During November, Financial Literacy Month, I read a lot of useful information and sensible advice about managing personal finances, paying off debt and saving for short- and long-term goals. It was educational and inspiring.
Now December has begun, and we are challenged to put that financial literacy into action.
I love the bright decorations, the socializing, the music and the generosity that mark this month. And I know that the expectations of the season all come with a cost. Some have been planning for this, setting aside a little money regularly throughout the year to use for this bump in spending, and others are doing the best they can with paycheques and plastic.
With few exceptions, people need to make their money stretch to accommodate extra spending.
There are some costs, such as rent or mortgage payments, that are fixed; there isn’t much that can be done to change them. One of the places where there is some flexibility is spending on food; however, it takes real diligence to spend less or even hold the line on food spending with so many tempting traditions and special meals to prepare for.
It is important to acknowledge the extra costs that the season brings, and to keep the cost of everyday meals down.
Be aware of what you have on hand, and use it. Before taking a trip to the grocery store, have a good look at what is in the fridge, and plan to make use of it while it’s still good. Canadians have a bad record for wasting food, and this is a good month to change that. Use leftovers. Today’s leftover stew will taste a little different and go a little further when topped with biscuit dough and baked in the oven. The broccoli stems in the crisper can be cooked with a few carrots, added to a white sauce, pureed and seasoned to make a tasty soup. Here’s a basic recipe that can be used with many vegetables.
Basic Cream of Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Wattie, Helen and Elinor Donaldson: Nellie Lyle Pattinson’s Canadian Cook Book, Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1969.
750 mL (3 cups) thin white sauce made from
750 mL (3 cups) milk (homogenized, reduced fat or evaporated)
45 mL (3 tbsp) butter or margarine
45 mL (3 tbsp) all purpose flour
375 mL (1 ½ cups) water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
500 to 750 mL (2 to 3 cups) vegetables (carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, celery),
cut in bite-size pieces
seasoning (choose to suit the vegetable, and adjust amounts to taste):
white or black pepper
hot pepper sauce
garnish (your choice)
minced parsley or other herb
minced green onions or chives
sprinkle of paprika
Prepare white sauce:
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. As butter melts, stir in flour. Let mixture bubble.
Add cold milk a little at a time, stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon until smooth.
Cook until mixture thickens, and has no taste of raw starch. Set aside.
Bring the water or stock to a boil, add the prepared vegetables and cook until just tender. Stir the vegetable stock and cooked vegetables into the white sauce. Puree if desired.
Reheat to serving temperature, if necessary.
Season to taste.
Serve in heated bowls. Garnish.
Makes 6 servings.
This is a good time to draw on any other food that you have on hand in cupboards or the freezer. Think about cooking a crock of baked beans, making lentil soup, reheating the foil-packed cooked chicken that you stashed in the freezer last month or baking the squash that’s in the basement. Use what you have.
Economizing on food is not limited to the big meal of the day. Don’t save all the rolled oats for baking; cook some for breakfast.
Commercial breakfast cereal is more expensive, and less satisfying, than a meal of oatmeal porridge or mixed grain cereal.
Food spending does not just include money spent at the grocery store.
It’s also worth questioning how important it is to pick up drive-through coffee on the way to work or buy weekday restaurant lunches.
Notice I am not suggesting that we need to forgo lunches with friends or special outings with co-workers or other associates.
Saving on mindless everyday spending can help to accommodate the extra costs of these special meal occasions that we really value.
It’s definitely more economical, and only a little more time-consuming, to make a pot of coffee at home to fill a travel mug or to pack a lunch in the evening to take to work the following day than it is to pay restaurant prices for these every day.
These simple measures will not work miracles, but they will help to stretch the food dollar a little further, freeing up a few dollars to buy extra butter, nuts and chocolate for holiday baking.
And once those treats are baked, the trick is to find a safe place, out of reach of impulsive snackers, to keep it until it’s needed.) It is also helpful to buy a few of the extra non-perishable foods that you’d like to have for special meals like Christmas dinner during each shopping trip, to spread the cost out over the month.
There is room for most of us to better manage spending on food at a time when every loonie counts.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, writes this column for The Guardian every Wednesday. She welcomes comments from readers and can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.