Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Frugal cooking

One of the best ways I have found to save money is on the cooking vs eating out mind set. Cooking doesn't have to be the chore that everyone thinks it is. Even if you have never cooked before, you can start making your own meals and save hundreds every month.

One of the very first things you should do if you have never seriously cooked before is invest in a good cookbook. I would suggest one of the big Betty Crocker ones with the red and white checked covers. It will cover every type of basic cooking from appetizers all the way thru snacks and desserts and it is also very easy to read and understand. Some of the more complicated dishes even have step by step pictures. Granted, these are generally just basic recipes, but for someone who hasn't cooked before, it is a great asset.

Another thing to do is always keep a supply of staples on hand. I always have a cabinet full of seasonings and spices, dried beans, different pastas, and grains (barley, rice, oatmeal, corn meal, plain and self rising flours, and grits). It is also a good idea to keep sugar or sweeteners on hand, including brown sugar and powdered sugar, and cocoa, corn starch, baking soda and baking powder. These are just a few of my pantry staples to get a general idea. Most of these things can be easily purchased in bulk since they all store well as long as they are kept dry and cool. Add vegetables and meats to these basic things and you can make just about any type of meal you want.

One of the things you really want to stay away from buying is mixes. Do you really need to spend $2.00 on a box of brownie mix when you have everything to make brownies at home already? Lets say you buy the mix on sale for $1.75. You still have to add eggs and oil or butter to the mix. So you buy a dozen eggs on sale for $1.19. You have butter or margarine at home already. So now these brownies are costing you $2.94. At home you already have the cocoa, sugar, self rising flour, and butter. So you spend $1.19 for the eggs instead. Now your decision to make brownies is only costing you a little over a buck. But since you will only be using 2 or 3 of the eggs, it is actually only costing about 20 to 30 cents. See the point?

In the last month, I have managed to cut our food spending by half, just by not eating out. I took a day to cook and freeze several different meats for those days when I just don't feel like cooking or when we would need a quick dinner because of the kid's schedules. Those would be the days that we would normally eat out. I have even made up some hamburger patties and froze them so that hamburgers would be quick and painless.(secret--put small squares of waxed paper between them so they don't stick together.)

Learning to cook is well worth the time and effort if you are serious about saving money and eating healthier. You will be able to control the amount of fat and sodium in your foods, you can make sure that the freshest possible ingredient are being used, and you will not have some minimum wage person that you don't know handling your food. It is also very satisfying to be able to make it yourself. Your friends and family will be in awe of your new skills in the kitchen and will want your recipes.

And the best part is that you will be saving a ton of cash in the process.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Frugal is as Frugal Does

The word frugal means different things to different people. To some it could mean clipping coupons and to others it can mean turning off lights, turning down the heat, carpooling to work, only shopping when it is absolutely necessary, etc. To me, it falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

To me, living frugally means that if we don't need it, we don't buy it. Sounds really simple doesn't it? But it does take some work and planning. Lets take school clothes for instance. At the end of July and the first part of August every year, the retailers release a massive campaign of ads telling us that our children will be ridiculed if they do not have a new wardrobe to start the new school year. I don't buy into that. I go through the kids closets at the end of the previous school year, take out anything that is too small or no longer wearable, and replace only the items that have been removed. I also do this after Christmas. You can get end of season sales for spring and fall clothing for next to nothing. If the weather isn't right to wear it yet, put it back until it is. I am fortunate that my kids are not clothes hounds or fashion slaves. For the school supplies, I stock up big time when the sales hit. This usually happens right after Labor Day in our area. School has been back in session for a couple of weeks and the stores have a ton of stuff to get rid of to make room for the Holiday season. And my kids usually wind up needing more paper or pencils or whatever again by Christmas anyway so I have it on hand for when they do.

Another "...don't buy it" at my house is soda. Just the cost of soda probably saves us $50 a month. We drink tea. Or Kool-Aid. Or water. And of course, coffee. Even when sodas are on sale, they cost way too much. If you look at the cost per ounce of that stuff, and the amount of sugar, you will just cringe. Tea will give you antioxidants, you control the amount of sugar, and it doesn't leave a sticky feeling in your mouth after you drink it. It costs me about 80 cents to make 2.5 gallons. The same amount of soda will cost you about 5 bucks and that is if you buy 2 liter bottles. If you buy it in cans, it will cost about $7. Not worth it. And we won't even talk about 20 ounce bottles from the corner store. Geesh!

