Category Archives: Getting Organized

Retirement Frugality: Budgeting Meat & Vegetables

MEAT

In general, chicken is the cheapest meat available, then pork, then beef, with veal being the most expensive. (When I figured this out from perusing years’ worth of USDA data, I stopped buying veal.)

I found a write-up about turning a 3 lb. pork loin into at least 4 meals for 2 people: a roast, sweet & sour, chow mein, and a pork chop meal.

That’s 8 meals. I researched a price per pound for natural pork loin, so I could figure how many meals I’d have to make to get to my magic .25/portion or more realistic .50 ?

I found a price, $3.99/lb. For a 3 lb loin, If I make 8 meals as in the write up, it’s $1.50 a portion. If I can do 12, it’s $1 a portion. And given what I found with the chicken as well as this research, I think an actual, realistic target price per portion is $1 for meat.

The only ways I can see around this are:

      • Abandon the idea of eating organic/natural meats, or
      • Do that (above) AND buy bargain meats only, or
      • Become vegetarian.

We eat “breakfast” one day a week, and lunches are left overs or catch as catch can. That makes 15 meals a week I need to budget for, and there are two of us, so 30 portions. We eat meat for 2 meals a week, so the cost of the protein for those days should be around $4. (We might, or might not, have sausage or bacon with our “breakfast” meal.)

How do  I use this to figure meats I can afford OR decide which meats I can’t?

The most realistic quantity I can come up with uses 1/4 lb of meat for 2 portions. At $1 per portion, that means:

 Any meat I buy has to cost $8/lb OR less!

The pork price I found fits ($3.99), so do the bulk chicken thighs ($2.49) I’ve been using. Ground beef at the local small green grocer, at $8.99/lb does NOT.

chicken-pig-cow


VEGETABLES

This year, I worked hard to find a way to reduce our vegetable cost, and managed to save about $100 by not buying a December share and full farm share, as we have in the past.

Instead, I bought a 1/2 share and a second share (at a different farm)  which starts earlier than the farm we’ve always used. This gives us fresh produce longer, but requires more work on my part retrieving it, meal planning, etc.

We spent approx. $600 this year for the farm veggies. That covers 8 months. Assuming there are 4 weeks per month, it’s $75/month, 18.75 per week, or .63 per portion (for 15 meals, 2 portions each).

This leaves us $125/month of our stated budget ($200 a month) for everything else: supplies, condiments, etc. And, as long as DH is working, that’s realistic. When he retires? I think I need to find ways to do better.

Meat & veggies aren’t going to be the answer! I don’t see how I can cut much more. As it is, we’re paying bulk prices for months’ worth of food up front, and retrieving it ourselves to avoid delivery fees.


I forgot Stew vegetables for winter! I run out of some, if not all of these every winter: carrot, celery, onion, parsnip & potato. What I have left right now are carrots & onions.

There was a huge quantity of carrots in last December’s share and I bought a 20 lb bag of onions from the farm sometime late fall.

I guess I need to do the same with all the stew veggies this year. Fifty lb bags of “chef” potatoes show up in the fall in some markets, I’ve never bought them as I want organic.  I need to ask the co-op about this or the farm(s)…

In general, we can’t use up wholesale quantities of perishables. I don’t have room to store them and we can’t eat them fast enough. But I hate going out midwinter for a 3 lb bag of onions!

Instead of making up 1/2 made casseroles, etc. like I did in 2019, maybe I need to make up/freeze stew veggies, like the stewed tomatoes and salsa verde I already make?


Assuming we will need to spend 1/2 of what we currently use? That will have to come from supplies and other foods, if possible. That’s another blog!

 

 

Stuck at Home? Ideas to Pass the Time and Baking Ingredient/Substitutions List

I live with an anxiety disorder, PTSD. One thing I’ve learned in dealing with anxiety my entire life (well, since I was 3) is that the easiest way to cope is to keep busy! So, here’s a few ideas to help you.

