Strategy Three: Know and Control Costs/Maximize Profits & Minimize Losses -
This comes down to the old adage, waste not/want not, and it boils down to good, hard common sense. Buy at the lowest prices, manage your food, fresh, frozen and staples. Store properly. Freezer burned meat is no bargain, nor is buggy flour, stale oatmeal or liquid lettuce – but buying at a low rate and eating that product when prices are higher saves a ton of money…Consider your time and energy and levels of efficiency.
Consider likes/dislikes, portions and portion control – why not? Every restaurant out there does. Keep a menu on a chalk board or white board so you don’t lose track of what ingredients are for what. Get organized and make things easy on yourself – if it’s too difficult to cook, you’ll be eating out or buying more expensive and less healthy ready-made food. Use your time wisely, it’s your most limited resource. Be accountable for your spending and identify problem areas.
- Don’t cook meals your family doesn’t like. (Within reason, of course.) It’s simply a waste of time, ingredients and money. Fighting over food makes meal time disagreeable instead of a time of coming together, and that’s one of the biggest wastes of all. Do serve a variety of foods, and try not to pass on your own dislikes. If my family really doesn’t think they’ll like something, I simply tell them ”Try it, and if you don’t like it, you’ll never have to eat it again. If you don’t eat it, it will probably be back tomorrow as a leftover.” I found they’re more likely to eat an unfamiliar item, or even something they don’t like so well if they know they won’t be seeing it over and over, but generally, once they taste something, they like it. I never make special meals, and the only “rules” I have are try at least a taste of everything.
Take care of your leftovers as well - they’re really the most expensive food you have at any given time. They are a product of both your time and your money – and not just the money that you bought them with, but the money you spent on refrigerating them, preparing them, cooking them and then storing them, again, in the refrigerator. Store them properly, because improper storage of leftovers has not only wasted the time and money put into the food, but clutters up your fridge, causes odor, spillage and bacteria, and can actually cause you to waste additional food that may get pushed to the back, out of sight and mind. The only worse thing than wasting good leftovers is keeping bad ones. If you’ve made a recipe gone bad, don’t put it in the fridge for a week or two, only to throw it out when it’s all stinky and moldy. That only adds to the clutter and expense. Fess up and dump it if you can’t redeem it. A cluttered fridge or freezer will almost invite people to stand before it with the door open, trying to find something to eat or locate an ingredient, and every time that door is opened, the cold air spills out, costing you money.
Store items in a logical place, the same place every time so you know where it is and can get to it easily. Rotate your food as you put it away, bringing the older food forward, and keeping track of items that may have gotten pushed to the back awaiting a use. If you are truly not going to use it in reasonable time, give it away or donate it. This minimizes effort in finding an ingredient, and makes shopping easy, and will save you money in the long run. Make the things you use regularly easy to get to, including supplies, pots and pans, bowls, dishes, etc. If it’s too hard to cook, you run the risk of going out on those days you’re tired or stressed anyway, or of letting the cooking go until certain items may be of questionable quality, or even rotting away. Your kitchen storage is premium space. Take a look at your cupboards, and put the things you use every day front and center.
Maximize your time and effort – Learn to cook efficiently. Plan, plan, plan and cook accordingly. Prepare items for more than one meal at a time. Cook items for more than one meal at a time. Double casseroles, dinners, or even parts of them to freeze. Multi task – simmer beans for a soup while you’re watching a movie. Get breakfast ready when you’re cleaning up for dinner. Package lunches as you put away leftovers. Consider every action that you do in the kitchen, as you do it. Analyze it to see if, perhaps, you can do more for very little effort and save time and energy (your own and your power company’s) in the long run. Get the appliances you need to maximize your time: Food processor, mixer, griddle, pressure cooker, crock pot, etc.
