Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Frugal Blogs

Here are some interesting blogs I found in some of my thrift searches...

Still Finding Cash - I thoroughly enjoyed the entries I skimmed over and love the feel the writer gives to this blog. Very down to earth and with some nice suggestions.

Pat Veretto's Frugal Living Blog - A little more hardcore, but not as much as some blogs I've read. I love her thoughts on different aspects of frugality, some of which I've thought about as well. Her entry titled "A hundred years ago..." is a fine example of what I mean.

Random thoughts on last night and the true purpose behind Thrift/Frugality

I was a good girl and a bad girl last night. We wanted a treat for our "date night", which is really more of a "Granny Night" since we don't really do what people are supposed to do on "date night"... ie. not talk about how wonderful our son is, not buy groceries, not clean our living space, and so on. So, as our "date night" indulgence, we got dessert at Outback amidst our quick asian market grocery errands. The price was low... since all we got were desserts... and we felt suitably spoiled. I do have to note, however, that I have no desire to repeat this. I can't help but think, "Hmm... we could have made the gluten free brownie at home... we had icecream, chocolate chips, and whipped cream, as well as some fruit. That would have saved us *fill in the blank* dollars." But really, it's not bad to treat yourself on occasion when you've been good, and I still made dinner (after) for us to enjoy, which saved us a bit more too.

The rest of the evening was spent getting some ingredients for some meals this week, working on our Alice in Wonderland commission (which is on my Sew Mankycat blog), and cooking dinner. This was a far cry from all the things I had hoped to get done... but one of my problems is planning too much for what small bit of free time I actually have.

Anyways, I was a good girl though. I resisted the temptation to buy a Dunkin Donuts coffee because I knew my husband could make me some at home (and because I had some limeade in the fridge), I resisted the temptation to pick up some snacks at Crown Palace asian market because I knew I would be making dinner soon (and my husband was really looking forward to the desserts we were going to get), didn't get an appetizer or entree or salad at Outback to go with my dessert (for the same reasons), I didn't stop to check out bicycles (though that is in the near future, I'm thinking), didn't buy soda, didn't go on Ebay to look at some of the bento stuff that JB and I are toying with the idea of buying (more thought needed), or any of the other temptations that cropped up. I knew I just felt like spending money, and that's not a good reason to do so. I did, however, buy extra rice cakes and fish cakes... but I am making meals with those and it's good to have extra so I don't have to make the trip out too soon.

One hard thing to accept is that, like any other lifestyle change, being thrifty or becoming frugal takes many steps, both large and small. It doesn't serve any purpose to beat yourself up for spending a few extra cents because you didn't know the best price for gas was around the corner or because you decided to get your nappa cabbage at Shoprite rather than Wegmans (though the best price is at Crown Palace and HMart... korean markets typically have certain produce for amazing prices). You also have to consider that worrying like that will also eat away at you in the form of stress. Just take the lesson and try to remember for next time. Besides, how much more would it actually cost to go to that other gas station or to two stores for produce rather than one? $0.10? $1.00? $5.00? Extra gas and 'wear and tear' on your car? Extra time that you could use in other aspects of your life? What's the point of working your tush off to save $2.00, but taking away how many hours of your time away from your family? That just doesn't sound too balanced or prudent to me.

Thriftiness and frugality takes more into account than just nickles and dimes. It's also an attempt to look at the big picture. To get the most out of your life, money, and time as you can.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Growing "Free" Green Onions

Green Onions... aka Scallions... The cute little powerhouses grace many of my family's favorite dishes. They are used often enough that when I heard a tip on one of the Food Network competitive "so you want to be a star" type shows, I gobbled it up and tried it out as soon as I could...

And I'm pleased to find that it actually mostly works.

To grow "free" green onions, you simply cut no lower than a half inch to an inch of the bottom part (the white area with the roots) and place this part in a small container with a little bit of water (I'd say no higher than 1/2 or 3/4 of the plant clipping). Place on a sunny windowsill and be sure to change the water every couple of days. The roots and the greens will begin to grow fairly quickly. By doing this, you can squeeze out a few more uses from these plants without having to by new green onions from the store.

I understand that the whites are delicious. I love them too, but I also love free food and saving money on groceries. I also know that a lot of recipes don't actually call for using the whites (to the point that one friend of mine didn't know that the white parts were edible).

I plan to take the ones I already have growing and planting them in a nice pot to see how much longer I can get them to last. If they are left in the water/rooting stage, the whites tend to shrivel and the greens will stop growing, so hopefully planting them in soil will have a different effect (and possibly a multiplying affect as well... which is a speculation of a gardening co-worker).

If, however, you must buy green onions, my best suggestion is to go to an asian market to do so. They are usually a much lower price and of a higher quality than the regular grocery stores tend to offer.

What's next? Hopefully celery, carrots, and/or radishes! We shall see. :-)

The above image was found on www.quantum-immortal.net.

Growing "Free" Food

One thing I've always admired about some people was their ability to grow food from produce they bought at the grocery store. I always found this an extremely nice trait in people, even if they are growing the plants simply for aesthetics.

The idea of buying a fruit or vegetable and growing a plant from the seed, ends, or top of it just wreaks of thrift and frugality. Sadly, since I rent a second floor apartment with no balcony and no window boxes allowed (on the outside), I'm limitted in what I can actually grow.

