Tag Archive | frugal living

How We Reduced Our Food Spending

Last month I told you about how we are attempting to spend less money on food. The result of our February experiment was that we spent $280 for the month which ended up being $109 less than February last year (2017). It’s also consistent with the $10 a day spending experiment that I have been doing to see if it is possible to eat well for $10 per day for two people. It IS possible.

The main things that made this possible were the following:

Eating in season. We bought blueberries when they were in season in the summer at a great price and then froze them for use now. We also froze most of our own fruit, including currants, raspberries and apples.

Not buying convenience foods. This is an obvious one. Convenience foods may look cheaper to start with but they are used up faster because the quality is poor. You end up spending more because you have to repurchase more often.

Eating a bit less. There is nothing wrong with eating less. I found this quite liberating. We were eating better quality food, and therefore not needing to eat as much because there were no cravings.

Cooking everything for ourselves. This is a must. I have found that eating at restaurants is actually not that fun for me. It’s really for convenience. I prefer the food that we make for ourselves, for the taste, the control of the quality, and time spent together. I know where the food is coming from and what goes in it.

Having a garden. Naturally, growing your own food is going to save you a bundle. It is more work for sure, but the quality of the food, at least in our case, is superior to anything we’d buy from the store.

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The Coming Months

We are continuing our spending freeze on food for the next two months at least to see if it can be kept up. We are definitely going to run out of potatoes this year but that should be about it and not sure if we’ll buy from the store when we do. We’d only buy if they are locally grown potatoes so we can’t predict if there will be many or any to buy in the spring.

Our source for meat is local, which provides us with grass fed beef, humanely slaughtered on farm, so we don’t need to buy meat at the store. This also saves us money. Even though we don’t eat much meat, I eat it for the energy it provides me. Not every one needs to do this but by the same token, not everyone can be healthy by eating only plants.

As an aside, but following the nutritional topic, our dogs eat a raw meat and whole food diet (no kibble or canned dog food). We are able to keep their meal costs to $100 per dog per month (more or less, as the dogs are different sizes and eat accordingly) which is extremely good.

So, all in all, our experiment is providing us with an interesting and useful pastime with a very good result so far.

How I Use My Time On The Homestead

Our homestead is unconventional but is one nonetheless.  It is one because we are homesteaders by vocation. We do the most we can for the environment, self-sufficiency and frugality.

To do and be all these things, it is important to have a daily routine that gets stuff done but is flexible to things that might come up. And things always come up.

Sometimes you just don’t feel like doing something. There is nothing really wrong with that. Feelings are facts, I always say. The only thing that absolutely needs to get done are those things that involve taking care of animals or if the garden is very weedy. The rest of the time I follow a schedule that removes the need to make too many decisions about what I need to do.

Morning:

I work from home, so in the morning I have to get my work done before I do anything else. This means I get up early (well early for me, just 7 a.m.) to work on the computer. I do that for an hour and a half. The quiet is what I need and the dogs and Ernie are still sleeping. There is minimal traffic noise. So at least I can get a good amount of work done first thing.

At 8:30 a.m. I feed the dog and myself. The new puppy is learning the routine now and doesn’t fuss in the mornings after breakfast. I work again from 9:00 – 10:00. From 10:00 – 10:30 the puppy gets a playtime and the other dogs a stretch, so that I can start working again from 10:30 – Noon.

Afternoon:

Since we don’t have any livestock other than dogs (yet), I spend the afternoon working with them. I train and video that and then edit and upload videos to YouTube. I may also at this time video something for Homesteading 101 as well.

When I start making supper around 4 p.m., things are a little more chaotic but still get done, because I am not thinking about all the other work I have to get done – it’s already done because I stuck to the schedule. This is where I can feel the benefit fully of getting work done in the morning. I haven’t had most of the day to think about what I haven’t done. When you have many things to do that are just regular routine things and are fairly unimportant (not talking about taking care of animals here), it is easy to let those things take over your time.

Evening:

This is the time I spend with Ernie and the dogs. If we feel like working on something and are not too tired, we do. If not we don’t.

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It took a while to get this schedule figured out, even though it’s pretty simple. I have made numerous schedules in the past, and have never been able to follow them. With this one, I seem to be able to make it work.

Maybe it’s because of the simplicity of it. I have no choices at certain times of the day. Removing other options of what to do reduces decision fatigue which I have found to be a real problem in the past. Because it seemed like there were so many things to do (even though they were unimportant), I became frozen – not knowing what to do first.

