Posts Tagged ‘Frugal Living’

Time = Money

If there is one thing that has helped us to live more frugally – in a happy, contented, non-miserly way – it was getting our heads around the fact that time is money, particularly where food is concerned.

It’s pretty simple maths:

Least Time Spent →  Most Time Spent

Eating Out →  Cooking Prepared Meals →  Making From Scratch

Most Expensive →  Least Expensive

We’ve found that the more time we can put into preparing our food, the more we can afford to spend on really great ingredients, while still saving quite a bit of money (understand, of course, that we’re not buying truffles or organic lamb backstrap on a regular basis).

Here’s a personal example:

We used to (and still occasionally do) buy takeaway pizzas.  They were (and still are) very good, but expensive.

Five years ago, we started making our own at home, using supermarket ingredients: McCain’s frozen pizza bases, Leggo’s pizza sauce, shredded cheese out of a bag, pitted Spanish olives from a jar and ham in little packets from the cold section.

Now we make our own pizza bases from flour, yeast and extra virgin olive oil, and top them with homemade roasted tomato passata, marinated Kalamata olives, hand sliced fresh mozzarella, dry cured pancetta and Italian anchovy fillets.

The more time we’ve spent on the pizza we’ve eaten, the less money it’s cost, even with the substantial increase in quality of the raw materials.  That makes sense, because when we have a takeaway pizza, we’re paying for someone to process our food for us, which saves us time.   Even our first attempts at homemade pizza cost us more than our pizzas do now, because there was still an element of processing – someone else made the bases, grated the cheese and prepared the sauce.

Now, were we to have the time to plant, harvest and mill our own flour, grow our own tomatoes and raise our own meat, we could probably reduce the cost of our food even further. But that’s not an option currently available to us, nor one we would necessarily like to take up!

This post isn’t intended to make you feel guilty about how much food prep you do or don’t do.  We’re blessed to have the time and inclination to try and make things from scratch, but someone who works 60 hours a week is unlikely to have the  energy to turn a box of tomatoes into sauce. Every family needs to find the time-money balance that suits their lifestyle.

But the knowledge that what you’re paying for in food is often time, rather than ingredients, might help you to make more informed decisions about where your food dollars are spent. And maybe you’ll be able to find painless ways to save money, by doing small things which don’t feel like a chore. It might not be much, but every little bit makes a difference!

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I was going to call this post “Waste Not Want Not”, but that’s a hard maxim to live by in the modern first world.  We try not to waste anything, but it’s almost impossible to never throw anything out, and I’m not about to force my boys to eat mouldy bread for the sake of a principle.

I think what’s important, though, is to make a concerted effort not to waste anything – and to feel a little angst when you do.

There are two persuasive reasons for training yourself to think like this. The first is obvious – it saves a bit of money.  It won’t necessarily be much though, and as an incentive, that alone will be unlikely to sustain a permanent change in thinking.

The second reason, to my mind,  is more convincing.

As many of you know by now, I’m a big River Cottage fan. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall often talks about treating food with respect – in the case of an animal, he interprets that to mean ensuring the beast has had the best  possible life prior to slaughter, and then making use of every last bit of the carcass.

By adopting an attitude of “waste with angst”, I feel that we’re showing respect for the generous bounty we’ve been given.  It ensures that we don’t take our food, or the energy and resources put into creating it, for granted.    It helps us to view what we have through grateful eyes, and reminds us to always give thanks for what we have.

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Here are some of the little things we do to minimise wastage (and therefore angst!) in our kitchen – I would love to know your suggestions!

