Erin Chase, creator of 5dollardinners.com , was taken out to dinner on Mother’s Day by her mother-in-law. The night before, she had a “mother-sons” date night at Chick-fil-A. But these are exceptions. Most nights, Chase, through scrupulous meal planning and couponing, takes immense pride in creating and serving dinners for her husband and three children that are—you guessed it--$5 or even less.
For example, last Friday, she made pizza, with homemade crust.
To quote the title of the bestselling novel, I don’t know how she does it. It’s simple, really, she insists, even if the process initially seems daunting. But once you, as she did, purchase a can of shaving cream for .17 cents, or actually get a dollar back from Walgreen’s for buying a card good for a new drink at Starbucks, you may find yourself in the $5 dinner business.
And business is phenomenal. An instant hit, the site now generates a six-figure income (which doesn’t include consulting as well as her cookbook endeavors) and up to 20,000 hits a day.
Chase, who lives in Ohio, launched the site three-and-a-half years ago, when, she recalls, the “R”-word (recession) began to be bandied about. Her family, she told Millionaire Corner, “was feeling the pinch. Gas prices were reaching $4 a gallon. We were on a single income. We needed to cut back and the only place we could really do that was the grocery store. We were already on the lowest minute cell phone plan and we had just refinanced our home. To counterbalance the rising gas prices, I began a quest to spend less on groceries.”
Quest accomplished. One night, after a meal of sautéed pork chops and peaches, she remarked to her husband that the meal had cost about $3.85. One night, doing the dishes, she had her “a-ha” moment. As if on one of those cable news channel tickers that crawl across the screen, she saw the words “$5 Dinners.” “I went immediately to Google and searched for “cheap dinners” and “$5 dinners,” she said. “There was nothing out there.”
Chase, a former teacher and principal, had only operated a family blog on which she posted pictures of the kids. A long-time proponent of meal planning, she shared her ideas on the family blog, but her sister groused, “’I don’t care about your grocery store savings. I just want to see pictures of the kids,’” Chase laughed.
She decided to start another website. “I thought that if there was a need for us, there might be a need for other people as well,” she said. That was an understatement, as she instantly discovered when the site began to get about 2,000 hits right off the bat.
$5 Dinners serves up priceless tips about meal planning, couponing, growing your own food and time-saving strategies to accommodate families on tight schedules. Her own learning curve, she said, “wasn’t too bad. There are so many fantastic coupon-matching websites (that got me started),” she said. But once I got a can of shaving cream for .17 cents, I thought to myself, ‘This is a no-brainer.’”
For the uninitiated, she recommends looking for area couponing classes. It may initially seem overwhelming, she said, “but saving money is so empowering. Soon, you’ll be able to spot the deals in the newspaper circulars and remember what coupons you have in your coupon folder. Make goals. See if you can save 25 percent at the store.”
She also recommends bulk buying and batch cooking, and above all, meal planning. “I have my meals planned for the week,” she said. “It saves money, and then there’s the sanity factor; No one saying, ‘What do you want for dinner tonight?’ I already know what we’re having.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.