Thursday, November 13, 2008
Frugality (Part III): Waste Not, Want Not
Rich thought I ought to tell you that this way of frugality that I am describing takes way more time to type than to do. I do not spend a whole lot of my time each day or week on this, it is just part of how I think and plan and work. I make my grocery lists and menu plans based on this line of thinking, and put my errands together, near each other, combine trips, things like that. It ends up saving me time in the long run, though it looks really complicated when I write about it. The fact that I have an organized list means I rarely make extra trips to the store, my once a week grocery trip covers everything, and I plan to be at the butcher shop twice a month, though sometimes I only need to go once, or just pick up a little something (like this week) that is quick, things like that. A lot of this is just automatic pilot for me, but I'm trying to put in as much detail as I can, in case it helps someone else.
I mentioned our Fred Meyer credit card last week. Well, since then we received our rewards rebate this week. Our groceries this week at Fred Meyer (including some splurges, like a $50 iTunes card, which isn't technically groceries, but it was part of the bill, and some Henry Weinhardt's root beer) rang up at $140.29, I used a shortcuts coupon for $0.50, a store machine coupon for $0.75, a store ad coupon on cheese (for two blocks) for $2.00 each, a store coupon that came with our rewards for $5.00 off of produce, $0.20 off for using reusable grocery bags (all of which we have gotten for free, and which I should have mentioned before, as many stores give a small discount for using them). After we redeemed our rebates, our total bill was $19.34. I love free grocery week.
I'll be picking up some chicken feed (two week's worth), pork shoulder at the butcher shop for the tamal (I thought we had some already) and I'll be picking up some specialty ingredients at the Mexican market in Tacoma (El Compadre on 41st and McKinley if anyone wants to get great deals on nixtamal, banana leaf, meat and fish, REAL Coca Cola, made with sugar, in glass bottles, fresh lard, dried chiles, vegetables, etc), we've already paid for the milk for the month, but will pick up this week's when we do our errands. This should bring our weekly expenditure to roughly $60, including the chicken feed for two weeks. That is just over the cost of the iTunes card! I will be getting gas tomorrow, and I will tell you all how much our $0.15 a gallon discount made the price.
So, on to this week's topic: Kitchen management. Make sure you have a use for the food in your fridge and pantry. Try to use the same thing for multiple uses. Have a purpose for the leftovers or scraps. We even reuse the few plastic and paper bags we do get at stores for garbage sacks. Plastic containers get washed and used to send people home with leftovers or to freeze things. We use scratch paper and have a burn pile. Just about everything has a use here, even outside of the kitchen.
When I shop, I focus on staples and things that can be stored in our freezer or pantry. The things I need that are outside of that, I plan based on what is in season and on sale as well as what will work with the things we already have at home. So, when I sit down to plan our meals for the week, I try to keep in mind the meats, grains, frozen and canned items we already have, and check the sale flyers (which can be found online for almost every store) for specials and loss leaders. I stick to my list pretty well, with a few exceptions of checking the mark downs in the organics, cleaning supplies, dairy, deli and day old breads or pastries which take me a long time to make, or are fussy and fiddly so I don't do them often. I don't count on those extras, and I still generally make most of those things in the packages because it is usually so much more expensive when they aren't marked down, and because I prefer knowing what ingredients went into things. This means that when I shop, the foods are things that are either going to be used immediately, or are things that we use regularly and need to have on hand, or will be used in the future for something I have planned, but will be storing for the present because I was able to get such a good price on it. The things we buy which don't necessarily have a plan are things like fruit, which we can eat as we like, when we like and with other meals.
Something that seems really obvious, and I don't mean to be condescending, is that it isn't a good deal if you never eat it. It isn't a good deal, even if it's 50% off, if it is something you don't need, wouldn't have spent the money on otherwise, or won't use. I almost bought a higher end product last week because it was in the mark downs for 50% off, and we would have used it, but I had already knocked off my list the lower end version for being too expensive and it really worked out to be about a third the price of the mark down. I was just so excited to see this product marked down, that I almost grabbed it. To me, it is not worth three times the price of the basic kind, even when that is a better deal than its original price. As we often say in this house, better is not good. And sometimes even when something is a good price for that product it is still not a price I want to pay. This is part of my lack of coupons deal. Most of the coupons are on things I wouldn't buy anyway, so even if I save a dollar on it, it's still an addition to my budget.
Basically, if you want to make sure you have a use for the things you buy, plan, plan, plan. I don't mean spend hours, I mean make a list, plan your meals (loosely, you don't have to be rigid and never change things when something comes up or you're tired or sick or an amazing deal or wonderful opportunity arises). Know what is in your house already, so you aren't buying things over and over when you don't need to do so. I haven't done an inventory of our freezers and pantry recently. I need to do that, I try to keep a list of what's in there on the doors, so I can erase it when I take it out or add it when I put something in. Know what a decent price for whatever it is that you use all the time is. We have a "gotta buy it" price for certain things. If the price hits a certain level or below, we pick up as much as we can use or afford and store.
