Practical Tips to Stretch Your Budget

There are lots of articles out there on riding out inflation, recession, and everything in between. I thought today I'd talk about more practical day-to-day things we can do to stretch our money.


With Christmas coming, I'm curious to see if consumers will overspend to satisfy their families. I wish we as a society would stop catering to our whims and think long term. Will a child play with a toy for two days or two years? How fondly will you remember that new electronic game or gadget?

Instead of buying a gift for each person, could you convince your family to forego gifts in exchange for a family outing?


For the past year I've restocked my closet from garage sales. I've bought unique t-shirts in quality fabrics for anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar. You can't beat that. Hint: Men's t-shirts are usually sturdier than women's t-shirts.

Eating out

I must admit, that's always been our weakness. We love to try new restaurants, especially if we're out in the big city. Prices have become exorbitant even for a middle class couple with no kids, not to mention the tip. We've decided to limit eating out, saving it for when we're far from home, or for special occasions.

If it's hard for you to break the habit, consider having an appetizer as a meal. Americans don't realize how big our portions are to other countries. I often order the appetizer for my meal and it's more than enough. 

Split a meal. I can't get Greg to do this, even though he often takes home a portion of his meal. Does anyone remember the Friends' story line for Joey? Joey doesn't share food. Neither does Greg.

If you're not Joey, or Greg, consider splitting a plate. 

Eating at home

There are a lot of ways to stretch food at home. 

  • Add water to your slow cooked meats and poultry to make a broth.

  • When you pull the meat out, turn the broth into a gravy with fat and a little flour. Stir until smooth.

  • Add beans. You can add beans to a meal or use it as a replacement for meat. It's equally nutritious and full of protein.

  • Use half. I've started doing this myself. Where in the past I might use up a whole jar of pasta sauce, gravy, or BBQ sauce, I've started cutting back and using less to save for next time. This works particularly well if you use an instant pot or slow cooker. Both these cooking methods require much less moisture than stove top cooking.

  • Check your fridge regularly so no food gets wasted. If it looks like it's starting to go, cook it first.

  • Save your scraps. If I don't use up a whole vegetable and can't use it right away, I toss it into a freezer bag I label 'soup scraps'. These become my base for soup.

  • Learn to cook from scratch. It's sad so few people know how to do this anymore, but I understand. When I was a teenager I had no interest in cooking. That changed after I married. It was a long, slow trudge to learn the basics on my own, but now I wouldn't cook any other way.

  • Stretch meat with TVP (textured vegetable protein).  This 2 lb can is supposed to have 40 servings. That's a great return for the price.

  • Use every drop or piece. I remember being horrified watching a good friend throw away the green part of the scallions she was chopping. Also, never throw out your oil container without tilting it on its side and getting every last drop out. There's always some left.

  • Pack a lunch instead of eating out. Sadly, it's no longer the good old days where you can afford to eat out every work day.

  • Fill up on fillers. Unless you're diabetic, rice and pasta are good fillers. Diabetics must stick to beans, nuts, and cheese.

  • Eat less. I'm serving just a little bit less than before to stretch a meal.

  • If the kids are looking for a quick snack, give them popcorn. Save even more money by popping corn the old fashioned way on the stove top.

  • Meat is ridiculously priced, but cheaper cuts can be used in stews, soups, and casseroles. Buy the meat in a roast, cube it yourself then freeze until needed.

I wish it weren't so, but it's definitely belt cinching time. Prices are beyond ridiculous. Do whatever you can to save money because I'm afraid it'll only get worse. In 50 years of grocery shopping I've never seen the economy so volatile.

Have you changed anything to save money? Do you ever split a plate with your dining partner?

If you haven't already done so, invest in a slow cooker or instant pot. I swear by them. They can turn tough cuts of meat fork-tender.


Angela Brown said…
Mentally, I've been preparing myself for this since the pandemic started, especially when I first started hearing various plants shut down. Severely dipping gas prices during that time were also a huge hint that things were going to get bonkers. I can't be the only one who remembers the surging prices at the pumps during the early 2000's. Supply and demand...the business cycle...a number of other factors are at play, are always at play.

So, I've been working on improving my own daily habits. Like you and your hubby, I love to eat out. I'm getting a little better at recognizing the importance of stretching meals I make at home, prepping on Sundays so I have plenty to last me through the work week and treat myself to eat out meals on the weekend. And because serving sizes are so huge, I can make an eat-out meal last for 2 or 3 meals.

With a kid in college, it has become even more important to stretch every penny as best as possible while still living a good life. I'm also trying to be a decent example to my daughter of the importance of living within or below your means for when she gets out on her own.

