Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And So The Real Adventure Begins!

I'm upping my rent next week, by a lot, actually, because I'm moving into my own house for the first time in almost a year and a half.
This means sticking to a serious budget. I've been accumulating tips.
Kim puts all her appliances etc on power strips and unplugs them when not in use. As a result, her electric bill for her studio apartment is never over 15 bucks/month. Genius! I'll be hitting up IKEA for cheap power strips on my next trip to Phoenix.
Meal planning! I've been trying to teach myself how to do this in a reasonable manner. It's hard, living alone, to make yourself nutritious and tasty meals that vary enough throughout the week; at least, it's hard for me. I think I'm going to devote Sundays to shopping and then cooking at least two "big" meals so as to be able to freeze the leftovers and have lunches etc. I suppose this means I will also need to buy a microwave? And some new tupperware on that trip to IKEA?
I need internet and I am rethinking my need for Netflix. It's kind of wasted on me now, and will be even more wasted when I'm alone, I suspect.

Do you have any tips for me? Turning my cooler off is out, as I am the proud cat mama of one exceedingly fluffy orange fellow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What If It All Came In Ones?

I still haven't hit the grocery store. I have coffee enough for tomorrow morning, but food for days still. I still have two packages of mushrooms, two green peppers, a pound of jalapenos, a package of extra firm tofu, a bunch of scallions and cilantro, and of course- more bulk food than you can shake a stick at. My goal is to eat all of my bulk before I buy any more.

Cheapskate deliciousness:
Slice two yellow peppers, one cucumber, a bunch of cilantro, and three scallions (white and green bits, please). Seed and mince a jalapeno. Mix all that together with some black beans (canned from the pantry- I used a whole can), the juice of one lime, and salt and cumin. It's delicious! It's also dinner tonight, plus lunch tomorrow, for less than two bucks for the whole shebang.

I do wish that a gym membership wasn't necessary, as it would save me another thirty bucks a month, but Tucson is hot. And sunny. And I am pale. And prone to skin cancer. And trying desperately to stay in shape is rough under the heat of the southwest sun!

A colleague gave me the following cheapskate/budget advice: figure out to the cent what gets taken out of your checking account each month and when- car payment, mortgage or rent, credit cards, utilities. Now factor in what gets transferred to savings. Out of the rest: get it in cash, divvy it up for the days, put it in envelopes, and THROW YOUR DEBIT CARD AWAY. I think I'm going to try it! Her point was that it's hard to spend cash the way you spend money on plastic, as it feels more like you're spending, and you can see how it decimates your stash. Now, I refuse to spend change- it all goes into my change jar- so I don't know if I would be great at this, but certainly it's worth a go. And then all my leftover cash every pay period could go in my savings!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tiny Piles of Money!

I'm on week two of eating off of 26 buck bill at the grocery store. Tonight's dinner/tomorrow's lunch is eggplant baked until soft in an Italian seasoning thingie with just a tetch of olive oil, then marinated in a mic of red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. I'll eat it with some white beans (smooshed into a paste with some garlic and olive oil) on some pita. It'll be delicious. I hope.

Kim and I were talking (as is our wont to do) about the delight of saving money- being thrifty makes me feel clever for no real reason. All it takes is not spending your money on total crap. The thing is, since I started restricting my spending, I don't even miss thrifting as much; the money I'd spend in a day of thrifting, maybe 40 bucks tops, is almost 2 weeks worth of groceries. When I look at it that way, it doesn't seem very attractive. She told me about some woman who scrimped and saved on her husband's wee salary and they bought, cash, a farmhouse in New England within like ten years. I want to scrimp and save so as to be able to buy some land and put up my straw bale dream house (all 600 square feet of it) before I am 40. I think this is reasonable.

I'm even thinking of having a yard sale. I know! I have a lot of clothing, and a lot of shoes, and I like them, but it's possible that my life here in Xanadorm is going to change for the even-smaller soon (cross your fingers for me) and paring down will both fatten up my wallet, and make any future move that much easier.

I won't get rid of books, though.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What You Need In Your Pantry, Cheapskate!

I'm also posting what I keep on stock at all times in my pantry- having this well-stocked a pantry (and restocking it whenever an item is on sale) certainly helps me cut down on whimsy buys. 

Lentils- red and green
Pasta- tons and tons of different shapes, and please- wait for the good quality Italian stuff to go on sale and stock up. No one's life is long enough to waste part of it eating gummy pasta.
Canned tomatoes- I prefer whole, so you can make a lovely red sauce, but diced are great for soups
Canned beans (I just don't remember to cook beans, so I don't pretend that I will soak them then crockpot them then have them on hand)
Kidney beans and cannellini/great northern beans are great for salads. The cannellini can also be used in place of garbanzos in a hummus recipe. 
Black beans are great for taco salads and soups- not to mention punching up a scramble.
Pinto beans, because I am from the border, are what the baby Jesus cried out- refry them, use them to make bean soup, put them on taco salads, in burritos- they're the bestest.
Soy milk
Rice- I usually have brown basmati, basmati, jasmine, and arborio on hand.
Spreads/fancy little things you've found on sale. Olive paste, mixed with some olive oil, garlic, and chile flakes, makes a delicious fast pasta sauce- perfect, really, for angel hair. 

That's pretty much it, for bare bones stocking. A couple bits of fresh veg, tofu, or tempeh every week, and I am set for snacks.

