10 Tips for Doing Whole30 on a Budget

With proper planning, you can try the Whole30 diet and stick to your grocery budget.

If you’re just now starting on your New Year’s resolution to get healthy, you might find yourself considering the Whole30 program. The latest diet craze, which is meant to be a sort of physical reset button, requires you to cut out grains, sugars, alcohol, processed foods, legumes and dairy for a full 30 days. So basically you feast on meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and eggs.

Lots of people are jumping on the bandwagon, and not without reason. Changing your eating habits in this way can help you find trigger foods that cause you problems. And this kind of structured diet can set you on your way to a true long-term lifestyle change. (Of course, every person’s different and, if you have concerns about changing your diet, you might want to consult a professional before getting started.)

But there’s a big financial catch: The Whole30 diet can be expensive!

My husband and I have been doing a Whole30, and it’s definitely increased our grocery budget. On the one hand, this is fine. I’m OK with paying a little more for food that I know is better for my body. But I don’t want to pay a lot more, especially since we plan to stick with this style of eating for much longer than 30 days.

Doing a Whole30 may increase your grocery budget, but it doesn’t have to blow it out of the water. (That would seriously damage your wallet  —and your credit. You can keep an eye on how your scores are doing for free on Credit.com.) If you decide to try this way of eating, use these tips to keep from spending way too much.

1. Don’t Worry About Going Organic

The Whole30 guide suggests going organic. After all, you want to cut out all the nastiness from the food you put into your body. But if you can’t afford organic meat, fruits and veggies, don’t sweat it. Consider just purchasing organic if your produce is on the “dirty dozen” list of foods most impacted by pesticides. The bottom line: Even conventional fruits and veggies are much better than processed foods. So go with what you can afford.

2. Get Familiar With the Best Prices

Now is a great time to get familiar with different grocery stores in your area. We personally try not to make more than two stops on our Saturday morning shopping trips. You may find it’s worth your while to make three or more stops. Consider shopping outside of the big box stores. Try your local Trader Joe’s for Whole30-approved snacks like plantain chips. We love Aldi for scoring most of our meat and produce at great prices, and local farmer’s markets may have in-season produce for a steal.

3. Keep Emergency Snacks on Hand

The first couple of weeks of Whole30 can be rough, I won’t lie. I was hungry basically all the time and really craved carbs. This is totally normal, but you can push through it. It’s a good idea to keep emergency snacks on hand so you can stick to your eating plan. Some options include nuts (buy in bulk and portion them into small packages), fruit (apples and bananas keep well in the car or a purse), and, in a pinch, certain Larabars (when on sale!). Emergency food can also keep you from dining out, which is confusing, frustrating and even more expensive when you’re on a Whole30.

4. Plan Your Meals

I’ve always been a meal planner, but I’ve gotten even more serious about it since starting the Whole30. Now I know each day what we’ll have for dinner. I plan everything on Saturday before we grocery shop. When you plan your meals, you don’t buy extra food that ends up spoiling. And if you really want to be cheap, you can make just enough extra food to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Freezer Aisle

You might think eating Whole30 would mean all-raw fruits and veggies. But that’s not the case. In fact, oven-roasted veggies drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar are our favorites right now. And those can be made with frozen veggies as easily as fresh ones. You can also save on meats, fish and berries when you buy frozen rather than fresh.

6. Try Some Canned Items

Cheap canned goods aren’t off limits. You’ll want to read labels to make sure nothing weird has been added to your canned veggies or tuna. (Some canned tuna has added sugar.) Once you find brands and types you know are compliant, you can work them into loads of different meals to stretch those savings.

7. Choose Conventional Lean Meats

Organic grass-fed meats are the best option, but they’re also super-expensive. If you can’t afford this type of meat, don’t sweat it. However, you’ll probably want to steer clear of fattier cuts of conventional meats. The worst of the toxins stored in a cut of meat will be in the fat. So just go with leaner cuts while you’re doing your detox.

8. Get Used to Making Eggs

The Whole30 relies heavily on protein and fat to keep you feeling full and satiated without a constant intake of carbohydrates. One way to get both of these macronutrients without spending a load of money is with eggs. Keep hardboiled eggs on hand for an easy snack. Make a sweet potato hash with eggs for breakfast. Serve a frittata for dinner. Just generally get comfortable with making eggs every which way, and they’ll save you money while keeping you on track.

