5 Dollar Dinner Mom Balances the 2011 Budget, New Year's Resolution Interview

I had pangs of guilt after reading Monica Bhide's Motto for 2011 -"Let tomorrow come tomorrow" knowing that my last interview of 2010 would be with Erin Chase otherwise known as The $5 Dinner Mom on her upcoming book, The $5 Dinner Mom 'Breakfast and Lunch' Cookbook coming to to a store, Kindle or public library shelf near you on January 4, 2011 thanks to St Martin's Griffin.

I thought that interviewing Erin before the New Year has arrived and we start to feel that a spell has already been cast on our New Year's resolutions was the right thing to do.

Here's our fruitful if not juicy conversation.

Q: Erin, do you apply the same principles during the holidays?

Yes Serge, all the same shopping strategies, couponing strategies and planning strategies both work (and need to be) applied during the holidays.  It’s easy to let these things slip through the cracks during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but it’s important not to lose sight of your food budget. Hey, any $$ leftover in your grocery budget can help pay off all those Christmas gifts!

Q: If you do, some suggestions for NY Year's Eve and NY Year's Day get together?

For a NY Eve or Day get together, make a plan and share it with your guests.  Let them know where you might need some help, like an extra dessert, appetizer or bread.  Guests are always willing to bring a side dish or pick up something on the way to the party.  During these tough economic times, the expectation that the entire cost of the food and drink at an event belongs to the host/hostess is set aside.  Don’t be afraid to ask others to share their culinary expertise with everyone at the get together.

Q: Have you always had a 'thrifty' attitude towards food and meal planning or did circumstances bring a change?

Yes and no.  I think I’ve always been had a healthy attitude towards spending money on food and being diligent about food.  It wasn’t until we went from two incomes to one, coupled with the rising cost of gasoline that nearly crushed our monthly budget, did I set out to spend as little as I could at the grocery store, while still making healthy and wholesome meals.

Q: Does living in Ohio makes it easier to be that way than if you lived in NY or Los Angeles?

A thrifty attitude towards food, that includes the use of meal planning and couponing, can be used anywhere in the country.  I know there are caseload sales, meat markets with fabulous prices on different cuts of meat, as well as farmers markets in both NYC and LA. There will be some markup on the prices, but not a huge markup in the more expensive markets.  The key is “are you looking? And are you looking in the right places?” for these great deals and steals on food.

Q: Your book is published in the first week of a new year. If you where to offer 3 pieces of advice to big spenders in the food department who want to change their way, what would they be?

  • Open up the store circular, or find the link online to your stores circular, and make your meal plan and grocery list based on what you see on the front page of the circular. Then add the fruits and vegetables that are on sale to your list.  If you’ve never cut a fresh pineapple, or butternut squash before, don’t be afraid to buy it and give it a try.  There are plenty of online tutorials (including on 5dollardinners.com) that can help you make something fabulous with these new-to-you pieces of fresh produce.
  • Stock up on your favorite meat cuts when you see them on sale for less than $1.99/lb…cuts like boneless skinless chicken breast, ground chuck, pork chops, chuck roasts, etc. Freeze the packages if you don’t cook them right away.  Then when you want to make your favorite chicken bake 2-3 weeks later, you don’t have to spend full price on the chicken.  You’ve already paid for it, and you paid the lowest price possible!
  • If you don’t want to clip paper coupons, learn how you can save coupons to your store loyalty cards for instant “electronic” savings.

Q: On a personal level, does saving money on your weekly meals allows you to splurge in other areas?

I have a few things that I like to splurge on, but it’s a rarity and happens only 2-3 times per year. My husband and I are working hard on meeting some lofty financial goals, and a large part of why we can meet these goals is because I can spend so little at the grocery store each week.


Q: Is having a 'reward system' for 'good behavior' important? Does it add to one's motivation?

A financial reward system for good behavior. That would depend in large part on the individuals personality and spending/saving patterns.

Q: What do you consider as the 3 worse money wasters in the food department?

1. Convenience Bakery Items – Bake them yourself. You not only have better control of what ingredients are used, but you’ll save yourself up to 50% by making homemade.

2. Convenience Dips and Sauces – Make them yourself. For the same reasons as #1.

3. Frozen foods – with the exception of frozen vegetables and fruits, I prefer making my own convenience foods than buying them frozen. Again, you have control over the ingredients used and the cost is considerably less.

Do you see a pattern there?!?! ;)

Q: Do you frown on food waste for other reasons than money?

I lived in the Dominican Republic for 6 years. I’ve seen starvation and poverty at its lowest point. I’ve served rice and beans to 2 and 3 year old children who live in the city dump and have to scavenge for food scraps. The rice and beans is their only “full meal” every week. So yes, I frown upon food waste because I know that 80-90% of the people on the planet live with little to no food and have no clue how or when they will get their next meal.

Q: Best use for leftovers?

My favorite is turning leftover pork, beef or chicken from a slow cooker meal and shredding it up, tossing with BBQ sauce for pulled BBQ sandwiches. Never fails.

Q: Can you share your favorite recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner? Breakfast –

Breakfast -Chorizo and Egg Tacos

Lunch –California Club Wraps

Dinner – Good Old Fashioned Spaghetti with homemade sauce

Q: Is 'how do you do it' a frequently asked question?

Yes. I have help. A lot, lot of help. I have people who work and write for me, as well as a young gal who helps me take care of the kids a few mornings a week. And lest I forget, a supportive and helpful husband! Oh yeah, and being hyper organized and overly Type A helps too.

Q: Most positive element on being the $5 Dinner Mom?

The joy and satisfaction in knowing that I am inspiring and empowering thousands of others to both start and continue on their journey to spending less at the grocery store.

Q: What was the most expensive meal you had in your life? Did you pick up the tab?

I once had an $80 steak. At an uber-expensive steak restaurant. *please don’t throw tomatoes* I was out to dinner with my family and my dad was insisting that I try it. I insisted that I not, on the grounds that “it really couldn’t be that great to be worth $80.” He won the argument, and he was right…it was probably the most amazing few bites of any food I have ever taken. In my entire life.

And yes, he picked up the tab.

Thanks Erin for opening your savings bag of tips....

P.S: I was not raised on Caviar and Champagne and I surely can fix a meal for few dollars yet I have to confess I am a somehow failed coupon clipper. I do like to buy things on sale as long as they agree with me. I love lentil soup yet I might add a few slices of Pancetta to it upon serving.

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