Thursday, November 12, 2015

Making it Through a Bare Bones Week ~Part Two

I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Cindy Miller, from Every Little Bit, as she presents this blog post to you letting you in on the secrets that allowed her to feed her family of nine on a budget of $250 per month! Without further ado:

One of the biggest pleasures and challenges of the 90’s for me had nothing to do with the Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cranberries, or the Clinton Whitehouse but with feeding a family of six, then seven, followed by eight, and you guessed it, nine people on a budget of about $250 a month, and keeping them in the dark where nutrition and flavor were concerned as to the strict limits of that budget.
I followed common advice such as: 

DO . . .

. . . buy in bulk when it’s cheaper (50 to 100 lbs. of potatoes when the new crop comes in, 50 lb. oats instead of 42 oz., 50 lbs of flour or wheat berries instead of 5 lbs., 2 lbs of baking powder instead of ten oz., 1 lb of yeast instead of those little bitty packages, 1 lb. of pectin instead of those L.B.P., etc.)

. . . compare prices by the unit; ounce, lb, etc.; sometimes smaller is actually cheaper by the unit

. . . buy in quantity on sale — I had set a price of $1.09 lb. for meat as the most I would pay (Remember it was the 90’s. Now my budget is higher and my meat price limit is $2.00 lb.), and I wouldn’t buy hot dogs or cheap lunch meat.  When it — chicken usually — was on sale for my price, I would buy up to 20 lbs.   If cheese was on sale, I would buy ten lbs or more.  If eggs were cheap (even when I had chickens) I would buy dozens and freeze them in quantities for baking favorite recipes or in quantities for scrambling.  

Stocking up creates some good family memories. Earlier this year Wal-mart had a sale on butter, 2 lb. for $4.  I bought 80 lbs during the month of the sale.  Yes, that is a lot of butter.  Each time we went my kids would groan and say, “More butter, Mother?”  (That’s what they call me when I am in trouble.)  But it was groaned with a grin, because that butter signified good things to come!

. . . store what you buy appropriately — I had plenty of storage including an unheated back bathroom with large crank-out windows with no storm inserts in our uninsulated concrete block house. SHIVER ME TIMBERS!  Pretty freaking cold for showering in the late fall through early spring, but, it was great for storing bushels of apples and huge bags of potatoes!  I learned to pressure can and water bath foods as needed,  and/or to dehydrate and properly freeze WHATEVER we had in excess. 

. . . use coupons if they will actually save you money — coupons didn’t work well for me because of our low budget and alternative methods of filling the pantry but sometimes they helped.

DON’T . . .

. . . buy what you can’t store well — if it goes bad, that just stinks, maybe literally

. . . buy what you will not use —  I have done this on a bad impulse.  It’s really dumb.

. . . use coupons if the store brand is still cheaper or if you don’t really have a reason other than the coupon for the purchase (see above!)
In the 90’s our small town of 2,000 had two small grocery stores, each offering double coupons one day a week.  I took advantage of their sales and double-coupon offers, but I had to come up with some options custom-tailored to the growing Miller family. 

Because I have long believed I should have been born about 40 years earlier than 1958 (Just so you don’t bother with the math, I’m 57) when “times were simpler” — and, because times are never really "simple", by that I mean I should have been born on a small farm with a mama who homemade everything and a daddy who plowed fields with oxen or draft horses and education took place in a one-room schoolhouse and we sat on the porch of an evening drinking lemonade and playing checkers and we always had sheets waving about on a clothes line and we gathered eggs and apples from our hens and orchards — these “old-fashioned” methods came easily to me as I would . . .

. . . Grow the biggest garden possible in our very small yard; green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and onions, lettuce, spinach always, as well as basils, dill, sage and thyme.

. . . Find the wild sources of food, which for us include venison, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, persimmons, grapes, and morels

. . . Chase down the owners of those unpicked pear and apple trees and ask if I could pick and pay for fruit.  This included advertising for them on a local free radio program. 

. . . Get chickens for eggs

. . . Get dairy goats for milk — which ended up being too restrictive for us as we had reasons to travel (Daddy dying of cancer two hours away and all that those many months entailed) but Oh. My. Goodness! The milk, cheese, soap and BARTER possibilities! 

. . . Let it be known that I will happily use whatever gardeners over-produced.  The world over, there are gardeners who plant too much just for the joy of gardening, and are blessed by sharing their produce with others.  And when you have a lot of children, people tend to want to share with you anyway.   We were gifted with bushels of apples, green beans, pears, cucumbers, peppers, grapes, even gooseberries over the years.  I always offered to pay or to give back some jam or sauce or pickle made with what I was given, and sometimes that was accepted, but often nothing was wanted other than the joy of knowing their produce was going to be put to good use.

