Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half by Annette and Steve Economides

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as my family of 6 eats on $6/day (or at least shoots for that range).

In their book, Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half , Annette and Steve Economides (yeah, that's their real name; I know; I was surprised too) share ways that their family of 7 eats on the very cheap.

These people are pretty amazing. They eat on $350/month and with that feed five children who are, gasp, teenagers. This is impressive, even to me. Teenagers are one of those things that frighten me. I believe all husbands should be handed to you with a label stamped: "Warning: Teenagers may ensue." Of course no one would pay attention. It's just one of those things that seems so far away when the nurse hands you a tight little wad of pink baby. Anyway, that is not what this book is about. It is about eating on the cheap, even when teenagers (yikes) are involved.

So, how do they do it? I was really excited to find out. I knew I wouldn't cut my grocery bill in half, but I hoped to shave off an extra $20 or so.

The book gave good solid advice:
Learn to cook.
Plan your meals.
Shop less frequently.
Shop only a few stores.
Buy stuff on sale and store it.
Use coupons when you can, but don't worry about going crazy if it's sucking all your time.
Plant a garden if you can.

They also had recipes in the back--some I wanted to try and some I didn't. Which seemed really real family/real food to me and I liked that.

Additionally, they gave advice about what appliances might be the most useful to a cheapskate, ideas about when to go new or used with things like kitchen appliances, and how to make the most of your food money in that way.

Some of this was valuable, if just for reminder's sake. However, the problem with good solid advice is that it tends not to be the freshest thing you've ever heard. Generally speaking it was stuff I'm already doing. Generally speaking it's not stuff I feel people need a book to know. Generally speaking, people already know, for example, that to save money they need to plan their meals. They just don't.

When you got into the nitty gritty, you got some tips that were a little fresher, but they were also significantly more difficult and in my case at least, significantly less appealing. Which isn't to say they were bad suggestions. I thought they were good suggestions. They just passed a threshhold and went into the zone of things I was usually unable or unwilling to do.

Here were a few of the more intense money-saving ideas:
-Grind your own meat. I concede that I'm just so uninterested in doing this, that I just won't. I don't doubt that it will save you money and I bet it tastes fantastic. I just won't do it, but I imagine some will.
-Shop once a month with a mid-month pit-stop for more produce. This is not a bad suggestion and I do do this on a small scale (1 or 2 big shopping trips, with small weekly ones thrown in for milk or produce), but one advantage of teenagers (hurray, there is one) versus small children is that it's just not reasonable for me to give up 4 hours (and that's after the planning and coupon clipping) to do a major major shopping trip each month. I could hire a babysitter or choose an afternoon Kip would be home, but I do not want to. If you're a young (okay, young-ish) at-home mother, you will understand that you don't want your "me" time to be spent in a Walmart. It's just more reasonable to take my kids with me on shorter, but more frequent trips. They learn (sure they do--they learn to beg for disgusting otter pops, that's what they learn); I survive; and the faster I get out of the store, the better it is for all. In this way, they do keep my spending checked. If allowed to wander alone through the aisle of the store, who knows what might happen. I'd probably come home with an elephant to butcher and then grind up in our new meat grinder or something.
-Take one day a month to prepare a significant amount of your food and then freeze it. They prepare about 15-20 or their meals ahead of time and freeze them. Wow. It takes a whole day to do and a chest freezer to store it, but then it's done. Again, this isn't a bad suggestion, but with small children it's tougher to do. Also (and again), I don't want to. It struck me as a suggestion that would be awesome for people who don't really like to cook, or who don't like to cook on a daily basis. I actually really enjoy cooking and--usually--I enjoy the ritual of doing it every evening. That said, I did decide to give it a try with a few meals or with portions of meals. It'd be really nice to have a pizza or two frozen. And maybe even some casseroles. Not for every night, but maybe 3-5 for some of those crazy nights. Or for times when you needed something to give to someone else, but don't have extra time to prepare something. And that would be much easier to do than preparing nearly a month's worth of meals in a day. Instead, you'd just make an extra casserole or pizza on casserole or pizza night, then you wrap it up tight and freeze it in its pre-cooked state. Also, I think it's a great idea to cook, say, double the spaghetti sauce or double the ground beef and freeze the unused portions so that on a night when you're trying to throw something together, you've made it really easy to do so.

My other issue with the book was that they were still shopping the same old factory-farmed meat, cheese, and milk. Yes, it's cheaper, but sometimes better or more right just trumps cheap. Sometimes. Additionally, although they were careful to prepare fairly nutritious meals, I felt their were less fruits and vegetables and more meat on their plates than is my personal style.

In conclusion, if you're already pretty tight with your money, I doubt this book has too much to offer. But if you're just embarking on your road to cheapskatery or organization (in order to live cheaper) the book probably has more to offer you (including several recipes and charts that might be useful if you were wanting a system of your own).

And in case you couldn't tell, I haven't been paid or reimbursed in any way to read this book.


  1. Yeah, I never got the "once a month" shopping trip. A huge percentage of our daily eating is either produce or, as you would say, disgusting factory farmed dairy (someday, someday Jean), which has to be bought weekly. I just don't get it. What is the point of once a month shopping if you still have to go to the store every week or two? What if something comes up, like it always does, and you have to make a treat for a friend's party, or capriciously invite a family over for dinner, or take a meal to a sick neighbor or whatever? Surely that happens more than once a month. Anyway, for me I think I will always stick with the once a week shopping trip. Of course I may sing a different tune once I have 5 teenagers.

    Definitely coveting the freezer. The whole frozen months of meal doesn't terribly appeal to me because it usually relies on meat casserole type foods, which isn't our type of eating. I wouldn't freeze that many meals, but I would love to have a lot of parts of meals frozen (i.e. frozen soup bases, frozen fish ready to go, frozen chopped and cooked chicken, etc.) and have a bunch of frozen meat ready to go, but it just doesn't fit in my tiny freezer.

  2. Don't worry--we eat much more than our fair share of factory farmed milk, and also plenty of cheese and meat. Which is why it'd be nice to find tips for getting those things cheaper. But I don't know that we ever will because I don't know that they can be farmed (without the factory) any cheaper. (Hopefully that sentence made sense.) I could always get a goat...which would surely inspire Kip to leave me for another woman.



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