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Friday, December 31, 2010

Homemade Sesame Milk

Today I discovered a way to make a non dairy milk substitute, that unlike most milk substitutes, is insanely easy to make, contains more calcium than regular milk, is a good source of protein, and works out to be cheaper than regular milk, at least based on the prices where where I live.

Sesame milk!

Ingredients
1/2 cup pure dark sesame paste/tahini (made with unhulled sesame seeds)
1 tablespoon water + 4 cups water
1 teaspoon honey/sucanat/sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Fiscal Year in Review

Wow, can't believe it is almost 2011! Time really flies!
Didn't it feel like it was just yesterday that everyone was preparing for Y2K, worried about the imminent destruction of the world which relied on computers that would go bonkers when they thought it was 1900 again. Yea, much ado about nothing. I remember lying on my bunk bed in the attic bedroom I shared with my older sister, watching the clock tick closer to midnight, waiting for the apocalypse, or at the very least, a blackout. But midnight and Y2K came and went and nothing, not even lights flickering. What an anticlimax!

Anyhow, now that I reminisced about my 12 year old self (yes, I'm that young), I can get to the point of this post- my fiscal year in review.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Massive Shopping Trip

Today's shopping trip encompassed a lot of firsts. It was the first time in 4 weeks I went shopping (no, not even little runs to corner store for milk or produce). It was the first time in a really long time that I spent this much money in one go. It was the first time I went grocery shopping since I did my calculations to figure out the true costs of different foods. It was also the first time that I bought organic food. So my shopping pics and list will reflect that.
Because I didn't spend any money on groceries in the last 4 weeks, (Ok, confession, I actually spent 10 dollars 3 weeks ago, but nothing aside for that), I saw no problem in spending extra this shopping trip, especially as I plan on having this shopping trip be the only one I'll be making for the next 4 weeks. Some of the stuff I stocked up on should last us well over 4 weeks. But, before I tell you the total, because I know you'll gasp, let me first show you a picture of today's shop.


Now for the shocking total- $192! But- just look how much food there is over there! And, being as I got enough food to last us for 4 weeks, and I last went shopping 4 weeks ago and spent 65 dollars then, this averages out to $32 for groceries each week. So doesn't look so bad now, does it?

So, what did I buy and why?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Keeping Heating Bills Down

New York, Christmas Weekend, 2010
I was all psyched up to write a post about some foraging we did today, but after hearing about all my friends who are currently snowed in by a huge blizzard on the east coast of the US, I decided to spare you another foraging post and instead write about something that's more relevant to what most Northern Hemisphere readers are currently experiencing. Lowering your heating bill.

I live in a relatively warm climate; fortunately heating isn't necessary here a large chunk of the time. Yes, most people here do use heating in the winter to make their homes more comfortable, but we generally don't. Usually my home stays around 58-60 degrees Farenheit before applying any of these following tricks. I realize that those of you in colder climates need to have some heating on to keep your homes habitable and pipes from freezing, but hopefully these tips will allow you to lower your thermostat and lower your bills, while still remaining relatively comfortable.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gifting- On a Budget

With Christmas just 2 days away, the entire bloggosphere is buzzing about the upcoming holiday. What they're doing, where they're going, what they're eating... but most importantly of all- gifting.

Christmas gifting is one of the biggest causers of consumer debt out there. People want to make sure that Christmas is as magical as possible for their kids, determined to create fond memories, and mistakenly think that the only way to do that is by throwing hundreds if not thousands of dollars out the window.
I think people have got it all wrong.
There's no need to spend so much money on the holiday- with the right attitude, Christmas can be made on a very small budget and still be the "Best Christmas Ever".

When I think about a magical Christmas, the first thing that pops into my mind is this scene from the Little House on the Prairie. That captures in my mind the true spirit of giving for which this holiday season is known, and they didn't need to spend a lot of money to do so.



Enjoy!

Sometimes, less is more. If you give a kid a million gifts, they may get excited when they see the large pile of wrapped presents under the tree, but as they open one after another, their excitement wanes and they may even resent some of the gifts if it wasn't "exactly what they wanted".