I'll be adding different plants that can be grown for food purposes and ones that can't as time allows. They will be tagged as "growing food".

Friday, June 5, 2009

Simplification and Decluttering: Clothes

I figure, a working woman only needs:
  • 4 or 5 well fitted work slacks
  • 2 to 3 skirts (if the woman like the option for warmer weather)
  • 2 to 3 tailored suit jackets that match the slacks and skirts interchangeably
  • 6 dress shirts of various colors and textures for those outfits, preferably of a light weight so as to be suitable for warm weather, but also can be layered under heavier items for cooler weather
  • 2 short sleeve blouses for the summer
  • 2 flattering sweaters (sleeved or sleeveless) for cooler weather
  • 2 sets of pant suit appropriate
  • 2 sets of nice heels for skirts
  • Possibly 1 extra set that's playful, just to mix things up a bit
  • The lower of the numbers is taking into account if the office has "casual fridays" in which case, one less of each item would be an option.
  • 1 long tailored heavy business appropriate coat (for days with bitter cold or rainy weather)
  • 1 short tailored heavy business appropriate coat (for days that aren't as bitter but still cold)
For casual wear:
  • 2 to 3 well fitting jeans
  • 1 to 2 pair of khakis or other nice casual pants (especially helpful when jeans are not acceptable for "casual fridays" or you are going to an event that casual but not jean-appropriate)
  • About 5 nice tee-shirts
  • 2 or 3 sleeveless tees
  • 2 heavier button down shirts
  • 2 comfy pullover sweaters (or hoodies)
    2 zipper or button down sweaters
  • 2 nice casual dresses (that can be spruced up for casual evening date wear), if so inclined.
  • 2 casual skirts (that can be spruced up for casual evening date wear), if so inclined.
  • 2 tops that can be worn for dirty projects (like artsy pursuits or playing in the dirt with the kids)
  • 1 casual light weight jacket
  • 1 casual heavy coat
  • 1 coat for dirty projects (like shovelling snow or playing at the park with the kids)

Total amount of clothes, give or take (not including under garments, socks, or sleepwear): 38 minimum, 51 maximum.

I know that sounds like a lot, but it really isn't when you are considering that the idea is to have enough for cold weather and warm weather and for various activities. Also, if you're particular life situation might require less casual clothes, less (or nearly no) work clothes, and so on. In that case, definitely adjust as necessary. (Me? I'm a full time working mother who plays in the dirt, works on various artsy projects and cooks for fun, but also needs nice dress down items for casual-nice get-togethers.)

In all honesty, my husband and I have a lot of interest which tends to call for different types of clothing and garb (costuming), but do we really need as many as we have and how easily are the items replaced if or when we pick up certain interests again? We don't really do much in the way of Renaissance Festivals anymore, so two outfits would do (one for nicer weather, and one for muddy weather... though this could possibly be reduced to one outfit). We have been getting involved in Steampunk type events and outfits, but really, we only need one outfit each for that too, which we've been actually slowly been fine tuning. We don't LARP anymore, though it is a possibility that we would pick it up again... and for each character we play regularly, we'd need one outfit at least (possibly a few additional pieces for incliment weather). The problem is that these extra hobbies of ours can really add to having too many items... because it's so easy to try to justify getting a new item here and there. That's where will power really comes in handy. We are working on paring down in these areas.

Too much stuff...

I've been doing some thinking about possessions and simplification. I figure this isn't unusual to have from time to time when you are trying to be more thrifty or frugal. I tend to start trying to figure out how much a person really needs to live comfortably... and then I look around me and think, "Dang... I got way too much stuff!"

Of course, then I start to think about how much all these "things" ended up costing me, and continues to cost me, over time. The question I find myself led back to is this: Is it worth it?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back on the Wagon!

I sort of fell off the wagon a bit. Obviously, I haven't posted in a while, but we also cut loose a little bit recently. But that's okay. There's no use in beating yourself up over something like that. You learn, regroup, and move forward. Life is about moving forward. :-)

So... Today we went grocery shopping. We have a trip coming up this weekend, but we still went shopping to stock up. My hope is that I can make a bunch of food for us to take with so we don't end up eating out or buying a ton of convenience foods. If nothing else, we can always freeze what I make and eat it next week.

Our total for this week, thus far, is $39.12.
This is what we bought:

1 box (12 packets) Yamamoto instant green tea*
1.42 lbs broccoli rabe
1.75 lbs broccoli crowns
3 cans pinto beans (15.5 oz each)
3 cans coconut milk (13.5 each)
1 jar thai chili mayonaise (12 oz)*
1 can chick peas (1 lb 13 oz)
1 container white mushrooms (10 oz)
1 bag whole frozen tilapia (3 lbs)
0.23 lb fiddlehead fern greens*
2.24 lbs large purple eggplants
1 bag masa harina (4.4 lbs)
1.95 lbs zucchini

*splurge purchases... but sometimes it's the small splurges like these that help keep us from eating out or buying junk food.

Doesn't sound like much but it's for one week of food. Not bad to be honest and it will definitely feed us. We have a bunch of stuff in our cabinets, freezer, and fridge that we need to use up too. There were some really good prices on meats at the market, but we really would prefer to wait on buying red meats and poultry until we are sure we don't have some sitting in the freezer. We also didn't dig through all the sales flyers that the various grocery stores around here have. Right now, we don't have much time. I figured that I have a general idea of what I want to cook (mainly sauted veggies and curries), so we might as well get ingredients that can be used in several ways and just be done with it. At least that will cut the temptation to buy convenience items or go out to a restaurant or fast food joint... which would be a sad waste of money.

