household finance

Okay. That title isn’t nice but I’m so tired. I have been up all night with a sick kiddoe and my brain is fried. So why try to write now? Because even with no sleep, I am more creative in the morning than I ever am at night. I tried to do my posts after I got Phoebe into bed but I mostly just sit there, staring blankly at the computer and looking for some pearl of wisdom to pass on. So I am going back first thing in the morning.

I actually have something to share. I went to the market yesterday. I was really pleased because it seems I am finally on track to shopping in what  I think is the most efficient way possible. I want to shop only to refill my pantry and take advantage of not-to-be missed sales. I came home with 4 gallons of apple juice, 12 boxes of brownie mix, 2 boxes of freezer bags, aluminum foil, canned pumpkin, and a number of other items ( 5 bags worth and I carried the juice in separately) for around $50.00. The total was actually $100.00 but with the coupons and in-store rewards, 50% was saved and I received another $15.00 in coupons for my next trip. The best bargains were the brownie mixes at $1.00 each, free toilet paper, recycled aluminum foil, free with a rebate card, a cloth shopping bag, free with a coupon, the apple juice, $2.50 a gallon and 10 pounds of rice that was on sale and I had a $.55 coupon for that I tripled with another coupon. At our small store, I picked up organic bananas for that were going brown for $.49 a pound. Altogether a good buying trip.

The worst way to shop is often because one is tempted by the goodies one sees on every trip. I am planning to do my big shop on Tuesdays because I have to go into town on that day anyway. I pick up my grandson for the day, saving his parents the drive and then hit the two markets in town. If I stick with the loss leaders in each store and check my coupons carefully, I should be able to keep my weekly spend to less than $50.00. I do need to watch for some things. I nearly bought sugar because I had a coupon but after doing the math I found that it was still more expensive than buying from BJ’s where I go once a month for some of my bulk purchases. I also found that with coupon use bigger is not necessarily better. If I get the smallest size, with a triple coupon the item is often free.

What I find amazing about these numbers is that I don’t purchase much real food with the dollars spent. I have not bought a vegetable since June and darn little fruit. I purchased some meat until recently but now that the freezer is up and running I will not need to do that again. I will get all of meat from local sources and get it in bulk. I buy most of my grains in bulk from the co-op. So the only actual food I will get is some cheese (until I learn to make cheddar) juice as I don’t can enough for the year by a long shot and the dairy that I don’t make at home like sour cream and butter. When we calculate our food bill, we are generally counting things like laundry soap and deodorant. I really don’t know how these unemployed families with no pantries to fall back on and no gardens are going to make it. The burden on food pantries and food stamps must be horrific. It also points to just how much food a family consumes. It is a lot more than most think.

So today I need to get Phoebe to the doctor and then return and get out the food saver and quart jars. I will repack the brownie mix for long term storage. If I store it in a dark closet with all of the air sucked out, it will have a very long shelf life. I may even take Karen with me when I take Phoebe in a have her run back into the store and get another 12 boxes. It is not a food I would use every day but it sure is handy to have it when one of the kids needs something fast to bring to a school event. It is also something I can cook in my solar oven or in my stove top emergency oven. I want to try a batch in a cast iron dutch oven ans see if that works.

So now I’m inspired. I think that, as I will be spending a good deal of the day entertaining a sick 6 year old, I will update my preparedness notebook. I keep pages for what I buy, how much I have on hand, what I need and the usual price. I should check over those prices and see where are they are. I love this kind of project. It helps me feed my tiny OCD monster.


I just read a news piece about a kid who successfully sued her father because he grounded her from a school field trip for going on-line when she was told not to. I feel like an old fogey say, “when I was a kid….” but really.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have spent most of my adult like caring for kids who have been abused or neglected by the adults who should have been caring for them. My four youngest are all adopted from the child welfare system. Nobody cares more about protecting children from mistreatment than I do but this wasn’t mistreatment. It was a consequence of bad behavior.

In a crisis, having your kids know that they have to obey first and ask questions later could save their lives. If the smoke detector goes off while your daughter is on the phone or your son in the middle of a video game, they have to get out of the house without arguing.

I don’t think we are doing our kids any favors when we teach them that the answer to every demand is yes and that they are equal partners in the decision making. They aren’t. At least at my house they aren’t. Bruce and I run a benevolent dictatorship. What we say goes. As kids display good judgement and maturity, they can take more responsibility for making decisions for themselves but ultimately, we are in charge for a simple reason. Kids don’t always know what is good for them.

Maybe there is a life lesson in here. This country is in big trouble because we haven’t learned to take no for an answer. Everybody gets a car for their 16th birthday translates in later years to everybody gets a $40,000 SUV. Everybody has a television in their bedroom turns into everybody has a 5000 square foot McMansions with 4 flat screen televisions and a pool. If you want it and don’t have the money, don’t worry. That’s what credit cards are for. Delayed gratification? I don’t think so.

And maybe this is lesson for all of us. You can want and desire and ask for but sometimes the answer is no.

