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The biggest money saver for me, over the last ten years, has been learning to cook and do meal planning. I didn't learn to cook growing up - my mother cooked every night, but she hated cooking and we had the same bad five meals over and over. So I had to learn from cookbooks, and from cooking shows on TV. But it's been a great money saver. I realized early on that I could take my meager food budget and spend it on cheap, not very satisfying take-out or restaurant food, or I could use it to buy groceries, and I could eat very well. As my budget has increased, I've been able to splurge on meals that I really enjoy (I occasionally make a short rib braise that probably equals the cost of a high-end restaurant meal) but it's so satisfying to make your own food - and it's easier to justify great ingredients that you love when you aren't spending money eating out.

After I learned to cook, I learned how to plan meals and grocery shop. This is something I did learn from my Mom. Read the grocery store flyers (they're mostly on line these days) and plan your purchases around sales. This goes hand in hand with being an adventurous cook - if pork roast is a great price, then buy a bunch and find a great recipe for cooking pork roast. A lot of my favorite recipes have come from thinking "hmmm, I wonder how you cook that ingredient - it's on sale at a great price!" Planning is also a must. I keep a list of what I have in my pantry and freezer, and I look at both the grocery flyers and what I have on hand to decide what to cook. If chicken is a great price this week, then that might be my big weekend meal of the week. And maybe I'll use up the perishable veggies in the fridge at the same time. But on the weekdays, I may be too busy to cook much, so I'll plan to pull some leftovers out of the freezer or make something quick. Since I've started planning my meals, I have much less waste and I enjoy cooking more, since I don't come home and think "what's for dinner".

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