Friday, January 25, 2008

LONG post

Two nights ago, I created the best kolaches known to man. Seriously, if you could have tasted them straight out of the oven...heavenly! I definitely did not over knead the dough or add too much flour this time--the bread was wonderful. And I didn't over fill, so there was no hard peach carmelization on the bottom this time. My brand new stoneware worked wonderfully to bake them on too. Half of the batch went on a cookie sheet and didn't do nearly as well. Even better, I learned that the step of letting the dough sit in the fridge for "at least 4 hours or overnight" is much more convenience than necessity. You may bask in the glory of the homemade kolache ;-)

I finished reading America's Cheapest Family a few days ago. We've decided to implement their budget system. I think their paper system will be easier to maintain for me than Quicken, plus it won't be dependent on the computer working. They explain the common sense part of budgeting that I've never used--namely, if you have something that comes up once or twice a year (i.e. car insurance, car registration, car inspection, canning supplies, vacations), you take that total cost and divide it by 12 months (or whatever it needs to be) and save that much money each month. You have an accounting sheet for each account you come up with and there is an account for *everything*. On payday, you add the appropriate amounts to each of your sheets and when you buy something, you subtract it. Twice a month you reconcile and the total on each sheet should equal the total you have in the bank. In the past I have set amounts for groceries, gas and "household". Anything else (clothes, co-pays, car registration) came out of that household section, which was problematic. This way, we set aside $8/month and the car registrations are no longer a "surprise" expense that takes away a big chunk of household money when they come up. Same thing with clothes, we only put down $5/month (I'm sorry, but small children who are constantly outgrowing and ruining clothes just don't need high quality stuff for the most part). $5 isn't gonna buy hardly anything, but when the winter clothes go on sale, I will have $20-$30 saved up in that "account" and that will buy a whole lot when you bargain shop. I think that was the most useful part of the book for me. The other thing was the section on groceries. I think it'd be very helpful to the average family. One thing they explain (that for some reason a lot of budget websites don't get) is that it's NOT a good idea to shop based on a menu. If you make up a week's worth of menus and go buy those items, you're going to stick to a list, but you'll still overspend big time. The better option is to stock up when things are on sale. Better yet if they're on sale and you have coupons (be careful about coupons....only use them for things you would already be getting, or you get for free with the coupon). Anyways, of course I was irritated by the comment they make that you cannot feed a family of 3 for $150/month. Hrmph. Our grocery budget is $150/month and no one ever believes me. SOOOO, I made a list of items to buy and what food those items would make. I will admit, this list is "cheating" b/c I did not add in the cost of spices that I always have on hand (oregano, basil, chili powder, etc...). On the other hand, I did add in things that I almost never buy at full price (i.e. Sugar is normally somewhere around $1.50/4# bag, but I never pay that. When it goes on sale for $1/4# bag I buy 15 or 20 bags and that lasts me until the next sale). I also included bigger than necessary quantities (i.e. enough rice and pinto beans to last for two-three months b/c it's cheaper that way). My list:
25# unbleached all purpose flour....$1.74/5#=$8.70
5# whole wheat flour....$1.89
50 flour tortillas...$5 (estimate)
15# basmati rice...$12 (estimate)
10# dried pinto beans...$5.29
10# pasta....$1/1# (estimate, off brand is cheaper)=$10
5# frozen broccoli normandy.....$5 (estimate, I know it's less than that, not sure of exact price)
1# dried garbanzo beans....$0.80
1 can cut baby corn...$0.99
2 cans coconut milk...$0.99/can=$1.98
1# carrots...$0.68
2# yeast (at sam's)...$3.84
1 pint jam or apple butter (I have tons of this on hand from home canning)
1 # cranberries or blueberries (pick blueberries super cheap in the summer, or buy cranberries after christmas and freeze them, I have no clue what the normal price is)....$0.75
8.5# ground beef (on sale at sam's first thing in the morning from what they didn't sell the night before)....$1.40/pound (estimate?? I hardly ever buy meat)=$11.90
bread crumbs...$2 (estimate)
2 # onions....$1.60
one green bell pepper....$0.66
tomato sauce (giant can...96oz? at sam's, portion out and freeze)...$3 ('s within cents of that)
5# potatoes.....$2 (estimate, I know it's less than that)
5# frozen whole kernel corn.....$4.36
1# dried lentils...$0.59
green onions....$0.50
5# frozen stir fry veggies.....$5 (estimate, I know it's less than that)
3# corn meal....$1.50 (estimate...something else I never pay full price for)
2# cheddar (at sam's)..$5.88
1 can rotel tomatoes..$0.75
1# dried black beans....$0.70
1# dried kidney beans.....$0.80
1# pepper jack cheese...$3
42oz old fashioned oatmeal...$1.99
4# sugar...$1.49
6 dozen eggs.....$1.87/doz=$11.36
2 gallons organic milk...$5.29/gal=$10.58
2# butter...$1.89/#=$3.78
3 heads garlic..$0.75
2 quarts organic yogurt....$3.24/qt=$6.48
2 quarts regular yogurt....$1.79/qt=$3.58
1 zucchini..$0.30
1 jar "natural" (no sugar, no partially hydrogenated oil)..$1.99
1 bottle stir fry sauce...$2 (estimate)

