Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Monthly Grocery Supply Runs February 28, 2013

I have written about this topic before but often have questions hitting my email over it. As food prices continue to rise faster than people’s incomes, the topic seems to be hitting a nerve with more people.

We are a single income family. In today’s financial times, it is not always an easy thing to accomplish. To make it work, we have chosen to scale back on excess. One huge area of excess is trips to the store. Each time that we go to the store, we are setting ourselves up for impulsive purchases. There is also the fuel and other costs associated with trips to the store. One way we reduced this was to do a monthly shopping trip as often as possible.

When I first began doing this, I felt overwhelmed. The very idea of buying a month’s supply of groceries all at once seemed like a horrendous task. I quickly found that I was wrong. While it does take more planning, the actual shopping was far easier than the weekly or bi-weekly shopping.

To make the shopping trip successful, it required that I plan out a month’s worth of meals. Like most families, we have certain foods that we eat on a regular basis. Using a sheet of paper, I brainstormed with my husband and listed all of our favorite meals. We even included a few that we enjoy, but do not make very often. Using this list, I made up weekly menus. I wrote out a list of 7 meals, with the grocery list for those meals included. To make up a monthly menu, I simply choose 4 weekly menus.

Compiling a list of groceries for the monthly menu is very easy. I transfer the grocery list for each weekly menu onto a sheet of paper. Often, I find that I can use the same ingredients for more than one meal, such as seasonings. The advantage to this type of shopping is that I am able to take advantage of bulk purchase discounts. Instead of buying 5 single pound packages of ground beef, I can buy the “family pack” size and break it down into portions needed for the month’s meals. If you have a freezer, the breaking down of bulk meat purchases is easy. Just have on hand a roll of freezer paper. I always pre-cook the meat until it is nearly done, then home can it into portions that will be used for each meal.

There are always a few items that you cannot purchase a month in advance. Fresh produce is a good example. This is where I either utilize what we grow or a local farmer’s market. Try to eat foods in season and you can buy it for less than the off season prices.

One issue that we found needed to be addressed rather quickly in our monthly shopping adventure is that you must be consistent. If you buy corn chips for use with a taco soup recipe, don’t use them for a snack prior to when you planned to have the meal. Intead, have a shelf or pantry area where the family can find their snacks or open use items. This will eliminate the frustration of having to replace items needed for upcoming meals. Remember, the idea is to limit the number of trips to the store!

In upcoming posts, I will share specific details on sample menus that I have done. Hopefully it will cut down on any confusion. Unfortunately, to explain it all in one blog post would take more space than what many want to read. LOL

 

Too Much Work? February 23, 2013

It seems strange to me to hear the opinions of others concerning our lifestyle. As early as in the book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve were instructed that their lives would require hard work. It was after they were taken out of the Garden of Eden. The Lord made it known to them that it would be by the sweat of their brow that their crops would grow. How often do we read in scripture about the hard work the people had to do in order to provide for their families? The stories of the women having to glean in the fields for grain to make their bread or the men who worked in the fields or fish with nets are abundant. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say in 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model to you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”

In today’s society, we have drawn away from that attitude more and more. While there are many who are physically unable to do hard work, there is always something that can be done. Unfortunately, it is in our human nature to be lazy and complacent. It is much easier to be taken care of than to work. We all have those moments in our lives. In some areas it is far easier to take advantage of modern technology. The danger in this is that here we are today with a generation of young adults who haven’t a clue how to live without modern conveniences. Is it any wonder that when a storm knocks the power out, many families freak out? It was a shock to find out a couple of years ago that some people actually believe it is not legal to be off-grid. People are so accustomed to having electricity and all the modern conveniences that they find it too strange to think some would choose to live without it.

Suddenly, we find ourselves where we are today, a nation with serious economic issues. People are unemployed or under-employed. Record numbers of people are receiving government aid through food stamps of other means. The problem lies in the fact that there are many receiving these “entitlements” that feel it is their right to receive them. My question is this; what will happen when the nation runs out of tax money to pay for it? It has happened in other nations? What makes people believe it cannot happen here?