9. Skip Expensive Whole30-fied Products

Yes, you can buy Whole30-fied beef jerky, mayonnaise and salad dressing. But these products can be hard to find and very pricey. If you need to stick to a budget, make them yourself or cut them out of your diet altogether. I discovered in this journey that making mayo is incredibly simple and cost-effective. And homemade mayo makes a delicious chicken salad!

10. Keep it Simple

There are loads of great Whole30 recipes online. Pinterest is chock full of them. Many include a variety of delicious spices, veggies you’ve never heard of and interesting cooking techniques. And this is definitely a good time to expand your palate with some new tastes. However, don’t go crazy with the brand-new recipes, especially those that will require you to buy a bunch of new spices or cooking equipment. Instead, keep things simple. A piece of grilled meat and some roasted veggies will do.

Following this popular eating plan can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be too hard on your wallet. With the proper planning, you can succeed at the Whole30 and stick to your grocery budget, too.

Still looking for ways to chop down your food costs? Check out these tips for how to eat for less than $6 a day

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

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How to Cook a Holiday Meal for $5 Per Person

Budget a little lean this year? Here's how you can cook a holiday meal on the cheap.

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Ramadan, Saturnalia or another of the multitude of winter holidays that roll around this time of year, it’s likely your celebration is steeped in family tradition.

From the games you play to the songs you sing and even the foods you eat, tradition is often at the heart of the festivities. Of course, upholding those traditions, particularly when it comes to the food, can be an expensive endeavor, especially if your feast is “big meat” focused. That prime rib, turkey or ham can be a belt and budget buster, especially if you’ve had a lean year or are trying to save money.

Sure, you could put all of your holiday expenses on your credit card and pay it off over time, but unless you have a credit card with 0% interest, that option is going to cost you even more. Go into too much debt and it could end up hurting your credit scores (you can see your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com).

With that in mind, we’ve put together some tasty ideas that can help you get through this holiday season without breaking your budget and possibly even begin a new tradition that will keep your tummy and wallet happy for years to come. (And, yes, we’re talking beyond this delicious 16-cent oatmeal recipe.)

Here are some menu ideas that will let you feed your holiday guests for less than $5 each.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Typically reserved for Christmas Eve, this traditional Italian-American meal (also called The Vigil) features seven separate dishes with seafood in every one. Bon Appetit has a wonderful representative menu with recipes.

Of course, you’re not going to feed everyone all seven of these dishes for $5 each, but you could pick and choose two or three and easily do so. Even better: Assign a course to some or all of your guests. You won’t spend as much money or as much time in the kitchen.

Suggestion: A giant pot of BA’s Best Linguine and Clams (included in the menu above) will cost you about $14 (triple the recipe) and feed as many as 12 people — more if you have more than just the one course. That’s about $1.16 each and leaves you with plenty of budget left to add courses and wine as you wish.

Lasagna

Sticking with the Italian theme, we’re going to suggest the granddaddy of all pastas. Lasagna is a crowd pleaser, is easy to make and can feed large numbers of people for not a lot of money.

Another nice thing about lasagna is how flexible it is. Ricotta or béchamel, vegetables, beef sausage – there are literally hundreds of recipes that let you make it with virtually anything you prefer. One of my personal favorites is this Lasagna Verdi al Forno, featured many years ago in Saveur Magazine. It’s made with a béchamel and a meat sauce, including prosciutto de parma. The ingredients will cost you about $30 and feed up to 12 people. Pair it with some garlic bread and a salad, and you’re still well under $5 each.

Very Veggie

You know when a big roast turkey with all the trimmings doesn’t sound good? When you’re a vegetarian. That’s doubly true when you’re a vegetarian in Australia, where the “winter” holidays fall smack in the middle of summer. You won’t find any chestnuts roasting on an open fire Down Under. What you will find, however, are light meals that are perfect after a day at the beach.

This vegetarian menu from Taste.com.au is exactly that — still festive and perfect for celebratory gatherings. And, based on our costing, cheap as chips. The ingredients for this entire four-course meal will run you around $28 and feed six. That’s just $4.66 each.

Pretend It’s Summer

If you really were in Australia, chances are you’d be eating something that came off a grill. While it’s not a tradition in the United States, the Christmas Day barbecue (and any other day, for that matter) is king, and there are plenty of states in warm enough climates that, if you lived in one, you could easily start your own holiday barbecuing tradition.

Throw a couple of chickens on the grill, or some sausages. There are so many inexpensive options available that you’ll be able to satisfy all of your guests without much fuss, even the vegetarians or vegans. Put together a few simple salads or grilled vegetables, and you have a delicious meal that will feed a large group of people for little money (and effort).

