Thrifty Kitchen

I know the economy is booming and I am very grateful.  We recently sold our bed and breakfast and retired and then suffered a financial setback that has us in an uncomfortable position.  We had budgeted our savings to allow worry free travel. Until we replenish our “mad money,” my husband is going back to work this month. Until then, we are being THRIFTY!!  I am no novice at this in the kitchen–when I was raising a family of three big boys and a husband and money was short, I learned to be as thrifty as possible.  Although I don’t have as many mouths to feed now, I can employ a lot of the same tricks and procedures now as I did then.

The first and most relevant for me is to give up a little convenience for much better quality and delicious meals by making a great deal of your food from scratch; another is to buy the cheapest high quality food you can find and buy in quantity when it’s cheap. That usually translates into buying in season as well.

I can offer a list for the really serious food saver; it is a challenging and somewhat strenuous regimen and you may want to use parts of it and not others or start slowly and add the more difficult things later, but whatever you do, get excited about the challenge–it actually can be really fun and definitely rewarding.


We must start at the beginning–planning–this is the big one.  Without really planning, you will not see noticeable changes in your pocketbook.  This doesn’t just apply to food management or budget management but to anything at which you really want to succeed.  Many people go for years without a formal budget, then when getting on one can hardly believe where the money had been going,  Calories? Ditto.  Why do so many diet advisors tell you to keep track of calories and plan your meals?  It works!

Planning your menus will work to help save time, money and keep you on a diet, if you are trying to lose weight,  It may seem like a lot of work, but it takes me about 2 hours to make menus for a month of three meals a day for my husband and me.

There are several great helps for planning menus.  You can use ready-made menus you may find in magazines, or making 3×5 cards with your family’s favorite menus and keep them in a file box, or look on-line for months of menus–all these possibilities as well as using menu cookbooks if you, like me, love cookbooks.

Planning all your meals and snacks may seem time-consuming at the time but once done, you have your shopping list, the plan for thawing food ahead of time, the preparation for slow-cooker meals or long-marinating or overnight dishes ahead of time and the leftovers or “planned-overs” for later in the week.  No more despairing that you forgot to take anything out of the freezer and you haven’t got a clue what to have for dinner.

I use two calendar pages, each 8″ x 11″ to write in my menus.

These I put up on the refrigerator with magnets–very handy when cooking,  If I’m using the 3×5 card method, I draw out of the file box the seven cards I am choosing for the week and keep the in the kitchen where you keep other books and papers, clipped with a paper clip and re-file each one as it is used.  You will have every meal that your family eats–including snacks, if you like–planned out and posted where everyone can see it.  This is not negotiable–you are in charge.  You will have your shopping list already made every week before you go shopping–and that is the next topic on how to save big money–the store!


Now that you are armed with your shopping list made from your month of menus–it’s time to go shopping.  This is an area about which most people are very familiar but nonetheless sometimes know very little and are, therefore, good candidates for the marketing experts’ ploys.  Imagine that you are a buyer for a large company and you are about to go on your first buying trip,  You would probably do a little studying before you just showed up at the merchandise show.  If you didn’t, you would be at the whim of the great displays and huge selection of goods in the field of your business,  I have gone to IMAGA–a gift store merchandise mart for wholesale buyers.  It is a carnival of beautiful wares; there are strips and strips of little “stores” to entice the buyers. It is far easier to navigate if you know ahead of time what will be there and what the terms of the vendor are.  Even then it is difficult to resist being something that you regret later.

The marketing experts for grocery stores are no less savvy.  They deliberately put the impulse items near the check-out; the most appealing products on the end caps–almost never practical staples that you will buy anyway–you get the idea!  One of the problems in food shopping is that it is common to all of us since babyhood,  How many of us didn’t tag along with Mom or Dad on their grocery shopping day? We feel at home–we think we know how to buy food.  There are some things that might make it easier to save money, though, if you know ahead.

What store/stores do you shop in?  When the first warehouse supermarket (Cub Foods) came to Minnesota in the seventies, there was only one store–in Fridley.  It was a long way from my house in Bloomington, but through word of mouth I heard it was a way to really save a lot of money if you were willing to bag your own groceries.  No problem.  I went to Cub with my weekly list and a lot of expectations and enthusiasm,  I was very disappointed.  I hated the way the store looked:  cement floors, food in boxes grease pencils to mark your own prices, glaring fluorescent lights, fork lift trucks all over beeping their warnings and scaring me to death.  The produce was bare bones in the display area–all green tops attached and unwashed; bins of unwrapped potatoes, onions, other root vegetables and somewhat wilted looking greens.

By the time I got out of that store that day I was sure I would never return.  The next week when I was rolling my svelte grocery cart instead of a flatbed on wheels, walking in softly lit areas on quiet carpet and eyeing beautifully displayed and washed produce, rows and rows of well-placed and marked canned and packaged foods, frozen food in freezers and a butcher in white cap behind the meat and seafood counters I felt much better.  When I got home, though and looked at my receipt, I decided to get out last week’s receipt from Cub and compare, item by item, what I paid.  I was aghast.  It was especially hard to see that that can of Campbell’s tomato soup looking the same on my shelf as the one I bought at my high-end supermarket and, of course, I knew it would taste the same.  Yet, I had paid 1/3 more for the supermarket can of soup.  And that wasn’t the only thing–item after item was cheaper at Cub. It even turned out that the produce that looked grim at the warehouse, when washed and stored in the crisper was just as tasty and nutritious.  You pay a lot for marketing and merchandising . Ditto convenience.

It didn’t take too long for me to realize that if I were going to be a real home executive, I might have to forego some luxury abeyance in order to feed my family really good, really nutritious food for 10-30% less

“Warehouse” shopping has changed a lot since those days–now the discount stores have added all the luxuries their high-end counterparts have–except you still have to bag your own groceries.  You can still save some money but not as much and new contenders like shopping clubs (Costco and Sam’s) as well as Aldi, Walmart and a few others are replacing those early warehouse style stores.  The best solution is to plan a day around grocery shopping.



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