Archives For Frugality

       If your income falls in the low to middle range, you can get your tax returns prepared for free. How? By using AARP’s Tax-Aide Program.

What Is AARP Tax-Aide?

       AARP Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance program. It’s part of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs. It is available to taxpayers with low and moderate incomes and gives special attention to people age 60 and older.

How Low Does My Income Need to Be?

       The IRS refers to moderate income as $50,000 or lower, but as an AARP Tax-Aide volunteer I can tell you this guideline is loosely followed. If you make $60,000/year, you’ll probably still be able to get help.

Not for Complex Returns

       If you have rental properties, a Schedule C (not C-EZ), a complex Schedule D, a Schedule F, or an otherwise complicated tax return, then AARP Tax-Aide (or any VITA program) is not for you. You should hire an experienced tax preparer – preferably a CPA.

Where Can I Go for Help?

       If you’d like to find an AARP Tax-Aide location near you, you can find one on their website starting in late January. If you can’t find an AARP Tax-Aide location near you, you can try calling 1-800-829-1040 to locate a VITA location near you.

How Well-Trained Are the Volunteers?

       AARP does not let just anyone volunteer for the Tax-Aide program. All volunteers are required to undergo a thorough training course mandated and created by the IRS. They are well-trained in how to handle the 1040 Form and the standard schedules.

       You may also find that many of the volunteers have a background in tax preparation or finance. For example, I volunteer and I’ve had two years of professional tax preparation experience. The local coordinator for my volunteer site was a CPA before she retired, and we had at least one other CPA volunteer last year. So the help you get may be quite good.

Can I File Electronically (E-file)?

       Electronic filing with direct deposit is the fastest way to get your tax refund from the IRS. Most AARP Tax-Aide sites offer electronic filing with no charge to the taxpayer. Many more sites are gaining the capabilities to e-file every year.

What If I Just Have a Tax Question?

       AARP offers free, year-round tax assistance via the Web for 24/7 help. You can find more information at the AARP Tax-Aide website.

I’d Like to Help! How Can I Volunteer?

       If you’d like to volunteer with AARP’s Tax-Aide program to help with the 2009 tax season, there’s still plenty of time. Go to their website to read more about becoming a volunteer and to fill out a volunteer form.

       Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “a penny saved is a penny earned”. And others have discovered that a penny saved is more than a penny earned. But did you know a penny saved can be worth nearly two pennies earned? Before you dismiss money-saving activities as “not worth your time”, you need to consider just how much of your earnings goes to taxes.

If You’re Not Self-Employed…

       If you’re not self-employed, you’ll pay your marginal federal income tax rate, 7.65% for FICA, plus any applicable state or local income taxes on any money you earn. Add all of these up and you’ll get a total tax rate anywhere from 17.65% up to 51.65%. You may also have to pay sales tax on the things you buy (as opposed to making or doing them yourself).

       The chart below shows just how much a dollar you earn is worth after taxes depending on your marginal federal tax rate, FICA, and state and local income and sales taxes. I only went up to the 25% tax bracket on the federal side, and I used the national average rates for the state and local income and sales taxes.


Not Self-Employed Tax Rates


       Most people will probably fall in the 15% federal tax bracket. If you’ve got state & local income taxes and sales taxes and you’re in the 15% federal bracket, then every dollar you can save is equal to $1.49 if you had earned it. You lose $0.29 to taxes from every dollar you earn, and then you’ll pay another 6% sales tax (on average) when you spend the money. In this case, a penny saved is worth 1.5 pennies earned.

If You’re Self-Employed…

       Entrepreneurs have the extra burden of the self-employment tax to pay on their earned dollars. However they do get to take a tax deduction for one-half of the self-employment (SE) taxes, so their SE tax rate works out to 14.13%. So a self-employed person could automatically lose anywhere from 24.13% to 58.13% in federal, SE, state, and local income taxes for every dollar they earn. And they’ll still have to pay any applicable sales tax on top of that. The high-earning self-employed people can easily say “a penny saved is two pennies earned”.

       I put together a chart for self-employed people similar to the one above. The only difference is the substitution of the SE tax for the FICA tax.