With my family this year, my husband and I are not exchanging gifts. Saving money is enough of a gift for us.
For our kids though, we wanted to give them a little something, but they have so many toys already that spending any money on toys for them was just overkill.
Chalk, airplane, slime, and a homemade flower made
out of Doritos wrappers (no, we didn't eat them)
Instead, we made a few homemade gifts that we knew our kids would enjoy just as much as store bought toys.

For our kids, we made homemade chalk, slime, and airplanes that really fly. Total cost? Less than 1 dollar. Do they enjoy them? Well, they've already sampled them and they've provided hours of fun.
I still plan on making each of the kids a homemade doll. (My boys are always fighting over the one "baby" we have, so I decided to make one for each of them.)
Note: My boys are young, homeschooled, and don't watch TV, so they don't have specific expectations of expensive gifts. Everyone needs to do what works in their family's situation, but this works for us.

For others, you can purchase items cheaply or make your own gifts. In my opinion, when you have a theme, you're able to get away with spending less money and still not look tacky.
Gift ideas for adults include, but are not limited to:
"Orange You Glad It's Christmas" set: orange cleaner, candied orange rind, and some grapefruit marmalade.
"Warm and Fuzzy" set: homemade hot cocoa mix, mocha mix, vanilla coffee mix, peppermint coffee mix.
"Tea Blend" set: various foraged herbs to make different teas, along with a tea strainer. Mint, lavender, olive leaf, mulberry leaf, passionflower, rose, etc.
"Soap-em Up" set: homemade bar soap, homemade liquid soap, homemade orange cleaner, and homemade laundry soap.
"Start Your Stockpile" set: a bunch of non perishable groceries that you bought cheaply but usually cost a lot of money.

Alternatively, you can give gift certificates such as:
10 hours of free babysitting.
1 weekend of babysitting, including a sleepover.
1 fancy meal, served at "Chez Penniless".
1 back massage
1 foot massage
3 hours of free budgeting consulting.

Your options are limitless. Barter what you have, whether it is time or skills or something else. It doesn't need to cost you anything, but will be very appreciated by others.


As for me, some people have asked what I wanted for Christmas. I've already received 2 wonderful gifts from readers- a copy of Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover and a copy of the Complete Tightwad Gazette- by Amy Dacyzyn. Both are absolutely terrific reads and I've really been enjoying them! (Haven't finished either yet, but they're so jam packed with information that I've already gotten a lot out of them.) If anyone wants to buy those books (I highly recommend it, even if you can get these from the library, because these are good reference books that you'll want to have around the house all the time), if you buy through the links at the side, I'll make some commission.

I definitely appreciate gifts from you readers. If you're someone with whom I've built a rapport, I don't mind giving you my P.O. Box to which you can mail a gift. Or, you can send me money via Paypal to cover a specific gift and I'll promise to buy that for myself.

What is my wish list this Christmas?
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon- an educational traditional foods cookbook. I've wanted to get this for a while, but it's been out of my budget.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. A book about all the different types of do it yourself ferments to make all sorts of healthy foods, from sourdough to lacto-fermented goodies to homemade vinegar, etc. Another big want, but I can't justify spending the money on it now.
A canning set- including tongs, a widemouth funnel and metal jar lifters. Currently I'm doing things the hard way, but this would make my canning much easier.
Size large diaper covers- mine are completely shot, making cloth diapering more challenging. (Velcro in some, elastic in others.)
Snappis. I'm down to one, and its broken.
America's Cheapest Family. Sounds like a good and educational read.
A good pair of size 12 (or 11 wide) women's formal shoes, without a very high heel. Preferably Mary Jane style (so they stay on my foot)
A sewing machine. (I'm dreaming here. Dreaming big. Lol...)

But honestly, the thing I'd probably appreciate most is if you could send a donation to help keep Penniless Parenting running. I put a lot of effort into this site to keep it informative, entertaining, and help you save money. I get very little return for my time; I've made a total of around 300 dollars from blogging 5-7 posts per week in this past year. Anything you want to donate to show your appreciation for the effort involved would be absolutely appreciated. Thanks!




