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Stretch Your Food Dollar with a Little Planning

Food Budget

Want to save some money? Well, sometimes you have to spend a little first. This is one of those times.

One of the best investments you can make to stretch your food budget is to buy a small freezer for your garage or basement. How so? Then you can take advantage of two things: weekly grocery store sales and buying in bulk from club-type stores. This will let you stock up on products, particularly meat, when they are at their cheapest.

As with many strategies, however, there also can be pitfalls. Freezer burn ultimately affects meat, so you’ll need to have a plan to use what you have on a timely basis. Here are some ways you can do it:

Keep a Running Inventory of What’s on Hand

This might seem like work, but otherwise you’ll cover stuff up and never realize it’s there until it’s too late to use it. It doesn’t have to be fancy – you don’t have to have a spreadsheet showing what you have, when you bought it and when you used it. A simple handwritten list will do just fine.

Plan Menus at Least Weekly

Using your inventory, figure out what the family will have for dinner each night. Designate main dishes and sides. Program a leftover night in there if you want. Again, this will help you turn over the contents of your freezer quickly enough that nothing stays in there too long. As an added benefit, knowing what you plan to make each night will help you avoid using packaged foods – they’re expensive and often unhealthy.

Shop Accordingly

Having a menu and an inventory will allow you to plan your shopping trips accordingly. Fill in to get what you need for side dishes, rather than going through the aisles with no purpose. You’ll cut down on impulse buys, which will save you money. You’ll still want to think long term about staples, but you’ll be able to buy only when the deals are best.

Remember when you buy in bulk to repackage your meat or poultry BEFORE you freeze it. Break hamburger down into meal-size portions, and do the same for chicken. One other thing to remember: Cook enough so that there will be leftovers for lunch the next day. You’ll save a ton of money not eating out at lunch, plus you likely will have healthier options than you could get at a restaurant. The smaller portions will help your waistline as well.

The freezer will help with meat, but what about the veggies? What’s the best way to save?

Here’s where you can get creative. Check out the local farmers market to see what you can buy that’s locally grown. Buying fruits and vegetables in season can save you lots of money, and buying fresh ones over canned will help you avoid unneeded sodium and sugar.

Another option to consider is joining a food co-op. Many offer a combination of fruit and vegetables weekly or every other week. You won’t always know what you’re getting, but if your family isn’t too picky, you can get great deals on fresh food. Find out whether the one you’re considering delivers or whether you’ll have to pick up the items.

The main thing about farmers markets and food co-ops is you’ll be getting fresh food onto your table – minus all the preservatives and other additives.

You’ll still have to go to the grocery store, of course, for milk, eggs and other items. But you’ll mostly be filling in around the meat, fruit and vegetables you have on hand. You’ll be surprised at how much further your food dollar will go when you’re strategic about meals. Plus, you’ll be eating healthier and probably better.

How to Stay Beautiful Under Budget

Beauty on a Budget

Maybe you’ve heard of the lipstick index, the theory that when times are tough, people like to spend their money on small luxuries, such as cosmetics. While some believe that economic health and cosmetic sales are inversely correlated, plenty of folks decide to shrink their beauty budget when the economy is struggling. However, just because you stopped splurging on beauty products, that doesn’t mean you have to stop looking like a million bucks.

Style

Some of the tips for staying chic are pretty straightforward – frequent consignment stores and get familiar with your local thrift shops. There are other alternatives, though. See if there are any Goodwill Outlets or other locations in your area that offer items for a dollar or less. Some retail stores even sell clothing by the pound. You’ll have a harder time finding gems at these locations than at a fancy boutique, but with a bit of sleuthing, you’ll discover some real diamonds in the rough. While you’re at it, look into clothing swaps in your city. These can either be organized events or get-togethers with friends.

Body

A key part of looking good is feeling good, so even if you’re working with a tight budget, it’s important to take care of your body. Don’t fall into the common trap of believing that you can’t eat healthy without tons of money for organic produce. Scout farmers markets, where you can find plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts and meat at a low cost. Get enough sleep every night. If you can’t afford a white-noise machine, there are plenty of apps and websites where you can download tracks of running water or other soothing sounds. Lastly, exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Check out memberships at Planet Fitness and the YMCA. If you can’t afford to go to a gym, stay active outside or do calisthenics, such as pushups and crunches, in your living room. Browse the Internet for free, prepared exercise routines and fitness videos.

Beauty

A good hair day is a good day all around. On the other hand, getting your hair done can be super pricy. Luckily, there are ways to work around the cost. You can always go to a cheap chain, but you can’t count on leaving the place with a good ‘do. Look into beauty schools in your area. Master classes are taught to established stylists who already know what they’re doing. You can end up with a great haircut for a dirt cheap price or even free. Same goes with hair modeling. Volunteer for a hair show or photo shoot and you can get a free cut or style or both.

Makeup, unfortunately, can get a little tricky. Usually you get what you pay for, but there are some brands with excellent inexpensive products. Browse online consumer reviews on MakeupAlley.com for different products to find good cheap cosmetics. MakeupAlley also is an excellent resource if you want to find cheap products that work with your skin type and coloring. You’ll see that plenty of good mascaras, powders, liners and glosses are available at your drugstore or sometimes even at the dollar store.

Good luck and stay beautiful!

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