Identify problem areas where you expend your time and energy, and fix them one by one. Is it difficult to bake because you can’t locate measuring cups, vanilla, baking powder, etc.? Get a small box and make a “kit.” Put an extra set of spoons, rubber spatulas and measuring cups, as well as those small staples together to pull out when you bake. You can probably equip this for under 10 bucks or even for free, (garage sales, 2nd hand shops, ask friends and relatives for extras) and save yourself 10 minutes every single time you bake, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my kids had a muffin I made than “row” of cookies or crackers for a snack. (You can put your mixer attachments here, too, so you don’t lose them.) Look at your beans, peas, rices, etc., taking up shelf space. Put them in jars or containers, and take advantage of the vertical space in your cupboards, your cupboard doors, or even ‘dead’ space on the sides of cupboards. Organize your spices, oils and vinegar, and all those little packets. There’s no shortage of cheap storage options, homemade, online or at your discount and/or hardware stores.
- Examine your storage items and assess if have what you need, and you can easily access it. Do you have a whole cupboard devoted to mismatched plastics without lids? Give it away, donate it or throw it out. It will be the best money you ever wasted. Decide on a type of container you’re going to use, buy in adequate quantities, preferably something that stacks with lids that stick together. Buy on sale, with a coupon, if you can, but if not, buy it anyway. It will save you more money than it costs in a week or two, I guarantee it. If you can’t properly store your food, it is going to deteriorate in quality, and you will be throwing away the food instead of throwing away a bunch of mismatched clutter you can’t bear to dig through. If you buy the same brand of storage containers, you’ll always have three or four neat stacks to choose from, and if something happens – the kids use the bottom piece to catch bugs in, or the top melts in the dishwasher, you are still set. Do not ever grow weak and buy a different type, and clutter up that cabinet again. Say it with me, “I will choose a brand of storage and stick with it.” Louder, now, I didn’t hear you. Save a few jars with lids for gravies and sauces, recycle the rest, especially those without lids. Store the lids on the jar. Get rid of all those extra lids that you think will go with jars you may have. Trust me, they will make more jars. Save a few of your margarine or sour cream containers, just a few, neatly stacked to use for sending leftovers with guests.
- Put the kitchen equipment you use front and center. Look at your pots and pans and bowls, etc. Again, put what you use within easy reach. If you only use one or two bowls on a regular basis, take the others from the stack and put them in the back corners so you don’t have to lift them out every time you cook. (If you don’t have stacking bowls, get some, preferably stainless – they don’t break, they’re light and allow you to cool foods quickly in the fridge.) Don’t be tempted to store the big pot out in the garage because it’s bulky. Consider, instead, what it is you use. Maybe it’s all the little pans in the set you never use that always get in the way, or the four frying pans. Put them in the garage, or even better donate them. And put the ones you use in an easy place to get to. Every time you have to kneel or squat or crawl around on the floor taking things in and out of cupboards, or are rearranging so your storage sliders work properly, you are wasting your time and energy, and making cooking and managing your food a chore instead of a pleasure.
- Do the same with your appliances. Do have trouble getting to the ones you truly would like to use because of all the ones you’ve been given or bought are shoved into cupboards where they’re difficult to use? Especially the ones you might only use once or twice a year? Do you have multiple gadgets that accomplish the same chore? Find another place for them; if you go for a year or so without using, pass them on or donate them. Trust me, it’s easier to run to the basement or garage once or twice a year for the roaster than it is it fight to get to things on a daily basis.
- Invest in the equipment you need to make your cooking easier, quicker or possible. When choosing an item, decide if the savings is worth the cost of the item. Consider if the item is going to allow you to put healthier meals on the table at a savings to your family. A food processor is worth its weight in gold if you’re a scratch cooker, but it might be harder to justify a quesadilla maker, a malt mixer, etc. Is there a big budget appliance you don’t have you could really put to good use? Stand mixer, food processor, grill? Consider asking all your friends and relatives to give you a gift certificate instead of something else for your birthday and holidays, to a store that you know carries the item at a cost effective price. Save the certificates up and apply them to the cost.
