Cheaper Baked Beans

Baked Beans

I got this email from reader Carol:

I've written you before about how much we enjoy your "calico baked beans", as I refer to them with my family. We are really pinching pennies right now and I compared making the recipe using canned beans vs. dried beans.

If I make it as listed (using bought on sale ingredients) my cost is $3.51. If I substitute home prepared dried beans, it drops to $2.21. Only $1.30 less, but if I can do that with every meal I serve, that's $27.30/week or $109.20/month!

I am able to feed my family of 6 (including 2 teens) on $400/month with another $50 for nonfood grocery items. This is a great recipe -- a "keeper" here! Just wanted to share that dried beans would make this an even more economical dish. I'd also add that if cooked ground beef was added, and biscuits served, it's like a corn pone.

I am still trying to get into the habit of thinking ahead enough to always use dried beans instead of canned! It's just too easy to change my mind (and therefore my menu!) at the last minute and need to open a can.

One thing that helps me is to cook extra beans when I'm making them and freeze the leftovers for the next time I need quick beans. (I do the overnight soak method, so I need to plan at least 24 hours in advance if I'm using them dried!)

Just last week I got a 5-pound bag of dark red kidney beans. I've already used some (see photo above!) and they were delicious -- much better than canned, in my opinion! And the beans expand so much when they're soaking. I have no idea how many "cans" my 5-pounds of dried beans is equivalent to, but it's a lot. :)

The lifespan of a box of ice cream...

One of Joshua's ice cream creations

How we've been stretching a box of ice cream:

1. Start with a small bowl.

2. Slice up a banana and layer the slices under and around the bowl.

3. Add 1 small scoop of ice cream.

4. (Optional -- Joshua's way!) Add some chopped nuts, whipped cream, syrup, or a cherry (yuck!).

Or, you can fill up on veggies and skip the ice cream. I would do that more often except that Joshua is constantly offering to make me up a bowl of banana-ice cream... ;)

More frugal ideas over at Crystal's blog! :)

Chef's date

Grilled steak, mashed potatoes, and asparagus!

This morning, I took the boys over to my mom's house. She watched them for us while Joshua and I (and Ruth!) had a date. Joshua and I do spend as much time together as we can, but it's refreshing to occasionally have some quiet time together! :)

We're frugal (read: poor Wink) homebodies, but we like our cooking. So, we made our own "date" meal at home: leftover mashed potatoes (still yummy, of course... just easier than making fresh!), cooked asparagus and onions, grilled New York strip steaks, and red wine. What a treat! :)

The steaks were from Aldi, and were very good. We've only bought Aldi's steaks twice, but we've been very impressed both times. The wine was a special gift, reserved for the occurrence of a good steak, however rare that may be. ;)

It's still not "cheap", but we spent less for our meal today than we would have spent buying fast food, for sure. And what's not to love about talking and cooking together on a date?! :)

Ramblings about grocery budgeting

I've learned so much about grocery shopping from Crystal. She writes a lot about their grocery and household budget, and I am always amazed at how much money she saves her family by keeping their food budget low.

Keeping the food budget low in and of itself isn't truly a great accomplishment, since eating a poor diet without variety can be cheap in the short run but cost more health-wise in the long run. From reading Crystal's menu plans, it's obvious that they are still able to eat good, balanced meals on their budget. :)

In many ways, I feel like I've fallen off the grocery-budget bandwagon. When Joshua and I were first married, I was able to make $30 cover all of our grocery store expenditures. I stocked up on sale items each week, along with milk, eggs, and produce. We even had dinner guests at least once a week -- usually a large family... or two! :)

But time has changed my grocery shopping ways. Instead of a gallon of milk lasting more than a week, I buy 2 gallons and run out before the next week's trip to the store. If we have eggs for breakfast, we use almost a whole dozen. My boys and I can polish off a bunch of bananas for our afternoon snack. Between our hungry boys and one hungry nursing mama (and a daddy who does hard physical labor 8 hours every day!), our food consumption has dramatically increased.

