Monday, February 28, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen

I've been thinking lately; if I had some money given to me to furnish my own frugal kitchen top to bottom, what would I include? There definitely are a lot of important, money saving tools that I think every frugal kitchen should contain, and then there are other kitchen tools that I feel are rather superfluous for me, but do help others save.
What are my recommendations for your frugal kitchen?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Myrtle Berry and Rosehip Candies

Not so long ago, I was walking down one of the streets in the neighborhood and I saw a bush with what looked like blueberries. On closer look, though, I realized that while they were very similarly shaped to blueberries and had leaves that looked rather alike as well, there was something off about them. I split one in half and saw that the seeds looked different than what I remembered about blueberries'.
"Excuse me," I stopped a man who was passing by. "Are you familiar at all with plants?"
"No, I know absolutely nothing about them", he tells me.
Being as he was a native to the area, and I'm but an American plopped into this foreign land, I press on. "Please sir, can you just tell me. Do you know if this plant is related at all to blueberries?"
"No," he laughs, "that's not blueberries! Those are myrtle berries. Anyone knows that."
Anyone but myself, that is. Oh well. One of the downfalls of being a foreigner. Even the nature ignoramuses often know more about the local flora and fauna than I do.
But I have a tool at my disposal. The great and powerful internet, and the knowledge that much of the plant life we see and take for granted is really edible.
Enter wise old google, and I learned that these myrtle berries are, in fact, edible. They tasted kinda funny though, so I picked some and tried to see how they'd taste boiled into a sugar syrup. I tried that, and it was yummy, but they had a slight chalkiness to them in addition to the earthy woody sweet flavor. Paired with something acidic, all the chalkiness went away.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Frugality with Food Restrictions

Image credit
I was contacted by a reader looking for advice on how to lower her family's food bill. She tries to be frugal, but has a difficult time with it as she has many food sensitivities and allergies in her family. While I, fortunately, don't have to deal with allergies, my family does have some food restrictions, which makes it more difficult for me to be as frugal as possible.
When dealing with food restrictions, the one most important thing is to come to terms with the fact that you may not be able to be as frugal with your food as some other people. In fact, your food bill may be much higher than you'd like it to be; to compensate for that, you might need to do some more extreme frugal things in non food related areas, like getting rid of the second car (or going without one at all, as we do), cloth diapering, or homeschooling kids  instead of sending them to private school (if public school isn't an option where you live).
But I always do recommend trying to keep your food bill as low as possible (because it is the most flexible of our expenses) even once you do other things to be frugal. Here's some suggestions how to be frugal, even with a family with allergies.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Advice Wanted- Ike at Night and Sleep Deprivation

As you all know, my days are rather busy. Today, for example, I took my kids to a friends house and we made homemade pasta and hung out for a few hours, then came home and took my sons and their friend on a foraging walk, then made supper (nettle chicken balls, tomato sauce, and the pasta from earlier), ran an errand without the kids, and came home. I don't have much free time during the day to do my writing.
I write at night. Night is the time where the kids are (supposed to be) asleep, it's quiet, and I have few distractions keeping me from writing what I need to write.

Ok, one huge distraction.
The little tyke, Ike.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cheap Interior Design Tips

I don't do much interior designing in my home; space and money are at a premium; we just take whatever we can find in the trash if there's room for it in our house and use it, regardless of what it looks like. But as I know many of you readers are on a somewhat looser budget and have an eye for nice things, I thought you'd appreciate this guest post from Matthew Read who blogs at his interior design blog

Cheap Interior Design Tips

Decorating your home can be stressful, time consuming and very costly! Most homeowners wish they could change something in their home or make it look a bit fresher, but the potential cost can sometimes be too much of a deterrent.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Foraging For Pine Nuts- Revisited

After reading my post last week about foraging for pine nuts, I'm sure many of you were turned off from ever foraging for pine nuts. I mean, it was crazy hard work with very few results. I had given up on harvesting pine nuts. That is, until Butter Powered Bike commented about how she foraged for pine nuts, and it all seemed rather doable. Because I didn't know what I was doing last time, I decided to revisit the topic of pine nuts, and give it a fair shot, once and for all. 
Where I live, pine nuts are prohibitively expensive, and I've heard thus is the case worldwide. They cost 10 times the price of chicken breast, twice as expensive as T-bone steaks, and 33 times the price of chicken wings. 
Foraging for pine nuts, in retrospect, is actually rather doable, presuming you've got enough patience, zitsfleish, and fine motor coordination... and you really want them badly enough.

