Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thriving At Rock Bottom, Part III: Everyday Meals in the Life of the Bricks

By now, you've had a chance to wade through Part I and Part II of my 'dirt cheap meals' series. I'm hoping that the tips and tricks I've learned over the years, both on my own and from others (including a very frugal grandma), were of help to you, too. 

Now to apply those lessons to everyday life. Our life. 

I use a combination of techniques for our food choices, including scrounged, discount and sale items. I'll also stockpile when I find especially good sales. Just snagged $1.47/lb boneless chicken breasts -- no skin or fat -- plus boneless pork loin at this price -- from our local Safeway. I also shop our other local grocery store, King Soopers, for their milk -- the best-tasting, at $1.99 for a gallon. (I thin the milk with water at a 1/3 to 1/2 ratio, and keep some at full strength for use in coffee or tea.)
      Other than staples like milk and butter, if it's not on sale or marked-down, with rare exceptions, I don't buy it. I just wait.
     This approach has worked surprisingly well.


    Eggs are a workhorse in our morning meals -- we have these at least four days a week. (Are you surprised, since we have chickens?) At our customer rate ($4.00/dozen), these cost us about 33 cents each. But they're fresh, have a richer taste, and we often eat up the cracked or pecked eggs the little stinkers provide.

    Some kind of meat goes alongside -- generally either bacon ($7.99 for a two-pound package of bacon ends, sliced thin to cover 7 or 8 meals) or sausage ($2/lb or less -- a recent purchase was $1.50/lb beer bratwurst, marked down from King Soopers). Ham is often substituted when it's on sale for Easter.
    I'll supplement these with toast (homebaked bread, free from the thrift shop, or $1-1.50 each from the Friday/Saturday store, or from the discount shelf at King Soopers) or tortillas (about 5 cents each, bought in bulk at Wal-Mart), plus a sprinkle of cheese ($1-2/lb at Fri/Sat or Sprouts, rarely more) or jam (homemade from The Mama, or discount from Fri/Sat or King Soopers).

Cinnamon rolls make an occasional appearance. (Mostly homemade -- or tubed versions, when $1.50 or less.) So does coffeecake or doughnuts -- only if homemade or marked-down.  We'll have cold cereal, too, on occasion -- but only when I can find boxes for $1-2 each. Oatmeal (about 69 cents/lb -- about 15 cents a serving) shows up now and then, supplemented with nuts ($5/lb or less) and cinnamon. We'll also be eating the Mighty Good hot cereal just delivered.

I accidentally left off the most important items! The Brick's mom must have been frightened by a maple syrup truck while she was carrying him, because he will eat pancakes or waffles every time I'm willing to make them. (Crustease mix from Sam's, because it's inexpensive, easy and tastes good. The waffles get made from scratch.) I often add nuts or fruit to increase the nutrition, and we try to buy a jug or two of real maple syrup whenever we visit Michigan. (My grandparents ran a 'sugar bush' for some years, and there were still old spigots in the maple trees on the folks' farm.)
     French toast comes in a close third -- and is a good way to use up stale bread.

Coffee is a given -- the Brick makes the best coffee in the world. He grinds it every morning from beans. ($6.99/lb on sale, from Sprouts -- we'll buy a six-month supply when it's on sale, and supplement it with multi-pound packs of Boyer's Rocky Mountain Thunder brand coffee -- Sam's Club.) We're fussy about our tea, too -- we like stronger British brands, like P & G. (Discounted or Daily Deal purchases from Amazon.) Herb teas are generally purchased for a buck or two. (Damaged packages, from touring the Celestial Seasonings plant in nearby Boulder.)


     We stopped eating these much after the Brick retired -- now we'll typically snack, instead. (See that category soon.) If we make an exception, it's generally supper leftovers or sandwiches. (The latter use leftover meat, egg salad, grilled cheese or peanut butter and jam -- pb often from the Fri/Sat store.)
     Soup also appears -- often leftovers from supper the night before. We'll also have canned soup. (Campbell's chicken noodle, still my favorite, from a 50 cents/can stash that's rapidly diminishing -- or Chunky soups, thinned half-and-half with water or milk, for 99 cents/can -- often on sale at grocery stores, or from the dollar store.) Bread and crackers ($1-1.50, Fri/Sat store, or on sale), with chunks or slices of cheese or meat, fill in any empty spots.

Oh, my...


