Welcome to My Saving Place where you will find an abundance of tips, tricks and good advice on how to save money on just about everything.
The Saving Lady
Just what do those dates on packaged goods mean? You often see “use by,” “sell by,” “best by,” but do you really know how to interpret them? Most people don’t and it is the cause of a great deal of food waste.
The terminology is used by manufacturers without benefit of any kind of regulation and is virtually meaningless. It is simply the manufacturer’s suggestion for peak quality, not safety. A tub of salsa is still good for days or weeks beyond its “sell by,” “best by,” or “use by” date. Canned or bottled items should be good almost indefinitely. Frozen items may be subject to freezer burn after some time, but it doesn’t mean they are bad or not edible and can also be stored almost indefinitely. Chances are you’re throwing perfectly good food away if you are under the assumption that you have to use it by some mythical date.
Even mold on certain food items can cause us to react indiscriminately. Take, for instance, cheese. Some cheese, if not kept properly, can develop moldy spots. In reality, the moldy spots can be cut away and the rest of the cheese is still good. Just because part of a piece of fruit has gone bad doesn’t mean the entire piece is inedible. Chances are much of it can still be salvaged.
Using common sense and your nose will help you reduce food waste.
Having a strategy for using things up before they spoil is another key to stopping food waste. This entails using the most perishable items first. Since not everyone in the household may know which items need to be used up first, you might want to use sticky notes to indicate those that need to be used ASAP.
It’s also important to take a second look at what you buy. For example, if you buy broccoli, buy only the florettes if you throw away the stalks. If you buy the stalk and the florettes, eat the stalks as well. They taste just as good as the florettes. The same goes for beet greens. Saute with bacon and garlic salt for a tasty and healthy vegetable dish or chop them up and add them to omelets or soup. An old but indispensible cookbook for utilizing the entirety of a vegetable is The Victory Garden Cookbook published in 1982 and still one of the best cookbooks of its kind ever published.
Even foods that seem past their prime can have a second life. Overripe bananas can be used to make smoothies or banana bread. Freeze them until you need to use them. Melons and berries can also be frozen for this purpose as well. Vegetables that aren’t rotten or mushy can be used to make a vegetable broth that is the basis for many other recipes. Store in the freezer for use at a later date. Stale bread can be dried out completely and grated for breadcrumbs, cubed for stuffing or home-made croutons.
Before you throw away a food item, do a Google search to find out if there is a way to use it that you haven’t thought of. Even soured milk has many uses.
Next week: Understand The Expiration Dates
Do you know where in your refrigerator to store ketchup, mustard and salad dressing? Do you know where to store leftovers and bottled beverages? If not, then you really don’t know your refrigerator, and knowing your refrigerator is a key factor in stopping food waste.
No matter the size of your refrigerator, it’s important to understand how it works. There are super high-tech refrigerators that have built-in temperature monitors to keep optimal temperatures throughout the refrigerator and freezer sections. Most, however, have an adjustable scale that goes from “cold” to “coldest” or one that goes from 1 to 5, and which automatically sets the temperature in the freezer. Rarely in less expensive refrigerators does the freezer have a separate control. But you have to know that 40 degrees is the optimal temperature to keep things from spoiling and to keep delicate items like lettuce from freezing. At that temperature, the freeze is also set for its maximal temperature. In order to do this with an adjustable scale, you need a thermometer. Any inexpensive thermometer that you can find at a kitchen supply store will do. Place the thermometer in the middle of the refrigerator until the reading stops climbing. Then move the temperature gauge up or down in small increments, waiting again for the thermometer to reach a fixed temperature. Keep doing this until the optimal temperature of 40 degrees is reached and maintained.
Once this is done, the refrigerator will still be warmer at the top and cooler at the bottom, so it’s important to know what to store where. Less perishable foods like yogurt, bottled beverages, leftovers and ready-to-eat foods should be store on the upper shelves. Uncooked meats and seafood, milk and eggs should be stored on the bottom shelves where it is cooler. The door is the warmest place in the refrigerator. This is where you want to store items that aren’t much affected by temperature like ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, butter, mayo and even batteries.