Here's how to harvest pine nuts, without going crazy and nearly burning down the kitchen in the process.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chemical Free Frugal Hair Washing

Severus Snape, not as greasy
as described in the book
They used to call me greaseball. When I was a kid, I had long, straight, thin, stringy hair which accumulated grease like mad. Sort of like Severus Snape, only a female version. Once, I was even got in trouble in school because the teacher thought I didn't shower often enough. My hair looked greasy no matter what I did. I would wash my hair daily and it would still look terrible. I didn't know what to do!

Aside for once, roughly a month and a half  ago, I haven't used shampoo in approximately 4 months. My hair looks terrific. Full bodied, thick... and shall I say- non greasy!
Why no shampoo and how does that work?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Birthday Celebrations- Frugally?

Photo credit
On Friday, my husband Mike celebrated his twenty fifth birthday, and I celebrated my twenty third. Yes, my husband and I share a birthday. It makes things easier in the frugal sense- one less celebration to figure out how to celebrate frugally.
You might have wondered- how does the most frugal couple in the world (OK, slight exaggeration, but I sometimes feel that way) celebrate birthdays?

To be honest, not as frugally as you might expect.
Then again, compared to some, you might call our celebrations ultra-frugal.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Frugal Educational Homeschooling Material

I get some strange looks when I'm out during the day and I have my 3.5 year old, Lee, with me.
Where I live, the culture is very "into" the idea of organization and structure for kids and "freedom" for mom. Consequently, many parents, even sometimes stay at home moms, will send their 3 month old baby off to daycare from 7 am till 4 pm every single day for "socialization" and because "the structure that daycare provides is good for the kid". Some refrain from sending off their kids that young, but by the time they're 1.5 or two, nearly all kids in the area are in daycare at least half a day. The rare parent who keeps her 2 year old home will nearly all the time send her kid to preschool from age 3. So the fact that my 3.5 year old boy is home with me makes people look at me askance. They usually clarify and say "Oh, you're keeping him home for another year and are sending him to preschool next year?" 
"No," I answer; I have no such plans. "I plan on teaching him at home."
Once we get into the whole "whys of homeschooling" and let them know that I think it's in my sons' best interest to educate them at home, they usually have a whole new slew of questions, the third most pressing being "Won't teaching your kid be expensive?" (The first and second most pressing questions being "What about socialization?" and "How will your kid learn to handle challenges in life if he isn't in a rough environment like school." But I digress.")

I know some parents spend thousands on educating their children at home. In most cases, I doubt this is necessary. Though nearly all the schools where I live are government funded, there are still extra fees that get tacked on, and I would bet that I can spend less money on educating my children than I would be paying in schooling fees.
(I know what I'm going to say next will sound silly if you compare my son to other kids his age, but lets pretend my Lee is 5, going on 6, as he is learning on a kindergarten level, not preschool level.) I've currently spent less than 30 dollars out of pocket for an entire year's worth of homeschooling expenses. I've got plans as to how to keep schooling costs that low (or possibly up to $100  per year but no more than that), including all the materials we'll need to teach my sons all the subjects they learn, quite possibly through the end of high school.

What have I bought so far this year, how will I keep the costs so low in the coming years, and what are the best ways to get educational materials at little to no cost? (These tips can also be used if you are educating your children in the school system but feel the need to supplement what they're learning at home.)

Educational Material, Cheaply

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happiness, Perspective, and the Choices We Make

Recently, some friends and readers have requested that I include some new, exciting, and fresh material for my blog. I mean, I thought I was doing that. I was sharing some new information that I found interesting and helped cut expenses... but after doing some soul searching and blog reading of some very thought provoking articles, I think I realized what's been missing from my blog.
Its not easy being a blogger. You write every day, or nearly every day, and you have hundreds of people reading what you write, analyzing, critiquing, judging. I am totally upfront with the whole wide world about the state of my family's pocketbook, thrown any shame I might have had out the window, and decided to accept my situation and make the best of it, which is what this blog is about.

