Thursday, January 27, 2011

Major Surgery on the Grocery Budget

Some of you frugalistas know this stuff already. If you read enough blogs you’ll notice there are quite a few impressive grocery shoppers out there. One mom in Michigan feeds her family of 8 for under $80 a week. And more than half of her crew are adults. She has a garden of course. Still, that comes to a “whopping” $1.43 per person per day out of pocket. Another blogging mom pushes the limits by incorporating ethnic foods most of us never considered, like banana peel chutney, or chicken skin cracklings.

Einstein said insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. These shoppers accomplish budgetary magic by thinking and acting way outside the box. In other words we need to shop differently, cook differently, and eat differently, to get a different bottom line.

Meat. Substitute cheaper proteins for it like beans or seitan, use a filler to stretch it, serve smaller portions, raise your own, hunt/fish it, or purchase cheaper kinds.

Vegetables and fruits. Grow and can your own, forage, glean, visit a pick your own farm, join a food coop or CSA, purchase at seasonal vegetable stands, buy seconds, bulk. Negotiate with your local groceries to take the slightly older stuff off their hands for less, and make it into soup to freeze. Always follow the seasons. Compare frozen with fresh, stock up during the “can” sales. Even without a garden, you can grow your own sprouts, or keep a window box for fresh herbs.

Starches. Incorporate these into your made from scratch cost cutters. Buy bulk flour and oats, they can be frozen to keep from spoiling. Put bay leaf in the container to ward off bugs. Even try the Possum Living method of getting human grade grains at feed stores. Make your own bread, pizza dough, cookies, muffins, hot cereals, and granola, from scratch, for much less.

Liquids. Drink more water, consider reducing coffee and tea consumption, avoid sweet processed drinks, cut the milk with non fat dried, compare fresh fruit with juices, and pour out a serving, not a glassful.

No matter how you do it, there’s always room for improvement. Try notching down gradually and see how low you can go before the kids notice. Then bring it back up a bit for a comfortable set point.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bucket List

Our first born came to the table early Wednesday morning for his brother’s birthday breakfast. He hung around after, to tell me of pedals and high hats and crashes he’s known and loved, miming taps and blows as he spoke. His dream drum set up, vivid in his mind, already surrounded him with sounds as with friends.

Now he’s working on the nitty gritties. Getting another job. Saving.

I have dreams too.
* Travel cross country. To seek out those crazy concrete buildings shaped like tea cups and donuts, shoes and ice cream cones. Take touristy pictures. Stay at the Treesort in Washington for two nights and get the T shirt.
* Grow a perfect tomato. Warm from the sun, thin skinned, wet and sweet.
* Build a small house with a stained glass window out of salvaged bits, on a piece of land near trees and a stream. Perhaps on wheels for travel. Perhaps without for summers spent with family.
* Return to Italy with my sweetie. Master the language well enough to manage without a dictionary.
* Visit the world’s longest yard sale.
* Identify birds by their songs.
* Forage entire meals a la Euell Gibbons.
* Finish writing a book about my father, a sculptor, for his grandkids. Stuff it full of stories, and photos of his work. Weave a bit of biography throughout.

Each dream has a starting place, the string end to follow through tangled real life. I’m taking a few strands at a time. One actively, while the others lay fallow. Doorknobs, architectural salvage and building print outs for the house. Language tapes and a coin jar. A friend’s promise to teach what she knows about native plants in the spring. Boxes and boxes of clippings and letters.

So dream your dreams. Build on your dreams with the bits and pieces you’ll need to reach them. Don’t give up. Even the process is worth it. It’s all worth it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Time like an ever flowing stream bears all it’s sons away, it flies forgotten as a dream, dies at the opening day.

While sitting around the dining table recently, we discussed the relative nature of time. You know, how summer vacation weeks go so quickly, and school weeks drag on. I proposed time actually does move differently for different people and situations. You see, the theory of relativity is just that. We don’t really know if there is an objective conversion point where stuff becomes energy if it moves fast enough. So time may actually be influenced by our perception of it. The week before Christmas actually is longer for the child itching to rip off wrapping paper, than for the parent scrambling to get every thing done. And while the school day seems interminable for the kid in school, it’s not near long enough for the mom to squeeze in all her errands.

With that phrase, Isaac decided I had gone off my nut.

Think about it, time imposes parameters beyond our perceptions. God made time, it’s His creature, just like a rock or person. And will, like all things, be disposed of in the end. It does move on within our realm. So it’s like this. God controls time and time controls us. We can’t stop it, it’s relentless, and so we must use it wisely as we would any limited commodity.

I’ve decided to finally buckle down and write about my dad. Why? To extend his artistic influence a tad longer, and transfer a bit of him onto our kids and their cousins. Secondly, at this time, because my resources are diminishing. Mom’s mind is failing, dad’s colleagues are growing older, and printed materials are disappearing.

If you visited our house today, you’d see eleven book boxes in the living room, dragged down from the attic. Art books, catalogs, and papers in piles, computer printouts neatly laid out on the radiator, and two pages of actual rough draft. The task at hand is to accurately condense a man into words and photos on a page. I’ll keep you posted how it works out.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Passive Budgeting

You don't get rich by what you earn. You get rich by what you don't spend.
- Henry Ford

When you think of Henry Ford you think of his Model T, the first mass produced car. By using an assembly line he was able to produce a good product in less time and thus make it affordable for the masses. He further streamlined the process by offering “any color as long as it’s black”. What you may not know is he specified the dimensions for crates his mechanical parts were shipped to the factory in. So instead of cutting more wood for the floor boards, he just took apart the boxes and used them in the car.

A lady wrote to Dollar Stretcher describing how she tracks her non-spending on a white board in her living room. If she comes home and makes supper instead of buying take out, she calculates the difference and writes down what she saved that day. She should show some impressive results by year end.

One mom had her kids clip coupons and compare prices on goods on her shopping list. They were given the difference. You can bet they scrutinized the Sunday papers and kept the coupon box in order.

Granted, it’s easier to make a budget and spend up to it, than keep track of what’s not spent. But the second is more encouraging. So think about what you don’t spend. It may give you just the boost you need.