Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Thrifty Stay-At-Home Wife: Groceries

Just call me Mrs.

Yesterday, I got married.

Mind you, not the type of married that has a wedding involved. At least, not yet. The wedding is still about nine months away set for the 25th of April next year. It was more a legal formality that signified in binding terms what we had already been doing for the past year or so in the form to which most are accustomed.

Translated, this essentially means that it is much harder to explain "oh, this is my boyfriend/girlfriend but we live together and have a son together and we've both agreed on this being a permanent situation and we love each other greatly" to those unfamiliar with our story than it is to just refer to each other as husband and wife and have all of that nonsense implied with the use of the term.

Also, I happen to detest my last name and I will not-so-proudly admit that I was all too keen on the idea of getting rid of it - so then, I suppose you could say that was a very, very small reason contributing to my haste.

Rest assured, however, that my reasons for accepting his proposal were primarily because fuck yeah I want to marry an awesome bearded metalhead who thinks the same way I do, works unbelievably hard, has a natural talent for music, and treats me and our little son like we are living gods made flesh, showering us with love, support, tenderness and protection. Oh, and we make adorable babies. I figure we can at least gift the next generation with about two or three smart and attractive individuals born of our strong and mixed European/Irish/gypsy genes. Thank us in thirty years!

In short (I know, too late), I am now, officially, a wife.

Whether or not I knew it before now, I've spent the better part of my life training for this day - the day I become someone's wife. Sure, I was expecting to have the kid after the becoming a wife part (and if my doctor had been correct, I would have never been able to have kids at all) but the great Goddess saw fit to grant me the ability to grow my own little human with the help of a handsome tatted guy I fell in love with and had only known for 4 or 5 months prior.

In the end, it never really mattered what order we went in - everything worked out as it should have. Of that I'm certain.

You might be asking, how does one "train" to be a wife? Well, in my opinion (and I can thank my gypsy blood for this), being a good wife entails some knowledge of household maintenance such as cleaning, laundry, and keeping the fridge stocked. It also means you should know how to do this even if your cash is limited, and even if it's not you should still try and save his hard earned money if you stay at home, or yours if you're working.

Besides, less money on mundane everyday items means more money for pursuing your passions and for other fun things like, say, going to metal shows or buying band shirts - perhaps even a fancy hookah. Whatever floats your boat!

Now, before any hardcore feminists start griping about how this mindset embodies the cliché of the mild-mannered traditional housewife and in advocating it I'm somehow belittling women everywhere, you can stop right there. Firstly, I do not advocate complete and total submission of a woman to a man. We are not here to play slave to our significant others, but to enrich each other's lives in ways that only we can as individuals with different strengths and abilities. We should all still pursue our own goals while doing what we can to show our love for one another, and if that means the husband has to stay at home, clean, or cook dinner at times (or even all the time) so that we can do what we need to accomplish, then that's okay.

For my part, I embrace the role of stay-at-home wife and mum. I've always been drawn to the idea of it, and it brings me a fulfillment that I would never find in an office - especially when my husband is wonderful enough to extend himself to help me chase my dreams of being a metal opera vocalist on top of it all. Working in a typical office or retail environment in the past has always been a struggle for me. I daresay I was one of the best employees at every single job I've ever held, yet something would always happen that resulted in me getting burned, fired, or driven to quit. I never understood it. Despite making so many wonderful friends at each company, and no matter how good I was at my job, it never panned out. Of course, the many instances of trauma that life slapped me with during the course of my years in the workforce didn't do anything to help matters. I had all but given up making a living by normal means when my husband found me and made me a selfless offer to take me with him wherever he went so I would always have a home and be provided for the best he could while helping me find happiness through a passion with both shared - metal. My gratitude to him for doing this is eternal, and I choose to show it by keeping our home immaculately clean, making sure our family has clean laundry and food, and by helping him to save the money he works so hard for to the best of my ability.

Fortunately for him, I was pretty much destitute for the entire first part of my life, and my mother was the queen of penny-pinching. My father gave up his steady, well-paying job early on for no apparent reason, and my mother still worked and continued to fool everyone around her into thinking she was living comfortably while keeping two children fed and a spacious roof over our heads. Needless to say, this makes me the authority on living richly when you are dirt poor.

On the advice of a dear friend, I'll be sharing some of my secrets with you. No matter your situation, these tricks will improve your life a thousand times over, because can one really ever have enough money to spend on leisurely things? Didn't think so.

First things first, the basest of our baser needs - food and groceries. No one likes grocery shopping. Especially when you have to do it in certain cities where the aisles are clogged with slow-movers and lollygaggers and those with "cart rage" (which is like road rage, except with shopping carts obviously). There is a way, I've found, to get in and out quickly and cheaply with roughly enough food for about a week.

