Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Homemade Delicious: Eating on a Dime!

Pack a Lunch!
This is one of the easiest ways to save money on food and eat healthier at the same time.  By packing yourself and each family member a lunch, you can easily save hundreds of dollars every year.  Packing it the night before will help make it easier for your family to make this small change that will make a big difference.  If you haven't already invested in a good set of tupperware, then do so now.  Look for a set that all has the same size of lid for your packing convenience, and check the clearance sections of your local stores until you find a nice set.  Or, opt for buying a set that has little compartments for each type of food (http://www.thekitchn.com/how-pinterest-packs-its-lunch-186247).  We try to make double the helping of whatever we are having for dinner, or pack a variety of the following things to conveniently make a lunch for the next day:
Fruit- apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc travel well and make a quick, healthy snack for midmorning or mid-afternoon so you don't get tempted to reach for a less-healthy and more expensive snack!
Veggies- baby carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, etc will pack in the nutrients and stave off the junk food cravings while you're at work or school.
Sandwiches- PBJ is a classic that doesn't require refrigeration, but variations, like honey, almond butter, etc can keep things interesting.  A veggie-packed meat sandwich can do wonders as well.
Salads- mix in a variety of things, like cheese, croutons, almond slivers, pepperoni, tuna, smoked salmon, etc to spice things up.
Yogurts- opt for the lowfat variety and find them on clearance
Crackers- the more whole wheat and lowfat, the better
Mixed Nuts- these are great for filling you up with protein and good types of fats instead of junk food
Dried fruit- we buy little bags of dried fruit from our bulk section at Winco or pack a little tupperware full of organic raisins from Costco.  The one thing to watch with dried fruit is the high calorie count (since all the water has been sucked out of them).
Granola bars- carefully read the nutrition facts and ingredients as many granola bars have LOTS of sugar, transfat, and chemicals in them.
Hard-boiled eggs
Cottage cheese
Buying a lunch at my work costs about $3/day, whereas most of the lunches I bring from home only cost around $1 (and they're MUCH healthier and encourage me to eat better portions as well).  This means I save about $500 every year just by bringing my own lunch from home!  Depending upon how inexpensively you can get the fixings for your lunch and how much you would spend eating out for lunch, you'll save more or less (if I went to a restaurant that cost even $10 for my lunch, I'd be saving about $2,250 every year). Compound this for each person in your family, and you're looking at a second vacation every year, paying off debt, the downpayment for a more fuel-effecient car, etc, as well as a smaller waistline, fewer visits to the doctor, and overall better health!  Check out more fun ideas here- http://www.sweetshoppemom.com/2013/05/end-of-school-year-wrap-up-school.html

Dinner on a Dime
Eating out gets very expensive very quickly.  The very best thing to do, for your health and pocketbook, is to make as many dinners at home as you can, from scratch. That being said, there are a hundred thousand websites out there (or just a quick search of Pinterest like http://preciseisnice.blogspot.ca/2012/05/106-dinner-ideas.html?m=1) that will help you easily make healthy dinners at home. Even better, you can make a double batch and enjoy the left overs the next day, or freeze some to enjoy on a hectic night when you don't feel like baking.  This is another easy way that you can save thousands of dollars a year.

Eating Out, the Smart Way
If you are eating out, then do it sparingly and wisely. Use coupons whenever possible to get one of your entrees free or a certain amount off your total check.  Look for deals, like kids eat free or the special of the day.  If you have a certain restaurant you love, try to get gift cards to it at discounted prices, or ask for them for Christmas, your birthday, or other special events.  Check Groupon or Restaurant.com to see if there are good deals for local restaurants. Look for places that have scrumptious, free, or unlimited starters, like breadsticks at Olive Garden, cheesy biscuits at Red Lobster, or chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, and feel free to ruin your appetite on them!  This way, by the time your main course arrives, you'll be able to enjoy a small portion of it and still have plenty to take home for left overs (or tomorrow's lunch).  Always take home your left overs.  If it's a special occasion and you're going out to eat, make it count!

Shop Clearance, Use Coupons, & Stock Up
Every time I visit any grocery store, I always check the clearance section.  I stock up on things when they go on sale, and have even gotten things for free by using coupons on clearance items.  Check couponing blogs for your area to see special deals for coupons- this is how I've saved hundreds of dollars and even gotten PAID to take products from the store!  Stocking up on items you need when they are on sale will help you save more money and make sure that you never run out of the things you need.  It's also great to have extras of things just in case of emergency.  Making your meals based off what you already have and what will go bad first if you don't eat it up is another money-saving tip that will also help reduce your family's waste. http://myfridgefood.com is a website you can put in what you have in your fridge/what's about to go bad and it will give you recipes to make based off of the ingredients you already have!  By buying food on clearance, making sure the food you have doesn't go to waste, using coupons, and stocking up on essentials, you will save your family even more money!

