Monthly Archives: December 2008

Make a menu based on your pantry

>>Do you plan your menus from the sale flyers in advance, or buy the sale items and then come up with a menu after?<<

I’ve written about menu planning, and I’ve written about shopping to fill your pantry.  I do both.  But I suggest something else that I rarely see advocated, but is very advantageous to your food bill.

Most people make their menu, and then plan their shopping list.  And that’s really good – it’s a huge step above what most people do, which is to not plan much at all.  But what I like to do is stock my fridge, freezer, and pantry first.  I buys lots of whatever is a good price, buy a variety of fruits and vegetables (no pricey non seasonal veggies), and whatever else rounds out my basic pantry list for the month.  (I’ll try to share a list of what I try to stock my pantry with another time.)  Then, and only then, I make my menu, by looking at whatever I already have in the house.

How does this help?  Firstly, you’ll always have the ingredients you need on hand – you know you have them, and that’s why you planned each particular meal!  Secondly, and more importantly, is that you are always eating sale priced items.  Let’s say that thanks to buying only sale items, your monthly discounts on groceries average out to 30% less than what you would have paid at full price.  That means that you are either a) saving 30% of what you would have otherwise spent, or that b) you’re spending the same monthly total on food, but getting 30% food more than you could have otherwise, which can last you 5.5 weeks instead of 4.  That adds up to a big difference, don’t you think?

Some of you may object, saying that you can’t buy a lot of what you need ahead of time.  But I think running out daily for milk and bread is a habit more than anything.  And then people get used to it and can’t imagine shopping differently.  But even items like bread and milk can be purchased in advance.  Bread can easily be frozen and then defrosted before needed, or toasted if you prefer.  Milk can also be frozen, and if you’re not buying raw milk, then the consistency when you defrost it will be the same as before it was frozen.  Raw milk is fine to freeze, too, but the consistency changes – the cream will be in tiny chunks.  Meat and chicken can stay good in the fridge for several days, in the freezer for a lot longer.  Fish is kept the same as the chicken or meat.  Cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, butter, yogurt, and hard cheese can be frozen (I’ll do a separate post soon on some specific suggestions for freezing hard cheeses), and all of them easily stay good in the fridge for at least a week.  Don’t freeze sour cream, though – I tried this recently and when it defrosted, it was liquid.  So I used it for cream style grits for breakfast. :)

Root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas) can all be easily stored in the winter without refrigeration.  Fresh vegetables that are more perishable don’t need to be purchased more than once a week. And of course, frozen vegetables are nutritionally pretty good and can be bought much more than a week ahead.  Winter fruits store well in cold weather, too, like apples, pear, and citrus.  If you like to buy fruits out of season, then just refrigerate them.

So buying food ahead shouldn’t be too hard – just shop the sales, and stock up.  It’s a different way of thinking about shopping, and will take some time to get a full variety of pantry items stocked, but not nearly as long as you think.


National Wholesale Liquidators – going out of business

My husband told me last night that National Wholesale Liquidators is going out of business – his coworker told him that he got a bunch of stuff at great prices.  Well, I don’t like to shop just because there’s a sale, but if there’s something on my ongoing list of things to keep an eye open for, then I’ll get it.  So this afternoon, I headed over to check things out.

The store was getting to be pretty well cleaned out, and I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the deals.  Then again, I’ve developed an attitude of only buying things that I need, not lots of cutesie tootsie things, so most of the things I wouldn’t buy even if they were almost free.  Actually, if they were giving it away I wouldn’t want it if I didn’t have a use for it.  But, a couple of aisles down, I found something I do use, canning lids – they looked untouched, unlike most of the shelves in the aisle that were mostly empty.  At 40% off, I figured it would be worth getting some, and it was – the regular mouth lids were .89 a dozen, the wide mouth lids were 1.19 a dozen.  It’s the kind of thing that I’d buy all they had if I could, but it gets expensive pretty quickly, so I only bought about 12 dozen small and 8 dozen of the large.  I’ll check in there again in a few weeks and see if they mark them down anymore. 

