Food Budget: Reimagined

Up until recently, I was trying to reduce my grocery bill as much as possible. Tweaking what I was buying, when I was buying it, and how much I was buying to tweak every cent. I realized that I was missing the mark a little bit and here’s why.

I was dedicating a fair amount of money to eating out. Eating out with friends is a social thing that I really enjoy, but I was definitely due for a restructuring of how I eat out with friends. Previously I’d spend a certain amount a month, eating at wherever I felt like. When this money ran out, I’d randomly crave sushi, Korean BBQ, and Japanese Ramen. Darn, I’m out of funds..I guess I’ll wait until next month.

The way I approach this now, is I make my social meals target things that I can’t make at home. I’ve reduced my eating out budget, and increased the enjoyment I get from it. The money I saved has been put into my food budget for greater flexibility. This flexibility has increased my recipe repertoire, allowed me to purchase bulk items on sale, and nickel and dime myself less when shopping.

Having more monthly spending for groceries also means I can have friends over for dinner more often, and share a homemade meal that always leaves other full and impressed. I’ve fulfilled my social needs, my love for cooking, my thirst for a better budget, and I’ve paid away less of my money in tips. Servers play an important role, but tipping has changed a lot in the last 30 years to make up for stagnating wages. Don’t get me wrong, I always leave a good tip and so should you. Now I just do it less often.

Think about the way your life works and align your budget to it; it will make you happier!

-Mike

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Home Brewing

Anyone who has spent an evening out in Toronto, or almost anywhere in North America, Western Europe, and Australia, knows that alcohol is expensive. Specifically in Canada, we pay a lot of tax on our alcohol and it’s an expense I don’t want to have. I rarely have a drink with dinner, and try to keep it down to a couple pints when I go out, but usually I don’t restrict myself at home or before the bar (save that money!).

The cheapest beer you can purchase in Ontario is about $1.85 for a 473ml can of Laker and the average craft beer goes for about $2.75. Cider rings in around $3.00, wine as low as $1.50 a glass for table wine, and liquor around $1.10 for an fluid ounce. Although this doesn’t seem that bad, having a friend over for a couple beers and you’re out $10. Home brewing is the solution.

I regularly brew a VERY simple but delicious cider from, yes, Allen’s Apple Juice. You can usually score it on sale for $0.75-$1 per litre from one store or another and I brew about 20L at a time. Additional requirements are yeast (any Champagne or Cider yeast) at about $2 and added sugar at $2 for a half a kilo.

By The Numbers

Total Cost: $24

Result: 20L of 7%+ Cider

Yielding: 40 x 500ml Bottles at 60cents each

Now, this doesn’t include the startup equipment, sanitizer and bottles, which I amassed over time, but it gives you a good idea of how cheap you can brew an excellent beverage. Seriously, this stuff is fantastic and packs a punch. For $10, you can throw a party for 4 or you and your pal would come in at less than $2.50.

Brewing beer is a similar cost structure, wine is a little bit more, and making your own hard liquor is illegal (but hillbillies do it, so it couldn’t be that card).

Brewing is an art. It’s a combination of cooking, science, and baking all wrapped into one. If you enjoy a challenge, enjoy fermented beverages, brewing is DEFINITELY for you.

-Mike

Useful Subreddits

I’ve been reading http://www.reddit.com for a long time. Typically I’d waste time reading useless junk. I mean I still do, but I used to, too. All jokes aside, there is a tonne of great resources on Reddit and tonnes of talented people. Find me at /u/torontosurvivalguide

Below are some subreddits that contain a treasure trove of useful information to help make you more self-sufficient:

Business

DIY

Finance

Food

Lifestyle

Philosophy 

Self Sufficiency

Shopping

Travel

I hope you find something you like!

-Mike

 

 

Chopsticks: The Best Utensil

To preface this, I didn’t grow up using chopsticks. I learned how to use them so that I could eat sushi and Korean BBQ. Also, I still don’t hold them properly. What I can say though, is they are the most versatile utensil out there.

With a pair of chopsticks, I can cook and eat a dish of just about anything. When I’m done cooking, a simple rinse and wipe of each stick results in clean chopsticks ready to eat the final product. Typically, one requires cooking tools (flipper, spoons, whatever) to prepare the dish, a fork to eat it, and perhaps a spoon too. Chopsticks seem to accomplish it all.

Imagine if instead of having a cutlery drawer, with an organizer, and 8 sets of 2 spoons, 2 forks, and a knife; you just had 8 pairs of chopsticks. As someone looking to reduce stuff in the junk drawer, this is a great way to eliminate about 40 pieces of silverware I seldom use.

If you’re fortunate enough to have not loaded up your kitchen yet, or haven’t purchased anything at all, get a good knife and a pair of chopsticks and see how you make out!

-Mike

Explore Your Local Grocery Stores

Okay, so as much I love being environmentally friendly and supporting local business, I also have to look out for myself once and a while. One of the ways I do this is via my grocery shopping. I generally shop at No Frills and Food Basics to meet my budgetary needs. No Frills is the spot when there is bonus PC points to be earned. Food Basics is closer and has a better selection of international food so I typically go there. Chinatown is of course my stop for produce.

It’s not all about the savings and points, however. I find my No Frills offers an excellent selection of asian cuisine, but lacks frozen whole foods (fish fillets, shrimp, more). No Frills, for whatever reason, carries carrots in 3 formats (individual, bagged chilled, bagged shelf..Why? Give me Canadian carrots I can bag myself). Food Basics has excellent food from the further edges of Europe, along with amazing bulkier sales. A lot of the domestic brands have much to be desired though, and I’m not a big fan of their house brands.

It’s worth while to investigate all of your local grocery stores, and see who offers what. I’m going to checkout the metro nearby my house next week as a potential butcher, should I have guests over and want to make something more unique. If you put in a little extra legwork and shop flyers, you’ll save a lot of money over your lifetime.

To me, saving money and preventing food waste is worth it.

-Mike

Bulk Buying vs Minimal Inventory

A lot of people like to buy in bulk when things are on sale. I’m not entirely onboard with that idea in most cases. After buying my initial base inventory (see previous post) after moving I try to not exceed $100 a month for groceries. This makes bulk buying tricky.

I want to keep as much of my money in investments at all time, not held up in 300 bars of soap. Sales are usually cyclical, and certain things go on sale every 3 months or so. Chances are you can get any food item on sale, so I wouldn’t bulk buy food. Certain things I’ll buy in a larger format, on sale. These items include:

  • Toilet Paper – it never goes bad, and you never want to run out
  • Dental Floss – buy as many yard pack as you can
  • Beer – as much as I dislike the beer store, this keeps my bar bill down

Other than that, I think if you buy as little as possible, more money stays in your pocket. This kind of scrutiny of deals also helps you be a more informed shopper when you start looking at dollar per ml/g/oz of different items to ensure a deal really is a deal.

I find not having bulk, your daily items are replenished more frequently, keeping them fresher. I like fresh and I like money. This buying strategy is easier as a single person, followed by couples, but there are cost advantages for families as well.

-Mike