I have said it many times in the past, but I say it again. My husband and I do not feel that ALL people should live as off-grid as we choose to do. It really isn’t for everyone. If readers are honest however, they will admit that there are things that they can implement in their own homes to make their lives just a bit easier. Whether it be to plant a small garden in their yard or in containers on their balcony, work towards becoming debt-free, or simply being more cautious in their spending.

We often are asked how we manage on as little as we do financially. The answer is simple. We make it work. It doesn’t matter how much or little the pay is, we find a way to make the money stretch as far as possible. Being in the truck driving industry, the pay is dependent upon how many miles my husband drives. Some weeks the pay is much better than others. We have literally had a week when the truck broke down and our paycheck was in the negative due to the deductions being more than his pay that week. Then we have a paycheck come along that is very good. We learned to stock up when pay is good in preparation for the times when pay is low. It is a life of feast or famine. We are blessed in that my husband works for a company and not an owner/operator leasing to a company for his loads. A truck payment for the semi and all the permits, etc., would be hard financially devastating if we also had to make repairs to the truck as well as pay for fuel. As a company driver, the company takes care of all of those expenses.

The easy answer to how we make our income work is this. We have to work to save money. If I want to save money on the cost of doing laundry, I have to wash it by hand. This alone saves us $20 per week when compared to doing laundry at a Laundromat in town. In winter months, we use a Laundromat but in the warmer months, the laundry is done at home on a scrub board. I actually enjoy those times. I find it very peaceful and relaxing.

If we want to cut our food costs, we have to grow our own food. If unable to grow your own, you can cut costs by being less fancy in your cooking and using less processed foods. Using the raw or basic ingredients can save you a bundle in expenses. A loaf of bread that costs $2 at the store would only cost about 68 cents to make at home. On average, not including meat, you can cut your grocery expense down to about ¼ of your monthly bill if you stop buying the store versions of your favorite packaged foods. In spite of rising food costs, I am still managing to spend under $200 per month to feed our family of 4. We eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet most of the time, with a few meat meals scattered throughout the month.

For cutting costs in utilities, I am very frugal even with our water usage. Not only is this great for our environment, but it helps keep our monthly bills down. We live in a drought area. Last year, the gardens did very poorly due to the heat and drought. So, this year, I am planning a “drought garden” instead of a traditional one. A drought garden is one in which you plant vegetables and herbs that are drought resistant. Root crops are great for this! They require less water than things like green beans or tomatoes. There are varieties of fruit that are drought and heat resistant also. Many are heirloom varieties that are open pollinated (not GMO) and survive well in our region. I am planning 2 plantings of leafy greens. The first will be in early spring and the second will take place in late summer or early autumn. This will give us a nice supply of salads during the cooler months. Instead of growing celery, I am planting leaf celery. This herb tastes like celery but is far easier to grow and the leaves can be dried for winter use.

Canning may seem pricey when a person first starts, but when you remember that the jars are reusable, canning is far less expensive than buying the tins of vegetables & fruit at the store. Often, I find old canning jars at yard sales or secondhand shops. After the initial investment into buying jars, you only have to replace the flat lids that are used to seal the jars. There is a company called “Tattler” that makes the old fashioned resealable lids. These cost more than the single use lids, but are a onetime purchase. The time spent growing (or purchasing from a farmer’s market) and home canning your harvest can save your family $1,000s of dollars over a year’s time. It all depends on the amount of food you grow and preserve.

As with any other aspect of our lifestyle, the amount of work we are willing to do has a great influence in the amount of expense we have each month. The amount of work we choose to do allows us to live comfortably without the use of financial assistance or food stamps. It can be done. The question is whether others are willing to put forth the effort needed to do it. Whether it is just a little change here and a little change there, you can make a difference in your family’s spending. It is not something beyond anyone’s ability. The question comes down to how serious people are about wanting to change their spending habits and have the ability to live on less. It is only a nice idea that they would like to consider or is it something that they truly want to work towards?

