Beans and Rice and Beans and Rice
June 3, 2014 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I have set myself a goal of paying off my $10k credit card in the next 6 months. After I cut out all luxuries, entertainment, eating out, new items for myself etc, the main variable is food. I have trimmed the fixed payments where I can and accepted the ones I can't. I need to feed myself, my partner, my 9 year old daughter and my dog. Please help me do this as cheaply as possible! Short term pain, long term gain and all that.

I am in Adelaide, Australia so things like coupons and Aldi/Costco are out.

I'm really looking for...

* Ways to cut down on the grocery bill
* Ideas to make things last longer and things I can go without that 'seem' like staples
* Cheap and tasty meal ideas
* Cheap and extra tasty lunch ideas that won't have me crying for the snack machine at 3pm
* Any other ideas to help me save as much money as possible before the end of the year

Also, I don't drink coffee or tea so there is nothing to cut back there.

Thank you!
posted by Youremyworld to Food & Drink (48 answers total) 145 users marked this as a favorite
posted by vrakatar at 6:04 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you know Budget Bytes? Her no knead focaccia bread is the basis for many delicious lunches.
posted by zem at 6:10 PM on June 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Mujaddara is one of my favorite things and is practically free.
posted by something something at 6:10 PM on June 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Get a slow cooker - batch cook and freeze so you don't get sick of 4 nights of the same thing, but you get the economy of scale.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:12 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding Budget Bytes, at least, this particular recipe for Dragon Noodles. Soooooo incredibly tasty and cheap. Hat-tip: Linda Holmes.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:12 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Good bean stews over rice, lentil soups over rice, etc.

The biggest help to our food budget has been the addition of a stand-alone freezer to our household. We keep it in our garage. We buy meat in bulk when it is on sale (for example, at the moment I have 8 whole chickens in my freezer, at $0.69/lb). Whole chicken that would normally cost $8-$10 costs $4 on sale. Add some steamed rice and steamed veg, you've fed your whole family dinner for $7.

I would beg, borrow or steal freezer space if I were you.

The other key is, cook for multiple meals at a time. We pretty much cook only twice a week (several items at a time). When there's tons of cooked food in the fridge, you won't be tempted to eat out because you're way too tired to cook. Bonus is that it helps you watch your diet, if you're so inclined - cooked food means you're less likely to reach for snacky food, again being too tired to cook.
posted by vignettist at 6:21 PM on June 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Can you grow some herbs? They're pretty small/space efficient, they go a long way in terms of making meals more interesting, and they're so expensive at the store (at least here.) Having some cilantro, mint, and basil would be a good start.

I like Cheap Healthy Good for recipes and general frugal cooking.

My go-to lunch is grain + beans + vegetables + exciting things. So the lunch I made this week was 1 cup of wheat berries, simmered for about an hour, mixed with a can (about 1.5 cups, could up this) of black beans, a cup of frozen corn, two orange peppers, diced, a bunch of cilantro, a couple of green onions, and garlic. I added in some salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, just a little oil, and a teaspoon of lemon juice. There are so many variations on this, and you can customize it for your family:

rice + kidney beans + roasted squash + curry spices
bulgur + spinach + white beans + fresh or dried tomatoes + Greek seasonings
barley + chickpeas + roast broccoli + all the garlic you can stand

I've been eating a lot of a lentil/split pea mixture with garam masala (Soak a cup of split peas overnight, simmer until almost soft, add in the lentils, simmer 20 minutes, saute an onion in a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of garam masala, combine.)

Your family might require more meat than I do - find the cheap cuts. You can get a hunk of pork shoulder or pork butt and make enough pulled pork to get you through several meals (and it stores well, too.)
posted by punchtothehead at 6:26 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you can grow a vegetable garden, there's that.
posted by aniola at 6:27 PM on June 3, 2014

I would find Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon at your local library - it has some wonderful recipes and goes into several different methods for soaking and preparing dried beans, including a slow cooker method that I find easy and virtually foolproof.
posted by deliriouscool at 6:31 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try to eat seasonally, things in season are more plentiful, and usually therefore cheaper.

Check out the Poor Girl Gourmet recipe archive at Tiny Farmhouse.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:43 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you get to the farmers market regularly? In my neck of the woods, prices are much better at the farmers markets. And the food is fresher so you are going to get more nutritional value for your money. Better quality and better tasting food might combat feeling like you are depriving yourself or your family and help you stick with your plan.

Good luck. Paying off your credit card is a great goal!
posted by Beti at 6:44 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you give us a bit more detail about what your current habits are? For instance, do you do takeaways once a week or all-organic-all-the-time (in which case I'd suggest one thing), or are you already doing a lot of cooking at home (in which case I'd suggest something else)?

A couple things I can recommend no matter what:

* Get yourself a copy of these two books: M.F.K. Fisher's How To Cook A Wolf and Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal. (I tried finding them on Australia's Amazon for you, to no avail; hoping there are local sources.) They're not cookbooks the way you'd think of them; they do have recipes, but they're more about an approach to cooking, and how to do so economically.