I'll divide the lists up to two categories; money-saving and poor as fuck. Both lists will get you the maximum amount of food for the least amount of dollars, the second being the more indulgent of the two. I recommend you get a store brand or a locally-supplied brand where available for each item unless there's one thing you just love a specific brand of and couldn't stand to substitute it (example: I only get Holsum Texas Toast bread because thin bread is lame... except Holsum is, I think, a local supplier so I'm still sticking within my parameters on that one).

The Poor As Fuck List

Moo1 loaf of bread
1 large package of your favorite deli meat*
1 package of sliced cheese**
1 box of crackers, OR
1 bag of chips
1 case of store brand soda OR juice boxes***

1 gallon of milk 
1 box of cereal†
2-4 Banquet frozen dinners††
4 single-serving yogurts†††
1 box of Fruit Roll-Ups§
1 box of Oatmeal Creme Pies or some other Little Debbie snack thing§§

They have some cool new kinds now, like Sriracha roast chicken and deep-fried turkey. You're not limited to old-fashioned cold cuts anymore! Unless that's your thing - hubs likes old school bologna.

** Just like with the cold cuts, we're not limited to buying those crap-tacular Kraft american cheese slices. There's a store brand for all the good cheeses, from cheddar to muenster to colby and pepper jack. You've got options and if you're like me, it makes eating on the cheap a lot easier to swallow.

*** Because, let's face it - nobody wants to drink water all the time. Also the store brand sodas are often just as good or better than the name brands, especially the "cola" varieties, and you're paying maybe a dollar more to get 12 fucking cans as opposed to one bottle that will probably go flat by day 3. If you're not a soda drinker, the same usually applies to store brand juice boxes, but Hi-C is pretty cheap anyway so go for it if you feel lucky, punk.

† I recommend Kix, because you get a ton of it for cheap. This item would be the only one I'd advise not buying the store brand if you like, say, Lucky Charms or Fruit Loops. I don't really like the generic versions most stores have of those, and usually you can find a smaller box of under three dollars of the yummy name brands. Whatever you do, for the love of Odin do not get shredded wheat or any kind of "flake" cereal. Shredded wheat is tasteless and gritty and I don't care how good it is for your body - it crushes your soul. Flakes just get soggy in about 40 seconds so it's kind of a waste IMO.

Just pretend it's five star cuisine!†† Either Banquet or Michaelina, if I'm spelling that right, are good brands that literally have one-dollar frozen dinners. They're even pretty decent tasting and enough to ensure you don't go to bed hungry. Some possible other substitutions/additions to this are Totino's pizza rolls, pizza-for-ones, or a package of store brand frozen mini pizzas. All of these are dirt cheap and can easily serve as filling meals in a pinch. A package of four round frozen single deep-dish pizzas equals four dinners that you now have waiting in your freezer!

††† Yogurts are super cheap and versatile. Even the Greek stuff, which is my personal favorite. They can be great for breakfast, a snack, a dessert - even treats for the cats if you're at my house. Merlin loves him some yogurt.)

These are homemade fruit roll-ups that you can do yourself.. if you've got the money to buy all the ingredients, that is§ Stoners love Fruit Roll-Ups. Stoners have great taste in snacks. They can also be bought in boxes of 10 for two dollars, so voila! Ten snacks for two bucks! You can substitute it for regular fruit snacks if you really want, or the Annie's organic bunny snacks which are a bit more pricey but very delicious, but the roll-ups are more fun.

§§ I'm recommending Oatmeal Creme Pies only because they make a great breakfast food as well as a snack or dessert, but pick whichever one will make you the happiest. That's the point of this particular grocery item - it's food for your spirit!

The Money-Saving List

Include everything on the above list, except go crazy and get two different kinds of lunchmeats or cheeses. Then, if money's not too terribly tight this week, you can add:

2-4 Lunchables*
Coffee (if you're out)**
1 head of lettuce and one tomato***
1 small bottle of your favorite salad dressing
1 package of chicken tenders, or chicken breasts††
1 bag of apples†††
2-4 bags of instant mashed potatoes§
2-4 half size cans of whatever veggies you like/can tolerate§§
1 stick of Toll House Cookie Dough§§§
1 4-pack of store brand salted butter sticks‡
1-2 boxes of store brand pasta‡‡
1-2 cans/jars of pasta sauce‡‡‡
1 pound ground beef‖
1 bag tortilla chips and 1 can of salsa‖‖
1 carton of eggs‖‖‖
1 bag of string cheese¶
2-4 boxes of macaroni and cheese¶¶

Lunchables aren't just for kids anymore. They sell the simple ones (without the drinks and fancy packaging) for between a dollar and maybe a buck thirty, usually no higher. Grab a few and voila! Lunch is served, quickly and cheaply. Make sure you got that 12 pack of store brand soda to wash it down, though.

