How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget

A rice cooker can make almost everything you want in the kitchen.

A rice cooker may seem fairly limited as far as kitchen tools go. It can accomplish one simple task very well, and that’s it.

But it’s time to expand your horizons. With a little creativity, it’s possible to use a rice cooker instead of your other kitchen tools to make all your meals and save on your food budget.

How a Rice Cooker Works

A rice cooker is made up of an electric heat source, a pot and a thermostat. In normal use, you fill the pot with rice and water and heat it.

Once the water boils off, the temperature inside the pot can rise above the boiling point. Once the thermostat detects this, the rice cooker turns off or, with newer models, goes to a “warm” setting. If your rice to water ratio was correct, you’re left with perfectly cooked rice after flipping just one switch.

Many home cooks have realized that, with some tinkering, you can cook many things in a rice cooker — not just rice. The most famous proponent of the rice cooker is probably the late film critic Roger Ebert, who took a detour from cinema to write his guide to rice cookers in 2009, called “The Pot and How to Use It.”

We spoke to Neal Bertrand, a resident of southern Louisiana who published his own rice cooker cookbook, called “Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People.” Bertrand, through his own experimentation and the input of cooks from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, assembled 60 recipes that can be made using a rice cooker.

‘A Portable Kitchen’

A rice cooker can make much more than rice, from pasta to seafood and even beef. And using this one tool to cook can really help you save both time and money. For example, making pasta is a matter of putting it in a bowl with water and a little olive oil, followed by all the other ingredients.

Most of the recipes just require waiting until the rice cooker switches from “cook” to “warm,” but for gumbo and other dishes with lots of liquid, Brennan recommends using a kitchen timer as well. In addition, some of the meat dishes require browning in a skillet, though he said the rice cooker can also be used to brown meat in a pinch.

For someone extremely budget-conscious, a rice cooker can potentially replace many normally-used kitchen tools, including a stove.

“I call it a portable kitchen,” Bertrand said. “All you need is a rice cooker, your ingredients and a source of electricity.”

Bertrand said readers of the cookbook had told him they were able to eat during power outages in Louisiana by plugging their rice cookers into generators.

Buying a Rice Cooker

A decent rice cooker should cost $40 or less, according to The Sweethome, a home goods review website. Using the right credit card could go along way in making that expense more affordable and in rewarding any future ingredient purchases. (Here are a few credit cards that reward you for grocery spending. But before applying, make sure to check your credit. Many rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit scores to qualify. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To get any potential rice cooker chefs started, we’ve provided Bertrand’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Sausage Jambalaya. Bertrand said it is a favorite from his cookbook. Enjoy!

1 lb. smoked link beef or pork sausage, sliced and browned. (Browning optional)
1 (15.5-oz.) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
1 (10.5-oz.) can beef broth
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) uncooked white rice
1/2 stick butter, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Brown the sausage in skillet and drain excess grease. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, stir, cover and press down COOK switch. Once the meal is cooked, and the COOK switch pops up to WARM mode, let it stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

Image: tisskananat

The post How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget

A rice cooker can make almost everything you want in the kitchen.

A rice cooker may seem fairly limited as far as kitchen tools go. It can accomplish one simple task very well, and that’s it.

But it’s time to expand your horizons. With a little creativity, it’s possible to use a rice cooker instead of your other kitchen tools to make all your meals and save on your food budget.

How a Rice Cooker Works

A rice cooker is made up of an electric heat source, a pot and a thermostat. In normal use, you fill the pot with rice and water and heat it.

Once the water boils off, the temperature inside the pot can rise above the boiling point. Once the thermostat detects this, the rice cooker turns off or, with newer models, goes to a “warm” setting. If your rice to water ratio was correct, you’re left with perfectly cooked rice after flipping just one switch.

Many home cooks have realized that, with some tinkering, you can cook many things in a rice cooker — not just rice. The most famous proponent of the rice cooker is probably the late film critic Roger Ebert, who took a detour from cinema to write his guide to rice cookers in 2009, called “The Pot and How to Use It.”

We spoke to Neal Bertrand, a resident of southern Louisiana who published his own rice cooker cookbook, called “Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People.” Bertrand, through his own experimentation and the input of cooks from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, assembled 60 recipes that can be made using a rice cooker.