This weekend we are going to Maryland to attend the Faery Festival and to see people we haven't seen in years. It will be interesting. We are checking on hotel costs and availability and will see if I can get an extra discount on the side. The first weekend of the month, my hubby and I (with baby in tow) helped my sister vend at Rakkasah Caravan, and my husband is planning to help her vend at another event that is taking place the last weekend of May. We also have our son's birthday coming up on thursday and the family celebration of his birthday next weekend. Mind you that my mother's birthday was also the same weekend as Rakkasah Caravan (she was helping us vend but my hubby and I got her a cake and gift, which we gave to her after we all returned) and mother's day was last weekend and her Cinco de Mayo family dinner!

May is and has been a busy month!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thrifty Tips for Vegetarians...

From a buddy on my LJ blog (posted with permission):
Scanned through "My Thrifty Family"...any ideas on how to save AND be vegetarian? We tend to spend quite a lot in food - a red pepper here can cost as much as $3.00/pepper! And "fake meat" (vegetarian style chicken strips or bocca burgers) usually run $3.50 per package.

Here was my response:
I've read a number of things regarding frugal/thrifty vegetarians. I'm sure you already know most of the tips I'd be able to give from what I learned on those sites if you are a vegetarian. The question is what level of vegetarian are we talking about? Vegan? Eggs and dairy okay? Fish okay?

But a few that come to mind are:
  • Do as much as you can yourself. If you aren't willing to make it, then you probaby don't need to buy it (often or at all). Certain items (like soy sauce) are near impossible to make yourself. Veggie burgers can be made by hand from what I've seen, and quite easily according to several websites and magazines. Make your own tortillas, pasta sauce, soups, chili, hummus, dips, bread, mashed potatoes, and so forth. What people buy for several dollars at the store, you can make for a few cents at home. Most are unbelievably easy to make.
  • Avoid processed foods. They might seem cheap, but when you are looking at the net weight, they can often be far more expensive than produce, beans/nuts/proteins and grains, and have far less nutritional value.
  • Try not to buy "quick cooking" items. Oat meal and grits don't take that much longer to cook than the quick versions and they tend to be more filling and healthier. Same with brown rice versus white (though I do love me some white rice and eat it often... I do plan to cook both types and mix them together at times. Devious, I know!)
  • Beans, obviously. Dried beans combined with a starch (rice, potatoes, etc) make a complete protein and is very inexpensive. There's a ton of dishes you can make using them, you can substitute them for meat, or just add them as an extra ingredient to a number of recipes.
  • Look into different types of cuisine. A number of Japanese and Indian recipes are vegetarian. Recipes from other cultures can be altered to be vegetarian. I made "sesame chicken" using a recipe we love, but substituted the chicken with extra firm tofu. The recipe I use for my spicy stirfries would be great with tofu as well or as a straight vegetable dish (which I plan to make soon).
  • Check out ethnic grocers. You can typically find amazing deals on many items. Huge bags of rice (which lasts practically forever), spices, flours, noodles, vegetables, and fruit can all be at extremely good prices. Also look in the international aisles of big grocery stores. Sometimes you can find some really good deals there (though you need to keep in mind what the prices are comparatively). Never buy things like toasted sesame seeds from the normal spice aisle.
  • Price things. If you take a mental note or keep a small notebook of prices for staples or items of interest, you will know when you have found a good deal.
  • Soups are easy and inexpensive. The vegetable broths can be made from vegetable scraps and peels. Thicken with cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato starch, depending on the type of soup you are making. Heck, you can even use some mashed up potatoes. Of course, 'no meat' chili is great too.
  • Stir fries are great, quick, easy, and inexpensive too. Use cold leftover rice for best results. I can post a recipe for fried rice that I use and love (and got my ex and my husband hooked on). Best fried rice I've ever had and doesn't hurt the body or wallet.
  • Smoothies are great. You can use water (which works really well), a small amount of coconut milk, or leftover juice from canned fruit. (First and last on the list being very thrifty, indeed.) Use frozen fruits, which typically have more nutrients and are less expensive, and you will have a great cool drink. I actually do like using banana a lot (something my mother used often in our smoothies and milkshakes when we were kids... it give a great consistency and flavor and is fairly cheap), and have been known to add a small amount of peanut butter.
One of the hardest things for many people is to try to seriously look at why they do or do not eat certain things. Once you can look past some of the taboos you grew up with and place less emphasis on food in a social or emotional context, you will open many doors nutritionally and in taste. A lot of people avoid perfectly good food items or will refuse to give up certain foods out of some sense of fear; fear that they will suddenly be incomplete. Food is for fuel and nutrition. Everything else is "icing on the cake", but as you know, too much icing (and too little of other things) is not a good thing health-wise. "Eat to live; don't live to eat."

Anyways... those were the main things that came to mind. I'll be sure to post blogs I find regarding thrifty vegetarians (I find them often).

Depression Era cooking and recipes

I've been doing research for years on ways to cut back on living expenses. One of the first places that most people look is food. Even though there are a lot of resources out there on how to live frugally or more thrifty, my favorite ones are those focused on what our grandparents and great grandparents did during the Great Depression and World War 2. I've collected a few books from those time periods focused on ways to make more use out of less, both with food and with clothing.

