Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Eat Well, Spend Less: Frugal Priority Number One and Biggest Splurge

February 28th, 2013 · 20 Comments · Frugality

It’s been almost two years that the Eat Well, Spend Less ladies have been dishing out great posts and advice on how to buy and prepare healthy food without breaking the budget in the process, and we all hope you’ve enjoyed the series.

Today we’re trying something new: rather than each posting on a similar theme, we each posed a question to the group. Today you’ll get to read everyone’s answers to my question, and then on Saturday I’ll post everyone else’s question and you can travel around to see how I answered it along with the other gals.

This group is truly an expert collection of frugal foodies and a font of wisdom!

frugal foods and splurges

Here’s my question:

What’s the single most important frugal thing you do in the kitchen, the one thing you’d never drop? Conversely, what’s the biggest splurge item that you prioritize?

Shaina from Food for My Family

Without question, the easiest way to save money in the kitchen is by purchasing meat on the bone and making your own stocks. Not only is it cheaper and healthier to use homemade stock over store-bought stocks and broths, but it ends up causing us to use what would be waste and turning it into the base of an additional meal. A cup of rice or pasta, leftover meat, and a few root vegetables are all that are needed to turn a good stock into a meal.

I’m going to cheat slightly and say quality food is the biggest splurge. I end up prioritizing the overall quality of all my family’s food, whether it’s oils, nuts, dairy, meat, or produce.

Sure, I look for the best deal on whole foods, but I look to cut corners by making that food stretch in different ways like making my own stock, by eating smaller portions of higher-priced items, and by reducing overall food waste.

Jessica from Life as MOM

Cooking from scratch is probably the biggest, most overarching one. I’ve never been big on boxed mixes, frozen meals, or meal kits. The taste was always ick. I know because I grew up wanting that food, thinking Wonder Bread and TV dinners were better than what my mom made.

The convenience is convenient, but the taste and nutrition are poorly lacking.

In high school and college I started teaching myself to cook and found that it tasted better than the TV dinners, etc. Later as a newlywed, I continued it because it was cheaper. My kids wouldn’t touch boxed mac and cheese or canned soup because of the taste.

When I first started couponing and trying to save money, my family ate more processed convenience foods in one year than they had in their entire lives because it was free. I realized free wasn’t worth it. But, cooking from scratch is.

A splurge? We really like good coffee, good cheese, and fresh baguettes from the French bakery down the road. I’m happy to pay for those things because they are awesome and I can’t make adequate copycats of those.

Carrie from Denver Bargains

Cooking from scratch is definitely the most important frugal thing for me – and I enjoy it, so I’d definitely never drop it!

However, even with cooking from scratch, I’m having a hard time keeping the grocery budget under control with rising prices and expanding appetites as my kids get older.

I’ve recently decided to try making meat more of a "substantial side dish" than the feature of the meal. When I’m crunched for time, I always get the main dish done but the side dishes go – so we end up filling up on the expensive stuff!

I realized that we eat less meat when we have several different side dishes, so that’s something I’m experimenting with. Going meatless isn’t really an option, but I’m even going so far as to consider multi-course meals (such as soup first, or salad when it’s summer) as a way to fill up on some less-expensive but still-delicious-and-healthy dishes. It’s taking more time, but I’m hoping to make it a habit that will become one of the single most important frugal things I do.

As far as splurges, my husband buys coffee from a local roaster that’s way more expensive but he enjoys it much more. I always keep heavy cream in the refrigerator (a splurge for the budget and the waistline!), and I buy cheese like feta and Parmesan, which I consider a splurge (though they are only of the Sam’s Club variety!). Oh, and purchasing ground beef at a local butcher is a splurge to me!

Katie’s note that she just can’t help: That heavy cream will be much better on the waistline than fake-o "creamer" with HFCS…

Also, I just got to preview Carrie’s upcoming eBook, From Garbage to Gourmet, and it’s fantastic! Watch KS for the release date.

Mandi from Easy. Homemade.

 

I’ve found that comparing the unit price of various brands & sizes while I’m doing my shopping makes a big difference. Bigger packages aren’t always less expensive, and neither are generic brands, and so I quickly glance through the per unit prices (or calculate my own when that’s not available) to figure out which is best.

I also tend to stock up on the produce that is on sale each week, taking advantage of those lower prices to stretch our budget.

Eating out is our splurge. While I know meals can be made for less at home, we enjoy going to a restaurant where someone else does the cooking and cleaning and my husband and I can both stay seated for an entire meal, so we include that "splurge" as a regular part of our budget.