Self Employed Tax Rates


       As you can see, a dollar saved is almost worth two dollars earned for someone in the 25% federal bracket who has to pay state and local income and sales taxes. They’ll lose $0.45 to taxes on every dollar they earn, and then they’ll pay another 6% sales tax when they spend the money that’s left over.

Why This Matters

       Realizing how much you pay in taxes is key in figuring out if it’s worth it to do something yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. You’ve got to know your after-tax hourly rate to be able to compare it to how much you’d save by doing it yourself.

       For instance, let’s go back to the first chart for people who aren’t self-employed. If your federal tax rate is 15% and you have state and local income taxes of 6%, you’re going to lose almost $0.30 to taxes (including FICA) for every dollar you earn. That means if you’re getting paid $20/hour you’re only taking home $14/hour after taxes for each extra hour you work.

       Now let’s say you can pay $25 to have your oil changed, or you can do it yourself for $13 (a savings of $12) plus your time. If it takes you 15 minutes, your hourly rate for doing it yourself is $48/hour. If it takes you 30 minutes, you’re saving $24/hour. And even if it takes you 45 minutes, you’ll still save the equivalent of $16/hour. Now compare that to your after-tax hourly rate from your job ($14/hour), and you can easily see that it makes sense (by the numbers) to change your oil yourself.

       You can apply this logic to any number of money-saving activities to see if it makes sense to do it yourself. In the case above, anything that saves you at least $0.23/minute you spend doing it is worth your time. So taking 10 minutes to make an extra stop at a different grocery store can be a smart financial choice if you’re going to save at least $2.30.

       Understanding that saving money can be more effective than earning it will also help you realize the importance of being frugal. I’m not saying that being frugal is better than earning more money, but it’s a powerful tool and you’d be foolish to refuse using it. Combining frugality with earning more will help you get out of debt, save more, or give more.

How Much Is a Dollar Saved Worth to You?

       Because this greatly depends on your tax rates, I’ve created a little calculator below that you can use to figure out how much a dollar saved is worth to you. Try it out and let me know your results in the comments!

*Note: Click the ‘Click to Edit’ button to use the calculator with your own numbers.


       The financial services industry is great at making you feel good while ripping you off. They’re also great at confusing you so much that you can’t even figure out how badly you’re getting ripped off. To make smart financial decisions, you need to realize how your “advisors” are getting paid and how their pay structure may affect the advice they give you.

       These advisors can include stock brokers, bankers, realtors, financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers, and accountants. Different compensation methods can create various conflicts of interest—situations where your best interests are not the same as your advisor’s best interests. This is a long article, but what you’ll read here can save you many problems and oceans of money.

Commission-based Advisors

       These advisors get paid a commission when you buy a product. The products they sell can include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance policies, annuities, real estate, mortgages, other loans, and much more. (When you take out a loan, you’re essentially buying a product and the banker typically gets a commission or bonus.)

Chris Gardener by dbking on Flickr       The problem with this compensation structure is that the advisors are influenced to sell you products that give them a higher commission. This could mean selling you inappropriate or sub par products with high fees, telling you that you need permanent life insurance coverage, convincing you to buy the most house you can afford, or encouraging you to take out the biggest loan the bank will let you. You often don’t realize the cost of these decisions because the commissions are rarely disclosed in an honest, upfront, and easy to understand manner. It may seem like you’re getting cheap or free advice, but you end up paying much more in the end because of the commissions that are built into the products you buy.

       Commission-based advisors are also much more likely to persuade you to make many transactions (buying and selling investments many times) because this increases their pay. There are strict rules against “churning” in investment accounts, so be sure to seek help from the government or a lawyer if you believe your account is being churned.

       While there are some commission-based advisors who are trustworthy and do give their clients good advice, you’re best served by steering clear of commission-based advisors whenever possible. If you must work with someone who earns their fees by commissions, make sure you get full disclosure on their compensation and always get a second or third opinion on their advice. Do your homework, and you can avoid getting ripped off by commission-based advisors—but there are often better ways you can get help with your financial decisions.