Six years ago, $30 fed us well for the week. Double the grocery needs and factor in rising food prices, and I suppose $80 a week isn't too bad for our little family... but it's double what Crystal spends.

The temptation is always there to compare ourselves to others, isn't it? I think we sometimes reach for the impossible. We want to have the lowest food budget, serve the nicest meals, and be the "best" at everything else we do, too.

I think it helps to remember that everyone's human, and we all have our strengths (and weaknesses!).

During a time when I was feeling guilty/incompetent in regards to how much I was spending on food each week, I read a post from Crystal where she mentioned that she hadn't done very well about packing her husband's lunches, and it had probably cost them $50-100 or more that month, due to lack of planning or not having the food on hand.

I may spend more each week on groceries, but we always have enough food around and I always pack Joshua's lunch. (With a 15-minute lunch break, it's not like he'd have time to buy something at work, anyway!)

And what's more important is that I grocery shop (and cook!) with Joshua's preferences in mind. I just wish I could still do it for $30/week. ;)

But, I've been asked about food/grocery budgeting, so here's my take.

The store that saves me the most money is Aldi. I get a lot of our groceries there. Unless there's a good sale somewhere else (Kroger, IGA, and Wal-Mart are our other grocery stores), things are usually cheapest at Aldi.

Aldi doesn't carry everything we need, though -- so I usually buy these things at another store: lactose-free milk (for Joshua), frozen peas (Aldi changed theirs and they're not good!), drinking water jug refills, turkey pastrami, and bananas (for more ripeness variety -- we use 4-6 bunches each week).

We do have a Rite-Aid store here, and I can get some free items (by submitting an online rebate -- very easy!), but we're talking about 4-5 items a month -- not 8 bottles of Dove shampoo in one week (CVS). ;) My policy on free-after-rebate items is that I get them if we or someone we know can use the item. I haven't had much garage sale success, and we still have to pay the tax on the item.

I haven't had much success with coupons, aside from promotional coupons for free items, of course. ;) I don't have access to a printer, so I haven't used any online coupons. Even a good sale at Kroger's, along with their coupon doubling policy (up to 50 cents), doesn't usually make the item free for me -- and most of the things aren't worth the difference to us.

Since I don't have a way to get a lot of free stuff, doing without certain things or using cloth (like for diapers!) really really helps our budget. I can't imagine how high it would be otherwise! :)

And no, I actually don't have a set amount of grocery money and use it to the very penny like Crystal does. I stock up on sales and get the needed amount of everything else. I'm naturally a tightwad, so I stick to the healthier things we do and will eat (with an occasional splurge for cheesecake ingredients!). I really do stick to the basics and pretty much never buy paper products (aside from toilet paper), and severely limit personal care items (which can quickly sky-rocket a grocery bill!).

My basic shopping principles are still the things I outlined in this post about food budgeting, almost two years ago.

Lindsay had a good post about buying in bulk, including this tip:

I put the date [that the bulk item was] purchased and then the estimated time it is required to last before restocking (based on previous wise usage).

For example, I have decided that one 1/2 gallon of coconut oil should last for about three months, so I wrote “mid-April-June” on the container, meaning it was purchased in the middle of April and must last through June.

I still buy in bulk as much as possible. (And as our family size grows, buying in bulk is even easier!) I wonder if perhaps my budgeting issues really are inflation-related and not due to my strategy changing.

Does anyone else have the grocery-budget-inflation blues?

I mean, up until a year ago, cheese would go on sale for $2/lb every few months. Now, a really good sale on cheese is still more than $3/lb. I don't even feel like stocking up at that price. I keep hoping it'll go lower, but it never does. I end up running out anyway, and if I have to buy cheese blocks from Aldi, it's $3.78/lb. That's nearly double what I was used to paying!

Grains have really gone up in price, as well. Last time I got rolled oats, the price had increased to $0.50/lb, instead of the $0.37/lb it was last time (for a 50-lb bag). Wheat is at an all-time high right now, too...

