Reviewing Budget Books

For many of us, the start of a new year means tightening up the ol’ purse strings. But budgeting doesn’t necessarily mean re-using your dental floss or turning your life into a TLC “Extreme Couponing” episode.

Recently, I was on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter chatting with host Shelagh Rogers about three  books that offer advice on how you can pinch a few pennies. Not that pennies exist anymore. 

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The first book was Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Money Rules, which offers 261 rules for saving money, including:

1) Write down what you spend. (Don’t buy paper. I recommend napkins, Kleenexes and gum wrappers. But not used.)

2) Never impulse shop. (Cut to me ordering cookie cutters on eBay after a glass of wine on a Friday night.)

3) Stay active because busy people have less time to spend money. (And more time to complain about how busy they are.)

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The second book was The Cheap Skate’s Handbook by Mifflin Lowe. I bought this book, which no doubt commits a cheap skate cardinal sin. Why buy books when there are libraries? Some of Mifflin’s tips for living a cheap skate life include:

1) Maintain good relationships with your neighbours so you can borrow stuff from them.

2) Host potluck parties. That way, everyone else provides the food.

3) Iron your tinfoil so you can re-use it for years to come. (But never iron Saran Wrap. I’m speaking from experience.)

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Lastly, eating cheaply doesn’t have to mean shopping in the Reduced for Quick Sale section of No Frills. Ellen Brown’s Three Dollar Low Calorie Meals: Delicious, Low-Cost Dishes That Won’t Add to Your Waistline serves up cheap and nutritious recipes. (I worked up an appetite just typing up that title.) Her tips include:

1) Plan meals a week in advance. (Not realistic for me. I have a hard enough time picking out my underwear in the morning.)

2) Get a stand-up freezer to stock up on supplies.

3) Buy items on the lower shelves at the grocery store. Retailers often pay a premium for eye-level shelves, which can result in higher prices. (Also, if you buy things on the lower shelves, be prepared to dust them.)

I made Ellen’s recipe for Tuna Casserole, which came to 96 cents a serving. The casserole was okay, but it got me thinking: How cheaply could I make a three-course dinner?

For an appetizer, I opted for Baked Frankfurters from the cookbook Cooking with Love and Cereal (as if cooking with cereal could be made with anything but love.) Basically, you dip wieners in ketchup, roll them in crushed cornflakes and bake them. They’re delicious and taste just like a corn dog without having to deal with the awkwardness of eating one in public.

For dessert, I made Low-Cal Cobbler, which consists of frozen fruit, a can of Diet 7-Up and a box of cake mix. Just throw everything into a pan and bake. The good news? It’s cheap, low calorie and delicious. The bad news? You’ll be coughing up cake powder for most of the night.

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All in all, my three-course dinner, including the tuna casserole, came in at $2.50 per person. You can’t even get a donut and coffee for that price. Well, maybe if the coffee was made with used grinds. And the donut was half-eaten and lying on the sidewalk.

Anyway, you can listen to my interview here. And good luck with your budgeting in 2018.