The freezer is the best way to stop wasting food. It’s where you store leftovers that you won’t be eating in the next couple of days. It’s where you store extra batches of spaghetti sauce or homemade soup.It’s where you store those TV dinners that you create yourself for days when you don’t want to cook. It’s the place where you can store a half gallon of milk for four days while you’re off enjoying yourself on a long weekend. In fact, the freezer is so important that the one in your refrigerator alone is never big enough. Many people, therefore, purchase a separate freezer only to hold the many items for which there simply isn’t enough room in your refrigerator’s freezer. Think how much you would enjoy the taste of soups, stews and chili made with the vine-ripened tomatoes from your summer garden that you froze and put in your freezer, or bell peppers, onions, corn, and any number of garden-grown delights that, when defrosted and cooked, taste almost as good as fresh picked. Or how about that Thanksgiving dinner that you get a craving for after the new year. Freeze those leftovers and enjoy that dinner in the future without all the fuss.
I was shocked to read in my local paper this morning that Americans waste 35 million tons of food every year. That represents about 40% of the food we produce. Of course, this includes all the food that grocery stores throw away that isn’t sold by a certain date, food that restaurants throw away for the same reason, food that is left rotting in fields because it was too wet to pick, and food that is damaged in transit. But a whopping 21% of food waste occurs in the home. To put it another way, if you spend $100/week on groceries, you would be throwing $21 a week into the garbage can. That’s $1092 each year. Invest that sum at a modest 5% interest rate, and in 20 years it would be like throwing away over $40,000.
Because this is perhaps the one place that can make the greatest impact on your grocery budget, and because each of the components of food waste takes more than a couple of sentences to define, I’m breaking this into four weekly entries beginning with unrealistic purchases.
We’ve all done it. It happened to me today, in fact. I had a BLT for lunch because I wanted to use up some lettuce I purchased last week before I had to throw it out. As it was, I did have to toss more than a few leaves that looked pretty ugly. I will probably make myself a small salad tonight even though I may not want one. Otherwise I will be throwing away the rest of the lettuce, and that’s throwing away money.
Nobody wants to waste food. The reason we do is because we buy too much in the first place, usually by overestimating how much we will cook and underestimating the number of times we’ll eat out, carry-out or reheat leftovers because we’re too tired to cook. Most of us never check to see what we have on hand before heading out to the grocery store. So we end up buying cottage cheese when we already have an unopened container in the fridge. All of this contributes to overbuying.
It is essential to have a plan before heading out to grocery shop. Check cabinets, pantries and the refrigerator before making a grocery list to see what you already have. Allow for two or three lazy days when you might order a pizza or dine out. Create a meal plan for the other days. Buy only what is on your grocery list. Don’t be distracted by end-of-aisle displays that lure you into buying something that isn’t on your list. If you’ve planned well in advance of shopping, that should never happen.
Next week: Know Your Refrigerator
The housing crisis of the past decade brought about a sea change of how millenials or Generation Y (those born between 1982 and 1994) think about and handle money. With the highest student debt of any generation and a high rate of unemployment due to double economic catastrophies — 9/11 and the housing bubble — they have ridden a financial seesaw. Their dream of having money is no less than that of every generation, but many are more willing to do without to achieve that goal.
One such millenial, Stephanie McConnell, is a good example of how to walk the walk and talk the talk by turning all the negative characteristics of Gen Y – greed, entitlement, narcissism, laziness – into positives to reach those Gen Y goals of early retirement with more than enough income to lead a hedonistic life. An example is, “10 ways to keep your entertainment budget under $100 per month” – even in New York City where the cost of a 200 sq. ft. studio apartment can be upwards of $2000 per month.
People of all ages should know that as of right now the minimalist lifestyle is considered chic. Whether is will be that way in 20 years remains to be seen. I personally downsized three years ago and can tell you that I would never go back to the way things were. I am always conscious of clutter and “stuff,” and always shedding more and more. It is extremely liberating, so much so that at times I find myself with absolutely nothing to do. That’s a wonderful feeling for someone that loves to read. I can now do so without guilt.
So why not jump on this bandwagon and discover life.