Lately, I've shied away from writing deeply personal posts as I once did. To a large chunk of my readers, I'm anonymous. I'm a 23 year old woman with the pseudonym Penny who lives somewhere out there in the world, but you haven't a clue. Yes, you see a picture of me over there on the sidebar, and while it wasn't photoshopped, I happened to have looked incredibly great that day, and even if you passed me on the street, you probably wouldn't recognize me at all. I'd just be another anonymous face in the sea of humanity.
But that's just part of you.
A smaller chunk of my readers, but still a substantial sum, are people that I know in person. Friends in my community and in past communities. High school friends. Neighbors. Past work mates. My parents. My siblings. My in laws. Those girls who used to torture me when I was growing up because I was different, but now come to my blog to hear what I have to say because they matured and came to realize that yes, I may have something beneficial to share.
So it makes it hard to bare my soul to the internet world, because it's not just my anonymous internet friends  reading this, its many of the people I care about in real life.
Then there's also the fact that, because many of my readers know me in real life, I have to be very careful that what I write doesn't end up hurting anyone that I know, and that I don't write anything negative about specific people in my life. It's hard.
But... Soul. You asked for it. You're gonna get it. I hope I don't regret it.

When you meet me, the first thing you'll probably notice about me is my smile. My spunkiness. My chipperness. My contentment with my life.
What people don't know is that that is a recent development.
If you'd known me from the age of 6, lets say, until the age of 18, you would have known a very different Penny. A Penny that had a hard time getting up in the morning to face reality. A Penny that was constantly searching for love, acceptance, and approval, but rarely got it. A Penny that hated being depressed, but didn't know how to do anything  about it. A Penny who wished she could smile and truly feel it, but the closest she got was some lame half-@ssed smile that everyone could see was a fake.
There was lots of "stuff" going on in my life, and my attitude, mood, and personality reflected it.

I'm not longer that Penny. The Penny today is content with her life, is no longer searching for acceptance, approval, or love (but fortunately, found them all anyhow). A Penny who gets up each morning happily (though days like today where my kids let me sleep in till nearly 10 am are greatly appreciated) and can't wait to see what the day has in store.

I like the new Penny.
Didn't much care for the old one.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some Grocery Shopping Questions

Someone recently asked me for some advice on how to cut her spending. As usual, my first suggestion was to try to cut her grocery bill. Why do I suggest cutting grocery bills as the first way to cut expenses? Because its the most flexible, most of the time. You can't pick up and move apartments in a split second, change insurance policies, or change childcare fees. Most of the large expenses are non negotiable, or at least hard to adjust, but grocery bills can be played around with on a week to week (or month to month) basis. One shop try something different, and if that doesn't work, next month you can do something else.

Along that vein, if you want to cut your grocery bills, here's some questions you may want to ask yourself.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What We Ate- Week 2 of the No Shopping Challenge

Ok, so 2 weeks ago, when I tried putting away my groceries from my shopping trip and saw that I had no room to fit anything anymore into my pantry, fridge, and freezer, I decided to challenge myself and see how long I could go without going grocery shopping. I usually only go shopping once a month anyhow- the challenge is to see if I can go 2 months or longer.
The rules- no shopping more than once a week, no buying more than 2 or 3 items per shop, and I can buy as much flour, sugar, onions, eggs, and oil as I need.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Harvesting Pine Nuts- Foraged Food

Alternatively titled "I now know why these things are so friggin expensive". Or "Don't try this at home if you want to keep your sanity."

Ok, so the first alternative title is accurate, but the second is slightly a stretch of the truth. It won't exactly make you crazy if you do this, but yes, you'd have to be nuts to repeatedly forage for pine nuts.

I've been procrastinating posting this piece because uhh... you'll see why in a bit. But at the request of some of the readers, I thought I'd share with you the methodology of foraging pine nuts, adding in my less than amusing experiences (ok, they're funny, but not when they happen to you), and little tips you can do to make it easier for you, should you be stubborn enough to try this for yourself.

