Tag Archives: frugal living

10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On the Road or Not)

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Last Wednesday I shared 10 ways to help stretch your food dollar. I think the tips are good for folks living on the road cash, coins, moneyor in a sticks-n-bricks. I’m not out of ideas, so here are 10 more tips for making the most of your food budget.

#1 Steer clear of fast food. If you’re eating from the regular menu at most restaurants, a meal is usually not inexpensive. Also, we all know fast food is not typically good for our health.

If you do eat fast food (and sometimes on the road it seems unavoidable) try to do so infrequently and stick to the value menu. Of course, McDonald’s has a famous value menu, but so do Taco Bell (their Fiesta Potato Grilled Breakfast Burrito with potato, egg, and cheese and a price of only $1 is my favorite fast food breakfast), Denny’s, Wendy’s and Del Taco. Also, it’s admittedly difficult to resist a $5 large pizza from Little Caesar’s.

If you join a fast food restaurant’s loyalty program via the internet, you can sometimes get email notifications of coupons, discounts, and freebies.

#2 Buy distressed produce after the price has been marked down. In many food stores, bruised, nicked, wilted, or otherwise distressed produce is sold at a deep discount. When you find discounted produce that’s no longer at its peak, think about what you might be able to use it for. Could you make apple sauce or apple butter or pancake topping from mushy apples? Could you cut bruises off vegetables and use the good parts to make soup or stock? Would mashed strawberries still taste delicious in a strawberry shortcake or smoothie? Sometimes reduced produce is on the brink of spoiling and still perfectly fine if you use it TODAY.

baguette, bakery, bread#3 Buy marked down bakery items. Bakery items are often marked down before they pass their freshness date. Many large supermarkets with in-house bakeries have a special area for bakery items being sold at a reduced price. Some towns also have bakery outlets where name brand baked goods are sold off cheaply right before or right after they reach their freshness date.

Don’t go overboard with cheap cookies, cakes, and white bread. These items are usually not super healthy, and you probably don’t really need them. You get the biggest savings by not spending money on things you don’t need. You also save money by maintaining your health. However, for a treat, reduced price bakery items can’t be beat.

#4 Buy scratched and dented cans and items past their “best by” date. There are entire grocery stores dedicated to these types of items. You can also look for the clearance section of individual food stores.

The “sell by,” “best by,” or “expiration” date on packaged food is usually only a suggestion. I have eaten plenty of canned beans, energy bars, and corn chips after the date on the package, and I’ve never been sick. Occasionally items with no preservatives or heavy with nuts or oils might taste rancid, but I don’t usually notice that unless an item is more than three months past the date on the package. If I’m skeptical, I’ll buy just one of the item in question, taste it, then make my decision.

I also get good deals on canned goods that have been banged up. Often items in dented cans are not even “expired.” I avoid cans that are leaking or bulging or open, and I’ve never had a problem and have saved a fortune.

#5 Utilize food pantries. Most towns have at least one food pantry. Some require photo ID, proof of income, and proof of address. Some don’t require anything at all. If the food pantry guidelines say you qualify, you qualify, so you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed. Food pantries are there to help people in need. If you are in need, utilize what’s there to help you.

#6 Qualify for SNAP benefits. Qualifying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka EBT, aka food stamps) requires jumping through some hoops and sharing lots of personal information but can really help low-income folks buy healthy food.  You can probably apply online.

I feel the same way about SNAP as I do about food pantries: don’t feel guilty or ashamed for using something you qualify for.

#7 Dumpster Dive I once lived in a town with an unlocked dumpster behind a grocery store. My friends and I got so much food out of the trash there. We got enough slightly distressed, but still salvagable produce there to feed ourselves and each other and sometimes strangers many gallons of delicious and nutritious soup. We also got enough junk food to satisfy all our sweet teeth. You probably can’t count on finding food in the trash in every town you roll through, but when you find a good source, you can eat like royalty.

