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I hate to admit this, but I have to be honest: Iíve never been the sort to make up a monthly food budget. Much less stick to one. I generally buy what I want to eat when the mood so strikes, and while I do make up shopping lists Ė for the primary reason that I have a tendency to forget when weíve run out of essentials like milk, a fact which I fervently hope isnít a sign of early senility Ė itís rare indeed that I donít come home with items Iíd had no intention of buying before I set out for the store. All the household organization experts will, of course, warn you that this sort of impulse grocery shopping can only lead to very, very bad things, mostly involving big credit card bills and the presence of gross amounts of junk food in your cupboards, but the fact is, Iím a stubborn girl: I hate feeling constrained by limits, and thereís a perverse little part of me thatíll stretch whatever boundaries that are set just to prove that I can.

Still, lately, Iíve been trying to be better about my spending habits in general (chalk it up to yet another thing in the growing list of "Signs That Iím Getting Old.") And while I havenít quite reached the super-systematic, make a budget for everything stage of life quite yet (and frankly, I doubt I ever will), Iím slowly learning a few tricks to keep the food expenses down.

1 the cheapskateís cupboard: Part of being able to cook well without spending heaps of money is knowing how to stock your cupboards. The following items are all fairly cheap, keep well, and are very versatile Ė as long as you have these items on hand, you can always, always throw together a tasty meal:

onions (brown/yellow are cheapest; and you'll generally get a better deal with the pre-bagged onions than the loose onions)
canned tomatoes
canned beans (pinto, black beans, chickpeas are all good Ė dried beans are even cheaper, but obviously, take longer to prepare)
frozen corn and peas
rice (get it at an Asian market if thereís one near you Ö buy the big 20 lb. bags of rice and youíll save lots of money in the long run. Just make sure to keep the rice stored in a container with a good seal Ė I use a huge glass jar thatís meant for serving punch Ė lest nasty grain-loving pests decide to take up residence in your supply.)

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