Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three Bucks A Day Gourmet: Beverages

When you are on a limited budget, beverages can break your bank. Here's how we manage the beverage beast on three bucks per person per day:

1) Water is your best friend. Seriously, what a great country we live in that we can walk into our kitchens, turn on the tap, and have (reasonably) clean and healthy water at the turn of a knob. We are made of over 70 percent water, and dehydration can often present as hunger. So do yourself and your family a favor and drink more water. I happen to have a handy dandy ice and water in door fridge with a filter and all that, but if the taste of tap water gives you the willies, get yourself a Brita or Pur filter for the fridge or faucet. If you require it bottled, buy a reusable bottle. Better for the environment and for your pocketbook. Cost: free to pennies (if you are filtering and springing for a nifty bottle).

2) If you must have flavor in your beverages, consider teas. Iced tea is a very cost effective beverage: water, a couple nickels for a couple tea bags, and some sweetener if you need it. We usually don't. There are decaf herbal teas for those of you who can't handle the leaded variety. Drink it hot in the winter and cold in the summer.

3) Coffee (at home!). Look, any single-serve beverage you pay for in a retail outlet is going to be a moneymaker for them and a money pit for you. A pound of high quality gourmet coffee beans makes at least sixty cups of java for the cost of 2 or 3 trips through the drive through. Keep the coffee out, but make it an occasional treat. Otherwise, brew and drink the good stuff at home. If you must have the froufrou drinks, make them yourself -- get some whipped cream in a can, put some caramel in a squeeze bottle, and go to town.

4) Milk. I know I am about to offend some people, but humans do not need milk to be healthy past their first year of life. That said, we drink it, but we do not drink it with reckless abandon. The kids have it with cereal and at dinner. The rest of the time, they drink water (and sometimes juice). We probably drink one or two gallons per week.

5) Juice. We are now getting into the top end of what I consider a regular beverage for my budget. It is a rare occurrence to have premixed juice from the grocery store. My price point is one dollar for a half-gallon of any type of juice -- so short of a bodacious coupon, we generally buy concentrate and add the water at home. We add an additional can of water to stretch it to one half gallon. One half gallon of juice lasts maybe for two meals.

6) Seasonal drinks: lemonade is cheap and refreshing in the summer, as is homemade gatorade. In the winter, hot cocoa made with milk and chocolate syrup is a big winner after playing outside in the snow. They are inexpensive and relatively health affirming.

7) What is important to note is what does not regularly fit into a three dollar a day per person budget: soda is a no-go, as is alcohol or anything pre-bottled at the grocery store or poured into a cup at a restaurant or retail store. This is not to say that you cannot periodically have a soda or a beer or some wine or a froufrou coffee as a treat: not at all. In fact, you will enjoy them more when you have them less often. Your wallet will thank you, too.

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