Image: SolStock

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I Tried to Live on $3 of Food a Day — While Still Shopping at Whole Foods

saving-money-on-groceries

When I first decided to do this little experiment, I’d agreed to try to feed my family for $5 per person per day, so I sat down and took a look at my grocery spending over the last few months, crunched some numbers, and … uh-oh…

Was it really possible we were already eating on roughly $5 per day? Yep, we were. My average grocery spend per week runs $80. For the two of us, that’s $5.71 per day per person. I needed a bigger challenge, or so I thought. Could I feed us for just $3 each per day? Seemed reasonable.

What I didn’t take into account as I was working my figures was that we typically eat out once or twice a week, so that $5.71 actually looked a bit more like $8. Still not a lot, but significantly more than the $3 goal I’d rather arrogantly set for myself.

I decided I was going to try it anyway, and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t come as close to that goal as I’d wanted. I also wasn’t willing to give up some things or shop somewhere cheaper. That, after all, was the challenging aspect of this. I mean, sure I could feed us 99-cent ramen noodles all week, but I wanted to be realistic. And eat some vegetables.

I did manage to cut my already frugal grocery spending by about half, though: $4.14 each, or right at $58 for a week’s worth of groceries.

Full Disclosure

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, we are mostly vegan – no dairy, no meat, no animal products in general – but we do include the occasional seafood and eggs in our diet. That said, I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods, which I’ve heard some of my friends say they simply can’t afford. I suppose if I, too, were trying to feed a growing, teenage bottomless pit, I’d probably say that as well. But for just the two of us, it’s perfectly affordable and we eat really well-balanced meals and snacks without feeling deprived in the least. However – here’s two more disclosures – I cook. Every day.

But back to feeding us both for $58 for a week … Here’s how I did it.

First, I looked at what we were currently eating and how I could pare that back. I also considered that I’d be adding two dinner meals since we wouldn’t be eating out. Did we need the chocolate chip vegan cookies in the afternoon as a snack? What about lunch? Did I really need that amazing wheat-based, fake bacon I love on sandwiches? Or the bread I ate it on? Nope. We’d definitely have to say so long to our seafood protein options during this experiment. Yes, there were definitely some things we could do without in the short term.

I worked up my menu plan for the first week, keeping it super simple and rotating just three dishes for breakfast, three for lunch and three for dinner through the week (which also ensured I wouldn’t have any food waste) estimated the costs of the necessary ingredients and headed to the grocery store (also, I didn’t include staple pantry items like salt, pepper, olive oil, etc., or herbs from my garden in my costs). Here’s my menu:

Breakfast

  1. Bircher muesli with apple, cinnamon and almonds
  2. Oatmeal with dried apricots
  3. Tofu scramble taco

I’ve written about oatmeal before and how incredibly inexpensive it can be. It’s a staple in our diet, especially in winter when it’s warm and comforting. It’s also delicious in summer as a cold Bircher muesli. Since it was the end of summer when I did this experiment, I made both.

Lunch

  1. Pasta with kale, mushrooms and cannellini beans
  2. Green salad with baked tofu and roasted broccoli
  3. Chilled broccoli and potato soup (this uses up the stems, which cost less and taste great)

Dinner

  1. Beans, greens and cornbread
  2. Spinach enchiladas with rice and beans
  3. Gazpacho soup

Here’s my shopping list:

1 lb. bulk oats — $2

1 apple — $0.40

20 bulk raw almonds — $0.87

10 dried bulk apricots — $0.57

1 package firm organic tofu — $2.45

6 whole wheat tortillas — $2.69

1 quart almond milk — $4.25

1 package farfalloni pasta — $3.27

2 lbs. kale — $6

1 lb. bulk mushrooms — $5

2 cans cannellini beans — $2

2 heads lettuce — $4

2 heads broccoli, with stems — $3.75

1 large potato — $0.90

1 lb. bulk pinto beans — $3.58

2 cups bulk corn meal — $3.22

2 heads spinach — $2.87

1 lb. bulk rice — $2.25

1 lb. tomatoes — $3.25

1 cucumber — $1.83

1 red onion — $0.87

1 bell pepper — $2

Total: $58.02

Feeding two people for what would amount to a little over $200 a month is an interesting idea to me, and definitely a quick way to pay off any major debts you want to get rid of. But if I had the chance to do it again I probably wouldn’t. It’s actually amazing the flexibility and flavor that just an additional $20 a week spent on groceries affords. Still, it was interesting to see what I could manage to do without drastically changing our diets or going hungry.

