Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Saving Money: Part Three - General Ideas

Dear vigorous and inspired reader,

Here we go with part three of the four-part money-saving series: ideas to put into practice in the kitchen and around the home!  Be sure to read part one (Guiding Principles) and part two (Ground Rules) before diving in to this part, or you may find yourself capsized by the overwhelming wave of Too Much!

Most of these ideas are for the kitchen, which is my primary field of interest - but they can reach out into other areas of the home, as well.  Also, any resources listed here will also be listed in a comprehensive collection at the end of the series, so don't worry about trying to save them all while you read.

Saving Money: Part Three - General Ideas for the Kitchen

Maintain your right to be choosy about what goes on the plate while still saving money.

Don't think you need to sacrifice your health and buy non-organic produce, laden with toxins and pesticides just for the sake of saving a few pennies.  While it is true that I will opt for more "expensive" ingredients like fresh free-range meat, organic produce, organic products, and high-quality local ingredients, I probably still save more money in our kitchen than the average WalMart shopper because I do what I can to make almost everything in the kitchen from scratch - and this will have a long-term effect on our overall health, another savings in the books.  I also work hard to source produce close to home, sometimes even scoring free goodies from the farmers I regularly buy from.  And during hot and heavy harvest seasons, I can produce at home to save money during the year on buying out-of-season organic produce.  When it is in your power to do so, don't give up quality for cheap.

Make your own ingredients. 

This is an excellent starting place for getting the highest quality while still saving money.  Extractsdried herbs, and seasoning mixes are all significantly cheaper to make at home than to buy in the store.  And of significantly better quality, too.  I buy many of my spices from Market Spice because of the superior selection and flavor; it is also cheaper to buy spices in bulk than in a grocery store pre-packaged - and the pre-packaged ones are usually old and tasteless by the time you buy them!  You can also buy spices in the bulk section of many grocery stores (look for a Fred Meyers, a local organic market, small grocery store, or "granola" type store - they tend to have these bulk sections).  I buy my vanilla beans from Beanilla, and trust me - they are of the most excellent quality and the prices are drastically lower than anywhere else.  Credit goes to Miz Carmen for turning me on to that site!  Buy spices in bulk, and make your own ingredients when possible.  

Think of it, Google it, make it.

My motto in the kitchen is, "If they can make it, I can make it."  If there is something in your cupboard or at the store (lemon extract, for instance, or condensed milk) and you wonder if you can make it at home - do an online search and see what others have found.  You might be surprised where it leads you.  That is how I learned to make pretty much everything in our cupboard.  If it has multiple ingredients and you can buy it at the store, you can probably make it at home for less and with better results - the internet is an invaluable resource for learning how! 

Grow your own, as much as possible.

This can be a little difficult to do when you're, say, living in a hotel.  We did, in fact, have some basil and chives struggling to grow in half a milk-carton in our hotel room.  But often there are ways to grow herbs and tomatoes and other various delights in an apartment, and if you have a bit of property or have family willing to participate you can learn to homestead it very efficiently.  It is arguably the cheapest method of procuring produce of all, and there are many excellent books and websites out there for learning.

Buy things on sale in the store.

I know, this sounds like a no-brainer.  But do take care with this.  You don't necessarily have to stock yourself to the ears (and not all of us have the available room or cash to do so), but buying a few extra things on sale not only saves money by being cheaper at the time you purchase, but saves you from having to panic and run to the store at 5:00 in the afternoon when you may be compelled to buy something quick and easy (read: expensive and poor quality) because there is nothing to eat at home.  Check your local ads for coupons (you should get them in the mail, and they'll also be in the grocery store near the entrance) and do online searches for ads and coupons (places like Coupon Mom post collections of searchable ads in your area).  And eat based on what's on sale: if organic ground beef is on sale, choose a dinner based on that instead of chicken!  Eat around the sales, and stock your cupboards with a nice buffer of sale items! 

Consider shopping outside the grocery store.

Almost everything in a grocery store is marked up higher than I am willing to pay (once you start exploring your shopping options, you'll realize this is true!).  Honestly, I would be content if I never had to visit a grocery store again.  I order the majority of our bulk dry-goods from Azure Standard, because I can find not only organic, high-quality foods here, but also save a lot of cash in the process (you have to have login information to see their prices online, but it is easy to set up an account.  You can also request a catalog - first one is free, they'll charge for later editions.  It's a low-overhead kind of place and the savings are reflected in your bill!).  Produce comes from a local farmer's market because grocery store produce is usually overpriced, old and from hundreds of miles away - generating a lot of pollution from trucks and ships and usually needless packaging which will just end up in a landfill.  Find a local farmer's market by doing an online search or visiting your state Department of Agriculture site.  Meat, eggs, honey and dairy products can also usually be sourced from nearby farms; you can find farms in your area online or ask around for references. Continually network and search to find new resources - it takes time to explore and find farmers and markets, but the health and money savings will repay you in the end.  