Orange Fruit#8 Trade your labor for food. If you see fruit or nut trees growing in a yard and ready for harvest, ask the person who owns the trees if you can harvest what’s ripe and keep half of what you pick in exchange for your labor. Maybe the owner will say no or look at you like you’re weird. So what? Maybe they’ll agree to share their fresh and healthy food with you if you’re willing to do a little work.

Foraging is related to this idea of eating produce quite literally growing on trees in urban areas. If you’re interested in foraging, check out the Falling Fruit website. The project calls itself

a celebration of the overlooked culinary bounty of our city streets,

and says that while

[o]ur edible map is not the first of its kind…it aspires to be the world’s most comprehensive. While our users contribute locations of their own, we comb the internet for pre-existing knowledge, seeking to unite the efforts of foragers, foresters, and freegans everywhere.

#9 Eat the food people offer you. Say yes if a friend invites you over for a home-cooked meal. Take the box of crackers you family member offers you after trying one and deciding s/he didn’t like it. Again, there’s no shame in taking what is offered to you.

#10 Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re getting a bargain just because everything in the store costs a dollar. Often items I see at Dollar Tree can be had for a cheaper per ounce price at Wal-Mart or a supermarket. Sometimes even the same size item is less expensive elsewhere. Don’t get caught up in an it’s only a dollar frenzy. (I have been caught up in that frenzy many times.) Occasionally I do find a real bargain at the Dollar Tree, like packages of multigrain rice cakes, but typically the food there is over-priced or junk food or over-priced junk food.

What are you tips for eating healthy food while on a tight budget? Please share your best ideas in the comments.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/cash-coins-money-pattern-259165/https://www.pexels.com/photo/bread-food-healthy-breakfast-2436/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/orange-fruit-221105/.

 

10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)

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1 Us Bank NoteThe Man is always amazed when I come out of the supermarket and tell him how little I paid for the food in the cart. I get a big kick out of cooking healthy and delicious meals on the cheap. The Man said I should share my money saving ways with my readers, so today I present 10 tips on stretching your food dollar, whether you live in a van, RV, apartment, or house.

#1 Don’t waste food. Don’t buy something if you’re not dedicated to eating it. If you buy food, eat it, even if you don’t particularly like it. Being adventurous is great, but throwing away food is a waste of money.

Often, not wasting food requires planning. You have to eat fresh food before it spoils, which can be tricky if an item is distressed or if you’re on the road and have only a cooler or no refrigeration at all. Before I plan a meal, I take stock of what fresh food I have and what’s likely to go bad in the next day or two. I cook what I’m most in danger of losing.

#2 Be creative with what you can buy cheaply. One time I encountered whole pinto beans marked down to less than 30 cents a can. I don’t particularly like pinto beans with rice or whole pinto beans on burritos, so I turned the beans into my version of refried beans. They were delicious!

If you find something on super sale, think of all the different ways you can consume the item, especially if you have to use it up fast. Maybe you don’t want to eat six cartons of plain yogurt, but maybe you can eat some with berries and crunchy cereal, use another portion in your pancake recipe, and throw the rest in the blender with other ingredients to make smoothies.

#3 Eat what’s cheap, not necessarily what you’re in the mood for. I finally had an oven, so I really wanted to bake a pizza at home. I picked out a jar of pizza sauce and thought about toppings. I knew I had a can of olives (bought for 50 cents at a scratch and dent store) in the cupboard, so I tossed a can of mushrooms into my cart, and figured I could round things out with half a chopped onion. Then I found the store’s cart of reduced canned goods. As I rooted through I found a can of pasta sauce marked 49 cents that I thought would work just as well as something labeled “pizza sauce” (I was right—it worked great) and a can of asparagus spears for 79 cents which became the delicious splurge that made the pizza extra special.

The lesson here is that if I’d had my heart set on artichoke hearts for the pizza, I would have either spent a lot more money, or I would have felt disappointed and lamented my life of poverty. Instead, I got a good deal on something delicious. Also? If I hadn’t found the asparagus spears, the pizza as I originally envisioned it would have still been mighty tasty.

