If you’re a Dave Ramsey fan like us, you’ve heard the slogan “rice and beans!” He doesn’t really mean you have to eat rice and beans all of the time, but many of us have learned to cut budgets by using a lot of these hearty staples. Yes, the lowly bean is a nutritional and cost-saving powerhouse, and when employed properly, a tasty treat!

You can’t beat beans for afford-ability, and often even convenience, but be wary of the convenience of canned beans—they include a high dose of cancer-causing BPA chemicals in the cans. I don’t know about you, but I like my beans without a helping of cancer on the side. Plus, they’re overpriced for what they are.

While canned beans are cheap, dry beans cost about half as much.

Yes, it’s a lot easier to whip up a quick meal from canned beans, than it is to plan ahead and soak dry beans or boil dry beans for hours on end. But four cups of dry turtle beans costs about $.87 where I am, and yield two full pots of chili—or enough food for 10 people! I’d need to buy three cans of black turtle beans to match that, costing nearly $4.

Beans do require a lot of work. Pre-soaking and boiling for hours on end can be inconvenient, but there are ways around this.

Freeze ‘em!

Did you know that you can freeze your beans?

I’ve recently started doing this by pre-soaking beans (one day or two depending on the size and consistency of the beans), then rinsing and draining them and pouring into pint ziplock bags or wide-mouth glass jars (pints or quarts).

Pre-soaking and freezing beans cuts hours off of the cooking process, but also helps to break down the sugars and fiber in beans preventing other undesirable (ahem) side effects of the bean diet.

Beans also can be entirely pre-cooked and seasoned and still freeze well.

Try keeping a few bags of frozen beans in your freezer for rush meals (I’ve got black turtle beans and pinto beans in my freezer right now).

Forgot to soak?

Not to worry, not all beans have to be pre-soaked. Garbanzo beans, black eyed peas, split peas and lentils can all be cooked relatively quickly from dry.

Dos and Don’ts for cooking beans:

Do: Add three parts water per one part dry or presoaked beans and boil until soft.

Do: Experiment with different beans and mixes of beans. Some of my favorites include fava beans, black turtle beans, French lentils and garbanzo beans.

Do: Substitute beans in recipes. You can replace meats with lentils, or exchange different varieties of beans in recipes.

Do: Buy beans in bulk. Even the cheap one-pound bags you’ll find in the supermarket are overpriced.

Do: Buy dry beans at ethnic markets, especially markets that cater to communities that use a lot of beans in their diet, like Hispanic, African and Middle-Eastern grocers.

Don’t: Season beans until they are fully cooked, seasonings like salt, soy or Worcestershire sauce will create a reverse osmosis effect that will keep the beans from cooking, and harden the beans. This is irreversible as far as I can tell. (Onions and garlic are OK to add early in the cooking).

Don’t: Worry about organics when buying dried beans. While I prefer to eat organic produce, beans grow in a pod, thus protected from sprays, etc. The pod is removed and discarded, and the interior beans are dried and eaten. But before cooking they are rinsed, soaked and re-rinsed. I’d be willing to bet that beans are one of the cleanest foods that we eat in our house.