I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, hope it's a meaningful one, and I'll be back with more posts to help you save money on Sunday or Monday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kids Thwarting Frugality

You try to be frugal. You try to pinch pennies.
But you're a mom.
And your kids thwart you.
Every time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Menu Planning- Extreme Frugality Style

Today's Monday, the day where throughout the bloggosphere, people get their act together and post their menu plans for the next week. Occasionally I do the same, but I prefer sharing my menus in retrospect. I thought you might appreciate my train of thought and menu alterations that I make because of  my extremely frugal lifestyle.

Original Menu Plan:
Monday: Pasta with rattatouille and meat sauce
Tuesday: French fries, tuna, and veggie spears
Wednesday: Baked beans, rice, and cauliflower.
Thursday: Split pea soup with barley and veggies
Friday: Homemade bread, tahini salad, chicken soup, rice and meatballs, and some veggie.
Saturday: Stew.
Sunday: Leftovers.

Ok, that all looks very well and good. But what happens in actuality?

Monday: You spent a whole day dealing with the 300 pounds of bulk bought food  that just arrived.

Is it worth it?

Among some of the extremely frugal things my family
does to save money- reusable toilet paper- aka Family Cloth
I've got my skeptics among you readers. I know that some, if not many of you have thought again and again why I bother doing everything I do. Does it actually pay off? Is it really worth it? Why am I bothering to make my life crazy over tiny little things that cost pennies on the dollar?

I've shared before with you my wonderful news when we reached our first financial milestone in Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover steps- completing our baby emergency fund. Making under $25,000 a year, the first step on the Total Money Makeover is to set aside $500 dollars to be a Baby Emergency Fund, intended to keep you from needing to rely on credit cards, should emergencies crop up. We did that and now we're on step two- in the process of paying off our debts.

Even though it's not one of the official Dave Ramsey milestones, I had another milestone that I felt was important enough to share with you, something that helps me see the value in what we're doing, that I'd like to share with you all.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Eating Thorns- Foraging Milk Thistle

Milk thistle in salad with tomatoes, cukes, and peppers
with dressing made from homemade mayo and
foraged passion fruit. So delicious!
Alright, alright, I know what you're thinking. "That woman has gone off her rocker. She's completely ca-ray-zy! Absolutely out of her mind. She's eating thorns, for goodness sakes!"

Seriously, if I hadn't read that thistles are a commonly foraged food by the indigenous people to my region, I would have thought the same thing. But if they eat it, it must be worthwhile.

Why eat milk thistle?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Foraging in Suburbia and in Urban Locations

Foraged milk thistle and mallow
I'm big into foraging. If I can get something nutritious, local, pesticide free, and best of all, absolutely free, I'm in heaven. Me and foraging? We're bosom buddies. I've spoken before about foraging trips I've taken, and the amazing bounty with which I've stocked my fridge.
Many have reacted positively, but skeptically. You might have thought that foraging sounds great, but you just can't do it. After all, you live in the city and in areas without many fruit trees. It's nice, but "not relevant" to your life, because you don't live in the countryside like I do.

I wanted to clue you in a drop.
I don't live in the countryside. I live in a small apartment built on top of a 2 family house. Most houses here have a small yard, perhaps 100 square feet front and back. The layout is pretty similar to how I grew up in my big city suburb in the Midwest, only with smaller yards.

An empty lot across the street from my house. Nothing growing there...
Only a whole boatload of edible weeds, where I did my  latest foraging!
I don't have fields and meadows available, nor forests in which to forage. I don't have ultra special resources here that allow me to forage.
You can forage pretty much anywhere.

Foraging in the Non Country Side

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bulk Buying- The Hidden Savings

As of last night, I had around 350 pounds of dry food sitting in my house (or more!). You probably think I'm nuts, but I just received my bulk order of baking goods and got 250 pounds of food in one go, to add to the more than 100 pounds of  food I already had in my stockpile.
It's not always worthwhile to buy in bulk, but in many cases it is. If you're unsure whether or not such a move would be worthwhile, please read my previous post on the subject. For those situations in which buying bulk is cost efficient, I've put together a list of  the hidden savings entailed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cutting your food bill- in a nutshell

Want to slash your grocery bill dramatically? Here's some of the most important tips.