As for Christmas, I would actually be surprised if folks restrained themselves during the holidays. If anything, what'll happen is folks will reduce the amount of outside charity they provide during the holidays due to rising costs. I'm actually hoping that there will be people looking for ways to reduce their tax burden and look to some of these charitable organizations to donate and give for end of calendar year tax deductions.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: First of all, don't tell me little "D" is already in college!!!

The last time I saw her she was just a little bitty thing. I can't believe it.

re: preps on Sundays
That's exactly what I used to do when I worked a full time job. It was a big stress reliever that I didn't have to think up what to make every single day.

I still do batch cooking but the days change depending on my schedule.

re: economy

I was afraid this would happen after they forced everyone to stay indoors for 3 months. I was kind of hoping we'd snap out of it by now but it just seems to linger like a bad smell.

Too many bad things have happened after forced isolation. It was a cakewalk for us, but it had a trickle down effect on a macro level for the economy, for education, and global stability.

I'm glad you're on top of things. People who don't plan ahead usually don't like the outcome.

Unknown said…
Bob and I split meals a lot. We ask the server for an extra plate and they are happy to help. We also order the senior portion or lunch serving for dinner. That does help. Unless it’s pizza or something we know we can easily reheat the best day. Tell Greg in his “old” age he is entitled to share or get the smaller portions. Wish you well. Food prices over here are outrageous. Wish you well.
Maria Zannini said…
Beth: We eat dinner so early the lunch menu is still on. LOL!

I especially like to order lunch at new restaurants. That'll tell me if it's worth revisiting.

I was reading that the Houston area has some of the highest inflation in Texas--followed closely by Dallas. You can't win.
Mike Keyton said…
We’re buying a slow cooker for Christmas- exciting eh? Looking forward to oxtail stews and slow cooked offal like beef hearts 😎
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: Oxtail stew used to be my very favorite! No other stew comes close. I gave it up after the mad cow scare.

They say it's safe, but I'm already a mad cow, and I don't want to take any chances. :D
Jenny Schwartz said…
One of the big luxuries in my life was buying a popcorn maker. Before then I used the stovetop method and olive oil (which burns easily) and so many times my pre-popcorn eating involved scrubbing the scorch mark on the bottom of the pot. Pro-tip: soak the pot immediately in hot soapy water. Just about an inch at the bottom of the pot. Then you can eat your popcorn guiltfree while the soap deals with the scorch mark, before (relatively) easily scrubbing it off.
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: Try coconut oil for high heat.

I've always just used plain canola or corn oil. Like you, I wash that pot immediately. The last thing I want to do is scrub out scorch marks.

We eat popcorn maybe every few months, so I can't justify an air popper. But it's definitely a worthy inclusion if you love popcorn.

After it's popped, I soften the butter until it's liquid and drizzle it on the corn. The salt sticks better to it too.
Luba Meader said…
You're spot on Maria, the market is so volatile right now, that I'm afraid some Americans will forego their medicines just to eat. And that meal may consist of just Ramen noodles. Anyway, I too have cut back and my SO and I have split a meal with regards to "Eating out." A funny, my mom came for a visit from Germany, and I took her to a very fancy restaurant in Illinois. The waitress came with our food, chicken, and my mom couldn't believe her eyes. The chicken breast was huge...I honestly think it was more like half a chicken. She found it funny and we took the rest of her chicken home. I should have offered to split the meal with her, as I had a salad!!! I have a recipe that requires beef it's for a stew, I've substituted it for kielbasa and revamped the stew with various beans and whole tomatoes, and honeyed biscuits. Rather yummy. I have a lot of the same appliances and use them all the time. A great article, Maria!!! 🌹💜
Maria Zannini said…
Luba: Your kielbasa stew sounds like something Greg would love. I'm going to try it!

When we were teenagers we could polish off everything on the table. But now we rarely finish a meal out. Metabolisms are funny things.

Speaking of medicine. A med Greg absolutely requires is suddenly becoming hard to find. Now what's the problem? It's nowhere on the media, but I'm sure it too is politically motivated.

Luba Meader said…
Maria, when making that kielbasa stew, I also added about 3 chopped up spuds. And for sauce I used 2 large cans of whole tomatoes and also chicken broth. It is yummy!!! 💖 I was sad to read about Greg's medicine being hard to find. I think you're right that's it's being politically driven. I've been reading where seniors are cutting back on their medicines just in order to eat. What if you contacted your Senator?
Maria Zannini said…
Luba: I was thinking tomatoes and broth, but I might go without the potatoes so it doesn't aggravate his diabetes.

He's seeing his doctor next week, but if the shortage is being "manufactured" then Governor and Senator are next.

Thanks for the update!