Monday, July 24, 2006

Dealicious

One of the biggest expenses of any person is food. Unlike many expenses in our lives - cell phone bill, gas, Maxim subscriptions - food is actually a necessity. We all need it to live, so food is an inevitable cost. However, there are ways to minimize these costs. Some of these are rather extreme, but they're all methods I've tried at one point.

1. Colleges and universities: Free food flows like a fountain of fondue on many college campuses (and so does alliteration). If you're a college student, take advantage of all of the free food opportunities, and then some. If your dining hall is set-up buffet style, where you can take as much as you want, be sure to bring some Tupperware and a backpack (to carry all your books of course). Ditto for club meetings and final exam free food sessions.

2. Jobs: If you work in the food-service industry, then you have no worries here. In fact, that's one of the biggest perks of working with food - the free food. If not, be sure to always pack your lunch. Consider the cost of going out to lunch. Even if you go out to lunch in a relatively cheap place, it's going to cost you a minimum of $5 or so. $5 could buy you two weeks' worth of PB&J or a week's worth of sandwich meat/cheese! As an added bonus, you don't have to socialize with those obnoxious co-workers!

3. Home: Always cook your own food. If you don't know how to cook, learn how (or actually, it's more practice). Even the most expensive meal that you make yourself would cost no more than just an average meal eating out. Plus, it's healthier (generally). You may argue that it takes too much time, but I've found the best method is to cook a HUGE amount of food, and then, you'll have leftovers for a while. You can even take them into work the next day. To get you started on a healthy trend, I'm going to post a recipe for a nice little salad dressing:

Combine:
1 garlic (mashed)
3 tbsp. wine vinegar
1 tbsp. water
1/2 tbsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. oregano
a big pinch of black pepper

Mix it up or shake it in a bottle. Take out the garlic (or eat it), and it's ready to serve! Enough for one big bowl of salad. If you don't need all of it, you can stick it in a bottle and use it later.

4. Grocery stores: Be sure to eat the free samples for a taste of the high life - which you do not live because you're living on a budget. Whole Foods is a great place to "shop." Don't go in with a shopping list unless you HAVE to get something. Buy whatever's cheap and cook using that. If you have the time, clipping coupons help lower the costs, but I've never been a big fan of that since I never use any of the items the coupons are advertising. Big chain stores, a la Kroger, Publix, etc. usually have weekly or daily deals. At Kroger, you can use the Kroger plus card, but I tend to shop at Publix for their fresher produce. While overall, their prices may be higher, I feel like Publix has more BOGO (buy one get one) free specials, which ultimately lower the cost. Since I eat cereal basically every morning, I buy a couple of extra boxes whenever there's a BOGO deal for cereal, which usually there is at least every other week. That way, I always get my cereal for less than $2/box rather than paying $3 something for each box, and if there happens to be no BOGO a particular week, I have a ready stock in my pantry. In the same manner, stock up on canned or frozen goods if they're ever on sale. Buy your spices from a whole sale farmers' market sort of place rather than coughing up a premium for a bottle with a McCormick label on it.

Speaking of farmers' markets and other independent grocery stores, these are excellent places to buy things that are just about to expire. They'll be discounted 20-50% since some of their stock does not move as quickly off of the shelves, so this is a prime bargain opportunity. Especially look for places that prepare fresh foods, as you can get some great deals at these places. If you live in the Emory area, you may know of Rainbow Foods, located at N. Decatur and Clairmont. They have a prepared foods section in the back, and items expiring that day are half off. Even better is Eatzi's in Buckhead. If you go after 9 PM, food they prepared that day is all half off, and this is very high quality food.

5. Eating out: As a last resort, if you absolutely HAVE to eat out, here are some strategies to employ. Much like "pre-gaming" before going out to some bars, you can "pre-eat" before going out to eat, so that by the time you're at the restaurant, you're not so hungry and will not be tempted by the quadruple-chocolate-caramel-glazed-Oreo cheesecake for dessert. Also, be sure to look for coupons in your local paper or mailing insert. In the Atlanta area (and maybe elsewhere), there is a monthly mailing called the SavvyShopper, which contains a bounty of valuable coupons. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, Italian restaurant, Mexican restaurant, or any other place that serves endless quantities of a staple, such as rice or bread or chips, be sure to fill up on those. That way, you can eat just a little bit of your meal and get a to-go box. You just got yourself two meals for the price of one. Depending on your pride or concern over hygiene, there are also other methods. One method is to order a small appetizer or plate, and then, eat the leftovers of your companions. Another method can be to do the same, but replace "companions" with "strangers at the next table who've paid and left their food." Of course this latter method requires some precise timing. There has to be a moment after they have left where you can sneak over to their table before the bus boy comes by.

6. Closing time: Many food establishments (festival type places are especially good for this) will just throw out their food at the end of the day rather than reselling it the next day or donating it to charity. If you're there at closing time and can manage to sweet talk some of the workers into a private "donation," you can usually go home with more food than you can eat. While success rates on this are varied, you really have nothing to lose (except your pride).

I hope the information from this post has given you a perspective on how to eat more frugally. Perhaps you think that I never eat good food if I live like this....... hahaha, en contrair, the economic side of my brain sends powerful endorphins rushing through my body, overriding any negative signals from my taste buds. Dealicious!
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