How to Throw a Killer Fourth of July Cookout on a Budget

Like parades and fireworks, Independence Day cookouts are a holiday tradition. But hosting one can get costly if you don't watch your budget.

Like parades and fireworks, Independence Day cookouts are a holiday tradition. But hosting one can get pricy if you don’t watch your budget. Here are some tips for hosting a fabulous cookout this Fourth of July without going broke, courtesy of Sarah Spigelman Richter, a food reporter based in Manhattan.

1. Think Quality Over Quantity

You may think you’re getting a deal on that discount meat, but chances are the pricier goods are a better value, said Richter. Though you’ll have fewer burgers to go around, you’ll feel better about eating meat that was raised ethically and sustainably — it’s better for your health, the environment and animal welfare. Of course, “sustainably sourced everything does cost more,” Richter said, so don’t feel pressured to serve up a steak. “Go for any sort of poultry that’s interesting to you,” she said, or choose sausages, fish or ground meat. The latter is often cheaper and more delicious.

2. Serve Veggies 

“You don’t want to forget people who don’t eat meat at your cookout,” said Richter, who advised hitting the farmer’s market to stock up. “My general rule of thumb is, whatever looks best that day, get it,” she said. Veggies usually taste good either right off the grill or when they’ve cooled down, so they’re a perfect snack for after the pool. Try loading kebabs with veggies and a small amount of meat, or serve up meatless grilled mains like beans and tofu. “Things that can fall through the grates like asparagus can always be put in a foil pouch placed directly on the grill,” Richter said.

3. Grill Fruit 

The surprising, smoky flavor of grilled fruit is like “dinner theater,” said Richter, who explained that grilling brings out the natural sugars in fruit, which makes them sweeter, like caramelized onions. Remember to brush whatever you’re grilling with a little olive oil and keep a close eye on your fruit so it doesn’t go up in flames (indirect heat is best). Richter advised grilling stone fruit like peaches, plums, nectarines, pluots and apricots. Leave the skins on, then peel afterward and serve with a dollop of cool whipped cream. “It’s a really easy dessert,” she said.

4. Ask Friends to BYOB

We won’t dissuade you from stocking up on basics like water and soda, but it never hurts to ask your friends to pitch in. If they have particular tastes — yes way, rosé — encourage them to round out the offerings. As Richter jokingly put it, “Get your friends to bring exactly what they like so you don’t wind up with three bottles of white zinfandel that nobody drinks and eventually turns into vinegar in your pantry.”

5. Use Rewards Credit Cards 

If you’re going to go shopping, you may as well get a little kickback for it, which is what rewards credit cards are all about. You can earn points toward perks like gift cards, account credit and discounts at your favorite stores. Just remember to check your credit before you apply, as many issuers require decent credit in order to qualify. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free on

6. Keep Side Dishes Simple 

“Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make a risotto in the kitchen while everyone’s outside enjoying themselves,” said Richter. “Grab a bag of chips and some coleslaw and enjoy the day.”

Image: M_a_y_a

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6 Depression-Era Money Lessons My Grandparents Taught Me

Here are the values I hold close to my heart, all these years later.

My grandparents were only children in the Great Depression, and they learned a lot from their own parents during that difficult time. When they first were married, they had no money at all. They were very, very poor. But they were happy.

These two amazing people taught me many lessons in life — how to be a good person, how to sew and so much more. I remember watching my grandfather auction off cattle and pigs. Thinking back, it really amazes me how much they taught me without sitting me down. I suppose they led by example.

Of all the lessons they taught me, some stand out more than others, of course. Here are the values I hold close to my heart, all these years later.

1. Don’t Waste Food

I remember going to my grandma’s house and opening the refrigerator, or what my cousins and I often called “the ongoing science experiment.” Inside, you would find containers with a tiny scoop of potatoes or a completely dried out stalk of corn. When we tried to throw them out, she would get upset and tell us we could still eat it (which we never let her do, by the way). Still, it served as a lesson. Don’t throw things out immediately, save it or have it for dinner the next night.

When it comes to food, make sure you only purchase what you will eat. That way you’ll waste much less.

2. Know Your Wants Vs. Needs

The needs in your life include food, clothing, shelter and utilities like water and power. Your wants are different. You want a cell phone, but you don’t need it.

When we learn to identify our wants and needs, we become wiser about how we spend money. We hold onto it and get what we need. We also allow ourselves the occasional want — but not until our needs have been met. Learning to identify your wants vs. your needs is a crucial step in financial planning.

3. Pay With Cash

Unfortunately, I forgot this lesson when I was younger. Because of using credit unwisely, I got overwhelmed with debt and turned to bankruptcy for a way out. I then got married, and my husband and I built up more debt and had to dig ourselves out of the hole.

During the time we were paying it off, we switched back to using cash for everything. As a result, we gained better control of our money, because it really made us think about how we spent. We didn’t just rush out and get things because we could.

Looking back, I recall my grandparents always using cash, too. In fact, they did not even own a credit card. It was not that they couldn’t get one, they just decided not to. They said if they could not pay for something with cash, then they did not need it. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free on

And though they were not rich, when they retired, they lived comfortably. They had been wise enough with their spending that they were able to enjoy their retirement. In fact, my grandmother supported herself for many years until she got too ill and had to enter a nursing home.