‘A Portable Kitchen’

A rice cooker can make much more than rice, from pasta to seafood and even beef. And using this one tool to cook can really help you save both time and money. For example, making pasta is a matter of putting it in a bowl with water and a little olive oil, followed by all the other ingredients.

Most of the recipes just require waiting until the rice cooker switches from “cook” to “warm,” but for gumbo and other dishes with lots of liquid, Brennan recommends using a kitchen timer as well. In addition, some of the meat dishes require browning in a skillet, though he said the rice cooker can also be used to brown meat in a pinch.

For someone extremely budget-conscious, a rice cooker can potentially replace many normally-used kitchen tools, including a stove.

“I call it a portable kitchen,” Bertrand said. “All you need is a rice cooker, your ingredients and a source of electricity.”

Bertrand said readers of the cookbook had told him they were able to eat during power outages in Louisiana by plugging their rice cookers into generators.

Buying a Rice Cooker

A decent rice cooker should cost $40 or less, according to The Sweethome, a home goods review website. Using the right credit card could go along way in making that expense more affordable and in rewarding any future ingredient purchases. (Here are a few credit cards that reward you for grocery spending. But before applying, make sure to check your credit. Many rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit scores to qualify. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To get any potential rice cooker chefs started, we’ve provided Bertrand’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Sausage Jambalaya. Bertrand said it is a favorite from his cookbook. Enjoy!

1 lb. smoked link beef or pork sausage, sliced and browned. (Browning optional)
1 (15.5-oz.) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
1 (10.5-oz.) can beef broth
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) uncooked white rice
1/2 stick butter, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Brown the sausage in skillet and drain excess grease. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, stir, cover and press down COOK switch. Once the meal is cooked, and the COOK switch pops up to WARM mode, let it stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

Image: tisskananat

The post How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

How Much Should You Budget for Groceries?

Groceries are an essential, but going way over budget isn't. Learning how to properly budget for groceries will save you a lot of time and money.

When creating your budget, it’s important to include accurate numbers. After all, an accurate budget sets you up for financial success. It’s easy to know how much you need to include for utilities, loans, and even fuel. However, it can be difficult to figure out how much to budget for groceries. There is not a right or a wrong number, but you must find the right amount to include on your grocery budget so you don’t overspend.

Fortunately, there are some tricks you can try to help you figure out exactly how much to budget for groceries.

Average American Consumption

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend, on average, around 6% of their budget on food. However, the study also shows that they also spend 5% of their disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income.

If you use this method, budget 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out. If your take-home income is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, you should cut back on dining out and use any additional money towards your grocery needs.

Actual Spending

A more efficient and realistic way to figure out how much to budget for groceries is to find what you’re currently spending. Do this by completing a spending form.

A spending form will help you to review all of your purchases over several pay periods. The result will show you the average you are spending on groceries each week. If you feel that is too much, you can try to reduce your spending, keeping in mind that you and your family will also have to adjust the way you eat.

US Average Plan

Another way to choose a grocery budget amount is to look at the plans created by the USDA. The most recent plans can be found on their website. They provide the weekly cost for a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal plan on a weekly and monthly basis. The amounts are broken down by gender and age. You will need to total the amounts listed for the people in your family.

For example, let’s say you are a family of four. Your kids are a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. You decide to try to live on a low-cost plan. According to the report, the total monthly amount for your son will be $236.30 and for your daughter $190.10. Dad’s monthly amount is $238.30 and mom’s is $206.30. That makes the grand total grocery budget $871.00 per month or $217.75 per week.

Special Dietary Needs

If you have a family member who cannot eat gluten, or who has other dietary restrictions, these can affect your budget. Make sure you keep these specialty foods in mind when developing your budget as they can cost much more than average foods.

Reduce Your Grocery Budget Further

If you’ve calculated your grocery budget but still want to lower the cost, try some of these simple ideas:

Reduce your dining out budget. Eat at home more often and avoid restaurants and takeout. This is a simple way to find money to add to your budget.

Use coupons. While they are not for everyone, coupons are the simplest way to save money on the items you need. Even if the coupons aren’t available for the foods you need to eat, you can find them for household products you use, thereby reducing your spending and increasing the money you can spend on the foods you want.

Menu plan. Figure out your meals every single week before you shop. That way, you have a plan for the week. You’ll know what you will eat and you’ll have the ingredients on hand when it is time to cook.

