Today is Frugality Friday, so it’s time to review progress for No Spend November.
Slightly over a week has elapsed since I committed the family to a this challenge for November. Overall, I’d say everything is going just fine. At about Day 5 I looked at my pantry and said, “a single month can’t possibly make a serious dent in the food I have.”
That’s sort of true – I mean, I do have a lot of food in my house – but in the last few days I’ve emptied a tub of rice, tapped into some rice noodles I’d sorta forgotten about, and used lots of home canned beans. So now I’m thinking a month will make a noticeable dent in my food stores, which is just what I want.
What’s Worked Well
This is not my first rodeo, you know? I mean I’ve done these kind of challenges quite a few times before, so I know what’s coming, more or less. There’s a rhythm that goes something like this:
- Week 1: The refrigerator still has a little milk and cheese and fresh food. There’s still meat in the freezer. Honestly, nothing feels that much different.
- Week 2: Oh, fun! I get to use up some of my pantry items and be a creative cook! I’m proud of me!
- Week 3: I’m over it. This is getting crappy. Making all the food from scratch all the time is getting really old. Normal people don’t make crackers they buy them. Screw this stupid idea.
- Week 4: The end is in sight! I am so happy with the extra space in my pantry and the extra money in my bank account. Yay!
In keeping with the pattern I’ve noticed through prior No Spend Challenges, I’m feeling pretty fine here at the end of Week 1. There are a few exceptions which I’ll cover below, but generally it’s been pretty much business as usual.
However, I’m acutely conscious of the fact that certain items – non-canned meat and dairy in particular – are very, very limited. For example, I have this nearly-used rind of Parmesan cheese. I’m getting every freaking flavor molecule out of what little cheese I have – using my microplane to make fluffy little piles on pasta instead of shaving big chunky curls.
I’m also much more conscious about portioning, particularly with the kids who will often ask for two eggs but only eat one, for example. Now it’s like, “Here’s your egg. If you eat that, I’ll fry you another.”
We ran out of milk at about Day 2, so I made a batch of milk in a 1/2 gallon mason jar using our stored, powdered milk. The kids are drinking milk mostly in hot beverages like cocoa or lattes these days, and so far they haven’t complained about the powdered milk. (The juice in front is blackberry lemonade made with the juice that came out of thawed berries.)
I started off the month by organizing my fridge and freezer so I could see what I was dealing with. Talk about a long-overdue process! It much easier to access and find stuff now, and I have an updated inventory to work with.
What’s Been Hard
Kid’s lunches are my nemesis right now. The major issue is that I put together lunches following a kind of pattern: typically a sandwich-type thing, a veg, a fruit or dried fruit, and an extra like a homemade fruit roll-up.
Well I haven’t quite gotten around to making bread and we have no lunch meat or sliced cheese so there are no sandwich-type things. This has required some creativity on my part. I’ve found that canned tuna or chicken mixed with homemade mayo and relish goes over really well with the kids, even without a roll or bread to put it on.
We have been making lunches before school in the morning, which is really a terrible time to make lunches. Everything goes better if we make lunches the night before. But I haven’t. Why? Uh….good question?
(Lunch Notes: We have been using our stainless Planetbox lunch bentos for years now. They are very expensive but last forever. Related: Why I love our lunchboxes – Patreon)
Here’s what lunches have look liked.
Early in the week I made hummus with chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and garlic. This was added to lunches as a dip or spread.
For this lunch from early in the week I found a sad lone pita in the freezer. Lunch was pita, feta, hummus, carrot and tomato, with yogurt mixed with frozen blueberries and brown sugar.
This lunch also included hummus (in the container with the green lid) with romaine for dipping, plus feta, frittata, and a fruit roll-up. Oliver’s lunch had lacto-fermented carrots, Bella’s had marinated artichokes.
At this point in the week things were getting a bit less colorful! The main was chicken salad made with home-canned chicken thigh, plus dried plums, nuts, carrots, and graham crackers.
