Living Frugally. Living Fabulously.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Being frugal

Being Frugal Today May Not Be A Choice.

From the day we are born we are fed the idea that we must spend money to be happy, buy to be content. But, is that really true? Are we happier spending money we may not have? Are we more content when we have maxed out our credit cards or depleted our bank accounts?

Our current economic times, with the weight of consumer debt, skyrocketing foreclosures and job layoffs say we’re not. Many have come to realize that spending money wildly, without taking the time to consider each purchase has brought us to where we are today. But, what do we or can we do about it? It is so ingrained in us that we must have what the neighbors have, wear what the celebrities wear and buy what the television ads tell us to buy. How do we change?

Simply put – we change – slowly, deliberately, consciously, and over time. We change the way we think about money and spending and having; money we may not have; spending where we don’t need to; and having what we think we need, but really only want. Change can be scary and the steps daunting, but they can also bring us a great deal of freedom and contentment. Not to mention money.

There are hundreds of books and articles on frugal living out there. Plus loads of information about how to reduce your life and cut out the things you like to do. These books and articles tell you how to creatively do without.

But I’m not going to tell you that. In the next few articles, I’m going to detail the same plan that has worked for me—and for friends who’ve asked me to reveal how I live with abundance, even though I’m a single Mom on a limited income. These are my tricks to living what I think is a great life full of interesting activities, culture, art, music, hobbies, and good food. So, check back often to find out how I’ve been able to eat well, entertain, enjoy concerts and plays and art exhibits without breaking the bank. I think you’ll find some helpful hints and few surprises too.

First off – to live frugally you must develop the right mindset. Not feeling that you’re depriving yourself or your family goes a long way to making a frugal life work. It’s a mindset that does leave room for feeling envious over what the neighbors have that you don’t have…nor for crying poor over every little thing.

As I write this article I’m enjoying the view from my front window. The neighbor across the street has just bought a new SUV, fully loaded, and shiny. I have no pangs of jealousy, no thoughts that if I just worked a little harder or a few hours longer I too could have a brand new truck. What I actually feel is an almost sadistic kind of glee. Why? Because my car is paid for – fully. I almost feel sorry for the poor guy with years of endless car payments ahead of him. But, I am happy for me.

Food for Life

Food is the single costliest category in any household budget, besides the mortgage. It is also the one we can’t do without. But – it is also the one where we can make great strides not only in cutting costs, but improving the way we feed our families as well. I tell my friends, “I only eat steak because I can’t afford hamburger,” and for the most part that is true. Yes – I raise my own chickens and lamb for our freezer, but I don’t raise hogs or beef or veal or turkeys. Those I have to buy. When I do shop, I always stop by the “Reduced for Quick Sale” section of the meat department. This is where the butcher discounts meat that is nearing its due date. NO!! That doesn’t mean it is spoiling.

Here’s a quick lesson. The meat industry is regulated by the USDA and has certain requirements for the length of time fresh meat can stay on the shelf. Once that date has “arrived,” the store must sell it or risk throwing it away. That’s great news for the frugal buyer, because often times the store will drastically reduce the price of the meat in order to sell it rather than throw it out, hence “Reduced for Quick Sale”, which is just the term my local stores use. Some stores have a specially marked section of the meat department where they put all the reduced meat. In any event, the result is the same. Your family can eat prime beef, pork, veal or chicken rather than hamburger. It’s not uncommon for me to buy a family pack of pork chops for under $3.00 or steaks for about $4.00 per package. I’m not necessarily purchasing meat for use that day. I’m stocking up. I keep a supply of freezer wrapping paper on hand so when I come across these great deals I can wrap them and toss them in the freezer until we are ready to use them. Any time I go to the store, even if it’s not for grocery shopping, I check to see what’s available. I’ve even purchased one pound packages of pork loin roasts for 89 cents and small ham butts for $1.00. Now that’s what I call living high on the hog – literally.

Saving money on meat selections is just one way I help control my food expenses. I also utilize coupons, but only on items I normally use. Rarely do I purchase something just because I have a coupon for it. For the most part I’m not very brand loyal either. It doesn’t matter what kind of mustard or bread I purchase, especially if I have a coupon or if it’s on sale.

Another little trick I’ve discovered is purchasing spices in the ethnic section of the market. It’s pretty shocking to find standard spices in the Mexican or Asian aisle for a fraction of the price of their mainstream counterparts—which are the same spices packages in fancy bottles or jars. And the “ethnic” packaging is larger too, so you get a lot more for the lower price. In my store, these spices come in cellophane bags, so I keep a few empty jelly jars that can be used for storage.

