Tips & Basics

Stretching Your Dollars, by Elli O.. How can we be frugal in the area of food?

Inflation is high. In fact, it has reached at least a 40-year high (depending on who you listen to) and shows no sign of slowing down. Mortgage interest rates are at a 20-year high. More households than ever before are struggling to pay for groceries, medical treatment, housing, and gasoline. Since our influence on the problem of inflation is next to non-existent, then we need to focus on some simple but basic solutions to being frugal. Stretching our dollars until the next payday is our goal!

My husband says that I am frugal to the point of being miserly! But this is a compliment. So let’s talk about being frugal.

Being frugal is a characteristic that will serve one well during TEOTWAWKI. Frugality is also beneficial now – during these times of record high inflation. But what exactly does it mean to be frugal? And, more importantly, how can one develop this trait?

Frugality is defined as thriftiness; being economical with food or money. But I think it can mean so much more, and if we embrace this broad meaning, we can thrive when the rest of the world is struggling.

Back in the 1930s there was this saying: “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without!”

This mindset is counter to the culture that has been prevalent in America for the last 50+ years. With the ability to shop online and get whatever our heart desires – whatever that might be – almost the next day, there is no reason to not purchase that which we desire. We live in a throw-away society. We even discard items that are still full of life and usefulness.

So why should we be frugal? There are many reasons and they can be found in other articles I have written. The point to this article is to address the how of being frugal. For those of you who expect me to say “Create a budget and stick to it” and “develop self-discipline when it comes to spending money” you are going to be disappointed. I will be covering basic, practical ways to be frugal that anyone can accomplish – with or without a budget.

Sure, there are other assets we waste – our time, our energies, our talents, but I want us to focus on three main areas where I think our frugality is severely lacking: food, fuel, and funds:

WE WASTE FOOD

According to organization Feeding America, we Americans waste more food than any other nation in the world. Yearly, we throw away 80 billion tons of food. That equates to 219 pounds per person. Yet 35 million Americans suffer from food insecurity. How can we be frugal in the area of food?

1. Eat leftovers. In my humble opinion, a lot of food insecurity could be greatly reduced if we would just eat leftovers instead of throwing away perfectly good (edible) food.

2. Reuse leftovers. Although there are plenty of websites that can give you ideas, I want to share a few of my own.
a. Burgers – these are great used in chili or spaghetti sauce
b. Spaghetti and sauce – The noodles can be made into a pasta salad by adding salad dressing. The sauce can be added to soups or made into sloppy Joe sandwiches,
c. Vegetables – What to do with those few green beans or corn kernels that no one wants to eat for the third meal in a row? Place them in a plastic bag or container and label them and place them in the freezer. When the bag/container gets full, it’s time for some vegetable soup! You can also add leftover tomato soup/spaghetti sauce to the container!
d. Roast/steak leftovers – Add these to the vegetable container (mentioned above) for some meaty vegetable soup.
e. Bread – If you have bread that is starting to get old (dry) and you know that you won’t be finishing it before it gets moldy, then place it in a labeled plastic bag and stick it in the freezer. Later this can be used a stuffing or even (my favorite) bread pudding.
f. Bones from poultry cooking – Take these bones and place in a stock pot with water and boil it to make your own broth to can or freeze.

Example #1: Last night, we had roasted (whole) chicken, mashed potatoes, and acorn squash. Tonight we will have chicken and noodles (in which we placed the mashed potatoes to thicken the broth) and left-over squash. The bones of the chicken will be placed in a stock pot with water, boiled for a while and then frozen as chicken stock. Then later this week we will have soup- in which I can put the chicken stock to enhance the flavor of the soup.

Example #2: Another night we had meatloaf, potato wedges, and beans. The leftover meatloaf and beans will go into tortilla bean soup, and the potatoes will be diced and fried up for a breakfast treat.

3. Compost – Most people don’t compost. The act of saving your food scraps and turning them into fertilizer for your gardens (which most people don’t do either!) I do both so I decided to buy a countertop composting bin I saw while shopping at Aldi. It came with biodegradable bags and a filtered top and was on sale for only $7.49. Thankfully it wasn’t any more expensive because I found that it drew fruit flies even though the lid was secure. It only lasted two weeks in my house! Another way to keep from having to visit your compost pile after every meal is to keep a plastic container (we use an empty ice cream tub) in your freezer and add to this as needed. Be sure to label this so as to not confuse it with your leftover vegetable container!