What We Spent: 11/1 – 11/9
- 11/6 – $15.51 to Amazon for The Pursuit of Power, Europe 1815-1914, which was a book Nick pre-ordered back in October but which shipped on publication. We forgot the order was pending, so got dinged for it this month.
- 11/8 – $5.00 for parking as part of Nick’s tutoring gig. (Exempt as per challenge rules)
- 11/9 – $37.57 to Costco for gas. (Exempt as per challenge rules)
- Total: $58.08
- Non-Exempt total: $15.51
We feel a little stupid about that book thing. When you’re thinking you’re gonna spend about $150 on incidentals for the month, $15 is 10% of that total.
But on the topic of books, one great result of this No Spend Challenge is our renewed focus on the library as a source of books to fuel our reading obsession. Right now, for example, I’m reading The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce, which is a 2017 release that was available at my local library within 48 hours of my request for it.
Which goes to show that (sorry Maya Angelou) there is a big difference between knowing better and doing better. I know I should always check the library first, and have the fortitude to wait a couple days for a book to be brought in via inter-library transfer, and yet so often I just don’t, and then Amazon gets another $15 from me.
That’s one of the things I like about these No-Spend Challenges. They force me to stop being so damned lazy, so I actually do better. The book thing is a particularly good and targeted reminder for me.
What I Cooked
Like I mentioned, meals mostly haven’t been too much of a challenge because I’m hardly out of anything yet. And thanks to a particularly mild fall, I still have fresh peppers in the fridge and a few tomatoes that are gradually turning from green to red on the counter. So these meals may not seem particularly “deep larder”…but the month is still young.
Beef and tomato stir-fry with soy-ginger sauce. (Homegrown ingredients: tomatoes.)
Duck egg scramble with kale, sweet peppers and feta. (Homegrown ingredients: eggs, kale, peppers.)
Fried chicken thigh with orzo salad mixed with corn relish, feta and parsley. (Homemade: Old Bay Corn Relish. Homegrown ingredients: corn, cucumbers, tomato in relish; Italian parsley.)
Cornmeal and Yogurt Fried Green Tomatoes. (Homemade: DIY Taco Seasoning. Homegrown ingredients: green tomatoes.)
Related on Patreon: Fried Green Tomatoes, Dried Tomato Powder DIY Taco Seasoning
Roasted Cod with Pesto, Brown Rice and Roasted Delicata Squash. (Homemade: Walnut Lemon Pesto. Homegrown ingredients: basil, delicata squash.)
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Black Beans, Fried Duck Eggs and Pico de Gallo. (Homemade: Pressure canned black beans. Homegrown ingredients: potatoes, tomato, jalapeno.)
Related on Patreon: Pressure Canning Pinto Beans
Dessert: Mixed Berry Crisp. (Homegrown ingredients: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries.)
Tomato Soup with Beef. (Homemade: pressure-canned beef. Homegrown ingredients: tomato, green pepper.)
Fried Duck Egg with Zucchini Muffin. (Homemade: Zucchini Muffins. Homegrown ingredients: duck eggs, zucchini.)
Snack: air-popped popcorn. This, topped with parm and black peppers, is absolutely incredible.
Chickpea, Tomato and Ginger Curry with Rice. (Homemade: Pressure-canned chickpeas. Homegrown ingredients: tomatoes, jalapeno pepper.)
Related on Patreon: Pressure Canning Pinto Beans
Pork and Garden Vegetable Phad Thai. (Homegrown ingredients: duck egg, Portuguese kale, green onion.)
Related on Patreon: Phad Thai with Pork and Garden Vegetables
Ok, that’s it for the Frugal Friday update this week. How is your No Spend November going?
• • •
Spent on food this week: $3.79 for a gallon of milk. The husband, who is pretty much a saint who goes along with most of my cockamamie ideas, will not drink powdered milk and can taste it even when I use it in cooking. So, while everything else came from the cupboards or freezer, we bought milk. And will do so every week, no matter what. Other than that, only paid the usual required bills like heating oil. Even made a gift basket for a birthday, filled with various items I canned this summer, so that I didn’t have to spend money on a gift.
