Monday, February 20, 2012

Something From Nothing

My painter friend in New York, Billy, is the reason I'm writing this blog. He even thought of the title. Normally, I wouldn't write about how to save money, because I am no expert in finances and/or the economy. I have always been good at surviving and getting by in tough times, however, so I am going to offer some tips on how to get by on more for less in a time when prices rise by the minute.

For years, I have saved every receipt, even for sodas at the Mapco, to track how I spend my money. I also keep a spreadsheet on sales tax so I can see how much my local governments wrench out of my pocketbook in addition to property tax. In 2011, I spent $1,200 on sales tax alone and $928 on property tax. 

Yesterday, I reviewed my monthly expenses for February, and realized I had spent $94 for gasoline and only $11 on food. What is wrong with this picture? Not to mention, the higher cost of fuel translates to higher food costs.

When you make as little as I do, you don't have much wiggle room and when the price of something such as gasoline rises, something has to give somewhere. In my budget, groceries are where I cut.

Billy wanted to know how I could get by on spending so little on food in a month that is almost over, so I told him a few things I do to make my food budget stretch.

First, I make my own bread, which can cost around $4 a loaf. I can buy a five-pound sack of bread flour for almost $4 and I can get at least four loaves out of a sack. I'm no good at math, so I'll let you do it, but I know I am saving some money by baking my own bread instead of spending it. I also make my own pasta with a hand-crank pasta maker from time to time. And I can tell you this much, there is nothing healthier or tastier than homemade bread and pasta.

Second, I have always been a stockpiler of staples, canned goods, and food I can freeze for use during the lean months. I shop at wholesale places such as Sam's Club and Costco to load up on things I use a lot, i.e. ground chuck, pinto beans, rice, dog food (for the dogs, not me), coffee beans, toilet paper, bottled water, heavy whipping cream, onions, potatoes, and so on. Any meat I buy, will be divvied up into Ziploc bags and put in the freezer to use later.

Being single and somewhat on the smaller side, I am not a huge consumer. I don't waste anything. Any leftover food that I don't eat goes to the dogs. I know, I know. I can hear some of you screaming that I am not supposed to give dogs people food, but I ask you: What did dogs eat before dog food companies invented kibble? Well, there you go.

Third, I am mostly vegetarian and learned to cook working in a vegetarian cafeteria. I do not eat a lot of meat, but when I do, it is chicken, Black Angus ground chuck, flank steak, chuck eye, and chuck roast. These are versatile cuts and although chuck may be fattier than other cuts, all you have to do is cook it until the fat reduces down to nothing, which doesn't take long.

As for eating, I tend to be conservative there as well, preferring a small breakfast snack with a cup of black coffee over a full breakfast and a snack of an apple, raw carrots, pickled beets, and/or green olives at suppertime. My main meal is midday, around 1 or 2 p.m., and it usually consists of something healthy with beans, lentils, soy products, or one of the aforementioned meats as a protein.

These are the three main things I do to save money at the grocery store. At present, my home is paid for and I am debt-free. My biggest expenses are health care and, of course, the ever-rising cost of gasoline.

If you wanted me to offer tips on how to run either the economy or government, I would tell you the same thing: Less is always more.