Use a cash back credit card. There are a lot of great rewards cards that help you earn cash back and other perks while you shop. This can help lessen the stress of grocery costs. Remember, a lot of these cards require a decent credit score. Before applying, see where your credit stands. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Take the time to create a grocery budget that is feasible. Don’t try to make it so low that it is unrealistic, or your budget will fail month after month. Personalize it to your family’s needs and find a way to make it work.

Image: AleksandarNakic

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Summer Road Trip: 12 Tricks for Eating on the Cheap

Food and beverages on a road trip can really add up. Here are some easy, money-saving tips to keep you on budget when you're on the go.

Nearly 80% of American families plan to hit the road this summer, a 10% increase over last year, according to AAA. Many of us assume that a road trip will be a budget-friendly vacation idea, but the expense of meals, snacks and beverages on the road can cost more than we anticipate. We polled top travel experts and found more than a dozen ways to save on eats during your adventures on the open road this summer.

1. Stock up on Snacks

Travel writer Christina Valhouli avoids buying potentially overpriced snacks at gas stations and roadside convenience stores. “I stock up on snacks from my local supermarket or Costco before a trip. I make individual sized portions in Ziploc bags and pass them around the car,” she said. She uses clothespins to securely close bags of snacks, as they are sturdier and less expensive than chip clips.

2. Snack Healthy

Lisa Scurlock, owner of Gratitude Yoga in Chicago, likes to avoid junk food when she’s on the road. “I always pack protein bars, like Oatmega grass-fed whey protein bars, to keep me energized when I’m traveling to yoga retreats throughout the summer — they taste great and have tons of protein without a lot of sugar,” she said. “Plus, I save money by packing a box of four bars instead of buying one at a time from pricey rest stops along the way.”

3. Save With Apps

Sandra Hanna from SmartCookies.com recommends using the Ibotta app to look for restaurant deals. “If you’re on the road and want to stop for a bite, check out Ibotta’s offers for Buffalo Wild Wings or any number of restaurants available through Groupon,” she said. “You could earn up to 20% cash back on Groupon just by starting with Ibotta. Then cash out via PayPal or Venmo and put some gas in the tank.”​

Gabe Saglie, a travel expert from Travelzoo, recommends the free Travelzoo app. “The app geo-targets your location to showcase exclusive deals at nearby restaurants,” he said. “These deals — which can include everything from mimosa breakfasts to specially curated multi-course dinners — are vetted, tested, and represent significant savings.”

4. Breakfast Included

Saglie suggested being strategic when you book your hotel. “If you’re on a multi-day road trip, look for hotels where breakfast comes standard with your stay,” he said. “The option to grab a meal before you hit the road again can be a big money-saver.” Many hotels will feed your kids for free, or at a discount, he said. “At Fairmont hotels, for example, kids age 5 and under eat free from the children’s menu, and kids ages 6 to 12 eat for half price when ordering off the regular menu. Four Seasons and Starwood/Marriott hotels have similar programs.”

You’ll save more if you’re a member of your favorite hotel’s rewards club, and even more if you have a hotel rewards credit card. If you don’t already have one, keep in mind that most rewards cards require good credit to qualify. You can see where your credit stands by checking your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Valhouli favors chains like Extended Stay or Marriott’s Residence Inn, because they often have kitchenettes. “You can whip up an easy breakfast or lunch in a kitchenette,” she said. “One $5 box of granola will go a long way!”

5. Look for Perks

Saglie suggests taking advantage of the free morning coffee service at many hotels. Some hotels also offer wine in the evenings. “Kimpton hotels offer a complimentary wine hour every day at 5 p.m., and Embassy Suites hotels feature complimentary managers’ cocktail receptions, which are an effective way to save on your night out,” he said.

6. Fill up on Coffee

Don Munsil co-owner of the vacation planning website MouseSavers.com, suggested filling a thermos with coffee before you leave the house on day one of your trip. “You can refill it at the hotel breakfast service the next morning,” he said. Need more later in the day? “Places like Denny’s or IHOP will usually fill your thermos for the cost of a single cup of coffee, or McDonald’s will typically eyeball your thermos and charge for one or two large coffees.”