Jen B-K says
So inspiring! We were not going to play along for November, but were thinking we would do this in January. However, I just did a big grocery run (WholeFoods/Central Market/Costco/HEB) in the city (an hour away). Everyone was grumpy except the cashiers, traffic was redonkulous, AND our local grocery store (where I stopped for cat food) was playing christmas music. On November 10th. NOPE. I’m out. Joining in now.
Could you write about Phsicys so I can pass Science class?
I’m more frugal – can’t bring myself to spend money on crackers when I can make them myself. Sorry!
Ien in the Kootenays says
Inspiring! I have been bleeding money in the most scary way on fun stuff like a root canal, badly needed new glasses, and winter tires. You make me want to haul out the pressure canner. I picked one up years ago and only used it once. It totally intimidates me. I do cook beans from scratch but they take up freezer space. Ditto for soups. The main concern here is power outages. On the other hand, glass can break. For one person just buying canned beans when there is a case lot sale is starting to make sense. (I am still adjusting to my single status. My husband has been in extended care since February.) Yes, I know cans contain some undesirable substances apart from the slime that can be rinsed off. Guess what. After a lifetime of avoiding additives I am relaxing a bit. Most of those things take time to accumulate in the body and become a problem after say, twenty years. Insert
noise of Crone gleefully cackling. Keep up the great work, you are an inspiration.
So far so good. o/
TheTeen wants to put off fugly sweater shopping until AuntieM is in town anyway, so that might push us out of the November spending anything at all other than bills. =D The cold snap means the a/c has been off all week since it’s finally under 90degrees. (If this were my house I’d be saving for insulation, new windows, and general fixing the holes in this swiss cheesey old house… but it’s not. So.. I just get to foot the bills.. =P Maybe if I just didn’t tell them about it I could get some blown in attic stuff done.. -__- )
idk if I’ll go so far as to make crackers… but maybe now I have to. Black pepper + parmesan crisps for scooping homemade bean dip? Mom Food d(^.^d)
Honestly, nobody seems to have noticed. I didn’t mention it.. they’ve not said anything. The kids have been eating the same, and not complaining and thehubs has been fed at work because they’re crunching so hard before the thanksgiving ship date craziness… so hasn’t noticed/said anything. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
I wonder how long we can go… I’m sure my brain will cramp up a bit at some point and I’ll stress buy a dress for the company holiday party because absolutely nothing fits post baby#3 no matter what I do… None of my SHOES even fit anymore D= somehow a sparklie dress might combat the sad?? idk.. I’d probably do better just painting my nails and getting a massage.
Joyce Gerhardt says
That is a very impressive freezer and your dinners look healthy and delicious! My husband is having major surgery and we will be away for 10 days at the hospital. I’ll be staying at the guest house. There is a kitchen in the basement to use. I’ve packed a few days worth of food to save some money and not eat out so much while I’m away from home. But you are really an inspiration. Hopefully when I get back home I’ll be more diligent about not throwing food away and not over spending.
I’ve got a question about the canned meat. I’ve been mega impressed, over the years, about how you can pull together a super fast, very tasty-looking dinner, very quickly based on your canned meat. Do you have so much that it doesn’t cause you to run low even after using more (or is it really more than usual?) during a no-spend month?
The value of your home canned meat seems particularly high, between the tastiness and the convenience, particularly when thinking about the end of a long day that didn’t go as planned, and I’d think that keeping a solid store of it, basically as insurance against the unexpected chaos that can happen with kids/homeschooling/general life, would make you (me) want to hoard it a bit.
Canned meat, canned dry beans and tomatoes are probably the most versatile, convenient items in my pantry.
I started by thinking about keeping enough meat on hand to have 1 jar per week for a year….so 4 cases (48 jars) nearly gets you there and 5 cases (60 jars) gives a bit of margin. And then if you want to have, say, 6 months permanent backstock, you could have 6 or 7 cases, and can more meat when you only have 2 or 3 cases left, making sure to use the oldest canned meat first and rotating. Right now I am happy to be eating down my stock a bit because I do want to ensure a good balance between backstock and timely rotation and I think I was “hoarding” a little too much! 😀
Does that answer your question?
