Tag Archives: frugality

Dollars for Decent Food

One of my colleagues handed out prizes at school recently, saying, “…and if it breaks before you go home today, well, it’s a dollar store prize.”

And that’s a lot of what you find at the dollar store (Dollar Tree in our case) — cheap plastic toys that don’t last long. So why do we keep going there? Well, this time it was because the kids wanted to spend their allowances. Thankfully, they did make some good choices — bubbles for blowing, crayons, a perfectly good water bottle.

I got some supplies for our Girl Scout meeting (you can get cheap craft supplies and school supplies at Dollar Tree, although quality may vary). But I also did much of our grocery shopping for the week!

What?! That doesn’t sound like a recipe for finding decent, sustainably produced foods, right? Well, it’s not like shopping at the farmers’ market or Whole Foods, of course. But I can’t afford Whole Foods right now, and the farmers’ market isn’t open yet anyway. So I looked around for some of the basic items we needed for the week and found: snack crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, tortillas, jam, hot dogs, shredded cheese, chicken pot pies (the husband eats them for lunch), and cornbread mix.

No, that isn’t a lot — but we didn’t need a lot, because we have a fairly full pantry right now due to ordering canned and dry items from Azure Standard. And it’s definitely not organic health food, but these are the same things I would have bought at a regular grocery store anyway. I do buy meat and eggs from local farmers, and I often buy organic veggies, but I don’t buy organic everything, and I do get moderate amount of moderately junky stuff like snack crackers.

The jam is the one thing I normally wouldn’t have bought, and felt rather guilty about — it’s basically flavored sugar goop, not real jam, and I’m usually a little more careful about that.

As a bonus, the cornbread mix was from Marie Callendar’s, and it’s something I haven’t seen at our regular grocery stores for a while.

It’s not something I’d want to do every week, but by shopping at Dollar Tree, I saved money as well as some time (because we were going there anyway). Both of those are good for my sanity.

What’s your experience shopping at dollar stores? Ever find anything really exciting?

Used Books or New?

Sometimes, in all of my spare time, I read and write about books. I’ve been hearing many people in the book world say that we need to support authors by buying new books, because they don’t get a cut of used book sales. Is this really right or fair?

As a person concerned about sustainable living, I gravitate toward used books. For environmental sustainability, I want to limit my consumption of resources. For my own economic sustainability, I need and want to spend less. And if I buy from a local, independent seller of used books, that’s good for the local economy, too.

On the other hand, I do agree that authors deserve to be compensated for their work. Will that cease to happen if I buy used books? No. Someone’s got to buy them new before I can buy them used, right? And many of the books that I buy used are books that I might not buy otherwise.

When I want something badly enough, and I can’t easily find it used, I do go ahead and buy a new book — especially if I’ve already read a library copy. For instance I heard about The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, and first I checked it out of the library and read it. I quickly found that it was one of the best gardening books I had read, and that it was something I would refer to time and again, so I ordered a new copy with an Amazon gift card (I earn and save these up sometimes).

So if you can afford to support authors by buying new books, and feel good about doing so, I’d say go for it! But please don’t tell us that this is what everyone should do. It’s not the right thing for every person.

NOTE: Yes, I put an affiliate link in there for you. You can send a little cash my way if you buy through that link. You’ll also be supporting Powell’s Books AND the author. Or, go forth and find a used copy — it’s your choice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Disposable Diaper Sales Are Down. But Why?

According to AdvertisingAge, sales of disposable diapers were down 9% for the 52 weeks ending August 7, 2011. Meanwhile, the number of babies age two and under fell by only 3%, and sales of diaper rash creams increased by 2.8%. AdvertisingAge reasons that this means that parents are letting babies sit in dirty diapers longer in order to save money, and thus babies are having more problems with diaper rash.

I know, yuck, right? I suppose there could be a relationship there. However, my first thought was that there must be more people using cloth diapers now! That doesn’t account for the diaper rash creams (although some people think cloth-diapered babies are more prone to diaper rash), but I bet it’s a factor. If you glance at the comments below the article, you’ll see several other people casting doubt on the article’s conclusion as well.

If you really want to save money, cloth diapers are an excellent option. Even if you have to pay for a coin laundry, you’ll probably be saving money over disposables, which cost around a quarter for each diaper.


Photo by simplyla on Flickr, used via CC BY 2.0 Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Who Rides a Bike?

I’m at the beach with 20+ ladies from work. As often happens, there was a conversation about the price of gas.

I stopped by the gas station on my way home, and I thought I was just topping it off, but it cost more than $20!”

“Yeah, I know, it costs me more than $50 to fill up now!”

“The other day, I pumped up my bike tires, and it was free!”

“Yeah, Kathleen, but I didn’t see you riding your bike to the beach, either!”

OK, good point. And my share of the gas money is a little higher this year.

But, seriously, my daily commute costs very little, because I don’t have to fuel up my bike. I eat. And I burn fat. And this is good, because we are still well below the median income for our family size, and keeping the driving expense down helps us to afford other things, like summer camp and ballet classes and decent food. And a weekend at the beach, an overnight in Hood River for my husband and myself, and simple family vacations. And riding the bike will help next year when my income gets cut back because of the school funding crisis.

