I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today

Oh, that happy depression humor from J. Wellington Wimpy.

But… Around here these days, we can see where he was coming from. Life has changed. We’re getting to spend a lot more time together as a family (and no one has died yet). We have more time to write and come up with things to write and decide to write things that we should have written a long time ago. We’re both here to make sure that Patric is doing what he needs to do for school since school is now our living room. There’s more time for snuggling. These are all good things that we’ve really actually needed for a long time.

But it comes at a cost. As depressing and scary as it is to actually say it, our income today is 30% what it was this time last year. Not 30% less. Just 30%. So life needs to change more.

We’re coming into this with a lot more than some people. We have 2 freezers full of food, mostly beef, pork, and venison, but there are vegetables in there, too. We have a pantry full of interesting ingredients that we picked up while we were recipe testing. We’ve said we need to cook at home more. We hardly ever did it for more than a week, but we have said it. Now we really have to do it.

There are other habits that have to change, too. We’ve been really good at spending money on impulse. Too tired to cook after a hard day? Just in a bad mood? Let’s go eat at our favorite restaurant. (You know who you are.) I’ve been good, so that cute little shirt should be mine. It’s not how much it costs when it’s on sale – you have to think about how much you’re saving. Everyone needs new furniture after 5 years, and we really could use this. I’ve never seen that before, much less eaten it, but we need it. DVDs that have never been opened. More books than we can read in 5 years. More clothes (mostly mine) than fit in our not-that-small closet. That impulse LCD TV. The new car because it was pretty and our old one was out of warranty. See. Really good at spending money.

You could say we’re going to have to become reformed. Budgeting is no longer just something that we think would be good to try. Splurges will have to be planned. Trips will have to be less often and planned to the nth degree. The tax return won’t mean a new large purchase. There’s going to have to be a really good reason for any new clothes for any of us. And we have to cook at home.

Today we went grocery shopping. We had a list. We still deviated once (old habits are hard to break, but we did plan a whole other meal out of that deviation for less than $7). We love Whole Foods. We really love Whole Foods. But we have to cut back on what we spend to eat at home. We won’t stop shopping at Whole Foods altogther, but Viet Hoa will be a huge part of keeping our diet interesting and cheap. ($11 today bought noodles for the week and a bag of seafood that you’ll hear more about.) Schnuck’s cost more. But the $64 we spend there put more food away for us to not spend as much later. Out of today’s trip, we have 7 meals planned and a to-do list that will make even more. The only real splurge of the whole trip was the 2-liter bottle of Coke. We didn’t need it, but we really wanted it. And we were good. Ok, we have to work more on that impulse thing.

We’re still going to write about food – probably more than ever. We’re still going to eat well. Paul and I have done this before. We were both starving college students at one point. (I would say that point was not so long ago, but I don’t want to have to pay for repairs from the lightning strike.) Supper tonight: red beans and rice with smoked alligator sausage. Budgeting tips for this meal:

1. Dry beans are cheaper than cans of beans. They take more planning than canned beans, but they also don’t have the sodium, etc. that end up in canned vegetables. BUT canned beans are better than eating out and can give you a healthy meal if you didn’t plan ahead.

2. Buy big bags of rice at ethnic markets. You can get better rice a lot cheaper at Asian and Indian markets. When you get them home, divide the huge bag into ziplocs or containers and put them in the freezer. Freezing doesn’t hurt rice, and you won’t have to worry about getting bugs in your rice if you don’t eat it quickly enough. Meal bugs are proof that evil exists in the world, so I use the same freezing trick on flour, cornmeal, grits – basically anything that could possibly get bugs. Let these come up to room temp before you cook them, and get some masking tape and a sharpie so you know what’s in the container when you need it later.

3. A little bit of an expensive ingredient can make a really cheap meal taste like it’s not cheap. If you buy a pack of fancy sausage that’s in links, break the pack into servings you’ll be able to use in a single meal. Keep out the one you’re going to cook, seal the others tightly, and use your freezer again. Your masking tape and sharpie can help you here too. I label things with what they are and the date that they’re going in the freezer. When it comes to meat that’s not vacuum sealed, you don’t want it to be in the freezer for too long or you’ll have freezer burn and end up wasting what you were trying to save.

4. When you’re making something like red beans and rice or chili or a soup or spaghetti sauce, make more than you’ll eat in one meal. The extra can be frozen to make a quick meal later or kept in the refrigerator to be eaten for lunch, maybe more than once. Again, tape and a sharpie will let you know what’s in the mystery container and when it went into the fridge or freezer.

We’ve known these things for a long time. I grew up with a mom who could get 5 meals out of 1 chicken. We can do this. We can pay our bills and still have food. And we’re going to get something that’s worth more than the money we used to make and spend. We’re going to be together. We’re going to have to work together. And if we don’t kill each other, we’re going to come out of this better than when we went into it.

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