The "Don't Buy" List For A Low-Budget Kitchen

Readers, once again, thank you for indulging me while I take a bit of a break from writing to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from CK's archives.
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Everybody has a high-cost/high-quality item in their kitchen that they love and use to death. For us, it's a couple of relatively expensive knives that we've used so many times that we've amortized their per-use cost practically to zero.

But let's be honest: Everybody also has a few high-cost items in their kitchen that they hardly use at all. An expensive device bought in a fit of enthusiasm that now sits solitary, sad and forgotten in some dark, dusty corner of your kitchen.

There's no greater waste than a cooking tool you never use--especially if it's expensive. So my goal with this post is to create a list of "don't buy" items for those newer cooks and homeowners looking to set up their kitchen on a budget. I want to help you avoid the costly mistakes made by the rest of us.

And here's where Casual Kitchen's more experienced readers--those of us who have been cooking for a number of years--can share their mistakes. What items did we buy in the past that seemed like a neat idea at the time, but turned out to be a complete waste of money?

With that in mind, here's a list of items that you can reliably avoid buying when setting up your kitchen. By avoiding (or at least deferring) the purchase of the following items, you can save literally thousands of dollars--without compromising in any way your ability to cook healthy, delicious meals at home. What would you add to this list?

The "Don't Buy" List For a Simple Startup Kitchen

* Fine China
* Silver or silver-plated utensils
* Motorized items that do things that smaller, simpler and cheaper manual items do (electric can openers, electric jar-openers, etc.)
* Fragile glassware
* Costly celebrity chef-endorsed cookware of any sort
* Espresso/Cappuccino makers
* Obscure staple foods (examples: kamut flour, Lebanese couscous, einkorn pasta, etc.)
* Cast-iron cookware
* Unitaskers (items with just one usually obscure function, such as cherry pitters, bagel cutters, egg-prickers, etc.)

Readers, here's where you come in: What cooking tools would you add to this list? What items have you bought or considered buying that are worth avoiding or deferring?


Related Posts:
Mastering Kitchen Setup Costs
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
Six Secrets to Save You from Cooking Burnout
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
Cooking Like the Stars? Don't Waste Your Money
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

How to Make Quickfix: Better than Gatorade or Powerade and Just Pennies a Serving

Readers, I'll be taking (another!) break from writing for the next few weeks to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this updated post from CK's archives.
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Today I want to share an easy and laughably cheap sports drink recipe borrow and modified from the famous 1980's era fitness book Eat to Win. This recipe has served us very well here at Casual Kitchen: it's healthy, contains no HFCS (quite unlike almost all sports drinks), and it replenishes you during and after even the most grueling hot-weather workouts.

You can make this recipe up in seconds for mere pennies, or you can pay as much as $1.50 to $2.50 for a quart-sized plastic jug of heavily advertised, HFCS-laden Gatorade or Powerade. You're welcome.


Quickfix

Combine:
8 ounces orange juice
24 ounces cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Shake well and drink during or after workouts.





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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Satisficing

Readers, I'll be taking (another!) break from writing for the next few weeks to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from deep down in CK's archives.
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Have you ever spent a lot of time agonizing over a restaurant menu, hoping to choose something truly exceptional--but when the food comes, you look over at your friend's entree with envy?

Or have you been in the grocery store looking indecisively at twenty-five different brands of sugary boxed cereal, wondering which one will lacerate the roof of your mouth the least?

Have you perused your favorite cookbooks, hoping to try a new dish, and had trouble deciding because too many things sound good to you?

One of the strangely counterintuitive truths of modern life is this: Having a lot of choices actually makes you less happy. Having a few choices is fine--but having forty choices is hell.

And this is especially true with food. If you're looking at a menu with three or four choices on it, no problema. But take that menu up to 15 or 20 choices and let the agony set in.

With this issue in mind, I'd like to share with you a word first coined by Herbert Simon (the American political scientist and economist), and then popularized by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice.

Satisficing.

This word is a somewhat ungrammatical combination of the words "satisfy" and "suffice." And the concept, when I've applied it to decision-making and choosing from a menu of options, has made me a far less miserable person.

If you're haven't heard of satisficing before, let's spend a brief moment defining it. Satisficing can be applied in almost any area of life, but today I want to talk about it mainly in the context of food.

Consider two people, The Maximizer and The Satisficer, going out with a group of friends for dinner. They sit down and begin to peruse the menu.

The Maximizer wants to order the very best thing on the menu.

The Satisficer will order the first sufficient satisfying thing he sees on the menu.

Let's think through what happens next:

The Satisficer quickly picks something, and ends his internal mental discussion about what to order almost instantly. He can now join the conversation and have a relaxing, enjoyable evening. Because the Satisficer didn't try to order the best thing on the menu, he is unlikely to be disappointed no matter what happens. He has no attachment to the outcome of what he chose; in fact he might be in for a pleasant surprise at how good his entree is.