Booth, branding, business#4 Watch for sales.  Check out weekly sales online before you shop or read the sale flyer at the front of the store. You can also just pay attention to prices while you shop. If you see a bargain on something you would use anyway, stock up.

#5 Buy store brands. Store brands typically cost less than name brands and taste as good. (Some people may taste a difference between name brand items and store brand items. I typically do not, except for ‘Nilla Wafers. I don’t know what it is, but ‘Nilla Wafers taste markedly better than any generic vanilla wafer I’ve ever tried.)

#6 Remember that convenience foods typically cost more. As much as possible, cook from scratch. How much time are you really saving by using a cornbread mix or precooked rice? And what do you have more of, time or money? One of the reasons most of us live on the road is so we can have lots of free time. Often more free time means less money. When it comes to cooking, you can often use your free time to save money. If you’re living in a sticks-and-bricks, maybe saving money will mean you have to work less or you can get on the road sooner, if that’s what you’re hoping for.

#7 Don’t eat more than you need to. I frequently make the costly decision to eat when I’m not really hungry. I often overeat because food is delicious and comforting. However, eating reasonable portions means you’re getting more meals for the money you spent on food.

#8 If you’re in a town with a senior center, check into the lunch program for seniors. Even small towns out West offer these lunches. They usually cost $2 to $3 for a complete meal. Age requirements to qualify for the inexpensive meal vary, but I’ve heard of people as young as 50 being considered “seniors” and eligible for the lunches. Younger people are considered “guests,” and their cost per meal is usually around $7

I’m still too young to eat cheap senior lunches, so I’ve never participated. From what I’ve heard, they can often be a good place for socializing and meeting people. Musicians often perform at one senior lunch program I know of in a small southern New Mexico town. Another new program in a small southern Arizona town is promising Bingo.

#9 Investigate free meal options. Maybe the town you’re in has a Food Not Bombs chapter that serves free vegan food in the park. Maybe there’s a Catholic Worker group that serves free meals like in Las Vegas, NV.  Call churches, Catholic Worker Houses, infoshops, radical bookstores, food banks, social service offices, and homeless shelters and outreach programs and ask how to get free meals where you are.

Assorted-color Box Lot on Rack#10 Sign up for supermarket loyalty cards to get discounts, coupons, and sale prices. Supermarkets owned by the same parent company have different names in different parts of the country, but one discount card is good at all of them. I typically shop at stores owned by Kroger, and I save money by using the loyalty card.

If you don’t want a loyalty card, ask the cashier if s/he has a loyalty card s/he can scan for you so you get the sale prices. There was a time in my life when I did not have the ability to keep track of a supermarket loyalty card, so I often asked the cashier if s/he had a card to use for me. I was seldom told no.

I hope these tips have helped you think about ways to stretch your food dollar according to your own personal needs and desires. Want more money saving tips? I’ll offer up 10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar next Wednesday.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/1-us-bank-note-47344/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-box-lot-on-rack-811101/.

10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

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Living on the road is certainly less expensive than paying rent or maintaining a sticks-n-bricks, but living on the road still costs money. Lots of rubber tramps and nomads survive on a fixed income and would like to see their money go farther. Today I offer you ten tips for saving money while living on the road.

Obey the speed limit and don’t waste your money paying a speeding ticket.

#1 Obey the law and avoid costly fines. I don’t like authority figures telling me what to do either, but getting a ticket is expensive. Don’t exceed the speed limit. Feed the parking meter. Don’t park in a spot reserved for folks with disabilities unless you can display the proper paperwork. Don’t park in any spot your rig isn’t supposed to be in. Don’t drive in the carpool lane (aka High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) if you’re the only person in your vehicle.

#2 Improve your gas mileage. Keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure. Don’t overload your rig with unnecessary weight. Change your air filter regularly. Driving the speed limit (or slower!) will help you in this regard too. (See Car Bibles for more tips on improving gas mileage.)