Spices are my big splurge. I can't function without cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne. I prefer to have lots of different curry powders and generic "Italian seasoning" around too- it takes all guesswork out of cooking when you're just hungry and you want something easy and fast.

Tacos And The Need To Love What You're Eating.

You know what's a cheap and delicious vegan beer? Session Lager. 9.99 for a 12-pack at the Holiday Mart.

So my confession is that I bought beer. I am going to sit in the yard and drink beer and give the world the finger tonight. I know. I effed up my budget but I still have almost 200 bucks to make it until next payday, and I have a pantry full of bulk goods.

I welcome cauliflower recipes, too- I suppose I can turn them into curry and caulihummus, but I do that ALL THE TIME and it waxes dull. My other thought was to steam them all and mash them and freeze bags of that- I can reheat them for sides throughout next week. Otherwise, I guess I could try to find an Italian dish that uses them, and serve it over pasta? I am exceedingly fond of broccoli cooked with garlic and chiles- maybe I will try that with the cauliflower (and add in that beautiful yellow squash I bought on Wednesday) and serve it over some of my Grocery Outlet De Cecco tri-colour penne.

I'm eating a half pound of ripe and perfect local tomatoes for dinner, as a side to my left over mac and cheeze and stuff.

Tonight's Cheap Bastard Recipe:
Soak some TVP in beer (or whatever else you want- tomato juice or veggie broth is always nice)
Fry up some onion and garlic and peppers, if you found them for cheap. A serrano chile is always nice, and cilantro, if it's on sale.
Add that tvp and its soaking liquid. Fry fry cook.
Serve this in corn tortillas with a little chopped something over the top- lettuce if you have it, or cabbage, if you're awesome. Just about any fresh veggie tastes delicious over this and it will feed an army. That army will have gas, most likely, later on- but. I think you know about vegans and gas and not giving a damn.

It's hard to be cheap and eat well when you work and you have animals and obligations and books to read and friends to gossip with. A lot of my cheap fixes take time, because what you're paying for when you buy prepared food is the time you're saving, more than the ingredients that went into it. I like sautes and stir fries and things like tacos and fajitas because they take virtually no time, and they feed your eye and your palate as well as your tummy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tomatoes and Aging.

I may have used up the last of the nutritional yeast and all the whole wheat pasta, but I now have dinner and lunch for the rest of the week!
This is good, as I recklessly spent five dollars on tomatoes and yellow squash at the farmers' market at lunch, and another five dollars at Subway so as to be able to eat lunch with Kim without going home. (Was it worth it? It is ALWAYS worth it to eat with Kim!)
But, tonight's dinner, courtesy of Things Laying Around The Kitchen, was mac and cheez with peas and mushrooms- and, believe me- it was scrumptious. Less than 1/4 cup of oil in the whole shebang, too, which makes me happy.
Into the blender I put:
1 can of beer
1 cup (or so- maybe more) of nutritional yeast
About 1/8 cup of canola oil
1/5 block firm tofu- that extra extra firm kind from Trader Joe's
1/4 cup soy sauce
Paprika, smoked paprika, pepper, touch of turmeric
I blended it, and then I chopped 8 oz of cremini mushrooms and added those and cooked the whole thing on the stove for 10-15 minutes. I folded in most of a package of whole wheat rotini and a pound of peas (I cooked those together to save pots) and then baked the whole thing at 350 for like 25 minutes. Such an easy go-to dinner- with tons of leftovers! And, even omnis love it.
Dirty omnis.
I also ate 4 locally grown organic tomatoes. There is nothing like a sliced fresh tomato with Malden salt sprinkled over the top. It tastes like summer in heaven. The tomatoes I buy are from Avra Valley, and they are 2 dollars/pound. Not a splurge, honestly, for organic and delicious tomatoes, and they reminded me that spring is around the corner.
So, my produce budget for this weekend is 15 bucks. I need to buy some nutritional yeast with that (because I am a fiend for it) but I have still 4 heads of cauliflower and six pounds of potatoes- not to mention a yellow squash, a pound of tomatoes, and a thingie of organic romaine hearts.
I welcome your suggestions- what should I do with the 20 bucks of mad money I am giving myself from next week's paycheck? I turn 29 the Sunday after I get paid- any budget ideas for a birthday bash?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Having Risen From My Death Bed....

So one way to save money is to get very very sick. You cannot leave your house to buy things when you are confined to a sickbed.

However, staying in bed all weekend had one important side effect: I sucked it up and have paid:
cell phone
credit cards (bigger payments than ever)
student loans
car payment

This means that next paycheck will be good for savings. And for giving extra money to credit cards.
Unfortunately, it means that my food choices are ever weirder. Last night I ate a salad made out of a package of romaine hearts and a can of kidney beans. Tonight I ate yellow peppers and cremini mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with whole wheat rotini. None of this is very bad for me, it's just boring. And I live to cook fun things. I have a whole pantry of bulk food and more spices than I can throw a mortar and pestle at- but living without a lot of fresh produce is weird and more than a little frustrating. I have one pound of cremini mushrooms and four heads of cauliflower for the rest of the week. The mushrooms will make pasta sauce for the next few days, and the cauliflower will get steamed and mushed with earth balance- but that doesn't seem like it'll ward off the scurvy, now does it? No.