Tag Archives: savings

Common Sense Food-Shopping Adds Up at the Bank

I’m a writer. A broke-ass writer, it’ll probably say on my tombstone. This means I’m cheap at my very core.

For centuries, writers have toiled for the mere sake of writing. Usually, writers earn crap wages, supplement their calling with “jobs,” and that’s the way the cheap-eatin’ cookie crumbles.

Me, I’m okay with that. If I work too much, I may not have the time to write something brilliant (yuk-yuk-chuckle), even if it doesn’t pay, because, without the writing, I don’t maintain my craft, I don’t keep kicking wordy ass, and life gets complicated in a hurry. And, sorry, but those other jobs? Not what I enjoy. Writing, I love.

So, choices get made.

I know, there’s this whole “Buy ethical food! Organic is everything!” kick, but a lot of those folks pushing that lifestyle and those food-buying habits CLEARLY don’t live on MY budget.

And I’m a foodie, so, y’know, fuck ramen.

Sometimes I buy ethically, sometimes I don’t. In my perfect wet-dream reality where I sleep on sheets of gold, with pillows stuffed of angels’ feathers, get cocoa-butter slathered on my ass daily, and all that, I’m buying local, 100% organic small-grower foods.

In this reality, though, my happy place sings when I see a can of Suraj’s chickpeas for sale for 67 cents. Screw your expensive ethics, buddy.

At least I know what my financial reality includes, and when I do shop, I shop where my bucks stretch the furthest.

Today, I made a Twitter comment slagging the local grocery chain “Save On Foods” as being a complete joke, and was surprised how many folk replied. Half agreed, the prices are 10-20% higher than elsewhere, and for no justifiable reason — the generic brand is shit, the other stuff includes your average staples to be found anywhere. Whole Foods is similarly priced, but they have products I feel better about buying when I do know for realz that I’m overspending.

The reality is, I think a lot of people fail to note how much they’re overspending on groceries. When prices have already increased an average of 5% this year, are you sure you’re being thrifty on your food choices?

I save a lot of money just by making my own things, like homemade tzatziki. Doing the math today on the fancy house-made tzatziki sold by Whole Foods versus mine, which is made with real organic Greek yogurt, lemons (not cheap vinegar), and high-quality olive oil, I found mine costs $6.50 for a litre volume of it, versus $6.30 for a QUARTER of that at Whole Foods. And those savings take all of 20 minutes to make happen, and it lasts a month in the fridge.

Hummus, another example. I make my own beans, use more of the boiling liquid/brine for thinning for consistency, no olive oil, etcetera, and I think I make some of the best hummus you’ll ever try, again at about 30% of the purchase price for commercially-made hummus, and it keeps two weeks but can freeze for up to three months. (Meaning I’m saving 70% or more every time.)

Furthermore, when it comes to any kind of beans, and I’m using a lot for soup or something, I hydrate and cook my own — often for 75% or more off what canned beans costs, then I put extra beans in their liquid, in Ziploc bags, and freeze them for up to 3 months — which I then thaw and use as I would from a can.

Some boxed wine can actually be terrific and really saves you money (30% or more) if you’re a 1-2-glasses-a-night person. Then, save yer moolah for a nicer bottle with a splurge item on the weekend.

Whole chickens — even if you buy already-roasted ones at the Supermarket — are a huge budget-saver. While the ready-at-the-market roasted birds are usually 1.2-2 pounds, for $7.99-11.99, I can get a 5-7 pound chicken (Vancouver, visit Poultry Land on Granville Island) for $15 or so, a really good Halal / Kosher bird, and the amount of meat that comes off that is phenomenal. But, face it, that smaller, less-economical chicken can be a lifesaver when you want a healthier meal on a weeknight. Grab some salad fixings, a nice bread, and make it go further.

Whatever’s left of those roasted chickens gets frozen in small packets for salads, sandwiches, tacos, and more. Chicken bones get simmered (frozen until then) for stock, and I can make a good 20 LITRES of stock, which I then cook down to a super-concentrated 1 cup or so and freeze for a LONG time. I mix a tablespoon of “stock” with a cup of water, and then I have stock for all manner of uses — instead of paying $4 for a LITRE of the supposedly-fancy stock I think is real boring. That’s about $80 worth of “fancy” stock, plus all the chicken that can go in salads and other meals, for a total of $15 an an afternoon of work (which is really only an hour or so of labour, just a lot of waiting for shit to simmer — watch movies!).

Now and then I plan burrito factories. When you get wraps on sale, buy them, freeze them, and get ready to make wraps and burritos. You can do classic chicken-and-bean, Indian chicken curry, whatever, but I generally find I can use good food, control the calorie & nutrition count, and provide myself with up to 20 freezable lunches for under $2 each. Just make sure it’s drier stuff you’re putting in there — nothing soupy or it’ll be a mess later.

Let’s face it, the cost of living is skyrocketing. Somewhere between making ethical food choices and fiscal ones lies the perfect medium.

I buy nice local produce when I can, I save in other areas, and make compromises or plan ahead to get savings. An example of planning ahead is, by knowing a great quality produce shop I love has “customer” day on Wednesdays, I shop there and save 10% on everything… mostly quality local stuff, and that’s where I get my organic eggs, rice, and other things that never go on sale otherwise. But, THERE, I know my coconut milk costs 20% more there than another store’s prices, so even saving 10% means I’m throwing out money, when it comes to buying the coconut milk.

So, be intelligent. Buy what’s cheaper there. Buy the other stuff elsewhere. Yeah, it’s work, but it’s YOUR money and YOU had to work for it, so why not SAVE it with a little work now too?

