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Food Spending Eating Away at Your FI Plans? Here’s How to Eat for Cheap

Food Spending Eating Away at Your FI Plans? Here’s How to Eat for Cheap

41 min read
The BiggerPockets Money Podcast

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Budget meals, cheap eats, and deliciously discounted recipes are all in this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. As many of you financial freedom chasers know, one of the biggest monthly expenses on your budget tends to be food costs. Whether that be going out or grocery shopping to feed yourself, your spouse, your kids, and anyone else in your family— eating well isn’t cheap…or so most people think.

Beth Moncel is here to tell you that the preconceived notion of good food = expensive food, isn’t exactly right. Beth started her blog, Budget Bytes, over a decade ago during the great recession, when many families struggled to put food on the table. With a degree in nutrition, Beth knew that she could scientifically design recipes that not only filled up her family but helped her do so on a budget.

If you’re constantly going over your food budget, this is the episode to listen to. Beth gives a masterclass on food budget savers vs. sinkers, pantry staples and go-to recipes, meal planning, eating out, and whether or not you should shop on an empty stomach. Prepare to upgrade your dinner time while keeping more cash in your pocket!

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast show number 299, where we talk to Beth Moncel from budgetbytes.com and learned how to fix our food budget.

Beth:
So I built my meals around those ingredients and try to avoid things that are prepackaged or the more expensive ingredients like meat, nuts, and cheese. You can still use those, but you have to just be very careful about how you use them and not go overboard in your recipes. So designing the recipes around those inexpensive ingredients to bulk up the recipe and keep you full while keeping the cost of the recipe low.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me today is my eating like a king co-host David Pere.

David:
Hi, how are you?

Mindy:
David and I are here to make financial independence less scary. Plus just for somebody else to introduce you to everybody’s story, even if you truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you are starting.

David:
Probably want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, or start your own business, we will help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so that you can launch yourself towards your dreams.

Mindy:
Okay, David, if you are anything like me, your food budget is a mess. Short of eating beans and rice for every single meal, you are frustrated with how to cut this giant expense in your budget while continuing to make healthy meals your family will actually eat. Beth started budgetbytes.com in 2009, when she was making no money and had cut everything out of her budget and food was the last category for her to look into. She didn’t want to eat Ramen three meals a day, so being the numbers nerd that she is, she started tracking her spending specifically on her food. And low and behold, patterns appeared. Wow, sound familiar, almost like I’m onto something when I harp on tracking your spending on everything, but I digress.

Mindy:
Just like tracking her spending in general, tracking her food spending, allowed her to see where she could make cuts and where she could spend a little bit more or allow her to splurge knowing she could cut back a little bit later in the week or the month. So if your food budget is out of control, today’s show is specifically for you.

David:
Yes, as you alluded to with the eating like a king and my waistline, I am no stranger to food or food expenses. And I learned a ton through this episode. So this is a lot of fun.

Mindy:
If you do not know budgetbytes.com, you have been living under a rock because anytime I go online to look for an inexpensive recipe or to try a new thing, budgetbytes.com comes up. That’s budget B-Y-T-E-S.com. So Beth, I’m super excited to hear about your story for why you started Budget Bytes and then I want to talk about food. So, welcome to the show.

Beth:
Thanks for having me.

Mindy:
Okay. So let’s look at how you decided to start Budget Bytes.

Beth:
Yes, it was kind of an accident really. It was something I was doing for myself at first. I was really just trying to figure out my own food budget. I had just graduated with a degree in nutrition, so I wasn’t willing to eat really crappy food just because it was cheap. But I had already cut out everything else in my budget, so food was like the last thing that I had any room for manipulation. So I started really analyzing how much I was spending on food down to the penny and kind of calculating out the cost of my recipes and how much each serving was so I could try to stay under a goal of a certain number of dollars per day.

Beth:
And it was so eyeopening that I got really excited about it and I said something on my personal Facebook page and people were like, “Oh, I want that recipe, I want that recipe.” So I’m like, “You know what, why don’t I just start a blog?” And then I was like, “Wait, I don’t know what a blog is or how to start a blog,” so I had to Google it and I was like, “This sounds like a fun free project,” because I’m kind of a project person, I always need something to keep my brain busy. And that’s how it started. And that was 2009, which is when we were going through the last big recession. So I was just kind of in the right spot at the right time. And I realized there were like so many other people in this country that needed the same information that I was finding out for myself. So I just went for it and it grew from day one, and it has never stopped.

Mindy:
You said right place right time but I am also going to say you have very delicious recipes that are, I don’t want to say unique because in food that can be weird and nobody wants to eat weird food. Your recipes are different, but not weird. I’m going to say that. But they’re very good and they are right place, right time and good food because there’s no shortage of food bloggers. You’re like, “Hmm, I’m never going to make that,” the picture looks amazing and then you look at the ingredients you’re like, “Hmm, no.”

Beth:
Yes. I really try to stick to things that are as easy as possible because I don’t have time either and this has to be approachable if people are actually going to do it and fix their budget, they have to be able to actually do it and not just look at the pretty pictures. So yes, that’s a big part of it.

Mindy:
Okay. In your FAQs, you have a bit that says I began planning my meals and grocery lists around the budget savers and avoiding the budget sinkers. I want to talk about these. What are some budget savers and what are some budget sinkers that were really helpful when you first started fixing your budget, your grocery budget?

Beth:
Sure. So I realized pretty quickly that single ingredient grocery items are always going to be the cheapest. So, anything that’s like pre-made or prepackaged is always going to be more expensive. The trade off is that single ingredient cooking can take a little bit more work. So I’ll buy really simple things like a head of cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes, those are all so cheap, I mean like a dollar a pound. And that’s a lot of food. So I built my meals around those ingredients and tried to avoid things that are prepackaged or the more expensive ingredients like meat, nuts, and cheese. You can still use those, but you have to just be very careful about how you use them and not go overboard in your recipes. So designing the recipes around those inexpensive ingredients to bulk up the recipe and keep you full while keeping the cost of the recipe low.

