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Learning to cook for cash

I never thought that learning what “sautee” meant, and how to do it, would keep both me and my wallet from going hungry.

When paying my most recent credit card bills, I happily discovered I saved $30 in the past month alone by preparing a majority of meals at home rather
than eating out. At this rate, I stand to save $360 per year if I keep clear of restaurants and continue to cook.

Learning to cook for cash

The Web is rife with advice for young adults looking to conserve finances. Usually when I stumble upon these types of articles, I read them, bookmark the especially insightful ones and promise myself I’ll follow the suggestions as soon as I have some free time. I am sure you can see where this is going; I eventually forget or procrastinate implementation and keep spending as normal. But things are changing. Maybe it is the $100,000 albatross (law school loans) I am about to hang from my neck, but in the past month I’ve decided try out some suggestions for thrifty living.

My guide on this financial transformation was an article by columnist Kimberly Palmer about common money mistakes made by recent graduates. One error she highlights is the propensity for young adults to lose income by falling into bad habits, which may include going out for a few too many happy hours or springing for expensive restaurant meals. This is one financial faux pas of which I’m very guilty. I decided to start small when tackling it.

I love lattes. More specifically, I love going to coffee shops and being handed a delicious beverage that I did not have to make. But after cutting my weekly coffee runs in half, I saved about $20 over the course of a month, which translates to approximately $240 per year. Now I am becoming my own barista in an attempt to achieve greater frugality. Here’s a quick aside for other coffee-making newbies: Sweetened condensed milk makes everything better.

My next step was learning how to cook. When I graduated college I knew how to make scrambled eggs and pasta with canned sauce. These are fast dishes, but not very satisfying. So I usually just ate out. I never thought the savings from preparing balanced and tasty meals at home was worth the time it takes to do so. Multitasking was my solution. I watch at least a solid hour of Netflix each night. Now I tilt the TV screen toward the kitchen and go about my movie viewing business as normal while cooking.

I also learned that the types of items bought at the grocery store matter a lot. When I first started grocery shopping, I spent $70 and was only able to prepare about 10-15 meals and snacks. My purchases included a lot of processed goods and TV dinners. Most recently, I paid $29 and made approximately the same number of meals by choosing mostly raw ingredients rather than prepackaged food.

Just changing two of my worst eating habits will save me almost $600 each year. As thrilled as I am by the prospect of additional pocket money, I know I need to keep following my new recipe for thriftiness. A few months ago I probably would have spent any extra cash on some new (unnecessary) clothing. But, now I’m in the market for a retirement investment. I’ll keep you updated as I try to avoid making another common mistake Palmer discusses: delaying investing and saving.

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  • Hi Cara, Love this story and I am super-honored that you found my column to be a source of inspiration! Thank you for sharing! -Kim