This a preparedness site but obviously, I write about other things. One of my favorite topics is frugal living. I know a lot of people who think they can’t afford to buy food in bulk so there is one connection to preparedness. The other is that it is important to prepare for an uncertain economic future and living below your means is a necessary component of this. One thing I often hear when I talk about how it saves money to garden, preserve food, cook from scratch and mend our clothing is that I have not considered what my time is worth in my calculations. “If you factored in the hours you spend, you will probably find you are working for a couple of dollars an hour,” is the most common remark.

Silly! First, the implication is that if I wasn’t gardening or cooking I would be doing something that earned a wage. I might have to pick up a part time job to help make ends meet but I would probably be stuck doing something I didn’t enjoy to earn money so I didn’t have to do something I do enjoy. Anyone else see a problem with this logic? And if I was working, I would have expenses like taxes, clothing, meals out and transportaion.  Much of my productivity would be leaving me to benefit others. If I grow tomatoes, I feed my family and have excess product to donate to others if I chose but it won’t be taken from me.

The next problem I have is with the concept of worth. I am not sure why so many people can only think of worth as having a dollar sign attached to it. What is it worth to sit on my deck on a summer morning and sip tea made from the mint I grew and sweetened with honey from my own hives? What is it worth to knead a loaf of bread while listening to a Radio Free Earth CD and watching my kids dance around the kitchen? What is it worth for Bruce to present me with a cedar chest he has built himself? I suppose he could haved worked for several weeks to earn the money to buy an artisan chest and given that to me. Would that have been more valuable? What is time spent with friends worth? Time in nature? Time with each other?

I am always looking for a way to save money and space, both important considerations when you are embarking on a long term storage plan so I was delighted to find this recipe on my neighbor, Heather’s, blog:  Faith, Fun and Family. It is for a homemade laundry detergent. It is certainly frugal. 32 loads cost just $1.00. Just as important, if you store the ingredients and make up a batch as you need it, you save a lot of space. As I have a 3 full shelves devoted to soaps, this idea is pretty appealing. Here’s the recipe:

1/2 bar Fels Naptha Soap, grated

1 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)

1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

Mix all of this with 2 gallons warm water. Heather didn’t say how she mixed it but I am guessing that you need to use very warm water and an electric mixer. Heather gave me a quart of it to try and I loved the results. The mixture thickens into a gel as it sets. I used about 1/3 cup. My laundry smelled terrific.

Heather added a nice little rant on what we actually pay for with laundry soap. Product placement, fragrance, color, perceived convenience, and advertising. There was one topic she didn’t touch on and that was the waste.  Plastic cleaning supply containers take up tons (literally!) of landfill space. Even if recycled, the often end up being transported to China. The whole process is hardly benign. Making your own will result in much less trash.

My next book is an essential kitchen guide. I and my co-author, Alice Cozzolino, are looking at the tools we use to process food and how we set up our kitchens to save money while preparing healthy, eco friendly meals. One of the things we looked at was the chemicals we introduce into our homes in an effort to keep them clean. We feel that this is generally a case of the cure being worse than the disease. As I complete my research into recipes for cleaning, I will be passing them on. Our book will be out next year.

I read a piece this morning about a couple who did a food stamp challenge. They ate on $67.00 a month for 2 months. It was a pretty interesting article. At the end of the challenge they went out for lunch and had a tough time enjoying their $14.00 bagel sandwiches.

I am always pleased when I read that someone, anyone is giving more thought to how he or she eats. Peak oil is going to affect everybody and food may well be the place that the average family feels it most acutely. The sooner we learn how to eat better with less environmental impact, the easier the shift will be. I was struck by one comment in this piece that I think is problematic. A friend was going to join this couple in the challenge but opted out when he realized how restrictive the diet would be. I wish he had tried even part of the challenge. Maybe he could have eaten that way for a week or spent slightly more money. It is a clear example of how we tend to be all or nothing about life changes. Until I can spend $3000.00 on a prepackaged storage system I won’t prepared at all. Until I build an off-the-grid cabin, I won’t bother cutting my energy usage with some simple reductions. Until I can afford to eat all organic produce, I’ll keep on eating at Subway.

Most of us can’t do it all. We have to make choices and make do. I usually opt for local and organic but sometimes I will buy a turkey on sale. I generally watch my hot water usage but sometimes I splurge on a long, hot bath. I walk to the store when the weather permits but when the wind is howling I drive the single mile.

It is important to see adapting to a changing world as a journey, not a destination. Every step matters. Today, you may put up a clothes line and make a public promise to never use your dryer again. If you get the flu or it rains for 10 days straight, trust me. You will be forgiven for slipping. Just don’t let the slip rob you of the will to keep on keeping on. Every step we take towards a more sustainable life matters. Try to take a a least one step each day.