When nearly everything I buy increases in price, it can get a little discouraging to try to keep budgeting as successfully as I once did.

So here's how I'm dealing with the shopping trip stress: I'm reminding myself how blessed we are to have access to and be able to even afford the food we buy! Our heavenly Father has always provided, always blessed us -- and when things are out of my control, I need to let go and be thankful.

Instant oatmeal packets, homemade

Sarah sent me this link to a post about making homemade instant oatmeal packets, including various flavors and a price breakdown! We make our oatmeal by the pan full (and we prefer nice big rolled oats for ours!), but the homemade packets are awfully cute -- and would make a wonderful gift! :)

Trash and composting Q & A

Some Q & A in response to my post about analyzing trash output:

I have never done any composting but I have read your post about making a composting bin. Would I just let the stuff sit in there, and maybe empty it once a year? Or should I empty it more often?

You can empty the compost bin when it's finished composting. For the non-scientific composter (like me!), it takes maybe a year or so (just guessing here... I am so non-scientific that I don't keep track!). So you would actually need to start a second compost bin when the first one is full, and allow the first one to sit and finish composting. 

What will the stuff look like when it is ready to spread around? Will it have a strong smell?

It will look like black dirt. You won't be able to distinguish different scraps/clippings -- for the most part, it'll be completely decomposed. I have read that some people strain their compost when it's getting close to finished, and just take out any big chunks. The fine stuff is compost and can be spread around; the big chunks can be put back into a compost bin to finish composting. :) It shouldn't have a strong smell. 

Also, I can think of good ways to recycle our paper, glass, and metal, and of course most food scraps, but what do you do with the grease, bones, and skin, when you make a whole chicken?

Good question! :) The chicken bones are always tricky for me (and I do make roasted chickens a lot!). If I happen to be seeing my mom in a day or two, I'll save the chicken scraps to give to their cat (they live on a farm).

The grease that forms on top of the chicken broth -- this is probably bad, but I run some hot water, squirt some dishwashing soap in, and wash the grease down the sink drain. I'm not really sure what else to do with it, so if anyone has an idea, tell me!! :)

Another idea, if you make extra broth by boiling down your chicken bones/scraps, when the bones are taken out and dried, they can be burned. Bones take a long time to compost... :P :)

What would you do with bathroom wastebasket trash? Forgive me for being gross, but I am referring to used facial tissue, used feminine hygiene...

Used facial tissue can be composted, actually. Same with toilet paper tubes (or like someone else suggested, they're saving theirs to start seedlings!). As far as feminine hygiene products, I actually don't use disposables. I use cloth, but I have heard others rave about the Diva Cup/Keeper... and I suppose there's always tampons (if you don't have objections to them health-wise). :)

Analyzing Trash Output

Cans for recycling

I've written about minimizing our trash output to avoid paying for garbage pick-up. Even if you don't pay a premium for trash pick-up (or you live in a town where it's "free"), I recommend trying to do without trash pick-up for at least a few weeks. Why?

Personally, I believe that just throwing all of our trash into one big dumpster to be hauled away (and forgotten) means that we never stop to think about where all our trash is coming from and how it can be reduced.

We can put bags of garbage out at the road, and it's conveniently disposed of for us. Out of sight, out of mind. But trash doesn't just disappear when the garbage truck turns off of our street.

If you had to go through your trash, piece by piece, and come up with a way of getting rid of it (compost, burn, recycle, donate, etc.), you would probably give it a second thought.

Empty canning jars, waiting to be "recycled" (filled with food again!)

I love washing canning jars, because to me they symbolize the true meaning of "recycle". They don't need to be sent off to a factory for costly recycling techniques. They can be washed in my dish water and refilled next fall.

If you've read the two posts I linked to above, then you already know some of my strategies for reducing trash output.

It started when we moved here 4 years ago. I refused to pay for garbage pick-up, and instead determined that I would start a compost pile and sort recyclables.

What to do with an empty cocoa box??

Suddenly, an empty cocoa box like the one in this picture, is a big deal. The sides are made of cardboard, which is easy enough to burn or compost. But the top and bottom are made of metal. What waste, for a little bit of cocoa powder.

