Living Cheap

Lately it has become popular for the well off to live on a foodstamp budget for a month in order to show they empathize with the poor.  Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, is the latest well connected pol to join this fad.  I am not exactly sure what is supposed to be accomplished by attempting this feat.  If past experience is any guide, after a suitable length of time we will be told how very difficult it was and how anyone who wants to cut back on food stamp expenditures is a mean old skinflint with no empathy at all.

In the spirit of hope, however, I will offer up some suggestions based on actually living on a much smaller income than is paid to the mayor of Newark or a whole lot of other people.

My first suggestion is. choose where you shop carefully.  Some stores charge as much as double the price for the exact same item.  If Mayor Cory Booker actually had to live on a food stamp budget, I rather suspect he would do what a lot of other poor people do-- shop at Walmart.  Scream all you want leftists.  Their prices really are lower, by 20 or 30 percent.  Out here in the west, we also have the option of shopping at Winco, an employee owned supermarket chain that beats even Walmart prices.  You won't find many Walmarts near an inner city nor will you find many Wincos.  There are, I am sure, a whole host of reasons for that.  But, judging from the diversity I see when I shop there, there are plenty of suburban cost conscious shoppers who find their way there.   Out here in Southern California, which region may have the most culturally diverse population in the United States if not the world, many ethnic supermarket chains also have very low prices.  Examples are 99 Ranch Markets (Asian), Jon's (Mediteranean) Vallarta, El Super, (Mexican).  So check out the ethnic markets in Newark, would be a suggestion.  Trader Joe's also often has very good prices.  But you have to do some comparison shopping.  Some of their prices are very low, some not so low.  The key is, look around.  Give supermarkets you haven't tried before a try and comparison shop.  We find, for example, that one trip to Winco, which is about 10 miles away, every two weeks pays for itself in savings.

Second suggestion is cook fresh.  That is, when you buy processed foods, you pay for the service.  So boneless chicken costs more than bone in chicken and chicken parts tend to cost more than whole chickens.  String beans in a can cost more than fresh string beans. Sometimes frozen can be cheaper if its a seasonal food, though, like strawberries.  And frozen is nearly as nutritious as fresh.

Third suggestion is beans and lentils, they are cheap, filling, have slower carbs and more protein than other low cost choices.  Of course, if you buy them in bulk and cook them yourself, you will save a lot.

Fourth suggestion, eat local and what's in season.  Because supermarkets today carry food from all over the world, we tend to forget that some foods are seasonal.  That includes such stalwarts as lettuce and tomatoes.  Sometimes seasonality doesn't affect the price.  In winter tomatoes and lettuce may come from Mexico where it is warmer.  In spring, from California, in summer from farther north.  And if you buy hearts of romaine you will pay more for lettuce and get less nutrition than if you buy the whole head including the darker (and more nutritious) outer leaves.  In my area there are dozens of Viet Namese bakeries.  Viet Namese cuisine was fusion cuisine before anyone used that word to describe food.  So I can buy perfectly baked french bread in baguettes and rolls at ridiculously cheap prices, fresh out of the oven.

Pasta has a place for those who can afford it calorically.  It is cheap and full of calories but not a lot of nutrition.  It can also adversely affect blood sugars if you are diabetes prone.

Fifth, buy in bulk when you can.  Some things, like milk, go bad over time.  But others, like potatoes, oranges and apples last a long time.  Eggs can actually last up to 10 weeks so 5 dozen eggs can be consumed by a family of 4 before they go bad, so long as a) you don't wash them (eggs naturally have an outer covering that prevents deterioration) and b) you refrigerate them.  5 dozen eggs can sometimes be bought for as little as six dollars at stores like Winco and Walmart.  That is a savings of about 40 percent over buying them a dozen at a time.  The same goes for meat.  Buy in bulk, repackage and freeze it. You will save a fair amount of money if you are careful in your shopping.

Sixth, take a calculator with you.  Most phones have a calculator built in these days/  Use it.  see what the price per pound is.  If you are comparing boneless with boned, subtract at least 10 percent from the weight of the meat to account for the inedible bones.

Seventh, figure out what are the inexpensive protein sources.  You will not feel well or eat well if you are not getting enough protein.  You need more protein the more you weigh.  Protein also helps to reduce hunger.  But protein doesn't have to be from meat.  Eggs are a good and cheap source of protein.  Big tubs of plain yogurt (not the individual packs), Tofu  and cottage cheese can also provide a lot of protein.  And don't forget canned tuna, mackeral and other inexpensive fish.  Swai is a very tasty and much less expensive white fish that will provide you almost pure protein.  There are also good vegetable sources of protein like beans and peanut butter.  Right now pork and chicken are cheap and beef is expensive.  You can buy a sliced ham at Winco for 1.79 a pound.  While that does include a bone, it is still very cheap and much tastier than the stuff that is sold as lunch meat.  When meat or poultry or fish are on sale, stock up and freeze them.  Meats, fish and poultry keep well in a freezer for months.

Eighth, buy generic.  Store brands almost always cost less.  Sometimes the difference in taste and quality is such that you just can't eat them, but most of the time you can save substantial money by buying the store brand.  Stores, after all, don't manufacture those brands, they buy them from other manufacturers and sometimes its the same one that charges more for the brand name.

Ninth and final suggestion. borrow someone's Costco card.  Some of the savings from buying at Costco in bulk just can't be beat elsewhere.  Do some comparison shopping and stock up now and then. Kirkland Coffee beans are roasted by Starbucks but cost about 60 percent of what Starbucks charges.  Buying coffee in bulk often saves several dollars a pound.  My latest favorite is fresh mozarella, two pounds for about $7.50.  Can you say caprese salad?  Delicious.  They sell bacon 4 pounds for about eleven dollars and four pounds of butter for about $7.50.  Bananas usually run about 33¢ a pound.

In sum, you can eat well on a  low budget if you put your brain to work, do some research and try out some food sellers that you might not ordinarily go to.  Good luck all you rich elites who are slumming in the supermarket.

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