Then I got a couple of kerosene hurricane lamps.  Just last night I ordered some oil lamp converters (I’ll tell you more about them when they get here), so I didn’t really need many of these lamps, even though they were just $2 each.  I bought 10 bottles of torch fuel at $2 each (I’ll check if there’s more of that in a few weeks, too), after calling the company I bought the oil lamp converters from – they said that kerosene and oil can be used interchangeably in the same lamps, just the wick has to be changed between uses.  That was good to know, since I have no experience with these things and didn’t want to buy something that wouldn’t be of any use.  I’ll  keep them as backup lighting for emergencies and to take camping.

I bought 116 packets of vegetable seeds.  Yes, really.  I’ll have to really expand my garden this year to use all of that!  Well, I’m such a lousy gardener that I won’t have to expand it the way someone who was more competent would, since I seem to have to plant a lot to get a tiny yield.  They were .07 each, and I couldn’t resist; I’ve been looking at seed catalogs online, and though I’d love to only buy open pollinated varieties, it’s not cheap.  I also got canvas and heavy duty work gloves, 8 pairs total.  My husband informed me when I told him what I got that we already have enough work gloves.  Oh, well. 

Then I found a menorah for my dd14 for next year ($4), and Chanuka candles for .15 and .23 a box, depending on the company.  I bought 20 boxes since at that price it was worth it to stock up for the next couple of years.  :)  I bought the girls a bunch of ponytail holders – they were 70% off and someone always seems to need something around here, so I figured I’ll get enough that we won’t have to think about running out for a long, long time, like until their daughters come visit and want to use some.  :)

Otherwise it was mostly small odds and ends, like a couple of can openers and 4 multi purpose tools; even with all the discounts, I ended up spending more than I would like.  But my dh was glad I got things that we’ll need and use, and he thought it was all very reasonable.  It was really interesting to see what was sold out and what wasn’t touched – I obviously have different taste than most people, since the things I was interested in all had full shelves.

While I’m not recommending any one store over another, if in your area you have stores that are drastically discounting their prices right now, use this opportunity to buy things that will be useful later on.  But don’t buy things you don’t really need just because it’s ‘such a great deal!’.


Cream of tomato soup

I made this yesterday and it was so quick and simple that I had to share it with you!

We had an excess of seasoned tomato sauce taking up room in the fridge, and since it was used for dairy, I didn’t want to can it for later use, and I didn’t want to freeze it because then I’d have to remember it was in the freezer so it wouldn’t take up room for ages, forgotten!  When I was thinking about what to do with it, I remembered an idea I read somewhere.  I’m sorry I don’t have an exact recipe, but it was more of a concept than a recipe.

Basically, you take a can of tomato paste, and then fill the can with milk two or three times to thin it.  If you use a tiny can, you’ll end up with enough soup for one person.  I had maybe 10 cups of sauce (?) that was already thinned out so it wasn’t paste-like.  (If you have tomato sauce, that’s fine, too, you just won’t need to dilute it with milk as much.)  I added a half gallon of milk (I don’t know what came over me last month, because I bought two half gallons of fat free milk, which I never do – but it came in handy today), a little salt and pepper, and heated it up.  So easy!  And so fast!  And – the kids loved it! 

Usually I would use regular milk, but this was a good way to get rid of the flavorless fat free stuff.  You can also add cream, or a mixture of cream and milk, according to your preference.  If you do add cream, be sure to add it at the very end, and only heat it gently once the cream has been added, or the high heat will curdle it. 


Slash your food bills with reduced produce!

