Saturday, February 26, 2011


Why not? 

I grew up with depression era parents, and although my father had a really good, stable job, they were always very careful with money. They kept a garden (as much as an acre at a time), canned, froze, bought on sale, and reused things. My mother made clothes for special occasions, and learned to make everything from dolls to Christmas ornaments to wedding cakes. I'm pretty sure my dad has suits older than my kids. With one exception, all of the kids learned to handle money very well, but I've had to go much further in finding ways to stretch money, especially once I was a single mom.

I plan to post a variety of ideas and strategies. Some will be aimed at people who are downright desperate. Some will be for those just trying to save a little or even just be more environmentally friendly. And sometimes the same post will cover the whole spectrum. I'll probably aim at food more than other things since frugal cooking and food shopping isn't something most people know much about these days, and it's the area where people can usually cut the most. There are only so many ways, after all, to suggest to people that they turn the thermostat up or down and wear more sweaters.

So, where do you start? A lot of advice says to start by planning a menu, but to me, that's a bit backwards. Start by looking at the grocery ads for the stores nearest to you. Pick the one that has the best sales, and plan your meals around what is on sale, and make sure you look at the large pieces of meat, which are usually, but not always, cheapest. 

Say it's a bone-in ham (this is concept, not exact recipes in this case). Buy it, bake it with potatoes, serve with a salad. Cut the leftovers up and refrigerate, including the bone. We usually slice up at least half of the leftover meat and freeze it for making sandwiches for my lunches. The second night, take a casserole dish, put diced onions in the bottom, cover with diced ham, add another vegetable that you like with ham and onions, sprinkle on cheese, then cover with biscuit dough or mashed potatoes and bake for a quick casserole dinner. If you're dieting, make a chef salad with diced ham for the protein. On the third morning, if you have a crockpot, put in the bone, cover with water or broth (at least an inch or two higher than the bone), some of the diced meat, salt and pepper. If you like beans, rinse and add them now, cover and leave to cook on low all day. When you get home, if you didn't add beans, now add either split peas or diced potatoes and any other seasonings you like (garlic and onion are particularly good). A family of 4, unless you're feeding a really hefty teen appetite, ought to be able to get 4 or 5 meals out of an 8 pound ham, and the meat can be cut up and frozen for use in later meals if you don't want the same meat several nights in a row. If you get the ham on sale and choose what goes with it carefully, this should average out to around $3 a night for a family of 4 for good meals that don't feel stingy.


I started something like this years ago, and life intervened. But it seems like this is a point in time when people could benefit from this again.

I want to start with a story that many of my friends have heard before, but I think helps people start thinking in a better frame of mind about the concept of frugality. About 8 or 9 years ago, I was working with a woman who would look at my lunches brought from home, roll her eyes, and state that HER time was too valuable to spend on making homemade lunches. 

Taken literally, this was a silly statement. My lunches were either sandwiches or  leftovers, which took about as long to put in a container and into the fridge as they would have to throw out. I frequently lined up 4 sandwich containers, and made 4 sandwiches at once for the week, a process that usually took less than 5 minutes. Her fastest lunch required taking an elevator down to the first floor, waiting in line for at least 5 minutes, then taking the elevator back to our floor. And at least twice a week, she went out, which took far longer. 

The difference in cost? The leftovers were just that, leftovers that weren't enough to save for a second supper for a family, but I'd estimate on average, the costs of these were about $.50. A sandwich, even with 100% whole wheat bread, cost less. Her cheapest lunch, a sandwich and soda from the first floor, was about $4. Her average lunch was quite a bit more, but we'll use that number and say that her lunches cost $3.50 a day more than mine. By 5 lunches a week, that's $17.50 a week, by 50 weeks a year (allowing for holidays), she spent $875 more for her lunches than I did. I spent less than 10 minutes a week making those lunches, which means my hourly "pay" for this was $105.00 (and I'd have to earn more since that would be after tax dollars). I can assure you, both of us made considerably less than that.

But, was that the point? No. Buying her lunch mattered to her more than saving money or time. She was married, her kids were grown, and she had the money to do so. It was an important symbol of not being poor to her. While to me, my time and money mattered that much. I had a daughter going into college and another in her mid-teens and very minimal child support from my ex. Even though I actually made more than her, having money set aside for emergencies and saving ahead for the time I could go back to college myself were both very important to me. And I'm a practical person; even if I were in considerably better circumstances, I'd still take my lunch to work. Poor or not, I like the idea of making over $100 an hour for making sandwiches.