It’s really about realizing how many products you buy on any given shopping trip and how much each little item can blow your budget. Add the difference up. Just today, one pack of pita bread was 25% more across the street. I saved $1 on that one item. Imagine how much that adds up in a single month, a single year. I live in an exorbitant city on an underwhelming income, it adds up a LOT.

Know how the saying “getting nickel-and-dimed” means a person’s pissed off at getting price-gouged? Well, we nickel-and-dime ourselves daily. Think more about everything you spend, and who sells X item for less, make some effort, and you might see a huge difference in your bank account. God knows I have.

Money Ain’t Everything

One of my favourite songs from my teen years was Cyndi Lauper’s “Money isn’t Everything.”

It feels like life comes in with built-in looped lessons, themes that repeat constantly throughout our lives. For me, money and patience are two lessons I’m forever learning about.

Money, though, is the one that causes me most grief.

Drowning piggybank, from TheDoublethink.com: http://thedoublethink.com/2009/06/how-much-to-spend-in-a-recession/

This year has probably been the most learned year on the money front for me. I’ve fixed a few things, changed my quality of life by way of making small choices, but I’ve still run into a great deal of hardship twice this year. Once during the Olympics, because you don’t realize until they arrive what a wild ride and party it is to live within, or how expensive life gets then, and, well, right now.

Having done the bad-back thing right before getting pneumonia, it’s actually been 7 weeks of consistent drain on my wallet, with little to nothing coming in, and it’s been hairy a couple times. Thank god for freezers with food in them and well-stocked pantries and beans and oatmeal, man.

But there’s a lot one can learn from hard times, even poverty.

There’s a gift in poverty, for those who are able to escape it.

I was raised by parents who’d come through a lot financially. My mother, I think, had it harder than my father — hers having been the kind of family that feared eviction on Christmas eve but returned home from mass with a giant gift box of food and clothing from the community, who slept three kids  to a single bed.

I still remember her telling me of those times, but I never “got” it. Not until the last five years.

Years ago, I was cursed to be stupid enough to fall into the “why me?” crowd when it came to being broke. I’d be jealous as shit of my friends who always got nice gifts. I felt like a victim, as stupid as that is.

I still resent people who can, and do, have all the things they want but have zero appreciation of just how fortunate they are to have it.

Some of them, if reading this, would probably have the whole “But you can earn your way out of poverty” attitude, and they’re right, to an extent. But what if you’re like me, or unluckier, where you have one year after another of illness or injury, misfortune or bad luck?

When it’s a six-month patch, you get through it and you move on. When it’s six years, or longer, it’s just an accomplishment to make it through month after month. Retirement? What? Savings? What? Survival, man.

I’m lucky, I’ve almost had it constantly be tough and hard for the last decade, but I always get by, I always make it through the hard patches. And every time I do, I’ve learned some new trick about money, some new way of saving a few pennies, but more importantly, I’ve always been able to remember that life is so much bigger and more meaningful than a balance sheet.

For those who think “time is money”, so just buy your food and work more — how? How does one magically make this more expensive, prepared, convenient food just appear? How does one afford to live spitting distance from the best job they can get?

They don’t. Not in this town, man.

There’s a reason money’s the fastest way to kill a relationship.

There’s nothing in this world we value more than money, there’s nothing that defines your life more — and nothing is more omnipresent than the reminders of just how much YOUR value is determined by the money you have or don’t have.

Try it. Wear tattered, out-of-style clothes with a bad haircut and zero accessories, carrying lousy plastic bags or beaten knapsacks, and be sure tote your insecurities and financial worry along with you, then enter into any decent shop in any reasonable area of town, and tell me you don’t FEEL your value lowering when you enter those establishments.

Or go experience the thrill of being constantly broke and listening to even your average friends talking about their new jeans or the restaurant they went out to, or the vacation they’re saving for, and try to ignore that little pang of “I wish…” that creeps up inside every time you think of small items you’d love to have.

Reminders exist everywhere of just how much you don’t have when you’re living hand-to-mouth. No matter how much peace you’ve made with your status, the constant reminders beat you down a little, just like how a single repeating drop of water can erode the hardest of stone over time.

Despite all this, the older I get, the more I appreciate that I truly value the important things in life, and through all my adversity, I’ve learned to really experience gratitude for the little things that come my way.

I love a good meal, I’m passionate about great wine, I know a gorgeous sunset can’t be bought, I savour all the little moments life gives me, when I find the time to really absorb them.

Truth be told, I’m happy there’s a recession on some levels.

When it comes to the middle class and the wealthy, I’m glad they’ve had to wake up some. I’m glad we suddenly realize there’s more in life than the mighty currency markets.

I’m saddened by those who’ve lost everything, who’ve had lives crushed by fucking assholes in the economic world who just have no concept of debt or value.

It’s so ironic. The people who “create” finance in the economic world actually have zero concept of what a real dollar is worth, of just how far — or not — a normal living wage goes.

And they’re the ones who’ve helped bring everything, and every one, down.

Still, poverty has its gifts.

Gratitude is a gift you’ll never grow tired of. There’s nothing like actually really appreciating a thing. Anything. So many people I know just shrug off little moments of generosity. How could they? Don’t they understand?

No. Not yet.

But they will.

Not having disposable income makes problems harder to solve, time harder to find, health harder to manage, and a social life harder to have.

But, with the right perspective, it can really open your eyes.

Has the recession taught you to better appreciate life? Have you really learned what you need to learn from the last two years? Have you gained insights that will define your future and always keep you cognizant of what real “worth” is?

Have you used it to remember what life is really about — the world and people around us, moments in time, laughter, and creation? Have you learned to be kinder to others and generous in thought, action, and words, when finances fail you? Have you learned to be understanding of the trials others face and the compromises they need to make just to make it through their weeks?

It’s not too late to learn those lessons now.