Meat and potatoes: How to save money by going Irish

Maybe it’s because I’m not Irish, but the most I’ve ever done to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day was have a glass of Guinness. Potatoes, cabbage and corned beef just never seemed that appetizing.

But I was shopping with a friend the other day for her annual St. Paddies dinner when I realized I may have been too harsh on the Irish. They had one thing right: you just can’t get more affordable than potatoes with the occasional carrot or head of lettuce. And stew meat and corned beef are some of the cheapest cuts at the store. When my friend’s meal is finished, it’s going to have cost just a buck or so per person (counting the leftover stew she’s going to freeze for several future meals).

It’s not just the Irish, either. Poor countries the world over have always had to be creative with food because their options were so limited. Less tender cuts of meat they can’t sell, but can simmer in a stew until it falls off the bone or cure, smoke or grind into sausage. Vegetables a peasant family can easily grow themselves (root vegetables like potatoes are favorites because they’re so starchy and filling, you don’t notice there’s not that much on your plate to begin with).

In America, however, it’s a different story. Most of our grocery stores are packed with options from all over the country and even the world. Elaborate end-of-aisle displays and special sales are all designed to get us to spend more than we should. We have gourmet shoved in our face every day, even if we can’t afford it.

Maybe I won’t be making corned beef anytime soon, but in honor of the Irish, I’ve vowed to pay more attention to the food I put in my cart. This St. Patrick’s Day, my family is eating baked potatoes—filling, but cheap. Want to cut down your grocery bill as well? Here’s some advice.

Learn to tune out a lot of your options. For instance, snack food isn’t necessary. Not only does it add extra calories and usually lacks in nutrition, but it can get expensive. A bag of chips might seem cheap, but if your family can tear through it in a day or two, it will add up before you know it. While you’re at it, why buy name brand food when you can get something nearly identical for half the price? My family significantly cut down our bills by switching to generic for pantry items like cereal, soup, sugar and flour. And instead of getting frozen, pre-packaged dinners for $4-5 a pop, make your own meals and freeze the leftovers for a much smaller cost.

Shopping smart just takes a game plan. Make a list of what you need before you go to the store so you don’t get suckered into any spontaneous spending. And, you probably already know this, but never go shopping hungry—you’ll leave the store broke, guilty and with way more food than you can possibly eat.

For more tips on smart shopping, send away for our free Financial Toolkit or mark your calendar for our upcoming community workshops (not only are they complimentary, but attendees will get a hot meal on-the-house and the chance to win a new laptop). If you still need some guidance, feel free to register for our one-on-one debt analysis, a no-cost hour-long meeting with one of our professional debt relief attorneys. Loads of free advice that will help save you money? I’ll raise my green beer to that any day.

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