For a grand total of $145.46. I tried to over estimate where I wasn't 100% sure of the price. With these ingredients plus some spices and oil, I can make:
bean, rice, cheese, tomato lunch wraps
pinto beans and cornbread
pasta and veggies
thai curry
TV dinners with meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn
Vegetarian chili
Rice and Veggie Stir Fry
Pasta and Meatballs
Scrambled Eggs and Waffles
Grilled Cheese
Scrambled Eggs and Pancakes
12 loaves of bread (homemade loaves are smaller than store bought)

Some low cost or no cost ways to stretch this and add variety......we have a garden outback and can easily add a salad to any meal for no extra cost (homemade dressing is way easy to make and cheaper than storebought. There are enough ingredients in this list to also have homemade dinner rolls with any meal. Many of the things listed above you could make enough to last quite a while (i.e. there's enough there for 22 tv dinners). The money I'd save by using veggies from the garden or meat from the freezer or throwing in another meal of mixed bean soup can be used to buy a couple 5# bags of apples, bananas, etc...If we don't spend $150 one month, it carries over to the next month (allowing stocking up on sale items). When produce is hugely on sale, stock up (less than $0.70/pound for gala apples happens once or twice a year and I buy lots and lot to make dried apples, apple bread, apple butter, apple pie filling, etc...) Once this year red delicious apples were $0.30/pound. Not the most flavorful apple, but they did just fine in apple bread and cooked up as a topping for pancakes. Leftovers are almost always saved...usually for lunch the next day or in the freezer to be dinner one a day when there's not time to cook. Every time I throw out spoiled food I try to do a little mental calculation of how much money I just threw away, and next time I try harder to use those things up or freeze them or whatever. This is just an idea for one month, in the winter there's a lot of soup (warm's ya up!), in the summer there's a lot more sandwiches because we don't want hot food much. Other things like homemade pizza, chicken pot pie, enchiladas, etc...are easy and cheap (just combine dishes that use similar ingredients!!! get chicken on sale and make chicken pot pie and chicken enchiladas and king ranch chicken and curried chicken and..... much more economical than buying expensive chicken to make one of those dishes and they all freeze well!!) Oh, a key part of stocking up is buying things in season. Buying fruits, veggies and meat(chicken in the summer, beef in the winter) out of season is expensive and harmful to the environment (because the things were usually grown very far away and flown/trucked in). I take advantage of that availability at times, but I stock up big time when things are in season to minimize off-season buying.


One Acre Homestead said...

Sooo...the natural next blog is sharing some of your frugal recipes with us...right? We're still enjoying a tasty recipe in my files called "Kimberly's Biscuits!" :-D

The Hills said...

:-D I can share some recipes. The biggest thing though is learning to cook confidently without a recipe. That was hard for me since when we got married, Josh knew how to cook and I didn't (I was the baker). Now that I've learned, it's easy to take advantage of what's on hand. On of the best "end of the month" meals is a handful of whatever's around (various dried beans, dehydrated carrots, leftover corn from dinner, the last pepper, the last half an onion, some spices, etc...) thrown in a crock pot for a few hours. Yummy soup that's different every time!

Erin said...

Kimberly, you inspire me! I wish I had your cooking skills/budgeting finesse. I hope when we get settled into our new house I too can start doing a much better job of putting $ aside for those "other" expenses, and start looking for food deals at the store. I'll let you know if I need your expertise :)

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