4. Find Joy in Simple Things

When you ask people what makes them happy, some say it is their house, their car or even their gadgets. For others, it could be the expensive handbag or new watch they purchased.

When you asked my grandparents this question, their answers were always the same: things that were free. Playing games with the kids. Campouts in the backyard. Having joy doesn’t mean that you own a big house. It means you find happiness in the people and things around you. Find your own joy and don’t rely on things to give it to you.

5. Cook at Home

My grandma was an amazing cook. She owned a small cafe in the same building where my grandpa was an auctioneer.

Every Saturday, the cafe would be filled with farmers from all around the area coming in for one of her amazing caramel rolls or cinnamon rolls. When an auction ended, they’d stop in for a good home-cooked meal followed by a slice of Grandma’s award-winning pie.

Then, after a long day of cooking for others, Grandma went home and did it again. There was always a home-cooked meal on the table for her family. She planned her meals and any shopping trips wisely so she always had what she needed to cook for her kids.

My grandparents did not eat out very often. There was a garden where they grew their own vegetables, and the chickens they raised provided eggs and meat.

While I don’t have a garden or a small farm, I still cook most of our meals at home. I find it not only tastes better but is healthier. The best perk of all is sitting around the dinner table with my kids and having incredible conversations. I can often picture my own grandparents doing the same thing. Sharing a meal really matters.

6. Save for a Rainy Day

Nowadays, I don’t call my savings a rainy-day fund but an emergency fund. But the idea is the same. My grandparents always saved a bit of every dollar they made “just in case.” This was money they never touched until they had to. For them, and even our family, having money set aside provides peace of mind. (You can see more smart habits of savers here.)

Though my grandparents are both gone, the values they taught me live on. I am now taking the time to teach these to my own children. I hope that they, too, pass them along to their own kids someday. The 1930s may be in the past, but the lessons learned during that time can still resonate and work today.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.


Image: SolStock

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8 Ways My Slow Cooker Saves Me Money


When I was first married 20 years ago, I received two slow cookers as wedding gifts. I had only used a slow cooker a couple of times, so I didn’t know if I would use them. Little did I know just how much I would come to love them. Not only did they save me time, I discovered that they saved me plenty of money as well. Here’s how.

1. Planning Meals

Using a slow cooker makes me plan ahead. I can’t come home and just throw something into the slow cooker, and have it ready within an hour; I have to plan ahead! By doing this, I spend less at the grocery store, and I end up using up all of the items I buy each week, too.

2. Not Eating Out

You know how it goes: You have a busy day, and then come home only to realize you have no clue what to make for dinner. So, you swing through the drive-thru, and pretty soon you’ve spent a lot of extra money each month. On days like this, I like to use Crockpot Freezer Meals, where I do all of my prepping for a week of meals at once. That way, I come home to a healthy home-cooked meal, even when I don’t have the time.

3. Not Buying Convenience Foods

When I neglect my slow cooker, I usually end up stopping by the store on a daily basis. I come home with things like frozen burritos, frozen pizzas and other pre-packaged foods that end up costing me more. When I use my slow cooker, however, I eat healthier home-cooked meals that taste better than pre-packaged convenience foods.

4. Cooking in Bulk

If you have a large slow cooker that holds 6 to 7 quarts, you can make big batches of food to serve your family for more than one meal. If you prefer not to eat leftovers, freeze them for another meal later in the month. My favorite thing to cook in bulk is Slow Cooker Chili. It makes a huge pot that feeds our family of nine. We usually eat it as chili for the first meal, then chili dogs or served over baked potatoes for the second.

5. Eating More Beans

Eating beans on a regular basis saves money. You can use them in place of meat or stretch out your meat dollars by replacing a portion of the meat with beans. (This works best with ground beef.) Of course, just eating a big pot of beans works well, too. When I was growing up, we would eat pinto beans to stretch the grocery dollars. As an adult, I discovered my favorite pinto beans recipe was one where I slow cook the beans in spices and top them with cheese and sour cream.

6. Saving Time

When I use slow cooker recipes, I spend a lot less time in the kitchen. And since I like to do my cooking preparation a week at a time, I can prepare 6 to 7 dinners in an hour or two, eliminating the need to cook each evening. If you think of your time as an hourly wage, you could free up a few hours each week to spend on making money elsewhere. You could use that extra time to work on your home business or other money-making venture. If you don’t have another way to make money, consider using extra time to find a side income.

7. Saving on Electricity

Using your oven during the summer heats your house. Your air conditioner has to stay on longer to cool it back down, which costs more money. By using your slow cooker instead, you are saving money on cooling costs.

8. Saving Scraps

If you have leftovers of any vegetables or meats, place them in a baggie in your freezer. Eventually your bag will be full, and you can turn it into vegetable soup that you can make in the slow cooker. It’s like having a free meal!

[Editor’s Note: You can use this free tool to track your financial goals, like building good credit scores, each month on]

Image: tirc83

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