David:
That’s a really smart way to look at it. And also sounds like probably a very healthy way to look at it.

Beth:
Yes. I know people always think that eating healthy is really expensive, but that’s only if you’re focusing on those trendy super foods. But if you stick to just really simple vegetables, whole grains, really simple ingredients, it’s so healthy and it’s so inexpensive.

Mindy:
You said cabbage and carrots. Those are some foods that keep for a long time, which I think is really important. I rem… Who was it? [Economides 00:06:26]. I can’t remember the America’s family. Oh, I’m totally drawing a blank. Steven Economides. I don’t know if you know them. They were talking about in a book that I had read a hundred years ago about how they buy a lot of cabbage and carrots because they don’t go bad right away. And like, oranges will stay fresher longer than bananas will. And cabbage, you can put cabbage in your refrigerator for a month and it’s still edible. I don’t want to say super fresh, but it’s still edible and same with carrots. Whereas if you get ahead of lettuce the next week, it’s slime.

Beth:
Yeah. Reducing food waste is a huge part of staying in budget. So you really want to focus on those things that are going either be shelf stable. They last a long time in the refrigerator, like you said, or frozen goods. The freezer was probably the most helpful tool when I first started out. A socket with frozen vegetables, I can use a little bit at a time. I don’t have to worry about the rest going bad, because it’ll just go back in the freezer. And then you always have stuff on hand. It’s always fresh. Most of it’s already chopped for you. So it cuts down on your prep time. And it’s just one of the best ways to really cut your budget and save an effort too.

Mindy:
Oh, I like that. Now you said meats, nuts, and cheeses are the budget killers. I was familiar with meats, but I didn’t realize that nuts and cheeses are budget killers.

Beth:
Yeah. They can be pretty expensive. I mean, nuts, for sure. I mean, those are going to be really expensive, probably even more so than meat. Cheese tends to be kind of in the middle. But I would still say it’s way more expensive than like beans, pasta, vegetables and things like that. So, you just have to be really careful about how you use them in recipes. Usually a little bit goes a long way further than you expect. And that’s a trick I learned when I worked in food service.

Beth:
So I worked a couple different jobs making pizzas. And one thing they would make us do is measure out the cheese because when you’re just putting cheese on a pizza, you pile it on there and you don’t think anything of it, but if you actually just use a little bit and spread it out, it looks really sparse when you put it on there. But then after you bake it, everything melts and it covers it and you wouldn’t know the difference. So just using less than you would think you need, you can still get a really satisfying dish and really cut down on the cost that way.

David:
I am super guilty of going overboard on cheese. I love me some cheese.

Beth:
Me too. That’s my favorite food group for sure. So I mean, it was a struggle, but I made it work.

Mindy:
Let’s go back to the food waste is really important for keeping your food budget in check. And I think that this is something that maybe flies under the radar when it comes to people thinking about their budget. “Oh, of course. I only spent a hundred dollars at the grocery store.” Yeah, but when you throw away $25 of it next week, that’s a $25 complete waste. Whereas…

Beth:
Yeah, you literally threw it in the garbage can.

Mindy:
Yeah. I don’t throw $25 in the garbage can, but I do throw food away. How do we fix this problem?

Beth:
So the number one thing, I’m sure everyone’s heard a million times, but it’s planning. You have to plan what you’re going to cook, how long that food is going to last you, if you’re eating the leftovers and what is actually realistic as far as your schedule goes? So are you going to be able to cook every night or not? Not a lot of people can. So can you cook just on your days off and then portion out meal prep that for the rest of the week? Do you need to cook on your day off and stock your freezer with things that you can reheat? You have to find the style of cooking that works for you as well as planning on what you’re actually going to cook.

Mindy:
Oh, that’s a really good point. I’d love to cook every evening, but I just don’t have the time. But also, when I’m planning my meals, that’s my plan is, “Oh, just cook every night.”

Beth:
Yeah. Another big thing too, that you can do is before you go to the grocery store and when you’re actually planning out what recipes you want to cook that week, go to your kitchen, go through your pantry, go through your refrigerator, go through your freezer, see what you have in there that needs to be used up and then pick recipes that use those ingredients. So you’ll be buying less and you’ll be throwing away less.

Mindy:
I like that a lot. I mean, that’s something to quote. I like that a lot. Choose recipes that use the stuff that you have because I can shop through my pantry forever. I just don’t.

Beth:
A lot of people do pantry challenges where they try to go as long as possible without going to the grocery store and just come up with the most creative stuff they can just using what they have left over in your pantry. Because I mean, I’m sure this happens to everybody. It happens to me even now still stuff gets lost in the back of your pantry and your freezer. And you realize you have those ingredients in there, but if you’re going through regularly on a weekly basis, before you go grocery shopping, it really cuts down on the amount of food you have to purchase.

David:
Yeah. That’s a pretty cool idea. And I mean, especially if you have pastas or something like that lay around, you can pretty much make anything with that base.

Beth:
Yeah, exactly. Or like this week I realized I have a ton of, ends of bags of nuts and dried fruit. They just kept building up in my pantry. So I’m going to make some muesli with some oats that I have my pantry and just mix them all up and then use that for cold oats.

Mindy:
Oh, I like that. I have a lot of, I have a lot of nuts in the pantry too. Is there any way to refresh nuts after they’ve gone bad?

Beth:
No, because it’s the fat that’s oxidized in the nut and you can’t undo that.

David:
How long do you have to leave almonds lying around before you ruin them?

