Thursday, May 18, 2017

Grocery Shopping While Travelling

Coming from someone who values locality in food, this seems heresy to say, but sometimes my food travels. Or rather, when I travel, I look for local food to take home with me. I don't travel far away and I never fly. I do take day trips to see family an hour or so away, and I take weekend trips within the state or maybe the state over. When I do, I look for opportunities to enjoy local or "exotic" food at a good price, and bring it home. The gas consumption is minimal since I'd be taking the trip anyway, so perhaps a tiny bit extra for the extra weight (although I'm sure 10 pounds of food isn't adding to my gasoline consumption too much).
When I visit my parents an hour away, I visit a favorite grocery store. It's a scratch and dent grocery and it's phenomenal. I find organic cereal for $.33/box and whole grain pasta for $.59/lb. Every so often, I find ends-and-pieces of local jerky for $5.99 for a 5 lb bag. However, since it is an hour away, I don't make a special trip just for that store. It's only ten minutes from my parents, so I stop when I'm already out that way. The savings over buying those items at the grocery store is more than the cost of gas, meaning I essentially get paid to take the trip out there. Win.

When we drive out to the boonies to go for a day-hike, I like to stop at farm shops and roadside stands to get the local's garden surplus. Just outside my favorite state park, there is a little roadside stand. The offerings are just whatever the home-gardener has a surplus of, but it's fantastic produce and a great price. $1/lb for tomatoes, $.50/large squash, $.25/zucchini or small squash. I prefer my money to go to a real-life family, rather than some grocery store.

When we took our honeymoon to Amish country a few hours away, we really hit the food jackpot. There were several scratch n dent groceries. We bought pasta and canned veg at bargain prices. We drove by a grain mill that sold whole wheat flour at the same price per pound that white flour cost in our city. We bought a few bags, and tossed all in the freezer upon returning home. Our honeymoon package included a $150 gift certificate good at the inn's restaurant, bakery, gift shop, or general store. We ate our meals at the restaurant. On the last day, we had over $100 left. We went to the bakery and got a few loaves of bread (some for the freezer) and a few sweets. Then we went to the general store and spent the $90 left on jams, jellies, coffee, tea, pasta,spices and bags of trail mix.

When we go to Chicago to visit family, we have a few stops that we have to make, mainly to bakeries. One bakery sells cookies for $.20 each and sub rolls for $.33. A few ethnic bakeries offer some of our favorites that we can't find here, and don't (yet) know how to make. This provides a little splurge, but at a discounted price. We'll sometimes stop in Chinatown for our stockpile of herbal teas and other items, or we'll stop by a neighborhood with a fantastic selection of exotic produce at bargain prices.
By keeping our eyes open when we travel, we're able to get great scores on food. We often save money over buying more exotic selections in our town, and we get to try lots of new things without the cost of going to a trendy restaurant. Often, the grocery savings is close to the cost of gasoline, thus making our trip less expensive. Whenever you venture away from your neighborhood, keep your eyes peeled for some fun, new food adventures.

How I Threw A Frugal Anniversary Party

Last month was our ten year wedding anniversary. We had planned for years to have a big gathering to mark the occasion, but we didn't want to spend a fortune.

We thought about having the party at a metropark. Ultimately we decided against this as April (our anniversary month) is hardly a dry month and to plan sufficiently in advance we would be unable to know how the weather would be. We didn't want to have the expense of restaurant meals/drinks, especially given how frugally I can prepare a meal for a crowd.

I always try to prepare a good meal. I love good food and like to show off a little. I also want to keep the cost reasonable, since we are saving for our goals. The most important thing to accomplish both objectives is to have a clear plan, with the ability to be flexible. I decided I wanted to do a taco bar for this party. I had thought of having a grilled cheese bar, but didn't want to be tied to a griddle for the entire party.

From there, I brainstormed different dishes I could prepare. I made an extensive list of ingredients needed for different dishes and made my shopping list accordingly. A few days before the party, I headed online to check sales flyers for Aldi, Lucky's (a Trader Joe's type store), Meijer and Kroger. I had already hit the salvage grocer and got some hot sauce, salsa and horchata mix ($.10/bag!). For my shopping list, I listed the store, then each item on my previous list that was on sale. As I checked out other stores' ads, if I found an item for cheaper than I'd previously listed it, I'd cross it out and write it under the new store. For any items on my list that I didn't find on sale, I wrote on the back of the sheet and looked for unadvertised sales while shopping. I ended up getting a pretty good discount on everything.

