When it comes to saving money for future freedoms there really is very few ways to reduce our spending than to improve our eating and food preparation habits. Since eating is a daily activity for those of us so fortunate, it will directly affect your budget in a big way if you can reduce what you spend on food. You will almost definitely be healthier, which improves your quality of life and saves you (and me*) money in the long run.
For example, I have a friend who makes good money, but is always living paycheque-to-paycheque, and its because he literally almost never eats at home. He grabs a little something from Tim Horton’s on the way to work, goes out for lunch on his break and then will eat out after work as well, perhaps snacking in the evenings on some of the things kept in his cupboards from a monthly drop by the corner store. I don’t know if he ever makes coffee at home, but drinks it every day. I would venture to say that he is spending about $40 per day on food, which is nearing $300 per week or $1,200 per month! Now I’m not here to judge, but that’s a mortgage on a decent starter home**, and I am here to point that out.
He has been doing this for more than 15 years, so at least consider that if that money had been passively invested in the S&P 500 over the last 15 years it would represent a total investment of $180,000, but would currently be worth $526,426!!*** That’s enough to pay cash for a new home!!!
But a lot of people shudder at the idea of giving up their access to high-calorie, over-portioned and over-preserved restaurant meals, nor do they want to take the time out of their evenings or weekends to spend hours preparing bland, boring food for them to eat throughout the week. Either that or they simply don’t think about it. Like so many things in our modern lives, once we have created habits and been sufficiently conditioned, we often struggle to imagine that there just may be another way to do things. For all its faults and ironic hypocrisies, this is something that the whole Financial Independence movement is founded on – finding an alternative model. This guy here describes how he got by on $36 USD per month for food, so we know it can be done.
Ironically, when a lot of us travel, we delight in some of the local cuisine, a lot of which costs pennies compared to meal prices at home, and a lot of which is very simple and could be prepared at home at a similar cost. Although secret combinations of spices and family recipes handed down for generations may play a role in some types of food, a lot of good food depends simply on the ingredients involved in the making of it, along with a little dose of good preparation and common sense.
Ever since I visited China in 2010 I have joked that if I ever had $1,000 to spend on a meal I would buy a ticket to China and as much street food as I could afford with the rest of the cash. And the popularity, variety and beautiful simplicity of street food – due largely to the attention to and availability of fresh produce, spices and other ingredients required for making these dishes – is currently being showcased on everyone’s favorite streaming service, and not all of them are incredibly complicated or time-consuming.
Take Gallo Pinto, for example. “Gallo Pinto”, translated literally, means ‘spotted rooster’. But think of it as Costa Rican Rice and Beans. In my last post about my adventure to Nauyaca Falls, I featured a photo of the rewarding meal I had at the end of the long day of exploring. And let me tell you – it was delicious. This was actually another Costa Rican staple called “Casados”, or “Married” which is in many ways just the ingredients of Gallo Pinto served separately.
For as little as $1.41**** per meal, you can make yourself this delicious gluten-free, vegan dish at home, and all you need are the basic items below, all but one of which should be very easy to find virtually anywhere you’re reading this from:
- White Rice (short grain)
- Dried Black Beans (or red beans on the Caribbean side apparently)
- Red Pepper
- White Onion
- Salsa Lizano (Lizano Sauce)
- 1 Green Chilli (optional)
You’re going to want to track down some Lizano. This is what sets Gallo Pinto apart from other rice and bean dishes from other parts of latin america, the Caribbean and beyond. It is a sauce (‘salsa’ just means ‘sauce’ in Spanish) found commonly in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, but you can probably find it at Mexican or Latin markets or specialty food stores closer to home. Although I haven’t tried it yet, this recipe for homemade Lizano-style sauce looks intriguing, and should make for a tasty substitute even if it’s not quite the same. If you don’t have Lizano, consider adding a bit of cumin and tumeric along with chilli powder and other seasonings as desired. This won’t really be ‘Gallo Pinto’ anymore, but it’s hard to go wrong with a simple combination of fresh ingredients and spices mixed together with cooked rice and beans.
There’s many recipes and instructions online, but if you’re traveling in Costa Rica you may want to just ask someone if you can watch them prepare the dish sometime rather than request a recipe. Gallo Pinto is such a staple in Costa Rica that most people would probably struggle to put their recipe into words for you, as it is something as second-nature as speaking English is to Americans or preparing tea is to someone from Britain. Can I tell you what the imperfect preterit is for verbs in English? No, because I am not a student of English, I just use it.
After you have pre-cooked some black beans and rice, all there really is to it is to sauté the garlic in some vegetable oil briefly before adding the onion and red pepper. A few minutes later toss in the beans and some salsa lizano, followed soon after by the rice. Cook for 5-10 minutes stirring often and then fold in some cilantro shortly before serving, perhaps with a piece of grilled or fried chicken or a couple of fried eggs.
As you can see by the structure of this article, most of what we are held up by is our mindset, when the actual thing we avoid doing is actually quite simple. It’s getting past our habits and the hurdles of the mind that tell us just to carry on as we always have that is the real challenge here. When we say ‘I can’t cook’, or ‘I’m just not good with languages’, all we’re really saying is ‘I’m just not really interested in putting in a genuine effort to learn how’.
But money talks, so consider it this way: if someone told you that if you did try something new, like cooking at home, your mortgage or rent would be paid for, then would you make the effort to figure it out?
If so, then get to it.
*Think public health costs
**In some places
***I back-tested $1,000 CAD invested into an the S&P 500 on the first of every month from 2004 to 2019.
****That’s US dollars, and calculated according to US and Canadian food price information. Add two eggs and bring it up to $1.79 per serving or a chicken breast for $2.81.