If I take care of the the thing that is most important to me first thing in the morning so that it gets done, I don’t have to worry about finding time later.  If I don’t do it first thing, it won’t get done.

So that is mainly how I manage my time on the homestead. Things that need to get done may change, but I will always remember to get the most important things done early.

How We Make Sauerkraut

We don’t make sauerkraut every year but this year we had to because of all the cabbages that decided to grow.

For this process we have a ceramic crock that Ernie’s mom used. It is a large high – sided pot really, that was made in Medicine Hat Alberta, Canada. Ernie’s parents were given this crock in 1967 by neighbours but we really don’t know how old it is.

For things like that I just call them “vintage”.

This year we used 18 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. We also used some of our own onions and of course, coarse salt.

Sauerkraut is so simple. And so tasty. And good for you. So we have decided to make more of an effort to use what we make. Often we forget that we have it, and it gets left over from year to year. This year though I think we have run out so our crock full will definitely get eaten.

Many of you already make this food but I will go over it again anyway because you can do it with almost any container, just on you counter.

Chop or coarsely grate (we grate) the cabbage into the container to about 2 inches or 5 centimetres. Add some onion and the appropriate amount of pickling salt. For us it was 2 tablespoons per layer of cabbage.

Then we filled the container about 3/4 full. As  he went along, Ernie would squish the cabbage in his hands to get the juices out.

Once done filling the crock a clean pail full of water was used to weigh down the cabbage to stay underneath the liquid. Ernie cut two pieces of pine board to fit on top of the cabbage inside the crock that the pail sits on.

Check out my video below to see all the steps.

In the past, Ernie’s mom used to use a board similar to what we use, only she weighed it down with a big rock that they had found here in the yard. I opted for the pail although I’m sure there are many things that could be used to do this job.

Ernie kept tasting the cabbage to check it for sourness over the next two weeks or so. Once it reached what he figured was ready, he squeezed the liquid out by hand and packaged it for freezing.

Not difficult to do at all, and so very good for you.

 

Make Homemade Iced Cream

I found a method of making iced cream on Facebook of all places. You make it with plastic bags, ice and a lot of arm strength. Now I am not one for using plastic much as you may know, but since we have so many in the “junk” storage from previous use, I thought why not reuse some for this project.

We have three ice cube trays and I made the ice myself that you need for this. We also have a vintage iced cream maker but decided to give both methods a try.

Make It

There are only four ingredients: 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of cream, 2 tblsp, sugar and a dash of vanilla. I doubled this for our second try and quadrupled it when we figured out what we were doing and use my own method as you will see below.

To make the iced cream you put the ingredients in a zip top bag. You then prepare another larger bag with lots of ice and salt and place the bagged ingredients inside the bag of ice  Shake it for ten minutes. Your hands will get cold. We used a tea towel wrapped around our hands to prevent this.

We tried doing this method twice. The first time I accidentally, poured the iced cream out of the plastic bag into a bowl along with some of the salty water from the bag of ice. Ernie ate it anyway.

The second time was better and better tasting. But it was still labour intensive.

The iced cream maker was a no go as the centre metal container was rusted inside.

My Method

At some point during this iced cream making day, I realized that I have been making an iced coffee recipe for years with the same ingredients as iced cream – except the coffee. I make the drink in a glass loaf pan and  turn it into an iced drink in the freezer. To keep the drink smooth and prevent crystalization, you need to keep stirring it. The main thing is to not let it freeze overnight. I figured out how to make this iced coffee recipe by trial and error.

Because the ingredients are basically the same, I decided to try to make regular iced cream this way as well.

I used the same glass loaf pan. You can use whatever you have, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Put all the ingredients in and mix with an electric mixer. (My mixer is vintage of course and is older than me.) Do this every half an hour to prevent the ice from forming large chunks and to make it freeze slowly. No shaking, no ice cream maker needed.

When it is the right consistency to eat, eat it. That’s it.

You can add any flavourings you want to this like chocolate, fruit, or whatever.

Happy Homesteading.

Redecorating Without Spending

I redecorate regularly by spending no money.

This is actually something that I have been doing since I was in elementary school in my childhood home.

My parents had little money, and certainly nothing to spend on decorating. For some reason, redecorating the house came naturally to me, and I did it regularly for almost two decades. I would simply move furniture around, and find things in boxes or closets that hadn’t been used. Occasionally, we bought things are yard sales – which didn’t cost much anyway – but most of the time it was what we already had.

