It’s a new year – and a new opportunity to get that food budget back on track! To help us, my friend Tiffany from Don’t Waste the Crumbs will be sharing a few frugal budgeting ideas with us each month. Take it away, Tiffany …
One of the first lessons I learned early on in my real food journey was that making food from scratch can save a lot of money.
Our grocery budget in The Crumbs Household is $330/month for two adults and two children (ages 6 and 4), so I immediately employed every make-it-from-scratch technique I could possibly find to keep us from overspending.
And while we were definitely saving money making some things from scratch, there was another lesson to be learned: Making food from scratch can take a lot of time.
Time is always in short supply and high demand. In fact, it took me a long time to learn the hard way that my time is NOT always best spent making every single food we eat from scratch.
There are instances where it’s more cost- and time-efficient to buy healthy real food ready-made from the market. Yet on the other hand, there are other instances where it’s just as easy to make the same food at home, possibly for less.
In either case, it’s important for every family to find their own unique balance between time and money when it comes to real food. Not just so you can save money, but so you can save your sanity too! After all, being in the kitchen 24-7 isn’t healthy for you or your family who loves you.
Let me share an example with you … Kelly and I were talking on the phone last week about this whole concept of time vs. savings, and she shared with me that many times she doesn’t make regular tomato salsa from scratch. If she needs just a cup or so for one meal, it just doesn’t make sense for her (money- or time-wise) to buy all of the ingredients and make a big batch from scratch, only to use a small portion as a condiment for one meal. Instead, in this case, she buys only as much salsa as she needs from her local market and makes sure only whole foods are listed in the ingredients.
On the other hand, I always make salsa from scratch. My taco-loving family consumes salsa like it’s water, so a single 32oz batch is gone in just a few days. I know first hand that for my family, it doesn’t make sense for me to buy it.
Here’s another time vs. savings example. For the first half of 2103, you could always count on me buying two whole organic chickens and cutting them into chicken pieces myself. Doing this provided enough chicken for eight meals plus stock for four soup nights – that’s 12 nights of meals every month for a total of $18.
Then one day while strolling through Costco, I found pre-packaged, organic chicken drumsticks that cost less per pound than what I was paying for the whole chickens! I thought I had hit the mother load. Not only could I save money, but I could save time by not having to chop up whole chickens (and cleaning up my mess afterward)!
Each Costco package had three individually wrapped sections and each section contained five drumsticks. One package yielded enough meat for three meals plus stock for two soup nights – that’s five nights of meals for only $11.
But do you see where my logic went wrong?
I thought the drumsticks were a better deal because they cost less per pound and didn’t require any of my time to prepare. But I was wrong.
I would have to buy two of the pre-packaged drumsticks, plus another two pounds of meat, to end up with the same amount of meat if I had simply bought two whole chickens. In terms of money, it would cost another $9.
From start to finish, it takes me 15 minutes to rinse, peel off the skin and carve a whole chicken into parts. If I’m doing two chickens at once, it’s a total of 20 minutes.
Are those 20 minutes worth $9? For me, the answer is Yes!
So here’s my proposal to you: As you evolve in your real food journey, consider how much your time is worth, and spend both wisely.
How Do You Do This?
1. Consider What You Eat Often
One of the great advantages of making food from scratch is that you can ensure that only healthy real food ingredients are used, thereby greatly increasing your nutritional intake. So when considering what to make from scratch, it’s important to think about the types of food you eat most often and start with investing the bulk of your time in making these foods, if it makes sense to do so.
It comes down to figuring out not only what made-from-scratch foods will save you the most money, but which ones will also have a higher likelihood of increasing your nutritional intake. Then it’s a matter of balancing your time, since for most of us it’s simply not possible to make everything from scratch.
For example, you’ll hear often among real foodies that making your own cultured foods like yogurt saves a lot of money. And it absolutely does! That is, if you eat a lot of it. However, if your family only eats a cup of yogurt each week, it simply doesn’t make sense for you to spend the time, money or energy in buying a starter culture, milk and then culturing your own. Just buy the single cup, make sure it’s full fat without added sweeteners or fillers.
Beans are another great example. They’re a nutrition powerhouse and average only 30¢ when you make them from scratch compared to $1 or more per can. Saving 70¢ on each can of beans can really add up over time, but only if your family eats them!
It’s important to mention that sometimes it can cost more to make a food from scratch, but if the nutritional benefits far outweigh the cost involved, it may be worth the investment of extra time and money. But again, only you can decide the right balance between nutritional advantages, time saving and money savings.
2. Consider What You Don’t Eat Often
For foods you eat infrequently, it simply may not make sense to spend time creating these foods from scratch, particularly if healthy whole food options are readily available.
As a personal example … breadcrumbs are REALLY easy to make from scratch, but I don’t make them anymore because of one valid point: My family doesn’t eat them. So regardless of how simple they are to make, it’s still too much time, effort and energy to make my own. Instead, if I happen to need them, I simply buy a container (without any artificial ingredients) and call it done.
3. Start Small
There’s no greater deterrent than trying to do too much at one time. Choose one item that you eat often and try to make it from scratch. Pull out the calculator and see if you saved anything by making it at home versus buying it at the store:
- pre-cut and packaged fruit or veggies vs. buying whole fruits & vegetables and slicing them yourself
- pre-washed bagged lettuce vs. whole heads and washing, cutting at home
- homemade bread vs. packaged or fresh bakery breads
- homemade snacks such as crackers and energy bars vs. less healthy packaged versions
- homemade condiments such as salad dressings and mayo vs. less healthy packaged versions
- homemade cultured foods such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, lactoferments, etc vs more expensive store bought versions
- soaking and cooking your own beans vs. more expensive canned versions
Again, consider the nutritional benefits, financial savings and the time required to make the foods you eat from scratch and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. Every situation and family is different, so you’ll have to ask yourself – How much is your time worth? And do what’s best for YOUR family!
We’d love to hear your thoughts … What are real foods do you invest your time in making from scratch? And which do you opt to purchase already made instead?