canned vegetables and food pantry

Getting a peek inside our cupboards...

Last week, I wrote a fairly difficult post (for me, anyway), confronting my prejudice against the criminally insane… and how I’ve struggled to change my perspective on judging others.

It’s extremely easy from where we stand, to look at people in less fortunate circumstances, and blame them for their own misery.
I was raised to think that way. And I still believe in personal accountability.

The year 2011 is not even 1/12 over… and already I see a pattern emerging: this is shaping up to become the year which tests my faith and personal convictions.

Beginning with prejudice.

I carry around quite a bit of prejudice, typically towards people who moan and complain about being victimized.
Society is against them.
Their employers are against them.
The government is against them.
They just can’t get anywhere in this world.

You know people like this. You might even be one of them.

I’ve encountered plenty of obstacles in my short lifetime, but if I failed to overcome them or find a work-around, I attributed it to a lack of motivation or laziness on my part… not on some conspiracy designed to hold me back.
“Where there’s a will…”

Like many people who have never lived without, I’ve frowned on the “abuse” of the welfare system.
I’ve never applied for food stamps, subsidized housing, or the like; it looked like a joke being played on a naive bureaucracy. Don’t those silly state workers know “single mothers” have live-in boyfriends?

But before you angrily grab your keyboard to respond how misguided I am… let me finish, mkay? 😉

This year, changes are taking place around here… too early to be discussed yet.
But in the last week, I’ve stared the possibility of poverty square in the face, and it scared me. So I’m re-evaluating where I stand.

When you have $0.00 in your bank account, after getting work hours cut and paying some large bills, and with two weeks looming until next payday… you begin to panic.

You think about the last full gallon of milk: it won’t survive a week with three kids. It won’t survive 2 days!
You think about that 1/4 tank of gas in the car. The diapers, the cat food, the laundry soap…

You also begin to think irrationally, and your choices suddenly multiply: you could beg for money, you could steal, move in with relatives, or apply for welfare.

Or you could get creative.

That’s the decision I made.

a nearly empty freezer with popsicles and tostitos

Joe has anxiety attacks when the frozen dinners are gone

Taking an inventory of our cupboards and fridge gave Joe migraines, but we had to look past our convenience “Go-To” foods – to see the full potential of what we had stocked away.
You know those boxes of pasta lying around? Elbow, Bowtie, Spaghetti… cook them!
The canned veggies that nobody wants to eat… find a way to serve them. (Bwahahaha)

Our biggest concern was the milk situation. We hadn’t anticipated that we’d be broke, and didn’t stockpile on our most frequently consumed beverage.
The apple and orange juice disappeared very quickly, so I made sure to conserve our milk exclusively for the kids to drink.
Which begs the question: What did we cook with?

When I first became obsessed with homemade baked goods, I went crazy in the Baking Aisle of the grocery store, and purchased everything I might ever need:
Brown and white sugars, all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda and powder, packets and refrigerated yeasts, condensed and powdered milk

When the milk alternatives ran out (every recipe seems to require milk!) we moved on to the heavy cream that Joe had purchased over the holidays for my homemade eggnog. We still had an entire pint of cream leftover!

I Googled “milk substitution” and one Know-it-All posted an article that you could NOT substitute heavy cream for milk.

However, I knew that 3/4 cup of milk + 1/3 cup of melted butter could be substituted for heavy cream, if you had none on hand.
So why not the reverse??
Since our butter was also low, and every recipe wanted butter, I tested the theory.

I made our pancakes with heavy cream replacing BOTH milk and butter, and guess what? It worked! Haha
The pancakes were still fluffy and delicious, and the kids gobbled them up without complaint.

So screw the Know-it-Alls. Don’t listen to them! ;P

The kids are huge junk-food fiends. Mia’s favorite snack is the Pop-Tart, and she can go through an entire box within days.
So once the two boxes of strawberry and cinnamon flavored Pop-Tarts were gone, despite our best efforts to teach a 3-year-old about conservation, Joe looked up recipes for homemade variations.

And we found an excellent one here, but you can Google “homemade Pop Tart” also…
Basically, it’s just a pie crust recipe rolled flat, cut into rectangles, and filled with jam, jelly, applesauce, a brown sugar cinnamon mixture, or whatever you like. 🙂
It turned out light and flaky, and reminded me of a Toaster strudel.

A handmade baked pop tart using pie crust and jam

Joe and Lydia's initial tasty attempt at Pop-Tart baking

We had a nearly full jar of strawberry jam in the fridge, and we also experimented with cinnamon applesauce.
It’s an easy recipe, with very few ingredients. Joe and Lydia made the first batch together.

Little girl hanging upside down on chair

Some days I measure my worth by those empty baskets... sad, huh.

My obsessive goal to keep up with our laundry was put to the test, when our industrial size bottle of detergent decided to run dry at the worst possible time. Sure, I tore apart the top of the container and rinsed the residual soap from its plastic sides into our machine. But it wasn’t enough.

That green box of Borax sat on the shelf, mocking my laziness.

Last year, a few soap sellers in the Etsy forums helpfully posted links to their favorite recipes for handmade laundry detergent… but they involved shredding mild hand soap with a cheese grater and boiling the scrapings into 5 gallons of boiling water.
I had all the ingredients, including the 5 gallon metal pail, but who wants to cook soap shreddings?? Not when detergent is more convenient. 😉

With no other alternative, I spent one afternoon boiling soap. It wasn’t terribly hard, and the loads came out smelling clean, but I won’t be using the grater for food anytime soon. LOL

“Going green” and “living sustainably” are hot buzzwords that many of us equate with expensive energy-star upgrades or tree-hugging communes. Those folks who ride bicycles in 15 degrees farenheit, trying to avoid snowdrifts.

But in reality, sustainable living includes finding creative ways to cut expenses, and being frugal with your resources.

Growing your own crops, canning veggies, using cloth diapers, boiling your own detergents, upcycling clothing, and making your foods from scratch (instead of buying factory processed Pop Tarts)… are just some of the ways to ultimately save your family money.

It’s terribly easy to become complacent when money is lining your pocket, and those microwavable chicken nuggets are tempting you.
I can totally sympathize – remember, I’m the girl who worships the clothes dryer! (Who wants stiff laundry crawling with spiders?)

But perhaps we can help out our less fortunate neighbors by teaching them to live sustainably, helping them to stretch their meager incomes.

You feel less “poor” when you have control over your environment.

I’m adding the decision to live frugally to my personal goals this year.
When our tax return arrives, the bulk of it will go directly into an emergency savings account, and we’ll continue to “live poor”.
Not starving and devoid of milk, mind you, but really taking to heart the recent lessons we’ve learned: Utilize everything we have, and find alternatives to save money.

Even if it means a bit of elbow grease… or in this case, grating soap! LOL

Do you have any awesome money-saving tips you’d like to share with me?

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