7. Order Ahead

If you want to save time on the road, Tammilee Tilson of the Tammilee Tips blog suggests ordering snacks and other road trip essentials from the CVS Pharmacy app during breakfast while at the hotel or campground. (Here are some handy tips for saving money at CVS.) “You can use the app to access great deals through their ExtraCare Rewards Program wherever you are, and easily make your shopping list accordingly,” she said. “If the local store has curbside pickup, you can quickly pick up your items on the way to your next destination.”

8. Some Assembly Required

If you plan to stop for a picnic along the way, Munsil recommends buying sandwiches in the morning — unassembled. “To avoid soggy sandwiches, ask for them unassembled, with the filling for each one portioned out and ready to go in a plastic container, the spreads in little sealed cups and the pre-sliced rolls or bread in a bag,” he said. “Stick the meats and mayo in your cooler and the bread bag in a sunny part of the car so it’ll be warm.”

9. Load up on Lunch

If you go to a restaurant for lunch, Adrian Gradinaru, founder and CEO of Sailo.com, a peer-to-peer marketplace for boat rentals, suggests making lunch the main meal of the day. “Americans favor dinner as the main meal of the day but it tends to be more expensive,” he said. “Instead, try making lunch your principal meal as most people outside the U.S. do. Many restaurants offer special prix-fixe lunch menus that are a great deal.”

10. Bring the Beverages

Valhouli’s rule of thumb at hotels? Avoid the minibar. “We always pack a small, soft sided cooler in our car and stock it with juice boxes, soft drinks or wine for the adults so that we are never tempted to hit the overpriced minibar,” she said. Her only use for the minibar is to refreeze her ice packs overnight.

11. Get Gift Certificates

The Costco or Sam’s Club websites often offer discounted restaurant gift cards to their members from major chains like Landry’s and Darden’s, Munsil said. “Sometimes the gift cards will appear to be for a specific restaurant, but usually that card will work at any restaurant owned by that chain,” he said.

He also suggested planning your evening stops in decent-sized towns and checking a site like Restaurant.com for gift certificates to local restaurants. Larger towns are more likely to have participating restaurants. You can also check out tips for slicing your restaurant food costs.

12. Eat With the Locals

Gradinaru suggests staying away from touristy hot spots. “Instead, venture into more residential neighborhoods, where you’ll likely find some excellent and cheap establishments,” he said. He also suggests asking around. “Concierges tend to recommend pricier restaurants near your hotel, so try asking a waiter, bartender or your host (if you are staying in an Airbnb), where they like to eat. They’ll likely give you some great options,” he said.

Image: Image Source

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9 Ways to Get the Most Out of Shopping at Your Local Farmers Market

Not all farm-fresh products are created equal. Here's how to make your farmers market work for you.

Farmers markets certainly aren’t anything new, but they have seen a major renaissance over the last several years, with literally thousands popping up all over the country, particularly in urban areas.

That’s great news for folks who love fresh produce and supporting local — or at least local-ish — businesses and farmers. (Don’t know where your nearest market is? The USDA has a handy farmers market locator.) The typical products available usually were grown within just a couple of hours of your market’s opening and harvested within the last 48 hours, as opposed to things you buy at the grocery store, which are frequently shipped across the country for days on end.

That’s great for the environment, but is shopping at a farmers market really a good deal for your budget? Similar to the grocery store, it really all depends on how you shop. Here are nine ways you can make the most of shopping at your local farmers market.

1. Shop Early

It’s a good idea at the typical grocery store, but it’s imperative at the farmers market if you want the very best selection, so grab your coffee and get yourself to the market within 30 minutes of opening to ensure you get the day’s best, especially when it comes to your local fish monger, if you have one.

2. Compare Prices

Just because supplies are limited doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out a few vendors before making your purchase. Quality and price can vary dramatically from stall to stall, so taking a stroll through the market can pay off. Likewise, some markets tend to be more expensive than others, so if you have several in your area, you may want to check out which has the best offerings at the best prices.

3. Take Cash …

Most vendors don’t accept credit cards, so you’re going to need to grab a bunch of cash before you head out.

4. … And Your Own Bags

Yes, farmers market vendors do typically have bags available, but they appreciate it if you have your own, as it helps keep their costs down (which, in turn, keeps yours down as well).

5. Avoid the Ready-to-Eat Items

Yes, those cinnamon buns look delicious, and, yes, that coffee smells amazing, but is the price worth it? A lot of these items are sold at a considerable markup. So, while a splurge every now and then may be fine, making that $4 coffee and $5 bun a weekly routine can obviously add up quickly.