Not so for the Maximizer. Because he wants to get the best thing on the menu, he has to consider practically every dish. His decision-making takes significantly more time and effort. Worse, after he's made his agonizing decision, he's likely to waste energy worrying that he actually didn't order the best thing on the menu. He might even look over at the Satisficer's entree and think to himself, "dammit, his looks better than mine!"

After all of this extra effort, he unfortunately suffers the worst irony of all: he will likely end up less happy with his choice.

When I finished reading Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice, I remember thinking how much time I wasted over the past 30-plus years just trying to make up my mind. And it's only brought me more misery.

So consider applying a little satisficing the next time you're out in a restaurant. Think of it as the Eleventh Rule for the Modern Restaurant-Goer.

And then consider other ways to apply it in cooking. It should make menu preparation and recipe selection at home far easier and far less time-consuming. And certainly when you're choosing between brands or categories of food ("Hmmm... which of these 35 kinds of cheese/ice cream/chocolate/etc., should we have with dinner tonight?"), using the satisficing approach should save you a lot of stress and decision-making time.




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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Cooking Like the Stars? Don't Waste Your Money

Readers, I'll be taking (another!) break from writing for a few weeks to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from deep down in CK's archives.
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Is celebrity chef branded cookware worth the extra money? This was the subject of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

The article raised two thought-provoking questions:

1) Is it worth it to pay up for a cookware set endorsed by celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray or Emeril Lagasse?
2) What do you really get for your money when you buy chef-branded cookware?


The surprising answers to these questions were 1) no, and 2) surprisingly little.

"A star endorsement doesn't mean stellar cookware."
The anecdotes from the article are depressing. The silicone handle on Rachel Ray's frying pan catches fire during a test use. Emeril Lagasse's 8-inch frying pan bends "like an accordion." And Marcus Samuelsson's 10-piece set, while of solid quality and design, retails for $500.

Tales like these make me want to crawl into my cupboard and hug my humble Revere cookware.

Neither I nor the WSJ mean to pick on these great celebrity chefs who collectively have done so much to bring great cooking to the masses. But let's be reasonable about the relative value of the products they hawk.

If you're trying to cook on a budget, or if you're trying to build out your kitchen at a reasonable cost, don't trip yourself up with a large capital outlay for overpriced cooking gear. And, most importantly, don't pay up for suspect merchandise. If you buy poor quality cookware, or pay too much for what you do buy, it can suck all the fun out of cooking for years.

Instead, stick to a basic but high-quality set of cooking gear that doesn't include extra branding and advertising costs. In our kitchen we've been overjoyed with the quality and durability of our reasonably priced Revere and T-Fall cookware, which we've been happily using for nearly two decades.

You don't need the stamp of approval from a celebrity chef to cook exceptional meals at home.





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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

“Would Someone From the Year 1900 Recognize This as Food?”

A really short post today. Readers know I've been on a bit of a heuristic kick lately, and the other day I stumbled onto a really good one.

For a quick rule to differentiate between food to avoid and food worth eating, just ask this question:

Would someone from 1900 recognize this as food?

It's not my idea, not even close, and unfortunately I can't remember where I found it. But I'm definitely going to steal this question and use it whenever I'm in doubt about whether a food is good for me or not. And of course the answer will be a clear negative for any processed, heavily advertised, manufactured second-order foods.

What about you?


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Four Frugality Heuristics [That Will Make You Rich If You Use Them]

Frugality tips are nice, but frugality heuristics are better.

Heuristics--rules of thumb--let you function on a strategy level rather than on a mere tactical level. A few well-thought-out heuristics can take the place of a million specific tips and tactics.

Look, we know retailers and consumer products companies become more and more sophisticated by the day in persuading us, manipulating us and extracting money from us. It is my hope that today's post will help you avoid most, if not all, of the traps and pitfalls awaiting us in the consumer marketplace.

Frugality Heuristic #1: Don't use money to solve problems.

This rule helps you consider alternatives to solving a given need without automatically defaulting to the marketplace to make a purchase. If it's an item you need: could you borrow it, freecycle it, or use something you already own? If it's a service, can you learn to do it yourself, or trade/barter for it? Better still, can you just "don't want!" it? And so on. Bonus: by using this heuristic over the long term, you'll build enormous adaptability, flexibility and resourcefulness.

Frugality Heuristic #2: If they're offering it to you, it's profitable for them--and unprofitable for you.

Notice that things are sold to you if and only if it's worth doing so. It must be meaningfully profitable to the entity doing the selling. Faithfully using this heuristic will protect you from products and services like extended warranties, upsells, excess insurance, most high-fee investment products[1], etc.

Frugality Heuristic #3: If it's advertised, you don't want it.

Remember: You the consumer pay for all advertising. Ad costs are always passed through to the end customer in the form of higher prices, yet despite this, the advertising-consumption model is perhaps one of the best systems ever devised for triggering desires and then separating us from our money. Do not play this game. At the very least, find an equivalent product that isn't advertised. A savvy and intelligent consumer thinks about the enormous cost of heavy advertising, knows that she ends up paying for it, and thus lets advertising become a stimulus not to buy.

