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Frugality: The interview. January 4, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood realize that yesterday’s post, “2011: Another year of making do,” about belt-tightening during another year of minimal income and rising gas, fuel oil, and electric bills, was not exactly a mood-booster. Sure, we’re scared about all these price increases, when nobody’s exactly increasing the price for our services, but all isn’t doom and gloom around here.

To lighten things up, OFB decided to interview Silence about cost-cutting and mood-boosting in 2011. Here’s the interview:

Our friend Ben: Silence, how do you feel facing 2011?

Silence Dogood: Great, Ben! December 21, the winter solstice, is over, so every day brings a little more light. And every second of light makes me feel better and better.

OFB: We know you’ve had to cut back in many areas in order to make it through the Great Recession. If you suddenly won the lottery, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Silence: I’d turn up the thermostat. I’m so sick of being cold! The very first thing I’d do is crank up the heat to 65 degrees. Then I’d check the ticket to make sure I’d really won.

OFB: What would be your top tip for saving money in hard times?

Silence: Skip the so-called “convenience” stuff. Don’t even think about stopping for coffee or lattes or fast food, or buying ready-made “convenience” foods at the store. They cost so much more, they’re so much worse, they’re either high-fat or, in the case of diet convenience foods, high-chemical, and it’s so much easier and cheaper to make good food yourself. Resist!!!

OFB: What about dining out, going to the movies or shows, buying trendy clothes or the latest gadget, travel?

Silence: Gack, I guess I should have thought of those first, but it seemed so obvious that people should skip all that in hard times I didn’t even think of it. “Keeping up with the Joneses” takes on a very different meaning when times are hard. Instead of trying to spend as much on cars, upscale homes, designer clothes, and fancy vacations, maybe it’s time to share grocery coupons, carpool, swap hand-me-downs, DVDs, CDs, and etc., make enough food for two meals and share the extras with your neighbors in return for a meal of theirs, go in together to buy food staples in bulk.

OFB: That sounds good. But denying yourself new music, books, and movies seems pretty harsh.

Silence: It is harsh, Ben, I can’t deny it. I’ve been dying to see “The King’s Speech,” and I just read that a new Jake Shimabukuro CD is about to be released. But there are plenty of ways to get around it. There’s the library. Not only can we rent books, CDs, and DVDs for free, but there’s a whole bunch of free discard boxes of books and, occasionally, CDs and DVDs in the lobby. Plus, every Saturday the library holds a book sale, with books on sale for 25 cents to a dollar, and it has racks of bestsellers for sale all week for $1 each. If I’m craving a “new” book, I can look there. We’re fortunate to have a great used-CD and -DVD store, along with a super used bookstore, in nearby Kutztown. And we can see all the movies and TV series we want through Netflix for considerably less per month than a pair of movie tickets. But that’s not all.

OFB: Oh?

Silence: Think about it, Ben. We’ve spent years building up a wonderful home library of literally thousands of books, plus pretty hefty music and movie collections. Have you read all those books?

OFB: Uh…

Silence: I didn’t think so. And aren’t there some books you’d love to read again, but haven’t found the time for?

OFB: Of course there are.

Silence: I’m sure the same could be said for our music and movies. We can make fuller use of the resources we already have. And we can always ask for special books, movies, and CDs for Christmas and our birthdays, right? People never seem to know what to give us, so they’d probably welcome some concrete suggestions.

OFB: As opposed to that obscenely stinky cheese your brother decided to give us this Christmas…

Silence: Oh, shut up.

OFB: At least the chickens seemed to like it. Maybe the cold has impaired their sense of smell…

Silence: BEN…

OFB: Er, right, getting back to the interview. Knowing your passion for cooking, what would you advise folks to do if they’re trying to bring down their grocery bills?

Silence: That’s easy, Ben. Make a commitment to eat more legumes (beans, dried peas, lentils, etc.) and grains (rice, oats, cornmeal, etc.)—there are so many ways to make them delicious (refried beans and rice or tortillas being just one example). Clip those pesky coupons, watch for sales, and use the brains God gave you. Make soups, stews and pasta play bigger roles in your diet. Don’t buy frozen veggies in sauce when it’s much cheaper to buy them plain and add butter or your favorite flavoring, but do buy things like Bush’s Grillin’ Beans when it would cost you more to duplicate their seasonings from scratch. Buy store brands—they’re usually cheaper than name brands, even with coupons—but keep an eye out and buy name brands when that’s not the case. Stock up when prices are really good. Watch for sales on salad mixes that make them cheaper than whole heads of lettuce. Cut back on meat. Cheese and butter often go on sale; look sharp and stock up. And never be tempted to buy something just because it’s on sale, unless it’s something you actually like and will eat. You can eat healthy, delicious food on a budget if you’re willing to put a little time into planning and cooking.

OFB: You can?

Silence: (Sigh.) Let’s do the math here. One of your favorite meals is roasted sweet potatoes, sweet onions, and mushrooms served with creamy pasta, green beans or broccoli, and a hearty salad, right?

OFB: [brightening] Right! Could we have that tonight?!

Silence: Yes we could, but let’s not get distracted here. If I buy the packages of mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and green beans or broccoli at the “three for $5.99” area of the produce section in our local store, that’s $6. Suppose I go for a package of red bell peppers, one of sweet onions, and one of tomatoes for another $5.99. Let’s say I add a bag of mixed greens reduced to 99 cents, a box of store-brand pasta for 99 cents, store-brand butter on sale for $2.50, store-brand sour cream at $1.39, plus shredded white Cheddar cheese on sale at two bags for $4. We’ll make that $22, including tax.