A few things to keep in mind if you want to see how little you can spend at the grocery store.

1. Fresh Vegetables Are Your Friends

Variety is the spice of life, and there’s no better way to add variety to your diet than to buy seasonal produce, which is typically cheaper than out-of-season items shipped in from other parts of the world. It’s also a great way to experiment with new recipes and ingredients. Plus, all that roughage can help fill you up, as can the big shot of nutrients fresh veggies provide.

2. Protein & The Basics

If you want to save a ton of money, you’re going to need to rely on basics like legumes and rice that will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck, especially when it comes to protein. Animal proteins are just significantly more expensive.

3. Take Advantage of Coupons & Discounts

I wasn’t able to use coupons for my experiment because they were all for prepared or packaged foods the week I did this. That said, some planning ahead and stocking up on staples with a good shelf life can save you a bundle.

4. Buy in Bulk

Not only are you able to get the exact amount you need, thus cutting down on possible waste, you’re also not paying for the packaging and marketing of that product, so the per unit cost is always less.

If you’re serious about saving money, having a good credit score can help immensely. Your credit can affect your ability to get the best terms and conditions on a mortgage, auto loan or even student loans and credit cards. You can see how your credit scores are faring by checking your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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9 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Save Money in the Kitchen

save-money-cooking-meals

If you’ve ever tracked how much money you’re spending each month, you’ll know that one of the biggest categories you can overspend on is food. In this day and age, we love our modern conveniences. But things like pre-packaged convenience foods, going out to eat and just not planning ahead when you go to the grocery store can wreak havoc on your monthly spending.

I’m the mother of 7 kids, and I have been a stay-at-home mom for the past 17 years. One of the ways that we have been able to afford to do this is by cutting corners in the kitchen. Here are some of our favorite tricks.

1. Don’t Wash Produce Until You’re Ready to Use It

Did you know that if you wash your produce it won’t last as long? There’s nothing worse than opening the produce drawer to find the strawberries you were going to use slimy and moldy. Instead of washing it when you get home, just stick it in the refrigerator in the packaging that it came in. This will prevent bacteria from growing prematurely, and will help you to not waste that food that you spent your hard-earned money on.

2. Ditch the Paper Products

Why use paper products when you can use the real deal?  Instead of using paper towels and paper napkins, we use cloth napkins, dish rags and dish towels. We just throw them in the laundry and reuse them as needed. We rarely use paper plates either, unless we have a large gathering of friends come over for a meal.

3. Shop at the Less Expensive Grocery Store

In our area, we find that Aldi has the lowest prices on most everything. But in other areas, you may find that it’s a different store. Take some time to compare prices on the products you use the most. For an easy way to do this, make a list of your most-used grocery items, and then visit each of the stores and write down the prices at those stores. You’ll find the grocery store where you should be doing most of your business quite easily.

4. Eat Leftovers

If you don’t get into the habit of eating your leftovers, you’re leaving money on the table. You could take them to work for lunch, serve them to the kids, freeze them as TV dinners or recycle them into a whole different meal (like a roast into beef stew). Whatever you do, don’t waste that food! For me, I like to make a Crockpot Freezer Meal and get my husband a portion out for tomorrow before I feed everyone else. That way, we’re guaranteed to have a little bit left over.

5. Re-use Foil, Baggies & Old Food Containers

If you regularly use these items, you may want to try this little trick to save money in the kitchen. I grew up watching my mom do this, and know that if I need to cut corners, these conveniences are one of the first to go.

6. Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent

Have you ever tried making your own dishwasher detergent? You can make it using ingredients you can find at the grocery store. Making your own is like paying pennies on the dollar for dishwasher detergent.

Try this recipe:

1/2 c citric acid OR LemiShine
1/2 c non-iodized salt
1 c borax
1 c washing soda

Mix together well, and use 3 tbsp per load. Be sure to use vinegar in the rinse compartment.

7. Buy Store Brands

Store brands are typically canned, boxed or jarred in the same factories as the more expensive name brands. They typically taste the same, too. Try switching out some of your nonessential name brands for the much cheaper store brands and see if you notice a difference.