**IF YOU DRINK RED BULL OR ENERGY DRINKS, READ THIS CAREFULLY: I was like you. I was straight-up addicted to Red Bull. I would get headaches, even the shakes if I went a day without it. I thought it made me feel wonderful at first, so of course something that makes you feel wonderful without any negative effects you'll want to drink every You can do cool shit like this with coffee. Try and do that with an energy drink!day. Thus began the addiction. Only after did I find that drinking that shit every day will make you fucking ill. I shit you not. It dries you out and makes it harder for absolutely every organ in your body, which already has enough to deal with from the stress we go under daily and all kinds of other agitators like fast food, medication or alcohol if you're a drinker. It will make it harder for your body to process waste because your organs are fucking up because you're terribly dehydrated and you don't even notice it, and that's when you'll get sick.
Coffee is not - I repeat, is NOT - sludge force-fed to us by corporate overlords to lull us into complacency. It will not turn you into a sheep nor any other figurative animal describing an "average joe". It is made from a wonderful plant, just like pot is, that has amazingly healthy properties and will not dehydrate you. It will give you the energy you're seeking without the hardcore come-down most energy drinks have as a side effect. You'll feel a million times better and your organs will thank Real coffee from the hills of Columbia \m/ \m/you later after you survive middle age. Oh, and let us not forget that even Dethklok endorses coffee-drinking, therefore coffee is metal and totally acceptable to drink.
If you need something fizzy, have one of those sodas I told you to get on the first list. That'll fix you right up.

*** Preferably from a Farmer's Market. You can get a head of lettuce for maybe fifty fucking cents. Tomatoes are dirt cheap as well. Pretty much any vegetable you get, I advise you to get it at a Farmer's Market. Locally-grown farmer's market veggies are your friends!There will always be a market in your town. Just Google it or drive around between 10am and 2pm when markets are usually open. If you live even within a general vicinity of a rural area (which you do, I guarantee you), then you have no excuse. Get out and spend your lunch break saving money!
Also, these are for sandwiches mainly, but in a bind they can be used to make a simple Caesar salad! Just toast a piece of bread and tear pieces off to put on top - instant croutons!

† This is obviously for that easy Caesar salad I mentioned above, but you can also use it to dress up sandwiches and even to baste chicken or use as a dip. Caesar dressing tastes good on absolutely everything! You can't go wrong.

Do the chicken dance †† You can make so, so many dinners with these babies. Cut 'em up and put them in a salad or in with some pasta, slather on BBQ sauce and crispy fried onions and bake for 15 minutes to make my famous crispy onion chicken, or soak in eggs, bread in flour seasoned with some salt, pepper and oregano or whatever spice you want and fry 'em up in a pan with some olive oil for some yummy fried nuggets. Just so many possibilities and they're the easiest, quickest things ever to cook.

††† Apples are just the perfect healthy snack, and they're super cheap as well. Get your ass to a Farmer's Market, stat!

§ You know what I'm talking about. Those little pouch things with the mashed potato powder in them... they're a fucking lifesaver. They cost about 75 cents or less and they go great with every meal. If you cook dinners, all you need is this, some chicken, and the next item I've listed and bam - perfect dinner. (Please don't sue me, Emeril.)

§§ For some reason, and I'm probably not alone in this, I hated veggies in my youth. Suddenly, not long after I met my husband and started cooking for him, I got all nostalgic and wanted nothing more than to serve up nice hot, salty corn, green beans or peas with every meal. Just like Grandma did. If you can't stand the taste, think of some good memory associated with veggies and roll with it. Tip: Asparagus transforms into the yummiest food in the fucking world when soaked with mass quantities of salty melted butter. Mmmm, I can taste it now...

Cookies! §§§ That shit is like a dollar per stick and you get probably 30 cookies from it. Not to mention you can nibble off it raw from time to time, if you're brave. Let's not kid ourselves here - there are few things better than fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

‡ Butter makes everything better. Plus, you can make easy garlic bread by taking some butter and salting it with garlic salt, then spreading on toasted bread slices. That'll go great with what you can make using the next couple ingredients on the list - spaghetti!

‡‡ Penne, rigatoni, angel hair, spaghetti, those little curly things - they come in all forms, included some shaped like Spongebob Squarepants. Versatile and cheap. Are you noticing a theme here?