When I got a little older, I started growing flowers in the yard, cutting them and drying them for the house. I also dried wildflowers from the ditch that I picked up when we were on holidays and used them in the house too.

Now my obsession continues.

Currently we have no more room for any new things in the house. I like to keep things to a minimum, such as it is. What I am using for decorating is what was already here or what I had before I moved here. Also, I am not repainting or staining anything. It has to look good just on it’s own without any adjustments.

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There are a few important rules that I follow when redecorating with no money.

Use what you have. There is an unbelievable force in our society that tells people to buy new things and if you don’t you’re not good enough and you may end up feeling guilty for not doing it. We actually don’t need to do that unless there is a real need for something like a vacuum cleaner, a new shower head, or a large appliance. Most other things we buy we can do without, especially if they are from stores that sell cheap things in large quantities. You know the ones I’m talking about.

There are so many things that can be bought nowadays that break right away, look cheap and provide you with no unique qualities for decorating. I avoid these things as much as possible. Unless I already have them, I don’t include them in your redecorating. Mass produced cheap knick knacks and even household items often have no real thought behind their production other than to make a quick dollar.

Your best bet for decorating is to use what you already have. I can pretty much guarantee that you have stuff in storage that you can use, no matter what it is: fabric, craft items, yard sale finds, old stuff, new stuff, almost anything.

To reuse things you have, you can follow some basic principles for no money re-decorating:

Don’t always leave out something or get rid of something you dislike. Often, there will be an item that you dislike or that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in your house. Don’t necessarily get rid of it.  Obviously if you REALLY don’t like looking at something maybe don’t include it in your display, but sometimes things you may really hate can look different among certain other things. It really just depends. My suggestion is to try it first before discounting it. I find that it is better to wait a while and see if an object or placement of an object grows on you. Sometimes even a few days is needed to make a final decision.

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An example of something I disliked was the white (yellow) pot on the right. It looked kind of yucky but because it is vintage, I just couldn’t get rid of it. Then I paired it with it’s green friend on top of the stereo speakers and it worked!

I don’t try to match things. Matching colours or sizes of items is boring to me. I don’t go nuts with using bright colours or anything like that but new stuff and older stuff  can often work together or different fabrics and material can give neat contrasts. Just go with whatever you like and that usually will be right. Below you can see a small display I have on the top of my work desk. All items are finds, the green candle holder from a thrift shop, the glass holder and plant pot were already mine. They look good where I put them together even though they are completely different objects and unlikely partners.

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Moving things just slightly can make a big difference. I find I don’t always have to move EVERYTHING around to different places. Sometimes there will be an item that just doesn’t work and it’s removal or a change in position will fix it. Just offsetting one thing can also work wonders.

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In the picture above, you can see that the wall hangings are not quite in the right position – at least for me. This is a personal preference. Put or arrange things so that they are pleasing to your own eye. When I put these up, I used the nails that were already in the wall without moving them. If I want to fix them, I would move the  painting down a small amount. that would be all I have to adjust to make it look better.

I make sure to dust. Yeah right! Well, the intention is there. Dusting really makes things look better and makes you FEEL better about your house. Just regularly dusting some things can make a huge difference and gives the illusion of redecorating! It’s magic.

And there you have it. My simple but effective, (I think), ideas for redecorating without spending money. Everyone has a different style and preferences. Make sure to use yours when you are working on your house and it will always work out well for you.

Freezing In-Season Fruit

At this time of year to save some money, we buy fruit, which is sometimes on sale, wash and freeze it for the winter. We do this instead of buying frozen from the grocery store in the winter. By doing this we know exactly where the fruit is grown and how it was processed (by us).

We do this with blueberries, Saskatoon berries (otherwise known as serviceberries) and sometimes strawberries if we can get them locally. To freeze them we use plastic honey containers as you can see in the photos. We feel this packaging method is acceptable since the berries do not contact too much of the plastic. Not as much as the honey that originally comes in them anyway.

This is what we are currently doing on the homestead right now as boring as it may seem.

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We usually buy about two dozen packages of blueberries and about the same in strawberries. The Saskatoons have to be picked, which we do locally. And then we stuff ourselves with fresh berries for a few days! That’s it!

