How much of your grocery shopping cart is filled with convenience foods, already sliced and diced, premixed, prepared, or even cooked and served up on a plastic platter?
On the Fool's Living Below Your Means board, spl241 relates a story from his butcher about a customer looking for cooked rotisserie chickens. The butcher had none, but he had raw chickens on sale for $0.79 a pound. The customer declined, instead driving eight miles to Wal-Mart
"I hardly ever sell a chuck or arm roast to anyone under 40," the butcher said. "I hear, 'That looks good, but what do I do with it?' all the time."
Convenience foods have totally revolutionized the lives of harried parents and poor cooks. They've made everything from tandoori chicken to chipotle burritos available in the grocery store's freezer case. They've also made a lot of money for companies like Kraft Foods
They may also have made food more mysterious than it needs to be. Shoppers pay quite a bit for those conveniences, and sometimes having a few skills in the kitchen (or garage or laundry room) can save you quite a few dollars. Once you bone up on a few skills, you may realize that it's really pretty easy to make dinner or fix a flat tire. (And, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, "Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.")
Cooking is one place to start, and you don't have to start milling your own flour or growing your own sprouts to see some savings. Chopping your own vegetables, rinsing your own salad greens, and mastering a few quick and easy meals will cut down the money spent on fast food and frozen dinners.
And, let's face it, it takes at least 30 minutes to stop at the store on the way home from work for the rotisserie chicken and the salad-in-a-bag. That's enough time to make dinner, if you have the ingredients on hand.
This one is easy for me because I love to cook, and I find I'm constantly learning interesting tricks.
I once had the urge to make pancakes from scratch. You know, gourmet pancakes -- not from a box. I looked up a bunch of recipes and quickly realized that "pancake mix" is little more than flour mixed with baking soda or baking powder, maybe some powdered milk, and salt. Yep, I already had all the ingredients sitting on the pantry shelf next to the box of pancake mix, which probably cost me a couple dollars more than the raw ingredients.
Sewing is another basic skill that can pay dividends later. Learning to do small chores, like putting a button back on a shirt, hemming a pair of pants, or shortening those really long curtains, isn't too hard. If you don't think you have the time, think about how long it takes to drive the pants to the dry cleaner or tailor, try them on, wait for the alteration, then drive back and pick them up.
Advice columns urging people to find their inner do-it-yourselfer also suggest that drivers learn basic auto maintenance. You can save yourself some dollars by changing your own oil, doing regular engine checks, and skipping some expensive trips to the mechanic.
Have at it. In full disclosure, this Fool will do nothing more complicated in a car than try to program the radio. But that's the fun of the convenience economy -- you can save a few dollars on the things you enjoy doing and spend a few dollars on the chores you dread.
The LBYM board is full of Fools seeking out ways to trim their spending while swapping thoughts about life in general. (See the rest of the thread for some good advice about pork roast.)
Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple does not own stock in any company mentioned in this article, and she welcomes your feedback. Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick; Kraft is an Income Investor selection; and Whole Foods is a Stock Advisor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.