Lowering the food bill stretches a dollar a long way

January 16, 2013 

The new year is here, and some people are not too happy it. Why? Because they have just learned that their taxes are going up. And, I am hearing that for many, out-of-pocket health care costs are rising faster than wages and Social Security benefits. Add to this the high cost of fuel and food, and you have a consumer that feels squeezed.

When a consumer is tight on money, they have three options: add to debt, increase income or spend less. I don’t want you to go into more debt, and I understand that increasing your income may not be an option. So, I will go with Door No. 3, spending less.

When it comes to discretionary income, our largest area of spending is food. In fact, 75 percent of an American’s recreation budget is spent on “eating out.” When my husband and I moved to Georgia in 1989 with two small children and could only get temporary employment, we had to be creative and cheap. We knew we would eventually find full-time work, didn’t want to go into debt and just had to deal with the fact that we didn’t have much income.

After doing some basic grocery research, we determined we could save a lot of money by eating rice and dried black beans for dinner most nights. We would joke about changing the flavor with some salsa or a piece of cheese, but we never complained about it. We just knew this is what we had to do.

For some reason I was recalling this memory today, so I went to the grocery store to do some research. Here is what I found. A can of organic black beans is $2.19 (73 cents per serving). A can of name brand beans is 88 cents (29 cents per serving). A can of store brand beans is 69 cents (23 cents per serving). However, a bag of dried black beans is $1.39 (10 cents per serving). You are practically getting paid to boil water! The less processed food you buy, the more money you save. Yes, it takes more time to prepare, but it’s worth it.

The same case can be made for making pizza dough from scratch, or anything else for that matter. The less you spend on ingredients, the further your money will go. If you have too much of something once you make it, put it in the freezer. This is not new thinking; this is very old thinking.

The Internet is loaded with recipes to make everything from your own cleaning supplies to your own bread, and there is no telling how much money you could save if you really applied some time to the task. You could even make it a family challenge, such as a cooking contest or some sort of monthly prize for the best money-saving meal. Saving money doesn’t have to feel like punishment -- it can actually be very fun to see what you can accomplish.

So for this new year, if you are feeling squeezed, I suggest you squeeze back.

Sherri Goss is vice president of Rosenberg Financial Group Inc., with offices in Macon and Warner Robins. Contact her at 922-8100 or sherri@rfmoney.com.

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