6. Consider the Proteins

Most meats, eggs and cheeses you’ll find at farmers markets are offered by small farms that tend to treat their animals humanely, use organic, vegetarian feeds and no hormones. They also tend to carry a pretty hefty price tag because they aren’t mass producing these items and have to cover their costs. If your household tends to eat a lot of protein, you may want to consider talking to the farmer about buying in bulk — like a side of beef — at a considerable savings. (Want to save even more? Here are a butcher’s secrets to saving money on meat.)

7. Get to Know the Vendors

Shopping at your farmers market is a lot like living in a small town. If you go regularly and get to know the farmers, those relationships can pay off. They’ll point you to the items they’re particularly proud of that week or that they know you’re going to like. They may even slide you a few freebies now and then.

8. Ask for Recipes & Preparation Ideas

These folks know their products and probably eat them regularly themselves, so don’t hesitate to ask for their favorite preparation or recipe. They’ll probably be excited to talk about it if they aren’t overly busy, which is another good reason to show up early.

9. Visit the Farm

If there’s a vendor you’re particularly fond of, why not head to their farm some time during the week to see their operations up close? A family trip to a working farm can be an amazing experience, especially for kids. It’s a great way to give them an appreciation of where their food comes from and why being a good steward of the land is important. You may also be able to pick up some of the farmer’s products at an even better price.

Image: mapodile

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11 Ways My Family Saves at Restaurants

save-at-restaurants

I’m a busy mom of seven children, who has also been married for 20 years. We have experienced times in our family when money was scarce and times when money was more abundant. Normally, I prefer to cook at home using crockpot freezer meals, but sometimes it’s nice to take everyone out for a little change of pace.

Because we have a large family and it can be quite costly to eat out, I learned how to shave money off of our restaurant bills. We do take the time to splurge every now and then, but when we are on a tight budget, we’ve learned several tips to help us save money when we eat out.

1. Share a Meal

Many restaurants serve large enough portions for two meals. In order to save money, sometimes my husband and I will split a meal that we’re sure we’d both like. Some restaurants do charge a fee if you plan to split your plate, but many do not. Be sure to ask your waiter or waitress if you think this is something you’d like to try to make sure you’re not in for a surprise when you go to pay the bill.

Tip: Choose a meal that is typically larger than most, or one that you’ve seen served before, to be sure you’ll have enough food.

2. Order à la Carte

At my favorite Mexican restaurant, I can order a chile relleno off of the dinner menu, or I can order the chile relleno “à la carte” (with no sides). On this particular meal, I save myself $5 over the meal option, and it’s usually just the amount of food that I need. Mexican restaurants are the perfect place to order à la carte, because you can fill up on chips and salsa if it’s not quite enough. Of course, you can try this at other styles of restaurants, too.

Tip: On days when you have a larger appetite, you may want to try another money-saving technique.

3. Subscribe to Restaurant Email Lists

This is one of my favorite ways to save money on restaurant bills. If I know that I will be traveling to a certain town that has a certain restaurant, I will find their website and sign up for their email list. Many restaurants will give you coupons toward your next visit. They will also send you coupons for your birthday. Some of these coupons you may find worthless, but many of them are “buy one, get one free entree” coupons that you can use to save $10 or more. Be careful, though, the coupons that they email out do expire, so be sure to watch those expiration dates.

4. Order Off the Lunch Menu

Ask if you can order off of the lunch menu. Some restaurants will allow it and some won’t. In my experience, the restaurant I do this at charges an extra dollar if you do, but I feel the extra dollar is still more than worth it in the long run.

5. Only Go Out at Lunch Time

It is a well-known fact that most restaurants will charge less at lunchtime than dinnertime. Typically this is because the portion size is smaller. We have found that if we save our eating-out time for lunch, we spend less.

6. Don’t Order Appetizers

Ordering an appetizer is a great way to kill a restaurant budget. While it can be fun to indulge occasionally, it is best to leave these money-grubbing foods alone if you’re trying to spend less.

7. Drink Water

If we were to buy a soft drink for each person in our family when eating out, we would spend over $18 on drinks alone. Drinking water saves you at least $2 per drink in most restaurants. It would save you even more if you typically order wine or other alcoholic beverages.