8. Meal Plan

If you go into a store without a plan, you’ll come out spending a whole lot more money than you were planning. Be sure to make your meal plan at least a week at a time so you’re not making several trips to the grocery store throughout the week. If you think you don’t have time, I already have a One Week Freezer to Slow Cooker Menu that you can try out for free, so no excuses allowed! When you plan your meals regularly, you save yourself a lot of money. It means you eat out less and eat less boxed and convenience foods, which in turn saves you money.

9. Buy Food in Bulk

There’s certain foods that it pays to buy in bulk. You can find food at drastically reduced prices by watching the sales circulars, shopping the big box stores (like Sam’s Club and Costco) and by using coupons strategically. For our family, we buy our ground beef from a local farmer, our produce and canned goods from Aldi, and our cheese, peanut butter and other dairy products at Sam’s Club. We save $1.50 to $2 a pound by buying our cheese in this way. It really does pay to watch the prices at more than one store and to continually check back for sales.

I hope my tips on saving money in the kitchen pay off for you as much they have for me.

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

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A Butcher’s 6 Secrets for Saving Money on Meat

butcher_shop

When I think about thrift and meat — specifically in the U.S., but increasingly in areas like Europe — the first thing that comes to mind is the devotion folks have to tenderness. This tends to be the Holy Grail quality people look for in meat.

To me, this is a backwards approach to quantifying the quality of meat.

What we really should focus on is the flavor of meat. Meat — literally, the muscle tissue, fibers, etc. — has very little inherent flavor. (Most of the flavor we experience when eating meat comes from the fats in and around the muscle fibers.) The flavor that does exist in muscle tissue develops, mainly, from two things: activity and older age. Tenderness comes, mainly, from two things: confinement and younger age. I think you can see which one plays into the hand of the commercial meat industry. As they produce animals that grow faster and faster, they get them to market weight quicker and quicker, but the result is lackluster flavor.

What we are forgetting is that you can address the issue of texture (tenderness) postmortem (after death). You can never infuse more of the meat’s natural flavor into the meat postmortem. If we began focusing on developing flavor in living animals, we could still achieve desirable tenderness for an end product. But, it would turn the current industry approach on its head. (Not that that would be a bad thing.)

I should also add that, contrary to popular belief, the meat from older animals is not inherently undesirable in texture. I address this in many of my workshops.

I bring all of this up because there is an irony in how meat is priced in this country. You pay more for tenderness, but the more affordable cuts are, more often than not, the more flavorful options. Thus, if you know what to do with a cut, you’ll get more for your dollar while also producing more flavorful meals.

Here are my tips for using these factors to your favor when it comes to spending less on meat.

1. First and foremost, eat less meat & eat more vegetables.

Nothing cuts down on the expense of meat in our food budgets like reducing our intake. Meat is often the most expensive ingredient we purchase. It’s also the one that we overindulge in more than anything else (except sugar). We eat far more meat than our bodies require, impacting our health as well as the resources that sustain the animals.

When considering a portion size, choose 4 to 6 ounces. Move away from the large format single-portion cuts, like thick-cut chops and steaks. Instead, share them amongst multiple people, or purchase cuts that allow for smaller individual portions.

Fill the vacated space on the plate with vegetables, and cook them in healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, or lards and tallows rendered from healthy animals. The vegetables will provide you with more nutrients, and the fat helps you feel sated longer without the digestive stress that large amounts of meat can cause.

2. Purchase whole animals whenever possible. 

Photo courtesy of Adam Danforth

Adam Danforth holds a chicken for slaughter.
Photo courtesy of Adam Danforth

When you purchase a whole animal you are saving a considerable cost based on the direct connection to the farmer. You cut out a large portion of the overhead and middleman costs attached to meat while giving as much money to the farmer as possible. You also know more about where that meat has come from, if that concerns you.

Smaller animals, like poultry or rabbits, are purchased whole and easily butchered at home. Larger animals, like sheep, pigs, or cattle, can be purchased as whole, half, or sometimes quarter carcasses. The carcass is butchered into manageable, recognizable cuts, then frozen for home storage.

Furthermore, whole animals offer an opportunity to work with foundational cooking components that are otherwise unavailable or more expensive when purchasing stand-alone. This includes bones and fat, two of the most important ingredients in nutrient-rich and flavorful cooking. Turning bones into stock is quite easy, and rendering fat, which can take some time to refine (no pun intended), are both worth the passive time.