Fisher's book is an absolute joy - she first wrote it in the 1940's, when the wartime rationing of food and fuel was affecting everyone economically and gastronomically; and then she updated it in the 1950's when we were back in peacetime, but everyone was still trying to knock themselves out trying to serve huge hearty meals because that's what the latest scholarship suggested. Fisher's got a lot of great advice about how to eat contentedly and well on less than you think - her philosophy is that a smaller amount of meat, chosen and prepared with care, is much more satisfying than a huge steak. Or, that even a soup and salad made with great care and affection is just as satisfying as a big stuff-your-face meal that you sort of half-ass your way through. But she also has a place for fun - the last chapter of the book is full of all sorts of rich decadent recipes, because - as she argues - sometimes you just need to splurge to feel better about yourself. It's a whole approach to cooking that is a revelation - and her prose is absolutely delightful; it's like if Julia Child got drunk with Dorothy Parker.

Tamar Adler's book is a similar thing, but is more 21st Century - instead of addressing just the economy, Adler also addresses the modern food industry, and how it's disconnected so much of us from how food is prepared. But she has a very similar philosophy to Fisher's.

* One thing that both Adler and Fisher suggest is - minestrone soup. You can make this with just about any canned bean, any small pasta, and any combination of vegetables; which is really good, because if you buy vegetables in season, they'll be cheaper. Make a big pot of minestrone, and serve it with a green salad and some bread, and it's a nice simple nutritious meal.

* One last cookbook (and this is a straight-up cookbook) - Moosewood Daily Special. I have this cookbook in heavy rotation - it's nothing but soups and salads; mostly vegetarian (although they do allow fish). It's a huge variety of things in there - I actually sometimes try to make up a couple batches of different soups and a couple salads and just have them on hand, and when it's time for a meal I just pick one of the soups and one of the salads and I'm all set.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 PM on June 3, 2014 [17 favorites]

Seconding Mujaddara. Lentil soup variations. Split pea soup. Many kinds of bean spreads, if you have a food processor, are delicious. Also, buy your rice, dried lentils and beans at the Indian grocery in giant (10 pound or more) bags.
posted by Blitz at 6:52 PM on June 3, 2014

If you have issues with 3pm snacking, try popcorn. The pre-buttered microwave bags are expensive, but the Riviana brand is $1.34 for 375g. I take some to work every day, which works out to a 50c a week snack budget. Both Woolworths and Coles carry it.

Gallo Pinto is my go to super-cheap recipe.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 6:58 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Came in to say
- dry goods (lentils, chick peas etc)
- look for sales (coupon clip, look online for your region, read your local flyers)
- buy in BULK (costco)

good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:00 PM on June 3, 2014

I have a tiny grocery budget and we don't eat a lot of grains, beans, or lentils. Here's what I do to feed myself and my 9 year old daughter:

Making applesauce is incredibly easy and bags of apples are usually inexpensive. I make my own and I got my Foley mill at a local thrift store. Great for school snacks, or for topping oatmeal/pancakes/waffles/sliced pork loin. The applesauce can be sweetened and spiced.

Making yogurt is also incredibly easy. I got my yogurt maker through Freecycle, but I hear that you can make yogurt in a slow cooker. Use whole milk, it is more filling (and maybe higher in protein?), and you can stir in jam, sweetened rhubarb puree, berries, honey, whatev. I have also used the yogurt in potato/egg/chicken/pasta salads, cut in with more expensive mayo.

A simple roast chicken will make a meal with gravy plus meat for soup or salad, and the bones can be used for stock. Again, this is achieved with the slow cooker.

A huge pot of chili can be eaten for dinners, lunches, and the remainder frozen. Ingredients: 2-4 cans tomatos, 1-2 lbs lean ground beef, 1 onion, garlic, 1 pepper, 2-3 cans of black beans, spices. Make a pot of rice to go with it, then if there is any leftover, store it in the fridge and make a pan of fried rice a few days later. Ingredients for the fried rice: old rice, an egg or two, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, onions, canned straw mushrooms, whatever else.

Air-popped popcorn with butter (my local grocery store has frequent sales on butter), great for school snacks.

Small pieces of chocolate do wonders to stave off the afternoon snack machine craving. That, and green tea throughout the day. Or an apple.

Veggies? Make squash soups with sweet potatoes, winter squash, garlic, the stock you made earlier from the chicken, and finish with the yogurt.

For drinks: interesting flavors of herbal tea, iced, with a tiny bit of sugar. Very good with seltzer and lots of ice cubes.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:03 PM on June 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

I wish all of the best to you while you flame your debt to cinders!!!! Just remember that this is temporary, and it can be fun and creative to find less expensive ways to do things.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:08 PM on June 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you for all the suggestions so far!

To address some questions:

* My partner and daughter (and I) are non fussy eaters and A-ok with veggie meals
* I get a $40 seasonal veggie box delivered each fortinght (I think $20 a week is reasonable and plan to continue this)
* I am an experienced cook and I love cooking, we tend to get takeaway on those lazy nights when nothing in the fridge looks good, ya know, Friday nights!
* I do cook at home, especially early in the week so freezing appetising meals is a great suggestion to combat the end of the week slump
* I'm a sucker for snack foods, especially for lunch boxes and have been trying to think of ways to cut down on these purchases. Ie buying and cutting a bulk block of cheese instead of buying it already portioned (seems so obvious)
posted by Youremyworld at 7:08 PM on June 3, 2014

My biggest money saver, after cutting back on dining out, was making sure my food lasted longer and did not go to waste.