Be willing to change. If you want to shop exactly as you are now, buy exactly what you're buying now, cook exactly as you're cooking now, and serve exactly as you serve now, your food bill will remain exactly as it is now.  If you want to really change your food bill, you have to be willing to change either how you shop, what you buy, what you cook, or how you serve. The more you're willing to change, the more your grocery bill will change.
If you're willing to do that, read further. If not, you can stop reading now, as none of these other tips will help you if you want to maintain your shopping and cooking status quo.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Frugal Foot Care- aka Avoiding Orthotics

For the past little while, randomly 3 year old Lee will start complaining that his feet hurt. Often, this occurred at the end of a day in which we'd done a lot of walking, so I assumed that that was the cause, but after this complaint became more frequent, we started taking it a bit more seriously and inspected our son's feet.
Your feet affect the rest of your body, from your knees to your posture to your teeth to your sleeping habits, so I took these feet complaints from Lee rather seriously. (In case you were wondering, no, Lee never wore second hand shoes.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Quick Pickled Lemons

Pickled lemons- ready to eat
I read a recipe a while ago for making quick pickled lemons. Pickled lemons sounds funny at first, I must admit. After all, aren't lemons sour enough?
But after making it, trust me on this one- this recipe is a keeper! It works as a condiment and is a stupendous addition to nearly any food in the world. (Ok, slight exaggeration- I tried it out with at least 20 foods and they were all delicious.) This food is also chock full of vitamin C, perfect for days like today when I have such a terrible cold that I don't feel like getting out of bed...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Succotash- Treasure From the Americas

Succotash served over rice.
I'm a lover of traditional foods from around the world, because they're usually healthy, chemical free, cheap, and made with produce from the same seasons. (No orange nectarine spinach salads, if you catch my drift.)

I'm also a lover of bean dishes and dishes that allow you to stretch your meat. When I discovered succotash, I fell in love.

Succotash is a bean and corn dish borrowed from the Native Americans and generally made with vegetables from the "three sisters crops"- corn, bean, and squash. So long a you use corn and beans in the recipe, the rest is up to you, and it'll still be considered succotash.
I like to use whatever vegetables I have in the house that are getting old, as well as a small amount of chicken chunks. Here's a recipe I devised that tastes phenomenal, but feel free to play around with it and use whatever is in your house.


Succotash Recipe


Ingredients
2-3 cups cooked beans. I prefer navy beans, but any will do.
1-2 cups cooked corn
1-2 squashes cubed, whether zucchini, summer squash, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced.
1-2 peppers (optional)
1 onion, minced
1-2 cups chicken, diced. I use chicken gizzards. (You can leave this out to make a vegetarian dish.)
Oil or fat for sauteing
Water to cover
Salt (to taste)
Cumin (to taste)

Instructions
1. Saute onions in oil/fat until golden. Add carrot chunks and cover with water.
2. Boil until the carrots are almost entirely soft.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, minus the salt and cumin, and add enough water to cover.
4. Simmer until everything is soft.
5. Season.
6. Serve either plain or over rice or noodles or potatoes or whatever.
7. Enjoy!

Have you ever made succotash before or had it? What do you put in it?
What is your favorite bean and meat dish?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Figuring Out the True Cost of Meat- Zero Food Waste Challenge

 Ever buy a cut of meat that seems so cheap, and yet... once you take a bite, you realize it's nearly all bone? Have you also heard it said that chicken breast is cheaper to get than any other meat because you're not paying for any bone weight, but wonder if this held true even with the cheapest meats, like necks and wings? Have you ever seen beans being sold by weight for more than chicken costs, and wondered why people say beans are cheaper?
Turkey gizzards... and beef goulash meat.
Continuing along the same lines as my starch experiment and my bean experiment, I've devised a chart to help you calculate just what percentage of the meat you're buying is left after cooking, after deboning, and after skinning

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bi-weekly Grocery Shop

Food experimentation and figuring out the exact amount I'm paying for different types of food has been on my mind a lot lately. Yes, so far I've only shared my basic starch and bean price comparison, but since then I also bought a whole bunch of different types of meats with a gift card that I had to a high end grocery store. Anything I'd buy at that store would be more expensive than I typically pay for groceries, so I decided to use them to buy all that meat, as I didn't want to up the amount I spent on groceries this month. (The meat wasn't eaten now, for the most part. Once cooked and weighed, it all went back into the freezer for use at a later date.)

