Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saving Money

I have three jobs. Two of them are kind of crappy. I keep them because the main job doesn't pay on time, and I can't exactly buy groceries with "no, really, the check will clear tomorrow."

It's kind of sucking away my energy to blog, but the real mojo-killer is the fact that I'm freaking lucky to have ANY job in this economy, let alone a patchwork quilt of jobs that lets me stay home with the little man. But at the end of the day, I have very little energy for creativity.

All of my creativity is going towards keeping the grocery bill under control. When I started food shopping for me and the mate in 2002, I spent fifty bucks every two weeks. Now less food is over a hundred every two weeks! And in 2002, if it wasn't finished and ready for the microwave, I didn't buy it. I kept dog biscuits in the kitchen canisters, because I sure as hell never bought flour or sugar. Not just any dog biscuits, either, the meat flavored brand name biscuits.

So I am totally cranky about my Mature Adult Virtue costing more money. Stupid economy ruins everything.

Here's what we've done so far:

- Cut the non-grocery items. Man, I did not quite grasp how much non-food stuff I was buying at Safeway until I stopped. Firewood, food storage, greeting cards, kitchen gadgets - all of it marked up to the rafters and unnecessary to boot. These things still occasionally jump into my cart, but I glare at them until they jump back out. I mean, a doodad that will dice a whole onion with two chops would be so awesome. However, it is twelve dollars we do not have, whereas I do have a set of knives.

- Coupons and club cards. I've used these for years, but it's amazing how much awesome you can get if you're diligent, and ONLY buy things you would have bought anyway. My mate and I love hot links and kielbasa. When the club card has a buy one get one free special, well, that's what the freezer is for. And the dogs don't seem to give a damn that their biscuits are generic or purchased only with half off coupons.

- Costco. I still need soap and laundry detergent, and if I'm not buying them from the grocery store, they have to come from somewhere. After surveying the options (Target, Walmart, Costco), Costco won. You need to be strong, and out of three trips, I've only made it out with JUST the items on my list once. A friend called it the Four Hundred Dollar Milk store. You go in for milk, you leave with a TV and a fake fur blanket. I comfort myself knowing that I haven't done too badly - my impulse grabs were tubs of pumpkin bisque soup that ended up serving as eight delicious hot lunches for five bucks, and a pumpkin cheesecake, twelve servings for eight bucks. But random pumpkin purchases aside, the membership fee has already been worth it in terms of the savings on a lot of staples - paper towels, TP, potatoes, detergent, bread, cheese, rice, beans, cereal, cooking spices, and pasta.

- Use less crap. I thought I was pretty good - I use plastic grocery bags as trash can and diaper pail liners, and when I've got a good stock of bags, I use canvas sacks to shop with - and not ones I bought, either, ones I collected over years of being a swag magnet. I use sponges instead of paper towels unless the thing I'm wiping up is totally disgusting, like dog pee. Clothes are not necessarily dirty after being worn. Toilet paper... you know what, there are some things you just use as much as you need to use. Anyway. I thought I was good, but you can REALLY go far without any lifestyle sacrifices. Sandwich bags can be reused. Baby food jars can store a lot of things. Tupperware bowls that leak are good toys. My grandfather used to chant "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I thought he was nuts. I was wrong.

- Learn to cook. This was the hard one for me, the queen of "microwave for two minutes, stirring after 45 seconds." My husband is a brilliant natural cook, something he didn't know until I gave birth and suddenly it was cook or starve. I had partially stocked the freezer with Let's Dish food, but the baby was two weeks early. But he's got a long commute and I don't, so I feel better if I do the bulk of the food prep. I totalled up the costs of microwave Indian food and realized we simply couldn't keep doing it.

I'd been taking baby steps - baking squash, stir fries, jambalaya, cookouts. Last week I went TOTALLY INSANE and tried making chana masala from scratch. And, um, it was awesome. It was one million times better than the frozen chana masala (nine dollars, two "entrees"). There were six servings. Admittedly, buying the spices and making tamarind puree was a little steep in money and time, but I've got enough stuff on hand now to make this dish several dozen times over. All I'll need to buy now for each new potfull are the dried chickpeas - under two dollars for the size bag I need.

It's funny, but I was feeling really bitchy when I started this post, and now I'm feeling terribly accomplished and fortunate. Who knew it would take a recession and a baby to make me grow up?


Lahdeedah said...

And big tip:

NEVER EVER buy anything in a box that can be bought fresh or real.
But load up on freezer veggies!

Shop on the outside of the aisles first, and only venture down the aisles that you actually need to. Those middle aisles will kill you.

Learn how to cook 30 minute meals. Seriously. You don't have to like Rachel Ray, but you gotta admit, she's got an awesome racket there with 30 minute meals and fresh ingredients!

Sanya said...

Right, nothing in a box. You can also add "bag."

In the distant land where I'm in an office full time again, I will again buy shredded cheese and sliced cheese. Until then, I'm shredding it or slicing it myself.