Hints and Tips

  $2 Dinner’s Top 10 Tips
for Saving Money on Your Food Budget

Here's a list of my “top 10” money-saving tips. You’ve probably heard some of these before, but they’re such good advice I think they bear repeating. If you don’t take anything else away from this list, I hope you at least take Tip #1 to heart. I promise you that if you plan your meals ahead, you will spend less on your grocery budget and you will save yourself time and frustration!
1. Plan your meals- Planning your menu for the week saves you money by helping you avoid spur-of-the-moment trips to the store (where you run the risk of picking up extra items). Having a plan and knowing what’s for dinner also saves you time at the end of a long day.

2. Make a list and stick to it- A list helps you avoid expensive impulse buys, and ensures you have everything you need to prepare meals for the week. Be sure to make your list at home where you can check for what you might already have on hand.

3. Don’t shop while you’re hungry- Shopping when you’re hungry can distract you with hunger pangs that tempt you into picking up extra budget-busting items like snacks and junk food.

4. Avoid convenience and packaged foods- Although they can be tempting time-savers, the convenience typically comes at a non-budget-friendly price on many of these items, so you should consider carefully before giving in. In addition, convenience and packaged foods are generally high in sodium and preservatives. Don’t get me wrong, there are convenience foods like jars of pasta sauce that I keep in my pantry for last-minute meal ideas. The key is to only use convenience foods occasionally instead of relying on them all the time.

5. Buy stores brands- Store brand items are usually of equal quality to name-brands at a lower price. Experiment with different store-brand items to see which ones work for you.

6. Look for lower-priced items on the top and bottom shelves- Stores place higher-priced items at eye-level where shoppers can easily see them, while lower-priced items are placed out of a shopper’s direct line of sight.

7. Get more “bang” for your protein buck- Protein is one of the most expensive items in your grocery budget, so when planning your meals, look for recipes such as casseroles, soups, stews, and skillet meals that stretch your protein source as far as it can go. By building the main part of your meals around rice, noodles, or other grains and using smaller amounts of meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, you save money and 99 weekly store ads so you can make room in your budget to take advantage of sales. Before you shop, be sure you know how much space you have in your pantry and your freezer. And please...don't buy something just because it's on sale! If your family won't eat it, it's not a bargain!

9. Look for alternate sources of protein- Consider substituting beans (such as pinto, kidney, or Great Northern) or eggs for meat in your meal-planning occasionally. Both are economical ways to get protein in your diet because they’re usually less expensive than meat.

10. Experiment with “double-duty dinners”- Finding ways to re-imagine today’s leftovers into tomorrow’s dinner is a fun and creative way to save on your food budget. For example, leftover meatballs from today’s spaghetti and meatballs can become tomorrow’s meatball subs, tonight’s leftover roasted chicken can become tomorrow’s chicken pie, etc.

Bonus Tip: Leave the plastic and checkbook at home and carry cash to the store! You won't believe how much easier it is to stick to your budget when you don't have the safety net that debit/credit cards and checkbooks provide.
However, there is a situation where shopping with our debit/credit card can actually result in additional savings. If your debit or credit card gives you cash-back rewards, it may be worth your while to use that card for shopping. All you have to do is set aside the cash you’ve allocated for groceries, shop using your card (and stick to the budget!). Then, the day after you shop, deposit the cash in your bank and use it to pay off your card for the amount you spent on groceries. It’s a bit more work to shop like this, but rewards like cash back, restaurant gift cards, etc. can make those extra steps really worth it. You have to get groceries anyway, so why not get a little bonus for shopping?

Bonus Tip #2: Be sure to sign up for customer loyalty/rewards programs for every store you shop at. The insider deals, rewards and discounts make these programs worth it and it’s free to sign up!

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Food Volume and Weight Equivalents
Have you ever wondered how many graham cracker squares you need to crush to get a cup of crumbs? Ever needed to know how many cups of cooked meat you can get from a pound of chicken? Knowing the volume and weight equivalents of certain foods is a valuable planning tool that can help you save money by avoiding waste, and time by having the amount you need when you need it. Here's some information to help when you get stuck!

