There was once a time when I used to spend an average of $280 a month on a cup of coffee and a breakfast bagel because I didn’t want to get up earlier to make my own breakfast or wait for my own coffee to brew. In the day-to-day, $10 give or take doesn’t seem to break the bank, but in the long term, it made the difference between simply getting by one day at a time or being able to put away for tomorrow.
We as a society have unknowingly given up the security we could be building tomorrow for the convenience of today in many ways just like this. We buy breakfast, buy lunch, or go out to eat more than we should. We buy paper plates to avoid doing dishes, pay extra parking to not have to walk as far to the office, or generally buy the cheap stuff to get by.
So with this next chapter, we’re going to talk about smart sustainability or changing your consumer habits to move you away from your day-to-day dependency on the local coffee shop or fast food eatery. If you’re following along with this series and are getting ready to start your first garden, you’ve no doubt noticed there’s a bit of overhead to getting the supplies, soil, seeds and so on. It can be frustrating to anyone living on a thin budget as it is to try and stretch that dollar even further to accommodate a foothold toward self-reliance.
The feeling of preemptive defeat is where many who are thinking about it never take a step. If you can’t afford to eat now, how on earth are you supposed to spend on planter boxes and then wait months waiting on a single tomato?
This series will walk you through it, starting with what cards you have to play right this second. Today’s article isn’t about taking steps into the unknown as much as fine-tuning what you already do and changing a few things to grant you the financial freedom to start branching out without putting yourself in a bind for the overhead of starting some of these self reliant projects. So let’s eyeball the top five ways that we’ve inadvertently made ourselves dependent rather than promoting household self-reliance.
Convenience trap. So many of us are struggling with getting out the door with a healthy breakfast in our bellies or scrambling to get home and make a delicious meal that, in the end, What am I going to make for dinner? is the determining factor we use to justify $20 for dinner. We go the easy (but costly) way instead of scrounging in the fridge to whip something together after a hard day’s work.
Food waste. Likewise, so many of us are throwing spinach, fruit, or meat away because we bought it with aspirations of a decadent dinner or a healthy breakfast only to have forgotten the recipe or that you bought it at all and sent it to the bin. Wouldn’t it be nice to save that hard-earned cash on tossed food?
Planning pays. There’s a way to up your savings in planning a meal and menu around your budget that will also start instilling the vital organization, dedication or follow through habits you’ll need for so many projects ahead. If you have just 20 minutes a day (or even 5 minutes across four days), you can put together a list of your favorite go to meals, line them up for the week and make a grocery list of only what you need so you can avoid buying unnecessary groceries.
Sales. Alternatively you could shop the sales and make a menu for the next week ahead using things you otherwise wouldn’t have bought due to high pricing.
Don’t Forget Leftovers
Plan for leftover days. It’s easy to plan so many different meals that you end up with mountains of leftovers and a lot of waste. Make room on your busiest day of the week for leftovers, or see what can be put into a different meal. Shop sales or flexible ingredients that can span the week as a side or an ingredient.
Build in flexibility. The great thing about this is that if you plan ahead for say a spinach Parmesan salad and find a deal on bagged lettuce, you can swap things out in certain areas. You won’t be able to make hasselback chicken with a pound of ground beef, though, so a good rule of thumb is to leave two meals with flexibility for sale items unless you can freeze or carry the ingredients over for another week.
Plan meals that use the same ingredients or meals that you can roll leftovers into. As an example, Mondays roast chicken with wild rice and roasted vegetable dinner would be perfect for a chicken and rice soup for another meal. A large batch of salad can be used as a side for more than one meal that week as well as lunches with minimal added ingredients.
Record patterns. A great saying you’ll read throughout this series is a great way to know where you’re going is knowing where you’ve been. If you’re stuck on where to start, you can try making a diary of what you ate last week. Do this for a few weeks, so you could see just what meals you defaulted to make or eat as well as get an idea of how many times you opted to eat out. Sit down with your family to brainstorm recipes or ideas to liven up or find easier meals to add on the days that have a pattern of eating out. There are also a wealth of apps or sites like menu-planner.com to guide you.
Put savings to work. After you have an established menu in place and you’re starting to see the extra finances trickling in, you can start rolling that extra cash into either a home garden to supplement your menu or we could snowball this income to build up your pantry staples and shopping less week to week and more month to month.
Stock and Save
Chances are you’ve thought about going to bulk stores or seen the great big bags of cheese at the supermarket and thought , there’s no way I could eat all that. Prepare to be surprised.
Did you know the average person eats roughly one ton of food a year? The USDA consumer data hub breaks this down as 630 pounds of dairy or dairy byproducts such as milk or yogurt, 185 pounds of meat, 197 pounds of grain, such as wheat, 273 pounds of fruit, 415 pounds of vegetables, 141 pounds of sweeteners like sugar or corn syrup, 85 pounds of fats, such as butter and oils. Altogether, this comes out to almost 2,700 calories a day per person! That’s without counting the total amount of food we waste.
So now we can look back at that big, 5-pound bag of shredded cheese and say, “it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, but how do I use it up before it goes bad and not end up putting cheese on everything?” Simply put, preserve it!
There’s a ton of things you’d never think would freeze but happily can thaw into the same prime ingredients after months. Cheese is one of them, as are many other staples, including eggs, butter, bread and vegetables.
Moving forward from here, you could start spending the hard-earned cash you would otherwise pay at the drive-through toward not just a more sound menu plan with less waste, but you can now also start adding more items to your pantry: dry pastas, grains, canned goods, sugar, flour, spices, and coffee. Consider freezing meats that are bought cheaper in bulk and divided at home, such as ground beef, shredded cheese, discounted bread, or vegetables in peak season that sell cheaper than the off-season.
A good rule of thumb is if you can buy it in the freezer section in a meal, a bag, or a pre-made convenience, then it can be frozen as raw ingredients. Which brings us to a whole new set of possibilities.
Don’t Put Off Tomorrow What You Can Do Today
Consider setting aside a time — a day, a few hours, whatever you have the room for to start out — and make yourself a few convenience foods. You can pre-make your own toaster waffles, breakfast burrito, power pack smoothies, pre-portioned soups, muffins and so many other options. In my family ,our most loved batch-made freezer food is homemade ricotta-stuffed ravioli. So yes, you can go extra.
Of course, some options are more time-consuming and chances are if you had time to make breakfast in the first place, you wouldn’t have to hit the drive through. But more often than not, you’ll have better success setting aside a time to drag out ingredients, knock out 20 waffles, or 15 breakfast sandwiches and clean up the mess in one single day than you will to drag out the ingredients and clean up the mess to make it fresh every morning. You can have your breakfast burrito with your favorite preferences on your terms, regardless of how far away payday is or how packed your schedule becomes.
The best part of this is even with these changes, you’ll find that not only are you throwing away less, but you’re saving more, which means we can look even deeper into ways you can make strides on your quest for self sufficiency.
Next up, we’ll look into the big guns of changing your consumer habits and where or how we can gravitate away from the short supply of box stores, corporate grocers and the status quo supply chain.
Niche Brislane is an Amish-raised farmer and prairie pioneer enjoying all the fruits of a life well lived in harmony with the Earth. She seeks to share and teach the rewarding life of frugal self-reliance. Connect with Niche at Stag Valley Homestead, on Facebook and Instagram, and on her blog.
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