Some nights, we have a multi-course meal my grandma would be proud of:  meat, potatoes, gravy, veg and dessert. (Either homemade, on sale or marked-down. We just had a $1.99 blueberry pie from Wal-Mart, for example.)
     Other nights, it's macaroni and cheese, with a can of tuna stirred in (50 cents each on sale, Safeway). It all depends on time, energy...and where we have to be, in an hour or so. Generally, though, I use the oven to bake meats, potatoes and/or casseroles. I tend to use only 1/2 pound of meat or less for two this filling (and quick) dish:

     Bake a potato -- when almost done, slit open, insert a strip of bacon and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10 minutes more until sizzling; serve with veggies.

     Veggies are sometimes fresh, cut into crudites with dressing, sometimes in salad form, sometimes from the garden (which isn't doing so good this year), and sometimes frozen. The first two often come from sales at Sprouts, or farmer's markets -- the latter is usually 99-cent frozen mixes. (I like the stirfry one, especially.) We have some canned versions too...but not as many since Sprouts opened up in town. Their veggie and fruit specials are truly inspiring year-round.

     You may notice that fish is not a primary ingredient in our diet. (Chicken is -- or can be. We also get a lot of wild game from hunting that we'll substitute for beef or pork. It's lean and flavorful.) That's because Colorado is a dry state -- fish and seafood are hard to find at reasonable prices. I'll grab it on sale or out of the marked-down bin, checking carefully for freshness. Canned oysters and clams ($1-2 at Fri/Sat or the dollar store) make nice pasta salads, as well as nice chowders for the seven fish dishes.

      I stockpile rice (about 40 cents/lb, 25-pound bag from an Oriental market or Sam's), pasta or noodles (50 - 69 cents each, on sale...or $1, at the dollar store). These last a long time in bulk, and along with beans, will be helpful when The World Ends. (Sooner than later, depending on which political party you talk to -- and it flipflops a lot.) 
     I often make my own white sauce if doing a casserole. (A recipe for this will be coming soon.) Cheating is okay, using canned soup, but mushroom soup in our neck of the woods is often going for a buck a can now. (ouch) Tomato sauce ($1-1.50 each, on sale or Fri/Sat store -- just got 2 large cans of Hunt's mushroom spaghetti sauce for 49 cents each) comes in handy for pasta or Pizza ($1-1.50, homemade or $2-4 each, purchased on sale) is a favorite, as is soup with biscuits or cornbread. (Check out the Holiday Goodies blog for a bunch of recipes in this category.)

     And don't forget beans. One of our stars is chili: The Mama home-cans tomatoes that are perfect with a half-pound of hamburger and a walloping lot of kidney or pinto beans. We use Anasazi beans, too. Black beans are not big on my list, though the Brick likes them. (80 cents/lb, on sale or Fri/Sat store. The Anasazi beans were in a 50-pound sack from Dove Creek, CO -- 50 cents/lb.) These are delicious done New England-style with molasses (this link includes my grandma's recipe), or mixed with beef, pork or chicken in tacos and enchiladas. (Sauce on sale, or the Fri/Sat store -- as little as $1.49 for a huge can.) Dry beans are cheapest, but I keep a couple of cans in stock (79 cents - dollar) for last-minute meals, as well.

Black-eyed peas, Hoppin' John-style, are great, too.
     Use these for a really easy beans and rice dish:
Cook a cup of rice (20 min). While it's cooking, chop fine a handful of onion, green pepper and any little amounts of veggies you have wilting in the crisper. Add a can of beans with liquid, plus a tablespoon of hot sauce or salsa. Serve over rice. 
    Meat variation:  add any leftover meat, also chopped fine. Chicken and rice is even easier:  add a cup of chopped chicken, plus veggies and a chicken bouillon cube, to the rice before cooking.


This one is tough. We're both trying to lose weight, and it's easy to munch at length. I just bought several bags of potato and tortilla chips, ostensibly for camping ($1.49 each on sale at Safeway), and they're almost gone. I need to behave myself.
     Popcorn is common. (from a 25-pound bag -- Sam's -- about 50 cents/lb, plus a few tablespoons butter) So are baby candy bars and chocolate-covered grahams from the dollar store. I'll buy Keebler cookies, too -- if they're half-price or less. (Happens more than you think.) Regular candy bars make an appearance only if they're on sale, or marked down after a holiday, like Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween or Easter. We just snagged a pile of Ferrante-Rocher filled chocolates: three-packs 5 for $1, at the Fri/Sat store. Sometimes they or Tuesday Morning have Mozart Kugeln, too. Yum.


