Thursday, December 31, 2009

groceries for under $200/month

The first year of our Urban Pantry Challenge has ended. Personally it was very enlightening. Like being struck with lightening and coming to the realization that I was living in a cloud, firmly believing that I spent on average $100 a month for groceries. Yeah, I know some peeps are delusional about their dress size I'm whacked about our grocery bill. Overall we did good.
I do have one point to get across when you live a challenge like this - it is a constant there is never any down time to NOT think about any opportunity to gather food.

In reviewing my posts I realized I neglected to account for the 1/4 side of beef that I bought in July. Here's da deal - the hanging weight of the cow was 530 lbs. at $1.30 per pound. My portion was $303.30 which includes all the butchering fees ect. for 132 lbs. of beef. The cow was 1/2 Pinzgaver and 1/2 Angus locally raised in near Arcade, New York. Mostly pasture raised on a small family farm. Hormone free although not organically certified.
My butchering list ranged from chuck, rump & shoulder roasts, to t-bone & sirloin steaks, porter house, and beef stew cuts. 50 lbs. of ground beef filled out the order. I asked for two large roasts 7 lbs. or more. One for bartering & one for a holiday family meal.

Next time I won't order ground beef since it is more advantageous to pay $1.30 per pound for a roast than hamburger cut. Locally roasts go for $3.99 per pound. Will scout out a bulk package deal on ground beef since it is by far our most used cut of beef.
Chicken & pork was bought when on sale & repackaged into meal sized portions.
This year we haven't had rabbit since I suspended breeding for the time being.
Venison was obtained last month. While this game meat isn't a fav amoung two of us it is a nice add on. Also venison jerky has a great barter value.
No fish which has a deeper meaning in that we didn't do enough fishing this past year. Sad. Very Very Sad.
Still working on the 100 plus pounds of Winter wheat that a bb brought over in '08. Same for the Rye bought in bulk in 2007. Salt, free from the butcher (sells BBQ lunches leftover from salt potatoes), baking powder bought in bulk. Spices/herbs either grown or bartered for or bought on sale. We generally bake & cook from scratch.
Locally milk has dropped to under $2 a gallon so we have stopped buying milk directly from the farmer @ a savings 50¢. Also by way of a church friend I am able to buy eggs for $3 a flat from time to time. Butter is bought through a co-op as an employee benefit. Kinda a friend has a friend who has a ... this supply is fragile.
As I've blogged about before the biggest return on our gardening effort has been the cold frame planted with salad greens saving us several hundred dollars a year. Now that it is deep Winter and the craving level for fresh greens is high the cold frame is sorely missed. Salad Fixings are back on the grocery list. Should be able to plant the frame in late February early March.
Big changes other than what I wrote about is that we have a veggie meal twice a week now & when I do cook meat it is smaller portions. Also we now have two vegetables for dinner instead of one.

Methods of obtaining & preserving groceries are;

  • bartering- toiletries, paper products, tuna
  • bulk, clearance, co-ops & loss leader sales, no frills stores such as Aldi, Restaurant Supply Stores, co-op with friends, employee only buying ops.
  • canning either free or low cost produce
  • freezing
  • foraging both in urban & rural settings
  • dehydrating
  • gardening
  • gleaning
  • hunting.
Total for 2008-2009 UPC was $1925.19 which averaged out to $160.43 per month.

Hmm, gotta be a way to trim this ?

~~ pelenaka ~~

P.S. a comment lead me to clarify a few points - we don't have small children so there is no speciality foods like chicken nuggets. To tell you the truth though I never really had that problem with my children. While I didn't let them starve I also wasn't their enabler. Green beans got eaten. Momma doesn't run a Dinner.
Other than cooking low fat (no frying) the only other dietary choices we follow are low carb/low sugar. Potatoes are no longer a staple.
There's no issue with gluten or nuts. Don't know what I'd do if there was.

