Budget Elegance: Cooking is a dead sexy money saver

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When I decided to become a full-time freelancer, I knew lean times were a comin’. Thankfully, I grew up in a household that, even in prosperous times, valued saving over spending and relished simple pleasures. It didn’t hurt that Dad preferred Miller Genuine Draft over pricier craft brews and that my stepmom Vicki was a budget ninja (both of these things hold true today –those two are some savin’ fools!).

Recently, my friend Paige said she needed to get better at “being poor.” Now, Paige has a great job, travels, tries new restaurants and is a homeowner, so she isn’t really “poor,” she just wants to save more cash to achieve a few specific goals for the future. Having been there, as well as actually poor when I was in college and a several years after as a young reporter and now being on a tight budget to realize my long-held dream of being footloose and fancy freelance, she clearly had turned to the right place.

Also, she was fed up with advice from a budgeting book that suggested, for example, to shop at Banana Republic, rather than Nordstrom. Frankly, neither is very wallet friendly, depending on your income and one man’s Banana is of course another man’s Nordstrom is another man’s Wal-Mart is another man’s thrift store and on and on. So, I set out to offer up some of my best lean, but luxe living tips that include a variety of budget levels.

So, each Thursday, I plan to share with you some of the tips I’ve been sharing with Paige.

Today’s tip is perhaps one of the most impactful things you can do to save money and also to enrich your life: Cook your own food.

If you can’t cook, learn. Ask a friend or relative to teach you. Watch cooking shows. Borrow cookbooks. Experiment. But for the love of God, learn how to cook. Cooking is cheaper, and it is dead sexy (Google Giada or watch this Robert Rodriguez cooking video if you need proof).

I love going out to restaurants, but it’s expensive, so when your budget dictates that going out to eat isn’t an option, make even the most simple, cheapest meals more elegant by “styling” the food and adding a flourish or two to your meal.

Most mornings, I eat a bioled egg, toast, maybe some fresh fruit and coffee for breakfast. It couldn’t be a cheaper or easier meal. It’s the original fast food! This is what my breakfast looks like when I sit down to eat:

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Lunch might be a tuna salad sandwich. Booooring, right? Not when you take a minute to make it artful:

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(Are you starting to realize that I like tomatoes?)

Learn to make pizza. It’s cheap and seriously fun to do with friends, family or a date. I was afraid to make my own crust, but it’s pretty easy and the results are rustic, beautiful and delicious:

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Also, cooking gives you something to do when you can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money to go out. Bored and want a snack? Make homemade potato chips and dip. Peel, style and eat an orange:

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Basically, play with your food. Cooking is a fun and tasty way to pass time and save money. And don’t forget, it is also sexy:

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How do you save money?

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