How We Feed Our Homestead Dogs

Pets are an expense, with food and vet bills being the main issues. When I consider feeding my dogs on the homestead, I always feed the best food I can find. This doesn’t always mean pre-made, store bought food either.

The reason for this is simple.

Dogs need to eat well just like we do. What they eat affects their health. Having six dogs and many more over the years and being a pet professional, I have tried all kinds of store bought dog foods as well as those I prepared myself and I have seen many different kinds being fed to their dogs by clients.

What I’ve found is that on the homestead, the more food I can provide for my dog the better.

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The dogs are waiting to find out what Ernie is making.

This is what we do for our own dogs on the homestead. All dogs are different and respond differently to foods. Know you own dog(s).

We Feed Dry Dog Food

Yes, we use a dry dog food for convenience. Yikes! Isn’t this the opposite of a homesteader’s thinking? In a way yes, and in a way no.

By yes, I mean that it is not self sufficient and likely NOT the most ideal thing for a dog. By no, I mean that I have always felt that our dogs need to be able to eat from many different sources. Often, I have worked with a dog who has been babied and won’t eat anything but certain types of food. I expose our dogs to many different kinds of foods and this includes a good quality dry food. But it is not our main source of food for the dogs.

If you want to and can feed your dog raw or only stuff from your homestead, perfect. It can be done and is the best way in my opinion to feed dogs. This is also a goal of mine.

I have fed raw in the past, but currently don’t have the access to the kind of meat I want to feed to six dogs. Supplies come and go around here. Also, two of my dogs are 15 years old and can’t chew bone anymore. They are starting to not want to eat, so I give them whatever I can that is tasty enough to interest them AND give them nutrients they need. Mostly, this comes from a can.

We Feed Cooked Fish

We buy canned salmon and sardines, and fish that was caught from the local area lakes. Don’t forget that if you are or want to be a “raw” feeder, canned fish is cooked and so is not raw. All fish caught in local lakes is cooked before feeding it to the dogs. You could probably feed it raw but it would have to be frozen for at least 3 weeks before feeding to eliminate parasites.

We Feed “Scraps”

All scraps have to be whole foods i.e. NOT processed meats, foods with additives etc. Our scraps include things liked cooked potato and other veggies, meat scraps like chicken, venison, beef, pork etc. If there is fat, we remove it and don’t feed it. Cooked fat is different from raw fat and has a different affect on the body for dogs. So eliminate cooked fat.

We also make dog treats such as cookies. It is easy to make your own dog treats and there are unlimited recipes to be found on the internet.

We Feed Meat From Local Sources

We get meat locally. The beef is grass fed from nearby ranchers and we get chicken from a woman who raises them herself. We used to get pork from a farmer but have not had any for a few years. Ernie also hunts during the season, and sometimes the dogs get extra deer meat, but we always freeze the deer for 3 weeks before feeding. The deer antlers are also given to the dogs instead of bones to chew, but can also cause cracked teeth so we need to be careful about that. If I feed bones they must always be raw. We only give chicken bones as we have had bad experiences feeding other bone.

If I feed raw meat only on one day, it is not likely to be an issue since the dogs are getting calcium from other sources on different days. I also feed the chicken parts with the bones. These include all parts of the chicken however, I am careful to feed appropriate sized bones to each dog. You must know your dog no matter what you are feeding.

One of my dogs can’t eat small chicken thighs without me breaking the bone in it ahead of time because she gulps it. But then she can’t eat larger bones either so I have to watch her. With my large dogs I have never had an issue with any of them eating bones because they are not gulpers.

Feeding raw meat exclusively without bone leads to nutrient imbalance and should not be done.

Other Fresh Foods

We also feed raw or cooked eggs. Eggs are like a multi-vitamin for dogs. The nutrient content of eggs doesn’t change much whether raw or cooked so I alternate.

If we have farm eggs, then we feed them raw and can feed the shells as well. The skin on the inside of the eggs has nutrients that benefits the dogs. If the eggs are boiled in the shells, we do not feed the shells as they become sharp when cooked. Eggs are like a vitamin pill for dogs.

In the fall we have apples from our trees and the dogs eat them right off the ground or are given one to eat. We make sure not to give too many so that they don’t eat too many seeds. Most seeds go right through because they don’t chew them, but just to be cautious we watch how many they eat. We also feed raspberries when they are available from our garden and blueberries when we can buy them in season.

Vegetables from the garden can include spinach, kale, parsley, and herbs.

Basically, we try to keep it simple and not rely too much on processed food from the grocery store.