Beth:
10 years.

David:
No, I would say I’ve never run into that issue before.

Beth:
It’s a function of heat and you know the air. I’ve heard some people say that if you keep them in the freezer, they last longer. So that maybe something you can try in the future too.

Mindy:
I think I just need to come to grips. Part of it is I don’t want to throw it away because then I’m admitting defeat. So I just leave it in the pantry, like that’s somehow going to refresh it. Okay. Let’s talk about stock in your kitchen and pantry staples and just in general things to keep around because I’m sure everybody listening has been there where you’re like at the end of the day and I know I have to eat something, there’s no leftovers. I know I don’t want to go out or maybe that’s like my go-to because that’s so much easier than figuring it out. What are some things that you recommend people to keep in their pantry all the time. You just said the frozen vegetables are a really great thing in the freezer.

Beth:
I’ll tell you what some of mine are in a second, but I kind of want to explain how someone would come up with this list of pantry staples, because it’s really individual. It really depends on what type of recipes you like. So I feel like it’s more valuable for someone to start experimenting with some recipes and get a list of all star recipes. Things that they love every single time they make it. They always look forward to it. There’s recipes that are no fail. They’re always going to be a winner in their house. And then once you have that set of recipes that you know you love, your family loves, you can see which ingredients are in there that are shelf stable or freezer stable, and keep that type of stuff on hand.

Beth:
So things that I like to keep on hand are like canned beans. I always have eggs, cheese and tortillas in my fridge because you can do so much with just those three things. Milk, pasta, certain spices I always keep on hand. I like to keep just basic oils and vinegars and condiments like mustard and Mayo because with those, you can create all different types of sauces and come up with something new every night for dinner with those pantry staple ingredients like pasta and beans or whatever. And then, if you get meat on sale, I like to buy it on sale and then keep it in my freezer. So I have that on hand as well.

Mindy:
Is there a price point that you’re looking at for the meat that’s on sale? I know we’re entering into inflationary period, so that’s kind of a sticky question.

Beth:
Yeah. It’s kind of all over the place, because it’s going to depend on what type of meat you’re talking about. Not only the type of animal and the cut, but also if you’re looking for organic or that sort of thing and then prices right now are just so out of whack. So, I don’t exactly have a price right now.

David:
I luck out when it comes to meat because well, we have 10 head of cows and my father-in-law across the street is a cattle farmer. So he’s got a deep freeze that’s full. So it’s like, “Oh I need ground beef. Let me walk across the driveway and grab ground beef. Oh, and some steak,” but I’m curious. There are people who will buy, because you can buy half a beef or a full beef or whatever in bulk and throw it in the deep freeze for exorbitant amounts of time. Do you think that’s a reasonable way to try to cut cost on meat? Or do you think that’s just kind of over complicating something?

Beth:
I think again, it’s going to be a personal decision based on your lifestyle. How much meat do you eat? How much is that time worth to you to make sure it’s all packaged up and frozen? Are you good at keeping track of what’s in your freezer and you’re not just going to forget about it? Because meat will eventually go bad in the freezer. It will get freezer burned. So it’s a mixture of all those things. Do you have the storage room? People always ask me is it worth it to shop at Costco and things? And for me it never was because I never had the living space to store all that stuff. So all of these things are definitely going to be on a case by case basis, just depending on your lifestyle and living situation.

Mindy:
I grew up doing that. I lived in California where I didn’t go across the street to my father-in-law to get the meat, but my parents would buy a side of beef and then put it in the big deep freezer. And they were always really good at that. I think that’s one of the biggest problems that I had is I forget what’s in the freezer and the pantry and the refrigerator and I am guilty of the food waste. Do you have any tips for keeping track of that or making sure you’re not wasting all this food?

Beth:
Yeah. So in addition to going through on a regular basis, like we already talked about, one thing you can do for your freezer is keep a list magnet, like touch the front freezer, however you need. But every time you put something in, write down what you put in there. I like to freeze single serving portions of leftovers of things I’ve cooked. So I’ll write down the name of the recipe I cooked, how many portions I put in there. And then every time I take one out, I can cross it off. So I can really quickly look on this piece of paper and see what’s in the freezer.

Mindy:
Oh, I like that a lot. That’s really smart.

Beth:
And I think I might even have a template somewhere on our website where you can print that off. I’m not sure, don’t remember.

Mindy:
Okay. If we do, we will put those in our show notes, which could be found at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow299. Okay. What is your go-to recipe? The end of the day, you’re just overwhelmed, there’s nothing in the… You’ve you’ve been so good and you’ve cleaned out your whole freezer of all the little leftovers that you just need to make something healthy quickly. What is a great recipe for that?

Beth:
Sure. Mine changes quite a bit, but it’s usually some sort of bowl meal. So I will just kind of put leftovers of whatever I have in the fridge in a bowl, find whatever dressing or sauce I might have or even some sort of seasoning salt, put that on top. But the basis for my bowls will either be like scrambled eggs. If I have leftover rice, that would be the base. It could be a salad base. So you can do all sorts of things. So if I have leftover vegetables, I’ll throw those on top, cheese, anything leftover. Cheese can go on there. And I just put the most random stuff together. Pasta can be the base and I come up with the best flavor combos that way.

Mindy:
Okay. This is now my new favorite thing, because I’m thinking about all the stuff that’s in the refrigerator. I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got little bits of this and little bits of this and little bits of this that would…” But I would not have thought of this and I could scramble an egg pretty quickly.

Beth:
Yeah, just throw it in there and see what it tastes like. I mean, if you like the individual ingredients, as long as they’re not something weird and totally clashing, it’s probably going to taste good. You can also do that with stir fries. Whatever you have left in the fridge, just stir fry it, add that on top of rice, add a little soy sauce and Sesame oil and it’s done.