Check out the day old bread selection, too. Many times, there is a nice variety of fresh made breads, rolls and pastries that are priced very inexpensively.

Cutting out pre-packaged and frozen foods will also save you a tremendous amount of money on your grocery bill. Treats like chips and sodas, cookies, crackers and frozen items like pizzas, burritos or dinners send your grocery bill higher. Take a few minutes to “back out” the cost of those “non-fresh” items from your store receipt and see what you could be saving on food. Better yet, slowly stop buying those items and replace them with homemade treats, flavored herb teas and frozen meals. The trick to changing your kids’ eating habits is to give them appealing flavorful substitutions. In time, they will lose their taste for such junk.

The produce aisle is a more difficult place to save than with packaged or frozen foods, but there are a few guidelines that help you save here, too. Purchasing seasonally available fruits and vegetables will help. Try staying away from out of season produce from foreign countries or hothouses because the price is usually higher. Stick to produce that is “in season”—at its lowest price.

Consider visiting ethnic markets in other areas of your town or city, or non-traditional markets. Many times these markets have the same basic produce as brand-name stores, but at much lower prices. We have a market in the next town over that caters to Hispanic, Asian and Indian populations. It’s a great place to shop especially when they have a sale. I can buy: Beets—3 pounds for $1, potatoes–99 cents for a 10-pound bag, scallions—6 bunches for $1 and a variety of winter squash for less than $1 a pound. When I see deals like these, I stock up and can or freeze what I can’t use right away.

Having several standby recipes that can be used with a variety of meats or produce will enable you to easily take advantage of supermarket sales. Don’t shy away from marked-down produce either—especially if you will use it within a day or so. Nicely ripened bananas that can be made into banana bread and pancakes or apples that can be cooked down into applesauce and pie filling for 15¢ per pound is better than paying regular price. Using sale produce in dishes that can be frozen will save not only money but time.

To take advantage of fruits and vegetables in season check out our Vegetable Calendar.

January – oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, tangelos, lemons, papayas, cabbages: red, white and green; leeks, broccoli, cauliflower

February – oranges, tangelos, grapefruit, lemons, papayas, broccoli, cauliflower

March – pineapples, mangoes, broccoli, lettuce

April – pineapples, mangoes, zucchini, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus, spring peas, broccoli, lettuce

May – cherries, pineapples, apricots, okra, zucchini, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus, spring peas, broccoli, lettuce

June – watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, cherries, blueberries, peaches, apricots, corn, lettuce

July – watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, apricots, kiwi, raspberries, plums, cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, corn, green beans, lettuce

August – watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, apricots, kiwi, raspberries, plums, cucumbers, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, lettuce

September – grapes, pomegranates, persimmons, eggplants, pumpkins, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce

October – cranberries, apples, pomegranates, grapes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, broccoli, spinach, lettuce

November – cranberries, oranges, tangerines, pears, pomegranates, persimmons, pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach

December – pears, oranges, tangelos, grape fruit, tangerines, papayas, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower

And finally…

Dining Out Frugally.

Most families, even if they decide to live a more frugal life, rarely want to give up eating out entirely—and I’m no exception. There are days when life takes over our schedules, and getting dinner on the table at a decent hour just isn’t realistic. When that happens we Take Out and Dine In – At Home.

This is my daughter’s favorite, especially in the winter when she wants to be a homebody. Instead of swinging by a drive-thru when cooking at home is not possible, we call in a “to-go” order at one of our favorite restaurants. We have several in our area that we like really well, and none of them are fast food or pizza joints. Best of all, you can order off the kids menu when you take out, often getting the same meal as the adult menu, just smaller portions at a much lower price. There are no extra charges for beverages or tips either, which can really run up your dinner bill. My daughter and I can order her favorite BBQ beef dinner—and a ¼-chicken dinner for me with side dishes—for under $10.00, which is less than you would spend going to a drive-thru or having a pizza delivered. When we get home, I toss together a salad and pour iced tea, then have the whole evening to snuggle up in front of the fireplace and enjoy life without the hustle and noise of a restaurant. Best of all – No waiting, parking, doggie bags or tipping required.

When dining out really is necessary, try to stick with restaurants that offer 2-for-1 selections or programs where kids eat free. Also consider sharing a meal or a salad and an appetizer. Portions are so large now, that even a salad and an appetizer can make a filling meal. Have the kids share, too, since most portions are so large most children never finish them. My daughter and I also take advantage of restaurant coupons, if they are for a restaurant we like. Of course, I never buy those coupon books sold as fundraisers because I can get the same coupons in mailers, local newspapers or flyers from the restaurant itself.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Krissyho

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