Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekly groceries-04/23/2011

Another good week. Grocery total was $38.13, though I realized after we left that I forgot bread, so I may be baking bread later today. Necessities were only about $12.

We went to a third grocery store, one we rarely shop at because it's way more expensive for most things. But they had ham, limit one, for $.99 a pound, which, of course, they didn't actually have in stock, sigh. But that's not uncommon with this store, and I'd made sure there were enough other things to make the trip worthwhile. We spent $10.49 on meat, $9.97 on dairy, $9.22 for produce, and the rest on some odds and ends.

We mostly picked up a few sales items. Our best buys were boneless chicken breasts for $1.69 a pound, BBQ sauce (name brand) for $.79 a bottle, some canned vegetables for $.49 a can, canned pears and apricots at $.79 a can, and pineapple for $.69 a can. Oh, ice cream was $2.98, a local Texas brand (famous in the area) that normally sells for close to twice that, and worth it, so of course we got one.

The canned fruits bring to mind a major problem with stores: price labeling. The little shelf labels are hard enough to read, but this particular store uses very abbreviated sales labels, making it very hard to tell whether what you are getting is the same thing as the label. In this instance, there were canned pears, in heavy syrup and in water but virtually identical labels, next to each other. They both appeared to be, as far as I could tell, $.79 a can. However, at the register one of the two turned out to be $10/10 rather than $.79 a can.

And the advertised pineapple was a name brand, while every can on the shelf above the name brand stickers was a store brand (slightly larger size). I took a chance and got two, watching closely at the checkout, and yes, they ran through for $.69. Had I known for certain that was the price, I would have gotten 8 or 10 cans because we haven't seen it below $1 a can recently. I could have gone back for more (and should have) but we were irritated over the pears, tired, and the line was piling up behind us because of the pears.

If you've followed these weekly posts over the last couple of months, you know that I had several weeks of totals that ranged from about $64 to about $84, but the last 3 weeks have been between $34 and $40. It's averaged out to less than $60 a week for two people over the last 7 weeks. And that's the point I've tried to make about stocking up on sale. The extra you pay now will balance with what you save over a period of months. That assumes, of course, that you stock up on things you actually use. I intentionally started at a time when I knew I was going to be laying in several weeks worth of extra staple foods so you would see the high totals before the low ones and know my low totals weren't just from previous buying.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Frugal ethnic food

Another source for frugal food recipes are ethnic cuisines. This can add variety, especially when you're trying to use an abundance of certain vegetables or fruits, especially if you have a garden.  

One good example are Indian riatas. These are basically a salad with plain (i.e. unsweetened) yogurt as a dressing. The first one I had was made from peeled, diced raw cucumber and onion with a little more plain yogurt than needed to coat. I usually remove the cucumber seeds as well, but you don't have to. It can be seasoned with just salt and pepper, or you can experiment with traditional spices: cumin, mustard, turmeric, coriander, and cayenne. This is a deliciously cooling side dish that's also low calorie. We've made it with the addition of tomato which makes a good complement to cucumber and onion. I've seen a recipe for a potato riata which uses potato, boiled, peeled, and, diced with plain yogurt dressing and a bit of cumin, coriander, and cayenne, which you can think of as Indian potato salad. 

Indian curries are also a good option, especially if you're looking for low-calorie recipes. And by the way, you can buy the spices that make up the curry mixes separately (and probably more cheaply). If there's an Indian or Asian food market nearby, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much cheaper some of those spices can be bought in large packages. Traditional curries rely mostly on vegetables, but they can include fruits as well. And not only is India is a very diverse country, including many partial or non-vegetarians, but curries have spread into other countries, if you prefer your curries with meat. Apple and chicken often go together in curries. Beef curries are delicious too. Coconut milk and ghee are common in traditional curries, and those aren't exactly cheap in this country, but there are many recipes using alternates to those items. By the way, the riatas are a perfect side dish to a curry, especially if you like spicy ones.  

Good possibilities are Mexican or Tex-Mex (depending on where you live) and some Asian and Chinese American and Italian dishes that rely on vegetables. Other cuisines worth exploring are North African and Middle Eastern cuisines that rely on legumes (Moroccan seems to appeal to Western tastes), other Mediterranean cuisines, and Jewish food. Some of the other Latin American foods are worth exploring as well as sub-Saharan Africa, especially if your family enjoys new tastes. 