Mindy:
Oh, I like that a lot.

David:
This is one of the reasons I like. When I do a lot of meal prep, I often lean very Hispanic with my meal preps because it’s for almost the same reason, it’s very easy to… Oh I have taco meat. I have rice. I have, I don’t know, [Torico 00:18:59], whatever. You can just throw it all in together and make easy recipes, easy quick meals.

Beth:
Yeah. It’s easy to mix and match. And like, even if you don’t do a bowl meal, you could throw all that stuff into a wrap and make either a wrap sandwich or a burrito. So there’s lots of different ways to mix and match just random ingredients and come up with something new.

Mindy:
Oh my goodness. I love this tip. I’m so glad I ask. As soon as I ask them like, “Oh, maybe I should have given her a heads up that I was going to ask that.” That was a great… That’s… Oh, see, this is why you have this [inaudible 00:19:29] plate. Okay.

David:
New favorite plan.

Mindy:
Yes. So let’s talk about meal plans. I know I have to meal plan, and that’s not a new suggestion, but I’ve not done a really good job of doing that. And when I say not done a really good job, I mean, I haven’t at all. I’ll get on this great kick. I’m going to go buy all the ingredients and then I’m tired. And I don’t want to actually sit there and cook for 15 hours. Give me some tips for meal planning.

Beth:
The number one thing, which I think you’re falling victim to is getting overly ambitious with your plan. Start with one recipe, just do one recipe a week until that becomes second nature, then make two recipes a week until that becomes just second nature. And then three. And as you’re doing that, you’re going to build up that list of all star recipes that I was talking about earlier, stuff that you know you love and you’re always going to want to eat when you make it. So that makes meal planning even easier the next time, because you’ve got this like bank of recipes that you like, you just grab a few off that list and your meal planning is done.

Mindy:
You also have meal plans available for those of us who don’t have the time to sit around and do. You know what that sounds mean. Sit around and do this, like it takes 150 years. I could sit around and do it. There’s just 500 other things pulling at my time. So talk to me about your meal plans. You said that you have a vegetarian meal plan, which is really, really helpful because if you are not vegetarian and your children at age six, just decide to be vegetarian. You kind of have to scramble a little bit.

Beth:
Yeah. And with meal plans like that, even though all of the recipes in the meal plan are vegetarian, it’s so easy to cook some meat on the side and add the meat to your portion of whatever you cooked, because they’re all simple recipes like pasta or salad bowl meals like we were talking about earlier. So, I get sad when people think that vegetarian food is just for vegetarians because it’s delicious for anyone. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat it. Either make one or two meals per week a vegetarian or make the vegetarian meal and add a little bit of meat. You’re still getting great food. But yeah, the meal plans have four weeks of dinner menus, six days a week, the seventh day is left open for leftovers are going to out to eat because I think it’s realistic to expect people to want to go out to eat every once in a while, but they come with grocery lists all planned out for you.

Beth:
So you don’t have to do that part because it does take work. You felt bad saying that, but it takes, I mean, I made those meal plans myself and it took a lot of work. That’s why we charge for them. And it takes a lot of work. And I built them as kind of a jumping off point to help people get used to the idea of meal planning. So hopefully they could eventually do it themselves, but that’s not really my favorite place to start. Like I said, I think people should start with just one or two recipes a week and build up. The meal plans, come with six recipes a week, which could be really overly ambitious for people, even though they’re not actually doing the grocery list and the shopping, cooking six nights a week is a lot of work.

Beth:
So unless you’re already used to cooking a lot on a daily basis, the meal plans might not be the right place to start for you. You might want to just start on your own with one or two recipes because I could easily see getting overwhelmed with having groceries for six recipes a week, but not being used to cooking six recipes a week and then having it go to waste and you don’t want that to happen.

Mindy:
Oh, yeah. Then I’m right back in the same position I was before with my rotting food.

David:
Well, and one of the things that we touched on before the show that I thought was really cool is that you give a full grocery list. So one of my biggest complaints as somebody who likes working out and does all these different fitness plans and diets, is that people will give you like, “Here’s the approved foods, here’s some meal ideas. Have fun and I’m sitting around.” They’re like, “Okay, let me go and go through every single meal and try to create the grocery list off of that.” And so the fact that you’ve done that for somebody like me, I mean, that’s a huge step in the right direction, because I would actually do that. Like, “Oh, I just need to buy these specific things that I can make all these meals without having to do all the chaotic math and whatever.”

David:
I’ve actually told a couple fitness coaches in town that if they really wanted to up their game, they would do exactly that and offer a done for you service. And they could charge so much because people… I go to meal prep and then I’m like, “I’ll just make taco meat for six days. Problem solved.”

Beth:
Another thing I did too with the meal plans is I really tried hard to make sure all of the ingredients that were on the grocery list got used up either in that week or in a recipe the next week so that you didn’t have a lot of leftover. Because I see that a lot on meal plans that I see sold all over the internet is that there’s just no thought or planning about leftover ingredients. So you might end up with so much extra food that ends up going to waste again. I don’t know if there’s a way to ever really get rid of a hundred percent of the waste, but the things that I couldn’t use in recipes that week or the week after, I tried to list some suggestions of ways you could use it throughout the rest of the day. So, reducing waste was a big focus of those meal plans as well.

Mindy:
That’s really huge. We’ve used mail order recipes like Hello Fresh and those kinds of things. And those are great because all of the ingredients come to you. You need one scallion, so you get one scallion. The issue is it’s wrapped up in plastic, as is the one little piece of ginger that you need is wrapped up in plastic. And so there’s no food waste, but there’s packaging waste. And I wish that there was a way around that and they’re great, but they’re not budget friendly, although they can be. Hello Fresh was one of the least expensive ones that we tried and the recipes are fantastic. It’s just the packaging really kind of is hard to… From a, I want to say, the earth kind of perspective. I know that not…

Beth:
It’s probably a lot of like shipping…

Mindy:
Shipping.