I switched from cow's milk to soy milk, mainly because I like the taste/health benefits of soy milk. A side benefit was that soy milk lasts a lot longer in the fridge than cow's milk, which I was forever throwing out because I never finished it before it went bad.

For spinach/other greens/veggies that might be a little wilted (but not spoiled), I make a random soup so they are palatable and don't go to waste.

I never buy meat unless I am 100% certain it will be cooked within a few days, because otherwise it will languish in the freezer, forgotten, for months, and no longer be tasty. (Caveat, I also live alone and cook only for myself, and for the past 5 years have had exactly zero free time in the evenings to spend thawing things out.)

I bought a 25 pound bag of rice from the Asian food store a few years ago, stored it properly, and I am still eating through it. Waaaay cheaper than buying from the store every couple of weeks in smaller amounts.

Agree with everyone suggesting chili.
posted by Schielisque at 7:12 PM on June 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

This can take some time, but I found it really eye-opening to save up a bunch of grocery receipts (or you could take a bunch of notes next time you're at the store), and then make an excel spreadsheet to estimate how much each of my regularly-eaten dinners cost per serving.

You may find out that something you don't even like that much is one of the most expensive things you eat. For me, it was risotto. I mean, it was good, but not twice as good as a lot of other foods I could make instead.

You might discover some unexpected ingredient is wasting a bunch of money. Meat, always. Produce can also be sneaky. When I lived in Maine, a little nub of fresh ginger would run me $0.75, and I'd use it for maybe two meals. That ended up being like 20% of the entire cost of a pot of Indian dal and rice.

Also, olive oil > butter > canola oil. I mean, this isn't really a surprise, but have you ever put a dollar value to it? Middle-of-the-road olive oil is about a quarter per tablespoon here. Canola oil is less than a nickel for the same amount, and many (if not most) recipes you won't even be able to tell the difference. And if you're using some cheapo kind of olive oil, then you're probably not even getting any flavor out of it, so you might as well just use canola oil anyway.
posted by gueneverey at 7:25 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have a poke around /r/EatCheapAndHealthy/.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:31 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

not food related, but have you considered asking your neighbours if they want to split wifi? that can save you 20$ per month. Also, change your phone plan to something small. If you have cable, consider chopping it (at least for the summer, yeah? it's nice out, what are you doing inside, etc.)
posted by andreapandrea at 7:35 PM on June 3, 2014

One thing that has not been mentioned, I think, is buying heavily discounted, soon-to-expire foods. Most supermarkets have a 'clearance' shelf. Check it as often as possible. When you see something your family will eat and you know to be perfectly good past the 'sell by' date -- buy every one on the shelf. Get to know which are the supermarkets that put produce on clearance when it is mouldy, and which are the ones that totally slash the price the second it looks slightly overripe. I never bothered checking not so many years ago; now I find amazing stuff.

Soon-to-expire dairy gets stickered -- usually 50% off, sometimes better. I have found a number of yoghurts actually improve with age. If you are less confident about it improving, make yoghurt popsicles ASAP. Once I found milk at 1/6th the usual price; I bought every bag they had and chucked it in my freezer. (+1 'beg borrow or steal freezer space.' I would just splash out on a huge chest freezer; you will learn a lot doing this and one thing will be: oh wow, freezer meals and freezer space can change my life!)

I am a seriously cheap bastard at the moment and try to not buy anything at regular retail price. I am also a foodie and a snob and pride myself on my kid's diet being varied, fresh, nutritious, and terrific. I load up on the loss leaders, and anytime I am in the vicinity of a posh food store, I make a run in and check their clearance stuff. Recently I got $12 cereal for $2.97 and $8 yoghurt (it exists!) for $1.47. (One of the tubs of yoghurt is getting blended with the big thing of nectarines we just got for 99c for popsicles.)

We also do a produce buying co-op thing and that works out great; I order in bulk and plan the order around Costco-ing (if I have not done better than Costco already with stuff on sale) some things to cook with it, and spend two days cooking up a storm and loading the freezer. It's not boring casseroles; it's nice, tasty stuff, 'themed' into individual meals -- like right now I have rice in a sofrito (the ingredients were on sale) in a box with rajas con crema in a soft taco (homemade tortillas!), with beans; a meal of scalloped potatoes, stuffing, and spinach quiche for comfort food needs; Middle Eastern food -- the aforementioned mujaddara, loubi bi ziet, grilled halloumi cheese, with a spinach pie (not made by me, but bought cheap in bulk). You can cram so much into a chest freezer that it is easy to not end up ordering out because if you've got a craving, it's probably not in the freezer.

One "staple" for me was supermarket hummus. I had tried making it, but the results were meh enough to keep me on the pre-made. Finally I read a ridiculous number of THE SECRET TO MAKING THE BEST HUMMUS EVER!!!!!!! blog posts and combined the advice and experimented (and had just thrifted a really astonishing new food processor) and finally learned to make something I liked better than the store stuff. (And you can freeze hummus!) Some things are not worth making yourself to save money -- yoghurt does not work out where I live economically to DIY, mayonnaise is so cheap, etc -- but it's worth looking at the stuff you buy already made and figuring out if you can make it. Even better: if your kid can make it.

Don't waste. Last banana going black? Great! It goes in the banana bag in the freezer and gets made into muffins eventually. Think dinner leftovers as 'snacks.'