 

Homemade Seasonings February 18, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:00 pm
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When our Grandma’s were cooking, they didn’t have the convenience of all the various spice blends that can be found today in the grocery store. If they wanted something special, they had to make it themselves. Here are some cheap and easy recipes for making your own too.

Garlic Salt

This happens to be one of my husband’s favorite seasonings. It is ridiculously easy to make and takes just a few minutes of your time. I prefer to make it in small batches so that it is always as fresh as possible. You will need: 1 clove garlic and sea salt.

Finely mince or crush a clove as garlic. I nearly mash the garlic to make a paste consistency. With a knife or fork, work into the garlic about 2-3 teaspoons of sea salt. As you mix them, teh salt will clump due to absorbing the moisture from the garlic. Keep mixing in a little sea salt until the salt no longer clumps together. I spread it out onto the cutting board and allow it to dry for about an hour. that step may not be essential, but it is a habit I am into. Store in an airtight container.

Here is a fun use for the Garlic Salt you just made.

Italian Seasoning

1 Tbsp. Garlic Salt
2 Tbsp ground oregano
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp dried thyme flakes
1/4 tsp dried celery seeds

Mix all ingredients well and store in a jar.

Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

1 cup of dried bread crumbs
3.5 teaspoons of Italian Seasoning

Mix together well and store in a jar.

Enjoy!

 

Homemade Baking Mix & Pasta Recipes February 16, 2013

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:42 pm
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Here is today’s recipes that I wanted to share. The first is for those who love the convenience of baking mixes, such as the boxed versions sold in stores. Here is a really inexpensive homemade one that I love to use. I use this in place of the “Bisquik” for making biscuits during the winter when we eat them nearly daily with soups or stews.

Homemade Baking Mix

6 Cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. Baking Powder
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 Cup vegetable shortening

Into a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt to mix well. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Place into an air-tight container and refrigerate. This mix will keep for up to 4 months.

Homemade Pasta Noodles

2 Cups of all-purpose flour
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
4 Tbsp. warm water

Place flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Add eggs, olive oil, and water. Mix together until well blended. Turn onto a lightly floured table and lightly knead until glossy and no more flour can be kneaded in. It makes a somewhat firm dough. Form into a ball and cover. Let rest for an hour. (Do not skip this step! It really makes a difference in the quality of the pasta texture.)

Roll out the dough to desired thickness. I like to make it a little thicker than a dime. Remember that pasta will thicken up a bit more when cooking!

Cut the dough into desired widths and drap over a clean dowel rod to dry overnight. Once fully dried, the pasta can be stored in plastic containers until ready to use.

When making the pasta, I never make more than a month’s supply. Our climate is very humid and I don’t want to risk molding from the humidity. Because of this, I have no idea how long a batch would keep in the pantry.

***Here is a quick tip that the kids love – in place of the water, use pureed vegetables. It provides the liquid, yet gives the pasta beautiful color and added nutrients.

Enjoy!

 

Pantry Building Cheaply

Filed under: cooking,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 3:33 am
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For some time now, I have wanted to start sharing more practical tips for living more simply. It surprises me to see the level of interest the topic has, yet the sheer number of people who are not willing to make even the smallest of changes in their lifestyle. These same people want to have more money, less stress, more time with family, etc. They truly want to learn how we are doing it in our family. Once they talk to us and realize that it takes change on their part, they are beyond reluctant. They simply say that it is too much work or that they are not willing to give anything up.

Living our lifestyle is not something that we think everyone should do. Some families have a passion for a simpler lifestyle while others do not. That is okay. We have never felt that our way is the only right way. It is just the right way for our own family. If it inspires others, then we are happy to have done so. There are many ways that someone can adapt what I talk about in the blog to fit their own situations.

One of my favorite topics is stocking the pantry. It is something that affects all families in at one level or another. It is one of the biggest expenditures in a typical family each month. It is also one of the easiest to cut down to a fraction of what you may currently be paying. We are a family of 4 in our home. There are 2 adults and 2 children, ages 5 and 7 years. My darling husband is on the truck most of the time, but takes enough food from home that I count him in my monthly grocery shopping. There was a time when we spent nearly $500 per month in the grocery store. Today, I pay no more than $200 per month. Most months I spend closer to $150 per month. That is a huge savings!