I’m overdue on my monthly shopping – I should have gone last week (didn’t because I don’t like to shop at crowded holiday times and I almost always go on Tuesday or Wednesday); and because we have the monthly homeschooling gathering on the day that I planned to go this week, I’m pushing off our trip for one more week – my kids really enjoy it and I don’t want them to miss it.  That means it will be six weeks since I did any shopping, so I needed to a bit more careful than usual when planning this week’s this week’s menu since I usually have more vegetables to work with.  The advantage of this long stretch between shopping trips is that my freezer is getting empty and it will be easy to find room for whatever I buy next week.  The disadvantage is that my freezer is getting empty and it will be easy to find room for whatever I buy next week.  :)

This morning I popped out to get some things to hold us over until the big shopping trip.  Officially I restart my food budget on the 15th of each month, but I really prefer to do the big shopping first and then add to what I need after that (which usually is very minimal, if anything), so though usually I wouldn’t go out for a little trip like this at the beginning of my shopping period, I decided to reverse things for this week.

I got four dozen eggs and some milk (we only have a couple of gallons left in the freezer and were totally out of eggs – I can’t remember how many months it’s been since I ran out of eggs), plus some cheese (this is something I never can find kosher at my bargain shopping stores anyway) and then stopped at the vegetable store.  My veggies are the area that I’m really low at this point and I absolutely can’t wait another week.  It’s a privately owned store, and I go first thing in the morning when all of the discounted produce is out.  This morning I spent $27.30, and got a shopping cart full of stuff – here’s an approximate rundown: 17 lb bananas, 43 lb vegetables (this is mostly tomatoes, onions – purple and white, mostly; baby potatoes, a couple of zucchini and carrots, parsnips, eggplant), 2 heads of celery .79 each, 7 heads of cauliflower, at .39 each (usually 1.99 each).  The bananas and most of the vegetables were .29 a pound, the tomatoes were .49, and the eggplant was my big splurge at .69 a lb.  :)  So that worked out to about 72 pounds of produce, not including the cauliflower, which I plan to stretch for another week – we use a lot of veggies.  :)  That does sound a little monotonous and I probably should have gotten some carrots and cabbage, but together with the sweet potatoes and potatoes that I still have plenty of, I think we’ll do fine.  Oh, and I do have some corn and green beans in the freezer.  And some oranges and grapefruits, plus some frozen blueberries. 

You might think that this is moldy and half rotten produce if it’s so cheap, but it’s really not.  The bananas are ripe, but not overripe or mushy.  They aren’t even speckled yet.  But they aren’t green like the full price bananas.  I’ll keep them in closed plastic bags to delay them ripening and they’ll easily last until next week (if my kids can restrain themselves that long!).   The tomatoes are ripe, but not mushy.  The cauliflower doesn’t look super fresh, but only one of them has a small place that will need to be cut off.  Basically, produce has a short shelf life, and when a new shipment comes in, all the stuff sitting on the shelf has to be sold quickly or thrown away.  Selling it quickly for a discount makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

And on top of saving money when you shop like this, there’s the fun of the cashier’s disbelieving voice when he/she tells your total and sees your cart loaded up for a fraction of what he expects.  It  never fails.  :) 


Weekly menu plan

Here’s the menu for this week:

Sunday – breakfast – oats and milk; early dinner – bagels, cream cheese, vegetables

Monday – b – bagels and cream cheese ; l – cream of tomato soup, English muffins; d – cream of tomato soup, baked salmon, vegetable platter with cream cheese dip (changed from chicken and dumplings)

Tuesday – b – pumpkin bread; l – corn salad, sandwiches; d – huevos rancheros and Brazilian black beans

Wednesday – b – lemon blueberry muffins; d – burritos with beans and cheese, sauteed zucchini with tomatoes

Thursday – b – polenta ; d – red beans and rice, roasted vegetables

My older two girls, 14 and 12, volunteered for hours yesterday at our shul (synagogue) Chanuka party.  They had also helped out last year, and it was a good thing, because this year they were the only ones who knew how to set up (the adults in charge were doing it for the first time)!  The turnout was less than expected, and they came home with a bunch of bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad (other people helping out also took food home).  So that was integrated into the plan for yesterday and today.    They had a great time helping out, and everyone else in the family enjoyed the ‘fruits’ of their labor when they got back!