Whipped cream in a can

However, the cocoa box isn't a big deal in comparison to this packaging for 7 ounces of whipping cream. Convenient, but not efficient, and certainly not environmentally healthy.

Egg cartons -- to pass along

Egg cartons are easy enough to get rid of if you know someone who has laying hens. If you don't know anyone personally who can re-use egg cartons, ask around -- maybe someone else does.

By the way, I can't say it loud enough: Start composting! :) I was amazed when we started composting, at how our food scraps (peelings, egg shells, watermelon rinds, etc.) sunk and biodegraded and basically just disappeared after a while. Our compost scraps would have been many huge bags of food scraps if it were going to the landfill, but in our compost pile it just settled and composted.

My clothesline

Besides the compost pile/bin, I think the other most useful and frugal trash-and-energy-output-saving item is my clothesline. We use the cloth version of just about anything possible (including diapers, of course!) and line-drying is free. ;)

I'd love to hear your creative and resourceful ideas for reducing trash output! I'm sure we're not the only ones who don't have trash pick-up coming to our house every week. :)

Lindsay has a recent post about reducing junk mail. Unnecessary but unavoidable paper waste can be composted quite easily if you have a shredder! Yes, I'm kinda on that crazy composting bandwagon... :)

More frugal tips can be found here! :)

Composting: From pile to bin

Our new composting bin, made from a garbage can

This week, our compost pile was moved into a compost bin. The transition was quick, easy, and frugal, since we used items we already had on hand to make a composting bin!

I have been composting for several years now, using a pile in our back yard. I am admittedly a Lazy Composter, per the instructions on that page. ;) Since someone in the neighborhood didn't like my "pile" method, we were asked to contain our compost in a bin.

I started researching options for compost bins. We didn't want to spend a lot of money on a commercial bin, and we didn't have a lot of supplies on hand. There are numerous ways to contain compost, from chicken wire fences to brick structures to wooden cribs, but I knew how quickly the cost of supplies could add up.

Once again, it was Google to the rescue. I came across this video about making a compost bin using an old garbage can! Immediately I knew we had found our solution! I had an old garbage can in the garage that could easily be sacrificed for this project!

Step 1: Find a flat location for your compost bin, and make a foundation using bricks, blocks, or stones. (See top photo.) This will provide airflow under the bin.

Drilling holes in the bin for ventilation

Step 2: Using a half-inch drill bit, drill holes in the bottom and sides of the trash can. Avoid drilling directly on the seams, as this could weaken them and cause them to split. For the holes on the bottom of the trash can, be sure to drill from the inside out to facilitate drainage. (This page also has other ideas for garbage can composting, including cutting off the entire bottom of the can and setting it directly on the ground.)

Filling the bin

Step 3: Fill the bin using alternating layers of compost materials.

Green layer (nitrogen-rich) could include:

Food scraps (little or no dairy, meat, or oil)
Grass clippings
Weeds (without seed pods)
Used teabags or coffee grounds

Brown layer (carbon rich) could include:

Wood shavings
Old phone book pages
Dry leaves

The bin can be filled all at once, or gradually over time. We actually made two bins, and filled the first one to allow it to finish composting while we work on filling the second one.

Step 4: Water the compost using a hose or watering can, so that it is damp -- like a wet sponge.

Mixing the compost

Step 5: Put the lid on the garbage can and turn the can on its side. Roll the can to mix the compost. The compost should be mixed at least once a week, or as often as once a day.

And there you have it! A super easy, fast, and frugal composting bin. I'll update in a few months to give more of a review of how this actually ends up working out for us! :)


Here is an update about using this type of homemade compost bin!

For other frugal tips and topics, visit Crystal's blog! :)

Homemade deodorant recipe

Ingredients for homemade deodorant

Lindsay shared about making homemade deodorant, which of course piqued my interest. While I still use and like my deodorant crystal, I still haven't come to any fully satisfactory conclusions about how healthy it is.

