Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Need or Want?

This month I decided to embark on a "no spend" month. It just happened to be November which adds to the charm (I think), "No Spend November". Now it's not as if I am a spend thrift, just the opposite actually. I am tight. Quite tight. We have a budget, we stick to the budget. We pack lunches, we rent movies, we stay home. If a corner can be cut, I'm cutting it. But somehow, we always end up at the end of the month with a bunch of little purchases that really add up. For me its the unassuming $1 clearance purchases I make while picking up necessities. For my husband it's the beverage or snack that he spends $2 on during his work day. At the end of the month I am beating my head on the kitchen table lamenting, "We spent $120 on WHAT?!?".

Some of you may be laughing, $120 may seem trivial. But think about that $120. Spend that same amount every month for a year and you come to the grand sum of $1,440. Wow. Laugh if you want but that is a considerable chunk of change. I would much rather put that amount towards our future home or retirement then literally flush it down the toilet. This is where my glorious plan of a no spend month came in. 

We just need to STOP. For one month. And think, really think before we swipe that credit card (We use a cc in order to cash in on the rewards. Never have we carried a balance, I'd sell small organs before I carried a balance on a cc.). So what are we spending our money on this month? The basics. And I mean really basic. No eating out, no pointless trips to the bookstore, no meandering through thrift stores. Obviously we are paying our bills, putting gas in the car and eating (at home). I am "shopping" in our freezer and pantry and getting really creative! The only food items I've purchased so far are a few fresh vegetables, milk and creamer. (And before you say creamer isn't a necessity let me set you straight...yes.it.is. End of story.)

So that brings us to last night when I shook the rest of the severely rationed granola over my evening yogurt. Sigh. Granola certainly does not fall under the "necessity" column. And at $3 a box it certainly isn't frugal. I've been *meaning* to start making it for some time. I know it's easy, I know it's cheap...and yet somehow I just never got around to it. No more. Today, I made granola! 

I started by looking at various recipes and drawing inspiration. Things I didn't want in my granola; chocolate chips, peanut butter, vast amounts of sweetner and/or raisins. After that I'm pretty darn flexible. Feel free to substitute any nuts you may prefer. I just used what I had on hand. 

Yield: 2 1/2 quarts

6 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup unsweetened coconut (sulphur free is best)
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Stir together in large bowl. 

1/2 to 1 cup agave (I used 1/2 cup, might increase the amount in future batches)

Add agave and stir to coat. Spread mixture on large cookie sheet and bake at 350* for 30 mins stirring frequently. (I stirred about every 8-10 mins for the first 20 mins and then every 5 mins for the remainder). Continue baking past the initial 30 mins if you do not feel it is browned enough. Just watch it closely so you don't burn it. 

Remove from oven and add 1 cup of your favorite dried fruit. I used cranberries because raisins and I a not friends. (Unless they are plump and juicy in a hot bowl of oatmeal. Then we're best friend.) 

Cool completely and store in an airtight container. I used quart sized mason jars. Great for display! 

I hope you give homemade granola a try, even if this is not your recipe of choice, and let me know how it goes! I would also love to hear from others who have taken the plunge and cut spending for a month! Happy baking and saving! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Canned Food and Cauilflower

Raise your hand if you have enough food in your house to last a week. Oh good, there are two of you. You are both excused to go rustle up a SPAM or canned tuna snack. Now the rest of you who's cupboards were described in Old Mother Hubbard, listen up.

We just experienced a devastating storm on the East Coast, Hurricane Sandy. Times like these make me scratch my head as I watch the masses rush to the grocery store. "Milk and bread!", everyone screams. I've always scratched my head at the milk (unless it's a snow storm coming in and you can sink that jug in a snow drift) because who wants rotten milk on their Fruity Pebbles when the electric goes out? No one I know of. (FYI: I in no way condone the consumption of Fruity Pebbles. Ever. It was just the funniest cereal I could think of.) The bread is fine, but I sure hope you have a jar of peanut butter to go with it. My point is this, you need to always have a little extra on hand. It doesn't have to be extreme, no gold bars or bomb shelters, just enough to feed your family for a few days if supply chains are disrupted or you can't get out. It's COMMON SENSE PEOPLE. Sorry, didn't mean to yell. Ok, I did. I just want to wake you up from your "grocery store dependency" slumber.

Now before you run out and buy a case of SPAM and a sack of beans, think about what your family will ACTUALLY EAT. In my case the SPAM is a no go. The beans would be great but how do I cook them if the electric is out? I don't. Canned fruit, peanut butter, crackers, dried fruit, bottled water, fruit leather, energy/protein bars....you get the idea. Things that require little to no prep and you can easily eat. If you have a woodstove to heat food up on throw in some canned soup and veggies. I currently do not have a woodstove, but in the past I have and they are fantastic for cooking on. This is not crazy, expensive or unreasonable. As I said earlier it just plain and simple common sense.

Our ancestors did not have grocery stores to frequent. They "put food by" for later consumption. We need to do the same. Our reasons may not be the same but the need is still there. Learn how to freeze and can food. I can and freeze for multiple reasons. One of them being the economy of preserving your own food. Often, not always, you can preserve your own food much cheaper then if you were to buy it. Sometimes I just break even, but I'm okay with that because I know where the food came from and exactly what went into each jar or bag. Today I picked up three huge heads of cauliflower from a roadside stand. I paid $4.50 total and ended up with 12 quart bags of cauliflower florets. That comes to thirty seven cents a bag!

Cauliflower is insanely easy to freeze. I like to break it up into 1" florets (some will be smaller, that's okay) and then blanch it. I bring about 3" of salted (1 tsp salt) water to a boil in a stockpot and then drop in the cauliflower. Make sure all of the cauliflower is covered with water. Let the water return to a boil and let it boil for about 30 seconds. Dump into a colander and immediately rinse in cold water. If you are doing multiple batches use a large slotted spoon to fish the pieces out of the water and then you can save the water for the next batch. Once cool, bag it up in freezer bags and throw it in the freezer. In my experience it holds well for about a year. I use it in casseroles, soups and as a side dish.

I hope that everyone will take the time to do a quick inventory of their pantry and make a few simple changes in order to be better prepared. You shouldn't depend on FEMA, the Red Cross or your crazy conspiracy theorist neighbor to bail you out. Being somewhat self reliant is a beautiful thing.