Grow what you can. Herbs are good. Sprout your own sprouts -- it's cheap! Barter with serious gardeners. And when you go to farmer's markets, go at the end of the day -- they're willing to cut some serious deals to not have to schlep it back.

There was a question recently on...was it /r/eatcheapandhealthy or /r/frugal? one of those about the frustration of buying a head of celery just to use a tiny bit to make egg salad with. Solution: grow celery. You wouldn't get a great deal in a little pot in the window, no, but if your sole celery needs are occasional snippets for egg salad, that's perfect.
posted by kmennie at 8:07 PM on June 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't know if they do rotisserie/roasted chickens at the grocery stores in australia, but they're generally good for several meals. You can eat some right off the chicken, then make chicken salad with the rest, then use the slowcooker to make a quart or so of stock, which you can use to flavor rice and so on. It just takes a few minutes to drop the carcass into the slow cooker with some vegetables-- just leave it be for a few hours, then you strain it, reduce it some and freeze it in an ice cube tray.
posted by empath at 8:15 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Standby cheap dinners I did when we were super broke are:

Marinated chicken wings or legs, plus rice and a green veg. The marinade is whatever you like - I like ginger, garlic, honey, soy, making it yourself is far cheaper and more economical than buying it. Wings and legs are always very cheap, and seem to go on sale a lot.

Pumpkin and bacon risotto. Makes a couple of rashers of bacon go a long way.
Mushroom risotto. Chicken and pea risotto. We ate a lot of risotto!

Pasta is always cheap, almost regardless of what you put on top.

Lentils and rice. I had a Sanitarium cookbook that had a heaps of meat free meals that were good. I do the lentil patties out of that to this day: cooked brown lentils, crushed weetbix, eggs, curry powder, onions. Pumpkin dhal. Anything lentil is more cheerful if there are poppadums.

Stews made out whatever cheap looking lumps of meat you can find. Sadly, most butchers don't seem to sell anything like cheap cuts anymore, but "soup bones" can be excellent.

Colcannon. Any number of potato plus something baked things, with some bacon or nice enough sausages.

Stirfries, using whatever veg you like, and adding some protein when you have it. We did one with green vegies like broccoli, and added wok scrambled eggs and had that over rice a lot (is good with sweet chilli or believe it or not, bbq sauce).

Soup is always very cheap, especially if you don't bother with meat and use beans instead. A large vat of soup will feed everyone very well, and cost almost nothing. Make cheese muffins to go with you if you're feeling impoverished.

You can save a lot by not buying those prepacked snack for lunch boxes, but I always felt they provided a much needed boost to morale and were worth budgeting around. I always ate leftovers for lunch.

Buy non perishables in greater amounts when they are on sale, including things like toilet paper and toothpaste. When you buy a bunch of spring onions, just stick the ones you don't use in the garden, in even the most marginal spot. Make room in your budget for treats like chocolate. I used to keep some (bought on special!) in the emergency cupboard for grim days when everything seems like boring garbage. Getting into the habit of really looking at everything you buy and just putting it back if you don't really, really want or need it makes a big difference. Buy the most nutritious things you can. Make your own pizza. Have smaller portions of meat, and try to eliminate it when you can. Bulk up meaty sauces with vegetables. Most homebrand things are fine, and they have to be made by someone - so if there's only expensive brand x and the homebrand version, chances are the homebrand one is identical to the expensive one. Do you have aldi, or do you have a cheap supermarket, like Franklins? They will always be cheaper in general. Spend money where you will most appreciate it, and laugh at all the junk that wants you to buy it :)
posted by thylacinthine at 11:32 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Do you have a rice cooker? It's great for cheap one-pot meals. If you don't have one yet, consider getting a cheap ($20) rice cooker.

For breakfast I usually eat:
1 cup oatmeal
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 3/4 cups water
cooked in the rice cooker

And here is my super-cheap rice-and-lentils recipe that can be flavored with just about anything.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:11 AM on June 4, 2014

Definitely +1 for begging or borrowing freezer space. The number one money-saving thing I do in winter is spend a weekend making literally every soup I can afford to make. I go to the store and buy basically anything that's been marked down or is on offer, and then I come home with it all and figure out what I can make with it.

For example, last year, I made pumpkin soup, roasted cauliflower soup, curried chicken and apple stew, minestrone, corn chowder, tomato with black beans and quinoa and and corn, tomato with white beans and greens, a vaguely Asian chicken soup, potato chowder, chili, black bean soup, and probably a few others that I'm forgetting. These all got put into single serving containers and frozen. I feel that the single serve containers are key, because it meant that on nights when I wanted to default to takeout, we could instead each pick a type of soup instead of having to agree on a soup that everyone would eat. I probably had seventy-five serves of soup in the freezer at the start of November--I checked the other day and we're down to four.

Seconding Lakersfan1222's advice about making yoghurt--I just do mine on the stovetop (no machine or slow cooker needed) and it works fine. Memail me if you want a recipe. I know that AU:US prices don't always correlate, but making yoghurt instead of buying it costs me less than a quarter of what I'd pay in the stores, and is a nicer yoghurt, too.

As a fellow snack person, see what sort of snacks you can do at home. I realised that making my own hummus and tzatziki, for example, was far cheaper than purchasing them, and that not only does my family prefer the taste of air-popped popcorn with butter, but it's also cheaper than microwave.