As for having multiple uses for something, and making use of leftovers and scraps, there are many ways to approach this. I know some people who make a large roast on Sunday, use the leftovers in various ways through the week and make stock with the bones, fat and scraps. We don't often have leftovers from roasts. Even when I make large ones, we can usually only get one or two meals from that, but I do make stock. In fact, I'm ready for stock all the time. It is great to cook grains in, to add to sauces or to make soup quickly. Stock is your friend.
When I make apple sauce or fruit butters, I use the peels and scraps, or cook the fruit in such a way, that I get juice for jelly from the same batch of fruit. Most of you probably do not do your own preserving, but if you do, this is a great way to get two products from one food. I try to remember to zest lemons that I am juicing to freeze the zest, even if I don't have an immediate need for it. If you think in advance and want them and don't have chickens who love them, you can use watermelon rinds to make pickles.
At the simplest level, I do things like freezing dead coffee from the pot in ice cube trays to have coffee cubes (which I then store in freezer bags) to use in iced coffee and chocolate milk. I use the extra oatmeal from breakfast to add to breads or pancakes. I save the fat from bacon to use to fry potatoes or eggs. We just pour it off into a jar and store it in the fridge. As far as I can tell, it will last until Armageddon in the fridge. That last little bit of mustard stuck to the walls of the jar? I pour in some vinegar or lemon juice, a little crushed garlic, thyme, oil, salt and pepper, maybe a touch of honey occasionally and shake it all up for salad dressing. That's how mustard vinaigrettes were invented, a housewife needed to use up everything she had.
When we make a ham or a roast, I do usually make a hash out of it, or scalloped potatoes with the meat diced in it. Shepherd's pie, Cottage pie, pot pies, all of those can be made from meat from leftover roasts. That's how they were originally made anyway. Ham salad for sandwiches, turkey or chicken salad, these are great ways to use leftovers. Roast chicken doesn't last a long time here, I roast two, and we usually have enough left for one chicken salad lunch. I do use the bones and scraps to make stock, and that is so useful to us. Rich makes these great sandwiches with leftover lamb by frying some onions and slicing the lamb thinly and simmering with the onions in any pan juice or reduction we've made then putting it all on toasted bread with feta or chevre with some tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers whatever veggies we have around. Recipes for turkey enchiladas, chicken a la king and whatnot abound. If you don't feel up to that, you can just make sure to eat those leftovers for lunch, or freeze them if you won't eat them soon enough and have a meal ready for a night you aren't up to making dinner.
Things like french toast and bread pudding and croutons were all invented to use stale, old bread. Do that. It's inexpensive, tasty and you don't end up with mold experiments in your house. My people make a bread salad with the leftover khoubz Araby, the Italians do so with their bread. The French make bread soup. You can soak it in milk and add it to meatballs or meatloaf. Make it into breadcrumbs to top your macaroni and cheese or gratins, dice it up and fry it with your potatoes and/or eggs for breakfast. There is no excuse for bread going bad. If you aren't going to eat it and don't have the time or inclination for any of these things, wrap it well and put it in the freezer. Bread keeps very well in the freezer. It goes stale faster in the fridge.
We have chickens and a vegetable garden, so pretty much nothing goes to waste here. What we cannot eat goes to a bag I keep in my freezer for making stock (leek tops, onion skins, carrot ends, celery trimmings, parsley stems, etc). I've heard that the rinds off of parmesan (and, presumably romano) make a great addition to soups (simmered with the stock), but Rich takes those and puts them in the microwave for 30 seconds and eats the bubbly, crisp mess on toast, so we have yet to try that out. I cannot say enough about the stock bag. Save up all those bones and veggies and simmer them for a while (or dump in your crock pot on low overnight), strain and freeze in cubes, in freezer bags or those yogurt/sour cream containers with the contents and date marked. The things that cannot go to the stock pot (too strongly flavored, too small to be useful there - like carrot scrapings, not the right flavors), we give to the chickens. They turn our garbage into eggs. There are some things we don't or can't give to the chickens. We don't give things like onions and garlic to them, because it can flavor the eggs and we don't want onion flavored lemon cake or chocolate pudding and they don't mark which eggs are flavored with those things, because they aren't as efficient as we are. We cannot give them avocado or chocolate or raw potato. It would kill them. I don't know if banana peels are bad for them, but I cannot imagine them eating them, unlike the melon rinds and squash that they eat right to the skin and leave paper thin. The things that can't go to the stock bag or to the chickens go to our compost. Which we use to grow more veggies and herbs. It's a great system.
Even without the chickens (or other farm animals), you can use scraps and trimmings for stock and compost (and dry egg shells can go in compost as well). If you live in a place where you have no room for compost at all and no garden, then you've at least reduced your trash by a little if you keep a stock bag going in the freezer, and that means less money spent on canned and boxed broths.
I'll write more about using stock and soup later, as well as buying in bulk, which I thought I should touch on a little outside of the general grocery shopping post. Stay tuned!
Make it at Home