Amy from Kingdom First Mom

 

For me the most frugal thing I do is to cook at home. Eating out is SO expensive (especially with a growing family!), so we simply cannot do it on a regular basis.

I try to stick to the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list when I buy produce, so my biggest splurge would be buying organic produce when possible.

 

Aimee from Simple Bites

 

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Eating a vegetarian main dish 3-4 times a week hugely impacts our grocery bills. With seasonal vegetables being the most affordable produce in the market, and organic meat the most expensive, it makes sense to enjoy our roasts, steaks and stews in moderation.

Double-smoked, thick-cut bacon, however, is one item that I splurge on and often works its way into our ‘vegetarian’ dinners, like tonight’s Spinach & Mushroom Quiche!

My Answer

 

The first question is easy: no matter how busy I get, I’d still make homemade yogurt. It saves me over $1000/year, and I’d have to make too many trips to the store to buy enough to feed this yogurt-loving family. (And chicken stock. It’s too hard to replicate real stock with bones by purchasing it, and it doesn’t take all that long and makes soups which feed us for days, so I get easy leftovers meals for those busiest days out of the investment.)

The splurge is tough! I feel like everything is a splurge now that we’ve upgraded our milk, meat, cheese, and butter to organic/local/grassfed/etc. as much as possible. If I suddenly couldn’t afford my top choices in those categories, however, I might just stop using it (milk – I might buy it only for yogurt making) or just buy conventional, even though it would make me squirm. We’d use less nuts and more grains and go back to conventional produce.

I think the thing that would make me squirm the most to buy conventional would be bacon, so that must mean it’s our biggest splurge, right? Pastured bacon is pricey and disappears fast!

But, oh…bacon. Mmmmmm, bacon.

Yep. That’s a splurge of the senses alone.

What are your answers to the question?

Two More Ways to Save

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • Jessica @ Redeemingthehome.com

    I second the homemade stock and yogurt as our biggest money savors + nutritional bang. And I love that a few listed coffee as their splurge. You mean that’s not a necessity?

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Theresa Ceniccola

    Great questions – I love reading all the answers! My most important frugal tip is the BOGO produce sale – I’ve learned that if my family’s favorite fruit/veggie is not on sale THIS week, it’s ok to NOT buy it. Just wait a week or two and it will be on sale – buy one get one free – then I can stock up. In the meantime I buy whatever other fruit or veggie is BOGO and we try something different. Makes meal planning a challenge sometimes but it’s worth it.

    My biggest splurge – oh, I have so many – good quality chocolate and fresh fish twice a week (no matter if it’s on sale or not).

    [Reply to this comment]

    Jill Reply:

    What types of fish are the best to buy? I know that when buying fish, it must be wild. And I know that Salmon is great, but it’s also very very expensive. I’d love to include more fish in our diet, but I don’t know what other kinds. What other types of fish are good, but less expensive? (Besides tuna.) Any suggestions? Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Theresa Ceniccola Reply:

    HI, Jill. My kids actually love tilapia and we can usually get that for $4.99/lb – and if I ask at the counter they will give me individual pieces that are still frozen so I can stock up when it’s on sale. Steelhead trout is also yummy – it looks and tastes a lot like salmon but it’s cheaper. Swai fish is also inexpensive – it’s mild tasting and you can pretty much pair it with anything. Sometimes we get muscles on sale – I’m not a fan but my kids like them. Weird, I know. My favs are orange roughy and swordfish – both of which are ridiculously expensive:-(

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Jill,
    I can ring in a bit here – I used to buy only tilapia too, since it wasn’t very fishy and was fairly inexpensive…but then I found out that since tilapia is almost exclusively farmed, it’s really low in omega-3s and high in omega-6s (the bad, inflammatory ones). That was the opposite of what we were eating fish for, so off the list went tilapia. (I think the info is in this post: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/02/12/recipe-connection-st-peters-spicy-fish/)

    I’ll buy Alaskan salmon when it’s on sale, but yes, still very expensive. The stuff in cans, as long as it’s wild Alaskan, is actually great, and not nearly as expensive! You can find decent stuff at Aldi and really nice quality (like for cold sandwiches) at Costco.

    I also like halibut, which can be wild caught, for a not-so-fishy fish. When I look for fish, I balance price with sustainability with nutrition – if it’s low in omega 3s, skip it!

    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sharon

    Frugal tip: homemade sourdough bread. It comes out to about 50 cents a loaf, for something that tastes better and is better for you than anything available in the supermarket. An equivalent loaf from the bakery would run $5.

