Friday, April 25, 2008

What's more frugal than free?

A part of being frugal is finding other ways of getting the things we need and want. Bartering, gleaning and dumpster diving are a few ways to go about obtaining items. Another way and one that you appreciate if you do much on your computer, is getting freebies.

Some freebies, like food and personal care items, are listed on many free sites. You just have to go looking. However, free software is ignored by many, maybe because "free" sounds like it could be dangerous or poor quality (else why would they be giving it away?). I confess to having had the same thoughts, and it's smart to question. The internet is full of immature criminals who want to get into your computer any way they can, or who enjoy hurting other people's computers.

There are some software programs that are free and good, too. A couple come to mind immediately. One is the CoffeeCup Free FTP and assorted Coffee Cup applications.

The other is Open Office - a full suite of office programs that will open and write most Windows Office files.

There's no need to spend hundreds of dollars on software when free versions will do.

Of Supply and Rice

When Costco and Sam's Club "rationed" rice, there came upon some of us a vague sense of panic. Food was being rationed! We were going to have to do without! Buy it now, while you can, there isn't any more!

No, no, and no again. How many 20 pound bags of rice do you need? We've been told that the reason rice sales have been limited is that restaurants were buying against future prices, as the rice crop has failed in parts of the world. That make sense. If I were a restaurant owner, I'd be doing the same thing. But I'm not a restaurant owner, and neither are most of you. So what's the problem?

The problem is that if we all begin to hoard food - buying more than we need at regular prices - we're causing a problem. What might have been a normal week in rice sales went whacko because some large buyers increased their purchases, thus leaving the remaining suppplies low. We, collectively, can cause the same thing.

Hoarding is not nice. It leaves your neighbors and your friends without or paying even higher prices.

So how does this fit with the stocking up I'm always preaching? This way: When we stock up, we buy sales items - food at a lower price than usual, not food at the normal price. Food that's on sale is abundant, otherwise it wouldn't be on sale. It might not be abundant in the future; we can't know that and that's not the point. The only reason to stock up is to take advantage of sales and below normal prices.

In other words, let this be a lesson. Don't hoard. It only hurts us all in the long run.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day and busy times

Yikes, it's been a whole week since I've posted! It's been busy around here, with spring yard work and gardening. Last weekend, we put up a lattice on the south of the patio to help shade it. I have to decide what vine or plants to put there now.

Tomorrow's Earth Day and I've been thinking of how much being frugal saves the earth. Not buying junk and gadgets all the time, recycling to save money, reusing, remaking... all those things are frugal and also green. I hope all the earthlings appreciate what we do.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Current Economy and Associated Content

Well, prices are still on the rise. What news, huh? Not only grocery and energy prices, but it seems like everything has gone up. As someone who's always been conscious of every penny spent (almost!), the current economy is of peculiar concern.

How do we continue to live comfortably and deal with rising prices, investment disappointments and stuck incomes? I have several articles on Associated Content that could help:

Designing a Budget that Works

How to Save on Food

Save Electricity at Home

Wanna Trade? Barter Yourself to Financial Freedom

Energy Alternatives

There's more here: Pat Veretto's Content

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Going green

The buzz word these days is "green," in case you didn't know. "Green" used to be the color of money or spring or leprechauns, but not any more. I'm just discovering that frugal is green. We've been doing it for years, but we thought we were just saving our money.

Not so any more. Yes, you can be frugal and green, but you can be green and be anything but frugal.

I picked up a new magazine that promised to show us how to live "more lightly on the land." In it was a couple of pages of recycled goods made from a variety of throw away things like newspaper and plastic.

There was some nice stuff and some things that I thought I would like to have... but the price! Yikes. Maybe I'm just too frugal, but I wasn't enticed any further.

Now there's nothing wrong with a rug made from recycled soft drink bottles, but what's wrong with wool? The last time I saw a sheep, I really thought that wool was a renewable product and I'm pretty sure it's cheaper than the rugs I saw made with recycled plastic!

Small baskets made of recycled newspaper for fifty bucks? I don't think so.

I have no problem paying for quality products, but just because they're made of something recycled doesn't make them quality.

This is just my rant, but doesn't recycling itself take resources? And why not go for raw, renewable materials (wool, wood, cotton) and not have to replace the product every year or so? That seems "green" to me and it puts money in the pockets of tradesmen and crafters, not in some faceless corporation's green machine.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bread: Frugal staff of life

Some people are bread people; some aren't, just like some people love chickens or horses or fast cars and others are just not impressed.

I'm a bread person. I love to experiment with bread, and with the prices still going up (will it ever stop??), baking your own bread can be a money saver.

I said can be, but it isn't necessarily so if you use a bread machine, a bread machine mix or buy expensive flour and yeast. I have never used "bread flour," and I've never bought expensive specialty flour, either. I mill my own flour and my bread is always well received - and even asked for.

I use this basic recipe most of the time:

1 tablespoon (or one package) yeast
1 tablespoon sugar, or brown sugar, or maple syrup, honey, etc.
1 teaspoon salt or sea salt or flavored salt such as garlic or onion
2 scant tablespoons of fat: butter, shortening, lard, vegetable oil, olive oil, etc.
1 cup of liquid: milk, water, half water and half milk, potato water or even part cream.
Flour as needed, usually 3 - 4 cups per loaf, with extra for kneading.

Put the salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and mix together.

Warm the liquid with the fat in it until it's slightly warmer than is comfortable to put your finger deep into it.

Add to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Let it set 5 or 10 minutes for the yeast to start working.

Add flour, a cup at a time at first, then less until you have a fairly stiff dough. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead for 3 to 5 minutes, until it's smooth and not sticky, adding flour as necessary.

Let it rise once or twice, then form it into loaves and put it in loaf pans. Let it rise once more, then bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down and finish baking at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes more.

If you mill your own wheat, it makes a heavy whole wheat loaf. Bread is supposed to be heavy. Real bread is the staff of life, not a piece of fluff that you surround your meat and cheese with. Bread was originally (and can still be!) the major part of a meal.

Bread should be nutritionally important, not just white fluff. Leave the fluffy air for cake and other nonessentials and you'll fill your tummy for less - and be happy doing it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Beat the high cost of food

These soaring grocery prices are enough to make any frugalite nervous and finding every way we can to cut costs there is important - BUT... just buying food at the lowest cost is only half the battle. No matter how much you coupon, shop the sales, grow your own, barter, etc., if you waste the food once you have it in your kitchen, you've lost the war.

There are so many ways we waste food without even thinking about it. I challenge you. Next time you prepare a meal, think of what you would do if the food you were preparing was the only food you would have for the next three days. Don't go adding more food... just use what you would normally for a meal. Could you find ways to stretch it or to use more of it?

How about chopping up those celery leaves into the salad or soup? Cooking beet and radish greens? Scrubbing potatoes before you peel them so you can use the skins in another dish?

Or how about those leftovers? They can make another appearance in an entirely different costume. Example: Leftover turkey from the freezer (Thanksgiving!), plus a cup or so of vegetables leftover from Easter and a few tablespoons of Ham gravy that I made from the pan drippings from the Easter ham (didn't have it for Easter dinner), and I made a turkey pot pie. Good, too, I must say. All leftovers except for the flour and salt. The fat was saved and rendered from the said ham.

Don't throw out perfectly good food because you've never saved it before. Get creative and use everything you have and your grocery costs will go down. Guaranteed.