One of our frugal ethnic favorites is Matzoh ball soup, made without the matzoh. Think of Matzoh balls as a Jewish dumpling, traditionally made with a special meal and dropped into chicken broth. However, we discovered that, while not quite as good, saltine-type crackers can be crushed up and used in place of Matzoh meal (I should mention this substitution horrifies the friend who taught us to make Matzoh ball soup.) Since we can get a 1 pound box of generic crackers for less than $1 and proper Matzoh meal is usually several dollars for a container, this can be a nice savings.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frugal green

Being frugal can also be "green", almost as a side effect. The 4 Rs are a basic concept of being green, usually stated as "reduce, reuse, recycle, and rebuy," but I generally lump rebuy (buying recycled products) with recycle and make the 4th one "refuse," or don't buy at all. But frugal sages got there first with the very similar "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Those are still good philosophies, and there are lots of ways to put any of them into practice, some of them familiar, some not. Some of these, I've mentioned before (Reuse) , but some I think are new: 

What to do with ads papers? Many of these are printed in colored inks, and recyclers don't always take these. Even if they do, you can still get some extra use out of them before recycling. I keep a few around for frying foods, like bacon or hamburgers. I put down some colored papers, a layer or two of non-colored paper, then cover it with a paper towel. This is cheaper than using 3 or 4 paper towels for the same thing (and it's a good use for junk mail too). If you have a high-chair-aged toddler, you can spread layers of these on the floor around the chair and clean up by peeling off the top layer, also good for finger painting and other fun-but-messy crafts. And of course there are the better known uses, like lining a bird cage or under a paint drop cloth. 

Plastic shopping bags can be recycled, but you can also reuse them a few times before recycling them. Keep a few in the car for grocery shopping. Keep a few in your briefcase or backpack for protecting books and papers if you get caught out in the rain. Use them to line small bathroom garbage bags. I put the canister for my vacuum inside a large shopping bag to open and empty it as well as to shake out the dust filter, keeping down the mess. They can be used as stuffing. Use them to dispose of particularly messy or smelly garbage. I've even seen them cut into strips and crocheted or woven into door mats. 

Take a pair of jeans for instance, a treasure trove to my mind. Start with "use it up, wear it out" and wear them until they aren't wearable. If the knees or cuffs go out first, as they often do, cut them off to make shorts out of them and turn the useable fabric into shopping bags or patches for quilts (I think I described this in an early post.) If the body portion goes out, you can still usually get bags and quilt pieces out of them, and if enough of the body portion is useable, it can be turned into a bag as well. If not, you can get quilt squares and back pockets and zippers and the waist band and belt loops to use for other projects.

Old non-knit cotton (or linen or silk) shirts that have been worn out so far you can't patch or repair them can be cut up and the useable parts turned into quilt squares or shopping bags. And always save the buttons. Keep a jar with your sewing stuff just for buttons. Sleeves can be turned into funny purses or toys. One idea is to cut off a long sleeve, salvage any buttons from the cuffs, sew the cuff closed, stuff unusable scraps of fabric into the end until you have about a baseball-sized wad of soft stuffing, then tie a strip of fabric or ribbon just above the ball to hold it in place (a couple of stitches can help). Hem the upper end of the sleeve, then use it as a kind of sling toy to throw around (twirl it around, then throw to the other person who tries to catch it by the open sleeve to twirl and throw back). 

Old knit shirts and shorts that are worn out can be cut up into cloths for cleaning (keep a few in your car, for instance). They can be cut down into shirt dresses for toddlers. Cut them into strips and braid them to make hair bands or belts or purse straps. I've even seen directions for making your own unique underwear out of old t-shirts, however my sewing skills are not adequate to test that. But it could be fun to try... 

I've mentioned that I'm a full-time college student currently, and so is my youngest. Students invariably end up printing out stacks of draft papers and lecture notes, etc. I keep these, flip them over, and print the other side with anything that doesn't have to be submitted. I also cut sheets of used paper in half and staple a stack of these to make my own note pads. And once you've used both sides, the paper can get added to the stack of paper waiting to go under the paper towel to soak up grease or get recycled. Open up envelopes from junk mail and use them to make notes of something or for a shopping list.

Remember, it's all in the attitude.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The wonderful apple

Apples are one of the least expensive and most popular fruits. It seems perfectly adapted for many parts of the country, making apples and apple juice ubiquitious in US cuisine. What is more (Anglo) American, after all, than apple pie?

At the right time of year, usually starting in early fall through mid-winter, apples tend to be cheap, and these days are available in incredible varieties, not just the red and golden delicious that dominated the stores when I was a kid. Different varieties are good for different things and different tastes. I personally don't care for the red and golden delicious apples as eating-from-hand apples myself. They aren't as crisp as granny smiths and they're sweet rather than tart. But that's why the wide varieties are so much fun, there's at least one for almost every taste.

Apples can be eaten in so many ways too. The simplest, of course, is just to wash and eat it as is. I used to feed my children regular applesauce from a jar (but I didn't feed solid foods until almost 6 months so they went directly to ordinary things like applesauce, yogurt, and cream of wheat. Jarred applesauce is probably the cheapest "canned" fruit or vegetable. My mother occasionally made hot homemade applesauce which was very good, but it was a lot of work, and my little sister (about 5 at the time) once flipped a plate of it into her face, and she stopped making it after that.

