I recently got married. As we've joined our finances and embraced the sexy task of co-budgeting, I've been shocked — shocked! — by our combined food bill, which has at times spiked above $1000 a month.
So I've recommitted to cooking as a way to save money, rather than squander it. And one of the most reliable tools I have to do that is my slow cooker. Here are eight ways it helps me save money.
1. I don't eat at restaurants as often.
When I have a slow cooker meal ready to eat at the end of the workday, it's far less tempting (or necessary) to go out to eat.
Of course, this requires some forethought, but not much. As long as you have some basic ingredients on hand — protein, vegetables, spices — you can toss them in the slow cooker in the morning, cover with liquid, and have a hot meal waiting for you by five o'clock.
Average savings: $25
2. I make organic, no-salt-added beans.
Canned beans can't be beat for convenience, but why shell out $2 a can when you can make three times the amount for the same price?
I like to make a big batch of dried beans in the slow cooker, then freeze them into ready-to-use portions.
It couldn't be easier. At night, pour a pound of dried beans into the slow cooker and add water to cover by two inches. In the morning, add more water, then turn the slow cooker on low for six to eight hours.
Get the recipe: How To Cook Beans in the Slow Cooker
Average savings: $.34/cup
3. I make chicken stock, rather than buying pricey boxes.
My husband recently discovered the art of grilling butterflied chickens, which means I now end up with a chicken carcass each week. These I'll freeze until I have enough to make chicken stock.
Pop the chicken bones into the slow cooker, along with onion, carrots, celery, and peppercorns. Cover with water and cook on high for four hours.
Cool, strain, and freeze for high-quality, ready-to-go chicken stock, without resorting to those $3 boxes.
Average savings: $12
4. I make inexpensive soups and stews.
Now that the chilly air is starting to touch mornings in Vermont where I live, I'm getting excited about the prospect of slow-cooked stews and soups. In addition to being super satisfying and cozy, they're one of the more economical meals you can make, since you can get away with using a smaller amount of meat, bulked up with vegetables and broth, to feed several people.
Slow-cooking is also the perfect way to turn lower-cost, tough cuts of beef into fork-tender mouthfuls.
Recipes to Try
Average savings: $10 (since you can stretch a pound of meat into eight servings, rather than four).
5. I save time (and time is money).
As a writer and as a nutrition coach, I bill by the hour, so when I save an hour cooking, I can hear those dollar bills cha-chinging in my head. Since I can essentially prepare a slow cooker meal while making my morning coffee, I can work without interruption until it's time to eat (or go for a bike ride, or however else I want to spend an hour after work).
Average savings: $100
6. I save in doctors' bills.
This might seem like a stretch, but there's lots of data behind home cooking and health. One of the reasons for that is you can control exactly what's going into your meal and, by extension, your body. Cooking a meal in the slow cooker lets you focus on the right ratio of healthy food: lots of veggies and a smaller amount of protein,and whole grains or starchy vegetables.
Average savings: Infinity!
7. I make fancy coffee drinks.
As a coffee snob, I was skeptical about the touted charms of slow cooker chai or pumpkin spice lattes. But that may be because I forgot how gosh-darn tasty added sugars are.
While they're certainly not everyday drinks I would endorse (because of those added sugars!), it's pretty handy to use the slow cooker to make a batch of pumpkin spice lattes for a fall brunch party.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Average savings: $15
8. I use up what's left in my fridge.
By the end of the week, I usually have some produce that hasn't quite made it onto my plate. Limp kale, wrinkled summer squash, and bruised tomatoes all get magically transformed through the power of slow-cooking.
You can add these to soups and stews (see #4), adding broth (#3) and some cooked beans (#2), or simply toss these into the slow cooker with a bit of water and seasonings for a veggie side dish that's perfect for topping with cheese.
Average savings: $10 (in what would otherwise be wasted food!)