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Author: TamarianG Big red star, 1000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 884504  
Subject: LONG: I'm cookin' with GAS now! Date: 9/29/2003 1:46 PM
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(In case you missed them, here's the first four of these 'confessions of a fool' – they are all equally LONG, so be warned!)
Part I: I owe HOW much?! : http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=19584890
Part II: Budgeting in real life: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=19592536
Part III: LBYMs as a friend: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=19608553
Part IV: Getting those rates lowered: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=19624712

Ah yes, a subject near and dear to our hearts: cooking. LBYMs and the kitchen. They just kind of go together, don't they? Lewis and Clark, Rock and Roll, LBYMs and The Kitchen…

OK, seriously. In terms of significant LBYMs impact, this was perhaps the number one way that I started saving us some serious bucks to apply to our serious debt. Previously, as stated in parts I and II, the DH and I spent like sailors on food. I'd grab a cup of coffee and a scone at Starbucks for breakfast, then get lunch 'out', and then the DH and I would hit up the town for dinner 'out' somewhere. Plus $250 spent at Safeway (why? On what? Dunno…) each week, we were coughing (charging) up well in excess of $600 per WEEK on food.

In the beginning, my shopping method was very simple: I would make a mental note of what we needed and then wander wide-eyed through the aisles on the theory that when I saw the product(s), I would remember.

Oh sure, I'd remember. I'd remember that we needed toilet paper and pick some up – five times in a row. Ooooooh, vitamins, you know, I've been meaning to start taking vitamins, we'll just toss those in there and aren't these just the most ADORABLE candles you've ever seen and a new magazine on Simplicity and a few cans of this and a bunch of those and a box of that…

And then we'd stand around the apartment asking each other if there was anything, you know, to eat. “Hello, Take-Out Taxi? We'd like a seven course meal from Chez de la Expensive, please…”

Like so many other things in life, my grocery shopping benefited tremendously from getting a little more organized. Every Sunday morning while the DH snore-, er, slept in, I'd make myself a cup of coffee and start flipping through supermarket circulars and my recipe books. I'd make up a meal plan for the week, basing my choices on what was on sale as well as what sounded good. My shopping list template was based on the store layout, so that I didn't wander back and forth as I shopped but rather zipped right on through. Our cost dropped right away, and pretty soon a lot of our storage issues were also vanishing – not storing six economy-sized bags of toilet paper freed up a lot of room on our pantry shelves!

But…there was a new problem. Let's see, does this scenario sound familiar to anyone? You get to work, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, on a lovely Tuesday morning. Ready for anything! Ten hours later, you're still at work, irritable and exhausted, surrounded by morons and ready to quit. An hour after that, you drag yourself home. Flopping onto the sofa, you are immediately reminded by your growling stomach that you're hungry. You have a lovely zucchini pie on tap for the evening, but, well, first you've got to make and roll out the pie crust…then slice the zucchini, mix up the milk and eggs, grate the cheese, chop the onions…

“Hello, Dominos? I'd like a large double-pepperoni…” (You do, however, console yourself with the thought that while you didn't actually cook dinner, you did go into the kitchen to use the phone, and surely the act of entering the kitchen counts for something, right?)

One week, I experienced a particularly bad case of this syndrome. Saturday night, I was throwing out about $40 worth of vegetables that had rotted in my crisper or on my counter over the course of the week – not to mention the uneaten pizza and Chinese take-out leftovers, also gone slimy and gross.

I sat there staring at my garbage bag full of 'the wrong green' vegetables thinking about the depleted state of my grocery budget and how many dollars were sitting there in that trash can, and asked myself in despair if there was any way I could stop being such a loser on that front. First, I told myself, “Maybe I should buy that pre-grated cheese, it would be a time-saver …”

…or…
……or……
………wait, wait, there's a thought trying to happen here………

Or, I could grate the cheese up on Sunday. Hey, I know, this is hardly like the fiery bush of Moses here, but it was a new thought for me. And it shouldn't have been – I had long had the habit of doing all the chopping / dicing / slicing work right before I started the actual cooking. Well, why not WELL before the actual cooking?

Why not grate the cheese and chop the onions Sunday afternoon, when I got back from the supermarket? Right away, while I still had energy! Just get everything 'recipe ready'. Then, when I get home, wham, bam, into the oven! No standing there chopping! No standing there grating! Just mix, mix, mix and toss it into a pan!

There were a couple things I learned; I learned, for example, that a whole zucchini might survive for a week in the fridge, but a sliced one probably won't. Cheese freezes / thaws just fine. Ditto pie crusts. I also learned that pre-chopped onions need a really tight-fitting lid or else the entire apartment will reek of them.

Speaking of reek, my home-cooked meals were pretty awful at first. Not only was I tremendously inexperienced at the whole 'DIY' cooking edible things schtick, I had a rather adversarial stance toward the whole thing. I said to myself, “Self, you are being punished here. This isn't for fun! This isn't some kind of pleasure cruise! You are going to EAT that disgusting glop and you're going to LIKE it, because you deserve to suffer for your crimes…you're not living this way because you choose to, you're living this way because you have to! Persons who have debt do not deserve to enjoy anything until they've atoned for their sins!”

Because goodness knows, basic seasonings are beyond the reach of most peasants. Have been ever since Elizabeth I's day, right? And poor, stupid people don't get good eats. They don't get to eat a-la Chez de la Expensive. They have to eat the worst possible cuts of meat, and they have to prepare it using WATER and nothing else! Because herbs don't grow on trees and there's only so much salt in the ocean, and…

Oh, puh-leeze. I've got a secret for you. C'mere. No, closer. Sssssssh. Cooking for yourself and your family can be fun AND cheap AND edible. Yes, all the same time. Pass it on.