Now, just because we can buy a whole animal does not automatically mean that it is sourced from local farmers. When we look to smaller animals, like poultry and rabbits, the vast majority are coming off of commercial operations. In that case, it’s good to look for some measure of production quality, whether it be humane certification — Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) are two good ones — or plainly organic. Even in these cases, buying whole carcasses is still a benefit, and those animals require very little butchery to get what you want out of them. (Breaking down a chicken can be done with most home knives and learned from the vast amount of videos available online.) Even if you choose to roast the animal whole, you can keep the carcass bones and make a roasted stock from them.

If you’re further interested in bones, fat and organs, approaching a local processor can often yield super cheap results, since so many customers of theirs choose not to take them. And, the smaller processors often don’t have the infrastructure to keep them around, so they just head to rendering companies.

3. Avoid the middle meats & skip the tenderloin.

In America, most of the money made off a carcass is from an area called the middle meats — the span of meat along the spine from somewhere around the 5th rib to the pelvis. Common cuts from here are in the rib, center-cut, and loin chops in pork; the ribeye, porterhouse, T-bone and New York strip steaks in beef; and the rib, rack, loin and saddle chops in sheep.

Instead of these more expensive and less flavorful cuts, look to areas just outside the middle meats for cuts that can potentially offer more flavor. In pork and lamb, look for shoulder chops. In beef, look to chuck, Delmonico or sirloin steaks. They may take a bit longer to cook, at a lower temperature, but the results will be more flavor and less cost.

And, above all else, skip tenderloin. It’s the most expensive cut, pound for pound, and it’s also the least flavorful.

4. Learn how to braise and roast. 

The most flavorful cuts are those that have worked the hardest. (Refer to my earlier point on what develops flavor in living animals.) These cuts are often the ones that require lengthier, slower cooking times. Think: shanks, hocks, brisket, breasts, drumsticks, etc. These cuts break down during the cooking time to provide an unctuous sauce (part of the benefit of collagen’s hydrolyzation into gelatin) that will enrich any dish; the vegetables that are cooked with it will provide more nutrients; and any recipe will offer ways to extend it far beyond that of a quick-cooking single-portion cut (like steaks or chops).

Because they aren’t quick-cooking or grilling cuts, or famous middle-meat cuts, the cost of braising and roasting cuts are often much less.

5. Purchase older or dual-purpose animals.

This can be a bit more challenging to find, but availability is increasing around the country, albeit slowly. Older animals tend to be eschewed based on a stigma that they have poor texture and “gamey” flavor, but given the right husbandry and postmortem conditions, older animals can provide a better product than their younger counterparts and at a far more affordable cost. This also goes for dual-purpose animals: livestock that has been raised for reasons other than exclusively meat, e.g. dairy, fiber, offspring, etc.

One way to source these animals is to find a reputable wool or dairy operation and inquire about what they do with their cull animals, the ones that they are getting rid of at the end of a season. In these cases you’ll probably end up purchasing a whole or half carcass (note tip No. 2 above), which may further reduce the cost.

6. Find a knowledgeable butcher, and trust them. 

Most recipes offer a suggested meat to work with, but in many cases it’s not the only option. Talk to your butcher about cheaper alternatives that can yield similar, if not better, results. Also, ask your butcher about what cheaper cuts they recommend, and some guidance in how to prepare them according to your level of cooking. Your search can start here or here.

[Editor’s note: Strictly adhering to a budget plan, especially on your groceries, will allow you to eventually start saving money, pay down bills,consolidate debt and reach your financial goals. A sound management plan can also efficiently subsidize your food budget plan for alleviating debt. If you’re cutting spending to pay down debt and want to see how it’s impacting your credit, you can get two free credit scores every month on Credit.com.]

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

More Money-Saving Reads:

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13 Ways Breakfast Could Help You Fix Your Money Problems

eating_cereal

Sure, there are “morning people,” but for the rest of us, getting up, getting dressed and getting out the door to work is pretty much just a giant hassle every morning.

Figuring out what to eat on top of that? Pffft. That drive-thru on the way to the office is looking pretty good.

Americans spend $47 billion each year on fast-food breakfasts, according to 2014 figures from brokerage firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. And a recent New York Times story reported that almost 40% of millennials surveyed said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.

Cereal? Really? The original convenience food is no longer convenient because of dishes?

Seriously, if you’re wanting to save money – toward a new home, car, emergency fund or paying off your student loans or credit card debt – not wanting to wash some dishes is costing you, and not just a little. If you spend $3 each weekday on coffee, that adds up to $780 a year. That $4 egg sandwich twice a week? $416.