The thing to keep in mind is that Frugal is a lifestyle, not a once in a while thing. And you don't have to think of yourself as a tightwad to do it. If you visit thrift stores, discount markets, flea markets and garage sales, that is being frugal. If you clip coupons and only buy the things you need and not everything you have a coupon for, that is frugal. If you don't fall for the marketing that tells us we have to have the newest, biggest, best of everything, new item on the market, that is being frugal. If you carpool to work instead of driving that massive SUV you got conned into buying, that is being frugal, ...sort of.

If you do all of those things and then some, Great! The thing to keep in mind is that you have to figure out a system that works for you and your family and live by it. Some people just don't have access to flea markets. That is what Ebay is for. Some people, myself included, are shaped funny and have a hard time finding clothes that fit off of the clearance racks. So learn to sew. Some people have such a hectic lifestyle they do not have time to shop for bargains. Hogwash I say! Can everyone say "clearance rack?"

You have to make the decision to save money. It won't just happen. And it has to be a family thing. It won't do you any good if you save $200 a month in groceries then turn around a buy a new TV when the old one still works. Everyone in the family has to be on board. If even one family member doesn't want to do it, it can sabotage the whole thing. Make a plan. Even have a jar that you put your saved money in and take a nice vacation or something to reward all of your hard work. Just don't get into it every time you need a couple of dollars for the drive thru. You will be amazed at how quickly that jar will fill up. And as you get more used to frugal living, you can shave off spending in more places. You might even wind up with enough money in that jar for a down payment on something really big.

You just have to keep in mind the big picture. Why do you want to be frugal? Do you have a goal in mind or do you just want fewer bills? What would you do if you got laid off? Would you have enough savings to get you thru until you could find another job?

Make a plan. Live it. Make it your own. And if the Joneses look at you funny, laugh back because you do not have to worry about paying for all the useless stuff they have bought.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Healthy meals on a budget

Low fat doesn't have to mean low taste. I have taken the extra fats out of lots of common everyday meals without any noticeable loss of taste. When you saute meats or vegetables, use broths instead of fats. You are actually adding flavor without adding any fat. I have done this with meats, stir fry, and even vegetables. That is where the ice cube tray comes in handy for freezing broth. Any time you cook meat and there is juice in the pan when you are finished, save it. It is amazing the amount of beef flavor you can get from a pot roast to add later to your soups or rice.

A few tips to follow when you are getting ready to start cooking frugally is to keep in mind the things you have on your shelf. What are you most likely to eat first? Can you make it yourself? Even if you can make it yourself, is it cheaper to make it or buy it? Will everyone in your household like it or just you or your spouse? Is your favorite recipe going to make enough of that meal to feed an army or just the two of you? Can you freeze it?

These are some of the things that ask myself every time I have to go shopping. The things we are most likely to eat first are snack foods. I have two teens in the house and my son will eat the pantry bare if I let him. My husband is also a big snacker. I try to keep things for everyone to nibble on between meals that doesn't involve chips and candy. Brownies seem to work out fairly well as does popcorn.

Since I cook a lot, there aren't really many things that I can't cook myself that aren't as good or better than purchased. This is a major plus on the frugal side. I have learned how to adapt a recipe to use less expensive ingredients and to make it healthier than most of the frozen convenience foods available. Recipes are available all over the internet or just flip thru a cook book to get some basic ideas. Soup is by far the healthiest choice. And soup can be just about anything you want to make it. Have left over mashed potatoes? Make potato soup for lunch the next day. Just add milk, black pepper, and a little shredded cheese. Add a piece of unbuttered toast and a salad and you are good to go. Have some bacon left from breakfast? Make a bacon and cheese sandwich for lunch. Left over breakfast sausage is perfect for adding to fried potatoes or use it to make cream gravy with biscuits the next day( I am Southern, can you tell?) Never let anything go to waste. Have a spoonful of corn and half a spoon of beans or peas left from dinner? Put them together in a freezer bag. Keep adding to it until the bag is full then thaw it all out together and make soup.

I have discovered that while I can make my own bread, it is actually cheaper for me to go to the thrift store to buy it. I can get a big loaf of brand name whole wheat sandwich bread for 69 cents. If I figure the cost of the yeast and flour, plus the energy used in baking it, it cost me way over that. I can still cost effectively make dinner rolls and specialty breads like cinnamon swirl, but for sandwich bread, it just doesn't justify.

