Monday, 16 June 2008

Viva la frugalista!

Goodness, it’s getting so hip to be frugal. You could hardly open a paper over the weekend without getting a pageful of budgeting advice. The Guardian and Observer are running a pull-out series on How to Save Money (which mentioned Beyond Baked Beans). The Times Cook Jill Dupleix offered some cheap fish recipes in the Sunday Times (delicious, but not that cheap. The recipes came in at roughly a tenner for four which isn’t frugal in my book) And the Indy ran a big feature on the new ‘frugalistas’ which inevitably included celebs wittering on about how fabulous it is growing vegetables and rearing pigs. There’s even a blog called Frugal Fashionista which tells you how to look like Sarah Jessica Parker without a Hollywood paycheck. And a frugal version of Wikipedia called . . . (I’ll be putting up links to some of these sites later this week)

The most entertaining site I think though is a blog called The Frugalista Files which is published by the Miami Herald and features the self-styled Frugalista Natalie McNeal who apparently tries to spend one month a year (February) spending practically nothing. I think I’d chose a different month - February is depressing enough anyway - but it’s not such a bad idea . . .

How long do you reckon you could live off the contents of your storecupboard, fridge and freezer without topping up?


Hippolyra said...


I lasted the first 3 months of the year without buying any non perishables! I was pretty pleased with myself.


The Frugalista Files said...


Thanks so much for the link and kind words.

Your friend in frugality,
Natalie! :)

Fiona Beckett said...

So you should be hippolyra - that's seriously impressive!

And hi to you, Natalie! Wow, you picked up on that mention quickly. Great blog - I love it!

Meg from FruWiki & All About Appearances said...

Thanks for mentioning FruWiki! I really appreciate your help getting word out and am happy that you like the site.

Fiona Beckett said...

You're doing a good job, Meg. It's a great resource.

Career Misfit said...

There are two of us living in this house, and we often have these head-scratching moments pondering how we've come to accumulate so many tins and packets of mix that never get used. Occasionally we stop shopping and see how long we can go without having to buy any significant amounts of food: I think our record so far is three weeks.

The clincher for me is that the perishables are probably also the things we use most in preference to long-storage items; one tries to add as much fruit and veg into the daily mix as possible and these only keep so long. Once that policy gets prioritised over using up what you've got in, you're back on the buy-sigh-throw cycle of purchasing something, remembering too late that you've not used it, then having to get rid.

The best theory we've come up with is to plan meals for the week rather than stock the cupboards with everything that might get used. That way you know why something has been bought and can almost guarantee it gets used rather than wasted. I have to admit that curry night at Wetherspoons often gets built into the above equation, mind!

Fiona Beckett said...

'Buy-sigh-throw'. What a great expression, career misfit! I wish I'd coined that myself.

I think your meal planning strategy is a good one.

The conclusion I've come to is that one should never embark on a recipe in isolation but plan to make a number of recipes that use the same ingredients. A good example would be bread. No point in baking just one loaf. Or a Thai green curry - it's better to decide to experiment with Thai for a week or two.

You obviously have to like cooking though . . .

Meg from FruWiki & All About Appearances said...

Career Misfit,

I've done my share of buy-sigh-throw, but I've had no luck planning meals, either. What's helped my husband and I is that we've tried to get away from mixes altogether. It's so much simpler to create a basic pantry of things that are in almost all those mixes, like sugar and flour, and learn how to combine them to make our own mixes -- which is surprisingly simple (especially with Google's help). I don't even use hot chocolate mix. Cocoa powder + sugar + milk or powdered milk. It's that simple and I can change the ratios however I want. So, most things you'll find in my home are "one ingredient" items as I call them.

We buy most of those things in bulk, so we only restock as necessary. We do the same with containers of whole wheat pasta, three kinds of rice, loose tea, couscous (bought out of a bin so it's suuuuuper cheap), steel cut oatmeal, and a few other things. We have all those things in matching containers on a bookshelf so it's not just convenient, it also makes a really nice display (imho). We also keep "instock" eggs, milk, butter, nuts, cheese, and some basic seasonings.