The amount spent actually was divided up into 3 stores over 2 days (2 last Tuesday and 1 today). Total spent- 65 dollars out of pocket. I ended up spending 5 dollars less than I would have otherwise, because I checked my grocery receipt from last time very carefully and saw that I was charged for orange peppers instead of green peppers- for which there was a 5 dollar price difference! I brought the receipt to the store on Tuesday, explained my case, and even though I had no proof that I didn't really buy those orange peppers, I was firm enough about what I spent and what I didn't that they gave me 5 dollars in store credit.
 It's definitely worth looking over the receipts to check  for errors, even if you only do it when you get home. (Best is to check  it as they're ringing up the groceries, but between loading up the conveyor belt, keeping an eye on the kids so they aren't pulling candies off the aisle displays, and the fact that I don't read the local language quickly enough to notice mistakes immediately, I can't check for mistakes until I get home.)

Not pictured: mustard, tomato paste, more bananas, more tomatoes, more kohlrabi, more oranges, 2 types of beans
So, what did I buy, and why?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

You Are What You Eat- Documentary and Review

Today I had a different post planned to share. But then I saw this documentary with my husband (on the recommendation of Sara from MyFrugalFunLife.com) and felt the need to share it with you.
It's called "Food Matters" and it's about how what we eat affects our health. It was both reassuring and reaffirming, but also convinced me to make a few changes. I'll share them below.

If you have no sitzfleisch to watch a full length documentary now, here's a link to the trailer which will hopefully convince you to make the time to watch the whole thing. (You can do other things while you're watching the documentary; I was crocheting my homemade shoe.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

DIY Fridge and Freezer Repair

The Fridge. Home of our stockpile,
keeper cool of our foods, and
cause of our current trouble.
I put some stuff in the freezer yesterday and saw that it was still unfrozen today. I wondered- could that have anything to do with the really odd noise I heard from the fridge yesterday?

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that quite a few of other things in the freezer had defrosted as well.
To my extreme chagrin, I discovered that the items in the fridge were not either as cold as they should have been. 
"Oh no..." I groaned, sure that our fridge motor had died. I did not want to need to buy a new appliance nor pay to replace busted fridge innards. While we probably had enough money in our emergency savings to fund such a move, I did not want to see all our hard earned and diligently saved money go to replace or even fix a relatively new appliance.
Making the situation even more frustrating was the fact that my freezer was packed to the brim with my stockpile of meats, cooked beans, and home preserved frozen vegetables bought on major sale. To top it all of, it was the weekend, and I had no chance of snagging a repairman soon enough to prevent my stockpile from going to waste and my refrigerated food from spoiling.

I decided to see if I could figure out the problem and fix the fridge all on my own.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Breaded Noodles

Doesn't that just make your mouth water? It tastes even better than it looks!
We're not big bread eaters in my house; nearly every time I make bread, even a small batch with only 3 cups of flour, there's a decent amount of bread left over. When we had chickens, the bread scraps would supplement their feed, but now that we no longer have our hens, I put the leftover bread to use other ways. 
This is a delicious adaptation to a meal I first discovered at a friend's house 5 years ago.

Breaded Noodles

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Foods Worth Tossing- Zero Food Waste Challenge

Welcome to the Zero Food Waste Challenge, week 3! Hopefully we'll have some nice contributions this week, now that many people have looked into ways to use up those gigantic Thanksgiving turkeys.
The Zero Food Waste Challenge is a challenge I've thunk up as a way to encourage creative ways to prevent food from getting trashed, whether that means spoiled leftovers, half eaten food, or foods that you never knew you could eat before.


Foods Worth Throwing Out 

Calculating the True Price of Food: Bean Edition

I absolutely truly love you.
Because otherwise I wouldn't have just spent about 2 straight hours doing this -->
trying to figure out some information to share with you. I don't particularly like feeling stupid, but after some intense head banging, head scratching, phone calls with smart people I know, and emails and chats and Facebook posts, trying to figure out some intense math work (and consequently realizing why I was not built to be a mathematician), I came up with a chart that will help you figure out the true cost of beans, and the part that had me stumped for so long- how to figure out how much you're paying per gram of protein.
I really hope you appreciate this!

There are two charts here.

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