Don’t be a Gambler

Be an Investor, Not a Gambler

A broker analyzes the cost and quality of a product before investing hard-earned money and considers when/if they may procure that product at a like price in the future. They’ll take advantage of good prices and invest in a variety of products at different price points.


A successful business doesn’t buy something just because it’s “cheap” and expect it to pay off, nor do they buy in quantities and pay for storage and tracking of items they can get in the future for a better cost. 

A business is always going to consider, in the procurement of the items they need to produce their product, quality vs. pricing and how that affects their final product. Food is used to produce a product – the bodies of ourselves and loved ones. Food is an investment in those bodies. Ignore quality and you’ll likely pay later in life with (expensive) health issues.

Start with an Audit!

Assess the quality and the quantities and quality vs. the price of foods you are serving your family, and I might particularly stress this if you’re very good at shopping, couponing and finding deals. This applies to us all, though, especially so when we are on tight budgets.

  • Analyze: It’s easy to make assumptions on what is “cheap,” but what we’re really looking for is value.  Using coupons & sites is a great way to tip the balance of quality vs. cost to your side, but there is no such thing as “free.” Time & effort go into the allocation of your money, the distribution of your assets, procurement, and storage. Food at any price is worthwhile only if the quality is there.
  • Audit: Find yourself 45 minutes and grab a month’s worth of receipts & take inventory of your grocery spending. Make several categories on a sheet of paper: Meat, Processed Meat, Cheese, Processed Cheese, Whole Grain Bread, Other Bread (and include ‘whole wheat’ bread in this category) Fresh Vegetables & Fruit, Other Vegetables & Fruit, Whole grain cereals, Sugared Cereals, Convenience Food, Junk Food, Dairy (if the dairy is sugared and additive filled, it should go in junk food, Cleaning Products, Misc Items. Consider categories of your own, and add those in. Perhaps Alcohol, Pop, etc. Perhaps you may wish to include meals out, the trips for coffee, etc.
  • Categorize: Transfer the amounts and item on each receipt into each category. No matter how focused you are on spending and serving quality foods, you will likely be shocked by what this cold hard inventory reveals. Most likely, in fact, the more focused on you are on health, the more shocked you will be, even though you may be doing better than most of us. Multiply this monthly amount by 12 to estimate yearly spending.
  • Focus on Quality: Ideally, your spending should support a healthy lifestyle: the largest amounts should be on fruits & vegetables, healthy proteins, whole grains. Kind of like a financial “My Plate.” This, of course, will likely be personal and reflect what you feel a healthy diet should be. Note how much was allocated toward items that don’t support your lifestyle. Determine to shift those funds to areas that do.
  • Judge: Note where you could have spent less. Look at the protein prices, the fruit & vegetable prices, and other items and compare them to good sales prices in your area. If you’re shopping without knowing those prices, begin to formulate a “price book.” A good coupon matching site will begin to help you identify what good prices are in your area.
  • Judge More: Note where you could potentially have saved money by changing your shopping and eating habits, perhaps by making more meals or items at home. The cost of convenience can be staggering when multiplied over the course of the year, and many convenience items aren’t as healthy or wholesome as we’ve been led to believe. Even food we consider to be the “cheapest” is usually more expensive than home-made.
  • Heighten Awareness: Identify items bought for emotional reasons, especially if habitual; were they good choices? Are you pacifying or rewarding family members with “treats” of junk food? Supporting addictions like pop or alcohol? (I had a Diet Mt. Dew issue!) Treating yourself because you’ve felt so deprived because you are on a budget and you work so hard you “deserve” such and such’ item? What does that add up to over the course of a year? A venti latte from Starbucks every weekday is almost a grand a year.

Misappropriation of Funds

The business term for spending money on items that aren’t appropriate is called misappropriation of funds. It’s normally a fireable offense, against most code of conducts and often a cause of shame and scandal. Are you guilty of the same at home?

  • How much did all those “sales” of processed & junk food cost you?  Are your cupboards bursting with items you bought because they were cheap and you’re on a budget?  Can you get to the stuff, the oatmeals, beans, and legumes, whole grains or are they crowded out by mixes, microwave popcorn, boxed cereals, cookies, snack crackers, sugar-laden ‘granola’ bars, fruit snacks and expensive applesauce cups?
  • Look at your freezer and fridge. Consider if they’re brimming with ‘cheap’ junk food & processed items bought on sale? Items maybe not normally picked up if they hadn’t seemed like a great deal? Chicken Nuggets, Frozen Pizza, frozen dinners, Pizza Rolls (my son’s favorite!) processed dressings (maybe bought to entice the kids to eat carrots, but now dumped on everything?) bottled marinades? Giant tubs of margarine laden with trans fat because you ‘think’ butter is too expensive?
  • If you wish to eat better for less money, start shifting the money spent on items like the above to better quality food items, even when like for like the better quality may seem more expensive. Healthy olive oil may cost more than Canola but is a much better value. The difference between the two is not staggering and can likely be made up by the elimination of just one processed or junk food item!  

Alter your Perception:

Never beat yourself up, just move forward. Start to think of getting rid of items that don’t support your lifestyle as an opportunity to purge your life of things that are getting in your way. They’re getting in the way of financial opportunities, getting in the way of your health, and probably even getting in your way when you’re trying to cook and put things in their place!

