I’m a terrible cook. I appreciate good food and I love my garden, but cooking never came naturally to me.
Back in my single days, I used to call for takeout when I got off the subway after work, timing it so that the delivery guy and I would arrive at my apartment at the same time. That takes practice.
If you can relate, and you are trying to change your spending habits so you can pay off debt or save for the future, you probably know where you need to cut back already.
We got with the program after starting a family. I want to help my child create good habits, and it is simply healthier to eat real food at home. My husband is actually a great cook (I married well), but it’s not fair to expect him to serve up dinner every night, and he travels a lot on business anyway. Finally, it’s expensive! We had to cut expenses somewhere, and our high food spending offered many opportunities!
- Plan ahead. Have a loose plan for what you will eat that week. If you are shopping for four days, jot down four proteins and four vegetables. (I get plenty of carbs without trying).
- Shop with a list. It’s a running joke in our house that if I go to the store without a list, I’ll come home with coffee, cat food, and ice cream – no actual human dinners.
- Develop a repertoire. I make a few simple things really well. You don’t need a big number. When in doubt, that’s what we are having.
- Get a slow cooker. It is very convenient to dump the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, and have dinner magically prepared when I get home from work. Dinner at the ready also prevents my preschooler from raiding the refrigerator (which is extremely annoying).
- Have a back up. I try to make real food, but I am willing to serve a microwave something or other in a pinch. I figure that the nutritional value is similar to many takeout options, but much less expensive. If you are on a budget, keep a few options on hand.
- Buy one (or two) solid cookbooks. “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman has never failed me. “Make it Fast, Cook it Slow” by Stephanie O’Dea has been my bible for the slow cooker. I own at least 20 cookbooks, but these may be the only ones I have cracked in years.
Finally, don’t over think it! I don’t clip coupons, and I don’t belong to a food co-op. Simply eating at home is the big win.
Eating at home more often is the single best tip I have for my clients who are struggling with their budget.
What works for you?