I also have some new recipes to try for Shabbos – beef stew, eggplant curry, and baked onions.  I have the right combination of ingredients for all of these things this week, and I like to try new recipes.  I never make the same things for Shabbos, even after all of these years.  We do have our favorites that occur on a somewhat regular basis, though!


Saving the best for last

Tonight was the last night of Chanuka, and we saved our big family present for tonight.   My husband and I decided to break it into two parts.  The first part was a poem that my husband wrote for tonight.  He cut it into eight parts, gave each child a part, and then they pieced it together.  After putting it together, my 14 yodd read it out loud for everyone.

The Best For Last

They say you should save the best for last

Now, all but one of the days are past.

Tomorrow night Chanuka will be gone till next year

But there’s one last present for our family so dear.

Mommy and Daddy and H-shem had it planned

Several months ago and we thought it would be grand

If we saved it for this holiday of light

And waited and waited until the last night.

It’s something that each of you has several of

But we get the feeling it’s something you love.

So, without further ado, we’d like you to go

To the milchig drawer and then you will know.

Halfway through this poem, the light went on in my 12 year old dd’s eyes, and I knew she realized what it was.  But no one else did, so they all raced into the kitchen to find what was in the drawer.  When they got there, they opened a folded piece of paper, to find a full size coupon there.  It said:




Some of the kids had to read this several times before it registered.  :)  When they did, they ran back into the living room and started dancing and hugging each other. 

Afterwards, all of my kids told me their initial thoughts and reactions on hearing the news.  My oldest son was expecting a family membership to the JCC (I’m still planning to get that, but it will be delayed for another week or so), so he wasn’t really listening carefully to the poem.  The build up and presentation had him convinced it would be a membership – he’s one of those who had to read it several times, because he was so sure of what it was that it took him a couple of minutes to realize he was off track.  Since the baby is almost 16 months old, he said he had already (!) resigned himself to us remaining a family of just eight children.  My dd14 felt very stupid that she wasn’t paying close attention to what she was reading, but last night she had a dream that we were having a baby, so she wasn’t suprised.  She’s “been expecting it for months”, since she also had a dream about it a few months ago.  At that point, she made a note of the date of her dream so she’d be able to check it later on whenever I told her I was pregnant.  Tonight she looked for the note about the past dream and was disappointed she couldn’t find it.  She also said she thought I looked pregnant but didn’t want to say anything.  My dd12 is the one who figured out the poem – she’s very excited.  She was looking thoughtful later in the evening, and I asked what she was thinking about.  She said she’s trying to decide if she wants to go to camp in the summer and miss a month of ‘that tiny baby cuteness’; right now she said it wouldn’t be worth it to go.  Ds9 said he was totally taken by surprise.  They’re already putting in their bids for what gender they want the baby to be. :)  They asked my 2.5 year old if he wants a new baby, and he calmly said, ‘No, I don’t want a baby’.  I told them not to talk to him about it and make a big deal of something he’s too little to understand. 

I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get to this point without all of the kids realizing it on their own by looking at me (I’ll be officially five months along in another few days), but I made it!  We haven’t yet told our parents, though I’m sure they all noticed that I look heavier than usual.  My 9 yos suggested we break the good news to my mom for her birthday in less than two weeks in a similar way to how we told them.  Everyone likes that idea.  As far as telling my inlaws, I’d really like to just have the baby and then let them know, but I think we’ll have to tell them sometime in the next month (though I keep thinking, if I could wait until six months, I could wait until seven, and what’s another couple of months past that point…).  That’s one advantage of having a smaller family – when you announce number 2 or 3, your parents are usually happy for you.  :)

So now we’re duplicating the spacing we had with our first three children: 17 months between 1 and 2 (and then 7 and 8), then 20 months between 3 and 4 (and be”h 8 and 9).  Being pregnant is an amazing gift and I’m so grateful that we have been blessed again!