  1.  Read! I’m a book person, right? I want to get at least one book off my “to be read” pile. Even if you only have 5 minutes here or there because you’re not commuting to work, it’s “found” time!
  2. Cook (to reduce waste)! I have the end of a package of mushrooms which will become slime soon and onions which have started to sprout… And butter, yes, I have some butter, it’s in the freezer. (Hopefully, I can buy more.) Make something basic that can be used in future meals and also reduces your food waste: sauteed onions and duxelles are in my plans today, for just that very reason.
  3. Improve! Work on a home-improvement project if you have all the pieces, or have the pieces to start. We planned, after DH broke his leg, to be really conservative this year on home projects. Possible retirement was also a factor. So, we decided that we’d make use of the supplies and materials on hand rather than starting any new projects. One of those projects is painting the living room’s baseboards. I started that yesterday!
  4. Inventory! Do an inventory. Do you have 19 cans of chili and 2 of fruit cocktail? When availability/resources are limited, knowing exactly what you have (and don’t) enables you to shop for and store only the necessary, keeps down expenditures, and keeps products you could have overbought available for others.
  5. Cook (basics)! Don’t cook from scratch? Try. Fry an egg, make toast. The next time, add some sauteed onion or mushrooms, bell peppers, or what have you? Or, try boiling an egg instead. Or make biscuits from a can or . . . push your cooking towards the next level.
  6. Explore alternatives! Find and use alternatives if you can. Especially with baking there seem to be a lot:
    • Baking powder can be made up from cream of tartar and baking soda, here.
    • Brown sugar can be made up as needed from white sugar and molasses, here.
    • Applesauce can be used to substitute for fats in baking, here.
    • Soy flour can be substituted for eggs, here.

Retirement Planning: Frugality/Oven Meals

Potatoes have the highest “satiety” value of any veggie. That is, they make you feel full and satisfied faster than other veggies — they’re cheap! More, I can grow them here with a little work.

So, potatoes are part of the retirement food plan. Researching new ways to cook them yielded a recipe for British “jacketed” potatoes. We both liked them a lot!  I used this recipe.

What I didn’t like? Baking in a 400 degree oven for up to 2 hours??? Okay. If I’m going to do that, then I need to find other recipes which cook at 400 to go with the potatoes.

I went through 2 of my all purpose cookbooks. Today I went through and marked the oven meals in cooking pamphlets.

The oven-fried chicken I make (with lemon or plain) cooks at 400, which will no doubt become one of our “set” meals. But there are also these other things I may add:

Mexican stuffed green peppers (peppers stuffed with other veggies).

fruit cobblers, etc.

Baked Tomatoes

Cornbread

Baked Pears

At least 2 eggplant dishes

I will find others but this was much harder than I expected!


It also occurred to me that I could cook ahead, a meal that uses 375 for say 30 minutes,  while we’re eating the 400 degree meal and take advantage of my already hot oven.

Oven  meals cooked at 375 or 350 would be a lot easier to put together! Most oven meal recipes I’ve found are cooked at 325, 350, or 375.

I need to find a few bread recipes to go along with this too.


So, no “meal plan” per se, but an oven plan?

Turn oven on to 400. Prep/start potatoes. Prep/cook other items which cook at 400 to eat with the potatoes (the oven fried chicken takes about 45 minutes).  Prep a second meal, which cooks at lower temp for approx. 30 minutes.* Remove 400 degree cooked food when done. Turn down oven.

Wait a few minutes for oven to cool. Plate 400 degree cooked food. When oven is the correct temp, insert new oven meal. Cook the second meal while eating potatoes and other 400 degree food.

*The 30 minutes is arbitrary. It’s about how long it takes us to eat a meal. YMMV!


I don’t know that I’d want to do this in the middle of summer, but otherwise it would be fine!


I  made up a potential menu to try. You can read about that here.

The Goldilocks Dilemma: Supplies

For me, there are two types of things stored in my home: durable goods & supplies.

  • Durable goods – anything made to be used and reused repeatedly: clothing, furniture, rugs, buildings, automobiles, linens, dishes, pots & pans, etc.
  • Supplies – anything made to be used once and used up or changed in some way where it can’t be reused: paint, food, firewood, cleaning products, etc.

Figuring out how much is enough or too much with durable goods is less complicated than trying to determine the same for supplies.

For one thing, most supplies require specialized storage. And some, like frozen foods, requires VERY specialized storage. Others don’t require anything so specific: cat litter for one. But supplies do need storage which prevents them from becoming unusable.


Considerations: Storage Needed

The question is, is the supply .  .  .

highly flammable? fuels, firewood, firestarters, matches, kindling, waxes, polishes, etc.

heat sensitive? frozen foods, foods needing refrigeration, seeds, wax candles, etc.

light sensitive? photography supplies, some fabrics, etc.