Beth:
That’s kind of waste.

Mindy:
I mean, there’s a lot of waste, but you’re not wasting food because all of the… You need one inch of ginger root, so there’s one inch of ginger root. But I do like that you are suggesting other places for it, because when you try a new recipe online, you’ll be like, “Oh wow. It needs ginger.” Well Ginger’s only sold in those big chunks at the grocery store, so you get that and then you come home and you use the one little bit and you’re like, “What am I going to do with this?” And six months later, “What is that shriveled up thing in the back of the Crisper? Oh, I think that looks like that ginger root that I was going to use.”

Beth:
Yeah. And another thing we do to combat that on the website is we have an ingredient index. So if you have a leftover ingredient, you can go to the ingredient index, click on that ingredient and see all the recipes that we have that use it. So you can find something else to use it in. So that’s really helpful if you’re not using a meal plan or even if you are using a meal plan and you want to find something else.

David:
Reverse engineer-

Beth:
But also just having those recipes that you know that you can put whatever in like the stir fry or you can put anything on a pizza.

Mindy:
Hold on. I’m looking for the ingredient index, because that is literally the most brilliant thing that I have ever heard of in a recipe.

Beth:
It’s under the main menu.

Mindy:
In a recipe blog ever.

Beth:
Main menu under recipes. And then you should see recipe index or ingredient index.

Mindy:
Ingredient index. Right there up at the top. I skipped right over because it’s yellow. Oh, my goodness.

Beth:
Then you just scroll down past the categories and you’ll start to see the whole alphabetical index of the ingredients.

David:
That’s a super cool way to reverse engineer that because that’s exactly right. People get to the point where they’re like, “What the crap am I going to use this for? I don’t know what to do with this.”

Mindy:
You just changed my life.

Beth:
Let me change your life again. That ginger example you used, keep your ginger in the freezer. It will stay fresh forever. And you’ll always have it on here.

Mindy:
Really? I’ve been buying the tubes because I want it, but I don’t want the…

Beth:
Oh, no. Keep it in the freezer. And if you grate ginger, that’s how I usually add it to recipes, grated. When it’s frozen, it grates so much easier because the little hairs don’t get stuck in the grater.

Mindy:
Oh, my goodness. Oh, Beth, I love you even more. This ingredient. Oh, kiss your designer for me. Your website designer, because this is amazing. Or whoever database, whatever did this, whoever did this. This is so amazing because I have lots of weird ingredients. How do I use up these jalapenos? Of course, I could make stuffed jalapenos yet again or maybe they’re too hot and I need something a little bit. Oh, my goodness. I am so excited. Okay.

Beth:
Well here’s another tip that isn’t related to Budget Bytes, but if you have several leftover ingredients, if you just type those ingredients all together in Google, it’s really good at finding recipes that use all the ingredients that you just put in at once.

Mindy:
What? Really?

Beth:
Yeah.

Mindy:
Oh, because I have some weird stuff in my… Every once in a while my husband is allowed to go to the grocery store and he comes back with things. I’m like, “What am I going to do with this?” “Oh, it looked really good.”

David:
Remind me to say no the next time you invite me over. So far we’ve got [crosstalk 00:28:47] got moldy almonds and rotten ginger [crosstalk 00:28:54] and a bunch of weird stuff in the fridge.

Mindy:
In the pantry. The fridge is just filled with rotting vegetables.

David:
OK. Long as you got Cholula or Tapatio, we’re good.

Mindy:
Cholula. Thank you, I have that one.

David:
There we go.

Mindy:
This is fantastic. I’m so excited. Now I want to cook. Now I want to go and make, but I just cooked a whole lot. I made enchiladas.that’s my go-to. I have just recently discovered that enchiladas are actually quite easy to make because the stuff is already cooked.

Beth:
Right, that’s one of the reasons why I said I keep tortillas and cheese and my fridge at all times you can do so many things with tortilla and cheese and it’s always good. Whether it’s a quesadilla, enchilada, burrito, whatever. Always tasty.

David:
Yes. I agree. All right. So I had a question that I was going to ask you. I have this problem that I’m sure I’m the only person in the world who has this problem, where you go to the grocery store to buy five items and you leave with 15 because you were hungry. And even if you eat before going to the grocery store to counteract, your eyes are still hungry and you will still buy things that, A, may not be the healthiest thing in the world because you never get grocery store cravings for lettuce or B, may not be the cheapest thing in the world because you aren’t going to use all the food. So in the past I’ve thought about, as I tried meal prep companies or different things, I’d also thought about using something like Instacart or Walmart delivery. So you don’t even go to the store or maybe you go there and you pick it up. Walmart has the thing now where you can order it all.

David:
But for all of those, you have to tack on a fee. And I’m curious your thoughts on if that fee may or may not outweigh the amount of money people generally spend when they go into a grocery store hungry or if it’s worth paying the fee to just, “Hey, I got exactly what I needed and nothing else.”

Beth:
Yeah. I think that could be a very effective tool. It really just depends on how bad your impulse buying habit is. So I mean a good way to experiment is take a look at how your average grocery bill for the past few weeks, and then maybe try a few weeks of just doing it online and compare and you’ll have that data right there and you won’t be able to argue with it and you’ll know if it’s worth your money or not. But I think in many cases it definitely can be.

David:
Yeah. Cool.

Beth:
Another good thing about that too, is when you’re shopping on the store websites, you’ll be able to see all in one spot what all the sales are. So you can probably better take advantage of those sales and maybe design your menu that week around what’s on sale.