#3 Use gas price apps to find the lowest cost per gallon in the area you’re in. I’m not a big fan of driving across town to save 20 cents, but maybe you can plan your route to save on fuel. A 2014 article from CNN Tech suggests GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and MapQuest Gas Prices.

#4 If you boondock in remote areas for weeks at a time, don’t make daily trips into civilization. Go to your camping spot with supplies to last a week. Do a supply run (paired with fun town activities, if you like) at the end of the first week, and get enough of everything to last until you’re ready to move to your next destination. You’ll save money on fuel, and you won’t have as many chances to make impulse purchases.

#5 If you’re in the market for a rig think about gas mileage. A minivan will probably get better gas mileage than a conversion or cargo van. A Class B motorhome will probably get better gas mileage than a Class A. A small Class C will probably get better gas mileage than a large Class C. A Prius will probably get better gas mileage than anything else.

#6 Do regular maintenance. It will probably cost less to have something maintained than repaired, and a breakdown may require a costly tow. Even during a routine oil change, mechanics usually look around for obvious problems.

#7 Learn how to do your own routine maintenance and make basic repairs. Check and top off your fluids. Change your oil. Replace your brake pads. Change your air filter. You’ll learn more about the mechanics of your rig and you won’t have to pay someone else for the cost of labor.

#8 Compare insurance rates. Does one company offer lower prices than another? Just remember, sometimes lower cost means less protection.

Can you get a better rate by using a different address for your domicile?  I saved about $200 a year by using the address of one family member over another as my permanent residence.

Can you eliminate options to save a few bucks? I pay a little extra for roadside assistance through my insurance, but if I had AAA or God Sam Club coverage, I’d probably drop the roadside assistance option on my insurance policy.

#9 Invest in a large propane tank rather than the green one-pound tanks. I resisted this tip for a long time because those small green propane tanks are just so convenient. However, now I’m a believer in using the bigger tanks. They’re a better deal than the one-pound tanks even if you do the Blue Rhino exchange (available at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, supermarkets, hardware stores, and convenience stores). You save even more if you refill the tank at places like U-Haul, Tractor Supply, AmeriGas refill and refueling stations, and RV parks.

#10 Seek out free and inexpensive entertainment. You really can have a lot of fun for little money, especially in cities and town.

This is public art stands on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

Look at public art. I especially like murals, but sculpture can be fun too.

Public libraries often offer free admission to movies, concerts, and public speakers, and they sometimes have galleries where patrons can look at art for free. Most libraries also offer free internet access, and even if you don’t have a library card, you can sit around for hours reading books and magazines at no cost to you.

Many museums offer free admission on a designated day once a week or once a month. Plan your trip to an area to coincide with free admission to a museum you want to visit.

Parks are nice free places to hang out. Cook a meal at a picnic table. Walk around the park for exercise. Sit under a tree and read. Especially in the summer, parks often offer plays, concerts, and movies at no charge.

If you’re more of a boondocker and less of a city dweller, get out and enjoy the natural beauty where you are. It’s free to hear the birds sing. Go for a hike or a brisk walk. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Heck, watch then both. It won’t cost you a dime.

Blaize Sun has been mostly on the road since 2009. She’s traveled the U.S. with very little money, so she’s had to figure out ways to make every penny count.

Please share your favorite money saving tips in the comments.

Blaize Sun took the photos in this post.

Pantry Challenge

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Pantry Challenge sounds like a program from Food Network or Cooking Channel, but it’s not. (If it were a program, I’d probably watch it; I really enjoy cooking shows, especially the ones involving competition.)

According to the Medium Sized Family blog,

a pantry challenge is when you choose not to buy groceries for a set time…Instead, you use up the food in your house until there is nothing left to eat.

For a variety of reasons, I decided to do a modified pantry challenge during my second house sitting job this past November.  (I’m calling it a modified challenge because I wasn’t dead set on not buying groceries until I had nothing left to eat. I just wanted to make big dent in what I had before I shopped again.)