Granted, you may have some interesting culinary disasters along the way. But look at it this way: How many things in life were you born knowing how to do? M'self, I had breathing, producing, um, 'food by-products', and crying down pretty well – everything else, I've had to learn. Yes, even getting food out of a bottle – those of us who are parents know all about that one. Slowly, painfully in many cases, with many a false start and 'whoa, that wasn't what I was after' finishes, I learned how to make a casserole that was edible. Edible by humans, too, which was an added plus. I even graduated to making my own sauces instead of using the Great American Standby, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup. (BTW, have you seen the prices on those cans lately?! OW, my EYE!)

When this first began, I was more than content with the cost savings we got just by not eating out so much. Shoot, paying $15 for two steaks? That was nothing compared to dropping $60+ at Black Angus!

But then, having been bit by the LBYMs bug, I started hesitating over those packages. Huhn, boneless pork loin chops, $5.89 a pound…or, I can make the DH deal with the bones (my DH really hates bones in his food) (hey, he's low maintenance about 98% of the time, I'll give him his 'I don't like bones in my food' routine) and save a buck a pound on regular pork chops. Hang on, hold the phone, what is this? Whole boneless pork loin, $2.19 a pound? Pork loin chops, pork loin…hmm…could there be some kind of relationship here, some commonality, something these two products have in common…? And you know, odd, but that pork loin roast over there, at $5-something a pound, it looks just exactly like the fat end of this whole pork loin…

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

I became pretty darned good at recognizing the smaller cuts we liked best hiding in the cheaper, larger cuts, figured out what to do with 'all the rest of that' (the freezer is your friend on this front) and managed to wield a good sharp knife without undue danger to my fingers. We started shaving a fair amount off the old bill when I started buying the ten pound slab of beef at $2.89 a pound rather than buying ten one pound steaks at $5.89 a pound.

Leftovers were another area where we leaked an awful lot of cash. See, recipes usually make enough for four or six or twelve people, right? So I'd cook them up with this wild notion that we'd eat the leftovers, you know, later. We'd cheerfully stick them into the Tupperware and put them in the fridge for later, then 'not feel like having the same thing again quite so soon' for a while, and a few weeks later we'd toss out the greenery, chastising ourselves for the waste of food.

Finally, we switched methods and got the groove on there: Right after dinner, put the leftovers into your containers of choice and put them straight into the freezer. Sure, even if you have 'every intention' of eating them the next day. Do this a few times, and what do you have? A veritable smorgasbord, not only for lunches but for those occasions when the very thought of cooking makes you want to cry like a toddler who has just been informed that Noggin has changed their air-times and Blue's Clues is no longer on at 6:00 but has moved to a start time half an hour past his/her current bedtime.

There are a hundred thousand ways to stretch your grocery budget, and I think at this point I've tried most of them. Some worked out great! Cutting back the amount of meat in the recipes, for example, worked great! Setting out crudités (carrot sticks and such) before dinner, taking the edge off the old appetite, also works great! Ditto the 'substitution of ingredients', like using plain old button mushrooms instead of fancy gourmet hand-cultivated and special couriered via Concorde jet from Algiers mushrooms. Granted, the taste isn't exactly the same, but close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, or my home cooking.

Some didn't work out too great. Like saving bacon grease and trying to use it instead of butter in other recipes (you know the ones, where they say 'melt two tablespoons of butter, add onions and sauté to a light golden brown). Blech. Way didn't work out too good.

At the very beginning (post eating out all the time, pre getting it really together), I was paying about $240 a week for groceries for two adults. I got it down to $60 a week for a while in The Early Days of Debt Repayment, and we weren't complaining. Much. (I did, however, get to the point where seeing a package of Top Ramen gave me a nervous eye twitch.)

Right immediately now, for two adults and three small children I spend roughly $300 once every six weeks at Costco, plus about $40 a week at Safeway for assorted things I either can get cheaper at Safeway (bagged cereal for the munchkins, for example) or can't get at Costco (cocoa powder, frozen veggies), or that I don't want in the Mondo Tub of Doom (sour cream), or missed completely and would rather take a beating than go back to Costco one (1) second sooner than I absolutely must (last time, this would be kid's shampoo).

That's about $90 a week, and we eat pretty darned well. Our food is healthier overall, the flavors customized to our personal preferences, and best of all, the bill is much easier to swallow. Even better, I'm including stuff like diapers, shampoo, blah blah blah in that as well.

If you're just getting started in this whole 'cooking' thing, remember to love yourself. Admire yourself, and give yourself lots of kudos for trying. Remember to laugh over your failures. Seriously. Yes, it's frustrating to scrape burned food into the trash can when the whole point is that you're trying to reduce expense AND waste in your life – but try to consider it part of the learning experience. You wasted some paper learning to write, right? And you go through a few crayons before you learn to draw a flower, right? You probably banged up your knees learning to walk, and it's likely you've thrown a lot more food than that away while learning how to eat in the first place.

It's a process, like any other. You're going to do just fine. You just need a little time, a little practice, and a little patience. And a strong stomach doesn't hurt, either. ;-)

NEXT: (with apologies to Joe Hill) DON'T MOURN, ORGANIZE!

Onward!
Tamarian

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