To keep this from getting to spartan-feeling, though, let everyone pick a thing or two that's not getting cut. Like, every couple of weeks, my kid gets a bag (a regular-sized holds-many-servings bag) of Doritos, or once a month the two of us buy some fancy cured meats. For my partner, it's beer. Knowing that you can get [special thing] makes not having it a lot more tolerable, somehow.
posted by MeghanC at 2:46 AM on June 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Homemade pizza can actually be a good option for your lazy, nothing-looks-good nights --- key is the dough. Here in the US most grocery stores have it frozen for about $1 a ball, or you can buy it off a pizzeria. Not sure if that's true in Oz, but it's dead easy to make and even cheaper that way.

If you make/buy a bunch of dough and keep it in the freezer, I find pulling it out in the morning and sticking it in the fridge will defrost it perfectly for making dinner that night. Then when you get home you just crank up the oven, chop up some toppings and throw it on --- get the oven scorching and the pizza will cook in less than 10 minutes, should be 30min ish altogether including prep. Quicker than domino's, helps you use up odds and ends of leftover veg, very little cleanup and you can make a few different personal size ones to please everyone's taste if you want. Even using fresh Mozz, I'd say you could feed your family for $6 ish.
posted by Diablevert at 5:31 AM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Cheap cuts of beef make great soups and stews. Bone broth is incredibly nutritious! I always have a ziplock bag in the freezer where I keep bones from whatever I cooked (chicken, pork, etc), until I have enough to make a big pot of broth.
posted by Neekee at 5:42 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing Budget Bytes, not just for the specific recipes, but because if you look around, you start to see an entire philosophy of how to build meals on rice and noodles and vegetables with lots of flavor and small amounts of meat (if any), and that's the cheapest way to eat. (It's not a NEW philosophy, but this is it in practice.) As an added bonus, she has her degree in nutrition, so it's cheap food that's also generally pretty nutritionally sound.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:08 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

"snacky" and "cheap" combine in my head to "home made bento". The very intensive pictoral ones waste a lot of food, so I pretty much never do those (plus who has the time). But I do find that the overall aesthetic of a bunch of little bits of tasty things and a pile of rice really works for making me have a cheap satisfying lunch. Some more accessible blogs on the topic that I like are Wendolonia and the recently-resurrected Lunch In A Box, and this is a pretty active Flickr group that runs the gamut.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:24 AM on June 4, 2014

Hunt down a copy of Amy Dacyczn's Tightwad Gazette (libraries are your friend). She and her commentariat have some fabulous frugal tips, such as finding an overstock/closeout/liquidation/discount grocery store (and buying the cans that are missing labels for Russian Roulette meals!), joining a food-buying co-op, using a price book and "universal" recipes (casseroles, muffins).

Also, Stone Soup has some good, cheap, simple recipes, including feeding yourself on $5/day and $2/day.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese can been good for recreating snacks that you're craving buy won't spend the money on, though the prices will probably not useful in Australia. Also interesting to flip through and see what you can make yourself. I'm never buying peanut butter again (and I bought the nuts in bulk through a food-buying co-op).
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:08 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

We make jam in the summer -- strawberry, raspberry, blueberry -- and eat it all year. The stuff is expensive in stores, so this is a nice money-saver. We know what's in it, and what isn't. Plus the kids help pick the berries, which is a good day out. I think year before last we made close to a hundred jars, and as a result we even gave some as gifts.

Two main ideas are Buying any food in big lots, and Cooking ahead. God bless the chest freezer!

And another vote for home-made pizza. If you buy a plain stone to cook on, and use simple, good dough (from a bakery or mixed in a bread machine or by hand), then you can't begin to put enough extravagant toppings on it and still not be cheaper than a restaurant.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:32 AM on June 4, 2014

The way that I would approach this is to think of it as a planning endeavor which has a side-effect of saving you money. For many, many things we exchange our money for time. With planning you are going to do the reverse - exchange your time for money.

One of my best pieces of advice for you is to not bother getting cut-up chicken anymore. Instead you are either going to roast whole chickens or cut them up yourself. The only tools you will need is a stout knife and a cutting board. Then you also get giblets and and backs. Put them in a container in your freezer along with all the bones from your meal(s) with the chicken. Also - get in this habit: when you cut up an onion, put the end(s) into the bag with the chicken parts and freeze for when you make soup. Then on the morning of one day where you have the whole day, fill a stock pot with the bones and pieces and put in all your wilty vegetables and veg parts you might not use normally like carrot tops. Fill with water, bring to a simmer, put on a lid and simmer it all day. When you have the time, strain out the liquid, let it cool and chill it. The fat will float to the top and solidify. Skim it off and into a jar and keep it. This is schmaltz. You will use this for cooking in place of butter.

The broth you will use for cooking and this is where the planning comes in because over the next few days, you need to use what you have or you need to have the freezer space for it.