Will everyone eat it is a tough one at our house. My husband isn't fond of pork, my son doesn't like sauces or eggs, my daughter will eat just about anything except corn ("corn is evil" she says) and I am not likely to cook something that I won't eat. It makes for some interesting meal times, but we have found ways around it.

Making a pan of lasagna is expensive, but by splitting it into two pans, bake one and freeze one, makes it almost cost effective. Soup can be done the same way. Soup is a very inexpensive way to serve up left overs and you can split it up and freeze part of it for a meal another day. If your family just can't give up an expensive meal, save it for a special time like for a birthday or anniversary. Or if you only make it once every couple of months, cut costs on other meals that month to make up for it. The secret here is to don't stop making it altogether, just cut back on when you make it. You don't want to feel deprived of your favorites, just make them more special.

Another thing we do at our house is freezer night. Evey couple of weeks, we go through the freezer and find the 10 chicken nuggets, 3 fish sticks, a hand full of frozen peas, the few french fries left in the bag, leftovers in the fridge, anything that isn't enough to make a meal by itself and cook it all for one meal. Everyone can take a little of everything or if they don't like it they can skip that food completely. This has a dual purpose. You can clean out the fridge of anything that might get overlooked or buried on grocery day and it will help insure that no food will get wasted. I usually do this the night before a planned shopping trip. The kids like it because it gives them another shot at leftovers they had forgotten about and it is kinda fun to just go digging thru the freezer. It also helps you get creative with ways to recycle veggies into a meal.

With a little planning, the weekly grocery trip will stretch a lot farther.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cooking on the Cheap

There are a lot of ways to save money on meals. One of the easiest ways is to buy meat in bulk. It is always more expensive to buy individual sized servings than to buy enough for several meals. I never buy less than 3 pound packages of hamburger meat. I also buy family packs of other cuts and break them down into meal sized freezer bags.

For chicken, the most economical way to buy it is whole. They are not hard to cut up and I can use 1 chicken for about 3 meals for my family of four. I will explain the process.

First things first. Wash the bird. You want to make sure that all of the bone meal and any possible contaminates from processing are washed off. Always use a sharp knife. You will be much more likely to cut yourself with dull knife than a sharp one. Cut off the wings at the shoulder joints. Pop the thighs out of socket at the backbone and cut it at the joint. Then bend the leg and the thigh. It will make a really thin spot at the "knee". Cut it straight through at that spot. You might get a little bit of the bone, but if your knife is sharp enough it should cut on through.

Cutting the breast at this point is very easy. the area between the ribs and the back is very easy to see. I generally use knives, but if you are less than confident with a knife, you can use kitchen shears to cut through the ribs to separate the breasts from the back.

Now that you have both halves of the breasts removed, turn them over, skin side down. You will be able to see the keel, or breastbone. Place your knife firmly in the center of the bone. Put your other hand flat on the back of the knife and push firmly down. It will be a little hard to break the bone but it will cut.

Now you have 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts and a backbone. Depending on what meals you have planned, and how many people you are feeding, you should be able to make at least 2 meals, maybe 3 if you are careful. I will give examples for a family of four.

Meal #1. Cheesy chicken pasta. Take the chicken breasts and cut(or tear) them from the bone. Take the bones and skin and place them into a stock pot. More on this later. Cut the breast meat into 1/2 inch cubes. Saute the chicken in about a tablespoon of oil with 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning until it is no longer pink. Add 1 can(2 cups) of chicken broth and 1 can(2 cups) of water. Add a pound of egg noodles and salt and pepper to taste. When the noodles are done and most of the water is gone, remove from heat and add about a cup of shredded cheddar cheese or if you prefer, you can use Velveeta. Bacon bits are a good addition to this. (This is actually better than Chicken Helper and it doesn't have all of the preservatives added.)

Meal #2. Chicken stock. This is the way to really make a chicken go farther. The skin, bones, and wings, legs and thighs can all go into a stock pot. Add 6 to 8 cups of water, a couple of carrots cut into big chunks, celery cut the same way, half an onion, really anything you have hanging around in the crisper. Here is where you can salt or not, depending on your personal preference. As you boil the chicken, you will notice a brownish foam rising to the top. Skim this off, you won't need it. When your chicken is done remove it from the pot and let it cool off. Continue to boil the stock until it is reduced by about 1/4. Strain the broth and remove the veggies. Throw them away or compost them. Put the broth into the refrigerator over night. The next day, all of the fat will have solidified on the top. Simply scoop it off. You can use this to make soup or it can be reduced even further to make a richer stock for gravies and sauces. It freezes well in either a freezer bag or in ice cube trays for portion control.

