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Monday, July 28, 2014

Pantry Raid!!

Posted by Sheryl on March 7, 2012

This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

One area I’m still guilty of overspending compulsive spending is groceries.  I think that in my past, I could justify “retail therapy” if it was something that would benefit my family, and not go to waste.  Effectively what I’ve done is tricked myself into thinking I’ve tamed the spending beast.  The more I’ve been watching what I spend money on, the more I feel I’m getting this under control, and I know I can only fight one big beast at a time.

I feel I’m ready to set a small challenge to myself.  In my food stock, I have several odd ingredients that have accumulated from different sources.  Sometimes I see a recipe I’d like to try (and then don’t get to it ) that has a random thing in it that I have to purchase (and if I see it on sale, I’ll buy two, such as coconut milk or curry paste), or a friend will be clearing out her cupboard and offer me things she hasn’t used and doesn’t think she will (four graham crumb crusts), or my daughter, the vegan, will come for dinner and bring sauces which we will use only half of and leave them here (black bean and garlic sauce, tapenade, mushroom stir fry oil), or my boyfriend will go shopping and buy something he thought was something else (frozen Chinese steam buns instead of wontons).  Time to use these up.

My challenge for myself for the month of March is to use all all the odd foods in my pantry.  Some will just be a matter of making sure I use them (Chinese steam buns, stir fry sauces), others I’ll have to make an effort to make something with (graham cracker crusts = cheesecake = not good for my weight loss challenge at work, but at least my boyfriend loves cheesecake).  The biggest challenge I see is finding a use for the coconut milk and the tapenade.

Anyone have any suggestions how to use these items?  What are your odd foods in your food stock?

The Boston Baked Bean Lessons

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 3, 2011

“Oh my word…these are the best Boston baked beans I’ve ever had.” I said to my wife the other evening.  She agreed and that is when I learned a few interesting lessons all in one day.

The first lesson was the more obvious one by using a slow cooker you can make your own Boston baked beans for the fraction of the price of retail.  How much cheaper is it?  Well I only had one recent receipt to compare to but from that I know we normally buy beans from my chili recipe for $1.37 for a 398mL can.  Cost of beans to make six cups (or 1500 mL) was about $2 plus the other ingredients which lets be generous an assume another $0.75 for those.  So in total the homemade version cost about $0.18/100mL while the store version was $0.34/100mL.  So just about half the price and it tastes much better, so good bye beans from a can I will be making my own in the future.

The second lesson from the beans was a little bit more interesting.  I was under the impression that making your own beans from scratch was difficult or something.  In fact the recipe goes something like this: take 2.5 cups of beans add in half an onion and five cups of water.  Turn slow cooker on low for 8 to 10 hours.  Now the hard part: add ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, salt and pepper and let cook for another 30 minutes.  Eat.

Obviously making the beans is very, very easy to do and I have to say I don’t know where I got that impression that making your own was difficult.  Yet that was my second lesson: don’t assume something is hard until after you have tried it.  Your life is going to be full of assumptions and impressions that under even a mild amount of examination will be proved false.  Perhaps my favorite one is: I would love to retire early, but I can’t.  I call bullshit on that one.

Retiring early is easy to do.  Cut back your spending on crap you don’t need, boost your savings and put more of your cash on things you love to do in the mean time.  Then get creative with your expenses and find a method that works you.  It might involve moving to a more affordable smaller city or town, getting used to living on a little bit less and creating a more realistic picture of what you want to do with your extra time in retirement (less golf and more hobbies that actually don’t cost you anything).  You can do all of that, but often people choose not to.  We hide under reasons like: I have to be close to my family (Why? Because right now you only see them once a month anyway and then complain about it), or perhaps I have to keep this job (Why? Just because they haven’t got to making cuts to your department yet doesn’t mean that job will be there for long).

In the end we often assume we can’t do things for reasons that really don’t matter that much if at all.  You have to get in the habit of questioning your assumptions about your life since once you do that you can realize just about anything is possible depending on how much work you want to put into it.

So how about you?  What assumption have you faced and realized it wasn’t true? Or do you make your own beans or buy them in a can?

Eating for Pennies – Part I- Breakfast

Posted by Tim Stobbs on September 9, 2008

Alright, I’ve tried again and again to show you all how to eat cheaper.  I’m still getting people commenting on how can I feed a family of two adults and two small kids for about $10/day? (Keep in mind that $10/day also includes my cleaning supplies, paper towel and other items for the house.)  To them it seems impossible.  So I talked to my wife and we are going to do a little more in depth series on what we eat and how we cook and how to eat well for pennies.  We are actually tracking everything we eat for a month so I’ll report on that later.

Generally speaking there are two main rules to follow: 1) buy more of something when it is on sale or in season or bulk (if you are going to actually use it) and 2) avoid prepackage or foods full of chemicals you can’t say or even know what they are.

So when soup is on sale by the case for about $0.50/can buy two cases and stock up.  That way you are always eating cheap soup.  The same applies to other basics like sugar or flour which keep for a long time.  For the longest time I never paid more than $5 for a 10 kg bag of white flour.  Now I can’t see to get a sale for less than $7, but it is still much cheaper than the regular $11.50 a bag.

The other rule is simple.  The more processed a food is the higher the profit margin is for the company.  Therefore buy the base ingredients and just make it yourself and pocket the margin you would have paid them for yourself.  Not to mention, home made typically tastes better!

This post we are going to focus on eating a cheap breakfast.  First off contrary to most people’s thoughts a bagel at $0.50 a person isn’t a cheap breakfast.  For two people that is $1.00 before butter or juice or anything else.  Homemade muffins are about $0.15/each.  So for $1.00 I can feed my wife and I two muffins each for 3 breakfasts for the same price.  It’s not to say you can never eat bagels, but just don’t do it every day.

So what else is cheap?  Pancakes, waffles, an egg and toast, fruit, oatmeal, buttermilk biscuits.  All of these can be made for dirt cheap and taste good.  Yet some people may wonder, how do you do a pancake or waffle for breakfast during the week?  Easy.  Make it on the weekend and freeze a pile.  Then you heat them up in the toaster (mmm, home made Eggo).

To help you get started here is my mother’s classic recipe for buttermilk biscuits.  Mix two cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp of salt into a bowl.  Then add in 4 tbsp of margarine.  Use a pastry cutter or your fingers and break up the margarine into tiny pieces and mix well.  Then add in 1 cup of buttermilk.  Mix until flour is absorbed.  Knead about 10 to 20 times.  You should now have a nice ball and no flour in the bowl.  Pat out dough on floured counter until 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with plastic cup or use a glass with a little bit of flour on the rim.  Bake ungreased cookie sheet for 12 minutes at 425 F.  Serve with margarine or butter and jam or honey.  I typically make a double batch of these so I can freeze some.  They don’t last long in my house.

Tune in next week when I deal with lunch and at some point we will also report in on what we ate for the last two  weeks.

This post is now part of the 170th Carnival of Personal Finance.