Or:

Should it be in a waterproof/water resistant environment? This covers many of the remaining supplies: soaps, fabrics, toilet paper, thread, etc.


Considerations: Supply Form

Is it dry, semi-dry, or a liquid? 

  • Dry supplies are usually the most stable: dried spices, cat litter, toilet paper, powdered soaps, etc.
  • Semi-dry supplies usually things which require a bit more care than dry supplies. Items like paste shoe polish, some waxes, bar soaps, vegetable shortening, demiglace, etc.
  • Liquid supplies require a waterproof container. Many are cold sensitive, if they freeze their bottle will burst. These include: shampoos, liquid laundry soaps, olive oil and other cooking oils, vinegars, etc.
  • Food supplies obviously require storage which will help keep them fresh, if possible. This is true whether the food is dry, semi-dry or a liquid.

Considerations: Designated Use

Supplies are normally made to be used for a specific purpose. Food is made to eat, thread to use on fabric, compost on the garden, etc. The easiest way to divide this again is to separate it by locale: inside, outside, or for a car?


Supplies are complicated: there are many factors to consider when determining where and how much to store!

 

 

 

Just Right? Not Enough? Too Much? a/k/a The Goldilocks Dilemma

If you’ve followed along here for any period of time, you’d notice that I keep trying to find “rules.” That is, I keep trying to find set answers to recurring problems.

  • Can I cook in such a way that the kitchen cleans itself while I’m doing it? (See self-cleaning tab above.)
  • The three ways to save $ is another.

Here’s my latest:

I’m trying to figure out exactly what to keep, toss, or buy, and have been for a long time. I decided to try and “formalize” the decision-making process because I keep revisiting the issue.

I posed the problem in a forum where I participate. The answers I got and my reactions to them got me to create a spreadsheet.

From an hour’s worth of work, I came to these conclusions: storage limits are a major determinate for me — every item I considered it was a potential issue.

  • So, imposing a SPACE BUDGET should always be my first step when considering an item to keep, cull or purchase. The next consideration is whether or not what I’m considering is a durable item or a supply item?

(A SPACE BUDGET is a given amount of space allocated for a certain item.)


I discovered that I need to treat supplies differently than durable goods. Supplies tend to be things that are not used all at once. And they are things which are meant to be consumed entirely. So, for a bag of cat litter, space allocation needs to be big enough to hold the full bag, even when it isn’t.


So, this can be approached in two ways, from either the amount desired or the space needed.

  • How much of a given supply do I want to have on hand at the most? — How much space would it need?
  • Or, How much space do I have to allocate for this supply? — How much of the supply can be stored in the available space?

Some supplies require specialized storage, which of course makes it even more complicated.

 

Long-Term Storage Foods, Food Frugality, & Food Security

For a long while now, I’ve planned to make menus using more long-term storage foods. For one thing, long-term storage foods are usually available in bulk, or I can buy them in bulk, and the prices  aren’t as seasonally variable. I’m not talking about the canned goods available for preppers and Mormons. I’m talking about regular food available at the supermarket, although I may buy a caselot or large quantity! (Eventually, I might just buy those prepper or Mormon foods, although I never have.)

I’ve researched how long foods last and in what conditions. My plan has always been to take foods which are the most shelf-stable and incorporate those into our diet.

Very long-term storage foods, 2 years or more,  which don’t require any extra equipment to store include mostly unopened packages of: sugar,white rice, canned ham, canned coffee, chocolate syrup, instant tea,vanilla, vinegar, unpopped popcorn, condiment sauces: hot sauce, worcestershire, salsa, and hard liquor, according to one list.

Aside from the canned ham and possibly the popcorn, if you could grind it into cornmeal, there’s not much there that will sustain life.

Another list adds ground herbs & spices, whole spices, bottled water, bullion, canned meat & vegetables, and wheat berries to the long-term storage list.

Foods which can be stored for up to a year are more plentiful. Add corn meal, grits, whole grain pasta, nonfat dry milk, vegetable oil, dry soup mixes, canned fruits,  canned juices & tomatoes, dried peas and beans, unshelled nuts, canned coffee, and tea.

Various sources disagree about how long foods can be stored, so do your own research. The disagreements are why I haven’t included links.

