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New Year's resolutions that won't break the bank

Published December 29. 2010 05:00PM

The new year is a great time to brush off your money-saving skills and start the year with a fresh attitude.

While I pride myself in being frugal, the holidays are a tough time for us. We eat too much, spend too much, and buy odd things at the grocery store because I'm in such a hurry.

This January, I hope to get our household back on track by taking some simple steps back towards a more sensible spending plan. While many of my steps will be a return to normal (shopping with a well-planned grocery list, for example), I will also make the following New Year's resolutions for 2011:

To stop buying items I already have. Yes, that buy-one-get-one chicken is a great deal. But our freezer still contains two whole chickens from the last great sale, and our schedule right now isn't conducive to cooking a whole chicken and we like to eat light in January after all of those holiday feasts. The next great sale will come along well before we're hankering for another roast chicken. In the meantime, I look forward to clearing out our freezer as we shop less and eat at home more.

To prepare more meatless meals. The last time we went grocery shopping together, my husband grabbed a frozen bag of "oriental stir-fry." When I got the bag out of our freezer a few days later, I realized that the stir-fry was just that a stir-fry with vegetables and no meat. I was in a hurry and didn't have time to make any chicken or beef on the side, so we had a vegetarian stir-fry for supper. To our surprise, it was delicious and didn't need meat to make it hearty.

In 2011, I will attempt to break away from meals planned around chicken and beef. Meals like spaghetti or grilled cheese don't really count. I want to discover meals that are both healthy and inexpensive, and allow us to try fruits and vegetables in ways that we haven't before.

To stretch meat-containing meals in creative ways. The best way to create a filling, satisfying meal with less meat is to serve a "one-pot" or "one-bowl" meal. Add a handful of diced, marinated chicken to a salad or serve some thinly-sliced beef with a large pan of sautéed vegetables. This is also a great way to use leftover meat while disguising the fact that you're serving "leftovers" again. You can also cook an extra chicken breast or two to get a head-start on tomorrow's meat-stretching dinner.

To pack my lunch the night before work. On days that I want to buy lunch at work, I inevitably pace around the cafeteria looking for a reasonably healthy but inexpensive meal. I usually settle on yogurt or soup, two items that I could easily bring from home for half the cost.

This year, I will make more of an effort to bring food from home instead of paying a convenience fee for purchasing the same items at the cafeteria. We have a refrigerator, microwave, and utensils at work. All I need is the resolve to pack my lunch the night before, so I don't use running late as an excuse to buy meals at work.

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