Control Costs/Maximize Profits & Minimize Losses

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 even when prices are higher saves a ton of money.

Not my kitchen nightmare! But one I've often seen.
Not my kitchen nightmare! But one I’ve often seen.

 

  • Buy low, buy low, buy low: You’ll see this over and over on these pages. Identify the cost of your food items, buy them at the lowest prices and manage them properly. Keep a pricebook.
  • Eliminate Waste: Run you kitchen like a business, treat your food and equipment as a valued investment. 
  • Track your inventory: Keep a menu so you don’t lose track of what ingredients are for what. Keep lists & buy before you run out of an item and have to pay full price. Keep track of what’s in the fridge, especially vegetables. Use a magnate to pin the produce part of your sales receipt on the fridge to remind you what’s in the drawers.
  • Stay organized: 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: Track spending and identify problem areas. Track waste, too.
  • Portion Control: Utilize portion control: Why not? Every restaurant out there does. A home cook has a huge advantage in being able to tweak diets by making smaller amounts of less healthy items.
  • Consider tastes: Don’t cook meals the family doesn’t like, it’s a waste of time, ingredients and money. Fighting over food makes meal time disagreeable instead of a time of coming together, and that’s the biggest waste…
  • Thrive on variety: Serve a variety of foods and try not to pass on your own dislikes. If an item is unfamiliar, try the “one taste” rule, have at least a bite of everything. 
  • Use a Chef’s menu: Don’t make special meals. It’s a waste of time, effort and money, and the biggest risk is developing people who are unable to go out in the world and eat at friend’s homes, restaurants, functions. Do consider taste, though.
  • Manage left overs: they’re the most expensive food in the home, a product of both time and money. And not just the initial outlay, but money spent on transporting, storing, preparing, cooking and storing, again in the refrigerator. Left overs can easily be the building blocks of other meals, your own convenience foods.
  • Good food gone bad?: Get rid of it. The only worse thing than wasting good left overs is keeping bad ones. Don’t put crappy food 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.
  • Be your own health inspector: Especially watch the fridge & freezer. Improper storage clutters up the fridge, causes odor, spillage and bacteria, and can actually cause food waste. Items may get pushed to the back, out of sight and mind. A cluttered fridge or freezer will invite people to stand before it with the door open, and every time that door is opened, the cold air spills out, costing money.
  • Rotate food stores: as food is put away, bring the older food forward, keep track of items that may have gotten pushed to the back awaiting a use.
  • Donate: Be selfish and donate! If an item is not going to be used it in reasonable time, give it away or donate it. This minimizes effort in finding an ingredients and makes inventory for shopping easy. It will save time (and money) in the long run.
  • Store items logically: The same place every time. Do not waste time looking for what you need. baking supplies together, cereals together, fruits in rows, vegetables in rows, etc.
  • Set up “stations”: Make the things used regularly easy to get to, including supplies, pots and pans, bowls, dishes, etc. Kitchen storage is premium space. Take a look at cupboards, and put the things used most front and center. Make it easy to cook and minimize the risk of going out.
  • Be efficient: 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 parts of them to freeze. Multi task – simmer beans for a soup while watching a movie. Get breakfast ready when cleaning. Package lunches as left overs are put away.
  • Analyze for effieciency: Consider every action done 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, and identify problems. Was time wasted looking for ingredients, finding the right pan, running to the store to fetch a missing item?
  • Get the right tools: Get the appliances and tools needed to maximize time:  Food processor, mixer, griddle, pressure cooker, crock pot, etc. Perhaps two sets of measuring spoons? Figure out what is needed to cook for your family and style. Consider these things an investment because they allow you to feed your family for less.
  • Fix problem areas:. No need for a major overhaul, but identify and fix problem areas one by one. The kitchen is premium storage space, so get rid of what doesn’t belong. Sort a drawer while waiting for the microwave. Organize spices, oils, sauces. Use small boxes to make “kits” for tasks you do normally. Perhaps it might be keeping a spoon for coffee, creamer and sugar together or a box for baking including measuring spoons, cups, vanilla, baking powder, etc.
  • Eliminate clutter: Look at your beans, peas, rices, etc., taking up shelf space. Put them in jars or containers. Take advantage of the vertical space in cupboards, cupboard doors, or ‘dead’ space under or over 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.
  • Assess storage options: Be brutal! 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. 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 you 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 cook, 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. Dog parks often welcome plastic bags. Stores will often have a bin for recycling.
  • 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 ‘sometime’ 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-limitsSet 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 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. 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 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. And trust me, from personal experience, many of these things don’t show up until one is older!
  • 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.

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Fabulously Frugal Cooking & Shopping

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