However, with the wheat, rice, beans, and herbs, ah now I can make more than just canned ham. Off the top of my head you can make rice & beans, bean burgers,  wheatberry salad, etc.

Part of this is retirement planning too. I figure we won’t be able to afford premium foods, unless we buy and use them only as condiments. Using meats that way is something we’ve already changed. When the price of ground beef got over $4 a pound, I stopped buying meat at full price. We’ve been eating only what I can find on sale, about 1/2 off in most cases since. Sometimes that’s sausage, sometimes it’s steak, sometimes, we just eat salad. We’re not feeling deprived and we have sufficient calories and nutrients, I think, so I’m not worried about not having meat every day. If you were raised in the era I was, meat was something you were taught you had to have every night for dinner.

Also, we’ve been baking bread, eating oatmeal for breakfast instead of cold cereal, and we keep talking about learning to make our own crackers and such, as the price per pound for snackfood makes it almost obscene to buy anything, and we like munching just like everyone!

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This post was started some time ago, as was the post “Life with Sugar” which I also published today. However, I haven’t changed my ideas. What has changed is that these days I would include more home-frozen foods.

Also, a neighbor has a successful root cellar. On my list today is to call her to see if I can go over and talk to her about how she stores veggies through winter. I can store beans, peas, flour, etc. but the veggies are more difficult!

Philosophy of Stuff: Keep, Cull, Replace?

For a long, long time I’ve been removing excess from here and elsewhere in my life. Fine.

This morning I read/heard these things:

  • A discussion about the realities associated with prepping. What are you prepping for? How much reliance on the grid/info structure do you include? How much food, etc. do you plan to raise? To store?
  • Do you have the skills and knowledge to do those things?
  • The only way to successfully survive, SHTF or not, is to plan on having less, being able to do less, buy less, be less healthy, over time. There’s planning and there’s reality. We all get older. We all eat the food. Buildings degrade. Income becomes less with retirement. Inflation happens.
  • What happens after SHTF?
  • An article on NPR about robots planting/harvesting/packaging “organic” food.

And I thought, again. I’m probably doing this wrong, or, more accurately, I’m not doing it right often enough.

I have ideas I try and use:

  1. “Plan for the worst. The best will take care of itself.”* The problem here is to do it reasonably. Saving food is fine, but you need to also use it. You need to know how to cook those dried hotdogs so you will eat them, before you need to. How much does that can hold? Will I actually eat it? How long will it keep?
  2. “Keep the best, pitch the rest.”* I  use this when culling books or other things where I have duplicates. But I also use it as a guiding principal when I don’t. If the function is duplicated, if its purpose is a needless “convenience.” A crepe pan, for example. If you know how to make crepes, a crepe pan is unneeded, a regular skillet works. I don’t have a sifter, for this reason, or buy brown sugar. A sieve works fine to sift flour and I make up brown sugar as needed. That said? I only do those things probably 6x a year or less. If I made cookies for resale or in bulk, regularly, I’d probably have a sifter and perhaps an electric one!
  3. Do I use it? Expect to use it? Have I used it in the past? It’s a wonderful framistat. I’ve never used it. Will I? Not likely — out it goes!
  4. With fewer, better things, you’ll have time to do something other than stuff maintenance. This is the main reason I’m moving towards minimalism. Has nothing to do with embracing Marie Kondo or Henry David Thoreau.
  5. Use lower-tech, lower-cost alternatives, when practical. Open the blinds first, rather than turning on the light — if all I want is a little more light in the room. Need to see much better so I don’t run into something? So I can work on a project? Turn on the light. With big backlit screens, I’ve found I don’t need a “reading” light to use a computer these days. Previously, that wasn’t true. Older flickering monitors were really hard on the eyes in a dark room!
  6. Only replace it when the replacement is guaranteed to be better. Of course, this is hard to know! But what I do is replace older, worn items with copies of the same thing, in better shape. My childhood home had 2 strainers, made to be used together. I loved them as a kid. When my dad died, it became mine. I use it all the time. The smaller sieve had been rusting through and degrading for a while. I finally found another copy, on Ebay last year and bought it. The old one got taken to the dump, immediately. I don’t know if someone grabbed it or not.

I’m really offended by the idea of a robot planting, maintaining, harvesting and packaging my food. Not sure why!


*(c) Judith K. Dial, 2005, unpublished manuscript.