A sunny and not too rainy spring Saturday leant itself to visiting the Zoo this past weekend. We packed a picnic lunch and made it a short trip, just checking out the Great Northwest animals. Being spring in the PNW, most of the animals in these exhibits were especially active, as this is their native weather.
These two bears were having some sort of quarrel. Either that, or they were putting on a show for the visitors.
This bear was having a late morning nap in the cave.
The bobcats wanted nothing to do with the people and were being quite standoffish.
There were also otters (moving too fast to get a picture), eagles (we didn’t get close because they made Rex nervous), and assorted other animals. This exhibit is all arranged in a forest setting that lets you “hike” around waterfalls, salmon runs, and assorted flora and fauna. It is really well done and I highly recommend checking it out on your way to view the more exotic animals.
P.S. Other than parking ($2.40), this was a zero dollar outing for us. We used our zoo membership and brought our lunch. It was a really nice frugal adventure.
Pay day… It happens not nearly often enough and not nearly enough $. Since I quit my corporate job, pay days seem fewer and farther in between. How did we go from two incomes to one and still survive? I learned to cook. And I don’t mean boil water. I mean really *cook*. And I learned to shop to facilitate that cooking. And I learned to make do. Here are a few of the ways we make it to the end of each pay cycle with at least a few pennies in the bank account.
- Eat at home. I know this sounds simple, but it really isn’t. When you work full time or are out running around all the time, making it home to eat or remembering to bring a meal is tough. I eat breakfast at home in the mornings;often hubby and I eat together. He likes oatmeal (less than $1 of oats will feed him breakfast for a month) and I like bacon, eggs, and toast (not as cheap, but still cheaper than going out to eat). For lunches, he takes the fixings for quesadillas because sandwiches are not his thing. A pack of tortillas, some shredded cheese and a few chicken breasts cooked with an onion will make lunch for about a week at a time. I generally make a fruit protein smoothie at work since lunchbreaks are just a pipe dream. Leftovers also make good lunches. Dinners are where we live it up. I am learning how much fun it is to experiment with different recipes. If you don’t have much knowledge of cooking, see the end of this post for a never-fail, super-easy dinner recipe.
- Cut down on the lattes. I have been limiting myself to one coffee out a week and it has made a huge difference in my weekly spending. When you think about it, the typical coffee is $3. Multiply that by 5 days a week and that’s $15 a week or $60 a month. Your wallet (and your waistline) will thank you.
- Buy food as close to it’s original state as possible. I don’t mean go out and purchase a cow. I mean buy things that haven’t been prepped or pre-cooked. You will save lots of $ just in that alone. Pre-shredded cheese comes with a premium price over a plain block of cheese that you shred yourself. Why buy packs of instant oatmeal when you can buy a can of it for $3 that will feed you for at least 4 times as long. Think of those things that have the most packaging and those are probably the ones you could find in the bulk section. Which brings me to…
- Buy in bulk. No, you don’t have to stock up on 10 years worth of deodorant. In fact, I rarely buy non food items in bulk. But find a grocery store with a good bulk section. Just because you are buying from the bulk section doesn’t mean you have to buy a ton of it. I have containers for certain things that we buy from the bulk section and that is as much as I buy at a time. Things like flour, popcorn, oatmeal, etc. can be much cheaper when you purchase by the pound rather than by the container.
- Make it yourself. Convenience foods are the downfall of our society. (Ok, there are lots of other downfalls too, but this is the one that irritates me the most.) I know that you can’t make *everything* yourself. But you can make a few key things to cut your grocery bill. Here are my top five.
Shop local and seasonally. If you have a farmer’s market, go to it. If you have a co-op, go to it and (if you can) become a member. If you know of a farm that sells fresh produce and/or meat products, visit it. The closer food is, the less expensive it is (usually). If you don’t have any of those things, shop the sales, especially for what’s in season. Right now strawberries are in season, so I split 3 flats with a friend. I am processing and freezing them to use later in the season when strawberries cost $5 for a pint. The 1 1/2 flats cost me $22.50 and I’m going to have more strawberries than my freezer can hold.
Keep a good stock of seasonings on hand. You’d be amazed how many times you can eat the same key ingredients by just changing up the seasonings. I splurge on seasonings from Pampered Chef, but also make some mixes of my own and buy many seasonings in the bulk aisle (Curry, anyone?). Seasonings last a while and really brighten up a dish.
If you love something expensive, learn to make it yourself. For us, it’s almond milk. My hubby is crazy about the stuff, but at $3.50/half gallon, it gets pricey fast. I found an easy recipe online and learned to make it. A big bag of almonds at Costco is around $10 and a cup of almonds makes a quart of almond milk.
- Bread. Find a good recipe that works for you. My new favorite is the No Knead Whole Wheat Honey Sandwich Bread recipe from Baking Bites. If you want white bread, the Homemade Sandwich Bread recipe from The Hungry Mouse is awesome too.
- Coffee. (See the rant about lattes above.) Buy a good coffee maker or an AeroPress and figure out your perfect cup o’ joe. And yes, I grind my beans at home. They taste fresher that way.
- Yogurt. This one is new to me, but I don’t think I can go back to store bought. A half gallon of milk + a packet of stater (or a 6oz cup of plain yogurt) + 1/3 cup powdered milk = 8 cups of yogurt. Rough price estimate is $3.50 total for the entire batch. Last time I checked, even a 4 cup container of plain yogurt was around $5.
- Granola. This is another one of those convenience foods that’s soooo simple to make it’s crazy. You can see my adventure with granola here.
- Popcorn. Homemade popcorn couldn’t be simpler. And all the crap they put into microwave popcorn is awful. Kernels + oil + heat = popcorn. It’s that simple. Throw some oil in the bottom of a tall pot, add the kernels and shake to coat. Turn the temp to medium high and put a lid on slightly ajar. Wait for the popping to begin and remove from heat when the popping stops. Yes, it really is that simple.
That’s all the advice I can give you today. No, I’m not perfect and yes, we still eat out. But our grocery bill continues to shrink as I learn to make more things and make do more often. And now, without further ado… The recipe that we use several times a week.
Chicken + Veggies + Carbs (Optional) = Dinner
What you need:
A large pan or skillet.
A splash of oil in said pan or skillet.
Enough chicken breasts or tenderloins to fill said pan or skillet.
Some frozen or canned vegetables that you like to eat.
Seasonings you have on hand.
About 20 minutes.
Carbs if you want ’em (pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.)
What you do:
Heat oil up in the pan for a few minutes while you dig the chicken out of the fridge or freezer. Set the heat to medium and toss the chicken in the pan, sprinkle with seasonings, put the lid on, and ignore for a few minutes. Dump the vegetables into a microwave safe container. If you’re cooking frozen veggies, add a splash of water. If you’re using canned veggies, don’t drain them. Microwave until hot (usually around 3 – 5 minutes, depending on whether your veggies are frozen or not). Once the veggies are in the microwave, flip the chicken over and season again. Once the chicken is cooked through, you can cut it up and mix it with the veggies or leave it whole and serve beside the veggies. Serve with carbs of your choice if desired.