Like everyone else in the country, we’ve been finding ways to trim our monthly expenses. Can’t do much about our mortgage, ditto the health insurance and property taxes. We made adjustments to our auto insurance – nothing to leave us dangerously exposed, but since the business and personal cars are owned free-and-clear, we looked at what exactly we were covering and brought the premiums down.
I dropped the internet feature from my cell service. I rarely travel so why have internet on the cell phone? The internet is all over our house! Last year we ported the phone number from our business land line to my husband’s smart phone. That was a money saver and handy, too. Now my husband keeps business in his pocket. And we are canceling the “extra” land line, the one for sending and receiving FAXes (soooooo last millennium). That basic phone line rate has tripled from when it was installed a decade ago. We’ll soon use an on-line service for the rare FAX which, happily, costs much less than that extra phone line. And for a bonus, we’ll no longer be awakened in the middle of the night by the FAX beep signaling an offer for a free vacation at Disney World!
We dropped our television service providers, opting instead to simply grab the free signal out of the air with an outdoor antenna, and to also watch favorite programs over the internet. Since writing about this for Like The Dew a couple of months ago (“For Your Viewing Pleasure”), we’ve not only saved money, but we’ve enjoyed a real preference for the setup. Zero monthly payment. And the images are better! A real example of “less is more.”
We switched from the inexpensive Blockbuster membership to the really cheap Netflix membership, which, as it happens, includes viewing movies over the internet for no extra fee. (Come on, Blockbuster, get with the program!) We used to buy DVDs of the movies we might have enjoyed at the theatre, since it’s cheaper to buy the DVD than go to the movies. But we have raised the savings quotient on movie viewing by just waiting for Netflix to deliver. No hurry.
And speaking of entertainment, we dine out less frequently. When we want to enjoy restaurant service, we pop in for a less expensive lunch at a favorite place. We rarely order out for food anymore. That makes me sad. I like to order out. On the other hand, we’ve both been spared the ingestion of unnecessary extra calories, so with ten less pounds around my hips, this reluctantly-happily falls into the lose-lose category.
Ahh, food. A lot has changed in our kitchen. Our pantry was never crazy-loaded anyway. We always felt that the grocery store should store food for us. Why would we fill our costly Miami square footage with food?
So as usual, the majority of our grocery items fit into two, deep kitchen drawers. But what’s in those drawers has changed. For example, we have quit buying salad dressing. Everything you need to make salad dressing is already in the kitchen. Oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, relish, mayonnaise, French or dry mustard, honey, some yogurt, maybe ketchup, maybe fresh lemon, a few herbs from the garden – those items can be combined to create hundreds of dressings. If we find that we must we have something outside of that range, well, that’s what restaurants are for.
We are converts to any Buy One Get One Free campaign and are now fairly attentive to coupons — two categories of the grocery budget we had always ignored for reasons unknown even to ourselves. Seriously lazy about groceries, I suppose. We still opt for an organic label when possible, but select either what’s on sale or the store’s budget-friendly, generic-organic version, whichever costs less.
We have quit buying boxed cereal. Never a budget-buster anyway, but four bucks is four bucks. What do we eat for breakfast? In the winter months I bake hearty bread. Not because of the savings, but because we like homemade bread. At the same time, I think it’s a savings. As the summer temperatures have arrived, I’m more inclined to prepare hearty Oat & Yogurt or Charged-Up Cornmeal Pancakes (below). Each is enjoyed more at our house when prepared using a waffle iron, by the way, so maybe at yours, too. Sometimes we have eggs on the side (really cheap protein). Leftover pancake-waffles are refrigerated, then toasted on those bleary mornings. Convenient, right? Everyone appreciates convenience, but we have drastically reduced our “convenience consumption.” We would never, ever buy pre-cooked bacon, cartons of already scrambled eggs or freezer-muffin-pancakey products. They just aren’t worth it.