Now, with all this and the various herbs, seasonings, and condiments I already have on hand, I can not only make the creamy pasta, roasted veggies, green beans or broccoli, and salad (with added tomatoes, peppers, and shredded cheese) for our supper, I can make a second supper of  pasta with a Cheddar, sweet onion, mushroom, and red pepper sauce, green beans or broccoli, and salad. And there will be leftover pasta with sauce to heat up for lunch, as well as ample supplies of cheese, butter, tomatoes, sweet onions, and sweet potatoes for future meals, all for $22 for two people! If I were making rice rather than pasta to go with the meals, it would cost considerably less (no sour cream or Cheddar, and obviously, no pasta). See how easy it is?

OFB: I think I’m getting a headache.

Silence: (SIGH.) Skipped math class, did you, Ben? You should see how little it costs to make some yummy black bean soup and cornbread, or a hearty lentil stew with homemade bread, or a fabulous Indian feast with dal and curried vegetables and palaak (spinach) paneer… But there’s another point that’s even more important than trying to be cost-conscious when you’re shopping.

OFB: And what’s that?

Silence: Actually using what you buy. If you buy a bunch of stuff and end up throwing it out, you might as well set fire to a bunch of dollar bills and save the gas it takes to drive to the store.

OFB: But… we never throw anything out!

Silence: Waste not, want not, as our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin would say. But there’s a reason we don’t throw anything out, Ben: It’s because I plan our menus carefully in advance and buy only the things we’ll need to make them. Unless I find a great sale on something, in which case, I’ll change the menu to feature whatever-it-is. Carrots, for example. We got a great deal on carrots at the farmers’ market the other week, remember? I knew they’d store well in our unheated mudroom, so we stocked up. And I’ve been adding curried carrots and boiled carrots as sides to our suppers, using carrots in lentil stew, veggie curry, and shepherd’s pie, and serving carrot sticks with our hummus and baba ghannouj ever since.

OFB: You know, I didn’t make the connection.

Silence: That’s because we both love carrots, and since they store so well, I knew we wouldn’t have to go on a monthlong all-carrot diet or something just to use them up. We’re lucky that we both enjoy leftovers, too, but getting creative with leftovers—using them in other dishes—is a great way to add variety without wasting food. Putting that extra half-cup of spaghetti sauce on a pizza or in chili or soup, for example.

OFB: Oh!

Silence: Another brilliant observation, Ben. And since you asked, there’s another reason we don’t waste food, and that’s because we’ve developed a sort of closed system here. We can compost scraps in our bins or put them in the earthworm composter; our chickens, our dog Shiloh, and our parrot Plutarch all love leftover odds and ends. Let’s use an end of stale homemade bread as an example. I could use it to make croutons, bread crumbs, or a base for a delicious dressing. Or we could give pieces to Shiloh, Plutarch, and the chickens. All you really need is a small chicken flock and a compost bin and you’ll never waste food again!

OFB: [desperate to change the subject and avoid more abuse] Ahem, if you could turn back the clock, what do you wish you’d done in 2010? 

Silence: I wish I’d invented Ruth Bourdain. Though if I’d been her creator, she’d have been Julia Bourdain. Imagine Tony fluting away in that Julia Child voice. Priceless! And her hair was almost as scary as Ruth’s. Almost. Well, not really.

OFB: If you say so. Any last words for our readers?

Silence: Life is short and uncertain. Live your dreams, or at least identify your dreams and start to live them, even if that longed-for trip to Italy is just some Italian movies, cookbooks, language lessons, an Italian-made coffee mug, and maybe a novel about Leonardo da Vinci at this point. Don’t let yourself end a day without having done at least one thing that matters to you, that gives you unalloyed pleasure.

We recently posted about Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who ended his poem about what makes a good life with “Neither seek death, nor fear his might.” The Native Americans put it another way: “It is a good day to die.” Vow to greet each day with pleasure, and live in such a way that, whatever it brings, you can face it with calm, knowing that, whatever you’ve left undone, you’ve done enough to feel you’ve really lived.

OFB: Gee, Silence, I don’t know if that’s profound or scary, but thanks for this interview. Now, if we could talk about dinner…




1. Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens - January 4, 2011

Diana from Elephant’s Eye sent me here because she mentioned that you were from no where PA, and I wanted to know where that is because I’m from PA—Bryn Mawr. We were discussing site stats, and she said you loved WordPress stats. Enjoyed the interview. I don’t think that it’s scary at all to embrace the concept of living your life so every day is a good day to die—it’s empowering.

Welcome, Carolyn! And bless Diana for sending you to us! Alas, we’re up here in the farmland around Kutztown, nowhere near cultured Bryn Mawr. We really do love WordPress stats—they tell us how many views we have each day, track views per post, show where folks are coming from, show search engine phrases, and give us our total views, which is very exciting! (Right now, we’re waiting impatiently to pass 250,000.) And they sent us a year-end review customized for Poor Richard’s Almanac and summarizing our blog in 2010, giving us a “Wow!” rating which got us really excited. Their Akismet spam filter is wonderful, too. Needless to say, I agree with your assessment of my comments on living and dying!

2. alan - January 4, 2011

So, you are giving up new books, movies, good coffee, and eating out, AND you are smilingly ready to die. Me too…

Good tips. Finding joy in the now, in what you have, in the simple things is the only way to happiness.

We might as well all die smiling.

Ha! I approve of dying happy, Alan, but it’s LIVING happy that really counts!

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