First, find a bunch of pine trees with easily accessible branches. Make sure that the branches have both opened and unopened pine cones. (If there are no open pine cones, it likely means that the pine cones on the tree aren't yet fully ripe.) You want the closed pine cones- the open ones have already lost their nuts, and in most likelihoods, the animals have already eaten them up.
Carefully twist the closed pine cones until they come off the tree, making sure not to get sticky sap on your hands (it's worse than super glue!), and put the pine cones all into a bag. Once your bag is full, take the lot home with you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Deliciously Moist Chicken

I just made this chicken today and it looks and smells heavenly. We're having a guest tonight for supper, and I couldn't help but sneaking a taste, and it was as delicious as it looked. I love whole chickens because they are fancier looking, and are much cheaper per pound than cut up chickens (especially where I live, because they go on sale for as little as 75 cents a pound, but usually closer to $1.25 a pound. (In comparison,on sale, chicken breast  is $2.45 a pound and chicken thighs are $2.29.)
The one pitfall of cooking whole chickens is that the chicken breast dries out many times because they don't need to be cooked as long as the rest of it. That problem was solved with this recipe, and mmmmm, I wish you were here so I could give you a sample to taste.

Sweet and Sour Veggie Stuffed Chicken

Little Luxuries

There are eyes upon me when I go to the grocery store. There are eyes upon me whatever I do, watching how I spend my money, wondering, questioning, perhaps even judging. No, I'm not kidding. Just today, I bumped into a friend outside the grocery shop. She wanted to know why I was there- "I thought you weren't going grocery shopping for the next month or two?"

I put myself out there as someone extremely frugal. People all over the internet and all over my community know that. It doesn't bother me too terribly that they're watching my every move, but when I do something that seems non thrifty, I've gotten some bemused "scoldings" from friends of mine who said "We saw what you bought the other day" with a little finger wagging.
Today, for example, I wonder what my friend thought when she saw me walking home from the local Mom and Pop's with a package of disposable diapers hooked on to my stroller, two bottles of Coca Cola  in my shopping bag, and my sons and I sharing a store bought treat. Was she thinking I'm a hypocrite? That I talk about the pitfalls of shopping a corner store, extol the virtues of cloth diapering, and claim to make everything healthy and from scratch, and yet she sees me not following my own dictum?
While I know intellectually that I don't need to justify myself to anyone, and that I'm accountable only to myself, my spouse and my bank account, I just got inspired by today's event to post about little luxuries with which I allow myself to indulge, and why. Maybe next time you see someone frugal who may at first appear to not be practicing what she preaches, you'll note which small luxuries you also include in your life, and why.

Little Luxuries

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is All Food Waste Bad? What's wrong with food waste?

I have many ideas how to prevent food waste, from using vegetable scraps and bones to make broth, to cooking watermelon rind and using up citrus rinds to make candy and jams. I even use spoiled milk to make pancakes and banana peels to make chutney.
From the impression I give off here, you'd probably assume that I never, ever, ever toss out anything that is even remotely edible. This isn't quite true. I have all these ideas about how to potentially use up every last drop of foods including scraps, but I don't always bother. Banana peels and carrot peels and watermelon rinds will go into the trash here on a semi regular basis, as will food that tastes gross or sat out for too long. Yes, I do use these things here and there, but I can't say that I do it the majority of the time. (The reason it may appear otherwise on this blog  is that I try to share ideas and my aspirations, even if I don't always live up to the goals I set for myself 100% of the time.)

A few days ago, my friend stopped by while I was in the middle of experimenting with a new way of preparing cactus paddles (nopalitos). I didn't care for this results, and instead of trying to salvage the bits remaining among the charred cactus paddle (note to self- burning the outer skin doesn't soften the fibers, better to just peel them and fry as usual), I tossed out the whole thing.
This astute friend made a comment that led me to introspect for some time. Her statement? "I bet that if you paid for that cactus paddle, you wouldn't have thrown it out quite so quickly."
She was right.
I do have much less of a problem tossing foraged foods than purchased foods.

My Moral Dilemma

Monday, February 7, 2011

Menu Plan Monday- In Retrospect

My first week of my "no shop as long as I'll be able to manage it, with the goal of 2+ months" challenge has gone by quickly, and by request, I'm sharing what we ate, or, the menu- in retrospect.
This past week, I supplemented the food in our house by foraging mallow, wild mustard, wild fennel, nettles, lemons, and lavender in addition to getting some bruised tomatoes from the top of a grocery store dumpster. (Don't worry, I washed it well, cut out any icky parts, and cooked it to death. No grossness left.) In addition, I also picked up a container of peanut butter when I was in town yesterday and the price of peanut butter was a third of what it costs at our local store.)