Fee-based Percentage of Assets Advisors

       Fee-based percentage of assets advisors are paid a percentage of the assets they manage for you. This business model is also called the assets under management (AUM) model. This is generally seen in the investment world, though it can crop up in other areas. The typical fee is about 1% of your assets, but this can vary wildly between advisors. It’s important to keep in mind that this fee is almost always in addition to the fees in the products you purchase.

       The first conflict of interest with fee-based AUM advisors is the fact that they get more money when they manage more of your assets. They’ll often encourage you to transfer more of your assets to them and justify the advice with some compelling reasons. However, it isn’t always best for you to move your assets to an AUM advisor. Additionally, when you take money out of your account the advisor’s fee goes down. If you’re weighing the decision to pay off a loan with money the advisor is managing, how likely do you think it is that he will tell you to pay off the loan? If you pay off the loan, the advisor gets a pay cut.

       The next problem with fee-based AUM advisors is cost. When you pay 1% of your assets in management fees every year, the total cost can really add up. Let’s assume the advisor takes a 1% fee at the beginning of each year and your investment returns are 8%. Over 25 years, you’d pay $62,527 in fees for every $100,000 you had invested at the beginning of the 25 year period. Over a 65 year period, you’d pay $1,104,280 in fees for every $100,000 you initially invested. Most advisors will justify this cost by saying that you wouldn’t have received 8% investment returns if they hadn’t been there to advise you along the way. While this may be true, you can duplicate their results if you educate yourself enough about the long-term history of the markets and learn how to avoid stupid mistakes. You can also look into using an hourly or flat-fee advisor for a better deal without having to learn everything on your own.

       During retirement, these costs can be especially hazardous. Let’s assume a 5% withdrawal rate is probably safe for most people in retirement (assuming 25 years in retirement). If you have to pay an investment advisor a 1% fee to manage your assets, your safe withdrawal rate goes down to 4%. This means a $1,000,000 would only provide you with a $40,000/year income if you’re paying an investment advisor. Alternatively, you could have a $50,000/year income if you didn’t have to pay 1% of your assets to the advisor every year.

       The AUM model also isn’t very fair to the clients. If Bob has $100,000 and Joe has $200,000, Bob only has to pay $1,000/year but Joe has to pay $2,000/year. Why does Joe pay more? It’s only because he has more money. How is this fair for the clients? Having worked in the investment industry, I can personally tell you that not much more work goes into managing Joe’s $200,000 portfolio versus Bob’s $100,000 portfolio. Why should Joe have to pay twice as much for the exact same services? He shouldn’t, and that’s another reason why I am not too fond of the AUM model. Fee-based AUM advisors will try to justify this problem with different arguments, but there’s rarely a legitimate argument that would hold up when viewed by an unbiased party.

       Finally, fee-based AUM advisors are generally restricted to working only with wealthier clients. It’s much more profitable to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $1,000,000 than to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $100,000. This means young people and late starters with little money saved up are going to have a hard time getting a fee-based AUM advisor to work with them.

       Fee-based AUM advisors usually give much more appropriate advice to their clients than commission-based advisors, but there are still many conflicts of interest and problems with this compensation structure. Advisors using the AUM model like to advertise that their compensation structure eliminates many conflicts of interest present in the industry, but you should be aware that it does not eliminate all possible conflicts—no compensation structure can do that.

Fixed-fee Advisors

Good Advice by Gary J. Wood on Flickr       Fixed-fee advisors are paid a flat fee to provide certain services you agree upon. There are few of these advisors around, but their fee structure can eliminate many of the problems with commission-based and fee-based AUM advisors. You may also hear this fee arrangement referred to as a “retainer”.

       You’ll want to ensure that the flat fee you pay fixed-fee advisors is the sole source of their compensation. If the advisor still receives commissions for any products you may buy, then they will still have a conflict of interest in selling you the highest-paying products.

       You’ll also want to make sure you do not pay for more services than you really need with a fixed-fee advisor. Because these advisors are charging a flat fee, you can end up overpaying if you do not fully utilize the services and time included in the package. This is especially true for those who have a simple situation or for those who have the biggest areas of their financial plan implemented already. Since fixed-fee advisors often charge upwards of $1,500 or $2,000/year, it may not make sense to use them if you do not need much help.