We still go to the grocery store about once every week or two to get fresh produce to add to the staples and some meat as well. We try to combine trips so as not to use more gas than necessary. We get what looks good and is priced good, plus a few regular splurges (mine are Dagoba chocolate and honey wine). I also supplement my meals with stuff from our garden and yard, walks around the neighborhood (dandelions, yum!), and in a few months hopefully, eggs from our chickens.

I can't tell you how much this strategy has simplified our life. We make fewer, quicker grocery trips, and we never find ourself absolutely having to go on a particular day. We're eating a lot better because we don't eat a lot of super-processed food. And believe it or not, I've actually found myself cooking more and enjoying it more. Plus -- and perhaps this is one of the best benefits since we have a roommate and a really tiny kitchen -- the basic ingredients take up a whole lot less space than over-packaged "convenience" food. Our fridge looks surprisingly empty. There's plenty of room to keep leftovers (the real convenience food, imho), including often a bowl to keep veggie scraps to make into things like gazpacho soup or veggie sushi.

Anyhow, that's what works for us here. Can't promise it would work for you, but in case I left anything out, let me know if there's anything you're curious about.

Career Misfit said...

That sounds great Meg, I loved reading those suggestions. Do you find that working from raw materials so often causes you to spend a lot of time cooking? I enjoy my cookery as much fun as the next fashionable, modern, domesticated guy (ahem), but once things get towards the hour mark to get to the table, I start to get frustrated. As I've mentioned elsewhere on Fiona's blog, we cook a lot of one-pot recipes including stews, roasts and salads. Most of these come from basic stock items but it's still necessary to know in advance that we're going to use those potatoes, that packet of prawns and so on; spontinaeity can often take a back seat as a result. In today's world of time-poor, money-rich (but not for much longer) working couples, how do you find the time to turn unready items into a good meal quickly? Can you still whip up a meal in double-quick time if you both get in late one evening?

While we're on the subject of non-frugal vices, mine has to be red wines: I'm a sucker for an on-offer shiraz or anything from the South Americas. Argentinian wines can be fabulous.

Meg from FruWiki & All About Appearances said...

Career Misfit,

Actually, I don't find myself taking too much time to cook. I've never been much for intensive cooking, though my husband does cook some. Mostly, I find that my tastes and habits have changed.

When I need something really quick, I heat up leftovers, wash and eat raw fruits or veggies, snack on some nuts, or even cut off a piece of cheese.

When I do cook, it's often pretty quick stuff. Whole wheat couscous is awesome stuff. Equal parts water and couscous and a minute in the microwave. It's done. Sometimes I eat it plain, but I can add in nuts, olive oil, veggies, whatever I have on hand. Even steel cut oatmeal is pretty quick in the microwave, and to that I add nuts or fruit -- or if I really want a treat, bananas, marshmallows, and a little bit of dark chocolate.

Sometimes I make whole wheat pasta on the stove and add in tomato sauce (which I do buy premade) and sometimes nuts. That takes a little longer, but I get a lot of stuff done while it cooks and make enough to last at least a few meals.

Sometimes I stirfry veggies or saute spinach. That really doesn't take very long at all. And I might add dry couscous right in. It soaks up the juices.

Extra bits of veggies I keep in a bowl, so often I don't have to do a lot of extra prep work. I just see what I have from last time.

I have a steamer where I can cook rice super easy if I'm tired of pasta. I freeze what I don't eat. And if some dries out, I add olive oil, maybe some nuts and cheese, then wrap in grape leaves. Very tasty. Also works as a cold salad if you don't have grape leaves.

Then there's corn on the cob in the toaster oven. Yummy.

I make spinach salad really quick. Made a salad out of dandelion leaves recently that was yummy, too, and plan to try some wild purslane and other greens when I have enough.

As you can tell, most of my meals are vegetarian, but I do eat meat, too. I really hate handling raw meat, though, so my husband cooks some meat up every now and then I eat off it for a few days usually, though I often go without meat for days without noticing. It's cheaper that way, anyhow. But I think it's kind of funny since I was raised in a very "meat and potatoes" family.

Anyhow, I hope that's whetted your appetite and given you some ideas for cheap, healthy eats that don't take a lot of prep. I don't really think about this stuff much because I don't consider myself much into cooking, but I'm definitely into eating and I've had enough successful experiments.