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Good eats, for cheap

Even if you pay a 25-cent fee for the container, takeout usually costs less.

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Even if you pay a 25-cent fee for the container, takeout usually costs less.

Pain at the pump? That's nothing. What about pain in the checkout aisle? The price of food is rising at a pace not seen in nearly 20 years, thanks to higher transportation and production costs. According to the Boston Globe, egg prices have jumped 40 percent over the past year, while milk prices have climbed 26 percent. A gallon of milk, a gallon of gas — it all hits you about the same in the end. Is there anything you can do to save money on food? Here are some tips. — tbt*
When shopping

• Know what's in your pantry, fridge and freezer before you shop to prevent double-buying. Plan meals using what you've got, including non-perishables and the stuff languishing on the door of the fridge. And don't put things in the vegetable drawer, where you tend to forget about them.

Decide on a food budget for the week, and put that much cash in an envelope. Pay only cash at the store, and put whatever's left in a jar so you can see how much you're saving.

• Preshredded cheese has all that surface area exposed to light and air. Do your wallet — and your biceps — a favor, and grate your own.

• Ground chuck may cost more per pound than ground beef, but chuck's the better buy. It's at least 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat, whereas ground beef can be 70-30. When you saute ground beef, the fat you paid for cooks off. Why empty your piggy bank down the garbage disposal?

Bookmark TheGroceryGame.com. The site gives you a weekly list of the lowest-priced products at your supermarket matched with manufacturers' coupons and weekly specials — advertised and unadvertised. In a trial run, we paid $101 for $146 worth of items — all from in-store specials, not clipped coupons.

• Two-for-one deals look good, but make sure you can use and store both items. If not, share with a friend.

• Stock up on sale-priced nonperishables. Then logon to Supercook.com, type in the ingredients you have, and find out what to do with all those canned peas.

If you shop at warehouse stores, keep a small notebook of prices for items you use regularly so you can tell instantly if the "large economy size" is a better buy.

When cooking

• Use what you purchase. Fresh herbs are one example of produce that often goes bad. After you snip the prescribed amount into a dish, use the rest in soups, salads, dips or sandwich spreads over the coming days. Have a plan for all you buy, not just that tablespoon.

• Store food properly. In Florida's humidity, bread and cereals go limp quickly. Transfer cereal to airtight containers. If you only use half a loaf of bread in a week, freeze the rest.

• Use your freezer. Leftovers seems like a good idea until about Day 5. Date and freeze them, then you can eat your killer chili next month, too.

• Monitor food waste. Keep a journal for a week to determine how you are wasting food. This will help you devise a plan for your home.

• Start a lunch club with a few like-minded co-workers. For instance, you can each take a day of the week and bring salads for everyone.

• Eat Spam. Spam sales are up 14 percent, the company reports. Why? At about $2.50 for a 12-ounce can, it certainly is economical. For a hearty Spam 'n' veggies skillet recipe, visit tinyurl.com/3pteo5.

When dining out

• Get takeout instead. "The first thing you eliminate from the takeout is the beverage," says Harry Balzer, author of the research firm NPD Group's report "Eating Patterns in America." You also eliminate tips. Sorry, waiters.

• Book reservations through Open Table (opentable.com). You get points that add up to free meals over time. (And always use a credit card for which you get points or miles. That way your money is working for you and you have a clear tally at the end of each month of how much you spent on meals out.)

• Some restaurants have the same menu for lunch and dinner, making it an expensive place for lunch but a cheapish place for dinner. Plan accordingly. (And, hey, if there are different prices at lunch and dinner, buy something at lunchtime prices to take home for dinner.)

• Patronize places that don't have a liquor license and don't charge corkage (i.e., Yummy House and Bungalow Bistro in Seminole Heights) and bring in your own beer or wine.

• Always ask the prices of verbal specials, including dessert lists.

• Ask for separate checks. Group paying is often a way to get stuck with more than your share.

• Early bird specials, happy hours, cheap nights — these things tend to be hyped in print ads. Clip them and stick them to your fridge to help you plan a cheap and fun night out.

Contributing: Laura Reiley, Janet K. Keeler, Dalia Colon, Newsday, McClatchey Newspapers.

Good eats, for cheap 06/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 1:08pm]

    

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