3 Tips on How to Eat Well and Stay Financially Independent

We’ve all been there.  Friday night dinner.  Do we stay home and eat the leftover rice and chicken, or do we hop to the nearest Oliver Garden and partake in their unlimited soup and salad menu (that’s still a thing, right?), or do we try that new recipe from Martha Stewart (also still a thing, right?) which involves 20 ingredients and 15 different spices?

Food is sustenance and a commodity, but it’s also an expense, and a very complicated one at that.  Richard Branson once said that when he became a billionaire, he calculated how many times he could afford to go out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, for every day until his natural death.  In his estimation, he felt he became “rich” when he calculated that he could go out for every meal for every single day for the rest of his life.  In other words, he measured his vast net worth through food.

Notice that I have not yet mentioned the word “healthy”  or “organic” anywhere.  This is because you don’t need Whole Foods to eat well.  You don’t need organic to eat well.  You don’t need gluten-free to eat well (unless you have celiac disease, in which case you do need it, but fortunately that’s only a very small part of the population).

3 Tips on How to Eat Well and Stay Financially Independent

Financial independence requires frugality in many aspects of life, both before becoming FI and after becoming FI.  However, frugal does not mean that you should not enjoy food and have a feast every so often (whether home-cooked or going out).  We spend about $300 on food (including eating out) every month, and we get more than enough food, both in sustenance and nutrition.  Here are tips on how to shop better for food and also utilize restaurants more efficiently.

French Toast
French Toast – done right

1.) The Buy-One-Get-One-Free Shopper

I don’t have a source to back this up, but I’m pretty sure the Buy One-Get One Free (BOGO) discount originated in America.  I grew up in Europe and never saw this type of deal while growing up.  However, I am not merely suggesting here to pick a few BOGO deals you like and go on your merry way.  No, the BOGO shopper ONLY buys items that are BOGO.  In other words, if you want to make a chicken stew, but the boneless pork chops are on sale, guess what? Start looking for pork chop recipes and put those bad boys into your cart.  Forget coupons.  This is an easy and fantastic way to save you a ton of money.  And how much money, exactly? Here’s a rough estimate:

Suppose you buy a BOGO of ground turkey.  That usually costs $4 at our local Winn-Dixie/Publix.  One pack of ground turkey (1 lb, or 16 oz, or half a kilo) is enough to make about 8 burritos/tacos, or 4 meals.  Let’s say you add some salsa, beans and shredded cheese to those burritos, which is another $4 dollars more in your budget.  The total cost is therefore $8.  That comes out to $1 per meal.  Now divide that by half (because of the bogo), and you get $0.50 per meal!  That is an amazing value meal.

2.) Strategic Meal Shopper

Food at Biltmore, North Carolina
Don’t go into Feast Mode every week

If your store doesn’t do BOGO deals (gasp), then become an SMS, Strategic Meal Shopper.  Only make meals with the highest value per meal (VPM).  Let’s take a look at one of the meals with the highest VPM – risotto, a classic Italian dish.

Ingredients for a simple risotto are: rice (which is cheap), chicken (a pound is enough), peas ($1-2 for 1lb.), and mushrooms ($2-3 for one package).  Throw in a little bit of butter, and that’s it.  The total cost of this meal is about $10:

Rice ($1)

Mushrooms ($3)

Peas ($2)

Chicken (1lb – $4)

You can easily churn out 6 meals out of this.  Therefore, you’re paying $1.60 per meal.  That’s very hard to beat.

What are some other dishes with high VPMs?

Soups and stews  – great because you just put in chicken or beef broth ($2-3 for 32 oz. or 4 cups), add some veggies, some protein, and it will last for a few days

Pastas – No-brainer.  A pound of pasta is $1-2, and adding tomatoes and maybe some protein will set you back less than $10 for at least 4-6 meals.

Casseroles – Mix of pasta, ground beef/turkey, shredded cheese.




3. Exploit Huge Restaurant Portions

I grew up in Europe (I mentioned that already, right?) and when we went to a restaurant (very rarely, but it did happen sometimes), when you ordered a meal for yourself, it was a meal for one person.  It satisfied you without being too much, and that was that.  Imagine my surprise when our family moved to Florida, and the first time we ordered a meal in a restaurant.  I think it was an Olive Garden or something, and I initially thought they gave me the wrong order.  I ordered a fettuccine alfredo pasta, and while expecting a European style plate, I received a humongous plate with probably a pound of pasta in it and enough milk and cream to feed a village.

Burrito Bowl
Yeah, this will feed more than one person.

When me and Ruby go out, we usually order one adult entree and share it amongst ourselves.  No matter which restaurant you go to in the US, 95% will have huge servings that are far too big for one person.  I am convinced that a family of four could easily be satisfied with two adult entrees.  For a couple, one adult entree is enough in most places.  Also consider the fact that some restaurants offer bread as a free appetizer.  If a restaurant offers you bread, please put down that appetizer menu! The bread is the appetizer!  Same with dessert.  Desserts are sweet and sugary.  You know what else is sweet and sugary? Sweet tea/lemonade/soda.  If you consider your sweet drink as dessert (and they are usually free refills), then you not only save money, but also save calories, and you satisfy your sweet tooth.  So, to review, for a family of four:

Appetizer – complimentary bread

Dessert – your drink

Two adult entrees

For four people, you’re looking at a bill of about $50, including tax, for this type of dinner at a restaurant.  Not bad at all!

The only obstacle to this is that when we are hungry, we think we are more hungry than we really are.  Your stomach grumbles, and so most people tend to scoff at the idea of sharing a plate, even a big one.  I know this, because it has happened to us on various occasions.  Get hungry, order two plates, and then we can’t finish them.  You have to suppress the thought that you’re starving, and just realize that hunger will be satisfied just fine with a normal portion instead of a gigantor.

Blueberry Cheesecake
Resist! Resist!

Summary

There are various ways to save money on food in your life, both in the kitchen and also eating out.  Utilizing buy-one-get-one free deals, cooking certain meals with low cost and high value, and sharing entrees at restaurants will save you money and make you appreciate food more.

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