       Since fixed-fee advisors are paid a flat fee, it is to their benefit to spend as little time as possible on any one client as this maximizes their hourly rate. While this is short-sighted, it is still a possible downfall of using fixed-fee advisors. If you feel your fixed-fee advisor is not providing the level of service you agreed upon, you should confront him or her to get an explanation. If you’re not happy with the service, you may want to change advisors.

       The major benefit of fixed-fee advisors is that they will not be tempted to advise that you purchase high-fee products or to put more money under their management. Since their compensation structure is separated from your assets, they are able to focus on your best interests when they provide advice. You’ll still want to make sure you’re not paying for more than you receive, and you should carefully consider any personal finance decision no matter where your advice comes from.

Fee-based Hourly Advisors

Good Advice by rick on Flickr       Fee-based hourly advisors get paid an hourly rate for the time they spend working on your situation. This time could include meetings with you, researching your situation, completing paperwork for you, or meetings with your other advisors. Most accountants and lawyers work under this compensation method, but you will hardly find this fee model in the investment, insurance, banking, or real estate industries. Fee-based hourly advisors eliminate many of the conflicts of interest present in commission-based and fee-based AUM models, but they are not without their issues.

       Because fee-based hourly advisors are paid for their time, they may try to give you complex advice to justify their fees and keep you dependent on meeting with them. If you feel like your fee-based hourly advisor is giving you the runaround, be upfront and let him or her know that you need a better explanation of why the advice is so complicated. If the advisor does not try to educate you, it’s probably time to seek another advisor. Any advisor should be more than willing to educate you about what is going on in your financial situation. If not, they could be hiding something or trying to keep you dependent on their advice.

       You may need to be more involved with your finances if you use a fee-based hourly advisor. Since you are paying the advisor by the hour, your costs will be lower if you can do as much as possible yourself. The fee-based hourly advisor should be willing to provide you with any instructions you need to complete simple tasks on your own. This could include setting up accounts, transferring assets between accounts, placing trades, purchasing products, or meeting with other professionals as needed. If you need help, you can always ask the advisor to assist you but your costs will be much lower if you do most of the grunt work yourself.

       With a fee-based hourly advisor, all clients are treated the same because they all pay the same amount per hour of the advisor’s work. These advisors can work with people who have few assets or people with a high net worth. As long as they only receive their compensation from you, they won’t be tempted to advise that you purchase high fee investments. On the contrary, they are likely to give you the best advice possible for your situation because they know that exceptional advice and education is the only thing that can really keep you coming back for their help.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Good Advice by cornflakegirl on Flickr       You might find an advisor who uses some combination of these fee structures. Proceed with caution! The more complicated the advisor’s compensation the harder it is for you to understand exactly how he is getting paid. With any type of advisor, make sure you get full disclosure of their compensation in writing.

       Never be afraid to get a second opinion on your advisor’s recommendations. You can easily go to a fee-based hourly advisor for a one-time project when you’re making a major decision. For a few hundred dollars, you can get this second opinion and avoid a much more costly mistake. Even better, you could do substantial research on your own so you learn in the process and understand the situation better.

       Always remember that your advisors should be teaching and educating you throughout the process. If the advisor is reluctant to explain his recommendations, I would be very wary of trusting him. By finding an advisor who is a true teacher at heart, you can be more confident that the advisor is honest and trustworthy. The best advisor should be working to make himself completely unnecessary at some point!

       Don’t fall for slick marketing, a round of golf, free dinners, or nice gifts! Advisors who spend a lot of money in these types of “client appreciation” or advertising areas are simply using the money you pay them to give you “free” stuff just to make you feel good about getting ripped off. You should remember that the advisor is not going to give you so much “free” stuff that they don’t make a profit. While it may feel good to get that “free” round of golf or gift card to your favorite restaurant, you should never forget that you’ve already paid for it when you paid the advisor’s fee. Don’t fall for the illusion that it feels good to get ripped off! If you really want those things, pay for them yourself and stop paying through the nose to get it from your advisors.