A few days ago I dropped into my local Goodwill store to see if I could find a cheap lamp shade. I was surprised to find the store packed with Halloween shoppers. It was as if someone flashed a banner across the sky and told everyone to head to their local thrift store to get Halloween costumes, and they came in droves.
As budgets get tighter, the need to get creative becomes greater. In addition to having a large selection of gently used, ready made Halloween costumes for sale, the store is a virtual supermarket for the creative among us to conjure up a cheap costume. Having trouble thinking of costume ideas? Head over to Pinterest for some really creative DIY ideas or try any one of these 101 ideas for clever, and cheap.
If you’re into decorating for Halloween, look no further than your local dollar stores which stock hundreds of items for every holiday.
Get creative, and no one will ever know you did everything on a budget.
No matter what the season — summer, fall, winter or spring — a slow-cooked meal saves both time and money. Before leaving for work place all ingredients into a slow cooker, set the time and temperature and forget about it until you get home. Then, without any muss or fuss, sit down to a delicious home-made meal. Yes, it’s that simple.
Today, people lead very busy lives. It’s the biggest reason fast foods and prepared foods in supermarkets have become such big items. It’s also what adds to the cost of groceries. Slow cooking from scratch costs half as much or more than buying prepared foods.
Of course, there is still some preparation time involved with many slow cook recipes which usually consists of peeling and slicing vegetable. This can be done the evening before or you can get up a few minutes earlier in the morning. The slow cooker does the rest of the work.
Money saved. Time saved. And there’s a slow cooker to suit everybody’s needs and budget. There are slow cookers of every size to suit one person or families large and small. In fact, if you don’t want another kitchen gadget to take up counter or storage space, a simple dutch oven will serve the same purpose. You need only set the time and temperature on your stove’s oven.
And there is no lack of recipes for this versatile cooking appliance. Here’s a few to tickle your taste buds.
No, I’m not talking about stocking up on 100 rolls of toilet paper or 100 pounds of ground beef just because prices are cheap. Rather, I’m suggesting you look at the bulk food section of your supermarket. And if the market you shop at doesn’t have one, maybe you should start looking around for one that does.
Bulk foods can be real money savers, especially when you need only a small amount of something. Take spices for example. It’s not unusual to pay $3.00 and more for a small jar of cardamom that you may only use once or twice a year. The spice itself may only cost a very small amount, but the fancy jars and pretty labels make up the bulk of the price. Instead, cardamom in bulk costs only a fraction of what you pay for it in a jar — and you only have to buy as much as you need.
The same economics apply to cereals, pastas, flours, sugars, lentils, nuts, candies, and a host of other priducts in bulk. Over the course of a year, the savings by shopping the bulk food section could amount to hundreds of dollars.
Wondering how you’ll store all these new-found purchases? Get creative. Save the jars from the spices for which you overpaid. Old mayonnaise jars are great storage containers. All those plastic containers from sour cream and cottage cheese are perfect for holding nuts. For cereals, flours and pastas, you’ll find 2.5 quart plastic paint containers with lids at Home Depot for less than $2.00, or hop over to your nearest dollar store for some really cheap storage containers.
Of course you would. Who wouldn’t? And, no, you don’t have to buy anything to save this kind of money, but you do have to commit to taking a certain amount of money each week and putting it away into a cookie jar or, better yet, a savings account that pays a high rate of interest.
If you agree to take the 52 Week Money Challenge and succeed, you will have saved $1378 plus interest in exactly one year or 52 weeks. The premise behind the Challenge is that it takes 66 days for form a new habit. One year is more than enough time to get into the habit of saving money.
The savings can come from any number of places. It can be taken directly from your paycheck. Or it can be derived from money you saved grocery shopping based on your budget. For example, if you budget $150/week for groceries and you spend only $140 in week No. 10 of the Challenge, you have just saved the $10 needed to be saved for that week. Whatever you don’t spend based on your budget, is money that can be used to reach you weekly savings goal.
There are multiple ways to play the Challenge game. There are advocates of the Reverse 52 Week Challenge. Other forms of the Challenge opt for shorter time periods and options for those that get paid bi-weekly.
Whatever way you choose to take the 52 Week Money Challenge, you will, hopefully, after all is said and done, have become an expert at saving money.