Grow Your Own!
 If you have any land, or even a little planter to grow a few herbs in, do it!  We get over a hundred dollars worth of produce from our little garden beds every year, and there is nothing better than eating fresh, organic, homegrown fruits and veggies!  If you can get the starts from a friend (like our rosemary which  came from a shoot off of my mom's rosemary bush or our raspberry bushes that we were able to glean from the shoots of our aunt's raspberry patch) or can find cheap seeds, it will be even more cost effective.

What are your favorite ways to save money on food?  What questions do you still have about eating well on a dime?  Share your ideas, comments, or questions below, and make sure to check back for even more ways to save your family money!

Are You Not Entertained? Television & Movies for Less!

We Americans love our televisions.  The average U.S. household now has more televisions than people, and we spend about 8 hours a day with it blaring.  There's a lot of controversy over how much screen time (if any) is healthy for us, but we'll save that debate for a different day.  This posting is all about how to save you money while keeping you well entertained.

Ditching Cable (or at least getting a better deal on it)
If you're looking to ditch your expensive cable habit (one friend spends $200 every month, which quickly adds up to $2,400 every year!), there are a plethora of great alternatives.  Check out the many money-saving options below to see how you could cancel cable and still get all the entertainment goodness your heart could desire. If, unlike the last few hundred generations, you cannot survive without cable television, then there is still hope.  Usually when you sign up for cable/satellite, they will give you a promotional price for a few months or a year, and then hike up the price again.  If you call and tell the company that you're going to cancel their service, they will often continue the discounted price.  Pitting different companies against each other is another great way to save money; we use this method to get the best deal on internet and save about $100 every year because of it.  The worst they can say do is refuse, which may just be the prompting you need to ditch the expensive cable habit and try some of the following alternatives.

If you haven't watched a Ted Talk on this non-profit website, you're missing out!  Thousands of videos await you; they include nearly every subject you can imagine. From humorous presentations, to educational videos, this site will keep you entertained for YEARS, and even better yet is that every talk I've listed to thus far would be appropriate for middle school age children and up (and most are little kid friendly too).  This is a totally free website that could be part of the puzzle in saving you money while still keeping you entertained, and perhaps even make you smarter simultaneously!

There are a few sites where you can watch television shows for free online, and Hulu.com is one of them.  While you could shell out more money and watch nearly any show you'd like by subscribing to this site, you can also view thousands of television programs for absolutely free!  For the most part, Hulu offers the latest 5 episodes of nearly every popular show for free.  This is how my husband and I watch a few hours of TV a week.  If you have internet, this is a great way to make that internet dollar stretch farther.

You've probably heard of Netflix if you aren't already subscribed to it, but this is another source you could go to that is significantly cheaper than general cable TV.  There are different subscriptions to chose from (we do the least expensive one that gives us unlimited online access to thousands of videos because our TV is hooked up to the internet).  Again, this service is WAY less expensive than cable or satellite, but it still provides hours of entertainment.

You could rent a movie/game every single day from Redbox and it would still be less expensive than the average cable bill.  If you sign up for their emails, you can also get a totally free rental each month.  They will send you a code to use to get the free movie or game rental, and as long as you return it the next day, you won't be charged a thing!  This is yet another great way to still see the current movies/play the newest games without having to break the bank in the process.

A Night at the Movies
Going to the movies costs about $20 PER PERSON for the average US citizen now, which is crazy. A few simple steps can save a significant amount of money though.  First, eat before you go to avoid paying an arm and a leg for a candy bar, or $8 for 20 cents worth of popcorn.  If you find it to be ethical (which I do), you can also bring in some snacks of your own at a far lower cost.  Try to find a theater that has slightly older movies for less (like Northern Lights Theater Pub in Salem, Oregon which is only $3 for any movie and plays them about a month after the other theaters do).  Buying tickets before hand, buyin bulk tickets (Costco sells them), or signing up for the theater's rewards program can all help you save money as well.

Ye Ol' Entertainment
Instead of sitting in front of the tube for hours, you could read a book aloud with your loved ones, get outside and get some exercise, join in a rousing chorus of song, tick off a few things from the old To Do list, complete a craft project, catch up on yard work, etc.  If these forms of entertainment were good enough for people to enjoy for the last few thousand years, they are probably good enough for us.  Screen time may be one arena where you want to be below the national average, because it might help you be above the average for productivity, financial security, intelligence, etc. :)

How do you save on entertainment costs?  What strategies do you have for making your entertainment dollar stretch further? Leave a comment below and share this with a friend who might like a little extra money each month.  Happy saving!