On average everyone only eats 2 meals a day weekdays & Sunday (fellowship coffee after service is considered a lite brunch & Sunday dinner is @ 5 p.m. instead of our usual 6:30). Daughter's generally don't eat breakfast but will grab a glass a milk on the way out the door. Girls are in charge of packing their own lunch with leftovers. I usually have 4 cups of coffee & a slice of bread or small bowl of homemade yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast, 2 cups of coffee for midday & a snack, & then dinner. DH same.
Dinner is our big meal of the day.
Also should note that we eat several times a , month @ church for free. KP duty has it's perks! interesting blog - challenges of living on a food stamp buget without the benefit of bartering, foraging, or gleaning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Changing up dealers

Lately I have been giving some serious thought to alternative energy suppliers . I had vaguely considered the concept before putting the matter on the back burner until recently, thanks to National Fuel, my local natural gas company. If they hadn’t changed out a perfectly functional meter then I wouldn’t have been forced into action. Well that's not entirely true. I'm sure I would have been spurred to action when my gas rates ate a hole in our finances. We all know how I go .
A few weeks ago there was a message left on our voicemail by National Fuel that the meter needed to be changed out, because the meter reader wasn’t able to record an accurate reading. It was @ that point where the rep from the gas company's voice started trailing off and she mumbled something about water in the dials. Then she mentioned that the meter was installed in 1976 so it was due.
Yeah, made me wonder too. I immediately assumed that our new meter would be a high tech digital version of the gray metal box that was installed. Perhaps National Fuel would install the meter that allows readings from the outside. Thus no more estimated bills because no one was home to let the meter reader in !
So I trek down to the cellar.

Cell & flashlight in hand. No canary.
There on the far foundation wall about two and half feet above the cement floor stood the meter as gray and metal as the day it was installed. No rust, no damage, no dampness, no obscured dials. Just a cobweb and a bit of mortar dust from the foundation on it's shinny gray body.
Ring ring …National Fuel Service Appointments this is Jane how may I help you?
GM Jane, I received a message that my meter needed to be changed out.
Thank you for calling let’s set up a time to do that. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete the procedure. Anytime between …
Jane, ah I’m actually calling you from my cellar … standing in front of the meter. I gotta say that there’s no problem reading the dials. I could tell you the current read right now. This decision to update my meter isn’t due to the low amount of gas that we consume is it ?
Ah no, the reason given was that there was water in the dials. So let’s set up an appointment …
Any chance that the new meter is that type that can be read from the outside of my home Jane?
Ah no … so anytime between the hours for 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. …

LSS it took the guy about 17 minutes to change out my vintage 1976 meter with the updated version that stands a bit higher and more flush with the foundation wall.
Before he disconnected the old meter he had me run the furnace both before and after. He handled the water heater assuring me that he would set it back to the warm setting just above the vacation setting on the dial. He recorded the make and model of the heater along with the info on the furnace. He asked three times about my kitchen range. Gas or Electric ?

He didn’t notice any water in the dial compartment nor water inside either.

For the record the hot water heater circa 2000 is wrapped in an insulation blanket. The water temp is set @ 110. Not as hot as I'd prefer but the lower temp besides conserving gas discourages long showers. In the Summer the heater is lowered to the vacation setting. As I've written before on my posts we've always kept the thermostat down in the low 60's. During the day when I was home alone sleeping I kept it set @ 56 to 58. When the children came home from school then depending on how cold it was outside the thermostat is raised.
Now that our primary heating source is the wood stove the only time the furnace clicks on is when the stove is out like when we're not home. For those periods the furnace is set @ 48 degrees (enough to keep the pipes & family cat from freezing).

Now I have to educated myself on using an alternative natural gas supplier.
Any tips ? What exactly does one look for in an alternative utility supplier ?

Jet Blue is offering 3k bonus miles if I sigh up with an alternative supplier. would be nice to go see family in P.R. soon. Will have to read the fine print on that offer.

New bill came in @ $90 & some change. I'll dig out Dec. 2008 bill to compare.

~~ pelenaka ~~

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

into practice

Hope everyone had a good simple Thanksgiving.
DD#3 and I spent the day preparing & then watching both the parade and then a dog show here @ home. DH and DD#2 went hunting. Later on we ate pie by the wood stove and toasted marsh mellows. No traveling, no crowds just us.

$20.52 on Monday at my local Aldi store. Besides purchasing coffee creamer and a few gallons of 2% milk I stocked up on their brand of all purpose flour. It was 15 cents a pound (75 cents / 5 lbs. bag) so I bought 40 lbs. Long term storage plans are to vacuum seal in mason jars.
Thinking I should go back and score another 60 pounds.

