Category Archives: saving money

Make Do

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

I switch back and forth between scrutinizing our food budget, and then not giving a damn. I’m sure some of you think, “How reckless!” while others would think, “Man, I never even ponder a budget for food!” I think wherever you are on this scale depends on different factors.

If I was receiving food benefits I’d have a very specific number to work with, and if we were filthy rich I’d probably be going out to eat 4 nights a week, not because I don’t love to cook (it’s great!), it’s just that I love going out to eat. But we fall somewhere in between.

We recently returned from a vacation (a huge rarity for us) and we lived it up while we were away. This means we need to be a bit stingy with our budget for awhile while our finances catch back up with us.

Since our bills are basically as low as they can be, our food budget is the only thing with flexibility. Since most of the items I get don’t have coupons available, I’ve stopped bothering with couponing. I also get my veggies from my work, and most other items from the farmers markets.

What’s left are staples and specialty items. At the moment I don’t own a Vitamix so faux milks must be purchased. Also, I get a lot of great deals using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save feature, so each month or so I get wild-caught tuna, canned tomatoes, rice cereal, sunbutter, and coconut oil shipped to me, and I don’t even have to think about it.

For awhile now I’ve actually been buying bread and some other snacky items that I’ve made in the past. But when I narrow the budget I realize I will need to start making this stuff again. Also, I need to dip into our food reserves.

I have things I need to use up, even if I really don’t want to. Putting food by is really great, when you use it in a timely fashion…and I haven’t been. My first step in this process is checking what I really have, and organizing our food. I’m still working through this.

However, each time I do this I think, “Wow, I totally forgot I had that!” or “I don’t remember buying that!” Scary. I realize how fortunate I am to have this problem, and that most people in the world can’t even fathom this.

So now I’m going through and planning out meals that I can make with what’s on hand. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes intention. Last night I used up two heads of broccoli and a big slab of home-cured bacon to make quiche. Three, to be exact. Served up with kale salad from kale I harvested moments before it hit the bowl.

I realized I had a ton of crusts I bought at Aldi one week when they were on special. They had been sitting in the freezer. I also had an abundance of eggs, so it made sense to make extras to freeze for later, when I don’t feel like cooking. Pretty nice to cook and clean once and get three meals!

Today I have to soak some beans and harvest some greens. I plan to keep going on this path until I get caught up on my excess food. I may also make some muffins or quickbreads, and some granola to snack on.

It feels good to be getting back to making more. Around this time of year I start to feel more “nesty” anyway. I think my summers are just too crazy. Now I want to leave the house less and less as the days get cooler, and the more I’m home, the more I want to cook.

Ok, off to soak those beans!


On Gifting This Year

the last of the rum balls

the last of the rum balls

As usual, I gave a lot of homemade gifts this year. I started planning for this early….very early. At the end of summer I did a whole bunch of canning, which helped immensely this winter.

I love putting up food, but have realized I’m awfully bad about actually consuming it all. So I made certain things I knew would make great gifts. I made some jams, mustards, relishes, and ice cream toppers. I also started some vanilla extracts months ago, but they still seemed fairly weak for now, so I only gave away 2 jars.

Chris makes some excellent beef jerky, so I gave little baggies of that to my meat-eating friends. I even wrote up the recipe over at From Scratch Club too, in case you want to make some for yourself.

I also wanted to do a few non-edibles. I used this tutorial to make some whipped body butters, and I got a few items from Mountain Rose Herbs to make salves.

I made some close friends and family knitted items as well. Those really need to be started in November, at least for me, to make sure I finish them in time.

For Jack and Chris I’d say we spent a little more than usual (which by traditional standards is still pretty low), but I feel really excited about all of the gifts I bought for them. Chris has been planning out some elaborate gift for me too, and I can’t wait to see what it is.

Plus we are gifting each other tattoos in the new year, since the last time we got them done was when we lived in Washington, over 4 years ago!

Now that we live somewhere with a lot of friends, all of the advanced work really made a difference. I was able to give to more people than usual this year. Next summer I’m going to keep this in mind as I work my way through gardening/canning season.

What homemade goodies did you give or receive so far this year?

A Different Path

Spirit of Life, Saratoga

Almost 4 years ago we moved from one coast to the other and our lives changed in a lot of ways. One was a huge cut to our overall income. This put us on a different path, and I honestly feel like we are much better for it.

It is easy from time to time to get off the path. Sometimes less important things or people creep in and cause a lot of distraction and I forget the end goals.

Recently I joined a discussion group on Voluntary Simplicity organized by Jillian. She wrote a great post about it which I strongly suggest you read if this sort of thing strikes your fancy. I had to miss the first two meetings but I have done all of the readings and really like the course so far.