Frugality Heuristic #4: Avoid all payment plans.

Payment plans obscure the true price you pay for something, and they almost always substantially increase your final cost[2] while substantially increasing profits to the company offering the payment plan (see Heuristic #2). This heuristic will also save you enormous amounts of money over the course of your life by stopping you from buying things that, if you're honest with yourself, you can't actually afford.

Readers: What other frugality heuristics would you add?


READ NEXT: Good Games


Footnotes:
[1] Note that this goes double for investments, and triple!!!!11! for complex investments like variable annuities, universal life insurance policies, unit investment trusts, etc. Which gives us Investment Heuristic #2a: Do not invest in any investment that is sold to you.

[2] This includes those seemingly attractive 0% financing arrangements from car dealers that calculate your monthly payment by way of a complicated and opaque process. You think you're getting a great deal on a too-good-to-be-true interest rate, while they are likely arranging things such that you pay more than you think. Once again, see Heuristic #2 for the real reason these plans are offered to you in the first place.


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Fallacy: Extreme Reach

Readers, thanks for indulging me while I took a bit of a break from writing. I'll be back with brand new articles beginning next week. Stay tuned! 
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1) Count calories? Who has time for that?

2) Keep track of what I eat? Nah, I don't want to watch my diet that carefully. Can't I just enjoy my food?

3) There's no WAY I'd track my expenses to the penny. What are you, anal?

Readers, can you see what these three sentences have in common?

Each involves shooting down an idea by jumping to the extreme. In all three cases, the speaker makes a potential solution seem more difficult than it really is, which gives him a gift-wrapped justification for ruling out the idea.

This "Extreme Reach" fallacy is an excuse script that lets us rationalize and maintain our prior unsuccessful habits.

Let's put the sentences above in context by imagining a conversation that might surround them:

Person A: I'd really like to lose 20 pounds.
Person B: Really? Well, I managed to lose 45 pounds by counting calories. It really worked well for me.
Person A (defensive): Count calories? Who has time for that?

See what just happened there? Person A opens a conversation by claiming he wants to lose weight, but then when presented with a possible solution, he makes the absurd claim that counting calories takes too much time.

Never mind that counting calories actually doesn't take much time at all, and never mind that some have found it to be astoundingly effective. The point, of course, is that Person A gets to act like he wants to lose weight, while creating a ready-made rationalization for not taking action. And if Person B is a member of polite society, she'll smile wanly and change the subject. Which completes the circle of rationalization.

Hard to believe all this can happen in such a short conversation, right?

Okay, let's move on to our second example:

Person C: How in the world do you stay so thin? What do you do?
Person D: Oh, I struggled with my weight for years. But in 2010, I decided to keep a notebook where over three months I wrote down everything I ate. Literally everything. Man, I couldn't believe it when I saw it all in my own handwriting--how many sodas I was drinking, how much ice cream, how many snacks. It forced me to really accept what I ate. After that I started making big changes to my eating habits.
Person C (defensive): Keep track of what I eat? Nah, I don't want to watch my diet that carefully. Can't I just enjoy my food?

Person C leaps to an extreme conclusion too: keeping track of what she eats means she has to watch her diet more carefully than she'd like. Worse, it will interfere with her enjoyment of food.

This claim is of course exactly backwards. It's actually more plausible that keeping track of what she eats would help her enjoy her food more. Further, what does "watch my diet that carefully" mean, exactly? There are lots of ways to track your diet, some of which are probably easier than she thinks.

Sadly, she didn't leave the door open for these considerations. This idea died the moment it collided with her mind.

Do you see the pattern here? Now, to our last example:

Person Y: How did you manage to retire at such a young age? Man, I'd love to quit my job and retire early.
Person Z: Have you heard of this book Your Money or Your Life?
Person Y: Yes! I saw something about it on some guy's food blog that I read every so often. He wrote some series on it. It was kind of long and boring, so I didn't read it.
Person Z: Well, we basically followed the steps of the book, starting several years ago. We started by tracking our expenses to the penny for a full ye--
Person Y (defensive, interrupting): There's no WAY I'd track my expenses to the penny. What are you, anal?

Ouch, right? Person Y spontaneously murders the conversation with an extreme reach excuse, and he also gets in a bonus dig at Person Z. (Well played!) Person Y knows for sure that tracking your expenses is "anal" and therefore unworthy of consideration.

But wait. What if tracking your expenses is just another minor daily habit, like brushing your teeth? That's what we found here at CK: within days of adopting our expense-tracking habit, we were doing it in a fraction of the time we spent brushing our teeth.

Or is brushing your teeth anal too?

Either way, instead of considering a new idea that might be congruent with his goals, Person Y employs the extreme reach fallacy to rationalize taking no action. And he likely walks away from this conversation with an improved opinion of himself.

Watch for this excuse script in and around your daily life. Believe me: now that you're familiar with it, you'll see it and hear it all over the place. Don't complete the circle of rationalization.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Ramit at I Will Teach You To Be Rich for helping me think through some of the ideas in this post.


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!