Tonight, I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube called Depression Era Cooking with Clara. I do have to admit that I am tempted to make some of her dishes, even if I have to find substitutions for anything containing gluten. The videos were made by Clara's grandson. She's in her early to mid 90's and the videos aren't only about the recipes she's cooking, but also has little stories about her youth growing up in those difficult times. I wish they had more videos up, but am glad for the few that are there.

I do admit that those videos inspired me to look into websites, blogs, and forums focused on thrift and frugality from the 1930's and 1940's. Like I said, I've researched them before, so this is nothing new, but you never know what new information you will find when you take up the hunt again. (I'm also keeping an eye out for thrifty vegetarian recipes and blogs too for a buddy on my LJ blog. Just sorting through the ones I found thus far. The information on the Depression and WW2 sites also have a lot of vegetarian recipes and such, so that could be a help too.)

Something that is alarming is reading other frugal/thrifty people mention the same dread that I had over a year ago. Hopefully we are wrong, but a number of us (who have looked at the afore mentioned time periods) have stated that we see another Depression around the corner. I've had that concern since before the government admitted that we were actually in a Recession. There are certain trends that a person can see if they look. I guess that's why I can't say I'm too surprised about much and haven't been for a long time. I just hope that things don't get as dire as a number of us are expecting.

Anyways, here's a couple interesting recipes that I've never seen before (but want to try). Found on the Taste of Home forums:

Chicken Soup
Boil chicken and remove from bones. (Left over roasted or baked chicken is fine.) Heat broth until boiling and then reduce heat and sprinkle in corn meal. Whisk until thickened and stir in chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. No measurements as the cooks long ago did not use measurments. Sometimes they might have a lot of broth sometimes not.

Vegetable Soup
Peel and dice about 6-8 potatoes. Put potatoes in a large pot and add a diced onion or two and a chopped up head of cabbage. Boil in enough water to cover all vegetables. Salt the water to taste, but remember that you will not be draining the water. When these have all softened, to the water add one can of tomato juice, 2 cans of corn (drained), 2 cans of green beans (drained). Allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes and serve. This is delicious, cheap and easy to make.

Chicken Soup for a small army
1 clean 3-4 lb chicken. Place chicken in 2 gallon stockpot with an onion and 2 stalks celery. Bring to boil and simmer an hour. Lift out chicken, pull a part and remove bones. Return chicken pieces to pot and add veggies from garden including at least carrots and potatoes. Fill pot with water again and bring to boil then simmer till done. I season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsely and chives. Now, that is comfort food for pennies a serving and plenty to freeze if you don't have an army to feed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Corn Tortillas... and Grocery: Week Four

Nothing much to report here. We haven't gone grocery shopping since last week. We were going to pick up some food stuffs, but I don't think we actually did. I'll have to ask my husband. (And so parenthood-onset senility looms it's dreary head once again!) I really need to be more diligent in posting, especially grocery totals and such. It's been a hectic couple of weeks! Anyways...

Last week, I made some corn tortillas. What a thrill! No really, I was very excited by the results.

Gluten free corn tortillas have been increasingly hard to fine, especially ones that actually had a good taste and texture... and price. The corn tortillas I made are the best I've ever tasted. Great texture (almost like flour tortillas without being gummy), great flavor, and made for only a few cents. They were also incredibly easy and fast, especially when you get the hang of it. I was able to make my second batch after a long day at work, with my son clinging to me, without any difficulty.

Here's the recipe.

2 cups masa harina*
1.5 cups water**
1/8 tsp baking soda (optional)

Put masa harina in a bowl; mix in the baking soda, if using. Add water and mix for no less than three minutes. If the dough seems too dry, add some water. If too wet, add more masa harina.

Roll dough into balls, approximately golf ball sized. Press flat with a rolling pin, tortilla press***, or both. (I first use the tortilla press and then use a rolling pin to make them just a bit thinner. Takes just a few gentle swipes and very little time to do so.)

Heat a griddle or shallow pan to medium-high heat. (Don't add oil; don't grease the pan.) Add one tortilla and cook for 30 seconds. Flip and cook other side another 30 seconds. Flip and cook both sides 15 seconds longer. Take out of pan and place on a plate. Place paper towel over it to keep it warm. Repeat cooking procedure until all tortillas are cooked.

Once you get the hang of making these, you can really cut down the time. I cook a couple tortillas while pressing the next few to cook. Takes little time, little effort and the results are much better than the stuff you get at the store. These were bouncy, flexible... almost like flour tortillas without the gummy texture. What's better than tastier food that's healthier, better, and far less expensive than the store bought stuff?

*Masa harina is a very fine cornmeal that was treated with lime. You cannot substitute regular cornmeal, cornstarch, or corn flour for masa harina. You can find masa harina in grocery stores, though it is more available and better priced at ethnic food stores. (Make sure to follow the package cooking directions first, and then adjust the ingredients accordingly. I added baking soda the first time, but followed everything else. Adjustments to the package I used are already included the directions above.)

**Baking soda adds "bounce" to the tortillas. It is not required and may be left out.

***You can find tortilla presses in a number of grocery stores, though the best prices are found at ethnic food stores.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week Three: Grocery thoughts, costs, and cooking corned beef

We did some of our grocery shopping today. My meal plan? Wait... I'm supposed to have one, right?