       Think it sounds ridiculous? Bear with me and I’ll explain how I came up with that number. This obviously isn’t the exact cost for every single person, but it probably isn’t far off. I didn’t include the cost of electricity, purchasing and replacing your television, or the cost of lost opportunities due to the hours wasted watching television. I’m also basing the cost on the amount I pay for satellite TV. Your actual costs may be higher or lower (probably higher as I have the most basic package).

The Assumptions

       I assumed a cost of $40/month for the subscription. This is the cost of my basic satellite TV subscription. There’s a good chance most people pay more than this, so my estimate is probably conservative.

       I assumed you started your subscription at age 22 (when most people are out on their own) and you keep it until you die at age 80.

       I assumed an inflation rate of 3.8% and an investment rate of return of 8% (very reasonable over a 59 year time period).

The Results

Television by dailyinvention on Flickr       If you decide to give up your cable or satellite TV subscription and instead invest the money, you’d have over $577,000 at age 80. If we adjust for inflation, that $577,000 would be about $63,900 in today’s dollars (e.g., what costs you $63,900 today will cost you $577,000 in 59 years because of inflation).

       By age 65, you’d have an extra $177,700 because you gave up that cable/satellite TV subscription. This is the same as $34,300 in today’s dollars. That could mean retiring a year earlier! (depending on your income needs in retirement)

What About the Cost of Purchasing a TV?

       If you’re 22 and you decide to save $100 instead of purchasing a TV set, you’ll have an extra $2,955 by age 65—or $570 in today’s dollars. (While the price tag says $100, it’s really costing you $570 because you could have invested that $100.)

       If you save $500, that’s an extra $14,780 by age 65—over $2,850 in today’s dollars.

       If you save $1,000, you’ll have an extra $29,550 by age 65—more than $5,725 in today’s dollars! (That $1,000 big screen TV is really costing you $5,725.)

       And we haven’t even figured in the cost of lost opportunities because you watched so many episodes of Lost…

The $64,000 Question

       If Dish Network, DirectTV, or Comcast told you that subscribing to their service would really cost you $64,000, would you do it? Even with the first month free, I just don’t see how it’s worth it.

       Add in the cost of purchasing a TV (and replacement TVs), the higher medical bills because you sat on your butt so much, and the other reasons you should stop watching TV and you’ll soon find that it’s just not worth it.

TV;        If you’re struggling to get by, TV should be one of the first things you cut. It’s a drain on your finances (a $64,000 drain!), wastes your time, and can get in the way of quality family time. Your time is better spent finding ways to increase your income, cut your expenses, and enjoy your life the way you want (instead of the way the TV tells you to enjoy it).

Disclaimer and Other Stuff

       Even though I know how much television costs, I have not given it up completely. However, I do watch a lot less than I used to and I’m amazed at how much more I can accomplish! Now I tend to only watch a couple shows on Discovery Channel. (I’m a science geek at heart.) I’ll watch in social situations as well, but overall I probably watch less than a couple hours a week on average.

       Not all TV is bad. Like I said, I like to watch Discovery Channel. Educational shows can be a good way to get some entertainment while expanding your mind at the same time. But most TV shows are an absolute waste of time—end of story.

Show Me in the Scriptures…

Corey —  October 27, 2009 — Leave a comment

       A reader recently left a comment on my post discussing how much you should have in your emergency fund. Frank said:

Could you please show me in Scripture where it says believers are to have an emergency fund?

Thank you.



       I responded to Frank’s question in the comments, but I think this is an important enough issue to address in its own post.

       Not all personal finance advice can be backed up with a specific quote from Scripture. Does that mean it is bad or unchristian? Not in the least. If the advice follows the pattern of teaching and wisdom in the Bible, it can still be considered good advice for Christians despite the lack of a specific Biblical reference.

       For example, is there a specific Bible verse telling you that you should create a will? No. But it’s still a wise thing to do. Is there a specific Bible verse that tells us to update our résumés? Again, the answer is no, but that doesn’t change the validity of the advice.

