The Treat Yo Self Guide to Cooking on a Budget

13 Feb

One of my 2014 goals has been to cook more, in order to eat healthier, practice the skill of making edible food for the human beings who may someday depend on me for it, and – of course – save money. On that last one, I’ve found that the trick may actually be somewhat counterintuitive. Rather than forcing yourself into annoying and unnecessary austerity measures, you can save surprising amounts of money by actually being a little bit more extravagant when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking. 

In other words, TREAT YO SELF!

Allow me to explain how this can work.

1. Buy a lot of shit, part 1: I always feel like I’m outsmarting the system when I see something that’s $2 for 5, or something and I don’t fall for the deal. I’m like, “whatever I’m never going to eat two hunks of cheese so I’m actually saving myself $2.50 instead of 30 cents. TAKE THAT, MARKETING PLOY!” But in reality, falling for those deals and filling up your grocery cart with a bit more can definitely save you money if you are smart about freezing things. Bread products are especially great with this, I find – I’ll buy a big thing of mini-bagels from Whole Foods, freeze them, and roll them out 3 or 5 at a time so that I can eat one for breakfast several days in a row. 

This is essentially just buying in bulk. Obviously it’s a thing. But the reason it’s especially good for young people who are tempted to eat out all the time is because I think it can get exhausting “trying” to finish all your groceries before they go bad. You feel like you’re racing against the mold clock and you experience a backlash and you eat out 4 days in a row. Freezing some of what you buy can take off that pressure.

2. Buy a lot of shit, part 2: The other obstacle to regular cooking – and therefore, enticement to eat out – is not having things on hand when you make a last-minute decision to make dinner. So the smart – yet counterintuitive – thing to do is to buy extra food that you don’t plan on cooking that week, because that rushed grocery trip always fucks up the schedule and it becomes easier just to order in. Even though I can be super cheap at the grocery store, I’m trying to make it a habit to throw down a few extra dollars for a 2nd box of pasta or quinoa just so that I have it as a backup. 

3. It’s okay to be a lazy ass! No one expects you to reinvent the wheel. Sure, it’s better to whip up everything from scratch, but it’s probably better to milk your own cows too and that sure as hell isn’t happening. Don’t feel like you aren’t allowed to buy frozen food, mixes, pre-seasoned items, etc. It’s okay! You’re still saving money, and keeping yourself sane, too.

4.Wine on and shine on. No really! If the food didn’t come out well, or you just kind of wish you were at Chipotle, or you’re sad to be eating alone, or whatever, pouring a glass of wine can help you  feel like you’re not just eating the evening/weekend version of a sad desk lunch.

5. Treat yourself to a good time! This may be the most important (or at least it feels kinda deep and important): treat cooking as a fun activity rather than a chore! I’ve come to enjoy it, scheduling it into my day day as a way to decompress. It’s also, frankly, a more constructive way to kill time than watching TV. If you enjoy cooking – even if you’re not great at it – you’ll start to look forward to eating at home, rather than seeing it as some sort of New Years’ resolution-imposed punishment. 

Happy cooking!

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