So, what exactly did we eat?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reaction to Extreme Frugality

Neiko Fit Anywhere Digital Electronic Safe Box for Home, Office, Boat/RV - 550 Cubic Inches - Gray ColorMy blog is all about extreme frugality, which is, as its name implies, very extreme. I know that I do things that other people would consider wacky, odd, absurd, preposterous, nasty, crazy, disgusting, pathetic, gross, and even unnecessary, but hey, I do what I've got to do because of my bank situation, and you have to find out what works for you.

What I want to know is this-
What is your reaction when you read about different extreme things I do?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No Shopping Challenge

Part of my dry goods stockpile.

Ok. I think I have an issue with food shopping. No, not a terrible issue, but more like- I always am building up my stockpile when I see things on sale, because I'm afraid that I won't be able to find things for as good of a price when I need them. Stockpiling is good, but only when it supplements what you have, and not that you just keep adding and adding and adding to it and never using it up.

More dry goods stockpile, plus tahini
I think my stockpile has officially reached full capacity.

I have way too much food in my house.

Yesterday, after grocery shopping, I was trying to fit the food in my cupboards. There wasn't any more room.
I tried to put things in my freezer, but it was too full.

I tried to put things into the refrigerator, but it was too full.
My fridge, as of yesterday/

I had to do some serious rearranging to fit all the perishables into my freezer and fridge, and even so, there's no room for anything else in there.

Non perishables? Forget about it! I've got them coming out of the wazoo, being stored in 4 cabinets and 4 piles of things.

When I went shopping, I had the intention to buy enough food for 4 weeks. I think I have enough food for twice or three times that! I've got a lot of expenses coming up in April and we'll be bringing in less money in May. My goal is to go without really shopping until April. Can I do it? I think I just might be able to do that!

What do I have to work with?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shopping Trip- February 1st, 2011

The last grocery trip I posted about was made on December 28th, exactly 5 weeks ago today. On that shopping trip, I spent more money than I would have liked to spend- 192 dollars! Because of the large monetary outlay I made, I was determined to make that food last as long as possible. I had no plans on going shopping for at least another 4 weeks.
And then of course, a few days later, I found out that I'd be cooking 2 formal meals for a group of 16. Yikes! I could stretch the food I bought to feed our family for weeks, but I couldn't stretch it if I also used that food to serve another 16 people for two meals! Because of that, I went to the local mom and pops, spent 20 bucks, and bought food for the group. (All the food I made was used up with no leftovers, so it didn't really change the menu plan.) So total spent was 214 dollars between December 28th and today, 5 weeks later. That averages out to 42 dollars on food each week. I did need to make a run last week for a package of sugar and a package of flour and a few onions, but other than that, we've been using solely what I bought that December day.

Today I went shopping, but I have to admit, I'm pretty bummed out about the trip. I used to like my local grocery store because of their super low prices, but the prices aren't nearly so low anymore. Today, I didn't get anything different than I would usually get, but the shop that I expected would  cost me 80 dollars ended up costing me 153 dollars. I'm just a little upset (understatement). All the staples that I'd run out of at home that I used to be able to get cheaply at the store are now much more expensive.
Peanut butter, for example, now costs $7.80 a pound when it used to cost $2.70!
Sunflower oil, which is basically the oil I use for my every day food preparation, went from $1.94 per liter to $3.60 per liter.
White sugar which used to cost $0.38 per pound now costs $0.50 a pound. (I know, this doesn't seem so significant, but when your spouse only makes 6.5 dollars an hour at his job, and you need to buy 20 pounds of sugar, even a 12 cents per pound difference is significant enough.)
White flour used to cost $0.36 per pound and now costs $.044 per pound.
White flour pasta used to cost $0.49 per pound and now costs $0.78 per pound.
The prices of everything are just going up and up and up.
And oh- did I mention- our salary doesn't go up?

Anyhow, so I spent 153 dollars today. I got a lot of food, but I'm still bummed out I spent so much. I have a way to make myself feel better though, a challenge I've decided to take, but I'll share more about that tomorrow. In the meantime, my shop.

Before I share the pic of my groceries, I first wanted to share a picture of what I foraged and/or got free today on the way to the grocery store. I only spent 153 dollars and got this in addition to my groceries.