We got a bunch of corned beef at $0.99 a pound and two heads of cabbage at $0.09 cents a pound. Now see, I see both and think, "Darn it! I need to stock up!" But the problem is that you don't want to get so much that you end up being wasteful. The corned beef we got on sale for $1.49/lb was much nicer in size and marbling and now we have a total of 4 or 5 heads of cabbage waiting to be made into something. No worries though. Cabbage stays good for a long time! (I guess I should move them to the fridge eventually...) We might go back and get more cabbage and corned beef (either the $0.99/lb or the $1.49/lb). Corned beef stays in the freezer for a long time. Also, cooked meats tend to handle being frozen better for longer periods of time, supposedly.

Normally, I try to have a general rule that I buy meat, fruits, or veggies for $0.99/lb or (preferably) less. If it's that price, then I jump on it. These days, that's so much more difficult. Sure, fresh produce will go down in price soon for a while, but who knows if they will hit that mark? Frozen store brands seem to stay pretty close. Knowing I can get chicken for $0.49 to $0.79 per pound is a comfort. The main thing there is being willing to do the extra work (deboning, making broth, etc) and not worry if you aren't getting a lot of white meat. When you aren't getting enough fat in your diet, having dark meat isn't such a bad thing! Also pork loin tends to be pretty inexpensive too and can be used as a substitute for chicken or beef in a number of recipes.

We spent about $15 on food for the next week (I'll give a proper total soon), and will be only picking up a few more things tonight or tomorrow. Cornmeal, butter, milk, onions, perhaps some frozen veggies, and maybe some eggs. I don't think we need anything else really.

As for the milk and butter: We were supposed to pick them up last week, but didn't. I decided we could just make due, and we did. We really didn't need either (and the one time I could have used butter, I used olive oil and was fine). With the milk, I might try a trick that some other people do, which is start drinking reconstituted powdered milk. Some people mix it with regular milk to stretch the milk while saving on cost, and I'm wondering how well that works. I'm not sure I'm ready to just go for drinking chilled reconstituted dry milk straightup. However, if it has the same nutrients, then I'm willing to work towards that. Normal milk would then be used for cooking.

I'm also trying to figure out how to cook lentils. They seem pretty easy. I used to love when my mother would make them with rice, but she used the prepackaged mixes. I have a bag of lentils. Just need to decide what to do with them.

Right now, I have a huge crockpot cooking a goodly amount of corned beef. It's one of the easiest thing to make, in my humble opinion. Lightly coat a pan with vegetable or olive oil and heat on medium to medium high. Take the corned beef, rinse it and pat it dry. Place in the pan and brown all sides. Turn off the stove. Put the corned beef into the crock pot; you may sprinkle in the seasoning, but it's not required. (Trust me, both ways taste great!) Add hot water to the pan (about 1 or 2 cups) and gently scrape the bottom of the pan. This is call deglazing the pan, which allows you to get all the nummy bits the meat left (with all the amazing flavors). Pour the liquid, with the bits of meat stickings, into the crock and add enough water to cover the meat. Cook on high for several hours, until the meat is done (I believe the meat should register 160+ degrees on a meat thermometer). Remove from the liquid, cut, and serve. You can use the leftover liquid from the crock as a base for soup or to cook cabbage and potatoes in. Both are delicious! Very easy, very tasty, and quick prep time. What more can you ask for?

New Car

We got a new car. It was quite a good deal. The term for deals like this is "loss lead." Grocery and retail stores are notorious for this sort of thing. They put an item on sale at below what they paid for it, in hopes that once you get into the store, you will spend more on other purchases (especially impulse purchases on other overpriced items). This car was definitely a loss lead, as it was being sold for a couple hundred less than what the dealer paid, and that's not including the package that came with it or the rebate that Hyundai gives as well.

If you didn't know what "Loss Lead" was before this entry, google the term and learn up on it. Items that are "loss leads" are what thrifty and frugal people look for. (A little pricing around will definitely help you figure out what is and isn't a "loss lead" or even a decent deal.)

I'm cringing at the thought of a new car, to be honest, but my old car was in shambles and is no longer safe to drive. I mean that even the odometer stopped working and apparently my brakes are nearly shot. Not good! But we got an amazing deal. Research pays off, and so does the ability to haggle and keep the salespeople off kilter. We got a very high rated, very reliable car that goes for about $18,000+ (before tax) for about $12,260 (before downpayment and taxes). It took a lot of research, a lot of looking, and a lot of haggling (4 hours to finalize things). It also helps when you have strict criteria of what kind of salesperson you will work with and you let them know. No funny business, mister. :-)

All in all, we did very well. It's painful though. If there's one thing we didn't need, it was another car payment, but we can't fully trust the one car we have that is in decent condition. This sort of deal might not come again and was definitely one to jump on. (Like I said, do research. That's how I knew this deal was one I could not beat especially for such a highly rated vehicle.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Foodstamp thoughts...

I read over a bunch of the comments found on Sean Callebs: Living on Food Stamps. I would recommend reading them. Some are quite informative, while others just show the problem with the sense of entitlement some people have.

I remember when I lived in a very bad area down in Maryland. Sure, cost of living was cheaper there and I could have afforded a better place, but there were reasons I didn't move. That was a previous life... a previous relationship.