       This concept doesn’t apply just to personal finance. Is there a Bible verse telling us to buckle our seat belts? Nope. But does that mean you’re trusting your seat belt more than God if you buckle it? What about looking both ways before you cross the street? Do you lack faith because you do this?

       The problem with applying the “show me in the Scriptures” test is that there is not specific advice for every single situation we will encounter in life. There are guiding principles and values that, along with God’s Holy Spirit, will help us discern the wise choices. But you’re not going to find Bible verses telling you to brush your teeth, stop eating at McDonald’s, or to take advantage of an HSA if you’re eligible.

       Scripture does contain many verses teaching us the importance of wisdom in handling our affairs. Here are a couple examples:

       The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Proverbs 14:15 (WEB)

       The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5 (WEB)

       Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

Proverbs 21:20 (WEB)

       The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.

Proverbs 22:3 (WEB)



       In fact, the entire book of Proverbs points to the importance of wisdom and its place in the life of those who follow God. But what about all the times Jesus told us not to store up treasures on earth? Or when He taught us not to worry about what we’ll eat and drink and wear?

       Tell me, what did Christ mean when He said do not worry or be anxious? What does it mean to worry or be anxious? Those words mean to be distressed, uneasy, and tormented with care about something (material things in this case). Christ’s solution was for us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”. Instead of being worried about how we’ll meet our material needs, we should be worried about how we’ll meet our spiritual needs – how will we serve God and draw closer to Him.

       You can be worried and anxious about material things whether or not you wisely plan ahead. I can have an emergency fund and still be worried about material things. I can not have one and still be worried about material things. Even if I have an emergency fund, I can stop worrying either because I have that money saved or because I trust in God’s provision. That brings us to the other main teaching of Christ about money.

       When Jesus taught about storing up treasures and serving Money what did He mean? What does it mean to be wealthy or rich or to have treasure? All those words denote an abundance, which means having much more than what is sufficient or needed. Jesus’ warnings about wealth were not to tell us that we should never use money appropriately to meet our needs. Jesus warned us instead of the danger in accumulating more than what we really need. He told us not to become consumed with money and wealth.

       There is a vast difference between being consumed with accumulating an abundance of wealth and planning wisely to have enough to meet our needs. In the same way, there is a huge difference between being occupied with worry and prudently foreseeing needs and dangers and preparing to face those situations. These two teachings that Jesus gave us are so often stretched to mean that we should never save anything at all for the future because that demonstrates a lack of faith. The truth is that Jesus taught us to:

  1. Give God and His Ways priority in our thoughts and lives.
  2.        

  3. Avoid storing up more money than we will need. (That is, not to let becoming rich be our priority in life.)



       Proverbs commends wisdom and many New Testament verses speak to the importance of providing for your own family. We are not taught to make ourselves a burden to others when it is within our power to care for ourselves. Instead, we are taught that if there are any among us who cannot provide for themselves it is our responsibility as fellow Christians to care and provide for those people. Jesus’ teachings combined with the rest of Scripture in no way preclude us from saving for the future, using insurance, or utilizing money in any other wise manner. What is forbidden is making Money our god – giving priority to accumulating more money than we really need instead of serving God.

       The real issue then becomes finding contentment in Christ and determining our true needs. The danger we face is allowing the world to dictate our needs and success (a bigger house, a fancy car, expensive clothes, etc.) instead of learning to live on enough (our daily bread). That is the bigger issue here and the battle all of us Christians face. Once we have submitted to God in our discontentment and covetousness, we will be able to make Money serve us and God’s Kingdom instead of allowing it to be our master. But these are all topics worthy of their own discussion (contentment, defining needs, and avoiding covetousness).

       Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments. I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you!

       Do you want to eat healthier but you’re afraid it will be too expensive? I have three easy recipes you can combine to make a wholesome meal for less than $1 per serving. And it doesn’t taste like cardboard, either!

       These recipes come from the More-With-Less Cookbook, a collection of Mennonite recipes with a focus on affordable but nutritious meals. It’s also focused on moving away from processed foods and wisely using the world’s resources. I highly recommend you buy a copy if you don’t already have one. It’s a very affordable cookbook ($12.15 on Amazon) and a great value!