  • We are, most of us, under the perception that it costs MORE to eat well, when in fact, carefully planned, it costs less. Junk, convenience and processed foods almost always cost more than healthier home cooked items and tend to promote mindless eating that leaves you dissatisfied. Invest your “found” money in the budget that’s been allocated in the past to junk in your family and yourself – You’re eating for health, comfort and enjoyment, after all.
  • Ah, it’s a little tough to find out that you’ve been seduced by a master when you thought you were in control, but it’s easy to fall under the spell of a multibillion-dollar food industry. Remember when Quaker meant oats? Now it means expensive instant packets, junk bars and cereals full of sugar and additives marketed as healthy. Nearly all the food industry is like that now – there’s no money in oats, but instant packets make them a fortune! Don’t happily fork your money over to them.
  • Really take a few moments now to think about the items you’d really like to eat; the lifestyle you’d like but didn’t think you could afford.  Especially if you’ve been cutting out perceived “luxuries” while on a tight budget. Can you find “money” in your receipts spent on “junk” or items you didn’t need to allocate for a special meal once a week?  A night out? A concert? A vacation??? Wasted money may leave you unsatisfied, but mindful purchases and plans won’t!
  • Look at each item on your list.  Really analyze where you splurged and on what, the amounts you spent on items that you thought were saving you money. Transition toward healthier items. There are sales and coupons on those, too. Even if healthier items may cost a few pennies more than the cheapest of foods, it’s money well spent when considering overall health and your budget shouldn’t suffer if the wasteful items are cut out at the same time.
  • My kids won’t eat that healthy stuff, you say. Ms. Frau, you said not to fight over meals! (And yes I do!) But you know what, kids will eat it if they’re hungry. And they’ll eat when they’re not. The happiest sounds in my house? When my son opens the fridge, then the cupboards one by one and wails, “There’s nothing to eat!” He has passed over the fruit on the counter, the yogurt, and veggies in the fridge. He told a school counselor we “had no food!” It’s obvious we have never suffered from lack of food, at least not long enough to do us any good!


Consider carefully how your investment is organized (I’ve talked about this more elsewhere) and do make sure you have enough room to store your food so you can easily get to items. If you eliminate a lot of junk food, it’s likely you’ll have tons of extra room.

  • How you are storing and tracking food?  Are you rotating? Are like items together? Can you get to things or do you have to shuffle? Have you had to toss food because it’s bad? Or because you were in doubt about it? Throw huge boxes of cereal because the kids opened them all and they’re soggy? Know, too, what those so-called “expiration dates” really mean and educate yourself on food storage.
  •  What about the really great deals on cheap food and by buying in bulk? Ask yourself if it will it all be used? Is it is cluttering up your cupboards and pantry, or allocated to a dark, out of the way space where it’s rotting away or turning rancid? Maybe you’ve gotten flour bugs? Eliminate this kind of waste by storing properly.
  • Consider your cupboards & pantry like the main kitchen working area and back room in a restaurant, or perhaps the main place of business and warehouse. While those things you need often should be upfront and center, bulk items and extras often work better organized in a different area. Then replenish the working area as needed.


Remember, every item in your home is thereby conscious decision making on your part – your choices. And that includes every item in your cupboards, pantry, fridge, and freezer. All those items are investments you’ve chosen to make with your hard earned money.

  • Every cent you spend on any item takes away from money that could be spent elsewhere. If not being taken from money being spent, it’s taking from money that would be saved – an investment that brings in more money. The potential for loss multiplies when poor choices are made. You’re not possibly wasting money with bad decisions on food, but you’re possibly wasting the earning of more money.
  • I have found it very helpful to think in terms of “You could go with this or you could go with that.” Yes, it’s from that darling Kia commercial with the rodents! But rather than fostering an attitude of denial, it’s helpful to realize that you are your own willing victim, for good or for bad, and that every choice one makes in one direction displaces a choice in another. Make them positive and make them count.


Don’t underestimate how important respect for food is, and how it plays out with respect for our bodies and respect for ourselves. And of course respect for the amount of time and energy we’ve put into procuring these assets.

  • Is the family eating and really enjoying the food that’s being served?  Do they know what real food tastes like? Is there anticipation for dinner or for treats made all the better because they are rare?  Or are they just carrying off huge bowls of sale-priced one-dimensional additive filled tub ice cream every night after dinner all week, and plopping down in front of the tv? 
  • Wasting food doesn’t just mean not finishing dinner – the bulk of waste in the home comes from mismanagement in planning, shopping, and management of food. And while it’s wasteful, the larger loss is the lack of respect – a lack of respect for the food itself, the resources in the production and distribution, the money it costs to buy.
  •  It may be a stretch to think about including the saying of a grace, a blessing or a thanking of some sort before a meal as a business policy, but I believe it is so important. It doesn’t need to include the invocation of a religious deity,  even a sincere moment to talk about the food before we eat it.
  • Enjoy, everyone – isn’t that really the focus of this whole site?  How to eat better for less?  Don’t blame, don’t self-recriminate – just slowly nudge the family and yourself to where you should be, and maybe where you didn’t think you could get to on your budget.


Links to The Twelve Strategies: 

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