This homemade recipe, however, is truly completely natural and harmless. And cheap. Maybe not cheaper than a deodorant crystal (since those last years and years!), but still cheap. :)

Ingredients for homemade deodorant:

1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrow root powder OR corn starch
~5 tablespoons coconut oil

Directions for making homemade deodorant:

1. Combine baking soda and arrow root powder in a bowl and mix with a fork.

2. Start with about 4 tablespoons/one-fourth cup of coconut oil and add the coconut oil to the baking soda mixture, working into a paste.

The deodorant will have somewhat of a play-dough consistency, and will be softer or harder depending on its temperature. You can put the deodorant into a small container with a lid, or into an empty stick deodorant dispenser if you have one. My deodorant hardened somewhat after I put it into a container.

Homemade deodorant

Now, for my unbiased review of the homemade deodorant. ;) Remember, this is just my personal opinion, and if you're at all interested in a cheap and healthy deodorant, it'll only cost you a few cents and a couple minutes of time to try it for yourself. And Lindsay raves about it. :)

This homemade deodorant is really quick to make and inexpensive (and I already had the ingredients for it!). I believe it's also, as I mentioned above, healthier than the deodorant crystals, if only because there's still some confusion (for me) surrounding the "natural salt crystal" deodorants.

Ease of use? I've only tried it in a container, which is slightly more bothersome since I need to actually get it warm enough to spread (with fingers). I think in a dispenser, it'd be just as convenient as the commercial deodorants.

The real question: Does it work?

I think it works okay. If you've read my review of the deodorant crystal , you'll know that I like it pretty well, but admit that it's not going to work just like a commercial anti- perspirant and deodorant.

Well, this homemade deodorant works well for about 8-12 hours. In a relatively low-stress, low-sweat environment. It's fine for around the house if you plan to shower every day. I have been using this deodorant for about 3 weeks, and I'll definitely update if my opinion changes, but I'm still not overly thrilled with it.

Definite benefits (like health benefits!)... just not working quite well enough for me. Remember, Lindsay and her husband rave about this recipe, though -- so maybe you'll at least want to give it a try! :)

Edited to add:

I am pleased to be adding this update about the deodorant! When I originally published this post, I had been using the homemade deodorant for 3 weeks, a time frame that I thought would be sufficient for testing.

Even though I wasn't thrilled with the deodorant, I planned to use up what I had made -- especially since I knew it was healthy (and possibly healthier than my deodorant crystal). 

Now, I have been using this homemade deodorant for about 12 weeks, and it's really working well! I think that for me, it seemed like it took my body about 6-8 weeks to fully adjust to the deodorant -- whatever that means, I don't know -- just that it gradually worked better and better and I am now completely satisfied with this deodorant! Yay!! :) 

I have also tried putting the deodorant into an empty commercial deodorant dispenser but that method of dispensing didn't work as well as I had anticipated. So, it's back to fingers from a container.

5 Easy Frugal Recipes for Household Products: Toothpaste, laundry soap, scouring powder, and more!

Garage sale treasures

Clothes for Ruth...

Joshua took us garage-saleing at a nearby town this morning. There were dozens of sales and we walked for about 2 hours before collapsing in the car with several bags of goodies and two very tired children (the boys walked and I wore Ruth in my mei tai).

The boys and their toys

We got several toys for the boys with some gift money that had been set aside for garage sales. I got this complete vintage Sesame Street camper/rv set for $1.50. I honestly bought it because I love all the pieces and it's a perfect "boy toy"... and no batteries or annoying sounds. Now I found it on eBay and it looks like the set's worth more than $25!! What to do, what to do...

First, I love the toy set. I wanted the boys to have fun with it, but they'd just break it after a while (it's plastic, after all). I don't like keeping things that aren't being used and enjoyed, but I don't know if I want to let them play with a collector's item. I don't really want to re-sell it, though... I like it too much!

What would you do??

Joshua just informed me that the box the camper was in is the original box. Oops! Guess I'll take it back out of the trash!!


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