The largest expense in grocery shopping is meat. Luckily, the kids and I eat primarily a vegetarian diet. This has significantly cut down our spending. On the days each week when my husband is home, I have meal containing meat. If we were lucky enough to get hold of some deer meat, I would cook meat more often. Unfortunately, I cannot eat commercially raised meat very often or it causes health problems. Until we are able to hunt deer, I simply eat meat as sparingly as possible. Thankfully, the kids enjoy the vegetarian meals that I make.

When I do purchase meat, I have learned to shop around. The only grocery store in the nearest town is expensive. It brings me to the problem of either paying the higher price or saving up my meat purchases until I am at another town where prices are more reasonable. As it happened, I found a tiny little convenience store that has a meat deli. The store is a real blast form the past for me. I remember going to a small store like that when we were going to visit my Grandma when I was a kid. As you walked into the store, there was a small butcher shop style deli in the back. We always bought meat there on the way to Grandma’s home. The store in town is very similar. The butcher/deli area is small but well stocked. Their prices are significantly lower than the larger grocery store. It is now where I go to buy meat when my husband will be coming home. I save on average $1.25 per pound. Some sliced deli meats are as much as $2.00 per pound less than the larger store. The meat quality is great. In this one shopping choice, I can save about $25 per month. Of course the savings would be much higher if I bought meat more often.

Another area that is a grocery budget buster is convenience foods. Wow! This one really can pack a wallop on your monthly costs! What I consider to be convenience foods are the boxed meals, canned meals, frozen dinners, and hot foods from the deli. Pay attention to any person’s shopping cart and you will see that most people buy a large percentage of their groceries in this form. You can easily cut back on this expense. A quick online search will give you a plethora of websites containing recipes for homemade mixes. I have found everything from flavored rice pilaf to homemade cake mixes. Even your basics, such as the biscuit mixes, can be easily made at home for far less than the packaged versions. Quite often, our family found that the homemade versions are more flavorful than the packaged.

When I first began making my own “convenience” foods, I was thrilled to see how quickly they are to make. In two hours, I am able to make enough homemade dry mixes to last over a month. The amount spent on the mixes cost much less than expected. I had thought I might save 50% if I were frugal. Turns out that I had a 75% savings on average! That was significant enough to excite us into keeping the mixes as a pantry staple. A couple of my favorite homemade mixes are listed below. I hope that you will enjoy them also.

Homemade Rice Pilaf

1/2 cup of orzo pasta or spaghetti broken into small pieces
3/4 cup long grain rice
14 ounces of broth (any flavor)
2 Tbs butter

To make the pilaf, melt butter in a pan and lightly brown the pasta. Add rice and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until all liquid is absorbed.

Tabbouleh – Most recipes for Tabbouleh contains wheat bulgur as the grain base. I changed this to Quinoa for my version. Being predominately vegetarians, I wanted to have the addition of protein to the recipe. Like the wheat bulgur, cooked Quinoa blends well to any flavor added to it.

1/2 cup Quinoa
1 cup water
2 bunches of fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbs. fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 teas. sea salt
1/2 teas. pepper
6 Tbsp. Lemon juice
6 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Bring water to a boil and stir in Quinoa. Remove from heat, cover and let set until all water is absorbed. In a bowl, mix quinoa and all ingredients until well blended. Chill for a couple of hours before serving. (I usually make it a day before I want to serve it.

 

Wood Stove Canning February 12, 2013

Today, I tried something new that I have avoided. I canned spaghetti sauce and peach jam on the wood stove. I don’t know why I avoided it as long as I have. I used the waterbath method since the sauce didn’t contain large chucks of veggies or meat. It is a basic sauce and I add the veggies & meat when I set it to simmer during meal preparation.

It was so easy to process the sauce. No different than canning on the modern stove. The only true difference is keeping the fire in the firebox hot enough to keep the kettle of water boiling.