Apples can be turned into a quick, healthy dessert too. Grease a small baking pan, slice up an apple or two, spread out the slices, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 375F until soft. Or layer them more thickly and cover with a brown sugar crumb topping and bake for an apple brown betty.

Apples can make it into main courses too. Waldorf salad relies heavily on apple. And fried apple slices used to be a part of many farm breakfasts. Applesauce can be substituted for some of the fat in some baking as well, though I haven't tried it myself. But most people don't realize that the versatile apple can be used in stews and soups like potato. I have had a "winter stew" with potato, turnip, parsnip, and apple that was incredibly delicious, and no one guessed that one of the vegetables was apple (he did use a particular type of apple, and I don't recall which, but avoid the really sweet ones, I think).  Now, generally, apples cost more than potatoes, so you wouldn't save money by substituting them, but if you buy a big bag of apples, and you need to use some of them up, this might be a way to do it. I've also had a curry that included apple. It would take some research to find one, but it's just one example of the possibilities.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Though we don't really need beans or grains to store, we did buy another bag of brown rice that was on sale this week because I used some gift "buy yourself something" money to buy a rice steamer. I've looked at these before but felt that having to store a single (limited) use appliance was a bad idea for us, and I actually started out looking at crock pots. However, I've learned that some of them can be used for making other things, especially if they include a steaming basket, and so we changed our minds at the store. 

The model we bought has the steaming basket and is insulated and seals tightly, generating little heat, which should make it a better choice for summer meals than the stove top. There are instructions for using it to make other things, like stews, so it even functions as a sort of crock pot. It even includes a timer, so it could be set up to start steaming the brown rice to be at exactly the right stage to add the vegetable steamer when we get home. Normally I'm leery of electronically controlled appliances because things can go wrong with them so easily, but this was very reasonably priced, and the steamers without the electronics weren't insulated and didn't seal tightly.

So, we'll be playing with it quite a bit this week. We tried steamed rice and vegetables yesterday, and the rice was very good and effortless. The vegetables went in late, so they didn't get completely steamed, but that's a matter of experience. Cleanup is pretty simple, just the pans to lift out to wash, with fewer pieces to clean than with sauce pans. I want to try using this to make my beans and rice dishes for my lunches. I think I might be able to steam my lunch hot dogs in the steam basket while they cook, which would make this extra efficient. 

Although this should save us some money and a lot of time, my main reason was trying to improve our diet, especially this summer when vegetables are cheaper. Brown rice is much better for us than white rice, but as it also takes much longer to cook, we often choose something faster when we're tired in the evening. And steaming vegetables on the stove top often seems like too much work when we're tired. But with this, we can set up the rice before we leave in the morning and have the vegetables already in the steaming pan in the fridge, ready to pop in when we get home. We can also put pre-cooked meat on top of the vegetables to warm up for a complete meal---we normally cook up large batches of chicken breast meat at one time and freeze them in meal-sized portions, and that would be excellent with this.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Frugal Housing PS

So, this morning, I saw a minor problem with this post which was completely finished (Blogger likes to insert extra line spaces). I went to correct it, and tried to undo a change. Blogger's software decided I apparently was undoing all the way back to before I started on the post several days ago, deleting my entire post and autosaving immediately.

So, tonight's advice is: Don't do your original writing in Blogger...

And a promise to rewrite this post when I have time, which was an addition to my earlier posts on frugal housing, focusing on realtors...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekly groceries-4/17/2011

This was another pay-off week, with a grocery total of $34.31 and only about $11 of which were necessities. We spent $7.47 for dairy, $6.94 for produce, $2 for canned vegetables on sale, $7.63 for meat and eggs, $3.18 for breads and grains, and the remaining $7 for odds and ends. 

Some nice looking pork chops were our best deal, at $1.47 a pound. We only got one package because the freezer is packed, but if we had a large freezer, we would have bought several packages, plus taken advantage of some chicken and ground pork sausage that were also on sale. Our worst deal was $1.44 for 1 pound of baby carrots, usually about $1 at our usual store, but we had gone to the secondary store for other reasons, and most of their produce prices are high. 

We shopped on Sunday this week for the very practical reason that as we were about to walk out the door Saturday morning to grocery shop, the power went out, and I was reluctant to buy anything that would require opening the refrigerator until it came back on. So we made our once-every-4-to-7 week trip to a general department store to stock up on household items like toilet paper and vitamins.

Next week will *probably* be another payoff week. And as my daughter and I wind down into finals, my posts will probably get shorter for a few weeks.