Your motivating idea should be to buy low (get stuff on sale, marked down, on clearance, at a good price — consistently) and sell high. The sell high bit doesn’t exactly apply, because you aren’t selling your food, you are eating it. But to me it just means “eat high” — eat well despite high prices — and “time is money” — consider your time something you have to buy at a high cost, and use it well.
Here’s another economics principle for you, and I just know you are all agog to learn it:
Keep start-up costs low.
Start-up costs are the up-front expenditures made in a business before delivering the product to the customer. You are the business. The customer is your family. The product is the meal. The costs are in dollars and time!
Now to this one there are two parts. One we have talked about, and it’s mainly about time: Saving a step every time you cook.
But there are other start-up costs that are real costs, in real actual dollars.
Sometimes I read the advice, supposedly frugal, to use up everything you have on hand before buying more food.
And I don’t think this is actually frugal in the long run.
Now, to be clear, I realize that it happens that you are at the end of the money and have to be clever.
I’ve been there too, and I think it’s worthwhile to know how, in an emergency, to get by for a while on what you have.
The problem, though, with using up all the beans, rice, and onions you have as a regular practice, before buying anything more, is that very soon you will need those things and not necessarily be able to get them at a good price! You will have to start up your process of building the pantry all over again, which costs too much in time as well as money.
So I want to talk about the normal case, which is that you have a certain limited amount to spend every month, and you need to make the most of it.
For long-term frugality, constantly adding to your stores by buying low is the best way to squeeze every penny. It has to do with start-up costs!
You have to look at everything you buy as representing a certain amount of time and effort as well as money.
You hunted down the best price for flour, sugar, beans, coffee, canned tomatoes, pasta, oil, and so on. You invested in a certain quantity of these things — more than you need for the present moment, to tide you over to the next sale — with the idea of saving money overall.
With the money you save buying these things at a low price, you are able to buy other things at a low price as well, stocking up on meat, vegetables in season, and fancy things like nuts, chocolate, dried fruits, etc.
Very likely there will be a time lag between getting them into your pantry and the next time the price will be right.
Meanwhile, you do your weekly shopping, continuing to roll your extra money (gained from stocking up on low-priced items) over into supplies for future meals.
And it’s essential that you do this if you are able to, because every week there will be some things that are priced low that you can stock up on.
Some weeks are better than others, and it is true that you can spend more or less depending on how good the prices are, if you are willing to use what you have.
It’s a start-up cost.
It gets easier if you don’t have to do it all at once. It’s easier if you don’t have to get the machinery grinding up from zero each time!
Now, your menu plans, in addition to the goal of providing interesting, nutritious dishes for your family in a timely manner, should also take into consideration this ongoing process of using your own stores of food to the best possible advantage (“selling high”).
If there are bags of frozen broccoli (from when you cooked extra when making a side dish) at the bottom of your freezer (and look! I even tell you how to organize your deep freezer!), AND whole chickens are on sale this week, then I would plan a big pot of broccoli soup. That away you take advantage of both the stash you have and the bargain you can get.
When beef is on sale, plan for stews and use those tomatoes you froze in August (if you had any, unlike moi).
Your menus shouldn’t just be a reflection of what you feel like eating that week but also a judicious use of what you have on hand and what’s on sale this week.
If you have a good idea for using this week’s bargains (wherever you might be) and what you have on hand in your menus, why not leave a comment about it? We’d love to hear from you!