4. Give food scraps as treats to your livestock. I have found that more than our chickens like our table scraps. Yes, I realize that there are some scraps that are not healthy (even toxic) to livestock so do your research before offering table scrap treats.

5. Consider dumpster diving. A friend took me with her several times on her weekly dumpster diving trips. What an adventure! We began around 10 pm and finished about 5 am, visiting multiple store dumpsters and coming home with a van full of edible, albeit sometimes imperfect food for family and pets. Warning: check local ordinances regarding “trash removal” from local stores and always be aware of your surroundings/personal safety. (Being two women out in the middle of the night behind buildings is not the safest activity! Thankfully we both have our concealed carry permits and both are well-versed in personal safety.

6. Make your own laundry soap. Or soup mixes. Or dryer sheets. All of these recipes can be found online and really do save you money!

WE WASTE FUEL (electricity, gasoline, propane, LNG)

7. Turn it off! Turn off the television when no one is home. Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Use LED bulbs instead of traditional filament bulbs or compact fluorescent light bulbs.

8. Make your trips to town count. After moving to the country many years ago, I realized that “running to the store” cost me time and fuel. Now that I am retired and have few reasons to go to town, I try to make just one weekly trip to town mid-week besides our trip to church. And rather than a spontaneous hop in the car, I will make a list of all the errands I want to accomplish while out and about.

9. Lower your thermostat a degree or two in the winter and raise it a degree or two in the summer…especially when no one is home!!!

10. Use a clothesline instead of your clothes dryer. I do this during decent weather and enjoy the fresh scent on the clothes.

WE WASTE FUNDS

11. Have a yard sale. Yes, I realize that having a sale at your home is a lot of work and then you also have to deal with OPSEC, but it can be done safely and can be profitable.

12. Go to yard sales, auctions, and thrift stores often. My children would have been bored and naked if it were not for the yard sales and thrift stores. New is not always the best or necessary.

13. Wait when you want to order something online. Wait. (Not something we like to do in this world of instant gratification). Wait some more. Then ask yourself some questions: Is this a want or a need? Is it worth the selling price? Is it durable? What do the reviews say? Can I live as well without it?

14. Don’t always purchase brand-named items. There are a few brand-named items that we will buy such as trash bags, toilet paper, and dish soap, as well as the ingredients for my hot chocolate mix, but mostly we will go with store brands. Most generic brand items can be “doctored up” to improve their tastes!

15. Reuse your older paint-  you know those half-empty paint cans from when you redecorated a year or two ago. I generally save a pint of the paint for any touch-ups, but then I use it as the primer layer when I am painting another room. Recently I did this and it saved me almost $150 in paint!

16. Recycle – I recently loaded up my older farm truck with the metal scraps from our barn build. Since I was going into town anyway, I swung by the recycling facility and turned it in. I got $18 for the metal and it’s out of my field! Although recycling aluminum isn’t very profitable now, beverage containers can be turned into pocket change- and you are doing your part to help the earth with its limited resources.

17. Make eating away from home a rarity rather than the norm. When you are running into town to do your errands, plan to leave after one meal, take a homemade snack with you, then return home before the next meal.

18. Don’t buy bottled water. If palatable, drink what comes from your tap.

Some Really Radical Ideas…

19. Reuse your aluminum foil if possible. Sometimes the foil is as clean after using it as it was in the box. If in doubt, merely lay it flat and wash it with warm soapy water and a dish rag. And speaking of dish rags…

20. Save some of those plastic containers (like 32 ounce yogurt containers). They make great left-over holders. Or seed starters. Or hardware holders.

21. Use dish rags/towels instead of paper towels.

22. Reuse your plastic bags from the store as smaller trash can liners.

23. Reuse your plastic food storage bags after you rinse them out with hot soapy water.

24. Use family cloths instead of toilet paper. For less than $40 you can buy a bidet and use those family cloths to dry your “down under” and that can also save you money!

25. Don’t go in debt for a vacation. Find cheaper and closer-to-home activities that will entertain everyone in your family.

And the most radical idea yet… Consider not giving Christmas gifts. After my mom passed away, my grown kids suggested that we just get together and enjoy each others’ presence rather than exchange presents. At first I didn’t like this idea since I live to give. But after some consideration, I agreed and I am soooooo glad I did. The holiday season is almost stress-free now. And there are no huge bills that come due in January.

So there you have it: a 2022 version of the 1930s phrase:

Use it up, wear it out. Make it do or do without!

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