Saturday, January 1, 2011

Safety in numbers

In this post, I will expose the two basic ways that you can use to expand your food stock while maintaining a tight budget: bulking up and communal effort.

Bulking up

One way where we will generally mess up our budget is by the portioning of food; what I mean by that is that we tend to buy items based on individual price for immediate need, rather than volume price for multiple uses. A simple example of that is rice. While we may think that buying a small bag, say one pound fits in this week's budget better, buying a five or ten pound bag, while more expensive on the individual purchase, actually brings more return on the long term because you will get a greater quantity for the price. The larger the item, the cheaper per weight.

Its simple economics really: if you have one hundred pounds of rice to sell, you'll be spending more effort and resources portioning it in one hundred packages of one pound each than in ten packages of ten pounds each. The smaller packages tend to also move at a slower rate, which means that the expenses of keeping it in store is higher.

Another important and clear example is with meat: the smaller and more specific the piece of meat, the higher the price per weight. Next time that you're in a grocery store, head to the meat section and look at the price per pound of chicken: look at the price of drum sticks, breast steaks, wings, and then look at the price of a whole chicken. Sure, you are alone and very few people can eat a whole chicken in one sitting, but when you've learned how to deal with the bugger, you'll pretty much stop buying your birds in parts and just deal with the whole beast at home.

I'm not saying that you'll do the same thing with pork and beef, but something similar will happen. The idea here is that you'll realize that the price of the food item has to do with the amount of work that others have put into it. You can save lots of money by doing the work yourself, and you'll look really awesome to your guests when you can serve feasts of flavor and plenty on a tight budget.

Communal effort

 Chances are, you have friends. And chances are that your friends are in the same sort of financial bind as you are. That's just how society works, we tend to associate with people who are at a similar social status, especially when it comes to finances. People who have money don't tend to friend and associate with people who don't, so if you don't have loads of cash your best bet is to stick together. As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall.

Now, in all disclosure, I'm something of an anarchist in my approach to life's problems. While I am quite inclined to solve problems on my own (the joys of self-reliance), I do also have to accept that there are times when the best solution is to team up and pool efforts and resources for greater total results.

When you get right down to it, we all have our little specialties, either out of interests, inclinations or inborn talent. Its like a sports team or a military unit. You don't build a team out of multitasking supermen, you build a team out of resourceful individuals who are very good at some specialized tasks, which talent is put to the service of the whole group. A kitchen also works on the same principle: everyone thinks that being a chef is what it's all about, but the chef is something more of a team leader and manager. Under his direction is a whole crew of specialists who can execute their tasks so that the whole kitchen is as effective as possible while achieving the best results. Its a misunderstanding to think that the chef is solely responsible for the great dish: your meal is the result of the entire kitchen staff's combined effort.

When you deal with home cooking on a tight budget, and you want to maximize that budget by bulking up, the larger bulk item are far too much for a single household. However, if it is split amongst, say four houses, then everybody saves money. By pooling your kitchen know-how, everybody also benefits from those pooled skills and a single afternoon allows everybody to take home not four dishes each, as you would on your own, but possibly up to sixteen dishes. And all of that on a smarter budget.

When you get right down to it, four people shopping together can not only pool their budget money to maximize the amount of food, but they can spread those interesting preparations amongst friends, improving the variety of your weekly fare, but by all shopping together, they save money on gas as everybody share the same vehicle. The larger bulk items, like those eighty pounds bag of rice, at about forty bucks make the rice per pound at fifty cents. And by sharing the vehicle, it is now possible to bring that heavy bastard home, something which you might not be able to do on your own.

One thing that can be tricky when cooking for yourself is that most recipes as portioned for four, six, eight, even twenty people sometimes, so adjusting those preparations to one or two is a bit of an obstacle. Preparing in advance and learning how to preserve that food is one way to deal with that problem; but taking this same recipe and multiplying it, doubling the outcome allows you to save because you'll be buying larger amounts that are cheaper to the pound. You'll also be maximizing your output because while on your own you'd need to do four different meat dishes and that would be it, by teaming up you'd get those dishes, AND cookies, AND bread, AND soups, AND an increased variety of dishes, all with about the same amount of effort and time.

That looks like something of a WIN in my book!

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