Easy Cheap Meal Ideas

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Saving money at the grocery store can help your budget tremendously. With just a little bit of planning and creative thinking, you can make meals that you and your family will enjoy, without spending a lot and without having to waste food that's gone bad. If you strategize before you go shopping, at the grocery store, and in your kitchen, a great, cheap meal is within reach.

Clipping coupons to save

Throwing away those coupons in the Sunday paper and junk mail? Stop right there. You could be saving big money on your family's next meal. A general rule of thumb--keep all the coupons, even if you don't think the coupon is for something you might buy at your next supermarket trip. Then visit CouponMom.com and register for a free membership. This site has a feature that allows you to choose your state, and your grocery store. It then lists all the grocery store deals going on at the moment, plus any coupons that have been put out by the manufacturer. The result? You can get products for pennies on the dollar, and sometimes free, by combining a coupon along with a store deal. Many coupons tend to be for non-perishable items, so if you can get something for little to no money, you can store it in your pantry until you decide to make a meal that calls for it. A good example for this is a grill marinade. It may be the dead of winter, but if you can get a free marinade to save for the summer, you've got nothing to lose.

Planning and cooking to save

There's one large mistake that results in money being almost literally thrown in the garbage: not planning your meals to align with what you buy at the grocery store. Few meals, for example, no matter how large, will call for an entire package of celery. If you don't use the whole thing, it eventually goes bad. If, however, you cook two or three meals for the week with the same ingredient, you won't have to throw away what you didn't use. Another upside to planning your meals for the next week or two before you shop is that you can buy in bulk, saving big money in the long run.

Making meals to save

When it comes to the actual meals themselves, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, recipes with fewer ingredients tend to be cheaper. Experiment with recipes to see if you can reduce the number of ingredients while still keeping the flavor and texture of the dish. Also, see if you can replace certain ingredients with cheaper ones. For example, if a recipe calls for pine nuts (which are very expensive) you may be able to substitute walnuts. Another tip: pick your proteins wisely. Aside from hot dogs and hamburgers, meat tends to be the most expensive part of most meals. Try recipes that call for cheaper cuts of meat, such as skirt steak rather than filets. Also, buying whole chickens instead of skinless, boneless chicken breasts will save you money. Better yet, try going meatless in some of your recipes. Other ingredients such as dairy products, nuts, and legumes contain protein and are often cheaper than meat.

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