- Eliminate the junk drawer! Do you have a junk drawer in your kitchen? How many drawers do you have? That is really premium storage. Go through it and put that stuff where it belongs. If it’s odd parts that you can’t bear to get rid of, put them in a container or box, label “odd parts and misc. pieces,” and put it in another place. Go through all your cluttered and crowded utensils, put the ones you use neatly in an organizer from the hardware store or kitchen store, and get rid of the rest. Spatulas and cooking spoons can go in a heavy crock from around the house or a second hand store. (Fill the bottom inch or two with clean rocks if it becomes too top heavy and prone to tipping.) If you have items you don’t use often, and you can’t bear to part with, put them in a container of some sort and store, labeled in an out of the way cupboard. Recycle all those paper and plastic bags. Many stores offer a few cents discount for reusing bags or using a cloth bag.
- Keep several sharpies and masking tape on hand for labeling. Most of the containers I use take a sharpie pen well, and the marks rub off with a bit of dish soap. I use sharpies for almost everything – and it took awhile, but NO ONE touches my sharpies now. (And I have one hidden, too, just in case – don’t you dare tell the kids!) I label leftovers meant for another meal, and write right on the food and containers, especially things the kids go after. Cheese comes to mind - I put a big “do not eat” right on it if it’s bought for a recipe, because I can’t rely on the family not to scarf it down. (My daughter tells me that Elmo says “cheese is a ‘someday’ food.) Nothing’s worse than relying on a box of cereal for Thursday’s breakfast and opening the cupboard only to find out your teenager the whole thing Tuesday after school, or planning pizza for Friday and finding out someone ate all the pepperoni as a snack.
- Make some rules about what are healthy snacks and what are foods are off-limits. Set aside a portion of a cupboard or area in the fridge for the kids (or adults) to snack from separate from the food to be used for recipes, etc. Put it front and center, make it easy for them. There is always fruit on my kitchen table, and often ready to eat fruit in the fridge, and a small cupboard containing peanut butter and other snacks.
- Portion out leftovers for meals or snacks. This is a great way to have lunches ready for work or school. Store in the fridge (or freezer) so they are easily seen and reached, properly sized and attractive as possible. Label these, too, so they get used up or left: “Eat me for lunch!” or “sliced ham for sandwiches Thur. after school,” or ”don’t eat - Dad’s lunch for Wed.”
- Be financially accountable to yourself and your family members, and expect the same in return. Save your receipts, too, as a part of this accountability, and do some cost analysis. There is a surprising amount of information here. (Fold the receipts and put neatly in an envelope, one for every month, in that junk drawer you just cleaned out – or better yet, your desk drawer.) Go through a few every now and then and analyze where you could have saved money and where it’s been wasted.
- Take a look at how much you spend on bad habits or impulse buying. Maybe you don’t realize you’ve spent 30 dollars a month for junk food – or that every time you go to the store you’ve ‘treated’ yourself or another to $1000 dollars of snacks over the year. Even modest amounts add up quickly when you look at a few items and figure the cost per pound and how much you spend in a year. Say in 3 months you bought eight bags of chips, and they’re usually about 13 ounces and cost an average of $3.99 each. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s $4.91 a pound and $31.92 for the three month period. And you think you can’t afford steak or a night out? Factor it out, $31.92 divided by three months is $10.64 a month times 12 for a yearly amount of $127.68. Lets say you buy one bag of chips and a dip every week, same price for the chips, $2.99 for a dip. Yeah, it’s only $6.68 a week, but it’s $347 a year.
- Be mindful of what splurges will give you the most pay off, and include the emotional factors, as well. We might be especially likely to splurge on items that aren’t so good for us when we’re on a tight budget, but they’re often items that we think we deserve because they don’t cost much, and seem justifiable because they cost less than things we’ve done in the past. Maybe you’re thinking that taking the family to a movie once a week is an expense we’ve cut, but buying a big old plastic tub of cheap ice cream, junk food or microwave popcorn for the family to eat while watching Netflix at home seems more affordable and a better value. You might be spending less overall, but a lot of times these items become so commonplace in the home they no longer feel special, and they can easily become bad habits. Reallocate that money into something that gives you greater pleasure – whether it’s making homemade popcorn and flavoring it a different way each time, or maybe getting out and going to a museum that’s free the first Thursday of the month.
