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A Chef’s Guide to Stocking Your Pantry On a Budget

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.


Lobster tails, shrimp and filet mignon are foods that may come to mind when you think of the perfect gourmet meal. But these items probably won’t make the final cut of your grocery list when you’re on a tight budget.

Thankfully, foodies and amateur chefs don’t need to go broke when trying to cook nutritious and delicious meals. In this article, we share a few food shopping and cooking strategies that can help you step up your game in the kitchen while on a budget.

Don’t be shy— try some new fresh herbs.

When it comes to flavor: “Herbs are our best friend,” said Tiffany Derry, chef, restaurateur and the Season 7 fan favorite on Bravo’s Top Chef. Herbs are an affordable way to elevate the simplest of dishes, but they are often underutilized by people who don’t know how much they can change the taste of a meal.

Derry, based in Dallas, loves the lemony fresh flavor of basil and recommends it to home chefs. Derry also suggests parsley as an inexpensive addition to your herb collection. Yes, parsley can be used for more than just a garnish! Tarragon is another underutilized herb with a citrusy fresh flavor that Derry uses to spice up her dishes.

Earthy sage, spicy garlic and ginger, piney rosemary, sharp oregano, aromatic mint and chives are other herbs you can find in your grocery aisle. A little experimentation with new herbs can take your dishes to the next level without breaking the bank.

Not sure what herb to use in your next dish? The Food Network has a rundown of how different herbs taste and the types of dishes you can use them for. When shopping for herbs, take the time to inspect each one before purchase. Herbs should look fresh and not bruised.

If you have herbs left over after cooking a meal, Derry recommends putting them in the blender with a little bit of oil to make a paste to put away in the fridge. Grinding fresh herbs down helps you avoid food waste and the mixture can be used to jazz up a few more meals. Add a quick spoonful of your herb paste to spice up eggs in the morning or rice at night. You can also dry herbs or freeze them for use later.

Buy local and in season.

Money spent should be spent on the best possible quality. “Eating foods that aren’t in season are a waste in terms of flavor and nutrition,” said Derry. Whenever you buy local, you’re getting the best price for the best product. Search for markets that source from local farmers and pay closer attention to when local produce is in season. Buy produce that you plan to eat within a week to limit food waste.

For both perishable and non-perishable items, regularly comparison shop stores in your area for cost and overall quality. Look for produce with deep colors and without small holes. Punctures could mean that an insect got to snack on it before you. Smelling fruits can help you choose the best ones. The quality of the ingredients can make or break the taste of the final product.

Get whole meats and break them down at home.

Buying whole meats like turkeys and chickens throughout the year (instead of just for special occasions) is another cost effective way to fill up your fridge. According to Derry, bone-in meats can feed more people and can give you more bang for your buck, especially when you’re looking at fish.

Let’s take a look at the numbers: As of press time, Whole Foods through Amazon Prime Now has boneless, skinless chicken breasts selling for $4.99 per pound. On the other hand, you can get a whole chicken for $1.99 per pound. Even bigger savings are seen with fish. Snapper fillets are selling for $27.99 per pound compared to $12.99 for the whole snapper.

Breaking down your own food may seem intimidating, but it’s something you can master with practice. There are many video guides online that can show you how to cut fish and poultry step-by-step. Bon Appétit magazine, for instance, has several how-to guides including how to fillet whole fish, how to carve ham and how to butcher a chicken.

The beauty of getting whole meats is the versatility, according to Derry. You can cook many different meals with your meats and your assortment of herbs without going over budget. One night you could have roast fish, the next you could make fish tacos and the leftover fish bones could be used for a fish stock. “The idea is that one thing can be turned into three [meals],” said Derry.

Learn the right techniques to compliment your ingredients.

Besides stocking the right ingredients, cooking techniques will take you far. Making delicious food doesn’t require a lot of money, said Derry. Much of it is perfecting the cooking skills for each type of dish.

“A sauté is a sauté, no matter what type of food you’re making,” according to Derry. Sautéing is cooking on high heat with a bit of oil and shaking the pan so the food doesn’t stick to the bottom. Grilling is also high heat method that brings out the flavor. “Anything can be delicious as long as you season it properly and cook it properly. I can make a pack of Ramen noodles taste amazing!” Derry said. You take the noodles, throw out the seasoning packet and put together your own broth. Add a poached egg to elevate the dish.

Besides sautéing and grilling, there’s baking, broiling, pan-frying and deep frying. There’s also boiling, poaching, steaming. Experiment with different techniques when cooking vegetables and meats with your new herbs and spices. When in doubt, look for a tutorial on how to do each style of cooking step-by-step.

Final Word

Buying high-ticket grocery items isn’t necessary to cook gourmet. Put a few herbs on your list and purchase other quality ingredients that are within your budget. After stocking the pantry, roll up your sleeves and cook up your own new (and delicious) meals.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Taylor Gordon
Taylor Gordon |

Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor here


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Here’s Why Single Women Are Buying More Homes Than Single Men

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.


Right after she turned 30, public relations pro Wendy Hsiao put in an offer on a cute brick townhouse in Atlanta. “For a lot of my friends, being an adult started either when you got married or had a baby,” she said. “I chose to buy a house.”

Why did she buy? She felt ready for a major life change, considered buying to be a smart financial decision and wanted a yard for her Pomeranian named Georgia. “I felt like it was time to make a place my home,” Hsiao said.

