If It’s Expensive It Must Be Better

If It's Expensive, It Must Be Better

Check out any frugal living website and you’ll see that buying generic is the end-all way to go to save money. But is it? What if it’s awful and it gets tossed? How much have you saved buying that product? This doesn’t mean that buying more expensive products is the answer either. A name-brand product is not necessarily better. It might be but it might not.

According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save about 30% per week on the average shopping trip buying generic or store brand products. That’s a significant savings and why wouldn’t everyone do this simple thing to save money?

Sometimes we justify buying more expensive products by telling ourselves that we get what we pay for. With enough thought on it, I’m sure we can convince ourselves of almost anything that will justify our actions. I read an article recently (without the foresight to bookmark it for reference) that stated that buying over the counter medications on sale reduces the effectiveness of the drug. Somehow, paying less translates in our head to lower quality even on identical items. I don’t agree. I feel fortunate when I find something I need on sale when I need it.

Probably the most dangerous position to our budget is telling ourselves that price equals quality to justify a purchase we can’t afford. Then, after spending more than we should have, we adopt a smug attitude and pat ourselves on the back for our shopping savvy. What a trap that thinking is!

If price does equal quality, then when something is in short supply, and the price is higher, it should be of higher quality. How could it? It’s the same item that is suffering some hiccup in supply and demand has increased the price. Yesterday, when the price was lower, it wasn’t a different product. Today, it’s the same product with a different price.

There are some products that you can be assured are as good as national brands because they are regulated. The Food and Drug Administration regulates things like medications, baby formula, and sunscreen. It is assured that these products are identical to the more expensive items next to them on the shelves. No one needs to question the quality and effectiveness of these products because it’s been done for us. Sometimes government intervention is a good thing.

So, what’s the answer about generics? Try them. Try them from different stores. Not all generics are equal. I learned decades ago not to buy the bargain canned tuna. It may be much better now, but it was so bad then (can you say inedible?) that I never bought it again. It’s not worth the savings for me to try it. I’m going to be stubborn on this.

There are some things that I just prefer the national brand. It’s not that the generic is so awful, like the canned tuna. It’s just that I prefer the taste of some products to the generic brands. Peanut butter is one of those products and, surprisingly, oatmeal and oat O’s cereal. Neither of those generic products taste as good to me as the national brand. If I was feeding a family, my attitude might be different and the savings would outweigh my personal tastes.

Where I find little difference is most canned items. Things like canned fruit, tomatoes, beans, and vegetables are close enough to their more expensive counterparts that I buy them almost exclusively. (OK, I have to admit that I rarely buy canned vegetables. I prefer frozen but there are some in my pantry.) I look for the low-salt or low-sugar varieties, and if the generic meets that qualification, it makes its way into the cart.

So, you might ask if there’s a point to all of this? Well, yes. In our pursuit to live well and still save money, generic products can help us along. They can also stop us short. Frugality is a lifestyle and, sometimes, it takes a bit of effort to find the frugal way that works for us. If it doesn’t work, we don’t do it and where are we then? Back to square one? Back to overspending?

Do you buy generics? Be sure to leave a comment.

5 Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

5 Frugal Things I've Done This MonthLiving frugal is a lifestyle and I have been doing this a very long time. When I look back at things that I’ve done, it’s sometimes hard to remember frugal activities because they are so much a part of my everyday living. Here are just 5 of the things I’ve done this month.

1. New mixes for the pantry

Three mixing spoons

Mixing spoons

I love mixes. I love homemade mixes even more.

The first mix was for ranch dressing. Yum! It’s really good and so easy to do. I found this same recipe on several websites, so I can’t say for sure where I first located it.

Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together until well combined. Store mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use: Mix together 1/4 cup ranch dressing mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk. Blend thoroughly.

The second mix I found Cooperative Extension Department at Utah State University. (This link will open a pdf file) I have used the SOS mix several times instead of canned soup and the recipes have come out very well. The cool thing is all the recipes that come with the basic mix. It really shows you how to use this mix.