Week Three’s topic was work. Just in our small group I realized that I am in a minority (I think) when it comes to how I view satisfying work. To me work is very physical. If I’m not manipulating things it doesn’t seem very gratifying.

Most of my “work” now belongs to the things I do at home. It isn’t necessarily the most fun, and I’m certainly not getting evaluated on it or anything, but it’s important and I take pride in it.

I enjoy baking bread and making our Christmas gifts and sewing Halloween costumes. In a minute I’ll start working on chicken pot pie for dinner, but I already made the crust this morning with Jack. There will be something more special about dinner, because I made it myself. I put time and energy and thought into it, and to me that’s valuable work.

In the course of the discussion I mentioned skillful work and that I think it’s important for everyone to have some form of skill. You should have something you are good at that you could use to help you trade for some other good or service, if necessary.

Oddly, when I brought this up a woman in the group said, “Whoa this is sounding a little bit Tea Partyish if you ask me.” Whoa. Ok, I know not everyone has the same perspective as me, but when I think Voluntary Simplicity I think of living with minimal inputs, closer to nature, low tech.

People seem to forget that our “modern” way of life has been very brief when you look at the history of humans over time. It is amazing and interesting to be alive during this area, but there’s no way to sustain it for the long haul.

I want to put forth the energy and the time to learn skills that should not have been forgotten in the first place. I don’t choose to learn chicken butchery because I think it’ll be as fun as a walk in the woods. I do it because it empowers me and it adds to my own ability to sustain myself and my family.

Voluntary Simplicity, to me, is living with technology and modern life in a way that is fulfilling, not all encompassing. To be thankful and grateful for all that the modern world can do for us but to still be able to put up your own food, whether you choose to or not.

I’m not sure exactly how that has anything to do with people who can’t understand why we need taxes for roads and fire departments, but I guess everyone is allowed to have their own opinions. 🙂

(The course is through Northwest Earth Institute if you want to check it out.)

~happy home~ Operation Grocery Budget Reduction, The Sequel

A few months ago I reduced my grocery budget for the month to $200. I used to aim for $400, but even then, I usually went over. I’ve been really good about sticking to budget though.

I’m a not a stickler with the budget, I just try to keep a running tally in my head during the month and if I go over by $10 I’m not going to freak out about it. Planning out meals and reducing impulse buying has helped keep me in check.

I think I’m going to try to reduce it even more though!

Chris leaves Sunday for 5 weeks (at the halfway point we are going to go visit him) so I’m not going to be making regular dinners. Jack doesn’t like meat or cheese (for the most part) so I don’t think I’ll be getting any of that. That’ll save money right there.

I also have so much food in this house. I’m not complaining, but I need to start eating through my stockpile. This week I plan on going through all of my cabinets and organizing everything. I’m going to plan out meals and snacks from that.

I’m also back to juicing more. I think a lot of the produce I get from working for the farm will go into juicing, and I’ll probably get some more at the store too. I’m going to see if I can reduce my shopping to fruits, veggies, raw milk, tortilla chips (Jack and I are truly addicted to them), and wine.

My goal is no more than $30/week. I may even take out cash for the whole month to really reign myself in. I’m going to try to put the difference away for when we go to visit Chris, since we’ll be eating out a lot.

Can I do it? Keep your fingers crossed! I’m going to start with this week coming up and I’ll be updating on my progress.

DIY Mason Jar Lids for Straws

The lid of my super fantastic mason jar drinking glass.

Summer cocktail season is officially on now and these are perfect vessels for them. They are pretty awesome for iced coffee, smoothies, and lemonade too.

I had seen these lids on etsy and Chris couldn’t fathom that I would pay for these so he decided to make them for me for Mother’s Day. No matter how cheap and easy these were, they made for a seriously awesome gift.

Chris said you basically have to get your straws first, and reverse engineer back from that. I got a package of BPA-free straws (and the ever-important scrub brush to clean inside them) from this woman on ebay and she shipped them super fast.

One of the nice things about these straws is that they have this part at the bottom that sticks out just enough so that your straw can’t completely fall out of the hole on top.

So you’ll get your straws and then you need to go to a hardware store and look for rubber grommets. Make sure you ask specifically for grommets (not washers) and they will probably be loose in bins. Bring in your straw and test out sizes until you see which one fits the best.

Then you need to see which drill bit fits the external diameter of the grommet size you chose. Chris said that on the inside of the bin where you get the grommets from it’s listed right there. Easy enough so far, right?

Take your canning jar lid put two clamps on it, across from each other. Now anchor these to something secure. You don’t want it slipping or moving while you try to drill the hole through it.

Drill the holes and very carefully wipe away any dust from drilling. The inside of the hole will be sharp! Pop the grommets in, slide in your straws, screw on the lids and you are ready for beverage time!