David:
Oh, that’s a good one. I like that.

Beth:
Yeah. And kind of on that note, there is an app that’s free. It’s called Flipp, F-L-I P-P, and it aggregates all of the sales flyers for all the stores in your area. So you can really quickly look at all the grocery stores to see what’s on sale that week before you even go grocery shopping. So if you tend to frequent a few different stores, you can decide which one to go to based on what’s on sale that week or what items you need to get.

David:
That’s a good idea too.

Mindy:
I’m just… I don’t want to say I’m stuck on this ingredient index. I am so excited because I have wanted something like this. I never even clicked on that. Now I feel terrible for never having clicked on it before,

Beth:
It’s okay. It’s yellow, so probably needs to change.

Mindy:
You have tofu recipes and vegan recipes. My oldest would be vegan if I would let her. I just don’t know how to cook to get enough protein in her to allow her to be vegan. So now I’m going to get a thousand emails. Here’s how you do it, which will be great. But I don’t know enough about vegan protein sources, so I make her be vegetarian.

Beth:
Yeah. Probably want to consult with a dietician or something, just make sure.

Mindy:
I definitely want her to be healthy.

Beth:
Especially for a growing child. People can say that all they want, but it’s totally different story for a growing kid.

David:
Okay. So here’s another one for you. Does Budget Bytes have, obviously we we’re not promoting or plugging or condoning our sponsoring or any of that fun stuff, but do you have a preferred grocery chain? I know Aldi’s is like the place for if you want to do everything yourself and kind of have a weird experience, but save a bunch of money. And then, there’s Trader Joe’s fanatics and obviously there’s Walmart, but I don’t know if maybe you’ve done any research to think that there’s like a specific direction you normally push people or if it’s really just kind of personal preference.

Beth:
I think it’s going to be personal preference, especially since, I mean the grocery chains that are available to you are going to vary so much depending on where you are. Right now I kind of do a 50-50 split between Aldi and Kroger, because they’re right across the street from each other, from where I live. I do love Aldi, super inexpensive. They have a good variety of stuff. It’s a small store so it’s super fast to get in and out, but they don’t always carry everything I want. I use a lot of fresh parsley and they don’t have that so sometimes I will go to Kroger if I know I need it that week and just end up getting everything there. So, they all have their pros and cons.

Mindy:
Do you use a lot of coupons? I know some of the people that are talking about saving money on their grocery budget are saying use coupons all the time. But you’re talking about using carrots and cabbage and those aren’t typically the things that have a lot of coupons.

Beth:
Exactly. I use zero coupons for that purpose because there are no coupons for fresh ingredients or staples like dry beans. They are only for packaged, pre-made foods. And honestly, I don’t eat any of that. I lost a taste for it long ago. That’s one of the great things about starting to cook more at home is that you start to appreciate the subtle flavors of, fresh ingredients and simple ingredient and your palette, it no longer is attuned to that hyper flavored, prepackaged food. And it starts to become very satisfying.

David:
There’s some interesting research on dopamine hits and food and diets and it’s kind of interesting.

Beth:
Yeah. Packaged food is literally engineered to be addictive.

David:
But Oreos are amazing. So…

Beth:
Yeah. Well, they’re amazing because they’re designed that way and I mean, no shame to anyone who eats that stuff. I have snacks every now and then too, but just understand that that stuff is literally made to addict and your pallet does become attuned to that. So I think a lot of times when people start cooking at home, they might be like, “Oh, this isn’t as exciting as my supercharged Doritos, but your tongue has to relearn what those other flavors are

David:
Yeah, isn’t sugar one of the most addictive compounds in the world? There’s some math on that. I’ll have to go research that so Mindy can put it in the show notes, but I think there’s some math on… I was going to say, I think it’s one of the most addictive compounds in the world.

Beth:
Yeah. I think cheese also has some sort of effect in your brain, like drugs and that I believe because I experience it every time I eat it.

Mindy:
I lived in Wisconsin for five years and holy cow, they have the freshest cheese and the most amazing cheese and I was pregnant there so I could gain the weight. But boy, did I.

David:
How often do you eat out compared to like, since you’re in this space, this isn’t I guess a personal thing, but, I mean, I like to go out. I like the environment, my wife likes to stay home and not go out and enjoy the environment. But obviously eating out is a very quick way to break your budget for food. Curious if you have some kind of idea for frequency and how that all should boil out for people.

Beth:
Yeah. I mean, I can’t say what it should be for other people. Again, that’s going to depend on so many personal lifestyle factors. For me, it’s about once a week, because any more than that, and it just kind of makes me feel sluggish because I always end up eating more than I normally would just because it’s so good. So I eat more than I normally would. I might have a drink with dinner and then I just feel gross for two days. So by the time I feel right again, it’s a week later and then I can go out to eat again. But also, I mean, I’m working with food every single day so the desire to go out to eat, isn’t that strong for me.

Mindy:
Yeah. And it’s kind of a slippery slope. You go out to dinner and then you’re like, “Oh, I can do that again or maybe I’ll just go out to lunch or maybe I’ll go out to breakfast.” And then it just gets like… Because it’s so good. I’m ordering things that I wouldn’t order at home, I’m not going out to lunch and go, “Oh, I’ll have a salad.” I’m getting really delicious food that would take me forever to make at home, like mole. I decided one day I was going to make mole at home. Have you had mole, David? It’s amazing. I made, oh, who’s the Frontera grill guy? I made his recipe. Rick. Rick some… Yeah. I made his recipe. It only took nine short hours and it was just like over and over and all I’m like, “Really? For this stuff?” For like a quarter of a gallon of sauce. I’m like, “There’s a place down the road that sells this for like $6 a pint, that is money well spent.” So…

Beth:
Yeah. And honestly those are the types of things that I eat when I go out. It’s things that I wouldn’t prepare at home like pho. I mean to get a good pho broth or a ramen broth, that takes a lot of time and care and I’m not going to do that at home. So I’m going to go to the authentic place where someone who knows how to make it right will make it. And I can just pay for a bowl of it and be done with it. A lot of times, those things that you have to make them in large batches anyway. And I’m like, I don’t have room in my freezer for seven gallons of pho broth, or five pounds of pork bones to make the broth.