We buy fancy steel-cut oats grown in a country across the sea. It makes many servings and satisfies for less money than anything from Kelloggs. Rather than filling the ice box with plastic containers of prepared, flavored, adulterated yogurt, we buy a large, less expensive, plain, whole milk yogurt and dress it up with tired bananas, a dollop of jelly, a few chopped nuts, a sprinkling of flax meal and often, some berries from the garden.
Which brings us to the garden: we have quit buying bagged lettuce, which piled onto the grocery bill (and often rotted in the bin), and have instead been growing several varieties of leaf vegetables. Spinach, romaine, arugula and bibb lettuce have dressed our dinners, improved with just a bit of inexpensive iceberg from the market (I like the “crisp”). Our growing season in South Florida is coming to an end, but this year our hearts and pockets benefited from growing tomatoes, green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, sweet peas and green beans. Our yard is landscaped with coconut, mulberry, avocado, mango, allspice, pomegranate and lime trees, all doing their parts throughout the year. This year my son and his wife presented me with an early Mother’s Day gift — a South Florida friendly blueberry plant! I’m delirious!
We will never again spend energy planting something on the property that doesn’t have a food purpose. The butterflies will just have to fend for themselves.
We’ve paired down flavoring purchases to salt, pepper, real ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and Spice Islands Chili Powder. It’s the chili powder of my childhood, and no taco or beans and rice recipe works without it. Other herbs and spices? If it isn’t from the garden, then it won’t be in the stew.
See the onion that sat too long and is starting to sprout? We put those in the garden, and they actually grow! Into usable onions! Same with potatoes. Some weeks back we stuck one fingerling potato fresh from the market into the soil, just for a laugh. This week we grilled a pound of fingerling potatoes pulled fresh from the garden. We laughed ourselves silly over a delicious addition to the dinner menu that didn’t cost us more than the cost of one little potato.
Scallions? We use them a lot. Did you know that the rooted bottom inch of scallion that is often thrown into the disposal, if set it into a little water, will grow new greens? We didn’t until recently. We now have a field of them growing in pots and soon they will be ready for stir fry. Buy once, plant again and again? Maybe!
Mmmm, stir fry. That ancient cooking style allows a little protein to go a long way. And just like pasta, stir fry is compatible with creating something great while only using whatever is available. Perfect even if your garden is small and squashed onto a patio. A few green beans, a few small tomatoes, a bit of onion and garlic, some nuts, an otherwise sad and lonely bit of broccoli, toss it all in there. Why not? It’s the spices that bring it home.
Love pasta? We do. But really? Gourmet? There may be a difference, but not enough to justify the expense, and gourmet pasta can be very expensive. In our world, there are only two necessary varieties for the pantry – spaghetti and farfalle (bow tie). And only that which was bought Two-For-One.
We’ve learned that anchovies are nutritious, and add a ton of great flavor to pasta dishes, all while being inexpensive and pantry-safe. We’ve learned that the unused tomato paste from a can can be put into ice cube trays, covered with wax paper and used at a later date (no more expensive tubes of tomato paste for us). We’ve learned that shopping at over-sized stores like Target or Cosco cost us more than shopping in small markets. We’ve added way too many unnecessary products into the cart while warehouse shopping. We’ve learned to look carefully at what we’re putting into the cart, therefore our bodies.
We are learning what our grandparents would have told us if we’d been listening. We’re learning. And it’s been pretty entertaining.
Charged-Up Cornmeal Pancakes (or waffles!)
Into a medium bowl place:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup rolled oats, ground
¾ cups fine yellow corn meal
¼ cup sugar
1 heaping TB flax meal (optional)
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt (we use Kosher salt)
Combine the above with a whisk.
Into a small bowl beat:
¾ cup whole milk style, plain yogurt
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup olive oil
1 egg, beaten
Mix the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined (avoid over-mixing). Use batter to make pancakes or waffles, your preference. Makes about eight to ten.