Her story is one example of a growing trend: the rise of single female homeownership. Single women are far more likely to become homeowners than single men, according to a study on singles owning homes by LendingTree, which owns MagnifyMoney. In fact, single women own 22% of homes on average, while single men own less than 13%.

This “gender gap” stems partly from the fact that single women prioritize homeownership when setting life goals. In fact, 73% of single women list owning a home as a top priority compared with 65% of single men, according to the 2018 Homebuyer Insights Report from Bank of America.

Single women are “skipping the spouse and buying the house,” according to the Bank of America report, which found that single women rank homeownership as a goal above getting married (41%) and having children (31%).

From homemaker to homeowner

While there’s still work to be done, women have taken huge steps toward professional and financial independence. Homeownership in particular contributes to economic stability, so it’s great that more single women are buying homes. There’s no doubt the increase in the number of women in the U.S. workforce, a figure that has more than doubled since 1975, has contributed to the trend. Here are some other driving forces behind the rise of single female homeownership:

Homeownership empowers women. Homeownership offers a place to live, stability and a way to build wealth, so it’s no surprise women view owning a home as empowering. In fact, 31% of single women (vs. 23% of single men) feel empowered when thinking about buying their first home. A licensed real estate agent in Chicago, Martina Smith bought a condo in her dream neighborhood of Streeterville after she broke off an engagement a few years ago. Her budget only allowed her to buy a “fixer-upper,” but she got a great deal and renovated her place. “It’s been very rewarding and empowering,” she said. And she thinks it reflects a bigger national trend. “We’re seeing more women taking charge,” Smith said.

Women are becoming more educated. Over the past few decades, women have become more educated than men. In 2017, 38% of women and 33% of men ages 25 to 64 had a bachelor’s degree. In that age group, 14% of women and 12% of men had an advanced degree. And women are putting off marriage to pursue that education, according to the 2018 Women in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem report. Educational attainment has a positive impact on homeownership rates.

Women are done waiting to marry. There’s been a cultural shift where women no longer feel they need to wait until they pair up to embark on certain aspects of “adulting,” said Kelley Long, a CPA and certified financial planner with Financial Finesse. “I will never forget a friend’s dad chastising me for doing ‘nesting’ things like buying nice furniture before I was married because of his perception that you just don’t do things like that until you’re married,” Long said, adding that women are “rejecting that idea because it’s not true.” If you want to marry in the future, the right partner will likely be impressed that you were financially secure enough to buy a home on your own, she said.

Single moms want a home base to raise kids. “Oftentimes, when people buy homes it’s for lifestyles reasons,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist for LendingTree. Getting married is one big reason, but having children is the other, he said. About 21% of U.S. kids live with single moms, a number that has almost doubled since 1968. In contrast, just 4% of kids live with single dads. “Children prompt people to buy homes,” he said. “So that might be one of the factors at play.” And it’s not just kids. As many as eight in 10 caregivers for elderly parents are women. The median age of a single female buyer is mid-50s, points out Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of REALTORS. A single female homebuyer “may be coming from a past relationship and purchasing a new home for herself, her children and her parents,” Lautz said, adding that single females are “willing to make sacrifices” to purchase a home.

So what does the future hold for single women owning homes? If marriage rates among all U.S. adults continue to drop, it’s likely the number of single women purchasing homes will rise even more, Lautz said.

Turn your homeownership dreams into reality

Strict lending standards can make it more difficult to qualify for a mortgage on a single income. Considering women also only make 80% of what their male colleagues earn, getting to a financially secure enough position to afford homeownership may feel daunting. Here are three tips for single women looking to buy a home of their own:

  1. Prep your finances for homebuying. It’s important to check your credit and your debt-to-income ratio before you start the homebuying process. If you spot problems, work on increasing your credit score and paying down your debt before you try to get preapproved for a mortgage. Getting the best possible rate can save you money over the life of the loan, which is especially important when your household depends on a single income. The upside is that single women have complete control and don’t need to worry about anyone else’s shaky credit or loads of debt. “If you’re in a couple, somebody is going to be dragging the other person down,” Kapfidze said.
  2. Build your nest egg before you buy. Forty-eight percent of women say they haven’t purchased a home yet because they haven’t saved enough for a down payment. But that’s not the only savings barrier to breach before taking the leap into homeownership. “Make sure you have a robust emergency fund,” Kapfidze said. Because single homeowners are on their own, they should set aside at least three months of mortgage payments as part of their emergency fund, Kapfidze suggested. “If you’re single, you’re the only one with income coming in to pay the mortgage,” he said.
  3. Pick a home that comes in under budget. Single women have lower household incomes than single men, so they may need to consider buying a smaller home, taking on a house that needs some work or settling in a lower priced neighborhood. The good news is that single women may be doing exactly that. In fact, the average home purchased by a single woman cost $173,000 compared with over $190,000 for a single man. Single women “may need to make price concessions when purchasing to find a home for themselves and their families,” Lautz said. And buying less house than you can afford can help you make your mortgage payment more easily if you hit financial hard times in the future.

Finally, it’s normal to feel stressed when you think of buying a home. In fact, more women (40%) than men (30%) feel overwhelmed by the idea of homeownership. But even though the homebuying process was scary, Hsiao said she has zero regret about buying a home of her own: “If you love the house, it’s 100% worth it.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Allie Johnson
Allie Johnson |

Allie Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Allie here