Who doesn't love to eat exotic, delicious food at five-star dining establishments? Or yearn for the masterpieces created by top TV chefs? Have you ever marveled at friends who say they have nothing in the refrigerator and then whip up a five course meal? Unfortunately, most of us don't have the extra cash to buy the high-end ingredients used in cooking shows or the money needed to hire a personal chef - but there is hope. Being a budget gourmet doesn't mean sacrificing taste or style. It's about finding ways to create works of art in the kitchen without breaking the bank. Here are six tips that can be used to transform you into a budget gourmet.

1. Clip Those Coupons
My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Every Sunday, they would check the newspaper and take out all the weekly sales flyers. My grandparents noted what was on sale at each store, and then spent the rest of the week going from grocer to grocer purchasing these sale items.

Most of us do not have the time or inclination to hop from grocer to grocer for one or two cheaply priced items. That said, recognizing a bargain when you see one is very advantageous for a budget gourmet. While you may not want to drive 10 miles to save a few cents on flour, traveling to purchase a ½ priced porterhouse steak might be worth your time. Buying expensive items on sale, even if you need to freeze them for a later date, will cut the cost of a gourmet meal tremendously. Similarly, clipping coupons can have a big impact on your food bill over time. Some stores now offer a savings pass, usually in the form of a key ring tag, that will automatically apply savings to any sale items you purchase.

2. Grow It Yourself
Growing your own produce at home can lead to great savings. During the growing season, a small garden plot or balcony garden can yield enough produce to pay for itself many times over. Best of all, the savings don't need to end when the harvest is complete. You can use the produce year-round by either freezing or canning unused vegetables and fruits.

Having an herb garden can also reduce the cost of a meal while adding wonderful flavors and aromas to your cooking. Planning your garden according to a cost-benefit analysis will make sure you get the most bang for your buck. If you're limited for space, you should grow something relatively costly rather than something cheap - garlic instead of potatoes.

3. Make Substitutions
Many gourmet meals require exotic ingredients that, while very chic, can be replaced by well-known ingredients without sacrificing flavor. These substitutes are cheaper and easier to acquire.

4. Shop At The Right Markets
Your choice of market can have a big impact on your bill. Farmer's markets are a great way to use local - and often organically grown - ingredients at a fraction of the price that a supermarket will charge. Many towns have their own farmer's market that sells fresh produce and meats at reasonable prices. There are also many ethnic markets that sell the same items as larger grocers, but at much lower prices.

Some areas even have terminal markets - wholesale markets where food arrives for distribution to restaurants and supermarkets. Small grocers go to these markets to purchase food and then re-sell it in their stores for a mark-up. Many of these terminal markets allow the public to purchase items as well, although there may be a minimum purchase size. Make sure to shop around, as not all markets are a bargain!

5. For Every Season, A Fruit And Veggie
Every fruit and vegetable has a particular growing season. These fruits and vegetables are obviously most abundant during their season when specialty equipment like a greenhouse isn't needed to grow them. The ample supply reduces the cost of buying these seasonal fruits and vegetables - thank the law of supply and demand. Whenever possible, choose recipes that utilize seasonal ingredients to lower costs.

6. Use Your Knives
Many of us spend the extra money to get thin-cut, boneless, skinless chicken breast instead of spending the extra time doing it ourselves. Buying the whole chicken and cutting it into parts will save you about three-quarters of the price per pound - a true budgeter's dream. This applies to many types of meat, although buying an entire side of beef may not work for people with limited freezer room. Every time meat is sliced, its price goes up. So you may as well do the cutting yourself and save the extra dollars.

Love The Food You Make Without Hating The Price Tag
Being a budget gourmet is not an oxymoron. It can be accomplished quite easily by utilizing the six tips discussed above. If you are willing to put in a little leg work, be creative with recipes, and go the extra mile, then you can have five-star dining at budget prices. Bon Appetit! (For more about eating well on a budget, check out 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

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