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup

Combine in soup kettle:

1 cup lentils
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Cook until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes), adding water if needed to maintain a soup consistency.

Heat in skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add and sauté just until yellow:

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Blend in:

1 tablespoon flour

Cook for a few minutes. Then add the sautéed ingredients to lentils and bring to a boil. After the soup boils, remove from the heat and stir in:

2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Tomato Chutney

Combine in a bowl:

2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes (about two medium tomatoes)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with fresh cilantro, if available.

Rice

I hope you already know how to make steamed rice… :)

Fix up about 5-6 servings (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups dry rice).

The Meal

       Serve the Middle Eastern Lentil Soup over rice and top with the Tomato Chutney. This should make about 5-6 servings. Total cost per serving? $0.80! (Assuming you drink water, of course.) You could probably add a vegetable for an additional $0.20-0.30 per serving (or less if you use fresh veggies or grow them yourself). You can easily prepare and cook this meal in about 40 minutes. (Rice is easy, and you can fix the chutney while the lentils are boiling.)

The Nutrition

       Lentils are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re high in fiber, folate, molybdenum, manganese, iron, and vitamins B1 and B6. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Serving lentils with rice ensures that you get the complementary proteins you need to match the complete proteins available in meats. The lack of meat, however, means that this meal is very low in cholesterol.

Eating Healthy for Less

       I plan to share additional recipes that will provide you with healthy meals at an affordable price. While this isn’t a cooking blog, it is about saving money. Saving money on your food bill shouldn’t come at the expense of your health. These types of recipes help you save money and eat healthier. In general, if you want to eat healthier and save money, follow these tips (from the More-With-Less Cookbook):

   Eat More:

  • Whole Grains- rice, wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, and millet
  • Legumes – dried beans, soybeans, dried peas, lentils, peanuts
  • Vegetables and Fruits – inexpensive, locally grown, in season or homegrown and preserved
  • Nuts and Seeds – inexpensive, locally grown or homegrown

   Use Carefully:

  • Eggs
  • Milk, Cheese, Yogurt
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Meats

   Avoid:

  • Processed and Convenience Foods
  • Foods Shipped Long Distances
  • Foods Heavy in Refined Sugars and Saturated Fats


Fresh tomato sauce by merci on Flickr       I stopped by the grocery store one day while I was in town. I needed to pick up some milk and a few other things. I wanted to get some more tomato sauce to keep my supply well-stocked since I just used some in a recipe for Beef Curry a week earlier.

       I generally go straight for the generic brand (Shurfine in this area), but there were a couple sales on the bigger cans of tomato sauce. The sale wasn’t on a well-known name brand, but it wasn’t a store or generic brand either. This 29 ounce can of tomato sauce was “on sale” for $1.50. The generic brand (Shurfine) 29 ounce can was $1.19. Not much of a sale if you ask me.

       I was about to grab the big can of generic brand tomato sauce when I saw the smaller cans on the shelf above. These cans were 15 ounces and they cost $0.59 each. Quick math tells you the small cans are a better deal. I can get two small cans (30 ounces) for a total of $1.18, or I can get one big can (29 ounces) for $1.19. So I can choose to pay 3.9¢/ounce or 4.1¢/ounce for the same product. Which size do you think I bought?

       Now, it might not seem like a big deal, and in this case it wasn’t really. (OK, I only saved a penny!) But if you watch for this kind of thing over the course of your entire grocery trip, you can save quite a bit of money. Do it every time you shop for groceries and you can significantly reduce your food bill for the year.

       So don’t grab the bigger can, carton, bag, or box because you think it’s a better value. Check the numbers first. It really doesn’t take long if you have a calculator (and most of us do if we carry a cell phone). And don’t automatically grab the smaller size either. It can pay to buy in bulk and store what you don’t need. Just make sure it really is a good deal before you throw it in your cart.

Frugal Tip: Check the price per unit to decide between buying in bulk or buying a smaller size.



       To find the price per unit, divide the total price by the total number of units for the item you’re considering. In the case above, I divided 118¢ by 30 ounces to get 3.9¢/ounce on the smaller cans. Remember: total price / total units = price per unit