It turns out that most cyclists are more like me, or they are even more low-income. They aren’t just yuppies in spandex and fluorescent yellow jackets, or yuppies with a bakfietsfull of kids.

Sightline Daily recently published an article highlighting a report from the University Transportation Research Center, which included demographic information about U.S. bicycle riders, both by race/ethnicity and by income level.

According to the research, people in the BOTTOM 25% by income make 31% of all bicycle trips. And the bottom 50%, all together, make 51% of all bicycle trips.

The study also shows that the percentage of U.S. riders who are Black, Hispanic, and Asian has been rising.

We’re out here, and we’re increasingly visible.




Investing in Food

People often say that organic and natural farming just isn’t profitable. Some farmers insist that conventional methods developed in the 20th century are necessary in order to make a living.

But there are investors out there who see it differently. Yes, wealthy people who could be putting their money into Wall Street!

In this OPB news story, individuals and groups of angel investors have been putting money into “slow food” and getting a satisfactory rate of return during a time when they might be taking a beating on money invested in Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’ve joined a local food buying club, and am sending some of our dollars directly to farmers in exchange for locally grown/raised potatoes, onions, eggs, and beef. I feel like this is money well invested, too, even though I don’t see a direct monetary return. And we’re saving money by banding together with neighbors to buy!

Eating on a Budget

Oh, hi! I’m back! It’s been a hectic few weeks, what with softball practice, softball games, a concert, birthday parties, user group meetings, etc. It’s all good. Just a very busy good.

And when we’re very busy, we’re not always behaving in a frugal way. Oh, we haven’t been out buying flat-screen TVs and designer athletic shoes. It’s just that we’ve been relying more than usual on convenience foods and eating out. So now it’s the end of the month, and we need to tighten our belts (meaning both that we need to save money and that I need to lose a few pounds).

We’ve got a few things on the shelves and in the freezer to use up. So today, I went grocery shopping for the week and spent $22.36.

I didn’t use a single coupon. I generally don’t use coupons, unless they’re for something I would buy anyway and they’re attached to the store shelves. We don’t subscribe to the newspaper, and we don’t usually buy name-brand items, so I don’t feel it’s worth it.

No, I just kept it simple, and bought things that would supplement what we have already.

Here’s the tentative menu plan (dinners only):

  • Baked salmon w/ zucchini (I have a slab of salmon from the farmers’ market in the freezer)
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Pancakes
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Black beans w/ salsa and rice
  • Split pea soup with bacon (I have a package of bacon ends to use up)

You may notice that I didn’t buy any fruits or vegetables except for the zucchini. We have on hand frozen veggies, apples, carrots, canned beets and canned mandarin oranges.  I might pick up some frozen apple juice another time; I forgot about it today. We also have young lettuces that we can thin out of the garden — yum!

We have both hot and cold breakfast cereals in stock, and plenty of coffee and milk.  We also have yogurt and cheese for a little protein boost.

For lunches, I restocked bread, mayo and peanut butter and bought a package of bologna and some tuna. We already had a package of hot dogs, and I bought buns today.  I often take leftovers for lunch, but I actually don’t anticipate having leftovers from the meals I have planned.

These aren’t the healthiest, most earth-friendly meals I’ve ever planned.  Well, except that they don’t contain a lot of meat! That’s earth-friendly. But they will get us through, and quite comfortably.

More resources on frugal eating:

Forget Recession-Busting: Change Your Life!

I’m getting really tired of reading articles about how to save money, tighten your belt, etc., because of the recession.  Every article pretends to have new, useful information for you, and every one has the same tired old shit that I’ve been doing for years (or at least they’re ideas that I considered and discarded months or years ago).

Frugality should be a way of life, not something that we do only in case of emergency.  Oh, sure, there are times when we move to frugality extreme (dry beans and powdered milk all week because you had to pay the heating bill from the Snowpocalypse, anyone?  Or is that just me?).

But signs are pointing to this being more than just a recession.  Even if the economy does pick up a little due to governmental stimulus programs, the way we run the economy now just isn’t sustainable.  It’s all built on the ideas that growth is good, and that spending money on stuff is good.  It should be perfectly obvious to everyone that you can’t have infinite growth with a finite supply of resources, but we keep sticking our fingers in our ears and singing the consumerism song.

So I don’t want to hear about clipping coupons, making your own coffee, or keeping your tires inflated any more.  I want to hear about real change: about local economies that work, about communities where people are living, working and eating together, and about steady instead of growth.  I want to hear about people who are making lifestyle changes for good, not just until the economy picks up again.

Recession Hacking

I’m still sick.  I keep having these violent sneezes that sap all my energy.  I’ve still got something for you to read, though, courtesy of the Willamette Week.  If you watch Live @ 7 on KGW in Portland, you might have seen some of these items, but there’s much more!  Willamette Week has a whole section of recession busters, with nine different articles on things like free food, home and pantry, and outdoors and travel. These are pretty much Portland-only, though — sorry, everyone else!

None of these are a substitute for daily frugality, of course, but there are a lot of fun ideas and opportunities.