Meal #3. The cooked meat needs to be removed from the bone, skinned and chopped. There is even a small amount of meat on the back so be sure to look for it. The chopped meat can be used to make soup, barbecue chicken sandwiches, used in stir fry or lo mein, or to make chicken salad.

Now that you have a general idea on how to portion up a chicken to make it go farther, keep in mind that you can do this with many different foods.

Garden Math

I guess to anyone who didn't grow up in the country, planting enough food for a year just seems a little off. But if you think about the amount of money you can save even with just one type of vegetable, it is astounding.

Lets do some math. Lets say your family eats green beans 3 times a week. That is 156 times a year that you would eat green beans. Now lets say that you pay 45 cents a can for generic green beans. That is a little over $70 dollars a year just in green beans. When you consider the all of the different canned vegetables your family eats over the course of the year, it can add up really fast.

Even buying vegetables fresh in the produce department of the grocery store is expensive. Fresh green beans at my local national chain are generally around $1.19 a pound. The very few times I have purchased them, it took almost a pound for my family of 4. $1.19, three times a week will cost you $185.64 a year, again for only one vegetable. And I have no idea what pesticides were used or what they have been treated with to help maintain freshness.

Another thing to think about with canned/tinned foods is the amount of processing it goes through. Salt is added to just about every type of canned vegetable on the market. And in large quantities. You will also find other preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, added colors, added flavors, ad nauseum, all for the purpose of making their product more appealing so you will buy it more often.

I am not saying that everyone can or should try to grow all of their own food. That just isn't possible these days. Most of us do not have enough workable space to be able to grow a year's worth of food. The garden that my parents had when I was growing up was about 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre, bigger than the entire lot my house is sitting on now. That doesn't mean that I can't have a garden. It just means that I can only supplement our food supply instead of grow it all. Millions of people do this by growing tomatoes on the balcony of their apartments, or planting blueberries as shrubs around the house. Even miniature lemon and lime trees are becoming popular these days.

By processing and preserving your own home grown fruits and vegetables, you only spend the cost of the seeds or plants, you know exactly what pesticides and fertilizers have been used, you can control the amount of sodium in your food, and you would be amazed at the difference in taste. You will also get the joy of know exactly what you are eating.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Frugal cooking.

Learning to live frugally can sometimes be a challenge. It takes a complete change in the way you think about things and the time you are willing to spend to do it right.

As a whole, we have gotten used to the idea that a meal that takes 10 minutes to make is just as good for us as one that takes an hour and a half. The only real problem with that is the price.

Lets say that I wanted to have Chinese for dinner. That is great because Chinese food has lots of fresh veggies and can use less expensive cuts of meat, if you use meat at all. Now, if you live in a city, you would probably just order take out or have it delivered. Here is where you run into your first problem. Cost. Restaurants are in the business to make money. So you over pay for any take out that you buy. You are paying for the convenience of not having to cook. They also use a lot of MSG so it isn't as healthy as you might think.

Making a simple stir fry isn't difficult if you keep a few things on hand. I always keep soy sauce in the cabinet. I use it in all types of sauces and marinades, and I also use it to baste over roasted chicken. So it is very handy to have around. I also keep rice. It is cheap, will store for a really long time, and it is very versatile. I also keep fresh carrots and frozen broccoli and cauliflower. Again, inexpensive, versatile, and easy to store. Add those things to any fresh or left over meats and you have a nice quick stir fry meal. And the best part is that you can add a few other things you might have laying around the kitchen, like fresh garlic or peanuts, that will add flavor and nutrients with out costing you a fortune. If anyone wants the basics of stir fry, leave me a comment and I will post the process.

I sometimes use Ramen noodles instead of rice. If you grab them when they are on sale you can generally pick up several packages for less than a dollar. I generally use 1 package for every two people when I add it to a stir fry.

Cooking at home has many advantages over take out. It costs a lot less, you can control the ingredients, and you always get that wonderful feeling of making it yourself. And it is really hard to screw up a stir fry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Organic foods

You would think with the price of food going up every day and the number of people who are eating organic, that the corporate farms would see the trend and start producing more healthy, wholesome foods. Instead "organic" is being treated as a niche market that they can charge a premium for.

I grew up organic without even knowing what that meant. We had a huge garden (about 3/4 of an acre) where we grew almost all of the vegetables we ate, chickens for eggs and meat, a few pigs, a couple of cows, and 3 apple trees. My grandmother had about 1/4 acre in strawberries and a family friend had a milk cow.