A funny comment

We went out to eat a few nights ago, something we rarely do, and had such a nice time!  While we were waiting for our food to be ready, we overheard a one girl at a table near us complaining, who looked to be about nine years old.   

It seemed that her older sister (maybe 12) was bothering her, even though they were at opposite ends of the table and weren’t talking or even looking at each other, because she whined several times, “Mom, make her stop texting me!”  I found this very funny – it was said in the classic tone of ‘she’s annoying me’ but clearly this generation has found new ways to torment their siblings.  (It looked like the parents tried to insist the older daughter put her handheld whatever down during the meal, but it wasn’t working.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same!


Defining frugality

As a sign of the times, a local magazine just came out with an article about how to save money.  And it was interesting to note two things: a) most of the suggestions were nice but weren’t going to radically change anyone’s financial situation (eg – occasionally don’t have your cleaning help come in and do the cleaning yourself); and b) no one interviewed for their tips wanted to use their name, other than the shopping maven who buys designer suits for $400 instead of $1200.  This got me thinking about why people are embarrassed to identify themselves publicly as practicing frugality, and how differently I view frugality.

I think a lot of people equate saving money and frugality with doing without, being low class and needy, and being cheap or a skinflint.  Who wants to proudly call themselves cheap, when it carries such a strongly negative connotation?  Not me, and obviously everyone interviewed who wouldn’t share their name must have somehow shared this association with saving money.  

However, I love having a frugal lifestyle and am very comfortable talking about it, because to me, frugality is not about being cheap at all.  Being frugal means being able to create a lifestyle where you can have all that is important to you, without compromising other things that are important to you.  People many years ago had a lot less materially than we do today, and do you think that we’re a significantly happier generation than all of those past were?  Statistics actually show the opposite, but the point is that having more stuff doesn’t equate well with being happy, even though those who make their living in marketing would like us to think so!

It can be a challenge, living well within your means and not feeling deprived, but the challenge is mental more than anything.  Living within your means is not about deprivation and doing without.  Living frugally is about clarifying what really matters to you, assessing what gives you joy, and then making choices every day that support that.  It’s about attitude – do you feel sorry for yourself that you don’t have what it seems everyone around you has, or do you feel good to have a clear vision of what you feel is most important, and honor that every time you spend money?   

For example, it’s a huge value for my husband and I that our children are raised by us, and that they have a full time stay home parent.  So we gladly forgo the supposed benefits of having two incomes (very overrated and a myth that could stand to be debunked) because we have so much more pleasure from raising our family than having a few dollars more each month.  It’s a value for us to have the money to buy what we want, so I don’t mind sometimes waiting a month or more for larger purchases if that’s when the cash will be available.  Basically, we spend our money in a way that supports our values, and that’s a good feeling.

When you can find fun wherever you are, and enjoy all that you have to the fullest, that’s being frugal.  It’s not about doing without – it’s about identifying what really matters to you and finding ways to achieve that, while staying in your budget.  It’s exciting and fun to live within your means, and to live well!  Our family can squeeze enjoyment about of a small trip or activity, a special food or – well, anything, really!

So much of living outside of our means is about trying to impress others, and just as often, trying to impress ourselves.  When we define ourselves by what we have instead of who we are, there’s a feeling of inadequacy.  We can never have enough, because no matter what we have, it doesn’t give us value.  So people keep spending, trying to push away that feeling of inadequacy.  We’ve become a society of people focused on how we look, rather than our character.

There’s so much joy in living without the burden of debt, of not having to keep up appearances to impress others (with the internal knowledge that the lifestyle we present to the world is a house of cards), that I wince to hear those in debt say that they’d hate to have to count every penny, to budget – because it’s clear they haven’t made the connection between the emotional and financial stress they regularly feel and the way they spend money. 