    Splurge: very local honey, from a hive 2 blocks away. The bees may have fed in my yard! Also, higher quality coffee, some of the time.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    Money-saving: a lot of meatless breakfasts and lunches (husband won’t do it for dinner) and buying lots of cheap produce. The kids love to grab carrots, celery, cucumbers, bananas, etc. for snacks and they are so cheap (even the ones I buy organic!). We do a lot of potatoes and brown rice too. I bake nearly all our grain products from freshly ground, soaked whole grains, which increases nutrition. We always have stock on hand and eat it 4 – 5 times per week in something. We buy lots of frozen veggies. I make kombucha and water kefir and I’m dabbling in yogurt and milk kefir, which the boys really like. I make as much from scratch as I can!

    Biggest splurge? Probably local eggs right now ($3/doz and we go through a lot) and occasionally grass-fed, local heavy cream (not raw though). I love to use it to make whipped cream to go on homemade apple crisp, homemade ice cream, and various other treats. I am going to buy some this week, I think! Another occasional splurge is good seafood, we all like salmon a lot. The kids will eat it canned (cheaper) so I do feed them that, but sometimes I like to make it fresh too!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Melanie

    Money-Savers: I would have to agree with bone in meats and broth. As well, shopping the sales at the local health food markets. And don’t count out food that is about to expire! Our local farm stands have $1 tables/bins and as long as you use it within a couple of days, you get a great deal on good food. I’ve also gotten 20-50% off on pastured eggs because they were expiring. We go through eggs like crazy so it’s a great deal. Buying in bulk is also great if you have the money up front.

    I also have a post about how to spend less on lots of non-food items (including mortgage, car, clothing, babysitting, etc.) so that you can spend more on real food.

    http://shesourceful.com/2012/06/10/uniquely-frugal-finds-swaps-co-buying-and-a-change-of-perspective/

    Our splurges are the real food that you can rarely find on sale or even if it’s on sale is still relatively expensive: coconut oil, coconut water, olive oil, nuts, gelatin, cacao powder, almond flour, seaweed, etc.

    Great to hear from others as well. Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

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  • Aubrey

    My biggest frugal tip is cooking mostly vegetarian (using only broth or bacon for flavor). Not only are the ingredients cheaper, but the leftovers also last longer in the fridge and are more likely to be eaten. My splurge is chocolate. I don’t know about anyone else, but chocolate has a magical effect on my mood during a certain time of the month, so it pays to eat the good stuff.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rachel

    My family is still working this but probably the biggest money savers we have going at the moment is kefir and bone broth. The kefir is taking over for store bought yogurt at the moment as I’m the only one who eats it and the kefir is better in the end.

    Probably our biggest splurge right now is salmon. My mother recently took up a diet regimen that calls for fish and salmon is the only kind she likes. I appreciate the nutrition, just not the price…

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Carol

    My biggest money saving tip is buying produce in bulk when they are on sale. I also stick to fruits, vegetables and nuts that are in season.

    My biggest splurge is Almond milk – love it so much because it doesn’t irritate my bowel.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Carol,
    Have you ever tried making your own almond milk? I haven’t, because we don’t have any dairy issues here, BUT I hear people say all the time how totally simple it is, and you can make crackers from the almond pulp left over, so it’s really super frugal! ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Carol Reply:

    Katie,
    Unfortunately I haven’t tried making my own almond milk. Not that I haven’t thought of doing that, but have kept procrastinating about it. I guess it’s time I tried it – not that difficult from what I have heard.

    Carol

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Christy M

    My biggest splurge is hormone free chicken. I’ve thought about buying the hormone free milk but we drink a lot of milk. I just found a farm that sells grass fed beef and I am going to start buying my ground beef from them. The price is actually not much more than the grocery store. I think I would like to try and make my own yogurt. My family eats a lot! I do most of my cooking from scratch, make my own bread, my own chocolate syrup. I try to only buy fresh produce in season to save money too. I love reading these articles to get encouragement and great ideas!

    [Reply to this comment]

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  • Meghan Howell

    I must agree that cooking from scratch is a huge money saver. And organic- although it is very hard to find here in Mississippi- is my biggest splurge. I just posted my favorite homemade tortilla recipe at http://www.mychickenwhiperer.com Great money saver and it just tastes so much better than store bought!

    [Reply to this comment]

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  • Julie T

    My most frugal thing is buying food, mostly meat and produce, in bulk/on sale and storing for use later. Dehydrating, freezing, canning, or re-packaging in smaller portions. Plus if I am also prepping the food myself at the same time (ex: shredding the cheese) it saves even more!

    Biggest Splurge…going out for coffee or icecream.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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