Driving down the roads that led to my apartment, I had to pass by the "projects" (aka. ghetto). To be honest, they were quite literally next door. I can't tell you how many times I saw people who supposedly couldn't afford the subsidized housing (at times, no more than $5 to $10 a month) and yet they were wearing designer clothes. Their kids wore sneaker that retailed for $100 - $200 a pair, and some of the men were wearing those ugly sweaters that Bill Cosby used to wear (the ones that were several hundred dollars a piece).

It was sickening. My money was paying for these people to get food and shelter, and yet they were buying items I couldn't even dream to afford at the time. They were the same people that complained if they had to cook at home, or eat beans instead of shrimp and crabs.

I'm not saying I don't believe some people need assistance. I know there are a lot of people who do. I am saying that it bothers me when people work the system and then complain when those who are paying for their lifestyles get upset. The whole mentality of "you shouldn't tell me what I can or can't buy; what's in my cart is my business" is bullshit if you are on foodstamps or getting government aid.

I don't necessarily agree or disagree with proposed changes to the foodstamp system. I do acknowledge that there are many people who live on far less than what they could get from the government, and they do this by being careful with their money.

My thought is that the foodstamp system does need to be a bit more strict in some ways when it comes to what people are allowed to buy. No, this is not a loss of personal rights. The misuse of foodstamps is a slap in the face of the people who end up paying for them. There are not enough restrictions. One such example, a person on foodstamps can buy filet mignon or cheaper ground hamburger meat... the government doesn't put a limitation on there saying that you can't choose the more expensive item. Junk foods and such are also equally acceptable, after all a bag of chips is just a bunch of potato slices, right? Wrong!

What bothers me is that there are all those people who also state that they can't eat healthy off the money they get. These are the same people who are buying said potato chips, sodas, mac'n'cheese and so forth. You don't need them and in the end, they cost more! Just speaking in hard cash, a 10 pound bag of potatoes costs less than a few bags of chips and you get more nutrition out of it. You also have a fuller belly. A box of mac'n'cheese costs more than buying pasta and making spaghetti sauce yourself. (You can even go crazy and actually make your own pasta! It's not that hard!) Or instead of buying cans of soup, make your own for a fraction of the cost! If you are clever enough, you can even make that soup practically for free. (Use left over chicken bones for a broth, strain, add salt, pepper, some frozen or leftover veggies, some left over rice, and voila! Hearty chicken soup!)

Another thing that irks me is that fact that some people have the mentality that "we don't know how to eat healthy" or "the government needs to teach people how to eat better." When did we lose the common sense to do this on our own. Also, all because you try to teach them to eat healthier doesn't mean they'll take you up on the offer. Too many people refuse to do the little bit of research it takes to learn this stuff. Either you want to learn or you don't. I bet if restrictions were placed on what foodstamps are allowed to buy, you'd see a lot more people *trying* to learn how to stretch them in more appropriate ways.

Like I said, I don't have a problem with the people who really do need the help; the ones that do try to make good decisions and not take advantage of the system. I do have a problem with the rest, and I will NOT apologize for feeling that way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Car thoughts and grocery stuffs

Monday, I started relearning how to drive a manual. Given my previous experience (though there isn't much), I'm finding that I'm picking up pretty quickly.

I'm still debating back and forth about our car situation. Actually, that's part of why we are *finally* getting me to relearn stick. I've been tossing around different ideas on how to best manage our cars. Mine is now, by my definition (and my mechanic's), a "clunker". It's only going to get worse too. That's the trouble with a car that gets stuck in a flood, no matter how short lived that flood was. Here's some of the options I was debating previously.
  • Retire the car all together, buy a new one immediately with a substantial down payment with a loan from USAA or a 0% interest loan from the dealer, make the necessary changes with my insurance company, and deal with the costs of two car loans.
  • Pay off my husband's car and make all outstanding repairs to it (using the $5k for that), retire my car, donate it, cancel the insurance on it, and have only one car for my husband and I to share while saving up for a new (brand new or used) car.
  • Hold off on a new car, run mine into the road (using it only for driving to work, no driving the baby in it unless it's an emergency), pay only liability on it, pay off and fix up my husband's car (with the $5k), and save up for a new car for me (because I want to pay it with cash, if I can). I'd put the money that we would have been paying monthly on his car loan and on the car insurance into a bank account, which should add up pretty well.

Now I'm also debating:

  • Hold off on a new car, run mine into the road or until August (no driving the baby in it unless it's an emergency, driving to work only on bad weather days), pay only liability on it (until I retire it), fix up my husband's car (with the tax refund), buy a bicycle to ride to work (again, with the tax refund), and save up for a new car for me (because I want to pay it with cash, if I can) while paying off my husband's car asap.
To help me get a better grasp of my options, I talked to my insurance company. Before making any decision like this, always (ALWAYS!!!) call your insurance company first! The representative ran the numbers for me, and the difference between dropping my car all together or just having liability on it is nominal at this time. With the "multiple car discount", it is worth holding onto our second car. If things get too difficult, then we can drop the insurance after donating the car. For now, a yearly cost of $60 to $80 is not going to make a huge difference. (Yes... apparently that's per year.) I also had them check on how much it would cost in insurance to replace my car with the 2008 Hyundai Elantras I've been checking out, and the cost for the new car with all the coverage my old car had is a minor difference too. That's because they have another discount for covering new cars (as opposed to used or certificed pre-owned cars).