Trusting good to come your way

I’ve been getting a huge amount of spam from one particular post I wrote in the summer, and I finally decided to delete it since I don’t see how to avoid the 20 – 100 spam responses I get daily in response to this post only.  But since in that post I shared what is an integral part of my attitude towards life, I’m reposting it here, under a different title.  I can’t figure out what about this post triggered so much spam, but the companies I was spammed by all begin with the same letter that one of the title words start with – I know, that sounds like an unlikely connection, but it’s worth a try!  And if the spam continues, I’ll have to decide if I’ll delete it permanently or if it’s worth it to deal with the spam. 

I wrote this response the day after a very productive food shopping trip for the month, and have edited out the beginning of that post. 


I believe that when you trust that good things will happen to you, good things flow into your life.  I have so much joy when I go shopping for food and find so many wonderful things for my family while staying within my financial constraints.  Before I shop, I ask G-d to help me find what I need, and He always does!  Every month, I used to feel very grateful, while simultaneously wondering how I was going to ‘pull the rabbit out of the hat’ this month, since it seemed so unlikely that I could be able to again find what I needed at the prices I needed.  But one day, I realized that it’s not me finding the deals, it’s G-d sending them to me.  I have to do my part and do the looking, but if I see the deals or not isn’t in my hands.  The rest is up to Him. 

Often people will speak as though it’s impossible to manage with rising food costs, that there’s no choice but to tighten your belt and suffer.  How it’s impossible to have quanity, quality, and stay within a budget.  How I’m just lucky because I live in an area with cheap food prices (false assumption since I’m actually on the expensive eastern corridor).  All focused on the negative, on the lack, on their certainty that there’s no way things could be better.  So I rarely share anymore how we manage to shop for a family of 10 and spend $600 on food monthly, eat only healthy foods, buy very large amounts of food (including fruits and vegetables), have teenagers and guests, while being limited by kosher restrictions – except here.  That’s because I’ve seen most people would rather have someone commiserate with them than change the way they look at things, or believe that more is possible than what they see in front of them. 

When I sometimes share my good deals that I find with you, it’s not only because of the fun of getting something for much less than most people think possible.  It’s also so that you can see what is possible – once you know something is possible, then you’ll have your eyes open to things you might not have noticed before, and it’s much more likely you’ll be amazing yourself with your special finds!

Try it – try focusing on all that is good in your life.  (I shared with you about the area of my food budget, but I think it’s a principle that applies in all areas.)  Believe that more good things are on their way to you.  And see what happens. :)


Hot water bottles

Last night I gave all of my kids a Chanuka present – their own hot water bottles!  Now, this isn’t a very glamorous gift, and I didn’t expect incredible enthusiasm, but I thought they’d appreciate them.  I was so wrong.

They loved them!  Two of the kids told me it’s the ‘best Chanuka present ever’!  All of them used them right away, took them to bed with them, and walked around all day with them.  And it’s not even so cold inside or outside right now – I think they like the snuggly coziness of it.  My two year old saw them and started asking for his own hot water bottle (I did buy enough for everyone in the family, but I think he’s a little young to have his very own).   I didn’t end up making the individualized fabric covers that I planned, and when I mentioned it, the kids said they don’t want covers.  They like having it against them.  They each wrote their names on their bottle with a Sharpie marker (I was thinking about the covers as a way to distinguish one from another – I’m glad my kids simplified this so much for me). 

I bought them because I thought it would be good to have a low technology way to stay warm.  Dh and I used them for years when we lived overseas, with little heat and in a stone apartment with no insulation.  They came in very handy.  But somehow over time, the one we had disappeared, and we replaced it with an electric heating pad, since we couldn’t find hot water bottles locally.  But I’ve never been totally comfortable with the heating pad, and when I was thinking about various things I could do on a low budget to help everyone stay warm through the winter, this idea popped into my mind.  Fortunately, we’re not limited by location anymore, and can buy what we need on the internet, so I got ten of them from an ebay seller at a very reasonable price. 

(I also used to find hot water bottles very useful when pregnant and having lower back pain.)