We didn't use alot of chemical fertilizers in the garden. That was what the cow and pigs were for. We traded eggs for milk every week, and my grandmother was more than happy to share the strawberries with us since we gave her the feathers from the chickens to make pillows and featherbeds.

We would go to town every couple of weeks to deposit my Dad's paycheck and do what little shopping that needed to be done. Usually it was just coffee, cereal, sugar, flour, and maybe some sodas. The rest of the time we spent doing chores and homework.

We would spend a lot of time in the summer canning the garden. My brother and I still had to get up every morning around 7 and pick the garden every day. My dad really liked green beans so we usually had 8 40 foot rows. That comes out to about 4 bushels of green beans every 3 days or so. We tried to get everything that needed picking done by noon, before it got too hot. Then we would spend the afternoon snapping, shelling, washing, peeling, cutting, or whatever it was that was needed for what we had picked that day. Then while my brother was taking care of the livestock, I would be helping my mother can everything.

Now granted, it was a lot of work, but at least we knew what was in our food. We didn't have to wash off any residual pesticides, or waxy preservatives before we ate it. We didn't have to worry about growth hormones or antibiotics in the meat or milk, we could eat a soft boiled egg with worry about salmonella. And the best part was that a year's worth of food cost us a few bags of livestock feed and some seeds.

Organic food would have been laughed about at my house. "Who would spend twice as much to buy food that we grow ourselves?"

I guess the laugh was on us.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Back to basics

When I think of all of the knowledge that has been lost in the last 100 years it makes me really sad. Technology has damaged us in almost every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the way we raise our children.

100 years ago, most people lived in the country, had a few acres and a house, maybe a few chickens, a garden, and if they were lucky, a cow or a couple of pigs. The lady of the house worked the garden, raised the kids, cooked, cleaned, sewed all of the clothing for the family, preserved the produce for the winter, washed clothes by hand then hung them up to dry, cleaned and swept the entire house, and if she had any time left in the day, would then do any handcraft that suited her like knitting, embroidery, crochet, carding wool or cotton, spinning, weaving, etc. Anything that might make a few coins in town or for personal use.

The man of the house would spend the majority of the day working the land or animals, felling trees to build a new barn, digging stumps out of a new field, repairing equipment, chopping wood for the wood stove or fireplace, and any other heavy work that needed to be done.

When night fell and it was too dark to work outside, the inside work would begin. Helping the children ( and there were many) with schoolwork, washing dishes, and reading from the Bible as a family. And an early bedtime for everyone because the day started at dawn.

Now that we don't have to worry about preserving enough food for the winter, fixing the leak in the roof, or making sure that no wolves get into the chicken house, we have more time to sit around and be bored. So we find things to keep us busy. Like watching TV. Or running to the mall.

Our kids are getting arrested because we as parents do not keep the kids busy enough to stay out of trouble. When we are not taking them to soccer practice, music lessons, tai kwon do, or putting them into pageants, we let them set in their rooms on the computer.

So, in a nutshell, we buy all of our food over processed and over salted (read as unhealthy), buy all of our meat from mass production farms where they are fed altered grains and processed feed from who knows where (read Mad Cow disease), have so little physical activity in our daily lives that we have to go to the gym to work our muscles (sedentary lifestyle with rapid bursts of activity that will only over activate the adrenal gland), kids who are not held accountable for their own actions (because they don't know what responsibility means), and a national epidemic of heart disease and other stress related disorders.

Doctors are telling us to eat healthier fresh foods, get more exercise, and do things to reduce stress in our lives.

It is amazing to me that our grandparents and great grand parents died of old age yet our children will have to worry about dying of cholesterol poisoning by the time they are 40. There is just something wrong with our way of thinking if we can actually make ourselves believe we are better off because of technology.

Have you ever...

Have you ever had a day that just felt wrong? You know the kind, where everything seems to be about half a bubble off plumb? Well, that is today. Just sitting around waiting for the ax to fall.

Not being able to sleep because of the stress, everything mechanical in the house acting just a little bit weird, the power twitching on and off this is gonna be an interesting day.

My husband is spending his time this morning looking thru job listings. Again. I will probably dig thru corners in the house to see if we have anything that we can sell. Hopefully the kids will do their chores this afternoon without griping too much about it. I might even get them to clean out their closets in the search of fodder to sell.

