you buy, you will throw out less.

The grocery store is designed to get you to buy as much stuff as possible. The arrangement of the food and displays have been scientifically proven to increase your total spending at the store. You need a powerful weapon against these savvy marketers and temptation, and that weapon is the list! With a little planning you can put a big dent in your spending and substantially increase your saving.

Long Live Leftovers

When I was single, admittedly a long time ago, I used to turn my nose up at leftovers. It probably had something to do with the poor quality of my meals the first time around. When visiting once, my mother commented that she had never met anyone, other than me, who had to dust her stove. I’m a decent cook now, but even better, I’m married to a fabulous cook. Just as importantly we both hate the idea of throwing good food, and money, away. The result is we eat leftovers, and we love them.

Leftovers have many advantages. They are quick. You already cooked them, so there isn’t much prep time. They are great for those busy evenings when you don’t have time to fix a whole new meal. Often times, leftovers taste even better the next day. The spices have a chance to mingle and mellow, and the result can be fantastic. Best of all you reduce the cost per serving of the meal you made. You spread it across more servings instead of throwing out those extra servings that didn’t get eaten the first time around.

When I was working in the corporate world, I often had leftovers for lunch. It was easy to just grab them out of the refrigerator, and they helped me avoid eating out for lunch. The average American eats out for lunch twice per week at an average cost of $10 per meal according to a recent survey by Visa. That is a total cost of nearly $1,000 per year. Interestingly those who seemingly can least afford it spend the most. People making $25,000 per year or less spend $11.10 per meal, whereas those in higher income brackets spend between $9.20 and $9.90 per meal. If you are someone who buys lunch a couple of times a week, consider taking leftovers and banking the savings. Here are a couple of ideas for your leftovers.

  1. Everything is better on a salad. Consider adding your leftovers to a bed of fresh spinach or romaine. Toss in some grapes or an apple and you have yourself the equivalent of a $16 restaurant salad. The cost for the fresh produce is only about $1.75, and since there is no additional cost to stretching the original meal to more servings, the leftovers cost nothing. One of my lunch time salads is shown in the picture. I added leftover spicy chickpeas, lentils, squash and chicken to spinach.
  2. We like to make roasted root vegetables. We can make a big batch and eat them all week. Try roasting beets, carrots, yams and butternut squash together. Using about a pound of each, the total cost is less than $8.00, and we can get six to eight servings out of the batch. That’s around $1 per serving.

Leftovers can be even more delicious than the first serving, and often it doesn’t take much to make them new and exciting. If more of us ate leftovers, we could also cut down on food waste in this country, which amounts to a shocking 35 million tons per year. Looking for a way to save time, money and the planet in a single step? Eat leftovers.

A Pre-Sliced Apple a Day Can Take Your Savings Away

I am a mean mom. When Kaye was little she longed for Gogurt. Gogurt is a plastic tube of yogurt by Yoplait. Kids can hold it in their hands and suck the yogurt out without needing a spoon. Kaye usually had at least one friend at lunch whose mom, who wasn’t mean like me, had packed a Gogurt for her.

Our usual response to Kaye when she begged for Gogurt at the store was, “do you know how many regular yogurts we can buy for the cost of Gogurt?” She usually stared back at us blankly, having already tuned us out. The answer, by the way, at today’s prices, is about an extra third of a yogurt. There is a 36% savings with regular yogurt vs Gogurt.

A newcomer to the kids snack food stage is apple sauce squeeze pouches. Kids love them! Moms love them too, for the same reason they like Gogurts. What parent wouldn’t love a food delivery device that actually got the food in the kid and not on the couch. Mom’s have told me their kids go through these little wonders by the case. Just so you know, you can buy twice as much apple sauce in the little 4 oz cups as you can for the same price in the squeeze pouches. Interestingly the 4 oz cups cost about the same as the big jar of apples sauce, both are about nine cents an ounce.

One more example. A while back, I was settling in for a business meeting, while a couple of mothers of school age children talked about the thrill of finding pre-sliced apples at Costco, and how much cheaper they were there than at their usual grocery store. In one of my ruder moments, I piped in with “or you could just buy apples and slice them yourself”. The conversation ended awkwardly and we moved on to the business topic at hand. You can buy three pounds of apples for the price of a package of pre-sliced apples, which isn’t quite a pound.

I’m seeing more and more convenience foods for kids. As we continue to be among the busiest people on the planet, apparently our ability to sit down and have a snack is eluding us. Admittedly these snacks have their benefits. But if you are looking for ways to cut spending so you can increase your savings, these prepackaged snacks are a good place to look. All that packaging costs the manufacturer more, and they pass that cost on to you.

There’s nothing wrong with whipping these little goodies out if you’re stuck in traffic and they are the only thing between you and a hunger induced melt-down. But save them for emergencies. You can save yourself a bundle by going with the same products in less packaging whenever you are safely at home. You can also set a good example for your kids by helping them understand how to get the most out of a budget.