Soup or Sauce Mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered, non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)

Directions

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mx with 1 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Cook and stir until thickened. (Stovetop or microwave)
Add to recipes as you would a can of cream soup.

2. Remembered the dollar store

I started giving my daughter a Valentine card when she was a little girl. She’s well into her thirties now, and I still get her a Valentine. We all know how expensive greeting cards can be but not at the dollar store. The savings is worth the trip. Plus, there’s a lot of other cool things at that store worth investigation.

3. Made broth

Bowl of homemade broth

Homemade Broth

I’ve made chicken broth many times but not with any regularity. A few months ago, I bought and Instant Pot. Of course, I read all kinds of things online about using my new gadget and one of the things I found was making broth. Now, I purposely make broth. I buy whole chickens, roast them, pull the meat from the bones and make broth from the carcasses. The leftover rotisserie chicken can also be used for broth. Of course, beef, pork, or turkey all make excellent broth.

Also, I’ve started saving vegetables in a freezer bag for vegetable broth. I’ve made one batch so far, and I’m pleased with the results. I put leftover vegetables, peels from carrots and potatoes, and little bits and pieces that result from preparing vegetables for a meal. It all goes in the pot and comes out wonderful broth. I bought 2 cup freezer containers (at the dollar store) to store my broth. The Instant Pot makes it easy to use frozen. Just thaw enough to remove from the container.

How to Make Instant Pot Broth

Put chicken or turkey carcass, beef or pork bones, or 4 to 6 cups of vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot. Fill with water to the 2/3 line. Set time for 1 hour at low pressure. Use natural release. Refrigerate broth overnight and then skim off any fat before storing.

4. Started my garden seeds

Seed Starting in Newspaper pots

Starting seeds for spring

Garden plants have become expensive. Spending $3 or more on a plant for the garden makes it more difficult to save money by gardening. I will still buy a few, but some are so easily started that it doesn’t make sense not to do it.
I first posted about starting seeds in Fearless Gardening. Make these useful seed-starter pots with these instructions here and here.

5. Shared a no-cost solution

I’m including this even though I didn’t save money by doing it. Someone close to me was paying a subscription site for audio books to listen to while she was jogging. I pointed her to her local library which has audio books available to borrow. This is about a $10 per month saving for her and a warm and fuzzy feeling about helping someone for me.

How did you live frugally this month? Be sure to leave a comment.

Don’t Toss It – Eat It

Don't Toss It--Eat It

Stop feeding the landfill

You are standing in front of the open door of your refrigerator when you spy a container near the back and you pull it out. Inside is a hairy, foul-smelling mess that was once food but now doesn’t resemble anything edible. We’ve all been there.

According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30-40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Astounding! Wasted food is also the single, largest component of our landfills. All of this waste costs approximately $165 billion each year. Imagine what we could do with that money.

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit organization, the average American throws away 300 pounds of food each year which costs us about $2200. That is almost $200 per month of loss. Imagine what we could do with that money.

If food takes up 10-15 percent of our household budgets, it just doesn’t make sense to throw so much away. In the coming weeks, I’m going to offer some solutions I have used for taming the leftover monsters.

One of the ways to get started using leftovers is to notice what you always have left over. I know, obvious. In my effort to cook for two, I sometimes end up with a third serving. This usually is the result of using a whole can of something instead of a partial, which would just spoil in the refrigerator, I’m sure. One of the things I have done is to take that leftover serving to work as my lunch. Since I am now retired and I’m watching my calories, I don’t eat much for lunch anymore. So there the container sits.