Bread: 1 slice = ½ cup soft crumbs; ¼ cup fine dry crumbs
Chocolate or vanilla wafers: 20 to 22 cookies = about 1 cup crumbs
Graham crackers: 7 squares = ½ cup finely crushed crumbs

Whites: 1 cup = 8 large; 10 to 11 medium; 11 to 12 small
Whole: 1 cup = 5 large; 6 medium; 7 small
Yolks: 1 cup = 12 large; 13 to 14 medium; 15 to 16 small

Apples: 1 pound (3 medium apples) = 2 ¾ cups sliced; 2 to 2 ½ cups chopped
Bananas: 1 pound (3 medium) = 1 1/3 cups mashed; 1 ½ to 2 cups sliced
Cranberries: 12 ounces = 3 cups whole; 2 ½ cups chopped
Grapefruit: 1 medium = 1 cup juice; 1 ½ cups segments
Grapes: 1 pound = 3 cups
Lemons: 1 medium = 3 tbsp. juice; 2 tsp. grated peel (zest)
Limes: 1 medium = 2 tbsp. juice; 1 ½ tsp. grated peel (zest)
Oranges: 1 medium = 1/3 to ½ cups juice; 4 tsp. grated peel
Peaches: 1 pound (4 medium) = 2 ¾ cups sliced; 2 ¼ cups chopped
Pumpkin: 5 pounds = 4 ½ cups cooked and mashed
Strawberries: 1 pint = 2 cups hulled and sliced

Grains and Pasta
Barley: 3/4 cup uncooked pearl or 1-1/4 cups uncooked quick cooking = 3 cups cooked
Flour (all-purpose): 1 pound = 3-1/2 cups
Flour (whole wheat): 1 pound = 3- 3/4 cups
Macaroni: 1 cup (3-1/2 oz.) uncooked = 2 cups cooked
Noodles (medium): 3 cups (4 oz.) uncooked = 4 cups cooked
Oats (quick cooking): 1-1/2 cups uncooked = 3 cups cooked
Oats (rolled): 1 cup uncooked = 1-3/4 cups cooked
Rice (brown, long-grain, or wild): 1 cup uncooked = 3 cups cooked
Spaghetti: 8 oz. uncooked = 5 cups cooked

Chicken (boneless breasts): ¾ pound = 2 cups cooked and cubed
Chicken (whole): 3 ½ pounds = 3 cups cooked and cubed
Ground beef (raw): 1 pound = 2 ¾ cups, cooked and crumbled
Ham (diced): 1 pound = 3 cups
Ham (ground): 1 pound = 2 cups

Beans (dried): 1 pound = 2 cups uncooked; 6 cups cooked
Beans (canned): 15-ounce can = 1 2/3 cups drained
Butter: 1 pound = 2 cups
Cheese (shredded): 4 ounces = 1 cup
Cheese (cottage): 1 pound = 2 cups

Carrots: 1 pound = 3 cups chopped or sliced; 2 ½ cups shredded
Celery: 1 medium rib = ½ cup chopped
Corn: 2 medium ears = 2/3 to 1 cup kernels
Cucumbers: 1 pound = 3 cups sliced
Green Onions: 1 onion = 2 tbsp. sliced
Lettuce (Iceberg): 1 ½ lbs. (1 medium head) = 10 cups torn
Lettuce (Romaine): 1 lb. (1 medium bunch) = 6 cups torn
Mushrooms (button): 1 lb. = 6 cups sliced (raw); 2 cups sliced (cooked)
Onions: 1 lb. (4 medium) = 2 to 3 cups chopped
Peppers (green or red sweet): 2 large = 2 ½ rings or strips
Potatoes (new): 8 to 10 = 1 lb.
Potatoes (russet): 1 pound (3 medium) = 3 ½ cups chopped; 2 to 3 cups mashed
Spinach (fresh): 1 pound = 12 cups torn; 1 cup cooked
Tomatoes: 1 pound (3 medium) = 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups chopped

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