I was lucky if I got home from work by 7:15pm. If I stopped for groceries, it would be closer to 8. And then I was supposed to cook?! No way! So I’d get take-out. Or eat a Lean Cuisine. Ugh.

That was ok for a while, but eventually I wanted to eat healthier and cheaper. The thing is, I didn’t have time to cook. And I hated to cook. I was also a really crappy cook back then. Thankfully I’ve fixed that last one, but I still don’t love cooking and I often don’t have time for it (or I don’t want to make time for it because, like I said, it’s really not my favorite thing.)

Enter: my magical crockpot!

Maybe it isn’t really magic, but it sure feels that way! This incredible machine totally changed the way I ate. The food tasted great and it was a lot healthier. Plus, it saved me a lot more money than I would have expected. And it was so easy.

For those who have never seen a slow cooker (also called a crockpot) in action, the basic idea is that it cooks the food for a really long time at a low temperature. They’re pretty safe, so most people feel comfortable leaving the house while they’re on. Sizes vary. I have a large one, so I can double or sometimes triple a recipe. Others are single serving. Some recipes call for more effort, like adding ingredients while the food is cooking or pre-cooking some of the food. But the recipes I choose all have one thing in common: they’re set-it-and-forget-it. I put the ingredients in, turn the machine on, walk away for several hours, and return to a wonderful meal. It’s great!

It’s not just for soups

A lot of people think that slow cookers are only used for soup and chili. They’re great for that, but they can make so much more. I usually make chicken in mine, but I’ve also made fish and side dishes like potatoes. I’ve seen recipes for desserts and appetizers, too. You name it, and there’s probably a crockpot recipe for it.

Slow cookers are great for all kinds of diets. Low sodium? Just modify the recipe. Vegetarian? No problem. Gluten free? Me too, and this site’s recipes are all gluten free. It’s really very easy to adapt crockpot recipes just like you’d adapt any other kind of recipe for whatever your dietary need or preference is.

Summer bonus

I don’t like heat. I hate humidity. And I don’t have any air conditioning in my kitchen. So Boston isn’t the ideal climate for me. Unfortunately, I happen to love it here. So what’s a girl to do? I suck it up (more or less) and avoid using the oven for about 6 months of the year. On the hotter days, I also refuse to stand in front of the stove for more than a few minutes (did I mention I hate the heat?) Salads and sandwiches are fine in June, but by July I’m sick of them and wanting “normal” meals again. But I don’t want to return to take-out and microwavable junk. So again, I turn to my crockpot.

Yes, crockpots emit some heat, but it’s very little. As long as I don’t stand right next to it for a long time, it’s not that noticeable. And unlike cooking on the stove, I don’t need to be near my crockpot while it’s on. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it setup, remember?

How it saves money

I can just hear you saying, “That’s all fine, but how is this helping me afford my new smartphone?” Well, I’ll tell you.

First, don’t buy an expensive slow cooker. Ask for one for your next birthday. Or go to the store and buy a simple one. You don’t need all the bells and whistles. Don’t spend more than $20. You can upgrade later if you really need to, but you probably won’t. Mine is pretty simple (that’s it in the photo up top.) It’s only feature is an automatic timer that switches to “Warm” when it’s done cooking. And I’ve been happy with it for 12 years now. (I didn’t think I’d use it, but it turned out to be the best house warming gift I’ve ever gotten!)

It’s easy to cook in quantity with a crockpot. You can double a recipe with very little effort. So instead of cooking 2 lbs of chicken, just cook 4 lbs. and double the other ingredients. Freeze the extra for later. Freezing leftovers means that later, when you find yourself stuck without anything to eat for dinner, you can defrost something instead of eating out.

And buying in quantity gives you the chance to take advantage of some awesome deals. When that beef is on sale, buy double, make twice as much pot roast, and save money on future meals.

On top of sales, you can also buy cheaper cuts of meat. In the crockpot, they still taste amazing. This means different things for different people. Maybe you buy chicken thighs instead of breasts. Or maybe you use more beans and less chicken. Play around to find what you like best.

Obviously there’s savings every time you eat one of these meals instead of eating out or popping some processed food in the microwave. I’ve calculated some of my meals and they’ve come down to as little as $3 each when they include chicken breast (less for vegetarian dishes.) Aside from mooching a meal off your parents, how else are you going to eat something awesome for $3?

Less obvious are the healthcare savings. When you eat healthy, you set yourself up for better health. That will definitely add up to long term medical savings.

How I do it

When I was working an office job, I got into a great habit. I do this every summer now, and from time to time the rest of the year. It’s really very simple.

On Saturdays I would spend 10 minutes looking for a recipe in my cookbook or online. I’d find 2 or 3 things that looked good and took almost no effort (set-it-and-forget-it!) and I’d write down the ingredients for each. I’d go to the store and decide which recipe to make based on what was available and on/or on sale.

On Sunday morning I’d throw the ingredients in the crockpot and turn it on. Then I’d go about my day. Sunday evening I’d come home to an amazing-smelling apartment!

Sunday night, I would have a fantastic dinner. I’d put the leftovers in the fridge and eat them throughout the week. If there were lots of leftovers, I would freeze them in single servings.

Towards the end of the week, on Thursday or Friday, I would be tired of that dish so I’d pull out a serving of a previous dish from the freezer.

So easy!

How will you do it?

Now it’s your turn. Are you going to give this a try? What will you make first? Please share your recipes and attempts (good or bad!) in the comments. It’s more fun when we share!

And to see how much you’re saving over the course of a year, just enter your reduced expenses in this calculator and start dreaming about what you’ll do with all that extra cash.

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