Yeah, that makes sense. You’ve got a lot more canned than I’d considered, so even if you draw down your stores faster than usual this month, you’d still have plenty if, say, a creeping crud hit your household in December or January, and you really wanted simple, easy dinners for a while. You aren’t near running out. Nice planning!
Speaking of which (planning), your downloadables are great. I recently printed out the pantry staples spreadsheet you shared and it’s acting as a nice starting point for figuring out how to work planning for our household. Thank you! 😀
Nancy Sutton says
You are soooo inspiring!! And as a lifelong ‘untidy’, even I am still thrilled with the organizing I finally did last year of freezer, pantry, kitchen stuff etc.
One question…. have you found that Portugese kale is perennial in our climate?
This is my first year growing it, so I don’t know! It’s holding up perfectly so far.
Wins: DH bought only the items on the Costco list and found 3 $50 WF gift cards that paid for cheese splurges. I made yogurt from powdered milk for the first time and it is indistinguishable from fresh milk. We keep a large amount of powdered milk on hand because our local convenience stores close in the winter. It’s 20 miles to the store, I’m not spending 2 gallons of gas to get a gallon of milk if that’s all we need.
Misses: I spent $15 at the grocery store, but $4 of that was on a snack for me. Had to order knives for next week’s poultry processing. I really need to learn how to do a better job sharpening my knives.
Goal: get the turkeys and geese in the freezer this week.
Megan Z. says
This week has been full of frugal fails and wins. Def. spent a lot on groceries and bought a few Christmas presents that were on sale. I was attempting no miscellaneous purchases but that was a big fail. On the positive side saved a ton on my car. It desperately needed some work. We were able to save almost $1500 by going to a different mechanic and doing some of the work ourselves. We had been putting off the work since this summer so I don’t feel too badly about this.
Hastings Creek Farm says
Kudos to you for cultivating such unpicky eaters. I’m looking at these lunch boxes and I am thinking what my kids would do if they opened them up at at school. Out of curiosity, do you pack these lunches for “homeschooling” or just days you have out of the house activities? The reason I ask is because when my kids are home for lunch (sick days or a break from social mayhem) I love not having to pack a lunch.
We love thermoses for school lunches. I’m going to guess that at least 2 days a week we have homemade soup packed, and at least 2 days a week, it’s leftovers from dinner. Lasagna, soup, strifry, pasta dishes, anything really..does well in a thermos.
One final kid related question, my garden is awash in cabbage right now, what’s your top kid friendly cabbage meal?
Love your blog, thank you for sharing your life and ideas, it’s been a source of inspiration and support over the years.
We go to our “homeschool campus” 4 days a week, so out of the house a fair bit. They have their preferences, for sure, but on the whole not too terribly picky. 🙂
My kids LOVE this pasta dish with cabbage. If you eat pasta, I’d give it a try: http://nwedible.com/cabbage-and-pasta/
Finally got around to trying this. It’s excellent. I added leftover salmon and some chopped pickled garlic scapes. Thanks. It worked well even with our hotdog mustard.
Hi, new to your site, so not sure this helps.
I have found half/half to be a space saving solution to the milk issue (don’t like powdered that much and question its health benefits)
I buy 2-4 1/2 gallon organic half/half cartons and store them in freezer.
I keep glass jars for milk use and put in 1/2 half/half and 1/2 water.
I use this method in the house as well as camping. Saves me a lot of space, water is always plentiful.
I get that powdered does this to the extreme, and is great for emergencies. However, for daily living I think the nutritional value and issues with processing milk into powder (plus the flavor change!) make it less desirable for me.
Another benefit of this system is on rare occasions when I want to treat guests or myself (!) I make lattes with pure half/half which is just divine 🙂
Thanks for all your work, great site and I follow with interest for my family!