Cooking as a Budget Measure
Everyone agrees. Eating at home is best: most healthful because you control the ingredients, a pleasurable activity that pulls together relationships. And it can be cheapest if you invest time. Learn to cook, shop around, and shop often for freshness and discounts (but do factor in transportation costs).
Build a budget: Almost everyone knows what they make and almost no one knows what they spend, especially on food. Get an old manila envelope and a notebook (no, don’t buy them; find some old stuff around the house; the idea is cheap, remember?). Every day for two weeks, keep the receipts for everything edible that you buy; if the receipt doesn’t detail what you bought, or there is no receipt, record the info in the notebook. Also, note food you discard: forgotten doggie bags, lettuce that went brown, bread that went green. Do this in a typical two-week period, not one when you’re throwing a party for 50 people. You’ll know what you spend, where you overspent, what your needs really are. Give yourself that amount in cash only for a couple of weeks and see if you survive or come up short.
Eat what you got: Go through the pantry. Jot down what you could make without going to the store for anything more basic than an onion or some chicken stock. Now cook those meals.
Never go to the store hungry: You’ll buy with your stomach.
Use coupons: (hard copy or online) loyalty cards, online sales. For example, Safeway is often dissed as the most expensive of local grocery chains, but not if you religiously use their Just Four You program: club card, online coupon center and personalized deal list, deal matches. Club specials, available to anyone with a card, can last a week to three months. To get personalized prices, coupons and deal matches log on to [Safeway.com] and “load” specials by clicking on the individual deals in their respective areas on the site. Personalized deals are just that — keyed to each individual shopper based on previous purchases. Most are good for one week only. Coupons are, for the most part, simply manufacturers’ discounts. Deal matches are specific to Hawai’i and match some, but not all, the specials listed each week at competing Times and Foodland supermarkets. Occasionally, Safeway offers coupons that can be obtained only from printed sources. No paper? They keep copies at the stores. One recent deal was $25 off any purchase of $100 or more. Just stick to your list!
Swap and barter: If you’re a gardener, or have a treeful or vineful of something, swap with someone else who bakes or cooks well. Visit [abundance.com] to find other growers with excess.
Go halves: Big box stores are cash-drainers and waste-causers for smaller households. Try going halves with another.
Grow your own: Start with herbs in pots and move on. Instruction, demonstration garden: Oahu Urban Garden Center in Pearl City; free second Saturday classes, annual winter Plant Sale and Fruit Tree Giveway ([ctahr.hawaii.edu]).
• Shop farmer’s markets that feature locally grown food (the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and the Hale’iwa Farmers Market–Haleiwa, Hawaii Kai, Ala Moana–are reliable). See The Weekly’s comprehensive listings.
Tisket, tasket: Join the Community Supported Agriculture movement and get a weekly basket of fresh produce for a set price. Go to [localharvest.org] and punch in city and state. On Oahu: Just Add Water, MA’O Farms, Ailani Gardens, Otsuji Farms, Meleana’s Farm.
Chinatown cheap: The further you get away from the main streets, the cheaper the goods. Example: Green onions at Safeway, $1.99/bunch. Chinatown main streets, $1/bunch. In Kekaulike Market’s narrow byways, 75 cents or even 50 cents a bunch. Bananas: Safeway at $1.19 per pound vs “deep” Chinatown for as little as 39 cents per pound (overripe ones good for baking, freezing, smoothies).
Beans are cheap: Dried beans are even cheaper than canned beans. Learn to make soup and chili.
Waste not: Stir-fries use up leftovers (fried rice, fried noodles, stir-fry over quinoa, brown rice, pasta, etc.)
Flexible foods: Stock ingredients that work in both sweet and savory recipes, several types of meals: tofu, quicker-cooking grains such as quinoa and oatmeal. Tofu can be pressed and tossed into stir-fries, painted with a marinade and roasted, whirred into smoothies. Quick-cooking grains can be morning cereal or evening starch.
Freeze: A compact upright freezer might save its cost ($150 and up; shop sales) if you’ve got space and can afford it. Stash freezable food when it’s on deep discount. A stand-alone freezer allows better air circulation, quicker freezing, thus better quality. Freeze bits of broth, tomato paste, leftover herb mixtures (pesto, etc.) in egg container, clearly labeled.