  • Don’t throw out old bread, unless it’s mouldy or just too gross to eat.  We turn our stale loaves into panzanella salad (great recipe here), bread and butter pudding, and breadcrumbs (which we use in meatloaf, hamburgers, and occasionally just deep-fry and scatter over pasta).
  • Keep an eye on expiry dates, particularly on refrigerated items.  If  cream is nearing its use-by, turn it into custard, icecream or ganache.
  • Turn leftover cream into a little butter.  There is nothing quite like eating homemade bread smothered in freshly churned butter.  You don’t need a lot of equipment to do this – we use either the mixer or our mini food processor (with whisk attachment).  A little salt will help the butter keep a bit longer.  Here are some photos which might be of use.
  • Freeze your garlic – break it into unpeeled cloves and put them in a double layered ziplock bag (to prevent it stinking up your entire freezer).  Not having to throw out mouldy garlic  ever again is good for your soul!
  • Freeze all your excess egg whites, or turn them into meringues and then freeze them, for use in either trifle or Eton mess.  My friend Dan makes meringues on mass, freezes them, then pulls them out one at a time to make a “parfait” for little T – crushed meringue topped with strawberry jam and Greek yoghurt.  Perfect princess dessert!
  • Recycle leftovers – I know this is terribly clichéd, but it really does make a difference, especially when you’ve put a lot of effort into the original dish. I made my scotched egg meatloaf a few days ago, and the following night, Pete turned the leftovers into a simple pasta sauce, by breaking them up and adding his homemade tomato pasatta.  It was literally the work of minutes, and it felt like a totally different meal to the one we’d had previously.
  • Learn to preserve – a great way to store surplus produce, as well as creating gifts for your loved ones.  Start by turning all your apple leavings into homemade pectin, which you can then use to create the most delicious jams ever. Since Pete took over this process (which I must say, he’s become very good at), we’ve been giving jars of homemade jam away as presents, and it’s made Christmas gift giving a joy rather than a chore.
  • Finally, spread the love around!  Get to know your neighbours and share your bounty with them.  We regularly cook too much dinner, but we also have friends and neighbours who work very long hours and are usually happy to have a homecooked meal.  It works out brilliantly for everyone!

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Anybody that’s got more than a passing interest in British food should really look at Dorothy Hartley’s book, Food in England…one thing in it about mutton that I find quite funny really, but also quite nostalgic, and it comes from a time when you had your roast and it had to last, so it said:

Sunday, you have your mutton hot
Monday, cold
Tuesday, hashed
Wednesday, minced
Thursday, curried
Friday, broth
Saturday, shepherd’s pie

….presumably back to Sunday and another joint!

Chef Rick Stein, Rick Stein’s Food Heroes

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It’s really not about the money.

We started our journey into homemade not for financial reasons, but because we wanted to eat better.  It was also a challenge – can we make this ourselves? How far down the production ladder can we reasonably go?  We’re certainly not  diehards and, whilst we don’t buy pre-prepared or packaged food if we can help it, we’re still happy to eat out at restaurants and purchase spice mixes and condiments.

So it was never really about the money.  But the unexpected bonus is, over the past few years, we’ve saved a fortune.  Our food costs are about half of what they used to be, despite the substantial improvement in the quality of our meals.  We regularly cook more than we can eat – because it’s fun to do, and we love to share – but also because it seems so easy to have an abundance when you’re cooking from first principles.

There are many articles written about frugal living, but they usually tout the same (albeit sound) advice – eat seasonally, pack your own lunches, make use of your leftovers and so forth.  I’ve been trying to identify the things that really save us money, and thought it might be nice to blog about these over the next few months.

So here is our first suggestion – the one that started the ball rolling for us:

Bake your own bread and buy your milk in bulk.

We started baking bread in January 2007 and have never looked back. As I’ve mentioned before, apart from the health benefits (no additives, lower GI), it costs us about 65c per loaf for good sourdough, which is a huge saving over even the cheapest commercial bread.

We also buy our milk in bulk – easy to do here in Australia because UHT milk is both readily available and economical.  Our boys are more than happy to drink it, and it’s perfect for cooking and making yoghurt. I know many people are quite particular about their milk and won’t touch UHT, but it certainly suits our lifestyle – we buy 48 litres at a time, which will last us for several months unrefrigerated.  In general, UHT is cheaper than fresh, because it’s made in batches whenever the dairies have surplus milk.

Now, while homemade bread and bulk milk purchases save us money, the real reason it’s our top tip for frugal living is this: when you take away the need to buy bread and milk twice a week, you also remove the need to go to the supermarket every few days.

We buy our meat from the butchers, fresh produce from the markets and deli goods from a specialist supplier – which means we only need to go to the supermarket about once a month, if that.  This single change to our shopping routine has saved us a lot of money – it’s surprising how much we used to spend at the supermarket, on items which were both frivolous and unnecessary.  But more importantly, when freed from the “supermarket mindset”, we started to seek out specialised and passionate food suppliers, and the quality of what we were eating improved dramatically.

If you’d like to give breadmaking a go, you might find this tutorial useful.  Be warned though, once you start, it’s hard to go back to boring commercial bread.  And when you’ve mastered the basic techniques, you’ll be able to create everything from your own sandwich loaves to pizzas.  Have fun!

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