Spaghetti gives me those nostalgic feels ‡‡‡ Whether you choose marinara, alfredo, pesto or any of the other multitude of fun flavors in grocery stores nowadays, it'll turn out tasty every time. Just heat on the stovetop while you're cooking up your pasta, then drizzle over it to your heart's content. You can save any extra to dip your garlic bread in that you made using garlic salt, butter and sliced bread, or you can add it to the top, melt some cheese over it and you've got an instant pizza. Also good for sandwiches. Cheap, too.
You can also make a lighter, fresher version of sauce with a can of stewed tomatoes. Just heat the can and use in place of the thicker sauces for a more fresca pasta. To ensure maximum tastiness, go ahead and splurge on a two-dollar bag of shredded mozzarella or a parmesan shaker. Neither are really too terribly expensive and it'll last you a while - not to mention you're not limited to topping just pasta with that mozz. Don't forget the oregano!

‖ There are just too many possibilities for you to not have ground beef in your fridge. Brown some up and stir it in your pasta sauce to make it meat sauce, make burgers, meatballs, or pick up a Hamburger Helper and feast on some knockoff (albeit a tasty knockoff) Stroganoff or Lasagna Pasta. Add it to mac and cheese to beef it up a bit. Another versatile and cheap item.

‖‖ Perfect snack for less than three bucks, usually.

‖‖‖ Eggs can be used for multiple things. Fry them in the morning with some toast, make some eggs-in-a-hole, prep things to be breaded and fried with them, scramble them and pop them in the microwave for a minute or two for an instant breakfast sandwich. 

¶ String cheese is another great and dirt-cheap snack food, but it has a hidden ability - it can transform a mere piece of sliced bread with a little sauce or a tomato slice on top into a little mini pizza or bruschetta bread. I think you get about 15 or 20 sticks per bag for around two dollars. Not too shabby!

¶¶ Fail safe poor-person food that is beloved by all humans, everywhere.

Naturally, you can add things as you need them or when you run out of them (condiments, seasonings, oils, et cetera) and add them to your list, but remember that there is, in fact, a generic brand for almost everything. They're all just as good, and in some cases, better than the originals. For example: I've noticed store brand pizza usually has more cheese than the more expensive alternatives... and that's a big plus in my book since I'm a big cheesehead.

If you really want to pinch pennies, stave off buying condiments when possible and save all those little extra sauce packets you get whenever fast food is your only option. Drive-thru chains typically dispense every fucking thing from mayo to relish to hot sauce and scores of mustards and ketchups. Save those bitches. No one will be the wiser when you save enough money to buy three band shirts by simply taking advantage of what these food service places already offer for free to their customers. I'm not saying go in and shove handfuls of these things into a bag and book it - just that when you happen to stop in a place with a decent offering of packaged condiments, grab some extra and save them for later.

Now to address why I wrote these lists the way I did. Could I have just given you a number and said, "stick to this" and you'll save money? Sure I could've - but that would've been too easy and too easy to misinterpret. Everything is itemized because it not only fits the parameters of the two different budget allotments, but also because it is designed with things I like in mind so that I'm not feeling deprived, even though I am being deprived to an extent.

These are just suggestions based on my tastes, but if yours are different, all you need do is think about what you enjoy, what you need to feel healthy and happy, and what single items you can buy that will stretch out or keep the longest. For example, I know I can stomach a ham and cheese sandwich, so you can have about 7 or 8 sandwiches with one loaf of bread, one thing of deli meat and some cheese slices. You just have to work it out so that what you're spending costs the least and yield the most.

Also remember that coupons are your friends. Despite the stigma surrounding them making it seem like coupons are only for crazy cat ladies and grandmothers, they'll save you a fuck-ton of money. It's well worth the effort to remember to take them with you. They can be printed from most manufacturer websites, can be picked up on the actual products in the store, and they're mailed out absolutely everywhere. Suck it up, rip 'em off and use those fuckers.

Hopefully your budgets allow for more wiggle room than my own. Your task will be much easier. Even if you are comfortably set, however, you should still be frugal with your grocery spending as your need to eat a few meals a day is one of the most expensive needs to fulfill considering it'll eat up a lot of what you'll earn in your lifetime. The less you spend on food, the more you spend of living (which includes the occasional night out to eat every now and again).

There will be more editions detailing other ways you can maximize your saving power and have more to spend on going out to some shows or picking up new albums or merch... or to leave more money for pot, or wine/beer, or video games or whatever your bag(s) is/are. Start with the basics! More to come on the next installment.

If you have any tips you want to add, feel free to share yours in the comments so we can all benefit from your wisdom!

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