Use different volume mason jars to have an assortment for kids and grownups.

Although they are not 100% leak proof, they do a pretty decent job. These would be really great as gifts or incredibly fun party favors. You could even take Sharpie markers and write each guest’s name on the front.

So now go and make these and share your pics on my Facebook please!

My Recipe Binder

The cover of my recipe binder.

Part of pinching pennies is eating at home. So in my quest to be more frugal, I made up a fresh, organized recipe binder for myself. Having interesting meals planned out will prevent me from saying, “Hey let’s go out for dinner,” or “Let’s order pizza.” As fun as that is, it’s not the wisest use of our money right now.

I should tell you I already had a few recipe binders. One was super small so it ended up being a catch-all for folded up recipes. It was a freaking mess. The next one was a larger binder that had pocket folders in it. It held the recipes better, but since they were piled up on top of each other in the pockets, I couldn’t flip through them easily.

I took a basic 3-ring-binder (get a bigger one than you’d expect, trust) and made a cute cover for myself with some food-related pictures I’d taken. Before I filled out the tabs on the dividers I sorted the recipes to see what I was working with.

My "Breakfast" section. My apologies for the blurriness.

Since we eat seasonally I figured I should separate the veg-dominant recipes by seasonal group. So one tab is “Spring/Summer” and the other is “Fall/Winter.” Then I realized I had a bunch of breakfast recipes, so I grouped them together. We don’t eat tons of meat so rather than having a tab for each type of meat, all the meat centered recipes have their own tab. The others are “Ethnic,” “Soups, Salads, Dips,” “Desserts,” and “Easy Peasy.” The easy ones consist mostly of pasta dishes, sandwiches, and other things that come together in less than 30 minutes.

I would really suggest making your own tabs like this instead of going with classic recipe binder categories. You’ll probably be pretty surprised at your balance of recipes. For instance, I think in the future I may make subcategories for my “Dessert” tab because it’s much more full than I ever thought it would be. I could easily break it down into “cookies,” “cakes,” “quickbreads,” and more.

Most of my recipes are from magazines so I got a 100 pack of clear slip covers for super cheap at Target to put them all in. This way I can flip through easily and if I have it out while cooking, I don’t have to worry about the recipe getting stuff spilled on it.

Now I just need to make sure to look through it on a weekly basis and pick new dishes. I have been meal planning and although there are a billion templates you can use online, I just jot notes to myself in my planner, and continually change it during the week.

Coming up I think I will make some classic sausage and peppers because I need to yank out all my bell pepper plants. I also need to figure out more stuff to do with my swiss chard.

So there you have it. Do you have a recipe binder or have you been meaning to make one? Do you regularly plan out meals to stay sane and save money?

And around we go!

It seems a lot of the time things work in cycles. Or it seems that way to me at least. Recently we realized (much to our chagrin) that a bonus payment for Chris’ job we thought was coming….didn’t. The whole thing reminded me a lot of Jenna’s “dangerous money” post where a slightly similar thing happened.

So I did like I usually do when I’m blindsided and that is have a private hissy fit and then put my big girl panties on and deal. (It’s a good thing I get to stage 2 because otherwise I don’t think I’d have too many friends.)

A few years ago, when I got back to my DIY roots, a lot of it was inspired by being on the edge of broke just after our move to NY. Since then things have gotten a bit more comfortable and although I will always love a good deal, I’ve been lax with being frugal.

This whole debacle lit a fire under me to do things I’d simply been putting off. I got out a binder and plastic slip covers and organized all of my recipes. I should’ve done this ages ago and it helped me remember all sorts of great recipes I wanted to try.

This leads me to the next part of my plan which is planning our meals using mostly what we already have. I have lots and lots of food in this house. I get a CSA share each week and many of our staples are purchased from local farms or can be made at home.

Which is where we arrive at the third leg of this plan. Way back in the winter of ’08-’09 I started to make my own bread. Then it was onward to yogurt, tortillas, and lots of other staples. As with coupon clipping, setting a food budget, creating a meal plan, and bargain shopping, I’d begun to get lazy with this too.

It’s very easy when I’m at the farmers’ market twice a week to procure items from the other vendors. I feel like my money is going somewhere good, and a lot of times I get a discount or get free stuff altogether. I’m ok with all of this, but it meant I was using my moola instead of elbow grease, and I should know better.

I just spent a few minutes organizing my little coupon holder. I have already figured out my meals for the week. I am fully prepared to be a smarter consumer and to find other ways to payoff the fence (that’s where the bonus was going to go). I just hope that 2 years from now I’m not telling the same tale all over again.

Let’s hope I’m smarter than that.