Must-haves for a frugal kitchen
As I noted in "A recipe for saving money," cooking at home can save you a ton of bucks. But just as you wouldn't do your own home repairs without a few basic tools, you shouldn't enter the kitchen without a few basic cooking supplies.
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Nor should you pay retail if you can help it.
Meg Favreau, a senior editor at Wise Bread, a personal-finance blog, suggests shopping at thrift stores, discount emporiums such as Marshalls and TJ Maxx, and restaurant supply stores.
Recently she posted "10 things you need to stock a frugal kitchen" on My Money, the personal-finance blog of U.S. News & World Report. Those items are just the basics; as you step up your culinary game, you can add more tools.
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Among Favreau's picks:
- A good chef's knife.
- Pots and pans, an oven-safe pan and food-storage containers.
- Measuring cups and spoons, and mixing bowls.
- Food processor and/or hand mixer.
I agree with most of her suggestions, although I think she left out one indispensable frugal tool, and I have additional ideas on how to get this stuff cheaply or for free.
Building a cheaper kitchen
"Almost everything you need to do, from peeling vegetables to hacking up roasts, can be accomplished with a good chef's knife," according to Favreau.
I don't have a chef's knife; in fact, I don't know anyone who has one. What I do have is a partial block of knives my sister had quit using; she gave them to me when I moved to Seattle. I also have a 25-cent vegetable peeler from a yard sale. (Post continues after video.)
Some other things I got from yard sales: a 9- by 13-inch baking pan, measuring cups, a hand mixer, serving utensils and a couple of food-storage containers. Much of my storage, however, is done with bread bags, pickle or peanut butter jars and old yogurt or sour-cream containers. (Favreau does this, too.)
Tips: Let it be known you're furnishing a kitchen, since some people have items they no longer use. Check yard sales, including the "free" box. Repurpose bags, jars and containers.
A trio of Tupperware storage bowls had been languishing, unused, in my sister's garage. I use them as mixing bowls as well as for storage. If I need a really big bowl, I use my Dutch oven.
Speaking of which: You'll find pots and pans at thrift stores and yard sales, too; my indispensable cast-iron skillet came from a yard-sale free box. I actually went the retail route for a 6-piece set of saucepans, skillets and Dutch oven -- but they were on sale and I paid with a discounted gift card. (See "Get gift cards below face value.")
Tips: Pay for kitchen items with discounted gift cards bought online, or obtained free from rewards programs. (See "Free gift cards -- yes, really!" to learn more.)
More frugal shopping tips
Don't rule out dollar stores. I bought my measuring spoons and some spices there. However, most of my spices come from Walgreens when they go on sale two for a buck, or from the ethnic market (which is what Favreau suggests). Mine is a proletarian palate; pricey spice would be wasted on me.
Here's where I think Favreau missed the boat: not recommending the slow cooker. It's indispensable for cooking dried beans, soup stock and all sorts of one-pot meals. I inherited a very basic model from my daughter when she got a super-deluxe one as a wedding gift. They go on sale regularly (best deals around Black Friday) and I frequently see them at thrift stores (plug in and test before buying).
Three final suggestions for outfitting the frugal kitchen:
- Check out The Freecycle Network -- You never know what you're going to find.
- Use a cash-back shopping site -- These include online coupons and free shipping codes along with a rebate. (For the how-to, see "Get paid to buy stuff.")
- Stage a swap session with friends -- The pal who used the pizza stone exactly twice might be really interested in your sushi mat.