Food Budget has been going well the past few months mainly because of our well stocked pantry and the occasional great deal on advertised loss leaders at local stores.
I should clarify that in my definition a great loss leader is usually either meat or sugar a dirt cheap prices without a limitations.
Tops Super markets had Turkey for 29¢ per pound. We're not big on turkey so I didn't buy an extra. Stuffing was made from all that speciality bread that I dehydrated into croutons last Summer and vacuum sealed in jars. That bread was gifted by a friend since it was past it's prime. Vegetables from either pantry shelves or the freezer originally are the bounty of our gardening & gleaning efforts. We were blessed with adbunance of pie pumpkins from our church garden this fall. I have also been experimenting with regular pumpkins gathered from our neighbors who no longer had a need for them after their decorating value had expired.
These varieties have a bland taste so they need an extra bit of some thing some thing to spice the custard up. Maple flavoring has been a big hit so far.

Heads up to anyone who is near a Quality Market grocery store in Western New York. They're expected to close soon so be prepared as this is an excellent opp to score great deals. Aim for staples like baking supplies, canned goods, OTC meds, and items such as foil, freezer bags, and canning lids. Really anything that has a good shelf life like dish soap. Most will be hitting the meat which is okay but IMHO even if you freeze it only has a 6 mos. shelf life. But items like dish soap will hold out far longer. Consider alternative choices. It's been 4 years since I stocked up at a simular store closing (final days discounts of 70%) and to date we still have rice, bread flour, cleansers, and foil among other items.
Make it a point to visit the in store bakery to score deals on their bulk spices and flours such as caraway, poppy, bread flour.
Check expiration dates. Bring an extra person to cart sit as peeps do shop out of any cart perceived to be abandoned even if your only a few feet away. And if your flush with money they can push that 2nd or 3rd cart. Don't bring a purse or bag. You want to be stealth just a cell & method of payment in your pocket. Water bottle, gum, a few cough drops, tissues, tiny bottle of hand sanitizer if you can.
Don't be surprised if they won't take coupons just go with the flow.

This is the 1st time in our marriage that my husband has actively hunted.
While this can be a great way to supplement the family food stores it isn't for everyone. Myself included.
DH & DD#2 came home with venison after hunting on a friend's land last week. I'll let him tell you about his and my daughter's woods running on
his blog. All I need to know is that they came home with meat and a huge smile on their faces. A good time was had by all despite cold toes.

Their endeavors produced the following bounty; Sausage - 15 ½ pounds of Italian. $12.16 for 4 ½ pounds package of pork ground to order. Italian seasoning sausage packet was $2.69 bought at the mega mart. Total cost was 93¢ per pound. Patties were wrapped & frozen.
During down time this Winter I‘ll research sausage making then gather what we‘ll need for next year's hunting season. Besides Italian I’ll like to learn how to make pepperoni, summer, and bratwursts varieties. Also need to come up with a better source for pork.
Venison Roasts - tenderloin cuts from a yearling doe = 14 pounds butchered and bagged by DH.

Tuesday’s dinner prepared by my husband. Tenderloin medallion with mushrooms & onions. Sides were baked sweet potatoes and wild rice. The venison was melt in your mouth good. This coming from someone who dislikes game meat.

I finally rendered that 17 pounds of pig fat that has been on a freezer shelf since March on the wood stove. Worked out to five quarts for soap making. The lard isn't cooking quality so I'll make plain laundry soap. Good to have the freezer space.

I’ve been reading Native Harvests Recipes and Botanicals of the American Indian by Barrie Kavasch, 1979. Requested through my local library’s inter library loan program this copy came all the way from Niagara Falls. One aspect of this cookbook is that the author included botanical charts which list the plant, plant part used, usage either for food, technology, or medicine, and harvest time. Unfortunately the plant illustrations are few.
Two good books that compliment Native Harvests are the Peterson field guides; Edible Wild Plants and Medicinal Plants. Great color photos and clear illustrations.
Black Walnut trees can be tapped just like Maples for their sap. Hmm may have finally come up with a reason for that Walnut tree in the vacant lot behind my house.

~~ pelenaka ~~