Go reusable.  

It is nicer to the world we are supposed to be stewarding, and nicer to your budget.  Less things to fill up the trash can and the landfill, less money spent on filling up the garbage.  Reusable diapers might be a stretch for some families (quadruplets, for instance, can generate a lot of diapers) but something like reusable canning lids can be a huge savings in the long run.  The downside of reusable is usually that it costs more up-front - but if you can do it, I recommend it!  Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Participate in promotions. 

Don't by shy about entering drawings, competitions, and the like. However, do be cautious about who you share information with; most of you probably already have a "dummy" e-mail account you use for entering drawings, and this can be a safe way to avoid spam.  Mr H and I have won things in the past such as a photo shoot or a free hotel stay; but one sure way to never win any prizes is to never enter any competitions!  (I am not promoting the lottery here, so do not read into that!)  If you are saving codes from a product where you can accumulate enough to "purchase" a prize, ask family for any codes they are going to discard!  Watch this blog and others for periodic giveaways - you could win something for yourself, or something to give as a gift.  Enter to win!  Hint: there might be something special at the end of this series to reward you for reading along ... just thought I'd mention that!  

Make your own bread. 

When we are on the road to home-cooked goodness, making bread is one of the best places to start.  The loaf of bread pictured here cost $0.97 to make, and it is completely whole wheat and organic with only three ingredients: flour, salt, and water (I used a homemade sourdough starter to leaven it, which essentially consists of flour and water).  A similar (non-organic, white) sourdough loaf in the local grocery store cost $5.99 and had a long list of preservatives attached.  I've made all of our bread at home for a long time now, but don't be impressed.  That doesn't mean I get up early every morning and start a new batch of dough.  What that actually means is, we can go for a very long time without having any bread!  I finally caught on to myself and made a couple extra loaves for the freezer for "those times" when I needed to save myself, so the problem is not so great any more.  Experiment with different breads (whisk bread, anybody?  Thanks to the mysterious Mrs S for that link) until you find one you and your family like.  And maybe you'll always buy the occasional loaf, but you can supplement the pantry with homemade!  Homemade bread not only tastes better, but it's usually less expensive than store-bought and will have no mysterious chemical ingredients - not to mention it's inspirationally homey!  

Force your hand.

This idea works best when it does not break Rule #2 (don't die of overkill).  But simply stated, what it means is this: Probably the best motivator I ever had for making bread was not buying bread.

When I run out of something that I want to make at home, I simply don't go and buy a replacement.  I either do without, or learn to do! As the current supply dwindles down, I do some research and learn about making a homemade version to replace it.  I slowly acquire knowledge and purchase any necessary ingredients, and when the old item is all gone I make the new one at home.  Sometimes it takes a few tweaks before it fits our house, but the wrinkles smooth out eventually.  In this way, things in the home are gradually replaced by home-made versions, and I am never overwhelmed by doing it all at once.

I've gained many great skills this way.  For instance, since I haven't purchased any yeast at our new home yet (waiting on an order from Azure ... the grocery store is just wayyyy too expensive), we've been eating a lot of sourdough - and my sourdough skills have improved greatly!

Plan ahead when you can.

Sometimes you unexpectedly have five hungry guys show up on your doorstep and are fully at a loss how to feed them (that happened to me a few days ago.  We all went out to eat).  But in the grand scheme of things, we have a general idea of what our day will hold and we can plan ahead for that.  Homemade foods can be simple, inexpensive, and filling.  Nutritious, delicious, and in a word scrumptious.  A woman feels safe and loved when her man has a job and shows great effort to protect the home - that is where her security comes from.  A man, on the other hand, feels security when he knows his woman has the dinner planned and meals handled!

Not even kidding here, folks - it's the truth!  (Ask him - see what he says.)

Planning meals in advance saves you from last-minute spending sprees in the store.  Cooking dried beans takes a while but it's infinitely cheaper than buying it in cans (which may contain BPA!).  Work out a system for menus that works for you - I like to write down a list of potential ideas for the week based on what we have in stock, and then each morning I choose the dinner that best fits the day (errands day?  Crack out the crockpot!  Guests for dinner?  Pull out the pizza stone!).
Future Olympian

More ideas will follow ... What will you contribute to the conversation?  Share your wisdom!  No idea is too big or too small! 


Mrs H

Get started making your own ingredients today!  
Try these for starters: 

Almond MilkHot Cocoa Mix and MarshmallowsTortillasExtractsBaking Powder ... find these and more recipes here!



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