Now, when I do this (and I do it often), I use a slow cooker because I have one. It was suggested up thread too. They're great tools, but I say that you shouldn't bother unless the economics work out because you already have a stove and an oven, I presume. Either of these work to do the same job as a slow cooker with less convenience. What are the economics? Will the cost of a slow cooker be worth the savings for making soup in the time period I have? Let's say that you're making broth every other week and you get a yield of four pints - that's roughly 4 cans of broth or 2 per week, so take the cost of 2 cans of broth and that's how many weeks until you pay off your slow cooker with broth. If you feel you need to invest on equipment, consider looking at garage sales or church sales. It's hit or miss, but if you find what you're looking for it will almost always be insanely cheaper than new and perfectly usable. Don't impulse buy.

Bread is another possibility where you can exchange time for money. Here is a cost analysis of making home made bread. I've made my own bread and it is also a time-consuming process in terms of wait and is absolutely delicious compared to anything mass produced. Homemade bread does go stale/moldy way faster than store-bought, so either plan around that or save freezer space. If you think "ah! bread machine!" think again - you save maybe .50 a loaf so you're looking at 9 months of a daily loaf until you have paid off the machine.

A lot of your planning will have to do with scheduling things out as far as you can. You get your box of produce delivered one day and you'll use it fresh, but if you cook it not only should you freeze extra, you should plan the day when you take it out instead of thinking of it is "leftovers". So for example, if you make pulled pork (which you should), this recipe will feed 3 mouths generously three times, so you pack up the other two meals and mark on your calendar at two weeks out and 4 weeks out the days you'll have it again.
posted by plinth at 8:13 AM on June 4, 2014

I notice that you live in South Australia, I'm an fellow South Aussie who now lives in the US. My first advice to you is to go join any reddits or forums you can find to and read them regularly. Knowing other people are in the same boat makes being frugal so much easier. Some advice you read on US websites/forums might not be relevant but there is still a lot of good advice to cherry pick from.

As soon as winter is over, if you can get a veggie garden going.

Learn to shop the sales, coupons aren't as common as in the US so a lot of advice on couponing sites doesn't translate but shopping the sales made a huge difference to my food budget when I lived in Australia. Those items you think of as staples you can have but buy them on sale, as an example there was a type of coffee I loved but it was expensive. So when it came on sale I'd stock up, after trial and error I found out it came on sale once every three months so I'd buy enough to last me until the next sale. This works with everything from toilet paper to meat. It can take a little trial and error and if you are on a tight budget a little while to build up supplies but this is a great way to keep basics that don't go off stocked up.

Make a weekly menu based on what is on sale in your price range.

Talk to a local butcher, if you have freezer space buying bulk meat, half a lamb say, is so much cheaper, yes you have to get a little creative with some of the weird cuts, but the weirder the cut the better it tastes in a stew.

Avoid deli meats. Pretty much everything is cheaper for sandwiches if you make your own. Buy a corn beef and cook it and you'll get better meat at a better cost per kg. Ham is the same. That way you will have nice lunches you want to eat and will be less tempted to snack. If yo like to browse eat during the day look into bento boxes for lunch. They are easy to make and make work lunches fun.

Oh if you have a Leonards chicken place near you ask about getting chicken carcasses (or ask your local butcher if not). When I lived there they were 99c a kilo and they were glad to get rid of them(this was 4 years ago) a couple of kilos to make a batch of broth/stock, there is a surprising about of meat on the bones pull that off, add some veggies from your box that are getting past it and some pasta and a lovely filling soup for a few dollars.
posted by wwax at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh! Thirding homemade pizza! You don't even have to get all fancy with the red sauce to put on it - I took a pizza-making class on a vacation in Italy, and all they used for the sauce was a can of pureed tomatoes dumped into a pot and simmered until it was a tiny bit thicker, and then they added a dash of salt. If something so simple is good enough for Italian chefs, it's good enough for everyone. And then you can go nuts with the rest of the toppings.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are *willing*, dog food can be free.

Fresh roadkill can make a decent raw diet for a dog, assuming it's not a massively inbred purebreed. It was part of my survival plan while unemployed. Freezing roadkill in a deep freeze - -5F for 24 hours - will kill almost all parasites.

Study up on raw diets for dogs, but basically they need organ meets once in a while, and bones with every meal (to serve as roughage, mostly, but also for teeth cleaning and calcium intake). Skinning the animal and removing its stomach and intestines will accomplish both, while limiting the mess.

If you have a HUGE backyard, you can go the "prey model" route, not skinning & not deintestining... but your dog's method for removing the intestines is about a million times messier than your method.

As I said, if you are willing.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:16 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Targeting a specific request:

I'm a sucker for snack foods, especially for lunch boxes and have been trying to think of ways to cut down on these purchases. Ie buying and cutting a bulk block of cheese instead of buying it already portioned (seems so obvious)

Yeah, this would indeed be a better way to go. If you also find yourself getting the individually-portioned baggies of snacks for lunch boxes, then get yourself a box or so of snack-portion-sized plastic bags, and then get a single big bag of chips (crisps)/Cheetos/whatever and portion them out into the smaller bags.

Speaking of which - consider the cheap brands of things. I'mma give you a New York regional example - we get the typical brands of snacks in the stores (Frito-Lay, Doritos, etc.), but we also have a brand called Utz, which tends to offer the same things for less money. Some people turn up their nose at Utz because "Ohmygod it's not Doritos it sucks", but - come on, you're talking about junk food. Unless it tastes hideous, who cares.