My step for today is make a menu plan that includes 3 grain and bean meals each week. I took a class on cooking with grains and beans last week and now I need to put the information to good use. Nothing is cheaper to buy, easier to store or as versatile to cook with. It does take advance planning however. Tomorrow, I am making veggie grain burgers for dinner so tonight, I have to soak the black beans. Bruce is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and he likes these burgers so much, he will request them rather than a hamburger. The recipe is a bit long but is isn’t al all difficult.

Saute 3/4 cup of diced onion in 2 tbls olive oil. add 1/2 cup red pepper, 1/4 cup carrot and 3/4 cup mushrooms and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add 1 teas of dry sherry, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 teas dried basil, 1 teas salt and a grind of pepper. Now add 1 1/2 teas tamari and as much balsamic vinegar and saute for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and scape it all into a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 2 tbls tahini, 1 egg , 1/2 cup mashed black beans. Mix this all together and form into patties  and fry in a bit of canola oil. I find that coating the patties with some cornmeal gives them a nice crunch. Serve these like you would any burger.

This may sound like a lot of work and I suppose it is, at least compared to stopping for take out or pulling something from the freezer but this is what I am talking about. Eating well in the future will almost certainly be more work. You may not do this every day or even once a week but don’t let that keep you  from trying at least once.

If you are interested in reading about the food stamp challenge, the link can be found on today’s survivalblog post.

One of the more enduring pictures of the depression is that of bread lines. I fear that we are beginning to see a different incantation of modern day bread lines. Food stamps applications have soared and what are food stamps but invisible soup kitchens and bread lines. Private donors are handing out food in places like Elkhart where unemployment has reached 20%. My husband volunteers at our food pantry where donations are down but usage is up. The demand for subsidized lunches and breakfast at my daughter’s high school has surged to the point that they can no longer afford to offer a hot breakfast and have switched to a selection of cold, presweetened cereals and milk.

We all need to think about food security, not in the abstract, isn’t it awful what is happening in other places and to other people, but in the sense of personal security. What will you do if food becomes too expensive for your budget?

I looked over several years of checkbook ledgers last night, pulling out what I spent for food. The numbers are difficult to figure as, at times, I have had a houseful of teenage boys to feed and other times when it has been just me, Bruce and the three girls. Still. I think I have a pretty good idea of where my food money has gone and why we seem to be eating a lot better for a lot less money today.

I rarely go grocery shopping any more and I almost never shop for the ingredients for a meal.  Rather, I shop to restock my pantry. One week, I will put in a co-op order for dried fruit and nuts and maybe a fifty pound sack of grain. Another week, I might buy a bulk order of chicken. I take a trip to a big box store 6 times a year and get things like sugar and case lots of the fruits that I can’t get locally. I hit a buy one get two free sale to restock my juice supply. If I didn’t get to the market for a month, I might have to pick up local milk or cheese and maybe a bit of fresh produce at the the general store here in town but I could manage quite well  even if I couldn’t get there as I have a large supply of dried milk and all the supplies for making cheese. My goal is to use at least 2 jars of something I preserved last summer every day. Last night, we ate a ham and scalloped potato casserole. The potatoes and onions were from our garden and the ham was local. The milk was local and the salt from storage. We also had canned applesauce (ours) and bread and butter pickles (ours). I made canned green beans which no one likes but they ate them because they could smell the rhubarb/blueberry crisp in the oven.

Not everyone has the space to grow as much as we do but I think we shortchange our ability to grow something. There is a terrific web site called path to freedom you should check out if you think you can’t grow food in you back yard.

Put out the word that you are interested in growing and foraging more food. I got 50 pounds of peaches last year from a woman who was swamped with them just through word of mouth. We are still eating those peaches and will have them until the new crop comes in. If the crop fails, I have cases of canned peaches in storage to hold me over until the next harvest.

Food has been rationed by price for many years. If you had money, you could afford fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and good bread. Poor people ate peanut butter, white pasta, and kool-aid. I see food rationing by price as something that will get a lot worse. Prepare for that time by figuring how and where to grow food. Learn how to preserve it and cook it. Plan to enjoy it during the lean times that are already here.

I watched a news segment on homelessness in America yesterday. The images of families living in tent cities and walking streets, waiting for shelters to open has haunted me. Today, take a look around your home. Take in the sights and the smells. The home you live in now may not be the home of your dreams. It probably does not measure up to some of the homes you see on television. Perhaps your home is cluttered with the flotsam and jetsam of family life. If Martha Stewart came to call, she might not find you properly decorated for the season. But this is the garden were you must grow for now. This place deserves something from you. The fact that the roof is over your head must be held with gratitude.

Take one small step today to make the house you live in your home. Repair one broken thing. Hang a picture or plant a flower. Buy a fire extinguisher. Wash the windows. In an uncertain future, we must nurture the things we have that are real and abiding; our family, our friends, our communities and our homes.

A good deal of the financial pain that many are feeling today is the result of seeing their homes as financial rather than emotional investments. People who should have known better removed permanent equity for fleeting pleasures; the car, the vacation, the boat. Our country will not recover until we figure out a value system that is based on something beyond a culture of stuff.

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