Manual Assembly

When people ask us about what we’re doing to cut down on our grocery expenses, we almost always say something about how before the project started, one of us would decide during the day that he or she wanted fajitas for dinner despite the fact that few to none of the groceries we had bought for the week were fajita-appropriate. Usually this would mean that on the way home from work, one of us would stop at the grocery store around the corner from our apartment and buy: tortillas, a can of beans, a box of yellow rice, a block of cheese, cilantro, a jar of salsa, frozen corn, an avocado, a red pepper, broccoli, and a tomato. Sometimes also a small container of sour cream. All this stuff could run almost $15 – half of our current weekly budget. Than, having laid this incredible spread out for ourselves, we would proceed to eat it all (often with the assistance of some tequila), so we were lucky to get one set of leftovers out of it. Now that we are being more thoughtful about budgeting we try not to go on these impromptu dinner spending sprees. And yet, by using this example over and over we are reminded that fajitas are very delicious.

This is all to say that we had fajitas for dinner last night, but managed to both cut down the cost significantly and provide ourselves with real leftovers for lunch today by applying two basic lessons that can apply to lots of meal:

1. Move beyond instant gratification. If you have a craving for a particular meal, but don’t have the necessary ingredients, just wait and budget it into your next regular shopping trip. Eat the food you have first. Admittedly, this is a really obnoxious piece of advice, but it’s kind of a central issue. Our consumer culture (I know, I know) tells us that we should be able to buy anything we want as soon as we want it, but that outlook won’t really work if you’re trying to be frugal and avoid waste.

2. Simple can be just as good. You don’t always need to make food the way you would expect to get it in a restaurant.

So, we were able to have one of our favorite meals, but make it much cheaper by planning ahead and cutting out some of the costlier ingredients. We got cheaper (and better) produce at the coop during our regular weekly shopping. We used dried bulk beans instead of canned. We had tortillas (obviously) but saved the rice for leftovers. We cut out the sour cream, corn, and red peppers.

All in all, we used $8.33 of this week’s money to give us each two meals (the rice for today’s leftovers had been in the pantry from a while back), which included two most expensive items from this weeks receipt – the broccoli ($2.86) and the tortillas ($3.38 – I imagine we could have found cheaper ones at the supermarket). Too expensive to do very often on our budget, but pretty cheap in the scheme of things and barely more than half of what we would have spent on this meal in the past. Sometimes adapting in small ways can make a big difference.


One Comment on “Manual Assembly”

  1. Ian says:

    Just want to swing by and say my wife and I really like what you are both doing. We are very much subject to the “I want tonight” bug.


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