These tough economic times have created more than a few penny pinchers and clever cooks. Saving money is cool again! Thanks to the ease of the Internet, these people are spreading the word about saving money and cooking on the cheap through their own websites and blogs, also known as weblogs, a type of online journal that allows writers to share their thoughts with thousands of people.

One such blog is written by "The $5 Dinner Mom," Erin Chase, who writes about her efforts to feed her family at www.5dollardinners.com [1]. Her goal is simple she aims to feed her family of four a healthy, homemade dinner each night for $5 or less.

She's become so successful at reaching her goal that Chase recently published a book, "The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook." Chase covers many of the same topics we've addressed here, including planning ahead and smart shopping strategies.

Where she excels is her use of from-scratch cooking and creative ingredients. I've included a classic example of how a little experimenting and creativity can save big in the kitchen. I'll admit that when I'm hungry for fajitas, I usually buy a "kit" a box filled with all the fixin's for fajitas, including tortilla shells, fajita mix, and prepackaged salsa. But why buy a $3-$4 kit (plus the cost of beef) when you can make easy, better-for-you fajitas?

In her recipe below, you won't find any preservatives or trans fats. You can also control the "heat" and saltiness of the meal. And because you're eliminating the packaging that comes with dinner kits, this meal is earth-friendly!

Beef Fajitas

1 pound beef steak, cut into strips ($1.99)

2 tablespoons oil ($. 10)

1 teaspoon ground cumin ($. 05)

1 teaspoon garlic powder ($. 02)

Salt

1 green pepper ($. 68)

1/2 onion ($. 15)

8 flour or wheat tortillas ($. 99)

4 corn cobs ($1)

Optional Garnishes: Sour Cream, Homemade Salsa, Homemade Guacamole

Directions

1. In medium bowl, toss beef steak strips with oil, ground cumin, garlic powder and salt. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

2. Remove top/stem and seeds from green pepper. Thinly slice. Peel onion and thinly slice.

3. In large skillet over high heat, sauté marinated beef steak strips with thinly sliced green pepper and onion. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until beef strips have cooked through and the green pepper and onions have softened.

4. Wrap tortillas in foil or place in tortilla warmer. Warm at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until middle tortillas have warmed.

5. Place sautéed beef and vegetables into warm tortillas. Garnish with sour cream, homemade salsa or homemade guacamole.

6. Remove husks and threads from corn and boil in large saucepan for 4-5 minutes.

7. Serve Beef Fajitas with Corn Cob.

Total cost $4.98

(From The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook by Erin Chase. Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin.)