Here is a list of the dishes/items I offered and the prices of ingredients:
Tacos: ground beef ($2.29/lb at Kroger; two other stores had it on sale, but not this low) with taco seasoning ($.39/Aldi), al pastor- pork butt ($1.29/lb at Meijer) with pineapple ($1/Kroger, but I only used some of it) and seasoned with a little enchilada sauce ($.49/can at the salvage grocer) and taco seasoning (Aldi), Mexican pinto beans- pinto beans ($1.29/2 lb bag at Aldi), salsa ($.49/jar at the salvage grocery), sauteed onion ($.33/lb on sale at Meijer) and peppers (free from the farm; frozen), cilantro lime rice - rice (bulk purchase from the ethnic grocer; I can't remember the price), cilantro ($.49/bunch at Lucky's; used 1/4 bunch), limes ($.25/each at Lucky's; I used 2). Other fillings: tomato ($.91/lb at Meijer on a buy 10 get one free sale), sweet peppers both sauteed and raw (free from the farm; frozen), onions both sauteed and raw ($.33/lb on sale at Meijer), cilantro ($.49/bunch at Lucky's , I used just a bit), scallions ($.50/bunch at Lucky's; I put the stubs in water to grow more), two kinds of lettuce ($1.99/lb at Kroger; we used around a pound), sour cream ($1/16 oz for regular; small container of fat-free for $.59/clearance), cheese ($2.29/lb at Aldi), salsa ($.91/jar at Meijer) and hot sauce ($.59/bottle at the salvage grocer).
Cheese dip- generic processed cheese...stuff ($4/Aldi, with some leftover), 1 jar salsa ($.49/salvage grocer), a can of drained tomatoes/chiles ($.25/salvage grocer; drained fluid went into a container in the freezer to make taco soup later), tortilla chips ($1.19/bag at Aldi) and corn chips ($.91/Meijer on a buy 10 at $1, get 1 free sale).
Stuffed pepper/poppers-A combination of jalapeno, padron and Hungarian peppers (free from the farm; seeded and frozen whole), stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese ($.99/Aldi), sour cream ($.99/Aldi), a drained can of tomatoes/chiles and cheddar ($1.99/12 oz at Aldi).
Pan-Fried Corn-sweet corn (frozen when it was on sale for $.10/ear), onion, jalapeno, sour cream, and cheddar cheese powder.
Horchata- horchata mix ($.10/bag), milk ($1.69/gallon) or walnut milk (for the vegans; $.59/quart).
Iced tea-made with store brand tea and white sugar
Coffee - just plain ol Folgers
Cookies - Maple Bacon (from a mix from the salvage grocer $.50 plus a stick of butter and an egg), confetti cake mix cookie (Cake mix was $.50 or less, with oil) and sugar cookie (from mix, $.50, plus egg and butter), cream cheese icing ($.50/jar, manager's special because it had a holiday print on the label). While I would have preferred to make something from scratch, there wasn't time or energy for that.
Churros- $.79 from Aldi

We had a couple folding tables around and threw lace curtains over them as tablecloths. These were curtains that I used to use for staging for my Etsy photos and were briefly used as tablecloths at the booth. We pulled out all the chairs from around the house-lawn chairs, desk chairs, whatever. I repaired a little foot rest to provide one extra seat.

My dad brought his corn hole and hillbilly golf games for us all to play.

I made a slideshow from all my favorite photos from the last ten years. I ended up having 450 photos. We made a playlist on Spotify with our favorite love songs that played in the background. I just set the laptop up on the chest freezer for people to watch. We got a lot of laughs.

There was no rhyme or reason to the event. People showed up when they wanted, left when they wanted. We enjoyed getting to talk with everyone.

All told, we spent around $65 to feed 25 people with so many leftovers we could barely stand it. So the cost per person was $2.60, not factoring leftovers. I have never heard of any caterer charging that price for an event! We used the leftovers as is for a week and the rest were made into soup a couple weeks later which served for another few days. All in, we got around 14 meals for two out of the leftovers, which effectively brings the price-per-meal down to $1.67. Also, when we go out to eat with friends, it is easy to spend $30, so the cost of our event was equivalent to two evenings out.