I used a large stockpot that was deep enough for processing pint jars. That is the size jar that I use most often, so getting out the large canner made no sense. I placed a small round rack in the bottom of the stockpot to prevent the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. The stockpot held 7 jars, which is similar to the large waterbath canner.

I set the filled jars into the canner and covered them with water so that the water level was about 2 inches above the jar tops. I used the stockpot lid throughout the processing to help keep the water boiling consistently. I allowed the water to boil for the recommended amount of time in my canning book. When they were done, I lifted the jars from the water to place onto a folded towel. As I lifted them out, I heard that wonderful noise that all home canners listen for – the popping of each jar’s lids as they sealed.

I tried a new idea as I did my canning. I had a large, tall jar of peach jam that was less than half full. It was becoming difficult for our young daughter to remove some jam out when making herself a sandwich. I took out a couple of 1/2 pint size canning jars and filled them with the jam. I had a small amount left over that was placed into another small jar for our daughter to use.

I placed these into the canner along with the 5 pints of spaghetti sauce. The jam sealed wonderfully. If this little experiment works, then I will have yet another way to break down large bulk size containers of food that I buy on sale. In retrospect, that size jar of jam that I had bought would easily have spoiled by the time it would have been used up had I not broke the amount down into smaller jars. We simply don’t go through jam that quickly. This jar was an exception as it was a new flavor for the kids.

If the jam turns out well, then I am going to start watching for the good sales on large containers of jam. It is far cheaper to buy it than to buy the fruit and make your own. I watch closely the ingredients and stay away from high fructose corn syrups and other questionable ingredients. To be able to save extra money this way will sure help the family grocery budget.

 

Burst Water Line February 4, 2013

Filed under: homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:22 am
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Spent a wonderful 4 days with a dear friend’s family this past week. They live about a 2 hour drive from our home. I left the water trickling from the faucets in case of very cold night temperatures. Well, evidently the water wasn’t trickling enough. One line had a crack in the shut-off valve fitting. Luckily, the water didn’t cause a tremendous amount of damage before I got home on Friday late afternoon. I got the water shut off at the meter so that we could fix the problem. I was so grateful that my darling husband was going to be home the following morning. What started out as a simple repair didn’t quite go that way, but the problem was dealt with over the weekend.

This experience brought to mind once more just how blessed we are to be living as we do. Though the water was shut off for a couple of days, we had a water supply that was more than we needed. We didn’t have to worry about not having a toilet or a method to wash up at day’s end. We were prepared. It really gives us a sense of peace to know that when life gives us these little surprises, we are able to handle them without any worry.

I learned from this experience also. From now on I will be shutting off the water at the meter if freezing temperatures are predicted or if I am going to be away from home for a few days. This will prevent any possibility of a water line breaking again. I am going to increase the size of our water storage. We had more than ample amounts for this experience, but I can see where more would be beneficial if we were without water for an extended time due to a natural disaster. Being on a rural water service, there are times when they are doing maintenance on the system and we are without water for the day. Most times, this happens without any notice. Having extra water available would help in those situations also.

It just happened that on my way home from my friend’s home, I had stopped and picked up bags of ice weighing approximately 20 lbs. each. One was put into a large orange color water cooler, similar to that used on job sites, which we use to keep ice cold water on hand during warm months. The other bag was put into another food cooler to be used in drinks. If you have ice available, it can be melted to use as water for drinking or cooking if needed.

We have been considering for a long time to rework the house’s plumbing. Seeing the jumble of pipes under our home makes any work a nightmare. Some lines are old gas lines that have not been used in many years. Certainly not since my husband bought the house 12 years ago. There are pipes that seem to go nowhere. Basically, someone reworked the plumbing without removing old pipes that were no longer needed. What a mess!

It seems as though each time we figure out what part of the house we will work on next, something occurs that changes those plans. Such is life in an old home! You can’t get frustrated, just roll with it where it takes you. Adapt and allow life to teach you whatever lessons there are to be learned along the way. Even if the lesson is in how to deal with these “learning opportunities” without developing a new vocabulary along the way. LOL