A good DIY snack option that keeps shelf-stable for a good while and packs easily is - seasoned nuts. You can have a whole lot of fun doing this because you can play with the seasonings to your taste. It's also really easy - (these will be in USA measurements, as I'm not certain what measuring scale Australia uses, apologies)

You need:

1 pound of roasted nuts of your choice. These can be salted or unsalted; if you're going to be using a spice blend that includes salt, make them unsalted.

2 tablespoons of olive oil.

2 tablespoons of a powdered spice blend of your choice. (Seriously, go crazy here - you can use some old curry powder that you've been trying to use up, you can make something up out of whole cloth, you can take that weird spice rub your cousin got you for Christmas that you've not ever known how to use, whatever you want.)

Heat your oven to 350 (fareinheit) and dump the nuts into a big bowl. Heat the oil in a small skillet, and when it's hot stir in the spice blend. Let that toast for about 30 seconds to a minute (don't let it get too toasted). If you're using unsalted nuts, and the spice blend you used is also unsalted, add about a half-teaspoon of salt.

Dump the oil and spice blend over the nuts and stir everything up good until the nuts are coated. Dump the nuts into a roasting pan (something big enough that they can spread out) and pop that in the oven for 10-15 minutes, giving the nuts a good stir every five minutes or so. You want them to be toasted up themselves, but not burnt.

When they're toasted, take them out and let them cool down. Then dump into an airtight container. They keep really well.

(A particular favorite of mine is cashews with curry powder.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:33 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's my super flexible minestrone recipe:

Start with mirepoix (see note at the end)
Add 6 cups of broth (or water with a bouillon cube, soup base, or just salt to taste)
One 6 oz can tomato paste
Chopped tomatoes (I use a 14oz can of Italian tomatoes, not drained)
Green beans (I use a can, drained)
Kidney beans (can again, rinsed and drained)
1 zucchini, sliced wafer thin
Feel free to add a few fresh or dried herbs to taste (oregano, basil, etc.). I don't.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Cook any type of pasta you want SEPARATELY. To serve, put pasta in bowls and ladle soup over. Freeze remaining soup without any pasta in it. For leftovers, just cook up more pasta and reheat the soup.

For my family of 3, this usually makes about 8 servings. For the leftovers, they are often much thicker so I add a bit of broth while reheating.

You could use all fresh veggies, too, or a combo of whatever you have.

Mirepoix: how I do it. Make a triple batch!

2-3 TBS olive oil in the soup pot you're going to use for the minestrone.
1 large onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, finely diced
3 big celery stalks, finely diced.

Saute until onions are soft & translucent, over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Transfer about 2/3 of the mirepoix out of the pot and start the soup using what's left in the pot. Freeze the stuff you removed in two portions. The next two times you make any soup, you get to skip this whole step! Just plop the frozen stuff in the pot and add the water, etc.
posted by peep at 11:31 AM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

gueneverey is absolutely right about finding the price of foods. It's so important to look for what is cheap where *you* live and to be willing to substitute ingredients. For example, in a lot of older frugal advice they suggest using dry milk, which was doesn't taste as good, but can be tolerated for the price. However, today, where I live, dry milk is often more expensive than liquid milk. I'm going to look at Punchtothehead's delicious-sounding meal as another example:

" 1 cup of wheat berries, simmered for about an hour, mixed with a can (about 1.5 cups, could up this) of black beans, a cup of frozen corn, two orange peppers, diced, a bunch of cilantro, a couple of green onions, and garlic. I added in some salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, just a little oil, and a teaspoon of lemon juice"

This is probably quite frugal where Punchtothehead lives. But where I live now, lemons are always expensive, so if I were going for frugality I'd sub vinegar. I'd also cook the beans from scratch from bulk bins at the food co-op, probably skip the orange bell peppers which tend to be expensive or use green, and maybe skip the cilantro or substitute an herb from the garden. However another place I've lived, lemons grew on a tree in the yard, so of course I'd have used them. Wheat berries were available in 50 pound sacks for cheap there, but now I'd want to check that they weren't sold in tiny packages as a trendy health food.

You mentioned that you don't have Costco. There might be other places to get large amounts for less per unit. The wheat I mentioned above was from a store catering to a religious group which encouraged planning ahead for bad times by storing food at home. Others have mentioned getting large bags of rice at Asian food markets. I do this too, although I think it costs more per unit than buying the cheapest rice at the supermarket. It depends on how you feel about quality vs. price for a particular ingredient.

If you can garden, I think the biggest return is on green leafy vegetables. Kale and swisschard are easy to grow but always expensive in the supermarket (here!).
posted by SandiBeech at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you bake? You can try making your own sourdough starter (the King Arthur website has directions) and baking sourdough bread. If you've never baked sourdough bread before there is a learning curve but it's fun and rewarding and delicious and you can make great bread with nothing more than water, salt and flour. The sourdough starter will literally keep forever in your fridge and the baking your own bread like that is very inexpensive.
posted by cherrybounce at 6:00 PM on June 4, 2014

You can pretty easily make muesli bars and hommus and yoghurt for snacks. Save small jars or buy small plastic containers to store them in. Eggs are pretty cheap protein, as is canned tuna.