First of all, I was going to spend three weeks in a small town sixty miles from the nearest city. I suspected food prices were going to be high in the little town, and I was right. Since I arrived in town two hours before my appointment with the people I was house sitting for, I browsed at the town’s regular grocery store and the town’s health food/natural food/ hippie food store. The prices at both places were substantially higher than what I’d grown accustomed to paying at the outlet supermarket chain I’d shopped at all summer. I was glad I’d gone with my instinct and stocked up on everything from eggs to zucchini in the city where I was able to get things at a lower price.

Saving money is a big reason people do the pantry challenge. Jessica from the Good Cheap Eats blog says,

By focusing on what you have you will save money in not buying more. You also avoid the grocery store which means you reduce your impulse purchases, again saving you money.

Impulse buying can definitely be a problem for me, so I know Jessica is right that I save money simply by staying out of the grocery store. I can easily imagine myself popping in to the store for just a package of tortillas, then deciding to buy milk, which would mean I needed cereal, and on and on. Deciding to use what I had before I bought anything else certainly kept me away from the temptation to buy items I didn’t really need.

I believe in stocking up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can get a bit out of hand. When I was living on the mountain, I didn’t want to run out of staples, like black beans for instance. So every time I went to the discount grocery store, I’d throw five or six cans of black beans into my shopping cart. I knew I wasn’t wasting money because I’d eat those beans eventually, but I had no idea how many cans I was really hauling around. My pantry challenge allowed me to do a much needed inventory of my food supply.

This is my pantry, the plastic tubs that hold my food

This is my pantry, the plastic tubs that hold my food.

The easiest way to manage the challenge was to haul my pantry into the house. My pantry consists of several transparent plastic storage tubs made by Sterilite. I have two large tubs (one for proteins and main dishes, the other for side dishes and fruits and vegetables), two medium tubs (one for my dishes and bowl and utensils and cast iron skillet, the other for breakfast food and tea) and two small tubs (one for condiments and spices, the other for snacks like granola and energy bars).

One reason I chose these particular tubs were the latches that secured the covers. Several of the handles have broken off, so they are less desirable than they once were. On a whim, I contacted Sterilite and asked them if I could buy new latches. A customer representative contacted me a couple of days later and asked where exactly the latches had broken. I explained the situation, and she said while Sterilite does not sell replacement parts, she would send me new latches free of charge. SCORE! I guess it never hurts to ask.

In addition to these transparent tubs, I have three smaller tubs that hold up my bed and serve as backup food storage.

Bringing the tubs inside encouraged me to clean them. The tubs (especially the lids) were really dirty after being in the van all dusty summer. Having the tubs in the kitchen, near the sink, made cleaning them much less of a hassle. I took all of the food (mostly canned goods) out of the tubs, took inventory, organized the items into categories that work for the way I cook, then scrubbed the tubs and lids with soap and hot water. I let them dry completely before I put any food back in them.

Since I was on the cleaning train, I took the opportunity to wash my two small plates, bowl, spoon, knife, three forks, cutting board, collapsible funnel, folding-handle camp cup, and tiny cheese grater. When I’m in the forest, I mostly use the spray-with-soap, spray-with-water, wipe-with-paper-towel, method of cleaning, so it was good to be able to soak everything in hot soapy water, then do a thorough scrubbing.

As I did my inventory, I was able to isolate the food I don’t want to keep. I’m pretty good about eating what I have, but there were a few items I’m going to donate to a food bank or a free pile. I have a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup I bought on sale 2-for-$1, but didn’t care for when I cooked with one can of it. I have several bags of banana chips that I don’t much like and a can of tomato sauce I can’t think of a way to use. I bet someone will be happy to have the stuff, and I’ll be glad to pass it on.

I’ll head to the land of scratch-and-dent groceries soon. It’s good that I’ve used up most of my canned goods and know what I can use more of, because it’s almost time to stock up again.

You can learn how to prepare for a pantry challenge and learn why one frugal blogger doesn’t do the pantry challenge anymore.

I took the photo in this post.