So, all in all, it feels like I have a few weights lifted from my shoulders in my decisions on the cars. I do have to say that I do have my eye on getting a 2008 Hyundai Elantra. The guy knocked it down from $17,500+ (I'm sure it was closer to $17,900) to under $14,000... and that's before any haggling and such. I wonder how low we can actually get it. We have pictures of the VINs and package information, so we can do more pricing research. Knowing that the beginning cost for a "manual" gear shift is typically cheaper than an automatic by over $1000 does make it tempting to go in that direction, but that would take some more though, as my husband and I both feel that it's nice to have one car with and one car without. This is so we can choose the better option depending on the expected driving conditions. (A manual in NYC is a huge pain!)

Groceries this week was definitely more than the $50 allotment, but with good reason. There are amazing sales on whole chickens and corned beef at the local A&P, which I plan to stock up on. The weeks that we use those items will be lower in grocery costs as I will deduct them from those totals. All in all, that's how you save money. Find the truly good deals and take advantage if you can. We can, so we will. Besides, chicken is such a good deal when you use is in as many ways as possible (down to the bones, baby). We might also grab more cabbage. At $0.09 a pound... well... it's definitely worth living off of for a while. We haven't gone back to the grocery store yet, but we'll see. Our two whole chickens have been boned, the meat separated, and the bones boiled to make a broth. Did I mention my new found love of making broth?

Oh... and we haven't been following our menu too strictly this week. We were going to have Corned Beef with potatoes and cabbage (which we did have), Lime Chicken tacos, and stacked tortillas. Oh well. Fortunately, we can make these next week and save money that way. There's nothing wrong with not following your menu if it's more suitable and just as practical to hold off on certain items. Carry over can be a good thing.

No grocery shopping rundown for now and maybe not for the week. I just didn't have the time yet and probably won't for a bit. Next week I'll start up again.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Apricot-Cherry Pork Loin (Crock Pot)

1 whole pork loin (approx. 2 pounds)
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/2 cup cherry preserves
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
vegetable oil

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown all sides of the pork loin and place in the slow cooker.
In a bowl, mix apricot preserves, cherry preserves, mustard, honey, and lemon juice. Pour over the pork loin. Place cover on slow cooker. Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
Remove roast and keep warm. Strain cooking juices into a measuring cup. If it totals less than 2 cups, add warm water to complete the difference. Pour into a saucepan and heat. In a cup, blend the cornstarch and cold water. Slowly pour into the saucepan, stirring the juices constantly until the cornstarch is well integrated. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly, and cook for 2 minutes (or until sauce is thickened). Skim and discard any white foam that forms. Remove sauce from heat.
Serve sauce with the pork loin (sliced).

I'm not usually a fan of meat cooked in crock pots but this turned out wonderfully. I definitely plan to make this again in the future. Best part? I didn't have to buy any ingredients since I had everything on hand whether as a staple or left over ingredients from previous recipes. This was a great way to use up items (the two preserves, mustard, and pork loin) that was taking up space in my fridge and freezer.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Preparing for Week 2 grocery shopping

I'm not exactly sure why it's so difficult for me to figure out meal plans. Okay... that's not exactly true. I have my suspicions as to why. I think I tend to plan too many meals. The idea that each night should have a different dish is what so many people seem to do. Some plan the cook once, eat twice method, where they cook an item and then cleverly make it into a seemingly unrelated dish later that week. Maybe I'll do that one day, but it's not necessary right now. We likes our leftovers. :-)

I know corned beef is definitely on our list. Some time, we might brine our own beef to make into corned beef, but not likely this week. Not with the pre-brined corned beef is going on sale in preparation for Saint Patrick's Day.

We have a lot of other financial concerns on our minds... mainly having to do with my car. Not fun stuff. I think once I settle the baby to sleep, I'm going to bury my nose into Simple and Delicious magazine for more recipes and idea. Oh, sweet therapy...

Week One: End of week grocery total

Our final total for grocery shopping this week was $47.86. My dear, sweet husband noticed that there were gluten free noodles on sale at Foodtown. $1 a bag. That's a damned good price. We bought 6 bags total: 1 regular flat noodle, 1 thin flat noodle, 2 elbow noodle, and 2 spiral noodle. Some of these will be put to use this upcoming week. It was tempting to buy all the bags, to be honest, but that wouldn't have been very responsible. What if we don't like it? Besides, we lose nothing if we end up really liking them. They'd have just been an unexpected treat. Nothing wrong with that. (Of course, if we do like them and Foodtown still has a bunch, we will get more on next week's budget.)

I'm a recipe fiend. I love looking at them, reading over them, looking at the pretty pictures, and copying them down. I have a ton. My mother buys a bunch of magazines and such, so I tend to thumb through those and pick out the recipes I could see myself possibly making. I tend to write down more than I'll probably ever make, but that's okay. Libraries are also good sources, if you have the time to go. My office has a cubicle dedicated to books and magazines people bring in for others to look through or take home. I take full advantage of this (returning the items that I'm through with unless isn't an absolute keeper).

So I have a few recipes from one magazine my mother is loaning me that I might make this upcoming week. (The magazine is called "Simple and Delicious.") It's really dependent on what sales are going on and what we already have.

