Saturday, August 14, 2010

Variations On A Frugal Theme

I read a lot of blogs (and books) on frugal living, green living, and money management.  I like to see what other "frugalites" and "greenies" are doing and how it works for them.  Comparing their methods with mine to see which would work better for me, picking up useful new tips and sharing my own  -  I feel like I've joined a community that's so much bigger and more diverse than I imagined when I first set out!

There are two strategies that almost everyone seems to have adopted that just don't work for Big Guy and me.

The first strategy is couponing.

I have to admit, I feel more than a touch of envy when I read about how much other bloggers save by using coupons; I especially envy what they can achieve on "double coupon days", on "stacked" coupons, on coupon-plus-store-rebate/reward deals.  We can't do those things here; stores in Canada  -  or at least here in our little corner of Canada  -  just don't do things that way.  The most we can do is watch the store flyers and not use a coupon until the item it's for goes on sale.

Some of our stores do have loyalty programs, though I'm never really sure whether the "member" price is lower than the "real" price, or whether the non-member price has been jacked up a bit ... hmm, maybe more comparison shopping is in order.  I have cards for Safeway, Save-On/Price Smart, Shopper's Drug Mart, and Zeller's/The Bay.  At the grocery stores, the bottom of the receipt always shows my "member savings" and coupon savings, and as soon as I get home I put that amount of cash in my Can't Touch It jar.  (This is also where all the can & bottle deposit money I bring home goes, and all the loose change that comes into the house.)  Save-On and Price Smart give points which can be redeemed for staples like eggs, milk, bread, etc.  Safeway gives Air Miles; we've never been able to rack up enough miles to actually go anywhere, but the miles can be redeemed for small appliances, various gift cards, and so on.  I do quite a bit of gift shopping with Air Miles!  Shopper's gives points; it doesn't usually lower the prices I pay, but the points add up fairly quickly and can be used for a lot of non-food necessities such as cleaning products, paper products, and occasional OTC medications.  The Zeller's card doesn't lower prices either, but again gives points which add up fairly quickly and are redeemed for Christmas and birthday gifts.  Still, I can't help a twinge of jealousy when I read about my American counterparts bringing home free or almost-free groceries and goods!

The second strategy we don't use is full-on meal planning.

I can hear the cries of horror ... so before they get any louder, let me explain why what we do works well for us.

Big Guy does pretty much all of the cooking here; he's a much better cook than I am, because he likes to cook while I am about the most reluctant cook you'll ever meet.  (I can cook, and in fact did most of the cooking during the early years when I didn't have a full-time job outside the home.  But I really, really hate day-to-day cooking.)  He's a spontaneous cook; when it's time to start dinner, he decides what he feels like doing and that's what we have. (That's why we try never to be without a microwave, for fast safe defrosting.)  The mere suggestion that we think about planning meals a month at a time has him staggering off into the middle distance mumbling to himself ...

We buy almost everything on sale, in bulk, and almost all generics; the only exceptions are milk, eggs, fresh produce, and the odd loaf of French bread or bag of rolls  -  and even there we look for the best possible price.  We have a 24-cubic-foot chest freezer (so much cheaper to run than an upright!) and we try to keep it full.  We watch for case lot sales, we keep an inventory of the freezer and pantry contents, we garden, and we do a lot of home canning. We're always on the lookout for good deals and freebies, and we trade with neighbours and friends  -  this fall, I'll be helping a friend pick all their pears and plums in exchange for a share of the crop, and we hope to be trading tomatoes and apples to the folks across the street for green beans and cherries.  Our "big" shopping trips are, on average, once a month; we make a list of what we're running low on that's on sale, and then do the circle:  Costco, the other grocery stores, the bread outlet, the produce market, and every six months there's a trip to Bosley's for the sale priced 20-kilo sacks of guinea pig pellets and a big bale of sale priced pine shavings.  Oh, and at the produce store we'll score at least three big boxes of free fruit and vegetable "trimmings" and discards  -  mostly for the guinea pigs, but I'm not going to throw away an orange or a grapefruit just because there's a mark on the skin ... What's not edible at all will go into the compost.

Now, although we don't set a menu in stone, he often cooks with several days' meals in mind.  When he cooks a turkey, a big roast, or a ham, he's already thinking of all the meals that will come from it  -  hot and cold sandwiches, casseroles, soups, stir-fry creations, pot pies ... And he often cooks in bulk; if we're having meat loaf, he'll make three or four more for the freezer; spaghetti sauce gets made by the gallon and frozen; once a year we'll set aside a long weekend and make hundreds of perogies.

On Thursday he found a killer deal on fresh-caught sockeye salmon, so we spent all day yesterday canning salmon in our usual assembly-line fashion  -  I do all the jar prep while he cleans & cuts up the salmon, then we pack the jars together and run them through the pressure canner.  Now we have 25 pints of fishy deliciousness in the pantry, and fresh salmon to barbecue tonight, for $45 (including the cost of the new jar lids, and the power used in the canning process).  The same amount (by weight) of canned sockeye in any grocery store would cost, even on sale, at least $180.

Though I don't do the day-to-day cooking, I do like baking and canning.  I'll make six loaves of pumpkin bread or lemon pound cake and freeze them; at Christmas I bake massive heaps of shortbread cookies and trade with family members and friends for other goodies.  I'll go out back and pick enough blackberries next week for a year's worth of jam and syrup plus some to trade.  I'll take a weekend in September to make a year's worth of pickles.  We're hoping he gets to go hunting later in the fall; if he does, we'll, skin, cut, and wrap what he kills ourselves.  I kind of hope he just gets a deer or two; if he brings home a moose as well, we'll need another freezer!

The results of the way we do things?

We eat whatever we feel like eating, without spending any more than people who do the meal-planning thing.
We always  -  this part IS planned  -  have really good, healthy meals, lunches from the leftovers, and sometimes another evening meal or two (or three or four).
We always have a wide variety on hand to choose from. 
We spend less per meal than almost everyone we know.
We waste nothing and produce very little garbage, and our compost is the envy of gardeners all over the neighbourhood.  (Insert smug grin here, LOL.)
Even though we're both unemployed right now, we haven't had to make drastic changes in the way we shop or the way we eat.
If there's a major emergency  -  earthquake, long power outage, whatever  -  we will not only be able to feed ourselves, we'll be able to help friends and neighbours if they need help.  And because we have a woodstove, a propane barbecue, a wood-fired barbecue, and large stocks of firewood and canning jars, in the event of a long-lasting power outage we'd simply yank all the meats and vegetables out of the freezer and pressure-can them.

Granted, our methods work in part because we have a lot of storage space and a big freezer  -  I know that not everyone is so fortunate.  But really, for me that's what frugality is all about  -  doing the best we can with what we have, and finding the best way to make what we have work for us.


  1. Hi, I just found your blog and I like it. You've done so much in a very short amount of time! Very inspiring :)
    I have a question. How do you freeze everything? Do you put it in Ziploc Freezer Bags or do you have a ton of rubbermaid containers?
    Thank you

  2. I don't coupon or meal plan either and it hasn't impacted my frugal lifestyle. In my area, coupons are mostly for processed food we don't eat; cooking from scratch is almost always cheaper than a coupon. I've never understood why people think meal planning saves money. As long as you don't waste leftovers, it is the same cost.


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