There’s a cheaper, easier and healthier way to go about getting your morning fuel. It takes a little advanced planning, but you can eat well, plus save time and money in the mornings. Here are 13 ways to do that.

1. Eat the Cereal

Even the expensive $4-plus boxes of cereal are still one of the cheapest breakfast options around. If you’re really too lazy or busy to wash a bowl and a spoon, spend a little more and buy some disposables – that you can recycle.

2. Make Your Own Coffee

Seriously. It’s not hard, and you can probably get better quality beans anyway. Plus, you can make it just as you like it.

3. Just Juice It

If you can’t start your day without a liquid sugar hit, squeeze your own juice at home. It’s easy and inexpensive (if you choose the right fruits!) and you can do it the night before and keep it in the refrigerator in a travel mug ready to grab and go.

4. Go for Value Menus

If you have to eat out, try to find a breakfast spot with extra-cheap alternatives.

5. Prepare Breakfasts in Advance & Freeze

There are literally dozens of options here. Making pancakes on Saturday? Double the batch, cook and freeze. Pop a couple of pancakes in the toaster come Monday morning and BAM! You have breakfast in 1 minute.

6. Take Advantage of Breakfast Meetings

If you’re in a position to do so, plan or attend breakfast meetings where your company buys the coffee and pastries, breakfast tacos or donuts. Everyone wins.

7. Hotels With Free Breakfasts

If you’re traveling, breakfast can be crazy expensive, especially at the hotel — $30 for room service is crazy, as is the $20 buffet downstairs. Look for hotels with free breakfast options when traveling. Even if you can expense your meals, it could free you up to spend a bit more of your per diem on dinner.

8. Buy Ready-Made Breakfasts at the Grocery Store

If you don’t cook, you can still save money by stocking up on pre-made breakfast items like muffins, biscuits and sausage or breakfast burritos (and if you have a coupon, bonus!). Pop in the microwave, grab and go. And unlike that pesky, inconvenient cereal, there’s no bowl or spoon to wash.

9. Eat Your Fruit!

Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes. They’re nature’s individually wrapped convenience foods. They’re inexpensive and they’re great alone or paired with one of the above options, or a hard boiled egg, peanut butter – any number of options await you.

10. Cold Pizza – There’s Nothing Wrong With Leftovers!

Have some leftover pot roast? Wrap it in a tortilla with some cheese and you’ve got a quick, protein-rich breakfast taco. Mac and cheese? Why not? Who says breakfast has to be, well, breakfast?

11. Bubble & Squeak

The Brits totally get the concept of using leftovers for breakfast. Toss it all in a pan with some potatoes (you can use eggs if you like), fry it all up and “Bob’s your uncle!”

12. Freeze-Ahead Smoothie Bags

If you want to be an overachiever in the breakfast category, buy some freezer bags and fill them with your favorite fruits, veggies, chia seeds, flax, whatever and freeze. Dump in the blender, add protein powder and the milk or juice of your choice and breakfast is served.

13. Day-Old Pastries

If you live near a decent bakery or grocery with a bakery counter, check out what time they start discounting their pastries. Some places offer them at half-price in the afternoons. You can stock up and freeze ahead your breakfast for several days at a pretty tidy savings.

Remember, saving money can help you pay off your debt, but can also build a good credit score. And a good credit score can help you save on interest when it comes to credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and other financing. (You can check your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

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How to Eat Your Veggies Instead of Letting Them Rot

veggies

Happy 2016! It’s a new year, and that means it’s time to lie to ourselves about our futures and our deeply ingrained bad habits. Just kidding, just kidding, it’s time to attempt meaningful steps toward a better life. Or at least towards just replacing your sponges more often.

My resolution style has always been pretty grounded and granular. The sorts of sweeping self-betterment resolutions I hear others make (“Lose 20 pounds!” “Meet my future spouse!” “Stop being so angry all the time, you know? *sips Pinot Grigio*”) just make me break out in pressure-hives. I try to aim for small, achievable resolutions. Like a puppy being trained to pee outdoors, I need to be set up to win.

So this year, one of my bite-sized resolutions is to eat more vegetables. Like, actually eat them. Not just buy them, tuck them away, then toss them in the garbage when they’ve grown arms or started to resemble something more hamster-like than leafy green.

My usual routine goes a little like this: I buy a lot of produce in a delusional fit of self-betterment, then allow it to rot in the fridge while I order pineapple fried rice in defeat. It’s a double waste of money and I’ve decided that 2016 is the year when the madness stops.

So here are the strategies I’ve been using and so far, so good.