Not Everything is Cheaper Made at Home

It’s strawberry season here in the Northwest. My first berry pie of the summer was this beauty. Now, here is an example of when making it at home isn’t necessarily cheaper than buying it already made. This pie cost me about $10.25 to make. I used a pre-made Pillsbury Pie Crust, because I’ve never been able to make a crust better than Pillsbury. I could have probaby saved $0.50, by making my own crust. Shari’s, sells whole pies for between $10 and $12.

The expensive part of this pie is the berries. Berries run about $16 for a half flat (which is six of the pint boxes), and it takes about a quarter flat (three boxes) to make the pie. I’ve suspected for years that the bakery cost of pies, while seemingly astronomical, was actually reasonable given the cost of berries at the farmers market, and now I’ve proved it to myself. So here is an exception to the rule that making food at home costs less.

So why do I make my own pies? Well I do save myself an extra trip to the bakery, and I can regulate the sugar content to my family’s taste. But mostly its the great reaction I get from Jeff and Kaye (my husband and daughter).

Who Says Home Cooking is Boring?

The thought of eating out is enticing for so many reasons. It’s fun to get out of the house and into a new environment. It’s great to get out of cooking and cleaning. But really, it’s about the food! We long for something special, for something different, attractive and delicious. We want something wonderful, like what you see in the photo.

The dish in the photo is beautiful.  It’s well composed. There are lots of colors. The ingredients look fresh. I personally would be thrilled to have a server place this in front of me at a posh restaurant.

Well a server did place it in front of me, but I wasn’t at a posh restaurant. The server was my daughter, Kaye, who is seventeen and also the chef. One of Kaye’s chores is to make dinner for Jeff and me on Sunday evenings. It seems only fair, since we make dinner for her the other six days of the week. Kaye has been cooking, mostly with Dad, for years and has become quite accomplished. Since Kaye, like most seventeen year-olds, isn’t much of a planner, everything in the meal was something that we happened to have on hand when she started thinking about dinner at 4:00 pm.

This dinner includes shrimp, which you see on top, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and spinach over quinoa and topped with pine nuts. The shrimp was tossed in Jeff’s pesto, which was left over from a dinner earlier in the week, and is made out of cilantro, olive oil, garlic, and lime juice. The most expensive part of the meal was the shrimp, followed by the mushrooms. Overall, to feed all three of us, it cost about $23, or $7.69 each.  It would cost nearly that much just to add shrimp to a dish at a typical restaurant.  For example, at Red Lobster, to add a skewer of garlic shrimp to your meal, it costs $5.49 extra.

Now, I did have to clean up, and the room was just our dining room. But the company was great, and I didn’t have to fight traffic, look for parking or wait for a table. Home cooking doesn’t have to be boring or difficult (especially if you have your kids do it). You can have a fabulous meal for a fraction of the cost of eating out.

A $10 Salad?

This weekend, my husband, Jeff, and I went on a kayaking/bird watching tour with some friends. On the way home we stopped at a restaurant on the river for some lunch. I’m not much of a burger or fried fish eater, so I ordered a salad. Jeff warned me against it, since I have a salad at home almost every day. But the description looked delicious.  It was something like this:

Fresh mixed greens with strawberries and carmelized onions, dressed with a strawberry and yogurt vinaigrette, topped with Chevre – $9.95.

This was a late lunch, and I’d had an early breakfast before the trip. I was on the hungry side. In fact Jeff’s arm was starting to look tasty. So when the salad arrived, I was disappointed. It was a very small portion, there was one strawberry and a sliver of carmelized onion. The ingredients were fresh and of high quality. It just wasn’t $10 worth of salad.

The USDA Economic Research Service reported that in 2012, food prepared away from home, i.e., restaurant food, whether take out or sit-down, represented 43.1% of average household spending on food. That is up from 25.9% in 1970. In 2014, the NPD Group, a market research firm, reported that the average american ate food from a restaurant 191 times per year.That’s more than three and half times per week.

Eating out is expensive. One of the easiest ways to save money is to eat out less often. Let’s compare salads. The salad in the photo is the salad Jeff made for me the day after our kayaking trip (I told you I eat a lot of salads). It had spinach, cabbage, celery, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, Kalamata olives and Feta cheese. The cost to make this salad at home was about $4.00. We saved more than half over the $10 restaurant salad, and we got about two and a half times the food. Plus it was every bit as lovely as a restaurant salad.

Most people eat out for social or convenience reasons.  Dining out socially is great, provided you have the budget for it, but dining out for convenience is a waste of time and money. Even social gatherings can be less costly and just as fun if you gather together in your or a friend’s home with everyone bringing a dish or drinks. With a little planning you can have great food for less money and no more time.  From time to time, I’ll share a dish that we’ve made at home and compare the value of make at home versus buying already prepared.  If you have a dish or recipe you’d like to share send it along.

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