8. No Dessert

Desserts add up quickly. Save your dessert purchases for very special occasions with your significant other. Not only will this help your final bill, it could help with weight loss, too.

9. Have Kids Share an Adult Meal

A friend of mine orders one large adult meal for two to three of her kids to eat at a time. It ends up saving them several dollars per order and they typically have more than enough to eat as well.

10. Plan Ahead

If I know I want to eat out but don’t know where I want to go exactly, I will map out my route and look at the restaurant websites in the area to get a bit familiar with the menu. Recently, I was on a trip to San Diego. My husband and I were planning to eat at a nearby restaurant, but when I looked at their online menu, I discovered that the prices were double what I had originally thought. We quickly changed our direction and found a much lower-priced restaurant by using the same tactic.

11. Seek Out ‘Kids Eat Free’ Restaurants

On one of our last vacations, this was a great way to eat cheap while traveling. If you are eating out with kids, this is an awesome way to save some money! Do an internet search for “Kids Eat Free (City and State)” and see what comes up. We found a different restaurant to do this at every day. Some restaurants let you get one kids meal for each adult entree you’re paying for and some even let you get two.

[Editor’s Note; Eating out too often can certainly break your budget if you’re not careful. You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

Image: monkeybusinessimages

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Lunch Is More Expensive Than Ever. Here’s the Easy Way to Save

save-money-on-lunch

Are you taking your lunch to work? Good. You’re probably saving a lot of money, and very likely calories as well. You’re also part of a growing movement.

It turns out that people aren’t eating lunch at restaurants as often as they used to, according to recent data from NPD Group, a global research firm. Lunch visits to restaurants, which represent 33% of U.S. restaurant traffic during the day, were down by 4% percent in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, according to NPD.

Part of the reason is the rise in the number of people working at home, the research firm said. Add to that more shopping online, which cuts down on foodservice meals and snack breaks, and increases in menu prices, and you get less overall lunch traffic.

A pricing analysis done by NPD Group found that the price point where consumers are most satisfied and most likely to visit is when they feel it is “affordable to eat there often” and “good value for the money.” Average lunch checks in the second quarter of 2016 have increased by as much as 5% compared to the same quarter a year ago. NPD Group said that has also moved them beyond consumers’ “sweet spot” price.

“Simply said, who can afford to go out to lunch on a regular basis when checks have risen for some as much as they have recently,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group, restaurant industry analyst, in a press release. “Historically, foodservice lunch has been the occasion where consumers didn’t want to invest a lot time, money or energy into this meal. It’s apparent by the drop in lunch traffic that the current value proposition isn’t meeting these needs.”

How to Spend Less Than $2 a Day on Lunch

If you’re still buying your lunch most days, chances are you could experience some significant savings with just a little bit of advance planning. In fact, it’s possible to spend less than $2 on lunch every day by making it yourself. You can see how the savings can quickly add up, especially if you’re currently spending $10 or more each time you eat lunch.

That extra money can go toward saving for a dream vacation or a new car. You could even pay down your student loans or credit card debt, which can dramatically improve your credit scores. You can see how your spending habits and debt are impacting your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: Maridav

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Americans Will Eat 28 Billion Chicken Wings This Year

eating-chicken-wings

Football season is upon us, and that means it’s also pizza, beer and chicken wing season for a lot of folks.

Americans are expected to eat 28 billion – yes, BILLION – chicken wings this year, and more than 1 billion of those were consumed on Super Bowl Sunday alone. That’s according to the National Chicken Council, and that huge number got us thinking: What does 28 billion of something even look like? We were curious, so we sat down with a calculator and did some math. Here’s what we found.

28 billion chicken wings …

  • Is enough for every American to have nearly 90 wings each. And it’s enough for every man, woman and child on Earth to have four wings each. It might be time to change those song lyrics to “I’d like to teach the world to wing …”
  • Is enough to wrap around the world at the equator more than 44 times (I told you we did math …).
  • Would cover every single NFL football field with an 8-inch stack of wings. So, um, who’s bringing the blue cheese dressing?
  • Weigh approximately 5.25 billion pounds. That’s the equivalent of 17,500 blue whales, the largest animals on the planet. (By the way, there may or may not actually be enough blue whales in existence to match the weight of America’s chicken wing consumption this year. Scientists put their population numbers somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000.)
  • Will cost Americans as much as $36 billion this year. That’s more than residents of Arizona paid in federal income taxes in 2012, and it’s on par with the estimated GDP of Serbia this year.

