Right now, sweet corn season is starting here in Iowa. In the area where we live, you can barely drive five miles without seeing a roadside stand where some farmer is selling ears of sweet corn in bundles.
At first, the prices are high. Only a few people manage to get in an early crop that was timed well enough to avoid the last frost, so they can name their price.
As the months wear on, though, prices come down. Way down. Soon, we’ll see deals where you can get a dozen ears of corn for two dollars or two dozen ears for three dollars.
That makes for an incredibly inexpensive basic ingredient. We’ll buy a bunch of ears, take them home, shuck them, cook some of them for supper that night, freeze some more, and with the rest, we’ll cut the kernels off of the ears and freeze bags full of corn.
Because of this, sweet corn is a perfect example of a very inexpensive base ingredient. Because it’s so inexpensive and you can get so much of it, we end up using sweet corn in a lot of meals all year long.
The kernels find their way into chilis, enchiladas, side dishes, corn fritters, salad toppings, corn salsa, omelets… the list goes on and on.
The key idea behind all of this is that you’ll save money by basing the meals you cook on inexpensive ingredients. If you have a source for an ingredient that’s very cheap or even free, then you should take advantage of that source by planning as many meals as you can to incorporate that ingredient.
Obviously, this works well with loss leaders at the grocery store, but it works well with any ingredient that’s always low-priced or that you can find elsewhere.
A great example of this is dried beans. You can purchase a pound of dried beans for $2. When you soak and cook them, they quickly turn into multiple pounds of dried beans (the exact weight depends on the type of bean). You’ll get well below a dollar a pound, and even down in the $0.50 per pound area with some bean types.
Because of that cost efficiency, you can make beans the backbone of a lot of meals and eat quite inexpensively. We make chili, bean burgers, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, salads, and countless other meals utilizing beans because they’re just so inexpensive per pound.
You can do the same thing with any inexpensive food staple. Fresh vegetables in season, rice, potatoes, eggs – the list goes on and on.
Planning around inexpensive staple in it results in a very inexpensive meal. If you have an inexpensive staple that you and your family enjoy, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for quite a lot of savings.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.