I need to find some big boxes. There isn't really any reason not to go ahead and pack some of this stuff up. Even if we do find a job and can stay, I have stuff in my cabinets that hasn't seen daylight in a couple of years at least. I think I will have another "if I haven't touched it in six months, it goes away" sale. At least that will give me an excuse to get rid of that dollar store skillet my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Outside the box

While trying to come up with ways to survive the coming lack of income, we have been trying to think out side the box. There has to be a way to make enough money to survive without selling your soul to do it.

Since I can't work for health reasons, that leaves my husband in a really tight spot. He is really feeling the pressure of having to support 4 people without a job. Stressful to say the very least. My kids, bless their thumpin' gizzards, are trying to be supportive of anything that will enable us to stay here. They are willing to eat pasta and beans forever if need be. My daughter wants to get a job so that she can make the house payment for us if we can't afford to.

Right now, we are investigating different ways to make a little bit of cash that doesn't involve selling insurance door to door or moving to Boston or California. Don't get me wrong, I am sure there are good things about those places, buried somewhere in the tax laws and history books, but I am a Southern Girl, born and bred. All of the family is here, and our cultural history is still strong in our family. Not to mention I don't want to walk into a restaurant and have another waitress look at our feet to see if we were wearing shoes after asking where we were from.

We have had a good run on the job front. 17 years working for the same company is almost unheard of these days. We have survived 6 lay offs, a couple of hostile takeover bids (failed) and my loss of ability to work. We have managed to pay off every single credit card we had (6 of the danged things), pay off the truck early, and still be able to eat well. We are probably in the best financial shape we have ever been in, at least until the ax falls sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Now we are looking into the possibility of delivering newspapers, setting up a website to showcase our state ( and sell related merchandise) and selling stuff on Ebay. Anything to make a few bucks. Hopefully, we will be able to make enough to stay put for a while for the sake of the kids.

I still want a place out in the woods. If we have to sell, that is where we are headed. But for the next few months, we will be looking for work "outside the box".

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Well, that tears it...

Well, we have found out today that my husband will likely be out of work no later than January 28. The kids are devastated, naturally. At least we have been working toward a more self sufficient lifestyle lately. We only have the house payment and the utilities to deal with. Oh, and the medical bills. Always the medical bills.

Now we get to see what an out of work C++ programmer can do to support our family of 4. Since I can't work any more, he is our sole support. It is a good thing that I have learned to make due with less. I can now feed our family for about $6-8 a day, provided we don't get too sick of beans and pasta.

We will have to seriously cut back on the meat that we eat and we will be a lot more careful in our grocery purchases. Fortunately I can cook and know how to use herbs and seasonings to highlight a bland meal. Maybe this will give a chance to eat healthier, you know, make our calories work better for us. At least we will not be buying sodas again for a while.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Resolutions? Or lifestyle?

I sometimes think about the futility of New Years Resolutions. We all take the time to think about things we want to change in our life. Lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, stop smoking, take more time with the family, etc.

I think I will just not make resolutions. If I decide something needs to change in my life, I just need to change it. Why should I wait until New Years to start? This is especially true for health issues. Every day you put it off is one more day that you are unhealthy.

I have started a different type of change. I am on a quest to spend as little money as possible. I have a goal to buy a small farm in the hills. To be able to do that, we will have to save every penny we can.

So far this goal is going fairly well. I have cut our grocery bill by about one fourth, cut our electric bill by almost a fourth, I have made soap and laundry detergent ( way cheaper), I have only bought bread once in almost 3 months ( making my own bread), and making the meat we have been eating go alot farther. I even have a tiny little garden for a few select high yield veggies like beans and tomatoes. My daughter bought me a canner for Christmas so I can put up my produce. Yet another savings.

My kids have sort of gotten into the spirit of the change. My daughter is really into the saving money thing. My son just likes the home made bread. Neither of them wants to move to a farm. Oh well, we can't have everything.

My husband is all for not spending the money. And he also wants to move to the hills. It took me a really long time to convince him that you just can't feed a family of 4 on $200 a month. He started going to the store with me when my Arthritis got so bad I had trouble lifting some of the packages. Now he knows just how expensive it is to buy groceries. On the plus side, he does like garden fresh veggies and he doesn't mind eating a lot of beans and pasta. Fresh bread is a plus. He loves me so he humors me in my sometimes crazed search for the almighty bargain.

I really want that farm. And there is a lot of work going into getting it. If it takes a lifestyle change to get it, then that is what will happen.

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