Frank: How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
FOR ONE. LAST. TIME.
At the moment, my parents pay for the food in return for me doing all the cooking. This is a good arrangement. HOWEVER, I have lived on very, very, very broke, and I’ll give you my ten best tips:
1. Racism and classism cost money. Basmati rice is $3.99 for a 1-lb bag at Fresh Market, the upscale and very white “nice” grocery store. Star anise is $5.99 for a teeny bottle with four stars in it. BETTER Basmati rice is $11.99 for a TEN POUND bag at the Pan-Asian market in a shittier neighborhood fifteen minutes away, and star anise is 89 cents for a baggie of a dozen really fresh ones at the Tienda. Oh, and blood, marrow, fish heads, and organ meat are amazingly flavorful, nutritious, go a long way, and are usually dirt cheap.
2. Buy in bulk. Get that 10lb bag of rice, the 50lb sack of flour, the 3 gallon jug of cooking oil. FIND places to keep it, even if it’s under your bed. It’ll save you so much money. (If possible, find a co-op or natural food store that lets you buy in ACTUAL package-free bulk…it can be even cheaper sometimes)
3. Make your own bread. It really doesn’t take hardly any time once you get used to it (you can do it during the commercials of your favorite show), it’s better for you, tastes better, fills you up quicker, and it’s like 20-30 cents a loaf.
4. Pay attention to Craig’s List for people giving away excess produce and keep an eye on people in your area who may have fruit or nut trees, even if you live in an urban or semi-urban area. When it starts bearing heavily, many people are all too eager to get rid of the proceeds for free.
5. Learn how to preserve and store food. Not canning - that takes equipment that costs money. Drying, salting, smoking, freezing, candying, etc. People been doing this shit for centuries. That way when someone offers you sixteen pumpkins left over after Halloween or three big grocery sacks of zucchini or cabbage is 19 cents a pound, you can say yes.
6. Processed shit costs more money. Even ramen…oatmeal and rice and bulk-bought pasta are cheaper. Cook with whole foods and simple ingredients. Get your flavor from spices, chilis, and vinegars -which are dirt-ass cheap if you buy them from “ethnic” sources - not from expensive fats and meats and sugars and mixes. Stop and consider how much your “cheap” junk food really costs…those potato chips? That’s a 1oz bag for a dollar. They’re SIXTEEN DOLLARS A POUND. Most places, that’s more than LOBSTER. Or, y’know, a 5lb bag of potatoes for a buck. How’d you think Dick Roman was raking in so much money?
7. Make big batches of things and freeze individual servings in baggies or bowls, then you have your own microwave dinners and only have to cook once or twice a week…or once or twice a month if you plan well.
8. Keep a zippy bag of nuts and dried fruit in your pocket or car. It’ll help keep you from buying stupidly expensive impulse food because you’re kinda munchy or having a blood sugar or protein crash.
9. Get all the local coupons, fliers, and special announcements from your local grocery stores and spread them out once a week, then make a menu and a shopping list that takes advantage of good prices and treat it like the fucking Word of God…but then add two bucks to buy yourself whatever catches your eye. If you feel like you can splurge on that single-serve Ben and Jerry’s, you’re less likely to impulse buy the $6.99 quart of Breyers.
10. Use less but better. A tablespoon of 6.99/lb quite nice bleu cheese from Trader Joes adds more flavor to a pot of pasta than an entire 4oz bag of 1.99 mild cheddar shreds…and in the end you’re spending 21 cents instead of $2 on the cheese for that dish. Chicken thighs are more flavorful than breasts. You don’t need THAT much meat. Molasses more flavorful than brown sugar, etc.
Yes, I know that this stuff seems intimidating. And it DOES take some learning. But the knowledge is out there for free, and once you DO learn it, you’ll discover it actually is healthier, cheaper, tastier, and faster. That whole idea that it’s oh so time consuming to cook for real or that you need a massive kitchen is bullshit. I’ve baked bread in a rice cooker on my bedside table using one bowl and while watching a movie. Brittany and I lived for three months in a semi-urban area on $80 worth of food plus what we could forage and barter, cooking with only a crock pot, a rice cooker, and a hot pot and six milk crates as our pantry shelves. And our friends envied our meals all over our Facebook posts. It can be done. Illiterate six year olds in hellish conditions in developing countries do it. So can you.