. . . Make everything possible or practical from scratch — breads are a big deal.  Tortillas, biscuits, rolls, pancakes, loaf bread, cookies, muffins, cakes, etc. can all be homemade for pennies.  Get in the habit of making them, and they become routine and take less and less time the better you get at them.  The purchased ones are so expensive and so full of weirdness.  And if you buy the ones that aren’t full of weirdness you have to spend enough that you could make 3 times as much or more from scratch.  Also pasta.  Homemade pasta costs pennies and makes a regular meal into something family gets excited about!

. . . Find a whole lot of good ways to make inexpensive foods taste good — Yes. Potatoes and beans, rice and corn meal, cabbage and carrots and apples and bananas, etc.  (How many times did I and do I buy dark, mushy bananas at $.19 lb to freeze for smoothies, quick breads, etc. )

. . . Shop Ike and Cora Godsey’s store.  Remember the Walton’s?  I love the Godsey’s store and find the local (50 mile radius) Mennonite and Amish stores have that same simple food and family feel.  They are a great source for cheaper bulk dry goods (grains, beans, spices, cereals, baking supplies) and things like lye, good cookware, healing herbs and oils, molasses and honey by the quart, fresh produce by the bushel, nuts, dried fruits, etc.  Believe it or not, back in the 90’s 50 lbs. of oatmeal could be had in the fall for $8 to $12.  Now it’s around $20.

One of the oddest and most fun ways of stretching our food budget was (and is) salvage store shopping.  People buy truckloads of salvage grocery items, often sight-unseen, and sell them in small, usually over-stuffed stores. We frequented one in a town 35 miles away that also boasted an Aldi, and were able to find special sauces, vinegars, cooking wines, oils, and normal stuff like canned fruits and veggies extremely cheaply.  You have to check for expiration dates and good seals on canned goods.  You even have to check for moths in the pasta!  It’s quite the adventure, but when you find a jar of honey for $1 or special wines, vinegars and sauces for $.79 a bottle, you GO!  We could often buy a case (24 cans) of pineapple or 29 oz tomatoes for around $.50 a can, so while we were very low budget, we could still afford some treats!
To this day I can’t pass up a salvage store, and though our budget is looser and there are only five at home now, Smoked Gouda at $2.50 lb or Provelone at $2.00 lb still makes my little heart sing. 

Last year we discovered one 45 miles away that one special weekend sells new crop fresh apples; fuji, gala, jonathans, etc. for $.28 lb.  This year wee bought about 70 lbs, canned a lot of sauce and apple butter, and ate fresh apples for weeks.  Sweet and ripe!   The apples, I mean.
The Thrill Of The Hunt kept me searching for inexpensive sources (Still does, and I find that toilet paper is very cheap purchased online if you have the right account and free shipping, but I have not purchased it that way yet.  All in good time . . .) and I discovered ethnic grocery stores can provide cool stuff at great prices.  Sesame seeds, sesame oil, dried shitakes, Kikkoman soy sauce, jasmine rice are all cheaper in the Asian grocers 80 miles away, so when we visited Springfield, Mo., we picked up that stuff.  Kikkoman by the gallon is now $15.  I frankly don’t remember what it was in the 90’s, but $8 seems right.

If there is a take away or three from this, one might be that although there are some basic dos and don’ts that generally work for everyone, you need to customize your plan for your location and family.  Obviously, if you live in the city, and especially in an apartment, “farm” animals won’t work for you.  And you may not have even a south facing window for ornamental peppers much less a tomato plant or two.  You may need to come up with a barter system or something entirely different than anything I’ve mentioned!  If there are only two to provide for, you are unlikely to want to buy 50 lbs of oats, but maybe you could co-op such things with friends. 

Also, obviously you have to put effort into saving money — searching out sources, putting your own two hands to work, putting the word out that you are willing to work for produce, keeping your eyes open for dented can specials or sales on things nearing or just past the sell by date, being prepared with storage ideas and containers for the unexpected find.
Keep your eyes peeled and think outside the box!  “The Box” is too small to meet the challenge of the seriously restricted grocery budget anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making it Through a Barebones Week

When things were extremely tight for our family of 8, no matter how things looked, we always found a way to make it through.

Some things which helped were making pancakes for breakfast.  Who doesn't love a good pancake breakfast, and it costs pennies per meal.  Nowadays there are discount stores like Aldi and such that really can help things along all the more.  When my kids were real small we didn't have those.  Another idea was breakfast for dinner once every week.  No one complained about that one, which helps.  ;)

Homemade breads, biscuits, bread sticks or rolls are always a hit and help fill up with a portion controlled meal (AKA 3 oz of meat and any available veggies)
From scratch soups with a fresh bread nourish, warm & comfort, and allow a family to fill up pretty inexpensively (compared to more traditional meals)  One night was always soup/bean chili  night, and definitely for lunches, too.

Here is the link to the bread I first learned to make: 

When I was able to make a ham, or any other larger cut of meat, I definitely had to use some "up-front" portion control or the whole thing would have been gobbled right up and cost a fortune.  Instead I sliced enough for dinner, and set the rest aside to be diced and frozen in baggies as a base to other meals to come.  You can fry some up alongside eggs for breakfast, or use some for soup.  You can even make a sandwich spread by processing along with some mayo and a bit of relish, onion and celery. 