To get started, here’s my recipe for Stuffed Pepper Soup. It seems I always have a little bit of rice leftover and it’s not very good reheated. It does work very well in soup. This recipe is also a good use of a green pepper that is a little wrinkled and, instead of canned tomatoes, over ripe tomatoes peeled and diced would work very well.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: ”Easy”
  • Print

Ingredients


½ pound ground beef
½ cup diced onion
1 green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14 ounce can beef broth
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/8 teaspoon Allspice
¾ cup cooked rice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Brown ground beef. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic. Sauté until tender. Stir in tomatoes and beef broth. Add seasonings. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until flavors have blended. If you have an Instant Pot, 5 minutes on high pressure is all you need for this soup. Add in rice. Cook another 1-2 minutes to heat and soften rice.

What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? Be sure to leave a comment.

Fall’s First Chore

We started on the first of our fall chores this weekend by tackling the windows. (See Cleaning up for Fall) It’s truly a chore because you just can’t wash the windows. You have to move any furniture, plants, and all other things that are placed in front of the windows on the inside. The screens need to be removed, cleaned and repaired if necessary. After all that, you can wash the windows. Of course, they are two-sided so the work is doubled.

I saw this formula several months ago and vowed to try it whenever we got around to the windows. It’s promise was to lessen the work, which I’m all for, and it did. The water sheeted off the windows and didn’t require wiping or the use of a squeegee. It’s important to hose off the windows prior to cleaning to remove as much dust and dirt as possible. Once the solution gets dirty, it doesn’t rinse off as well and leaves the windows smeared.

 

window

 

Here is One Good Thing by Jillee’s original recipe. I made mine loosely based on this, but simplified it by adding 1/4 cup of everything to the 2 gallons of water. It worked. I’m sold.

Homemade Streak-Free Window Cleaner

1/2 bottle of Dishwasher Rinse Aid (the bottle I bought was just under 7 ounces so I measured out 3.5 ounces)
4 Tablespoons isopropyl alcohol (I used 70%)
1/4 cup ammonia
1 handful of powdered dishwasher detergent (which depending on the size of your hand could probably vary quite a bit! I used a “handful” which looked to me to be about 1/4 cup. Give or take.)
2 Gallons of hot water

We Are In Good Company

I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out
–Jeff Bezo–

Frugality is founded on the principal that all riches have limits.
–Edmund Burke–

Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor.
–Samuel Johnson–

“There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.”
—Calvin Coolidge–

“The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality nothing will do, and with them everything.”
― Benjamin Franklin —

“He who will not economize will have to agonize”
―Confucius–

Serendipitous Frugality

Our house had no window coverings when we bought it. I was OK with that. We’re out in the country with no close neighbors.

Also, our previous house was dark and I enjoyed the light coming in the windows here, and I didn’t want to block that. It always felt like living in a cave in that other house, but this one is light and bright.

I have managed to put minimal window treatments up in all the rooms except the kitchen. I didn’t know what I wanted there and I truly didn’t want to block the light.

curtainpanels

It’s interesting how things are presented to you when you look. At an estate sale, I found these lace curtain panels. They were $.25 each. I bought all 8 of them. With a little cutting and hemming, they will work well on my kitchen windows.

I call this serendipitous frugality. We were looking for other items at that estate sale, but these curtains were there waiting for me. The lesson of this little story is that opportunities present themselves when you are looking and, sometimes, it will only cost $2.00.

Orange Cleaner Revisited Again

orangecleaner

I reported some results from the one of the orange cleaners I made about four weeks ago in this post. The recipes for each cleaner are here. This time, I want to report on the fermented cleaner.

This cleaner I diluted 1:8 (1/4 cup solution in 2 cups water). This was the recommendation from one of the websites I looked at for information.

In a side-by-side test, I think the first cleaner won. It’s not that this one didn’t clean things. It did. Both cleaned, but the vinegar seemed to cut through the gunk a micro-second faster. Maybe the solution was too dilute. Perhaps I should use the 1:1 that I did for the first cleaner to get a more accurate result.

I still stand by my story: there isn’t much difference in the results between the 2 solutions.