Entertaining can be done frugally. With a little planning, you can put on a great party without ruining your budget.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 4/24 - 5/7

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

Gardening:
* Trucker helped me in the garden for a bit. While I dug out some weeds that had popped up in one of the beds, he used the hand-tiller to work the soil up. I planted several things: Detroit Red beets, turnips, Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, White Icicle radishes, Cherry Belle radishes and a row of scallions. Immediately after planting, one of the stray cats started digging. I buried some plastic forks to hopefully deter him. This will be an interesting year for the garden.
* I planted some starts. I'm a little late, but I think it will be ok. I planted Sweet Banana peppers and Christmas Tree peppers, Detroit Red beets, scallions and chives. I had a couple broken seed trays from the farm that were going to be thrown away. A friend of mine gave me some display trays years ago. They were in my attic ever since. I used them for condiments at the party last week (condiments and veggies went in little bowls and I filled in around them with ice). I decided to see how the seed trays fit. They are perfect! They fit in my windowsill perfectly and will keep stray soil from getting everywhere.
* I harvested a lot of sage and some basil from the indoor garden to air dry.
* When I was passively weeding some garden beds, I discovered that a lot of herbs came back strong this year. The rosemary is doing well, a thyme plant is putting on some major growth and I found a massive oregano plant. I'll harvest some of the herbs to dry soon.

Cooking/Groceries:
* We ate a lot of leftovers.
* We made taco dip to use up some leftovers. We layered mashed beans, shredded pork, fried corn, the last of the stuffed pepper filling mixed with sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed peppers, onion, cheddar cheese and black olives. We served with tortilla chips.
* I used some of the leftover pork to make BBQ pulled pork wraps. I served with the last of the fried corn and a few stuffed peppers.
* I made some more cilantro lime rice and served with pork and sauteed onions, peppers and scallions. It was a nice basic meal.
* I used the last of the cheese dip and vegetables to make a hamburger helper style dish, using some of the leftover pork (the rest went into the freezer).
* One evening we were both exhausted and I hadn't pulled any meat from the freezer. I was tempted to order out, but stopped at the grocery instead. I found pre-cooked stuffed chicken breasts on sale for $3.99 (for a pound). I went home and tossed that into the toaster oven to reheat, put some grits on the stove top ($.10/box from the salvage grocer) and put a can of green beans on. It all finished up around the same time. It was a simple meal, but satisfying and at $4.48 total (with leftovers!), it was cheaper than any take out option.
* I made sausage gravy and biscuits. I used store brand sausage and canned biscuits. I sauteed a healthy amount of onions and scallions in the grease before making the bechamel. It tastes amazing that way and I rationalize the meal since it has a good dose of veggies.
* The farm stand is open for the year. I stopped by and got some radishes, salad mix and some purple asparagus. I donated what I would have paid at the grocery store. I like getting fresh food (does it get more local than .4 miles from my door?)  and knowing that the money I donated goes to helping feed those in the neighborhood who can't afford to pay.
* I made breakfast one morning before we went out for coffee. I fried a couple of eggs and sliced sausage (1 sausage from a pack of 2 for $1, store brand on sale) and pan fried some grits with a light layer of cheese on the bottom to crisp up. We also had a slice of maple streusel bread ($1/loaf on manager's special) and coffee. It was really good. Several hours later, out of the blue, Trucker mentioned what a nice breakfast I'd made.
* I made stir fry one evening. We brought some pork on manager's special for $4. I cooked rice with a little bouillon since I didn't have any stock. I stir fried random veggies I had on hand: onions, scallions, cabbage, radishes, carrots, green beans and celery. We had enough leftover for two lunches.

