Cheaper by the DozenWritten by Karen on January 23rd, 2009
Even with a new administration, we are still feeling the squeeze buying every day necessities, especially at the supermarket. But saving time rarely means saving money – we do pay for convenience. So when you’re shopping for food, try to plan ahead and get creative with your own recipes for saving your health – and your wallet.
- Salad kits. Washed and bagged greens can be a time-saver, but they can cost three times as much as buying the same amount as a head of lettuce. Even more expensive are “salad kits,” where you get some greens, a small bag of dressing, and a small bag of croutons. Skip these altogether. Make your own croutons by toasting cut-up stale (whole grain) bread you would otherwise toss, and toss with lemon and olive oil.
- Individual servings of anything.The recent trend to package small quantities into 100-calorie snack packs is a way for food-makers to get more money from unsuspecting consumers. The price “per unit” cost of these items is significantly more than if you had just bought one big bag of trail mix. Not to mention the waste in packaging! Buy the big bag and parcel out single servings; keep them in small, reusable storage bags.
- Trail mix. Speaking of…last I checked unit prices of those small bags of trail mix I found that they cost about $10 a pound! You can customize your own blend for much less with items like raw almonds, a cup of organic raisins or dried cranberries, and a handful of pumpkin seeds. Not only will it be tasty, but you’ll maximize health bennies, too.
- Energy or protein bars. These calorie-laden bars are usually stacked at the checkout counter because they depend on impulse buyers who grab them for a quick health fix. They are high in sugar and fat and about as ‘wholesome’ as a candy bar. They’re also two to three times more expensive. If you need a boost, a vitamin-rich piece of fruit, yogurt, or a small handful of nuts is more satiating and less expensive.
- Spice mixes. Spice mixes like grill seasoning and rib rubs might seem like a good buy because they contain a lot of spices that you would have to buy individually. Once again, it ‘pays’ to read labels. Usually the first ingredient you will see on the package is salt, followed by the vague “herbs and spices.” Look in your own pantry, and you may be surprised to discover just how many herbs you already have on hand. You can control the ingredients and get just the right blend for your taste.
- Powdered iced tea mixes or prepared flavored iced tea. It’s much more economical to make your own iced tea from actual tea bags and keep a jar in the fridge. Plus, many mixes and preparations are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, along with artificial flavors. So make your own, and get creative (as in high antioxidant green.) If you like your tea sweet but want to keep calories down, skip the sugar and add fruit juice instead.
- Bottled water. Bottled water is a bad investment for so many reasons. It’s expensive compared to what’s coming out of the tap, its cost to the environment is high (it takes a lot of fossil fuel to produce and ship all those bottles, not to mention the waste), and it’s often no better for your health than what’s running down your drain.
Even taking into account the cost of filters (my favorite: Multi Pure), water from home is still much cheaper than bottled water, which can run up to $1 to $3 a pop.
- “Gourmet” frozen vegetables.
I have nothing against frozen veggies, but why not get the most bang for your buck? Sure, you can buy an 8-ounce packet of peas in an herbed butter sauce, but you can also do so much better by making your own. Help your budget and your palate by buying fresh produce in season and freezing if you can’t eat it right away. Then add a pat of butter or olive oil and sprinkle on some herbs that you already have on hand.
- Premium frozen fruit bars. At nearly $2 per bar, frozen “all fruit” or “fruit and juice” bars may not be rich in calories, but they are certainly rich in price. Make your own at home-and get the flavors you want. The only equipment you need is a blender, a plastic reusable ice-pop mold (at discount stores for about 99 cents each), or small paper cups and pop sticks or wooden skewers.
To make four pops, just throw 2 cups cut-up fruit, 1 tablespoon agave nectar, and 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice into a blender. Cover and blend until smooth. You might wish to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water so the final mix is a thick slush. Pour into 4-ounce pop molds or paper cups, insert sticks, and freeze until solid. The kids love ‘em, too!
- Boxed rice “entree” or side-dish mixes.
These consist basically of rice, salt, and spices-yet they’re priced way beyond the ingredients sold individually. Yes, there are a few flavorings included, but they’re probably ones you have in your pantry already. Buy a bag of brown rice, measure out what you need, add your own herbs and other seasonings, and cook the rice according to package directions. It makes a great gift, too!
- Pre-formed meat patties.
Frozen burgers, beef or otherwise, are more expensive than buying the ground meat in bulk and making patties yourself. Also, there’s some evidence that pre-formed meat patties might contain more e. coli than regular ground meat. In fact, most of the recent beef recalls have involved pre-made frozen beef patties. Fresh is definitely better – and only grass-fed. (Another post in the works.)
- Tomato-based pasta sauces.
A jar of spaghetti sauce typically runs $2 to $6. The equivalent amount of canned tomatoes is often under $1. My suggestion: make your own sauces from canned crushed tomatoes or fresh tomatoes—particularly in the summer, when they are in season and delicious. The easiest method is to put crushed tomatoes (canned or fresh) into a skillet, stir in some wine or wine vinegar, your favorite herbs, and whatever chopped vegetables you like in your sauce—garlic, peppers, onions, mushrooms, even carrots—and let simmer for an hour. Adjust the flavorings and serve. Delicioso!
From “Get Dollar Savvy”