Mindy:
But Ramen broth, you just open up the little packet.

Beth:
I suppose that’s one way to do it.

David:
I mean, that’s probably the cheapest way to exist.

Beth:
[crosstalk 00:38:49] I do have several good instant Ramen recipes on the website, if anyone else out there still loves Ramen past college like me. I will still eat that every now and then. Cause you can do some fun stuff with it.

Mindy:
So let’s go back to just a moment ago. You said that you don’t really like a lot of the prepared and packaged things. Are there any prepared or packaged spices or things… I used to watch semi homemade with Sandra… Why am I blanking on everybody’s name today? Semi homemade with, is it Sandra Lee? And she would take prepackaged things and mix them with fresh ingredients to make it semi-homemade and it was really, really good. Are there any go-tos that you keep in your pantry?

Beth:
I’m not really sure if there’s anything left that I keep on hand. I mean, I do usually keep a couple packets of ramen. There’s ramen in there, but that might be about it. And I mean, I really do think that’s a good technique for people who are getting started with cooking. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But the more you cook and I’ve been doing this for like 13 years now, I just prefer to do mostly from scratch now.

Mindy:
Yeah. The one big one that I have a hard time not buying at Costco in large quantities because I use so much of it is the taco seasoning because it’s so easy and the little packet is, what is it, like a dollar at the store. But then the big thing of like 50 packets worth is $5 at Costco. But then you’ve got this really delicious recipe on how to make your own taco seasoning that is… I don’t have the tuned palette, so I can’t say it’s as good or better, but it tastes the same and it’s cheaper. It tastes the same and it’s easier. You make it in big bulk and then it’s there and it doesn’t have all of the extra salt, like I’m controlling how much salt is in there.

Beth:
Yeah. The seasoning mixes is a good point though. I do buy a couple things that are premixed there, like Italian seasoning and I mean, they just don’t have any extra ingredients in them. It’s just do I feel like measuring out four or five different spices every time I want to use that or do I just want to measure out of one? So you can kind of weigh the effort there. If it’s something you’re using a lot, you know you’re going to use up that whole bottle, go ahead and buy it premixed. But if it’s something you’re not going to use a lot, I would not buy it premixed because it’s just going to go to waste in your pantry. Whereas if you have the single herbs and spices, you can use those for other things.

Mindy:
Do you throw away your spices every six months or whatever you’re supposed to do?

Beth:
I do not. I can keep track of that. That’s too much. And it’s not like there’s not a hard cutoff of six months or 12 months or whatever all it’s happening is they’re losing potency over time. So, I mean, honestly, you’re probably just going to want to season some things to taste anyway, unless you’re brand new to cooking and you’re not comfortable with doing that and you want to follow a recipe, but otherwise season to taste and smell your spices before you use them. If you can’t smell them, you’re probably not going to be able to taste them. So that’s a good indicator of when you should rebuy them. But with the amount of cooking I do, most of the things get used up fairly quickly. Maybe not some of the seasonal things like pumpkin pie spice and all spice or something that I don’t use very often. But yes, you might find some in my pantry that are a few years old, at least. I never use them, so I just kind of forget they’re back there.

Mindy:
Thank you, because I feel terrible and I’m moved and I know that there’s a couple of things that I brought with me, like pepper. I’m not going to use all that pepper, but I don’t want to go buy a new one.

Beth:
But I think that’s something that’s really important to touch on too, is you said you feel so bad. And I think there’s like a lot of shaming that happens in the food world where people are shamed for liking making food a certain way or preparing food a certain way because it’s easier for them. But do whatever works for you. Don’t let someone on the internet tell you should never cook this way or you should never do this or that, you should never put this ingredient with that. If you like it and it helps you cook at home, just do it. Yeah, no shame.

David:
Did you see… Oh, it must have been this week, I think it went viral. My wife showed it to me. This video of a lady who was making budget potato onion soup and she took two bags of sour cream and onion chips and boiled it down.

Beth:
That’s an interesting technique.

David:
So when you talk about shaming people, that’s immediately what pops up. I was like, “Yeah, I thought that was kind of weird.” This lady’s boiling a bag of chips, but I guess in context, it’s potato chips seasoned the right way.

Beth:
It makes sense. It’s just potato starch-

David:
Supposedly, it was good.

Beth:
Which is basically instant potatoes, right? And the seasonings already on them. I can see why she did that. It makes sense.

Mindy:
Okay, Beth, this has been a super fun show. And before I let you go, I want to talk about your website. You have cost per recipe and cost per serving on every recipe that you share, which is fabulous. I love that because when you’re trying to, like you said, when you first started, you’re like, “I went really, really granular.” And I think that’s the overarching theme of people who are trying to get their finances in order is they go really, really deep on all of their expenses and meals are just kind of this overall expense. They don’t really go super deep. But you have this, you share how to calculate the… Or well you share the calculations, but you go one step further and you have an actual blog article, “How to calculate the recipe cost.” Okay. Let’s talk about that for a little bit.