If you love going out for wings, especially during football season, we hear you. There’s little that goes better with a couple of beers and your favorite team on the big screen. But it’s good to keep in mind, especially if saving money is important to you, that eating out a lot can really eat into your budget (yeah, pun intended).

Seriously, Americans spend a lot of money eating out, evidenced in part by the massive amount of junk food we eat every year. (You can check out this round up to find out how much beer, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs potato chips and more we consume.) It’s even worse if you’re splurging to eat out and using your credit card, especially if you can’t pay it off every month. High levels of debt can seriously damage your credit score. You can see where yours currently stands by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.

If your credit is in rough shape, you might be able to improve your scores by paying down high credit card balances, disputing errors on your credit reports and limiting new credit inquiries while your numbers start to come back up.

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How Much Junk Food Do Americans Really Eat?

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7 Ways to Save at Wegmans

save_at_wegmans

Several years ago, while driving through upstate New York, we stopped at a grocery store my friend from the area absolutely raved about. I had never heard of Wegmans and was a little surprised we were stopping there because it was lunchtime.

Little did I know what was in store for me!

In the years since, and after a Wegmans opened near my home in Maryland, I’ve come to appreciate how well they run and how it’s a pleasure to shop there.

If you’re a fan and looking to save money at Wegmans, here are my best tips.

1. Coupon Doubling Up to 99 Cents

Wegmans has some of the most competitive prices, but did you know they will also double coupons with a face value up to 99 cents? There are a few rules to keep in mind, such as the doubling or face value of the coupon cannot exceed retail price and you can only use four manufacturer’s coupons on four of the same product per day.

If the coupon’s face value is $1.00 or more, it will be redeemed at face value (no doubling).

2. Join the Shoppers Club!

Wegmans has a Shoppers Club, like many other stores, but not only do you get discounts in the store, you’ll be sent mailers that often include more coupons. You will also receive the Wegmans Menu Magazine which often has great recipes and other fun educational articles.

3. Use the Wegmans App

The Wegmans App is a rich-featured shopping-list app that integrates nicely with your local store. You can create your shopping list at home and it will give you your total, pulling prices from the store. This can be very helpful if you’re on a tight budget and help you plan your trip better.

In the store, there are signs throughout that, when scanned with the Wegmans app, reveal videos, recipes, and product information. The app also gives you access to the Wegmans Menu magazine and can pull recipe ingredients from the recipes.

If you have a favorite money saving app, you may want to stick with it. If you don’t and go to Wegmans often, consider using theirs.

4. Create a Shopping List Online

If you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t want another app, you can always create your shopping list on the Wegmans website. Afterwards, you can print it out and see exactly how much the trip will cost you.

The list will organize ingredients based on the store’s aisles, which can save you a ton of time in the store.

5. Consider Wegmans Brand

Most stores’ generic brands are mediocre but not Wegmans – some of their products rival the brand names in quality. Nearly every category of product, from frozen pizza to sauces and packaged baked goods, has a Wegmans brand and they’re usually good and well-priced. At my local Wegmans in Maryland, a 29 oz. can of tomato sauce will cost you just $0.79 versus big brand name tomato sauce priced at $1.69.

6. Don’t Miss the Hot Food

Most grocery store hot food bars can be depressing affairs of overcooked food that’s overpriced. Wegmans has an impressive food bar with nearly every kind of food imaginable, but where they really shine is in two areas — sushi and the burger bar.

The sushi is delicious, fresh, and well-priced, especially if you compare it with a sushi restaurant. If you don’t see what you like, you can make special requests and they are happy to make a roll or package you want. The burger bar is a full-fledged restaurant and they offer a variety of great burgers and sandwiches that are also well-priced.

7. Personal Shopping

If you are short on time, Wegmans offer “personal shopping” where they will get everything on your shopping list and deliver it to your car. You need to place the order online the day before but you pay for it without ever having to leave your car. It costs just $5.95 with no minimum order. It’s not available at every store though, sadly. It is available only in three locations – the flagship store in Pittsford, New York, and the stores in Bridgewater and Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Finally, if you live in a state where grocery stores can sell beer and wine, give their bargain wines a shot (just remember to drink responsibly). At just a few bucks a bottle, what do you have to lose?

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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