Potatoes can usually be had for a cheap price at this time of year and everyone loves potatoes.  Mashed, diced, baked and fried can be a friend to breakfast, lunch or dinner. 
Other cheap staples right now would be cabbage, carrots, apples that are just in season now, rice, (beans of course). 

Also, at times frozen veggies will be a better deal, dollar wise, than fresh.  They are picked at the peak of freshness and then snap frozen, so nutritionally they are a great deal. 

Diced apples fried in butter with some brown sugar make a sweet topping for pancakes as well.   It can make eating inexpensively seem like a treat.  Don't have brown sugar?  Molasses mixed in with some regular granulated sugar will do the trick (got that trick from Connie). 

A whole chicken can be stretched into 3 meals.  Here is a link that can explain that idea in more detail: 

Whenever you may have a couple extra dollars, even if you think you should hold onto it, think about purchasing a few staple grocery/pantry items more than you need right now (depending on what you already have currently).   Doing this helped me lower my grocery bill other weeks, and build up a pantry stock so that when there was no money, we still had food to work with.  I did this with canned items, and baking items especially. 

Back in the day there was a program where if you did a couple hours of community service a month, you could purchase a food box for like half price of what it would cost normally.  There were a variety of items in the box that you could plan your meals and other shopping around.  I cannot remember the name of the program anymore, but a little research could uncover whether there is a similar program in existence today. 

Also, at Farmers Markets you can buy "seconds" where I live for cheaper than the perfectly picked apples and tomatoes.  These are fruits that had fallen to the ground, but still very good, just not perfect anymore.  This is definitely what you want to buy for any canning you may want to do as well.  

Eventually I learned to make my own laundry detergent so that I could put that money into our mouths instead.  Here is a link to learn to do it the new fangled (and not dangerous) way: 

I devoured books from the library like The Tightwad Gazette for example that really uncovered some unusual and fun ideas for saving money and for making use of items you already have, and extending the life of items you already have as well.  It made for both entertainment as well as practical help to make it week to week.

I almost forgot!  Depression era searches online and books at the library can teach you to make desserts and such for a fraction of the price because they used alternatives to expensive butter and eggs.  Please check that out!  My kids thought we were doing alright during what were some pretty trying times when I could turn out a dessert like this.

One more thing before I close, price matching is a great tool for getting the most out of your dollar without having to cut coupons or drive around all day.  I will direct you to Jordan's blog to read a success story from a reader that lays it all out very well in an easy to understand way with helpful tips, just click here for price matching info!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Where is this all going?

I've been doing some thinking about this blog, and whether I should begin a new one, and let this one just end, or if I should continue and let it evolve as life goes on the way that it does.  I've been thinking about the theme of this blog, it seems it's been kind of all over the place...which is how my life has been.  Life has a way of doing that.

My true love and heart is with homemaking and frugality.  Yes, I am a woman, with many complicated facets, and I want to share myself with my readers.  I want to celebrate homemaking on a budget and memory making, so that is where my focus will remain.

Our life is easier in some ways these days, as is the natural progression of how life goes often times. I still remember the early struggle just trying to keep food on our table for eight, really getting into the homemaking spirit to inspire myself in the day-to-day.  I really want to support and encourage others along the way, as others had done for me.

To celebrate the re-opening of my dusty little blog, I will be posting my tips on how to make a home on a bare bones budget.  I will be welcoming a guest post as well on the subject by my friend, Cindy Miller.  Stay tuned!

Thanksgiving Draws Near

How do you like this meat, cheese and cracker platter for a festive Thanksgiving?
I think it adds such a fun and memorable touch to have a couple stand-out centerpieces among the rest of the more typical spreads.  I like to dress our table simply .  I have a long vine garland with fall berries and a few fake pumpkins and gourds I lay through the middle of the table over the tablecloth. It's so simple and almost no effort, yet looks elegant.  You could also just cut bittersweet if you have a source for that available to you and do the same type thing with some pine cones, acorns and whatever else speaks celebrating the Autumn season to you.  Maybe some preserved brilliant leaves. Once you start, your creativity will kick in.  

I think preserved leaves would also be a colorful touch to your table!  Try to preserve some brilliant Fall leaves using the wax paper method:

You will need some of your prettiest collected leaves, wax paper, piece of paper or a thin tea towel, along with your iron and ironing board.

Place a leaf between two pieces of wax paper and a towel or a piece of thick paper over the wax paper.

Press on the towel or paper with a warm iron to seal the wax sheets together. This takes about 2-5 minutes on each side, depending on how moist the leaf is. Once you have finished one side, flip the leaf over and do the other side.

Once the leaves have cooled with the wax paper on them, try to peel the wax paper off the leaves, leaving a coat of wax behind to protect the leaves. 

What are your Thanksgiving plans this year?