Beth:
Sure. Yeah. I wanted to write that up because the experience that I had when I first started calculating my recipe costs was so eyeopening and mind blowing and it really helped me move forward with the process of reigning in my food budget, because then I had the tools needed to make good decisions in the grocery store and for recipes. So when I list the cost breakdown of the recipes I make on the website, that’s how much it costs me, but that’s not necessarily how much it’s going to cost you because prices are different all over the country. They even change day to day within the same store. So the purpose of showing the cost that how much it costs me is so that you can see which ingredients carry more weight in the recipe. So if you need to, you can scale back on that ingredient when you’re making it at home. But I also advise people to try calculating the recipe costs at home with their own receipts, because it’s just so enlightening.

Beth:
So I have the article, how to calculate recipe costs. It’s actually linked in every single recipe card on the website. So it’s really easy to find. And it’ll walk you through step by step, how I calculate the recipe costs on the website. So you can do it at home.

Mindy:
And one more note, blessed are the food bloggers who have a button at the top that say jump to recipe.

Beth:
Yes.

Mindy:
I love the little backstory. Your website is actually very helpful with the information, but some people are like, “Oh, when I was at my grandma’s house, she used to make this and I remember this one time we took a walk” and I’m like, “I don’t care. Where’s the recipe?” And you’re scrolling for literal hours. When I’m scrolling through your recipe, it’s like, here’s a picture of this. “Oh, I really want to make that.” Here’s helpful information about things you can add to it. Thank you.

Beth:
You’re welcome. Well, I am a very private person and I have never wanted to share my life with the general public. So I have never been a storyteller on my blog. That being said, people who do tell stories on their blog, that’s their personal blog. If you don’t want to read that stuff, go to a recipe website, not a blog. Don’t complain about reading someone else’s diary. It’s your choice.

David:
I also enjoy though that when you click print, it prints the recipe as opposed to sometimes you print and you’ll get like nine pages and you’re like, “Uh, right. Cool. I appreciated your story, but I was hoping not to print nine pages to get to the recipe page.”

Beth:
That’s probably someone who just doesn’t have the technical knowledge to understand where [crosstalk 00:46:47] is in their recipe part. Poor thing.

Mindy:
Yeah. So this is fantastic. Beth, I so appreciate your time today. This was a lot of fun. I learned that you have an ingredient index. So you’ve changed my life. You’ve changed my cooking. I am getting ready to clear everything out of my pantry, because I am just, as those of you who have been following along with my budget, you have seen that I am blowing it every single month. So I am really, really, really buckling down. And this ingredient index is going to help me get rid of everything. In addition to checking out all of the delicious recipes you have and the calculating recipe costs. I’m very excited once I actually have to start buying recipe or ingredients again, once I clear out my 50 pantries. Doing it in a more intelligent and thoughtful manner, because I do think I can get my budget down. Oh, you wouldn’t even ask you what your grocery budget is, which probably doesn’t count because you’re probably making a lot of stuff for the site.

Beth:
I literally don’t have a grocery budget anymore. I cook for the website and then eat the leftover, so.

Mindy:
Okay. That makes sense. Okay. Well, I really believe that I can get my grocery budget down to a more reasonable amount if I’m just a little more thoughtful about it.

David:
So the bigger pockets community really looks forward to watching Mindy test the limits of your ingredient list with all the weird stuff she’s going to be searching for.

Beth:
Cool. Well, if you run into trouble along the way, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll try to help you give us more advice so you can get it going. And just remember, this is a really important point too, I think for a lot of people, it’s a habit and habits take time to build. So don’t get discouraged right away if you fail in the beginning. You’ve learned from your failure. Just keep trying until that habit is established.

Mindy:
Thank you so much for your time today. I really enjoyed talking to you.

Beth:
Thank you. This is a lot of fun.

Mindy:
That was Beth. I hope that you couldn’t tell that I was fan-girling every single minute, but I love her website. I love how easy it is to read her articles and her recipes. And she makes good recipes that taste delicious, that don’t break the bank. And I love her a lot and I hope that it didn’t come across too much in the show. David, what did you think of the episode?

David:
Well, I think my favorite part was when I realized as I was clicking through a website that I probably have a whole bunch of her recipes printed out at my house and just didn’t put two and two together that it was her. So definitely a fan of the website. I think the ingredient list was the idea that you can go in and say, “I have a whole bunch of ginger. Let me search for things I can do with this ginger.” I mean, that’s a brilliant way to organize things. And like I said, I’m going to go in and find some of my favorite ingredients and be like, “Ooh, how can I make an extra recipe with that because I really like that.” And I thought it was great. I learned a ton.

Mindy:
Yeah, no lie. That ingredient index is going to change the way that I cook. And I’m super excited to jump into that with all of the inventory that I have in my pantry. I’m going to go through and see what fabulous things I can make with the recipes on her site. The website is budgetbytes.com. That’s B-U-D-G-E-T-B-Y-T-E-S.com. And don’t go there unless you have a lot of time, because you are going to jump in and you are going to fall down a rabbit hole. Everything is delicious. Everything is… The pictures are amazing. The recipes are easy. She doesn’t have a bunch of weird stuff on her website. It’s good, healthy food at a discount.

David:
Yeah, it’s great.

Mindy:
I love her. Okay David, should we get out of here?

David:
We should. Let’s let’s go buy some food.

Mindy:
No, we’re going to go shop our pantries. Okay. From episode 299 of the BiggerPockets Money podcast, here is David Pere and I am Mindy Jensen saying smoke me a Kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.

 

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Common mistakes budgeters make when trying to plan weekly meals 
  • The biggest budget busters you’ll find in your local grocery store and what to buy instead
  • Beth’s go-to recipes that also act as pantry clean-out meals for less food waste
  • Meal planning and how to start with simple, filling recipes you won’t get tired of
  • Shopping without coupons and why the best ingredients are often the cheapest
  • Calculating the exact cost of your meals and tweaking recipes for frugal shoppers
  • And So Much More!

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