I am not rich.
Neither am I poor.
I'm just economically challenged.
Which is to say that, while I am not living on the street, I am a member of that tier of the middle class that does not automatically have money for extra things like hotel and resort vacations. (Can you say "Howdy! We're staying with you for a few days!"
And there are times when those extra things I don't have the money for wind up being a little more mundane like "back to school shopping". Then we're lucky we all have perfectly good clothes that are not too unfashionable and too small and will certainly last at least another year.
But my real point is that, it's not just that I currently don't have a lot of disposable income, it's that I never have. I am living exactly the same economic reality as my parents and my grandparents did before me.
Which is what gives me an edge of sorts. Because, being raised by parents who grew up during the Depression and who never made it big, "living on the cheap" is, for me, simply "living".
So I sort of have to laugh as I thumb through today's magazines and newspapers and flip through the TV channels and see all the "new tips" on frugality. So many of these tips are simple common sense and it astonishes me that there are thousands of people out there who haven't been following them all these years.
But who am I not to jump on the band wagon of helpful advice?
So, for a while anyway, I will be posting some of my "el cheapo" lifestyle tips here on the blog. You can take them or leave them. I'm not promising they will be things you never heard of or things you're not already doing, only that they will be real ways I manage my budget.
I will also be sharing stories of some of the "el cheapo" strategies employed by my mother, many of which I hated, but they sure saved money.
To kick things off, let's talk about dinnertime.
An age old strategy for saving money at the dinner table is to make a large batch of something ,(I mean a LARGE batch) feed one batch to your family right away, and then save the rest to be trotted out later.
A couple of points that can mean the difference between failure and success.
1)Do NOT simply serve up the same meal over and over for three days. The family will most certainly rebel. They may even stage a coup wherein your spouse grabs everyone and takes them to McDonalds. I hardly need to point out that this will NOT wind up saving you any $.
2)Saving the food for later should not consist of putting the extra servings in the refrigerator - that only leads to rotten leftovers.
3)Rather, one should plan to freeze whatever is not eaten at dinner number one.
4)Some meals freeze better than others. An example of a good "freezable" dinner is sloppy joes. Not only can you can make up a huge pot of the meat and sauce and put it in freezer containers, the meatsauce holds up well upon reheating.
Which brings me to a note about what to freeze. Some recipes do NOT freeze well.
If you ask my siblings for a single meal my mother made that was the bane of our existence, you would get the answer "HUNGARIAN GOULASH!!
Why did we hate it so? I mean, it's a delicious dish when served fresh - what changed?
When you use any kind of sauce made with fresh tomatoes and then you freeze that sauce, the tomatoes break down into a mealy, mushy, unpalatable mess. Add to that what happens to cooked pasta when you freeze it with sauce - again, DISASTER. The water from the sauce and tomatoes first seeps into the pores of the pasta. Add to that the fact that the longer anything sits in the freezer the more likely it is to form ice crystals that will later thaw into more watery mess and Ugh! There is a reason that frozen pasta dishes like Budget Gourmet are full of preservatives. It's to save you from the mush.
And, while we're on the subject of frozen pasta - skip all those "budget" frozen dishes that are pasta based. You spend way more on them than you would for a simple jar of sauce and a box of pasta. And really, fresh pasta takes only minutes more to make than a frozen dinner.
Another item that seldom freezes well is Velveeta cheese. Because it was so cheap, my mother used to buy giant bricks (4x4x12) of Velveeta and freeze it for later use in things like grilled cheese sandwiches. When you freeze Velveeta, it separates somehow and creates little white polka dots throughout the block of cheese. As god is my witness, I was a sophomore in college before I discovered that Velveeta doesn't naturally have little white polka dots running through it.
So - the long and short of freezing dinners is: make a small batch of your chosen recipe and test freeze it before you invest all that time and money into something that will "unfreeze" into an unappatizing mess that your family will refuse to eat.
Again - you just might wind up with that last minute trip to the golden arches.