Sunday, May 12, 2013

Frugal 101: Never Let Anything Go To Waste

There's an argument out there against the low carb/paleo lifestyle.  People read about it and ask, "How does anyone afford to eat that way?!".  There are a lot of people who totally dismiss that question, saying that low carb/paleo doesn't have to cost more, and heck, it can cost less because you're not buying all that junk food!

I really want to agree, because I think for some people, that's true.  If you buy ice cream, chips, cookies, cakes, granola bars, and expensive breakfast cereals, yes, you're going to save a ton of money by cutting that junk out and replacing it with real food.  Even if you're eating "healthy" by eating lots of cereal, oatmeal, pasta, bread, soy milk, and faux butter, you'll still save quite a bit of money by going low carb. 

But my history is different, and I suspect I'm not alone.  When Chad and I decided to try low carb, I was a low calorie vegetarian.  We didn't eat pasta very often, we ate only small amounts of breakfast cereal, we ate lots of vegetables and fruit, and Chad only ate meat once in a while (mostly on his sandwiches).  There was lots of beans, rice, and tofu in our meals, and those things are pretty cheap.  We hardly ever had crackers, cookies, chips, or any other junk food at that point.  I was very frugal because we're on a set budget and I had to make whatever we buy on the weekend last us through the whole week.

So when we suddenly started buying large quantities of meat, eggs, cream, cheese, nuts, olive oil, and more veggies than usual, I was a little bit horrified by how much money we were spending.  There were times where we had to decide between getting nuts or laundry soap.  I managed to get our budget under control by cutting out almost all impulse buys and unnecessary purchases (we don't need dark chocolate, afterall), buying in bulk whenever possible, and making our own stuff as much as possible. 

But another way that I've managed to stretch our budget is by never letting anything go to waste, at least if I can help it.  This requires a little bit of planning, but it's so worth while.  Like, save your bones to make bone broth, which is very good for you.  Or if you find your cheese has gone moldy, just cut the mold off because the rest is still good to eat.  I used to save all my vegetable peels and trimmings to add to my bone broth, but now I compost them.  Buy pieces of meat that that are a little tougher and therefore cheaper, like center cut shank or pork shoulder, or for chicken, pieces that are a little harder to cook, like bone-in thighs (omg so good).  Little things like that can really add up.

What really inspired me to write this, though, was onions.  It's spring here in the wet little city I live in, and my Egyptian walking onions are really sending up stalks.  These are cool plants.  My friend gave me some sets a few years back, and every year, they produce brand new sets on the end of their tall stalks, essentially giving me free onions for as long as I plant them. 

On the left are the small sets I planted last fall, and on the right are the onions planted in 2011 that I left in the ground to overwinter last year.  The overwintered onions look pretty sparse because I went through and cut almost all the beautiful green leaves off.

Because in the spring, Egyptian onions make wonderful green onions.  But it doesn't last long.  My onions are already sending up the stalks that contain their topsets, and once that opens, the greens won't be good for eating anymore.  So I cut all the leaves I felt comfortable taking, cut them up with scissors, and stuck them in the freezer to air freeze.  Once frozen, I threw them in a bag and will use them as I need them.  I think they last for something like three months.

The key to being frugal is taking advantage of all the resources you have available to you.  Maybe cutting up my onion leaves only saved me a couple of dollars, but if I do that sort of thing consistently, it might mean not having to choose between nuts and laundry soap, or buying grass fed beef instead of grain fed.

I also decided to give my chives a haircut, since I was out there anyway.

I checked, and chives are also great frozen, so I snipped them into usable pieces and stuck them in the freezer with the green onions.

 Chad was kind of shocked and horrified (as most Americans would be), but I also decided to do a little bit of foraging....

And picked this bowl of beautiful dandelion greens that were growing under my raspberry canes. I'll post more on that adventure later.

Another way I save money is by composting.  Technically, this doesn't add anything to the food bill, but I use my compost to feed my vegetables and fruit plants, which of course do contribute to our food bill.  Good compost does so much for your plants, and plus, it helps tie you back into the circle of life.  Life leads to death leads to life.  How magical is it to turn your old vegetable scraps into new beautiful vegetables?

My nifty OXO counter top compost bin:

And my nifty back yard compost pile.  I tried lots of compost methods/containers before deciding  this was the best design.  The best part was that it only cost me $10 to build. 

So that was a lot of rambling just to say, make the most of what you've got.  Don't worry if you're not eating "perfectly".  Eat the best you can, use whatever you have as well as you can, never let anything go into the garbage that can feed someone (you, an animal, a plant), and make sure to only buy what you need.  And don't be afraid to eat something that other people think is weird! 

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