Feeding the homestead dog a variety of foods is beneficial in several aspects.

Plywood Bathroom Sink Stand

Our bathroom has been in pieces for 2 years. It has taken us that long to dismantle, design, choose, and buy the stuff we needed to finish the project.

Actually, I am not really complaining. Our favourite thing when doing a project is to do it slowly. And that we did. We did that because we didn’t want to make any mistakes.

In the picture below, Ernie is varnishing the sink stand. He made it out of Maple plywood. We stained it with dark stain and then varnished it with water soluble varnish.

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The next picture is the bathroom mostly done. The sink was purchased at a hardware store and was really the only choice we had and it was in stock in the store. If we had to do it again, I would either order one that we knew was eco-friendly – if such a thing exists, or we would make our own out of something recycled. The plumbing is not done in the picture, that is why there is a rag hanging out of the wall. Obviously the sink tap is not cheap. We have found that often you get what you pay for so we spent some money on that.

The ceramic wall tiles were left overs at the store and they had enough for this surround. Ernie bought pine panelling for the wall behind the sink and a small section on the other end of the bathtub. This will be varnished with the water-soluble varnish as well. Just as an aside, the mirror in the picture was salvaged and Ernie made the frame from scrap wood. I varnished it.

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So from a homesteading perspective, I feel we did the best we could on the recycling/reusing side and the not spending too much side. Ernie did all the work himself and did it at a relaxed pace, not stressing himself out at all. It took several weeks but was worth the wait.

Eating Well On Little Money Part 1

Last year I started a project in which I was trying to figure out, if you start with NOTHING, and spend only $10 a day (and you live in the city and don’t have a garden) can you eat well?

In the documentary “Food Inc” there was a family that believed they couldn’t eat well because good food was too expensive, yet they went to a fast food restaurant for supper. They spent time at the grocery store lamenting how expensive everything was, but yet had money to buy ONE meal for each person in the family. I would think that taking $15 or $20 that they spent on fast food for the family ($5 per person) and putting it towards actual food would be more productive and cheaper in the long run.

This is what I am trying to show with my experiment: to demonstrate that it can be done, that two adults CAN eat well on $10 a day, and likely even less.

How To Start

I used the local Co-op food store and their sales flyer each week for 4 weeks. The food at the co-op here is more expensive than larger grocery chains in the big city, but my point is to be able to shop where you are and still eat well. The food had to be non-processed (food that has multiple ingredients but could be canned or frozen if it only has one ingredient.), and thus good food. Some was on sale and some wasn’t.

The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:

Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.

From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments left over from previous purchases of food (ketchup, mustard, oregano, basil, garlic, etc) you could use those to spruce things up.

At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project. The point is use what is available. The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.

Day 2: Carrots, Bananas, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00

With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelieveably good. I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well. We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower.

One may wonder how this food can sustain you for days but what actually happens is that you build up your stock of food over the week and then weeks, and you are able to continue eating well day after day. Maybe the first day or two isn’t ideal, but when you are considering eating nothing as opposed to this, it looks ok. And fast food always costs more.

So the point of all this is to, again, show that you can eat well for little money IF you can use your creativity and figure out how to use the food that is available to purchase. I figure it is often the lack of knowledge in how to cook real food that contributes to eating poorly. Just my thoughts.

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Make Pasta at Home

Eating well – or eating poorly is a matter of educating yourself on how to do this, not on how much you make.

Real pasta has has TWO ingredients – flour and water. I actually learned this method from a Lydia Bastianich, the famous Italian-American celebrity chef. I was shocked to see her do this in one of her TV shows and have been making it every since.

How To Make It

Take some water – about 1 cup – and add flour until you have a dough. You can mix it in a bowl by hand or use a food processor. Once the dough is fully mixed, cut a smallish chunk of it and remove from the bowl. Don’t take too much off at once if this is your first time trying this method. You will have a limited amount of space (likely) to roll this out and starting with a small amount is best.

Roll out the section and cut into long, thin pieces or use a hand crank pasta machine if you have one or can find one at a yard sale or auction. The key to making it easily is to use enough flour when you are rolling out the dough so that it does not stick to everything. You must shake the flour off the pasta somewhat before you cook it.

Here are some lasagna noodles that I made.

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It takes a little more time to make your pasta this way, but not really.  The pasta tastes better and is something you can do yourself without relying on anyone to make it for you. .