     Otherwise, I'll make cookies or cake, like the banana cake just baked. (Bananas, 35 cents/lb from Sprouts -- pecans from Sam's Club, about $5/lb in two-pound bag. Flour and sugar from Sam's in bulk, or on sale at King Soopers.) The Brick is especially fond of homemade chocolate chip cookies...but doesn't get them that often.
     Fruit in season is also on the snack menu -- but I hold it to $1/lb, or less, with the exception of blueberries. Strawberries and cherries are winding down, our own raspberry bushes are almost done, and blueberries are starting to wane. We'll head to Palisade in a few weeks for peaches -- usually we buy 5 or 6 bushels, at about 25-50 cents/lb. Some peaches get resold to friends at cost, or given away; I stash a lot in the freezer. We also eat them. Fresh peaches, with the luscious juice running down your chin, are one of life's great pleasures.
     I'll be in Michigan to visit the Mama in September -- perfect timing for the apple crop. I'll be taking a suitcase full of Christmas presents, since we're not headed back there for the holidays. Guess what it will hold, on the way home?

BIRTHDAY SUPPER FOR FIVE -- This was the menu for Daughter #2's celebration Monday night. (She turns 28 -- and just got engaged!) I almost added baked potato fries (potatoes, a splurge at 35 cents a pound), but held back because of the buns. (We try to limit to one carb a meal.)

Shrimp/tomato cocktail juice   (59 cents, from the Friday/Saturday store)
Grilled burgers   (Patties for $2.39/lb, with a second package at $2/lb. I had to really look for these prices-- as I'm sure you know, beef is expensive right now)
Homemade buns    (flour, sugar, yeast, salt, dried milk -- and half a stick of butter)
Green bean casserole  (Daughter #2's favorite. Green beans 99 cents/lb and a few mushrooms at 50 cents from Sprouts, can of mushroom soup 50 cents -- from the stockpile. Plus a King Soopers tub of Greek yogurt, marked down: 39 cents.)
Tomato and pickle slices   (Roma tomatoes, 90 cents a pound from Sprouts; Jason's Deli garlic dills from Friday/Saturday store -- about $1.50.)
Assorted fruit    (peaches, green and red grapes -- from Sprouts, all at about $1/pound)
Grasshopper pie  (marshmallows and chocolate-covered cookies from the dollar store, creme de menthe from my stash, a little milk, grated chocolate from a Lindt bar purchased at Tuesday Morning for about a buck. Plus a dollar package of birthday candles.)

I've come to a few conclusions about food and meals:

    * I have to be vigilant about all this. Sales, marked-down items and "can you use this" offers from friends tend to come out of nowhere. Grab them when you can.

    *We need to keep extra money on hand, to take advantage of sales. That means adding regularly to the emergency fund, even when life is running smoothly. (Here are some unusual ways of making extra cash. More ideas elsewhere in this blog, too.)

     *I can go overboard. If it were up to me, we would have missed out on some memorable experiences -- simply because I was too much of a Hollander to cough up the money. The night we had a steak dinner at the local diner, after we'd come home, tired and dirty, from a rain-filled camping trip. The expensive dinner downtown, to celebrate the Brick's promotion, or a new book contract. (Okay, we used coupons or Groupons.) The Sunday stop at a buffet, because I was too exhausted to cook, after hours of singing on Worship Team.
     The Brick enjoys saving -- but he also has an innate sense when we can actually afford to do these things. So far, he's never been wrong.

So save money on food -- but savor it, too. After all, that's what it's all about.

This photo, and others, courtesy of

More good sources:
All You:  100 recipes that clock in at a dollar...or less.

Budgets Are Sexy:  recipes for a dollar a day.

Helpful blogs:  Life After Money
                         Poor Girl Eats Well
                         101 Cookbooks                    (a range, including expensive and frugal --
                                                                            many unusual and ethnic recipes)
                         My Messy, Thrilling Life    (especially the earlier posts)
                         The Pioneer Woman    (Ditto. Her later posts, when she became much
                                                                   better-known, are often sponsored -- and more expensive)
                          Moneysaving Mom                  (Worth exploring for the frugal living tips.
                                                                                        A lot of good recipes and links, too.)
                          Feed Yourself For A Pound A Day  (just started reading this one - the British
                                                                    terms are a little hard to translate, but worth it)
                          Living on A Dollar A Day  (no recipes, but a good reminder that other people in
                                                                                  other countries often live on a lot less)
                          Living on A Dollar A Day   (ABC's version)

Now on to baking perfect chocolate chip cookies...once I figure out the grams business.


Roger O. Brick, D.C. said...

I have enjoyed this series of articles. I know life will be better with a Conservative Republican in the White House. RB

Cindy Brick said...

Well, thank you, Roger! But I haven't a clue what's going to happen in November...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good to hear from you.

Barbara said...

That baked potato idea w/the slice of bacon and cheese added -- gotta try that one!

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