- Run some comparison numbers and get a good feel for totals and how they add up. Check under “Be an Investor, not a Gambler.” Maybe you buy expensive bagged lettuce and throw away half every week. Add it up over the course of the year, and look at the shocking total. Compare that price to what you might have spent if you had just picked up what you needed from the bulk bin or tore up and washed your own. Add up the cost of your meats over a few months – compare that to what you know is a low sale price and see where you come out. Pick a few other random items and run a similar comparison.
- Find your price points on food and household items. While you’re looking at your receipts, find your price points for buying. Look at your lowest prices and your highest on items. Grab a sheet of paper and make a few columns. Junk, Chicken, Beef, etc. and start breaking down the receipts. Looking at these totals will help you eliminate the waste and help you to make a commitment to buy at the lowest prices. Transfer some of the figures for items you normally buy to a notebook (loose leaf is best – so you can add in categories as you make it) or spread sheet so you know when you see a ‘big sale’ if it’s a deal or not. (This is referred to as a “price book.” Take a look at how many items you bought on sale – it should be almost everything if you’ve planned well.
- Scan the receipts for items you could have saved more on. Look at how many items you’ve brought that you potentially could have used a coupon on if you had saved them and had them organized so you could actually use them instead of shoving them into that (now nonexistent) junk drawer. (Ease of use and timing are everything in using coupons) You might be surprised, even if you’re making most of your food and buying fresh ingredients, by how many items there are that you could have saved an additional 50 cents, $1.00 or even $2.00 on by buying them when the store AND the manufacturer offered the biggest discounts. Count them up and multiply it out – and compare that figure to what you might have been able to use that money on that may have benefited your family in better ways. If you don’t have a receipt, count the items in your cupboards, pantry and fridge that come in a bag, box, bottle, can or jar. The average coupon saves $1.00, and 80 percent of these kinds of foods have coupons. If you have 200 items, that’s $160 you would have saved. You don’t have to be an “extreme couponer” to save money.
- When you’re thinking about cost control, keep in mind, too, your final product: healthy bodies! Good nutrition pays off, and so will spending money on quality fruits and vegetables, even if it may be hard to see the tangible results immediately. Weight loss is a multibillion dollar industry, diabetes a very expensive hobby, hardening of the arteries deadly. (There are dozens and dozens of syndromes and diseases related in some way to our diets, that will not only affect your health, but your bottom line.)
- Put most of your discretionary grocery budget into procurement of items that will help you reach your ultimate goal of getting and keeping your family and yourself healthy. When you pick up that sale priced $4.99 tub of ice cream and a cart full of canned vegetables, stop yourself and consider if that is the best allocation of your funds. When you pick up convenience products or eat fast food, do the same…Analyze each and every purchase with these thoughts in mind: Is this purchase supporting the lifestyle that I want to have? Is this item the best food value for my hard earned cash? It’s all about choice – your choice, because you’re in the driver’s seat here. Consider making notes on your grocery list, if you tend to weaken in the store – things that will inspire you to shop well, or things that will prevent you from shopping poorly. And yes, you need to use a list – (by hand, computer, in phone, whatever! Just use one. Break it down by aisle and you’ll save time running back and forth for different items.
Links for The Twelve Strategies:
- Strategy One: Bank Your Foods
- Strategy Two: Pay Attention to the Bottom Line
- Strategy Three: Control Costs - Maximize “Profits” and Minimize Losses
- Strategy Four: Take Advantage of Cyclic Changes in the Market
- Strategy Five: Be an Investor, not a Gambler
- Strategy Six: Give Back to the Community
- Strategy Seven: Have a Business Plan
- Strategy Eight: Invest in Training
- Strategy Nine: Know the Products you Buy
- Strategy Ten: Know your Suppliers
- Strategy Eleven: Take Advantage of Special Offers & Incentives
- Strategy Twelve: Use Sound Investment Principles