Interview: Beth Moncel of Budget Bytes
Sticking to a budget is difficult, but sticking to a food budget is especially difficult. The alluring siren song of new restaurants, Postmates and Trader Joe’s is sometimes just too strong.
That’s why I love Beth Moncel and her blog, Budget Bytes. Not only are Beth’s recipes seriously delicious (I’ve made quite a few of them), they’re exactly what she promises: budget-friendly. Beth starts every single recipe by stating its total cost and cost per serving; when she gets to the ingredients, she lists the cost of each one. I love this super easy, straightforward strategy for seeing exactly where your money is going (and other people obviously do too, because Beth is a rockstar),
I recently spoke with Beth via email about the freedom she finds in budgeting, how she got into the food blogging game and which ingredient she doesn’t mind splurging on (hint: it’s one of my favorites).
Is cooking on a budget restricting or freeing?
Cooking on a budget is much more freeing compared to eating out every day. When you cook (on a budget), you control the quality of your food and how much you spend. When you eat out, you only have the few options presented to you, almost all of which cost more than cooking at home. Basically, by cooking at home, even when working within the confines of a budget, you're greatly expanding your options.
Where do you do your grocery shopping?
That has changed a lot over the years because I have moved several times. I moved to Nashville last year so I'm still kind of feeling out the market here. I have both a Kroger and an Aldi store within a couple miles of my house, so they're getting most of my business these days. When I was in New Orleans I had a Whole Foods nearby and was able to get quite a few of my ingredients there. Their produce prices and prices on the basics like canned goods were actually very competitive (you just have to avoid impulse purchasing the "fun" food they carry). When possible, I'll hit up ethnic food stores to stock up on less common ingredients for really good prices.
What's one ingredient you don't mind splurging on?
Cheese! I find that cheese adds a lot to my meals, even in small quantities. So even if a block of cheese is a bit more pricey, adding just a small amount to a meal can really add a lot to the experience without adding a lot to the cost. And the best part is that cheese freezes great so when I do splurge the leftovers don't go to waste.
You have some great vegetarian recipes on your website. Why did you decide to highlight these recipes?
Thank you! I don't really feel like I highlight the vegetarian recipes anymore than the other recipe types on my site. I eat about 50% vegetarian, but not intentionally. Vegetarian cuisine is inherently less expensive and I love the variety of flavors, colors, and textures you get with vegetables, so a lot of my food is just naturally vegetarian. I do have a large vegetarian audience, though, so I made sure to have a category on the site to make those recipes easy to find.
What's one of the recipes on your website that you're most proud of?
Oh man, that's like trying to pick a favorite child! Haha! I don't think I could pick one out of ten years worth of recipes, but a recent recipe that I am very proud of is my Vegan Winter Lentil Stew. It's packed with vegetables, is super hearty and filling, absolutely delicious, very easy, and insanely inexpensive. It is basically everything I want in a recipe.
Any tips for foodies trying to build their Pinterest following and engagement?
Have drool-worthy photos. That's the only technique I've ever used. :)
What are the five ingredients you cook with most often?
Rice, beans, frozen vegetables (mostly broccoli and spinach), pasta, canned tomato products (diced, sauce, paste, crushed, etc.) You'd be surprised at how many different meals you can make with combinations of just those five things!
You meet someone who has never been to Nashville. Go! Where should they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Oh man, this is tough because I definitely don't get out enough! When you cook so much at home going out to eat kind of loses its appeal. But here are a couple of places that I enjoy: I love my neighborhood coffee shop, The Post East. They have great drinks, smoothies, AND food, plus the atmosphere is super cozy. For lunch I'd say Vui's Kitchen, which is a local Vietnamese restaurant. I'm obsessed with their signature salad and they do pork belly like nobody's business. For dinner I really enjoy Eastland Cafe. It's just a little neighborhood restaurant that does really good quality food, it's super chill, but special enough for date night.
What was the "aha" moment for you when you realized you could make a career out of being a good blogger?
Very early on, maybe within the first year, I realized there was an enormous need for the information I was providing on my blog (low cost, satisfying, well balanced recipes with detailed instructions for new cooks). I knew at that point it could turn into something very big if I put in the work. It wasn't until maybe four or five years later that I figured out how to make it a "career" or earn enough to support me working on it full time. Seeing published income reports from other bloggers, like Pinch of Yum, helped me figure out how to make it work.
Fast forward a few years and you won the "Best How-To Food Blog" award from Saveur magazine plus put out a cookbook and developed a mobile app. Loaded question, but how did you take your blog and expand it so successfully? Was it always your goal to take Budget Bytes beyond just being a website?
I feel like my blog has always had a life of its own and I've been scrambling just to keep up with it. I'm always running to catch up with where it's going, never planning ahead to intentionally make it into something that I envision. I honestly think that I just landed in the right place at the right time (the beginning of the big recession) and because I worked hard and stayed dedicated to always improving, success just happened. It's been a healthy mix of luck and hard work. I've made some good decisions along the way and some bad decisions, but I'm always just learning as I go!
For more information, visit BudgetBytes.com.