Saving a few bucks by cooking at home – 3 recipes to get started

My girlfriend and I tend to eat out at a lot of restaurants. Often times, its not much more expensive than buying all the ingredients and cooking for just two, but there are a few great meals that consistently save big bucks and taste awesome. Our favorites so far this summer:

1) Homemade bean soup – We made this last weekend, it was awesome. Recipe is easy. Take a bag of pinto beans (16 oz), a cup or two of ham chunks (ham hocks if you want, or just cubed ham), a chopped onion, a diced jalapeno, a couple cloves of diced garlic and a couple teaspoons of salt. Throw it all in a crock pot. Put it on high for 1.5 hours. Turn it down to low and let it cook for 2-3 hours. The beans will be tender when its ready to eat. Its awesome. Eat with cornbread and you’ve got a full meal for two for $10 with leftovers.

2) Homemade pizza – We’ve made this several times this summer. A trader joes opened up nearby that sells pizza dough in a bag (thawed, not frozen) for $1.20 a bag. Its enough to make a whole pizza, plenty for two with leftovers depending on the toppings. Our choice: Buy a jar of pizza sauce for $2, buy some pancetta for $4, buy some fresh tomatoes for $2 and a log of fresh mozzarella for $3 and you have an excellent pizza from start to finish in 30 minutes for $12 (with leftover pancetta and cheese for omelettes on the weekend). We just push the dough out into a regular 9×13 baking sheet and go that route for a doughy but good crust.  I’m thinking about buying a pizza stone next.  It looks like they are about $30, but the consistent and high heat is supposed to give your pizza that excellent crispyness on the bottom.

3) Breakfast for Dinner – I’m a sucker for sweet stuff so pancakes with syrup are pretty much heaven for me.  My girlfriend goes for savory stuff so omelettes are her favorite but, either way, breakfast for dinner is super cheap and quick to make.  Its hard to go wrong with pancakes, eggs and bacon anytime of the day as far as I’m concerned.

Be a tourist in your own city – Weekend on a budget

My birthday was a few months back and some friends bought my girlfriend and I Seattle City Pass tickets.  I’ve lived in Seattle quite a while so I’ve been to most of the standard attractions at least a few times, but the City Pass had an expiration date and it was quickly approaching so this was the weekend to take advantage.

We started at the Seattle Aquarium.  Normally $15, we got in for free.  The main attraction was the Giant Octopus whose tank was mobbed by kids, but was impressive nonetheless and the seals and sea otters in the outdoor tanks.

Next up was the Royal Argosy Harbor Cruise.  Not worth full price but, on a sleepy weekend afternoon, they were offering half price tickets anyway.  It was certainly worth going on the boat ride, it was a beautiful day in Seattle and nothing beats being on the water in someone elses boat!

Last up was the Seattle Museum of Flight.  Seeing a blackbird airplane up close was awesome, being on Kennedy’s Air Force One was even better!

We also took a trip to the Woodland Park Zoo, always a nice place to spend the day.  There was a huge bear sleeping against the window.  Is it wrong to tell my friends I came within 2 inches of a bear this weekend and just refuse to elaborate on it at all?  No need to tell them I was at the zoo as far as I’m concerned.

Bottom line?  If you want to save a little money and still feel like a tourist for the weekend, think about a City Pass in your city.  Its easy to spend $45 in a flash on the weekend without even remembering what you spent it on.  With a city pass, you can visit 4 or 5 fun places, fill your weekend with interesting activities and save some money in the process.

Planning Ahead Can Save You Big Bucks

I’m guilty of wasting money.  It used to be that buying local meant supporting local business and encouraging entrepreneurship.  Today, with the dissapearance of the mom and pop shop and the proliferation of the big box stores, buying local just isn’t what it used to be. 

The main reason to buy local now is for convenience and, that convenience comes with a hefty tag.  For example, a few weeks ago I was looking for a new book on Programming Ruby for work.  The book was $39.95 at Barnes and Noble down the street from me (didn’t have it at the local Borders), but only $26.37 at Amazon.com.  The reason I strongly considered buying it at Barnes and Noble?  Immediate Gratification.

Waiting 3 days would save me $13 on this purchase alone.  The same thing happens but on a much more costly scale around Christmas time.  I try to buy more and more locally made items around the holidays, realizing most of my loved ones don’t really care about the latest gadget, but sometimes you do need to buy the mainstream item, be it a new MP3 player, fancy coffee pot or power tool for dad.

Buying these items locally just doesn’t make sense.  You can’t easily compare against other models, you’re often stuck with what is in the store.  You’re almost guaranteed to pay full retail price for it or sacrifice the model you want for the model that is on sale.  For these items, there is really only one option.  Online.

If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t know what to pick up, visit woot.com, midnightbox.com or foxsfour.com for a few great deals served up once a day. 

If you know the category you are looking for, browse Amazon, pricewatch.com or buy.com.

The thing I need to get in the habit of is breaking down and buying things early.  It is October now and it seems ridiculous to shop for Christmas gifts, but it’ll ease the stress of the holidays if you do it now and you may even be able to get a better deal.  Your friend’s and family’s interests are unlikely to change much in the next few months, so, unless your shopping for kids or teenagers that may crave the next big fad due this holiday season, buying something that is in vogue now will likely be just as appreciated in the holiday season if you had waited until the malls were packed and the prices were at full retail!

Hot Gift Ideas for This Holiday Season:
Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator

Factory-Reconditioned DEWALT DC4CPKAR 18-Volt Ni-Cad Cordless 4-Tool Combo Kit

Pinzon Bamboo Cotton Towel