But I think the best thing to do is to start tracking how much stuff costs. I have a habit of comparing, say, the cost of chicken only to the cost of other types of chicken, when I should probably be comparing it to all protein options. So look at your standard meals and work out their price per serve. Do the same for snacks. Then price some 'cheap' meals and 'cheap' snacks. And come up with a price per meal or snack that you think is pretty reasonable. It'll give you a metric to measure potential prices against, so that when you're at the shops, you can decide whether a sale is worth it or not. eg. the BBQ chook is $8. I can get x servings out of that, so it's y amount per serve. I'll serve it with stuff I already have that I know comes to about z per serve, so all up the meal will cost an amount. And decide if that's a fair amount.
posted by kjs4 at 6:57 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think one of the things that makes the biggest difference is to plan all your meals. Take a look at what you have in your pantry, and look at the weekly grocery ads, look at what comes in your veg box, then plan out menus for that week. Don't buy more than you can eat. Don't buy things "just to have on the shelf". Plan for at least one meal as a smorgasbord where you just eat little bits of whatever is left over or you can find in the pantry.

If you find after a few weeks that your family is not eating what was planned, then figure out a better way to plan it. I know some people who talk about stopping at the grocery store EVERY DAY to pick up what they need for dinner that day. That might be useful if you are the type to need to be inspired before you decide what to eat. I'm not suggesting this as the most frugal way to eat, but if you are spending money on food you don't eat, then figure out a different way to make it work.
posted by CathyG at 4:51 PM on June 6, 2014

I spend less money on food when I try to eat what I have and can get cheaply rather than trying to make particular meals from recipes. Mix and match veggies, flavours and starches instead of sticking to things you could order in a restaurant. So for example, I might find cheap broccoli so I make some rice, steam the broccoli and put shredded cheese (from the big block of home brand tasty cheese) and soy sauce on top. Then the next night I have leftover rice, the broccoli stem from last night, half a capsicum, some wilted mushrooms and a couple of eggs, so I'll cook a version of fried rice - it's not really similar to what you'd get in a restaurant (no peas, spring onions, etc), but it'll fill you up just the same.

Or any combination of vegetables with Mexican, Indian, Thai, Italian, etc seasonings. I'll chop up some of the veggies I have (broccoli, carrots, onions, mushrooms, capsicum, cabbage - whatever you have) and then cook it up with some seasoning and serve it with a starch. I might get a home brand sachet of taco seasoning and add that to the pan with some oil and the veg. Or the same with curry powder. Or a tin of thai green curry paste. Or tomato paste (woolworths has home brand tins of tomato paste for less than a dollar) with dried oregano. Then serve it with whatever you have - Mexican food doesn't require tortillas, for example, you can eat it with toast, rice, two minute noodles, etc.

Also, I find for myself that I'll stick to a plan like this easier if I don't make it too onerous. Make my own yogurt? No thanks, I'll just skip the yogurt or only buy when it's on sale. I try not to stock up on too much at once or freeze too much, because I will totally end up throwing some portion of it out. But that's me - I don't want a full time second job feeding myself.

A few ingredient specific recommendations:

- frozen spinach is cheap here, especially compared to fresh, and helps bulk out a meal. I keep a couple of packets of that around to add to things like lentil stew, Indian curry (1 can coconut cream, 1 can diced tomatoes, 2 tbsp curry powder plus one packet frozen spinach = spinach curry), pasta sauce, etc.

- meat is generally pretty expensive here and I don't often see it on special. Eggs are much cheaper and probably better for you. You can add an egg to almost anything: egg & leftover rice is fried rice, egg & two minute noodles, egg stirred into porridge for breakfast, etc. Meats that may be cheaper for you: chicken Maryland, sausages, rissoles. Don't feel like you have to use these in traditional ways. Cook up a rissole and crumble it into pasta sauce. Add cooked and chopped sausages to your spinach curry.

I agree with the posters above to pay attention to what costs what - do you really need the expensive things? Do you need meat more than twice a week? Do you need a lasagna filled with ricotta or can you have some pasta and sauce with a little ricotta on top and be just as happy?

Good luck! It's a great goal and I hope you all get through this tough patch and enjoy debt free living.
posted by mosessis at 5:56 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Eggs are your friend. If you can do it, get some laying chickens (rescue them from a shelter/RSPCA). Love them and care for them and they will reward you with delicious bum-jewels.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:34 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, always have some dry soup stock on hand. Be prepared to make delicious soups and stews in an instant because the vegetables were on special. Literally every vegetable on this green earth can be placed into a soup or stew. Find your local greengrocer or, better yet, farmer's market/market distribution place, and make friends with the peoples there.

And oats. Get the big bags of oats in. You can mix all sorts of things into oats to keep them interesting, and they are cheap and filling.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:38 PM on June 9, 2014

The A Girl Called Jack blog has been popular in the UK recently - written by a single mum trying to feed herself and her son a reasonably interesting diet on £10 a week.
posted by penguin pie at 5:36 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

A little late but for future reference:
Beef tendon!
Looks and sounds gross, but it's great. Surprisingly delicious. I'm not just saying that bc it's cheap.

I recently tried it out. It made fantastic, creamy, protein-rich broth with (also cheap) fresh pork hock - yummy!!!! Then afterwards, I cut it up and added it to a beef curry, which had too much sauce and not enough beef. Tasty, nutritious, CHEAP. Cost about $2-4/lbs at Asian markets.
Not feeling adventurous, then give pork hocks a try.
posted by Neekee at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2014

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