Fun:
* Trucker is on the board of a nonprofit organization. They had a meeting at a coffee house. I came with and worked on some projects while they met.
* We did a couple of coffee dates, using our travel mugs.
* I booked a vacation for us for this summer. I can't wait! More details to come.
* Daisy and I went out one evening while Trucker was out of town.
* We used the library a lot. Since we got internet at home, we no longer use the library for internet. Our new city doesn't offer museum passes like our old one did and we listen to spotify instead of checking out CDs from the library. That being said, we still get around $9,000+ value from the library each year. The library is one of the most enriching frugal life hacks imaginable. When we lived in Chicago, we used museum passes, internet, magazines and CDs. Our annual use-value back then was over $30,000 (considering we made $15,000/yr, this was amazing).
* We had Daisy and her hubby over for a movie night. I grilled pizza using a boxed pizza crust mix (salvage grocer for $.10/box; used 1 1/3 box), pepperoni, sausage (leftover from breakfast), sauteed onions ($.33/lb from Aldi) and black olives. I par-cooked the crusts in a cast iron skillet on the stove top and let everyone assemble their pizzas as they liked. Then I grilled them with the asparagus from the farm. They brought chips and salsa which we devoured during the movie. We had a great time. I love them so much.
* The antique mall had a party. We spent 4 hours wandering the mall, laughing at weird finds and gasping at the amazing ones. We bought a few items that were useful and affordable.

Nature:
* We had a glorious day in the woods. We went to a lake down south a bit (the one we hiked around for a bit a couple weeks ago). Trucker spent the afternoon fishing. I brought a chair, blanket and book. It was perfect. I loved having the excuse to spend several hours curled up in nature reading. I loved watching insects scurrying around, listening to frogs splashing into the water and eavesdropping on a couple of birds fighting. It was one of the nicest days I can remember.
* I spent a little time worming. I went out after a rain and was able to catch a dozen or so.
* We had so much fun, that two days later we went back down to the lake to fish again. I packed a picnic and drinks. We froze the fish after cleaning.

Frugality
* Trucker got a rebate from a website he signed up with. He put the $22 into savings.
I have a collection of dinosaur toys. I displayed them by
my Ray Bradbury books. I think he'd be pleased.
House and Home:
* We had our furnace tuned up. We get free spring and fall tune ups for two years as part of one package when we purchased the furnace.
* At the antique mall, I got a large metal school trash can for $7 and a rugged old feed bucket for $3. We will use the trash can to hold recycling, as our tiny trash cans aren't practical for that. The feed bucket will be hung in the utility room to hold rags.

Work:
* Trucker got a new job. I found a listing on a local homesteading and farming group. He is working in the kitchen for a local food business. They ferment and can a variety of vegetables that they get from local farms. He will learn how to can while he works there, so that will be a good skill for us to have. He makes the same pay rate he got at the old job, but this job won't destroy his body like the other one did. It is a set schedule for one day a week. This is perfect. All we need is something to act as a bit of cushion for months when his royalties are lower and to get him out of the house regularly. He doesn't do too well when he is alone 12 hours a day for 5 days a week. He seemed to get along well with his coworkers.
* I took a no pay/penalty day off of work. I'd worked an overtime shift a couple weeks ago and worked some overtime this weekend, so I basically don't lose any pay.
* I ate a packed lunch every day. I brought taco fixins and a bag of tortillas. I kept it in the cooler in the cafeteria (they clean it out every weekend, but it is fine to leave stuff overnight during the week) and heated up what I wanted each day. It makes it much less likely for me to succumb to the cafeteria food if I don't have to think about making lunch at 4 AM.
* Trucker picked up a short shift one day this week.

Future:
* Trucker had another audition.
* Trucker filmed this week for his first movie. The director liked him, so he is in a lot of scenes and has prominent placing. We can't wait to see it! He left at 2 in the morning, filmed from 6 AM til 10:30 PM, spent the night at a hotel, then drove 3 hours back and worked a full shift at his job before coming home. Phew!

Health:
* Trucker went to the gym fairly frequently and I went a couple of times (I lost track exactly).
* Trucker came down with a cold. He had just finished his round of antibiotics to get rid of a chronic ear infection. It had started to feel OK after several months and now he has an earache again from the cold. Sigh.
* We have both been watching how we eat and drink better.

Setbacks:
* Our dryer is fried. We aren't sure what caused it yet (and I haven't had the time to investigate further). The electrician said that it may have been struck by lightning. We will replace it relatively soon, but for now we are line drying clothes. While it is frustrating, it is encouraging to see how far we have come. This won't kill us financially and we have the ability to line dry clothes so we aren't having to cart our clothes off to the laundromat.

Community:
* We picked up our piece from the gallery this week. It was so exciting to pick it up and we were glad to buy a piece from a local art student. The gallery framed it for us, which made it an even better bargain. I love this piece. Trucker hung it by the front entrance.

This picture doesn't do it justice. It is an amazingly vibrant piece.
How was your week?
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