Friday, February 18, 2011

You can take my life, but you'll never take my pizza!

Ok. I'm sure that's a bit over dramatic, but I loves me some pizza. Like a whole lot. And yes, it does cost money out of a food budget to order said pizza. I've tried making it at home to save money, it just isn't the same unless it's cooked in a pizza oven. MMMMMM....oveny goooodnesss...

In my house growing up we had pizza once a week. Even when my parents were on that awful think thin diet we still had pizza. We didn't have a lot of extra money, so getting toppings was usually a no go for us. My parents found ways to get the pizza they loved and still save some money. So here are my family secrets to getting pizza, but keeping the cost to a minimum:

  • Make your toppings at home - My mother would cut up some green peppers (or red if we had them) and some onions, fry them up in a pan with a little Kitchen Bouquet (that's her secret to everything) and we'd have green peppers and onions on our pizza. It's a great way to add veggies to your dinner as well. You can do this with almost anything, say like some leftover ham from dinner a few nights ago, or some pineapples (ewwww) You'll save at least $1.50 for each different topping you put on your pie and you can control what you want without having to split toppings on a pie.

  • Eat a salad - I'm a huge fan of salads from the pizza place, mostly cause I'm lazy and don't want to make my own salad. But, if you are in a money crunch, best thing to do is buy a head of lettuce and make a tossed salad to keep in your fridge. You can probably, if your good and lucky, get a few days worth of dinner salads out of 1 head of lettuce, a cucumber, some onions and maybe even some tomatoes if you are inclined. Doing this saves money on the salad and again, you control the freshness of ingredients.

  • Pick up your pie - My local (and remember, I'm rural) delivery place charges 3 bucks to deliver to me. That's before tip and cost of the meal. Instead of spending that money for convenience, plan a pizza night when you'll be close to the pizza parlor and pick up a pie on your way home. It's worth saving the delivery charge.

  • Look for coupons - On Long Island, each week there are the Pennysaver and the other local mini-publications that come out. Each week you'll see various specials for pies and combos. WE don't' get a lot of those up here, but I will always ask what the weekly special is for pizza. Generally they offer a discount on a pie, which is great. It doesn't hurt to ask your pizza guy what he's doing for specials this week. Also check out the Internet for specials and coupons. Domino's will often send fliers in the mail with coupons and their website offers online ordering. Pizza Hut is another chain restaurant that offers deals.

Happy pizza hunting! And do save a slice for me!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saving but spending in the long run...

Today we did our grocery shopping at a warehouse-related chain store that I won't mention but it very popular in rural communities. This store offers all types of items from clothes to bath soaps, bananas to building materials. I've heard many people extoll the virtues of this store, claiming the products are cheaper. But here's the catch, and this happens to me every time, you end up buying more than you need because you think you are spending less.

I chose to shop there today because we needed paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo and some cleaning products. If I didn't need all those things, I'd have shopped at my supermarket since they offer 10 cents off per gallon of gas with every $50 spent. But I went big today, thinking I would get a deal. But once you hit the aisles, you are thinking "hey, do I need another tube of toothpaste?" or "Should I pick up those water filters?" Or, "How can you pass up pants for a buck ninety-nine?"

So I went about my shopping and added some extra items I did not at all need. But the really strange thing is that I didn't get half the items on my list. Some products, like the cleaning products I specifically went to this store for, were not on the shelves. There wasn't even anything remotely close to what I need. Somehow, I walked out spending 120 dollars. Granted, I bought formula and paper towels and toilet papers, which probably added up to a good 25-30 dollars worth of items, but where the hell did the rest of the money go? Beats me.

I know if I had shopped at my local supermarket, I would have checked the aisles for sales, looked for the no-name products which are just as good as name brand, and I wouldn't have been tempted to pick up unnecessary items like candy. Sure, I may have saved a few cents on some items, but is it really worth it? Plus when you figure in the savings that I get for gas, it actually cost me money to shop at the big chain store.

Unfortunately, I have to go to my supermarket tomorrow and pick up the things I forgot to get today. Lesson learned.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Saving money vs value for what you pay for...

So on our quest to save money, I've been trying to cut corners in the food budget, since that's where nearly 1/4 of our money is spent each month (that includes formula, fresh fruit and veggies and various sundry items)

It's a hard thing to do, after you're used to walking into a grocery store and picking up anything and everything you want. Having to shop sales, using coupons and even buying ... less quality items. For instance meats.

I grew up eating very little chop meat. My mother is not a fan of any chopped meat, unless it was high quality. To this day I don't know the difference between chuck, ground round and sirloin. We're not big steak eaters, so it didn't really matter. Occasionally I like a nice hamburger though, so I do buy chop meat. Usually I pick up the 93 % lean meat. Now that we've started scrimping, the percent lean number is slowly decreasing. It started with 90%, then wobbled down to 85% and most recently, I bought a ginourmous package of 80%.

Spending $12 for approximately 3.25 pounds of meat, I am able to get at least 3 meals out of that price, making the grand total for meat per meal about $4 dollars per meal. Had I bought the 93%, the cost of the meat goes up a lot. The question is, do you sacrifice the quality of the food to save the money? I'd like to think not, but it isn't always the case.

The opportunity comes up occasionally to buy meat that must be used on or frozen by the date of the day you buy it. This means the meat was packaged a day or two ago and the store can't guarantee the quality of the meat. Usually they take a dollar or so off the price but I can't always find this. I dont' want to affect my family's health because we can't afford the best choices like lean mean, fresh fruit and healthy items. But it's a struggle, and I'm learning.

Tonight, I used the 80% chop mean. I added a lot of garlice, thyme and pepper. I also added a hearty serving of vegetables. They counter each other right?

Here's what I made: (this recipe at one time or another will appear in my column The Budget Chef in Jill Magazine, Check it out!)

Toni's Puttanesca Pasta
(Puttanseca comes from the word Puttana, which in Italian means "whore" pretty awesome)

1 pound ground beef
2-3 TBSP minced garlic (your taste, your choice)
1/2 onion diced
1 large carrot sliced
1 zucchini diced
1/2 parsnip
2 small cans tomato sauce
pepper and salt to taste

In a large skillet heat up garlic and onion. Brown ground beef in skillet till done. Add other veggies and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes. Add tomato sauce and simmer for a spell. Add some water to mixture if needed. If you like it thick, no water, if you want more of a sauce consistency, I'd add more tomato sauce. Serve over pasta. Enjoy!