Well, it's late and I have a full work day tomorrow. Off to bed with me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Week 1: Update

Last Monday, I was snowed in, so I took the opportunity to go through my kitchen cabinets and inventory everything I had in them. I also started working on reorganizing the counter and drawers. I’m hoping to transfer the inventory to a computer file, so updates would be easier and less wasteful (due to the paper otherwise used). I still have the pantry, kitchen closet, black shelves and mini fridge to go through.

I do have to say that I feel more in control after having done this. I didn’t realize we had no cans of tuna but had a jar of mint jelly or four boxes of cornstarch! (We do use a lot of cornstarch, so this was actually a relief.)

Our week’s menu has been coming along nicely. Today is Thursday, and we still have food enough to last till Saturday.

The Spicy Seafood Bokkeum was delicious. We finished the last of it on Tuesday. The Shepherd Pie was a success (my first attempt!), and the last of it was gobbled up yesterday. We still have Hearty Homemade Tomato Soup left from Tuesday night, which we are slowly devouring. It’s a good thing we don’t mind leftovers. That’s not to say that we couldn’t handle our meals the same way a number of other people do. The “make two meals out of one” concept where you serve roast chicken one night, and then take the leftovers and make a stir-fry or salad from them. In our household, at this time, such things are really not necessary. We don’t mind eating leftovers several days, or even several meals, in a row.

We haven’t had the chili yet, so that might happen tomorrow night or be added to next week’s meal plan. Tonight, we are looking at salads from leftover produce we got last week. Somehow, it all still looks fine. Hmm…

One thing I did notice, however, is that my belly is very not happy this week. I don’t know if I caught a bug (very possible) or if we are just eating a lot more veggies than our bodies are used to. The latter would be a little odd, considering we always tend to have a decent amount of produce in our diets… but this week definitely would show a marked increase. I think my body is adjusting though, which would be nice.

Anyways, that’s that for now. I am expectantly waiting for the corned beef and cabbage to start going on super sale in preparation for Saint Patrick’s Day. We love both and I plan to definitely stock up. I could eat corned beef every day for a month… I think. And I’d love to try making my Saint Patty’s Shepherd Pie again. Yum yum!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Week 1

Last week was when I decided to have our family start a very strict budget for food. My thoughts are, I'd rather start too strict and adjust than be too lenient to begin with. This includes a number of other areas of our budgetting system we are setting up.

Last Saturday (2/28/09), we did our first grocery trip with these limitations. $50 for the week, to feed 2 adults and one baby.

Our total was $41.86.

This is what we bought:
1 (16 oz) bag frozen broccoli
2 (16 oz each) bags frozen mixed vegetables
2 bottles soy sauce
huge container ground coffee
2 small cans of tomato paste
2 large cans of whole tomatoes
a small amount of raw squid
1 large bag raw shrimp
2.5 lbs bananas
2 korean green peppers
4 lb bag oranges
10 lb bag potatoes
3 bunches scallions
2 hefty heads of cabbage

The main dishes we plan to make with these items are:
*Spicy shrimp bokkeum (stir fry) with a little squid for flavoring. (This is based off the Korean dish Ojinga Bokkeum)
*Shepherds Pie
*Tomato Soup

Considering each of these makes quite a bit of food, and we have no problem eating leftovers, we should be set for the week. If not, we still have $8.14 dollars left for last minute supplies. Also, we have food in the freezer and cabinets that we can use from previous purchases. I don't consider this cheating since we all have to start somewhere and I'm not about to let those items go to waste. Also, since this isn't a short term 'experiment' (as in 1 month or so long), I don't see any reason to view anything of this sort as "cheating."

So far, we've made the Spicy Bokkeum (on Saturday night, still enough left for two meals) and the Shepherds Pie (last night, enough left for quite a few meals). We'll see how the rest of the week goes. It's very possible some of the entrees can be saved for next week.

The Beginning

There are a lot of websites and blogs out there dedicated to frugal living, especially when it comes to the costs of food. There are some that are an interesting and informative read (Sean Callebs: Living on Food Stamps) and some that are less than stellar (One Dollar Diet Project). In each, I find lessons to apply to my family's lifestyle.

My husband and I are pretty careful with our money; we have to be. I work full time as the main bread winner of our household, though my husband works a couple nights a week at a baby retail store. He doesn't bring in much, but every little bit helps. We have a baby that is eating pureed, mashed foods, which we make ourselves. If you want to save money and give your baby a healthier and diverse start, definitely make your own baby food. We also had to eliminate any foods containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye, and most oats) due to food allergies. That means avoiding most of the convenient cheap methods most people use, like pastas, store bought breads, and canned condensed soups. Add to this the fact that we are also trying to avoid other unhealthy food ingredients, like fake sugars, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (though we do make some concessions: soysauce, worchestershire sauce, etc). Basically, I am supporting a family of three on less than $40k a year, in a "high cost of living" state, with extra considerations to keep in mind. You'd think we'd feel the brunt of the recession and rising food costs a bit more, however, we haven't really felt much change in our daily lives... yet.

This blog is mostly going to be about our attempts to live on less than $50 of food per week. Granted, as the baby gets older, this might have to change, but we hope not. Yet, as I type this first entry, I'm realizing that I'll probably post more than just the food related aspects of our lives. We'll what direction this blog will take.