1. Put Vegetables in a Flat Row On the Top Shelf of the Fridge

I don’t know about you, but the crisper is where I get into trouble. What goes on in that crisper? Certainly not crisping, in my experience. It’s got some dastardly, wrinkle-oriented agenda that causes my eggplants to age and my lemons to grow textured Justin Vernon-esque beards. But even if there’s no sinister plot afoot in there, at the very least it simply hides away my food. And anything my idiot brain doesn’t see immediately upon flinging open the fridge door may as well not exist.

2. Admit You Don’t Like Cooking Something

You know what I never want to prepare for myself? Peppers. I don’t know why! I appreciate the way they taste, I enjoy eating them in restaurants, I like to gaze upon elegant oil paintings of their likenesses. But when it comes to my own cooking, they’re just not in the mix. Society pressures me to buy them, with visions of fresh Greek salads I’ll never make dancing in my head. I don’t eat hummus; I’m never dipping peppers in it. I know this now. So I’ve stopped buying them and you know what, Oprah Magazine, I don’t feel badly about it.

3. Stop Being Fooled by ‘Value Packs’ 

You know they’re positioning the tomatoes under the cellophane to specifically hide the rotting parts. Just accept it. Pay the extra 20 cents and pick the produce yourself.

4. Go Grocery Shopping More Often

The store is like three blocks away. Stop thinking of it as a big horrible chore, during which you stock up on dumb crap like some sort of camo-clad apocalypse prepper. Instead, you could be like one of those glorious, silk-scarf-clad Parisian women who stops by the “market” every day for the freshest of fresh ingredients. Just start going more, and buying less each time. That seems to be how the science of “not having produce go bad” works. Just trust me here. After all, I did come in third place in my grammar school science fair because my non-functioning robot prototype elicited the pity vote.

5. Not Into Recipes? Just Do What You Want

Listen, I live alone. I can do all the weird behavior I want, and that extends to cooking. I used to get overwhelmed by preparing my own meals because I’d get wrapped up in recipes. Lemon-rubbed tilapia, pasta carbonara … you know, like, salads … it was all too much. So now I’m trying this recipe I invented myself, which goes “cut up vegetables, sauté in pan, consume while warm.” That’s all I really need, turns out. Bonus: Eat your dish out of a mug because your plates are all dirty! Baby steps, ya know; 2017 can be the year I develop a more effective dish-washing system.

If I’m eating vegetables every day of 2016, so can you. You’re so much smarter than me! Go forth and eat fresh! Whoops, that’s a Subway slogan!

This post originally appeared on TheBillfold. This story is an Op/Ed contribution and does not necessarily represent the views of Credit.com or its partners.

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6 Ways to Cut Your Food Costs & Still Eat Healthy

veggies

Holiday season is heating up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start on your New Year’s resolutions. Besides getting control of your finances, you probably want to eat healthier. More than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, while obesity among school children is still too high. Not only is that an unhealthy way to live, it can put a strain on bank account. Here are six habits you can try to turn your lifestyle around.

1. Join a CSA

Community Supported Agriculture asks members to pay upfront, but once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of seasonal fruit and vegetables — direct from local farms — at a lower cost than grocery stores. You’d be amazed at how much fresher the produce tastes, too.

2. Get a Slow Cooker

Not only are they convenient — put ingredients in the pot in the morning, and dinner’s ready by the time you come home — they can easily save your family hundreds of dollars a year. As Trent Hamm writes in U.S. News and World Report Money, “it’s pretty easy to assemble a slow cooker meal for all of us for less than $2 per meal.” You can make cooking stock, batches of oatmeal and the list goes on and on. The key is making use of leftovers.

3. Repurpose Meats

Another way to make use of leftovers? Finding ways to repurpose them, over and over. Whether it’s making a turkey sandwich from a Thanksgiving-style feast or adding last night’s brisket to this morning’s quesadilla, you’ll begin to look at leftovers differently and think twice about going out.

4. Plan Ahead

Prepping dinner in the morning sounds like extra work, but it also means being less likely to run out to the store for any last-minute purchases or leave ingredients to rot in the fridge. You can make a list of what you need for next week’s meals, and potentially stop wasting groceries (plus the money you would have spent on them) for good.

5. Don’t Shop Hungry

The old advice still holds true: When you’re hungry, you end up buying more than you need. The rule applies to regular shopping as well, according to a study at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Said Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor of marketing: People “may spend more money online or in a store if they’re hungry while they shop.”

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